Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What's really at issue in the ConAir money laundering scandal?

What do you do when you're caught with your hand in the cookie jar? Well, if you're a Blogging Tory, you insist that the jar actually contains crackers, which you're perfectly entitled to, and anyway since the very existence of the cookie jar is a violation of one's right to enjoy cookies, that even if this is a cookie we're holding (although we categorically deny that it is), anyone who says we can't eat it is just trying to make up a scandal.

The Conservatives won the last election largely on the idea that they stood for accountability in politics. But if that's actually what they stand for, they should be holding their own leadership accountable, rather than obfuscating and trying to shift responsibility. That the Tories' conduct was unethical and illegal isn't just something the evil Liberals are making up for partisan gain. There's actual electoral law involved.

Stephen Taylor asks: "Can somebody cite a section of statute or law that has been broken here?"

You bet. The relevant section of the Canada Elections Act is this:

416. (1) No person or entity, other than the chief agent of a registered party or one of its registered agents or a person authorized under subsection 411(1), shall pay the registered party’s expenses.
and the relevant exception is as follows (emphasis mine):

411. (1)(b) the official agent of a candidate, as an expense incurred for the candidate’s electoral campaign;
The ads in question were not designed to promote the candidate. The only thing distinguishing them from the national campaign ads was that the so-called local ads carried the tag line "Paid for by the Official Agent for [Local Candidate]" instead of "Paid for by the Official Agent for the Conservative Party of Canada". But there's no reasonable argument that that change is sufficient to transform a national campaign ad into a local one.

Of course, local candidates benefit from ads promoting their party and their leader. But the same could be said about most aspects of the national campaign. On the same token, one could argue that it's reasonable for local campaigns to chip in for the leader's tour expenses, but even the most hard core of Conservative apologists aren't suggesting that.

Financial mismanagement took place. Either it was a mistake, based on an ill-considered reading of the Elections Act, or it was a deliberate attempt to use a perceived loop-hole to circumvent the campaign spending limits.

Either way, Conservatives who genuinely believe in government accountability, rather than just Liberal bashing, should be demanding that their party's leadership apologise and make recompense.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The naming of a scandal

The cowboys win the day with their name for the Conservative money laundering scandal: ConAir.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Nickname needed

As Kady O'Malley points out, the Conservatives 2006 campaign money laundering scheme doesn't yet have a catchy nickname, with which to capture national attention and invoke public ire.

So bring it on. What should we call this thing? Post your suggestions in the comments, or e-mail me and I'll summarize the best suggestions in a later post.

Only one rule: no name containing the suffix 'gate' will be considered. Anyone submitting suggestions of something-gate will be required to give up their blog and get a job working for a mainstream media outlet.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

This just in

According to an important new study, a diet heavy in red meat, fatty and processed foods is bad for you.

Who knew?

Seducing women voters

This morning's paper features prominent pictures of Maxime Bernier, Peter MacKay, Jim Prentice and Chuck Strahl, and I can't help but notice that they're all very good looking men. Is this Harper's strategy for increasing his support among Canadian women? Maybe women won't notice that the government is ignoring their needs as long as its ministers are a bunch of hotties.

Meanwhile, the sensitive, compassionate Liberals will be relegated to the status of "just good friends".

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

And the winner is?

Okay, the results are in, and my prediction score is 12½. To get that score, I gave myself one point for every correct prediction (including who would stay in place) and ½ a point for everyone who I predicted would move, but where I was wrong about where they went. I also subtracted ½ a point for everyone I predicted would move but didn't.

So who did better? Step up and enter your name into the draw. As Marjaleena pointed out, the MacKay/Orchard agreement was scrawled on a piece of notebook paper, not an envelope, so the winner will receive a genuine copy of that valuable document folded into a pouch and filled with my sofa change, which I've not yet counted, but which I guarantee totals at least a dollar.

One for me! Woohoo!

O'Connor gets Revenue. Nice to not be wrong all the time.

Has anyone else noticed that Peter MacKay has little grey patches on the back of his head? Patchy grey is usually a sign of trauma, isn't it? Perhaps it's where the hair has grown back over his lobotomy scars. Or maybe he had to have some implants put in when he sold the PC party to the Canadian Reform Alliance Party.

And with a smile from ear to ear...

Diane Ablonczy arrives at Rideau Hall. So the top government officials who insisted that no backbenchers would be promoted were yanking our collective chains, after all.

Shuffle madness begins in earnest

And I'm wrong on at least one count. Gerry Ritz showing up chez GG means that Lynne Yellich will not be promoted into cabinet.

A storm by any other name

Okay, who's responsible for naming hurricanes? Common... Flossie?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Steve's Cabinet Picks

Speculations. We got speculations. And we're willing to put our money where our mouth is. Anyone who gets more correct cabinet placements than me will be ELIGIBLE TO WIN a genuine replica of the envelope Peter MacKay used to betray David Orchard. Plus I'll fill it with all the change from underneath my sofa cushions.

So with that sweet offer, and without further ado, here's my Canada's New Government™ team line-up prediction for 2007 (thoughts and explanations to follow). It starts with Carol Skelton, who isn't running again, and who vacates Revenue, setting up the following dominos:

Revenue: Gordon O'Connor moves from Defense
Defense: Maxime Bernier moves from Industry
Industry: Gary Lunn moves from Natural Resources
Natural Resources: Rona Ambrose moves from Intergovernmental Affairs
Intergovernmental Affairs: Tony Clement moves from Health
Health: Monte Solberg moves from HRSD
Human Resources & Skills Development: Lawrence Cannon moves from Transport
Transport: Peter MacKay moves from Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs: Jim Prentice moves from Indian Affairs
Indian Affairs: Lynne Yellich gets promoted from the back benches

One direct trade:
Heritage: Jason Kenney moves from Multiculturalism & Culture
Multiculturalism & Culture (Minister of State): Bev Oda

And the remaining Ministers will stay where they are:
Justice: Rob Nicholson
International Trade: David Emerson
Labour and Housing: Jean-Pierre Blackburn
Veterans Affairs: Greg Thompson
Agriculture: Chuck Strahl
Fisheries: Loyola Hearn
Public Safety: Stockwell Day
Treasury: Vic Towes
Immigration: Diane Finley
Environment: John Baird
Finance: Jim Flaherty
CIDA: Josée Verner
Public Works: Michael Fortier
House Leader: Peter Van Loan
Whip: Jay Hill

O'Connor has to go from Defense. The Afghanistan file is bogged down and needs someone who can pick it up and make it work for Harper, particularly in Quebec. Bernier's the man. But O'Connor won't go to Veterans Affairs, because it's too obvious and Harper doesn't want to be predictable. Revenue won't be seen as a demotion to the same extent Veterans Affairs would be, but it's sufficiently low-profile to get O'Connor out of the spotlight.

Moving Clement from Health to Intergovernmental Affairs may look like a demotion on the surface, but federal-provincial relations is going to be a hotter file than anytime since 1995. It needs someone with a steady hand who can handle himself in public.

Canada's role in the world will be one of Harper's key priorities following a fall throne speech, and Jim Prentice, who's one of Harper's most trusted Ministers, will take front and centre. Moving Peter MacKay to Transport will be seen as a lateral move, although in MacKay's case it should really be viewed as a demotion.

Lynne Yellich will be the only backbencher to move to the the grown-ups table. With Skelton out, Harper needs a woman and someone from Saskatchewan. The need for women representation in Cabinet will also mean that Bev Oda won't go to the back benches, but Heritage needs someone who can speak, so it goes to Kenney.

Nicholson will hang onto Justice and Day will stay in Public Safety. Both have performed well in their respective portfolios. There's been speculation that Day might move to Justice, but that would set up the same problems that existed when Vic Towes was working that file. Like Towes, Day is too socially conservative for the government to maintain its centrist appearance, and he's too easy to attack.

Coincidence? I think not.

Karl Rove resigns from his job as George Dubya's chief political strategist just as Prime Minister Steve is getting ready to shuffle his cabinet. Hmmmm. There are plenty of Senate seats available.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

MYOB, Congress

Apparently, the US House of Representatives thinks we should ban the seal hunt, and has unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Canadian government to do just that, "now and forever."

Now I confess to being ambivalent about about this issue. While I'm uncomfortable about the idea of baby animals being clubbed to death for their skins, my maritime friends tell me that the animal rights folks have been perpetuating an image of the hunt that doesn't reflect the reality of what goes on. Furthermore, as an unapologetic meat eater and leather wearer, I'm not hypocritical enough to get uppity about the killing of certain animals over other, just because they're cuter. I have no interest in hunting myself, but I can't condemn those who do it as part of their livelihood.

That said, there are those who could possibly convince me that we should in fact ban the seal hunt. But a branch of the government in a country that executes minors isn't one of them. If the US House of Representatives is genuinely interested in addressing rights issues, rather than pandering, there are a lot of issues much closer to home that they can set their sights on.

UPDATE: It seems the US Supreme Court banned capital punishment in 2005 for those who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. So yay for the Supreme Court, but Congress should still stick to its knitting.

Eating Mints for the Cure

CIBC, where I do some of my banking, is engaged in its annual display of social conscience, promoting the Run for the Cure (to breast cancer, in case you just arrived from another planet). Part of the promotion this year involves selling pink boxes of chocolate covered mints over the counter when one goes in to do ones banking.

I'm not sure how I feel about the whole concept of selling products to promote a cause. Of course, the net proceeds go to fund breast cancer research, or fight AIDS in Africa (as in the case of (PRODUCT)RED™), as another example, but before those net net proceeds go anywhere, organisations on various levels generate profit. If people want to make a charitable contribution, a straight-up donation will have a greater impact than buying a red iPod or a pink T-shirt.

But having said all that, the mints are yummy.

Gordon O'Connor: Canada's biggest liability in Afghanistan

How long can Harper afford to keep O'Connor in as defense minister, if Canadian support for the war in Afghanistan is being undermined by his inability to get the message straight? Even the PMs friends agree that this is what's happening.

I get that the Prime Minister wants to shuffle his cabinet on his own terms, and doesn't want to appear weakened by moving O'Connor at a time when he's taking fire, but most of O'Connor's wounds are self-inflicted. And he reloads so quickly.

If Harper insists on waiting until the fall, he'd better muzzle O'Connor now, or (as humiliating as this would undoubtedly be) order him to get his lines from Hillier's office, since Hillier clearly isn't taking his lines from the Minister's Office. O'Connor needs to know that if he continues to blunder along, his demotion will be to the back benches, rather than Veteran's Affairs, or some other lesser portfolio.

General Hillier won't be managed, at least not by someone he doesn't respect. He's already demonstrated that he doesn't feel beholden to his political masters. He knows they won't fire him; he's more popular than all of them put together, and his is the voice Canadians trust, even if they don't always like what he has to say.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Exciting new poll feature!

Since public policy is now shaped almost entirely by polling data, I figured I'd better not get left behind. At left, you'll find my new polling tool, which I'm assured is every bit as scientifically rigorous as Angus Reid. Except that I won't pay you.

I hereby endeavour to introduce a new poll topic every day, or whenever I feel like it. Plus, whenever the data generated provides important insight, I will do my utmost to keep the PMO apprised. I hear they're a bit short on new ideas.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Parliamentary business at its finest

After having read this, I'm now firmly in favour of replacing the Hansard with ITQ Live Blogging. Although I'm not sure Kady will thank me.

Give 'till it hurts

Kady O'Malley's new blog drew my attention to this article about senior ministry staff being solicited for $1,000 donations to the Conservative Party. One of the key points in her post, with which I concur, is that the willingness of people to talk to reporters about the issue is a sign that folks at Canada's New Government™ are starting to buck at the harness (extra points to Kady for her description of PMO 'communications directrix' Sandra Buckler – perhaps we can draw The Frog Lady out of her hiatus to produce some art). As the Globe article points out, the Liberal Party made a similar request when it was in government, which, in my memory, didn't result in staffers hitting speed-dial to the Ottawa bureau chiefs.

That said, I think the CPC is completely justified (as are all political parties) in expecting its staff to contribute as much as they can afford. Senior ministerial staff make six figures. They should have no trouble scraping 1,000 bucks together, especially when you consider that they'll get up to half of it back at tax time.

And even more importantly, political staff should know better than anyone that political success is driven by money. Everyone who's cares about the outcome of elections needs to contribute what they can, in terms of time and money.

Lastly, a point of clarification: the Globe article indicates that the maximum allowable contribution is $1,000 to the party or individual candidate(s). In fact, under the FAA (also known as An Act to Screw the Liberals With Their Pants On), there are separate donation limits for these two categories of donations. One can donate the maximum amount ($1,100 actually, if one wants to split hairs) to the party, and the same amount again to a candidate or candidates (if giving to multiple candidates, the aggregated total cannot exceed $1,100).

And there's a third category of donation, again with its own $1,100 limit: leadership contests. This doesn't apply to the CPC right now, of course, but the Liberal Party is still collecting donations toward retiring the campaign debt of the 11 men and women who were so instrumental in revitalizing our party last year. Click here and please be as generous as you can.

More Steves than you can shake a stick at

I've added two new Steves (is there some connection between the name Steve and the compulsion to post one's ramblings on the internet?) to the list of Blogs I Like. One's political and one's hilarious.

Stephen Taylor, who I referenced in yesterday's post, is thoughtful and balanced – a nice change from the rabid rantings that bloggers on the right tend to spew (to be fair, the left has its share of venomous lunatics, as well). And while I disagree with him more often than not, his opinions are almost always worthy of consideration.

Meanwhile, for something completely different, check out The Sneeze, also written by someone named Steve, but whose last name seems to be stored in the same vault as the Caramilk secret. Reading his "Steve, Don't Eat It!" series made me laugh harder than anything I can remember.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

And the lion sat down with the lamb

I've found myself spending a lot of time on patios recently, in groups made up of Conservative and media types, as well as Liberals. More than once, the conversation has included appreciation for the fact that, at the end of the day, political opponents can sit down at the same table and bend elbows together, swap jokes and just generally enjoy a summer evening.

So perhaps it's in this spirit that the venerable Stephen Taylor made his last point in this post: "...we ought to raise the level of debate so that we don't blur the lines between the opponents who are working for a better country (but in a different party) and enemies that would destroy it."

I couldn't agree more.

That said, one's voice carries the most weight within one's own political circle. If Stephen genuinely wishes to raise the level of the debate, he can begin in his own back yard. Conservatives have frequently impugned the patriotism of those who have raised questions about the wisdom of our current mission in Afghanistan, or who have opposed national security measures on civil libertarian grounds (it's one of the most unpalatable tactics they've borrowed from the Republican playbook).

So yes, let's raise the level of the debate. And let's do that by challenging our own friends and colleagues to join us in leading the way.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wabi Sabi

When I moved to Ottawa in the fall of 2004, I lived quite close to the river and walked along it often. One of my first great discoveries was a rocky landing that was populated with stone figures. Small ones, large ones, some very simple and others quite elaborate. A plaque mounted at the site explained that the artist built these figures up each year, allowing them to wash away with each winter. Apparently he'd been doing this for some years.

The following year, I watched the process with real pleasure. He began in spring, and I'd often see him out there in hip waders, searching for the right stones and building his figures. By the height of summer there was a whole community dotting the landing and out into the river. Not to mention the human spectators who had paused in their walks/rides/skates to take a look.

And as winter arrived, and the ice started to take over, the whole thing would disappear, almost overnight. Only a few of the larger stones were left as a reminder that something had once happened there.

Last fall, I moved, and I don't live close to the river anymore. Yesterday, I went out for a bike ride that took me along that path for the first time this year. The installation isn't there. It appears there will be no community of stone figures this year.

I don't know why, and I may never know. Perhaps the artist didn't get some grant he needed to keep devoting the time to a project that had no revenue-generating capacity. Perhaps he moved on to something else. Perhaps he's sick or even dead.

The story goes that Zen monk Sen no Rikyu was asked to tend his master's garden. Having raked the ground until it was pristine, he surveyed the result and then shook the branch of a cherry tree, so that a few leaves fell back to the ground. This was his recognition that beauty exists in the transitive nature of things. Everything is either growing or decaying. Often both at the same time.

I know that all things come to an end and that other things take their place. But I sat for a long time looking out over where those figures used to be.

Friday, May 18, 2007

My apology to Canada's New Government™

I have previously mocked the Conservatives for their amateurish branding exercise. For one thing, "Canada's New Government" rings in my ears like an attempt to sell soap flakes or breakfast cereal (Now with 25% more smugness and 18 essential panders!). And surely there's some natural statute of limitations on calling something New. Six months maybe. A year tops.

But with this demonstration of just how New they are, I must offer a clear and unequivocal apology:

To Messrs. Harper, Baird, Flaherty, et. al. I sincerely regret having suggested, either in word or action, that you were experienced and thoughtful politicians who shouldn't consider yourselves New. Clearly I was wrong, and I regret any hurt feelings my actions may have caused.

I assumed that spending 13 years watching from the opposition benches, you would have picked up some tips about how to manage relations with the civil service. That assumption was naïve and unfair, and I promise never again to suggest that you learned anything other than smear tactics and the ability to pass off complete fabrications as truth. In fairness, you're really good at those things, and one shouldn't be criticized for honing their specialized skills.

So since you're New, and need more time to get the hang of things, I will humbly offer a morsel of advice:

Don't mess with the civil service. They have way too much ability to fuck you up. If you continue to try to get heavy, you're in for a world of hurt.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bomb drama just a creative way of getting future boss' attention

The RCMP's explosives disposal unit was called to the scene of 24 Sussex yesterday, after a nervous-looking man tossed a duffel bag over the security fence. Upon investigation, however, the bag was found to contain an assortment of personal hygiene products. The police canine unit was called in to track the man, who fled on foot, but he has not yet been apprehended.

"We're hoping the individual will contact us soon," said PMO spokeswoman Sandra Buckler. "The bag also contained a resume and cover letter, indicating the gentleman is interested in a position on the Prime Minister's grooming detail. Mr. Harper was quite intrigued by some of the product samples contained in the package, and the resume lists some impressive credentials." Ms. Buckler declined to comment as to whether those credentials included palmology and channeling.

When asked about the conduct of the man, who was seen pacing in front of the property prior to the incident, and the possibility of mental health implications, Ms. Buckler was dismissive. "I imagine he was just nervous about applying for a job of such importance. I remember how anxious I was in my interview for this job. I was perspiring so much, I had to ask for a break to change my clothes. I completely understand the gentleman's desire to run away. But with the summer barbeque tour fast approaching, I do hope he'll be in touch. "

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Just a random observance

It's the time of year when Parliament Hill is increasingly full of tour groups and visitors and people who just want to spend some time on a nice, big, sunny lawn. Yesterday, as I was walking up towards Centre Block, I had to pass through a large group of people 'speaking' to one another in sign language.

There were probably about 50 or 60 of them. I don't know why they were there. It didn't seem to be a demonstration of any kind. Mostly it just looked like any other group, except quieter and with a lot of hands waving around and making interesting shapes. And I don't know why it made me feel happy, but it did.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Re-emerging from the void

Before I become another blogger with good intentions and no follow through, I'd better get back in. I've been thinking about lots of stuff, but having taken on a new project, I've barely had time to tie my shoes lately, let alone write stuff down.

The project is this. Previously, I've limited my activity to federal politics, but I guess I just can't resist a great candidate, and I seem to have a soft spot for activists with the courage to run. As I've said before, I sometimes wonder why anyone would do it.

Anyway, if anyone from Ottawa Centre happens to be reading this, and you're free this evening, come on out to the Newport Restaurant at Richmond & Churchill and meet her.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Now, if we can just remember who our real opponent is

I know Ottawa's in a bubble, and what goes on here doesn't necessarily reflect the realities across the country, but the mood among Liberals is pretty good in this town right now. I spent last night at a gathering of various staffers and organizers and everyone was feeling pretty pumped about what a good week we had – or at least what a bad week the Conservatives had, which is almost the same thing.

Now, if we're focused and disciplined, we can solidify an effective opposition and peel away the government's carefully constructed façade while simultaneously shining a bright light on the NDP's hypocracy in supporting them. And that's a viable path to forming government again.

But that kind of result doesn't just get created in the leader's office or at 81 Metcalfe. We've got to pull together as a party. All of us.

We have an opponent. His name isn't Stéphane Dion or Michael Ignatieff or Warren Kinsella or Mark Marrisen or Jason Cherniak or Scott Reid.

His name is Stephen Harper.

We win when we work together to defeat his government. There is no other way.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Can anyone tell me what the NDP stands for anymore?

After previously advocating for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Mr. Mustache yesterday displayed a stunning piece of leadership by backing the Conservatives in defeating the Liberal motion that would have prevented the government from extending the mission beyond its current commitment to participate until 2009.

Of course, the Dippers insist that this is because they want the mission to end even sooner, but what they want doesn't matter because the effect of this move is what's important, not the principle behind their vote.

If the Conservatives are re-elected – an outcome the NDP seems determined to facilitate – they will have free reign to extend the mission as long as they like. Whether or not you think that's a good thing, the NDP has been clear that they don't. Their 'principled' move has the exact opposite result as their stated objective.

Angus Reid posted its latest poll yesterday which on the surface seems to be a spanking to the May/Dion agreement (Far and Wide has a good analysis, despite its unfortunate and, I think, inaccurate title), but its most significant finding, in my view, is that the deal has the support of 43% of NDP voters. This suggests to me that left-leaning Canadians, who are generally more interested in results than partisanship, are increasingly losing touch with the NDP.

And with good reason.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lessons from the first real weekend of Spring

  • Removing the storm windows and leaving the windows open at night allows the cat to come and go as she pleases, but this will not prevent her from licking your face in the morning when she wants to wake you up. Also, when the temperature drops to 8º it's fine if one is snuggled in a down comforter, but when the alarm goes off and one has to get out of bed to turn it off, it's a good idea to be wearing pajamas.
  • When embarking on long bike rides, pack a spare inner tube.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The appointed Senate needs a pitch man

The poor appointed Senate. It's a bit like Rodney Dangerfield – never gets no respect. The Globe & Mail's little on-line poll yesterday asked readers whether they favoured appointed or elected Senators, or abolishing the institution all together. That 87% of responders favoured tossing a live grenade through the chamber doors should give Stephen Harper pause, if he's thinking about making this issue his Waterloo. On-line polls like this aren't remotely scientific, but even a margin of error of 20 points means that fully two thirds of Canadians think Senate reform is a pointless exercise.

That said, I'm actually among the whopping 3% of folks who think appointed Senators are a good idea. I genuinely believe there's a valid role for our society's elites in evaluating and helping shape our country's laws.

Senators get a bad rap and the common perception of them is that they're a bunch of geriatric party hacks who've been handed a sweet salary and pension for doing basically nothing. And there are, no doubt, more than a few for whom this description is right on the money. But there are plenty of elected politicians who are not exactly prizes. For all it's strengths, the democratic process doesn't always result in the selection of the best and brightest.

And there are a lot of people who bristle at the very notion that our society ought to even acknowledge its elites, let alone accord them privilege or power. It's the antithesis of whatever socialist leanings we may have. It's also, I think, a product of the "American Idol" mentality, where everyone thinks they can – and should – be a star. The people who've experienced success aren't better than me, they're just luckier.

Call me naïve, but I tend to think that most accomplished people got that way by being good at their jobs – by being smart and resourceful and talented. And along the way to and through their success, they had experiences that broadened their perspectives and provided useful insights into the way at least certain aspects of society function and can function better. Whether they're doctors or artists or business leaders or, yes, even political organizers (gotta leave an opening for my own appointment someday, don't I?), a pool drawn from society's most accomplished individuals can – and I think does – add value to the legislative process.

I'm all for democracy, but choosing decision makers by voting for them does have its downside. We see examples all the time of legislative or budgetary choices that have more to do with what's popular with voters than with what is objectively in the best interests of the citizenry. An appointed legislative body provides some balance against the inherent tendencies of elected politicians – across the political spectrum – to pander to their supporters or potential supporters.

So the Senate has its function, but it also knows its place. The elected body of the House of Commons remains dominant, as it should be. The appointed Senate doesn't pretend to be the central legislative institution. It's the body of "sober second thought". It seems inevitable to me that an elected Senate would expect its legislative will to be on a par with that of the House of Commons, and that's a recipe for the kind of deadlock we often see south of the border, particularly when the two houses are held by different parties.

There are things about the Senate that can be improved, to be sure. The distribution of Senators disproportionately favours some provinces over others. And the appointment process could be taken out of the hands of the PMO, or at least could include an appointments committee that sought to make appointments less overtly partisan. But the Harper government's half-assed approach to reform solves none of the real propblems and only serves to create new ones. Electing Senators only serves to create a second institution driven by partisan and electoral objectives, and abolition removes a set of legislative functions we can't afford to lose.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Mr. Speaker, the long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and federal governments is over."

To be replaced by a prolonged period of shouting.

In fairness, provincial Premiers will never be satisfied with the federal government. Flaherty's failure to create a satisfactory solution to the fiscal imbalance shouldn't surprise anyone, since:

  1. The fiscal imbalance doesn't exist; and
  2. Premiers need the issue more than they need the money.
Flaherty's real offense was his smugness in making a claim that was so blatantly full of crap.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Guns R Us

I made the mistake today of sitting down to eat lunch where the only newspaper available was the Ottawa Sun. In response to yesterday's shooting at Virginia Tech, there was the usual opposition to gun control, on the grounds that law-abiding citizens with guns aren't the problem, and that gun control isn't effective in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. Several of the Sun's informed and enlightened readers went as far as to suggest that the school was at fault for banning guns from its premises. Because if the other students were armed, someone could have taken the guy down before he killed so many people.

I'm going to resist the temptation to suggest that these letter writers (and one candidate for the Republican presidential nomination) need to increase the dosage of their medication. Instead, I'll actually look at this rationally, as if these were reasonable arguments.

The first one's almost too easy to dispense with: Cho Seung-Hui was a law-abiding citizen, right up to the moment he took his legally purchased handgun, loaded with legally purchased ammunition, and started killing his fellow students with it. Criminals don't wear black hats. They're law abiding citizens before they become criminals, and they don't usually announce their intention to make the change.

To the second suggestion, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that some of the other people at the school were armed – perhaps as many as one in six. What happens when these people pull out their guns and start shooting? A fire fight, that's what. And not the pretty Hollywood kind, where the good guys hit what they aim at and the bad guys keep missing. We're talking complete fucking chaos. Everyone panicking and ODing on adrenaline. Bullets flying everywhere indiscriminately and no one even sure who the bad guys are.

Then the police arrive. They don't know who the bad guys are and who's trying to save the day. All they know is that people are shooting.

I'm willing to be large sums of money (well, hypothetical sums of money, anyway) that this results in way more than 33 dead bodies. I'm also willing to bet that it results in many otherwise law-abiding people having to live with the consequences of killing or crippling innocent bystanders in their amateur attempt to save the day.

And that's just in this extreme scenario. Never mind the day to day impact of having a fully armed population. It would make our experiences with road rage and bar brawls look like a church picnic.

Of course, we Canadians can take comfort in the fact that this is an American problem that could never happen here.

Oh, wait...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Not again

For god's sake, why is it always students being shot?

All of a sudden nothing else seems to matter.

Except restricting access to the freaking guns. But we can't do that, because it would violate people's inalienable rights.

More on the May/Dion love fest

Good analysis from Susan Riley and Far & Wide. Quite frankly, anyone who thinks making decisions based on your deeply held convictions is a sign of weak leadership needs to go back to school.

Always winter and never Christmas

Maybe Laureen Harper is the White Witch in disguise.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Steve's Sunday Compendium of Stuff

Having been too busy to comment on these issues as they arose, I'll hit a few key points today.

  • Scott Bradley is one of the classiest acts I've seen in politics. His concession of the Ottawa Centre federal nomination to Penny Collenette was as instantaneously gracious and supportive as anyone could want. And having spent some time talking with him afterwards, he seems to be completely without bitterness. Thankfully, he's not going anywhere and he's got youth on his side. Ottawa Liberals will remember how he's handled himself the next time around.

  • This is a great move, one that I've been advocating since May first announced she'd run in Central Nova. And despite the chorus of criticism from Liberal bloggers and other commentators, I'm inclined to think it will resonate with Canadians who care more about results than they do about partisanship.

  • The fact that Jack can't come up with anything better than this is more proof that it's a good idea, and that he's justifiably scared. Jack's the one who's got a lot to answer for, having sold out his party's values for a few extra seats and the misguided view that the NDP can or should form government federally. The NDP has served this country best by being the centre's conscience. It's lost sight of that under Jack, but it's traditional supporters haven't, and I think they may be fighting to hang onto official party status when the counting's all done on Election night.

  • I don't imagine Buzz Hargrove will be offering any smooches to Mr. Dion any time soon, which can only be a good thing. The biggest single threat to the Canadian/American auto industry is the CAW and adversarial relationship it perpetuates between the industry's corporate leadership and its labour force. With any luck, Buzz will get kiss and make up with Jack, and help remind Canadians just how weak the NDP's environmental bona fides really are.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Who says my ideas aren't worth anything?

Angus Reid just paid me a dollar.

So, why do it?

Given the downside to public life, as outlined in my earlier post, why do folks choose to run and run again? I mean there's clearly no shortage of candidates. I spent part of yesterday evening at an event with the various Liberal candidates for Ottawa Centre. Six candidates running for two nominations, all eager to step up and serve.

Having spent no small amount of time with various politicians and would-be politicians, it's been my experience that most of them are driven by one or both of these two things:

  1. Desire to effect change
  2. Ego
You don't have to have both to get elected, but I'll argue you need them both to be effective over the long term. The extrinsic rewards of politics primarily gratify the ego – masses of volunteers campaign workers, victory parties, parliamentary privilege. Change is harder to come by and the failures far outnumber the successes. It takes a powerful belief in the process to compensate for a shortage of ego.

Belinda, we hardly knew ya

There are lots of reasons to be disappointed about Ms. Stronach's decision to leave politics. We need more strong women in politics, not fewer. She's always carried a star quality that's rare and valuable. And many it will view it as another example of weakness in the Liberal Party.

But most disappointing, I think, is that she was just starting to get good at the actual work of politics.

Politics looks glamourous but it's really not. The hours are long, the pressure is high, the work is often incredibly mundane, it's largely thankless and the pay is a fraction of what one can make in the private sector. Sometimes I wonder why anyone would want to run for office.

So public life struggles to attract and retain the best and the brightest, particularly women, who are perhaps less ego-driven than men (if I can indulge in a gross generalization), Belinda being the exception that proves the rule.

Note the date stamp

Just when you thought it was safe to go out without a coat, the white stuff starts falling again. @#$*#$!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blogging Code of Conduct

Technology blogger Tim O'Reilly has been working towards the creation of a Blogger's Code of Conduct. I find the response, at least as reflected in the comments to his post, interesting. It's largely oppositional, although I'm reminded of the business axiom that customers are ten times more likely to write in complaint than in praise.

But that said, I find particularly interesting the concern many seem to have with restricting anonymous comments, especially since the issue of anonymity was something of a catalyst in getting this blog started. That first post drew responses from two bloggers who post under pseudonyms, one of whom I know and respect and the other who I just respect. Both of them articulated valid reasons why remaining anonymous is important to them.

In contrast, my participation in last week's Blog Against Sexual Violence led me to this post, with it's chain of comments that includes some of the most vile shit I've ever had the misfortune to read. Posted anonymously, of course.

Maybe this is the price we have to pay to enjoy the right to free speech, but too often we forget that freedoms carry inherent responsibilities. This code of conduct strikes me as a good attempt to remind each other of that, and by adopting it to acknowledge individually the shouldering of ones share of that responsibility.

And ultimately, it furthers the cause of credibility in the blogosphere. Stephen Taylor's recent experience in the House of Commons and this discussion of whether bloggers are journalists point to the gap that still remains between new media commentators and those in the main stream media. A big portion of that gap rests on credibility issues and the lack of any "industry standards" within the blogosphere.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

“Three Strikes” proposals mean business as usual for child sex predators

Blog Against Sexual Violence logo

A great many courageous women will be openly discussing their experiences with sexual violence today. I hope readers of this post will take a little time to click the link above and read some of their experiences. The personal doesn't get much more political than this – something Bev Oda might want to think about.

So today seems like a particularly good day to talk about one of the government's key legislative initiatives Parliament will be addressing after it resumes sitting on April 16th – Bill C-27: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace), better known as the "Three Strikes Bill".

The Conservatives like to talk tough on crime, but the truth of the matter is that they're just simplistic on crime. Leave aside that Stephen Harper and his successive justice ministers seem to be taking their policy inspiration from jurisdictions that warehouse their citizens for such egregious crimes as stealing chocolate chip cookies and video tapes, and which apply the death penalty to juveniles.

Leave aside that this initiative will require extraordinary increases in prison spending, and that the notion that tougher sentences will serve as a deterrent is a fallacy. And leave aside that the “reverse onus” approach to prosecution – where the accused are required to prove their innocence, rather than the other way around – is probably unconstitutional, and that a Justice Minister should know better.

Leave all that aside. Because the real problem with Bill C-27 is that it utterly fails to address the deficits in our criminal justice system that allow sexual predators to victimize children. Not because it isn't tough enough, but because it continues to treat sexual predators the same as other kinds of violent criminals, when every shred of evidence available proves they're not. The problem with this bill is not that it goes too far, it's that it doesn't go far enough.

The truth of the matter is that the methods and patterns displayed by predatory sex offenders are so distinctive and predictable that we don’t need to wait for a third, or even a second strike to identify the danger they pose. One strike is enough. Sometimes it may not even take that.

Now, before I go any further, it's important to distinguish between sex offenders and sexual predators. All predators are offenders, but not all offenders are predators. Some (perhaps most) offenders act out of impulsiveness or opportunism and their crimes, although despicable, are uncomplicated (although the fallout may be) and driven by the same motivating factors as most other kinds of violent offenses.

Predatory sex offenders, on the other hand, are generally thoughtful, deliberate and meticulous in the planning and execution of their crimes. They contrive to place themselves in positions of trust, with the conscious intention of later abusing that trust. They carefully groom their chosen victims to become receptive to their sexual advances, and to stay silent. And they are driven by a compulsion that overrides any sense of responsibility to conform to society’s rules in these matters.

Our correctional system is based, at least in part, on three key notions:

  1. That the threat of prison offers a disincentive to offending against the law;
  2. That, for those who break the law, a period of incarceration, and the teaching of new life skills, followed upon release with appropriate monitoring, can help those individuals function normally in society; and
  3. That the completion of a correctional sentence is equivalent to the repayment of a social debt, which, once paid, entitles the individual to all the freedoms and privileges of full citizenship.
But in the case of sexual predators, none of these presumptions apply. In virtually all cases of where offenders displayed predatory patterns of behaviour, their compulsion had superceded any sense of deterrence the threat of incarceration might provide. Far more significantly, at the time of their release, psychologists inevitably predict a high risk of reoffending. But having “paid their debt” to society, the system has no choice but release them with fingers crossed.

We know they're going to abuse more children as soon as the opportunity presents itself. We know it. But instead of proposing a results-based solution, such as a parallel system for this subset of criminals, Bill C-27 just says, "if we catch you doing it two more times, you'll really be in trouble," despite the fact that we can accurately predict that the strength of their compulsion will ultimately override the deterrent factor.

And how many children will be hurt in the meantime?

Now, in farness to Stephen Harper and former Justice Minster, Vic Towes, who drafted C-27, these are complicated matters, and it’s far easier to talk tough on crime than it is to effectively address the substantive reform necessary to have a real impact. “Three Strikes” has a satisfying ring to it. But I’m reminded of Ben Stiller's inflatable cod-piece in the movie Dodgeball. Looked impressive at a surface glance, but there wasn’t really much there.

So my expectations of this government for effective solutions have always been low, but even so, I can’t help but be a little disappointed that for all their bluster, the Conservatives couldn’t be a little more creative than simply cribbing failed policies from the Republican playbook.

In truth, the solutions we need will necessarily be controversial. Some of our beliefs about criminals and the criminal justice system are so deeply entrenched that we find it difficult to look outside the box. But the principles of our justice system were established long before we understood about sexual predators. If we’re going to do more than pay lip service to the problem, we need a new paradigm. Until we can muster the political will to create one nothing we do will ever be more than sticking a band-aid on a festering wound.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The real national identity question

Toronto is inhabited by Torontonians. Montrealers live in Montreal and Vancouver has Vacouverites. But what's the moniker for folks who live in our nation's capital? Ottawans? Ottawegians? Ottawites?

Anyone?

Uncommonly, a complaint about other drivers

Having just spent most of the morning on the road back from Toronto, in the pissing rain, with the mist off the tires of transport trucks helpfully blending the grey of the road with the grey of the sky, I have to say this to my fellow drivers:

Turn your damn lights on. Running lights aren't enough and you're frickin' invisible.

Nuff said.

Someone's been watching too much film noir

Okay, this is for all those who whine about liberal media bias. Only those few who take the time to read more than just the headline and first paragraph will see that the "shadowy network" is made up of two people who haven't been involved with the party for years. But let's not let the facts interfere with a salacious headline.

Convenient timing for this bit of gossip from an unnamed source (who, by the way, is not identified as a Liberal). With any luck, police will finish reviewing the remaining files in time to release some new vaguely incriminating tidbits in the middle of a spring election.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Lessons from the dance floor

I spent the weekend at a swing dance workshop in Toronto, which included a jazz dance session dedicated to the memory of James Brown. Key learning: I can not now, nor will I ever be able to move like the Godfather of Soul.

Mercifully, no video cameras were present.

Friday, March 30, 2007

In defense of floor crossers

Tim Peterson's defection from the McGuinty Liberals will no doubt spark the same howls of protest that accompanied other recent floor crossings.

(The fact that Peterson plans to sit as an independent until the October election will mollify some, but it's really irrelevant. He's already announced that he'll run as a PC. He appeared with John Tory at the announcement. Presumably he'll vote with the Tories in the legislature. The only thing that will differentiate him from the rest of the Conservative caucus is that he won't have access to the caucus research and communications services and he won't sit in caucus meetings. At least not officially. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck...)

But the condemnation of floor-crossers (with one exception I'll get to in a minute) has always rung hollow for me.

In our parliamentary democracy, each us votes for one Member of Parliament, based of course on their party affiliation and the leader of that party, but also because they are the individual we want to represent our interests in the House of Commons. That's right, we elect free-thinking individuals as our representatives. Through our vote, we empower them to make decisions on our behalf and choose to trust them to make those decisions to the best of their ability.

We choose humans to represent us, not automatons.

So, if in the course of doing the jobs their constituents empowered them to do, they decide that their party or their leader has veered off course (despite their best efforts to course-correct within caucus), and that another party has it right, then a reasonable case can be made that crossing the floor is with the best interests of constituents in mind. It's certainly within the range of decisions our votes empower them to make.

Of course personal ambition is a factor. And why shouldn't it be, as long as it's balanced against their responsibilities to constituents? Who amongst us doesn't factor our personal goals into our professional decision-making. Again, we choose humans to represent us, not automatons.

In the end, we have plenty of opportunities to express our views on how they should represent us, most importantly through our vote in the next election.

On balance, as a Liberal, I'd say we've gotten the better end of the deal. We get Scott Brison and Belinda Stronach. They get Wajid Khan. And it sounds like Peterson is not much of a prize for the provincial Tories — a pale shadow of his brothers by all accounts.

So I can criticise the decisions I don't like, but I can't condemn any of them for the choices they made, as disappointing as some of them may be.

With one notable exception that proves the rule. You can't even pretend to make the case that you're course-correcting just weeks after the election, and before the parliamentary session has even begun. Harper's and Emerson's actions in this were a blatant betrayal of voters and an insult to democracy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Perfume bathers of the world, unite!

How to tell you're wearing too much perfume:
1. You can smell yourself (actually applies to any body odour).
2. Your monthly perfume budget is larger than your cable TV bill.
3. You have a monthly perfume budget.
4. Your bus driver stops the bus, opens all the windows and asks you to move the the part of the bus where other passengers are not.

How not to handle #4 above:
1. Assume that since no one has ever mentioned your excessive scent before, it must be the bus driver's problem. It's not like Canadians ever try to be polite or avoid confrontation.
2. Get a major media outlet to take up your cause célèbre.
3. Pose for picture in said media outlet's article, displaying ginormous, half-empty bottle of perfume.
4. Liken yourself to a key player in the civil rights movement [insert this writer's strangled scream].

You want to know why protest politics has become virtually irrelevant in the 21st century? This is why. Every time someone claims to be oppressed by the consequences of their own bad or inconsiderate behaviour, liberalism is tarnished, and the right gets yet another tool with which to dismiss the legitimate concerns of those who are genuinely oppressed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Okay, maybe my sense of humour is a bit twisted...

but I could watch this for hours.

Longing for a water cooler

My current role has me working from home, which is not my favourite place to work. Blurs the boundary between professional and personal even further than it already is, and it's isolating. I miss the opportunity for casual interaction with colleagues. But, until this project is finished, it's just me and my cat, Chicken, who's not much a conversationalist and is determined to lick my fingers, which is a decidedly unpleasant sensation. Also it interfreres witg my tyuping.

Maybe it's a grass is greener thing, but I've often met people who fantasized about working from home (which may say something about their fantasy lives), but I'm here to tell you that the novelty of working in your pajamas gets tired really fast.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Care and Feeding of Leaders

Having worked on Stéphane Dion's Liberal leadership bid, last night's Quebec election has me thinking a lot about the expectations we have of our leaders, and their fates if/when they disappoint. It's being widely speculated that the knives are already out for André Boisclair, PQ leader for less than a year. Mr. Dion could face an election as early as next month – his fifth month as Liberal leader. If he loses, will he face the same fate? Should he?

Boisclair has always struck me as a bit of a hair-do. Mostly charm, not a lot of substance. And it's not unreasonable to say he underperformed in this campaign. But in all fairness, it's too soon for him to be shown the door.

We say we want our leaders to be visionaries, and we ask them to take us down a road we can't see in its entirety. But then we look to punish them if they don't deliver immediate results. We forget (or ignore) that wars are combinations of battles and that winning strategies include contingency plans that take setbacks into account.

Last night's result is a setback for the sovereignty movement (let's hope for many more), but that setback is as much about the movement itself, and the shifting values of Quebeckers as it is about the guy at the helm. And the war's not over yet. If Boisclair is forced out at this stage of the game, it will be the movement's failing, not the leader's.

Given everything we put into choosing our leaders, and everything they put on the line for us, we owe them better than that. Something I hope the federal Liberals keep in mind if we're still in opposition after the next E-Day.

Monday, March 26, 2007

My first post

There was a time when I thought of myself as a writer. And as a consultant in the private sector, I used to send out a daily message to my subscribers — my thoughts and observations about things. Kind of a blog, I guess, but tied in with a call to action of some sort.

Then a few years ago, I moved out of the private sector and into politics, and the professional motivation to maintain the newsletter wasn't there anymore, so I stopped writing.

But I've watched the blogosphere expand like ripples on still water, and have begun to feel like writing again. I never stopped having ideas that felt worth sharing, but my motivation for sharing them changed.

And the identity thing has been holding me back. Do I use my real name, or do I adopt some pseudonym that will allow me to say what I think without having to worry about consequences? I work in politics. What if some of my ideas conflict with those of my leader, or my employer or others whose support I may want, to further my professional goals and objectives? If I post openly, will I have to censor myself?

This (the March 22nd post) and this helped me make up my mind. You don't have to like Warren Kinsella, and you don't have to agree with him, but he is unapologetically who he is and that takes guts.

Perhaps one of the most disappointing things about the manner in which the blogosphere has evolved is that because it's incredibly easy to be anonymous, there are few (if any) consequences to saying whatever you want. You can mock or ridicule others, you can promulgate outrageous lies, you can falsify your identity in order to have cybersex with 13-year-olds. You can do all these things because you don't have to look anyone in the eye and own your ideas and your actions.

"Scooter" or "Mark Bourie" or whoever he is is entitled to his opinions of Mr. Kinsella. But he's a coward for hiding his identity when he shares them and engages others to do the same. Life is about choices and consequences, something Mr. Kinsella knows all too well and which Scooter seems to lack the emotional maturity to understand.

And of course, having said all that, this blog isn't about Warren Kinsella or Scooter, except inasmuch as I thank them both for pushing me to get back out writing again, and to do it as myself.

In my old newsletter, I used to call on readers to take some sort of action, but motivating others is no longer the express purpose of my writings. Okay, maybe it is a little bit. But the only person whose action I can direct is my own. So here's my commitment to action: I'll share my ideas and work with the consequences. Like me or not, agree with me or not, it'll be who I am.