Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The case for Ignatieff's environmental policy

The central focus of Michael Ignatieff's plan to reduce carbon emissions is carbon pricing, whether that be through a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. There are many good reasons for advocating carbon pricing. In fact, Harper, due to his policy of shadowing American environmental policy is being forced to admit that carbon pricing is not as evil as he once portray it to be.

Here is the case for carbon pricing:

1. Assuming the quasi-universally accepted proposition that global warming is the result of carbon emissions linked to human activity, it is clear that the necessary response is to change human behaviour. This has to be done throughout society, especially at the industrial level. To change behaviour so that cuts in emissions can be made, a price should be put on carbon, in the form of either a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. These systems discourage the use of carbon and encourage a more efficient use of carbon, technological innovations, and shifts in the economy, as much as possible.

2. The Economist and economists in general see such a carbon price as an insurance policy against the uncertainties of climate change. It is estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN sanctioned scientific body, that global temperature will rise by 1.1-6.4 degrees by the end of the century. Suffice it to say that if temperatures do rise by 6.4 degrees, the results would be catastrophic. By instituting a carbon price and thus regulating and capping emissions, we can eliminate most of this uncertainty and reliably limit temperature change to 2 degrees or less.

3. The reason this insurance policy is the reasonable route to take for policymakers and politicians is that the costs of doing so are well within the range that can be afforded. The Lord Stern report, commissioned by then British PM Tony Blair, estimates that to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees would cost at most 5% of GDP at the end of the century. However, Stern estimates that if carbon pricing policy is implemented efficiently the most likely result would be a cost of 1% of GDP. Comparatively, it cost 5% of last year’s GDP to bail out the banks.

4. The fact is that if we do not engage in carbon pricing, the adverse effects of global warming will increase dramatically. There will be increased droughts, famines, floods, freak storms and heat waves. What’s more, these will disproportionately assail the developing world, which has not contributed as much historically, and is still contributing less, as the developed world to global emissions. When my honourable opponent mentions the moral dilemma, this is where it really lies, as many more will be affected by inactivity on climate change than by carbon pricing. And they shoulder a lot less of the responsibility for global warming than those that work in carbon intensive industries.

5. Moreover, those whose livelihoods depend on such industries as the tar sands in Alberta will not be left without a job. One of the aims of carbon pricing is to encourage the development of green industries, such as building renewable energy sources. With proper job retraining, which could be funded through money collected through carbon pricing, some workers could transfer to new industries.

6. Furthermore, it is expected that carbon intensive industries would either become more efficient or develop new technologies. If this is the case, there would be no need for these industries to disappear. All that is needed is for them to adapt.

7. The problem with geoengineering is that it is unproven and could even have adverse effects of its own. Some of these include changes in weather patterns or could present danger to wildlife. It is very possible that many of these schemes, from creating sulphate clouds to dissolving CO2 in the oceans could disrupt many ecosystems. Whereas with carbon pricing we are sure of its effects: increased carbon efficiency, stimulated innovation in green technologies, and necessary restructuring of the economy.

8. Carbon pricing is the only policy that allows us to cut global emissions by 25-40% by 2020. This is the cut required to mitigate global warming and contain it in the 2-3 degree range. Therefore, if we do not institute carbon pricing, global warming will be beyond our control.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Potential Beginnings of a Full Blown Parliamentary Crisis

I was reading the macleans online and found this article by Andrew Coyne. Instead of writing my own thoughts on the issue, I will just reproduce here the article in full, the article is that good (imo).

Parliament will fight

What’s at stake here is nothing less than our system of government
by Andrew Coyne on Monday, December 21, 2009 12:10pm - 170 Comments

We are not yet in a constitutional crisis over the government’s refusal to release the Colvin memos to Parliament, but we probably should be. A secretive and overbearing government has turned an ordinary political dispute into an extraordinary confrontation over the powers and privileges of Parliament. Unless some compromise is found, Parliament will fight, and Parliament will be right.

What began as a manageable controversy over the Harper government’s faltering attempts to deal with a problem it inherited from the Liberals—what to do with the prisoners our forces captured in Afghanistan—has been transformed, via the Conservatives’ reflexive paranoia and insularity, into a full-blown political debacle, complete with martyred whistle-blower, outraged former ambassadors, self-correcting generals, and befuddled ministers. And running throughout, a drumbeat of press reports contradicting virtually every aspect of the government’s story.

It now appears, contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, that at least some of the prisoners we transferred to the Afghan police and security services were tortured, or at least abused; that at least some of our troops knew this; and that serious concerns about the treatment of these prisoners, and about our own procedures for reporting on their whereabouts, were relayed to government and Defence officials, not only from Richard Colvin, the diplomat at the centre of the storm, but from multiple sources.

None of this is evidence of a deliberate policy of transferring prisoners for torture, or even negligent disregard of their probable fate—the stuff of war crimes charges. Neither can we say for a fact that senior officials knew prisoners were being mistreated. The facts, at least so far, remain consistent with a story of officials’ evolving awareness of the seriousness of the problem, and of the inadequacies of their initial responses.

It was, after all, at Canada’s insistence that an agreement was first struck with the Afghan government in December 2005, requiring that any prisoners be treated humanely according to the Geneva Conventions, and ensuring access to Red Cross inspectors at any time. As the weakness of that agreement became apparent, a new arrangement was struck in February 2007 providing for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission to make inspections as well. Corrections Canada officers were flown over to make recommendations for improving Afghan prisons. And when even that proved deficient (the AIHRC complained it was being denied access), after the publication in April 2007 of prisoners’ allegations of mistreatment the protocol was changed yet again, to provide for inspections by Canadian officials.

It is legitimate to ask why it took so many months for the Harper government to arrive at the same protocol that was insisted upon by the British and Dutch forces from the start. It is equally legitimate to ask why the previous Liberal government did not simply hand any prisoners taken over to the American military, rather than gamble on the prison system of a country whose notion of justice might charitably be described as medieval. Even allowing for the confusion that typifies any war zone, let alone Afghanistan, the answers might well have reflected poorly on both governments.

But whatever controversy might thus have been aroused would have been nothing like the firestorm in which the Conservatives now find themselves, owing entirely to their refusal to allow the evidence to come out—a policy that, whatever its motives, has only fed suspicions of wrongdoing. If the government has nothing to hide, it sure seems determined to hide it.

It is not only Parliament, we should recall, that the government has been stonewalling. Colvin’s sensational appearance before the Commons special committee on Afghanistan only came about after the chairman of the military police complaints commission, Peter Tinsley, discontinued hearings into the treatment of Afghan detainees in the face of the government’s persistent refusal to release the relevant documents to the commission.

Obstructing the work of a quasi-judicial commission is one thing—regrettably, hardly unusual in this country, where the shutdown of the Somalia inquiry caused barely a ripple. But refusing a Commons committee’s demand for the documents—and, more remarkably, last week’s vote of the full House—is

This is hardly a “fishing expedition,” after all. The Colvin memos, in particular, are clearly relevant to some of the central questions in dispute: what happened, what the government knew, what it should have known. If nothing else, they go, as the lawyers say, to the question of credibility. Colvin told the committee he warned his superiors, repeatedly, that Canadian-transferred prisoners were being tortured; his superiors, military and civilian, testified they received no such warnings—that, indeed, the memos said no such thing.

The release, after much delay, of the “redacted” memos, did little to resolve the question, so many and extensive were the blacked-out portions: much as other documents were blacked out before their release. The defence offered by the government, of national security concerns, is a legitimate one in principle. But whatever benefit of the doubt the government might have enjoyed has been diminished as we learn what some of the redactions conceal.

Much controversy, for example, was aroused by the publication of a Canadian soldier’s field notes describing the capture and transfer of an Afghan prisoner who, it later emerged, was beaten by the Afghan National Police—in particular, by the following passage: “We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over, to ensure that if the ANP did assault him, as has happened in the past, we would have a visual record of his condition.” (Emphasis added.) In the version released to the MPCC, the same document reads: “We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over [redacted].”

So we need to see the documents, in unedited form. Or rather, Parliament (technically, the House of Commons, but I’ll use the shorthand) has demanded to see the documents. With that, and with the government’s brusque rejection of its demands, the dispute has entered an entirely new stage. It is difficult to overstate the importance of what is at stake. It is no less fundamental than whether the government is answerable to Parliament—the bedrock principle of our system of government. That’s not only a political matter. It’s also, arguably, a legal one.

I say arguably, because legal scholars appear to be divided. There is no debate that Parliament has the power to subpoena records and compel witnesses, one of a broad array of powers and immunities known as parliamentary privilege. What is in question is how far these apply to government officials—that is, to the Crown.

Some, such as Patrick Monahan of Osgoode Hall law school, accept the government’s argument that it is bound by statute not to release the redacted information, notably by the Security of Information Act and the Canada Evidence Act. If Parliament would like to make an exception to these laws, runs the argument, it is obliged to amend the legislation. Others, such as McGill’s Stephen Scott, emphasize Crown prerogative as a limiting factor on parliamentary privilege. Whatever powers Parliament may have to demand documents, he argues, they are not sufficiently explicit to override the Crown’s.

The Commons law clerk, Rob Walsh, takes the opposite view. In a strongly worded exchange of letters with the Department of Justice, Walsh puts the onus the other way around: in the absence of a specific exception in the statutes, the general presumption of parliamentary privilege should apply. If Parliament had wanted the Canada Evidence Act to limit its right to compel evidence, it would have said so. In fact, the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister at the time was at pains to spell out in debate that the intent of the bill was that “Parliament’s privilege to send [for] persons, papers and records not be affected.”

But Walsh’s views are mild, compared to those of Derek Lee. The lawyer and Liberal MP could fairly be said to have written the book on this issue—literally. The Power of Parliamentary Houses to Send for Persons, Papers & Records: A Sourcebook on the Law and Precedent of Parliamentary Subpoena for Canadian and Other Houses, his 1999 opus, would seem to have been written in anticipation of just such a dispute. Lee himself is categorical: Parliament’s powers in this respect are absolute and total, even with regard to government officials. “There is no barrier—none.” Well, short of summoning the Queen.

How should Parliament respond to the government’s apparent rejection of its demands? Lee is unequivocal. “There are only two or three times every century when parliaments have an opportunity to benchmark their powers,” he says. “This is one of those moments in time, when Parliament says the king must submit to the will of the people’s House.”

The matter won’t be settled in court, he vows: indeed, the courts will not even look at it. Rather, he intends to move a motion asserting parliamentary privilege just as soon as the House returns. Should the Commons vote to find the government in contempt, it has a range of punishments at its command, even as far as banishing the Prime Minister from the House. And should the government deem this a confidence vote? “This is so fundamental it’s not even a matter of confidence. Parliament might not allow itself to be dissolved, and the Governor General should be aware of this.”

It needn’t come to that, of course. No one is suggesting the documents should be released to the general public. So far as national security concerns are an issue, committee meetings could go in camera. Committee members could be required to swear an oath not to disclose the evidence they received, as is the practice in other democracies. As it happens, Lee is the sponsor of a private member’s bill that would set up a national security committee on these lines, reviving a government bill that died with the 2006 election. He has written the Prime Minister asking his support for the legislation. Now would seem a good time for the PM to respond.
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Harper is redefining prorogation

Canada's constitution lies in the written constitution as well as in parliamentary traditions or conventions. One of these is that prorogation of the House of Commons occurs after the agenda set forth in the Throne Speech is accomplished, or before elections. This definition of prorogation is being progressively amended by Harper and his Conservatives, rendering it instead a powerful government tool to escape accountability and to leverage power.

The first instance of this was last year, during the parliamentary crisis. Under unusual circumstances, the Prime Minister asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament so as to avoid an impending vote of non-confidence. By misguidedly accepting this request, the Governor General ceded prorogation to the Prime Minister as a political tool. Last year the government used it to stave off defeat. Now they are musing about using it for other, similarly unconventional and partisan motives.

The Conservatives are worried by the prospect of further questions on the issues surrounding Richard Colvin's testimony on the transfer of prisoners to the Afghan police. They have been losing, albeit not at an exceedingly rapid rate, support in the polls.

Furthermore, the fact that in the new year the Conservatives could have a majority in the Senate is driving them to consider prorogation. The problem is that if they do not prorogue Parliament, they will have a majority in the Senate, but not on the Senate committees. Only prorogation can do this.

It would be a prorogation for purely partisan motives and for this reason, if the Conservatives do ask for the proroguing of Parliament, the Governor General should do what she should have done last year, and deny this request.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Issues Copenhagen negotiations are hanging on

According to the CBC:

The draft texts being debated hinge on four key issues:

Emissions cuts: Industrialized nations are being pressured to cut back on emissions, while major developing nations like China and India are being asked to curb emission growth.

Financing: Richer nations are being asked to finance initiatives to help fight climate change in developing nations, but there is disagreement over how much climate aid should be given, and how it should be distributed.

Monitoring: The U.S. and developed nations are pushing for international verification of emissions actions by developing nations, but China, India and others are resisting any verification program.

Legal Form: Some nations want to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, while others — including the U.S. — would like a separate agreement that includes major developing nations.

Here is what I think about each one. The first concern is a given. We need to cut back as industrialized nations. Whereas developing nations should only curb because they have lower emissions per capita and have emitted far less over the last 200 years than the developed world.

As for the financing, I wouldn't know. It's too technical.

However, with the monitoring issue, it's clear to me what should happen. Of course there should be verification of emissions actions by developing nations. If this does not occur, these nations can claim actions while not doing anything, so that on paper it looks like emissions are cut, but in actual fact they are not. Furthermore, this allows emitters from developed countries where emissions are being cut to avoid restrictive policies and continue emitting in the developing world. This and further economic concerns would result from unverified emissions reductions actions.

As for the legal issue, it should be a new treaty that encompasses all the nations. It's simpler to do so than adding nations to the kyoto protocol. This would mean unnecessary complications with the structures of kyoto.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Canadian detainee-transfer agreement releasing Taliban prisoners

It has become apparent that, while controversy surrounds the detainee-transfer agreement in 2006 and 2007, the updated version has failings of its own. According to the Globe and Mail, and by Lawrence Cannon's own admission, the Afghans are ignoring the stipulation in the agreement that Afghanistan's secret policy notify Canadians when a prisoner captured by Canadians is transferred or released.

This is indicated by the inability of the Canadian Forces to account for some of their prisoners. If Afghanistan were following through on its obligation to notify Canadians of all transfers and releases, this would not be the case.

Cannon concedes that “ notification has been a challenge.” This effectively means that, although there is no proven single instance, it is very likely that prisoners captured by Canadians have been released without notification, and may even have returned to fighting our troops. In a horrific twist, Taliban prisoners may be exacting their revenge on their Canadian captors, abetted by a justice system that has failed to notify Canadians of prisoner releases.

What is without question is that prisoners are being released illegally and have had a significant impact on the Canadian Forces' morale. In a September 19 memo, Canada's Ambassador to Afghanistan wrote the “release of detainees is having a profound and demoralizing affect on our soldiers.”

This is a scandal in itself. It discredits the claims of the government asserting that their transfer agreement is adequate and by association also undermines their assurance that the problems with prisoner transfers and torture in 2006 and 2007 have been resolved.

For all we know, it may be the Afghans have studiously avoided to notify us of many prisoners' status because they are engaging in torture. What we do know is that the issue looks more suspicious now than it did.
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Where Andrew Coyne gets it wrong on the environment

In his column on macleans.ca , Andrew Coyne expertly does away with many fallacious arguments vis a vis climate change. However, he is misleading on the costs of not acting on climate change due to his solely economic approach to the potential effects of this inaction.

Coyne refers to the Stern report, a report made for the UK government on the costs of global warming in 2006. According to the report, a rise in temperature of three degrees will reduce GDP a century from now by 0 to 3%.

This is misleading because it avoids our moral responsibility to those who will suffer as a result of this rise in temperature. Those in the developing world will suffer the most, and for the majority of the developing world, they have had infinitesimal roles in bringing this warming and the natural disasters that will result. We are making others suffer for us.

Furthermore it threatens the necessities of life, such as accessibility to food and water, as well as general health. These are in turn potential sources of conflict.

The cost therefore of climate change cannot be only approached from an economic point of view. There is also the moral aspect of it to consider, one which when omitted renders the problem more trivial than it really is.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Was that clear substantive conclusive evidence Peter?

Canada's top soldier, Gen. Walter Natynczyk changed his line on a crucial issue today. While he maintained yesterday that there was no evidence that a Taliban suspect that was abused by the Afghan National Police, he has now revealed that new information contradicts this. What's more, it contradicts the line the government has been adopting to protect itself in the last week or so, namely that there is no conclusive evidence of an instance of torture concerning a detainee transferred to the Afghans by Canadians.

The Opposition has seized on this as yet more proof that Peter Mackay cannot be trusted and should be relieved of his ministerial duties. After all, how can we trust Peter Mackay? We are driven to driven to distrust him and doubt the integrity of his multiple statements on the subject when he is so bluntly corrected.

Some would defend the minister, maintaining that he is in the same position as Natynczyk, and thus could not have known about the information of this incident before him, rendering his statements true to what he knew at the time.

This begs wilful blindness. It is a very great leap of faith to believe that the information the General is referring to is actually new. It would be highly providential and expedient for this information to suddenly emerge the day after the General's testimony.

It would seem therefore that this information is not new per se, but rather new to the General. And if this is the case, Mackay can in now way be exonerated for his untrue comments on this file every since the beginning of the controversy. If then he has lied to the nation in such a way, is it too radical to say that we cannot trust him?
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Monday, December 7, 2009

Further Indication of Stephen Harper's Disconnect with the World

In this week's issue, the Economist, a mostly right-wing publication, outlines the proper policy to follow in order to effectively mitigate climate change. It suggests putting a carbon price on carbon of $40 per tonne, preferably through a carbon tax. In comparison, Stephane Dion's proposed carbon tax was only $10 the tonne. Yet the Economist maintains that such measures would only reduce world GDP by 1%, if measures are properly implemented.

This is policy that flies in the face of what Stephen Harper's government has been maintaining on the environmental file, namely that cuts greater than 20% by 2020 will be disastrous for the economy. This coming from a publication that sides with Harper on most other issues is indicative of the wide divide that has formed between Canada and the rest of the world. Canada, which signed the Kyoto Protocol, is now only slightly ahead of Obama's hope of cuts of 4% over 1990 levels. That we are slightly better than this is little excuse, as we signed onto Kyoto in 1992.

Stephen Harper should follow the worldwide trend towards a more serious tackling of the problem, and that starts in Copenhagen. If we accept the advice of economists and impose a $40 price on a tonne of carbon, we would be able to develop significantly our green industry, but most importantly, we would be able to lead for a legally binding treaty that is tough on emissions in Copenhagen.
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Friday, December 4, 2009

By following US, Prentice showing lack of leadership

Jim Prentice announced today that the government's emissions reductions targets will be directly linked to those in the US. Ahead of Copenhagen, Prentice is seeking to evidence a reasonable approach towards climate change, but this is anything but for a variety of reasons.

First of all, the emissions reductions targets in the US are nonexistent at the moment, as Congress has been unable to pass climate change legislation due to its preoccupation with the health care bill. Furthermore, while Obama has proposed a reduction of 17 per cent of emissions by 2020 over 2006 levels, this is still 3 per cent lower than the Conservative government's own targets at the present. If anything, Prentice is using this new strategy of directly linking our targets to American ones to reduce even further the action we're taking.

Secondly, this policy rests on the assumption that sticking to Kyoto targets and establishing similarly stringent targets at Copenhagen will harm the economy. However, this does not square with what we see on the provincial level. In Quebec, Jean Charest has put forward targets of 20 percent under 1990 levels by 2020, significantly lower targets than those of the federal government. Yet their economy has not suffered any of Prentice's dire predictions. Neither have other provinces such as Manitoba.

Jim Prentice may say he wants an agreement in Copenhagen. That may be the case, but it is an agreement that will be inconsequential because of our unwillingness to commit to anything more than what the US is doing. Instead of showing leadership and adding our weight to the pressure the world is making to bear on the US Senate, we have sanctioned whatever they do. Far from being a position of leadership, as Prentice purports, Canada's is that of a wagon that has hitched itself to the American locomotive, wherever it might go, even if it goes off the rails.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why Ignatieff's Position on HST is Wrong

Ignatieff announced today that his party would be supporting the HST. This may come as a surprise to the public, as Ignatieff himself labeled the tax grab the Harper Sales Tax. Instead, Ignatieff is now talking of a demand from the provinces based on the supposition that the HST will increase the competitiveness of businesses and create more jobs. This supposition, which I, though not an economics student as of yet, doubt very much, has led Ignatieff to a callous position on the HST.

While the supposition that the HST will lead to more jobs may or may not be theoretical, there is nothing theoretical about the toll the expanded tax will have on ordinary Canadians. This is because the HST is not only a harmonization of the taxes. If it were, Ignatieff's position would be justified. It is also an expansion of the GST and PST, applying consumer taxes of 12% to items previously exempt from any tax.

As it is, the HST expands a regressive tax on items every Canadian needs to buy. Canadians need to buy groceries and such items in equal amounts. So while the amount of money they spend on their groceries may vary due to the quality of food, this amount will still be close in total terms. However, in proportionate terms, this is far from the case.

A higher proportion of lower class incomes goes towards items that will be newly taxed by the HST, while a lower proportion of upper class incomes goes towards these expenses. Therefore, the HST will affect the poorest Canadians the most.

Surely this is not what Ignatieff wants?
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Binding Deal in Copenhagen?

During the last few weeks, the chances of a binding deal in Copenhagen were looking progressively dimmer, in large part due to Canada's obstructive attitude on the issue. However, as the Commenwealth nations, including Canada, announced that they are seeking a legally binding international agreement on greenhouse gas reductions in Copenhagen, chances for success are looking brighter.

Finally, in this past week, Canada has been forced to realize the magnitude of Copenhagen. It was only after the Chinese Premier, Wan Jiabao, and US President Obama, announced that they would be attending the conference, that Stephen Harper announced he would do so. Furthermore, although claiming recently that Copenhagen would not succeed in producing a treaty or its foundations, Canada has now signed a document of a completely opposite message.

This reversal in Canada's position would seem to be the result of outside pressures. Canada has been vilified the world over due to our reticent stance on climate change. Ostensibly, our stance was based on the unwillingness of developing countries to reduce emissions. This line of argument is now difficult to maintain. China has pledged to reduce carbon intensity, India has committed itself to reducing absolute emissions, and the Commonwealth has issued today's announcement. In light of these actions, where are these developing nations refusing to reduce emissions?

It ended up that we were the only country that would actually be impeding Copenhagen. It was a very awkward situation for Prime Minister Harper, one that has now forced him on a more environmentally friendly path. However, there is still a lot more he needs to do, from working hard at Copenhagen to releasing ambitious national targets and strategies to attain these.
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Finally, Some Policy, and it's Great Policy

Here is a newsletter Michael Ignatieff sent out today, outlining four major policies a Liberal Government would implement. They meet what is needed and are the right policies for our situation.

Here's the letter:

Friend --

It’s been an eventful twenty-four hours.

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke to students at Laval University about our Liberal plan to protect the environment, fight climate change and create the high-quality clean energy jobs of tomorrow.

I announced that a Liberal government will:

fight for a binding international agreement to reduce carbon pollution, with 1990 as our base year, and firm targets based on science, to restrict global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius;
create a cap-and-trade system, with hard caps that lead to absolute reductions;
protect our air, our water, our forests, our Arctic; and,
pass a national Clean Energy Act that includes landmark investments in clean energy and renewables, and the toughest vehicle emissions standards in North America.
Also yesterday afternoon, news broke that Stephen Harper has finally agreed to follow world leaders like Barack Obama to the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

Let me tell you what I think about that.

Environmental leadership should be a consistent priority for the Prime Minister of Canada. Not a political calculation. Not a last minute reaction. Not a show.

We deserve a government that leads, not follows, on the world stage.

The Liberal Party is ready to build a cleaner, more prosperous future for Canada. And we’ve got the plan to do it.

Please take a moment to watch this short video from my speech on my Facebook page. I hope you join in the conversation, and share your ideas. I’m eager to hear from you.

If you’re not on Facebook, you can watch the clip here.

Thank you,

Michael Ignatieff
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Make all the evidence available

In Question Period today, the focus was on the proper disclosure of evidence for the special committee on Afghanistan's investigation into the transfer of prisoners in Canadian hands to Afghan torturers. It would seem that, despite ubiquitous assertions that the government is providing all documents necessary, this is not the case.

In the House today, Stephen Harper referred to the desire of NDP MP Paul Dewar and others on the committee to delay the testimony of key witnesses, such as David Mulroney, who was the manager of the government's Afghanistan Task Force at the time pertaining to the allegations. These opposition MPs are planning on refusing his testimony until they receive the documents they deem necessary for their investigation: cabinet minutes, memos from Richard Colvin to the government and vice versa, etc...

So both sides seem to be withholding information from the public. Indeed, this is the impression Mr. Harper wants to create. However, in the proper chain of events, documents should be provided first, so that the interrogation of witnesses is pertinent and fully informed. This will not be the case until all the relevant ministers disclose relevant memos, cabinet minutes, and Richard Colvin and other diplomats' memos.

Therefore, in actual fact, it is Stephen Harper delaying the full availability of evidence. Indeed, he is delaying the testimony of witnesses that he professes to want to hear. Go figure.
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Monday, November 23, 2009

In Which Ignatieff Shows Rhetorical Skill.

After criticising Michael Ignatieff yesterday, I thought I'd complement him today. No new policy yet, but at least he showed some evidence of rhetorical ability when he asked Peter Mackay why prisoner transfers between Canadian Forces and Afghanistan have been halted three times. This was Mackay's answer:

“Mr. Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the question,” he said. “As he would know, and as he has indicated, decisions to stop transfers are operational decisions taken on a case-by-case basis in a theatre of operations by military personnel. In this instance, and it is now on the government web site, there were three operational decisions taken that resulted in pauses of transfers. Most recently, I want to indicate, the reason that the transfers stopped was because the Afghan officials were not living up to their expectations, not living up to the expectations set out in the transfer arrangements. The decision to stop was based on the fact that they were not living up to those expectations.”

To which Mr Ignatieff responded, rightfully: “Mr. Speaker in other words it is reasonable to assume that detainees were being abused.”

Further evidence we need an inquiry.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Please Sir, May we Have Some Policy?

We are almost 3 months removed from Ignatieff's threat to topple the government. Yet, one of the seeming reasons for the resulting plunge in voter support remains persistent: the total lack of policy.

It has been 10 months since Ignatieff assumed the mantle of the Liberal leadership, but as of yet precious little has been offered on the policy front. The meager offerings are hardly what you would build a campaign around. The closest that Ignatieff has come to outlining what his platform consists of is to announce that the environment will be central. A rousing rallying cry to stem the tide of voters heading, some grudgingly, into the awaiting Tory arms.

This is one of the main problems with Ignatieff's leadership to date. All we know that he stands for is that most of it is contrary to what Stephen Harper stands for. Which is a good start I guess, if you hadn't realized that is the reason the Liberals and Conservatives are two separate parties.

As concerns what Ignatieff would do for Canada if he were to be Prime Minister, it remains in a hidden by a fog surrounding the OLO. What would he do for the environment, on health care, on the economy? The answer is we don't know. No one can know.

Therefore it is unsurprising that Ignatieff is doing so badly in the polls. More than a revamped OLO, he needs policy. Supposedly he's in politics because he has ideas for this country. The revamped OLO should encourage him to make these known to the world. And fast, before the public, instead of wondering when the policy will come, will wonder whether the said policies even exist. This will inevitably open a Pandora's Box of questions that will further weaken Ignatieff.

In light of this, is it really too much to ask: Please sir, may we have some policy?
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Denying Responsibility of Torture

Accurately describes many of the atrocious behaviour surrounding the prisoner transfer and torture controversy.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Let's Have a Public Inquiry

The focus of today's Question Period was the allegation, put forward by diplomat Richard Colvin, that prisoners handed over by the Canadian Forces to the Afghan government were abused and tortured. In response to Opposition questions on the issue, the Minister of Defence repeated that the evidence of Mr. Colvin is questionable and that indeed it is false.

Peter Mackay said that "what is being relied upon here is nothing short of hearsay, second- or third-hand information, or that which came directly from the Taliban.” He also maintained that there has been no proven instance of torture.

He maintains also that Richard Colvin's case does not stand the test of reason, as he could have informed government ministers, which he didn't do. However, there are numerous reasons that Mr. Colvin might not have spoken to ministers then, if indeed this is the case. He may have been, like Mr. Mackay, unsatisfied with the quality of the evidence before him.

Due to these vastly differing accounts of the treatment of prisoners and questions surrounding the evidence of both Mr. Colvin and the government, a public inquiry is in order. It is the only instrument we have that will force both sides to present evidence meeting specific guidelines.
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Prentice: The Environment will wait for us

Okay, maybe he did not say those exact words. However, that's essentially the attitude that Prentice is displaying when this happens: "The federal environment minister says it may be a few years before Canada tables regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions."

Unfortunately for him, the environment is not waiting. And the situation gets worse every year that Prentice delays. Of course Prentice believes that reducing emissions by 20% by 2020 is within the realm of possibilities. However, soon we will be told how that is impossible.

Either that, or the Conservatives will engage in deeply bipolar behaviour, acting in complete opposition to their current actions.

Or perhaps Prentice is implicitly recognizing that the Liberals will be back in power by that time, and that they will be the ones who make the changes necessary.

All this to show that the entire Conservative position on the environment would be comedic, if it weren't on one of the most important issues of our time.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who Cares if Others Sign Copenhagen or Not!

In response to yesterday's post, the argument was made that Canada should not accept restrictions on carbon emissions until other significant polluters do so. This argument asserts that we cannot hurt our economy, as binding restrictions would, if the rest of the world doesn't follow suit. This argument is severely mistaken.

Let me illustrate. In the early 1800s, William Wilberforce worked tirelessly to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire, eventually being successful. Where would the world be if he had listened to the argument outlined above. Other colonial powers were still used slavery as part of their economies. It took real principle and leadership to oppose this and stand for a just cause.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Climate Won't Wait Until 2050

On Friday, on CBC's new show Power and Politics, Jim Prentice was interviewed about many things, especially the conflict between economic growth and environmental sustainability. Prentice made it clear that even a .3% decrease in economic growth until 2020 is unacceptable. This is the figure that the TD sponsored study of the economic and environmental future.

TD estimates that if the government is to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020, the decrease in expected economic growth will be only that of .3%, bringing the figure down from an expected 2.4% to 2.1%.

It is wonderful news that doing the right thing for our planet will cost so little, compared to what could have been expected. However, to Mr. Prentice's eyes this sacrifice is unnecessary. His reasoning is that the economy needs to be strong to encourage investment in new technologies that will save our environment.

One immediate response is that putting faith in technological advancements providing the means to combat the environmental crisis is in fact putting faith in the unknown. It is assuming, illogically, that technology will be the complete solution to our problems.

In addition, without instituting a reduction in carbon emissions, the market for sustainable technologies is much less inviting. These new technologies will probably, at first, be more expensive than conventional methods. With no incentives such as carbon taxes or cap and trade systems, they will definitely be so. So why would anyone, despite the .3% stronger economy Prentice seeks to protect, invest in this area? They would have to be sure that their new technologies would be cheaper than conventional methods. However, if a system such as a carbon tax or cap and trade were introduced, this would add a cost to the conventional technologies related to their carbon emitting ways.

One of the reasons Prentice advocates saving the .3% of growth is that he believes the year we will solve this problem is in 2050. The environment, however, will not wait that long. The crisis has now reached various tipping points, such as the thawing of the frozen peat bog that is subartic Siberia. This thawing, the first since the Ice Age, is releasing billions of tonnes of methane gas. The global temperature is changing at rapid rates. Waiting until 2050 is not an option.

If we are serious about combating climate change, we need to act now. We need to sign the document resulting from Copenhagen and push for it to be a document of real action. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are recalcitrant, focusing instead on saving the .3% of economic growth that is so important to their supporters.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Canada's Forces More Important than the Charter?

The new citizen guide for immigrants released today by the government reflects a new and somewhat distressing view of Canada. In the new document, great emphasis is put on Canada's military history and the importance of the Queen. This instead of such important topics as health care and the Charter. As Kady O'Malley puts it "while the Charter of Rights does make a brief appearance, it seems somewhat overshadowed by the Magna Carta."

However, more concerning is that Canada's military history is given more importance than the issues that Canadians hold dear and are proud of, things like health care, the environment, and the Charter. In a nation that in the past has prided itself on the peacekeeping role of its military, why are we suddenly trumpeting the exploits of our military? Should prospective Canadians absolutely know about our role in World War I, a war that was horrific and in which we caused as much suffering as we suffered? No.

They should instead know about what truly makes a Canadian. And while Harper and his cronies might think it's about guns (long gun registry by the way) and war, most Canadians know better. The danger is that immigrants don't. And this is what they will be taught.
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Against an Elected Senate (my article for the school newspaper)

In the last few years there have been numerous calls for an elected Senate in Canada. In fact, this was one of the planks of Stephen Harper’s successful campaign in the 2006 federal election. This movement asserts that an appointed Senate is undemocratic and thus inadmissible in a democracy like Canada. Although this argument may seem persuasive, it either misunderstands the Senate’s role in Canada’s government or does not value it at all. Indeed, when one considers the Senate’s role in government, one realizes that the appointment of senators is necessary to preserve the Senate’s significant role in government.

In 1980, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Report on Certain Aspects of the Canadian Constitution laid out, among others, two important roles of the Senate: revising legislation and protecting linguistic groups and other minorities. Another expression of the Senate’s role in Canadian governance is that it provides “sober second thought.” This identifies the ideal, advocated by the great British constitution theorist, Walter Bagehot, of an Upper House formed of members that have no need to consult opinion polls and can reflect and debate legislation without the partisan nature of an elected House such as the House of Commons. Surely such a House is of great value.

The Senate’s ability to fulfill the functions previously mentioned is irrevocably compromised when it is elected, or at the least mostly elected. By being elected, it would lose the independence that is integral to its role. Consider the House of Commons, the elected House in the Canadian Parliament. Party politics and party discipline dominate, meaning that a member rarely votes against his party’s position. This is because Members of Parliament (members of the House of Commons) rely on their party for re-election. Without the support of a party mechanism and a well-know leader, it is very difficult to be elected. Senators need not be preoccupied by whether their position is popular with the electorate or with their party. Instead, they can consider legislation on its merits. In this way, they provide caution and can bring to the Government’s notice issues that it, and the electorate, would not have considered.

In addition the Senate’s purpose in protecting minorities is impossible if it is elected. In elections, the majority decides. So in the case of an elected Senate, where would be the protection of minorities? An important feature of a democracy is the protection of minorities from potential abuse by the majority. Without it, a democracy becomes a method for discriminating against the less numerous or influential in society. Thus, this is one of the most important roles of the Senate, and it would be lost.

However, this is not to say that reform of the appointment of senators is not necessary. The United Kingdom has adopted a system that allows for the independence of its Upper House, the House of Lords, while preventing it from becoming a House dominated by the Prime Minister’s friends. In the UK, unlike in Canada, all parties nominate candidates to the House of Lords. In addition, a House of Lords Appointment Commission appoints non-partisan members based on their qualifications and not party affiliation. This is reform that if adopted in Canada would allow the Senate to accomplish its role while not being open to Prime Ministerial abuse.

It is important to remember that the Senate does not have equal powers to the House of Commons. In matters relating to finance in any way, the Senate can only delay laws, not refuse them. Thus, it is the elected House that controls the state’s money. So it is untrue to say that the Senate can effectively stonewall government. However, as shown above, elections would stonewall the Senate’s important role in Canadian governance.
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Monday, November 2, 2009

Public to Blame for Health Minister's Failures?

The Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq, lays the blame for shortages on the public's doorstep. It is the public's panic, according to the minister, that has caused shortages and the vaccine not being distributed to the target groups. However, the same public would not be in such a panic if the government had spent as much on its H1N1 awareness communication as on its partisan Action Plan ads.

The fact is that, although the federal government does not distribute the actual vaccine, it is responsible for informing the public. If the public had been properly informed of the expected procedure, Aglukkaq's plan to reach high priority groups first would have been much more successful. As it stands, her seeming surprise is unjustified.

In fact, couldn't the Health minister have decided how to distribute the vaccine based on census data? Couldn't she have insisted the provinces set up a program that ensures those most vulnerable are protected first. Of course, the provinces are equally to blame in this regard, but leadership is expected to come from the federal level.

We see that Aglukkaq blaming the public really is an attempt to mask the shortcomings in the federal vaccination plan. The public getting panicky without proper communication is something she should have foreseen. So is the need for a program ensuring the most vulnerable are immunized first. The public cannot be blamed when its leaders don't do what they were elected to do. That fault rests solely with the Health Minister.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Ridiculous Tory Defence on Partisan Advertising

When David McGuinty stood in the House today and asked pointedly why the Conservatives had devoted 12 times more money to pseudo government, but really partisan, advertising, than to H1N1 awareness campaigns, John Baird offered up what I believe he thought was a conclusive response:

“Mr. Speaker, if the Liberals had their way, they would continue to spread the kind of misinformation and scare-mongering that they have been doing in recent days. Their health critic had to of course apologize earlier for making some rather regrettable comments and trying to make light of a public health emergency. We have an important responsibility. The Minister of National Revenue makes important pronouncements with respect to the tax credits available to Canadians. The Minister of Finance reports back to Canadians, as mandated by this House, on our economic stimulus plan. We are working hard to create jobs and opportunities. We are working hard to get that job done.”

However, search as you might, it's hard to find a convincing answer hidden in there. Who cares what John Baird thinks the Liberals would do if they were in power? That is not the question and he knows it. The Liberals are not the government and they are not the ones that have abused of public money repeatedly for partisan purposes. It is very easy to build up this straw man based on conjecture, and then seemingly defeat it.

As for what the Liberal Health Critic said, I have not seen the comment. Nonetheless, I do know that even if it was offensive, she apologized. However, what I am even more sure of is the total irrelevance of this comment. Once again, is it important to know whether a Liberal made a comment they had to retract? As far as I know, she did not use public money to issue this comment.

Finally, Baird mentioned two ministers who require money for their announcements. Once again, he addresses a completely new question, one that no one would dispute. All agreed on public money being used to make announcements, but not partisan ones. The question was concerned instead with partisan ads that have appeared on radio and television.


If only based on Question Period responses, one would have enough evidence of Conservative incompetence on which to base a refusal to vote Conservative.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Conservatives Render Question Period a Disgrace

If you happen to look at Question Period, or even read summaries provided by the news sources, if you are not an ultra partisan Conservative, you become aware of one thing: Conservative replies seldom answer the question. In Fact, they are giving a good lesson on why it is called Question Period and not Question and Answer Period. Meanwhile, Stephen Harper shows contempt for examination of his government, letting John Baird answer more than double the questions than the PM addressed. Who has ever seen a Transport Minister so cognizant on every single issue. Actually, never mind, evasive and obstructive are more apt descriptors.

Here are some gems of virtually irrelevant answers from today's session alone:

Question: “When,” Mr. McGuinty wondered, “are the Conservatives going to clean up this ethical mess?”

Answer (Stephen Harper): “Mr. Speaker, this is a time of global economic recession,” he said, “but Canada’s performance exceeds that of many other countries and the measures of government are well-supported by Canadians and even the vast majority of provincial governments.” Continued with ‘When you throw mud, you lose ground.’

Question: David McGuinty: “Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have spent 12 times more on meaningless sloganeering than on real information on H1N1. At 12 times more, that is $100 million,” he reviewed. “The Prime Minister may think that it is his money, but it is not. Taxpayers should know that $100 million buys a year’s salary for 1,700 public health nurses. It buys 10,000 ventilators, or it buys 35,000 days of ICU beds. Why does the Prime Minister insist on wasting borrowed money on partisan advertising while Canadians struggle to deal with this pandemic?”

Answer (John Baird): “Mr. Speaker, I say to the member for Ottawa South that this government has an important responsibility to communicate our actions through Canada’s economic action plan,” the Transport Minister instructed. “We are focused on jobs. We are focused on fighting H1N1. We are focused on building industry and we are focused on supporting the unemployed. All we have is the sloganeering from the Liberal member opposite and that is too bad.”

As the Macleans commented on this response: Indeed, it is to their eternal detriment that politicians insist persistently in behaving like politicians.

Question: “Infrastructure money is dispersed like points in a Conservative rewards program,” Mr. McGuinty continued. “There are over 60 investigations before the ethics commissioner. There is a minister under investigation for improper ties with lobbyists and federal agencies. There is a Conservative senator linked to key players in an emerging scandal. Is this what Joe Clark meant when he said that these Conservatives were ‘a private-interest party in a public-interest country?’”

Answer: “Mr. Speaker, in September, all the Liberal Party had to offer Canadians was an unnecessary and opportunistic election,” Mr. Baird sighed. “In October, while this government focuses on jobs, the economy, the health of Canadians with H1N1 and the needs of the unemployed, all the Liberal Party can do is muckrake.”

Question: To do with Conservative senator

Answer: “Mr. Speaker, the outrageous comments made by the member opposite do not serve her or her constituents well,” he gasped. “They do not serve the Liberal Party well.”

The good news is that this outrageous behaviour on the Conservative side is unending. More entertainment sure to follow. That is, until we realize that the government is avoiding accountability to its people. Who knows what they're actually doing?
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Canada's Changing Under our Noses

In his recent article in the Macleans, Paul Wells shows how much of what Harper does is in secret, like eliminating state run child care in favour of per child benefits, is changing Canada. He is facing little opposition on many of these issues, the opposition and the media entranced by continual election speculation and stimulus package outrages.

While these are undoubtedly important, the changes that Harper is effecting are important, and as Paul Wells describes it, "threaten the social union of the country". This includes acts like his lack of interest in higher education and the diminishing role of the health and intergovernmental affairs ministers.

Instead Harper is pushing for a stronger national market, with an effort to prove the federal government's authority in establishing a national securities regulator, and with negotiations with the European Union on establishing free trade. Not necessarily all bad in themselves.

However, Harper is operating in near secrecy. Last Friday afternoon was when the government asked the Supreme court if it was allowed to establish a national securities regulator. Friday afternoons are not the time at which the press or the opposition parties, indeed the PM( who sits out Question Period along with Michael Ignatieff and the other leaders, are paying attention.

In this way Harper is seeking to avoid scrutiny. At the same time however, it behooves the opposition to pay more attention to the wide range of issues that the Harper government is addressing. They need to do so to, in a concerted manner and with contrasting policies, open debate on the actions of the government. If they do not, they are failing in their duty.
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Conservatives Rewarding Conservative voters, CBC and G&M prove

It's been proven. Now, in addition to Liberal Party analysis of stimulus money distribution, the Globe and Mail and the CBC have each done some analysis of their own which supports the Liberal Party's claims. Seems all that bluster on the part of the Prime Minister about Toronto receiving so much stimulus was inane.

In the Globe and Mail's analysis of the Recreational Infrastructure in Canada program, it found that Tory ridings received $2.1 million on average, compared with $1.5 million for opposition ridings. If the numbers for these opposition ridings are broken down further, it emerges in clear fashion that the Conservatives are discriminating against the Liberals for the NDP on average receives $1.8 million, and the Liberals only $1.4 million.

An argument has been made by Ontario provincial minister George Smitherman that this is due to Conservative ridings being more rural, and thus having more municipalities, and more recreation facilities. In addition, he indicates that this analysis only reveals a pattern of partisan allocation of funding because of the narrow focus of the analysis.

However, the CBC analysed a separate stimulus program, the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, yielding similar results. Of all the government funding in this program, 60 per cent has gone to Conservative ridings, while 40 per cent has gone to opposition ridings. This contradicts the PM's claims earlier this week that opposition ridings received approximately 50 percent of funding.

The argument that the rural proclivity of Conservative ridings skews the analysis may yet hold, but for this fact. Ralph Goodale's riding in rural Saskatchewan only received $4.8 million, compared to the Tory riding adjacent that received $6.5 million. This shows that even in rural areas, there is a deliberate decision to award more money to Conservative constituencies.

All this goes to show that once again, the PM's facts are fiction, compounding the scandal. Thank goodness for an inquisitive media.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Defending the Indefensible, a Conservative Passtime

If you read Tim Powers' latest article on the globe's website, you will be duly amazed at his dogged determination to avoid the real matter of the partisan cheque scandal. Just like his favourite PM.

To say that the money is public money being payed on the public is true. But it completely avoids the fact that this money is being distributed in ways that ensure the Conservatives are awarded all the credit for the stimulus package. Apparently, according to Powers, the Conservative Party and government are synonymous.

Here is a gem from the article: "After years of having Liberals give our money to their friends I guess a period of adjustment is required." I guess Powers is proud of his genius here in deflecting all criticism by pointing to the Liberals' sponsorship scandal.

In fact, he's right, a period of adjustment is required: to the use of significant sums of government money as Conservative party ads.
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Conservatives Silence Deafening on Partisan Cheques

In today's Question Period, Michael Ignatieff asked the following from the Prime Minister:

Would the Prime Minister now rise in his seat and admit what has been true all along, that his office is behind this scheme?

You would expect either an admission or a proper explanation of the scandal when it is this important. Instead, the House and Canadians got this:

“Obviously it is normal that the members who are championing those projects would want to take credit for those projects,” he said. “We insist that they follow the rules. Obviously we would encourage the opposition members to do the same thing. These are important projects for their ridings as well and they should be backing them and pushing them forward.”

Clearly, the PM is avoiding the question. And why? Because the answer is that he did know, and that this would certify the true extent of this scandal.

In fact, as Mr Layton further remarked, it is very much like the sponsorship scandal. Guess Steve never thought he'd be caught doing what he came into office to stop.
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Monday, October 19, 2009

Doorknobs are Stimulus: Parliamentary Toilet Paper Next?

Amid all the controversy surrounding clearly partisan cheques allocating government spending, it has been revealed that the Conservative financial antics can stretch even further. Doorknobs are now part of stimulus for the economy. Replacing doorknobs in federal buildings in PEI deserves signage extolling the virtues of Canada's action plan. Never mind that, although this does give jobs for some people, it could be much better spent on something of lasting benefit to the economy. All money that goes to such stupid schemes could go to worthwhile things like developing green technologies.

What's next? Parliamentary toilet paper? It'd do a lot more good for society than new doorknobs. Especially in the Tory washrooms after Question Period, if you know what I mean.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

Conservatives Attempting to Equate Ignatieff's Environmental Position with their own

In his blog post today, Norman Spector asserts that Michael Ignatieff's announcement that the environment will be a major plank of his platform, and the methods which he will use, indicate that Michael Ignatieff has given up on an international solution to global warming, and will instead pursue national measures. He points to the lack of mention of Kyoto and the focus on the development of green technology.

The point of is, even under Kyoto, there should be national targets. In fact there were. It was for 6% below 1990 levels, for all the signatories. Furthermore, if any international successor to Kyoto is agreed to in Copenhagen, investment in green technology would be one of the methods governments would use to meet their targets under this international protocol.

In no measure then is Michael Ignatieff abandoning international agreements and protocols as solutions to climate change. Rather, it is Norman Spector, a Conservative, who is attempting, through faulty reasoning, to equate Stephen Harper's approach to the environment and Michael Ignatieff's.

However, Norman Spector's opinion to the contrary, it is still apparent that only one leader in Canada does not believe in international co-operation on the environment. And it's not Michael Ignatieff.
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Remember the promise of Accountable Government?

One of, among the few, of Stephen Harper's successes as PM is the Accountability Act that was the culmination of Harper's campaign for accountability in government, in the face of the blatant corruption of the sponsorship scandal. However, Harper's governments have gotten progressively less accountable and responsible. The difference between the controversy over conservative logos on government cheques and the sponsorship scandal is that the influence is indirect.

Conservative dye-in-the-wool partisans point to the sponsorship scandal at this time because it would seem that this was a worse transgression. It is possible to get philosophical and wonder whether insidious influencing of the electorate is worse than what the Liberals did, but I digress.

The point is that while the Liberals did grossly abuse their power in the sponsorship scandal, it does not discount what the Conservatives have now done. In fact, bringing these two events together reveals many similarities. Government money being used to influence citizens, in a manner that is not overt.

In addition, when seen alongside the long line of government ads that are really Tory ads, a disturbing trend emerges. Far from being accountable, the Tories may have equaled the sponsorship scandal's abuse of power.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Liberals Back on Course

Ignatieff announced in a speech today that the environment will be at the heart of the next election platform. He has also finally scheduled his thinkers' conference, for mid-January. These actions speak of a more balanced and reasonable Liberal party than we have seen the last few months.

The announcement that the environment will be at the heart of the next election platform is significant for two reasons. To begin with, it's good policy. The environment is, arguably, the most pressing issue of our time, on which many other issues are dependent. In addition, it is the area in which the Conservatives have proven to be the most inept. With the Copenhagen conference in December, it will also be a focal point of public attention.

Secondly, it shows that the party no longer has a phobia of being related, however remotely, to Stephane Dion. The environment was the central plank of Ignatieff's predecessor's platform, the Green Shift. With the announcement that this policy area will be central to the next platform, Ignatieff and the Liberals show that they are confident in themselves, something very important in politics, affecting the perception of a party by potential voters.

For its part, the thinkers' conference being scheduled for January shows that Ignatieff is finally paying real attention to policy. Policy, ideally, is what should win elections. With the schedule being set for January, augurs of a fall election are quickly disappearing. This is a sensible decision, as the election fear mongering has scared voters away from the Liberals.

And now that the Liberals are developing good policy, and as a result of election threats can really oppose, there is every reason that they will return, in more numbers than before.
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why the Conservatives are wrong on the HST

If you have happened to be listening to question period from the last week, numerous battles have been fought between the NDP and the Conservatives over the HST. The NDP points out how the HST will harm Canadians, to which the Conservatives respond by citing the NDP's opposition to reducing the GST. They further point to their action on behalf of the working class in reducing this tax.

The Conservatives do have a point in that the NDP did oppose a reduction of the most regressive tax in our system. However, one could argue that they were so vociferously opposed because the Conservatives measures amounted to withdrawing significant state revenue without compensating in another area. Such policy shows foresight now that a deficit is ballooning thanks to the lack of sufficient revenue. It also shows a dedication to the principle of a government that can act for good, instead of the deprivation techniques employed by Conservatives with the aim of eventually nullifying government's potential for positive action.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives evade the question and in fact introduce a new inconsistency in their reasoning. If they are in favour of helping the working class, as their interpretation of their reduction of the GST would suggest, then why are they extending a tax to goods and services never before taxed.

Groceries used to be exempt from GST and form a significant percentage of the expenditures of a lower income family. Yet, under the HST, this spending will be taxed.

The NDP is perfectly justified in demanding an answer to the extension of a regressive tax, especially when the Prime Minister's own responses to their questions indicate that he should be adamantly opposed to this HST his government is promoting.

And as for it being a solely provincial manner, BS.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Magical Disappearance of the Deficit

"When our economic recovery is assured, Canada will return to a balanced budget without raising taxes or cutting transfers to the provinces like the Liberals did." Another gem from the CPC's party website, and a superb iteration of their policy.

The Conservatives criticize Michael Ignatieff for contemplating raising taxes, and vow to not cut transfers to the provinces. Instead, they have opted for increased taxes in all but name on EI premiums.

While the Conservatives argue that they oppose tax rises because they may hurt the lower and middle classes, they have proposed a policy which will hurt these same people much the same. The only difference is in the name. The Conservatives are essentially banking on the Canadian public letting them pull the wool over its collective eyes.

There is one other option left open between no tax increases and no cuts to the transfers to the provinces: cuts in the federal government's own services and expenses. This hypothesis may even be more satisfying than accepting that the Conservatives are intent on raising EI benefits, as it fits perfectly with the progressive erosion of the government that Stephen Harper has presided (in the full meaning of the word) over.

Either way, that the Conservatives believe that Canadians will buy into a magical disappearance of the deficit, without higher taxes or cuts, simply perpetuates the Conservative contempt for the government, and for Canadians.
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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Come Up With Some Policy

A Strategic counsel poll released today pegged the Conservatives at 41 and the Liberals lagging behind at 28. Disconcerting results as the gap grows ever wider and the Conservatives near majority territory. These results put into question the strategy that Michael Ignatieff has been using up until now.

One of the components of this strategy has been a vagueness surrounding policy. With Ignatieff's predecessor, the policy of the carbon tax was released months before an election. With the saddening disaster this proved to be,and a history of Conservatives stealing Liberal ideas, Liberals have become recluse on policy.

The argument goes that the Conservatives will steal the policies and thus get the credit for all our Liberal work. This argument should be seen in a completely different light considering the trends in the polls. It would be better at this point to reap as much of the benefits as possible from policy proposals, as this would hopefully narrow the gap somewhat.

Neither does any of the benefits from these policies have to go to the Conservatives. If they are truly Liberal policies, they need to be hard for Harper acquiesce to. They should be on such wedge issues as the environment and force Harper to watch as the Liberals go where he would never be able to.

The time now is for policy. A general haziness surrounding Liberal ideas on crucial issues has succeeded, as much in obscuring policy as ultimately driving down the Liberals polling. It is time to propose policy, generate public debate, and reveal to the nation what makes us Liberals different from the governing neo-cons.
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Monday, October 5, 2009

Another Conservative Turn-Around?

The Conservatives have announced that Ottawa is going to waive gun registry fees. "Documents obtained by CBC News under access to information show the federal government's decision to waive fees for people licensing their firearms will cost more than $15 million this year alone. Should the fee waiver be extended for another three years, internal forecasts predict an additional $60 million in "projected lost revenue."

Contrast that value of $60 million with the $30 million that they were envisaging on saving in December with the elimination of federal subsidies for the parties. It's double. At the time, the Conservatives were adamant that the subsidies were a case of fiscal mismanagement. They needed to be eliminated in a time of economic frailty, as they were a case of unnecessary spending.

Now they're engaging in unnecessary and unwise cuts that fly right in the face of principles advocated in December last year. Seems that it's more the politics that are important.

Cutting the funding to political parties was popular with Harper's base. Scraping the gun registry, or making it ineffective, is another policy popular with it.

Clearly, Stephen Harper is using the finances of the nation for his own political gains, again, instead of for good policy.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Get Ignatieff to do a Troika

Stephen Harper broke out of his mould yesterday evening, playing a Beatles hit song well enough to earn a standing ovation. Looking past the quality of the signing and playing, which I have to say were pretty good, it may mean that we have an election on our hands. After all, Harper suddenly rid himself of a deep seated aversion to galas, which begs the question why? An election in the works is a convincing argument.

In light of this, the Liberals will have to respond with making Ignatieff doing something that shows another side of his personality, much as Stephane Dion did at the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner:

What about troika with the national ballet? Ignatieff's got russian ancestry after all.

Or something else along those lines. As long as it's not an Isaiah Berlin lecture. I fully support Ignatieff giving such lectures. But now it is required that Ignatieff show that there is more to him than the professor. Stephen Harper has put the ball into Ignatieff and all the other leaders' courts. If they don't react quickly, he will have secured a noticeable amount of positive public opinion as a result.

And then he can get high with the help of the whole nation.
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Friday, October 2, 2009

Harper has Company in Club of Canadian Leaders Flouting Democracy

Remember the coalition crisis last December? Remember the outrage felt in many parts at Stephen Harper's proroguing of Parliament, a most undemocratic move by a government avoiding a confidence vote that would have toppled it. Well, now Stephen Harper has company in Gordon Campbell as an undemocratic political leader in Canada.

Gordon Campbell, at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention, suggested that he is considering granting municipal voting rights to industrial and business property owners. In other words, if you're rich, we'll listen to you.

Wonder if Harper will pick up on this new tactic to wrestle away power from the elected representatives of the people. It would be like the return of the Family Compact and Chateau Clique.

After all, who needs democracy when you can have oligarchy?
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Thursday, October 1, 2009

How COULD Anyone Have Confidence in this Government?

In his speech to the House of Commons tabling his no confidence motion, Michael Ignatieff enumerated all the reasons that the Liberals, and one assumes the BQ, have rightly lost confidence in the Conservatives and Stephen Harper.

Here they all are:

1. Conservatives lost control of the public finances of our country.

2.It jeopardizes our capacity to provide adequate health care for Canadians in the future. It jeopardizes our capacity to help seniors and guarantee a secure retirement for our fellow citizens. It jeopardizes our capacity to help the unemployed.

3. Conservative ridings have benefited disproportionately from this stimulus expenditure and we have the figures to prove it.

4. When we actually look at the stimulus funding that we can see on the ground, 12 per cent has gone out the door.

5.The government has used taxpayers' money and spent six times more promoting its own inaction plan than it has to promote the public health of Canadians and warn them about the dangers of H1N1.

6.We are still waiting for the vaccine.

7. Across the country there are cancer and heart patients waiting for nuclear medicine and diagnostics because twice on the government's watch over four years it has failed to supply an adequate amount of nuclear isotopes for the Canadian medical profession.

8. There has been no attempt to defend Canadian jobs and Canadian technologies.

9. It has failed to protect Canadians abroad.

10. the government, over four long years, has steadily diminished Canada's influence and weight overseas.

11. Who will actually listen to Canada on the climate change issue? We have had three ministers of the environment, three plans and no action. We have lost all credibility on this issue in the international area. Who would vote for Canada?

12. Who in China or India will take seriously Canadian entrepreneurship, Canadian technology, Canadian products if the Prime Minister of Canada cannot even bother to show up to lead trade missions to open those markets to our Canadian entrepreneurs?

13. The government works on one plan and one plan only, starve the beast, lower expectations of government so far until Canadians cease to have any expectations of the federal government whatsoever. This is an unworthy way to govern this country, and we stand against it.

14. All adversaries are enemies, all methods are fair and all public money is available for partisan purposes. This is unworthy of the political traditions of this country.

15. We actually receive lessons from the public. We do not give them to the public. We do not use an election to teach left wing judges a lesson. We do not use elections to teach women who help other women through the cycle of domestic abuse a lesson. We want to use elections to bring Canadians together, to arouse them to a higher purpose.

16. We believe we are looking for a government that actually thinks it can be leaders, not followers, in the great drama, the great challenge of global climate change.

17. We are looking for a government that believes in the compassion and creativity of Canadians and wants to stand with them, not against them, and build a great country together.

18. We are looking for a government that believes in telling Canadians the truth, a government that believes that growth does not just happen with a market miracle.

And Jack Layton abstains, implying confidence in the government?
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quebec, harbinger of a future lost election?

The Liberals will have noticed the ubiquitous polls indicating a decline in their support in la Belle Province corresponding with an increase in Conservative support. This is worrying, as after Ignatieff's announcement of "your time is up", Quebec was the only region in which there were no signs of declining support. However, according to a CROP poll in Quebec, the Liberals stand at 26% down from scores around the 30s ever since Ignatieff's assumption of the leadership. Meanwhile, Conservative support has been narrowing the gap, accounting for 22% of respondents. The Bloc has also gone up, to 33%.

In other words, Michael Ignatieff is losing support to everyone. The necessary conclusion therefore is that the Liberal Party is now less enticed by the prospect of an election. They will want a certain amount of time to regroup, and reconsolidate their support.

In a rather paradoxical way, Ignatieff's challenge to Harper is the reason that this time will probably yield significant results. If it had not been for shifting the burden of supporting the government onto the NDP, Ignatieff would be in a worse position to recover his support. Conversely, if he had not declared a lack of confidence in the government, he may not have lost support to other parties.

It is important to be mindful that Ignatieff might have been enjoying more of a honeymoon hangover in Quebec than other provinces. His numbers certainly very quickly ascended to an elevated level. And have stayed there. It's not unreasonable to think that some of the decline since late August may be a trend that Quebec is experiencing later than the other provinces: the end of the honeymoon.

So at the end of the day, it is possible to read the current situation in Quebec in a better light than it would first appear to be. It may not be the harbinger of failure it may seem. In fact, Ignatieff may now be better off than he would have been otherwise.

What's more, depending on when the next election occurs, it may not matter.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who Wants an Election, Really?

With the resignation of Denis Coderre as the Liberal party lieutenant for Quebec comes evidence of Liberal infighting, vulnerability and unpreparedness for an election campaign. Quebec was the battleground on which the Liberals thought they could make the most headway. An election campaign, when it comes, will have as one of its major goals to reach out to the Quebecker. Do the Liberals look ready to do this?

The answer is unclear, but it certainly leans more to the negative end of the spectrum than it did a month ago. Compounded with sagging Liberal support and a corresponding Conservative uptick, it looks unlikely that the Liberals are sanguine regarding an election in the near future. In a month or so, yes, but not now.

Instead, Conservatives may now find themselves looking to bring down their own government. The only problem they now have is how to alienate the NDP, which is holding on for dear life to their EI lifeline connecting them to the Conservative ship. The simplest solution? Say the NDP wants too much that would put too much of a strain on an economy that has recently shown signs of resuscitation.

Which leads us to the NDP. They still, even in light of Liberal infighting, cannot afford an election, at least based on their polling results. However, neither can they afford to prop up a Conservative government if it chooses to abandon its EI schemes, or at least significantly neutralize them. This would betray all they stand for.

Meaning that they are in the company of the highly unpredictable and volatile, along with the BQ. Though the BQ is not polling well and away ahead of the Liberals, Duceppe has expressed sentiments indicating that he would vote no confidence in the current government on a no confidence motion.

If we take the BQ at face value they will vote against the Conservatives. The problem now is, how to corner the NDP into forcing an election soon enough to profit from the disorganization caused by Coderre's resignation. There is a very slight window of opportunity here for Harper if he wants an election, but he'll have to push awfully hard to pry it open.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Liberal Website Needs to Mobilise Supporters More

Upon comparison of the Conservative party website, and the Liberal website, one feature stands out as a source of difference. Whereas the Conservative website has a feature in which they help you write to editors of newspapers, call in to radio shows, and sign letters supporting Conservative policy, such features are absent from the Liberal domain in cyberspace.

The usual participative activities are there, such as contributing, getting the word out to your family and friends, along with of course, joining the party. Which shows that the Liberal Party are being less creative with their website.

While it is true that they have a youtube channel, links to liblogs, and facebook groups, these are technologies that albeit new, are so commonplace that it would be absurd not to have them. They have become so integral in daily life that this is nothing new, really.

The Conservative measures are particularly helpful in affecting public opinion, as talk shows and newspapers are the sources for many people's opinions. Offering points to use in these letters and calls not only ensures that more are being made, but that they are coherent as a whole.

That is the key. The Conservatives are providing their supporters with a well-thought out message that they can disperse in society. The Liberals are failing to do so.

This may seem like a small consideration. However, this is not so. It is about helping people in exercising the greatest influence they can on the public discourse. There are few greater ways that your supporters aid you.
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Ignatieff Points out Key Difference (s) Between him and Harper

In his address to the Toronto Board of Trade earlier today, among all his enlightened economic proposals, he mentioned the key difference between him and Stephen Harper. Ignatieff believes in the role of government, Harper does not.

As Ignatieff perceptively observed “Stephen Harper thinks no taxes are good taxes because he believes that the only good government is no government at all." He went on to say that "Liberals say no. We don't believe in big government, but we do believe in good government”

Wouldn't it seem logical to elect a party to government that believes in that office, rather than a party that consistently undermines the ability of the government to discharge its responsibilities. How is the government supposed to operate if it does not receive enough revenue? There is only one way and that is cutting programs.

Stephen Harper may be cutting taxes, but Ignatieff has ideas that help the average Canadian far more than a tax decrease. In his speech he envisioned investing in manufacturing research and development, in regional economic development, in protecting Canadian companies from foreign takeovers, and in building new bridges to China and India.

Such policy shows that Ignatieff believes government can be a source of good greater than simply making business friendly decisions. These policies and initiatives would benefit every Canadian.

The greatest difference between Harper and Ignatieff is thereby clear. One uses his office, in general, to lessen the bad for the few. The other would use his office for the good of Canada. The choice is clear.
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Harper Intent on Government ads Promoting him, Rather than H1N1 Awareness

In figures recovered by the Canadian Press, Stephen Harper has spent $34 million on ads promoting his government's Action Plan, in comparison with a paltry $6.5 million. This means that the PM is spending more than 5 times the amount provided for H1N1 awareness for ads using government money to essentially promote the government, even falling in step with Conservative proclamations of "we can't stop now"

The ads promoting the Action Plan are clearly designed to convince the public that the Conservative government is doing a good job, claiming that 80% of the stimulus has already been implemented. Clearly these ads are not designed to inform the public of vital services provided the government, such as H1N1 vaccines, when they finally arrive, but rather to assure the public that the government is doing the right thing.

It would be different if the ads were informing the public about the home renovation policy, a specific program on which taxpayers need to act to benefit. In contrast, most of the spending referred to in the Action Plan ads benefits a passive public.

Wouldn't it be the right thing to do if the Conservatives were to run convincing ads adjuring the public to engage in preventative measures and obtain vaccinations? It would be.

But doing the right thing seldom seems to be a consideration Harper's Conservatives entertain much.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mulroney Anniversary Reminds us of the Need for a National Party

It was 25 years ago that Brian Mulroney swept to victory with the greatest majority in Canadian history, winning over 50 seats in Quebec along the way. And while not being a Conservative and thus unable to feel some partisan pride, one can draw something from this event. Mulroney's sweep was truly national, representing constituencies from all over the country.

Joe Clark noted this at the anniversary, speaking with reporters. He said that it shows we need a government that unites Canadians instead of pitting them against each other.

It's certainly not going to come from the descendant of Clark's party, though. Stephen Harper has shown an innate ability to antagonize various regions of the country. It is no surprise as much of his politics is based on "the West getting in" This was a theme of his first election victory, when he toppled Paul Martin's government on the sponsorship scandal.

With a leader that plays this western card so well, who so clearly has a regional bias (who else sweeps a province) and is partisan in general, it's no wonder we have a more deeply divided country. And these characteristics are the reason we are in no sight of a majority government.

Neither does directing anger against Quebec for their coalition forming "separatists" provide any hope.

Although these events have effectively precluded a truly national government under Harper, Michael Ignatieff does not yet have this problem. In the next election campaign, Ignatieff needs to show that he cares about regions with traditionally lower Liberal support, such as BC. Or maybe Alberta.
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

We've Avoided an Election, For the Next Week or So

With both the NDP and the Bloc voting with the government on Friday, implementing among other things the home renovation tax credit, the country has staved off an election for now. Nevertheless, this will not last long.

For the Bloc, it would have been stupidity itself to oppose one of the few popular measures taken by this government. And they have indicated that they would likely vote against the no-confidence motion the Liberals will inevitably table. Gilles Duceppe said "All in all, if we're asked if we have confidence in [this] government, the answer is no." Of course, that does not technically preclude abstention or any other number of tricks, but it would seem that the Bloc is still readying itself for an election.

More importantly though, although Jack Layton will be propping up the government in the near future, this situation cannot last forever for three reasons. First, the general reason of the acrimony of the conflict between the Conservatives and the NDP.

Specifically, despite Harper having found a carrot to dangle in front of Layton this time, he will have to keep doing so if Jack Layton is to support him. Layton cannot ever support classic Tory policy, lest his base abandon him for the Liberals or Greens. Seeing as this Prime Minister is highly partisan, I doubt he will be able to keep conceiving of flavours of the month for Layton's pleasure. After all, if we go to the polls, the NDP will suffer immeasurably more, as of now, than the Conservatives.

The second consideration is that Layton cannot afford to support the government for an extended period of time. If Stephane Dion taught us one thing, it's that abstention and/or supporting the government for too long will exact heavy tolls on your results at the polls. The poll numbers may be bad now, but what would they be if Layton were to support the Conservatives through this entire session, on confidence votes.

Not to say we won't have a short period of time in which the NDP will support the government. We will, if only to give the NDP time to fundraise in preparation for a campaign, and as well to receive some support for saving the nation from an election and making parliament work.

Then Layton will pull the plug, unless Duceppe somehow steps in.
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Monday, September 14, 2009

The Liberals are Giving Foreign Policy its Due

In his speech to the Canadian Club in Ottawa today, the Liberal Leader drew attention to the Tories' complete lack of regard for the Foreign Affairs portfolio, epitomized by the consistent change in ministers, from Peter Mackay, through Maxime Bernier and David Emerson, to Lawrence Cannon. Foreign Affairs is a portfolio in which stability would usually be cherished, as it is important to have stable international relations that are not jolted periodically by a ministerial change.

But that is only one example of the problem. An important question to ask is: what is our foreign policy? Apart from sporadically reaching an agreement with a Latin American country on an economic deal of sorts, there is nothing concrete anyone could point to. This in what many would consider to be the second most important and influential cabinet position, after the Finance Minister.

The vision Michael Ignatieff offered in his speech today was refreshingly inspirational on this matter. He spoke of ending poverty, giving aid to the African continent, concentrating on developing our ties with India and China. Unlike Harper, he actually has a foreign policy he can present to voters.

Making this difference all the more evident can only be beneficial to Ignatieff. What's more, making foreign policy an important plank of his platform plays to his strengths as a cosmopolitan politician.

And it will cast away the dark ages that have befallen Foreign Affairs in this country.
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

We Deserve Better (and We Can Do Better)

Last week I wrote that I thought the French language ads released by the Liberals were superior to the English ones and it is still true, in a very important way. The slogans of the ads are different in the two languages. In French the Canadian voter is told that they deserve better. In the English ones they are told that the Liberals can do better. The French slogans is superior for numerous reasons, hinging on the Liberals being the ones who will be seen as having pushed the next election.

Due to the epic crudeness of Stephen Harper's government and its ubiquitous partisanship, it is highly tempting to run on this as your slogan. However, the majority of Canadians seem to believe that anyone could do better than Harper. In other words, this slogan that should become your rallying cry is not hugely revelatory.

What's more, the slogan "We can do Better" is less potent for reaching to supporters of other federal parties. The English ads clearly focus on the Liberals being able to do better. And while that is true, it would be more desirable to adopt a slogan that is less partisan, and thus more motivating. The slogan "We Deserve Better" appeals to the citizen in supporters of all the political parties, save the Conservatives. Everyone apart from a Tory can agree with those words, and have their emotions aroused by this injustice. Not everyone thinks that the Liberals are those who can do the job best.

Possibly more important is that a theme of deserving better is more appealing and effective with the non-partisan, politically disinterested Canadian. To reach this voter, one must ensure that they feel they need to vote, and that they have been wronged by their government. Therefore they are far more likely to respond positively to a less partisan slogan.

Finally and most importantly, the Liberals have positioned themselves so that they will have triggered the next election, if it comes. For this reason, the Liberal party needs to provide a compelling case for an election, sooner or later. Saying that the country deserves better fits this criteria better than declaring that we can do better, therefore we need an election.

Ignatieff needs to demonstrably prove that the Canadian citizen has been slighted, has received less from their government than they deserve and that their government has endorsed policies that are not in the national interest, or sound in principle. If he does so, voters will not only forgive him for causing an election, they will recognize the need for an election.

For if Ignatieff uses "We Can do Better", it begs the question so what? No such questions will be asked if the slogan is "We Deserve Better"
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