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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