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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