Friday, December 22, 2006

The Gomery Recommendations: Harper Nails It

I'm impressed.

When I'm opposed to recommendations designed to empower the legislative branch, that's a pretty good indicator that those recommendations are badly flawed. Deputy Ministers are already quite politicized enough - the last thing we need is to increase this politicization by requiring them to account to the Public Accounts Committee, which is properly concerned with political accountability - you know, like the accountability of Ministers to Parliament. The sort of accountability that is enforced, in part, by having Ministers account to the Public Accounts Committee.

Beyond that, there's already going to be huge inertia in an organization the size of the federal government. Making Deputy Ministers accountable to anybody but their political masters would only increase this inertia. If there's a tradeoff here to be made between good governance and empowerment of elected officials - and I'm not at all convinced that there is - we need to err on the side of empowerment of elected officials, or democracy ceases to have any meaning (this sounds like histrionics, but it's no exagerration).

The one area where I'm somewhat undecided is on the question of division of the role of the Clerk of the Privy Council. There's no question the current structure of the civil service, where Deputy Ministers report both to their Ministers (who report to the Prime Minister) and to the Clerk (who reports to the Prime Minister) is a little odd. Gomery hadn't proposed making it any less odd, however - he just proposed dividing their reporting structure between their Ministers and some unspecified member of the Civil Service who wouldn't be the de facto Deputy Minister to the PM (as distinct, confusingly, from Deputy PM), but would still report to the PM.

Frankly, this episode is increasing my conviction that the Conservatives are the strongest party on governance issues, Senate reform notwithstanding. Now if only they weren't such an egregiously bad match for my economic (and, to a lesser extent, social) views...


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dept. of Stupid Ledes

From this story:

A 24-year-old Hamilton man faces charges in what may be the first case of police using the Internet as an investigative tool.

If this is true, I officially resent paying whatever portion of my rent goes towards property taxes.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Questions The Occur to Me While Reading Right Side Up: Part 1 in a series of at least one part

Yeah, whatever did happen to that office of public prosecutions we were promised?

Itemized List

Item: Bob Rae to help write Liberal election platform.

Item: Liberal slogan during 2007 election to be "You're electing a Parliament, not a set of policies."


Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Well then.

This would make the Senate better-equipped to fulfill its purpose, which puts those (like me) who don't believe that it has any legitimate purpose in something of a bind. Is it worth making an undemocratic body slightly less undemocratic if doing so has the effect of making it more aggressive in its undemocratic behaviour? Right now, the Senate doesn't qualify as much more than a waste of money and a theoretical blight on Canada's democratic landscape - if this bill passed, it would still be a waste of money, will be less of a theoretical blight, and likely more of a practical blight.

I honestly have no idea where I sit on this.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

And Pete Townshend agrees!

I've never seen an episode of CSI: Miami. This fully justifies that decision.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Belated Post on Dion and Citizenship

I'm not entirely decided on this, though I'm leaning strongly in the direction that he shouldn't have to give up his French citizenship, if only on the basis of precedent.

You can help me think this through, though: what do you consider the obligations of citizenship? I understand the legal obligations, but what are the moral ones? Besides the legal effects, none of which preclude a French citizen from serving as Prime Minister of Canada, what is the difference between my relationship with Canada and my German girlfriend's (said girlfriend being a Permanent Resident of Canada)? For that matter, besides the legal effects, what's the difference between my relationship to Germany (which is essentially nonexistent) and hers?

Honestly, the more I think about it citizenship in any country strikes me as being basically a passport and the right to vote. Is there more that I'm missing (preferably something that has some effect on the dual citizenship debate)?

Whither the NDP?

Chantal Hébert's column suggests that the NDP has lost all ownership over the environment issue, and that, as a result of this and other factors, the party's very existence is in jeopardy next election.

If Hebert's right - and she hasn't been right about much else lately - this is a shame. I'm often pretty hard on the NDP, mostly because it pains me to see what ought to a party of principles - my principles, for the most part - sell out, where I basically expect it from the other parties, but they've a history of stronger environmental policy than any of the other parties. This includes the Greens - just ask the Sierra Club, which endorsed the NDP over the Greens at a time when its President was a lady named Elizabeth something.

I don't think the NDP's in jeopardy; it emerged from much direr straights after the e1993 election. But if it is, it's not the end of anything but a label. There will still be aggressively pro-environment MPs in the House, be they Greens, Blocquistes, independents, or even Liberals. In fact, given the direction that federal politics seem to be going, there will probably be more than ever. Getting attached to a specific party and elevating its importance to a higher plane than the issues for which it stands goes against most of what I advocate.

Let the chips fall where they may.


Friday, December 08, 2006

My Three Hundred and Ninety-Fifth Post

Elizabeth May does realize that discrediting Stéphane Dion on the environment is going to have to be a critical part of her party's campaign in the 2007 election, right?

I mean, it's refreshing to see a politician who doesn't feel compelled to automatically attack a colleague on the basis of party affiliation, but there's also a point at which you have to wonder why she's leading a party that is, presumably, opposed to the Liberals. Is she really suggesting that she and Dion are that close on what is, for both of them, their flagship issue?

It does raise a fun hypothetical, though - suppose the Liberals win a minority government (more likely than they're being given credit for) and May wins Cape Breton-Canso (unlikely right now - made all the more unlikely, ironically, by Dion's win - though it's been one of the most bizarrely unpredictable ridings in the country since 2000), what are the odds she makes it into a Dion cabinet? Probably slim, but amusing to think about.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A bad start

Stéphane Dion has wasted no time dragging out the tired (and utterly disingenuous) old Paul Martin "why do the Conservatives want to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?" line.

Once the federal government has unsuccessfully defended the position that marriage can be legally defined as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others before the Supreme Court of Canada, it will be fair to say that the Charter requires the legalization of gay marriage. Once the Conservatives advocate the use of Section 33 to preserve this definition, it will be sort of fair to accuse them of trying to override the Charter (I say "sort of" because Section 33 is, of course, *part* of the Charter).

Of course, ideally we won't reach this point, because the House of Commons will decide that, irrespective of whether or not the right of people to marry members of their own sex is protected by the Charter, allowing same-sex marriage is the right policy decision. But I'd really like to see a Liberal leader come out and say that gay people *should* be allowed to marry, instead of just that the Supreme Court will probably leave the government no choice on the matter in the purely hypothetical event that such a question is argued before it. I was hoping Stéphane Dion would be that leader. I am disappointed.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Dion, Stelmach: Reaction from Adversaries

The Conservatives, who it has been suggested were caught unprepared for a Dion victory, were quick to post a reaction on their site. Interestingly enough, it gives most prominence not to his record as environment minister (where he is extremely open to attack) but to the fact that he was a member of cabinet during the sponsorship and HRDC scandals. I am intrigued - if this heralds a strategy of attacking Dion's integrity, I will be very curious to see how it works. My guess would be not well.

They do eventually get to his record on the environment, however, noting that "Dion’s record was so bad, he earned a sharp rebuke from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development". But no sooner do they make this point than they move on to attacking is alleged lack of respect for provincial jurisdictions. I am very curious as to what they're basing this decision on - perhaps the Clarity Act, brainchild of, in part, Stephen Harper? They close with an irrelevant cheap shot at his rebuke to Michael Ignatieff during one of the debates - "Do you think it's easy to make priorities?", trying to paint him as directionless.

Frankly, I find it odd that the Conservatives would choose these areas to attack him on. I would be very surprised if they manage to paint Dion as either lacking integrity or as being a ditherer, both of which are very much at odds with his public image. I would also be surprised if the completely inaccurate image of Dion as an arch-centralizer takes root. There is certainly traction to be gained in attacking his record as environment minister, but you have to doubt that that traction is the Conservatives' to gain, given their own dismal record on the file.

The New Democrats do a little better. They attack Dion for his record as environment minister, which is exactly what they should be doing - to the extent that Dion poses a threat to the NDP, it's through his ability to convince New Democrat voters that a vote for him is, on the environment file, just as principled as one for the NDP and substantially more pragmatic. They also quote him as supporting the mission to Afghanistan, which is half-way there - but for some reason they avoid accusing him of flip-flopping through his later (quasi-) opposition to the mission.

Before they get to either of these, however, they point to three of his supporters in his leadership bid - Bryon Wilfret and Charles Hubbard, who oppose same-sex marriage, and Paul Steckle, who opposes abortion. If they are trying to imply that Stéphane Dion opposes same-sex marriage or supports the criminalization of abortion, this is scant evidence (it's also about the only evidence that exists, since he is guilty of neither offense). If this is not the NDP's intention, I confess that I am curious about what they *are* trying to establish.

Subsequently, they highlight his opposition to a number of private member's bills - NDP motions to prohibit replacement workers in federal workplaces, a motion on mandating more stringent fuel efficiency in cars produced for use in Canada, and a Peter Stoffer special on improved benefits for the families of fallen firefighters. Besides the fuel efficiency motion, which works to detract from his credibility on the environment, I don't see any of these doing much harm. Doing even less harm do I see the fact that, as pointed out from the New Democrats, Dion missed votes on the Kyoto protocol and the Kelowna Accord while campaigning for leader.

(If you were wondering, the NDP hasn't taken down the speech in which Jack Layton says that Dion is "distinct from his principal opponents in being a committed Canadian and a man of principle and conviction.")

Greens are still too busy celebrating their second place showing in the recent by-election in London to have any comment on Dion, but Elizabeth May was quoted yesterday as saying "I was hoping Stephane would win from the start. He's a wonderful, sincere person of integrity and commitment to issues that matter to me. How can you argue with that? He shouldn't change, he is what he is, and we shouldn't want our politicians to be massaged into something they aren't. We worked well together in the past -- this is totally cool."

The most interesting reaction, as far as I'm concerned, is that of the BQ, which took the high road, with Gilles Duceppe quoted as saying "Dion started well-back in this race, but he new how to rally the support necessary to win it. Such qualities will make him an impressive adversary during the next federal election in Québec." This is unlikely indicative of much of anything, but I found it interesting that the party that is actually supposed to loathe Dion is pulling the most punches.

Provincially, none of the Liberals, New Democrats, or Alberta Alliance have much to say about Premier Ed, which isn't all that surprising - they probably don't know anything about him either. In a departure from the federal scene, it's the Greens who have a comment, even if they don't know how to pluralize.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

I'm feeling a creeping sense of inadequacy

Not because I totally miscalled this race. That's what bloggers do - we make sweeping predictions, we imply that everybody who doesn't immediately see their wisdom is either partisan or braindead, and then, when said predictions turn out to have been pulled from somewhere in the colon (where our heads were when we came up with them), we move on. The system works.

No, I'm feeling this inadequacy because I'd always considered myself as among this province's elite where political education is concerned - certainly in the top 1%, to use a number that I found right next to my prediction - and yet I don't know a goddamned thing about our new Premier.

Um, go Dion?


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?

Hey Liberals: way to do something to make me not hate you. Jerks.

Other thoughts:

- Both Dion's supporters and Ignatieff's favoured comparisons between their candidates and Pierre Trudeau. All of them were a stretch, but here's one basis on which Dion is Trudeau-esque: hey marks the first Liberal leader since Pierre Trudeau not to spend basically his entire adult life plotting to become Prime Minister. Stephen Harper, not coincidentally (hopefully) is the first Prime Minister since Trudeau not to spend his entire adult life in pursuit of that goal. (UPDATE: Kim Campbell doesn't count). It's a bad era for professional politicians.

- This also marks the first time since I don't know when (seriously, I'm not aware of the dynamics leading to Wildred Laurier winning the Liberal leadership) that the federal Liberal Party staged an upset. Certainly all of Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien, John Turner, Pierre Trudeau, Lester Pearson, Louis St.-Laurent, and William Lyon MacKenzie King went in as favourites.

- I backed Dion largely because I thought he was most committed to environmental protection. I liked what Ignatieff had to say on the subject as well, but I sensed that Dion, with his fabled intellectual integrity and his obvious emotional attachment to the file, was the one who'd follow through. I'll be watching.

- On October 2, I predicted the first ballot results. Compare my predictions to the actual results:

Michael Ignatieff - 30.7%
Bob Rae - 20.4%
Gerard Kennedy - 17.7%
Stéphane Dion - 17.3%
Ken Dryden - 4.8%
Joe Volpe - 4.7%
Scott Brison - 4.0%
Martha Hall Findlay - 1.0%

29.3% Michael Ignatieff
20.3% Bob Rae
17.8% Stéphane Dion
17.7% Gerard Kennedy
4.9% Ken Dryden
4.0% Scott Brison
3.2% Joe Volpe
2.7% Martha Hall Findlay

You'll note that I predicted four of the results within 0.1%. My most serious errors were in failing to anticipate the massive no-show of Volpe's delegates and the way that undeclared ex-officios migrated to Hall Findlay. I also overestimated Ignatieff by a little, but given that this was a time when Liberal insiders were saying that 35% for him was a slam-dunk, I'm pretty pleased with myself. But then, I'm always pretty pleased with myself.

- The combined intellects of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are now as high as they've been since Confederation.

- Going into the last ballot, Ignatieff supporters were trumpeting his comparative electability. Nonsense. Michael Ignatieff could not have won a federal election as a party leader. That's not to say that Dion could - I'm inclined to agree with the pollsters who thought that Rae was the most electable - but it's certainly no strike against him when compared to Iggy.

- The most depressing element of the campaign for me was watching how well Stéphane Dion had learned politics. When I initially supported him, it was because I thought he wasn't much of a politician, and that he was stubborn enough to continue not being much of a politician. Instead, he's learned his new craft well. I just hope it wasn't too well.


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