Wednesday, August 31, 2005

No, You Can't Talk To The Next Supreme Court Judge

If Irwin Cotler is serious about following his department's full proposal in selecting the next Supreme Court judge, then he's in big trouble.

These are quotations from the Justice Department's proposal, dealing with how the Advisory Committee which vets the next judge should conduct their business:

No In-person Interviews of Candidates

The Government proposes that there should not be any in-person interviews of candidates, either in camera, or in public. The risks inherent in public interviews have been well explored and we agree with the Justice Committee's recommendation that there be "a process of file review only".

In terms of in camera interviews, the Government is of the view that in-person interviews are unlikely to elicit any relevant information that is not otherwise available through consultations and documentary analysis. The real concern with direct candidate interviews is that, even with a strong chair and prior established rules as to the scope of questioning, questioning may stray into ground that is inappropriate or embarrassing for the candidate. In addition, the prospect of being examined in a context where confidentiality cannot be completely guaranteed, could very well deter good candidates from allowing their names to be considered. In our view, the risks of in-person interviews out-weigh the minimal benefits that would be derived.

I highlighted that last passage to point out exactly why the Department doesn't want the Committee to talk to the candidate. The bureaucrats have a very long memory of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, and don't want any candidate to be scared off by attacks from partisans on the committee looking to score political points.

The objection to this, however, is that we're talking about a person who's going to interpret the law for all the people. As such, relying on previous written decisions and other documentation isn't going to tell the full story about the candidate. To get a sense about how the candidate really feels about Canadian law and jurisprudence, the Committee really needs to talk to the candidate. It's like trying to hire a person based on CV alone, without a job interview.

Moving right along:

Mechanism to Ensure Confidentiality

The Government proposes that all aspects of the information-gathering, analysis and deliberations of the advisory committee, including the identity of the candidates being assessed, would remain completely confidential.

As indicated earlier, the importance of this issue cannot be overstated. In the Government's view, the overall success and effectiveness of the proposed advisory committee process depends on the confidence of all participants and observers in the confidentiality of every aspect of the committee's work. Without assurances that the process will be confidential, excellent candidates may be hesitant to have their names put forward. Those consulted with respect to individual candidates may be reluctant to provide a candid assessment. Indeed, potential members of the Committee may decline to participate without assurances that other members are committed to maintaining total confidentiality. The requirement of confidentiality would be a continuing obligation on the part of all persons involved in the advisory committee's work, including committee members and staff, as well as to persons consulted with respect to candidates.

In order to underscore the importance of preserving confidentiality, the Government proposes that all committee members and staff would be required to provide written undertakings of confidentiality. The Committee would also be required to obtain prior written undertakings from any person consulted by the advisory committee.

"Conduct in confidence." This means "conduct in secret." No chance for public input, or public scrutiny.

I'd argue that, for a job of this importance, the right of the public to know about the candidate trumps the candidate's right to privacy. We don't need to know if the candidate had an affair with a sorority sophomore, but we do need to know how the candidate feels about sovereignty.

The government doesn't want the appointments process to be turned into a media circus? Fine and dandy. There are mechanisms to prevent that, without putting the whole process undercover. But the appointment of a Supreme Court judge is one that demands, if not public accountability, then at least some semblance of transparency throughout the whole process.

There may be some hope, though, in examining how the Advisory Committee membership should be made up:

Lay Membership

The Justice Committee recommended, and several witnesses supported, inclusion of so-called "lay" members - persons who are neither judges nor lawyers. We agree that the participation of lay members would provide an important perspective to the committee's work, particularly in relation to assessing personal suitability. Lay members would also help promote public confidence in the process by signalling in a concrete manner that appointments to the Court are not the sole preserve of lawyers, judges and politicians.

Accordingly the Government proposes that the advisory committee should include two persons, to be nominated by the Minister of Justice, who are neither active nor retired judges nor lawyers. These will be eminent Canadians of recognized stature in the region - persons of integrity and distinction.

All right. Let's see what we can do about getting Angry and Paul Synnott onto the committee (I'd've suggested Bob Tarantino , but he's a lawyer and so doesn't count) ...

You Get to Pick the Next Supreme Court Judge ... Sort of

Here's a bit of an innovation: Justice Minister Irwin Cotler wants the Canadian Public to nominate the next Justice for Canada's Supreme Court:

As part of the revised appointments process announced earlier this month, Minister Cotler is inviting written representations, in either official language and from any person or group, to propose candidates for appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Minister will also consult with Provincial and Territorial Attorneys General, Chief Justices and leading members of the legal community before providing a list of five to eight proposed candidates to an advisory committee. This committee will assess the candidates and generate a short list of three persons from which the successful candidate will be chosen.

In view of the long-standing practice of identifying candidates from the region where the vacancy originated, only candidates from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut will be considered.

Now, before we start jumping for joy and congratulating the Minister for putting democracy into judicial selections, there's a few caveats.

The big one is simple: who among the Canadian public can say they know someone who'd make a great Supreme Court judge? Especially if the judge in question as to be from either the Prairies or the Territories?

Right. The people in the best position to know would be the lawyers, or the provincial ministries of justice. Not exactly the majority of voters, are they?

Second, even if the public process results in nominations, how do they narrow it down to the lucky one? This release describes the second stage:

At the second step, an Advisory Committee, through a range of consultations and evaluations, will assess the candidates on the list, according to merit-based criteria, generating an un-ranked short list of three candidates.

The Advisory Committee will include a Member of Parliament from each recognized party, a retired judge and, from the region where the vacancy arises, a nominee of the provincial Attorneys General, a nominee of the law societies and two prominent Canadians who are neither lawyers nor judges. A new Advisory Committee will be formed each time a Supreme Court vacancy occurs.

The Advisory Committee will then provide the Minister of Justice with the short list from which the successful candidate will be chosen. At the final step, the Minister will appear before the Justice Standing Committee to explain the selection process and the qualities of the individual who has been appointed.

One thing to note: at no point during the Advisory Committee stage is it specified that its deliberations are open to the public. No televised recordings to CPAC, no transcriptions as is done with the Parliamentary committees. Unless we're told otherwise, it must be assumed that the Advisory Committee's whittling work is being done in secret.

This is quite different from the American system, where the Head of Government nominates a person who then has to clear a democratic hurdle in the form of the Senate judicial hearings. In the U.S., public input (in the form of the Senate) occurs at the approval process; under Minister Cotler's process, public input occurs at the selection process, with the potential for being subverted or ignored by the Minister.

This sleight-of-hand has naturally ticked off quite a few people:

"The process from beginning to end is completely controlled through the minister or the prime minister," said Vic Toews, the Conservative justice critic, who called it "another example of Liberal window dressing."

"There is nothing new or open."

Duff Conacher of the non-partisan lobby group Democracy Watch agreed, describing the proposal as "more meaningless, symbolic talk from the Liberals."

The government, said Conacher, is "hoping for a headline that says, 'Liberals seek public input.' Of course, there won't be room to say they'll disregard (the input) and that it's meaningless.

"That's the game. We've watched it for 12 years."

Mr. Conacher would prefer that a judicial nominee be approved by the party leaders. Myself, I'm inclined to have the selected nominee appear before a Special Joint Committee of MPs and senators, with the committee saying "yes" or "no, Minister, you need to nominate someone else." (Why a joint committee? Because our senators still need to earn their pay.)

All the same ... a baby step is still a step in the right direction. We can still congratulate Mr. Cotler; even with his flawed process there's less potential for a public faux pas, as opposed to Paul Martin pulling a name out of a hat (hello, Michaëlle).

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Red Green Makes the Order of Canada

The retiring G-G (not the one who gets up Angry's nose) has just made her final appointments to the Order of Canada. Shall we have a look-see as to who made the list?

Well, obviously Steve Smith, aka Red Green of Possum Lodge, has been made a member. (One wonders if he's going to pin it on with the Handyman's Secret Weapon (TM).) And jazz diva Donna Krall is promoted to Officer.

The late Peter Jennings made the cut. So have journalists Hugh Winsor and Roy MacGregor (the latter becomes an officer). And the author Wayson Choy.

Dave Barrett, the former B.C. premier and MP, is promoted to officer.

Hmmm ... dang. I knew I should've tried harder to get Brian Neale put on the list ...

Sometimes It's Sweet To Be A Geek

Japan is always a place where good ideas can take root, and this one is no exception:

A small movie theater outside Tokyo is offering cheaper tickets to so-called geeks - known in Japan as "otaku" - for a summer romance movie about a nerdy guy who falls in love.

All that's needed to get the discount - 100 yen (US$0.90; euro0.73) for students and 400 yen (US$3.60; euro2.93) for adults - is ask for "one ticket for a geek" at the booth for the Japanese movie "Train Man."

"Customers are getting a kick out of saying it," said Koji Nitta, sales chief the Fujisawa Chuo theater, south of Tokyo. "There are only a few who look like typical geeks, though."

The ticket promotion, which Nitta credits with raising sales at the theater, is part of the changing image of Japan's "otaku," who have long been seen as social misfits obsessed with comic books and animated videos.

As an aside: we call them "fanboys" here in Canada, even though there are also females among them. There was even a convention in Toronto last weekend about them -- but then, if you're reading this, you know about that already.

"Otaku" culture has become a legitimate field of research in Japan, and a study last year estimated that sales generated by goods targeted at the country's 2.8 million nerds totaled 258 billion yen (US$2.3 billion).

The movie, "Densha Otoko" in Japanese, takes so-called geeks into a genre they're not usually associated with: romantic love. The 22-year-old otaku hero turns to a favorite geek refuge in search of girlfriend advice - the Internet.
[The above link will take you to a blog that reviews the TV series that inspired the movie -- VW.]

Offering a discount seems to be widening the types of people eligible to be otaku: Nitta said about 70 per cent of the theater's customers now claim to be geeks.

Discounts for geeks. Now that's an idea that really needs to catch on ...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Stephen Harper Stays on the Barbie

In his last soapbox sermon to the Tory leadership, Andrew of Bound By Gravity had this to say:

Finally, here is my suggestion for the CPC's next move: Join Jack Layton's call to recall Parliament early in order to deal with the softwood lumber dispute. Do this ASAP. Recalling parliament will be seen as a selfless move, and will show strong leadership. If done properly, this will also demonstrate that the CPC can force Paul Martin's hand (in a productive manner, and to the benefit of Canadians), and may also help the NDP maintain some of the leftie vote that traditionally jumps ship on election day from the NDP to the Liberals. (Reasoning: Harper looks less scary, and Jack looks like he can get things done - both of these are vital to split the leftie vote.)

A pity he wrote that before this came up in the online Globe and Mail:

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has no interest in returning early to Parliament to deal with the softwood dispute.

“We have no plans for early return,” Mr. Harper's acting communications director William Stairs said Monday, dismissing an idea first floated by NDP Leader Jack Layton.

“The NDP supported this government despite what it has done (in) sponsorship, botching BSE and softwood files ... they are part of the problem,” Mr. Stairs said.

“That they should come out now and call for Parliament to resume is empty rhetoric,” Mr. Stairs said.

Mr. Stairs said if the New Democrats wanted to see progress on the issue of U.S. duties on construction-grade wood, they'd agree with the Conservatives and pressure Prime Minister Paul Martin to call U.S. President George W. Bush.

Mr. Stairs said the Tories have been urging Mr. Martin to talk to Mr. Bush for weeks to resolve things at the highest political level but he has refused to pick up the phone.

Well ... that's unfortunate. Andrew's suggestion certainly had the merit of showing Mr. Harper to be active, to be respectful of the institution of Parliament.

And to be brutally frank about it, the strategy Mr. Stairs described is pretty much a non-starter. Phoning the President about softwood lumber right now -- when Hurricane Karina hasn't finished running its course -- would seem quite churlish. It also sets the precedent of Paul Martin knuckling under to the opposition -- something no self-respecting Librano wants to do.

There are other things, though that Harper can do -- like denouncing the appointment of two more Liberal hacks to the Senate. Or coming up with alternative strategies to address the homegrown doctor shortage.

Or staying on the barbie circuit 'til Labour Day. Good ribs, huh, Stephen?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Random Thoughts on the Canadian Anime Expo

I managed to attend all three days of the Canadian National Expo, focusing mainly on the anime parts, but it was on Saturday that I opted for this outfit.

Oddly, even without the jacket (I left it in the hotel room on Friday and Sunday) I wound up getting the Raiders March whistled or hummed around me by at least 30 people. (I think after I wash the shirt I'll save it for next Halloween.)

And yes, I definitely have to do something about my gut.

Mind you, I wasn't the only George Lucas-inspired fashion plate moving around. Here we see a gathering fit for the New Alliance Museum: the Evolution of the Stormtrooper from the Clone Wars to the present age. (Which was still a long time ago in a galaxy et cetera.)

Now, of course you'd expect some good-looking cosplay at CNAnime. I can't say I recognize all the shows that these cosplayers are playing, but it's all in good fun, right?

As you can probably tell, I had a great time. The Saturday Evening Masquerade was a ton of fun, seeing all those people (and things -- I hope the Dalek took a prize) is somewhat reassuring for a geek like yours truly. Even if the lineup was a bit long.

A Gathering of Bloggers

Well, I'm back in Ottawa after a great experience with CNA Anime. I'll write it up in a later post, but for now we'll stick with another photo of the Gathering of Bloggers on Thursday at the Bishop and Belcher.

Quotaliciousness has a pretty good summary of events here. I was only able to attend the early part because I still had a convention to go to, but it was still a good experience.

That's me on the left. In front of me is the Babbler Damian Brooks, and beside him is Mike Brock, who took the opportunity to inform us of his engagement (girlfriend proposed to him). The man on the extreme right is Nicholas of Quotulatiousness, who has a bit more of an extended write-up (as well as more pictures) here.

UPDATE (12h50 29 Aug): Nicholas has some more photos of the event here.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Doing Time in Geek City

Blogging will be on hiatus here for about 72 hours, as I'm off to Toronto to attend the Canadian National Expo.

This event encompasses five -- count 'em, five -- conventions: the Canadian National Comic Book Expo, SFX 2005 for sci-fi fans, CNAnime for Japanese animation (for which I have a pass), GX for video and other gamers, and the Festival of Fear for horror/suspense aficionados.

If you're thinking "Geek City," well, I don't blame you. But it's my kinda crowd.

Along the way I'll attempt to stop by the Babbling Bloggers meeting tonight, but apart from that I don't plan on being anywhere near a computer for the next three days.

So I'll see you on Sunday -- hopefully with pictures.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Justice Gomery Wants YOU

As part of the Final Gomery report, the Commission into the Sponsorship Scandal is now open for public input:

Justice John Gomery is asking people to submit their comments through the inquiry website or by mail to help him put together recommendations for changes to the way government handles things such as sponsorships.

In his mandate for the inquiry issued in February he was authorized to conduct consultations on his eventual recommendations.

"In my final report I plan to propose some solutions to ensure clearer accountability between the executive and administrative arms of government," he said in a statement Thursday. "In doing this, I recognize the importance of seeking out public input from across Canada in order to reflect regional perspectives and views on the key issues that have been raised in this public inquiry."

The inquiry will also hold five roundtable meetings across the country between now and the end of October. Participants will include former MPs, government officials, academics and technical specialists.

The sessions will be held in Moncton next Wednesday, Quebec City on Sept. 14, Toronto on Oct. 5, Edmonton on Oct. 19 and Vancouver on Oct. 20.

Here is the link to the Gomery Commission's public input page. You can also send comments via snail mail to the following address:

Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program
and Advertising Activities
P.O. Box 1388, Station "B"
Ottawa, ON K1P 5R4

Note that, while it's tempting, this is not meant to be a board for grousing about Librano corruption and stupidity, nor for the bashing of Jean Cretin or Mr. Dithers.

Instead, the Judge wants the public to try and answer the following questions:

1. Should government advertising and sponsorship programs be insulated from political influence? If yes, how?

2. What protections should be given to "whistleblowers" -- the public servants who believe they've got evidence of government wrongdoing?

3. The concept of ministerial responsibility requires that a minister be accountable to the House of Commons for the exercise of power. Should there be exceptions to this concept for all the actions of a department? And if so, under what conditions?

4. How would you promote greater accountability for the management and use of public funds?

5. Should the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service be linked to specific responsibility and accountability processes to safeguard against wrongdoing? And if so, how?

6. Is there anything else you would suggest to Justice Gomery in pursuing his mandate? (And try to keep your response polite in answering this one.)

As you can see, these are questions that will require a bit of thinking in answering them. But the public has plenty of time; the deadline for public input is October 28th.

The Great Librano Pep Talk -- And What the Tories Can Do

Interesting story from Jane Taber of the Globe and Mail, covering a senior Liberal strategy session. "Senior" because not only MPs but staff from the PMO were in attendance to listen to David Herle, the national Liberal campaign co-chair. Mr. Herle gave a two-hour presentation that Ms. Taber translated as just a pep talk for the upcoming session of Parliament.

Mr. Herle's presentation was apparently long on aspirations and short on backup data, but the take-home points are as follows:

  • According to an unnamed source, Canadians are in the mood for a majority government. (Chalk this up as aspiration; no recent polls have been published showing the Liberals pulling the numbers necessary for a majority vote.)
  • The Grits could gain 8 to 10 seats in the Western provinces, and a majority of seats in B.C. (Although one wonders if Gurmant Grewal's seat is one of them.)
  • The Gomery inquiry could potentially damage the Liberals, especially in Quebec. (True enough; Grit planning for the rest of the year will be factoring in a downswing in poll numbers when the Gomery final report is released.)
  • There is a potential feeling among Canadians that a change of government is in order. (The Liberals have been in power for over 12 years, essentially the equivalent of the Ronald Reagan/George Bush Sr. era. And George Bush Sr. lost the second election.)
  • In order to get the majority, the Tories have to be "marginalized on the right." (This suggests a counter-strategy: if the Grits devote lots of time and resources to tarring the Tories, the Tories can fire back that the Grits have no more good ideas on their own.)
  • The Liberals still have the reputation of being solid on economic issues, that's the main strength coming into the next election. (Unfortunately, that's true: no matter how many arguments you can muster about underreported surpluses, you can't shake off everyone's gut feeling that running surpluses is better than running deficits. The best way for the Tories to counter that is to highlight incidents of government wasting money, and link that to higher taxes.)
  • The Liberals should focus on the 10 percent of voters on the left who vacillate between the Liberals and the NDP. (This is based on the belief that there is little interest in Don Laytone. Again, I'd chalk this one up to wishful thinking; Layton's management of the NDP during the last session garnered favorable reviews, and the more silly antics the Grits get into, the better the NDP looks.)

How much weight should we give Mr. Herle's presentation? Consider this: he was in charge of the federal Liberal campaign in the last election. When everyone was expecting a majority government.

There may be an opportunity here ...

The Pony Express Comes to Smith Falls

Remind me never to say anything bad about Canada Post mail carriers. This woman in Smith Falls has had a bright idea to deal with the price of gas:

Canada Post employee Diana Bayer has traded in her gas-powered SUV for something with a little less horsepower.

Ms. Bayer delivered mail yesterday on her Smiths Falls-area route on horseback.

She says the move was in protest to get her employer to recognize the price of gas has doubled since the rate was set.

The current allowance is 44 cents a kilometre.

Ms. Bayer says at that rate, she has to pay out of her own pocket to do her job.

Now, granted, this is a protest move, but if I were Ms. Bayer, I'd stick with the horse, at least until late October.

There's a certain amount of charm in the idea of a letter carrier riding up on a horse to deliver the mail. No gaseous pollutants (although you do have to watch your step), you're outdoors in good weather, and these days horse feed costs less per pound than gas.

Although "Ride 'em, mailboy!" doesn't quite have the same ring ...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Signs of the "Silly Season" : When Fake Cheese is A Good Thing

The Consumers' Association of Canada, taking advantage of the August "silly season," has gotten itself into a snit:

If the Federal Government continues on its present course to introduce Bill C-27 regarding the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the plaintive cry will be heard across Canada" "Mom what’s for lunch?" The answer from harried parents will be "I don’t know. Kraft Dinner is no longer available, processed cheese slices to make grilled cheese sandwiches are illegal and cheese spreads are banned. I can’t even make toast with margarine."

“Why has the Federal Government, without any consultation with consumers, pushed legislation to remove from the marketplace many food items cherished by consumers, foods favoured by those seeking healthier solutions for their dietary needs?" says Mel Fruitman, vice-president of the Consumers’ Association of Canada.

Why has the all-party Committee on Agriculture sneakily tacked on an amendment to ban hundreds of popular products, to legislation intended to streamline the operation of the CFIA? All but a few margarines would be banished from grocers shelves. Becel, one of the largest selling brands would no longer be available. Even new products such as spreadable butter would be forbidden as would many frozen treats.

"There is no benefit here for Canadian consumers," says Fruitman. "Labelling of ingredients and nutritional information provide consumers with the information needed to make informed choices. For example, this information assists: those who are lactose intolerant to enjoy lactose-free cheese-like products; diabetics to enjoy sugar-free ice creams and the weight and cholesterol conscious to enjoy a wide range of fat-reduced items."

This is obviously the kind of news release that's trying to get some business for Mr. Fruitman and his association, from journalists who'd like something to write about during a slow news month (hey, when Cathy Sheehan gets press coverage, it's a slow month).

Before reporters start to give him a call, they should bear in mind that Mr. Fruitman isn't exactly speaking from the point of view of a shopper. According to the website of the Government Online Advisory Panel (of which he's a member), Mr. Fruitman operates the Fruitman Consulting Group "which conducts marketing studies for retailers, their suppliers and others (such as trade associations) interested in the consumer goods environment," and has also worked with the Retail Council of Canada.

But is there any substance to his claim? Here's the relevant passage from Bill C-27 that he's complaining about:

65.1 The Act is amended by adding the following after section 18:

Dairy ingredients

18.1 (1) No person shall market an agricultural product using a dairy term on the label unless that product contains the dairy ingredient represented by the dairy term.

Substitute product

(2) No person shall market an agricultural product that has a dairy term on the label if the agricultural product is intended to substitute for a dairy product.


(3) Subsection (1) does not apply
(a) where the label of an agricultural product contains the term “artificial”, “simulated” or “imitation” together with the name of a dairy ingredient and the word “flavour”, and where that product has the artificial flavour of that dairy ingredient added to it;

(b) where the label of an agricultural product contains the term “flavour” or “flavoured” together with the name of a dairy ingredient, and where that flavour is derived from that dairy ingredient;

(c) where the nature of the agricultural product is clear from traditional usage or from the name by which the agricultural product is generally known;

(d) where the name of a dairy ingredient is used to describe a sensory characteristic, other than taste, of the agricultural product; or

(e) where, in the case of, an agricultural product that is derived from the normal lacteal secretion obtained from the mammary glands of any animal other than a cow, genus Bos, the product is labelled so as to identify that animal.


(4) For the purposes of this section,

(a) “dairy ingredient” means butter, buttermilk, butter oil, cream, cheese, ice cream, milk, sour cream, whey, yogurt or any other thing prescribed;

(b) “dairy term” means a word, name, designation, symbol or pictorial which refers to a dairy ingredient; and

(c) “milk” means the normal lacteal secretion obtained from the mammary gland of an animal.

Now, bear in mind that all the products that Mr. Fruitman has cited are what we might think of as containing a dairy product, but don't. So from a marketing standpoint, this passage (if it comes into force) will make his life -- and the lives of the manufacturers, grocers and other retailers who pay for his services -- very, very difficult.

After all, you can't exactly market KD as "macaroni and artificial cheese sauce." Or a low fat cheese product as "containing little or no milk."

I do find it somewhat ironic that the spokesperson for a supposed advocacy group on behalf of shoppers is arguing a case against truth in advertising. But then, I suppose that's why they call it "silly season."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Does Canada Need a CBC?

Angry in TO is finally taking some time out from his Cindy Sheehan stalking observations to wax indignant about the currently-striking CBC. Needless to say, his comments aren't pretty, but I think they're a little off:

How does the CBC qualify [as a public service]?

Ask yourself this question: If the CBC didn't exist today, and someone at the federal level suggested spending billions to set up the CBC, would you support it? Do you think it would be required in today's media market in Canada?

Regardless of income? Do you get the CBC for free? Or do you get it for the same price as a CTV affiliate and Global affiliate, and maybe a CityTV or A-Channel affiliate, via broadcast, cable, or satellite? If you live in a rural area, do you use satellite? Would you consider getting a system for $40 a month? Is that $40 a month so much of a burden that you prefer to get a grainy CBC signal free over the air? It might be for some, but I suspect most people without access to any TV except the CBC via broadcast don't watch much TV at all.

Do you think the CBC ranks up there with public services like education, electicity, fire and police, water and waste management?

If I might interrupt: this last sentence is somewhat misleading. These public services are provided on a local level; the CBC is not.

The problem within the CBC is that they believe it does. They believe Canadians need the CBC just like they need fresh water and working sewers. They believe that Canadians would demand a CBC if one didn't exist, and would happily pay to create a CBC. They believe that Canadians would be sorely hurt if the CBC disappeared, just as they would be hurt if there were no fire departments or if the electricity would be turned off.

Well, that depends, Angry. Is a national news network, one with reporters in every jurisdiction in Canada, desirable? One that can communicate on pretty much any broadcast media? I, for one, would think so.

One more question. Did you live in an area affected by the big blackout of 2003? During those 24 to 72 hours (different areas were affected differently), did you ever say, even just to yourself, "Man, I'm missing a whole lot of CBC because of this stupid blackout!"

Well, here's the thing:

There is no broadcasting company in Canada that currently has the reach of the CBC. CHUM comes pretty close, but they don't have TV or radio stations in the Prairies, the Maritimes, or the North, and they have no French-language service. Canwest Global has print and TV, but no radio or French-language representation.

The CBC is one of the few truly national entities that has representation in every jurisdiction in Canada, and in every broadcast media -- TV, radio, and the Net. So it's not just television, as Angry seems to imply.

That's important when you're living in a community where cable or broadband access is problematic, because under those circumstances no private businessman is going to be able to operate a profitable TV or radio station, which delivers good local programming.

Angry's main problem in his sniping at the CBC is that he's taken the Toronto point of view: sure, he's got plenty of choices on his remote or his radio dial, so he doesn't need the CBC. I wonder, though, if he's actually bothered to listen to The Current, or Disc Drive, or RSVP, or Vicki Gabereau or Peter Gzowski during their heyday. I've always found listening to CBC radio a good opportunity to find out what was going on in Vancouver, or the Prairies, or Montreal, or the Maritimes.

It's local coverage that the CBC excels at, and funnily enough it's what everyone seems to be demanding:

More important are the continuous complaints from viewers outside Canada's largest cities that CBC's reflection of regions in its daily programming is so inadequate that the broadcaster is not fulfilling its mandate to taxpayers.

CBC executives - who slashed regional programming following a series of government-imposed budget cuts five years ago - told a House of Commons committee earlier this year they will re-establish TV and radio in the regions if the Liberal government delivers an extra $80 million over three years.

Currently, taxpayers contribute about $900 million to the CBC's $1.3-billion annual budget.

Regional broadcasting is the critical issue, says former CBC president Tony Manera.

"It isn't economical for larger, private broadcasters to have a significant presence in the regions, so the CBC becomes indispensible and a lifeline to those smaller centres," he says.

"Abandoning or drastically reducing the regionally based services has a negative impact on the roots of the country. When I was president, I argued very strongly to maintain a strong regional presence because the CBC had to be grounded in the regions. But the reality is that the money isn't there, so hard choices have to be made. The government seems to be unable to grasp this very simple fact, so the CBC's choices are not between good and bad, but between bad and worse."

CBC TV, and its all-news sister station Newsworld, currently have an audience of about eight to nine per cent of English-language viewers.

But about 40 per cent of viewers watching Canadian programming do so on the two CBC channels - a task that became more difficult last fall, winter and spring because CBC filled its empty Hockey Night in Canada hours with aging Hollywood movies.

CBC radio networks One and Two are heard by 10 per cent of the listening audiences, but its local programming, where it exists, regularly grabs larger audiences. In Ottawa, for instance, CBC radio's morning and afternoon magazine shows regularly vie for top spot in the ratings.

Public utilities aren't the proper analogue to compare the CBC with. Think, instead, of the railways of the 19th century, which were supplemented by air transport and the Trans-Canada Highways in the 20th. The CBC is that analogue, only instead of transporting people across Canada, it's transporting ideas.

And that kind of network is worth spending taxpayers' money on.

Well, No Wonder I'm Crap

Just took this test (hat tip: North West Winds via Andrew) and I find myself wishing I hadn't:

You're the United Nations!

Most people think you're ineffective, but you are trying to completely save the world from itself, so there's always going to be a long way to go. You're always the one trying to get friends to talk to each other, enemies to talk to each other, anyone who can to just talk instead of beating each other about the head and torso. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, and you get very schizophrenic as a result. But your heart is in the right place, and sometimes also in New York.

Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

This definitely sounds like a good reason to indulge in a pitcher of Guinness when I go join Damian & Co. at the Bishop & Belcher this Friday.

I'm the freakin' U.N. Grumble grumble grumble ...

Friday, August 19, 2005

Apparently I'm Crap ...

... at least according to this blog quiz (hat tip: Andrew at Bound By Gravity).

Your word is CRAP. You come across as sweet and
innocent, yet underneath it all there is a
quite nasty streak. Gossiping and being
critical of others comes a bit too naturally to
you. And people will begin to see through the
sickly sweet exterior soon.

Which Swear (Curse) Word Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
Well, of course. I wouldn't have anything to blog about otherwise.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

You Still Need To Talk, Michaëlle

I see you've decided to break your silence, Ms. Jean. You've decided to try to reassure our nation that Paul Martin made the right decision in selecting you, by releasing a one-page statement.

Well, it's a useful start. But you need more. A lot more.

Let's have a look at what you decided to tell us:

I am deeply touched and wish to thank all those who have so warmly greeted the news of my recent nomination to the office of Governor General of Canada. Others have questioned my attachment to Canada and that of my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond.

Bad choice of words there. "Attachment" is weak. Like a string that can be easily broken. Or a sentimental connection. It's really too vague, sounding as if you're trying not to offend someone and winding up sounding milquetoast.

Loyalty would have been a better word to use in this context, Ms. Jean. "Loyalty" implies a fierce, deliberate bond to the institution, which is what people are looking for, something that casts no doubt whatsoever on your fitness for this post.

I want to tell you unequivocally that both he and I are proud to be Canadians and that we have the greatest respect for the institutions of our country. We are fully committed to Canada. I would not have accepted this position otherwise.

Well, that's better. Though not by much; one thing I've noticed about some politicians is that they will say "I have the greatest respect for X" before lowering the whammy. Example: "I have the greatest respect for our Prime Minister, but ... " A Quebec separatist can have respect for the federal Parliament, but still want an independent Quebec. You might have done better to leave that part out.

We are equally proud of the attachment to Quebec that we have always shown beyond any partisan considerations. Let me be clear: we have never belonged to a political party or the separatist movement.

Sorry, Ms. Jean, but I have to say it: this is where you've blown it.

First, by saying you are "equally proud" you are in fact equivocating. This may be an obvious virtue in the eyes of Liberals, but for the rest of us it's wishy-washy. You've also put Canada and Quebec on an equal footing, which plays well in your home province but not so well in the West.

Second, saying you're not a party member doesn't automatically remove the suspicion. You don't need to actually belong to a political party or a movement to be a sovereigntist.

Look, I know you don't want to offend your social circle in Quebec, I'm sure they're all nice people (and I'm sure the FLQ guy did a lovely job building you a bookshelf). But what you really should have done was address your statements and your appearance in that documentary that your husband made so many years ago. Something to the effect of "My bond with Canada has strengthened" or "I've discovered much more to like" or "The events of 9/11 have caused me to rethink my philosophy" or something like that. Addressing your past is the only way your critics will let you move forward; you can't leave it behind until you address it head-on.

The values of respect, tolerance and openness are very precious to all of us, and I look forward to meeting Canadians in every part of the country.

"Tolerance, respect and openness" are the typical Liberal Party clichés, but that last part is good. Because it commits you to an action plan: you've just announced your intention to meet Canadians. But understand, that doesn't mean the tourists who come to Rideau Hall on Canada Day.

It means you get out of Ottawa and Quebec. Go to the Territories. Go to the West. Go to the Rock. Let yourself appear on YTV or MuchMusic or the talk radio shows.

It means you show the people who you really are.

You've taken a first step in squashing the questioning, Ms. Jean, but only one. You need to do a lot more before Sept. 27th.

Better hop to it.

It's Time To Talk, Michaëlle

Well, the fat seems to have hit the fire, hasn't it, Ms. Jean?

To be perfectly fair, you weren't the first G-G nominee that people complained about. There was a lot of grumbling when Ray Hnatyshyn got the job, mainly because he was widely perceived as a partisan (he was a cabinet minister during the Mulroney years). That, and nobody could spell his last name.

His situation was probably the most applicable to your current one. Your predecessor was widely perceived, despite the faults naturally attendant on a CBC journalist, to be outside of politics.

You, on the other hand, were recorded in a documentary film by your husband, having a grand time with a lot of sovereigntists. The magazine Le Québécois has all the details, and it's even made the Daily Telegraph in London, which means there'll probably be a call for you-know-who to get involved.

And remember that Ray had one advantage over you -- he didn't have a blogosphere to contend with. There are lots of blogposts out there, mostly right and centre-right, coming down on you like a ton of bricks because of the separatist allegations. (And a few because of your French citizenship, but that's not so serious.)

Never mind that the recorded evidence is over a decade old, that the Canada of today is different from the one of 10 years ago. You should know from your experiences as a journalist that public figures are fair game, and anything -- anything -- on record can be used against you in the court of public opinion.

It's time for you to talk, Ms. Jean. And you have to do it now.

You can't rely on Paul Martin to talk for you. He has to spend his time defending his original decision instead of you. Being a typical Chrétien politician, he'll just elaborate on your good qualities and ignore the accusations altogether. That doesn't impress people, as you can see from this CP story:

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said he's troubled that Martin and his entourage have failed to provide a clear rebuttal of the claims.

"I am waiting to hear somebody in the Prime Minister's Office put out some information that is contrary to what we're reading in the papers now," Harper told CFRA Radio in Ottawa.

Nor can you rely on the public servants at the PMO to help you. Already there are news stories to the effect that they didn't take the time to do a thorough background check on you:

Conservative Senator Marjorie LeBreton, who was director of appointments under former prime minister Brian Mulroney, says that the separatist links might not have been noticed by officials in the Prime Minister's Office, in their haste to make the appointment.

She pointed to comments made by Helene Scherrer, the prime minister's principal secretary, who has proudly taken credit for identifying the former CBC broadcaster to Paul Martin as a candidate during a meeting on June 10.

Ms. Scherrer told the National Post that Mr. Martin ordered her to "go and see her."

"He came back to me on the next Monday to say, 'Did you see her?' " Ms. Scherrer told the Post. "I said, 'No, I didn't think you were that serious on Friday and that it was a rush.' And he said, "Yes, I want you to see her.'

"I said, 'This is it.' And he said, 'Yes it is. That's the one,' " Ms. Scherrer recalled.

Ms. LeBreton says Ms. Scherrer's comments reveal that the appointment may have been made without due diligence.

You see? Anything that anyone in the PMO says to defend the appointment is going to have the air of a panicked civil servant trying to cover assets. To put it mildly.

So you have to talk. And a mere issuing of a press statement isn't going to cut it.

You're going to have to go out to the people. Maybe not a full-blown press conference, but a few well-placed interviews will do a lot. Not the CBC (they've got a strike going) but certainly CTV Newsnet, TQS or TVA, so that you can confront these accusations head on and deal with them as a regular person would. Not like a civil servant shooting out news releases from an ivory tower.

And it's crucial that you put a priority on dealing with the English-language media. Quebeckers already know your work, and they've probably made up their minds about you. It's the rest of Canada, the folks in Nova Scotia and B.C. and Ralph Klein's Alberta, who really don't know you and who are getting information filtered through an ill-informed media from a source with a hostile agenda. The folks of the West are the ones you have to reach.

You know what would really do you good? Going on Cross-Country Checkup. But with the CBC on strike, the next best thing would be the Lowell Green Show or Adler Online. Deal with the callers who are the most hostile towards you, and you can earn points with the rest of us.

You want time to work up some talking points? Fine, but don't take too long. If you wait until Sept. 23rd, it will be too late: you'll have to begin your term with a separatist-made millstone on your neck.

It's time to talk, Ms. Jean. And the time is now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Borking of Michaëlle Jean

If the title of this post sounds vaguely obscene, I should explain: "borking" refers to the discrediting of a candidate for public office through intense and unfair media scrutiny. The term comes from the U.S. in reference to Judge Robert Bork, who was rejected as a candidate for the Supreme Court based on intense coverage of his viewpoints. We now see an attempt to recreate the "borking" phenomenon, this time directed at Governor-General designate Michaëlle Jean.

Leading the charge against Ms. Jean's appointment is the magazine Le Québécois, which published an article yesterday describing activities which seemed to show sympathy for the cause of Quebec independence.

Note that I say "seemed." One thing to remember about Quebec politics is that it is socializing as well as socialist. The independence-leaning activities didn't take place at a political meeting, but at a cocktail party. So there's some question as to whether Ms. Jean was being heartfelt or was just trying to ingratiate herself with the guests. (Remember, she's a journalist, a career where schmoozing to gain sympathy is a virtue.)

Anyway, you have a "he said, she said" scenario, with enough ambiguity that target clarification is needed. You have a newsmagazine, with a biased viewpoint (and to their credit, Le Québécois proclaims its bias), ready and willing to keep the target on the public agenda. And you have the context of "silly season," when news days are typically slow. The perfect environment for a borking.

Now, Ms. Jean has apparently decided not to comment further until her investiture next month. In terms of handling a borking, this is a mistake, a big one. These charges are like an untreated boil; unless you take care of them right away they'll fester in the public agenda until things really get ugly. And since Ms. Jean's investiture is on Sept. 27th, that's a month and a half during which more potentially damaging revelations can be discovered. (Things like a predeliction for polka music, or being a Maple Leafs fan--things that can really damage a candidate in the public eye.)

Of course, it keeps the journalists out of trouble, and everyone else either entertained or more disillusioned with the Canadian political process. Borking can be fun -- unless you're the borked.

A couple of observations:

First, I think I've mentioned before that it's somewhat ironic that sovereigntists would want to get rid of an executive who's allegedly sympathetic to their ultimate goal. But we have to remember, this isn't really about Ms. Jean. This is about attacking the competence of Paul Martin.

The press goal, here, is to demonstrate that the PM has made a bad choice for GG by picking someone not truly representative of Canada as a whole. (After all, not too many people have heard of Ms. Jean in western Canada.) And they will be aided by a national news media that has not much else on the agenda and always welcomes an opportunity to stir up trouble for a sitting government.

The drawback, of course, is that the position of GG is not one that most Canadians think about. Apart from some ceremonial duties and the granting of Royal Assent to bills, the job's not one that makes the news a lot. Unless Ms. Jean or her spouse makes a collossal flub (i.e. one on a Prince Philip level), I think most Canadians will be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. (And Prince Philip's almost always been forgiven for his faux pas, even when they've been doozies--slitty eyes, anyone?)

Second, there is definitely a need for formal public input in to the G-G selection process.

As things stand now, all the PM has to do is submit a name to the Royal Sovereign in Great Britain. The Sovereign can theoretically reject the nomination, but in practice he or she doesn't really do all that much vetting because he or she assumes the PM's already done that, and has made a good selection.

It's not quite the same as the appointment of justices to the Supreme Court. There, at least, the nominees are vetted by the Canadian Bar Association, so there's some superficial outside input. While the PM certainly may have consulted some party members, in theory he could just pick a name out of a hat and send that to London, no vetting, and it would be approved.

So I'd argue that a change is needed--maybe not a direct public election of the G-G (gosh darn it, that sounds so--republican--a bad word to use in Canada), but maybe informal meetings with either the Commons or the Senate.

It's true that you run the risk of an "Anita Hill" scenario, and dignity is still a strong element of Canadian politics. But at least it's in an environment where a vigourous defence can earn a candidate points in the public eye--and the inquisition is done by people who can legitimately claim to represent the public will, which the media cannot do.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Strategic Counsel Poll: Have A Look For Yourself

Campbell Clark writes in today's Globe and Mail that the sponsorship scandal is currently off the public radar, which equals bad news for the federal Tories. You can actually find the poll in question at the Strategic Counsel's website; it's the one dated August 7th. If you look at the poll itself, there are somethings that the Globe story doesn't cover.

First, it's not surprising that the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery inquiry have faded. Since the judge is in analysis / final report writing mode, there are no new revelations and no new discoveries. Furthermore, since Parliament hasn't been in session since June, there's been no real opportunity for the Tories to keep the issue alive.

Second, the ability of the media to set the public agenda is still pretty strong, particularly when it comes to international news. Immigration and cultural integration have become an issue, mainly because of the immigrant crackdown that was introduced in Britain during the polling period. (One thing that's been underreported from this poll: Canadians have become disillusioned with the "multiculturalism" policy that has been a traditional mindset of the federal Liberals. If the Tories publicize reforms to immigration based on cultural integration, that could be a clear alternative come election time.)

Third, one needs to be careful about describe issues on the agenda. While health care is rated as the most important issue facing the country, only 16 percent of the sample said so. This is hardly dominant, and in fact the number is down from polling back in May.

Fourth, although terrorism isn't high on the issues list, what people do know about it isn't encouraging for the Liberals. 67 percent of the sample don't believe this covernment can deal with a terrorist threat. (Anne McLellan needs to do a lot more work.)

Finally, this poll does identify one significant Tory electoral weakness: as bad as the numbers are in Ontario, they've gone into single-digits in Quebec. Plainly, some recruitment and outreach is needed if the Tories really want to be competitive on a national level.

But perhaps you'd better have a look at the poll for yourself.

The Canadian Press Wants to F*** Off

The Canadian Press, the nation's analogue to Associated Press and Reuters, has come up with an official policy on using the, er, F-word. (In case you don't know what I'm talking about, the sort-of background information about the word can be found here.) According to the news story on CTV News:

Its entry in the 40th anniversary edition of the 215-page guide -- the only vulgarity included other than "damn'' and its variations and s.o.b. -- In short: avoid it for the most part. And if it must be used because it adds a valuable news element to a story, spell it out. No f and three asterisks. No "eff word.'' No freakings, friggings or firkings either, for that matter.

Well. There's some candid virtue in that, if a CP reporter absolutely has to use the word in a quote, it should be spelled out starkly, not censored or euphemised. (Which means that any politician caught using the Word on tape can no longer count on reporters being polite enough to leave it out--not that reporters were ever polite in the first place, mind you, but still ...)

Note that this applies mainly to print stories; stories for radio/TV broadcast, in Canada, are supposed to follow the guidelines of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics (clause 9(c)for radio, and clause 11 for TV, deal with the use of coarse or foul language). (By the way, it seems it's the CBSC, not the CRTC, who's responsible for disciplining individual stations whenever a language boo-boo is made. That's good to know for avoiding bureaucratic delays if one wants to complain about the Trailer Park Boys.)

So why, after all this time, is it necessary to have a policy on the F-word?

"It's much more socially acceptable than it used to be,'' says Katherine Barber, the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

"I hear children using it a lot. I hear them walking down the street saying it, and I mean young children who are only nine or 10 years old. Maybe children that age have always been running around yelling it, but I don't think so. Somewhere along the line it has lost some of its power, but that doesn't mean that it's not still offensive to certain portions of the population." [CP stylebook editor Patti] Tasko agrees.

"Daily journalism is very quick to reflect the way people use language, especially when it comes to slang. There was a time when the expression 'sucks' would have been considered vulgar; now you see it everywhere," she said.

"But journalists have to remember that many readers consider such slang offensive, especially in written form. At CP we write for every reader in Canada, from those who see our news online to those who read it in a small-town newspaper. Routine vulgarities usually add nothing of value to a story anyway, so they're not hard to avoid."

True enough. Personally, I have a theory as to why CP felt it necessary for reporters to have an F-word policy:

Your typical Canadian journalist sees that, down in the States, there's a president whose very existence infuriates a strong portion of the literate population. Up here, the journalists have to deal politicians who behave less like statesmen and more like sneaky schoolboys. They can only see movies which seem to be catering to those very geeks they spent their high-school years trying to avoid; they can only watch TV shows that are infected by the reality bug; they can only review books that are full of either airport saccharine or self-congratulatory drivel; and over all of it the bloggers have climbed onto their backs to fact-check them out of a job.

No wonder Canadian journalists have an F-word policy. They've got plenty to swear about.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Grewaling Ordeal is Almost Over ...

Newton-North Delta MP Gurmant "Your Visit May Be Recorded for Quality Control Purposes" Grewal got some good news yesterday: the RCMP aren't going to charge him:

An RCMP spokesperson, Natalie Deschenes, said Friday that investigators listened to the recordings and interviewed the people who were involved before concluding that no criminal investigation was warranted.

He's not quite out of the woods yet -- the RCMP are still looking at how he reported election expenses during the 2004 election -- but this goes a long way towards giving Mr. Grewal a fighting chance to hang on to his seat come the next election.

And Stephen Harper's gamble in publicly supporting Mr. Grewal has paid off. In an environment where simply loyalty is often sacrificed for political expediency, Harper's public support of Grewal was incredibly risky. Now, the fact that the Mounties aren't even going to start a criminal investigation (which is what the Liberal brain trust wanted, as a distraction from the upcoming Gomery revelations) adds a virtuous air to Harper's reputation; his Tory doctors can spin him as a leader willing to tough it out in a political storm.

This may not seem to matter much to the newsreading public, but it does matter to backbench MPs looking for support in their work from their leader. Now they know that Mr. Harper will stand for them if they have a strong position, even if it's unpopular.

Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, on the other hand, comes out as damaged goods. He might have done himself some good by congratulating Mr. Grewal and agreeing to put the sorry affair behind them.

But no. According to the Globe and Mail, he decided to play politics:

Mr. Dosanjh said he was pleased to hear of the RCMP decision.

He was, however, critical of Mr. Harper's support of Mr. Grewal through what he called an "unseemly affair."

"I think it is important, however, for Canadians to reflect with concern on the fact that this sorry episode had its origins in the scheme by Mr. Grewal and the Office of the Leader of the Opposition to publicly besmirch my reputation and integrity with allegations of vote buying and bribery based on surreptitiously recorded tapes," Mr. Dosnajh said in a news release on Friday.

Also troubling Mr. Dosanjh was the fact that the tapes contained edits and splices.

Message for Mr. Dosanjh: your party was engaged in vote-buying. It's understandable because you were trying to prop up a minority government in the middle of devastating testimony from the Gomery inquiry, but it's vote-shopping nonetheless. And it's on the record.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The New G-G : Danny Williams Has the Right Idea

It seems some Quebec sovereigntists have got their toques knitted a little tight about the new Governor-General nominee:

In the September issue of the sovereigntist publication Le Québécois, novelist Rene Boulanger says Jean and her filmmaker husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, supported independence 10 years ago.

Jean has been "soaking for ages in the sovereigntist atmosphere," while Lafond is a "declared sovereigntist," says the article.

(The article, by the way, can be found here. It's in French, but if you know the language you'll recognize some of the quotations.)

On Thursday, Gilles Rheaume, former president of the Société St-Jean-Baptiste, said he wants to know how the couple voted in the 1995 referendum.

Rheaume says people in Quebec and the rest of Canada have the right to know if they are sovereigntists.

He says Prime Minister Paul Martin made a big mistake in appointing Jean, and that he has some explaining to do.

This, by the way, I find a bit confusing. If your stated goal is to have the Province of Quebec become an independent state, wouldn't it be in your best interest to have a head-of-state (which, by the way, the G-G is) who's sympathetic to the idea? And who would therefore be in a position to inform a hostile Parliament trying to legislate against separation that they shouldn't do that?

Meanwhile we have this story from the Globe and Mail:

New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell want to know how Canada's next governor-general voted in a referendum on Quebec independence, but Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams says it's nobody's business.

Mr. Williams said the personal decisions of Jean's husband or the spouse of any public figure are private.

“Certainly, I'm the one in politics. I'm the one who has a public profile,” Mr. Williams said. “When my wife is involved in anything is nobody's business.”

Williams, I think, has the right idea.

The referendum happened 10 years ago; a lot of things have changed since then. There's a Clarity Act. There's a new Conservative Party. Instead of the bully-boy scrapper Jean Chrétien, there's the sober accountant Paul Martin. And 9/11 added the factor of national security that every politician takes into account these days.

And in this current climate, what happened 10 years ago no longer matters. Whatever Ms. Jean's opinions of Canada-Quebec relations 10 years ago, they're bound to have changed and shifted simply because the climate has done the same.

Certainly Michaëlle Jean needs to get out to Canadian audiences more; I'll bet a great portion of English Canada still doesn't get who she is. But she doesn't need to tell them about Canada yesterday. She needs to tell them about her view of Canada today ... and tomorrow.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Be Careful When You Roast A Blogger : A Cautionary Tale

WARNING: this post contains language unsuitable for younger readers. Discretion is advised.

One of the pitfalls about high-speed Internet blogging is that you can e-mail a post without thinking of the consequences.

Case in point: Patrick Mitchell, of the firm Ogletree Deakins.

You probably haven't heard of Patrick Mitchell, but understand that he's one of those people who didn't like the way that super-pundit Michelle Malkin has been handling the Cindy Sheehan affair. (I say nothing about his political slant, since he's given no indication whatsoever of it, so while he may be sympathetic towards Mrs. Sheehan, we have no proof of it.)

Anyway, here is the complete and unabridged text of what he sent to Ms. Malkin:

YOU STINK you nasty CUNT! Eat Shit and DIE bitch!!

Well. I wouldn't exactly call this a scintillating contribution to the debate over Mrs. Sheehan.

But here's what makes this noteworthy: Ms. Malkin printed Mr. Mitchell's response as part of her blog entry -- along with the e-mail address that he used to send it. I don't propose to reproduce it here, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

Did Ms. Malkin have the right to reproduce Mr. Mitchell's e-mail address? There's no real rule against it; Mr. Mitchell was responding to a public post, and most bloghosting sites set their default rules so that anonymous postings aren't permitted.

But observe the following:

Mr. Mitchell sent his e-mail at 11:41 (I'm not sure of the time zone, but let's assume EDT).

Two hours and ten minutes later, Ms. Malkin received the following:

Dear Ms. Malkin,
I am the Managing Shareholder of the law firm of Ogletree Deakins with offices located across the country. I was very disturbed to learn today that a legal secretary in our Los Angeles office sent you the vile e-mail referenced on your home page. Such remarks are clearly inappropriate in any context and an e-mail such as this certainly should not have been sent during working time using our firm's equipment. The comments of this employee are not reflective of the views or opinions of the firm and are directly in violation of our e-mail policy. As Managing Shareholder, I wanted to extend to you our apologies and let you know that this serious violation of our firm's work rules has resulted in the discharge of this employee.
[The bolding is mine--VW.]

Once again, let me offer you our deepest apologies for any discomfort that the referenced e-mail has caused. It will not happen again.


Gray Geddie

There are always consequences when one sends an e-mail without thinking. In this case, sending an abusive e-mail can result in your getting fired from your job. Which is a bit awkward to explain in subsequent job interviews ("So, why did you leave your last job?" "Well, I kinda got snarky towards this really stupid blogger and ...").

Are there lessons to be learned from this? Yes, and not involving right- or left-wing politics:

1) If you're going to e-mail in response to a blog entry, and you're not representing your company, use your personal e-mail to do it. Only use your business e-mail for business-related communications.

2) E-mails to blogs are not privileged communications because the e-mail is meant to appear in public. It is the blogger's right to reproduce the comment, and to identify the commenter if (s)he thinks it's necessary. The blogger is under no obligation to protect you from your folly.

3) Using foul language is never a good idea, because the potential for blowback is far greater than the capacity to hurt a blogger's feelings. As Mr. Mitchell, formerly of the firm Ogletree Deakins, has just found out.

Right. Back to the debate ...

Oh, So That's What Bill Buckley Calls A Porn Watcher

The Oxford Dictionary of English recently added several more words to its lexicon. (We're talking about the published hardcopy 1-volume edition here; there's an online edition that's updated a bit more frequently.)

It's interesting to see what made this cut this time out; the official list can be found here. Among them:

scopophilia (n.), sexual pleasure derived chiefly from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity; voyeurism

Gee, I guess we have a scientific term to describe the phenomenon of porn watching.

smackdown (n., informal, chiefly US) 1. a bitter contest or confrontation 2. a decisive or humiliating defeat or setback

Someone at the OED's been watching too much WWE. It's also interesting how quick a book or movie can get into the public vernacular:

perfect storm (n.) 1. a particularly violent storm arising from a rare combination of adverse meteorological factors 2. (chiefly US) an especially bad situation caused by a combination of unfavourable circumstances

Compared with the slowness of others:

que sera sera exclamation used to convey a fatalistic recognition that future events are out of the speaker's control

I guess Doris Day isn't that big among dictionary writers. But there are a few words that I'm surprised haven't been there already:

demographic (n.) a particular sector of a population

As well as a few that I figured might have been copyrighted:

wiki (n.) a website or database developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add and edit content

Some are so painfully obvious, you wonder why you'd need a dictionary for them:

supersize (adj.) larger than average or standard sizes; extremely large.• (v.) [often as adj.] (supersized) greatly increase the size of

And some that are surprising:

chugger (n., informal) a person who approaches passers-by in the street asking for donations or subscriptions to a particular charity

And here I always thought that it had something to do with beer.

But here's one that, honestly, I don't blame them for wanting to include:

word exclamation (chiefly black English) used to express agreement or affirmation


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Mouse Shoots Its Foot

Last month, Disney closed down its DisneyToon Studios Australia operation. This was the last facility that was producing the traditional, hand-drawn animation that Disney was famous for, from Steamboat Willie all the way up to Home On The Range.

Sure, there'll still be hand-drawn TV projects with the Disney name, but they'll be contracted out to smaller studios, most likely Korea and Japan. For better or for worse, Disney has decided to throw its lot into full-blown CGI graphics for future animation projects.

John Canemaker, animation historian, reflects on this decision for the Wall Street Journal:

For nearly eight decades, the line was king at Disney. It could express anything. From the minds and hands of many artists sprang marvels of imagination: In addition to Mickey Mouse, there were three resourceful little pigs who inspired a Depression-era nation; balletic hippos, crocodiles and mushrooms; a prince slaying a fire-breathing dragon; a puppet wishing to become a real boy; and a rambunctious duck with a short fuse ...

What would Walt have made of all this? Considering the fact that the then-new technology of movie soundtracks put his studio on the map, and that he constantly sought out and exploited innovations such as three-color Technicolor, the Multiplane Camera, stereophonic sound, television, Audio-Animatronics and lasers, I feel sure he would have embraced CGI animation ... but somehow I doubt he would have thrown the baby out with the bath water by abandoning hand-drawn animation. Walt was known to spend years trying to find the best way to deploy the talents of certain of his artists, and perhaps he would have found new ways to use the unique qualities of the hand-made moving image--its inherent warmth; the happy accidents of the human touch; the immediate intuitive link between brain, hand and drawing instrument; the special flexibility and style that is so different from the dimensionality, essential coolness and realistic imagery of CGI ...

As Disney's great admirer Steven Spielberg recently said, "If storytelling becomes a byproduct of the digital revolution, then the medium itself is corrupted."

If I might add one thing: I graduated from Algonquin College's animation program in 2003, the year before they began teaching CGI courses. I've had to teach myself to use programs like Macromedia Flash and ToonBoom, which use the computer to animate but allow hand-drawn input via the graphics tablet. And at some point I'm going to get around to learning 3-D applications like Maya.

I'll concede that CGI has come a long way since the days of Tron. But they wouldn't have if the hand-drawn crowd hadn't gotten in first. It's a truism that an animator should first learn to do hand-drawn animation before progressing to the computer. It gives him or her a better appreciation of animation principles like timing, design, and incidental actions--things that are hard to learn while learning the computer at the same time.

So naturally, I think it's a mistake to put all Disney's eggs in the pretty little basket that is CGI (for every Toy Story, there's a Polar Express or a Final Fantasy). CGI would never have allowed creations like Rugrats, or Ren & Stimpy, or Spongebob Squarepants -- characters who qualities relied on the personal quirks of their creators, as expressed by their hand-drawn styles. Bugs Bunny could never have come out of the computer; nor could Homer Simpson. (I reserve judgement on the South Park gang.)

Will hand-drawn animation return to Disney? Well, I certainly don't think the hand-drawn art will die completely. People still make films in black-and-white, for asthestic purposes. People still draw comics and cartoons, and still appreciate the art of the moving line. And since movie executives change jobs all the time, I have to believe that somewhere down the road an exec will show up who'll look at all the Disney classics ... and wonder if their in-house talent could rise to those levels, in that medium. And actually spend money to try it.

It's the nice thing about Hollywood: sooner or later, things always come back. Even characters drawn by hand.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

CTV News Gets Bound By Gravity

CTV News is apparently doing a follow-up on their story showing how use of the Internet is beginning to rival TV and radio for news delivery to Canadians.

As part of the follow-up, reporter David Akin contacted various Ottawa bloggers to do an interview. (I should know, I was one of them. He contacted me via e-mail, and I gave him some information which he said he found very useful when I followed up via phone.) One of them is Andrew Anderson (left) of Bound By Gravity, who's agreed to be interviewed for tonight's national broadcast.

Judging by Andrew's commentary page, a lot of people expect him to be talking about blogging. Certainly the CanConv service wouldn't hurt from the extra publicity, but I rather suspect the piece is going to be about more than just blogs. The mainstream media's web presence, the use of shop sites such as Expedia and Amazon -- there's going to be a ton of stuff about how Canadians use the Net.

Naturally I'll be tuning in. I trust he'll tell the rest of us all about it tomorrow.

UPDATE (23h14 9 Aug): Andrew's interview comes across pretty well, considering his nervousness. In case you didn't catch his appearance, it's available at the CTV News website. (Clicking this link should open the video in your version of Windows Media Player.)

The Last Shuttle Flight?

I was personally relieved to hear that the space shuttle Discovery had made a safe landing after returning from the Space Shuttle Program's first post-Columbia mission.

Further shuttle flights are on still on hold because NASA's people still need to solve the problem of debris coming off the external fuel tank. I very much wonder how long it well be before the space agency's decision-makers come to the conclusion that some other scientists have done: that the shuttle design itself is flawed and that a new vehicle is needed.

The Space Shuttles, today, remind me of the Canadian Navy's Sea Kings. In their heyday they had reputations as reliable workhorses, but as they got older, their weaknesses developed to the point of diminishing returns. You could probably still use them in an emergency, but right now you wouldn't want to rely on them. And arrogance coupled with bureaucratic inertia is delaying their replacement.

The Shuttles' grounding means there's a race of sorts on, between solving the fuel tank debris problem and bringing the next generation of spacecraft online. For NASA's sake, I hope the latter wins. The flight of Discovery would be an appropriate high note for the Shuttle program to bow out on.

Monday, August 08, 2005

20 Years in Afghanistan? Let's Put This in Perspective

I don't think Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie is in hot water just yet, but nonetheless he's going to get more than a few left-leaning people boiling over this one:

"Afghanistan is a 20-year venture," Major-Gen. Andrew Leslie told the annual Couchiching Summer Conference yesterday.

Leslie warned that the war-torn country is going to need a long-term commitment from Canada to help it "break out of the cycle of warlords and tribalism."

And the results will be worth the cost, both in blood and time, he promised attendees of the conference in Orillia, on the shore of Lake Couchiching.

"There are things worth fighting for. There are things worth dying for. There are things worth killing for," Leslie told the conference. "Your soldiers have done all three of those activities in the last 50 years.

"More of that activity is about to take place," he said, warning of "predators ... who wish to kill those whom we are charged to protect."

Yes, I can imagine the Garish One getting ready to spin her mouth off -- but before she does, there's something to consider:

We tend to think of Kandahar as part of the Great War on Terror, but for practical purposes it fits the parameters of a peacekeeping mission. And peacekeeping missions are measured in terms of decades. Take a look at this list from the Foreign Affairs website.

There are peacekeeping missions ongoing in Korea, the Golan Heights, Cyprus, and the Middle East. The Middle East one's been active since 1948 -- a few more years and it'll qualify for CPP benefits.

There's no guarantee that any of these spots won't become hot -- Korea, in particular, is likely to heat up over its nuclear program -- but compared to these missions, a 20-year stretch in Afghanistan does not seem unreasonable. Particularly when one considers the long-term benefit of stability in that region.

The same argument, of course, could be made in Iraq: the chance for long-term stability is worth the time spent there. Of course that argument's a tough sell for the blue-staters ...

Ga-Ga Over the G-G -- But Not in a Good Way

One obvious thing that most people were tasteful enough not to mention about the new Governor-General's appointment is that Michaëlle Jean is pretty good-looking for a middle-aged woman. I think I've mentioned before that she wouldn't be out of place on MusiquePlus or MuchMusic.

However, I don't think I'd go as far as Sylvain Bouchard, a radio broadcaster in Ville de Québec. His thoughts on Jean have him in hot water:

"Michaëlle Jean has always been one of my fantasies," Bouchard said in French, before going on to elaborate in a graphic way.

The veteran radio announcer is known for having a provocative style, but listener Martin Gaudette said this attack went too far.

"Attack"? I think that's a wrong word, implying the GG has negative traits. Mr. bouchard's fantasy may be gaudy, somewhat creepy and certainly in bad taste, but "attack" is the wrong word for it.

The comments were "shameful, sexist and unacceptable," Gaudette wrote in his complaint to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which regulates radio and television broadcasters across the country.

The CRTC says it will be several days before the validity of each complaint is studied and a decision is made about how to proceed.

Meanwhile, Bouchard insists he didn't mean any harm, saying he was trying to compliment a woman he really likes.

Y'know, if the CRTC has any brains, they'd leave this one alone. I think we can take it as face value that Bouchard wasn't trying to insult or intentionally demean Ms. Jean. (His comments say more about him than they do about her.)

And since she's been a public figure for a while, she's fair game for fair comment. While it's true that the office of G-G demands treatment with some decorum, this is a more relaxed society; it's taken for granted that public figures don't automatically have a right to dignity.

So it'd be silly for Mr. Bouchard to lose his job because he says in public that he has fantasies about good-looking middle-aged women. That's the price we pay for the concept of "freedom of speech" to operate.

However, I wouldn't expect him to receive any invitations to Rideau Hall anytime soon. There are limits, after all ...

Peter Jennings, R.I.P.

This came as a bit of a surprise. Peter Jennings was the last of the Big 3 Triumverate -- Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather being the other two -- to depart the national scene. (It was only four months ago that he announced he had lung cancer. One would have thought he would have survived longer, but that type of cancer is tricky to contain. The tobacco lobby must be having a conniption fit now -- but that's another topic.)

Of the three, Jennings was the most cosmopolitan. It was this air that enabled him to earn a more trusted reputation than Dan Rather.

A part of it came from his Canadian citizenship (despite his tenure, he only became a U.S. citizen in 2003, having begun the process after 9/11), and the fact that he started as a foreign correspondent for ABC News. This gave him a detachment from American domestic politics that enabled him to avoid the charges of partisan bias that always plagued Dan Rather, and to a lesser degree Tom Brokaw.

(Note that I say partisan bias, not liberal bias. Jennings learned his craft from the CBC, after all.)

This type of detachment is rare in American journalism these days; the plague of advocacy journalism has largely erased the news judgement model that Jennings had mastered. The model will come back eventually, but it will be a while before someone emerges who can practice it as well as Jennings could.

Jennings' legacy is as an example of how good news presentation should look -- not preachy, not proud of the methods, but just the facts that Americans needed to know. Confidence and class -- that's what good news anchors should strive for. He'll be missed.

Friday, August 05, 2005

This Must Mean That Blue-Staters Like Bush Better Than Paul Martin

Remember the 2004 U.S. election? How we got so many blue-state voters vowing to move to Canada, because "that dumb brick" in the White House won fair and square?

Turns out most of 'em have the gumption of an Alec Baldwin (hat tip: NealeNews):

In the days after President Bush won a second term, the number of U.S. citizens visiting Canada's main immigration Web site shot up sixfold, prompting speculation that unhappy Democrats would flock north.

But official statistics show the number of Americans actually applying to live permanently in Canada fell in the six months after the election.

Data from the main Canadian processing center in Buffalo, NY shows that in the six months up to the U.S. election there were 16,266 applications from people seeking to live in Canada, a figure that fell to 14,666 for the half year after the vote.

Interesting thing about them blue-staters: they talk a good game, but when it comes to the crunch, they can find an excuse not to deliver. (Which makes them the perfect fit for Liberals seeking voters; like attracts like, after all.)

Toby Condliffe, who heads the Canadian chapter of Democrats Abroad, did have an explanation of sorts.

"I can only assume the Americans who checked out the Web site subsequently checked out our winter temperatures and further took note that the National Hockey League was being locked out and had second thoughts," he told Reuters.

I'm more inclined to think that they had a look at Canada's immigration procedures, and decided it would take them longer to do the paperwork than to wait until Bush retired from office. Ah well.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Tory Transit Policy: The Details Are Up

The federal Tory website has managed to post up details of the plan they announced earlier this week. Turns out it'll be in the form of an individual tax credit.

They've also included a calculator so you can figure out how much you can save. I pay $800 per year for the bus; the credit should wind up saving me $128 on my tax bill. (Which equates, in my case, to 2 weeks' worth of groceries, or a month and a half of bus tickets. Not exactly spectacular, but then again every little bit helps.)

On their details page, the Tories say they plan to couple this with a direct transfer to municipalities out of gasoline taxes. The idea is to use the credit to increase ridership, which equals more at-source revenue for the transit systems.

I'd call this a saleable campaign plank for major urban centres as well as the suburbs, provided that it's explained as a tax saving as well as a transit incentive. (You want the savings? Leave the car at home and take the bus.)

"We Have the Cleanest Camp; We Have the Cleanest Washrooms; We Have the Best Water. That's Just the Way We Are."

The above quote seems peculiarly Canadian, somehow. The man who said it is Lt.-Col. Paul Davies, who built Camp Julien, the Canadian Forces outpost in Afghanistan.

The camp is beginning to wind down operations as the CF Afghanistan contingent prepares to move from Kabul (where the camp is) to Kandahar (where current reconstruction operations are taking place).

The closing down of the camp (which should be completed around December) is actually a good sign that things in Afghanistan are going well. The CF won't be completely out of Kabul -- there'll still be about 50 personnel there -- but when you consider that Camp Julien was meant to house 3000 troops, and that 1750 are planned for the new camp at Kandahar, it's not a big reach to realize that Afghanistan's not likely to become the quagmire that some garish folks think it will become.

As for the above quote, well hey -- clean washrooms and clean water are important for an army encampment, don't you think?