Friday, September 30, 2005

Welcome Back, Mr. Mercer

After a two month absence (and after realizing that the CBC walkout would, in fact, pull the plug on Monday Report in September) Rick Mercer has finally resumed blogging.

He's as outraged as everyone else about David "Even at the Mint, I Don't Make Enough Money" Dingwall's proposed severance package, but the really priceless new post is the one featuring Paul Martin and -- well, why don't you just go and see for yourself?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I Guess This Explains My Resemblance to William Safire

(Hat tip: Toronto Tory.)

We bloggers are all elitists, in some form or another. TT is a Politics and Culture Guru. But as for me ...

You speak eloquently and have seemingly read every book ever published. You are a fountain of endless (sometimes useless) knowledge, and never fail to impress at a party.

What people love: You can answer almost any question people ask, and have thus been nicknamed Jeeves.
What people hate: You constantly correct their grammar and insult their paperbacks.

What Kind of Elitist Are You?
brought to you by

Crying Wolf to the Libranos on Defence ...

... is the Senate Standing Committee on National Defence, who want to see DND's budget for the Forces doubled. You can find the text of their report here.

There's a depressing sameness to all the recent reports on the state of the Canadian Forces, so much so that one has to wonder just how asleep at the switch the folks at Finance and Treasury Board are. The symptoms are all the same: our soldiers, sailors and airmen are underpaid, overworked, and ill-equipped.

What makes the Senate report interesting reading is their analysis of this recent spate of underfunding, as well as their ability to put DND press-release language into plain text (I've highlighted some of the more quotable bits):

The Department of National Defence was hit hard for three reasons.

First, while government and outside analysts realized that old threats to Canada persisted and new ones might well be in the works, professional and institutional judgment lost out to public opinion. Canadians relaxed when the Cold War ended. Most of us bought into the peace dividend mentality. Feeling secure, we turned our attention to other items on the political agenda.

Second, the fact that the defence budget is inadequate doesn’t mean it isn’t large in relation to those of other government departments. It represents the government’s single largest discretionary expenditure. There are larger non-discretionary expenditures, but they are virtually locked in budget items (such as contributions to the Canada Pension Plan) and can’t be altered in a significant way without changing legislation. Defence was a sitting duck.

Translation: there are parts of the federal budget that should be cut, but can't because their amounts are decided by the law, and cutting them involves debate in Parliament. Defence was cut (or underspent on, which with inflation means the same thing) because its amount isn't mandated by legislation -- and apart from some old farts who used to wear the uniform, who in government is going to complain?

Third, the government treated the Department of National Defence like any other department. No consideration was given to the fact that the majority of the human components of this department are not bureaucrats sitting at desks, but young men and women likely to be put in life-and-death situations at some point during their tenure. Surely that’s a fundamental difference, but it has been dismissed with a shrug.

Mind you, it isn't just the Forces. The RCMP, the Coast Guard, and Border Services have the same argument, as part of the government's revamp of public security. However, the job of the Forces is larger and more complex than the jobs of these other services:

No other department is saddled with the responsibility of purchasing the kind of sophisticated equipment that personnel need to protect themselves and do their jobs. The Canadian Armed Forces purchases pencil-sharpeners and photocopiers and fax machines like any other department, but it also requires sophisticated hardware and systems. If these are not appropriate to their mission, or they are not fully functional, it can mean disaster on the battlefield.

Military purchasers can set priorities for purchases of such hardware and systems, and they can choose wisely and prudently in the arms marketplace. But a 20 per cent cut in the purchasing power of the Department of National Defence may well have far more drastic – and even lethal – consequences than a 20 per cent cut in departments like Industry Canada or Heritage Canada. That is especially true when there is no corresponding decrease in the tempo of military missions assigned.

Some other nice money quotes (sorry) from the Committee, as it looks at DND's plans for the army:

The Army is facing a triple whammy:
-- We are too underfunded to correct the weaknesses caused by past underfunding;
-- we are too underfunded to meet our current responsibilities; and
-- we are too underfunded to prepare for the massive changes you want that will allow us to serve Canadians in the future ...

You expect your army to defend Canadians from current threats at home and abroad, while transforming itself into an institution capable of succeeding in theatres of modern warfare in the future, but you are not providing us with the money and resources we need to do that. We simply can’t do what you say you want us to do with the money you’re giving us.

This is the type of blunt language that Paul Martin's people need to hear. If you care about the Canadian Forces, you owe it to yourself to read the whole Committee report.

Can Canada Handle a Disaster?

Now that the U.S. fallout from Katrina and Rita is over (except for some finger-pointing), it's time to ask whether Canada's armed forces could play the same role as the National Guard, should a natural disaster happen here.

Jack Granatstein isn't sure; he's co-written a report on the state of Canada's reserve forces, which can be found here (PDF format; Adobe Reader required).

While the report reads pretty much the same as any report on the CF written in the past 20 years (i.e. the CF needs more money and newer equipment), the relevant passages are found on pages 20 and 21:

The Army Reserve has been pro-active in the Domestic Operations role, designating unit commanding officers or Militia brigade commanders to do community-level contingency planning or, in other words, to establish links with the civil authorities and prepare security platoons; Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) platoons; and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN)teams to work with them. In addition, as many as 120 community planning officers will be based in cities and towns to work with the civilian authorities.23 One practice demonstration of CBRN potential in the Army Reserve, for example, was held successfully in downtown Ottawa in November, 2004.

Unfortunately, the Army Reserve has not been successful in persuading the Air and Naval Reserve organizations to cooperate with it in planning for these tasks, although all Reserve components did cooperate in Y2K preparations and some Naval Divisions have struck informal working arrangements with the Army Reserve).

This is deeply disturbing ...

That's certainly an understatement. Talking about his report, Mr. Granatstein was pretty blunt:

"What plans (exist) if B.C. has a major earthquake? What plans (are there) if a tsunami hits the East Coast?" said Granatstein.

"Can you really get equipment and people and help to us any faster than what happened in New Orleans, where the Americans have all kinds of resources?"

The last time I can remember our local Naval Reserve being deployed on a natural disaster were the Manitoba floods of 1997 and the Ottawa ice storm of 1998. These were serious, but nowhere near the scale of Katrina or Rita. I'd have to check what was done for Halifax during Hurricane Juan, but because we had plenty of warning for that one I'm pretty sure the local forces weren't as overwhelmed as they were in New Orleans.

Check out the report. It's the type of thing Canada needs to think about more seriously.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Ding's Done

The blossoming TPC scandal has claimed its first victim:

David Dingwall resigned Wednesday as president of the Royal Canadian Mint.

The former Liberal cabinet minister has become embroiled in controversy after it was recently revealed he failed to register as a lobbyist for a Toronto pharmaceutical company.

Mr. Dingwall stepped aside amid controversy about his lobbying activities, before his appointment to the Mint as well as questions about his expenses while heading up the Crown corporation.

His lobbying activities on behalf of Bioniche Life Sciences Inc. are under scrutiny by Industry Canada.

In May, 2000, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc. agreed to pay Mr. Dingwall $350,000 if the company were successful in getting at least $15-million under the department's Technology Partnerships Canada program, The Globe and Mail reported.

TPC rules forbid payment of contingency fees to lobbyists. This week, the company agreed to pay back more than $400,000 to Ottawa. And his aide said this week that the failure to register, as required by federal law, was an honest mistake.

She called it a "clerical error."

As well, Access to Information documents released this week showed that as head of the Mint, in 2004 alone Mr. Dingwall billed $91,437 for trips around the world and he and his top aides billed for total expenses of more than $74,000 last year.

The documents were requested by Conservative MP Brian Pallister.

This is definitely not something Paul Martin needs, right now. What makes this important is that Dingwall used to be a cabinet minister under the Chrétien government -- the same cabinet that had Martin as finance minister. Did the Chrétien style of government foster or encourage the type of behavior that's gotten Dingwall into this sort of trouble? And if so -- to what extent does this type of outlook pervade Paul Martin's current administration?

And what's really troubling is that the Auditor-General's office, who's investigating TPC, still hasn't reported yet.

Martin's problems with his government's integrity aren't going to go away with the Gomery report. They're going to escalate.

Ken Epp Award Nominee : Charlie Angus

Charlie Angus is the New Democrat MP for Timmons - James Bay. Yesterday he used his private members' time to denounce federal inaction on the CBC walkout, in language which proves the need for a Ken Epp Award.

Mr. Speaker, seven weeks ago, CBC management unilaterally pulled the plug on the Canadian conversation.

Someone had better tell Mr. Angus to check the Web; there's a perfectly satisfatory Canadian Conversation happening over here.

In doing so, they have undermined the credibility of the CBC, they have gambled recklessly with their audience base and they have reopened the debate about whether we need a national broadcaster at all.

I've bolded that last bit because Mr. Angus has made a classic rhetorical mistake: he assumes that re-opening debate on a "sacred cow" is a bad thing. In this electronic age where television and radio compete for Canadian attention with the Web and other multimedia networks, debate on the need for a national broadcaster and its role in society should be welcomed, not dismissed.
Where is the heritage minister been on this file? She has been missing in action.

Charlie reeeeeally needs to see the Net: the heritage minister's response to the CBC walkout is recorded here.

This is not about a labour battle. It is about a cultural policy adrift. This past summer, for example, the CRTC satellite radio decision overturned the fundamental principles of Cancon.

The minister and cabinet had the power to act but they did nothing while the airwaves were handed over to Nashville and Los Angeles.

Two rhetorical errors here. Since Angus doesn't mention the details of the satellite radio decision, we don't know a) how the decision violates Cancon rules, and b) what exactly are the Canadian content rules anyway. The other error is attempting to imply that the government (in the form of the Minister) is somehow "in charge" of the CRTC (which is supposed to be an independent of the government).

For God's sake, someone get the defibrillators. Our nation's cultural policy is on life support and an IV drip of Liberal platitudes will not bring the patient back.

Rhetorical exaggeration by overemployment of a health scenario. There are other aspects of Canadian cultural expression besides the CBC. Global, CTV, GlobeMedia, CHUM, etc.

In short, Mr. Angus' statement is chock full of the rhetorical silliness that the Ken Epp Award is designed to highlight. Congratulations to Mr. Angus for being the first Award nominee of this session!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Contrast of Class: Stephen Harper vs. Ralph Goodale

Stephen Harper, as an example of class:

"Mr. Speaker, today I rise to pay tribute to our former friend and colleague, the former member of Parliament for Surrey North, Chuck Cadman.

It was out of great personal tragedy that Chuck first chose to present himself for public office.
The senseless death of his son Jesse in 1992 drove Chuck to become an outspoken advocate of victims' rights in Canada. He and his wife Donna founded the group Crime Responsibility and Youth to counsel and help young offenders and at risk youth. His agenda was clear: Changes needed to be made to the criminal justice system, specifically stricter sentences for violent young offenders.

Chuck was an honest and decent man who wanted change for the better. He was a loving husband, a caring father and a good friend to many.

His hard work and dedication to justice issues will forever be his legacy in Ottawa, in Surrey and right across the country."

Considering that one of Mr. Cadman's last acts was to vote against the Tories and support the Grits in last spring's budget battle, this is pretty magnanimous of Mr. Harper.

Contrast that with the comments of Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, as an example of no class:

Goodale said the Conservatives' position in favour of corporate tax cuts does not convince him they would pass the necessary legislation.

"Would you trust them after what they did in the spring? For heaven's sake, give your head a shake. There's nothing to be trusted in that gaggle of silly people."

Even allowing for the fact that Goodale said this outside the Commons chamber, where pretty much anything goes, in the immortal words of Yosemite Sam, "them's fightin' words."

It is always a mistake not to respect someone who opposes you. Because if you don't respect them, you ignore them -- and you also ignore what they actually can do to you until it's too late.

It's a lesson that Ralph Goodale needs to learn.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Maxwell Smart, R.I.P.

Don Adams was an up-and-coming Borscht Belt stand-up comedian during the 1960s. He'd been contracted to NBC for a few stints before Mel Brooks and Buck Henry contacted his agent. They wanted him for a pilot sitcom that crossed the supercool motif of James Bond with the wackiness of Inspector Clouseau.

Adams accepted the offer -- and Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, was born.

Adams' routine was generally based on the persona of an average guy who always wanted to brag about mundane accomplishments. When confronted with the truth -- or at least a skeptical eye -- he'd scale down his descriptions, until he came up with the mundane chore preceded by, "Would you believe ... ?"

Couple that persona to a special agent who was supposed to do the very things that he shouldn't really be bragging about -- and you wind up with yet another classic addition to the TV pantheon. Get Smart ran for 4 years on NBC, from 1965 to 1969, and it won Adams 3 Emmy Awards, thanks to his dim-witted portrayal of Agent 86.

Max couldn't be as cool as James Bond -- his suits were more likely to come from Woolworth's than Savile Row. Nor could he be as clumsy as Inspector Clouseau -- Adams' didn't have Peter Sellers' talent for physical comedy. He did, however, share Clouseau's talent for not seeing the obvious -- witness his attempt to sneak up on a possible assassin, only to walk through a plate-glass window.

He was barely competent as a superspy -- more often than not with the help of his partner, Barbara Feldon's Agent 99. But all things considered, he did pretty well, probably better than any of the viewers would, if we were stuck in the same dilemma.

And his Bond-like gadgetry, when not malfunctioning à la the Acme Company's Wile E. Coyote merchandise, functioned with some recognizable human foibles. Sure, Max's shoe phone was pretty cool -- but while Bond could probably call Hong Kong direct, Max would wind up dealing with the telephone operator, who'd then charge him a dime for the call.

Adams' career was more than Max, of course; his distinctive nasal voice and delivery made him a natural for cartoon voice-acting. Not just Tennessee Tuxedo during the 1960s and 1970s, but also Inspector Gadget -- Maxwell Smart as an android cop.

Don Adams passed away Sunday at the age of 82. One can picture the offices of CONTROL and KAOS lowering their flags to half-staff.

Exit John Efford

There are a lot of reasons for getting rid of a cabinet minister. Good ones: he's incompetent / corrupt / stupid. Bad ones: he's a whistleblower / he's upset the prime minister / he's too much in love with the media. And ugly ones: he slept with an intern / he spent $1000 on lap dances / he punched out a reporter.

Lost among all these, though, are the sad ones. Case in point: the Honorable Mr. John Efford, the Liberal MP for Avalon and now-former Minister of Natural Resources:

CTV News has learned that [current revenue minister] John McCallum is temporarily taking on the duties of Natural Resources Minister John Efford, as Efford continues to struggle with health issues.

Efford has been ill of late because of diabetes and has had to cancel a number of trips and engagements as he undergoes treatment.

He recently was forced to skip a key meeting of provincial energy ministers in St. Andrews, N.B. Deputy Minister Richard Fadden, a bureaucrat who had joined the Natural Resources department only two weeks before, had to take his place.

You'll recall that, two weeks ago, I mentioned that Mr. Fadden was going to be busy. He'll be more so because gas prices are now on the public agenda and McCallum's appointment is meant to be temporary:

McCallum will take on the new job as well as continuing in his duties as minister of national revenue. He will not be formally sworn in as natural resources minister.

There's no point in swearing McCallum in because of Martin's promise to call an election after the release of the Gomery report; McCallum simply won't have time to settle into the position. (There's also the possibility of the government falling on a non-confidence motion; Efford may still be well enough to attend and vote in Parliament, so while the changes are pretty tight, it's also pretty remote.)

Will he be back? That depends on whether he can manage his condition. Changes in diet and lifestyle will normally help, but if some of the complications have set in (such as heart disease) the odds are against it.

Good luck, Mr. Efford. You're going to need it.

The 28th Edition of the Red Ensign Standard ...

... may be found here, at The Last Amazon. After a much-deserved summer hiatus (and let's face it, would you rather be indoors blogging or outdoors tanning?), Kate's done an excellent job here.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Stephen Harper, Yankee Fan

The House of Commons is set to resume sitting next Monday, and already it seems that Stephen Harper is set to revive a Liberal meme that can be held against him: the accusation of American assimilation.

This meme goes to the effect of: "Stephen Harper wants Canada to be more like the United States." It was used to pretty good effect in the last election, due to America's decision to invade Iraq without UN support.

So what's going to happen to revive this meme? Have a look at what Mr. Harper intends to introduce as a private member's bill come Monday:

November 23, 2004 — Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest) — Bill entitled “An Act to provide fixed dates for the election of members to the House of Commons and to amend the Constitution Act, 1867”.

The bill text hasn't been printed yet, but we can get an idea of what Mr. Harper wants from a past CTV News story from November 2003:

Harper told reporters in Ottawa on Monday, Canada's electoral rhythms should more closely echo those of the United States where fixed terms are the norm.

"We shouldn't forget that Jean Chretien fueled a lot of cynicism about the electoral process in this country, during his 10 years in office, by calling an election whenever it suited his personal agenda," the Alliance leader said.

"Paul can begin to reverse this Chretien legacy and revitalize democracy in Canada, by committing today to fixing four-year terms between federal election dates, starting with an election next fall."

And, according to the Alliance leader, it would be an easy change for Martin to make.

"This would be an important first step and would require neither a constitutional amendment nor any immediate legislation. With the redistribution bill effectively dead on the order paper, it's the perfect time to institute this reform."

The odds are pretty good for some cross-party support; Lorne Nystrom of the NDP, for example, thinks fixed dates are a good idea.

However, there are two caveats. The first one concerns whether the bill sacrifices the principle of confidence votes. It's not likely, of course (no leader of opposition ever gives up a realistic chance of bringing a government down) but it's going to become an issue: if a Prime Minister is going to give up a right to seek a mandate on his own terms, then shouldn't the Opposition?

The second one is a timing issue. Four-year terms are an American convention; if the fixed date decided is in November of a year divisible by 4, it'd be too much for those Canadians who keep denying they're anything like Americans, because it's too close to the American electoral cycle. If fixed dates are to become palatable to the knee-jerk anti-Americans in Parliament, a different timing is required. Five-year terms, for example.

Obviously, Mr. Harper wants to see more democracy in our system, but getting this government to accept it is going to be an uphill battle. Especially since too many Libranos think democracy is too American.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Stephen Harper: It's Up to the Oddfather

Interesting statement from Stephen Harper this afternoon, as reported in the Globe:

Mr. Harper said [the next election's] timing is up to the leader of the New Democratic Party, which has been backing the Liberal minority government.

“The Liberals, I predict, will want to keep pushing an election off farther and farther into the future, don't ask me when the next election will be — I wish we'd already had it, I'll have it tomorrow, I'll have it next month, I'll have it a year from now.

“Whether we have an election this fall is a question for Jack Layton, not for me.

“We'll have an election the day the NDP decides it doesn't want to support Liberal corruption in the House of Commons any longer.”

This is, in essence, acknowledging a bit of realpolitik. The Conservatives are likely to lose at least one more MP during the next session (Chuck Strahl's cancer is getting worse), which means they cannot count on having the votes to bring down the government even with the erstwhile support of the Bloc Québécois.

As of July 11th, the combined vote of the Tories and BQ equals 152. It's the same number as the combined vote of the Liberals and NDP.

We can subtract one from the Tories/BQ with Strahl's illness, and we might subtract one from the Grits/NDP depending on the health of Natural Resources Minister John Efford.

Of the three independents, Carolyn Parrish will support the Grits/NDP, while David Kilgour will support the Tories/BQ. While Pat O'Brien might support the Tories/BQ on social issue votes, he's very much a wild card when it comes to fiscal issues.

For a government to fall by one vote isn't enough to give momentum to a change of government, because voters will regard the fall as happening by chance, and such a circumstance would favor the incumbent. The only sure way for the Tories to develop momentum from the fall of a minority is if the Don decides to pull support away from the Grits. Something like a clawback of those benefits the NDP tacked onto the last budget bill, for example, could trigger the Grits' demise.

But somehow, the imagined sight of Harper sitting at Don Laytone's desk, asking him to be his friend, is a little disturbing ...

On the Whole, Though, I'd Still Rather Be a Sailor

So I'm feeling a little feisty today ...
Ulysses S. Grant
You scored 62 Wisdom, 57 Tactics, 64 Guts, and 47 Ruthlessness!
Like you, Grant went about the distasteful business of war realistically and grimly. His courage as a commander of forces and his powers of organization and administration made him the outstanding Northern general. Grant, though, had no problem throwing away lives on huge seiges of heavily defended positions. At times, Union casualties under Grant were over double that of the Confederacy. However, Grant was notably wise in supporting good commanders, especially Sheridan , William T. Sherman , and George H. Thomas. Made a full general in 1866, he was the first U.S. citizen to hold that rank.
My test tracked 4 variables. How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 27% on Wisdom
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 27% on Tactics
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 77% on Guts

free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 41% on Ruthlessness
Link: The Which Historic General Are You Test written by dasnyds on Ok Cupid

UPDATE (16h11): Whoopsie. Should've given a hat tip to Shane at The High Places, who's also put up a current index on the Red Ensign Standard.

A Year of Phantom Observing

I browse the vast domain of the Web, seeking knowledge and enlightenment. From time to time I will observe the peculiarities and eccentricities of human endeavour, and I will post my observations here.

My observations can be on any subject I choose -- that is the beauty of the web log. You may agree, or disagree, and that is your right. But my observations are always thought out after much deliberation. This is not wisdom, but only a path to it.

I claim no special knowledge or expertise. My passions and politics will be obvious to those with careful observation. I speak only with one voice -- my own, untainted by diplomatic nicety or correctness.

I wrote that passage, one year ago. Time really has flown, hasn't it?

In that time, I've quit one job, spent two months working on animation, a few weeks at a part-time job which paid too little and been re-hired at a better salary. I've learned to use new software programs for animation and drawing. I've had my cholesterol level reviewed, ignored, reviewed again and lectured about. I've made trips to places I've never been before. I've turned 40, and I'm still waiting for the so-called "mid-life crisis" to strike. I've built up a DVD and manga library that's a geek's pride and joy and an accountant's despair ("why did you spend so much money on these?").

And during all that time, I've kept this blog going.

Being a blogger has, I supposed, changed me. I've met new friends via the NCR Blog Mafia, and been able to engage in conversations I wouldn't've thought possible. I've been able to practice skills that have enhanced my abilities as an information specialist. I've learned to hyperlink, to photoblog, to seek out Primary Sources where I know they exist. In other words, I'm not the person I was a year ago, and much of the credit (or blame) goes to blogging.

I've tried to carve out a niche, of sorts. I've probably paid more attention to the Parliamentary web site than most people on the Blogging Tories blogroll, and attempted to highlight the MPs on the backbench as well as the ministers in the headlines. I've also gotten more busy with my digital camera and graphics tablet to produce photos and cartoons just for posting here.

I may not be as prolific as Angry. Nor as technically proficient with computers as Andrew. But I believe I've contributed something of value to the Canadian conversation.

I don't know what the future holds, or if The Phantom Observer will still be observing in September 2007. But there's only one way to find out, isn't there?

Stay tuned.

A New Blogger's Handbook

(Hat tip: Rebecca McKinnon, via Instapundit.)

Reporters sans frontières, an NGO to encourage the journalism profession around the world, has just released a Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents. (Pages have been put up on the web, and the full text can be downloaded as a PDF file.) Don't let the "cyber-dissident" part of the title put you off; considering how scarce blogging resources are, this booklet is a must-read for polibloggers.

While you may not necessarily need the chapters on setting up a blog (especially if you've already got one), you'll find some of the other chapters to be interesting. There's a chapter on blogging ethics in which blogger Dan Gilmour attempts to apply the journalism ethics model to bloggers. It includes one of the best definitions of media bias around, which doesn't sound condemning to journalists, and also discusses the issue of transparency, which is a much needed discussion.

There's also a couple of chapters which help to enforce blogger privacy, such as being able to blog anonymously and protecting e-mail addresses. Granted, these chapters are intended to help bloggers in restrictive regimes protect themselves from the government -- but they're also handy for protection from spammers and other hackers.

Go ahead and check it out.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Adscam: Getting Ready to Rumble

This probably isn't news that Paul Martin wanted to hear: Jean Brault and Chuck Guité are going to try to beat the rap for Adscam.

The two men reiterated their not-guilty plea Wednesday after being charged with five counts of fraud and one of conspiracy each stemming from alleged improprieties related to the program.

They allegedly defrauded the federal government of nearly $2 million.

Jury selection is set for Oct. 3 but may be delayed after the trial judge publicly mused about whether Ottawa could delay the Nov. 1 release of Justice John Gomery's inquiry report.

Justice Fraser Martin says he hopes to hear next week if the federal government will delay the release of the first report. He says he needs an answer so he can take steps to make sure the jury is not tainted by revelations in the report.

The reasons Paul Coffin got a wrist-slapping instead of jail time were a) he pleaded guilty early and b) he documented his attempts to make restitution for his crimes. The resulting sentence is still too light in my view, but at least it's justifiable.

There'll be no such mercy for Brault and Guité. If they drag out the trial, the press and the blogosphere will dine out on the details for weeks, especially if anything comes out that gives the Opposition parties ammunition. Certainly it won't help Paul Martin; he weathered the Gomery testimony but this threatens to be a completely new storm.

As for Justice Martin's wish for delay of the Gomery report, he can't really make a case. The explosive details of the testimony are still available on Gomery's website, so any jury members with Net access can still be informed as to the details. The report may dilute some of the details, but the odds of it revealing anything new are pretty slim.

Looks like we're getting ready for a mud fight. I wonder if the PM's managed to learn to duck?

"Stuck On Stupid"

(Hat tip: Instapundit, who seems to have fallen in love with this phrase.)

Lieutenant-General Russel Honore, in charge of emergency operations at New Orleans, is starting to be credited with a new catchphrase. Witness this transcript on Radioblogger, where the good general is trying to keep oblivious reporters from creating a mass panic:

Honore: Buses at the convention center will move our citizens, for whom we have sworn that we will support and defend...and we'll move them on. Let's not get stuck on the last storm. You're asking last storm questions for people who are concerned about the future storm. Don't get stuck on stupid, reporters. We are moving forward. And don't confuse the people please. You are part of the public message. So help us get the message straight. And if you don't understand, maybe you'll confuse it to the people. That's why we like follow-up questions. But right now, it's the convention center, and move on.

Male reporter: General, a little bit more about why that's happening this time, though, and did not have that last time...

Honore: You are stuck on stupid. I'm not going to answer that question. We are going to deal with Rita. This is public information that people are depending on the government to put out. This is the way we've got to do it. So please. I apologize to you, but let's talk about the future. Rita is happening. And right now, we need to get good, clean information out to the people that they can use. And we can have a conversation on the side about the past, in a couple of months.

I'm not sure that General Honore originated the phrase, but when I googled it, the first several of 86 thousand hits seemed to credit him for it. In any case, both Radioblogger and Instapundit have fallen in love with it. Radioblogger:

I think the General just started a movement, and he may not even realize it. Every time a reporter, in any situation, starts spinning, or completely misses the point, they need to be peppered with, "Don't get stuck on stupid."

I'd pay money to see David Gregory in the White House Press Corps foaming at the mouth over something trivial Scott McClellan said, and have McClellan say, "David, you're stuck on stupid. I'm not going to answer that."

I'd have fallen out of my chair if John Roberts would have listened to Joe Biden ramble on, and said, "Don't get stuck on stupid, Senator."

I can see the bumper stickers now. I can even see those stupid rubber wristbands with DGSOS etched in them.

And the Instapundit, on Hugh Hewitt's radio show:

HH: Okay, let's turn to Honore and the press today. Don't get stuck on stupid. You loved that. You've already linked to it over at Why does that resonate, do you think?

GR: Because that's what they've done. I mean, I had a thing on my MSNBC site about Aaron Brown, who over the weekend was attacking FEMA's recommendations that people stockpile food and water as some sort of after the fact CYA thing, completely oblivious to the fact that FEMA and the Red Cross and other people had been recommending that for years. He's stuck on stupid. All he can see is a political story and blame. And that's exactly what the General was talking about.

HH: And so, do you think when he said that to that reporter, do you think he heard him? Or do you think re resented being singled out by a government person?

GR: I have never known reporters to be especially good at accepting constructive criticism.

HH: Yup. I'm afraid that's going to be the case, Glenn. Now do you expect that we'll see that posted around the web before too much longer?

GR: Oh, I think it's going to be a new slogan, because it just fits so well. From what I read of Dan Rather's speech, he's still stuck on stupid.

HH: You may have to do a monthly stuck on stupid award to the media, Glenn. We could have nominees. You could run that thing. Stuck on Stupid for October could be started pretty soon, because we've got too many nominees right now.

What's nice about this phrase is that it's very simple, resonating in its pronunciation, yet encompasses a modern phenomenon: a tendency of reporters or politicians to act on a predefined meme, despite already receiving a comprehensible response.

It's also politically neutral: Stephen Harper can be called "stuck on stupid" when it comes to the gay marriage issue, while Carolyn Parrish can be "stuck on stupid" when it comes to the Armed Forces. And Angry_in_TO can be "stuck on stupid" when it comes to Cindy Sheehan. In almost all cases, the implied message from the phrase is: "It's been dealt with already. It's time to move on."

"Stuck on stupid." The perfect phrase for today's journalism.

UPDATE (19h59): Robert "I Must Insult Intelligent People In Order To Boost My Oversensitive Ego" McClelland has suggested, in his usual diplomatic manner, that the phrase is African-American in origin. Since he offers no supporting documentation (which is typical for a nekulturnik like Bob), I've run a second search. Apparently his assertion is based on the fact that the phrase appears in a book on Black terminology. But let's see if there are any Net definitions around.

So far, I've found it to be a synonym for "crazy," and "really fusked up," but I haven't located anything indicating when people started using the phrase. I did, however, figure out why Gen. Honore seemed to be getting credit for it: it seems a writer for the Christian Science Monitor attributed it to him:

A man of a thousand one-liners, Honoré has told soldiers to keep their guns down: "This isn't Iraq." Aides-de-camp says he knows how to cut through the thickets of famously murky Louisiana politics. At a recent staff meeting here at Camp Shelby, he growled, "We're not stuck on stupid." It became the saying of the day, written on a bulletin board.

So far the best rumination on the phrase that I've found is from a pastor named Mike Ramey:

Sadly, my friend brought up the fact that a relative still had a taste for crime. This relative got his start breaking into houses--including their home--and doing time in the various juvenile facilities around my home state. Now, the brother had ‘graduated’ to the adult system, leaving behind a wife and two children.

My friend rounded out the conversation by using a phrase that used to be common among us. That phrase: "Stuck--On Stupid". Meaning that, no matter how many times the brother was warned about the evils of crime; no matter how many times he got caught and had to face a judge; no matter how many people this brother hurt; he was still bound and determined to ‘do it his way’, no matter the consequences.

The brother was "Stuck--On Stupid".


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Jean-Guy Boilard: Not Exactly a Hanging Judge

This is the man who, as a justice of the Cour supérior du Québec, handed down a wrist-slapping to sponsorship scandal defendant Paul "I Still Have a Half-Million of Your Tax Dollars" Coffin. (In all fairness, we can't say we weren't warned about his intention; as Proud To Be a Canadian points out, the judge said he planned on being lenient.)

As it turns out, this isn't the first time he's been mired in controversy. This is the same judge who pulled himself out of the "mega-trial" of Quebec's Hell's Angels in 2002.

It seems that, back in 2001, he was hauled before the Canadian Judicial Council for being nasty to a lawyer:

The Panel dealt with a complaint sent to the Council in July 2001 by a Quebec lawyer, Maître Gilles Doré. In his complaint, Me Doré complained about the attitude, conduct and behaviour of the judge in relation to himself as a lawyer. The complainant alleged that the judge was incapable of performing the role of judge.

The Committee decided not to recommend any investigation pursuant to subsection 63(2) of the Judges Act. The Panel nevertheless concluded that some of the judge's remarks in relation to the lawyer were unjustified and unacceptable. Mr. Justice Boilard was advised of the Panel's concerns in a letter of the same date to him from the Chairperson of the Panel, and the Council's file was closed.

This reprimand apparently led Justice Boilard to recuse himself from the "mega-trial" of Quebec bikers later in July 2002, which upset Quebec's Attorney-General:

The Attorney General of Quebec asked the Council on October 28, 2002 to carry out an inquiry into whether Mr. Justice Boilard's July 22, 2002 decision to abandon the conduct of a "Hell's Angels mega-trial"constituted misconduct or grounds for removal under terms of the Judges Act.

Mr. Justice Boilard had been the subject of a complaint from lawyer Gilles Doré about a previous case, which led a Panel of the Council to express disapproval of the judge's "lack of patience and excessive remarks".

Mr. Justice Boilard stated that because of what he termed the "reprimand" he felt he no longer had "the moral authority, and perhaps also the necessary capacity," to preside over the bikers' trial and he was thinking about retirement. At the time, 113 witnesses had been heard and 1,114 exhibits entered in the record.

The CDC eventually decided that the judge had misunderstood the nature of the reprimand, resulting in a bad decision. It concluded that while his decision may have been improper, it wasn't enough to constitute removing him from the bench. And in December of that month, the Council overruled its inquiry committee and decided that the decision wasn't even improper.

It should be understood that this isn't a bad judge. Last year he also quashed motions to stop the extradition of alleged Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto, wanted for 3 murders in the U.S. in 1981.

What Boilard is, though, is a judge with a sense of proportion. Given the complications he's had to deal with in past cases featuring real organized criminals, Coffin probably struck him as being a rank amateur. (And he had to be an amateur, to go through $1.5 million so quick that he had to go into debt to pay it back.)

Jean Brault and Chuck Guité, on the other hand, are a different matter. Since the charges against them are far more serious, I'd be curious to see how they do.

Simon Wiesenthal, R.I.P.

An old soldier has gone to rest. He wore no uniform save a prisoner's smock, but he spent a lifetime waging a war against the past.

Simon Wiesenthal was the most famous of the Nazi hunters, the men and women who tracked down the remnants of Hitler's regime after the fall of Berlin in 1945.

A survivor of the Nazi death camps, he claimed to have brought over a thousand Nazis to justice over a 50-year career. The best known of these was former SS chief Adolf Eichmann, who was captured tried, and executed in 1960. He also helped track down and capture Karl Silberbauer, the Austrian policeman who arrested Anne Frank and sent her to her ultimate doom.

Wiesenthal said he went after Silberbauer because a youth told him he didn't believe Anne Frank existed. This is an example of the second component of Wiesenthal's mission: to confront and rebut those who said (and who continue to say) that the Holocaust never happened. For the rest of the century, he spoke out about the concentration camps and the pogroms against the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe, both as a way of explaining his mission and to ensure that people never forgot the 6 million. It was this second component -- the battle for remembrance -- that stretched Wiesenthal's war from a few years to a neverending struggle.

His work afflicted not only the Nazis he chased, but the governments that came after Hitler's downfall. Austria, especially, had a hard time admitting its role in the Holocaust, and would have preferred to have buried its past -- if not for Wiesenthal. It was only after Wiesenthal found no links between Austrian president Kurt Waldheim (who had been in the Nazi army during World War II) and anti-Semetic atrocities that Austria learned to respect him and his war.

He was 96 when he passed away today in Vienna, an old soldier finally gone to rest. But as long as civilized people are tempted to forget that they can do the worst atrocities, his war will go on.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Captain Comes to T.O.

Ed Morrissey of Captains Quarters, the blogger who helped expose Liberal corruption during the Gomery publication ban, is in Toronto this week.

I will speak at a journalism conference on Tuesday night, but we decided to spend the week in the city to see some of the nation about which I wrote so extensively this past spring and summer. Canadian politics has quieted down some since the Gomery inquiry stopped hearing witnesses, and I'm hoping to reconnect to Canadian story lines while I'm visiting.

I'll be blogging from Toronto and other points in the area as we do some sightseeing and getting some needed R&R. Perhaps we'll run into a couple of CQ fans along the way. If you see a middle-aged guy with a navy blue captain's hat, that just might be me!

I've already posted, in the Captain's comments section, the names of a few bloggers whom the good Captain might want to hook up with. (I think we can count on Antonia Z. being a sure thing, since it's part of her job and Ed's Gomery work was a major story several months back.)

But I know there's a lot more of you in Hogtown, and I'd encourage to make suggestions as to where Captain Ed can go in T.O. (Um, that didn't exactly come out right ...)

A Tory Training School?

Well, here's something guaranteed to make Robert "Blahg!" McClelland spit out his morning coffee: Preston Manning's creating a school to train more "right-whingers."

A novel institute that hopes to give Canadian conservatives a much-needed electoral jolt -- with concepts that include a graduate school for right-wing political operatives -- started to take shape over the weekend.

The Manning Centre for Building Democracy will try to break the tightening Liberal grip on federal power by channelling practical advice, training and ideas to politicians, Preston Manning, its founder, said yesterday.

A blue-chip crowd of conservatives at an inaugural, three-day conference bandied about a range of ideas. They include a sort of MBA to train political organizers and scholarships to help conservative youth attend journalism school, then go on to influence media that conservatives perceive to be liberal-dominated.

The centre also plans to encourage more training for activists at all levels of the political process, improve links to academia and bring together conservatives more often to discuss strategy and policies.

Now, once Bob finishes mopping up his vomited coffee, he'd probably sputter something to the effect that there's no need to breed more "right-whingers," the Liberal Party is right-wing enough already, and the NDP is a perfectly acceptable alternative. ("Straw man"? Sure, but Bob's predictable enough to make a respectable straw man.) "What about the Fraser Institute? Or the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation?" he'd probably grumble. "That's more than enough for those right-whingers! We need more progressives out there, stuff like the Caledon Institute!"

Manning's idea, though, is a lot more pro-active. Neither Fraser nor CTF have a training element in their functions. And in order to train someone, you need to learn to communicate with them first.

Communication has always been the Conservative Party's weak point. They've never been able to really get their ideas to capture the public agenda, much of it due to a Canadian media that either gets bored easily or is trained to think along liberal lines. A centre that can teach activists, in a conservative-friendly environment, to communicate effectively can only be a boon to the conservative movement in Canada.

One thing Manning's proposed school won't do, however, is win the next election:

The centre would not be another political party, but help build an "infrastructure" for existing Conservative parties federally and provincially, Mr. Manning said.

It is a long-term plan, which may not bring concrete results for years, said Susan Elliott, a veteran Tory organizer and spokeswoman for the centre.

"We're on a 20-year horizon here," she said.

One of Manning's virtues (which his detractors like to grumble about) is his tendency to go for the long game. If he gets the Centre off the ground, it probably won't be in time to help Stephen Harper (though it certainly won't hurt him), but it could certainly result in a Conservative dynasty (and better governance) in the middle of the century.

What Manning's attempting to do, ironically enough, is what Democrats in the U.S. are only now trying to do: emulate a Republican model of formal and informal political infrastructure that's resulted in Republican dominance in federal politics over the past 25 years. According to conventional wisdom, that model was born in the 1960s when Barry Goldwater was defeated in presidential politics, and includes think-tanks (the American Enterprise Institute), media journals (the National Review) and a mass media presence (AM talk radio, Fox News).

Establishing that kind of infrastructure (all right, a VRWC) doesn't happen overnight --you'll get birth pangs like Air America along the way. But it does mean that a deeper channel will exist to move the mainstream towards Canadian conservatism.

Stephen Taylor's been attending the founding conference. I look forward to seeing his blog posts on it -- while "Bahb" may need to get another mop ...

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Record-Holding Couch Potato

How long can you watch TV?

Well, if you can do it for longer than 70 hours, you've got a shot at the Guinness Book of World Records. Just ask the current record-holder (and perennial Guinness entrant), Toronto's Suresh Joachim:

Joachim broke the Guinness world record for the longest time spent watching TV. He finished Friday with 69 hours and 48 minutes.

Joachim did his TV viewing in the lobby of WABC-TV as part of the "Guinness World Record Breaker Week" on the syndicated "Live With Regis and Kelly."

Joachim, who lives in Toronto but hails from Sri Lanka, now holds more than 16 Guinness records, including the longest duration balancing on one foot (76 hours, 40 minutes) and bowling for 100 hours. He does it, he says, to raise awareness of suffering children.

Apparently he may have also set a record for "longest period of voluntary masochism." Either that, or he couldn't find the remote:

Sitting on a brown leather couch, he watched nothing but ABC network shows.

Ouch. Way too many hours of World News Tonight, The View, Desperate Housewives.

Of course, it could've been worse: being from Toronto, he might've tried the CBC.

Now, if you want to break Joachim's record, you do get a few breaks according to the Guinness rules: you can take a 5-minute break every hour and a 15-minute break every 8 hours (for things like the bathroom, meals, etc.). Otherwise you must continue to stare at the screen.

Oh, and you can get the forms to claim the record here.

Of course, one of the hardest things about setting this record is what to do during those times when there's nothing good on ...

The Gray Lady Goofs It on Blogs

There's good news and bad news for New York Times pundits like Paul "If I Goof It's Bush's Fault" Krugman and Maureen "Why Can't You People Appreciate My Vapidity?" Dowd.

The Good News: they won't be pilloried, smacked down and made fun of by so many in the blogosphere anymore.

The Bad News: it's because they're going to lose a big chunk of readers.

You see, their employers, the New York Times, have decided that their opinions are so valuable they should be charged money for them:

Beginning Monday, the Times will begin charging $49.95 a year to people who don't get the paper delivered at home for access to those writers as well as other columnists for the Times' business, metro and sports sections.

The new service called TimesSelect will also include access to the Times' archives, early looks at some sections of the paper and online tools for tracking and storing articles from the Times Web site.

So if a blogger wants to smack down MoDo for writing something nasty about Rummy, the blogger needs to shell out fifty bucks U.S. for the privilege of linking to the offending column.

The Globe and Mail has a similar thing going on with their columnists like Jeffrey Simpson and Margaret Wente. I wonder if they realize it's one of the reasons why they're not as discussed in the blogosphere as, say, Mark Steyn.

But here's something the Times and the Globe don't seem to get:

1. Ideas will not be discussed unless they can be accessed.
2. A commentator is more interested in reputation than money. People like Mark Steyn and Andrew Sullivan are famous because they express ideas well, not because they're rich.
3. A presence on the Internet is important because it gives access to ideas.
4. Bloggers who want to discuss the opinion of a commentator will link to a site featuring that opinion, so that blog readers can see for themselves what triggered the discussion.
5. Charging money for access to an opinion means there's less opportunity for the opinion to be discussed, because while people will pay money for information, they're less willing to do so for opinion.
6. Bloggers who are interested in their own influence will not link to sites which inconvenience their readership by restricting access.
7. Therefore, a commentator whose writings are available for free has more potential readership -- and therefore more influence in the realm of ideas -- than a commentator whose writings require paid access.

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, understands this:

"It seems to me that it's a fairly narrow market that's going to pay for the privilege of reading columns by Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman and such," said Reynolds.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

McGuinty Goes Nuclear

Well, our illustrious premier isn't likely to build bridges with the environmental movement anytime soon:

Billions of dollars will be spent to build new nuclear plants in Ontario if a review of the province's tight energy supply concludes they're necessary, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday.

Mr. McGuinty said he's prepared to agree on construction of multibillion-dollar nuclear plants if that's what it takes to quench the province's increasing thirst for energy.

The premier said he's awaiting a Dec. 1 report from the newly created Ontario Power Authority, which is reviewing what needs to be done to address concerns about the province's energy supply.

“Should the OPA recommend nuclear as being an indispensable part of a diverse supply of electricity, then we will build new nuclear in this province,” Mr. McGuinty said.

The fact that McGuinty's even considering building nukes means he's finally come face to face with a political reality: Ontario loves to consume power, won't spend big bucks for it and isn't particularly interested in long-term conservation. And if you want cheap electrical power, then you can't afford to cross off the nuclear option.

Mind you, Ontario's track record with nuclear technology isn't exactly one to inspire confidence, as the anti-nuke movement likes to remind people:

The Toronto Environmental Alliance said it was “appalled” to hear Mr. McGuinty open the door to more nuclear plants, which it warned would leave a huge financial and environmental debt.

“We're very concerned because the (electricity) system is still very much in the hands of the people who built our last nuclear plants, and got us into the mess we're in today,” said alliance spokesman Keith Stewart.

“The McGuinty government should not be repeating the mistakes of the previous provincial government, which put us massively in debt, and left us with nuclear plants that don't work very well and we're all paying for right now.”

Unfortunately for the anti-nuclear movement, this is a weak argument to use against this particular government, because its premise is that Ontario's nuclear problems were a result of poor management. Governments tend to regard poor management as a problem that can be fixed simply by replacing the managers. McGuinty would probably say that the existence of the OPA fixes Stewart's problem. Not to mention his little red wagon.

Of course, there's still a ways to go before Hydro sends for Homer Simpson:

Energy Minister Dwight Duncan noted that months of review will be necessary before the province gives the go-ahead to any nuclear projects.

“There are going to be a series of other questions after (the report is released), starting with private versus public, starting with OPG's role, and then doing all the calculations and arithmetic around what projects would and wouldn't be feasible,” Mr. Duncan said.

In other words, government bureaucracy could still potentially slow down contruction of any new nuclear facilities. But at least the option's now on the table, which it wouldn't've been four years ago.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Clarkson Cup?

The outgoing Governor-General has decided to follow the tradition of one of her predecessors, Lord Stanley:

Outgoing Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson is expected to announce Wednesday the creation of a trophy in her name for supremacy in Canadian women's hockey.

During what will be her farewell address at the Empire Club in Toronto, Clarkson is set to fulfill a goal she set last winter after a debate over whether the Stanley Cup should be awarded to women because of the NHL lockout.

Prominent female players across the country suggested the creation of a new trophy specifically for them.

Clarkson has since been working at establishing the trophy before her term as governor-general ends on September 27.

The trophy will be created this winter by students at the Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit.

However, it's still unclear which women's hockey leagues will compete for it.

At present, there are two women's professional hockey leagues in Canada -- the eight-team National Women's Hockey League, based in Eastern Canada, and the five-team Western Women's Hockey League, based in the West.

Both want to a chance to compete for the Cup. However, the two leagues are deadlocked over issues that have kept them from establishing a championship with representatives from both the NWHL and the WWHL.

It's not often that the G-G's office comes up with a good idea, but this one has the markings of a real winner. It puts women's hockey on a national footing, and it lets Ms. Clarkson leave a regal legacy. It also gives the former CBC journalist a popular association that she's never really had before (I don't believe Clarkson paid that much attention to hockey, either men's or women's, during her CBC career).

Now, how the NWHL and WWHL play for the "Clarkson Cup" (and there's no guarantee that the trophy will BE a cup) doesn't matter to Clarkson. I seriously doubt that Lord Stanley would have understood the NHL playoff format for his cup. But when those two leagues iron out their differences, there'll be a regal trophy for them to shoot for, on a par with the Stanley Cup.

Now the question becomes whether CBC or TSN get the broadcast rights ...

Vancouver Island is Separating From Canada ...

... Literally, as it turns out:

Vancouver Island is in the middle of one of its periodic slides towards Japan -- an event that experts say will eventually trigger a catastrophic earthquake.

"Episodic tremor and slip" (ETS) is the event's formal name.

Every 14 months or so, Vancouver Island moves about five millimetres closer to Japan -- a temporary reverse of its extremely slow movement towards continental Canada.

Well, since the provincial government headquarters is in Victoria, which is one the island, 5 mm sounds like a pretty good speed. After all, the island has a bureaucracy to overcome.

If the event happened over the course of 10 seconds, it would trigger an 6.5 to 6.7-magnitude earthquake, but it happens over two weeks. As a result, it goes unnoticed by people.

Sounds an awful lot like Jacques Parizeau's Quebec separation strategy, doesn't it? If he'd used this analogy instead of referring to boiling lobsters, he wouldn't've gotten his campaign in so much hot water.

Vancouver Island: proof positive that Western separatism is (literally) real.

Quebec -- The Tories' Achilles Heel

All throughout the summer, when Stephen Harper was touring Western Canada and Ontario encouraging Canadians to get to know him, I had this suspicion that he'd forgotten something: that for some reason he'd left Quebec out of the itinerary.

And now it's come back to bite him: Some Quebec Tories are calling for his resignation.

Senior party officials dismissed the move as an insignificant push by only four Quebecers and said their leader will stay on to fight the Liberals. But the authors of a statement calling for Harper's resignation said they're tired of seeing their party competing with the NDP and the Green Party in the province.

"We will never win the next election," said the statement released Tuesday. "Harper will resign afterward, it's certain. But why wait for the elections? Wouldn't it be better for him to leave now?

"We have ample time to find a new leader before the next election."

The statement said Harper was a good transitional leader but showed little interest in Quebec.

The statement was signed by three men who ran for the party in the last federal election: Lucien Richard, Francis-Pierre Remillard and Payam Eslami-Manoucheri. The fourth was party organizer Philippe Giguere.

Granted, it's just four people. But if it weren't for the brouhaha over Brian Mulroney, they could have potentially derailed Harper's campaign to build momentum going into the next Parliamentary session.

The traditional MSM meme has always been that Stephen Harper is well-meaning but destined to lose, because no Westerner (with the freak exception of John Diefenbaker) can successfully lead the nation. (The last two PMs from Western Canada -- Joe Clark and Kim Campbell -- flamed out in a matter of months.) And the Tories have always been weak in Quebec in the post-Mulroney, post-Meech Lake era. No matter how hard the Tories try to marginalize this letter, it feeds directly into and reinforces the MSM meme. It certainly doesn't make Harper's job any easier.

Harper's top Quebec lieutenant said she toured the province with her leader this summer and saw no evidence of an impending mutiny.

Before we continue, let me ask this: how many people can name the Conservative's top Quebec leader?


You can't, can you? It's one of the things Harper has gotten a start on, but really needs to do: showcase the other MPs in his party and let them stand on their own.

Anyway that's her picture on the right: Josée Verner, chair of the Quebec caucus and Conservative candidate for the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, currently held by the BQ's Bernard Cleary.

"Everybody would like to see extraordinary polls. People can express their concern," said Verner. "But only four people signed this letter. It's their opinion and it's not widespread. This isn't what we heard (on the ground.)"

Harper's communications director said Tuesday's statement means 72 of 75 party candidates from Quebec in the last election are satisfied with Harper's leadership.

It can be pretty painful when politicians commit logical fallacies. Just because a majority of the Quebec candidate slate didn't sign the letter doesn't mean they're not happy with Harper.

The Tories currently have no sitting MPs from Quebec in your caucus. And it's pretty much a given that if a party wants to claim a national mandate it needs to be strong in Quebec.

Suggestion to Stephen: boost your Quebec people, especially your candidates. Publicly, on TQS, TVA and the Quebec media. Help them get a high profile before the next election so that Quebeckers will know who they are.

Quebec is the Tories' Achilles heel. It can be fixed, if you pay attention to it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Dalton McGuinty's Fly-Swatting Sledge Hammer

The news is all over the blogosphere, of course: Ontario's premier plans to ban religious arbitrations.

In a telephone interview with Canadian Press, McGuinty announced his government would move quickly to outlaw existing religious tribunals used for years by Christians and Jews under Ontario's Arbitration Act.

"I've come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough," he said.

"There will be no Shariah law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians."

McGuinty said religious arbitrations "threaten our common ground," and promised his Liberal government would introduce legislation "as soon as possible" to outlaw them in Ontario.

"Ontarians will always have the right to seek advice from anyone in matters of family law, including religious advice," he said. "But no longer will religious arbitration be deciding matters of family law."

I don't know about you, but this seems to have the air of a frustrated parent, beleaguered by yelling children, overplaying the punishment. ("That's ENOUGH! NEITHER of you get the toy!") He has, in effect, used a sledge hammer in calling for the ban of religious arbitrations when all he needed was a fly swatter to deal specifically with Sharia.

Let's make things clear. The Ontario government does NOT have the power to ban a religious arbitration from taking place. Never did, never will. If two parties agree to have a dispute mediated by a rabbi, a curate or an imam, the OPP cannot stop it, cannot arrest the arbiter or the two aggrieved parties. If they tried to do that, religious practitioners could take them to court and get their actions declared unconstitutional because it interferes with religious expression. Not to mention freedom of association.

All the Ontario government can do is declare that the arbiter's decision does not have the force of law. In other words, if one of the agreed parties is not happy with the decision, it can be appealed in a civil court.

As the law currently stands, of course, the arbiter's decision DOES have the force of law. But even if that force were removed, the arbiter's reasoning for his/her decision cannot be disregarded by the civil court, who at the very least would want to know why the aggrieved party was unhappy with the decision.

Also, if the dispute went into court, a common law principle would come into play. If two parties agreed to have a judgment by a third party, is there not a contract implied between all three parties? And if the third party has rendered a decision that does not contradict the common law, is it still not valid despite not being officially approved by the provincial government?

Now I'm not a lawyer, so I could be wrong on this. But it seems to me that arbiter's decisions aren't really lawmaking on the same level as court decisions, because they're on a case-by-case basis and there are always extenuating circumstances that make each case unique. (The fact that, by definition, the arbiter is not IN court adds some weight to this principle.)

It occurs to me that Premier McGuinty, contrary to his assertions, really hasn't thought these things through. What he could have done was permit Sharia, but with the provision that if the arbiter applied a Sharia principle that contravened Ontario human rights law, the decision could be invalidated on appeal. That idea could apply to almost any religious or other private arbitration with very little argument except from religious extremists.

But no. McGuinty's clumsy attempt to extinguish the passion over the Sharia controversy has instead (if read in a certain way) turned into a declaration of war against the role of religion in society. And it's not a battle that he can win.

UPDATE (16h32 12 Sep): Saffiyah has a posting up on Islamic arbitration and its application that puts the situation into a better perspective. It's worthy checking out.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sandy Berger's $50,000 Dockers

Remember Sandy Berger? The national security adviser under President Clinton? Got caught in 2004 with a bunch of classified documents in his trousers, being snuck out of the National Archives?

They sentenced him yesterday: 50 grand plus 2 years' probation and 100 hours of community service:

U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson handed down the punishment in federal court, stiffening the $10,000 fine recommended by government lawyers. Under the deal, Berger avoids prison time but he must surrender access to classified government materials for three years.

"The court finds the fine is inadequate because it doesn't reflect the seriousness of the offense," Robinson said, as a grim-faced Berger stood silently.

The sentencing capped a bizarre sequence of events in which Berger admitted to sneaking classified documents out of the National Archives in his suit, later destroying some of them in his office and then lying about it.

Berger's lawyer, Lanny Breuer, said his client will not appeal the sentence.

Well, I should think not, given how serious Berger's crime was.

It's interesting to note that the prosecutors said they'd've been satisfied with a 10 grand fine. The judge thought that was too weak, and overall I'm inclined to agree: it's the difference between being able to afford a Vespa and beinfg able to get a Mustang.

Understand that Berger was, in a bizarre way, attempting to re-write history. Not the type that's created by pundits for a "Scandal of the Week" special, but the type that gets studied by the academics and professors, decades and centuries away, who use the National Archives for their source materials. The Clinton Administration didn't come out too well during the testimony of 9/11, and Berger figured some of the warts needed to be hidden.

And the attempt cost him 50 grand. Re-writing history shouldn't be cheap.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Lucien Bouchard Gets To Quote Mark Twain

(Hat tip: NealeNews.)

The quotation, of course, is: "The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated." It's not often that a politician gets to see the media eat crow over a blown story, but certainly the former Quebec Premier is entitled to a cackle over this one:

CTV News apologized to Lucien Bouchard and his family Thursday for wrongly announcing that the former Quebec Premier had died.

CTV -- Canada's largest privately-owned TV network -- said it got the information from the CBC's French Language TV news channel, RDI.

Cutting into regular coverage with a Breaking News graphic, CTV's 24-hour news network credited a Radio-Canada report and said Bouchard had died at the age of 66. Calling it dramatic news, political expert Mike Duffy began eulogizing Bouchard, saying he had a "profound impact on Canadian history" before stopping.

Duffy and CTV Newsnet anchor Kate Wheeler then said they were "happy to report Lucien Bouchard is alive and well." "I don't know why Radio-Canada has been reporting that but indeed, now we're glad to report he's still alive," Wheeler said on the air.

RDI News Director Catherine Cano said she and others at the English and French networks of the CBC pored over tapes to see where Newsnet might have gotten the idea. She said nothing even came close to saying Bouchard was dead.

The law firm Davies, Ward, Phillips and Vineberg in Montreal confirmed Bouchard was in his office on Thursday, as his death was being reported on the air. Nicolas Rubbo, head of marketing for the firm, said Bouchard is fine and in good health. "I've just spoken to him and he's in great shape."

So where did CTV get the idea that Bouchard had kicked off? Apparently from a CBC documentary:

Bouchard was included Thursday in special RDI programming dealing with the tenth anniversary of the 1995 Quebec independence referendum. He was a key player in that campaign. The illness that had almost taken his life a few months earlier was mentioned.

If you'll recall, Bouchard had suffered from necrotizing fasciitis ("flesh-eating disease"), which cost him his right leg and earned him a lot of sympathy in the rest of Canada in spite of his separatist credentials.

It would have to be a pretty stupid journalist who'd see a documentary on the '95 referendum and draw the conclusion that one of its subjects had died.

But then again, this is CTV we're talking about here ...

Paul Martin's Civil Service Shuffle

The Prime Minister today announced some changes to the senior civil service. In a way this is more serious than a cabinet shuffle, since public servants tend to stay in their posts long after their political masters get shunted off. Let's have a look at some of the changes:

Richard B. Fadden shifts from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to become Deputy Minister (i.e. the senior civil servant) for Natural Resources, replacing Dr. Nawal Kamel. Mr. Fadden's job is all the more important because the current Minister, John Efford, has been plagued by health problems due to diabetes. Given that softwood lumber is a natural resource, expect Mr. Fadden to be very busy during the upcoming Parliamentary session.

Replacing Mr. Fadden as president of CFIA is François Guimont, who was an associate deputy minister at Public Works. This can be seen as a promotion. Messrs. Guimont and Fadden start their new positions on Sept. 12th, this coming Monday.

Trying to get the new Service Canada ministry spun up, the PM has appointed Maryantonett Flumian as its deputy minister. Ms. Flumian used to be the Associate Deputy Minister for Belinda Stronach's ministry. She was also the Deputy Minister for Labour and Housing. Ms. Flumian's position is taken over by Munir Shiekh, formerly of the Privy Council Office. Service Canada is apparently being given a priority since Ms. Flumian's appointment is taking place immediately rather than on Monday.

Other appointments could give the simplistic impression that Canada's chief jailer wants to go fishing, and so her job gets taken over by Canada's spymaster. That's one way to interpret the shifting of Corrections Commissioner Lucie McClung to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and her succession as Commissioner by Keith Coulter, formerly Chief of the Communications Security Establishment. (I say "former" because Mr. Coulter had left the position three months ago.)

The priority given to Service Canada would seem to suggest that Paul Martin wants to have at least one positive government reform in place before the next election--something that proves he runs a different sort of ship than the one that created Adscam. We'll see if he gets it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Oil For Food: The Report Is Out

Paul Volcker's committee looking into the UN Oil For Food Scandal has just released its final report. Links to each of the 4 volumes (in PDF format, Acrobat Reader required) can be found on this page.

While the report doesn't exactly recommend throwing Secretary-General Kofi Annan in jail for corruption, he gets a lot more than a slap on the wrist:

This report records the reluctance of both the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General to recognize their own responsibility for the Programme’s shortcomings, their failure to ensure that critical evidence was brought to the attention of the Security Council and the 661 Committee, and their minimal efforts to address sanctions violations with Iraqi officials; altogether there was a lack of oversight concerning OIP’s administration of the $100 billion Oil-for-Food Programme, and, above all a failure shared by them both to provide oversight of the Programme’s Executive Director, Benon Sevan.

In sum, in light of these circumstances, the cumulative management performance of the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General fell short of the standards that the United Nations Organization should strive to maintain. In making these findings, the Committee has recognized the difficult administrative demands imposed upon the Secretariat and the Secretary-General, both by the design of the Programme and the overlapping Security Council responsibilities.

The deputy Secretary-General, by the way, is a Canadian and former deputy defence minister, Louise Fréchette. The report also cleared a second Canadian -- bureaucrat Maurice Strong -- of wrongdoing, for dealing with a lobbyist working for the Iraqis:

Also reported are Iraq efforts to secure another high-level contact at the United Nations in 1997 when [Korean lobbyist Tongsun] Park introduced his Iraqi contacts to a Canadian, Maurice Strong -- Secretary-General Annan’s newly-appointed Executive Coordinator for United Nations Reform. In the course of Mr. Park’s relationship with Mr. Strong, he obtained $1 million US in cash from his Iraqi contacts which he used to consummate a stock purchase in a company controlled by Strong’s family. While there is an indication that Iraqi officials tried to establish a relationship with Mr. Strong, the Committee has found no evidence that Mr. Strong was involved in Iraqi affairs or matters relating to the Programme.

The big recommendation to come out of this report is to spin administrative functions--things like handling the budget, personnel issues, out of the Secretary-General's office, letting him focus more on diplomacy, politics and all-round schmoozing. Instead, a chief operating officer would take care of the paperwork, while an independent oversight board would look after program oversight, to make sure corruption doesn't happen.

What Volcker's report stresses is that the kinds of reform recommended are nothing new -- there've been proposals for UN reforms for years, but they've rarely been acted upon. Despite the presence of U.S. envoy John Bolton (a real hellraiser for reform), I very much wonder if the Volcker report won't go the same path.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bob Denver, R.I.P.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the passing of yet another childhood icon.

I think there were a lot of little kids who watched Gilligan's Island on TV, who could really identify with the hapless first mate of the S.S. Minnow. Always meaning well, yet somehow screwing up in a critical situation. Scolded, yet always forgiven by everyone else on the island by the start of the closing credits.

TV critics apparently found the show stupid. The viewing audience, however, had other ideas, which is why Gilligan ranks up there alongside Captain Kirk, Samantha Stevens, Jeannie, the Addams, and the Clampetts as icons of the Golden Age of Television.

Rest in peace, Gilligan.

What Freshmen Think : Well, Duh

Interesting story at the Globe and Mail:

Data from the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation shows that almost 90 per cent of undergraduate students are satisfied with their class sizes. Nearly as many are pleased with library facilities.

Out of more than 12,000 students surveyed, the majority said their professors are "reasonably accessible" outside of the classroom.

"The overall tone is that they're a fairly happy lot," said Sean Junor, senior policy and research officer at the foundation, which was established by Parliament in 1998 to distribute scholarships and bursaries.

"Those who tend to make a big deal of [the negative aspects], tend to be on the administrative side. . . . It's not permeated down to students, though."

Translation: the only students who are unhappy about university tend to be the "activists" who think the system can work better. I suppose that's true enough; remember the old saying about ignorance being bliss?

This survey was apparently done in Winter 2004-05, when first-year students had a chance to settle down into their classes and adjust to student life. Let's check the findings, shall we?

The survey found most students are content with the choice of courses. About nine in 10 say they feel safe on campus.

Well, that makes sense; not too many students are on campus at night.

But respondents said they would like to see changes in the number of quiet study spaces on campus. While about seven in 10 were content with the study space on school grounds, first-year students said they were happier with them than those in upper years.

You can chalk the discrepancy up to experience; the upperclassmen want more study space because they know the workload's going to be heavy.

The survey also found that although less than half of students own or lease a car, the lack of sufficient parking spots is one of their top complaints. Only 40 per cent of respondents were happy with campus parking facilities.

Well, no one's happy with traffic jams when classes let out.

Also, only six in 10 students enjoy the food served on campus, despite efforts by schools to add more healthy choices to their menus.

I'm not sure, but I think students might be insulted by this. Since when does "healthy choice" equal "inedible"?

Now, the thing is, this survey's got a few people upset, because they don't like the ideas that students are happy with the education they're getting. Not surpringly, the upset people are those who want more government money spent on schools:

James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said the survey gives a "false impression" of the situation at Canadian universities because students don't have a comparative framework.

"To ask students at the University of Lethbridge about the quality of education they're getting, they may be happy with it, but it may be a quality that's dramatically lower than it was 10 years ago," he said.

The trouble, of course, is that student contentment doesn't necessarily equal academic achievement. A knowledge survey of graduates -- like, say, a history quiz for history students first and final years -- would prove to be a valuable step towards demonstrating a need for more post-secondary money.

In the meantime, though, as students line up to register for their courses, we should let them enjoy their upcoming campus life. They'll find out about the real thing soon enough.

The New Air Command: Pilots Need Not Apply

Does this story make you as nervous as it does me?

Canadian defence researchers are debating the replacement of the trusty CF-18 jetfighter with a fleet of sophisticated, pilotless drones.

The idea of simply substituting one manned aircraft for another is something that should no longer be considered a fait accompli given the increasing complexity and relatively low cost of unmanned vehicles, said Thierry Gongora, a defence researcher.

In his study, one of the options Gongora suggested is replacing the CF-18 with an a fleet of pilotless drones.

"It's in the realm of possibility," he said in an interview from Ottawa. "There are people thinking that much outside the box."

In an age of tight budgets, a defence policy review and U.S. resolve to extend its security perimeter to the whole of North America, the idea of switching to drones isn't that far-fetched, said Gen. Paul Manson, retired chief of defence staff and a member of the conference of defence associations.

Not having to risk lives attacking heavily defended targets makes them very attractive, said Manson.

Given the huge expense of replacing the CF-18 and Ottawa's penny-pinching ways with the Canadian military over the last decade, the government could very well seize on the idea of a drone fleet.

"If you put this in front of the politicians and they think they can get away with a $1-billion system instead of a $3-billion system, then they'll be sorely tempted to go for it," said Manson, who oversaw the acquisition of the CF-18.

That's what worries me. DND doesn't exactly have an exemplary track record when it comes to purchasing major equipment for the Canadian Forces.

It may sound attractive to DND bureaucrats who like the idea of sending technology -- but not people -- into harm's way. It sounds awfully dangerous to me. If something goes wrong and there's no real pilot around, there's a big potential for collateral disaster -- like a pilotless drone losing contact with the ground and crashing into a friendly hospital because no one was in control. (And I'm sure that if Damian knew about this he'd share my skepticism.)

I'm only slightly reassured by the researcher's own reservations:

Whether technically savvy robots can replace flesh and blood pilots in all aspects of air combat is still a matter of debate, Gongora said.

For example, the technology does not permit drones to carry out air-to-air interceptions, such as tracking down enemy aircraft or escorting airliners that may have been hijacked.

He said it remains to be seen whether computer technology will leap ahead enough in the next decade to make interceptions possible.

A senior air force officer in charge of the squadron supporting the current CF-18 fleet is deeply skeptical.

"I'm not convinced the technology will be there," said Lt.-Col Carl Doyon in an interview from Bagotville, Que.

To this point, he said, there's been no effort to develop an air-to-air combat drone.

Well, not yet. So here's hoping the idea of the next Billy Bishop being a grounded tech with an RC unit doesn't percolate anytime soon ...