Sunday, October 30, 2005

Emperor Duceppe's Grand Army

Gilles Duceppe is apparently reeeeeeaaaally keen on getting Quebec its own armed forces:

Bloc delegates are gathered in Montreal to draft policy for a Quebec independent of Canada, including proposals for an army, a free trade deal with Europe and Mexico, an immigration policy and diplomatic ties with Washington.

"It doesn't mean that you're going to war because you have an army," said Duceppe, who faces a leadership review during the three-day policy convention.

Duceppe said the Bloc, which holds 54 of the province's 75 seats in Parliament, envisioned a "small army," like that of Denmark or Norway.

He said it would be deployed for natural disasters, international peacekeeping missions and - only if necessary - to armed conflicts.

"Anyway, what equipment do we need?" Duceppe said. "Do we need nuclear submarines? We say no. Maybe multifunctional boats to transport troops, equipment, and to transform into hospitals across Haiti."

In this statement, you can see both the strengths and weaknesses of Duceppe's thinking on Quebec's security needs.

Let's be candid for a moment. If you don't believe in the idea of Quebec independence, then Duceppe's idea is ludicrous. But if you are capable of envisioning Quebec as an independent nation state, then the notion is worthy of public discussion. Because if Quebec has to rely on Canada to defend its military interests, then the notion of true independence is exposed as a farce.

And Quebec does have military interests. Montreal and Quebec are major commercial ports that can be disrupted by terrorist attacks. There are hydroelectric projects in the northern region that are vulnerable to air attack. An independent Quebec has to figure out some way of protecting its assets in the event that Canada refuses to do it for them. And it can't be done by merely assigning more taskings to the Sureté du Québec -- the provincial police simply don't have the training for such operations, nor would such training be easy to obtain.

So Duceppe is only being a responsible politician when he insists on putting defence on the table. His examples, though, simply prove that he's not as deep-thinking as he would like Quebeckers to believe.

Haiti is an example of a UN peacekeeping operation, and Duceppe seems to be suggesting that the province would be fielding a UN peacekeeping battalion. He seems to be relying on the traditional support that Canadians give their military when it comes to peacekeeping operations.

Unfortunately, it's also a weak selling point. Peacekeeping depends on a lot of things: the goodwill of the host country, the direction of the UN, and the resources that an independent Quebec would be willing to invest. None of these factors can be relied upon at the moment.

Our estwhile Emperor is also somewhat shallow in his thinking when it comes to recruiting for his proposed Grand Army:

Duceppe said he had faith a Quebec army would have no trouble recruiting.

"When you look at voting (for separatist parties) . . . we have very good results among the military," he said. "There are lots of sovereigntists in the Canadian army," he said.

"Mr. Duceppe is displaying his total ignorance," Transport Minister Jean Lapierre said in a telephone interview with he Canadian Press.

"He just has to look at the voting results of soldiers and he'll see that the army hasn't become sovereigntist at all. These people are committed to defending Canada," he said.

Frankly, I don't think either of those two have done much thinking about voting records in the Canadian military. If Elections Canada keeps those sorts of statistics, they're not available to the public, at least not online.

Could Emperor Gilles recruit an army? Certainly; he might be able to attract former members or reservists who don't want to leave the province. But he's hampered by one simple fact: good defence costs money. The provincial government has a very heavy debt load which puts the kibosh on most new program spending. Gilles Duceppe won't get his army -- because right now Quebec can't afford it.

Of course, he could try to cut a deal with the cloners on Kamino ...

Friday, October 28, 2005

Ken Epp Award Nominee: Paul Martin

I really wish I didn't have to do this. Senior ministers, by dint of their parliamentary experience, are not supposed to make the kinds of rhetorical mistakes that make politicians eligible for the Ken Epp Award.

But lo and behold, here's the Prime Minister himself, responding to a question on the Kashechewan evacuation:

Mr. Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North, CPC): Mr. Speaker ... during the August 19 meeting, the chief of Kashechewan presented the minister with a binder describing the squalor, the sewage-contaminated water and the condemned houses. The minister did nothing for eight weeks. He did not write to them. He did not call them. He did not fix the water system. He did not evacuate the community. It was left to Ontario to take care of this problem.

Will the minister resign?

Right Hon. Paul Martin (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, for well over a year and a half this minister has devoted 24 hours a day to aboriginal Canadians. We have had cabinet meetings with aboriginal leaders. We have had round tables. He has done everything to build up toward the first ministers meeting.

Day after day the opposition has said nothing in support of aboriginal Canadians. Day after day those members have voted against every single measure we have brought forward for aboriginal Canadians. That critic and that opposition ought to resign.

Let's fisk this, shall we?

"Mr. Speaker, for well over a year and a half this minister has devoted 24 hours a day to aboriginal Canadians."

So we're supposed to believe that Andy Scott has had no food or sleep for over a year and a half? This is badly placed exaggeration; he would have done better to praise Mr. Scott's devotion to his work instead of resorting to the ridiculous.

"We have had cabinet meetings with aboriginal leaders. We have had round tables. He has done everything to build up toward the first ministers meeting."

The PM has made a rhetorical substitution: he has substituted activity for action. The fact that he lists all these meetings, instead of actual actions taken, pretty much makes Mr. Prentice's point for him.

"Day after day the opposition has said nothing in support of aboriginal Canadians. Day after day those members have voted against every single measure we have brought forward for aboriginal Canadians."

Once again, overexaggeration. Aboriginal matters don't come up before the House everyday. The job of Opposition is, by its very nature, reactive. It's government action (or, in this case, inaction) that the Opposition is supposed to criticize.

"That critic and that opposition ought to resign."

This is probably the stupidest response the PM could possibly have made.

The opposition is doing exactly the job they're supposed to do: hold the government accountable. In fact, the entire point of Question Period is to hold the government accountable. The opposition is not held accountable during Question Period because the Opposition doesn't run the government.

The PM, in calling for the Opposition to resign, is acting like an Opposition leader. Perhaps the voters will give him that chance come the next election.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Miers Withdrawal and Lessons for Irwin Cotler

There must be a lot of people in the Ministry of Justice who are feeling smug today when they think about Harriet Mier's withdrawal as a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

It's not because they have anything against Miers, or even against George Bush for that matter. It's because the withdrawal allows them to feel superior about the Canadian system for selecting a Supreme Court justice.

I've already elaborated on the Canadian system, along with my feelings on why it's nothing to brag about. So I can point to l'affaire Miers and say that the U.S. system worked exactly the way it's supposed to: the nominee was held up to public scrutiny and found wanting. The fact that she withdrew over concerns about her confidential advice to the President is a nice face-saving tactic.

Did her privacy or personal life suffer? Not at all; all of the public concern was over her qualifications.

So the question I have is, why can't this sort of public scrutiny happen over the Canadian nomination for the Supreme Court? It's not as if nomination isn't already qualified; unlike the American system, a Supreme Court justice has qualifications required by law. And we've already seen, with the Roberts and Miers nominations, that proper scrutiny has avoided the need for confidentiality of the nominee.

Does Irwin Cotler not trust Parliament to qualify or disqualify the government's choice for a justice?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Latest Victim of Rathergate

Well, it took nearly a year, but CBS News president Andy Heyward has been replaced:

The chairman of CBS, Leslie Moonves, announced today that he was replacing the longtime president of CBS News, Andrew Heyward, with the longtime president of the network's sports division, Sean McManus.

In succeeding Mr. Heyward, whose contract expires at the end of the year, Mr. McManus inherits a once-vaunted news division - symbolized by Edward R. Murrow, whose legacy is celebrated in the current George Clooney movie "Good Night, and Good Luck" - that is now reeling on several fronts.

Last fall, the news division was upended by the fallout from a report, first broadcast on the weeknight edition of "60 Minutes," that purported to present new details about the Vietnam-era National Guard service of President Bush but was later discredited after the network acknowledged it could not vouch for the documents on which it was based.

Mr. Heyward - who, at least initially, fiercely defended the report and the documents, despite fundamental questions raised immediately about their authenticity - managed to hold on to his job in the months afterward. But few others involved in the production of the report did. Dan Rather, the correspondent on the report and the anchor of the "CBS Evening News" for nearly a quarter century, stepped down as anchor in the spring, a year earlier than he had planned.

While Mr. Heyward, president of CBS News for nearly a decade, survived that period, he has failed, in recent months, to meet Mr. Moonves's mandate of developing a successor to the broadcast led by Mr. Rather and [Bob] Schieffer.

It's not surprising that Heyward had to go. The CBS Evening News had been in last place in TV news ratings for the better part of the decade, and Rathergate was just the most public example of just how stale and out-of-touch the news division's corporate culture had become.

Heyward also failed to understand that the old journalistic model that CBS News was based on, was no longer valid in the age of the Net. He did try --witness CBS News' Public Eye feature on its website -- but he was handicapped by his failure to appreciate the full consequences of public participation.

Can CBS News rebound? Let's just say that, with Heyward gone, the Old Guard of the network's Legacy Media heirs are no longer in charge. It's as close to a fresh start as the network's likely to get. Here's hoping they make the most of it.

Mr. Dingwall's Severance Pay: $2,846.38

The Price-Waterhouse audit of David Dingwall's expenses is finally out.

Mr. Dingwall says the audit "completely exonerates him."

Not so fast. A few things have to be mentioned here.

First, the audit divided Mr. Dingwall's expenses into 3 categories: supportable (supported by documentation and/or justified as a typical expense), reimbursable (not supported by documentation or other written justification), and recoverable (made in error).

Of the $1.3 million in salary and benefits charged during Mr. Dingwall's tenure, $4,198 is deemed recoverable. And of the $400,000 in expenses charged, $2,571 is described as reimbursable.

Chump change? A low percentage? Perhaps. But $6,700 is still a fairly hefty chunk not to be accounted for.

There is also something in the report that's a good example of when the explanation is worse than the actual incident. Remember that receipt for chewing gum? Here's the Price Waterhouse explanation:

41. You have asked us to comment on an expense claim allegedly made by Mr. Dingwall relating to a package of chewing gum.

42. We identified an expense claim in connection with Mr. Dingwall’s January 23, 2005
visit to Winnipeg for the Annual Employee Meeting. Included in the expense claim
package is a receipt from a “Relay” outlet in the Ottawa Airport. The receipt indicates the purchase of chewing gum and a bottle of water. While the receipt was included in the expense claim package, it was removed from the calculation of reimbursable expenses by the individual responsible for verifying expense claims. The reason for the removal was because Mr. Dingwall was authorized to claim an incidental allowance of $20/day to cover such items. Accordingly, Mr. Dingwall was paid the incidental allowance for the day, but was not specifically reimbursed for the package of chewing gum. As noted earlier, the incidental per diem allowance was reinstated in January 2005.

We know that Mr. Dingwall likes to believe that he's entitled to his entitlements, but this sort of nitpickingness is absolutely ridiculous.

Now, of course, the Price Waterhouse report does help us in one respect. We know, thanks to the Hill Times, that Mr. Dingwall is entitled to $9,615.38 in severance. There are $6,769 in recoverable and reimbursable expenses in the audit. Deduct those expenses from the minimum severance, and the result is $2,846.38.

A little under three thousand dollars Canadian. If Mr. Dingwall insists on getting severance, that amount strikes me as being fair enough.

UPDATE (18h48): I've amended the link so that it connects to the actual Price Waterhouse document. It's a PDF file; you'll need Acrobat Reader to read it.

Kashechewan: Canada's Katrina, Only Worse

Over a thousand residents of the Kashechewan Reserve are now being evacuated for medical treatment, due to contaminated drinking water.

What makes this wrenching is that this could have been avoided, according to information in the Globe and Mail:

[Ontario Natural Resources Minister David] Ramsay, who is also responsible for aboriginal affairs in the province, said he was spurred into action after clearing up a "jurisdictional misunderstanding" with the federal government.

According to a copy of a 1992 Emergency Preparedness Agreement signed by Ottawa and Ontario, the province is responsible for providing emergency assistance when requested by the Department of Indian Affairs or a first-nations community.

The federal government is then responsible for costs incurred by the province.

Federal Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott described the terms of the agreement in a phone conversation yesterday, Mr. Ramsay said. "A call over the noon hour from Mr. Scott pointed me in the right direction."

Does this sound familiar? It's exactly the problem which plagued disaster relief efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: jurisdictions pointing to each other to take action first, while the problem worsens.

The problem happened because of the multi-jurisdictional nature of native reserves. The federal government is in the midst of transferring powers from the Ministry to the local level; in the meantime, provincial responsibilities over things such as water treatment (which falls under natural resources) have to be worked out. And in the midst of this bureaucratic wrangling, real-life problems get worse.

Blue Blogging Soapbox has suggested that this would have been an appropriate situation for Canada's DART team. While they could have used the experience in setting up potable water facilities, BBS is wrong in one respect: DART is meant to handle natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. This disaster is completely man-made.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Jim Peterson's Freudian Slip

It seems our international trade minister, Jim Peterson, made quite the faux pas in the House yesterday, trying to explain the government position on softwood lumber to Stephen Harper:

Hon. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, CPC): I am trying to discern the government's position on the softwood lumber dispute. Up until today, its position was that there would be no negotiations. I listened to the minister's answers to the Bloc. He said he was seeking a good deal for Canada, a negotiated settlement. Which is it? No negotiations or a negotiated settlement?

Hon. Jim Peterson (Minister of International Trade, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I will be very simple so the minister understands, so the member understands—

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

If I may break in here: whenever you see the phrase "Oh, oh!" it usually means a noise that's a little embarrassing to identify. In this case, I'd say it was laughter.

The Speaker: Order, please. I am sure the minister appreciates all the applause his answer has caused so far, but we have to be able to hear the answer. The minister will now want to resume with some order in the House.

Hon. Jim Peterson: Mr. Speaker, I really slipped on that one.

Yes, and it's a verrrrry interesting slip. With three subconscious interpretations:

1) By "minister," Mr. Peterson could have been referring to himself. This marks him as one of those people who have to formulate their thoughts by saying them out loud. Which means he hasn't really given this issue as much thought as he should have, at least in preparation for Question Period.

2) Mr. Peterson could have been subconsciously referring to another minister, possibly foreign affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew. Given Mr. Pettigrew's Parisian penchants, this would not be totally surprising that Mr. Peterson would feel obliged to keep him in the loop.

3) Mr. Peterson could have been addressing Stephen Harper as a minister. This one is a potential chink in the armor, because it means there's a subconscious acknowledgement among senior Liberals that, if they're not careful, Harper and the Tories could form the next government.

Mr. Harper, incidentally, seemed to prefer the first interpretation. I wonder if he's given serious thought about the third.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Dinged for 96 Hundred Dollars?

Is getting rid of David Dingwall worth paying $9,600 worth of taxpayer's money? Because, according to the Hill Times, that's the amount he can legitimately claim for severance:

The Privy Council Office guidelines for Terms and Conditions of Employment for Full-Time Governor in Council Appointees states that appointees are allowed one week's pay for each completed year of service up to 28 weeks, "payable on termination of employment, regardless of reason for departure."

Mr. Dingwall's salary at the Mint was approximately $250,000 a year and he worked there for almost two-and-a half years before he resigned as president before his five-year term was up. That means that according to PCO rules, Mr. Dingwall is allowed approximately $4,807 per year that he worked at the Mint, bringing his grand total for two years of service up to $9,615.38.

This is the link to the actual PCO policy.

Obviously it's still a fair chunk to choke on -- you could buy a five-year-old car or furnish a living room with IKEA furniture with that kind of dough. But it certainly beats the half-million that David Dingwall was asking for and that the Libranos were prepared to pay.

Is it fair? I suppose if I were the head of a Crown corporation, I'd want some form of compensation to tide me over until my next posting, since obviously I'm not in the kind of position that qualifies for EI. But I'd be curious to see how the Price-Waterhouse audit goes; if it turns out the Ding owes money, $9,600 sounds like a good base to start deducting from.

The Chutzpah of the Public Service

Well, if there's one thing Treasury Board president Reg Alcock is short on, it's not chutzpah:

"All the guidelines and standards in the world have no value without a confident and dynamic public service. Our country is fortunate to have a public service with great talent, dedication and integrity," said Alcock.

Coming right before the Gomery report, not to mention l'affaire Dingwall and the Smith splurge -- like I said, chutzpah.

Mr. Alcock said this line while announcing a $35-million-per-year plan for the training and professional development of public servants. Of interest: an orientation program designed to teach values and ethics to those just entering the public service.

Just out of curiosity, how many of you didn't know we actually had an Office of Public Service Values and Ethics? Me neither, until I saw the site the press release linked to.

They do have some interesting stuff here, such as this directive on Duty of Loyalty. Looking at it carefully, you'll realize that this is how the government feels about whistleblowers:

The duty of loyalty owed by public servants to the Government of Canada encompasses a duty to refrain from public criticism of the Government of Canada.

Failure to observe the duty of loyalty may justify disciplinary action, including dismissal.

As you can see, this is not the type of statement that encourages the reporting of wrongdoing on the part of the Government. Of course, there are exceptions:

Three situations in which the balancing of these interests is likely to result in an exception being made to the duty of loyalty are where:

1) the Government is engaged in illegal acts;
2) Government policies jeopardize life, health or safety; or
3) the public servant’s criticism has no impact on his or her ability to perform effectively the duties of a public servant or on the public perception of that ability.

Points 1 and 2 are obvious, of course, but point 3 tends to look like a CYA statement: you can report the wrong, so long as you still do your job. But what if the wrongdoing does affect the way you do your job?

But getting back to this $35-million program. It also includes training for auditors and supervisors, ostensibly to inculcate them in the public service ethos as dictated by the Office.

Frankly I have to wonder about this initiative. $35 million a year seems a bit steep to teach civil servants how the government is supposed to work. And, given how civil service ethics has developed, are the new guys learning the right stuff?

Uneasy Lie The Heads of the Crown -- Corporations, That Is

Spooked by all the hubbub surrounding David Dingwall, our Minister of Transport, Jean Lapierre, has sent a CYA letter to the heads of all the Crown corporations that report to him:

Citing "recent events surrounding the expenses and salaries of two CEOs of government-related corporations," Lapierre warns in one of the letters dated Oct. 17 that attention on them has been "heightened."

"The purpose of this letter is to remind you of the sensitivity of this issue and the need to operate within the limits of appropriate standards, guidelines, prudence and probity given that your organizations are public entities and therefore subject to public scrutiny," he says.

He asks for assurance that the chiefs and their boards of directors are being "vigilant" to prevent a repeat of the firestorm which has engulfed Dingwall, who resigned this month as head of the mint over his expense claims.

Lapierre also asks in the letters that the chiefs promptly report to him "any special authorities granted by you or your board that may be viewed as problematic."

The reason, he notes in the wake of Dingwall's grilling by a parliamentary committee this past week, is that "I may be questioned, as shareholder of the Government of Canada, on the reasonableness of such authorities."

That last paragraph, incidentally, is why this is a CYA letter. The last thing he needs is yet another Crown corporation executive going overboard with taxpayers' money, particularly since the Minister is the one who has to defend it.

Who's likely to do that? According to the Treasury Board, Transport Canada is responsible for 58 Crown corporations, to varying degrees. Most of these are port facilities such as airports and harbours. The best known is probably VIA Rail, which could be seen in the same lines as the Mint in that it sells products to the public at large (i.e. rail travel packages).

Will the letter work? Probably not. Since the fiscal year's already almost two-thirds over, it's a little late to do anything about spring and summer binges. And the letter is quite likely to be forgotten in February and March, when all government agencies try to use up their remaining budgets.

Still, Mr. Lapierre can at least say that he tried. Not very hard, mind you, but he tried. He's certainly looking at Revenue Minister John McCallum and breathing a sigh of relief. After all, as recently as 2003, the Royal Canadian Mint was under Transport Canada's responsibility.

The 30th Edition of the Red Ensign Standard ...

... may be found here. Nicholas has done a lot of excellent work preparing this edition.

Friday, October 21, 2005

So Here's To You, Mister Robinson

Well, it's now official: Svend Robinson is back on the comeback trail.

Robinson said Friday he will seek the NDP nomination in the riding of Vancouver Centre to run in the next federal election. That riding is held by Liberal Hedy Fry.

"I'm asking for a second chance," he told a news conference. "I should be judged for my entire hard record of work."

Robinson was first elected in 1979 and served as a member of Parliament for 25 years.

He left politics in 2004 after he admitted to stealing a diamond ring in a moment of "utter irrationality" and later was given a conditional discharge for theft over $5,000.

"Again today I want to say how deeply sorry I am," Robinson said Friday, describing the theft as unpremeditated madness.

He wouldn't discuss whether he was taking any medication for what he called a mild bipolar disorder.

"I wouldn't be taking this step unless I had the full confidence of my therapist," Robinson said.

A couple of points:

First, it'd be easy to refer to Robinson, at this point, as shameless. Given the circumstances of his initial resignation, most other people would balk at the idea of running for Parliament again, because they'd be figuratively torn to shreds.

But in Robinson's case, shamelessness is a virtue. He knows his shoplifting conviction is going to be a major issue in his comeback campaign, so by bringing it up now, on his own, he'll have better control over its impact.

Second, by bringing up bipolar disorder and therapy, he's sending a very subtle message. You could call it a prejudicial challenge, if you like: Svend's trying to appeal to those who believe that it's possible for mentally-challenged people to live a normal life. And those who suggest that Svend's psychological problems should disqualify him from office -- "well, (nudge nudge wink wink) we all know how those kind of people think anyway, now don't we?"

It's a devilishly clever appeal, and certainly more than enough to give Hedy Fry a run for her money.

Does Svend deserve to win? He's a natural publicity hound, which will work for some causes he champions but not for others. He's the type that will irritate folks like Don Laytone, but he's got more sense than Carolyn Parrish. Ed Broadbent took a Liberal stronghold because most people knew he was an "all right Joe." Svend's not quite as all right as Honest Ed, but he's got experience and he knows what he's doing. I don't care for him personally, but I think he's earned the right for his second chance.

And if he wins -- well, it's one less Librano, right?

The Agreeable Mr. McCallum

Does Revenue Minister John McCallum think David Dingwall's resignation was a good idea? Let's look at his responses from Question Period yesterday:

Hon. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, CPC): ... Yesterday David Dingwall said he was told to go to the Privy Council Office to seek any severance he believes he is entitled to. The Privy Council Office is under the Prime Minister's direct authority. The Prime Minister has maintained that Mr. Dingwall quit voluntarily. In fact, he says his government urged him to stay.

Why does the Prime Minister not just say no to David Dingwall's demand for more money?

Hon. John McCallum (Minister of National Revenue, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, on the morning of September 28 Mr. Dingwall informed me that he was going to resign later that day. The reason he gave was that he thought it would be in the best interests of the Mint and I did not agree.

Ah. So Mr. McCallum thought the Dingwall resignation was a bad idea.

Or did he? Later on:

Mr. Brian Pallister (Portage—Lisgar, CPC): Let us get this straight. Dingwall quit in disgrace. He did not fulfill his contract. He said he was leaving anyway, but now he is ready to sue us because he is entitled to his entitlements and the Prime Minister seems to agree with that.

For three weeks he and his government have been promoting the idea of paying Dingwall off with severance without providing us a single shred of evidence as to why. Dingwall could not successfully sue unless he had a deal.

Will the Prime Minister admit he did a Dingwall deal?

Hon. John McCallum (Minister of National Revenue, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, rather than going through all these doubtful premises and hypotheses, why do we not just stick to the facts? The fact of the matter is, Mr. Dingwall telephoned me on the morning of September 28 and indicated he would resign later that day because he felt it was best for the Mint. I agreed.

Uh -- hold it. Didn't he say he just disagreed with that decision?

Let's see if he clarifies himself later on:

Mr. Brian Pallister (Portage—Lisgar, CPC): Here are the facts. First, the revenue minister encourages Dingwall, then the Prime Minister accepts Dingwall's resignation. Then they both try to sell us on severance for Dingwall. Those are the facts.

Will the Prime Minister admit that he knew in advance that his minister had spoken to Dingwall concerning his entitlements?

Hon. John McCallum (Minister of National Revenue, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, only one of those statements made by the hon. member I know to be absolutely false. The idea that I encouraged Mr. Dingwall is false. I can only assume his other statements are equally likely to be false.

I was informed by Mr. Dingwall on the morning that he was going to resign. When he said it was in the interests of the Mint, I did not disagree. That is not encouraging anything. It is accepting a resignation.

There are, methinks, two ways to interpret Mr. McCallum's statements:

1. He is genuinely indecisive when it comes to l'affaire Dingwall. He shifts from thinking of him as a valued executive (don't let him go!) to damaged goods (I don't need your troubles) to reluctant acknowledgement (fine, fine, do it your way).

2. Dingwall's troubles have paralyzed his thought processes, making him lose control of the English language. It's a variation of what they call "Bushspeak" in the States, and it happens more often than politicians care to admit.

Personally, I like this second explanation. It explains his earlier, robotic responses in Question Period when news of Dingwall's proposed severance leaked out.

Either way, of course, Mr. McCallum has done a pitiful job of defending the admittedly undefensible Dingwall. He should be thankful that no one is entertaining the idea of "Prime Minister McCallum" just yet, because that remote possibility has been revealed as a bigger pipe dream than Stephen Harper's.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Dilemma of David Smith's Abotech

Angry_in_TO, of course, is all over this David Smith / Abotech story, but I figured I'd try a Google search to see what kind of business Abotech did with the government. Here's one that should get you thinking:

For "accounting and audit services," Abotech did a contract for April-June 2004 at Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada -- $24,000 for 3 months work.

All well and good. It's just that Mr. Smith happens to sit on the House Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, which recently issued a report which was critical of the government's handling of the residential schools issue.

Conflict of interest?

Strictly speaking, no. The contract wrapped up before Mr. Smith was elected to Parliament. The fact that he'd done work on the residential schools issue as a contractor would certainly have led to his membership on the Committee, but he wouldn't make any extra money from that.

But could an argument be made that a conflict exists?

Certainly. Mr. Smith's dealings with IRSRC, as a contractor, may have colored his feelings about the issue, resulting in a more critical report (unless, of course, he recused himself).

Now, how strong an argument this is will depend on your own definition of conflict of interest. Angry is more focused on the idea that, as a parliamentarian, Mr. Smith may give his family's firm an unfair current advantage in competing for small contracts. (The transfer of title to his wife is acknowledged, pretty much by everyone, as a legal workaround.) I'm more inclined to wonder if Abotech's work may have influenced Mr. Smith's work as a parliamentarian.

Quebec's Corrective Vision

Yesterday in the Commons, the Liberals decided to have some fun with BQ leader Gilles Duceppe's musings on a possible army for Quebec:

Hon. Denis Paradis (Brome—Missisquoi, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, my question is entitled “There's No Life Like It”. This morning, we learned that the new priority of the Bloc Québécois leader, our new James Bond, is to develop a plan for the army and the secret service of a future sovereign Quebec. The leader of the Bloc Québécois is intent on interfering in the PQ leadership race.

With proposals like this one, it is clear where the Bloc's priorities are. What does the Minister of Foreign Affairs think of that?

Hon. Pierre Pettigrew (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the Bloc leader is totally out of touch with the real concerns of Quebeckers. What the Bloc wants is hard-core independence. The much promised association, the link they used to talk about, is a thing of the past. We are back to the 19th century.

I would suggest that the Bloc leader's spies be assigned to find out what the real priorities of Quebeckers are.

As it turns out, a group of Quebec leaders -- including former premier Lucien Bouchard -- have already identified those "real priorities," in a manifesto entitled Pour un Québec lucide, released yesterday. (I've linked to the English-language version of this manifesto.)

Put briefly, this manifesto proposes a new relationship between government, business and the population. For the following reasons:

-- Quebec's population is going to decline, relative to the rest of North America. You know the upcoming "baby boom crisis" where fewer young people are going to need to support more seniors? That situation's going to be compounded in Quebec.

-- Quebec's manufacturing and industrial base will face stiffer competition, mainly from Asia. Countries like China and India have always had cheaper labour, but they're also experiencing a population boom, and they're catching up to the Western states in terms of high-tech education. And in the meantime, Quebec's demographics will result in problems recruiting skilled labour into its own manufacturing base.

-- Government can't afford to play a big role in society anymore. Quebec's government grew in scope so that it could foster Quebec's culture. But now, government debt is crippling its ability to maintain all the programs the province is used to. And any attempt to cut back results in vicious opposition.

What to do about it? The manifesto's big recommendation is public debt reduction, which is pretty much a bugaboo for provincial politicians because what's spent on debt can't be spent on other programs.

The manifesto also recommends raising tuition fees for post-secondary institutions. The Canadian Federation of Students will be upset, of course, but universities and colleges are expensive to maintain, particularly in a world where innovation happens every hour. Low tuition fees are only possible if there's a very big student population, and according to Quebec's current demographics, that's not going to happen.

There's also one that Quebec's nationalists will have trouble stomaching: encouraging more languages other than French, especially English. This means a re-thinking of the Quebec Language Charter and Commission, something of a sacred cow in this environment.

It's good that Quebec's elite is thinking about these things, but I'd be curious to find out if other provincial leaders would do this kind of exercise. (Dalton?)

Ken Epp Award Nominee: Daryl Kramp

One of the lessons of the "crying wolf" fable -- besides the obvious one that lying is bad -- is that one needs to choose one's words carefully, otherwise one won't be taken seriously.

It's a lesson that Daryl Kramp, the Conservative MP for Prince-Edward-Hastings, needs to learn, judging from his question yesterday to the Minister of Justice:

Mr. Speaker, at the justice committee yesterday we heard senior police officials from across Canada pleading with the government to wake up to the realities that they are facing: the reality that innocent people are being shot, gangs and thugs are ruling the streets, witnesses are afraid to testify, drugs are rampant, parole and bail is just a revolving door these days and repeat offenders are commonplace.

When will the Minister of Justice listen to the police, listen to the victims and listen to Canadians and support the additional mandatory sentences that which the police are calling for?

While the man used to be a police officer himself, it's not an excuse for this kind of overstatement.

This is a classic mistake in speechmaking. Supposedly the device is used to emphasize a point, but in this case it engages counter-intuition. Mr. Kramp's description sounds more like Batman's Gotham than any Canadian city I've been in or read about, and that includes Vancouver's East End.

More to the point, by invoking images out of comic books and TV shows, there is an implication that the member has not done his homework and is therefore out of touch. Which is all the more reason why responsible people -- and for all his faults, Irwin Cotler is an responsible minister -- tune them out, even when their actual concerns are legitimate.

Daryl Kramp's silly use of rhetoric has actually hindered his effectiveness at addressing a problem. Hence, his nomination for the Ken Epp Award.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Dingwall Defense : Or, Digging In Deeper

Interesting line of defence from David "Bubble Gum is Deductible!" Dingwall. Apparently his business expenses with the Royal Canadian Mint are justified because the Mint can afford it:

In a statement released prior to his appearance [before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations], Dingwall said he is "delighted to ... correct the misinformation and mischaracterization of my expenses."

Contrary to published reports, said the former Liberal cabinet minister, "all expenses came from the operating revenue of the corporation, not from taxpayers' dollars."

The statement explains that because Dingwall was able to make the mint profitable within a year of taking over in March 2003, it no longer had to rely on taxpayers to cover its operating expenditures.

In other words, since the Mint was making money (i.e. turning a profit) under Dingwall's watch, why shouldn't he be entitled to dip his beak? The president's expenses are part of the Mint's operating expenditures, after all.

Just one problem with that line of thinking: there are other things besides Dingwall's expenses that the Mint's money could be spent on. Like a salary / benefits boost for its employees, or an expanded commemorative coin program, and so on.

In other words: profit does not justify extravagance. And certainly not on Dingwall's level.

I'm not the only one who thinks this is a silly argument. There are Liberal MPs who think so too:

The statement was immediately questioned by Liberal MP Shawn Murphy, who said he does "not buy that argument."

It's true Dingwall returned the mint to profitability, Murphy said outside a Liberal caucus meeting, but that doesn't permit the CEO to spend extravagantly.

"The two issues are unrelated," said the MP.

What worries me is: how many other Libranos think about Crown corporation profit in the same way as Dingwall (Joe Volpe's pizza bills notwithstanding)?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Supreme Court Secrets

The Globe and Mail reports that Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has already handed over to his advisory committee the names of six candidates for the next Supreme Court vacancy:

At its first meeting in Ottawa's Chateau Laurier hotel Monday, the nine-member committee was told by Mr. Cotler that it has until Nov. 18 to come up with its short list, from which the minister will choose the new judge for the country's top court. He wants to have a new person in place by the time Mr. Justice John Major retires at Christmas.

The candidates' names are confidential, and the committee members had to sign written agreements that they will not spill the beans.

The advisory committee has a slightly different makeup than what was first announced last week. Former British Columbia Court of Appeal chief justice Allan McEachern stepped down from the group “for personal reasons,” Justice Department official Francois Giroux said. He was replaced by Constance Glube, a former chief justice of the Nova Scotia supreme court.

Apart from Justice Glube (right), who was a last-minute selection, I've got brief profiles of the committee members here.

Some extra information on Justice Glube: she's also part of the advisory committee helping Justice Gomery draft recommendations for the second part of his report.

While the committee's role is essentially limited to cutting Mr. Cotler's list in half, if the group feels strongly that an important person has been left out, it can ask the minister to add another name.

Otherwise, the committee is on its own until it comes up with the short list, and will have no contact with the minister until it finishes the job, Mr. Giroux said. “We're hands off from now on.”

Now comes one deceptively simple question: Who's on the short list?

This is the problem. The Justice Ministry did say it was going to be secret, back when they announced the process. And there's been some speculation already in the news. But that's all it can ever be: speculation. We don't know if these names even made the half-dozen that Cotler gave to the committee. And speculation is potentially more damaging than knowing the real thing.

Should we, at this stage? I think so, because if we knew who's on the short list, we can research their previous judgments and learn their way of thinking, their educational background. And by extension, we would know what kind of person the Martin government would like to see on the Supreme Court.

Now, certainly we can understand why the government wants to keep the list a secret. After all, if you were a judge and your name were on the list, and you were rejected, you wouldn't necessarily want that fact known. But rejection didn't exactly hurt Robert Bork, did it? And it certainly shouldn't hurt whoever's on the list.

Layton Loses One

So, what does Bev Desjarlais' decision to sit as an independent do to Don Laytone and his organization?

First, it must be understood that Ms. Desjarlais wasn't pushed out of caucus; rather, her local party apparatus was taken over by someone else. Another woman, Niki Ashton, will be the NDP candidate for Churchill in the next election. And despite voting against same-sex marriage legislation -- according to the will of her constituents, for which she lost her shadow cabinet position -- there's no real animosity between her and the caucus.

Is this a setback for Don Laytone? You might think so given the minority situation here, but it's not quite as dire as some people seem to think.

The Don still has 18 MPs, including himself, under his umbrella. Numerically it puts a Liberal-NDP voting bloc in a one-vote minority compared with a Tory-BQ voting bloc, putting the fate of the government in the hands of 4 independents: Ms. Desjarlais, and former Liberals David Kilgour, Pat O'Brien and Carolyn Parrish.

However, of these four, only Kilgour is likely to vote against the government in a no-confidence motion. Parrish, being virulently anti-Tory and having nothing to lose, will side with the Liberals out of force of habit. O'Brien left the Liberals over SSM, but otherside has no beef with the Grits, so he can be expected to support the government. So, since we know that Ms. Desjarlais' dispute is with her local officials rather than the caucus, we can expect her to continue voting the NDP line. Which means that while the Don can't guarantee victory, he still has a formidable voting bloc that Paul Martin needs to supplicate.

Now, whether Ms. Desjarlais can run as an Independent in the next election, and win, is an open question, but I'd say her odds are pretty good. She's had eight years' worth of experience, enough to generate at least some personal loyalty among her constituency staff; she should be able to get enough people together for a campaign. She's also running against an inexperienced candidate who may be relying on parental connections (Ms. Ashton's father is a provincial cabinet minister), which doesn't necessarily play well in public.

Regardless, we must wish Ms. Desjarlais the best of luck. She's going to need it.

A Parliamentary Pizza Poem

Yet another Conservative MP aspires to become the House of Commons' poet laureate. This time it's Rahim Jaffer, the member for Edmonton-Strathcona, trying to be critical of Citizenship Minister Joe Volpe's spending habits:

Mr. Speaker, pepperoni, meatlovers, vegetarian or Greek,
Stuffed full of pizza the immigration minister is too busy eating to speak.

Y'know, there's way too many syllables in that second line ...

He's had so much fun stiffing Canadians with his bills,
I had to see for myself, why so much overeating hasn't made him ill.

For example, at Cammara's where he's known as Pizza Joe.
To see for myself, to his favourite joint I had to go.

I invited three friends to join me to dine.
We ordered two pizzas, salads and some wine.

Attending were MPs for Simcoe—Grey, Edmonton—Leduc and Calgary Southeast.
It cost us only $134 for the entire feast.

Even with four we paid less than Pizza Joe did for two.
With a doggie bag in hand, how he spent so much...we haven't a clue.

We paid our own bill because that was our choice,
Unlike the minister who stiffed Canadians, with his invoice.

Is overindulging the life of this minister?
Or with the Liberals in government could it be something more sinister?

Okay, so it doesn't look like Brian Pallister needs to give up his poetry any time soon. (Not that it's any better ... )

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Babulican Apologizes

Balbulican is a blogger who positions himself as being left to left-of-centre on the political spectrum. As such he's normally taken contrary positions to mine, but like me he's usually civil about it.

Which made some recent actions of his inexplicable. A few days ago he sent a troll comment to three of my posts--one via Blogger, two via Haloscan. I dismissed the triplicate nature of those comments as lack of originality.

Apparently my dismissal got him angry enough to post an explanation of his "behaviour":

Oh, did you think it lacked originality? I thought the idea of a triplicate repetition in your blog of your own abusive and not very interesting insult, as deployed at Robert's, was sorta funny. Well, no accounting for taste or senses of humour, I guess.

Well, I'll let him explain the rest:

I owe the Phantom Observer a BIG apology, and I owe his readers an explanation. Here's the story...If you don't want the narrative, just scroll down to the last paragraph for the apology.

One of my secret, guilty pleasures is hanging out occasionally at Robert McLelland's Blagh. There are blogs on the left and the right where you go for conversation. And then there are blogs where you just go to wallow in stupid, partisan name calling. When I want to wallow in right wing idiotic rage, I go to SDA: when I want to wallow in left wing idiotic rage I go to Robert's.

I know, I know. But at least it doesn't involve minors, drugs, or explosives, and I ALWAYS wash my hands afterwards.

I had traded barbs a couple of times with our host, the Phantom Observer, on Robert's site, and always found him to be an articulate and thoughtful writer (and funny). So I was distressed when someone identifying themselves as "The Phantom" jumped into an interesting discussion on US health care and waiting times with an offensive and trollish comment. It was annoying because the issue was a good one: and it was annoying because it didn't seem like the kind of thing The Phantom Observer would do.

As an aside, this isn't the first time this has happened. Angry_in_TO once misattributed a posting from The Phantom Soapbox to me; to this day I still don't know if he's corrected it. I do suspect -- based on the level of sarcasm in the blog entries -- that this same Phantom may be the ultimate source of Balbulican's distress, but this is not absolute proof.

When I comment on a blog post, I will always attach my own blog's URL, and I will use my blog's title to identify myself. Just so you know.

So with the unerring logic for which I am so justifiably known, I immediately leaped to the wrong conclusion. I posted a nasty response on Robert's site: then I came to this site, and pasted the trollish remark, slightly edited for context, in three of the Observer's threads. My intent was to illustrate how irritating and disruptive that kind of idiocy can be: my accomplishment was to demonstrate my own impatience and stupidity.

The Phantom Observer reconstructed what had happened, contacted me by email with great civility, and explained the misunderstanding.

So here's the apology.

Phantom Observer, I am deeply embarassed by my mistake. I apologize to you for not having the brain to realize that you would not have written anything as stupid as that. And I apologize to both you AND your readership for invading your fine blog with what must have seemed an inexplicable piece of foolish and offensive trollish behaviour. Thanks for your gracious email clarification of what went on. I hope to have the opportunity to apologize in person, perhaps with the humble offering of an appropriate beverage, at one of the Ottawa Bloggers Sessions. Sackcloth and ashes will be the order of the day.

Well, I think we're scheduling the next NCR Blog Mafia meeting for early December, so I'll hold Balbulican to that beverage.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why I don't consider Balbulican a moonbat. A moonbat will never apologize for bad behaviour, on the grounds that "the other guy deserves it, and never mind why." With this apology, Balbulican demonstrates he's one of the good guys.

UPDATE (16h42): Just corrected Balbulican's name throughout the post. I'm one of those people who believes that fixing spellings does matter.

UPDATE (16h50): Except that I needed to change the post title back, just to make sure all the linkbacks work.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Aboriginal Justice? For the Supremes, Maybe

Irwin Cotler's new Supreme Court nomination process has had one predictable effect: there's now a channel for people who want to see an aboriginal Supreme Court justice.

The Canadian and Indigenous Bar Associations and the Canadian Association of Law Teachers say an aboriginal person should get the job.

Several prominent Saskatchewan aboriginal people have been named as potential candidates.
Among them: Saskatoon-based lawyer Don Worme, as well as Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and Gerald Morin, who are both provincial court judges.

Paul Chartrand, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan, says aboriginal people may be fighting for the right to self-government but they also want better represention in Canadian systems.

"We want a say," Chartrand said.

The courts are often the battle grounds that determine the extent of treaty and inherent rights, he said.

Currently, aboriginal people are under-represented on the bench. There are currently just five federally-appointed aboriginal judges in the country.

According to Diane Corbiere, the president of the Indigenous Bar Association, there are about 600 aboriginal law graduates and many are ready to sit on the bench.

"I hear about persons with great merit applying in different jurisdictions and just being sort of fed up with the process," she said.

I can certainly see where the pressure groups might have a point. A Supreme Court justice with knowledge of aboriginal jurisprudence (i.e. Aboriginal justice systems) would be useful on the top bench, particularly when it comes to understanding land and resource claims based on ancient treaty rights.

However, those pushing for a Native judge need to understand that they may run afoul of the same mindset against Ontario's proposed Sharia law: that judgements in Canada must respect the current Canadian judicial system, without imposing values from other cultures. Just because a justice is from a First Nation doesn't mean he or she will automatically side with the Aboriginals in a resources claims dispute.

Now, their case can be helped by the presence of Chester Cunningham (a Métis) on the advisory committee creating the short list. But filling this upcoming vacancy is still a Librano decision to make -- and their judgement is tied to what keeps the Liberals in power, not necessarily what's good for the First Peoples.

The Great Canadian Blog Survey Is Out!

Last month, fellow Red Ensign Brigadier M.K. Braaten's brother Aaron started up a survey of the Canadian blogosphere. He managed to collect some 1,146 respondents, which is actually comparable to the average number of respondents in political polls.

He's now published his preliminary results, which are available here in PDF format.

Fascinating stuff for the most part. You do have to allow for self-selection in this survey (since this depended on blog awareness in the first place), and there are no French-language bloggers, but on the whole I think this is a pretty good snapshot of Canada's anglophone blogosphere.

Check it out.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

American Wookiee

This coming Monday, in Arlington, Texas, 441 people will become American citizens.

They come from 77 different countries.

And one comes from the planet Kashykk. His name is Chewbacca.

Oh, all right: actually it's Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew:

Mayhew, 60, played the fur-covered warrior Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy of the 1970s and 1980s, and the latest movie, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

"I got married to a Texan lady. That more or less decided it," said Mayhew, who has been married to his wife, Angelique, for six years.

In most cases, an immigrant must be a legal permanent resident for five years before becoming a citizen. The wait is three years if the person marries a U.S. citizen. He also must pass history, English and civics exams.

"I've always been interested in the cowboys and the history of the West and the history of America, so it wasn't so bad," Mayhew said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

"I am feeling very happy about it. Whatever people say about America, it is still one of the most wonderful countries in the world, despite the politics, religion and everything else that goes on."

"I know that I have the best of both worlds with the dual nationality," he said.

Well, if the Texas Minutemen start running into Imperial Stormtroopers, at least we'll know why ...

The End of the Garish Ms. Parrish?

Guess who won't be returning to Parliament come the next election? Yep, the Garish Ms. Carolyn Parrish, according to the Globe and Mail:

Former Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish is not planning to run for office in the next federal election, a spokesman confirmed Thursday.

"Right now her intentions are not to run," a spokeswoman at Ms. Parrish's Mississauga-Erindale constituency office told

She also said Ms. Parrish's office was confirming her decision "without detail."

For pretty much everyone else in Parliament (except, perhaps, for journalists in search of colorful copy), this is not surprising. Ms. Parrish's hysterical views -- on George W. Bush, on Iraq, on Canada's work in Afghanistan -- pretty much guaranteed her perpetual isolation from the Librano caucus.

And without a party infrastructure to back her up, it would have been an uphill struggle to keep her seat regardless of when an election was held. Ms. Parrish has stomped on too many dolls, made too many statements that could be held against her:

"Americans -- those bastards -- I hate them."

"We're sending in armed troops to kill people (in Afghanistan). This is a drastic change in direction. I don't think anybody has consulted with the Canadian public. The first time Canadian soldiers come back in body bags, you just wait for the outcry."

"A coalition of idiots" -- in reference to an American missile proposal.

[Americans are] "out of touch with the rest of the free world" -- in reference to George Bush's re-election.

"Flinging challenges at 'murderers and scumbags' and vowing 'We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people' is truly barbaric" -- from a letter to Defence Minister Bill Graham.

The Garish One has also argued against holding a by-election to replace the late independent MP Chuck Cadman -- on the grounds that a Tory would be the winner.

Will she be missed? Possibly -- by a press corps who could count on her to open her mouth before her brain kicked into gear, resulting in career-wrecking copy. By bloggers in search of a Canadian example of a moonbat in office.

But for the rest of us, the Garish One's 15 minutes of fame ended a long time ago.

Goodbye, Ms. Parrish -- don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

These People Get to Play The Supreme Court Shell Game

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has officially named the members for his advisory committe to select a new justice for the Supreme Court. (I'd link to the release, but apparently Justice Canada's website is undergoing some renovations today.)

We have four Members of Parliament, of course.

In order, from left to right: Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Liberal), Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage; Vic Toews (Provencher, CPC), the Tory Justice Critic; Richard Marceau (Charlesbourg-Haute-Saint-Charles, BQ), Justice Critic for the Bloc; and Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, NDP), Justice Critic for the N-Dippers.

All four are members of the House Standing Committee on Justice. Of course, Mr. Toews is still grumbling about the process:

He denounced the move as a "public relations exercise" and contended it made a mockery of Prime Minister Paul Martin's promises to reform the way judges are selected for the top court.

In addition to those four, we have the following:

Allan McEachern is the nominee from the Canadian Judicial Council, the disciplinary body for all federal judges. Currently a partner in the law firm of Fasken Martineau, he was the Chief Justice of the B.C. Court of Appeal until retiring in 2001.

W. Brent Cotter was selected for membership by the Attorneys General for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. He's the Dean of the University of Saskatchewan's Faculty of Law, and a former civil servant in the Saskatchewan government.

Garth Smorang is the president of the Law Society of Manitoba. and was selected for membership by the law societies of the three prairie provinces. (The fact that Cotler himself was a former member of the LSM shouldn't be held against him.)

The committee membership also called for two members who are neither lawyers not judges. And here they are:

Chester Cunningham's main claim to fame is that he founded the Native Counselling Services of Alberta, which provides social services for the province's Aboriginal community. While he has an LL.D, he's not a practising lawyer.

Barbara Pollock is an academic and public relations expert. A former president of the Canadian Public Relations Society, she's currently the vice-president (external relations) of the University of Saskatchewan.

Looking at the membership, it's obvious that Cotler tried to get as representative a group as he could, for the unwritten qualifications that critics outside government might harp on. Mmes. Neville and Pollock would represent women, Cunningham would speak for the natives, McEachern covers B.C., and Marceau equals Quebec. About the only thing lacking is representation from the North, but that's not absolutely crucial because the vacancy in question is for Western Canadian representation on the Court (John Major's impending retirement).

The committee will take a look at a list of 5 to 8 candidates, made up from a candidate pool set up by Cotler with public input. They will then whittle the list down to three contenders.

Although I can't argue about the qualifications of each member, I can argue about the process, because it's going to be in camera. The Justice department originally recommended this because it wants to protect the privacy of the candidates on the list. But I don't see how making the process public is going to wreck a candidate's career. (It didn't exactly harm Clarence Thomas' prospects down in the States.)

For a position this important, public transparency about selection is a must. The qualifications of the members are only a little re-assuring, but the decision is still the PM's and Cotler's, who could theoretically reject the committee's recommendations in favour of their own.

Toews has been arguing that the actual decision should be up to the people, and therefore up to Parliament. It doesn't mean he won't do his job and work on this committee, but Toews is a useful reminder that no matter how this is dressed up, Supreme Court selection is still a shell game.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Some Thoughts on Disaster Relief

Today I donated $50 to Unicef to help out with disaster relief in the Pakistani earthquake. (Yes, it's a UN agency, but it's one of the more trustworthy ones.) No, it's not much, but it's what I can afford at the moment, and every little bit helps.

Looking at how the federal government has so far responded to the earthquake, it's pretty clear that the governing culture still hasn't quite got a grasp on how to handle disaster relief:

Canada's initial pledge of $300,000 was criticized as paltry, but Carroll said the government responded swiftly to mobilize sufficient funds as a part of the initial response to the disaster.

"The first thing to do .. was to make money available on the ground quickly and then to make a part of the money, as the prime minister did, be part of (a needs) assessment," Carroll said.

"However much we may emotionally react, we have to react effectively. The first thing to do is get an assessment, put the money in with the United Nations and others, and then as (the assessment) comes back to you, then step forward with a large amount, as we did."

Fine. You spend three hundred grand on a needs assessment for the region. That's not a donation, because the money isn't going to the frontline for relief. Instead, we should think of that amount as gathering intelligence in preparation for more aid to follow.

I'd suggest that this time it's the press, and not the government, who misrepresented this initial assessment as an aid donation. That being said, however, is $20 million enough? There are those who don't think so:

Tarek Fatah, communications director for the Muslim Canadian Congress, said the government's increased commitment in the earthquake's aftermath is far from enough to meet the immense need.

"I'm not satisfied with 20 million (dollars)," Fatah said.

"This is an area of about 20 million people.... The sheer rebuilding effort is going to take billions of dollars."

On a per capita basis, Canada's contribution compares favourably with other nations.

I'm inclined to think that more money will become available, probably double or triple this amount -- leading to a revision of the Finance Minister's budget figures for next year. What with last year's tsunami, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Canada's emergency preparedness policies are in serious need of review.

I also note some fuel for the nekulturniks: Stephen Harper has as yet no statement on the earthquake, while Jack Layton does. (Though to be fair, the party site hasn't been updated yet.)

The 29th Edition of the Red Ensign Standard ...

... may be found here. Given the number of events happening in the past couple of weeks, Robot Guy's done a very impressive job of gathering blogposts and organizing them by subject matter.
Please have a look.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Price of a Blue Beret

The tendency of government to underspend on defence has taken its toll on one of the few things Canadians want to feel proud of: the UN peacekeeping function.

Canadian Press has obtained, under Access legislation, a copy of an internal DND report that's highly critical of the Canadian peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone. (Now I get to listen for crickets when I pose the question, how many people even knew, remembered or cared that we even had peacekeepters in Sierra Leone?)

According to CP reporter Dean Beeby, the report doesn't mince its words:

"The problem is seen to be a lack of depth of experience or 'operational maturity,' particularly in the case of reservists," says a lessons-learned report, obtained under the Access to Information Act.

"Often personnel without the necessary operational experience have been unobtrusively moved to less demanding positions more fitted to their real skills."

Training to prepare Canada's observers for the mission was so inadequate that they were given instructions on how to avoid landmines - even though there was no landmine threat in Sierra Leone, says the study....

A peacekeeping school at Canadian Forces Base Kingston, Ont., briefed soldiers poorly for what awaited them in the tiny coastal state in West Africa.

"The cultural briefings were inadequate, and did not effectively prepare them for the social and security environment in Sierra Leone," says the study, based partly on interviews with returning soldiers.

The problems have remained hidden because operations were in a remote area and involved only about 100 Canadian personnel in total over the years.

Here's an example of underspending. You know what really could have helped here? Intelligence on Sierra Leone. Apparently we didn't have enough of the right type to prepare our peacekeepers adequately for the mission.

Could we have gotten it from other sources? Maybe the U.S. or Britain, but odds are they wouldn't have much, and probably not tailored for peacekeeping purposes. And other countries have been pretty antsy about sharing intel with us anyway.

So we should have gotten it ourselves, and that means spies. But our present government has always been squeamish about getting into the spy business. Not quite fitting with our current image, you see. Far better to be blind.

There is, of course, another and more sinister problem:

Robertson's report questions whether Canada should even have participated, based on a checklist established in 1994 to determine whether Canadian troops should become involved in such peacekeeping missions.

The initial mandate in Sierra Leone was vague and unenforceable; there was no clear division of responsibilities between military and civilian authorities; the operational plan was "unworkable"; and at least one of the parties - the Revolutionary United Front - was opposed to the mission.

These were all contrary to Ottawa's checklist standards.

"The humanitarian disaster in Sierra Leone led Canada's commitment to two tasks, even though neither fully met published policy guidelines," the report concluded.

"In neither case is there any evidence that a review of the prospects of success, a risk-benefit analysis, an assessment of the national interest in the area, or an analysis of adherence to the . . . guidelines, was undertaken."

It's useful to remember that the decision to go into Sierra Leone was Jean Chrétien's, based on the typical Liberal ideology of Canada as "helpful fixer." It was also at a time when real defence spending hit a 10-year low.

It's always been the way: the Liberal government likes to point to UN peacekeeping as a shining example of how Canada has influence in the world. But they have always been reluctant about spending on the resources necessary to back up the missions. They probably figure the UN would pay for them, conveniently forgetting that the UN's track record on fiscal responsiblity makes even Chuck Guité look responsible.

It's not merely a matter of increasing the budget. It's about changing the Liberal mindset: choosing the right mission and then spending the right money to set up appropriate infrastructure, to ensure the mission's success, instead of jumping into any situation without adequate resources just because it looks good in the press.

And the only way that mindset change is ever going to happen is if they get a shock -- like a defeat at the polls.

Friday, October 07, 2005

John McCallum: Dinged on Dumb

You know that phrase "stuck on stupid"? It seems that Revenue Minister John McCallum's discovered a variant -- particularly when it comes to defending the indefensible severance package of David Dingwall.

In Question Period, in response to all questions by MPs, McCallum gave this answer:

"Mr. Speaker, we will pay Mr. Dingwall only what legal counsel advises us we must. There is currently an independent audit re-examining his expenses under way. Further, should any discrepancies be uncovered by the audit, the government will insist upon a dollar for dollar repayment to the treasury."

One answer. To five different questioners.

The response sorta reminds me of Hymie (right), the android CONTROL agent in the old Get Smart series. Y'know, how he'd get stuck saying the same phrase to everyohe who spoke to him, until somebody gave him a sharp whack between the fifth and sixth ribs?

Well-meaning, but dumb. And Mr. McCallum is so burned out attempting to defend the indefensible that he's become -- well -- "dinged on dumb."

Mr. McCallum may be in serious need of deprogramming over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Ken Epp Award Nominee: Brian Pallister

Yep, it's finally happened. The self-proclaimed poet laureate, MP Brian Pallister, has finally earned himself a Ken Epp Award Nomination for rhetorical silliness.

Not by reciting a Vogon-level poem -- but by attempting to channel David Letterman's TV writing crew with his own Top 10 List:

Mr. Speaker, these are the top 10 Dingwall facts.

Number 10, when the Prime Minister succeeded Jean Chrétien, it was out with the old and in with the old.

Number nine, the Prime Minister is so far up the ivory tower he cannot see the common Canadian any longer.

Number eight, the Prime Minister looks funny defending the indefensible.

Number seven, Liberals believe that ordinary Canadians should not get severance, but Liberals should.

Number six, the Prime Minister's real spending priorities are globe trotting, golf, gluttony and gum.

Number five, when the Prime Minister has a choice, he chooses cronies over Canadians.

Number four, taxpayers should pay hush money to Liberals or else they will sue.

Number three, there are two sets of rules, one for Liberals and another for the rest of us.

Number two, to our Prime Minister this is just another ding in the wall.

And the number one Dingwall fact, Liberals believe they can get their money for nothing and their Chiclets for free.

Never mind Mr. Pallister's dubious definition of the word "facts." He's a politician, so real facts don't matter to him.

Also never mind that the adjective "Dingwall" only applies, very loosely, to six of those top 10. "Reasons Why the Prime Minister Dithers on Dingwall" would be a more appropriate title.

The problem is, Mr. Pallister expended so much of his supposed "talent" in emulating Pink Floyd the day before, that his attempt at invoking David Letterman's in-your-face, hard-edge humour only turned into a stale, flat passing of wind.

StickItToHim.Com Makes Hansard!

(Hat tip: TABaker, via

I'm sure people everywhere found it ridiculous that David Dingwall put a $1.38 pack of gum on his expense account. Some even went so far as to create a protest site, Stick*It*To*, which is campaigning to pay Mr. Dingwall his severance (via Paul Martin's Commons office) with the equivalent in chewing gum packs.

It's a cute idea. Conservative MP Kevin Sorenson thinks so too. He highlighted the campaign in Parliament yesterday:

Mr. Speaker, I would like to notify all those watching today of a very worthwhile campaign. No, it is not an election campaign. The Liberal government has ensured we will not be going to the polls anytime soon. Fearing defeat, it has taken the unprecedented step of denying all opposition parties their supply days until mid-November. Shame.

What I am talking about is the stick it to him campaign, a campaign aimed at giving David Dingwall exactly what he wants, and stopping the Prime Minister from spending even more of taxpayers' hard-earned cash on Liberal hush money.

I urge all Canadians to join in the one tonne gum challenge by sending, postage free, a piece of bubble gum to the Prime Minister, so he may pay Mr. Dingwall his hush money with half a million dollars worth of chewing gum instead of half a million dollars more of our own money.

The Prime Minister and the Liberal government have been sticking it to taxpayers for far too long.

Nice to know that Parliamentarians surf the Web ...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Delaware Protects The Blogosphere

This is not the kind of story that will make Mark Holland happy: Delaware's Supreme Court has ruled that attack bloggers have a right to protect their identity.

In a 34-page opinion, the justices said a Superior Court judge should have required Smyrna town councilman Patrick Cahill to make a stronger case that he and his wife, Julia, had been defamed before ordering Comcast Cable Communications to disclose the identities of four anonymous posters to a blog site operated by Independent Newspapers Inc., publisher of the Delaware State News.

In a series of obscenity-laced tirades, the bloggers ... pointed to Cahill's "obvious mental deterioration," and made several sexual references about him and his wife, including using the name "Gahill" to suggest that Cahill, who has publicly feuded with Smyrna Mayor Mark Schaeffer, is homosexual.

Sure it's rude and crude. And naturally Mr. Cahill sued to find out who these people are.

In June, the lower court judge ruled that the Cahills had established a "good faith basis" for contending that they were victims of defamation and affirmed a previous order for Comcast to disclose the bloggers' identities.

Not so fast, said one of the bloggers, calling himself "Proud Citizen." He challenged the ruling, saying that the Cahills should have made a prima facie case of defamation before trying to get their identities. (As in, you need to have already gathered enough evidence to actually win the case before going to court.)

The Supreme Court agreed, reversing and remanding the case to Superior Court with an order to dismiss the Cahills' claims.

[Chief Justice Myron] Steele described the Internet as a "unique democratizing medium unlike anything that has come before," and said anonymous speech in blogs and chat rooms in some instances can become the modern equivalent of political pamphleteering. Accordingly, a plaintiff claiming defamation should be required to provide sufficient evidence to overcome a defendant's motion for summary judgment before a court orders the disclosure of a blogger's identity.

"We are concerned that setting the standard too low will chill potential posters from exercising their First Amendment right to speak anonymously,'' Steele wrote. ''The possibility of losing anonymity in a future lawsuit could intimidate anonymous posters into self-censoring their comments or simply not commenting at all."

The standard adopted by the court, the first state Supreme Court in the country to consider the issue, is based on a 2000 New Jersey court ruling.

Under the standard adopted by the Supreme Court, a plaintiff must first try to notify the anonymous poster that he is the subject of subpoena or request for a court to disclose his identity, allowing the poster time to oppose the request. The plaintiff would then have to provide prima facie evidence of defamation strong enough to overcome a summary judgment motion.

So what does this all mean? It means that, in Delaware, if a public figure wants to expose that good-for-nothing blogger who's writing all those lies about him, he'll first need to gather enough evidence to prove he can actually win a defamation suit. The blogger's right to anonymous speech trumps a public figure's right to dignity.

It's certainly something for our legislators up here to think about, what with the need to update the Privacy Act and all.

A Dumb Defence of Dingwall (Or Pissing Off the PCO)

No cabinet minister wants to defend the indefensible. Which is why people are tempted to feel sorry for Revenue Minister David McCallum.

In the Commons yesterday, when pressed about what legal reasons the government had for giving David Dingwall severance pay, McCallum fumbled on two points.

Point number one, he cited from sources that couldn't be looked up in a hurry:

"Mr. Speaker, as I explained several times, the government has taken legal advice from the Privy Council Office ... I cited three pieces of legislation that are pertinent to this advice. In addition, there is the case law and the policy framework. Taken together, this body of law, according to our legal advisers, is such that the government does have an obligation to pay severance, but as I have said several times, we are paying the minimum that is required by law."

The acts McCallum cited the day before were the Royal Canadian Mint Act, the Financial Administration Act, and the crown corporation general regulations. The legislation is pertinent, yes -- but not explicit enough to warrant justifying Dingwall's severance.

McCallum didn't respond directly when the Opposition challenged him to table the PCO legal opinions. This led to his second fumble, according to the Globe and Mail:

Only when questioned later by reporters did Mr. McCallum disclose that he could not table the legal opinion. "I received the advice verbally, so there is nothing to table."

In other words, a PCO lawyer told him, without writing it down or taking any notes, that the law said Dingwall was entitled to severance. In effect, McCallum is shifting the blame to those PCO lawyers.

One problem with this move: PCO lawyers are not anonymous. An enterprising journalist can find out which one by checking out the government's Direct500 service. Here is the appropriate link. (And even if this information weren't available on the Net, most public libraries carry a government phone directory.)

Note that PCO's legal department is divided into two divisions: one for Cabinet consultations, the other for more general legal operations. It's one of these counsel listed who gave Mr. McCallum his or her legal opinion, which he paraphrased yesterday.

By stating it was an oral opinion, on the record, Mr. McCallum has just opened the door for the PCO Counsel's Office to be beseiged by political reporters, commentators and unscrupulous bloggers, trying to get them on the record to explain their reasoning.

It's pretty safe to say that Mr. McCallum won't be visiting the Blackburn Building for a while ...

The Other Ralph Rebate

It seems our finance minister has become so jealous of his namesake in Alberta that he's come up with a "Ralph Rebate" of his own:

Sources told the Canadian Press on Wednesday that the federal government's proposed Surplus Allocation Act would send taxpayers a slice of the surplus along with their income-tax returns.

The legislation is expected to be tabled Friday, and will outline a spending plan for the surpluses that Ottawa frequently racks up.

In what's known as the "one-third, one-third, one-third" plan in government inner circles: one-third of all unexpected surpluses will go to debt relief; one-third to program spending; and one-third to taxpayers.

In an interview with CTV's Mike Duffy, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale wouldn't categorically confirm the proposed bill. But he said when Canadians were asked in market research surveys what they would do with the government surplus, a "vast majority" responded in kind to what the government is proposing.

Goodale called the plan a "balanced approach" to fiscal governance which has served the government and Canadians "remarkably well."

Nice idea. One problem with it: as any bank will tell you, it costs money to cut a cheque. It costs the government -- and by extension the taxpayer -- money to figure out how to divvy up that one-third, money for the paper the cheque is printed on, money to mail out the cheque, etc.

But there's an easier solution for this government to save money on processing this "Ralph Rebate": don't collect the amount from the taxpayers in the first place. In other words: reducing taxes will cost the government less money than sending out rebate cheques.

But of course, the Libranos don't think like that. That's what happens when you're in government too long.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Librano Jet Set, or Come Fly With Bill Graham

Can ministers spend too much time in the air? That's what the Opposition wanted to know yesterday (edited Hansard):

Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, since the beginning of the parliamentary session, the list of scandals related to the squandering of public funds has been growing and illustrates the laxity that reigns within the public administration. After the unjustified expenses of David Dingwall, now we learn that some ministers have been misusing the government's Challenger jets.

With one scandal after another, how does the Prime Minister have the nerve to tell us he learned any lessons from the sponsorship scandal?

Right Hon. Paul Martin (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we understand that Canadians demand that the Challengers be used appropriately. That is why there are very clear rules in place.

The use of Challenger jets has to be justified. These planes can be used only for government-related functions and only when commercial options are not available. That is the current policy. It is respected and it must be respected.

Mr. Duceppe: Mr. Speaker, it is very clear that the policy has not been respected and that the rules have not been followed.

Is this not an old Liberal habit to say that the rules have been respected? Is this not the same speech that was used in connection with the sponsorships, instead of acknowledging the facts and taking action? Has it not become routine for the government to break the rules and then unapologetically plead ignorance? Is that not the Liberal way?

[At this point, Defence Minister Bill Graham began to answer on behalf of the PM. It's DND who actually has title to the Challenger jets in question.]

Hon. Bill Graham (Minister of National Defence, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as the Prime Minister clearly said, we have specific rules. We have a very important asset for the country, namely four planes available for ministers and senior public officials and, from time to time, the opposition and other public figures to travel across this large country.

These planes are used in keeping with certain conditions and clear rules, which are always respected in the opinion of the Prime Minister's Office and in my opinion. Some may think otherwise, but I can assure the House and the hon. member that we have rules and we respect them.

Mr. Benoît Sauvageau (Repentigny, BQ): Mr. Speaker, in each of the scandals affecting this government, the ministers always use the same defence: Treasury Board rules have been applied.

How could this reassure us, when we recall that, at the time of the sponsorship scandal, with the theft of tens of millions of dollars, the government answered all of our questions by saying that Treasury Board rules had been complied with?

Hon. Bill Graham: Mr. Speaker, I am not asking members of this House to break Treasury Board rules. I assure hon. members that the PMO and my office work in close conjunction to ensure that these aircraft are not used just any old time. They are a last resort solution, for use solely on government business when commercial options do not allow us to fulfill our responsibilities properly.

That is our policy, a good policy, good for this country and for the efficiency of our government.

You know, saying that "Treasury Board rules were complied with" would probably be a more effective defence if people actually knew what those rules were. Fortunately, they're not hard to find. Here's a link to the relevant page.

One thing to note: these are guidelines, not actual rules. There doesn't appear to be any significant penalty levied if the guidelines are breached:

D.2 Guidelines for Use

Government administrative aircraft are to be used only for government business and under the following circumstances:

-- when the flight is being made to a point where there is no commercial air service;

-- when no space is available on a commercial air service;

-- when, because of difficulties in routings or timetables, substantial savings of essential time can be made by using administrative aircraft in place of commercial services;

-- when sudden changes in plans require emergency air transportation and no commercial air service is available; and

-- when official parties of some size need to travel together and significant advantage can be gained by using a government aircraft.

The guidelines in green are the ones Ministers like to give, because they're perfectly understandable in the context of their work. But note the guideline labelled in red. That's the catchall phrase, the one that gives ministers the excuse to use the jets: rather than call the airlines and find out about timetables, space available, etc., just book one of the jets.

And why not? It's essentially free of charge:

Charges are not levied for use of Challenger aircraft of the Administrative Flight Service (AFS) or for special flights, those which carry members of the Royal Family, the Governor General, the Prime Minister or former Prime Ministers travelling for purposes relating to their former office.

The costs are apparently absorbed by DND, who owns the jets because of their potential military capacity. Not exactly an expense you'd expect for a department that's been struggling to equip and pay the Canadian Forces, right?

Of course, you'd need authorization from the Defence Minister to use the flight, but has there ever been an incidence when he's said no, given the catchall nature of that Red Guideline? It's not like his office actually has the time to check out all the information on the request form. Particularly if you know a jet is available to go.

(You know, if I were Bill Graham, I'd complain: "travel agent for Cabinet" doesn't strike me as needing to be part of my job description.)

Anyway, these guidelines are in serious need of revision, particularly the red one. And if the government is serious about travel accountability, the ownership of those jets should be transferred to Treasury Board. (Public Works would've been a more appropriate department, but I understand their minister's not keen on being a travel agent.)