Wednesday, November 30, 2005

So What's Wrong With the Official Tory Campaign Blog?

(Hat tip: Angry in the Great White North.)

Not to be outdone by Scott Feschuk, the Tories have started up their own campaign blog. (The NDP hasn't got one yet, but wait a few weeks and see what happens.) How does it compare with Scott?

Well, for starters, it seems that the Tories have a better grasp of the blogging format than do the Liberals. Navigating from the English-language main page, the Tories give you one click to go straight to the blog. The Liberals, on the other hand, make you do three clicks: one to expand the "Blogs" section, one to open Scott's page, and one to get past the introduction. The Tories also understand the value of multiple entries and dating, which is handy for citation.

Neither blog allows commentary. Given the partisan penchant of all political parties to hurl flames everywhere, that's not surprising, but I think both parties are missing an opportunity here. The blogs make it possible to connect people and exchange their views on their own time, in real time. A blog moderator can keep things civil and on-topic. (And no, I'm not looking for a job like that, but it's something to keep in mind. ;))

There's one big strike against the Tory blog, though. And no, it's not the content. No one expects the Tory blogger to be as "witty" or as "ironic" or as "humorous" as Scott. (In terms of liking Scott's attempts at humour, your mileage may vary -- though I do like his take on the idea of Paul Martin's face on the campaign bus.)

The big strike takes the form of a question: "who writes the blog?"

Depending on their function and context, some bloggers need to be identified by name. I don't use my own name on this blog, but neither do I make a serious attempt to hide my identity, because I'm not in a situation where confidentiality is important. There are places like China and Iraq where dissenters need to hide themselves if they blog. But that isn't the case here.

This is an open, public campaign. With people in the public eye. The fact that Scott Feschuk is writing the campaign blog tells everyone who reads is what to expect; there's a level of authenticity that way.

But we don't know who writes the Tory blog-- whether it's one person, or several staffers just posting away according to a script. If Tories value transparency in the public process--and I'm sure that we do--then publicly identifying the Tory blogger is extremely important, because it adds the level of authenticity that Scott Feschuk has achieved.

So, to paraphrase one of the wisest characters I know: Conservative Campaign Blogger -- I demand that you show yourself. Who is responsible for your stuff? Hmmm?

The Pack of Librano Jokers Is Growing ...

... that is, my proposed Card Deck of Jokers is growing. Already I've got contributions from Les of Spider-Man's Web and Classic of Classic Quarters. By all means, please keep the suggestions coming. (You can see the deck listing here; I'll be constantly updating this as suggestions come in.)

I'd really, really like to get the full deck of 52 up and running by Election Night. (If I can get it done by Christmas, I'll be able to get artwork for the deck up on the blog by New Year's Day.)

By the by, on my page the "Post a Comment" link is run by Blogspot, while the "Comments" link is HaloScan (I haven't quite figured out how to fix this bug yet). What this means is that if you "Post a Comment", your comment will still appear if you click the "Post a Comment" link, but the count won't appear in the "Comments" link, since it only counts Haloscan-posted commentary. However, I will get e-mail notification of your comment. So don't worry, I always read and welcome your comments, and I'll try to re-post them in the original blog entry.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Scott Feschuk, Darth Liblogger

Well, this should be interesting. Scott Feschuck used to be a National Post columnist and humor writer, before he was seduced by the Dark Side and corrupted into becoming Paul Martin's chief speechwriter.

Now that the campaign's started, the Liberal Party has decided to let him run a Prime Ministerial blog. Here is his first entry:
6:36 AM - Wow, look at me! I'm in "cyberspace," where no one can hear you scream. Or maybe they CAN hear you scream but they don't pay attention because they're too busy looking at naked ladies. Either way, stop screaming, would you?

I for one am betting this so-called "Internet" is really going to catch on. It's neato. Take, for example, these things knowns as "blogs" - you're soaking in one right now! These blogs are great because they allow people with special insight to instantly convey their astute observations and sage opinions to a knowledge-starved world. Or so I'm told. Personally, I'm mostly going to use this one to talk about the lost thespian promise of Erik Estrada. Because really, someone ought to. The man had screen charisma the way Marlon Brando had neck fat.
Paul Martin doesn't do irony very well, so as a result we don't expect it from his speechwriter. This ironic approach seems to have sailed right over Angry_in_TO's and Kate's head, leaving them twirling their index fingers around their temples at him.

He's getting better though, sort of slipping into early Woody Allen mode:
Did you see Jack Layton's opening statement? I think that with his words, the NDP leader has finally put to rest the rampant rumour that he got into politics to get results for small kitchen appliances.
Granted, it's not enough to issue a caution to twentysomething Korean bikini babes, but give him time. He may get better once we get past the New Year.

Personally, I can't help but feel that this blog is a cry for help. Face it, it can't be fun spending 44 hours a day trying to keep your boss from sounding like a mid-level accountant who's super-intent on proclaiming Kraft Dinner as a culinary accomplishment. Scotty needs this blog like a tonic, to keep his humor quotient from bottling up to the point of explosion, possibly damaging Paul Martin by being funny at the wrong place at the wrong time -- like, say, in an interview with Rex Murphy.

One does get the fleeting suspicion, though, that the Blog of Libirony may enable our former humour writer to "accidentally" cause Paul Martin to sputter himself into the Opposition benches, thus restoring balance to the Force. (Either that, or I've been watching my Revenge of the Sith DVD too many times.)

The Card Deck of Librano Jokers

Remember the 2003 Iraq offensive when the U.S. issued a card deck of "most wanted" Iraqi acolytes?

Purely as a thought exercise, I thought I'd try to create a card deck of 52 Liberal MPs who merit defeat in this upcoming election, not on general principles but on the grounds of their own competence during this term.

So far here's what I've got:

Paul Martin, The King of Hearts. A natural of course. True, the odds of him losing his own seat are spectacularly high, but you never know.

Belinda Stronach, The Queen of Spades. Contrary to popular belief, she's not a traitor, because she didn't betray a country. She is a turncoat, however, and loyalty is not a virtue to be tossed aside lightly in politics.

Andy Scott, The Jack of Diamonds. Perhaps it's unfair that the current Indian Affairs minister has to answer for more than a decade of First Nations policy mismanagement. But that's the way the cards are dealt, sometimes.

John McCallum, The Jack of Clubs. The man sticks to his departmental talking points beyond reason, and his defence of David Dingwall, even though Dingwall is indefensible, was pretty badly handled.

Tony Valeri, The Ace of Diamonds. It was his decision to reschedule Opposition days that really doomed the current government.

Ujjal Dosanjh, The King of Clubs. Making offers that were a) refusable and b) recordable probably wasn't a good idea.

Michael Ignatieff, The Deuce of Spades. A deuce because he's not in Parliament yet, but the way he secured his nomination had no honor to it.

If people have other suggestions and ideas, by all means let me know.

UPDATE (08h37 30 Nov): Thanks to Les Mackenzie of Spider-Man's Web for making these suggestions:

Joe Volpe, The Jack of Hearts - Les would prefer adding the common name for a donkey after the Jack, of course. Volpe is nominated "for calling the entire Conservative caucus scum and not making the soundbite - among other things."

Scott Brison, The Queen of Hearts - And Les puts it quite poetically:

This queen for a day shows nothing but class
Whilst telling volunteers to go kiss his ass.
Lynn Myers, The Three of Diamonds - Les' representative for Kitchener-Conestoga, a typical Liberal backbencher. "Never heard of him? Well, hopefully we don't have to hear from him ever again after this election.

In case you're interested, Mr. Myers has a bare-bones website here. Les nominated him to be a "Queen," but I'd like to reserve face cards for those jokers who are actually in the Cabinet. Number cards from 3s to 6s are good for backbenchers because no one ever thinks about them for making a winning hand.

Thanks also to Classic Quarters for nominating the following:

Anne McLellan, The Deuce of Hearts. The deputy P.M. and Emergency Preparedness minister didn't handle disaster very well--her delayed performance during this January's tsunami, for example. Classic considers her a "two" for "always answering in 'Two Days or Two Weeks' ".

Classic originally considered Ms. Mclellan the Deuce of Clubs, but in Spider-Man's comments section, Aizlynne of Exposed Agenda prefers that Anne be upgraded to "Queen of Hearts" since she gives her heartburn. We'll compromise by keeping the deuce to reflect her relative value and changing the suit to show her effect.

Please, keep the suggestions coming in. I'd like to get a full deck ready by Election Night.

Campaign 2005: The Beginning of the Beginning

Last night I was at Keith Fountain's constituency party at the National Press Club, watching the final hours of the Martin government. Pretty good-sized crowd; I also got to meet Brent Colbert and a few other people to talk blogs with. (One note: under no circumstances suggest to a Carleton University PCer that Keith should wear Ottawa Senators gear.)

While the votes were cast, it was interesting to see how people around me reacted to the individual MPs voting. While the biggest catcalls were for Martin (hey, he's the PM, he's entitled), the second biggest were for Belinda Stronach. (In the Card Deck of Librano Jokers, think of her as the Queen of Spades.) Ed Broadbent, of course, got a cheer; so did Jack Layton; and so did Pat O'Brien and David Kilgour (independents who voted against the government). A few of the Liberal backbenchers were a little slow off the mark standing up to vote, compared to the Opposition; this was tsked upon a bit. All in all, a pretty fun gathering.

I call this post "the beginning of the beginning" because it's exactly that. I remind my fellow Tories that for Paul Martin and the Libranos, this is not an end, but a mere setback; the end of the beginning will come on Election Night, whenever that may be.

The odds are that either Paul Martin gets a reduced minority or Stephen Harper gets a chance to be PM. Naturally I'm hoping for the latter, but I'm placing no bets. In either case, though, I don't expect Paul Martin to stay as leader of the Libranos for very long; he knows his performance as Prime Minister has been underwhelming, and his prospects as an Opposition leader don't hold that much promise either. If Paul Martin doesn't improve his party's standing, he'll be gone by the end of 2006.

Already Stephen Harper is getting armchair advice on how to win this one. I like to give armchair advice as much as the next blogger, but in my case I'm directing it towards the individual Tory candidates:

1. Don't rely on coat-tails. None of the party leaders are naturally charismatic enough to sway a populace. For this campaign, you're going to have to put in work in at the grass-roots level, and you're going to have to put in a lot.

2. Focus on energizing your base. This is a winter campaign, which means once you know where the polling stations are, you want to get voters through the snow and slush, and do it safely. Remember the Karl Rove strategy: don't spend too much time trying to persuade the other camp, but focus on getting out the people who'd vote for you anyway. (Hey, it worked in 2004, didn't it?)

3. Put your own stamp on the issues. This is not a campaign that requires "playing it safe" -- either with the party brass or the electorate. People need to be convinced that, when you address them, it's with your own words -- not merely re-stating the party talking points.

4. Use the Net, and use it well. The Blogging Tories are not a novelty thing; they're not going away anytime soon. The blogs can be used to publicize events and get-togethers; to help raise funds; and most of all to highlight parts of the political agenda that aren't done in mainstream media. That's all to your advantage.

With this campaign, the Libranos' biggest ally is not so much apathy, as complacency. If the Tories can counter both, they can take this election. It's time to begin.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Calling the National Capital Region Elite Blog Mafia ...

... I do believe it's time to arrange another get-together.

I'm thinking the weekends of either 9-10 or 16-17 December would be a good time, and as to the place, Alexander's Lower Deck seems to me as good a place as any.

What do people say?

"Choo-Choo" Martin?

One wouldn't expect the National Review to have a story on the upcoming Canadian election, but sure enough they do, with a story by David Gratzer:

There’s an old joke that Toronto is like New York, if the Swiss ran the Big Apple. Americans view Toronto and the rest of the country as clean, unexciting, and a bit boring. Canadian politics, too, seems uninspired. The Liberal party of Canada has been like the Yankees of old: winning again and again. Around the time the Babe helped lift his team to its first World Series, the Liberals began consistently winning national elections — and didn’t really stop. In the past eight decades, the Liberals spent just 16 years on the opposition benches.

And yet, today, their support is stuck at about 33 percent — the lowest polling in nearly two decades. Why the slip in popularity?
It's a reasonably lucid summary of the Adscam scandal and the Gomery report for American conservative eyes. And yet, with typical Yankee ignorance, there are a few misleading details, such as:

If he wins, Stephen Harper will not be a Margaret Thatcher. However, he may prove to be a Tony Blair — and that would be a refreshing change from "Choo Choo Man" and his friends.
"Choo Choo Man"? Where the heck did that come from?

As it turns out, Mr. Gratzer was quoting from chapter 9 of the Gomery report:

Mr. Mignacca asked to speak to Mr. Brault, and asked him if he was going to agree to "look after" Mr. Renaud, mentioning that he had just finished dinner with the "choo-choo man," which Mr. Brault took to refer to a senior executive of Via Rail, one of Groupaction’s most important clients.
And he refers to that name in an earlier paragraph:

This spring, the nation was captivated by the televised hearings of the Gomery Commission. No wonder — witness after witness painted a picture of scandal befitting any banana republic: bribes, intimidation, kickbacks, phony invoices, and money laundering. The details are breathtaking. Key players went by code names like "Choo Choo Man" and "White Head." Mysterious suitcases filled with cash were distributed to Liberal candidates, for instance at a campaign rally attended by the entire Cabinet.
I suppose Mr. Gratzer looked at "Choo Choo Man" and thought it appropriate to apply to Paul Martin. It certainly has the connotation of juvenile, simplistic thinking that characterizes the Librano caucus recently, but it's still a misleading misnomer.

Of course, the only way it'll catch on is if the upcoming Martin campaign starts to look like a train wreck. But with Paul Martin, it's not a complete impossibility ...

Keith Fountain's Blogger Advantage

Since the countdown to an election call is less than 24 hours away, I thought I'd do a write-up on the candidates in my riding, Ottawa-Centre.

"Honest Ed" Broadbent of the New Democrats is the current MP, and his constituency website is here. Since Ed's retiring this time out, I expect his website will either be retired with him or be transferred to his successor to the NDP nomination. His two rivals also have websites: Richard Mahoney of the Liberals has his here, and Keith Fountain of the Tories is here.

If you look at all three sites, you'll see some fairly big differences. One glaring weakness of Keith's site is that it's English-only; the other two have similar designs including French versions. In a riding smack-dab in the middle of an officially bilingual town, that could (and probably will) be construed as a weakness. However, it's not necessarily a fatal one, and it's offset by one important strength:

Keith's site includes a blog. The other two don't. (Those of you who are Blogging Tories already know this, since Keith is part of the blogroll, but it's an important distinction.)

Could this fact be turned to electoral advantage? Absolutely, if Keith appreciates the strength of the blogging phenomenon, as well as the Internet in general.

First, he already has a technological edge over his opponents in that we know that his site is maintained on a semi-regular basis. If you look at Richard's site, you'll see that the last "news release" is dated 2004, and his "events" page has a generic greetings message. That doesn't say much for his ability to exploit the Net, and it also says a damn lot about his own willingness to reach out to the constitutency outside of an electoral context. (Expect that this will be updated more frequently once a campaign gets underway, but also expect a lapse once the campaign's over regardless of the outcome.)

Ed's is somewhat better, if only because he's a sitting MP and has more events to go to and report on. But the lack of dates in his news releases suggests a genericness that he shouldn't pass on to his successor.

Keith's blog site gives him a couple of advantages that aren't available on the other two sites. The big one, of course, is that he has an immediate forum to react to and comment on events. With the other two sites, you have to click through several links to get to their stances on the issues, and there's no telling how they'll be able to state their positions on more immediate issues. With Keith, the most immediate stuff is up front. (It's well known that Keith carries a BlackBerry and isn't afraid to use it, meaning he can update his blog pretty much anytime he wants.)

Another advantage is constituency feedback, through the Blogger Comments function. (I'm assuming he has the security function to prevent comment spam turned on.) The other candidate sites have e-mail and traditional contact information, but commentary in public has the quality of public response: a constituent who makes an inquiry in Comments can judge by Keith's response, lack of response, and time before response, what kind of MP he's going to be. And so can everyone else who reads the comments section.

A third advantage is his blogroll membership. Keith's membership in the Blogging Tories can do far more than increase his site visits. He can introduce topics to generate a conversation; he can publicize events that he's attending; he can ask for help in finding information for future speeches. In short, he has an immediate tool to increase his public profile in the Internet community. And in a connected town like Ottawa, that's a big club to wield in an election campaign.

Now of course you need far more than techno-savvy to be a successful politician. I haven't yet seen Keith make a speech or debate his rivals. But playing the blog card will go a long, long way towards getting Keith Fountain into Centre Block.

And if I were Richard Mahoney or Ed Broadbent's successor, I'd seriously consider starting a blog for this campaign.

UPDATE (12h02): I found out from Ed's campaign office that the new NDP candidate for Ottawa-Centre is Paul Dewar. His website is here. Interestingly enough, the page does have space for a "Campaign Blog" accessible on the English main page, but not the French. (I guess there's no word yet for "blog" en français.) It's blank at the moment, but that shouldn't last too long.

Advice to Ed Broadbent's office: you should link to your successor candidate's site, next time you update.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Arnold, R.I.P.

How many of you remember the sitcom Happy Days?

You remember that Ron Howard, Anson Williams and Henry "Eyyy! It's The Fonz!" Winkler hung out at a burger joint called Arnold's, in 1950's Milwaukee. Most people remember the joint being run by the jolly Al Molinaro, but the original Arnold was actually a Japanese refugee.

Seeing him was my first introduction to Pat Morita, who's probably best known as the sensei to The Karate Kids. Morita passed away yesterday at the age of 73.

He did more than that, of course. He had a career as a stand-up comedian, and he also got top billing in a few short-lived TV shows, Mr. T & Tina and Ohara. Of course because their plots depended on the Asian-American culture clash, their ratings sufferered from mainstream indifference to Asian-American leads; one wonders if they'd do better in today's anime-saturated climate.

Comedy was an escape for him. He was California-born, not an immigrant, born in 1932. Which meant he became a victim of the American internment policy during World War II, imprisoned in an Arizona camp while recovering from tuberculosis. He later remarked that it was quite a jump, going from an invalid one day to Public Enemy No. 1 the next.

Despite the association with Master Miyagi, Morita should be considered one of those trailblazers (along with Star Trek's George Takei) who proved that Asian Americans could play positive roles outside the martial-arts genre. He'll be missed.

The MPs Who Won't Return

With the upcoming dissolution of Parliament, quite a bit of time was spent during Members' Statements yesterday eulogizing some of those MPs who won't be running again. You already know about John Efford, Ed Broadbent and Carolyn Parrish, but these four were commended yesterday:

-- David Chatters (CPC, Westlock-St. Paul). A member for over 10 years, he's currently battling renal cancer, which is why he missed last spring's budget vote.

-- Jim Gouk (CPC, British Columbia Southern Interior). Elected at the same time as Mr. Chatters, Mr. Gouk made his announcement back in June. After more than a decade in Ottawa, he understandably wants more family time.

-- Darrel Stinson (CPC, Okanagan-Shuswap). Another MP from the class of '93, he's suffering from bladder cancer (he also missed last spring's budget vote) and initially announced his retirement plans in April.

-- Marcel Gagnon (BQ, St-Maurice-Champlain). An MP since 2000, he's been the BQ critic for seniors' issues.

In paying tribute to M. Gagnon, Richard Marceau mentioned that there were 20 MPs who wouldn't be running in the next election. Some are battling illness; others are simply worn out by the rigours of being an MP.

You have to understand, it's a pretty tough life. They have to maintain two homes: one in their riding, and one in Ottawa. Travel costs being what they are, particularly for the West and the Territories, their time can be stretched. They have to look after their constituents' problems, and they have to brief themselves on issues before the committees they sit on, and they have to debate their party policy and strategies for Parliament, and they have to vote in the House.

So when they get tributes in Parliament, you can bet they've earned it, particularly if they've sat through more than one term.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Trudeau Gets His Mountain

Remember a few years back when the government tried to re-name a B.C. mountain after Pierre Trudeau? Mount Logan was the target, and the government finally backed off after a huge outcry.

Well, it's a few years later, and guess what? There's a new Mount Trudeau:

Pierre Elliott Trudeau's name will grace a previously unnamed summit just west of the Village of Valemount, a community of 1,500 located in east-central B.C. on Highway 5 close to Mount Robson Provincial Park.

Like the politician, Mount Trudeau has its imperfections. Without park protection, the peak is provincial Crown land that has been the site of logging and heli-skiing, and may one day be developed as a ski hill.

Mount Trudeau is in the Premier Range of the Cariboo Mountains, a series of peaks more than 3,000 metres high adopted in 1927 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation.

The names of several former prime ministers are honoured in the range, including Mount (Sir Wilfrid) Laurier, Mount (John) Thompson, Mount (Lester B.) Pearson, Mount (Arthur) Meighen, Mount (Richard) Bennett and Mount (Mackenzie) King.

The Friends of Valemount, a small local group that promotes the community, first proposed Mount Trudeau in 2002. The letter officially approving the name was received from the B.C. government a week ago. The Trudeau family, through the Trudeau Foundation, has given its blessing to the naming.

Liz Bicknell, spokeswoman for the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, said a grassroots effort initiated the naming and that normal procedures were followed. Submissions for the naming of geographic landmarks are processed by the ministry's geographical names unit.

Considering that the mountain didn't have a name to begin with, I suppose that "Trudeau" will do as well as any other. And given the man's documented love of the great outdoors, I'd even allow that it was appropriate.

Now just try to imagine naming a mountain after Paul Martin. Makes the head hurt, don't it?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Are the Feds Hapless Over The Homeless?

The Auditor-General's reports on the RCMP and Canada's cultural industries, released yesterday, are getting big play on the CBC this morning. Another area worth a look is what the AG has to say about Ottawa's efforts to help the homeless. (A PDF version is available here.)

You won't find it easily on the Report Card's Table of Contents page. That's because the National Homelessness Initiative is what's called a horizontal initiative -- where partners from two or more organizations have established a formal funding agreement (e.g. Memorandum to Cabinet, Treasury Board submission, federal-provincial agreement) to work toward the achievement of shared outcomes. (That's the Treasury Board definition. In plain English, it's a program that gives multiple agencies money to work on a common goal -- in this case, solving the homelessness problem.)

The Initiative currently involves two ministries: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada runs five funding programs, while Public Works & Government Services funds a sixth.

You might have expected Health Canada, or the Public Health Agency of Canada, to be involved somehow, since studies have shown a link between poor health and homelessness. But neither of them are partners in NHI, which the Auditor General noted:
We found that, in a number of cases, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada worked with the same service providers and targeted the same homeless population. For example, some community organizations received funding from the AIDS and hepatitis C programs and from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada programs for homeless people. When we reviewed the files and interviewed regional officials, we did not find sufficient evidence of co-ordination between these federal organizations.

Co-ordination goes beyond funding. Health Canada did not work with other departments to address policy gaps or develop implementation strategies where it was working with the same service providers. The National Homelessness Initiative did not adequately benefit from the expertise of Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada; opportunities to enhance the federal contribution to the homelessness issue were missed.
(Page 13 of the report)
So you have three programs -- Health Canada, PHAC, and NHI -- targeting the same population, and yet they're not working together. Bureaucratic inefficiency.

You might have also expected Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CHMC) to be involved with NHI. CMHC was involved with the initiative at the beginning, but not now.

During the second phase of the NHI program it was apparently decided that CHMC's programs would target those "at risk" of becoming homeless, while NHI would focus on people who already were: "relative" versus "absolute" homeless. A sensible division, except that neither NHI nor CMHC actually had guidelines to define "relative" and "absolute."

The result was overlapping and duplication of services:
In Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver, we found that the Corporation and HRSDC were funding the same types of capital projects, such as shelters and transitional and supportive housing. In some cases, they were funding different activities in the same buildings. In many instances, we found that the Corporation managed the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance and the Shelter Enhancement programs separately from other federal programs directed at the homeless population. In some cases, we did not find evidence of federal co-ordination, except for the official opening ceremony.

In Phase 2, the Corporation continued to fund shelter renovations which, in our view, needed to be co-ordinated with HRSDC to ensure sustainable support services for the shelters. In Edmonton, the Corporation's advice was not adequately considered in the project selection process. In Toronto, the Corporation and HRSDC transferred the program administration for the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program and the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative to the City of Toronto. However, they did not work together on how these two programs could be better aligned for delivery by the city.

Despite some early efforts to modify its programs, in the three cities we examined, we found that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation could have done more to bring its housing expertise to federally supported projects for the homeless population.
(pages 14-15)
Not surprisingly, the Auditor General also found accountability problems with NHI; there was no clear idea which ministries and agencies were involved, which makes it hard to say how much NHI actually costs the taxpayer.

It's interesting to note that, apart from an overall commitment to improving accountability, the government's response contains no specific actions regarding the NHI. Clearly the government wants to be seen doing something about the homeless; NHI's existence proves that. But the question still remains whether they want to do that something more efficiently and effectively. I'm not at all assured that they do.

The Mounties and the Nations

By way of continuing yesterday's post on the Auditor-General's review of the Mounties, we're going to look at the Office's review of the First Nations Policing Policy -- how the RCMP handles police services in Aboriginal reserves. (You can find a PDF version of the report here; I'll be quoting page numbers from this version.) Needless to say, the AG isn't all that impressed.

The Mounties provide policing services to 556 Aboriginal communities in Canada, under three contract arrangements: through a direct contract with the community (the Aboriginal Community Constable Program), the an agreement with the provincial government (the Provincial Policing Services Agreement, for communities that don't have a direct contract), or through community tri-partite agreements ( also known as CTAs, negotiated by Public Service and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC) and which are intended to augment police services provided through PPSA).

Practically speaking, there are differences in levels of service with these arrangements. For example, under PPSA, a Mountie isn't specifically dedicated to a community, but essentially goes where needed. And under CTA, the Mountie essentially augments the assigned detachment in the community; however, the CTA Mountie has a commitment to serve the community exclusively.

RCMP agreements for policing services to Aboriginal communities—a summary
AgreementAboriginal communities(total of 556)PopulationAssigned peace officersFunding arrangement
Federal shareProvincial share
Provincial and territorial policing services agreements266not availablenot applicable30%70%
Aboriginal Community Constable Program175132,00012046%54%
Community tripartite agreements11583,00020352%48%

Right away, the auditors noticed an accounting problem:
... the RCMP has no time-recording system for contract policing and does not track the amount of time that peace officers assigned under the community tripartite agreements on the Aboriginal Community Constable Program agreements spend in the community. Therefore, it cannot assure a band chief and council or PSEPC that its peace officers spend at least 80 percent of their time in the communities to which they are assigned. (page 29 of the report)
The AG also found the following:
-- While the RCMP fills the CTA positions for which it is funded, there aren't enough positions to meet CTA commitments.

-- More than 40 percent of assigned peace officers' files originated outside of the community—about 50 percent in the case of the Aboriginal Community Constable Program. In other words, the Mounties aren't 100 percent committed to the communities they're assigned to, as required by their contracts.

-- This isn't necessarily the Mounties' fault, because the level of commitment to a particular community depends on the existence of an RCMP detachment within the community. Detachments that serve multiple communities (usually within northern and remote areas) have trouble meeting their contractual commitments.

-- The contracts require the RCMP to consult with band councils and chiefs on specific assignments. This happens in some communities, but not in others.

-- The contracts also require the RCMP to enforce local band by-laws. It doesn't always happen -- either because the Mounties don't know about the bylaws, or they weren't that big a priority compared with federal and provincial codes.
Another problem that popped up was bureaucratic in nature. The CTA agreements are normally negotiated between the Aboriginal Community and Public Service and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC). But the Mounties don't normally sit in on these negotiations; as a result, PSEPC will make commitments in the CTA that the Mounties cannot realistically meet. The popularity of the CTA may have also resulted in a net reduction in policing services:
As new CTAs are established, provincial policing positions are often converted to CTA positions. Over the past five years, provinces have eliminated 36 PPSA positions with the creation of the 58 new CTA positions. Converting positions to service CTAs has effectively reduced the number of peace officers available from local detachments to respond to incidents in the surrounding areas. (page 31)
The report isn't completely negative, of course. The AG found that relations between the Mounties and Aboriginal band leaders were either positive or improving, because the assigned Mounties had made and effort to be culturally sensitive.

The report also takes note of an intriguing initiative, with possible applications for Aboriginal self-governing arrangements:
Some First Nations provide security for their communities by establishing community constables. Reporting to the band chief and council, these constables are First Nations staff—not RCMP staff—and are present in the community to provide information and security awareness. These band members work closely with the RCMP peace officers, who continue to provide policing services. Community constables are generally less expensive than RCMP peace officers, and communities that have them told us that they have generally found that the community constables can work closely with the RCMP in a relationship that serves the community well. An internal RCMP study in Saskatchewan is exploring logistical, legal, and financial implications of formally supporting such initiatives. This option is not presently offered in the First Nations Policing Policy Program. (pages 29-30)
It's notable that the RCMP has accepted the recommendations of this Report, particularly with regards to Aboriginal policing. Have a look at the report and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Do We Need More Mounties?

Apparently so, according to the Auditor-General. She's released a report on the matter today:
"The RCMP's clients say they appreciate the quality of the peace officers assigned to them," said Ms. Fraser. "However, we found problems with staffing and training that need to be addressed."

The audit found that new recruits do not always receive six months of training in the field under the supervision of a senior officer. Furthermore, planning for replacements is inadequate and the RCMP risks overloading the contract peace officers.

For the most part, the RCMP has provided the number of peace officers it is obligated to provide under contracts with provinces, territories, and municipalities but it has done so at the expense of its federal policing responsibilities, such as fighting organized crime.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC) has negotiated agreements to provide First Nations communities with policing services, which the RCMP delivers. But PSEPC does not monitor the agreements' implementation properly, and the RCMP is not meeting some of the commitments in the agreements—for example, ensuring that peace officers assigned to these communities spend at least 80 percent of their time on the reserve.

"The RCMP's ability to meet its commitments is key to the safety and security of the 20 percent of Canadians who depend on it as their primary police force," said Ms. Fraser.
The chapter on the RCMP can be found here. Here's a brief summary of some of the problems identified:

1) Feedback on performance for contractors can be improved. The Mounties provided police services for communities and provinces on a contract basis. This may be a surprise to some people, but what the communities consider adequate police service and what the Mounties think is adequate aren't necessarily the same -- and the feedback mechanism doesn't really communicate this.

2) No one knows how many Mounties are needed per jurisdiction. The Mounties don't have a minimum standard to measure how many personnel are needed per detachment, which can lead to some unrealistic recruiting targets and personnel assignments.

3) The Mounties' HR people have forgotten that Mounties have lives. More to the point, they take time off to have kids, they get sick, they get hurt. For some reason, those factors have never figured into staffing planning, resulting in potential shortages of people.

4) More Mounties are going to be needed in the future. They're forecasting a loss of 700 people per year, through retirement and other normal job transitions. And due to increased demand, they want to recruit 1400 cadets a year for the next four years, in order to be able to graduate 1200 of them per year for that period.

I plan on taking a better look at this tomorrow -- there's a section on Aboriginal policing that seems apt for review.

So Which Sci Fi Crew is Recruiting?

(Hat Tip: Robot Guy.)

He takes a QuizFarm quiz to find out which fictional starship crew he'd best fit into, and discovers he'd do well on Firefly. I take the same quiz, and here's where I wind up:

You scored as Enterprise D (from Star Trek). You have high ideals and know in your heart that humanity will continue to evolve into a better people. Now if only the borg would quit assimilating people.

Coming on December 1, 2005:

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? The Sequel

Enterprise D (from Star Trek)


Moya (from Farscape)


SG-1 (from Stargate)


Nebuchadnezzar (from The Matrix)


Serenity (from Firefly)


Bebop (from Cowboy Bebop)


Millennium Falcon (from Star Wars)


Galactica (from Battlestar: Galactica)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with

Actually, to people who know me this wouldn't be surprising at all ...

Watch Your (P.C.) Language

(Hat tip: National Review's Media Blog).

The Global Language Monitor has released a Top 10 list of 2005's most "politically correct" phrasings. It's a hoot to see how far people will try to twist the language so as not to offend anyone.

Here's what the Monitor lists:

1. Misguided Criminals for Terrorist: The BBC attempts to strip away all emotion by using what it considers neutral descriptions when describing those who carried out the bombings in the London Tubes. The rub: the professed intent of these misguided criminals was to kill, without warning, as many innocents as possible (which is the common definition for the term, terrorist). [To see one example used by John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor, click here.]

2. Intrinsic Aptitude (or lack thereof) was a suggestion by Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, on why women might be underrepresented in engineering and science. He was nearly fired for his speculation.

3. Thought Shower or Word Shower substituting for brainstorm so as not to offend those with brain disorders such as epilepsy.
As an aside, this isn't actually new; it stems from a directive in 2003. You can read the news story about it here.

I really don't expect this one to catch on -- "storm" has more of a connotation of energy than "shower," and you want energy when you're trying to come up with a new idea. Besides, "shower" has an implied sense of coming "from on high" (a shower that goes in any direction other than downward is what we call a "spray"), which makes the phrase akin to expecting a miracle to descend upon the thinker.

To continue:
4. Scum or "la racaille" for French citizens of Moslem and North African descent inhabiting the projects ringing French Cities. France's Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, used this most Politically inCorrect (and reprehensible) label to describe the young rioters (and by extension all the inhabitants of the Cites).

5. Out of the Mainstream when used to describe the ideology of any political opponent: At one time slavery was in the mainstream, thinking the sun orbited the earth was in the mainstream, having your blood sucked out by leeches was in the mainstream. What's so great about being in the mainstream?

6. Deferred Success as a euphemism for the word fail. The Professional Association of Teachers in the UK considered a proposal to replace any notion of failure with deferred success in order to bolster students self-esteem.
I think this one may become popular -- particularly since it gives the impression that success will come, it just hasn't happened yet. I'd expect the Quebec sovereignty movement to pick this one up, easily.

7. Womyn for Women to distance the word from man. This in spite of the fact that the term "man" in the original Indo-European is gender neutral (as have been its successors for some 5,000 years).
Well, at least it looks better on the page than "wimmin."

8. C.E. for A.D.: Is the current year A.D. 2005 or 2005 C.E.? There is a movement to strip A.D. (Latin for "In the Year of the Lord") from the year designation used in the West since the 5th century and replace it with the supposedly more neutral Common Era (though the zero reference year for the beginning of the Common Era remains the year of Christ's birth).
As an aside, this is one change that I don't particularly mind, mainly because people have generally tended to use A.D. wrong.

The proper use of the term is A.D. 2005, not 2005 A.D. It makes better grammatical sense that way: "in the year of Our Lord 2005" instead of "2005 in the year of Our Lord."

9. "God Rest Ye Merry Persons" for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen": A Christmas, eh, Holiday, carol with 500 years of history is not enough to sway the Anglican Church at Cardiff Cathedral (Wales) from changing the original lyrics.
I actually found an example of this, on the Montreux Jazz Festival announcement for 2003. I don't expect this one to become popular either; "gentlemen" scans better in the lyrics.

10. Banning the word Mate: the Department of Parliamentary Services in Canberra issued a general warning to its security staff banning the use of the word 'mate' in any dealings they might have with both members of the Parliament and the public. What next? banning Down Under so as not to offend those living in the Up Over.
The actual news story about this can be found here and here.

Some of these are actually pretty old (the CE and "womyn," for example) and probably attracted the Monitor's notice because of usage explosion on the Net. Still and all, they're a pretty odd lot for this year.

This kind of language watch is actually quite fascinating; I wonder how much of it will be picked up in the blogosphere. The GLM is definitely a site worth paying attention to, as a form of inoculation against the PC attitude in writing.

An Effordless Election

Well, it's not like people didn't see this coming:

John Efford, who represents Newfoundland and Labrador in Prime Minister Paul Martin's cabinet, announced Tuesday that he will not run in the next federal election.

Efford, 61, had been away from Ottawa for months while he tried to control his Type 1 diabetes. There was heavy speculation late last week that he was about to clarify his political future.

The two-term MP for Avalon finally called a news conference in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, to confirm he was leaving federal politics.

To understand what Mr. Efford is facing, have a look at this page describing Type 1 diabetes. Note that it's not just the disease itself, but the cardiovascular effects that he has to deal with. There's also the fact that a cabinet ministry is a high-stress job, and stress does have a bad effect on diabetes management. Which means there was no way Mr. Efford could have accepted the additional stress of an election campaign.

It's unfortunate that Mr. Efford has to leave politics under these circumstances--I haven't seen anything decrying his efforts either as an MP or as a minister. (I've already indicated I'm not going to blame him for continuing to draw his ministerial pay.) All that remains, then, is to wish him well.

Bill Graham Gets One Right

Contrary to Blahgian belief, there are Blogging Tories out there who are perfectly willing to give the Libranos credit when they do something right for a change. Case in point: Defence Minister Bill Graham.

Last week, Mr. Graham had declared a $12.2-billion, three-aircraft procurement plan dead, after sharp criticism of the proposed bidding process from sources in the Canadian defence industry.

But over the weekend the Defence Minister revived what the military considers to be the most important part of its plan, a $4.6-billion purchase of 16 transport planes, because he thinks it is both politically feasible and urgently needed, sources say. A formal announcement is expected today.

"Graham was the one who rolled up his sleeves and said we've got to get something done here," a senior Defence Department official said.

Critics say the performance requirements had been deliberately crafted to rule out all but a single aircraft in two cases -- the Hercules C-130J transport and the Chinook CH-47 helicopter.

There is deep unhappiness within the Canadian defence and aerospace industries that the perceived front-runner for search-and-rescue aircraft is the C-27J, made by Italian-based Alenia, and not Bombardier's modified Dash-8, sources say.

But Defence officials contend that their requirements, including first delivery within three years, simply reflect the forces' needs.

Damian Brooks is more of an Air Force enthusiast than I, and even he is complimentary:

Good on Graham for salvaging what he could. Given the quick comeback time, I'm guessing this was a planned fallback position - which speaks volumes about the improvement in how business is being conducted in Rick Hillier's NDHQ: stop whining, and start working smart to get as much as you can as quickly as you can. The fact that this surprised even uniformed sources below the top tier is also a good sign.
Of course, the Tory defence critic doesn't see things quite that way:

[Defence critic Gordon] O'Connor charged that the Liberals are rushing the plan through to claim it as an accomplishment in the coming election fight.

"It's so he can go on the campaign trail and say we've ordered transport aircraft," he said in an interview. "Because what else can they say? There's been not one soldier recruited, either regular force or reserve. They actually have achieved nothing, in a year and a half."

It's tempting to come down hard on Mr. O'Connor, but we have to remember that criticizing defence policy and decisions is in fact his job. Besides which, the Sea King replacement debacle pretty much doomed the Liberals' reputation when it comes to defence procurement, so it's going to take them a very long time to get themselves out of the doghouse when it comes to national defence.

As for the "open competition" matter, there are a couple of things to bear in mind:

First, the Forces are way overdue for replenishment of their airlift capability. There is a demonstrated need for this class of aircraft -- humanitarian aid, search and rescue, etc.

Second, the Hercules is a good aircraft, having been used in the CF for years. (I've ridden in one once; they're noisy and facilities basically amount to a bucket tied to a bulkhead, but they get the job done.) The platform has an impressive record, and the tendency is always to go with an aircraft you're familiar with, instead of learning something completely new just because it's made in Canada. (It's more important that the pilots like to fly'em, than Canadians make'em.)

By fast-tracking the Hercules procurement, Bill Graham is finally moving away from the Chrétien-era "we know better than the CF" mindset that resulted in millions of dollars being wasted resolving the Sea King replacement issue. Granted, it probably won't help him keep his job after the election, but it's at least a step in the right direction.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Ralph Shares The Wealth

That's Klein, not Goodale, and in this case the Alberta Premier's generosity is aimed towards the college crowd:

The Alberta Centennial Scholarships Program will provide 325 scholarships annually, worth $2,005 each, to post-secondary students across Canada. Awards will be provided to 25 students from each province and territory, including Alberta, beginning next year. Premier Ralph Klein announced the scholarship program in a speech in Ottawa on November 21.

The centennial scholarships are focused on helping young Canadians from all walks of life achieve their personal dreams, Klein said. "These scholarships will be open to students in any kind of recognized post-secondary program, whether it's university, college, technical institute, or an apprenticeship. The program reflects the importance of lifelong learning, and this government's desire to help people from across Canada continue their own learning."

Under program guidelines, each province and territory will be asked to nominate 25 recipients for the awards. The only criterion is that recipients attend institutions in Canada.

"It is Alberta's hope these awards will go to Canadians who need a bit of financial help to achieve their educational goals," Klein said. "But each province and territory can select its recipients based on its own priorities for students."

Klein has written to fellow premiers to advise them of the program and seek their cooperation in providing nominees. The Alberta government will work with other provinces and territories to present the first round of scholarships for the 2006-07 academic year. A new endowment account for $20 million will be established within the Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund to support the initiative. Further details of the program will be provided early in the new year.

You'll notice that this appears to be a totally provincial initiative; no federal government involvement whatsoever. That is of course as it should be, since education is a provincial matter under our Constitution. But it must of course rankle a few cabinet ministers that he's launching this program without their input (i.e. without an opportunity for their ministries to wet their beaks at this till).

This is also the first time in recent memory that the Alberta government has set up a program that's meant to function on the national level. There is of course the possibility that other provincial ministries might be offended ("Why don't WE have a program like that?"), but given the problems in funding post-secondary education, I expect they'll get over any potential snits in a hurry.

A more ominous look can be found in the long term. Even though this program is on a national level, it's still being run by a provincial body. Since provincial educational standards aren't the same, there may be more pressure on the provincial education ministries to conform to the Alberta educational standard, just so more of their students can qualify. And that will certainly raise some hackles in Ontario and Quebec.

In short, this is a step towards Alberta becoming a bigger player on the national scene. It's a development that bears watching.

"Outside the Box": Thinking Outside the Cliché

In my continuing efforts to avoid the temptation of blogging on the upcoming confidence motions, I'm going to examine a phrase that recently came up in my online activities.

I happen to sit on the committee that decides who gets put on the Red Ensign blogroll. Recently one rejected applicant tried to get the committee to change its mind by exhorting us to "think outside the box."

Pretty much everyone on the committee groaned at this. Most of us at the Brigade tend to dislike corporate jargonisms and catchphrases, and "thinking outside the box" is a perfect example of a phrase that became meaningless through overuse and underapplication.

Nowadays the phrase tends to be used in the sense of "Lower your standards" or "Forget about the rules" or "Do something creative." I suspect it's because people have only a vague idea of the concept and the way it's supposed to be applied.

According to the Word Origins site, the phrase came from a 1970s-era management exercise, in which managers were challenged to connect the dots in a 3x3 square using only 4 lines. As you can see, the solution does involve drawing the line "outside the box" -- and thus the phrase was born.

Revisiting the application, I think I can point out a couple of the characteristics of "outside-the-box" thinking that people have either forgotten or ignored over the years. By doing so, we can put a bit more meaning into it and make it into more than a meaningless slogan.

First, "outside-the-box" thinking doesn't ignore the rules. In the original exercise, nowhere do the instructions specifically state to stay within the implied box. Instead, the "box" is an implied assumption of the puzzle-solver based on the pattern of the dots. The trick is to identify what are "rules" and what are "assumptions."

This is one of the problems with applying "outside-the-box" thinking: too often we find out about the "rules" after we do the thinking. As in: "no, you can't buy brand X software because the boss has a deal with vendor Y."

The trick, then, is to know what the rules are before you work on the problem, and then differentiate between the rules and the assumptions: "Does vendor Y carry a software application that brand X software handles? If not, then buying brand X is still a solution."

Second, "outside-the-box" thinking should surprise people. This should go without saying, since the solution should be something no one has thought of before. But the phrase's deterioration into cliché has caused us to forget that; the boss's exhortation to "think outside the box" has the implied meaning "Come up with something I like." Which pretty much defeats the purpose of the exercise.

Much of the surprise will lie in the actual realization that what was thought of as an unbreakable rule was actually an assumption. The blogosphere's takedown of CBS News during Rathergate is an example of "outside-the-box" thinking because a) everyone believed that the Internet was unreliable as an information source for fact-checking, b) everyone at CBS News believed that they had done their homework, and c) no one believed that the blogosphere could create buzz offline. These were all reasonably strong assumptions -- but they were assumptions all the same.

Finally, the key to true "outside-the-box" thinking is clear understanding of the difference between rule and assumption. In the original exercise, we immediately understand that the "box" is an illusion. In real life, of course, the situation is not quite so cut-and-dried; we have to examine our assumptions and explain, clearly, why the assumption is no longer valid. It's the explanation that tends to defeat people nowadays.

Here's an example of true "outside-the-b0x" thinking: the design of the original Lunar Module for the 1960's Apollo moon program.

Here, the design rules called for the LM had to be super-light.

The problem was that the viewing windows were too heavy, and couldn't be made lighter without seriously compromising the structural integrity of the spacecraft.

A conventional approach would have been to persuade NASA to change the design rules so that the LM didn't have to be so light.

However, a different solution was reached when the designers realized a convention: they'd assumed the astronauts inside the LM would be sitting down when they landed on the moon.

This led to the solution: remove the seats. Not only did they reduce the weight of the seats, but the fact that the astronauts were standing up reduced the surface volume of the viewing windows so that they could be lighter. But this was a such a radical re-thinking of conventional spacecraft design that it required a clear explanation to NASA.

My point in all of this? "Thinking outside the box" may be a cliché now, but it doesn't have to be, once people understand what's actually involved.

Plus, it sure beats catching premature election fever ...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The 32nd Edition of the Red Ensign Standard ...

... may be found here. Alan is one of the original members of the Red Ensign Brigade, and also one of the most outspoken. (Oddly, it's only now that he's hosted a Standard.)

Many of our brigade members, myself included, have posted entries on Remembrance Day, and of course that's reflected here. Go and have a look.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Paul Martin's Adscam Patch Starts Peeling

We all know the Opposition's biggest stick on the Martin government is the sponsorship scandal. And we've all heard Martin's response: that he's taken all the steps that were necessary to patch up the Liberal Party's reputation, including the firing of senior officials involved.

Unfortunately for Paul Martin, the patch is starting to unravel. One of the people he fired, VIA Rail president Jean Pelletier, has gotten the Federal Court to give him his job back, on the grounds that he was wrongfully dismissed:

Justice Simon Noel said Pelletier - a Jean Chretien loyalist who was fired in connection with the sponsorship scandal - deserved to know why has was dismissed and should have been given a chance to respond.

The judge set aside the firing order and referred the whole matter back to the federal cabinet.

Which means that Mr. Pelletier, a Chrétien adherent, is back on the federal payroll. With appropriate back pay and in anticipation of a pension. Entitled to his entitlements, you might say.

This decision reminds us all that Paul Martin can't even fire people properly. We all knew that when he tried to expel people "for life" from the federal Libranos, in the wake of Gomery. He tried to look like a prompt and decisive statesmen, and in this case wound up with a example of -- shall we say? -- premature ejection.

Paul Martin, in spite of his good intentions, is the wrong person to clean up this Adscam mess. He's not going to make this mess go away -- at least not while he's in office.

And Of Course They Don't List Richard Comely

Yesterday the Literary Review of Canada released its list of the 100 most important Canadian books. (Note that "most important book" is not the same as "great book," since the latter implies readability, while the former implies influence.)

The Globe and Mail, of couse, is ever-so-slightly scandalized about the books that didn't make the list:

In its neglect of the theme of hockey, it has passed over Roch Carrier's much loved children's story The Hockey Sweater, about a Quebec boy traumatized when Eaton's sends him a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. While the list includes many celebrated Canadian novels, such as W.O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind, Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel, Carol Shields's The Stone Diaries, Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony and Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance (the one novel set entirely outside Canada), it somehow missed any title by Michael Ondaatje.

Ms. Drainie explained that her colleagues' heated debate as to whether to include The English Patient or In the Skin of a Lion wound up in a draw.

"James Joyce never won the Nobel," she said. "[Ondaatje] is the most important Canadian writer who never made it on to the list of the most important Canadian books."

Since the books are listed in chronological order rather than in order of importance, I thought I'd see if I'd read any of the books that did make the list.

Roughing It In the Bush and Sunshine Sketches I remember from high school and college. Of those two, I'd probably re-read Leacock, if only because his type of humor tends to be quite timeless.

One that I haven't read is In Praise of Older Women, mainly because I'd've been pretty embarrassed about the subject matter. I guess you could call this one important in that it's -- er -- seminal in the history of the MILF cult.

I do feel pretty good that Neuromancer made the cut. I've always maintained that this book was a good example of CanLit even though most people wouldn't think of it when they think of the genre. Cyberspace, anyone?

Oh, and who's Richard Comely? He's a famous Canadian author, all right, except that his creation was Captain Canuck. I guess the Literary Review still hasn't bought the line that graphic novels are part of literature. That's something I'll have to work on.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Keeseekoose: Andy Scott Keeps Blowing It

Our Indian affairs minister Andy Scott has hit upon a new tactic for dealing with the Keeseekoose scandal. He's trying to misdirect anger by accusing the Tories of racism.

Mr. Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North, CPC): Mr. Speaker, on Monday the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was questioned about the Keeseekoose education trust account of $600,000, which has now been stolen. At the time, he said that the allegations were ridiculous. By Tuesday, according to the minister, those ridiculous allegations had become serious financial irregularities with the RCMP involved and, in addition, criminal charges being laid. The minister is having some difficulty getting his story straight.

We know that his department has audit documents about the theft. He is refusing to produce them. Is he trying to protect the former chief, the former Liberal candidate?

Hon. Andy Scott (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, whether the Conservatives like it or not, first nations governments take matters of accountability very seriously. That is exactly what we have seen in this case. Where irregularities were found, the police were informed and charges were laid. What we see from the other side shows once again that these Conservatives will do anything to discredit first nations, their leadership and their members.

Now, why would Mr. Scott make this accusation? Part of it relies on the fact that the Conservative platform on aboriginal affairs is pretty badly defined. If you look at the national Tory website, you'll see that aboriginal affairs is not listed as a major issue. You have to click on "Policy Declaration" to get to "Aboriginal Affairs," which reveals a somewhat legalistic document outlining the Tory position. (What the actual platform boils down to is: better spending rules for government programs targeted at aboriginals; transfer more decision-making powers of governance to the local level; settle land claims with an process open to the public; and offer school choice to Aboriginal families. Nothing to hint at the paternalistic racism that Mr. Scott seems to believe in.)

Mr. Scott is obviously relying on an old meme: Tory = social conservative = redneck = racist = anti-aboriginal. The subsequent exchange shows why it's not going to work:

Mr. Prentice: Mr. Speaker, the chief at the time of the theft was the Liberal candidate, but in fairness, I am not surprised that the minister is confused. It is difficult for all Canadians to actually keep a clear picture of which Liberals are under RCMP investigation and which are not, which have been convicted and which have not, and which have been banned from the party for life and which have not.

Would the government consider establishing a sort of Liberal offender registry, a criminal registry that the public could consult from time to time and which the minister could use?

The Minister: Mr. Speaker, I said it before and I will say it again ... Canadians know a smear campaign when they see it. Canadians know how those members feel about first nations and their leadership. Here we go again.

Unfortunately for Mr. Scott, even though Kashechewan and other reserves water problems have made the news, they haven't penetrated very far onto the public agenda.

The second problem is that, with Liberal credibility on governance as badly damaged as it is, they no longer have as strong an ability to define their opponent's platform for them. Canadians know a smear campaign when they see it, all right; they also know when it's a Liberal doing the smearing. And if Canadians know it -- and recognize it -- it means the smear has failed.

Yet it seems that Mr. Scott likes this failed smear so much he's going to stick right with it:

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, CPC): Mr. Speaker, apparently the new Liberal education policy involves paying for California vacations out of a schoolchild's education fund. I ask members to listen to this list of money taken from the Keeseekoose school account: $1,200 for Sea World, $158 for Zorro Jewelry of Santa Monica, $125 for Universal Studios. In total, this is over $3,000 stolen from the children on the reserve to pay for a California vacation.

Why will the minister not stand up for the schoolchildren of the Keeseekoose reserve?

The Minister: Mr. Speaker, this government is standing up for education and first nations. That is the reason why we are going to Kelowna at the end of this month. That is what people who really care about first nations do, not this.

Apparently Mr. Scott believes that bringing up examples of mismanagement in First Nations communities is NOT something that "people who really care about First Nations do." By this reasoning, a problem is not a problem if you don't hear about it. This is an attitude that can only lead to a mess like Kashechewan.

He also apparently shares Paul Martin's confusion that activity equals action. The upcoming First Nations summit is a big meeting, but its importance really depends on two things: on what's actually decided, and what actual actions the federal government will take regardless of who's in charge. If nothing is decided, then the summit will be rightly condemned as a waste of time and money, by First Nations leaders loudest of all.

Saskatchewn MP Tom Lukiwski has picked up on the Minister's attitude, as you can see:

Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, CPC): Mr. Speaker , I do not think the minister understands how serious the situation is. On one day alone over $6,000 was stolen from the school's account: $2,000 was withdrawn at Casino Regina and $4,000 was transferred to a local hockey team. The local Liberal candidate was the president of that hockey team.

To make matters worse, the Liberals knew about this theft before they nominated the candidate who is at the heart of this controversy. Will the minister confirm today that he will conduct a full investigation of this matter? Or is this simply another Liberal cover-up?

The Minister: Mr. Speaker, the RCMP has been brought in and has dealt with the issue. The reality is that in this case those members are smearing first nations leadership. That is typical of the Conservative Party and the first nations leadership itself will not stand for it.

Actually, reading the questions carefully, we can see that all three Tories don't dwell on the fact that the allegations are against a First Nations leader; they dwell instead on the fact that the leader was a Liberal Party member, with the understated hint of corruption. That idea has a stronger hold on the public consciousness than Mr. Scott's implied accusations of racism.

The failed smear also shows that Mr. Scott is devoting more thought to holding his seat in the upcoming election, than to actually doing his job as Minister. Since the matter is before the courts, he could have taken the line that the matter shouldn't be discussed in Question Period lest it contaminate the judicial proceedings. That would have been ministerial, and a correct response.

The fact that Mr. Scott responded in a partisan manner, instead of a ministerial one, is enough to make me wonder if he really is as committed to his portfolio as he should be.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Keeseekoose: The Tories Stumble on One, Recover in Two

If people want to know why voters don't take the Conservatives seriously, take a look at this exchange in the Commons yesterday between Tory MP Jim Prentice and Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott:

Mr. Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North, CPC): Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development said that the Keeseekoose First Nation was the subject of routine audits. I have a copy of the band's educational bank account records and there is nothing routine that I can see.

There was $600,000 stolen from the children's education fund and money spent in Santa Monica, California and in Hollywood at an exclusive jewellery store. Stealing money from school children seems perhaps routine to the minister, all in a day's work for a Liberal. Where is the forensic audit?

Hon. Andy Scott (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, first nations governments take accountability very seriously.

My department has advised me that this first nation identified financial irregularities in 2002 and 2003. The first nation acted appropriately. It called in the RCMP. Charges were laid. The matter is now before the courts.

Here is where the Mr. Prentice screws up:

Mr. Prentice: The issue is, Mr. Speaker, what does this government take seriously? Three years after this matter was brought to the attention of the department, there has been no audit and there has been no prosecution, just more stolen money and this minister once again missing in action.

Is this not just one more big cover-up to protect someone, to protect the former chief, the defeated Liberal candidate?

I highlight the phrase in Mr. Prentice's question because it illustrates my point: in the quest to score political points by promulgating his theory of Librano protection, Mr. Prentice did not pay attention to the Minister's answer.

"Charges were laid. The matter is before the courts." If Mr. Prentice was on the ball, he would have dismissed the response as inadequate: charges against whom? What charges, specifically? And what steps are being taken (i.e. more vigorous auditing, rule tightening, etc.) to ensure this doesn't happen again? But no; Mr. Prentice relies on his script too much, and so a potentially strong attack against a weak minister becomes discredited.

Sometimes, though, ignoring a response can be deliberate. Witness these follow-up questions from MPs Garry Breitkreuz and Tom Lukiwski:

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that there is a cover-up taking place at Keeseekoose, but that is not a surprise because the Liberals do not want anyone to know what is going on at the reserve.

The Indian affairs department spent $9 million to build a school for only 250 students. How can a school for 250 students cost that much? We know that over $600,000 was stolen from the school account. How much of that $9 million for a new school was stolen from the children of Keeseekoose? What is the minister trying to hide?

The Minister: Mr. Speaker, as I have said many times, the first nation reported this to the RCMP, which investigated. Charges have been laid. It is before the courts.

Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, CPC): Mr. Speaker, bank records show that money from the St. Phillip's school account was withdrawn from at least five different casinos in Saskatchewan. In fact, in Casino Regina alone there were over 40 separate withdrawals totalling over $18,000.

When the Liberals heard these allegations of theft and corruption, did they call the police? No. They called a nomination meeting because they had just found the perfect Liberal candidate. When will the minister admit he is turning his back on the children of St. Phillip's school?

The Minister: Mr. Speaker, this first nation did the appropriate thing when financial irregularities were found. It called the RCMP, an investigation was conducted and charges were laid. This is now before the courts.

What these two MPs did, that Mr. Prentice did not, was take Mr. Scott's response into account. Note that they don't accuse the government of not mounting a prosecution, but refer to other -- er -- activities in line of their theory. The two are not mutually exclusive.

You see, Mr. Scott's response is legally safe, but timid as a defence; certainly it's not strong enough for the Opposition to drop the matter altogether. The Tories' questions are not meant to elicit a stronger response from the Minister. They're meant to put specific allegations on the Parliamentary record, the gravity of which highlights the problems of Mr. Scott's management.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Andy Scott Blows His Job

Andy Scott, our Indian Affairs minister, has got a cloud hanging over him. Witness this exchange in yesterday's Hansard:

Mr. Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Keeseekoose is a small first nation in Saskatchewan. In the time between 1995 and 2001, over $600,000 was systematically looted from its education fund. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has known about this since 2002 and this minister has known since he was appointed, but the minister refuses to help the new chief and council get to the bottom of this.

What is the minister hiding? Why will he not produce a forensic audit that shows who stole the Keeseekoose children's trust fund?

Hon. Andy Scott (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, audits are conducted routinely. If those audits find things that should go to the RCMP or other agencies, that is exactly what happens.

Note that Mr. Scott's response is an indirect answer and not a direct one. The fact that he couches this in generalizations, however, suggests that a) there was no audit available; or b) he doesn't know if an audit was in fact authorized by his department. Given the typical size of federal ministries, b) is the more likely answer.

Moving on:

Mr. Jim Prentice: Mr. Speaker, all we hear from the minister is excuses and obfuscation. The current chief and council want to find out who stole their education money. The minister will not help them.

Will the minister admit today that he is trying to protect the former chief because he was the chief when the money was stolen and because he was the Prime Minister's Liberal candidate in the last federal election? Is this why the minister will not produce a forensic audit?

Hon. Andy Scott: Mr. Speaker, that allegation is absolutely ridiculous.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Mr. Quewezance, the former chief, was president of the St. Phillip's Rangers hockey team when it received repeated direct transfers from the school account. He knew what was going on and the Liberals recruited him to run as their candidate in 2004 while failing to investigate complaints made to Indian affairs about this matter in 2002.

The Liberals have hit a new low in stealing money from schoolchildren while protecting one of their own from investigation. Is this the new standard of ethics the Prime Minister promised us in 2004: nominating candidates who steal money from schoolchildren and then covering it up?

Hon. Andy Scott: Mr. Speaker, the new low is across on the other side. That is a ridiculous and scandalous thing to say.

Notice his response: Ridiculous. Scandalous. There is, however, one word that Mr. Scott does not use: untrue.

You cannot make an accusation go away merely by calling it names. There are a number of ways in which Mr. Scott could have responded: he could have said that an audit was ongoing and that he couldn't comment on the matter because of it; he could have said the Opposition theory had no basis in fact (which is technically true, because much of this theory depends on optics and spin); he could have said this was the first time he personally had heard of it and would arrange for an audit to start; or he could have invited Mr. Prentice to re-state his theory outside the chamber (thereby inviting a legal accusation of slander).

But no. This question caught Mr. Scott by surprise, and as a result his responses are weak, and can be seen as weak. It's unfortunate that he's been in this post for just slightly over a year -- hardly long enough to appreciate all the problems of Aboriginal governance -- but even so, as a Minister he should have been able to mount a better defence than this.

And with new allegations of mismanagement of reserve water resources, the case can be made that Mr. Scott has a poor grasp of the Indian Affairs portfolio. He, along with Revenue Minister John McCallum, will be on the list of overripe electoral prunes: those Ministers who must wage the next campaign handicapped not only by Liberal Party wrongdoing, but their own misperformances as well.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Canadian Blogosphere Needs to be SLAPPed

No, I'm not talking about the parliamentary chicken game being played out right now. (I've decided to ignore stories about confidence votes until they actually happen; no sense trying to stoke partisan fire until we actually get the kickoff.) I'm talking about what can be done for a blogger who's being sued for libel:

Louisette Lanteigne of Waterloo, Ont., said she grew sick of what she saw during construction in her new subdivision and what appeared to be questionable building practices and labour-code violations.

She launched her website in April to document her complaints and as a means for the province's Environment and Labour ministries to view the evidence she collected. She made about a dozen postings with photos and stories of sightings around her area.

Her efforts led to letters and kudos from various government officials for reporting alleged violations.

Environment Ministry spokesman John Steele said work by people like Lanteigne is of great value because there aren't enough ministry workers available to spot every infraction.

"Obviously we can't have staff everywhere all the time, so we depend on the public out there as surrogate eyes and ears for the ministry," Steele said. "They're an important part of the ministry's work."

As an aside: this illustrates one of the true strengths of the blogosphere. For a local problem to be handled, it needs to be publicized and documented. In this era of digital photography, free Web hosting and super-cheap Internet access, bloggers can do this -- without the worry of having to go through a centralized editorial process.

Had Ms. Lanteigne tried to make this a printed or media news story, she would have needed to convince a reporter, who in turn would have to convince an editor, who would have to decide on its newsworthiness and when to run it. Since a website is a continuous presence, she can post her evidence there and prompt officials to see it via a web address. The site, simply called Infringements, is here, but it's had so many hits that it's crashed as of this time of writing.

Of course, since anybody in the world can look at her website, it stands to reason that there will be some folks who look at it and don't like what they see. Especially the people who caused the problems she complained about in the first place:

On Sept. 16, Lanteigne received news that she was being sued for libel by developer Activa Holdings Inc., one of the largest developers in the region.

The statement of claim said "the malicious, high-handed and arrogant conduct of the Defendant warrants an award of punitive or exemplary damages to ensure that the Defendant is appropriately punished for her conduct and deterred from such conduct in the future."

The company sought $2 million and an order to have the allegedly libellous material taken offline.

While Lanteigne may not have $2 million to pay Activa, she does have a lot to lose and could be forced into bankruptcy.

Lanteigne said she stands by everything she wrote and isn't backing down.

"I learned the only way they could get me to remove the site was with an injunction, and an injunction would mean they would have to bring this information in front of a judge," Lanteigne said.

"I thought, 'That's excellent,' because I need a judge to see what's going on here."

Some U.S. states have seen so many libel or defamation lawsuits that legislation has been created to help people take on cases against more powerful opponents.

The legislation is typically called anti-SLAPP, an acronym for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

The laws reduce the risk of fighting lawsuits because if the plaintiff loses, they are responsible for all the legal fees. In Lanteigne's case, she will have to pay her lawyer regardless of the outcome.

Ms. Lanteigne is obviously confident enough in her documentation and evidence that she believes bankruptcy is a worthwhile risk. But other bloggers -- particularly those blogging about local issues -- may not feel the same way; they don't have the resources to take the risk. An anti-SLAPP fund would go a long way towards keeping large organizations accountable to the public (via the blogosphere) for their misbehaviour.

As far as I know, anti-SLAPP legislation doesn't exist in Canada, at either the national or provincial levels. It should -- as part of any good whistleblower support legislation. When it comes to empowering Joe and Jill Blogger, public help is a good thing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Why I March Tomorrow

Tomorrow I will be seeing a group of old men.

I have done this for more than 20 years, and with each year this group grows smaller. This is inevitable, because what unites these men is that they were warriors in war, and the implication of their shrinking size is that the nation has not added to their ranks by declaring war on a grand scale.

There are, of course, some new faces among them. They wear blue berets, and were sent on missions of peace that were no less dangerous. For the nature of conflict has changed in our time, and so there will always be veterans among us.

I will not be seeing them alone. There will be others with me, some my age or older, more of them younger -- about the same age as these old men were, when they first donned the uniform and went to fight for their country. We will be in our best clothes, because it is a sign of respect and it is the least we can do for them. We will march past them, in a ceremony now in its ninth decade, because we are their descendants and have agreed to do what they did, should the need ever arise.

We do not march tomorrow because it will be fun. We will be parading in what promises to be miserable weather, cold and damp, offering a tribute to people who have endured far worse.

We march tomorrow because we wish to honour our veterans, to let them know with our presence that we appreciate their work and sacrifice. If you look around your office, your classroom, your dwelling, you will know: yours is a world made possible by them.

Yes, there are problems with our governments. But we have the freedom to say so, and we can air our opinions in almost any medium, whether at the water cooler, or at our computer, or on an A-Channel booth, or in a letter to the editor. The ability to decide things for ourselves is a key value of our society.

That is why our veterans fought. And because they suffered so much in their defense, it is why I march tomorrow.

Not for government. Not for me. For them.