Friday, May 18, 2007

This Explains a Lot

In case anybody thought recent parliamentary committee incidents like this and this were just random expressions of partisan asshattery... well, shame on you for thinking PM Harper didn't have everything firmly clenched in his iron grip.

Don Martin of the National Post has discovered that there is actually a Conservative handbook for committee chairs which lays out in explicit detail exactly how to keep the opposition from Getting Things Done.

Here are a few of the tactics outlined in this little manual:
• That the Conservative party helps pick committee witnesses. The chairman "should ensure that witnesses suggested by the Conservative Party of Canada are favourable to the government and ministry," the document warns.

• The chairmen should also seek to "include witnesses from Conservative ridings across Canada" and make sure their local MPs take the place of a member at the committee when a constituent appears, to show they listen and care.

• The chairmen should "meet with witnesses so as to review testimony and assist in question preparation."

• Procedural notes tell the chairmen to always recognize a Conservative member just before a motion is put to a vote "and let them speak as long as they wish" - a maneuver used to kickstart a filibuster as a stall tactic.

• Chairmen are told to notify all affected ministries prior to a motion being voted upon. "Communicate concerns with the Prime Minister's Office, House Leader or Whip," the document insists. "Try to anticipate the response of the press and how party could be portrayed."

• The guide says a "disruptive" committee should be adjourned by the chairman on short notice. "Such authority is solely in the discretion of the chair. No debate, no appeal possible." By failing to appoint the vice chair to run the meeting, the adjournment will last until the chair is ready to reconvene the committee.

I'm surprised it wasn't marked "Copyright 2001, Republican National Committee, Washington, DC"

Thursday, May 17, 2007


If you are just looking for an action-packed thriller with eye-popping special effects and things blowing up, ‘Next’ is a whole lot of fun. If you are looking for something a little more intriguing, with twists and turns and a plot that makes you think, you might be pleasantly surprised.

‘Next’ can best be described as an ‘action-romance’. It sounds like an awkward combination, and in some spots it is, but for the most part director Lee Tamahori pulls it off quite nicely. The romantic bits are terribly romantic, and putting the lady in peril adds a sense of urgency to the action.

Part of what makes the movie work is Nicholas Cage. Cage has made some highly questionable career choices lately, but in this case he could not be more perfect for a role. He has always excelled at looking cynical and bored, making him the ideal choice to play a man who always knows what’s about to happen.

I give it 3 1/2 stars out of five, and predict that even Murray will like it.

(Murray did like it, but I can't show you what he said because our column was never posted on the Milton Champion website.)

(EDIT - Glitch solved. Our review is now online, although for some reason the published version is missing half a star from my review. In hindsight, though... I can live with that.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Speaking ill of the dead

I'm not the kind of person who would intentionally harm or wish to harm anyone. I've certainly never wished anybody dead, with the possible exception of a certain landlord who truly deserves to be found floating face down in the Mill Pond.

I'm a little conflicted over the news of Jerry Falwell's death today.

On the one hand, he wasn't quite as insane as Pat Robertson. Nor was he as deliberately evil as Ed Phelps. On the other hand... this is the guy who is personally responsible for the intrusion of the Religious Right into American politics, and the resulting mainstream acceptance of intolerance, hatred and murder for the past quarter century.

All I can say is this:

Jerry, I hope your God forgives you.

I, for one, will not.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

CPAC Sunday

I’m not usually a CPAC junkie, but today’s airing of the May 3rd meeting of the Standing Committee on International Trade was fascinating.

If the long title sounds familiar, this was earlier in the same series of meetings where Tory chairman Leon Benoit had his meltdown last week. The Committee is studying aspects and ramifications of the Security and Prosperity Partnership initiative (SPP, and don’t call it a treaty - not yet, anyway), and is hearing from a broad range of witness from business, labour, policy and citizen groups.

At the May 3rd meeting televised today, one of the BQ members put forward a motion that the Committee recommend that the Government take steps to finally and officially exempt water and bulk water exports from our NAFTA obligations. Currently, the only protections against water export are provincial ones, and those are vulnerable to challenge.

This would seem like a no-brainer for a quick vote, except one of the NDP members suggested adding two words ("...and federal") to one sentence. Apparently this was too much for a Conservative member, who first challenged the accuracy of the line on some basis or other, and then insisted on having the clerk photocopy the revised motion and put it in front of him since he was having trouble remembering such a complex amendment.

Before the clerk got back from the copy room, the clock ran out. Benoit was determined to end on time, despite being asked to extend things a few minutes so the CPC member could get his copy and vote. The vote was deferred to the next meeting, which was… oh, yeah, that meeting. Well, I suppose they’ll get to it eventually.

If you think you can take it, meeting transcripts up to April 26th are available at the Committee website. It’s interesting reading just for the insight it provides into the attitudes of the committee members and their respective parties toward SPP. The NDP are very obviously against it; the Bloc almost as much so. The Conservatives seemed to be going by the usual Conservative assumption that "what is good for business is good for everybody", but I did notice that Conservative member Dean Allison was always careful to refer to business as "small business" - because really, this is all about the little guy.

Another word the pro-SPP camp seems to like is the word "stakeholder", referring to anyone they feel has a legitimate reason to be involved in SPP-related negotiations and working groups. As far as I can tell, they consider "stakeholders" to be those with something significant to gain or lose financially from the outcome. This does not, apparently, include anyone whose name doesn’t end with "Inc." or "Corp.". The rest of us are invited to visit their informative website.

The Liberal committee members seem to be asking mostly technical questions without really addressing the larger issues and controversies surrounding SPP. I suppose this could be seen as taking a balanced, open-minded approach, getting all the information before taking a stand. It could also be seen as fence-sitting, which is what I suspect the official Liberal policy is on this right now. We’ll see how long they can keep that up.

Interestingly, a rather public crack in the SPP’s official "nothing sinister going on here" line appeared earlier this week in the Ottawa Citizen:
Canada lowers standards on pesticide use on fruits, vegetables to match U.S. limits


Edit - Oh yeah, I almost forgot about this one:
Canada about to introduce no-fly list for airlines

I thought Bruce Campbell of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives summed it up nicely at the end of the second meeting:
"It's great to have regulatory cooperation, as I said, but how far do you go? That's the question. What are the limits to regulatory cooperation? When does it become a real compromise of policy flexibility and democratic accountability?

"It's sort of like the question of the frog in the pot of hot water. If you put a frog in boiling water, the frog will jump out immediately. If you put the frog in a pot of cool water and heat it gradually, the frog will not jump out and will be boiled alive. It's that sense of this very slow, incremental, sometimes fast, under-the-radar process that is the basis for my concern and the concern of a lot of groups and individuals in Canada."


Friday, May 11, 2007

Tories Take Their Ball and Go Home

This just keeps getting better and better:
Tory chair storms out of SPP hearing
Freezing in the dark 'not relevant' to talks on integrating with U.S.

… The firestorm erupted within minutes of testimony by University of Alberta professor Gordon Laxer that Canadians will be left "to freeze in the dark" if the government forges ahead with plans to integrate energy supplies across North America.

He was testifying on behalf of the Alberta-based Parkland Institute about concerns about the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a 2005 accord by the U.S., Canada and Mexico to streamline economic and security rules across the continent.

The deal, which calls North American "energy security" a priority, will commit Canada to ensuring American energy supplies even though Canada itself -- unlike most industrialized nations -- has no national plan or reserves to protect its own supplies, he argued.

At that point, Tory MP Leon Benoit, chair of the Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, which was holding the SPP hearings, ordered Mr. Laxer to halt his testimony, saying it was not relevant.

Opposition MPs called for, and won, a vote to overrule Mr. Benoit's ruling.

Mr. Benoit then threw down his pen, declaring, "This meeting is adjourned," and stormed out, followed by three of the panel's four Conservative members.

Lovely. Our country is being run by four year-olds.

The thing that bothers me the most is that nobody but the politicians directly involved and a few crazy bloggers seem to know or care that this is going on. Honestly, if you took a poll today and asked Canadians if they would like closer economic and security ties with the U.S., what do you think their answer would be?

Of course, nobody actually gives a rat's ass what we think because it isn’t about what’s best for Canadians - it’s about what’s best for big business.

I’ve asked my MP a couple of times now what his position and his party’s position is on SPP, the Harris/Manning report, and deep integration. I’m still waiting for a response. Given that Garth is probably the most responsive MP on the Hill right now, I suspect he’s either desperately busy or he knows full well that I won’t like his answer.

What I really want to hear from Garth and Dion is this: "Yes, the previous Liberal government bought into SPP, but I believe that was a mistake. The vast majority of Canadians don’t want it, I won’t continue to support it, and I will do my best to put an end to any measures already enacted under this initiative".

What do you think the chances are?

(edit - Dave at The Galloping Beaver just posted a detailed account of the many, many rules and standards of practice Benoit's tantrum violated.)

Good News / Bad News

Conservatives drop in poll

A Decima poll, provided exclusively to The Canadian Press, indicates that 55 per cent of those polled believe it's likely that detainees captured by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan wind up being tortured by Afghan authorities. And 58 per cent believe Canada has an obligation to ensure those detainees are not abused.

On the flip side, that means that 45% of people actually think detainees are well treated by Afghan authorities, and 42% think it’s none of our damned business anyway.

Good to know.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My Canada Doesn’t Include the Fraser Institute

One of the best things ever shown on Canadian television was Paul Gross’ two-part political thriller ‘H2O’. I know, it’s hard to imagine a Canadian political thriller, but believe me - this thing was slick, well written, and extremely disturbing. When I first saw it three years ago, I thought it presented a fascinating but unlikely, maybe even paranoid scenario.

Right now, I’m starting to wonder if the writers didn’t somehow arrange to have Steven Harper’s memoirs transmitted from the future.

The story centres around the son of a beloved Canadian prime minister who dies under suspicious circumstances during a canoe trip. The son makes a stirring speech during the funeral (sound familiar?), and is encouraged to run, which he does - seemingly reluctantly. He wins the party leadership and thus the prime minister’s office, at which point he begins to do some very strange things like creating loopholes in environmental assessment laws, stacking the bilateral committee overseeing boundary waters, and bribing the premiers of Ontario and Quebec into opening the door to bulk water sales to the U.S.

Behind all the machinations and intrigue stands a shadowy group of international power brokers, businessmen and right-wing economists who belong to ‘The Burnham-Wood Institute’, a thinly-veiled reference to The Fraser Institute and other similar organizations.

As it turns out, the sale of water is only the first step in a much larger Machiavellian scheme which is articulated at the climax of the film in a speech that sounds a lot like…

Well, like THIS:
Canada must reduce trade and ownership barriers, integrate economy with U.S., say Manning and Harris

Toronto, ON - Canada needs to fully open its economy and drop restrictions on foreign ownership in all business sectors including banking, financial services and telecommunications, Preston Manning and Mike Harris say in a new policy paper released today by independent research organizations The Fraser Institute and the Montreal Economic Institute.

The two also call for eliminating Canada’s supply boards and agricultural subsidies, establishing a customs union and common external tariff with the United States, and reforming Canada’s approach to foreign aid.

The recommendations are laid out in International Leadership by a Canada Strong and Free, a policy paper in which Manning and Harris argue that Canada should redefine its international position by becoming the world’s leading proponent of free trade.

And that's just the tarted-up version for the press release. The report itself is somewhat more blunt:
"For Canada, Mexico’s presence at the NAFTA table is no reason to avoid action on our urgent national interest in pursuing a formal structure to manage irreversible economic and security integration with the United States."

And my personal favourite:
"Government has no place in the decision-making of Canadian consumers, importers, or exporters."

Other bloggers have done a terrific job of excerpting the juiciest bits of this steaming pile of excrement document and explaining why these ideas are so dangerous to our country, so I won’t repeat all that here. Go read Creekside and The Galloping Beaver for a summary.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.


I’m old enough to remember when NAFTA was first brought in. I even remember its predecessor, the U.S./ Canada Free Trade Agreement. Those of us who protested loudly at the time were generally dismissed as paranoid protectionists with no faith in Canada’s ability to compete and thrive in the open marketplace.

Since then we have seen American corporations shutting down factories in Canada and the U.S. and re-opening them in Mexico or wherever else they can exploit people willing to work for pennies an hour. We have seen how the U.S. can simply chose to ignore any trade rules that they don’t like, even when court after court insists that they abide by them. We have seen Canada having to import oil despite producing more than enough to supply ourselves, simply because there is a clause in NAFTA that says we have to export the same percentage of our oil to the U.S. no matter how much more we are producing.

Now substitute the word ‘water’ for ‘oil’ in that last sentence and see who’s being paranoid.

I spent some time this afternoon composing a lengthy (ok, lengthier) tirade against free trade and globalization, but I’ve decided to spare you since a) other people more knowledgeable than myself have already said it better (including my grandfather), and b) the elimination of trade barriers is one of the least obnoxious recommendations in this report.

The real issue here is this: do we want our country to become more like the United States, or less? And don’t kid yourselves - economic and military integration will inevitably result in social and cultural integration. At that point, it won’t even matter if we still have our own government and our own flag. In every other respect we will be indistinguishable from Americans. I’m sure this would all be very good for business, but very bad for anyone who would rather be Canadian.

That’s ok, though, since I am quite sure that the Fraser Institute and it’s members are not even remotely interested in what’s best for Canadians.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and Journalism

I remember hearing this story on the news a couple of days ago:
New report suggests Vancouver's safe-injection site a failure

VANCOUVER (CP) - A new study suggests a safe-drug-injection site in Vancouver that has been hailed by scientists as a success is really a failure.

The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, says there are serious problems in the interpretation of findings about Insite - the first such facility in North America - which opened as a pilot project over three years ago.

Disappointing, but ok. If Canadian Press is reporting it, there must be something to it, right?

Not necessarily. Cathie From Canada does a lovely job of exposing this story for what it is: ideological tripe from the Canadian branch of an American neo-con anti-drug astroturf organization. It seems the ‘study’ is nothing more than a review of other studies, its author is director of research with the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, and the Journal mentioned has only ever published two issues. Online. More insight into the backers of this so-called ‘study’ from Creekside:
The Drug Prevention Network of Canada is an offshoot of , wait for it, the Drug Prevention Network of America. It is headed up by Calvina L. Fay of Drug Free America, Save Our Society From Drugs, and Drug Watch International, dedicated to "combating the drug legalization movement globally". An advisor to Bush on drug policy issues, you may have heard her on the news recently proselytising against the medical use of marijuana for cancer patients. Yeah! - War on drugs!

But let's have a look at the Board of Directors for the Canadian branch of DPNC :
~ Randy White - Reform and Alliance Party MP for 12 years, right up until he went public with the idea of using the "notwithstanding clause" to prevent the passage of SSM and that was the end of him - too hot for Harper.
~ Gwen Landolt - VP of REAL Women of Canada. Thanks for all your fine work fighting Status of Women Canada. I especially liked your argument that shelters for battered women are discriminatory because there aren't comparable shelters for battered men.
~ a couple of graduates from the Scientology Narconon Program, now working as drug counsellors...

If you go back and examine the original CP article closely it reads a lot like a press release, which is what I suspect it originally was. CP puts it on the wire, uninvestigated and unquestioned, and it is subsequently picked up and run verbatim by CTV, the Sun, numerous radio stations, and several foreign news services. I Googled the lede and got over 200 hits.

This one is right up there with the "Cell Phones Are Killing Bees" story.

If this were just a case of an internet rumour run amok, or a catchy but inaccurate sound bite on the evening news getting repeated endlessly but never really retracted, then I could almost understand. But these stories are being run in NEWSPAPERS! The last refuge of true journalism, if you believe the dead tree journalists. These guys supposedly went to journalism school where they would have been taught to check their sources, then get second and third sources, and then investigate their sources for bias and conflict of interest. Hell, I only took that one night course in Feature Writing at Ryerson and even I know that much.

And yet, it’s the bloggers who are shunned as ‘unprofessional’ and barred from scrums and press rooms by the Real Journalists.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

There's No One Left But Me... And Him

Mr. McGrath put me on to this dreadful bit of news, courtesy of John Doyle:
The last thing the Canadian TV networks and the watching Canadian audience need is more air-headed coverage of American celebrities.

But that's precisely what we're going to get with CanWest Global's bizarre decision to foist the execrable E! Entertainment Channel on Canadians. With the signing of a cheque and, presumably, the agreement of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, CanWest Global is turning over its venerable CH stations to the content of an American cable outfit that's entirely devoted to maniacally intense and superficial reporting on U.S. showbiz. This move is grotesque. It's the sellout of a string of Canadian over-the-air channels to dumb-as-a-post American cable coverage of already overexposed and often talentless idiots.

This is absolutely horrifying. I grew up with 'The Hilarious House of Frightenstein' and 'Party Game', and later, 'Smith & Smith' and 'The Red Green Show' - all developed, produced and aired by CHCH in Hamilton. These guys were doing original, local, low budget, Canadian programming back when CITY TV was just a throbbing bulge in Moses' pants.

The CRTC is a pathetic, impotent joke. Billy Van must be spinning in his grave.