Friday, February 29, 2008

Someone had to say it, so it might as well be me

Chuck Cadman was a great and honourable man, and the allegations that the Conservatives offered a dying man financial inducement in return for his vote is an extremely serious matter.

It is therefore with the utmost respect for the man's legacy and in full recognition of the gravity of the situation that I propose the following catchy term for this egregious scandal.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...


(This is an official declaration of DIBS. Unless another blogger can offer evidence of prior reference, all subsequent use of the term 'CadScam' must henceforth be attributed to me, Jennifer Smith, aka 'runesmith' and be linked back to this blog at


On a more serious note, I thought it was rather sad watching a steady procession of Conservatives, including the PM, insisting that Chuck Cadman himself had publicly denied to the Duffinator and all of Canada that the Conservatives offered him any sort of inducement other than the magnanimous offer to take him back into the Tory fold.

Let's just listen to that interview, shall we?

In case you missed it (about four minutes in), this is how the exchange went:

Duffy: "Craig Oliver reported... that the Conservatives offered you an unopposed nomination if you would vote with them, and also help with campaign financing and so on. Was that offer actually made?"

Cadman: "Well, there was some talk about that. As far as an unopposed nomination, you know, the discussion did come up, the talk did come up, yeah."

Duffy: "So they were making and offer to you and in the end you refused."

Cadman: "Yeah, well, you know, that was the only offer on anything I had from anybody, you know, there was no offers on the table up to that point about anything from any, uh, from any party."

Maybe I'm missing something, but I can't see how that could possibly be interpreted to exclude the notion that he was offered additional inducements from the Conservatives - only that he never received any other inducements from any other party.

This, on top of the fact that Cadman's wife and daughter have both confirmed that Chuck told them about the million dollar life insurance offer.

It's anybody's guess as to whether this scandal is going to actually grow legs, but I can tell you one thing: I'll bet Stephane Dion is really wishing this story had broken about two days ago.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


I am usually amused when someone from the PMO, or the House of Commons (hi, Garth!), or the Ministry of Natural Resources, or even AECL pays a visit to my blog. Since I frequently write about topics related to these organizations, it's understandable and even flattering that they should check in from time to time.

However, when the Sergeant at Arms of the U.S. Senate pops by to check out my piece on the dubious hazards of incinerator bottom ash - not once, but twice in the past 24 hours - you'll forgive me if I start getting a little paranoid.

There's no indication of how he found my blog or what he was looking for. What's the interest here? Has someone threatened the U.S. Senate with a terrorist attack involving bottom ash? Or fluoride? Did I inadvertently use a keyword on a list somewhere? Is this interest official, or is it just some guy on his break who has relatives in Halton or a deep personal interest in public water treatment policy?

So, Mr. Sergeant at Arms: if you are reading this, please drop me a line and let me know that I can stop freaking out about this.

Thank you very much.

Of Red Dogs and Radicals

It looks like I'm going to lose another bet.

The last time I put money on the outcome of anything political was about 28 years ago when I bet my little sister ten bucks that the Americans couldn't possibly be stupid enough to elect a creepy, geriatric, uber-conservative warmonger as President.

This time I bet my husband twenty bucks that we'd see a spring election. Sigh.

Despite all the shrieking and wailing from the progressive blogosphere yesterday, there is just no getting around the fact that this is a budget the Liberals simply cannot vote against. If they did, the Conservatives would just spend the next thirty-six days asking why Dion brought on an election by voting against his own policies.

This is, of course, precisely the intended result - just as it was when Harper suddenly softened his stance on Afghanistan and adopted what was essentially the Liberal position. Unfortunately, he has only been able to do this because the Liberals themselves have drifted so close to the centre that they are in mortal danger of tipping over to the right.

When the Reformers killed the Progressive Conservative Party and stole their identity, they left a vacuum in the centre-right, so it would seem only natural that the Liberals be drawn in that direction. Unfortunately, that leaves a vacuum on the centre-left, resulting in the entire ship listing dangerously to starboard.

As an old Trudeau girl with leftist leanings, I find this shift alarming. But many Liberals with far more influence than I see this as a good thing. I'm sure my ex-PC MP does.

This strategy of playing the middle in order to broaden the base has been used for years by the centrist wing of the Democratic Party in the U.S., popularly known as the Blue Dog Democrats (or sometimes as 'Bush Dogs'). It seems like a sensible strategy on the face of it, especially if your main goal is to get re-elected. However, in the U.S. it led to the unsightly spectacle of House and Senate Democrats continuing to vote in favour of billions in Iraq war funding and unlimited extensions of the Patriot Act, despite holding a majority in both houses.

It took a while, but the level of disgust among the party's grassroots at this sort of unprincipled political pandering seems to have finally risen sufficiently to bite centrist Hillary Clinton in the ass. Unfortunately, it took eight years of George W. Bush to get them there.

From all accounts, Stephane Dion is no Blue Dog - or in this case, Red Dog. He's a principled progressive with a clear vision of what he wants Canada to be. But whatever his principles may be, he doesn't yet have enough support from the party's grassroots or the old guard to make a firm stand on anything, least of all the party's position in the political spectrum. And that may be just the way the Liberal Red Dogs like it.

From my comfy spot in the cheap seats, I would say that Dion's biggest tactical error this week wasn't Afghanistan or the budget, both of which were carefully engineered to be unassailable. No, his only legitimate shot at triggering an election would have been to allow the Senate to thumb it's nose at Harper's arbitrary deadline on passing his omnibus crime legislation. Why? Because it would have put the responsibility and the blame squarely in Stephen Harper's court.

Conventional wisdom is that nobody wanted to trigger an election over a fight between the House and the Senate, and that the obvious impropriety and possible constitutional violation in Harper's demand that the Senate bend to the will of the House would be completely lost on most Canadians.

I disagree.

Despite decades of western Reform propaganda, the fact remains that the average Canadian's principal complaint against the Senate is that it is redundant - merely a rubber stamp to legislation already passed by the House. By showing a little spine and refusing to be bullied into passing some deeply flawed crime legislation transparently based on failed U.S. policies, the Senate would have been seen to be doing its job, and would have been admired for doing so.

You can blame the Liberal party establishment for allowing Stephen Harper to back them into a corner over Afghanistan and the budget. The Liberal abstentions in the Senate yesterday rest squarely on Stephane Dion's shoulders.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Local Environmentalists Ban Dirt

Here we go again.

Region committee has turned down a proposal to accept bottom ash from Peel's energy-from-waste facility in Halton's landfill.

The planning and public works committee endorsed a motion to that effect Wednesday. Region staff had recommended the bottom ash -- an inert byproduct from the incineration process that's collected from the bottom of the furnace -- be trucked to the Halton Waste Management Site to use as a daily cover, which is a material placed over the garbage in the landfill each day to control things like blowing litter.

And who exactly is responsible for this? Why none other than the same group who nixed the construction of a low-emissions gas-fired power plant in Milton, resulting in a different and possibly worse-polluting gas-fired power plant being built just north of the Milton town line.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you P.O.W.E.R.:

Before passing the motion, the committee first heard from two local residents' groups -- Protect Our Water and Environmental Resources (POWER) and Oakvillegreen. Both are strongly opposed to using the bottom ash at the local landfill.

"It makes no sense to choose cover that contains toxic material," said POWER past president Barbara Halsall. "Vote no on this report."

Liz Benneian of Oakvillegreen shared similar sentiments.

"Bottom ash is not adequately tested and may pose health and environmental hazards," she argued. "There doesn't appear to be any benefit to Halton citizens."

A brief reality check here:

1) Bottom ash from incinerators has been tested and re-tested for decades by every country that uses waste incinerators. The most hazardous thing about bottom ash is the presence of metals like zinc and lead, but these are tested for regularly and are well below the levels that could pose any risk to the environment even if they did manage to leach into the soil. Which they probably couldn't because...

2) This is a LANDFILL. It is full of GARBAGE. In fact, it is full of exactly the same kind of garbage that is being burned to produce the bottom ash - except that in an incinerator all the really toxic crap is either burned off or removed with the fly ash.

In other words, bottom ash is considerably less toxic than the garbage it is being used to cover. If you dared me to I would probably eat it. Saying it ‘may be’ hazardous is like saying is like saying the earth ‘may be’ hollow or the moon landing ‘may have been’ a hoax - just because someone said so on a website doesn't make it true.

Yet despite all evidence and rational analysis, those who believe these things can simply point to ‘studies’ by the one or two people who agree with them, and dismiss the overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary as part of a vast government and corporate conspiracy to poison them and their children. And they always manage to talk the local politicians into going along with them because face it - would you vote for a guy who wants to poison your children?

This sort of thing is particularly endemic to Milton for some reason. Over the years, various factions of the local ‘That Shit’ll Kill You’ CoalitionTM have come out against lawn pesticides and cell phone towers, and for decades have managed to preserve Milton as one of the last remaining municipalities in Canada without water fluoridation - thus guaranteeing it’s perpetual dominance as the Dental Decay Capital of Halton. Hell, when I first moved here 14 years ago they didn’t even chlorinate the water. Just ask the people of Walkerton how dangerous they think chlorine is.

(And please - do NOT just run out and Google up a bunch of links to send me proving that this shit really will kill you. I've seen it. It's rubbish.)

Now, I should mention here that POWER is not nearly as irrational as some of the other citizens groups which have formed themselves around such imaginary threats. In fact, POWER does some good work on escarpment water quality and pushing back on local quarry expansion, which makes their bizarre obsession with marginal issues like this so frustrating. Not only does it damage their credibility by making them look like a bunch of ‘nimby’ crackpots, but the best they can hope to achieve is to banish these projects to neighbouring jurisdictions, making them someone else’s problem while still affecting us here in Milton.

Worse, they may well be damaging the environment by actively discouraging potentially beneficial technologies like energy-from-waste incineration.

In trying to figure out just what motivates an otherwise rational person to suddenly decide that cell phone towers cause brain cancer or that public water fluoridation is a chemical industry plot, I thought I’d Google the words ‘environmental’ and ‘hypochondria’ and see what popped up.

Looks like I’m not the only one to make this connection.

Unfortunately, the perceived line between legitimate and imaginary or exaggerated environmental hazards can be pretty thin unless you actually examine all that complicated sciencey stuff, so the term ‘environmental hypochondria’ is used pretty freely by anti-environmentalists to bash any and all environmental legislation. However, I did run across a fascinating article in ‘The Environmental Practitioner’ that takes a serious look at the problem from an environmentalist’s standpoint (emphasis mine).

As a general environmental practitioner, I have encountered many environmental hypochondriacs over the years, most of whom fall into one of the following categories:

1. Clients, generally promoting major projects, who have a limited appreciation of environmental issues, are concerned about threats to the project caused by bureaucratic delays or legal challenges, and are prepared to pay the necessary price to eliminate such threats.

2. Members of the community opposing a development for environmental reasons. In some cases the environmental hypochondria reflects genuine concern based on ignorance and sometimes fuelled by provocative or imaginative media reports. In other cases, it is contrived as an excuse to mask the real reasons for such opposition, which may relate to real estate prices or basic ‘nimbyism’. Such contrived concerns can be compared with the child who feigns illness to avoid having to go to school.

3. Staff of consent or advisory authorities who either lack the professional experience to make confident decisions in relation to environmental issues or, like the community- based malingerers, deliberately play up their concerns to support a hidden agenda of personal or institutional opposition to a proposal.

…As a consultant, I find that about one third of my time is devoted to addressing issues arising from environmental hypochondria, and that the results of this work contribute nothing towards better environmental outcomes. In some cases the net effect is negative, as human resources and funding are diverted away from discretionary projects which would enhance the environment or the state of environmental knowledge (e.g. rehabilitation projects, monitoring or research). This is one of the tragic aspects of environmental hypochondria

(‘Environmental Hypochondria’ by David Hogg, from ‘The Environmental Practitioner’, journal of The Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand, Issue 1, June 2006)

I may just run off a few copies of that article and hand them out at the next Halton Regional Council meeting.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Price of Power

I was thrilled yesterday when I saw the front page of the Toronto Star. Thrilled to see this issue finally rise above the fold in the mainstream media, but also nauseated as I always am when I see these pictures.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is mountaintop-removal coal mining.

I first read about this brutally efficient method of coal mining last fall over at DailyKos, where a number of diarists have been slogging away at the issue for some time now, trying desperately to be heard above the din of the Democratic Primaries. This one in particular just took my breath away.

I think it hit me especially hard because I had just recently driven through a more northerly part of the Appalachian range in Pennsylvania, and was completely blown away by the beauty and peace and presence of these pristine green mountains. Rising serenely above the freeways and the drab grey industrial towns, they loomed impossibly high, covered in an unbroken blanket of trees. I have never seen the Rocky Mountains, but I cannot imagine them to be any more beautiful than these.

So it wasn't all that difficult for me to imagine what those mountains would look like stripped of their trees, slashed by access roads, with the top third of their height blasted away entirely.

Here in Ontario, where we call our electricity "hydro", we like to pretend that abominations like this have nothing to do with us. But the fact is that 20% of our electricity still comes from coal, and 40% of that coal comes from Appalachia. How much of that comes directly from mountain-top removal no one will say, although it is practised to one extent or another by just about every coal company in the region and is becoming more widespread every day.

Still, asking how much of our electricity comes from MTR coal is kind of like asking how much of your hamburger meat comes from human corpses.

Go. Read. Me, I'm turning off the computer now.

Chalk River: The "Holy F!@#$ing S$#@t!" Edition

This story is starting to take on almost Watergate-like dimensions. Except, you know, on that way smaller, 1/10th Canadian scale.

Yesterday, the Washington Post Globe & Mail ran a story illustrating just how much better and more profitable the world has become for AECL since Linda Keen was replaced by a more... cooperative regulator.

Today the Globe & Mail ran two more stories that pretty much blow the government's spin on Chalk River out of the water, as well as exposing Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn as a lousy, stinking liar.

You really need to read them both.

The first article dispels any remaining notion that any of this ever had anything to do with isotopes or public safety. Even after following this story rather closely over the past few months, this particular section caused my jaw to drop to the floor (emphasis mine):

Ms. Keen's suggestion that her overstretched commission would no longer prioritize prelicensing was seen as obstructionist.

AECL's private-sector partners, including SNC-Lavalin, GE Canada and Hitachi Canada, hired some of the best-connected lobbyists in Ottawa to carry that message forward; other industry members complained directly to the Prime Minister's Office, sources said.

"We've tried to communicate however we could to whomever we could, to make this point," said Patrick Lamarre, president of SNC-Lavalin's nuclear division.

Michael Burns, the B.C.-based wind power executive who Mr. Lunn appointed as chairman of AECL, began to lobby the minister, whom he said he spoke with once a week during his chairmanship, about addressing the problems with Ms. Keen and her commission.

"I told [Mr. Lunn] then the dysfunctional relationship was going to cause serious trouble for commercial operations at the company. I told him we were going to have a train wreck. And I gave him a plan to fix it," Mr. Burns said.

The goal, he said, was to induce the government to legislate an overhaul at the CNSC, including Ms. Keen's position.

Mr. Lunn refused to discuss whether he attempted to push that reform in Ottawa, saying he is "not at liberty to talk about … discussions with cabinet colleagues."

No. Of course he isn't. But since the guy he appointed as chairman claims that Lunn was making a serious effort to bring this suggested overhaul to pass, I think it's pretty safe to assume that such discussions did, in fact, take place. Which means that even then, a government minister was attempting to interfere with the operation of a quasi-judicial tribunal at the behest of a Crown corporation for purely commercial reasons.

Another jaw-dropper is the revelation that the reactor would probably have been allowed to re-start anyway on December 18th, just two days after it actually did. Seems the AECL had screwed up some paperwork justifying a re-start with just one back-up powered pump, which was all the CNSC had asked for to give its approval. If they hadn't screwed up the paperwork (known as a 'safety case'), the reactor could have been re-started as much as a week earlier.

The second article reveals the existence of emails and at least one witness who can prove that Gary Lunn lied to a parliamentary committee when he claimed that he knew nothing about anything until Dec 3rd:

"I sent an e-mail on Nov. 29 or 30 ... which said this is serious, we need to get on this," the source said.

Mr. Lunn took a break from skiing in British Columbia on Dec. 1 to respond to the e-mail, the source said, adding that Mr. Lunn confirmed he "knew it was a situation he needed to work on."

"He certainly knew there was a situation and he was going to get on it Monday morning," the source said. "I assumed in my conversation he had ingested all the data in the [e-mail]. My assumption may be wrong, but when he said to me he'd received my message and acted on it, as far as I could tell he knew everything there was to know."

When confronted with this evidence, Mr. Lunn sputtered, looked around nervously, repeated his claims of ignorance, then suddenly tore off all his clothes and ran screaming into the snow.

And then he exploded.

H/T to Dave, Lord Kitchener's Own, Impolitical, and all you other bastards who found time to blog on this today while I was at work. Hmph.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Afghanistan Motion v.2.1


I hate to say it… but I can actually live with this.

I'm curious to read Dave's take, and I may well be missing something, but it looks like the Liberals got almost all of what they wanted. There are hard deadlines for the additional troops and equipment, there’s a hard timeline for disengagement even though it’s a bit more stretched out than the Liberals wanted, and there are clear parameters for the mission which focus on security and training rather than counter-insurgency, even if it doesn’t specifically say ‘non-combat’. Not to mention all the nice stuff about accountability and communication, although we know what their track record on that has been.

It doesn't say precisely what will happen if we don't get the troops and equipment, and I’m not sure exactly how we are going to “address the crippling issue of the narco-economy” without “alienating the goodwill of the local population”, but I guess we’ll see.

Shit. Crafty buggers, agreeing with us and all.

(more on this subject over at Kats 'n Dawgs)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Conservative Patronage Appointment #147

I kid. I've actually lost track at this point.

Tories appoint former candidate to CRTC

OTTAWA - The Conservative government has appointed a former party candidate to the CRTC - the country's broadcast regulator - raising fresh cries of patronage and hypocrisy.

Marc Patrone was a declared candidate for the Conservatives in Nova Scotia when the federal Liberal government appeared set to fall in May 2005. But he returned to his job as a legislative journalist in the province before the government finally collapsed at the end of the year.

Heritage Minister Josee Verner announced his appointment as a full-time member of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Tuesday in a news release.

She did not mention Patrone's ties to the Conservative party.

Verner said Patrone's experience "will greatly benefit the CRTC."

If by "benefit" you mean "hasten the wholesale deregulation of Canadian television and radio", then yeah. I especially like the end of the article:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised before the last election to combat patronage by creating a new appointments commission that would screen federal job candidates.

He abandoned the promise when opposition parties rejected his first choice to lead the commission - Calgary oil-industry executive and Conservative party fundraiser Gwyn Morgan.

But I digress.

How apropos that this appointment comes so soon after the CRTC hearings on the Canadian Television Fund. My homeboy Denis McGrath has been following the proceedings closely on Dead Things On Sticks. He posted a particularly eloquent defence of Canadian television and culture last week, and even for a guy who makes his living putting words together, it's an astonishing piece of work.

Go. Read.

My very favourite part is this:

Other countries used to have an insatiable appetite for American shows, too. But somewhere over the last few years, from Germany to Italy to France and beyond, the populace has gotten a taste for their own cop shows, lawyer shows, medical shows. Nowhere was there a discussion or an argument as to whether it was cultural or commercial. There was a recognition that it was all culture, and that it was worthy of support. Most of these countries, to varying degrees, have the same challenges Canada faces – it’s a difficult playing field to compete against the American product. Because it’s difficult, it’s generally recognized – even as a point of national pride – that it’s to be supported. It’s good for the culture, which means good for the country.

... But here in English Canada, culture comes smacking up against industrial policy.

And make no mistake, there’ s an industrial element to this, too.

When one country sells a product into another country at a cut rate, it’s called “dumping.”

If I have more cuttlefish than I can possibly eat in my nation, and I sell you my excess cuttlefish at a really cheap price, it’s good for me because I’m getting rid of it.

Of course, often, that means the cuttlefish industry in that country never gets going. That’s why tariffs are put in place.

What we’re in the middle of here is the side effect of an ongoing skirmish that concerns the industrial dumping of U.S. shows on Canadian channels. The system in this country is set up to allow for that. Simultaneous substitution practically demands it. The networks profit handsomely from it. They argue and lobby to keep their commitment to indigenous production low, as low as possible, to preserve it.

Now, if you happen to be a true believer in Friedmanite laissez-faire economics, then extending that kind of thinking to culture is not a big stretch. It's all just 'product' after all, so why not subject it to the same 'invisible hand' of market forces, just like oil, or beer, or health care services?

If, however, you believe that television is as much a part of a nation's cultural identity as, say, painting, literature, or even film, then just maybe the free market's apparent overwhelming preference for Law & Order / C.S.I. clones and game show / talent contest variants might not be exactly what you're looking for in terms of 'culture'.

I don't know the man, but I suspect Mr. Patrone will disagree.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Death of War

The Globe & Mail will be hosting an online discussion of Canada's role in the world on Tuesday, led by a panel consisting of David Eaves, Lloyd Axworthy and Jack Granatstein. To start things off, each of them has produced an op-ed piece outlining their take on Canada's role. I found Axworthy's to be particularly insightful, and it got me thinking about the rapidly changing face of foreign policy and, more specifically, the role of the military.

It has long been observed that the military, as an institution, tends to fight the previous war rather than the present one. The nature of military hierarchy makes this inevitable, as those in the highest ranks are those whose knowledge and experience are almost entirely based in 20 or 30 year-old conflicts. And the more quickly technology and geo-political circumstances change, the more this tendency becomes a problem.

My question is this: has the world reached a point where all traditional notions of war and the role of the military have become obsolete?

Now before you all start frothing at the mouth, let me qualify that by saying that I still believe there is still a need for armed forces in this world. As long as violence is perpetrated against innocent people, there will be the need for others with the ability and the will to protect them with physical force.

What disturbs me, particularly in the debate over Afghanistan but also more generally, is the tendency of some people to continually frame the question in World War II terms. They talk about honour and glory and military might, and they denounce peacekeeping and security as unmanly pursuits advocated by Nancy-boys and tourists. Worse, they continue to cling to the notion that wars can still be won through the application of bigger armies and superior firepower.

Surely Vietnam should have disabused us all of that notion.

War itself, in the traditional sense of a conflict between two or more nations resulting in a winner and a loser, seems to be becoming extinct. Ethnic conflicts, civil wars and terrorism are now the norm, and yet we still insist on using archaic terms like 'war' - as in 'the War on Terror', 'the War in Afghanistan', even 'the War on Drugs' - to refer to conflicts that do not involve one state vs. another, that do not follow the traditional rules or tactics of war, and that are by their very nature open-ended and ultimately unwinnable.

Lester Pearson was one of the first to begin to address this new reality by establishing the notion of 'peacekeeping' during the Suez Crisis. It's a brilliant concept and one that has been extremely effective in several conflicts since. Unfortunately, peacekeeping only applies to very limited types of situations: specifically, those where there is already a peace to keep. Chronic insurgencies, ethnic-based civil wars and terrorism still defy traditional military solutions.

I am not a military person or a foreign policy analyst. I don't know what the solution is. But I do know that we are going to need to make a radical shift in our thinking if we are going to find one.

We must begin by acknowledging a fundamental paradox: that those who are directly involved in the military and military culture have a vested interest in their own continued existence. If peace were to actually become the norm, all these guys would be out of a job.

Therefore, while it is vital to have experienced members of the military involved in foreign policy decisions, we cannot assume that their advice is necessarily going to help advance the cause of peace. So when a Colonel or a General says we should follow a particular course of action in, say, Afghanistan, as impressive as their credentials might be, we need to be mindful that even with the best of intentions, their advice may simply propose the best course of action for the military, and not for us as a country or for the people we are trying to help.

We also need to recognize that the military can only be one part of any long-lasting solution to world violence and conflict. Simply marching in waving the biggest dick stick not only continues to fail to bring the desired results, but in most cases exacerbates the situation. Diplomacy, aid and development, training and education, are all at least as vital in putting an end to violent conflict as armed security and combat.

And yes, sometimes it will be necessary to go out and kill people who are trying to kill others. But if that continues to be the primary focus of a military culture obsessed with reliving past glories rather than actively contributing to making peace, then the level of violence in the world can only continue to increase.

(crossposted at Kats 'n Dawgs.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Afghanistan: A Zen State of Chaos

How is it I have managed to go all this time without ever having heard of The Bugle?

This week, John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman discuss Mitt Romney, four dollar chickens, and Afghanistan. Not all at once. A sample:

Robert Gates said there was "no chance of failure", and in many ways that's true. You can't fail at something when you don't know what success is. What is success in Afghanistan? No one really knows, therefore Afghanistan is approaching an almost Zen state of chaos. There can be neither success or failure. Afghanistan just is.

Well done, gentlemen. Carry on.

Still More Chalk River Fallout

(Gotta love those nuclear reactor stories - the whole 'fallout' angle never fails to provide a catchy title.)

Linda Keen filed suit on Friday, contesting her dismissal as President of the CNSC.

Linda Keen will ask a judge to find that her dismissal by Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn in January was ”invalid or unlawful.”

Ms. Keen was terminated as the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission after she refused to sanction the reopening of a reactor in Chalk River, Ont., where required safety upgrades had not been performed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

“I continue to believe that as the President of the CNSC, I acted appropriately, in accordance with the Act and as mandated by Parliament. I am looking to the Court to set aside the termination of my role as the President", said Linda Keen, in a statement.

...“Despite her request for particulars of any misconduct or failure to meet performance standards, no such particulars were ever provided,” says a statement of claim been filed in Federal Court.

“She was deprived of sufficient notice of any alleged misconduct on her part and necessarily deprived of any opportunity to respond to the allegations.”

She doesn't appear to be asking for any financial compensation here. She just wants her job back, and maybe a bit of public vindication.

All this comes after Tuesday's briefing of the Commons Health Committee on the supply of radioisotopes. The committee heard from several people including Health Minister Tony Clement and Douglas Abrams, President of the Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine.

I wish I had the transcript, but there was one revealing moment when Abrams was asked how he would characterize the government's oft-repeated claim that the isotope shortage had put "thousands of lives at risk". His response was measured, echoing that of Dr. Karen Gulenchyn who testified last week, as well as the opinions expressed by Dr. Tom Perry in his CBC Radio interview regarding the alternative tests and treatments available to most patients. Abrams concluded by saying that the government's estimate of "thousands of lives at risk" was "overstated".

No surprise, then, when the "thousands of lives at risk" talking point was notably absent from Tony Clement's later testimony.

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Tony. He went to high school with my husband, and even then he was devoted to politics and the Progressive Conservative Party. So I can't help feeling badly for him and all the other old PCers who woke up one morning to find their beloved party replaced by some mutant pod-thing.

The stress seemed to be getting to Tony when he blew up at one of the committee members. I think it was a woman from the NDP, but I can't remember what it was she said that pushed his buttons. He calmed down pretty quickly, but I had the feeling he was really starting to wish he had never heard of radioisotopes, Chalk River or Linda Keen.

I think he should ask for a less stressful portfolio. Like Heritage, or maybe Fisheries. At least until his blood pressure medication kicks in.

(cross-posted at Kats 'n Dawgs)


The unexpected and overwhelming affection for ‘Juno’ among critics and moviegoers alike seems to have shocked its producers. After all, it’s just a quirky little movie about a pregnant teenager with a bunch of no-name TV actors that they were only ever going to release in a few dozen theatres.

To date it’s made over 115 million at the box office, and it’s still going strong.

The secret of the movie’s appeal is a rare alchemy between actors and script, resulting in an utterly unique group of characters that you can’t help falling in love with. They aren’t really like anyone you’ve ever met, and yet they’re so richly detailed and complete that you don’t doubt that somewhere, somehow, these people really exist.

I wish they had their own TV series so I could watch them every week.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m giving Juno a perfect five out of five stars. Go see it. This week. And don’t tell Murray it’s (mostly) Canadian.

(I'm guessing someone told him. Either that, or he's congenitally predisposed to despise Canadian movies. Murray's review is finally up on the Champion website, and it seems that he is one of the half dozen people on the planet who actively disliked 'Juno'. He actually uses the word 'rancid'. Go figure.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Smoke Filled Room

I received the dispatch a week ago from General Shaye, summoning the troops to a secret location somewhere in Oakville to receive our marching orders for the impending Battle to Re-Elect Garth Turner.

Pizza would be served. Outstanding.

I arrive promptly at 18:30 hours, but cannot access the building. I spot a suit and we exchange the secret handshake. "Do you have the pass code?" I ask. He checks his communique, but no indication is given.

On a whim I try pressing '187' (the code for "Party Room") and a voice comes on line. I cover the receiver with my hand and whisper, "Liberal Riding Association?"

"Yes", says the voice. "Please press 187".


"Never mind", he says. "I'll come out".


So began my first experience as a volunteer with a Federal election campaign. A campaign that isn't a campaign yet, of course. Still, it sure felt like one sitting in that room eating pizza off of napkins, collating poll maps and listening to advice from the more experienced campaigners in the room.

Aside from the snafu at the door, the team seems to be one well-oiled machine. I think it had something to do with the unlikely camaraderie between the ex-Progressive Conservatives who stuck with Garth throughout his banishment and exile, and the long-standing Halton Liberals who welcomed them in from the cold.

The result is a passion for both the candidate and the cause that I doubt exists in any other riding in Canada.

I left the meeting totally stoked, with a box of envelopes to stuff and a renewed confidence in the outcome of the upcoming campaign.

So to those of you who are mired in doubt, who have surrendered to despair, I say to you: back away from your keyboard, get off your ass and JOIN THE FIGHT!

(HOLY CRAP! 231 page views?!? Oh, I see - Garth linked to me. Thanks for the bump, Garth!)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Birth Announcement: It's a Baby Blog!

I am pleased to announce the birth of a brand new team blog. It's called 'Kats 'n Dawgs', and the team members consist of myself (Runesmith/Jennifer Smith) and self-described centrist/conservative Raphael Alexander of 'Unambiguously Ambidextrous'.

No, I do not have a brain tumour. Thank you for asking.

For the record, this was my idea. As a resident of Garth Turner's riding of Halton and a frequent visitor of his blog, I have had the opportunity to observe what happens when Conservatives (from Garth's old party) get to interact with Liberals (from his new party) on a regular basis in the comments section of single blog.

It ain't pretty.

Still, it made me aware of just how isolated most political bloggers have become. It made me wonder if there might be some place, some way, that liberals and conservatives could discuss and debate the issues of the day without shrieking at one another.

I ran across Raphael's blog by accident, I believe through one of several mocking links from Canadian Cynic. The particular post I read impressed me as exceedingly rational and non-partisan, so I kept checking in from time to time.

Ok, so I don't agree with everything (or much) of what Raphael has to say. Still, here was someone who was at least attempting to go beyond partisan positions and talk about what he REALLY thought, despite identifying himself as a small-c conservative. On impulse, I suggested doing some sort of bi-partisan / non-partisan / unholy freak-of-nature team blog together.

The son of a bitch took me up on it.

This blog is an experiment. I have no idea if I'm going to be able to take it for any length of time, let alone expect readers to subject themselves to it on a regular basis. Nonetheless, I think it's important to try. We are all Canadians after all, and if we can't even talk to each other without descending into a food fight, there really is no hope for us at all.

This is our manifesto. Subscribe if you dare.

Playing Chicken

The issue of Senate reform was resurrected once again yesterday as the merits of Bill C-20 (the Senate Appointment Consultations Act) were debated on the floor of the House of Commons. The bill is a somewhat half-hearted attempt to show some progress towards the Conservatives’ stated goal of a ‘triple-E’ senate by allowing individual provinces to decide whether or not they want to elect candidates for the senate to represent them.

Even the Conservatives admitted during the debate that the measures in the bill are "incremental" (there’s that word again), and that this is really all they can do without actually getting consensus from the provinces to make more fundamental changes to our constitution. As one rather articulate Member from Nova Scotia pointed out, it is nothing more than "a piece of red meat thrown at their base of old Reformers".

This rather sparsely attended drama was played out shortly before the far more public spectacle of an unprecedented government motion demanding that the senate pass their crime legislation by March 1st. The background was explained yesterday in the National Post:
The Conservatives argue the Senate has been impeding the government's crime agenda for months. The Tackling Violent Crime Act actually repackages five crime bills that the government failed to get through in the last parliamentary session. Among other things, it would impose tougher sentences for gun crimes and raise the age of sexual consent to 16 from 14.

But the Liberals point out it was the Harper government itself that prorogued the last session in the summer, thus requiring the bills to wend their way through Parliament again. And they note the bill was introduced in the Senate on Nov. 29, and Parliament only recently resumed after a holiday break.

The Senate legal affairs committee, which is studying the bill, has extended its sitting hours and will likely meet during a parliamentary recess next week to fast-track the bill, said Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs. But she said it's "unrealistic" to expect the Senate to pass the bill by March 1.

"They clearly don't want their bill. If they wanted their bill, they clearly would give the Senate time to examine it," said Carstairs. "We have a constitutional responsibility to give it sober second thought."

Quite right. The Conservatives are far less interested in whether or not this bill passes than they are in playing chicken with the Liberals. And today the Liberals obliged by jumping out of the car - again.
Liberals walk out of Commons before crime vote

OTTAWA–The Liberals walked out of the Commons en masse today rather than vote on a government motion demanding that the Senate pass an omnibus crime bill by March 1.

They dismissed the vote as a political stunt, pointing out that the Commons has no say in how the Senate conducts its business.

In their absence, the motion passed easily, 172-27.


I’m sure the rationale in the Liberal caucus was that this is a minor issue that Canadians don’t care about enough to go to an election over. That it’s all just political maneuvering and the motion doesn’t carry any legal weight. And from the numbers it’s apparent the motion would have passed anyway, although I wasn’t watching so I don’t know if it was the NDP or the Bloc who voted for it (my guess is the Bloc - they’ve never liked the Senate anyway).

While all this is true, the fact remains that the Honourable Members of the House of Commons have just been bullied and coerced into passing a pointless and probably unconstitutional motion designed to bully and coerce the Upper Chamber. And regardless of you may think of the Senate, that, to me, is unacceptable.

Why would Stephen Harper go so far as to make something as ridiculous as this into a confidence motion? Not to fast track some crime bill - the Senate will just ignore it.

To further impugn and discredit the Senate? Probably. As we’ve seen before, there’s nothing like an imaginary crisis to turn public opinion against an organization that Stephen Harper would like to be rid of altogether.

To make himself look tough and made Stephane Dion and the Liberals look weak and foolish? Most certainly.

Did he succeed? I don’t know, but just for once I would like to see Stephen Harper jump out of the car first.

(cross posted to Kats 'n Dawgs)


UPDATE: The always insightful Senator Elaine McCoy weighs in.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Arnie vs. the U.S. Government: Round Two

The Governator is at it again.

After putting his state way out front in the battle against global warming by legislating strict GHG emission standards on cars in California (and fighting the EPA and the federal government tooth and nail to do it), Arnie is taking the same approach with another environmental issue:

Toxic chemicals.

Arnie's "green" chemicals proposal shames Montebello Agreement on toxics

Once again, the California state government of Arnold Schwarzenegger has stuck its neck out for the environment. Amidst federal movement toward a continental approach to toxics regulation -- the so-called "Montebello Agreement" -- California is exploring "a wholesale shift" in the way industry manufactures everything from prescription drugs to plastics, pesticides and household cleaners.

"In an effort to reduce industry's reliance on toxic compounds, state environmental officials today will lay out a framework for transforming California into a leader in the development and use of 'green' chemicals," wrote the Los Angeles Times last week.

"The goal is to blast California way ahead of the world," Maureen Gorsen, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, told the paper. "We're trying to develop an entirely new state policy framework to move California to a... sustainable society. No government's ever done that."

You know, if he keeps this up they're going to take away his key to the Republican bathroom.

The article is well worth reading in its entirety because it outlines the fundamental difference between the U.S. 'risk management' approach to regulation, which puts the onus on the EPA to prove a chemical is dangerous, and the European 'precautionary' model, which puts the onus on the chemical company to prove that it isn't.

You can guess which model the Bush and Harper governments prefer.

From the sounds of it, Arnie is going to have a fight on his hands over this one as well. The chemical industry is lobbying hard against European-style regulations and encouraging the U.S. government to "preempt state laws on chemicals" - just like the auto industry lobbied against a "patchwork" of state laws on GHG emissions. And even assuming a regime change on both sides of the border within the next year, I'm not naive enough to think that these corporate interests are going to lose their political influence any time soon.

The irony is, the chemical industry is already adapting itself to a greener way - partly because of stricter European regulations and partly because of the soaring costs of petrochemicals. But with the American economy tanking and many Canadian businesses looking to Europe to help soften the blow, our government's regressive attitude towards regulatory policy might just shut us out of the European market altogether. At which point the Americans may just go from being our largest trading partner to being our only trading partner.

Now there's a cheery thought.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Super Tuesday: The Post Game Show

Every blogger and pundit on the planet has been up to their elbows in entrails today, analyzing, deciphering and dissecting yesterdays Super Tuesday results. I won’t bore you with my sad attempts at analysis - you can check out Daily Kos or this excellent and optimistic post for all that.

What came to me last night as I fretted over the numbers on CNN was a realization of just how emotionally invested I have become in the prospect of Barack Obama becoming President of the United States.

I stated some of my reasons here, back when I was still ok with the idea of any of the three democratic front runners bagging the nom. But today, with Obama doing well but Clinton ahead in the overall delegate count (and seriously, what the fuck is a ‘superdelegate’?!), I am struck by the thought that if she wins, I will be… disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure she’d make a fine president. It’s just.. I dunno. It would just seem like more of the same somehow. I can’t even get all that excited over the whole ‘first woman president’ thing. After all, just about every other western democracy has already had a female president or prime minister at some point, including ours. Even now we have a black female head of state, so the novelty factor for either candidate doesn’t hold much appeal for me.

But the idea of an outsider with fresh ideas becoming president by inspiring a populist movement of the young and the disenfranchised demanding more and better from their government and their country? That excites me.

Jason Cherniak is not excited. Jason is thoroughly unimpressed with Obama's ten years in politics, is dismissive of his legal and social activist credentials, and is baffled by the appeal of a man who he describes as "no different than any other pretty boy who thinks his looks and charm will get him everything in life".

Hillary, on the other hand, he admires and respects.
In Hillary Clinton, we have a woman who has taken every advantage offered to her to make a difference in the world. In Barack Obama, we have a young, charismatic guy who just decided one day that he wanted to run for president. This isn’t a high school popularity contest. It’s a vote for the person who will literally hold the lives of billions of people in his or her hands. Experience has to count for something and I’ll never understand how so many Canadians can ignore that important fact. We’d never elect the Canadian equivalent of Mr. Obama to lead the Liberal or Conservative Party. We never have.

Ok, there’s no way I could let that one slide.
Never? Oh, c'mon Jason - you should know better than that. Three words:

Pierre. Elliott. Trudeau.

I go on at length, so just check the comments for the rest of my rant. I'm number three of 46.

Of the 45 other people who commented on his post, most seemed to agree with me about Obama’s worthiness as a candidate, if not my comparisons to Trudeau. But I can understand where Jason is coming from. He has his reasons for rejecting the whole notion of charisma and inspirational oratory as the basis for electing a leader. He even tips his hand when he offers Joe Clark as "a good example of how a smart person can win without any charisma at all".

I may be wrong, but I don’t think he’s just talking about Clark here.

Face it - as much as many of us may admire and respect Stephane Dion and support his leadership of the Liberal Party, one could never accuse him of being charismatic. And that’s ok too. Jason is right - you don’t need to be charismatic or a brilliant speaker to be a good or even a great leader. But having those qualities as your greatest strength should not disqualify you, nor should it negate the rest of your experience and qualifications. It should only enhance them.

Or as one particularly dim pundit on CNN put it, "voters like to vote for people they like".

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Cherniak.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Purge Continues

Add another name to the list of "Liberal hacks" removed from office:

Wheat Board fires official who criticized government

WINNIPEG — A Canadian Wheat Board vice-president who was an outspoken critic of the Harper government's tactics in its dealings with the marketing agency was sacked yesterday.

Deanna Allen, the board's vice-president of farmer relations and public affairs, had been a thorn in the side of the government as it attempted to end the Wheat Board's barley-marketing monopoly.

Ms. Allen said in an interview late yesterday that she was “dismissed without cause” by Wheat Board interim president Greg Arason.

“I was told that Greg had just come in from an in camera session with the board and that he was to inform me that I was dismissed effective immediately,” she said.

The news “came as a bit of a shock,” she said, adding she had no idea that her dismissal was imminent.

Interestingly, the federal government cannot directly hire or fire members or staff of the wheat board - only the appointed members of its board and it's President, which they did a year ago when they replaced the uncooperative Adrian Measner with interim president Greg Arason. Happily for them, Mr. Arason is considerably more cooperative with the government's agenda of eliminating the Wheat Board, as he has just demonstrated by firing Allen.

Even more cooperation is expected from the government's newly announced permanent replacement for Measner - Australian agri-business executive Ian White.

Buckdog knows a lot more about all this than I, so I recommend that you wander over to his joint and continue reading there.

And on a somewhat unrelated topic, please read this editorial by Dan Gardner on the increasingly Orwellian atmosphere in Ottawa. ADD: And this one by Randall Denley. Brrrr!

Friday, February 1, 2008

It's Getting Chilly In Here

Remember that creepy funny story a couple of days ago? The one about Harper's Wall o' Harper in the government lobby in the House of Commons? The one that inspired Garth Turner to go in and take a few pictures?

We obviously forgot that Our Dear Leader has no fucking sense of humour.

Yes, the pictures of the redecorated Government Lobby in the House of Commons which were posted here yesterday are gone.

... If the pictures remained here, I believe that some blameless, hard-working employees of the House of Commons would be disciplined, or worse. This could be the outcome of complaints made against them by the Government of Canada, for allegedly allowing material which was published here to have been photographed. This situation was made known to me just before QP today, presumably after Conservative officials had been in touch with their counterparts in the Liberal Party.

Just to be clear, no political colleague of mine ordered the pictures off this blog. No Harper official has gone on record asking for it, either. But by using the threat of professional injury to Commons security personnel, unless it happened, that outcome has taken place.

You know, anyone with any class at all would have just laughed it off. Harper could have cracked a couple of self-deprecating jokes for the media, rattled off some lame justification, and that would have been that.

But no - like everything else, he has to go at it with a sledgehammer. Quashing dissent. Muzzling criticism. And as a last resort, punishing the innocent when he can't get his way otherwise. It's bad enough when he does this to get his way or promote his political agenda or cover up the incompetence of a minister.

But to bring down the hammer just because someone made him look foolish?! That, to me, is even more disturbing than erecting a Shrine to Steve in the House of Commons.

Disturbing, and profoundly frightening.

Turner's removal of these photos from his blog was prudent given his personal involvement and the animosity his former party has towards him, but in the long run it's a moot point. They are already all over the net, so getting rid of them all is going to be like putting the toothpaste back in the tube. Just look at what I found today:

Honestly, I have no idea where they came from. They're just out there. I know I didn't take them. I'm just saving them from spiralling down the memory hole.