Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

A Long Time is Four Months in Politics0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen (Thursday April 12, 2007 at 10:23 am)

Opportunista par excellence Belinda Stronach has announced her departure from politics. Last Christmas (the Frosty Wonk’s heart’s just dripping with familial warmth), between the lights and roaring fire of the hearth, her father asked her to take a multi-million dollar executive position with his multi-billion dollar company — for the good of the family.

It took her four months to think “long and hard”, before her dimming prospects at a quick route to the top in politics paled before the bright lights of the quick route back to the top in business.

This may prove to be nothing more than a temporary withdrawal until the time seems right. Only time will tell. After all, Belinda categorically denied her interest in the leadership of the new Conservative Party when she was busy working on its merger, only to run for that post weeks later; and claimed that her last-minute crossing of the floor in 2005 was based purely on longstanding differences with her party, notwithstanding the timing of the event and the front-bench ministerial post she instantly assumed. Why should her decision to be “involved in a different way” be any more certain than these pronouncements?

Apart from unnecessary and scurrilous news stories, Canadians aren’t likely to notice Belinda’s absence from national politics all that much. Magna shareholders, on the other hand, may want to ask one important question:

How suitable for a senior leadership post is someone who takes four months to make a decision?

Paul’s Farewell0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen (Monday February 26, 2007 at 8:49 pm)

The former Prime Minister, Paul Martin, Jr., has declared that he will not seek re-election.

In nearly two decades representing the securely Liberal Montreal riding of Lasalle-Emard, the son of a three-time nominee for the Liberal Party’s leadership won a strong record as Finance Minister before a brief stint as Prime Minister of Canada.

The decade-long leadup to his leadership set the letdown of his tenure as Prime Minister in perspective. Compared to the accomplishment of his time as Finance Minister, the elimination of a $42 Billion deficit, there were no great advances or laudable achievements during his Premiership. Martin seemed, in the end, unsure of what to do with the position he had sought so long. If being Prime Minister served any purpose but the surrogate satisfaction of his father’s unrealized ambition, he did nothing to demonstrate it.

Save, perhaps, his efforts in producing the Kelowna Accord. In April of 2004, secure in an inherited majority government, Martin convened a roundtable discussion with Aboriginal leaders. This lead to a series of topical meetings, culminating in a First Ministers’ conference in November of 2005. There, on the eve of a possible federal election, targets were jointly negotiated for a 10-year partnership in which governments would work with the five main representative groups for Aboriginals in Canada to “close the gap” between the social and political condition of aboriginals and other Canadians.

Small doubt that the end product was rushed. The documents for the First Ministers were prepared within a month and the federal government’s announcement of the Accord (and the unbudgeted spending it would require) came a mere three days before the vote of non-confidence which felled the government.

Indeed, in light of the comprehensive efforts of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), the purpose and cost of the discussions were called into question. Why not work from a template which had been quoted wholesale with approval by the very groups with which the new meetings would be held? Why not hold the meetings as a mechanism for the implementation of the RCAP’s recommendations, rather than beginning with policy retreats which would inevitably involve far fewer stakeholders than the RCAP’s hearings?

That’s easy. Implementing someone else’s work is never as impressive as doing things yourself. There are far more political points to be made from appropriating the entirety of the policy, from leading preliminary negotiations to concluding a final agreement.

A metaphor is hardly necessary for something as fleeting as the Martin government; but if there need be one, the Kelowna process is ideal. It spanned nearly the entirety of Martin’s tenure, and epitomized his style as Prime Minister. A grab bag of good intentions, redundant tumult in the name of publicity, and ultimate failure, despite effete, last minute pledges.

The fact remains that Canada’s First Nations deserve better. Hence Paul Martin’s decision to devote his post-Parliamentary life to working for Aboriginal causes. In that, perhaps, he can salvage his time as Prime Minister by connecting his later efforts to the Kelowna process he championed.

An outcome far less important, true, than the success of his cause; but sometimes, for a politician and son, that is what matters most.

John Q. Public III0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Tuesday February 20, 2007 at 6:36 pm)

It’s not every day that private citizens (oxymoronic, true) are asked to comment on their political impact. On any given evening, Ministers and Parliamentarians collectively attend scores of public events, hoping to glean a few added grains of support from their association with the cause.

What is far more interesting about this incident isn’t the celebrity of the private citizen involved. It’s that the citizen is in the same position as the politician.

William Henry Gates III (called “Bill” most of the time) was, by 1998, the “world’s richest man“, but had a bit of an image problem. Resentment of wealth played a factor, certainly, but to suggest that that was the cause would ignore much. As the frontman for Microsoft, the company’s business tactics of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, or, in clearer terms, misdirection, were soon being attached to him personally in popular culture (caution: may contain other languages).

A problem faced by many celebrities, to be sure. But then, people like O.J. Simpson and Britney Spears sell themselves, not products, so there’s a far more compelling reason for them to be concerned about their images. Hatred of Microsoft, while widespread, hasn’t affected their bottom line, so it’s hard to justify a makeover for Chairman Gates by the need to preserve the company’s reputation.

Mr. Gates’s makeover began in earnest with the 2000 founding of his eponymous charity. Why name a charity after yourself? Why not? Consider the Rockefeller foundations, both named for their wealthy benefactors (though neither carries their full names and those of their wives). But both of those groups have far lower profiles, and their websites aren’t strewn with images of their namesakes.

No, the primay objective of Mr. Gates’ close collaboration with his charity is to improve his reputation with the public by associating himself with better causes than those which built that reputation. Which is the irony in the media’s questioning:

Mr. Gates was asked Tuesday if he was worried that the timing of today’s press conference, arriving as it did in the middle of a flurry of election speculation, left him playing both political and charitable roles.

And the double-edged truth behind his response:

I am glad to hear that putting research money into AIDS makes people politically more popular.

Shoulder-to-shoulder, the two men on the podium become hard to tell apart.

Between the Horns0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen, Golden Tacks, Brass Tacks (Tuesday January 30, 2007 at 11:21 pm)

The dismissal of Mme Gélinas, environment commissioner, by Sheila Fraser, Canada’s auditor-general, was unquestionably the right decision. An office dedicated to neutral investigations cannot afford to become known for advocating or denouncing policies. Its task is to evaluate them.

But the dismissal, and Mme Gélinas’s outburst of support for environmental policies reveals a problem which neither modern democracies nor those who manage them have yet been able to solve.

Information is the lifeblood of democratic systems. If the public is not well-informed, it cannot make good decisions on policy. It may, however, be in a government’s interest to conceal information which would discredit them.

What to do, then, as a civil servant privy to information which suggests that urgent action be taken? What happens if the government refuses to act on or release it?

The Public Service’s oath requires silence; and with good reason. The public servant owes a duty, firstly, to the Minister whom he serves. Otherwise, he would be justified in releasing information whenever he disagreed with the Minister’s decisions.

Ministers are elected to make those decisions. Letting civil servants make them elevates the opinion of unelected civil servants over indirectly elected Cabinet members. The latter is somewhat more in keeping with democratic principles. After all, Ministers can be rejected at the ballot box. How does the public remove an obstructive civil servant?

Most dangerous, perhaps, is the legacy problem. One government might bind the hands of its successors by appointing civil servants likely to agree with its policies. If they were able to speak out when they disagreed with government policy, civil servants could then undermine the political enemies of their former masters.

None of which is much consolation to the official who passionately believes that the public must know something. Mme Gélinas’s outburst wasn’t a condemnation of government policies. Her report measured those by their own expectations. It was a cry for more, and one which was too general to constitute either critique or praise for government policy.

But how to leave the choice to speak in the hands of civil servants without inviting abuse isn’t yet clear. So the public service is left on the horns of a dilemna; and it is unfortunately those ahead who best see what’s coming next.

For The Record0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Thursday January 11, 2007 at 6:30 pm)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the scorecard for “The Repentent Radio Host”, the “Seceded Secessionist”, Jean LaPierre. In just over two years of play since his return to federal (and federalist) politics in 2004, LaPierre managed to rack up an unimpressive record of irrelevance and failure as Quebec Lieutenant for Prime Minister Martin and Minister of Transport.

Fighting the Bloc
Bloc seats in Quebec went from 38 in 2000 to 54 in 2004 to 51 in 2006. Their vote count went from 1.37 Million to 1.67 Million to 1.55 Million. Even with the sponsorship scandal accounted for, Mr. LaPierre’s effect is, to put it politely, hard to measure.
Fighting for the Liberals
Liberal seats in Quebec went from 36 in 2000 to 21 in 2004 to 13 in 2006. Well done.
Fighting Words
Mr. LaPierre called Gilles Duceppe a “Nazi” for suggesting that the Liberals would be “eliminated” in coming elections, and a “coward” for not abandoning federal politics to run for the provincial party’s leadership. Presumably, Mr. LaPierre had already realized that the place for cowards is in federal politics.
Fighting for Canadians
Presided over Transport Canada while an open-skies agreement was concluded with the US. Signed air transport agreements with China and India. Saw increased investment in container facilities in Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Reduced fees from airports (spin-offs of the federal government) to the federal government, lest they fail and the federal government have to take over their running again.
Special Honours
*Received the fewest votes of any Liberal candidate in the ever-red riding of Outremont since a by-election in 1942.
*There were 25% more voters in Outremont in 2004 and 2006 than in 1942.

But the real question, naturally, is whether this “star candidate” qualifies as one of the most laughable seat-warmers in history? Even against competition like this, the smart money is on LaPierre.

Hats off? In celebration. Good riddance, Mr. LaPierre, and thank you for courageously leaving federal politics, just as the going gets rough for a party trying to make its way back from opposition.

Getting It0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Friday October 20, 2006 at 4:35 am)

The anti-creationist lobby often reacts to their opponents by labelling them as backwards-looking; but in general, the problem is that things are the other way around. While studies of evolution focus on reviewing fossil records and the results of testing, creationists educate, inculcate, and elect in hopes of furthering those same aims in future. Only too late, it seems, do the guardians of the scientific legacy realise that they have been outmanoeuvered, politically speaking.

Which is why 2003 Nobel Laureate Peter C. Agre, MD’s appearance on October 19th on the Colbert Report deserves more praise than can easily be offered. Dr. Agre made two suggestions, each of which illustrate how well he understands both the nature of the challenge confronting the scientific community and the nature of the solution:

People must read more. . .of everything
A narrow background breeds narrow thought. It’s not enough for scientists to focus on their own disciplines, any more than it is for others to ignore the likes of biology and chemistry. Not only does a broader mind stand a better chance of dealing with emerging challenges — it’s also less likely simply to follow others’ lead. That’s good for everyone, and a powerful reminder that professional focus and broad erudition aren’t mutually exclusive. Agre’s selections of Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson are great places to start.
A Nobel Prize is worth two weeks of broadcast time
Agre made the bold offer to hand over his Nobel in exchange for 10 of the Colbert Report’s half-hour timeslots. Few better opportunities exist to reach a broad audience; and understanding that taking science public is the best way to ensure political support is exactly where scientific proponents have been falling behind. Kudos to the good Doctor for catching the political implications — further kudos for making the bid.

Which translates into a simple proposition: Dr. Agre is a scientist with some impressive political sense. For the sake of his cause, let’s hope others follow his lead.

Out of Nowhere. Heading back that way?0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Hats Off, Gentlemen, Gaia (Thursday October 5, 2006 at 2:03 am)

After months of watching the government run Parliamentary circles around an opposition whose own strategy was remedial, at best, an observer might have had cause to wonder whether there were any experienced MPs on the opposition benches at all. Today’s vote, sending a private member’s bill to committee, proves that there are.

Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez’s Bill, C-288, has the potential to embarass the government by:

  • Requiring an annual account of measures to be taken to meet Kyoto objectives
  • Requiring Cabinet to enact legislation as necessary to implement those measures

C-288 is unlikely to become law for two reasons. Private members’ bills can be easily blocked by extending debate on government bills or Ministerial speeches or eliminated by opening a new Parliamentary session. Given that bills are randomly drawn for consideration from a large pool of potential legislation, it’s unlikely that a replacement bill would make it as far again. Second, while most of its provisions only require drafting of regulations, the requirement that the annual account include:

(iii) spending or fiscal measures or incentives

Is something the government may try to qualify as requiring public expenditure. If so, it can’t become law without an accompanying Royal Recommendation, which only the government can provide. The opposition will argue that this clause only requires the reporting of such measures where taken by the government without actually requiring the expenditure itself. The opposition will have the better of that argument.

Most importantly for the Liberals, the passage of this bill through first reading provides distraction from the auditor-general’s report on their own environmental record, and will, they hope, sap some momentum from the Tories’ public musings over environmental proposals to be named later.

But there’s a problem with this approach. While it’s guaranteed to accomplish those goals short-term, there isn’t much in it for a sustainable attack; and while forestalling government momentum is good politics, the Liberals are still in sore need of something positive to displace it. Besides which, the Tories’ public musings are just that — musings. There will be announcements of the actual program to come, and the Liberals won’t be able to brandish this vote a second time.

No doubt, the Liberal hope for a proposal rests on the outcome of their leadership contest; but Messianic leadership didn’t produce this success, and if the work of a near-rookie member, backed by an experienced caucus can have such successes, it’s not really a question of getting ideas from the leader. It’s a question of getting someone who can work with the strength already there.

The Wrong Right0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen, Golden Tacks, Crossroads of Culture (Tuesday October 3, 2006 at 8:22 pm)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others’ calls for the restaging of Idomeneo by the Berlin German Opera Company are absolutely right. The edition to be staged, including a scene with the severed heads of several religious leaders, was cancelled over fears of violence from Muslim extremists (despite the fact that a previous staging in 2003 resulted in no such incidents). But by focusing on the threat to free expression, those fighting for liberal rights have ignored the legitimate foundation of Muslims’ complaint, and revealed that the real problem in this case and others isn’t expression — it’s conscience.

Of course there are some in the Muslim world exploiting these issues to sow fear of aWestern plot against Islam, those threats belong, with others, in the “to be ignored” pile. Blackmail begets blackmail, and as Chancellor Merkel and others have rightly observed, succumbing to the threat of violence is the surest way to magnify that threat.

The legitimate concern is harder to dismiss. For many Muslims, it is wrong to depict the prophet Mohammed. Hence, in some paintings and illustrations of Koranic tales, Mohammed is veiled (of course, the practice isn’t universal). Those Muslims who object to such depiction may genuinely be offended by such works as this version of Idomeneo.

The first response is the right one — liberal society doesn’t protect anyone from mere offence. Still, appeals to religious tolerance may demand forebearance.

Those are wrong in the most fundamental sense. The essence of religious tolerance in Western society stems from State persecution aimed at enforcing uniform behaviour. Faith became a major contention when Protestants broke from the Catholic Church; and rulers across Europe were often brutal in their efforts to impose the “right” choice on their subjects.

Queen Elizabeth’s response was typical of her clarity of insight:

I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.

In ten words, the crux of that most cherished of liberal values: the freedom of the conscience. We may be required to do many things, and punished for many others, but the State cannot justify either command or condemnation by the need to control what we believe. It is from this fundamental principle that the right to religious belief, tolerance, and worship are born.

And this is the problem with calls for non-Muslims to respect Muslim practice. Religious tolerance means allowing those with beliefs to hold them, not requiring non-believers to do the same or, what is worse, act only in conformity with others’ beliefs.

This is the real threat to rights — not that to expression, which is always bounded by considerations of balance and propriety. It is the threat to freedom of conscience posed by allowing religious belief and practice to be imposed on nonbelievers for the sake of believers.

There remains the problem of offensiveness. When you know something will be offensive, there must surely be extra consideration. Common courtesy demands that we not allow ourselves to recklessly or cheaply offend others. But that is no matter for government, as those who attacked Danish embassies did not understand. Policing morals no more befits a state than threats of violence do deep religious feeling.

There may be no more fundamental right than this: the right to a conscience free to find its own way. We check our expressions daily, biting our tongues over harsh words, letting others take the spotlight, refraining from merely adding our agreement to a chorus, or ending a discussion with discretion. But our minds are not so easily checked, and often run on once our words run dry.

We can therefore tolerate the occasional attack on what we say, all in the name of sociability. But our freedom to believe — no matter how casually threatened — is too precious to yield.

In His Own Words0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen, Golden Tacks, Gaia (Wednesday September 6, 2006 at 5:20 pm)

So let’s get this straight: Liberal Leadership Candidate Stephan Dion’s environmental platform was partly copied from the proposals of a globally acclaimed environmentalist and Companion of the Order of Canada.

Is anyone wondering why this is a problem? Is it because of lack of attribution? Has one of his rivals attributed his carbon tax proposal? It’s not like others haven’t previously offered up the same idea.

Perhaps it’s copyright that everyone’s worried about; and they’ve got a point there. After all, if M. Dion is willing to lift the text of significant study by this group of experts, might he not do the same thing to other experts? The Suzuki Foundation does copyright their reports.

So that must be it. By copying out portions of David Suzuki’s proposal and not attributing it properly, Dion’s campaign used copyrighted material, which is a serious problem if the copyright holder doesn’t give permission for the use. Of course, that’s not the case here:

Pierre Sadik, senior policy adviser for the David Suzuki Foundation, acknowledged there were several similarities between the Dion Web site and the foundation’s paper but said that’s a “non-issue” for him.

“We’re delighted any time a politician picks up our proposed solutions to Canada’s environmental problems.”

Which is just good sense.

So, no foul? Not legally, no. But there are some who might be troubled. The proliferation and increased sophistication of lobby groups has raised suspicion among some that these groups positions are designed, from the start, for negotiating purposes. If so, then the proposals they advance shouldn’t be adopted wholesale. Will those individuals be angry with a politician who unhesitatingly accepts the claims of activists?

It’s a difficult line to draw; but the Suzuki Foundation, unlike groups like Greenpeace, isn’t known for taking absolute or potentially violent stands on environmental issues. It has consistently emphasised a science-based, rational approach to the assessment and development of policy and peaceful implementation of new policy.. It is precisely the kind of organisation with the kind of expertise that should be encouraged.

And if this plagiarism encourages the Foundation as it claims, kudos to M. Dion’s team. If only they had the guts to admit their mistake. How far would guts like that take them?

Workers of the World, Unite!0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen, Golden Tacks (Sunday June 4, 2006 at 1:17 pm)

Lest it be thought of this Frozen Wonk that he carries the same kind of hatred for unions that he does for, say, mindnumbingly pointless displays of hatred, things which fraudulently claim to be of “general interest”, and the ironically useless and tragically overused word “utilise”, be assured, it isn’t so. It’s simply that it’s often hard to find examples in the media of why unions matter.

But this week, this came along, as if to prove that much is still good and true in the world of organised labour.

A survey recently distributed by the Halifax Regional School Board asked teachers to identify their sexual orientation. The Board, which has just lost a case over the 2001 dismissal of a lesbian teacher, obviously suffers, at present, from a bad reputation in this area. While the survey was a poor decision on the Board’s part (you don’t need to know how many teachers are homosexual, because there’s no decision you can legally take which depends on that information), the real story here is the importance of the teachers’ union’s response.

Telling members not to complete the survey wasn’t, in this case, about the justification provided (the inability of the Board to safeguard the information) or about the spectre of unions bullying their members. It illustrates the crucial function of unions: to support workers whose relationship with the employer is otherwise one-on-one.

By telling members not to complete the survey, the union is reminding its members that there is a large, powerful body ready to stand behind them when they have to confront their employer with a justified grievance. That they are, in brief, not alone.

And in the case of a sometimes-disadvantaged minority, that’s a powerful statement indeed.

Godfrey, Good Night, and Good Luck0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Wednesday April 12, 2006 at 11:44 pm)

As you may have heard by now, John Godfrey, an early declarant for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, has decided to back out of the race, citing medical concerns.

Godfrey had proposed a new path for the Liberal party, one combining a dedication to environmentalism with the fiscal prudence which has been the standard for governments since the early 1990s. But being first-to-market isn’t necessarily an advantage. It can give others a chance to make those minor adjustments which can turn a good position into a great one.

Whatever his reasons, it was clear that Godfrey would have had a difficult go of things. Stephane Dion, a fellow former Minister with a higher profile in and outside of Quebec, declared his own candidacy on much the same platform — a combination of economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Hot ground, apparently. But between another former Minister entering the fray, a crowded slate of Toronto candidates (Ignatieff, Kennedy, and possibly Bob Rae), and his personal concerns, Godfrey’s chances of winning the leadership were slim; and for a man of his age and experience, it wasn’t about putting his name out.

It’s always a shame to see a race cool off, as it must when a shoot-out participant gets shot out; but if he has half the political smarts of a man of his experience, he’ll wind up well ahead in the future leader’s eyes and possible Cabinet. Briefly a runner, but stronger for having done so.

Revolutionary Potential0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen, Golden Tacks (Monday April 3, 2006 at 10:19 pm)

It has been some time since the Canadian House of Commons saw a Speaker from the opposition benches. It last happened in 1979, only once before that, in 1926, and curiously, in every case (including today’s) has been a Liberal Speaker in a Conservative minority Parliament. Knowing that, there’s a kind of special satisfaction in witnessing the curious ritual by which the Speaker-elect is dragged to his post.

The custom harkens back to the very origin which gave the Speaker his title: representing the will of the House to the monarch. In Stuart times, the golden age of the Absolute Monarch, speaking to the King on behalf of his adversaries was a dangerous prospect. The unwillingness of the designee to assume his duties led, in one case, to his being forcibly restrained to keep the House in session.

Isn’t it peculiar, then, to realize that in the years since that fateful revolution the powers of the King have passed to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister has become a fixture in the House, and the Prime Minister is himself selected for the ability to command the support of Parliament? It’s despairing to think that the very institution which once stood as the brake on executive power is now expected to be dominated by the very force it once held in check.

Under the circumstances, then, it’s a wonderful thing to see a Speaker who has less to lose from his impartiality and can serve as the object of no cheap attacks on his character. Not that the Speaker’s impartiality has been questioned — far from it. But sometimes, little misunderstandings make it look like the Speaker stands closer to the government than he really does.

It is often believed that the Speaker votes “with the government” when forced to break a tie. This is something of a misconception. The speaker must vote first to continue debate, and did so in the last Parliament by voting in favour of an NDP budget amendment on May 19, 2005. While this vote kept the government from falling, it was cast to continue debate or “maintain the status quo” — the real guiding principle of such decisions. Technically speaking, an opposition amendment is against the government’s interests, regardless of whether the government is for it or not.

No, the real threat to the Speaker of late has not been claims of partisanship — it has been the increasing unruliness of the House. The past few Parliaments have been marked by animosity and hostile remarks in a place which is supposed to be ruled by civil dignity.

Speaker Milliken has suggested (as recently as his interview today on CBC Radio 1) that the appearance of disorder is exaggerated by the media. After all, what’s more exciting: a reasoned exchange on the finer points of trade negotiations, or an exchange of feigned offence leading into trashy insults? A viewer watching a two-minute exchange between hotheaded minister and frustrated critic isn’t likely to have a balanced impression of the remaining forty-three minutes of Question Period, much less the remaining hours of House debate.

But voters looking for more decorum shouldn’t be blaming speakers. Considering the childish venom which plagues campaigns and voters alike, is it any wonder that the resulting members make stupid remarks, inside or outside of the House?

Forget about revolutionizing debate. Canada is presently blessed with a Speaker of the House who had a subscription to Hansard while in University. In knowledge of procedure and the powers of the Chair, there are few better qualified to do their part in revolutionizing the quality of Parliamentary debate. When, pray tell, will the public do its part?

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Wednesday January 11, 2006 at 11:09 pm)

If you haven’t heard of Duffy vs. Duffy, watch it.

No, this is serious. Download the plugin, do whatever is necessary, but watch it.

Canadian journalists have long suffered from a case of shrunken cojones (a certain risk in northern climes). Avoiding hard questions seems almost a religion. As regular readers will know, important questions aren’t hard to ask — if the frozen Wonk can ask them, anyone can.

The problem is that politicians are allowed to deflect. Journalists allow them to avoid questions, rephrase them, turn them back, or any number of other simple ploys to give the answer they want, rather than what the questioner is demanding.

That’s why special effort demands kudos.

Mike Duffy wasn’t putting up with John Duffy, Liberal strategist’s, evasions. He told him off, revealed the strategist’s off-camera plea to avoid the issue, and insisted on the importance of the question. Let there be no mistake, John Duffy doesn’t have to answer; but he does have to live with the consequences of not answering.

Will Duffy’s ratings rise? Sure hope so. He deserves it, a tip of the hat, and some kind of award from his colleagues.

Will someone cynically wish that this happened to politicians in moments of strength, and not just in moments of weakness? Yes.

But let’s not let that detract from a good thing.

Kudos, Mike.

Putting Religion In Its Place1

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen (Sunday December 25, 2005 at 12:01 am)

And a place for everything.

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it.

Happy Hannukah to those of you who do the same.

Enjoy the calm, peace and pause which this public holiday indiscriminately offers.


Softening on Softwood0

Posted by JJ in The Elephant, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Thursday November 24, 2005 at 11:58 am)

There’s been a lot of movement on the softwood lumber issue of late. As the Icy Wonk reported recently, the issue is getting a fair bit of play.

And at last, good signs for Canadian producers:

United States Says it Will Cut Wood Duties

Just what’s going on?

According to the US Department of Commerce, the countervailing duties on imports of softwood lumber will likely be cut from their current level of 16% to 0.8%.

A few notes to clarify what’s going on:

  • This decision has been in the works for a little while, being the result of an administrative review within the Department of Commerce
  • A committee will review the decision in between 25 and 45 days’ time. Until then there will be no change in the duties levied
  • The change in the level of countervailing duties will not affect the imposition of anti-dumping duties of 4% on the same products

This is a great step forward, so long as it actually goes into effect. The review committee has the authority to change the decision and impose a different rate.

For now, good news for producers.

Ave atque vale. . .0

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Hats Off, Gentlemen (Friday November 18, 2005 at 3:23 pm)

The Honourable Claudette Bradshaw, former Minister for Labour and for Homelessness, present Minister of State for Homelessness, has decided to step down from politics and will not run in the upcoming federal election.

Kindly take a moment to thank and think well of a dedicated servant of the public and much-beloved representative of the riding of Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe in New Brunswick. Some of her work as a Parliamentarian may be reviewed here.

Her retirement will raise interesting questions about Liberal support in that riding. She has held the seat since 1997, taking nearly 60% of the vote in the 2004 campaign, beating her nearest competitor by 15,000 votes and scoring 15 points higher than the Liberal average in that province. Her victory in 2000 was similarly impressive, though her margin in 1997 was smaller.

Some feel that her success was partly owing to her impressive profile in the riding. If so, then the Liberals will need to rely on a similarly strong candidate to secure the riding. Her performance in 1997 was far enough above her party’s average in the province to suggest that her personal characteristics were significant from the beginning.

The absence of an incumbent is always significant. In this case, it may mean the seat isn’t as certain for the Liberals in the next campaign. For now, it may be worth watching the nominees.