Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

If You’re Like Us, We’re Against You0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check (Thursday March 22, 2007 at 2:16 pm)

Some folks who hunger for the good old days of Parliamentary debate remember what it is supposed to be: debate. After years of poorly-scripted and single-minded nonsense from Reform, and bland denials from government, they yearn for the days of that legendary exchange:

Member: In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, if he believes what he just said, the Minister must have half a brain.

Speaker: I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to retract that statement, honourable member.

Member: I apologise, Mr. Speaker. The Minister doesn’t have half a brain.

One of the chief characteristics of debate, such as that of Question Period, is the ability to craft a clever, biting, and witty retort to an opponent’s statements. Throw yesterday’s exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition into that category:

Hon. Stéphane Dion (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has to see that his minister was negligent and incompetent with respect to a very serious issue for a country like Canada: the protection of the human lives we are responsible for.
The Prime Minister cannot keep his Minister of National Defence, not unless the Prime Minister is telling us that it is not important for Canada to protect the human lives we are responsible for.

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has provided a clear explanation to the House of Commons. As the member knows, this government was at the time operating under an agreement signed by the previous government. We have since entered into a new arrangement with the Independent Afghan Human Rights Commission.

I can understand the passion that the Leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers.

It’s that last part that has Liberals up in arms. How dare the Prime Minister score points by taking a well-crafted shot at the opposition! That’s not what debate is about!

But the opposition claims that it’s wrong to say something unpleasant about them for political gain. That’s why they’ve taken the opportunity to respond in kind:

“It’s indecent,” Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said.

“That’s the same logic as Bush: `You’re with me or against me. If you’re against me, you’re with the enemy. If you’re with the enemy, you support the Taliban’. . .

“But what makes democracy great is that you treat your enemy like a human being – which is something dictatorships do not do.”

Why is it okay to suggest that the Prime Minister is a dictator? Because it’s being done OUTSIDE of debate. And there’s ample precedent for that. Consider the number of times the Liberals have done it to the Conservatives:

  • During the 2004 campaign.
  • At the outset of the 2004 campaign, trading barbs with the Conservatives.
  • In Winnipeg during the 2006 campaign.
  • With a series of ads which:
    • Attack Harper’s comments to an American think-tank in Montreal when he called the U.S. a light and inspiration to Canadians and the world;
    • Claim Harper will either have to raise taxes or run a deficit to pay for his campaign promises;
    • Claim Harper and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe have a close relationship that will not benefit national unity;
    • Claim that Harper once said Liberal ridings in the west of Canada are either dominated by recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada;
    • Report comments Harper made to an American audience, advising them not to feel bad for Canada’s unemployed, who receive “generous social assistance and unemployment assistance,” and that Canada is content to become a second-tier social country;
    • Quote a U.S. newspaper editorial that described Harper as the most pro-U.S. leader in the western world.
  • During the 2006 debate, suggesting that Harper was allied with the United States, while simultaneously claiming not to be doing that very thing.
  • Claiming, in the dying days of the 2006 campaign, that Harper had a secret plan to stack the Supreme Court with dangerously conservative judges.

Which would suggest that casting your opponents in an unfavorable light, truthfully or not, is an acceptable part of politics. Doing so in Parliament requires more finesse, which is exactly what Harper’s response above contained.

Meaning? Those crying foul are hypocritical and stupid.

Why stupid? Because there aren’t any political points in crying to the public over fouls in Parliament when the public no longer considers Parliamentary debate to be pure or austere.

Which shows a common but spectacular combination of incompetencies: poor debating skills, and poor political acumen.


Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Thursday March 15, 2007 at 9:52 pm)

Some may have wondered at the United Nations’ recent declaration that Canada’s use of the term “visible minority” to track population change is a problematic form of discrimination.

Others may have wondered at the United Nation’s new Human Rights Council’s inability to do anything on human rights abuses.

But together, it becomes clear. The UN works well as a soundstage for serious events of international significance. When it comes, on the other hand, to its own initiatives, it is spastic, irrelevant, illogical, and irretrievably compromised by the partisan interest of its members.

Two Peas in a Pod0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Wednesday March 14, 2007 at 9:54 am)

As Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion engage on the broad plains of the centre, the Tories’ occupation of environmentalism and the Liberals’ occupation of law-and-order may cause some to wonder: what’s the difference between the two?

Why, that’s simple!

As Dion points out, the Tories are on a massive spending spree, in the face of a possible election.

And as we all recall, in the face of a possible election in 2005, the Liberals went on a spending spree.

But if that still doesn’t help you, don’t forget: the Liberal leader’s name ends in “ane”, while the Conservative leader’s name ends in “en”.

Isn’t that what really matters?

Starring: Someone’s Fuddleduddling Son0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Thursday February 22, 2007 at 10:32 pm)

The beauty of belonging to a political dynasty is that it’s not that hard to do. Legend has it that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was first chosen to carry the Liberal banner in Ottawa South because there would be no need to change the signs — the incumbent was his late father, Dalton McGuinty. It’s hard to consider the election of a Kennedy an accomplishment — unless he runs in Texas.

Which reveals what the dynasty’s latest champion always is: a star candidate. Their name recognition is the source of their appeal. The Frosty Wonk’s rarely been convinced of the value of a star candidate, but that’s mostly because they tend to run in safe seats.

There had earlier been some discussion of late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s son, Justin Trudeau, running in the old homebase of Outremont. Fawning over the scion had been in high gear since his reconnection with his father’s old party, leading to guest-star appearances across the province.

And with good cause. Trudeau brings good looks, youth, and eloquence to his legacy. And just as his father’s charisma showed, those three, in stark contrast to more staid politicians, is a winning strategy for elections. But a popular package does nothing to fill the void in his primary asset: mere heredity provides neither political skills nor effective leadership. Indeed, these problems have been noted:

Last week, for instance, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno surveyed some online comments about Mr. Trudeau and concluded, among other things, that he seems “unfocused and superficial, a dilettante trading on the family name.”

Trudeau has acknowledged that he needs to add something to his natural boons:

Look, for some reason, I was given an undue amount of power and influence that I certainly didn’t ask for and didn’t earn.’ So then you say, ‘Well then I have to try and be worthy of it.’

And he suggested a point of reference for worthiness, stating last July that:

. . .before he enters politics, there are a few things that need to happen. First, he feels like his opinions and beliefs need to get stronger and “anchored”. He knows that some people will like him because of his name and some people will hate him. By having strong beliefs on issues, his opinions will succeed or fail on their own merit, not because of his father. He doesn’t want to be used. He wants to be his own person. He also said that he realizes that there is a great responsibility that comes with being a Trudeau. He realizes it and will not enter politics until he feels that he can be judged and tested on his own merits, not based on nostalgia, or when he feels that he couldn’t possibly do any worse than the politicians that are in power.

But now that his candidacy has been announced (if not confirmed), does that mean that he has succeeded in strengthening and anchoring his beliefs in a mere seven months? Or does it mean that he’s using the escape clause, and going ahead because he thinks he can do at least as well as those around now? The latter interpretation does little to deny the charges of dilletantism or inexperience.

Some may hope that the struggle of an election will provide Trudeau with the experience he still lacks. After all, it’s a “contested” riding, currently occupied by the Bloc Quebecois.

Sadly, what lurks beneath the surface is a very different matter. Battles for the nomination in a riding consist of signing up more members than your opponents — a process which, however much a part of politics, has as much in common with winning elections as collecting coins does with effective customer billing. And the real campaign, once Trudeau (inevitably) wins the Liberal nomination, isn’t likely to be much more help.

In the last election, the BQ took the seat from besieged cabinet minister Pierre Pettigrew by 990 votes — a small margin considering that in 2004 and 2006, both elections under Paul Martin and post-sponsorship scandal, the Liberal vote in the riding was more than 6,000 votes below Pettigrew’s totals in 2000 and 1997 in the riding from which Papineau was carved out. On the whole, Papineau and its predecessor ridings had been solidly Liberal since 1957, including a margin of 701 votes in the Tory sweep of 1984.

Considering that 2004 and 2006 were nadirs for the Liberals in Quebec, and given their resurgent poll numbers in that province, the likelihood that Papineau will return to the Liberal fold is high, regardless of the candidate selected. In those circumstances, a candidate with star appeal is a waste of resources. But of course, in those circumstances, a candidate with star appeal is likely to attribute success to his presence, however unnecessary it might have been. Prove that it wasn’t.

Which raises the question of star candidate strategy again: why waste them in ridings which can be won without them?

But it raises additional questions for young M. Trudeau. If he’s convinced that he’s ready to take on politics, why not take on a riding where, in combination with hard work, his natural gifts can bring an uncertain seat into the Liberal column? That would be an accomplishment. Papineau will not be an accomplishment. It will merely be the latest playground for a boy who was given everything, bringing him one step closer to following in his father’s footsteps without making him any more qualified to rank among the nation’s leaders.

New Model Needed0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, The Bullock's Bride, Golden Tacks (Monday February 19, 2007 at 9:08 pm)

As Italian designers rush to implement new rules to “ban anorexia” from the runway, questions abound as to why:

Protecting the Models from Competition
In this scenario, it’s designers’ eagerness for singularity-thin clothesracks that drives models to slim down. After all, if a designer wants the thinnest models possible and you’re not the thinnest, you’re effectively shutting yourself out of a job. But if the designers are committed as this manifesto suggests, this shouldn’t really be the problem, should it?
Protecting the Models from Themselves
The idea that subsistence on a single food group is good for you isn’t the kind of rational choice that can be dealt with by imposing consequences and repercussions. If anorexia is a disease, it’s not a matter of sane decision making processes. When weight loss takes on thematic content, we’re no longer talking about necessity — it’s called lifestyle choice. If anorexia isn’t a disease, then sane people who choose deadly lifestyles shouldn’t really be a primary object of our concern. It’s like lavishing attention on a child holding his breath.
Protecting Us from the Models
Perhaps it’s we, watching people who walk like doped-up stick figures with unwearable clothes pinned to them, who need to be protected. After all, what kind of idiot would think that fashion shows represent a sensible and imitable way of life? If there are such people, isn’t it they who are in need of correction, and not the people they’re watching?

But, as ever, when something must be done, doing something seems good enough.

Ad Boosters0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Strategic Planning (Monday February 5, 2007 at 11:25 am)

It’s a wonder that with so much material devoted to discussion of the Conservative ads attacking Stephan Dion, there’s no parallel talk of the CRFA ads. The series of ads by the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has been airing for weeks now, and each one prominently refers to Prime Minister Harper’s pledge to raise the ethanol content of Canadian gasoline.

Sure enough, there was some discussion of these ads weeks ago, mostly about the arcane regulations the Television Bureau of Canada sought to impose on them; but the fact that these are designed, in part, to hold Mr. Harper to his pledge, misses one important point: if you actually watch the ads, they look like pro-Tory material.

Why? They don’t explicitly suggest that Harper hasn’t upheld what was an election promise; neither do they make it as clear as they could that it was an election promise. A casual observer would likely conclude that it is part of the new “green agenda” the Conservatives have adopted. That’s free advertising; and great advertising, to boot.

Which is why it’s so important to consider those ads together with the attack ads. Let any discussion of timing attacks and their efficacy aside, and you’re left with the simple fact that both sets of ads are running at the same time. Under those circumstances, it doesn’t look like the Conservatives are entirely negative, even though they’re not responsible for one of the campaigns.

And that helps to explain why the ads attacking Dion might just boost their fortunes without much downside.

Just Plain Dumb0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Strategic Planning (Wednesday January 24, 2007 at 1:47 pm)

If you’re a scandal-ridden party trying to get past your history and climb your way back to legitimacy and government, there are a few words you should really avoid.

Stephane Dion, leader of the federal Liberal party, hasn’t quite realized this yet.

How else to explain his response to wholesale copying of Liberal policies by the government:

“Canadians will not be fooled,” Dion told his caucus as it met in Quebec City.

“They will know that there is something Mr. Harper cannot copy.

“It is the conviction, this conviction that we have as Liberals. Convictions about social justice in this country, about economic prosperity . here in Canada and abroad, the role of Canada in the world. This conviction will never be copied by Mr. Harper.”

Yeah. A party targetted for corruption is bragging about “conviction”. Careful, M. Dion. There’s no need to give the Tories easy targets.

The Forgetful Senor Chavez0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, The Other America (Saturday January 20, 2007 at 5:13 pm)

The redoubtable Hugo Chavez has made much hay from higher taxes and renegotiating contracts while the price of oi has soared. But his threat of nationalization, coming as it does just as the price begins to drop again, may not be quite enough to keep his Bolivarian revolution turning heads and attacking priests.

Avid followers of Latin heartthrobs like Sr. Chavez (he does make at least some hearts beat faster) may well recall his introduction, back in 1999, of a new constitution for Venezuela. That document, consolidating a great deal of power in the office of the President, was then touted as the “world’s most advanced constitution”.

But even a document as advanced as that isn’t quite enough for today’s Presidente-on-the-go! No, a modern leader needs powers on more of a baroque scale. Clearly, he’s envious of the Thai government.

After all, if the revolution never ends, who needs law? Legislation is designed to set up long-term rules — the sort of thing that no work-in-progress can really bear to suffer.

So for a country still undertaking the crucial steps towards some future post-revolutionary state, the simplest solution is the obvious one: give the President full authority to rule by decree.

And there are precedents. In 1918, faced with the similar problem of a glorious, ongoing revolution, backward opposition, and the vision of some distant, unknown utopia, the Soviet Constitution was drafted. In section 38, identical ruling authority was granted to the Comissar Council (headed by Lenin). It wasn’t limited to eighteen months, true, but then, the passage of a new constitution in 1924 constituted a time limit of sorts.

From the world’s most advanced constitution to a model of government embraced nearly ninety years ago. And in only seven years. To think that the Venezuelan Congress had forgotten what came of the Soviet. To think that Hugo Chavez has forgotten how amply the lessons of history illuminate the grotesquery of Venezuela’s descent into tyranny.

Great Arguments — The Tyrant’s Tirade0

The Frosty Wonk’s primary line of work is political analysis, not rhetoric. But the cut-and-thrust of modern debate demands some effort at unraveling its arguments.

Today’s guest, Rock Samson, has coached prizewinning fighters in twelve disciplines since his discharge from an undisclosed paramilitary group. This makes him uniquely qualified to discuss questions of conflict; and he has agreed to offer his valuable services as a regular commentator on debating technique and argumentation.

Today, we’ll be discussing this piece, in which Gary Kamiya, Salon editor, recycles his own work from 2005 on the conflict in Iraq.

Rock: Wonk, Kamiya’s angry. The war’s ragin’ and he’s mad as a bear in a trap that nobody’s bitchin’ about it.

Wonk: But Rock, people are complaining. He’s complaining, isn’t he? There are protests all the time.

Rock: Not enough, Wonk. A few thousand protesters can’t gum up the works the way Kamiya wants. He’s lookin’ for an all-out brawl with the big boys — streets choked with men and women until the President cracks.

Wonk: Why does he think that’s likely to happen?

Rock: It’s gotta. Kamiya knows that any sane person wants to fight against the war with everything it takes.

Wonk: So why don’t they?

Rock: They don’t know what’s good for ‘em. If they were payin’ attention and had all the facts, they’d all agree with him.

Wonk: Is that what he means when he writes that:

It is too late to stop the fatal endgame of Bush’s war. But at least we can honor those who have died in that war, Iraqis and Americans alike, by refusing to look away from their deaths.

Rock: Right on. He knows that if you’re payin’ attention to the deaths, you’re against the war.

Wonk: But isn’t it possible for people to come to different conclusions based on the same facts?

Rock: Not if they’re usin’ their brains. That’s what rational thinkin’s for! There’s only one answer to any question. If you plug the right facts in, you’ll get the right answer. There’s just no other way.

Wonk: But reason doesn’t work that way. It’s not the same thing as logic — reasonable people can differ over the same things.

Rock: Kamiya’s not buyin’ that. Reason only has one answer — his; and he’s goin’ to the wall for it.

Wonk: So why does he bother to assume that people are reasonable?

Rock: Flatters ‘em. Check out Aristotle some time, Wonk, he explains why that matters.

Wonk: And if he claimed that people were incapable of coming to the right conclusion, he’d effectively be pointing to a problem with democracy, wouldn’t he? If people aren’t capable of coming to the right notion, then there’s a strong justification for excluding them from most kinds of decision-making.

Rock: Hold on there, ’cause you’ll love the rest. If everybody’s reasonable, and reason always gives the same answer on the same facts, then he’s got dynamite proof that folks don’t know the facts — they disagree with him! That makes his claim righter.

Wonk: I don’t think you can use that word that way.

Rock: ‘Proof’? Sure you can.

Wonk: Alright. So Kamiya’s argument says that people would complain if they knew what was going on, and that we know they don’t know what’s going on because they aren’t complaining.

Rock: You got it.

Wonk: How does he know that he’s the one who’s right? Isn’t everyone going to come to the same conclusion and justify it the same way?

Rock: Sure they could, but he knows his argument against the war’s right. So now, he’s got to explain why other folks don’t agree.

Wonk: So this is really a frustrated outburst? A temper tantrum?

Rock: Right.

Wonk: But if he thinks he’s right, why is he bothered by the fact that others disagree?

Rock: It’s a serious issue, Wonk. He’s sure that if enough people agreed, they’d be able to end the war!

Wonk: So the fact that he wants this to happen by convincing the public demonstrates his commitment to democratic principles?

Rock: Probably.

Wonk: But the idea that there can be only one right answer for any reasonable person is profoundly undemocratic! It’s authoritarianism applied to thinking! It’s tyranny!

Rock: Not no more it ain’t, Wonk. Not no more it ain’t.

Waiting for Godot0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check (Friday January 12, 2007 at 2:23 pm)

Yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister Harper of a new wait-time program should raise some eyebrows.

The program will develop a nationwide information system to collect information on wait times for six paediatric areas. Once in place, the system will make it possible to determine just how long kids are waiting for the care they need. Naturally, the announcement doesn’t mean that wait times will be reduced — just that we’ll know how long they are.

Which begs the question: why does the government think this is a good idea?

The provincial governments agreed to a set of wait-time targets just last year, having already decided on a series of priorities. Can’t the federal government work with them to advance that project? Why set up a parallel program lagging the provincial one by one step?

The federal government is hoping that their emphasis on children’s health care will be enough of a difference to set their program apart. The provincial program will focus on different areas:

  • Radiation therapy to treat cancer within four weeks of patients being ready to treat
  • Hip fracture fixation within 48 hours
  • Hip replacements within 26 weeks
  • Knee replacements within 26 weeks
  • Surgery to remove cataracts within 16 weeks for patients who are at high risk
  • Breast cancer screening for women aged 50 to 69 every two years
  • Cervical cancer screening for women aged 18 to 69 every three years after two normal tests

Children are an abundant mine of empathy, but if the government hasn’t started to collect data yet, what evidence do they have that there are comparable problems in respect of children’s care? The provinces have already done surveys to determine what areas have greatest need; and they represent a diverse enough group of parties and regions to reject the theory that they decided, en masse, to abandon children’s issues in favour of a more politically expedient focus on older patients and women. Don’t those two groups of voters care about children, too?

Besides which, working with the provinces to reduce wait times in these areas would build administrators’ ability to do just that, speeding future reductions. Working in parallel on two separate tracks is therefore likely to take longer than applying joint efforts to each in sequence.

But in reviewing both programs, there is one striking similarity. They’re both designed to force the development of proposals to reduce wait times, not to force action on wait times. The timelines for the latter are so elongated that relief seems anything but imminent.

If, then, you ask what the arrival of children on the rhetorical field of health care means, it is that shorter wait times will not come today, but surely to-morrow.

Visionary Leadership0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check (Tuesday December 19, 2006 at 5:52 pm)

Whatever else you might think of Michael Ignatieff, he’s a man of his word.

Just consider what he said in his breakout speech in March:

Let’s follow Stephan Dion’s leadership

How, oh how did he know?

Then and Now0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, By other means. . ., Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday December 6, 2006 at 9:30 am)

As Canadian soldiers gripe about the public’s misunderstanding of the Afghan mission, opposition defence critic, Ujjal Dosanjh thinks he knows how things got so messed up:

Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh blamed the information vacuum on the Conservatives and their policy of muzzling ministers and officials.
“I have the utmost respect for Gen. Fraser, the work he’s done, and I understand his frustration,” said Dosanjh. “But it’s really up to the government to provide information. And they have not been providing that information.”
Opposition MPs and senators — especially parliamentary defence committees — have “fought tooth and nail” to be briefed on the latest goings on in Afghanistan, he said.

And as the Harper government is well-known for its incommunicado policy, that sounds just about plausible.

But hold on, hasn’t it been only two months since the opposition was confidently assuring Canadians that the mission lacked the very humanitarian efforts which General Fraser now insists are going on? If the opposition wants to blame public misapprehension on the lack of information, how did it come to its own conclusions? Could it be that the opposition’s claims were then as they appeared to be — a disingenuous decision to spread false news rather than inform Canadians?

But don’t take that too heavily to heart. If, as Mr. Dosanjh suggests, it’s the government’s job to inform the public, perhaps the opposition is left with no role to play but to mislead it.

Familiar Nonsense0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk (Sunday December 3, 2006 at 10:11 pm)

The rewriting of history seldom follows the event so closely, but if there’s anything Canadians hold dear as a society, surely it must be the collective belief that Parliament does everything that matters. That is, of course, why the last Prime Minister tried to paint himself as a defender of rights. After all, do Canadians really trust the Courts to defend their rights?

Not if they have to read this kind of confusing nonsense from the media, courtesy of the Toronto Star:

Gay marriage became legal in Canada last year when Parliament passed Bill C-38 in response to a series of court rulings giving same-sex couples the right to marry.

So, if the Star has it right, same-sex couples could not legally marry until some point after they had already been given the right to marry. Is that right? Do the courts normally hand out legally unenforceable rights? Does the Star think that “Gay marriage” is something distinct from “same-sex” marriage?

Or is this a shameful attempt to make what was a halfhearted and after-the-fact “me too” by Parliamentarians out to have been an initiative?

Calling a Spade a Tuning Fork0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Thursday November 30, 2006 at 8:02 pm)

Ave, dear readers. Again, it is I, Dr. Glaucon Equipoise, Q.E.D., at your service. Today, I address you in search of the answer to an important question: what makes things what they are?

It is a question of considerable age, to be certain. But the Bard’s take, however elegant, only helps us make a mei out of a rose. More challenging by far is to make a rose out of a daisy.

This more ambitious task (or something frightfully like it) is being undertaken at this very moment by the World Chess Federation. In their quest to be recognized as a sport, they will now test competitors for drugs.

A stunning solution, to be sure; but not one without its precedents. Does not salt make food of metal?

Convinced, I close, leaving with you the immortal words of the Thimble Theater Sailor Man:

I yam what I yam.

Are not we all?


Taking Stock of Laughter0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Gaia (Monday November 20, 2006 at 7:38 pm)

“Laughingstock” is the new moniker the Liberal opposition is hoping will stick to Harper’s Conservative government. But questions abound.

First, yes, it is such a lazy attempt to brand the man that’s unlikely to do more than galvanize existing support (and, perhaps, drive swing voters to less theatrical, more issue-minded options).

Second, yes, the two “fossil of the day” awards received by Canada at the global climate talks mark the second year running Canada has received the prestigious dishonour, and the Tories are now the second Canadian government to be so honoured.

Third, no, this isn’t the first time a Canadian Prime Minister has grandstanded over nothing.

And finally, yes, this would be the second Canadian Prime Minister to be a laughingstock on the world stage. Any guesses on who the first was?

For Want of a Slap0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Gaia (Wednesday November 15, 2006 at 11:48 pm)

Canadian Environment Minister Rona Ambrose has self-servingly blamed Canada’s poor track record on emissions control on the former government at the UN conference in Nairobi. But she wasn’t alone. Representatives of all three opposition parties tagged along, self-righteously claiming that they represented the majority of Canadians.

Now, those parties are upset:

Environmentalists and critics from all three opposition parties said it was inappropriate to use the UN conference for partisan purposes, and accused the minister of factual inaccuracies.

Clearly that’s not what they meant. What they meant was that it’s wrong for the government to use a UN conference for partisan purposes. It’s okay for everyone else.

New Research Into Nil0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk (Monday November 13, 2006 at 10:30 pm)

Latest in the ongoing series of questionable poll results, this survey of Canadian attitudes towards privacy.

While it’s commendable to know that Canadians are concerned about mall kiosks demanding home addresses and drivers’ licenses with every $5 battery purchase, does anyone think we needed academic peer-review to ensure the justice of refusal to comply?

Surely they’re not suggesting that solving identifiable problems should wait until the general public knows what’s wrong? Do we have to wait for consensus to push for reforms, or is it a push for reforms that should be used to build consensus?

But the general uselessness of asking public opinion on fine-tuning policy hits a new height in this survey:

Nearly half of Canadians think that the laws enacted by the government aimed at protecting national security in the aftermath of 9/11 are intrusive. Close to 30 percent think that the laws are not intrusive. One-fifth are not sure.

In case you’re wondering, that one-fifth is roughly the proportion of honest people polled. If anyone believes that nearly half of Canadians are in the slightest degree aware of what laws are indicated (let alone their contents), they may safely be located either outside of that one-fifth, or in a special sub-category thereof — the honest optimists.

More to the point: what possible value is a narrowly-constructed policy refining survey which asks for opinions on subjects of which we can safely assume the respondents to be ignorant? It’s not a public opinion poll — it’s being used to discuss fine-tuning policy considerations. Considering the power of disinformation, modelling policy proposals on popular support isn’t just a case of putting the cart before the horse: it’s a case of jumping off the wagon.

The reason being that academics, unlike politicians, are free to conduct research and identify solutions without the complication of facing public rejection — that’s what tenure’s all about. As a result, research into how the public views its privacy is important; but to collect useful information (for policy design), it’s probably necessary to get information about things the public knows.

Gut response to political conditions isn’t particularly revealing of anything but political opportunity; and if academics voluntarily confine themselves by public opinion, their work will unquestionably suffer.

Foundation of Sand?0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Brass Tacks (Sunday November 12, 2006 at 10:46 pm)

The debate over the quality of voters’ choices rages on. Are they rational creatures? Can they be properly polled? Are they consistent?

At the risk of making a federal bill out of a personal choice, two recent stories may be of help towards answering these very questions.

In Toronto, 60% of those who support the construction of a garbage incinerator say they would support it in their neighbourhood. Assuming, as we must from The Star’s releases, that 91% support incineration, that comes to 54% of the community at large. Assuming, not too cynically, that a few percentage points worth of people might feel differently about an actual incinerator than the idea of an incinerator, we’re talking about roughly even numbers other either side. Given that angry voters may be likelier to vote, it hardly suggests, as The Star does, that the not-in-my-backyard phenomenon is anything less than formidable. Moreso when only around 40% of the population bothers to vote.

Lesson: Don’t assume voters are altruistic just yet.

And from Florida, news that a voter used a rare stamp worth several hundred thousand dollars to mail in his absentee ballot. Could this be a fabulous tribute to the money-wasting ploy used in Brewster’s Millions? Could it be a proud statement of how the voter values his democratic rights? Was it an attempt to boost the State of Florida’s coffers? Could it be just another example of a voter who fails to wonder at unusual things, like an old-fashioned stamp with an upside-down plane?

Lesson: Voters are either really unobservant or reckless spendthrifts.

And the debate rages on.

Doobie or not Doobie?0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Full-Timers, Brass Tacks (Saturday November 11, 2006 at 12:05 pm)

While various groups recommend legalizing marijuana, the Canadian government steams ahead with legislation to more effectively target those who drive while under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The Frosty Wonk’s not suggesting folks toke up before hitting the road — that’s just stupid. But apart from showing a clear tendency to rely on public prejudice over multiple governments’ recommendations to legalize responsible adult use of the substance, there’s a contradiction abrewin’ to make you stop and think. Consider:

  • Canadian Government: Marijuana use dulls the senses and reflexes, so driving under its influence is a dangerous risk.
  • World Anti-Doping Agency: Marijuana use dulls the senses and reflexes, so its use in competitive sports is an unfair advantage.

Truly a wonder drug.

Misplaced Priorities0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Golden Tacks, Full-Timers (Friday November 10, 2006 at 11:40 pm)

While hackles are raised over government musings, government action goes ignored.

Fierce reaction to the possiblity that the Harper government would seek to preclude federal spending in certain areas is overkill for several reasons. First, federal spending on social programs (the contentious sectors) is a relatively minor contribution. The previous government’s daycare proposal would have been a drop in the bucket had it been for a national program (it was little more than that in Quebec). On health care, the federal government wants credit for lowering its own taxes to “allow” the provinces to increase their spending through higher rates of their own. While that’s a fair explanation for the complained-of decline in federal contributions to health spending, the claim that the federal government continues to support healthcare on an annual basis by not raising taxes rings a bit hollow. Based on the government’s figures for 2004-2005, the federal contribution, with $17 Billion in tax points is $27.2 Billion. Less the tax points, that comes to $10.2 Billion of $83 Billion in spending, or just over 12% of funds (the exact proportion varies by province).

Second, unlike the government’s Senate reform proposals, there wouldn’t likely be a public backlash if the Liberal majority in the Senate blocks a constitutional bar on federal spending. Therefore, even if the possibility being discussed materializes into legislation and is passed through the House of Commons with the aid of the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals would have no reason to fear killing it in the Senate.

It’s the second reason that explains attention to the issue. The idea of Constitution-wrangling is inherently dangerous (if not psychotic); and the same threat of public unease which has dimmed Michael Ignatieff’s hopes in the Liberal leadership contest will surely afflict the already-beleaguered Tories.

So can blogger attention to the issue be faulted? It’s a pure political ploy, after all — drawing attention to the foibles of your opponent.

The Cold Hard Wonk loves politics, but there is good and bad. Full points to the bloggers for calling the Prime Minister out on a dumb-as-dishwasher proposal, but minus several times as many for ignoring the far more serious problem.

Unlike the fearsome Constitutional amendment, the government’s plan to place police representatives on the boards which approve judicial candidates is more than possible. That makes it a clear and present danger.

Someone arrested and brought before the court suffers from a problematic bias. Police arrest can create an unfair presumption of guilt — a matter that can’t be left for the police to determine for one simple reason: it’s their job to find guilty people. The only thing that stands between an accused and conviction is the premise that their guilt must be proven, and the judge is the guardian of that narrow premise.

To properly guard against false convictions a judge must be as neutral as possible. That means in particular that a judge must avoid the understandable urge to believe that once the police do their duty the arrested party is likely to be guilty. It’s a hard thing to do in a society where people are raised to respect the police. It must also be a hard thing for a dutiful officer to cope with — that after all their effort and care, their word counts for nothing more than any other person’s. That’s why it’s essential that the two be rigidly separated. Police must have no role in judging and judges no role in investigating. By maintaining that separation, neither can be unduly influenced.

What happens, then, when the police, as an organization, are given the power to vet judges? Could a candidate’s just indifference be mistaken for hostility? Could the police representative, acting faithfully and in what she believes to be good faith, weed out the very candidates whose balanced views burden justice? Is that a temptation too great to be risked?

Without question. That’s why the Canadian Judicial Council is seriously concerned. It’s an issue which should be of real significance to Canadians, though it is undoubtedly harder to present than the simple gut reaction to Constitutional debate. In choosing to talk about the unimportant but volatile issue over the dangerous while ignoring the dangerous but subtle one, they’re playing easy politics at public expense.

There is another option — cover both; and politicians claiming to stand up for Canada should be asked why they didn’t.

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