Friday, December 08, 2006

Harper's Folly

Some of Stephen Harper's recent initiative are starting to resemble high risk political gamesmanship with little regard for the unity of the nation.

I'll give him political points for picking up the Quebecois Nation issue from the Liberals and turning it (possibly) to his political advantage - at least in Quebec. I'm still angry at Michael Inatieff for thrusting this whole issue on to the national stage, but just as pissed at Harper for picking it up and taking political advantage of it (if there really was any political advantage). I am not against the concept of a Quebecois nation within Canada, but using such a divisive issue as a political chip is cheap, crass and takes an enormous risks of backlash from Quebec. The Quebecois people have an identity, they don't really need a meaningless gesture from Parliament to bestow a national identiy upon them. But it did manage pit anglo and francophone Quebecers and Canadians against each other.

The same can be said for Bill S-4, Harpers constitutional amendment to limit the term of new Senators to 8 years. It is really a gesture towards western aspirations for equal representation and a triple-E Senate. Again, Senate reform is a sensitive and potentially divisive issue. With a minority government and the Senate controlled by the Liberals, the Bloc and NDP on record as opposing any Senate reform short of abolishment, there is little hope of the bill passing the Senate, or the House of Commons let alone passage in 7 of 10 provincial legislatures. This is nothing more than a bone thrown to the western wing of the Conservative Party and cheap politicing to get the Liberals and NDP to vote against Senate reform. Perhaps it will make up for the anger from western conservatives over the Quebec Nation thing. Does national reconciliation and unity mean so little to Harper that he is willing to gamble and play one regions aspirations for constitutional reform off against another region?

I wonder what hopeless constitutional bone he will throw to First Nations to make up for reneging on the Kelowna Accord? Probably none - first nations have never really ranked very high on the Conservative agenda.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In their own words

November 18, 2002
Stockwell Day

When [Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham] thought everything was lovely about this gentlemen, he was talking about him all over the place. But when he gets information he's dangerous, all of a sudden it's 'Oops maybe I shouldn't have said anything.'

Diane Ablonczy:
Mr. Speaker, it is time the Liberals told the truth: that their system of screening and security checks is pathetic. Arar was given dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship by the government. It did not pick up on his terrorist links and the U.S. had to clue it in.

Stephen Harper:
While the minister participated in high level consultations to defend a suspected terrorist, it apparently took a trip by the U.S. Secretary of State for the minister to admit what he really knew.

September 28, 2006
Giuliano Zaccardelli:
[In 2002] I personally became directly involved in the file after Mr. Arar was detained and sent to Syria. I asked for the file and I asked for specific documents relating to what happened. That was the first time it came to my attention that there was a possibility, or that we had mislabelled or mischaracterized Mr. Arar in our dealings with him in the investigation.

September 29, 2006

Maher Arar:
We are still anxiously awaiting an apology from the prime minister on behalf of the entire Canadian government, It is extremely disappointing" that apology has not been forthcoming.

October 30, 2006 Peter McKay:
I don't want to jeopardize or compromise the legal standing of Mr. Arar or any other government, To that extent the issues of apology will be dealt with in the future.

December 4, 2006
Giuliano Zaccardelli:
When ministers were briefed about the circumstances of the Arar case, their briefings did not include the fact that some inaccurate information had been provided to the Americans by the RCMP. This was not recognized by the RCMP at the time and senior officials, including myself, were not informed until the commission of inquiry had completed its work.

December 5, 2006
Giuliano Zaccardelli:
I realized after my testimony (in September) that my testimony was not as precise and as accurate as it could have been and I had made a mistake. I recognized that I made a mistake in inferring or leaving an impression that I knew information . . . in 2002 when, in fact, I couldn't have known. I knew it in 2006.

Monday, December 04, 2006


On November 21, I wrote the following letter to Premier Gordon Campbell. It concerns two proposed coal fired electrical generation plant proposals under review for the Princeton area and in tumbler ridge. While there are several websites sponsoring mail-bot form letter protests, I would urge those who oppose these projects to personally write to the Premier and Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Richard Neufeld to voice your well reasoned opposition to these projects. Personally writted letters carry far more weight than form letter protests.

Dear Mr. Campbell:
Cc: David Chudnovsky, MLA

I understand that as a part of the BC Hydro 2006 Open Call for Power, Compliance Energy Corporation and AES Global Power Corporation have been awarded 30 year Independent Power Producer contracts to build and operate coal fired generation plants in the Similkameen Valley and at Tumbler Ridge. While BC Hydro is to be commended, for the first time, for also awarding IPP contracts to three wind generators in this same call for power, including coal in the power mix for the first time is breaking ground that is best left unbroken. Even though BC has abundant coal reserves, coal has not to this point been a part of the energy generation mix in BC for good reason - of the alternatives available, coal has the most damaging environmental impact. I would urge you to rethink your support for these projects.

While proponents of these projects have described them as "clean coal" projects, in reality they are far from clean. While described as state of the art, in reality they are run of the mill. In fact, the proposed plants would generate 70 times the nitrogen oxide, 260 times the sulphur dioxide and 7 times more particulate matter than the Sumas II power plant in Washington State that your government successfully opposed. In addition to this the plant would emit mercury and over 1.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses every year.

I would remind you that two components to your environmental plan for British Columbia were to promote alternative energy sources and to implement a new climate change action plan. While BC needs additional generation capacity, there are far better alternatives available than coal. Additional proposed wind projects on Vancouver Island, the North Coast, Peace River and offshore in Hecate Straight and a variety of small hydro, waste heat and biomass projects stand ready to take up the slack. I can't imagine a climate change plan calling for an increase in greenhouse gasses. The proposed coal projects are completely incompatible with your stated environmental platform.

Climate change is not just some future risk. British Columbia is already starting to face social, economic and environmental shifts as a result of global warming. In the interior, and area of forest the size of New Brunswick has been devastated by the mountain pine beetle - a natural pest that has been traditionally controlled by severe winters. This year, the south coast has been hit by "once in a life time" storms first in February and then again in November. Salmon stocks on the Fraser River system are threatened by lower summer time water levels, rising water temperatures and higher spring and fall surges which scour and destroy spawning habitat. I have children ages 5 and 7. We hiked up to Garabaldi lake this fall and I was shocked to see the extent to which the glacier has retreated since I last was there only 10 years ago. At this rate, the 2010 winter Olympics may just be the last hurrah for Whistler. Let's not leave a wasted environment as a legacy for our children.

I would also call your attention to two recent surveys, one national, and the other in British Columbia both indicating that over 70% of the population is very concerned about global warming. While an election has not yet been fought over climate change policy, public sentiment is clearly trending in this direction. If voter initiative were an option in this province, these projects would be overwhelmingly killed. That should be your moral compass. One only need look south of the border at the US mid-term elections to see what happens when a government loses the support of its citizens. While I have never voted NDP, if you insist on supporting the development of coal generation plants in BC I will hold my nose and do so in the next election. I represent a constituency you can't afford to lose: educated, urban, professional, fiscal conservative, socially liberal, environmentally progressive.

My MLA, NDP David Chudnovsky responded almost immediately saying he appreciated my letter and would forward it to NDP Environmnet Critic, Shane Simpson and NDP Energy Critic John Horgan. Today I got a response from the Premier's Office.
Thank you for your email regarding our energy policy.

I appreciate having the opportunity to review your comments and have forwarded a copy of your email to my colleague, the Honourable Richard Neufeld, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, for his information. I assure you that the Minister will give your input every consideration.

It was good of you to write me on this matter and I wish you all the best over the holiday season.

The response is boilerplate, but I didn't expect a personal visit from the Premier or a "Eureka" moment where the government would reverse its direction based on my letter. But if they consider it representative of a significant constituency, and one that is important to them, it may be acted on.

Barak in Black

On Saturday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was in Vancouver as a keynote speaker at the Schara Tzedeck Synagogue. His appearance was vociferously opposed by a crowd of pro-Palestinian protestors gathered across the street. I support Mr. Barak's right to speak and the synagog's right to invite him to do so as protected free speech and religious expression. I also support the Palestinian protesters right to gather across the street and oppose his message. Democratic dialogue is often noisey and unruly. It is not the appearance of Mr. Barak that has me blogging this morning, but his message - at least as it was reported this morning by CKNW radio.

Apparently Mr. Barak sees a crucial role for Canada in the middle east peace process - which he hopes will include a Palestinian state. In his vision of the future however, after hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians cease, Canada would be a perfect new home for all of the displaced Palestinians. I am assuming Mr. Barak is refering to the decendents of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled Israel during the 1948 war and were denied repatriation afterwards. This is a sticky issue for the middle east peace process because the decendents of these refugees now number in the millions and if repatriated enmass would pretty much spell the end of the Jewish state. But the right of return has been a key issue with the Palestinians from the beginning and remains a critical point of contention as there is little room for either side to compromise on this issue. It appears that Mr. Barak's solution is to export the Palestinian refugees to Canada. I suppose this is because Canada has such a spotless history in its handling of displaced indigenous people. Palestinian reservations anyone? Perhaps we can abduct their children and put them in residence schools?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Urgent sCare Centre

The Vancouver Sun reports this morning that after meeting with Minister of Health George Abbot, the False Creek Surgical Centre's new Urgent Care Centre will not bill patients directly for medically necessary procedures, but will abide by the Canada Health Act and Provincial medical billing regulations. This after Abbot and the BC Medical Services Commission promised to audit the clinic and prosecute any violation s of the Canada Health Act. Bravo, the province did the right thing. But was this whole little even staged?

If you really think about it, this really serves the agenda of a lot of people who would like to see more privatization of health care in Canada. Federal Health Minister Tony Clement got to wring his hands and say the Feds have no authority to shut down the clinic (and no desire either). This of course is true, but they do have the authority to withhold health and social transfers to the province if the the province allows the clinic to operate. The Campbell government got to demonstrate their commitment to the public payer principle of the Canada Health Act by forcing the clinic to comply. But they also got a chance to float a trial balloon to measure the public response to the opening of a private clinic. Apparently, if you glean from the press coverage, three patient showed up and got to pass on the message that they would be willing to pay for prompt medical service. This message was echoed in the Vancouver Sun's letter of the day (sorry only in the paper version) in which a Mr. Jim Gilmore said:

"I am one of thousand of British Columbians languishing on waiting lists, and I think the opening of the clinic is good news. While I might not exercize my choice to use the clinic, many others will, and it does not take a math professor to figure out that this will ease the pressure on the public system."
Did you notice how Mr. Gilmore managed to get all the key talking points in? Consumer choice, waiting lists, relieving pressure on the public system - sounds awefully similar to Mr. Klein's trial balloon exercize and the key messaging around it in Alberta last year.

Let me first get to Mr. Gilmore's argument. It doesn't take an economics professor to figure out that the method in which a provider bills and is remunerated for services in no way impacts the supply/demand for medical services. What makes the business model (as initally advertized) illegal under the Canada Health Act is not private ownership, but direct billing to patients rather than through BC Medical Services Plan. The clinic should be free to operate as long as all medically necessary procedures are billed through MSP.

If a provider is permitted to "double dip" i.e. to provide services for both MSP and private paying patients it creates a perverse incentive for that provider to keep wait lists as long as possible because this enhances the value of the privately billed practive. If provider only provides privately billed services, it will serve only a very small number of people who can afford private medical insurance or fees. Neither approach increases the capacity of the system to handle more patients nor do they allocate services according to urgency of the need. Unless the public becomes better informed on the issues we are going to slowly creep towards a two tier system that does not serve the public interest. It will be justified as a solution to wait lists, but in fact it will make wait lists worse. This little trial balloon is just a step in measuring the public's sentiment towards something that (it appears) few really understand.

Friday, December 01, 2006


NDP ethics critic Pat Martin claims that the Liberals new Climate Liberal website, is a "sleazy" end run around campaign finance laws. And that it may be. But perhaps he meant cheasy as in Jack Laytons new green house tour - showing off his home's energy saving and green technology - such has his low flow toilet. Or perhaps breasy as in what was blowing through Layton's ears when he devised his plan to divide the opposition on climate change by sponsoring a competing bill to C288 - an alternative to the Conservative's Clean Air Act that would force action on global warming. Or perhaps he meant easy - as in the effort required for progressive voters to switch from the NDP to the Liberals if they adopt their proposed new green agenda, or Greens if they don't.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Oda Burqa

Since Minister of Heritage and the Status of Women Beverly Oda seems to be determined to set women's right back to about the 5th century, let's help her dress for success in this endeavor.

Choose Oda's Burqa.

This number is probably only appropriate for those closed door strategy meetings with Real Women of Canada as it reveals far to much of Bev's visage. Certainly far too provocative for mixed company.
This one, in Tory Blue is for the more conservative types. Features the ever popular "seen and not heard" facial screen and head to toe brilliant Tory Blue. You Go Girl. Show your colours - and nothing else.
Or finally, in traditional black with exposed eyes - for the woman of mystery. The Real Woman's version of the little black dress.
Free polls from

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I Can't Hear You .. La La La La

Heritage Minister Bev Oda closes 75% of Status of Women Regional Offices saying "regional offices do little to serve women directly and money can be better spent by streamlining services."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Convention Wisdom

Here we are on the eve of the Liberal leadership convention, so since I have pretty much stayed out of the fray on the leadership race, I will add my conventional wisdom (sic) at this point.

I have to say, that I am glad that there actually was a race rather than a coronation. Conventional wisdom holds that when your party is in power, a smooth and uncontentious transition of leaders is the key to staying in power. Unfortunately that didn't happen last time. When you are in opposition, a vigorous contest with spirited debate around vision, values, directions, leadership and policies is called for. Thankfully, that is what we got. I also wanted the Liberal party to be liberal - no more liberal-lite. Imagine that - we got a slate of fairly progressive candidates. I am also very happy that the party has come up with a very agressive green agenda. I truely hope they adopt it. Conventional wisdom says people vote for their paycheques, not for the environment. With global warming, a change is quite literally in the air (and water, and ice).

There are four legitimate contenders with plausable winning scenarios. Regardless of the vitriol of the campaign, all are decent men (unfortunately, no women with a shot at winning), but all are damaged in some way. The front runner, Ignatieff, is renowned scholar, author and thinker. He is also a very inexperienced campaigner who has a habit of saying what he thinks at the moment without weighing the implications. He hasn't learned to be a politician. Politics amplifies the extremes; subtle nuanced arguments and explanations are death. Another problem with a candidate who is so well published is that there is and endless supply of his own material to throw at him. Iggy is probably the least progressive of the contenders. On the upside however, Iggy is still the front runner and has broad support in all regions. Convention wisdom says the front runner needs close to 40% on the first ballot.

Bob Rae is going to have to run away from his record as the NDP Premier of Ontario - a not so illustrious record to say the least. As a leader, this makes him politically vulnerable in Ontario. It also means that he is an experienced politician and governor. Conventional wisdom holds that party switcher must spend some time in the trenches before running for leadership. It is interesting how many of the party movers and shakers seem to have swung behind him. Rae and Ignatieff were friends prior to this campaign. Will they be afterwards? Rae has solid progressive credentials but seems to have positioned himself as a Tony Blair (except for the invading other countries bit), Bill Clinton "third way" social democrat. Convention wisdom is that the 2nd place contender must over take or tie the front runner on the 2nd ballot.

Stephane Dion has the right resume. A former cabinet minister from Quebec, the author of the party's Quebec sovereignty position and is acceptable to both the Martin and Cretien camps within the party. Conventional wisdom says the Liberal party alternates leaders from Quebec and English Canada. He is also an accomplished academic with a Ph.D. in sociology and has taught public administration, organization theory at Université de Montréal. I honestly don't know how progressive Dion is. His campaign literature talks about three pillars of social justice, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. He probably likes his mom and apple pie as well. Realistically, if the liberals are going to win the next election they need a strong showing in Quebec. Dion is probably the most capable of delivering this. Convention wisdom says that 3rd or 4th is not such a bad place in a four way contest.

Gerard Kennedy a former Minister of Education for Ontario rounds out the top four. Conventional wisdom says the Liberals must carry Quebec to form a majority government and must split with the Bloc to form a minority. Kennedy is the only candidate with roots in the west; he was born in Manitoba and went to University in Edmonton. While in Alberta, Kennedy founded the Edmonton food bank and has been the executive director of a Toronto food bank. Clearly social responsibility is a priority for Kennedy. The biggest knock on Kennedy is that his French is quite poor. However his wife is a fluent francophone, so he should have lots of opportunity to practice at home. Kennedy along with Ken Dryden took principled stands against recognizing the "national" status of Quebec. This along with his poor grasp of French does not bode well for the party's fortunes in Quebec. Convention wisdom says that 3rd or 4th is not such a bad place in a four way contest.

Of the remaining candidates, Ken Dryden has come off looking the most mature. While he certainly has name recognition, this campaign has demonstrated to people outside of Ontario that he is more than a hockey hall of famer. The man has substance, maturity, is well spoken and has a solid understanding of issues. At the very least he is ready for a senior cabinet portfolio (please not sport).

Monday, November 27, 2006

Do you still beat your wife?

Push polling is a technique used by political hacks to communicate a message (usually a distortion or even out right lie) in the form of a question or poll. The technique was notoriously used by Karl Rove in Bush's campaigns against incumbent governor Anne Richards in Texas and Senator John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination.

Todays poll question in the Globe and Mail is another, perhaps more subtle, example of a push poll. The question is rather simple. Do you agree that private clinics are a useful adjunct to Canada's health-care system? The results show that somewhere around 63% of respondents said yes to private clinics.

The problem is that they don't really set the context for the question. Private labs, private imaging clinics, private clinics offering laser eye surgery and private physician's practices have been a part of the Canadian health care landscape for years, and are broadly accepted by the public as well has public health care proponants. There is nothing controversial or even warranting of a poll question about private clinics of this nature. What is controversial is private surgical facilities and those which bill patients directly or over and above what they are paid by the provincial medical services plans. But the poll question does not make this distinction. From the appearances, 63% of Globe and Mail online readers are in favor or private health care delivery. That is the message they are communicating.

Snow Day!

Between Saturday evening and Monday morning, Vancouver was blanketed with up to 45cm of snow. Here in the city it looks more like about 20cm. The Vancouver School board has kept the schools open, but most other school districts and both Universities are closed today.

However as pretty as the snow looks from the comfort of our homes, many in the city without homes to go to spent a very miserable night seeking shelter where they could. With temperatures expected to drop to -8C overnight, the city's extreme weather response shelter program, working in cooperation with churches and non-profit agencies has opened approximately 400 additional extreme weather shelter spaces but assistance is still needed - primarily volunteers and blankets. If you have time, spare cloths (gloves, socks, boots etc.) or spare blankets, please contact any of the organizations at the following link and share your surplus with those who have little.

Vancouver Shelters

Friday, November 24, 2006

Wedge Issues for Democrats

With the resignation of moderate Dr. Joel Hunter as president of the Christian Coalition, the CC has now gone on record and said that they don't really care about poverty, homelessness, AIDS, health care, wealth and income disparities or the environment. Gay marriage and abortion are their core issues. In my opinion, and that of Dr. Hunter, the Christian Coalition has marginalized itself and is now positioned well to the right of mainstream evangelical values, let alone mainstream American values. If this is true, there now exists an opportunity for the Democrats to take these issues that have been wedge issues for the republicans for years and turn the situation around.

For years, the Republicans have tried to portray the Democrats as out of sync with American values, as anti-religion and anti-family. We all know this isn't true, but by using wedge issues such as gay marriage and abortion, they have often successfully made this connection. But does the average American realize how marginalized and out of sync Republican positioning on these so called wedge issues is? It would be an interesting polling experiment to determine if Republican leadership hopefuls for 2008 prioritize social issues in the same way the Christian Coalition does. I would like to ask prominent Republicans the following questions:

Each of the following groupings represents a values choice. Assuming in each case, you only have the influence, opportunity and political capital to implement one of these legislative accomplishments. In each case, which would you rather accomplish:

  1. Bans same sex marriage or ...
  2. Lift 10,000 people from poverty

  1. Ban embryonic stem cell research. or ...
  2. Provide affordible health insurance or health care to all Americans.

  1. Place justices on the Supreme Court who would over turn Roe Versus Wade. or ...
  2. Place justices on the Supreme Court who would restore the universal right of Habeus Corpus.

Issues of social responsibility - care for children, the poor, sick, elderly and disabled, stewardship of the earth and its resources, justice, equality, etc. are issues that Christians should care about, but that the republican party and groups like the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family have abandoned. I think as Americans realize how out of touch with their values the GOP has become they may start to realize which party really stands for ALL families' values.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Right Wing, Wrong Man.

Via Daily Kos.
On October 20th, Talk to Action, a site that provides critical commentary on the religious right, reported on the selection of Dr. Joel Hunter, author of "Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won't Fly with Most Conservative Christians" and founding member of the Evangelical Climate Initiative - a group that supports action against global warming, as its new president, saying that the CC was trying to

rebuild itself into a more moderate and consensus seeking organization for a wider group of Christians with a broader agenda.

Well, that didn't last long as the Orlando Herald Tribune reports, Dr. Hunter, President Elect of the Christian Coalition resigned today citing "differences in philosophy and vision".

Hunter added "These are issues that Jesus would want us to care about. They pretty much said, 'These issues are fine, but they're not our issues, that's not our base. To tell you the truth, I feel like there are literally millions of evangelical Christians that don't have a home right now."

Thank God there are still a few moderate conservative Christians with some integrity left.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

You add the caption

Truth in Cartoons

This from Crooks and Liars, apparently right wing nutjob Glenn Beck and Fox News sold out shill for corporate greed Neil Cavuto are offended that the animated film Happy Feet contains insidious left-wing propaganda. What Beck and Cavuto seem to find offensive are themes and messages within the movie that deal with global warming. Imagine that - cartoons that are rooted in reality.

For Beck, Cavuto and those who prefer their animated movies set in the fantasy that 1950's consumerist values can be sustained into the future, might I suggest this classic animated film for your viewing pleasure.

Speaking of fantasy .. apparently Laura Ingraham (Rush Limbaugh's feminine side) thinks the popularity of Fox adventure drama "24" represents a national referendum supporting the torture of prisoners.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...

While Prime Minister Harper and Environment Minister Ambrose were putting the finishing touches on the Clean Air Act, on September 22, Minister of Natural Resources Garry Lunn's riding association was sponsoring a breakfast meeting at which Dr. Timothy Ball was the keynote speaker. Dr. Timothy Ball bills himself as Canada's first Ph.D in Climatology, one of Canada's foremost climate change deniers, and is infamous for saying that global warming would be good for Canada. When questioned about this meeting, Minister Lunn said he would not be attending, and that at future tr-riding breakfast meetings, other points of view would probably be represented.

First of all, Minister Lunn needs to understand that there are no other points of view on global warming. Global warming is real, human caused and will be catastrophic to the planet.

More importantly, if the Conservatives can not even get their own Cabinet (let alone caucus) on the same page with respect to climate change, how is Canada going to convince the world that we are committed to ANY action plan on green house gas emissions?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Carole Taylor's Laugher

Driving my kids to swimming lessons yesterday listening to CKNW radio in Vancouver. The host, I think it was Michael Smyth was interviewing Carole Taylor, the BC Minister of Finance. Most of the interview had to do with the efforts of Minister Taylor and the Premier to engage in dialogue with the province around budget priorities, particular in where to reduce spending to make education and healthcare more sustainable.

After brief interview, the host opened the phone lines for questions from listeners. One of the listeners made a statement more than a question for Ms. Taylor which I could expect from a listener, but the response blew me away. The statement went something like this:

We all know that when you cut taxes, that rather than decreasing government revenues, it actually increases revenues. Michael Campbell, the Premier's own brother has said this numerous times on this very station. Do you believe this? And if so, shouldn't BC be lowering taxes further?

As I said, the question was not so surprising, it was the response that blew me away.

Carole Taylor, the BC Minister of Finance responded by saying "Yes, absolutely! And provincial economy has responded robustly to the measures, including tax cuts we have implemented". Or something like that.

This idea that tax cuts increase revenues has become a part of the modern zeitgeist of popular economics ever since the Reagan era. But to anyone who has studied economics it is demonstrably false. The idea stems from the work of economist Arthur Laffer who described the Laffer Curve in a series of papers and books in the early 1980's including his seminal work, Foundations of Supply Side Economics - Theory and Evidence. in 1982. The Laffer Curve represents a theoretical relationship between tax rates and government revenues and is useful to a point. The two end points of the curve are well established. At 0% tax rate, government revenues are obviously 0. Also at 100% (or very high) tax rates, revenues are zero or close to zero as people have no incentive to work and will gravitate to the underground economy, or hide income. The important thing however is that there is little evidence to indicate what the shape of the curve is between these two end points. It is intuitive that at some point, increasing taxes yeilds dimishing returns as it decreases the incentive to work or declare income. But without knowing the shape of this curve or where on the curve the current tax regime lies, you simply can not say that incrasing taxes could yeild greater revenues. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that this disincentive to work only kicks in at very high tax rates.

So this brings us back to Finance Minister Taylor. I can understand members of the general public repeating this little gem of folklore, but for a Provincial Finance Minister to endore this fairytale is scary indeed.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Legislating Under the Influence

I am a little cautious about PM Harper's latest drive (sic) to allow the police to perform drug tests on individuals at roadside DUI stops. Just to be clear, I am not suggesting that drug impaired driving is a good thing. My cautious approach to this is about motivation and incentive.

I have to first of all question what the motivation behind this intiative is. Is drug impaired driving a significant cause of accidents? What do the data say? Well there are not a lot of data on the rates of driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol. There are studies from the US and Australia that show illicit drugs, in combination with alcohol are detectable in anywhere from 10% to 20% of people arrested for alcohol related DUIs. The Consultative Document from the Government of Canada states that Section 253(a) of the Criminal Code makes it an offense to operate a motor vehical while while your ability is impaired by the presence of alcohol or other drugs. Section 253(b) however does not establish legal limits for drugs other than alcolol detected in the blood.

But there are problems with this, and some of them are right in the same Consultative Document. First and foremost, there are no data to link a particular level of drugs other than alcohol in the blood to a level of impairment to operate a motor vehical. In fact, some drugs, such as caffeine and amphetamines actually improve alertness and responsiveness. This is one of the reasons that the US Navy and Airforce routinely gives amphetamines to fighter pilots on long patrol missions. Truck drivers also routinely dose with both or either caffiene and amphetamines. Other drugs such as canabis, while they impair your motor functions, they actually make you drive more cautiously and SLOWER. That doesn't mean you should smoke up before driving.

The test for many drug detect not only drugs that are active in your system, but the presence of the drugs in your system for days, weeks or months after use. A typical test for canabis can detect use as long as 90 days in the past - well past the point where it impairs your driving. If the experience from the world of sports is any indication, drug tests are also notoriously inaccurate. False negatives and false positives are common place.

Finally, there is also little need to put in testing for drugs. A roadside sobriety test detects impaired function - regardless of the intoxicant. This gives law enforcement officers all the tools they need to immediately get impaired drivers off the road. In the end, it is the impaired abilty to operate a motor vehicle that we want detect, not the presence of some compound in your blood stream.

So if there is no known crisis of drug impaired driving, the test are inaccurate and imprecise, and no evidence to link a detectable level of drugs to a level of impairment, then what is the motivation for this change to the criminal code? It is nothing more than a bone thrown to the conservative base to show that the new Conservative government is tough on crime - unlike the soft on crime liberals.

Testing for drugs raises the stakes for a DUI offence. One of the reasons that the 24 hour roadside suspension is so effective is that it removes any incentive to avoid, resist or fight prosecution or to mask detection. The immediate suspension gets the driver off the road - ending his/her risk to the public, and saves the courts the costs of prosecuting the large volume of cases that would otherwise be litigated to the bitter end. Adding drug testing to the mix, with the above mentioned inaccuracies and uncertainties, would virtually assure long and costly prosecution.

Arbitratry limits are generally ineffectual as behavioral incentives. If there is no connection between the indicator of a bad behavior (drug levels in the blood) and the behavior that we are trying to prevent (impaired driving) then people tend to simply accept the risk of getting caught because it is arbitrary. The police need probable cause to test you for drugs or alcohol. If your functioning is not impaired, the police have no cause to test for drugs. Similarly if your functioning is impaired but you test negative, what's the point?

Anytime you change a law, you change the incentives for self serving people (all of us) to abide by the law. We all flaunt the law and drive too fast from time to time. The reason we do this is because the punishment is not severe enough to give us an incentive to always stay below the speed limit. The reason the penalty is not higher, is because we have arrived at the point where the penalty (incentive) is sufficient to accomplish the public good. Habitual or excessive speeders pay a much higher cost than most of us occaisional or moderate speeders.

So with this in mind, what behaviour are we trying to incentive with the proposed ability of the police to test for drugs at DUI roadblocks? Are there significant numbers of drivers that are driving around high and causing accidents? If a failed road side sobriety test is sufficient in most jurisdictions for a roadside suspension, what do we hope to gain by dragging someone down to the station for a drug test. If the testing just results in more and longer prosecutions, have we gained anything? If there is no correlation between impairment and the legal limits for differnt drugs, the limits will be struck down (eventually) by the courts.

Let's see this for what it is, a bone thrown to the law and order types. If the conservatives want to do this, let them go ahead. There is little harm, but it is not going to make any real difference.

Why the next elections are must wins.

So why are the next federal elections in Canada and the United States must wins for the Liberals and Democrats? At the risk of sounding alarmist, I really believe the future of the planet is at stake here.

1. Global Warming. Now I know, every time anyone posts something on Global Warming, the nut jobs start coming out of the woodwork spouting the pseudo-science spoon fed them by right wing think tanks and propaganda machines. But anyone who seriously doubts the reality of global warming is simply not paying attention to what is happening around them every day.

In BC, there is an area of dead forests the size of New Brunswick - caused by a natural pest, the mountain pine beetle. This bug is native to the northwest forests, but has historically been controlled by severe winter colds, which drastically reduce the beetle's populations. BC hasn't had the severe cold snaps (sub -40C for 2 weeks or more) for years. The total number of annual frost free days has increased by anywhere from 12 to 45 days per year since the 1950's. The annual average temperature in the interior of the province (where most of the pine forests are) has increase by 1.1C in the last 100 years.

Other BC indicators of warming include:

  • The Helm Glacier in Garabaldi Park and the Illecillewaet Glacier in Glacier National Park have each retreated by over a kilometer in the last century. The Wedgemont Glacier in Garabaldi Park has retreated 200+ metres in the last 20 years alone.
  • 100 year trend in later autumn freezing and earlier spring thaw in the north. This has a profound affect on Carribou migratory patterns as well as the spring/fall mixing cycle (and therefore nutrient content) of lakes which stratify in the summer and/or winter.
  • Changes in river flow patterns. The Fraser, Thompson and Columbia river systems which drain over half of the province's land area have all experienced a steady trend in earlier and larger peak spring flows and lower summer and autumn flows. This equates to drier summers and increased spring flooding. Increased scouring from higher spring flows can also increase mortality of salmon smelt.
  • Increased river temperatures. The average summer time temperature of the Fraser River (measured at Hell's Gate) has increased by 1.1C over the last 50 years. Higher water temperatures increase stress, exhaustion, infection and mortality in spawning salmon. This, combined with lower water levels has been devastating on wild salmon and steelhead populations with enroute mortalities of over 50% in several years in the last decade. The Columbia River, as a result of hydro electric projects has not been a significant salmon spawning river in BC and Washinton State since the 1950's.

Now no doubt someone is going to find something wrong with the above statements which I have summarized from publications such as Indicators of Climate Change for British Columbia 2002. If I have miss represented or overstaded something, in this case, the devil is not in the details but in the big picture. All of the trends indicate that we are running headlong into a cataclysmic natural disaster in our life times. While it is certainly true that the Liberals under Cretien and Martin lacked the courage to address climate change in a meaningful way, the Conservative's approach of criticizing the lack of progress by the Liberals, while boldly declaring that they intend to do even less is beyond irresponsible.

2. Sustainable Energy Policy. While this is somewhat related to global warming, it would still be a concern independent of global warming. We are simply consuming too much energy and sourcing too much of what we consume from non-renewable sources. People tell me that changing personal consumption behaviors is a hopeless cause. I'm not convinced of this. I get my motivation to change my consumption by looking at my young children and envisioning the world they are going to become adults in. Our planet was blessed with a one time endownment of a very special resource that took hundreds of thousands of years to develop and we have burned most of it up in less than 100 years. Leadership means looking past the next election cycle and doing what is right for the next generation - not just of Canadians and Americans, but of human beings.

There are very practical things that can be done right now. The first step should be to implement fuel economy and emission controls equivalent or better to those of California. The real alarmists are the auto industry apologists who claim that the technology to make more fuel efficient cars either doesn't exist or would bankrupt the auto makers. Japanese, Chinese, Korean and European auto makers seem to be doing okay, and all of these countries have higher emissions standards than Canada or the Unites States. The Conservative Party has committed to enforce Canadian fleet fuel efficiency and emissions standards and to harmonize these with those of the US. However it is likely that if and when this happens they will choose the US federal standards rather than the more stringent California standards adopted by California, Washington, Oregon and 6 north eastern states.

The Republican dominated US Congress has done nothing signficant to the CAFE standards for the last 12 years, and the Bush Whitehouse has has supported an industry legal challenge seeking to prevent California from implmenting stiffer air quality standards and fuel economy requirements on auto makers. Under the Bush Whitehouse, the EPA has punted on enforment of existing regulations - allowing power producers to upgrade and increase output without complying with modern emissions standards. Rather than a hard push on renewables, the current focus from both the Republicans and Conservatives is to extract more of our dwindling fossil fuels.

Leadership means doing the right thing. The public has a broad, but unfocused support for renewable energy. A visionary leader would harness that support and make sustainable and renewable energy sufficiency a national goal the way President Kennedy make landing on the moon a nation priority in the 1960s. In 1962, the path to the moon held far more challenges that the path to clean, sustainable energy does today. Virtually all of the technology exists, we simply lack the will to employ it. Economically, the $300+ billion spent to secure access to Iraqi oil would have been better spent on securing a stable state in Afghanistan and developing renewable energy in the United States.

3. Human Rights. This is more of an issue in the US than in Canada where the USA Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act have dramatically stripped away rights to due process, privacy and even the most fundamental right, habeus corpus - protection from arbitrary or unlawful imprisonment and legalized many forms of torture. These are acts which future generations will look back on with the same lense we now view the illegal internment of Japanese Americans and Canadians during WWII, head taxes on Chinese and other gross exertions of the power of the state over the rights of individuals. Many states passed ballot initiatives to preserve property rights from state powers of emminent domain. These same states should consider the impact of syping, incarcerating without charges and the torture of Americans and foreign nationals under the guise of homeland security.

4. Healthcare. Canada is challenged to ensure the sustainability of our healthcare systems while the US is challenged to extend health insurance to the 20% of the population whom are either uninsured or under insured. Leadership in healthcare means looking past the medical, pharmaceutical, insurance, and union lobbies who seek to secure an ever increasing share of the world's largest industry. Leadership means ensuring that the system works for those it serves.

5. Peace, Security and Terrorism. Leaders in both countries need to re-evaluate when and how military and diplomatic coersion is applied to avert or intervene in humanitarian crisis and bring rogue nations into compliance with world human rights and arms control regimes and to support the rebuilding of failed states. At any given time, there are dozens of states that are flagrantly violating human rights on massive scales, proliferating banned weapons, sponsoring terrorism, engaged in civil war or genocide of whole populations or destablizing their neighbours through invasion or insurgency. Western powers can not militarily intervene in all situations. Sometimes we must make a "Sophie's Choice" between children in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. Many of the PNAC cabal have pointed to Iraq as an example of the impotance of the UN to act in a time of crisis. Retrospect however shows that the UN's caution with Iraq was well founded. The deployment of US and coalition military resources to Iraq - where no crisis existed - prevented an effective intervention in Darfur, where a current and on going humanitarian crisis has killed thousands of civilians.

There is pressure from some quarters in Canada to get out of Afghanistan (which I oppose), as there is pressure across the board in the US to get out of Iraq (which I sort of support). So the task remains for the leadership of the Liberal Party and Democratic Party to explain why the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan is needed to prevent the struggling state from decending into civil war, while the continued presence of American and British troops in Iraq may just ignite a civil war there. Much of the differnce comes down to the justification for being there in the first place, the level of international participation in the action, the support of the UN Security Council and the scale of the deployment needed to prevent the failure of these two states.

Lead to win

The future leaders of both the Liberal Party of Canada and the US Democratic Party will be chosen in the next 18 months. In the States, none of the front runners have declared themselves in the race yet, but most of them have a Political Action Committee (PAC) and were very active in supporting key democrats in the mid term election. In the end, the front runners will include:

  • Senator Hillary Clinton of New York;
  • Senator Barak Obama of Illinois;
  • General (ret) Wesley Clark of Arkansas;
  • Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina;
  • Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin; and
  • Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.
And probably some others too. It is possible that John Kerry could run again, very unlikely that Al Gore would run, and Joe Libermann and Howard Dean are probably out of the picture now.

The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada will be chosen at the convention in Montreal on December 2nd and 3rd. The list of hopefulls include:
  • Author and scholar Michael Ignatieff;
  • Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae;
  • Ontario MPP and Cabinet Minister Gerard Kennedy;
  • MP and former Cabinet Minister Stephane Dion;
  • Former hockey legend, lawyer and MP Ken Dryden;
  • MP and former Cabinet Minister Joe Volpe;
  • MP and former Cabinet Minister Scott Brison; and
  • MP and former Cabinet Minister Marta Hall-Finnlay;
Both parties will try to choose a leader who will revitalize their party and lead them to victory in the next election. I hope everyone caught the second part of that statement. Let me repeat it. Elect a leader who will lead them to victory in the next election.

The Liberals probably have a slightly easier job than the democrats as they have not been out of power as long, and Canada doesn't have a strong advantage of incumbancy that the US does. However if the goal is to win the next election, the future Liberal leader must have broad appeal in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. These are the three most populous provinces and are all provinces that traditionally split a significant portion of their votes.

Unfortunately, all of the candidates have warts. As much as I like Gerard Kennedy, his lack of command of French is a liability for him in Quebec. He would probably fare worse the Paul Martin in Quebec. Bob Rae is going to have a tough time convincing Ontarians to forget his disasterous premiership of the province under the NDP banner. Michael Ignatieff is a very smart and sophistocated man, but he seems to lack the political experience to know when to simplify and/or dumb down the message for media and public consumption. Intelligent, complex and nuanced look a lot like uncertain, contradictory and even deceitful once filtered through the dumb-o-matic that is our main stream media. John Kerry didn't learn this in time. Stephen Harper is also smart, and finally learned this lesson; look where it got him. Ken Dryden also has all of the right components, but will have a hard time shaking his image of being little more than a celebrity MP - which is not true, but none the less, it is a perception that is out there. American's like sports hero politicians. Canadians don't. Stephane Dion is intelligent, politically savy and a native son of Quebec. He could win it all.

The democrats have different problems, but more time to solve them. The problem I see is that, unlike the Canadian Conservitives, the Republicans have at least two very credible, popular and experienced potential candidates in Senator John McCain and former NY Mayor Rudolph Gulliani. Both McCain and Gulliani also have strong appeal with independents and moderate Democrates. Both are perceived as strong on national security. Gulliani could win New York - a frightful thought for Democrats, while McCain could possibly even put California in play. This is a problem for the Democrats. Senators Clinton and Obama are also very strong candidates, but this may not be enough.

Senator Clinton is intelligent, articulate, experienced, and unfortunately, seems to be a lightning rod for hate from the Republican base. There is no doubt that as much as she would mobilize the Democrat base, she would also mobilize the Republican base. Would she have enough appeal with independents, moderate conservatives and women voters to overcome the massive Republican turn out against her, particularly against McCain or Gulliani? Senator Obama is just as strong a candidate as Clinton and lacks the hate from the far right. He would get a very strong turn out from black voters to vote for the first African American President, but the Democrats usually carry the black vote, so is this enough? Neither is a Southerner - which conventional wisdom holds is an advantage for a presidential candidate.

Wes Clark is a southerner who also has a strong appeal with moderates. As a miliary man, he would have some appeal on homeland security, but he is still seen as an outsider in the democratic party and has little political experience. The national security advantage may not be as important in 2008 as it was in 2004 and 2006. Governor Richardson of New Mexico is a dark horse. He has all the credentials - former ambassador, senator, a southern governor, etc, and if elected would be the first Latino/Hispanic president. But again, with the exception of Cuban exiles, the Latino vote generally goes heavily democrat anyways. It is also not certain that Richardson will run - he sat out 2004.

The democrats however have an advantage that the Liberals don't; control of the legislative agenda. Over the next 2 years, the democrats will be able to put issues before Congress and make the Republicans support or oppose them. How will the Republicans react when the Democrats kill most of the Bush tax breaks that only affect the most wealthy Americans? Will they vote against (or veto) an increase in the minimum wage? Will they oppose more stringent CAFE fuel efficiency standards or efforts to regulate CO2 emissions? In the end however, the Democrats will likely be judged on how they influence the President to extract the United States from Iraq.

The Liberals also have an advantage that the Democrats don't have; some control over the timing of the next election. This is not an exact science however. The Conservatives could pull the plug when it suites them as well, and most Canadians understand that forcing an election when it benefits you is at worst self serving and best opportunistic.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Congratulations to my American friends for not just voting, but for voting for democracy, peace, human rights and social justice. Even though the president wasn't on the ballot yesterday, and regardless of what the GOP spin machine says, this election result is nothing less than a repudiation of the policies of the Bush Whitehouse. President Bush is now officially a lame duck.

He'd better not go hunting with Dick Chenney.

I seriously doubt anyone in the United States Congress or the public has an appetite to impeach Bush, and looking foward to 2008, that would be a strategic mistake for democrates. But with control of the legislative agenda and all of the House committees (and possibly Senate too), I hope the Democrates use their new majority and power of subpena to shine a light into some very dark places over the next 2 years because let's face it, as much as the President is a lame duck, Congress is now offically grid locked. With the Democrates lacking a veto proof majority, and with a distinctly different legislative agenda than the President, nothing else is going to get done in Congress for the next 2 years.

In addition to investigating some of the abuses of exucutive power, another thing the Democrates can do is use their control over the legislative agenda to frame the terms of debate for 2008. Obviously, Iraq was front and centre in voters mind yesterday, but beyond Iraq, where do American's priorities lie? What is more pressing on the social agenda in America - banning gay marriage as Virginia voters did yesterday, or making real progress on alleviating poverty? On healthcare, should Congress invest its invest its political capital in extending healthcare coverage to the 40+ million Americans who are uninsured, or continue to ban embryonic stem cell research? Yesterday Missouri voters moved cautiously to allow embryonic stem cell research. Thanks Michael J. Fox for "faking it". Should corporate greed continue to drive the agenda? Why else would the last Congress have prevented the Vetran's Administration from pooling its purchasing power to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs for vetrans. These are the questions that a new Democrate driven Congress can put on the public agenda and dare the President to veto.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Clean Air - Act II

There may be good reasons for the opposition parties to allow the passage of the Conservatives new neutered Clean Air Act. While the new act is flawed, the keys to what may make it acceptable are the fact that it is only a regulatory framework - i.e. it does not set specific targets or standards, and that the opposition parties are united on strengthening environmental protection and hold a majority in Parliament. This would allow the opposition parties to pass additional legislation that would set far more aggressive targets and standards than the Conservatives have in mind.

For example, the new Clean Air Act has apparently encorporated the 1981 Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act - and the Conservatives plan to "Harmonize" Canadian fuel efficiency standards with those of the United States. Rather than complying with US federal emissions and fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards, the opposition parties should force the government to comply with tougher California standards which Washington, Oregon, New York, Massachusets, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island have all either already adopted or signalled their intention to do so. Likewise with Green House Gas emissions, the new legislation provides a regulatory framework (which Conservatives claim the Canadian Environmental Protection Act lacked) to allow the governent to set targets and regulate green house gas emissions. With the framework in place, the opposition parties, rather than demanding the government present a plan to meet its obligations under the ratified Kyoto treaty, should legislatively enforce the 2002 Kyoto targets.

Of course, from a purely political point of view this is probably bad politics. Opposition MPs from all parties would have to explain why they voted to pass the Conservative's new bill, while at the same time saying it is weak and ineffectual. The public generally doesn't have the attention span to understand nuanced arguments. Sometimes there is a political price to doing the right thing.

Monday, October 16, 2006

If CO2 was Purple ...

Blame God. CO2 is invisible. The problem is that Conservatives can believe in an invisible god, but can't accept the reality of pollution you can't see. With global warming a looming global economic, environmental and human catastrophy, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose and Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week announced their intention to table a new Clean Air Act, the primary focus of which is smog and air quality rather than meaningful reductions in green house gasses. In fact on October 5th, Minister Ambrose stated that air quality rather than global warming was the government's top environmental priority. You can see smog, you can't see CO2.

I don't meant to under estimate the health hazards from smog, which is a serious problem for the very young, very old and people with weakened respiratory systems. It is certainly not attractive to look from a distance at the purple brown haze that cloaks most of Canada's urban centres. But while air quality is an environmental concern, it is not the most pressing concern. The effects of smog are localized or at least regionalized, not particularly accute to the majority of the population and readily mitigated for others, and in the long term, completely reversible. Global warming is global, irreversible (at least for several centuries), highly accute, and could effect everything from agriculture to desertification, sea levels, the spread of certain diseases such as malaria and the frequency of severe weather incidents. Whole cultures such as those of Fiji and Tonga and Mirconesia could disapear under the rising seas. Perhaps it is God's revenge on Forida for electing an idiot to the White House.

On global warming, the conservatives continue their mealy mouthed double speak. While criticizing the Liberal's timid and half hearted efforts to meet Canada's Kyoto targets, Ms. Ambrose boldly announced that the Conservatives will do even less. Actually, they will change the targets and then fail to meet them as well. While the Liberal's programs were timid and ineffectual, at least they didn't change the targets to make it look like they were accomplishing something. The intensity based emissions targets proposed by Harper and Ambrose will ensure that Canada's green house gas emissions will continue to increase.

What will it take to put meaningful reductions in green house gasses on the federal agenda? The liberals paid lip service to global warming, recognizing the problem, but were too affraid of damaging the economy to do anything about it. The Conservatives, for the most part, have moved past denying global warming, but still don't think it's an environmental priority, at least not on the same level as smog. The New Democrates and Bloc are on record as supporting rigorous limits on CO2 emissions, but neither party will ever form a federal government. The retreat of glaciers, thinning of polar ice sheets, increase in severe weather, early harvests and other first signs of significant climate change are apparently not enough. Perhaps if you could easily see CO2. To their credit, the three opposition parties did manage to pass Bill C-288, An Act to Ensure Canada Meets its Global Climate Change Obligations Under the Kyoto Protocol. Unfortunately, this bill, rather than prescribing a plan, only calls on the government to present a plan. Once again, the opposition - even when united, comes up short. A private members bill, if supported by the three opposition parties could force a Kyoto plan upon the government. But then they would have to share credit. I guess it is considered preferable to just make political points.

In 1991, the Conservatives under Mulroney were finally (after 10 years) successful in getting the US to sign the Acid Rain Treaty. But it is easy to see dead fish, measure the ph level of lakes and trace the cause to high sulfer coal fired thermal energy plants in the north eastern United States and Ontario. Conservatives take their sport fishing seriously. While atmostpheric CO2 has been directly measured since the 1950's, global warming and its effects are far more difficult to measure and attribute to human activity. Thankfully, 3 decades of scientific research has finally and conclusively made the case for action. The Conservative no longer (officially) doubt the science (although many of their supporters still do). They just refuse to do any thing about it. The opposition refuses to force their hand.

I'm not sure at this point what is worse. The Liberals strong words and weak action, or the Conservatives weak words and weak action.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Heck of a job Denny!

So was this written by a Jon Stewart script writer or what?

Denny's very credible as far as I'm concerned." the president said during a one hour press conference with reporters in the White House Rose Garden. "And he's done a fine job as speaker, when he stands up and says: I want to know the truth. And I believe yesterday he said that if somebody on his staff, you know, didn't tell him the truth, they're gone. I respect that and appreciate that and believe him.

Karl Rove is obviously no longer pulling the strings.

G&M Subtitle Subterfugue

The Globe and Mail, no lets say all main stream news outlets, just doesn't understand the difference between academic research and think tank research. In reporting the findings of 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq published this week in The Lancet, the Globe and Mail Headlined the story as follows:

Iraq Civilian War Deaths top 650,000, Study Says.
The for effect they included the subtitle: Expert dismisses survey – with results far higher than other estimates – as 'politics' meant to influence U.S. congressional elections

In an effort to provide "balance" for the article, the G&M sought out an expert to provide a different view point. Unfortunately, the expert they found, Anthony Cordeman, while a recognized expert in military strategy, is not an expert in public health, nor would he be expected to be intimately familiar with instruments and methodologies used by public health researchers to measure mortality rates disaster ravaged areas. The Center for Strategic and International Studies - a right wing think tank which employs Mr. Cardeman, lists him as an expert in:
  • Middle East Military Balance;
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction;
  • Ballistic Missile Defense;
  • Critical Infrastructure Protection;
  • Homeland Security;
  • Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • US and Middle East Energy Policy; and
  • Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Cardeman currently holds an Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has also served as a middle east analyst for ABC News, a security assistant to Senator John McCain on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has held a variety of posts with the US Department of Defense. He has also lectured at Georgetown University on National Security issues. Mr. Cardeman is extensively published on the subjects of military and security strategy and policy and while not an academic is widely considered a scholar in these areas. He is not an expert on public health nor is he likely to be even remotely familiar with the methods used by the Johns Hopkins researchers.

All research is not the same. The gold standard in research has the three "P's". Public funding, Peer review and Publication in a major journal. Private think tanks such as CSIS produce third rate analysis and little or no research. News outlets need to understand that "balancing" publicly funded, peer reviewed and published research with "expert" opinions from private think thanks is misleading and dishonest.

Private think tanks can pick and chose, via a closed process, which studies they want to fund and publish. The have obligations to the private institutions that provide their funding to espouse certain view points - regardless of what the evidence says. And they often have a lot to say on a lot of different topics. It is dead easy for a journalist to get a quote from one of these think tanks, be it the Fraser Institute, CSIS, the CATO instutute, Brookings Institute, American Enterprise Institute etc. But getting the ease quote does not always make for honest and balanced reporting.

If the Globe had wanted to provide real balance for the story, they would have had to do some research. Not scientific research, but journalism research. Such as that done by the Columbia University Journalism Review when the inital 2004 study was publish. The Columbia author interviewed 10 biostaticians and mortality experts and found that none of them had serious issues with the methods or conclusions of the report. The Chronical of Higher Education also interviews statisticians, public health researchers, epedemiologists, and mortality experts from several medical journals and universities, the Red Cross and the World Health Organization and concluded that the 2004 study was without fatal flaws.

But I guess it is much easier to mislead the public with lazy journalisme and call it "balance".

Not Credible

Lancet/Johns Hopkins report - 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq since 2003

President says not credible.

Public Health researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health surveyed 47 clusters of 40 homes on randomly selected residential streets from 18 cities and regions in Iraq for a total of over 12,500 Iraqis. They found that the crude mortalithy rate in Iraq has risen from 5.5 per 1000 per year pre-invasion to 19.8 per 1000 per year after the invasion. Excess mortalities, defined as deaths above the baseline established in 2003 now exceed 14.2 per 1000. In total they found that 655,000 Iraqis have died over above the number that would have been expected based on the pre-invasion mortality rates.

The same group did a previous study in 2004 and extimated, based on a smaller sample, over 100,000 excess deaths up until 2004. When the current survey results were applied to the period covered in the previous study they now estimate that 112,000 excess deaths up to September 2004, thus validating their previous work.

The president doesn't think these public health researchers from the nation's most prestigious health sciences school are credible. Even though their work was peer reviewed and published in the highly respected British medical journal Lancet - a journal with a publication history dating back to the early 1800's. A man who needs a road map to sort his name out of the alphabet blocks had the audacity to say their methodology has been discredited. I wonder how many times he had to reherse those words?

But then again, the president doesn't think that evolution or global warming are based on credible science either.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Foley's Follies

In scanning the stories in the Washington Post, NY Times and CNN online, I have to wonder which revelation the Republicans are more concerned about, that Representative Mark Foley is gay, or that he is a sick sexual predator relentless in his pursuit of teenage Congressional pages and that the GOP House leadership has known about it for years and covered it up? There seems to be about as much ink devoted to his sexual orientation as to the real scandal.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Smells like mean spirit - part deux.

The Globe and Mail today ran a story detailing Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's $2B in budget cuts the Conservatives intend to go ahead with even in light of a $13B budget surplus. Now I am all for cutting redundant, wastefull on ineffective programs - but let's have a look at some of the cuts.

  • $50-million: unused funding for NW Territories devolution.
    Sounds reasonable.

  • $4-million: medical-marijuana science funding
    meh - IMO this program has more to do with a vocal advocacy agenda than with meeting a health need with the most effective medical intervention

  • $78.8-million: End to program that gave GST rebates to tourists
    I guess there are not a lot of tourists in Alberta. I know in BC the Cruise Ship industry is facing fierce competition from American ports and has already been hurt by the surging Canadian dollar. This is certainly not going to help.

  • $11.7-million: Removal of unused funds for mountain pine beetle initiative
    I guess I would start with why are there "unused" funds in any program to combat an infestation that some project could wipe out most of BC's pine forests. This scourge is already spreading into the northern boreal pine forests and steadily moving into Alberta. Given that the seriousness of this problem and that in the Conservative's 2006 fiscal plan they promised an additional $500 million in funding to programs to combat pine beetle infestation, I am baffled as to why they are now cutting "unused" funding from this program. Clearly the Conservatives have no appeal to urban Canadians outside of Calgary and Edmonton - but are they abandoning rural British Columbians too?

  • $46.8-million: Smaller cabinet announced in February

  • $45-million: "Efficiencies" in Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

  • $4.25-million: Consolidation of foreign missions

  • $13.9-million: Cancellation of National Defence High-Frequency Surface Wave Radar Project
    Okay - this one makes no sense at all. When small leaky boats laden with Chinese refugees were appearing off the coast of BC several years back, the Conservatives were screaming about our permissive refugee evaluation programs that allowed these people to stay in Canada while their status was adjudicated. In the post 9-11 world, we are spending millions if not billions on beefing up security at airports, ports, borders, etc. Every year or so we are embarrased by foreign fishing vessels flaunting our econmic exclusion zone (EEZ) and illegally stripping our coastal waters of fish. So why are we cancelling a promising program that is already deployed in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia that if fully deployed could detect and track small ships approaching our coasts while they are still outside our EEZ?

  • $6.5-million: Elimination of funding for the Centre for Research and Information on Canada

  • $4.6-million: Cuts to museum assistance
    Conservatives don't think much of arts or culture

  • $5-million: Administrative reductions to Status of Women Canada
    or women.

  • $6-million: Operational efficiencies at the Canada Firearms Centre
    We knew this was coming but interesting timing.

  • $4.2-million: Cuts to Law Commission of Canada
  • $15-million Elimination of residual funding for softwood-lumber trade litigation
  • $4.6-million: Elimination of the RCMP drug-impaired-driving program's training budget
    meh, meh and meh

  • $5.6-million: Elimination of Court Challenges Program
    Conservatives have never liked this program, but most fail to understand why with a relatively young constitution it is important to have key test case issues litigated before the Supreme Court to establish a body of Canadian constitutional law.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bad Rae Day

Bob Rae was interviewed on CKNW news talk radio in Vancouver the other day. I was driving, and missed the first part of the interview, but I think he really missed an opportunity to clearly communicate a progressive, but sensible policy on drug addiction and drug abuse. To be fair, he hit one some of the major themes - that drug addiction is a healthcare problem and needs to be addressed as such, through mental health and public health programs rather than solely treating it as a crime.

When asked if he would support a supervised safe injection site in the Greater Toronto Area, Rae was very quick to respond with an "absolutely yes". He went on to mention that "war on drugs" approach followed south of the border has not worked, and that drug use should be decriminalized. In my view his response at best missed the mark, and at worst, is vulnerable to the "soft on crime" messaging that plays so well with conservatives.

InSite is not about decriminalization. Let me be clear. Use of scheduled drugs is still illegal in Vancouver. InSite has an Ministerial Exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that allows the administration of scheduled drugs for scientific and research purposes. These drugs are not decriminalized nor is production, sales or distribution of drugs decriminalized.

More importantly, InSite does not operate as an isolated program divorced from other healthcare and social services programs. Supervised injection, is one instance of a fairly broad harm reduction program (others include needle exchange programs, distribution of bleach kits, condoms, and education on transmission of infectious diseases, etc.) in Vancouver, that is a component of the City's "Four Pillars" approach to reducing drug related crime and harm in the city. Harm reduction is one pillar, the other three pillars are treatment, prevention and law enforcement.

The important messaging about InSite is not decriminalization. In fact, law enforcement is one of the four pillars. While many Canadians might support decriminalization of marijuana, I doubt that many would support the decriminalization of heroine, methamphetamine, barbituates, cocaine, etc. Safe injection is about harm reduction not decriminalization.

The progressive response to the question "would you support a safe injection site in Toronto" should be:
Supervised, safe injection as a method of harm reduction can be an effective component in the reduction of drug addiction, crime and the associated social and public health problems if it is combined with treatment, prevention and law enforcement. Outside of an integrated approach such as Vancouver's "Four Pillars" approach, an isolated safe injection site in Toronto is not advised.

Friday, September 08, 2006

What are we doing in Afghanistan?

I support our mission in Afghanistan, at least for now. I question if it is being planned and executed effectively.

Canada has proudly led the NATO mission in Afghanistan from its inception. The conditions that existed three years ago which compelled our government to commit Canadian troops and aid to this struggling nation by all accounts have not improved measurably. While I am too lazy to look up the official objectives of the UN stabilization force in Afghanistan and the specific objectives of the Canadian contingent, they probably include stabilizing the fedgling democracy, suppressing the insurgent forces of the Taliban, training the Afghan army and providing reconstruction aid to the nation.

Unfortunately, most of these objectives are only articulated at the beginning of each new deployment of our armed forces to the region. As each new wave of soldiers embarcs for Afghanistan, the military and civilian leadership and television talking heads provide the obligatory speeches about winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, rebuilding schools and generally improving the every day living conditions of the "ordinary" Afghans. However within days, all we hear about are the military operations - each with its "code name", the predictions of impending victory against the "enemy" and the inevitible casualty reports. When was the last time you heard a news story on reconstruction?

There are two possible explanations for this. Either the reconstruction efforts are proceeding all the while, they just are not exciting enough to attract the attention of the "liberal" press, or within weeks, the sole focus of each new contingent of soldiers becomes the counter-insurgency effort. While there are those who will argue each of these viewpoints, several things are becomming apparent. If military convoys in armoured vehicals can not safely traverse many of the nation's rural roads except with air support, it appears the counter-insurgency mission is at best making extremely slow progress against an embedded, organic insurgency. The Afghan government is little more than a mirage in many vast regions of the country, and the Afghan army is invisible in the field. The poppy economy is still the primary source of income for many rural Afghans. Where efforts to eradicate poppy fields have succeeded, a sustainable replacement has not been found or taken hold. It appears that outside of a few isolated urban centres, the lives of most Arghanis have not been measureably improved after 3 years.

This leaves me asking several questions. These are not rhetorical, but I have no easy answers.

Have we made the right committment to Afghanistan? Clearly you can't provide aid or reconstruction without security, but it appears that our presence in Afghanistan is primariliy military focused (or maybe that is all we hear about). Is the perfect modern soldier anything more or less than a highly professional, disciplined, efficient, human killing machine? I don't say this to denigrate our soldiers, they are among the best all volunteer professional forces in the world, but a rifle is a weapon not a tool.

Should the mission continue if there is little or no hope of acheiving our objectives? I find it difficult to even describe let alone predict what an acceptible outcome would look like. But if, recognizing that our efforts may be futile, we pull out, are we willing to accept the inevitibility of a failed state from which terrorist attacks will once again be planned and executed? Another grizzly alternative is that the "civilized world", what ever that is, may have to indefinitely administer Afghanistan and continually repress the extreme elements that nurture terrorism.

At any rate, our mission in Afghanistan must be continually examined and debated without the proponents of debate being labelled as terrorist lovers or lunatics. The human costs of our mission, on both sides, are too high to continue doggedly down the same track without debate.

Insight on InSite

First of all, I would like to give Health Minister Tony Clement some half hearted applause for his half hearted decision to extend for one year the exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for the Vancouver INSITE safe injection site. Maybe I’ll just use one hand. Did you hear that?

For weeks, the Stephen Harper and Tony Clement have been coy on the future of Vancouver’s innovative but controversial experiment in harm reduction as a component of a a “Four Pillars” approach to reducing illicit drug abuse and drug related crime in the downtown core. Under mounting pressure from the current and three former Vancouver mayors, the Premier of BC, the entire population and public health professional and academic communities, the entire Vancouver social services community, Vancouver’s chief of police, virtually all of the public sector unions, national and international HIV/AIDS and epidemiology experts … virtually every expert in the fields of public policy, healthcare, social services, public health, epidemiology and substance abuse, Harper punted, renewing the exemption and funding for the site for one more year, when researchers have asked for three more years to complete the ongoing research.

Given the fact that virtually everyone who knows anything about the related fields has spoken out in support of the site, why did Harper wait until the 11th hour and then only renew the site’s license for one additional year? It is probably due to the fact that people who live in Canada’s urban centres are not Harper’s constituents. The Conservatives did not elect a single MP in a major urban centre outside of Calgary and Edmonton. So while Harpers constituents don’t have to deal with the impact of drug abuse, overdoses, the spread of infectious diseases and the related prostitution and property crime that result from drug addiction, his constituents DO have strong opinions on so called “vices” such as drug use and prostitution. For the most part their opinions could be distilled down to “throw them all in jail”. Publicly, Harper has said that the deliberation was needed to review the research. The evidence on the results of the site is pretty clear. More likely, Harper needed to assess the political impact of doing the right thing. Harper needs to appeal to his base – suburban and rural conservative. To do so he has to come across as tough on crime, regardless of whether or not his policies result in a dozens junkies and prostitutes dying or the spread of HIV and Hepatitis B. Inner city junkies and prostitutes probably don’t vote conservative.

The research on INSITE is pretty clear. It was publicly funded under grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), has been peer reviewed and published in some of the most respected and rigorous academic journals including The New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal and the Canadian Medical Association Journal. This represents the platinum standard in academic research. For a review of the results, please look here. But this is not clear enough for Mr. Harper. We have heard musings of needed more independent and arms length research.In fact, this is exactly what (heard on CKNW radio in Vancouver) the head of the BC RCMP (the only law enforcement agency that does not support the site) has said. More independent and arms length research? What he really means is that the Fraser Institute (whose work is neither peer reviewed or subject to independent editorial review) or some other third rate, right wing propaganda machine has not weighed in yet.

To be honest, I was initially sceptical about the INSITE program. On the surface it seems to be enabling drug use. But to really understand the safe injection site, you have to view it in the context in which it was designed. It is only one component, in a comprehensive “Four Pillars” approach to reducing drug related problems in Vancouver. Outside of such a comprehensive approach, I probably wouldn’t support it. Vancouver has been at the forefront of including harm reduction - reducing the spread of deadly communicable diseases, preventing drug overdose deaths, increasing substance users' contact with health care services and drug treatment programs, and reducing consumption of drugs in the street into its policies around drug prevention. The other three pillars are Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement. For more information on Vancouver’s Four Pillars program, look here.

But all of this information was available to Stephen Harper before the last election when he said he was “not committed” to the InSite program and would be opposed to using tax payers money to fund it. So rather than allowing the best scientific evidence direct his government’s policies on drug abuse, Mr. Harper seems to be falling back on the failed “war on drugs” policies of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I'm back!

Well, after a self imposed 6 month vacation from blogging, I'm back. All in all, it's not a bad time for blogging. We have a Liberal leadership race that should start to heat up as the September delegate selection process approaches its nadir. The International AIDs conference and our Prime Minister's absence from the afair is certainly comment worthy. Is it just me, or does it seem a bit whimpy for the PM to avoid the conference for fear of being heckeled and booed. Is that leadership? When it comes to pandering to his base, Mr. Harper can be very resolute. Evidence the strength of his statements on Canada's role in the middle east and Afghanistan, on gay marriage etc. There is also the interesting fact that Mr. Harper seems to believe (by raising the age of consent) that a 14 year old is not responsible enough to make reproductive and sexual choices, but a 10 year old can be held responsible for crimes in adult court. Again - lots of strong words to appeal to his conservative base. But when doing the right thing (like funding the Vancouver safe injection site which all of the research says is making a difference) goes against his base - Mr. Harper is weak.

However today - I just thought I would mention that my neighbourhood was visited early yesterday morning by an unwelcome element - gunfire. At about 5:30 yesterday morning, somewhere around 8 to 10 shots were fired on the front street directly in front of my home and then a Japanese car with a "sport" muffler sped away. Thankfully, our home was not the target, but the house across the street. All in all, I am told by the Vancouver Police community liaison officer that 10 9 millimetre shell casings were recovered. One of the shots made a 6 inch long 3/4 inch diameter furrow through the hood of the Volvo parked across the street. At least one shot penetrated all the way into a rear bathroom shower.

I don't know much about my neighbour across the street - I know the neighbours on both sides of me quite well because this side of the street and the homes that share the same back alley have a block watch program and we have had block parties and BBQs and our children often play street hockey in the back alley. What I do know about the house across the street is that there is a basement rental suite, that appears to be rented to a couple of young guys with very expensive cars. This is probably a good indication that I should get to know the other side of the street.

On the subject of getting to know the other side of the street, if Mr. Harper is ever going to form a majority government he need to expand his appeal outside of his base. Pandering is not going to get him anywhere.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

No Sermon this Sunday.

Thoughts havn't entirely coalesced this week, not for a lack of material, in fact, just the opposite, a lack of focus is more like it. After the dust up on Cherniak's blog this weekend maybe I need to cover morality and tolerance.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


I picked this up from a comment attributed to Michael Ignatieff on Cherniak’s blog.

"I've never regarded hypocrisy as the worst of all virtues, perhaps because I'm a bit of a hypocrite myself."

I believe the context of the above quote is Michael’s initial support for the Iraq war which he later regretted. If one were to peruse the political blogs and forums on the Internet, you wouldn’t have to look very far to find accusations of hypocrite or a “flip flopper” being hurled at people for simply changing their mind. Others, such as John Kerry in the 2004 US Presidential race have been accused of hypocrisy for seeing moral choices as shades of grey rather than black or white.

It is not hypocrisy for one’s views to evolve, change and/or mature over time. In fact I would argue that anyone whose views don’t change over time either lives in a very isolated environment, lacks self awareness or is comfortable with cognitive dissonance. Likewise, no one is completely internally consistent.

I’m 42 years old. In my youth, I would have described myself as a moderate conservative. I voted for Brian Mulroney (twice) and Kim Campbell. I then moved to the United States for 10 years. Even in California, it didn’t take long to appreciate the benefits of Canada’s “liberal” social reforms of the last 50 years. Even in a region as obviously wealthy as the Bay Area, disparities in education, healthcare, opportunity, employment, etc. are striking. What is also very apparent is the way in which opportunity and wealth are distributed along racial lines. Black and Hispanic communities are by and large poor, have poor schools and poor infrastructure in stark contrast to Caucasian and Asian communities.

In the 10 years I was in California however, my core values didn’t change all that much – I have always felt that just societies must work for all people. My political outlook and views on the ways to achieve social justice are what changed. I can no longer accept that minimal governments, free markets, the private sector and private charity alone are the best mechanisms to address the obvious disparities in the social well being of the poor and at risk members of society.

Part of my own gradual enlightenment was also due to my completing my undergraduate degree at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit School with a strong history of social responsibility. The mandatory “breadth” courses in history, philosophy, and political science that were missing from my earlier technical school education speak volumes on the value of a liberal arts education regardless of one’s major or field of study. I am now literally a few days away from completing my MBA at the University of British Columbia. A business school education has actually sharpened rather than dulled my social conscience.

So I am accepting of change in myself, most people are, but what about other people? I marched in and cheered the street demonstrations in San Francisco leading up to and immediately following the start of the war. This much to the consternation of a few of my friends who were San Francisco fire fighters. I can understand they had to deal with crowd control, blocked streets and public safety. At the time many of my friends did not appreciate that they were seeing democracy in action. Many of them have since come to the realization that the war was not just a mistake, but was an immoral initiative from the start.

Michael Ignatieff, an early supporter of the war, once he saw how the war was executed, that it was sold on a bunch of lies and that only token efforts were given to creating a workable society in the aftermath, has repented of his earlier position. Once he saw that his writings on the limits of torture were being construed as support for torture, he clarified his views. Unfortunately, like with Senator Kerry, the talking heads that dispense what passes for news to the public just don’t get nuance.

George Bush is not a nuance guy. The public likes that in a President. Black, white, Axis of Evil, Evil Empire, Patriots and Terrorists – what else is there? I can’t however accept this. I don’t mind leaders making mistakes; I will still criticize them when I feel they are making a mistake. But to stay with a failed policy or continue repeating a mistake is inexcusable. I would have at least some level of respect for George Bush if he came out and said – “Okay, Iraq was a big mistake, but we are there now and we have to make the best of it”.

I have previously called Stephen Harper a hypocrite because things he said as president of the National Citizens Coalition and during the 2004 election campaign were inconsistent with his public postures during the 2006 campaign. Harper supported the Iraq war, and has never really repudiated that stand. In the past, Harper has expressed his undying admiration for the US conservative movement, whose political agenda reads like a manifesto for jingoes, robber barons and oligarchs. He has criticized Canada’s social welfare system and mocked the unemployed. He now says all this was a joke. But Harper is not a hypocrite, he is far worse. He’s a conniving weasel who wants it both ways. He seeks to appeal to the Alberta wing of the CPC with all of the neo-conservative (neo-liberal really) themes, but at the same time, in order to get elected he couldn’t sound like the scary Stephen Harper of the NCC and Canadian Alliance. Given the choice, I think I’d take the hypocrite.