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.