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Ranked ballot system a possibility in Toronto's future

A significant democratic reform initiative could be on its way in Canada's biggest city: "Ranked ballots for 2018? Toronto city council may vote on changing its election system." This would have a few advantages, some cited in the report:

At present, a widely disliked councillor can be re-elected with the support of even a quarter of the vote because several lesser-known challengers split the opposition vote. The ranked ballot, Meslin said, would ensure that the victor is truly the pick of the people while also weakening the powerful advantage enjoyed by municipal incumbents.
With vote-splitting a non-concern, underdog fresh faces would face less backroom pressure to drop out of the running to make way for a like-minded candidate perceived as stronger, Meslin said. Voters would no longer feel compelled to vote strategically, to prevent a certain candidate from winning, rather than for the candidate they truly prefer most.
Votes would no longer be “wasted,” Meslin said. And because candidates would vie to become the second choice of their opponents’ supporters, said Ainslie, there would be far less “mudslinging” and a new focus on substantive issues.
Even reluctant councillors might consider supporting this given that it looks like the time frame is 2018 and therefore might be beyond their time in office. There could be a vote on it in the fall.

What Toronto does might focus some national attention on the issue and add to its legitimacy as an option for national democratic reform. A very intriguing development.

A re-write on Harper's NHL comments today

A re-write to re-focus the Prime Minister's concerns in the direction where his attention and solemn concerns today should have been instead:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he is concerned about the growing number of serious injuries in the NHL to Canadian democracy.

An avid hockey fan parliamentarian, Harper says the league Speaker of the House of Commons needs to take a serious look at the issue continue exercising vigilance over the democratic functioning of our House of Commons.

He made the comments in the wake of the devastating hit Speaker rulings that placed Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty in hospital with a severe concussion and fractured vertebra ruled the Harper government are in two more historic breach of privilege situations for improperly withholding information from Parliament and for one of its ministers having misled a parliamentary committee.

"I just say this as a hockey fan democrat, I'm very concerned about the growing number of very serious injuries transgressions, and in some cases to some of the premier players in the game effect to the seat of our democracy itself, Parliament," Harper said at an event in Toronto on Thursday.

"I don't think that's good for the game Canada and I think the league's got to take a commend the Speaker and take to heart his rulings serious look at that for its own sake."

Other than to send his thoughts apologies to the injured Pacioretty Canadian people, Harper declined to comment specifically on the hit rulings, saying it's not the the Canadian government's job to get involved comply.

"Obviously, I want to express sympathy to Mr. Pacioretty, his family, his teammates regrets for my government's actions," he said. "We're all very concerned about his health playing by the rules and I hope to see him have a full recovery and get back on the ice transparency, accountability and respect for Parliament return."

Where Harper does feel the government needs to take action is with safety in kids sports restraints on the PMO.

"That is something we're particularly seized with taking action on and working with our provincial partners on because this phenomenon is not just primarily at the top level," he said. "You are seeing a growing number of head and brain injuries in sports competitions at the child and amateur level slights to democracy under my tenure and for this, major repair work is required."

"You win some, you lose some," that's just not cutting it. Canadian democracy is not an optional set of rules that a Prime Minister should be chafing at repeatedly. We need to be able to trust that a Prime Minister won't do whatever he can until restrained.

With apologies to Canadian Press for the butchering.

Right wing advocates clawing at the Canada Health Act

"Give the Canada Health Act a Sunset Clause."

Canadians would be better served if the CHA were automatically scheduled for review every five years. Such "sunset clauses" are in fact quite common; for instance, Ottawa's laws on financial regulation -such as those in the Bank Act -require review every five years. The goal is to prompt serious rethinking, so that legislation does not become stale or ineffective. Stakeholders are forced to reflect on progress, failures, and potential threats, and revise the legislation accordingly.
Yep, let it become subject to expiry every five years. Brilliant stuff that I'm sure Mr. Harper would be happy to take a look at.
In 1999, a right-wing doctor, David Gratzer, wrote a book, Code Blue, that tore apart medicare, suggesting it should be replaced by U.S.-style private medicine and medical savings accounts. Dr. Gratzer now advises Republicans on health care.

Commenting on the book, Mr. Harper said: “Gratzer proposes a workable solution for the biggest policy problem of the coming generation – government-controlled health-care monopoly. Canada needs Gratzer’s solution.” Mr. Harper’s praise appeared on the cover jacket of Code Blue.

This is why I read the Sixth Estate blog and so should you.

Simple answers to not so bright questions

Is Jim Flaherty the first great Conservative finance minister?

Uh, no. And Ibbitson buries the lead.

What would constitute a great Finance Minister then? Let's get some inspiration from the present occupant...

Someone who doesn't bash the provinces.

Someone who values transparency and works constructively with federal institutions like the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Someone whose pre and post-election economic quotes wouldn't provide comic fodder in hindsight.

Someone who wouldn't foolishly meddle in the mortgage market by instituting high risk 40-year mortgages, contributing to a high household debt situation.

Someone who wouldn't let one of their financial updates transform into a constitutional crisis for the country.

Someone who does more than coast on a previous government's stabilizing financial achievements, who takes serious steps to advance the nation's financial health rather than ushering us in to a new era of structural deficit to the tune of $10 billion a year.

Someone who would have taken care to oversee a stimulus plan that would make a long run difference to the nation. A plan that would have prioritized such things as rural high speed internet over snowmobile trail bonanzas.

The present occupant great? Not so much. With headlines like that, guess the Globe thinks ol' Deficit Jim needs a boost as we head closer to budget time.

In & out scandal: Getting a leg up to the tune of $800,000

In addition to the four senior Conservative party officials facing Elections Act charges for the in and out scandal, including two Conservative Senators, and the overspending by the national party in the 2006 election of $1.3 million...there's another aspect of this scandal that is now getting some attention: "In-and-out worth $100,000 in payouts."

The Conservatives claimed, in total, $800,000 from the taxpayers as reimbursements on the shifting dollars down from the national party to the 67 local candidates who participated in the in and out scheme. Of this $800,000, that they're still fighting for, the above CBC report notes that $100,000 went out the door to some of the Conservative ridings before the in and out scheme was discovered by Elections Canada.

What is the significance of all this? It means that a cash poor Conservative riding in 2006 who received money from the national party in the in and out scheme, just for a few hours one afternoon and that had nothing to do with the local campaign, claimed a rebate on that money from the Canadian taxpayer.

In dollars, let's take a hypothetical. Say a local candidate, "Conservative Steven" raised just $25,000 in their riding for a local campaign in 2006. And spent just that amount on local expenses. Then say the national party dumped in $40,000 through the in and out transfer to the local riding. The $40,000 sat in the local account for just a few hours. Or maybe a day. Then it was transferred back up to the national level in the form of purchasing national ads. Local "Conservative Steven" nevertheless now claims from the taxpayer a 60% refund not on the $25,000 that was truly raised by him at the local level for their local campaign. Local "Conservative Steven" now claims from the taxpayer a 60% refund on $65,000. Meaning that instead of receiving the proper refund of $15,000, the Conservative candidate now gets $39,000 from the taxpayers. All because the national party transferred moneys in and out for a few hours one afternoon.

That was part of the scheme. All the better to advantage Conservative candidates in traditionally Conservative poor ridings for the 2008 election.

And that is a key insight as to how the Conservatives view the taxpayers of Canada. Getting a leg up for their electoral fortunes...on our backs.

Elsewhere on this theme today, see this Globe piece, putting the recent taxpayer funded Economic Action Plan advertising at $20 million.

Kenney's ethnic media strategy comes from a place of weakness

With all the justifiable hullabaloo over Jason Kenney and his improper fundraising letter, sent out of his ministerial office to raise money for a Conservative party ethnic media strategy, it's worth checking in on how he's actually doing on this file. Here is a helpful jumping off point for that. In respect of that media strategy, there was this quote from a member of the Chinese Canadian National Council on the likelihood of such a media campaign's success in this report from last night:

"I'm not so sure this type of campaign will be effective unless it's backed up by some concrete actions. A promotional campaign is not going to deliver you votes," he said. "You have to have some promises to the community and people will make their decisions depending on where they line up in terms of their political perspectives."
With respect to "concrete actions," Kenney has actually been having a bit of a rough ride on his file recently. About two weeks ago, the impact of the Conservative record on the immigration system came into focus. It may be, partly, a reason behind that pre-writ strategy that was inadvertently disclosed. Here is a recent synopsis of the Conservative immigration record that gives a sense of their vulnerabilities:
They have made four main changes:

• They have converted a system with one gateway and one set of entry admission criteria into a system with a dozen entry points, each with different rules. The provinces can now nominate immigrants, employers can recruit foreign workers and international students can stay in Canada after university if they’re job ready and fluent in English or French.

• They have opened the floodgates to a stream of temporary foreign workers. What was once a modest program designed to bring in nannies, farm workers and foreigners with specialized skills, is now a major source of low-cost labour. Last year Canada admitted 180,000 “guest workers” to do everything from clean offices to program computers.

• They have made it harder for immigrants to reunite their families. Four years ago, spouses, children, parents and grandparents of new Canadians made up 28 per cent of the total. It’s now down to 21 per cent.

• They have diminished Canada’s role as a haven for people fleeing violence and persecution. The number of refugees allowed into the country has dropped by 25 per cent since they took power.

Here's more on the direction they've been taking which also clarifies where some Conservative political weaknesses on this file lie:
The untold story is this: Canada’s growing reliance on newcomers is increasingly turning to temporary foreign workers -- “guest workers” -- rather than new immigrants and future citizens to propel growth.
Immigration is driven by people wanting to settle in this country, and the entry quotas are set by public policy to meet the public interest of Canadians. Temporary foreign work permits are issued to meet the needs of employers who, ostensibly, face labour shortages that cannot be addressed by Canadian workers. This process is not based on quotas. In principle and practice, there are no upper limits.
In 2010, Canada allowed 182,322 temporary foreign workers to enter Canada to meet employers’ needs. This is the second-highest number on record, the highest being in 2008.
In 2010, there were 283,096 temporary foreign workers in Canada, doing work that employers asserted there was no Canadian available to do.
"The temporary foreign worker program is really about contracting out immigration," says Yessy Byl, a lawyer who volunteers with the Edmonton Community Legal Centre. “In fact the government is setting the stage for a bizarre non-immigration program because those workers can’t immigrate.”
For a country that has grown into one of the most diverse, peaceful and prosperous nations on the planet, this shift in immigration policy signals a troubling new direction.

Throughout our history the long-standing offer to newcomers, through unifying families and providing citizenship, was the promise of becoming full participants in Canadian society.

In its place, official policy increasingly sanctions and supports employers who use newcomers as cheap and disposable labour. It's bad for diversity, it's a terrible trend for workplaces, and it affects everyone.

The Conservatives, in their leaked draft ad scripts, hint at their direction, emphasizing symbolic gestures they've made (e.g., Komagata Maru apology), general statements about increased immigration and their "values" pitch (wink, wink). Needless to say, it seems that there is room to make a clear and substantive counter punch to the Conservative lines come election time, in those targeted ridings in particular. Canada's immigration system is premised on values, historically, that the Conservatives are not doing justice. Their emphasis increasingly lets business drive our immigration choices and quite significantly, downgrades family reunification. Those are their trends. So this values framing that they like to tout in relation to immigrant communities can be turned against them too. For example, what kind of family values are these that see dramatic cuts to family reunification?

The Kenney record is not as glowing as they like to tell us. They as much as admitted that point in the infamous slide show by stating that they were still losing among these communities, just less badly. Why do we think they have to constantly elbow for unfair advantage with these groups, as they did last night?

Mulroney's Federal Identity Program

How far these Conservatives have come.

See the video below where Conservative MP Andrew Saxton stands up Friday in the House of Commons and defends the use of the "Harper Government" in place of the Government of Canada. He says it has been a long standing practice of governments across the board. That is nonsense, we know. It is only this government, under the present occupant, who has gone so far as to issue an official directive straight out of the PMO that his name is to be used in connection with the branding of the government. As Martha Hall Findlay put it in the Commons on Friday when questioning the government:

Replacing “Government of Canada” with the Prime Minister's own name, suggesting it is his own personal fiefdom, violates Treasury Board communications policy, federal identity program policy, the Conflict of Interest Act and the conflict of interest code for members of Parliament.
In fact, the government who brought in the Federal Identity Program which sets the formal guidelines as to how federal institutions, programs and services should be referred to and identified was the Mulroney government. The policy came into force October 1, 1990. So when we're considering long standing practices of governments across the board on this issue, let's throw that into the mix too. Maybe someone should ask Muldoon about his government bringing in these federal identity rules and the rationale behind them.

It's been a long road from the Progressive Conservatives to the present day Reformatories.

When Conservatives attack: Laurie Hawn F-35 version

There's another fine example today of the Conservative attack-the-critic tactic being reported. Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, Parliamentary Secretary to the Defence Minister, is sending out emails on the proposed F-35 purchase that not only promote the purchase but also take a gratuitous slag at one of the critics of the government's actions. Alan Williams is referenced by Hawn as spreading "BS" about the deal. Williams is the former Defence department procurement official who initially oversaw Canada's early involvement in the F-35 development program and is a 33 year federal employee. He is described in the report as a "respected retired public servant." Hawn and the Defence Department are not explaining what Hawn means by the "BS" remark.

The email "has circulated among retired and serving Canadian Forces members as well as journalists." No kidding. That the Defence Minister's Parliamentary Secretary would be writing emails with such material would get around. And given the decent way Williams has acquitted himself throughout the F-35's debate since the proposal was announced in mid-July, it's totally unbecoming of Hawn.

Williams appeared before the parliamentary committee explaining what, in his view, the failings of the government's F-35 proposal are. Those include the lack of guaranteed industrial benefits that would normally come along with the largest military purchase in Canadian history and the billions more we're likely paying as a result of not having a competitive bid. Those are his views based on his involvement and defence procurement experience. He has certainly contributed to the framing of the debate given his persuasiveness. But if Hawn takes issue with particular statements, he should have the decency to offer up what he's talking about rather than slagging the man through email channels.

Williams has also been one of the more independent participants in the debate, with no real stake at that, other than to offer his historic institutional knowledge of the deal and again, his past defence procurement perspective. Many of those speaking publicly on behalf of the F-35 proposal are, by contrast, related in some way to the present day purchase, funded by the Defence department or coached by the Harper government. If you wonder whether Williams' early involvement in the F-35 program might make him defensive and affect his present participation, his appearance at the committee on October 7, 2010 is worth a read. It speaks to his independence and credibility. He certainly responded to Laurie Hawn quite effectively and perhaps that's what's spawned Hawn's vitriolic emails on Williams.

Williams is calling Hawn's email "unethical and distasteful." To say the least. As noted in the report, Harper also got in on the act a while back, mischaracterizing Williams' views on the F-35.

Williams is one more joining the long line of those maligned by this government simply for having the temerity to voice an unhelpful perspective on a major public policy issue. It's another shabby democratic moment courtesy of your Harper Government.

P.S. There is more grist likely to upset the Harper crew and cue up the public relations attack, a report from the PBO on the F-35 proposal comes out tomorrow, questioning the government's lack of evidence on the cost per plane and future maintenance costs.

The "In and Out" Scandal: the "lust to win at any cost and at any price"

Harper had this to say yesterday in the House of Commons when pressed on the Federal Court of Appeal decision that the Conservatives had wrongly overspent by $1.3 million in the 2006 election: "Our party and our candidates acted in good faith." Harper also said repeatedly: "Our party's position is to always respect Elections Canada's interpretation of the law..." and "That said, our position is clear: we respect the interpretations of Elections Canada." The headlines yesterday after the House of Commons exchanges echoed Harper's words: "Harper says he respects Elections Canada's rules."

Well, the CBC had a report last night on the in and out scheme that should be watched in conjunction with the Prime Minister's statements (key part following 1:35 mark). Some of the key material covered in that CBC report can also be found here, where concerns were expressed by the Conservative ad company to the Conservatives about the legality of what the Conservatives wanted to do with their advertising scheme. Note the reaction by a Conservative at the end:

On Dec. 6, 2005, just days after the campaign began, Mr. Kumpf sent an e-mail to Conservative party officials, wondering if the proposal to have Retail Media place ads on behalf of local candidates would violate the Canada Elections Act: "While our thinking is that this option would be legal, we are not certain beyond all reasonable doubt."

That e-mail message was part of nearly 800 pages of documents the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections used to convince a judge to grant a request for a search warrant of Conservative party headquarters last week.

What the story doesn't include, from the original document, is the rest of the paragraph:

Therefore, with your permission we'd like to contact the Broadcast Arbitrator first thing this morning and enquire.
And the response from Perry Miele:
Hold tight until I ask Mike in Ottawa, we may not want anyone talking to them.
A party that had been following the PM's present day talking points wouldn't have had a problem with that, would they?

Interesting material picked up in that reporting last night which provides current and helpful background context for the PM's statements yesterday.

Kenney's ethnic media strategy: "They live where we need to win"

Jason Kenney and his office stepped up as the new Harper government poster children of electoral zeal yesterday. Whatever it takes seems to be the motto for advancement of their partisan self-interest...until they get caught that is:

A member of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's staff resigned hours after his boss was accused on Thursday of breaking parliamentary rules by using his MP letterhead to raise funds for a Conservative party campaign.
Using government resources for partisan reasons a no-no. Government resources belong to all of us and Kenney crossed a line here, using our tax dollars for his electoral shenanigans. He should suffer some punishment and not hide behind his staffer.

In addition to that very principal point, as a result of their fateful delivery of their Conservative ethnic paid media strategy into opposition hands, we may have gained a little bit of new political insight yesterday. (This blog post is premised on the assumption that these are not the Machiavellian geniuses they are frequently attributed to be by their friendlies.)

There's the obvious point, the time line of the "pre-writ" campaign: "The attached campaign outline appears to lay bare Conservative plans for a spring election, referring to a $378,000 "pre-writ" ethnic media buy beginning March 15 and lasting for two weeks."

There's the "us" and "them" overall ring to the presentation and the following statement that is presented as one of the document's "takeaway" lessons: "They live where we need to win." (p. 3) Reading as if Conservatives don't actually live in those communities, "they" do. A point lost on whoever wrote it and not especially endearing. Certainly not meant to be blared to the public. It makes you question just how deep Minister Kenney's much hyped success has been. Particularly when even they admit that the hype is not matching reality: "We are losing," the document says. "(But) we are losing less badly now."  

There were John Baird's comments:

"Obviously you can't solicit campaign contributions on your MP letterhead," Baird told reporters outside the House of Commons. "We're looking into the matter and we'll report back in short order."
Say what? From the wagon circlers par excellence, that's a bit of a switch. Bev Oda can somehow get away with the "not" added to a document after it had been signed by others. She's a fine Canadian and example to us all. But this gets an immediate "you can't" do that comment. Maybe one too many "kingmaker" profiles of late? The staffer resignation may be all there is to Baird's comments though in terms of immediate fallout.

There's the damage control effort from Kenney who will raise this offence with the Speaker, the Ethics Commissioner, the Board of Internal Economy. It smacks of a government trying to sweep it under the rug as quickly as possible with a view to an election. Get the thing filed so they can say it's being looked at by all the appropriate bodies. Note that the Ethics Commissioner previously declined to open a conflict of interest probe on Helena Guergis' spring letter writing incident on these grounds: "you have not provided any information indicating Ms. Guergis was acting in her capacity as a minister of state." The letter at issue here, albeit authored by the resigned staffer, may make the situation worse in Kenney's case. May. The Ethics Commissioner is notoriously toothless these days.

Then there are the very details of the strategy, the ridings targeted, the broadcasting outlets considered, the proposed ad scripts, the costs, the communities targeted...all able to be assessed by opposition parties now. They sure didn't know about the media onslaught about to occur in those ridings and appreciate this disclosure now. The knowledge will primarily help Liberals, with the ridings mentioned largely held by Liberals, including Brampton-Springdale, home of Jason Kenney's pal's candidacy ("More interesting is the connection between Ms. Dhalla’s election rival, Conservative hopeful Parm Gill, and Mr. Kenney. It is tighter than normal contact with Mr. Gill as a regular event tagalong with Mr. Kenney in the Toronto area and even accompanying him on a trip to India.")

Just another 24 hours in the Harper government's ongoing "lust to win at any cost and at any price."

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