Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mr. Harper - you have two more days

These are the top twenty issues that as a voter in a democratic country, I expected to hear from the government during this election. Mr. Harper, you have failed to provide information on:

1. On “Turning the Corner”, explain how your $65 carbon tax will affect Canadian households. If, as some Conservatives are saying, lettuce will cost $8 per head under the Liberals Green Shift at $40 carbon tax then will lettuce cost $10 per head under your plan? You failed to present your plan to the public for review during this election. Instead of attacking the other plans, fairness demands that you present your plan for review.

2. Please explain the 110 absences of Conservatives at All Candidates meetings in their own ridings. Why do your candidates refuse to answer for your government, as is the purpose of the election process in Canada?

3. Canadians deserve to know about and discuss the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership which you have signed on our behalf. Please specifically explain "The cornerstone commitment of the partnership is its 'cradle-to-grave' plan to have all spent fuel from the world's reactors shipped back to GNEP uranium-supplier nations for secure disposal at nuclear-waste sites." Since Canada is a uranium-supplier nation under this agreement, when will we be receiving these shipments of spent fuel and which electoral district will be receiving these? (My other concerns related to uranium are here.)

4. Explain the discrepancy between your sworn testimony indicating the ‘Cadman” tape has been altered and your expert who has declared the tape as “unaltered”.

5. Canada keeps its contractual commitments. When will you implement the Kelowna Accord?

6. The Parliament is elected to represent the Canadian people. When a majority of the Canadian people choose members who vote to end deportations of Iraq war resistors, it is the duty of the Prime Minister to ensure that the majority will of the House is enacted. When will you end these deportations?

7. Describe your intentions under the European Free trade agreement and the items that are on the table for the meeting on October 17th. When will we have constitutional talks to meet the European requirement for provincial buy-in?

8. The House of Commons Natural Resources Committee called on Linda Keen, President of the CNSC to give her account of the events. However, late at night, on the eve of her appearance, Minister Lunn fired Ms. Keen for failure to "take into account the health of Canadians who, for medical purposes, depend on nuclear substances produced by nuclear reactors," delaying her testimony. Why, instead of working with the various agencies to effect a solution, did Minister Lunn fire a highly respected professional in an arms-length agency? Why hasn’t the government presented a plan during this election to deal with the aging reactor at Chalk River

9. Since my husband and I have recently suffered a paper loss of 25% in our RRSP holdings on top of the income trust losses two years ago, please explain how you expect us to support ourselves in our retirement. More of the same course is not working well for us. Hint: we’re out of money so we can’t buy any of those bargains you spoke of last week.

10. Why did you not appoint a Procurement Auditor, as you promised in 2006? Please explain the peculiar contracts by Jim Flaherty who hired several communications people with no-bid contracts for $24,844 each.

11. How will deregulation of the Food Inspection processes in our country make our food supply safe to feed to families? Please explain the discrepancy between your words saying you’re hiring more inspectors and the written record presented indicating that you intend to reduce the effective oversight of food inspections.

12. Since the last election, 67 Conservative candidates have been investigated by Elections Canada for irregular spending reports on advertising. Has your party used similar spending practises in this election? Will the Conservative Party of Canada be paying Canadians back for the abuse of the 10%ers?

13. Why did you make an undemocratic deal with Jack Layton to prevent Elizabeth May from participating in the debates?

14. As the head of government, you were charged with making Parliament work in a minority situation. Instead you chose to abuse the confidence more than any Prime Minister in history. Why did you issue a Commons Committee manual to Conservatives instructing them on proper methods of obstructing parliamentary committee effectiveness? If you have a minority government after Tuesday's election, will you work to make Parliament functional or will the crime bill trigger another election within 6 months as indicated by Justice Minister Nicholson.

15. Now that you have effectively destroyed the ability of the Canadian Wheat Board to represent the interests of farmers, how do you intend to support them in the coming economic crisis?

16.  Canadians know that innovation and research and development are a critical aspect of a prosperous economy. Now that the economy is failing, how will Canadians now focus on innovation without a qualified National Science Advisor? Why did you fire the National Science Advisor?

17. You have indicated that Arctic Sovereignty is important to our future, please explain the firing of Jack Anawak, the Ambassador of Circumpolar Affairs.

18.  Please explain the dismantling of the Canada Emission Reduction Incentives Agency. Does your plan “Turning the Corner” not need independent oversight or is there no intention to reduce emissions in your plan?

19. When will the Ambassador for the Environment position so effectively filled by Karen Kraft Sloan until September 2006, be filled?

20. Why have you chosen to politicize previously effective agencies of the government resulting in the resignations of highly-regarded officials, specifically in the Immigration and Refugee Board?

Given that there are only two days remaining, I’m not holding my breath in anticipation of an answer from Stephen Harper or his caucus in hiding. However, maybe a responsible journalist could pose one or two of these questions in the few hours remaining.

TorStar backs Dion

After carefully presenting their reasons, the editorial board has chosen Stephane Dion as the prime ministerial candidate to best serve the interests of Canadians.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Conservatives $25 Billion Mistake

In April 2006, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a new type of mortgage. A 40 year term would now be allowed with 0% down payment, insured by CMHC and its private competitors Genworth and AIG.

In an already heated housing market this drove up demand creating a bubble just waiting to burst. Some warned of the dangers of this. Here and here and here and here

In June 2008, Flaherty, having realized his mistake revised the decision by reducing the term to 35 years and 5% down payment. This comes into effect on October 15th, 2008. My question is what does Jim Flaherty have against the month of October.

How many 40 year mortgages did CMHC insure at 0% down? Wonder if its around $25 Billion worth? Or was that only the dollar value of the mortgages sold by CMHC's private competitor AIG, yes that AIG. And next week, after the election, we'll be buying out the rest of the high risk mortgages that the banks sold.

After all the political leaders complained loudly when the banks didn't immediately pass on the full 1/2% point drop in the prime lending rate, we see today there is some adjustment in that. Was the price tag for that half-hearted compliance equal to $25 Billion?

Previously, a home owner could get a 25 year term and usually at least 5% downpayment was required, anything less than 25% required mortgage insurance from CMHC or its private competitors.

I think Canadians deserve to know, before we go to the polls, just exactly how much of our tax dollars will be flowing to the banks and what assets are involved. The first $25 Billion is for the highest risk mortgages. Also the banks should be opening up the books so we can see that in fact they are obeying the rules about capitalization. That includes all the deals that are off the books.

Last spring, at least $4 Billion was used to shore up two unnamed Canadian banks but we just found out about this last week when the information slipped from beneath the reins of the PMO. How many other transactions are there that we don't know about.

By the way, this past week RBC was fined $9.8 million (US) and was also forced to buy back $850 million by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for having engaged in fraudulent marketing practises with those ultra safe auction-based securities. This wasn't the first time for RBC to pay a fine to the SEC either. Why in 2006 they paid a fine of $1.5 million for interfering in auctions by bidding for a firm's proprietary account to prevent fails auctions. Maybe Canada's banks are as squeaky clean as Harper and Flaherty would have us believe.

Is this how Harper gets tough on crime?

Funny, (not haha, funny) how Harper and Flaherty is now saying governments can't interfere with banks. Yet, when they were trying to force an  election last spring, there was an awful lot of noise coming from Flaherty about getting banks to reduce or eliminate ATM fees.

Today we heard that the US will start to nationalize it's banks. It seems likely that this $25 Billion may be only the beginning of bailouts for us too.

To belittle is to BE little!

Harper has sunk to new depths of desperation by drawing attention to three takes of Stephane Dion asking for clarification on a poorly worded question. Given that Harper has been in hiding from facing media scrums, public town halls or even talking to Canadians, he has NO credibility on this. In fact, he's shown himself for the mean-spirited bully he is.

Many bloggers (here, here, and here) are on the same story tonight. I truly believe this is identical to the situation in 1993 when Conservatives drew attention to Mr. Chretien's facial paralysis. And Harper needs to be called on it. 

This calling out does appear to be happening a little bit but I believe a full bore national expression of disgust for Harper's bullying ways is the only solution.

Prime Minister Dion, sounds better every minute!

some further thoughts:

Clearly Harper, in his very first unscheduled, unscripted media encounter in this campaign, stepped out to take a jab at the one opponent with a shot at forming government. It was a low blow and didn't relate to policy in the middle of a financial crisis. Then he stepped back behind the RCMP protection and continued with his flight. Says more about Harper than Dion. Says he's so hungry for power that he would ignore the concerns of Canadians to take a jab at his opponent.

Mr. Dion on the other hand, I believe, clearly understood the question to be a trap set by the journalist who clearly refused to reword the question. There was no good way to answer the question. Mr. Dion makes every effort to do this. He doesn't obfuscate when addressed by the media, he tries to understand the question and provide an answer with integrity.

If Dion had answered with integrity, he knew he would say that he would not have cut the GST and would have cut the income taxes instead. He also knew he didn't want that clip picked up and played over endlessly by the Conservatives right at this moment. Why, you ask, well with the visibility of the GST cuts, they have been mildly popular with the voters (that's why Harper did it, after all) who aren't paying much attention or do not understand economic issues.

In my opinion, Dion avoided saying "I would not have cut the GST" and have that be the last meme played for the last four days of the most important election for a progressive Canada. And he avoided being dishonest. I'd say, personally, that he is brilliant.

Personally, I didn't need any further evidence that Mike Duffy adds little to nothing of value to any discussion of importance BUT this little misadventure sure has exposed him to far more Canadians for the shill he is.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Nik Nanos…the most under-reported pollster in Canadian history?

In 2006, Nik Nanos nailed the election results exactly and the country was surprised! Canada’s corporate media had been reporting from all the other polling sources to get the story about the campaign and they were off target, some more than others.

Fast forward to Campaign 2008 and the corporate media goes with their old pals in the pollstering business. Didn’t they learn their lesson? Or do they have a horse in this race?

Questioning media intention has become a blood sport in North America but there is one definitive study this year that indicates a hint at the truth. There is a long-standing myth of a liberal bias in the media that just does not hold up to scrutiny. Media Matter’s study indicates a 67% influence by conservative writers! With the recent convergence of Canadian media in the hands of conservative supporters. I believe, the Canadian public is not being served by its media in an unbiased way and this transfers especially to interference in the democratic process of an election.

When Stephen Harper says we are becoming more conservative, I believe what he means is that our media is becoming more conservative and he might very well be right. The problem for media is they’ve seen a drop off of subscribers and viewers. Is it that Canadians are not seeing themselves represented in their media and are checking out the internet for sources of information that are more in tune and reflective of who they are?

For me, that is true. I can personally vouch for not watching television for months on end and reading headlines online for several major and regional newspapers. I also gather news from magazines and get my hints for what to look for from the CBC radio which is on all hours of the day. When a story comes up on the radio that I’m interested in, I’ll look for the rest of the information online.

Broadcasting does have a horse in this race this time. Harper has hinted for years about the privatization of the CBC. With a majority in government, I believe he would do this within weeks not months. So the private broadcasters are looking forward to the CBC being put on a level playing field with them – whoring for advertising dollars.

How does the CBC get away with its obvious conservative slant this time? Well, lets follow the money trail? Who wins when an organization is privatized? It’s the people in the hot seat on the day of privatization. Is the CBC’s new (conservative appointed) management team looking to make a fast buck? Are the regular talking heads in the radio and television newsrooms sucking up to the new mandate from on high?

From personal observation, I’d say something is afoot in the Canadian media. And it starts with election poll results and how they are reported.

So, are you interested in the horse race? See what Nik Nanos has to say about Stephane Dion’s Liberal team closing the gap and Dion’s rise in the Leadership Index and make up your own mind about what’s going on. Look around online and find some real information recognizing that the media might have a horse in the race that might not be the same horse as yours.

Staying the Course is Risky

What will “staying the course” mean for Canadians?

The Bank of Canada will continue to bail out the Canadian banks with no discussion in Parliament about a strategic direction for the voters to evaluate the best choice. Earlier this year two of Canada’s banks needed to be bailed out but the information just came out in the last week. There was no discussion of this in Parliament.

Canadians will be kept in the dark about the actual state of our economy through Harper’s habit of releasing bad news late in the day on Friday so the news media doesn’t have a chance to cover it. I suspect the PMO of a Harper minority would continue to monitor all of the communications from all departments of government, all ministers and all MP’s thereby closing down our access to an open and accountable government.

During this campaign, Stephen Harper has stated outright that he will continue to abuse the Parliamentary process by forcing confidence motions rather than working together with opposition parties in a minority government situation. Nicholson has specifically stated that the crime bill will be a confidence motion within the first six months of a Conservative minority.

The Make Poverty History campaign sent a request to all the leaders to participate in a video explaining their platform on issues related to Global and National poverty. Stephen Harper refused to participate even after all the others had. Make Poverty History proceeded without him after several opportunities were given to change his mind. How can a prime ministerial candidate have such complete disregard for about 10% of our population who are living in poverty or the over 250,000 Canadians who have signed on to the Make Poverty History group. If Harper could be confronted directly on this issue, would he say the same thing he said to Premier Danny Williams indicating he doesn’t need your votes?

As a direct affront to the fairness until now implicit in our electoral system, Conservative candidates across the country are bowing out of All Candidates meetings. An election is an opportunity for Canadians to evaluate the record of the government. If the candidates aren’t showing up for the questioning, then voters cannot effectively evaluate their choices. But more than that it seems unfair and disrespectful of the Canadian voter. Last tally I saw was over 20 individual Conservative candidates have refused to participate in an All Candidates meeting in their own riding. This tally included at least two Cabinet Ministers! Is this a new form of open and accountable activities for government members?

Actions do speak loudly. Are these the actions that an open and accountable person would undertake or are these the actions of a secretive, hyper-controlling person. The only one who is served by secrecy is the one keeping the secrets.

What kind of Canada do you believe in?

another interesting polling company?

On Garth Turner's blog, a participant posted about an encounter with a pollster. The caller identified themselves as being from Survey Canada. The householder questioned the caller to find out who was actually calling and who was paying for the poll - turns out its the Conservative Party of Canada. You can read about the experience over at Garth's blog. I have the impression it may be like a push poll instrument.

So I went to the trusty Google machine to find out who Survey Canada is. Google search gives a link to a website with a header only. Back at the Google search though we learn that Survey Canada is a division of Hyperweb Communications Inc., a website designer. Not sure why they're involved in push polling for the Conservatives but this is definitely a tactic used in the US by Republicans to deliberately plant doubt about the opposition. 

Canadian voters should be warned about this new tactic being employed by the Conservatives. Push polls are definitely an unwelcome tool for our democracy.

What is a push poll, you ask? The trusty Wikipedia offers a fairly complete idea.

push poll is a political campaign technique in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll. In a push poll, large numbers of respondents are contacted, and little or no effort is made to collect and analyze response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll. Push polls may rely on innuendo or knowledge gleaned from opposition research on an opponent. They are generally viewed as a form of negative campaigning.[1] The term is also sometimes used inaccurately to refer to legitimate polls which test political messages, some of which may be negative. Push polling has been condemned by the American Association of Political Consultants[2], and is illegal in New Hampshire.[