Friday, February 26, 2010

From The 'Accountability in Government' Party

Remember 2006? Specifically, do you remember Stephen Harper prattling on about increasing government transparency and accountability? I thought you might.

Well, it seems that the HarperCon$ have decided that rather than actually being open and accountable to the public, they have decided to quit keeping records at all.

But the Conservatives may have found the ultimate solution to the problem. There's an easy way to prevent anyone from getting access to your records, a veteran bureaucrat explained this week – don't keep records. Team Harper is catching on, he said. There's far less documentation, far less record-keeping. It's the formula for deniability. Why not make it the way of the future?

The bureaucrat was at the Department of National Defence, where the Afghan detainee affair has brought controversy, some of it prompted by journalistic prying through access laws. “I get a call from the Privy Council Office,” he said. “They're setting up a conference call. The first thing that's said is ‘No note-taking, no recordings, nothing. We don't want to see anything in writing on this.' … That's the way they develop policies now and, for my money, it's scary.”

Think about this for a moment. The government - and in particular the governing party - is going out of its way to ensure that they can deny anything that was done behind closed doors. This is not the mark of a government that is operating either honestly or in the best interests of the people it is supposed to be governing.

As far as I am concerned, referring back to my thoughts earlier this week about reforming the powers of the government leadership, there should be no such thing as a meeting that doesn't have minutes fully recorded and publishable.

Accountability and transparency is an aspect of government that must exist throughout the entire organization from top to bottom. When the PMO and the governing party set themselves apart from this standard, it undermines the very concept of government accountability.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why Should The Opposition Cooperate?

With parliament about to restart, Justice Minister Nicholson wants his bills reinstated.

Frankly, I think the opposition's answer to Nicholson should be "no". Harper is the one who prorogued parliament, it was his actions which killed those bills - let the government clean up the mess it created.

Given that these are the same awful bills that the HarperCon$ have been trying to push through since 2006, and they've been killed numerous times by Harper's actions, I'm of the opinion that Harper has nothing to bitch about. He screwed over parliament for naked personal gain, I think it's high time that accountability included him having to actually clean up the mess that his actions create.

Is It Time For a Canadian Magna Carta?

After reading about Karzai's latest power grab in Afghanistan, I find my attentions turning back to Canada's parliamentary democracy and find myself musing about the concentration of power in the PMO, and the way that Stephen Harper has abused his access to these powers.

I find it intriguing that Nanos has just released a poll looking precisely at the perceived distribution of power in various aspects of our government. The Nanos poll shows 41% of Canadians think that the PMO has too much power, and 40% think it's "just right", which is for all intents and purposes a statistical tie.

However, in light of a Prime Minister whose record for acting capriciously has been astonishing to many, and rumblings from all corners of the political spectrum about the growing concentration of power in the PMO, perhaps it is time to consider restraining the powers of the PMO in law.

The original purpose of the Magna Carta was to constrain the powers of a monarchy that often acted in its own self interest rather than that of the people the monarchy was ostensibly governing. While Harper is certainly not the first Canadian Prime Minister to manipulate the levers of power purely in his own self interest, he is certainly the first to act in a manner that is arguably seriously damaging to the principles and purposes of our parliamentary system.

I'm not talking about just 'fixed election date' laws (and we all know how effective Harper's attempt at that really was, don't we?), but a comprehensive re-evaluation of the powers vested and concentrated in the PMO. It's time to place some constraints on the office itself, and in doing so, force the PMO to delegate actual authority outside of itself.

- Things like the ability to request the dissolution of parliament must be done with the consent of the House of Commons, except at the end of the parliament's five year maximum life.

- Appointments to various arms of government must be subject to review outside of the PMO decision making process

- Greater independence for the ministers of the crown. Under Harper, the cabinet hasn't dared say anything without it being vetted in advance by the PMO. It is my belief that this has dramatically weakened the effectiveness of the government by restraining all of our leadership to the abilities of the PMO.

- Discretionary powers of the PMO must be enumerated and reviewed. Where appropriate, legislative constraints limiting the exercise of those powers should be imposed.

- A similar exercise should be undertaken with respect to the office of the Governor General.

In short, we have a PM who is running amok with the powers vested in him. In doing so, Harper has shown us that the same problems that led to the Magna Carta being necessary are now present in our PMO. It is time to codify the powers and responsibilities of the PMO - and the PM - and constrain the office itself.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Fruits of Harper's SoCon Agenda

We could have written this report back in 2006 when the HarperCon$ went after cutting programs that benefit women and minorities.

Make no mistake about it - Harper will continue to dismantle everything that makes Canada a better place to live if he's given the opportunity. His government doesn't just misunderstand what equality and rights are about - they are blatantly hostile to the very notion.

Whether it is the blatant attacks on equality that his government has made, or the bungling of the cases of Canadians who find themselves mired in a foreign country's legal system - often until public outrage forces the government to take corrective steps, this is a government which ignores, and supresses facts which contradict its ideologically driven agenda. (and, as with other things, women are more often victims of domestic gun violence ... which was precisely why the gun registry was put in place originally)

H/T: Luna @ Feminist Christian Socialist

Friday, February 19, 2010

The HarperCon Echo Chamber

To be honest, it comes as no real surprise to me that Conservative MP James Lunney won't meet with representatives of KAIROS.

The Harper-branded conservatives aren't interested in anything but their own conclusions. For them, it's not about representing their constituencies, nor is it about representing Canadians. If the idea doesn't come out of their little echo chamber, they aren't interested in even considering it or discussing it.

Jason Kenney has decreed that KAIROS is "anti-Semetic" (which likely as not means that they have the gall to criticize Israel, as opposed to actually being racist with a particular hatred for Jewish people). Therefore, nobody in the Conservative caucus will even dare meet with people who disagree with that declaration for fear of retribution from the PMO.

Living as I do in Alberta, I've had plenty of opportunity to watch this 'echo-chamber' approach to policy emerge among the ReformaTories. It's endemic to Alberta's politics, so a party whose power structure grew up here is going to think in the strongly partisan terms. However, just as it is bad for Alberta politics - where voter turnout has reached appalling lows - it is even more damaging on the Federal stage where the actions of our politicians affect not just the country, but how our country is perceived on the world stage.

Lunney's refusal to meet with members of KAIROS simply goes to show that the HarperCon$ are less about representing their constituents than they are about using the bully pulpit of power to railroad policies and politics through that a large majority of Canadians would find deeply offensive if they but took a moment to consider the implications.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sexism At Its Finest

Over at the Ottawa Citizen, we find David Warren spouting off about sex and contraception - and managing to make it all women's fault when they find themselves pregnant:

"A woman must have the right to decide whether she is going to carry a baby." Whom do these people think they are fooling?

A woman, who is not the victim of a rape, has always had that right; and even my Catholic Church recognizes a method of contraception that is quite infallible. Gentle reader may guess what that is. And while it is only a rule of thumb, "no sex without babies, and no babies without sex" does in fact provide adequate guidance for any conceivable life issue.

How delightfully medieval of the man. What really annoys me about this kind of simplistic logic on Mr. Warren's part is not just that he has essentially made the whole issue of contraception and family planning the woman's job. Clearly, in his world, men bear no responsibility for their actions.

If men were good, there would never be abortions. If men were good, women would never have cause to seek them. If men were good, women would be loved.

Therefore, regardless of the state of any law, the immediate answer is for men to be good, and to address their Valentine wishes accordingly.

Why yes, Mr. Warren - the perfect solution is for everybody to follow the same rules. How insightful of you. Of course, Mr. Warren is conveniently ignoring the biblical nonsense about 'wives submitting to their husbands', which all too often is interpreted quite specifically with sex in mind.

Then there are situations like this where women's bodies and integrity are clearly violated - again for purely religious reasons. There are also societies in the world where it is illegal for a woman to deny her husband sex. Think about that a little bit.

Pardon me for being thick about things, but I think it's appropriate to note that there's a certain hypocrisy in Mr. Warren's thinking. On one hand, it's all the fault of those awful women for spreading their legs for their partners, and on the other hand, those same women are obligated by "biblical law" to submit to their partners? Hmmm...sounds to me like the power is being placed firmly in men's hands, while the responsibility is handed elsewhere.

Sorry Mr. Warren, but where a woman's body is involved, it is the woman's perogative to decide what happens with it - up to and including terminating a pregnancy through abortion. This deserves to be true here in Canada as well as elsewhere in the world. Until men like Mr. Warren cease to wave their bibles in our faces, and start respecting women as equal members of society with all the autonomy that comes with it, there will be a fight. This is why Mr. Harper's 'maternal health' initiative is a bad joke on the world stage.

Lastly, Mr. Warren might want to consider sex from the perspective of how couples bond with each other. Although children can be an outcome of sex, it would be folly to assume that something as incredibly intimate as sex doesn't play a dramatic role in cementing the emotional bond between partners. As much as the Catholic Church likes to view sex as purely fulfilling a reproductive role, we know that it has other benefits as well. To restrict it solely to spawning more children is probably more damaging to a relationship, and yet that is exactly what he is proposing.

Flaherty Changes Canada's Mortgage Rules

Verbal comments are always hard to assess when we are talking about something as concrete as mortgages and property purchases.

After reading about Flaherty's changes to mortgage rules in Canada, I find myself left with as many questions as answers.

The changes as described sound fairly innocuous:

(1) Under the new rules, all borrowers will need to meet standards for 5-year fixed-rate mortgages regardless of whether they're seeking a loan with a lower rate and shorter term.
(2) Also, the government is lowering the maximum amount Canadians can withdraw when refinancing to 90 per cent of the value of their homes, from the current 95 per cent.
(3) “We will require a minimum down payment of 20 per cent for government-backed mortgage insurance on non-owner occupied properties purchased for speculation"

The first item is probably the only one that appears to directly impact people who are getting into the housing market. It creates a situation where people will have to plan, and budget, as if they will be paying an interest rate 2%-5% higher than the lowest available. This will push some people who are on the edge of being able to afford a property out of the market.

What is left open as a question here is whether the high ratio mortgages ( < 10% downpayments ) continue to be eligible for CMHC insurance or not. There is a clear push here towards a floor equity position of at least 10% for primary residence and 20% for investment properties - I'm not sure if CMHC will continue to accept 5% downpayment mortgages for insurance or not.

I am actually a little surprised by the revelation that CMHC would underwrite investment property mortgages. I was under the impression that they existed solely to underwrite primary residence mortgages - apparently I was mistaken.

I don't see anything particularly evil about the changes for refinancing rules or for that matter the investment property mortgages. I'm not a big fan of reducing your equity position in your home below 10% to begin with. The costs of selling a property can absorb any gains made in the market when you are at a 5% downpayment position.

As for investment property purchases, I don't even think that CMHC should be underwriting those loans - if you don't have 25% down to enable you to take the mortgage out of the insured market, chances are you are tying up money that you will need at some future point anyhow and a more liquid form of investment would be a better choice.

With all of that said, what I'm really concerned about with Flaherty's changes to the mortgage game in Canada is whether he will trigger a sudden downturn in the housing market values as people at the lower end of the market withdraw entirely. If this happens, it will actually create a double whammy problem for those same people. Not only will it remove them from the home ownership market, but it will increase pressure on the rental market, driving up the cost of housing rentals.

Additionally, existing home owners will find themselves punished as their houses drop in value as the supply/demand balance resets itself. Given the fact we are in the early stages of coming out of a fairly severe recession, this kind of blow to people's overall financial position could also trigger a further retraction of consumer spending - thrusting us once again into a second recession.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Interesting Development On The CanWest Front

It appears that Shaw Communications is going to take over:

Calgary-based Shaw Communications Corp. would own at least 20 per cent of Canwest's equity and 80 per cent of its voting stock if the transaction announced Friday closes.

I'm not entirely sure, given the byzantine complexity of Canwest's ownership, but this sounds like the Asper family's chokehold control on Canwest is over.

Whether that's enough to save some of Canwest's papers is open to discussion. It will be interesting to see if editorial control over the newspapers continues to be dictated from Winnipeg, or if the newspapers that are part of Canwest's holdings start exercising some independent thought.

Whether the stumbling National Post remains "viable" in the new CanWest empire remains to be seen. As far as I know, it has never actually turned a profit since its inception - one would imagine that fresh eyes on the Canwest board might look at that track record somewhat differently than the Aspers have.

It appears that the deal does not include CanWest's newspaper holdings. Interesting. Any guesses on who will buy up the newspaper divisions?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For Canada's Women...

Consider carefully when Harper won't include a full range of women's health options on the world stage ... apparently at the urging of Canada's religious right wing.

Remember that this is the same man under whose governance cutbacks have disproportionately affected women - both socially and economically.

Harper, and the extremists in the ReformaTory base, would happily dial Canada's society back to pre-WW II era social structures - where women were treated essentially as doormats.

The "anti-abortion" movement is is more about regulating women's sexuality than it is anything else. These same people are also actively opposing contraceptives and comprehensive sex education. All of which are part of ensuring that a woman is able to control her fertility.

If Harper is unwilling to present a comprehensive platform on the world stage, can you imagine what he'd do in Canada if he wasn't constrained by the limitations of a minority parliament?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A First Look At The DSM V Proposals

The American Psychiatric Association has released the proposals for the DSM V revisions for review and comment today.

There has been considerable concern voiced within the transgender community around both who has been involved in the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders working groups and some of the pet theories that some of those people may have tried to insert into the DSM V.

I'm very pleased to note that those fears seem to have been allayed in the committee process. Nowhere in there did I find the language of 'Autogynephilia', and in the revisions proposed for Gender Identity Disorder - in fact in this paper by Peggy Cohen-Kettenis, it seems fairly clear why the language of Autogynephilia wasn't adopted.

Overall, I like the proposed changes. They head in the direction of supporting the notion of gender as a spectrum rather than hard categories. Some of Kelly Winters' advocacy for "an exit clause" has also been adopted. Also, a clearer approach to dealing with cases where Gender Identity issues intersect with Intersex conditions has been added.

The term 'Gender Identity Disorder' is to be replaced with 'Gender Incongruity' - an interesting change that addresses the stigmatization criticism that has been levelled at the old terminology.

302.6 Gender Identity Disorder in Children
302.85 Gender Identity Disorder in Adolescents or Adults
302.6 Gender Identity Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

*Note: The really interesting discussions are in the Rationale tabs, which discusses the implications of the changes proposed, as well as what is still under discussion.

**Note: There is still an ongoing discussion as to whether the Gender Incongruity section should remain in the same section of the DSM as the various sexual paraphilias.

Given much of the uproar in the transgender community over the involvement of Blanchard and Zucker in particular on the overarching committee, I think that a collective sigh of relief is in order. It appears that the "pet theories" that both men are associated with that so many find deeply offensive have not been railroaded into place, and in fact the collective wisdom of all the participants has prevailed.

Alberta's Budget

Alberta's government tabled its second deficit budget yesterday.

Several things struck me as being of interest in it.

First of all, was the deep delve into the 'Sustainability Fund'. I don't actually object to that per se - rainy day savings are something that are always a good idea. That said, I think it is highly questionable that we have not one, but two such funds - the one Ralph Klein created and the Heritage Savings Trust Fund created by Peter Lougheed. If we are to be looking for economic efficiencies in such times as today, should we not be consolidating such funds to reduce administrative duplication?

The second piece is a 'what's missing' moment. We have a government staring down the business end of a $4 Billion deficit, even after raiding the sustainability fund cookie jar. Basically, the Alberta government is basing it's entire 'get out of deficit' plan on rising resource prices. This is a really poor plan when you think about it, as it is entirely based on revenue streams that the government has little or no ability to influence. Resource prices move on the open market - which may or may not go up in the next few years.

This is solely because the Alberta government under Ed Stelmach is unwilling or afraid to levy taxes. While I don't necessarily like taxes, it strikes me that relying on resource revenues (a diminishing income source in the long run) to balance our budgets is missing the point that both the Sustainability Fund and the Heritage Savings Trust Fund were created to address - namely that we cannot afford to be shackled for all time to finite resources - and doing so is fiscally myopic.

The last piece I will pick on in the budget is the lack of meaningful effort put into moving Alberta's economy out of being resource-centric. If there is one thing that governments in this province have missed the boat on repeatedly in this province it is the very notion of getting our focus out of being purely resource centric. In fact, their "plan" for getting out of what is clearly a systemic deficit position itself shows us that the Stelmach PCs have absolutely no clue how vital this is to Alberta's long term viability. paraphrase Brian Mason after the Throne Speech last week, I think the Stelmach government has successfully delivered the greenest budget in decades - mostly by recycling old budgets from the Ralph years. Sadly, they haven't realized that those budgets didn't work so well either.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

If You Ever Thought The CPoC Was Democratic

... you might want to rethink that a bit.

Every time someone has put forth a credible challenge to Rob Anders, the party headquarters has changed the rules quite specifically to protect him.

Now, the party brass has moved in and punted the riding's board:

In a letter to the Calgary West riding association on Thursday, the national council said it would take control of this year's annual general meeting and will have the final word on any riding association spending.

Uh huh. There hasn't been a nomination contest in that riding since 2004, and Anders is notorious as one of the worst MPs ever to hold a seat in Ottawa. (Why Calgary West voters keep electing a nitwit like Anders is beyond me - it's either stupidity, apathy or both allowing him to win)

However, square the actions of CPoC's actions this week with Harper's approach to Parliament in recent weeks. When the outcome Harper wants isn't assured, he tries to change the rules to ensure that it is.

How delightfully democratic.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Harper Attempts Damage Control...

and screws it up royally.

The upshot is that the Con$ want to cancel a couple of week-long 'back to the constituents' breaks during this upcoming session to 'make up' for time lost due to PMSH's prorogation of parliament.

Once again, we have a delightful example of how Harper doesn't get it. Those breaks exist so that MPs can get feedback from their constituencies. Of course, the HarperCon$ spend so much of their time creating their "10%ers" for other ridings that they barely are aware of their own constituencies. I haven't seen or heard of any sign of my own MP being in my riding for ages.

Harper doesn't understand the machinery of democracy, including the role of MPs to their constituencies. What Harper has proposed once again inhibits the ability of our parliament to operate on behalf of the people that it allegedly represents. Harper is going away from governing at the will of the people and like his Alberta counterparts is acting as if he has a right to govern.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Putting Together The Pieces

I've said for a long time that Stephen Harper is one of the most malign Prime Ministers we have ever seen in Canada. It isn't just that I disagree with his politics, but it comes out in how he goes about conducting his governance. He doesn't believe in doing anything above board, and in recent weeks some more of his malfeasance has come to light.

First up, over at Darryl Raymaker's blog, we have an interesting bit of insight into how Harper is trying to undermine public oversight of the RCMP. (Which, given the RCMP's track record recently, this is a very worrisome thing indeed)

Then, over at Big City Lib, we have news about the noxious muzzle that has been slapped on using content from CBC's news website. It's no secret that Harper dislikes two things intensely - the CBC and criticism. So, what he has tried to do is make one of Canada's public assets meaningless in the discourse over our politics.

This all comes to public attention when? While Harper has Canada's parliament prorogued. Think about this - prorogation itself is another tool that he has used to squelch discourse.

Letting Your Biases Get In Front Of You

Yesterday, I ran across this essay on X(itter), and it annoyed me because the author makes all kinds of errors of both fact and reason.  Si...