Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Corporate Logic

The Globe and Mail had an article yesterday that appalled me to no end.  Titled "In The Search For Savings, The Workplace Gets An Overhaul", it describes Manulife's move into so-called "open concept" workspaces.

Lurking in the midst of a bunch of vacuous platitudes about "collaboration" and "mobile workforces" is a line that underscores the real thinking behind these workspaces:
The objectives are to improve collaboration and cut costs. 
“Real estate is an expense and it needs to be managed,” says Brad Searchfield, global head of corporate real estate at Manulife. “All things being equal, we will use less real estate. Then as we grow, it creates opportunities for us to manage that growth very cost effectively.”
That's right - it's all about cost.  Or, perhaps I should say that it's about costs that some accountant somewhere can measure.  This mentality has other, less tangible costs that are being ignored.  

'Improving Collaboration' is a load of nonsense.  It increases noise in the workplace, it increases "drive-by interruptions".  If your job doesn't require actual concentration to get anything done, then you're probably okay.  If, however, you are one of those unfortunates that has to concentrate to solve problems, you're in trouble.  Are you a manager?  Have to deal with a lot of people all the time?  Congratulations, you just became a major source of noise that everybody else has to cope with because chances are you can't get a private room to have those constant meetings in.

I don't object to highly collaborative workspaces for groups that actually need it.  Imposing it across the board is a guaranteed problem.  I'm a software developer by profession - I do my best thinking when I can get a bit a of quiet time; there are other circumstances where people need both quiet space and collaborative spaces.  

While the idea of "working from home" is an appealing notion, it has its own problems.  Not everybody has the kind of role where working remotely is effective.  Home has its own distractions, and in some cases, there are people whose interpersonal relations in the workplace will suffer quite badly when they are working remotely - they will simply lose the day to day contact with their peers that happens naturally in a workplace.

“Calgary’s just a lot more generous with space,” says Mr. McNair. “In downtown Calgary, the norm for energy firms would be close to 300 square feet per person. Some of the firms are at 400.”But the trend is spreading. 
“Most organizations can reduce their real estate by 30 per cent if they go to a [desk] reservation system or a slightly different workplace model, with very little change, because 30 per cent of those people are either on holiday, travelling on business, ill or out visiting clients,” says Lisa Fulford-Roy, a senior vice-president at design firm HOK, which is working with Manulife.
300 sq. ft. per person?  This is exactly the kind of statistical nonsense that makes organizations start thinking of their people as wooden pegs to be stored as compactly as possible.  I don't know about you, but I've never had a 300 sq. ft. office.  These statistics include meeting rooms, hallways, washrooms and reception areas.  The individual worker in the space every day is crammed into a lot less than 300 square feet.  

Individual offices in the 1990s tended to be about 100 sq. ft., cubicles about 48 sq. ft., and "open concept" desks are smaller still.  These are the real areas that people experience as their workplace.  The common areas such as hallways, meeting rooms and washrooms don't count.  The smaller you make the workspace, the greater the levels of individual stress on the individual workers.  I guarantee that companies will start experiencing greater levels of staff turnover, absenteeism, stress related illness and so on.  

The "work from home" model has other consequences - it effectively downloads the cost of office space and facilities from the employer to the employee.  Even if you have the space available to set up an office in your home, that space costs you money.  It is the employee that foots the costs of the space, heating and lighting and furniture in these contexts.  The company might provide the computer and internet connectivity, but even that is not guaranteed.

Lastly, the geniuses who are promoting these workspaces have forgotten one fundamental rule about people:  we're all different, and workspaces need to accommodate a wide range of working styles.  Try to force a style on people that is contrary to their basic natures, and there will be a price.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Privatizing Everything In Sight

There is a belief commonly held that the private sector will always be "more efficient" than the public sector.  Outside of the United States, nowhere is that more prevalent than in Alberta.

Alberta has moved regulatory oversight of the Oil Industry to an "arms-length" regulator ... which is funded by the very industry it is overseeing.

More than 75 environment officers who watched over oil industry activities left the provincial environment department this fall, to take higher paying jobs with the new industry-funded Alberta Energy Regulator. 
I don't know about you, but it seems to me that having an industry-funded body in the position of oversight, regulation and enforcement over that same industry is a recipe for disaster.

Anybody else remember the Maple Leaf Foods listeria outbreak?  Yeah ... the one that happened when the Harper Government(tm) wanted to abandon food inspection and leave it to industry.  

No idea what could go wrong there ... none whatsoever.

The idea that an industry funded body will be able to effectively oversee and enforce regulatory conformance is at best a bad joke.  Industry uses money as a lever for everything.  Even in a situation where the company is legislatively obliged to provide funding, all they have to do is hold the payments hostage to whatever their current objectives might be.

It would be naive to believe that this regulator will be able to act independently for any length of time.  I'm afraid that this is one more case of our governments working not in the public interest but in the interests of corporations.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Deflect, Spin, Misdirect: Preston Manning and the PMO

Apparently, Preston Manning must have received new orders from the PMO.  In yesterday's Globe and Mail, we found Mr. Manning opining on the supposed issue of ethics in the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

The upshot of Manning's arguments is that the whole Duffy affair wouldn't have happened if the Parliamentary Press Gallery had a rule in place that prohibited members from taking a government appointment for five years after they leave the Press Gallery.

In short, "Hey look!  The problem is over there!".

No Mr. Manning, your transparent and ridiculous attempt to direct attention away from the centre of the maelstrom is not going to work.

At this point, Canadians have known that Harper has lied to them about every aspect of the Senate scandal repeatedly.  We have considerable evidence that the boys in the PMO were cooking up a cover-up of Mike Duffy's expenses right under Harper's nose, and even more evidence still points to his direct involvement.

Trying to lay the blame for this at the doorstep of the Press Gallery is ridiculous.

Did the Press Gallery lobby openly for a Senate appointment for Mr. Duffy?  No, Mr. Duffy did that himself.

Did the Press Gallery appoint Mr. Duffy to the Senate?  No, Mr. Harper did that.

Did the Press Gallery lie about Mr. Duffy's residency?  No.  Mr. Harper and Mr. Duffy came up with that little crock, as did Ms. Wallin and Mr. Harper.

Did the Press Gallery lie to Canadians about its involvement in this mess?  No, Mr. Harper has done that repeatedly, in the House of Commons no less.

Did the Press Gallery push Mike Duffy to campaign on behalf of the CPC in 2011 and expense it back to the Senate?  No.  Mr. Harper's party certainly encouraged it.

Right smack in the middle of the whole Senate affair are three Senators - Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau who abused their privileges as Senators for the benefit of their party.  In common with them?  The man who appointed them to the Senate in the first place - Stephen Harper.

There is not one shred of evidence that has placed so much as a hint of this mess at the door of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and reams of evidence that has been published that has placed Stephen Harper and his inner circle of advisors squarely in the midst of it.

In short, the problem here is that a corrupt government, led by a power-hungry, lying Prime Minister has appointed people to the Senate and given them license to act dishonestly.  The man who should be held responsible is the Prime Minister - Stephen Harper.


Friday, December 27, 2013

There's This Thing Called "Due Process"

Just a few days ago, I wrote about how we are experiencing an emerging police state.  Today, we find Edmonton's Chief of Police demanding additional powers to seize vehicles that are being "driven excessively fast".  
The police chief in Alberta's capital is renewing a push for the provincial government to give officers the legal power to seize the vehicles of motorists caught driving at dangerously excessive speeds. 
Rod Knecht says police in Edmonton are routinely catching people driving more than 50 km/h over the posted limit. There have been 879 such cases in the last two years, he says. 
"The public is concerned about this — 50 km/h isn't somebody that is just in a hurry or late for work," Knecht said in a recent interview. "You are making a conscious effort to drive that fast and drive that recklessly." 
I have a huge problem with this.  First of all, it is yet another case of giving "discretionary" powers to the police when they pull someone over.  In this case, we are talking about allowing the immediate execution of punishment with no opportunity for it to be contested in court.

Seizing vehicles is more problematic than other forms of summary punishment.  First of all, the police are seizing what is a significant asset for most people.  Second, in the event that the case is dismissed in court, punishment has already been exacted.  When a car is seized and impounded, the owner of the vehicle is liable for the costs of towing and the impound lot.  Not only is this an additional punishment, but the accused has already borne the cost of it.

Since we are talking about speeds at which a mandatory court appearance is already required, it seems to me far more appropriate to use the standard process of arrest and initial court appearance.

I want to bring to your attention some key aspects of the legal rights we all share under Canada's Constitution:
9. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.Marginal note:Arrest or detention 
10. Everyone has the right on arrest or detention(a) to be informed promptly of the reasons therefor;(b) to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right; and(c) to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.Marginal note:Proceedings in criminal and penal matters 
11. Any person charged with an offence has the right(a) to be informed without unreasonable delay of the specific offence;(b) to be tried within a reasonable time;(c) not to be compelled to be a witness in proceedings against that person in respect of the offence;(d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal;(e) not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause;(f) except in the case of an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal, to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment;(g) not to be found guilty on account of any act or omission unless, at the time of the act or omission, it constituted an offence under Canadian or international law or was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations;(h) if finally acquitted of the offence, not to be tried for it again and, if finally found guilty and punished for the offence, not to be tried or punished for it again; and(i) if found guilty of the offence and if the punishment for the offence has been varied between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser punishment.
In particular, Sections 11(a) - 11(d).

Summary punishment such as seizing major property (and for most people, a car is a significant piece of property), arguably constitutes a significant violation of 11(d), and to some degree could also be held to violate 11(a) and 11(b) as well.

While the Constitution clearly provides for the Federal and Provincial legislatures to make laws which limit the rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It is far from clear that these "traffic stop seizures" fall into the category of "reasonable".

People of Canada deserve access to due process in all matters involving the law.  Giving arbitrary powers to any part of the system is inherently unjust.
Marginal note:

Of Just Societies and Aboriginal Affairs

Many years ago, when I was but a small child, Pierre Trudeau spoke of a "Just Society".  It is a noble, if somewhat lofty and abstract goal.
The Just Society will be one in which the rights of minorities will be safe from the whims of intolerant majorities. The Just Society will be one in which those regions and groups which have not fully shared in the country's affluence will be given a better opportunity. The Just Society will be one where such urban problems as housing and pollution will be attacked through the application of new knowledge and new techniques. The Just Society will be one in which our Indian and Inuit populations will be encouraged to assume the full rights of citizenship through policies which will give them both greater responsibility for their own future and more meaningful equality of opportunity. The Just Society will be a united Canada, united because all of its citizens will be actively involved in the development of a country where equality of opportunity is ensured and individuals are permitted to fulfil themselves in the fashion they judge best.
When I read this morning's article on Huffington Post about the broken education system on Canada's reserves, I was appalled.  I have long understood that our reserve system was badly broken on many levels.  When the level of spending on education for students on reserves is half what students elsewhere in Canada receive, there is a serious problem.
There is a wide gulf between how the federal government funds students on reserves and the spending per student in provincial school systems. Some estimates peg the amount of on-reserve funding at just half what other Canadian students receive.
This isn't a failing of one government.  It is a long term failure of Canada's governments - one that likely as not goes all the way back to governments that succeeded Sir John A. Macdonald.    Whether through deliberate action, or simple ignorance, Canada's governments have dropped this ball repeatedly.

It doesn't help that over time, attitudes such as the following expressed in the comments on Huffington Post have taken root:
they have educations handed to them books, lodging ,financial aid just because of their ethnicity way more than non natives have i wish i had all of these options handed to me then i could afford university
Unfortunately, people hear about the funding which is available to aboriginal students in Canada, they presume that everything is handed to them "on a platter".  When we are in a place such that high school students have to live away from their families during a key part of their development as human beings and in their education - a recipe for failure if there ever was one.

The proposed changes to aboriginal education released this fall appear to continue to perpetuate the already broken system:
Under the draft legislation, band councils would be allowed to operate schools directly, as many already do, but also to purchase services from regional or provincial school boards or even from the private sector. First Nations could also form education authorities that would oversee one or more schools in a region. 
But it would be the federal government that would set and enforce standards for schools on reserves. And the minister would retain the power to take over a school or school authority if an inspector finds problems.


The broken system here is patriarchal in form.  Where the "minister has the power to take over a school or school authority", there is an implicit distrust in place.  On one level, it may appear to be a reasonable piece of authority for the crown to wield, but in the broader context of relations with Canada's First Nations, it seems too much akin to the same kind of system that has been built on the assumption that First Nations are not "ready" or "able" to manage these programs themselves.

Given the political relationship between the Federal Government and Canada's First Nations, this is no trivial matter.  Certainly, money is part of the picture, but another part has to be addressing the degree of control that the Federal Government exerts over First Nations.  The Kelowna Accord (nearly a decade ago now) appears to have been an ambitious first step in addressing these issues.

Unfortunately, Harper pitched the whole thing in the trash, and since then has done little on the file.

By any measure, what we have today is far from just where First Nations are concerned.  Much needs to change.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Of "Porn Filters" and Agendas

Remember July this year, when Joy Smith stood up in Canada's Parliament and suggested we should follow the UK's example and implement a "porn filter"?

Well, Cameron's filter is about to go live, and as one might have expected, it's blocking a heck of a lot more than just "adult content" websites:

Included in O2's "parental control blocklist" are such hotbeds of hardcore porn as Slashdot, EFF, Linux Today, Blogspot, No Starch Press, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, and, of course,Boing Boing
A more complete investigation is here.

None of the sites listed above are exactly hotbeds of porn.  In fact, more worrisome is that in the list of "blocked sites" are civil liberties groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), and a stack of open source technology sites.

I smell an agenda at work here.  This isn't controlling access to pornography.  This is an attempt to control access to information and technologies that enable people to sidestep the government's surveillance programs, and access to information that could cause people to challenge the government.

The only governments that engage in this kind of activity are the totalitarian regimes that feel they have to control their citizens and fear access to information.

Now... Ms. Smith, would you care to explain to Canadians how this is a "good thing"?

[28/12/13 Update]
Someone has already built a Browser Extension to Chrome that bypasses the UK Porn Block.
[/Update]

Friday, December 20, 2013

Standby On The Fainting Couches ...


Predictably, the Con$ who report to PMSH are wagging their fingers at the Supreme Court:

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government was "concerned" by the ruling, and is "exploring all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution, and vulnerable persons." 
Meanwhile, Employment Minister Jason Kenney raised the spectre of judicial activism — saying legislators, not judges, should be making the law. It's a topic Prime Minister Stephen Harper has complained about as recently as this week. 
"My own view is the judiciary should be restrained of the exercise of overturning a democratic consensus. Having said that we of course respect the independence of the judiciary and its role," said Kenney. 
The high court struck down all three prostitution-related prohibitions — against keeping a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution and street soliciting — as violations of the constitutional guarantee to life, liberty and security of the person.
Kenney's words are particularly troublesome, as they grossly misrepresent what is going on here. The court has not "overturned a democratic consensus" at all.  The court has overturned laws which are out of date and violated fundamental principles of this country's constitution.

Of course, right on cue, the pearl clutching set over at Lifesite are falling onto their fainting couches:
According to Gwen Landolt, a lawyer and national vice president of REAL Women, the Supreme Court “seems to be in a tizzy” because it has disregarded the basic legal principle that the court stand by its previous rulings. She noted that the Supreme Court had upheld the ban on solicitation in 1990. 
“It’s no longer the court of last resort. It’s now the court of interim resort,” she said. “Everything is up for grabs now. They’ll just change their minds according to the current trend.” 
“The only positive thing coming out of this is that we know the prostitution law was not strong enough to protect women and the community,” she said. “Now we hope the Conservative government will go back and create a law that will provide proper protection for women and for the communities.” 
 Uh yeah, Gwen - "the current trend" is actually evidence-based...


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 - The Beginning Of The End For Harper?

Huffington Post has posted an article speculating on whether 2013 is the beginning of Harper's demise.

Long time readers of this space will know that my own personal reaction is very much "we can only hope ...".

To be sure, Harper has taken a few good solid body blows this year.  Between the Senate Scandal, departing MPs like Rathgeber, a restive base of backbenchers, and ministers like MacKay and Moore developing a sudden taste for their own shoe leather the last half of 2013 has finally got Canadians wondering just what the Harper Government is up to.

However, there is one part of the article that I think the writers at Huffington Post may have forgotten a few details:
Worse, with the Senate scandal in the hands of RCMP investigators, Harper has no control over how events will unfold going forward.
Actually, I find myself wondering about that.  In the 2006 election, the RCMP conveniently rolled out a series of much more weakly founded "allegations" about various participants in the "Sponsorship Scandal" - only a few days before voting day.  The timing of that release was suspicious to many, and the recent resurrection of that zombie case the high side of a decade later also has the whiff of politics in it.  

I suspect that Harper has more control over what gets released by the RCMP (voluntarily, at least), unless a judge gets involved.

That said, I do not expect Harper will be able to escape 2013 unscathed.  The real question is how much of a "scorched earth" is he going to leave for his successor.

Monday, December 16, 2013

An Emerging Police State

For the last several years, I have been increasingly concerned that our governments at both the Federal and Provincial levels have been enabling an environment that is fundamentally hostile to civil society and individual freedoms.

In the wake of 9/11, we found the Canadian Federal Government using an obscure, and previously little used "Security Certificate" tool to detain people without trial, or even the opportunity to challenge the evidence against them.  At first, most people would have noticed relatively few changes except for a particularly obnoxious level of "security inspection" at the airport.

What started to alarm me more was the emergence of a series of "stop and seize" laws.  In BC, a speeding law was passed that enabled police to impound a speeder's car, followed by laws which impose an "administrative penalty" of license suspension and a fine for driving with a blood alcohol level between 0.05 and 0.08.  In Alberta, the province passed very similar laws, and topped it off with a "distracted driving" law that is so broad that you could effectively be charged with "distracted driving" for taking one hand off the steering wheel to shift gears. 

I'm not saying that the intent of those laws is bad.  Far from it.  None of those are subjects which I can argue are entirely bad things to be pursuing.  The problem that I have with all of those laws is that they impose harsh, if not unreasonable, penalties at roadside.  In effect, the police officer that pulls you over has the power not just to detain you, but to act as "judge, jury and executioner".  By the time that you get in front of a justice to plead your case, the penalty has already been partially exacted.  You might be able to argue away the fine in court, but the suspension of your license and the impounded vehicle have already been executed.

Personally, I don't interact with the police very often - once every decade or so at most do I get pulled over.  So, differences in attitudes are perhaps more marked to me than others.  The last time I interacted with a police officer on the street was a midday CheckStop last Christmas.  I spent over forty minutes stuck in a traffic jam created by this CheckStop, and then was subjected to a ten minute lecture from the officer.  To say that it felt like an exercise in intimidation is an understatement.

Previously, I had been pulled over a decade or so before on a minor traffic infraction.  The difference being the officer in that case was reasonably pleasant about it.  He was matter of fact and to the point.  No lectures, no attempt to intimidate.

The difference was marked enough to me to make me take notice.  Not only was the attitude different, even the way the CheckStop was structured was disturbing.  Previously, CheckStops had been a "sampling" exercise - about 60% of the cars passing by would be stopped.  This was _EVERYBODY_ getting stopped.  Along with that, the usual "No, Sir" response to the "have you had anything to drink?" question turned into a lengthy lecture for no apparently good reason.

I didn't think too much of it except that I had hit an officer in a bad mood until this past summer's shooting of a man on a Toronto bus.  In light of Vic Toews' "Spy On Everybody" bill, a series of "tough on crime" bills which emphasize punishment rather than prevention and rehabilitation.  These bills reflect a more serious problem, however.  When the government moves to precipitously to punish everybody in sight, the environment and assumptions under which the police must operate also change.

Suddenly, the terms of engagement have shifted from a duty to protect the public from criminal activity.  Broadly written laws create an environment where just about anybody could be accused of, and found guilty of something.  Heck, in Alberta, as I write this, it is theoretically a crime to suggest that Alberta Public Sector unions should go on strike.  The "distracted driving law" is so broadly written that taking your sunglasses off could result in a fine.  The consequence is that the police are being trained to see everybody as a potential criminal.

This is an unpleasant and ugly situation.  Harper has gone to enormous lengths to attack the fundamental freedoms that Canadians should enjoy, all in the name of supposed "safety".    The consequences for Canadians are ugly - it will cost us billions in prisons, and even more in terms of the psychological trauma that Canada will experience until this program of systematic oppression is dismantled.

Technology Is Opening A New Era Of Ethics

Whether it is the accumulation of data about your life on Facebook, your online professional profile on LinkedIn, or the location tracking features of your cellphone, there has never been more data about you available.

Some of it is "public", some of it is definitely not.  The people that operate these various facilities all argue that they have a "commercial right" to utilize the data that their various services are gathering about you.

The right to utilize data is a complicated one.  First of all, who really owns it?  After all, what is posted to my Facebook account is mine, right?  Shouldn't I retain control over its disposition after it is posted there?

Perhaps even more troubling is the emergence of facial recognition technology, and some of its potential applications.

One of the things that the NSA spying on everything debacle shows us is that we cannot trust governments to access this information in a responsible manner.  Facebook has been criticized repeatedly for constantly altering their privacy policies and settings.

Those in the midst of developing these technologies are often blinded to how they may be used ... or worse, misused by others.  Did anyone who designed the protocols for TCP/IP ever consider how those packet headers would be used by the NSA?  Did the developers of database systems like Hadoop ever dream of the capabilities of that data store being used to feed a massive surveillance program?  Of course not.  They were trying to solve legitimate engineering problems that they were faced with.

Yet, here we are.  Data is being gathered about us every time we move in this world.  It is being used in ways that we never envisioned.  It's almost unavoidable ... unless you live under a rock somewhere with absolutely no digital footprint.

The behaviour of corporations in the last two decades has demonstrated that the boardrooms will never serve as effective moderators of the excesses of greed, and government organizations have proven that they will abuse data and their access to it.

In the realms of engineering and computing, the discussion of ethics has been limited to solving the problem that an employer puts before you "well".  Robustness, integrity and protecting the employer's interests are about as far as it goes.

There is little or no broader discussion about how data and the related technologies should be utilized.    The world of information management is filled with the accumulation of data, but not with people asking questions about how that data will be used in the future, or whether a given application is "acceptable" in ethical terms.

Professionals whose practices fall within the domain of information and technology can no longer focus on "just solving the problem before them".  There is now an emerging requirement that there be a frank discussion of whether or not a given application is ethically appropriate.  What are the consequences of using information in a particular way?

For example, is using facial recognition and Facebook profile data to generate "targeted advertising" when you walk into a Wal-Mart.  In doing so, have you violated what many would consider to be the reasonable expectation that Wal-Mart doesn't utilize the data you have posted on Facebook?  Or does the use of facial recognition technology in such a situation represent an unreasonable invasion of privacy?  Is an "opt-out" model that allows the individual not to receive the targeted advertisement an acceptable mitigation of the violations that are implied?

The argument "If I don't do it somebody else will" is no longer acceptable.  Professionals can no longer ignore the implications of what they are working on, nor is a confidentiality agreement with respect to the employer adequate either.  Yes, there is an obligation to treat the employer's data and commercial strategy a guarantee that a practitioner has met their ethical obligations.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mr. Coyne's Flaccid Critique

Andrew Coyne's latest column starts off with a clear enough statement of how the Harper Government has engaged in tactics which prevent the engines of parliament from holding those in power accountable.
Not only was the House of Commons conveniently shuttered, but neither the minister responsible, Lisa Raitt, nor any Canada Post executives were on hand to answer questions regarding this drastic reduction in public services. But then, in this they were only following the example set by the prime minister, who has for months avoided answering questions about the scandal that is slowly destroying his government.
Then he promptly does the usual dodge that we have seen from conservative apologists ever since Harper become the leader of the new Conservative Party:  turn around and try to blame other parties for the sad state of affairs in Ottawa these days.
Ottawa is increasingly a town in lockdown — as often as not with all-party support. MPs of all parties have resisted having their expenses either audited or disclosed. All parties agreed to a plan to compel Hill staffers to sign lifetime gag orders (though the bad publicity may force a rethink), just as all parties colluded this spring to prevent Mark Warawa and other MPs from speaking their mind in Parliament.  
Seriously, Mr. Coyne?  Do you really think that Canadians have forgotten the ever so brilliant move of the Harper Government in its nascent years of publishing a manual for his MPs to disrupt parliamentary committees?  Or perhaps you think that we don't realize that Harper's MPs dominate the very committees and votes he is referring to?

Make no mistake, Mr. Coyne.  Parliament may have been in rough shape in 2006 when Harper took power.  He has since turned it into a shambles.  Harper has gone to unprecedented lengths to exert direct control over all aspects of Ottawa.  The cloak of secrecy that we are seeing today is very much the creation of one man:  Stephen Harper.

Past PMs may have violated some of the tenets of a Westminster Parliament, but none have abused its good name to such a degree.  Prime Ministers past have used prorogation to reset the legislative business of parliament when they have largely completed the work set out in the last Throne Speech.  Harper, on the other hand, has used that same tool to avoid being held accountable.  Harper is the only Prime Minister in Canadian history to be voted "In Contempt of Parliament" for his behaviour.

He has created omnibus bills to deliver a payload of Trojan Horse legislation which has little to do with the budget implementation, and then used closure to limit debate and ram this legislation through - unamended.  Under Harper, accepting an amendment to a bill is to admit error, and Harper will never admit to being wrong.  Perfectly legitimate amendments which would actually improve the quality of Harper's legislation have been rejected simply because they were proposed by another party.

Under Harper, Question Period has become a farce.  Past governments have been evasive in QP - Harper's approach is to simply fling verbal poo across the floor - often answering a question with talking points that have nothing to do with the question asked.

Let me be abundantly clear about this:  The responsibility and blame for the current sorry state of parliament in this nation rests at the feet of Stephen Harper.

Perhaps the grandest irony of all of this is that the Reform party that Harper comes from gained much of its support by promising to fix parliament and make it work once again as a democratic institution.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

But...But...The Libruls!

Expect to hear a lot more of that refrain in the coming months now that the RCMP has decided to lay charges a decade after the Gomery Inquiry ended.

I find the timing of this a little suspicious.  These charges come as Harper starts gearing up for an election anticipated sometime in 2015-2016, and at a time when the rot that pervades the CPC has become so incredibly obvious to Canadians.

Given the amount of evidence available in 2006, charges should have been laid back then.  It seems highly improbable that the RCMP couldn't come up with enough evidence back then.

Do the math - this is a political distraction calculated to divert attention from the malfeasance of Harper, the PMO and their gang of thugs.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Assault On Organized Labour In Canada

In Alberta, the Redford Government just passed one of the most offensive and blatant attacks on labour that we have ever seen.  It is uniquely focused on the civil service unions in the province, but that does little to ameliorate the degree of wrong that Bills 45 and 46 represent to Alberta's workers.

In Saskatchewan, the government recently passed another batch of legislation which very directly attacks organized labour.

Then, in Ottawa, the Harper Government is set to pass its own legislation designed to undermine Canada's unions. 

All of these laws ultimately are aimed at dismantling the ability of organized labour to engage with their employers through the time honoured process of collective bargaining, and if necessary the withdrawal of services should the employer prove unwilling to negotiate.

True enough, the Alberta and Federal laws are focused on the civil service.  One might argue that the government is really "protecting the taxpayers".  Except that, in a fit of irony, the civil servants are taxpayers as well.

These laws represent the leading edge of the wedge.  Other changes in labour law will come which more blatantly attack organized labour across the board, not just those who are in the employ of the government in the first place.  We have already had rumblings along these lines out of Ottawa, with Conservative MPs muttering aloud about laws to provide "exceptions" to paying union dues, and demanding onerous reporting of union activities.

I do not think that the timing of the legislation in these three jurisdictions is a coincidence.  In fact, I fully expect BC to follow suit with their next budget as well.  Should this happen, it would confirm my opinion that Harper has been arm-twisting premiers who are known to be sympathetic to his agenda.

This comes on the heels of one company in AB combining sick time and vacation into a single "pool" of time.  If this sounds a little screwed up to you, it should.  It has the nasty effect of ensuring that a protracted illness eats through your vacation time before you can apply for coverage under the company's short term disability program (if you are lucky enough to have one).

Labour at all levels is being cornered these days.  Our governments are actively working to undermine workers and worker's rights, and employers - even in traditionally white collar domains - are moving to take advantage of every opening they find to "minimize the cost of employees".  This is creating a pressure cooker environment that will become very volatile.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Double Standards On The Hill

I can appreciate that any employer wants to protect its confidentiality, however what the Harper Government is imposing on employees of MPs is another thing altogether.

Most people sign some kind of non-disclosure agreement with their employers.  These are not usually any big deal.  They usually contain some kind of statement that more or less says "thou shalt not give away company secrets". 

What they don't do is attempt to impose life-long bans.  In fact, doing so would be considered illegal under both our constitution and labour laws.  

So ... what makes it "reasonable" for the Harper Government to slide a clause like this into a confidentiality agreement:


Yes, Government Employees are often subject to the Official Secrets Act, especially if they have access to government secrets such as military intelligence documents.  Someone working in the employ of an MP may well have access to sensitive information.  However, imposing a lifetime gag order on them seems unnecessary.  Especially when MPs are not subject to similar restrictions.

But, then again, the Harper Government is no ordinary government in Canadian experience.  The Harper Government has gone to lengths to invade the private lives of Canadian citizens that are unprecedented, and at the same time a cloak of secrecy has descended over Ottawa since 2006. 

Only a government with a serious authoritarian streak would view this as an appropriate act.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Assault On Knowledge Continues

The Harperites are continuing their assault on any source of data which might get between them and their dogmatic policies.

The most recent chapter in the saga is the dismantling of the DFO's system of reference libraries.

If they were consolidating them, that would be one thing.  For the Harperites, nothing less than destruction is good enough:
"I was sickened," said one prominent research scientist who had worked for the federal government for 30 years, and who did not want to be identified. "All that intellectual capital is now gone. It's like a book burning. It's the destruction of our cultural heritage. It just makes us poorer as a nation.""There are so many willing accomplices to what's going on," the scientist added. "All of our federal libraries and archives are being diminished. It's an ideological thing coming from a right-wing libertarian government." 
Since 2012, the government has closed or consolidated more than a dozen federal libraries at Parks Canada, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Foreign Affairs, Citizenship and Immigration and Canadian Heritage.
These various libraries represent decades or more of data and knowledge.  It is easy to look at them and declare that this or that document is "obsolete", but that doesn't render it "valueless".  Older documents can give us insight into how the situation has changed since that document was written.  Newer data is more relevant in the immediate sense, but often only really has meaning when analyzed against older datasets for comparison.

Like Harper's kneecapping of Statistics Canada - a move which makes it almost impossible for government to make policy decisions based on meaningful population data (which, of course, allows more claims like "Unreported Crime Rates" to be made by the Harperites to justify their more psychotic policies.

Dismantling the DFO libraries enables the Harperites to ignore the problems that their "sell everything" approach to policy is all but guaranteed to create.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

If Nigel Wright is a "Hero" ...

According to Christie Blatchford, Canadians apparently should revere Nigel Wright and his actions in the Senate Expenses mess.

I don't believe that Mr. Wright was acting in a knowingly criminal manner - I have always thought that he believed firmly that he was acting within the bounds of his job and responsibilities.

However, having said that, Ms. Blatchford's analysis misses a few things.

First, Mr. Wright was smack in the midst of a conspiracy to cover things up when there was a looming audit that was almost guaranteed to generate a lot of bad press.

Second, based on the evidence available to this point, the issue of repaying Duffy's expenses appears to have devolved to Wright after the Conservative Fund (headed up by Senator Gerstein) decided to balk at the amount to be repaid.  Whether or not Wright's action in giving Duffy a cheque for $90,000 were strictly legal, they certainly have the whiff of political cover-up at the very least and poor moral judgment on Wright's part.

The real question that should be asked is why bother with trying to hide the expenses of a single, errant senator?  What about Mike Duffy was so important to the party that they felt it necessary to go to these lengths to protect him from scrutiny?  Would it not have been far simpler to direct Mr. Duffy to his bankers to extend his loans to cover the amount in question?  Last, but far from least, the degree of Mr. Harper's involvement and awareness in this whole mess deserves scrutiny as well.

Mr. Wright is far from the "villain" in all of this.  He no doubt had been told by his boss to "make the problem go away".  He tried ... and failed.  Unfortunately for Mr. Wright, his choice of actions are at best a sign of poor judgment.  He may have acted as the lesser player in the entire mess, but that does not make him any kind of "hero".

Friday, December 06, 2013

Trickle Down Budget Cuts

Conservative governments love budget cuts.  Look around you, and every time there is a "financial crisis", the first thing that comes out of the conservatives is that they must cut program spending left, right and centre "because the government doesn't have the income to support it".

Superficially, the public would expect that those budget cuts would be implemented so that the impact on the programs themselves is minimized.  Or at least that is what reasonable people would expect.  Right?

The unfortunate reality is that the people who are in the position to absorb a sizeable chunk of the burden of the cuts, those at the top, simply step aside and let the brunt of the cuts work their way down to people lower on the "food chain".

Consider the situation in Alberta.  In this spring's budget, the government announced major cuts to the post-secondary education.  Naturally, this placed the University of Calgary in a budget shortfall position immediately.  So, where do the cuts take place?  At the top?  Not even close.  In fact, the cuts are allowed to flow down to the students and faculty.   Sure, the executives took a "pay freeze" (considering that executive pay at the U of C is much higher than at other universities, this is a minor gesture at most), but at the same time, they have allowed a massive renovation of the executive offices to go ahead.  

Budget cuts are kind of like trickle-down economics in reverse.  Instead of the people at the top taking a larger percentage of the burden, they quietly step aside and allow the bulk of the burden of the cuts to flow down to lower levels - ultimately to students and faculty.

Just as the "consolidation" of regional health authorities to create AHS ended up keeping a ridiculous number of executives in place (necessitating restrictions on the number of beds in hospitals, overloaded nurses and so on), the cuts to Post Secondary Education in Alberta will result in cuts to programs that are not deemed "workplace friendly" programs, while the executives at the top of the heap continue pulling down enormous salaries.  

Ultimately, the burden of these cuts flow down to the people who rely on the programs - be they students or patients.  Just as Trickle-Down Economics ultimately concentrates wealth at the top, budget cuts, as implemented by conservative governments, inevitably follow a similar principle and ultimately starve the people who depend on these programs.

Why does this happen?   Because people are not "selfless agents".  The people in positions of power and authority will go to great lengths to preserve their position.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

What Ford and Harper Have In Common

They both have problems with telling the truth.

Yesterday, news broke that Rob Ford had been attempting to purchase the video of him smoking crack cocaine - before Gawker and the Toronto Star made the existence of the video public.  In this morning's news, we find Ford denying that he was doing that at all.

So far, in the course of this saga, every time Ford has denied something, evidence has come along to disprove his denials.  At first, he denied ever having smoked crack cocaine, and then at the end of October, the video mysteriously turns up in the hands of police.  Given the pattern to date, I'd say the odds of Ford's utterances (which appear to contradict the ITO documents) being true are fairly low.

As we've seen with the Senate Expenses Scandal, Harper has a similar approach - lie, deflect, deny until the evidence corners you.  At first, Harper was saying the everything was just fine with his errant senators, then when it became impossible to avoid, they were being "disciplined" by the Senate; and eventually the whole mess got handed to the RCMP in a clumsy attempt to bury it in a criminal investigation.  All the way along, Harper has denied all knowledge.  Meanwhile, Duffy's speeches have made it abundantly clear that the PM clearly knew what was going on in considerable detail.

In parliamentary terms, both have chosen to "deliberately mislead the house".

Do the math.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Thought's On Chong's Reform Bill

Michael Chong's Bill C-559 is a relatively short piece of work, but it has taken me a bit of time to go through it and start to understand the implications of the changes being proposed, mostly because it contains a series of small changes to much larger acts - in particular the Canada Elections Act, but also the Parliament of Canada Act.

As I read through the proposed changes (which required a lot of flipping back and forth to the current Acts to fully understand), I started to come to the conclusion that in some respects this bill is a resurrection of a piece of the original Reform party wish list.

At its core, it creates an environment which removes from the party executives direct control over the nomination of candidates.  In doing so, it removes from party leaders one of the bigger levers used to maintain control over their respective caucuses - namely the threat of the leader refusing to sign their nomination papers for the next election.

Consider the following changes:

Current Canada Elections Act S.67(4)(c):
  • (c) if applicable, an instrument in writing, signed by the leader of the political party or by a person referred to in subsection 383(2), that states that the prospective candidate is endorsed by the party in accordance with section 68.
Proposed Amendment in Bill C-559:
(c) if applicable, an instrument in writing, signed by the nomination officer of the political party’s electoral district association for the electoral district that states that the prospective candidate is endorsed by the party.
You do have to read this a couple of times before it becomes clear what Chong's legislation does.  It completely removes the party executive from the nominations decision making process.  It creates a position at the riding association level called a 'Nomination Officer' who essentially has the final say over who the party nominee is going to be.

Superficially, this is not entirely a bad thing.  It hands a level of control to the riding association level in each party that has been constrained historically by the need for the party executive to "sign off" on candidates.

Is it a good thing?  That's a little more subtle and difficult to ascertain.  The Reform Party was big on "direct democracy" back in the day.  Then they started to discover that having things concentrated at the riding level meant that they got a fair number of candidates that were unelectable.  The PCs in Alberta ran smack into this a few years ago when one Craig Chandler engineered a takeover of a local riding association by his supporters and got himself nominated.  Even Ed Stelmach could see that was a good way to lose a seat, and killed Chandler's nomination.

This does create a problem to consider for party apparatus people to consider.  Can you deal with the inevitable selection of candidates at the riding level that are for one reason or another "bad news"?  If one looks at the candidates as part of the party's "marketing image", this could be seen as a significant problem.

The second part of Chong's bill is more interesting - it basically creates a mechanism through which MPs could trigger a leadership review process within a party.
(k) the extract of the party by-laws that provides that 
(i) a leadership review may be initiated by the submission of a written notice to the caucus chair signed by at least 15% of the members of the party’s caucus, 
(ii) a leadership review is to be conducted by secret ballot, with the result to be determined by a majority vote of the caucus members present at a meeting of the caucus, and 
(iii) if a majority of caucus members present at the meeting referred to in subparagraph (ii) vote to replace the leader of the party, a second vote of the caucus shall be conducted immediately by secret ballot to appoint a person to serve as the interim leader of the party until a new leader has been duly elected by the party.
MPs (or MLAs, come to that) are the people who have to work with the party executive on a day to day basis outside of elections.  The idea of MPs being able to trigger a leadership review based on the  actual work of the leadership team is not entirely bad.

However, I do think that Chong's legislation has some very fundamental problems here.

First, its threshold value is far too low.  15% of a party caucus could probably be found at any time - even when things are going well for the party.  This will create an environment where the focus is constantly on "finding enough supporters" to advance one's favoured leadership candidate, rather than handing MPs a set of tools which can be brought to bear when serious issues are found with party leadership.

The second problem I see is that there is no time fuse on when the leadership review has to take place.  The lack of a time fuse on the matter is problematic, as the leadership can then delay things as long as they choose.

The last problem, and perhaps the one that is most fatal to this proposal is that it effectively hands control over the party leadership to the MPs.  While triggering a leadership review seems like an effective tool for MPs to have access to, I do not think they should have the right to depose a leader without the consent of the party membership at large.

While I can appreciate Chong's frustration with the leadership of the CPC these days, and the overbearing control that the party discipline mechanisms are exerting on MPs, I am less than convinced that this legislation will actually have the effect that he is seeking.

Monday, December 02, 2013

How Shocking ...

So, apparently the PMO has "found" a bunch of e-mails that they previous claimed had been deleted.
The emails of Stephen Harper's former legal advisor were not deleted when he left the Prime Minister's Office, according to a letter sent from the Privy Council Office (PCO) to the RCMP. 
Benjamin Perrin, who was named in RCMP documents last week as a player in the deal between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy, left the PMO in late March. 
The letter released Sunday night states when Perrin left in March, the PCO said they deleted his emails records as part of standard protocol. Last week, the RCMP sent another request to the PMO for Perrin's records to see if there were any backups. 
But it turns out the Perrin's emails were held as part of "unrelated litigation", a discovery the PCO made the next day after PMO asked them to check again.
If this sounds just a little Nixonian to you, it should.   First the records don't exist, then they do.  I'll put even money that the PMO has been busily hacking up the e-mail trail to remove the most damning evidence, and to end up making it look like Perrin never told Harper what was going on.  Which will, incidentally throw Mr. Perrin under the same bus as Mr. Duffy, Mr. Wright and a few others.  In this case, because Mr. Perrin will suddenly find himself under suspicion of failing to carry out the ethical duty of notifying "up the chain of command" when the organization is about to act wrongly).

As far as I am concerned, at this point, the RCMP should walk into the Langevin block armed with warrants for the seizure of all backups of the PMO's e-mail servers, if not the servers themselves.  We already have evidence of the PMO attempting to cover up its activities and involvement in this whole mess.  It is time to lock down every piece of communication related to this.  The RCMP should also ascertain any external e-mail accounts that may have been involved, and issue requests for copies of all data in those accounts for the last couple of years.

Does this sound like a fishing expedition?  To some extent it is.  However, when there is reason to suspect that evidence has been tampered with, a wider net is needed to ensure that we capture the full picture.

However, even if we establish beyond all doubt that Harper really did not know the particulars of the arrangement that resulted in Nigel Wright paying Mike Duffy some $90,000 it does not matter.  At the end of the day, the PMO is Harper's office.  He is not some low level functionary who can be excused for not being fully aware of the consequences of someone's actions.  He is the man at the helm.  The guy in charge.  The man who ultimately has to bear responsibility whether he likes it or not.  Harper has tried desperately not to take responsibility for the actions of his staff.

This is unacceptable.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Alberta Bills 45 and 46

Others have spoke very eloquently about the problems with Bills 45 and 46.

What I want to bring to readers' attention is how the Redford Government is abusing not just legislative procedure, but democracy itself.

It is not unusual for this government to limit debate on bills.  What is unusual is to introduce a motion limiting debate prior to tabling the bill itself.  No MLA should ever have voted in favour of limiting debate on a bill without first having had the chance to vet it.  Yet, that is precisely what has happened here.  In the Hansard from Tuesday, November 26 Afternoon session:
Mr. Hancock: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have a number ofnotices to provide to the House today. First, I would like to giveoral notice of intention to introduce Bill 45, the Public SectorServices Continuation Act, which will be sponsored by myself.I would also like to give oral notice of intention to introduceBill 46, the Public Service Salary Restraint Act, and Bill 42, theSecurities Amendment Act, 2013, which are sponsored by thehon. Provincial Treasurer and Minister of Finance.Mr. Speaker, I also would want to provide oral notice ofintention of introduce two motions. The first motion would be:Be it resolved that pursuant to Standing Order 77(2) Bill 45,Public Sector Services Continuation Act, may be advanced twoor more stages in one day and that if Bill 45 has not yet beenintroduced, then immediately following the passage of thismotion the Assembly shall revert to Introduction of Bills for theintroduction of Bill 45, Public Sector Services ContinuationAct.The second motion that I'd like to give notice of is:Be it resolved thatA. On Thursday, November 28, 2013, the Assemblycontinue sitting beyond its normal adjournment hourof 4:30 p.m. for consideration of Bill 45, PublicSector Services Continuation Act, and any relatedmotions; andB. Upon Government House Leader advising theAssembly no later than the time of adjournment onThursday, November 28, 2013, the Assemblyreconvene on Friday, November 29, 2013, at 10 a.m.for a special sitting, and the only business to beconsidered by the Assembly that day shall be Bill 45,Public Sector Services Continuation Act, and anyrelated motions.
If something about this smells a little strange, it is the pre-emptive issuance of motions to limit debate on these bills when there is no legislative crisis at hand.  When there is a crisis at hand, I can appreciate the need to be expedient.

So, the government is moving to push this legislation through with only the bare minimum of process.  With the excessive majority that the PCs have in the legislature, this is almost unnecessary window dressing.

The second item in the Hansard of interest comes from Thursday Afternoon's session:
Ms Notley: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. ...3:10The other action which occurred, frankly, just occurred, Mr.Speaker, in that it is now as far as I can tell 3:10, and I have notyet received a copy of either Bill 45 or Bill 46, yet I am advisedthat the media have received a briefing on this bill as of 2:45,which also amounts to a breach of the privilege of the members ofthis Assembly.
Note that the media was briefed on this
What's the big rush?  They only have to whip the votes to get this legislation through.

The short answer is that the government doesn't want us to look at the legislation too closely, nor do they want any amendments or scrutiny before it becomes law.

These two bills are arguably the most blatant attack on collective bargaining, and labour rights in general that we have seen in decades.  At best, parts of the legislative could be considered punitive - punishing all public sector unions for the wildcat strike that prison guards pulled earlier this year.  At worst, it demonstrates a government that is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, and legislation which is also arguably unconstitutional as well.

It is the willingness to subvert the core principles of our parliamentary democracy that is most concerning.  Whether Redford is taking a page from Harper's playbook, or Harper has modelled his approach to governing on the worst excesses we have seen in Alberta is irrelevant.  In both cases, we are seeing the processes of democracy being made a mockery, and laws being passed which grossly overreach the authority of the government.

Harper's "anti-bullying" law resurrects Toews' "spy on everyone" internet surveillance law which violates all sorts of principles of our constitution, and arguably the Redford government has passed a number of authoritarian laws which fundamentally overreach as well.

These are not conservatives in any reasonable understanding of the term - they are authoritarians.

The Rumbling Begins?

Harper's leadership is becoming increasingly shaky in the wake of the Senate Expenses scandal.  Rick Mercer's Rant this week hit the nail on the head as far as Harper's denials in the House of Commons are concerned:


"Either he is psychotic or he was in on it"

Perhaps more interesting is that some of Harper's backbencher's are starting to talk openly about curtailing the PM's powers.  

One of the solutions they have embraced – the cause of their shackles – is the removal of the leader’s power to veto individual candidates. Because it is difficult to win an election as an independent, Harper and the other party leaders have enormous power over their MPs, since no one can run under their party’s banner without their approval. 
Chong is expected to table a private members’ bill that would give veto power over a candidate to the riding association executive rather than the party leader or his designate, sources said. Chong’s riding association of Wellington–Halton Hills put forward a similar resolution at the Conservative convention in Calgary earlier this month. That resolution would have prevented the national party from appointing candidates — unless the electoral district association (EDA) failed to do so.
I'm not sure that legislation of this nature is actually going to stand up to scrutiny.  Such matters are largely a function of the party's constitution rather than an issue that is driven by legislation.  I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea, but I wonder if it would be deemed an unreasonable constraint on the ability of an association to make its operating rules as it sees fit.  (Notably, similar motions have been defeated at CPC policy conventions)

However, it isn't the actual proposal that is of interest here, so much as it is a matter of understanding that Harper's back-benchers are starting to balk at the shackles that the Harper PMO has imposed on them.
The longstanding tradition in British parliamentary democracy by which the government is accountable to the House and the leader is accountable to the caucus is not the case in Ottawa “where everybody is accountable to the Prime Minister’s Office,” Rathgeber said.
If others in the CPC back benches are starting to see this same issue, then it is possible that someone in that group may yet rise to become Harper's Dalton Camp.  

This may be premature - it comes on the heels of a bruising couple of weeks for Harper and his allies on the Senate Scandal, so we may just be seeing a few taking advantage of opportunity to gain a little media exposure.

My personal estimate is that it will be at least twelve months before the forces within the party that are opposed to Harper to one degree or another can gain sufficient momentum to openly challenge him.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I'm No Expert On Aboriginal Issues ...

But I'm pretty sure that the Harper Government(tm) isn't doing it right.  

Carolyn Bennett has an excellent article on Huffington Post today on the subject in light of the most recent bunch of documents to be released from the RCMP's investigation into the Senate mess:
We now know the Conservatives' refusal to fund First Nations students attending school on reserves at the same level as their provincial counterparts is coming straight from the top. An internal PMO memo released as part of the ITO suggested language to the Prime Minister to reprimand the Conservative Leader in the Senate for not having better control over Senators and the work of Senate Committees. The memo specifically uses a Senate report calling on the government to "invest heavily in Aboriginal education" as an example of a failure to ensure "Government messaging and direction are followed." 
This is not just a shocking example of Stephen Harper's anti-democratic command and control style of government, but clearly demonstrates that the Prime Minister callously refuses to provide First Nations students with the equality of opportunity they deserve. The federal government only provides half to two-thirds of the per-student funding for First Nation schools compared to provincial schools and only one third of First Nations students are graduating high school. Rather than fixing the funding gaps highlighted by First Nations, the Auditor General and numerous other reports, the response of the Prime Minister is to simply clamp down on Parliamentarians trying to highlight the issue. Whether it is First Nations water systems, housing or education, the Conservative answer is to ignore funding shortfalls and download further responsibilities onto already underfunded First Nations with no additional resources.
 I don't know what the right answers are, but when our own government's internal communications is treating Canada's First Nations peoples as "adversaries", there is little chance that we will see meaningful reform and improvement of the lot of our First Nations under this government.

Canada deserves better than this, our First Nations deserve better.

More on Baird and Iran

People, even the media who watch such things, seem mystified by the Harper Government(tm) stance on Iran.

It's no big surprise, really.  When I took this blog out from under wraps in May, I wrote a lengthy essay describing the "Modern Fascism" that Harper has been cultivating.  On foreign affairs, I wrote the following:
Naturally, he would play on this in such a manner as to play up the idea that Canada is being marginalized on the world stage and use that to build up a form an nationalism not unlike what happened in Germany in the post-WWI years as a result of the isolation and restrictions that the Treaty of Versailles ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Versailles ) created.
With Iran, The Harper Government has done something which only makes sense in the context of Harper trying to isolate Canada on the world stage.  Like his position on Sri Lanka, Harper takes an absolutist "all-or-nothing" approach to the issues, and then withdraws any support for compromise - thus removing Canada's voice entirely from the discourse.

In the context of Canada's role on the world stage, he is taking a stance which is the polar opposite of where Canada typically plays well.  Where Canada has historically been the voice of compromise and reason, Harper's voice on the world stage is one of bluster and hostility.  We all know that Canada hasn't got the economic or military muscle to back up this belligerent stance that Harper is taking, so for the world, Harper's voice on the stage is easily ignored.

Here in Canada, we cannot ignore it.  At first, I assumed that Harper's approach to foreign affairs was merely a result of his lack of awareness.  That was in 2006.  Since then, I have become convinced that not only is it deliberate, but that it is part of a larger strategy on Harper's part to dismantle everything that he loathes about Canada's history.  If it serves to isolate Canada on the world stage in the process, so much the better for his propaganda campaigns.

It will take years to clean up the mess this nasty little man is making.