Monday, December 31, 2007

Pakistan to delay elections...

The government is no doubt surprised by the fact that Bhutto's party is going to contest the elections. This forced Sharif's party to reverse its decision to boycott the elections. Musharraf no doubt will delay the elections for some time to try and cool the anger against him and also to make arrangements to rig the results if he can make appropriate deals or even if he can't!
The move to make the son the symbolic head of the party was clever in that Bhutto's husband's reputation for corruption is legendary. The son cannot run for office until 25!
I am a bit mystified by all the fuss over exactly how Bhutto died. What possible value the government could gain from saying she died from hitting her head as against a bullet wound is not clear to me. Certainly the government has not denied that she was shot at and that there was a suicide blast. What on earth difference does it make if these events in themselves were not the immediate cause of her death. If they had not happened she would not have banged her head cracking open her skull. There is just so much manipulation and corruption in Musharraf's govt. that everything is questioned even if the government has nothing to gain by lying.

Pakistan to delay elections

Monday, December 31, 2007
ISLAMABAD: Elections in Pakistan appear likely to be delayed by several weeks, despite demands by the party of the slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and other politicians that they take place as scheduled on Jan. 8, officials said Monday.

The Election Commission said that it had recommended an unspecified delay in the parliamentary polls following the unrest that was triggered by the assassination of Bhutto last week. It said its final decision would be made Tuesday.

Separately, a senior government official predicted that the elections would be postponed by "six weeks or so, as the environment to hold free and fair elections is not conducive." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.

Despite being in mourning, Bhutto's political party and that of Pakistan's other major opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, want the polls held on time, perhaps sensing that major electoral gains are possible amid sympathy over Bhutto's death and a widespread belief that political allies of President Pervez Musharraf were behind the killing. Sharif's party reversed an earlier decision to boycott the election.

On Sunday, Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party named her 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, as its symbolic leader and left day-to-day control to her husband, Asif Ali Zardari. The announcement was made at a chaotic news conference at the family's ancestral home in Naudero, in southern Pakistan.

The decision to place the burden of blood and history on Bhutto's first-born son, an Oxford undergraduate with no political experience, reflects not only an abiding dynastic streak in South Asian politics - three generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family have dominated politics in India, and hereditary politics pervade Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, as well - but also how much the Pakistan People's Party relies on the Bhutto family name and legacy to bind its supporters.

In keeping with his new mantle, the new chairman added his mother's maiden name to his, becoming the newly anointed Bhutto scion. "My mother always said democracy is the best revenge," he said in a brief address.

The elder Zardari said he would manage the chairmanship on his son's behalf until he finishes his university degree - a minimum of three years. The father instructed reporters not to ask his son any further questions, saying he was "of a tender age."

Later, in the backyard of the family's house, Bhutto Zardari said in an interview that he had been tutored by his mother to play a role in Pakistani politics. "There was always a sense of fear I wouldn't be able to live up to her expectations," he said. "I hope I will."

Asked about his most immediate challenge, he said, "First, to finish my degree."

That would appear to rule out any possibility that Bhutto Zardari could become the new leader of Pakistan before he is significantly older. Nonetheless, the elder Zardari said in an interview, "As her son, he will become a uniting force."

Senior party officials said Bhutto Zardari would be a far less controversial titular head than his father, who had been accused of a raft of corruption charges, jailed for a total of 11 years and blamed in some quarters for some of Bhutto's political woes.

It could not be a more difficult time for the party. Bhutto had held together a large and diverse organization, and even if, on the back of public grief, it were to win the coming elections, it would be likely to be under great pressure to bring a semblance of stability to a nation racked by a wave of extremist violence.

At the news conference, the elder Zardari said he would not run in the election and therefore would not be the party's prime ministerial candidate. That job, he said, would probably go to the party vice president, the veteran party leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim, but that was a decision, he added, that would have to be made by party leaders.

Bhutto was killed in a suicide bomb and gun attack Thursday, but disagreements between her supporters and the government over the precise cause of death are undermining confidence in Musharraf and adding to calls for an international investigation.

New video footage, obtained by Britain's Channel 4, shows a man firing a handgun at Bhutto from close range as she stands in an open-topped vehicle. Her hair and shawl then move upward, suggesting she may have been shot. She then falls into the vehicle just before an explosion rocks the car.

The government has insisted that Bhutto was not hit by any of the bullets, and that she died after the force of the blast slammed her head against the sunroof. Bhutto's family and supporters say she died from gunshot wounds to her head and neck.

Zardari confirmed Sunday that he had refused a request to perform an autopsy, saying he did not trust the government of Musharraf to carry out a credible investigation. This means that short of exhuming her body - something her supporters have already ruled out - the cause of her death will be difficult to establish.

Zardari urged the United Nations to establish a committee like the one investigating the 2005 assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri. Several leading U.S. politicians have made similar calls.

Musharraf agreed to consider international support for the investigation when he spoke by phone Sunday with Gordon Brown, the British prime minister's office said. But Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for the Pakistani president, said Monday that Musharraf had made no such promises.

Copyright © 2007 The International Herald Tribune |

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Canadian L. General Awarded Medal for Service in Iraq Occupation

Lieutenant General Walter Natynczyk is now our vice Chief of Defence Staff. Trained by the US worked for the US in a war we opposed and he went there while a Canadian govt. opposed to the Iraq war was in power. Subsequently he was rewarded with a medal for his valiant service for US imperialism. The first quote is from espritdecorps Notice that in Iraq Natynczyk was a deputy commanding general of the multi-national forces not exactly a minor role. Perhaps the US suggested to our govt. that he should be recognised for his service.

Gen Natynczyk attended the U.S. Army War College and was subsequently appointed

Deputy Commanding General, III Corps and Fort Hood. In January 2004, he deployed with III Corps to Baghdad, Iraq, serving first as the Deputy Director of Strategy, Policy and Plans and subsequently as the Deputy Commanding General of the Multi-National Corps (Iraq). Upon his return to Canada he assumed command of the Land Force Doctrine and Training System. He was subsequently appointed Chief Transformation where he was responsible for implementation of the force restructuring and the enabling processes and policies.

LGen Natynczyk assumed the responsibilities of the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff on 28 June 2006.

This is from someone named edwin at this blog but I lifted it from comments at liberal catnip's blog.
On January 24, 2006, Governor General Michaëlle Jean awarded him the Meritorious Service Cross.

She recognized Natynczyk "for his outstanding leadership and professionalism while deployed as Deputy Commanding General of the Multi-National Corps during Operation Iraqi Freedom

"From January 2004 to January 2005, Major General Natynczyk led the Corps' 10 separate brigades, consisting of more than 35,000 soldiers stationed throughout the Iraq Theater of Operations. He also oversaw planning and execution of all Corps level combat support and combat service support operations.

"His pivotal role in the development of numerous plans and operations resulted in a tremendous contribution by the Multi-National Corps to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, and has brought great credit to the Canadian Forces and to Canada." 0697 (my own diary)

Bhutto lobbied with US

This is just a bit of a much longer and fascinating article about Bhutto's career in the New York Times. Although Bhutto grew up in wealth and splendor her party stood for the needs of the poor and oppressed. However, once she got in power she seemed unable for the most part to do that much for her constituency while together with her husband she managed to do a lot for her own financial well-being. She had good ties with quite a few important Americans that helped her cause in Washington.

"Like other foreign leaders, Ms. Bhutto engaged a public relations firm to arrange meetings for her with administration officials, members of Congress and journalists. For the first six months of 2007, the firm Burson-Marsteller took in fees of close to $250,000 for work on behalf of Ms. Bhutto."

Diplomats in Afghanistan expelled 'at behest of US'

This article gives rare insight into what is going on behind the scenes in Afghanistan and who calls the shots to a considerable extent. Don't expect to see this as a CBC headline, even though I see that some in the blogosphere have inhaled so much nitrous oxide that they call it the Communist Broadcasting Corporation!
The article notes that there is a close connection between the CIA and the Afghan NDS (National Directorate of Security) and that it was the US that asked the Karzai govt. to expel the diplomats. With actions like this the US may very well be endangering continued support for their misadventures. Bomber McNeil of the US is still the NATO commander in Afghanistan. Does someone still think that we have an independent mission in Afghanistan? There will be no independent mission as long as Harper and MacKay are around. We might as well have David Dinkins as our spokesperson.

Diplomats expelled 'at behest of the US'
By Eleanor Mayne
Last Updated: 2:05am GMT 30/12/2007

Two European diplomats accused of holding secret talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan were thrown out of the country following a complaint by the US, intelligence officials in Kabul have told The Sunday Telegraph.

Mervyn Patterson, who is British, and Irish-born Michael Semple were flown out of Kabul on Thursday after the Afghan government accused them of "threatening national security".

The pair had been working for the United Nations and the European Union respectively.

But according to a senior Afghan intelligence source, American officials had been unhappy about meetings between the men and high-level Taliban commanders in the volatile Helmand province.

The source claimed that the US alerted Afghan authorities after learning that the diplomats were providing direct financial and other support - including mobile phone cards - to the Taliban commanders, in the hope of persuading them to swap sides.

"This warning came from the Americans," he said. "They were not happy with the support being provided to the Taliban. They gave the information to our intelligence services, who ordered the arrests."

A government source in Kabul said there were close links between Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the US Central Intelligence Agency, adding:

"The Afghan government would never have acted alone to expel officials of such a senior level. This was information that was given to the NDS by the Americans.

" These claims will reinforce perceptions of a rift between the US and its international partners in Afghanistan, including Britain.

Last year, US commanders expressed frustration with the British decision to withdraw from Musa Qala and allow tribal elders to strike a deal with the Taliban, who quickly reoccupied the town.

The American embassy has strongly denied any involvement in the incident involving the two diplomats, saying it had "no knowledge" of their activities.

Afghan officials, speaking anonymously, have accused the men of giving support to the Taliban in the form of money, food and phone cards for 10 months.

Wilkins encourages Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2009

This is from the Charlotte Observer. Notice that Wilkins was invited to go to Afghanistan by MacKay! MacKay is sucking up to his American advisors. Of course there is no need to convince MacKay that we ought to stay on and on to be junior partners in US imperialism. It is the Canadian public that needs to be primed and pumped to continue sending our troops to the slaughter.

Wilkins encourages Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2009
Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. --The U.S. Ambassador to Canada said Friday he's unsure how the death of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto will affect the Canadian parliament's upcoming vote on troops in Afghanistan.

"It remains to be seen," Ambassador David Wilkins said from his native Greenville after returning from his first trip to Afghanistan. "I think we're all not only expressing regret of a tragic death but concerned about the stability of Pakistan and how that instability, if it turns to instability, affects Afghanistan."

As ambassador, he is encouraging Canadian officials to extend that country's military operations in Afghanistan beyond its current commitment that ends in February 2009. "But we fully understand and appreciate it's up to Canadian elected officials to make that decision," Wilkins said.

He expects the parliament to vote early next year. About 2,500 Canadian troops are in Afghanistan's southern region bordering Pakistan, where former Prime Minister Bhutto was assassinated Thursday. Canadian troops first deployed to the Kandahar area nearly two years ago and there is growing public unease.

Canada, with 73 combat deaths, has suffered higher casualties in Afghanistan than other countries because of their location in an area with high insurgent activity, Wilkins said.

The ambassador left Afghanistan on Wednesday after a three-day visit with troops, at the invitation of Canada's Defense Minister Peter MacKay. Wilkins said he spent 45 minutes in a bunker on Christmas night after a rocket hit an airstrip at an Air Force base he was visiting in Kandahar. But he said the explosion was not near him.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saint John is Canada's happy place

This is from the Globe and Mail. The results in this survey contrast with the type of survey that rates cities as best in terms of economic factors. Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal all fail to make the top ten. None of the powerhouse cities of the prairies such as Calgary or Edmonton make it either. In the west only Saskatoon, and Winnipeg make the top ten. Perhaps with its newfound growth and the Saskatchewan Party government Saskatoonites or whomever they are will become less happy!

Saint John is Canada's happy place
The Canadian Press

December 27, 2007 at 8:18 PM EST

Saint John, N.B. — Saint John is the happiest city in Canada.

The New Brunswick city was one of several Atlantic Canadian centres to score well in a satisfaction study conducted by the University of British Columbia.

Sponsored by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the findings were based on survey data provided by Statistics Canada.

John Helliwell, an economics professor at UBC, examined close to 100,000 responses to Stats Canada's ethnic diversity survey of 2002 and its general social survey of 2003.

“The magic is to find out, not only how happy people are with their lives, but to situate them in communities (and) explain why people who are happy are happy,” Mr. Helliwell said.

Saint John led the pack with a life satisfaction score of 8.6 out of 10, which Mr. Helliwell said makes it among the happiest cities not only in Canada, but the world.

“That's pretty high,” he said. “Denmark is the highest country and runs about 8.1 or 8.2. Saint John is operating in pretty rarified territory, so something's going well.”

Quebec City placed second on the survey while Charlottetown was third. Moncton, N.B., and Kitchener, Ont., tied for fourth while St. John's, N.L., was sixth.

Rounding out the Top 10, in order, were Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg and Halifax.

Mr. Helliwell said it's no coincidence that smaller communities scored higher than bigger ones.

He said trusting others is important and those kind of connections are easier to make in smaller cities.

“Having a community that's stable enough to get to know people is important,” he said. “That's one of the advantages of a community that's not subject to the big turnover major metropolitan areas are.

“You have a chance to see people regularly. Clerks in stores are [more likely to be] their friends, not just somebody trying to sell you something. And that's harder to do in big cities.”

Helliwell said he'd like to see a greater focus on this type of qualitative research when it comes to gauging the development of countries, as opposed to strict economic measures.

“Life satisfaction is an alternative way of approaching development,” he said. “We need to stop just looking at GDP per capita and look at the quality of people's lives.”

Tariq Ali: Bhutto, Daughter of the West

Tariq Ali has a long article on Bhutto called "Daughter of the West". See this site. The article is quite long but very interesting. A quite different picture emerges of Bhutto from that usually given in the western press although Ali is sympathetic to Bhutto's party's aims. Corruption within the party was rampant during Bhutto's terms as leader of Pakistan. Here is a short quote:
"By the time she was re-elected in 1993, she had abandoned all idea of reform, but that she was in a hurry to do something became clear when she appointed her husband minister for investment, making him responsible for all investment offers from home and abroad. It is widely alleged that the couple accumulated $1.5 billion. The high command of the Pakistan People’s Party now became a machine for making money, but without any trickle-down mechanism. This period marked the complete degeneration of the party. All that shame-faced party members could say, when I asked, was that ‘everybody does it all over the world,’ thus accepting that the cash nexus was now all that mattered. In foreign policy her legacy was mixed. She refused to sanction an anti-Indian military adventure in Kargil on the Himalayan slopes, but to make up for it, as I wrote in the LRB (15 April 1999), her government backed the Taliban takeover in Kabul – which makes it doubly ironic that Washington and London should be promoting her as a champion of democracy."

Of course once Bhutto needed the aid of the US to get back in power she changed her tune on the Taliban and was gung-ho to tackle the radical Islamists in the territories a position that won her a lot of cheerleaders in the US and its allies.

Bhutto's death could echo on Afghan mission: former diplomat

Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff seem to speak much of the time for Dion. Dion is notably quiet. Rae is hopeless in my opinion. The Liberals are actually fortunate they did not get Rae or Ignatieff as leader even though Dion is weak and not very effective. The best hope for the Liberals is that Harper is so bad that the public chooses the Liberals just to keep Harper out of power. Of course what we could get is another minority government.
Rae left the NDP for the Liberals. With this speech on Afghanistan he shows he could just as easily migrate to the Conservatives. Of course with people such as Manley already working for the Conservatives in effect I guess this should not be surprising. Even Bush is not as stupid as Rae. Bush will continue to support Musharraf. He understands that Musharraf cannot just crush the territories just like that. To even try this might be to plunge into civil war and/or be overthrown. Musharraf was bang on when he was irritated by Canadian claims he was not being tough enough on terrorism. THe Pakistan armed forces have suffered many casualties in battles with extremists in the territories and suffered many terrorist incidents. Compared to the Pakistanis. Canadians in Afghanistan have suffered only a few casualties.
What Canada and the US mean by stability is a regime able to control any forces opposed to US hegemony in the region. Iran is reasonably stable but that is not what they want!
The US is still calling for elections. This only makes sense in terms of US foreign policy but is ludicrous democratic terms. The main opposition parties are all
going to boycott the elections so if they were to go ahead Musharraf is guaranteed to win. Even Musharraf will probably realise that the lack of legitimacy would be so great it would be better to postpone the elections until later. Actually I may be wrong about this since I just heard that Bhutto's party has not made up its mind. Her party would probably get a huge sympathy vote and could come out very well.

Bhutto's death could echo on Afghan mission: former diplomat
Last Updated: Friday, December 28, 2007 | 11:36 AM ET
CBC News
The instability gripping Pakistan following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto could spill over to neighbouring Afghanistan, where Canadian soldiers are fighting Taliban insurgents, a former Canadian diplomat said.

Bhutto, twice Pakistan's prime minister, was killed Thursday in a suicide attack at a campaign rally in the northern city of Rawalpindi, about 18 kilometres south of the capital Islamabad.

At least 20 other people also died in the attack, which Pakistan's interior minister has blamed on the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Louis Delvoie, a former Canadian high commissioner to Pakistan, said Thursday's violent attack will surely make the job of NATO soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan harder.

Western nations, including Canada, have called on Pakistan to take a more active role in preventing Taliban fighters from entering Afghanistan from its territory.

But Delvoie said Pakistan's embattled president, Pervez Musharraf, will now be focused on retaining power and internal stability instead of helping stop the flow of Taliban fighters, money and arms across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"There will be greater freedom of movement for the Taliban across the border, and it will mean in many ways that the NATO forces, including Canadian forces, will have to rely on their own military ability to beat the Taliban in Afghanistan," Delvoie told CBC News.

'Nightmare scenario'
Delvoie, a senior fellow at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., who met Bhutto several times in the early 1990s, put forth several bleak scenarios for Pakistan in the wake of Bhutto's assassination.

One included a potential coup by Islamist sympathizers within the officer core of the armed forces, supported by Islamist political parties.

"At that point, you would have the nightmare scenario of an Islamist military government with nuclear weapons," he said.

Delvoie said any such development would likely lead to direct conflict with Pakistan's nuclear-armed rival India, which placed its forces on a "high state of vigil" after Bhutto's assassination.

The two sides have fought each other in two wars in the last four decades and came perilously close to military conflict in 2002.

But Pakistan's military is cohesive and has been able to rule the country for more than half its existence amid numerous political crises, said Tariq Amin-Khan, a politics professor at Ryerson University.

"The situation is still very, very unstable," Amin-Khan told CBC News on Friday in a telephone interview from Karachi. "But I wouldn't be too worried about the nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of Islamists."

The U.S. Defence Department still listed Pakistan's nuclear arsenal as "under control," a spokesman for the Pentagon said Friday.

Musharraf 'ineffective' in curbing extremism: Rae
Federal Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said it's hardly a secret that the Taliban's military strength, education, funding and ideological lifeblood all come from northwestern Pakistan.

He said the international community must wake up and appreciate the implications of Bhutto's killing and the instability it has sparked in the region.

"This issue becomes even more acute and important for the world when we consider that Pakistan is a nuclear power," Rae told reporters Thursday.

"We now clearly have a government which, as well as being highly repressive, has also proved to been singularly ineffective in its own efforts to deal with extremism."

Rae said Canada must look beyond its military role in Afghanistan and join diplomatic efforts to make the region stable.

After Thursday's violence, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he is also concerned about the stability of the region and what it will mean to Canadian soldiers.

He said Canada is offering its support and co-operation to the Pakistani government in finding those who carried out the assassination and bringing them to justice.

Bird Count Helps Track Populations

I don't go on a bird count. I sit in my living room and watch my bird feeder. When I drive I watch for birds. In the summer I sometimes go for a stroll with my binoculars.
Actually, there are some birds that I see more commonly in the winter than the summer, for example red polls and grosbeaks. Ravens are only seen in the winter as they travel north for the summer.
Apparently numbers of many species are dwindling. In the summer I do not see the variety of songbirds that I can recall from years ago. I have a bird feeder blog:

I think that the bird called a "sterling" in the article is more likely a starling!
There is no mention of the common house sparrow in the list. The rock dove by the way is the common pigeon found haunting old grain elevators etc.

Bird counts help track populations

Anne Kyle

Thursday, December 27, 2007

CREDIT: Roy Antal, Leader-Post
Dale Hjertaas and Dan Beveridge of Nature Saskatchewan check a wooded area north of the Murray Golf Club for birds.

Armed with binoculars, a bird guidebook, and thermoses of tea and coffee, Regina birders spent Wednesday recording numbers and species of birds found in the Regina area.

Dale Hjertaas with Nature Saskatchewan said the Christmas bird count is an annual event organized by Nature Regina and Nature Saskatchewan every Dec. 26. But it is also a continent-wide event organized in Canada by Bird Studies Canada and in the United States by the National Audubon Society.

"There will be about 100 bird counts happening across the province and several thousand more across the continent,'' he said in an interview while wondering the countryside looking for birds and mammals.

"There are two purposes for the bird count. One is fun -- it's a way of encouraging people to get out and enjoy the great outdoors rather than sitting inside and eating more Christmas dinner,'' Hjertaas said.

"The count also has some significant scientific value because it is done on such a large scale that the data collected on the bird populations is a very good set of data for looking at the long-term changes in the bird populations on a provincial or continental basis.''

For example, Hjertaas said, he has been monitoring the slow increase in the raven population throughout the province using the bird count data from the 1950s to the present.

"When you look at that you can plot on maps the gradual spread of ravens from the boreal forest southward,'' he said.

When the bison were here there were ravens all over the province, he said. But as the bison were killed off, and the wolf population poisoned, the ravens' food supply dwindled and as a result, the ravens disappeared from the plains and were only found in the boreal forests.

"We thought of ravens as forest birds, but beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s the birds began expanding southward. We have seen ravens here in our Regina bird count (Wednesday) where as 10 years ago we would not have seen a raven in area. They are becoming more common.''

The primary objective of the Christmas bird count is to monitor the status and distribution of bird populations across the Western Hemisphere.

This information is vital for conservation. A decrease in bird populations can indicate habitat fragmentation or destruction or signal an immediate environmental threat, such as groundwater contamination.

"Birding is fun. Most of us who do it are interested in nature and interested in birds, but there aren't a lot of birds in winter so it forces us to get out there. You can easily go out for an hour's walk and see almost nothing, so it's a bit of a challenge,'' Hjertaas said.

"We spend quite a bit more time looking than actually seeing birds during a Christmas bird count.''

Hjertaas and his group started the morning counting geese -- 1,700 -- and mallard ducks -- 17 -- swimming on a pond of open water on the Federated Co-operative Refinery grounds.

"During the day our group spotted 18 different species of birds -- rock dove, Canada geese, mallards, ravens, magpie, partridge, sharptailed grouse, a great horned owl, the common crow, black-capped chickadee, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, snowbunting, common redpoll, red-breasted nuthatch, sterling, and wax-wings,'' he said.

Beside observing and recording the bird life, Hjertaas said participants also record the mammals they see during their outing and any wildlife tracks.

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007

Friday, December 28, 2007

Resigning AECL chair was Canadian Alliance Bag Man

The total hypocrisy of the Harper govt. is revealed in this and even more by the fact that a defeated Conservative was just recently appointed to the Safety panel.
Meanwhile Harper had complained that Ms. Keen the chair of the panel was a Liberal appointee even though she claims she belongs to no party.

AECL chair resigns over isotope debacle
Harper appoints new chair and CEO to embattled company

CanWest News Service
Published: Friday, December 14, 2007

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper cleaned house at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. on Friday, appointing a new chair and CEO to lead the company as it scrambles to relaunch production of critical medical isotopes.

Mr. Harper announced Friday evening that he had accepted the resignation of AECL's chairman, Michael Burns, effective Dec. 31. Glenna Carr will take over as chair, while Hugh MacDiarmid will become CEO.

The previous CEO, Robert Van Adel, retired earlier this fall.

The shakeup at AECL comes in the wake of the controversial shutdown of the company's nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ont., about 180 kilometres northwest of Ottawa, resulting in a global shortage of isotopes used in cancer tests and other medical treatments.

Earlier this week, Mr. Harper hinted that heads might roll.

"I can certainly assure the House that when this is all behind us the government will carefully examine the role of all actors in this incident and make sure that accountability is appropriately restored," he told the House of Commons.

Much of Mr. Harper's wrath had been focused on the Nuclear Safety Commission and its president, Linda Keen. The prime minister accused the "Liberal-appointed" watchdog of jeopardizing the lives of tens of thousands of Canadians by refusing to approve the restart of the reactor.

Liberal MP Omar Alghabra said the shakeup vindicated his party's focus on the handling of the affair by AECL, not the nuclear safety watchdog.

"All week long we've been posing serious questions about the performance of AECL and this government," said Mr. Alghabra.

The Liberals also took pleasure in noting that Mr. Burns, who was appointed in October 2006, was once chief fundraiser for the Canadian Alliance and chairman of the Canadian Alliance Fund. The Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservatives in 2003 to form the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, cabinet records show that the Harper government named a defeated New Brunswick provincial election candidate to the Nuclear Safety Commission just days before Harper alleged partisan connections between Ms. Keen and the Liberal party.

Cabinet approved the appointment of former Tory candidate Ronald Barriault only eight days before Mr. Harper made his controversial comments about Ms. Keen being a Liberal appointee. Ms. Keen has denied any political affiliation.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Afghan Diplomat: No proof Iranian gov't behind IEDs

Where do Mackay's great ideas come from?
U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins accompanied MacKay to Afghanistan -- at Canada's request -- for the Christmas Day visit with troops
The US does not need proof and neither does its representative in Canada Peter MacKay. Perhaps MacKay's attack on Iran was his Xmas present to the US and Wilkins.
No doubt Karzai finds such attacks embarassing and counter-productive since Afghanistan has relatively good relationships with Iran but that does not matter to the US or Canada either it seems. Who are the Afghanis to say what their relationship to Iran is?

No proof Iranian gov't behind IEDs: Afghan diplomat
Updated Wed. Dec. 26 2007 6:52 PM ET News Staff

Afghanistan's Ambassador to Canada appears to be cautious about blaming Iran for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) being used in attacks against Afghan and NATO soldiers in his country.

On Tuesday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay alleged that many IEDs in Afghanistan have come from Iran.

"We're very concerned that weapons are coming in from Iran, we're very concerned these weapons are going to the insurgents and keeping this issue alive," he told reporters in Kandahar, where he was paying a Christmas visit to Canadian troops.

But Omar Samad, the top Afghan diplomat in Canada, told CTV Newsnet on Wednesday that there is no evidence about where the IEDs actually originated and who brought them to Afghanistan.

"Iran is a neighbor and we have good relations," he said. "The point is -- and the questions that have to be answered (and) are being looked at as far as who is involved in this. Is this a smuggling issue? Is this a policy issue by some government? Is this maybe an attempt by arms dealers to bring arms from a certain source?"

The Afghan government is working with its partners, including Canada, in attempting to find answers to those questions, he said.

Samad pointed out that Iran, which shares a 1,000-kilometre border with his country, hosts one million Afghan refugees. He said it must still be determined whether or not certain groups in other countries are involved in sending weapons to Afghanistan or if governments are involved.

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins accompanied MacKay to Afghanistan -- at Canada's request -- for the Christmas Day visit with troops. In the past the U.S. has accused Iran of supplying weapons and materials for IEDs to insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. officials have also accused Iran of having a nuclear weapons program, which was refuted by an intelligence assessment by 16 American spy agencies just a few weeks ago.

Canada had not linked Iran to weapons in Afghanistan before MacKay's and Wilkins' trip.

MacKay said in French that Canada has repeatedly demanded that Iran halt the flow of weapons to Afghanistan.

But Samad said more investigation is needed before assigning blame to a specific source.

"First, we have to establish the facts, and then we will look at the options that exist," he said.

Iran's Shiite government has historically had frosty relations with the Taliban, which is the main insurgent force fighting against NATO and Afghan national forces. The Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents are composed of Sunni Muslims, who have traditionally been antagonistic towards Iran's Shiite Muslims.

MacKay also warned Pakistan to stop supplying weapons to Afghanistan, which has a strained relationship with the government in Kabul in the past few years.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

PM sees no crisis in immigrants keeping old ways..

Canada has typically been a mosaic--a vertical mosaic as on sociologist put it. Unlike the US we have not adopted a melting pot view of immigration. The backlash among some people against immigration has been there for generations. One problem with immigration is the tendency for immigrants to concentrate in large cities. I suppose this is natural since sections of cities come to have immigrant communities with their own networks and support systems.
Attention seems to concentrate upon Muslim immigrants even though they are I expect a small minority of the total numbers of immigrants and radicals an infintesimal number of Muslim immigrants. The largest group of immigrants are from China and probably very few of them are Muslim. This extract is from Wikipedia.
In 2004, Canada received 235,824 immigrants. The top ten sending countries, by state of origin, were People's Republic of China (37,280), India (28,183), Philippines (13,900), Pakistan (13,011), Iran (6,491), United States (6,470), Romania (5,816), United Kingdom (5,353), South Korea (5,351), and Colombia (4,600).[1]
Harper's remarks are actually quite sensible for once in my opinion.

This is from CBC.

PM sees no crisis in immigrants keeping old ways

Last Updated: Monday, December 24, 2007 | 2:55 PM ET
CBC News
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government two months ago moved to require veiled Muslim women to show their faces before voting, has dismissed the idea of a crisis involving immigrants who don't adopt Canadian ways.

"Notwithstanding the debate in Quebec and some of the debate during the Ontario election campaign, I first of all think immigrants come to this country to belong to this country," Harper said in a year-end interview with the Canadian Press.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada's approach to immigrants is a 'mixture of integration and accommodation.'
(CBC) "I also think that the Canadian approach to this — which is a mixture of integration and accommodation, for lack of a better term — is the right approach."

He distanced himself from Quebec politicians who want immigrants to pledge to embrace what they call the province's core values, CP said.

"I know there's a popularly expressed view that immigrants come here and they should change to suit the country. I think they overwhelmingly do," he said.

"But I think the fact is our country also consciously changes somewhat for new immigrants and new cultures, and I think that's a successful model.

"I think if you look around the world for issues of immigration and cultural integration, Canada is as successful as any other country in this regard."

Even so, his cabinet has been discussing issues of Canadian identity and how to foster a sense of Canadian values, he said.

"We probably need to have some thought about what the shared values really are, and how we strengthen those. But, that said, I don't see a cultural fragmentation in this country. I just don't see it."

In Ontario, he said, there has been "some concern about radical elements in the Muslim community, but these are at the margins.

"The fact of the matter is there aren't cultural tensions in the country, there generally is a healthy process of integration along with accommodation.

"And if you focus on the Islamic community, yes, there are extremist elements, but they are small and marginal, and the problems we face in this country compared with other countries are tiny."

Study: Canadians getting better health care value than thought.

Perhaps the powers that be are quite satisfied with Statistics Canada's way of doing things. It provides ammunition for more privatisation in the name of efficiency and when this does nothing to increase efficiency the government will suggest more privatisation is the cure. The statistics also can be used to justify cuts in salaries (not to doctors of course) but to lower level health care support staff in order to increase productivity. Again this can be achieved through contracting out to non-unionised suppliers who pay near minimum wages.

Wednesday » December 26 » 2007

Canadians getting better health-care value than thought: study

Eric Beauchesne
CanWest News Service

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

CREDIT: Chris Schwarz/Edmonton Journal/CanWest News Service
Canadian Doctor

OTTAWA - Canadians are getting more bang for their health-care bucks than official federal government estimates suggest, says a third-party report to be released on Thursday.

The report by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards says Statistics Canada needs to do a better job in measuring what Canadians get out of their health-care system for what they put into it.

Statistics Canada estimates that productivity in the health-care and social-service sector of the economy is not only lagging but actually declining, the report by the Ottawa-based think-tank says.

"Productivity, measured as real GDP per worker based on official Statistics Canada, employment and real GDP figures, in the health-care and social-assistance industry over the 1987-2003 period fell, on average, by 0.76 per cent per year," it says.

That, it notes, is in contrast to the 1.14-per-cent increase in overall productivity in Canada over that same period.

However, the report suggests that the official figures seriously underestimate the true contribution of the health-care sector to overall economic output and "more importantly to the economic well-being of Canadians."

One reason is that measurements of health care costs may not fully take into account improvements in the quality of health care and in turn in the health of Canadians, such as suggested by increases in longevity.

Over the past quarter century, the average lifespan of Canadians has increased by 5.3 years, it notes.

The report recommends Statistics Canada put more effort and resources into improving how it measures changes in what Canadians get out of their health-care system.

"The Canadian health care sector is an increasingly important part of the Canadian economy, particularly in the context of an aging population," states the report, which calls for a debate on how to develop better measures of health-care sector productivity.

"To achieve efficient allocation of resources in the health-care sector, accurate measures of health-care output and productivity are essential," it says.

"The main issue involved with measuring the output of the health-care sector is that there are often no market transactions where quantity and price can be observed," it says. "Further, what constitutes the 'output' of the health-care sector remains debatable."

While Canada uses measures of what it puts into health care as a proxy for what it gets out, other countries are now starting to measure actual output, it says.

"As other countries . . . implement output volume indicators for the health-care sector . . . the comparability between Canadian and international data on the health-care sector becomes less reliable."

The study suggests that Statistics Canada look to research by other statistical agencies in Europe, and in the U.S., to develop a better measure of what Canadians get out of their health care system.

© CanWest News Service 2007

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Mackay repeats Bush line on Iran..

Interesting that Karzai does not repeat this refrain. It is no doubt meant to curry favor with the US and to no doubt soften Canadians should Israel or the US attack Iran..This is just one more bit of evidence that Canada is quickly becoming a prime conduit of US propaganda and one of the most reliable junior partner in helping out US foreign policy and hegemonic aims.
McKay is perhaps famous for his double-cross of David Orchard after promising not to sell-out the Progressive Conservative Party:
" In 2003, Peter MacKay memorably signed a scrawled deal with maverick rival candidate David Orchard, gaining Orchard's support while promising to preserve the Progressive Conservative party in the face of pressure to merge with the Canadian Alliance.

MacKay promptly double-crossed Orchard, ending the PC era and creating the new Conservative party currently in power."

The new Regressive Conservative Party has rewarded MacKay now minister of defence in charge of pandering to the US.

MacKay says Iran giving weapons to Taliban
Defence Minister makes comments during Christmas visit to Afghanistan
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 25, 2007 | 2:08 PM ET
CBC News
Canada's defence minister has accused Iran of providing weapons to the Taliban and fuelling the conflict in Afghanistan, where thousands of Canadian troops are involved in military operations.

Peter MacKay made the comments at Kandahar Airfield, where he is spending Christmas Day serving a Yuletide meal to hundreds of soldiers.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay serves up Christmas dinner to Canadian troops at the airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Tuesday.
(Tobi Cohen/Canadian Press) Speaking to reporters after the festivities, MacKay accused Afghanistan's neighbour, Iran, of propelling the conflict by providing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or roadside bombs, to insurgents there.

"We're very concerned that weapons are coming in from Iran. We're very concerned that these weapons are going to the insurgents."

Although Iran has been accused of interfering in Afghanistan in the past, MacKay's comments mark the first time a Canadian government official has made the accusation publicly. MacKay said the Iranian government is aware of his concerns.

It is also the first time the government has admitted that Iranian weapons are being used to target Canadian soldiers.

Continue Article

Canada has about 2,500 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. It has lost 73 troops and one diplomat since beginning the mission in early 2002, in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban government.

Most of Canada's deaths have been the result of IEDs.

MacKay was joined in Afghanistan by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier, who said his soldiers believe in the mission and are committed to helping build the Afghan army and the police force so they can eventually look after their own affairs.

MacKay spent most of the Christmas Day meal running plates of food to some 900-odd soldiers seated at decorated tables.

"Everyone in Canada is cheering for you," he told the crowd. "You're Canada's team."

MacKay made special mention of the Van Doos, the Royal 22nd Regiment, which is based at CFB Valcartier north of Quebec City, calling them the pride of both Quebec and Canada. He said Canadians across the country are appreciative of the work they're doing.

In the summer, the Van Doos were deployed for the first time to dangerous southern Afghanistan, amid controversy in Quebec over the Afghan mission.

Commissioner Frank Iacobucci on 07 Worst List: Civil Liberties Assoc.

I am not surprised that Iacobucci made it to the worst list but a lot of the blame should go to the government that set the terms of reference rather than Iacobucci himself although he certainly has not been overly open either!

Vancouver Sun - Civil Liberties Assoc. names best and worst of '07; Taser tops list
VANCOUVER - Taser-related stories top the B.C. Civil Liberties Association list of the best and worst of 2007.

The organization says B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal and Solicitor General John Les deserve to go on the best list for ordering a public inquiry into the Taser-related death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver airport in October.

RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner Paul Kennedy won a best ranking for an interim report on Tasers that calls for more accountability and research on the use of the stun guns.

Also on the best list is the federal immigration ministry for legislation to bring home the "Lost Canadians", a group of people who lost their Canadian citizenship over outdated and discriminatory technicalities.

Commissioner Frank Iacobucci - who heads the inquiry examining the detention and torture of three Canadian citizens overseas - was placed on the worst list after the Civil Liberties Association accused him of conducting the probe mostly in secret.

Also on the worst list is the Stephen Harper government for trying to copy the U.S. war on drugs and war on terror.
Hosted by Copyright © 2007 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Abbas: New Israeli settlements will cloud peace talks.

These peace talks seemed doomed from the beginning. Hamas was elected as the majority government but has never been accepted by the west. Saudi Arabia managed to broker a coalition government but that collapsed when Hamas took over Gaza and Abbas formed his own government with no Hamas participation with the blessing of the US and other western powers.
Israel must not really want a deal since it has put Abbas in an impossible situation. He is already seen by many Palestinians as a puppet and sellout. Abbas has no control over rockets being fired from Gaza! Israel is flouting not only the agreement with Abbas but also snubbing its nose at its biggest patron the US. Of course the US will do little most likely but tut tut, now now, be good please.

New Israeli settlements will cloud peace talks: Abbas
Last Updated: Sunday, December 23, 2007 | 5:26 PM ET
CBC News
The confirmation of an Israeli plan to build 740 apartment units in areas the Palestinians view as their own will complicate planned Mideast peace talks, officials and observers warned Sunday.

The Israeli government plans to allocate $25 million to build 500 new units in East Jerusalem and 240 nearby in the West Bank, Rafi Eitan, the cabinet minister for Jerusalem affairs, said Sunday.

Israeli tanks were part of a force that moved into the Gaza Strip on Dec. 11. Four militants were killed in the operation.
(Ariel Schalit/Associated Press) Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party controls the West Bank, said building the apartments will breach Israel's agreement to halt construction while the two sides try and work out a peace deal.

"We can't understand these settlement activities at a time we're talking about final status negotiations," Abbas said.

Reporting from Jerusalem, the CBC's Peter Armstrong said "this will undoubtably cloud the new negotiations." Palestinians are "outraged" about the building, and the U.S. has already expressed "serious objections" to settlement expansions, he added.

Israel and the Palestinians represented by Abbas agreed in November to revive peace talks, with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert meeting every two weeks.

But Israel is also angry with the Palestinians, complaining that they have not stopped attacks on Israeli territory. Rockets are regularly fired into southern Israel from Gaza, which has been under the control of Hamas since gunmen from the group ousted their Fatah counterparts in June.

Israel has responded by sending soldiers into Gaza, and on Sunday, Olmert said Israel will continue to battle Hamas.

"There is no other way to describe what is happening in the Gaza Strip except as a true war between the Israeli army and terrorist elements," he said, ruling out negotiations with Hamas.

Hamas won more seats than the long-dominant Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian Authority election, although Abbas continued on as president of the Palestinian Authority. However, Hamas was eventually forced to form a coalition government with Fatah because of renewed violence and a Western-led boycott that had shut off billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.

After Hamas took over Gaza, Abbas dissolved the tenuous Hamas-Fatah government and formed a new one that Hamas refuses to recognize.

With files from the Associated

Cold Cash Warm Gift Cards?

It always seems very impersonal to give cash. However, my kids prefer cash for the most part. It actually makes sense. I am always the recipient of one more shirt that I do not need or some other present that ends up in storage! Gift cards seem a sort of halfway compromise between cash and a specific gift but the article is right on. It makes more sense to give cash. But whoever said the gift giving part of Xmas makes sense. Anyway Merry Xmas and to those who are politically correct Merry XXXXXX, fill in your favorite phrase.

Cash, not gift cards, the best present: consumers' association
Read the fine print, group urges
Last Updated: Sunday, December 23, 2007 | 10:22 PM ET
CBC News
The Consumers' Association of Canada is recommending that shoppers give cash instead of buying gift cards, which often go unused or come with many restrictions for their recipients.

Canadians spent $1.8 billion on gift cards in 2006.
"We recommend you forget about it completely and use cash," CAC spokesman Bruce Cran said.

One recent study in the United States reaffirmed other reports that consumers are losing out to retailers, estimating that 25 per cent of all gift cards go unused. Best Buy Co., for example, reported a profit of $43 million US from unused cards last year. Limited Brands Inc. recorded $30 million US in 2005 revenue because of unredeemed cards.

Canadians spent $1.8 billion on gift cards in 2006, and the amount is forecast to exceed $3 billion this year.

The consumers' association has received numerous complaints about gift cards, which often have unexpected expiry dates, restrictions on cash-back services and administrative fees, Cran said.

If consumers do buy gift cards, it's best to read the fine print, Cran said.

"They should be checking to see there are no charges against the card for the store or group issuing it to mind their money … after all, this is cash," he said.

Ontario and Manitoba have banned expiry dates and administration fees on most but not all gift cards. Other provinces including Alberta are considering adopting similar policies.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

David Orchard, Dion's Dilemma

David Orchard gets around. First he is a thorn in the side of the Conservatives and now of the Liberals. Orchard had bad judgment in supporting MacKay who of course double crossed him. Now we will have to see if Dion does the same. Dion is supposed to be a person of principle. But we already know what the principle is: if the polls are against you don't vote your principles but save your skin. It isn't clear what this means in terms of supporting Goodale and his favorite for the nomination.
It is interesting the way people jump from Conservative to Liberal, and then a sitting NDP provincial MLA to federal Liberal candidate perhaps. It might make people think that the three parties are not all that different!

David Orchard, Dion's dilemma

Randy Burton
The StarPhoenix

Thursday, December 20, 2007

After three federal leadership races, you would think the federal political structure would begin to get the idea.

When you sign on with David Orchard, you're not forming a partnership with a guy who is prepared to lie down and be run over if the leader thinks it advisable.

What you get is a practised grassroots politician with a flair for organization. You also get a committed activist who expects to be treated with some respect for his abilities. It sounds simple enough, but for some reason, this equation does not seem to compute easily in Ottawa.

The scene now unfolding in Liberal circles bears all the hallmarks of a movie Orchard has seen before. The script goes something like this:

Ambitious politician seeking his party's leadership sees an opportunity for a come-from-behind victory by running a low-cost, network-heavy campaign. In order to succeed, he enlists the help of a nationally known political maverick long on principles but short on compromise. After achieving an unlikely victory with the maverick's help, the candidate turns his back on his unlikely helpmate, freezing him out of the inner circle he yearns for.

If this sounds familiar it should. Orchard played the maverick's role opposite Peter MacKay in the old Progressive Conservative party and he seems to be repeating the role in Stephane Dion's Liberal party.

This is what's happening.

For the past six weeks, Orchard has been campaigning for the Liberal nomination in the northern Saskatchewan riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, which was vacated by former Liberal MP Gary Merasty last September. Unless a general election is called first, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will call a byelection for Churchill River within the next couple of months.

With his typical work ethic, Orchard has already sold hundreds of Liberal memberships at $25 apiece, no small feat in the poorest federal riding in the province. However, it may all be for naught.

Anxious to increase the number of women running for the Liberals in the next federal election, Dion is considering appointing former provincial NDP cabinet minister Joan Beatty to be the party's candidate in the northern riding.

So far, she hasn't said anything about this one way or the other beyond the fact that both the NDP and the Liberals want her as a candidate. I suppose it would be hopelessly old-fashioned to suggest she has an obligation to the voters who just re-elected her to the legislature, but that's another issue.

However, it's pretty clear that unless she's appointed, she doesn't have a snowball's chance in Phoenix of becoming the Liberal candidate in northern Saskatchewan.

That's not to say Orchard would be the obvious winner of a contested nomination, given that he would first have to get by local consultant and educator John Dorion. But there is no doubt he would have an insurmountable head start over Beatty should she choose to run.

What's particularly interesting about this is that the only reason Beatty is a consideration is because Saskatchewan Liberal heavyweight Ralph Goodale does not want Orchard as a candidate. He is also said to have made this crystal clear to Liberal campaign co-chair David Smith, a senator from Toronto.

Exactly why remains a mystery.

It may be that Goodale doesn't want the Liberal brand to be confused with Orchards' long-standing concerns about free trade and what that might do to the Liberals' chances with the business community. It may be that Orchard represents something of a wild card in terms of public messaging. Not all of his issues are necessarily Liberal issues, and he is unlikely to express his views in Goodale's trademark opaque manner. It may also be that Goodale doesn't want to be supplanted as the province's most influential Liberal should Orchard wind up getting elected to Parliament.

Whatever the reason, this turn of events puts Dion in a bit of a pickle, given that neither of his options are particularly attractive. He can accede to the demands of his parliamentary House leader and short-circuit Orchard's run for the nomination. But to do so would be to poke a stick in the eye of the man who played a crucial role in his successful run for the leadership last year. It's clear that without the 150 delegates Orchard delivered, Dion could not have won.

If he cared about that, Dion would stay strictly out of the nomination and let the chips fall where they may. But if he does, he runs the risk of alienating Goodale, the only Liberal MP in Saskatchewan who actually has a winning record.

The ultimate choice he makes will say a lot about whether Dion represents generational change in the Liberals or merely new management.

France, Australia to remain in Afghanistan as long as needed

There seems to be a big push propoganda-wise and otherwise to prop up the NATO mission in Afghanistan in the face of public opposition to the missions in many countries. Sarkozy is already a Bush buddy on many issues but Rudd has differences on Iraq and Kyoto. However, there are signs he wants to mollify Bush. Harper of course is gung ho for Afghanistan. His appointed or annointed panel will no doubt recommend something to his liking. It is in fact a sham and waste of time as the article I posted recently shows.

France, Australia vow to remain in Afghanistan as long as needed
Last Updated: Saturday, December 22, 2007 | 6:17 PM ET
CBC News
The new leaders of France and Australia toured Afghanistan separately on Saturday, with both men vowing to keep their troops in the war-torn country for as long as needed.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was elected in May, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul and told the Afghan leader that France has no plans to withdraw its 1,300 troops from Afghanistan.

A year ago, France withdrew 200 elite special forces from the country, raising questions about whether then president Jacques Chirac planned on withdrawing the entire French contingent.

Sarkozy told French media on Saturday that that is not the case.

"We did not want to give the signal of a withdrawal, which would have been a detestable signal at a time when we see the ravages that terrorism can do to the world," said Sarkozy, who was in Afghanistan for only six hours.

He suggested France might be sending combat instructors to the country soon to help train Afghan army and police officers.

"Afghanistan must not become a state that falls into the hands of terrorists," Sarkozy said. "A war, a war against terrorism, against fanaticism, is being played out here, that we cannot, that we must not lose."

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also met with Karzai in Kabul. He said his country's 900 troops will remain in Afghanistan, even though Australia will pull its troops from Iraq by the middle of next year.

"We will be, as I said before, in this country, Afghanistan, for the long haul, and it's important for us to be here in partnership with countries from NATO," said Rudd, who was elected in November.

He said he would be encouraging other countries to continue or expand their commitment to Afghanistan and would be giving an aid package of $95 million US to reconstruction in the southern Uruzgan province, a volatile region where Australia's troops are stationed.

Australia and France's troops make up only a small portion of the more than 41,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

The U.S. contributes a bulk of the force, with some 26,000 Americans stationed in the country. Canada has about 2,500 soldiers in the country, most of them serving in the violent south.

Canada, the U.S. and NATO officials have complained that some NATO countries aren't sharing as much of the responsibility in Afghanistan as others.

France, for example, has been criticized for keeping its troops in relatively peaceful parts of Afghanistan, while others countries, like Canada, are serving in provinces where violence occurs regularly and casualties are a frequent reality.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mulroney inquiry is worth the price

This is from the Star. We don't have even the terms of reference yet or the costs so it is hard to see how we can know whether it is worth the price. I do think we should have an inquiry nevertheless and it is heartening to see at least one editorialist giving us reasons why we should still have an inquiry. I fear though that Johnson's terms of reference will be to dump the inquiry idea altogether.

Mulroney inquiry is worth the price

Dec 22, 2007 04:30 AM
Most Canadians feel they have heard enough about former prime minister Brian Mulroney's relationship with German Canadian lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber, and don't favour a costly public inquiry into the cash-stuffed envelopes affair. Although a recent poll found that only 21 per cent of Canadians believe what Mulroney told the Commons ethics committee, 52 per cent said they see little reason to conduct a thorough probe of events that happened nearly 15 years ago.

Many of those opposed to an official inquiry suggest taxpayers should be spared the cost of a public inquiry, which could well run into millions of dollars. They also think it is pointless to investigate dealings that took place so long ago and say Ottawa should be more focused on today's issues, such as global warming, the conflict in Afghanistan or the state of the economy.

So why hold the inquiry at all?

There are compelling reasons for such a probe, including the importance and value of the truth and integrity to our democratic institutions. Effective democracy demands that the public interest must always take precedence over the private or personal interests of those who enjoy the power and privilege of governing.

If there is any question of that principle being abused, as there was, for example, in the Liberal sponsorship scandal, the only way to restore the public's faith in our system of representative government is to cast a spotlight on the officials in question in order exonerate them or expose their wrongdoing. It is the ultimate form of accountability.

Although he initially opposed the idea of a probe into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, Prime Minister Stephen Harper ultimately relented under public pressure and called for an official probe. The inquiry will start after University of Waterloo president David Johnston provides advice on the possible terms of reference for such a probe. Johnston is to give his report to Harper by Jan. 11.

While a government of one stripe may find it advantageous to establish an inquiry into the actions of a former government of a different stripe, Harper is addressing a controversy involving his own party, just as former prime minister Paul Martin did when he threw open the windows on the sponsorship scandal. That cost Martin the next election, but no one could accuse him of trying to hide the truth. And that was how public confidence in the system was strengthened.

To claim, as some do, that the Schreiber-Mulroney affair is ancient history, and therefore not worth the expense of an inquiry, is to imply that there is some kind of magic dividing point on the time line of history, before which the truth does not matter.

Canadians are entitled to know whether a former prime minister broke faith with the people who put their trust in him, even if it was nearly 15 years ago. And given the circumstances of his dealing with Schreiber – envelopes stuffed with $1,000 bills exchanged in hotel rooms and then squirrelled away in safety deposit boxes and safes with no taxes paid for several years – Mulroney should have the right to explain himself before a full-blown inquiry.

And yes the inquiry will cost money. But keeping our democracy healthy is not something that can be had for free.

Canadians accept all kinds of costly safeguards to ensure the system works as effectively as it can. The auditor general, for example, provides an effective check on how our tax dollars are spent. The ethics commissioner is the first line of defence against abuse of the public trust. And public inquiries are needed at times to consider whether or not politicians and bureaucrats have abused their power.

Mulroney's dealings with Schreiber demand such a review.

Harper: Economic Slowdown Likely

The entire article is at Globe and Mail.

On Afghanistan it seems that Harper is not well briefed. Karzai is clearly and unequivocally interested in negotiating with the Taliban even to the point of offering them positions in the government. Here are two passages from this site.
If a group of Taliban or a number of Taliban come to me and say, 'President, we want a department in this or in that ministry or we want a position as deputy minister ... and we don't want to fight anymore,' ... If there will be a demand and a request like that to me, I will accept it because I want conflicts and fighting to end in Afghanistan," Karzai said.
and then also:
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday offered to meet with the Taliban leader and give militants a government position only hours after a suicide bomber in army disguise attacked a military bus, killing 30 people - nearly all of them Afghan soldiers.

Strengthening a call for negotiations he has made with increasing frequency in recent weeks, Karzai said he was willing to meet with the reclusive leader Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister and factional warlord leader.
"If I find their address, there is no need for them to come to me, I'll personally go there and get in touch with them," Karzai said. "Esteemed Mullah, sir, and esteemed Hekmatyar, sir, why are you destroying the country?"

"I wish there would be a demand as easy as this. I wish that they would want a position in the government. I will give them a position," he said.

The US Embassy in Kabul has said it does not support negotiations with Taliban fighters, labeling them as terrorists,

So Mr. Harper there seems to be a clear difference between you and Karzai and I expect Brown as well. You are with your US buddies on the issues. Karzai's position is clear and unequivocal and not what you say it is.

Economic slowdown likely, PM says

Globe and Mail Update

December 20, 2007 at 5:00 PM EST

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper is warning Canadians to brace themselves for a possible economic slowdown in 2008 that will restrict government spending and limit tax cuts.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail earlier this week, the Prime Minister moved to dampen any expectations of big spending on the horizon as he and the cabinet hammer out the contents of the upcoming spring budget.

"Although the fundamentals of the Canadian economy are strong, although we have taken our budget actions very early this year to position ourselves, the fact of the matter is Canada — as an open trading economy — cannot be immune from the growing uncertainty we see in the U.S. economy and the global economy," Mr. Harper said in the year-end conversation.

"There's likely to be a more challenging economic year ahead."


• The Prime Minister responded for the first time to a report his government commissioned to examine polling practices under the previous Liberal regime. Though the Liberals originally decried the appointment of former Parti Québécois cabinet minister Daniel Paille to lead the probe as a "witch hunt," Mr. Paille's report concluded the Tories are actually spending more on polls — averaging two per working day.

"It shows we're doing a massive amount of polling, far more than we should be doing," Mr. Harper told the CBC. "We're going to take some steps to reduce that."

• On the Nuclear Safety Commission, the Prime Minister said the regulator showed "appalling judgment" in shutting down the Chalk River reactor for failing to follow orders.

"I don't believe the actions of Nuclear [Safety] Commission were motivated by partisan considerations," he told the CBC. "I do believe the course of action contemplated was extremely ill-advised; an appalling use of authority and judgment and one that the government had to deal with."

• On the controversy over former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's financial cash payments from Karlheinz Schreiber, Mr. Harper said it would be inappropriate for him to comment and will wait for the advice of University of Waterloo President David Johnston on the terms of reference for a public inquiry.

However, the Prime Minister hinted in several interviews that he would be open to a recommendation against a public inquiry.

• On Afghanistan, The Prime Minister rejected a Radio-Canada reporter's question as to whether he will simply extend the mission again in 2010.

"No," he replied. "For the population and for the government and for the Canadian Forces, there has to be limits to our participation."

He also commented on recent remarks by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, which Mr. Harper said were falsely characterized as calling for peace negotiations with the Taliban.

"It seems to me what Gordon Brown has said, what this government has said, what the American government, what the Afghan government has said are all the same, which is the ideal solution here is for all elements in Afghanistan to lay down their arms and to participate in a constitutional, democratic, political process," Mr. Harper told the CBC. "And [Afghan] President Karzai has from time to time made efforts and had some success in converting ground level commanders or ground level officials to the cause, as has Canada in Kandahar. It's not a general rule. But I think that's a big difference between negotiating with the Taliban as an intact insurgency versus trying to convert some or all of the Taliban to the political process."

Build new, bigger prisons, scrap early release: Review panel

This is from the following site. This is a typical "select" panel. Note the chairman is from the Harris government. It is clear that Harper is just an undercover common sense guy at heart! Even so some of the recommendations do actually make sense! It is the overall policy of increasing the number in jail and the incredible cost that should make people pause and consider what is being done but the costs seem to generate almost no general backlash among the public.
What if we had a program for the homeless on which we spent 114,000 or even 88,000 per year per homeless person? There would surely be an outcry. And where are Harper's old comrades from the Canadian Taxpayers Association. Why are they not screaming blue murder at this increasing government expenditure?
The Conservatives, so concerned about accountability, have failed to cost out their crime-fighting programs. It seems that the Canadian public may be becoming more like those in the US who do not seem to seriously question defence spending or money spent on fighting crime or of course the war on terror.


Build new, bigger prisons and scrap early release, review panel urges
Dec 13, 2007
Sue Bailey And Jim Bronskill, THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA - The government should build new regional super-jails and scrap statutory release of federal inmates in favour of earned parole, a prison review panel says.

The panel headed by a former cabinet minister in Ontario's Mike Harris government urges Ottawa to bring aging, scattered prisons into the 21st century. It also says rehabilitation must be more of a shared duty borne by inmates and corrections.
A spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the report is being studied.

"We need to ensure our prisons are safe to work in, are free of illicit drugs and are rehabilitating offenders effectively so that both our corrections staff and our communities are protected," said Melisa Leclerc.
As for the potential pricetag of locking up more people for longer: "It is too early to speculate on possible costs," she said in an e-mailed response.

Most convicts now leave prison with conditions after serving two-thirds of their sentences. But in the long-awaited report released Thursday, the panel headed by former Ontario Tory cabinet minister Rob Sampson says offenders should have to show why they should get out.
It says while the Correctional Service is to be praised for efforts to reform offenders, there are those who merely "wait out" the system until they reach statutory release.

"Life inside a penitentiary should promote a positive work ethic," says the report, which makes 109 recommendations. "Today, an offender working hard at rehabilitation is often treated no differently than an offender who is seeking only to continue his criminal lifestyle."
Prisons are dealing with an "alarming" new type of offender, it adds. They're more likely to be violent, gang-affiliated, addicted and mentally ill.

Inmates need more attention over shorter periods, since many serve sentences of less than three years. But Corrections faces "severe challenges" meeting these needs in antiquated prisons - including some a century old, says the report.
The panel recommends building regional super-complexes that include several services under one roof for different types of offenders. That way, inmates wouldn't have to move between facilities scattered across the country.

For example, ill offenders could stay in a complex's health-care unit without the added expense of a hospital stay.
The report also calls for better fences, more dogs and other technology to curb a booming drug trade behind bars.

"The panel believes the presence of illicit drugs in a federal penitentiary is not only unacceptable but results in a dangerous environment for staff and offenders."
"A more structured work day" for prisoners is recommended to ensure meaningful skills upon release, along with more programs for the mentally ill.

Critics say ending the long-standing policy of early release would put more pressure on an already stressed system.
"I can only imagine how many millions of dollars these recommendations will entail," said inmate advocate Kim Pate of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. "Canadian taxpayers should be aware of the implications and should be speaking out against them."

Boosting education, health and social-service funding to support disadvantaged kids before they become career criminals is a far more effective way to fight crime, she said.
Pate called the Conservative government's apparent fixation with prison-building instead of community supports "a travesty."

Ottawa pays about $1.9 billion a year to house 12,700 inmates in 58 institutions. The average yearly cost in 2005-06 was around $88,000 per prisoner or $114,000 in maximum security.
Any prisoner increase would be on top of Tory crime crackdown bills which, if passed, would put more people behind bars for longer. These would include tougher bail provisions and higher mandatory minimum sentences for various gun crimes. Another bill would see three-time violent criminals and sex offenders locked up indefinitely as dangerous offenders unless they can convince a court otherwise.

The Conservatives have never revealed the cost of their crime-fighting agenda.
But a related Correctional Service analysis made public during the 2006 election campaign estimated extra prison spending at between $5 billion and $11.5 billion over 10 years.

Sampson was correctional services minister in the Ontario government that introduced Canada's first privately run boot camp for young offenders. The provincial Liberal regime did not renew its contract.
His appointment by Day last spring to lead the review, along with four panel members with little formal corrections expertise, was dismissed by critics as a political ploy to tell the government what it wants to hear.

"They have one objective: they think throwing (criminals) in jail and throwing the keys away is the only solution," said Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh. "And I find that to be really a medieval way of thinking."
It also defies lessons learned the hard way. Dosanjh cited mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes penalties in the U.S. that sent prison populations soaring without parallel crime-rate cuts.

"If having the toughest penalties were a panacea for crime, then the (American) states that have the death penalty should be heaven," he said. "But they aren't. It's quite the contrary."

Review Panel Full Report

Friday, December 21, 2007

Collective bargaining at the RCMP

This is the first article I have seen on this matter. Obviously the Brown report should have had more to say on this matter and could have easily made recommendations to solve the problem of unionisation. To allow unionisation with compulsory arbitration rather than the right to strike would seem to be a fair enough balance of security versus rights to organise.

Collective bargaining at the RCMP

Management declines to negotiate.

Dateline: Tuesday, December 18, 2007

by Roy J Adams

Subsequent to the Supreme Court's BC Health Services decision in June constitutionalizing collective bargaining, several regional associations of Mounted Police sent in requests to bargain to RCMP Management.

Shortly before these developments independent investigator David Brown's report into problems surrounding the RCMP pension system had revealed a cornucopia of internal problems including an erratic and autocratic management style that was creating huge morale and safety problems. In July a new commissioner, civilian William Elliott, was appointed with a view towards addressing these problems.

New Task Force report fails to offer solutions for troubled, fractious force.

Since the Supreme Court had made it pretty clear that public sector employers have a constitutional duty to recognize and bargain in good faith with independent associations of their employees, one might have expected this new regime, with the blessing of the federal government, to respect the Mounties' desire to negotiate. Maybe not. The answer was no.

This episode is the most recent in a long and troubled history that goes back to the post-World War I era. Workers from many walks of life were organizing and demanding negotiations about their conditions of work, police among them. In 1919 a police strike in Boston led to riots and looting.

That incident confirmed the fears of Canadian legislators. Worried that police strikes would lead to chaos and anarchy, the federal Cabinet had produced, in 1918, an Order-in-Council forbidding any Mounties from becoming "a member of or in any wise associated with any Trades Union Organization". Contravention of the regulation was "cause for instant dismissal."

While these events were occurring in North America, on the international stage the rights of labour more generally were being acknowledged. In 1919 the International Labour Organization came into existence and quickly established the international standard that the rights to organize, bargain collectively and strike were fundamental to democratic society.

However, even the ILO recognized that some work is so essential that its absence would cause undue hardship to innocent bystanders and so, representatives of labour, business and governments agreed that, for workers in critical jobs, arbitration could be substituted for the strike-right. There was only one exception to the general rule. Police and the military could be forbidden by their governments to organize altogether.

Some governments exercised that option but, more commonly, sober reflection calmed alarmism and police were eventually permitted to unionize and to bargain like other workers. As the Boston strike faded in memory, Canadian police formed associations that eventually won recognition by the authorities. Except for the RCMP, nearly all police forces in Canada are, today, permitted to organize and bargain collectively and have done so.

Despite these developments, the federal government continued to withhold bargaining rights from RCMP officers. However, when Mounties joined with other public sector workers agitating for recognition in the 1970s the authorities had a partial change of heart. In 1974 they approved the establishment of the so-called Div-Rep system.

Instead of an independent union, RCMP officers would be able to elect representatives to sit with management to discuss conditions. But management would have the final say. Neither the right to strike, nor the right to submit issues in dispute to binding arbitration would be available.

Many officers were willing to settle for this system (referred to disparagingly by traditional unionists as "company unionism"). Others weren't.

Some of those opposed took the issue to the Supreme Court. In 1999, the Court said that forbidding officers from forming independent associations was unconstitutional. On the other hand, RCMP management did not have to recognize or bargain with those associations or replace the Div-Rep system with genuine collective bargaining.

In the "BC Health Services" case, the current Court overturned that position by declaring that, in principle, the denial to any Canadian workers of the right to organize and bargain contravened the Charter. Employees, the Court said, have "the right to unite, to present demands to government employers collectively and to engage in discussions in an attempt to achieve workplace-related goals." The Charter also "imposes corresponding duties on government employers to agree to meet and discuss with them."

Failing to achieve recognition in the latest round, the Mounted Police Association of Ontario has filed a new court case. In deciding the issue, the courts might reason that if exclusion of police from the general principle is permitted internationally, legislators should be allowed to use their judgment. But if a balancing of the rights of workers and the public is the Court's key standard for deciding such issues, as Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin said in a recent speech that it would be, then the courts should strike down the standing policy and the law sustaining it.

Substituting arbitration for the strike-right has been highly effective in ensuring the continuous delivery of crucial services not only for police but for other public sector workers as well. Forbidding police to unionize is unnecessary overkill.

The federal government — in cooperation with RCMP top management — does not have to wait for the courts to decide the issue. It could simply do the right thing and abandon the offensive policy. But the just released report of the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP, chaired by David Brown, probably ensures that it won't do that.

The Task Force might have (should have) been able to connect the dots tying the long-term denial of bargaining rights to the oppressive culture, internal friction and inadequate training and safety provisions that afflict the force. But it didn't. With regard to labour relations, it merely recommended a minor tune-up of the Div-Rep system. Astonishingly, it managed to overlook or ignore altogether the Supreme Court decision.

Roy J Adams is a prominent Canadian author, newspaper columnist, human rights activist and academic.

He emigrated to Canada in 1973 and taught industrial relations at McMaster University until 1997. Since then he has been a newspaper columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and has written a number of articles. His most recently published book is Labour Left Out: Canada's Failure to Protect and Promote Collective Bargaining as a Human Right.


Salutin: All I want for Xmas is my Inquiry.

Well as Salutin shows Harper's elves in the media are spreading the word to Santa Johnston that Harper does not want an inquiry. So unless Johnston thinks that Harper has been naughty and Salutin's been nice, Salutin will get no inquiry for Xmas. Every right winger knows Salutin is not nice!

All I want for Christmas is my inquiry
>by Rick Salutin
December 21, 2007
I have heard the drumbeat of calls to halt the Mulroney-Schreiber inquiry before it starts. Think of Mike Duffy as CTV's little drummer boy, who receives inspiration from a higher source: Don't, they told me,

(barupabumbum) Don't hold that inquiry,

(barupabumbum) There's nothing new, you see.


Aided on air by Elf Ian Macdonald, Mulroney acolyte Bob Fife and Lloyd, who often begins a report with something like, Well, Craig, why are they still beating that dead horse?

“The case for a public inquiry has melted away,” wrote Margaret Wente. There's nothing new, said Chantal Hébert.

But here's Karlheinz Schreiber: “The story is the payback for money to help someone come to power.” Replete with details: How Franz Josef Strauss dispatched him from Germany to seed right-wingers around the world and eject fakes such as Joe Clark. And where they plotted: the Ritz! They sat around, “And everybody got something,” once Brian took power. Not just contracts but free trade and the rest. We still live with the results. This isn't worth inquiring into? Watergate was just a piddling break-in.

They say “there is nothing to link Mr. Mulroney to the Airbus bribes.” But that may get the sequence wrong. What if Airbus wasn't what the Mulroney crew were owed something for? What if Airbus was what they owed to the Straussians who hoisted them into power? I'm just inquiring.

It's true a poll says 52 per cent of people “would rather avoid” an inquiry. But people seem to follow along with interest and draw conclusions, for example, Karlheinz is three times more credible than Brian M. Maybe they should poll on whether people would like an inquiry better if they didn't have to put up with hours more of Brian Mulroney humping the mike on the witness stand.

Think of it as an unprecedented chance for alternate education in how the world works. Most people who've worked for someone else, endured a mean teacher or suffered other abuses of power aren't shocked by the Schreiber tale. They know those at the top are often there because they had money to start with or offered loyal service to those who did. Then why bother with an inquiry? Because it's a relief to get confirmation of your sense of reality in the face of denial by the respectable sources. This kind of gap was a running theme of the Mulroney years. He marshalled massive elite and media backing for Meech Lake or Charlottetown. Then the people of the country shot him down and eventually destroyed his whole party. Maybe the inquiry should continue accumulating evidence till the authorities stop insisting there's nothing to see.

I'm no big fan of public inquiries. Sometimes the magic works, as in the O'Connor hearings into the water in Walkerton, Ont., and into the Arar debacle; and sometimes it doesn't, as in the Gomery exercise in judicial ego. But I'd at least like to see Brian Mulroney show up “with bells on,” as he promised before he turned against an inquiry, so I'll know what that phrase means.

This spellbinding exposé, with or without an inquiry, would not have happened without (a) the CBC and (b) minority government. It is inconceivable that a private network would have continued the story after the government caved in 1995 and gave $2.1-million to Brian Mulroney. I find it astounding that the CBC didn't quit. Harvey Cashore, the producer who's been on it for over a decade, says that moment was his lowest; he was subject to scorn, mockery and a personal sense of humiliation. He says he told his boss he wanted to drop the subject. His boss asked him to take the weekend to think about it. He went home in that gloomy mood, then looked at his two boys and wondered how he could live with them and himself if he abandoned a story he felt had far more in it. He returned Monday and went back to work.

Thanks for the gift, Harvey. Merry Christmas to you, your kids and everyone.

Originally published in The Globe and Mail, Rick Salutin's column appears every Friday.

Another day another McGuinty promise broken.

This should not be surprising. Next time McGuinty should campaign on this slogan.
If I am elected I promise to break at least one or more of my promises.
He could surely keep a promise like that.

McGuinty muses about cancelling health tax review
Last Updated: Thursday, December 20, 2007 | 8:44 AM ET
CBC News
Premier Dalton McGuinty has suggested he may change his mind about holding a legislative review of the Ontario government's controversial health tax — even though he promised a review when he brought in the tax in 2004.

McGuinty said the government needs the $2.7 billion the tax brings in this year, so a review would be pointless and redundant.

Last week, the government filed a motion to set up the review committee when legislators return to Queen's Park in the spring.

But on Wednesday, McGuinty questioned the need for a review, given that the health tax is going to stay.

McGuinty said the need is "a technical one."

When asked if he considered the need for a review redundant, he had a succinct answer. "Yes."

The premier acknowledges there is a legal requirement for a review, but said that could be eliminated by changing the law.

It was the introduction of the health tax in 2004 that prompted the opposition to claim that McGuinty had broken his election promise not to raise taxes.

Conservative Leader John Tory said unilaterally deciding not to review the tax would amount to another broken promise.

"The painkiller that was offered [to voters] on the day the massive 'broken promise tax' was brought in was the review," said Tory.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Harper: Public has tuned out Schreiber affair

Well now David Johnston can write his report given that he knows what he is supposed to recommend. We also know that if the economy slows down Harper will just blame it on his overly aggressive emission controls. Of course he hopes this will force him ,due to overwhelming public pressure, to be easier on polluters or so he hopes.
On the issue of a public inquiry Harper is acting like a Liberal. He sniffs the public mood and then acts on the basis of that.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Public has tuned out Schreiber affair: Harper
Harper will still defer to independent investigator on need for inquiry

Don Martin, National Post
Published: Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ashley Fraser/CanWest News Service
OTTAWA -- Stephen Harper has personal reservations about the need for a public inquiry into allegations against former prime minister Brian Mulroney, a controversy he says has been tuned out by the public yet risks becoming a distraction to Parliament.

But the Prime Minister reluctantly pledged to unleash a full probe into Mr. Mulroney's private business deals if that's the recommendation of independent investigator David Johnston.

And far from hurting the Conservatives, Mr. Harper insists the sordid cash-for-contacts allegation leveled against Mr. Mulroney by former lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber may actually be helping his government.

"On many levels I don't like the whole thing," the Prime Minister said in an interview with National Post. "But that said, I don't think it's hurt the government. I think the opposite. By focussing on a scandal of so long ago, the Official Opposition has actually underscored the fact they have no scandal to talk about today."

Recent polls back up Mr. Harper's contention that Canadians profess little interest in the Mulroney/Schreiber saga, but also show the orgy of name-calling is nonetheless undermining Conservative support. A recent poll by Harris-Decima shows the government's popularity falling six points this month to slip two points behind the Liberals, with 32% of voter support.

Mr. Harper appointed Mr. Johnston last month to recommend terms for an inquiry into claims the retired prime minister was paid $300,000 in three cash installments to promote a military project in Nova Scotia his cabinet had already killed while in office.

Mr. Schreiber alleges a verbal arrangement was struck while Mr. Mulroney was still prime minister and hinted at a link between Mr. Mulroney and payments related to Air Canada's purchase of Airbus aircraft in 1988.

A parliamentary committee has already heard testimony from Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney and will reconvene in the late January to interview an expanded witness list. Mr. Mulroney acknowledges accepting cash from Mr. Schreiber but vigorously denies all the related allegations.

Mr. Johnston is due to report back by Jan. 11, which could include a suggestion the government back away from a full inquiry in lieu of a less expansive examination of the facts.

"I anticipate he'll come back and give me his overall best judgment on how he thinks the government should proceed - and the government is almost inevitably going to take that advice," Mr. Harper says.

While he hinted at a perference for alternatives to the inquiry, "it's difficult if not impossible for me at that point to set myself up as the person who could adjudicate on this matter. I don't think the public thinks I can and I don't feel comfortable doing it myself."

Mr. Harper vows the investigation won't interfere with his agenda for 2008.

"I can tell you that as kind of fascinating as a little drama this thing is . . . we have been amazed about little the public cares about this," he said.

"More importantly from our standpoint, I'm going to govern in the 21st Century. This stuff is so old, 15-20 years old, that however we end up dealing with it, the government itself is not going to get sidetracked. This is not what people care about by any means or even remotely in the government of Canada in 2007."

On public policy, Mr. Harper has a sobering message for Canadians, warning that Canada's long bout of economic prosperity may be heading for a U.S. hangover.

The Prime Minister warned Canadians to brace for a "challenging year" ahead as a global economic slowdown looms and the federal government's climate-change rules kick in.

"The Canadian economy's fundamentals are very strong. That said, we are an open-trading economy in a world where there is increasing economic uncertainty, in the United States economy in particular, but [also] some other parts of the globe. We are not immune to that."

Canadians could also feel the pinch from federal regulations forcing industry to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions, he warned in a separate interview with CanWest News.

"The reason no government has done this before - federal, provincial or municipal - is there is no way to do this without imposing costs on our economy in the short term. That's why all previous governments have talked a great game and shied away from it."

Ironically, Mr. Harper feels his environmental protection rules may soon be rated too stringent by a rebellious private sector. "I think the talk will start to turn to where we're maybe doing too much, but it has to be done, and that's the path we're on."

In a year in which he dared the opposition to "fish or cut bait" and support his government or force an election, the Prime Minister says he's experiencing a serious bout of déja vu as opposition parties once again talk of triggering a non-confidence vote.

"This idea that every couple of months you pop your head out of a hole, look around and declare that two weeks from now you're going to bring the government down and then, three weeks later, say 'I don't think I ever said that and I meant three more months from now we're going to bring your government down'. I don't know how you do this over and over again," he said, shaking his head.

The Prime Minister insists he sees no need to induce an election ahead of his fixed date in October 2009 to improve his current minority government mandate.

"This is the remarkable disconnect. We have a Parliament that appears from day to day in question period [to be] almost entirely dysfunctional, but is actually getting more done than a couple of majority governments ahead of us."

National Post, with a file from Andrew Mayeda, CanWest News Service

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