Saturday, January 31, 2009

Opposition Demand List of Crown Assets for Sale.

Not much attention has been paid to the budget call for Crown assets sale. The whole idea of selling anything one is not forced to at this time makes little sense. It is a buyer's market and prices are depressed. The sale has nothing to do with fixing the economic mess we are in and everything to do with Conservative ideology. I suppose that Harper had to keep some items in that will mollify his core supporters when he is doing so much that contradicts basic conservative ideology.
The opposition is right to bring attention to this issue. It is a leftover from the original economic update. I wonder if Ignatieff will bother to say anything.
I imagine that Iran will be one of the high bidders for AECL or perhaps it will be outbid by Israel!

January 31, 2009
Opposition demand list of Crown assets for sale
Opposition MPs are worried a Conservative plan to sell off government assets threatens Crown corporations like the CBC and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
NDP MP Paul Dewar has joined some Liberals in calling for a list of assets to be made public so Canadians can see what the government is selling.
"In the budget documents, they talk about selling off assets where there's competition with the private sector," said Dewar. "We want a guarantee that they're not going to be selling off AECL."
The budget contains a plan to review government assets and determine if they still provide value to the taxpayer or can be sold. Assets that might be sold include those which compete with the private sector -- which the CBC does.
This year, the government will review assets in the following departments: Finance, Indian and Northern Affairs, Natural Resources, and Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
AECL is a Natural Resources Canada asset. Dewar is concerned the government will try to sell AECL to divest itself of direct responsibility for the NRU reactor at Chalk River.
The government has said it will earn $2.3 billion in asset sales this year, but has so far refused to say which assets might be for sale. Over the next five years, the government predicts it could earn up to $10.1 billion from such sales.
"In principle, you are not supposed to put revenue in your budget until you have actually sold it and you have the money in your hands," said Liberal finance critic John McCallum. "It's irresponsible."
The government defended accounting for money it has yet to earn.
"It's not unusual for governments to record savings from planned asset sales before the results of those reviews are finalized," said Chisholm Pothier, the minister of finance's press secretary.

Afghan war costs 1,500 for each Canadian household by 2011

No doubt this will be a great stimulus to the military-industrial complex! Imagine if the war were scrapped every household would be ahead 1500, better than a Tory tax cut! No one ever talks in those terms though.

This is from CBC.

Funding the war in Afghanistan could cost a total of $18.1 billion, or $1,500 per Canadian household, by 2011, according to the Fiscal Impact of the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan tabled by parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page in October, 2008.

IMF counters Canadian budget rosy outlook.

This is from the Star.

Many forecasts lately have failed to take adequate account of negative factors. The Flaherty predictions are not actually out of line with others. In fact the Royal Bank gives an even rosier picture than Flaherty. However Flaherty was predicting no deficit at all back in Sept. of 2008.

IMF counters budget's rosy outlook - Business - IMF counters budget's rosy outlook
World body revises forecast for Canada downward, sees a less dynamic recovery than Ottawa predicted
January 29, 2009 Ann PerryBusiness Reporter
The International Monetary Fund expects the global economy to come "to a virtual halt" this year, and says Canada's economic recovery will be far less vigorous than the federal government and the country's central bank are predicting.
The world body yesterday revised its outlook for Canada sharply downward, forecasting the country's economy will grow by a sluggish 1.6 per cent in 2010, after contracting by 1.2 per cent this year.
That view contrasts markedly with the much more energetic rebound Finance Minister Jim Flaherty predicted a day earlier in a big-spending budget aimed at cushioning the blow of the recession.
Relying on average private-sector forecasts, the government expects real gross domestic product will grow by 2.4 per cent in 2010, after shrinking by 0.8 per cent this year.
But it admitted that risks to its outlook "remain tilted to the downside" and adopted a more pessimistic view of nominal GDP, or growth unadjusted for inflation, than the private sector.
Even that relatively rosy prediction pales in comparison to the Bank of Canada's latest projections for real GDP growth of 3.8 per cent next year, following a 1.2 per cent contraction this year.
Mary Webb, a senior economist at Scotia Economics, said the IMF's outlook is in line with her bank's forecast for 1.6 per cent real growth in 2010.
"Our concern is that you still have a financial system and households deleveraging in the U.S., you have a synchronized global downturn that you don't easily emerge from quickly, and this really wasn't a downturn made in Canada," Webb said.
"We do have a lot of stimulus coming into play, and I think it will help us get out of this downturn. Really the question then becomes the degree," she added.
The IMF offered a decidedly gloomy outlook for the global economy.
It is now forecasting global growth to fall to 0.5 per cent in 2009, the lowest rate since World War II and a downward revision of 1.7 percentage points from its outlook late last year.
That will be followed by 3 per cent growth in 2010.
But it warned that uncertainty surrounding its outlook is "unusually large," and that "downside risks continue to dominate, as the scale and scope of the current financial crisis have taken the global economy into uncharted waters."
The IMF expects growth in "advanced economies," a group that includes the United States, Canada, the euro area, Japan and the United Kingdom, to contract by 2 per cent this year, followed by 1.1 per cent growth in 2010.
Emerging and developing economies will see growth slow to 3.3 per cent this year, dropping sharply from 6.3 per cent in 2008.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve left its key policy rate at virtually zero yesterday, and said it expects it to stay at "exceptionally low levels ... for some time."
Noting that the economy "has weakened further," the central bank said it will "employ all available tools" to restart the U.S. economy.
It also said it is prepared to purchase longer-term Treasury securities if circumstances warrant, an unconventional tool that could help push down mortgage rates.

Ignatieff's first test.

This is Iggie's second test. His first test he flunked when he supported the budget. He pulled a modified Dion dodge by an amendment that would have the Tories issue periodic reports, an amendment he probably cleared with the Tories before suggesting it since they will support it.
It will be interesting to see what Ignatieff does in this case. Harper would simply turf the renegades out of the party. However, Ignatieff may be reluctant to lose his already small number of MPs and cause further dissension in the party as well. Not everyone is happy about his Dion II strategy.

Ignatieff's first test
January 31, 2009
Michael Ignatieff faces his first big test as Liberal Leader as at least two of his six Newfoundland and Labrador MPs are poised to break ranks and vote against the Harper budget unless millions of dollars are restored to the province. Judy Foote and Scott Andrews, have said publicly they cannot support the budget the way it is.
Mr. Ignatieff said this week his Liberals would support the Harper budget. But Mr. Andrews said he is prepared to face the consequences of voting against his party if it means standing up for his province.
"Either I'm going to get a good telling-off or I'm going to get the boot," the newly-elected Avalon MP told The Globe and Mail yesterday.
Mr. Andrews said Newfoundland is "getting the royal shaft" in the budget, which would take away $1.5-billion from the 1985 Atlantic Accord. He said he has spoken to Mr. Ignatieff about this and believes that the leader is "genuinely concerned."

Mr. Andrews has also spoken to Premier Danny Williams, who is asking Liberal MPs to vote against the budget. Mr. Andrews said that Mr. Ignatieff has been in conversations with Mr. Williams (just who is running the Liberal Newfoundland caucus?).
It was Mr. Williams's ABC (Anything But Conservatives) campaign in the last election that led to the Harper Tories being wiped out in the province.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Liberals help defeat Bloc budget amendment.

This is from the Calgary Herald.

The Bloc amendment contains precisely some of the items that the Liberals complained was not in the budget and also it deals with the complaints of Newfoundland and Quebec about equalisation. No matter when it comes to propping up the Tories the Liberals will throw principle out the window. Of course this assumes they had any to begin with which is open to question.

Friday » January 30 » 2009

Grits help budget clear first hurdle
Amendment by Bloc quashed

Meagan Fitzpatrick
Canwest News Service
Friday, January 30, 2009
CREDIT: Chris Wattie, Reuters
Jack Layton's new Democratic party has launched attack ads against the Liberals after they agreed to support the budget.
The federal budget passed its first test in the House of Commons Thursday evening when a sub-amendment proposed by the Bloc Quebecois failed to win enough support.
The Liberals sided with the Conservatives and defeated the amendment 214 to 85. The New Democratic Party voted for the amendment, which included calls to enhance the employment insurance system, abandon tax cuts "for the well off," retreat on the idea of a national securities commission, and maintain the old equalization program.
It was the first vote to take place on the budget that was unveiled Tuesday. The Liberals on Wednesday said they would support it if the Conservatives agreed to an amendment that would require the government to give "accountability" reports to Parliament on the economic stimulus measures contained in the budget.
The Tories agreed to support the Liberal amendment when it comes to a vote on Monday. The mutual support between the parties guarantees the survival of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority government.
The Liberals' decision to support the budget prompted Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe to declare the opposition coalition deal signed in December "dead" and NDP Leader Jack Layton to accuse Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff of forming a new coalition with the Conservatives.
The NDP continued its line of attack on Thursday in two radio advertisements that take aim squarely at Ignatieff and slam him for agreeing to support the government. Layton is now attempting to portray Ignatieff, briefly his political ally, as a weak leader.
In one of two radio spots that can be heard on the NDP's website, a woman's voice says Canadians were counting on Ignatieff to "take a stand.
"Instead, he's propping up Stephen Harper. Michael Ignatieff failed his first test as Liberal leader. Jack Layton is the only leader strong enough to stand up to Harper and get us through this economic crisis," the voice says.
The second spot uses similar language.
Liberal MP Bob Rae dismissed the advertisements as "irrelevant" and said the NDP is"wasting their money."
"I think it'll have about as much impact as last year's snow," he told reporters.
© The Calgary Herald 2009

NDP takes Sask Party govt. to task as it offers help.

This is from the Leader Post.
Although Premier Wall has been a loyal supporter of Harper, Saskatchewan seems to have received little in the federal budget. If the Sask. Party is to avoid losing political capital it will no doubt have to change its stance with respect to the federal Tories. Harper has helped out areas where he wants to make political gains. In areas where he is safe or where he has been rebuffed such as Quebec and Newfoundland he offers little or reduces spending. This policy is part and parcel of Harper's principles!

NDP takes Sask. Party government to task as it offers help

By James Wood , Saskatchewan News NetworkJanuary 29, 2009

REGINA -- The Opposition NDP is offering a helping hand — as well as the back of its hand — to Premier Brad Wall as he presses the federal Conservative government for more money.
NDP finance critic Harry Van Mulligen offered Thursday to join Premier Brad Wall and Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer in meeting with Saskatchewan’s 13 Tory MPs.
A day earlier, Wall had graded the big-spending budget a D for its five years of deficits, bottlenecks for infrastructure spending and neglect of the livestock sector and said he wanted to meet with the MPs.
While the NDP news release takes several swipes at Wall — deriding him as “out of touch” and saying he had supported the Conservatives “at every turn” — Van Mulligen said his offer is serious.
“There’s a tradition here that when we see a lack of attention on the part of the federal government — whether it’s in areas of agriculture, equalization or now, funding for infrastructure projects — that the Opposition proposes to the government in a constructive way that we present a united voice to the federal government,” he said in an interview.
Gantefoer said it was too early in the process to bring in the Opposition.
“I appreciate the gesture from Mr. Van Mulligen but I think we’ll soldier on and do the very best we can and we’re quite capable of dealing with the federal government,” he said in an interview.
Gantefoer said no meeting with MPs has yet been scheduled but he expects one to take place, as well as discussions between provincial cabinet ministers and their federal counterparts.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, the MP for Battlefords-Lloydminister, said Wednesday he would be happy to sit down with Wall and “walk him through” the budget to show him that Saskatchewan was well-served.
“I’m pleased to see Mr. Ritz is so confident that we would be very supportive if we got walked through the budget line by line. I’m willing to be overwhelmed but I’m a bit skeptical,” responded Gantefoer.
Perhaps the most notable “united front” of recent years was formed in 2005 when then-NDP Premier Lorne Calvert was joined by the Saskatchewan Party Opposition and the province’s Tory MPs, then in Opposition federally, in pushing the federal Liberal government for a new equalization deal for the province.
The makeshift alliance quickly fell apart under the weight of bickering among the strange political bedfellows. And the equalization deal sought was not achieved under either the Liberals or the Conservative government that took office in 2006.
The provincial NDP ended up in a bitter fight with the Tories over equalization while Wall has been viewed as one of Harper’s closest provincial allies with his policy of “give peace a chance.”
Van Mulligen acknowledged that the popular front on equalization was not a great success but said there were better results from working together on areas such as BSE and agriculture support.
Calvert, now Opposition leader, would take part in the meetings with the MPs as well if the government wished, said Van Mulligen.
© Copyright (c) The Regina

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Australian economist is new head of Alberta health superboard.

After the CBC article there is another from the CP.

Duckett has a great deal of experience and has written extensively about health care and health care reform. Although he is not an avid privatiser as these articles point out, nevertheless he does see a role for private clinics. Although Duckett is very much for public funding of medical services he could very well support more private delivery---always in the name of efficiency of course. His salary seems to be ample enough to have lured him away from Australia! Half a million a year is not too stingy I should think but then I suppose if he worked in a private corporation with a similar budget he might earn more!

Australian economist is new head of Alberta health 'superboard'
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 2:53 PM ET
CBC News
Stephen Duckett will be the president and CEO of Alberta Health Services starting March 23. (CBC)
A senior Australian health official has been appointed the new president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, the province announced Wednesday.
Stephen Duckett is currently chief executive of the Centre for Healthcare Improvement for Queensland Health in Brisbane, Australia, where there's a large mix of publicly and privately delivered services in the health-care system.
Duckett, an economist, was quick to say Wednesday that doesn't mean he will be making radical changes to Alberta health care.
A system that works
"We've got a good system. We've got a system that works across the whole province," he said at a news conference in Edmonton.
"I'm not coming in with this huge privatization agenda. The board didn't say, 'Look, you know, that's your job.' ...
"The only discussions I've had ... are about better service delivery, more efficient service delivery, better quality of care, better access, you know, the things that I think Albertans want."
Duckett won the job from among more than 140 applicants worldwide. He starts with Alberta Health Services on March 23.
Duckett takes over from interim chief executive Charlotte Robb, who had helmed the so-called health superboard on a temporary basis since it was created last year.
Alberta Health Services was created last spring when the province decided to disband the nine regional health authorities.
The board also incorporated the Alberta Cancer Board, the Mental Health Board and the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission (AADAC).
Duckett will be paid a base salary of $575,000 with a bonus of up to 25 per cent for performance, based on "objective and quantifiable results," a government news release said.
Duckett said his reasons for wanting to move to Edmonton were both professional and personal.
His family was looking to move after three years in Brisbane, and his wife has a sister who lives in Edmonton, he said.


Aussie chosen to run Alberta health care wants to create a model for all Canada
13 hours ago
EDMONTON — Alberta has gone half way around the world to Australia to find a new senior executive to help reshape health care in the province.
Dr. Stephen Duckett is already talking about how he hopes to create a health-care model that will inspire other provinces looking to control rapid growth in spending.
Duckett, who takes over in March as CEO of Alberta's new health superboard, is also laying to rest any fears that he'll broaden private health-care delivery.
"Public funding of health services is a core principle of medicare and as far as I'm concerned is not on the agenda," he told a news conference Wednesday.
Groups including Friends of Medicare were skeptical when they heard that the new CEO was recruited from Australia, where roughly 40 per cent of hospital admissions are to private facilities.
However, Duckett is on the record as opposing a move to more private health care in Canada.
In a 2005 article he wrote for the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Duckett spoke against Canada adopting the hybrid system in Australia, where a state-run public health-care system operates in tandem with private medicine.
"The dual system has deleterious implications for the equity and efficiency of the health-care system," he wrote. "Similar ill effects would occur if Canada were to follow the Australian path of health-care organization."
Duckett noted in his article that with surgeons often working in both the public and private system, patients end up waiting longer for procedures in public hospitals.
"I'm not coming into this job saying I'm going to privatize everything in sight,"' he said. "What I am on about is making sure the services are efficient and provide the best deal for the people of Alberta."
David Eggen of Friends of Medicare says he's surprised that the province would bring in a "hired gun" from outside of Canada.
"The Australian health system is a mess, quite frankly," Eggen said in an interview. "The mixing of private and public delivery hasn't worked there very well at all."
Alberta is facing serious problems with long waiting times for surgery, a shortage of family doctors and other health professionals, Eggen added.
"They've thrown lots of money at the public system, but it's been inefficiently utilized," he said.
All provinces are struggling to control health-care costs, but the situation in Alberta has become critical in recent months with the health super board declaring a $1.3 billion deficit.
Health Minister Ron Liepert recently released a strategy aimed at curbing operating costs by changing the role of under-utilized rural hospitals to take pressure off hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary.
The strategy will also see a larger portion of drug costs paid by patients and a reshaping of long-term care with an emphasis on keeping seniors in their homes longer.
NDP health critic Rachel Notley says Liepert should be more specific about his next round of reforms.
"This piecemeal, cloak-and-dagger approach that they're taking right now is simply not good enough," she said.
Duckett says it's too early to talk specifically about what changes he might consider for Alberta's $13 billion a year health system.
But he spoke at length about what has worked in his homeland, where he's currently the chief executive for the Queensland Centre of Healthcare Improvement.
Scheduling surgeries on weekends and having incentives for hospitals to reduce waiting times has worked well in Australia, and so has using private clinics, said Duckett.
"We actually starting doing some contracting with the private sector in somewhat similar ways to what I think you're doing already in Calgary," he said. "To do some of this elective surgery, to get some of these long-wait people off the waiting list."
Ken Hughes, chairman of the super board, says Duckett was chosen from dozens of applicants from a short list that included people from New Zealand, Europe and the U.S. But he says the Aussie impressed him as the best choice.
"The Australian health-care system was originally modeled on the Canadian system," said Hughes. "And I think people will look at his experience as having tremendous application in Alberta and in Canada."

Williams decries attempt to shaft Newfoundland

Harper managed to slip in some real poison pills to shaft those who gave him a hard time. Newfoundland and Labrador's Danny Williams is one but Quebec is also angry at the changes to equalization in the budget as well. Harper is going to try to get extra seats and support in Ontario rather than bother much with Quebec it would seem. He has already written off Newfoundland and Labrador it would seem.

Williams decries attempt to ‘shaft' Newfoundland
Globe and Mail Update
January 28, 2009 at 4:25 PM EST
The federal budget is a deliberate attempt to “shaft” Newfoundland and Labrador, Premier Danny Williams said Wednesday as he called for the Liberals to insist on an amendment protecting the province.
His government says that equalization changes in the budget would cost his province approximately $1.5-billion over the next three years, undermining their short-term financial picture.
“We've had a very hard hit, when you do this on a per-capita basis this is huge,” Mr. Williams said Wednesday.
“It's a sizable hit and, you know, that's a hit that we can't afford to take and didn't expect to take and our projections for the next three years were certainly not based on taking that kind of hit.”
Newfoundland and Labrador has recently become a so-called “have” province, meaning it does not receive equalization. But changes to the equalization formula still affect the payments it receives under the 1985 Atlantic Accord, which sets the rules by which revenues from the province's offshore energy industry are split with Ottawa.
The province expected to receive $2.7-billion in such payments over the next three years. In fact, Mr. Williams said, they had accepted $65-million less last year to set themselves up for richer payments in the future. But under the new budget they expect to receive less than half the amount they had anticipated over the next three years.
The Premier, who has a famously combative relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, had Tuesday evening urged Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to vote against the budget and assume power at the helm of the Liberal-NDP coalition.
“You can tell all along that this was a strategy,” he told a press conference Wednesday. “[The Tories] basically took the regulations, from the look of it, and said ‘how can we get the maximum shaft on Newfoundland and Labrador.' That's exactly what they did.”
Mr. Williams called the press conference within hours of Mr. Ignatieff indicating he would accept the budget, with conditions. The Premier said he took “comfort” in comments from the Liberal Leader about the budget's effect on the provinces but asked for further changes.
“If the budget is not amended or is amended in a manner that does not bring Newfoundland and Labrador back to the position it was in before this budget then I would be asking the Newfoundland and Labradorian MPs to vote solidly against it,” he said. “And I don't doubt for one minute that they would, I think that's basically why they were elected.”
There are no Conservative MPs in Newfoundland and Labrador for residents to lobby since Mr. Williams was successful in his drive last election to shut out the Tories in the province.
Mr. Williams said Wednesday that while the budget move appeared to be the result of malice toward the province on the part of the federal Tories, he had no regrets about the stand he had taken.
“You can never take principle too far. I would never regret that move,” he said. “But of course once that battle was fought and that war was won it was over. And we then attempted to move on and I showed lots of signs of doing that.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tories support Grit budget amendment

So after relating all the faults in the budget Ignatieff has required only that the Conservatives give regular reports on how this faulty budget is being implemented. I just wonder if Ignatieff did not clear the amendment with Harper before moving it. This is the new Liberal Party. Instead of sitting on their hands as in the Dion era they are now in a de facto coalition with them as Layton points out. This is the Great Liberal Leap Forward.

Tories support Grit budget amendment
By Juliet O'Neill and Andrew Mayeda, Canwest News ServiceJanuary 28, 2009 7:01 PM

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government promptly endorsed Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's sole condition for supporting the budget.
Photograph by: Chris Wattie, Reuters
OTTAWA — The federal government's survival was guaranteed for as long as a year Wednesday by Liberal support for the budget, in exchange for three "accountability" reports to Parliament as measures to stimulate the economy are rolled out.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government promptly endorsed Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's sole condition for supporting the budget.
"It does nothing that we don't normally do, which is report back to Parliament upon the progress that we intend to make in addressing the economic situation that faces our nation," Government House Leader Jay Hill told reporters.
By contrast, Ignatieff's move provoked outrage from New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who wanted the Liberals to defeat the government over the budget as early as next week. Layton accused Ignatieff of "propping up" Harper, and Duceppe declared the opposition coalition formed early last month "dead."
The Liberal amendment, set for a vote in the House of Commons on Monday, would require government reports to Parliament on the budget implementation and its impact on Canadians in late March and June and early December.
Layton and Duceppe's strong reaction put Ignatieff on the defensive in the House of Commons, where he denied during budget debate there is any Liberal alliance with the minority Conservative government, and vowed to hold Harper "on a very tight leash."
Ignatieff portrayed his amendment as a method of putting the government on probation, but made clear he has no taste for defeating Harper soon, a step that would trigger an election or a coalition government. "Canadians don't want another election and they're tired of political games," he said when announcing the proposal.
The reports require details of fairly general themes, such as protecting the vulnerable, minimizing job losses, creating jobs, and stimulating the economy in "a manner fair to all regions of Canada." They also seek "an assurance" that the deficit is not a burden to future generations.
The Liberal amendment to the budget is certain to be passed when it comes to a vote Monday in the 308-seat House of Commons. The Conservatives have 143 seats, the Liberals 77, the Bloc Quebecois 49, the NDP 37, and there are two Independents.
If the Liberals aren't satisfied with the government's progress reports, they reserve the right to defeat the government, Ignatieff vowed.
"We are putting this government on probation," he said. "We will be watching them like hawks to make sure the investments Canadians need actually reach them."
Layton immediately slammed Ignatieff, saying the Liberals no longer had the right to claim to be the government-in-waiting.
"We have a new coalition now on Parliament Hill. It's a coalition between Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff," Layton told reporters.
Duceppe said when the Liberals shared their budget-amendment proposal with him, he declared, "The coalition is dead, it's finished, it's over."
Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams accused the Harper government for the second straight day of shortchanging his province under the new equalization formula confirmed in the budget.
"You can tell all along that this was a strategy," said Williams. "They basically took the regulations . . . and said, 'How can we give the maximum shaft (to) Newfoundland and Labrador?' "
Newfoundland officials have calculated that the new formula will cost the province roughly $1.5 billion in federal transfers over the next three years. But a senior Harper adviser noted the provinces have known about the new formula since November, when the federal government announced that the growth of equalization payments would be capped.
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

Ignatieff Mum on Budget but not for long!

Perhaps Ignatieff may try to get a few changes in the budget but he better clear them with Harper first! There is no reason to be embarassed by failing to get changes and also voting to pass the budget because unless I am mistaken that is what he will do, not vote against the budget. Ignatieff can probably pass on this chance to defeat the Conservatives as long as he doesn't make it a habit as with Dion!

Ignatieff mum on budget; verdict due at 11 a.m. ET
Liberal chief could support plan, demand changes or bring down government
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 7:38 AM ET CBC News
Opposition Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was keeping his own counsel early Wednesday as Ottawa awaited his 11 a.m. ET verdict on the federal budget and, by extension, the fate of the Conservative government and the shape of Canada's response to a worldwide economic slump.
Watch the announcement and reaction live on and CBC Newsworld starting at 11 a.m. ET.
With the NDP and the Bloc Québécois set to vote against the government, Ignatieff and his Liberals will decide whether the budget passes — possibly with Liberal amendments — or the country heads toward a Liberal-NDP coalition or an election. Not tipping his hand, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff reacts equivocally to Tuesday's budget in the foyer of the House of Commons. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The CBC's Margo McDiarmid, reporting from Ottawa, said it all comes down to Ignatieff, who declared after the budget was tabled Tuesday that he wanted to read it and sleep on it.
"But I have to tell you that the Liberals did have a caucus meeting last night," she said, "and some of them said, 'Well, you know, this is not a slam dunk. We're not going to necessarily, automatically support this budget.'"
For his part, Ignatieff kept things vague, telling CBC News there were things he liked about the budget and things he didn't.
"My concerns about the budget are: Have they underestimated the seriousness of the crisis? That affects all the numbers. If they make that judgment wrong, pretty well everything goes south, including the deficit projections," he said.
"Secondly, have they done enough for the unemployed? We’re very preoccupied and worried that unemployment is going to rise sharply. [Are] the EI [employment insurance] changes sufficient to deal with that crisis?
'Infrastructure is key to stimulus. Are they going to get the money out the door?'—Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff
"And the other issue, obviously, is the infrastructure side. Infrastructure is key to stimulus. Are they going to get the money out the door?"
A senior Liberal told the Canadian Press it's unlikely Ignatieff will support the budget without changes and will likely be looking for more concessions from the Conservative government. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has not yet commented on whether he's willing to change elements of the budget.
Flaherty's budget promises billions of dollars in new spending — ranging from money for infrastructure projects to aid for worker training and cash for more EI benefits — to help the country ride out the economic downturn. His financial plan predicts years of big deficits.
Ready to listen, Flaherty says
Interviewed Wednesday morning at a doughnut shop in his hometown of Whitby, Ont., Flaherty said he was in the dark about what budget changes, if any, the Liberals might demand.
"If there are useful suggestions from opposition parties, of course we will look at them," he told CBC News. "That's normal in a time of serious economic recession."
But he also said, "I certainly would not look at changing the focus of the document. We care about people; we're doing the EI amendments; we're going to retrain people; we're going to invest in infrastructure; we're going to take care of the important sectors of our economy that need taking care of; and we're going to protect access to financing. None of that's going to change."
The NDP and Bloc Québécois said Tuesday they would not support the budget.
"It's very clear it doesn't help the most vulnerable. It's going to leave a lot of people behind, especially those unemployed," NDP Leader Jack Layton said.
Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe criticized the budget for not including enough for pay equity, the environment, seniors, social housing or lower-income families. "Obviously, we will not support that budget," he told reporters.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A few thoughts on the budget.

One might call this a conservative leftish budget. Leftish that is in terms of Harper's basic ideological leanings. There is a fair amount of govt. spending even on items such as social housing, and also a considerable expenditure on infrastructure. Many right wingers will be disappointed in Harper and will cry out about the deficits and consider the bailout expenditures too large.
Critics however point out that the stimulus package is really not all that large and probably not enough to help the economy out of the depression to any great extent. However, there is enough in the budget that Ignatieff can agree with that there will be no non-confidence vote passed I would predict, even with some degree of certainty in these uncertain times. Ignatieff may groan and go through a few motions of dissent and criticism but what he will not do is to vote with the Blog and NDP to defeat the budget.
Some critics such as James Laxer on his blog call for Ignatieff to vote against the budget on the grounds it is too little and not focused enough on the best stimulus measures. However, Ignatieff would rather wait and build up the Liberal party. As things get worse for the economy they may get worse for Harper as well.

Oil Sands Group's Forecast too rosy.

This is from the Financial Post.

It remains to be seen how much longer oil prices will remain low. Of course for many of the oil sands producers oil must be far above present levels to be economic so the prospect for lower production and investment seems likely in the shorter run at least. In the longer run there is just not that much new oil available and supplies are going to not match demand once demand begins to increase. We could even seen another price bubble during the turnaround.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Oil sands group's forecast is too rosy
But investing in sector should pay in the long run
Wilf Gobert, Financial Post Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Economic activity is slowing dramatically around the world. Analysts are rerunning financial models more frequently and every iteration produces a weaker result. These conditions are especially true for energy analysts, given the dramatic weakness in crude oil and natural gas prices. As oil sands investments are said to be the economic engine of Alberta, if not of Canada, then related recent news is shocking to investors and governments.
Highlighting the rapidly changing outlook for energy investment generally -- and oil sands in particular -- is the contrast in January reports from two oil sands entities.
The Oil Sands Developers Group (OSDG) is a non-profit, industry-funded association of oil sands project owners based in Fort McMurray. In a presentation delivered on Jan. 14, OSDG had graphs of updated forecasts as of December, 2008 vs. January, 2008, of oil sands production and expenditures for the three-year period 2008 through 2010.
The forecast of bitumen production (low gravity crude oil) for the period is little changed from the forecast from one year ago. This is surprising given capital spending forecasts by major oil companies.
However, part of the reason is that most oil sands production is from surface mining operations like Suncor's and so is near-term growth, which comes primarily from Canadian Natural Resources' newly producing Horizon project and capacity expansion of a Suncor upgrader.
Over the longer term, growth in oil sands production will yield to in-situ production, which pumps the bitumen from zones too deep for surface mining. In-situ oil sands represent 80% of Alberta's total resource.
Their forecast calls for production to grow from 1.5 million barrels per day in 2008, to 2.0 million barrels per day in 2010. These forecasts will certainly need to be revised downward. Keep in mind that processing of bitumen into light crude oil results in approximately a 15% reduction in volume.
Following from OSDG's production forecast, operating expenditures are projected to grow by a similar magnitude as production, from $14-billion in 2008 to $18-billion in 2010. Again, this is a forecast that must shrink under future revisions but maybe not dramatically given surface mining activity.
Where the OSDG's crystal ball breaks down is its forecast of capital expenditures for oil sands. They project a modest decline in 2009 to $12-billion from $14-billion in 2008, and then growth in 2010 to over
$15-billion. While the latter amount is a huge decline from the earlier forecast of $32-billion in 2010, the forecast is still too optimistic given the magnitude of Suncor Energy's latest budget.
Last week, Suncor reported fourth-quarter results to shareholders and revised downward for the second time in three months its capital spending plan for 2009.
Last summer, with oil at a record US$147, investors were projecting Suncor's 2009 capital budget to be $9-billion. In late October, Suncor announced that due to weak oil prices, it would scale back its budget to $6.0-billion.
But last week, the promising growth outlook for oil sands activity began to implode with Suncor's further budget cut of 50% to $3.0-billion and the shocking decision to halt construction of the $20.6-billion Voyager project.
At the end of 2008, $7.0-billion had already been invested in this project. The original start-up date for Voyager was the end of 2011. We hasten to say that the reserves and future production capacity of Suncor's assets have not changed but rather the timing to commercial delivery.
Suncor is the largest oil sands producer in the industry and in many ways the role model for the oil sands industry, both in regard to surface mining and in-situ production. Its decision will reverberate throughout the oilpatch.
One shouldn't jump to the conclusion that investing in oil sands companies should be avoided. The long-term asset value remains enormously attractive for Suncor, Canadian Oil Sands, Canadian Natural, Nexen and others. But short-term forecasts by OSDG, and most importantly, the Alberta government, will need a sharp pencil and frequent revisions if decisions are to remain relevant to the oil price outlook.
-Wilf Gobert is an independent energy analyst based in Calgary and a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute.
© 2008 The National Post Company. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication strictly prohibited.

Budget could offer more than 2 billion for social housing: Report

We will know this afternoon precisely what is planned. Harper must have been listening to Layton. However Layton apparently doesn't trust Harper to do anything he promises. Given Harper's broken promises in the past that is not a position that is totally without merit! It is certainly weird that Harper is now touting expenditures that if the Liberals were in power would be regarded as unaffordable and likely to cause terrible deficits. However deficits now are apparently quite unterrifying and to be welcomed in the short term! It is Iggy that worries about deficits caused by tax cuts for the middle class!

Budget could offer more than $2B for social housing: report
Last Updated: Sunday, January 25, 2009 8:17 PM ET
CBC News
The Harper government is expected to use Tuesday's federal budget to pump more than $2 billion into social housing across the country, a move that would help seniors, the disabled and aboriginal people, according to a report.
The Toronto Star on Sunday quoted Human Resources Minister Diane Finley as saying she's confident her sales pitch to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for the measures will result in them being included in the budget.
The report said the housing package is expected to include:
$1 billion for social housing renovations.
$600 million for on-reserve accommodation for aboriginal people.
$400 million for seniors' housing.
$75 million for housing for people with disabilities.
Finley told the Star that the spinoffs, in terms of jobs for tradespeople, would be "significant," adding the government is "meeting a real need to mend a tear" in Canada's social safety net.
She said there's "a very significant need" to upgrade the quality of social housing across Canada.
On Monday, Transport Minister John Baird will hold a news conference where he's expected to discuss an infrastructure spending strategy, which one government insider told the Canadian Press will be budget-related and qualify as "good news."
Hard-hit sectors need help
Last Thursday, a senior government official briefing reporters revealed the government would run a $34-billion deficit in the coming fiscal year, and a $30-billion deficit in the following year.
Cabinet ministers announced a day later that the government would create a billion-dollar fund to help workers in hard-hit sectors such as forestry, agriculture and manufacturing.
At the same time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters there would be some permanent tax measures that would be "modest" and "affordable in the long term."
There also has been talk of strengthening the employment insurance system.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton have denounced the pre-budget publicity as a Conservative public relations ploy. The New Democrats are expected to vote against the budget, while the Liberals say they'll wait to see the document before deciding what to do.
5-year plan expected to pull out of deficit
The budget will be presented a day after the House of Commons reopens Monday with a speech from the throne. The latest session of Parliament comes after a six-week cooling off period that followed opposition threats to topple the government over its November economic update.
Political pundits say the minority Conservative government is softening the blow ahead of a deficit-creating budget, aimed at bolstering a slumping economy, by leaking stimulus details beforehand.
The budget deficit would follow a dozen years of surpluses, but the Conservatives say the red ink is temporary.
Tuesday's document is expected to outline how the government plans to pull itself out of a deficit within five years.With files from the Canadian Press

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tory cabinet reveals 6 billion worth of budget initiatives.

Government secrecy prior to tabling a budget has been replaced by government propaganda leaks to sell the budget. Some of this sounds like solid NDP policy showing that the Conservatives will do anything temporarily to stay in power. With what has been announced so far it is a safe bet that there will be no defeat of the Conservatives on the budget. The Liberals may groan and complain for a while but then will vote in favor of the budget or at least not against it.
Here we have a free market ideologue who is all for balanced budgets running a very large deficit and using the government to stimulate the economy and bail out failing industries rather than letting the creative destruction of free markets restore markets to health! Ideology is important but is trumped by the desire to retain power.

Tory cabinet reveals $6-billion worth of budget initiatives

From Monday's Globe and Mail
January 26, 2009 at 4:54 AM EST
OTTAWA — Further departing from convention on pre-budget secrecy, the Harper government announced yesterday it will offer $1.5-billion in new training funds for laid-off workers in its coming stimulus package.
The disclosure by Conservative Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, on CTV's Question Period, was the latest in a series of orchestrated advance announcements of measures contained in tomorrow's federal budget.
In recent days, members of the Tory cabinet have publicly revealed nearly $6-billion of the budget's contents, including broad spending plans and a promise of permanent tax cuts. Further advance information on the budget is expected today.
Ms. Finley said the $1.5-billion in budget cash the Tories have planned for job training as the recession deepens will assist both those eligible to collect Employment Insurance and those who don't qualify.

"A lot of people are going to be losing their jobs," she told CTV. "We want to be sure we're helping them."
Another $500-million in training funds will be aimed at what Ottawa calls "long-tenured workers" - those who have worked at the same job for a long time and have a narrow set of skills but are not close to retirement age.
On Saturday, Ms. Finley also announced more than $2-billion in budget cash to build new public housing and renovate existing units. About $1-billion would fund renovations of current public housing - a boon for building trades workers - leaving $600-million to build more on-reserve aboriginal homes; $400-million for extra seniors housing and $75-million for additional residences for the disabled.
"Construction start-ups are slowing down across the country so there's a lot of people in the construction trades that are going to be available for work," Ms. Finley said in an interview.
Separately, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signalled Saturday that the Tory budget will include permanent tax cuts for individuals and business - not just temporary reductions.
"I think that if we're talking about tax cuts, these measures in most cases have to be permanent to be effective," the Mr. Harper said in an interview with Montreal's La Presse newspaper. He said the reductions will be modest.
A government source said yesterday the Harper government's budget will also boost funding for graduate student scholarships, the Canada Health Infoway initiative to accelerate a move to electronic health records and the Council for Innovation.
The barrage of advance previews of the budget started last Thursday with a statement that the Tories will run deficits totalling $64-billion over two years. The revelation, seen as an attempt to get the bad news out of the way, also disclosed that the government expects it will take five years to climb out of deficit.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dion the Invisible Green Man.

This is from National Post Blogs.

This is the reward that Dion receives for his service to the Liberal Party: oblivion. The same fate is in the store for Dion's Green Shift. It has been replaced by the Ignatieff Tar Sands Promotion Plan.

Steve Janke: Dion absent from Ignatieff's shadow cabinet
Posted: January 23, 2009, 12:35 PM by Kelly McParland

The Liberal Party critics list is out, and I've reproduced it here:
Liberal Opposition Critics Michael Ignatieff - Intergovernmental Affairs John McCallum - Finance Bob Rae - Foreign Affairs Denis Coderre - Defence and Quebec Lieutenant David McGuinty - Environment & Energy Carolyn Bennett - Health Marc Garneau - Industry, Science & Technology Mark Holland - Public Safety & National Security Geoff Regan - Natural Resources Dominic LeBlanc - Justice and Attorney-General Scott Brison - International Trade Martha Hall Findlay - Public Works and Government Services Todd Russell - Indian Affairs Larry Bagnell - Arctic Issues & Northern Development Joe Volpe - Transport Gerard Kennedy - Infrastructure, Communities and Cities Maurizio Bevilacqua - Citizenship & Immigration Judy Sgro - Veterans Affairs, Seniors & Pensions Yasmin Ratansi - National Revenue Gerry Byrne - Fisheries & Oceans Jean-Claude D'Amours - Atlantic Gateway and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency Pablo Rodriguez - Canadian Heritage & Official Languages Maria Minna - Labour Dan McTeague - Treasury Board, Consumer Affairs and Consular Affairs Mike Savage - Human Resources & Skills Development Anita Neville - Status of Women Wayne Easter - Agriculture, Agri-food and Canadian Wheat Board Sukh Dhaliwal - Asia-Pacific Gateway & Western Economic Development Ruby Dhalla - Youth & Multiculturalism Keith Martin - Amateur Sport, Health Promotion and the Vancouver Olympics Alexandra Mendes - Economic Development Agency for Regions of Quebec Glen Pearson - International Cooperation Raymonde Folco - La Francophonie Ken Dryden - National Outreach Advisor, Working Families & Poverty Special Liason, National Fundraising
Yup, Stephane Dion is gone.
The author of the clarity act is not Intergovernmental Affairs critic. Instead, Michael Ignatieff is doing that job himself.
Pablo Rodriguez is critic for Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, which the news release states recognizes "the importance of cultural strengthening our national unity."
The Liberal Party's greenest leader who offered the Green Shift to Canadians in order to save the planet is not environmental critic. That job goes to David McGuinty of Ontario.
I'd say it was a fair chance that Stephane Dion turned down a position as critic instead of not being offered a position. But I strongly suspect that if Dion was offered a critic's post, it wasn't in intergovernmental affairs or the environment. It would have been in something completely unconnected to either, something harmless and unimportant. I would guess Transport, since it was given to Joe Volpe, who has never held a cabinet post related to transportation (though it was his critic post under Stephane Dion), suggesting that Ignatieff had no strong feelings with regards to who had this critic's post, and is using it as a generic reward of little importance.
Dion would have turned Transport down, according to my theory, quite possibly to Michael Ignatieff's relief. Immediately, that critic's post reverted back to Joe Volpe.
Maybe it was a different critic post that was offered. Or, as some no doubt suspect, Stephane Dion was not offered anything whatsoever.
There is the possibility that Dion wanted no post at all, and made that clear before Ingatieff started compiling his list, but that seems odd to me, given Dion's passion for the environment. You'd think that if he really thought Canada's 2% contribution to greenhouse gas emissions was going to roast the planet, he'd fight to keep a hand in there.
And not just because of his own feelings on the issue, but because of the alliance he built with the Green Party.
Dion's banishment (willing or otherwise) from the centre of Liberal Party power and decision-making puts the Green Party under Elizabeth May back on the farthest fringes of Canadian political relevance. I'm speculating here, but I would think that any information flowing between the Liberal Party and the Green Party went through Stephane Dion. I think that if Elizabeth May had an advocate inside the Liberal Party, either for adopting Green Party policies or for making future formal electoral alliances or for arranging for May to be appointed to the Senate, that advocate was Stephane Dion. Dion would be the only Liberal proposing a strategy of presenting a Liberal platform skewed heavily to the green in order to scoop up votes from Green Party supporters (with the approval of May, much to the consternation of Green Party candidates).I'd be surprised if Michael Ignatieff supported having Elizabeth May in the next leaders debate. That was a Dion thing. The Liberals aren't doing that anymore.
Update: Some of the comments make note that Ralph Goodale is not on the list. That's because Ralph Goodale is House Leader, which is not a critic position:

Israel admits use of white phosphorus in Gaza

Interesting that the Israelis keep changing their story. First they deny using it and then claim to use it legally. Now with photographic evidence of its use against a UN compound they are forced to admit that perhaps there might have been a case of illegal use. The time sequence at the bottom of the article is revealing of the propaganda zigs and zags. Not only is white phosphorus used as a smokescreen by the Israelis so is their constant propaganda denying any wrongdoing.
The Israelis will not likely every be tried for war crimes but the Israeli govt. is taking steps to see that none of its military are every charged.

From The Times
January 24, 2009
Israel admits using white phosphorous in attacks on Gaza
James Hider in Jerusalem and Sheera Frenkel in Gaza City
After weeks of denying that it used white phosphorus in the heavily populated Gaza Strip, Israel finally admitted yesterday that the weapon was deployed in its offensive.
The army’s use of white phosphorus – which makes a distinctive shellburst of dozens of smoke trails – was reported first by The Times on January 5, when it was strenuously denied by the army. Now, in the face of mounting evidence and international outcry, Israel has been forced to backtrack on that initial denial. “Yes, phosphorus was used but not in any illegal manner,” Yigal Palmor, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told The Times. “Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is holding an investigation concerning one specific incident.”
The incident in question is thought to be the firing of phosphorus shells at a UN school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on January 17. The weapon is legal if used as a smokescreen in battle but it is banned from deployment in civilian areas. Pictures of the attack show Palestinian medics fleeing as blobs of burning phosphorus rain down on the compound.
A senior army official also admitted that shells containing phosphorus had been used in Gaza but said that they were used to provide a smokescreen.
The Ministry of Defence gave lawyers the task before the attack of investigating the legal consequences of deploying white phosphorus – commonly stocked in Nato arsenals and used by US and British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan – inside the Gaza Strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, and one of the most densely populated places in the world.
“From what I know, at least one month before it was used a legal team had been consulted on the implications,” an Israeli defence official said. He added that Israel was surprised about the public outcry. “Everyone knew we were using it, and everyone else uses it. We didn’t think it would get this much attention,” he said.
Because Israel is not a signatory to the treaty that created the International Court of Justice in The Hague, it cannot be tried there. Any country that is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, however, can try to prosecute individuals who took part in the Gaza operation as culpable of war crimes.
Despite a denial when The Times first reported the use of white phosphorus, an army spokeswoman said yesterday that the military had never tried to cover up its deployment. “There was never any denial from the beginning,” she said.
- President Sarkozy of France ordered the deployment of a frigate to international waters off Gaza to patrol against arms smuggling into the territory. Preventative measures against arms trafficking are one of Israel’s demands for a peace deal with Hamas. The warship will conduct surveillance with Egypt and Israel, the French presidency said.
January 5 The Times reports that telltale smoke has appeared from areas of shelling. Israel denies using phosphorus
January 8 The Times reports photographic evidence showing stockpiles of white phosphorus (WP) shells. Israel Defence Forces spokesman says: “This is what we call a quiet shell – it has no explosives and no white phosphorus”
January 12 The Times reports that more than 50 phosphorus burns victims are taken into Nasser Hospital. An Israeli military spokesman “categorically” denies the use of white phosphorus
January 15 Remnants of white phosphorus shells are found in western Gaza. The IDF refuses to comment on specific weaponry but insists ammunition is “within the scope of international law”
January 16 The United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters are hit with phosphorus munitions. The Israeli military continues to deny its use
January 21 Avital Leibovich, Israel’s military spokeswoman, admits white phosphorus munitions were employed in a manner “according to international law”
January 23 Israel says it is launching an investigation into white phosphorus munitions, which hit a UN school on January 17. “Some practices could be illegal but we are going into that. The IDF is holding an investigation concerning one specific unit and one incident” Source: Times database

Will budget rescue Canada and the Conservatives?

This is from the Star.

Of course, not all voices counted equally I expect! His economic advisory council crammed with corporate leaders no doubt has a big say. Ultimately Harper and company make the final decision. It sounds as if Harper has learned his lesson and will put enough in the budget to buy off the Liberals and also pacify if not please the majority of Canadians. Ignatieff may growl and complain but in the end will likely help pass the budget.

The Harper government claims to have conducted the most comprehensive and inclusive budget consultations in Canadian history. Here's its accounting by the numbers:
46 municipalities consulted
5,400 letters, emails and submissions from groups, individuals
70 formal roundtables
4 meetings between Flaherty and his economic advisory council
7,200 online responses
102 discussions with provincial/territorial officials
680 organizations consulted included manufacturing, forestry and mining

As their careers hang in the balance, Harper and Flaherty bank on a plan for all reasons
January 25, 2009 Les WhittingtonBruce Campion-SmithOTTAWA BUREAU
OTTAWA–While the rest of the world turned their eyes to U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremonies in Washington, Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty spent last Tuesday afternoon fine-tuning the budget that will spell the fate of their Conservative government.
With only days to go before the most important federal budget in many years, the Prime Minister and his finance minister got together at a Toronto hotel where Harper had just finished a prebudget session with business executives.
After unprecedented Canada-wide consultations prompted by the near-death of the government in December, decision-making on Tuesday's economic package was still in play even as the deadline for sending the budget out for translation and printing neared.
"There was a myth that the budget was written two weeks ago, but it was a work in progress almost right up to the last moment," a Conservative official said last week.
As one of the earliest federal budgets in memory – the finance minister normally speaks to Parliament in late February or March – the blueprint to be unveiled Tuesday was by necessity a hurry-up job.
On top of that are the unusually high stakes. Hanging in the balance is not just the fate of the Conservative government but the political careers of Harper and Flaherty.
Only Harper's suspension of Parliament last month saved him from defeat at the hands of opposition MPs angered by the lack of economic stimulus in Flaherty's Nov. 27 fiscal statement. And the Liberals and New Democrats are still threatening to topple the Conservatives if the budget fails to live up to Canadians' expectations.
Above all, the $250-billion package of spending and tax measures was being prepared against the backdrop of the worst economic crisis in modern times.
"The process is certainly the most challenging, the most difficult of the four budgets I've done, this being number four," Flaherty told the Star.
For both Harper and Flaherty, the transformation from anti-spending hawks to purveyors of a massive deficit has been a harsh one.
Private-sector markets have broken down "and the only player who can fill that gap is the government," Flaherty said.
After last Tuesday's meeting, things began to move quickly.
Trying to prime the public for bad news, the Prime Minister's office took the step Thursday of breaking budget secrecy to reveal the planned deficit would reach $64 billion over two years.
As far back as mid-December, Harper had alerted Canadians to the depths of the developing economic calamity by revealing Ottawa might run up a huge budget deficit to try to rescue the economy.
But the roots of Tuesday's budget can be traced back further – to the economic turmoil that gathered momentum last autumn. At the time, the Conservatives insisted as part of their election campaign that Canada would duck the worst of the downturn, even as stock markets plunged and job worries grew.
"We will not be running a deficit. We will keep our spending within our means," Harper said in a Toronto speech on Oct. 7, 2008. "This government will not panic at a time of uncertainty."
Was the Prime Minister too slow to confront the rapid economic slide? His critics think so. But, in an interview, Harper dismissed that criticism, saying the recession was not evident at the time of the election. "The leader of a country doesn't go out and predict a recession when nobody else is," he said.
He was soon forced to put the economy at the top of his agenda. The day after the Oct. 14 election, he said his government would be focused on protecting "our earnings, our savings and our jobs."
Within the government a realization hit home that dramatic action would be needed to kick-start the economy as the housing market slowed, domestic automakers floundered and pension savings were battered. That view was confirmed as Harper spoke to other world leaders – including November's summit of G20 leaders in Washington – where they jointly pledged to take action to stimulate the global economy.
By then it was apparent to the Prime Minister and others that "this was not just a financial crisis," a senior aide to Harper said.
As the crisis shifted from Wall Street and Bay Street into the wider economy, business conditions began to worsen faster than anyone had predicted, the aide said. "It was probably clear to him (Harper) earlier than many others that we would have to take actions that were pretty significant."
Fast forward to now and the federal Conservatives are on the edge of what they call the "most important" budget in several decades.
The document to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday is in part the product of extensive consultations by Harper, Flaherty and other Conservatives with interest groups, premiers, economists and others across the country. More than 7,000 people sent ideas to Flaherty on the finance department's online consultation site.
The Conservatives say this process has put them in a position to respond with confidence to Canadians' needs.
"Our main job was to listen and the listening has been very helpful," Flaherty said. "The people who have given us advice will see many of their views reflected in the budget on Tuesday."
But the consultations were also a public relations offensive to make up for the fact that the Conservatives' fall economic statement fell flat, disappointing both business leaders and ordinary Canadians.
As usual, the finance department had since late summer been putting together a series of recommendations and policy alternatives for the government to consider for its fall update, which serves as a jumping off place for the full-scale budget early in the following year.
A pivotal figure in this effort is Rob Wright, the deputy minister of finance and an official with 34 years' experience in the federal government. He funnels the department's prebudget work upward to the minister's attention and carries the Conservatives' political priorities back to the department so officials can shape the final policy measures.
Also in the forefront of the budget exercise were key figures in Flaherty's office – chief of staff Derek Vanstone and Kevin McCarthy, his senior policy adviser – as well as Harper's own top officials and several top bureaucrats.
They include Guy Giorno, Harper's chief of staff; Patrick Muttart, his deputy; Darrel Reid, director of policy, and Jasmine Igneski, an adviser on economic affairs, environment and energy security. Kory Teneycke, the director of communications, is advising on how to sell the budget – and its whopping fiscal shortfall – to the media and, through them, to Canadians. A key figure for two reasons is Kevin Lynch. He's clerk of the Privy Council, government's most senior bureaucrat. And for four years he was deputy minister of finance.
Still, political reality trumped policy analysis this time around. And ultimately the major decisions were taken by Harper and Flaherty. The budget, likely to run about 300 pages, is being printed this weekend: 12,000 copies (8,000 in English and 4,000 in French). It is expected to contain multi-billion-dollar spending promises for infrastructure, training for laid-off workers, support for auto and other industries, tax breaks to help average Canadians and measures to free up consumer and business lending.
Will it be enough to win over the opposition parties and keep the Conservative government alive?
Harper says he doesn't expect his opponents in Parliament to agree with every measure but hopes politicians of all stripes will co-operate for the sake of the economy.
"I know that parliamentary politics is about conflict," he said. "But I think everyone is expecting – from provincial, federal governments, business and labour, opposition and government – that people will try and find common ground on the things they agree on rather than focusing on the things they don't agree on."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Harper chats with Obama, plans meeting as early as February

This is from the Star.

Since Canadians are more comfortable with Obama than Bush Harper sees this as an opportunity to link Canada more closely with the United States that is to say advance our role as junior partners in US imperialism and as reliable suppliers of commodities and energy to our neighbour. No doubt Harper must be a little disappointed that the new president is not quite on the same Conservative wavelength as Harper and as he remarks he had a good relationship with Bush.
There is no mention as to whether Obama spoke about Khadr!

Harper chats with Obama, plans meeting as early as February
January 24, 2009 Bruce Campion-SmithOTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
OTTAWA–The "unpopularity" of the Bush administration was a barrier to Canada-U.S. relations as Canadians were wary about Ottawa's dealings with Washington, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.
But Harper is predicting that this week's inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama marks a "fresh start" for relations between the two countries.
"I think that we now have a new administration that Canadians are clearly very comfortable with, at least out of the gate," Harper told the Star.
"While they have the same problems, the problems are not viewed as problems of their creation so it gives everybody a chance for a fresh start," he said.
Harper spoke with Obama yesterday to congratulate the new president on his inauguration and to "kick-start" planning by officials on both sides of the border for the first meeting of the two leaders, expected next month, perhaps the week of Feb. 23.
"We were talking preliminary ... about the agenda for that trip with a focus on the economy in particular, obviously the auto sector which we're already working together on," Harper said after the call.
He said his meeting with Obama is also likely to focus on environment, climate change and energy security, and that "we should be able to do some interesting things together on that."
The White House said Obama thanked Harper for the congratulations.
"He reiterated his appreciation for Canada's friendship and his commitment to travel to Canada as his first foreign visit as president. He discussed the shared challenges we face in Afghanistan, on climate change and in confronting the worsening global economy," the U.S. statement said.
Harper said Obama's presidency is a "real opportunity" to move forward. "I think everybody acknowledges that Canada-U.S. relations improved after our government came to office. But I actually think they probably could have improved more," he said.
He said the chance of even better relations was hindered by the focus of the administration of former president George W. Bush on domestic U.S. problems.
"But also some reticence on the part of Canadians to, under the circumstances, move more closely with the United States because of the image and unpopularity of the administration," he said.
"I think we had a good relationship with, and frankly, a useful relationship ... with the Bush administration, but I think this is an opportunity to start fresh and think (of the) much bigger picture."

Budget strategy baffles critics.

I do not know why critics find the strategy baffling. Conservatives will do all they can to further their own interests. If this involves departure from parliamentary tradition this makes no difference. The Conservatives did this in getting parliament prorogued to avoid a confidence vote. Now they are releasing bits and pieces of the upcoming budget hoping to buy support or prepare people for what is coming even though budget information particularly details are usually kept secret until the budget is actually tabled. Harper never gives up testing the opposition. He also is surely testing the patience of Canadians who surely will wake up one day to see him for the completely manipulative and untrustworthy leader that he is.
This is from the National Post.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Budget strategy baffles critics
Tories reveal details normally kept secret
James Cowan and David Akin, National Post; Canwest News Service; Canwest News Service Published: Saturday, January 24, 2009
Michael Ignatieff yesterday chastised the Prime Minister's Office for revealing the size of Canada's expected deficit, just as the Conservative government made a string of announcements revealing further details of next week's federal budget.
The Liberal leader said it was "irresponsible" for Stephen Harper's staff to disclose budget information days before the document is released.
"I asked Mr. Harper not to play games like that," Mr. Ignatieff said during a speech in Toronto. "I told him to put the facts and figures on the table, not let them slip out at his convenience. But the guy can't help himself. He thinks it is all some kind of game."
A Conservative official told reporters on Thursday that the upcoming budget would project a $64-billion deficit over the next two years. The early disclosure will prove costly to the Canadian economy, according to Mr. Ignatieff.
"I think it was at the edge of violating budget secrecy," he told reporters after his speech. "It concerned me. It had market impact. I'm a traditionalist about these things. I don't think you let the numbers out before you've read the budget to the people in the House of Commons."
But as Mr. Ignatieff delivered his admonishments, the Conservatives continued with their pre-budget announcements. In an interview on the Global Television program Focus Ontario scheduled to air today, Mr. Harper said the budget will include some "modest" tax measures.
In Edmonton, Gerry Ritz, the Agri-culture Minister, promised $550-million in new spending for farmers. In Sydney, N. S., Lisa Raitt, the Minister of Natural Resources, told a chamber of commerce meeting that the budget would offer $150-million for the forestry sector. In Vancouver, Leona Aglukkaq, the Health Minister, said a new Northern Canada economic development agency would have a budget of $10-million a year. And in Toronto, Diane Finley, the Human Resources Minister, said the federal government would establish a new economic development agency for southern Ontario. While Ms. Finley did not reveal how much the new agency would cost, Canwest News Service has learned it will receive $250-million annually to pump into job creation projects in that part of the country.
There were also reports yesterday of a $1-billion fund for rural, remote or one-industry towns that need financial help to retrain workers.
The Conservatives' decision to reveal budgetary measures before the document is officially released follows a precedent started by Paul Martin when he was Minister of Finance in the previous Liberal government, according to David Docherty, a political scientist at Wilfrid Laurier University.
"[Mr. Martin] would give general, pre-budget senses of where things were going -- there will be cuts here or spending there," Mr. Docherty said. "He was the first to lift the veil and say, 'As long as what we're doing doesn't favour one company over another, or one sector over another, we're fine.' "
Mr. Martin's pronouncements were never as specific as those being made by the current Conservative government, Mr. Docherty said. It is particularly troubling these spending announcements are being made while the House of Commons is prorogued, he added.
"There is no legislature currently sitting and now they're making specific announcements of what they're going to do -- it's an odd one," he said.
Despite the numerous hints at the budget's contents, Mr. Ignatieff told reporters he would not speculate on whether his party will support it until he has seen the document. "What I'm going to look at is the thing in cold type. When I've seen the thing in cold type, I will read the thing from the first page to the last," he said.
However, he told his audience in Toronto that it was not his job to "let Mr. Harper skate by with a passing grade."
Mr. Harper yesterday rejected concerns about his government's plan to run a $34-billion next year and $30-billion the year after that.
"People aren't concerned about the balance sheet of the government," Mr. Harper said in his interview with Global Television.
"They are concerned about their jobs. They're concerned about the future of their businesses. And people are concerned that the government do something to sustain economic activity, and we have to run a deficit to do that."
Ottawa also handed out money for a raft of smaller-ticket items yesterday, ranging from $52-million for several research and development projects in Atlantic Canada, to $1.5-million to refurbish a horse racetrack in Summerside, P. E. I. to $6,400 for a music festival organized by the Medicine Hat (Alta.) Folk Music Club.
The Conservative government made a raft of spending announcements yesterday, including: - a $1-billion fund to be available mostly for rural, remote or one-industry towns that need financial help to retrain workers. - a $500-million Agricultural Flexibility Plan to help farmers develop new technologies and to promote environmental sustainability. - $50-million to improve slaughterhouse capacity. - $150-million in new program spending for the forestry sector. Of that, $100-million will be set aside to help industry develop new products and use new technology, while $50-million will be used to promote Canadian forest products to customers around the world. - The government also announced the creation of two new regional economic development agencies, one for southern Ontario and one for northern Canada. The new Northern Canada economic development agency will have a budget of $10-million a year. In Toronto, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley did not say how much the new southern Ontario economic development agency would get, but Canwest News Service has learned that it could be as much as $250-million a year. - Ottawa also handed out money for a number of smaller-ticket items, ranging from $52-million for several research and development projects in Atlantic Canada, to $1.5-million to refurbish a horse racetrack in Summerside, P. E. I. to $6,400 for a music festival organized by the Medicine Hat (Alta.) Folk Music Club.
© 2008 The National Post Company. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication strictly prohibited.

Friday, January 23, 2009

NDP: Conservative draft bill would weaken environmental regulations

No doubt if it can get away with it the Conservative govt. will argue that changes to environmental regulations can be justified on the grounds that it will save money and promote economic development. It remains to be seen what position the Liberals will take on the environment. So far the party has dropped the Green Shift and Ignatieff goes about talking about what a great gusher the Oil Sands if for the Canadian economy.

Conservative draft bill would weaken environmental regulations: NDP
Last Updated: Thursday, January 22, 2009 6:02 PM ET
CBC News
A leaked federal government memo suggests the Conservatives plan to water down environmental laws in order to make it easier to approve infrastructure projects, the NDP said Thursday.
According to NDP environment critic Linda Duncan, the leaked document suggests the government plans to present a draft bill to Parliament in the spring that would eliminate environmental assessments on projects valued at less than $10 million and that occur on federal lands.
It would also give provinces the option to carry out their own environmental reviews instead of using federal scientists, says the NDP.
"The Harper government is trying to say you can't have economic development and environmental protection," said Duncan.
The NDP also claims the proposed changes would weaken federal oversight of environmental impact assessments under the federal Environmental Assessment Act, brought in by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney in 1992. Mulroney was crowned the greenest PM in a 2006 survey by Corporate Knights magazine of high-profile environmentalists and others.
"In one blow of the pen, the federal government is going to undermine the effective consultative work established in the 1980s to have a clear role for the assessment of major projects," said Duncan.
The Environment Department suggests the proposed new law would have stronger enforcement mechanisms and clearer lines of accountability.
A federal spokesperson dismissed the suggestion that the government would simply abandon environmental assessments. But she would not comment on the government's plans.
"We do recognize the importance of protecting the environment," Lucille Jamault of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency told the Canadian Press.
"There is no bill before the Parliament at this time, and no final decisions have been made."
Not opposed to quick spending
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said next Tuesday's federal budget will contain spending measures to stimulate the faltering economy, including money for infrastructure projects.
The NDP is not opposed to making sure the infrastructure money is spent quickly to stimulate the economy, said Duncan.
"Our stance is, let's use a good part of … the federal infrastructure monies to protect the environment, to move forward in developing cleaner energy sources," she said.
Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green party, also urged Harper to include green investments in the budget Thursday.
"Don't use the economy as an excuse to gut environmental protection," she said.With files from the Canadian Press

Ottawa to bleed 64 billion over two years

The Conservatives have jettisoned the whole idea of balanced budgets for the next few years at least. After two years of hard times under the Conservatives if they last that long no doubt any majority if there is one will go to the Liberals. Unless Harper has a death wish I imagine the upcoming budget will have enough in it to mollify Liberals and result in the budget passing. Ignatieff has no relish for a coalition or a possible election at this time. However it may be difficult for the Conservatives to retain power after presiding during an economic downturn.
Hard right economics and constant criticising of government intervention seems to have gone into the dustbin of history at least for a while. It will be dusted off as soon as things rebound a bit and touted as an obvious truth again.

Ottawa to bleed $64-billion over two years
Globe and Mail Update
January 22, 2009 at 3:07 PM EST
OTTAWA — The Harper government will run deficits over the next two years totalling $64-billion, a top official announced yesterday, also acknowledging it will take up to five years to return to balanced budgets.
A senior official said the Tories expect to run a $34-billion deficit in the fiscal year starting April 1 and a $30-billion shortfall in the year after. “At that point we will see deficits diminish and we forecast a return to surplus within five years.”
The Conservatives appear to be releasing projected deficit figures ahead of time to ensure the focus shifts to the stimulus spending measures when they release their budget on Jan. 27.
Outside forecasters have beat the government to the punch in recent weeks in delivering the gloomy news about Ottawa's fiscal future.

Last week, parliamentary budget watchdog Kevin Page predicted in The Globe and Mail that the government would plunge into deficit for at least five years. On Wednesday, senior Canadian economist Dale Orr predicted it would take six years to return to balanced budgets.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

MacKay: Canada may repatriate Khadr

Actually the article shows that the Conservative govt. is sticking to its own position that as long as their is a US justice process in place they will let things take their course. The suspension of
the tribunals does not seem to make any difference. Harper has never criticised the tribunals or tried to repatriate Khadr thus making Canada odd man out since every other western country has intervened on behalf of their accused citizens. But Harper was a great admirer of Bush and even Obama's rejection of them has not changed his mind about Khadr. However, his hand may perhaps be forced if the US requests Canada to take Khadr off their hands. This may not happen however as there may be pressure to try in some form someone accused of killing an American serviceperson. This is probably what Harper hopes.
MacKay should know that Arar was in Canada when he was allegedly seen by Khadr in an Afghan training camp. MacKay is completely unprincipled.

Canada may repatriate Khadr: MacKay

By Steven Edwards in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Mike Blanchfield in Ottawa, Canwest News ServiceJanuary 21, 2009

Canada may have to reassess its decision not to repatriate accused terrorist Omar Khadr, now that U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered a 120-day pause in legal proceedings at the Guantanamo Bay detention camps, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.
"Canada, Mr. Khadr's counsel, and everyone involved in these cases will be reassessing their positions," MacKay said in comments that contrasted with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's longtime stance that the Canadian-born Khadr will not be repatriated as long as he faces serious charges in the United States.
While MacKay made clear that the government's position has not changed, his comments mark the first time the Conservatives have budged at all on the issue.
Harper's chief spokesman, Kory Teneycke, reaffirmed the government's position Wednesday, saying, "We'll simply wait and see what comes forward from the United States."
He refused to "get into hypotheticals around different scenarios," including the developments south of the border.
Hours after taking the oath of the presidency, Obama ordered a 120-day break in the cases against Khadr and five other accused 9/11 conspirators.
"The charges that Mr. Khadr has been facing are very serious charges," MacKay said. "The process has now been delayed as a result of the president's statements and, clearly, when you have a process and legal charges, this is something we have to adhere to."
Khadr is the only remaining westerner at the prison. Other countries such as Britain and Australia have repatriated their nationals from Guantanamo. Unlike the detained nationals of those countries, Khadr faces war-crime charges in the fatal wounding of a U.S. serviceman during the July 2002 firefight in Afghanistan that preceded his capture.
Amnesty International called Obama's suspension of the legal proceedings there an "encouraging step" that would lead to the closure of the prison and "move away from the unlawful practices of the past."
Obama is ready to issue orders on Thursday to close Guantanamo prison, pending a review of how to deal with the remaining detainees, Reuters reported.
"The detention facilities at Guantanamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order," Reuters quoted the draft of the order as saying.
Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, Khadr's lead Pentagon-appointed defence lawyer, dismissed as a "technicality" the fact that the pause does not negate the five war-crimes charges Khadr still faces.
"To the extent that Prime Minister Harper has hidden behind the excuse of an ongoing legal process — that is simply not the case, as of today," Kuebler said.
Kuebler said he met with Khadr shortly after the delay was granted.
"He's anxious. He's nervous. He doesn't quite know what's going to happen," he said. "He's hopeful, as we are, that this is finally going to create the conditions under which the Canadian government can do the responsible thing: begin the process of negotiating with the U.S. government and with us about some sort of arrangement that will bring Omar back to Canada. . . . The practical effect of today's ruling is to pronounce this military commission process dead."
Obama's pause order, issued late Tuesday and applied through court motions Wednesday, represented a clear break with the approach the Bush administration took towards dealing with the international terror threat.
Judge Patrick Parrish, the army colonel presiding in the Khadr case, quickly ruled in favour of the suspension Obama sought, so that his administration could review the files of detainees not slated for release at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
A similar delay in the proceedings against Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-described 9/11 mastermind, and four other accused co-conspirators, was also granted.
More than 240 terror suspects remain detained at Guantanamo out of more than 770 who have passed through. Twenty-one are currently charged, while about 50 have been cleared for release when countries are found to accept them.
During his campaign for the presidency, Obama had criticized the commissions, created by President George W. Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as falling short of internationally accepted standards of fairness — and said traditional U.S. military and civilian courts are capable of handling terrorism prosecutions.
Eric Holder, Obama's nominee for attorney general, said in recent confirmation-hearing testimony that a revised version of the military commissions could be retained if due process is assured.
Kuebler conceded the Obama administration could resume prosecution in at least some of the accusations against Khadr.
"If Omar were to be prosecuted in the United States, it would almost certainly be in a civilian court. Even if it were a military commission or military tribunal, it would be a different tribunal that hasn't been constructed yet under charges that haven't been laid yet."
Irate relatives of 9/11 victims said the attack's accused plotters are "laughing at America" over Obama's decision.
Don Arias, whose brother Adam died in the collapse of Tower 2 of the World Trade Center, led a group of victims' families attending this week's war-crimes hearings in Guantanamo Bay who accused Obama of marching to the step of such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union.
"In his first official act as commander-in-chief, Mr. Obama has offered up the lives of almost 3,000 Americans on the ACLU's altar of political correctness," he said against the backdrop of the state-of-the-art courtroom where the 9/11 accused have been appearing.
"President Obama, the United States of America is your house," Adam's sister, Lorraine Believeau, said. "You've had planes driven through your kitchen and your living room. And many people lie dead. . . . We are at war. It's not a traffic ticket."
"These men are standing in there, saying they are proud of what they did on 9/11. They want to confess to everything they did on 9/11. I don't see the injustice," said Jim Riches, retired New York Fire Department deputy chief, who lost his son, Jim Jr., also a firefighter, on 9/11.
"They're laughing. They are making a travesty of the American justice system."
MacKay also weighed in on the surprising turn at Khadr's hearing earlier in the week, when an FBI agent testified that Khadr told him he saw someone who "looked similar" to Maher Arar at an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.
The evidence was called into serious question under cross-examination when it emerged that one of the alleged Arar sightings in Afghanistan took place in the fall of 2001 — the same time the Canadian judicial inquiry into Arar's case established that he was, in fact, in Canada.
"I was troubled, troubled certainly, that Mr. Khadr had placed Mr. Arar at an al-Qaida training camp," MacKay said, without elaborating further.
The O'Connor inquiry into Arar's rendition to Syria in 2002 by the United States exonerated the Syrian-born Canadian citizen. Arar received an apology from the government and $10.5 million in compensation.
"The government hired Justice (Dennis) O'Connor to review all of the information around Mr. Arar's case, and some of that information is in the public realm, and some of that information is classified intelligence information," said Teneycke. "Justice O'Connor was able to review and assess both. He made a finding and a determination, and the government acted on that."
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

'Clearly Canada, Mr. Khadr’s counsel and everyone involved in these cases will be reassessing their positions,' Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.
Photograph by: Mathieu Belanger, Reuters

NFB makes hundreds of films available free on line.

This is from the Calgary Herald.

What a wonderful idea. Instead of leaving these films in the vaults this cultural heritage will be made available to the world free of charge. This is a fitting way to celebrate the celebrated NFB's seventieth birthday!

National Film Board opens vault
Hundreds of films available online for free

Eric Volmers
Calgary Herald
Thursday, January 22, 2009
The National Film Board announced a bold new front in the "digital revolution" on Wednesday, launching a $1.3-million "Screening Room" that will allow Internet users to watch 700 of the board's films for free on the Internet.
The revamped site,, was launched in a suitably high-tech fashion Wednesday, with board chairman Tom Perlmutter holding a "virtual" news conference online for the media. Clips of filmmakers such as Sarah Polley, John Walker and Shelley Saywell were shown lauding the project before Perlmutter introduced the easy-access concept as a "gift for Canadians" to celebrate the NFB's 70th anniversary this year.
"What I'm hoping is that in spending time looking at these films, people will get a sense of wonder about who we are and get a deeper appreciation of ourselves," says Perlmutter.
"For me, particularly in a time of profound social change with the economic crisis and all sorts of uncertainties, it really anchors us in our sense of identity even as our identity changes. It shows a commonality of values and a shared vision of what it means to be Canadian."
The instant access to such a large volume of NFB titles in streaming online format should counter impressions that Canada's public film producer has not always been aggressive enough in pushing their works into public view. Perlmutter says the project is not that far removed from the NFB's early days, where film projectionists would be dispatched to small towns throughout Canada with NFB titles under their arms.
"We have been proactive (in the past)," he said. "But the Film Board has been stymied for years because we've been denied, for example, the ability to get its own (TV network). One film can get lost in the noise of everything else.
"What we are doing now, online, makes it available to Canadians. The Film Board belongs to Canadians, it really does. They own it. They are the ones who come out and interact and sat in common screening rooms and contributed to dialogue about how these films enriched our lives."
The NFB has been producing films of all shapes and sizes since 1939. With a bulging library of 13,000 works, there will be plenty of room to expand the online possibilities.
The current 700 titles, chosen by a committee of film experts, dip into every time period, region and genre and include both English and Frenchlanguage titles.
Browsers that go on the site today can sample a wide array of styles from NFB's 70-year catalogue.
Everything from Don Owen's edgy, 1964 coming-of-age Nobody Waved Good-bye, to the 2004 animated Os-car-winning Ryan, to the 1962 cinema-verite documentary The Lonely Boy, to Arthur Lipsett's 1961 kinetic, seven-minute curiosity Very Nice, Very Nice will be on display.
"This isn't an archive, these are living films," Perlmutter says. "It's a treasure. This is what the Film Board is all about. What strikes you is how perennial or how relevant and fresh these films are. A film like Lonely Boy could have been done yesterday."
The NFB plans to add 100 films to NFB.cain the next six months and average 10 new films per month following that. The site will have a feedback mechanism that will allow viewers to request certain titles be added to the database. Which brings up the prickly question about how this venture might affect the NFB's revenues, particularly those generated by DVD sales.
But Perlmutter says he thinks the site will go a long way in raising the awareness of what the NFB has to offer and hopefully boost sales in the process.
"No one has a perfect model for all these things," he said. "First of all, what we're offering is by streaming, which means you are not possessing or own it. The simple fact is we will be more visible and present and will create an appetite to make the connection immediately. People will still want to buy the film on DVD, sit around with their friends, watch it on the big screen."
© The Calgary Herald 2009