Inside Gomery/Taxpayer ripoff

François Perreault, Judge Gomery's Press Aide, has written a book entitled Inside Gomery. According to promotional material from the book's publisher, Douglas & McIntyre,this book reveals how Gomery's work was completed "in spite of bureaucratic and political resistance. The behind-the-scenes legal manoeuvrings revealed in the book will expose the nasty underbelly of Canadian politics and how the power game is really played in this country."

Perreault wrote this book with the judge's permission before the inquiry commissioner tabled his final report and while he was being paid by Canadian taxpayers. Taxpayers paid this guy richly while he was writing this book. This shows Gomery lacked common sense. The government should ask Perrault to refund a substantial portion of the funds he was paid.


"Pharmanoia": yes or no?

In an article on Slate.com, Jon Cohen deplores the extreme distrust of drug companies, or 'pharmanoia', that he says is detracting attention from more legitimate concerns. He claims that more and more people, especially in poor countries, are asking what they stand to gain from taking part in clinical trials. He argues that these fears are based on "uninformed demagogy".

Cohen acknowledges that Big Pharma is guilty of some unethical behaviour but overall he suggests that it is being unfairly compared to Big Tobacco. His arguments are far from compelling. Colour me skeptical.


Cavegirls were first blondes to have fun

According to the Sunday Times, new research has found that it was cavemen who were the first to be lured by flaxen locks. According to the study, north European women evolved blonde hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.

The study argues that blond hair originated in the region because of food shortages 10,000-11,000 years ago. Until then, humans had the dark brown hair and dark eyes that still dominate in the rest of the world. Almost the only sustenance in northern Europe came from roaming herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and horses. Finding them required long, arduous hunting trips in which numerous males died, leading to a high ratio of surviving women to men.

Lighter hair colours, which started as rare mutations, became popular for breeding and numbers increased dramatically, according to the research, published under the aegis of the University of St Andrews.

A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene. According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.

Cavegirls were first blondes to have fun

According to the Sunday Times, new research has found that it was cavemen who were the first to be lured by flaxen locks. According to the study, north European women evolved blonde hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.

The study argues that blond hair originated in the region because of food shortages 10,000-11,000 years ago. Until then, humans had the dark brown hair and dark eyes that still dominate in the rest of the world. Almost the only sustenance in northern Europe came from roaming herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and horses. Finding them required long, arduous hunting trips in which numerous males died, leading to a high ratio of surviving women to men.

Lighter hair colours, which started as rare mutations, became popular for breeding and numbers increased dramatically, according to the research, published under the aegis of the University of St Andrews.

A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene. According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.


Civil War in Iraq

Iraq is in chaos after the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra.More than 200 people have bee killed in the uproar that followed the bombing. Various media reports indicate more up to 200 mosques have been attacked in retaliation. The religious violence is derailing plans to form a national unity government representing all factions. Despite curfews and government attempts to get control of the situation Iraq is on the verge of meltdown. The result may be a partitioning of Iraq into three sectarian units.

For more go to:

The Telegraph, International Herald Tribune, the Globe and Mail, CTV


Science under attack by Bush administration

An editorial in this weeks's Nature points out that researchers are increasingly upset with the Bush administration, not only for its tactics but for its entire operational philosophy.

At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) scientific leaders made clear their views on the perilous relationship between science and the Bush administration.

The Union of Concerned Scientists organized the discussion in the wake of revelations about how the Bush administration's political appointees have tried tocontrol the messages communicated by scientists to the public. A recent prominent example was the attempts by the NASA press office to muzzle climate scientist James Hansen.

Many US scientists now believe that the Bush administration is prepared not only to ignore scientific facts in making policy decisions, but also to suppress findings that conflict with its own priorities.

Nature observes:

"For Baltimore — Nobel laureate, outgoing president of the California Institute of Technology, president-elect of the AAAS, and arguably the most eminent voice in all of American science — events have reached a tipping point. He suggested that the Bush administration's approach to science stems from its adherence to a particular philosophy of government, that of a 'unitary executive'. Instead of resignedly shrugging their shoulders whenever such a case of scientific manipulation arises, Baltimore argued, scientists need to recognize the potency of the threat that this governmental philosophy represents to the long-cherished independence of US science.

"Scientists need to recognize the potency of the threat this philosophy represents to the long-cherished independence of US science.

"The unitary executive is an old idea, but not many Americans had heard of it until last month, when it cropped up during the Senate confirmation process of Supreme Court judge Samuel Alito. At the extreme, it holds that the executive branch can run the US federal government as it sees fit, especially in wartime. Given that a seminal achievement of the Constitution of the United States was to establish a balance of power between the executive branch, the Congress and the judiciary, this may sound absurd, but it seems to hold considerable sway within the Bush administration.

"Baltimore warned that the doctrine opens the way for "an exertion of executive hegemony over science". He called on researchers to "fight for a very different doctrine" under which "the executive's role is to defend intellectual freedom". In the light of the Bush administration's adherence to this philosophy, he added: "It is no accident that we are seeing such an extensive suppression of science." From someone of Baltimore's experience and reputation, these are strong words.

"For science to flourish it needs settings that support freedom of enquiry, and the creation of such settings was a great achievement of the Enlightenment. Protecting them is vital, not just for science but for all of humanity.

"In its five years in office, the Bush administration has sought to exert tighter control of the branches of government where scientists work. This applies not only to regulatory agencies, where politics are never far below the surface, but also to places such as the National Institutes of Health and NASA, where intramural researchers are used to the freedom of expression enjoyed by their university colleagues.

"It is by no means the case that these proud federal agencies or their staff have fallen subject to the executive branch's decree. Most federal agencies have a deep stock of integrity, which even eight years of the Bush administration will not erode away. Yet Congress, in particular, should be doing much more to defend them from White House interference. And researchers should stand up and be counted with colleagues in the federal government in their hour of need."


Canadian Council of Chief Executives want to further weaken Ottawa

After aggressively pushing deep integration with the US, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives wants to further weaken what's left of the federal government. In a new report, entitled from From Bronze to Gold,they propose that Ottawa should scrap the GST and eliminate health and social transfers to the provinces, as part of their proposal to weaken the central government.

Ostensibly the intent is part of a move to shift tax power to the provinces. Supposedly this would give premiers the surplus tax room they need to raise extra revenue on their own to replace federal health and social transfers.

The CEOs do not appear to be concerned about the threat to Ottawa's ability to maintain national standards in areas of provincial jurisdiction, including health and social programs. But that is consistent with the general thrust of their reports whose main concern seems to be anything that's good for big business.

Not surprising when you consider that the council represents 150 leading CEOs, including such influential figures as Dominic D'Alessandro of Manulife Financial, Richard George, the head of Suncor Energy Inc., and Gordon Nixon, head of the Royal Bank of Canada.

Why you should go with your gut

A recent study says the best way to make a tough decision is to put your feet up and think about something else. Apparenntly unconscious consideration yields the most satisfying decisions. The study says you should list the pros and cons, then sleep on it.

Often people assume that the best way to tackle a difficult choice is to list the pros and cons and ponder them deeply. Others believe we do better to sleep on it, leaving the decision-making to our unconscious, or intuition.

An experiment indicates that for the simple decisions, students made better choices when they thought consciously about the problem. But for the more complex choice, they did better after not thinking about it. When making some complicated decisions, such as choosing a car or house, the results suggest that we would actually do better to go with our gut.


David Irving found guilty of denying the Holocaust

British historian David Irving has been found guilty in Vienna of denying the Holocaust of European Jewry and sentenced to three years in prison. "I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," he told the court.

He admitted that in 1989 he had denied that Nazi Germany had killed millions of Jews. He said this is what he believed, until he later saw the personal files of Adolf Eichmann, the chief organiser of the Holocaust.

"I said that then based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991 when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that anymore and I wouldn't say that now," Irving told the court.

"The Nazis did murder millions of Jews."


Time to end the Muslim-bashing

For those of you who have been using the Danish cartoon issue as a pretext to condemn Muslims and Islam under the flag of "freedom of speech", I suggest you read two excellent articles, one by Robert Wright and the other by James Carroll.

Wright discusses the cultural chasm between the Muslim and the "Western"worlds. He then makes the excellent point that:

"The Danish editor's confusion was to conflate censorship and self-censorship. Not only are they not the same thing - the latter is what allows us to live in a spectacularly diverse society without the former; to keep censorship out of the legal realm, we practice it in the moral realm."

Carroll presents the historical context for the clash between Islam and the "West" and concludes that:

"Mobs throw stones through the windows of European consulate offices, and the legion of CNN watchers recoils with horror. Meanwhile, unmanned drones fly across stretches of desert to drop loads of fire on the heads of subsistence farmers in their villages; children die, but CNN is not there.

"Billions of dollars are being poured each month into the project of imposing an American solution on an Arab problem, and increasingly the solution looks, from the other side, like annihilation."

Before we stand on the ramparts to defend "freedom of speech", we would do well to consider Wright's observation about the difference between censorship and self-censorship.


Should the Liberals and NDP unite?

According to the latest poll by Decima Research, if another federal election were held, the results would be as follows:

Conservatives 35% (Jan. 23: 36%)
Liberals 25% (Jan.23: 30%)
NDP 24% (Jan. 23: 17.5%)
Quebec: Bloc 35% (Jan. 23: 42%)

The facile conclusion from these results is that the Tories would still win. But the results raise a far more interesting question: is it time for the left to unite?

Anthony Westell in the Globe and Mail makes the pitch that it is time for the Liberals and the NDP to get together in a new party as the the former PCs and alliance did on the right:

"The reality is that both the Liberal and New Democratic parties are social-democratic in outlook; they differ in degree, not in principle, in means, not ends. There are conservatives on the Liberal right and socialists on the NDP left, and they might break away if the two decided to work together, but that would be good for democracy, offering voters a clearer choice.

"Red Tories and the right-wing Reform/Alliance parties were divided by policy and by bitter personal rivalries, but they were able to compromise when they saw that it was the only way to power. It should be easier for Liberals and New Democrats to compromise on the essentials of a platform, and on ridings in which they will give each other a clear run. The alternative may be years in the wilderness under a Conservative government."

The NDP is in a key position to broker a merger that would give us a true alternative to the Conservatives. The Liberals are currently leaderless and without any clear vision. Jack Layton's personal popularity runs ahead of his party. Jack would make the perfect leader for the new Social Democratic party of Canada. Let the merger talks begin!


Quebec opens the door to private healthcare

Quebec announced Thursday that it will open the door for private care. Hospitals will be able to subcontract care to private clinics for some operations

Jean Charest described " a limited role for the private sector within Quebec’s public health-care system to ensure timely access to hip and knee replacement and cataract surgery." Quebec would allow hospitals to essentially subcontract private clinics for the three types of surgery. Only hip and knee replacement and cataract surgeries would be initially subject to private delivery, and only if publicly run institutions could not deliver the services within six months. For details see the Toronto Star.

Charest said the changes were prompted by a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling on private health-care insurance. The Supreme Court decision partially struck down Quebec’s ban on private health-care insurance.

The Council of Canadians denounced the Quebec government’s proposal to enable for-profit delivery of essential medical services.According to the Council of Canadians, the for-profit sector will require more funding than the non-profit sector.The Council is concerned that Quebec's plan will drain resources from the public health care sector. It also expressed concern that “This proposal means that more affluent Quebeckers will have access to better health care services. It goes against the very core of the Canada Health Act, which seeks to ensure equal access to all.”

Given these developments in Quebec, and interest in British Columbia and Alberta in moving in the direction of some private delivery, is Canada moving to a two-tier health care system, notwithstanding political commitments to the contrary?

Are the Tory defence plans impractical?

The Toronto Star has an article quoting several so-called defence experts stating that Tory defence plans are impractical. They describe the Conservatives campaign
promises for new icebreakers and 13,000 more troops as long on ambition, short on financing.

During the election the Conservatives promised to bolster the military with new ships, soldiers and an Arctic force. The Tories promised to recruit 13,000 new, full-time soldiers and another 10,000 reservists; to build three heavy, armed icebreakers, an Arctic deepsea port and a surveillance system to keep watch over the North; and to buy new ships and planes. They pledged to add $5.3 billion to the defence budget over five years.

According to the Star, analysts say the promises already look far more costly than the Tories have suggested. This raises the question: were these campaign promises properly costed? Are they affordable given the other Conservative priorities, not including the cost (undetermined) of rectifying the "fiscal imbalance"? Have the Conservatives promised much more than they can deliver without driving us into deficit?

Are the Liberals bluffing?

Media pundits have postulated, post-election,that the Liberals will do nothing in the coming year to upset the Harper minority. Given that they will be in the process of selecting a new leader for most of the next year, on the surface that seemed a reasonable assumption.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, interim Liberal leader Bill Graham has declared that the Liberals are unwilling to prop up Harper and will hold the Conservatives' feet to the fire. Graham said he will not be afraid to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government, even though the Liberal Party will spend much of the year in a leadership race.

He further declared that Harper must either accommodate Liberal positions on key issues such as child care and income-tax cuts or turn to the New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois for support in the House of Commons.

Graham said the Liberals intend to push their vision of child care — transfers to provinces to create subsidized daycare spaces — over the Conservative plan to send monthly cheques to parents. The Liberals will also oppose Harper's pledge to cut the GST, if it means a reversal of Liberal government income-tax cuts, he said. "When they find out the consequences of this, people are going to be astonished."

Since the NDP has already stated its opposition to the Conservative daycare initiative and announced its intenetion to introduce a new daycare Act in the new Parliament, this sets the scenme for an interesting confrontation.

The key question is: are the Liberals bluffing? Are they willing to take a chance on the Harper government falling early and hope to repeat Trudeau's feat of 1980 or are they just blowing smoke? I think they're bluffing. What do you think?


B.C. wants changes to medicare

The B.C. government indicated in its Throne speech that it wants changes to the Canada Health Act to make medicare more sustainable. The government said it will start a "provincewide conversation" on how to protect the public-health system over the long term.

The speech posed a series of questions that suggest its direction:

"Does it really matter to patients where or how they obtain their surgical treatment if it is paid for with public funds?" asked Lt.-Gov. Iona Campagnolo on behalf of Premier Gordon Campbell's Liberal government.

"Why are we so afraid to look at mixed health care delivery models," when they work in Europe?

"Why are we so quick to condemn any consideration of other systems as a slippery slope to an American-style system that none of us wants?"

The Premier and Health Minister will tour several European countries to learn how they're transforming their health-care systems.

Even though British Columbia has the best health care in the country according to research by the Conference Board of Canada, people are dissatisfied with long waiting lists and other problems, while the needs of the aging Baby Boom generation and the rising costs of drugs and technology are creating a cost crunch.

The provincial government said that but the Canada Health Act needs to be updated.

"Your government will advance that goal in Ottawa and here in B.C.," says the speech. "It will lead an extensive discussion with British Columbians to guide this assembly in furthering fundamental health reform within its mandate."

The government wants to add to the Canada Health Act's principles to provide universal, accessible, comprehensive, portable and publicly administered care a sixth principle— "the principle of sustainability."

While it is not clear what this means in practice, it is clear that the provincial government has opened the Pandora's box of reforming the healthcare system.

For more, go to the Globe and Mail .


Kroeger versus Franks on Gomery/accountability

On February 7th in The Globe and Mail, Arthur Kroeger (former deputy minister of almost every department in Ottawa) had the following to say about the second Gomery report:

"In his first report, Judge Gomery did what judges are supposed to be good at: evaluating testimony, deciding whom to believe and not believe, and rendering a verdict. His report was widely praised, and rightly so.

"In his second report, while he made some useful recommendations on things such as regulating lobbyists more effectively, he was required to pronounce on a complicated subject of which he had little previous experience. And some of the professors advising him, who themselves had no experience working in government, probably did more harm than good. Whatever the explanation, parts of his report suggest he was at times out of his depth.

"Judge Gomery acknowledges that the sponsorship scandal was an aberration. This being the case, it is not in itself an adequate reason for calling into question our system of representative government -- in which elected people have the last word."

On February 13th in the Globe and Mail ,Professor Ned Franks defended Gomery and criticized Arthur Kroeger's view:

"According to the governments under which he served, Mr. Kroeger is mistaken in his belief that he was accountable before parliamentary committees. The Privy Council Office insists that when senior officials appear before parliamentary committees they do so on behalf of their ministers, and that deputy ministers do not have direct accountability to Parliament. In the PCO's terminology, when Mr. Kroeger appeared before parliamentary committees he was "answerable" on behalf of his minister, not "accountable" as the holder of responsibilities in his own right. There is a vast difference between the two….

"The Gomery commission found the PCO's views on accountability unsatisfactory. Deputy ministers possess important managerial responsibilities in their own right. These powers do not belong to ministers. Despite the PCO's assertions, ministers cannot be held accountable for matters for which they are not responsible. To resolve this confusion, the commission proposed that deputy ministers should be accountable before the public accounts committee for the statutory powers they possess in their own right….

"The PCO's insistence that the accountability of deputy ministers lies solely within government risks giving the foxes the keys to the chicken coop, as happened in the sponsorship affair. Each scandal, from cost overruns in gun control, to HRDC grants, sponsorship, and the recent frauds in DND contracting, leads to loss of public trust in government. Responsibility for preventing each of these abuses belonged to deputy ministers, not ministers. Each was a management failure. Deputy ministers did not fulfill their statutory duties.

"This harmful cycle of recurring scandals can be stopped. Parliament gave deputy ministers management responsibilities, and Parliament is entitled to satisfy itself that deputy ministers use their powers properly. There is nothing undemocratic in this. Quite the opposite."

On February 14th Arthur Kroeger responded as follows:

"I agree with Ned Franks that deputy ministers should be fully accountable for departmental management before the Parliament's public accounts committee (It's Right To Hold Deputy Ministers To Account -- Feb. 13). The point I made in this newspaper last week was simply that they already are (The Elected Should Have The Last Word -- Feb. 7).

"Deputy ministers are always at the call of parliamentary committees, notably including the public accounts committee. During their appearances, they are regularly required to respond to questions about whether proper financial procedures are being followed, and whether public funds are being well-managed.

"The only limitation, which the committee itself endorses, is that it may not instruct, punish or reward officials (these being matters for the ministers to whom officials are ultimately accountable). Prof. Franks objects that, when officials appear before committees, they do so on behalf of their ministers, but he does not explain what difference it would make if officials were to appear in their own right, as he urges.

"My experience suggests that, in practice, there would be no difference. And, in his report, Mr. Justice John acknowledges that "little will change" if his recommendation that officials appear in their own right is accepted.

"Prof. Franks says "the harmful cycle of recurring scandals can be stopped" by making the change he advocates. If this were so, I would immediately be on his side. Unfortunately, malfeasance can occur in many ways. It is not easy to see how dispensing with the formality that officials appear on behalf of their ministers could have such a sweeping effect -- or indeed any effect at all."

Having served as an Assistant Deputy Minister and testified before many parliamentary committees, I have to agree with Arthur Kroeger. Judge Gomery in his second report got his analysis of the problem wrong. He was advised by "experts" with little practical experience of how the government really operates. This is reflected in his recommendation which, if implemented, would not be helpful. An aberration is not a reason to change the governance system.


Research indicates aspartame causes cancer

The results of a seven-year study on aspartame indicates that aspartame causes cancer. Aspartame is sold under the brand names Nutra-Sweet and Equal and is found in such popular products as Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Snapple and Sugar Free Kool-Aid. Hundreds of millions of people consume it worldwide.

The research found that aspartame was associated with unusually high rates of lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers in rats that had been given doses of it starting at what would be equivalent to four to five 20-ounce bottles of diet soda a day for a 150-pound person. The study, which involved 1,900 laboratory rats and cost $1 million, was conducted at the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, a nonprofit organization that studies cancer-causing substances.

No regulatory agency has yet acted on the findings, although Roger Williams, a member of Parliament, called for a ban on aspartame in Britain last December. Last month, the European Food Safety Authority, an advisory body for the European Commission, began to review the data. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it has also taken note of the study, which is available online and is scheduled to be published next month in a medical journal financed by the National Institutes of Health. F.D.A. officials say that they, too, intend to conduct a thorough review.

Given the widesread consumption of aspartame these findings are alarming. Let's hope the regulatory agencies can get their asses in gear and deal with a ticking time bomb. Full details on this story can be found at the New York Times

NDP dumps Buzz Hargrove

The NDP has dumped Buzz Hargrove. It expelled Hargrove for actively promoting strategic voting and Liberal candidates in last month's federal election.

It revoked the membership of Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, for violating the party's constitution regarding provisions against endorsing other candidates. It also automatically revoked his membership in the federal party.

For his actions in endorsing Martin Hargrove deserved the boot. It was nice to see the NDP deliver a nice smooth kick to his derriere.

Katrina report assigns blame

A 600-page report due to be released Wednesday, titled "A Failure Of Inititiative",lays primary fault for the Hurricane Katrina disaster with the passive reaction and misjudgments of top Bush aides, singling out Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Operations Center and the White House Homeland Security Council, according to a 60-page summary of the document obtained by The Washington post. Regarding Bush, the report found that "earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response" because he alone could have cut through all bureaucratic resistance.

Leaders from President Bush down disregarded ample warnings of the threat to New Orleans and did not execute emergency plans or share information that would have saved lives, according to the report.

According to the Post, the report portrays Chertoff, who took the helm of the department six months before the storm, as detached from events. It contends he switched on the government's emergency response systems "late, ineffectively or not at all," delaying the flow of federal troops and materiel by as much as three days:

"The White House did not fully engage the president or "substantiate, analyze and act on the information at its disposal," failing to confirm the collapse of New Orleans's levee system on Aug. 29, the day of Katrina's landfall, which led to catastrophic flooding of the city of 500,000 people.

"On the ground, Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael D. Brown, who has since resigned, FEMA field commanders and the U.S. military's commanding general set up rival chains of command. The Coast Guard, which alone rescued nearly half of 75,000 people stranded in New Orleans, flew nine helicopters and two airplanes over the city that first day, but eyewitness reconnaissance did not reach official Washington before midnight.

"At the same time, weaknesses identified by Sept. 11 investigators -- poor communications among first responders, a shortage of qualified emergency personnel and lack of training and funding -- doomed a response confronted by overwhelming demands for help."


Martin redux???

The Globe and Mail weekend edition was full of speculation about the Liberal leadership race. According to the Globe there is already a quarrel about the leadership in the Liberal ranks:

"As the estimable Mr. Graham works with a transition team to marshal his MPs for the minority Parliament, most Liberals are despairingly fixated on another challenge: What happens if the government is defeated before Mr. Martin is replaced? Some want an early leadership convention; forget the policy debates. Others, especially members of the youth wing, want to delay the convention until March of 2007 so there will be time to scrutinize the many largely unknown contenders. Key party executives are apparently leaning toward late January, before the parliamentary session would resume.

"In the meantime, party organizers can only hold their breath, because they do not want Mr. Martin to lead them into another election. If the unexpected happens — if the Conservative government topples this spring and Mr. Harper announces a five-week campaign — there would be no time for a leadership convention. That has happened before. In 1979, shortly after Pierre Trudeau resigned, the Tories were defeated in Parliament. Caught unprepared, Liberal party and caucus members asked Mr. Trudeau to lead them into the next election.

"What happens if history repeats itself and there is a snap election? Without time for a convention, the Liberals could theoretically be forced to retain Mr. Martin as leader in a spring campaign. To handle that daunting possibility, insiders say key party executives have flatly told Mr. Martin that they will not permit him to lead the party into any snap election if he insists on appointing his long-time clique of advisers to key campaign roles where he would rely on their advice. Mr. Martin has absolutely refused to abandon those advisers. In response, to block an emergency comeback by Mr. Martin with the same tired crew of counsellors, executives are examining ways to select delegates well before the convention. That way, the executives could rapidly organize an electronic leadership vote by those delegates, ensuring the party would have a new leader even if the government fell unexpectedly over the next few months. It's that bad.

"This is a party that does not have its act together. And it will have to find peace soon, if only out of a sense of responsibility to the public. The Conservatives could fall. An election could be held. And the Liberals could be caught with the same incoherent jumble of policy prescriptions that they dragged into the last campaign."

Is Paul Martin secretly hoping to return from licking his wounds and lead the Natural Governing Party to a majority if/when Harper stumbles to a defeat in the House? Does he dream of repeating Trudeau's feat? If Harper continues to make mistakes like he made in his first week, Martin may yet get such an opportunity. If he does, God help the country.


Health accord promises not being met

The Health Council of Canada, created in Dec. 2003 following the recommendations of Roy Romanow's Royal Commission on Health Care, is the agency charged with monitoring and reporting on the quality of Canadian health care. It is chaired by Michael Decter, a former Deputy Minister with Ontario.

This week the Council reported that provincial and territorial governments have not lived up to the promises they made in the health accords of 2003-04. The 2003 accord committed $36 billion in federal funds over five years, and the 2004 deal increased that amount by $41 billion over 10 years.

Only four jurisdictions made public their plans to increase the supply of health care professionals by the end of last year. Council chair Michael Decter said the focus on wait times, an issue during the recent federal election, has led politicians to forget about quality, citing "adverse patient events" and regional disparities in care It said Canadians spend an estimated 1.1 million unnecessary extra days in hospital due to such "adverse events," suggesting doing things right the first time would drastically improve wait times.

Some of the Council's key recommendations include:

To improve patient safety, make accreditation for health care facilities mandatory, a condition of public funding.
Speed up the development of electronic health records.
Strengthen legislation to ban all forms of direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs in Canada.
Create information systems that identify patients whose waits are becoming unusually long, triggering an audit.
Increase the number of inter-professional teams providing primary health care beyond the goal set out in the 2003 and 2004 agreements, which currently call for 50 per cent of residents to have 24/7 access to health care teams by 2011.
Address the needs of people without any drug coverage or without coverage that protects them from catastrophic drug costs.

The report "Health Care Renewal in Canada: Clearing the Road to Quality" is available at:

Canada Health Council

Will Harper's minority be short-lived?

Post-election, media pundits have assumed that Stephen Harper had two years to implement his agenda and prepare for the next election. With the rocky start this week and the mounting fury among Conservatives about the Emerson cross-over, some are now beginning to question this assumption. A new Global National/Ipsos Reid poll released tonight indicates that the honeymoon ended on Day One of the new Government. 48% of those polled disapproved of Harper's decision to appoint Emerson to his cabinet versus 40% who approved. It appears that the bloom is off the rose.

Chantal Hebert speculates in today's Star that the daycare issue may be for Harper the equivalent of the Clake/Crosbie 18-cent gas tax in 1980. As she observes:

"Canada's last Conservative minority government died a quick death on the arid hill of a steep hike in gasoline taxes; this one has chosen the grassy knoll of a popular $1,200 child-care allowance for its first do-or-die stand in Parliament.

"On his first day in office this week, Stephen Harper announced that he would fulfill his big-ticket promise to families by July 1. Win or lose, this is the battle that will set the tone for the rest of his mandate in and outside the House of Commons."

The Liberals and the NDP are opposed to the Conservative daycare initiative. Indeed, the NDP has announced they will introduce a bill to set national daycare standards when Parliament is convened.

To survive their first budget and get cheques delivered to parents of young children by July 1, Harper will need the support of the Bloc Québécois. Will the BQ support the Conservative initiative after criticizing it during the campaign?
Apparently this week Duceppe said he did not oppose the notion of direct help to families but suggested that to secure BQ support Harper would have to strike a deal with Jean Charest.

Harper created the impression earlier this week that there is room for accommodation with Quebec. That stirred the attention of Ontario and Manitoba, the other two provinces with five-year funding agreements with the Liberals. If Harper makes a special child-care deal with Quebec at the expense of other provinces, he will provoke a backlash elsewhere.

At the moment it is unclear that he will be able to secure the necessary votes in Parliament to pass this measure. He has already set a deadline for its passage. If he is going to make this minority government work, he will have to display more adroitness than he exhibited in the Emerson affair.


Story behind the Muslim cartoon protests

Muslim outrage over the Danish cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad continues to mount with protests intensifying around the world. Over the past couple of days the story of how events escalated from the publication of the 12 cartoons in a minor Danish newspaper last fall to the current escalating worldwide protests has begun to emerge.

Yesterday the Globe and Mail described how a young Danish Islamic scholar distributed booklets of photocopied cartoons to Muslim leaders in the Mideast, sparking the firestorm of anger around the world.

In late December,Ahmed Akkari, a young Islamic scholar and Danish activist, flew to Beirut carrying a package of spiral-bound booklets whose contents consisted mainly of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Having failed to get the Danish Prime Minister to take action over the cartoons' perceived slight to Islam, he was seeking help from prominent figures in the Muslim world.

The New York Times today described how matters escalated from that point. The cartoon outrage crystallized when leaders of the world's 57 Muslim nations gathered for a summit meeting in Mecca in December. The hallway chatter focused on the Danish cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad.

The closing communiqué expressed "concern at rising hatred against Islam and Muslims and condemned the recent incident of desecration of the image of the Holy Prophet Muhammad in the media of certain countries" as well as over "using the freedom of expression as a pretext to defame religions."

The meeting in Mecca, a Saudi city drew minimal international press coverage. But after that meeting, anger at the Danish caricatures, especially at an official government level, became more public. In some countries, like Syria and Iran, that meant heavy press coverage in official news media and virtual government approval of demonstrations that ended with Danish embassies in flames.

At the end of December,talk of a boycott became more prominent. The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization published on its Web site a statement condemning "the aggressive campaign waged against Islam and its Prophet" and officials said member nations should impose a boycott on Denmark until an apology was offered for the drawings.

In a few weeks, the Jordanian Parliament condemned the cartoons, as had several other Arab governments. On Jan. 10, as anti-Danish pressure built, a Norwegian newspaper republished the caricatures in an act of solidarity with the Danes, leading many Muslims to believe that a real campaign against them had begun.

On Jan. 26, in a key move, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark, and Libya followed suit. Saudi clerics began sounding the call for a boycott, and within a day, most Danish products were pulled off supermarket shelves.

In the intervening weeks protests have swept around the world and show no signs of subsiding.

According to the Globe and Mail Mr. Akkari now regrets the results of his journey, the somewhat distorted message of which flashed around the Muslim world by Internet, newspaper and text message, and caused millions of Muslims to believe that Denmark and the Nordic countries had become home to blasphemies:

"As he sat in one of Copenhagen's neat brown stone buildings yesterday and gazed at the melting snow, Mr. Akkari grappled awkwardly with the global emergency that has sprung from his mission. Friends, strangers and close family members are now blaming him for exactly the thing he says he was trying to prevent: the caricaturing of Muslims as violent fanatics.

"The riots, he acknowledged, have placed his fellow European Muslims in a far worse position than they had previously known."

"Yeah, it has been more violent than I expected," he said. "I had no interest in any violence. . . . It is bad for our case because it's turning the picture completely from what this should be about, to something else -- and this is a dangerous change now."


Is the Conservative train heading off the tracks?

Check out Kevin Brennan at Tilting at Windmills on what he perceives as the Coming(?) Conservative Train Wreck.


Reflections on the Harper Cabinet

With the Emerson cross-over, Harper has unleashed the fury of the Conservative rank and file. Conservative bloggers are in a tizzy about the ethics of the Emerson move. Paul Wells is offering an award to the nominee who put forward the best apologia for Harper's decision, named SDA after Kate of Small Dead Animals blog, who opined that Harper had done just fine. Some Conservative bloggers are pissed as hell and are doing something about it.

BabblingBrooks is marshalling Conservative bloggers pissed at Harper's decision.
Check out his blog and you can follow the story from there.BabblingBrooks

The media are having a field day over the Emerson/Fortier appointments. The Ottawa Sun opined:

"Stephen Harper has ushered in the Conservatives’ promised new era of ethical and accountable government with a Senate appointment and a patronage plum.

"Despite all his lofty election promises to do government differently, Harper has constructed a cabinet more with an eye to political porking than principle, an executive administration designed more to dispense regional goodies before the next election than to restore public confidence in federal institutions tarnished by years of Liberal patronage and corruption.

"Too bad. He was doing so well."

Sheila Copps observed:

" Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have received a gift horse in the person of David Emerson that he will live to regret.

"Part of the balancing act of a minority government is keeping every caucus member on side. With a cabinet post for Emerson, that leaves other long-time Conservative loyalists seething in the back benches.

"But that's not the only problem. By elevating someone who has so little loyalty to Conservative values, Harper risks being tarred with the same opportunistic brush that he plied on the Liberals when they accepted Belinda Stronach."

On a different aspect of the Cabinet Jeff Simpson of the Globe and Mail notes the potential implications of the heavy representation in the Cabinet of MPs with provincial government backgrounds:

"Ms. Ambrose once worked as a civil servant in Alberta, and seven ministers served in provincial governments. Ms. Ambrose, those seven ministers, Mr. Harper himself and the nationalist Quebec ministers make this cabinet arguably the most province-friendly since Wilfrid Laurier attracted provincial Liberal heavyweights to his "ministry of all the talents" in 1896.

"The cabinet's composition, therefore, signals to provinces that Mr. Harper is serious about rectifying the "fiscal imbalance," an idea articulated by premiers, notably from Quebec, that Ottawa has too much money and the provinces too little, relative to their respective responsibilities. The Conservative platform was magnificently and purposefully vague about how this "imbalance" would be eliminated.

"To widen the beachhead in Quebec, Mr. Harper needs to deliver on this promise, while taking care that he does not become perceived elsewhere as, in Pierre Trudeau's famous description of Conservative leader Joe Clark, a "head waiter for the premiers.""

Insightful as ever, Chantal Hebert in the Star points out that the Tory hold on power may not be as secure as it looks. She notes that a Liberal-NDP coalition could present a viable alternative:

"If the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc agree with the Conservatives on anything, it is the fact that the country is in no mood to return to the polls anytime soon. But the Tories would be fools to assume that automatically gives them as much breathing room as current conventional wisdom has it.

As they ponder how much of their agenda they can safely move forward, the ministers appointed today should never lose sight of the fact that there actually is a potential alternative government sitting across from them...........

"If it came to an early showdown between the opposition and the incoming government, the Liberals and the NDP have enough members between them to cobble together a coalition and offer it up as a replacement.

"That would be a momentous turn of events. It would still leave Canada with a minority government — although one tilted to the left rather than the right — and it could not, of course, happen without the consent of the Bloc Québécois.

"There was a time when Gilles Duceppe would have gone out of his way to ensure the survival of a non-Liberal government, but that was before Stephen Harper emerged as the biggest threat not only to the Bloc's supremacy in Quebec but to the entire sovereignist agenda.......

"And so, given the smallest excuse, Duceppe could have a strong incentive to co-operate in the installation of a different government."


The first Harper Conservative Cabinet

Stephen Harper was sworn in today as Canada's 22nd Prime Minister. He lost no time in getting down to action by naming a lean and mean 26-member cabinet, compared with 37 in the Martin cabinet prior to the January 23rd election. Despite the reduced size of the cabinet Harper threw a couple of curve balls. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the swearing in of Davis Emmerson, just recently Minister of Industry in the Martin cabinet, as Minister of International Trade in the new Conservative administration. Emerson, who as Liberal industry minister won re-election on Jan. 23, shocked observers Monday when he abruptly switched parties to work in a pared-down Conservative cabinet. This must be a new record for crossing the floor post-election. The Emmerson appointment must have left a few long-standing and hard-working B.C. Conservatives who didn't make it to the cabinet shell-shocked.

Given Harper's commitment to an elected Senate, the other surprise was the appointment of Conservative campaign co-chair Michael Fortier to the Senate and from there as Minister of Public Works and Government Services. Fortier's appointment to the Senate is supposed to be temporary until he resigns and runs in the next federal election.

Harper's moves with respect to Emmerson and Fortier were described as necessary to give two of Canada's largest cities, Vancouver and Montreal, representation in the cabinet. Similar treatment was not accorded to Toronto, Canada's largest city. Harper said that Jim Flaherty, the new Finance Minister, would be responsible for the GTA.

In terms of Conservatives missing from the cabinet the most glaring absence is Diane Ablonczy, widely expected to be given a prominent position in the cabinet. The appointment of 36-year-old Rona Ambrose instead of the experienced and very capable Ablonczy is curious.

Harper's cabinet building with heavy representation from Ontario and Quebec appears to be an attempt to position his government to secure a majority in the next election by securing more seats in these two most populous provinces.

The old adage "loose lips sinks ships" was applied vigourously in the days leading up to today's announcement. The success of Harper's administration and his attempt to secure a majority may well depend on the maintenance of the same rigourous discipline that has prevailed from the dropping of the election writ until now.

Following is the list of Ministers and their portfolios.


(in order of precedence)

The Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper

Prime Minister

The Honourable Robert Douglas Nicholson

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

The Honourable David Emerson

Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver - Whistler Olympics

The Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn

Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

The Honourable Gregory Francis Thompson

Minister of Veterans Affairs

The Honourable Marjory LeBreton

Leader of the Government in the Senate

The Honourable Monte Solberg

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

The Honourable Chuck Strahl

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

The Honourable Gary Lunn

Minister of Natural Resources

The Honourable Peter Gordon MacKay

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

The Honourable Loyola Hearn

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

The Honourable Stockwell Day

Minister of Public Safety

The Honourable Carol Skelton

Minister of National Revenue and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

The Honourable Vic Toews

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

The Honourable Rona Ambrose

Minister of the Environment

The Honourable Michael D. Chong

President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister for Sport

The Honourable Diane Finley

Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

The Honourable Gordon O’Connor

Minister of National Defence

The Honourable Beverley J. Oda

Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women

The Honourable Jim Prentice

Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and
Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

The Honourable John Baird

President of the Treasury Board

The Honourable Maxime Bernier

Minister of Industry

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon

Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities

The Honourable Tony Clement

Minister of Health and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

The Honourable James Michael Flaherty

Minister of Finance

The Honourable Josée Verner

Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages

The Honourable Michael Fortier

Minister of Public Works and Government Services


How long to rebuild the Liberal party

Norman Webster of the Montreal Gazette has the following words of wisdom about the Liberal leadership race:

"The Harpers should go ahead and order new drapes for 24 Sussex Dr. It looks like they’ll be living there for some time.

That’s the message from the flailings of the federal Liberals. People are withdrawing from the leadership race so quickly they have to co-ordinate their press conferences. Not even two weeks from the election and we’ve already lost all of the party’s front-rankers: Frank McKenna, John Manley, Brian Tobin and Allan Rock.

Each of these men had a national profile, support within the party and years of experience in government at the federal or provincial level. Each could have slipped into harness fairly quickly as the new leader.

But they’ve all been hit by a sudden desire to spend more time with their families. Which is to say they have concluded there is no quick fix for the Liberal malady.

The party needs a major policy rethink. It must reconnect with Quebec – where Paul Martin, curiously, got out of step. It absolutely must end the bitter internal feud that has so sapped its strength. It will take years of toil and travel and bean suppers in church basements before the Liberals are ready to return to power.

How many years? Probably six at least – two elections – and even then there’s no guarantee, far from it. Stephen Harper will be in his prime by then and might even have learned how to tell a joke. You can see why the heavyweights are giving this a pass….

Belinda Stronach? Don’t get me started. Backstabber, perennial candidate for leader before accomplishing anything, unilingual, deeply untrustworthy, Stronach embodies almost everything the Liberal Party should be running away from. Surely, there are stronger female candidates than this."


Out of work? Need a job? Apply to be Liberal leader

Out of work? Need a job? Apply for the Liberal leadership. New talent desperately needed. All applicants will be welcomed with open arms.

With all the front-ranked candidates now having declared that they will not run for the Liberal leadership, the federal Liberal party is in a bit of a pickle. This is illustrated by the fact that two of the names now being tossed about are Belinda Stronach or Scott Brison, two defections during the last Parliament from the Conservatives to the Liberals. Or they might take a chance on an ex-goalie not noted for his oratorical skills or a Harvard Professor who has spent most of the past 30 years outside Canada but dropped by to run in the January election.

Better still , as the Toronto Star put it today, if you own a car you could be leadership material.

LIBERAL LEADERSHIP APPLICATION FORM Thank you for your interest in becoming the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

At least, we hope, that by picking up this form, you truly are interested in becoming the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and aren't just messing with us to raise false hopes.

Please take a few moments, or longer, whatever you need, take this home and bring it back tomorrow if that would be more convenient, to answer the following questions:

1. Are you currently a member of the Liberal Party of Canada?

2. If you are not currently a member of the Liberal Party of Canada, how long do you think it would take for you to become one?

3. Why do you want to become the leader of the Liberal Party?

a) I want to rebuild this party into the great party it once was

b) I just got out of prison and am looking for work

c) sitting around the house starts to get boring after awhile, my mom says I should get a job, and this looks kind of cool

d) I tried the Green Party, but they got all touchy about my habit of using blue boxes for target practice

4. What are your feelings on the same-sex issue?

a) the issue is over, a free vote is not necessary

b) it kind of creeps me out

c) as long as you're getting some, who cares if it's the same everyday?

5. How would you restore the party's integrity?

a) weed out those tainted by the sponsorship scandal

b) draft a code of conduct for everyone in the party

c) give Liberals envelopes stuffed with cash so they won't be tempted to take kickbacks from strangers

6. How would you describe your feelings about taking this job, knowing that in the next election, you'd be a total novice, you'd be pitted against a pretty experienced Stephen Harper, that you could be relegated to the Opposition benches for years, and that you might never actually become Prime Minister?

a) no one mentioned anything about THAT

b) who's this Harper guy again?

c) I'm in for the long haul, prepared to do whatever it takes, to work night and day, seven days a week, just so long as I don't have to meet lots of people and shake hands and make small talk. Hate that

7. Which of the following phrases are you most comfortable using at the beginning of every sentence?

a) The fact is

b) I want to make it clear that

c) I'd love to answer that question but the real issue is

d) My opponent sleeps with a yak

8. Which, if any, of the following do you have in your background?

a) a few criminal convictions, nothing major, except maybe for that thing in Saskatoon

b) suspicious real-estate transactions

c) once blurted out military secrets in my sleep to a Soviet spy

d) all of the above

9. Being a leader is about more than politics. Canadians want to know what you're like as a person, what your interests are. Check as many of the following that apply:

a) hockey

b) stamp collecting

c) hiking

d) surfing for porn

e) trainspotting

f) saving bits of wood in case you need them for something later

10. How would you describe your feelings for Canada?

a) I love Canada

b) I have made out with Canada

c) We have an understanding.

11. Do you own your own car?

Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to fill out the Liberal Leadership Application Form.

You will be hearing from us shortly. Count on it.

Go ahead. Be bold. Take a chance. The Liberal Party needs you. You are definitely as well qualified as the 12 or so names currently being mentioned as contenders.


The Case of Wanda Young

Canada's Supreme court has ruled that a woman wrongly labelled a potential sex offender more than decade ago as a result of an essay written for a social work class is entitled to more than $800,000 in damages from Memorial University of Newfoundland.
In a decision handed down last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada said there was no basis to interfere with an earlier jury's verdict in the case, which centred on Wanda Young's claims that her life was ruined after she was wrongly reported as a potential sex abuser.

“Accordingly, we would set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and restore the trial judgment,” the court said.

The case dates back to 1994, when Ms. Young submitted the assignment as part of the course work for a social work class at Memorial.

An anonymous first-person account of sexual abuse taken from a text book was appended to the paper and her professor – wrongly believing the material was written by Ms. Young – contacted provincial Child Protection Services after talking to a supervisor.

For two years, without her knowledge, the assertion that she was a potential child abuser was passed between university professors, the RCMP and several social workers. Her attempt to study full-time at Memorial's School of Social Work was also turned down.

When the situation came to her attention in 1996, she immediately showed child-protection authorities the textbook. They apologized for the error, but she says the label hung over her for years, interfering with her ability to find work.

She later sued Memorial and her professor. The case went to trial in 2003 and a jury awarded her $839,400, although the university had argued that it had acted in accordance with child-welfare laws.

The Newfoundland Court of Appeal later overturned the financial award and ruled that Ms. Young could not seek a new trial.

In Friday's ruling, which quashed that decision, the Supreme Court noted that the Child Welfare Act requires everyone to “report information that a child has been, is or may be in danger of abandonment, desertion, neglect, physical, sexual or emotional ill treatment or has been, is or may be otherwise in need of protection.”

It also said those who have a statutory duty to report such cases have to be protected from any adverse legal consequences flowing from their action. In the current case, the court also ruled that university staff “acted in a way the jury found to be without any reasonable cause even to make a report."

“Here the university professors acted on conjecture and speculation which fell short of the required reasonable cause to make a report to [provincial Child Protection Services],” the court found.
For the text of the Supreme Court decision , see the decision

How does Google square the circle?

Is Google hypocritical?

It is regrettable that a company whose motto is "Don't be evil" has chosen to abandon the principles of free speech and universally available information in order to gain access to a large market in a repressive state.

Internet searches via the Chinese website to be established by Google will be censored by the company itself. They will, therefore, exclude results on such sensitive topics as democratic reform, Taiwanese independence and the banned Falun Gong movement.

Google awkwardly defended its decision, admitting that censorship was "inconsistent with Google's mission" but was better than providing no information or subjecting users to a "heavily degraded" service.

For more on this see the Star.