Thursday, April 20, 2006

McGuinty’s head still sharper than his brain

An amusing sideshow to the tussle over the new border crossing regulations is Premier Pinocchio’s attempt to pick another sissy fight with Stephen Harper.

McGuinty and his tourism minister Jim Bradley are urging the federal government to reconsider creating an ID card that Americans would find acceptable, instead of a passport.

“I think we should be looking at other alternatives before we go to the passport option because it is a great expense for a family,” McGuinty said.

Like a Liberal who can’t see past the next election, McGuinty can’t see the costs of a new identification card to everyone, not just border crossers.

Creating an ID card with biometric features would require new legislation, new bureaucracy, new civil servants, new software, etc. And there’s no guarantee the cost per card would be less than a passport. They might end up costing more.

McGuinty’s thinking is the kind of Liberal brainstorm that created the $2-billion gun registry, when everyone who owned a long gun was already required to have a Firearms Acquisition Certificate, and handguns and automatic weapons were already individually registered (except the ones owned by criminals, of course).

We’ve seen Ontario Liberals introduce a new form of identification before. In the late 1980s, the Peterson regime introduced the Ontario Health Card – in white and Liberal red, natch.

To an Ontario population then numbering 8 million, the Liberals distributed 24 million of these puppies -- including to an actual puppy. Yes, at least one dog applied for and received an Ontario Health Card. (“How was your colonoscopy, Spot?” “Ruff!”)

The Harper government could do something to make passports more affordable, such as reducing the fee, lengthening the term or introducing a “family” rate for family members applying simultaneously. But creating a new bureaucracy where one already exists? Literally priceless.

D’oh! Re Mi with Ron Schuler

On Saturday April 29th, the Manitoba PCs will choose a new leader through an unadulterated one-member-one-vote process. (The kind that Belinda Stronach suddenly realized was the ne plus ultra of democracy and freedom of speech a few weeks ago. Sorry, I can’t help it.)

This past Monday, the Winnipeg Free Press ran profiles of the three candidates, MLA Hugh McFadyen , MLA Ron Schuler, and Neepawa newspaper publisher Ken Waddell (subscription required).

In addition to the profiles, the Free Press required each candidate to submit to one of those rapid-fire Q&As that are minefields for candidates trying to look hip and intelligent while sticking to their messaging. This was Ron Schuler’s response to the musical portion of the quiz:

Q. Favourite Neil Young song?

A: Long pause, then “Uh, all of them.”

Gulp. And double gulp when I realized that Schuler’s answer was a identical to one of the funniest lines in one of the best Simpsons episodes ever.

It’s the one where Burns sells the nuclear power plant to Germans. In one scene, a German manager is interviewing Homer about his job as the plant’s safety inspector:

Manager: Which safety initiatives have you spearheaded?

Homer: Uh, all of them?

Make that a triple gulp. The name of Schuler’s riding is . . . Springfield.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

When is it okay to call your opponents whores? When they’re conservatives

Antonia Zerbisias thinks I’m a whore. (The things you miss when you don’t make the effort to go online on Easter Monday!). The background:

Zerbisias had a bit of an online donnybrook with the Blogging Tories' own aggregator-in-chief, Stephen Taylor, over his blogging last week about the Keith Boag report on the introduction of the government’s Federal Accountability Act. In his report, Boag contrasted the legislation with the new government’s attempts to control media access and questions.

Taylor called foul, saying “I agree that the PPG [Parliamentary Press Gallery]/Boag certainly has the right to be frustrated. However, facile and on-demand media access is not an issue of government accountability (in the context of the FAA [Federal Accountability Act], or the election/mandate that was fought/received on the issue). My complaint is that it was selfish for Boag to complain about his frustration when it was unrelated to the story.”

Zerbisias initially had sympathy for Taylor’s take on the story, but when she realized that Taylor had not posted the video of the entire CBC item, but only a clip showing Boag’s attempts to equate government accountability with how the PMO treats reporters, she went ballistic, calling Taylor’s post “GROSSLY MISLEADING, UNFAIR AND BIASED [her emphasis]:

“That’s because, among his many sins, he only posted video of the top and tail of Boag’s report -- perhaps a minute of what was actually a four minute report to make his case against Boag. Taylor ‘‘footnotes’’ the video but not once does he say that it was heavily-edited -- indeed mutilated -- to indict Boag. And yet he damns Boag for editing the report?”

I am not going to wade into the debate between Zerbisias and Taylor, as they are more than able to fend for themselves, but I was struck by the fact that Zerbisias seemed prompted by the incident to refer to us as “these Blogging Whories” (sourcing Robert McLelland, no less). Perhaps she has called us this before – if so, I never saw it.

I am not sure why Zerbisias uses the term “whore” to describe us, but I gather it is because she regards us as blind cheerleaders for the Conservative party and anything its elected and unelected officials do. This is patently untrue (and in my case I would refer anyone to my February archives).

Nevertheless, the issue I am taking up isn’t whether or not Zerbisias’s inference that we are all unreconstructed apologists for the Conservative party is true; it’s the language she used.

I must say that, as a terminally dateless social misfit, I find the term “whore” to be an odd fit. But I regard its use as a metaphor in the political realm to be inside the foul line. That was also my view when a few Conservative politicians applied the image to Belinda Stronach, when she crossed the floor to the Liberals last May. Many of our political and ideological opponents, however, felt differently about the use of the term.

You may recall that Saskatchewan Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott described Stronach as having “prostituted” herself to Paul Martin. Alberta PC MLA Tony Abbott said Stronach had “whored herself out for power.” (Abbott later apologized for and retracted his comment.)

These comments prompted a firestorm on the left and centre-left, from folks who viewed the comments as sexist and demeaning to Stronach:

Yesterday, I waded through the vicious, sexist blog comments. I listened to the vicious, sexist comments from Conservatives and their supporters on CBC’s The National. My ears are still ringing from the “can I say that on TV?” vicious, sexist comments on CTV News. I mean, “whored herself out for power” as Alberta Con Tony Abbott so charmingly put it?
--Antonia Zerbisias, Blog, May 18, 2005

At least MacKay’s hurtin’ hoedown was gentlemanly, unlike the skank-done-us-wrong reaction from Conservative supporters
--Antonia Zerbisias, Blog, May 19, 2005

Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and a battery of prominent women in the Liberal caucus yesterday demanded an apology from Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and several Tory politicians for what the Grits called sexist and woman-hating comments about Belinda Stronach’s defection to the Liberals.

“What we have seen yesterday and today from members of the Conservative party, the comments, the comments that have been made about our colleague, that are nothing more than simply sexist and misogynist ...” said McLellan, who yesterday introduced Stronach at the former Conservative’s first Liberal caucus meeting.
--Kingston Whig-Standard, May 19, 2005

In a May 19th op-ed in the National Post, Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla wrote: “There are few who would disagree that the words “prostitute,” “whore” and “attractive dipstick” wouldn’t have surfaced if Belinda Stronach were male. Criticism is acceptable. Sexism is not. To attack her in such a manner not only debases a smart and successful Canadian, it debases the Conservative label.”

Finally, Zerbisias’s mothership, the Toronto Star, ran an editorial on May 19th calling the comments “a torrent of odious and sexist invective.”

Footnote: The inside story of Stronach’s floor-crossing, detailed in a February Toronto Life profile, provides support for the prostitution metaphor. Pimping services were provided by former Ontario Premier David Peterson, who negotiated with Martin chief of staff Tim Murphy on Stronach’s behalf, and insisted on a cabinet position for Stronach.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ignatieff channels Harper and Harris

“I’d like to be a politician, the public figure who promised little and delivered what he promised, to the degree I possibly can – not 25 priorities but three – and try to be someone at the end of this game about whom you could say, ‘Well, I don’t like that guy very much, but he did what he said.’”
--Michael Ignatieff, Macleans interview, April 10 issue

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pay More, Get Less with Promise Breaker McGuinty

Today saw another item added to the 50-plus list of broken McGuinty government promises, with their announcement that, starting May 1st – just in time for the summer heat – most Ontario homeowners will pay up to 15 per cent more for their electricity. From the Toronto Sun website:

Currently, Ontario homeowners are charged five cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity they consume each month, and 5.8 cents above that amount. But that rate will increase to 5.8 cents at the low end and 6.7 cents at the highest after May 1. The lower amount will be paid for consumers who use less than 600 kilowatt-hours during the summer season, from May to October. The threshold increases to 1,000 kilowatt-hours for the winter season of November to April.

Incredibly, this is the second time in less than three years that the McGuinty branch of the Fiberal tree has broken a promise to control electricity rates. Yes, the Fiberals have become so adept at promise breaking, they are now figuring out ways to break previously-broken promises all over again.

This was their electricity pricing promise in the 2003 election: “4.3 cents is the price that we are going to keep on our bills”(McGuinty, scrum, November 18, 2002); and “the price freeze stays until 2006” (McGuinty, Focus Ontario, Global TV, September 20, 2003).

A month after taking office, the Liberals announced the 4.3-cent cap would be removed in April, 2004. They tried to tie the broken promise to Ontario’s finances, but Ontario Hydro’s books and debt have been separate from government finances for two decades.

(Say, did you know it was yours truly who first slapped the moniker “Promise Breakers” on the McGuinty Liberals in the aftermath of the 2003 election? Now you do. (I was working for the PC caucus at the time. Come to think of it, I still am. I mean, I am again.) What’s the point of having a blog if one cannot be immodest once in a while? But then I guess having a blog is kind of being immodest a lot of the time.

No doubt Premier Pinocchio is hoping that raising electricity rates will help him keep demand down and the lights and A/C on until after the October 2007 election, while his energy minister Donna Cansfield scrambles to bring new energy supply on line.

Though it is fair to lay some of the blame for Ontario’s straitened energy supplies at the feet of the Eves government, which in November of 2003 backed off the scheduled electricity market opening, it was McGuinty who promised to shut down all of Ontario’s coal-fired power plants – approximately one-quarter of Ontario’s supply – by 2007. They have already broken this promise; now they say the last coal plant will not close until 2009. (The Eves government’s schedule for shutting down coal power was a more realistic 2015.)

Regardless, when people’s air conditioners sputter to a stop in July, they won’t be blaming Ernie Eves; they’ll be blaming a Liberal government that’s been in power (no pun intended) for almost three years.

The stated motivation for the coal promise is air quality. Yet at the times that Ontario does not have sufficient supply, it will be importing higher-priced power from U.S. coal plants, whose emissions don’t require a passport to cross lakes Ontario and Erie. This was all foreseeable to anyone capable of dressing himself.

So there you have it: three broken promises, higher prices, and more smog. Another bang-up job by erstwhile strip-mall lawyer McGuinty. No wonder his brother isn’t running for federal leader, while his former education minister Gerard Kennedy left skid marks on the cabinet room floor.

As I have said elsewhere, although many aspects of the Common Sense Revolution have survived the change in government, the next big test will be the election in October 2007. Does “doing what you said you would do” still count? Or does “the cupboard was bare” story still fly? Only time will tell.

If you missed the lowlights of the Fiberals’ March 23rd Budget – the one that was going to win McGuinty as many as two of the three by-elections scheduled for March 30th (they won zero) – check out the Ontario PCs’ Pay More Get Less website.

Friday, April 07, 2006

“Me fail English? That’s unpossible!”

Simpsons fans will recognize the foregoing as an exclamation from the hapless Ralph Wiggum, classmate of Lisa Simpson and son of hapless Springfield police chief Wiggum. It immediately came to mind when I came across this story, mentioned in the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web Today” online feature:

Rudy Rios was stripped of his duties as junior varsity baseball coach at Chavez High School last week after using a district copying machine to make a flier encouraging Latino students to attend a rally protesting restrictions on illegal immigration.

Rios, who still retains his duties as an English-as-a-second-language teacher, was copying and distributing a flier that read: "We gots 2 stay together and protest against the new law that wants 2 be passed against all immigrants. We gots 2 show the U.S. that they aint (expletive) with out us (sic)," according to district officials.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

IEB: Improvised, Explosive Belinda

As I suggested on Adam Daifallah’s blog this morning, Belinda Stronach’s decision to not run for Liberal leader is the first astute move she has made since entering politics. Then she had – or should I say detonated – her news conference, and proved me wrong.

Oh, she’s not running all right, but her tortured explanation for not doing so dropped a nasty stink bomb on her new party, and further diminished what little credibility she had left with the national media.

She had a good chance to win, Stronach claimed, but her reason for not running is the party’s leadership selection process, which she says renders her incapable of speaking her mind on party renewal. She maintains that she would have been “trapped” in a system in which the grassroots are “ahead” of the party.

This is risible nonsense. In the two months that have passed since Paul Martin announced he would not be leading the Liberals into another election, this is the first inkling we have ever heard from Belinda that she had a problem with the Liberal party’s leadership process.

Briefly, the process consists of a vote at the riding level that chooses delegates and assigns first ballot votes on the basis of one member one vote. The delegates are then free at the convention to vote as they wish on second and subsequent ballots. Each of the 308 ridings will elect 14 delegates. There will also be approximately 850 ex-officio delegates.

The Conservative party’s leadership process is a modified one-member-one-vote process that is similar to the Liberals’, to the extent that it treats all ridings equally, regardless of the number of members in each riding. There is a preferential ballot, but no delegates.

As CBC reporter Julie Van Dusen noted on Newsworld today, Stronach applauded the Liberal leadership rules when they were released last month. As the National Post reported on March 20:

“I was particularly pleased to see the national party executive agree on rules that will ensure the leadership race is a more open, accessible and accountable process from start to finish, that will guarantee a level playing field for everyone who decides to run,” Ms. Stronach said in a statement.

Update: Stephen Taylor has some compelling background on Stonach's position on riding equality in leadership races, when she ran for Conservative leader, here.

Stronach's talking points today, less than three weeks later, are a transparent rationalization for the fact that her weak support among traditional Liberals means she could only win the leadership if she were free to essentially take over the party with new members. Yet Scott Brison, Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae do not seem deterred, though they are essentially starting from the same place.

In the Simpsons episode that features the musical version of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the closing song includes the line “a stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met.” I guess to Stronach, a “grassroots Liberal” is just somebody whose membership she hasn’t bought yet.

I suspect that the leadership rules that are genuinely troubling to Stronach are the financial ones, which would have all but eliminated Stronach’s financial edge. This is the first major leadership race that will operate under the new election financing law enacted in 2003.

The spending limit has been set by the Liberal party at $3.4 million, down from the last race’s limit of $4 million. Under federal law, campaign spending must include travel, polling and personal expenses, items that have been exempted in some previous races. Corporate and union donations are banned, and an individual is limited to donating $5,100 to all leadership candidates.

Candidates are limited to spending $5,000 on their own campaigns. Contrast this with the approximately $1 million Stronach spent on her own campaign for the Conservative leadership in 2004, a figure admitted by one of her spokesmen last fall.

As for her claim that she would not be free to speak her mind – again, ridiculous. Is there any better platform for the discussion of ideas than an opposition party leadership contest with no frontrunner?

When Stronach defected to the Liberals last May, Stephen Harper speculated that the real reason she was leaving was because her leadership ambitions were unlikely to be realized in the Conservative party. Tony Clement was more forthcoming, and his observations at the time have proven prescient:

Mr. Clement did not spare harsh words for his former leadership rival yesterday, saying Ms. Stronach is the political equivalent of soccer player David Beckham and his out-sized ego.

“At some point, Manchester United said ‘We don’t need the distraction. We’re a better team without him,’ “ Mr. Clement said on his way to Bracebridge, where he will be running as the Conservative candidate against Liberal agriculture minister Andy Mitchell.

Mr. Clement said he feels “vindicated” by Ms. Stronach’s departure to the Liberals.

“She has been running a parallel leadership campaign since the day after she lost the last one,” he said. “When she doesn’t get her way, this is the typical response from her.”

He added that Ms. Stronach was a “destabilizing influence in the party” long before she announced that she was crossing the aisle before tomorrow’s budget vote.

I honestly believe that we are far better off in the long run,” he said. “I know there’s a grey cloud right now, but the silver lining will become more prominent the further we get away from today.”

“I wonder what shred of credibility she’ll have because it’s so obviously about naked ambition rather than public policy or principle,” he said. “Why would you trust a liar like that?”

Prime Minister Paul Martin exercised “the politics of desperation” by inviting Ms. Stronach into his cabinet, Mr. Clement said, but could come to regret the decision once the budget vote is over.

“He will rue the day, I’m telling you,” said Mr. Clement. “Bully for him, he won a 24-hour contest of wills, but I think in the long run he will rue the day. The ego and the constant demands, they just won’t stop. It’s always about Belinda.”
This sorry episode lends credence to Harper and Clement’s views. Stronach could have withdrawn with dignity, offering truthful and credible reasons such as wanting to improve her French and get more Parliamentary experience under belt. But that would be too pedestrian for Belinda. There always has to be some grander – dare I say, Nietzschean – rationale. I can’t help saying this about the atheist Stronach: Thank God we are rid of her.

Footnote: This has been a bad week for National Post columnist Don Martin. On Tuesday, Ralph Klein announced he is stepping down before year end. With Klein’s departure, Martin's contacts in and access to the workings of the Alberta government are sure to diminish. Then Belinda Stronach announced she’s not running, which will not help sales of Martin’s upcoming book on her. He deserves to take a dram or five this weekend.