NY Times: "Canada's Move to Restore Rights"

The New York Times opines on the recent decision of Canada’s Supreme Court to declare security certificates unconstitutional. :

“The United States was not the only country to respond to the horror of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with policies that went much too far in curtailing basic rights and civil liberties in the name of public safety. Now we see that a nation can regain its senses after calm reflection and begin to rein back such excesses, but that heartening news comes from Canada and not the United States . . .

…Lawmakers have only to look to the Canadian court for easy-to-follow directions back to the high ground on basic human rights and civil liberties.

[Read the whole editorial]


A look at Ottawa's cultural spending

Spending on federal government cultural programs is often seen as the litmus test between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives often view such spending with a sceptical eye; liberals, particularly in Canada, tend to place a higher priority on such spending. Or at least that’s the theory.

In the Main Estimates for fiscal 2008, which ends on March 31, 2008, tabled this morning by the Conservative government, spending on all cultural programs will total about $3.87-billion, or about $1.84 for every $100 of government spending. So how does that compare to previous years? Well, overall  spending in fiscal 2008 on cultural  programs like Parks Canada or the CBC or federal museums, will be $14.5-million or 0.4 per cent less than Fiscal 2007. But spending on cultural programs in the second year of Stephen Harper's Conservative government will be $509-million or 15.2 per cent more than it was in in fiscal 2006, the last year of Paul Martin's Liberal government.
Again: the Tories, in fiscal 2008 will allocate about $1.84 of every $100 of federal spending on cultural programs. In fiscal 2007, the proportion was a little higher – about $1.95 per $100 but it was just $1.81 per $100 for the last year of Paul Martin's government.

The single biggest item of cultural program spending is the cost of operating the Department of Canadian Heritage – about $1.4-billion  in fiscal 2008.
The second biggest, though, is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which will receive 27 per cent or $1.05-billion of all federal tax dollars that will be spent on cultural programs in fiscal 2008. The CBC got a bigger slice of the cultural pie under the Liberals in fiscal 2006, with 29.2 per cent of all cultural spending even though the overall amount was smaller at $982-million.
The amount of federal tax dollars going to the CBC grew between fiscal 2006, the last year of the Martin Liberals and fiscal 2007, the first year of the Harper Conservatives, from $982-million to $1.1-billion. But funding to the CBC from the federal treasury has been trimmed for fiscal 2008 by $68-million or 6.1 per cent.

The biggest winners in terms of increases for Fiscal 2008 compared to Fiscal 2007 for cultural spending:

  • Canada Council for the Arts. Will receive $181-million from the treasury, up $31-million  or 20.5 per cent from fiscal 2007 and up $31-million or 20.7 per cent compared to fiscal 2006.
  • Canadian Museum of Nature. Will receive $84-million, up $25-million or 42 per cent compared to FY07 and up 28.7-million or 52 per cent compared to FY06.
  • Parks Canada Agency. Will receive $599-million in FY08, up $21.2-million or 3.7 per cent compared to FY07 and up $114-million or 23.7 per cent compared to FY06.
  • Library and Archives Canada. Will receive $119-million, up $10.2-million or 9.4 per cent compared to FY07 and $26.4-million or 28 per cent compared to FY06.

The CBC takes the biggest year-over-year hit among cultural spending items. The other losers for cultural spending in fiscal 2008 are:

  • The Deparment of Canadian Heritage. Spending is cut to $1.4-billion, down $21-million or 1.6 per cent compared to FY07 but still up $244-million or 21.9 per cent compared to FY06.
  • Telefilm Canada. Spending cut to $104.6-million, down $20.4-million or 16.3 per cent compared to FY07 and down $19.2-million or 15.5 per cent compared to FY06.
  • Status of Women – Office of the Coordinator. Spending cut to $19.9-million, down $4.7-million or 19.2 per cent compared to FY07 and down $3.5-million or 15 per cent compared to FY06.

Federal government spending by sector

Spending on social programs, including major transfer programs like EI and Old Age Security, will continue to be Ottawa's single biggest program expense, according to the government's Main Estimates for fiscal 2008.
The federal government is asking Parliamentary approval to spend $97.4-billion on social programs, an increase of 7.7 per cent or $7-billion from fiscal 2007.
Spending on social programs as a portion of all government spending continues to rise, as well. In fiscal 2008, 46.3 cents of every dollar Ottawa spends will be go to social programs, up from 45.5 cents of every dollar in the current fiscal year, which ends on March 31 and up from 44.8 cents in fiscal 2006.

The other big-ticket program areas for Ottawa in fiscal 2008, which runs from April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008 are:

  • Public Debt charges: $34.7-billion in FY08, up $302-million or 0.9 per cent over FY07 and down $1.2-billion or 3.3 per cent from FY06. Public debt charges, as a portion of all program spending is steadily shrinking. In FY08, 16.5 cents of every dollar spent by Ottawa goes to service the debt, down from 19.3 cents in FY06.
  • General Government Services: $24.3-billion in FY08, up $817-million or 3.5 per cent in FY07 and up $3.4-billion or 16.1 per cent from FY06. The government spends about 11.5 cents of every dollar of program spending on general government services.
  • International, immigration and defence program spending: $23.9-billion in FY08, up $1.8-billion or 8.2 per cent from FY07 and up $3.5-billion or 17 per cent from FY06.
  • Environment and resource-based program spending: $7.8-billion in FY08, up $1-billion or 14.7 per cent compared to FY07 and up $1.6-billion or  25.7 per cent compared to FY06. Spending on environment and natural resources programs account for less than four cents of every dollar spent by the federal government.

Main Estimates: Where Ottawa's money goes, Part 1

The federal government tabled 2007-2008 Main Estimates this morning. The Estimates, as they’re known, are pages and pages and pages of tables that detail where Ottawa plans to spend its billions of dollars. The Estimates are produced as support documents for the legislation that will be tabled in the House of Commons that MPs will vote on giving the government the authority to actually spend money. 

The estimates tabled today do not contain any new spending announcements or any other initiatives that have not been covered either in Budget 2006 or other previously announced documents such as the November Fiscal and Economic Update.

Through the 2007-2008 Estimates process, MPs are being asked to let the government spend $211.7-billion worth of tax dollars in the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2007 and ending on March 31, 2008. That represents an increase of $11.7-billion or six per cent over the previous year which ends on March 31, 2007. Last year, the House of Commons voted to allow the government to spend $199.7-billion worth of tax dollars in fiscal 2007.

That figure, though, doesn't represent all federal government spending – only the spending of tax dollars. The government also earns revenue from user fees, rents and other non-tax charges and usually spends most of it.  So, afer adding up all the spending that is supported by tax and non-tax sources of revenue, the figure for total federal government spending for fiscal 2008 is estimated to be about $230-billion.  That's an increase of $25.6-billion or 12.5 per cent compared to the previous year.

The single biggest group of expenses the government will incur this year will be benefits paid to the elderly. Ottawa will transfer about $32-billion to individuals in the form of Old Age Security Pensions, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and other programs for seniors. For fiscal 2008, the cost of  elderly benefits will rise by about 5 per cent compared to fiscal 2007 and will have risen 11 per cent compared to fiscal 2006.

The cost to service the public debt in fiscal 2008 will be $34.7-billion, a slight increase of 0.9 per cent compared to last year, but more than $1-billion 3.3 per cent less than fiscal 2006.

Ottawa will transfer about $40-billion to other levels of government in the next fiscal year, an increase  of about $2-billion or 5.2 per cent over the previous year. But CTV News calculates that the growth in transfers from Ottawa to other levels of government will have grown 23.4 per cent over the two year period ending March 31, 2008.

“Transfers to persons” – the money Ottawa sends out to individuals in the form of employment insurance, old age benefits and the new universal child care benefit – will total nearly $50-billion in fiscal 2008, an increase of 8.7 per cent compared to fiscal 2007 and an increase of 12.5 per cent over compared to two years ago.






Millions for Fort Mac

Here in Ottawa, it’s not too hard to find federal Conservative MPs from Alberta who have been less than happy with the financial support provided by former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to communities in northern Alberta who had been struggling to keep up with the booming commercial development in the oil sands. Despite the incredible wealth the oil sands were producing for the province, many MPs from the northern part of the province often grumbled that Klein never put enough money back into the region to build new roads, sewers, hospitals, schools and so on.

Klein’s successor, Ed Stelmach, today heads off in a new direction, announcing $396–million over three years to provide new affordable housing and some new wastewater treatment facilities in the Fort MacMurray region.

In making this announcement, Stelmach is responding, part to the final report, tabled at the end of 2006, of the Oil Sands Ministerial Strategy Committee. The report had some specific recommendations to address current and future gaps in municipal and regional services.

The Liberals in Alberta say that extra funding of what amounts to $130–million a year seems a pittance compared to the wealth the region is generating.


Free Wi-Fi for Saskatchewan

The province of Saskatchewan just announced a plan to light up what they say will be Canada’s largest free wireless Internet service. The network will cover the downtown districts and areas around post-secondary institutions of Saskatchewan’s four largest urban areas (Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, and Prince Albert). Capital costs are pretty cheap — just $1.3–million — and the ongoing annual operating cost is around $330,000.

Notably, the government says that, as this is a public network, “special provisions will be made to prevent access to inappropriate materials.”






No one leaked name of Liberal MP's father-in-law: reporter

So here’s the story: Earlier this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attempted to read into House of Commons record a story written by Kim Bolan of the Vancouver Sun in which Bolan noted that the father-in-law of Liberal MP Navdeep Bains may be on a list of witnesses (let’s emphasize the word witness here) the RCMP wishes to interview using special provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Under those provisions, witnesses are compelled to provide evidence to the RCMP. Normally, if the police want to ask you questions, you are entirely within your legal rights to tell them to go jump in the lake. Normally, the only time you are compelled to testify is a trial when a judge tells you to.

The Prime Minister and his spokespeople suggested that the reason the Liberals (along with the BQ and the NDP) refused to extend the sunsetting provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act past the end of this month was that the Liberals wished to protect Bains’ father-in-law from police questioning. (Again: Bains father-in-law is not a suspect; just someone the police wish to talk to.)

The Liberals were outraged at the suggestion.

Normally, these lists of RCMP witnesses are secret. So, at the end of the week, Liberal Ralph Goodale wondered aloud if the Vancouver Sun’s Bolan got the name of Bains’ father-in-law from the PMO. Here’s Goodale in a scrum outside the House of Commons Friday:

GOODALE: Well, my question was: was it or was it not? It's important to get to the bottom of this. The story in the Vancouver Sun appeared to be talking about what would be considered secret security information. That information is secret for a reason yet it's in the public domain. It needs to be examined very carefully as to how it got there. It was within the ambit of government. Suddenly it's in the public domain. It is secret security information or at least it purports to be. I think the government has that question to answer.

REPORTER: Why would the evidence be coming from the government and not say police or security officials?

GOODALE: Well, in the broadest of terms the police are obviously within the ambit of government. They report to the Solicitor General. It's all within that basket of officialdom if you will. The information was there. It appears to be anyway, at least it's purported to be, secret security information. There are some pretty strict rules governing the control of that information and yet it appears in the media. I think there's a question to be asked, a very serious question as to how that happened and it behoves I think a very sincere and conscientious response from the government, not this kind of flippant foofah that we get from them every day.

REPORTER: Sir, you pinpointed the PMO as the potential source of that information. What evidence do you have, if any?

GOODALE:  I asked the question was it or was it not the Prime Minister's Office. The point is the Prime Minister's Office is the pinnacle of government. They need to get to the bottom of this.

Well, it seems that Bolan, the reporter who penned the Sun story, has Goodale’s answer. In a comment posted to the blog The Gazetter, Bolan writes:

I wrote the story and there was no leak. It was very apparent from sitting through 19 months of the Air India trial who would be the obvious choices for investigative hearings – all the names came out during the evidence at the trial. After the trial, I wrote my book on Air India, called “Loss of Faith: How the Air India Bombers Got Away With Murder” and reviewed documents related to the one Supreme Court challenge of the investigative hearing provision, launched and lost by Satnam Reyat – the wife of the only man convicted.

I have covered this story since 1985 so there are few mysteries or secrets. I first interviewed Darshan Singh Saini back in 1988. I have a copy of parts of his police statement that came out during the Air India trial. The reason I wrote the story this week is because I just learned (through Sikh community contacts, not POLICE) that Saini was the father-in-law of Bains. I did not know that until very recently. I called up Saini and Bains and they confirmed it. I thought it was relevant.

So don't always look for a political conspiracy. In this case, there isn't one .

The Gazetter also follows what I think are good instincts in trying to verify that the person who posted the comment on his/her blog is, in fact, Kim Bolan. The Gazetter appears to be satisfied that Bolan did indeed write those lines.


What a week on the Hill

The week in Parliament ended with the Liberals accusing the Conservatives of trying to obliterate the Liberals from the history books.

“I have no doubt in my mind that they would try to eradicate everything that has been good by the Liberal party and by great Liberals in this country from the history books if they could. Fortunately right now, they can't, but it just again speaks to the nature of this particular Conservative government. They see bad in everybody else except themselves. They don't see the good in what – not only what the Liberals have done in this country, but what non-Conservatives have done in this country and I don't think that is a good example for us as Canadians,” said Liberal MP Todd Russell.

Of course, in the middle of the week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to insinuate that the Liberals were not prepared to extend anti-terrorism legislation in order to protect a relative of a Liberal MP. The Liberals literally shouted the PM down — and were then criticized for uncivil behaviour for failing to show appropriate respect to the office of Prime Minister. Russell was having none of that line of thinking.

“I wouldn't care who he is,” Russell told me outside the Commons yesterday. “When he attacks the character of another person, when he slanders another person, when he smears another person with no evidence, when he makes these accusations against a member of parliament, he needs to be shouted down. He needs to be put back on his heels and put in his place. I mean him of all people should set a certain standard in the House. He should set a certain way of behaving that all of us in Canada can be proud of and he shamed us all.”

NDP Leader Jack Layton ended up playing the role of adult:

“It was a bad week. I think if the Canadian people had been able to watch the full goings-on, I think they would have been very discouraged and distressed. The kinds of partial half-truths accusations flying back and forth, the yelling, the shouting, even the speaker had to take the right of a party that was raising a ruckus away. So it is time to get back to recognize that we need some decorum, that everyone in that House deserves respect because Canadians sent them there.”

But back to the history books —

Liberal MP Maria Minna had this question in the House of Commons Friday:

Hon. Maria Minna (Beaches—East York, Lib.): 
    Mr. Speaker, Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson's Nobel Peace Prize, earned for his peacekeeping interventions during the 1956 Suez crisis, has been hidden for the foreign affairs minister's press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Such action is a disgrace and an embarrassment. This attempt to hide the past just highlights the Conservative Party's abandonment of Canada's peacekeeping role.

    Why are the Conservatives so overly partisan that they cannot even recognize such great Canadian accomplishments?

We went out and answered that one for her:

…CTV News has learned that the Pearson display was routinely hidden by backdrops set up for the press conferences of Liberal ministers during the governments of Paul Martin and Jean Chretien.

[Read the rest of the story]

Committee Notes: C-30 Clean Air Act – Boyd

Some selected excerpts from evidence given to the House of Commons Legislative Committee on Bill C-30 (The Clean Air Act). THis is from Meeting No. 4 of this committee held on Feb. 6, 2007:

Mr. David Boyd, Adjunct Professor, Policy, University of British Columbia:

 I want to mention the current government's proposal to use intensity-based targets. Intensity-based targets are inherently a fraudulent approach to climate change. They simply endorse and entrench the status quo, as business is consistently improving the efficiency with which they produce goods and services. The problem with an intensity-based approach is simply that it allows total emissions to continue rising, and total emissions are what we need to keep our eye on. …

When I read through Bill C-30, I see precious little in terms of new tools for addressing climate change. I'm left scratching my head about what it actually adds to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and I'm concerned that, for minimal benefits, the Clean Air Act creates substantial risks.

The majority of experts and economists agree that the most effective and efficient means of addressing the market's failure to internalize greenhouse gas emissions is a carbon tax, a tax on the sale of fossil fuels based on their carbon content. …

Carbon taxes offer numerous advantages. … Carbon taxes are comprehensive. They cover the entire economy. They are widely regarded as the most efficient policy approach. They're transparent. They're administratively simple and they're less likely to cause energy price volatility than a cap and trade system. As well, the revenues generated by a carbon tax could be returned to the public in various ways to ensure the tax is not a new tax but is revenue neutral. Finally, carbon taxes have a proven track record of success in Europe. …

I note that the four top nations (Switzerland, Sweden, Finaldn, and Denmark – ed.) in the World Economic Forum's rankings of economic competitiveness this year have carbon taxes, and all of those nations ranked ahead of Canada on the competitiveness scale.

…Concluding on a couple of brief notes, regarding the provisions of Bill C-30 that deal with the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act, that law has been on the books for 25 years and should come immediately into force.

    You should also know that in 2010, even if Canadian motor vehicle manufacturers comply with the current voluntary agreement, Canadian fuel efficiency will still lag behind Europe, Japan, Australia, California, and China—yes, China.
…Mr. Nathan Cullen:

    When the government has been asked for their plan for climate change, they've held aloft Bill C-30 as their plan and said, this is the plan. In an international context, what type of credibility would Canada have presenting a plan like Bill C-30 as the initiative that Canada is willing to undertake in the global effort to fight global warming?

Mr. David Boyd:

    I can give you a short answer to that question, Mr. Cullen. The answer would be zero. Bill C-30, as it currently stands, offers no comfort to anyone in Canada or elsewhere that Canada is going to change course and begin taking this challenge seriously….

Mr. Nathan Cullen:

    For Canadians watching this debate and listening to this go back and forth in Parliament, we are amongst the greatest laggards in the world with one of the most difficult targets, and we have in front of us a so-called plan, a bill, that would gain us no international credibility whatsoever. Is that true? Have I summed it up?

Mr. David Boyd:

    You've summed it up correctly, and I think this committee…. That's why I made my first point. It was recognizing that it's simply not feasible for Canada to meet that 6% target in such a short amount of time. We have to think of global warming as a marathon, not a sprint. Canada is like someone who has talked about running a marathon for years without ever doing any training. For us to try to run one would inevitably cause severe injury.
Mr. Brian Jean:

    I'm wondering, Professor, how would you grade the government's action from 1993 to 2005? What kind of grade would you give them on their adherence to their own finish line plan?

Mr. David Boyd:
    I'd give them an F. But I'd also like to respond to your question to Mr. Erasmus to clarify that everything you pointed out that the government is able to do on indoor air and bio-monitoring, in terms of reporting on pollution to Canadians, already exists under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act as it stands. You don't need Bill C-30 to do that….

We love the troops but not the war

Canadians love their men and women in uniform but they’re not so keen on the mission in Afghanistan, pollster Ipsos-Reid finds in a survey it published today.

The pollsters says 86 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that “our armed forces are doing a good job in Afghanistan.”

But the pollster also found that 49 per cent also agreed with the statement: “Canada should pull its military out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.”

And, so far as allegations of prisoner abuse by Canadian army personnel are concerned, Canadians, by and large, seem to think this is small potatoes:

  • 73% agree that “whatever is reported back, it is probably an extremely isolated circumstance and not widespread among the Canadian forces”;
  • 63% agree with the statement “I don’t believe that our Canadian troops are involved with torturing combatant prisoners”
  • 39% say they “don’t have a problem with our Canadian troops roughing up or manhandling combatant and Taliban prisoners because it’s a war zone”.