Here we go again — U.S. complains about Canadian softwood lumber

Some surprising news late this afternoon — the United States has formally complained to Canada about softwood lumber — accusing Canada and the provinces of paying illegal subsidies. You may have thought softwood lumber disputes were supposed to be a thing of the past but critics of the deal signed in late 2006 will be saying this is just what they predicted would happen.

The U.S., late this afternoon, alleged that $2-billion worth of aid that Canada and the provinces are providing to the softwood industry in Ontario and Quebec is illegal. So, the U.S. is seeking either more restrictions on the amount of Canadian lumber that can be exported to the Canadian market or they want more export taxes slapped on the wood. In any event, it's a sharp negative for the industry which thought it had won some lumber peace with the U.S. when it and Canada agreed to the controversial deal.

What may be even more frustrating is that Canadian industry gave up certain rights in the softwood lumber agreement that might help it win the current dispute. For example, the years leading up to the softwood lumber deal, Canada and Canadian firms won one victory after another in a variety of American and international courts. But Canada agreed to throw all those judgements out as part of the softwood lumber deal so if any Canadian company wants to use the courts to challenge the American view, they will not be able to use those earlier judgements to buttress the case.

Expect some political fallout on this news. Prime Minister Harper made a great show of proclaiming peace with the Americans on this issue and clearly there is none. His political opponsents on this issue will say his attempts to forge a relationship with Washington that was different from the Liberals seems to have been for naught. Harper’s first trip as Prime Minister, of course, was down to Washington to get U.S. President George Bush to personally put his weight behind the negotiations.

International Trade Minister David Emerson's reaction tonight — and I should say this was in a press release issued at 7:10 pm (Ottawa time) a Friday night — a time when organizations will often announce bad news that they hope gets ignored — Emerson's reaction is that this is an administrative issue and, as he said in a statement, “We expected that such administrative issues would arise.” But some say that’s like saying, “Pk, tomorrow I'm going to punch you in the face” and then tomorrow, after you get slugged, you you shrug it off by saying, “well, ok, that was to be expected.”

This news is really not going to go over well in the communities where there where layoffs and mill shutdowns before and after the deal. Those communities were mostly in Ontario and Quebec where Harper and the Conservatives are hopeful of building support that will take them to a majority. It may even be the sort of issue that re-energize the Bloc Quebecois.

Mark Holland: Reflections upon an Easter Break

Mark HollandLiberal MP Mark Holland (left) is an avid fan of Facebook. He believes it is a great tool to help him make connections with voters and potential supporters. With Facebook, though, you can only see what Holland — and other Facebook afficionados, including me — are doing if you sign up for a Facebook account and then become Holland’s Facebook “friend”. So, for the benefit of those who are not a Facebook Friend of Holland, here’s what he posted there this afternoon as Parliament breaks for a two-week Easter recess (I’ve provided the hyperlinks):

As we break, the environment on the Hill is not a positive one. The constant threat of election has heated up the partisanship and dragged almost to a stop productive work. We have to find some kind of stability. If not now – then right after an election. Constantly having bills die on the order paper, spending hundreds of millions on elections, loosing month and month of productive legislative sessions – it's crazy. I didn't run as an M.P. to be a perpetual candidate and I am certain that’s not what the people who elected me were hoping.

As a couple of examples, as Natural Resources Critic, I moved that our committee begin work on a strategy to ‘green’ our national energy supply. I think this could be critically important work – especially with electrical producers looking for direction as their aging plants will soon be up for refurbishment or replacement.

My bill, C-373, to modernize our animal cruelty laws is badly needed and many years over due. It represents countless hours of work by myself and many others. To loose (sic) it again – to have to restart again is madness.

All the work we put into C-30  (The Clean Air and Climate Change Act) that needs to be implemented, particularly in the face of such pressing need for action. And so on and so on. To be so involved in these issues and know that they may all soon die and that we would have to start over again in a new session…how much sense does this make?

It has to be my greatest frustration since becoming an M.P. Since our process necessitates that all bills must start over again once a parliament dies, so much good work gets lost. It is also impossibly difficult to plan out your action plan when you don’t know if you have two weeks left or another year.

Regardless of our political stripe – we owe it to the electorate and ourselves to stop this constant game of chicken and to focus on getting work done. To focus on making the country, our communities and the world a better place.

On another note – more attack ads are on the way over the Easter break. How festive. It is incredible how nasty and mean spirited the Prime Minister and his clan are. With the never ending barrage of personal attacks and smears, the Press Gallery constantly comment that they have never seen anything like it.

This is not what Canadians expect from political discourse. My projection is that these new rounds of ads will be soon seen as a serious error in judgement. The first massive run might be forgiven but to go again – to spend so much again and be so negative. This isn’t Texas Steve…  Expect new lows in the days ahead and let it motivate all of us to get rid of this group and elect a leader of optimism and conviction.

Now playing: McCoy Tyner Trio Feat. Micheal Brecker – I Mean You

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Tobago here we come!

Members of Parliament finished up their work this afternoon and are now out of Ottawa and back in their ridings for the next two weeks. Well, not all of them will be back in their riding:

Ottawa – March 30,2007 – The Speaker of the House of Commons, the Honourable Peter Milliken M.P., will be leading a parliamentary delegation on a visit to Trinidad and Tobago, April 2-6,2007.
The delegation will be meeting with their counterparts in Port of Spain and Scarborough.
This visit is an opportunity for Members to exchange information and express views on matters of common concern, as well as promote knowledge and understanding of parliamentary democracy and the development of parliamentary institutions.

The members of the delegation are:
The Honourable Peter Milliken, M.P. (Liberal)
Mr. Barry Devolin, M.P. (Conservative)
Mr. Michel Guimond, M.P. (Bloc Quebecois)
Mr. Paul Szabo, M.P. (Liberal)

 

Calgary Herald: Green Plan Not Enough

If you get the Calgary Herald every morning, you'll see the following as the paper's main front page story. I've provided some excerpts:

Alberta admits green plan not enough
Emissions still likely to rise 30% by 2017
By Renata D'Aliesio
Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner says the province's rising greenhouse gases — fuelled largely by the oilsands' rapid expansion — are expected to increase another 30 per cent within 10 years despite the province's new effort to regulate emissions.
He attributes the jump to Alberta's unprecedented economic growth.
….government projections show even with anticipated reductions achieved through a provincial regulation taking effect in July, emissions could be 64 per cent above the benchmark by 2020.

Speaking to the city's business leaders in the heart of Canada's energy industry, the environment minister called for action on global warming.

“One of the most compelling facts for me is this one — by 2080, the children born this year will be in their early 70s, and the temperatures in Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray could be very similar or higher than the temperatures we see today in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat,” said the southern Alberta MLA.
“I'm from Medicine Hat and I know how hot it gets. I can't imagine Fort McMurray having that same kind of heat. Nor can I imagine where the Medicine Hat that I know today might be at that point in time.
“These are startling facts, and facts we can no longer afford to ignore.”
[Read the full story]

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You think you're heating bill is high …

The Ottawa Citizen’s Glen McGregor digs through the hydro and natural gas bills for 24 Sussex Drive — the official residence of the Prime Minister — and reports that it costs one heckuva lot to keep the place lit and warm:

In spite of an unusually warm winter, the costs of heat and electricity for 24 Sussex Drive hit a chilling $57,000 for the year ending in January, records obtained by the Citizen show.

For the December 2006 billing period, with the Harpers in residence, the National Capital Commission was billed for 4,799 cubic metres of natural gas, even though the average mean temperature that month was a relatively toasty -1.7 C.

In the same billing period the previous year, under Mr. Martin, with an average mean temperature of -6.6 C, only 4,472 cubic metres were used. The average Canadian home uses about 3,000 cubic metres annually.

The electric bills, however, were virtually identical under both prime ministers. Mr. Harper averaged 1,304 kilowatt hours per day compared to Mr. Martin's 1,297.

Neither the Harpers nor Martins used as much energy as their predecessor, Jean Chretien and his family, who burned off 20-per-cent more gas during his last year in the historic home. Temperatures were lower in 2003, accounting for the higher gas consumption  . ..

[Read the rest of the story]

 

Libloggers organize!

On the heels of a conference call organized by Stephane Dion’s office with some key Liberal bloggers, Liberals in the blogosphere have set up a single point-of-contact for those who want to watch YouTube content created by Liberal supporters. Here’s the release from Liblog creator Jason Cherniak:

Liblogs, the unofficial list of Liberal bloggers, launches a video page on the Liblogs.ca website 

Toronto, March 28, 2007 – Canadians are watching YouTube videos more and more every day.  Taking advantage of this new medium, Liblogs.ca will now offer one location for Liberals to post their YouTube videos (http://liblogs.ca/news.en.cgi?10) for all to see.

“Ever since St├ęphane Dion’s election as leader, Liberals have been making videos at home and sending them to me,” explained Jason Cherniak, founder and president of Liblogs.  “I realized that it was time to expand Liblogs so that we could display those videos in one easy to access location for all Canadians to see.”

Liblogs is the operating name of a non-profit corporation, Blogger Support Services. For over a year, it has been operating a list of Liberal bloggers at http://liblogs.ca, where Canadians can scan the headlines of the posts of over 250 Liberal bloggers at any time, on any day.

 “This new video page is in addition to our main blog service and Liblogs News, which highlights a selection of some of the best Liberal Blog posts once a day,” said Mr. Cherniak.  “Liblogs videos will allow Liberals from across the country to use their creative talents and express their support for the Liberal Party in the most modern manner available.”

Tretiak in the House

TretiakOk this is kinda cool — Vladimir Tretiak (left), the goaltender who just about stole the 1972 Canada-Russia series, was hanging about the foyer of the House of Commons this afternoon. Tretiak was in Parliament to push the idea of another bout between Canada and Russia’s best, this time to commemorate the 35th anniversary of that famous series. He also met hockey fan Stephen Harper.

Here’s a transcript of the brief scrum he did with reporters in the foyer. I have edited it for clarity: 

Tretiak: (Speaks Russian which, sadly, only a few Parliament Press Gallery reporters are able to speak and I am not one of them)

Tretiak’s Interpreter: We're very interested in launching the series again in Russia because the two hockey superpowers have to meet again, at least out of Canada and Russia.

Reporter: Are you going to meet Mr. Dryden? (The MP for York Centre – ed)

Tretiak: Frank Mahovlich too. (Now the Senator from Ontario)

Reporter: Can you tell us about your meeting with Mr. Dryden?

Tretiak: (More Russian)

Interpreter: We're just going to a meeting with him.

Reporter: Who's your favourite player in the NHL today?

Tretiak: Crosby, I think. Crosby. Plays very well. Yeah. ( Speaks more Russian)

Interpreter: He's a very good player.

On his way out of the House of Commons, Harper stopped on the stairs up to his office to offer a couple of comments:

Reporter:   [Tretiak] wants to talk about the future of hockey with you, sir? Any thoughts about that?

Harper: Well, he probably knows a lot more about that than I do.  I'm just worried about the future of the country. I think it's looking good. 

Question:   Is [meeting Tretiak] a perk of the office, sir?

Harper: Yes. (The Prime Minister, at this  point, has a rather broad grin on his face).

Question:   Can you get him to play for the Senators? 

— The PM declined to answer and continued up the stairs —

 

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Engineering their own defeat

A few days ago I signed up at Facebook and wondered here how I might find it useful. Well, here’s one useful reason to be there: Many of the people I cover are there. Here’s Liberal MP Mark Holland, for example, writing on Facebook live from the C-30 (Clean Air Act) committee meeting room with his thoughts on how work on that bill is going; how the Conservatives might engineer their own defeat on it; and how it seems the Bloc might be caving a bit …

Some people were unclear about why C-30 would lead to an election – I should be clearer. We will amend the act in committee with the support of other opposition parties – make it pro-Kyoto and basically totally rewrite it. The Conservatives will then declare it an 'economy killer' and say that if the House passes it, it is a vote of no-confidence in the government. We and the other opposition parties can't give up our commitment to Kyoto so we will have to support it – down goes the government. Just my theory…however in a new development, the Bloc are refusing to work with any of our or the NDP amendments. I think they are avoiding strengthening C-30 so that it stays the government bill. They will then support it as a first step, saying that they want more but can accept C-30 as a start. They are using the argument of territoriality as shielding. In short – they are letting the Conservatives have their weak and meaningless C-30 generally as it was presented to avoid them using it as an election starter. I still think we will go to the polls in spring but maybe not on C-30 now… we’ll have to see how the week plays out and if the Bloc turn around to working with us to make C-30 a real plan to deal with climate change.

UPDATE: Holland has updated his Facebook comment,  removing the section above about the Bloc Quebecois. He now says the Bloc Quebecois seems to co-operating more fully with the other Opposition parties. His comment from committee now reads:

Some people were unclear about why C-30 would lead to an election – I should be clearer. We will amend the act in committee with the support of other opposition parties – make it pro-Kyoto and basically totally rewrite it. The Conservatives will then declare it an 'economy killer' and say that if the House passes it, it is a vote of no-confidence in the government. We and the other opposition parties can't give up our commitment to Kyoto so we will have to support it – down goes the government. Just my theory…C-30 sits until 9:30pm tonight so we should have a better sense of things by the time the night is out.

Top Tories named in OPP investigation

The mayor’s race here in Ottawa last fall was an exciting one with a surprise finish. Larry O’Brien, a millionaire high-tech enterpreneur with no political experience literally came out of nowhere to upend an incumbent, Bob Chiarelli, and another strong challenger, Alex Munter. There was another candidate — Terry Kilrea. Kilrea and O’Brien were on the right of the political spectrum; Chiarelli is a longtime Liberal and Munter is probably a little left of Chiarelli.

As the campaign unfolded, Munter became the guy to beat — and the political right started to mobilize hard to beat him. Then, in late August, O’Brien packed it in, citing an inability to be able to afford to continue. His departure, some say, galvanized right-wing supporters and help O’Brien win.

Then, after the election, Kilrea told the local media that, before he made the decision to  quite, O’Brien tried to get him to quit by offering to cover his expenses if he quit the race, an allegation which O’Brien rejects.

The Ottawa Citizen asked Kilrea to swear an affidavit to his allegations and also asked him to take a polygraph test. Kilrea swore an affidavit and passed the polygraph.

Now even though the Citizen has had the affidavit for months and has reported on the issue extensively, we’re just hearing for the first time today that John Reynolds, the former Conservative MP and Conservative national campaign co-chair in 2005–2006, is named in the documents along with John Baird, the Ottawa-area MP who is also the Environment Minister. The affidavit is the key document in a complaint made to the Ontario Provincial  Police by the Ottawa and District Labour Council. The OPP launched an investigation into the matter on Friday.

You can download the affidavit and read it for yourself and there’s also a good wrap up of the issue by Canadian Press reporter Bruce Cheadle that you can find on our Web site.

Here though, is the section from the affidavit, sworn in December, that refers to Reynolds and Baird:

11. At approximately 2 p.m. later that day (July 5,2006), O'Brien called me to advise that my name had been put forward for an appointment to the National Parole Board. When I asked how this was possible, he responded that he had spoken to John Reynolds. He then instructed me to call John Baird (“Baird), President of the Treasury Board, and to tell him that my name “was in the queue” for an appointment to the Board.
12. Following the call with O'Brien I emailed Baird indicating that O'Brien had instructed me to contact him regarding my name being put forward for a position on the National Parole Board. Baird responded that he had no knowledge of my name being put forward and that he did not know that I was interested in an appointment.
13. The following day (July 6, 2006) O'Brien called me to say that he had “screwed up”, that I “shouldn't have contacted John Baird” and that “it was all my [O'Brien's] fault”. He advised that Baiid would have no idea that my name had been put forward. He told me that “there was a different way of doing this” and
to “leave it with me [O'Brien]”.

18. I met with Baird on Wednesday, July 19, 2006 at his office in the Department of Justice building on Wellington Street. I had decided not to raise the issue of the National Parole Board given my earlier email exchange with Baird on July 5, 2006 and O'Brien's comment the next day that I should not have done so. I
would only discuss the appointment if it was raised by Baird; however, at no time during the meeting did Baird mention it.
19. In the meeting I asked Baird if the federal Conservatives were backing O'Brien by providing him with logistical support. Baird said they were not.

….

30. If the facts deposed to in this Affidavit become part of a legal action, I am prepared to testify to their accuracy in a court of law.

Liberals hand over 'confidential' Conservative files

The parliamentary headquarters for Her Majesty’s Official Opposition is at 180 Wellington Street. Sometimes known as the South Block, it sits across the street from Parliament’s West Block and Confederation Building, and houses a variety of government offices in addition to the Opposition Leader’s Office (OLO).

Stephane Dion’s Liberals now occupy these offices, of course, but, for the last few years it was the offices of the Conservative Party and one of its predecessor parties, the Canadian Alliance.

Now, normally, when one party turns the keys over to another party, the departing party makes sure there is not a scrap of paper hanging about. Well, it seems that the Conservatives failed in that mission when they moved in to government for the Liberals have come upon boxes and boxes of records left behind.

Last week, Liberal MP Mark Holland claimed that, among the records left behind by the departing Conservatives, was the documentary evidence to support his claim that the Alliance paid an MP to step aside so that Stockwell Day could enter Parliament. It is illegal to pay an MP to do that and Holland’s claims have not been tested in court and an earlier police investigation into these allegations ended without the charges being substantiated. The former MP, Jim Hart, rejected the accusations.

Today, Holland and his colleague Marlene Jennings held a press conference in the Wellington Building outside the OLO in which they announced they will be handing back these boxes and boxes of records to the Conservatives. Here’s the statement released by the Liberals:

Liberals Return Confidential Personnel Files to Conservatives

Ottawa – The Opposition Liberals today handed over boxes of documents belonging to the Conservative Party to illustrate that this self-proclaimed “accountable” government needs to be accountable for the privacy of all Canadians.

“Today we're returning five years worth of personal performance appraisals of Conservative staffers that this government negligently left behind,” said MP Mark Holland.

“These are confidential documents on their own staff. Such gross ineptitude makes me very nervous about how this government handles other issues of a private nature,” he added.

Liberal Justice Critic Marlene Jennings agreed.

“This is a government that purports to carry the torch on accountability, and yet has shown a cavalier disregard for the privacy of its own employees,” she said. “One has to seriously wonder just how safe the privacy of other Canadians is under this government's watch.”

Liberals voluntarily decided to return these documents that were left behind in the offices of the Official Opposition after determining they were of no public interest. They are contained in boxes that also held faxes that appear to show Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and former candidate Jim Hart made a financial deal to get Mr. Hart to resign his seat.

Mr. Holland said the Liberal caucus is retaining possession of some of the documents to determine whether or not they contain other issues that are in the public interest.