Canada Newswire gets social: New ways of pushing the news agenda…

Canada Newswire (CNW) is one of the leading agencies in Canada for distributing press releases and other information to the newsrooms of the country. At one point (before my time in the biz, I'm sure) CNW did this by mailing out releases. When I started in the biz, CNW might fax stuff to your newsroom. Then, as Internet access became as ubiquitous as telephone access in the country's newsrooms (you'd be surprised, I might add, how long it took for some newsroom managers to discover the benefits of Internet access for their reporters), CNW put releases up on its Web site and eventually let you sign up for e-mail distribution of companies or sectors you wanted to watch.

Now CNW is taking the step — and it's one that bloggers and users of various social software tools, like Facebook, Twitter and the like, may find useful. It just launched a service called “Social Media Release” that builds on a traditional press release by providing audio and visual materials in addition to harnessing various social software tools that let users annotate, share, and build on the information provided by the CNW client.

CNW's own release about these new services says, “”Social Media Release” takes the four basic platforms; print, audio, video and Internet, and gives customers access to a host of new, online news distribution features. It not only expands the reach of a standard press release into online channels, it increases visibility among more traditional media by providing features such as pre-approved quotes, links to related content, two-way conversations via a comment box, etc.”

Importantly, I think, a CNW executive says these new ways of moving a message around on behalf of corporate clients is supplement to, not a replacement for, traditional forms of distributing news releases.

I am told, by-the-by, that these innovations were not bells-and-whistles added by CNW so it could charge additional fees to its clients but were added largely at the request of some CNW's biggest clients who were keen to find ways to bypass/supplement traditional forms of reaching media, shareholders, and other stakeholders.

But enough blathering here — go check it out.

"Scant evidence" of housing supply imbalance in Canada

Scotia Capital senior economist Adrienne Warren takes a look at some recent residential real estate data from both Canada and the U.S. She says this morning that the crisis in the U.S. appears to moderating although she's not ready to call an end to the housing downturn there. And then she writes:

In contrast to the United States, there is still scant evidence of a significant supply overhang in Canada. The inventory of completed but

unsold new homes, while edging higher across most major markets remains relatively low from a historical perspective, both for singledetached and multi-family developments. In addition to the general loss of economic momentum nationwide, tighter lending guidelines and high material and labour costs have contributed to a more cautious approach among builders in recent years.

The volume of homes for sale in Canada’s resale market has also been moving up, and combined with softer demand, has lifted the

national ratio of new listings to sales from an average of 1.6 in 2007 to 2.0 in June. This shift from the strong sellers market of recent

years to essentially balanced conditions points to a cooling off period in which home prices should rise in line with general inflation.

There are significant regional differences,however, with new-listings-to-sales ratios in several of Canada’s previously hottest markets, including Saskatoon, Calgary and Vancouver, now favouring home buyers, with greater inherent downside price risk.

Who says the Tories don't love art? Here's half-a-million for "Connecting Cloth, Culture + Art"

Who says those the federal Conservatives aren't closet arts supporters after all? Why, just this morning, Jim Flaherty, the federal Finance Minister and a sworn enemy of paying for anything remotely resembling a boondogle, just cut a $460,000 cheque, on behalf of his colleague Josée Verner, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, to the Textile Museum of Canada.

The Textile Museum of Canada will use this $460,000 to create a section on its Web site called “In Touch: Connecting Cloth, Culture, and Art.”

“Canadians have made tremendous contributions to the arts, especially in the area of textiles, and now our rich culture and history will be proudly on display for all to see,” said Flaherty in a press release announcing the contribution.

Heritage Canada says “this site will engage people of all ages in exploring our rich cultural diversity through textiles. It will also allow the public to connect with Canadian artists, designers, scholars, curators, and makers.”

Canada AWOL from race to build icebreakers

The New York Times reports today on hand-wringing by the Pentagon and others in the U.S. that it does not have enough icebreakers to match the Russians in the Arctic. There is not a word in the piece about Canada — though Canada easily dominates the Arctic when it comes to shoreline and Canada is expected to assert its sovereignty to many key Arctic shipping lanes under international laws of the sea.

But of course, Canada does not have even one icebreaker capable of operating year-round in the Arctic. The Conservatives, in the last election, promised to build armed heavy icebreakers but, once in office, determined they could only promise to build some Arctic patrol ships that could only operate in the Arctic in summer months.

From the Times' article:

A growing array of military leaders, Arctic experts and lawmakers say the United States is losing its ability to patrol and safeguard Arctic waters even as climate change and high energy prices have triggered a burst of shipping and oil and gas exploration in the thawing region. …

…Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, who toured Alaska’s Arctic shores two weeks ago with the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, said that whatever mix of natural and human factors is causing the ice retreats, the Arctic is clearly opening to commerce — and potential conflict and hazards — like never before.

“All I know is, there is water where it didn’t used to be, and I’m responsible for dealing with that,” Admiral Allen said in a recent interview. Given the 8 or 10 years it would take to build even one icebreaker, he added, “I think we’re at a crisis point on making a decision.”

BPA OK in the USA; Canada takes a different view

Most often Health Canada and other federal regulators of the foods and drugs used in this country take their approvals cue from the larger, better-funded U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But when it comes to the chemical bisphenol-A or BPA, Health Canada was taking the lead. BPA is most often used as an additive to plastics to make them hard. Sports water bottles and baby bottles often had BPA in them. But many researchers say that prolonged exposure to BPA can cause cancer and other health problems.

Health Canada said back in April it is not worried about the risk to adults from exposure to BPA but it does have some concerns about infants. It is near the end of a commenting period for any further action it ought to take.

Now, the Washington Post reports today that the U.S. FDA has chimed in and declared BPA to pose no threat to human health:

FDA Draft Report: No Risk From BPA In Food Containers

Some stores are stocking water bottles that do not contain bisphenol A (BPA), one of the most widely used synthetic chemicals.

A controversial chemical commonly found in can linings, baby bottles and other household products does not pose a health hazard when used in food containers, according to a draft assessment released by the Food and Drug Administration yesterday.

The report stands in contrast to more than 100 studies performed by government scientists and university laboratories that have found health concerns associated with bisphenol A (BPA). Some studies have linked the chemical to prostate and breast cancers, diabetes, behavioral disorders such as hyperactivity and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.

Jay meets Steve, Chris, and Mike to talk about France

My good friend Kady is the first to find treasure in what will surely be a goldmine of interesting story leads: A new database from our federal Registry of Lobbyists which is now listing what lobbyist met with whom when. I, like most of my colleagues here in Ottawa, had known about this database and had been checking in from the date it first launched back on July 1. But it is only now that juicy bits have been discovered by Kady (who, I should note, has a long and glorious history of poking around in the lobbyist database).

Here's the first: Jayson Myers, the president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), had a meeting on July 3, two days after the new reporting requirement kicked in, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, and International Trade Minister Michael Fortier. They talked about trade with France and why wouldn't they? Harper, no doubt, chatted with French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the G-8 last month and will be hosting Sarkozy at least two events this this fall, including at the meeting of La Francophonie in October. ('Course, that's assuming there isn't a federal election in the meantime and a guy named Dion is PM).

I describe this new database as a treasure chest because it gives reporters a neat peak inside the world of lobbying that we otherwise did not have. That said, I'm not sure a lot of us know exactly how this will all help — though we're pleased as punch to have the chance to try it out.

On the other hand, this can't but help burnish the reputation of Jay Myers and/or his organization, the CME. ('Course, they both should already have a pretty good reputation because both Jay and the CME do some pretty good work representing their members). I met Jay shortly after my arrival here in Ottawa. He was working then at the CME but his position then was chief economist. Perrin Beatty, now heading up the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, was Jay's boss. Turns out both Perrin and Jay are from Fergus, Ont., which is 20 minutes down Highway 6 from where I grew up in Guelph.

Jay has often been a terrific on-the-record source for many of my stories about the federal budget and economic and trade policy.

But a big part of Jay's job, as it was with Perrin before him, is membership relations. Individual companies pay a fee to belong to his organization — they have more than a few thousand members who, collectively, account for 90 per cent of Canada's exports and 75 per cent of Canada's manufacturing capacity — and at annual or regional conferences, Jay will spend a lot of time making sure that members understand the value they're getting by staying signed up with his organization.

Now normally, Jay — like most lobbyists — would be reluctant to publicize the fact that you meet the PM, the very top guy. But now that it's out there in the database, what lobbyist wouldn't want to broadcast that fact to help with clients and members?

Punch in “Harper” into the database and, at this point, just two entries pop up. There was the meeting Myers had on July 3 and, then later in the month, Harper took a meeting with one Basil “Buzz” Hargrove, everyone's favourite rabble-rousing labour leader. Buzz and Harper met, the lobbyists registry says, to talk about “aboriginal affairs”. Note to self: Next time you talk to Buzz, ask him why, with the auto industry crumbling about us, he chose to talk to the prime minister about aboriginal affairs rather than those dastardly foreign imports that are ruining it for Ford, Chrysler and GM.

Let me single out another couple of nuggets that Kady: Turns out some CEOs of some of Canada's biggest energy-related companies got some facetime with PMO types in early July. Harold Kvisle, the top dog at Trans-Canada Pipelines was in to see Mark Cameron, who was then Harper's top policy guy. PetroCanada's CEO Ron Brenneman popped by to see Bruce Carson, a top Harper advisor (and, as we learned today, the new executive director of an environment and energy think tank).

Canada's soldiers are losing an important battle: The PR battle

My colleague David Pugliese is the dean of defence reporters. He blogs today about the completely collapsed public relations function within of the Department of National Defence. Like Pugliese, I, too, have found that DND's responsiveness to media requests — even routine requests, like, “how do you spell that guy's name …” — are almost never answered in time for the deadlines we give the intake officer at the national headquarters media line.

David writes how it took five months for DND to respond to one of his questions and the response essentially consisted of pointing him to a web link on DND's site.

For my part, if I can, I'll try to bypass DND HQ media relations and go straight to the public affairs officer attached to the base or unit. In my experience, the captains, majors and lieutenants staffing those jobs are polite, quick-to-respond, and eager to make sure we get what we need we need it.

David talks about a process for handling media requests that involves routing them through the PMO's communications shop. Now, I don't have direct knowledge of that that though I've heard it happens depending on the reporter and on the question. And those who suggested it was happening said that the idea/order originated with Sandra Buckler, who was Harper's communications director from shortly after his swearing-in until last month. The new director of communication (no 's' on that) is Kory Teneycke and, in the four weeks or so he's been on the job, he's demonstrated that he's taking a significantly different path in terms of control of the information disseminated by communications shops other than his own. I'm not sure Teneycke will insist DND run all media responses through his office; in fact, I rather he doubt he will.

Still, if some associated with the military want to blame the media [John Scott Cowan, who holds a doctorate in something or other and is the current president of a defence lobby group funded by Department of National Defence, comes to mind for one of the most ignorant and vitriolic attacks on my profession, many of whom are, in fact, risking life and limb in the world's hot spots precisely to gain a better understanding of what our military men and women are facing every day…. but don't get me started] when incomplete stories appear in the press, perhaps they ought to ask military officials first what they're doing about it.

GTMO: Is the fix in for military commissions?


Defence lawyers for Omar Khadr and several other defendants in war crimes trials here at Guantanamo Naval Station in Cuba think the special military commissions process set up to try terrorism-related cases is flawed, that the rules of evidence and procedure are geared to produce wins for the prosecution. These folks aren't arguing that Khadr and others should be set free; they argue that the U.S. Federal Courts are the best place for their defendants to receive a fair trial. (In fact, a report by Human Rights First, a group which opposes the Guantanamo trials, concludes that the U.S. government has had much more success in Federal Court in securing convictions in terrorism-related cases than it has using the military commissions process.).

One of the reasons Khadr's lawyers and others make this claim that the military commissions process is skewed is the behaviour of Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartman (left), a senior Pentagon official whose job is to supervise the chief prosecutor for all these cases; provide logistical support for the commissions process; and provide independent advice about the cases to other senior Pentagon officials.

This morning, defence lawyers for Mohammed Jawad, also accused of war crimes, managed to get Hartman disqualified from any further participation in their case. Last May, a military judge ordered Hartman not to participate in the Hamdan case, which wound up here last week.

Khadr's lawyers, in fact, had Hartman on the stand yesterday making the same argument in their case that Jawad's and Hamdan's lawyers made: Hartman is “unlawfully interfering” in the process.

The combination of a relatively light sentence in the Hamdan case and, now, the double-censure of a top Pentagon official charged with overseeing the whole process, has some political implications for those trying to build support for the commissions process.