Parliamentary Computer Network crashes

Parliamentarians, political staffers, and journalists were frozen out of the parliamentary computer network for about two hours this afternoon. No, it was not one of super-sized cyber-viruses, says Heather Bradley, the media relations person for the House of Commons. It was just a good, old-fashioned “hardware” problem. Bradley didn't have more details on the server or other piece of computer equipment that blew up.

In any event, the House of Commons IT staff fixed things up and systems were by and large back online as of about 1700.

Good news: 5 cities to post economic growth; Bad news: 5 cities to post economic growth

It's heartening to hear that the Conference Board of Canada forecasts economic growth this year for Quebec City, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Regina. That's the good news. The bad news is that of the 13 metropolitan areas the Conference Board surveys, more than half — eight — will shrink and canada's biggest metropolitan area — Ontario's Golden Horseshoe incorporating Toronto and Hamilton — is going to trail all metropolitan areas when it comes to economic growth.

Here's the Conference Board's predictions for economic growth for 2009 (in percentage terms compared to 2008)

  1. Saskatoon: +1.7%
  2. Regina: +1.6%
  3. Winnipeg: +1.1%
  4. Quebec City: +0.6%
  5. Ottawa: +0.2% (Weakest since 1996)
  6. Halifax: 0.0
  7. Calgary: -0.1% (First decline in 20 years)
  8. Edmonton: -0.2%
  9. Victoria: -0.3%
  10. Montreal: -0.5% (Worst since 1991)
  11. Vancouver: -0.9%
  12. Toronto: -1.6%
  13. Hamilton: -1.9%

HST coming to Saskatchewan? B.C.?

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said today that “other provinces” are kicking the tires on the idea of blending the PST with the GST …

“I think this is very good economic policy,” Flaherty told reporters in Ottawa Monday. “This is a massive tax cut, a $5 billion tax cut for businesses in the province of Ontario and that means job creation and investment in the province of Ontario. So, this is very good economic policy over time.

“I’ve already heard from other provinces, now that Ontario has done this, that are not harmonized, saying let’s talk, we want to move in the same direction. Why? Because they know that that’s where the job creation will be and they don’t want to be left out.”

Alberta has no sales tax. PEI, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and BC are the only provinces without a harmonized tax. (Quebec’s tax is harmonized but is not in sync with federal tax regs.)

Harper and Obama: The Phone Call

J2_2610.jpgWhile in New York City today, where he gave interviews to the Financial Times and CNN, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama. The photo of Harper talking to Obama (left) was taken by the PM's Official Photographer Jason Ransom and distributed to members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister's press secretary, sent the following 'read-out' to reporters:

Prime Minister Harper talked today with President Obama about the upcoming G20 Summit which will take place in London on April 1-2, 2009. The two leaders had an in-depth discussion on the prospects for the London Summit and shared their priorities for a successful outcome. They discussed opportunities for working together to resolve the current global financial crisis and restore economic growth, restore trade, advance regulatory reforms and create jobs. The Prime Minister saluted the President’s leadership in addressing the global economic crisis.
They also discussed the upcoming NATO Summit which will take place on April 3-4, 2009. The President and the Prime Minister also discussed the cooperation between the two Governments on the auto sector.

Soft launch of David Akin's "Album Art Emporium"

I'm “soft-launching” a new section of my Web site today, a site to share vinyl album art. I've given it the grand name of the Album Art Emporium.

There's not a whole lot of content there now but, if you're interested and you have a minute to take a peek at it, I'm interested in feedback in terms of usefulness, layout and so on.

Why am I doing this?

Well, I began digitizing my vinyl record collection in 2008. For many of records, various online services would automatically retrieve album art and other information once I'd dumped the digitized files into iTunes. But in too many cases, the information was either absent, incomplete, or substantially different from the original vinyl. So with the help of a digital camera and some image editing software, I'm digitizing the album art as I digitize the actual music. This site will contain that digitized album art and, I hope, serve as a resource for collectors and others interested in the same stuff.

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Conservatives give grant to conservative magazine

REPORT Magazine is proud to bill itself as “Western Canada's Conservative Voice” and today, Canada's government, on behalf of all taxpayers, were pleased to give “Canada's Conservative Voice” a grant of $27,124.

This, of course, was the day after CBC announced about 800 layoffs. Some employees – but, notably, not management — said the layoffs were because of a budget shortfall it hoped Canada's government, on behalf of all taxpayers, might cover. For better or worse, CBC is not “Western Canada's Conservative Voice.”

“The Government of Canada is proud to support editorial content that promotes Canadian ideas, history, and culture,” said Edmonton MP Rona Ambrose. “We are committed to the preservation of our heritage and the promotion of our values to keep our identity strong now and in the future.”

“We are very much appreciative to the federal government for helping promote Canadian culture,” said Curtis Stewart, President of CanMedia Inc., publisher of REPORT Magazine. “If it was not for assistance like this, many publications would not be able to exist. Not only does this help promote Canadian heritage, it also helps keep employment in Canada.”

REPORT Magazine's cover story this month is about Western Canadian separatism and Western Canadian anger at the rest of Canada for letting all that coalition nonsense happen.

“”If …the Conservatives bend over to win central Canadian support, then the only option Westerners have, given that all other options have been tried and failed, [would be] independence,” a Lethbridge College political scientists tells REPORT.

Now, ahem, given my professional occupation, I'm all for any government helping out journalism endeavours, but I can't recall the last time any federal government gave a grant to a Quebec magazine that published sympathetic separatist articles.

In other media news this week: Sun Media closed two weeklies in Alberta.

Is a seniors program being used for a little pork barrel politics?

Budget 2008 set aside $15 million for the New Horizons Seniors Program (NHSP). The NHSP has been around for a while. The previous Liberal government started it up. Right now, the program is administed by Human Resources Development Canada.

Julie Vaux, the director of communications for HRDC minister Diane Finley, says:

Allocation for this funding is not politically motivated, in fact review committees in each province and territory play an important role in making recommendations for project funding. The committees consist of members who are active in seniors’ and community issues. They also include representatives from the federal and provincial or territorial governments. Also, the parameters of the Calls-for-Proposals under the NHSP have not changed since the program began. Since the beginning of this program, the NHSP has funded over 5,000 projects in several communities across Canada, helping seniors to bring their leadership, energy, and skills to benefit our communities. We are proud to continue to support seniors in strengthening our communities and building our country.

You should also know that 60% of projects funded under NHSP Community participation and leadership funding were in opposition held ridings. They are all available online:

This week, Canwest News Service distributed a story under my byline in which I quoted Kevin Gaudet, national director of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, saying this program was “a waste of money.”
I also noted that the government had issued 32 press releases this year announcing funding from this program and of those 32, 31 were announcements about funding of projects in Conservative ridings.
Since we published that story, here are the press releases this week.

  • Conservative MP Royal Galipeau announced that taxpayers would kick in $25,000 in his Ottawa-area riding so that seniors could participate in several activities including “a film on the history of Orleans, an after-school reading program that will partner seniors with elementary school children, and a computer technology class for seniors taught by university students and community volunteers.”
  • Conservative MP Dave Van Kesteren announced that taxpayers would kick in $48,000 in his riding for two separate projects. First, the money will be used to create a video to demonstrate seven exercise seniors can do “that will build strength and balance to prevent falls.” The other $23,000 will be used so that “seniors who are knowledgeable in gardening to transfer their knowledge of planting, seeding, cultivating and canning to youth in the community.”
  • Conservative MP Colin Mayes announced $19,000 of taxpayers money so that seniors could develop a mentorship program with local youth.
  • Conservative MP Patrick Brown announced $24,608 so that seniors could learn about “a variety of leisure activities, including art programs, walking and nature hiking, gardening and plant identification, and other outdoor recreation activities.”
  • Conservative MP Barry Devolin announced $25,000 for a “Computers with Seniors” program.
  • Devolin also announced $19,000 for seniors in his riding to create a photography exhibit about elder abuse.
  • Devolin also announced $25,000 so seniors in his riding could paint, draw, and take some photos.

Vaux may be correct in saying money is also flowing to opposition-held ridings but the government, it seems to me, doesn't want to draw any attention to that fact.

For the entire year now, there have been 37 press releases about the NHSP and 36 have been about funding in Conservative-held ridings.

It was similar story in 2008.

Check out the entire HRDC press release output for 2008.

By my count, there were 57 press releases issued by HRDC in all of 2008 announcing funding out of the New Horizons' program. Of all the of those, 44 or 77 per cent were press releases calling attention to funding of projects in a riding held by a Conservative or in a riding, such as Vaudreuil-Dorion, that the Conservatives were very keen to take in the election we all expected some time later in the year. (Indeed, former Sen. Michael Fortier issued three or more press releases from Vaudreuil-Dorion announcing funding from New Horizons. Fortier quit the Senate to run, unsuccessfully, in Vaudreuil-Soulanges.)

Sometimes, it is true, a press release was issued announced funding of projects in ridings held by non-Conservatives but, even then, the circumstances look suspicious: The government, for example, announced money for seniors in Kitchener, a riding they would, in fact, steal from the Liberals.

In some cases, a release was issued about the the funding of projects for a whole region. Joy Smith did that March 7, 2008, announcing that 48 organizations across Manitoba would get money — but while the government this week issued three separate releases for each of Conservative MP Barry Devolin's projects, the government never issued a press release for any of the Manitoba projects — except the separate one when when one organization in Smith's riding got some money.

Interview with FOX News – remember them? — kicks off Harper''s busy week selling G20 plan

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will spend two days in the U.S. selling Canada's solution to the global fiscal crisis — fix broken banks and maintain free trade — ahead of crucial meetings with world leaders in London next week.

Beginning Sunday, Harper will travel to Washington, New York, London and Strasbourg, France, squeezing in several international media interviews, a meeting with Queen Elizabeth and a celebration of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 60th anniversary.

But the main purpose of his trip will be to convince Americans and, later, world leaders at the G20 summit in London that the global recession cannot end unless the financial system is fixed and that free trade is maintained.

“The London summit must focus on the economy and fixing the financial system,” said Kory Teneycke, the prime minister's director of communication.

“And we're really going to be championing the risks of creeping protectionism. That's a big deal.”

Harper will start selling that message Sunday in Washington with an interview with the anchor for the Sunday morning politics show on the U.S. Fox News network. The same network aired a show on March 17 that ridiculed and insulted the Canadian military . . . [Read the rest of the story]

Federal surplus now down $500 million

We all know we're about to sink in the red but, at the end of January at least, the federal government was still $500 million to the good.

The latest numbers from the federal Department of Finance show that, with just two months remaining in the government's fiscal year (it ends on March 31), Ottawa had a budget surplus of $0.5 billion, compared to a budget surplus of $9.6 billion for the first 10 months of fiscal 2008. Revenues were off by $3.3 billion of 1.7 per cent while program expenses were way up by $7.5 billion or 4.7 per cent. Public debt charges are down, though, by $1.7 billion on a year-over-year basis.

January itself was alright as well with a narrow surplus for the month of $37 million, compared to a year ago when the January surplus was $1.2 billion.