Bill Casey says goodbye

Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey spoke his last words this afternoon in the House of Commons ending a career in Parliament that lasted 6,149 days.

“I want to say how proud I've been to be in Parliament,” Casey said in the House after the conclusion of Question Period.

Casey, a gentlemanly sort who is popular among MPs and journalists, was first elected as a Progressive Conservative in 1988, arriving on the wave the swept Brian Mulroney to office. He lost when his party was nearly wiped out with Kim Campbell as leader but then was re-elected. He became a Conservative when his PC party merged with the Canadian Alliance but quit that caucus and party after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first budget in 2006. Casey felt that that budget broke an agreement Ottawa had with Nova Scotia on equalization payments. He has been sitting as an Independent ever since.

Casey represented the northwestern Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley.

“He demonstrated a tremendous high-road, human approach of what it means to be a Parliamentarian,” said Defence Minister (and neighbouring MP) Peter MacKay, in a tribute that followed Casey's speech. Geoff Regan, the Liberal MP from Halifax, also paid tribute, saying he served with “dignity, respect, and honour” and was a role model to many MPs. NDP MP Peter Stoffer, who is also a Nova Scotia MP, also paid tribute to Casey.

Though Casey leaves the Commons, he will stay in Ottawa. He has been hired by the Province of Nova Scotia to keep an eye on the federal government and effectively be Nova Scotia's ambassador in Ottawa.

Chrysler: "Without this there would have been no hope"

Auto analyst Dennis Desrosiers has spent “39 years and 7 months” studying the auto industry and his first reaction to the Chrysler news this afternoon is less than enthusiastic. Notably, he concludes that Chrysler/Fiat's success will depend on their ability to make a profit selling small cars to Americans. Two problems there: Americans have never bought small cars and no one, including the Japanese, have figured out how to make a profit on small cars. (The big profits for the Detroit 3 have always come from their pickups and SUVs)

Here's some excerpts from a note Desrosiers just published:

I listened to Obama and he was talking very tough. This is dangerous since the money at stake is very large and the bondholders are in a more powerful position now than before and they could really mess this up. Rarely do these proceed as planned and on any sort of schedule. We are entering a very dangerous time for Chrysler.

[Still] If everything goes as planned Chrysler could emerge a much leaner, smaller and more cost competitive company and be in a good position to pick up market share. This will depend on their product offerings on a go forward basis and this is one of their weak spots. New product offerings are very thin compared to their competitors … Quite frankly a lot of the import success has been due to the D-3's failure … quality, product cadence, ignoring key segments of the buying public, diverting scarce resources to stupid initiatives and away from their core business, iffy investments, ineffective restructurings over and over again etc.

Be careful to not read too much into the Fiat deal. The issue isn't whether the deal can be done or not. This is fait accompli. The real issue is whether it will work. To work there has to be three near miracles … first Americans have to embrace small cars .. they never have … second they have to buy Italian small cars … they never have and third Fiat/Chrysler has to find a way to make small cars profitable in North America when nobody including the Japanese have found a way to make small cars profitable in North America. So the Fiat deal is great but a lot has to happen for it to make a financial difference for Chrysler. And this is attempt number 4 for Chrysler … the dream team of Lutz/Stallkamp/Eaton didn't do the job … Daimler failed miserably with Chrysler … the wizz kids on Wall street ( Cerberus ) failed … there is no guarantee that who ever takes over can make this successful.

We are officially in “limp along mode” which I think is good. Chrysler can now restructure and with billions in taxpayer money limp along for 2 or 3 years in the hope that all this comes together and they can survive long term.

After 39 years and 7 months of studying this industry my intuition says it is going to be a challenge but at least there is an opportunity. Without this there would have been no hope.

Canada's car company: Chrysler

For better or worse, Canadian taxpayers are about to get in the auto business:




The Governments of the United States and Canada, have reviewed and approved the restructuring plans of Chrysler LLC and its subsidiaries, including Chrysler Canada Inc.

As a result, thanks to the considerable contributions and sacrifices of company management, the United Auto Workers and Canadian Auto Workers, and major lenders, and a successful partnership agreement with Fiat SpA, our Governments are in a position to extend support to help Chrysler restructure itself and re-emerge as a globally competitive automaker.

“We appreciate the close and cooperative relationship between the U.S. and Canadian governments during this period of restructuring in the auto industry. Together, we have put in place a financing package that will give Chrysler a chance to achieve financial viability,” said President Obama.

“I want to thank President Obama and the U.S Automotive Task Force for their close cooperation with Canada on this challenging issue. Thanks to our joint efforts, there is now a road ahead to a stronger Chrysler and a stronger industry in the future on both sides of the border,” said Prime Minister Harper.

The Governments will provide $US 10.5 billion in financing, including short term and medium term capital and debtor-in-possession financing to assist with the court-supervised restructuring of Chrysler LLC. Of this amount, the United States is contributing $US 8.08 billion and Canadian governments (including the Government of Canada and Government of Ontario) $US 2.42 billion.

The United States will have 8 percent of the equity of the restructured Chrysler LLC, and Canada and Ontario will have 2 percent, and the United States will appoint four independent directors to the new Chrysler LLC board, while Canada will appoint one independent director.

The close cooperation of our Governments acknowledges that the automotive industries in Canada and the United States are tightly linked, with major automobile manufacturers and suppliers operating on both sides of the border in a completely integrated way. The cost sharing reflects the historic shares of auto production in both countries for Chrysler, which will be maintained under this restructuring agreement.

The United States and Canada are committed to continuing to work together closely as we chart the path to a stronger automobile industry in both countries, both in the short term as we complete similar efforts on General Motors restructuring plan, and in the long term as we seek to ensure a competitive, environmentally responsible automobile industry for the future.

More bad data: NAFTA surface trade plummets in February

Canada needs to sell stuff to the U.S. and Mexico in order to prosper so this is not good news, released a few minutes ago by the U.S. Department of Transportation: “Trade using surface transportation between the United States and its North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners Canada and Mexico was 30.9 percent lower in February 2009 than in February 2008, dropping to $47.9 billion, the biggest year-to-year percentage decline on record.”

Canada-U.S. surface trade — mostly on trucks but some on ships and some via pipelines — was just over $33 billion in February, compared to $48.9 billion in the same month last year, a drop of 32.5 per cent. The value of total trade by pipeline (that would be oil and natural gas) was about $7 billion in February last year and that had just about halved in value this February to $3.7 billion.

U.S.A bound truck traffic was down 32 per cent; Canada-bound truck traffic was down 28 per cent.

Canadian imports from the U.S. — that would be mostly be consumers shopping on the Internet — was only down 11 per cent. How much did Canadians export by mail in February: Nada.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Prime Minister

Prime Minister Stephen Harper turned 50 today and his staff marked the occasion by planting a flock of pink flamingos on the lawn at 24 Sussex Drive. The staff organized a press pool to mark the event. The reporter assigned to the pool was the talented Canadian Press reporter. Here is his report:

The lawn of 24 Sussex Dr. was partially covered in pink flamingos this morning.

Fifty of them, to be precise – which, not coincidentally, happens to be the precise age of one Stephen Harper.

The prime minister's staff determined that a lawn peppered in pastel pink would make for an ideal good-morning greeting for the birthday boy, not to mention a decent photo op.

So a pool of representatives from the national press gallery was invited to record the moment for posterity.

We entered the gates at 24 before 8 o'clock, just in time to hear PMO staffers quipping that the event had been unscripted and that, if it happened to fall flat with the boss, they just might find themselves looking for new jobs today.

Photographers sprawled themselves on the dew-covered grass to test out shot angles.

Ben Harper emerged just before 8 o'clock, unfazed by the sight of reporters crowding around a flock of fake birds just outside his front door, and he hopped into the SUV that would take him to school.

Photographers and cameramen continued setting up their shots. A burly RCMP officer stepped into the frame. Camera shutters were overheard snapping in rapid-fire. One of the officer's colleagues motioned for him to get out of the shot, and he backed away.

A few minutes after 8, the prime minister emerged from the house, holding his daughter Rachel's hand.

A pair of prime ministerial staffers began singing Happy Birthday in surprisngly decent tune, capping their ditty with the penultimate line, “Happy birthday, Prime Mi-ni-sterrrr…”

Harper responded by telling them: “We should get you a band.”

He and Rachel strolled the 50 or so paces from the front door to walk amongst the flamingos and, at his urging, they both crouched down next to a lawn sign that read, “Happy 50th birthday! Prime Minister”

The PM pointed and gestured toward some of the lawn toys. Much camera-snapping ensued.

A few seconds later they stood up. The PM said, “Thanks, guys.”

And they walked back towards the house, hand in hand.

We were quickly escorted off the premises.

Fun fact: According to a 2006 article in the Christian Science Monitor, the pink flamingo was invented in 1957 by Don Featherstone, who worked for Union Products, and the effort earned him some kind of mock Nobel Prize for art in 1996.

Meanwhile on the arts beat: We notice when they cut, we should notice when they give …

The Conservatives, as we all know, were beaten silly when they decided to trim a few million from the $2 billion or more Ottawa spends every year to support the cultural work of the country. So, it's only fair that, just as we noted the cuts, we should also note some of the additions — and there have been nearly $6 million worth of funding announcements made today. Similarly, I assume that those who decried the Tories for the cuts will now applaud their generosity. Pardon me? You think I'm a bit naive. Maybe so.

In any event, several MPs have been dispatched to cities across the country announcing grants to arts and cultural groups. These funds come from a program, run out of the Department of Canadian Heritage (James Moore, prop.), called the Endowment Incentives component of the Canadian Arts and Heritage Sustainability Program.

From the boilerplate on all the releases: “This year, the Government of Canada is providing 72 cents for every dollar donated by the private sector. Since 2006, this program has provided more than $44 million to various endowment funds, while the private sector has provided $72 million, for a total of more than $116 million. This initiative complements other measures taken by our Government to encourage private-sector participation in arts funding, such as the tax exemptions on capital gains for donations of publicly traded securities to registered charities announced in the 2006 and 2007 budgets.”

Here's the list of recipients announced today and the grants they are getting from federal funds:


  • Alberta Ballet


  • EPCOR Centre for Performing Arts: $217,008.95
  • Calgary Philharmonic Society: $122,514.21


  • Banff Centre for Continuing Education: $947,760


  • Globe Theatre Society: $3,616


  • École nationale de cirque $108,504.48
  • École nationale de théâtre $117,287.55
  • Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal $19,422.30
  • Festival des arts de Saint-Sauveur $14,467.26
  • Festival International de Lanaudière $54,512.65
  • Jeunesses Musicales du Canada $284,197.82
  • La Compagnie Jean Duceppe $35,518.00
  • Les Grands ballets canadiens de Montréal $1,446,726.36
  • Orchestre de chambre I Musici de Montréal $7,233.63
  • Orchestre symphonique de Montréal $1,446,726.36
  • The Leanor & Alvin Segal Theatre $657,894.47
  • Théâtre de la ville $30,370.40

Quebec City

  • Manifestation Internationale d'art de Québec: $6,328.20
  • Le chœur les Rhapsodes: $10,586.60
  • Orchestre Symphonique de Québec $37,008.69

More on ad spending for the budget

Earlier here, I reported on a the contents of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's written answer to Liberal MP Rob Oliphant who wanted to know how much the government had spent on television ads to tell Canadians about the new Tax Free Savings Accounts (TSFA). Flaherty said the government spent $3 million to prepare and air the ads.

A commenter asked earlier here about these written questions. You can find an updated list of all the questions that have been submitted to the government here. But here's the funny thing about the answers: There's no one central spot to find the answers. The list of questions will indicate if it's been answered yet or not and then there might be a direction to see the Hansard Debates or Journals for more info — but probably not the answer. You may also be directed to a sessional paper – a kind of bound long-form answer to a particular question. My advice if you find a question that you, too, are particularly interested in is to phone up the MP who asked the question and get him or her to provide you with the answer they received. Here's the list of current MPs with hyperlinks to their contact information.

Turns out that the NDP had also pursued the broader issue of government spending related to the production of the budget through an access to information request. The records released to the NDP under that request indicated that, in addition to the $3 million for TFSA-related TV ads, the government also spent an additional $2 million for advertising in other media to promote the TFSA.

The finance department also spent another $540,000 or so advertising the whole “Advantage Canada” concept.

So: Total advertising spend associated with the budget: About $5.54 million.

Poilievre's Geneva speech: Slamming Iran's "offensive tirade"

Pierre Poilievre (left), the Ottawa MP who is also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, was back in the House of Commons today but earlier this week, the PM had dispatched him to Geneva to what had been dubbed the “anti-Durban” conference. Officially titled The Conference Against Racism, Discrimination and Persecution, it was held at the same time as the controversial Durban Review Conference. That's where Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got the podium for his anti-semitic screed. Canada had boycotted that conference due to “the unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric that has saturated the entire Durban process,” a government release said.

Poilievre, too, got some podium time in Geneva and here's some excerpts of what he had to say:

Our Government recognizes that, for the UN to live up to its potential and be a positive force in the world, its actions must reflect its stated ideals.

For this reason, it is painful for me to find myself speaking here, outside of a UN Conference that could have had so much promise, but has degenerated into a soapbox for those who would demonize the democratic State of Israel—the beacon of liberty and freedom in the Middle East, and, as Natan Sharasnky has so rightly highlighted, the only country in the region “that respects right of Arabs, women, [and] sexual minorities.”

Furthermore, there is growing concern and increasing evidence that Israel is being used by some as a thin cover for a new, burgeoning form of anti-Semitism.

Our Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been a global leader in the fight against this modern anti-Semitism. He recently stated that “Anti-Semitism is a pernicious evil that must be exposed, confronted and repudiated whenever and wherever it appears. Fuelled by lies and paranoia, it is an evil so profound that […] it is ultimately a threat to us all.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attendance at the Durban II Conference this past Monday, and his offensive tirade, only made more obvious what was so apparent to Canada a long time ago—that this event was the exact inverse of what it purported to be.

And all the while, Durban II perversely ignores actual racism and human rights abuses elsewhere.

As Elie Wiesel has brilliantly pointed out, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” While time has run out to prevent Durban II from performing an injustice to the UN’s reputation, we must stand strong and protest.

I am tremendously proud of the fact that our Government has been a true global leader in voicing opposition to Durban II.

In fact, it was in January of 2008—almost 16 months ago to the day—that Canada was the first country to withdraw from Durban II.

We also refused to fund NGOs that wished to participate in the conference.

It is something that our Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, the Honourable Jason Kenney—who has been an outspoken and articulate defender of human rights—recently called his “proudest moment as minister.”

It should be made clear that Canada, as an international leader in promoting multilateralism, firmly believes in engagement and diplomacy. As such, we take every opportunity to make improvements to the UN process from within.

That said, we must also recognize when something has fallen so short that it is now beyond the pale. Durban II is exactly such a case. Participating would provide it with a legitimacy it absolutely does not deserve.

… we are heartened that several other countries that share our values and live up to the UN’s founding principles have reached the same conclusion as we have, and have also decided not to participate in Durban II.

My presence here today—at the real anti-racism conference—is to say to you and the world that Canada will never stop the fight against racism.

We will never stop the fight against discrimination.

We will never stop the fight against persecution and genocide.

And we will never stop the fight for peace, liberty, democracy and human rights.

With this, I want to say that Canada is here with outstretched arms and open hands, eager to work together with the international community to help the UN achieve its full potential, and to continue the fight against racism, discrimination and persecution, wherever they arise.

HarperDex floats higher

During the last election campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper came in for a little heat when he said, in response to a question from CBC's Peter Mansbridge, that the collapse in equity prices meant that ” there's probably a lot of great buying opportunities emerging.”

Ottawa Citizen reporter Glen McGregor quickly put up (mostly, he says, as a fun exercise in some Web programming techniques). The idea was simple: If you had invested $1,000 in the S&P/TSX Composite Index the day after Harper said “Buy”, the HarperDex will tell you what that $1,000 is worth.

McGregor says that, in the 136 trading days since the Buy Call, HarperDex has closed out of the red 14 times.

At 1 pm, with the TSX trending up today, you would now be up $4.12 on your $1,000 investment from the Harper “Buy Call”.