How to fix forestry, manufacturing, etc.: No political consensus

A special subcommittee of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (Twitter hashtag: #CINDU) spend the last several weeks hearing from witnesses in forestry, aerospace, mining, manufacturing, and other ailing industrial sectors in the Canadian economy. The subcommittee's report, just out last week, provides a good, conventional and relatively brief summary of how we got here, separating out factors that we can chalk up to the recession and factors that we can chalk up to ongoing structural change some of these sectors.

The recommendations, however, were not unanimous among the parties. Here's some of the things that stood out for me:

  • The three opposition parties agreed that one way to help the forestry industry would be to insist that lumber be used to construct federal government buildings. I'm not sure the federal government constructs enough new buildings in any one year to single-handedly save the lumber industry but, as Conservative MP Mike Lake writes in his dissenting opinion to the committee's report: “Canada’s steel producers, or indeed other producers of products for the construction industry, would reasonably object to a policy that favoured another industry over theirs.”
  • The Liberal Party has a dissenting report in which it calls for a separate credit facility that would help the forestry business.
  • The Liberal Party earlier this month won some praise with its call for net neutrality but many of the folks who had been fighting for net neutrality will be surprised (and perhaps a little angry) that the Liberals, in their dissenting opinion, call for the adoption of the World Intellectural Property Organization Copyright Treaty, a treaty seen in many quarters as one that tips the copyright balance too much towards multinational music and film companies. And, in any event, the question for the Liberals might be: Why didn't you ratify this treaty — first negotiated in 1996 — while you were in power? Here's what the Libs recommend to the government:

    In relation to a recommendation on copy rights and antipiracy of intellectual property, the Liberal Party of Canada supports the recommendation as follows: “That the Government of Canada immediately introduce legislation to amend the Copyright Act, ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), amend related acts and ensure appropriate enforcement resources are allocated to combat the scourge and considerable economic and competitive damage to Canada’s manufacturing and services sectors and to Canada’s international reputation by the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property

  • The Bloc Québecois has a dissenting opinion: “The government must immediately adopt an industrial policy that meets Quebec's needs.” Really? Quel surprise!
  • The NDP wants more mining centres of excellent like the one in Sudbury, writes NDP MP Glenn Thibeault who is from — Sudbury! The NDP and the Bloc would both like the federal government to get behind loan guarantees to the forestry sector.

You can read the whole report here. The committee has asked the government to respond, which it will likely do sometime in the fall.

Jane's just plain wrong: Lots of influential women in Harper's PMO

The Globe and Mail's Jane Taber writes a popular “Hot and Not” column for her paper on Saturdays but she's made a serious and, to be honest, surprising error in this week's edition. While writing up a few paragraphs on women in politics, Taber says:

“Meanwhile, there are rumblings among some grass-root Liberal women that Mr. Ignatieff doesn't quite share that view. Mr. Ignatieff has few female caucus members in key critics' roles and has one senior woman in his entourage: communications director Jill Fairbrother . (Stephen Harper doesn't have a single senior woman.) The rumblings are that if more women were in high places, seeking consensus, we might not have come to the brink of another federal election this month.

The bolded part is my emphais and it's a sentence I'm sure Taber knows is incorrect.
As anyone who covers the PMO and the Conservatives know: The third most powerful person in the PMO — after Harper and Chief of Staff Guy Giorno — is a woman: Jenni Byrne, Harper's Director of Issues Management. If you ask most Conservative staffers if they'd rather be on the wrong side of Giorno or Byrne, I bet most would say Giorno. No one wants Byrne gunning for them.
And Byrne, unlike Giorno, has been there since day one of Harper assuming office. Byrne's unheralded influence for three years is largely a result, if you ask me, of the fact that she has never curried the kind of “inside-the-queensway” status that some other staffers are often interested in. I've asked some of the leading lights of the Parliamentary Press Gallery if they could pick Byrne out of a crowd and, even when she's walking down the stairs from PM's office right in front of them, they shrug in ignorance. For what it's worth: There are about four people in the PMO whose rolodex info I covet and she's one of them. Tough luck for me: I am told by many staffers that she is no fan of the Ottawa press corps and keeps them at arm's length.
Every Conservative staffer who matters in Ottawa hears from Byrne every day beginning at 7 a.m. when she holds her daily conference call to review what's in the morning papers, last night's newscasts, and what's the gossip on today's blogs and talk radio. She'll give marching orders or ask you to account for your activities the day before, particularly if there's a headline somewhere that she never saw coming. Byrne, I am told, can be a tough taskmaster and some staffers (women mostly, I'm told but I have no way of confirming) have quit because they felt Byrne was too tough. But other staffers, even those who have come in for a dressing-down by Byrne on those conference calls, says she has to be that tough because the meeting after her daily 7:15 a.m. call with staffers is with the prime minister and it's her job to make sure he is not surprised by anything a reporter or opposition politician might say that day.
When Sandra Buckler (another woman) was Harper''s director of communications, I'm told that she and Byrne often tussled over what the message of the day ought to be and then Buckler would decide how that message would be delivered. Buckler's successor, Kory Teneycke, I'm told, doesn't have the same kind of conflicts with Byrne. Teneycke, who is the director of communication (no 's' on that), seems to concede that it is Byrne's job to sort out the message of the day and Byrne seems to concede that it is Teneycke who knows best how to execute the communications strategy with that message. In other words: Byrne figures out what the message is; Teneycke does the messaging.
I would agree with Jane' s general thesis that a gender imbalance continues to exist among elected politicians and staffers but there are plenty of influential women behind the scenes in the Harper government:

  • Carolyn Stewart-Olsen: I don't know how Stewart-Olsen could slip from Taber's mind when she says Harper doesn't have a single senior woman advising him. Stewart-Olsen, a former nurse, has been on the plane next to Harper for every federal election he's been in. She is Harper's longest-serving staffer (Tom Flanagan, in his book Harper's Team, said he hired her in 2001 when Harper was trying to beat Stockwell Day for leadership of teh Canadian Alliance.) exceeding the tenure of Ray Novak and Dimitri Soudas. She is tremendously loyal and protective of Harper. And, like the other women in Harper's inner circle, she (it seems to me) has no interest in building cozy relationships with the Ottawa press corps, even though she's now been in Ottawa longer than many members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Stewart-Olsen is now a senior advisor and director of Strategic Communications for Harper. I'd say she outranks Ignatieff's Jill Fairbrother in terms of title, salary, and influence.
  • Jasmine Igneski. I've never met Igneski and I know no reporter who has. And yet, her current title is Director of Priorities and Planning – a very important job in any PMO. Before her current assignment, she was one of Harper's senior advisors. Check out her meeting record with lobbyists: If there was an economic or business issue you needed the PMO involved with, you went to see Jasmine. As far as I can tell, Andrew Wallace is the new Jasmine Igneski. My lobbyist sources tell me Igneski was someone you needed to deal with if you wanted to get anywhere in the PMO.
  • Isabelle Bouchard was once a separatist, then a member of the ADQ and finally a Conservative. She's not 30 (I think — cuz we all know it's not polite to ask a woman her age) and was Gordon O'Connor's director of communications when he was defence minister. Now she's working with Byrne in issues management with an eye towards Quebec.

There are many other women with senior administrative, communications, or policy advisor roles in the Conservative government. I say this not to be an apologist for the Conservatives. The Conservative record when it comes to nominating and electing female MPs continues to lag other parties. The Conservatives have come under fire by their political opponents for gutting some government programs that support women. And Conservative have all but ignored the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women. There is plenty of evidence that the Conservatives do not believe “the status of women” is an issue that ought to taken seriously.
But it is inaccurate and unfair to say, as Taber does in a widely-read newspaper, that “Harper doesn't have a single senior women” in his office. There are, in fact, several women who play an influential and important role in the most senior office in the land.

Regina, Toronto, St. John's top the list of metropolitan economic engines

CIBC economist Benjamin Tal releases his homemade index of metropolitan economic activity.[PDF] Tal takes nine macroeconomic variables like employment growth, housing activity, bankruptcy rates and so on and comes up with an index ranking for the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the country.

As Tal cautions, this approach allows econometricians to track the relative economic strength of various cities and not the absolute strength. For example, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver (ranked 9, 12, and 13) show worse in this latest index, an indication, Tal says, of weakening economic momentum in Western Canada. And yet, as he notes, absolute levels of activity in those cities remain above average.

Regina and Saskatoon placed 1 and 4 on the list, a sign of Saskatchewan's new title as economic wunderkid among the provinces. Both cities have the highest population growth right now in Canada, Regina's employment growth is second only to St. John's and it has the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 4 per cent.

Toronto ranks second on the list but, as a sign of problems in the rest of the province, three other Ontario cities rank dead last on the list. Thunder Bay is in the 25 spot, Windsor is 24, and St. Catharines-NIagara in is 23. London is 19 on the list. Chalk the declines in those cities up to declines in forestry, autos, autos, and autos respectively.

St. John's is at number three and Halifax is at number 5 on this list of cities with economic momentum. St. John 's, Tal notes, has the lowest business bankruptcy rate in the country.

Weather forecasters do important work, says study by weather forecasters

Canadians are crazy about the weather. It's the default topic whenever there's a lull in the conversation anywhere anytime. At many of the smaller papers, I worked, our line story on the front page would often be a weather story.

“Thunder Bay gets socked with snow” the headline of the Chronicle-Journal would blare from time to time in mid-February telilng all those in that northern Ontario city what they surely already knew. And yet, my editors at the Chronicle-Journal thought — and probably correctly so — that people would buy a paper that told them what the weather did yesterday so that we could all share in that common weather experience and have something to chat about at the coffee shop.

Now comes news supporting the thesis that weather information is, in fact, one of the things people hunger for. Mind you, it's a study by weather forecasters that say weather forecasting is really important and isn't getting the public funding it deserves. But perhaps I quibble.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research announced this morning that 90 per cent of American adults obtain a weather forecast regularly and most want their weather three times a day! (Though NCAR, a U.S. government agency, studied the weather info habits of Americans, my gut tells me that the data would be pretty similar for a Canadian survey.)

From the NCAR press release:

U.S. adults obtain an estimated 300 billion forecasts each year, says NCAR scientist and lead author Jeffrey Lazo. The study also reveals that most people are generally satisfied with weather forecasts and have fairly high confidence in forecasts with a lead time of one to two days.

“Weather forecasts equate to an enormous volume and multiplicity of information, when you account for the array of forecast providers, communication channels, and the size and diversity of the U.S. population,” Lazo says.

Lazo is an NCAR scientist and his study is based on an Internet-based survey he did in late 2006.

Lazo argues that he and other weather experts are not getting the kind of resources that their importance in the lives of Americans might deserve.

First, he asked his survey respondents — more than 1,500 — how many times a day they used a weather forecast and then he asked them how much they'd pay, if they had to, for each forecast. Answer to the last one — about a dime.

So Lazo then makes the jump that, if 300 billion forecasts are served up each year in the U.S. and they're worth a dime each, that means weather forecasters are serving up something with a market value of $31.5 billion:

In comparison, the cost of providing forecasts by government agencies and private companies is $5.1 billion, according to the paper.

“Our estimates indicate that Americans are getting a good deal on weather forecasts,” says Lazo. “While it's hard to precisely estimate the value of the forecasts, it is clear that there is a significant difference between the cost of forecasts and the value that people place on them.”

Where do people get their forecasts? The scientists asked about that and here's their response:

The most common source for forecast information is local television stations, with individuals obtaining forecasts 33.7 times per month on average. Cable television and radio are the next most popular sources. Web pages and newspapers were less common sources overall, but both are a daily or more frequent source of forecasts for 27 percent of respondents.

The press release also has this paragraph which I'm quite sure even a non-scientist could have concluded:

Many people use forecasts for planning specific activities, such as vacations, and routine daily activities, such as deciding what to wear and how to get to work or school. The peak periods for accessing forecasts are the early morning, early evening, and late evening, says (Lazo's co-author Julie) Demuth.

Ottawa gives group handout so group can promote life without handouts

Does this make sense to you?

The Fondation communautaire Gaspésie-Les Îles exists to to build a spirit of entrepreneurship in the Gaspésie. Since 2003, federal taxpayers have given the group $5.5 million which it has handed out to local businesses to create 350 jobs. The latest handout is $700,000 which, according to the press release from the federal government, is to help the Fondation “pursue its efforts to promote entrepreneurship and business succession.”

I always thought that being an entrepreneur meant you didn't need government handouts?

Am I missing something here?

Iran, embassies, and Italy: The latest rxn from Ottawa

Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports that the Italian foreign ministry in Tehran has been ordered to take in wounded demonstrators. As I blogged yesterday, Agence France-Presse reported that many European embassies cannot take in asylum seekers. Neither can Canada. My colleague Mike Blanchfield is following the story from Ottawa. In the meantime, here is the latest (as of about 3 pm Monday afternoon) from the office of Lawrence Cannon, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs:

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the embassy of Canada in Tehran have been advised of the arrest of a Canadian journalist in Tehran, Iran. Consular officials are sending a diplomatic note to Iranian authorities in Tehran to demand immediate consular access to the Canadian journalist who is reported to have been arrested. We are calling in the Iranian Chargé d'Affaires to express our grave concerns about recent developments in Iran, as well as to underline our desire for immediate consular access to the Canadian who is reported to have been arrested. Due to the Privacy Act, no further information can be disclosed at this time.

Also please note that reports that the Canadian Embassy in Iran was turning away people seeking sanctuary are false. Embassy staff are making every attempt to ensure services provided, particular consular services, remain unaffected by the situation. To our knowledge, no embassies in Tehran have provided shelter to injured foreign nationals. We are aware of media reports that Italy may open its embassy to wounded protesters. We suggest you call the Government of Italy concerning its activities. The Canadian Embassy is not taking in protestors as it has no doctors or medical facilities to treat any injured people. Injured people need to seek proper medical treatment. Canada's Embassy is located in the centre of recent demonstrations. Due to the tense security in Tehran, the Embassy has at times closed early so that staff can return home safely before the public and democratic demonstrations begin.Canada continues to call for the protection of civilians and their rights.

As the Prime Minister recently stated, “We encourage those authorities to respect people's basic human rights and to move forward on democratic progress in that country.”

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, including the Canadian Embassy in Tehran, continues to provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens in-person, on the phone and through email. In case of emergency consular assistance, Canadians should contact the Embassy of Canada in Tehran at 98 (21) 8152-0000 or DFAIT's Emergency Operations Centre by calling collect to 613-996-8885 or by sending an email to

To note that Canada does not offer asylum to foreign nationals in its embassies abroad. However, in exceptional cases where an individual is in the embassy and seeks temporary refuge because of an immediate threat of injury or death, temporary safe haven has, in some instances and for humanitarian reasons, been provided. To date, the Canadian Embassy and Western embassies have not been asked to treat or shelter injured Iranian protestors.

World Bank vs TD Bank: Who's more of a bear?

Turns out TD Bank is more of a bear than the World Bank when it comes gloomy economic forecasts. And yet, its the World Bank that apparently has the power to make investors around the world simultaneously jump off a cliff.

The Washington-based World Bank said today that the global economy is going to contract next year by 2.9 per cent. Seconds later, everyone everywhere apparently yelled “Sell!”. The benchmark TSX Composite Index was down 450 points today or 4.4 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was off about 2 per cent.

TD, though, promptly looked at the World Bank's forecast and noted that, hey, the World Bank's forecasters aren't nearly as gloomy as Don Drummond [PDF}and his band of merry econometricians on the 21st floor of the TD Tower in downtown Toronto.

In fact, according to the TD number crunchers, when it and the World Bank uses the same forecasting model, the World Bank has the global economy shrinking by just 1.7 per cent next year compared to 1.9 per cent for the TD guys.

Feel better now?

Note to Minister: Please wear blue shirt and khaki pants

I covered a conference today whose attendees were leading lights in Canada's tech industry. I haven't covered a tech conference in a long time but, throughout the 1990s, as a technology reporter for The Hamilton Spectator, National Post and, later, The Globe and Mail, I went to tons of tech conferences here and in the United States. The executive uniform for these was invariably khaki pants, a crisp blue shirt (possibly a button down) and then, if there was a dinner, you brought the all-purpose blue blazer to dress the whole thing up. (You'd been wearing a pair of penny loafers, of course, because they dress up or down.)

I was surprised — and a little saddened — to see the male attendees of this particular tech conference in Ottawa today wearing business attire, which is to say, a dark suit with a tie. Even my old friend Michael Geist had a tie on! Me, I showed up in khakis and a very bright pink-and-tan gingham patterned shirt which my wife says looks like a tablecloth, and felt decidedly as if this group had definitely passed me by.

So you can understand how relieved I was when the Prime Minister's Office e-mailed their handout photo-du-jour to press gallery reporters. It is a picture of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty reviewing Important Documents today at Willson House which overlooks beautiful Meech Lake, Quebec. I reproduce the photo below (pic taken by Jason Ransom, the Prime Minister's official photographer), if only to reaffirm that khakis and a crisp blue shirt is still a classic look for business wear anytime between June 1 and Sept. 30.


Canada's info commish quits

Canada's Access to Information system has never been healthy but it's in the worst shape I can ever remember it being in.

Information Commissioner Robert Marleau had put forward some important recommendations to help start fixing the system. A House of Commons committee is about to release its recommendations for reform. The current government campaigned on a commitment to ATI reform.

And then today, Marleau quit for “entirely personal and private” reasons. Suzanne Legault is his interim successor.

Marleau was not the crusader that John Reid, his predecessor, was, but he was trying to make things better. This is a setback for those looking to see the ATI system work better.

The press release:

Ottawa, June 22, 2009 — Canada's fourth and current Information Commissioner, Robert Marleau, announced today his retirement from public life effective June 29, 2009. In a letter to notify the Governor in Council of his decision, he explained that his reasons for doing so are entirely personal and of a private nature.

Mr. Marleau began his term on January 15, 2007. Before taking up the position, Mr. Marleau served Parliament for 31 years, 13 of them as Clerk of the House of Commons. He was interim Privacy Commissioner in 2003.

“I have enjoyed my tenure as Information Commissioner of Canada and I am quite satisfied that I leave the OIC a much better organization,” said Mr. Marleau.

“From a management perspective,” he added, “the new team in place is implementing a new business model to better serve Canadians, the funding of the Office has almost doubled and the financial and human resources management practices are now in step with modern governance and accountability principles and policies”.

From a program perspective, Mr. Marleau is quite pleased to report that “the backlog inventory of cases in under control and will be eliminated by the end of the fiscal year; that the systemic report cards have been renewed and expended; and, that a strategy for legislative reform has been presented to the Standing Committee on Access, Privacy and Ethics and was largely supported by academics and professionals of access to information.” The Standing Committee on Access, Privacy and Ethics has also endorsed the OIC recommendations in its eleventh report to the House of Commons tabled June 18.

While the search for a new Commissioner is on-going, Mr. Marleau recommended to the Governor in Council that Suzanne Legault, Assistant Commissioner, responsible for Policy, Communications and Operation be appointed Interim Commissioner. The Governor in Council accepted his recommendation.

Suzanne Legault was appointed Assistant Commissioner for the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada on June 18, 2007. Ms. Legault began her career in the Public Service in 1996 at the Competition Bureau, where she held increasingly senior positions, including Special Advisor to the Commissioner of Competition. She then served as Legal Counsel with the Department of Justice, before returning to the Competition Bureau where she was Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Legislative Affairs, then Deputy Commissioner, Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs. During her tenure at the Competition Bureau she developed significant experience in investigations and policy development in key industry sectors. Prior to joining the Public Service, Ms. Legault practised law as a criminal defense lawyer and Crown prosecutor from 1991 to 1996. Ms. Legault holds a Bachelor of Civil Law and a Bachelor of Common Law from McGill Law School, which she obtained in 1988.

Coming back to Canada's tech leaders, it feels a little too familiar

With the politicians have largely vacated Ottawa for the summer, I find myself this morning sitting in on a one-day high-tech summit convened by the federal government at the old train station on the Rideau Canal known as the Government Conference Centre.

The co-hosts for this event are Industry Minister Tony Clement and Research In Motion Ltd.'s co-founder Mike Lazaradis.

Many of the 150 folks in the room this morning (or their companies) used to be core to my work through most of the 1990s as a Toronto-based technology reporter. I was covering tech during the boom and I was there at the bust. Now I cover federal politics.

So, after nearly a decade away from tech, some quick first impressions as this event gets underay:

  • First, the digital economy elite gathered here looks awfully white. In fact, I counted and, gathered here today, are 131 white guys, 1 man who is not a white guy, and 18 women. Industry gatherings 15 years ago looked white and male. Surely it's changed since then?
  • Industry Canada convened this conference and organized the speakers and the lineup was predictable a decade ago: There's the obligatory rep from the Information Technology Association of Canada. There's our homegrown stars — RIM and Open Text. And there's the country managers of some branch plant tech outfits – Xerox and eBay subbing in today but it could have been Microsoft, HP, or Yahoo back in my day and they all have largely the same message delivered by the same in-country manager who's inevitably got a sales background,not an engineering or garage start-up background. What's missing from this conference from ones that were similar to those a decade ago is the young lions — the Hill brothers from Zero-Knowledge in Montreal; Dean Hopkins of Cyberplex; or Paul Mercia of Cybersurf. Where are the young under-30 enterpreneurs? Or how about a rebel like Calgary's Theo de Raadt and the legion of programmers he leads developing OpenBSD? I can remember Paul Martin, then the finance minister, preparing for his leadership run bringing those young lions to Ottawa to tell him what to do about tech. He wanted to hear the twentysomethings tell him what government could do (and get a little dot-com pixie dust to boost his campaign).
  • The core complaints of the industry have not changed. Not enough angel investors. We don't support venture capitalists well enough. Government and other industry sectors don't buy enough tech stuff from Canadian companies. Canadian companies spend next to nothing (relatively speaking) on research and development.

Twitter users can follow along some of the discussion for this summit at #digecon