Blogging, journalism, Twitter, and all that stuff

Ian Capstick, a former press secretary for the NDP and now operating his own firm, MediaStyle, is running an interesting series on his blog. He's asking journalists the same three questions all related to the broad theme of how blogging and social networks fit in with the traditional day job of a daily journalist.

I mostly re-hash stuff I've already written about here and elsewhere about those issues but do check out what my friends Susan Delacourt and Bill Doskoch had to say about this brave new world.

Housing prices continue to fall — but bottom may be reached

The National Bank released its monthly house price index. The most recent month for which data is available is July.

The bank found that the national average for a home price fell 5.1 per cent in July compared to the same month last year.

But the bank also found that, for the first time in 13 months, the average price in July rose — in every region of the country — compared to the prior month.

Some more details:

The July monthly rises were 2.6% in Ottawa, 2.2% in Toronto, 1.5% in Vancouver, 0.8% in Halifax, 0.7% in Montreal and 1.0% in Calgary. For Calgary it was a first monthly rise after 12 consecutive months of decline. In three of the six markets surveyed, July prices were also above the pre-recession peak, as Halifax and Ottawa joined Montreal on this score. In the other markets, prices were still below those of a year earlier. The decline was 4.6% in Toronto, 9.3% in Vancouver and 11.1% in Calgary.

Conservatives and Liberals still don't have enough women running, says Equal Voice

Equal Voice , a group which seeks to increase the political presence of women and women elected to all levels of political office in Canada, released a survey today which concludes that both Conservatives and Liberals, despite commitments to do otherwise, still do not have enough women set to run in the next general election:

With 60 percent of their candidates in place, the Conservative Party has nominated 39 women, just 21 percent of their candidates to date. The Liberals, with over half of their candidates chosen, have nominated 55 women, or 32 percent of their candidates to date. “In June of this year, all of Canada’s political parties pledged to do better in their efforts to nominate more women for their parties in the next election. To date, the results from the two major parties show that they have yet to achieve better than the status quo,” said Vicky Smallman, lead elections researcher for Equal Voice. Only the Green Party, with 46 percent of their nominations completed, appears to be on track to exceed its previous record, with 49 women nominated, representing 35 percent of its candidates. With fewer than 40 percent of their candidates chosen, there are too few candidates to suggest a trend for the Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party in the number of female candidates.

Libya's Gadhafi comes to Canada (!)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief spokesman Dimitri Soudas just let reporters know that Moammar Gadhafi will be coming to Canada on his way back to Libya from the United Nations meetings in New York. Soudas just distributed the following to reporters:

Libyan leader Gaddafi is making a one day stopover in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, on his way back to Libya from New York where he attended the United Nations General Assembly.

This is not an official visit to Canada.

It is common practice for planes’ of Heads of State and Government undertaking transatlantic flights to perform refuelling and undergo short stopovers in Newfoundland and Labrador due to its geographic location.

Prime Minister Harper has asked Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon to go to St John's and meet the Libyan leader. Minister Cannon will voice Canada's strong disapproval over the hero’s welcome organised for Abdelbasset Al Maghrahi, the man responsible for the Lockerbie terrorist bombing. It constituted an insult to all the victims who died including Canadians.

Liberals charge Tories with "pork-barrel" politics; Tories call it a "shameful" attack

Some fairly heated political duelling this morning between Liberals, led by their leader Michael Ignatieff and MP Gerard Kennedy, and Infrastructure Minister John Baird.

The Liberals threw the first punch. Ignatieff, in Burlington, Ont. with Kennedy at his side, said Kennedy's research proves that Tory ministers are targetting federal economic stimulus spending at Tory-held ridings. Her'es Ignatieff's opening salvo:

Nothing is happening out there!

You need an opposition to stand up and say this isn't god enough on behalf of carpenters who want to work, on behalf of all Canadians who want to get back to work, on behalf of all of the Canadians who thought the infrastructure money thought would actually go somewhere.

It doesn't end there because the other thing that Gerard Kennedy's research has shown is there is a heavy systemic bias towards Conservative ridings, and Canadians don't want political games played with infrastructure money.

They want it to benefit all Canadians, not just the areas that voted Conservative. That's not how our government works.We’ve got to serve all of the people, whether they vote for you you or they didn't.

It's not that the money isn't getting out. Where it's getting out, it's going systematically to Conservative ridings, and we think this isn't good enough, and we want to say so loud and clear. It's one of the important reasons why our party is unable to continue supporting this government, and why we've withdrawn confidence from the government.

The Liberals have two pieces of ammunition to back up their claims. First, Kennedy himself did some research, making, he says, 1,000 phone calls to follow up on Tory funding announcements. Kennedy's report was released today. Second, reporter Richard Madan of CITY-TV has the Conservative candidate in a Toronto-area riding confirming to him in an interview that the Conservative governnment won't sign off on funding for a new medical centre in his region because the riding is currently held by a Liberal. The Liberals are telling every reporter they can to watch this piece.

An hour or so after Ignatieff's appearance, Baird held a press conference at a Burlington rail station to say Ignatieff's charges are a “major and unwarranted attack” on municipalities and provinces who, he said, are ultimately responsible for deciding what projects get going. He said the federal governnment has provided $7.8 billion to help fund 4,800 infrastructure projects across the country.

Here's the key attack line from Baird:

Today Michael Ignatieff, Gerrard Kennedy, and the Liberal Party had the audacity to launch a major and unwarranted attack on the hard work of small towns and big cities across the country.

This is downright opportunistic, and I believe it's shameful.

The Liberal facts are just plain wrong. The simple fact is the federal government is funding municipal projects identified as priorities and managed by those same municipalitiess. We trust municipal leaders. We trust municipal governments across the country.

Our role — the role of the federal government — is to green light the projects in concert with our provincial partners, and territorial partners, something we've been doing at a truly unprecedented pace.

What Mr. Ignatieff today is questioning is the competence and the ability of our municipal partners to manage and complete these important projects. This assault is wrong and without merit. Our government respects municipalities and has a lot of confidence in their abilities.

I’m disappointed that Mr. Ignatieff does not share that same confidence. The last time they made these accusations, Liberals conveniently left out major investments worth billions of dollars for transit in Toronto and Vancouver. And Mr. Ignatieff is at it again, trying to mislead Canadians.

This year, our government's infrastructure spending in communities of fewer than 100,000 people is more than triple what the previous Liberal government spent.In fact, within the first seven months of the fiscal year, we had committed more money from the infrastructure stimulus fund than the previous Liberal government spent in seven years.

Getting out the vote: Government moves to add advance polls

On Nov. 21, 1988, three of every four Canadians who were eligible to vote on that day's general election actually cast a ballot. Since that peak of 75 per cent voter turnout, it's been all downhill – 69.7% in 1993, 67% in 1997, 64.1% in 2000, 61% in 2004, 65% in 2006 and an all-time low of 58.8% last fall.

One of the ways the federal government is trying to reverse that trend is by adding advance polling days ahead of the general election and by adding the number of polls open on one of those days.

The changes are part of Bill C-40: Expanded Voting Opportunities Act, tabled in the House of Commons last June. The Library of Parliament has just published the bill's legislative summary. Here are the key changes:

• Adds two new advance polling days. Electors will be able to vote on the two Sundays prior to e-day – normally held on a Tueday – in addition to the current advance polling days held on the Friday, Saturday, and Monday.

• Mandates that any polling station that would be open on Election Day would now also be open on the last advance polling day – the Monday.

I'm on iTunes! Listen to my audio updates from Parliament Hill

Walking down Sparks Street the other day, I ran into one of the Chief Evil Geniuses behind some of the technical innovations at the Conservatve Party of Canada's Web site. He is now plying his black geeky arts for the Prime Minister's Office. (I say this as someone who aspires to be and is quite jealous of those who have attained the status of Chief Evil Genius/Supreme Geek). We started chatting about my new iPhone and how the political class in Ottawa could harness the mobile Web to advance political goals, communications, fundraising, etc. During our chat, he encouraged me to check out . I had remembered that Ian Capstick, the former NDP caucus press secretary and now principal of, had fired up an account during the NDP convention in Halifax last summer.

Here's what AudioBoo does:

• As a creator, I record short audio bits using my iPhone. They'll probably be mostly me talking about something but, as Ian demonstrated, I might include some interviews with political players from time to time. I tag the recording with a few keywords, give it a title, attach a picture if I want, and then hit publish. Couldn't be simpler.

• At the other end, an audience somewhere out there, can access these audio updates in a couple of different ways:

First, you can just head to my page at The URL is . There, you can click the title of a post and you'll see the picture I've attached and, most of the time, the geo-location of my iPhone when I made the recording.

Second, at my page, you can click to subscribe to these audio podcasts through iTunes. Do this, and if you set up your iPhone or iPod correctly, my audio updates will automatically be pushed out to your device so you can listen at your leisure.

Third, you can pick up the RSS Feed for my AudioBoos and, whenever I've done a new one, you'll see a notification in your favourite RSS reader.

Now the tough question: What should I talk about? How should a reporter use this tool? Got any ideas? Love to hear him in the comments below or e-mail directly.

So, today, I fired up

Change of venue for "Right To Know" event in Ottawa next week

As I mentioned here earlier, I'll be part of what I think will be a really neat panel discussion next Monday night as part of “Right To Know” week, a national event involving the country's information commissioners and journalists, activists, academics and others interested in issues about access to government records.

The panel I'm on is scheduled for next Monday, Sept. 28 from 7 pm to 9 pm (and it's free to attend!) but the organizers have had to change the venue. It was to be held at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa but, this week, employees of the War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization are on strike.

Organizers have let us know that Monday night's panel will be held at Le Nouvelle Scene Theatre on King Edward Ave. in Ottawa.

Hope to see you there!

Here's the Facebook page for the event, with more info.

The Detroit Tigers supports Detroits carmakers (even if it cost the team $1.5 million)

Mike Allen's Playbook has a pointer to what sounds like a great read in Sports Illustrated this week. Here's the summary Allen distributed:

The Righteous Franchise: The Tigers' Bold Stand with Their Fans.'

'This week's September 28, 2009, issue of Sports Illustrated features Comerica Park amidst a background of the Detroit cityscape … No city has been harder hit by the economic downturn than Detroit, forcing owner Mike Ilitch to take a most drastic measure: He RAISED the payroll and reinvested dramatically in the franchise. What's unfolded this summer at Comerica, one year removed from a last-place finish, has lifted a city. SI senior writer Lee Jenkins recently visited Comerica Park, the surrounding area of which filled with such unbridled optimism that people can temporarily forget about the downturn in the Motor City … The team has … implemented an aggressive PR strategy aimed at their blue-collar fan base: $5 for tickets, meals and parking; month-to-month payment plans for season ticket holders; giveaways of more than 80,000 tickets; and partnerships with more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations.

'The most stunning example of community outreach, however, did not involve a nonprofit organization but a bankrupt one: At the end of last season General Motors decided it could no longer afford to sponsor the fountain over the centerfield fence at Comerica Park, which shoots great plumes into the air whenever a Tiger hits a home run. The fountain is the most valuable piece of advertising space in the stadium, and two corporations quickly expressed interest in taking GM's place. One offered to pay $1.5 million for three years. Mike Ilitch, the Tigers' owner, considered the offer seriously. Then he rejected it in favor of a deal that would pay him nothing at all. Ilitch kept the GM name where it was, free of charge, and added the Ford and Chrysler logos on each flank, over the message: THE DETROIT TIGERS SUPPORT OUR AUTOMAKERS. To emphasize the point, the Tigers invited one employee from each of the embattled car giants to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. Before GM inspector Loretta Abiodun went into her windup, she turned and looked at the fountain. 'It was breathtaking,' she says.'

[Can't find the link to this piece online. If you see, please post it in the comments.]

Retail sales disappoint in July, outlook fair to poor

Statistics Canada reported this morning that retail sales in July dropped by a surprisingly large 0.6 per cent compared to the prior month. Most of the decrease in sales, StatsCan, said was the result of lower gasoline prices. Still, with a rising unemployment rate, most economists believe consumer spending will be tepid at best for the remainder of the year.

How does this important new piece of economic data fit into the larger scheme of things? Here's the take from the economics department at Royal Bank of Canada:

…the economy is emerging from recession with real GDP forecast to increase by 0.6% in July, building on June's 0.1% rise. Upside surprises in wholesale and manufacturing activity combined with a rebound in home sales augur well for real output to have risen in July. Despite the improved tone in the overall growth numbers, however, the economic recovery will be mild by historical standards and downside risks to the outlook remain. This means that stimulative monetary conditions are warranted to ensure that the improving trend is sustained.  

and here's the bottom line from Benjamin Reitzes at BMO Capital Markets:

July’s retail sales report was certainly disappointing, but falling prices made the headline look overly weak. The modest decline in volumes won’t keep real GDP from posting a solid monthly gain of as much as 0.5% (thanks to the solid increases in manufacturing and wholesale trade), and could set up a strong retail sales report in August (similar to what we saw in the U.S.).