Pogey panic button

Apparently, in this morning's paper, I (and a lot of other Hill journalsts) was a bit prescient

Administered poorly, the employment insurance premiums I, you and our bosses pay for that rainy day we hope we never need can be a terrible job-killing tax that hurts our economy and all Canadians.

The federal government is in danger of doing just that.

Administered properly, employment insurance premiums rise and fall slowly over time based on our ability to contribute and the whole employment insurance system acts as the best kind of fast-acting automatic economic stabilizer.

Wednesday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty hinted he is prepared to do something to make sure a premium rate hike set for Jan. 1 doesn’t become a job-killing tax. Let’s hope he does just that.

So far in Ottawa this week there has been a lot of hot air about who gets how much and for how long on EI.

Those are important issues, for sure, but not nearly so important for the smooth functioning of our economy as the mechanism by which premiums are set… [Read the rest of the piece]

Maclean's publisher regrets offence taken at "Quebec Most Corrupt" cover

The day after Quebec Premier Jean Charest demanded an apology from Maclean's magazine for a cover which pronounced his province the “most corrupt province in Canada” and a hours after the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion expressing its “profound sadness at the prejudice displayed by Maclean's magazine”, the magazine's owner has responded.

Rogers Publishing President Brian Segal just issued the following statement:

Rogers Publishing today commented on the most recent issue of Maclean's Magazine. “The cover of this issue and the feature story clearly offended some readers, and this has been the subject of much debate,” said Brian Segal, President, Rogers Publishing. “As a company we own a broad range of media properties across the country and editorial independence is an important cornerstone of our management philosophy. While challenging at times, this means we do not interfere with the editorial direction or content of our media properties in any way.”   

“On behalf of the company, we sincerely regret any offence that the cover may have caused. We value all of our customers and their perspective. Quebec is an important market for the company and we look forward to participating in the dynamic growth of the province and its citizens.”

Case for more stimulus is weak, Laval economist says

While I think the government's decision to run a big deficit and pump billions into our recession-ravaged economy was a good thing for our economy and the correct policy response, I have yet to make up my mind on whether more stimulus may be required. I certainly think the government's decision to have an arbitrary turn-off-the-tape date of March 31 is bad — even dumb — policy (though this week, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Infrastructure Minister Chuck Strahl and many others are sending strong signals they'll be “fair and reasonable” when it comes to requests for flexibility on that deadline.) But back to the issue of more stimulus: Conservatives are dead against it; Liberals aren't sure yet but think it might be prudent have a plan in the works; and, the NDP say until all those full-time, high-paying jobs come back, Ottawa ought to keep spending.

On Bay Street, BMO Capital Markets number two economist Doug Porter put out a report earlier this summer arguing that, in the U.S. certainly and possibly in Canada, more stimulus would be a very good idea.

But Laval University economist Stephen Gordon suggests that more stimulus may not, at this point, be the correct policy response. Indeed, he says the case for more stimulus is weak.

“Things could change between now and [the tabling of the federal budget in] February. The US outlook is worrisome, so rapid growth seems unlikely: the Bank [of Canada] is right to warn that its interest rate decisions will be based on available data. But it would take a fairly strong negative shock – the kind that would force the Bank of Canada to cut interest rates back down to their lower bound – to make a convincing case for another round of fiscal stimulus.”

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MPs ready criticism of Maclean's "Quebec" issues

As Quebec Premier Jean Charest calls on Maclean's magazine to apologize for its cover story this week which proclaimed Quebec “The Most Corrupt Province in Canada”, members of Parliament are trying to craft the wording on an all-party resolution to express its concern about the issue.

I am informed that there was considerable discussion about this during the weekly Conservative caucus meeting this morning. The Conservatives, including, I am told, the prime minister, is concerned that the article and its presentation represents an attack on a “minority” which the Conservatives believe is never right in Canada.

The motion, should it come to the floor of the House of Commons, possibly as early as this afternoon after Question Period, is expected to be tabled by Bloc Quebecois MP Pierre Paquette.

UPDATE: The motion did not make the floor of the House of Commons today but may be ready for Thursday afternoon.

UPDATED AGAIN: MPs did, in fact, vote on this late Wednesday night. Bloc MP Pierre Paquette rose at the end of a series of other votes and, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and many other MPs was leaving, asked for “unanimous consent” of the House to adopt his motion. He read the motion and MPs on all sides of the House (which was about half full at that point) rose to applaud. When the applause died down, independent MP Andre Arthur hollered “Non!”. Paquette hollered something back at him — as did many other MPs — and Arthur left the chamber. Paquette asked again for “unanimous consent” and, receiving it at that point, the following motion was passed.

“Que cette Chambre, tout en reconnaissant l'importance des débats vigoureux sur des sujets d'intérêt public, est profondément attristée par les préjugés véhiculés et les stéréotypes employés par le Magazine Maclean's pour dénigrer la nation québécoise, son histoire et ses institutions.”

“That this House, while recognizing the importance of vigorous debate on subjects of public interest, expresses its profound sadness at the prejudice displayed and the stereotypes employed by Maclean's Magazine to denigrate Quebec nation, its history and its institutions.”

The House of Commons pauses to honour Mario Lague

Earlier this summer, the communications director for the Leader of the Official Opposition, Mario Lague, died after the motorcycle he was driving was in collision with an SUV. Tonight, in West Block 200, parliamentarians, journalists, Lague's family, and others will gather to honour his memory. But this afternoon, just before Question Period got underway, Michael Ignatieff and Conservative MP Royal Galipeau made the following statements while Lague's widow and children looked on from the gallery above the Commons:

Hon. Michael Ignatieff (Etobicoke—Lakeshore, Lib.): Monsieur le Président, j'aimerais rendre hommage ici, aujourd'hui, à un grand Canadien, un époux, un père, un collègue et un ami: Mario Laguë.

Mario était Québécois et Canadien. Il était plein de vitalité, de charme et d'énergie.

Homme d'enthousiasme, lorsqu'il encourageait les Canadiens de Montréal, on pouvait l'entendre à trois maisons de chez lui.

Comme directeur de communications à mon bureau, dans toutes les situations, il a su garder son sang-froid, son sens de l'humour et son sens de l'ironie.

Mario Laguë was proud to have been an Ambassador of Canada, a public servant, an advisor to prime ministers, but he was proudest of his family: Caroline, Arianne and Clara, we thank them for sharing Mario with us.

Today, we pause and reflect in this chamber. In the public life of our country there is a void where a boisterous, courageous and funny man once stood.

Au revoir Mario. We miss him.

Mr. Royal Galipeau (Ottawa—Orléans, CPC): Monsieur le Président, nous avons tous été gravement peinés cet été d'apprendre la mort tragique de Mario Laguë, âgé de 52 ans, ancien directeur des communications du chef de l'opposition.

Throughout a distinguished career, the late Mario Laguë served his country with dedication both in Canada and abroad. His numerous roles included serving as director of communications for Canada's 21st Prime Minister, the Right Hon. Paul Martin, as Québec's delegate in Venezuela and in Mexico, as Canada's Ambassador to Costa Rica and as Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet in the Privy Council Office.

M. Laguë était un communicateur averti et il laisse en héritage le dévouement et le service dont il a fait preuve envers son pays.

Au nom des députés de la formation ministérielle en cette Chambre, je tiens à offrir mes sincères condoléances à sa veuve, la docteure Caroline Vu-Nguyen, à ses deux filles Arianne et Clara, ainsi qu'à ses amis et nos collègues de l'opposition officielle.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them and we share their grief.


UPDATED: The David Akin Daily: An explainer


Ever since I got my first GEnie e-mail account back in the early 1990s, I've been a keener when it comes to exploring new Internet applications and social media tools. A new one I'm fiddling with is called paper.li . Paper.li purports to generate an online newspaper of sorts but the content comes from links posted to Twitter by those you follow on Twitter. (If you're not up on Twitter, I'm afraid you're just going to have to poke around elsewhere to find out how that works.)

As I'm actually in the newspaper business, I think it's possible that it's easy to get confused about who or what produces what paper.li calls The David Akin Daily. For example, I had a colleague at the Calgary Sun earlier this week why The David Akin Daily was linking to a story by its competitor The Calgary Herald and not to its version of the same story. Here's the answer: Though it's called The David Akin Daily, I, like every other paper.li user, have no control over what actually appears on the “daily” that carries my name. No Sun Media editors or reporters vet the content or are involved in its production. The content is completely produced by an automated software robot that simply culls through all the links posted to Twitter by those I follow on Twitter and then it generates a content page from that.

So why use this thing? The short answer is: Beats me. But I'm going to continue to fiddle with it because I find with most social media applications that either my users or followers figure out how they want me to use it; I figure out how it can help me as a professional newsgatherer or reporter; or the application evolves into new and useful ways. I remember at one point I was so down on Twitter I was ready to quit it. And now look at me

Paper.li, incidentally, is “an alpha” application which is the geek way of saying it's still in the highly experimental, not-ready-for-prime-time phase of development. And indeed, it tends to plagued by delays and frequent outages.

So far, I've had a few of my Twitter gang e-mail me to say they think it's neat.

But, for me, the key disclaimer (and one I wish paper.li would publish) that I'd like to put on the record is that I have zero responsibility for the content going out on The David Akin Daily other than the fact that I signed up for an account there and lend my name to the publication! That might be a problem down the road — and if it is, that'll be it for The David Akin Daily — but for now, I'm willing to give this new service a shot.

Keen, as always to hear your thoughts …


UPDATE – OCT. 19, 2010

The confusion factor that I mentioned in the original post — that many people assume that, because my name is on this “daily” that I have some ability to control its content — has now outweighed the usefulness of the service. Some of those I follow tweeted links to stories about the Russell Williams trial and so, photos from the trial and other content from that I think aren't appropriate unless presented in a highly contextualized format (i.e. not by a software robot) sealed the deal but too often content was going out under my name that I found was presented without context. So, I'm bailing on paper.li . Good luck with the service but it's not for me.


PC triumph in NB; Ava-tarsands and the Mafia in Thunder Bay?


Tuesday's A1 headlines and political daybook

PC triumph in NB; Ava-tarsands; and the Mafia in Thunder Bay?: Get a four-minute audio summary of what's on Tuesday''s front pages of papers across the country by clicking on the link below.


You can also get these audio summaries automatically every day via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at AudioBoo.fm. Look in the top right corner of the “Boos” box.

Brison on the "photo op" that is today's economic action plan update

Scott Brison

Though the 6th Quarterly Update on the Economic Action Plan won't be released by the Conservative government until later this morning, Liberal finance critic Scott Brison (left) was out in the foyer of the House of Commons early this morning to speak to reporters about it.

“This is yet again another photo opp from a Prime Minister who’s more interested in photo ops and signs than in projects and jobs.”

Brison called on the federal government to modify its insistence that it will not pay for projects that are not complete by March 31, 2011.

“This is not the fault of the community-based organizations or the municipalities that are out there trying to get these projects done. It’s the fault of a prime minister’s office and a government that has so politicized the process of infrastructure spending that they’ve actually slowed down these projects. This is not about new stimulus spending. This is not about new stimulus money commmitments. This is simply about respecting existing commitments that the government of Canada has made to these community-based organizations and these municipal partners. It is wrong for the government to allow half-finished projects to cease and and to stop as a result of an arbitrary deadline when the municipal partners have proceeded on good faith and are simply waiting for factors [like] weather, contractors — and it’s up to the government to honour its commitment to these municipal and community based partners.”

Listen here to the rest of Brison's opening statement to reporters (about 2 minutes long)


A taste of war; health news everywhere; and hurricanes sink a Titanic plan: Monday's A1 headlines and political daybook

Calgary Sun front pageA taste of war; health news everywhere; and hurricanes sink a Titanic plan: Get a four-minute audio summary of what's on Monday's front pages of papers across the country by clicking on the link below.


You can also get these audio summaries automatically every day via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at AudioBoo.fm. Look in the top right corner of the “Boos” box.

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On Xi Jinping, China, and its Communist Party

Ian Johnson, a former Beijing bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, reviews Richard McGregor's The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers and other books about China's Communist Party. Some notes from the article:

The key question [at the Chinese Communist Party's annual plenum this fall] will be if the man tapped to be China’s next leader, Xi Jinping, will get a seat on the Party’s Central Military Commission. Joining this body, which has responsibility for all of China’s armed forces, is one of a series of steps that is supposed to culminate in Xi replacing the current top leader, Hu Jintao, when his second five-year term as president ends in two years.
Some thought that Xi was to join the military commission last year, but he didn’t, and now observers are divided on what that meant—is Xi no longer rising in the Party hierarchy or was that snub unimportant? :And what if he doesn’t join the commission at this plenum—is his star falling further, or has the Party changed the rules of succession, with a seat on the commission not as important as had been assumed?

… the [Communist] Party [of China] has 78 million members—almost as many as the entire population of Germany. In theory, members vote to select their representatives in the system, culminating in the nine-man Standing Committee of the Party’s Political Bureau, or Politburo. In fact, bodies higher up in the system usually present lower-ranking members with preapproved slates of candidates. That means the system is self-selecting, with leaders trying to promote people loyal to them so they can advance their own agendas. The result is that the Party consists of factions grouped around leaders, and divisions in the Party have often been deep and venomous.

See, for example, China's New Rulers by Andrew J. Nathan and Bruce Gilley for a look at the maneuvering surrounding the 2002–2004 change of power from Jiang to Hu, or the recent autobiography by former Party leader Zhao Ziyang, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang (Simon and Schuster, 2010). The new heir apparent, Xi, may be the victim of such a split: he is not Hu's chosen successor as president but the choice of Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin. Some Pekingologists speculate that Hu is purposefully weakening Xi by denying him a place on the military commission; this way, Hu could maintain his influence when he retires.

McGregor … says … [the Communist] Party’s Organization Department is so expansive that it would be like one group in Washington naming the members of the Supreme Court, all the members of the Cabinet, the editors of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, the heads of all major think tanks, and the CEOs of major companies like General Electric, Exxon-Mobil, and Wal-Mart. These analogies, while imperfect, help make this an accessible introduction to the Party’s power in today’s China.

From the Party’s perspective it pulled off a surprising feat in 2002 by organizing an orderly transfer of power that wasn’t driven by a crisis like Tiananmen or the Cultural Revolution. Unless a completely unforeseen series of events takes place in the next two years, it is likely to do the same in 2012, with the odds favoring Xi Jinping becoming China’s next leader. This shows that the Party has figured out the sort of institutional stability that largely eluded its counterparts in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc.

Early on in its reign, the Party pushed get-rich-quick schemes like the Great Leap Forward that resulted in national catastrophe. These utopian plans are gone but more than a faint echo remains in the desire of Chinese companies to shortcut the painstaking process of creating international brands by buying faltering names.

…another problem: the lack of creative and intellectually ambitious students. After Tiananmen, the government channeled huge sums into better dorms for students, housing for teachers, labs for scientists, and junkets for administrators. This satiated material demands and attracted foreign universities hoping to set up programs in China. But it can hardly be a coincidence that this system has never produced a Nobel Prize winner; even among China’s elite universities, the academic level resembles that of an average US land-grant university, with most no better than a mediocre community college. 

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