To Cairo then — and a revolution

I'm typing this up while waiting at Pierre Trudeau International Airport in Montreal for a flight to London's Heathrow where I hope to catch a flight to Cairo International Airport. TVA Washington Bureau Chief Richard Latendresse and I hope to get into Egypt to cover the remarkable series of events there.

Of course, there are already lots of Canadian and international journalists already in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other Egyptian cities doing tremendous work covering this remarkable revolution. Some of these journalists have done this work at great peril to their own safety.

Richard and I, like every other journalist in the country, are keen to be, above all, witnesses for what appears to be shaping up as a period of historically unique change not only for Egypt but for the region.

The first challenge, though, is getting there. We are hearing a variety of different reports about the ability of airlines to get someone into Cairo. The latest reports from Cairo indicate that there are a whole mess of people trying to get out. And even if we can get there, we will want to get there well before the current curfew of 1600 begins. Right now, our itinerary has us arriving shortly after 1600 and, if that happens, our sources tell us we'll end up stuck at Cairo International — a 40-minute cab ride in normal circumstances from epicentre of the demonstrations downtown — until 0800 the next day!

UPDATE: We arrived in London only to find that our Sunday morning flight from here to Cairo was indeed cancelled. Because of “civil unrest”, the agent politely informed us.  We have been re-booked to fly out to Cairo departing from London at 0730 GMT Monday morning.

And then, assuming Richard and I do get downtown, our big challenge will be finding a way to transmit words, pictures, and video back to Canada. As you probably know by now, the Egyptian government has essentially shut down most Internet and wireless telephone service. My hotel tells me the landline phones are working. That's great. But we've come such a long way in computer assisted communications that I no longer have a dial-up modem I can use – and spent a chunk of the day searching unsuccessfully for one. We do have a satellite phone so we can transmit data that way — but it's clunky, expensive, and won't be “always on”.

Just about to board now in Montreal. Back online in the middle of the night from London.


Conservatives aim for rural Quebec in attacks on the Bloc Quebecois

Earlier this week, the Bloc Quebecois caucus met in Quebec City and, at its conclusion, leader Gilles Duceppe spelled out what it will take to get the BQ to support the Conservative government this spring when the Tories table Budget 2011: about $5 billion in stuff for Quebec.

The Conservative spin masters promptly fired up the Alerte-Info-Alert ‘bot with the following talking points to be used by their MPs. I reproduce it for you below. One of the things that caught my eye, particularly in the wake of the Conservative television ads of last week that suggest Duceppe is “too much of a Montrealer” are the lines from the Info-Bot that specifically suggest the BQ’s position has no appeal to “rural Quebecers” nor to  “des régions du Québec.” Conservatives won’t come right out and say it, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the party is pretty much writing off any electoral chances in Montreal. I’m sensing that this kind of line helps them defend their seats in and around Quebec City and in the Saguenay and may help them poach a seat or two from the Bloc in rural Quebec, mostly in the Eastern Townships but also in the Gaspé region. In the 2008 election, for example, the Tories aimed, without success, at upsetting BQ MP Robert Bouchard in Chicoutimi and at André Bellavance in Richmond-Arthabaska. I suspect they may be looking at those ridings again, as well as perhaps France Bonsant in Compton-Stanstead and Christian Ouellet in Brome-Missisquoi.

As Harper’s 2008 election campaign also took him up to Val D’Or, one might assume the Tories saw some polling that suggest their message might appeal to enough voters in Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou to steal it from the BQ’s Yvon Levesque. It did not in ’08 but who knows about the next one. (That’s a picture, above, that I took of the scene that greeted Harper in Val d’Or. Notably, I saw more protesters at Harper events in Quebec during 2008 campaign than I saw anywhere else in Canada.)

Meanwhile, as former Liberal turned TV pundit Jean Lapierre famously quipped during the 2008 campaign, the only red signs one saw in Quebec outside Montreal were stop signs — a funny way of saying that the Liberals were largely a non-existent electoral threat anywhere outside Montreal. It’s my sense — although I’d be quite pleased to be corrected — that the Liberals still have much work to do outside Montreal and a few ridings near Ottawa.

All of which means, the next federal election campaign in Quebec will actually be two very different campaigns with different messages: The BQ will be on defence in both but in the Montreal/Ottawa area it will be BQ vs Liberals vs NDP while in the rest of the province it will largely be the BQ vs the “nouveaux bleus”.

Here’s that info-Bot Alert from the Conservatives:

The Phony Defence of Quebec’s Interests

Today, the Bloc Québécois held a press briefing with the excuse that they wanted to present the budget demands of their party. But Quebecers won’t be fooled!

By presenting budget demands that, according to them, amount to $16 billion ( Bloc Québécois News release, January 26, 2011), Gilles Duceppe and his MPs are just looking for an excuse to vote against the next federal budget, and thus force an election that Quebecers don’t need. That’s their only objective.

This is also why the Bloc Québécois, on two occasions, in 2009 and in 2010, VOTED AGAINST the Economic Action Plan put forward to help Canada weather the worst global recession since the Great Depression. When it comes to the economy, the Bloc Québécois has no lessons to teach our Conservative Government.

Before the global economic crisis even began, we took action to help create jobs, keep taxes low taxes for the middle-class families and seniors, to improve the Employment Insurance Program and to help businesses pull through the crisis. Our actions produced results in all regions of Quebec and, the Bloc Québécois VOTED AGAINST them every chance it could.

Furthermore, even before the global economic recession hit Canada, our government took action by reducing taxes on job-creators. Gilles Duceppe pointed out today that low taxes have been helpful to stimulate job creation. However, the Bloc Québécois VOTED AGAINST lower taxes in December 2007. This is yet another example of the glaring opportunism and hypocrisy by Gilles Duceppe’s party.

The Bloc Québécois does not care about the priorities and values of rural Quebecers.

The Bloc Québécois serves neither the interests of Quebecers and Quebec regions. It only serves its own interests.


La fausse défense des intérêts du Québec

Aujourd’hui, le Bloc a tenu un point de presse en prétextant vouloir présenter les demandes budgétaires de la formation politique. Mais les Québécois ne sont pas dupes !

En présentant des demandes budgétaires qu’ils chiffrent à 16 milliards de dollars (communiqué de presse du Bloc, 26 janvier 2011), Gilles Duceppe et ses députés ne cherchent qu’un prétexte pour rejeter le prochain budget fédéral et déclencher des élections dont les Québécois n’ont pas besoin. C’est leur seul objectif.

C’est pour cette même raison que le Bloc A VOTÉ CONTRE, à deux reprises, en 2009 et 2010, la mise en œuvre du Plan d’action économique qui visait à combattre la pire récession mondiale depuis la grande dépression. Mais notre gouvernement conservateur n’a pas de leçon à recevoir du Bloc en matière d’économie.

Nous avons agi dès le début de la crise économique mondiale pour aider à stimuler la création d’emploi, pour réduire les impôts de la classe moyenne et des personnes âgées, pour bonifier le programme d’assurance-emploi et pour aider nos entreprises à traverser la crise. Nos actions ont produit des résultats dans toutes les régions du Québec et, chaque fois qu’il en a eu la chance, le Bloc A VOTÉ CONTRE nos mesures.


A new political party to be born — over a double-double

The advocacy group Democracy Watch is calling on Canadians to get behind a new grassroots federal political movement which it has dubbed the Coffee Party. It's name, I assume, brings inevitable comparisons to the Tea Party movement in the United States though, knowing Democracy Watch's general policy objectives over the year, the Coffee Party may be focused less on the fiscal issues that drive the Tea Party and more on some of the transparency and accountability issues that tend to be the focus of Democracy Watch.

Indeed, the Coffee Party web site makes that explicit:

Unlike the Tea Party movement in the U.S., the Canadian Coffee Party movement is pushing only for well-researched and broadly supported changes that will make Canadian governments and big businesses operate more honestly, ethically, openly, representatively, efficiently and effectively.

UPDATE: Reader writes to say that there actually is a U.S. Coffee Party already

In any event, here is the release/call-to-arms from Democracy Watch:

Canadian Coffee Party movement launching tomorrow morning across Canada

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced the launch of the Coffee Party movement for good government and corporate responsibility in Canada — tomorrow morning, Friday, January 28, 2011.

All Canadians, and media, are invited to attend the launch which is being held in coffee shops across Canada on Friday morning.

Democracy Watch suggests that media go to any coffee shop in the country tomorrow morning and ask people there whether they support changes to make Canadian governments and businesses serve them better in every way, to see just how much support the movement has.

With Parliament opening again next Monday, and a federal election likely soon, and with provincial elections scheduled this fall in Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan, the window of opportunity is open for many Canadians to elect governments committed to making themselves, and big businesses, more accountable and responsible.

Details at:

You don't like the idea of corporate tax cuts, do you?

Well, at least half of you don't like the idea. Polling firm Abacus Data Inc. finds that a majority of Canadians are opposed to the Conservative government plan's to continue with a new round of corporate tax cuts. I wonder if this finding might explain why more than half-a-dozen cabinet ministers had fanned out across the country to sell the idea of tax breaks for what they call “job creators” not corporations.

The poll came out after I blogged about some of the political ins-and-outs of the corporate tax debate. I say these results put a little wind in the Liberal sails.

Abacus completed an online survey of more than 1,100 Canadians between Jan. 21 and Jan. 24 and reports the following:

Respondents were first asked whether Canada’s corporate tax rates were too high, too low, or about right.  The results yielded a nearly even four-way split.

“Canadians, on average, don’t know much about what Canadian corporations pay in tax relative to those in other countries,” said David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data.

Once respondents were made aware of Canada’s tax position relative to the United States, Germany, Japan, and Britain, two statements were presented – the federal government’s argument and the opposition parties’ argument.

“This finding suggests that as Canadians become aware of how low Canada's tax rates are compared to other countries, it may become more difficult to convince them to support them.”

“Right now, public opinion is firmly aligned with the opposition parties,” said Coletto.  “Only 21% of respondents buy the job creation argument when given the alternative to spend more on health care or to reduce the deficit.”

The survey then asked Canadians if they support or oppose the government’s plan to continue with the corporate tax cuts.  In total, 52% strongly or somewhat oppose the government’s plan, while 26% support or strongly support it.

“Partisanship does drive opinion to some extent,” said Coletto.  “But not all Conservative Party supporters support the government’s decision to continue with the tax cut so the Conservative government has some work to do to shore up its base and convince undecided voters of the merit of its policies.”

Pork watch: Denis Lebel brings home the bacon

We note the following announcements from Denis Lebel, the minister of state for Canada Economic Development in the Quebec Regions, about some announcements which will direct federal cash into the riding of Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean, a riding currently held by one Denis Lebel:

And a reminder about my Twitter-based “Ottawa Spends” project, where we try to track these announcements, large and small, as they come out.

Memo to Liberals: You're three years too late on the corporate tax cut vote

If we are to trust Prime Minister Stephen Harper's powers of observation — and Hansard's ability to record those observations — just a handful of Liberal MPs stood in their places in the House of Commons on Dec. 13, 2007 and voted against the very corporate tax cuts that now, more than three years later, are dominating pre-budget politicking.

Minutes ahead of the final vote on Bill C-28, the Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Bill of 2007, the Liberal whip Karen Redman (who would lose her seat in Kitchener, Ont. to Conservative Stephen Woodworth) pleaded to the Speaker that Robert Thibeault, the Liberal MP from West Nova (who would lose his seat to Conservative Greg Kerr) be allowed to vote on the bill even though he had arrived at the House after the doors had been closed and all entry barred for the vote.[1] Her request was rejected but not before Harper rose to say: “Mr. Speaker, since the Liberal whip indicated that the member for West Nova was delayed, I wonder how much further delayed the other 100 members are? How far away are they?”

They were, as it turns out, very far away because, had they shown up, they would have likely been forced to vote with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP agains this bill and that would have forced a general election.

I was compelled to research the circumstances of the passing of Bill C-28 as this is the bill that contains the corporate tax cuts that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his caucus now vow to vote against. There's just one problem, of course: They are three years late for that vote.

While Jack Layton and his NDP caucus and Gilles Duceppe and his BQ caucus are counted in Hansard as voting against the corporate tax cuts now coming into effect, then Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and the future leader Ignatieff did not vote either way on the issue. Just six Liberals voted against the corporate tax cuts and all of them were, like the late Thibeault, from Atlantic Canada (They would be Brison, Cuzner, Eyking, Regan, Savage and Russell). This, you may recall, was the budget that contained the so-called Atlantic Accord, which changed some of the equalization terms for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador and which turned out to be a controversial enough notion that Danny Williams organized his successful ABC or Anybody But Conservative campaign for the 2008 election and which prompted Nova Scotia Conservative Bill Casey to finish his parliamentary career as an independent MP.

But because of that 2007 vote, corporate taxes on New Year's Day this year dropped to 16.5 per cent and will drop to 15 per cent on New Year's Day 2012. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty need not mention a word about corporate tax cuts in this year's budget and those tax cuts are coming next year.

The 2011 budget implementation bill, then, may very well be completely silent on the issue of corporate tax cuts.

And that gives both the Bloc and the NDP the perfect fig leaf to vote in favour of Flaherty's 2011 budget should they see enough in it to satisfy their own supporters. Say, for example, Flaherty provides some relief on taxes for home heating oil or commits to boosting CPP and OAS payments. Then, Layton is perfectly free to say his party is voting for measures important to NDP supporters and, in any event, Layton and other NDP MPs already stood up and voted against those horrible corporate tax cuts. Even better for Layton, he'll stand up and say that when he voted against corporate tax cuts three years ago, the Liberals didn't even bother to show up for work that day.

Meanwhile, if Liberals are serious about suspending the corporate tax cuts they say we cannot now afford, they would have to defeat the government, win the subsequent election by campaigning, at least in part, that they would immediately introduce legislation suspending next year's cuts. If they wanted to do more than that, and reverse this year's cuts, then they would, of course, be campaigning to raise corporate taxes. (Probably a politically popular move if the Liberals are appealing to their left-leaning voters but not so much for those leaning right who then could be pushed to vote Conservative).

[1] The procedural rules for the House of Commons include the following instructions for “Recorded Votes”: “When Members have been called in for a division, no further debate is permitted. From the time the Speaker begins to put the question until the results of the vote are announced, Members are not to enter, leave or cross the House, or make any noise or disturbance. Members must be in their assigned seat in the Chamber and have heard the motion read in order for their votes to be recorded. Any Member entering the Chamber while the question is being put or after it has been put cannot have his or her vote counted. Members must remain seated until the result is announced by the Speaker.”

Layton calls for ban on Senators and fundraising

NDP Leader Jack Layton today gave a speech to a conference organized by the Library of Parliament that studies Parliament's institutions. Here's some excerpts from that speech (I have bolded the two “asks” from the NDP):

Five years ago, when Stephen Harper was opposition leader, he knew there was something wrong with an unelected Senate.

He thought it was unfair—undemocratic. He called an appointed Senate “a relic of the 19th Century.” He didn’t like how, “the Prime Minister holds a virtually free hand in the selection of Senators.”

And he promised:  if he ever got the chance to be Prime Minister himself, he would not name appointed people to the Senate.

He insisted: anyone who sits in the Parliament of Canada must be elected by the people they represent.

That makes a lot of sense to me.

But Mr. Harper has turned his back on those democratic principles. Instead of solving the problem, he’s become part of the problem.

Stephen Harper now holds the all-time record for appointing the largest number of Senators in one day.

And who are his appointees? The Conservative Party faithful.

Spin doctors, fundraisers and insiders.

People like his former press secretary. His former Conservative party president. His former national campaign director through two elections. And let’s not forget: Several defeated Conservative candidates who were rejected by voters

Mr. Harper has broken his promise to do politics differently. Not only does he play the same old politics—he plays them better than anyone.

That’s why New Democrats think it’s time for a change.

And today, we’re offering a solution.

If it were up to us, we’d get rid of the unelected upper chamber tomorrow. We want it abolished.

Most Canadians wouldn’t miss it. Recent polling shows that only 18 per cent approve of the actions of the Senate.

But getting rid of the Senate isn't up to us alone. As part of a minority Parliament, we have to work together.

Today, I’m asking Stephen Harper to remember that time—not so long ago—when he opposed an unelected senate. I’m asking him again today if he was serious about what he said. Because it’s time to start down that path. It’s time to start stripping the Senate of some its worst, undemocratic properties.

Today, I’m asking Mr. Harper to start with two modest but vital first steps.

First, I’m asking Mr. Harper to stop appointing failed candidates and party insiders to the Senate. I’m asking him to reach out to Canadians by making that firm commitment.

Second, I’m asking him to work with me to make sure all senators are banned from fundraising for political parties.

No “sober second thought” can come from unelected appointees with such an obvious conflict of interest. It makes a joke of our democratic system, and it’s not fair to Canadians.

Twitter and the State of the Union: 400,000 tweets can't be wrong

Did you watch Obama's State of the Union address last night? Early predictions were that 50 million Americans were tuning in. I watched it and, for the first time for me for this kind of event, jumped in on Twitter to watch what others were saying about the speech and its coverage.

Discussion centred around the Twitter thread or hashtag #SOTU or State of the Union but I found that thread to be moving way too fast to keep up with or digest.  And, anyhow, I thought it'd be fun to set up a hashtag or thread for Canadians watching Obama's speech so I called one at #CanSOTU and it was nice to see a whole pile of Canucks jump in on that one. (You can review my contribution to that debate here).

Barack Obama himself, proving that he actually is Superman, was tweeting as he was talking! For instance, as he said, “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love”, he put it out on Twitter right away. Turns out, that was the single most re-tweeted line from his speech — with more than 2,000 people passing it along. The wags at BorowitzReport had the second most re-tweeted line from the night: “To tweet about the President's speech, use #SOTU. To tweet about Michele Bachmann's response, use #STFU.” That one got zipped around by more than 1,000 people.

Meanwhile, Tweetbeat, a Twitter monitoring service, crunched some global numbers about Twitter and the SOTU. Its findings:

  • The 1 hour of the State of the Union speech – 100k+ tweets – The raw count is approximately 400k+
    • This is more than:
      • 10x the number of tweets during the Oscar nomination announcement in an hour (the other biggest news of the day)
      • 20x the number of tweets during Pretty Little Liars last night
      • 25x the number of tweets when it was determined that Green Bay was going to the Super Bowl

NDP's growth strategy aims at Tory ridings

Earlier this week, the federal New Democrats leaked a memo the party's campaign director, Brad Lavigne, wrote to leader Jack Layton as talk of a federal election heated up.  As Conservatives and Liberals aired television ads to show the world they were ready for all comers, should a federal election happen this spring, this amounts to the NDP equivalent from a “chest-thumping” “bring-it-on” point-of-view. That said: The NDP memo is way more interesting than the TV ads of either of the other two parties.

NDP State of Election Readiness (January 2011)

You can scroll through the whole thing but here's my highlights:

  • “…the Party is prepared to wage an aggressive federal election campaign at any time. I have given the staff team here the readiness date of mid-­‐February to be ready to go on your signal…”
  • “Financing has been secured that will allow the Party to spend the central legal maximum, estimated at approximately $23 million, in the next campaign.”
  • “Of the next tier of seats for us, 2/3rds are currently held by the Conservative Party. In these ridings Liberal voters, particularly women and young people, want to defeat the Conservatives but do not like Mr. Ignatieff. They do like you and are very willing to vote NDP. The research suggests that our base has solidified behind your leadership, while the Liberal base is very unimpressed with Mr. Ignatieff and volatile.”


U.S. defence expert tells Canadian MPs: No way to know how much your F-35 program will cost

Canada wants to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets. The government says the purchase price is $9 billion, including some spare parts and weapons but not including a long-term maintenance contract.

Today, Winslow Wheeler, the director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center For Defense Information in Washington, D.C., releases written testimony he was asked to give to the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence. Wheeler says he tries to answer three questions in his testimony:

1. What will Canada’s F-35As cost?

2. What will Canada obtain for that expense?

3. Is there a good reason to wait?

The short answers to those three questions: 1. Unable to know. 2. Unable to know 3. Yes.

Some quotes from the piece:

I can guarantee to you, however, that the unit cost Canada will pay for a complete, operational F-35A will be well in excess of $70 million – even taking into account whatever exclusion of American costs to develop the aircraft your government may be able to negotiate.

If and when Canada signs an actual purchase contract for F-35As in 2014, as I understand is currently planned, the real question is what multiple of CAD$70 million will Canada have to pay?  I do not believe it unreasonable to expect a multiplication factor of two.

Finally, what will be your costs to operate this aircraft?  In January 2010, the U.S. Navy estimated the cost of operating F-35C’s to be 62 percent higher than operating its current F-18A-Ds and AV-8Bs.  New operating costs for the F-35 are now being discussed inside the Pentagon; the cost is, of course, going up.  Even the lesser A model will be a very large increase in operating costs over your CF-18s.  It would not be unreasonable to expect the flying hour costs to double.

One of the tricky bits for the designer is to deliver on promises to make this a “stealth” fighter, which means it will be hard or impossible for enemy radars to pick up the F-35. Wheeler has something to say about the stealth promises:

The above assumes the stealth characteristic performs as designed, but that is usually not the case.  My work at the U.S. Government Accountability Office on stealth systems made it clear to me that not a single U.S. stealth aircraft had lived up to its original detectability promises, and the F-35 looks to be no exception.

And, in Wheeler's view, the stealth technology comes with sharp performance trade-offs:

The F-35’s stealth features build into the aircraft weight and drag so severe that a hugely powerful engine gives the F-35 less rapid acceleration than American F-18Cs or F-16Cs, according to the data I have seen. The combination of the F-35’s considerable weight and its small-ish wings means it has a “wing loading” (and as a result maneuverability) roughly equivalent to an American F-105 fighter-bomber of the Vietnam era. The F-105 “Lead Sled” was notorious for its inability to defend itself over North Vietnam during the Indochina War.