The NDP's Megan Leslie: Do as I say, not as I do

Today, after Question Period, NDP MP Megan Leslie answered questions from reporters on the federal government's position on Kyoto, climate change, and the upcoming climate change conference in Durban, South Africa (my emphasis):

Leslie: “… We do know that Canada has sent lobbyists to the EU to lobby against the fuel directive to interfere with sovereign nations’ decision about legislation … we know the lobbying is happening by Canada on other countries, pressure on other countries. You know, whether it will work or not is a big question. I guess we’ll have to wait and see but it looks likes that’s what Canada is trying to do, is get other countries to pull out as well and if you can – if you can stop negotiations on climate worldwide, then – then what do we have to live up to?

…Members of Parliament from the EU have said they can’t believe this is something that Canada would do, especially … when they were talking about the lobbying of the EU, they say we can’t believe that Canada is doing this. This is not the Canada we know. People in the international community seemed very surprised and shocked. …This is really – it’s really under-handed . . .

I have a huge problem with the fact that our government is trying to derail the good faith negotiations of other countries. That is not what an international player should be doing. At the very least, step back from it and let other countries do the work that they want to do.

Leslie's complaint that the Government of Canada should not be putting “pressure on other countries” or “trying to dereail the good faith negotiations of other countries” comes two weeks after this:

Leslie goes to Washington to fight for delay on pipeline decision

Megan Leslie Goes To Washington
“The NDP has sent their environment critic to Washington with the purpose of lobbying to kill the Keystone pipeline . . .”



NSA spooks could eavesdrop on what you tell Siri on your iPhone 4S

Legal beagle blogger Simon Fodden has a fascinating (and brief) post that, if I'm reading correctly, is a warning to all international users of the Siri voice-command feature on the iPhone 4S that spooks with the U.S. National Security Agency and other U.S. security services could be screening whatever is you were whispering to your iPhone. Fodden is passing on information posted by lawyer Norman Letalik to a legal beagle e-mail list the two are on:

“… the best practice would be not to use the dictation feature on an iPhone 4s for any dictated information to which you intend legal privilege to attach. Note as well that Apple’s dictation servers are located in the US, so the dictated information may also be scanned for national security purposes by the US Government pursuant to powers given to it under the Patriot Act …”

More from Fodden here

NDP leadership hopeful unapologetic: Make wealthy people and companies pay more

NDP leadership candidate Brian Topp unveiled his proposal for tax reform today.

Should he one day form a government, Topp would, among other things, bring in a new top income tax bracket, asking Canadians who post taxable income of greater than $250,000 to pay an income tax of 35 per cent on anything above that amount. The current top federal tax rate is 29 per cent and that kicks in on income above about $128,000 a year. He'd also tax most capital gains as income. (Capital gains are taxed right now at a discounted rate.) His point: Wether your income comes from using a shovel all day or from placing goods bets in the stock market, you should be taxed in a similar manner.

Read his press release from today or download the 11-page plan. (Both are PDFs)

Topp was in our studios in Ottawa today and I talked to him (left) about his plan and, as you'll see on the video, asked Mike Moffatt, an economist and senior lecturer at the University of Western Ontario, to weigh in on Topp's plan.

Also have lots of great feedback on Topp's plan at my Facebook page.

The stories of America: Ronald S. Lauder and Dionne Henry

The edition of the Sunday New York Times delivered to my neighborhood has these two pieces. One made the front page, one was back on page 28.

Out of Work and Trying to Stay Positive A Family's Billions, Artfully Sheltered
NEEDIEST articleLarge Lauder articleLarge
“[Dionne Henry] had to miss her father’s funeral in Jamaica last year because she could not afford to go. Fresh fruits and vegetables are now a luxury. She keeps her hair short, cutting it herself to avoid the expense. Her only new clothing in more than two years has been a dress her sister paid for and a $25 blouse she bought for an interview..” “In 2006, Ronald S. Lauder, who is now worth $3.1 billion, paid $135 million for the Klimt painting Adele Bloch-Bauer I.”

“Ms. Henry receives $351 a week in unemployment benefits, which are set to expire in January. She pays $896.51 a month in rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

After she first lost her job, she fell a month behind on rent. Then last year, Ms. Henry, who is single and without health insurance, had surgery to remove uterine fibroids, and she fell behind again. The surgery cost $7,000, and she still owes $5,000.

After her rental debt grew to $3,394.16, Ms. Henry’s landlord filed evictions proceedings. A lawyer referred Ms. Henry to the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. She received a grant of $1,543.12 from the fund and was able to save $1,851.04 as eviction proceedings dragged out in housing court. A judge eventually ordered her landlord to accept the back rent and to allow her to remain in her apartment.”


..His vast holdings — which include hundreds of millions in stock, one of the world’s largest private collections of medieval armor, homes in Washington, D.C., and on Park Avenue as well as oceanfront mansions in Palm Beach and the Hamptons…”

NDP leadership hopeful Brian Topp has key Quebec MP but does it matter?

Over coffee or a beer, I've often heard (and repeated) that the two key endorsements among the NDP's Quebec caucus that one might seek if one was an English Canadian NDP seeking to succeed Jack Layton was Alexandre Boulerice, 38 (left),  and Guy Caron, the rookie MPs from, respectively, Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie and Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. Though both are rookie MPs, both are skilled communicators and both have excellent connections to organized labour in Quebec, still very much a wild card in the current NDP leadership race.

Now, before we go any further. This post is about the NDP leadership and Quebec. And, at this point, it is still very much a debatable point whether Quebec will amount to a hill of beans when, next March, New Democrats convene in Toronto to select a leader. That's because New Democrats will elect their leader on a one-vote, one-person basis. There are no weighted votes for any constituency or region. And, according to the most recent membership numbers, NDP members in Quebec account for less than 6 per cent of the 95,000 or so eligible voters. And yet, Quebec was la seule raison for the NDP's big win on May 2. Quebec has 75 seats in the House of Commons and Quebecers gave all but 16 to the NDP.  So, as you read through this post, keep this paradox in mind: Quebec is vitally important to the NDP so far as the caucus and the House of Commons are concerned but, if you were thinking coldly about winning the NDP leadership, you could likely blow Quebec off and still find yourself watching the tulips sprout at Stornaway next spring. In other words, Dawn Black is way more important than Pierre Ducasse. But more on Dawn Black and Pierre Ducasse in a moment. Let's turn first to the NDP in Quebec.

Guy Caron is the chair of the his party's Quebec caucus. In any other party, this is hardly a noteworthy position. The Conservative caucus is pretty much a committee of cabinet. (Four of five Conservative MPs from Quebec are in cabinet.) The Liberals have 7 Quebec MPs and it is pretty much a Montreal caucus. The BQ Quebec caucus? Well, the BQ is a Quebec caucus, of course.

But the NDP is different. They have 102 MPs in the House of Commons. And 59 of those MPs (that's coming close to two-thirds) are from the province of Quebec. And Caron is the chairperson of that group. Not only that, but before he was elected on May 2, Caron was a researcher and economist with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the CEP. This is a big union (and the only union I've ever been a member of, too boot), with lots of members in both French and English Canada. Caron himself is, in my experience, as comfortable speaking in English as he is in first language.

Boulerice, too, has a union background, as a communications advisor for the Quebec division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). He once worked as a journalist for TVA/LCN. CUPE, like the CEP, has lots of connections in English Canada. And Boulerice has turned into a up-and-coming star in the House of Commons. Appointed by Jack Layton to be his party's Treasury Board critic he has, on many occasions, been one-half of the English/French one-two knockout punches the NDP have been throwing at Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement over the $50 million Muskoka boondoggle (left). I confess I do not know him well but, based on his performance in the House and based on what those who do know him well say about him, I dare say he may be better cabinet material than most of those in cabinet now whose home riding is in Québec.

For the power of their personalities, their connections, and their professional background then, Caron and Boulerice have rated at or near the top of the charts so far as NDP leadership race endorsements areconcerned.

Which is a long way of getting around to the endorsement letter out today: Boulerice explains his choice of Brian Topp:

… Artisan des dernières campagnes électorales du NPD, Brian était un des piliers de l’équipe de Jack. Sa connaissance du programme et ses talents de stratège seront des atouts de premier ordre à la Chambre des communes. Sa connaissance du Québec sera également inestimable pour conserver les 59 sièges que nous avons gagnés aux dernières élections. De plus, son expérience comme chef de cabinet adjoint dans le gouvernement du NPD en Saskatchewan sera essentielle pour faire le passage entre l’opposition officielle et une équipe aguerrie capable de gouverner.
De plus, peu de gens le savent, mais Brian est un gars bien de chez nous. Il a grandi au Québec. À Longueuil plus précisément. Parfaitement bilingue et résolu à mettre fin aux divisions entre le Québec et le reste du Canada, Brian a tout ce qu’il faut pour être un leader rassembleur. Avec Brian, je suis certain que nous saurons bâtir sur les gains au Québec et convaincre le reste du Canada de se joindre à la prochaine vague orange.

From caucus, Topp has already secured the endorsement of Françoise Boivin, Alain Giguère, and Charmaine Borg.

Caron, like Angus and many MPs, is still undeclared so far as the leadership goes. So Boulerice's endorsement is a good get, if only for defensive and strategic reasons, I think, for Topp. If Topp has Boulerice, then Boulerice isn't out using his union and journalist connections to organize and evangelize for another candidate. And the Friday night announcement of his endorsement is a bit of a counterpunch, if you will, to news, earlier this week, that Toronto-based NDP leadership hopeful Peggy Nash had won the endorsement of Pierre Ducasse. Ducasse, as a 29-year-old, ran against Layton for the leadership in 2003. Ducasse lost, of course, but it was to Layton's credit that the first thing he did upon winning was to reach out to Ducasse — a self-described “p’tit gars de Sept-Iles” — to get him to help Jack in Quebec. Ducasse did, in fact, give Jack a lot help in Quebec and – Thomas Mulcair's claims notwithstanding — the NDP's success on May 2 can, in many ways, be attributed to the seeds Layton and Ducasse planted way back in 2003.

So a good Quebec “get” for Nash. And,though I would be pleased to be advised otherwise,, neither Paul Dewar, Nathan Cullen, Robert Chisholm, Niki Ashton, nor Martin Singh have any significant Quebec endorsements. (Again: See caution at the top of this post that, at the end of the day, Quebec endorsements may not be that important on voting day).

Now, there are, of course, two candidates for the leadership who are already members of the Quebec NDP caucus. Romeo Saganash, the Cree leader from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou was the second person to declare his candidacy after Topp. The other is Mulcair, the MP for Outremont in Montreal. Saganash has not yet received significant endorsements from his home province.

Mulcair, on the other hand, has shown the most strength in Quebec if you are measuring strength the way the way they did it 30 or 40 years ago, in terms of caucus support. The day Mulcair announced his candidacy, he did it with nearly half of the Quebec NDP caucus standing behind him and endorsements from others who could not be there.

But Caron is still out there. He along with Karl Bélanger (the long-time press secretary of Layton and, before him, Alexa McDonough) are the two most 'influential' Quebecers still up for grabs so far as endorsements go in the NDP leadership race. (Though an organizer in Dewar's campaign messages me tonight to say that Steve Moran is right up there, too, in this category.)

So that's the update on the NDP fight in Quebec.

And, as Boulerice noted in his letter tonight endorsing Topp, everyone will be pals, anyway, at the end of this thing:

“En terminant, je m’en voudrais de ne pas souhaiter bonne chance aux huit autres candidat-e-s. La qualité des candidatures démontre la profondeur de notre équipe. Au-delà de cette amicale compétition que représente la course au leadership, je suis convaincu que nous serons tous unis pour travailler ensemble et battre Stephen Harper aux prochaines élections.”


The numbers vs the narratives on new Supreme Court justices Moldaver and Karakatsanis

Mark Wiffen, an associate with the law firm McMillan MP, crunches the numbers on the newst Supreme Court Justices, Michael Moldaver and Anromache Karakatsanis (free registration required). His method is to take a look at the decisions each jurist made while with the Ontario Court of Appeal and compare some of those numbers about the whole court's behaviour in order to examine a couple of narratives that emerged once the appointments were announced.

  • First narrative: Moldaver was appointed because of his particular expertise in criminal law. Wiffen's analysis: Perhaps. From 2009 to 2011, 44 per cent of the court's published decisions were related to criminal law. In Moldaver's case, 53 per cent of the cases he published on were criminal cases but two other judges heard more criminal cases. The decisions of Karakatsanis, by comparison, who is seen as stronger on administrative law, dealt with criminal law in just 35 per cent of cases.
  • Second narrative: The appointments by Moldaver and Karakatsanis are an attempt by a Conservative prime minister to give the Supreme Court a stronger “law-and-order” or rightward tilt. Wiffen's analysis: Difficult to use the numbers to support that view.  By Wiffen's estimation, a law-and-order judge is one who will tend to clash with defence lawyers — that's Moldaver, apparently — and who frequently sides the Crown in his or her ruling. The court average when it came to siding the Crown was 73 per cent. Moldaver ruled in favour of the Crown 79% of the time — just a bit more. Defence lawyers had a better shot with Karakatsanis who ruled in favour of the Crown only 63 per cent of the time. When it comes to civil appeals, though, Moldaver and Karakatsanis have much more in common. Appeals by the whole court were allowed, on average, 24% of the time, but Moldaver and Karatsanis were involved in decisions in which appeals were allowed just 16 per cent and 17 per cent of the time respectively.

But, as Wiffen concludes, while these numbers may be interesting, they may not be predictive: “Understanding what Justices Moldaver and Karakatsanis have done in the past may help us predict what they will do in the future. That being said, the inherent unpredictability of people, combined with the differences between the dynamics on the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada, suggests that it will be a long time before we know how these appointments will actually turn out.”


Canada's visa problem: The interim A-G says it's "disturbing"

Accountants and auditors are not, by definition, given to hyperbole and exaggeration. They're mild-mannered types, if you know what I mean. So when interim Auditor General John Wiersema, commenting on the fact that his office today is for the third time in a decade sounding the alarm that we are giving entry visas to more than 1.36 million foreign nationals a year and we don't know squat about them, says “That's disturbing,” that ought to be a four-alarm call to action.

“By now, The Government of Canada has been in the business of issuing visas for a long time, we should have better processes in place to make sure we're issuing visas to the people that should get them,” Wiersema told me.

Chapter 2 of the Auditor General's twice-a-year report is here and in it, you'll find these indictments of both Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency, jointly responsible for the visa program:

“…CBSA has not reviewed the effectiveness of its security screening process. It has not requested feedback from CIC on the usefulness of the information provided to visa officers, and there is no process to find out how they use the information. In our survey, about 45 percent of the Canada-based officers indicated that one of the challenges in determining the inadmissibility of an applicant is the lack of relevant information from security partners.”

“The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is responsible for updating risk indicators, but we found that two of the screening manuals had not been updated for several years; one of these was last updated in 1999.”

“At the time of our audit, the Department had defined only two diseases—syphilis and tuberculosis—as dangers to public health. These same two diseases have defined the screening practice for the last 50 years. We noted that mandatory HIV testing has been implemented since 2002, with the anticipated public health benefit of early detection, treatment, and prevention. Persons with HIV, however, will not be denied access to Canada for public health reasons. They would be found inadmissible only if their health condition might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services.”

And here's something else to ponder: In 2010, 1.2 million foreign nationals applied for visas to enter, work, or live in Canada. All but 668 were approved. That's a statistical oddity that the A-G picked up on:

“We noted that very few applicants, referred by visa officers using the current risk indicators, were found to be likely inadmissible by security partners. In many cases, there may be no information or concerns related to applicants. Of the cases security partners worked on in 2010, only about 1 percent of applicants for temporary residence and 0.1 percent of applicants for permanent residence were found to be likely inadmissible (Exhibit 2.3). We noted that there has been no analysis to determine whether the current risk indicators to help identify potentially inadmissible applicants are appropriate or properly applied.”

John Turner: A hero for Liberals?

I am at the very beginning of Carleton University historian Paul Litt's biography of John Napier Turner, who, until Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff came along, was the symbol of Liberal failure in the last century-and-a-half. And yet, despite being crushed twice at the polls (in 1984 and in 1988) by his chief opponent Brian Mulroney, Litt — seven pages in to his Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner — sets out an audacious thesis to prove, over the next 400 pages that John Turner is no failure but is, in fact, a hero:

“Turner's glorious opposition to free trade during the 1988 election offered Canadians an alternative of wholesale continental integration. He lost that battle but won an enduring place in history by making the case for a more independent Canada. The leading anglophone Liberal of the late twentieth century, John Turner deserves to be remembered for more than the frustrations he encountered in the final chapter of his career. His destiny was elusive; his legacy, substantial.”

Well, first of all, one's destiny cannot, by definition, be “elusive.” It is what it is. If you are at point B in your life, well, your destiny was point B. Point A might have been elusive for you but, by definition, it was not your destiny. Point B was your destiny, despite your attempts to reach Point A, and so your destiny could not have been elusive.

But more importantly: Litt must overcome the perception I think many have of John Turner that was best sketched out in Greg Weston's wonderfully gossipy and impeccably researched account of Turner's return to politics in 1984 and Turner's subsequent first drubbing by Mulroney (Reign of Error, 1988).  I am going to need a great deal of convincing in Litt's next 393 pages to overturn my initial estimation of our country's 17th prime minister.  For one thing, Litt holds out Turner as the “leading Anglophone Liberal of the late twentieth century.” Well, what does 'late twentieth century' mean? After 1950? If so, surely some might claim Lester Pearson as more “leading” than Turner. And even if we draw the cutoff line at 1970, a good case could be made that that Juggernaut, Windsor, Ont.-born Paul Martin easily eclipses Turner as the “leading Anglophone Liberal.” Martin was the finance minister who, in 1993, took decisive, if controversial, steps to undo the fiscal mess that finance ministers from Turner through to Michael Wilson had got us into. Turner quit on Trudeau as finance minister and when he returned, he led the Liberals twice into a general election and both times his opponent won majority governments. Say what you will about Martin but he never quit on Chretien during the tough times of the 1990s and, when he did say sayonara, it was when the country's finances were in good enough that it could afford to lose a finance minister. Martin, too, led his Liberals twice into election but he won one, albeit a minority, and when he lost his last one, it was a squeaker to Stephen Harper's minority. (And Martin, one could argue, faced a tremendous hurdle that Turner did not in that Martin had to overcome the stench of the Sponsorship Scandal, arguably the biggest stink to hit an incumbent government since Sir John A. and the Pacific Scandal)

And if holding the premiership was not a defining characteristic of being “the leading Anglophone Liberal of the late 20th century”, then one could conceivably argue that Allan MacEachen, Trudeau's minister of everything, was that Liberal. Or John Manley. Or Sheila Copps. Or, looking further than Ottawa, what about Clyde Wells?

But, as I said, I'm only on page 7 of Litt's book. And if I find myself arguing with an author on page 7, that's usually a good sign I'm going to enjoy the rest of the book.