Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lett on the Hydro issue

This article by Dan Lett sums up the Hydro situation pretty well, I think. Not only is Selinger not in a panic over the allegations, he's going out of his way to clear the air:
As a former finance minister who was also responsible for Hydro, no one in this government knows more about Hydro than Selinger. One of his first acts as premier was to ensure the audit would be completed well before the next election in 2011.

That is either a foolish and reckless move, or the new premier knows something we don't know.
In other words, if he had anything to hide, do you think he'd be so eager to have the audit completed before the election? Somehow I doubt it.

As one of the comments to the article points out, it's also rather telling that the Opposition has been awfully quiet about this issue of late. They raised it in the fall session of the legislature, but that was before the mystery consultant made her most outlandish claims. If this issue had real legs, the Tories wouldn't shut up about it. Just imagine how Rick Borotsik would rant and scream, for instance, if there was anything to it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Canada's economy long way from recovery: report

We're hearing a lot these days about how the recession is "over", and from a technical standpoint this may be true, but a recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives suggests that it may take some time before we see the benefits of any recovery:

Canada's economy is a long way from recovery, and more public investment will be key to getting there, says a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel … and our high dollar is making it worse," said Jim Stanford, co-author of the report and an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers.

The private sector is still shrinking, most new jobs are being created in the public sector and the economy may require billions more in government stimulus, according to the report released Thursday in Ottawa.

"So far we've seen continued decline in exports, continued decline in business capital spending," Stanford said. "Across the private sector as a whole, there's no source of new growth.

From the CBC. How this additional stimulus money should be spent is a good question. I'd suggest putting a lot more into solar and wind power, for starters, and perhaps fixing all the bloody potholes in Winnipeg's streets couldn't hurt. Of course, there are other ways to spend stimulus money, which are very beneficial to some people:

The Conservative government's economic stimulus spending spree that is pouring billions of tax dollars into road construction projects may turn out to be an offer the Mafia couldn't refuse.

Even as Stephen Harper and his ministers are racing around the country showering public funds on just about every project with a cement mixer, Quebec is engulfed in a growing scandal over Mafia control of infrastructure projects.

In some excellent investigative reporting by the CBC, a credible government insider-turned-whistleblower claims Montreal's Italian Mafia controls 80% of the contracts for road construction in the city, much of which is certain to involve federal stimulus money.

The CBC report included detailed descriptions of bid-rigging of contracts, a practice that dramatically inflates overall project costs borne by taxpayers.

From the London Free Press. This is the sort of thing that gives stimulus programs a bad name.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Note to the mystery consultant -- Even Tom Brodbeck thinks you're full of it

Yes, really:

I don't know where this so-called whistleblower is coming from who says Manitoba Hydro is at risk of going bankrupt.

But somebody may want to tell this New York consultant -- whose allegations have triggered an auditor general review of Hydro's operations -- it's virtually impossible for a Crown utility with a monopoly selling electricity in Manitoba to become insolvent.

The consultant, who refuses to disclose her identity or the name of her consulting firm, claims Hydro has mismanaged its financial affairs so badly, the Crown corporation could be in jeopardy of going belly-up.

She doesn't give specifics on how that could possibly happen, but insists it could happen.

It can't.

From here. Anyone still think this is possible?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So what's this Hydro business?

For a while now there've been murmurs about this mysterious consultant who alleges that Manitoba Hydro is facing huge problems in the near future. The linked story is recent, but it's not the first; the Tories were making these claims some time ago. Thing is, you have to wonder about her claims when you see this:
The matter has been exasperating for Brennan, who said it's difficult to ask another expert to verify the whistleblower's findings because she won't waive the confidentiality clause and allow another consultant to review her work.
Hmm. "There are huge problems, honest! I'd prove it, but I don't believe in showing my work". Admittedly, Hydro has also been accused of secrecy in the matter. However, other consultants have come to entirely different conclusions:

MANITOBA Hydro is doing a reasonable job of managing drought and export risks, according to consultants hired to investigate allegations raised by a whistleblower.

"We conclude that Manitoba Hydro's risk mitigation strategy related to an extended drought is adequate and helps meet a key goal of avoiding rate shocks," said ICF.

The firm, which is based near Washington and has a Toronto office, was hired in April, a few months after another risk management consultant expressed concern that Hydro could face blackouts and bankruptcy and had mismanaged its affairs to the tune of $1.1 billion.

The consultant says her findings were ignored and she was fired the day after presenting some of them to Hydro President Bob Brennan. She filed a complaint under the province's new whistleblower protection law late last year, alleging gross mismanagement and threats to public safety.

But Brennan points to the ICF report as proof the whistleblower's concerns were taken seriously but are unfounded.

In any case, the issue is serious enough to warrant further investigation, and Rosann Wowchuk has asked the Auditor General to do so. A reasonable move; we'll have to see where it leads.

The cynic in me wonders if this isn't a completely unfounded story from a disgruntled former consultant, which the Opposition sat on until Greg Selinger, who had responsibility for Hydro in his former portfolio, was running for the leadership. Perhaps they hoped this could damage his chances. If so, their scheme has failed.

Liberals chicken out on climate bill

Well, I guess I shouldn't have expected otherwise:

Federal Liberals say they won't support the NDP in its effort to push a private member's climate-change bill through the House of Commons on Wednesday.

The proposed legislation, called Bill C-311, the climate change accountability act, sets strict targets for greenhouse gas emissions and is currently being considered by a House environment committee.

The committee has asked for an extension of 30 sitting days to review the bill, a request that will be considered Wednesday when the House sits.

But New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton said the delay would undermine efforts to have the bill passed into law before the Copenhagen summit in December.

Layton wants the bill's tougher greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to be in force when Canada sends delegates to the summit, where international leaders hope to forge a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the global greenhouse-gas treaty ratified by dozens of countries, including Canada.

From the CBC. Damn.

Monday, October 19, 2009

So it's over...

... and Greg Selinger was sworn in as the new Premier today. The convention went smoothly, with no shenanigans, and Ashton gave a gracious concession speech.

The next order of business will probably be a cabinet shuffle. Mary Agnes Welch has some speculations on the matter; many of them make sense, but there's a problem:
Rosann Wowchuk: Word is, she could be finance minister. As agriculture minister, she sat beside Selinger for years at treasury board meetings and took over all his files when he resigned to run for leader. And she holds a rural seat, which the NDP needs to keep.
Makes perfect sense, and Wowchuk is highly competent, but who would replace her in Agriculture? The most likely candidates are Stan Struthers and Ron Lemieux. Between the two, Struthers is probably the most likely choice... but Welch has picked him for Education. An oversight, or does Welch know something we don't?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

First Nations UNESCO bid gets $10M

Gary Doer's final announcement is a big one:

The provincial government will set aside $10 million for the boreal forest on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer said Tuesday.

Four First Nations communities are preparing a bid to secure a World Heritage designation from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization for lands within a four-million-hectare area of boreal forest in eastern Manitoba and western Ontario.

The land — dubbed Pimachiowin Aki — includes Atikaki Provincial Park in Manitoba and Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Ontario.

Doer said the provincial money will go into a trust fund expected to be worth $20 million, to be put toward the project and future studies.

The Poplar River, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi and Pikangikum First Nations will present a final bid for the UNESCO designation in 2011 and have established a non-profit corporation to seek international recognition for the land.

From the CBC.

Opposition could pass climate bill against Harper's wishes!

This may be possible, if the Liberals have the nerve:

If Parliament enacts C-311 the Copenhagen Bill – New Democrats’ Climate Change Accountability Act - it will replace Harper Conservatives’ inadequate policy approach* with a credible, urgent plan that will quickly decrease Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution.

For C-311 NDP Climate Change Accountability Act to become law:
1. Wednesday, October 21, 5:30 pm, all opposition MPs must vote no to delay.
2. Last week of October: all opposition MPs vote yes to C311.
3. November: speedy approval at the Liberal-dominated Senate.
If every Liberal MP shows up in the House of Commons to support Bill C-311 without delay, it will become law before December’s United Nations meeting.

The people of Canada, through its Parliament, will say yes to the Planet in front of the world at Copenhagen.
Source. Question is, will the Liberals cooperate? One would think they'd be fools not to...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Oklahoma law will publicy post details of women’s abortions online

Yes, you read that correctly:

On Nov. 1, a law in Oklahoma will go into effect that will collect personal details about every single abortion performed in the state and post them on a public website. Implementing the measure will “cost $281,285 the first year and $256,285 each subsequent year.” Here are the first eight questions that women will have to reveal:

1. Date of abortion
2. County in which abortion performed
3. Age of mother
4. Marital status of mother
(married, divorced, separated, widowed, or never married)
5. Race of mother
6. Years of education of mother
(specify highest year completed)
7. State or foreign country of residence of mother
8. Total number of previous pregnancies of the mother
Live Births
Induced Abortions

Although the questionnaire does not ask for name, address, or “any information specifically identifying the patient,” as Feminists for Choice points out, these eight questions could easily be used to identify a woman in a small community.
From Think Progress (hat tip to jblaque).

A not-so-grand idea reappears

You may or may not have heard of the GRAND Canal proposal. If nothing else, it deserves credit for its audacity. It was proposed by a chap named Tom Kierans, an engineer from Newfoundland who figures he knows how to solve the water problems faced by the American southwest and the Canadian prairies.

The idea is this: Kierans thinks that water could be drawn from Lake Michigan to supply the southwestern US, and from Lake Superior to supply the Prairies. To make up for this, though, we'd need to add more water to the Great Lakes, otherwise they'd eventually be drained. This is where Kierans' proposal gets... uh, interesting. He proposes building a gigantic dam to wall off James Bay from Hudson Bay, so that water from the rivers in northern Ontario and Quebec would be retained. Some outflow would be allowed at first, but no inflow from Hudson Bay, resulting in James Bay being turned into a giant freshwater reservoir. From there, the water would be diverted (and at some points pumped) into Lake Huron via the Harricana River, Lake Timiskaming, the Ottawa River, and the French River. Got that?

Of course, this sounds like utter madness. Even setting aside the environmental concerns (mixing watersheds is generally not good for biodiversity, and some have suggested that the resulting changes to marine currents in Hudson Bay could be harmful as well) the amount of effort, expense, and energy that would be required to do this is staggering. The idea has been floated a few times since Kierans proposed it in 1959, and was studied approvingly by some politicians, including Quebec premier Robert Bourassa and some guy named Brian Mulroney (remember him?) but fortunately these proposals haven't gone very far.

However, the idea is now being discussed again, in the mainstream media no less. Are they trying to soften us up for the idea? Certainly some, such as Gwynne Dyer, are saying that if we don't sell our water to the Yanks they'll just take it. But what if we don't build the GRAND Canal? Would the Great Lakes states stand for the lakes getting drained so that the southwest can keep their golf courses green and their pools full? I'd like to think not.

Of course, if it comes to that the US might resort to other means to get us to cooperate...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

NDP youth back Ashton

The MYND delegate selection process (which, unlike the constituency meetings, used a proportional system) has narrowed the gap between the contestants:

Young members of Manitoba's New Democratic Party have voted decisively in support of Steve Ashton — and his unabashed commitment to freeze tuition fees — to be the province's next premier and party leader.

More than 300 enthusiastic Manitoba Young New Democrats members packed a basement hall and cast ballots at the University of Winnipeg in the city's downtown on Tuesday evening.

Ashton won 67 delegates to rival Greg Selinger's 40, with a single delegate going to former leadership candidate Andrew Swan.

Swan dropped out from the leadership race on Sept. 28 and is supporting Selinger's bid to become premier.

The vote for Swan was mailed in from rural Manitoba weeks before Tuesday night's meeting.

Selinger still leads the overall race by 117 delegates.

From the CBC. The margin here does not include those backing Swan (most of whom will likely switch to Selinger). Endless Spin Cycle has a complete tally of the constituency delegates; now we have to wait to see who organized labour supports, as this will now likely decide the outcome.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Bloc rushes in where federalists fear to tread

And justifiably so, in this case:
Wealthy Canadians should pay a special surtax to help slay the deficit, the Bloc Quebecois says.

Monday, the Bloc became the first party in the House of Commons to propose costed measures to eliminate the $56-billion federal deficit, including drastic cuts to the civil service.

“There are people who do not pay their fair share of taxes,” said Bloc finance critic Jean-Yves Laforest.

The party championed a temporary tax on the rich, similar to a plan U.S. President Barack Obama proposed, where Canadians with a taxable income above $150,000 would pay an extra 1%. The measure would affect 450,000 people and add $1.5 billion to federal coffers, according to the Bloc’s estimates.

From the London Free Press. Such a simple and sensible idea, yet the other parties are reluctant to talk about it. News flash -- not all tax increases are bad.

Liberals shoot down floor-crossing rumours

Well, that was quick:

Federal Liberals denied a report Tuesday that three of their party's MPs were interested in crossing the floor to join the Tories.

Liberal MPs Ken Dryden and Marc Garneau told reporters in Ottawa that the talk was Conservative mischief and an attempt to sow dissension in the party.

A report in the Toronto Star on Tuesday cited an anonymous Conservative government official, who said the party had discussions with three Liberals in the last month about crossing the floor.

Ruby Dhalla, the MP for the Ontario riding of Brampton-Springdale, was one of the names mentioned in the story.

Asked by CBC News if she was defecting, Dhalla responded: "No."

She also said no Tories contacted her about crossing the floor, and she had never thought about defecting.

Source. Makes you wonder what was really going on there. Were the Cons trying to sow dissention in the Liberal ranks, or did the Liberals lead them on in the hope that they'd embarrass themselves by going to the press with a false story? It's hard to imagine the whole thing being an innocent misunderstanding, in any case.

Liberal trio looking to defect, Tories say

Remember that old line the Liberals like to use about how "a vote for the NDP is a vote for the Conservatives"? Well, it seems that a lot of people who voted Liberal may be about to find that they've helped elect Conservative MPs:
A Conservative government official said Monday there have been discussions with three Liberal MPs interested in crossing the floor to the Tory side over the past month.

Liberals immediately dismissed the talk as Conservative "mischief" and said it is the government that is on a raiding mission.

There has been speculation in the past few days that Ruby Dhalla, Liberal MP for Brampton-Springdale, has considered defecting to the Conservatives because her own party has refused to back her private member's bill to increase old-age benefits to immigrant seniors.

From the Toronto Star.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ashton wins The Maples and Fort Whyte

Steve Ashton took two big constituencies over the weekend. After winning most of the 138 delegates in The Maples on Saturday, he also got all 43 Fort Whyte delegates on Sunday. On the other hand, Selinger took 43 delegates in several rural ridings, so he remains ahead by a significant margin. Ashton is also playing up the Hydro strike, marching with picketers today in front of the Manitoba Hydro building downtown, and reiterating his support for anti-scab legislation. No doubt he hopes to pick up enough labour support from this to put him over the top.

For some reason the timing of the Hydro strike has raised paranoid alarm bells in my mind, making me think of the electrical workers' strike in A Very British Coup which is orchestrated by the enemies of the government. But maybe I should take off my tinfoil hat and take a breath...

Friday, October 2, 2009

A blast from the past...

... or rather, an incorrect prediction of a blast:
Seventeen years ago, in January 1992, the U.S. Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the House Republican Research Committee, asserted that there was a "98 percent certainty that Iran already had all (or virtually all) of the components required for two to three operational nuclear weapons.” That same month, Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset that "Within three to five years, we can assume that Iran will become autonomous in its ability to develop and produce a nuclear bomb… (The nuclear threat) must be uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.” In that same year, Robert Gates, then director of the CIA, asked, "Is [Iran’s nuclear program] a problem today?" He answered, "Probably not. But three, four, five years from now it could be a serious problem." Three years later, a senior Israeli official declared: "If Iran is not interrupted in this program by some foreign power, it will have the device in more or less five years."

Officially, both the United States and Israel now agree that Iran is unlikely to be able to produce a bomb until about 2013 or 2014—the same five-year window that was being predicted seventeen years ago in 1992.

From here (hat tip to pogge).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Selinger scores big in Inkster

One of the largest constituencies, by delegate count, went largely to Greg Selinger last night. This gives him a fairly comfortable lead, but as Never Eat Yellow Snow points out, the contest is not over yet. With approximately 50% of the delegates chosen (from constituencies and otherwise), this leaves Selinger with 65% of declared constituency delegates, and Ashton with 35%. Yellow Snow has calculated that Ashton could still have a chance of winning. To do so, however, he must sweep Interlake, The Maples, and Fort Whyte, as well as picking up a substantial amount of the labour and MYND support, and a few more constituencies.

Perhaps the biggest story, though, is this:
Premier Gary Doer's pending address change hasn't made a dent in the NDP's popularity with Manitoba voters, a new Probe Research/Free Press survey says.

The ruling New Democrats remain the most popular political party in the province with 45 per cent of Manitobans saying they would vote for the NDP in the next election.

For the NDP -- which chooses its new leader Oct. 17 -- this means their commanding lead hasn't changed since Probe's last poll conducted in June.

"We always talk about the equity that Doer brings to the party and to the electorate," Probe Research president Scott MacKay said. "Does his departure leave this big hole and this hollowness? There was nothing.

"What does this mean? He leaves and the air doesn't go out of the tire. It just stays where it is."

This is extremely good news for the NDP, of course. I suspect that Hugh McFadyen will soon be under pressure to step down if this pattern holds.