Friday, March 24, 2006

CD Howe's Michael Hart: Inadvertent Opponent of Deep Integration

Admittedly, I am a big fan of cheese-covered popcorn. It's one of my favorite snacks at the beach in the summer. It does get somewhat difficult, however, when my friend and I play scrabble at the beach because our fingers get rather gunked up. Ultimately, though, that is the extent of real concern I have about cheese-covered popcorn.

I'm glad however, that Michael Hart, who works with the neoliberal, neoconservative, traditional-America-loving CD Howe institute, spends much more time thinking about the nightmares trying to reconcile producers' compliance with competing regulatory regimes in Canada and the United States.

Regulatory convergence is one of the pseudo-synonyms of deep integration of Canada and the United States. 49%'s and 53%'s honestly mean little to me [see below]. I understand they affect dozens of people involved in the companies that create my beloved cheese-covered popcorn, but I have a hard time building a political movement on their behalf. Especially when Gordon Campbell's neoLiberal government has lured/forced/enticed school districts to start business companies to raise revenue that was defunded through this decade.

Especially also when the Alberta government is now unabashedly flaunting the notion of two[-plus]-tiered healthcare.

Universal, equitable education and healthcare matter to me. This is why I was so happy to read Michael Hart's opinion piece [copied below] in the CanWestGlobal National Post this week. He wrote describing some rather compelling minutiae that can be streamlined by regulatory convergence.

I've never really been a fan of minutiae. This week was no different. I simply disliked his piece, until the last quarter of it, when, like the well-balanced academic he likely is, he introduced a number of arguments that deep integration critics make.

And then when I weighed them and compared them to the regulatory minutiae filling the rest of his piece, I have come to appreciate Michael Hart's likely inadvertent effectiveness at promoting the relatively dire importance of opposing deep integration. This penultimate paragraph resonates:

Commitment to such a program
["regulatory convergence," "deep integration," whatever] obviously will have implications that go beyond trade and commercial considerations. Some Canadians, for example, are concerned that growing convergence might drag them into applying U.S. geopolitical trade barriers that are inimical to Canadian values and interests. Others worry that further trade and commercial integration could undermine federal and provincial governments' ability to nurture Canadian culture and identity. Still others fear that further negotiations could require Canada to share its resources and leave Canadians without adequate capacity to ensure that they benefit from these assets. Some Canadians are suspicious that governments' approach to health care, education, regional development and other defining policies could be compromised. [emphasis mine]

All irony aside, literally, not being a deep integration specialist I don't think I could have done a better job of illuminating some substantial reasons to be wary of handcuffing ourselves to the dying American empire than we already have.

At times, when the wind is right and the sun is setting, I can hear the mountains chant "Cancel NAFTA." Michael Hart's contribution raises the tone of the chant.


One set of rules for cross-border trade

Michael Hart
Financial Post

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with U.S. President George Bush and his Mexican counterpart on March 30-31 in Cancun, it should mark the end of a wintry chill. Part of Harper's mission will be to signal the end of the strained relations that had developed between the Bush administration and the governments of his two predecessors. But building a more constructive relationship needn't be focused solely on high-profile trade disputes. Meaningful, lasting progress could be made by reducing the miasma of regulations that is hampering cross-border ties. At issue: reducing the "tyranny of small differences" in Canadian and U.S. regulations that is frustrating businesses, adding costs and stymieing the benefits of further economic integration.

Livelihoods are, of course, at stake. Inspectors and regulators find meaning in these small, regulatory differences. Ordinary citizens do not. Examples: In Canada, fortified orange juice is classified as a drug; in the United States, it is classified as food; in Canada, cheese-flavoured popcorn must contain no more than 49% real cheese; in the United States, no less than 53%; in Canada, anti-theft immobolizers are required on all new vehicles; in the United States, lower cost entry-level vehicles are exempt. The list goes on.

The potential benefits of greater regulatory convergence have been well documented. In September, 2004, Canada's external advisory committee on smart regulation (EACSR) advised the government that "Canada must be more strategic in its regulatory relations with trading partners. A key irritant for industry is the proliferation of minor differences between Canadian and U.S. regulations." It continued: "Minimizing these differences would remove wasteful duplication and reduce costs for consumers, industry and government."

In a similar vein, the Independent Task Force on the Future of North America, sponsored by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, in its May, 2005, report, urged governments to adopt a "North American" approach to regulation. On cue, the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican governments agreed in June that they would develop "a trilateral regulatory co-operation framework by 2007 to support and enhance existing, as well as encourage new co-operation among regulators."

Progress, however, has been glacial. The default option has been to stay on the very Canadian path that has gradually emerged: co-operation if necessary, but not necessarily co-operation. The time has come for Canadians to decide whether they will stay the default course or opt for a more strategic, top-down approach of deliberately steering and determining the pace of this process.

Operating in a small, export-dependent economy next door to the world's most vibrant economy, Canadian suppliers and regulators alike have learned the benefits of Canada-U.S. regulatory co-operation. For exporters, the holy grail is "one standard, one test, accepted everywhere." The result has been an inexorable drift toward ever-greater convergence. This trend is unlikely to change, but Canadians can take steps to harness it and ensure that it develops in ways that bring greater benefits and more control than is currently the case.

As a first step, the two governments should change the current practice of discretionary co-operation at the federal level to a mandatory process of information exchange, consultation, and even coordination. The aim should be to advance a jointly agreed mandate to improve regulatory outcomes, eliminate duplication and redundancy, reduce regulatory differences between the two countries and effect a North American approach to regulation. Much of this mandatory co-operation can be implemented on the basis of existing institutions and be focused on priority sectors. Its most critical results will be experience and mutual confidence.

This program of regulatory co-operation should form part of a larger vision: a joint commitment to the creation of the necessary legal framework and institutions to govern accelerating cross-border integration and ensure that both Canadians and Americans enjoy its benefits.

Commitment to such a program obviously will have implications that go beyond trade and commercial considerations. Some Canadians, for example, are concerned that growing convergence might drag them into applying U.S. geopolitical trade barriers that are inimical to Canadian values and interests. Others worry that further trade and commercial integration could undermine federal and provincial governments' ability to nurture Canadian culture and identity. Still others fear that further negotiations could require Canada to share its resources and leave Canadians without adequate capacity to ensure that they benefit from these assets. Some Canadians are suspicious that governments' approach to health care, education, regional development and other defining policies could be compromised.

Canadians can do little about the fact that they live next door to the world's largest, most energetic economy. However, the negotiation of better rules can provide an improved basis for managing the frictions created by proximity and ensure that Canadians are able to reap the full benefits of their geography.

Michael Hart is the Simon Reisman chair in trade policy in the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University and author of Steer or Drift? Taking Charge of Canada-U.S. Regulatory Convergence, published yesterday by the C.D. Howe Institute.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

George W. Churchill

Just when I think that w.Caesar's arrogance and disdain for democracy and sincerity has hit a limit, he [and his cabal of handlers] surpasses himself. Despite plummeting approval ratings, this spills forth from his mouth two days ago in Cleveland [David Frum must be grinning with the theft.]:

"The last three years have tested our resolve. The fighting has been tough. The enemy we face has proved to be brutal and relentless. We're adapting our approach to reflect the hard realities on the ground. And the sacrifice being made by our young men and women who wear our uniform has been heartening and inspiring.

"The terrorists who are setting off bombs in mosques and markets in Iraq share the same hateful ideology as the terrorists who attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, those who blew up commuters in London and Madrid, and those who murdered tourists in Bali, or workers in Riyadh, or guests at a wedding in Amman, Jordan. In the war on terror we face a global enemy -- and if we were not fighting this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and trying to kill Americans across the world and within our own borders. Against this enemy, there can be no compromise. So we will fight them in Iraq, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won."

And there was this Winston Churchill guy once. He and millions of others fought Nazi fascism and a jugular threat to all democracy. I think he once said:

"We will never surrender. We will never give up. We will fight them on the beach. We will fight them in the country. We will fight them in the city. We will fight them in the alleys. We will fight them to the edge of the empire, but we will never, never, Never, Never, NEVER SURRENDER!"

The spin, the spin, the spin, the spin...

Podcast at
Podcast feed at

Friday, March 17, 2006

Prime Sinister Harper 3, Democracy 0

St. Patrick's Day 2006 will perhaps be a memorable day as the movie V for Vendetta opens and this article [copied below] from the Globe and Mail recounts recent power centralizing moves in Canada's Prime Minister's Office [PMO, not to be confused with BMO [Bank of Montreal, pronounced "bummo"]].

The Trudeau PMO reforms about 30 years ago were fascinating. They drastically increased the power of the prime minister by radically increasing the number of staff in the PMO and by ensuring that senior civil servants in ministries cycled through the PMO to become team players, properly indoctrinated into the vision of centralized control that Trudeau possessed.

Canada is a friendly country. We trust our leaders. We're jolly. No prime minister would become so terribly draconian that we really need to fear Trudeau's PMO reforms. In fact, we're so friendly, we even tolerate [mostly through widespread ignorance, I suspect] a fused executive and legislature. Neither provides a check or balance against the other because they are identical. The strongest check comes in secret government caucus meetings where an ideologically rambling prime minister could be reigned in by their party--by no less than a minor or major revolt, even. Beyond that, there are no practical structures to limit the power of a prime minister, a person who has more power domestically than the US president does.

Except for minority governments. This is why I'm a fan of minority governments and why through wise electoral and parliamentary reform we may never have a "majority" [sic] government again because they never meaningfully represent a meaningful majority.

This brings us to today. Prime Sinister Harper has gone further than Trudeau ever did in emasculating cabinet by insisting on approving all communication and reducing cabinet access to the media, which if it ever really decided to, could be another check or balance on a government.

We're so friendly, though. Will Canadians rise up to resist and protest against this squelching of the potential of authentic democracy by allow MPs in cabinet to actually speak their minds without fear of demotion and oblivion?

Harper 3 [Fortier, Emerson, hyper-message control], Democracy 0.


Harper restricts ministers' message
Officials urged to stick to five key priorities; PMO wants to vet all other public comment


From Friday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper has imposed central control over all information and comments to the public issued by government officials and even cabinet ministers, directing them to have everything cleared by the Prime Minister's Office, according to an internal e-mail and government sources.

The orders, described in an e-mail to bureaucrats, indicate that ministers have been told to avoid talking about the direction of the government, and that the government wants them to be less accessible to the news media. And all government officials are instructed to avoid speaking about anything other than the five priorities outlined in the Conservative campaign.

"Maintain a relentless focus on the five priorities from the campaign. Reduce the amount of ministerial/public events that distract from the five priority areas identified in the campaign," the e-mail states.

"In order to keep a grip on such events [those that distract from priority areas], PMO will approve all ministerial events."

The seven-point e-mail summarizes a briefing that the federal government's top bureaucrat, Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch, and his senior official in charge of government communications, assistant cabinet secretary Dale Eisler, gave to the top communications official in several government departments last week. The e-mail was made by a senior bureaucrat who attended the meeting.

Government officials and Conservatives confirmed the instructions, including orders that the PMO clear all public communications — including minor comments and letters to local newspapers.

"PMO will have final approval for all communications products — even Notes to Editors or Letters to the Editor," the e-mail states.

The instructions reflect the extreme caution of a new government with few seasoned hands, worried that even its ministers might slip. It reflects a desire to create the perception that the government is focused — to differentiate itself from Paul Martin's Liberal government, which was widely criticized as having scattered attentions.

While government ministers are holding some events on issues not included in the five priorities — a Federal Accountability Act, a GST cut, a child-care allowance, tougher criminal sentences, and a patient waiting-times guarantee — such events are being kept to a minimum. Comments or information on other issues are closely guarded.

Since they were sworn in on Feb. 6, cabinet ministers have, for the most part, refused to grant interviews to reporters, providing only terse and often vague responses to questions outside cabinet meetings.

Last week, the Prime Minister's Office asked officials to remove the microphones that have for decades been set up in hallways outside cabinet meetings. When press gallery officials intervened, they backed off temporarily. Mr. Harper's press secretary, Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, said the issue would be discussed with gallery representatives. She then insisted reporters would have "more space" if they asked to see ministers in the Commons foyer.

The e-mail, however, suggests the government intends to reduce reporters' access to ministers to help them stick to their orders to say little about government plans.

"Set-up for post cabinet scrum is intentional — Ministers have been told they are not allowed to speculate on future direction of government," it states.

Ministers who have strayed from the government line have quickly issued retractions.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, who suggested some Canadian aid might flow to the Palestinian Authority despite the recently elected Hamas majority, reversed course the next day.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Dimitri Soudas, refused to comment yesterday on the e-mail's details.

Mr. Harper's PMO is not the first to want the final say on communications — but it has extended the practice to a level never seen in Ottawa.

The offices of prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin demanded to approve major communications, and asked to be informed when ministers planned announcements or speeches. Now, government officials, and even ministers, must clear every interview or comment, and even the most anodyne pamphlet must get PMO clearance.

The restrictions on cabinet ministers were also evident last week when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Liberal equalization-payment deals made an incoherent mess of the system, even though the Conservatives had pushed for the offshore-resource deals with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

Later that day, Mr. Flaherty issued a statement protesting that he never referred specifically to Newfoundland or Nova Scotia or mentioned "oil and gas," but those two agreements were the only ones the Liberals had signed.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Lying to US Soldiers in Iraq, presumably displaying this week's US edition, does not display on its Numbers page an interesting statistic that shows up in this week's Canadian print edition.

75% of US soldiers in Iraq expect a complete withdrawl next year.

Is that wishful thinking of the kinds of spin/lies/disinformation their commanders are spreading to keep morale high.

The worse statistic is criminal.

85% of US soldiers believe they are there to retaliate for Hussein's involvement in 9/11.

It's hard to believe they're simply gullible and presuming lame connections without this lie being reinforced. It's one thing for 70% of Americans to think Hussein was involved based on some conveniently closely-located sentences in a w.Caesar State of the Union address. It's quite another thing for a higher percentage than that of soldiers in Iraq to be under that hideous impression.

2.75 years left to impeach w.Caesar.

Podcast at
Podcast feed at

Prime Minister George W. Harper

Prime Sinister Stephen Harper is modelling his regime closely to the arrogant, unaccountability of George w.Caesar's Republican soft fascism. Harper's inaccessibility, rejection of accountability [Shapiro], and rejection of criticism of Emerson's democracy-flaunting self-serving floor cross are becoming eerily reminiscent of White House stonewalling.

Now, we have more w.Caesar rhetoric: Harper, strolling through Afghanistan, says Canada won't cut and run from our responsibilities there. Cut and run is a particularly annoying rhetorical slag. Republicans use it in the United States to impugn the patriotism of opponents who criticize the government for not having an exit strategy for Iraq. To suggest leaving is to cut and run, suggesting cowardliness.

How long before Canadians see Harper for his Republican-North style. I'm certainly not hearing it from the media yet.

Harper says opposition support needed on deployment


Kabul — Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Afghani President Harmid Karzai Tuesday that this government's desire to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan can't be guaranteed if opposition parties resist.

Mr. Harper delivered the concern to Mr. Karzai one day after telling Canadian troops in Kandahar that he would not “cut and run” from the mission.