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November 05, 2007

Waiting for the media

The story of the Conservative party removing Mark Warner as a candidate in Toronto has been going on for almost a week now. But I'm still waiting for a reporter at some newspaper in this country to find out why it happened. They seem more interested in keeping themselves in the dark, the better to reinforce their preferred perceptions of the Conservatives. Here's the Globe last Friday:

Mark Warner, an international-trade lawyer who was elected by the riding association in Toronto Centre, says the party took issue with his participation in a local forum on income and equality. He was eventually given the green light to participate, he said, but on the condition that he remain silent throughout.

Mr. Warner said he believes he should be able to discuss issues that are pertinent to an urban downtown riding. And he doesn't believe he should have been disqualified as a candidate for saying so.

"The riding association made a choice to elect me as a candidate; the riding association was happy for me to continue as a candidate," Mr. Warner said. "If the national party wants to officiate the judgments of a local riding association, I think there are some questions there that democrats will want to discuss."

Possibly the ousted candidate is not the best qualified to explain why he was fired. And I wouldn't expect the party to fill in all the ugly details, because they don't want to be seen kicking someone when he's down (unless they're a Liberal). But sometimes reporting involves more than just phone calls to the key people; it involves turning over a few rocks and asking around. That's too much to ask of today's press, though. They're having too much fun in a fevered fantasyland of their own creation. Today's Star:
If the anti-Rae votes are split in Toronto Centre between the two parties, Rae's chances of winning are increased. But now, with Warner removed, some of that Conservative vote could drift to the NDP candidate, El-Farouk Khaki, a local immigration lawyer.

Warner himself, however, doesn't believe the Conservatives want to help the NDP. In fact, Warner told the Star he believes the Conservatives actually would be happy to see Rae in the House of Commons.

"They deny it when they talk to me," Warner said about his suspicions. However, he remains convinced Rae plays into the central Conservative attack strategy against Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.

"I think the whole campaign is Harper strong, Dion weak," Warner said. Rae in the Commons as a strong performer would make Dion look weaker, Warner argues.

Got that? Getting rid of Warner was all part of a deep, Karl Rovish plot to... make Stéphane Dion look slightly weaker than he already does! I'm starting to see why the Conservatives wanted to get rid of this guy. But I'm sure he'd be a better candidate if he took his medications...

I've been a part of a Conservative riding association for many years. Choosing the candidates is done at the riding level, but the party can veto the choice. This is good because riding associations -- especially in areas with few Tories -- can get hijacked easily by a well-organized special interest. Candidates are also scrutinized carefully for criminal records or past memberships in objectionable groups. The Conservatives are probably more thorough than other parties in their investigations, but at least they don't veto a candidate for being the wrong gender.

I'm guessing problems with Warner have been going on for some time. I have no idea what they are, but I would guess that he was making promises that he had no authority to make. Or maybe he was the source of the Conservative 'ethnic strategy' leak of last month. Who knows? Too bad I can't find out in the news.

UPDATE: I've been complaining over at the National Post blog about the press' lack of curiosity in this story.

UPDATE II: I have been advised that Mark Warner is a trade and competition lawyer, not an immigration lawyer. I stand corrected.

October 29, 2007

Modern Diplomacy

In the Star today, former diplomat Harry Sterling has some advice for Stephen Harper on the delicate art of international relations:

Leaders of governments who confuse their own personal viewpoints with those of their countries' national interests can cause unwelcome and even dangerous consequences for their fellow countrymen.
In particular, Sterling feels Harper's stubborn insistence on meeting whomever he wants is very provocative and insensitive to our Chinese friends:
Harper will meet the Dalai Lama openly with the media in attendance. The forthcoming encounter has already been criticized by the Chinese authorities as interference in China's internal affairs.

Beijing's unhappiness with Harper's meeting the Dalai Lama is thus not unexpected. Nor is China's growing displeasure with the pro-Taiwan stance of many prominent members of Harper's Conservative party.

Although Members of Parliament have as much right as anyone else to be favourably disposed towards the Dalai Lama – or Taiwan for that matter – totally ignoring the possible negative trade fallout is another matter, especially since China is now Canada's fourth-largest export market.

As much as some would praise Harper for standing up for his principles in such cases, others see such actions as potentially undermining important national interests, a concern that even the Canadian business community has voiced in the past.

Certainly this is very good advice. Maintaining good relations with our trading partners should be the primary goal of our foreign policy. So what if the Chinese openly support the brutal regimes in Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, and Zimbabwe? And so what if they're pretty brutal themselves? Requiring our Prime Minister to consult with an oppressive foreign government on what he can say or who he can meet with is a small price to pay to avoid any risk to the supply of merchandise for our dollar stores.

And Sterling has more advice:

The fact Harper has remained remarkably silent about the violation of international law and human rights covenants by the Bush administration – President George W. Bush countenancing practices considered torture – has only reinforced the view of those who regard his support for human rights and religious freedoms as highly selective. As well, Harper seems indifferent to the imprisonment at the notorious U.S. prison at Guantanamo, Cuba, of Canadian teenager Omar Khadr, incarcerated since July 2002 when he was captured at the age of 15 in Afghanistan.
Wait... huh?

October 26, 2007

On the other hand...

I've praised Flaherty's laissez-faire attitude towards the dollar discrepancy issue because it's the right approach. Change happens when people demand better; it's not up to the government.

And things are starting to change. The Collected Works bookstore in Ottawa is allowing their customers to pay the US price on items with both prices marked (hat tip: Kateland). I've never been there, but I'll have to take a look the next time I'm in the area. Dell.ca is now showing prices in line with their American parent. Companies that have been slow to adapt (like Chapters) have been deluged with complaints. Meetings are being held, buyers are being harangued, and slowly, slowly, more progress will happen.

But the government shouldn't be smug about this. Government is the main reason people in Canada pay more than Americans, and why we will continue to pay more, even after the currency fluctuations have been accounted for.

The Conservatives still stand by the policy of 'supply management' for many agricultural products -- controlling supply by allowing only so many 'rights' to produce, while preventing any imports -- which has the effect of driving prices up considerably. The ironic thing is that the supposed 'reason' for this scheme is to maintain a vibrant agricultural sector. But what it does is decrease new investment and innovation, block new entrants to the business, and lower yields and consumer consumption.

Government standards on many products effectively prevent imports or allow them only through licensed middlemen. A couple of days ago I read the story of a man who found all the appliances for his new house in the US at half the price of what they were selling for here. He thought he had a great deal: his warranties would still be honoured and after paying the duty he would still be far ahead. But then he was informed that because these new appliances were not CSA approved, he would not qualify for house insurance -- even though they were exactly the same make as what he could buy in Canada! I was never a fan on the EU merging their currencies, but I did think it was smart that they merged their various standards on all products, painful as it no doubt was. These standards often operate as de facto trade barriers, while offering governments indignant deniability. "Lower our standards? Would you risk the lives of your children to save a few dollars?"

The government also prevents competition in alcoholic products. Living near the border with Ontario, I have the luxury of choosing from two expensive and unresponsive monopolies (neither of which will carry Laphroaig) but other Canadians aren't that lucky. And in many other markets, such as mobile phones and banking, the government restricts the foreign competitors that would force the incumbants to lower prices.

But probably the biggest reason Canadians pay more is just the border. It takes a long time to cross, a long time to cross back, and long waiting periods before you can bring back anything that would make the trip worthwhile. If Flaherty really wants to see Canadian retailers get competitive, work to make the border crossings more streamlined, and eliminate all those restrictions on foreign purchases. Canadian businesses could adapt or die.

There's about as much chance of that happening as Elizabeth May becoming Prime Minister. In fact, I'll bet that the next 'mini-budget' to come out will offer compensation to those poor Canadian businesses that are losing money to customers going to the States. And you can expect border hassles to actually increase. That's how this country works; the consumer is the least important part of the economy.