CensusLeaks.ca

Sunday at around 5pm, the story hit the blackberries of government staffers and journalists alike in Ottawa that over 200,000 pages of classified documents describing operations of the war in Afghanistan were posted on WikiLeaks.org, an online clearinghouse for classified government information. It has been argued by the Pentagon and by Foreign Affairs that the information released puts soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan at risk and it has certainly has handed the Taliban a propaganda victory over allied war efforts against the extremist forces in that country.

This news comes in a time period where Ottawa-watchers have been discussing the disclosure, security and privacy of data collected by governments. First, opposition parties argued that the government declassify thousands of pages detailing the detention and transfer of Afghan detainees, and then there’s been that war of numbers over the utlility and intrusiveness of the governments ability to collect data on the citizenry via the census.

Is all data created (and withheld) equally? Do defenders of an open and free society sincerely believe the new axiom that “all information wants to be free”? Is our society free because some information is held secure?

If journalism is — by one definition — to bring comfort to the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, do information dumps on the execution of the war in Afghanistan bring transparency to decisions made by our elected leaders, or do they provide comfort to the enemy? Even the decision to reveal classified documents on detainee transfers to Parliament was done reluctantly and the documents were revealed under strict guidelines.

Two arguments against the long-form census — in a debate that has turned into a “national crisis” according to one breathless account from a journalist at macleans.ca — are that the census could violate the privacy of individuals and that a mandatory burden comes with state penalty of jail or a fine or both.

We used to live in a world where releasing classified information to the enemy in wartime was akin to treason because it violated a clear national interest — our security. Yet, the founder of wikileaks and those that participated in the release of classified information will likely never see the inside of a jail cell. Our world has evolved such that it may not be reasonable for the government to expect that information can remain secure. Society has changed such that the average citizen can instantly react to information as it continuously breaks. Has our war cabinet been expanded to include the hoards of sarcastic tweeters deskchair-quarterbacking the conflict? Has elected leadership been replaced by liveblogging and instant polls? Does information want to be free because now we all can make the day-by-day decisions to effectively execute this war? No, of course not.

As the wikileaks release has shown, information can never be confidently be deemed “secure”. Even information vital to national security can be compromised and the security of this data is held paramount by our government compared to concerns over personal privacy. In this case, breach of secure information was done so according to a unilateral and unaccountable political agenda of “openness”. Troubling still, a significant subset of the voices against scrapping the long-form census are now heralding this new “transparency” of information that compromises the security of our troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

Transparency, openness, privacy and security are all important principles here. How you justify any of these at the expense of others is of course how your agenda is constituted. In this modern world, we must presume a full spectrum of agendas and since we can no longer stand together united behind one interest, we must be vigilant in protecting our own. If the state cannot ensure security in the private data it collects, we as citizens should not be open and transparent to it. If for the sake of transparency and openness, activists compromise the security and safety of their fellow citizens, they should be afforded neither from the state.

If the Canadian media were a focus group…

…the Conservatives would never run negative ads. Heck, we’d just surrender to a few more decades of Liberal rule.

On Macleans Capital Read blog, journalist Aaron Wherry breathlessly tells us what our betters think of the latest round of Conservative ads. Wherry headlines the article “Schoolyard tripe! Poisonous! Demeaning! Anti-American!” and proceeds to list criticism from non-partisan voices such as Jim Travers, Angelo Persichilli, the Edmonton Journal, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star! Who are these voices of reason? Reading them makes it so clear that to armchair political analysts, the Conservatives have made a disastrous misstep in running negative advertising, because nobody likes negative ads, and of course, such ads don’t work.

Thousands of dollars worth of focus groups studying the reactions of average, everyday Canadians would seem to indicate otherwise. The decisions that go into these sorts of adverts are not made on a whim. Political calculations are much more involved than started from one’s prejudices against conservatism and then spewing under-informed analysis in 750 paid words or less. There is a method to the Machiavellian madness. From the gender of the narrating voice, to its tone, to the imagery of the ads and the theme, it would seem that the Conservatives have concluded through some expensive research that Canadians seem to have a problem with Michael Ignatieff’s seeming self-serving interest in returning to Canada. “The ads will backfire”, “Canadians are turned off by negative ads”, “This isn’t the United States (oops)” are the sounds coming from the Parliamentary Press Gallery and other members of the media elite in this country. They claim to tell us what we think when it’s clear that they’re out of touch with the effect that those ads will have on us as Canadians.

The other elites — those that reside in the Liberal Party — tell us who should raise our kids, what kind of cars we should drive and whose feelings we should not offend, are of course the producers of these ads:

This may only be the first government that Mr. Wherry’s has covered, but some perspective please. The difference between these two ads and the latest round of Conservative advertising? The Grit ads were baldfaced lies; how’s your healthcare, your “scrapped Kyoto accord”, your right to choose and who was it that was prepared to work with the Bloc Quebecois? Where are the soldiers with guns in our streets?. In contrast, the Conservative ads are true. Michael Ignatieff was out of the country for 34 years, has mused that taxes will go up and the video wherein he says “you have to decide what kind of America you want, right? You have to decide. It’s your country just as much as it is mine” is undoctored. These are Michael Ignatieff’s own words. In fact, they’re so true that the only line of defense is to attack the process.

Funny that the Liberals are silent on this and it is the media who comes to their defense.

Sexiest MPs? Have we lost our focus?

I note that the Hill Times today published its annual “Sexy, Savvy and Best Dressed Survey”. The global economy is melting down and this hottie headliner is on lips of Hill staff and media this week. Lest this be a curmudgeon grumble piece on the state of news today (back in my day…), but really, there’s got to be more going on. Yet, the piece does come out in the middle of two break weeks on Parliament Hill, and at least Jane Taber’s belyingly-titled Hot and Not article is about politics.

But in the same issue that we find an a republish of an article by James Travers bemoaning the declining relevance of Parliament as a democratic body — “welcome to court government” — we find out that Rona and Helena have the best hair! I’m now flipping through these pages looking for the stock article on the under-representation of women in Parliament…

Perhaps they don’t want to show up given this superficial focus.

But most of this does amount to political theatre and pollsters will show you charts (with trendlines and error bars, no less) showing that focus groups are somewhat accurate in determining that Stephen Harper wearing a sweater holding a kitten softens his image and improves electability, that Michael Ignatieff needs to shed some ivory-tower arrogance by hitting the hamburger circuit this summer and that Preston Manning needed to ditch the glasses in order to get his message out to more Canadians. Issues and policies also rank lower among concerns among Canadians, but woah, what was he/she thinking wearing that to last year’s Hill Gala?!

Speaking to friends over at Macleans.ca, I’m told that last year among the most trafficked articles were those featuring photos of Julie Couillard. In fact, Julie Couillard ranked one of the highest related search terms for Macleans in 2008. In that case, “Julie Couillard”, “Julie Couillard”, “Julie Couillard”.

That said, you won’t find photos of Justin Trudeau or Ruby Dhalla’s leaked Bollywood movie here… but if you came here from Google looking for these things, stick around… I’ll see if I can entice you with a discussion on the finer points of whether provincial- or municipal-linked federal Senate elections better afford Premiers and Prime Ministers the required political cover and feasibility to move forward on reform of our bicameral system.

Hey! Where are you going? Come back!

Oh, all right…

Hot: TMZ and eTalk
Not: New York Times and the Globe and Mail

Jason Kenney opines on HRC/Canadian Islamic Congress case against Steyn

Well-read and well-written conservative columnist Mark Steyn has become the subject of a “human rights” complaint filed by the Canadian Islamic Congress.

The complaint draws Steyn and Macleans, the magazine in which his articles appeared, into a lengthy proceeding in which the fundamental freedoms of the writer and the historic Canadian magazine could be suspended. If the CIC is successful in their complaint, both Steyn and Macleans could lose their freedom to publish and/or opine on certain issues.

Macleans had published an excerpt from Steyn’s popular book America Alone. In the excerpt Macleans quotes Steyn’s book:

“The number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes” — From America Alone, by Mark Steyn

However, likely unknown to the CIC at the time was that the offending quote was actually that of a Mullah Krekar, a Scandinavian Muslim.

Joining the Canadian Islamic Congress in asking the state to clamp down on press freedoms are four Osgoode law students. At one time, legal activism on civil rights would make a great start to any young lawyer’s career. However, legal activism against civil rights may not be the best career move. However, who knows, there is always hope in the Canadian legal system for a variety of activists, right?

Here’s a letter sent to one of those law students by Jason Kenney, Canada’s secretary of state for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity:

Letter to Khurrum Awan from Jason Kenney (.pdf)

The letter appears to be in response to correspondence sent to Mr. Kenney regarding statements he made defending press freedoms against those disingenuously flying the banner of human rights when the head of the CIC himself has, at other times, shown contempt for those rights.

In closing, Kenney seems to suggest that Awan may have acted inappropriately by signing his correspondence with “Judicial Law Clerk / Articling Student at the Law Office of the Chief Justice Ontario Superior Court of Justice. After all, it would be troubling if it was the opinion of the Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that a Canadian journalist has published material deemed not only offensive to the Canadian Islamic Congress and over-caffeinated il-liberal law students but to the judiciary.

In closing, Kenney asks:

“Were you writing on your own behalf? Or were you writing on behalf of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice? I have taken the liberty of copying Roslyn Levine, Executive Legal Assistant in the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice for clarification.”

Thoughts about the Ontario election

Well that was quite a night. I went out with some friends in downtown Ottawa just to relax and follow results as they came in via Blackberry. I didn’t care to watch much of it on television, because for me (and most) the contest was a forgone conclusion.

Prior to election night, a reporter from Macleans had emailed me to ask for my thoughts on why Tory ran from the record of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves and the Common Sense Revolution. Here was my reply:

Of course, my perspective is that at the time of the Common Sense Revolution, such waves were positive for much needed change. In fact, Harris received a decisive second mandate from the people of Ontario for following through on his promises. The people of Ontario respected and appreciated Harris’ focused vision for government and the province needed new direction. Ontario was left adrift by Bob Rae and the NDP and it needed to get some wind back in its sails.

In this current election, with Dalton McGuinty at the helm, it seemed that the good ship Ontario wasn’t necessarily looking to change course, but rather would have preferred to simply turf the captain overboard. There wasn’t a desperate need to chart course out of rough waters and instead of focusing on the simpler task of dispatching McGuinty, Tory gave the wheel a hard spin into the storm…

Nobody needs a degree in punditry to know that it was the issue of faith-based education and the public funding of religious schools that lost John Tory the election. However, it was surprising that Tory didn’t appreciate this before he decided to drop it on us in the middle of an election campaign. If one takes the time and effort, one can understand what Tory was proposing with respect to public eduction and realize that the Conservative leader’s proposal was inclusive and a move towards public education rather than exclusionary and privatizing as the Liberals had framed it. The issue was too complicated for some passive electors and was easily misinterpreted if not studied for more than a minute. The fact that Tory mused that “evolution is just a theory” when defending his policy didn’t exactly help communicate the issue in defensible terms. Tory couldn’t have given the Liberals a bigger opening.

There is also an important lesson to be learned here for future elections. Kim Campbell famously remarked that “an election is no time to discuss serious issues.” Ironically, John Tory managed Campbell’s ill-fated election campaign. Further, to the people of Ontario who have generally been reluctant towards Conservatives talking about “faith” and issues related to “faith” in the past, Tory should have realized that he was walking into a minefield. For a Conservative, juggling public policy in one hand and religion in the other can be disastrous if not done properly. Earlier, I wondered how faith-based public funding of eduction might have been perceived differently if the Liberals had proposed it instead. Here’s what I wrote on Macleans.ca on October 2nd:

“One wonders if in hypothetical terms if McGuinty had proposed Tory’s policy instead.

“One wonders if it would have been embraced as an “astute measure to recognize and embrace the growing multicultural diversity in the province of Ontario”.

“An Ontario politician wanted to increase the breadth of public education, you say?

“Poor Tory shouldn’t have led with “faith-based” as this can be a red flag to swing voters in Ontario, especially when it comes from a conservative. Tory should have rather communicated with the de facto parlance of our times: “multiculturalism, diversity, fairness, and equality” if he wanted to sell his policy.

“And… he should have made this about other special schools including French immersion schools, technical schools and arts schools. It appears that he tried instead to handle religion as a wedge and it is religion that wedged him out of the running.

“Finally, this election should have never been about John Tory. Canadians tend to de-elect their leaders rather than elect them. McGuinty had a perfect target on his back with respect to his record on the truth. Tory should have kept striking at it until October 10th.

In fact, this brings up an important strategy that I believed Tory missed. Concerning “changing the channel” mid-campaign, the Conservative leader should have called McGuinty a liar in various contexts during the debate in order to grab headlines and push the theme around McGuinty for the rest of the writ period.

“You lied to the people of Ontario…”

“Your promise that you wouldn’t raise our taxes was a lie”

“How can the people of Ontario trust you when you have a record of lying”

This manner may have been uncharacteristic for Tory but it would have done much to change to shift the focus back on the incumbent. News shows would have clipped the debate on every mention and would have created a montage of Tory on the attack, and newspapers would have headlined the summary of the exchanges: “Tory to McGuinty: You Lied!”

Some people commenting on the election blame John Tory’s red-toryism for being his downfall. However, these observers fail to recognize that it was Ontario’s recoil at the mix of the concepts of religiosity and education — hardly familiar territory for a “red tory” — that sunk the Progressive Conservative leader. In fact, if Tory’s red-toryism could be to blame for anything in his electoral demise, given his presumed initial strategy of not wanting to be an agitator, it was for what must have appeared to be a confusing departure at best and an insincerity at worst for taking what was interpreted to be a socially conservative issue and making it central to the platform of this self-declared “progressive” of conservatives.

This election wasn’t supposed to be about making waves, and thus an ideologically conservative and Harris-like track (though it would have been nice) wasn’t required to win Ontario. John Tory would have had a better shot than he did if he had instead shown up, introduced himself and simply stated that he wasn’t going to lie to us.

If there’s any hope that can come from the results of this election for conservatives, it is that PCs in Ontario will rebuild around offering Ontario clear and articulated conservative policies just in time for what may be a strong desire for change after four more years of McGuinty.

Thoughts about the by-elections

Repeating my bit from Macleans.ca, just for the record:

“Earthquake in Quebec.

“Stephane Dion fails his first electoral test as Liberal leader as the Grits lose a safe Quebec seat.

“Stephen Harper becomes the buffer against separatism in Quebec, a role traditionally attributed to the Liberals. Where dominoes fall in Quebec, vote-rich Ontario takes notice.

“The NDP picks up only their second seat in Quebec history. Does this represent a realignment on federalism in Quebec along the lines of left and right as we saw in the Quebec provincial election?”

Further to that point, Jack Layton’s leadership is secure for at least another two years. The man from Montreal promised to deliver seats in Quebec. He delivered one, but he’s got momentum. This Mulcair fellow may however be the MP that replaces Layton as leader.

From most accounts, Stephane Dion is a nice guy. From the couple of times we’ve crossed paths and from what I’ve been able to observe, the man is a class act. However, if what is being reported in Outremont is true and there’s a movement afoot to undermine his leadership, it’s time to either bring down the hammer Chretien/Martin-style, fade away or, or… something. Unfortunately for him, with party unity still a real issue, and no easy option presents itself. Before the ballots were even counted, the truth came out last night: in the Quebec by-elections, this nice guy finished “last”.

This certainly plays well for Stephen Harper and he is ahead on two majority elements today: Dion’s failing leadership and the redefinition of federalism in Quebec. While Quebeckers are rejecting Mr. Dion’s strong centralizing vision of the federation (even though he denied this characterization of Liberal federalism last night), nationals from la belle province are embracing Mr. Harper’s respect for regional identity and power. Further indication of this can be seen in the falling Bloc numbers. As I stated above, we may see a reconfiguration of Quebec politics along left and right rather than federalist/separatist as in the past. Progressive-minded Quebeckers that voted for the left-wing Bloc are realizing a real option in Jack Layton’s NDP, while the rest are electing to choose Conservative government MPs and a new respect for Quebec’s place in a united Canada. The end-game of this in the rest of Canada is of course to cut the ballot left and right, between the policy-principled NDP and Conservative parties, wedging the Liberals out.

The language of energy politics

Consider this news item that aired on Citytv (Toronto) on August 11th. It concerns the Ontario NDP’s energy plan going into the next election.

A couple of things about this video made me want to highlight it here.

First, the obvious laughs including bongos at an NDP rally and Jack Layton’s boastful speaking style (Maclean’s recently highlighted a study that had Canadians comparing Layton to a friendly dog if he were an animal. If Layton were a musical instrument, I think he’d be a weathered trumpet).

Moving away from musical analogies to those of energy and power (which during the piece were interesting and sometimes clever), the second item I wanted to highlight was this awkward phrase which caught my attention:

“[The NDP’s plans aims] to dramatically reduce hydro consumption here in Ontario while promoting renewable energy sources”

The last time I checked hydro electricity meant electricity derived from moving water and this form of energy production is certainly a “renewable energy source”.

Of course, the true meaning is probably closer to the reality that “hydro” has become something of common parlance in Ontario, a slang replacement for “electricity”; when we talk our electricity use, we talk about the “hydro bill”.

On closer inspection however, if we look at Ontario’s electricity mix, we discover that 22.3% of our energy comes from hydro electricity, while the lion’s share (54.1%) comes from “clean”, non-renewable but abundant nuclear energy. In fact, if we don’t include “other” (1.2%), Ontario’s GHG-emitting electricity production (from coal and gas) amounts to 22.4%. So, when we talk about “hydro consumption” as an interchangeable term for “electricity consumption”, the substitution lacks a bit of parity.

If we combine nuclear and hydro, we get 76.4% “clean” and “green” energy mix in Ontario.

How can we increase the proportion of “green” energy to Ontario’s mix? We can increase nuclear output, tap a few more rivers/waterfalls and we can focus on increasing the “other” category which includes building more windmills and solar farms to take that 1.2% to, well, more.

Originally thinking that the NDP had made a gaffe by calling for the reduction of “hydro” in place for “renewable sources”, I checked their website to discover that their “green” energy plan actually rails against nuclear energy in favour for “publicly owned and publicly controlled electricity”. Oh, and renewable? Yes, they eventually talk about the need for that too.

But what is “renewable”? Concerning what we’ll discover to be a positive but ambiguous word, on “renewable” the Ontario government states:

“The Ontario government is committed to the development of new renewable sources of electricity generation. The government has set a goal of five per cent of all generating capacity in the province to come from renewable sources by 2007 and 10 per cent by 2010.”

Is hydro not a “renewable” source of energy?

I certainly can understand the need for overall reduction of consumption (ie. a decrease in “hydro” electricity consumption), but Ontario’s electricity generation mix is quite healthy and the plan to bring more nuclear energy online is an efficient and positive one when it comes to cost and benefit to the environment and the people of Ontario, respectively.

Is nuclear not a “green” form of energy?

Massive amounts of energy are derived from the nanoscopic scale of a nuclear fission reaction. In fact, it’s among the reasons why the discovery was so revolutionary. Worries of meltdown are virtually a thing of the past with CANDU reactors being specifically designed with critical fail-safes. The storage of the waste material produced is on a much smaller scale, yet detractors of nuclear energy will describe the production method as “unclean” whereas promoters might be quick to correct and call it “clean but imperfectly so”. Solar energy is still at a point where the energy vs. the cost of implementing the technology is break-even over a solar-cell lifetime (production and use) of 25 years. Granted, investment is needed to drive down the production cost (via economies of scale). Comparatively, wind power requires large use of materials, over long periods of time to derive comparatively paltry levels of electricity.

Nuclear is efficient has little environmental impact. Why do self-proclaimed environmental activists rally against it?

From an engineering perspective, we want select methods of energy production that maximizes output, minimizes cost and minimizes waste. From a political perspective, politicians balance the minimization of cost with that of waste, depending on the perspectives of the electorate to which they pontificate.

On this point therefore, success is in communication, but unfortunately the language of energy politics can be redundant and even misleading when it comes to “renewable” sources of energy, “green” and “clean” electricity and even when it comes to the word “hydro”. I imagine that as we get closer to October’s provincial election, while the facts of energy production will remain the same, the language of political communication will gather more smog.

Macleans 50

Macleans newsmagazine has put together a new initiative called the Macleans 50 which is described as “A diverse field of Canada’s most well known and respected personalities from journalists to politicians offering their comments on the issues of the day, everyday.”.

To my astonishment, Macleans editor Adam Radwanski named me to the 50 and invited me to participate and to comment at the website along with other “50s” such as Tom Flanagan, John Manley, Steve Paikin, Paul Wells, Irshad Manji, Barry Cooper, Christy Clark, and L. Ian MacDonald (among others). The “Mac 50″ will comment on a variety of news from politics to health to education.

The official launch was on Monday and we’ve already seen many animated discussions.

I’m also happy to see Dan Arnold of CalgaryGrit on the list.