Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Friday, April 06, 2012

Panel Emphasizes Need for Prosecutorial Oversight

Although courts have confirmed that prosecutorial misconduct occurred in 91 Texas criminal cases between 2004 and 2008, not a single prosecutor among those has ever been disciplined for their misbehavior, according to new data compiled by the Innocence Proj­ect. (Allegations of prosecutor misconduct were raised in another 124 cases, but those issues were not ruled on by any court.)

This is likely just the tip of the iceberg, said Emily West, IP research director, during a public dialogue on prosecutorial oversight last week at the University of Texas School of Law. Indeed, because 98% of Texas criminal cases are resolved through plea bargain, it is unlikely that we'll ever know the true extent of the problem – which includes withholding exculpatory or other evidence possibly favorable to a defendant. Of the 91 cases in which the courts agreed there was misconduct, 36 involved "improper" arguments during trial, 35 involved improper questioning of a witness, and eight involved a failure to disclose favorable materials, known as a Brady violation. That's exactly what Michael Morton says happened to him.

Exonerated last year, Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for the bludgeoning death of his wife before DNA evidence linked another man to the crime instead. Morton's conviction could have been avoided, he argues, had Williamson County prosecutors – chief among them former District Attorney Ken Ander­son, who is now a district judge – had turned over evidence they had back in 1986 that suggested strongly that Morton was innocent of the crime. Anderson is now facing a rare "court of inquiry" (slated to begin Sept. 11), in which a court will determine if his actions (or inactions) violated criminal statutes. (If so, perhaps the IP will have to add a single hash mark to the "disciplined prosecutor" column.)

Long-Gun Registry: Tory MP John Williamson Quotes Martin Luther King In Speech Celebrating Destruction Of Records

The Tories are celebrating the end of the long-gun registry on Thursday (though not in Quebec), but one MP's speech on the issue is raising questions of poor taste.

John Williamson, Conservative MP for New Brunswick-Southwest, took to the floor of the House of Commons on Thursday to denounce the registry. He raised eyebrows when he channeled Martin Luther King Jr.'s most famous speech.

"Free at last, free at last, law-abiding Canadians are finally free at last," Williamson bellowed. Surrounding MPs can be heard in the video echoing his declaration.

The famous phrasing comes straight from the end of MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech (which King borrowed from an African-American spiritual).

The civil rights leader was shot to death in Memphis on April 4, 1968 and the anniversary of the assassination was marked on Wednesday.

James Earl Ray used a Remington Model Gamemaster Model 760 rifle to carry out the killing. After today, rifles such as the Remington 760 will not need to be registered in Canada.

Tory MP Jim Hillyer made headlines last year when he celebrated a vote on the registry bill with a finger guns gesture. The video was put online to coincide with the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. Hillyer later said he meant no offence with his celebration and blamed the poster of the video for the timing of the release.

Original Article
Source: Huff
Author: Michael Bolen

Child Care Program Cuts Leave Working Poor Parents Struggling

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- Every time she pulls away from her parent's house, leaving behind her 3-year-old daughter, Angelina, as she heads to work at a local hospital, Jenny Abundis wonders what will happen while she is gone.

She worries things will not go well.

Her father has cancer, which saps his energy and requires a regimen of shots that puts him in ill temper. Her stepmother suffers debilitating liver problems. Often depressed and ceaselessly overwhelmed, they must divide their attentions between Abundis' daughter and her sister's two little children, whose volatile natures reflect early years in a home beset by drugs and violence.

But even as nervousness gnaws at her, and even as she notices disturbing changes in her daughter -- curse words emerging in her limited vocabulary, a clinginess that was not there before -- Abundis says she has no choice but to leave Angelina in this arrangement.

Though Abundis' income qualifies her for subsidized child care, Angelina is among roughly 200,000 eligible California children who are stuck on a waitlist. For many families in the queue, the wait is effectively interminable, a veritable purgatory without end, the result of the aggressive state budget cutting that has defined the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Women paying the price for Osborne's austerity package

George Osborne's financial policies are hitting women three times as hard as men, according to research on the impact of his budgets seen by the Guardian.

An analysis of Treasury data by House of Commons Library researchers shows £11.1bn of the £14.9bn raised from the five spending reviews since 2010 comes from women even though they earn less than men on average. Planned changes to tax credits, child benefits and public sector pensions are largely to blame.

Equality and anti-poverty campaigners have already raised concerns before changes to working tax credits, which will hit the lowest paid families, comes into force on 6 April. The tax and benefit changes come shortly after the government announced plans to cut the 50p top rate of tax for all those earning over £150,000 in its latest budget.

Clarence Thomas Chides Colleagues For Asking Too Many Questions

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Maybe it's Southern courtesy or his introverted nature that keeps him from interrupting attorneys during oral arguments, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Thursday evening.

Whatever the reason, the Georgia native had a blunt assessment about the rapid-fire questioning from his colleagues during recent hearings on the nation's health care law. The queries weren't helpful to him in deciding the case, he said.

And Thomas suggested his loquacious colleagues should do more listening and less talking.

"I don't see where that advances anything," he said of the questions. "Maybe it's the Southerner in me. Maybe it's the introvert in me, I don't know. I think that when somebody's talking, somebody ought to listen."

His remarks drew applause from the audience that heard Thomas' insights on the court during a 90-minute appearance at the University of Kentucky.

Trayvon Martin Case: George Zimmerman Lawyer Cites 'Shaken Baby Syndrome' As Defense

SANFORD, Fla., April 6 (Reuters) - "Shaken Baby Syndrome" was cited on Friday in the defense of George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Florida, man who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in a case that has sparked a widespread public outcry.

Hal Uhrig, a lawyer and former Gainesville, Florida, police officer who recently joined Zimmerman's defense team, cited in a TV interview the brain damage that can seriously injure or kill an infant.

His point, which has been made before, was that Zimmerman contends he shot Martin in self defense and feared for his life after the 17-year-old attacked him and began pounding his head into the concrete pavement of a gated community on a rainy evening in Sanford on Feb. 26.

But Uhrig's choice of words, and use of a recognized sign of child abuse to defend a 28-year-old man who killed a kid, seemed likely to raise more than just a few eyebrows.

"We're familiar with the Shaken Baby Syndrome," said Uhrig on the CBS This Morning program. "You shake a baby, the brain shakes around inside the skull. You can die when someone's pounding your head into the ground."

Scott Walker Quietly Repeals Wisconsin Equal Pay Law

WASHINGTON -- A Wisconsin law that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to have their day in court was repealed on Thursday, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) quietly signed the bill.

The 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act was meant to deter employers from discriminating against certain groups by giving workers more avenues via which to press charges. Among other provisions, it allows individuals to plead their cases in the less costly, more accessible state circuit court system, rather than just in federal court.

In November, the state Senate approved SB 202, which rolled back this provision. On February, the Assembly did the same. Both were party-line votes in Republican-controlled chambers.

SB 202 was sent to Walker on March 29. He had, according to the state constitution, six days to act on the bill. The deadline was 5:00 p.m. on Thursday. The governor quietly signed the bill into law on Thursday, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, and it is now called Act 219.

Walker's office did not return repeated requests for comment.

"Shouting in the Dark": Film Chronicles Bahrain’s Pro-Democracy Uprising Against U.S.-Backed Rule

As Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is near death on the 58th day of a hunger strike protesting his imprisonment, we look at an award-winning documentary that tells the story of the uprising in Bahrain with extraordinary footage shot entirely undercover by Al Jazeera English reporters. It’s called "Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark." We speak with the film’s director, May Ying Welsh, the only Western journalist to stay throughout the violent government crackdown on demonstrators, as well as the doctors and nurses who treated them.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Christian Groups Take Issue With Anti-Bullying Laws

Anti-bullying legislation may seem unlikely to spark controversy, but there are groups working to overturn new laws in the name of religious freedom.

Focus on the Family is planning to counter the "Day of Silence," an annual event to protest LGBT bullying set for April 20, with its own "Day of Dialogue". The evangelical organization's aim is to muffle an effort that "crosses the line in a lot of ways beyond bullying into indoctrination, just promoting homosexuality and transgenderism."

The group has been advocating an anti-anti-bullying message for years. When a California school adopted an anti-bullying rule that mentioned gays and lesbians in 2010, backlash ensued.

"The school introduced anti-bullying lessons, but really they're teaching elementary school kids about gay marriage," Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family, told ABC. "We think parents should have the right to teach kids about it in their own way."

In March, a Christian hard rock band delivered an unusual message to Iowa high school students at an assembly about bullying. "They told these kids that anyone who was gay was going to die at the age of 42," one parent told the La Crosse Tribune.

Gateway pipeline-review process hits another snag as second native band pulls out

The federal review of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has hit another setback this week after a coastal first nation community withdrew from the process, saying the Harper government has predetermined the outcome.

The hearings were temporarily derailed when the panel was greeted by protests in the remote native community of Bella Bella on Sunday. The panel ended up holding abridged hearings in Bella Bella.

On Thursday, the Nuxalk First Nation of Bella Coola cancelled its status as an intervener, vowing to find other ways to oppose the project.

“Our intention was to be part of the process, but just seeing how they treated our neighbouring community, it was disheartening,” Nuxalk hereditary Chief Charlie Nelson said. It was last week’s announcement from the federal government that the process will be fast-tracked, however, that persuaded the band’s leadership to withdraw.

Mr. Nelson said it is clear the federal government intends to approve the project, adding that the new time limits only serve to further compromise the independence of the panel.

The proposed pipeline would cross northern B.C. to move Alberta’s oil-sands crude to reach markets in Asia and California. Much of the land is still open to aboriginal land claims.

Voters enable government spending

Let's Randall Deey be honest. Would you support a party that ran on a platform of real spending cuts and elimination of some of your entitlements, accompanied by fundamental economic changes whose benefit was years away?

Probably not, and that's one of the biggest reasons why Canadian governments are doing such a poor job of cutting spending and making the big decisions that will strengthen our economy. Political parties and voters have developed a superficially beneficial co-dependency.

We want our government services and handouts and politicians are all too eager to please us, knowing we will please them in return by reelecting them.

Consider the recent evidence. In what was generally praised as a tough budget, the federal government identified $5.2 billion in savings. The money won't be saved long, though. Total spending is still going up this year, and every year after that. The only thing that really affects people in this budget is a delay in the Old Age Security eligibility age, to take effect in 2023. Even with that, government will continue to dole out old age payments to retirees making six figures.

In Alberta, two opposition parties are locked in a bidding war for votes. Will Albertans prefer a $300 "resource dividend" or free tuition fees? The group offering the $300 vote attractor is the Wildrose Party, which positions itself as more conservative than the governing PCs. The Alberta budget is not yet balanced.

Canadian democracy invaded by U.S.-style 'wedge' politics

OTTAWA — New Democratic Party MP Don Davies says it never occurred to him when he innocuously snapped a photo at an anti-racism march in Vancouver last month that he would suddenly become the latest target in an increasingly vicious Canadian political culture.

That single act would result in the Vancouver MP being described in the House of Commons, and in a news release from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, as a cheerleader for "anarchists and anti-capitalist mobs" and a defender of the rights of "violent foreign criminals, war criminals and bogus asylum claimants."

It was even argued by one of Kenney's colleagues that the photo shows that Davies and the NDP may be sympathetic to anti-Israel terrorists, human smugglers, violent anti-capitalism protesters, and anarchists who believe the Canadian state is an "illegitimate occupying power" on aboriginal territory that should be known as Turtle Island, not Canada.

This isn't the first time government critics have found themselves under the political equivalent of a truckload of bricks.

Thomas Mulcair’s sure-footed start could be made moot by oil sands comments

Thomas Mulcair has an antidote to the “Dutch disease” he thinks is ailing Canada — reduce profits in the oilsands that he believes are “artificially high.”

Mr. Mulcair gave his maiden speech on the economy as leader of the NDP in Ottawa Thursday and said he plans to look at every problem in government “through the framework of sustainable development.”

Who could argue with that? It sounds like it is for the common good. The problem is, it may cost us all our goods.

The NDP leader’s logic, such as it is, goes like this — the Canadian dollar has risen to par with the greenback because of “artificially high” profits in the oil sands. This is the result of a failure to impose a real price on carbon.

The solution is to make sure companies make less profits by “internalizing” environmental costs. “It will bring down pressure on the Canadian dollar if we force them to include these costs,” he said.

Mulcair moves to define his image, before Tories do

Despite mudslinging from both the Liberals and Conservatives, newly elected NDP leader Thomas Mulcair seems to be trying to paint himself as a calm, confident and clever communicator who is largely above the fray and who has the experience to manage the public purse.

It was evident this week in the first ad the party rolled out to counter an expected personal Tory attack and in Mulcair's inaugural public address before a business audience - a segment of society the party wants to reach out to as it tries to expand its base and shed its image as weak fiscal overseers.

"Good, competent public administration is probably the most boring sentence you'll ever hear in a political speech or economic speech but it's something I've repeated over the past six months across Canada," he told a gathering of business leaders and partisans at an Economic Club of Canada luncheon.

Speaking off the cuff, seldom looking at let alone following his prepared speech, he outlined the Conservative government's failures in this area from the F-35 debacle, to allowing oilsands development with no regard for the environment, to policies that have artificially inflated the Canadian dollar leading to a "hollowing out" of the manufacturing sector.

Harper backlash aiding PQ in Quebec, Quebec PCs say

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's policies on crime, the environment and democratic reform are creating "winning conditions" for Quebecers to elect a Parti Québécois government that will plunge the country into a new referendum campaign and national unity crisis, say several prominent federal Conservatives in Quebec.

The warnings are widely shared among the province's federalists as they gear up for a provincial election anticipated in the coming months.

"All the policies that Harper adopts or has done since the election seem to offend Quebecers and the media jump all over it," said Peter White, an outspoken veteran Conservative who heads a party riding association in Quebec's Eastern Townships.

"Every time (PQ leader) Pauline Marois attacks Harper, she goes up in the polls and that's why she's doing so well because Harper is giving her all these targets to attack and she can just say: 'What are we Quebecers doing in this weird country of Harper's?' "

Some of those targets include recent policies and decisions including the nomination of unilingual anglophones to key positions such as the auditor general's office, dismantling the long-gun registry, the decision to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, proposed criminal justice legislation, as well as Senate reform and plans to weaken Quebec's representation in the House of Commons.

F-35 scandal: We need a Canadian Spring now more than ever

The latest bomb has dropped from the F-35 scandal in Ottawa. After appearing before the public accounts committee earlier today, Auditor General Michael Ferguson told the media that the Harper government “would have had” information about the real cost of the fighter jets in March 2011 when parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page released his report about the increased cost of the F-35s.

In other words, today the Auditor General confirmed what any discerning observer had already concluded: Harper and his cabinet ministers must have known that the real cost of the F-35s was at least $10 billion more than they were telling the public.

To understand the full significance of this, it’s important to remember the timeline of events. In July 2010, Harper and Peter MacKay announced -- without having held any open bidding process -- that the purchase of 65 F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin would cost $16 billion including maintenance. By October 2010, then Auditor General Sheila Fraser was already predicting the true cost would be much higher. Then on March 20, 2011, Kevin Page released his report estimating the price at $28.5 billion. The Harper government publicly attacked Page’s numbers, and insisted on their original estimated cost. And all this helped trigger the last federal election.

On March 25, 2011 Harper’s government was brought down after a non-confidence vote and a finding that the Conservatives were in contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose full information about the cost of the fighter jets, as well as the cost of their crime legislation.

Pain at the pumps starts to squeeze economy

The soaring price of gas is making life difficult for people like Brad Kosid, who drives 550 kilometres a week just to get to work and back.

With money already tight from hefty mortgage payments, the new homeowner from Brantford, Ont., is having to axe much of his entertainment spending from his family budget to pay for the rising cost of fuel.

The 32-year-old says he and his wife, Katie, rarely go out to movies and are cutting back on restaurant meals as they shell out an extra $40 a week for gas, compared to just a few months ago.

“We’re tending to either rent a movie on demand rather than going out and, if she doesn’t feel like cooking, ordering a pizza rather than spend $50 to $60 to go out for a meal,” said Mr. Kosid, who drives a 2009 Hyndai Elantra and travels 55 kilometres each way from Brantford to Burlington, where he works as a sound system installer for an audio store.

“It’s definitely affecting us with those discretionary things. And we’ve noticed that over the last two years that grocery prices are affected by the gas prices and the $100 a week we normally spend doesn’t go as far on groceries.”

The missing accountability of the political masters

The Auditor-General’s scathing censure of a badly mismanaged F-35 fighter jet procurement process is necessarily focused on the manifold failures of bureaucrats. That is what the Auditor-General does – audit the actions of public servants. But where is the accountability for their political masters, the ministers who presided over this fiasco?

Auditor-General Michael Ferguson’s report outlines the suppression of information and the absence of due diligence by bureaucrats. But the failures of the Conservative government, and particularly Peter MacKay, the minister on whose watch much of this transpired, were serious ones, and yesterday, Mr. Ferguson said the cabinet knew more than it let on publicly. The government needs to accept responsibility for its failings, and explain the discrepancy in figures.

When Mr. Ferguson writes, “Briefing materials did not inform senior decision makers, central agencies, and the Minister of the problems and associated risks of relying on the F-35 to replace the CF-18. Nor did National Defence provide complete cost information to parliamentarians,” it is as much an indictment of the Minister of National Defence as it is of public servants. Where was the due diligence at the ministerial level? The duties of a minister on the most costly military acquisition in Canadian history extended beyond cockpit photo-ops.

Stephen Harper’s Wildrose soulmate

While he’d never admit it publicly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is probably happy about what’s transpiring in his home province.

It seems Albertans are poised to dump the Progressive Conservative Party after 41 long years in power. If so, the Tories will have been punished for being too progressive and too little conservative. They’ll be replaced by a party that’s surely dearer to the Prime Minister’s ideological heart – Wildrose.

The Wildrose Party has waged a remarkable campaign under the charismatic leadership of 41-year-old Danielle Smith. She is someone Canada is going to hear much more from in the coming years. And if she sounds a lot like the man running the country, it’s no accident.

Like Mr. Harper, Ms. Smith is a graduate of the so-called Calgary School, the term ascribed to a group of neo-conservative economists and political scientists at the University of Calgary who have preached the wisdom of free markets and small government for years and who have helped nourish and guide conservatism in Western Canada for decades.

Ms. Smith has an economics degree from the school and studied under arch-conservative economist Frank Atkins, who was Mr. Harper’s thesis adviser. While there, she also got to know another of the school’s more prominent lecturers, political scientist Tom Flanagan, who would play a major role in Mr. Harper’s political ascension.

'Conscience rights' discussion puts Wildrose's Smith on hot seat

EDMONTON - As Danielle Smith laid out her party’s plan for balancing competing human rights complaints, PC Leader Alison Redford said she’s “frightened” to hear of Wildrose support for the thorny tenet of “conscience rights” — which would allow marriage commissioners and health professionals to refuse services based on their personal beliefs.

As polls show an increasing likelihood Smith could become Alberta’s next premier, she dodged queries on whether she personally believes in conscience rights that would allow a marriage commissioner to opt-out of wedding a same-sex couple, or a Catholic doctor from prescribing birth control.

Asked about her stance by reporters, Smith said only that her party believes there should be a mechanism in the court system to “balance” competing rights. The party’s platform calls for the cases now heard by the Alberta Human Rights Commission to instead be handled by a new division in the provincial court system.

“If anyone is ever denied service for any reason then our new proposal for how we would deal with that is with a separate division of the provincial court,” she said Wednesday during a campaign event at Concordia University College in Edmonton.

“All we’re doing is providing a process, so that in the event that rights come into conflict, we have the ability for them to be adjudicated.”

In a separate interview on Wednesday, Smith said “we will not legislate in this area. . .we do not have positions of morality in our platform.”

Harper government drops green pretences with majority budget

Measures announced in last week's budget suggest the Harper government has decided to drop any and all pretence of being green.

The document's lack of environmental conscience has Green party leader Elizabeth May seeing red. The MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands declares on her party's website that the budget is "the worst in the history of Canada.

"This is devastating," May stated. "This is a war on the environment. It cannot go unchallenged."

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, meanwhile, expresses concern the budget makes only two "passing references" to the term climate change. Two additional references to climate, the centre reports, refer to the investment climate.

Other critics predict the government's posture will be counterproductive, fuelling civil disobedience and public protest activity, as well as legal action against contentious resource developments.

Specifically, the budget:

. Mandates cuts of $88 mil-lion to Environment Canada, $79 million to Fisheries and Oceans and $29 million to Parks Canada, over three years.

. Slashes the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's budget by 40 per cent, and sets clear timelines for environmental reviews to speed approvals for industrial projects. This measure will apply retroactively to the B.C. Northern Gateway Pipeline. (Its review hearing was cancelled Monday in the midst of a grassroots protest in Bella Bella.)

. Adds $8 million to the Canada Revenue Agency's budget for audits aimed at stripping charitable status from groups exceeding a 10-per-cent political advocacy limit in spending.

. Kills off the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and its budget of $5.2 million, which was charged with providing policy analysis and advice to government.

Immigration board rebuked by court

The Federal Court has once again rebuked the Immigration and Refugee Board for the way it probed the genuineness of a refugee claimant's spiritual beliefs and practices.

"The Board is tasked with assessing the applicant's credibility and not the soundness of his theology," Justice Donald J. Rennie wrote in a decision.

"A claimant may have a poor understanding of the minutiae of the religious doctrine but that does not, necessarily, mean his faith is not genuine."

The judge's remarks stem from a decision last year by an IRB adjudicator to deny the refugee claim of Zhang Sheng Wang, who said he feared persecution in his native China because of his practice of Falun Gong.

Wang said he began practising Falun Gong in 2007 to try to cure his insomnia. After three months, he began to feel the benefits and continued to practise with friends at a member's house.

In October 2008, a lookout warned them that officials with the Chinese Public Security Bureau were on their way. While Wang was able to escape, two practitioners were arrested.

With the help of a smuggler, Wang fled to Canada in early 2009 and ended up in Toronto.

Joint Cabinet ministers’ statement suggests DND was briefed annually on cost of F-35 jets

PARLIAMENT HILL—A joint statement by four Cabinet ministers who were in charge of various aspects of the $25-billion F-35 fighter jet project indicates the Department of National Defence was briefed annually on cost increases in the aircraft’s development and production even though Auditor General Michael Ferguson has reported the department did not inform Parliament or the government it had the information.

Opposition MPs told The Hill Times on Wednesday a paragraph from the ministerial statement, released on Tuesday after Mr. Ferguson tabled a scathing report in Parliament about National Defence mismanagement and possible deception as it steered the F-35 stealth jet program along, is further evidence the majority Conservative government should allow an investigation by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay (Central Nova, N.S.), Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose (Edmonton-Spruce Grove, Alta.), Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino (Vaughan, Ont.) and Industry Minister Industry Minister Christian Paradis (Mégantic-L’Érable, Que.) released the statement on Tuesday after Mr. Ferguson lambasted the Defence Department for failing to inform “decision-makers” and even Mr. MacKay about troubles the F-35 project experienced at its Lockheed Martin development centre in the U.S. and the cost those problems were adding to the eventual purchase price of the fighter jets.

F-35 debacle demonstrates a system of government in collapse

There are so many layers of misconduct in the F-35 affair that it is difficult to know where to start. Do we especially deplore the rigging of operational requirements by defence officials to justify a decision that had already been made? Or should we focus on the government's decision to buy the planes without even seeing the department's handiwork? Is the scandal that the department deliberatedly understated the cost of the jets, in presentations to Parliament and the public? Or is it that its own internal figures, though they exceeded the published amounts by some $10-billon, were themselves, according to the Auditor General, gross underestimates?

It's all of those things, of course, and more: a fiasco from top to bottom, combining lapses of professional ethics, ministerial responsibility and democratic accountability into one spectacular illustration of how completely our system of government has gone to hell.

This was, until last year's shipbuilding contract, the largest single purchase in the country's history. And yet it was carried out, as we now learn, without proper documentation, without accurate data, and without any of the normal procurement rules being followed. Defence officials simply decided in advance which aircraft they wanted, and that was that. Guidelines were evaded, Parliament was lied to, and in the end the people of Canada were set to purchase planes that may or may not be able to do the job set out for them, years after they were supposed to be delivered, at twice the promised cost.

Conservatives lied about F-35s

So that's it then: They knew and they lied. To Parliament. To all of us.

If Auditor-General Michael Ferguson's word is to be believed - and there is no reason to think that it isn't - then the federal cabinet and by extension the prime minister, and not just the anonymous gnomes in the Department of National Defence, are directly on the hook for the F-35 boondoggle, in the most egregious sense.

They knew before the 2011 federal election that the jets would cost billions more than had been stated by DND - at least $10 billion more, around $25.1 billion. They allowed the department to publicly state they would cost $14.7 billion.

"I can't speak to individuals who knew it, but it was information that was prepared by National Defence," Ferguson told reporters Thursday. "It's certainly my understanding that that would have been information that, yes, the government would have had."

He continued: "That $25 billion number was something I think that at that time was known to government." And, critically: "It would have been primarily members of the executive, yes."

So, this is no longer a matter of "it happened on their watch." It's a matter of whether there was outright deception, deliberate and premeditated, during an election campaign, on an issue of great national import, by the prime minister and members of the cabinet.

F-35 fiasco: No lipstick helps this pig

CANADIANS learned two key things about the controversial F-35 fighter jet procurement project this week.

First, they found out the military kept senior civil servant decision-makers and Parliament in the dark about the true estimated costs of the multibillion-dollar project to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s, and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government didn’t press hard enough for answers as credible doubts arose about the program.

Second, they learned that at least Auditor General Michael Ferguson — who blew the whistle on the astonishingly inept handling of the fighter jet purchase in his report this week — can be critical of Ottawa’s handling of this matter without being childishly accused by overzealous Conservatives, including the prime minister, of not supporting the troops.

The auditor general’s stinging critique makes a mockery of the Conservatives’ repeated claims that the F-35 procurement process was on sound footing. Perhaps even worse, the Tories now look incompetent for stubbornly refusing to see what was in front of their eyes — that there was no way on Earth, despite Ottawa’s insistence otherwise, that the cost per plane could be $75 million when available data pointed to a price closer to almost twice that.

MacKay needs to better explain his lack of action

He should resign, or be told to, but it won’t happen.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay should take the fall for the incompetent mismanagement of Canada’s F-35 Lightning fighter bomber purchase project.

Auditor-General Michael Ferguson outlined these blunders in a scathing report Tuesday. He says the Department of National Defence — MacKay’s responsibility — gambled on the jet without running a fair competition, didn’t ensure cost certainty or even any guarantee the plane could replace the CF-18 by decade’s end.

Buying 65 stealth F-35s is one of the single most expensive military buys in Canadian history. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has set aside $9-billion to buy the planes, although the contract has not yet been signed.

Yet Ferguson says the Conservatives’ plan to buy new jets was done in an unco-ordinated fashion among federal departments, that key data was hidden from decision makers and parliamentarians.

Ferguson also says the fighters could cost $10 billion more than MacKay and company have publicly acknowledged.

It’s the old story with the defence minister. If he didn’t know about these problems, he should have known, because he is in charge of the defence department.

The PM needs a cabinet overhaul

Is anyone surprised?

Anyone even vaguely familiar with the chicanery involved in the Defence Department’s handling of the Afghan detainees’ file might well have expected the same type of thing was going on with regard to the fighter jets.

The Auditor-General’s devastating report on the handling of the gazillion dollar F-35 project comes as yet another bristling example of ethical malfeasance that before long – especially with electoral fraud allegations piling up – could reach the breaking point.

Everyone talks of the next election not being until 2015. That’s not necessarily the case. In 2008, the fixed date election law was broken by the Conservatives. The move survived a court challenge. The law no longer has teeth. An election could come well before 2015.

Liberal leader Bob Rae went over the top yesterday in calling for Stephen Harper’s resignation for allegedly misleading parliament on the F-35s. Resignation is of course the furthest thing from the prime minister’s mind. But Rae did get off the best line of the day in suggesting the hands-on PM was anything but in the dark on the fighter jet dealings. “He cannot now pretend that he was just the piano player in the brothel who didn’t have a clue as to what was really going on upstairs.”

Attawapiskat's 3rd-party manager to be withdrawn

A third-party manager sent to Attawapiskat First Nation to handle the troubled northern Ontario community's money will be pulled out, the federal government saidThursday.

Government officials say that Jacques Marion, the appointed manager, would be withdrawn by April 19 because of progress in conditions on the reserve.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan issued a statement Thursday night, saying that "in recognition of the accomplishments that have been achieved in substantially addressing the urgent health and safety needs of affected Attawapiskat residents through the third-party manager, we have notified the Attawapiskat First Nation of the department's intent to move the First Nation out of third-party funding agreement management and back to co-management."

A letter to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence from Aboriginal Affairs dated April 5 says that the "imminent completion of work to install the 22 modular homes purchased by the third-party manager and to renovate the three existing homes for the occupancy of the 25 families, as previously agreed, is an achievement of which we can be justifiably proud."

NDP MP Charlie Angus, whose riding includes Attawapiskat, rejected the suggestion that improving conditions in the community were behind the government's decision.

Proposed 'efficiences' are the missing link of public service cuts

OTTAWA — The Conservatives are forcing federal departments to foot the bill for any investments to modernize and streamline “back office” operations for the efficiency savings they need to hit their $5.2-billion savings targets over the next three years.

It’s unclear how much departments are spending on such investments, but Treasury Board officials confirmed the $5.2 billion in yearly savings that departments must deliver by 2014-15 are “net of any costs to implement these savings.”

Having departments shoulder the cost of any up-front investments, such as technology or new equipment, means they have to come up with much more savings than those outlined in the budget. Departments are also dipping into their shrinking budgets to cover downsizing costs, such as salary buyouts, waived pension penalties and education and training allowances for laid-off employees.

For unions, it’s another missing piece in the cumulative impact of the spending cuts, which they claim is far bigger than the government has led Canadians to believe. Others say the big question is how much of the proposed savings are coming from “efficiencies.”

David Zussman, who holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management at University of Ottawa, said that if departments are making such investments “there may be far more change taking place than we have been led to believe.”

Ottawa can't destroy long-gun registry

MONTREAL – Judge Jean-François de Grandpré of Quebec Superior Court has granted a request by the Quebec government for an injunction to halt Ottawa from destroying gun-registry records.

As a result, Ottawa has been forbidden, for the time being, to destroy documents in the long-gun registry.

The judge said he acted because Vic Toews, the federal minister of public safety, had said Thursday morning that the government would begin destroying the registry as soon as new legislation enabling it to do so took effect, something that was imminent.

The decision, by means of a temporary injunction, was announced shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday.

Quebec government lawyer Éric Dufour said the granting of scuh an injunction is unprecedented in Canadian law, as it is the first time a court has stopped a government from enacting a law.

This temporary injunction is in force until Friday, April 13, when lawyers for the Quebec government are to present arguments that the federal government should turn over the data to Quebec so the province can establish its own registry.

The judge had indicated earlier that he would rule only on whether to grant a temporary injunction.

Striking students reject Quebec proposals

QUEBEC – Leaders of a walkout by close to 200,000 university and college students across Quebec rejected proposals Thursday by the Charest government to make the repayment of student loans more flexible and extend credit to students whose family income is above $60,000, saying student debt would “triple” under the plan, calling instead on Education Minister Line Beauchamp to sit down and talk with them.

Martine Desjardins, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, representing about 125,000 university students in the province, said 65 per cent of Quebec students already have debts of $14,000 and more and Beauchamp’s plan would drive debt higher.

Desjardins added that the strike has cost taxpayers $100 million in salaries for teachers not teaching, empty classrooms, police overtime and security.

“It is not a solution,” Desjardins said, appealing to the minister to meet the students to discuss not only tuition, but what universities do with public money, noting millions in administration buyouts paid by Concordia University and spending fiascos on other Quebec campuses.

“We have concrete proposals,” Desjardins said, “(but) we don’t want to sign a blank cheque.”

Which way if up for Rob Ford?

“A historic day for labour peace in Toronto,” proclaimed Mayor Rob Ford.

Council’s ratification on Monday, April 2, of the deal reached last week with inside workers means Torontonians can go to bed at night knowing there will be no labour disruptions for the next four years. Hallelujah.

Two of the four bargaining units represented by CUPE Local 79, including part-time Parks and Rec employees (disclaimer: my wife is one), had yet to vote on the terms of the tentative agreement at the time of the mayor’s big announcement. (They did so on Tuesday.)

But you’ve gotta give the mayor cred for getting out ahead of this story, putting his spin on contract talks. A few councillors, recent adversaries among them, were quick to offer their compliments for what the mayor didn’t do – i.e., not throwing “oil in the flames,” as Councillor Josh Matlow not so eloquently put it.

Meaningless pap or attempts to get back into the mayor’s good books post-Sheppard-subway bloodletting?  At this point, throwing Ford a bone seems harmless – even if it is just intended to create the illusion that opposition councillors are still willing to work with him.

Harper budget mixing up trouble

Finally, it’s crystal clear. When it comes to public spending, it’s the public, not the spending, the Harper government is really out to control.

The budget that came down last week was a defining moment, though not the way anyone expected. Naturally, Conservative Canada widely assumed the new majority would be all about government austerity. That was a misconception.

There will be government jobs shed, of course, but the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and its ilk were quite disappointed, which was the best thing about this otherwise truly disturbing budget. Economists internationally are in near-consensus that drastically cutting government spending is the fast way to halt economic growth.

That old “c” approach that Flaherty and his friends unleashed on Ontario during the Harris days got ditched because the facts just don’t support the acts. And for that reason, slashing wouldn’t sell well across the pond in Davos, where the world’s global corporate and political elite go to confer on the future of humanity.