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.]

Monday, April 09, 2012

Jets and subs: It’s high time for accountability at DND

Something isn’t right at the top of the Department of National Defence, where two multibillion-dollar acquisition projects have gone badly off the rails. Living in a province expecting to benefit from the mega-acquisition of naval ships, Nova Scotians should be concerned about the problems at the top.

The auditor general’s scathing report on the shambles that is the proposed $9-billion F-35 jet fighter program is just the latest and most pointed of DND’s troubles. It has forced the Conservative government back on its heels for its all-out support for an expensive project that the military brass seems ill-equipped to manage.

Finally awake to the problems with the F-35, the Harper government has put the Department of Public Works in charge and promises to do a better job reporting to Parliament.

But it’s not just jets. The shambolic submarine program, now in its 12th year of rust, repair and reconstruction and still incomplete, should have raised alarms long ago.

A department spending billions on equipment hasn’t shown a lot of accountability so far.

It’s a fair question: If the military can’t manage the F-35 contract and can’t keep subs in the water, how confident should we be that federal authorities will be able to manage $25-billion worth of ship contracts?

Alberta Tory stalwart Ted Morton at risk in rise of Wildrose

For a sense of how quickly the hearts of Alberta’s staunch conservatives have shifted, one need only stroll through Chestermere, a booming town just east of Calgary.

Small, southern-Alberta communities like this were once the heart of Progressive Conservative support. It’s where Ted Morton – Energy Minister, former finance minister and the stalwart of the party’s right flank – is running and, before the right-wing Wildrose Party hit the scene, it would have been a slam-dunk for the PCs.

This time, they’re barely putting up a fight.

Mr. Morton’s seat is in peril, with several sources saying he’s on pace to lose to Wildrose candidate Bruce McAllister, a former news anchor. It certainly seems that way in Chestermere, the hub of the newly created riding that includes nearby rural areas, where green Wildrose signs line the lawns of homes. Morton signs are a rare sight on private land.

The PC campaign says it expected the race here to be a battle – but if anyone might have been immune to the Wildrose surge, by flaunting right-wing credentials, it would have been Mr. Morton. That hasn’t been the case.

As Wildrose soars, no seat is a sure thing.

Harper’s tough talk on Windsor bridge backed by real action, Doer says

WINDSOR – Stephen Harper’s tough talk on getting a second bridge built between Windsor and Detroit is backed by real action, according to Canada’s ambassador to the United States.

The long-delayed project may look stalled to the casual eye, but Gary Doer has been hard at work south of the border, hammering out the details necessary for officials to announce an agreement.

“We’re working on all the elements of getting it done,” Doer told iPolitics.

The fine print includes what falls under Canada’s authority and what falls under Michigan’s; who gets the contracts and how they work; the permits required on the U.S. side to build an international crossing; and how the custom plazas and the tolls would work.

You never put your hands in the air until the puck’s in the net, Doer cautioned.

“Until you have a full agreement, you don’t have an agreement,” he said. “We still have a few more items to get resolved, but we’re working diligently to get it done.”

Doer is one of a number of high-level officials now striking a confident tone when it comes to finalizing a new public bridge at the busiest trade point between Canada and the United States. It would be constructed two miles downriver from the aging, privately-owned Ambassador Bridge.

Toppling Alberta PCs would be historic – but Wildrose might not rule for long

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith is on track to defeat Alberta’s incumbent Progressive Conservatives, who have governed the province since 1971. If she can pull it off, it would end one of Canada’s longest provincial dynasties and mark one of the greatest upsets in Canadian political history. But electoral king-slayers (or, in this case, queen-slayers) rarely get to sit on the throne for very long.

After 11 election victories and 41 years in government, the Alberta PCs under rookie leader Alison Redford hold the record in electoral longevity among Canada’s current provincial governments. In the country’s history, they rank third behind the Liberal dynasty in Nova Scotia that governed for 43 years between 1882 and 1925 and the PC dynasty that ran Ontario for 42 years between 1943 and 1985. Only those Ontario Tories won more consecutive elections than the Alberta Tories, with 12 (13 if you count the 1985 election, where the PCs won the most seats but were replaced in government by the Liberals).

A victory by Wildrose in the Apr. 23 election, then, would be of historic proportions. The enormity of a Wildrose upset is further amplified by just how far the party will have come since the last vote in 2008. In that election, the Wildrose Alliance (as it was then called) captured less than 7 per cent of the vote and placed fourth behind the NDP, Liberals, and Progressive Conservatives. Under Ed Stelmach, the Tories took almost 53 per cent of ballots cast.

Ontario Liberals get FIT but may still nuke green energy

At the end of March, the Ontario Liberals received their two-year review of the Feed-In Tariff Program (FIT). The FIT was a component of 2009's Green Energy Act that aimed to procure renewable energy at a fixed, contracted rate that would both spur the renewable energy sector in the province and facilitate the shutdown of coal power generation.

Liberal communiqués around the proposed revisions highlighted five recommendations, including reducing the purchase rate for wind and solar energy and implementing a point system to encourage more community, Aboriginal and municipal involvement.

The Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, a province-wide not-for-profit focused on community and commercial sustainable energy in Ontario, has come out in support of the FIT revisions.

"Our roots are in the community power sector," said Kristopher Stevens, OSEA's executive director. "The thrust around greater municipal engagement as well as the prioritization of projects based on community and aboriginal participation in them is a real success story for us."

The FIT has been a repeated target for Ontario's PC party, which continues to call for the scrapping of the program in its entirety. In a Toronto Star article, Conservative Energy Critic Vic Fideli accused the FIT of crowding nuclear and hydro off of Ontario's grid.

Comox, B.C. speaks out against Northern Gateway Pipeline

Speaker after speaker poured out their passionate pleas to an impassive panel at the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings in Comox, B.C., on March 30 and 31. Some described in loving detail their oceanside worlds and the terrible weather on the north coast. Others discussed the economics (risk versus benefit) of the 1,170-kilometre pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., where the diluted bitumen would be loaded on tankers to travel the narrow passages of B.C.'s west coast Great Bear Rainforest. A few short-term construction jobs, no royalties, and the enormous financial and ecological risk of oil spills on land and sea, in order to provide oil to Asia do not add up for British Columbians of most walks of life.

Brian Voth, a forest worker from North Island, described the beauty of San Josef Bay. "If it was fouled by an oil spill, that would break my heart," she said, and concluded, "If there was an oil spill, the broken hearts would be piled higher than high."

Wildrose promises private health care on public dime to shorten waiting times

The Wildrose Party has reignited the debate over two-tiered medicine in the province, embracing private health care for certain procedures as a way to alleviate long waiting times.

The party, which has soared into the lead in multiple polls, promised to allow patients the right to use private clinics – inside or outside the province – on the public dime if they have to wait longer than a set time for procedures, from cancer and cardiac care to diagnostic imaging and orthopedic surgery as well as cataract removal.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said it would cost an estimated $180-million a year to implement.

Private health care has always been controversial topic in Alberta, but private clinics have long performed some procedures for patients who are referred to them, which are paid from the public purse. A proposal from former premier Ralph Klein to use more private-health operators to ease backlogs in the public system sparked a heated debate, and was ultimately shelved.

“The zombies of private-health insurance keep coming back,” said Avalon Roberts, an Alberta board member of Friends of Medicare. “The public health-care system should be improved. There will always be people trying to bring it down.”

Following Poem, Israel Bars Entry To Guenter Grass

JERUSALEM — Israel on Sunday declared Guenter Grass persona non grata, deepening a spat with the Nobel-winning author over a poem that deeply criticized the Jewish state and suggested it was as much a danger as Iran.

The dispute with Grass, who only late in life admitted to a Nazi past, has drawn new attention to strains in Germany's complicated relationship with the Jewish state – and also focused unwelcome light on Israel's own secretive nuclear program.

In a poem called "What Must Be Said" published last Wednesday, Grass, 84, criticized what he described as Western hypocrisy over Israel's nuclear program and labeled the country a threat to "already fragile world peace" over its belligerent stance on Iran.

The poem has touched a raw nerve in Israel, where officials have rejected any moral equivalence with Iran and been quick to note that Grass admitted only in a 2006 autobiography that he was drafted into the Waffen-SS Nazi paramilitary organization at age 17 in the final months of World War II.

Grass' subsequent clarification that his criticism was directed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not the country as a whole, did little to calm the outcry.

Tunisia Ennahda Party Emails Hacked: Anonymous-Linked Group Says It Compromised Messages

TUNIS, April 8 (Reuters) - A group claiming affiliation with activist hacker collective Anonymous says it has hacked 2,725 emails belonging to Tunisia's ruling Ennahda party, including those of the prime minister, in the latest challenge to the Islamist-led government.

In a video posted on a Facebook page belonging to Anonymous TN, a hacker wearing the trademark activist "Guy Fawkes" mask, said the emails were released in protest against Ennahda's alleged failure to protect the unemployed and artists who were attacked by Salafi Islamists during a recent protest.

The activist said the emails include phone numbers, bank transactions and invoices paid during Tunisia's election campaign in October, in which Ennahda won more than 40 percent of parliament seats, going on to lead the government.

One of the emails was from Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, a senior Ennahda official, to the Turkish embassy, attaching Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem's CV.

"To the Tunisian government, we have kept a large part of your data secret. If you do not wish to see these published on the internet we ask you to work to the best of your ability to avoid internet censorship and to respect human rights and the freedom of expression in Tunisia," the activist said.

U.S. filmmaker repeatedly detained at border

One of the more extreme government abuses of the post-9/11 era targets U.S. citizens re-entering their own country, and it has received far too little attention. With no oversight or legal framework whatsoever, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them and questions them at the airport, often for hours, when they return to the U.S. after an international trip, and then copies and even seizes their electronic devices (laptops, cameras, cellphones) and other papers (notebooks, journals, credit card receipts), forever storing their contents in government files. No search warrant is needed for any of this. No oversight exists. And there are no apparent constraints on what the U.S. Government can do with regard to whom it decides to target or why.

In an age of international travel — where large numbers of citizens, especially those involved in sensitive journalism and activism, frequently travel outside the country — this power renders the protections of the Fourth Amendment entirely illusory. By virtue of that amendment, if the government wants to search and seize the papers and effects of someone on U.S. soil, it must (with some exceptions) first convince a court that there is probable cause to believe that the objects to be searched relate to criminal activity and a search warrant must be obtained. But now, none of those obstacles — ones at the very heart of the design of the Constitution — hinders the U.S. government: now, they can just wait until you leave the country, and then, at will, search, seize and copy all of your electronic files on your return. That includes your emails, the websites you’ve visited, the online conversations you’ve had, the identities of those with whom you’ve communicated, your cell phone contacts, your credit card receipts, film you’ve taken, drafts of documents you’re writing, and anything else that you store electronically: which, these days, when it comes to privacy, means basically everything of worth.

Does Using Paper Take CO2 out of the Environment?

Of all types of recycling, paper is probably the most ubiquitous and was the earliest to take hold. Long before I was rinsing out soda bottles and composting moldy tomatoes, I'd accumulated a stack of repurposed "scratch" paper (always higher than my scribbling needs required) and chucked paper that had all its sides used into a recycling bin.

But then, isn't paper a renewable resource? That is, unlike gasoline or coal or uranium, trees aren't mined, burned, and gone forever. For every tree cut down, a new one can be planted and later cut down and replaced by a new tree—a cycle that can theoretically happen forever. What's there to conserve?

And then I stumbled on this entry in Wikipedia:

"Paper production may not be as harmful as it seems. Paper is known to sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide, since it is derived from plants, which sequester carbon dioxide by photosynthesis. Paper can, even after manufacture, printing, distribution, and eventual disposal, still carry a significant carbon credit, in some cases equal to 200 kilograms (440 lb) of carbon dioxide per tonne of paper."

The Gullible Center

So, can we talk about the Paul Ryan phenomenon?

And yes, I mean the phenomenon, not the man. Mr. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the principal author of the last two Congressional Republican budget proposals, isn’t especially interesting. He’s a garden-variety modern G.O.P. extremist, an Ayn Rand devotee who believes that the answer to all problems is to cut taxes on the rich and slash benefits for the poor and middle class.

No, what’s interesting is the cult that has grown up around Mr. Ryan — and in particular the way self-proclaimed centrists elevated him into an icon of fiscal responsibility, and even now can’t seem to let go of their fantasy.

The Ryan cult was very much on display last week, after President Obama said the obvious: the latest Republican budget proposal, a proposal that Mitt Romney has avidly embraced, is a “Trojan horse” — that is, it is essentially a fraud. “Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.”

The reaction from many commentators was a howl of outrage. The president was being rude; he was being partisan; he was being a big meanie. Yet what he said about the Ryan proposal was completely accurate.

Actually, there are many problems with that proposal. But you can get the gist if you understand two numbers: $4.6 trillion and 14 million.

"He Lied to the People of Wisconsin"

It was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's surprise assault on public-employee unions in 2011 that set in motion the statewide recall campaign to oust him from office. But don't expect Wisconsin's Democratic Party to make workers' rights a central focus in their quest to oust Walker.

In an interview, an official with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin downplayed the importance of the anti-union provisions in Walker's "budget repair" bill in the Democrats' broader recall strategy. "Collective bargaining is not moving people," says Graeme Zielinski, a Democratic Party spokesman. And in the party's new strategy memo (PDF) for defeating Walker, there's little mention of collective bargaining or organized labor in the Democrats' messaging plans.

Walker's controversial anti-union legislation, known as Act 10, curbed collective bargaining rights for most public employees and made it harder for unions to recertify and collect dues from their members. (A federal judge later ruled that the recertification and dues provisions weren't legal.) When Walker introduced the bill—"dropped the bomb," as he put it—and threatened to sic the National Guard on angry public workers, tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Madison, the state capital; thousands more occupied the Capitol rotunda.

F-35s: It's Not that They are Expensive. It's that They are Useless.

In July 2010, I wrote a column for my local paper, Island Tides, on the government's decision to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets. Now that the Auditor General has confirmed what everyone knew -- that the planes were wildly over budget and that we were being misled (lied to?) at every turn -- I decided to go back and look at my column.

On the costs I wrote:
"Like many military contracts in the US, the costs of the F-35 have spiralled and are way over budget. In March 2010, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates told the Congress that it was 'unacceptable' that the F-35 is 50 per cent over-budget. Costs of developing the new fighter jets is approaching $300 billion. With bureaucratic baffle-gab that takes your breath away, the Pentagon critique of the fighter jet programme concluded: 'affordability is no longer embraced as a core pillar.'"

Trayvon Martin Case Spotlights Florida Town's History Of 'Sloppy' Police Work

SANFORD, Fla. -- In the summer of 2010, a masked man gunned down Ikeem Ruffin, 17, in an apartment complex on this city's north side. When police arrived, they found Ruffin dead and another teenager beside the body calling for an ambulance. The next day, police charged the teen with robbery and murder.

Prosecutors dropped the murder charge last August and said another man, still unidentified, pulled the trigger. Teresa Ruffin, the victim's mother, said the police overlooked important evidence -- including a witness who pointed to another suspect -- and allowed her son's killer to go free.

"They didn't do their job," Ruffin said of the police.

Ruffin, who is black, said she sees parallels between how Sanford police officers handled her son’s murder and how they investigated the killing of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager shot to death Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who told police he acted in self-defense.

Police said they couldn't refute Zimmerman's claim and haven't arrested him, unleashing withering criticism over perceived missteps and favoritism.

"All this with Trayvon is just bringing the light on the Sanford Police Department," Ruffin said. "This happened for a reason."

Ottawa makes no apologies for Air Canada clampdown

When baggage handlers heckled Lisa Raitt last month in a protest that spurred a 14-hour wildcat strike, it was because her moves to prevent a full-scale work stoppage at Air Canada were viewed as a clampdown on labour.

But the federal Labour Minister’s actions may actually have come at a high cost to industrial relations at federally regulated companies. The truce with unions brought about by Ottawa’s intervention short-circuited the bargaining process and damaged the airline’s already-fractious relations with its unions.

The temporary peace is a Band-Aid solution that may carry long-term financial pain for Air Canada as the airline struggles to contain pension expenses and seeks to start a discount division that would pay lower wages to staff, say employers and labour experts.

While Ottawa appeared to be siding with management, federally-regulated employers have watched Ottawa’s clampdown on walkouts with some trepidation, contrary to the conventional wisdom in union circles that corporations are thrilled by the Conservative government’s intervention in labour contract fights.

Oil tankers hottest button on West Coast

Last week's federal budget is raising a lot of eyebrows in B.C. -- especially the vow to speed up the review of Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker project.

Two polls released this past week indicated this is going to be a hot-potato issue for B.C. politicians, and the announcements out of Ottawa only increase the urgency for the province to take a stand one way or another

A Mustel poll commissioned by NDP MP Kennedy Stewart found growing opposition to the Enbridge proposal (although, due to differing methodologies, this is actually hard to back up).

Mustel tracked a question based on a project description designed by Ipsos-Reid on behalf of Enbridge and last asked in December. Here's the wording they used:

"As you may know, Enbridge is the company leading the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project, which is a proposal to build an underground pipeline system between near Edmonton, Alta., and Kitimat, in northern B.C. One pipeline will transport oil to Kitimat for export by tanker to China and other Asian markets. A second pipeline will be used to import condensate (a product used to thin oil products for pipeline transport) to Alberta.

"Based on what you know to date, would you say that you generally support or oppose the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project? Is that strongly or somewhat?"

Third-time gone

Katimavik has never stood a chance against a federal Conservative government, Progressive or otherwise. The demise of the 35-year-old volunteer youth program was guaranteed the moment Stephen Harper squeaked into a majority in the House of Commons. He’s not the first blue prime minister to try to kill the inoffensive program, but it looks like he’ll be the first to succeed once and for all.

The Conservatives’ persistent dislike of Katimavik has nothing to do with the cost, despite this being the excuse they are giving for using their 2012 budget to finally eliminate it altogether. A fair accounting of expenses and benefits would most likely conclude that the cost of housing and feeding small groups of young Canadians in hundreds of communities throughout the country is more than offset not only by the considerable amount of necessary work they do that would not otherwise get done, but also by the value of the enriching experiences they gain and the knowledge they learn.

In Labrador, as in every other region of Canada, Katimavik youth are providing free, yet vital and irreplaceable services to schools, hospitals, museums, animal shelters, municipal councils, aboriginal organizations, elderly citizens, service clubs, libraries, needy families, recreational centres and youth groups. In determining, according to the budget, that Katimavik “reaches a relatively small number of participants annually at a relatively high cost per participant,” one can only assume the federal government and all its MPs, local or not, are ignoring the thousands who benefit every year the program operates and how expensive it will be to pay for all the work the participants have been doing for free for so many years.

No amount of talk can stop the budget

OTTAWA -- More than 13 hours.

That's how long NDP finance critic Peter Julian took to deliver a marathon budget speech in the last two weeks in an effort to shut out government MPs from delivering Prime Minister Stephen Harper's talking points over and over again.

As the first opposition member speaking to the budget, Julian, by the rules, could use as much of the allotted budget time as he wanted. So he did, using nearly three of the four days set aside for budget debate.

When he finally wrapped it up last Tuesday, there was only enough time remaining for three Conservative MPs and five NDP MPs to add their voices to the mix.

Much of Julian's gargantuan budget speech consisted of reading tweets, Facebook messages and emails sent from across the country from people who oppose the budget policies outlined in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget papers.

"People wanted to let us know what the budget means to their lives," said Julian.

People who were concerned about cuts here and there, programs being eliminated, changes to environmental regulations.

Doubtful Harper unaware of F-35 issues

Last week’s release of the much anticipated auditor general’s report on the acquisition of F-35 fighter planes sparked a furious barrage of media and opposition party outrage.

The word "boondoggle" was revived and, while interim Liberal leader Bob Rae called for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s resignation, others demanded that Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk be removed from their posts.

In his report, auditor general John Ferguson aimed his sights on Defence Department bureaucrats for allegedly misleading their masters. The office reviewed briefing material from 2006 and 2010, concluding that "neither the minister nor decision makers in National Defence and central agencies were kept informed of these problems and the associated risks of relying on the F-35 to replace the CF-18."

While a quick glance at this statement would appear to exonerate Defence Department senior managers and top politicians, it is the dates in question that beg closer scrutiny.

It was in July 2010 that MacKay staged a photo-op with a full-scale model of an F-35 and pledged Canada’s commitment to purchasing 65 of these fifth-generation, stealth fighter-bombers from U.S. firm Lockheed Martin. Until that juncture, any discussion of replacing the recently upgraded fleet of CF-18s was limited to trade journals, and certainly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program was not a regular topic of discussion at the water cooler.

A Double Threat

The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline puts the unique ecosystem of the Great Bear Rainforest, and the communities that rely on it, at risk.

This is the final article in a three-part series on Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. February marked the six-year anniversary of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements, which were celebrated around the world as one of the greatest rainforest conservation stories of our time. To this day, however, half of the Great Bear Rainforest is still open to logging. Greenpeace, Sierra Club BC, and ForestEthics have launched a campaign calling on B.C. Premier Christy Clark to speed up the outstanding steps for healthy forests and thriving communities, before it’s too late. The first article discussed how the Great Bear Rainforest is still at risk. The second article described what makes the Great Bear Rainforest so significant – and worthy of full protection. This final instalment looks at the specific threat to the forest and its ecosystem from the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project, which is currently under federal government review, would send 200 supertankers (some larger than the Empire State Building) every year through the rocky and unpredictable waters of British Columbia’s iconic Great Bear Rainforest.

Feds kill NRTEE, opposition critics say it’s ‘peanuts’ in savings

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy’s $5-million budget is “peanuts” in terms of savings for the federal government’s coffers, say opposition MPs who believe eliminating the advisory board means Canada will be “less equipped” to deal with the biggest challenges facing the country.

“This is not an expensive ticket. They could’ve gone to the round table and said you’ve got $5.2-million, next year you’re going to have $4.2-million and we’re going to give you three very important tasks to fulfill. We want your advice on one, two and three. It better be hard, it better be objective,” said Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.), who worked at NRTEE for nine years before entering elected politics. “All the evidence has been confirmed, just when it comes to climate change you either pay now, or you pay 1,000 times more later. Just from an economic perspective, from a money management perspective, this is foolish talk on their part. But it’s not about efficiencies. It’s about eliminating dissenting voices.”

Mr. McGuinty, a former president of the NRTEE, told The Hill Times last week the premise for the round table was to give independent, non-partisan, consensus-based advice to the federal government. The advisory body was founded in 1988 in the lead up to the Rio Earth Summit, and Governor General David Johnston was its founding chair. In 1993, the NRTEE was established as a permanent body through legislation passed by Parliament.

Cabinet ‘maintained fiction’ on F-35s’ true $25-billion price tag, knew it could cost election

The government “maintained the fiction” that the F-35s purchase was at least $10-billion less than its real cost throughout last May’s election “come hell or high water” because they knew it could cost them the election, say opposition MPs.

Liberal MP John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood, Ont.) told The Hill Times last Thursday—after Auditor General Michael Ferguson confirmed Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) and his Cabinet knew before the federal election last year the forecast cost of the F-35 stealth jet was $10-billion higher than what the government claimed publicly—that the minority Conservative government of the day knew it could not afford to disclose the true cost of the program before or during the election caused by a contempt of Parliament vote on March 25, 2011.

“They stayed with their number through the election, come hell or high water, because they didn’t want to be faced with questions about why they hadn’t revealed that number prior to the election. They had to maintain the fiction through the entire election period,” Mr. McKay told The Hill Times.

“If you go through the sequence of events, even in 2010 they had to know. If you didn’t know you were actually dead under a rock. Then the Parliamentary Budget Officer comes out in 2011 and says, ‘$10-billion out, easily $10-billion out’ and they demonized the PBO and said [to themselves] ‘We’re prepared to risk this.’ They can never, under any circumstances, at that point when the PBO comes out or when the motion for contempt comes up, or the call for the election, or during the election, ever say one word about it,” Mr. McKay said.

Border controls need better monitoring: CBSA, Health Canada should work more closely, says AG

Controls on commercial imports at the border are generally working, but in a small percentage of cases some missing policies, miscommunication and sloppy record-keeping are hurting the ability of the Canada Border Services Agency and other federal departments to target shipments of potentially dangerous goods coming into Canada, according to the auditor general’s report released last week.

“We found monitoring problems with controls reserved for higher-risk items, such as pharmaceuticals and pest control products,” Auditor General Michael Ferguson told reporters after the release of his first report on April 3.

His office’s audit of border controls examined Canada Border Services Agency as well as Health Canada, the Canada Food Inspection Agency, Natural Resources and Transport Canada—four entities with a stake in making sure imported goods don’t hurt the health and safety of Canadians.

The five departments spent $200-million on border safety programs in 2010-2011, according to the audit.

The audit found that while in “most cases” products potentially harmful to Canadians’ health and safety were “adequately controlled” when they reached the border, administrative oversights and a lack of policies resulted in some potentially dangerous products getting through.

Vancouver’s bagpipe ban prompts outcry

A few weeks ago, Kyle Banta was eager to pick up his bagpipes and go busking again in central Vancouver.

For two straight summers, the 22-year-old has been playing on city sidewalks, earning spending money, trying out his own compositions and winning approval from members of the public charmed by the pipe sounds. Some would ask when he would be back. At times, he would make $100 a day.

So Mr. Banta says he was surprised to see on the city website that bagpipe busking was to be banned by Vancouver’s engineering department due to noise concerns – part of a ban that also covered percussion instruments.

“I was quite disappointed because my favorite thing is to play pipes,” said Mr. Banta, describing a decision implemented in a “sleek, quiet way.” He said calls to the engineering department seeking clarification were not returned.

But the unusually specific ban, which hit a few bagpiping buskers in Vancouver, has run into opposition from one of the city’s top Scots.

That would be Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who was sworn in for a second term wearing a kilt in reflection of his Scottish heritage.

MacKay stands by F-35 jets, calls cost jump an accounting issue

Ottawa can still opt out of buying 65 new U.S.-built fighter-jets, but Defence Minister Peter MacKay says the government is convinced the F-35 is the “best” choice for Canada in spite of its eye-popping price.

Mr. MacKay said Sunday there would be a cost to cancelling a multi-billion-dollar purchase deal with Lockheed Martin, the lead contractor.

“There are consequences for withdrawing from it,” he told CTV’s Question Period. “But it’s not prohibitive. There is not money that has been spent.”

As opposition politicians called for an open competition for a new fighter-jet, Mr. MacKay warned that cancelling the memorandum of understanding on the F-35 would mean losing Canada’s place in the production line and a delay in taking delivery of aircraft to replace the aging CF-18s.

Mr. MacKay also rebuffed opposition calls that he resign in the wake of a damning report last week by Auditor-General Michael Ferguson. The report faults the government for mismanaging the F-35 program and misinforming Parliament and Canadians on the true cost of its largest-ever military purchase.

Tory supporters misled by 'live calls' in 2011 election, complaint says

A new complaint about misleading calls to voters in the Ontario riding of Guelph has been lodged with the country’s elections watchdog.

The complaint, from a key member of the local Conservative team, says Tory supporters were erroneously told their polling stations had changed in last year’s federal campaign.

Unlike the 6,700 automated messages sent mainly to non-Tory supporters by unknown political operative “Pierre Poutine” that sparked an Elections Canada investigation, the calls reportedly received by Tory supporters were live calls from people claiming to be with the elections office.

In a copy of the complaint obtained by The Globe and Mail, Guelph Tory campaign manager Ken Morgan states that calls to Conservative supporters began on April 28 and continued until voting day on May 2. The phone number associated with the calls was 519-479-0031, which, when dialled, led to a recording that said, “This is the Conservative Party of Canada.”

“In no way did this call originate from the Conservative party, nor am I assuming the ‘Elections Office,’ ” Mr. Morgan wrote in an e-mail to the federal elections commissioner last month, after the “Pierre Poutine” robo-call controversy exploded into a political firestorm. “I would like to know from whom did this call originate? It was obviously an attempt to lure our supporters away from their legitimate polls.”

Ontario’s job training shuts out half of unemployed

If the best route out of poverty is a job, a commission studying Ontario’s welfare system thinks the province can do more to help its most vulnerable residents find work.

Part of the problem is that almost half of Employment Ontario’s $1.2 billion worth of training programs are available only to people receiving employment insurance benefits.

And yet, barely half of the province’s jobless — and less than a quarter in Toronto — are eligible for EI.

As a result, swaths of job-seekers, including more than 550,000 households living on social assistance, are shut out of these programs, the commissioners note.

Sheyenne Ham, 24, is one of them. After studying art and design at Centennial College in 2006, she switched gears and found work as an administrator for a small electrical company. But the hours were erratic and some months she had to turn to welfare to make ends meet. In December, the company laid off its entire office staff. Since she didn’t have enough working hours to qualify for EI, Ham is back on welfare.

NDP trying to 'bring the centre to us'

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair knows the fight to woo voters is in the centre of the political spectrum.

But don't expect him to push his party full-steam in that direction, he says.

With the wind in his sails from the most recent national poll, Mulcair appeared on Quebec's most popular TV talk show, Tout le monde en parle, on Sunday for the first time since he took the helm of the New Democrats last month.

"We're going to bring the centre to us," Mulcair told host Guy A. Lepage when asked about concerns among NDP faithful that their new leader will try to move the officially socialist party to a more centrist political stance.

"If we change our ideas just to appeal to more people, and we compromise them, that's a problem."

Mulcair won the race to become the NDP's seventh leader, and leader of the Official Opposition, on March 24, replacing Jack Layton, who died last August from cancer. Layton was a guest on Tout le monde en parle during last year's national election campaign, in an appearance that was credited with helping his party capture an unprecedented 59 seats in the province.