Has Neal Livingston lost his %$@& mind?

A couple of years ago, a friend and I travelled to Inverness for a celebration honoring the wonderful author and columnist, Frank MacDonald. On the off-chance alcohol might be consumed, we sought lodging at one of the town’s two motels. Our choices were Grim and Grimmer.

Inverness had many charms — spectacular setting, fascinating history, unique culture, magnificent beach — but no economic engine since its coal mines shut down in the 1960s. Boarded up storefronts and seedy hand-painted signs for the few surviving businesses offered silent testimony to the community’s entrenched gloom.

Into this sad civic concoction came Ben Cowan-Dewer and Allie Barclay, a Toronto couple determined to achieve a dream that had eluded Inverness for decades: building a top-notch golf course on the coal-ravaged landscape that separated the down-at-the-heels village from its glorious beach.

In 2008, they moved their family down from Toronto, leaving behind Barclay’s career in finance. They found golf-savvy investors and crackerjack course architects. They assembled 14 parcels of land from various owners. In the depths of the deepest recession since the 1930s, they raised “tens of millions of dollars” to reshape the mine site and build an 18-hole links-style golf course that is winning rave reviews. Canadian Golfer calls Cabot Links, “the best course built in Canada in the last 50 years.” On Canada Day, the New York Times devoted the front page of its Sunday sports section to an article extolling the course as, “a resort-quality, high-end layout designed to be a true links golf course, a boutique category of oceanside golf architecture exceedingly rare outside the British Isles.” The Globe and Mail’s Jane Tabor was equally effusive, as was the Toronto Star.

The course now employs 125 Invernessers — a staggering total in a village of 1,800 souls. If they ever throw another party for Frank MacDonald, out-of-town guests will be able to stay at the architecturally smart, 48-room luxury hotel that overlooks the course. The Robin Donut chain has opened the town’s first drive-through. There’s talk of another hotel, and Cowan-Dewar promises a second 18-hole seaside course, Cabot Cliffs, if the first course attracts 15,000 rounds this season. For the first time in decades, Inverness might just have a future.

This is all terribly upsetting to Neal Livingston. The media-savvy environmental gadfly has been a constant thorn in the side of Cowan-Dewar and Barclay. Last year, he claimed  the developers had reneged on an agreement to maintain a path from the highway to the far end of the town beach, although the parties to that agreement confirm that they worked out a satisfactory alternative path.

Last month, as the course was poised to open amidst a tidal wave of media accolades the likes of which Inverness has never seen, Livingston found another way to pee on the party. He issued a press release berating Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment for being slow to act on his complaint that the course had damaged the beach.

In fact, officials of the Department of Natural Resources were quick to investigate — and reject — Livingston’s initial claim, although their investigation turned up a different issue: possible encroachment on real estate technically designated as part of the protected beach. You can see the devastating results for yourself in the photo above. (Kidding!)

As part of the links design, Cabot uses natural grasses and native vegetation. It is the least environmentally intrusive golf design possible. It replaces toxic coal mine tailings that had marred the landscape for decades, uncomplained-about by Livingston’s Margaree Environmental Association.

Here’s how golf journalist Robert Thompson viewed the contretemps:

The fascinating thing about the whole debate by a group of people opposed to any advancement in the town of Inverness is that they seem to ignore what they’ve gotten. The so-called “developer,” Cowan-Dewar, is hardly a developer in any traditional sense. Yes, there’s a golf course and a hotel, but this isn’t a huge residential development. And the project uses natural grasses throughout and has done its best to impose as little on the land as it can — its that sort of course. To top it off… the site was largely a remediated mine — and the boardwalk already runs along a sandy dune for several kilometres. I’m not sure how the golf course could do any more damage — or cross the boardwalk…

That’s exactly what a functioning democracy is all about. It’s about some individual opposed to a project making complaints time and again, having them shot down and finding new things to complain about. It is about an individual wasting government time and taxpayer dollars on complaints without merit.

What I find striking is that Livingston could maintain a seasonal residence in nearby Mabou for decades and yet remain indifferent to the desire of those whose ancestors settled this beautiful land in the 19th Century to make a living there in the 21st. Has lost his mind? Probably not, but he appears to have lost all sense of perspective, compassion, and common sense.

2001 space quip: You can’t polish a…

Toronto Star movie critic Peter Howell is a 2001: A Space Odyssey fanatic who claims to have seen the 1968 Stanley Kubrick sci-fi classic more than 40 times. For the second holiday season in a row, Bell Lightbox, the Toronto International Film Festival’s modernistic movie showcase, is featuring a 70MM version of the film.

Critic Howell marked last year’s screenings with a column titled, “21 cool things about 2001: A Spacey Odyssey.” He reprised the column yesterday with “21 more cool things.” In this year’s instalment, Howell reports that when Kubrick was editing Space Odyssey, the comedian and filmmaker Jerry Lewis was down the hall making final cuts to one of his low-brow comedies. Late one night, Kubrick watched a frustrated Lewis struggle to make a scene work.

“You cannot polish a turd,” Lewis moaned.

“You can if you freeze it,” Kubrick replied.

The original trailer for  2001: A Space Odyssey is, of course, on YouTube.

H/T: Kendra Barnes.

Surge roundup

The unprecedented rise in support for the NDP is provoking a lot of reaction from various thoughtful observers. Here’s a compendium.

From Frank Graves of Ekos Research, author of yesterday’s dramatic poll putting the NDP in second place nationally with a projected 100 seats, in a live chat this morning at ipolitics.ca:

Nothing is absolutely ruled out. But I think the public is answering Mr. Harper’s request for a majority with a pretty clear “No.” The intricacies of vote splitting might confuse this as late campaign shifts, but at slightly under 34 points, the Conservatives are well short of a majority. In fact, the implication of a majority between the NDP and the Liberals coupled with a diminished Conservative minority may pose some extremely interesting challenges.

The evidence from the surveys suggests that the NDP still have room to grow. Particularly in Ontario where they are rising, but have seen a dramatic spike up in second choice. They now lead nationally with first and second choice at 54 points — nearly 14 points ahead of the other contenders. So, yes still room to grow, but I don’t think the public have fully grasped where they have arrived and it is not outside of possibility that there will be a recoil effect. So whether the NDP wave is analogous to Clegg in the last UK election or perhaps Bob Rae in Ontario.

Graves had this to say about the Dips’ prospects in Atlantic Canada:

The Atlantic has changed dramatically in the past week where the NDP have bulled their way into what was a two-way race. The NDP began in the Atlantic in single digits and now lead. So that will be fascinating to see how that concludes.

From Andrew Coyne, @acoyne, Maclean’s National Editor and a genuine Lockean conservative (not the fake Harper kind), a series of exasperated tweets:

Oh for – arrgh!: “Harper is asking voters to consider whether they want their riding to be left outside the Tory tent.” http://bit.ly/gvEiiq

Where they serve the pork. RT @markdjarvis: http://is.gd/fI2xJS “People have a decision to make…abt whether they want to be at the table.”

But all the Tory partisans & professional shills will rationalize it to themselves that they’re the party of the taxpayer & free markets.

They’ve just utterly corrupted themselves & hope to corrupt the public. But then, if the public weren’t already corrupted, it wouldn’t work.

Politics in much of this country is just a two-way auction: state goodies in exchange for votes; votes in exchange for goodies.

Just friggin’ look at yourselves, Tories. Look at what you’ve become. Look at what you’re peddling.

From CBC’s Keith Boag, a strong critique setting forth Harper’s false statements about how parliamentary democracy works. [Unfortunately, the CBC provides no easy way to embed it.] As a Contrarian friend writes:

The most despicable thing Harper has ever done is lie to people about how their government works. It’s the big lie, so appalling no one can imagine it’s untrue.

Harper has done this twice: in the current election campaign, and in the prorogation scandal of 2008.

From former Daily News cartoonist Theo Moudakis, now inking for the Toronto Star, this take on Canada’s unnecessary election:

unnecessary election-550

The redoubtable Elly Alboim has a pot pourri of fresh #elxn41 observations: That leadership numbers and party preference are starting to come into consonance; that the NDP surge can be viewed two ways, as likely to build and spread, or likely to whither in the face of inevitable attacks from Libs and CPCs; plus some knowledgeable analysis of the variance in polling numbers and the validity of seat projections.

This final week will be the Grimm brothers’ story book of election campaigns. The potential narratives are legion and becoming more and more compelling.

There is the potential Greek tragedy in Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberals. There is the obvious Cinderella story in Mr. Layton and the NDP. Mr. Harper may get his majority he has doggedly sought (the little engine that could) or keep rolling his ball up an endless hill. If you want an alternative that’s a bit more modern, he may finally kick the field goal or like Charlie Brown, have the football snatched away yet again.

On the same excellent Carleton Journalism School website, Chris Waddell and Paul Adams offer tart assessment of the Liberals’ campaign. First, Waddell:

First the party and Mr. Ignatieff have been ineffective in opposition in parliament and its campaign has done nothing to shake that view among it appears almost three-quarters of voters.

Second Liberal policy is not sufficiently distinct from the Conservatives on economic issues for the public to notice a difference, the Liberals haven’t campaigned on the economy and the party has no recognized spokesperson with gravitas on economic matters.  Yet those issues remain very important with voters across the country and the NDP does offer a clear difference here although its policies have never faced much scrutiny. (The Liberals are trying to shine that spotlight on Mr. Layton this week.)

Third, the Conservative pre-election framing of Mr Ignatieff’s personality, character and interests has proven devastatingly effective with voters and Liberal campaigners are getting that regularly on doorsteps. Mr Ignatieff’s campaign hasn’t shaken that impression in the public’s mind.

And from Paul Adams:

The Liberals are caught in a historical dilemma. Unlike the situation during most of the 20th century, the Liberals are now alone among the parties, in that they have no roots as a populist party. The Conservatives have Reform as a predecessor. The NDP came from prairie populism and union activism. The Bloc from the separatist movement, and the Greens out of environmentalism.

But the Liberals have always been different. They have been a brokerage party with no clear ideological ground on which to stand. No one can ever remember a time when they did — except, perhaps, on the constitution and Quebec, which is hardly likely to help them now.

And as they try to perform a Gestalt in the final days of the campaign, they only reinforce the idea that while other parties stand for something, they don’t.

Finally, the Chronicle-Herald’s consistently reliable Stephen Maher notes two trends:

In 2004, Stephen Harper’s newly merged party took 24 Ontario seats with 31.5 per cent of the vote, pushing Paul Martin’s Liberals into a minority. In 2006, the Tories took 40 seats, with 35 per cent of the vote. In 2008, the Conservatives won 51, with 39 per cent of the vote.

Step by step, Harper’s team has moved in from the white, Protestant countryside, which by long tradition gravitates to the Tories, toward the multi-hued suburbs of Toronto, where significant numbers of immigrants and their children are embracing a modern Conservative message that has been carefully calibrated for them.


Voters in Quebec, in contrast, have mostly turned their backs to Harper’s stern warnings, shocking everybody by warming up to Jack Layton.

After a strong French-language debate performance, Layton’s party is now leading the Bloc Quebecois. With his folksy Montreal street French and a policy book that has been carefully shaped over the years to reduce friction with nationalist Quebecers, Layton can now hope for a real harvest of MPs on Monday.

He has been preparing the ground for years. With little hope for immediate gains, he worked hard to make the NDP electoral effort in Quebec more than symbolic. The first seedling to sprout was the election of Thomas Mulcair, giving the party, for the first time, a talented bilingual spokesman.

Before concluding…

These developments in Quebec and Ontario are terrible news for the Liberals. Some national polls now show the Grits behind the NDP. I don’t believe, given the weight of tradition and the power of incumbency, that the NDP can surpass the Liberals on election day, but who knows?

As the election began, I thought Michael Ignatieff had a good chance of connecting with Canadian voters. Until the debates, when he failed to make a persuasive case for a Liberal government, it looked like his energetic and free-wheeling rally performances might give Canadians cause to reconsider him, setting up a momentum-building redemption narrative.

Instead, in the final days of the campaign, voters on the left are evenly divided between the Liberals and New Democrats, which is ideal for the Conservatives, since strategic voters may not know how to vote to block a Tory majority.

Preston Manning’s father, Ernest, dreamed of a political realignment in Canada, with a right-wing party and a left-wing party, rather than two parties of the mushy middle.

The goal of the movement, for decades, has been to squeeze the Liberals. By framing this election around the question of whether a coalition is a venial or a mortal sin, Harper is moving closer to realizing the Manning dream.

I’m not convinced Monday’s outcome will be any sort of dream for Harper, but that’s certainly one possible result.

Lone holdout

Growing discomfort with the military commission trial of Canadian child soldier Omar Khadr, the only western national still held in the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has apparently propelled the US government to seek a plea bargain in the case. The presiding military judge delayed the trial this week in anticipation of a possible deal.

Why now?

The Toronto Star’s Michelle Sheppard reported Thursday that Omar Khadr’s pending trial “has caused discomfort among some of Obama’s advisers, who are concerned about the fact that he was 15 at the time of the alleged offence.”

Friday’s edition of the New York Times, already posted on the paper’s website, reports that “Obama administration officials have privately expressed dismay about Mr. Khadr’s trial, which they see as undermining their efforts to redeem the reputation of the military commission system.”

Sheppard also notes that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon singled out the Khadr case recently when criticizing the U.S. for not applying ‘international standards of juvenile justice’ traditionally afforded child soldiers.”

Also o Thursday, the Miami Herald quoted a warning from UNICEF Chief Anthony Lake that trying Khadr would set a dangerous precedent:

Lake said in a statement issued Wednesday that recruiting and using children in hostilities is a war crime and those responsible should be prosecuted, but the children involved are “victims, acting under coercion.”

“The recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime, and those who are responsible — the adult recruiters — should be prosecuted,” he said.

“As UNICEF has stated in previous statements on this issue, former child soldiers need assistance for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities, not condemnation or prosecution.”

Aides to the President of the United States. The Secretary-General of the United States. The US head of UNICEF. This is consensus approaching unanimity. Stephen Harper appears to be the lone holdout still in support of the US plan to put a Canadian child soldier on trial before a military tribunal based on evidence acquired under threat of gang rape.

That’s our PM.

As if to underscore his administration’s support for justice in this form, Harper’s foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, deemed this point in the negotiations an opportune time to issue a statement denying Canada had agreed to let Khadr serve any of his sentence in Canada, as would be allowed under a prisoner exchange treaty between the two countries.

“There is no such agreement,” said a statement from Cannon’s office.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson has a good summary.

Colvin redux

The clarity and detail of the rebuttal Richard Colvin filed with the House of Commons this morning stand in stark contrast to the government’s flimsy response.

With devastating thoroughness, Colvin documented factual errors and faulty logic underlying the testimony of government witnesses who tried to explain away Ottawa’s studied indifference to the likely torture of prisoners our soldiers handed over to Afghan authorities.

Download his statement—it’s well worth the read—or check out Kady O’Malley’s summary and the Toronto Star’s account.

In response, the best Dan Dugas, spokesman for Defense Minister Peter MacKay, could offer was another jingoistic attempt to portray criticism of government policy as an attack on Canadian soldiers, and the lame assertion that the impugned government witnesses had already refuted Colvin’s claims.

That’s “refute,” as in “to prove false,” but the only refuting in evidence was by Colvin of the parade of government and military apologists who had attempted to discredit his testimony. By times, the rebuttal bordered on embarrassing, as when Colvin pointed out that his critics don’t seem to know the difference between the Taliban and al-Qa’ida:

Witnesses who testified that ‘the Taliban are trained to claim torture’ seem to be confusing Taliban insurgents (poorly educated Pashtuns, usually illiterate, with a parochial, Afghanistan-centred agenda) with al-Qa’ida terrorists (international jihadists, often highly educated). There is to our knowledge no Taliban equivalent of the al-Qa’ida ‘Manchester manual,’ which was aimed at a sophisticated, literate audience.

Colvin’s credibility, and the reason Canadians overwhelmingly believe him and not MacKay, arises from his palpable reluctance as a whistleblower. He came forward only under subpoena or “invitation” tantamount to subpoena.

[I]t was not the job of DFAIT officials in Afghanistan to push our concerns on ministers, unless they explicitly invited them, which none ever did. Doing so would have invited a reprimand from our superiors. The chain of command for DFAIT officers was back to DFAIT officials at HQ. Circumventing that chain of command would have been evidence of ‘going rogue.’ I was always very correct in my relations with the political level. I volunteered views to fellow bureaucrats, such as Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch and DFAIT Associate Deputy Minister David Mulroney. But to have done so with ministers would have been inappropriate.

Anyone who has ever witnessed the sometimes awkward interface between the civil service and their political masters knows that this is precisely correct.

Colvin torture testimony – editorial roundup

Here is a roundup of newspaper editorials about Richard Colvin’s tesimony about Canadian military and civilian complicity in torture.

Globe and Mail:

If his account is correct, the federal government was so determined to turn a blind eye to the treatment of the detainees by the Afghan National Directorate of Security and police that it discouraged record-keeping and other documentation – highly uncharacteristic behaviour in any bureaucracy. On this, Mr. Colvin gave evidence from his own direct experience, not hearsay.
The word “cover-up,” which evokes the Watergate scandal and a concealment of wrongdoing within an institution, or even obstruction of justice, may be excessive in this context. Instead, there is reason to believe that several parts of Canadian government preferred to look the other way, when informed that the Afghan government was abusing detainees, far from adhering to its side of the agreement.

This week, the dismissive antagonism of some Conservative MPs, including Mr. MacKay’s parliamentary secretary, Laurie Hawn, in response to Mr. Colvin’s testimony, raises a disappointing inference that partisanism continues to prevail over a sense of common humanity.

Montreal Gazette:

[T]he reaction of the Harper government is not reassuring. First it claimed Colvin’s testimony would breach national security – a dodge used too often and too cynically, around the world, to cover up all manner of wrongdoing. By yesterday, the line was that Colvin is a dupe of the Taliban. This is preposterous.

Abuses are inevitable in wartime. But it’s not acceptable for our government to systematically undercut our national standards.

Ottawa must demonstrate its total opposition to torture, for the sake of Afghanistan and for the soldiers we send there.

Toronto Star:

[A]ll signs point to a culture of complicity at the highest levels of the Canadian Armed Forces and federal government, where the operative code was see no evil, hear no evil and write no evil in diplomatic cables home. That and never return calls from the Red Cross.

That pattern of damage control emerges from Colvin’s jarring testimony to a parliamentary committee probing the government’s handling of the issue… Conservatives remain in deep denial on the issue – and deeply partisan, including shots at the opposition for “accept(ing) the word of the Taliban.”

…When the first warnings of mistreatment arose in 2006, [Defence Minister Peter] MacKay’s predecessor, Gordon O’Connor, gave blithe assurances that the Red Cross was on top of things. Yet in Kandahar, the army was pointedly ignoring Red Cross phone calls, Colvin testified. He also suggested that the torture allegations inflicted grave damage on the army’s campaign to win the “hearts and minds” of increasingly alienated Afghans.

As for MacKay, he was foreign minister at the time his most senior officials insisted that torture allegations never be put in writing. Were they protecting MacKay, or was MacKay protecting himself?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s top officials were also part of what Colvin described as a conspiracy of silence. All along, Harper vigorously defended the government line that there was no cause for alarm. Now, the harm has been done – to innocent Afghans, our war effort, and Canada’s credibility in demanding that human rights and the rule of law be respected by other countries.

Chronicle Herald:

To be blunt, Mr. Colvin was our war crimes insurance. By digging into allegations that Afghan security forces were torturing prisoners we sent them, he was doing the right thing to ensure Canadians did not one day find themselves sitting in the dock before the Court of International Justice facing charges for being complicit in a war crime…

Did the government and military act on these alarms? Ministers denied evidence of torture and did nothing about detainee handovers until a newspaper reported allegations in the spring of 2007 – at which point Mr. Colvin says he was told by superiors to stop putting his concerns in writing. Even now, Tory MPs are portraying Mr. Colvin as a dupe of Taliban misinformation. Defence Minister Peter MacKay says there are no proven cases of abuse and the diplomat’s evidence “does not stand up.”

Really? Since the government didn’t follow up – a gross negligence – how would it know? If the senior intelligence officer on the scene (and now our senior intelligence officer in Washington) wasn’t worth listening to, who was? What could be a greater disaster for the mission and for Canada than being entangled in a war crime? In still failing to grasp the gravity of this warning, the government is losing Canadian hearts and minds, too.

Winnipeg Free Press:

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, at President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration Thursday, noted that in 2007 strict conditions were imposed on transferring detainees, who are now visited by Canadian Corrections officials. But Mr. Colvin’s evidence suggests the early warnings of the Red Cross were right, yet ignored by official indifference.

Such information is critical to catching weaknesses that might undo Canada’s pledge to ensure the safety of detainees. Mr. Colvin’s evidence should not have become a bone in the partisan, parliamentary dog fight, but Ottawa fought to keep him, and others, from appearing at the military commission. The Harper government must let the independent inquiry to proceed unobstructed so the evidence can be tested vigorously under oath.

Calgary Herald:

For MacKay and Cannon to attack Colvin as not credible is, itself, not credible. Why would Colvin, presumably credible enough to be posted to Washington, risk his career with baseless allegations? For MacKay and Cannon to demand absolute proof is also specious. Nobody goes to court with absolute, irrefutable proof, only strong evidence.

They’re not “Tories,” dammit – updated x 2

Tories knock off Bloc in eastern Quebec – Gazette

Tories, NDP make gains in by-elections – Star

Tories retake former Nova Scotia stronghold – Globe and Mail

Byelection win will boost Tories in Quebec: MP – CBC

This is likely a losing battle, but could the national press corp please stop calling the Harper Conservatives “Tories?” The Conservative Party of Canada is not simply a renamed Progressive Conservative Party. It was borne of a hostile takeover by the Reform Party, thinly disguised as a merry merger.

Headline writers need short substitutes for party names — Grits, NDP, Bloc, etc. — but that’s no excuse for enshrining Reform spin into every story about national politics.

The Harper Conservatives are trying mightily to convince Canadians that they’ve moved to the center. They’ve done a pretty good job of this, except when the curtain slips (as it did in the Fall 2008 Economic Update) and exposes their plans for the country, should we ever give them a majority.

Aiding and abetting a national party’s branding strategy is not in the press gallery’s job description.

I’m curious to know how Tories — real ones, adherents of the Progressive Conservative Party that still exists provincially though not federally — feel about this.

Suggestions for a proper Conservative Party nickname welcome.

[UPDATE] Real Tory, loyal foot soldier,  and premier-to-be-maybe Rob Batherson is ready with a smackdown:

Parker, Parker, Parker…

Throughout Canada’s history, Canada’s Conservative Party has taken on many different labels – Liberal Conservative, Conservative, Unionist, National Government, Progressive Conservative and Conservative.  Part of that Conservative tradition has also manifested itself in parties such as Social Credit, Reform and Canadian Alliance (particularly in Western Canada).  I recommend Bob Plamondon’s book Blue Thunder for anyone interested in a more detailed history of Canada’s Conservatives.

In 2003, both the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties voluntarily and democratically voted in favour of merging the two parties into the Conservative Party of Canada.  The leadership selection process for the Conservative Party of Canada was inherited from the Progressive Conservative Party, as were the vast majority of the party’s aims and principles as contained in the Constitution. [*cough* *cough* – Ed.]

As a Progressive Conservative, I feel it is perfectly reasonably and legitimate for the media to describe the federal Conservatives as Tories.

You’re a Tory, Rob, no question. Those guys up there? Not so much.

[UPDATE 2]  A Contrarian reader with the nom de post Educhatter disagrees with Rob:

Your post on Party names is contrarianism at its best.  Yes, George Grant is rolling in his grave, not to mention old Dief. Might I suggest a 21st century variation for headline writers?

  • Cons
  • Libs
  • ADP (Aging Democratic Party)
  • Bloc(heads)

Toronto Star may contract out copy-editing and layout


In yet another sign of dire straits in the newspaper industry,  Toronto Star Publisher John Cruickshank today offered newsroom staff voluntary severance packages in advance of probable layoffs. In a memo to staff, Cruickshank said the paper is “seriously considering” contracting out core editorial and advertising functions. Moneyquote:

[W]e are exploring the contracting out of some or all copy editing and pagination work, and the scope again may expand to include other editorial production and related activities.  The scope of these and related outsourcing initiatives may well extend to work groups in other divisions of the Star.

Hat tip:  DMC