Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The king of partisanship

Imagine disdainful bluster from a guy like this:
Dion said that while he opposes plans for the additional GST cut, he and the Liberals did not bring the government down over the mini-budget because they feel Canadians do not want another election.

Earlier, during question period, as Dion accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of breaking a number of promises, Harper referred to Dion as the "king of abstention" — a reference to the Liberals' decision to abstain on the speech from the throne and now the mini-budget.

He said Dion on Monday had "drawn a line in the sandbox, the line was that he would never tolerate an increase in the GST, and today's he's gonna let one pass.

"Imagine lectures from a guy like that."
Dion's focussed on the substance of the GST cut and what it would mean for the future. He's set out his objections and why. Most economists agree with Dion. In our parliamentary system, he's free to lead his party to vote as they like, not as Harper would like. And what the Liberals would like right now is not to give majority-crazed Harper the election he so desperately wants as demonstrated by the Conservatives gaming the system to throw as much bait at Dion as they possibly can. Not takin' it and it's drivin' the Conservatives batty.

Harper's comments, in response to legitimate questions, are mocking, condescending and focussed on the procedural games that his party is leading the charge with. It's an instructive contrast that's being drawn.

"Don't forget, don't forget this"

Those were the fateful words uttered by Stephen Harper in the following video clip demonstrating just how blatant a breach of trust his income trust decision one year ago was. Here's Steve, in his own words, forever captured for posterity's sake:

And here's a notefrom Garth Turner marking the occasion:
A year ago Thursday, the minister of finance called a quickie media conference to announce one of the most stunning reversals in Canadian political history. Under the guise of a ‘tax fairness plan’, he ushered in a tax on income trusts which would have immensely far-reaching consequences. It stunned investors, Bay Street and the industry itself, all of whom just ten months earlier had heard Stephen Harper say over and over and over again that such a measure would never be introduced by a Conservative government.
No, we absolutely won't forget this.

Thank you for the bounty, Mr. Flaherty

Flaherty's little tax extravaganza has now passed the vote in the House of Commons. And so, this calls for some special photoshoppery from the Wingnuterer...enjoy...:)

This can't be good

Fascinating bit of police work going on in Ottawa apparently...:)
Police probing allegations that Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien offered an opponent a federal job to drop out of an election have served a warrant seeking evidence to show whether Mr. O'Brien and a senior aide met in the summer of 2006 with Environment Minister John Baird.

The Ontario Provincial Police are investigating former mayoral candidate Terry Kilrea's claim that Mr. O'Brien sought to induce him to quit the race in return for an appointment to the National Parole Board.

On Sept. 19, the OPP obtained a "production order" to be served on Hy's Steakhouse, a popular watering hole for Ottawa's political set, to allow them to look for reservation records or credit card receipts linked to Mr. O'Brien, his then-campaign adviser, Greg Strong, and Mr. Baird.

In addition, the police document demanded "the names of all staff that may have served Larry O'Brien, Greg Strong, or John Baird in any capacity throughout the evening."
Did John Baird so meet with said individuals at Hy's to discuss this, ahem, arrangement?
Mr. Baird said last night that no meeting took place, although he does not recall whether he bumped into the two others at the popular restaurant and bar.

"I have dinner quite often at Hy's. It's two blocks from the Hill, from my office. It's packed with government and media types. There's the potential that I might run into them during the period in question," he said in an interview.

"I didn't have dinner with them during that time frame. I may have bumped into them. I just don't recall."

He repeated that he never discussed an appointment for Mr. Kilrea with anyone, other than expressing surprise when Mr. Kilrea contacted him about it.
"Bumped into them." You know what that calls for, don't you...


Well this might just take some of the bloom off the rose, so to speak...:)

The big concert last night...:)

As promised, here are a few clips of Kelly Clarkson from last night's concert in give you a sense of what it was like. Yes, it may appear I was way up there in the rafters, this makes it look much farther away than it really was. But heck, every seat's pretty good in Massey Hall. I don't think I've been there since I saw General Public back in the 80's...:) Kelly Clarkson has a super voice, she's just phenomenal. Yes, I'm a big fan. I root for people like her. Quite a varied crowd, all age ranges.

This was pretty good too:

Hear that crowd? Just great. That girl can sing!

By the way, I did feel a little guilty about actually taking these clips, but you know, I was in legions of company.

It's not all raggin' on Conservatives here at the Impolitical blog, don't ya know...:) Gotta have some fun!

The big announcement

I would have loved to stay home last night and write about Jim Flaherty's showy tax cut extravaganza....and I will have a go at it now, but I actually had something much more fun to do last night. I went to the Kelly Clarkson concert at Massey Hall in downtown T.O and I must say, it was awesome. More on that later.

So back to a very odd occurrence, a rushed economic statement from our man in the neon green tie, Jim Flaherty. So rushed, that in fact they have ensured that there will be little to no time to ask questions of any significance. It's quite the democracy they're runnin' up there:
The Tories rushed out the update, giving reporters only a 30-minute embargoed preview of the documents in a lockup before they were made public at 4 p.m. EDT. This cut by about half a day the advance time given to journalists to analyze budgets in lockups.
You know what that calls for...
Now about that 1% GST cut, I would much prefer that this percentage be instead directed to the cities for infrastructure and much needed revenue. In Toronto, we've been dinged with huge Land Transfer Taxes on the purchase of new homes that represent a major tax grab by the city as it tries to make up its $500 million deficit. And, on top of the increased thousands it will cost to buy a new house in the city, not to mention the added cost for sellers, we are in for what is believed to be at least another 3 to 4% property tax increase in the next year. So how exactly does a 1% cut in the GST help any of this? The nation's largest city is crying out for help and there's none to be had from the fat cats in Ottawa sittin' on their surpluses. The property owners in Toronto and municipalities across the country are going to be the squeezed ones. The GST cut in particular is obscene given how constructively those funds could have been used and not to mention the fact that it will make little difference in people's everyday lives. It's symbolic and people fall for it, but it's opportunistic politics and not doing the right thing.

And besides, when we see the news of the federal parties locked into the same percentages of support, time and time again, the latest being a Decima poll yesterday which Steve V and Scott Tribe posted on last night...this tells me that while news of such tax cuts is likely to move the Conservatives maybe a blip, they'll likely settle back to where they've been all along. People's views seem to be either hardened or content at where things stand for the time being. (And thanks to those bloggers for hammering on Bob Fife. I meant to do it last night, he certainly deserved it, but was, as noted, otherwise occupied.)

Consider also the fact that both the Conservatives and Liberals favour tax cuts. The Conservatives, for example, have just lowered the bottom personal tax rate with this announcement back to the level it was at under the Liberals, to 15%. The Conservatives had actually raised it to 15.5%. On tax cuts, they're not significantly differing in orientation, but for the GST folly. Dion has recently expressed support for corporate tax cuts as well. In such an environment where the major parties are inclined to support such tax cuts, it arguably cancels out any political advantage in an election campaign to either one of them. It appears to be a similar dynamic in Saskatchewan. Consider this article on the leaders' debate last night where they're all jockeying to provide the biggest tuition promise, the biggest education property tax reduction, the biggest prescription drug benefit. Who do you choose when there are similarly oriented tax policies? Likely the party you're comfortable with. So this tax cut issue may not be a big "mover" of people. We'll see.

So, it's an open question to me as to whether there'll be much ground gained of any electoral significance in the long run on this economic statement. The numbers haven't been moving to date. And there are too many issues at play at any given moment including Afghanistan, the environment, cities' needs, international affairs, the Conservatives' in and out overspending scandal.

And by the way, best line of the day had to go to the press gallery moderator sitting on the dais with Flaherty and Cannon who asked the last question of Flaherty at the Q & A. He said something like this, "Who are you trying to kid...this is an electoral gambit, right?" I don't have the exact wording, but the "who are you trying to kid" part was in there. I love that guy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Afghanistan update: torture and foreign fighters

We're still handing over prisoners to be tortured. As rightly highlighted by other bloggers, La Presse has reported on torture allegations by prisoners that are bolstered by the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission and a prison official. To our Conservative government, this is all waved off as Taliban propaganda. They still don't get how they are damaging our international reputation and disrespecting the Geneva Conventions. Here are some who do:
"Canada has a responsibility for the people it hands over to the Afghan authorities," said deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. "If it cannot guarantee that those prisoners are protected, it's got to stop transferring. I don't like that any more than anyone else here, but that's what a responsible government would do here."

Michael Byers, an expert in international law and politics, said the agreement signed in May by the Canadian government "is a good thing ... but it doesn't solve the problem. ... It's part of the solution and what's needed is an ongoing commitment to implementation and verification, and also a willingness to pull the plug on transfers if we have reason to believe the system is failing."
And to add to the chaos, today's NY Times brings news of hardened foreign fighters bolstering the Taliban. To military officials and Bev Oda-types, this is a sign of "desperation." To others, not so much:
At the same time, Western officials said the reliance on foreigners showed that the Taliban are running out of midlevel Afghan commanders. “That’s a sure-fire sign of desperation,” General Champoux said.

Seth Jones, an analyst with the Rand Corporation, was less sanguine, however, calling the arrival of more foreigners a dangerous development. The tactics the foreigners have introduced, he said, are increasing Afghan and Western casualty rates.

“They play an incredibly important part in the insurgency,” Mr. Jones said. “They act as a force multiplier in improving their ability to kill Afghan and NATO forces.”

Western officials said the foreigners are also increasingly financing younger Taliban leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas who have closer ties to Al Qaeda, like Sirajuddin Haqqani and Anwar ul-Haq Mujahed. The influence of older, more traditional Taliban leaders based in Quetta, Pakistan, is diminishing.

“We see more and more resources going to their fellow travelers,” said Christopher Alexander, the deputy special representative for the United Nations in Afghanistan. “The new Taliban commanders are younger and younger.”
Needless to say, the facts on the ground continue to develop and overwhelm the Harper government.

Now this might be something worth going to an election for

The Globe has a stellar editorial today on Harper's proposed veil legislation. And it got me to thinking. If Stephen Harper insists on enacting this vile piece of legislation, the act requiring Muslim women to show their faces when voting, the opposition should consider its defeat. This seems to be exactly the kind of issue the Liberals should fight for, standing up against the singling out of a cultural community like this as an excuse to pander to the awful prejudices on display primarily in Quebec recently.

This is an issue which goes to the heart of defining what kind of nation we want to be. Are we a nation which will continue to support our tradition of a strong multicultural society that tolerates difference and values it? Or will we draw lines and point at others and say, you there, you show your face to prove who you are because you look different from the rest of us. You deserve to be singled out, even though you have not posed any problems to the voting process at all, ever. You just make us - some of us - uncomfortable. That's a dangerous road to be heading down. And I for one, don't want to go. I think the appeal to unity, dignity, tolerance, respect for difference and fundamental fairness will resonate.

Now whether this will end up being THE defining issue of a campaign, practically speaking, it'll be one of many. But it's an issue that has crept up on us and has seen the Harper government reacting rather quickly to it and perhaps too hastily. I don't think anyone's thinking of it as potentially election-causing to date. I would submit that it should be placed in that category and is worth fighting against. Whether Harpie will make it a confidence matter is also a relevant question. Since it's all-confidence-24/7 these days up there, I think he'd be happy to oblige.

From the editorial:
Pandering to ethnic prejudice is a cheap way to win votes. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pandering by introducing a bill to force veiled Muslim women to show their faces at the polls.

If there were any evidence that veiled women are contributing to voter fraud, Mr. Harper might be on solid ground. But the government has not brought forward such evidence. It has cited no evidence on the number of women who vote from behind veils. No one has said whether any do. This is a solution in search of a problem.

Yet the government has tabled a face-veils bill before trying to fix the real problem of a million rural voters inadvertently dropped from the rolls because they lack a formal street address. That says everything one needs to know about the supposedly constructive purpose behind the Conservative government's bill.

This is a bill meant to appeal to a sentiment expressed vociferously in Quebec that Muslim women should not be voting from behind face veils. On the surface, the sentiment seems reasonable; a country should not weaken the integrity of the vote by allowing voters to conceal themselves. But look at the facts. Voters are not required to show photo identification, largely because many people do not have photo ID. Two pieces of government-issued ID approved by the Chief Electoral Officer are enough. Alternatively, a voter with ID may vouch for another voter without. Beyond all that, a voter may mail in her vote from abroad. Without photo ID, showing a face proves what? That the bearer has a face?
The government says it is prepared to allow an accommodation: Veiled women may step behind a screen and show their face to a female elections official. How magnanimous. First the government singles out veiled Muslim women, implying they are doing something wrong, and then it offers them a way to earn their right to vote like everyone else. There is no voting-integrity issue here.
The ultimate act of pandering to the worst of people's sentiments. This has got to be stopped, one way or another. Stephane Dion has the fortune of being able to decide when we go to an election. I would suggest he pick an issue like this that is worthy of a fight. And at all costs, not one of Stephen Harper's petty, opportunistic electoral gambits like the GST cut that has been widely panned.

Jeffrey Simpson on Harper's hatred of the media

For the second time in a week, a leading Globe columnist has taken on Harper's inaccessibility to media and the PMO's stranglehold on all communications emanating from the government. The media are on the front lines trying to do their jobs and the PMO is frustrating them at all turns. As Simpson points out, Harper and Sandra Buckler et al. have no doubt bet on the notion that the public don't care about any of this. That they're happy to have shiny bait dangled on a hook in front of their faces from time to time, witness the imminent announcement of a GST cut. But the little problem with their gambit is that the media are getting angry. In the last few days, there have been reports about blacked out portions of documents released after lengthy delays in the Access to Information process on our mysterious involvement in Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. The CBC, CP and the Globe have all reported on the delays this government has caused to the release of information. And columnists are devoting their precious platforms to the issue now. That's what it takes for a story line to take root and cement the perception that the Conservatives do indeed have something to hide. Because it appears that they actually intend to hide everything that they possibly can.

Here are some excerpts from Simpson's column, starting off with his view on Harper's not attending the press gallery dinner:
In the great scheme of things, the Conservative absence didn't matter, except as part of an unprecedented pattern of hostility by the government toward the media, restricting access to anything but Prime Minister's Office-approved information, stage-managing events, muzzling civil servants, and trying to control the public agenda - as in the decision, suddenly announced yesterday, to have Finance Minister Jim Flaherty deliver today the economic update to try, in part, to upstage the Auditor-General's report.

Some of what Canadians now observe in Ottawa has been seen before under premiers such as Ralph Klein and Mike Harris. It's also the George Bush style of media management in Washington, as it was Tony Blair's in London.

Centralized media messaging. Spin control. Prime ministerial government. These are all old verities of modern government. So there is nothing new about the Harper government using these strategies.

But never in Canada have these approaches been carried to such extremes, backed by such overt hostility toward the media, a hostility the Conservatives are certain, perhaps correctly, that the public cares nothing about and might even welcome.

Responses to Access to Information requests are slowing down, as reported last week by The Globe and Mail. Ministers are not allowed to speak without their remarks being vetted by the PMO. Civil servants have been told to refer all calls to the PMO, a rule sometimes honoured in the breach.

Cabinet meetings are no longer announced, so journalists cannot question ministers outside. Journalists are removed from a hotel where the Conservative caucus is meeting. Only journalists who agree to place their names on a list controlled by a prime ministerial aide can ask the Prime Minister questions. Briefings on substantive policy issues have all but evaporated.

All the brave talk while the Conservatives were in opposition about encouraging whistle-blowing and candour has disappeared into a strategy of minimizing dissent and controlling all information.

The Prime Minister travels in a kind of public relations cocoon, with manufactured backdrops and photo ops, teleprompters, and ministers and MPs reduced to nodding for the cameras. The only thing missing from these set pieces are flesh-and-blood people, except as props.
You know what this calls for, don't you...

Monday, October 29, 2007

The things you find on YouTube...

Enjoy these citizen initiated videos. A precursor of some nifty campaign ads to come. The material abounds.

Harper and the press:

Harper vs. Hillier:

More hiding - part 2

It's a boffo day for the hypocritical Harpies today. Read and bask in the "that was then, this is now" posturing on access to information principles:
The federal government has rejected requests for the report on the Middle East penned by floor-crossing MP Wajid Khan by arguing that documents in the Prime Minister's Office are not covered by Canada's Access to Information Act.

The response suggests that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hiding his records behind a secrecy policy that he promised to change in the last election campaign.

Mr. Harper appointed Mr. Khan, then a Liberal MP, to a post as his special adviser on the Middle East in August of 2006. Mr. Khan promised then to make his report public before leaving on his 16-day Middle East trip, which cost $38,000. But the Prime Minister declined to release it.

Mr. Khan later switched sides to the Tories.

Now, the Privy Council Office, the central government department headed by the Prime Minister, has responded to an access-to-information request by saying that it has no such report under its "control."

A PCO official, Susan Fitzmorris, said that's because records in the Prime Minister's Office - which now has 92 employees - are not covered by the access law.

The government's assertion that ministers' offices are not covered by the access law is not new: In 1999, Jean Chrétien's government began refusing access requests by saying that the minister's office is not part of the department they head.

That interpretation was contested in court by then-information commissioner John Reid, and sharply criticized by the Conservatives and their predecessor parties, the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives.

Mr. Harper promised in the last election campaign to scrap it. The Conservative campaign platform promised that the party's first task would be to pass an "accountability act" that would "implement" Mr. Reid's recommendations for reform.

Those recommendations include an amendment intended to dispel any claim that ministers' offices are not covered by the act. "This provision is included to clarify that the offices of ministers form part of the department over which they preside," Mr. Reid's recommendations state.

"It's passing strange how quickly they forget," Mr. Reid said in an interview.

Mr. Harper's government did table a watered-down accountability act last year, but without the access-to-information reforms.
Yes, it's very "passing strange," isn't it...:)

That must have been some report by the secret agent man, Wajid Khan. Oh well...too bad for we taxpayers, hey? We foot the bill for this little trip which was likely the price of Khan's crossing over and the promised report is withheld. The contempt that these guys have for the taxpaying public is just remarkable.

More hiding

The issue this morning, the lack of public disclosure surrounding Canada's skyrocketing military exports. Guess who's not talking?
CBC News repeatedly asked for in-depth interviews with International Trade Minister David Emerson and Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, the two cabinet ministers responsible for overseeing the tracking of military sales and approving export permits.

But those requests were denied. And for a full year, requests for background briefings by export control officials were also turned down.
Quite a pattern developing here...the media are increasingly going public with these little details on how obstructionist the government is being with the free flow of information. Last night's CP report on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership was remarkable for its scrutiny of the government's blacking out of old talking points and the amount of time it took for those to have been provided under an Access to Information request. Today there's this little note in the CBC report. This is definitely becoming quite the theme with this government.

1 vs. 66

There is news today that Liberal Blair Wilson, MP from British Columbia, is stepping back from the Liberal caucus due to allegations of improprieties in election spending. Contrary to the suggestion in the CP report that criticism of Conservatives for their in-and-out advertising scheme in 2006 will now be blunted, I beg to differ. This is a kind of false equivalency that should be quickly dispelled. Consider the news of one Liberal MP with irregularities versus 66 Conservative candidates that participated in the in-and-out scheme which enabled an additional $1.3 million in national advertising for Conservatives and attendant rebates for those candidates:
At least 66 Conservative campaigns participated in this "in and out" transaction and then sent these expenses off to Elections Canada for a 60 per cent taxpayer-paid-for rebate totalling some $780,000.
Hmmm, let me weigh the scales on that one real carefully...and note the immediate accountability and cooperation professed. A very stark and decent contrast to the current crowd.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Welcome to Russia where censorship abounds - oh, it's Canada

Russia on the Rideau, that is: "Nuclear waste plan too politically hot for Harper minority, says expert." Read this breathtaking CP report, for its content on not only the nuclear issue but information control as exercised by the Harper government, and contemplate in its full glory what kind of democracy the Harper government is running. Total media management. Access to cabinet ministers for public comment verboten. But carefully written statements from the PMO offering nothing but platitudes, yes. Access to information requests being fulfilled in 9 month time frames. When they do actually arrive, only following published reports exposing the government's sorry record on fulfilling access requests, they are heavily censored for anyone's informed review.

They are so afraid of the slightest misstep being made in the public domain that they are practically cutting off free and open questioning and answering from the highest levels of government. This is the most packaged and controlling government we've seen in this country yet.

Consider first off the the Harper government's complete code of silence on the issue of joining the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and the significant implications for Canada. It is an issue of great importance for Canada.
But the partnership, as proposed, has at least two observable sticking points from a Canadian perspective:

-(at) It proposes that fuel-exporting countries take back nuclear waste for reprocessing and disposal.

-(at) It wants to develop a new reactor system that, at least on paper, does not involve heavy water reactors or Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's massively subsidized CANDU technology.

A public opinion poll commissioned last February by Natural Resources Canada suggests both those issues are a tough sell.

The Ipsos-Reid survey found general support - 71 per cent - among Canadians for nuclear power remaining as a part of the energy supply, but considerably less support in Quebec (46 per cent).

That's one broad consideration for a Conservative government fixed on making a breakthrough in Quebec.

But the survey suggested deeper concerns that go to the heart of the GNEP proposal.

A large majority of Canadians, 82 per cent, said no new nuclear plants should be built until the problem of dealing with nuclear waste is resolved. Again, concern was highest in Quebec.

An even bigger majority, 85 per cent, said it's important that the nuclear industry in Canada be controlled and owned by Canadians. And seven in ten said any new nuclear facilities must be based on Canadian-developed technology.

The GNEP - which already has 16 countries signed on including Australia, China, France, Japan and Russia - poses potential challenges to these heartfelt preconditions of Canadian public support.

And, as an international plan proposed by an unpopular U.S. president dealing with the charged subject of nuclear waste, the whole issue gives government critics a bulls-eye the size of a barn door, said one energy policy consultant from Ottawa. (emphasis added)
Absolutely significant issues for the Canadian public to receive full information on and have their members debate openly. Yet for Conservatives, it's apparently not for we in the public domain to know about or debate unless the PMO grants us the privilege of tidbits of communiques that are furiously minimalistic and shaped by their desired message.

And consider this notable aspect of the report from CP, lengthy but required reading for anyone concerned with an open and accountable government. These guys are heavily into censorship:
When does government censorship of released documents cross the line from protecting national interests to farce?

Blacking out year-old "talking points" - the pasteurized lines prepared for public consumption in case a minister is asked about an issue - would appear to be one likely threshold.

The Canadian Press made a request under the Access to Information Act last January seeking government briefing materials on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

Among the 139 heavily censored pages produced last week by the Department of Foreign Affairs are a number of old documents that end with "talking points."

In every instance, some of the points previously prepared for public consumption (but never publicly delivered) have been blacked out.

"Canada is very pleased with bilateral consultations with Australia on uranium and nuclear issues in Canberra on Nov. 20 (2006)," begins one set of talking points, dated Feb. 20, 2007.

"Our officials agreed to seek a trilateral meeting with U.S. officials . . . ," begins the next point, before blacking out the rest of the line.

The entire next "talking point" is black.

A document dated Feb. 10, 2006, cites five talking points and two "Responsive Only" points, prepared in case of specific questions from media. The responsive points are blacked out.

Following an April 12, 2006, meeting on the GNEP between Canadian and American officials, 11 talking points were prepared by Foreign Affairs officials. A year and half later, eight of those points are blacked out.

The latest release of documents to The Canadian Press arrived last week, the same day that a national newspaper detailed statistics showing that the public release of government information is being choked off under the Conservative government.

The Globe report said the share of access requests that were released in full in 2006-07 was 23.1 per cent, down five percentage points from 2005-06 when the Liberals were mostly in power.

The Conservative government was also found to be increasingly using Section 15(1) of the Access to Information Act, which protects information that "could reasonably be injurious to the conduct of international affairs."

This section was used to black out talking points in the GNEP documents.
The nuclear issue and the continued penchant for secrecy need to be fully brought to the government in Question Period.

How do you like life under the Conservative government? This is why I continue to bet the more we see of them - or don't see, in this case - the more we don't grow to like them.

He's a funny guy

A good move by Dion, speaking at the press gallery dinner last night, engaging in some self-deprecating humour and generating good will with the press gallery. The light-hearted news:
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion was scheduled to be the only political speaker this year. Jack Layton of the NDP originally declined to speak and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe hasn’t attended for years.

Dion, who has never been confused with a stand-up comic, won laughs for a series of self-inflicted jabs aimed at his struggles with the English language, his caucus and his preference for slinging a back-pack over his suit jacket.

"A back-pack can be very useful," he deadpanned. "It can help protect your back."

He shot back at reporters who have called him the worst Liberal leader in a century.

"Why only in a century? I can’t win anything with you guys."

Dion’s taunt aimed at Layton ("who’s abstaining now?") may have prompted the NDP leader to abandon his original intention to stay away from the podium. Layton did address reporters, but in the guise of an auctioneer to raise money for a Carleton University scholarship fund in the name of the late Dennis Bueckert, the long-serving environmental reporter for The Canadian Press.
Heh heh...:) Maybe that'll puncture a few of the nation's leading gas bags who continue to write a script that Dion's not playing along with...

Afghanistan out of control

That's the point of two pieces this weekend that suggest Canada's decision about what to do with the mission in Afghanistan likely depends more on the facts on the ground over there than anything domestically, including the recommendations of the Manley panel. James Travers makes the point in his column yesterday, pointing out the lack of help from Allies, the difficulties in trying to reconstruct a country torn apart for decades by war, the porous Pakistan border and the potentially devastating showdown between the U.S. and Iran. All of these factors will do more to influence the Canadian public and presumably their MP's as we go forward.

And the second piece is in today's New York Times where the report is that the people in Afghan's north are arming themselves as they feel the Taliban resurging, suggesting the possibility of a widening conflict:
Many former militia commanders and residents in northern Afghanistan have been hoarding illegal weapons in violation of the country’s disarmament laws, giving the excuse that they face a spreading Taliban insurgency from the south that government forces alone are too frail to stop, Afghan and Western officials say.

After years of moderate success for government disarmament programs, rumors of widespread defiance in the north have arisen recently among government officials and intelligence agencies in Kabul and elsewhere. Although there is little hard evidence that commanders are greatly enlarging their arsenals, officials say, some have been thwarting government programs, refusing to disarm and possibly even remobilizing militias.

The talk of rearming underscores a deepening north-south ethnic divide that some diplomats and Afghan officials privately worry could lead the way toward a shift of power back to warlords — and toward a countrywide armed conflict — if left unchecked. And the situation poses a major challenge for President Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun from the south, whose administration has failed to win the confidence of many non-Pashtun leaders and northerners.
Some facts to keep in mind going forward and perspective on what has been described as a brilliant political tactic, the appointment of the Manley panel. It may ultimately prove irrelevant.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Latest on the Conservative in and out scheme

The Toronto Star has an article today which is quite a good primer on the issue for those who have yet to come up to speed on it. The Conservatives continue to offer a blanket we-complied-with-the-law answer to every question in the House of Commons. But it's not going away. What's new in the Star report? The following information about a transfer by the federal Conservatives to the Aylmer-Hull riding as provided by Garth Turner. The significance of the transfer, for those confused about the entire thing, is italicized:
Liberal MP Garth Turner recalls that when he was still with the Conservatives, the riding association in Hull-Aylmer in March 2006 talked openly about a money transfer.

"I was asked to be the guest speaker ... but before I gave my speech the treasurer gave their report for the annual meeting and they had more than $40,000, which was transferred into their bank account and then the same day they wrote a cheque back to the central party. And by transferring $40,000 into their bank account during the campaign they got a 60 per cent rebate," said Turner, who was kicked out of the Tory caucus earlier this year.

Actually the amount transferred to the western Quebec riding across from Ottawa was $48,558.55 and it was transferred back four days later. But Elections Canada is withholding the rebate along with several others until the outcome of the Federal Court decision

"Of course they didn't spend it on the campaign, they just gave it back, labelled it as advertising and then booked it as an expense ... that's at least $24,000 that the taxpayers gave the Hull-Aylmer Conservative Riding for doing (nothing) – for writing a cheque."
The advantage to this scheme is two-fold. It's not just the advantage given to the national party, which gets to in effect exceed its federal spending limit by executing these transfers which go in and out of the local ridings. It's also that the taxpayer is on the hook to rebate the money that momentarily passed through the local riding association to the local Conservative candidate. In this way, the local Conservative gets a "head start" for the next election by gaining this bounty that they never raised in the first place. Playing elbows up hardball with Elections Canada is quite the choice that the Conservatives made:
The Tories ran the 2006 campaign largely on ethics and accountability. If they were shown to have broken rules in their victory, the matter could be damaging during another election campaign.
The Citizen report, just cited, also quotes Dominic LeBlanc and his pushing for this issue to be cleared up in advance of the next federal election. Otherwise, what assurances will there be that federal spending limits will be rendered essentially meaningless and the Conservatives will exercise this scheme all over again?

"I believe actually we see things exactly the same way"

A problem with the whole Hillier-Harper contradiction on an end date to the Afghanistan mission is the tremendous pressure being applied on Hillier to fall in line politically with the government. His comments from last night, given in one of a series of media appearances to correct his statement on Afghanistan being a long term mission, show how inappropriate this little fix-it exercise is:
"I have not contradicted anybody," said Gen. Hillier, who had just returned from an unexpected visit to the battlefields of Kandahar province.

"The last time I saw the Prime Minister was the night from the Speech from the Throne and we had a conversation about a whole variety of things. I'm very clear on where the direction comes from. ... We're on exactly the same page and I believe actually we see things exactly the same way." (emphasis added)
It's not his job to see things exactly the same way as the PM. And we'll see, but it's possible he might have a different PM in a year's time. With a different Afghan policy. But he's publicly committed, as the nation's top military guy, to seeing things exactly the same way as the Conservatives. Not good.

A politicized military is not what we need in this country.

The Conservatives' desperate desire for Quebec votes is blinding them to the correct paths that they should be walking on so many issues.

Report trashes Conservatives' plans on daycare

It's all here, in this Globe report today. Conservative promises on daycare in the last federal election have amounted to a hill of beans, as set out in their own consultation report. Because there was absolutely no support out there for the tax credit for child care spaces approach that the Conservatives thought business would be willing to provide. As we like to say around here...well no sh*#, Sherlock.

Know anyone out there in need of daycare? It's a real problem. If you can't lean on the grandparents, as a lot of parents can't, what do you do? The price of daycare is just not covered by the Conservatives' measly $100 per month, before taxes. It doesn't come close. Consider these submissions to the consultation:
“My husband and I are college graduates with decent jobs in the ‘richest province' in Canada,” one mother wrote in response to a consultation that the government of Alberta conducted on the federal child-care plan. “But we can't afford to have the second child we desire, as $1,200 a month in childcare would break us.”

Another said: “There are very few spaces available. For over a year, my child has been in a daycare that I wish to pull him from, but there is nothing available to us.”
And so, another two years will be marked without progress on a significant social problem. Needless to say, someone would do well to make this a very big issue in the next election. The Conservative record is abysmal.

Also notable about this report is the fact that the Conservatives delayed producing the damaging consultation report to the Globe until last week when the Globe requested it a year ago. Does this mean they were holding it off in case an election were called? Um, yeah, I would take that bet.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another slap in the offing?

Now that's not very sporting! Some much needed humour about a very testy Harper government threat, courtesy of the Wingnuterer. Enjoy...:)

Conservatives introduce Muslim targeted legislation

The veiled Muslim voter is apparently a grave threat to our democracy. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, of course. Let's not let such reasoned considerations get in the way of those who must single out Muslims. We Canadians, known world wide for our multiculturalism and reputation for tolerance, must have a law on our books specifically circumscribing Muslim women from voting with a veil on their face. Because, I mean, who really gives a f*%# about stigmatizing a group of people anyway, when there are votes to be gotten?
"The chaos that preceded the Quebec election stigmatized a lot of people, and so a lot of people were actually scared to vote," said Sarah Elgazzar, a spokeswoman with the council.

Only a small number of Muslim women wear the niqab or burka, and they have never asked for special treatment, Elgazzar said.

Afifa Naz, an engineer in Montreal, wears a niqab but understands there are situations in which she must unveil. "This is not something we demand," she told CBC News. "We can accommodate the needs of society while practising our religion."

Naz said she's always taken off her niqab to identify herself before voting, and also removes it when passing through airport security or border crossings.
But let's not let such inconvenient facts get in the way of our rush to pander to the basest of prejudices. The Muslim veiled voter must be stopped at all costs.

What a shameful spectacle.

Hillier gets a very public slap

From the PMO, with love:
The Prime Minister's Office has dismissed the blunt assessment from Canada's top soldier that the task of training Afghanistan's army would take at least five years longer than the 2011 end date the government laid out in last week's throne speech.

Gen. Rick Hillier, speaking at the end of a three-day visit to Kandahar, told reporters it will take "10 years or so" to build a national army that can defend the government against insurgents and potential external threats.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the case in his Oct. 16 throne speech for a two-year extension of the military mission, saying that is what is needed to complete the training of the Afghan army and police.

"Our government believes this objective should be achievable by 2011," the speech said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier yesterday dismissed questions in the House of Commons about the discrepancy between Harper's and Hillier's assessments. However, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister, Sandra Buckler, stuck to the early end date, saying it was "achievable" and in line with the Afghanistan Compact, the agreement drawn up between the international community and the Afghan government. In her emailed statement, Buckler did not acknowledge Hillier's comments.

"We have said so many times before, and will continue to emphasize (that) it will be Parliament that will ultimately decide how long our Canadian Forces will remain in Afghanistan," she wrote.
(emphasis added)
And we can only guess at what's coming down the pipeline next. But heck, I'll take a extension for you, Hillier!

2011,'s all way beyond 2009, which was the focus of the debate until the throne speech. That's quite a ground shifting that they've attempted and really, until Hillier's comments yesterday, it had escaped serious scrutiny.

And by the way, wasn't that an interesting throwaway comment by Allan Gregg last night on CBC's At Issue panel about coming polling reaction from his firm on Quebec reaction to the 2011 date...

There's a cold wind a blowin' up there in Ottawa

It's called a libel chill. The Conservatives are threatening to sue the Liberals for allegedly defamatory statements surrounding the allegations that the Conservatives' overspent in the last federal election to the tune of $1.2 million. The lawsuit threats no doubt prompted because this is a very serious matter. Because the Conservatives' current troubles with Elections Canada go to the very heart of the rationale for electing the Conservatives to their minority government in 2006. That rationale was that they were not the "corrupt" Liberals, as Harper and his crew repeatedly alleged.

So talk about Conservatives having overspent and their candidate expenses being disallowed by Elections Canada - that kind of thing is just not on for the Conservatives, thus, the lawsuit threats. As their plans for an election are still likely in their forebrains, they can't have the public's focus be on an issue that mucks up their "government is clean" slogan.

The optics on this are terrible. A frequent criticism of Harper and the Conservatives is that their tactics are too heavy-handed, even bully-ish. The lawsuit threats certainly do not help them on that score. The appearance is that they want to quash this story.
The Conservative Party of Canada is threatening legal action against the Liberals over language they've used to describe an investigation into Tory spending practices.

Lawyers fired off a letter to the president and executive director of the Liberal Party, saying a number of Tory staffers have been defamed in a recent opposition news release on the so-called in and out scheme being examined by Elections Canada.

The electoral watchdog is investigating whether several dozen Tory candidates and their official agents improperly claimed local advertising expenses during the last campaign for ads that were national in nature. The Liberals have hammered the Conservatives on the issue daily since Parliament returned this fall.

"This letter is ... intended to serve as notice that it is defamatory to suggest or imply that these individuals have engaged in illegal conduct," writes party lawyer Paul Lepsoe. "In particular, it is defamatory to suggest or imply that the positions these individuals have or have had on ministers' staffs are 'rewards' for having engaged in illegal conduct.

"Our clients reserve their rights to take such action as they deem appropriate against the Liberal Party of Canada and others ... ."

The Liberal release, attributed to MP Dominic LeBlanc on Tuesday, refers to an "apparent scheme to violate election spending limits" and "serious allegations." It also underlined that 11 former candidates and agents went on to find government positions.

"One has to wonder if there is a connection between their willingness to participate and employment by this Conservative government," Mr. LeBlanc said in the statement.

Mr. LeBlanc said yesterday he has never said that anybody broke the law.

"What we have said is that Elections Canada has found that 66 Conservative filings did not, in their view, respect the election legislation," Mr. LeBlanc told reporters. "That's why they have begun an investigation and rejected a series of refunds that the candidates have claimed."
Let's not forget that this issue came to light because former Conservative candidates blew the whistle on the federal party and have spoken publicly about how uncomfortable they were about the "in and out scheme." And the Globe has editorialized about how inappropriate this entire mess looks given the hypocrisy of the Conservatives' campaign in the 2006 election. It's about the text of the elections law, absolutely, but it's also about the spirit of those election laws that hold federal parties to limits.

This is an issue that needs to see a lot of day light. I am confident that the opposition will not be at all intimidated by this tactic and will continue to hold the government's feet to the fire.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

They really don't want any questions about their election overspending

The lawsuit threats, first mentioned by Harper in the House of Commons, continue tonight.

They seem awfully concerned about public debate on this issue, don't they?

Trolling for votes

Apropos of this story today on Harpie's politically motivated designation of the new marine refuge, let's not forget that Harper landed on 3rd base with this policy that was inherited from Jean Chretien. And now he's simply going home with it. Reaping the political benefits of looking like a Liberal. The base must be so pleased.

The right policy, yes. Who can disagree with a marine conservation area? But Harper's well-timed trip to northern Ontario trolling for votes gives the whole thing a partisan edge. Does anyone think Harpie would have made such a trip this week had he not thought a few weeks back that he'd be in the midst of an election campaign?

This story reminded me of another leader who made a big splash of such an announcement as well...yeah, it was Bush and his designation of the Hawaiian marine sanctuary.

Big shows put on by Bush and Mini Bush, tryin' hard to be environmentally friendly...yet doing bupkus to make a difference on global warming, the most pressing environmental issue of our time. Meanwhile, the earth is burning.

Out of Afghanistan in 2011 or 2017?

Ah, the perils of having such an outspoken General in one's midst. Harper's chosen date of 2011 in the throne speech for a vaguely described end to the Afghan mission has come into conflict with current public statements made by Rick Hillier and the head of NATO on that point. The upshot:
The Conservative government was accused Thursday of painting a misleadingly rosy portrait of the situation in Afghanistan that contradicts the view of its own military experts.

The Tories say Afghanistan should be stable enough to handle its own security by 2011 - a view reiterated late Thursday by a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But opposition parties pounced on far less cheerful assessments of the situation from two leading authorities: Canada's top soldier and the head of NATO.

Gen. Rick Hillier declared it will probably take "10 years or so" for the Afghan army to meet its security demands - and NATO's secretary-general suggested it could take far longer than that.

The opposition accused Harper of ignoring his own military experts and allies because the truth makes him politically uncomfortable.
Harper says 2011, Hillier and NATO saying a decade or more, and we have a panel working in the background that will make yet another recommendation. Absolutely no clarity on the end to this mission. And unsurprisingly, the appointment of that panel is proving to be the Conservatives' convenient excuse not to answer questions on the Afghan file. It started today.
When asked about the apparent discrepancy, the government initially dodged by pointing to a commission it's hired to examine Canada's options.

Skeptics have warned that the commission, whose recommendations are non-binding, will serve only one purpose: helping the government avoid questions on Afghanistan for a few months.

On Thursday, that warning appeared prophetic.

"This government has established an independent commission to study the issue and provide advice to this government," Tory House leader Peter Van Loan replied when pressed on the matter.

"It's headed up by the former deputy prime minister John Manley. We anticipate a report to this House which will give the House an opportunity to vote on the best course forward."
The Conservatives' instinct to hide prevails once again.

Nevertheless, questions will continue to be asked and the government is free to continue on in ignoring them and hiding behind the panel. Just as Bush hid behind the Baker commission for months before ignoring it in the end. People will judge them accordingly. Tough act to pull off though as the facts on the ground over there develop unpredictably day by day.

The answers just do not come from this government, on any issue in the House of Commons...

Jim Flaherty gets some new glasses...:)

He's been lookin' into price differentials between Canada and the U.S. with retailers and he's throwin' up his hands...enjoy the latest photoshoppery from the Wingnuterer...:)

"We have better ideas than another GST tax cut"

The last two weeks have made it clear, Stephane Dion's not going to be browbeaten by anyone into following a course of action that is in some other party's interest. Not even with all the media, opposition parties and even members of his own party pressuring him to do so. Stephen Harper must just be chomping at the bit that Dion is essentially ignoring his traps and is standing up to him. So this is shaping up to be quite the interesting Fall after all. No election, which nobody wants, but lots of sticking it to the Conservatives' well laid plans. Here's Dion yesterday on Harper's foolish gambit that his reported tax plans would have Dion falling in line to stupidly challenge him over a tax cut in an election:
Mr. Dion said last week that Canadians do not want an immediate election when he announced that Liberals would abstain in last night's vote on the government's Throne Speech. And he suggested yesterday that he does not expect to trigger an election over the GST cut, either.

"The only thing I want to say about that is if Canadians didn't want an election last week ... I don't really think that they will want an election next week," Mr. Dion told reporters.

Mr. Dion said that cutting another percentage point off the GST is the wrong way to cut taxes, but said his Liberals "will continue to do our role as [the] Official Opposition, explaining why we disagree with the government."

"We want tax cuts for Canadians, but we want tax cuts that will help this country to be more competitive and to be fairer and we have better ideas than another GST tax cut," he said. The Liberal Party prefers income tax cuts.
That position sounds eminently reasonable when you consider the opinion of experts consulted by the Globe is resoundingly against the wisdom of a GST cut. And Dion sounds just fine in these scrums, thank you very much. His accessibility is a big and likeable contrast to the presidential PM.

Yes, I do believe Dion is going to fight an election on his own timetable, not Harper's. How frustrated Harpie must be at this annoying little hitch in his plans.

Europeans need to hup to, says Defence Minister Hillier

The General's horning in on Junior's sojourn at NATO this week. He just can't keep himself out of the political spotlight on Afghanistan, can he? Again, with the inappropriate elbowing:
Canada's top soldier on has joined a growing chorus of NATO political and military leaders calling on several European nations to take a bigger role in the war-torn southern provinces of Afghanistan.

Talking to reporters during a visit to Kandahar air field Thursday, General Rick Hillier was asked about this week's NATO decision to rent helicopters flown by civilians for use in southern Afghanistan, and why no military aircraft could be found to do the job.

Gen. Hillier said there were helicopters available in European countries, and called on his European counterparts to provide more equipment and troops on the ground.

“At the end of this, all NATO countries signed up for this mission,” he said.
As adamant as Hillier is about European countries like Germany and France coming on board to engage in the same way as Canada is in the south of Afghanistan...those countries, to date, have been equally adamant that they will not. Maybe the General should be listening to that consistent message and be factoring it into our own future plans in Afghanistan. Or better yet, stay out of the politics of the situation. Isn't that supposed to be Junior's role?

We don't need our Generals telling other countries what to do with their troops, treasure or priorities. If a General from another country preached to us on what military role we should play in a conflicted country like Afghanistan, I think we'd all find it very unwelcome and inappropriate...

Unbecoming conduct by Mr. Layton last night

Get a load of this picture of Jack Layton standing in the House as he votes against the throne speech and childishly taunts and gestures toward the Liberals. It really doesn't do the full extent of his sanctimony justice, if you saw reports on the throne speech vote, as he shook his head and preened for the cameras. Burn it into your brains, progressive voters and remember it the next time Jack asks for you to lend him your vote:


Layton had his chance to exercise the courage of his convictions and get an election - that nobody wants, but Yak claims to want - when he failed to vote with the Liberals yesterday. He had his chance when his votes counted and he declined. Instead, he's decided to continue with his public posturing and sheer freebie bravado.

Another profile in courage, ladies and gentlemen...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The hatorade continues

I think the Prime Minister is on side with the statement, below, made by some of the fine leadership of the enclave of the ironically named "Herouxville," at least the part about the veils:
Drouin and the small town's webmaster, Bernard Thompson, presented their point of view at provincial government hearings into the practice of accommodating cultural minorities.

Herouxville, population 1,300, is the town that adopted a code of conduct for immigrants earlier this year - even though scant few minorities settle in the area halfway between Quebec City and Montreal.

Drouin presented a memo to the commission that began with a list of names he and townsfolk have been called since they made the declaration last winter.

Morons, fascists, idiots, mentally deficient, intolerant and retarded were just a small sample of the epithets.

Undaunted, Drouin said accommodation must end.

Whether it's allowing women to wear veils while voting or providing kosher meals in public hospitals, "we demand that the practice of Canadian courts of accommodating religion in Canada and Quebec cease immediately," Drouin told the commission.

"The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a tool to destroy our country."
Do you see the hatorade that the Prime Minister endorsed with his banging of the drum about veils?

And by the way, the appointment of this "commission" has got to rank right up there in the annals of boneheaded decisions in recent political history...the ugliness and divisiveness that have been legitimized by this very process are extremely unhelpful. It's mob hysteria run amok. And the galvanization of the issue by political actors seeking to capitalize on the intemperate sentiment has been a big letdown, to say the least...

Don't you guys have anything better to do?

Yes, please pass on my post to the PM, Privy Councillors. His whipping up of sentiment in Quebec with his high profile statement on Muslim women and veils in advance of the recent Quebec by-elections didn't earn him a profile in courage. And his reticence in speaking against the issue yesterday was not impressive.

Harper "not a leader" yesterday on the PQ citizenship issue, that's for sure

Once they saw that Stephane Dion was leading on the issue, after their instinct to hide was on full display yesterday, they finally pushed Van Loan out the door to cover their behinds and correct their hands off position. Warren Kinsella posted the text of the Canadian Press story from yesterday (it seems to be removed from the CP roster) reporting that the Conservatives were notably absent in commenting on the PQ's draconian citizenship measures and in fact seemed quite eager to avoid comment. That was the CP story as of 5:43 yesterday. Dion, however, was out in front on the issue and speaking quite vigorously about it:
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion called it a scheme to turn the immigration debate into the kind of English-French spat that has traditionally fuelled the sovereignty movement.

He urged PQ Leader Pauline Marois to immediately withdraw the controversial Bill 195.

``Thankfully we have a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which prevents certain politicians from going off the rails like she has,'' Dion said.

``This will never be welcome in Quebec. The Quebec that I know will never accept this kind of thing.''
The Conservatives, likely scrambling as they might appear to be left hanging out in xenophobe land, got on the record for the CP update at 7:46 pm:
Federal Conservatives at first appeared reluctant to get involved in the debate and initially refused requests for comment.

Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn refused to discuss the bill - saying it was not Ottawa's issue. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office also declined to say anything.

But late in the day a senior cabinet minister denounced the PQ legislation.

Tory House leader Peter Van Loan said he was pleased to see that the bill had limited support in the Quebec legislature - both the minority Liberal government and the Official Opposition Action democratique du Quebec made it clear Tuesday that they wouldn't support it.

"It's heartening to see this bill's not going to go anywhere," Van Loan said in an interview.

"Every Canadian has democratic rights. And those rights - to vote, to run for office - are fundamental. . . I don't think those rights can be taken away."

The Conservatives have been reluctant to wade into the debate on so-called reasonable accommodation in Quebec.
Leading from the rear...yes sir, better late than never. Do it when it's safe, after Jean Charest has come out and said the bill won't be put forth in the Quebec National Assembly. Make sure your political position is protected from all angles, at all costs. Make your calculations. Then speak.

Harpie, therefore, gets a big "NOT A LEADER" designation for his slow, secondary admonition of the bill through Van Loan yesterday. Dion's gut told him what the right thing was to do and he spoke from his heart. Harpie? Puttin' a big finger in the wind to see which way the winds would blow in Quebec yesterday...

Harper doesn't like questions about Conservative adscam

Any new developments? Or is it still status quo, where Elections Canada has disallowed the $1.2 million in Conservative ad spending from the last federal election and deemed it to be improper overspending by the Conservatives? Yeah, I think it still remains the case that they're in default on this one...and Harper is getting quite testy at being questioned about it in the House of Commons yesterday. Seems Dion is getting under his skin. I like it.

This surely calls for Steve's Scandal Scrubber...:) The latest in a long line of cleaning products that the Conservatives are in desperate need's hard work keeping "the government clean," as Harpie likes to say! Enjoy the latest photoshoppery from the Wingnuterer...:)

Political profiling by the U.S. Justice Department comes in for scrutiny

Former Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh testified yesterday on politically motivated prosecutions against Democrats that occurred in Pennsylvania, his home state, in the run up to the 2006 midterm congressional elections while no Republicans were investigated for similar offences. View him carefully, this is what a Republican used to look like. They used to be rational, thinking human beings.

The NY Times has an editorial today on the slew of political prosecutions being unearthed:
Every time we take a look at the United States attorney scandal, more evidence emerges that Alberto Gonzales politicized the Justice Department to the point where it sometimes seems like a branch of the Republican National Committee.

Yesterday, for example, Richard Thornburgh, a former Republican attorney general, told a Congressional hearing that his client, Dr. Cyril Wecht, a Democratic officeholder in Pennsylvania, was indicted on federal charges that should not be federal charges by a United States attorney who targeted Democrats.

At the same hearing, more evidence emerged that the prosecutions of Don Siegelman, the former Alabama governor, and Paul Minor, a prominent Mississippi Democrat, may have been political hits. And a University of Missouri professor testified that his statistical analysis showed that the Justice Department engaged in “political profiling.”

Dr. Wecht’s case has gotten little attention, but that may change. Mr. Thornburgh said prosecutors are using “unprecedented” legal theories to turn mostly “nickel and dime transgressions” into major federal felonies. He charged that while United States Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan went after Dr. Wecht and other Democrats, she ignored the offenses of Republican officials, including a congressman whose staff accused him of using government employees in his election campaign.

Mr. Siegelman’s lawyer, Doug Jones, said the investigation of the former governor was very limited until it turned around “180 degrees” in late 2004, after Washington officials told local prosecutors “to go back and look at the case, review the case top to bottom.” That is consistent with the account of Dana Jill Simpson, a Republican lawyer who says she was on a phone call in which Republican operatives said Karl Rove was involved in the prosecution.
About Rove's involvement, Scott Horton fills in the information hinted at in the Times editorial, more specifically, here. Horton cites a statement released by the Alliance for Justice yesterday, after the House hearings on the politicized Justice Department, that asserts what Rove's role was in respect of the Siegelman prosecution:
AFJ also points to evidence that the Siegelman case has upturned concerning potential wrongdoing by two further judges: William Pryor, now a judge of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and Noel Hillman, now a judge in New Jersey, and formerly the head of the Public Integrity Section. In that capacity, Hillman had oversight responsibility for the prosecution of Governor Siegelman. According to sworn testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Hillman had discussions with Karl Rove about the handling of the Siegelman case and acted on Rove’s instructions that the case be “properly resourced.”
Seems to me that the congressional subpoena that Rove continues to ignore ought to be moved into contempt proceedings real soon...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

That pressing, urgent distraction...Senate reform

No, thank you.

Anyone for some arcane constitutional navel gazing? Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is suggesting a referendum take place on abolition of the Senate. His rationale seems to be that in light of the constant attacks on the institution - see Harper, Stephen - let's put nuking it to a cross Canada vote. Well, Hugh, you might want to read this article, "Quebec says it would veto attempt by Harper to abolish Senate," to get a sense of some of the difficulties your proposal will meet with.

Please tell me where the groundswell for substantial reform to this institution is coming from? In its absence, it doesn't deserve a place at the top of the nation's agenda. And it isn't likely to achieve a "Yes" vote without an existing overwhelming base of support. There are other issues which deserve our attention, without a diversion on Senate reform that constitutes nothing more than constitutional house cleaning.

This is exactly the kind of institution Harper and his advisers prey is not exactly easy to defend it and it could fall prey to a populist, abolish the fools kind of appeal. A lot of their efforts since taking office fall into this category, and they are stealthily and surely causing a fundamental slate of changes to our national fabric.

Note, for example, the sell off of historic embassies overseas. Cost cutting is the rationale and it's difficult to mount a rallying cry at home over such matters. Yet it's tragic:
The sale of Strathmore is part of a large downsizing and review of Canadian diplomatic properties -- something Foreign Affairs calls an "ongoing review." The Canadian government is looking at replacing a $600-million Canadian diplomatic property in London, as well as selling 15 diplomatic residences there, it is selling the chancery in Rome, and is evaluating selling diplomatic buildings in Paris, Stockholm and Lima. London real estate agents say Canada's London Grovesnor Square property, opposite the American Embassy, will be the most expensive property sold on the square for more than a generation.
Where did they get the f*%#ing mandate to do this? Answer, they did not. But they're executing this downsizing quietly and methodically. And no one's doing anything about it.

Note also the cutting of the Court Challenges Programme, ending legal aid, effectively, to those in need of legal advocacy group support at the upper court levels, a costly endeavour in this country. It's gone, and not an easy matter to raise in a public rallying cry either. Thanks very much for coming, all you people out there looking to challenge a government's breach of your rights in court...but you're SOL.

The Harperites also specialize in other tweaks to our democracy that the public may not be noticing, but keen watchers of government certainly are. The muzzles on Cabinet ministers and the restraint on media, the partisan games in the House all may or may not be noticed or cared about by the viewing public. Yet each tactic in its own way diminishes our democratic traditions. The picture to the voters...rounds of applause for Harper in his cabinet meeting, bashing of Stephane Dion by Harper and Layton with the media a willing accessory, a few popular policies sprinkled around like tax cuts to come, and the rest of the destruction gets easily swept under the rug.

No more embassies.

No more legal aid for Charter challenges.

No more free and open media access to government.

No more accountability in the House of Commons.

So do I favour a big brouhaha over the Senate? Not in the least. A referendum on that topic would likely be nothing more than a convenient distraction from the agenda of the Harper team in a federal election. And all attention should be on it, and reading between its lines, not on constitutional engineering that we don't need.

An Ontario Superior Court judge sides with a plaintiff against Harper

Very interesting:
Mr. Harper is being sued by Alan Riddell, a resident of Ottawa who spent about $50,000 on a candidacy for the Conservative Party before being told in late 2005 to make way for a better-known candidate.

Mr. Riddell agreed to move aside in favour of Allan Cutler - a bureaucrat who blew the whistle on fraudulent practices in Ottawa's advertising program - after striking a deal under which the Conservative Party agreed to pay his expenses. The issue became problematic when Mr. Riddell told the media he was to be compensated by the party - an assertion Mr. Harper denied.

"The party does not have an agreement to pay Mr. Riddell these expenses, and Mr. Riddell has not been paid anything to date," Mr. Harper told reporters in late 2005.

The matter went before the Superior Court and, earlier this year, Mr. Justice Denis Power ruled there was clear evidence that the Conservative Party and Mr. Riddell indeed had a deal.
According to an e-mail submitted during the hearing, Mr. Riddell estimated he was owed $50,000 for expenses incurred in running for the party.

Mr. Riddell is now alleging that "Harper's comments [on the absence of a deal] suggest that he is untruthful and that Harper's comments have damaged his reputation," according to this month's Superior Court ruling.

However, Mr. Riddell's lawsuit is stalled because Mr. Harper cannot be forced to appear for examination for discovery while he is an MP.
Looks like Mr. Riddell's day will come, he'll just have to wait for it. Justice Power has practically vindicated his case thus far...


The Conservative drones have been issued their talking points. Picking up from the metaphor of the "North Star" in the throne speech, the foot soldiers are being told to use the term in their communications with media. Because we all know they can't be trusted to speak on their own by using the sheer power of their own brains.
In a new bid to foster national pride and confidence in its leadership, the Stephen Harper government is urging Canadians to look up, look way up.

As the Conservatives search for a more inspirational way to deliver their message and replace the worn-out catchphrase "Canada's New Government," the lobbyists and strategists who deliver the government line were told after last week's Throne Speech to make use of a reference to the North Star that showed up toward the end of the speech.

"To help you effectively communicate with your local media, as well as your constituents, we have included general messaging on the Speech from the Throne," says a PMO memo obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Among the elements of the Throne Speech that the memo urges them to highlight, the first is this lyrical passage: "Like the North Star, Canada has been a guide to other nations..."

"Through difficult times," the passage continues, "Canada has shone as an example of what a people joined in common purpose can achieve. Yet Canada's greatest strength lies in its energy and determination to move forward and build a better future."

The memo does not say specifically how the strategists should use the reference to the celestial light that explorers used as their guidepost to discover the nation.
I have a few thoughts on this. First off, the use of inspirational metaphors just doesn't jive with these politically opportunistic turkeys. They're usually reaching for the lowest common denominator, not the stars. The severe partisanship on display by the likes of Lawyer van Loan in the House of Commons doesn't inspire anyone. It makes people run for the hills. So the misguided effort to get the Conservative wonder boys to speak of the stars just doesn't compute. Can you say yawning chasm in the inspirational gap? I can.

Secondly, if you have to provide talking points to your people and feed them lines on how to be inspirational...not gonna happen. You can't force this stuff.

And last but not least...gee...why on earth would our PM be so big on celestial bodies? Could it have anything to do with the influence of a certain spiritually inclined personal dresser...? Heh heh...:)

Great banner

Garth Turner's post a few hours ago had a brilliant banner to it which I'm also going to reproduce, as I'm sure Garth wouldn't mind the point being spread. The graphic turns the Conservative negative slimefest against Dion on its ear:

It seems equally applicable to distinguish Dion from Layton & Duceppe tonight who had the chance to bring down Harpie, as they've been blathering on about, yet heck, didn't have the courage of their convictions. Been saying one thing yet did another.

(h/t to the Cowboys for Social Responsibility)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mike Duffy's show is an embarrassment

You know, I try to bear with it and listen to the guests given the slightest possibility that some news might actually emanate from it and given my interest in the subject matter...but you know, I can't recall that happening. He did a makeshift, clumsy dissection tonight of how many times Michael Ignatieff stood up to clap during the throne speech last week and attempted to draw some grand inference out of it about Ignatieff's loyalty. As I like to say of late, um, thud.

This thing they call Mike Duffy Live frequently turns into a free for all with little command or control by Duffy and with politicians all talking over each other. Then Mike smiles, laughs and heh, heh, the pols all laugh at the scene too and bam, "we've run out of time, folks," the segment is over. Gotta be nice to Duffy, they've all got to be invited back to the teevee show, don't ya know. What an absolute waste of time. Thankfully, Olbermann is on in the same slot to provide some real political value, albeit U.S. That's the kind of show CTV "Newsnet" needs, not this slow, belaboured NDP-Lib-Con panel segments where they each cancel each other out.

Duffy's show really should be approaching its Crossfire moment and mercifully be taken from the airwaves. Could we please get Jon Stewart up here to blow it off the airwaves, please. Is this the best CTV can do?

A devastating critique of Harper's imperious style

One of the best summations of Harper's penchant for controlling the levers of government to date, Lawrence Martin today. Excerpts from a must read:
Under the strong arm of Jean Chrétien, things could get pretty rough around Ottawa. Like the time when, sporting his Terminator shades, he put the Shawinigan chokehold on a protester in Hull.

The Chrétien stewardship, initially tame, eventually became heavy-handed. Peace, order and good government.

In terms of amassing power and asserting it, however, Mr. Chrétien is no match for Stephen Harper. In just 20 months, he has become master of everything he's touched. To search the annals for another Canadian PM who accumulated so much cold-blooded authority in such a short time is to come up empty.
Martin cites examples of the PM's iron fisted approach:
One of the first moves Mr. Harper made was to eliminate the position of deputy prime minister. From that point, the storyline has been one of imperious control.

Last week was full of fine examples. After rolling out an impressive Throne Speech, the PM allowed only two cabinet ministers, Jim Prentice and Lawrence Cannon, to talk about it. The others weren't to be trusted.

In the same week came the news that his government had put in place a plan - apparently now discarded - for "robust physical and information security measures": a government-controlled $2-million media briefing centre.

In the same week came the news of his broad and smart scheme for targeting ethnic voters and the news that MP Bill Casey, who ran afoul of him over the offshore revenues dispute, will remain afoul - even though the dispute has been settled. He crossed his boss; that's it.

In the same week was Mr. Harper's deft display in toying with the Liberals, having them on bended knees trying to avoid an election - this over a Throne Speech that usually never triggers elections.

Imperious control? Earlier this year, columnist Don Martin discovered the existence of a 200-page Harper committee-control manual. The secret document instructed the PM's committee chairs on how to select party-friendly witnesses, how to set in motion debate-obstructing tactics and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to shut down the proceedings. Tory whip Jay Hill was quoted as admonishing committee chairmen "who prefer to lead through consensus."

While caucus chairs had the aid of a handbook, the Harper government went a step further for the whole caucus: It called in the cops. At the annual caucus meeting in August, the Harperites had the Mounties remove journalists from the Charlottetown hotel lobby so they couldn't ask nettlesome questions.

The cabinet has to be minutely monitored as well. To wit, Mr. Harper dispensed with the traditional practice of revealing dates of cabinet meetings. In this way, ministers don't have to face the press afterward. As it stands, they are allowed less public comment than probably any cabinet in history. Our diplomats are in the same boat. The extent of their gagging is also said to be unprecedented.
And the kicker of a conclusion:
The march of democracy in this country is intriguing. Mr. Chrétien took a protester by the throat. This PM, who came out of the populist Reform Party movement, has practically the entire government by the throat.

It is fascinating, if not chilling to see his shrewd acts unfold. There are many who think his strategy, a sort of reverse glasnost, is succeeding. There are others who think that building his version of the Kremlin in Ottawa is not what the people had mind.
Powerful stuff indeed. I am in the camp that says that the PM's tactics, as manifested in all of the above listed examples, are worth pursuing as a theme in an upcoming election campaign. He's Bushian/Rovian in the highest order.

This column seems to be a real marker being set down. It's saying, here's Harper and what he's doing to our traditions of government, people. Is anyone going to stop him?

A reminder that all is not well in Conservative land

So called "loyalists" to the former federal Progressive Conservative party, including former Mulroney cabinet member Sinclair Stevens, are suing the law firm that gave them allegedly negligent advice at the time of the fateful merger with Harper's Canadian Alliance. They're still peeved, you see, that the PC party name has been condemned to the trash bin of history and that Harper's Canadian Alliance folk raided the PC coffers to pay off Alliance debts.

The lawsuit is a reminder of lingering resentment against the Harper Alliance takeover of the PC's. Mr. Stevens has additionally gone to the trouble of developing a website devoted to opposing Harper.

In hindsight, Harper really had Junior MacKay for breakfast, didn't he?