Friday, May 30, 2008

Canada-US Civil Assistance Plan finally released by Harper government

David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen points out on his blog that the DND has quietly released on its Canada Command site the controversial Canada-US Civil Assistance Plan. This comes after DND had refused to release it after the agreement was entered into in February of this year. And it is only doing so after the U.S. Northern Command released the document:
Well now the U.S. Northern Command has decided to release the Civil Assistance plan to the public (although there are still some portions kept secret). Yet on this side of the border the Canadian Forces still consider the plan sensitive enough that they have decided NOT to release it….yet. Go figure. NDP defence critic Dawn Black has put in an Access to Information request for the plan and was told it will take 300 days before it is released.


Who knows if the U.S. release will now force DND to reconsider its decision to withhold the plan.
The U.S. release has indeed forced DND Canada to do the same. No more 300 day wait for the document, it's now available here. We can only surmise whether we'd ever be reading it had the U.S. military not acted.

Pugliese, in consultation with a researcher at the Council for Canadians, notes deficiencies in what he's seen of the plan: a good part of it, 23 annexes, still seem to be missing; there's a "Canada-U.S. Combined Defense Plan" referenced on page 1, referring to “support for law enforcement operations” when the plan was supposed to be military-to-military support; and so on.

The plan, entered into by the Harper government in February this year, has raised concerns about sovereignty and creeping integration. The agreement enables troops from either nation to enter the other's for assistance during emergencies.

Consider this evidence of forced publication by the Harper government my contribution to the Conservative secrecy theme going on today...:)

And thanks to a reader for passing this along, as always.

Repatriate Khadr and restore some semblance of international credibility for us

If the Harper government wanted to get back on the right track in matters of Foreign Affairs, here's where they might start: by saying enough is enough to the political show trial of Omar Khadr at Gitmo. Incredible and outrageous news last night that the judge overseeing the trial has been "relieved of his duties" without a word of explanation. This is the judge who had dismissed Khadr's case once before, but who was overruled on appeal. Of late, in early May, he had threatened to suspend Khadr's case due to the prosecution's conduct in withholding evidence from the defence.

The public story circulating is that the judge wanted to retire. The real implication of this move is that this is just the latest manifestation of blatant U.S. government interference in the trial processes which are inherently unfair to begin with. There's a U.S. election coming, don't ya know. The Republicans need to have some kind of crude, malformed "victory" to show from their festering sore at Guantanamo. Or at a minimum, trials actually up and working.

From the Associated Press:
The chief judge for the Guantanamo tribunals, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, dismissed Brownback and appointed a new judge for Khadr's case without explanation, defense lawyer Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler said.
...
Military prosecutors have been pressing Brownback to set a trial date, but he has repeatedly directed them first to satisfy defense requests for access to potential evidence. At a hearing earlier this month, he threatened to suspend the proceedings altogether unless the detention center provided records of Khadr's confinement.

Kuebler said he believes the U.S. military is anxious for the trial to start before political pressure leads Canada to demand Khadr's repatriation. (emphasis added)
If that latter view is indeed what motivated this judge's removal, the U.S. military is sorely misguided in its fear from us. Support for repatriation may be growing in the public mind and as a result of figures such as Romeo Dallaire speaking out, but the track record of the Harper government on Gitmo thus far has been one of willful blindness. Sticking its head in the sand. Mouthing platitudes of deference to the legal process in place there. Ignoring leading bar associations who have advocated that Khadr be returned to Canada to face proper rule of law oriented justice. If the U.S. government is expecting Steve to pick up the phone and push for Khadr's repatriation, well, they don't know the Steve we do. He has yet to publicly pivot on such a major issue.

If Harper wants to shock us all, however, and do the opposite of what his government has done thus far in respect of Khadr and Gitmo, that'd be fine by me. He's in a deep hole in Foreign Affairs. And if there is any ounce of sanity being voiced and getting through to the PM's bubble, this would be a great way to start digging himself out of it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's about freaking time

File under long overdue stories: "Liberals sheath their knives, now have Dion's back." The existential angst, backroom plotting and bumbling have hopefully just about run their course. Self-interested machinations do nothing to help defeat Mr. Harper's party. They just destroy the morale of Canadians who hope to see a viable Liberal alternative presented in a federal election.

Get on with it!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bravo to the Supreme Court

A welcome check has been placed on the Harper government's policy on Gitmo: "Ottawa ordered to give Khadr interrogation documents."
The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered the federal government to hand over information to alleged terrorist Omar Khadr that it gleaned from interrogation sessions that Canadian agents held with him in 2003.

Now 21, Mr. Khadr's U. S. war-crimes trial is scheduled to begin later this year. His lawyers are seeking the material in order to prepare his defence.

The 9-0 decision – signed simply "by the Court" – said that Mr. Khadr is entitled to any records of the interviews, regardless of what form they are in. It stated that he must also be given any information that Canadian authorities have given to their US counterparts as a direct consequence of conducting the interviews.
While Khadr's lawyers are concerned the ruling doesn't go far enough, to include a U.S. military report on the battle in which Khadr was involved in Afghanistan, the judgment is being well-received and supported as ground-breaking in the Canadian legal community.

What's being heralded is the judgment of the court, unanimous, that "...Canada cannot be complicit in violations of international law." As this lawyer states:
"The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously upheld that the Charter applies to the conduct of Canadian officials acting outside of Canada when they participate in the processes of a foreign government – here, the U.S. – that is in violation of international law."

He said this "is an extremely important point of constitutional principle with broad ramifications. The federal government has recently argued that the Charter does not apply to Canadian armed forces operating in Afghanistan, a view accepted by the Federal Court of Canada. That decision is now clearly incorrect.

Mr. Arvay added that the ruling "killed two nasty birds with one carefully aimed stone" – the violation of both Mr. Khadr's rights and those of Afghan detainees.
The judgment is here.

This is one of those days when you feel especially proud to be Canadian, to have the calibre of court we do that will stand up to the anti-rule of law Bush administration by saying to the world, no, Canadian courts will not stand by while a citizens' human rights are being violated.

The court pinned its decision on international agreements to which Canada is a signatory, and on the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has already found the Guantanamo Bay legal processes "to violate U.S. domestic law and international human rights obligations to which Canada subscribes.

"With Khadr's present and future liberty at stake, Canada is bound by the principles of fundamental justice and is under a duty of disclosure pursuant to s. 7 of the Charter," the court said, in its 9-0 ruling. "The content of this duty is defined by the nature of Canada's participation in the process that violated its international human rights obligations.

"In the present circumstances, this duty requires Canada to disclose to Khadr records of the interviews conducted by Canadian officials with him, and information given to U.S. authorities as a direct consequence of conducting the interviews, subject to claims for privilege and public interest immunity," it said.

"Since unredacted copies of all documents, records and other materials in the appellants' possession which might be relevant to the charges against Khadr have already been produced to a designated judge of the Federal Court, the judge will now review the material, receive submissions from the parties and decide which documents fall within the scope of the disclosure obligation."

The right wing Canadian government, kowtowing to the Bush administration, has been officially and significantly slapped back.

Well done.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Priorities

No show for Joe Clark but..."Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour 'father' of organized hockey." Sounds like it's going to be quite the thing:
James George Aylwin Creighton lies in an unmarked grave in an Ottawa cemetery but the "father" of organized ice hockey will get his due Thursday with a tribute from the prime minister and Canada's most storied team.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be outside Montreal's Bell Centre to unveil a plaque paying tribute to one of hockey's founding fathers. He will be joined by the presidents of the Montreal Canadiens, the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada.
Let's not begrudge this guy his honours, but the same respect should properly be paid by the PM to Clark. But I guess there's little political mileage to be had from the Clark event as opposed to some hockey publicity during the playoffs.

Where is the decency?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Classless

Not a big surprise here:
In a break with tradition, Stephen Harper will not attend the unveiling of the official portrait of one of his prime ministerial predecessors.

Former Conservative prime minister Joe Clark will have his portrait hung in the hallway of Parliament's Centre Block alongside 18 others who led the Canadian government.

But the current prime minister isn't planning to attend the end-of-month ceremony because he'll be travelling abroad.

It will mark only the second time in half a century that a sitting prime minister has missed such an event, the political equivalent of an ex-leader's addition to the parliamentary walk of fame.
No hard feelings on either side, as the report indicates, as there is not much love lost between these two Conservatives of completely different stripes.

But a prime minister has certain responsibilities and this should have been re-scheduled to ensure grace and civility would prevail.

Harper's not big on bestowing gracious tributes to deserving Canadians, as his government's remarks upon the death of Antonio Lamer and the retirement of Justice Bastarache also demonstrate.

A small, small figure occupying the PM's office these days.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Harper's new military spending is $96 billion, not $30 billion

A must read from Le Devoir on Thursday: "96 milliards de plus pour l'armee." It seems that Harper's announcement of $30 billion this past Monday for the "Canada First Defence Strategy" was wildly understated. It's three times that much. On Thursday, the Globe reported that the new defence spending would be $20 billion more than Harper's announced $30 billion. But it seems even that was an understatement, perhaps resulting from confusion during the military's "press" conference in which they were unable to give their names. Le Devoir's report has a senior military official indicating the real amount, close to $100 billion, is being kept from the public due to the difficulties that would be faced in selling this figure. No kidding to that.

Here are some key excerpts from the report:
La stratégie «Canada d'abord» du ministère de la Défense prévoit de nouvelles dépenses de 96 milliards de dollars en 20 ans, soit trois fois plus que ce qui a été annoncé par le premier ministre Stephen Harper lundi à Halifax. Uniquement en ce qui concerne les cinq plus grosses acquisitions de matériel militaire d'ici 20 ans, les Forces canadiennes estiment que les dépenses atteindront de 45 à 50 milliards de dollars.
...
«Il y a eu une mauvaise compréhension des chiffres et des budgets lors de l'annonce», a poliment confirmé hier un haut gradé militaire qui ne peut être nommé. En fait, la somme de 30 milliards de dollars fait référence au budget annuel de l'armée canadienne en 2031-32, soit 20 ans après l'année 2011-12, qui sert d'année zéro pour ce plan. Il ne s'agit donc pas de l'investissement total du gouvernement fédéral sur une période de 20 ans mais bien de l'objectif annuel à atteindre.

En 2011-12, le budget du ministère de la Défense s'élèvera à environ 20 milliards de dollars. Il grimpera ensuite de 2 % par année jusqu'en 2031-32. Le total de cette hausse se chiffre à 96 milliards de dollars.

Pourquoi ce montant n'a-t-il pas été rendu public lundi? Le bureau du ministre de la Défense, Peter MacKay, n'a pas rappelé Le Devoir hier. Les militaires présents à la séance d'information n'ont pas pu expliquer cette «confusion» quant aux montants.

Mardi, une source du milieu de la défense avait soutenu auprès du Devoir que la somme avoisinant les 100 milliards de dollars avait été annexée au vrai document Canada d'abord, qui ne sera pas rendu public puisqu'on le juge trop précis et controversé. Cette version détaillée préparée par les Forces canadiennes l'an dernier fait 39 pages. Lundi, le public a plutôt eu droit à quatre communiqués de presse. «Politiquement, 100 milliards en nouvelles dépenses militaires, même si c'est sur 20 ans, c'est dur à vendre à la population», avait dit cette source pour expliquer le silence du gouvernement. (emphasis added)
Mr. Harper certainly needs to explain this gaping hole in his credibility.

(thanks to a regular reader for passing this along)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Due process demanded for one Khadr, not another

Well, it seems I have somewhat of a friend in the Privy Council Office (see below). Hope you enjoyed the post this morning, pal, you guys might want to get on that $20 billion oversight in the military budget.

Or perhaps you should pick up where the previous government left off and get things right with Omar Khadr. As reported in the Globe today, with respect to Abdullah Khadr, Omar's older brother, the following standards were argued by federal government officials in 2005:
Canada's acting deputy assistant attorney-general wrote to his U.S. counterpart on Aug. 25, 2005. "As a Canadian citizen, Mr. Khadr has a constitutional right to return to Canada," reads the once "protected" note now filed in a Toronto court. "... Should the United States continue with the proposed removal [from Pakistan], Canada would therefore expect that it be done in accordance with due process of the law."

Clare Barry of the Federal Prosecution Service continued by writing: "Canada would expect that, once in the United States, due process will continue to apply to Mr. Khadr and that he will be judged by a civilian tribunal with the full benefit of all U.S. constitutional safeguards." (emphasis added)
Now why has the Conservative government not sought a similar standard to apply with respect to Omar Khadr? It's been a very disturbing departure for us on the international scene from our traditional rule of law posture.

Overspending and muzzling, all in the same story today

Now this doesn't sound like good financial planning, Harpie: "Defence plan to cost $20-billion more than announced." Although it does sound to be par for the course for Diamond Jim Flaherty, he of the $5 billion debt gift to the people of Ontario. Here are the details of the prudent budgeters at work:
Canada's new defence strategy will cost up to $50-billion over two decades – $20-billion more than the Harper government announced earlier this week – one of the country's top generals said Wednesday as the military scrambled to quell criticism that the plan lacks sufficient detail.

Lieutenant-General Walter Natynczyk, vice-chief of the Defence Staff, said the military would spend between $45-billion and $50-billion on planes, combat vehicles, ships and fighters under the Canada First Defence Strategy, the Conservative government's plan for the military that was originally released Monday without comprehensive details.
See, now is the time when that darned GST revenue might come in handy. Instead of giving us pennies off our Subway sandwiches and Timbits. An additional $20 billion is quite the oversight on Harper's part. Spectacularly funny thing, not telling us about that in his "announcement" on Monday.

Raising the issue, of course, as to whether this military prioritization is what Canadians are intent on financing. Apparently there's some super top-secret document in the Conservatives' possession that spells out the plan for the spending of this fortune on the military in "rich detail" but we, the unfortunate Canadian public, are not permitted to see it. And of course we aren't. That might lead to messy debate that might spark opposition. But we really should be having a debate as to how that money's going to be spent and indeed, whether it should be $50 billion at all.

What's also striking about this report is, of course, the muzzling of the military that's evidently going on. The PMO is doing their thing and putting a stranglehold on our respected military officers:
But senior military officers were constrained from talking openly as they tried to further flesh out the strategy Wednesday.

Aside from an opening statement by Gen. Natynczyk, senior military officials who hosted a hastily arranged briefing were under orders not to let themselves be identified by name when answering reporters' questions.

“What's really important is the government direction, in this regard, with regard to public affairs – so I have to live within that limitation,” Gen. Natynczyk said.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office has exerted stronger control over Department of Defence communications in recent months, particularly after the treatment of detainees captured by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan fuelled controversy. (emphasis added)
This is just getting pathetic. We're all left shaking our heads, once again at this controlling, muzzling PMO. But thank you General Natynczyk, or whoever it was, for spilling the beans on this stifling "order." Why is the PMO issuing uncalled for"orders" like this anyway? What possible rationale is there for military, or anyone else, to be told not to use their own names? Is Harpie getting all controlling commander-in-chief on us or what?

Yep, keep up the brilliant media strategy, Conservative brain trust. It's working wonders...:)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Canada first, you later

Harpie unveils a new slogan for the country, "Canada: have guns, will act." Because really, if you can buy some big guns, why bother with the messy diplomacy and other strategy? Our Foreign Affairs guy isn't too hot with that stuff. How else should one take Mr. Harper's comments today?
Accompanied by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Mr. Harper introduced the “Canada First Defence Strategy,” which includes pledges of long-term stable funding, new equipment and the recruitment of new troops and reservists.

If a country wants to be taken seriously by the rest of the world, it needs to have the capacity to act. It's just that simple,” Mr. Harper said Monday during a press conference at the Halifax Armoury, where he was flanked by regular Canadian Forces personnel and members of the Princess Louise Fusiliers, a reserve infantry regiment that has sent some of its members to Afghanistan.

Much of the Conservative strategy has been announced before and there were few new details Monday. (emphasis added)
OK, not new, so much. As Harpie himself admitted, he was just cobbling together a bunch of announced plans but making it into a "long-term plan." Now that's cause for puttin' on a big show and changing the subject matter from Bernier, Guergis, Elections Canada storming your HQ...you almost can't blame the guy for wanting a staged p.r. event, heh...:)

But this notion that we can only be taken seriously around the world if we have a big military...can't say I agree with that. We earned plenty of respect by NOT going into Iraq with the Americans. This military first view of the world is something Canadians are going to have to think about. Is that the kind of nation we want others to perceive us as?

And don't you love that "Canada First" thing...as if the "homeland" is somehow in jeopardy. At least that's the way I take it, that we're putting ourselves "first" implies everyone else is second. Hold on with your plight, as long as Canada's first, we might have time for you...

Update 6:00 p.m.: In case you haven't seen the pictures from today's Harpie announcement, please do check them out. Giant Canadian flag in the backdrop and neatly dressed Canadian forces members organized neatly by shirt type behind him. Echoes of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" style photo op yes. And use of the Canadian military as a prop for his announcement, inappropriate. I'm sure the military are pleased with the series of announcements but they shouldn't be used in this manner when the PM is clearly seeking to get political mileage out of it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Gitmo watch: it's off the rails, again

More bad news out of Gitmo for the Bush administration. A judge there is calling foul on a key Pentagon legal adviser who has played a big role in the politicizing of the tribunals:
In a new blow to the Bush administration’s troubled military commission system, a military judge has disqualified a Pentagon general who has been centrally involved in overseeing Guantánamo war crimes tribunals from any role in the first case headed for trial.

The judge said the general was too closely aligned with the prosecution, raising questions about whether he could carry out his role with the required neutrality and objectivity.

Military defense lawyers said that although the ruling was limited to one case, they expected the issue to be raised in other cases, potentially delaying prosecutions, including the death-penalty prosecution of six detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Critics of the military commission system said Friday that the judge’s decision would provide new grounds to attack the system that they say was set up to win convictions.
An analysis in the Times, "Judge's Guantanamo Ruling Bodes Ill for System,"draws out the significance of this ruling:
The ruling, in the case against Salim Hamdan, a detainee who was a driver for Osama bin Laden, transformed what had been something of a Pentagon soap opera over how to prosecute detainees into a formal ruling that gave new force to critics’ accusations of improper political influence over this country’s first use of military commissions since World War II.
...
“The military judge has said that, at the very least, there are grave appearance problems with this system,” said Michael J. Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantánamo cases.
...
“Telling the chief prosecutor (and other prosecutors),” the decision said, “that certain types of cases would be tried and that others would not be tried, because of political factors such as whether they would capture the imagination of the American people, be sexy, or involve blood on the hands of the accused, suggests that factors other than those pertaining to the merits of the case were at play.”
...
“The military commission process is hitting a brick wall from within the military and outside the military,” said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been a vocal critic of the system.
This is the second embarrassing ruling inside of a week, impacting yet again the credibility of the Gitmo process. As these trials start up, at this rate, I think we can expect many more.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Harpie bringing Canada back

Looky at what's making news on the reddit hot news (click to enlarge):



Yep, that's our leader, right there at the top of the charts at #4 this afternoon...

King of the low road

Um, just wtf is the Prime Minister talking about?
"It's hard to pick just one low point of political rhetoric this week -- though the Prime Minister reviving his old ‘anti-Semite’ smears against Liberal MPs definitely qualifies. For those who missed it, Harper's comments came in a radio interview, in which he talked about how '...anti-Israel sentiment, really [can be] just...a thinly disguised veil for good old fashioned anti-Semitism.'

Then Harper said: 'I am disturbed that there are some elements in our political system, there are even some members of Parliament...some that were willing to cater to that kind of opinion.'

Harper must have felt this worked when he first dragged out the allegation in 2006.

Pulling the smear out again this week, on the occasion of Israel's 60th anniversary as a nation, seems a little much."
The Harper quotes can be found in this CanWest report. Bob Rae inquired about the drive-by smear in the House today:
Rae asked Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan to identify the MPs Harper was referring to. Harper was not in the House on Friday during question period.

"Now I'd like to ask the minister, perhaps he will understand the sensitivity that all of us feel as members of parliament, perhaps the minister can tell us perhaps who exactly are the anti-Semites that the prime minister is talking about," Rae said.

Van Loan said that Rae himself had experienced anti-Semitism during his leadership candidacy and knows the "corrosive impact it can have."

During his campaign, Rae's campaign said he was the target of anti-Semitic attacks for his support of Israel and in part because his wife is Jewish.

But Rae said the current issue over the prime minister's interview is not about him and he hopes Prime Minister Harper will clarify his comments next week.
These are the moments when I'm glad we have Mr. Rae in the House. He has the gravitas to lend to a given situation that requires a stern focus from Canadians. This is one of those instances where it's worth people's whiles to stop and think about the implications of what the PM said.

These comments from our PM, icon of integrity that he is, need to be pressed in order to get Harper on the record and clarify exactly whom he meant. Smearing unnamed Members of Parliament smears all. We'll likely hear more generalized gobbledygook to weasel out from under his comments. But in the meantime, the Prime Minister has done his damage by throwing this bomb, hasn't he? And how smarmy of Van Loan to try to draw Rae into this with his you-know-how-it-is act. Rae wasn't buying.

Just when you think the PM could go no lower on his partisan road, he presents us with a new example of his vicious streak. A big Conservative hatorade award here, that goes without saying...

(See also Creekside, pogge, Galloping Beaver, Canadian Cynic)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Khadr's Gitmo trial could be suspended

Oh looky, the Gitmo process is once more off the rails and Khadr's trial could be suspended:
A U.S. military judge threatened to suspend the war-crimes trial of a Canadian detainee, scolding the government Thursday for failing to provide records of his confinement at Guantanamo.

Lawyers for Omar Khadr say details of his interrogations and mental health could provide grounds to suppress self-incriminating statements at the U.S. navy base in southeast Cuba. Khadr is accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.
The Judge is none too happy with the dog and pony show he's having to oversee:
Brownback said he understands the military's worry that the documents might identify prison officials who fear retribution. But he ordered the government to provide the records of Khadr's day-to-day confinement by May 22, in complete or edited form, or he will suspend proceedings.
Suspend this wonder of procedural and natural justice? My, that would be a shame. And here the trial of this child soldier was supposed to be one of the showcases of Gitmo justice.

Whatever would the Conservatives do were the case to be dismissed, having hitched their wagon to Mr. Bush's Gitmo?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Conservative hatorade watch

When reading this report today, "Tories trash talk Dion to put him off his game," about the Conservatives' baiting of Stephane Dion by using their statements immediately prior to Dion's first question in the House to name-call him, and the like, I couldn't help but be reminded of the tactics employed by Newt Gingrich when he arrived in Congress. Newt employed similar bomb-throwing tactics. And we all know what happened to him and his merry band. Here's a reminder of the tactics Newt engaged in when he first arrived on the scene:
Mr. Gingrich made his name in the House a decade ago by denouncing the Democrats on the floor while the cameras rolled. What they did not show, because they were locked into a narrow field of vision, was that Mr. Gingrich was hurling his barbs at an empty chamber, when his victims could not respond.

When Representative Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr., then the Speaker, tired of Mr. Gingrich's harangues, he ordered the cameras to pan the chamber, exposing the big-talking Georgian as something of a poseur. A debate ensued in which Mr. O'Neill, a Massachusetts Democrat, decried Mr. Gingrich's performance as "the lowest thing that I've ever seen in my 32 years in Congress." The incident made all three network news broadcasts and led Mr. Gingrich to gloat to an interviewer afterward, "I'm famous."
People get tired of bomb-throwers who constantly flail about, ranting about the dangers of the other guy. Particularly when the other guy can't respond. Here's one of the embarrassing instances cited in the CP report of the quality contribution Conservative MP's are making to the level of civility in the House:
Windsor-area MP Jeff Watson called Dion, a "self-proclaimed hero" who has "turned out to be a zero," reduced to taking advice from his dog.

He sneered that Dion has learned to sit and roll-over and predicted that in the next election the Liberals' "so-called leader will finally play dead."
It's not just ridiculous and childish, the Conservatives are overreaching at this point, endearing themselves to no one. I suspect women voters, in particular, the more they read of such tactics, will harden in their opposition to the Conservatives. That might be the silver lining as we endure such downward trending standards in the House of Commons, courtesy of the Conservative brain trust.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

My 24 Sussex makeover edition includes the resident

You know, because while we're on the subject, thanks to the Auditor General's report today on the need to renovate the prime ministerial residence and perhaps boot out the occupant in the process, one's mind just can't help but go there. When you read things like this:
Even worse, the massive overhaul would kick out the honourable resident for more than a year, says Sheila Fraser in a report Tuesday to Parliament.
...a person can dream of such a wondrous day, can't they?

But alas, a cruel spokeswoman crushes my dream:
Stephen Harper, however, has no plans to go anywhere “between now and the next election,” says a spokeswoman.

“The prime minister and his family find 24 Sussex adequate to their needs, and see no need for substantial renovation programs at this time,” said Carolyn Stewart Olsen.
Because you know, when you really come to think of it...surely this very public desire to renovate and push the PM out of his home must be some Liberal plot, germinated by moles in the Auditor General's office, to create an appearance of a power vacuum at the top...because with every machination of government comes the paranoiac suspicion from our leader that there's an angle working against him. For example, what are we to make from these comments from the AG today about the type of work required, pronto:
“What can I tell you?” Ms. Fraser said when asked how one of the nation's prime pieces of real estate could have languished for so long.

“I'd be very surprised if there have been no major repairs to the White House in 50 years.”

Among other work required at 24 Sussex, “the ceilings and interior walls of the residence will have to be opened up to install new air ducts for ventilation and air conditioning, to replace old electrical wiring, to install a sprinkler system for fire protection, to remove toxic materials such as asbestos or to monitor such materials, and to retrofit service areas.

Ms. Fraser says she was assured that the prime minister and his family aren't in danger, but that overdue work should not be put off. (emphasis added)
Opening up the walls and installing new air ducts and wiring? Sounds mighty suspicious to me...subversives might install listening devices or other such items...the PM has brought Canada "back," on the world stage, don't ya know, and there are surely enemies, not just Liberal domestics, but international such that the Conservative brain trust might see such tame renovation suggestions and assess them truly for what they are.

So I'm sure a call to arms will go out to Harper supporters everywhere...the Auditor General, speaking out against the plans for the PM's Privy Council Office to vet her communications, just this past week, must clearly be muscling out dear leader from his abode...let the media strategy and secret wheels of government start turning...she must be stopped...:)

And remember, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean everybody's not out to get you...:)

Just wondering

Why are we hearing about the cost of the flight to return Brenda Martin to Canada? $82,787 , in case you didn't hear by now as it's appeared on a major national paper blog, picked up from a CBC political byte bit, then later provided on the National last night. I suppose it was noteworthy when Martin's flight was landing and it was indeed a Challenger jet. But as reported in the CBC item, the choice as to how Martin was returned to Canada was the government's. Here's the information CBC provided as context:

CSC said the decision to order a Challenger was made based on a number of factors including availability, security and the location of the offender. Clearly, Ottawa was also considering the emotional state of Martin who had been languishing in a Mexican jail for two years before she was convicted and who has been routinely described as distraught and suicidal.

There are three types of air travel available to CSC when it needs to transfer prisoners across international boundaries: an RCMP plane, charters and commercial flights.

It's appropriate that journalists ask questions about government expenditures - and I'm assuming it was the CBC journalists doing the asking and not CSC leaking the information - but the choice to fly Martin back on a Challenger was clearly the government's and that's where accountability should lie for the cost of this flight.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Looks like the good ol' in-and-out was not just for advertising

Good for the Winnipeg Free Press for picking up the call to further investigate the scope of the in-and-out scheme employed by the Conservatives in the 2006 election. Maybe the national media will get into this further, with their resources, now that these enterprising reporters are producing such results. (h/t to northwestern lad and more reading at Tribe's place)

Details on the transfers of polling and research expenses:
A Free Press review of Conservative expense claims turned up 50 Tory candidates who sent a total of $854,000 to the national Conservative campaign under the category of "Election surveys or other surveys and research."

In all but two of the campaigns, the amounts transferred were either $15,000 or $20,000.

Sixteen campaigns saw "in-and-out" transactions, where money was paid to the central campaign, and then returned to the local campaign or where the central campaign paid money to the local campaigns and then it was returned to central.

In the other 34 campaigns, the transaction only involved a local campaign paying the national campaign. In many, the transactions occurred weeks, even months, after the election was over.
Such expense levels for polling and research are viewed to be inordinate for local campaigns to incur:
Intensive polling is not routinely done at the local campaign level in federal elections because of the cost and because less expensive alternatives, such as voter identification phone banks, are available. And because, on average, campaigns are capped at about $80,000, a $20,000 expense represents an inordinate share of overall spending.
That is some strange stuff that begs for explanations, please.

The expansion of the in-and-out scheme to include other expenses would hardly be a surprising development. The in-and-out scheme with respect to the Conservatives' national advertising expenses involved but 67 ridings. Begging the question - what about the other 241 ridings and how were expenses treated by the Conservatives in those ridings? Looks like similar practices were used.

Elections Canada may be investigating this matter, as noted in the Free Press article. They have received a complaint regarding the use of an in-and-out scheme in respect of polling expenses in the Victoria riding in the 2004 campaign. Begging another big question, of course. Did the Conservatives pilot this scheme during the 2004 campaign in a manner that Elections Canada did not catch on to at the time? Perhaps emboldened by that example, they ran with it in 2006 but executed it in a manner that pushed them over acceptable spending limits and caught Elections Canada's attention.

More questions. None of them good for Conservatives.

UPDATE (10:00 p.m.): Make sure you read the excellent post at Accidental Deliberations tonight when you're digesting the news that the in-and-out scheme may have been much more fulsome than known. That blogger has thoughts on what the attributions the Conservatives made for polling and research expenses achieved. The thinking there is that it possibly allowed for the Conservatives to "double-dip" in getting reimbursed from the taxpayer at the national level for the national party paying for the polling expense (50% reimbursement level) with the local campaign chipping in part of the expense, albeit after the election (60% reimbursement level).

See also northwestern lad & BigCityLib for the lists of 50 candidates involved. What's striking immediately are the uniform, neat amounts of $15,000 and $20,000 attributed across such a wide swath of candidates. Suggesting uniformity being applied by someone, at the national level, in allocating these expenses.

The arts like kryptonite to Conservatives

Do voters care whether Conservatives are blowing off the G-G's arts gala tonight? Probably not. But this article, canvassing why Conservatives are not attending a traditionally big gala, the black-tie Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Gala, gives you insight into the Conservative mindset, once again.

Does George W. Bush go to the Kennedy Centre galas? Yes. Why would a President, who probably, like the Conservatives, shares similar personal sentiments about the arts community attend? Because even that dipstick gets that the national government should be seen to be supporting such events because the arts community is valued in our country and deserves the government's support. Not just for economic reasons, but cultural, aesthetic considerations about what the performing arts add to our national fabric. It's the right thing to do to have a government representative there. But Harper's crew just don't get that and are thumbing their nose at the event. If it involved hockey they'd go, they say. Picking and choosing favorites and turning their back on other equally important constituencies is par for the course for these Conservatives, even when it comes to the arts.

In addition to their just not getting their responsibilities as a government, they're scurrying off to their ridings for politicking. And shirking attendance no doubt because they're afraid of the reception they'd be getting in the wake of C-10, their effort to inject censorship into the tax credit grants to the film industry. Not exactly profiles in courage, are they?

And then there's this note in the report:
And then the ultimate diss: Another senior cabinet minister says he just doesn't like Governor-General Michaëlle Jean, who plays host for the evening gala. He gives the "thumbs-down" gesture as he says this. "She's no Ray Hnatyshyn," he says.

The Governor-General's office will not comment on the attendance. A spokeswoman for Jean, however, noted that this is not a "political event."

The G-G Awards Gala has been an annual affair since the awards were established in 1992 by the late former governor-general Ray Hnatyshyn.
Political considerations above all else. Diss the Martin-appointed and therefore forever tainted Governor-General by stiffing her on the event.

Classless, clueless and just disappointing. Big political story? No, but a reminder of the small-minded, take the low road at every opportunity Conservatives.

Carry on...:)

Friday, May 02, 2008

C-10 is for censorship

"Will vote on Bill C-10 lead to an election?" That's a darn good question. In a working minority parliament, the answer would ideally be no. The weight of opinion is against the bill as it is currently written. It begs for amendment and the majority of parties would want it to be so amended to remove the offending aspects. The arbitrary power to deny tax credits to filmmakers on the grounds that the product is objectionable, according to a government regulator making the decision after the product is finished, would arguably jeopardize the footing of the Canadian film industry, leading to a significant loss of jobs for those employed in the industry. Why a governing party would be intent on destroying a vital, pride inspiring industry for Canada is a mystery. Yet they seem to care little in that regard, judging by their public comments anyway. We get a hint that behind the scenes, however, there is dissent in the Conservative ranks and there could be a working solution to be had. Here are some uncensored thoughts from Minister Verner, provided by a clutzy Conservative Senator:

Comments – caught on tape – by Conservative Senator David Angus, who chairs the Senate banking committee studying the bill, gave a strong sense that Heritage Minister Josée Verner is not pleased by the current debate.

“The government has to bite the bullet. … The minister agrees. She told me she hates the law,” the senator said, unaware that his microphone was still on.

Minister Verner is about to meet her own form of censorship, in the form of the PMO, heh...:) I guess we'll have to wait and see whether Angus was telegraphing that the Conservatives will actually play nicely on a piece of legislation. What a concept that would be, minority government, what the Canadian public chose, working.

In terms of an election, on the free speech front, of course, this is a bad issue for the Conservatives. Very bad. It might make the crazies come out in force. They like this bill. But the process provided here for the film industry reeks of censorship, an issue easily accessible to Canadians that could explode in a campaign as an offensive overreach by Conservatives. There would be a lot of respected members of the arts community who could garner a heap of publicity during a campaign. Throw in recent questionable actions on the Conservatives' part such as their efforts to muzzle officers of parliament of late, not to mention their own members of parliament, the high profile firing of Linda Keen, the vote against Elections Canada, etc. and it doesn't make for a very pretty picture.

While there will be many issues in the campaign, the Conservatives are on the wrong side of this one. I'd sure as heck take my chances on arguing the opposing side.

Conservatives squirming as RCMP and Elections Canada investigators do their jobs

Well no sh*#, Sherlock: "Tories want much of material seized from headquarters kept under wraps." On the grounds, in appears, that some of it was privileged. Ryan Sparrow chirps:
Conservative party spokesman Ryan Sparrow said Thursday a portion of the material carted away under a search warrant by the elections agency, with help from the RCMP, is legal advice related to the lawsuit.

"Some of this information pertains to client privilege and some of it is completely unrelated to either the court case or Elections Canada for that matter," Sparrow said in an interview.

"Every party and every Canadian has attorney-client privilege, right?
But, but, but, but..."attorney-client privilege, right?" Are you asking us, Ryan? And by the way, we do not say "attorney" in Canada. They might in the U.S., but not here. Get your countries straight. Try solicitor-client privilege, as we say in Canada.

More from Ryan:
"I can't get into the specifics," Sparrow said, "but I can say that our lawyers are working with Elections Canada on this matter."
Yes, Elections Canada that will no doubt treat the Conservative party's request with due care and professionalism, unlike what they have received and can expect from Conservative partisans.

Word of the investigation's workings in the CP report as well:
Newly public court papers indicate several other computer drives and an additional five boxes - containing binders, audits, leases, budgets and copies of ads - were also seized in the raid. The Tories are not claiming privilege over these records.

The papers, filed in Ontario Superior Court, reveal the RCMP has been enlisted to sift through some of the computer files taken from the Tories' downtown Ottawa offices.

Cpl. Maurizio Rosa of the RCMP's Integrated Technological Crime Unit in Ottawa is to team up with Elections Canada investigators to "perform an analysis of the electronic documentation" seized from more than a dozen computers and digital servers.
So nice to see independent professionals doing their jobs while Conservatives plead solicitor-client privilege. Brilliant optics.

A fight the Conservatives cannot win

The Conservatives must be out of their minds thinking they can pull a fast one on the Auditor General. They're trying to presumptively put new policies in place that affect independent officers of parliament, including the controversial one which would see the Privy Council Office vetting communications by these officers. The Conservatives want to get the rules in place, then have the officers argue, on a "case by case basis" for exemptions as issues arise. The Auditor General is saying no way to this little trick.

Here's Vic Toews' defence of the Conservative approach, in a letter he released yesterday:
In response, Treasury Board President Vic Toews released a seven-week-old letter Thursday that states his desire to "preserve and strengthen the independence needed by agents of Parliament. ..."

Toews defended the general application of new Treasury Board rules to all government institutions, but conceded that not all rules can be applied "in exactly the same manner" to everyone.

"I believe the best approach to this issue is on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the specific institution and policy provisions in question," wrote Toews in a letter copied to all independent officers of Parliament.
And here's the smackdown from the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, in response:
Not good enough, Fraser responded through her office Thursday.

"The auditor general's point ... stands: We want very specific clarity on specific policies and more work has to be done to ensure that that detail is there," spokesperson Sophie Nadeau said in an interview. "And it's not there right now."

Nadeau confirmed the letter was received by Fraser on March 18 but said there has been no negotiation on the issue since then.

"The policy does apply to us as it's written now," said Nadeau.
All the assurances in the world from Conservatives that the Treasury Board rules can't override an agency's independence and that they will respect the independence of these officers amounts to a hill of beans if the rules are in place and apply. We learn from this report what Fraser's specific concerns were, that she articulated back in November:
In the correspondence released by Toew's office, a letter from Fraser to Commons Speaker Peter Milliken reveals her exact concern, dating back to last November.

Quoting directly from the proposed Treasury Board communications policy, Fraser stated that all government institutions "must seek the advice of the Privy Council Office on issues and themes which may have horizontal or government-wide implications that require co-ordination."

"Clearly, this is inconsistent with our role as officers of Parliament," Fraser wrote Milliken. (emphasis added)
Fraser's been fighting this for months and getting nowhere apparently. Thus the public light coming to bear. If these new communications policies mean nothing, as Toews and Van Loan would have us believe, then why are they fighting so hard for it and taking on the Auditor General? And what else is going on behind the scenes in Ottawa to undermine independence and checks on Mr. Harper's power as PM?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Welcome home, Brenda Martin

Finally. The Conservatives finally did something right on this file, here at the back end, by expediting her transfer. After repeatedly dumping on her while she sat in her Mexican jail, by calling her guilty and then trying to make it look like her prison was a fantasy camp, the public pressure got to be too much for the Conservatives. When their hides are on the line, they hup to.

We should all hope that if we're ever in trouble like this, we have a friend like Debra Tieleman who has gone to such lengths to sustain her friend while living through this nightmare and to see that Martin got out. Good for her.

A big shout out to Sheila Fraser and other independent officers of Parliament today

For spilling the beans on that draft communications plan making the rounds up there in Ottawa that would see the independent officers of Parliament having their public communications reviewed by the PM's Privy Council Office. Not exactly the stuff of independence and arms length operation. And so, Mr. Harper wants to put an end to inconvenient truths being spoken.

And hats off to Vic Toews for a valiant but comical effort in spin yesterday:
"I can assure you that we respect the independence of the officers of Parliament and this government would not do anything inconsistent with the independent role of those officers," Treasury Board President Vic Toews told the Commons yesterday.
Vic, you kill me with these one-liners, I'm tellin' ya...:)

Ask Linda Keen, the fired chief nuclear regulator, what she thinks of such assurances.

Or Marc Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer, whose agency is in the midst of one of the most historic and shameful efforts by a governing party to rip the electoral agency's credibility to shreds (see Globe editorial today, "Canada's political maturity put at risk.")

Or Graham Fraser, the Official Languages Commissioner, who had the temerity to report that the cancellation of the Court Challenges Programme had cut off vital funds for minority groups seeking to enforce their language rights in court and who then saw his job contracted out to Bernard Lord, a friendly Conservative.

Or ask the Information Commissioner, Robert Marleau, who wrote an op-ed in the Globe appealing for the government to be more open on Afghanistan detainee and other matters whether he thinks such pieces might be approved in the future should such a PCO-first communications policy be adopted.

This is something sinister now coming to the fore in the Harper controlled Conservative party. It's qualitatively different from the uber partisanship and bullying. Efforts to silence independent officers of Parliament are not something our democracy should be tolerating. This is third world crackpot dictator shtick.