Monday, May 31, 2010

Gun registry report's delay raises questions

There was a big report from CP yesterday on the gun registry issue that raises some pretty big questions (below): "Gun-registry report delayed until after Commons vote." Essentially, documents obtained via access to information show that a crucial and favourable report on the gun registry's effectiveness was withheld from Parliament before the second reading vote on the gun registry's repeal on November 4th. As we know, that vote passed.

Peter Van Loan, Public Safety Minister at the time, was given the report on September 17th which means it would have had to be tabled in Parliament well before the November 4th vote. But it wasn't. Here are the key facts from the CP report:
The minister's office has claimed Van Loan received the document, the 2008 annual report of the commissioner of firearms, on Oct. 9. The Firearms Act requires the minister to table the report in Parliament within 15 sitting days, which would have made Nov. 6 the legal deadline.

But a series of internal documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act contradicts that.

The documents include a Sept. 16 letter from William Elliott, the Tories' hand-picked head of the RCMP, addressed directly to Van Loan. Elliott also serves as Canada's commissioner of firearms.

The letter says the 2008 annual report is enclosed and advises the minister of the 15-day rule for tabling.

Van Loan also received an Oct. 8 memo from his deputy minister, Suzanne Hurtubise, confirming that the RCMP had submitted the report to the minister on Sept. 17 -- starting the clock ticking for parliamentary tabling.

"It is recommended that you table the 2008 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Firearms on or before the statutory deadline of Oct. 22, 2009," Hurtubise advised. (emphasis added)
What does all this mean?

The second reading vote which passed C-391 is now confirmed to have been a contaminated vote. Parliament did not have information before it that was entirely relevant to the vote and which Parliament was legally entitled to have. That report may have affected the outcome of that vote. It's like evidence at a trial being withheld by a prosecutor in order to affect the verdict. These are grounds to reconsider the vote on C-391 at third reading. As is the most recent information that they are yet again withholding a key RCMP report. Enough.

Peter Van Loan has some explaining to do, to put it charitably.

So do the RCMP, who have now provided two different submission dates for the report. What is going on here? See RCMP Commissioner William Elliott's letter of September 16th to Van Loan enclosing the report, referenced above. But, as Aaron Wherry pointed out last night, that mid-September date (with the official September 17th submission date confirmed by Van Loan's Deputy Minister) was mysteriously contradicted by an RCMP officer around the time of the report's eventual tabling:
Responding by email to questions from the Star, RCMP Sgt. Greg Cox said late Friday the force submitted its 2008 firearms report on Oct. 9, four weeks ago.
Why would Sgt. Cox say the report was submitted on October 9th when his boss, the Commissioner, submitted it in mid-September and the documents show that? Did someone tell him to use the October 9th date in response to the media? October 9th being the date which would make the Conservatives' eventual tabling of the report statutorily safe?

We are a nation of laws...not men and women. Right?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Some of us are still blogging

Blast you, my pals are dropping away, one by one. Totally get it.

But they'll be baaa-aack. You wait and see...:)

Clement's silly season

This is just flip, Tony Clement spinning the conflict of interest allegations he's presently under: "Video flap is "silly season'' stuff: Clement."

The National Post editorial board, notoriously in the corner of the Conservatives, doesn't think it's silly season. Although they wouldn't come out and explicitly say it, the upshot of their editorial was that Clement should be relieved of his duties.

Clement and his defenders keep saying that Tony would have to have some financial interest in the company that he spoke on behalf of in the promotional video shown in China. But no, that's not quite correct. Section 4 of the Conflict of Interest Act says this:
For the purposes of this Act, a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.
Clement also throws in the condition that the company on whose behalf he spoke would have to be a financial supporter. On what basis does he state that? Surely a minister speaking in a video on behalf of one company to the exclusion of all others might further that one company's financial interests. It should be enough in our conflict of interest laws that a minister acts to the exclusion of all others to support one particular company's interests. A minister speaks on behalf of Canada, not for one company. The problem is the identification Clement provided, in that video, that he was Minister of Health. Not that he was the MP for Muskoka acting on behalf of a constituent.

On its face, this situation looks like a problem and it's not just partisans saying so. Clement seems to be going a little too far in mocking its scrutiny. In a week where we've heard lots of rhetoric from the government about ministerial responsibility, Clement's remarks directly contradict that supposed responsibility.

Detainee docs and other notes

1. About this supposed issue of keeping solicitor/client privileged documents out of the pool of detainee documents to be reviewed by the MPs, I'm not sure how much of an issue it's going to be given that the Globe report says all opposition parties have rejected that proposal from the government.

But if it becomes an issue, remember that they've confounded the Elections Canada Commissioner's investigation into the in and out scheme by labelling five million pages of documents as solicitor/client privileged there. What they allegedly did while executing the in and out scheme was to copy lawyers on every document in order to down the road claim solicitor/client privilege over everything when not everything was in fact copied to the lawyers for legal advice.

So, it's in their playbook, for what it's worth, and if they somehow imported the same tactic on the same scale with the detainee documents, it would defeat the purpose of the free and full access that MPs have on this committee, likely entirely.

2. This news last night was unfortunate but also a refreshing instance of strict accountability: "Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan ousted." Rules broken, penalty applied. Accountability fosters respect for institutions.

3. Even the Yellow Beast gets that. An editorial yesterday on Tony Clement's conflict of interest allegations hit the nail on the head about Harper's hypocrisy and the disparity in treatment we're seeing as between Helena Guergis and what's now not happening with Clement.
Mr. Clement appears in an odd little video extolling Lord and Partners Ltd., which makes environmentally cleaning products and is located in his riding. The video is being shown only in China, where Lord and Partners is hoping to find some business. Mr. Clement was Minister of Health at the time; he later appointed the producer of the video, a longtime supporter, to the Canadian Tourism Commission.

The Conservatives say there is nothing wrong with this, as Mr. Clement has no financial interest in the firm.
Really? Picture Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, promoting Mars bars in Shangahi. As far as we known, the Clintons have no major interest in the Mars company. Would you expect to see the Secretary of State shilling on their behalf?

Mr. Clement may not have a financial interest in Lord and Partners, but he has a very clear political interest in being seen to help a constituent. But there is a big difference between helping a local voter with a visa problem, and showing up on Chinese TV touting one specific private company. Why this one company? Many Canadian forms make products related to environmental care. What’s wrong with them?
A more specific call for action on Clement wouldn't have hurt them.

4. Finally, here was UK Tory PM David Cameron on Friday, stating "we’re going to rip off that cloak of secrecy" on government spending by increasing disclosure.
"I think this is ridiculous. It’s your money, your government, you should know what’s going on... By bringing information out into the open, you’ll be able to hold government and public services to account."
Interesting language in light of our own ongoing engagement over MP expenses.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tip for Jack Layton

Accusing someone you putatively express a desire to cooperate with as lacking "back-bone" is unnecessary and unhelpful.

A G20 song

From the mind of @pmoharper, a timely song for the G8/G20 summit.


*sung to melody of IF I HAD A MILLION DOLLARS by the Bare Naked Ladies.*

If I had a $1 billion dollars (If I had a $1 billion dollars)
I'd put on 2 global summits ( I'd put on 2 global summits)
If I had a $1 billion dollars (If I had a $1 billion dollars)
I'd put them on at the same time (like back-to-back, simultaneous at the same time)
If I had a $1 billion dollars (If I had a $1 billion dollars)
I'd tell you it's cheaper (experts say, so what can you do?)
If I had a $1 billion dollars, you'd want some too...

If I had a $1 billion dollars
I'd hire 10000 cops
If I had a $1 billion dollars
At least 1000 for each block
If I had a $1 billion dollars
Maybe we could put up chain link fence round here
Wouldn't that be fabulous!

If I had a $1 billion dollars (If I had a $1 billion dollars)
I'd buy you 5 years of daycare (but not real daycare that's cruel)
If I had a $1 billion dollars (If I had a $1 billion dollars)
I'd buy you some foreign aid (save a couple million babies or more)
If I had a $1 billion dollars (If I had a $1 billion dollars)
There'd be no more abortion (All them crazy elephant bones)
If I had a $1 billion dollars, you'd want some too...

If I had a $1 billion dollars
I'd buy you tasers to control the crowd
If I had a $1 billion dollars
Hear those sound cannons sure are loud!
If I had a $1 billion dollars, you'd have to eat Kraft dinner

If I had a $1 billion dollars (If I had a $1 billion dollars)
I'd buy you a green dress (gotta save the environment, that's cool)
If I had a $1 billion dollars (If I had a $1 billion dollars)
I'd buy you some art (but nothing from the CBC, no way)
If I had a $1 billion dollars (If I had a $1 billion dollars)
I'd buy you a minister (haven't you always wanted a monkey?)
If I had a $1 billion dollars If I had a $1 billion dollars If I had a $1 billion dollars
If I had a $1 billion dollars of YOUR MONEY!
Ya gotta laugh, otherwise...

If this were Canada...

"Treasury Minister David Laws resigns over expenses." Consider the news of this resignation of a minister from the coalition government, a Liberal Democrat over an expense issue:
Liberal Democrat David Laws has resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury after admitting he claimed expenses to pay rent to his partner.

He said he could not carry on with the "crucial work" on the Budget while dealing with the implications of the revelations in the Daily Telegraph.

He had earlier apologised and said he would pay back the £40,000 he claimed.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg paid tribute to Mr Laws saying they hoped he would return.

The Yeovil MP said he wanted to keep his relationship with James Lundie private.
"I cannot now escape the conclusion that what I have done was in some way wrong, even though I did not gain any financial benefit from keeping my relationship secret in this way."
No hapless Ethics Commissioner involved, just ministerial accountability and responsibility. Another helpful comparative perspective from the UK.

Now if only the UK press would have zeroed in like a laser beam on how excellent Minister Laws was on twitter. That's big over here. Conflict of interest allegations in the air? Ah, run the story anyway.

Canadian Visa Officials Gone Wild

Jason Kenney is very, very sorry for his department's incompetence: "Indian visa uproar prompts Canada to launch immigration-policy review." In the grandest tradition of ministerial responsibility that we heard so much hype about from the Harper government this week, Kenney kicked his underlings to the corner:
The Harper government vowed to review its immigration rules after Canadian visa officers in India touched off a furor by barring dozens of people on the grounds that their service in army, police and intelligence units made them complicit in human-rights violations.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney issued an apology on Friday, saying Canadian immigration officials should never have cast aspersions on India’s institutions. The incidents, he said, showed visa officers have too much latitude.
What happened to the new golden era of you-got-a-problem-you-take-it-up-with-me? No buck stops here for Kenney!

This visa flap has been pretty big in India, showcasing once again the Harper Conservatives' flair for international relations:
The visa denials certainly provoked outrage in India. It spilled onto front pages and every TV news channel. It led India Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna to complain that the letters were “entirely unacceptable.” Canada’s high commissioner was summoned to explain. The visa officers’ letters were taken as a national insult written under official Canadian letterhead.
Oh well, in a few years time, Kenney probably won't remember it at all.

Gun registry politics from the week

First on this, there was Shelley Glover's shameless performance at the parliamentary committee this week. She suggested that Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who was testifying as head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in support of the registry, has engaged in some kind of misconduct in suppressing police officers from coming forward because of their opposing views. She did so while Blair was in the room and could not respond. Here's what she said:
“There were officers who did suffer consequences at the hands of chiefs, like Mr. Blair, who did transfer them out when they spoke out against it. That is why they are silenced today and are afraid to come forward,” said Glover.

“I’ve received thousands of phone calls from people in Toronto, from people in Montreal, from across this country, police officers who are afraid to stand up because they fear consequences in their job. I’m ashamed of that. I’m ashamed as a police officer. I’m ashamed as an elected official.”
And Blair's response:
“Quite frankly, I interpreted it as an accusation, a false accusation of course, because it’s never happened, but the suggestion that there was some vast number of police officers that I had somehow suppressed from expressing themselves is simply not true,” Blair told the Star.

“Overwhelmingly, my colleagues hold the view that the firearms registry needs to be retained.

“I was disappointed by the very disrespectful tone, even bordering on contempt, in which some of the comments were made and questions were asked.”

Blair took particular offence to Glover’s suggestion that “I and other of my colleagues have engaged in misconduct — a completely baseless allegation . . . I have been before parliamentary committees in the past and I have always been treated with respect.

“I would hope that all parliamentarians would value the experience and the input of police officers, police chiefs, police unions, police boards who are remarkably united in their support of retaining this information.”
Head shaking time...the disrespect of an MP to treat a witness like this, any witness, is just remarkable. So there's the lack of civility pervading this little episode that's there.

There's also this abhorrent tactic they're deploying throughout this gun registry battle of dividing the police rank and file from the leadership. What kind of government actively seeks to foster division in the police forces of the nation in order to get a political win for the base? You'd think that the craven, naked, self-interested partisan obsession might relent on some things, that there'd be some sense that certain lines shouldn't be crossed. You know, restraint. Not with these folks who have the nerve to parade themselves in front of Canadians as the law and order party all the while engaging in such tactics, attacking police chiefs.

Also this week, it was quite the scene when the Quebec Justice Minister showed up to express support for the registry. It was occasion for the Conservatives to play with the federalism card for their own partisan purposes. How can you support a federal gun registry when you don't want a national securities regulator, one Conservative MP asked. Not caring a whit that such an argument worked against their own position. Why don't you have your own Quebec run registry asked a Conservative Senator, seeming to endorse the Parti Quebecois position on the registry. Great federalists that these Conservatives are.

Word too that favourable reports on the gun registry's operation are being withheld once again, as they did in the lead up to the second reading vote on C-391 in the fall:
Deputy RCMP Commissioner William Sweeney and Toronto Police Chief and President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Bill Blair, in their testimony before the House of Commons Public Safety and National Security Committee, revealed the existence of a recent RCMP report and internal audit which demonstrate the efficiency of the Canadian Firearms Program, including the long gun registry.
Can't have that stuff getting out, in the off chance that there's a vote by the end of next month.

Whatever works, no matter the cost on the issue. Quite the performance from the Conservatives this week.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday night

Sound cannons at G20 Summit in Toronto

That $1.1 billion figure for the G20 Summit and security is now going to be probed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (and maybe the Auditor General). Well, theoretically anyway, given the Harper government's obstructive tendencies. They may have a very hard time avoiding scrutiny of this one given public outrage.

Here's another aspect of the summit that might give you a bit more of that feeling of outrage. In the Star yesterday, it was reported that the Toronto police have bought four sound cannons for crowd control during the G20 summit. Or, if you wish to use the Orwellian name for these cannons, they're also known as "long range acoustic devices." The problem? These devices, if used improperly, can cause hearing damage. The fact that our police have purchased these weapons and may use them on the crowds who have legitimate rights to protest at this event under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms deserves serious attention:
Originally designed for the U.S. Navy, LRADs can emit ear-blasting sounds so high in frequency they transcend normal thresholds of pain. While they are used everywhere from Iraq to the high seas for repelling pirates, LRADs are being increasingly employed as a crowd-control device and at last year’s G20 summit in Pittsburgh, police used them on protesters before deploying tear gas and stun grenades.
Of Toronto’s newly-acquired LRADs, three are handheld devices that can broadcast noise heard from 600 metres away. Their volume can reach 135 decibels, which surpasses the pain threshold of 110 to 120.
Drummond acknowledges LRADs can cause permanent hearing damage if used improperly but says Toronto police are developing guidelines for deployment. She said officers will also only use the device’s “alert” function if crowds become riotous and will use the manufacturer’s recommendation of firing short bursts, two to three seconds long.

“The piercing sound would make someone stop in their tracks for a moment,” she said. “Your instinct would be to cover your ears. So rather than being violent, the tendency would be to stop the violence and protect your hearing.”
But Queen’s University professor David Murakami Wood, an expert in surveillance, criticizes neutralizing euphemisms like “communication tools. He says LRADs should be considered potential weapons and large international summits can often be used as testing grounds for new police technologies or techniques.

“They’re being very disingenuous about what this is,” he said. “It emits a sound that is in fact at frequency levels that can go way beyond what human beings can put up with in terms of pain and can be damaging.

For University of Toronto adjunct professor Peter Rosenthal, a lawyer who has participated in several trials involving Taser deployments, anything that can stun people or crowds should be considered dangerous.

“Tasers were introduced and said to be totally benign but have now generally been recognized as dangerous weapons,” he said. “To start using experimental weapons on people is really outrageous in my view.” (emphasis added)
These devices are brand new to Toronto police, they've only been trained on them 10 days ago. They are just now "developing guidelines" for deployment. While today's Star report seems to lessen the drama surrounding the use of the machines by talking to people who were at the Pittsburgh G20 summit where they were used, there is still reason for caution.

I hope our municipal politicians and members at all levels will weigh in on this in the next month to exert some control over the potential use of these damaging and torturous devices. It is shocking that our police have purchased such machines and may deploy them against protesters who will have every right to be there, be loud and say whatever they like. All it takes is one slip by a novice user making a snap judgment about a rowdy protest and grave damage could be done. With the newness of these machines, this is a developing situation that's looking for trouble.

Late night

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Harper cabinet minister video extravaganza

Kenney vs Kenney first up (h/t). No more ministerial staffers will appear at parliamentary committees say the hypocritical Conservatives now. As Kenney demonstrates in this video, however, that's not what they used to preach.

Secondly, Tony Clement shills for a company in his riding in his capacity as Minister of Health. Starts at the 2:13 mark:

Jeff has the transcript from CTV last night in which the PMO position was immediately applied to Clement's situation.

Harper's billion dollar boondoggle

It's been a long time coming, that blog post title. Harper now has his very own billion dollar boondoggle in the form of the escalating security figures for the upcoming G8/G20 summits. Maybe in some twisted retributive justice universe thing, if one says something enough to taunt one's opponent, it becomes a reality for the taunter.

Isn't it also kind of precious that Harper and his ministers have been flagrantly touting to the world Canada's great banks, our great regulation and how well our economy is doing, with the implicit messaging that they have everything to do with all of it...and then news of this billion dollar security figure breaks. That's a bit of awkward undercutting of the message of the great financial managers. Maybe the Conservatives should have let the banks run the budget for the summits.

So, what else do we have here? The comparative aspect of this smells. Other nations have held G20 summits in the last two years and have spent sums on security that are dwarfed by the incredible amount being vouched for by the Harper government. Examples: G20 London 2009: $30 million; G20 Pittsburgh 2009: $18 million. Ours just doesn't add up.

The government's truthfulness is at issue, on an expenses issue, again. Parliament was initially informed that the cost would be $179 million. It's now $1.1 billion and climbing.

Their competence is under the klieg lights again. A colossally dumb decision was made in the first place, to hold the G8 in Huntsville which required $50 million in upgrades just to handle that summit of fewer nations. That bad decision was compounded when the G20 became part of the equation. Yet no re-think was done on holding the G8 in Huntsville despite the obvious duplication that would occur:
The costs of providing security in two locations is much greater. It is expected to be higher than the $900 million Canadian (US$864 million) the government estimated it spent on security during the 17-day Vancouver Olympic Games.

"I wonder if the minister would accept there's a degree of incompetence, a degree of a happen hazard approach to the planning for these summits that explains why you have such a high cost and cost overrun," opposition Liberal lawmaker Bob Rae said in Parliament.
More here (video, top right) on the costs of the Toronto end, i.e., astronomical.

There are other needs that could be met with this money, that's clear. And there are untold costs in leaving climate change off the agenda, for example, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recently appealed to Canada to include at these meetings.

But let's leave off with a thought from Jim Flaherty, that displays the Harper government's lackadaisical attitude toward substantive achievement at the G20, despite how dearly we'll be paying for it:
Flaherty told reporters he did not expect the G20 leaders to reach an agreement on financial reforms at the Toronto summits, suggesting a deal was more likely at a followup summit in November in Seoul, Korea.
Flaherty's pessimism is strange since theoretically financial reform is what they've been pushing all along in lieu of a bank tax. There also seems to be little in the offing on that de-prioritized maternal health initiative. So, at the end of the day, that goal's not getting much attention just a month away from the summit and we're willing to punt off a leadership opportunity on the economic front in a rather ho-hum manner like this to South Korea. It all seems so odd and rather glaring now that it looks like we're going to pay so much for the hosting yet achieve so little substantively.

Bad front page mojo

Neither story makes for good front page mojo methinks. Why can't we get awesome front pages like this in the ROC media, hmmm?

Can't read about that Conservative dinner with Opus Dei story, it's behind a wall. But recall a controversy during the 2008 election when a Conservative candidate was said to have links to Opus Dei and there was frantic spinning and highlighting of the issue all around. Suppose we'll hear more about the dinner story today. The other story, on the awakened Cardinal Ouellet, is likely to have ongoing implications, not just in Quebec.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jean Chr├ętien portrait unveiling - speech & ceremony (video)

Happy anniversary

Bob Rae writes today about the 25th anniversary of the Liberal-NDP governing accord in Ontario. Excerpts presented here for historical reminiscing and well, who cares it's just good educational, timely and topical stuff in light of the UK events too:
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Liberal-NDP Accord in Ontario. The election in early May of 1985 had elected a minority parliament, with the Conservatives at 50, the Liberals at 45 and the NDP at 25. The vote split was roughly 37/37/25.
The Conservatives and some media commentary insisted that they had “won” the election and had a right to govern. They had been doing so for forty two years. Eugene Forsey, who at that time was generally recognised as a constitutional guru, said an arrangement between two parties, each with fewer seats than the governing party, but able together to command a working majority in the House, was “constitutional in every respect”, and insisted I had the obligation to explore every option to create a stable and working legislature.
But the majority view that emerged was that a public agreement between the NDP and the Liberals, based on clear objectives and timelines, would be a better option than the Russian roulette of a minority government living by its wits day by day. My own sense was that we had to decontaminate the notion of a minority parliament being synonymous with instability, and show people that the legislature could work better.

The Accord that was negotiated was not a coalition, but a working partnership. The government gave up the right to declare votes of confidence whenever it wanted, limiting itself to budget bills. It would accept a loss on anything else. The deal would last for two years, and the government committed itself to a series of measures – on pay equity, labour law reform, social housing, environmental legislation, the protection of medicare and many others, all within a framework of fiscal responsibility – with timelines clearly set out. A management committee of both parties would meet regularly to monitor the progress of the agreement.

The Lieutenant Governor was kept fully informed about the discussions. The Conservatives insisted on meeting the House and bringing in a Throne Speech, but their defeat followed soon after and a new government was sworn in without a constitutional crisis. The Accord government worked effectively and efficiently, and passed the laws it said it would.
In a parliamentary system elections produce a parliament, and parliament makes a government. That was the lesson learned in 1985. Prattle about “winning a mandate” with less than a majority in parliament is just that – partisan spin, all sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is a lesson worth remembering.
Yes, it is.

The throttling continues

So, about the latest bomb thrown by Harper at Parliament...let's document the atrocity!

As this CP report reminds us, we've had quite a thrilling year in unnecessary democratic adventures in this country. Prorogation was the highest profile travesty, costing taxpayers $48 million. Better put that one on the PMO expense tab that we're running. Harper's poll numbers sank given how poorly the move resonated with voters.

Since then, the battle over letting Parliament see documents pertaining to the Afghanistan detainee situation has been fought, with the necessity of a parliamentary vote compelling disclosure followed by the Speaker's ruling that put our system to the test.

Now that the document battle has moved onto a relatively more peaceful plane, what's a combative leader to do? That is the big question. Why does he keep choosing to foist such battles and tears of our democratic fabric upon the Canadian people? He played with fire during prorogation yet he's back for more. It seems baffling to most of us and there's always that initial question, why is he doing this? Because he can, of course. He shouldn't, he's diminishing our democracy, but heck, he can, so why not? The opposition is divided and he's on the other side. It's one voice against three and the simplistic bombast from the likes of Baird (see video below) is probably enough to annoy the public and have them shrug it off. Cynical? Sure, but isn't that what it's all about? Banking that this issue too will not resonate with the public. That it'll just be viewed as more dysfunctional parliamentary arguments that keep the polls firmly fixed in place.

Then there's always the possibility that it's big distraction. From all the other issues piling up in front of him. Criminal charges out of the in and out scandal for someone in the Conservative party ("...there are reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence was committed under the Canada Elections Act")? Nobody's talking about that possibility much, are they? Or pursuing it? It's all Soudas and Baird at committee.

The substance of serious access to information charges gets lost too. Remember this bit by Lawrence Martin about a month ago that got lost in the Frank Graves mess (another distraction):
A related question of legalities is confronting the Harper team. Evidence is accruing to the effect that political operatives may have instructed civil servants to block the release of documents requested under the Access to Information Act. If such were the case, the actions would be a violation of the law. The last thing the government needs now are civil servants blowing the whistle on political manipulation of the access to information process.
Is this ministerial move a big signal to civil servants? Maybe. Definitely a road blocking of the parliamentary committee. So many possibilities. Hopefully the Information Commissioner is not dismissed at the end of June while she is in the midst of her investigations of three Harper cabinet ministers on access to information, the political interference that the Ethics Committee is also probing. Watch for it though.

Meanwhile, Harper gets to absurdly state things like this publicly, while in the background he directs Conservative staffers to ignore parliamentary committees and their pesky summons':
“Partisan differences are a healthy and necessary part of our political culture and process. But on an occasion such as this, we remember that they are transcended by a deep, enduring consensus, a shared understanding that our freedom rests also on the limitations imposed on those partisan differences by our constitutional traditions and the rule of law.”
Must be a laugh riot, that stuff, in the PMO these days as they crank it out.

Gilles Duceppe zeroed in on the rule of law issue effectively yesterday, pointing out that hark, we have a new class of citizen in this country. When served with a summons by a House of Commons committee, every citizen in this country has to appear. But not Conservative staffers, they're above the law. It's the law of Harper, the rule of men, said Duceppe:

Does Harper want to provoke an election through another contempt citation or two? No, likely not, the G8/G20 are coming and they're spending a beellion dollars on security for those spectacles.

So what to do about the latest tactic? Feed the beast? That seems to be what they want, more brinksmanship. Did you see how John Baird provoked yesterday at the committee? Shoving out his best pugnacious chin, summoning up a most righteous defence of the beleaguered 25 year-olds of the Harper government? It seemed quite purposeful. Ridiculous. But purposeful, designed to bait. Here's the exchange between Wayne Easter and the PMO's errand boy at the Ethics Committee yesterday (best part near the end):

It may be better to take Bob Rae's tack and point out the combativeness, the sheer waste of time of such tactics, it's unnecessary nature, etc. Highlight it and carry on professionally. They want to make ministers accountable, answerable? Call the ministers who are under investigation by the Information Commissioner? Paradis and MacKay? There has to be some creative way to make this move haunt them.

In the meantime, it's high times in Canadian democracy, our very own tea party is in charge and continuing to throttle our democratic institutions in the process.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Late night

The real expenses scandal

Canadian Press is drawing everybody a road map these days. Anyone interested in the bigger picture might want to consider what they're telling us. Look at what they've uncovered just in the past week.

First, the Privy Council Office having been called out in an audit for backdating legal expenses in connection with the Mulroney-Schreiber inquiry. A no-no and something the Prime Minister's department should not be doing.

Second, we learned that the Prime Minister's personal stylist's travel expenses have been paid for by we, the taxpayer, for years, when we were told by off the record Prime Minister's Office personnel that the Conservative party was paying. That was false.

Third, we learned that the in and out election advertising scheme from the 2006 election is not looking to end well for the Harper Conservatives. That scheme involved them overspending on advertising expenses in the 2006 election and it's looking like either the Conservative party nationally or individual Conservative candidates, including three Harper cabinet ministers, are going to be held to account for that. Plus, again, there is a criminal offence that's been referred to the public prosecutor's office, which referral is languishing, for unknown reasons ("...there are reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence was committed under the Canada Elections Act").

Fourth, a bit of embarrassment yesterday about the Prime Ministerial Challenger jet expenses, to promote the Economic Action Plan, what was it, 50 trips? Are we in a major deficit situation or is travel still conducted at Marie Antoinette pace? And within that report, a reminder of the unprecedented Harper road shows to deliver the economic report cards that he agreed to do. The costs for those have been totally unnecessary because they should have been delivered in the House of Commons. $250,000 unnecessarily spent, at a minimum.

Where does all this lead? To high places. The legal expense backdating to the Privy Council Office. The false representations on the stylist, to the Prime Minister's Office. The in and out matter? See above. The PM's flights and travelling partisan road shows? To his office.

Yet what do we hear on a Sunday of the long weekend? The Conservatives suddenly taking an interest in MP expenses. Suddenly saying, hmmm, ok to the Auditor General coming in to the Board of Internal Economy to come up with an audit solution. Time to go along with turning the lens on MPs, away from all of the above. Quite the pivot from Friday's shrug by Harper that it's not under his jurisdiction.

We also heard about the latest obstructionist ploy, only ministers will come to the committees, not staffers. More distraction, another flame to throw at the opposition. It's time to point the arrow elsewhere, away from the PMO, explaining all the news making on a holiday Sunday.

MPs? Yes, there's likely going to be some audit arrangement made now and down the road some scrutiny. But there's lots staring us right in the face, right here and now and it leads to a much more interesting place.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weekend Maddow video and other notes

Lazy, lazy weekend around here on the blog. Here's a weekend kind of video to take in, a bit longer than normal but if you're a fan, always worth a look. This is Rachel Maddow's recent commencement speech at Smith College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts. I think she started out as a radio dj not too far from the college, so there's some relationship there. Anyway, it's not the most polished speech but there is some wisdom here, particularly the last 5-6 minutes. An interesting analogy she draws in the beginning too. Big fan of Rachel around here and what she does.


Other weekend reading:

Herbert on the Gulf.

Rawnsley on UK Tory David Cameron's coalition politics.

Broadbent on bank taxes.

Attention drawn to incompetent Canadian consulate services again, this time sparking a diplomatic incident with India.

The Harper hypocrisy documented once again, he does love those Challenger jets after years of bleating about Liberal use of them. That was then.

Finally, this is potentially ripe for abuse, with these clowns in charge, watch for it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

More in and out and other Friday late aft long weekend notes

1. So, to be clear on the whole mess of an in and out thing, I think it goes this way right about now. If Elections Canada wins its appeal, the Conservative party at the national level gets dinged for exceeding their national spending limit in the 2006 election. If Elections Canada loses its appeal, ten Conservative candidates, including three Harper cabinet ministers, get dinged for exceeding their riding spending limits. Plus there is some mysterious, languishing, criminal offence looming in the background.

I think I'm liking where this one is going.

2. The Great Abortion Issue Reopening of 2010 is apparently all Rod's fault. Bad MP, very, very bad MP. The cause of a 50 minute anger management session in the PMO too. Took them the week to make that dust up publicly known, as the issue snowballs.

But you know...if his MPs are attending rallies and committing to reopening the abortion debate, then someone bears responsibility for that. They're just taking their cues from the top, from the leader that's been sending coy signals about the abortion issue since January by excluding abortion from the overseas maternal health initiative. Yelling in his office at a backbench MP a month after Bruinooge's bill's been introduced looks like plain old reactionary damage control after the issue's gone south. Telling the media about the big anger session smells like damage control too. Riding a tiger is difficult.

3. MP expenses? Shorter Harper: I am not a leader. In fact, I'm helpless to do much at all. Choice remarks:
"This is a matter that is not under the government's jurisdiction," said Harper, who was in Niagara Falls, Ont., to announce funding for the expansion and renovation of the Niagara Falls History Museum leading up to the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

"Parliament is independent on these matters and, through the Board of Internal Economy, makes its own decisions."
Was that some kind of strained nod to parliamentary supremacy? Nice to see, Johnny come lately. But his party, of course, will do exactly what he says. They're good rabbits that way.

The "in and out" twists and turns continue

Pierre Poilievre's loudly proclaimed "total vindication" for the Conservatives in the lower court ruling in the in and out matter may not have been so total it turns out. Some of their candidates, including three Harper cabinet ministers, might eventually face consequences for exceeding their local riding spending limits in the 2006 election as a result of that ruling. Consequences like being barred from running again.

The ruling, however, and that's a big however, is being appealed by Elections Canada. Those cabinet ministers might not be in jeopardy down the road if Elections Canada is ultimately successful in its appeal of the judgment. Elections Canada's argument has been "...that advertising expenses attributed to Tory candidates should have been reported as expenses for the national Conservative campaign." So the prospect of Harper cabinet ministers being in jeopardy of losing their ability to run in a future election is probably overstated as an imminent possibility. (I am assuming that the stay of the lower court ruling will be granted.)

This item is worth some attention in the meantime:
The Canadian Press has learned Corbett concluded long ago that there are reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence was committed under the Canada Elections Act.Even without completing his investigation, Corbett referred the matter last June to the director of public prosecutions, who is still considering whether to lay charges.

Dan Brien, spokesman for the public prosecutor's office, confirmed the referral. Asked why no decision has been made after almost a year, he said: "It's a complex matter."

"It relates to a lengthy and ongoing investigation by the commissioner of elections." (emphasis added)
Sounds like someone wants us to know that the referral has been made but nothing's been done about it for a year.

The answer from the public prosecutor's office doesn't seem to be very satisfactory either. The public's been informed now that a referral was made based upon reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence was committed. If indeed that is the case, then why hasn't action been taken? The public's entitled to more than "it's a complex matter." Maybe CP caught them off guard in inquiring about the matter but they need to be more forthcoming than this. It raises doubts about the integrity of the process.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Late night

You can remove the comments from these things but I think I'll leave them up. SoundCloud is where songs go to be blogged, fun to see sometimes.


Recent polling history...

Ekos May 20: Cons 34.4, Libs 25.1, NDP 15.3, Greens 12. Almost a 10 point lead.

Harris Decima May 17: Cons 32, Libs 28, NDP 17, Greens 11. A 4 point lead.

Nanos May 6: Cons 37.2, Libs 33.2, NDP 16.2, Greens 3.8. A 4 point lead.

It's still too much to ask for there to be discussion of multiple polls and trends as each new poll is unrolled, in what seems to be this at least weekly or so phenomenon. Media outlets all have their respective polls that they pay for and pump to the exclusion of others. It's a truly bizarre phenomenon that we're subjected to on a regular basis. But, that's nothing new and something to be dealt with. Still, it would be nice to see some consideration of the trends in the media.

This is not meant to be a denial type of post. Just pointing out a need for perspective on the discrete polling issue itself. Unless there's a 10 point lead/dynamic that's seen for a stretch in a number of polls, it's unclear that the principal polling dynamic that's been upon us for quite a while has changed. We know it well and many of us are desperate for it to start changing. But for today, I'll take a pass on the doom and gloom.

Update: One more, our memories are so very short these days. Recall this recent poll too, Harris Decima at the end of April had the Cons at 29, Libs at 27. End times!

Do not try this at home

The Harper government has a message for Canadians.

Warning: Making false claims could result in serious consequences:
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has uncovered a new scheme involving false claims on personal income tax and benefit returns. Although taxpayers participating in this scheme report their income, they include claims for large business losses from fictitious businesses. These false claims often lead to large refunds. Taxpayers should be aware that making these kinds of false claims is illegal and could result in serious consequences. If you were thinking about participating in such a scheme, don't be fooled! Chances are you will get caught and it's not worth the risk.
This, however, is OK:
A newly released audit has found officials in the Privy Council Office improperly "backdated" approvals for legal expenses that ran over budget at the Oliphant Commission.
Officials then date-stamped their after-the-fact approval back to the date the legal fees actually ran over budget. The same thing happened again, and again approval was improperly backdated.
Are we clear?

Big reform on the table in Britain

The aftermath of the British election continues to amaze. Look at the sweeping reform being proposed:
The plan would also create a fully elected House of Lords, scrapping heredity and political favor as a passport to power, and commit to a referendum on changing the voting system for the House of Commons. Under the proposed “alternative vote” system, candidates would have to gain 50 percent or more of the vote in their constituencies to secure election, effectively shaking up the politics of “safe” parliamentary seats that has given many M.P.’s what amounts to lifetime employment.

In addition, the plan would adopt an American-style power of recall, opening the way for restive voters to unseat errant lawmakers by gathering 10,000 signatures on a petition, and introduce new laws to regulate Britain’s $3.5-billion-a-year political lobbying industry. It would also set a five-year “fixed term” for parliaments, coupled with a new law requiring the votes of at least 55 percent of M.P.’s to topple the government, instead of a simple majority as at present. That measure is intended, the coalition has said, to discourage political parties from forcing elections for purely partisan reasons.
But supporters hailed Mr. Clegg’s speech for challenging what has been an article of faith in many quarters throughout modern history: that Britain, with its historical claim as the “mother of democracy,” has remained an example for much of the rest of the world to envy. For much of the last 200 years, a British prime minister backed by a loyal parliamentary majority, and freed from the constraints of a written constitution, has had powers that American presidents and other rulers could only envy.
It's early yet, with unknowns about the strength of that coalition, but it's going to be quite interesting to see how much of this is achieved. Lots of food for thought for other interested democracies and political parties, obviously. It's all set out at "The Coalition:our programme for government" or read an embedded hard copy here.

Not on the reform agenda, however, would be the use of such country estates where Nick Clegg, the Deputy PM, and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary will just have to make do with being roomies (not kidding):

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More of that juxtaposing thing...

Ignatieff today:
“I understand what Canadians are saying,” the Liberal Leader told reporters Wednesday after an event in Calgary. “They want accountability and transparency. We are going to find a way … we have to work out a way to move forward on this.”
The Prime Minister's Office:
As for her extensive travel expenses, government sources have always maintained they're paid by the party.

Then, as now, no one in the Prime Minister's Office would go on the record about Muntean's salary and expenses — meaning no one can be held accountable for statements made to the media that turn out to be false or misleading.

The Public Accounts of Canada list an M. Muntean travelling among the prime minister's entourage at taxpayer expense for five trips abroad in 2006-07, five in 2007-08 and six in 2008-09. The data for 2009-10 is not yet available online.
The Privy Council Office:
A newly released audit has found officials in the Privy Council Office improperly "backdated" approvals for legal expenses that ran over budget at the Oliphant Commission.
Someone is missing in action in the face of significant ethical transgressions pointed in his direction.

Bob Rae at upcoming Simcoe-Grey fundraiser

This sends a timely message:
The Simcoe-Grey Federal Liberal Association
Andrea Matrosovs
Federal Liberal Candidate for Simcoe-Grey

are pleased to invite you to an evening with

The Hon. Bob Rae, MP, Toronto Centre
Foreign Affairs Critic for the Official Opposition

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nottawasaga Inn, Alliston, Ontario
6015 Highway 89, just 14 km west of Hwy 400

Dinner 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm (dinner at 6pm)
Reception 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm, cash bar available

Dinner $150.00
Reception only $60.00
A tax receipt will be issued for the donation portion of each ticket.

For tickets, please email
or call 705-293-0733.
Tickets can be paid by credit card or personal cheque.

Tickets are limited! Book early to avoid disappointment.
(h/t a little birdie in Simcoe-Grey)

Iggy makes a break on MP expenses

He's doing the right thing, moving the issue forward:"Michael Ignatieff wants auditor to meet with MPs in expense dispute."
“I understand what Canadians are saying,” the Liberal Leader told reporters Wednesday after an event in Calgary. “They want accountability and transparency. We are going to find a way … we have to work out a way to move forward on this.”
“What I support is Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General, coming to the Board of Internal Economy,” he said, “and talking about what she wants to do and then taking it from there.”
The Liberal Leader also cautioned that the issues isn’t just “my problem.” The other three parties have to be onside, too.
Sure it'll be attacked as backtracking and not the perfect scrum but that's the inevitable Iggy hatorade that's ubiquitous these days. He simply did the right thing today. So good for him.

Expressing support for Sheila Fraser to enter that inner sanctum of the BOIE is likely going to set a train in motion now that's going to be very difficult to stop. Once the Auditor General is in the arena looking for something, she tends to get it (see this little battle that was extinguished earlier this week for example).

The dam is starting to break

MPs are starting to break with their parties on the issue of the Auditor General's performance audit of MP expenses. MPs Siobhan Coady, Martha Hall Findlay and Peter Stoffer spoke out yesterday, expressing support for the Board of Internal Economy to review its decision not to let the Auditor General proceed with the audit. They'll probably be joined by other MPs going forward.

A former Auditor General had this recommendation yesterday:
"I can't imagine why they're resisting her," Dye said. "And in fact my advice would be to the Speaker is get your committee to reconsider this because the public is just going to be so offended. I mean, there's an election coming up one of these days, and people are going to remember who wanted to be exempt from scrutiny."
This one is starting to feel a little prorogationesque. It's another decision that flies in the face of the larger principle that Parliament and our MPs work for the people. With the MP expenses, it's the element of public accountability not being seen to be done that's building steam. In both cases, the public has been ahead of the politicians.

Prime Minister's Office should account for false representations on Harper's stylist

Can you spot the difference in the headlines?

From Sun Media: "Harper's groomer not on public payroll."

Elsewhere: "Harper's stylist no longer on public payroll." Did you catch that? The first headline implies she's not on the public payroll, possibly never has been. The second informs, correctly, that she was on the public payroll, but no longer. Just to be nit picky about the treatment of the story, for starters.

The stylist, who does his makeup, hair and picks his outfits (don't we all wish we had one of those?), has been employed by Harper since 2006. We learned new details of who has been footing the bill just last night. This is 2010, in case you need reminding. So that's one issue here, the belaboured transparency.

Secondly, there are issues of truthfulness here:
"We just don't talk about personnel matters, but off the record, she's paid by the party," said the source.

Muntean used to be on the public payroll, the source confirmed, but her salary was transferred to the Conservative party books sometime since 2007.

"I don't know why, but it's changed," said the source.

As for her extensive travel expenses, government sources have always maintained they're paid by the party.

Then, as now, no one in the Prime Minister's Office would go on the record about Muntean's salary and expenses — meaning no one can be held accountable for statements made to the media that turn out to be false or misleading.

The Public Accounts of Canada list an M. Muntean travelling among the prime minister's entourage at taxpayer expense for five trips abroad in 2006-07, five in 2007-08 and six in 2008-09. The data for 2009-10 is not yet available online.

A government source confirmed that taxpayers pay for Muntean's hotel and airfare when she travels with Harper, but the party covers all her incidental expenses.
(emphasis added)
To reinforce the point, government sources have always represented that the Conservative party has paid for Muntean's travel expenses. Falsely it turns out. That needs to be addressed by the Prime Minister's Office.

Secondly here, that the stylist is paid by the Conservative party is also information offered off the record. Is there any proof? Why should the salary information be believed when they haven't been truthful about the travel expenses?

This is the second story this week touching on questionable expense handling and the Prime Minister's department or office. Is there a problem with the tone at the top and the ethical culture being set? It sure looks like it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Late night

Fan out and kill strategy as lead up to G8/G20

It's all ministerial hands on deck today for a big international push on this: "Ministers fan out to kill global bank tax proposal." Irrespective of how you feel about the prospect of an international bank tax, this effort will likely be fruitless and it's ill-timed.
Canada will mount a world-wide campaign Tuesday against a global bank tax by deploying four cabinet ministers in far-flung political and financial centres around the world Tuesday in a bid to kill the proposal.
Five Conservative cabinet ministers will deliver speeches in four major cities on Tuesday that will essentially trash the tax, while calling for stronger regulations for financial markets.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Industry Minister Tony Clement will bolster Harper's remarks with events in Mumbai, Shanghai, Washington and Ottawa.
It's almost like their domestic political attack mode is now being taken international yet instead of bashing the Liberals et al., this time, the receiving end, for all intents and purposes, will be the European countries and the U.S. who are actually pushing for a bank tax. It seems destructive, it's not a consensus building strategy leading into the G8/G20 summits.

And it's not like this international push is likely to win over those who are supporting the tax, that's doubtful. Treasury Secretary Geithner basically said as much in Washington at the end of April at a meeting of the G20 finance ministers, that they'd do what's necessary for the U.S., irrespective of what Canada's position is. A commitment to a bank tax is also found in the U.K. coalition government's negotiated agreement ("We agree that a banking levy will be introduced. We will seek a detailed agreement on implementation.")

Harper's anti-bank tax push is probably just going to help reinforce divisions within the G20 over the tax, going into the meetings. The divisive Harper domestic strategy gone international, in a sense. Those events in Mumbai and Shanghai in particular are likely being done for that reason.

Anyway, in the bigger picture, it seems a little ill-timed to be fanning out around the world in some kind of hyper politicized campaign to rail against this bank tax at a time when the European countries (and the U.S.) are preoccupied with a drowning Greece and the fears that its crisis will spread. The world knows our pious position well, this just doesn't seem like helpful international engagement for Canada at a sensitive moment.


Another poll to undermine the chess master's stance on excluding abortion funding from his maternal health initiative:
"Alberta was the only province where opposition to supporting abortion abroad was greater than support for the idea (53% opposed, to 44% in favour). In Quebec, 71% thought Canadian aid should be spent to provide access to safe abortions and in British Columbia that figure was 68%. In Ontario, 55% supported spending aid money on abortions, and in Atlantic Canada, 61% supported the idea. “Clearly aid in developing countries is something that Quebeckers and Ontarians and a large number of other Canadians feel is important,” said Dave Scholz, vice-president of Leger Marketing. Prime Minister Stephen Harper “is trying to get votes in Quebec and other parts of the country and this type of behaviour doesn’t bode well for him when it comes to keeping Canadians happy.”"
Nevertheless, somebody has his talking points to massage it all away:
Mr. Harper, meanwhile, listed off clean drinking water and some vague pre- and post-birth interventions that can help mothers and their babies when asked about his G8 maternal health plan. “There are things that can be done, not controversial things, things that are not expensive. They can make a real significant difference in the lives of people around the world.”
Except that a majority of Canadians firmly support the "controversial things" being included in the plan.

It may be sinking in, despite the spin, that this has blown up on them and the attempt to narrow the focus of the G8/G20 meetings was telling:
...Harper said his focus is and will remain on economic issues.

"Everything else that so often gets so much attention from your former media colleagues Mike, these are sideshows. The economy is what matters," Harper told the moderator, Sen. Mike Duffy.

"And it's got to be what matters at these meetings in June."
But that's not what he said when he launched the maternal health initiative in January:
As its contribution to this G8 initiative, Canada will look to mobilize G8 governments and non-governmental organizations as well as private foundations. Setting a global agenda for improving maternal and child health is an ambitious plan. But working with other nations and aid agencies on the ground where the need is greatest makes it an achievable goal.

There is other business to be transacted at the G8 as well as informal discussions on security, nuclear proliferation and the environment. But our focus on maternal and child health will be a priority.
From priority to sideshow. If anything, the mobilizing Harper is doing is all about that bank tax, not maternal health.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Josee Verner does damage control on abortion issue for Harper government (video)

Instead of some lengthy blog post on this report, "Tories slam cardinal's abortion remark," let's just go with a video representation:

This is totally working out for them.

And here is where we juxtapose...

Consider the treatment of Richard Colvin's legal fees, which he was legally entitled to have paid but needed the help of a vigorous public campaign to obtain a final commitment to get them paid:
The lawyer for Richard Colvin, a former senior diplomat with Canada's mission in Afghanistan, says the Conservative government seems to be retaliating for Colvin's testimony on prisoner torture by withholding payment of legal fees.

In a letter sent Monday to the Military Police Complaints Commission, Colvin's lawyer, Owen Rees, says the government hasn't responded to fee payment requests since Colvin testified before the Commons special committee on Afghanistan in November and is "impeding" his ability to act as a witness in the commission's investigation.
Following that public appeal and the political pressure that ensued, the government relented.

Contrast the above with the report of the Privy Council Office backdating over budget legal expenses for unknown persons:
A newly released audit has found officials in the Privy Council Office improperly "backdated" approvals for legal expenses that ran over budget at the Oliphant Commission.

"The legal counsel did not provide advance notice ... that additional time would be needed until the legal counsel had already exceeded the original allotted time for preparation of hearings," says the internal report.

Officials then date-stamped their after-the-fact approval back to the date the legal fees actually ran over budget. The same thing happened again, and again approval was improperly backdated.
(h/t a little birdie)

Improper backdating of expenses in the Privy Council Office

This report should prompt a lot of questions and appropriate investigation (see below): "Feds backdated Mulroney-Schreiber bills."
The prime minister's own department fiddled with the books at least twice to pay some of the massive legal bills run up by the inquiry into Brian Mulroney's dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber.

A newly released audit has found officials in the Privy Council Office improperly "backdated" approvals for legal expenses that ran over budget at the Oliphant Commission.

"The legal counsel did not provide advance notice ... that additional time would be needed until the legal counsel had already exceeded the original allotted time for preparation of hearings," says the internal report.

Officials then date-stamped their after-the-fact approval back to the date the legal fees actually ran over budget. The same thing happened again, and again approval was improperly backdated.

The audit, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, does not identify who ran over budget or by how much. (emphasis added)
What does the Prime Minister have to say about the backdating of expenses in his department? Has anything been done about this inappropriate activity that was identified in this audit? And if not, why not? Who did this improper backdating? Who approved of it? Why was it permitted to occur multiple times? Whose legal expenses were these?
A Privy Council Office spokeswoman says Mulroney, whose legal expenses are paid separately from the commission's own accounts because he is a former public office holder, has already been reimbursed $1.6 million by the government for his legal tab to date.

Mulroney has been represented at the inquiry by a team of six lawyers, including lead counsel Guy Pratte.

The only other participant to have had his legal bills paid by the commission is Fred Doucet, a lobbyist and former aide to Mulroney. Doucet successfully argued in 2008 that he had insufficient income to afford a lawyer.
How and why did this happen in the Privy Council Office? This is the highest office in the land, the Privy Council Office is the Prime Minister's bureaucracy. It sends an incredibly poor message to Canadians about ethics, the ethics at the very top of the government.

If the Prime Minister's department has engaged in such behaviour, there should be public accountability. It is precisely because of the message it's sending and what appears to be, on its face, impropriety, that it needs to be investigated and carried out by independent eyes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Of course we do

"Canadians reject PM's abortion stand: poll." The Master Tactician's judgment is off yet again:
A new poll suggests that a majority of Canadians opposes the Prime Minister's refusal to fund safer abortions in developing countries, even as international concern grows about the state of his G8 maternal health initiative.

The Canadian Press-Harris Decima poll found that 58 per cent of respondents oppose Harper's exclusion of abortion funding in his drive to improve maternal and child health in poor countries.

That's up from about 46 per cent in March, when a similar question about aid for abortion access was asked.
Yay, Canada. Now the question is whether Mr. Harper will represent the views of Canadians or his base as this initiative goes forward?

Persichilli's quarterly Liberal leadership review

Bet you can't guess how it turns out! Hint. It's a lot like last quarter's fare. This is what he does.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday night

Not much going on here's a favourite song from the week. Have a good night!

The surprised Peter MacKay

Update (Sat 6:20 p.m.) below.

Have not been following this story that closely but it's certainly worth a read now. The "...Chief of the Maritime Staff, issued a directive April 23 telling commanders that half of the navy’s fleet of 12 Kingston-class patrol ships would be de-manned and docked, because budgets are tight and money needed to be devoted to frigates and submarines." That April 23rd decision was announced on Thursday. It apparently came as a surprise to the Defence Minister. We know this because General Natynczyk "belayed" the order or rescinded it pending a further review and took the blame by stating this:
“It’s my job to make sure that my minister’s not surprised,” he said.
Who knows what is going on behind the scenes here, but suffice it to say that there are issues between MacKay and his department. Whether the Harper civilians are asleep at the switch or there's backroom budgetary bickering going on, we don't know. That's a bit of a problem. Got to be more to the story than this.

Update: Here's a fun theory that may be totally off base, but let's just throw it out there. Ban Ki Moon was here on the 12th, Canada's prospective seat on the Security Council is in issue, the navy makes this decision public on the 13th. If the navy had announced these major cuts on the 12th, that would have been too embarrassing and just not cool. But boy it was close. Just a thought.

Update (6:20 p.m.): From David Pugliese:
After speaking to a number of military personnel in the wake of Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk’s Friday press conference, it is clear the mood at NDHQ isn’t a happy one.

Natynczyk rode to the rescue of Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who has been under fire because of capability reductions ordered by Navy commander Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden.
“We have not stood down a single ship,” claimed Natynczyk even though the process of preparing some Kingston-class vessels for docking had already begun.
The big question is how to adjust resources?

The money for operations has to come from somewhere. Will the government provide additional funds or will the military rob Peter to pay Paul?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday night

New Chemical Brothers, Swoon. You have to give it a few listens. Cheers!

The detainee document agreement

Update (8:15 p.m.) below. And subsequent...

So, Armageddon, of one variety, has been headed off and the parties have all agreed, in principle, to a resolution on the detainee documents and a way forward. This is good news. I just took a quick scan around at some of the commentary and there's a lot of cynicism about it. I'm going to opt for optimism at this point. A wait and see approach is indeed justifiable, because things are rarely as they are represented to be by Stephen Harper. He's happy with the agreement, naturally arousing a lot of suspicion. But at some point, you do have to have faith in our members of parliament and the significant point that an all-party agreement has been reached. The process they've agreed to is underpinned by a Speaker's ruling that gives strong weight to parliamentary supremacy with a nod to national security concerns. If the agreement breaks down in months to come, fine, it can be dealt with then but that ruling will be in the backdrop and will inform those judges on that panel as well.

So I'm on board with those who are reacting positively about it. A few thoughts here on the details, thus far, that have been agreed.

Regarding this paragraph:
— With respect to every unredacted document examined by the Committee, the Committee will determine whether the information in that document is relevant to matters of importance to Members of Parliament, particularly as it relates to the ongoing study on the transfer of Afghan detainees currently under way at the House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, and whether the use of such information is necessary for the purpose of holding the government to account. The decisions of the Committee related to the relevance shall be final and unreviewable.
"The Committee will determine." That says two things. The MPs will determine what is relevant for accountability purposes. Not the panel. That's affirmation of the parliamentary supremacy principle. Secondly, that sounds like a unanimity standard, which is surprising to see. The context thus far has been a government that doesn't want to release information. Their presumption is no release. So how does the committee work with a likely government MP who will presumptively say no? Looks like the answer is in the next paragraph:
Where the Committee determines that such information is both relevant and necessary, or upon the request of any member of the Committee, it will refer the document to a Panel of Arbiters who will determine how that relevant and necessary information will be made available to Members of Parliament and the public without compromising national security - either by redaction or the writing of summaries or such techniques as the Panel find appropriate, hearing in mind the basic objectives of maximizing disclosure and transparency. The Panel of Arbiters should regularly consult with the members of the Committees to better understand what information the MPs believe to be relevant and the reason why. The decisions of the Panel of Arbiters with respect to disclosure shall be final and unreviewable.
So it seems that the preceding paragraph was more to do with asserting parliamentary supremacy. This paragraph is more to do with making the committee work. So there is an "out" of the perceived unanimity standard, stating that "any member of the Committee" can request that a document be referred to the panel for the "how" of its release. That is a good thing, albeit that there are four parties in the room! But how, practically, could it be otherwise? Unanimity, or 3/4 or 2/4 would be a recipe for gridlock and endless playing off of parties against each other.

Will that clause be used by the government to refer a ton of material to the panel? I don't see it, particularly when it's "how" the information is released that the panel is executing, not whether it will be released. You would think the government would be inhibited in forwarding information, if it's a question of how it's released.

The latter phrasing, that the objectives of "maximizing disclosure and transparency" are to be guidelines for the panel in determining how information is to be released is positive language.

An ongoing consultation between the MPs and the panel also seems positive, in that a group dynamic could take shape where there's some rhythm achieved, that a working dialogue could become the reality might be a very good thing. There's some equality in that dynamic, in terms of how items would be released, that's encouraging. And maybe the hint of some speed that could be there, but let's not overstate at this point.

This is another part worthy of attention:
Committee members will have access to government officials from appropriate departments to provide briefings and contextual information and reasons for protecting information.
Access by the MPs to such information is important, there needs to be as much of a balance brought to the opposition MPs knowledge base as there is on the government side. Otherwise, not sure how that part will factor in. Again, it could make the work run more smoothly but we'll see.

Regarding the panel's composition:
— The Panel of Arbiters will be composed of 3 eminent jurists. Composition of the panel must be agreed upon by the government and the opposition.
That's fine, to be expected. How the panel ultimately leans in its decisions on how much to release will of course be in for some criticism down the road, but if everybody agrees on the members, they're all taking the same risk.

A good start now we'll see how it's executed by all parties.

Update (8:15 p.m.): I was just having a discussion on twitter about whether there is this "out" of the unanimity standard. This was an alternative interpretation put forward:
"agreement could be saying if doc is "relevant" and "necessary" it goes to panel OR if it's both relevant and an MP requests."
My take is that the "or" in "or upon the request of any member of the Committee" which is preceded by a comma (that comma perhaps being very significant) is disjunctive. That a member requesting a review is permitted, separate and apart from a committee determination on relevance. Again, as I said above, the relevance paragraph seems to me to be about a statement of parliamentary supremacy (and the standards that would apply). But I could be wrong! Anyway, should be interesting to see what the memorandum of understanding says about all this.

Update (8:55 p.m.): We had much more back & forth on what these two clauses mean, it's all on my twitter stream. I will leave it at awaiting the memorandum of understanding. It may not be as straightforward as I put it above but now, my head hurts and it's Friday night...

Last Update here: It may well be that the "or upon the request of any member of the committee" only has to do with relevant but not necessary information. I.e., if it's deemed relevant, but not necessary, it can go to the panel. I assume that would be for, what, educational purposes that it would be sought to be released? I guess in the interests of disclosing as much as possible, that option would be made available.

Absolutely last update: I'm coming back round to my original interpretation, above. It may seem absurd to think an MP can just ask for a referral to the panel, undermining a genuine effort at determining relevance/necessity, but it's a fair interpretation. Sorry for the twists and turns here but it's something worth struggling through.