Friday, April 30, 2010

Poll underway in Simcoe-Grey

What to do with the nominee in that riding, if an election happens sooner rather than later, is the subject of a phone poll:
A "research" company, believed to have been commissioned by the Conservative Party, is currently conducting a telephone survey of federal voter intentions in Simcoe-Grey, with particular emphasis on MP Helena Guergis.

The phone survey opens with a description of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as an "academic" and asks the person being interviewed whether they would vote for someone with such an education background, or whether they favour change.

Initially the survey taker asks for the male, 18 years or older, in the house to answer questions, but will talk to women, as happened in this writer's household last night.

It's approximately a three minute interview and the respondent is asked whether they recognize from news reports, Ms. Guergis, Stephen Harper, Rahim Jaffer, and Mr. Ignatieff. As a companion question, they're asked to rate each one as favourable, somewhat favourable, somewhat unfavourable, or totally unfavourable.

However, the phone poll, also gets around to asking voter intentions including by party, then listing each of the candidates now nominated in Simcoe-Grey, plus how the respondent would vote if Ms. Guergis were to run as an independent.

The incumbent MP is currently expelled from the Conservative caucus pending the outcome investigations involving "serious allegations" that have not been identified by the Prime Minister, but are the subject of national media attention. Because Ms. Guergis is not considered a "member in good standing" her guaranteed nomination status for the Conservatives in Simcoe-Grey is uncertain.

It's believed that the telephone poll is being conducted on behalf of the Conservative Party to determine how they will deal with the nomination issue. There's a new sense of urgency in Ottawa firing up election speculation because of the Speaker's ruling Tuesday that went against the Harper government's handling of documents related to the Afghan detainee file.
Busy bees, these Conservatives. Always dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's." Sounds like they are vigilantly attending to that seat, doing some ground work to ensure it stays in Conservative hands.

Kind of annoying, that part about the male in the house being requested to respond.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's baa-aaaack

Does this sound familiar? From the government news site today: "Harper Government Reduces Taxes for Canadians."

Old habits die hard. Not too partisan an announcement either, is it?

Government of Canada. Period.

Brit dynamic seems to be reinforced post debate

Some highlights from the British debate that happened today, for something completely different:





The dynamic seems to be reinforced following this one:

But we'll see.

Some fairly superficial reaction now...

There's quite a difference in the clarity of the debate with three participants. Nice free flowing debate too, no rigid question and answer format with questions posed consecutively to each leader without interaction. These debates have seen relatively free and civil engagement.

Is it legal to say you are sick of Nick Clegg? Because I am.

See how shiny and modern the Brits are? Nice set. Can we get one of those next time?

Open doors

Have you heard that Conservative talking point to the effect that no money or contracts were given to Jaffer? That's the saving grace line they're using. As in, that's the only part of this that counts. But think about it. It's like someone celebrating the fact that they got 50% on an exam. That's not so hot. They only got it half right. Jaffer had access and opportunities, not of a social nature, that are becoming clearer as days go by. That's the government's responsibility yet they want you to just focus on a narrow part of the whole mess.

We know that Jaffer and his partner meet with Brian Jean, Baird's parliamentary secretary. One of the projects they submitted to Jean had that notation "From Rahim - submit to dept" on the top, a symbol of that access. Providing more indications of access, a pile of emails and documents released last night that are worth a read. From the pile, here's one with yet another of those notations on it, using "w/ Rahim," again by first name, to apparently identify who Patrick Glemaud was with (page 16, click to enlarge):


CP reported on the documents last night. The first two paragraphs here are about Jaffer's request for $700,000 from the Western Economic Diversification office for a certain project (page 8):
In one message exchange with Doug Maley, an assistant deputy minister at Western Economic Diversification Canada, the two exchange pleasantries about Jaffer's recent graduate degree, a golf date, and a mercury capture project in Alberta.

"Can you have someone review this on a priority basis as I need to get back to Rahim this Friday afternoon on whether this may be of interest to WD," Maley writes to another bureaucrat.

A lengthy email trail among officials at Public Works shows they scrambled last fall — at the request of Minister Christian Paradis' office — to set up a meeting with "former Member of Parliament" Jaffer's company on a proposal to install solar panels on the roofs of federal buildings.

"This request comes from minister's office," says one email, rated "high" in importance.

"Sorry to be a pest . . . but MO (minister's office) is asking when?" says another.

At one point, Paradis' director of parliamentary affairs laments: "The sector has had this for weeks. What's the hold up?"
This material speaks to ethics, appearances and extending access privileges to insiders. Access that appears to have been provided within multiple ministries for Jaffer. So when we hear the line that there was no money given, no contract, etc., that's just one part of the story. What was all the prioritization and access about then? They were certainly willing to entertain the prospect of granting project approvals.

Here's another example from the emails, note the use of a Guergis email account (page 13, click to enlarge):
The documents give some insight as to how the channels of communication worked for Jaffer. There doesn't seem to be any hint of objection to the overtures, at least not in the documents provided. At a very basic level, the impression is one of, here's a project, does it fit the government criteria, then it heads off for consideration. No preliminary questions about whether it was appropriate to consider such projects. Not too many private citizens who have the kind of personal access seen here.

Gordon Brown's bad day

A look at the front pages from Britain today will tell you all you need to know about the state of the campaign. If you haven't been following along, this transcript will tell you the whole story of Gordon Brown's somewhat difficult encounter with a voter yesterday, which he handled not so badly, and the comments he made afterward to his staff, picked up on microphone as he drove away in a car. The comments, in which he referenced the woman as "bigoted," were broadcast. And here's the iconic picture of Brown as he sat in a radio studio, as the comments were played back to him. On front page after front page:


There are variations of the encounter on other front pages. This analysis of the whole incident yesterday is nuanced and brilliant.

The only consolation, if there is one for Labour, that the third and final debate takes place tonight, immediately on the heels of the incident. Gives Brown the chance to stand up and face the nation. How he conducts himself will likely be the focus of the debate. Plus it's on the economy, it's comfortable ground for him. So there's the glass half full take on that! Wow. What a campaign.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Here's a question

Update (5:45 p.m.) below. And (11:00 p.m.).

Here's some possibly interesting reading to throw out there this morning: "CBC/Radio-Canada Journalistic Standards & Practices." See below for its pertinence.
1.1 HIRING OR CASTING OF PERSONS IDENTIFIED WITH POLITICAL PARTIES OR PRESSURE GROUPS

Any plan to hire persons identified with political parties or pressure groups must be submitted in advance to management as follows: to the senior officer in information programming for information programs; to the media vice-president concerned for other programs and services; to RCI Management for programs and services coming under its responsibility. To ensure consistency of application, those receiving such submissions will consult fully with colleagues.

The hiring of persons identified with political parties or pressure groups may only be authorized if the person concerned has resigned his or her functions within the political party or pressure group and has refrained from public activity in the party or group or in a related capacity for at least two years.

This policy is not designed to prevent the participation of public figures invited to comment on current events provided that, on the air, there is no ambiguity regarding their status. (emphasis added)
Has Kory Teneycke, who has been hired as a paid commentator, "refrained" for two years? He left Harper's employ as Director of Communications in late summer 2009. Does he fall under this policy?

Occasional commentators would be those referenced in the last paragraph, one would think, they're not hired persons, they are "invited" from time to time. Presumably the above policy is mainly directed at those who have been hired on an ongoing basis. The provision seems to embody the notion of some kind of cooling off period for the hiring of "persons identified with political parties." There is no distinction drawn between full-time and part-time hires. In 1.2, by contrast, there is specific mention of full-time employees.

Given recent items in the news, the above rule is worth throwing out there for consideration as a matter of current public interest.

(h/t NG)

Update (5:45 p.m.): Regarding this post by Warren Kinsella, as stated above, this seemed to be relevant information to throw out there given that Conservatives are making a fuss about persons who are hired by CBC. The above post is more about pointing out the hypocrisy of Conservatives rather than picking a bone with CBC.

Update (11:00 p.m.): One last point to add to this today, which I really should have done earlier. The above CBC policy was sent to me by a regular reader, someone I hear from almost every day. He's a senior citizen who lives in some fairly frail circumstances, from what I understand. He was concerned about the hypocrisy of what he saw the Conservatives doing this week and I happened to agree. This was the genesis of the post. So this was no Liberal sponsored broadside against a Conservative who comments on CBC, just for clarification purposes. I think anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis would know that anything written here would never have that goal. CBC has a balanced reporting and commenting operation, contrary to what the haters think. They can hire Conservatives into their mix, of course, it's just that with this one particular person, Teneycke, there seemed to be a question, based on the above policy.

Cost of partisan advertising rolls in

The Conservatives have finally deigned to provide a figure for how much has been spent on advertising the Economic Action Plan. They're claiming it's $42 million, an incredible enough figure given the debt we've gone into over the past year. It's also incredible given the partisan nature of most of this advertising endeavour.

Still, the $42 million is incomplete. The figure doesn't include all those nifty EAP signs across the country. Le Devoir reported in November that the signs cost between $800 - $7,000 apiece. The total cost estimate for the signs therefore ranged between $5 to $45 million (on 6,500 signs). The federal share would be about a third, with the provinces & municipalities, i.e., still we the taxpayers, picking up the rest of the tab. Just to stick a sign in front of the project and advertise, yep, the federal government has been here. Only the feds get their name on the sign.

There was also that recent news, which the government tried to suppress, of the $5 million ad spree during the Olympics alone. Does the $42 million include that amount?

With the ad bonanza we saw in the fall, comparable to what we saw during the Olympics, it just doesn't seem credible that the total figure is $42 million. There was an estimate in the fall of $56 million for the period of January-June last year. So there's likely more to come on this issue. Eventually. Maybe the Auditor General might help us out in the fall when she reports on the EAP.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A great day for Canadian democracy

Three cheers for the Speaker, who got it right. Some key excerpts:
It is the view of the Chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its Members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded.

As has been noted earlier, the procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of Government documents, even those related to national security. Therefore, the Chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question. Bearing in mind that the fundamental role of Parliament is to hold the Government to account, as the servant of the House, and the protector of its privileges, I cannot agree with the Government’s interpretation that ordering these documents transgresses the separation of powers, and interferes with the spheres of activity of the executive branch.
...
The Chair must conclude that it is within the powers of the House of Commons to ask for the documents sought in the December 10 order it adopted. Now, it seems to me, that the issue before us is this: is it possible to put into place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interest of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.
...
Finding common ground will be difficult. There have been assertions that colleagues in the House are not sufficiently trustworthy to be given confidential information, even with appropriate security safeguards in place. I find such comments troubling. The insinuation that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials and which Members require to act in their various parliamentary capacities.

The issue of trust goes in the other direction as well. Some suggestions have been made that the Government has self-serving and ulterior motives for the redactions in the documents tabled. Here too, such remarks are singularly unhelpful to the aim of finding a workable accommodation and ultimately identifying mechanisms that will satisfy all actors in this matter.

But the fact remains that the House and the Government have, essentially, an unbroken record of some 140 years of collaboration and accommodation in cases of this kind. It seems to me that it would be a signal failure for us to see that record shattered in the Third Session of the Fortieth Parliament because we lacked the will or the wit to find a solution to this impasse.
...
Accordingly, on analysing the evidence before it and the precedents, the Chair cannot but conclude that the Government`s failure to comply with the Order of December 10, 2009 constitutes prima facie a question of privilege.

I will allow House Leaders, Ministers and party critics time to suggest some way of resolving the impasse for it seems to me we would fail the institution if no resolution can be found. However, if, in two weeks’ time, the matter is still not resolved, the Chair will return to make a statement on the motion that will be allowed in the circumstances.
Not going to add a lot to this. The ruling should speak for itself and should be the preeminent focus of the day and going forward. Political spin should be weighed for what it is. It is the ruling that should underpin any discussions that take place in the next two weeks. Parliament has the right to demand the documents and see the documents. Now it is just a question of working out how that takes place.

The Conservative bluster that is flowing out there today is predictable. They cry election whenever they are in a tight spot, attempting to cow the opposition. Perhaps it is just face saving today but it's what they always do, almost like crying wolf at this point. It shouldn't be given so much serious indulgence in the weeks to come. They're not exactly in a position of strength in the polls from which to taunt opponents about an election.

It feels like the dynamic in our politics has changed for the better today. The view of our democracy that the PM and his party have attempted to peddle, this assertion of executive supremacy that Harper has attempted to seed has been firmly swatted back.

Time for a mature Parliament of leaders to step up and calmly resolve a significant issue. It's not too much to ask for, it's what a minority parliament is supposed to do. A Prime Minister plays a key role in that process and we really don't need any more of his unnecessary throttling of our democracy. If this Prime Minister were a real leader, we wouldn't have even been brought to today.

More layers off the onion

First up, the Prentice misleading the House situation is no better today than yesterday. Arguably it is worse, as Harperbizarro sets out. In Prentice's carefully worded Friday statement to the House of Commons, he gave the clear impression that his staffer met with Jaffer in Calgary. Many media ran with that, it was a common misunderstanding based on what Prentice said. Yet Prentice changed the story yesterday in the House of Commons, saying his staffer met with Jaffer in Guergis' office. You can see a government motive to suppress that kind of information, that a former MP would be conducting business out of a cabinet minister's office, that of a spouse. Now this is the second time within a week that Prentice's statements to the House of Commons have been put in issue. And it stands alone as an issue, misleading the House, separate and apart from any other issues or facts in the Jaffer matter.

Note that CTV reported on Friday night that Jaffer had met with the Prentice staffer in Guergis' office. They did not, however, report on the discrepancy between Prentice's statement in the House and the information they were reporting:





Secondly, developments from last night and yesterday have added a few more names to the crowd of Harper ministers and MPs whom Rahim Jaffer or his business partner met with or tried to contact. Last night CTV cited Tony Clement who suddenly remembers that Jaffer contacted him too. Bob Fife was also reporting a "direct business pitch" to Minister Gary Goodyear's office. Whether that direct pitch to Goodyear's office is different from the three projects Glemaud submitted to Andrew House, Goodyear's staffer, in connection with the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, not clear. We have also learned of the possibility of James Rajotte and maybe others being in the mix now too.

It looks like the Harper crew are trying to get names out before they hear any new ones this Wednesday afternoon at the Government Operations committee when the next hearing occurs. Or maybe in advance of a return date for Jaffer, who might expand more if and when he returns to committee to address discrepancies in his testimony. It will be interesting to see how upcoming hearings and what we learn will match up against what we've been told thus far by the Harper government members.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Late afternoon trying to keep up post: G8 abortion policy & other notes

So much going on today, so here are a few developments from the day worth noting...

1. In Question Period today, the Conservatives fully clarified their position on their maternal health initiative. This was Conservative B.C. MP Jim Abbott's beeg, huge response to a question from the Bloc:
The G8 development ministers in Halifax today, where this issue will be discussed. We'll be leading the discussion at the upcoming G8 summit on child and maternal health. We're focused on how to make a positive difference to save the lives of mothers and children in the developing world. Canada's contribution to maternal and child health may include family planning. However, Canada's contribution will not include funding abortion.
They're all in on this issue now. This is a real schism between what we do domestically on abortion and what is now being refused internationally. They've done this split domestic/international policy on the death penalty too. Doing overseas what they could not get away with domestically. I would also mention the excising of "gender equality" from foreign policy too. At least they're being fully transparent now about where they stand on the maternal health initiative so Canadians can see what they're doing. And they're getting appropriate attention for it too.

2. Maybe an interesting segue from that abortion statement by the Harper government today...the Harris Decima poll released today that shows Cons 29-Libs 27-NDP 20 has possibly a nugget in terms of the women's support numbers. The Conservative numbers among women started to drop at the end of March (p. 6). That's when Hillary came to town and delivered her broadside about the maternal health initiative and the need to yes, include abortion funding under the umbrella of family planning.

3. The focus on the gun registry could also be gelling poll-wise with bad implications for the Conservatives. As BCL pointed out today, there's a poll out which shows that Canadians support the gun registry being maintained and notably, women support the registry much more so than men. Could be a convergence of issues going on for the Conservatives.

4. For those thinking that the above Harris Decima poll represents a mirror image developing of the U.K. election, as Allan Gregg seems to be getting all excited about, a few thoughts. First, has he donated to the NDP? Just kidding, couldn't resist. Farnwide points out that this bump upwards in NDP support is not a supportable trend until seen in other polls, which it hasn't been to date. Then there's the obvious point that Nick Clegg carries with him a sense of brand spanking newness to the U.K. electorate, courtesy of those first time U.K. debates. Layton would have a hard time replicating what is a real phenomenon in Britain. Interesting poll though.

5. Jim Prentice keeps changing his story on the Jaffer front. Prentice stated his aide met with Jaffer in Calgary. Now it's his aide meeting with Jaffer in Guergis' parliamentary offices. More shifting representations from Prentice in the House of Commons that doesn't do anything to help his or the government's credibility.

This might be one of those skeletons

"Get those Jaffer skeletons out of closet, MPs told," by the PMO:
Stephen Harper’s office is encouraging (demanding?) cabinet ministers and MPs come forward with any information of any meetings they may have had with former Tory MP Rahim Jaffer, according to sources.

This plea to caucus is an attempt by the Prime Minister’s Office to avoid being blind-sided in the Jaffer/Helena Guergis affair. “People were encouraged to share information so no one would be surprised,” a Conservative insider told The Globe. “Being shy is not what [PMO officials] would want.”
This guy is in trouble (from Question Period today):
The Speaker: The honourable MEMBER FOR St. JOHN'S South-Mount Pearl.

So, the minister's not going to table a list? Investment executive magazine reported that, last september, Mr. JAFFER ORGANIZED a day-long meeting in Toronto between a group of banking executives and the Conservative financial services caucus, including the chair of the commons finance committee. Now, transparency doesn't mean you tell only when you're caught. We know this meeting took place. How many other such meetings DID Mr. JAFFER ORGANIZE FOR Conservative members of parliament? And what was promised or discussed?
Sounds like former Finance Committee chair, James Rajotte, who was chair at the time of that September 2009 meeting.

Another week of peeling back the onion

Avert your eyes from the Conservatives' latest shiny object to distract from the questions of lobbying scandal that are on their doorstep. That shiny object would be the pursuit of Frank Graves and the CBC which the Conservatives wish to carry on into this week. Why? Because the ongoing Jaffer matter which has now reached into three ministries continues to provide daily bad headlines for the government. Those headlines are being furthered along by the government's own handling of the mess.

Note Jim Prentice's refusal to bring information to the attention of the House of Commons until Friday of last week about one of his staffers meeting with Jaffer. He learned of it on Tuesday. The MPs on the Government Operations committee sitting on Wednesday were therefore deprived of the knowledge that Jaffer had met with a Prentice staffer and could not ask any questions about it. Further, Prentice indicated that the "details of those discussions and the documents relating to them" were forwarded to the Lobbying Commissioner and would be to the Ethics Commissioner. If this whole matter is indeed "before the House and before one of its committees," as Prentice stated in the Commons, that information should also have been sent to the committee. The delay of Prentice's statement until Friday and the withholding of information that resulted raises questions. Some think it constitutes misleading the House of Commons. That's important and it should be pursued.

John Baird's nonchalant Wednesday night release of the project proposal documents that Jafffer/Glemaud had submitted to his office for green infrastructure funding, after the committee hearing earlier that day, also deserves some scrutiny. His office clearly had the information, sat on it and should have provided it to the Government Operations committee before it heard from Jaffer.

If the committee had had the documents in front of it, someone might have inquired, for e.g., about what the notations on the documents meant. See "From Rahim - submit to dept," for e.g. on the DPS Kinetic document. Sounds like it was written by someone who knew him. "From Rahim" was meant to be of significance to somebody and it looks as if it helped to push the project through the door. These are the kinds of questions that should be asked of Baird, or Brian Jean, his parliamentary secretary who met with Jaffer and Glemaud.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Clegg-ocracy

Liberal Democratic leader and potential kingmaker Nick Clegg offers up a new interpretation of parliamentary elections, almost bordering on the Harperesque:
"Because of the vagaries of the system, Labour could get fewer votes than the other two parties, but still have most seats. If that happens, Clegg will have the casting vote.

So I push, and push, and finally he helps a bit, by declaring that if Labour gets the smallest share of the vote of the three main parties and the most seats, he would not tolerate Brown remaining prime minister.

“I read that the civil service has published some book a few weeks ago ... that in an environment like that, he would have first call to form a government. Well, I think it’s complete nonsense. I mean, how on earth? You can’t have Gordon Brown squatting in No 10 just because of the irrational idiosyncrasies of our electoral system.

“Whatever happens after the election has got to be guided by the stated preferences of voters, not some dusty constitutional document which states that convention dictates even losers can stay in No 10,” he snorts."
Clegg has no use for first past the post, clearly, but this is the system in which this election is taking place. The party with the most seats does have first call in forming a government. If Cameron has the most votes but fewer seats than Labour, Clegg is going to go with him? That's complete nonsense, to use Clegg's language, and I don't think he's really saying that.

Al Gore won more votes than George W. Bush in 2000. Yet we know that it was the electoral college, the rules under which the election took place, that dictated the outcome. That's the way legally governed societies work. Imagine a similar scenario in Canada, of course the way we understand our system and the way it indeed works is that the party that wins the most seats is called upon to form the government.

What Clegg probably means is that a Labour victory in seats, while finishing third in popular vote, might lead Clegg to require Brown to step aside as a condition of Clegg's support for a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. But Labour has the right, as a party, to choose its own leader so this is quite the statement from Clegg. A lot would be on the table in those negotiations, whether Brown's stepping aside would be one item, I guess we might see.

If that's not what he means (but really, judging from his vitriolic comments toward Brown, it seems that he does), perhaps he's just laying the groundwork, in a very dramatic fashion, to obtain a firm commitment to electoral reform from Labour so that such a result never occurs again.

Whatever the case, it's a bit annoying to be hearing the heralded figure toying around with the rules of parliamentary democracy. It'll be a unique result for Britain, yes, if it's a "hung" parliament but it doesn't mean the present rules get chucked out the window. It's irritating enough for us when Harper injects a flawed American style interpretation of how our system works, i.e., people elect a Prime Minister, it's disheartening to hear it starting up in the U.K.

Ignaiteff respond

(Globe Politics Page)

Me Ignatieff, you Jane.

Doesn't anybody tell the Globe about these things? Or if they do, why don't they fix them? Whatever the case, rock on, national paper of record.

The report recounted Wayne Easter explaining the Liberal gun registry position to the satisfaction of constituents who had heard the Conservative radio hooey ads.

If you support the Liberal position and are so inclined, there is a donation campaign going on to fight the Conservative ads.

One other point, this is interesting:
NDP Leader Jack Layton has not ruled out whipping his MPs to vote against the bill, said his spokesman, Karl Belanger. A loss of New Democrat support would kill the bill.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday night



A song that is growing on me, new Stone Temple Pilots. A little raunchy in terms of the lyrics, so, a little disclaimer there, but we're all adults here, right? Anyway, it's just so gooood, it needs to be shared.

It's also a chance to pass on this site, SoundCloud, for those who like to listen to music online. Happy exploring.

Circling the wagons

Update (Sunday a.m.) below.

This expression of loyalty out of Simcoe Grey today was to be expected: "True blue Tories in Guergis riding support MP." This was the first formal opportunity for the riding association to weigh in. But behind the expressions of support, there's reality.

There is rumbling about others challenging Guergis. While Andy Beaudoin, "the association's outgoing secretary," expressed derision at those persons ("The people that I see or hear being quoted I've never heard of before. They've never asked for a sign on their lawn. They've never volunteered to help. They've never gone door to door ... So I don't know who these great Conservatives are."), such concerns haven't stopped great democrat Harper before:
The federal Conservatives have appointed the woman who runs Toronto's port authority as the party's candidate in Halton, sparking anger among some party supporters in the riding upset that the nomination process was overruled.
The RCMP investigation, that may or may not be happening, is referenced in the CP report. There's also the ethics one which may have legs. Guergis' explanation last week that she assured herself Jaffer had "absolutely no business links or financial interest in" the company she promoted to her cousin doesn't jibe with revelations this week, that Jaffer's company asked the government for green funding in the order of $100 million for the same company. That matter is not media generated, despite the resentment present in the reporting today.

So that's a problem for Guergis' candidacy. As is Harper's Operation Blame Jaffer which is seeking mucho distance between the Conservatives and all things Jaffer/Guergis, despite the revelations over access that Jaffer/Glemaud have apparently had to multiple ministries. Throw in important questions of misleading the House of Commons. It does seem to drip, drip, drip onwards.

Update (Sun. a.m.): Harper has moved fast to quash any notion that may have been in the air on Saturday to the effect that Guergis could possibly run again: "Tories don't want Guergis to run again: source."

British election reads

A sampling of the day's best reads on the state of the British election:

Some interesting developments from the Tories: "General Election 2010: Conservatives plan for a coalition." Wha? A coalition? Nobody tell Stephen Harper. At least one senior Tory is speaking about how they'd negotiate with the Liberal Dems on some issues in the event of a minority result.

On the other hand, David Cameron is proposing a new rule for unelected PMs:
The key element is the proposal that anyone taking over as PM following the death, overthrow or resignation of the previous incumbent would have to call an election within six months.
If the Canadian coalition had "overthrown" the Harper government in the fall of 2008 by defeating it on a confidence vote, presumably such a rule would have required a vote within 6 months. Maybe Cameron does have a Canadian Conservative adviser after all, you know, to mess with hundreds of years of parliamentary tradition just for short term political gain. Tom Flanagan would love it. But, facing a "hung" parliament, they should extrapolate out the effect of that rule. These Conservatives, not even in power yet and already seeking to bend the rules to make it prohibitive for parties to defeat them by inserting an election hurdle, unnecessary in the Westminster system and sure to sour their electorate, just like ours. Luckily Dave hasn't sealed the deal yet due to his vacuous presence and this latest gimmick might cement that impression.

The Guardian has a great interview piece with David Miliband, the Labour Foreign Secretary. An excerpt:
But Miliband, long accounted one of Labour's most formidable thinkers, has a serious point too. "David Cameron can't decide who he is, politically, and I think Nick Clegg is much clearer about what he's against than what he's for." He believes the surge of support for the latter, particularly, has more to do with a rise of sweeping anti-political feeling in the electorate than what he might actually stand for. "I think that there is a lot of anti-politics about the Lib Dems and the Tories," says Miliband. "And the point about anti-politics is that you can campaign on anti-politics, but you can't govern on anti-politics. And you certainly can't govern on anti-politics if you're a progressive party. You have to believe that it's through politics that societies can lead social and economic and political change. I really do think this is a very important moment for progressive politics."
Also in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee with an appeal summed up in the column title, "Your heart might say Clegg. But vote with your head:"
So what is the anti-Tory voter to do now? What do you do when the old two-party electoral system has finally collapsed into a genuine three-party contest? Look at the result according to yesterday's BBC poll of polls: Clegg gets 30% and a puny 102 seats, Cameron gets 33% and only 258 seats, while Brown comes third with 27% and emerges as the victor with 261 seats. Every time you see a poll, go to the BBC's brilliant election seat calculator for a nasty shock. Work out any variety of options. Labour may yet do far worse – but if so, Cameron wins, not Clegg.
Gordon Brown is shaking things up: "Brown rips up strategy to escape third place," and may yet pull this thing off: "Support for Labour slumps but Gordon Brown has reason to smile."

On a lighter note, here's an obvious riff on the Obama girl thing, give them points for chutzpah. Not exactly helping the Tories if you ask me:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday night



Something new (and old) from Canadian indies, Stars.

Enjoy:)

The PMO: it's not just for Ottawa anymore

Somebody's controlling tendencies are showing today. This raises some questions:
The Prime Minister's Office has set up outposts in three Canadian cities that are key electoral battlegrounds for the minority Conservative government.

PMO communications advisers have been operating from regional ministerial offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal for about 18 months.

A senior government official who wouldn't be named says their job is to facilitate access to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for local reporters, including non-English media, and also feed back information to the PMO in Ottawa.

These listening posts are in cities with large and growing ethnic groups that once leaned heavily Liberal but whose votes appear increasingly up for grabs.
So this has been going on for 18 months but is just being uncovered now? That would fit the secretive Harper government. Not wanting to disclose such matters to the public. These "listening posts" sound more political than governance related. Maybe the Conservative party should be paying for such "listening posts."

It also underscores the one-man government theme, the PMO branching out into franchises across the country. Who's in it for himself again, remind us? As we say around here, l'etat, c'est lui.

In sync with the above, you might want to give this a read today: "The man who would be king."

Attacking a messenger

Yesterday the Conservatives went full bore after pollster Frank Graves of Ekos and the CBC, whom he polls for, as a result of a quote by Graves in Lawrence Martin's column in the Globe yesterday. Here is the quote that has them so excised and led them to publicize Graves' freely available political donation history ($11K to Liberals since 2001, $450 to a Conservative in 2006) and wield it against him suddenly on a political show yesterday:
In his advice, Mr. Graves could hardly have been more blunt. “I told them that they should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Alberta don’t like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.”
Graves was giving one of those interpretive quotes on the political state of affairs of the Liberals, much as he and any pollster frequently do in relation to any party when questioned by media. Graves' Ekos colleague made clear that Graves has no retainer with the Liberals and was only offering hypothetical advice in the media interview with Martin (first link). Use the google thing and you can find uncharitable Graves comments about Liberals. I'm sure someone could also dig up other pollsters making similar types of comments, saying the Conservatives or other parties should make certain arguments. So why did the Conservatives get so upset and make a big fuss about Graves?

1. They likely don't want to have the battle that Graves framed within that Martin column. They might lose a "culture war." It makes for a good contrast for the Liberals and the Conservatives haven't done well when fighting on the social issue terrain. Better to fight back hard now to try to nip this dynamic in the bud. Make it poisonous to pursue by discrediting those who dare suggest it.

2. They have a gun registry battle to win in the next month, one they dearly want to win. It can't be made to seem Palinesque. In Martin's column, the Liberal gun registry stance figured prominently. Since Monday, the Conservatives have not held back in a concerted, party-wide effort to go on the offensive to save C-391, their gun registry dismantling so-called-private-members-bill. The personal attack on Graves yesterday, by waving his donation history in front of him on CBC via Conservative spokesperson Kory Teneycke, may have been part of it. It sure sounds like it, based on Conservative spokesman Fred DeLorey's comments here (at the end).

3. Intimidation is one of their political tactics of late. See for example, this report and this post on attacks against business leaders and academics, respectively, who disagree with the government. Graves is CBC's pollster. Freebie bonus! Any chance to accuse one of their pet pinatas of bias, they're on it. Yesterday's attack was intimidatory in nature, likely meant to check both Graves and CBC.

4. Distraction. From Rahim/Helena.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Conservative ironically decries "lack of democracy" at committee

Apparently Conservatives are "crying foul" over a Public Safety committee witness list for hearings on the gun registry. Yes, it's the issue that seems to be shaping up to keep providing lots of interesting fodder in days to come. The Conservative issue with the list is that it is too pro-registry. Not enough Olympic shooters, conservation officials, Alberta attorneys general and Calgary chiefs of police:
...Mackenzie says, "Canadians will find it most offensive to see a lack of democracy in the committee." He says "this side should get some input".
That's funny. Because the Conservatives have not exactly evidenced great concern for democracy and fair inputs up to this point on this issue. Let's recall their playing fast and loose with the RCMP's report on the effectiveness of the registry:
As Parliament resumes sitting this week, among the issues on the order paper will be gun control – specifically, a private member's bill to abolish the long-gun registry. The bill passed second reading last fall by a vote of 164-137 as some Liberals and New Democrats joined the Conservatives in supporting it.

Critics of the long-gun registry insisted that it is of little use to the police and not worth maintaining. This argument was effectively rebutted in an RCMP report on the registry that was released two days after the vote. At the time, Peter Van Loan, then minister of public safety, said the report had been in his hands only for "several days."

Now we learn – thanks to a trail of government emails obtained by the Star's Tonda MacCharles – that it was more like seven weeks, and that Van Loan's officials used every trick in the book to stall the report.
They disputed its statistics and questioned why the report was produced at all. They even launched a witch hunt over an innocuous banquet held by the gun registry's staff. (It turned out that the staffers had paid for the event themselves.)

For the record, the report noted that police use of the gun registry is increasing rapidly – to 3.4 million checks in 2008, up from 2.5 million the year before – and it said this "highlights the importance" of the registry to law enforcement.

But that wasn't what the government wanted parliamentarians to hear before the vote on the gun registry. (emphasis added)
That seems a little more important than who's appearing at committee. Not that committee work is not important, of course.

And do we even need to point out the very thick binder manual thingy that the Conservative brain trust has put together that is devoted to obstructing parliamentary committees.

Crying foul? Cry us a river.

Buried in the news

Here's something from the other day that may be of note, likely lost among other higher profile news items such as the Guergis/Jaffer matters and the Afghan detainee issue, this item:
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. (emphasis added)
Was Martin just summarizing recent reporting? Or does he have a sense of the Information Commissioner's "priority" investigations of three Harper ministers that are underway?

If you don't recall, one of those investigations is of Christian Paradis and the incident of the political staffer running down the hall to take back a report that the access to information officials gave the ok to release. A second investigation is of the Department of National Defence (Peter MacKay) and the third is unknown. The Information Commissioner said this last week about those investigations:
"As I announced on March 2, my office is conducting three priority investigations into complaints we received over specific allegations of political interference with requests made under the Access to Information Act. My objective is to conclude these investigations promptly."
Whether Martin was picking up on some imminent developments, who knows. It may be a sleeper issue to watch alongside the other biggies.

P.S. Martin's assessment of Liberal strategy direction in his column today is also worth a read. Good quote from Frank Graves there.

Eke-os

The weekly Ekos is out. As usual these days, not too much to get excited over although I will leave that to other poll aficionados to pore over. There was a fitting description of the poll offered up by CBC:
The Conservative Party retains a small but stubborn lead in support over the Liberals, according to an EKOS poll.
Cons 31.7, Libs 27.1, NDP 16.3, Greens 12.6.

Here is a theory. If you read the government announcements on a daily basis (don't laugh), you are struck by the sheer volume of spending going on across the country. Yes, there is still more EAP et al. to distribute, yes, we know this. An interesting part of all this is how local Conservative MPs are given such play in doling it out. For example, take this one where Stockwell Day and Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Conservative MP Cathy McLeod announce $57.6 million for a Domtar mill in her riding. See also Conservative MP Bernard Genereux and a recent $4.8 million funding announcement regarding his riding, where he also figured prominently in the announcement. This is a routine thing, there are lots more like those ones, with Conservative MPs featured in conjunction with or in place of the minister responsible. Is there a cumulative effect that such announcements are having across the country in terms of locking in the Conservative support? There's a reason these announcements are made in this way. And this is one of the largest non-electoral spending sprees in Canadian history.

Anyway, that is this week's spaghetti-on-the-fridge effort to explain why the Conservatives retain that "small but stubborn lead."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Credibility and appearances

Those are the two factors staying with me today after the big hearing at Government Operations at which Rahim Jaffer and his business partner, Patrick Glemaud, appeared.

On the first point, the two fell down in the credibility department, for various reasons. Jaffer failed to remember that his personal website touted his government connections. You can read exactly what was on his site here. It was a pure bumble on Jaffer's part. It undermined the credibility of his testimony.

Glemaud's credibility was affected by his inability to remember the names of the three companies he and Jaffer submitted to Brian Jean, Baird's parliamentary secretary, for green project funding. That strained believability. Those allegations have been front and center for over a week now, come on. Glemaud and Jaffer will now have to produce the names of those 3 companies within 24hrs, to the committee.

And then there's just the point on the overall appearance regarding the lobbying question that was left. Not drawing any firm conclusions, they deny it and the Lobbying Commissioner will be looking into it. But it just doesn't seem to pass the smell test. In Glemaud's own words:
...when asked about a document submitted to Brian Jean, parliamentary secretary to Transport Minister John Baird, on behalf of three companies, Glemaud called it an "executive summary" to determine if there was interest in learning more about the companies.

"If there was an interest then there would be a request to submit a detailed business plan with all the details of the project," Glemaud said. "And that would be viewed as the actual grant or contribution agreement application, and that's when lobbying would start. We didn't get to that stage."

"Our understanding is if we were in a position to be at that stage, then I would have to decide for myself to register as a lobbyist," Glemaud added.

That is the kind of argument, along with a need for more facts, that the Lobbying Commissioner will be looking at, presumably. The "executive summary" version doesn't measure up to Brian Jean's in two media reports.

Otherwise, the hearing was not the salaciously focussed spectacle that some worried about. For the vast majority of the hearing, except for Pat Martin's moment, the questions pertained to the lobbying issues, trying to figure out just what Jaffer and Glemaud's business was, trying to probe the ethics of Jaffer and Glemaud's interactions with government. That was a successful outcome of the day. Any spin that the hearing was a circus won't likely be credible. There was no piling on that the public would recoil from. Some public light was shone on some key actors, so people can judge matters like credibility for themselves. That's a good thing, a little bit more transparency, and but for our minority parliament situation, wouldn't be happening.

G20 agenda a little tougher for Flaherty today

"Global bank tax urged by IMF." Oh oh! As we know, Flaherty and the Harper crew are against the growing move within the G20 toward a bank tax of some kind. Flaherty wheeled out his "embedded capital" plan just last week in an effort to garner some attention and support to his cause. Guess the IMF missed it because they're really going in the opposite direction with this:
Countries should consider imposing a two-pronged tax on banks and other financial firms to pay for bailouts the next time markets tank, the world's financial body is proposing.

In a report to the G20 countries that was obtained by the BBC, the International Monetary Fund recommends a globally co-ordinated flat fee on every big bank, coupled with a tax on profits.

The money would be managed by governments and used to pay for economic rescue measures if the world ever again faces the kind of financial crisis that devastated economies over the last year and a half.
(BBC source and IMF report)

That latter paragraph is something that has not really been discussed in whatever limited Canadian discussion we've had about this proposed tax. We may not have had financial institutions collapse, but we suffered the effects of the world wide financial crisis as a result of financial collapses in other countries. We have incurred great debt as a result of the recession. So the argument for such measures is there to be made, even though our financial institutions would seemingly be penalized for the risk indulged in by other nations' institutions.

One problem Flaherty is going to have is the coordinated nature of the tax that's underlying these discussions. I.e., that all G20 countries would have to agree to do the same thing tax wise, otherwise banks will go to the jurisdiction where they're not subject to the new tax. So Flaherty might end up being compelled to consider something that's not so comfortable ideologically. The other side to the coordinated deal coin is that it might make it harder in the end to actually get all the nations to agree on something. But, you know, that's part of Jim's role as we're chairing this deal, right? (Well, at least we are in the technical sense.)

Flaherty has touted the IMF over the past year or so when it has spoken favourably about the Canadian economy so it will be interesting to see the reaction to these IMF tax proposals.

If Harper went to law school

More rule of law tragicomedy at the Military Police Complaints Commission yesterday, conveying the government's attitude toward the Afghan file and this commission's investigation:
The Military Police Complaints Commission has asked the government to turn over reams of documents, including a former foreign-service officer's reports of torture allegations in Afghan jails.

Nicholas Gosselin's reports weren't included in the paperwork already turned over to the military watchdog. Word of their existence emerged when Gosselin testified at the hearings last week.

Acting commission chair Glenn Stannard asked government lawyer Alain Prefontaine when the hearing might get Gosselin's stack of reports.

"Documents will be turned over to the counsel when they're good and ready," Prefontaine replied.

Stannard admonished Prefontaine over that remark: "I find that close to offensive, not only to this panel, but also to the public."

The government lawyer later apologized. (emphasis added)
What to say, what to say. This rule-of-law-spectacle that the Harper government is putting on these days continues to amaze. The government lawyer has all the information, the chair of the commission doesn't have access to it nor do commission lawyers. Hope the Speaker is taking note of all the rule of law effrontery and how it's not working out.

Prefontaine was doing a fine job of channelling the boss. In fact he seems to be the perfect representative of the Harper government. His classic "good and ready" quote yesterday was an evocative stamp for the information challenged Harper era. For example: "You'll get your documents when we're 'good and ready', Kevin Page." "You'll get your documents when we're 'good and ready' access to information peons." Yes, Prefontaine handily conveyed both the attitude of the Harper government about transparency and at the MPCC, the government's view of its superiority over this quasi-judicial tribunal.

The words "Eastern bloc" are coming to mind but we're not quite there yet.

The word "teabagger" comes to mind

The raucous U.S. tea party movement found a compadre in Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz last night, who called for Iggy's caucus to give him a beating:
“The government prorogued Parliament to realign the Senate committees so our party could finally pass some legislation,” explains Breitkreuz. “Now that it’s finally possible to garner Senate support to scrap the registry, the Liberal leader is trying to completely change the game in the House of Commons. It’s an act of desperation that insults the intellect of Canadians. His true colours are showing, and if his caucus has any integrity, those colours should be black and blue.
He's apologized and Dimitri Soudas called it "in poor taste and inappropriate." But instead of leaving it at that, to settle down the vitriolic momentum toward Ignatieff that Breitkreuz unleashed, Soudas nevertheless proceeded to take a dig at Ignatieff for his gun registry position. Misreading a moment that called for a flat out apology, devoid of partisanship.

Think such remarks don't have consequences? That there's nothing to see here? Check out all the debate going on in the U.S. over heated rhetoric and numerous recent incidents of politically motivated violence. We'd be naive to think we're immune to such developments and such rhetoric is not helpful.

Since Michael Ignatieff's speech on the gun registry on Monday, I think it's fair to say the Conservatives are very concerned that their long awaited goal of scrapping the gun registry is receding and they're reacting. So we see the emotional outburst from Breitkreuz's office. (Breitkreuz is probably not the last of it, BCL will find it all.) There's word that radio ads are ready to run against the 8 Liberals now too. No ads against the NDP friends, yet. The House of Commons effort is there: Hoeppner's Member Statement in the Commons on Monday, the Rickford Member Statement on Tuesday, the Conservative on Conservative question on Tuesday in Question Period. All signs of the massive organizational effort that the government and Conservative party will put behind their so-called private member's bill in the next month before that vote happens.

These developments since Monday are very telling as to what's at stake. As Breitkreuz said, they didn't prorogue and re-jig the Senate for nothing and one of the biggies is the scrapping of the registry.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Shameless

When you hear Harper's remarks on pardons today, notably this:"Government can't stop Homolka from applying for pardon: Harper," let's keep something in mind. He could have.

Let's keep in mind that he is the Prime Minister. He leads a government. He could have done something about it.
Mr. Harper did not mention that his government reviewed the system for sex-offender pardons in 2006 and opted for minor administrative tinkering rather than changing legislation to make it harder or even impossible for people like James to be pardoned.

At a separate gathering, however, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews acknowledged that the first review, ordered by then public safety minister Stockwell Day, didn't go far enough.

Mr. Day settled for minor administrative changes so that two members of the National Parole Board, rather than one, screen applications for sex offenders.

"My colleague, Minister Day, made some improvements in 2007," Mr. Toews told reporters at a meeting of the Canadian Police Association. "Those were not sufficient to deal with some of the pressing problems that we continue to face."
If Harper had been so concerned about such matters, he might have done something about it then. Or in any year after. But they didn't. They've prorogued twice. Then there was the 2008 election, in violation of the fixed election date law. All of which is self-initiated Harper-led interference with their government's ability to enact the majority of their crime legislative agenda.

So instead what we see, as usual, their preference is to take the outlier case, such as Homolka, and exploit it for political gain. It's almost as if they prefer to see it happen so that they can rail against it.

Leading from behind, reactively, as usual. The Conservatives continue to prove that their law and order hype is just that.

Update: And clearly, it goes without saying, that this is major distraction from current government troubles.

Hope for the gun registry

Very happy to see this today:
We won’t abandon gun control. Not when rifles and shotguns are responsible for half the police officers killed in the line of duty in the last few years. Not when the gun registry is a vital tool that law enforcement uses every single day.

And so, when the Hoeppner bill comes to third reading in the House of Commons, we will stand united as Liberals and vote against it.

A number of our MPs supported the Hoeppner Bill at an earlier stage, out of frustration with the problems that exist in the gun registry.

We’ve worked with those MPs to create the reform package I’ve just announced—sensible changes that address legitimate concerns, while upholding the integrity of the gun registry.
It certainly sounds as if the Liberal MPs who voted with Candace Hoeppner at second reading have been consulted and would be on board with these changes. The priority at the moment is to ensure that Liberals support the registry and not allow the Conservatives to scrap it.

We know what's next...if this is what indeed occurs, that Liberals vote against C-391 at third reading, as will the Bloc, it will then fall to the NDP to help the Conservatives axe the gun registry. That's not where they want to be, is it?

(h/t)

More of that blind justice

Last week we saw a government lawyer at the Military Police Complaints Commission telling the witness, diplomat Richard Colvin, what was in Colvin's memos because only he, government lawyer, was able to have access to them. He was, incredibly, giving evidence, telling Colvin what Colvin was not able to access for himself.

If that wasn't enough for you, on Friday, we saw round two. General Natynczyk released a letter responding to translator Ahmadshah Malgarai's allegations before the Commons Afghan Special Committee. Those were the shocking allegations about the 17 year old who had been unlawfully shot by Canadian Forces and the allegations of sub-contracting out torture to the Afghans. So what's round two? Once again, none of the evidence upon which Natynczyk's letter is based is accessible to anyone else in order for it to be examined in a fair process. Here is some of Natynczyk's letter which gives a sense of what evidence he is able to access and the untestable conclusions he draws:
"Details of this event are very well documented."
...
"Operation reports which unfortunately cannot be made public as they contain sensitive information about tactics, techniques and procedures, indicate that during the mission an armed individual posed a direct and imminent threat to CF soldiers as they entered the compound..."
...
"During tactical questioning of the detainees, two individuals made allegations that coalition forces had planted a pistol on the deceased insurgent. It is worth noting that one of the two individuals later retracted his allegation.

Immediately following the mission, an after-action review was conducted to review the actions and outcomes of the operation. It was determined that all applicable rules of engagement and theatre standing orders were followed."
...
"The Canadian Forces do not transfer individuals for the purposes of gathering information."
You can understand that the military would want to respond to the serious allegations from Malgarai. And Natynczyk's version of facts on the shooting allegation might be true. But it might not too. It's hard to know because we can't test that version independently. We're supposed to just take the letter with its answers and be further assured that the military is investigating the new allegations, even though they seem to be quite confident that all the rules were followed the first time they conducted an after-action review.

There are specific factual questions about Natynczyk's version, as the translator's lawyer, Professor Amir Attaran, points out here. In your average civilian run democracy that respects the rule of law, resolution of the allegations would not be left in the hands of an interested party, the military, to investigate itself. That democracy doesn't seem to be us though.

By the way, here was Peter MacKay's contribution to this discussion, offered yesterday:
"We take these issues very seriously. What Gen. Natynczyk has put forward casts the allegations that we heard last week ...in a very different light than the way in which they were presented," he said from Edmonton.

"All I can tell you is that, having spent some time in a courtroom, having worked as both a prosecutor and a defence lawyer, there are usually two if not eight different sides to a story and the more information the better."
Yes, jack of all trades lawyer, the more information the better. But in MacKay's courtroom, there was an independent arbiter. That's what we need here, otherwise, two if not eight different sides to a story will just leave it all confused and unresolved. Unless that's what you want, of course...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Change in the air, over there



Hmmm, what happens in an election campaign when the supposed change candidate is suddenly getting out-changed by a third party? He tries to stick to the 2 horse race strategy and start attacking the new change guy. Meanwhile, the incumbent likes the new change agent, a little bit, but not too much. The third party could take just enough votes away from the Tory change basket to allow Labour to retain enough seats to win.

But you know, that could all change tomorrow. More on all the polling fun from the U.K. election here.

April 17, 1982



And the first half of this one is good too:



Can you imagine federal-provincial meetings, televised openly like that on substantive, core issues these days? It would never happen. Historic times.

Prompted by an email this morning:
It’s strange that no one has noted that, on April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II signed into law the repatriation of our constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau and the Justice Minister, Jean Chretien both sat at that table in the ceremony.
Has everyone forgotten? Harper would love to.
Well, there you go! Happy Charter patriation anniversary, everyone!

(h/t NG)

Update (6:00 p.m.): Did you notice that Liberal sweater Trudeau was wearing while skating (about the 0:17 second mark in 2nd video)? Fun stuff.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tipping point?



Two items on the Afghan detainee situation here, a CBC video report on Wednesday's big testimony at the Military Police Complaints Commission, focussing on the translator in particular, with his startling allegations.

There's also this column that's worth a read, on this week being a tipping point in this file: "Afghanistan: Who are the heroes here?" Whether it's a tipping point, good question. Watching Question Period yesterday, Peter MacKay's frivolous responses to serious opposition questioning about Wednesday's testimony did seem to ring very hollow.

An eventful week as we await that anticipated Speaker's ruling on the government's breach of privilege.

Groundhog day rolls on

Another new Helena Guergis allegation reported in the Star today. The report is that she promoted an energy firm, in which Jaffer had a potential interest, to her cousin, a municipal politician in Simcoe County. In contrast with a lot of what's been swirling around, this is governmental in nature and would go to her role as a minister and a potential conflict of interest.

Gillani and Jaffer were apparently planning to take this energy firm public but wanted to get government funding first. And it may be that this energy firm was also the subject of one of Jaffer's project submissions to Conservative parliamentary secretary Brian Jean. In today's Star report, the company Guergis wrote the letter about is described as being in ""bio-dryer" technology." Jaffer and his business partner submitted a proposal on "a biomass drying system" to Jean (it was rejected). Coincidence or the same company and technology? If they are the same, then we would have had Jaffer trying to get funding for it from the Green Infrastructure Fund and Guergis writing a letter to her cousin about it as well.

The issue here? As the Star puts it:
Cabinet ministers and MPs are forbidden from using their position to influence a person or organization to benefit their interest or that of relatives or friends, according to the federal Conflict of Interest Act.
It is worth giving the Star report a read for the perspective of Jim Wright, the environmental firm owner at issue who was briefly involved in the planning with Gillani and Jaffer to take his company public. Wright was wise to Gillani and ultimately backed away. A new ethical character for the saga.

One more issue to throw on the table in the Guergis maelstrom, incredibly, but it shouldn't be lost amid more sensational charges and due to some lazy sense of scandal fatigue.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

From "serious and credible" to "second-hand"

Update (7:45 p.m.) below.

The fact that the Prime Minister did not in fact make a formal referral to the Ethics Commissioner over the Helena Guergis allegations, despite the appearance he gave of having done so, has become clear today. The Ethics Commissioner has clarified that.

There might also be something worth noting about the PMO's framing of the allegations. On Friday the PM publicly stated they were "serious" allegations:
"Last night my office became aware of serious allegations regarding the conduct of the Honourable Helena Guergis."
This morning Soudas also framed the allegations as "serious and credible":
"We received serious and credible allegations. We turned that information over to the RCMP and the Ethics commissioner. We did not provide direction to either the RCMP or the Ethics commissioner."
But then there seems to be a shift later today, the allegations are referred to as "second-hand":
Media are reporting that the Prime Minister never made a REQUEST to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner concerning the Hon. Helena Guergis.

These reports are correct and entirely consistent with the Prime Minister's statement on Friday. Information was FORWARDED to the Ethics Commissioner and to the RCMP and these authorities were left to make their own decisions about next steps. The Prime Minister and PMO did not "request" or "direct" any specific action. These authorities are independent and will make their own determinations.

The reports also claim that the Prime Minister did not provide specific details of allegations. This is also correct. The referrals to the Commissioner and RCMP made clear that the information was second-hand and identified the source of the information for such follow-up as these authorities felt appropriate. (emphasis added)
A subtle move by the P.R. Government™ who spend a lot of time on such framing that may be worth noting. Could be a hint of a bit of a walking back as Guergis' lawyer steps up her defence and there is some light shed on the source and circumstances in which the information was obtained.

Update (7:45 p.m.): More on the walking back thing, there's this:
The private investigator at the centre of allegations against MP Helena Guergis owed creditors more than $13 million as of August 2009, according to documents obtained by CBC News.

Court records reveal that Derrick Snowdy has filed for bankruptcy, with total liabilities of $13,313,976 and total assets of $11,379 as of Aug. 21, 2009. A decision by the court has not yet been made.

Snowdy is reported to have told a Conservative Party lawyer that his investigation into Toronto businessman Nazim Gillani uncovered allegations of cocaine use and stock fraud involving Guergis and her husband, former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer.

The Toronto Star also quoted Snowdy as saying he told the lawyer that Gillani boasted he had cellphone pictures of Jaffer and Guergis "partying" with high-class escorts when cocaine was being snorted.
By contrast: "Liberals turned down chance to hear Guergis allegations."

Green fund hearings in the offing

Parliamentary committee hearings are now forthcoming on the allegations surrounding the lobbying of the government on its Green Infrastructure Fund. Here's the motion that was passed Wednesday which has launched the hearings:
"That the committee immediately conduct a study of renewable energy project funding by the Government of Canada, and associated lobbying and advising activities associated with such funding; that the witnesses the committee calls before it shall include, but not be limited to: Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Natural Resources, Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Labour, Patrick Glémaud, Green Power Generation Corp., Rahim Jaffer, Green Power Generation Corp., Nazim Gillani, International Strategic Investments, Honourable Helena Guergis, Member of Parliament Simcoe-Grey; and that the committee submit a report to the House of Commons on its findings."
Not surprising that hearings would result as we'd expect a parliamentary committee to do such work when there are public allegations of unregistered lobbying of the government on a $1 billion fund. We want our taxpayer dollars to be managed properly and with such massive government funding involved, to be handled fairly and according to some rules of procedural fairness. So it's appropriate to study, in the face of publicly presented allegations, whether there were any inappropriate goings on with the management of the fund, what kind of rules were in place, whether they fell down in any respect, etc.

In respect of the most recent allegations, it bears asking why a former Conservative MP and associate, apparently unregistered as lobbyists, were able to meet with a parliamentary secretary about the fund and later submit ineligible projects that nevertheless still made it to the parliamentary secretary's desk.

Another point to note, John Baird's parliamentary secretary, Brian Jean, is not on the witness list. Nor is Baird for that matter. It is Jean who seems to have been in the center of the allegations the last few days as the person that Jaffer and Glemaud met with about funding and who handled their submissions to him. Maybe he will be called later on?

In any event, it seems that even the Conservatives on the committee agree with the probe or are resigned to it, or something:
The probe, which begins immediately, came out of two motions by Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay, and met little resistance from Conservative MPs who abstained or voted for the motions.
Conservatives voting for the hearings, well that's kind of interesting.

Anyway, let's hope that serious and tough questions are asked that do justice to the real issues raised.

Ipsos, you are indeed blipsos

New Ekos out today: "Tories, Liberals neck and neck: poll." Conservatives 31.4, Liberals 29, NDP 16.4, Green 11.1.

That mythological 10 point lead in Monday's Ipsos poll? Pshaw.

The Guergis scandal might have tightened this up a little and may continue to have effects, we'll see. The Conservatives are down two points on the week. But it's been quite a stretch now where we are really always gravitating back to our ever-loving maddening and locked-in national poll number neighbourhood. It would be surprising, but not unwelcome, to see that change.