Thursday, March 31, 2011

Democracy is hard for some

"How many? Harper taking only five questions per day from media." And the media is none too pleased.
Stephen Harper is facing questions about his questions.

Namely, how many he’s willing to take each day. And he’s refusing to answer.

Harper takes only five questions from the media each day – four from the reporters on his tour and one from a local reporter – unlike his political rivals, who place no restrictions on how many questions they take.

That’s produced tensions between the Conservative leader and the journalists following his campaign tour as it crisscrosses the country.

The situation boiled over Thursday when Harper was repeatedly asked why he refused to take more a handful of questions each day.

At first, he refused to answer but when pressed, suggested he’d be open to addressing any issues he hadn’t already discussed. But he never explained his rationale for not fielding more questions.

“In terms of questions, is there any specific issue that I haven’t addressed that you want me to address,” Harper said.

“If there’s another subject, I’ll answer,” the Conservative leader said to journalists, who were kept more than 10 metres away, penned in behind a yellow fence.
When they asked why he refused to take more than a handful of questions, did that count against the 5?

He'd get a lot more questions in a one-on-one debate too. But sadly, he's backing out. In a democracy, nothing stopping anyone from having a debate, if they both want to...

Harper's bad day in Quebec

Hard to keep up with all the scandal swirling around the Conservatives these days...but there's more! Seems they have a gem of a candidate in Pierrefonds-Dollard, who appeared at a rally by Harper's side last night. To the court records! In copious detail, please.
A Conservative candidate once castigated in court for writing bad cheques hosted a rally with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday, a week after the party dumped another candidate over past financial woes.

Agop Evereklian, the Tory candidate in a Montreal-area riding, lost a case in Quebec civil court in 2005 while his business was going bankrupt and was ordered to pay back $29,632.

Evereklian has run for the Tories in two straight campaigns even though the party's vetting procedure asks candidates for any past financial and legal problems.
Evereklian once owned a Kia car dealership that wound up $2 million in debt. Just before it went bankrupt, he bought a car from another dealership in order to close a sale with a buyer.

The court heard how he wrote a bad cheque to the other dealership for $30,000, and then another. They both bounced.

A judge hearing the civil suit concluded Evereklian had taken the car _ and cut the cheques _ knowing full well he didn't have the means to pay.

The verdict also said Evereklian transferred money to his wife, and paid off debts that he and family members were personally responsible for, after receiving court papers from the other car dealership.

The court ordered him to pay back the other dealer in cash, despite his bankruptcy.

"The defendant knew he was up to his neck and acted purely out of personal interest," wrote Judge Georges Massol.

"He knew perfectly well that the first cheque ... wouldn't pass. Same thing for the second _ seeing as how the account was closed."

Evereklian later paid back the money.

His past troubles made news in Quebec's French-language media before the 2008 election, when he failed to win a seat in another Montreal-area riding.
And he can't even get the rally crowd size straight! He says 1200 were there last night. Canadian Press says 600. Who ya gonna believe? Hmmm?

Seems a new candidate background checker is in order. Just because the candidate was a former chief of staff to Kenney doesn't necessarily mean he passes muster.

Excellent work, Conservative brain trust. Quite a week in Quebec all round for them. I assume the voters there read the papers.

Great moments in photo ops

They're just spontaneously glancing at a magazine that has himself on the cover. From this event.

Wonder how many takes it took to get the front cover positioned just right.

On the campaign trail in Winnipeg

A photo of the Ignatieff Liberal event in Winnipeg last night courtesy of Laurie Graham with this caption: "Crowd in #winnipeg well into the hundreds...700-800...?? Hard to tell but it's big #cv11"

Here's the take of a columnist who attended the event. Seems like an OK night. Better than lonely guy had, anyway. Next post...

Harper in Newfoundland today

Here is something to watch. How far he goes with his photo-op/announcement in respect of the $6.2 billion Lower Churchill hydro development for which the Newfoundland government is seeking a loan guarantee. CBC reported this yesterday:
Wednesday afternoon CBC News confirmed that Premier Dunderdale and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper have reached an agreement on a loan guarantee to help with the province's financing for the project.

Dunderdale met with Harper's chief of staff Nigel Wright two weeks ago in St. John's.
It's not yet known whether Harper will make the formal announcement at a campaign stop on Thursday.
"The formal announcement." CTV is reporting he will announce support for the project.

Keep these principles in mind given we are in an election campaign and therefore a caretaker government period:
“Do not do anything that would give you political advantage by virtue of being the government and do not make commitments that will constrain the government that is eventually elected.”
Harper should not be committing the government of Canada to anything right now for political advantage. He can promise as a politician in campaign mode, that's it. Always worth watching whether Mr. Harper will follow such rules.

It does look like a case of let's make a deal. Provincial PCs, now that Danny is gone, help Harper get some Conservative MPs elected...they get a loan guarantee.

Except that there is an indication (not much in the way of detail there) that Liberals will also be pledging support for the project so any political advantage to the day may be neutralized in any event.

Update: More from Scott Brison
On Wednesday, the Liberals said they support the project.
"I was asked to give you a call to give you our leader and our party’s position," said Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison. "We support loan guarantees for the project. We would also be prepared to invest in clean energy infrastructure anywhere in the country."

Mercer on voting

Encouraging the youth vote. Yes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Harper-Ignatieff debate

Update (11:55 p.m.) below.

Here's the door opened by Harper today on a one-on-one debate with Michael Ignatieff:
"We're open to any number of possibilities. We could have a traditional debate of Parliamentary leaders, we could have a debate that includes Miss May in such a format, we could have a debate that includes every party that's on the ballot," Harper said.

"We could also have a debate between Mr. Ignatieff and myself, since, after all, the real choice in this election is a choice between a Conservative government or an Ignatieff-led government that all of these other parties will support," he said during an Ontario campaign stop.

"The networks will ultimately have to make a decision that serves the public interest and we will insist that it treat ourselves and all parties fairly."
Note how all of his comments are therefore couched as being in the hands of that broadcast consortium who is the arbiter of what we should see. So maybe he's ultimately going to leave it to them and he's not fully prepared to stand behind his bravado. That's my read of it.

However. He's put it out there and may not be able to stop what he's unleashed even if he thought he was musing aloud in a freebie situation where the networks will ultimately decide. If two politicians in a democracy want to debate each other, one would think there's nothing to stop them. Any venue would love to host that and the interest would be off the charts. The ratings conscious broadcast consortium's antenna just went up today. Given that they're grappling with the May issue, why not rejig things now? Perfect timing.

What is Harper thinking here though? Assuming he intends to pursue the idea. Of course it's a no-brainer for Liberals, it facilitates the argument that the election is a choice between two parties that can form government. For Harper, it must be his majority government or bust position again that he's intent on pushing and he thinks he can make that case in a debate. Too focused on the end game though in his strategy. And the risks are higher for him as a front-runner to elevate his opponent and give up the stage to a national spotlight on an alternative Prime Minister.

If it happens, excellent. Could be one of the great Canadian debates.

Update (4:45 p.m.): Note this from Twitter, Harper no doubt reacting to the quick Ignatieff reply from earlier of "any time, any place." Looks like it could very well be on. Woot.

Update (11:55 p.m.): This is what seems to be the resolution: "...the traditional format with some one-on-one engagement at the beginning of each segment." Doesn't sound like a full one-on-one is in the cards.

Harper furious and other campaign notes

1. I second BCL on this one. Particularly in the wake of Bob Fife's report on CTV last night since the Harper people seemed to feel the need to put the word out that Harper is "furious" that Sebastien Togneri, the former Conservative political staffer for Christian Paradis who is now under RCMP investigation, was working on the campaign in Edmonton-Strathcona. Furious is a strong word. If he doesn't tolerate those under RCMP investigation working on campaigns, then the same level of fury should apply to any others facing, say, Elections Act charges who might be working on his campaign at HQ in Ottawa.

The Edmonton Journal is pursuing the story: "Time for Tory candidate to take responsibility for aide: Ryan Hastman's credibility on line over Togneri affair.""No one believes a former senior ministerial official is just hammering a couple of signs together, in the dark, wearing sweatpants and off-gassing Tim Hortons coffee and feeling guilty about his past transgressions." It strains credulity that the national campaign didn't have some hand in this, given Togneri used to work for Giorno, Harper's former chief of staff who's running the national campaign. Money and staffers from across the country are flooding it. 

2. Senator Catastrophic Pay Cut aka Larry Smith may have fired up the gaffe-meter in Lac St. Louis. He said this in Le Devoir yesterday:
Larry Smith ajoute même son grain de sel dans ce débat délicat en affirmant que Gilles Duceppe représente la vieille garde aux yeux de la jeune génération des 25-40 ans, même en ce qui a trait à la langue. «Ce qui est important, c'est le monde, pas la protection des francophones au Québec», a-t-il dit en français.
May have more backfire implications for other Conservatives in Quebec, moreso than Smith, with Lac St. Louis being largely English speaking. Still, notable for him and he's one to watch given we're just a few days in. Hopefully this is not the last we hear from him.

3. Another country worried about F-35 costs, raising questions about Canada's proposed purchase and also the future of the global supply chain all the jobs claims are based upon. In addition to that unnamed country, Turkey has also put its order of 100 on hold indefinitely. Canada's position on the F-35 just continues to make less and less sense.

4. Did someone say coalition?

Ridiculous sounding on its own for the silly repetitiveness but especially given Harper's past words from 1997 and 2004 that are haunting him on the campaign trail. Seems like a real blast, that rally. Here's a better one.

Harper then and now on costing of legislation

Stephen Harper, the 1996 version, was a big supporter of full, transparent cost disclosures to Parliament. Here's a timely look back at some mammoth hypocrisy from Mr. Harper given current Conservative non-disclosure of major program costing to Canadians. Take it away, 1996 Steve!
Mr. Stephen Harper (Calgary West, Ref.): Mr. speaker, it is a pleasure today to debate Bill C-214, the program cost declaration act tabled by the hon. member for Durham.

Let me take a few minutes to outline the purpose of the act and what is behind it. The act, which is a votable item, would require departments of the government to provide a financial or cost analysis of each piece of legislation on its introduction to the House of Commons or at the time the minister or governor in council issues regulations or other instruments.

The auditor general would certify that the method used to arrive at this analysis was fair and reasonable under the circumstance. The cost would be disclosed in total as well as based on the per capita cost for each Canadian citizen.

This legislation would cause legislators and their departments to be more conscious of the financial impact their legislation would have. The PCDA, as it is called, would provide for a greater degree of disclosure and accountability for government programs and lead toward a more integrated expenditure system. It would give members of Parliament and the public more knowledge and to that extent more control and scrutiny over how government spends.

If this type of legislation had been in place years ago, I believe it is true that would not have so easily created the massive deficits and debt which the federal government is now forced to deal with.

That really is the purpose of the legislation, as stated by the member for Durham. I think it is transparent that the legislation is worthy of support. [...]
I guess the real question is why anybody would do it any other way. When we think about it, it is quite extraordinary that in this day and age governments would think of tabling and publicly adopting legislation without providing assessed cost information as part of the process.

I do not believe there is any chief executive officer in this country who would go to his board or his shareholders and not be prepared to give a definitive cost assessment on a project that the company had undertaken. Nor would any intelligent head of a household enter into a major purchase, any purchase other than out of pocket, without making an assessment of the real costs over time.

If anything, I think the bill probably does not go far enough. ...
My. Whatever happened. Oh yes, this:
That the House agrees with the finding of the standing committee on procedure and House affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the government.
He's come a long way, hasn't he? Just like the Harper coalition positioning from 2004/05 that Harper 2011 is now so desperately trying to spin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Passports are good things

A brief point on the Liberal Learning Passport that was announced today. Others have already blogged about its retail political upside and how the Conservatives have no credibility on budgeting given their billions in jets, jails, etc. So, one more here...

First, some quick numbers:
The $1-billion Canadian Learning Passport is the single largest annual investment in non-repayable federal student assistance in Canadian history, providing directly to families:

* $4,000 tax-free for every high school student who chooses to go to university, college or CÉGEP – $1,000 per year over four years; and
* $6,000 – or $1,500 each year – for high school students from low-income families.
John Ivison did a piece this afternoon on it. Note this paragraph on its financing:
The biggest knock on this planned investment is how it would be funded — primarily by increasing corporate tax rates back to last year’s rate (from 16.5% to 18%). Yet the coordinated plan between most of the provinces and Ottawa to reduce total corporate tax rates to 25% is designed to make Canada one of the most attractive investment opportunities in the world. As this space noted Monday, by expanding the tax base, the plan is near revenue neutral and, by some estimates, could attract $50-billion in new investment within seven years. Absent such plans to grow the economy, Mr. Ignatieff’s national learning strategy will remain an unaffordable pipe-dream.
Some might say to that argument that corporate Canada can't have it all ways all the time. There was a C-suite study released very recently that asked Canada's business executives about the economy and what their priorities were for the federal budget. Note what came first:
Q. What are your high federal budget priorities:

Investing in education and training: 58%

Investing in research and development: 52%

Investing in transport and infrastructure: 42%

Attacking the deficit more aggressively: 39%

Investing in renewable energy: 33%

Reducing personal income taxes: 33%

Assisting manufacturing sector: 28%

Improving retirement security: 15%
Investing in education and training is something that will greatly benefit business, clearly. So the question is who should help pay for that investment in education and training that is going to benefit business and yes, grow the economy by enhancing the future Canadian workforce? Someone has to do it. Seems only fair that corporate Canada that stands to benefit and wants such investments should shoulder some responsibility for helping to make it happen.

Conservative contempt rolls on

This may seem like a small item to some voters but it speaks to the larger Conservative attitude under Stephen Harper toward respect for the laws of this country: "Conservative staffer under RCMP probe gone from key electoral campaign." Remarkable stuff. Sebastien Togneri, the former Christian Paradis staffer who interfered with access to information in that office, who had to resign and who is now under RCMP investigation seems to have been welcomed as a Conservative campaign staffer during this campaign. In a key electoral battleground for them. No one thought twice about it. No one saw the red flag waving in their faces.

Why would they after all? Consider the tone at the top that's being set. Here was Harper today, answering one of his very few questions of the day as the clamps have now come down on media access:
"My understanding is that he volunteered for a campaign," Harper said. "My understanding is that he is no longer a volunteer for that campaign. And that's all I know."
And that's all Canada gets:
The Tory Leader ignored a subsequent question posed by a reporter on the matter.
The inaccessible leader skates with a meager, passive, buck-passing response that is devoid of any sense of the role model position a Prime Minister should have in this country. It's about instilling and upholding respect for the law. What a fail.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Divider or unifier?

Another contrast taking root between Harper and Ignatieff in the campaign was on display today.

Here's Ignatieff:
“The word ethnic vote, spare us,” Mr. Ignatieff said at a press conference Monday at the Fairmont Royal York in downtown Toronto. “I don’t think it treats people with respect; these are Canadians. I’m going to everybody out there and saying a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian ... come into the Big Red Tent.”
He said he wasn’t going to Mississauga Monday night to talk to the “ethnic vote” – “I’m going to talk to Canadians.”

Later, he addressed the issue in more detail, arguing that he doesn’t want to divide Canadians that way. He talked about his Russian roots and how proud he is of them. He said a Sikh is a Canadian, as is a Tamil.
Here's Harper:
The official was referring to Mr. Harper's speech Monday, in which he said: "Friends, I know you're here for one thing. You're here for Canada. People who live here, people who live in Brampton, in Mississauga, and Etobicoke. You people have come to this country from the world over because you believe in this country."
The report seems to be taking off at the Globe tonight judging by the number of comments.

The twisted logic of the Bloc

Andre Pratte gives the Bloc a tweak following Ignatieff's appearance there on Sunday:
Le second volet de la thèse bloquiste, c'est que «le seul parti capable de barrer la route au Parti conservateur, c'est le Bloc québécois». Il n'en est rien. Si un gouvernement conservateur signifie «la négation complète de ce que nous sommes, nous, les Québécois», comme le prétend le chef du Bloc, il vaut mieux pour les Québécois que les conservateurs ne soient pas reportés au pouvoir du tout, minoritaires ou majoritaires. Or, en votant pour le Bloc, les Québécois privent de leur appui les partis fédéraux qui, eux, seraient susceptibles de déloger les conservateurs. On l'a vu en 2008: déçus des conservateurs, les Québécois ont élu une majorité de députés du Bloc... et Stephen Harper a été reporté au pouvoir. Le chef libéral, Michael Ignatieff, a bien résumé la situation hier: «Ce n'est pas le temps d'envoyer un message à M. Harper. Ce n'est pas le temps de le freiner ou de le limiter. C'est le temps de le remplacer.»

M. Duceppe insiste sur le fait que, lorsqu'ils se retrouvent en minorité en Chambre, les partis fédéralistes «viennent tous me voir». Soit. Mais qu'arrivera-t-il à l'influence du Bloc si les conservateurs forment un gouvernement majoritaire avec seulement quatre ou cinq députés au Québec? Le Québec se retrouvera avec une influence minimale à Ottawa, ce qui n'est dans l'intérêt ni du Québec ni du reste du Canada.

Les seuls gagnants d'un tel scénario seront les indépendantistes. N'est-ce pas l'espoir qui sous-tend la logique tordue du Bloc? (emphasis added)(Translation)
It will be worth watching how this argument develops as numbers inevitably tighten during the campaign. Or conversely, as voters there ponder what a majority would mean for Mr. Harper. Should they stick with the Bloc as a permanently opposition based party or move to a party that can actually take government? Tough slogging to shift those Bloc votes, yes. Still nice to see the Bloc's positioning questioned head on by a leading editorialist in Quebec.

GTA Liberal campaign kick-off rally tonight

The details:
Event Information

Come join Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to kick off the 2011 campaign in the GTA. The rally will be held at the Payal Banquet Hall, at 3410 Semenyk Court in Mississauga on Monday, March 28th at 6:00pm.
There is an RSVP mechanism at the link if you would like to indicate your attendance.

No spoilsports allowed.

Mr. Harper's strategery

Interesting item in the Globe late last night: "‘Reckless coalition’ strategy is Harper’s own." I'm not sure why someone would be telling the Globe that Harper's coalition fear mongering is at the doorstep of Mr. Harper and Mr. Harper alone. We kind of know the one man band story line at this point in any event. Nevertheless, this came out:
Mr. Harper pushed his campaign team to put the majority-or-coalition issue front-and-centre, according to someone close to the campaign, because he personally believes those are the only possible outcomes.
And it really didn't seem to be presented in a good way, as in, what a brilliant strategy it is.

Then you consider the headlines and the coverage that have been generated from the weekend that have a certain theme to them...

Le spectre d'une coalition se retourne contre Harper.

Coalition: Harper refuse d'expliquer ses contradictions.

Ignatieff turns coalition accusation back on Harper.

Harper's coalition criticism backfires as past comes back to haunt him.

Harper bats back at coalition questions: Harper pressed on coalition position.

Right back at you: Harper's past boomerangs on electoral 'coalition' claims.

Fear the main factor in Harper's stump speeches.

John Ivison: "The Conservatives will continue to hammer away on this, but the issue should now be put to bed."

Chris Selley: Time to put coalition talk to rest.

Does it seem like it's going to plan? They channel changed, yes, but those can't be the headlines the Conservatives hoped to generate on the first weekend.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

On the campaign trail

Just time to throw a quick post up here on some items people might be interested in. This, for starters, is a great video. An excerpt from yesterday's campaign kick-off. The caricatured Ignatieff is just so far from the truth that Canadians will now be seeing unfiltered:

Secondly, a plug for my local campaign, here's a shot of the very cool campaign office for Gerard Kennedy in Parkdale-High Park:

There's one of these near you that needs your help by the way!

Finally, there was a huge rally in Montreal tonight that looked good on The National, here's one shot (courtesy @althiaraj) that's dark but it conveys a sense of its size. The caption is "This and imagine 11 more sections. We are grooving to techno music. Maybe Ignatieff will also dance." Well, he has been known to do so...

Harper on defensive about coalition talk

Update (5:35 p.m.) below.

Courtesy of Aaron Wherry (and getting some attention now in the Globe) comes another key statement in the campaign to note. Michael Ignatieff, speaking to reporters, cuts to the heart of the matter on all this coalition nonsense:
The person who’s got a problem with a coalition is Stephen Harper. He’s got to explain what he was doing in Toronto hotel rooms with Jack and Gilles. I don’t have that problem. I don’t go to hotel rooms with Jack and Gilles, I haven’t had those kind of happy conversations. So it’s his problem not mine. I was very clear right out of the gate: we’re ruling out a coalition. We’re ruling out a coalition. What we want to do is accept the verdict of the people. We’ve made clear exactly how things would go. And the reason that Mr. Harper keeps waving this coalition stuff around is so he doesn’t have to defend his choices. Thirty-billion-dollars on fighter jets. Ten-billion or something on prisons. Corporate tax cuts to corporations that are already making good money and have a competitive tax rate as it is. His absolute inability to tell us, credibly, how we get the deficit down … Mr. Harper wants to wave a coalition around so he doesn’t have to explain a bunch of bad choices.
There is a note of simple, clear honesty that comes through with that statement.

Meanwhile, here's a Canadian Press report from earlier where Harper's back and forth with reporters is noted, along with Gilles Duceppe's subsequent biting commentary on Harper's remarks. It's all a bit of a mess.

It's harder to obfuscate a position than speak the truth after all.

Update (5:35 p.m.): Video of Harper responding to reporter's questions earlier. Harper's rattled demeanour is pretty apparent. He doesn't answer Terry Milewski's question at 2:30 or so. Why, in 2005, did he believe there didn't need to be an election in order to replace the Martin government, as expressed in his letter with Duceppe & Layton and expressed in video. And why does he now say the opposite? If he's going to keep talking about this issue, his past hypocrisy and politically opportunistic positioning is relevant and should be there for all to see.

Some follow-up on Harper's Rideau speech yesterday

Two points arising out of it...

First, this line from Harper's speech out in front of Rideau Hall yesterday was highlighted on the national news last night and is worth some attention:
To my fellow Canadians I say this: The opposition parties have made their choice. Now we Canadians get to make ours.
The opposition parties, and their supporters apparently, are un-Canadian in his eyes. That was not a becoming statement for a Prime Minister.

Second, the Conservatives are running on the "Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan" as a major part of their campaign platform. Harper made that pitch in his speech:
We will be asking Canadians for a renewed mandate to:
- Implement the Next Phase of Canada's world-leading Economic Action Plan to protect and create jobs as outlined in the budget. ...
The Conservatives have already admitted that using $4 million they had lined up in taxpayer dollars to advertise on behalf of the budget aka the Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan would be inappropriate and they yanked it. So taxpayer resources should not be used to support promotion of that budget, this is the principle they have agreed with.

Seems then that government sites should not be promoting it either. See the budget icons for the "Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan" appearing on federal government department sites. See also the accompanying Conservative budget slogan icons, the slogan being used by Harper in that speech yesterday as well (and candidates), "A Low-Tax Plan for Jobs and Growth." Conservative slogans and platform items should be scrubbed from government sites. It's like the "Harper Government" usage and other items we've seen, it's indicative of a larger attitude toward government resources and whose interests they serve.

Propaganda Nation

Helene Buzzetti noted the creation of a "Facebook conservateur" last night. Tory Nation they call it, which is apparently an online operation to encourage people to spread Conservative talking points about the election being all about the economy. It suggests letter writing and calling talk radio and provides handy talking points, listed in Buzzetti's item. As she notes, if you see or hear those points, beware, the author's been pre-programmed.

An indication of the push that will be on by Conservatives to control the election agenda and in the bigger picture, of how they view democratic debate. Facebook for Conservatives is a lot of fun, isn't it? (Although it doesn't indicate you have to be a Conservative, necessarily, to go on there.)

Political PSA

An incident in Britain this week is a little reminder of the Gordon Brown gaffe from last year's UK election. Watch those microphones! That is going to haunt Clegg.

This PSA does not, however, apply to Conservative candidates during our election. They should be encouraged to wear the mikes as long as they like post-events.

Can't remember this ever happening in Canada but there's always a first time.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Harper on contempt

Turn it up, audio is not the greatest. But you get the key statement, Mr. Harper's continued disrespect for Parliament and democracy on display. The Canadian public don't care about "maneuvers in Parliament and the wording of various motions."

Doesn't seem too happy either.

Day 1: Lonely guy vs Surprising guy

Some impressions of day one...

Lonely guy kicks things off all by himself:

With a tight camera angle on him as he gave the speech, to anyone watching on CPAC. Nice red tie though.

And garners this reaction:

Harper was off his game today. He fumbled on the coalition issue earlier in the day, not able to take no for an answer from Ignatieff's earlier statement, showing perhaps how off guard that move took him:
This may be a bit of an overstatement, but at the starting gate, Ignatieff was breathing fire.

His best line, the one that will linger throughout the campaign, came after Harper accused him of deceit. It was over the precisely drafted statement Ignatieff released pledging he would not try to usurp first place and attempt a coalition government if the Liberals place second once more under a Tory minority.

Harper, in an unscripted moment and in hasty reaction to the Ignatieff statement, made a mistake.

It was the kind of fumble that can happen in the rough and tumble quick action of an election, away from the controlled setting of the House of Commons, where the prime minister always gets the last word.

Harper, who really did sound a bit rattled, called Ignatieff’s written promise a “little tidbit” in a news release. Then, oddly, maybe even incomprehensively, he accused the liberals of “trying to set it as a hidden agenda” and that Ignatieff declared his position in writing because “he couldn’t deny it in front of the cameras.”

In another few moments, so short and yet pivotal in a campaign, Ignatieff replied at his own news event: “He wouldn’t recognize the truth if it walked up and shook his hand.”

Freeze frame that, and go back to Harper, at Rideau Hall.

Continuing down the unscripted road, looking and sounding even more unsure of himself, Harper did the one sure thing that had his script masters shuddering, he referred to the possibility his party might win only another minority. (emphasis added)
Great move by the Liberals to release the "rules of democracy" statement this morning just before Harper's appearance. So that Harper didn't really have time to craft a stage-managed line in response. What was Harper on about there? Hidden agendas when it's clearly stated in writing? Clinging to the old attack. Life in the bubble doesn't prepare you for a lot of unscripted questions. Particularly when the rug's been pulled out from under a main line of attack they'd been savouring. Something to watch in coming days, if he continues to take questions, that is. If he doesn't, the contrast will be noticed.

Meanwhile, surprising guy kicks the campaign off with a team:

And garners this reaction:

On the "surprising" characterization, see the beginning of the report linked to above and here's a view from Mr. Ivison on the Ignatieff kick-off:
Probably more important in any case are the take-aways — what sticks in the memory? What were the themes? Crucially, would people who are not partisans emerge with a more favourable impression of the Liberal leader?

The key theme was an answer to the Conservative charge that he’s only in it for himself. In fact, the Liberal leader said, he is in it for the Canadian people. He conjured up Bob Dylan’s line that “everybody’s gotta serve somebody.”

The answer to the last question is, I think, yes. It was a convincing delivery of a well-crafted speech which most non-card carrying party members would probably say improved their impression of Mr. Ignatieff.
Day one but still a long way to go.

Coalition clarification

Well that didn't take long, a statement today clarifies the exact position of Liberals on future parliamentary intentions, following yesterday's events:
Whoever leads the party that wins the most seats on election day should be called on to form the government.

If that is the Liberal Party, then I will be required to rapidly seek the confidence of the newly-elected Parliament. If our government cannot win the support of the House, then Mr. Harper will be called on to form a government and face the same challenge. That is our Constitution. It is the law of the land.

If, as Leader of the Liberal Party, I am given the privilege of forming the government, these are the rules that will guide me:

* We will face Parliament with exactly the same team, platform and agenda that we bring to Canadians during this election. What Canadians see in this campaign is what Canadians will get if we are asked to form government.
* We will work with ALL parties to make Parliament work, and deliver sound policies – even the Conservative Party in opposition.
* We will not enter a coalition with other federalist parties. In our system, coalitions are a legitimate constitutional option. However, I believe that issue-by-issue collaboration with other parties is the best way for minority Parliaments to function.
* We categorically rule out a coalition or formal arrangement with the Bloc Quebecois.
* If I am facing a minority Parliament, I will work like Liberal Prime Ministers Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau and Paul Martin did: to provide progressive government to our country, by building support issue-by-issue, and by tapping into the goodwill, generosity and common sense of Canadians across the political spectrum. These are the governments that gave Canada the Canadian Flag, Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, the Kelowna Accord and a National Daycare Plan. With the right kind of leadership another minority Parliament could strive for such heights.

That is my position. Now I have a few questions for Mr. Harper:

* Does he agree with how I have described the workings of our democratic system?
* Why does he insist on fabricating lies about an impending coalition, something he knows is false?
* Will he tell Canadians the truth about his secret hotel room meetings in 2004 with the Bloc Quebecois which resulted in a signed letter of agreement to the Governor General, proposing a Conservative-NDP-Bloc coalition?
* Will he finally acknowledge the unprecedented finding of contempt against his government yesterday in the House of Commons?
So that should put an end to the doubt with a perfectly legitimate and clear position set out. If Mr. Harper nevertheless continues to ridiculously flail away, as he did this morning with his hidden agenda suggestion, he's now faced with a clear statement that blunts his attack. Those questions for Mr. Harper nicely pivot around to put the focus on him and what it is that he believes. Harper's contempt for democracy is, after all, why we are here in this election campaign. Ignatieff struck a good contrast on that this morning:
"I didn't want to spend 36 days with any ambiguity," Ignatieff said Saturday as he stood before the Peace Tower surrounded by several Liberals.

"This is an election about democracy. I feel I owe it to the Canadian people to be perfectly clear so they know what they're doing when they vote for the Liberal party.
"This is an election about democracy. The Canadian people are owed clarity, clarity of purpose on this. I made it clear all last week I want to form a Liberal government ... Mr. Harper thinks I don't understand the rules of democratic life, I understand them better than he does."
Those constitutional enterprisers working in the background, still a great thing to have going on and hopefully we do hear a bit from them, here and there, over the coming month. They can offer a credible, even stabilizing force to such discussions. Because when you have Conservatives like these, clear rules of the democratic road become ever more important.

What don't the Conservatives get about democracy?

They have a hard time dealing with it, so we learn day in and day out.

We have just had a historic day, a contempt vote for the Harper government was expressed by a majority in the House of Commons. Because they don't respect Parliament, they don't respect our democracy.

And here they are showing their disrespect again. They want to discuss the outcome of the election, 24/7, with coalition talk. Yet Mr. Harper and his party have no business telling the country that we have to focus on the outcome right now, that we have to fast forward to a discussion about the result.

Maybe the Canadian people want to have the election first. Let's discuss the issues and the priorities of the Canadian people. Jumping to the end and fixating our discussions on a result where Harper's party is the presumed winner is not respecting the democratic process at all. Typical for Harper but not the way an election should proceed.

Then when we have a result, when the Canadian people have spoken, then, if needs be, maybe we'll be assisted by some constitutional experts and other political representatives who are working on guidelines if we get an unclear election result and who we might be hearing more from over the coming month. Note that "representatives of the Governor General" attended the first gathering that was held in February. This CBC report from October refers to the Governor General as supporting that meeting, also notable. In the meantime, there is a useful point made here about the coalition question.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A good day: The Harper Government has fallen

Let the campaign begin!

Today, the House of Commons moved non-confidence in the government on the basis of contempt:
The federal Conservative government has been brought down on a historic vote in Parliament, setting the stage for a May election.
MPs voted 156-145 in favour of a Liberal motion today citing Stephen Harper's minority Tories for contempt of Parliament and expressing non-confidence in the government.
Harper is set to visit the Governor General's residence Saturday morning to dissolve the 40th Parliament and sound the starting gun on an election campaign. It will be the fourth election in seven years.
The contempt charge marks a first for a national government anywhere in the Commonwealth.
The vote will be seen as a formal finding of contempt against the government, because the motion clearly used the word "contempt" and was approved by the Commons, said one constitutional scholar.
"This will go down in the history books as a finding of contempt," said Ned Franks, a professor emeritus at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.
That is historic, serious and all Canadians should be concerned by it. It will be an important aspect of the coming campaign. (As a side note, this older post from 2008 is getting a lot of traffic today for people searching for answers on what contempt of parliament means.)

So now we write the next chapter. The most important thing to say...happy campaigning everybody! Get out there and do what you can for your local preferred candidate, never assume your help can't make a difference. Campaigns matter and this is going to be a good one.

And sometimes a picture just says it all...

What is Harper Government worthy and what is not

Can you see the difference? Patterns are emerging from the government announcements.

Harper Government Celebrates Economic Action Plan Investments in Canada's Knowledge Economy.

Harper Government's Abolition of Early Parole Act receives Royal Assent.

Harper Government Takes Action to Ensure Fairness at the Pumps.

Government of Canada to Help Gay and Lesbian Refugees Fleeing Persecution.

There is selective headline writing going on in the government. Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall as they decide which issue the Harper name is to be associated with?

And on Jason Kenney's Ottawa refugee announcement yesterday...nothing says well thought out, full governmental support than "up to" a hundred grand thrown at a pilot project that may or may not be picked up in the future. On the last day before your government is defeated. It smacks of last minute ticking of the box for electoral purposes.


Harper buck-passing on Carson allegations

The Harper public relations firm sprang into action yesterday on the Bruce Carson illegal lobbying allegations: "Harper felt betrayed after ex-PMO aide tied to lobbying allegations: sources." A "high-level Conservative" is dishing on the PM's feelings in the Bruce Carson matter. Probably a sign that the PMO is very concerned about the issue going into an election. The spin seems to be saying to us that we're supposed to feel sorry for the betrayed Harper, as if he is a victim here, was powerless to prevent any of this from happening and ultimately has no responsibility for this situation. Yet:
The prime minister was well aware of Carson's past. The Law Society of Upper Canada disbarred Carson in 1981, and he served time in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of defrauding clients.

Minutes from a July 16, 1981, meeting of the society's discipline committee explain why Carson was disbarred.

Their report "found that the solicitor was guilty of professional misconduct."

"He had forged the signature of the president of a corporation and misappropriated over $15,000 belonging to the corporation for which he acted," the document says.

"(He) forged the signature of a client from whom he misappropriated over $4,000; and misappropriated $4,900 belonging to another client."
They say Harper brought Bruce Carson into his office when the Conservatives came to power believing that the disbarred and once-jailed ex-lawyer had paid his debt to society and deserved a chance at rebuilding his life.
In other words, in the spinner's tale, Harper acted benevolently here and that's what we should care about. Bunk. The allegations are piling up and but for Carson with his questionable past having been blessed by the PM, we would likely be reading about none of it.

There has been further attention on the Canada School of the Energy and Environment. It received $15 million in federal funding in 2007, Carson became Executive Director. A former Jim Prentice adviser became deputy director. The school hosted a Conservative friendly speech Carson gave on its website, a site that should be non-partisan. There are larger questions about this government funding arrangement of the school and whose purposes it served.

Carson, private citizen who had left the PMO by April 2009, nevertheless attended at that time as an adviser to former Environment Minister Jim Prentice at a high level bilateral meeting in Washington with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He attended under a conflict of interest cloud given Carson's role in an oil and gas lobby group.

Further: "...five months later the Conservatives sent Mr. Carson to yet another international climate change summit, this time as one of Canada's four official delegates. Mr. Carson was there as the representative of the Prime Minister. However, Mr. Carson's day job was to advise the oil and gas industry on energy and climate change policy. Every Canadian knows this is a conflict of interest."

Both of these attendances by Carson raise questions about how Canada's environmental policy, at the highest levels, was being conducted by the Harper government.

Carson had money problems when he joined the PMO: "While working there, negotiated with revenue agency to avoid defaulting, documents show."

It's all speaking to risky judgment on Harper's part for which he bears responsibility. None of it suggests a PM as a passive observer wrongly done by in this tale.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Late night Mercer

At the risk of jumping the shark in posting Mercer's's one more, likely the last for a while given that election thing being imminent. Don't know if he'll be doing them during the campaign or not, wouldn't think so but who knows. Rant time has really picked up for Mercer in the last month or so, the material from the Harper Government has been endless.

Fantino of the many pensions, his message to seniors & some senior budget reaction

Some background on Fantino's pension situation:
Fantino could not be in a more different position from the average senior in Canada. Fantino’s pension, based on back of the envelope math, is worth almost $120,000 per year. Consider:

After five years as OPP commissioner, Fantino would be entitled to collect at least $20,000 annually under the Ontario Public Service Pension plan.

For his thirty-six years of service in his various roles that use the OMERS pension plan (London police, Peel police, Toronto police), Fantino would collect at least $87,000 per year.

Additionally, he would receive CPP pension benefits. Given his high salary he would qualify for the annual maximum: $11,210

Totalled, that is at least $118,000 in annual pensions.

But the figure could be higher:

Fantino may be benefitting from what is known as an OMERS “Retirement Compensation Arrangement.” OMERS retirement compensation arrangement (RCA) is a separate trust fund that provides benefits to members whose pension benefit exceeds the pension benefit limit in the Income Tax Act and Regulation (ITA). See here for more info on RCA’s here.

Now when you consider that as an MP, he could potentially have a fourth pension, he really does have the golden pension scenario among seniors.

Fantino is of course entitled to his pensions – he earned them – but in terms of Fantino becoming the bridge to struggling seniors, I just don’t see it. If pensions remain a major policy issue heading into the winter session, Fantino is an absolutely brutal spokesperson on the issue and if anything, may become a major liability to Harper on pensions given how much he is receiving annually.
Now, here's the give to seniors in his government's budget that Mr. Fantino is the spokesperson for:
The federal government did as much as it could afford to do for seniors in its latest budget, putting money into the pockets of the neediest, Seniors Minister Julian Fantino says.
The new improvements will help low-income seniors with little or no income other than Old Age Security (OAS) and the GIS. Single seniors with an annual income of $2,000 or less (other than OAS and the GIS), and couples with an annual income of $4,000 or less, will receive the full amount of the benefit, which amounts to $600 for single seniors and $840 for couples.
That's about $50 per month on the $600 figure. Not nothing, but let's see some early reaction:
Also attending the event was Don Mills' Aubrey Martin, a grandfather of three.

He supports measures to help low-income seniors, but said Fantino's announcement didn't go far enough to help struggling seniors.

"I think it is a good idea. There are a lot of people out there (only) eking out a living," he said, adding the measures are a good first step, but should go further.

"The older people don't want to beg, but they want to be helped out. There are a lot of people out there who need assistance and they're too proud (to ask for it)."
Over 2,000 CARP members responding to the CARP poll since Budget Night [attached]:

Panned the Budget:

62% say it is NOT a budget which benefits older Canadians 58% say they do NOT agree with the budget overall 54% say the Opposition Parties should vote against the Budget

Weakened Support for Government:

47% say Budget makes them less likely to vote for the government 71% say Budget did NOT improve their opinion of the government since last week’s Speaker’s rulings
Have the Conservatives got the right spokesperson for what they're selling? Guess we'll see.

The Harper Government™ is all about who you know, not who you are

Let's recall once again what the PM tells the nation in one of his recent ads: "We're lucky to live in Canada, a land where merit means more than privilege, where who you are matters more than who you know or where you came from." Harper's words are ringing very untrue this week. The hypocrisy from the great accountability crusader circa 2006 continues to be laid bare.

It is confirmed that Tom Pentefountas got his CRTC gig as Vice-Chair courtesy of Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, not due to any particular qualifications pertinent to the highly specialized telecommunications industry and he didn't even apply for it, to boot. Housakos did it for him:
«J'ai été contacté par un ami que vous connaissez, a-t-il expliqué. J'avais déjà fait application pour un autre poste. Et quand cette position-là a été ouverte, il m'a joint et j'ai très certainement exprimé mon désir de faire partie du concours.»

Questionné pour savoir s'il avait lui-même déposé son CV, celui dont le mandat commence le 4 avril a répondu: «M. Housakos a appliqué. En d'autres termes, il a déposé le CV pour moi.»

We also learn of extensive patronage appointments to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency that are now under investigation, all appointments seeming to be tied to Peter MacKay:
The Public Service Commission of Canada is investigating the Harper government for appointing Conservatives close to Defence Minister Peter MacKay to senior positions in the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Since the Tories took power in 2006, at least 10 well-connected Conservatives have won plum jobs at Atlantic regional development agencies.

Maria Barrados, president of the commission, which is charged with making sure governments don’t politicize the public service, told MPs on the government operations committee Tuesday that lawyers in her investigative unit have looked into the situation and decided to proceed with a complete probe.

"In the case of the complaints I got on ACOA, they have in fact launched full investigations," she said.
Clearly, the Prime Minister's words are in need of a re-write. Truth in advertising and all that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Late night cartoon

Especially for Mr. Fantino in honour of his remarks today: "Government does all it can do for seniors: Fantino."

Priorities, priorities...

Harper's big risk

This non-confidence motion will be moved by the Liberals on Friday:
That the House agrees with the finding of the standing committee on procedure and House affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the government.
Barring any last minute maneuvers or other motions, as of late this afternoon it appears that yes, Harper is prepared to go to an election having that verdict rendered on his government. An historic verdict at that. So ultimately he's prepared to live with that judgment being made - assuming it is - in order to proceed to an election that he thinks he can win. Electoral calculation prioritized over a contempt judgment. We have a Prime Minister who doesn't really care that such an historic verdict will be on his record. Not a surprise from this PM but it is fascinating to see it play out.

There is also some history here, which may be instructive. Saw this on Twitter last night, which may be subject to verification:
Interesting fact from friend- no government that has been defeated on confidence vote has won the resulting election - except Trudeau in 74.
(Cont'd) Martin 2005 lost election Clark 1979 lost elxn Trudeau 1974 won elxn Diefenbaker 1963 lost elxn Meighen 1926 lost election.
There is something intangible in the motion that brings defeat and its result that the Conservatives may be underestimating.

P.S. Big City Lib will indeed now eat his hat at a future Progressive Bloggers get together. He just couldn't take yes for an answer with all the election lights blinking.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Questions on Bruce Carson

From a columnist at the Edmonton Journal, this was an excellent column on the Carson allegations that asks a number of key questions and deserves to be widely read (h/t):
Let's start with two questions.

How did Bruce Carson, 66, come to be appointed as the executive director of the Canada School of Energy and Environment, a federally-funded think-tank that links academics from the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge?

How did Carson come to be named, only this January, to the Alberta government's "expert panel," which is supposed to create a world-class environmental monitoring system for Alberta's oilsands?

Carson, after all, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in the 1980s for theft and fraud in relation to the misappropriation of funds from both his law firm and his clients. (The thinktank website boasts of Carson's two legal degrees, without mentioning that he was disbarred by the Upper Canada Law Society in 1980.) More to the point, perhaps, Carson is a former senior policy adviser to Stephen Harper, and a federal Conservative campaign strategist who has been instrumental in structuring the federal government's prooilsands PR strategy, and in serving as an adviser to CAPP, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

He was appointed to the federally created, federally-funded think-tank in 2008 while he was actually working in Harper's office, and he continued to do campaign strategy work and policy consultation for the Conservative party and the Harper government even after he was named the school's executive director. It's a degree of political consanguinity that undermines the credibility and academic integrity of the think-tank, which is supposed to be positioning Alberta as a world leader in "green" energy development.

Then, this January, Rob Renner, Alberta's environment minister, named Carson as one of the 12 experts hand-picked to come up with a way to monitor environmental impacts of the oilsands. How a person convicted of theft and fraud, who was also advising CAPP and the federal government on how to put a positive "spin" on oilsands development, was to add credibility to Alberta's environmental monitoring practices isn't clear.
Here's the third question. Why did it take the words "escort" and "nude photos" to get people -including me -asking the first two questions?

Bruce Carson's name hit the national headlines late last week, when news broke that RCMP were investigating allegations that Carson might have misused or misrepresented his connection to the prime minister and to federal Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan to market expensive water-treatment systems to reserves with poor water quality.

Then the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, which first broke the story, added one more spicy detail to the mix. Carson's 22-year-old fiancee, Michele McPherson, was a former sex-trade worker who told the Ottawa Citizen that she began turning tricks at 13, and who later became a high-priced escort servicing VIP clients in Ottawa.

According to a contract document obtained by APTN, McPherson was to receive 20 per cent of all gross receipts from sales of water contracts with First Nations reserves.
Rachel Notley, the NDP environment critic, asks another good question. Is it appropriate to appoint a man whose fiancée has a financial interest in a company that sells watertreatment systems to First Nations, to a panel examining the impact of oilsands operations on water quality in aboriginal communities?

In the wake of the RCMP investigation, Carson has taken a leave of absence from the Canada School of Energy and Environment. (No one from the CSEE returned my calls on Monday.) Carson has also taken a temporary unpaid leave from the province's oilsands monitoring panel. How ironic, that it took a cause celebre involving an Ottawa call girl to get us wondering how Carson got those posts in the first place.

The budget and its fallout

A few quick thoughts off the top about the budget and the surrounding politics that now see us on the brink of an election campaign...

We have been witnessing an onslaught from the Harper government in terms of a virtual campaign since at least January. They have had a wave of ministers and MPs announcing Economic Action Plan items across the country, often thematically based in order to speak to given issues that could be weaknesses (forestry, R&D, environment, etc.). They have used taxpayer money, obscenely to the tune of at least $26 million since January, to finance a public relations campaign on our television screens in an attempt to boost support for the government and its economic messaging. They have ratcheted up the ugly personal attacks in the form of their negative ads, attempting to undermine Michael Ignatieff's political viability. All indications have been that Mr. Harper has been preparing for an election.

The opposition parties have signalled their priorities for a while now. The Liberals drawing lines in the sand over the sole-sourced fighter jet proposal that at $30 billion (according to the PBO) directs resources in a direction Canadians just aren't comfortable with. Corporate tax cuts, massive prison build costs have also been objected to by Liberals. The Bloc had its line, the HST deal. The NDP had its shopping list.

So what does Mr. Harper do? He ignores the party he detests, the Liberals. Of course he does.

There are some musings about the HST deal as it may actually come but maybe he sees little political advantage to it as the Conservative numbers in Quebec aren't good and he doesn't see an uptick that's there to be had if he follows through.

But he plays with the NDP a little, gives them juuuust enough to think about, doling out a few items that maybe they might support. A modest boost to the GIS that in practical terms does little for seniors. $12 a week for a single person, what does that buy you at the grocery store these days? It's not nothing but there hasn't been an increase in years. Nothing on pensions, the Conservatives are prepared to ride on their private proposal that they floated in the fall. Sure there's an Eco Energy retrofit give but this is something the Conservatives have offered before, not a hard one. Note too that the budget is all dolled up in Economic Action Plan colours so they can wave it around across the country. It's The Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan™.

And Harper thinks maybe he gets the NDP with it. Or maybe he doesn't. In either scenario, he either gets to continue governing or carry on to the election that he's been gearing up for all along.

Except that he's now facing a current that is out of his control. There are the Bruce Carson allegations that seem to keep coming. His officials charged with Elections Canada Act breaches. The historic contempt. He's facing ads that tell those stories to Canadians for the first time in his tenure. Some polls suggest the mud is starting to stick. The ethics and arrogance story line is getting picked up. And even the economic competence of his government that is much vaunted by them and parroted by friendlies isn't so formidable in the eyes of voters.

The little bit of drama this afternoon where everyone was on tenterhooks waiting for Jack Layton to speak and indicate whether his part would support the budget was a refreshing reminder of political reality and how it will intrude and trample on all our little preconceived story lines. This is what an election campaign will bring and those who like control, i.e., Mr. Harper, are going to be out of luck.

Has Harper been on his game? Did he commit a gaffe on Libya? Was it normal to lie down with the fainting student? Can you picture another world leader doing that? Does he seem a little too eerily calm and detached these days as if his heart is not in it? Is there a demeanour that suggests that he knows the land mines are multiplying and he's just trying to get away with it for just a bit longer? That he senses his highly spun bubble world is just not as mighty as it's been for these last few years?

Interesting poll yesterday that had the parties at their 2008 levels. Ekos was in that ballpark too with a major poll recently. If it's go time, that's not a bad place to be at all.

Contempt: The view from abroad

OK, well, abroad as in AP's report as prominently displayed on the Americas page of the New York Times anyway: "Canada’s Harper Faces Contempt Charge and Possible Election." After briefly handicapping a possible election outcome, it goes on:
Mr. Harper, however, is a center-right prime minister in a traditionally center-left country, and his plan to reduce corporate tax rates in the new budget has given the opposition, led by the left-leaning Liberals, an opening to argue that Canada, despite its economic successes, is running a record deficit that will only increase if taxes diminish.

The opposition has also criticized the prime minister for planning to spend $9 billion on 65 American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, which represents one of the biggest military purchases in Canadian history. It will entail at least an additional $5 billion in maintenance costs.

The opposition has been able to paint Mr. Harper, 51, as a manipulator who resorts to questionable strategies to thwart the opposition, most notably his suspension of Parliament for three months last year to bring about a shift in house committee chairmanships.

And now his opponents have been handed the contempt accusations that portray Mr. Harper, who has not had a majority since becoming prime minister in 2006, as a highhanded leader who lacks a popular mandate. No Canadian government has ever been cited for contempt before.
Oh well, I'm sure they don't read the New York Times at the White House or in the State Department...

Here is the contempt report, courtesy of CBC's Inside Politics blog. See page 18 for Ned Franks' 5 Handy Ways to Restrain an Out of Control PMO.

Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs: QUESTION OF PRIVILEGE RELATING TO THE FAIL...

Late night Spring greetings

Ushering in the new season, belatedly. Courtesy of artist Theo Nelson who likes to ring them in by sharing his art with bloggers and others.

Yes, plant a lot of those thoughts!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Carson allegations widen

Another report drops from APTN today on Harper's top former senior adviser Bruce Carson and his efforts in meeting with various government departments to obtain water contracts for the Ottawa water company that employed his fiancé and who would see a 20 percent commission from sales of those water systems. Those efforts reached beyond four meetings with Indian Affairs officials between September and December of 2010. APTN says, and Kent's spokesperson confirms, that there was a Carson meeting with Environment Minister Peter Kent as well on February 7th. More of that "who you know" calling card that matters with the Harper Government.

Some other intriguing aspects of APTN's report...this, on the apparent frustration in dealing with Indian Affairs that may have spawned the meeting with Kent and the aggressive "end-run" effort with aboriginal communities referenced here:
Carson and the company also planned an end-run on the department and were trying to convince bands to pass band council resolutions stating they wanted to do business.

“If we can work with the band itself and have the work with them, it will be easier having the band work with (the department) rather than ourselves,” said Carson. “Each of the communities gets a stream of money for capital projects and if we can tap into that kind of money coming through the band rather than making some huge application to (the department).”
Carson suggests that the Duncan Indian Affairs political staff were amenable to what they were hearing:
“I met with John’s (Duncan) staff and they know (about the water company). They are trying to be helpful and quite frankly it’s a frustration for them too,” said Carson, in the interview. “There is a certain amount of frustration, and everybody knows this, but I haven’t made a secret about it, of trying to deal, trying to get this moving along in the department.”
That seems like a very notable quote.

In terms of the money involved here, recall this line from Saturday's Chronicle Herald piece, the view from Patrick Hill of the water company at issue, on the money targeted:
Sources say Hill told business associates that Carson was going to help him get access to part of $350 million budgeted for First Nations water improvements.
From the APTN report, Carson is cited speaking about the same ballpark of funds:
Carson said Indian Affairs officials informed him that the department would pay directly for a project worth over $1.5 million. He also said the department would be willing to fork over training money. The company planned to train two people on each reserve to change filters. All the bands had to do was sign and all their water problems would be fixed, said Carson.

“(The department) has represented to us that they will actually pay for this out of the $330 million that the government put aside to handle this, to deal with clean drinking water,” he said.
The defence being cited by Carson for these efforts, in respect of allegations of improper lobbying, referenced in both the APTN report and this Star report, here:
“I really don’t want the Lobbying Commissioner sort of going crazy over my involvement in this,” he said, according to a report Monday by APTN. “This would be like one-tenth of one per cent of my time, so we’re all right.”
It's just one-tenth of his time so he's all right, said the former senior adviser to the PM.

Harper on Libya

Posting this report from the National last night for the very interesting discussion at about the 7:40 mark and following where Brian Stewart analyzes Harper's comments from Saturday about the objective of the mission. Here's a quote from Harper which stood out in some of the reporting which goes to what Stewart was getting at:
"He simply will not last very long. I think that is the basis on which we're moving forward. If I am being frank here, that is probably more understood than spoken aloud. But I just said it aloud," Harper said.
Why Harper ventured there in creating expectations like that...smartest guy in the room syndrome kicking in?

Update: Additional source for that Harper quote.

Infrastructure leadership

A few shocking reads in modern day Canada, apparently one of the largest and most commercially significant bridges in Montreal, the Champlain Bridge, is in risk of partial collapse. From the Gazette:
La Presse this week obtained two federally mandated engineering studies. Here's what the studies concluded about the Champlain:

--There are concerns about the soundness of the bridge's beams, pillars and foundation, as well as for its capacity to carry heavy loads.

--Those safety concerns mean there is a risk that part of the bridge could collapse.

--The bridge would not with-stand a major earthquake.

--The bridge should be re-placed quickly.

--Though theoretically pos-sible, fixing the bridge would be too costly and cause too many major traffic problems.
That's putting it nicely. Read the cyberpresse link above, it's much more frightening (translated version). Newly appointed Conservative Senator Larry Smith announced some more federal funds on Friday, maybe because such media reports as those in La Presse were making the rounds.
Conservative Senator Larry Smith announced the repairs. He told reporters the bridge is safe.
Those federally mandated engineering studies carry a little more weight than Senator football. Repair money, a band-aid solution is not looking to be the answer. 

Begging the question of where the infrastructure leadership is these days. We have just been through Canada's Economic Action Plan, widely advertised to the nation by these Conservatives and which was all about infrastructure. Yet here we have a major infrastructure need staring the federal, provincial and municipal governments in the face. Every time you read an announcement like this one yesterday that has comparable variations across the country then consider the Pont Champlain...really makes you wonder what kind of legacy this action plan will really have. Infrastructure priorities should preferably be with the Pont Champlains, not with snowmobile trails or rinks of any kind in Quebec.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., they're looking at some interesting infrastructure ideas: "An independent, bipartisan board appointed by the president and Congress would choose the investments and oversee construction, audited by an inspector general and the Government Accountability Office." Maybe we should be considering Canadianized innovations like that too.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Big blunder

Updated below.

The Harper party's attack on Ignatieff's family is getting some attention this afternoon.
He said the Tories’ targeting of his character and family is unparalleled in this country. “These personal attacks are unprecedented in the history of Canadian democracy,” Mr. Ignatieff charged.

“[Stephen Harper] is absolutely out of control. He thinks he can get away with and say anything,” the Liberal Leader said. “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. I am a proud Canadian. I won’t take that from him or from anybody else.”

He added: “Canadians got to ask themselves is this the kind of politics you want? This is a prime minister who is prepared to say anything to hold on to power.”
The Conservatives seem to think that they're invulnerable, that the polls that have been relatively fixed for years now mean that they can say what they want with some kind of halo of impunity surrounding them. This latest broadside is not looking good on them at all...

Update (8:00 p.m.): This attack on Ignatieff's family history also runs directly counter to the Prime Minister's own words in one of his latest ads, the first one here, where he says: "We're lucky to live in Canada, a land where merit means more than privilege, where who you are matters more than who you know or where you came from." So much for those words.

Update (8:05 p.m.): Those words from the PM also have some resonance given the current Bruce Carson matter. Who you know actually seems to matter more than who you are with the Harper Government™.

Update (8:25 p.m.): Last one! There is video of Ignatieff speaking about the Harper personal attacks here from CTV's Question Period today. Last two minutes or so, definitely worth watching.