Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The king of partisanship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for the bounty, Mr. Flaherty

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

The big concert last night...:)

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

This was pretty good too:

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

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

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

The big announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Now this might be something worth going to an election for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeffrey Simpson on Harper's hatred of the media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Latest on the Conservative in and out scheme

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

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

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

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

Report trashes Conservatives' plans on daycare

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another slap in the offing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

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

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

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

Trolling for votes

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

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

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

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

Jim Flaherty gets some new glasses...:)

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The hatorade continues

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

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

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

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

Undaunted, Drouin said accommodation must end.

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

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

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

Don't you guys have anything better to do?

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

That pressing, urgent distraction...Senate reform

No, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No more embassies.

No more legal aid for Charter challenges.

No more free and open media access to government.

No more accountability in the House of Commons.

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

An Ontario Superior Court judge sides with a plaintiff against Harper

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2007

A devastating critique of Harper's imperious style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The anti-immigrant competition in Quebec

The PQ under Pauline Marois are proposing the creation of a certificate of Quebec citizenship which would be earned by immigrants who can prove they speak French at an acceptable level. If they can't, there are consequences:
Under the proposed law, immigrants will be required to have an "appropriate" working knowledge of French to be sworn in as Quebec citizens.

Those immigrants who fail to develop their French-language skills would not be allowed to hold public office, raise funds for a party or petition the National Assembly with a grievance.
No doubt spurred on by the provincial government's hearings into the issue of reasonable accommodation of minorities where much intolerance has been spewed, it seems that the PQ, BQ, ADQ and I would suggest, the Prime Minister himself, have entered into a competition of sorts to cater to the xenophobic undertones that are manifesting themselves in the Quebec population. Gilles Duceppe got into the act with similar language this week and as noted here, Mario Dumont has not been shy about immigrant bashing either:
And this week in a Montreal speech to students that was seen as a naked bid to appeal to Quebec separatists, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe has resorted to preying on the immigration fears of many Quebecers and indeed, many other Canadians.

In his speech, Duceppe blasted the "Canadian ideology of multiculturalism" and said immigrants must "integrate" into Quebec's francophone culture, a view that runs counter to Ottawa's official multiculturalism policy. He added that the other federal parties "are Canadian" and not up to the task of defending Quebec culture.

Duceppe's appalling attack on multiculturalism is not the first to come from senior Quebec politicians.

In August, Quebec Opposition Leader Mario Dumont suggested Quebec has enough immigrants and, while not wanting to cut off all newcomers, he did want to stop further increases.
Harper's contribution to the intolerant tone that is setting in was his public condemnation of Muslim women voting while veiled, despite the law not requiring them to do so. He had to know this was an incendiary issue in Quebec yet he waded right in. How do Muslims feel about the spotlight being shone on them as the veil issue has been raised, by provincial politicians then federal?
Muslim Council of Montreal president Salam Elmenyawi accused the media of manufacturing a crisis.

Elmenyawi said the news reports that broadcast the old rule and related it to Muslim women stirred hatred in Quebec.

"Again they're putting the Muslims in the news and talking about us as if we don't exist,'' Elmenyawi said of the media. "I think....they are fanning the flames of divisiveness and of hate and of isolation.

"It's going to have a very long-term effect on our society here.''
That about sums it up. A very strange tactic for a Prime Minister who on the other hand claims to be engaging in "ethnic outreach."

This is the political leadership desperately vying for Quebec voters sentiments right now. None of them are acquitting themselves very well in this race to the bottom, to say the very least...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A whopping 34% want a Harper majority

Kudos to Red Tory and Calgary Grit for correcting the representations of the Ipsos poll results floating around our crack media who are suggesting and crowing that much more is to be made of the claim that 58% of Canadians would prefer a majority government over a minority government. Well about that 58% wanting a majority Watson used to say, no sh*% Sherlock. Isn't it just shocking that Canadians would prefer a majority government on the federal scene right now? In the wake of all the political machinations and threats of elections hovering over their heads for weeks on end now?

If you calmly look at the Ipsos survey itself, it's clear that those preferring a Harper majority are at 34%. I.e., 58% of 58%. In fact if you want to get uber-technical about it, it should be 33.64%. But let's be generous, like the Ipsos folks, and let Harpie have his 34%. But it certainly ain't no 58%.

In other words, Harper's at the same ceiling he's been stuck at since he's started his Prime Ministership.

Big thud...

Harpie's new laundering detergent, "Hide"...:)

To clean up little problems like, you know, the Conservative adscam scandal wherein they overspent their federal spending limits by over $1 million in the last federal election. Not playing by the rules? No problemo for the Harper gang, just do it on the down low and get that laundromat going! Harpie's government is so clean, they even launder the ad money!

Enjoy the latest from the Wingnuterer's photoshoppery...:)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rush Limbaugh educates Americans

There's a bottomless pit of money to rescue such comedians as Rush Limbaugh from their smearing of U.S. troops who oppose the Iraq war:
After Rush Limbaugh referred to Iraq war veterans critical of the war as “phony soldiers,” he received a letter of complaint signed by 41 Democratic senators. He decided to auction the letter, which he described as “this glittering jewel of colossal ignorance,” for charity, and he pledged to match the price, dollar for dollar.

On Thursday night, Mr. Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host, said he thought the letter would bring in as much as $1 million. But he was wrong.

When the eBay auction closed Friday afternoon, the winning bid was $2.1 million. It is the largest amount ever paid for an item sold on eBay for the benefit of a charity.
And get this, the rationale for the purchase of the letter:
The letter was purchased by the Eugene B. Casey Foundation, a $294 million foundation in Gaithersburg, Md., that has given money to a wide range of organizations, including the Washington Opera and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. In a statement, the foundation said its purchase was intended to demonstrate its belief in freedom of speech and “to support Rush Limbaugh, his views and his continuing education of us.”
Just unbelievable...

The PCO, readin' blogs

Welcome back, Privy Councillors. Are you working hard to neutralize the income trust issue for the partisan PM because the Liberals have signalled that they will be holding him to account for it in an election? Or are you doing legitimate policy work? Just wondering if the lines are being kept in mind in the upper echelons of the Harper administration...

Ghosts of 2000 haunting the world

A reminder in the NY Times today of the monumental smear campaign that was launched against John McCain in the 2000 primary season in South Carolina. It's the state that ensured George W. Bush would be the Republican nominee as it was the next state to vote after New Hampshire, that had given John McCain an 18 point margin of victory. South Carolina put an end to the McCain express. As the 2008 season gets underway, and McCain's travelling in South Carolina, the dirty tricks used by the Bush forces get laid bare all over again.

Can't help but remember this dandy, the closing of GOP polls in Greenville, South Carolina suddenly on primary day, when those polls were likely to go for McCain. And guess who is one of the most prominent politicians of the last few decades from Greenville, South Carolina? The now U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins who served as South Carolina state co-chair for Bush 2000.

So you know who to thank...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Harpie cleans up government...:)

Made special to order as a result of Harpie's new slogan, "the government is clean."

Courtesy of the Wingnuterer's photoshoppery with an assist from Impolitical's mad brain...:)

Today's threat

Think Canadians are going to be thrilled by Harper's repeated threats to have an election? Why, pray tell, did Harper insist on passing legislation fixing election dates all the while continuing to manoeuvre for an election at every turn now? The Conservatives may think the optics on this omnibus crime legislation favour them but the counter arguments are equally persuasive. The opposition had agreed to the majority of these bills, there are only a few major points of contention. If the opposition can say that in an election, people will wonder wtf is going on then? Why can they not sever the non-contentious items out, like the drug-impaired driving provisions as Joe Comartin points out, and get that work done? And if Rob Nicholson thinks it's credible that the Canadian people would seriously believe the Liberals are "standing up for dangerous offenders," well, this takes me back to Harper's claim two elections ago that Paul Martin supported child pornography. Go for it, guys.

This looks terrible for the Conservatives. But, hey, let's not stop them...:)

A dismissive wave

Garth is right on today:
Stephen Harper sat back in his seat, looked bored, feigned not to be listening, gave Dion a dismissive wave and rudely shared jokes being passed among his Conservative underlings. Fourteen feet above his head, in the members’ gallery for visitors, sat Janine Krieber. She urged her husband on, with the hint of a smile and the imperceptible signals in her eyes that only marrieds can discern. Stephane looked up, then carried on with his difficult task. The Conservatives tried to throw him off with heckles. When that didn’t work, they laughed. But when he was done, they just sat there.
How evocative a picture of our PM while off camera. Kinda takes you right there, doesn't it?

The will they or won't they commemorative poster

The semi-daily laugh brought to you by the Wingnuterer...enjoy the commemorative aspect of this one as long as you can...:)

The uncomfortable new litmust test for Bush nominees

Will you please, please promise to resign if the President wants to do something illegal & you can't talk him out of it?
Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee’s ranking Republican, told Mr. Mukasey that the department “urgently needs a restoration of integrity and honesty and independence.”

“We have seen a situation where there have been serious allegations of political influence,” Mr. Specter said, “and it is very important that those matters be cleared up.”

“Going right to the heart of the matter,” he continued, “are you prepared to resign if the president were to violate your advice — in your view, violate the Constitution of the United States on an important matter?”

Mr. Mukasey replied: “That would present me with a difficult but not a complex problem. I would have two choices. I could either try to talk him out of it — or leave. Those are the choices.”

Mr. Specter reframed the response: “If the alternative is to leave if you can’t talk him out of it, then I think the answer to my question is yes.”

Mr. Mukasey nodded. “It is,” he said.
He passed! Talk about the bar being Attorney General nominee must steel himself against the prospect of expected lawbreaking by the President of the United States and pledge to the United States Senate that he will indeed act appropriately when confronted by it.

Look at the bright side, at least they're getting it on record now...

Here's video on the A.G. nominee being asked about Gitmo, where a Canadian citizen sits, with the neglectful support of the Harper government:


Res ipsa loquitur:
By the time he finished a 45-minute speech in which he declared he would not bring down the government, the Liberal leader was deluged with derisive guffaws.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined in as his troops chuckled openly at Dion. The laughter first erupted when Dion declared that the Liberal party was tough on crime.

The mockery grew louder as Dion launched into a lengthy defence of his record on climate change while lambasting the Tories' abandonment of the Kyoto accord.

Dion persisted without acknowledging his opponents, who by this time were gobsmacked by a case of the mass giggles. It was so widespread at one point that even Michael Ignatieff – the Liberals' deputy leader who sits right next to Dion – cupped his face to stifle a laugh.

But Dion plodded ahead.

He did it in English that was sometimes stilted enough to prompt barbed heckles from his opponents.

Dion drew the loudest laughs as he read press releases from environmental groups who accuse the Tories of cancelling Liberal programs and replacing them with inferior ones.
Keep making fun of his English...we've seen that before. Keep disrespecting him. We'll see what happens.

The first day back and the Conservatives are well on their way to picking up from exactly where they left off in the spring...the House of Commons is the very best place for them to be seen by Canadians.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

And...we're back

No, not a reference to the putrid "Canada's back" construction, but to the hyper partisan House of Commons. Caught a lot of Dion's speech setting out his principles on each of the government's issues. The upshot, there will be no election for now. And a vow, which two thirds of Canadians would agree with:
Mr. Dion had earlier described the Throne Speech as “vague” and “full of holes”.

“It warrants little faith,” Mr. Dion told Parliament as he opened debate on the response to the Throne Speech.

But there was one up-side, he said: It was not as bad as the speech the combined Houses of parliament would have heard had the Conservatives held a majority government.

And he said Canadians can count on his statement that “this Conservative Party will never form a majority.
I must say, the aftermath of the speech has been pretty entertaining. In fact, it's a good reason to keep this House in session and not have an election. Dion certainly put Yak Layton in his place, quickly and succinctly. And as I listen to John Baird hyperventilating in the background as I type, Dion's providing a very effective contrast to these monkeys. In fact, in the back and forth of the questioning, he's meeting their bluster and raising his response to outshine them. If this is what we are to see in this session, I am very hopeful.

Oh, Harpie's on his feet...repeating the bizarre "government is clean" slogan. Sounding notably subdued and sprinkling his remarks with references to historical characters. Looks like a new version of the chameleon we're witnessing this session, but I guess time will tell...:)

"H-Election-oween anybody?"

Start the day with a laugh courtesy of the Wingnuterer...:)

"The government is clean"

An odd line from the throne speech last night that stuck out like a sore thumb. The government is clean. This is apparently an election ready focus group tested phrase that we're likely to be subjected to, no matter when this inevitable election occurs. What does it mean, anyway? When I look at these guys I certainly don't think "clean." I think reneging on Kyoto principles. I think lying on income trusts in order to get elected. I think lying on the Atlantic Accord in order to get elected. I think about people who will no longer have access to legal representation because the Harper minority government has cut funding for legal advocacy groups and the Court Challenges Programme. And I think about the drive-by smear artists who have spent an unprecedented amount of money on negative ads to tar their opposition. Who play dress up GI Joe in Afghanistan and who refuse to speak any truth about it despite the facts that contravene their rosy spin. Who perform in an embarrassingly overzealous partisan manner in Parliament. And who, according to Elections Canada, broke election spending rules by overspending their limits in the last federal election.

Now I don't know about you, but I don't find any of this to be particularly "clean." These guys are the dirtiest bunch we've seen in Ottawa in recent times and it's only been just under two years since they've been in power. Lying, tarring, unaccountable. Those are the adjectives that come to mind, certainly not clean.

Let's consider another result Harper claimed in his speech: "the country is united." Well, gee. Let's ask Bill Casey, the prominent Nova Scotia MP Harper kicked out of the Conservative caucus how united he feels the country is after Harper rebuffed his renomination by his riding association last week. Ask the Premier of Saskatchewan who's pursuing legal action against the federal government. Ask Pauline Marois, perhaps the next PQ Premier of Quebec who, fresh from her resounding recent election, announced her intentions in the Quebec National Assembly last week to continue to pursue sovereignty as a long term goal. Or ask Danny Williams what his view is of Harper's treatment of Newfoundland. What do you think they'd say about the state of the federation's unity under Harper?

And what about this ending to the speech:
May your deliberations be guided by Divine Providence, may your wisdom and patriotism enlarge the prosperity of the country and promote in every way the well-being of its people.
"Divine Providence? Now let me think real hard on this one....who else on this continent peppers their major speeches with religious subtext? Oh yeah, it's this guy. Targeting the religious are we, Conservatives? Because we all know how well that's worked out for our neighbour to the south...thanks, but no thanks.

More, much more, later today I'm sure on the all-election-all-the-time speculation...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The robot ministers have been dispatched

Jim Prentice just did a nifty little speech setting out the need to get a "mandate" and stressing the five areas...

Now it's Lawrence Cannon in French stating essentially the same thing...and CTV's a willing stage for the government, as usual.

The scripted, media onslaught from this government is in full swing.

Visual identification of voters will disenfranchise millions

In the wake of the Conservatives' throne speech citing the need to close the "loophole" that they left in place, just this summer, over visual identification of voters, the details of their plan will be extremely important. If you think photo ID is not a problem for people, consider this:
Testifying before a committee on the proposed changes to the elections law in December, Mayrand's predecessor, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, warned the committee against eliminating alternative methods of voting. The problem, he explained, is that millions of Canadians do not have photo identification that meets all the new requirements of the elections act - particularly the homeless, the disadvantaged, seniors and youth.

"This means, in effect, that some 4.5 million electors, one in five, will be required to prove their identity and their residence by bringing and presenting two pieces of alternative documents, as proposed by the bill."
Got that?

Liveblogging the throne speech

The parcelling out of mentions to all of Harpie's carefully calculated political constituencies begins...

Preliminary thoughts...we waited for this?

Why is Rick Hillier so prominently placed in the background?

Michaelle Jean sounds like internally she's saying, "I can't believe I'm reading this..."

Arctic sovereignty...the apple pie of Canadian politics right there anyone against this?

Oh, it's 2011 that Harpie's now setting out as the date to leave Afghanistan...that should go over real well with the Canadian people...

Canada's "back" in the Americas hemisphere, apparently...where did we go?

Quebec city's anniversary...Quebecois nation motion mentioned...Quebec: check.

Attack on the Senate: check. "Democratic reform" trying to get that Americanized elected Senate. Where's the groundswell of popular support for this?

Visual identification of voters...cue the disenfranchisement of all Canadians without appropriate photo ID...this is a sleeper backlash issue, I predict.

25 minutes in, that's it for now...will check back in later...

The "Stephen Harper News Media Center" commemorative poster

Yes, "commemorative" since it's supposedly been put on the chopping block, according to Sandra Buckler ...after all, they can't have such stories of the Harper government's secret plans to build their very own Prime Ministerial media centre eclipsing their special Throne Speech day, don't ya know.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Happy Throne Speech Eve

Miscellaneous observations on this momentous evening...

Bob Fife continues to breathlessly report on the Liberal troubles in the latest poll tonight where they muster 29% to Harper's 34%. Isn't the bigger story, Bob, that the Prime Minister has been in office for over a year and a half and his support is still below the 36% he obtained in the 2006 federal election? But enough about Bob...

With Parliament set to return, the Conservatives are in for it...they have not performed well to date in the House. Welcome back, boys...:) I look forward to the return of Stockwell, Lawyer Van Loan, Jos. Louis Bernier, Junior MacKay and other assorted wonder boys...because let's face it, there are no women who are the public face of this government, other than Rona who sits behind Harpie and nods approvingly. And let's cross our fingers that they give Pierre Poilievre a much bigger public profile too, he's a real up and comer...:)

And what's this...I hear Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton singing a different tune today on the notion of having an election. The gung-ho boys have suddenly dialed down the macho rhetoric and say they don't want an election. Following the Liberals are they?

And the Throne Speech, at least word is being leaked tonight, is not going to be as daring as Harper has alleged to date. There appear to be no land mines. Harper's backed down from his election ledge, it seems. In fact, a lot of it could have come from a Liberal government, with some exceptions. Don't want an election either, hey Steve? Following the Liberals, are you?

Oh, gee, democracy's dying a little bit in Canada today too

With news of the Big Brother-like PM media centre to be controlled by the government and supplanting the National Press Theatre which is run by journalists. Undermining independent media coverage of the federal government by making journalists play by Harper rules in a Harper-run media sandbox...why that's the hallmark of such luminaries on the present world stage as Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush. Why is Harper moving our democracy in that direction? Here's a helpful video reminder of Harper's contempt for the media, including his own views where you can just see the disdain oozing from his demeanour in an exchange with Terry Molefsky of CBC:

Harper thinks people won't pay attention to such issues...he doesn't think the public cares. Really? An excerpt from the Star, well discussed today, but reproduced, because it's reprehensible and if someone hasn't seen it and will by reading this, then good:
The Prime Minister's Office, which has long had a rocky relationship with the national media, has been working on a secret project to build a new, government-controlled briefing room at the cost of $2 million, documents obtained by the Star show.

Long kept under wraps, the plan – codenamed the Shoe Store Project – is in the works by the Privy Council Office and the PMO to establish a new government-controlled media briefing centre near Langevin Block.

The yellow-brown building that now houses Stephen Harper and his senior staff would supplant the current National Press Theatre, just a block away.

The National Press Theatre, used by prime ministers and cabinet ministers since Lester B. Pearson opened it in 1965, is a venue with simultaneous translation where on-the-record news conferences are moderated by press gallery executive members – not Harper's political staff.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in over 40 years, a Prime Minister is no longer able to face the media mano-a-mano. He's afraid and must control.

What a sorry, authoritarian state of affairs.

This is what happens when people play with fire

Neo-Nazis show up in downtown Calgary wearing masks on their faces to protest Muslim women being permitted to vote while veiled:
Protesters from both sides of a white supremacists rally were hauled away in handcuffs after tempers and profanity flared on the steps of Calgary city hall.

A group of 15 neo-Nazis, most wearing balaclavas and carrying black flags bearing a "white pride" Celtic symbol, clashed with a crowd of over 60 counter-protesters Sunday afternoon.

On the eve of a civic election, the white supremacist group handed out leaflets protesting Canadian legislation allowing women to vote wearing face-covering burkas.

Now let's recall...who was it who led the charge against Muslim women being permitted to vote while veiled and made a very big show of his displeasure with it prior to the Quebec by-elections? Oh yeah, it was our Prime Minister who fanned the issue by attacking Elections Canada for not requiring that veils be lifted. And he did so despite the Elections Act specifically not requiring that veils be lifted while voting. And he did so despite the fact that Muslim women intended to lift their veils for identification and there was absolutely no issue that had been raised by them in the context of these by-elections. And he did so despite his own party having been involved in amending the Elections Act just this year where they were specifically informed of the issue of veiled voting yet raised no objection at the time. In other words, the Prime Minister did so for no good reason.

It's difficult not to connect our Prime Minister's very high profile stoking of the issue as he did with the display we witnessed in Calgary yesterday. Pandering to latent resentment against minorities has consequences. The PM can deny that he was doing so and can seek refuge in claims that their views were meant solely to protect the integrity of the voting process. And I'm sure any defenders would seek refuge as well in the claims that the Liberals and NDP also supported the visual identification of Muslim women at the time of this flap. But a Prime Minister has a special responsibility as the head of our elected government to set a much better leadership example than this. He instigated this irresponsible line of attack and he's responsible for it. He should have known better as the leader of a multicultural country not to take the chance that his position would be misconstrued and misinterpreted by hatemongers, as apparently was the case yesterday. They no doubt felt perfectly legitimized in stepping out to spew their hate by a political climate in which our Prime Minister set the tone.

Yesterday's hateful demonstration, vile as it was, is a powerful reminder of the chances some are willing to take by playing with this kind of fire.

And kudos to those demonstrators who stood toe to toe with the hate. Good for them.

Democracy's dying in the U.S.

And Scott Horton is maintaining his vigil with stellar writing, as usual. Recall that post I did a while back asking whether Bush et al. were involved in a criminal conspiracy to politically prosecute via the Justice Department certain lawyers who were contributing to the Edwards campaign in 2004...well, Horton's posted an update and some of his statements are presented with a sense of certainty that is amazing. It makes you wonder how, in a purportedly democratic country like the U.S., that the Karl Roves are able to get away with what they have. If you read Horton's blog of late, you will be truly amazed at the perversion of the justice system by these creatures.

From the update:
In civil litigation connected to one of a substantial number of federal prosecutions of campaign funding of contributors to Democratic candidate John Edwards, a federal court has directed the Department of Justice to submit to discovery to ascertain whether improper political motivations stood behind its management of the case. The litigation, entitled Beam v. Gonzales, questions the actions of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Federal Elections Commission chair Robert Lenhard in going after a group of Edwards fundraisers.
Discovery against the Department of Justice. This should be good.
Senior Republican operatives appear to have targeted John Edwards early in the process of the 2004 presidential election as the most likely Democratic nominee and opponent of the Bush-Cheney reelection effort; extensive efforts were apparently launched within both FEC and DOJ to go after Edwards’s campaign funding resources, with a particularly ferocious focus on trial lawyers. At the same time, the Justice Department took quite extraordinary steps to camouflage its conduct, for fairly obvious reasons—it was sensitive to the potentially adverse consequences for the Bush Administration and its re-election efforts that would result from the disclosure of its use of the machinery of the criminal justice process to attack a political adversary.
Here's where Horton gets to sounding very certain about Karl Rove's role in all this:
Improper White House manipulation of criminal justice machinery took a consistent form: political appointees, acting on White House instructions, would “allocate resources” and “deny resources.” When Rove wanted people “taken out,” copious resources—FBI investigators and prosecutors—would be allocated to concocting a case. When Rove wanted to shield Republican operatives who came under suspicion, federal prosecutors would be fired, transferred, retired or reassigned with regularity. The so-called U.S. Attorneys scandal is one manifestation of this process, but in fact it is reflected in a consistent pattern of dealings that stretch back to the beginning of the Bush Administration.

Papers filed in the Beam case provide further evidence of how the scheme was surreptitiously carried out. It appears that Justice Department lawyers involved in the scheme improperly issued subpoenas to financial institutions designed to collect information on campaign fundraisers for Edwards. The subpoenas were marked with a legend saying that their existence was to be treated as a secret. Since the subpoenas were issued in violation of federal laws protecting the secrecy of information by financial institutions, one has to suspect that this extraordinary step was taken because the Justice Department officials involved knew their conduct was unlawful and sought to obscure that fact by avoiding detection.
And a final few excerpts:
The stench surrounding these prosecutions is enormous and one particular passage of the plaintiffs’ brief stands out to me:

Gonzales personally authorized a small army of nearly 100 federal agents to raid a law office and simultaneously raid the homes of its employees and their families. Indeed, one agent commented about how he had been flown in from Iraq to help find out why American citizens had made contributions to the John Edwards campaign.
These prosecutions are beyond simply abusive. They may well have crossed the threshold into criminal conduct. The Judiciary Committee needs to secure Michael Mukasey’s commitment that he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate how these cases came to be asserted and take appropriate punitive action against those responsible. The wrongdoers here are not the career prosecutors and FBI agents who have front line responsibility for the cases—they are playing the roles assigned to them. The wrongdoers will attempt to hide behind career personnel. The wrongdoers are the political operatives and political appointees who are criminally misusing the criminal justice system.
This is but one of the prosecutions that have occurred during the Bush administration that are highly suspected to have been politically motivated...notably, there's also the Siegelman case and of late, Horton's written about a case of insider trading that was brought against a former Qwest executive who refused to permit the Bush administration to use it for the NSA's warrantless wiretapping. The upshot is that the case against Nacchio, the former Qwest executive, was political payback for not going along with the NSA demands - get this, in February of 2001, well in advance of September 11th - and to send a message, perhaps, to the heads of other telcos.

The reports are rife and no one at the highest levels of the Bush administration who ordered such abuses is paying any price whatsoever.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Harper exploiting Canadians' privacy rights to his electoral advantage?

Canadians represented by Conservative MP's, or budding Conservative MP's might want to pay attention to a post Garth Turner did on the Conservatives' use of "CIMS," their Constituent Information Management System. This system goes beyond the typical information management that constituency offices have traditionally done, in prioritizing voters' electoral leanings, by address. That has typically happened through traditional canvassing, door to door, for eons in Canadian politics. So what's the big deal about what the Conservatives are doing? In addition to tracking voters likely voting intentions, now, when any constituent contacts their Conservative MP, on any issue whatsoever, the information they provide to the MP becomes a part of a vast Conservative database. The Conservatives then mine that database for information about voters, beyond their electoral leanings.

This may explain how the Conservatives are coming to acquire people's religious affiliations, see the recent complaints about voters receiving unsolicited Rosh Hashanah greetings from Stephen Harper. "How did he know I was Jewish," a voter might ask. Well, it could be the nifty CIMS software that the Conservative are using to get such data. If, for example, some of these voters called their MP's during the Lebanon conflict last summer with an opinion, it may have been duly noted and the information used to expand Harper's personal holiday greeting list.

Canadians should be on alert...if you contact your Conservative MP for anything...anything you say may be used to the Conservatives' electoral advantage. Got a problem in the constituency that is distinctly non-partisan? Doesn't matter. Whatever information you provide to identify yourself and perhaps others, can and will likely be used for the Conservatives' partisan designs.

So have Canadians signed up for this massive intrusion into their privacy? Not on your life...and the Privacy Commissioner is investigating the complaints from Jewish-Canadians who received these unsolicited greetings.

What is it about conservative politicians that prompts their desire to invade their citizens' privacy like this?

Blessed art thou amongst leaders...

"Former Catholic priest wins leadership of New Brunswick's NDP." Apparently it takes in the neighbourhood of 350 votes plus one to win the leadership of the NDP in New Brunswick.

But congratulations, guy, seriously...I think the phrase, "Livin' on a Prayer" comes to mind...:)

“Our objective is to work with the Americans. I don't want to question their legitimacy.”

The NY Times has chosen to give some air time today to this story: "U.S. Plan for Airline Security Meets Resistance in Canada." They're clearly not referring to our Conservative government in that headline. Instead, it's an official with the Air Transport Association of Canada, who speaks out against the U.S. Homeland Security big brother types looking to get their mitts on our airline passenger lists from those flights passing through but not landing in U.S. airspace.
Canadian airlines are balking at a Department of Homeland Security plan that would require them to turn over information about passengers flying over the United States to reach another country.

The proposal, which appears at odds with Canada’s privacy laws, would mostly involve Canadians who join the annual winter exodus to Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean. It is also viewed by the Canadian airline industry as a rejection of several costly measures already taken to assuage American concerns.

“I appreciate and respect United States citizens’ concern for their safety and security,” said Fred Gaspar, the vice president of policy and strategic planning for the Air Transport Association of Canada. “But we need to understand what the gap is they need to fix.”
In June, Canada put in effect its own no-fly list of potentially dangerous travelers. The Canadian program was developed after extensive consultation with the United States.

Mr. Gaspar said that the Canadian airlines’ understanding was that once Canada’s program was under way, the only information they would have to give the United States would be about passengers headed to that country.

“Either the United States places no value whatsoever in the Canadian list, which it helped develop, or I have to suspect what’s going on here is a pure and simple data-fishing exercise,” Mr. Gaspar said.

Among other things, he speculated that the data could be used by American authorities to track Americans who violated the trade embargo against Cuba by flying there on Canadian airlines. (emphasis added)
In Friday's Globe Transport Minister Lawrence "Loose" Cannon said the Conservatives were going to work with the U.S., due to their good relations with Homeland Security and his desire not to question the Americans' "legitimacy" in this effort. Since, you know, the U.S. government deserves unquestioned support from ours on such matters, particularly in light of their record in truth-telling on national security matters to their own nation and the world. No, never mind all that to the Conservatives. They've got blinders on when it comes to the Americans. They're ready to work out a compromise over certain flights, I take it from Cannon's comments in the Globe, for which I presume the government has no qualms in handing over Canadian citizens' information.

I wonder if those flights will indeed end up being the ones going to Cuba, as the ATAC official suggests. Because if they are, I would imagine that most Canadians would likely not support our being in the business of handing over that information to the Americans, along with that of our own citizens.

We don't support their historical embargo against Cuba and we shouldn't be in the business of helping them enforce theirs.

Feisty Jean

A report from the Canadian Press that's worth a read today, with highlights from Jean Chretien's just about to be released memoirs. Chretien's certainly tellin' it like it is and isn't holding back.

With the current heightened political frenzy in Ottawa, in anticipation of the Throne Speech, and the recent Liberal infighting, I don't find myself that interested in the settling of scores with the Martin crowd. In fact it's rather tiresome. I did find this part on the Quebec referendum, however, to be much more interesting:
Chretien asserts that he will never debate what he would have done had the Yes side squeaked out a victory in the 1995 referendum instead of being defeated by a mere 55,000 votes. But he then goes on to say that a loss by the No side "would not have led quickly or inevitably to the breakup of Canada."

"No matter what tricks (then Quebec premier) Jacques Parizeau might have held up his sleeve, the reality was that the crooked question had not asked for a mandate to separate. Events would have been chaotic, emotions would have run high but a very slight majority for the Yes side could not have been interpreted as irrefutable proof that a majority of Quebecers wanted to sever their historic links with Canada," he writes.

"Resolving the problems would have taken a long, long time, without any certainty that the separatists would triumph in the end."

Had Parizeau tried to unilaterally declare independence, Chretien says the premier would have had to back that up by taking control over federal institutions in the province and enforcing Quebec's borders.

"And he would have had to face a hell of a fight from Jean Chretien."
This is the fighter that a lot of people came to respect...I wonder, had Stephen Harper been PM at the time, how that referendum vote would have turned out...and what he might have done in the aftermath of a narrow "Yes" vote...I suspect the answer would be much different from Chretien's.