Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Still hanging themselves

You've got to be kidding me. Not exactly good timing on this move: "Tories float plan to de-fang parliamentary watchdogs." The unbridled enthusiasm of the Harper Conservatives for muzzling and suppressing democratic checks apparently knows no bounds. They're about to take on...wait for it...the Auditor General:
There's word the Harper government wants to require Parliament's independent watchdogs to get permission before barking.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser says a draft proposal is being floated that could require officers of Parliament to have their communications vetted by the Privy Council Office - the bureaucratic wing of the prime minister's office.

That would mean Fraser - along with the head of Elections Canada, and the privacy, information and ethics commissioners - would all need to get approval to speak publicly.

Fraser, who smashed open the sponsorship scandal, says there's no way she would agree to such a restriction.

Such a change would represent a drastic departure from tradition and mark a new milestone for government whose strict control over messaging is already legendary.
Well, we've all been wondering who's next...

Update (11:00 p.m.): They're denying it, but a draft proposal to the effect of that outlined above has been circulated. Bonus quote from Gilles Duceppe in the updated story:
"It's not normal," said Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe.

"I told you he's a control freak. This man wants to control everything."

"Now we're seeing who he is, what he's really like. This is the ideological, closed-minded, dogmatic Harper from the National Citizens Coalition, from the Canada West Foundation."

"That's the Harper we know, who's given himself a new profile and now he's very arrogant and thinks he can get a majority government."

"Now he's saying: 'This is how it's going to work.' And I find it very dangerous for democracy."
And more from Fraser:
Fraser told a parliamentary committee this week there are about 25 similarly problematic policies where the government wants to play a greater role in how officers of Parliament run their affairs.

She called communications changes a non-starter.

"I can tell you there is no way that my press releases...are going to be vetted by Privy Council Office," she told the committee Tuesday.
Heh...:)

58% don't believe the Conservatives' insistence they did nothing wrong

Interesting scene in the House of Commons this afternoon. The Liberals repeatedly put the question to Harper, "When did the Prime Minister learn of the in-and-out election scheme and when did he approve it?" To which, of course, we were treated to the PM's particular specialty, avoidance of the question. And of course, Pierre Poi-lie-vre (if you're having trouble spelling it, that's how I remember) citing a litany of instances of MP's who have, lo and behold, done the same thing that the innocent little Conservatives did in 2006. Such instances being carefully doled out depending on the questioning party. What impact this tactic of putting the questions to the government without them answering will have, who knows. To Harper opponents, it looks like they're not answering questions. To Harper supporters, they can point to the Conservative responses. Seems like deadlock, on an optics level, anyway.

Problem with all of the above is, and I'm afraid we're all repeating ourselves at this point, that only the Conservatives are being investigated by Elections Canada. That's the hard and fast truth that's very tough to swallow for Conservatives. To get out from under that black mark, Canadians are supposed to believe the line that the Conservatives are going to try to spin from here on in, that there's a massive conspiracy against them, deep in the heart of Elections Canada. So big that Elections Canada is willing to give a pass to the quite obvious violations in Mr. Poilievre's mind. It's just not believable. It's desperate and laughable.

The key distinguishing factors in the Conservatives' in-and-out scheme are that the national party controlled its execution, many of the local candidates had no idea what was going on with it and it permitted the national Conservative party to exceed their national spending limit. The other parties are not being investigated for exceeding spending limits, pure and simple.

If you haven't read Tonda MacCharles' report in the Star today, summing up the Conservatives' vote against Elections Canada yesterday, check it out. It's a good exercise in point, counterpoint presentation, for example:

Harper, in his most direct challenge to date of Elections Canada's actions, said it is "strange that Elections Canada had one practice for the Conservative party and one for other parties."

"In fact, the Conservative Party of Canada has never refused any documentation to Elections Canada," the Prime Minister said.

Elections Canada says it sought the search warrant because it was facing reluctant and hostile witnesses in its investigation. It says up to 18 candidates and agents refused to be interviewed or to produce documents at the urging of Conservative party officials.

Point, counterpoint. Harper's statement that he's the most cooperative fella in town just doesn't jive with the facts on the ground.

And you have to love the glaring fact about yesterday's historic vote by the Conservatives, cited in the beginning of the same report:
Conservatives have launched an all-out assault on Elections Canada's credibility, voting against a motion to express confidence in the independent agency.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday charged that the agency "broke its own rules" with a raid two weeks ago on his party's headquarters, but was absent hours later when the entire Conservative caucus voted against a Bloc Québécois motion of confidence in Elections Canada – a move deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff denounced as "shameful."

The motion passed, supported by Liberal, Bloc and New Democrat MPs, 152 to 117. (emphasis added)
Harper wasn't there for the vote. All this bluster about the tainted Elections Canada from the PM ("Harper, in his most direct challenge to date of Elections Canada's actions, said it is "strange that Elections Canada had one practice for the Conservative party and one for other parties.") yet he was conveniently absent when it came time to do the repulsive deed. Suggesting an admission that this was an inappropriate vote for a PM to cast.

They may be arguing this scandal to a stalemate in the House. But the problem is, of course, Elections Canada is doing its job and that continues. And there's this:
A new poll suggests most Canadians believe the federal Conservatives spent more money than they were legally allowed during the last election.

Fifty-eight per cent of respondents told The Canadian Press/Harris-Decima survey they don't believe the Tories' insistence that they did nothing wrong.
See? It's the overspending, stupid...:) People just get it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Time for the Conservatives to get real on Guantanamo Bay

There was a big development this week in terms of the Guantanamo Bay military trials. The former chief prosecutor there testified under oath as to the system's corruption. That's huge. And a major embarrassment to the Bush administration. Read this excerpt to understand how bad things have gotten in terms of the credibility of the Guantanamo Bay military trials:
The Defense Department's former chief prosecutor for terrorism cases appeared Monday at the controversial U.S. detention facility here to argue on behalf of a terrorism suspect that the military justice system has been corrupted by politics and inappropriate influence from senior Pentagon officials.

Sitting just feet from the courtroom table where he had once planned to make cases against military detainees, Air Force Col. Morris Davis instead took the witness stand to declare under oath that he felt undue pressure to hurry cases along so that the Bush administration could claim before political elections that the system was working.
...
Davis told Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, who presided over the hearing, that top Pentagon officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England, made it clear to him that charging some of the highest-profile detainees before elections this year could have "strategic political value."

Davis said he wants to wait until the cases -- and the military commissions system -- have a more solid legal footing. He also said that Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II, who announced his retirement in February, once bristled at the suggestion that some defendants could be acquitted, an outcome that Davis said would give the process added legitimacy.

"He said, 'We can't have acquittals,' " Davis said under questioning from Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, the military counsel who represents Hamdan. " 'We've been holding these guys for years. How can we explain acquittals? We have to have convictions.' "

Davis also decried as unethical a decision by top military officials to allow the use of evidence obtained by coercive interrogation techniques. He said Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal adviser to the top military official overseeing the commissions process, was improperly willing to use evidence derived from waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning. "To allow or direct a prosecutor to come into the courtroom and offer evidence they felt was torture, it puts a prosecutor in an ethical bind," Davis testified. But he said Hartmann replied that "everything was fair game -- let the judge sort it out."

He also said Hartmann took "micromanagement" of the prosecution effort to a new level and treated prosecutors with "cruelty and maltreatment." Hartmann, he said, was trying to take over the prosecutor's role, compromising the independence of the Office of Military Commissions, which decides which cases to bring and what evidence to use.

Davis, who initially defended the commissions process, testified that he resigned his position as chief prosecutor late last year as senior officials increased pressure on him to make decisions he thought were inappropriate. He now heads the Air Force Judiciary and plans to retire. Hartmann declined to comment on the proceedings through a spokesman, Air Force Capt. Andre Kok.
It's a show trial bonanza wrapped up in a warm national security blanket for Americans. The rest of Western civilized society has gotten their citizens the heck out of this gulag. But Omar Khadr, former child soldier and Canadian citizen still sits there, awaiting his day in this politicized court process.

Khadr's lawyer was in Ottawa today testifying before a Commons committee on Khadr's case and faced one Jason Kenney who "...defended the government's "consistent" position of not interfering in the U.S. process governing terrorist suspects." Yes, by all means be consistent in your decidedly wrong position. For like George W. Bush of "stay the course" fame, these Conservatives seem to mistakenly place virtue in not changing your mind when the facts scream for you to do so. Out of blind allegiance to the Bush crowd, the Conservatives will not interfere in a process which has been thoroughly discredited, even by those such as the man who used to be in charge.

Looking forward to Maxime Bernier's testimony on this one.

What an embarrassment

"Harper Tories vote non-confidence in Elections Canada." Yes, another headline one is shocked to read in Canada, yet here we are. Just an incredible, unprecedented statement to be made by a governing party. They don't know when to suck it up and do the right thing.

What a brilliant vote to show the Conservatives for what they are. Partisan, small-minded, self-interested wannabes who don't deserve our respect if they're not willing to respect integral Canadian institutions. Undermining our very election machinery by impugning the integrity of Elections Canada. It's the stuff of Republicans in the Bush era.

Looks good on them.

Conservatives rolling back that welcome mat

Well it looks like Diane Finley didn't do the Conservatives any favours yesterday with her appearance before the Commons finance committee to discuss the Conservative immigration proposals. But heck, with the way things are going for them these days, with fires being lit on file after file, it's not surprising a rough ride would be coming on this issue. I'm sure they are not going to appreciate headlines like this: "Minister: immigration bill designed to limit immigration applications to Canada." Whoops. Now that's not exactly the pie in the sky rhetoric and generalities we've been hearing from Ms. Finley to date. It's been all we-need-skilled-workers and we've-let-in-more-immigrants-than-ever-before and ooh-those-Liberals-left-such-a-mess. But I guess you can't get away with platitudes in front of a committee the way you can in Question Period. Here's Finley, stepping in it:
Sweeping immigration reforms now before the House of Commons were designed to limit the number of immigration applications Canada gets each year, the minister responsible said Monday.

The frank assessment came from Immigration Minister Diane Finley, who said controlling the number of applications to Canada will help reduce future immigration backlogs and waiting times.
...
Finley was asked why the government simply couldn't speed up processing times by pouring more cash resources into its immigration operations.

She replied that the current system is broken, and that spending cash without making structural changes would be like throwing money into a black hole. This year's federal budget has included $109 million to help reduce immigration wait times.

Finley was later asked what specific flaws with the system would result in any additional money going down the drain.

She replied that spending more money on immigration services would actually lead to more applicants seeking to come to Canada - and she indicated that the government wants to do the opposite.

"Throwing more money at the problem would not limit the number of applications that we would have to receive and process in any given point in time," Finley said to reporters.

"And the faster we got at processing, the more money we threw at it, the more applications we'd get. It becomes a spiral.

"What we need to do is be able to control ... like other countries, the United Kingdom, Australia, we need to be able to manage the number of applications."
Now that can't be music to the PMO's ears. Doesn't sound like the immigrant friendly Conservatives they've been pretending to be throughout the course of what limited discussion there has been on the Conservative immigration proposals. Nor do such vague musings:

Finley was non-committal when asked what impact the legislation would have on family reunification.

"Family class could actually, conceivably, be made one of the priorities," she replied.

But when asked whether that was a specific promise, she demurred.

"We're not committing to anything. The only thing we're committing to do is get this legislation through Parliament, so that we can get on with it and clean up with the mess the Liberals left us."

Now maybe it's just me, but that doesn't sound like the kind of Minister I want to give more discretion to on her file. Give me the power and ask me no questions. "We're not committing to anything" she says. Are you kidding me? For more of Ms. Finley's political prowess, read this remarkable account of her interactions - or lack thereof - with farmers in her riding.

The more light you shine on these Conservatives, the more antithetical to Canadian values they appear.

Monday, April 28, 2008

More on that 1997 thing

Further to Aaron Wherry's post a little while ago on Poilievre having cited in the House of Commons today the "Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 36th General Election," and Appendix D, at pages 91-92 as authority for the Conservatives scheme, a few points.

Here's what's in Appendix D, filed by the Broadcast Arbitrator, that Poilievre is citing:



Section 48 was the section of the Canada Elections Act that appears to have been in question then. It dealt with blackouts on advertising. It prohibited advertising on the days around election day except by local candidates. So apparently ads were being run by some national party, locally, but with local tag-lines. The arbitrator suggests that it was allowed. And recommended that the loophole be closed.

Now see section 323 of the Canada Elections Act, currently in force:

It appears that the loophole was closed.

Poilievre's argument seems to be that this was how a party(s) got around this particular prohibition under the previous iteration of the Elections Act, therefore the Conservatives were free to try to do the same thing in 2006 in connection with other prohibitions in the act, namely spending. So a practice that was stopped in relation to one part of the act, the Conservatives apparently viewed as A-OK to try again because in their view, a loophole existed on national versus local advertising.

The problem for the Conservatives is this:



And the facts and circumstances supporting these allegations:



And given the evidence we've seen, that's a fight that appears to be tough to win.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

That's a shame

Harpie's traits are turning people off. A new poll asks some interesting questions:
A new Canadian Press-Harris-Decima survey suggests 55 per cent of respondents felt Harper doesn't offer much optimism or inspiration.
...
Another 55 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: "There is something about Stephen Harper I just don't like."

The sentiment was strongest east of Manitoba and among NDP voters and those age 25-34, but it also included about a third of those who voted Conservative in the last election.
Hey...have people been reading the "What I don't like about Stephen Harper" posts, or what...:) Oh, and try, try, try, as hard as you can, all you pollsters to tell us that for all Mr. Harper's problems, Mr. Dion has even bigger ones. Right. Harper is the PM and his record will be on full display. The Conservatives have tried - with a lot of success to date - to make the primary election question Stephane Dion. It's not. Harper, his record and priorities will get plenty of focus. With the in-and-out publicity along with Cadscam, the narrative on Harper's suitability as PM is escalating.

More:
While pundits have argued that Harper is gaining a reputation as a mean-spirited character, Anderson said that feeling is shared by only 37 per cent of respondents to the latest survey.

However, 47 per cent reported Harper was more aggressive and partisan than they had expected.
"Only" 37% say he's mean-spirited? Are you kidding me? That's a sizeable number for such a trait. If, say, 17% said he was mean-spirited, then I would use such a word as "only." And those aggressivity and partisan numbers, just killer.

So sad, I'm tellin' ya to see such numbers...he is what he is, no matter how hard he tries...:)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

When they start comparing you to Nixon...

Well this is a nifty overview of the relationship between Harper and the Canadian institutions he loves to hate. Do yourselves a favour and have a gander over at this piece in the Guardian, "The Canadian Nixon," where the UK and the world over are being introduced to our PM's character and ways (h/t Runesmith's Canadian Content):
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is in trouble with Elections Canada, the government body that runs the vote in Canada. They've accused him of overspending in the last election and have even gotten the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to raid the Conservative party's headquarters to find incriminating evidence. In response Harper and his followers have lashed out against Elections Canada, accusing it of a partisan witch hunt.

The whole sorry situation shouldn't surprise anyone who has paid attention. Every prime minister has a modus operandi. Harper's is his utter contempt, shown not once but many times, for Canadian institutions. In fact, it is not a stretch to say that Harper simply sees many Canadian institutions - Elections Canada being simply his latest target - as illegitimate, not just in need of reform but worth attacking root-and-branch.

The historian Garry Wills once observed that Richard Nixon wanted to be president not to govern the nation but to undermine the government. The Nixon presidency was one long counterinsurgency campaign against key American institutions like the courts, the FBI, the state department and the CIA. Harper has the same basic approach to politics: attack not just political foes but the very institutions that make governing possible. The state for Nixon and Harper exists not as an instrument of policy making but as an alien force to be subdued.

Canadians have never had a prime minister who has literally made his career attacking and undermining the legitimacy of Canadian institutions.

Until now.
These authors aren't the only ones to use the Nixon comparison, Ken Dryden's been on it of late as well. Interesting to see this developing consensus, if you will.

And speaking of the PM's penchant for attacking Canadian institutions, you might also want to consider perusing this reminder of Harper's comments over the years on his vision of a decentralized and weakened federal government: "One Canada or 10 Canadas?"

Consider this my lazy weekend contribution to the "why I don't like Harper" meme going around...:)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Reasoning, not so much

The "reasoning" offered by the Mexican judge to support his guilty verdict in the Brenda Martin case turns out to be...well, the contentions of the prosecution, in their entirety and what should be, in a fair system of justice, inadmissible statements from Martin:

Meanwhile, Martin's lawyer said he is shocked by the reasoning used by the judge to find her guilty and sentence her to five years in prison.

"It is unbelievable," Guillermo Cruz Rico said Friday from his Toronto office. "I am just shocked at how the judge could find her criminally responsible based on the evidence that he cites."

Cruz said Judge Luis Nunez Sandoval took the allegations made by the police and the prosecutors in their original arrest warrant issued for Martin on Aug. 23, 2003, and accepted them verbatim as reason for convicting her.

"All he has done is taken the same allegations that were written by the PGR (federal prosecutors)," Cruz said. "It is all the same arguments."

The judge also relied heavily on voluntary statements made to police by Martin in 2001 and 2002.

Cruz had previously failed to have the charge against Martin thrown out on the grounds Martin was never told she was a suspect when she provided the statements. She was not given the option of having a lawyer present and she was not provided with a translator, the lawyer has said. Cruz said all of those were violations of Martin's rights under both international and Mexican law.

Cruz said Sandoval completely rejected Martin's defence. He said the amount of money she received as a chef - $500 per week - was excessive. The judge also said the severance she received - $26,000 - after she was fired was also excessive.

"He said the defence was not credible because she failed to mention in her statement that she had worked full-time for Waage."

The judge also dismissed as not credible a sworn affidavit by Waage in support of Martin.

And on this basis, Ms. Martin may yet have to serve jail time in Canada. Well, Canadians travelling to Mexico, you're warned...

Cheers

You can always tell the big daddies and mommas in the Canadian blogging world. Welcome, Canadian Cynic readers.

And given that it's Friday and the Cynic says we should lighten up, here's somewhat of an effort courtesy of a great Canadian gal:



There is no difference

In what we're doing in here

That doesn't show up as big as it does out there

So why spend all our time undressing our bandages

When we've the ultimate key to the cause

right here all underneath.

Have a good one...:)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Concerns about the Conservative in-and-out scheme spanned two Elections Canada CEO's

"Former Elections boss warned Tories about ad expenses." The hard done by Conservatives have apparently been oppressed by two consecutive Elections Canada chief electoral officers. And this report, that Kingsley, the former CEO, did warn about this scheme makes the virtually concurrent timing of his departure as CEO seem suspicious:
Less than a month before he resigned from his job, former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley wrote to some Conservative candidates' campaigns instructing them to back up claims for advertising expenses that are now central to the "in-and-out" investigation of the party's financing of the 2006 election.

The elections watchdog told Tory campaign officials they needed to provide more details to support the advertising expenses in returns filed to Elections Canada.

Mr. Kingsley asked the candidates' official agents for copies of the contracts with their advertising agencies, scripts of the ads and the dates the ads appeared.

In a series of letters sent out beginning Nov. 29, 2006, Mr. Kingsley gave the agents firm deadlines to provide the documents and told them failure to do so would be an offence.

Less than a month after sending the letters, on Dec. 22, Mr. Kingsley wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons saying he was resigning. The Prime Minister's Office announced his departure six days later.

The move stirred intense speculation about why he would step down from a job he appeared to relish, two years before the end of his term, and amid rumours of a possible election that spring. But at the time, the public was unaware of the simmering feud between the Tories and Elections Canada over the $1.1-million in advertising purchases now dubbed as the "in and out" scheme.
The in-and-out scheme was not on the radar at the time of Kingsley's departure in late 2006. Wonder if Mr. Kingsley would care to elaborate upon matters now that he has some distance from the job and the in-and-out scheme has become a central public issue?

Very interesting...

Tell us more, Diamond Jim

"Canadian economy stalling as exports hit hard: Bank of Canada." Wha? Can this be? I thought our economic woes were primarily due to Dalton McGuinty. After all, Diamond Jim Flaherty has repeatedly told me so. But lo and behold, the Bank of Canada disagrees.
Canada's economy has sharply deteriorated in the past three months and largely stalled as a result of the worsening credit crunch and the slumping U.S. economy that has robbed manufacturers of their traditional market, the Bank of Canada says.

The assessment in the central bank's quarterly monetary report gives a clearer understanding of what the bank's governing council was weighing Tuesday when it slashed its key interest rate by half a percentage point to three per cent.

After predicting in January that an upturn would begin this quarter, the bank now says Canada has entered an economic flat spot with growth in the current quarter barely above recessionary levels at a 0.3 per cent annualized rate, and won't recover fully until 2010.
More context:
The Bank of Canada report attributed much of Canada's near-recession to lagging economies elsewhere, suggesting it may be up to two years before the light at the end of the tunnel in the United States, which has been experiencing a credit crunch since last summer that shows no short-term signs of waning.

"The deterioration in economic and financial conditions in the United States will have significant spillover effects globally,'' states the report, listing consequences for Canada including declining exports and costly credit for businesses and banks.
Doh! Darn autonomous and credible institution...:) Nevertheless, Diamond Jim is still trashing McGuinty, now taking it on an international scale. How helpful to Ontario can this man be?

Meanwhile, Diamond Jim wants us all to forget how he and his Conservative party have painted Canada into a tight financial box, despite financial uncertainty around the world. That he's left us precious room to "weather the storm" and is now publicly musing about spending cuts...

The busiest attorney in America

Oh my, another shocking allegation about Karl Rove. The nerve of people to keep on impugning this guy's integrity, hey? Of course Saint Karl had nothing to do with this:
A prominent Illinois Republican Party leader may have tried to use his friendship with the former White House political aide Karl Rove to push for the ouster of the United States attorney in Chicago, a federal prosecutor said in court on Wednesday.

The accusation came in the trial of a Chicago-area political fund-raiser and businessman, Antoin Rezko, who is facing bribery charges as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation that has been a source of embarrassment to both Democrats and Republicans in Illinois.

Mr. Rezko’s former business partner is cooperating with the authorities and is expected to testify that Mr. Rezko told him in 2004 that the Illinois Republican Party official was “working with Mr. Rove to have Mr. Fitzgerald removed so that someone else can come in,” and perhaps terminate the investigation, an assistant United States attorney, Carrie Hamilton, said in court on Wednesday, referring to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago.

The Republican official who is accused of seeking Mr. Fitzgerald’s ouster, Robert Kjellander, is a longtime friend of Mr. Rove.
Just as in the Don Siegelman case, Rove's attorney is denying any involvement by Mr. Rove. In fact, in responding to these particular allegations, Rove's attorney is merely chalking it up to the fact poor Karl has to fend off such approaches by eager Republican buddies of his all the time:
I spoke to Luskin just now, and he said that his statement ought to be qualified a bit: his statement on Kgellander stands as is, he said, but during the independent counsel investigation, he said, Rove was "frequently" approached about canning Fitzgerald: "a number of people approached Karl and suggested that Fitzgerald be removed because of the alleged politicization of the investigation, but he never took any follow-up steps except to say that I can't talk about that. He didn't want to do anything seen as compromising Fitzgerald's independence." Those approaches, Luskin said, came during fundraisers or other political events "in an unsolicited way.... Karl simply never responded and did not take any action."
So you see, it appears that Karl's Republican colleagues who made such suggestions were horribly misguided in thinking Karl could actually do something about U.S. Attorney hirings and firings. Yet mysteriously, many seem to have approached him with some frequency.

Honestly, what must they all have been thinking?

Surprise! Search warrant executions aren't particularly pleasant

I'm not sure how this Globe report in which a Conservative official complains about heavy-handed execution of the search warrant at the Conservative HQ last week advances the Conservative case on the in-and-out scheme at this point. We kind of know all these details about the raid by now. The very title of the article (last night's version), 'What, did they expect us to shoot back?' just repeats spin circulated this past Sunday when Conservatives summoned certain journalists to hear their view of the raid on their HQ when they first complained about the RCMP's presence. So why are they pushing such details, still?

They must feel that not enough attention has been given to such details this week - i.e., the largely irrelevant, distracting details - so they're still trying to obscure questions about the substance of the in-and-out scheme. Likely because they sense they're losing on those questions. So this report seems to suggest the Conservatives are upping the ante on that front and to do so are claiming that the execution of the raid was needlessly militaristic:
A senior Conservative official says the raid on Tory party headquarters last week was “over the top,” with flak-jacket-clad RCMP officers storming in and copying everything from payroll information to the strategy for a coming election.

“What, did they expect us to shoot back?” said the official, who asked not to be named.

The RCMP caught Conservative Party workers by surprise when they raided the headquarters last Tuesday armed with a search warrant.

In fact, Doug Finley, the senior campaign official in that office, was away at the time of the raid. Mr. Finley was travelling in the West; most of his staff is very young, the majority under 30.

The official said staffers were petrified.

He said the RCMP at first knocked on the door and then “pushed their way in.” About 50 staffers, who work on two floors of the downtown Ottawa office building where the headquarters is located, were told to leave.
If the intent in publicizing the above is to suggest that somehow the execution of a search warrant is properly supposed to be a pleasant, friendly experience, then I think they're sorely off. Is there anyone out there who expects anything other than order and establishing control of the premises when a warrant is being executed? Maybe the young staffers haven't experienced anything like it before, but petrified? Come on.

We know at this point that the RCMP were there to assist the Commissioner of Elections in executing the search and in particular, to deal with the assessment of and potential extraction of computers present there. No wonder they shut down the servers. That seems to have been a shock to this official but shouldn't have been if he's read the warrant. The portrayal here of the RCMP as somehow having acted in a thuggish manner seems to be part of the continuing effort to portray Elections Canada in a bad light. The Conservatives must sense an opening to ratchet up that spin, particularly when columnists like Chantal Hebert float the possibility that Elections Canada could be wrong on the law and point out that the Commissioner having executed the search warrant in such a high profile manner, could be putting the institution out on a ledge that might harm its credibility. Running with that small opening, it's entirely possible that the Conservatives are seeking to push that angle further with such efforts.

It's worth remembering, however, as an elections expert pointed out in the Globe today, that regardless of the outcome of the Commissioner's investigation and the Conservative lawsuit - and still, most experts weighing in seem to say it's an uphill battle for the Conservatives - the CEO of Elections Canada had little choice but to refer an investigation of the allegations of overspending once he became aware of the evidence, most of it having been provided by Conservative candidates themselves. Given the allegations we have seen, it would have been irresponsible for him not to do so. That point was also made by another expert on Monday:
...In a similar vein, when this alleged 'in and out' scheme became public, it had to be investigated," she said. "The chief electoral officer had to say, 'We have prima facie evidence here of, at the very least, improper claiming of reimbursements at the candidate level and I will not reimburse these particular expenses.' That's the job of the CEO, period. To suggest anything else is extremely irresponsible because as [Toronto Star columnist James] Travers pointed out [last week], very, very correctly, this is an organization, an institution that other countries turn to learn how to run an election agency properly, how to enforce the law. You cannot, just because you've gotten caught, impugn the impartiality and the credibility of a very important and deservedly well respected national institution."
That a search warrant was needed to follow through on that investigation, well, that's between the Commissioner and the Conservatives to argue about. They claim to have been cooperating but that doesn't seem to hold water in light of what's happened.

And by the way, bullet proof vests are standard daily fare for police officers in this country, I imagine they are for the RCMP as well. So I find it hard to believe the suggestion that the RCMP went out of their way to muscle up in the equipment department when dressing to go to Conservative HQ that morning. They probably put on whatever they do on any given day. To be more precise, they likely put on whatever they normally do when they are executing a search warrant of this nature. So I don't find the continued harping by Conservatives over "flak-jackets" having been worn, over a week past the event having occurred, to be anything other than inflammatory.

More here and here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

With friends like these...

Et tu, "Politics Editor" of the National Post? Heh: "Harper discovers it's easy to find enemies, if you look hard enough." Choice excerpt:
One of the many online encyclopedias defines “siege mentality” as “a shared feeling of helplessness, victimization and defensiveness” which “refers to persecution feelings by anyone in the minority, or of a group that views itself as a threatened minority.”

It goes on: “Dictatorships have been known to encourage this point of view among their own people, since it justifies the continuance of those in power. A contemporary example is North Korea. This is also very commonly used in the field of sports, where coaches or managers often create a siege mentality in their players by highlighting an environment of hostility from outside the club (whether or not the hostility is real or exaggerated doesn’t matter).”

Hmmm. Stephen Harper as Kim Jong-il, the pint-sized Korean despot? I don’t think so. I’m also not sure the Prime Minister feels especially helpless, given the feebleness of his opposition. But there’s something in those two paragraphs that sounds a lot like this government, and may explain its chronic need to identify and destroy enemies, real or imagined.

If there’s anything that typifies the Conservatives under Mr. Harper, it’s the notion that anyone outside the party is to be viewed with suspicion, and even within the party trust is to be handed out sparingly. Beyond the fortified redoubt of the Prime Minister’s inner circle, everyone is on permanent probation.
It's not just his political opposition that's questioning the Harper government's character. It's been quite the successful week, I'd say, when typical media allies are also chiming in on that front, questioning the government's ethos.

But then again, just because you're paranoid, you know, it doesn't mean everybody's not out to get you...:)

"He brought it. He fought it. He lost it."

Ken Dryden picks up on the motif Michael Ignatieff's been weaving of late, that the in-and-out election scheme run by the Conservatives in the 2006 federal election speaks directly to the character of Mr. Harper:
Beyond all this is a far larger problem for the Conservatives – Stephen Harper. Besides his repeated comments about the courts and judiciary, and his oft-demonstrated attitude of "I want to do what I want to do, and I'm going to do it," it is his 2000 court case, Harper v. Canada, the leading case in the field, that ended up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

He brought it. He fought it. He lost it. He knows the issue of spending limits backward and forward. He knows what the Supreme Court said. He knows the law, its intention, its spirit, everything about it. Yet, in the election of 2006, he did what he did.

It will be up to Elections Canada and the courts to decide what they think about his actions. Then, in an election, it will be up to Canadians to decide for themselves. (emphasis added)
Dryden seems particularly good at crystallizing the message in respect of the many Conservative scandals in the pipeline. And zeroing in on the defects in the Conservative moral compass. If Mr. Dion is supposedly not a leader, then let's by all means judge what kind of leader presently sits in the PM's chair.

Well said.

Experts against the in-and-out scheme

Have we seen an expert in Canadian election laws weigh in on the side of the Conservatives yet? (And no, Robin Sears clearly doesn't count.) Here's another one offering an opinion this morning:
...Robert MacDermid, a professor of political science at York University in Toronto, said the Canada Elections Act has been rewritten three times since 2004.

"The parties are constantly trying to game the legislation," Dr. MacDermid said. "They try to get around it."

But Canadians will be paying attention to this particular scheme, he said.

"If this is true, [the Conservatives] broke the spending limit on the central campaign," Dr. MacDermid said. "Canadians resolutely support spending limits on candidates because they don't want a free-for-all that you get in America."
And there's this expert in elections law from earlier this week:
Transferring money is not what's at issue, said Prof. MacIvor, who teaches political science at the University of Windsor. It's the content of the Conservative Party's television and radio ads at the local level that are in question. "Under the Canada Elections Act, the finances of the registered party in an election campaign are treated separately from the finances of the local candidates. There is nothing to prohibit transfers of money per se, between the national party and the candidates' campaign. That does happen all the time," she said, noting that the national party sends money to local campaigns often if the candidate's fundraising is dry or if they need an extra boost to help with advertising costs. The money must be used, however, for local campaign activity, including local ads.

"What I think has raised questions about what the Conservatives did in these ridings and the 2006 campaign is that the ads were not local ads," Prof. MacIvor told The Hill Times last week. "They were the national ads, and the only thing that was different was the tiny, tiny print at the bottom of the last image and that tiny tiny print says, 'Authorized by the official agent for... .'"

Prof. MacIvor said chief electoral officers do not go "picking fights" and would certainly not refuse rebates to candidates "unless he was absolutely certain that not only were the ads identical to the national ads, but also that this money was transferred to the riding for a purpose that was not entirely legitimate."
At this rate, the Conservatives may be hard pressed to find a reputable Canadian expert witness to assist them in their little lawsuit battle with Elections Canada. That would be a sad state of affairs indeed.

Steve shovelling for W yesterday

Bonus close-up version today:

REUTERS/Chris Wattie (UNITED STATES)

Or how 'bout this one:


Yep, there was some serious s*%# shovelled yesterday by our PM, and I'm not just talking about the photo:
President Bush pulled the leaders of Mexico and Canada into an unusually direct involvement in his domestic political efforts to expand free trade on Tuesday when his two North American allies joined him in a foray into both Congressional politics and the presidential campaign.

President Felipe Calderón of Mexico and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada lent their weight to what has been something of a lonely campaign by the president as he has traveled the country to make pro-trade speeches and angry statements about the “petty politics” that he sees threatening one of his administration’s major legacies.

They joined Mr. Bush in sharply criticizing a decision by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to scuttle a vote on a free trade agreement with Colombia. And indirectly but unmistakably, they rebuffed calls by the two Democratic presidential candidates to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta.
Um, interfere much? How helpful Mr. Harper was in providing this assist to Bush yesterday. I think we all just need to picture the converse, Mr. Bush coming to town and making similar sorts of comments in the midst of a domestic Canadian debate over a major international agreement to think through what kind of reception such remarks received. To put it mildly, they wouldn't be welcomed here. Especially when offered on the day of a significant political election. No matter for our fearless PM, however, they've already dipped their toes in the water and apparently, it's still warm, despite his protestations of staying above the fray. Harper's foray, however, is going over quite well in dyed-in-the-wool land.

And bonus assist by the PM to Mr. Bush on the Colombia free trade deal:

Both leaders also echoed Mr. Bush’s warnings that rejecting a free trade agreement with Colombia would undercut not only economies in the region, but also its security.

There's a reason we call him Mini Bush around here, don't ya know...:)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"We always follow the law as we understand it"

Interesting slip from Harper:
"'Our position is that we always follow the law as we understand it,' the prime minister said in response to a reporter's question at a joint news conference with U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon in New Orleans.

'We were following in the last election the interpretations that had been put on that law in the past,' Harper said. 'If those interpretations change, we will of course conform, but we will expect the same rules for every single party.'"(emphasis added)
Well, thanks for clearing that up for Canadians, Steve. You follow the laws as you understand them. Kind of like your pal there, W, who follows the laws as he understands them, by appending his litany of "signing statements" to laws that Congress has passed which often give him, the imperial executive the power to ignore them or apply as he deems fit:
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.
That's a radical view that Harper's let slip. He's arguing his party's defiance of Elections Canada is a matter of legal interpretation when in fact the laws are clear and his in-and-out scheme is being roundly denounced as a radical assault on Canadian election practices:

“To my knowledge, there has been nothing equivalent to this,” said John Courtney, a political scientist at the University of Saskatchewan's Diefenbaker Canada Centre and an expert on Canada's electoral system.

“There's always little nickel and dime stuff in every election, but this is not nickel and dime ... those are major sums, at least by Canadian standards.”

“There's nothing that I'm aware of of this scale involving a major party,” added Aaron Freeman, co-author of The Laws of Government: The Legal Foundations of Canadian Democracy.

What part of following the rules don't the Conservatives get?

Now get her out of there

Unbelievable: "Brenda Martin guilty in money-laundering case, Mexican judge rules." And tremendously sad:
Martin, who has been under a suicide watch, collapsed in the courtroom after hearing the verdict.
The sentence:
Brenda Martin, the Canadian held in a Mexican prison for the past two years, was found guilty Tuesday of playing a role in a massive international Internet fraud. She was sentenced to five years in prison and fined 35,850 pesos (about $3,400 Cdn).
Canadians should think twice before vacationing in Mexico in the future. Their justice system is rife with corruption and it's backwards from our presumptions:
Martin has been held in custody since February 2006 and had to remain in jail while the legal process played out. The Mexican justice system places the onus on the accused to prove his or her innocence -- rather than on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused.
I hope Martin's lawyers take this advice, also found in the CTV report:
Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said Martin's legal team should take full advantage of the summit to press her case.

"If ever there was a beautiful time to have a public press conference with the treaty transfer papers ready to be delivered, this is it," he told CTV Newsnet.
Hopefully the Harper government will have been sufficiently embarrassed by their conduct on this file for two years and will now move quickly to get Martin out of there.

And we all thought Banana Republic was a store...

Go get 'em, Eugene!
It's not the sexiest of political scandals, as such things go. Nobody got rich. Nobody ended up in bed with a smile on his face.

Still, the so-called "in-and-out" affair, in which a couple of Vancouver Island ridings play a leading role, suggests Canada is being run by a party that is, at best, quite willing to dive through a loophole in the law.

In fact, one disillusioned former Victoria Conservative insider claims the party has been playing fast and loose with the rules for years. Eugene Parks, who once sat as a director of the party's Victoria constituency association, says he quit the post in 2005 rather than go along with practices more suitable to "a Banana Republic." Parks says he has complained to both Elections Canada and the RCMP. Fiddlesticks, the Conservatives say, we're just following the rules.
...
Parks says the in-and-out scheme is just one example of what he considers money-laundering by the Conservatives. In 2006, he went public with a complaint that the party and some of its members engaged in "cheque-swapping" that allowed the members to claim tax credits they had not earned. He said the party covered the expenses of members attending a 2005 policy convention, with the members then making a tax-deductible "donation" to the party for the same amount.

Parks also said that in 2005 he was asked to take the lead with Blogging Tories, an on-line, pro-Conservative web log that could operate outside election rules. After the issue came to light on Sean Holman's Publiceyeonline website, the Conservatives stated that the Blogging Tories initiative was independent of the party.
Cheers to Mr. Parks today...:)

How a rich party can prosper if they adopt an in-and-out scheme

There are 3 paragraphs from the affidavit in support of the search warrant that stuck out for me today, principally because they represent the light bulb moment where Elections Canada's antennae went up and the investigation into the in-and-out scheme began. They also suggest the full implications of where the Conservatives are going with their vigilant defence of their actions. They aren't letting up ("The natural instinct of the party is to fight, fight, fight."; "We take a very aggressive approach to politics. I haven't heard anybody say we did wrong," said one government official.) and the answer as to why they won't be letting up is obvious to anyone looking at this scheme. The payoff is too big for the flush Conservative party. Here are the paragraphs (click to enlarge):

Note the operative sentence(s) in paragraph 35 explaining how amounts varying between $2,000 and $52,000 were transferred by the national party into the bank accounts of 67 local Conservative candidates. The amounts transferred totalled over $1.3 million and the local Conservative candidates then put in their claims to get their refunds from taxpayer funds. As long as they got 10% of the vote in the election, that is. So in the end, 65 Conservative candidates who benefited from these transfers put in for their refunds. The taxpayers would have been on the hook for $777,000 had Elections Canada not disallowed these expenses.

So what are the implications here? Peter Van Loan was quoted as saying this today:
“We say that a local campaign should be free to advertise on national messages if it wishes and that Elections Canada shouldn't get into controlling the content,” he told CBC Newsworld.

“We always encourage our riding campaigns to spend as fully as they can to make our campaign as a party as strong as possible, and that's exactly what happened in the last election,” he said, adding everything was fully disclosed to Elections Canada.
So Lawyer Van Loan is saying that the national campaign is free to transfer funds into ridings and the riding can then freely and "fully" spend that money on national, not local, advertising. As long as the ridings have room in their budget for the federal transfer, of course. And that's what they appear to have done in 2006. They assessed which ridings had budget room to accept funds, as the election date drew near, then transferred it in and quickly received it back.

There's nothing to stop the Conservatives from executing such a scheme in a future election. They appear to be convinced that they're in the right. They've sued Elections Canada for these refunds being disallowed and will likely carry on as if they're in the right until a court orders them not to. I mean, who's going to stop them?

But let's just humour Mr. Van Loan and engage in a fun hypothetical scenario. Given that there are 308 ridings in Canada, let's assume that all run Conservative candidates. And let's assume that all Conservative candidates will get 10% of the vote. And let's further assume that the local riding spending limits are each $80,000 (they tend to be in that range, with some variation). And let's acknowledge that some candidates are better local fundraisers than others. Some will raise $20,000 for their campaign, others $40,000, others the full amount. But for fun, let's just say all of the Conservative candidates in our scenario raise $40,000 by themselves, for their own local budget. That leaves them with $40,000 of room left in their budget.

Along comes the rich national party that has maxed out its approximately $18.3 million national spending limit. It still has plenty of money on hand. And it sees $40,000 X 308 ridings of spending room just going to waste. So it executes an in-and-out scheme. And transfers, say, $20,000 into each riding (just because we're being modest in our example, heh).

The $20,000 is then quickly transferred back to the national party, the whole process being controlled by the national party, for the local candidate to buy national ads touting the great party leader. Because they do love to tout.

Suddenly, we have $6,160,000 ($20,000 X 308) of additional national ads flooding the airwaves.

That's the logical follow-through to the Conservative argument. Now they'd likely never do it on a scale that big. It would draw too much attention. The number of ads would be overwhelming. But a million dollars worth? Just enough to get that competitive edge and spread out throughout the country in key ridings that polls indicated were on the fence...well, it just might be enough to make a difference but still fly under the radar.

But then again, if the Conservative reasoning were to be accepted, there'd be nothing to stop a wealthy national party from doing just that, spend a big sum based on what's left in the local riding budgets. Take all the local riding budgets with room, top them all up and have the locals buy national ads. Doesn't even matter where the ads run. But oh yes, ad a local tag line to the ad.

Final step, after having outspent your opponents in national advertising, get those local candidates to claim back from the taxpayer a 60% refund of their local funds raised. So the taxpayer will be refunding a local candidate not just 60% of what "Conservative John" raised, in our example, $40,000 (refund to Conservative John would be $24,000). The taxpayer will be refunding 60% on the full amount, including what the rich national party dumped in, i.e., $60,000. Refund to Conservative John from the taxpayer is now $36,000 in our hypothetical situation.

And think of those candidates who manage to raise paltry amounts. They can be topped up to the full $80,000 budget by the rich national party. And then get 60% of a much greater sum back from the taxpayer. All the better to run with next time.

All of which follows if you buy into the Conservative arguments that their scheme was perfectly legal (and everybody does it). It renders the national spending limits virtually meaningless. And it's a recipe to spread the wealth and ensure that your candidates will typically, and perhaps perpetually, start at the local level with a leg up on their competition thanks to the presently wealthy national party and the good ol' taxpayer coffers. Because the other guys don't do this!

(Sorry if this was too Mickey Mouse for some...:))

Best buds

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Mini Bush just can't help himself...:)

"Put your head on my shoulder...whisper in my ear...babeeeeee"

Two heads are better than one? Not in this case...

Or insert your own preferred caption...:)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Conservatives not claiming freedom of speech in their suit against Elections Canada

As you listen to Pierre Poilievre and other conservatives like David Frum tell you that the in-and-out transfers of national Conservative money to local candidates were grounded in the principles of free speech, keep this in mind:
In documents filed in Federal Court, where the Tories have mounted a case against the Chief Electoral Officer, the freedom of speech argument is not mentioned.

Rather, the party insists that advertising claimed by local candidates benefited those candidates, and all was done in accordance with federal statutes.
The free speech argument is all for public consumption to make it seem like they have a stirring constitutional argument in play. It's not.

Why the RCMP were there

Poring through documents...just want to get some observations out there.

Here was Peter Van Loan last week:

Peter Van Loan, the Conservative Government House Leader, could not explain to MPs why Corbett was compelled to get a search warrant.

"We have provided every document that has been requested by Elections Canada as a consequence of the lawsuit which we initiated with them over an interpretation of the law," said Van Loan. "We do not understand why this was necessary."

Van Loan later described Corbett's use of the RCMP as "an imaginary scandal."

The search warrant application describes the purpose of the RCMP's participation in the warrant's execution in detail. Notably the participation of at least one member of the force's Integrated Technological Crimes Unit for purposes of forensic analysis of computers, including these abilities of the RCMP staff:



Doesn't sound so imaginary.

"Over the top"

More details in the Star this morning on the Conservative in-and-out scheme employed in the last federal election. It appears that there is a lot of evidence that is damaging to the Conservative argument that their local candidates should be able to get taxpayer refunds for what was really national spending that they had no connection to:
In one email, Newfoundland Tory official Brian Hudson wrote that local campaigns could use that rebate "in whatever way your team desires (pay off election debt or use towards credit)."

The people acting as the "official agents" for the Tory candidates were given precise, step-by-step instructions in how the transfer would work.

And in every case, Conservative head office first demanded that the local campaign provide bank wire instructions to ensure head office would get its money back.

"The transfer of funds to, and the withdrawal of similar amounts from, participating campaign bank accounts was entirely under the control and direction of the Conservative Fund Canada," the document states.

As a result, the Conservative Party – not the candidates – was obligated by the law to report the spending, Elections Canada says.

The court filing sets out examples from across the country – British Columbia, Toronto and Quebec – where investigators found local candidates who had no knowledge of the advertising pitch or any dealings with Retail Media, the firm responsible for the ad purchases.

Even Retail Media had questions about the Conservative strategy.

"While our thinking is that this option would be legal, we are not certain of this beyond all reasonable doubt," wrote a company vice-president in one email obtained by Elections Canada.
(emphasis added)
That point above, that it was the Conservative Party and not the local candidates that was supposed to report the spending is the kicker that appears to be the basis of the allegation that the agent for the federal Conservative Party in the last general election "made materially false and misleading statements" on its financial returns.

More colourful details on the Conservatives being in full combat mode, challenging once again the propriety of Elections Canada's actions:
Investigators lined 16 or 18 people up along a hallway, one party official said, "like we were going to shoot back? I mean they had ... unfettered access to every single thing in Conservative party headquarters. They removed 17 boxes of material specific to our lawsuit, all the background stuff."

"They took away our tactics and our strategy" for the court case, said the official.

He also said the raid went well beyond the scope of the warrant, with investigators gathering information that had nothing to do with the issue.

"What does my computer and what's on there about the next campaign strategy, the next platform, the next ad campaign, and everything else, what the hell has that got to do with Elections Canada?" another official said.

"This is absolutely over the top."
Over the top is right. If the Conservatives are alleging that Elections Canada exceeded the warrant, let them make those charges in public, in a court room and present evidence of it rather than making these paranoid, incendiary charges behind closed doors to selected media.

Another item of interest here:
Lamothe's affidavit asked for the documents to be sealed by the court, saying the investigation would be compromised if its information was made public, and witnesses who were already unco-operative would be further "chilled" from assisting.

He said investigators had interviewed 14 candidates or official agents, and had tried but failed to interview additional witnesses.

He said 16 of 18 individuals "declined to be interviewed and stated to investigators that they have been advised by counsel to the Conservative Party of Canada that they should not speak with Elections Canada investigators without the involvement of counsel to the Conservative Party of Canada," citing the ongoing civil case. (emphasis added)
Neat trick for the open and accountable Conservatives. Sue civilly then use your own lawsuit as the basis to stifle the investigation by independent Elections Canada investigators. They've created their own shield from accountability. And see how well it's working?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The outrage is ours

Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star, an invited reporter to the Conservatives' selective briefing of the media yesterday adds to the news of the night regarding the semi-released search warrant. Notable from her report is the aggressive tone that Conservative officials apparently displayed during the briefing. I take that from these passages in her report:
Outraged over the unprecedented search, officials of the Conservative Party of Canada released the package of nearly 650 pages of the search warrant documents today.
...
But the officials denied the party deliberately sought to skirt national limits by using up spending room in local campaigns that were less likely to produce wins for the party, or that the Conservatives sought to direct media spending into ridings that were more likely to win them.

They scoffed at suggestions it might have made the difference in a dozen or so ridings and won the election, saying it is "crap."
...
Party officials said the search was sweeping and "outrageous."
...
Dropping the moderate language about a "visit" from investigators, supported by the RCMP, they said Elections Canada "stormed" the party's headquarters.
(emphasis added throughout)

Outrageous..scoffing...crap..."stormed." Excuse me you anonymous partisan windbags, but as a Canadian taxpayer, I believe the outrage is properly ours. And it should be properly directed at this Conservative government for authorizing a continued war against Elections Canada, an independent, non-partisan institution in this unprecedented manner. And for having the nerve to incite the notion that people should be outraged at the process undertaken here by Elections Canada. That people should suspect Elections Canada and question their independence. What kind of government does that? It's just not believable to think that Elections Canada has all of a sudden turned into a renegade agency populated by "Liberal moles" with the avowed partisan purpose of harming the government. Just ain't buyin' it, Conservatives. Elections Canada is not in the business of storming anything.

And of course, we should also be outraged at the alleged scheme the Conservatives undertook which put them at a million dollar competitive advantage against other parties. Such schemes shake the foundation of our democracy. Those are the substantive points that all this huffing and puffing about process should not detract from.

Speaking of substance, MacCharles also reports on an email that was among the documentation that is potentially damaging:
Senior party officials took the unusual step of briefing a limited number of reporters on the documents at a downtown hotel Sunday afternoon.

Speaking on condition they not be identified by name, they framed some potentially more damaging emails that Lamothe cited in his package.

One of those emails included an email by an employee at the party's media buying agency referring to a call from the head of the Conservative Fund, Irving Gerstein.

"They may be spending up to their legal limit on this campaign," wrote David Campbell advising others of Gerstein's call. "They are also thinking of 'switching' some of the time over to the ridings. It sounded like the reason was to legally maximize advertising expenditures."
(emphasis added)
Really? Because an equally plausible interpretation of that comment is that it sounded like the reason was to exceed the Conservative party's national spending limit. And that's why we're all here reading such things.

Lots more of this to come...

Allegations of "materially false and misleading statements"

Details of the Conservatives' briefings to "select" media this afternoon with respect to the Commissioner of Elections Canada's search warrant executed last week are emerging. The Canadian Press has a report here as does David Akin. Neither the CP nor Akin, of Canwest, were invited though. Imagine the scene where some of the leading media outlets in our country - CBC, Canwest, Canadian Press and Macleans - are kept out in a hallway when others are inside being briefed by Conservative party representatives. Remind me of what country I'm living in?

Here's the big news from Akin's report, that goes to the heart of the Harper government's efforts to portray themselves, i.e., their party, as clean operators:
The agent for the federal Conservative Party in the last general election "made materially false and misleading statements" on its financial returns, Canada's elections commissioner alleges in the court documents that convinced a judge to grant a request for a search warrant of Conservative Party headquarters last week.
...
The warrant says that the elections commissioner believes that the Conservative Party of Canada and its official agent, the Conservative Fund of Canada, violated the Canada Elections Act. The party and the fund are separately accused of exceeding the maximum amount allowed for elections expenses. The Conservative Fund is also accused of filing financial returns "that it knew or ought reasonably to have known contained a materially false or misleading statement."

Neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor any other politician or party official is named in the warrant among those believed to have committed an offence.

The affidavit supporting the request for the search warrant is signed by Ronald Lamothe, an assistant chief investigator with the non-partisan Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

"The alleged scheme," Lamothe wrote, "enabled the Conservative Party of Canada to spend more than $1 million over and above the spending limit."
Making false and misleading statements on financial returns. Those are serious allegations. And not the kind of allegations that a supposedly clean government should be facing at all. And the scope of material sought, again, suggests that the claims that Conservatives have been cooperating and had no idea as to the reason for the search warrant ring false:

Court documents obtained Sunday show that the commissioner was looking for:

. correspondence and e-mails between party officials, local candidates, and advertising companies working for the party;

. invoices, contracts, and financial information related to advertising during the 2006 general election;

. scripts and recordings of ads that ran during the campaign.

CP adds to the news of the day with its report that excluded media also attended at the hotel the Conservatives were briefing at and caused a bit of a stir -good for them:

But the scene descended to the level of farce when journalists who hadn't been invited gathered in the hallway to quiz colleagues as they emerged form the inner sanctum.

Those who managed to get inside the door were handed a sheaf of documents and a CD-ROM containing the warrant and affidavit material obtained by the party last Friday, after a sealing order previously imposed by an Ontario Superior Court judge was lifted.

The package won't be available to other media outlets until the court formally releases it Monday.

Nevertheless, the CP suggests there was nothing new said today:
The party officials reportedly continued to insist, at Sunday's closed-door briefings, that they did nothing wrong and were surprised when the Mounties showed up with a search warrant at their offices.
And then the Conservatives beat a hasty and silent retreat:
None of the party officials who handled the private briefings Sunday would repeat their lines in public when they emerged from the hotel room to be greeted by reporters who weren't on their guest list.

Instead they scurried for a nearby exit and beat a hasty retreat down the fire stairs.
See the kind of coverage you get when you exclude and fire up the media like this? Think they weren't fired up? There's this note:
An earlier effort to ease their difficulties failed when a hotel manager unsuccessfully tried to convince the waiting journalists to leave the premises.

He relented after the assembled media unanimously rejected his request.
Good for some of the media for standing up to this manipulation and reporting it in detail. News of such selective briefings reinforces the perception of the Harper Conservatives as contemptuous of the press and controlling. I honestly don't see what they think this gains them, particularly when such serious allegations are being disclosed. They just provoke the excluded media, like they did here. And make it look like the Conservatives have something to hide that will not stand up to any objective media scrutiny. Like they need to make more problems for themselves with the media at this point? It sure as heck did them a lot of good today. Keep dumping on the media, Conservatives, keep it up...:)

A 700 page search warrant. Hope the media have their people lined up and ready to pore through this lengthy document. And a shout out to CBC, the Globe or Canwest: how about putting a pdf of the document on your website? I'm sure the Canadian public would like to see this unprecedented document on full public display.

Unfinished business

A big shout out to some courageous Canadians today, the owners of Little Sisters bookstore in Vancouver who have spent the better part of twenty years standing up for freedom of expression in Canada. They have put their store up for sale. Read the report and give your head a shake. Their store has been subjected to countless abuses, principally the seizure of books they were importing by Canada Customs. They have been bombed, twice. A restaurant below the store was bombed. A film made about the store and sought to be shown in Vancouver in 2002 was singled out and held up by the government from showing until protest overrode what appeared to be a capricious decision. And if you think that a gay bookstore importing books would be something that wouldn't be a problem in Canada in this day and age anymore, not so much:
The store emerged from the obscurity of a downtown Vancouver back street to national prominence in 1985 when Customs officers began seizing books.

In 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada finally ruled in the store's favour. From then on, Customs would have to justify its actions.

But in 2004, the store again alleged Customs had violated that ruling with new seizures.

This time, though, the money to fight the government was becoming scarce.

Customs appealed a June 2004 decision by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett that the government pay advanced costs for the store's fight against the seizures.

Bennett ruled the "issue transcends the interests of Little Sisters and touches all book importers, both commercial and private."

Her decision was rejected by the B.C. Court of Appeal and this time, Little Sister's lost at the high court.

In January 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada denied the store's appeal and Bennett's order for advanced funding.
And in Stephen Harper's Canada, where the Court Challenges program has been axed by the Conservatives and which provided funding for Charter litigants to challenge the government - an incredibly costly endeavour that the majority of Canadians do not have the resources to do - well, the days of the Little Sisters of the world challenging such seizures may be coming to an end. Conservatives believe that only those who can afford to go to court should be able to do so. Note what the Supreme Court said in its 2007 opinion where it rejected the government funding of the bookstore's costs:
But even as they rejected advance costs for the store, the top court justices acknowledged the fight Little Sister's has spearheaded.

"Given that 70 per cent of Customs detentions are of gay and lesbian material, there is unfinished business of high public importance left over from Little Sisters No. 1," they wrote.

"Systemic discrimination by Customs officials and unlawful interference with free expression were clearly established in the earlier case and numerous Charter violations and systemic problems in the administration of Customs legislation were found."
...
Deva has praise for the justices who he says took the cases seriously, but he warns the cost of free speech is high when you're fighting the government.

"Throwing that light on this very sort of insidious and backroom kind of activity is very, very important," he says. "In the future, my concern would be is no one would be willing to take on and do what we did because of the mounting costs.

"It is very important work and I think it is important for all Canadians."
Canadians owe these little store owners, who demonstrated that one person can make a difference, a big debt of gratitude.

Brenda Martin could be returning to Canada within weeks

An encouraging bit of news for Brenda Martin: "Martin to return to Canada regardless of verdict: Lawyer." Martin's lawyer must be pretty sure of what he's been told to be publicizing it in this manner. Or, perhaps it's just public pressure he's asserting to the end. Either way, this news sounds promising for Martin:
Jailed Canadian Brenda Martin will be back in Canada before the end of the month even if she is found guilty by a Mexican court, her lawyer says.

"I have been told that the Mexican and Canadian authorities have an agreement to extradite Brenda immediately," Guillermo Cruz Rico said Saturday in an interview in Guadalajara.

Martin has refused to sign documents that would allow her extradition to Canada if she is found guilty because they state the process could take up to nine months and she would have to serve time in a Canadian prison.

But Cruz said Mexican officials told him they will not seek any jail time for her in Mexico and Canadian officials said she would be immediately allowed back into the country.

"They said they don't care," Cruz said. "Mexico just wants her out of the country as soon as possible."
And the verdict is definitely coming:
A Mexican justice official told Canwest News Service Friday that the judge's ruling was completed Thursday evening.
It certainly sounds as if the public pressure from Canada has led the Mexicans to the brink of righting a travesty of justice. And failing that, at the bare minimum, it appears they're not willing to take the risk of significant backlash from the Canadian travelling public.

Fingers crossed for Brenda Martin 'till Tuesday...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

David Frum gets all free speechy for the Conservatives

David Frum is chiming in for the Conservatives now, arguing that the in-and-out election scheme the Conservatives ran in 2006 is all about free political speech. They do their best to make this scheme sound all high falutin' and principled now don't they? But it seems David's been spending a might too much time down south and has forgotten that here, thankfully, in his home and native land, there are indeed spending limits on political "speech," namely on political ads. The person or party with the most money doesn't get to spend whatever they would like. Barack Obama is presently outspending Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania by two to one and seeing his poll numbers rise. Coincidence? Flood the airwaves with ads and it has an effect. Look at what the Conservatives have successfully done in defining Stephane Dion. No matter what he does, he's tagged with the "Not a Leader" designation. So ads matter. The amount spent on them matters. And we've decided that we want an even playing field, at least during election campaigns anyway.

What the Conservatives did in the last election was to find themselves running up against their national spending limit in the days immediately preceding election day. So they transferred $ to the local constituencies, 67 of them that were under budget and non-competitive, and the $ immediately flowed back to the national campaign to buy ads in regions where seats were competitive. Elections Canada has therefore rightfully denied that this money can be recouped by those 67 local candidates from the taxpayer. It's not local money and Canadian taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay it back to those Conservative candidates. They're trying to take advantage of taxpayers in very suspect circumstances. And as much as they protest, none of the other parties exceeded their national limits.

To say that Elections Canada is determining the content of ads, dictating what is local versus what is national, well, that characterization seems compelling on the surface with its appeals to free speech and all. Making it look like Elections Canada is really in the censorship business. As Frum writes:
And Elections Canada has a similar choice to make about how it treats speech. It could give local candidates wide scope to express themselves in the way that those local candidates think most effective — or it can create a new role for itself as the hall monitor of Canadian elections, adjudicating what candidates can and cannot say in their campaigns.
Unfortunately for Frum, the issue's really been settled when we decided to have national versus local spending limits. They mean something. There's no giant pooling of national and local money to buy national ads. So the situation's not as ambiguous and all expressive and choosy as Frum tries to make it out to be. This reader on the Post website pretty much nailed the problem with the Conservative and Frum position:
The rules that exist allow the federal party to spend about $18M on national advertising (or other national expenses) and a local riding to spend about $80K. So, Mr. Frum suggests some Conservative candidates might think they are better served if the party would spend $22M on national advertising and they only spent $10K or so each, but they still collected their $80K from taxpayers as if this was a local expense.
If Stephen Harper would like to change the system, let him propose legislation doing so rather than going to war with Elections Canada under cover of legal proceedings. That way, we can all decide what kind of system we want to live under. An American one...or a Canadian one.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Is this the content of the search warrant?

If the Star has not obtained a copy of the search warrant executed at Conservative party HQ this week, it looks like they've come awfully close to uncovering the scope of it:
After a two-day search of files and electronic databases at Conservative party headquarters, Elections Canada seized material related to the party's "media advertising" in the last election.

At least some of the material that was carted or wheeled out Tuesday and Wednesday by RCMP officers assisting Elections Canada investigators was the basis for the party's planned questioning of elections officials in the lawsuit challenging their interpretation of campaign financing rules.

Included among papers and emails seized or downloaded were all of the party's documents, including a series of indexed binders of Elections Canada records, related to the Conservatives' challenge in Federal Court of the agency's decision to disallow rebate claims involving some local campaign advertising expenses in the 2006 election, according to a document obtained by the Star.
(emphasis added)
What might that document obtained by the Star be? Hmmmm?

That list of documents sounds pretty comprehensive. "All of the party's documents..." the report reads. That might suggest that the Conservative party may be proceeding in its lawsuit against Elections Canada but perhaps not cooperating in the second procedure, the investigation by Elections Commissioner William Corbett. If they have been, why would the Commissioner have to execute a search warrant in which he obtains "all of the party's documents?"

The Conservative line on their cooperation, as reported by MacCharles is as follows:
Tory officials say they are in the dark as to why exactly elections commissioner William Corbett, who is the chief investigator of alleged Elections Act violations, went to the lengths of getting a sealed search warrant, issued in Toronto.

Officials say they have not received a request for documents from Elections Canada in three months, and everything asked for was handed over apart from a few disputes "over minutia," in the words of one.
Could that be some p.r. parsing going on from these Conservative officials? I could see them not receiving a request for documents from the Commissioner for three months. That's a red herring. If the Conservatives had stonewalled the Commissioner for say, eight months prior to that, he might have stopped for a pause from beating his head against a concrete wall as he considered what to do next. Perhaps the Conservatives had been given warning prior to that three month period that they could be subjected to a search warrant failing production of documents. And as for suggesting "everything asked for was handed over apart from a few disputes "over minutia"... well, one person's minutia is another's mountain. It's all a matter of argument. And again, these Conservative remarks suggesting they've been compliant in matters of document production may be limited, again, to their civil dispute with Elections Canada, not the investigation being conducted by Commissioner Corbett. Corbett is independent within Elections Canada and the two procedures are independent. The blanket use of "Elections Canada" here by Conservative officials may be meant to purposely confuse.

Interesting add on:
Conservative party staffers were able to access their desks and files for the first time yesterday since Elections Canada arrived at their offices with the RCMP first thing Tuesday morning.
Could be just a matter of the Star having observed things. Or, gasp, could a Conservative staffer(s) have spoken to the media?

Thought provoking report.