Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chart of the week

Click to enlarge. (Source)

Elections Canada was largely singled out for budgetary savings, among all the Agents of Parliament in the Harper/Flaherty budget. When it is in the midst of a 200 riding-wide investigation across the country to determine what happened with harassing and misleading phone calls that may have misdirected voters, with electoral consequences:
Mayrand was unable to provide specific details on the investigations out of concern for fairness and privacy, but he added a few new pieces of information:

-- 800 complaints being examined by the commissioner of Canada elections come from 10 provinces and one territory;

-- The complaints cover 200 ridings; and,

-- The commissioner opened 250 files, and several complaints can be lumped together in a single file.
Sleeper cut to the Auditor General in 2014-15 as well, just in time for 2015 election season.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday night

This is just over 3 minutes because it's a preview but it's so good! 40,000 listens on Soundcloud in the last day, the kids love it.

Have a good night!

What should a future Liberal budget look like?

Paul Summerville took a shot at answering the question, in this speech that you can read at his site: "A 21st Century Liberal Budget." So if you're feeling a little put off or out of sorts today after yesterday's Flaherty budget, maybe the best remedy is to start thinking about and working on a future alternative economic plan. I recommend reading Paul's thoughts for that reason in particular.

It is meant, as he says, to provoke discussion, it is not a hard and fast plan. Some of it may be controversial. But it is a useful exercise to start moving the Conservative framed Overton window back toward a new Liberal way of thinking for the future.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Flaherty to seniors on #OAS

At the 1:30 mark and onwards, Flaherty gives an answer on his OAS age eligibility increase that is receiving some attention tonight. Two callers to the CPAC call-in show that ended at 10:00 p.m. EST remarked on Flaherty's comment being rude. In tone, the way he emphasized the word "poor" may have drawn attention to what he was saying. Basically, he said that those who would still need OAS at 65 will have to go on provincial assistance, i.e., welfare. He said it so matter of factly and without any sensitivity. The kicker is this:
The long-rumoured change is already raising concerns about generational fairness, as well as the impact it will have on Canada’s poor.

It also applies to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, a benefit geared to low-income Canadians that is administered as an add-on to OAS. Ottawa is promising to compensate provinces for the fact that this change will impose two years of additional welfare costs for Canada’s poor, though welfare is generally less generous than the combination of federal OAS and GIS.
That's the choice that Flaherty has made and presented, in the above interview, so condescendingly. As if just making the necessary financial arrangements with the provinces in order to hand off this burden is the central point.

As pointed out repeatedly today, however, there will be a few chances to turf the Conservatives prior to the OAS eligibility change kicking in.

The greatest show on earth

The big budget circus happens today. The big item, not to be lost sight of among all the other baubles that will be in the window, is in the headline here: "Conservative's budget to reset retirement at age 67." It's a legacy choice by Stephen Harper, he will be the Prime Minister who raised the pension eligibility age. It will be couched and massaged and people will be assured that it is down the road and it won't affect anyone even nearing retirement. But it is a massive, cultural economic change and it is likely to remain an ongoing symbolic issue representing the choices this Conservative government makes.

Polls when this change was first rolled out as a possibility showed overwhelming opposition. Yet the government has done relatively little to campaign in favour of their choice.

What seems to be on offer in terms of sharing in the pain are cuts to parliamentary office budgets and no longer allowing business class seats on MP flights under 2 hours. It appears there will be pension changes for MPs as well.

It is likely, however, that there will still be lots of Canadians, approaching retirement age, who are wondering just how much they trust Stephen Harper with, say, the CPP eligibility age as well. Who are wondering, hmmm, where will I be working when I'm 65? Wondering whether they'll even be able to be employed at 65. Or, wondering whether someone will keep them on or hire them in their sixties. Even those who are not near retirement but who are struggling to save for retirement may find themselves starting to think about the role of government and what they want it to do in Canada. Do they want it rolled back on matters like this that constitute a public trust? We will be finding out. And see the polls linked to above.

"[B]ack office stuff," says Flaherty on the cuts. Even a "prosperity" budget, say others. Stay tuned for today's big sales job.

Late night

If you missed it, this was one of the top political videos from the U.S. today, U.S. Representative Bobby Rush protesting on behalf of Trayvon Martin on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by wearing a hoodie and sunglasses. He was eventually removed. It is a surprisingly emotional video as Rush's voice rises.

Gail Collins has a good column tonight on the gun control issues in the U.S. that she views as worthy of a discussion, to add further context. She views the hoodie discussion as a bit of a sideshow. I'm not sure Rush would disagree with her on the need for the U.S. to debate greater gun control but Rush's protest was not just about hoodies, his protest was about racial profiling. There are plenty of worthy discussions arising out of this tragedy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Conservative Senators bring the optics on budget eve

Conservative Senators are complaining today about news that they'll be losing a cafeteria in one of the buildings in which Senators work, the Victoria Building. Former Conservative party president, Don Plett, unfamiliar with the phrase "entitled to their entitlements" apparently, said this:
“What a bad, bad idea. The Victoria cafeteria was for the Senators and staff,” he wrote in an email, apparently unwilling to eat his lunch with MPs and House of Commons staff.
Stated as his Conservative government prepares to wield a budget with $7 billion in cuts, to fall on public servants and raise OAS age eligibility to 67, nothing like some priceless optics to set the tone.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Harper's latest F-35 big 180

Harper yesterday:
While the government isn't giving any guarantees Canada will buy the F-35, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the country will remain involved in the stealth fighter project to ensure Canadian companies can continue participating.

"We have received literally hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for the Canadian aerospace industry. This is not a trivial matter," Harper said at the conclusion of a major summit on nuclear security in Seoul on Tuesday.

"We haven't yet signed a contract, as you know. We retain that flexibility. But we are committed to continuing our aerospace sector's participation in the development of the F-35."
Harper early in 2011:
Harper delivered a sharply partisan message that his opponents would cost the area jobs if they cancelled the program. He illustrated his point by surrounding himself with aerospace workers.

“Contracts like this are not a political game,” Harper said, speaking from a blue podium with government Action Plan slogans perched around him.

“It is about lives and, as you well know, it is about jobs.”
With thousands of aerospace jobs in the region, Harper made it clear that those workers will play a central role in the Tory campaign.

“I do find it disappointing, I find it sad, that some in Parliament are backtracking on the F-35 and some are talking openly about cancelling the contract, should they get the chance,” Harper said at the Heroux-Devtek plant in Dorval.

“Cancelling a contract that way would be completely irresponsible. The opposition parties must stop playing partisan games with these crucial contracts.”
Any questions?

Update: Speaking of aerospace jobs, if a certain someone cares as much as he used to protest...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday night

Gareth Emery feat Christina Novelli - Concrete Angel (Original Mix) by garethemery

Have a great night!

NDP Convention - Day 1

Don't know how coherent or value added this will be after a day of tweeting, thought I'd try to get a few things down here.

First of all, impressions on the afternoon's "showcases" of the candidates, as the NDP termed them. There were a lot of supplemental activities (floor demos, introductory speakers, videos) surrounding most of the presentations and I think those choices may have been overdone, at least from the perspective of someone sitting here in the hall. It's hard for me to say since I'm a critical observer, maybe the enthusiasm shown on the floor resonates with some delegates, don't know.

My impression, though, was that less was more. In that regard, Cullen who spoke first seemed to set the tone on that score. Now whether what he said was memorable enough, that's another question. And I don't recall much French speaking from him either. He did manage to use all his time wisely though and without interference.

Can't say the same about Mulcair or Nash. Their floor shows really interfered with their speeches. Not really as huge a problem for Mulcair, who is by all accounts ahead. Even though his time to speak was seriously eaten into, he managed to speak powerfully, par for the course for him. He rushed though. Neither of these problems would make much of a difference for him, I think.

Nash's time was similarly eaten up and she needed to fast forward through her teleprompted speech as a result. The speech was indeed fast forwarded, possibly intentionally, but it just didn't seem to stop at any place she could pick it up. It appeared, from in the hall, that there was a bit of a stumble there and she had to ad-lib. Not so sure how that appeared for those who were voting at home but it didn't look comfortable from here. [I have a few tweets on what happened in my tweet stream (@impolitical)]

Dewar was strong in his speech, again surrounding his presentation by a bit of a wacky floor show, at least, I think that's a fair word to use in the wake of having Charlie Angus singing on stage as a central part of your presentation. Very novel but I actually think that may have worked, reinforcing the heartfelt nature of his candidacy.

Topp had an interesting afternoon. I wonder if he threw a wrench into people's thinking at all. He was very good in French, one of the better on that fronts, of the afternoon. He has some teleprompter ability issues, not surprising given his background. Not an over cluttered speech. Went by his room earlier, there seems to be a bustling around him.

Singh and Ashton did fine, won't spend too much time here since they're not top tier by all accounts. Primo video by Singh that candidates everywhere might want to note. Ashton made a strong speech, have to give credit to a young woman for an unwavering kind of speech at a crucial moment like that.

Whether any of the speeches or presentations will change minds at this point, maybe to those paying close attention. The substantive themes all blended together, it's very hard to differentiate among them policy wise, save for some of the better known initiatives like Cullen's cooperation pitch.

It is seeming to be a well-run event thus far and well-attended. Think the action is more so on Twitter, tune in to the #ndpldr hashtag there.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday night

Have a good night!

Early evening robocon

Polling on election fraud's going to happen, might as well take a looksy: "Canadians split on who's to blame for robocalls: poll." From Ipsos, it is said to be a "blended telephone and online poll this week of 3,154 Canadians..."(1001 telephone/2153 online). While the headline is playing up a "split," this isn't good news for the Conservatives given the high threshold in the statement that respondents are asked to express agreement or disagreement with:
In the survey, people were told there had been accusations that some people working for the Conservative party in the last election "made calls to supporters of other parties and either pretended to represent their party of choice and deliberately harassed them or to deliberately confuse them about which polling stations to vote at on election day." The pollster also told respondents that Harper and senior Tories had said they had "nothing to do with these calls."

The survey found that 50 per cent of Canadians agree with the statement that "these accusations are true and the Conservative Party had a co-ordinated campaign to deceive Canadian voters with misleading telephone calls in the last federal election."

By comparison, 47 per cent disagreed with the statement, while the remainder said they did not know.
50% are willing to express agreement with a very certain statement pinning responsibility on the Conservatives for a co-ordinated fraudulent campaign. Beyond the facts that are piling up and pointing to one party, that probably speaks beyond the current events to the Conservatives' track record on democratic issues and an unwillingness in a majority not to give them the benefit of the doubt. A political party that cares about its integrity and public perception shouldn't be happy with that 50% result or the notion that there's a "split" in the poll.

That 47% would not agree is not necessarily a flat no, exoneration result. I would imagine saying yes to a co-ordinated campaign to deceive people out of their vote could be a hurdle for many people still piecing it together.

There is another response in the poll that bolsters the view that many may just be in holding mode: "Sixty-eight per cent of those polled said if the Conservatives are found to have conducted the misleading robocalls, there should be new elections "in the ridings where it happened." By comparison, 32 per cent disagreed with that course of action."

In any event, as we know, facts are what are important in this unfolding mess and opinions won't factor into those ongoing investigations. Today's latest on what those facts are turning up is more bad news for Conservatives:
Automated phone calls that directed people to the wrong polling stations in the last federal election may have overwhelmingly targeted older voters, the Toronto Star has learned.

Elections Canada investigators sifting through a flood of complaints that have emerged about dirty tricks in the spring 2011 campaign have started to notice this pattern as they call individuals to verify details of the suspicious phone calls they reported receiving.

Most of those who received an automated phone call telling them their polling station had been changed say they were contacted early in the campaign by the Conservative Party and indicated that they would not be supporting their local Tory candidate.
Dave is piecing it all together on why that news about targeting older voters is important, go read.

Late night

A little late night horror story for you. John Doyle had a great column on the movie, which will be on HBO this weekend.
Much of Game Change (airing Saturday, HBO Canada, 9 p.m.), a must-see, devastating portrait of Palin and the McCain campaign, is about the allure of celebrity and the injection of showbiz stratagems into U.S. politics.

But is it all true? Or is it fiction? “Yes it’s all true,” Danny Strong, the movie’s writer and co-executive producer, said on the phone last week. “Everything in it is verified. The book on which it’s based [the bestselling book of the same name, about several American presidential campaigns, by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann] is based on eyewitness accounts. The book has not been debunked, as the Palin camp has claimed.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Conservative phone call harassment on tape

Listen to the tapes here. A former employee of RMG said things like this: «Oh, vous n'êtes pas un conservateur? Nous ne voulons pas parler à un socialiste ou à un séparatiste.»

The former employee of RMG has been let go, here are the apologies:
Le collecteur de fonds Don Duke s'est comporté de manière «inacceptable», reconnaît le Parti conservateur. Et la société Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) s'excuse «sans réserve» aux membres de la formation qui se sont frottés à ses méthodes musclées.
Note one of the calls mentions Ignatieff, so this could have been during the election, it's not clear.

It gets worse...

Late night

The historical backstory behind the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster. What a great little film. (h/t)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Harper reverses on new audit powers for Elections Canada

"Tories agree to new audit powers for Elections Canada."
The Conservative government has reversed course and now says it will support an NDP motion to give Elections Canada increased audit powers.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has battled the federal elections watchdog for much of his political career, told the House of Commons on Wednesday his government will support new legislation within six months -- as proposed by the official Opposition.

New Democrats and Liberals have been making hay of the fact a Conservative-dominated committee last month formally turned down a recommendation by the chief electoral officer for new investigative powers.

Marc Mayrand wants to be able to compel political parties to back up their financial statements with receipts and details -- a power currently held by all his provincial counterparts.

The Conservative committee rejection was used by the opposition parties as damning evidence against the government in the context of Elections Canada's growing investigation into fraudulent election phone calls.
What a difference 24 hours can make.

Well done to Bob Rae on this, his 3 consecutive questions to Harper yesterday on this issue, to which Harper obfuscated, produced late Tuesday scrambling by the Harper crew and now today, the backtrack. The NDP motion tomorrow put the pressure on too, of course.

The robocon scandal be powerful. The Harper gang is worried about how they're coming off...

Today in party leader or Prime Minister?

This is nicely done, leader or Prime Minister, Manon Cornellier asks:
Il y a moins de deux semaines, le 23 février bien précisément, Postmedia News révélait qu'Élections Canada menait une enquête sur des appels frauduleux faits dans la circonscription de Guelph et que sa première piste l'avait mené jusqu'à une entreprise spécialisée dans les appels automatisés proche des conservateurs. Les allégations dans cette affaire sont graves. Le message enregistré, faussement attribué à Élections Canada, n'avait qu'un but, détourner les électeurs de leur véritable bureau de scrutin.

Le jour même, à Iqaluit, le premier ministre Stephen Harper est interpellé par les journalistes présents. Sa réponse, donnée sur un ton neutre, se limite à nier toute participation de son parti à ce stratagème et à dire qu'il s'attend à ce quiconque a enfreint la loi en subisse toutes les conséquences. Il n'émet aucune condamnation sentie de cette atteinte directe à l'intégrité du processus électoral. Il ne s'engage pas à déployer toutes les ressources nécessaires pour faire la lumière dans cette affaire.

Ce n'est qu'hier, 13 jours plus tard, qu'il a finalement dit aux Communes qu'il jugeait «totalement inacceptables» les gestes posés dans Guelph. Sinon, lui et ses secrétaires parlementaires n'ont eu, depuis deux semaines, qu'une seule préoccupation, défendre leur parti.
Ce qui nuit aussi a leur crédibilité est leur refus de partager l'indignation générale devant ce qui pourrait être un cas unique de fraude électorale.

M. Harper est chef de son parti, mais aussi le premier ministre de tous les Canadiens. Et un premier ministre a le devoir de défendre l'intégrité du processus électoral et du système démocratique sur lesquels repose la légitimité de son gouvernement.
Exactly! That is indeed the story of the deficient Harper performance of the last few weeks in the House of Commons. As noted here, Harper is likely using words such as "unacceptable" now to describe the Guelph situation as he is watching public opinion develop, this week's damning Angus Reid poll for example, cited at the link as well.

Here's one other thing a Prime Minister should be doing...saying yes to the Chief Electoral Officer when he asks for a basic power of investigation while the integrity of the electoral system is under fire. Should be a no-brainer for a Prime Minister who puts the national interest - and not his party's - first. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Final word: Tories lose in-and-out all around

The Conservative party and the Conservative fund were fined and pleaded guilty to exceeding the national party spending limits in late 2011. Today, there is news that the Conservatives are withdrawing their civil appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada: "Tories ditch 'in-and-out' case at Supreme Court." This means that they lost criminally and they lost civilly. They broke the law and have paid for it. Their 2006 election win will be forever tainted by the criminal and civil results. Wear it well, Conservatives.

This Conservative spin today is just so wrong:
"This has been a long-standing administrative dispute with Elections Canada over whether certain campaign expenses should be counted as local or national," Fred DeLorey, Conservative party spokesman, said in a statement to CBC News.

"We are agreeing to disagree and will be dropping our appeal to the Supreme Court. We are amending our return under protest to reflect this."
You lost, pal. You don't get to have an opinion on what the law is and say you are agreeing to disagree. In dropping their appeal, they are admitting that the Federal Court of Appeal ruling stands. It is galling that the governing party makes a statement like that. And the elections laws in this country are not trivial administrative matters. They are foundational democratic principles that the Conservative party continues to writhe against.

Their constant public relations effort just affirms that they are a party like none we have seen before. They thumb their nose at the law like it is just another political issue to be finessed. So brazenly hypocritical to their supposed law and order platitudes. Ultimately, attitudes like that are what lead to scandals like the election fraud mess in front of us.

This civil case took a lot of chutzpah for the Conservatives to bring, never forget that:
Elections Canada looked into the expenses and said the Conservatives violated campaign financing rules by moving $1.3 million in and out of 67 ridings to pay for national ads. The manoeuvres allowed the party to exceed the campaign spending limits and allowed candidates to claim rebates on expenses that weren't incurred, the agency said.

Candidates can be reimbursed by Elections Canada for 60 per cent of their expenses and the national parties can make claims for 50 per cent of their expenses. Elections Canada refused to issue the more than $800,000 in total rebates to the Conservative Party and the party then sued to get the money.
Got that? They sued to get taxpayer reimbursements for local candidates as a result of purely national money having gone in-and-out of local accounts, sometimes for just a matter of hours. So that their local candidates would gain those moneys for future political endeavours. Anything to win, anything to get a leg up, irrespective of the taxpayer dollars at issue.

In terms of some of the substance here, it does mean that the principle that spending limits for the national campaign are separate and apart from the local campaign and must mean something, to put it very generally, is maintained.

That could mean Conservative expenses will be looked at again by Elections Canada, arising out of the 2011 federal election. There are some questions that have arisen over generic spending allocations in local campaigns that may not be connected with local expenses, but rather, national.

In the bigger picture, what is clear, and what we have been experiencing for the past few years, is the challenge that a greatly resourced political party presents to the Canadian political landscape on so many levels. It can drag out legal proceedings well beyond an issue's ripeness and lessen the opportunity for political accountability. The Conservatives were able to do so with their 2006 transgressions. Next time? Given current events, their luck may just be running out.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Conservative MP blames Elections Canada

Today, straight out of the mouth of a Conservative MP: "Tory MP says Elections Canada to blame for robocalls."
"I suspect that at the end of the day, if Elections Canada has the resources to do a proper investigation, they'll find they're themselves significantly responsible," Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott said in a statement.

"That tech issues with marrying (Elections Canada) lists to available, electronic phone lists is part of the problem, and in a few instances there may have been malfeasance by one party or the other."
"Hired live phoners or automated calling systems are only as good as the data provided to them. You know the saying, 'garbage in, garbage out."'
Or, you know, could be that the problem is moreso the "garbage out." As in, live callers and recorded messages impersonating Elections Canada, who do not make calls.

Harper's MPs have brazenly attacked Elections Canada's impartiality in the past. The contempt that the Harper Conservatives have shown for Elections Canada could be a factor that may have played a part in this cheating scandal developing. If the government sows contempt for such a foundational democratic institution, after all, it's not surprising that people who are watching might get bright ideas such as impersonating Elections Canada officials.

The Prime Minister should not be allowing any of his MPs to be sowing doubt about Elections Canada at a moment when his party is under investigation by that body.

It is particularly rich to see this line from a Conservative MP when we have reporting tonight that Elections Canada specifically told political parties not to advise voters on the location of polling stations. The Conservatives did so anyway. Garbage out, garbage out.

(see also)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Putting a price on accountability

From Friday: "MPs question true dollar value of questions asked of government."

As budget cuts loom, and Parliament's budget itself has been floated as a target, this looks like a set up. Conservative MP Brian Jean asked in December by written question to the government how much it was costing to answer parliamentarian's written questions. Those questions are a routine method of getting detailed answers and holding the government to account. Not everything can be asked in Question Period. They are a normal feature of parliamentary governments.

The government replied:
The answer he got back: a little more than $1 million to respond to about 375 written questions since the current session of Parliament began last June — including $253,000 to answer one question from a Liberal MP and $139,000 to respond to a query from the NDP.

"It's absolutely ridiculous," Jean said in an interview. "It's getting completely out of hand."
You're probably shocked there at home that opposition MPs are being cited as having put the government to the most expense. The examples cited seem ludicrously high. And there's no word on how much Jean's written question on this whole matter cost.  

How the government is attributing expense to these questions is not explained. Are they billing staffer(s) out by the hour in order to come up with these numbers? Are they engaging external resources to answer questions? Why have we never heard of this budget issue before?

Besides, taking their figures on their face, $1 million for 375 questions is actually not bad. About $2,600 per question averaged out. 375 questions since the parliamentary session began...308 members of Parliament. Not excessive on that count either.

Getting into a cost argument with them over it only justifies this way of looking at government accountability though. Are they suggesting, in peddling this exercise publicly, that we should put a dollar limit on MPs right to ask questions? You there, MP Smith, you've reached your dollar limit in yearly questions! No more questions for you!

This is not really about cost, anyway. It's about a government that likes to dilute accountability mechanisms (see in camera committee meetings). It likely means that a parliamentary budget cut could be coming soon courtesy of a Harper government near you. That would be a bad look given the increasing fire the government is under. 

RMG call centre in Gatineau used during election?

Noted from a report this week in Le Droit, three Ottawa area Conservative candidates also hired RMG during the May 2011 federal election:
Les campagnes de trois candidats conservateurs de la région d'Ottawa ont versé tout près de 30 000 $ à l'une des firmes de sollicitation téléphonique soupçonnées d'avoir effectué des appels frauduleux aux dernières élections fédérales, a appris LeDroit.

Royal Galipeau et Pierre Lemieux, réélus députés d'Ottawa-Orléans et de Glengarry-Prescott-Russell le 2 mai dernier, ont tous deux fait appel à l'entreprise Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) pendant la dernière campagne électorale, démontrent les rapports financiers remis par leurs organisations à Élections Canada. Le candidat du Parti conservateur dans Ottawa-Centre, Damian Kostantinakos, a lui aussi effectué deux paiements à RMG.

La campagne de Royal Galipeau a versé la somme de 15 000 $ à l'entreprise, qui se décrit comme étant « la plus grande firme » de sollicitation téléphonique à oeuvrer dans le domaine politique au pays, « travaillant exclusivement avec les campagnes se situant à la droite de l'échiquier politique ».

Cette entreprise, dont certains des bureaux sont établis à Gatineau, est soupçonnée d'avoir communiqué avec nombre de partisans libéraux et néo-démocrates, pour les dissuader d'aller voter ou encore pour leur indiquer à tort que leur bureau de scrutin avait changé d'endroit.
A few questions arising from this mentions that there are RMG offices in Gatineau. Was the RMG call centre in Gatineau involved in the election on behalf of Conservative clients as well? Any others across the country?

Ottawa-Centre and Ottawa-Orleans are on the list of where calls have been reported. In Ottawa-Orleans, robocall impersonation of Elections Canada and misdirection of voters on election day in addition to fake callers misdirecting voters are alleged.

Also, it's interesting that there are a number of Conservatives across the country with neat $15,000 expenditures to RMG. See article above re Galipeau. In Quebec, 16/18 paid $15,000 (14 paid $15,000.01, 2 paid $15,000, so I'm ignoring the $0.01). In B.C., the amounts reported thus far vary, they paid more.

Recall that the in and out litigation (which is still on its way to the Supreme Court) established that local election expenses have to equate with value received:
"We agree, however, with the Judge and the CEOC that the amount reported for a candidate’s share of a pooled advertising expense cannot be arbitrary, or based solely upon the available room under each candidate’s spending limit, but must be reasonably related to the value of the benefits received."
Le Devoir's reporting this week (link above) raised specific questions about whether one candidate in particular had received value for his $15,000.01 (although the Conservatives very quickly denied). So when you see similar prices being paid to RMG by candidates across the country, similar questions come to mind.

Friday, March 02, 2012

About those election call tapes being reviewed

Updated below.

This was a report from CBC initially posted yesterday afternoon: "Election call tapes under review by Conservatives." The report was last updated early this afternoon. Here's the key excerpt:
The Conservative Party is reviewing tapes of every call made by the Responsive Marketing Group call centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., in the last election before Elections Canada investigators arrive next week, CBC News has learned.

Investigators are planning to interview the centre's staff, which the Conservative Party hired to make phone calls to identify and rally supporters in the 2011 federal election.

Conservative Party spokesman Fred Delorey denied that Conservative officials are reviewing the tapes.

"The Conservative Party is not reviewing tapes from the last election," he said in an email to CBC News.

And election commissioner William Corbett has assigned veteran investigator Ronald Lamothe, who was the lead on the in-and-out probe into 2006 election spending, to head inquiries in Thunder Bay, the Toronto Star reported.
An update(s) to the report today may have included the denial from Fred Delorey that Conservatives were reviewing the tapes.

Here's the Star report on it from Thursday:
As Lamothe heads to Thunder Bay to interview former RMG call centre workers, Conservative party officials have undertaken a massive project to review audio recordings of every call made by RMG staff on the party’s behalf in the last campaign, a source said. A spokesperson for the Conservative party denied that a review of the calls was taking place.
Source says yes, there is a review. Conservative party says no, no review. Huh.

An intention to expand the investigation to Thunder Bay was publicly revealed on Wednesday. Then cue Thursday's reporting, above, that the Conservatives were reviewing tapes. Friday morning, Elections Canada releases an official statement confirming the robocall investigation at large. As far as we know, Elections Canada is not on the scene there in Thunder Bay, yet.

Just noting the developments on this bit of the story in particular.

Update: Noted from the Postmedia report on RMG on Friday:
RMG issued a statement late Wednesday night asserting that it did not engage in voter suppression calls in the campaign and saying the company would contact Elections Canada to work with the agency.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Typical Harper in Question Period today

Update (11:45 p.m.) below.

We have citizens across the country, who are now being awakened to the context of a certain phone call they may have received during the May federal election. They may have received harassing phone calls. They may have received calls misdirecting them to the wrong polling stations. They may have heard messages from persons impersonating Elections Canada. Those citizens have spoken up already, in many cases, but are also speaking up here and now as the robocall controversy gathers attention. People are genuinely concerned about the prospect of election fraud having occurred in Canada. There are investigations going on by Elections Canada with the assistance of the RCMP, in Guelph and now in Thunder Bay.

But what is our Prime Minister doing? Digging up research on Liberals.

It's not very good research it turns out. He and Del Mastro and Poilievre tried to argue that harassing phone calls Liberal supporters received were from Liberal hired call centres, specifically, one in the U.S. That would account for the North Dakota telephone area code some voters saw, aha! But look:
The Liberals, Harper said in the House, have said people got misleading phone calls from numbers in the United States.

"We've done some checking, Mr. Speaker. We've only found that in fact it was the Liberal Party that did source its phone calls from the United States. So I wonder if the reason the honourable leader of the Liberal Party will not in fact show us his evidence is it will point in fact that it was the Liberal Party that made these calls," he said.
But the counterattack backfired when Conservative MPs mixed up two companies with the same name.

Pierre Poilievre and Dean Del Mastro pointed in question period to Liberal candidates who, they said, used a company based in North Dakota to make calls soliciting support.
The confusion centred on three call companies with similar names, including Prime Contact Group, based in Canada, and Prime Contact Inc., based in North Dakota.

A spokesman for Prime Contact Inc. told CBC News that the company has never worked for a Canadian political party or candidate and is not affiliated in any way with Prime Contact Group.

Harper said a third company, First Contact, routed its calls through the U.S. A number of Liberal campaigns used First Contact for calls during the 2011 election and in at least one previous election.

But First Contact owner Mike O'Neill told the CBC's Dave Seglins last April that someone was "spoofing" First Contact's numbers — projecting a fake caller ID — to impersonate his company.
"We've done some checking," said Harper. Spending their time wisely, as always.

Think the Prime Minister needs some sleep, he, his helpers and his partisan ops shtick were looking very tired in the Commons today.

Update (11:45 p.m.): The National covers the above:

Mystery budget on its way

The budget date was set yesterday, finally, for March 29th, possibly as a bit of a distraction from all things robocall. This should be good:
Flaherty said Wednesday the budget will not lay out in specifics where the government plans to find between $4 billion and $8 billion in annual savings over the next three years.

"There’s not going to be intricate detail," he told reporters in Ottawa.

"But there'll be enough information that it'll be comprehensible, that it will describe what we're doing in terms of the deficit reduction action plan, and much more than that, this is a jobs and growth budget."
Yes, the Flaherty budget kabuki dance continues. Flaherty said last week that it would be a "moderate" budget and not draconian. Economists in the past few days have backed up the point that there is no need for an aggressive budget in terms of cuts.

Then we had some publicity around a Nanos poll suggesting Canadians are ok with deep cuts. Not so clear that if enumerated cuts were put to respondents that they'd be so down with them. Which Nanos backed up: "The issue is that when you move from the idea of cuts to actual cuts that the appetite may diminish," he said." Still, the poll got lots of headlines suggesting Canadians support deep cuts. And then the next day, Flaherty announces his budget date.

Now it doesn't seem comprehensible that Flaherty could think he's going to be able to get away with not telling Canadians specifics about where the axe will fall. If we're indeed talking $4 to $8 billion in cuts per year, there will be great difficulty in masking how that's to be done. No matter how much they'd like to do so.

$4 to $8 billion out of a $265 billion budget doesn't sound like much as a percentage, which is the way Flaherty is presenting it. It's when you look at how that $265 billion is presently spent and then factor in the things the government has taken off the table (transfers to provinces/individuals: "We're not reducing transfers to the provinces or to people"), then look at what remains for cutting that proves difficult (scroll down to "Other Transfer Payments" and below on that page). It is why Flaherty would prefer to be vague.