In and Out common to all parties say Conservatives

The Hill Times had a cover story today describing an affidavit that the Conservative Party filed in Federal Court one week ago today.

The affidavit details examples of so-called in and out election financing by other parties. The HT story included a quote from Tory MP Tom Lukiwski,

In the affidavit, we listed more than 100 individual candidates from all three parties that did the exact same thing that we did in terms of how they entered into an agreement with their national parties on a regional ad buy. So in effect, regardless of the motion of Ms. Redman, we will now be able to take a look at the affidavits that have been presented and I would be fully prepared to bring forward witnesses and all of these candidates from the various parties and have them come forward and have them explain how they entered into this agreement and ask the question that if all parties were doing the same thing why is it that only the Conservative Party was being singled out?

The motion of Ms. Redman, the Liberal whip, was tabled at the Procedure and House Affairs committee asked the committee to investigate “In and Out” financing during the last election. The Conservatives believe that their affidavit shows that all parties participated in the financing practice which allowed individual candidates, in some cases, to participate in regional ad buys.

In discussions with some Conservatives I have heard that there is generally held belief among officials in the party that Elections Canada has been biased in its withholding of $1.2 million of rebates from the Tories. The Conservatives ask rhetorically what the key difference is between their “in and out” financing versus that of the NDP and Liberals. Some Conservatives believe that it is because of party stripe.

I have obtained a copy of the “Donald Affidavit” which describes examples of “in and out” ad buying by other parties.

Donald Affidavit (PDF)

In and Outright Hypocrisy?

The Liberals have been trying to make gains from the so-called “In and Out scandal” in which they allege impropriety in the transfers of money from local Conservative election campaigns to the federal campaign for the purposes of funding national advertising.

Transfers of money from local to federal campaigns is of course legal as all parties do this (there is even a category for it on Elections Canada returns that all candidates, EDAs and political parties must file). Indeed, the Conservatives and the Liberals have a different tradition here: The Conservatives send their EDAs 10% of all the money the national party raises, and the Liberals tax their EDAs 40 some percent of their candidate’s Elections Canada refund. However, it is the channeling of local cash to the federal party to pay for advertising where the Liberals see red in the Tories’ blue campaign.

One of the most vocal critics of this alleged scheme has been Liberal MP Marlene Jennings of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Lachine. Here is a quote of hers from the House of Commons:

Mr. Speaker, the in-and-out financing scandal implicates at least six Conservative ministers, like the public safety minister and the foreign affairs minister. Their response? Dead silence.

The member for West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country [Blair Wilson] did the right thing. At the very first hint of any questions about his campaign he stepped aside so he could clear his name.

The independent investigation into the Conservative scheme has not been completed. Will the government demonstrate true leadership and demand resignations from its six ministers?

Let’s take a closer look at Jennings’ 2004 and 2006 Elections Canada filing:

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and 2006:

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Jennings’ 2004 election return shows a $300 expense for advertising paid to the Liberal Party of Canada and a $1500 expense for the same paid to “The Federal Liberal Agency of Canada”. The 2006 return shows a $11,206.86 expense for advertising paid to the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party.

The Liberals have alleged impropriety in the Conservative practice of transferring money from local campaigns to federal campaign for use by the federal campaign for “advertising”. Here, we see Jennings transferring sums of money to both the federal party and Quebec wing of the federal party for “advertising”. What sort of advertising services did the LPOC and LPOC(Q) provide for Ms. Jennings? It should be noted that Jennings also declared expenses that her campaign paid to her riding association for advertising, so what of these similar expenses paid to national HQ? Did Jennings pay the party to produce Marlene Jennings specific advertising, Quebec regional advertising or national advertising? What is the difference between each of the three if they were paid for by the official agent for Marlene Jennings?

When you look at other Quebec campaigns it appears that more than a few Quebec Liberal candidates including Stephane Dion bought about $11,000 or $4,900 of advertising from the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec.

Is the LPOC an ad-agency or did they purchase advertising for their candidates like the Conservatives bought for their Candidates?

Of course, in my opinion, no laws have been broken here and if this shows that the Liberals were also involved in a so-called (by them) “In and Out scheme” the only things they are guilty of is hypocrisy.

Furthermore, why was this practice given a green light in the past for the Liberals by Elections Canada when it now raises questions by the federal agency. Are not all parties equal under the law?

In and Out, Conservatives respond

A copy of a letter sent to the President of the Liberal Party Senator Marie Poulin and Executive Director Greg Fergus landed in my inbox tonight. It concerns Conservative Party assertions that statements made in a recent Liberal Party backgrounder on what they’ve named the “In and Out” scandal concerning the “Conservatives’ apparent scheme to violate election spending limits” are in fact defamatory. The Conservatives stress that “Chief Electoral Officer Marc Maynard…has not accused any of the candidates or agents of breaking the law”.

The letter concerns the defense of Michael Donison, Neil Drabkin, Andrew House, Aaron Hynes, Andrea Paine and Ian West. The letter states that “it is defamatory to suggest or imply that these individuals have engaged in illegal conduct”.

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In this document, found on the Liberal Party website, the Liberals seem to imply that rewards in the form of government jobs were received by candidates who participated in the scheme that the Liberals allege.

Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc stated,

“To date, we have learned that eleven of the former Conservative candidates and official agents implicated in this scandal were named to federal appointments or were hired in high profile government jobs. One has to wonder if there is a connection between their willingness to participate and employment by this Conservative government”

The Conservatives allege that such statements are libelous as the letter addressed to the Liberals reads, “In particular, it is defamatory to suggest or imply that the positions that these individuals have or have had on Ministers’ staffs are “rewards” for having engaged in illegal conduct.”

The Conservatives seem to assert that the Liberals must prove that their accusations are true or else the Grits have libeled the aforementioned individuals.

Please read Steve Janke’s groundbreaking posts concerning this story, here, here and here.

“Canadians don’t want an election right now”

The line “Canadians don’t want an election right now” is becoming an interesting bit of spin now used by both the Liberals and the Conservatives regarding both the lifespans of their respective governments and now by the Liberals, in Opposition.

I suppose that part of the rationale for this new but now becoming ensconced in the political lexicon is that for the past three years and three months, we’ve had two successive minority governments and the possibility of an election falling upon Canadians by parliamentary discordance has become more and more probable. The last time we, as Canadians, had a majority government it was up to the Prime Minister to determine when Canadians wanted an elected (or didn’t, whatever the strategy may be). However, now that Prime Minister Harper has passed legislation taking this out of the hands of future majority Prime Ministers, elections will happen for majority governments on fixed dates and the mood of the electorate on such timing issues is moot. Yet, here we are with two successive minority governments and “electoral mood” is something to consider, even if it is unmeasured and declared by party spokesman for whatever strategic reason.

Consider Paul Martin’s minority government in the spring of 2005. The Opposition Conservatives at the time pulled out all of the stops in order to force an election on Paul Martin, a frantic and frenzied leader who looked uncomfortable with the power he sought his whole life. Paul Martin wanted to govern. Desperately. Couple this with mounting scandal and a general consensus that the man that promised over 200 Liberal seats when he took over the reins was floundering and may at best only pull off another minority.

Governments in power declare that Canadians don’t want an election because of a sincere desire to govern. For Paul Martin, this desire to govern was a function of his desire to avoid the dreaded fate of another minority (and leadership review to follow) or worse, defeat to the Conservatives.

The good news for Prime Minister Stephen Harper is that today, there isn’t a looming scandal and the barbarians in Opposition aren’t taking a battering ram to the gate of his small but secure fortress. Indeed, Stephane Dion is at the weakest point in his leadership since he was chosen by Liberal delegates in December of 2006. Harper doesn’t have the benefit of 13 years in power and thus doesn’t as much of a record to run on. When Harper says that “Canadians don’t want an election right now”, like Martin it means that he wants to govern, but unlike Martin it means that he wants to build a solid foundation of trust with Canadians rather than desperately try to patch together the semblance of a working government build upon the cracked concrete of waste and scandal.

Most recently, we’ve seen Michael Ignatieff muse in Opposition that “Canadians don’t want an election right now.” First of all, it is the Opposition’s role to oppose the government. Is this the deputy Liberal leader’s way of lowering expectations for what we should expect from the Liberals on their “opposition” to the Throne Speech. Is Ignatieff preparing us so that we aren’t shocked when Dion and only a handful of Liberals show up to symbolically vote against? But on the topic of the desirability of an election to Canadians, to the best of my knowledge, this poll question has not been asked as of late, so we can safely assume that this is rather a reflection of Liberal wishful thinking that Canadians will spare political parties of judgment at the polls, at least for the next little while. It is indicating, yet not surprising that the Liberals fear judgment of their party, rather than the incumbent Conservatives.

Nobody could reasonably spin that Stephen Harper fears the voters, yet it doesn’t take much creative interpretation to muse that the Liberals are terrified of their own electoral prospects. For which reasons do Canadians desire elections? At a base level, Canadians desire to make their democratic will known at least every 5 years. But to want an election for reasons beyond that, there has to be an overwhelming desire for change. Since such a desire does not exist, Ignatieff is likely right when he says that Canadians don’t want an election right now. However, his reasons (and those of his embattled caucus and leader) are clearly different from those of Canadians and if the Liberals hope to lead, their desires regarding election timing and change must be aligned with at least that of a plurality of the electorate.

Republican story from ’72

Take a look at the following video from CBS’ evening news from 1972. There should be a few interesting elements for any viewer, no matter their political leanings.

First, we notice that the topic of election strategy has always been good fodder for news reporters. Often, the horse race and how it’s run can be more compelling than the policies or platforms forwarded by the candidates.

Of course, there is also the gem of a Dan Rather piece from 1972. Rather’s thesis on the Republicans this time? That they’ve set up a front operation for show. The purpose? To demonstrate that Nixon isn’t running too hard for re-election. Possible, I suppose. After all, news media was hardly as ubiquitous in those days and perhaps such deliberate steps were taken to fool Rather. But, thankfully, he’s not fooled.

Next, at the RNC, envelope cutters are opening cheques from a quarter of a million people for $2.5 million. The ‘grassroots’ ma ‘n pa cheques that come in is a strategy employed by today’s Conservative Party in Canada. The direct mail lists and personal greetings customized by computer based on issue is interesting and it’s fascinating to know the sophistication of the operation involving these tools back to 1972. Some American politicians still bank heavily on direct mail appeals. Once, when describing blogging to a senior republican, I told him it was like the next version of direct mail. Thankfully, he didn’t press me further on the comparison, but I felt that the generational analogy was cogent enough, if on some levels not at all.

Next, in the report we see, by today’s standards, laughable privacy concerns which may well have enraged people watching Rather back in ’72. A ‘computer’ stores the names of mail-order Idaho steak customers? Most definitely a frightful thought to more than a few back in the early 70s.

Robert Odell Jr. is interviewed and describes these methods as the way of the future for campaign finance, and while we can forgive him for not foreseeing the netroots appeals of Howard Dean and those that would follow in the use of blogs and social media in this first decade of the 21st century, Odell could be a certified futurist.

We then see an obligatory note to show that the broad ma ‘n pa appeal isn’t exactly perfect yet as ‘fat cats’ still pay hundreds of dollars for Nixon fundraising dinners.

And then those that went home early will be sorely disappointed as we see a chance interview between Dan Rather and a 21-year old Karl Rove who holds up a bumper sticker for the GOP reading Generation of Peace. At the time of the interview, Rove was charged with “embarrassing pundits” and to help the Republican Party appeal to youth. It’s interesting to see how small a family of political operatives can exist, even in countries like the US.

All in all, a fascinating story about the ‘future’ of political financing from direct mail, to personalized letters aimed at specific constituents based on targeted issues. One wonders how the current cutting-edge methods of voter identification, fundraising and media balancing will be viewed 35 years from now.

Ontario by-elections

Two by-elections are upcoming this fall in Ontario and I’ve got a bit of info on these individuals and the timing of the contest to be called by the Prime Minister.

Maureen Harquail will be taking on Martha Hall Finley from the Liberals in Willowdale and Mark Warner will be appealing for votes in Toronto-Centre as he battles against former Liberal leadership contender and NDP Premier of Ontario Bob Rae.

Harquail has completed reserve duty with the Canadian armed forces and was an environmental prosecutor. She also happens to be the cousin of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty. The cousin connection has already come in handy as the Tories are said to be packing their war-chest for the riding pre-writ by bringing in some highly visible cabinet minsters for fundraisers. Peter MacKay has already been seen in the riding pitching for Harquail, and besides cousin Jim, environmental minister John Baird is also expected to raise some funds for the Tories in Willowdale. Willowdale consists of significant jewish, korean, persian and japanese communities among others. Retiring Liberal MP Jim Peterson won the riding last time for the Grits by 14,000 votes, however, a significant portion of that support rested in Peterson’s popular personality rather than the Liberal Party. Yet, Willowdale should be a challenging riding for the Tories to pick up. At this point, the NDP have yet to forward a candidate and Harquail would only benefit from a strong NDP effort in that riding against the Grits.

Mark Warner will be challenging for Toronto Centre. Warner is a lawyer will some impressive credentials that include lecturing in law and practicing for the OECD internationally. In the riding, Warner will have a bit of work to do as the Tories only secured 18% of the vote in the last election. We may, however, see some split with the “progressive” side of the spectrum with NDP voters showing up to vote against Rae, and a relatively stronger Green presence there. Plus as Warner is running for the incumbent government, this may produce a small boost. Warner was acclaimed February 9th and has already hosted a couple of successful fundraisers including one with justice minister Rob Nicholson and popular Ontario candidate Tim Hudak. Despite the good fundraising start, Warner is still a bit of a long shot in this realist’s opinion.

I’ve heard from a couple of senior Tories that the by-elections will be called after the provincial election. Former Toronto city councillor David Shiner, the provincial challenger in Willowdale is likely to be a bellwether for Harquail’s success in that same riding federally. The Tories may be angling to hold the federal contests after the provincial election in order not to be seen as interfering in provincial politics and to tap into the mood of the electorate after the provincial contest (whether to balance a McGuinty win, or buttress a breakthrough by John Tory)

Adjournment

Negotiations are currently underway, and barring some procedural snafu, the rumour is that we’ll see adjournment of the House either today or tomorrow. That’s the current word from the gossip-hounds on the Hill.

UPDATE: Peter van Loan, the government House leader has moved for emergency debate on two pieces of legislation. Yes, they’re pushing through to wrap up soon.

UPDATE (Friday afternoon): Alas, it’s not to be. Liberals and Conservatives (and journalists) are complaining that its the NDP that’s holding up the House. But good news, the latest consensus estimate is that the House will break after Monday with unanimous consent.

New Conservative Ads

The Conservatives have launched their second barrage of ads this morning along the “Stephane Dion is not a leader” line.

This time, the Tories are focusing on Dion and the Senate and the obstructionist tactics that the Conservatives alledge the Liberals are using there.

NotALeader.ca was also launched today by the Conservatives and it features the blog of Kyoto the dog. Kyoto’s site is sure to be one of best Liberal blogs. The site also features the ads that were released today.

On the main Conservative.ca website, e-cards are featured and you can send your friends a flash animation of the Dion’s Senate tactics.

The ads have been launched to mark the dubious one year anniversary of Senate bill S-4, a bill to reduce the terms of senators to 8 years.

Conservatives, in the ads point out that senators can serve up to 45 years (until the age of 75).

Stephane Dion is on the record supporting limited Senate terms, however, he has been unable to get the bill passed by his own senators for one year now. Is Dion ineffective, or does he really favour the status quo.

Canadians have been interested in democratic reform, not the status quo and they’ve been interested in change for quite some time. The Liberals are obstructing legislation in the unelected, unaccountable Upper Chamber. Are the Liberals more interested in protecting entitlements instead of respecting the desire for reform?

Only one vote so far…

A whip, in a legislature, is the member of a party who is responsible for ensuring member attendance at votes, for handing out offices, standing committee assignments and seat location in the House. Whips are also famously known for enforcing party discipline.

For the Conservative Party, that title (and the responsibility that goes with it) lies in the hands of Jay Hill, an MP elected under the Reform banner back in 1993. Hill has been the whip for the Conservative Party, the PC-DRC, the Canadian Alliance and Reform Party which likely makes him the only person to be a whip in four parties in any country with a parliamentary system of government.

I’ve chatted with Hill on a number of occasions and he once told me that the only vote outcome which the Conservative government didn’t know before hand was that of the Afghanistan mission extension. Every other vote result (not totals per se, but ultimate outcome) was known by the government before the MPs voted. Quite an interesting fact from this 39th session of Parliament, I thought. (Of course, since this was communicated to me in private I contacted Hill’s office to get the “OK” before writing it here.)

The Afghanistan mission extension vote passed by a narrow margin last May (149-145).