Responding to Paul Wells…

Today Paul Wells wrote a piece in which he supported the thesis of a post I wrote back on July 22. However, he thought he noted a bit of an inconsistency between my post and later tweets,

I’ve been mystified by Stephen Harper’s willingness to squander so much political capital on an issue as trivial as the long-form census. Only slightly less so by the media’s piling on, treating this as a matter of great national importance, and by the level of emotional investment so many apparently attach to census-gathering.

The opposition? They’re just reveling in the unexpected bounty of low-hanging political fruit, and Tory self-inflicted injury.

I don’t get it. It’s just not that big a deal – either way.

— Charles W. Moore, New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, today

Stephen Harper seeks to diminish or destroy the Liberal Party to replace them with the Conservatives as Canada’s default choice for government. His greatest challenge is to dismantle the modern welfare state. If it can’t be measured, future governments can’t pander.

— Blogger Stephen Taylor, July 22.

That’s the choice, I suppose. Either what the Harper government is doing with the long-form census doesn’t matter, or it does. Obviously Moore has a lot more company than Taylor does. Indeed, lately Moore’s company includes Taylor: since July 22 this whole business has gotten too hot for Stephen’s liking and in his blog and on Twitter he’s joined the nobody-cares crowd, arguing that this whole business is an invention of the “push media,” by which he means news organizations that cover a story he doesn’t like for longer than he likes.

There is obviously a bit of confusion because after I wrote that blog post, I took to twitter and wrote this:

When members of Parl ConCensus Gallery aren’t push reporting stories on Census/Prorogation, they’re auditioning for Iggy’s PressSec on #lpcx — @stephen_taylor

I noted a similarity to that earlier sleepy story of the year called prorogation when the Toronto Star breathlessly plastered its front page describing a “fury” of Canadians against prorogation because 20,000 people had joined a Facebook group! Sure enough, while 20,000 people seeded interest in the story, the media took the ball from there and covered it and covered it for the next three weeks and it wasn’t too surprising that the millions of dollars in free media coverage netted that Facebook group over 150,000 members!

To address Wells specifically, he sees a bit of a disconnect between my suggestion that the PM is really using the census issue to dismantle the welfare state and my assertion that “nobody cares” about this story.

However, in my original article I wrote this:

QMI’s David Akin exclaimed surprise that from his cell within the beehive of special interests that is Ottawa, he was shocked to find that a full half — that other half — of Canadians aren’t upset about the changes to the census when it seems that’s the only thing the other bees seem to be buzzing about. The story that “just won’t go away” is a flurry of activity “inside the beehive”, because until you go outside, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Two things: I still standby my thesis that I believe that chucking mandatory nature of the long-form is a move to dismantle the welfare state (and that this is a move in the right direction). And two, nobody cares outside of the beehive. It’s the media that is pushing the story outside of the beehive walls propelled by the loud buzz of special interests.

If you were to poll typical Canadians and asked them, “what is the biggest issue facing you and your family”, I’d venture a guess that most would not respond that “the changing of the long-form census to a voluntary survey” ranks high on their list.

“Nobody cares” is a simplification; nobody cares outside of the beehive. The swarm of special interests sure does care. Other Canadians? They’re at the cottage, or BBQing on their decks. Does bugspray keep bees away too?

As for my trouble-making behaviour, I make no apologies. Sometimes it’s fun to throw rocks at beehives.

Census change is about smaller government

I received a call today from a reporter around noon about what he conceded was “the story that just won’t go away”. He was, of course, talking about the census. He wanted to know if I could pass on a few names of possible interviews for right-wingers that support the government’s stand to scrap the long-form census. Of course, there are the folks over at the Western Standard who are taking up their obvious position against the mandatory “burden”, but in broader view, it got me thinking about who opposes the government’s plan and why the story would not just go away.

Every day it seems that there’s a new group of people lining up to bemoan the Industry Minister’s announcement that the census would forego the long-form. Certainly, this illustrates a serious problem that Stephen Harper faces as Prime Minister. Facing an opposition that can’t get its act together is one thing, but a nation where the voices of special interests are louder than ordinary citizens is another.

Indeed in this country, there are two groups of people. In fact, some would call these groups the haves and the have-nots. This is an not inaccurate way of describing it, but those that would might have the two switched. Canadians form two groups: those that receive from the government and those pay to the government. Those who form — or are constituent to — organizations dependent on government policy (and spending) are firmly against the changes to the census. Those on the other side are largely ambivalent because they are the large, unorganized and unsubsidized net taxpaying masses.

The conservative/libertarian Fraser Institute think tank’s motto is “if it matters, measure it”. The untruth of the inverse of this statement is at the centre of why this government should follow through. “If you measure it, it matters” is the motto of those net tax receiving organizations who only matter if they can make their case. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried the ideological argument against these groups for years. But ideology is by its nature debatable; removing the framework of debate is his shortcut to victory.

If Stephen Harper succeeds in moving in this direction, he will be in the initial stages of dealing a huge blow to the welfare state. If one day we have no idea how many divorced Hindu public transit users there are in East Vancouver, government policy will not be concocted to address them specifically. Indeed if this group were organized (the DHPTUEV?) and looking for government intervention, they’d be against the census change. The trouble is that in Canada, the non-affiliated taxpayers not looking for a handout have not organized. Indeed, the only dog they have in this fight is the amount of tax they pay (aka “transfers”) to sustain the interests of others.

QMI’s David Akin exclaimed surprise that from his cell within the beehive of special interests that is Ottawa, he was shocked to find that a full half — that other half — of Canadians aren’t upset about the changes to the census when it seems that’s the only thing the other bees seem to be buzzing about. The story that “just won’t go away” is a flurry of activity “inside the beehive”, because until you go outside, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

The other recent Lockheed Martin-related news story of the past couple of weeks was the Conservative government’s huge sole-sourced $16 Billion contract with Lockheed Martin to buy F-35 fighter jets. Perhaps I was a bit naive to think that every part of that sentence should be offensive to the Ottawa media… sole-sourced… American arms dealer… flying war machines… Conservative government. No, this largest military purchase in Canadian history didn’t even make a significant blip on the Ottawa establishment radar, simply because it didn’t challenge the position of any special interest groups. There’s no bevy of community/cultural/government organizations ready to line up to criticize/laud such a move. If the government had taken $16 Billion out of HRSDC’s $80+ Billion annual budget to pay for it, however, there’d be a swarm.

I believe that this Prime Minister has a few objectives in mind as he integrates seemingly transactional initiatives into something transformative. First, he merged the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance to challenge what seemed to be entrenched Liberal electoral domination. Through initiatives such as financial starvation via election finance reform and ideological force-feeding on the policy front, Stephen Harper seeks to diminish or destroy the Liberal Party to replace them with the Conservatives as Canada’s default choice for government. His greatest challenge is to dismantle the modern welfare state. If it can’t be measured, future governments can’t pander. I imagine that Stephen Harper’s view, Canada should be a country of individual initiative, not one of collective dependence “justified” through the collection of data.

KoryTV application form leaked

Kory Teneycke made news last week regarding his project to launch a “Fox News Canada” with the backing of Quebecor who owns Sun Media. News of reporters already being snatched up by Sun is circulating wildly and already includes David Akin and Brian Lilley as new recruits to the TV venture. We’ve obtained (no, not really) a copy of the application form that reporters, eager to work for the new network, are filling out to apply for work.

And unlike a lot of Ottawa reporting, the correct answer here isn’t all that nuanced.

Related topic: The Toronto Star and the Atkinson principles

Iggy skips out of economic conference to go back to Harvard?

“If I am not elected, I imagine that I will ask Harvard to let me back” — Michael Ignatieff to the Harvard Crimson published November 30th, 2005

Given Michael Ignatieff’s recent troubles in the polls it appears that he is retreating to his safety zone.

Here is the October 15th media advisory from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce listing Michael Ignatieff among the distinguished speakers to discuss “Canada’s competitive edge and economic prosperity” on October 21st. Michael Ignatieff is scheduled for the 8:10am timeslot where the Liberal leader is scheduled to discuss, “Canada on the world stage: keys to success”.

But here is today’s updated schedule for the same event:

Bob Rae is now listed in the 8:10am timeslot and Michael Ignatieff is off the schedule. Why would the Liberal leader skip out on a discussion about Canada’s future economic prosperity? The economy is the #1 issue to Canadians and Mr. Ignatieff has been trying to outline an economic agenda so that the Liberals can compete with the Conservatives in the next election, or at least outline their agenda before the next budget. So, did the Liberal leader have a better offer?

It appears that he did.

Michael Ignatieff is scheduled to speak on a panel at Harvard to some friends at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy on Wednesday October 21st. Ignatieff is scheduled to speak on a panel titled “Why Human Rights Matter: Human Rights as Public Service”.

UPDATE: Now, we learn from David Akin that “OLO calls to say organizers jumped the gun Iggy staying in ottawa”

How did “organizers [jump] the gun” when Ignatieff was scheduled to speak at a conference, but then days later he is removed and replaced by Bob Rae? It appears that the schedule change could have been deliberate to fit Iggy’s opportunity to return to Harvard to give a talk to his fellow Crimsons.

This incident is reminiscent of Michael Ignatieff’s jaunt to the UK to deliver the Isaiah Berlin lecture in the summer while some Canadians wondered why he wasn’t politicking at home.

Stephen Harper skipped out on a crazy Muammar Gaddafi speech at the U.N. to return to Canada to discuss the economy and he got an earful from concerned Liberals. Until just minutes ago, Michael Ignatieff appeared to be skipping out on a Canadian economic discussion to fly to the US to speak on a human rights panel.

PM snubbed? Not so fast, bub

David Akin is reporting a conversation he saw on CTV News Channel between anchor Dan Matheson and a DC radio host who characterized Prime Minister Harper’s welcoming at the White House today by some “[unknown] woman”

Here is UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown greeted at the White House by Acting US Chief of Protocol Gladys Boluda on March 3rd of this year.

Was this an “unbelievable insult and snub” or a radio host less familiar with protocol than say, the acting US chief of protocol?

I can’t mesh these two statements together because they must not relate to the same:
“unbelievable insult and snub” and “I must be fair, when it came to Gordon Brown, they did the same thing”

So is it a snub, or is it standard operating procedure?

To the Liberals and media making a story out of this… you can do better.

Here’s the CTV News Channel conversation reporter by Akin:

Matheson: Mr. Plotkin, I take it that it matters who greets you at the White House. I didn’t see Barack Obama there as Stephen Harper was being ushered in.

Plotkin: I’m not being hyperbolic or inflammatory but I thought it was an unbelievable insult and snub. If you are – quote – important, the president comes out and greets you as you depart from the car and ushers you in.

I am supposed to know something about American politics, and believe me, I do not know who the woman was who greeted [your prime minister].

I tried to find out and I was told by the national security press advisor that supposedly that was the deputy chief of protocol, not the chief of protocol of the state department.

… I don’t know if it was deliberate or accidental, but it surely was not a symbolic gesture of friendship and it was really, in my mind, demeaning.

Matheson: Does this go hand in glove with the way [UK Prime Minister] Gordon Brown was treated? At one time, the Brits were called the greatest friend America has in the world, and that was a couple years ago, and we, of course, are American’s greatest trading partner. What’s going on here? What do you make of this?

Plotkin: Well, what I think of it — I scoured the Washington Post which every – quote – opinion maker reads and there were two scintillas of mention – very, very brief about this visit.

One just said [Harper] was meeting with [Obama], and then there was some other passing reference that had nothing to do with the visit, but just with Canada, and how you’re our good neighbor. You don’t cause any trouble. You don’t have drug wars that we know about. You don’t plan to invade … and you’re taken for granted. You’re the neighbor who we can count on and we can rely on and is really our very nice neighbor but we really don’t invite them in for holiday parties or when there are serious things. So this, to me, is a very pro forma visit. I must be fair, when it came to Gordon Brown, they did the same thing. I’ve been told here that Canadian reporters are getting one question [of Harper and Obama] and an American reporter is getting one question and that’s it. If you are really significant, important, big, huge, you get something in the east room which is a joint press conference where the prime minister and the president would stand there with their flags and they would receive inquiries and questions. To call this downplayed visit is an overstatement.

He said “tar baby”? Who else did?

Today in the house, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said,

“On that side of the House, they have the man who fathered the carbon tax, put it up for adoption to his predecessor and now wants a paternity test to prove the tar baby was never his in the first place”

This caused a stir on the opposition benches and caused Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale to ask Poilievre to withdraw and deemed the term “racist”.

Here are some recent uses of the term by journalists including Chantal Hebert.

“The nasty legal squabble over who owns the cash-strapped Phoenix Coyotes and whether they can relocate to Hamilton is hardly the first such tar baby the NHL has dealt with, and it won’t be the last.” (John Mackinnon, Edmonton Journal, May 18, 2009).

“It’s a Tory/Liberal tar baby and I’ve lost faith that they can do anything but keep changing the minister and pretend everything’s under control.” (Ralph Surette, Halifax Chronicle Herald, February 14, 2009).

“At this stage, the McTeague bill looks more like a Liberal tar baby than a party brainchild.” (Chantal Hebert, The Toronto Star, March 12, 2008).

“Along the way, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois has got herself in trouble with the usual suspects as she fumbles with the language tar baby and prepares for one of those gawdawful national council meetings the PQ caribous use to exasperate and humiliate the unfortunate chief of the moment.” (Norman Webster, Montreal Gazette, February 17, 2008).

“Marois’s effort to shake off the referendum tar baby is good news…” (Editorial, Cynical PQ bid to rebrand party, The Toronto Star, Friday, March 7, 2008).

“Same-sex marriage has generally been treated like a political tar baby over the past few years, with most parties reluctant to whip up highly sensitive arguments touching on religion and deeply rooted social values.” (Susan Delacourt, Martin could exploit gay-marriage gift, The Hamilton Spectator, Friday, December 10, 2004).

“Nobody is saying you toss over your U.S. relations. Of course you don’t. But it doesn’t mean to say you have to become slavishly connected like some kind of tar baby with them.” (Lloyd Axworthy, Canada’s new leader to improve U.S. ties, Detroit Free Press, Thursday, December 11, 2003).

h/t: David Akin

Is Michael Ignatieff the next Gandhi?

Watch this video produced by a Liberal Party supporter (we presume) that I found discussed in detail on David Akin’s blog.

Akin writes,

“The Visitor” ad, above, seems to be a creation of a Liberal supporter and is being distributed on YouTube. It spoofs the “Just Visiting” spot, below, which is a creation of The Conservative Party of Canada and is being shown as a paid ad on Canadian network television.

It seems clear that Liberals (I assume they are Liberals) are having a certain amount of fun riffing off of the Conservative “Just Visiting” attack ads. Here’s one from the Libs that accuses Mahatma Gandhi of being a mere arriviste for Indian independence. I’ve put up the YouTube links to both ads here on the assumption that you need to see the original (on the bottom) in order to get the joke (on the top.)

Now, here’s a great article by a columnist for Forbes magazine in the United States. In her piece titled “Cosmopolitan Patriot – Michael Ignatieff’s love letter to Canada”, Elisabeth Eaves makes the point beautifully that I would make to the attempted equivalence made above.

If your country is plagued by chaos and autocracy, no one thinks there’s anything wrong with your spending many years abroad before returning to take charge. Witness the post-Soviet leaders who returned to Eastern Europe, or one-time exiles like Jose Ramos Horta or Benazir Bhutto. There is an acceptance that whatever ideas about governance one may have picked up abroad, they can’t be any worse than the modus operandi back home, and that in any case, if the returning politician had stayed home, he or she would be dead.

When you come from a thriving democracy with a high standard of living, though, and try to pull off the prodigal son routine, you have a little more explaining to do. Such is the conundrum in which Michael Ignatieff finds himself. British radio and television host; American public intellectual; author of 15 books of history, biography, memoir, politics and fiction, “Iggy” returned to Canada in 2005 after 27 years elsewhere, ran for office, and in 2006 became a member of parliament for the opposition Liberal Party

Click here for the rest of the article.

Press Gallery off message

Sun Media’s Elizabeth Thompson:

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper described last Fall’s stock market dive as “a great buying opportunity,” it was seen by many as a bit insensitive, given the number of Canadians who had just seen a good chunk of their retirement savings melt away.

On Feb.10, when the S&P/TSX hit 8,817.89 – one of the lower points since Harper’s comments – an anonymous tech savvy individual registered the web address and created the Harperdex, which set out to track how much the $1,000 invested the day after Harper’s comments would be worth.
But stock markets are like public opinion polls and what goes down eventually goes up again. At noon today, the Harperdex shows that $1,000 is now worth $1,003 – probably not what the creator of the Harperdex had in mind.

Oh, Liz… you presume too much!

We learn from Canwest’s David Akin,

Ottawa Citizen reporter Glen McGregor quickly put up HarperDex.ca (mostly, he says, as a fun exercise in some Web programming techniques). The idea was simple: If you had invested $1,000 in the S&P/TSX Composite Index the day after Harper said “Buy”, the HarperDex will tell you what that $1,000 is worth.

It’s good to see that the Liberals are getting some help creating anti-Harper mini-sites. Now, if only we could find out which journalist is moonlighting as Perez Hudak?

Harper cuts travel grants to artists

When Guy Giorno took over the chief of staff’s office to the Prime Minister, he rounded up the Ministerial chiefs, the directors of communications and senior PMO staff and told them the same thing: this is essentially an election year and everything that we do from now on will be proactive, direct and obviously political. Giorno’s “be political” theme will set the tone of this government as it moves into the fall when opposition leader Stephane Dion blusters about defeating the government, into the winter when Dion threatens to defeat the government over the budget and into the fall of 2009 when the government’s mandate comes up for renewal due to the fixed election date legislation the Prime Minister’s tabled early in this term.

Today, in the National Post, David Akin writes about Conservatives cutting travel grants to Canadian artists. Surprisingly, at least to this observer, is that this money comes under the mandate of Foreign Affairs. Sending artists to film festivals and to columnists to give lectures in communist countries would more appropriately be fixed in the department of Canadian Heritage but that’s another discussion. The government’s political staffers have found some cash that is sure to enrage the arts community and as a side-benefit, show ordinary hard-working 9-5 Canadians that their tax dollars are sending others overseas while they put together their savings (after filing their income tax) over the months to put the kids in a minivan and drive down to Disneyworld for a week.

You can tell that Giorno’s people are executing the “be political” strategy in the quotes provided to David Akin by government staffers.

On Gwynne Dyer’s government grant to travel to a popular Canadian vacation destination to “[create] greater awareness and appreciation of Canadian foreign policy … within key audiences of Cuban decision makers and opinion leaders.” political staffers explained that

“[Dyer’s] a left-wing columnist and author who has plenty of money to travel on his own.”

On the North-South Institute

“[it’s] a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank … Why are we paying for these people to attend anti-Western conferences in Cuba?”

Canadian artists are not on PMO director of strategic planning Patrick Muttart’s radar as these folks have never likely voted Conservative and never will. This move to cut taxpayer money from these groups for foreign travel will cause outrage among that community and will in turn, the Conservatives are predicting, will show other Canadians that the government is defending their interests instead.

This is an obvious political move by PMO and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Conservative Party comps Sarah Polley’s airfare the next time she comes to Ottawa to hold a press conference.

Here’s a summary of the Arts Promotion Projects funded in 2006-2007:

Read this document on Scribd: 2006-2007 Annual Report-en

Jason Kenney accusing Liberal Party of “Tammany Hall operation of patronage”

Consider this quote from Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity Jason Kenney that he gave to reporters last week after caucus in Lévis, Quebec:

“Typically, I think, the Liberals pursued what some people have called an ethnic-brokerage model of outreach, where they would identify leaders of certain groups who somehow magically would become the recipients of substantial grants and subsidies for their community organizations”

What is Kenney talking about? A quick Google search found this:

TORONTO, February 9, 2005 — Member of Parliament (Scarborough–Agincourt) Jim Karygiannis, on behalf of Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women Liza Frulla, today announced $46,275 in funding for the Canadian Arab Federation. The funds will allow the organization to develop its own Web site.

“Until now, there really has been no Web site highlighting all the many contributions made by Canadians of Arab origin to our society,” said Mr. Karygiannis. “This project will help Web users from Canada and abroad to better understand this vast community.”

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Minister responsible for Ontario Joseph Volpe added his support. “This Web site will be a valuable networking tool for members of the Arab-Canadian community,” said Minister Volpe.

“The Internet enables us to engage in dialogue with people of all backgrounds and all cultures,” said Minister Frulla. “If we wish to build a truly diverse society in which all communities are represented, we must invest in Web sites like this one.”

Let’s check out what $46,275 buys in web development.


Click here to visit the website

This website features a nice splash page that goes to a website that doesn’t appear to be maintained as it features broken links and an event calendar long forgotten. The website’s content doesn’t seem have taken much time to produce as some of the text has been lifted from other sources online.

I emailed Jason Kenney’s office for a reaction, and received comment from Alykhan Velshi, Kenney’s Director of Communications.

“It really is outrageous the way that Liberal-friendly ethnic community leaders would find their loyalty rewarded with government handouts. To say the problem was systematic understates, I think palpably, the extent of the Tammany Hall operation the Liberals tried to build when in government.”

“[The Canadian Arab Federation] current National President Khaled Mouammar is a former Liberal political appointee who gained some notoriety for his role in the last Liberal leadership campaign. CAF’s previous National President is Omar Alghabra, a Liberal MP elected in 2006.

“Between 2003 and 2005, when Alghabra was CAF’s president, CAF received more than $400,000 in hand-outs from the Department of Canadian Heritage alone.

“They were awarded a $330,565 grant to ‘build organisational capacity’, another $46,399 to ‘communicate effectively with governments at all levels’, and a further $46,275 to design a website.”

Yet this problem doesn’t only reside with Liberals. Canwest’s David Akin points out the (for lack of a better term) pork that the Conservatives have been delivering too. Is this spending necessary?

UPDATE: Interesting question. If the CAF website was produced in partnership with Canadian Heritage, why isn’t it in both official languages?