Governor General speculation!

The Star kicked it off and the Wicary at the Globe is trending the topic, so I might as well add my own two cents to the story.

I usually don’t report on the daily non-political lives of people in Ottawa because, well, there’s a certain line to be respected and sometime you just let people be. However, I made a particular observation about a month ago that I only then shared with friends in casual discussion, yet it now seems to inform a broader political context so I’ll share it here. I spotted the Governor General and her husband furniture shopping. Yes, Rideau Hall comes fully stocked but yet not stocked with the sort of timber that this middle-of-the-road sort of store had to offer.

So, why were the Viceregal and the Viceregal Consort shopping for furniture? With the revelation that the PM is actively seeking Michaelle Jean’s replacement, perhaps we now know the answer.

Now, the speculation begins for Jean’s replacement.

My guess as to who the PM will pick is Wayne Gretzky. The PM has made a special effort to normalize the idea of a good working relationship between himself and the Great One. Earlier this year, the PM hosted a reception with Gretzky for the Kinsmen club and hung out with Gretzky at some key Olympic events. The PM’s favourite photo ops are also said to be with athletes.

Some would point out that Gretzky’s french isn’t fantastic. He wouldn’t be the first Governor General to struggle with the language as Ray Hnatyshyn’s french abilities were also criticized.

The PM’s choice of Gretzky would be politically sound as no opposition MP or oped editorialist would find much currency in criticizing the choice.

Rally for Canada today!

Today, in 24 cities coast-to-coast-to-coast, Canadians will assemble at legislatures, city halls and other gathering locations to send a message to Ottawa.

They will let the Parliamentarians know that they are concerned about political games at a time of economic crisis and that the last thing Canada needs now is political instability. Many Canadians breathed a sigh of relief when the Governor General granted the Prime Minister a prorogation of Parliament. This is encouraging because the Minister of Finance will continue to tend to Canada’s books and there over the next 90 days at least, we’ll see a sound and stable political direction on the economic file.

I had no idea that RallyforCanada.ca would receive such a response. Since Monday, the website has received hundreds of thousands of hits and tens of thousands of people have signed up with their email addresses to indicate that they either want to organize or participate in a rally today. It is a grassroots movement; a couple of guys named Matt O’Brien and Ed Woolley started a Facebook event while I kicked off RallyforCanada.ca to draw as many people as possible to the somewhat bizarre idea of rallying for the status quo and against a threat to its stability. We want to rally for the democratic principles of Canada, to let Parliamentarians know that while they within their technical right to flip power at any time, doing so after a Prime Minister earns a mandate on the issue of the economic downturn lacks moral authority and is nothing but a cynical grab for power.

If you’re headed out to a rally today, I’d love to hear your story when you return. Drop me an email or put a comment in this thread. Rally participants will be twittering, youtubing and flickr-ing so hopefully we’ll have some content up soon.

Dress warm, stay safe and enjoy the day.

Fact, fiction and speculation

Fact: “The Liberal Opposition plans to introduce a non-confidence motion in the House of Commons on Monday” (source)

But: Notice of motions are introduced regularly by the opposition. Motions are always introduced in advance. Generally five motions are introduced. The Liberals having a confidence motion on the table are simply having the confidence motion on the table as an option. Potential motions must prested in advance and today (Friday) is the earliest opportunity for the opposition to have that option on the table for Monday. They may not actually move on voting on the motion.

Speculation: Anybody wonder why Stephane Dion didn’t immediately step down after the election? His people have been quiet on his prospects as leader of a coalition government. In the Liberal constitution, if I remember correctly, the only way Dion can be replaced in a pinch is if he either dies or resigns. If Dion doesn’t resign, the Liberals may govern under Dion if a coalition is formed.

Fiction: A new Bloc-Liberal-NDP coalition government would be viable beyond their agreement on the $1.95-per-vote subsidy.

Speculation: If the Liberals-NDP believe they can form a coalition with tangential Bloc support, the GG may have no other option to call an election as 77+37=114 LPC/NDP vs. CPC’s 143. The GG may see this as the only stable option.

Fact: The Conservatives (in the broader picture) want to move forward on the economy. The opposition wanted to hold the government back on the campaign welfare package.

Fact: The Throne Speech passed in the House yesterday after the economic statement was read. The opposition approved the government’s mandate knowing full well that they’d be bringing it to the brink this weekend.

Fact: On mandates, if the Liberals were to form government, they would do so after receiving the lowest proportion of votes in their party’s history. Further, if Dion does resign and if Ignatieff does become Prime Minister, he would do so without having been presented to Canadians during the democratic process that we call elections. Talk about an affront to democracy!

Fact: The opposition accused the government of not having a plan for the economy during an election and now they accuse the government of the same now. What has changed? The Conservatives now want to end campaign welfare.

Fact: Cooler heads recognize that the American elephant will move on the economy in new year and that any action with respect to our integrated economies would be better done in coordination rather than prematurely.

Speculation: Canadians will not accept a surprise Liberal-NDP coalition backed by a party that wants to destroy the country that would stand to be dismantled under the proposed funding changes of the Conservative government. By opposing campaign welfare reform, the Liberals are sustaining the existence of the Bloc for their own ambition. Canadians will not accept a surprise Prime Minister unvetted by the electorate.

Speculation: What are the terms of a NDP-backed Liberal coalition government? Cancellation of the $50 Billion corporate tax cut? What are the Bloc’s terms?

First Speech from the Throne of the 40th Parliament

Reactions (if you represent a stakeholder and would like to see your release quoted here, email me):

Liberal:

The official Opposition is focused on making Parliament work for all Canadians during this time of economic turmoil and will not oppose today’s Speech from the Throne, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said today.

“By electing a minority government, Canadians are asking Parliament to work together to see our country through the economic challenges that we now face,” said Mr. Dion. “Demanding strong action from this government on the economy will be our primary task as the official Opposition.”

NDP:

“It’s more of the same and people . . . want bold action” (no statement yet on the NDP site)

Canadian Taxpayers Federation:

Today’s throne speech earns a mixed review … The speech contains some good, some bad, and in some cases, downright ugly news for taxpayers moving forward in uncertain economic times.

The federal government will find Canadians are receptive to taking aim at wasteful programs, and a pledge to control the growth in the size and cost of the public service is welcome news. … It is unacceptable that a modern 21st century democracy appoints one quarter of its lawmakers. Keeping Senate reform on the agenda is a good move.

The Throne Speech seems to prepare for a return to deficit spending when it states that it would be “misguided to commit to a balanced budget at any cost.” … It is worrisome that a responsible government would be prepared to spend more than it takes in during tough times … Responsible Canadians do not have this luxury, why should governments? The federal government should leave no stone unturned in its pursuit of keeping the books in the black and getting spending under control is the first step … Taxpayers should be warned that a ‘cap-and-trade’ tax scheme is the evil twin of a carbon tax. Either way, it means higher energy prices and a costly bureaucratic mess that couldn’t come at a worse time. … Also, ugly is a commitment to offer further aid to the auto and aerospace industries.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

The Government of Canada has recognized the need to boost Canada’s economy in the face of worldwide financial turmoil and an impending recession, and it has chosen infrastructure spending as one of the remedies. We agree with the diagnosis and applaud this choice of remedy. Spending on infrastructure is a tried-and-true response to an economic slowdown. A study released by FCM earlier this month shows that accelerated infrastructure spending is the best way to boost our country’s economy and immunize it against a recession.

National Union of Public and General Employees:

It’s clear from this throne speech that the Harper government doesn’t view healthcare as a top priority and in fact seems to suggest the job is pretty much done.

That’s a huge disappointment for over-worked health professionals and patients waiting for critical services who are expecting and demanding national leadership on healthcare issues.

Canadian Labour Congress:

Today’s Throne Speech offers little hope or assurance to thousands of people being hit hard by the economic crisis, says Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“This speech is supposed to put forward the government’s vision for the future,” Georgetti says, “but what Canadians heard today won’t help them sleep any easier tonight and some of what they heard may well give them nightmares. People want jobs and if they lose them they want protection but I don’t see those promises here.”

Canadian Housing and Renewal Association:

We commend the federal government for remembering that four million Canadians still cannot afford adequate housing and that 300,000 people experience homelessness in Canada annually. Today’s throne speech made promises for health care, jobs, the environment, and family life in order to help Canadians fully participate in the economy and in society, and it has to be remembered that housing is the foundation of this participation and therefore needs to be a top priority.

Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada:

Today’s Speech from the Throne gives some hope for the four million Canadians who lack decent affordable housing, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada said today. The government committed to extending the Homelessness Partnering Strategy and helping more Canadians find affordable housing.

The Canadian Lung Association:

The Lung Association is pleased to see the government’s Throne Speech commitment to improving the lung health of Canadians.

Approximately 6 million people in Canada struggle with asthma, COPD, lung cancer and other lung diseases. The fact that the government has recognized how critical it is to improve the lung health of Canadians is excellent news and a clear sign that they wish to continue partnering on building a Canada free of lung disease.

Canadian Bankers Association:

he Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) fully supports the federal government’s commitment to a common securities regulator in Canada as announced in today’s Speech from the Throne. This step, along with other recent initiatives to facilitate credit markets in Canada, indicates that the government continues to take an appropriate and measured approach to deal with the global economic situation.

Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association:

In its Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada has pledged “To further reduce the cost pressures on Canadian business, our Government will take measures to encourage companies to invest in new machinery and equipment.”

The Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association (CCPA), along with other manufacturers, has been advocating such measures.

Canadian Association of Retired Persons:

CARP chapters and retiree groups were disappointed to learn that no action was promised in the Throne Speech to address the threats to their retirement security wrought by the current market chaos.

CARP chapters and other retiree groups across the cross country assembled to listen to the Throne Speech in the hopes of hearing what the government would do to respond to the clamour for immediate relief and longer term protection of their pensions.

Fiction Friday: The CBC’s secret GG training grounds

This week, Paul Martin appointed a new Governor General and thus ensured a stunning repeat for the CBC. Rob Johnston heads the CBC’s Cultural Installation Department: a little-known collective within the nation’s broadcaster that grooms, educates, and provides professional support for future Governor Generals. He was kind enough to provide a tour.

As we walk through the large atrium of CBC HQ on Front street in downtown Toronto, Rob motions towards the front desk and quips with a short smile, “It all begins there for the bright eyed graduates from Ryerson with the proper Cape Breton accents (called CBC English, as I’ve learned). But if you really want to get ahead here, you’ll have to learn how to talk the talk.” Interested, I encourage Rob to explain as we take the elevator up to the third floor. “Well, for example, when referring to Kansans who don’t believe in evolution, not only are they Christian but they are properly labelled ‘conservative’ Christians. Middle-Eastern Imams that encourage extremism are also called ‘conservative’, and any pro-American organization can also be referred to as ‘conservative’. Pretty much any political position that counters the CBC’s image for Canada is called ‘conservative’. It also has the effect of keeping our patrons in power and the cheques from bouncing. Neil McDonald is a master at ‘The Talk’. If you get a chance, speak with Neil.”

On the third floor, we enter another reception area where we both sign-in. After a pleasant nod from the receptionist, we exit the reception area and and walk down a large hallway. The hallway is lined with framed B&W photos of smiling alumni of the GG grooming program. Johnston remarks, “Of course not everyone makes it to the top, but we’re still proud of our many ‘graduates’.” Among the photos I notice Susan Murray, Carole Taylor, Romeo Leblanc and Adrienne Clarkson and of course Michaelle Jean. I stop before a portrait of a smiling, blond and attractive woman. “Is that Mitsou Gelinas?” I ask, somewhat surprised. Rob responds empathetically despondent, “Poor Mitsou was such a mess last week when she found out [about Michaelle Jean’s appointment]. She was the PMO’s other French-Canadian option and she took the news with much sadness. I comforted her, as I always comfort those who are passed-over by reminding them that there’s always the Senate…”

We come to a large set of double doors and my host unlatches a heavy latch, weathered by generations of patronage, and swings open the heavy doors. A large room opens before us and the current crop of vice-regal hopefuls is all there. I look around and see CBC personalities at desks writing an exam while a few staffers wait ready with imported bottled water.

To the left I see that Heather Hiscox is reciting a language lesson, “insurgent, extremist, gunman, militant, um, um… terrorist?” The instructor slams a ruler on her desk and exclaims emphatically, “WRONG! See me after class.” Over on the other side of the room, George Stroumboulopoulos is performing Queen Elizabeth’s trademark Royal Wave for himself in the mirror as he smirks with a sense of absurdity and humour. Johnston rolls his eyes and explains, “George, as you are likely aware, is a new recruit. He requires a bit of maturation, but I believe that he’ll make a great Governor General one day.”

As the tour of the facility ends and as we’re walking out the door, I spot Peter Mansbridge, in a tracksuit, doing side-bends, with an utter expression of futility on his face. Rob explains, “He’s been waiting for his phone call for ages. He even plays golf with the Paul Martin, but it seems to have no effect.”

Next Governer General is Michaelle Jean

The official announcement will come tomorrow at 11 am EST. But word has leaked that CBC Personality Michaelle Jean will be the next Governer General of Canada.

From the CBC website:

governor-general-michaelle-jean.jpg

Since 1995, Jean has served as a host/reporter on many RDI programs such as Le Monde ce soir, L’Edition quebecoise, Horizons francophones, le Journal RDI and RDI à l’écoute. She has also dealt with challenging themes such as the Roman Catholic Church in a four-day debate entitled “Le Pape en France, pedophilia in L’enfance volée” and Chinese politics in “La rétrocession de Hong Kong à la Chine.” Among her many awards: the Amnesty International Journalism Award in 1995 for a 15-part series on women; the 1994 Anik Prize for information reporting and the 2000 Galaxi Award for best information program host.

Jean has also worked with renowned filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond to produce three independent documentaries: L’heure de Cuba (1999), about the 40th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Tropique Nord (1994) about being black in Quebec and the Hot Docs award-winning Haiti dans tous nos rêves (1995).

Jean joined Radio-Canada in 1988, serving as a reporter for Actuel, then the public affairs news show Montréal ce soir in 1989. From 1991-1992, she hosted Virages and for three years, starting in 1992, she appeared on the national and international news program Le Point.

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a young Michaelle fled Francois Duvalier’s regime in 1968, settling in Quebec with her family. Fluent in five languages – French, English, Spanish, Italian and Haitian Creole – Jean studied at the University of Montreal and universities in Florence, Milan and Perugia, Italy.

There’s something about the CBC, isn’t there? People say that the CBC is biased against the Conservatives, but it’s the documentaries where the left at the CBC has the greatest room to editorialize (see Sticks and Stones, Mission Accomplished, and The World According to Bush).

It’s only a matter of time, George

Monique Bégin: our next Governor General?

The CBC currently has Monique Bégin listed as one of two serious candidates for Adrienne Clarkson’s replacement as Governor General.

Who is Mme. Bégin?

Monique Bégin was born in 1936 in Rome under Mussolini’s regime to a Flemish mother and to father who worked as a Canadian sound engineer. The family made its way west to Spain during the early part of WWII and settled in Portuagal until they immigrated to Canada. Bégin then grew up poor in the St. Henri district of Montreal. As a consequence of her family’s poverty, Bégin was once hospitalized for malnutrition as a child. She has had numerous jobs from teacher, to executive secretary to a Royal Commission, to administrator of the research branch of the CRTC, to Trudeau heath minister. She now is a professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa.

Politically she has been described as a “feminist-activist” and her friends describe her as one who is hard to persuade once she is convinced that she is right. In a speech to the 25th anniversary annual meeting and scientific sessions of the Canadian Council of Cardiovascular Nurses, Bégin describes herself as “a feminist for as long as I can remember”.

Her policy work has centred mostly upon the public-private healthcare debate. In a recent article in Heathcare Papers (Healthc Pap. 2004;4(4):35-40), Begin favours the Romanow report over the Kirby report on healthcare reform. She writes,

“Kirby recommends, as one possibility, experimentation with private specialty hospitals or clinics. The reasoning is always tempting; however, the reality is that such an approach within a public delivery system creams off the market, leaving the heavier and most onerous cases to the state, not to mention the cases that experience complications to post-private treatment. It is also a way of introducing an element of competition in the system, another fascinating idea for some. But is competition even feasible with a single payer?”

She further describes her affinity for the Romanow report,

“I consider the Romanow exercise in value-definition to be as honest and valid as it can be, given the state of the art. It is also the first time that a truly national debate on medicare has taken place. The innovative consultative model adopted by the Romanow Commission makes it probably the Canadian Royal Commission with the most important public consultations record ever.”

Bégin also mused about the private-public debate as it applies to the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) in the article and offers an interesting reason for her inaction to fix the perceived queue-jumping:

“Only a certain number of workers end up as clients of the WCB in Canada. Why should these workers benefit from preferential treatment to get back to work as soon as possible (which provides them with an overall economic benefit), and not the workers who end up in our public hospitals? How does that make sense? At the time the CHA was brought into law in the early 1980s, I admit to wanting to correct this historical exception granted in past legislation to the WCB. Unfortunately, the neo-conservative times were such that I would have taken the risk of losing essential corrections of abuses had I opened more fronts in my strategy.”

Those “neo-conservatives” made her play politics with the healthcare of Canadians! Does demonizing dissent on the right by labelling it “neo-con” still work? Did it ever?

As for the present-day system, Bégin believes that “additional public funding will also be necessary. Our system is certainly sustainable and, generally speaking, Canada’s expenditures have not been out of control.”

The Canadian taxpayer might disagree as roughly forty cents of every tax dollar goes towards this “sustainable” system.

However, Mme. Bégin does rightly suggest that “we should revert to the spirit of a 50-50 cost-share arrangement” and “the federal share could immediately reach, say, 25%”. The healthcare system, as it is currently modelled, should be fixed by rectifying the fiscal imbalance.

Paul Martin is to name the new Governor General tomorrow. If he name Mme. Bégin, he’ll bolster the left-wing side of the medicare debate.

Warren Kinsella also reports that it’ll also be business-as-usual in the spoiled vice-regal department.

Among Madame Begin’s few shortcomings, there is one that looms large above all the others: to wit, she made Marie Antoinette look like regular gal. One who works at Wal-Mart and rides public transit. Happily.

Those of us who were Liberal staffers in the 1980s knew this well. Whenever we gathered for a post-work drink, we would trade tales about the alleged imperial tendencies of Madame Begin. Our favourite one involved her ability to go through ministerial chauffeurs the way normal people go through boxes of chocolates. She would get cross with them, and lecture them, and eventually they would quit. Tons of them. Once, we heard about a driver – who went on to toil for the laid-back Lloyd Axworthy, I believe – who was sent back to Montreal to retrieve a favourite pen. From Ottawa.

Anyway, the best Monique Begin chauffeur story involved one of these poor fellows, finally so fed up that he stopped the ministerial car on a bridge between Hull and Ottawa, as Monique fulminated in the back seat. He took the keys out of the ignition, flung them into the river below, and set off towards a happier life. Even Trudeau laughed when he heard that one.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our next vice-regal representative of the people, brought to you by the same folks who promised to cure the democratic deficit, win many more seats across Western Canada, and hasten a bright new day in federal-provincial relations!

The next Governor General?

The PMO has announced that Paul Martin will be naming the next Governor General tomorrow. I’ve started a pool of candidates (both good and bad) and I need your help adding to them. Please add your candidates for Governor General in the comments and evaluate the odds that I (and/or others in the comments) have placed on their candidacy. I’ll add the best good/bad/funny suggestions below.

Bob Rae – 10:1
Preston Manning 25:1
David Frum – 300:1
Ezra Levant – 450:1
Lise Thibault – 5:1
Monique Begin – 5:1
Naomi Klein – 100:1
Wayne Gretzky – 50:1
David Suzuki – 20:1
John Manley – 10:1
Peter Mansbridge – 20:1
John Ralston Saul – 100:1
Warren Kinsella – 32,146,547:1

Comment submitted:
Carolyn Parrish – 32,000:1
Dave Nichol – 560:1
William Shatner – 7,000:1
Brian Mulroney – 200:1
Ralph Klein – 300:1
Ken Dryden – 12:1
Celine Dion – 150:1

Personally, I’d give Shatner better odds.

Throne speech

Today Adrienne Clarkson reads the speech from the throne. It’ll be interesting to see if Paul Martin will have much substance written in his speech as he promised more input in the speech from his MPs than Jean Chrétien allowed during his term.

Grant Hills says that Martin’s speech will be nothing more than “an election gaggle of promises that will be run on in the campaign a very short time later”. Moreover, Martin’s critics say that the speech amounts to “a $34-billion vote-buying scheme.”

Shubenacadie Sam did not see his shadow this morning indicating an end to winter soon. Let’s hope that things go the same way for Prime Minister Paul today.

Developing…