Journalist shows up at wrong event, writes juicy story for Ottawa reporters

One of the favourite narratives of the Ottawa media is that the Prime Minister doesn’t talk to them on enough occasions. This, of course lazily and unfairly extends to “doesn’t talk to reporters”. However, while some in Ottawa may yearn for more face-time with the PM, the PM’s comms focus has always prioritized local and regional news to get the story told outside of the “Ottawa bubble” and outside of the pack mentality of some in the Ottawa press gallery.

Yet, here’s a local reporter, getting a lot of buzz in Ottawa this morning among my fellow flacks and hacks on Twitter. Brad Bird’s story about a Prime Ministerial “snub” at a shellfish research centre in BC fits the Ottawa press narrative but has me a bit puzzled because it goes against the PMO local media outreach strategy. Or does it? Local reporter Brad Bird wrote,

For the media it was an odd dance, since no talking with the PM was permitted, and he allowed but that single comment to acknowledge them, during the quarter-hour allowed.

“Give ya 30 bucks if ya ask a question,” one scribe said to another. But it wasn’t that easy. He was too far away for that, and engaged with others. Interrupting would have been rude.

Reporters gathered for an event and no questions? Why? Here’s the event notice from the PMO that went out to all reporters,

September 7, 2010
Ottawa, Ontario

Public events for Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Wednesday, September 8th are:

Deep Bay, British Columbia

1:00 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will Tour the Vancouver Island University Centre for Shellfish Research. He will be joined by James Lunney, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Alberni.

Vancouver Island University
Deep Bay Field Station
Deep Bay, British Columbia

*Photo Opportunity Only

There are no questions at photo ops of course, but can we really have a PM that only does photo ops? Oh wait. There were two media avails later that day. From the same notice,

Nanaimo, British Columbia

3:00 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make an announcement at Nanaimo’s Cruise Ship Berth. He will be joined by Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway; and James Lunney, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Alberni.

Nanaimo Port Authority – Assembly Wharf
11 Port Way
Nanaimo, British Columbia

*Open to Media

NOTES:

• Media are required to present proper identification for accreditation.

Victoria, British Columbia

6:00 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will deliver remarks. He will be joined by Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway; and Gary Lunn, Minister of State for Sport.

Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University
2005 Sooke Road
Victoria, British Columbia

*Open to media

NOTES:

• Media are required to present proper identification for accreditation.

From Bird’s article,

This wasn’t Jean Chretien, who enjoyed engaging with media.

Chretien would come over and talk to us. Sometimes he’d get all choked up about it, or someone else would, he was that intimate.

If Bird remembers the days of Chretien, surely he’s enough of a press vet to know the difference between a photo op and a media avail?

UPDATE (2/25/2011): Brad Bird sends me an email and I’ve received his permission to publish it below.

The politics of paternalism

The big news this week was the bombshell interview given by CSIS director Richard Fadden to CBC’s Peter Mansbridge on The National where Canada’s spy chief alleged that a number of cabinet ministers in provincial governments are under foreign influence. Red flag, or McCarthy smear?

Early last year, a mid-level diplomat named Richard Colvin rocked Ottawa when he alleged before a Commons committee that Canada was turning a blind eye to Afghan torture and some therefore argued complicit in torture and guilty of war crimes. Whistleblower or troublemaker?

The reaction to both events is very telling of our national psychology and perhaps of the psychology of western democratic citizens. The condemnation of Fadden was swift and there’s even talk that those around the Prime Minister are considering his hasty ejection while Colvin was romanticized as a small guy with a big message. Perhaps Fadden’s biggest miscalculation was that he wasn’t so small. Imagine the inverse of the outcome if Fadden had juvenilized himself in the equation by alleging that big bad daddy Stephen Harper knows that there are Chinese elements within provincial governments and that he’s covering it up. Of course, this would have been a different sort of career mistake for Fadden, but he would have found himself with the backing of the Canadian media rather than round condemnation. A modern folk hero standing up against the order! Instead Fadden is the perceived order and the order is trampling on smaller people.

When the west was entangled in a ideological and proxied military struggle with the Soviet Union, there was a external threat to our way of life, who we were as free citizens and our freedom to choose our future. When America emerged from the cold war as the world’s remaining superpower it suddenly found itself to be the only adult in the room. While an anti-establishment movement was growing within its borders, it was small and kept out of the mainstream because most were focused on the external threat, the structured order that sought to gain control.

As students of history tell us, the good guys won. The West did not wash away with the red tide of communism that lapped its shores for half a century. But now, the West is the order without threat. What are freedom-wired folks supposed to do without an external threat to their freedom?

Australia just got its first female Prime Minister. Most of us outside of Australia don’t know what she’s about but we surely know that its a good thing because we’re told that she succeeded in world that told her that she couldn’t. Same for Barack Obama; hope and change were simply code for tearing down the perceived societal order which was believed to be unbalanced. However, during the election, Barack Obama was America’s boyfriend. Now, that he’s president, he’s their father. That hope and change? More of the same. And those hopeless anti-establishment romantics? They throw bricks at the G20.

In Canada, Liberals have been the establishment for the overwhelming majority of the last 100 years. This establishment party has always had a knack for the gosh-gee little guyism. Anti-americanism was the Liberal stock and trade because in the politics of paternalism, America was the larger external threat to our way of life. We even had to regulate what Canadians could watch on television to protect them from this ordered systemic threat designed to subjugate us. The p’tit gars de Shawinigan? The desperately disordered Paul Martin? These men were forgiven because, well, they’re we just doing the best that they could against a bigger and meaner entity.

Stephen Harper finds himself in a world without personified threats to the Canadian way-of-life. Instead, he has trouble tapping into the politics of paternalism on both sides of the equation. First, he is paternalistic. He’s described as being calm, collected, calculative, “always three chess moves ahead”. Though he comes from the middle-class, it is a challenge for him to be perceived as the guy that fights with us rather than the guy that tells us what to do. On the other hand, the external challenges that would have buoyed his brand in the past have taken up an amorphous form. From the asynchronous challenge of the Taliban to the black-shirt anarchists at the G20, there’s no face to what menaces Canadians. And those that menace our ways of life? They are trivialized and get our arrogant sympathy. Some in this country view allegations of complicity of torture against the Taliban to be small people hurting small people while the big guy is uncaring. G20 protesters get more coverage from the media than the policy determined at the conference because the perception is that small people are sidelined while the establishment makes the rules.

A father figure is one that denies abortion or a gay marriage while a mother figure just loves you for who you are. Stephen Harper has smartly understood that Canadians eschew these elements of the paternalistic state yet he struggles with the maternal. The “nanny” state is one that tells us that we must, rather than mustn’t. We must “share our toys” according to maternal governance. Paternalism dominates in “our dad can beat up your dad” situations (ie. when external threats are perceived). In the absence of external threat, our defender is perceived as he who denies us. Currently, the children are upset about global warming, globalization, and fake lakes. Better that than red balloons and gulags, I suppose.

What is Stephen Harper to do? He cannot hope to re-raise us as well-balanced adults can he? In order for Harper to safely navigate the politics of paternalism he needs to be seen as smaller man fighting with us smaller people against the bigger world that threatens our way of life. Canada is the most sea-worthy vessel on the stormy seas of the global economy but there is no personification of the threat that surrounds us. Who is the Gorbachev of the global bank tax? Whom do we fight as we fight for small business and for the ma’s and pa’s that sell things in small towns? Who is the face of the looming union pension bubble that is about to burst?

Why do we as Canadians, and perhaps more broadly we in the west, tend to put more stock in the words of those that fight the establishment tell us rather than believe what we’re told by the establishment? How do we sort out what benefits us from that which disrupts? We are innately freedom-seeking people. In the absence of something external that threatens us, we turn our attention within. The ultimate expression of freedom surely isn’t anarchy and it certainly isn’t socialism, but without form those that romanticize this challenge to the order as mischaracterized expressions of freedom will continue to push these notions, often violently. And those of us who think one’s size and challenge are the only moral yardsticks will only continue to enable disorder at our own expense.

A sample of articles about the history of prorogation in Canada

Page 1 (Drummondville Spokesman – May 27, 1930) has a bit of a parallel to today’s prorogation. The PM wanted to set a new direction with a new budget and new multinational economic unit. The Economic Action Plan of the 1930s?

Page 2 (Glasgow Herald – March 16, 1939) is a two inch column describing a potential prorogation of Parliament by the King himself.

Page 3 (Ottawa Citizen – June 30, 1938) describes a 200,000 strong group (and this before Facebook) to protest the government’s move to jail violators of a media blackout law on reporting election results! The article describes that ministers would not meet with delegates of the group due to a “rush to prorogue Parliament”.

Page 4 (Montreal Gazette – March 15, 1939) – Describes the King coming to Parliament to prorogue the session or give royal assent to bills if session business is not complete

Page 5 (Montreal Gazette – June 11, 1928) – Mackenzie King – “We have concluded all the business of the session, so far as the Government is concerned”. I have not been able to find reference to the Toronto papers called King a tyrant or a despot.

Page 6 (St. John Sun – July 13, 1906) – Description of prorogation and reintroduction of House business when parliament resumes.

Page 7 (Toronto World – May 17, 1916) – Controversy as GG not present for prorogation proceedings. Prorogation to be completed by Chief Justice instead (who was deputy GG)

Page 8 (St. John Sun – April 5, 1902) – Description of prorogation despite 28 bills on order paper in a provincial parliament.

Page 9 (Ottawa Citizen – May 19, 1916) – Prorogation unusually quiet and with lack of ceremony. Did the PM request prorogation via telegraph?

Page 10 (Ottawa Citizen – Mar 13, 1911) – A member of parliament suggests that Parliament prorogue due to Typhoid epidemic sweeping through Ottawa.

Page 11 (Poverty Bay Herald (New Zealand) – June 13, 1914) – Prorogation and Senate politics. A delay in prorogation causes a deadlock in the Senate with Senators refusing to pass a bill increasing the number of Senators in the Upper Chamber.

Page 12 (Montreal Gazette – May 18, 1909) – A rush to prorogation

Page 13 (Montreal Gazette – September 9, 1911) – The government insisted it prorogued because it could not get money bills through while the opposition accused it of blocking an inquiry into a slush fund.

Page 14 (New Zealand Evening Post – January 8, 1903) – Obituary of Canadian journalist who numerous parliaments that had “assembled and prorogued”

Page 15 (Ottawa Citizen – October 28, 1985) – Broadbent dismisses PM Mulroney’s valid option of resetting Parliament due to “disasterous” session to come back with new Throne Speech

Page 16 (Ottawa Citizen – November 26, 1983) – description of business prior to potential prorogation by PM Mulroney.

Page 17 (CBC – November 13, 2003) – Report of prorogation of Parliament by Chretien to allow Martin to assemble new cabinet.

There are numerous other stories regarding prorogation. According to a deep news search going back before the turn of the 20th century, today’s particular instance of Prime Minister-recommended prorogation has produced the most news stories in Canadian history.

For perspective, Google News shows that 1,561 articles have been written by the Canadian media in the last month regarding prorogation (as of the time of this blog post).

Comparatively, 1,351 articles have been written about H1N1 over the same time period by the Canadian media.

If we search for Google News stories concerning “prorogation” OR “prorogue” AND “Facebook” we learn that the Canadian media has written 424 stories, while the Facebook group protesting prorogation has 208,744 members. This amounts to 492 new members to the Facebook group for every MSM article referencing the group over the past few weeks. This number does not include television, magazine and radio coverage of the Facebook group. And to think, it all started with a “fury” of 20,000 when the group was in the budding stages of becoming an MSM darling.

An historical perspective shows that prorogation is quite a common parliamentary procedure in the country and most prorogations have passed without too much ink spilled on the pages of Canada’s historic newspapers.

So why the media fixation on prorogation? Canada’s news organizations are facing hard times and this news is evident to those who regularly buy newspapers — which, it seems, is not a lot of us. Budgets of Ottawa bureaus have been slashed with some offices closing completely. Prorogation may be a threat to those that report the news because of a sparser parliamentary calendar and a move by parent companies to prioritize resources elsewhere. An annual prorogation, as bandied about by the PM earlier, would not serve the Ottawa news business well.

Furthermore, the current vacuum of news content slices two ways; the frustration by many without content to fill columns and airtime and the news vacuum that now exists without anything else going on in Ottawa.

Hidden Agenda redux!

Good times are here again! The Liberals have released an attack YouTube (not an ad, just earned media bait — full irony understood here). The video implies Canada is acting like a third world country:

“Cover-up: a description far more familiar to other countries, until now.”

Cover-ups. Where have we heard this before?

[It] shocked the Canadian public and brought to light internal problems in the Canadian [Forces]. Military leadership came into sharp rebuke after a CBC reporter received altered documents, leading to allegations of a cover up. Eventually a public inquiry was called. [It was] controversially cut short by the government…

Is this today’s story of alleged (yes alleged) torture in of Afghans in Afghanistan by Afghans? No. This was about Somalia. This was about Canadians. This was about a cover-up by a Liberal government.

Today, Afghan detainees, one allegedly beaten with a shoe by an Afghan prison guard, is (allegedly!) throwing the country into madness. This is not Canada’s Abu Ghraib as some Liberal strategists have regrettably suggested.

Get the scandal playbook! Look up Chapter 3: What did you know and when did you know it?

The Liberal ad continues:

“When questions arose about what he and his government knew about torture in Afghanistan, Stephen Harper shut down Parliament.”

Flashback to Michael Ignatieff in a New York Times magazine op-ed piece, May 2, 2004:

“To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war.”

And for full context, we know that Michael Ignatieff has since climbed down on the Iraq war, and called it a mistake. And torture? Well, that was intellectual pretzel making, his defenders will say. He has, afterall, grappled with the issue and has come around to the fact that torture is wrong. We think.

Kady O’Malley, then at Macleans got the federal party leaders’ current positions on torture before this latest resurgence of this old story,

Michael Ignatieff:

“His current view is the same view he held as a renowned human rights expert who helped author the Responsibility to Protect: he is opposed.”

Case closed? Seems good enough for some reporters.

And Stephen Harper?

“The Prime Minister unequivocally condemns torture in all its forms. Canada is a signatory to both the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.”

Good enough for others?

And the prorogation of Parliament? Was this to “cover-up torture” in Afghanistan? The Liberal line is a classic political attack from days gone by: “we don’t know, he just won’t say”.

Much has been said of prorogations and their history. Shutting down Parliament at the apparent whim of a Prime Minister should perhaps open up a broader debate about the use of this power, and those that prorogue may incur the political cost that goes along with it whether large or small. But while we’re on the topic of Parliament and the apparent upset that prorogation has caused some Canadians, surely the dissolution of Parliament at a Prime Minister’s whim should be much worse shouldn’t it?

Flashback to 2000, Jean Chretien in a comfortable majority not only padlocked parliament, shut it down, cast aside committees and put up a chain link fence, but he also fired all MPs from their job and made them reapply, just because Stockwell Day was weak and ready to be slaughtered (he was).

And to 2008 when Stephen Harper, despite his own fixed election date law, called an election citing the log jammed committees in Parliament. Granted, the law allowed for an early election to be called if Parliament could not proceed smoothly, but despite this subjective test for maneuvering within the law and straight into an election, opponents called it crass opportunism because Stephen Harper perceived Stephane Dion to be weak and ready to be slaughetered (he was).

So, does prorogation cause anger and if so, does it amount to a high political price to be paid by whomever invokes it? And yet, dissolution is in effect, Prorogation Plus. Prime Ministers have been accused of political opportunism in the past and will be accused of political opportunism in the future. And if opportunism is the currency of politics, who knew that in Canadian politics we’d see… politics?

The question remains. Is this an unusual time in Canadian politics? Does prorogation cause more upset than dissolution? Are we in a place where down is up and black is white in Canadian politics? If so, does Michael Ignatieff perceive the Prime Minister to be weak and ready to be slaughtered in an election?

I have my doubts.

And Michael Ignatieff? He has his own.

Universal or selective human rights?

This week, the Prime Minister is in China to supposedly thaw relations he has been criticized for frosting since the years he was in opposition criticizing the government.

Stephen Harper, and indeed, a number of prominent Conservatives have, for years, roundly admonished China for its poor human rights record since the days of the Reform Party. For this, members of the opposition have suggested that the Conservatives firm stance against China has harmed our economic relationship with that country.

Among the Conservatives who have stood up against China is Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of Citizenship and Immigration. My first exposure to Jason Kenney’s breadth of politics came in 2005 when he and members of the Alberta Conservative caucus held a pro-Tibet movie night at the Conservative Party Convention in Montreal. In January of that year, while on a parliamentary trip overseas, Kenney was criticized by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin for embarrassing the Chinese when he visited the home of pro-democracy reformer Zhao Ziyang.

***

In the Afghan detainee transfer agreement signed by General Rick Hillier and the Afghanistan defence minister, an entente was struck to prevent human rights abuses. Among other important guarantees it declares, “No person transferred from the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities will be subject to the application of the death penalty.” This is a strict yet progressive demand for the unstable government of an emerging democracy which in darker days used to slit the throats of thieves like sheep before a stadium of spectators in Kandahar province.

Last week China put a bullet in the back of the head of two company managers in the tainted milk scandal where six children died of contaminated milk. With an estimated 470 executions in 2008, China is believed to be the world’s leading executioner.

In Canada, some of our Liberal Parliamentarians have shown surprise over the past three weeks at allegations that some Afghans treat their fellow Afghans with callous disregard and fault Canadian officials for an uneasy balancing of coddling of a country reborn out of rubble going through the birth pangs of establishing a civil society, with the brutal hell of war against combatants that wear no uniform, splash acid in the faces of schoolchildren, and cut off the ears of those that would work to bring good governance to their country.

Meanwhile, Liberal observers have criticized the Conservatives for pushing human rights in China at the expense of trade. Liberals such as John McCallum describe the “broken Canada-China relation[ship] under the Conservative government” and Scott Brison who prematurely boasted that “the fact that Ignatieff is able to go to China as the leader of the opposition before the ruling party leader does is a clear indication of how good and solid relation[s] between the Liberals and China [are].” Ignatieff subsequently canceled his trip due to a pending fall election triggered by the Liberal leader himself.

This sentiment expressed by McCallum and Brison is not exclusive to the critics of the Liberal benches in the House of Commons. Rebukes of Stephen Harper’s tough stance on China’s abuses have also been echoed by former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien who complains that Canada used to be China’s “best friend”. Chretien bemoaned that comparatively, in the first three years that he was Prime Minister, the p’tit gars had visited China eight or nine times. Never mind the fact that Chretien started lobbying the Chinese government within weeks of stepping down as Canada’s twentieth Prime Minister.

According to Amnesty International, China is guilty of a number of human rights abuses,

Growing numbers of human rights activists were imprisoned, put under house arrest or surveillance, or harassed. Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, continued. Falun Gong practitioners were at particularly high risk of torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Christians were persecuted for practising their religion outside state-sanctioned channels. Despite the reinstatement of Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty cases, the death penalty remained shrouded in secrecy and continued to be used extensively. Torture of detainees and prisoners remained prevalent. Millions of people had no access to justice and were forced to seek redress through an ineffective extra-legal petition system. Women and girls continued to suffer violence and discrimination.

Conservatives are usually criticized for dealing with issues in absolutes, in rights and wrongs, in black and white. Meanwhile Liberals sometimes suffer a charge of moral relativism from their opponents as they are accused of dealing in shades of grey. On their assessment of a nascent democracy suffering in horrific ravages of war, a country attempting to cast off ages of illiberalism and lawlessness, it is evident that Liberals have little sympathy for the harsh realities of an imperfect situation. Whereas on a country with an often brutal established dictatorial order, a country with a $4.3 Trillion GDP, and a country that actually bans human rights monitoring groups from operating within its borders, Liberals such as Bob Rae suggest:

“The Chinese are very concerned about stability, they’re very concerned about order. They’re very concerned about a billion people. They’re fearful of the consequences of losing that kind of control. Seems to me we just have to keep on trying to persuade them that liberty is the better way. It’s something we believe in and something we should share with them.” — Bob Rae

If you’re looking for Rae in the halls of Parliament these days, his tolerance seems selective and true concern seems focused elsewhere,

The opposition parties say it is not believable that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his senior ministers weren’t aware of Colvin’s troubling reports. If true, they could implicate Canada in the war crime of complicity in torture.

“The fact of the matter is that if there was ever at any time a view that there was a serious risk of people being mistreated, those prisoners should never have been transferred and such transfer is a breach of international law,” said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.

Torture is abhorrent and is a fundamental violation of human rights. I’m confident that most would agree that such a violation is terrible no matter where or against whom it occurs. Yet can we reasonably expect perfection from Afghans in an imperfect situation in their war-torn country while diminishing and invoking willful ignorance of the abuses by a modern, industrialized and enviably affluent state such as China?

Your move, Warren

The Tories have been criticized lately for putting their party logo on some non-negotiable jumbo novelty cheques. While I agree that the practice of associating party brand so explicitly with public money should stop, let’s remember that news is “man bites dog” not “dog bites man” and there are true masters of pushing the partisan envelope still around.

We see that Warren Kinsella’s old boss said something about pepper on his plate and the parliamentary press gallery had a chuckle and then hit Hy’s for some more vino. However, Andrew McIntosh and Joel-Denis Bellavance from the National Post were on the job and cast some light on Jean Chretien’s partisan abuse of public dollars.

PM comfortable using grants for partisan reasons: ‘nothing to be ashamed’

National Post
Sat Feb 19 2000
Page: A8
Section: News
Byline: Andrew McIntosh and Joel-Denis Bellavance
Column: In Ottawa ; in Quebec City
Dateline: OTTAWA; QUEBEC CITY
Source: National Post

OTTAWA and QUEBEC CITY – Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, yesterday said his government had nothing to apologize for in seeking to reap maximum partisan political benefit from disbursing $1-billion worth of federal job grants across Canada each year.

He had always made sure since taking power in October, 1993, that voters were left in no doubt that it was his Liberals who were distributing such grants, he said.

“Listen,” he added, “we are the government … I don’t see why we can’t try to get credit for what we do. I hope we do so. There is nothing to be ashamed in that.”

Previously, Mr. Chretien and Jane Stewart, the Human Resources Minister, have insisted in Parliament that the $1-billion in grants for job creation, training, literacy and other projects were not allocated with the intention of gaining partisan advantage, but rather were designed to benefit ridings regardless of their political complexion.

The prime minister, joined by Paul Martin, the Finance Minister, told a news conference that increasing reports of the financial mismanagement at Human Resources Development Canada would not tarnish his government’s fiscal credibility.

The National Post reported yesterday that Peter Donolo, the prime minister’s former director of communications, created and ran a well-oiled public relations campaign to ensure that Liberals — ministers and MPs — took maximum credit for job creation grants across the country.

Job creation money is at the centre of accusations that Human Resources grants were mismanaged and improperly used as a slush fund to win votes and reward loyalists.

Opposition MPs were stunned by Mr. Chretien’s performance in Quebec City, saying that the Liberals will suffer politically if the prime minister continues to deny the seriousness of the HRDC mess.

“It’s pretty brazen,” said Diane Ablonczy, a Reform party MP form Calgary. “Clearly, Mr. Chretien has no shame or contrition for mismanaging taxpayers’ money and abusing the public trust. Canadians won’t forget that at election time.”

Peter MacKay, the Conservative House leader, said, “The prime minister has flipped his wig. He has demonstrated once again he is completely out of touch with reality and he is displaying increadible arrogance by trying to minimize this serious problem.”

Mr. Chretien conceded that there were “obvious” management problems at HRDC, which were condemned in a scathing departmental audit published last month, and that these must be rectified.

The prime minister said, “Of course, there are problems, but we have to place the problem in a certain perspective. We have to make regular adjustments on the basis of recommendations by those people who conduct the audit. It’s a huge department that has over 20,000 employees … There’s no doubt that it’s an extremely difficult department to manage. What strikes me is that no recipient has complained thus far. To go and say that it’s a scandal, one must not exaggerate.”

The prime minister denied, despite a number of documented cases, that Liberal MPs sought extra pre-election advantage by announcing new grants just before the 1997 general election and before the grants were officially approved.

In the House of Commons, the Liberals suffered another verbal pounding over the financial scandal. The opposition claimed that a newly disclosed 1997 review reveals that there was political interference in the approval of Transitional Jobs Fund projects. It showed, the opposition said, that the Liberals used the $100-million-a-year program to buy votes.

Aside from finding incompetence, the audit concluded that HRDC bureaucrats were pressured by political operatives to speed through approval for projects that “did not meet TJF elgibility criteria.” Several were found not to be failing to create jobs.

Mr. MacKay, the Nova Scotia Tory, questioned whether Ms Stewart could be trusted, saying: “Daily the minister of HRDC subjects Canadians to the sad spectacle of self-destruction with the documented mishandling and mismanagement of taxpayers money that was uncovered by the internal audit, the subsequent fallout, the spin-doctoring, the witholding of information, the manipulation of statistics and the sliding scale of eligibility.”

Ms. Stewart brushed off his call for her to resign. She later produced a letter showing that after she became HRDC minister, she removed herself from all decision-making about grants in her riding, Brant, Ont., by delegating her power to approve them to her top bureaucrat, Claire Morris, the HRDC deputy minister.

Obama sets example for Canada

The election of Barack Obama is historic in many ways, most significantly in the progression along the troubled history of race in the United States. On Tuesday, Americans turned out in record numbers to give Obama a decisive win and vault the first African-American into the highest office in that country. The Obama team also set new records along the fundraising front and may indeed set a precedent for the financing of elections in the future.

According to opensecrets.org, a website on money in politics run by the Centre for Responsive Politics, Senator Obama raised $639 million during the 2008 Presidential election cycle with 91% of that sum coming from individual donations. Comparatively, Senator McCain raised $360 million, 54% coming from the same type; the majority of the dollars from each candidate’s campaign came from people making personal donations to their favourite candidate. A striking difference between campaigns was Obama’s refusal of public funding. The Illinois senator took $0 of public financing while his Republican counterpart from Arizona took over $84 million to make up 23% of his campaign’s spending power.

We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory. — President-elect Barack Obama, Chicago November 4th, 2008

In Canada, the Reform Party under Preston Manning started a tradition of passing the hat in church basements and legion halls during rallies, speeches or simple administrative meetings. A donation of $5, $20 or $100 was passed on to bring change to Ottawa. The tradition continues today under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, though in a much more sophisticated way and one that is buoyed by databases and telemarketing. Conservatives have historically raised an average individual donation of about $100 while Liberals used to depend on fewer but larger sums. Jean Chretien –perhaps to kneecap his long-coveting Prime Ministerial successor — changed the way election financing was done in Canada by banning corporate and union donations. Chretien replaced the private financing of political parties by special interests with public financing by government. For each vote that a party earns during an election, that party receives $1.75 per year from the federal treasury.

On the surface, this reconfiguration of campaign financing seems to rebalance the funding equation from powerful institutions to those that ought to have the first and last word in any democracy. Indeed, voters are empowered not only when they give campaigns their vote but also when they do so with the knowledge that instead of corporate or union backing, there is a small financial sum that comes with each ballot cast that sustains parties instead. However, while Chretien’s system solves one problem, it creates another.

In Quebec where a province defaults to the inert rather than the principled, a problem exists with Chretien’s model of campaign financing. The Bloc Quebecois, doing all it could to supress its core principle of sovereignty for that province, rather stood against — indeed, as a block to — Conservative ideas in the 2008 general election and against Liberal corruption in 2006. In the first half of this year, the Bloc raised just over $70,000 but received $1.5 million in public financing. Donations are a result of direct support whereas that larger windfall comes from standing against something rather than offering something better. The Bloc Quebecois would not exist if it had to rely upon direct non-governmental financing from supporters.

This summer, I met a member of the Obama campaign’s senior staff in New York City. Discussing the presidential campaign and some Canadian politics, I was told that the Liberal Party had approached the Obama campaign to attain some insight into their fundraising capacity and to create a similar system in Canada so that a large number of small donors could fill their campaign war chest. The staffer told me that after initial discussions, the Liberal Party never followed up in any significant way.

A tried-and-true election strategy for the Liberal Party has been to strike fear into the electorate about what a Conservative administration might mean for Canada. In the last election we were warned that a Conservative majority would allow Harper to finally implement his hidden agenda. Yet the Conservatives in power have not been innocent of taking this lower path either. Defining Stephane Dion as a weak leader and scaring the electorate as to what his “tax on everything” would mean to the economy took a negative track and suggested people vote against, rather than for the Conservatives. People are goaded out of fear to vote against and they often hold their nose for the not-as-offensive choice they end up “supporting”. Since money comes from support, we should break the model that rewards false support and strengthen one that challenges parties to offer ideas rather than fear. Government subsidization of political parties hurts Canadian politics.

The motto of Barack Obama’s campaign for President was “Yes We Can”. Under the current Canadian system, we give welfare to parties for being best able to convince Canadians of the other parties, “No They Can’t”. If we made politics about the positive (Yes), responsibility of self (We) and enablement (Can) rather than the negative (No), what one’s opponent would do (They) and a need to stop them (Can’t), perhaps we could reduce voter apathy both at the ballot box and when parties pass the hat. If we gave voters more power to finance those they support rather than sustain those they least detest we could shift Canadian politics for the better.

On Tuesday, American politics changed. It is time to end campaign welfare so that we can replace politics that scares with that which inspires.

Yes we can.

History as viewed through a different sort of lens

On the so-called “Cadscam”, some reporters are re-writing history.

Consider the following from an article by Lawrence Martin, a senior reporter for the Globe and Mail in the Parliamentary Press Gallery:

Mr. Cadman, who had left the Conservatives to sit as an independent, was therefore preparing to vote with the Liberals to keep the government afloat. But Conservative Party officials, Mr. Moore said, were in discussions with Mr. Cadman, trying to work something out. [emphasis mine]

Now, here’s an excerpt from Steve Rennie’s CP story:

Harper said while he wasn’t optimistic about their chances of persuading Cadman – a former Tory MP who had left the party to sit as an Independent MP – to vote with the Conservatives to bring down Martin’s government, he urged two people “legitimately representing the party” to tread cautiously. [emphasis mine]

When Brian Mulroney was testifying before the Ethics committee, opposition MPs did their best to refer to former “Conservative” Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, rather than “former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney”. In fact, we can see it here in an excerpt from this 2008 article in the Toronto Star:

Lawyers for all three men have also argued Gomery showed signs of bias through various statements to the press — he memorably described Chrétien’s fondness for monogrammed golf balls as “small-town cheap” — and in his decision to hire Bernard Roy, the law partner and longtime friend of former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, as the inquiry’s chief counsel.

So, what does this mean? Remember the Liberal alarms that went off post-merger that decried that the new Conservative Party was not the new version of the Progressive Conservative party? Now, we see opposition MPs try to associate Mulroney with the current Conservative party. Now, we see an entirely new invention by associating Chuck Cadman’s history with the Conservatives/Tories when he never sat as an MP for an party called Conservative! Chuck Cadman sat as a Reform MP and then as an Alliance MP. It suits Lawrence Martin’s narrative to throw around the “Conservative” label as his story discusses the dark cloud that has surrounded Conservatives lately (he even seems to extend the adjective “conservative” to the now jailed Conrad Black to imply the political noun “Conservative”). To streamline the scandal narrative, press flacks are revising history to label Cadman (and his alleged inducement back into the fold) as a Conservative-Independent-Conservative progression of events. Newspaper readers don’t need to be helped along; giving news consumers the full and truthful context is superior than bending affiliations to fit a desired storyline.

UPDATE: I was wrong. Cadman sat briefly as a Conservative MP post merger until he lost his nomination and then sat as an independent a few months later. I think that it is still more accurate to describe Cadman as an Alliance/Reform legacy MP rather than Conservative as the context of “Cadscam” relates to his independence from the new Conservative legacy. Still, I argued against what was factual. My apologies to Lawrence Martin.

Dion, Stornoway and Laurier Club Liberals

Last night, members of the Liberal Party’s elite “Laurier Club” assembled at the residence of the Leader of the Official Opposition. The venue was the Stornoway mansion and the event was a garden party.

First, what is the Laurier Club?

The Laurier Club is a national organization made up of business executives, community leaders and those interested in sustaining the Liberal Party who also support the principles of parliamentary democracy and are interested in the public policy decisions affecting the lives of the citizens of Canada.

Individual membership contribution is $1000 and is in good standing for a period of twelve months starting on the sign up date. Membership does not include contributions made to local ridings, candidates, leadership and nomination contestants. Members can choose to make a one time gift or sign up for monthly contributions.

Laurier Club Members will:

* Receive invitations to Laurier Club functions with representatives of the Liberal Party of Canada;
* Attend Laurier Club functions in any region of the country;
* Attend any Party fundraising event at cost

Sounds like lots of fun for any Liberal, however, it was a Laurier Club event and to attend you must have been paid up to the Liberal Party of Canada to the tune of $1000 (if you’re under 30, you can get in for $500)

Stornoway is the property of the National Capital Commission (ie. the government). It’s not illegal to use government property in this way as a perk for top donors to a political party per se, but is it ethical?

The Prime Minister does not assemble top donors for parties or hold fundraisers for the Conservative Fund at 24 Sussex.

However, former Liberal leaders Bill Graham, Paul Martin and Jean Chretien have used Stornoway and 24 Sussex to fête top Liberal Party donors in the past.

dion-laurier.jpg

Globe and Mail causing trouble?

The Globe and Mail recently published an article on Monday about appointments to the Judicial Advisory Committee, a group of volunteer individuals that help select a pool of candidates for consideration for the Minister of Justice.

The Globe notes the following,

At least 16 of 31 recent appointments to the panels have Conservative party ties, according to a survey by The Globe and Mail. Others, while not directly linked to the party, have expressed right-of-centre views about the proper role of the judiciary.

Canada’s “newspaper of record” also goes on to cite seven separate authorities on the issue decrying the sure first steps to the implementation of a radical right-wing conspiracy in Canada. Stephane Dion is quoted:

“The only reason he’s stacking the committees is to select judges who will cater to his neo-conservative agenda,” said Mr. Dion, demanding an end to what he called a “blatant” effort to politicize the judiciary.”

Gilles Duceppe, the NDP, a University of Ottawa law professor, the Dean of Osgoode law school, the president of the Canadian bar association, even Beverly McLachlin expressed “concern” when the Globe and Mail contacted them to comment on its narrative. One doesn’t get the sense of balance from the article.

Partisan appointments to a panel which makes recommendations to the Minister of Justice?

On closer inspection, one discovers that the Globe’s math is a bit of a stretch and designed to be alarmist. I count over 115 names on the Judicial Advisory Committee and the names have been fully disclosed on the website for a month.

So why does the Globe deem this story to be newsworthy and why now? Well, it all fits into a narrative that the evil Conservatives don’t believe in the Charter and that if we aren’t vigilant, it’ll be gone tomorrow.

In fact, the Globe article comes during a week-long feature in the National Post about the Charter to coincide with a conference at McGill that focuses upon the “Charter @ 25″.

Is the Globe and Mail trying to fan the flames on the issue of judicial appointments?

One wonders if the Globe is as vigilant reporting on partisan appointments to the bench (rather than a non-binding advisory committee). Consider, for example, this list of judicial appointments.

Also, if one digs a little deeper into previous Judicial Advisory Committees, we discover that partisan Liberals have previously packed the JACs under Liberal justice ministers. Here’s a list:

From 2004-2006
Irene Lewis
New Brunswick Women’s Liberal Association (1994-1998)

James Hatton
Federal Liberal Candidate in the 1988 Federal Election (North Vancouver)

Sharon Appleyard
President of 2005-2006 Executive-Liberal Party of Canada (Manitoba)

Elizabeth Wilson
Member of interim peers panel for Liberal federal candidates 2006

Roger Yachetti
Donated $128.10 to Liberal party of Canada in 1999

Karolyn M. Godfrey
(P.E.I)-Liberal donation $486.80 in 1999

Marc Letellier
$1000 donation to Liberal party of Canada in 2000

Fernand Deveau
$128.33 donation to Liberal party of Canada in 1998

Simon Potter
prominent Liberal activist as well as being a lobbyist and counsel for Imperial.

Anil Pandila
Donated $390.12 to the Liberal party of Canada

From 2002-2004
Claudette Tardif
Currently a Liberal Senator (Alberta) – appointed by Paul Martin

Lou Salley
Former Chretien B.C. organizer, B.C. organizer for Dion in 2006

Rodney Pacholzuk
Former Organization Chair for the Kelowna Federal Liberal Riding Association

George Cooper
New Brunswick Campaign Manager for the Ignatieff Campaign

Annette Marshall
Co-chair of the 1993 Liberal Election Campaign – Nova Scotia

Lorraine Hamilton
Former President of the Burlington Federal Liberal Association and EA to Paddy Torsney, M.P.

Roberta Hubley
Former P.E.I. Liberal MLA

Everett Roche
Lawrence MacAulay’s Official Agent

Yes, these are partisans who served on judicial advisory committees. As I wrote on Macleans.ca, I’m still looking for the Globe and Mail article concerning these (Liberal) partisans. I don’t think that I’ll find it.

Can we instead thank these volunteers, regardless of political stripe, for their commitment to public service?