New (old) details on the Sauvé-West Block renovation story

Myth: Sauvé says that he discussed contracts with Christian Paradis. Therefore Liberals suggest Conservative political interference in granting the West Block renovation contract to Sauvé.

La Presse, August 25, 2008

Le plus récent contrat est celui de 8,9 millions pour la réfection de l’édifice de l’Ouest du parlement canadien, un contrat qui a été «obtenu par appel d’offres et sans aucune implication politique», ajoute [Sauvé]. Évidemment, il s’agit d’un nouveau client fort intéressant puisque tout le programme de restauration des édifices parlementaires à Ottawa est évalué à un milliard.

The latest contract is $ 8.9 million for the rehabilitation of the West Block of the Parliament of Canada, a contract that was “obtained through competitive bidding and without any political involvement,” [Sauvé] adds . Obviously, this is a very interesting new customer since the whole program to restore the Parliament buildings in Ottawa is valued at one billion.

Fact: La Press quotes Sauvé in 2008 that the contract was “obtained through competitive bidding and without any political involvement.” In news stories this week, the Canadian Press alleges that Sauvé hired “Tory connected” businessman Gilles Varin to obtain the contract. Sauvé’s earlier quote contradicts the latest narrative from the press and from Sauvé that the Tories had their mitts in the West Block renovation contract.

Myth: Sauvé and Varin are Conservatives. Contracts were obtained were granted because of political favouritism.

Journal de Montreal, June 18th 2009 (after that Tory fundraiser)

Selon ce que le Journal a appris, le président de l’entreprise en faillite LM Sauvé avait confié à plusieurs personnes, dont quelques ténors libéraux, qu’il songeait à se présenter à l’investiture du Parti libéral du Canada pour le comté d’Outremont.

Il a rencontré le lieutenant politique de Michael Ignatieff au Québec, Denis Coderre, pour lui faire part de ses intentions. M. Coderre, qui ignorait tout des liens de Paul Sauvé avec le crime organisé, l’aurait encouragé à vendre des cartes de membres comme d’autres candidats à l’investiture.

The Journal has learned, the president of the bankrupt company LM Sauvé had told several people, including some big liberals, he considered running for the nomination of the Liberal Party of Canada for the County of Outremont.

He met with political lieutenant in Quebec by Michael Ignatieff, Denis Coderre, to inform him of his intentions. Mr. Coderre, who knew nothing of Paul Sauvé links with organized crime, have encouraged the sale of membership cards as other candidates for the nomination.

Fact: Varin has never been an organizer for the Conservative Party of Canada nor has he ever been a member of it according to party records (confirmed by the Party in a release this week). Sauvé was a Tory to the degree that he told Liberals that he was considering running for the Liberal Party in Outremont.

Myth: Liberal hands are clean in this affair. They certainly didn’t advocate for Public Works to support Sauvé’s company and project.

Le Droit, April 15th 2009

Une faillite de L. M. Sauvé pourrait avoir un effet domino sur la trentaine d’entreprises de la région impliquées de près ou de loin dans le projet. Pour le député de Hull-Aylmer, Marcel Proulx, chacun doit mettre de l’eau dans son vin pour minimiser les pertes. « En période difficile, j’assume que Travaux publics fera tout en son possible pour empêcher qu’il y ait faillite de l’entrepreneur général, ce qui amènerait une pluie de faillites chez les sous-traitants, dit-il. J’espère que Travaux publics agira en bon père de famille. »

A bankruptcy of L. Sauvé could have a domino effect on the thirty companies in the region involved directly or indirectly in the project. The member for Hull-Aylmer, Marcel Proulx, says everyone must put water in his wine to minimize losses. “In difficult times, I assume that Public Works will do its utmost to prevent there being a general contractor’s bankruptcy, which would cause a rain of bankruptcies among subcontractors, he said. I hope that Public Works will act as a good father.”

Fact: Marcel Proulx is the Liberal MP for Hull-Aylmer. Mr. Proulx went on record expressing his desire that Public Works support Sauvé’s company and its project.

Derek Lee should read stephentaylor.ca more often

He could have had a two week head-start to prepare for John Baird’s attack in the House of Commons on Thursday.

I’m told Baird’s surprise response to questions about Glemaud/Jaffer set the Liberals scrambling on their lobbyist line of attack against the government. The government suggests that opposition MPs should register their meetings with lobbyists while the Liberals seem to disagree. Introducing Lee’s Sun & Partners bio into the debate clouds the Liberal efforts on establishing a narrative against the government on inappropriate lobbying.

Now, Baird is questioning Lee’s presence on a committee that oversees government regulations.

The Liberals are trying to show that the Conservatives are no saints on transparency and accountability, while the Conservatives are trying to show Canadians that the Liberals still cannot advocate from a position of moral clarity on the same issues.

Meanwhile, aside from the sideshow that is Parliament — over there, look! It’s something that Canadians actually care about:

Canada adds a record 108,700 jobs in April

Cocaine, busty hookers and lobbying might make an interesting show for trash TV, but the Parliament Show keeps getting poor ratings. Anyway, didn’t CSI or Law and Order already do that show? (they’ve done every other show…) Besides, their casting is much better. I still can’t believe Michael Ignatieff has returned for another season to reprise his role as the aloof professor that just doesn’t care.

On MPs and lobbying – where does it end?

Found on another website:

Mr. Jaffer’s valuable contributions to our clients include acting for foreign and offshore organizations in obtaining operating licenses, securing regulatory and governmental approvals for mergers and acquisitions, reviewing policies and conduct of Canadian Security Intelligence Services, advising government bodies on international issues regarding cross border tax collection, antidumping issues, and lobbying government on policy issues as well as facilitating inter-governmental relationships.

Oops, I’m sorry. The paragraph above erroneously cited the name of Rahim Jaffer. The excerpt above is not about the former MP who is the subject of a probe into website fibbery (and some alleged “puffery”) by the House of Commons ethics committee, but was rather in reference to a sitting Member of Parliament. I regret the deliberate yet illustrative error.

Now, of course, Lee has has probably not anything wrong here but I find it odd that a paragraph on a website puffing up an individual and what they can do for clients has caused so much controversy, with respect to Rahim Jaffer. Jaffer’s website seemed to claim that he could influence public policy decisions through his contacts. If Jaffer was indeed lobbying, he should have registered.

On the other hand, Lee is not a lobbyist but we have a firm boasting to their clients that a Member of Parliament is “lobbying government on policy issues” thus providing “valuable contributions to our clients”.

The language just doesn’t sit right. It’s quite a bit of puffery.

Kory Teneycke is Stephen Harper’s new Director of Communications

Congratulations to Kory and thank you for taking up the cost of the job. A former lobbyist, Teneycke is now subject to future lobbying restrictions of the Federal Accountability Act. Though with this cost comes greater personal honour of serving Canadians.

Today the news hit the wire: Kory Teneycke is the new director of communications for the Prime Minister’s Office.

In Langevin, I’ve heard that new chief of staff Guy Giorno is telling communications staff that the theme from now until the writ is “be political”. As the new director of communications, Teneycke will assume this role of actively building positive political momentum in the messaging of the government, something that was somewhat muted under the former director.

Under Sandra Buckler, the communications strategy seemed to be more of a shield; the former D.Comm. was effective in circling the wagons closely and the government only messaged to mitigate damage or give a basic understanding of its agenda.

Under Teneycke, I’ve come to understand that the strategy will be more of a sword. The communications strategy of the Teneycke comms shoppe will be proactive in its approach, it will get ahead of message and set the political tone from the Conservative government’s perspective.

Lobbyists and the campaign

Yesterday, the National Post had an interesting story on the connections between lobbyists and governments and how the federal accountability act has evolved to restrict and allow lateral movement between the political and lobbying sectors.

The story highlights longtime Harper communications guru Yaroslav Baran, who recently quit the Earnscliffe firm to work as Chief of Staff to government whip Jay Hill. While news stories about lobbying, including this one, are critical and skeptical in tone, the article points out that Baran will face a five-year ban on returning to the private sector as a lobbyist. Baran’s move is comparatively selfless as an election is expected quite soon and most lobbyists simply deregister days before the writ is dropped, work on the campaign and then re-register and continue in their jobs lobbying government. Baran has instead elected to leave a high paying job and bind himself by the accountability act.

The Conservative ban on lobbyists in a future war room, however, is self-imposed rather than a matter of law, as Liberals have not yet committed to the same standard that Conservatives have set upon themselves.

This makes the tone of the article somewhat frustrating as it implies that Baran is sidestepping regulations internal to Conservative Party (not even legal ones) by being a chief of staff to a cabinet minister just so he can work in a war room?. Baran is sacrificing his earning potential by putting himself under the accountability act and when an election comes, the outcome is still unknown; Yaroslav could be out of a job (and legally restricted from returning to his old one) in as little as two months. While war rooms are the stuff of political junkies, the prize isn’t one of monetary enrichment or increased political contact; Baran already has an extended history built with Harper. Perhaps Baran is more interested in being a team player and has long term plans of public service?

Defining the blogging medium

Last night, I had the opportunity to be an invited guest speaker at Third Monday, a monthly gathering of PR and government relations professionals on the topics of blogging, politics, and the emergence of social media as media. It was an enjoyable experience as I met some of Ottawa’s top thinkers in the marketing of products and ideas.

Immediately, I was able to appreciate the depth of knowledge that the attendees had in blogging and other forms of social media. After our preliminary chat and before I took the stage, I knew that the crowd was past the stage of explaining “a blog, or web-log is a form of website authored by an individual or group that writes on topics in reverse chronological order”. This was refreshing to know, as I knew that we’d be able to get past the technicalities of the medium and discuss the social, legal and ethical implications of writing a blog.

I have raised open questions in the past about a blog’s role in cataloging one’s observation of events. Specifically, how does one define blogs as media? One observer noted that unlike airwaves, the resources of the Internet and the delivery of information is not limited in a sense that a government body ought to license or regulate its use. Of course, in Canada, we tend to suffer over-regulation as the rule so it was interesting to consider the dissemination of media via the internet as an unregulated resource. However, some in this country would advocate for regulation of media, not because of the scarcity of the resource, but for control of content.

But what of “blogs”? I’ve come to the realization over the past few weeks (and indeed years) that blogging is simply a tool, or the method by which one’s ideas can be disseminated. A “blogger” ought not to represent a certain class of individual with categorical privileges, rights and restrictions. Like the pen, microphone, or typewriter, a blog is simply the tool. The blogger is the reporter.

And of the question of whether or not blogging is journalistic? Last night I was asked if what I do is journalism in any sense. To a degree, I would muse that I am an observer and reporter of news events. Journalists in the mainstream media are employed by companies that are owned by large media organizations (like Rogers or Bell) or powerful teachers unions. Of course, a reporter’s loyalty ought to be only to the truth. I believe that what I do is truth mixed with my own sincere opinion. Then again, some journalists are also analysts or columnists and base their views on what they perceive to be true. They have their partisan preferences and are paid to provide opinion. Certainly that opinion has been focused through a lens of experience unique to the individual.

Am I a journalist, reporter, or columnist? Some may say that I should not be considered a journalist since I have my own agenda. One CBC journalist once complained to me that I don’t declare my biases up front (I think this was derived from a similar charge that I had leveled at him seconds before). “It’s right there at the top of the page — Conservative Party of Canada Pundit”, I explained. I was astonished to hear the CBC journo dismissively grunted that “it’s not enough”. To distill what I do to its base elements, at the end of the day I’m just some guy with an internet connection, opinions and $20 a month to spend on website hosting. However, in a political climate bent on accountability, transparency and high ethical standards (and a country where one could do a Historica minute on our proud regulatory traditions), must I consider following a certain code of conduct? Legally, as long as I don’t write hate or indefensible libel against an individual or group, I believe that I’m entitled to speak as I wish; I certainly do not hold any elected office and am not accountable to anybody but myself. Ethically, however, as part ‘shoestring’ media, I believe that I ought to conform to a certain ethical standard. I hope that I’ve had some degree of success in adhering to it.

I suppose after speaking to a room full of lobbyists, individuals that navigate the ethical and legal complexities defined and redefined by Ottawa, these thoughts tend to come to the fore rather than reside nebulously at the back of one’s mind. If one is to assume that this blog has some measure of influence over its readers and if one were to further assume that many of those readers are policy makers and journalists, does these considerations pose certain ethical dilemmas given certain scenarios? I’ve always stated that my blog has been successful in most part because of my readers. As my audience has grown, more and more people send me interesting ideas and items for my consideration. Of course, some of this material comes from political parties (including anti-Dion Liberals), some comes from the media itself (if it’s too ‘raw for prime-time’). Most of the rest of it comes from everyday Canadians that send in interesting observations. However, at Third Monday, the general question came up asking if I could be sent propaganda by interest groups? Could this information influence me? For example, could someone from the oil and gas send me information to muddy the waters on climate change? Of course they could. However, I would never write anything contrary to my own opinion and I try to verify all facts to a certain degree of confidence. I’m also faithful to my sources and would never reveal who has sent me information.

One certainty exists in a media climate that is constantly changing: our views of media are undefined and may never be. A blog is simply a medium, as I’ve stated above. However, I’m certain that some in the MSM would say that blogging has had the effect of admitting pedestrians into a noble profession. Indeed, the cost of blogging is virtually nil; one only needs to go to the public library to publish one’s thoughts to the world. Blogging has also been a boon to democratic participation as one can participate in formative policy based debate with other citizens as frequently or an infrequently as they wish. Democratically, a citizen is not simply reduced to a voter anymore. I do, however, believe that the evolving definition of journalist ought not to be confused by the medium. At one time even television reporters had to fight for access. Blogging may lower the threshold to participation; however the blogosphere can also be viewed as the best crucible in which those that ought to be read, will be and those that don’t, will figuratively burn away. Thankfully, the internet is the closest medium that we have that approaches an unlimited information resource. Let’s hope that nobody ever tries to regulate it, for we should all have access.

Something doesn’t add up

CP published an article yesterday that quotes Garth Turner’s recollection of a debate he had with Charles McVety of the Family Action Coalition.

Earlier this year, Turner took part in a TV debate with Charles McVety, an evangelical leader who has been a driving force in the fight against same-sex marriage.

The MP says there was a telling moment in that debate when McVety looked at him and said: “You know what? I can pick up the phone and call Harper and I can get him in two minutes. It’s going to take you a month.”

Turner paused.

“I think he’s right.”

Apparently the leader of the “Righteous Right” (as Garth calls him) was upset by this and published a press release just hours ago:

Canada Family Action Coalition president and Senior Director of Defend Marriage Coalition, Dr. Charles McVety is calling a quote attributed to him by MP Garth Turner “a figment of his imagination.”

The alleged statement, reported in a Canadian Press story November 26, was supposed to have been made during a televised debate between McVety and Turner. According to the CP story, Turner related that McVety looked at him
and said, “You know what? I can pick up the phone and call Harper and I can
get him in two minutes. It’s going to take you a month.”

“I never made this statement,” said McVety. “It’s a complete fabrication by Mr. Turner from start to finish. It’s really quite sad.”

McVety also expressed surprise that a respected journalist and news service would see fit to publish quotes attributed to him without verifying their authenticity.

“I’ve been interviewed by John Ward before as well as many of his colleagues at Canadian Press so they must have my cell phone number somewhere,” said McVety. “It is unprofessional for a journalist to not have interviewed me before reporting Mr. Turner’s yarn as fact. It seems a bit incautious.”

I can understand that any good person would want to clear up false information about events surrounding themselves and their acquaintances whenever possible.

Yet… Garth’s alleged falsehood isn’t exactly bad press for McVety. If I was a lobbyist, policy advocate, or political constituency representative, if some media magnet was going around and telling the press that I had the Prime Minister on speed-dial and could get our country’s leader on the phone in two minutes, clearing that up wouldn’t be exactly be on top of my list of priorities.

You think he’d wait at least until the weekend was over, or that he might write a letter to the editor.

But no, McVety sent out an urgent press release ($) late last night, just hours after that damaging story was published in order to clear up the horrible (horrible!) “fabrication”.

“Did you hear that Dr. Charles McVety can get the PM on the horn in two minutes?”

Wow, that would be impressive. If true, it would show that McVety has a lot of influence and this isn’t exactly damaging to his job function.

McVety should probably straighten out Garth’s “fabrication” if untrue, but he might wait until, oh say, someone cared enough to ask him if those rumours are true. Why go so far as to spend cash to clear this up?

Why is McVety so eager to clear the air?