Historic vote to scrap the long gun registry

I was in the gallery of the House of Commons yesterday to vote on C-391. Members from
opposition parties voted to support Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner’s legislation to scrap the long gun registry.

Fulfilling a longterm election promise, Conservative members voted unanimously to sink the long criticized program which has been referred to by caucus members as a “billion dollar boondoggle”.

Friendly betting went on between Conservative staff and Conservative members earlier in the day on the outcome of the vote. From passing by two votes to fifteen votes, everyone bet on it to pass. However, there was still tension as the known opposition votes needed to pass the legislation still counted Heopner’s bill short by one or two votes.

In the end, the legislation passed with applause for Hoeppner and Garry Breitkreuz, who shepherded the issue through its latest legislative test. Applause also for Independent libertarian-minded Quebec MP Andre Arthur who showed up for the vote despite being ill over the past two years. It was conveyed to me that fellow Quebec libertarian Maxime Bernier encouraged him to make the vote.

Another MP Claude Guimont, afflicted with H1N1 influenza also made the vote. It was reported earlier that the Tories faced criticism for refusing to pair Guimont’s vote. Given the unwhipped vote, allowing members to vote their minds rather than that of their leader, and given the uncertainty of the outcome, nobody from any political party offered to pair their vote.

The vote sent the bill to committee 164-137, prompting one member from a coterie of gun control advocates sitting in the opposite gallery to show her white ribbon (commemorating the 1989 shootings at l’École Polytechnique in Montreal) to perhaps shame members of the opposition benches that voted with Conservative members.

Among the activists was Wendy Cuckier, often the face of gun control in the Canadian media. After the vote she scrummed with reporters in the Commons foyer. She complained of a new style of politics, an “American style” of approaching legislation. She suggested that, in the future, the government may on matters such as same-sex marriage and abortion introduce legislation as Private Members Business as they’ve done with the Gun Registry to allow MPs to vote their conscience. The danger in this, she suggested was that leaders would have less control over their parties and that the government could “pick off” opposition MPs by lobbying them heavily within their own ridings by spending dollars on persuation via advertising. She remarked that this is the style of politics that happens south of the border.

Keith Martin was among the few Liberal members that voted against the registry. He noted that while the organization of police chiefs is against the abolishment of the registry, rank and file police officers are for it. He explained that he voted for the bill because he wants to broaden the discussion by sending it committee.

Candice Hoepner noted in her scrum that today marked only one step along the path to dismantling the gun registry. She emphasized that it was important that the issue was put to a free vote. Hoeppner noted that while she is against the registry, she is still in favour of licensing for gun owners. On the registry’s supposed intent, Heoppner explained that the registry did little to stop criminals. As for the changes the legislation may face in committee, she suggested that one cannot change the intent of the bill at this stage. And as the bill faces a vote in the Senate, Heopner expressed her hope that the unelected senators be especially mindful of the wishes of Canadians.

Wayne Easter also scrummed in the foyer. Easter was Solicitor General under Chretien and held the office while his portfolio responsibilities included oversight of the long gun registry program. Easter was one of the only front bench Liberal MPs that voted for Hoepner’s PMB. Easter explained that the system isn’t working as it was intended and that there is strong opposition to the long gun registry in rural committees, perhaps including the one that Easter represents on Prince Edward Island. He suggested that it is the Prime Minister that is to blame for the weakening of gun control. In fact, many Liberals had suggested that the Prime Minister dodged a long held campaign promise of scrapping the registry and that he should have directed legislation on this issue to introduced as a government bill.

While Easter was among the Liberal caucus that got the registry up and running, he suggested that there is always room for improvement to the system. It is unknown if he meant improvement via dismantling. Easter stated that he voted to represent the interests of his constituents, many of which include farmers and hunters — two constituent groups firmly against the program. Easter stated when asked that he was, and still is, very upset about the advocacy Conservatives members conducted in his riding. At one point this week he even suggested that it may change his vote.

Hedy Fry remarked that the vote is essentially meaningless as her leader voted to continue the registry. Therefore, she suggested, when the Liberals retake power, they’d reverse any action on the registry taken by the Conservatives.

NDP staffers suggested to me that the legislation may never see royal assent because of delays at committees, in the Senate and a future election that will drop it off of the order paper. They noted that the legislation split along an urban and rural divide in both the NDP and Liberal parties. An NDP strategist also added that gun control lobby groups largely sat on their hands as Conservatives organized on this issue.

The bill now faces discussion and study in committee where it is likely to face testimony by lobby groups both for and against the scrapping of the gun registry. Opposition members are likely to express an intent to “study” the legislation by calling a number of witnesses. Ironically, delay may increase likelihood of the bill passing through the Senate as 2010 will see appointment of additional senators to the Upper Chamber. Conservatives are effectively sailing through votes in the now and 2010 the Senate will tip further to the right. For the time being, however, delayed passage of a bill to dismantle the gun registry by the Upper Chamber will only act to bolster Conservative fundraising on two hated issues: the gun registry and the unelected Senate.

Final cabinet speculation

Mostly certain:
– Prime Minister Stephen Harper
– Flaherty to stay in Finance (confirmed by numerous people in the department)
– Baird moving (confirmed)
– Clement moving
– Guergis moving (family has flown in, and hair appointment booked early AM tomorrow apparently)
– Bernier not in cabinet
– Aglukkaq in cabinet
– Prentice staying in Industry (no indication of a move from bureaucrats or political staffers up until midnight)
– Lunn moving (family has flown in)
– Verner moving
– MacKay stays in defence
– a good number of Secretaries of State named

Responsibly speculative:
– Cannon in foreign affairs (heard this from a high level source on Tuesday night)
– Kenney at CIC
– Nicholson stays in Justice
– Strahl stays at INAC
– Clement in trade
– Baird in transport
– Verner to intergovernmental affairs
– Ambrose to HRSDC
– Shea or Duncan in Fisheries
– Raitt in cabinet
– James Moore promoted

Wildly and so irresponsibly speculative:
– Raitt to get NRCan (doubtful)
– Liberal crosses the floor and enters cabinet (sourced at a high level, but I don’t see it happening. Yet, a number of Liberals staffers have been confirming they’ve heard the same rumour for days)
– Rob Moore in cabinet

Cabinet facts and speculation

See my final cabinet speculation here

Tomorrow, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will name his new cabinet at Rideau Hall at 10:30am. There is a lot of speculation flowing out there and from this, I’ve been able to discern a few facts.

First, the easy facts: cabinet will be larger and have more women. Stephen Harper was returned to 24 Sussex on October 14th with an increased minority. Among the new seats gained by the Tories include a number of well-qualified women.

Second, Jim Flaherty stays in finance. In a time of global economic uncertainty, and after an election fought on stability in these times, changing the minister of finance could be seen as a bad signal to the world.

A few speculated that Helena Guergis may be retiring to the backbench. However, Guergis has told her junior ministerial staff that they’ll be employed in her office for at least the short-term future. I’ve also heard that Guergis is moving portfolios. Josee Verner is also moving portfolios.

Environment minister John Baird will also be moving portfolios now that green leader of the opposition Stephane Dion is stepping down. Baird was the go-to guy for acting as a shield for the government on tricky portfolios. He’ll move on to new responsibilities in cabinet.

As of Friday night, when most cabinet hopefuls had received their calls from the PM invited them to serve in the new cabinet, Maxime Bernier was left waiting. A few speculated that he’d return to cabinet, however, it seems that he’ll have some more time in the penalty box.

The newly minted Member of Parliament from Nunavut Leona Aglukkaq will serve in the next cabinet. Stephen Harper personally recruited the former territorial minister and has made northern sovereignty a defining issue of his Prime Ministership. Aglukkaq would be the first female Inuit to serve in federal cabinet. It is expected that she’ll become responsible for the new opportunities agency for the north.

Speculative news that I’m hearing is that Trade will be shifted from Foreign Affairs to Industry and that the Minister of Industry would also assume duties for this portfolio. Or, alternatively, trade will be under Industry bur will have a separate minister. The last election saw the defeat of Harper’s trade minister and a failure to re-offer by his foreign affairs minister.

On foreign affairs, I’m hearing that Lawrence Cannon will herd the cats at DFAIT. A french-speaking and centrist Conservative, Cannon may be Harper’s choice to head that portfolio.

In departmental news, I’m hearing that Transport and Infrastructure will be broken into two. Rookie MP Lisa Raitt may be a perfect fit for a reduced transport portfolio, while a Toronto area minister such as Peter Kent may fit the bill to shower the region with infrastructure development money. UPDATE: A bureaucrat that has seen the briefing books for Transport’s next minister says that infrastructure is still part of Transport’s mandate.

Will there be another Liberal defection to cabinet? I’m hearing yes and that it’ll be from Quebec (I’d categorize this as speculative even though my high level source seemed to be certain). After the last election Vancouver MP David Emerson jumped from the Liberal ranks to sit as a Conservative cabinet minister. With a Liberal party in ruin, we may just see one or more defections tomorrow.

UPDATE: Tony Clement is now confirmed as moving from the Ministry of Health.

UPDATE: Jim Prentice is expected to stay at Industry.

UPDATE: I’m hearing that Verner is going to intergovernmental affairs.

UPDATE: Late breaking speculative gossip: Ambrose to HRSDC?

UPDATE: Hill from Whip to House Leader?

The Death of Oily – the tragic premature demise of an almost Canadian icon

Oily, the talking oil spotIt was the first brillantly sunny pre-summer weekend of June. Joggers in Ottawa hit the river parkway and canal while sun-bathers converged on Parliament Hill. In an air-conditioned office on Queen street, Conservative Party officials were preparing to unleash the first volley of their new advertising campaign.

A few short weeks earlier, hapless and troubled Liberal leader Stephane Dion first mused about a new policy that MP Garth Turner would later – in a turnabout way – described as the sort of idea that drove the former sociology professor into politics years ago.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien recruited the then-unelected Mr. Dion into cabinet as intergovernmental affairs minister and following that, Canada’s environmental direction was later guided by Dion’s hand as environment minister. Tethering his ambition on recent popular interest in the topic of Global Warming, Dion and his supporters donned green scarves at the Liberal leadership convention in 2006 and effectively won the contest with this topic as a single issue campaign. For Dion, it was a calculated risk and when he secured the leadership of “Canada’s Natural Governing Party” – despite its recent rejection to opposition status – Mr. Dion probably thought he scored himself quite a coup. Unfortunately for him, a shrewd Conservative Party set to work soon after defining his visibly weak personality as weak leadership and Canadians started to associate the man with the cleverly crafted Conservative catchphrase “not a leader”.

Fast forward to 2008 and the Conservative strategists are facing an alternative line of attack from the opposition. Scandal is the order (rather, strategy) of the day for the Liberal Party. Labeled as untrustworthy after the very public sponsorship scandal, Liberal minds went to work after receiving a bit of a hint from Karlheinz Schreiber and Brian Mulroney. The former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister taught the Liberals that there is no shelf-life on unresolved scandal, but more importantly that the public spotlight on perceived dubious activity could harm Conservatives as it had done the Liberals. If the Liberal brand has a higher floor than that of the new Conservatives, framing all political parties as untrustworthy may just have Liberals coming out ahead (while at the same time setting everyone back). Chuck Cadman, Ian Brodie and NAFTA, and Maxime Bernier became key nodes on the Liberal strategic whiteboard as that party worked on degrading the key strength of the Conservative Prime Minister: trust and accountability.

The Liberals felt a new sense of energy after being demoralized by the constant barrage of attack against their leader. This was especially evident in daily question period when former Liberal leadership candidate Maurizio Bevilacqua rambled off expressive Italian tabloid headlines on the “scandalo” of Maxime Bernier that were dogging the PM on his European trip. A gang of OLO staffers and Liberal researchers showed up in the member’s gallery and held their sides as the Italian-Canadian MP made a great show of his question to the government.

The Liberal leader, however, still had his own problems. Facing a ‘save-the-furniture’ style election by elements within his own caucus – namely MPs loyal to Bob Rae – Dion promoted a new policy plank in his carbon tax. Later told by senior Liberal strategists that calling his plan a tax would turn off Canadians, Dion strode forward on the well-founded assumption that the only thing standing in the way of a Rae-Harper orchestrated defeat of the government, was a party-defining policy that could sustain the embattled leader through the summer. Environment played to one of Mr. Dion’s rare if wrongly perceived strengths and for the Liberal leader it will probably be his last playable hand. Going into a summer forecasted to be a scorcher too hot for even regular joggers along the canal, Mr. Dion may believe that the “green, don’t call it a carbon tax, shift” is his trump card.

In the meantime, Conservative insiders heard that Mr. Dion was set to unveil his carbon tax plan next Wednesday, just prior to the House rising after the spring session. In doing so, the professorial Liberal leader could define his plan outside of Parliament on the – ironic perhaps – propane-fueled BBQ circuit that politicians often take during the summer recess.

In focus groups and telephone-based market research, Conservative planners came to understand that a carbon tax in the abstract is a well-received concept to most Canadians. What they also found, however, that when the details of achieving such a policy objective are understood, a broad majority of Canadians don’t think of it as feasible. Words like “tax-shifting” and “revenue neutral” were panned and uncomfortably rejected by focus groups when polled and the general distrust of politicians regarding new tax became a palatable conclusion for Conservative strategists. Conservative-Liberal switchers, a group that holds victory for either party, was found to have a distrust for any politician with a plan for creative tax manipulation.

As they did before, the Conservatives moved to define the Liberal leader, however this time on his carbon tax, before Dion could do it himself. The party faced two decisions. On one hand, they could engage the Liberals in a debate on their carbon tax proposal, and on the other they could tap into the public’s well-grounded suspicion in creative tax schemes proposed by politicians. The Conservatives chose the latter. Using the specific terms of carbon taxation would be instrumental to the party’s strategy and this would not allow Dion to speak about it in general feel-good terms. Conservatives tasked themselves on warning Canadians of politicians promising new models of taxation. A key weakness for Dion in attracting swing votes that exist between Liberal and Conservative is that the Liberal leader is not viewed as a fiscally frugal Liberal and that he instead occupies the “tax and spend” left camp in the Liberal party. On trust numbers, Harper scores much higher than Dion on the issue of taxation. If Dion’s strength is in the environment, the Conservatives did well to frame this as a tax issue instead. From alluding to the then-promised temporary measure of income taxation to pay for the First World War to the recent McGuinty health premiums, Conservative messaging sought to enhance Canadian skepticism in Dion’s plan yet to be unveiled. Warning tape was streamed at the “willyoubetricked.ca” website the party built to compliment the campaign and scores of volunteers donned yellow shirts – yellow being the colour of warning or caution – to alert Canadians to what Conservatives claim would be Dion’s “tax on everything”. Indeed, the primary message of the campaign was caution underscored by the primary catchphrase “don’t be tricked”.

The party also signed a contract with Fuelcast, the company that runs the video screens at the gas pumps for very focused messaging. While representing less than 5% of their ad buy, the fuelcasting represented a unique angle to land coveted free advertising via earned media; no political party has ever used the gas pump video screens for political advertising and the unique nature of this advertising was a great news hook for the networks. Although the agreement unexpectedly fell through, the campaign earned increased exposure even in the negative attention that certain media outlets gave the ad spots as some reporters speculated that “Oily” (the talking oil spot in the fuelcast spots) was a deliberately engineered failure in order to get earned media.

Oily, as he’s been dubbed by reporters, was never intended to die. Though the Liberal response to the advertising was that such a campaign indicated that the Conservatives were in the pocket of big oil – in that the party purchased advertising on gas pumps, the irony is that the Fuelcast company eventually rejected their advertising citing that they didn’t want to be political. Oily was meant to be an eye catching, sort of in-your-face character to draw the attention of gas pumping consumers and the spot compliment the yellow warning colour of the campaign website. The willyoubetricked.ca website was meant to be a zany, humourous and interactive website that people could pass on to their friends.

Any successful campaign gets a lot of attention and it’s without dispute that this one did. A multi-faceted campaign that included the novelty (or promised novelty) of fuelcasting, an interactive website, a pedestrian literature push in yellow t-shirts and panel after panel of Conservative strategists warning Canadians not to be tricked by politicians promising crazy tax schemes. Surprisingly on Monday, while Conservative prodded Dion on redefining himself (after they had done so) on his carbon tax, Dion accepted the challenge and we bizarrely saw an opposition leader in fact responding rather than challenging. This suggests that the theory that Dion is desperate to cling to a medium-term campaign (rather than a snap election) to save himself as the leader of the Liberal Party.

So this summer, Dion will jump on a jet to visit all parts of Canada, flipping non-organic transited burgers on gas or charcoal grills telling people that he’s in a shifty mood when it comes to their taxes, the summer sun that Canadians will seek to avoid inside their cooled homes may prove to have too much disconnect when it comes to the tax they’ll pay on their gas, their groceries and their respite from the heat. For Conservatives, the party planted a successful seed of well-founded doubt among Canadians concerning Mr. Dion’s plan.

Maxime Bernier resigns

At 7pm this evening, the Prime Minister announced that he received an offer of resignation of Foreign Affairs minister Maxime Bernier this afternoon and accepted it. Bernier informed the Prime Minister that he had been careless in keeping classified documents secure while he was in a relationship with Julie Couillard. The Prime Minister has emphasized that the personal relationship of Mr. Bernier wasn’t the business of the state – or of the public.

Indeed, close relations of cabinet ministers including spouses, other romantic interests or family are neither cleared for such information (rated at Top Secret or even TS:SA), and they are not vetted by those that protect the government. Essentially, keeping of department and state secrets is the role of each and every minister and Bernier has admitted an inexcusable lapse in judgment regarding the security of classified information.

The Prime Minister is to board a Challenger jet within the hour for an extended multinational European trip and the settling of this business was urgent prior to his departure. Ms. Couilliard’s interview this evening with French-language network TVA would have heightened the opposition’s tone to fever pitch and it’s no secret that all three opposition parties were to focus on asking for Mr. Bernier’s resignation over the next week and up until Parliament rises for the summer break. In resolving this matter, the government gets somewhat of a reprieve from a scandal-obsessed opposition, still hungry despite recent setbacks in their narrative as the RCMP cited no evidence in the Cadman affair and the recent absolution of the Prime Minister’s outgoing chief Ian Brodie in the NAFTA-related leak which now seems to be refocused on the Canadian embassy and consulates in the US rather than upon PMO. By clearing the deck of the Bernier issue, the Prime Minister’s office will construct a narrative of promptly dealing with issues of substance and holding the line on fabrications from the opposition.

The opposition gets a trophy today in Bernier’s resignation. The context of failed fishing trips by the Liberals will be sadly neglected by the Press Gallery; the vicious mood among a number of scribes in this town is not that Cadman and Brodie were simply fish tales, but rather the ones that got away.

Today was a bad day for Conservatives, but it represents an opportunity for the government move forward on its agenda without this distraction.

UPDATE: Here is Maxime Bernier’s letter of resignation.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister
Room 313-S, Centre Block
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Prime Minister,

This is to inform you that I am resigning my post as Minister of Foreign Affairs, effective immediately.

I informed you late this afternoon that last night I became aware that I had left behind classified government documents at a private residence.

Prime Minister, the security breach that occurred was my fault and my fault alone and I take full responsibility for my actions.

I have asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to conduct a thorough review of the situation.

Thank you for the trust you have shown in me. I will do everything I can to serve the government well in my capacity as Member of Parliament.

Yours truly,

Maxime Bernier

Liberal boulevard lined by glass houses

while a boy named Iggy throws stones.

CTV (May 25th, 2008):

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier has embarrassed this country and it should be for the last time, says Deputy Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

The House of Commons resumes Monday after a week-long break. The official opposition is expected to ask Bernier to resign from his cabinet post after the minister made an empty-handed promise to an aid agency.

How soon Michael Ignatieff forgets.

National Post (October 11th, 2006):

MONTREAL – Michael Ignatieff, the front-runner in the race for the federal Liberal leadership, has accused Israel of committing “a war crime” during its conflict with Hezbollah last summer.In an interview on a widely watched Quebec talk show, Mr. Ignatieff apologized for comments in August when he told a newspaper he was “not losing sleep” over an Israeli bombing that killed dozens of civilians in the Lebanese village of Qana.

It was a mistake. I showed a lack of compassion. It was a mistake and when you make a mistake like that, you have to admit it,” he told the French-language Radio-Canada program Tout le monde en parle.

On the topic of Maxime Bernier’s ex

Scandal period in Ottawa continued today as the Liberal Party, rather than ask questions about policy, grilled the government on their latest tangential interest: Minister Bernier’s ex-girlfriend.

The minister, who was to be shuffled from Industry to Foreign Affairs on a sunny August day last year brought a date when he was sworn in at the usually prim and proper residence of the Governor General, Rideau Hall. Julie Couillard then made headlines for her risqué outfit rather than the headlines she’s making now as the ex-girlfriend of a murdered biker-turned-informant.

Conservative partisans have been quick to dismiss this latest attack by Liberals as none of the nation’s concern, especially as it relates to governance. On the matter of private issues and personal relationships, I would agree. Some Liberals/BQ note that in the nightmare scenario this could have represented a significant security breach. On matters of security, we should always be mindful of such worst-case, though unlikely, hypotheticals. Not that the minister would reveal state secrets, but Bernier – knowingly or not – as some of the more imaginative observers have suggested, may have put himself in a position where he could have been blackmailed. Though, the unaware minister should not be faulted for letting his guard down as he tried to proceed to do what most of us try to do – have a personal life.

Despite this age of Google and Facebook, is one really expected to do this sort of negative vetting of all of their relationships (both potential and actual)? Call me old-fashioned, but any vetting that needs to be done is done during the dating process before two people tie the knot and such vetting is not related matters of national security. Is the minister responsible for the security screening of his dates, or is this the responsibility of those that protect cabinet? PCO has stated that they do not vet family members and spouses let alone romantic interests of cabinet ministers. Therefore, if Canada’s security services would not presume to screen a love interest, what’s the story here beyond politically-motivated hysteria induced by past hypotheticals?

Liberal partisans will latch onto this and show their grave concern for Canada’s national security, but on more broader and existential matters of Canada’s security, they fall silent, or worse, they advocate absurd ideas such as bringing Taliban/al Queda prisoners to Canada to be detained. When you ask Canadians which party is the party they associate with national security, defense and being tough on crime, it is in fact the most overwhelming of answers in focus groups; Canadians by and large choose Conservatives over Liberals on these issues. This is not a winning story for Liberals as Canadians aren’t particularly interested in the secret (private) lives of cabmins.

However, the national media, which is usually loathe to report on the personal lives of Ottawa politicos, is currently experiencing a catharsis of staid Canadian journalistic repression long ago released by their shameless UK counterparts that stain politicians by the barrelful of ink in that country’s tabloids. Therefore, as one seasoned political reporter told me this evening, after this initial brouhaha, the media will focus on other things. According to my journalist friend, this is the ‘one day story’.

Summary questions:
1) Can we reasonably expect our cabinet ministers to negatively vet their personal relationships to the degree that the Liberals demand?

2) How relevant is the past of a personal short-term relationship to the business of government, especially now that it has passed without incident?

3) Any personal relationship can potentially provide loose and exploitable ends at any number of degrees of separation. Does an MPs father have a gambling problem? Did a Minister’s foster brother have connections to a Toronto street gang? Are Denis Coderre and Paul Martin friends of Claude Boulay?

4) If Canada’s security services do not screen or do background checks on all of the past and present relationships of senior cabinet ministers, should they? If it is necessary, cabinet ministers ought to be afforded this level of protection due to their offices, not be liable for the lack of it.

5) Will the opposition start asking the government questions concerning governance?

6) Can we go back to respecting the private lives of politicos? This story hardly merited the breach of what was and should still be an Ottawa news media tradition.

UPDATE: Chantal Hébert writes,

Julie Couillard has no criminal record. She has never been charged with criminal activity and some of Quebec’s crack investigative reporters failed to find evidence that she has had links with bikers since a 1999 divorce.

It is just about unprecedented for a Quebec party to venture into the private life of a political opponent in this fashion. The Bloc, under Lucien Bouchard or even under previous incarnations of a more serene Duceppe, would not have touched a story that so barely passes the test of public interest. Nor, for that matter, would a Liberal party that had not lost its opposition rudder.

But desperate times, it seems, call for desperate moves.

UPDATE: Though it is topical, comments describing or speculating on the unpublished details of the private/social lives of other politicians will not be approved.

CPC keeps pressure up on CBC, shifts focus to Liberals

Conservative Party is keeping up the pressure on the state-funded broadcaster and asks some tough questions for the Liberals:

LIBERALS MUST COME CLEAN ON CBC COLLUSION ALLEGATIONS

December 17, 2007

CBC must also explain disturbing pattern of anti-Conservative bias

OTTAWA – The Liberal Party of Canada must reveal the scope of the party’s alleged collusion with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on House of Commons committee business, and explain the party’s denials of collusion given contradictory statements from senior members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and the CBC itself.

“The Liberal Party must reveal the full extent of its cooperation with the taxpayer-financed CBC,” said Conservative M.P. Dean Del Mastro. “And Liberals must explain why they�re the only organization denying the collusion allegations.”

According to former Liberal Cabinet Minister Jean Lapierre, now a political reporter with the TVA network questions asked by Liberal members of the House ethics committee on December 13th were “written by the CBC” (CTV Newsnet, December 13, 2007). CTV’s Mike Duffy later added that Liberal researcher Jay Ephard admitted that the CBC and Liberals worked together on the Liberals’ committee questions (Mike Duffy Live, December 13, 2007). And now, according to Canadian Press, the CBC has launched its own internal investigation into what it described as “inappropriate” practices (Canadian Press, December 14, 2007).

Yet the Liberal Party’s has denied that there was collusion between his party and the CBC and called the allegations a “total fabrication” (National Post, December 15, 2007).

“Are the Liberals saying that Jean Lapierre, Mike Duffy and the CBC itself are fabricating their stories?” asked Del Mastro. “More importantly do Liberals believe that it is appropriate for their party to actively collude with the country’s public broadcaster?”

While Conservatives welcomed the launch of an internal CBC investigation into the alleged Liberal-CBC collusion, the party remains concerned about a disturbing pattern of anti-Conservative bias from the public broadcaster. During the 2004 election, the network was caught soliciting anti-Conservative participants for a town hall-style meeting. And the network admitted “regret” in 2006 after airing a report that negatively portrayed Stephen Harper by using out-of-context footage.

“The CBC receives over a billion dollars a year from taxpayers and is there to serve all Canadians,” said Del Mastro. “Canadians who want fair and balanced reporting are going to be asking some tough questions about why the CBC was working with the Liberal Party on parliamentary business.”

Some people have been saying, “but reporters suggest questions with committees all the time”.

The most striking problem with this instance is that the questions under Conservative complaint here are questions that go beyond the scope of the committee’s scope, which is actually defined as: “Study of the Mulroney Airbus Settlement”. Suddenly questions about Maxime Bernier and the wireless spectrum auction came up.

The Prime Minister instructed his caucus to put a freeze on communications with Mulroney so that the opposition could not suggest or imply that the former Prime Minister, who continues to be under fire, is linked to the current crop of Conservatives.

It is interesting that it was not the opposition that was the genesis of the attempt to link Mulroney to Harper, but allegedly it was the CBC.

The Liberals, however, are ultimately to blame if this report of “collusion” is true. That party and their MP Pablo Rodriguez were the ones to channel the CBC’s request(s) into the committee. To the CBC (and the reporter following the wireless spectrum story), the sole opportunity to question the former Prime Minister may have proved too tempting to pass up, even if it meant inappropriate influence of a committee far beyond “the airbus settlement” to “Mulroney and everything Conservative”. Conservative committee members termed Rodriguez’s line of questioning as “a fishing expedition”. The Chair (also a Liberal) was quite liberal himself in his ruling in allowing the unrelated questions to continue.

What is the extent of influence of the CBC on the Liberal Party? How high does Trudeau’s party jump when the public broadcaster tells it to?

Frankly, this wouldn’t be a scandal in the eyes of the CPC if the Liberals had laughed at the CBC’s request/demand and had proceeded by staying within the mandate of the parliamentary committee on access to information, privacy and ethics. The Liberals were ultimately the precipitators of this scandal by showing that they could be influenced to brutally stretch the committee’s scope. It is also troubling to know that the CBC itself is party to the political process on the Hill.

Here are the questions from CBC that Jean Lapierre alleged (and Jay Ephard, a Liberal researcher confirmed) were given to the Liberals to ask:

In and Outright Hypocrisy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jennings2004.jpg
Click to enlarge

and 2006:

jennings2006.jpg
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Jennings’ 2004 election return shows a $300 expense for advertising paid to the Liberal Party of Canada and a $1500 expense for the same paid to “The Federal Liberal Agency of Canada”. The 2006 return shows a $11,206.86 expense for advertising paid to the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party.

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

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

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

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

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

New Cabinet

The cabinet has been shuffled.

Solberg is at Rideau Hall to accompany his good friend Chuck Strahl. Monte will not be getting a new portfolio. He will remain in HRSDC.

Monte’s pal Strahl goes to Indian Affairs. A good upgrade especially as a BC minister.

MacKay goes to defense and keeps ACOA. The higher visibility should help the Tories regain some ground in Atlantic Canada.

O’Connor to revenue. As the most obvious prediction of a portfolio change, some thought O’Connor would go to Veterens Affairs. The former defense minister now goes to a largely administrative portfolio.

Oda to international cooperation. Oda replaces Josee Verner in this portfolio. Some say she was a poor communicator in Heritage, lacking the ability to speak French, she now takes over the CIDA portfolio.

Jim Prentice goes to Industry taking over for Maxime Bernier. Prentice is said to be the hardest working minister in Harper’s cabinet and will bring his work ethic to this new portfolio.

Maxime Bernier is tapped for foreign affairs. Such a move will have both the effect of raising Bernier’s portfolio and gives Quebec a minister in a more elite department. Further, as Quebec’s Van Doos soldiers are in Afghanistan, having a good communicator in this portfolio from the province.

Josee Verner to Canadian Heritage/Women/Languages. An Oda/Vernier swap. Vernier gets promoted and Oda demoted. Verner will be well positioned to celebrate Quebec City’s 400th anniversary.

Gerry Ritz to Agriculture/Wheat Board. A promotion for the Saskatchewan MP was pretty much assured when fellow Saskatchewan MP Skelton announced her retirement. Skelton being that province’s sole representation in cabinet, her resignation created an opening for a Saskatchewan MP. I’ve heard that Ritz will press forward on market choice and fight against the Wheat Board.

And, Diane Ablonczy finally gets her due as Secretary of State for Small Business and Tourism…

…which puts a wee blotch on my cabinet prediction! I predicted that no backbencher would be promoted to cabinet. Perhaps this was an 11th hour decision?

But, as I predicted, nobody lost their job and it was a significant shuffle. Cabinet did not grow in size. Also, as predicted, Day and Baird stay in their portfolios.

Further, Bernier was shuffled, but not to defense nor finance as some predicted.

So, is this Canada’s New New Government? What are your thoughts? Does this put a new face on the Conservative government? Cheers, Jeers? Did Harper make a good shuffle today? The Globe reported that Harper would be decreasing the size of cabinet in order to prepare for an election. However, the usual knowledge is that cabinet in fact grows prior to an election to promote seats and as many faces as possible.

The Prime Minister is likely to prorogue Parliament and go ahead with a throne speech this fall. This shuffle is also timed to give ministers enough time to process their MCs and move forward before the fall. The PM will also draw thoughts from his new ministers for the expected throne speech.