A response to Alf Apps’ politicization of H1N1

Alf Apps made the news for emailing this disgraceful letter to a wide distribution list within the Liberal Party. He has been roundly criticized for suggesting that H1N1 may be Prime Minister Harper’s “Hurricane Katrina” and that “Canadians are entitled to wonder if they are being victimized by some clinical cost-benefit analysis premised on the theory that expense could be avoided if demand for the vaccine were suppressed and access to immunization for most was made well nigh impossible.”

I’ve put together the following video as a critique on Apps’ disgusting words. H1N1 is not a game and all parties ought to be working together to ensure supply and manage fears. It is wholly irresponsible to cause panic thus jamming lines with low priority Canadians at the expense of those who need the rationed vaccine first. This is not an issue upon which Apps’ and a handful of Liberals should be scoring cheap political points. When faced with great situations, we ought to have government accountability yes, but we must be wary of those that would unnecessarily stoke fear to drive a partisan agenda.

Let’s get back to work shall we? This video is a admonition of the politicization of H1N1 and only an admonition of the politicization of H1N1. I believe that most Liberals want to help steer Canada through this potential crisis with minimized turbulence. I agree with Brian Lilley’s take on the recent dialogue on H1N1 on Parliament Hill; Ignatieff has been rational and responsible on this issue while members of his caucus and party have not.

UPDATE: Here’s part of a CTV report by Graham Richardson that aired last night that should interest Mr. Apps.

Again, let’s move forward shall we?

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.

Stop the Presses! Website changes!

Today’s non-story from the breathless Ottawa press comes from Bruce Cheadle of Canadian Press who writes this National Newswatch headlining story,

“Harper photos removed from government website”

The background from this story is that the opposition has been complaining about the nature of the government’s advertising of their “Economic Action Plan” and have described the website of the plan as overtly partisan describing “Harper’s government” and taglines allegedly promoting the longevity of the government, “we can’t stop now”.

In this frame, Mr. Cheadle determines that the Economic Action Plan website is missing 20 photos of the Prime Minister. The Action Plan website contains about 34,500 pages. And, the significance of 20 “removed” photos? According to Cheadle, this may show a reaction to criticism and an acknowledgement of a guilty “Harper government” partisan conscience.

This website here at stephentaylor.ca, and many websites created after 2003 change on a regular basis. When I write a new post on this blog, content appears on the top and then drops off the bottom and is archived. I do not remove the content, but the website changes.

But goodness, 20 photos are suddenly not visible in the same way as the day before? This must be indicative of a vast conspiratorial government cover-up.

On the main homepage of the Economic Action Plan there is a timeline of “real actions” which features a series of photos that link to news stories about the government’s economic stimulus under the plan. One presumes Cheadle is talking about this timeline slideshow because the Prime Minister is still visible in 75% of the photos under the “Action plan highlights” section which dominates the top third of the homepage. Further, photos on press releases and other pages seem to remain in place.

As for the timeline, these photos link to news releases describing the stimulus underway. This timeline updates, ahem, over time and when new content becomes available — or is highlighted — old content is archived. In fact, a Google search shows 421 news releases available on the Action Plan website. Since a showcase of 421 news releases wouldn’t in fact be a “showcase”, a select number is highlighted. The controversy here is that this timeline has changed over time. Does the showcase timeline today reflect less of Stephen Harper’s happy face? Possibly. But fret not, tomorrow we may see more of it!

And to top it all off, a late breaking update of the wire story shows us that the bureaucrats (non-political staff) at PCO deny that the PM’s pictures were removed! (The conspiracy goes deep…)

Monday evening, the same PCO spokeswoman called The Canadian Press with a single talking point that can in no way be reconciled with the altered appearance of the site:

“We have not removed any pictures of the PM,” said Myriam Massabki.

“Single talking point” and “can in no way be reconciled”? Sounds like it’s the government of Canada’s word against Bruce Cheadle, amateur web surfer. In fairness, I’m glad Cheadle updated the story to include the quote even though he shows us that he doesn’t believe a word of it.

The point? The site changed because that’s what sites do over time. Content was not removed, it is still available on the government’s server. In fact, all of the non-removed Action Plan news releases (with pictures) can be viewed here.

You can judge for yourself:
Here is Economic Action plan as it appears today
Here is the same site as cached by Google on September 16th

Finally, let’s consider what this is all about. The criticism is that Prime Minister is a partisan advertisement for the implementation of government policy. Isn’t this argument absurd?

ASIDE: Another criticism highlighted in the CP story is that the latest round of Economic Action Plan ads cost the government $5 million compared to $2 million spent on H1N1 ads.

Here are two issues that have a psychological component.

For economic stimulus, a large part of its purpose and success is affecting consumer confidence. As for H1N1, handwashing and vaccine readiness helps but fueling hysteria does not.

UPDATE 7:43pm: The Prime Minister’s office has just put out the following,

ACTION PLAN WEBSITE: CORRECTING THE RECORD

Canadian Press reporter Bruce Cheadle has falsely reported that photographs of the Prime Minister have been removed from www.actionplan.gc.ca .

These reports are not true. Here are the facts:

* No photographs of the Prime Minister have been removed from the Action Plan website;

* Canadians have a right to know where and how the Government’s stimulus is being spent, and the Action Plan website helps provide this accountability;

* In addition, the website contains important information for Canadians on certain stimulus measures like the Home Renovation Tax Credit that are only available for a limited time.

How fine of a line is David Suzuki walking?

David Suzuki is the head of the eponymous David Suzuki Foundation, a registered Canadian charity that advocates on environmental issues.

Among the issues that are central to the Suzuki Foundation’s main issue campaign of climate change awareness is the introduction of a carbon tax. The Suzuki Foundation website states:

Canadian businesses and individuals can dump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they want–free of charge. We used to think that was OK, but global warming unveiled the limited capacity of the earth’s atmosphere.

Putting a price on carbon, through a carbon tax or through a cap-and-trade system, has been widely accepted as the most effective instrument to reduce carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas.

Fair enough. The Foundation is advocating on a particular policy issue to effect political and social change.

Today, from CTV.ca’s summary of David Suzuki’s interview on that program,

Famed environmentalist David Suzuki has strongly backed Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s emerging carbon tax plan and slammed the NDP and Conservatives.

After hearing the NDP’s criticism of Dion’s plan, Suzuki said: “I’m really shocked with the NDP with this. I thought that they had a very progressive environmental outlook.”

“To oppose (the carbon tax plan), its just nonsense. It’s certainly the way we got to go,” he said Sunday on CTV’s Question Period.

QP’s host, Jane Taber asked Suzuki,

Taber: “So are you saying that the Harper government is failing us on the environment?”

Suzuki: “Absolutely, absolutely”

David Suzuki, as an individual, is entitled to his opinion.

Consider Revenue Canada’s restriction on political activities by registered charities:

A registered charity cannot be created for a political purpose and cannot be involved in partisan political activities. A political activity is considered partisan if it involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, a political party or candidate for public office.

CTV’s Question Period interviewed Suzuki for the purpose of commenting upon Dion’s carbon tax plan. While slamming the previous Liberal governments for inaction on climate change, Suzuki’s condemnation of the NDP and Conservatives and support for Dion’s position could be interpreted as partisan political activity.

The technical loophole here that keeps this legal is that David Suzuki and the David Suzuki Foundation are two entities whose activities are separate.

However, as the David Suzuki Foundation advocates for a carbon tax while David Suzuki supports one party’s position on carbon tax while condemning the policies of the other two parties, how nuanced is the difference?

ADDENDUM: I don’t fault Suzuki for walking a fine line. In fact, I believe that any level of political activity should be considered charitable. Political parties shouldn’t be the only organized political entities that should have the ability to issue tax receipts. Until that time, David Suzuki treads carefully.

UPDATE: Treading a fine line? He may have already crossed it here,

Environmentalist David Suzuki savaged Prime Minister Harper over global warming in front of a gymnasium full of elementary school students and their parents on Friday.

Later, he furiously lashed out at Albertans, calling rapid development of the oilsands “insanity” and a “disaster.”

Suzuki, who was invited to speak at Altadore elementary school and accept $835 collected by the students for his foundation, asked the kids what Harper’s main priority was after being elected last year.

He told the room some of his message was directed at the adults, because the youngsters don’t vote and Harper and other politicians don’t care about them.

“It’s up to your mom and dads to ensure your futures and livelihoods are part of the agenda,” he said to about 185 students ranging from kindergarten to Grade 6.

Collecting money for your charitable foundation while blasting the Prime Minister on policy and encouraging children to have their parents put an issue on the agenda could easily be deemed political activity and very inappropriateby the government. Again, according to Revenue Canada,

“A political activity is considered partisan if it involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, a political party or candidate for public office.

Does David Suzuki’s Foundation still qualify for charitable status?