PMO’s letter of complaint to the CBC

This letter’s been floating around among a few reporters. I received the following text in my email’s inbox this morning.

Dear Mr Gilbert,

To be sure, freedom of the press is one of the foundations of our democratic life and the vitality of public debate in Canadian democracy. In that respect, we are fortunate in Canada to live in a political and media environment characterized by a lack of political interference that might undermine the credibility and impartiality of our media institutions, including public broadcasters.

I must admit that I was perplexed by Mr Guy Gendron’s report on the program ” Zone Libre Enquête” on Friday, January 19, 2007, which covered the oil sands industry in Alberta. Indeed, at times, Radio-Canada indulged in unacceptable innuendos, the most striking of which were as follows:

“…the day after the election of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in Canada, U.S. oil industry leaders met in this hotel in Houston, Texas, together with promoters of major oil sands projects in Alberta.”

“Talks, sometimes secret deals, as discovered by our colleague from ‘Zone Libre Enquête,’ Guy Gendron. “

“The Radio-Canada program ‘Zone Libre Enquête’ reveals that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President George Bush cut a secret deal last year .”

“So far, the Conservative government, as you know, has withdrawn… Canada is the only country to have withdrawn from Kyoto among the 35 signatories.”

Finally, I would draw your attention to the following statement:

“The oil-sands have a road map to a production level of 5 million barrels a day,” A “Current projections are more like 2-to-3 million over the next ten years.”

That quotation dates from September 8, 2004, and was made by the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources under the former Liberal government.

By beginning with the election of a Conservative government, the report neglected to highlight the decisions by the former government.

The “secret” report, “Oil Sands Experts Group Workshop Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Houston, Texas January 24-25, 2006 Oil Sands Workshop SPP Report,” which is also available at http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/oilgas/publications/oilgas_generalpubs/oilsands_spp_report.pdf , says that:

“President Bush, Prime Minister Martin and President Fox officially announced the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North American (SPP) agreement in March 2005. The energy activities of the SPP encompass a trilateral effort among Mexico, the United States and Canada, to create a sustainable energy economy for North America. The Canadian oil sands are one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon resources and will be a significant contributor to energy supply and security for the continent. As such, the three countries agreed to collaborate through the SPP on the sustainable development of the oil sands resources and an ad hoc Oil Sands Experts Group was formed that includes the U.S., Canadian and Alberta Government representatives. The first deliverable for the Group consisted of the following: ‘By January 2006, building on joint discussions with key stakeholders and scientific experts, issue a report that discusses the mid- to long-term aspects of the oil sands product market development and the infrastructure and refinery implications for increased oil sands market penetration.’ To meet this deliverable, the Group convened a workshop in Houston, Texas, on January 24-25, 2006, that was jointly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). […] The workshop brought together experts representing the oil sands industry, refiners, marketers, pipeline companies, and government.”

On several occasions, the SRC blamed the current situation on the Conservative government. As you know, the situation is much more complex, and goes beyond the election of a Conservative government on January 23, as suggested by Radio-Canada.

It is noteworthy that the report by Natural Resources Canada is made up of recommendations, whereas the reporter implied that it is binding and that the Conservative government approves the recommendations from the outset.

The SRC story contained a number of factual errors, including one regarding the appointment of the former environment minister, Ms Rona Ambrose. The story indicated that Ms Ambrose was appointed on February 16, when in fact she was appointed minister on February 6, 2006.

The report took a sensationalist tone and sought to draw a direct link between oil sands development and the election of the Conservative government, a link that is more than dubious.

On the program “Tout le monde en parle,” host Guy-A Lepage stated that the report might bring down Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative government. How could he make such a claim when most of the facts occurred under the Liberal government led by Paul Martin?

The wording used suggested to viewers that there was a link between the two events. How can any kind of link whatsoever be drawn between that meeting by oil industry leaders in Houston and Prime Minister Harper’s election the day before? There is no link between these two completely separate events. The timing angle, by which the events were depicted as occurring together within a broader environment, was unacceptable as worded in the report. There was no further clarification that would enable viewers to realize that these two events were completely separate from each other.

If the reporter felt it was important to indicate the timing of the meeting in Houston, a more nuanced wording -notably with regard to syntax- such as “Incidentally, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was elected on January 23,” would have had the advantage of dispelling any ambiguity. And as you know, the meeting of oil industry leaders was convened under the Liberal government of Paul Martin.

Furthermore, Radio-Canada spread misinformation that Prime Minister Harper and U.S. President George Bush met secretly. That information is completely false: no secret meeting or deal took place between Prime Minister Harper and President Bush.

A lot of things happened on January 24 and 25, 2006. I hope that not all those events that took place the day after January 23 have a direct link with our election. That would be rather bizarre timing.

I also want to clarify once again that our government was sworn in on February 6, 2006, which means that on February 6, 2006 , the Liberal Party of Canada was still in power.

This incident in no way diminishes my confidence in the excellent work carried out by the Société Radio-Canada. Media impartiality is essential in the knowledge and information society. The quality of our media institutions depends on it, as does the maintenance of the high degree of journalistic integrity that characterizes the SRC. We acknowledge that we are at odds with the SRC’s position. We are calling on you to consider the facts properly, so that the truth can come out of this misunderstanding.

I hope this meets with your expectations.

Yours sincerely,

Sandra Buckler
Director of Communications
Prime Minister of Canada

Rae making a deal with Ignatieff

Looks like the backroom people might win this race. The common opinion among my media friends is that Dion’s momentum is the grassroots telling the party that they will not have their leader chosen. The old money choice, of course is Rae and he would seem to be Martin and Chretien’s unity candidate. However, Dion’s momentum may show that the grassroots won’t take it.

However, I’m hearing that Rae’s people may be making a deal with Ignatieff.

Of red-state herrings and out-of-the-blue pro-american Liberals

Captured from the Liberal Party website:

liberal-party-usa.jpg

What would Paul Martin say?

Well, during the last election he said this:

“I guess the only thing I would say to Mr. Harper in this discussion is that America is our neighbor. It’s not our nation, and we have our own set of values, and that’s why we’re so strong in this country.” — Paul Martin, former Liberal Prime Minister

On comparing the Conservative Party to Democrats

Some in the Canadian Conservative movement have half-correctly compared our party to the Democrats in the United States. While the philosophy shared between the two parties is as different as it is similar, our predicament can draw a few parallels.

For instance, like the Dems we are perennially without power in our country; our members find their party in the wilderness. We both watch desperately as our good people and good thinkers are shut out the executive (Paul Martin’s appointment of the crypto-loyalist Michaelle Jean), the legislative (we cannot form government without Ontario), and the judiciary (rehearing of Chaoulli supreme court decision, the appointment of Supreme Court judges). Indeed, like the Democrats we are left helpless as our respective visions for our respective countries rest unimplemented.

Fortunately, unlike the Democrats, the new Conservative Party of Canada has a strong philosophical base; for the most part, we have not reverted to chaos in order to determine what we stand for. The party has matured, found its footing and is almost ready for power. While our party may disagree on a couple of social issues, these are not significant hurdles to the actual issues of governance. The Democrats however, find themselves turning hard-left under Chairman Howard Dean while rushing towards the centre with presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. In contrast, Stephen Harper through his leadership has induced moderation and a common direction for the party. However, many on the outside, and those that channel PMO spokesman Scott Reid, still have the belief that Harper harbours undesirable motives. Therefore, the only similarity that can be drawn with the Democrats with this respect is that Conservative Party messaging is impotent; we cannot effectively control the message. Some say that this is a problem with “the mainstream media”.

Now, let’s be realistic. Whether or not our perceived uphill battle against “the media” is true or not, it is how it should be. The media should be hard on us, however, let me qualify by saying that it should be hard on anyone that desires to run this country (Liberal party included). As a Canadian first, and a Conservative second, I would ask nothing less of the fourth estate than adequate scrutiny of anyone who wishes to lead this country. However, the media should be fair. Enter the blogosphere.

Unlike the Democrats, we are winning the blogwars. I often attribute the greater order and dominance of the Canadian Conservative blogosphere to the very fact that our voices are marginalized and that our official party messaging implodes every time Don Martin points out a fault. The Democrats are losing the American struggle for blog dominance for one simple reason. While their messaging is equally troubled and their voices marginalized (yet not to the same degree despite the ‘dominance’ of Fox News), they do not speak with any semblance of unity. For the most part, Canadian Conservative bloggers are focused, organized and thrive in their cohesion.

At the core of their repective problems, the Conservative party and the Democrats are quite different yet similar in the end. While being anti-war could be the most identifiable casus belli of the Democratic party, they lack unity on this issue with John Kerry’s voting for/against the war and Hillary Clinton’s equally polyvalent stance. Comparatively in Canada, no Conservative is ‘pro-Adscam’, however, we fail for the same reason as the Democrats. In the end, the Conservative Party and the Democrats must offer real solutions and positive vision for our respective countries.

If we should lead, our party should look forward. If not, we fill find ourselves mired in regress.

Fiction Friday: The CBC’s secret GG training grounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monique Bégin: our next Governor General?

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

Who is Mme. Bégin?

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

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

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

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

She further describes her affinity for the Romanow report,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appointments this week: Senate and GG

Paul Martin has appointed five new senators to the Upper Chamber this week. Three Liberals and two Conservative received their golden tickets and will sit in the Big Red Room when the Senate sits resumes later this year.

The new Senators are:
Larry Campbell, Vancouver mayor (Liberal)
Hugh Segal, former PC leadership candidate, Policy CEO and Queen’s prof (Conservative)
Andée Champagne, PC cabinet minister (Conservative)
Dennis Dawson, non-remarkable MP (Liberal)
Rod Zimmer, businessman and Liberal fundraiser (Liberal)

This group is pretty much as expected (disappointing and satisfying at the same time). It’s good to see Mr. Segal in the Senate.

I’m glad to see that Martin is appointing Conservative senators (Chrétien appointed about 50 senators, (almost) all Liberal (save 3 ind)). The Conservative senators that he just appointed are good choices. Yet, aside from Campbell’s celebrity (he’s an annoying character, in my opinion), the Liberal picks fall short of remarkable.

I’d also like to point out that there haven’t been any senators from the old reform/alliance tradition. This is disappointing. The senate could go far to reduce western alienation and perhaps the only solution in the end is to elect it as a provincial check on federal power.

Next up is Martin’s choice of a Governor General. His decision is to be announced tomorrow. I’m hopeful that perhaps we’ll see some balance here as well. It’s likely that Martin will appoint a francophone to follow the general pattern, but it’s also likely because the Liberals desperately need to curry favour in Québec.

However, I think that either Preston Manning or Deb Grey would make a great GG.

With one eyebrow raised

lapierre.jpgI can’t believe the news today.

In a move sure to astound, Paul Martin recruited Bloc Québecois co-founder Jean Lapierre to run as a Liberal in Quebec in the next federal election.

Does this indicate that despite one’s political inclinations or political past, as long as one is a Martinite, all is forgiven? It is good to see a seperatist become a fan of Canada again. It will also serve to take some Bloc votes from that party which makes it appear as though the Bloc is on its way out. Good strategy on behalf of Paul Martin, but what leaves me unsettled is that this man was the co-founder of the ‘federal’ party which helped the Parti Québecois bring this country to within less than one percentage point of a national crisis. Mending fences is always a difficult process and I guess that this is a perfect example of that difficulty.

If the Liberals can forgive such a former sovereigntist then perhaps Paul Martin and Alan Rock can give Brian Mulroney a call to share some laughs over a few pints. “Sorry ’bout our witch-hunt, Brian. We just didn’t realize at the time that we’d come to love those things called NAFTA and GST.”

Throne speech delivered

Martin prior to throne speechSo, now that the throne speech has been delivered, let’s take a closer look. The key item, it seems, in the speech was the “new deal” for cities. The NDP says that it doesn’t go far enough and the Conservatives say that it treads on the constitutional balance between the federal/provincial/municipal governments. I’m also very skeptical of Paul Martin’s “one time” two billion dollar into the health care system. Paul claims “it’s broke”, so he’ll put a two billion dollar band-aid on it and hope it holds until he’s ready to retire. Why is it broken Paul?

I keep getting a strange feeling every time that I hear the liberal spin about how this new Liberal government is going to be different from Jean Chrétien’s government, and how spending focus and policy is somehow going to shift. By the will of the Liberal party membership (including the loyal Liberals in BC), we have a new Liberal Prime Minister and he’s the “new deal” for Canadians. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Prime Minister Paul Martin was a key player in the Jean Chrétien government when he was Finance Minister Paul Martin. The allocation of government spending has been long determined and considered by Paul Martin long before he was Prime Minister. It’s not as if Paul Martin has just recently seen the books for the first time and has had an epiphany. Rather, this speech from the throne is merely the pre-election platform of empty promises by the same old government. Indeed, this government has had years to consider a better deal with cities and has had years to find a solution for their failed management of healthcare. I believe that Peter MacKay said it best yesterday, after the speech, when he said that Paul Martin is like an arsonist returning to the fire and then claiming he is a firefighter. It seems as if government turnover in this country has been reduced to the Liberal party coronation of a new leader and calling him “the new deal”.

Throne speech

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

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

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

Developing…