Alright, I admit it. When a journalist asked Liberal Finance Critic Scott Brison a devastatingly worded question there was no way to answer safely, I smiled.
Here’s the question put by Sun Media’s David Akin:
“The Liberal finance minister in Ontario was asked this week about corporate tax cuts, his program. The NDP there would like tax cuts to be cancelled and his response was, and I’m quoting now, ‘It is about the most short-sighted, dumb public policy pronouncement one can envision to cancel corporate tax cuts,’ and I wondered if he knows something you don’t.”
Frankly, any honest reporter would admit there is great pleasure in seeing a politician squirm because of your question. Upon hearing the question, Brison did squirm. Then his response went from refusing comment to repeating his line that the previous Liberal government in Ottawa cut corporate taxes when the government was in surplus and he called on the current Conservative crowd to adopt that same policy and cancel the cuts scheduled to go into effect next year. All in all, Brison made the best of a situation he couldn’t win. When your provincial cousins call your policy “short-sighted” and “dumb” what possible response can you give? Something tells me there were probably some interesting calls between Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park not long after Brison’s news conference.
Among the Conservatives who have stood up against China is Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of Citizenship and Immigration. My first exposure to Jason Kenney’s breadth of politics came in 2005 when he and members of the Alberta Conservative caucus held a pro-Tibet movie night at the Conservative Party Convention in Montreal. In January of that year, while on a parliamentary trip overseas, Kenney was criticized by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin for embarrassing the Chinese when he visited the home of pro-democracy reformer Zhao Ziyang.
In the Afghan detainee transfer agreement signed by General Rick Hillier and the Afghanistan defence minister, an entente was struck to prevent human rights abuses. Among other important guarantees it declares, “No person transferred from the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities will be subject to the application of the death penalty.” This is a strict yet progressive demand for the unstable government of an emerging democracy which in darker days used to slit the throats of thieves like sheep before a stadium of spectators in Kandahar province.
Last week China put a bullet in the back of the head of two company managers in the tainted milk scandal where six children died of contaminated milk. With an estimated 470 executions in 2008, China is believed to be the world’s leading executioner.
In Canada, some of our Liberal Parliamentarians have shown surprise over the past three weeks at allegations that some Afghans treat their fellow Afghans with callous disregard and fault Canadian officials for an uneasy balancing of coddling of a country reborn out of rubble going through the birth pangs of establishing a civil society, with the brutal hell of war against combatants that wear no uniform, splash acid in the faces of schoolchildren, and cut off the ears of those that would work to bring good governance to their country.
Meanwhile, Liberal observers have criticized the Conservatives for pushing human rights in China at the expense of trade. Liberals such as John McCallum describe the “broken Canada-China relation[ship] under the Conservative government” and Scott Brison who prematurely boasted that “the fact that Ignatieff is able to go to China as the leader of the opposition before the ruling party leader does is a clear indication of how good and solid relation[s] between the Liberals and China [are].” Ignatieff subsequently canceled his trip due to a pending fall election triggered by the Liberal leader himself.
This sentiment expressed by McCallum and Brison is not exclusive to the critics of the Liberal benches in the House of Commons. Rebukes of Stephen Harper’s tough stance on China’s abuses have also been echoed by former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien who complains that Canada used to be China’s “best friend”. Chretien bemoaned that comparatively, in the first three years that he was Prime Minister, the p’tit gars had visited China eight or nine times. Never mind the fact that Chretien started lobbying the Chinese government within weeks of stepping down as Canada’s twentieth Prime Minister.
Growing numbers of human rights activists were imprisoned, put under house arrest or surveillance, or harassed. Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, continued. Falun Gong practitioners were at particularly high risk of torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Christians were persecuted for practising their religion outside state-sanctioned channels. Despite the reinstatement of Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty cases, the death penalty remained shrouded in secrecy and continued to be used extensively. Torture of detainees and prisoners remained prevalent. Millions of people had no access to justice and were forced to seek redress through an ineffective extra-legal petition system. Women and girls continued to suffer violence and discrimination.
Conservatives are usually criticized for dealing with issues in absolutes, in rights and wrongs, in black and white. Meanwhile Liberals sometimes suffer a charge of moral relativism from their opponents as they are accused of dealing in shades of grey. On their assessment of a nascent democracy suffering in horrific ravages of war, a country attempting to cast off ages of illiberalism and lawlessness, it is evident that Liberals have little sympathy for the harsh realities of an imperfect situation. Whereas on a country with an often brutal established dictatorial order, a country with a $4.3 Trillion GDP, and a country that actually bans human rights monitoring groups from operating within its borders, Liberals such as Bob Rae suggest:
“The Chinese are very concerned about stability, they’re very concerned about order. They’re very concerned about a billion people. They’re fearful of the consequences of losing that kind of control. Seems to me we just have to keep on trying to persuade them that liberty is the better way. It’s something we believe in and something we should share with them.” — Bob Rae
The opposition parties say it is not believable that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his senior ministers weren’t aware of Colvin’s troubling reports. If true, they could implicate Canada in the war crime of complicity in torture.
“The fact of the matter is that if there was ever at any time a view that there was a serious risk of people being mistreated, those prisoners should never have been transferred and such transfer is a breach of international law,” said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.
Torture is abhorrent and is a fundamental violation of human rights. I’m confident that most would agree that such a violation is terrible no matter where or against whom it occurs. Yet can we reasonably expect perfection from Afghans in an imperfect situation in their war-torn country while diminishing and invoking willful ignorance of the abuses by a modern, industrialized and enviably affluent state such as China?
Asked about the first thing he’d do as Prime Minister, Jack Layton in the English leader’s debate said that he’d roll back the $50 Billion corporate tax cut. That would have been his #1 priority. Now we learn that the Liberals won’t support this. Since Layton has supported this coalition, has he sold out his socialist roots? Or is it more likely that the proposed coalition wouldn’t be stable or agree upon much after mere weeks in power?
4:09pm: Persuant to a standing order I do not recall, the Minister of Finance tables his economic statement.
4:10pm: Time of unprecedented economic deterioration. Uh oh, this sounds bad.
4:11pm: IMF projects global growth weakest since ’93. Good thing the IMF puts Canada in the best fiscal position of the G7.
4:13pm: CTV reports that the Liberals will not support the economic statement. This statement is a matter of confidence and if defeated would precipitate an election.
4:14pm: Reformation of global finance will be done with global partners.
4:15pm: Trade will be expanded.
4:15pm: Opposition mocks Flaherty for saying the government planned for the downturn last year.
4:15pm: Taxes have been reduced by $200B. Investments have been made in infrastructure, S&T and training.
4:16pm: Funding for infrastructure projects. Taxes down by equivalent of 2% GDP. Sustainable and permanent tax relief.
4:19pm: Canada will come out of the crisis in a strong position because it went in a strong position.
4:21pm: Will not engineer a surplus just to say we have one.
4:21pm: Budget is balanced for now, but future injection of government stimulus may move Canada into deficit.
4:22pm: Days of chronic structural deficits are behind us.
4:23pm: Tax dollars for political parties and tax credits for donations brought up. Flaherty talking about the $1.75 per vote subsidy. Political parties should pay their own bills without excessive tax dollars.
4:25pm: $1.75 subsidy gone as of April 2009.
4:26pm: Spending growth will follow sustainable track.
4:27pm: Spending review will also look into crown corporations. Government will save $15B over the next five years because of expenditure management system.
4:28pm: re: public sector… New legislation will put in place “annual wage increases for the federal public administration, including senior members of the public service, as well as Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers, and Senators, of 2.3 per cent in 2007–08 and 1.5 per cent for the following three years, for groups in the process of bargaining for new agreements.”For groups with collective agreements already covering 2008–09, the 1.5 per cent would apply for the remainder of the three-year period starting at the anniversary date of the collective agreement. In addition, the legislation would suspend the right to strike on wages through 2010–11.” Some honourable socialist members: “oh, oh”.
4:32pm: Largest increase in infrastructure spending. $6B in spending. Aim is to provide new jobs.
4:33pm: Flaherty wants more power to help sustain the banking industry. These powers would include:
– Funding in the unlikely event that there is a draw on the Canadian Lenders Assurance Facility.
– The Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) to establish a bridge bank as a further resolution tool to help preserve banking functions.
– An increase in the borrowing limit of CDIC to $15 billion to reflect the growth of insured deposits since the last increase in 1992.
– The Minister of Finance to provide the CDIC Board of Directors broader scope of action when systemic risk concerns may result from the potential failure of a member institution.
– The power to direct CDIC to undertake resolution measures when necessary to prevent adverse effects on financial stability.
– The provision to CDIC of greater flexibility in the timing of preparatory examinations.
– The Government to inject capital into federal financial institutions to support financial stability, with appropriate provisions to protect taxpayers.
4:37pm: taking action to allow RRIF holders to keep more money in their RRIFs.
4:40pm: increase available credit to the exporting sector. $350 million injection of credit for these businesses.
4:41pm: Inject an additional $350 million of capital to the BDC to help SMEs.
4:44pm: “The greatest histories are written in the toughest times”
4:45pm: Scott Brison to respond for the opposition. Demands a “real action plan”. Brison accuses Conservatives of symbolism over substance. Conservatives have provided gimmicks instead of a game plan. “Nothing for manufacturing, autos”.
4:46pm: Brison: PM wants to change the channel from economy to politics. Canadians are hurting. They want talk on economics rather than politics.
4:48pm: Brison bringing out the personal anecdotes describing real Canadians and real concerns. Liberal are making this statement out to be about that $1.75 vote subsidy cut.
4:50pm: Brison accusing the Conservatives of huge spending and huge cuts at the same time.
4:51pm: Brison: government is selling the house to pay for the groceries.
4:51pm: Brison calls Flaherty “Deficit Daddy”.
4:52pm: NDP will not support economic statement.
4:53pm: CTV reports that the government is digging in their heels on the $1.75 subsidy.
4:55pm: Brison brings up Obama and speaks about his economic team and accuses the Conservatives of schemes.
5:00pm: Brison calls for “a new deal”. Brison’s seat mate earlier called out “FDR”
5:01pm: Gilles Duceppe responds for the Bloc. Duceppe: hat was presented was not an economic statement but an ideological statement.
5:02pm: Duceppe: government blind to urgent need to stimulate the economy. Government is attacking democracy, women’s rights and worker’s rights. Government has attacked Quebec.
5:03pm: Duceppe: government has sparked a democratic crisis.
5:03pm: Duceppe: economic statement runs against Quebec’s interests.
5:04pm: Duceppe: Bloc will not cave in on its principles.
5:06pm: Duceppe: Bloc ready to support the reduction of the size of the state.
5:12pm: Bloc Quebecois will oppose the economic statement.
5:13pm: Layton responds for the NDP. He’s got his wounded face on.
5:14pm: Layton: government has failed to act on the economic crisis. Layton is speaking quietly and slowly to show concern and disappointment.
5:15pm: Here comes the anger. Now Layton is doing some finger pointing.
5:19pm: Layton applauds Duceppe and Brison for “standing up to ideology”.
5:21pm: Layton reiterates NDP’s position that they will vote against the economic statement.
In response to a story broken here three days ago, the Conservatives are demanding answers from Elections Canada on the Grit fundraising auction being held among the 8 Ottawa ridings, where according to the Liberals, “the sky is the limit” and successful bids do not count as donations.
From: Poilievre, Pierre – M.P. [mailto:PoiliP@parl.gc.ca] Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 3:08 PM To: email@example.com Subject: “Liberal Party of Canada Cocktail Event” – Investigate
Commissioner of Canada Elections c/o Elections Canada 257 Slater Street Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0M6
February 12, 2008
I have become aware of a Liberal Party of Canada Cocktail Event scheduled for February 13th boasts that “the sky is the limit for this auction. A successful bid is not a political contribution…as such individuals, partnerships, corporations and associations are free to bid as high as they want.” The event boasts auction items including:
* Golf with former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin. * Attending a hockey game with senior Liberal Member of Parliament and former Liberal leadership contender, Ken Dryden. * Tennis with Liberal star candidate Bob Rae and his brother Liberal campaign Co-Chair, John Rae. * Lunch with Liberal Deputy Leader Michael Ignatieff. * Lunch with former Liberal Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau’s son, Justin. * Lunch with former Liberal Leadership candidate, Scott Brison
This event raises serious questions surrounding the legality of the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party of Canada. I respectfully ask that you investigate whether or not this event complies with the sprit of the Federal Accountability Act and other federal political party fundraising legislation.
If you allow the Liberal Party to use these methods, you will have unilaterally repealed all of the campaign finance legislation passed over the last five years, and you will be reintroducing big money and corporate cash into our political process.
With the possibly of a federal election happening in the near future I hope that this matter can be dealt with great expediency.
Pierre Poilievre Member of Parliament Nepean-Carlton
If Joe Clark’s mistake was that he arrogantly governed with his minority government as if he had a majority, will Stephane Dion’s mistake be that he is timidly opposing Stephen Harper’s minority government as if the Prime Minister had a majority?
But it’s even worse than that. Stephane Dion as Opposition leader is not opposing or even supporting the government’s mandate. In effect, by abstaining from judging the government’s sought mandate, Dion isn’t showing up for work.
The NDP has parsed the opposition benches into the absent opposition (Liberals) and the effective opposition (NDP).
The Prime Minister should play along this theme.
Since Dion is effectively silent on the Prime Minister’s mandate by abstaining from voting on the Throne Speech, Harper should simply rebuke Dion’s future questions and remind him of the opportunity he had to support or oppose the government’s outlined agenda. Harper should then proceed to only debate the points of the NDP and the Bloc as the effective opposition since these parties are the ones fulfilling their parliamentary roles.
If elections are held for parties to seek a mandate from the people to govern, the Throne Speech is ratification and confirmation of that mandate by Parliament. If Stephane Dion wants Parliament to work as he so clearly states, it can do so by approving the government’s mandate or by opposing it sending the parties back to the hustings to determine the true support/opposition to the government’s plan. In effect, by abstaining Dion has made Parliament less functional and by not wanting an election it seems that the Liberal leader would rather leave Parliament, with its checks and balances, in limbo for the sake of our convenience rather than allow us to fulfill our duty as the electorate since he cannot exercise his as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
If Dion cannot enunciate his party’s position in opposition when the government seeks its mandate, how can he expect us to trust his abilities to do so if he should ever form government?
UPDATE: I found this post on Ignatieff’s website concerning what the Liberals should do for the Throne Speech.
“I’m driving down the highway with Suzanna and Scott Brison is at the wheel. It is a white knuckle experience. I’ve just given a talk to 300 students at Dalhousie Law School and tonight well be in Cheverie at a fundraiser for Scott. There is media at every spot asking what the party should do on the throne speech. We need to read it first and then decide what party interest and national interest require. One thing is sure : we — and not the PM — will do the deciding. Let’s keep and hold the initiative. More later. MI”
Unfortunately for Ignatieff (or fortunately?), the Liberals didn’t take initiative and the Liberals instead decided on being indecisive.