Svend Robinson quits

svend_robinson.jpgSvend Robinson will step down from his parliamentary duties and take a leave of absence. Today in a press conference, the NDP member from Barnaby-Douglas told the media that the reason was due to a lapse in judgement. He “pocketed a piece of expensive jewelry” and blamed the incident on “severe stress and emotional pain”.

Mr. Robinson is a senior parliamentarian from British Colombia as he was originally elected to the House of Commons in 1979. He has been re-elected seven times since. While it was an extremely childish and foolish thing for Mr. Robinson to do, I find it upsetting to see a career potentially end in such a way. This is not so much a political failure for the NDP as it is a personal failure for Robinson.

I do not subscribe to the principles of the New Democratic Party of Canada and I would not be saddened to see their influence in the House of Commons make way for the votes of the Conservative Party of Canada. However, Mr. Robinson’s seat is still an NDP seat and thus an NDP vote. The personal destruction of Svend Robinson does not benefit the political agenda of any party; his seat may just be filled by another NDP nominee in the next election.

Some may laud this turn of events as a win in the us vs. them realm of partisan politics. Let’s not celebrate the demise of a man’s career. We can criticize a parliamentarian’s personality if it seems to reflect party policy (such as Mr. Robinson’s ill conceived trip to meet with Yassir Arafat), however, the personal misjudgement of Svend Robinson does not reflect his party and therefore I would find it petty to dance on the grave of a man’s career.

Liberals back at 35%

aprilpoll.jpgPaul Martin woke up to a headache this morning when he learned that his Liberal party had sunk back to its previous low of 35% in the polls. The “mad as hell” campaign didn’t seem to work as the Prime Minister is only now truly learning of the anger and uncertainty that Canadians have in the Liberal government. These results also follow the recent Liberal advertising campaign showing an ‘adlib’ Paul Martin expressing that his mandate will be to get the bottom of his own party’s corruption.

A spring election call would be an absurd strategy for Mr. Martin at this point. Our unreformed political system allows Paul Martin to call an election at his whim, whenever the polls are good. I don’t know how they can get better for the Liberals.

The Conservative Party of Canada is steadily rising as they sit at 28%. The “Jack Attack” seems to be having some effect as the NDP is gaining in British Columbia as the NDP sit at a nationwide 18%. The Bloc Quebecois is holding at 10%.

To summarize:
Liberals: 35% (-3%)
Conservatives: 28% (+1%)
NDP: 18% (+3%)
Block: 10% (+/-0)
Green: 5% (+/-0)

The poll also found that only 17% of Canadians have a favourable impression of the Liberal Party. Another interesting measure showed that Paul Martin has a 41% favourable impression compared to a 40% unfavorable impression (19% undecided). Stephen Harper, on the other hand, has a 32%/23% favourable/unfavourable split (44% undecided). These figures should be encouraging to Mr. Harper as an election campaign will do well to (re)introduce himself to all Canadians as the new leader of the new Conservative Party of Canada.

The Conservative Party of Canada should be encouraged by these results as Canadians are seeking to replace the governing Liberal Party. However, the Conservatives should realize that an incredible opportunity for growth exists in Quebec. While separatist sentiments are now low in that province, the Bloc now leads the Liberals in a 45%-30% split. The Conservatives are making gains in Quebec albeit slight (11%). Quebec is moving their support to the Bloc as no other option really exists. For a significant part, Quebec is using the Bloc as a placeholder to vote against the Liberals. Indeed, Quebec voters do not expect the Bloc to form the next government; however, they do know who don’t want to govern. Thus, the Conservative party should invest many efforts in Quebec because that province is in need of a viable option. The Conservatives probably won’t make serious gains in Quebec this time around, but Quebec should be a serious focus of the Conservative Party in the future.

Fired VIA Rail president testifies today

viachance.jpgMarc Lefrancois, the former president of VIA Rail is set to testify before the Public Accounts Sponsorship Committee today. Let’s review just one of the reasons why Mr. Lefrancois is a key witness to the misappropriation of funds by the Liberal government’s Ministry of Public Works.

The Ministry of Public Works agreed to sponsor a television hockey series about Maurice “the Rocket” Richard produced by the company L’information essentielle. For some reason, the ministry told L’information essentielle to contact VIA Rail and Canada Post for the money to produce the series.

Now, initially VIA Rail denied L’information essentielle the money to produce the series, but Public Works essentially asked VIA for a loan and got this crown corporation to pick up the tab on the promise of reimbursement once Public Works received its funding from Parliament.

The bill came to $910,000 for VIA and the company immediately recorded it as a debt to be repaid by the Government of Canada. I don’t know why a company would take on such a debt when they operated at a loss of $220 million that year — check VIA’s 1999 annual report here).

Here’s where things get interesting. VIA had to get repaid for loaning the Ministry of Public Works $910,000. So, Public Works hired Lafleur Communication (yes, that Quebec advertising firm) to do some work outlined in a contract that, according to the Auditor General, “was worded in very general terms and was not clear on what Lafleur was to deliver”. Marc Lefrancois told the Auditor General that it was his understanding that VIA would only recover $750,000 from Public Works. So, it became particularly puzzling to the Auditor General to find that Lafleur Communication was to bill Public Works $750,000 plus $112,500 (15% commission). After Lafleur’s ‘work’ was done, VIA invoiced that company for $750,000 and received the cheque on the same day.

So, Lafleur Communication (yes, that Quebec advertising firm) was used as the cheque passer between Public Works (the debtor) and VIA Rail (the debtee). For their work, Lafleur Communication received $112,000 “for delivering the cheque” as Sheila Fraser put it.

VIA was still owed $160,000, so they chalked it up to an “advertising expense” because they concluded that the Rocket Richard series provided them good visibility.

The question remains: Why would VIA Rail, operating at a loss, be used as a conduit through which the Ministry of Public Works could borrow money to pay for a television series on Rocket Richard?

Also, who’s idea was it to create a debt in one sector of the government (the crown corp) only to be later repaid by the debtor (the Ministry)?

I don’t question the merits of making a television series about Rocket Richard, I question who made it possible for Lafleur Communication to make $112,500 for passing a cheque between the hands of the federal government.