Yesterday, the National Post had an interesting story on the connections between lobbyists and governments and how the federal accountability act has evolved to restrict and allow lateral movement between the political and lobbying sectors.
The story highlights longtime Harper communications guru Yaroslav Baran, who recently quit the Earnscliffe firm to work as Chief of Staff to government whip Jay Hill. While news stories about lobbying, including this one, are critical and skeptical in tone, the article points out that Baran will face a five-year ban on returning to the private sector as a lobbyist. Baran’s move is comparatively selfless as an election is expected quite soon and most lobbyists simply deregister days before the writ is dropped, work on the campaign and then re-register and continue in their jobs lobbying government. Baran has instead elected to leave a high paying job and bind himself by the accountability act.
The Conservative ban on lobbyists in a future war room, however, is self-imposed rather than a matter of law, as Liberals have not yet committed to the same standard that Conservatives have set upon themselves.
This makes the tone of the article somewhat frustrating as it implies that Baran is sidestepping regulations internal to Conservative Party (not even legal ones) by being a chief of staff to a cabinet minister just so he can work in a war room?. Baran is sacrificing his earning potential by putting himself under the accountability act and when an election comes, the outcome is still unknown; Yaroslav could be out of a job (and legally restricted from returning to his old one) in as little as two months. While war rooms are the stuff of political junkies, the prize isn’t one of monetary enrichment or increased political contact; Baran already has an extended history built with Harper. Perhaps Baran is more interested in being a team player and has long term plans of public service?
This week was the first week back after a break for Canada’s New Government. Climate change was expected to lead the agenda as it seems to be the sole issue on which the Liberals care to define themselves. Conservatives rose to power promising to clean up government after the most significant corruption scandal in Canadian history. The Liberals think that they’ll rise to power cleaning up… Carbon dioxide and water vapour? Canadians have perceived Harper delivering on the Federal Accountability Act while Canadians believe that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals will deliver on climate change.
In fact, I believe that this underlines a key weakness in Liberal messaging. While polling has shown that the environment is a top priority for Canadians, they’re not about to throw out the government on the issue when they actually go to the polls. If heathcare — an issue which actually has a direct effect on the life and death of Canadians — can be taken off the ballot of the electorate by a couple of weeks of warm weather in Toronto, it would seem that there aren’t any pressing issues that are really on the minds of Canadians. “Environment? Sure that sounds like something I should care about”
Unless a hurricane hits Toronto killing scores of people, the electorate is not about to uproot a government to install the old guard led by a sponsorship-era cabinet minister with no real record on the only issue on which he has chosen to define himself.
That’s why this week’s messaging was so puzzling. At the beginning of this week, a protester braved the freezing temperatures of downtown Ottawa to stretch out to play the part of a sunbathing polar bear. One wonders if the protester only had the suit rented for that day.
Liberals were sporting green ribbons in the House this week,
presumably to show that they care about the environment. Since Dion’s election as Liberal leader, the Liberal website has also incorporated a splash of green. Apparently this is to make it known that our Liberal friends care about the environment so long as the vehicle for their environmentalism is the Kyoto protocol. According to the popular narrative these days, one does not believe in saving the environment if one does not believe in a global, bureaucratic, statist wealth transfer agreement. In fact, one also does not believe in the science of climate change if one does not also believe in such a one world collectivist approach to saving the Earth from certain doom (according to our latest amended models). In fact, while Michael Ignatieff was lecturing the government to meet global Kyoto targets, the green ribbon-clad Ignatieff had his own words thrown back at him when environment minister John Baird quoted Ignatieff questioning Kyoto by saying “nobody knows what Kyoto is or what it commits us to”.
Thursday afternoon, Mark Holland, part of the new Liberal rat pack, had a meltdown (actually he didn’t flinch) when he said on Charles Adlers’ show that a Liberal government would control oil sands development in Alberta. Sacrificing the Canadian economy just because green has become fashionable will have Canadians thinking twice about the Liberal party. (The Liberal Party of Canada is already dead to Albertans).
Earlier on Thursday, Dion had a poor question period performance as he bizarrely stated that Harper was “paralyzing the world” when it came to Kyoto. Somebody ought to proofread Dion’s notes before QP, but I imagine this would be a difficult talk as I hear that Dion is very top-down in his approach and has no time for criticism from his staff.
All in all, a bit of a bizarre week for the Liberals on their climate communications. We heard some whispers about an old Harper letter calling Kyoto a “socialist scheme”, but the Liberals didn’t seem to get any mileage on it.
Why would the Liberals spend this frigid week lecturing the Conservatives on the global warming file (one on which they themselves have a dismal record). Is there really nothing else to talk about? Did the Liberals really spend the week telling Canadians “We got nothing”?
BONUS BAD MESSAGING: Bill Graham demanded Conservative action on Guantanamo Bay, a bizarre request given that Graham was foreign affairs minister in the years after 9/11.
This past week, the Conservatives have nodded in the general direction of Elections Canada by refiling their 2005 expenses with the government body which recently clarified its position on convention fees as political donations. This provides some declouded some of my confusion last week when I received a tax receipt to a “donation” that I didn’t make this year. The receipt instead was for 2005.
The status of convention fees was a significant point of contention this year between the Conservative and the Liberals. The Tories via their minority government’s federal accountability act legislation threw a wrench, the Grits argue, into their leadership convention plans. That convention, which wrapped up at the beginning of this month saw approximately 5,000 delegates paying about $1,000 each to participate in the process that elected Chretien-era cabinet minister Stephane Dion as the leader of that party. The Conservatives pointed out that the Liberals, by arguing for donation status for their convention fees, were in fact asking the Canadian taxpayer to subsidize their party’s convention costs as political donations receive a healthy tax refund.
The Liberals, in turn, tried to make hay out of Conservatives being caught afoul of their storied drive for accountability arguing that the Tories had over-donated to their own party and, in a weak attempt of Tu Quoque, tried to paint the Conservatives over-donations as a measure of corruption in line with the embezzlement of millions by Liberal-friendly advertising firms in previous years.
In fact, Elections Canada reveals that even under the new interpretation of convention fees as donations, a mere three delegates at the Tory policy convention had to be refunded for over-donating. Underneath it all, only three people were at or near the maximum donation amount and also attended the convention that year. One of those delegates was Stephen Harper. Harper likely made the maximum possible donation to his party that year and because he also attended the policy convention, he over-donated via his own convention fee. The Conservatives had not considered the fees to be donations in part because of their position that political conventions should not be subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer.
The PMO has expressed that while they do not agree with Elections Canada’s decision, they will comply with it. They also underscore that it has always been their position that whatever the decision rendered by Elections Canada, they would comply with it.