When Guy Giorno took over the chief of staff’s office to the Prime Minister, he rounded up the Ministerial chiefs, the directors of communications and senior PMO staff and told them the same thing: this is essentially an election year and everything that we do from now on will be proactive, direct and obviously political. Giorno’s “be political” theme will set the tone of this government as it moves into the fall when opposition leader Stephane Dion blusters about defeating the government, into the winter when Dion threatens to defeat the government over the budget and into the fall of 2009 when the government’s mandate comes up for renewal due to the fixed election date legislation the Prime Minister’s tabled early in this term.
Today, in the National Post, David Akin writes about Conservatives cutting travel grants to Canadian artists. Surprisingly, at least to this observer, is that this money comes under the mandate of Foreign Affairs. Sending artists to film festivals and to columnists to give lectures in communist countries would more appropriately be fixed in the department of Canadian Heritage but that’s another discussion. The government’s political staffers have found some cash that is sure to enrage the arts community and as a side-benefit, show ordinary hard-working 9-5 Canadians that their tax dollars are sending others overseas while they put together their savings (after filing their income tax) over the months to put the kids in a minivan and drive down to Disneyworld for a week.
You can tell that Giorno’s people are executing the “be political” strategy in the quotes provided to David Akin by government staffers.
On Gwynne Dyer’s government grant to travel to a popular Canadian vacation destination to “[create] greater awareness and appreciation of Canadian foreign policy … within key audiences of Cuban decision makers and opinion leaders.” political staffers explained that
“[Dyer’s] a left-wing columnist and author who has plenty of money to travel on his own.”
On the North-South Institute
“[it’s] a left-wing and anti-globalization think-tank … Why are we paying for these people to attend anti-Western conferences in Cuba?”
Canadian artists are not on PMO director of strategic planning Patrick Muttart’s radar as these folks have never likely voted Conservative and never will. This move to cut taxpayer money from these groups for foreign travel will cause outrage among that community and will in turn, the Conservatives are predicting, will show other Canadians that the government is defending their interests instead.
This is an obvious political move by PMO and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Conservative Party comps Sarah Polley’s airfare the next time she comes to Ottawa to hold a press conference.
Here’s a summary of the Arts Promotion Projects funded in 2006-2007:
“Typically, I think, the Liberals pursued what some people have called an ethnic-brokerage model of outreach, where they would identify leaders of certain groups who somehow magically would become the recipients of substantial grants and subsidies for their community organizations”
What is Kenney talking about? A quick Google search found this:
TORONTO, February 9, 2005 — Member of Parliament (Scarborough–Agincourt) Jim Karygiannis, on behalf of Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women Liza Frulla, today announced $46,275 in funding for the Canadian Arab Federation. The funds will allow the organization to develop its own Web site.
“Until now, there really has been no Web site highlighting all the many contributions made by Canadians of Arab origin to our society,” said Mr. Karygiannis. “This project will help Web users from Canada and abroad to better understand this vast community.”
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Minister responsible for Ontario Joseph Volpe added his support. “This Web site will be a valuable networking tool for members of the Arab-Canadian community,” said Minister Volpe.
“The Internet enables us to engage in dialogue with people of all backgrounds and all cultures,” said Minister Frulla. “If we wish to build a truly diverse society in which all communities are represented, we must invest in Web sites like this one.”
Let’s check out what $46,275 buys in web development.
This website features a nice splash page that goes to a website that doesn’t appear to be maintained as it features broken links and an event calendar long forgotten. The website’s content doesn’t seem have taken much time to produce as some of the text has been lifted from othersources online.
I emailed Jason Kenney’s office for a reaction, and received comment from Alykhan Velshi, Kenney’s Director of Communications.
“It really is outrageous the way that Liberal-friendly ethnic community leaders would find their loyalty rewarded with government handouts. To say the problem was systematic understates, I think palpably, the extent of the Tammany Hall operation the Liberals tried to build when in government.”
“[The Canadian Arab Federation] current National President Khaled Mouammar is a former Liberal political appointee who gained some notoriety for his role in the last Liberal leadership campaign. CAF’s previous National President is Omar Alghabra, a Liberal MP elected in 2006.
“Between 2003 and 2005, when Alghabra was CAF’s president, CAF received more than $400,000 in hand-outs from the Department of Canadian Heritage alone.
“They were awarded a $330,565 grant to ‘build organisational capacity’, another $46,399 to ‘communicate effectively with governments at all levels’, and a further $46,275 to design a website.”
Yet this problem doesn’t only reside with Liberals. Canwest’s David Akin points out the (for lack of a better term) pork that the Conservatives have been delivering too. Is this spending necessary?
UPDATE: Interesting question. If the CAF website was produced in partnership with Canadian Heritage, why isn’t it in both official languages?
I cannot believe the news that has been swirling around the city in the past couple of days about Tory staffer Jeffrey Kroeker. Kroeker was reprimanded by a Senate report from the board of Internal Economy for having the audacity to blow the whistle on a junket taken by Senators to Dubai last year.
Canadian senators waited in an expensive Dubai hotel for seven days after a failed attempt to reach Afghanistan when the military had warned them not to attempt the trip in the first place, CTV News has learned.
Liberal Senator Colin Kenny had hoped to take his National Security Committee to Kandahar province for a fact-finding trip, as well as Dubai — a city in the United Arab Emirates that is trying to become a global business hub. Instead, the senators ended up spending seven days in Dubai.
The total hotel bill came to more than $30,000. Plane fare, meals and other expenses were not included.
CTV reported then that it obtained the information from a “leak”.
We now know that the information came from Jeffrey Kroeker, then a staffer for Conservative Senator Marjorie Lebreton.
Kroeker should be commended for bringing the excesses of the Canadian Senate to the attention of the public. Unfortunately Joan Bryden of CP makes an unfortunate comparison to the bureaucrat that was arrested two days ago for leaking the Tory’s Green Plan:
Coming a day after a federal contract employee was hauled off in handcuffs for allegedly leaking a draft of the government’s climate change plan, Liberal Senate Leader Celine Hervieux-Payette questioned how the Tories can sanction keeping Kroeker in the employ of a cabinet minister.
Of course, the situations of Kroeker and the Green Plan leaker Jeff Monaghan are completely different as Monaghan leaked government policy whereas Kroeker made available information that the Senate has actually chosen to keep itself exempt from revealing — yes, the Senate is not accountable to Access to Information requests. With respect to the environment leak, Monaghan broke his oath to keep state secrets. While the cost of junket to Dubai was meant to be kept secret by Kenny and his co-travelers, the information hardly represented any information critical to policy/security or governance. Kroeker simply blew the whistle on Senate excess. While Monaghan was an activist who leaked confidential and secret government policy that he didn’t agree with, Kroeker acted to disseminate information on the extravagant expenses of a handful of senators from the Upper Chamber which has exempted itself from the kind of transparency that keeps other facets of government accountable. Moreover, these expenses were not authorized by the Senate.
We have now learned that the Senate “investigated” Kroeker’s act in total secret and the investigation was conducted by a Senate sub-committee. Kenny himself sits on the board of internal economy, which had oversight over the investigative sub-committee, however Kenny did not think to recuse himself.
Bryden also makes an unfortunate omission in her article. She writes,
The rebuke of Jeffrey Kroeker was contained in a unanimous report of the Senate’s committee on internal economy. The 15-member committee includes four Conservative senators.
The description of a “unanimous report” is misleading here because “unanimous” means that the decision to table the report was unanimous, but the acceptance of the report was hardly the same.
In summary, what do we have here?
Unaccountable senators, part of an unaccountable Senate — the lack of transparency of that body is reflected by its lack of public accounting and disclosure — went on a seven day junket to Dubai at the cost of $30,000 to the Canadian taxpayer. The purpose of the trip was to observe the operations in Kandahar, however, it was expressed to the Senators that this leg of the trip would not happen therefore making the excursion overseas useless. Nevertheless, the senators spent seven days in the hotel, only attended two meetings, and “wrote a report”. However, CTV’s original article includes a quote from Sen. Tommy Banks that the report for the most part was written before the trip was taken. The Vice Chief of Defence Staff in two separate letters confirmed that Senator Kenny was fully aware that they could not get into Afghanistan and as such, should have canceled that leg of the trip. When Kroeker learned what they had done by staying the hotel for over a week, he knew that they had gone beyond the authorized expenses of the Senate and as such, he decided to research the costs. When he saw how galling the expenses were he made the decision to blow the whistle. What the senators did was grossly unfair to taxpayers.
Kroeker should be commended, not condemned.
This seems like politically motivated retribution by a Liberal dominated Senate for the whistleblowing act of a Tory staffer. Why should the cost of a senate junket to Dubai be “secret” from Canadian taxpayers?
Bryden’s article thankfully includes praise from Conservative Senator Terry Stratton:
Senator Terry Stratton, the Tory whip in the upper house, rejected the report’s conclusions. He cast Kroeker as a conscientious staffer who blew the whistle on misuse of taxpayer’s money.
“(The report) makes it very difficult for people to expose the unauthorized expenditure of public money,” Stratton said in a written statement issued late Thursday.
“We should be proud of the stand that Jeffrey Kroeker took. He is a staffer who saw wrong and tried to make it right.”
Here is a statement, released from Sen. LeBreton’s office just a few hours ago:
Today the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration tabled a report with the Senate in which it called into question activities of former Senate staffer, Jeffrey Kroeker.
The report is the result of an investigation undertaken by the Committee following media reports in October 2006 regarding the alleged misuse of public money on a trip to Dubai by the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, led by Liberal Senator Colin Kenny.
Senator Stratton today rejected the report: “I am extremely disappointed that this Senate Committee has issued this report. I disagree entirely with its conclusion. It makes it very difficult for people to expose the unauthorised expenditure of public money and is contrary to all of the principles in a post-Gomery world.”
In 2006, a group of senators were to take a trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan to visit Canadian troops. This trip was cancelled due to operations before the committee left, but some of the senators decided to proceed to Dubai, in any event, where they stayed, at taxpayers expense for 10 days.
Shortly following the trip, Jeffrey Kroeker discovered that the expenses for the trip to Dubai were not properly authorised and, further, that Senator Kenny, the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence was aware he would be unable to visit the base in Kandahar before he left Ottawa.
When Jeffrey Kroeker became aware of these facts, he blew the whistle, and reported the misuse of public funds to the media.
Today’s report of the Standing Committee is retaliation by a group of Liberal senators against a hard working Senate staffer, who exposed misuse of public funds. Jeffrey Kroeker did what anyone else would do when he saw public money being misused.
“We should be proud of the stand that Jeffrey Kroeker took. He is a staffer who saw wrong and tried to make it right. I am disappointed that this action has been taken,” stated Senator Stratton.
Canada’s New Government has worked hard over the last year to toughen laws that protect whistleblowers. This is exactly the type of staffer that such laws were designed to protect.
“I am very disappointed in this action by the Committee. We need more staffers like Jeffrey Kroeker and we need to support them, not punish them for doing what any honest person would do,” concluded Senator Stratton.