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Monday, May 31, 2010

Headline hound shows his bigotry

The New Democrat MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre), apparently, cannot contain the contempt with which he holds Christian organizations like Youth for Christ, who he claimed were “preying on vulnerable kids,” and more recently, Opus Dei, which he said gave him “the creeps.”

The Winnipeg Free Press described his Youth for Christ slander as a “capricious outburst,” and described Youth for Christ as “a non-profit, non-denominational group with a solid track record of delivering a variety of programs for young people.”

Martin’s contempt seems to be targeted at anyone or any organization which holds fundamentalist Christian views. Sounds like a bigot to me. The most recent definition of bigotry I remember seeing is:

“a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance.”

Interestingly, the much admired Tommy Douglas, a former NDP leader, was an ordained minister of the Baptist Church, many members of which identify with Christian fundamentalism. I wonder: does Martin also find the late NDP leader creepy?

Come to think of it, Douglas did believe in eugenics, the study and practice of selective breeding applied to humans. And that’s pretty creepy.

The Da Vinci Code, a work of fiction, certainly did demonize Opus Dei. Perhaps that is why Martin finds the organization creepy. After seeing the Harry Potter movies, does Martin also think England’s mail is delivered by an Owl?

But can one expect better from this headline hound who is prone to petty theft—by his own admission, he takes tea from committee rooms? Anything for a freebie, I guess.

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Friday, May 28, 2010

G20 budget madness and mayhem

Toronto is getting an early taste of the mindless vandalism that plagues large international meetings. One person has been arrested in connection with anti-G20 graffiti spray-painted by vandals on bank walls, windows and ATMs overnight. As many as six banks were targeted in the Spadina-Dundas and the Spadina-College areas.

Canada will be hosting a meeting of the leaders of the G20 countries at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on June 26 and 27, and, according to a report on the National Post’s website, the federal government does not plan to cover the bill for broken windows and other property damage suffered by homeowners and businesses as a result of protests attached to the G20 meeting next month.

When I first heard the summit would be costing Canadians over $1.1-billion, I was sure that enormous figure would have to include an estimate for compensation to homeowners and businesses who suffer property damage. But apparently not. How then can this meeting and the G8 in Huntsville together cost more than the $900-million our government estimated it spent on security during the whole 17-day Vancouver Winter Olympic Games?

“We are on track to host a safe and secure G-8 and G-20 summits, two separate summits back-to-back. Unprecedented. The cost is expensive but the security is worth it.”

- Public Safety Minister
Vic Toews, MP

This is patently absurd. The amount reportedly spent by Pittsburgh on security for last September’s G20 summit was $18-million. And London, England spent a trivial by comparison $30 million for the G20 last year. London is one of the worlds most expensive cities, how can we be spending 30 times more after only one year of inflation.

Let’s be generous and say we should spend ten times more than the Brits because we’re holding both the G8 and the G20. But no, our government plans to spend over 30 times London’s figure and does not plan to include compensation to homeowners and businesses who suffer property damage.

Even Public Safety Minister Vic Toews when appearing on CTV was hard pressed to defend the cost, saying instead that Canada has an obligation to make sure world leaders are safe while visiting Toronto and Huntsville. In other words, rather that explain the costs, he pretty well ducked the question.

This latest government billion-dollar boondoggle puts the Liberal’s long gun registry shenanigans to shame. When it comes to spending tax money, our guys in Ottawa don’t have to take a backseat to anyone.

Think about this: Ottawa plans to spend over $321-million on RCMP involvement at the summits; $262-million on what they call “public safety and preparedness;” $63-million on National Defense and almost $7-million on “others,” whatever that is. This sums to $834-million, an estimate given to CTV May 25. This figure is already out of date and more recent estimates are that the costs will exceed an eye-popping $1.1-billion.

According to the National Post, for $1.1-billion we could “…hire 2,500 [police] officers for five years, buy a million advanced Tasers, pay a year’s salary for 23,00 soldiers, procure a total of 366 LAVs or purchase five Black Hawk helicopters for every hour the leaders are yakking.”

Is this just a spectacular show if incompetence by some of our government officials or has our country lost its ability to get things done at a reasonable cost? Can our MPs be so divorced from the reality of Canadian life that they believe that this can be acceptable on any level? Apparently so.

During the next federal election campaign, when Tory volunteers go door-to-door canvassing for their candidate, how will they ever explain this one?

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Tories continue to lead Grits

The CBC News network is reporting the results of this week’s EKOS poll of voter intentions. When asked who they would vote for if an election were to be held tomorrow, 33.9 per cent (down from last week’s 34.4 per cent) of the respondents said their choice would be the Conservatives, while 50.4 per cent said the country is moving in the right direction. According to the poll, the Liberals up slightly at 25.7 per cent (last week 25.1), and at 16.4 per cent, the NDP were up 1.1 per cent.

While the Liberals did not lose ground in this most recent survey, they are faring little better than they did in the dark days under Stéphane Dion when they sank to 24 per cent. So the bad news continues for the Grits under Michael Ignatieff’s leadership. So much for the turnaround we were given to expect when Peter Donolo was parachuted in to take over the reins from Ignatieff’s chief of staff Ian Davey.

One of Ignatieff’s own caucus members was quoted recently as saying, “He [Ignatieff] doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing because he’s been 35 years out of the country.” But that not the whole story.

Michael Ignatieff is just not a politician—certainly not one who can lead a party in a front-rank democracy as diverse as Canada. He has lived too far above the crowd to really “get it” about what Canadians want and need.  He can’t give off-the-cuff answers without getting himself into hot water because he doesn’t relate well with average people. He can’t see the world through their eyes, something John Chrétien did so well. He bounces back and forth between being the man of action and the deep thinker—and does a hash of it in both roles.

So do Ignatieff and Donolo hang in there and pray that something dramatic happens that will allow them to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve dug? Or, does Donolo jump ship before he’s tarred with the brush of Ignatieff’s political failure? Who knows, perhaps Ignatieff will dump Donolo to perpetuate the myth that it’s not all about Ignatieff’s leadership.

 

[EKOS randomly surveyed 2,178 people by telephone between May 19 and May 25. The poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. See CBC News story here.]

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Coalition’s got Bob Rae’s vote

Senior federal Liberal MP Bob Rae sounds nostalgic for those heady days 25 years ago when he signed, as leader of the New Democrats, the Liberal-NDP Accord in Ontario that unseated the Progressive Conservatives who had just formed a minority government. The PCs did meet the House and brought in a Throne Speech, but were defeated soon after and replaced by the second place Liberals, who had a signed 2-year agreement with Mr. Rae’s New Democrats.

This, of course, was much different than the aborted coalition in December 2008 when the federal Liberals and NDP agreed to govern as a coalition with the formal backing of the Bloc Québécois. In 2008 the Liberals and the New Democrats together had less seats than the Tories who were the winner of the election that year, and had to rely on a third (separatist) party, which was not a member of the coalition, to keep them in office.

In the case of the Liberal-NDP Accord in Ontario, the Tories had won the 1985 election with 50 seats, but the Liberals had 45 and the NDP 25, giving their Accord 70 seats—a clear majority in the House and every right to defeat the Tories and seek to form the government.

I believe Mr. Rae’s memoir is intended to remind Canadians of the constitutionality of that Accord and to assure them that should the current federal Liberals and New Democrats form a new coalition, voters should have no fear of its legality. Mr. Rae remembers all too well how upset Canadians were at the prospect of a coalition backed by the separatists. He understands the need to go slowly and allow Canadians to get used to the idea.

We can, I believe, expect to hear musings of this sort as part of the soft-sell for a future unite-the-left coalition to unseat the Tories. I can’t wait to hear Michael Ignatieff’s take on the increasing speculation of a future arrangement between his Grits and Jack Layton’s Dippers.

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

As you sow …

Any state that is helpless to defend itself or its citizens against those who wish to commit crimes within its borders is a failed state. The government of the island of Jamaica is desperately trying to face up to this paramount responsibility. The Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force have been confronting lawlessness over the past two days at the cost of, at least, 49 Jamaican lives. Some reports set the death toll at 60, including a child. In addition, 211 people including six women have been detained.

Police stations in Kingston have been firebombed and the access road between Kingston and the international airport has been closed from time to time because of gunfire. There have also been reports of fighting in other slum areas in Kingston and the former capital, Spanish Town.

At the centre of this latest flare up in violence on the Caribbean island is Christopher “Dudus” Coke, a man who the United States government alleges is one of the world’s most dangerous criminals, responsible for trafficking cannabis and crack cocaine around the Caribbean, North America and the United Kingdom.

Coke is resisting arrest and extradition to the United States to face drug charges. Curiously, his father Lester Coke, who was a leader of a gang called “Shower Posse,” died in 1992 in a fire that mysteriously broke out in his prison cell where he was awaiting extradition to the United States on drug charges.

Apparently, Dudus Coke replaced his father and is running the Shower Posse that in the 1980s was blamed for more than 1,000 murders. Until recently, Coke allegedly enjoyed the protection of the ruling Labour party. The Jamaican prime minister, Bruce Golding, represents the local constituency of Tivoli Gardens, the epicenter of the violence.

The power and influence of the Shower Posse and similar criminal gangs stem from their affiliation with the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), currently Jamaica’s ruling party. These and rival gangs working for the the Peoples National Party (PNP) were armed by politicians in the 1970 and 1980s to do their bidding during elections and in return were protected from the authorities.

It was not long before these political gangs turned to robbery and drug trafficking in Jamaica, the UK, the US and in Canada. And in Jamaica, at least, they continued to receive the protection of the two main official political parties.

Earlier this month in Ontario, in a sweep involving 1,000 police officers and 78 arrests, police connected the same Shower Posse to Toronto criminal gangs in a crime network that allegedly extends from Windsor to Sault Ste. Marie. At that time, police said that the Shower Posse brokered the sale of drugs shipped through the Caribbean to Toronto street gangs.

Should Dudus Coke eventually be captured, I doubt he’ll be handed over to the Americans. The more likely outcome is that he’ll meet a fate similar to that of his father because, like his father, he knows too much.

So when you hear Jamaican politicians deploring the violence that now grips the island, pay no heed to their laments, for it is they that are to blame. The partnership between the posses and the politicians has been well known for decades. It was not a secret.

Jamaican politicians unleashed an uncontrollable force that quickly became armed criminal gangs that preyed on the Jamaican population, and Jamaican voters condoned this despicable practice by tolerating it for over thirty years.

Sadly innocents have and will die, but as the idiom goes: as you sow so shall you reap.

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Pressure building for House to open its books

The three-party caucus unity we are witnessing in Ottawa may not be unprecedented, but it is rare indeed. It’s a pity, though, that our Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat members chose to unite against the will of Canadians, who have shown remarkable unity on their part in indicating they favour an audit of the House of Commons by the auditor general.

Members of the all-party Board of Internal Economy have made much of their excuse that accounting firm KPMG already audits the House of Commons’ financial statements. But Canadians have not found that excuse acceptable for they are aware that most, perhaps all, public companies have internal audit departments which routinely perform audits of the sort proposed by Sheila Fraser, even though all public companies are subject to external audits of their financial statements—similar to the one done for the House by KPMG.

CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported that MPs don’t want Sheila Fraser to conduct her audit, in part, because she might find examples of cheating like the following:

  • Sources say that when one MP was caught misspending, the MP was simply told to repay the money. Police were never called.
  • In another case, a staffer racked up more than $17,000 in fraudulent charges on an MP’s expense account, including $4,000 from the private Parliamentary liquor store. The MP repaid the money, although he was advised to forget about it.

As a former chief financial officer of a large public company, I am appalled to hear that $533 million is spent by the House and Senate each year without review by the auditor general’s department. Shareholders would never stand for it; why should taxpayers?

The issue has tended to narrow down, not surprisingly, to MPs expenses. In an interview yesterday with CTV’s Tom Clark on Power Play, however, Sheila Fraser explained her proposal:

“The audit could potentially include things like human resource management, management of information technology, security on the Hill, and of course there would be an element which would be financial management given the size of the budget.

“And potentially in there we would look to see what were the controls, what were the processes around reimbursing MPs expenses, and do a sampling of some to see if those rules were actually being followed.”

This approach is text-book and is the practice of thousands of Canadian corporations across the land. Controls are reviewed, systems are tested and sample transactions are selected at random and audited in detail. (Michael Ignatieff need not be concerned that every meal receipt might be reviewed.)

But let’s be clear, in any review by the auditor general, MPs $133-million in expenses should be included. MPs, after all, have been known to cheat. They did so in Britain and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. And (see inset) there are reports that cheating does occur in Ottawa—surprise, surprise.

Apparently, Board of Internal Economy members have recently indicated they would like to meet with Ms. Fraser and discuss the sort of things she might do in an audit. Such a discussion is, of course, quite proper, however, any attempt to negotiate the terms of the audit are not.

Another excuse to deny the audit can be summed up by the comment from New Democrat MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.) who said last week:

“We’re MPs, we’re elected, and what she wanted to do was a performance audit. She was very clear in that. That performance audit is not her responsibility. It’s not within her mandate for the MPs. That performance audit is done every time we have an election, it’s the electorate that makes that decision, not her.”

Sheila Fraser answered this rather adolescent misinterpretation of a “performance” audit, when she said on Power Play:

“And I’d really like to clarify too that this is not an audit of performance of MPs. The electorate will judge that, not an auditor. So I’m concerned that there’s been this misunderstanding and MPs in particular I think have interpreted this to be something quite different than what we proposed.”

I’m astonished that a member of the House (i.e., Joe Comartin) does not understand the distinction and has to have it explained. How insulated and unworldly are our MPs?

Polls1 show 88 per cent of Canadians think detailed expense accounts of politicians should be open for deeper scrutiny. We taxpayers-voters demand Parliament’s accounts be independently confirmed and verified by an audit by the auditor general. It’s been 20 years since such an audit was done—by a previous auditor general. An audit is far overdue.

 

1A Leger Marketing survey released Thursday revealed 88 per cent of Canadians think detailed expense accounts of MPs and senators should be made public. The survey of 1,504 Canadians took place May 10-13 and is considered accurate within a margin of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Coalition is necessary

The last poll I saw had the Grits near their lowest level of this decade. An EKOS poll showed the Liberals were down to 25.1 per cent of the respondents. This is perilously close to the 24 per cent they were at under former leader Stéphane Dion, and that only after Mr. Dion had led the party to defeat in the 2008 election, and then compromised them by joining a formal coalition with Jack Layton’s New Democrats, which was supported by the Bloc Québécois—an enormously unpopular initiative.

And just as Mr. Dion had blamed the Conservatives for “framing” him in an unfavourable light, his replacement Michael Ignatieff is blaming the Conservatives for painting him unfavorably by insisting he is not fit to lead Canadians after three decades living and working in the United Kingdom and the United States. Mr. Ignatieff claims the Tories have “done a number” on him. In both cases, these men ignore their inept leadership as a possible reason for their inability to make headway in the polls.

And, in the case of Mr. Ignatieff, he must realize that even within his own caucus there are those who believe, as one caucus member is quoted as saying, “He [Ignatieff] doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing because he’s been 35 years out of the country.”

This suggests to me that there is little hope of the Liberals winning the most seats in Parliament in the next election, unless the Tories make a horrendous misstep or the Liberals pull a new leader out of their collective hat—and I can’t see who that might be.

Were I a Liberal, I’d chose MP Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, N.B.), a 10-year MP and the son of the late and former governor general Roméo LeBlanc. Then I’d stick with him for a couple of years so he can gain the sort of national profile needed to go head-to-head with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But the Grits are not likely to do that.

Having watched the Canadian political scene for several decades, I can’t believe the Liberals—who are still convinced they are the natural governing party—are not working on some strategy to regain office. They must be salivating at the opportunity presented by PM Harper’s inability to gain enough support to form a majority government. The Grits—like conservatives before the unite-the-right movement was successful—must be thinking along the line of some form of left-of-centre coalition.

Interestingly, Toronto Star’s Chantal Hébert—on last week’s At Issue TV segment—said Jean Chrétien and Ed Broadbent, high profile former leaders of the Grits and the Dippers respectively, are having coalition discussions. Should these parties come together in some formal way, especially if they informed Canadians in advance of an election, it could be a game changer.

The prospect of a Conservative government propped up for months on end by the separatists would not have favourable optics and could seriously damage our brand. The Bloc Québécois is a poison pill in Canadian politics, and it is proper that they should be. Whichever party the Bloc formally supports will pay a heavy price in future elections.

An interesting challenge for the combined Liberal and New Democrat parties, therefore, is to up their game enough to win sufficient seats to not have to rely on the Bloc. That would put a future minority Conservative government between a rock and a hard place. (Shudder)

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Is Canada ready for a dump the incumbent movement?

Have we reached the point in Canada that many in the United States believe they have where the obvious benefits of voting for experienced political candidates is outweighed by the dangers? When members of parliament in Ottawa avoid scrutiny and seek to dodge transparency simply because they believe they can, I begin to wonder if we do not need a new more representative group of lawmakers.

I am concerned that many MPs, who are career politicians, have simply lost touch with the real world. For, in the real world, those who depend on others for their pay cheques understand they must be open and transparent to their bosses. This includes inconveniences such as periodic audits and other checks on their spending.

James Moore, the Canadian Heritage minister who represents the Vancouver-area Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam riding says, “I represent about 120,000 people in the House of Commons. I haven’t had one constituent contact me on it [the Auditor General’s request to audit MPs’ expenses].”

Polls on this issue show overwhelming support for Sheila Fraser to be allowed to review MPs’ expenses, but, I guess, Mr. Moore’s constituents are the rare exception who don’t care. Or, at least, don’t care enough to contact him about it.

But I thought Cabinet Ministers were there to represent all Canadians, not just their constituents. It doesn’t seem that way. So when, for example, a poll for QMI Agency found 88 per cent of people surveyed want more openness on MP expenses, Mr. Moore can safely ignore it. (QMI Agency handles this sort of stuff for the Toronto Sun Newspaper.)

So too, apparently, can Prime Minister Harper, who has famously said that it is not up to the government to interfere. The fact that his four MPs—who sit on the nine-member Board of Internal Economy that denied Ms. Fraser’s request—could have overturned the decision with the support of the Bloc’s member seems of no account to PM Harper. I can’t help contrast this hands-off attitude by the PM with the voting discipline exerted on Conservative MPs on other matters.

As to opposition leader Michael Ignatieff: he wants to have a meeting with Sheila Fraser. … to negotiate with her? What’s there to negotiate? The whole purpose of an Auditor General is to be independent and not to be told what she can and cannot do in an audit, and she certainly should not have to explain, as Mr. Ignatieff suggests, “what she wants to do” to him.

Mr. Ignatieff also famously said “… but I don’t think they [voters] want us to be going through our receipts for this meal and that meal.”

Yes, Mr. Ignatieff, they do.

Mr. Ignatieff then added:

“We Canadians probably don’t really want full accountability from MPs because it would cost too much. There is accountability that is in itself a waste of public money. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Would, in Mr. Ignatieff’s estimation, the Liberal Party sponsorship scandal have qualified as one of those audits that wasted money, I wonder?

And, of course, we have career politician MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.) who said last week that he didn’t believe the board should overturn its decision:

“We’re MPs, we’re elected, and what she [AG Sheila Fraser] wanted to do was a performance audit. She was very clear in that. That performance audit is not her responsibility. It’s not within her mandate for the MPs. That performance audit is done every time we have an election, it’s the electorate that makes that decision, not her.”

Hard for the electorate to make such decisions when we cannot get at the details and have them audited for voracity, isn’t it?

The current batch of career politicians in Ottawa are pretty smug: who will the electorate punish if all parties stand together? Well, of course, there is the nomination process in the individual riding associations—it is there that the dump the incumbents campaigns will begin.

I have never seen such all-party (except the Bloc) unity before and, sadly, the MPs chose the voters/taxpayers to unify against. The rascals haven’t been able to agree on the time of day for years, not even when it may have been in the country’s best interests, but on this file they are agreed.

Shame on them all!

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Friday, May 21, 2010

Sniff, sniff… is that the stink of scandal in Ottawa? Let’s find out

The member of parliament for my riding Mike Wallace responded to my recent e-mail asking that he take a leadership position on the issue of the Auditor General being allowed to audit, among other things, members’ expenses.

Mike’s one of the good guys so I don’t want to give him too hard a time, but an excuse for not having the audit like the one following is really an insult to my intelligence. Mike wrote:

“The problem with a value for dollar audit is the difficulty in finding a basis to judge each office.  Some Members represent well over 100,000 people, some under 50,000.  Some Members represent a small area within an urban centre and some represent a vast area of a province or territory.”

Could Mike possibly believe that a person who has risen to the position of Auditor General would not understand that not all ridings are of similar size and know how to assess such disparities? I doubt it.

Mike wrote, “Personally, it doesn’t matter to me and I am always willing to discuss the details of my budget.” I commend him for his openness, of course, but he seems to be missing the point. Disclosure of expenses and audit of same are quite different things.

Apparently, MPs individually have nothing to hide (except Liberal MP Paul Szabo), but the House of Commons’ Board of Internal Economy has, because it refuses permission for an audit by Auditor General Sheila Fraser.

There is over $0.5-billion in annual expenses at issue here, of which $133-million is for individual members of Parliament, including spending on travel, telephone bills, meals, hospitality and other claims. This is not chicken feed, folks, this is the equivalent of the total amount of tax collected from thousands of taxpayers.

Two reactions I have found stunningly stupid:

The first is Senator Elizabeth Marshall who, as auditor-general of Newfoundland, broke that province’s own expenses scandal and now sits silently as a Senate representative on the parliamentary committee that’s refusing to open the books on senatorial spending. Shameful.

The other is New Democrat MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.) who said last week that he didn’t believe the board should overturn its decision. “We’re MPs, we’re elected, and what she wanted to do was a performance audit. She was very clear in that. That performance audit is not her responsibility. It’s not within her mandate for the MPs. That performance audit is done every time we have an election, it’s the electorate that makes that decision, not her.”

Yet here’s how Comartin puts it on his Web site:

“Transparency is the lifeblood of democracy. Only when taxpayers are aware of how their money is used by elected officials can they truly hold them to account. Recent controversies at home and abroad have made clear citizens demand a high degree of accountability and transparency from Members of Parliament.”

I agree: voters have every right to know what MPs are up to in Ottawa. If we don’t know what they are up to, how can we make an informed decision at election time? But, to be sure we are being told the truth, we taxpayers-voters demand the “transparency” Comartin believes is so vital to democracy be independently confirmed and verified by a audit by the Attorney General.

Sniff, sniff… is that the stink of scandal in Ottawa? Let’s find out.

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tories widen lead over Grits

The CBC News network is reporting the results of this week’s EKOS poll1 of voter intentions. When asked who they would vote for if an election were to be held tomorrow, 34.4 per cent (up from last week’s 33.6 per cent) of the respondents said their choice would be the Conservatives, while 51.1 per cent said the country is moving in the right direction. According to the poll, the liberals were down two full points at 25.1 per cent, and at 15.3 per cent, the NDP were down 1.6 per cent.

Michael Ignatieff still can’t connect with enough Canadian voters to be considered a real threat to the Conservatives. He remains Canada’s least popular Federal leader. A recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey found 52 per cent of Canadians have a negative impression of the Liberal leader, compared with 26 per cent who have a positive impression.

Liberal pundits claim Ignatieff’s poor showing is because he is in opposition and, unlike the Tories who use public funds to publicize themselves, they (Liberals) don’t have the equivalent advertizing budget. This reasoning, however, flies in the face of the fact Jack Layton received the most favourable ratings in the same poll.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to be denied majority territory because of weak support in Quebec and the voter split with the Liberals in Ontario.

It seems to me that, while we conservatives can take some comfort from the almost 10 point lead the Conservatives have opened up over the Grits, we need to see the Tories in majority territory. I hear more and more rumblings that the New Democrats will play ball with the Liberals in a more (British-like) official way than in the past. Such a possibility is not good news for Canadians.

 

1EKOS randomly surveyed 2,794 people by telephone between May 12 and May 18. The poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. See CBC News story here.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Abortion: bring on the debate

The abortion debate is on once more in Canada, and I say Hurray! to that. The sad fact of the matter has been that, for over twenty years, for a politician to engage in a debate against publicly funded abortion on demand in Canada has been the political equivalent to suicide.

Since 1988, there has been no law at all covering abortion in Canada . All other western democracies seem to have some form of law covering abortion. Are all these countries against the rights of women? Hardly.

In Canada, it’s a black and white issue: an unborn child, from conception to just before the moment of birth, can be aborted without breaking the law. That’s a sorry fact and I think it is wrong on every level.

The prospect that a six to nine month old fetus can be aborted on anyone’s whim is abhorrent to me. Such a prospect should be totally outside the bounds of any civilized society. And, because there is no law covering such a thing, there does not seem to be reliable statistics showing the number of late-term abortions in this country.

Unregulated abortion on demand and funded by the government is just plain wrong—it is inhuman. Surely, once the fetus has reached the point it could survive outside the womb, we should extend the protection of the law to that unborn child.

I am happy to see some political commentators like Michael Coren are taking up the challenge of speaking out against this objectionable practice. Let’s hope his views won’t be dismissed purely because he’s right-wing and a Christian: I gather the views of right-wing Christians are considered dangerous in some circles.

For the record, I’m not a Christian or belong to any other religion. But I do believe we need some level of protection for unborn children.

It won’t happen though. Sadly, the mere mention that some measure of protection should be extended brings shouts of derision, name-calling and outrage.

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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How absurd can an MP get?

Last Sunday I wrote about the shameful decision made by the House of Commons’ Board of Internal Economy committee to deny Auditor General Sheila Fraser permission to do a value-for-money audit on MP expenses. After some consideration, I believe I should have been kinder in my criticism

Liberal MP Paul Szabo, apparently, has a valid reason to keep his expenses secret and away from the prying eyes of taxpayers: to stop Canadians from learning how many parliamentarians are being sued by former staff.

According to Szabo:

  • MPs are concerned about a “number of lawsuits,” including sexual harassment and wrongful dismissals brought against MPs each year and paid for by taxpayers.
  • “If they were opened to the auditor general and open to the public, all of a sudden people would jump to conclusions without having all the facts.”
  • “If you identify the member, or the law firm or all this other stuff, all of a sudden people could say ... what’s wrong with this member, this member is getting sued all the time.”
  • Szabo said a large chunk of the board’s budget is used to pay for legal costs because MPs are “very susceptible” to lawsuits and “our reputations can be ruined if it would ever get out.”

Szabo might have a point, eh? After all, don’t all MPs have a special right to be in Ottawa? And should voters be fully informed about their activities and behaviour there, might voters not vote again for certain MPs, thereby denying them their rights? The poor fellow is on the horns of a dilemma.

But then, I’m one of those schnooks who vote regularly and pay my taxes on time. I’ve even been known to do volunteer work for political parties—how dumb is that? What right do I have to know which MPs are battling sexual harassment or wrongful dismissal suits, and doing so on the taxpayer dime?

Apparently, some MPs post details of their expenses on the Internet. Better than nothing, I suppose, but hardly a satisfactory substitute for an audit by the Auditor General, which analyzes the expenses and the systems and practices by which they are accounted for and controlled. Such an audit will also help taxpayers to understand whether our money is spent appropriately.

Here’s what I e-mailed to my Conservative MP for Burlington, Mike Wallace:

I would like to register my concern/disgust over the decision of the Board of Internal Economy to deny Auditor General Sheila Fraser permission to do a value-for-money audit on MP expenses.

I know that a financial audit is done of the financial statements of the House of Commons by KPMG, but this is quite different from the sort of audit proposed by Ms. Fraser. As she says:

“… a performance audit, like the audits we’re tabling today, is very different from a financial audit. And we’ll go in and look at the systems and practices much more than a financial audit would.”

And, I'd like to add that recent audits in other jurisdictions in Canada and the U.K. have not been encouraging.

My family and I look for leadership from you on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Russ Campbell

I’m not sure where Mike stands on this issue, but if he doesn’t speak out soon about the absurd decision of the Board of Internal Economy, he can kiss my support goodbye at his next nomination meeting, not to mention next general election.

 

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Tribute to the terrorists or monument to dead Americans?

The proposal to build a large Islamic centre and mosque blocks from Ground Zero in New York’s lower Manhattan is a bad idea. The site is near where the devastating al-Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 killed about 3,000 people.

For months now, a five-story building two blocks north of the World Trade Center, after being abandoned for eight years, is being used on Fridays by hundreds of Muslims to pray and listen to their imam read in Arabic from the Koran. The building has no sign that hints it is used as a Muslim prayer space, or of the grander plan for a massive Islamic center that would replace it.

“I realize it’s not all of them [Muslims], but I don’t want to have to go down to a memorial where my son died on 9/11 and look at a mosque.

“If you ask me, it’s a religion of hate.”

Jim Riches
Retired FDNY Deputy Chief
whose son Jim,
a firefighter,
was killed on 9/11

Have some Americans forgotten that Muslims, in the name of Islam, were the 9/11 attackers, and that Muslims financed the attacks and that thousands of Muslims ran into the streets in cities around the world and cheered and celebrated when they heard about the attacks?

Have some Americans forgotten that days passed before many Muslim leaders, including religious leaders, unreservedly condemned the attacks without pointing out how Americans had brought the attacks on themselves.

I find the proposal offensive: it disrespects the victims and their survivors. It will do nothing to celebrate pluralism in the United States; it would be an ulcer on the landscape, standing as a tribute to the attackers and their millions of supporters. It would celebrate a religion in which name nearly 3,000 innocent Americans were murdered on that infamous day: September 11, 2001.

Source: The New York Times

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Kinsella: Tory hating spin-doctor or savvy political strategist

With the time-out on Parliament Hill this week I looked through my notes to see what recent stories were not commented on in this blog. One that stood out was Warren Kinsella’s departure from the federal Liberal party’s war room.

In January 2009, the Liberal spin-doctor Warren Kinsella was reported to be the head the LPC’s war room. Michael Ignatieff was the newly appointed LPC leader and was, apparently, hoping that Kinsella would repeat the campaign successes he had when he worked for Dalton McGuinty during the 2003 and 2007 Ontario general elections. That was then.

Fast forward 16 months to May 10, 2010 and we read that Kinsella is out and will not lead the LPC’s war room in the next election. Apparently, he quit as head of the war room, at least in part, because he “was unhappy about the way in which some people [at the Opposition Leader’s Office] were dealt with.”

Readers will remember that Ian Davey and Jill Fairbrother left the OLO last year after Michael Ignatieff replaced Davey with Peter Donolo. There were suggestions at the time that Davey, one of Ignatieff’s most loyal staff members, was treated shabbily—notwithstanding the fact that Davey was widely reported to have been one of three men who persuaded Ignatieff to leave Harvard University and try Canadian politics.

Kinsella remains involved with the Ontario Liberals and has been making speeches for the Alberta Liberals as well. He’s apparently providing western Liberals with advice on political tactics—including some pretty nasty stuff. We’ll have to wait to see how that plays out.

His style is offensive. He is the master of the loaded question, the informal fallacy—the classic sort of “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” questions. These he used regularly on political programs such as CTV News’ Power Play.

So will the spell this Liberal Party ultra-partisan cast over political talk show hosts like Tom Clark now be broken? And will the use on Clark’s show of spin and graphics to bolster trumped up controversies finally give way to substantive debate on real issues? I won’t hold my breath.

Kinsella may have been effective at some point in the past, but his smart-alecky spin never impressed me. And except for a brief period in December 2009 and January 2010, the polls show his tactics didn’t really help the LPC. Perhaps that’s the real reason he packed in federal politics.

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Sunday, May 16, 2010

The foxes are in charge of the chickens

Members of parliament seem adamant about not allowing Auditor General of Canada Sheila Fraser to get a peak at individual MPs’ expenses, and shame on them for their unprincipled stand. The degree of arrogance and blatant hypocrisy displayed by three of the four parties in the House is appalling. The Bloc’s leader is the only one to say Ms. Fraser can see the books.

This issue has been in the news long enough for MPs across the land to have sensed the significant distrust Canadian have for the motives of those who refuse the Auditor General’s request to perform a value-for-money audit of the use of taxpayer money by individual MPs. And even so, parliament’s Board of Internal Economy has denied the Auditor General permission to do the audit.

Recent examinations of politicians’ personal spending of taxpayers’ money in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Britain have exposed shocking examples of inappropriate expense claims, many of which included waste and greed.

The board, however, which includes MPs from all four parties declined Sheila Fraser’s request. The board, which deliberates in secret, stated there are already sufficient “control mechanisms” in place.

Really? How so when access-to-information laws do not apply to MPs’ budgets and their expenses are only subject to financial audits that do not show the details of where their money is spent?

A financial audit is done of the financial statements of the House of Commons by KPMG, one of the country’s major accounting firms. But this is quite different from the sort of audit proposed by Ms. Fraser. As she says:

“I have absolutely no concerns about that [KPMG’s] audit and the quality of that audit. It's done by a very reputable firm.

“But a performance audit, like the audits we’re tabling today, is very different from a financial audit. And we’ll go in and look at the systems and practices much more than a financial audit would.”

Sounds like a damn good idea to me. Over to you, Prime Minister.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Deal made over Afghan detainee documents

The Jack Layton Web site—AKA official New Democrat Web site—is trumpeting victory over the dreaded Conservatives in achieving “… a victory for Parliamentary democracy.”

According to the Web site, the deal has been made and essentially all parties have agree to the following arrangement:

“Under the terms of the agreement agreed to by all parties, a committee of MPs will review all documents in un-redacted form to determine their relevance to the study of the transfer of Afghan detainees by the House Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan. The panel’s decision on the relevance of those documents will be final and unreviewable.

“Any documents that are found to be relevant will be referred to a Panel of Expert Arbiters, who will determine how the information in those documents will be made available to all MPs, and to the public, without compromising national security.”

Sounds like a commonsense arrangement to me. Now maybe our House of Commons can get back to business—you know, the stuff Canadian really care about. How about allowing Auditor General of Canada Sheila Fraser to get a peak at individual MP expenses?

If Afghans have ill-treated Afghans, I can’t get too worked up—they’ve been doing this sort of thing for the past several hundred perhaps thousands of years. And I don’t really care who knew about it.

War is hell folks, and those who believe we can sanitize it are dreaming in Technicolor.

 

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Latest EKOS poll puts Conservatives in the lead

The CBC News network is reporting the results of this week’s EKOS poll1 of voter intentions. When asked who they would vote for if an election were to be held tomorrow, slightly more than a third of the respondents said their choice would be the Conservatives, and 51.0 per cent said the country is moving in the right direction.

According to the poll, 33.6 per cent of those surveyed said they would vote for the Conservatives, a slight (0.5%) increase over last week’s results. The liberals were up one full per cent at 27.1 per cent, and at 16.9 per cent, the NDP were up 0.9 per cent.

Michael Ignatieff still can’t connect with enough Canadian voters to be a real threat to the Conservatives, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to be denied majority territory because of weak support in Quebec and the voter split with the Liberals in Ontario.

 

1EKOS randomly surveyed 2,573 people by telephone between May 5 and May 11. The poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. See CBC News story here.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Conservatives triumph in U.K., sort of…

The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom has finally replaced the centre-left Labour Party, albeit with the help of Nick Clegg’s centre-left Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems). Unlike many governments around the world, including here in Canada, the United Kingdom has no recent experience with minority governments.

The usual situation there is for the prime minister of the day to operate with a majority of seats in Parliament, ruling with few restraints on his power to implement whatever policies he wants. For the first time since 1945, a British prime minister has been be forced to set aside ideological differences and form a coalition government. According to new prime minister, David Cameron:

“We have a shared agenda [with the Lib Dems] and a shared resolve to tackle the challenges our country faces, to safeguard our national security and support our troops abroad, to tackle the debt crisis, to repair our broken political system and to build a stronger society.”

Cameron gave his first news conference while standing alongside the leader of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, the new deputy prime minister. Many see Clegg as a king maker and I suppose he is, but not in any positive sense for his party, which actually lost votes and seats in the election, despite predictions he would do very well.

Key appointments include former Conservative deputy leader William Hague as the new foreign secretary and ex-finance minister Ken Clarke running the justice department. As well, Conservative Theresa May will be interior minister and Conservative Liam Fox will be defence secretary. Lib Dem Vince Cable, a former economist, is the new business secretary, while fellow Lib Dem David Laws will take up the post of chief secretary to the treasury.

Apparently, however, the Lib Dems paid dearly for their new-found status as a formal part of the ruling coalition.

Clegg has reportedly been forced to agree to back the Conservatives’ plan to begin immediate spending cuts. And Clegg has long been pro-European, but Tories are skeptical over co-operation in Europe, and recent developments with the so-called “Pigs” countries have hardly been encouraging.

Reports are that, for the sake of the coalition, Clegg agreed to abandon plans to make Britain more closely engaged in the European Union, while also agreeing to a Conservative plan to hold a referendum on any further EU powers. This must have been a bitter pill for Clegg, who was once a member of the European parliament, to swallow.

And, apparently, any hope Clegg had of the new government joining the euro currency has been dashed—the Conservatives oppose the move. The Lib Dems still want to, when the economic conditions are right, but Clegg says now is not the right time.

 

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why make the governor general’s appointment a political football, Mr. Ignatieff?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper asks—through the Queen’s Canadian secretary—opposition leaders for input on his choice of our next governor general, and the leader of the official opposition, Michael Ignatieff, blabs to the media that he wants Michaëlle Jean’s appointment extended by a year or two, even though it has been made clear that the decision not to extend her term had already been made.

Ignatieff just can’t help putting his political foot in his mouth, can he? He is given the chance to show he can be non-partisan about this symbolically important appointment and he has to be mischievous.

Instead of allowing her to finish her term with the dignity she so well deserves, thanks to Michael Ignatieff Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean will hear her name used by the media as a political football and her term will end in political controversy—she deserves better, much better.

For the year he has been leader of the LPC, Ignatieff has demonstrated time and again that he lacks the stuff of which statesmen are made.

All but Ignatieff’s most ardent supporters and, presumably, himself seem to agree his advice to the prime minister on this sensitive subject should be considered confidential and that it was a gaffe to blab it to the media.

Ignatieff issued a news release and called a news conference during which he referenced the GG’s race and gender, and crassly demanded her appointment be extended. And, in so doing, he has compromised the GG by making her a subject of partisan politics.

According to the Globe and Mail1, University of Toronto’s political scientist and constitutional scholar Peter Russell described Michael Ignatieff’s decision to make political hay over the appointment of a new governor general as inappropriate, very unhelpful and unwise.

The Globe and Mail is not known as being pro-Conservative, in fact, it has a decidedly pro-Liberal editorial slant. Yet even this newspaper cannot understand what Ignatieff hopes to gain here. Here’s a quote from the Globe:

“There is also an implication that somehow Mr. Harper is behaving improperly, that following the prorogation debate, there is another sinister Conservative plot afoot to defy constitutional norms. In fact, there is no wrong, no indignity, being directed at Ms. Jean. She has been a charismatic and somewhat successful viceroy, but the expected term of office for the Queen’s representative is five years. Sometimes, that term is extended, sometimes it is not. It is notable that four of the last six governors-general have served five years or less. What precisely is to be gained by politicizing Ms. Jean in this way, all in order to drag her departure out for another year or so?”

Ignatieff’s indiscretion does beg the question: can the man be trusted with any confidential information the prime minister may which to share in the future? I suggest he can’t.

 

1See here for more of the Globe’s article.

 

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

If political bias was a lady’s petticoat, Jane Taber would be showing hers

Even as she reports on alleged political reporting bias at the CBC, Globe and Mail/CTV’s Jane Taber lets her own anti-Tory bias show. Ms. Taber reports that in a letter released recently, CBC editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire tries to refute Tory accusations of bias in CBC’s political commentary and news reporting.

Ms. Taber writes1 several paragraphs concerning Ms. McGuire’s letter and the controversy surrounding EKOS pollster Frank Graves’s suggestion in a Globe and Mail story that Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals should launch a “culture war” against the Conservatives.

Amongst her many paragraphs, Ms. Taber tells us that “Mr. Graves is not paid for his appearances on the CBC program, Power & Politics, where he presents his polling data.” Then she tucks in a gratuitous comment that seems to come completely out of the blue:

“Kory Teneycke, meanwhile, who most recently served as Stephen Harper’s communications director, is paid for his appearances on CBC in which he repeats Tory talking points and touts the Conservative line.”

Mr. Teneycke is not—as far as I can tell—a pollster. And Mr. Teneycke isn’t mentioned elsewhere in her commentary; just this one, less-than complementary, comment. So what point is Ms. Taber trying to make?

Why pick on Mr. Teneycke alone when there are supporters from the Liberals and the New Democrats who regularly appear on CBC News and Ms. Taber’s own CTV News to—as she sees it—repeat party “talking points” and “tout” their party “line.”

Her comment is true, I suppose, but biased nevertheless because it unfairly implies only the Tory supporter, Mr. Teneycke, is unique in this regard. This is the sort of political bias one sees on the CBC’s political program Power & Politics and on CTV’s Question Period and Power Play.

It’s not that these programs tell lies, but its how they introduce topics, how they quickly try to find Tory equivalence for any gaffe committed by the Liberals. It’s the softball interviews of Liberal MPs and supporters. It is the blatant leniency shown to the antics and props used by some Liberal insiders who appear regularly on Power Play as compared to the grilling Tory MPs and supporters receive.

Whenever CTV’s Tom Clark uses his favourite phrase “to be fair” one knows he’s about to be unfair by trying to alibi a Liberal gaffe or seek some equivalence to show Conservatives in a lesser light—and seldom is the reverse true.

It’s all small stuff like snowflakes, but pack enough of them together and one gets a avalanche of anti-Conservative sentiment from these broadcasters and their hosts like Ms. Taber.

1The full text of Ms. Taber’s report can be seen here.

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Leger poll shows the Tories with 11 point lead

The Leger poll conducted April 27-29 and reported by the CBC News yesterday, shows the Conservatives leading with 36 per cent of support, while the Liberals languish in a poor second with only PM Stephen Harper25 per cent. At 20 percent, the New Democrats are closer to the Grits than the Grits are to the Tories.

Perhaps even more discouraging for the LPC is the continued lack of confidence Canadians have for their leader, Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff trails Prime Minister Stephen Harper by 15 percentage points on the question of which leader would make the best prime minister—Jack Layton was chosen by 23 per cent of respondents and the Green party’s Elizabeth May had a pathetic 4-per cent support.

The poll, however, sounded a cautionary note: while PM Harper and his Conservatives continue to lead all other leaders and their parties, 55 per cent of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the Conservative government, and a disturbing 25 per cent said they were “very dissatisfied.” And, while 37 per cent of respondents said Canada was heading in the right direction, 42 per cent said we are heading in the wrong direction.

Maintaining support—though not at the majority level—among a broad cross section of Canadians is not easy, given we have four opposition party leaders, including Elizabeth May, sniping and insulting the prime minister at every opportunity and disparaging every legislative initiative he attempts. The fact that Stephen Harper has managed to do so and to remain in office for over four years is a testament to the man’s political agility and skill.

What a pleasant contrast PM Harper’s cool, confident leadership makes to Michael Ignatieff’s indecision and policy flip-flopping.

[Source]

 

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