Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The smoking gun that never was

When news broke last week that there were misleading “robocalls” placed to a few ridings on the federal Election Day, it barely took two seconds for the accusations to start flying.  And mysteriously fly in one direction they did.

“The largest electoral fraud in Canadian history” the NDP screamed.

The Liberals said this was a “Nixonian culture” created by the Prime Minister, a reference to the former U.S. President who resigned after his campaign workers were caught breaking into the Opposition’s offices to dig up dirt.

It was one clear direction in which the accusations were flying, and that was towards the Conservatives.

But I’m proud to have seen so many Canadians stand up and not buy the left’s rhetoric.  They preferred to ask the common sense question: “is there any proof of the Conservatives doing this?”

Such a question, ironically, has been met with confusion and will be the NDP’s and Liberal’s ultimate undoing of their empty rhetoric.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Parliamentary Secretary Dean Del Mastro have repeatedly told the NDP and Liberals: if you have evidence, give it to Elections Canada and the RCMP.  Let them do their investigation.

The continued unsubstantiated screams from the left side of the House are the ultimate revelation of the Opposition’s response to the Prime Minister’s simple yet smart challenge: do you have evidence?

Indeed, one week after the original story broke, the only thing we know is that we know surprisingly little, and we most certainly cannot label any one party or person as being responsible.  But let’s review what we do know:

1. Brian Lilley of Sun News has obtained the original Access to Information Request which was used by Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher to break the story last week.  In its 190 pages of documentation, only three pages describe the complaints about the “robocall” issue.  The rest describe issues such as the RCMP responding to a closed polling station because the Clerk and Returning Officer wanted to go for dinner.  But in those three pages of information on the robocalls, here’s the kicker: Elections Canada acknowledges

“There was no conduct reported that would bring into question the integrity of the election result overall or the result in a particular riding. Although misconduct was reported in several ridings, there is no complaint that it affected the final result. There is some speculation in the media that the dirty tricks may have affected the result in some close contests.”

They even say the misleading robocalls are “legal but seen as ‘unfair’ by candidates.”  But of course, we haven't heard of this essential statement because it entirely disproves the NDP's and Liberal's claims.

So from where is all that “evidence” stemming from which the media has used since this original ATI request?  From “evidence” gathered by the NDP and Liberals themselves!

2. We know that what I said last week was true: the media and the Opposition gravely libeled Michael Sona, with no evidence whatsoever that he was the one responsible for the calls.  Indeed, the Globe and Mail reported Sona’s name “just started circulating.”  Got it?  Someone, somewhere picked up that Sona had resigned from his office, for who knows what reason, and they ran with it.

3. Even some of the state broadcaster’s (the CBC’s) main personalities are refusing to report such garbage slander against the Conservatives.  Rick Mercer, in his February 28, 2012 rant, refused to say the Conservatives were the ones behind the robocalls.  He only described the event as someone from Edmonton calling supporters - of all parties - with a phone registered in Quebec.  Peter Mansbridge, meanwhile, questioned CBC journalist Terry Milewski on whether there was anything at all implying Conservative involvement.  Milewski responded “nothing at all.”  These two examples are refreshing in a time when the CBC has already made up its mind that it will report the Conservatives were responsible, regardless of any evidence (and lack thereof).

4. We have first-hand reports from Conservatives who worked in the war room’s call centre.  John Lietaer was the Conservative war room manager for the May 2011 election and recounts the stringent accountability standards; the importance of privacy; and even an Accountability Officer available to the war room at all times.  Lietaer does an excellent job of dispelling each of the three separate issues being blended together by the Opposition, and describing what actually happened in the Conservative war room.

5. We also have first-hand accounts of employees of the call centres contracted by the Conservatives who admit they: changed scripts on their own, without the knowledge of their superiors or the party; were clearly instructed to identify themselves as representatives of the “Conservative Party of Canada;” and witnessed some of their co-workers deciding on their own to falsely say they were calling from Elections Canada.  Of course, the left-leaning Toronto Star chooses to spin this into saying the Conservatives were the ones falsely identifying themselves as Elections Canada.  Did they not just sentences earlier acknowledge these call centre employees acted without the authorization of the Conservatives?

5. Part 20 of the Canada Elections Act lays out the procedure for contesting the legality of an election.  There are two ways for an election to be declared void by a judge: (1) the elected person was not eligible to be a candidate; or (2) “there were irregularities, fraud or corrupt or illegal practices that affected the result of the election” (s. 524).  But there is of course a statute of limitations: the Act says it’s the later of 30 days after either a) the election result is published in the Canada Gazette; or b) the claimant became aware of the supposed fraud or irregularity (s. 527).  The CBC reported on May 2, 2011 that there were suspicious calls going out to supporters of all parties, in several ridings, and clarified that Elections Canada was not behind these calls.  So the 30-day limit begins on May 2, 2011.  Game over, NDP.  Or, if we want to be really generous and say we only became aware of these allegations last week, that leaves the claimant until mid-March 2012 to make a claim of electoral fraud in court.  But, you know, that’s just the law.

We should also consider that Elections Canada already declared there was nothing suspicious about the May 2011 election which would have affected any one riding or the overall result (see point one).  These calls for byelections in 50+ ridings are purely bogus.  Byelections, by law, are for when sitting MP’s resign before the next national election date.

6. Very little is known about the person who orchestrated these calls.  We know that:
a)      someone, using the fake name Pierre Poutine, purchased a disposable pay-as-you-go Virgin Mobile cell phone with cash in Joliette, Quebec.
b)      That person used RackNine’s services, without the knowledge of RackNine’s owner.
c)      The calls went through RackNine to some voters, in some ridings, who supported all parties (not just one).
7. There is widespread confusion and a blending of the issues taking place in the media and by the Opposition.  There are actually three separate issues relating to calls made around the election, as Lietaer laid out in his articleSome calls were of course made by Conservatives. Our party acknowledges that as the legitimate voter contact and get-out-the-vote process.  But blending those calls into the robocalls issue is a desperate attempt to grasp at any possible link when one does not in fact exist.

Why are we not questioning the Liberals or NDP on their involvement in any of these calls?

What does this all mean?  It means while the NDP, Liberals, and media have flapped their arms frantically in the air, with sensationalist “electoral fraud” allegations, they actually have no evidence whatsoever.  In fact, NDP MP Pat Martin was already threatened with a libel charge, after he slandered RackNine CEO Matt Meier without any evidence. Time will tell if the NDP produces that evidence or backs away from such a claim.

Luckily, some Canadians and media outlets have firmly held their ground and asked the common sense question: is there any evidence of Conservative involvement before we go accusing them of “election fraud”?
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to pull the facts from biased media sources when they’re surrounded by hundreds of inflammatory assumptions.  Luckily, I’ve managed.

All parties need to cooperate with Elections Canada and the RCMP to get to the bottom of this.  The media can help by backing off and allowing these nonpartisan organizations to conduct their investigation, and come back with an answer, if possible, about who is responsible.

But for right now, it’s the left-wing Opposition making inflammatory claims without evidence, and much of the media happily providing the soapbox.  It’s the smoking gun that never was.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Watch out! More anti-conservative fearmongering is on the way!

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

The Opposition is at it again.  Ever-searching for the latest news to add to their “Harper is evil” message, the NDP and Liberals have grasped onto an issue and are sure to not let go anytime soon.  Liberal leader Bob Rae has already compared Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Richard Nixon, the United States President who resigned after his campaign workers broke into the Opposition’s campaign headquarters in search of dirt to be used in the campaign.

Forget for a minute that there is to-date no evidence that this issue involved Conservative Party leadership… Bob Rae wants to fearmonger and add to his “Harper is scary” portfolio.

In the recent federal election, a number of residents received calls from an automated voice message, claiming to be Elections Canada, and stating that their polling station had changed.  The National Post speculates that this “likely led to some voters giving up on voting,” although that remains to be substantiated.

After investigating, Elections Canada traced the calls to RackNine, a call centre based in Edmonton, Alberta.

How RackNine works is fairly straightforward.  A customer, paying by credit card, uploads his or her list of phone numbers to RackNine’s calling system.  Then the person records their call.  Finally, for a few cents per minute, RackNine’s automated system calls each number on the list with that automated message.

As a campaign worker in the election myself, I am the first to say that any form of voter suppression is despicable and not endorsed.  My hundreds of volunteer hours were committed to campaigning properly and ethically, with no sign of anyone acting inappropriately.  In fact, when Liberal signs were defaced during the campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Parliamentary Secretary, Pierre Poilievre, issued a scathing statement, condemning anyillegal or inappropriate actions during a campaign.  Jenni Byrne, the Conservative National Campaign Manager, also affirmed that the party ran “a clean and ethical campaign” and that anyone engaging in voter suppression outside the law should be prosecuted.

Lone behold, hours after the scandal broke, Michael Sona, a Conservative staffer in Eve Adams office, resigned.

But from where did this name originate?  I’ve yet to see.  The Globe and Mail only says “his name started circulating” and that he had resigned.  I’ve yet to see any statement that he left because of this issue, as opposed to simply changing offices or pursuing another job or an education.

But let’s forget this inconvenient fact for a minute.

There remains to this date no evidence that the Conservative Party’s leadership was in any way involved in these deceptive calls.

What’s really creepy about the timed release of information on RackNine, its CEO, and the Conservative staffer who resigned by the NDP.  Indeed, since this issue broke news there has been a near-constant stream of conveniently released Facebook statements, photos, and background information on each of these parties not readily available to the public.

Why are we not asking whether it was the NDP who made the robocalls through RackNine?

After all, the NDP, too, benefits from when the Liberal vote is suppressed, which is, according to the NDP, what these calls were intended to do.

So let’s summarize this issue: someone initiated phony calls in a few ridings.  Someone used RackNine, a service which has also been used by Conservatives.  Someone picked up that a young Conservative staffer had recently resigned from his office.

Poof: anti-conservative fear-mongering is born, when we should really be questioning what part, if any, both sides had to do with this despicable practice.

Give me a break!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

'Aboriginal' is the most correct term

Published in The Hill Times

Aboriginal letter writer Richard Powless says calling aboriginals as such is "dehumanizing and objectifying." He could not be farther from the truth. Referring to them as aboriginals is no different than referring to "Canadians" or "Americans" or "Chinese" or "Irish." It's not objectifying; it's their group's identity just as any other group has. 

What's more, to say this term is also offensive because aboriginals are not one "cohesive entity" is like saying we shouldn't call ourselves Canadians because we're actually Ontarians and Quebecers.

The Canadian government recognizes the term "aboriginal" as the appropriate term. In fact, only recently did Indian and Northern Affairs Canada change its name: it is now properly named Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, which obviously corrects the erroneous belief that the "Indians" were from India. They note that "aboriginals" were the original inhabitants of North America, who were Inuit, Metis, and Indian. The term "Indian" is only used today for legal purposes under the Indian Act, and generally does not include Inuit or Metis people.

"Aboriginal" also holds the most concise meaning: from Latin ab origine means the first inhabitants of a city or specific area of land.

As for his position that aboriginals are entitled to land and the only reason Canada exists, that's another issue entirely.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pot, meet kettle

Remember when the Liberals and NDP were desperately pushing the "selling access to a minister" agenda?  Was a minister attending a dinner?  SELLING ACCESS!  Was an MP speaking about the upcoming budget? SELLING ACCESS!  Did a person have to pay money to hear a minister give a speech about politics?  SELLING ACCESS!
The reality, of course, was that various Conservative MP's and ministers appeared at various fundraisers for local EDA's.  These EDA's were fundraising money, and it was a particular treat to be able to hear from John Baird, Jim Flaherty, or Maxime Bernier.  It wasn't selling access, it was fundraising.
But if the NDP and Liberals want to push their "selling access" line, then what the heck do they call this?

That's right.  It's a Liberal fundraiser, featuring Mauril Belanger, David McGuinty, and Justin Trudeau for $200 a person.  All three are Liberal heavyweights in the tiny Liberal caucus, and back in the Liberal government days Belanger was a cabinet minister.
Or what about the NDP leadership convention, which will allow party members and nonmembers alike to rub shoulders with the NDP heavyweights for an astounding $349 standard price or an even more astounding $1000 for a nonmember observer.
Suffice to say the fundraising tactics are really one in the same.  When Conservatives do it, it's "selling access" and should be condemned, but when the socialists do it it's perfectly acceptable.
Hypocrisy is great isn't it?  Pot, meet kettle.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Media Still Refusing to Comment on NDP MP Falling Asleep in House of Commons

It's been 10 days since NDP MP Jonathan Genest-Jourdain was caught falling asleep in the House of Commons, yet the media is still refusing to report on it!  Only the Huffington Post has bothered to cover this story, saying the 32-year-old MP must have stayed up past his bedtime.

Note that I personally don't think this is that big of a deal.  MP's are over-worked and can easily spend 80 hours a week on their parliamentary duties.  Who hasn't dozed off at their desk during a work meeting or university lecture?
But what is a big deal is the blatant media hypocrisy surrounding this issue.  When Conservative MP Rob Anders fell asleep in the House it made national news for days.  The National Post reported on it and sarcastically suggested he was protesting Question Period.  The CBC reported on it tooAs did the Toronto Star.

Yet none of them are touching the issue when an NDP MP does it.

Why do they get a free pass?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why are the Shafias still allowed to call Canada home?

For the Prince Arthur Herald

The gruesome details of life in the Shafia household, eventually leading to the murder of four innocent women, are now a matter of public record: three young women – Geeti, Sahar, and Zainab – and their “aunt” Rona (actually their father’s first wife who was unable to conceive) were brutally murdered for living like average Canadians.  They wore makeup and styled their hair. They had boyfriends. They were constantly texting.  And they refused to be oppressed by their father and brother, Mohammad and Hamed, and their “sick notion of honour.”

For this they were plunged into their watery grave at the Kingston Locks.  Mohammad, Hamed, Mohammad’s second wife Tooba, and three unnamed children went on living life without remorse, like nothing ever happened, occasionally giving a sob-story for the cameras.

These are the details which are now accepted as facts in the murder trial.  Several media agencies have followed the case from start to finish and provided exceptional coverage, such as Michael Friscolanti in Maclean’s Magazine (February 13, 2012 edition).

Yet the question remains: why are these convicted murderers, who were not Canadians citizens, allowed to enjoy the privilege of calling Canada home?

Mohammad, born in Afghanistan, was not an educated man, but he had a knack for sales and entrepreneurialism.  After becoming a successful entrepreneur in Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates, Mohammad applied and was accepted to move to Quebec under their “immigrant investor program.”  The program provided visas to wealthy immigrants seeking to move to Canada in exchange for a $400,000 investment in the provincial government.

He brought his second wife and children.  His first wife, committing fraud, told the Canadian government she was Mohammad’s cousin and live-in nanny, and was accepted to Canada on a temporary visa a few months later.

We know what tragically happened next.  The Shafia daughters embraced the Canadian way of life and desperately wanted out of their father’s and brother’s savage grasp.  Their behaviour marked them as “whores” according to Mohammad, Hamed, and Tooba, and the stage was thus set for the family’s “honour” to be restored by killing the rebellious girls and the infertile first wife.

The Shafia trial spanned over 90 days, easily costing Canadians $1.8 million (considering a cost of $20,000 per day, the Canadian average for civil cases.  Criminal trials can be cheaper or more expensive, depending on lawyer fees and the depth of the investigation and testimony given.  The cost could also be astronomically higher if we knew the costs of calling specific witnesses, police investigations, or jury costs).

That’s not all.  The trio, convicted of first degree murder, will serve their time in prison for at least 25 years without the possibility of parole.  For the two men, their combined 50 years behind bars will cost us $2,983,050 ($59,661 per year).

For Tooba, that will cost us $2,840,250 ($113,610 per year – female prisoners are more expensive to house than men).

The total cost to Canadians: easily a whopping $7.62 million, for a bunch of criminal thugs who fraudulently came to Canada, embraced our country only for their selfish gain, and murdered four women for wanting to be Canadians.  And this is not even considering the time spent in pre-trial custody; the time detectives spent traveling to and from Montreal; or the resources spent interviewing the family when they were supposedly innocent.

Remember, visas allow people to come to Canada on a temporary basis, and they are allowed to stay only by meeting certain conditions.  They are not Canadian citizens entitled to residency for life, and can be deported at any time for reasons including “serious criminality,” where the maximum sentence can be 10 years, and “misrepresentation,” where a person purposely provides false information to an immigration officer.  Check and check. Get them out.

Geeti, Sahar, Zainab, and Rona embraced Canadian life and longed to escape Mohammad’s and Hamed’s oppression.  They should forever be remembered as Canadians who paid the ultimate sacrifice to cherish Canada’s values, customs, and traditions.  Let’s not tarnish their memory by allowing their disgraced family members the enjoyment of Canadian prisons and laws.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The case for MP's Pensions

Published in The Prince Arthur Herald

In recent weeks we’ve seen an increased call for federal Members of Parliament to reform their pension plans.  The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation called it a “national disgrace” for MP’s to reward themselves with one of the most handsome pensions in Canada.  Bill Robson of the C.D. Howe Institute said “The kind of pension plan we should be promising our leaders should be somewhere in the middle — more generous than what the ordinary Canadian currently gets, but less generous than what the MPs are currently promising themselves.”

The populist notion that all MP’s hold their fair share considering Canada’s austerity measures to balance the budget seems strong, yet MP’s cannot possibly respond without becoming entrapped as defenders of their own financial interests, or conceding to auctioning away their own pensions.

We must consider the broader picture of the role of an MP, what they do, and whether they’re really fairly paid as it is.  Indeed, while it is clear MP’s pensions must be reformed, it is equally as clear that they are underpaid as it is.

The average career of an MP is just five years. That’s not a lot of job security for someone in a position which determines the directions, investments, and strategies of the federal government.

Consider also that an MP’s salary is just $157,731 per year.  Sure, there are additional allowances for holding additional responsibilities, but think for a second about the number of hours an MP works per week, compared to the average Canadian.

MP’s are also highly public figures, subject to rigorous scrutiny, media attention, and generally live life under the constant watch of the cameras and reporters.  Indeed, nowhere but in politics is a person’s personal life – their health, their family, their spouse, whether they smoke or drink – on constant display and constantly becoming part of the permanent public record.

The average week of a Member of Parliament begins Monday morning with the House sitting at .  This means Members must be in Ottawa Sunday night, or before sunrise on Monday morning, so they can attend briefings, check-in with office staff, and prepare for the week ahead.  When the House is adjourned at Members still have more work: they may attend social gatherings, caucus meetings, committee preparations, speaking engagements, or welcome a constituent to their Parliamentary office and take them for a tour.

Members also belong to one or several committees, which sit from to 40 hours per week and can travel across country to study or observe first-hand issues relevant to the committee.

There are also caucus meetings for each party, which conduct regional, provincial, and national meetings each week to discuss business, policy, strategy, and vet the important issues to be discussed throughout the week.  Each caucus can take an additional 2-6 hours per week, depending on what the party determines.

Remember, we are already well over 40 hours a week of work and this is only a base level of work.  Consider MP’s that are tabling bills; ministers who have ministries to run; Parliamentary Secretaries; Mp’s who are also committee chairs; and so forth.

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, is famous for working from the early hours of the morning until the wee hours of the night. Indeed, he was voted 2011’s hardest working Parliamentarian by his fellow MP’s because he’s estimated to work 20-hour days. Sleep takes a backseat in the minister’s life, who commits his morning, day, and evening to parliament, then returns to his office at night, commonly until , to oversee his department.

It does not end there.  MP’s, after all, have constituencies to run.  So Friday evening they return to their constituencies for another two days of meeting constituents, attending groundbreaking ceremonies, and assisting constituents with navigating various government programs.

An MP can easily top 80 hours of work between Monday and Friday alone, then spend several hours in their constituency.  Suddenly, $157,731 per year doesn’t seem like so much for what works out to be 4160 hours per year.  Indeed, it works out to just $37.91 an hour, yet their duties as a lawmaker, parliamentarian, arbitrator, ombudsman, consultant, and analyst are worth much more.

Compare this salary to those in the private sector, such as Boards of Directors and high-level positions, and you’ll mind they can rake in millions of dollars per year as well as healthy pensions.  These are valuable minds, and they are paid for their expertise.

The result of underpaying MP’s is twofold.  One is that people do not possess the desire to run for public office.  The other is that MP’s are compensated for their work and the issues laid out above by receiving a handsome pension.

Are there flaws in this system?  Absolutely.  Gilles Duceppe, the man who made a career out of attempting to break up Canada, is going to receive an annual $140,000 pension.  That is simply unacceptable, but it is the result of allowing the Bloc Quebecois to be a national political party in the first place.

It is also an issue that for every $1 put into a pension fund by the Member, Canadian taxpayers put in $5 according to the CBC, or $23 according to the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.  Private pension systems are commonly matched dollar for dollar, but not 5:1.

The CBC complaining the 32 year-old Parliamentary Secretary Pierre Poilievre will receive a minimalist $30,000 a year pension is not an issue.

MP’s are stuck in a no-win situation.  If they perpetuate their current pension system they risk becoming labelled as opportunists looking out for their own material gain while Canadians struggle in uncertain economic times; if they change their pension system they’re legislating themselves even further into an already underpaid profession.

The answer, following the C.D. Howe Institute, is to raise salaries if we’re going to cut pensions.  This should be done by an independent arbitrator reporting to the Board of Internal Economy, just until the NDP inevitably complains the arbitrator costs too much.

Reforms to MP’s pensions must be made, but we must not forget that we are already underpaying our nation’s lawmakers as it is.