Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Response to an image of entitlement

In a recent Huffington Post article, Eric Grenier questions whether 2013 will “be remembered as the beginning of the end of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.”

Grenier complains that the Conservatives are creating an “image of entitlement” through the scandals of Peter Penashue, Dean del Mastro, Rob Ford, and the ongoing Senate expense debate.

Unfortunately, Grenier disproves his complaint in his very list of “scandals.”

Peter Penashue resigned as an MP altogether – not just from Conservative caucus - when it was revealed his campaign accepted ineligible donations.  Voters elected a Liberal MP instead.

Dean Del Mastro resigned from the Conservative caucus amid 2008 campaign over-spending allegations and says he is looking forward to addressing Elections Canada’s allegations.

According to Grenier, Rob Ford’s antics as Toronto Mayor somehow reflect poorly on the federal Conservative government because of their “relative silence” over Ford’s drug use.

The ongoing Senate expense debate is one that involves several players and both parties represented in the Senate.  However, both Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy – the most publicized of those involved – have both been severely punished.  Wright resigned from his position and is being investigated by the RCMP; Duffy was booted from the Conservative caucus and is also being investigated by the RCMP.  Unfortunately, Grenier leaves out that the only Senator to resign amid this debate is Liberal Senator Mac Harb, who took over $231,000 in ineligible expense claims from Canadian taxpayers, or more than double Duffy’s housing claims.

So what is the Conservative record for entitlement? Well, quite simply: when you break the rules, you pay the price.  These individuals’ alleged wrongdoing – and it is only alleged – was swiftly met with censure and punishment.  This is not inconsistent with what Prime Minster Harper has been saying all along, both in the House of Commons and to media reporters.

How a culture of entitlement could exist when such a culture is quickly punished and quashed is a paradox.  Grenier proves this in his own list of Conservative “scandals,” yet forgets to name the punishments.

Troubling 2013 for Trudeau's Liberal Party

For the Huffington Post Canada

Parliament has risen for its Christmas break and won’t sit again until January 27, 2014.  In true Christmas spirit, it’s a time for reflection on the good and bad of 2013, and how that record may be updated in 2014.

Unfortunately, the record for Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party has been overwhelmingly negative, leaving significant room for improvement in 2014.

Since being anointed – er, elected – Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Trudeau has been entirely devoid of any policy ideas.

Within the first week of being elected, controversy surrounded Trudeau.  He tried rationalizing the Boston Marathon bombings by blaming society for the terrorists’ actions.  Then he complained about the temporary foreign worker program, only to be instantly revealed as a hypocrite who petitioned in favour of foreign workers in his riding.

In a video uploaded in 2010, infamous drug user Marc Emery claimed he smoked marijuana with Trudeau.  Trudeau confirmed he had smoked marijuana, and one of Trudeau’s first (and only) policy declarations has been that he favours of the legalization of marijuana.  This, of course, only after Trudeau voted with the Conservative government to increase punishments for drug crimes.  Hypocrisy count: 2.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where Trudeau’s policy record ends.  In fact, Trudeau has been completely unable to define the Liberal Party or Trudeau brand under his leadership.

Trudeau has failed to distance his Liberal Party from former Liberal cabinet minister Joe Fontana, who is being criminally charged for using taxpayers’ money on his son’s wedding.

Trudeau supported Liberal Senator Mac Harb, the only Senator to-date to resign from the Senate after he repaid $231,000 in ineligible Senate expenses.  Up until Harb resigned, Trudeau was adamant he would “welcome him back into caucus.”

Trudeau promised accountability and transparency of his MPs and Senators by proactively disclosing their expenses and posting them online.  Unfortunately, that service is already available through the Parliament of Canada website.  MPs such as David McGuinty have yet to post anything – meaning either McGuinty runs his office for free (we taxpayers thank you!) or he’s refusing to follow his boss’ orders.  The latter seems more likely.

Somehow, Trudeau’s focus on transparency somehow missed the fact that he was charging enormous speaking fees – up to $20,000 a pop – to speak at private events.  While he was a sitting MP, Trudeau could have collected over $288,000 in speaking fees, or more than three Wright-Duffy deals.

In the weeks preceding the Labour Day long weekend, Trudeau’s communications staff let this gem slip, claiming that religious people were less intelligent than atheists.  Trudeau has still not held his staff accountable, nor has he been held publicly accountable.

By August, even Trudeau’s media friends were getting antsy, craving something, anything of substance.  Trudeau said they would have to wait until 2015 before he revealed his ideas.  Oh, but convicted terrorist Omar Khadr should be compensated for the inconvenience of being jailed for his crimes.

Maybe when Parliament returned in October Trudeau’s team could rebuild.  Wrong.

Instead, he hosteda patronizing women-only event, charging them $200 each to “get to really know” Trudeau by asking women about their “favourite virtues.”  At that event, he extolled his love of Chinese dictatorship as the preferred method to get things done quickly. Seriously.

Also in November, it was revealed that Trudeau was either kept out of the loop or purposely stalled a sexual harassment complaint by a Liberal staffer against a Liberal Senator.

Sure, in four byelections held the Liberals held the two ridings in Toronto and Montreal they had already held.  But maintaining the status quo is hardly indicative of Trudeau’s positive effect as leader.

And finally, as Parliament was about to rise for this season’s Christmas break, Trudeau attempted to justify his part-time two-days-a-week attendance record.  And a few days after that, long-time friend of Jean Chretien and former Liberal Party Vice President Jacques Corriveau was charged with fraud.

On second thought, in Trudeau’s first eight months as Liberal leader, he has said a lot.  He just hasn’t said the right things to make him worthy of leading this country.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Crime is enveloping Ottawa South - where are our elected leaders?

For the past several weeks, Ottawa South has been enveloped in a serious crime wave.

Since Halloween there have been 11 robberies in the South Keys area, many of them involving a perpetrator threatening to use a handgun.  On November 25 a woman disembarking a bus at South Keys station was grabbed and had her personal belongings stolen.

Gun crimes are rampant.  On November 11 8 to 10 shots were fired near Lorry Greenberg and Hunt Club.  On November 19, at least 12 shots were fired near Montreal Road.  On November 26, shots were fired into the high rise apartments on Cedarwood Drive.  And on December 2, at least 10 shots were fired at a man sitting in his car on Industrial Ave.

Where are our elected representatives?

To her credit, city councillor Diane Deans held a community town hall meeting at the Lorry Greenberg Community Centre.  On November 27, councillor Deans asked the Ottawa Chief of Police to join her in quelling residents’ fears and explaining the way forward.  Unfortunately, any form of minutes, press release, or general information on the substance of that meeting has yet to be released.

And what about provincial Liberal MPP John Fraser and federal Liberal MP David McGuinty?  Both have been completely mute about the crime wave sweeping through their ridings, terrifying residents in all corners.

Fraser has lots on his website about his party's plans to raise hydro rates by 42 percent, but nothing about this crime wave.  McGuinty hasn’t used social media since being re-elected in 2011 – not a single tweet in over 2 and a half years – and rarely updates his website.

Now more than ever, Ottawa South needs competent and responsive provincial and federal leaders.  In this desperate time of need, we’re not getting either from Fraser or McGuinty.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

11 questions to be answered in House of Cards season 2

(Spoiler alert: season 2 predictions will include recaps of what happened in season 1. If you haven’t seen season 1, get over to Netflix and watch it!)

 Netflix’s House of Cards was nominated for four Golden Globes just hours before they launched their season 2 trailer.  They were also nominated for nine Emmys and took home three.  Indeed, the part-political thriller, part-drama, part-social science experiment starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright was an incredible hit in its first season.  Unfortunately, season 2 will be the final season for House of Cards, citing the actors’ and producers’ preferences to do movies over a television series.

Here are 11 questions about House of Cards season two:

1.      Reporter and former Underwood mistress Zoe Barnes is onto Frank Underwood’s (Spacey) murder of Representative Peter Russo, and she confronts Underwood by saying “I need to know I wasn’t a part of someone’s… murder.”  How close has Barnes come to the truth, and with whom has she shared this information?  (The trailer suggests at least her fellow colleagues Janine Skorsky and Lucas Goodwin.)

2.      Underwood suggests “the road to power is paved with hypocrisy… and casualties.”  Who will those casualties be in season 2?  In season 1, casualties included union bosses and members, Congressional staffers, reporters, unions, business owners, Congressmen and women, Democratic Party officials, and even the life of a sitting Congressman.  Some of those characters were “fired,” killing them out of the series.  But what about those who remain: reporters Zoe Barnes, Lucas Goodwin, and Janine Skorsky?  Lobbyist and former Underwood employee Remy Danton?  Personal friend of the President Raymond Tusk?  Underwood’s chief of staff Doug Stamper?

In the season 2 trailer, we see Underwood tell Stamper “we need to invite a full frontal attack.”  Stamper tells Underwood “I don’t think that’s a good idea, sir.”  We see a white hood removed from a man’s head, as if he had just been kidnapped.  We also see a white powder come out of a manila envelope Skorsky opens in her office.  What sort of response is Underwood hoping to accomplish?

3.      Underwood feels he needs to prove “what the Vice President is capable of.”  Well, what is the Vice President capable of?  The man whom Underwood is replacing, Jim Mathews, left the job as Vice President for a run at Governor of Pennsylvania because he complained being Vice President was only about shaking hands and signing autographs.  He complained he had little value in advising the President on policies and courses of action.  Now that Underwood is in the Vice President’s chair, what does he want to prove?  Will he use the seat to quickly punish those who disobeyed him as Majority Government Whip (e.g. Representatives Abrams and Vanderberg)?

4.      How will the relationship between Barnes and Goodwin progress?  In season 1, once Barnes finally ends her affair/fling with Underwood she seems to come to her senses and begins to settle down in a relationship with Goodwin.  The two are beginning to become a power couple-journalism team as they begin to learn about Underwood’s house of cards with Skorsky.  Yet, we also see Barnes passionately kissing another female in a bed.  Is Barnes back to her old ways of sleeping around to get a story?  Or is she still confused and full of father issues?

5.      Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) continues to stand by her ruthless husband, saying “I know you’ll do what you think is best.”  However, in season 1 she was not against plainly sabotaging her husband’s political plans when she felt her own politics were more important (for her non-profit water filtration organization).  Will Claire be pushed to a breaking point, or will she continue to stand by her husband?  Why does Underwood appear to be burying his wedding ring?

6.      Who will take office in the upcoming elections?  As we left season 1, Vice President Mathews was leaving the office for what was thought to be an easy win to be re-elected as Governor of Pennsylvania.  Paul Capra, the shipbuilders’ union leader and childhood friend of Russo, was approached to run as the Democratic candidate to replace Russo after his death.  Capra declined at the time, but will he change his mind?

7.      Did Doug Stamper, Underwood’s chief of staff, cause Underwood public humiliation and embarrassment over Stamper’s use and bribe of Rachel the prostitute?  In season 1, Stamper bribed Rachel to say she was never in the car when Russo was arrested for driving while intoxicated.  That bribe came back to haunt Stamper when Rachel blackmailed him, saying she knew who Stamper was and threatened to take down Stamper’s boss (Underwood).  This caused Stamper to put Rachel up in a new apartment and help her start a new life for herself.

Stamper’s generosity came to help Underwood, when Stamper needed Rachel to get Russo drunk and do a radio interview on Russo’s run for Governor while still drunk the following morning.  In the season 2 trailer, Underwood says to Stamper “I did my part, now put it to bed Doug.  I won’t submit myself to this sort of exposure again.”  How much of Stamper’s actions are known, and did Stamper’s actions hurt the Vice President, or was Underwood able to contain it? Will Stamper be fired?

8.      How influential will Raymond Tusk be in season 2?  I season 1, it was Raymond Tusk who was secretly vetting Underwood for his suitability as Vice President while Underwood thought he was vetting Tusk for his suitability as Vice President.  To make Tusk reveal his hand and potentially feel more loyalty to Underwood, Underwood attempted to shake up a few of Tusk’s nuclear energy investments by approaching some oil and gas companies to engage in insider trading.  The plan didn’t work, since Tusk was tipped off and sold his investments.

In the season 2 trailer, we hear what sounds to be Tusk telling the President “you would be making a disastrous mistake.”  We also hear Tusk telling Underwood, “the tip of your ice berg is melting,” suggesting Tusk may also be on to Underwood’s house of cards.  Finally, we see Tusk on the phone telling someone “yeah, hit him now.”  What sort of repayment will Tusk expect for supporting Underwood’s nomination as Vice President, what sort of power does Tusk wield to retaliate against Underwood, and how will the President view the Tusk vs. Underwood conflict?

9.      Who will replace Underwood as Majority Government Whip?  Underwood, being promoted into the Vice President’s chair, will have an enormous influence over who is chosen as his replacement.  Will he choose a lapdog, a loyal and friendly Representative?  That seems unlikely, since there were few Representatives with whom Underwood was friendly in season 1.  What seems more likely is that Underwood will nominate someone he doesn’t like, either so he can later cash in on favours or so that person can be humiliated and eventually thrown aside when a better replacement can be found.

10.  In a news interview, we see the title “dirty laundry” on a television as a reporter asks a female “so this goes all the way to the White House?”  She responds “it might.”  But the voice does not sound like Barnes’ or Skorsky’s – who is this new person?  Further, is this the same dirty laundry from season 1 (Russo’s death, Barnes’ affair), or is this new dirty laundry?

11.  How much will the President stand for?  Remember, Underwood’s house of cards started because Underwood felt he was passed over by the President for a Secretary of State spot.  One could think now that Underwood has the Vice President’s chair he would rekindle any hard feelings he has, but that would be wrong.

In season 1 Underwood admitted he wanted the Vice President’s spot so he could run for President in 2016.  That means he will be a very active and visible Vice President, as he seeks every opportunity to put his face on the positive government accomplishments and hide from the negative.  That’s why the trailer shows Underwood in front of the cameras or being interviewed by reporters several times, whereas in the first season very rarely did he make media appearances.  We see the President tell Underwood “I told you to stop back-channeling,” to which Underwood replies “I can turn this around, sir.”  The President responds with “you are out of line, Frank!”

And finally, with season two being the final season, how will it end?  Will it be 2016 with Underwood having announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for President?  Will it end in present-day with Underwood remaining as Vice President?  Will Underwood have resigned?

These are just a few questions that will surely be answered throughout season 2.  Season 2 is to be released on February 14, 2014 on Netflix, with all episodes being immediately available.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A first look at the “Reform Act”

The Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (Reforms), already dubbed “The Reform Act,” was only introduced in the House of Commons today, but that didn’t stop preceding week’s worth of speculation and gossip about what “might” be in the bill.

Now we know.

Bill C-559, introduced by Conservative MP Michael Chong, would, as Andrew Coyne rightly points out, fundamentally change Canada’s Parliament forever, drastically reshaping Canada’s parliamentary system, the party system, and electoral processes.

The bill proposes:

·         Creating a “nomination officer” “who is appointed by the electoral district association of a political party to endorse the prospective candidate for the party in that electoral district.”  This removes the ability of the party leader to certify candidates, and instead brings it down to the EDA level.
·         Legislating that nomination contests are initiated at the time and place of the EDA’s choosing.
·         A leadership review upon the written request of 15% of caucus.
·         A member may only be expelled from caucus if a majority of caucus agree to it by secret ballot, after being requested by 15% of caucus.
·         A member may be re-admitted to caucus if: a) they win re-election where they ran as that party’s candidate; or b) if a majority of caucus agree to it by secret ballot, after being requested by 15% of caucus.
·         The caucus chair may only be removed as caucus chair if a majority of caucus agree to it by secret ballot, after being requested by 15% of caucus.

The bill raises a number of questions: does the bill aim to combat systemic issues affecting all political parties, or are they aimed at enacting legislation to correct the (right or wrong) behaviour of a single political party?

Why are internal party policies insufficient?  For example, the bill proposes that the Canada Elections Act state that every political party must have a leadership review clause in their party’s constitution.  The three major parties already do, and it didn’t take a law to force them into compliance: for the Conservatives it’s section 10, for the NDP it’s section 3(a), and for the Liberals it’s section 61.

The Reform Act places a lot of emphasis on EDA-elected nomination officers.  Just think about it: the authority of Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, and Stephen Harper and their headquarters staff to choose their 308 (or 338 in 2015) candidates would be suddenly delegated to 308 (or 338) nominations officers.

If these nominations officers are to be paid staff, can that cost be borne?  If they are to be volunteers, can they be relied upon to exact the same judgment and utmost discretion as would be expected of a party leader choosing his slate of candidates?

All three party leaders should rightly be concerned about this: national campaigns require national branding, a national platform, and a national message.  Like it or not, politics is as much now as it ever was about selling a brand: we constantly hear about the Harper Brand, the Trudeau Brand, and the Mulcair brand.  Each have created these brands through careful coordination of marketing, events, announcements, speeches, and proposals.  This coordination occurs at the national level, in the leaders’ offices, because they’re selling a national product.

Just imagine if tomorrow Coca Cola decided that each distributor would be allowed to create its own brand image while still using the Coca Cola name.  The brand reputation and reliability would suffer instantly.

Unfortunately, the party leader needs the ability to ensure the success of his brand, and remove potential candidates who don’t fit the bill.  Instantly devolving the authority to approve candidates into the hands of 338 volunteers would seriously harm every party’s ability to wage a national campaign.

This doesn’t mean party leaders should parachute in star candidates or refuse to listen to their grassroots: they already do listen by signing the nomination papers of the candidate who was successful in the riding’s nomination contest. But it does mean that party leaders need to have the final say in whether a particular candidate fits the party’s brand.

Michelle Rempel, the Conservative MP from Calgary Centre-North and minister for Western Economic Diversification, took only a cursory look over the bill and had several questions she shared on Twitter.  Here’s a relatively simple example of how this legislation could go terribly wrong: a special interest group hijacks an EDA and elects its nomination officer from the same special interest group.  The nomination officer refuses to sign the nomination papers of any candidate who refuses to support Policy A.  What power does the central party have to boot the nomination officer?  What power does the EDA have to regain its power and elect a new nomination officer?

Or how about this example: A group of NDP members overthrows a Liberal EDA and elects an NDP member as its nomination officer.  The nomination officer purposely approves an NDP member as its Liberal candidate, who proceeds to act like an idiot and embarrass the national brand.  Is the national party expected to sit idly by?

The power being invested in each individual nomination officer is simply too great, which is ironic considering the purpose of this bill is to defuse and decentralize power.

Fifteen percent is all that’s needed to trigger a leadership review.  What would stop just 25 of Harper’s MPs or 15 of Mulcair’s MPs from engaging in perpetual leadership reviews to harass the leader or prove a point? Is there a time limit between such reviews?  One month? A year? Five years?

Furthermore, why is caucus given the final (and only) vote on firing the party leader?  It would seem if this bill is focused on increasing the involvement of grassroots EDA-level members, then a leadership review should be decided upon by party members at large, not just sitting MPs.  Certainly, some parties could further describe the circumstances in which they would like to engage their leadership review or leadership selection processes, but this business should be left to party members to decide, not government.

The Reform Act would enact fundamental changes to Canada’s parliamentary and political party systems.  It creates government regulations that delegate authority from party leaders’ offices and places that authority in the hands of 338 EDA-elected officers.  The question is firstly whether these reforms are needed at all, and secondly, if they are, if the government is the right body to address them.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Former Liberal cabinet minister pocketed $8 million from charity

Audit finds Joe Fontana, the same former Liberal cabinet minister being charged for using taxpayers' money to fund his son's wedding, and his friends pocketed $8 million from his so-called charity. Outrageous.

And where is Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to publicly distance himself from the disgraced former Liberal cabinet minister?