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Monday
May032010

Respect is earned

MPs of all parties bemoan the lack of respect shown to them by the public. They feel that the hard work they do on behalf of their constituents gets little recognition as does their work on various committees in Ottawa. This is all to true. Canadians are turned off with politics in this country as is shown in each election when fewer and fewer even bother to vote.

This disinterest in politics has allowed the role of the elected representative to slip from the public's sight. PMO over the last couple of decades has centralized more and more control over the everyday life of government MPs, committee reports are routinely shelved or ignored and the public rolls their eyes at the antics in Question Period.

A decade ago, a party leader would have had a fight on his hands if he was to dictate how an MP would vote on a Private Members Bill or PMB. It just wasn’t done. This was one of the last freedoms an MP had and they guarded it closely. Today the Liberal Leader can tell his caucus how to vote on the PMB to repeal the gun registry and no one cares.

MPs are your voice in Ottawa. The vast majority of them work long, hard hours and they are very careful about how they spend their budgets and your taxpayer’s dollars. I wish I could say that I know they all spend wisely, but I can’t, as they won’t allow taxpayers to see the details of how they spend their budgets. Neither will they allow the Auditor General to look at their books. Why?

If there is nothing to hide, let Sheila Fraser look at them. If they are worried that some MPS may have been a little loose in their spending habits over the last few years, then start fresh. Invite the Auditor General to examine the books at the end of this fiscal year and in the years going forward. MPs should be looking at ways to build up a little trust between the public and themselves.

So far, we know that the Liberals don’t want the Auditor General looking at MPs accounts. We know that because that is the position of Mr Ignatieff, who was quoted yesterday as saying “Our expenses are publicly available already in aggregate form. We already have an independent audit and the only question is whether that audit is made public and that is a matter for the Board of Internal Economy.”

This bafflegab simply means the round numbers are available and any details go to the secret Board of Internal Economy which is run by MPs, and which so far has refused the Auditor General’s request to conduct an audit.

Thanks to Mr Ignatieff’s comments, we know the Liberals are opposed to the Auditor General conducting an audit of MPs expenses. What about the other three Leaders? Where do they stand on this issue? Does the Liberal caucus agree with their leader’s position?

MPs need strong support from the public if they are to reassert themselves and play a more important role in the day to day activities of Parliament. Milliken’s ruling was one step forward, opening their books to public scrutiny would be another.  MPs can rebuild the political clout and respect they once had in Parliament, but they will have to do it one step at a time.

Respect isn’t just given, it is earned.

Sunday
May022010

Stand Up for Accountability

 

Do you remember this section from the 2006 Conservative Election Platform?

 

Stand up for Accountability  

 

Strengthen the power of the Auditor General

 

• Increase funding for the Office of the Auditor General to ensure she has the necessary resources to conduct a complete audit of grant and contribution programs and of any such departments, agencies, and Crown corporations as she deems necessary.

 

While not a perfect fit with the Auditor General’s wish to examine the books of MPs and Senators, it certainly implies an openness to cooperate with her.  If some provincial jurisdictions and some other countries such as the UK open the books of their elected officials to an audit, why won’t our MPs open theirs?

Could it be because they know that the improper spending habits of elected officials in those other jurisdictions were exposed to public view and legal consequences?

In one media report Shawn Murphy, the Liberal Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee is quoted as follows:

“Still, Murphy fears it would be folly to subject the expenses of 308 federal politicians to a uniform accounting standard. The way a politician conducts his parliamentary business is, by definition, political and “murky,” he said.” (Toronto Star, May 1, 2010)

“There has to be the leeway because every riding is different. Members come to the Parliament with different backgrounds, different interests, which is a good thing. They approach it in 308 different ways.” (Toronto Star, May 1, 2010)

“Political and murky” is exactly why the AG needs to look at the spending of our MPs and yes, our senators too.

Having MPs approach spending in 308 different ways, each thinking their riding is special and different, is a receipt for disaster. This is exactly the reason we need a uniform accounting code. This is why taxpayers need an independent audit and full public disclosure, on a yearly basis of each MP and senators spending.

Murphy feels elections give Canadians a chance to pass judgement on MPs spending habits. That would be true if we actually knew what they were spending our taxpayer’s dollars on. As they keep their spending secret, we can’t pass judgement which is probably the point in the first place.

If the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy won’t cooperate with the Auditor General, then individual MPs, who actually believe in accountability, should take the initiative and post on their web sites a list of their expenses. Maybe they can shame their colleagues into doing the same thing. As taxpayers, we should make this a condition for each candidate wishing our support in the next election.

Perhaps a media outlet will poll each and every one of our 308 MPs and ask if they support a full audit of their books by the Auditor General. A simple yes or no answer is all that is needed. Then the results can be published for all Canadians to see how their elected representative feels about accountability.

MPs of all parties demand the government of the day be open and transparent. So tell us how each representative of each party on the Board of Internal Economy voted on this request by the Auditor General? Come clean and tell us which party or parties are blocking this request. Time for MPs to practice what they preach or do they have something to hide?

 

Saturday
May012010

Throwing mud is not the answer

A couple of recent polls show the Conservatives edging back up to their previous levels of support around 31%, although a Leger poll yesterday shows them 11 points in front of the Liberals. Polls are just a snap shot in time and should be treated as such, but there are some interesting points here. Far from being "Guergisized", the Conservative brand is proving to be pretty resilient.

For the past three weeks the Conservatives have been pounded in Question Period over the Jaffer affair. Each minute detail that has been revealed blasted nation wide in headline type. One would think the Liberals would be the ones moving upward in the polls, but that is not the case. This time it’s the NDP which is back up into the 20’s.

So what has happened?

Clearly Canadians made up their minds at the beginning of this issue and they are now ignoring the Official Opposition attempts to smear the Conservative brand. They saw the PM do exactly what they would have done under similar circumstances. He received news of questionable activity by a former MP and that former MPs wife, a junior Conservative minister. He acted immediately and turned the information over to the RCMP and Ethics commissioner and fired the minister. That’s what ordinary Canadians would have done too.

Their early talk points and Question Period answers made sense to Canadians, although their recent change to throwing old sponsorship charges back at the Liberals is just plain dumb. What is the point of trying to prove to the public that your accuser is just as guilty as you are?

The PM gets bonus points for acting fast and ruthlessly, especially as they could have no idea as to what would eventually come out. In the meantime the Opposition and media are engaged in naval gazing and trying to dissect the clauses and sub clauses of the Federal Accountability Act (FAA).  Once the Liberals moved off their general message and got bogged down in details, Canadians eyes glazed over and they began thinking about BBQ season. Outside of the Queensway, the Official Opposition’s focus on Jaffer doesn’t get them any points. He is an ex-MP! Not a sitting MP! He is old news.

Plus, the Official Opposition is learning something about mud-slinging politics, IE some of the mud lands on the person throwing it. It is the NDP, not the Liberals that are benefitting from the Liberal attacks on the Conservatives. Layton and his party, to their credit, are still asking questions about issues that matter to Canadians. The Liberals should never have let their Leader get down in the mud, that role should have been left to their attack dogs. Layton has the right game plan. 

And where is Guergis in all of this? She is quiet and watching this all unfold. What is the bet she is learning almost as much as you and I about what Jaffer was up to?

Friday
Apr302010

No Congo mission for Leslie

Today, the media is reporting that the government has decided not to send an expanded military force to the Congo. In addition, there had been speculation that General Leslie was to be the commander of the UN Congo mission. Today's decision puts that speculation to rest too.

Today’s decision is a sensible one. Considering our level of commitment elsewhere in the world, our options were limited. This decision does not prevent us from reviewing and possibly increasing our humanitarian activities in the Congo and that is something that we should considering doing.

Instead, of sending Leslie to the Congo, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced that General Leslie will take on a new role as “Chief of Transformation,” starting June 22.

Mackay commented: “The development of a Chief of Transformation position builds on the Government’s commitment to modernize the Canadian Forces, as laid out in the Canada First Defence Strategy. Lt.-Gen. Leslie’s breadth of experience and knowledge place him in a unique position to guide the Canadian Forces with addressing the new challenges in the months and years to come.”

The reassignment of General Leslie to review Canada’s military command structure is much needed. The structure in place now is geared towards Afghanistan. By 2011, we will be transitioning out of Afghanistan which is not just a matter of closing the doors and walking away. The movement of our troops and equipment back to Canada is in itself a huge undertaking.

The men and women in our military, and their families who have supported them throughout their period in Afghanistan will need an opportunity to regroup, reconnect and adjust from life on the front lines.

This is not to say that there won’t be work for them to do, there most certainly will be, both at home and abroad. In the meantime, Leslie can look at the present military structure and see what is best for Canada (and the members of our forces) as we move beyond the 2011 period. Congratulations to General Leslie, I wish him much luck in the months ahead.

 

Tuesday
Apr272010

Hats off to Milliken

Milliken has given a reasoned explanation and defence of the superiority of the rights of Parliament. At the same time, the Speaker has asked the warring factions to get together and come up with a solution over the next two weeks. Surely, if all sides show even minimal trust in each other, a way can be found to allow MPs to view the documents, while respecting their national security implications.

PMO, represented by Ministers and departments, can not ride roughshod over Parliament and that is a good thing. MPs have to be professional and recognize that while Question Period is undoubtedly for show time, they have a duty to Canadians to work together for the common good. The Speaker has delivered a wakeup call

The sad part is that because this House is so divided and so partisan, things were allowed to reach this stage.  Unfortunately partisanship of the worst kind dominates politics right now. Already both sides are looking at potential election scenarios should no solution be reached in the next 14 days. An election that every opinion poll suggests will return another divided parliament and another minority government.

Canada doesn’t need an election over whether Parliament or the government is supreme.  Masking this with rhetoric that suggests this is only about do you support the Taliban or do you  support our troops is false.  This is about who really runs the country, our legally elected representatives or PMO as represented through the departments and ministers.

It is time for both sides to pull in their horns, look at how other countries have addressed this problem and find a solution. There can be no excuses from either side. If other countries (whose politics can be just as heated as ours) have been able to find a solution, so can we. The last thing we need with our economic recovery still fragile is a $200 million election. All sides need to remember that they were elected by us and at this critical time in our economic recovery, we want them to work together for the common good not partisan games.