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Thursday
May132010

Here we go again

Today, we have another round of Conservative CBC bashing. Really, what does it accomplish?

While it is an interesting “channel changer”, a tactical move to distract from the Jaffer-Guergis Affair and detainee documents, how many votes will it switch to the Conservative cause?  On a positive note the Conservatives have managed to get the chattering class in a tizzy and perhaps even have some media types writing about pollster Frank Graves and charges of CBC bias, which means less coverage of other issues.

And of course, its red meat for the base, who hate everything about the CBC and who will dig deep to provide the party with funds to fight this menace to the party.

But outside of being a bandaid solution to other negative stories in today’s press, a sustained attack of this nature has to have a long term purpose. I assume this assault on the CBC was not a knee-jerk reaction to the story about Graves advising the Liberals, but that the decision to do this was done after a cost analysis IE will we win or lose votes by doing this. Will this type of sustained negative attack hurt or help the party?

Personally, I doubt attacking the CBC on an almost daily basis will influence a single voter to change their vote and vote Conservative. If anything it will turn off some voters who will see this as further proof of a Conservative mean streak. There is a point where reinforcing your base is countered by losing support elsewhere. Going negative can hurt too. Just look at how the Liberals are polling after weeks of sustained negative attacks on the government.

This government has so many positive messages to get out, the Prime Minister has performed well, we have the G20 coming and yet staff are consumed with bashing a media outlet. To what end?

It won’t make any difference in how EKOS polls are reported at election time either. The CBC will report them, the media will write about them and the public will read them. I doubt many voters several months from now will see an EKOS poll and remind themselves that this was the firm the Conservatives were complaining about. Nor will viewers watching the CBC news care that the Conservatives don’t like the CBC.

As for timing CBC news stories that Conservative staff consider anti-Conservative, why bother? They need to break out of that bunker mentality and get a life.

Having watched duelling newscasts for years, I would say the Conservatives have a point with the CBC. But how helpful to their cause are these almost daily blasts at the CBC? How much time and staff energy is going into this issue verses other ones that need managing? Newspapers and broadcasters cover stories differently, they often reflect their audience. They won’t consistently write positive stories about any given party, nor will they write consistently negative ones.

Now if all of this is a prelude to the Conservatives cutting funding for the CBC, just do it and get it over with. I would much rather see the CBC fend for itself and compete toe to toe with other private broadcasters.

Political types and others inside the Queensway will be waiting for the next Conservative volley against the CBC. It will be interesting to see their long term game plan unfold. All in all an interesting move from the party that claims to defend free speech.

Wednesday
May122010

June 28th

One interesting but over-looked side story in the present impasse over the Afghan documents is that magical date of June 28th. The importance of this date was flagged in a story by CanWest on September 13, 2009.

This is the date that some 74 MPs will qualify for their pension as they were first elected on June 28, 2004. This includes 36 Conservatives, 16 Bloc, 14 Liberals and 8 NDP.  Not a bad pension either as it’s about $25,000 (at age 55) for those with the minimum six years service.

How does this impact on the document issue and the Speakers ruling? For one thing, Canadians can’t understand why it is taking so long to decide this issue. Most view this as just another example of Ottawa’s inability to get things done. Canadians have seen the clock tick away the original two weeks ordered by the Speaker. They also heard the Chief of the Defence Staff state that he doesn’t have a problem letting MPs review the uncensored documents. 

However, according to all the parties, more time is still needed. Keep in mind that a failure to resolve this issue could result in an election.

The Speaker has provided an extension until Friday, May 14th. The week of the 17th is a break week for our MPs. Therefore highly unlikely that any further action by the Speaker or the House to hold the government or its ministers in contempt will happen until they return after Victoria Day on May 25th. Again unlikely a contempt motion could be done in one day, so allow a couple of extra days.

Where this gets very interesting is that if you calculate 36 days (the minimum for an election) backwards from June 28th you land on May 24th. The calculation for an MPs pension includes the period from the calling of an election, up to but not including voting day. Any election called between May 26 and June 28th gets these 74 MPs their pension.

In other words, if this impasse results in an election, those 74 MPs win or lose, will be guaranteed their pension.

Think of the Nortel pensioners, who has the better deal now?

One would have to be quite cynical to think that our MPs would take care of themselves in that manner, but it does make you wonder.

Tuesday
May112010

Stand By Your Man

It was good theatre. I am referring of course to the Helena Guergis interview on TV. The script played out exactly as one would have expected with a calm, at times teary eyed Guergis defending herself, her reputation and her husband. The only thing missing was “Stand by your Man” playing in the background.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of this story has been over exaggerated by both the media and opposition attacks. In the end the truth will be a watered down version of what the public has been exposed to so far. But, that is life in politics.

 

There were some points that are interesting if true. Was she told the actual reasons her career as a cabinet minister was terminated? If she hasn’t been told the precise detailed reasons then that would be unfair. Everyone  deserves to face their accuser or at least see the facts. On that point we only have her viewpoint as there were only two people on that phone call.

 

Her comment that “I’m hurt by the PM” won’t get much sympathy in Conservative ranks that look at what Guergis and Jaffer have put the party through for several weeks now.  It will play out one more time when the two of them testify together before a parliamentary committee.  That in itself is an interesting move that has a lot of people perplexed.

 

Guergis also says that she is not ready to give up her political career. Good luck on resurrecting it, but stranger things have happened in politics before.

 

Guergis stated that “I feel as though they’ve thrown the rule books out the window, that they’re not respecting due process at all. I find it very undemocratic.”

 

Back on April 9th I predicted that kicking her out of caucus was the first step to making sure Guergis couldn’t run for them again and that it set up a scenario where another candidate could be nominated. That is exactly what has happened. Has it taken her this long to see the light? In politics you win or lose. Every seat counts and someone has decided she can’t win hers and she has to be replaced.

 

Of course there are whispers that it had to be done because of the threat of an imminent election. Interesting, but I don’t see a huge push to nominate candidates in other ridings across the country. Even if an election was called today, the party can put candidates in place pretty quickly.

 

We haven’t seen the last of this issue or of Helena Guergis. I smell a law suit down the road and a lot more negative publicity.

Friday
May072010

Question Period Reform Part 3: Civility Required

As mentioned previously MP Michael Chong has taken on the daunting task of trying to reform Question Period. One proposal which will be very controversial is the suggestion that the Prime Minister only show up one day a week, on Wednesday. The catch is that he would answer all questions for the full allocated time. Not a bad idea as any PM’s schedule is packed and sitting in Question Period for the full 45 minutes everyday is a waste of time.

In practice a Prime Minister answers about three minutes of questions each day they are in the House. And for the other 42 minutes they sit and watch. The Opposition will try to goad him into rising and taking additional questions with the hope that he can be provoked into a misstep in his reply. Paul Martin was one PM who fell into this trap a number of times. But is this a productive use of any Prime Minister’s time? That is what MPs on the Procedures and House Affairs Committee should be thinking about?

Even when the PM is obviously not in the House, this doesn’t stop MPs from asking a question that is clearly designed for the Prime Minister to answer. Liberals guilty of doing this over the last 5 days of Question Period include Ignatieff, McGuinty, Easter, and Zarac. Perhaps the Speaker can find a way to suggest to them that they direct their questions appropriately.

Some of the best questioners in the House are the Bloc. Other MPs should pay more attention to them. All of their questions are well researched. They rarely ask one without having documentation and facts to back up their question. They follow Joe Clark’s Question Period rule, never ask a question unless you know the answer first.

For the Liberals, pay more attention to Bob Rae and how he phrases and asks his questions. They are well thought out, to the point and don’t leave much wiggle room for anyone answering.

Chong also suggests that ministers be required to be present on a rotating schedule two days a week. I can’t see the opposition parties accepting that as it makes it very difficult to sustain any type of attack on a particular minister. It could work if a mechanism was built in that would allow them to add one minister’s name to the schedule each day.  This way if a scandal was brewing they could get at that minister every day as they do now.

Members Statements which are also called an SO 31, precede Question Period. They are one minute statements by an MP on a topic of their choice. Often they are about their riding. It's time for the Speaker to put his foot down on the Conservatives use of SO 31s to make personal political attacks on the Leader of the Opposition. This is not what they were designed for and these types of attacks certainly help set the tone for what is to follow in Question Period. To illustrate, Ignatieff gave a very good tribute to the armed forces on VE day, he received applause from all parties. Then up pops Conservative MP Earl Deeshan to deliver another attack on Ignatieff. This was low class and totally unnecessary.

Along with the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, five other people can change the tone in Question Period: The Speaker, Ignatieff, Harper, Duceppe and Layton. They are the ones who can change MPs behaviour in the House.

A sixth person, Michael Chong, has decided not to be part of the silent majority of MPs who want QP changed. He has taken a public stand and suggested changes that you may not agree with, but at least his motion if adopted will force MPs to look at changing QP for the better. He deserves the support of the public and the media.

Write your MP and ask them to support Chong’s motion. If it’s a free vote it just might pass. And while you are at it, why don’t you write Michel Chong and let him know that you appreciate his efforts to try to reform Question Period. Email him at ChongM@parl.gc.ca

Thursday
May062010

Question Period Reform Part 2: Just Answer the Question

Michael Chong’s Motion 517 to reform Question Period will be debated later this month. While it only directs the Procedures and House Affairs committee to study his proposals, they offer a glimmer of hope that perhaps Question Period can still be saved.

Question Period is crucial in that it offers one clear opportunity for opposition parties to hold the government and its ministers accountable. Generally when a minister is asked a question that minister will answer it. I think most voters would expect that, although there are some traditional exceptions.

The question must be about the minister’s present portfolio, not one that they held previously and if the question is directed at a junior minister, on occasion the senior minister for that department will respond.

Over the past few years two more exception were added. When you are in trouble another minister gets assigned to take your questions. It could be the House Leader or it could be whoever is filling in for the PM. This is a great defensive tactic but it is just that, a defence mechanism that lets a minister off the hook. In the Chretien years to use a Liberal example, when a minister was under attack, they took the heat, day after day. Just think of Jane Stewart and what she went through for quite a few weeks.

If the situation got serious in QP, Chretien would rise and defend the minister. That was a big media story. And the story was Chretien rescued the minister or that he had to defend that minister and express his confidence in them. Over the last couple of years questions about ministerial expenses for an example, have been answered by the House Leader. Why? If they spent the money, they should be able to tell voters why. A minister is supposed to be responsible for their department and it seems logical that this include ministerial expenses incurred when performing departmental duties.

One has to also question if using a regional minister with a portfolio unrelated to a question, should be answering on behalf of another minister. This is usually done as a courtesy to francophone MPs and viewers and to provide French media clips for Quebec. But, in reality, what does that minister know about the issue other than the talk points in front of them. There is such a thing as simultaneous translation and while the optics might look better the minister responding is not “responsible” for that department. 

Chong’s motion asks that the Procedures and House Affairs Committee look at a procedure that directs the minister asked a question to answer it. Providing the first two exceptions are maintained it makes sense. If you can’t take the heat, maybe you shouldn’t be there in the first place.