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Monday
Apr262010

Another poll: the sky isn't falling just yet

And another new poll this time from Harris Decima. This will give folks inside the Queensway an opportunity to breathlessly carve up and analyze the numbers. To what end?

New polling numbers certainly fill a lot of space and everyone, including myself, gets a chance to pontificate and speculate on what this means for Harper Inc.

It probably doesn’t mean very much. The numbers are pretty close to the margin of error, although below the 30% mark for the Tories. If falling 2-3 percentage points nationally is all they have done after the tidal wave of negative media publicity surrounding the Jaffer affair, then they haven’t done to badly after all. They should be celebrating that it wasn’t more.

As for the Liberals, their leader can’t be too happy. Iggy was handed an issue on a silver platter, with the media beating the scandal drum and he still couldn’t deliver. Liberals dropped two points as well. The OLO must be collectively banging their heads against the wall.

Jack is up some three points. Good for him as he has put in a pretty solid performance of late. His decision to fight the HST in BC has almost certainly helped his numbers and increased support out there. The NDP have also picked up in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and Ontario and generally from suburban women.

The two main parties are mired in mudslinging. If throwing the most mud earned parties votes, Iggy should be miles ahead in the polls. Scandals have a way of at least temporarily turning off supporters of both the accused and the accuser. There is a point where voters have seen and heard enough and tune out the antics in Ottawa.  The long term question is when and will they come back or will they turn to a third way. Jack must have his fingers crossed watching that one.

It will be interesting to watch for a long term trend over the next few months. Harper Inc only has to survive until somewhere between June 9 and the 23rd.  After that the summer break arrives and it becomes notoriously difficult for Opposition parties to get into the news cycle.

The Opposition will try to find ways to do this. They will probably have committees hold hearings in the summer to seek out what little publicity they can get, but will Canadians really care? My guess is that outside of the Queensway, Canadians would rather enjoy a BBQ, than listen to the same old nonsense from our MPs. Harper Inc is safe for now and maybe until September. If at that point his numbers stay down below 30% then he has a real problem on his hands.

Monday
Apr262010

Parliament needs to earn the respect of Canadian voters

Saturday
Apr242010

The Tipping Point

 

All MPs will have to deal with the fallout from the Jaffer affair. Tom Lukiwski had it right went at the end of the committee hearing he asked Jaffer, “Do you believe and understand that your actions have tarnished the reputation of politicians from all parties -- do you get that?"

If the public didn’t already have enough reasons to turn their backs on Parliament and our MPs, this sad episode has given them one more.

For years Canadians have watched the slow decline of Parliament. Today, MPs are known more for the trouble they cause in Question Period, than the good work they do in Committee. Shouting across the aisle at your opponents gets you the media clip. A careful well thought out question does not.

This was not always the case. Joe Clark in his prime was one of the best questioners in the House. His questions were carefully worded, politely delivered and often deadly as what he asked today was often a set up for where he was taking the issue two or three days later. Clark also had another rule: Never ask a question unless you already know the answer.

Even after his return to Parliament in 1998, it was interesting to watch how quiet the House would become when Clark stood to ask a question. MPs wanted to know what he had to say. Today the noise is so loud with both sides heckling the other that it is a wonder anyone knows what the question was about. MPs treat unproven allegations in the media as fact and reputations get smeared daily, all under the legal protection of House immunity. MPs questions are often just fishing expeditions hoping that a minister or Parliamentary Secretary will slip up and provide the questioner with some information. That won’t happen very often with Harper’s well rehearsed team.

On the government side of course the mantra is: this is Question Period, not Answer Period.

Parliamentary decay hits all aspects of Parliament. Gone are they days when an MP such as Don Blenkarn, to name a Conservative example, who as Chair of the Finance Committee, could hold his own government to account and produce reports that were respected, if not always liked by the powers to be.

Over the length of their careers, MPs are rarely kept on any one committee, thus never building up a true expertise in a subject. When key witnesses are before a committee, the party sends in seasoned attack dogs and pulls MPs with true subject knowledge out of the hearing. Why, because the party wants a media hit. Other than a few reporters, who in the public pays attention to reports produced by committees today?

Everyone complains about the diminished role of MPs, all parties promise to fix things and of course they never do. It really boils down to one thing, the pursuit of power and the search for the almighty news clip.

With this comes centralized control, message control, control of committees, whipped votes and MPs of all parties meekly accepting their marching orders from their respective leader’s office.

Five Members of Parliament can begin the process of turning things around. These are the four party leaders and the Speaker. The leaders have to realize that what suits their tactical agenda today is contributing to the long term decline of Parliament and with that comes a lack of respect for our MPs and our political institutions.

Everyone acknowledges that the Speaker has a tough task, but he has rules he can enforce. The question is will he?

Sometime next week the Speaker will rule on the MPs, IE Parliament’s demand for the Afghanistan documents. It will be interesting to watch to see who comes out the winner; the Government or Parliament. Either way a tipping point for Canada’s elected representatives will have been reached.

Thursday
Apr222010

Analyzing their options

Responding to a question from the NDP which pushed for the appointment of General Leslie to head the UN Congo force, Lawrence Cannon replied:

“Canada is one of the countries asked by the UN Secretariat to consider providing a candidate for the position, and we are currently analyzing that question.” (Lawrence Cannon, Hansard, April 21, 2010)

I wonder if the analyzing will last until roughly June 23rd. Depending on which day the House shuts down for the summer, that would leave roughly 30 to 38 days left with a House Question Period. After that the MPs pack up and head back to their ridings and their local BBQ circuit.

Military contributions have a way of growing. Canadian involvement in Afghanistan started with roughly 40-50 soldiers. Today, we have been fighting there longer than we were involved in World War Two. The UN Congo force started at 5500, it is now over 20,000.

The NDP is convinced that the Congo is a peace-keeping mission and wants Canada to return to its military Boy Scout role.

“Canada has ceded its position of leadership in fighting crimes against humanity. As a country, we are now 57th in contributions to the UN peacekeeping missions. Nowhere is this absence more acute than in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a place where we have repeatedly been asked to send peacekeepers. The United Nations has issued a direct appeal to Canada, asking for help in the Congo. Will the government support the request by the UN to have General Andrew Leslie lead the command of the UN mission in the Congo?”  (Paul Dewar, Hansard, April 21, 2010)

Peacekeeping? Think again, 49 countries participating, 20,573 personnel, 156 casualties. This is not a regular peace-keeping mission.

The situation in the Congo is tragic, no one can deny that. The issue boils down to what role should Canada take in the months and years ahead? It’s debatable whether it should be a military one or a humanitarian one.

Prior to any decision being made why not have a debate in the House? It can be as simple as a “Take Note” debate with no vote required. At the very least Canadians would learn where each party stands on the issue.  The government would have the advice of the other parties to consider while still retaining the flexability to make it's own decision. This way all parties would be on the public record.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds and if a decision comes after the House shuts down for the summer.

 

Wednesday
Apr212010

Check Lists

Media reports today point to a blunder at DND that would cost taxpayers $515,000 plus.

Essentially the story is based on concerns raised in the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report which was released on April 14, 2010. Both the article and the report certainly offer some  interesting reading.

The full report can be found here:

http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=4414398&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3

Essentially DND went ahead and build a key NORAD building in North Bay without doing even the most basic security checks on the workers. Net result was $515,000 spent for an additional security system. This system costs an average of $84,000 a year to run.

The second item in the report refers to blueprints found in the garbage besides a building on Bank St. in Ottawa. These blueprints were for the new headquarters for one of our special forces units. Once again, no one classified these documents as “secret” or even “classified” so they were simply thrown out by the contractor when the work was done. Aren’t we lucky the person who found them didn’t try to sell them on Ebay?

The Public Accounts Committee is not made up of voracious MP attack dogs. It tends to conduct its business in a quiet methodical way. It is therefore interesting that they would flag some of the testimony that was presented to them. It is even more interesting that the Deputy Minister at DND had to follow-up with a letter to the committee saying he “assured the Committee that there was no intention to mislead.” (Public Accounts Report, 14 April 2010)

That makes one wonder what was going on here?

This report also tells us that 99% of the contracts that DND issues through its crown corporation supplier, do not have a security check list requirement. Admittedly there may be quite a few that don’t need one, but these two?

The department that has been criticized for years for being to security conscious and for over classifying documents didn’t see fit to give a security classification to a key NORAD defence building and a key Special Forces building? Very strange.

This is a department that lives by checklists. Many of their routine daily tasks have check lists. Would they allow a fighter pilot to take off without following his checklist? Certainly not. But they don’t supply or follow a security check list for the construction of two important buildings?

“The Deputy Minister acknowledged that this approach to the NORAD complex was inappropriate and a Security Requirements Checklist should have been completed before the contract was tendered.” (Public Accounts Report, 14 April 2010)

So we know mistakes were made and of course the taxpayer pays. We can only hope that DND procedures have been tightened up. But what about the people who didn’t think these checklists were necessary? Were they reprimanded, promoted? We will never know of course. As taxpayers we just keep paying.