The Governor General’s Safari

Governor General Michaelle Jean is off on an African tour of some 8 days. For what purpose?

It certainly serves someone’s agenda to have her highlighting African problems at this time. As mentioned yesterday, is someone trying to sway public opinion before a decision on Canada’s participation in the Congo mission is made? And what is this media tour costing Canadians at a time of restraint?

You may recall Adriene Clarkson’s $5 million polar tour in 2004. Perhaps Rideau Hall will tell us what this tour is costing too? The cost comes out of a budget, therefore before leaving on this tour; Rideau Hall had to cost it. Let us see the numbers now and not six months from now after she has been replaced.

We know from media reports that she is tying up the Canadian Forces Airbus on this journey. I recall from my days in Opposition Research that a figure of $7500 to 10,000 and hour to operate an aircraft of that size would not be out of the norm. That Airbus seats 194 passengers (DND web site). According to Rideau Hall’s media release the Governor General has nine guests called delegates on this trip. Even allowing for a few media types and other staff on board that means this plane is flying virtually empty.

One of the purposes of the trip is to promote journalism in these four African countries. We know this because Rideau Hall sent out a press release to tell us so. Yet over the eight day period the media are not permitted at some 12 events and allowed only a photo op at six events and at two others it is still to be discussed.

On Wednesday the 14th there was one event, essentially her arrival in Senegal.  

On Thursday the 15th   there are eight events with government officials and only one community level event at a day care facility.

Friday the 16th, sees six events which would include three events that with a stretch could be said to be at the community level IE a university speech.

On Saturday the 17, 4 events two with people at the local level.

Sunday the 18th, four events including her departure from Senegal and arrival in the Congo. One event with representatives of Congolese society might with a bit of imagination be called a community level event.

Monday the 19th sees six events with only one at the community level when she visits a clinic.

Tuesday the 20th, six events, one at a hospital to highlight sexual violence against women.

Wednesday the 21st has seven events of which one was an event on reconciliation in Rwanda.

Thursday the 22nd, seven events, of which three are outside of government officialdom.

Friday the 23rd, five events all with officials.

Saturday the 24th, four events all of which can be considered community or people related.

To sum of the visit, eight days of travel of which there are 17 meetings or events that involve the local people and 41 events with government officials.

I am sure these official events accomplish quite a lot of good; after all, the Governor General is an intelligent and charming person. But what purpose has this trip served other than to allow plenty of media discussion and file footage of troubles in Africa? Would these African countries struggling to move away from their own colonial past appreciate speeches and lectures from some one representing Canada’s colonial past? Would her presence convince the leader of the Congo of his errant ways? Not likely.

As a lame duck Governor General in the last few months of her term, did she need to go to Africa? Why not stay in Canada and use these few months to reinforce and highlight issues here such as health and poverty and educational needs in our First Nations communities? Why not concentrate on the homeless or poverty in our inner cities?

The Governor General didn’t just wake up one morning and say lets go to Africa. These trips take many months of planning. She has advisors who would recommend tours to her, there would be endless bureaucratic meetings prior to a decision being made. It would be interesting to know who recommended this trip to her? Which departments pushed for this trip at this time? Just whose agenda or game plan is this trip following? An interesting tour for sure, but the question remains why and why at this time?


Whose hidden agenda?

One of the interesting things about Ottawa is that things seldom happen without a reason. 

For example, over the past month, Canadians have been offered a mix of stories on the war in the Congo; a war that I would speculate few Canadians have even heard about, much less followed in detail. Yet with some 49 countries contributing troops and some 156 casualties to date, this is a major UN operation.

Canadians have been reading speculative stories about whether or not General Leslie will assume command of the UN Congo mission. Why? Who wants that story out there in the public domain?

The same holds true for the speculation that Canada might offer a surge of troops to the UN forces there. All of this painted in such a way as to show the public how badly we are needed and what a great job we will do once we have our boots on the ground in the Congo. Why do these stories seem to arrive out of the blue?

The most obvious answer is that they are in the media, because someone wants them there. The question is who? Is it the top brass at DND? Is it DFAIT? Someone is trying to shape public opinion and hoping that it will either pressure the government into making a positive decision to send troops to the Congo, or it is being done to help explain a pending government decision.

Nicely dovetailing into this is the Governor-General and guess where she is visiting? Why the Congo of course. Again with lots of media attention focused on the horrible cruelties endured by the civilian population. I won’t even speculate as to what her trip in an Airbus is costing the taxpayer in a time of economic restraint, but her trip once again focuses the attention of Canadians on a regional war that has been largely ignored in Canada

If Canada is considering a troop surge into the Congo, then let’s hope it is done rationally and after a thorough public debate.   


A loose cannon?

Maxime Bernier’s latest speech in Quebec in which he refers to Quebekers as “spoilt children”, and indirectly attacks the Quebec government and civil service in Quebec raises an interesting question.

Is Bernier a loose cannon acting on his own or is he out there as an unofficial mouthpiece for the government?

Clearly at the present time, the Tories don’t have much of a chance in Quebec, except in a few enclaves around Quebec City. Yet here we have a former Conservative cabinet minister, using from the quotes that I have seen, some well crafted comments to go after Quebec at a time when Charest is facing the greatest crisis in his political career.

Bernier’s negative reference to “the political choices that were made in Quebec in the past four decades have led us in a dead end” certainly includes Charest. With Charest fighting for his political life, you can rest assured that Bernier’s comments have been noted and flagged in Quebec City. Then again they would have been in Ottawa too.


Bernier has been out peddling his message a few times in the last couple of months, so it can’t be considered a "one off" speech. Can you think of any other occasion when a Conservative MP has been allowed to attack a province or a provincial government?


Considering the turmoil in Quebec politics right now, Bernier could be setting himself up for a departure from federal politics to the provincial scene? Certainly the ADQ could use a new leader and a much higher profile. Bernier would get them that. It will be interesting to see if Charest rises to the bait. And if he does, how does Ottawa respond?


Nothing happens in politics without a reason. The question is why?


Another ugly week in Canadian politics

An interesting week in Ottawa! Other than some titillation from our very own scandal, how many Canadians living outside the Queensway were paying attention? Will this so-called scandal bring down the government? Not very likely.  Will it as one writer implied “Guergisize” the next set of polling data? Probably not. Generally the opinion polls haven’t moved that much and fluctuations are within their margin of error.  A rise or fall of 1-3% isn’t anything to get worked up about, unless of course, you live and work inside the Queensway, in which case you breathlessly watch, read or write about each and every poll coming out.

For the Prime Minister it must have been a frustrating week. He performed satisfactorily at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington and had good messaging on uranium controls, but how many Canadians know that as the media was in a frenzy over Helena Guergis. A good effort on his part, but the government message was buried.

The Prime Minister has handled the tragedy in Poland well. His gesture to put politics aside, and invite the Opposition leaders to join him in Poland was a good step. No one wants partisanship at a time like this. Canadians can only hope that after spending time together, all of our political leaders will be able to put some of their partisanship aside once they return to Canada.

As for the Guergis issue, the PM insulated himself quite nicely by removing the minister and forwarding the information to the Ethics Commissioner and the RCMP (if only that had been done at the beginning of the Sponsorship Scandal). These types of issues are always ugly for any government and they get their 15 minutes of fame each day in Question Period, but has this so damaged the Tories that they will lose an election over it? Besides the amusement that Canadians might get over some of the details and allegations, what people want to know is what action did the Prime Minister take when he first heard of these allegations. On that point he did well. The Tories have to be careful though, voters will forgive a few indiscretions, but if they see a pattern emerging, the government will face their wrath.

Helena Guergis should take a long hard look at her political future. Her political career is probably over. Essentially it’s been death by innuendo and allegations. All of this fed by a pile on by both media and the Opposition. With no one coming to her defence, she has been hung out to dry in her new seat in the furthest corner of the House.

Having a prickly personality and staying in seclusion hasn’t helped her either. Too many unanswered questions remain about what she knew about her husband’s activities, when she learnt about them and what if any role she might have played. Until they are answered her reputation will remain under attack and her side of the story won’t come out. Both Guergis and Jaffer should be looking down the road at what comes next for them? When all is said and done, what matters when you leave politics is your reputation.

As for the Opposition, not a bad week, but not a great one either. Yes, one minister is gone, so they get a boost in morale. But did they accomplish much? Did the charade of bellowing questions demanding the PM answer (when he wasn’t in the House) accomplish anything? Did they convince Canadians that Harper and the Tories must be defeated? Again very doubtful. Taking allegations and spinning them as facts in Question Period is an old game. Protected by immunity in the House they can get away with it. But has that moved votes to their parties?  Again, highly doubtful.

This past week, Canadians got a look at just how ugly Canadian politics can be. The next time you hear a politician wonder why fewer people vote in each election, suggest to them that they look in a mirror.


Pilot in Command

A friend of mine pointed out the similarities between my two passions, namely politics and flying. After some thought I concluded that he was on to something. 

In flying, one rule dominates- PIC or Pilot in Command. Whether you fly solo in a small single engine airplane, fly with passengers or fly a 747, the pilot is always in command.

When you plan a flight you have to follow the rules as they apply to you. You have to take into account outside factors such as weather, turbulence, the skill of your crew members etc. If that flight is not successful, leaves late or runs late or if unfortunately there is an incident or accident, pilot in command comes into play.  

What did the pilot know? When did they know it? What steps did they take? Were they responsible for the accident? As a pilot the last thing you want to hear from the authorities is that the accident was caused by “pilot error”. That may result in sanctions that can range from ending your career, to a suspension, to a fine. It is also true that an investigation may show that what happened was out of the pilot’s control, in which case the pilot can not be blamed for what happened. Notice, it doesn’t say the pilot is automatically forgiven because a crew member screwed up and didn’t do their job right. What did the pilot know and how did they handle it? 

Let’s look at the Guergis affair now. Go back to Charlottetown and the temper tantrum. Minister in command is the same as pilot in command. A minister is responsible for their actions. As with a pilot, someone in authority would investigate the incident to see if sanctions were warranted. In this instance Guergis had to apologize. In effect an admission of “pilot error”. If you are late for takeoff or leave things to the last minute you can’t blame your crew. There is no doubt that for both a pilot and a minister, those in charge would be watching you pretty closely after that incident. 

Since then we have all the media stories and allegations surrounding her husband. It still boils down to "pilot in command". If you have a crew member or passenger causing problems, how did the pilot act? In this case what did the minister know about her husband’s activities? Did she make the wrong command decisions? When did she first find out or learn about the allegations and incidents in the media? How did she handle the allegations in the newspapers or the House? What steps did she take or not take? When did she first advise authorities that there was a problem? A pilot and a minister can only act on the information available to them? IE what had Mr Jaffer told her? Had staff or others warned her?

The same holds true for the latest speculation about off-shore bank accounts. If the speculation turns out to be true, what did the minister know, what advice did she have? On what information was action taken or not taken If they are not true, then it is not pilot error. 

When a pilot is being investigated for a potentially career ending infraction, you have a choice. Follow the lead of head office or look after yourself. It remains to be seen what the former minister will do.

As with any aircraft incident or accident, there is always intense speculation, unproven allegations and gossip. What we don’t know is was it pilot error? Or was the situation out of the control of the pilot? Time will tell, but in all likelihood this former minister will be grounded for a long time to come.