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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.




Just a thought

Aren't defeated MPs provided with shredder service by the House of Commons... IE the office is provided with large blue bins for items to be shredded, or special cardboard boxes, which are sealed and then taken out to be destroyed?


Not a bad days work for the Opposition

When a Prime Minister travels abroad there is ample opportunity to gain plenty of positive press coverage. There are always some photo-ops, statements released about "important" decisions agreed to by the participants and perhaps even a press conference.

An effective Opposition, will always try to disrupt this positive coverage and at the very least push the PM's positive coverage far down the newscast or off the front pages.

Now,  we have Harper taking part in a very serious conference on nuclear issues. And what dominates the news, comments about Guergis by an unidentified former chauffeur, how Guergis got a mortgage, whether the government gave the Ethics Commissioner enough information on the Guegis allegations, where her new seat is in the House chamber. A successful government news story buried again. So much for positive government messaging.

I would like to give the Opposition some credit as they have pounced on the Guergis allegations and ran with them for several days now. Not a bad days work for the Opposition courtesy of a former dethroned minister.


"Let Justice Gomery do his work"

Shortly after agreeing to a public inquiry in 2004 into the sponsorship scandal, Liberal ministers began suggesting the Opposition wait until the inquiry report was finished. One of the first to suggest this was the then Minister of Public Works Stephen Owen, on March 8th, 2004.  However, it is Scott Brison’s Question Period answer that I remember the best.

 “Let Justice Gomery do his work.” Do you remember that phrase? A quick search showed it was used at least as early as April 14, 2005 by Scott Brison (the Liberal Minister of Public Works) to deflect Opposition questions on the sponsorship scandal.

I can recall it being used primarily by Mr. Brison, but others as well, day after day, quite often several times in one Question Period session. It would be the Liberal QP manta up until the first report was delivered in November 2005.

That was a real scandal, one that rocked the Liberal Party and the nation. So far the Guergis affair with unknown allegations doesn’t match up to the sponsorship scandal.

If the Liberals felt it so important to let Justice Gomery do his work, why have they now changed their tune and why are they demanding immediate answers before the Ethics Commissioner and RCMP have done their work? The answer of course is cheap politics and a Leader and party desperate to try to get some positive ink.

Their manufactured outrage may be falling on deaf ears. Other than folks inside the Queensway here in the Ottawa bubble, do Canadians really care? Spring is here, Canadians are outside enjoying the weather and a bunch of angry MPs shouting at each other in Question Period is the last thing on their mind.

Given a choice of watching the antics in Question Period or firing up the BBQ, it’s a no brainer as to which one Canadians will choose.