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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.



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.


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.


Parliament needs to earn the respect of Canadian voters


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.