Friday, May 27, 2005

Something to hide?

In the course of researching political contributions by Canadian media organizations for my article Our conflicted media, I had trouble unearthing the list of contributors to Paul Martin’s leadership campaign. The public online sources of this information seemed to have mysteriously vanished.

All the government links that came up in my searches on Google came back in error. Fortunately for Google’s cache feature, I was able to piece together most, but not all, of it.

I followed up with Strategis, which had initially hosted the information for the Office of the Ethics Counsellor. They confirmed that the information was recently removed from their database. I then contacted the Office of the Ethics Commissioner and received this explanation:

The contributions made to Mr. Martin's leadership campaign were publicly disclosed on the Office of the Ethics Counsellor website (Industry Canada, Public Registry, at ""). However, that website was shut down a few weeks ago as this office does not exist anymore and has been replaced by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner. This information has not been transferred to the new website because the rules that applied then to the disclosure of leadership campaign contributions are not part of the mandate of the Commissioner (as a result of bill C-24 the Canada Elections Act was amended and now regulates leadership donations).

To be fair, the OEC did send me a document containing the full disclosures that the Martin leadership campaign made. Unfortunately, I received it two days after I had posted my article. It does make one wonder, is the Paul Martin government hiding something?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Our conflicted media

Accusations of media bias are quite common in the blogging world. One of the great benefits of blogging, of course, is that it provides one with the opportunity to counter such bias. That is, if you have an audience.

The epithet mainstream media or MSM is typically used in a condescending fashion in blogging discourse. Certainly, bias is in the eye of the beholder, but in my opinion, media coverage of political events surrounding the recent constitutional crisis and the subsequent confidence vote suggests that criticisms of the Canadian mainstream media have some basis in fact.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should first tell you where I am coming from. Throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s, I was an off-and-on member of the Liberal Party of Canada, even periodically donating small amounts to their cause. However, as the Chrétien reign wore on, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the actions of the Chrétien government and its implications for Canadian democracy. Prior to the 2000 election, I joined the Canadian Alliance and made a small donation to both the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives. In the last election, I helped my local candidate and friend Patrick Clune run for the Conservatives.

I find it rather curious that in the investment world, portfolio managers and analysts are required to disclose any conflicts of interest when discussing an investment, and yet no such requirement exists for our political news. What does it say about our democracy when disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is considered critical for our investment decisions, but deemed of insufficient importance for our electoral decisions? Something is definitely askew.

For example, David Asper recently questioned Stephen Harper’s leadership in the National Post, repeating Liberal talking points almost verbatim.

And Harper's alliance with the separatists in Parliament has made the Conservative leader look like a man willing to risk national unity for his own self-aggrandizement. Accepting the Prime Minister's offer to hold a winter election would have avoided his having to play footsie with Gilles Duceppe.

If Mr. Harper were to focus on educating Canadians about the merits of a fiscally conservative agenda, his party might have a good opportunity next time we go to the polls. But he must also be politically savvy. And thus far, he has shown a tin ear for the way most ordinary Canadians want to spend their summer.

As a result, Mr. Harper is putting the credibility of his leadership and his party at issue. And today, when Canadians see Mr. Harper voting in favour of a budget that he might have helped push through Parliament weeks ago, even many of his supporters will ask themselves whether he is a man they want to become prime minister.

What Asper fails to disclose in his little diatribe against Stephen Harper is that he, his family and his company, CanWest Global, are major contributors to the Liberal Party. Asper family members at David Asper’s postal code donated $8,469 to the Liberals during the last election, and CanWest Global donated $100,000 to Paul Martin’s leadership campaign. Moreover, Asper family and CanWest Global donations to the Liberal Party totalled more than $120,000 in the 2001 to 2003 period, while donations to the Canadian Alliance were only $32,800 over the same period.

The idea that this guy might have a conflict of interest that should be disclosed does not seem to have crossed his mind. David Asper is far from a neutral, or even an opinionated, commentator. He is tainted by a serious conflict of interest such that he really has no business criticizing Stephen Harper or the Conservative Party. In fact, his “column” can more accurately be described as plug for the Liberal Party. As such, it should be reported to Elections Canada as an in-kind donation to the Liberal Party.

Unfortunately, this is but one example. Our entire media is conflicted. The CBC is almost entirely dependent on the goodwill of the current government for the majority of its budget. Is it any surprise which way it leans?

BCE Inc., which owns the CTV network and the Globe and Mail through Bell Globemedia, contributed $267,000 to the Liberals in the 2001 to 2003 period and gave another $59,000 to Paul Martin’s leadership campaign. In contrast, its donations to the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives totalled $112,270 over the same period, with another $5,000 going to the Bloc Quebecois.

Ostensibly, new campaign financing laws will put an end to the unseemly practise of Canadian media companies donating to the governing party. But as the Gomery inquiry has shown, the law did not prove to be a significant impediment to Liberal Party fund raising practises in the past.

My prediction is that efforts by the media empires to support the ruling party will simply go underground. While it may not involve brown paper bags filled with cash, the temptation for Canadian media companies to shape their news and editorial content to please the government will be hard to resist.

For example, Bell Canada – a subsidiary of BCE Inc. – is currently appealing an unfavourable CRTC decision on internet telephony to the federal cabinet. Am I the only one thinking that more favourable coverage of the Paul Martin government in the Globe and Mail and on CTV would improve their chances of success? David Asper doesn’t seem to think so.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Flirting with sovereignty

It is not only francophone voters in Quebec who, disgusted with the daily revelations coming out of the Gomery inquiry, are flirting with sovereignty. Anglophones and, particularly, allophones also seem to be warming up to the idea.

From today's Montreal Gazette:

Asked how they intend to vote, both allophones and anglophones expressed an unexpected willingness to consider the Bloc Quebecois. In fact, one in four English-speaking Quebecers even claimed they would have voted for the Bloc if a federal election had been held last week.

Ten years ago, the average Quebecer whose first language was neither English nor French was more federalist than Pierre Trudeau. In the 1995 referendum, for instance, a convincing 95 per cent of allophones rejected sovereignty outright.

Which makes the sudden surge in support for sovereignty among allophones to 31 per cent telling for pollster Jean-Marc Leger.

In previous polls, Leger said, support for sovereignty, the Bloc Quebecois and the Parti Quebecois among allophones never climbed above 20 per cent - and then only as a reflection of the typical grumbling and dissatisfaction that crops up between elections.

Seeing that number jump by 10 percentage points demonstrates just how angry voters - even the fiercest defenders of federalism and the backbone of Liberal support - are over the sponsorship scandal and testimony coming out of the Gomery commission.

And yet

Despite the scalding revelations about the federal sponsorship deals, 51 per cent of English-speaking voters, 42 per cent of allophones and 19 per cent of francophones said they would cast their ballots for the federal Liberals.

With the Bloc Quebecois riding at a historic high of 52% support, there is little doubt that the Liberals have seriously damaged the federalist cause in Quebec. Whether the Conservatives or the NDP, tied province-wide at about 10% each, are able to capture those federalist voters who have deserted the Liberals for the Bloc Quebecois, as well as those who reluctantly cling to the discredited Liberals, remains to be seen. Canadian federalists can only hope that one of them succeeds.

Isn’t capitalism wonderful?

Here's a radical thought. If you don't like what they sell in your supermarket, don't buy it. Buy the things you do like.

I discovered this fun little flash movie on a blog at This Magazine, a leftish Canadian magazine. It is a parody of Star Wars that pits the organic rebellion against the dark side of genetic engineering, irradiation and chemical pesticides.

I am sympathetic to their goals and would be more than willing to pay a small premium for organic foods and produce. However, I refuse to pay double for the wilting stuff I often see in the produce section at supermarkets and health food stores. I wish them success in their campaign.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Working for democracy

Stephen Harper’s appearance on Canada AM this morning puts the lie to feigned Liberal and NDP outrage about MPs not putting in a full day’s work. He looked awful, but I am sure it was not because he spent yesterday at the pub.

Harper is working around the clock to bring down this illegitimate government. He is working for you and me. He is working for democracy.

We are all behind you Stephen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Our common cause

Say what you will about Stephen Harper, at this point he is the only credible alternative to the governing Liberals. He is clearly not to everyone's taste, but one thing most people can agree on is that the Liberals have lost the moral authority to govern this country.

Unfortunately, you can never count the Liberals out. How they even managed to secure a minority in the last election is beyond me. Well, actually, I know what they did. They demonized Stephen Harper as being something he is not, while convincing left-leaning voters that a vote for the NDP was a wasted vote. The tactic worked brilliantly. I just hope voters don’t fall for that ruse this time round.

The last thing I want to see is another Liberal minority or, God forbid (just a figure of speech by the way), a Liberal majority. Personally, I would like to see a Conservative majority, but I would not be adverse to a Conservative minority with the NDP holding the balance of power if that is the best we can do. In any event, it is better Jack than Gilles.

In fact, such an outcome might be to the benefit of both parties, potentially squeezing out the Liberals for a couple of election cycles. The necessity of securing NDP support would hold the Conservatives to the most moderate elements of their platform, while the NDP would get the chance to prove they are not spendthrifts.

One of the most curious aspects of recent polls is that neither the Conservatives nor the NDP have had the significant surge in support one would expect given a Liberal government racked in scandal. This seems to reflect a general perception that the Conservatives are somehow scary, while the NDP is fiscally irresponsible.

To a large extent, it is a bum rap for both parties. But being forced to work together would provide the opportunity for both the Conservatives and the NDP to put these perceptions to rest.

Fundamentally, the leaders of both the Conservatives and the NDP share a belief in integrity and a desire to build a better Canada. While their visions may differ, the greatest threat to Canadian democracy is Liberal corruption, not each other. Consequently, our common cause must be to defeat the Liberals. Little is to be gained by attacking each other. In the process, we have the potential to change the dynamics of Canadian politics, rendering the Liberals politically irrelevant for years to come.

Quebec political humour


There is no escaping Gomery here in Quebec. It is a fixture on television, the news and the talk shows. A character resembling the no-nonsense judge is even featured in a television advertisement. The testimony before the commission is available non-stop on RDI, Radio-Canada’s 24-hour news channel. RDI’s ratings have reportedly increased five-fold since broadcasting the hearings. Not surprisingly, Gomery and Liberal political-shenanigans have also provided a fertile field for Quebec political humour.

The work of political caricaturist Monaerik, the creator of the illustration above is particularly good. You can see more of his work at Le Cornichon. The site is definitely worth a visit.

Monday, May 09, 2005

An Honest Liberal?

I know, it sounds like an oxymoron.

More and more it looks like all Liberals are liars. It has gotten to the point where they even call each other liars.

But, I do not believe all Liberals are dishonest. These days, however, any Liberal who is fundamentally honest must feel awfully uncomfortable with Adscam and subsequent efforts of the Liberal Party to sidestep any responsibility for the scandal.

Consequently, it was with some relief that I read a letter from Beryl Wajsman, posted on Captain's Quarters last night. After having his name pop up in previous testimony at the Gomery inquiry, it seems Wajsman is chomping at the bit to tell his side of the story. As he puts it, “my story is one of a party reformer opposed, not a party consultant enriched.”

After a long talk with Wajsman this afternoon, I am more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I would encourage my readers to have a gander at some of his articles at the web site of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal, of which he is president.

What I find most impressive is that Wajsman believes so strongly in his cause he resigned in June 2001 from the very party that has been the vehicle for much of what he has accomplished in his political life. Unlike those who have preferred to remain quiet, however, we finally have a Liberal who seems to genuinely put integrity ahead of self interest.

There is little doubt that Wajsman is an unrepentant “liberal” who is passionate about his beliefs. He finds inspiration in Trudeau’s just society and envisages "a national political culture where victory is won on the battlefields of ideals and principles are never vanquished in the backrooms of deals."

One thing for sure, he is not one to acquiesce to authority. As he inveighs against the corporatism that permeates the Canadian state, he assures me, “we are going to expose who is running this country.” And by this, he does not mean the politicians. It should make for very interesting testimony at the Gomery inquiry, if he ever gets the chance.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Waiting and waiting for Gomery

Andrew Coyne summarily dismisses recent speculation about “paragraph k” of the Gomery Commission’s terms of reference and the limitations it might impose on Gomery’s ability to assign blame in his blog yesterday.

On the surface, he appears right. But after a little searching, I discovered that the Krever public inquiry into Canada’s blood system provides a relevant precedent. Like other public inquiries, it would appear that the Krever Commission had a similar clause in its terms of reference regarding conclusions of criminal or civil liability.

What is interesting about the Krever case is that after years of legal wrangling, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, Justice Krever’s right to assign blame was ultimately affirmed (see Mapleleafweb for a useful overview of the powers of public inquiries and a summary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Krever case).

But what the Krever case also shows is that if misconduct is found, named parties are prone to engage in legal tactics to prevent or delay the release of an inquiry’s report. The timeline of the Krever Commission is quite revealing:

  • October 1993 – Krever Public Inquiry into the Canadian blood system established
  • December 1995 – Krever gives notice to 95 persons, corporations and governments about possible misconduct
  • January 1996 – a group of the named parties asks the Federal Court of Canada to prevent the Commission from making findings of misconduct
  • June 1996 – Federal Court rules that the Commission may make allegations of misconduct
  • January 1997 – Federal Court of Appeal upholds decision
  • September 1997 – Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, affirms Krever’s right to make allegations of misconduct
  • November 1997 – final Krever report released

The whole process took more than four years. So what are the prospects for similar legal interventions by named parties to derail the conventional view that Gomery will report this year, with an election held by March 2006?

Jean Chrétien is already challenging Gomery’s right to head the inquiry in Federal Court. As the report deadline approaches, you can count on other legal interventions by parties likely to be named in the report.

In my view, the conventional view of a winter 2006 election is looking like a best-case scenario. And Paul Martin knows it.