As part of their severance, those who serve 20 years or more are offered a last move, at government expense, after they retire. Soldiers are asked to live in many places; the policy recognizes that the house you occupy at the end of your career may not be where you want to remain.
Leslie served 35 years at home and abroad and moved 18 times. When he left the military in 2011, he wanted to simplify things. He moved from a bigger house to a small one, in the same neighbourhood. The move cost some $72,000, of which the real estate fees could have come to perhaps $60,000. The rest went to packing and moving.
All expenses were covered by government.
So, what’s wrong here? What’s the offence? A distinguished soldier does his duty, retires honourably and sells his house. The bills are settled by the government, because that’s the arrangement.
But that’s not really the story, is it? The story here has less to do with General Leslie than Citizen Leslie, or perhaps, in the future, Minister Leslie. It’s about politics.
While Rob Nicholson asks his officials to explain this long-standing government policy — one he could have changed but hasn’t — here are a few questions for him.
Why is Andrew Leslie the first veteran to come under this kind of public scrutiny? Is $72,000 egregious? If so, what is the average figure for moves involving such neighbourhoods?
And how is it that Leslie’s expenses found their way to CTV News, which first reported this on the weekend? Is there a breach of privacy in your department, Minister? Your office suggested the document was acquired under the Access to Information Act, but CTV did not.
We know what is going on here. Andy Leslie is a Liberal. His father was a Liberal. His service notwithstanding, that displeases the government. Tell us, Minister Nicholson, would you have ordered an inquiry if Leslie had been running as a Conservative? Would your question have been as sharp, your anger as hot?
Could it be that Leslie’s expenses would never have found their way into the media at all? And could it be that the Conservatives wanted Leslie to join them, when they learned that he was going to the Liberals? Let us see this for what it is: a drive-by smear.
Argue, if you want, that after years of dislocation and adjustment, that Leslie and his wife had no right to move to a smaller house. Make it another great moral failing of another public servant, as we like to do these days in a country filled with accountants of envy.
If you do, though, remember that soldiers spend their lives disrupting their families, often with little notice and at great cost. Ask yourself why soldiers are committing suicide. Ask yourself about divorce, domestic violence, addiction and other consequences of military life.
As we disparage a decorated general, seeing scandal that isn’t there, consider the greater affront of a government that tolerates a minister, Julian Fantino, who insults veterans as he cuts their services. Now there’s gratitude.
Then ask yourself why Andrew Leslie and other good people would even contemplate entering our soiled, sorry public life.
Almost all you need to know about Canadian politics in the next two years can be summarized in one simple number – 10 per cent.
Ten per cent is the share of the electorate that has deserted Stephen Harper’s Conservatives since the last election. In that contest, the Conservatives captured a shade less than 40 per cent of the votes. For months now, polls have given the Conservatives about 30 per cent.
At 40 per cent, the Conservatives would win again, likely with another majority; at 30 per cent, they would lose power. Their aim – and it will drive almost everything they do in the next two years – will be to recapture all or most of the difference.
What about the other 60 per cent of the voting public? The Conservatives could care less about them. The overwhelming majority of those people aren’t going to vote Conservative, period.
Nik Nanos, the pollster, asks this interesting question on an ongoing basis: Could you imagine voting for a given party? He consistently finds that 60 per cent of voters reply that they could not imagine voting Conservative. The party’s ceiling, therefore, is 40 per cent.
No matter what the Conservatives have successfully done in office, no matter how hard they have tried and how much money they have spent, no matter how favourable the economic circumstances, no matter how inept the other parties, the Conservatives have never shattered that 40-per-cent ceiling. But if they don’t crawl back close to it by the time of the next election, they will struggle to be re-elected, let alone to win another majority.
Given this strategic imperative, you might think that midway through a majority government’s term, a party mired at 30 per cent would be rethinking its strategy. That would be to misunderstand the Harper government.
Instead of rethinking, the Prime Minister has doubled down on his long-term strategy, which depends on polarizing the electorate and identifying and mobilizing the Conservative vote. He reshuffled his cabinet to add younger ministers of the same type as the more experienced ones: hard-edged communicators and sharp-elbowed partisans. He regrouped people in his office and at party headquarters who are unreserved loyalists. There are no even mildly discordant voices, let alone fresh faces or new views, in Mr. Harper’s inner political circle.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s appearance at a meeting of Canada’s finance ministers this week has renewed backroom speculation about whether his health will allow him to continue in his job.
As meetings at Meech Lake began on Monday, Flaherty was seen to struggle to get out of his car, and his voice was painfully weak as he addressed reporters later.
In the hours-long meeting with his provincial counterparts, he sat in silence most of the time, sometimes with his eyes closed, allowing minister of state, Kevin Sorenson, to chair the meeting.
“He did not seem like a well man,” said a person who was in the room. “He kind of closed his eyes a number of times, but whether that was just him sitting there listening or not, I don’t know.”
Tuesday on Parliament Hill, Flaherty was seen by a reporter walking with great difficulty.
In January, Flaherty went public with news about his health condition, bullous pemphigoid, a rare skin condition that produces painful blisters. He is taking the steroid prednisone, which can cause weight gain and, in large doses, can spur severe mood swings.
His staff did say that Flaherty was suffering from a cold at Meech Lake which could explain his mood there but he does seem to be suffering. I can’t imagine the requirements of the job make it any easier to deal with his health condition.
Which leads us back to this: Be it resolved, there is now a single homogeneous Canadian political culture, expressed via the three main party shadings. How long until platforms themselves become irrelevant? Partisans will argue their own beloved expression of Canadian liberal democracy is not only best, but distinct – as the Tories, Grits and NDP were a generation or two ago, when they disagreed about country-changing issues such as North American free trade, in 1988, or membership in NATO, in 1968.
But tick through the list of assumptions at the heart of the state today – from socialized health care to capital punishment, abortion or free trade, deficits or tax rates – and you find unanimity. The Conservatives must be for gay rights, or be written off as reactionary by the majority. The New Democrats must be for industry and thrift, or be written off as loopy dreamers by that same majority.
This convergence can create a mash-up, as political parties struggle to create differentiation amid their essential drab sameness. Thus, John Baird’s defence of gay rights in Russia doesn’t go far enough, says the NDP’s Paul Dewar. He must crank it up to 11, like the guitar amplifier in Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap. The Liberals, meantime, are beginning a two-year effort to implant the idea, by every means other than saying it, that they can be more conservative than the Conservatives when it comes to economics, and more new and democratic than the New Democrats when it comes to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. “Tough on crime” is still exclusive Conservative territory – but only because it’s one of the few old planks they haven’t ditched in the hunt for centrist votes. And, to be frank, it’s not popular enough for the other parties to bother to steal.
Taken together, this still-unfolding spectrum collapse sets up a contest of almost pure personality in 2015. Through the next 24 months, Harper will seek to recast himself as more constructive; Mulcair, happier; and Trudeau, more solid. The ad war will be personal as never before, culminating in televised debates understood by all to be winner-take-all. And the pollsters, perhaps as never before, will be flying blind. Interesting times.
Even among Ottawa insiders, few would be aware that two officials running a tiny agency Flaherty set up to try to create a national securities regulator beat them all. Douglas Hyndman, chairman and chief executive officer of the Canadian Securities Transition Office (CSTO), makes $534,043, and Lawrence Ritchie, the CSTO’s executive vice-president and senior policy adviser, $537,469. Their salaries are public because Hyndman is on long-term loan to the feds from the British Columbia Securities Commission, while Ritchie is similarly seconded from the Ontario Securities Commission, and both B.C. and Ontario publish “sunshine lists” of salaries over $100,000. They are still technically on the provincial payrolls—even though they’ve been working for Flaherty since 2009—with Ottawa compensating their home provinces. (The Harper government’s refusal to support Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber’s private member’s bill to publicly disclose federal salaries over $188,000 led to Rathgeber quitting the Tory caucus last spring; the government wanted to reveal only a handful of salaries over $444,661.)
At a glance, their pay seems out of whack by federal standards. After all, Hyndman and Ritchie together oversee only about 20 employees. Poloz, by comparison, commands about 1,240 at the central bank. But Flaherty has staked more on his high-priced ringers than the size of their shop might indicate. In an email exchange with Maclean’s, Hyndman said his “relatively small staff” belies the complexity and importance of what the CSTO is trying to accomplish. “We are using the expertise of a core group drawn from provincial securities regulators, plus some additional staff, to develop critical improvements to Canada’s system of capital markets regulation,” he said. “We also need to maintain the flexibility to move forward on either federal legislation or a co-operative scheme with the provinces.”
That last part about being ready to pursue either of two very different policy options is key. Flaherty set up the CSTO back in 2009 to bring about his goal of establishing a common Canadian securities regulator, replacing a hodge-podge of provincial stock market commissions. But some provinces challenged his plan in court. In late 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Ottawa was overstepping its jurisdiction. Despite that severe setback, Flaherty kept trying to coax provinces to come onside voluntarily—that’s the “co-operative scheme” Hyndman mentions. But if those overtures to the provinces fail, the court ruling left the federal government room to regulate in limited areas on its own—that’s Hyndman’s “move forward with federal legislation” option.
In fact, indications from federal officials suggest they are not optimistic that enough provinces will sign on to salvage Flaherty’s original grand plan. For instance, Hyndman said the CSTO’s “primary focus right now is developing proposed legislation and implementation plans that will be needed if no agreement is reached with provinces on a common regulator.” But exactly what parts of the financial marketplace the federal government will set out to regulate on its own has not yet been announced. It’s the subject of considerable speculation among private-sector experts. Flaherty’s office says the aim would be “preventing and responding to systemic risks, such as those posed by over-the-counter derivatives.”
Figuring out ways to regulate trading by sophisticated investors in derivatives, which go by exotic names such as “currency forwards” and “credit default swaps,” is a hot topic in international policy circles, largely because failures on this murky side of the market are blamed for the 2008 global credit meltdown and the recession that followed. Hyndman even suggests that losing the Supreme Court case focused the federal government’s attention “precisely where Canada needs to do a better job to get regulation right.”
Whatever slice of the market Flaherty decides to tackle, settling on that approach shouldn’t take much longer. “Our planning horizon is in months, not years,” Hyndman said. On whether he and Ritchie will go back then to their provincial jobs, or stay on to run an agency set up to bring new regulations into force, he said only, “We have not sought, nor been offered, permanent federal positions.”
Before you get all that upset, that is probably a deal for two guys of that talent who would make much more in the private sector. That being said, it probably won’t get enough provinces to sign on and in the end, will be a lot of money down the drain.
So how’s the mood in the party? “It’s s–tty,” one long-time Conservative political staffer, now recycled in the private sector, said the other day. “I’m a Conservative, and I don’t know what the government stands for.”
The mood this Conservative described—on condition of anonymity, like other party members who spoke for this story—was a long way from despair. “The grassroots of the party is overwhelmingly behind the PM. I don’t think that will ever wear off.” But the five-alarm gong show around Wright, Duffy, Wallin and the rest has made a lot of Conservatives angry and nervous. “If your whole message is that you’re competent people,” this former staffer said, “it is harmful to seem incompetent.”
For several days after Harper accepted Wright’s resignation on May 19, the government could offer no coherent explanation for what had happened. Right up to the end of May the government seemed unsure how to handle the mess.
The chaos led at least one old PMO hand to offer his assistance. Several Conservative sources say that at the beginning of June, Dimitri Soudas, a former PMO communications director who now works for the Canadian Olympic Committee, telephoned the PMO to offer communications advice. Whatever Soudas told his former colleagues would have been mixed in with all the other signals a government receives from its members and supporters, but by last week the Conservatives were offering a more unapologetic defence of Harper’s behaviour, coupled with sharp digs at the opposition parties. The implied message was: If we’re going to be in trouble, we won’t be the only party in trouble.
The news of the day fades from memory. Between the 2008 and 2011 elections Harper endured a steady stream of allegations and missteps, including the controversy over proroguing Parliament, the allegations about abuse of Afghan prisoners, and former minister Bev Oda’s clumsy doctoring (“NOT”) of a memo from her department. Very little of it mattered on election day in 2011, and the Conservatives won a majority of seats in the Commons for the first time.
But Conservatives know the Harper government isn’t eternal, and they have begun to wonder what it will feel like when Harper loses his grip on power for good. They hope the feeling they’ve had this spring isn’t it. “You’re associated with a certain quality, like good government, for a long time and it holds up under wear and tear,” the former Conservative staffer said. “And then one day it tips over. And once it tips, you’ve just lost it and you can’t get it back. You’ve just lost that characteristic.”
Those earlier uproars from 2008-11 often shared common features: they were of interest mostly only to people who work in Ottawa, and they tended to anger people who had never voted Conservative anyway. Conservatives were pretty sure a sitting prime minister should be allowed to ring up the governor general and shut down Parliament now and then, as indeed Jean Chrétien did on more than one occasion. It was no skin off their nose if Harper exercised the same prerogative.
But this business with Wright, Duffy, and a Prime Minister who seemed oblivious and has since seemed deeply rattled is different, another former Hill staffer said. This one described getting an earful about the Senate and about Harper’s associates during a trip through rural British Columbia. The people complaining “were our demographic, in our geography,” this source said. “More than anything else it’s our people who are upset. It kind of comes across as a feeling of betrayal.”
This is a great response to the election of Joan Crockatt
“I mean, whatever. Not like backbench MPs have any ability to do anything. She’s very nice, she’s shown up at a lot of events [and is] certainly more present after the election than during the election, which is interesting. Most candidates are not like that… Have we seen any real difference in how the federal government treats the city of Calgary now that we’ve returned another Conservative MP? Not yet.
You would be amazed at the amount of non-profits who tell me that their project is making progress because a backbench MP likes what they are doing. I hate telling that the opinion of a backbench MP has no influence at all on party policy as they are not part of the government. Cabinet ministers and their staff are the only opinions that matter and that is what Nenshi is getting at. Today, MPs exist to run to get Diet Coke while the important decisions are made and then sell those decisions to their constituents.
Government backbenchers attacked MP Brent Rathgeber, who quit the caucus last week after saying the Conservatives have “morphed into what we have once mocked.”
Within 24 hours of Mr. Rathgeber’s (Edmonton-St. Albert, Alta.) exit from the Conservative caucus, members of the government’s backbenches began to take aim at the now Independent MP by disputing his comments and questioning his professionalism.
“He can’t get along with people in the sandbox,” said Tory MP Greg Rickford (Kenora, Ont.), Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. “Brent spoke for himself. He’s always been that way. As a provincial legislator he couldn’t get along with people.”
Mr. Rickford told The Hill Times that he “didn’t appreciate” statements made by Mr. Rathgeber following the announcement of his resignation late last Wednesday evening.
Mr. Rathgeber announced his resignation from the Conservative caucus on June 5 on Twitter, hours after the Conservative-dominated House Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics Committee amended his private member’s bill, Bill C-461, which would have required the annual salaries of public servants in excess of $188,000 to be made public. Conservative members of the committee raised the disclosure threshold to $444,000.
This amendment, dubbed by Mr. Rathgeber as “the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back,” led the Alberta MP to announce his resignation from Conservative caucus late Wednesday night.
The morning after announcing his resignation from the Tory caucus, Mr. Rathgeber wrote on his blog that the “Government’s lack of support for my transparency bill is tantamount to a lack of support for transparency and open government generally.”
On his blog, Mr. Rathgeber wrote that the $188,000 salary was a compromise itself, and noted that various provinces have “sunshine laws” that disclose the names and departments of individuals that make upwards of $100,000.
“Even setting the benchmark significantly higher than any of the provinces that maintain ‘Sunshine Lists’ was apparently not supportable by a Cabinet intent on not disclosing how much it pays its senior advisors,” wrote Mr. Rathgeber.
He also identified the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) former chief of staff Nigel Wright, and the $90,000 cheque Mr. Wright gave to Senator Mike Duffy to cover ineligible expense claims as a contributing factor to his decision to leave the Conservative caucus.
“We have morphed into what we have once mocked,” he wrote.
Mr. Rathgeber ended the scathing blog post by writing, “I no longer recognize much of the party that I joined and whose principles (at least on paper), I still believe in. Accordingly, since I can no longer stand with them, I must now stand alone.”
In a press conference following his arrival in Edmonton on June 6, Mr. Rathgeber blasted PMO staffers for controlling MPs as though they were “trained seals,” although he said he supported Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.).
First of all Rathgeber is totally right. Backbench MPs are trained seals which means that many talented people will not choose to run for office because they don’t want to have every speech vetted by the PMO and have no input in on government decisions ever.
Then you get a cycle were because talented people aren’t interested in becoming MPs so you are left with many MPs from both parties who are minor league quality which of course requires more PMO oversight which then discourages competent people to run. Eventually you get to a situation where trained seals could do the job of many MPs as long as they can sign off on the ten percenters.
The reason why people got upset with Rathgeber is because it hit close to home. That and the PMO told them to be upset. Then it gave them a fish as a reward.
We’re all very, very, very disappointed—some would use stronger language than disappointed—with the actions of some of our Senatorial colleagues but in terms of our House caucus, it’s very good morale. We understand, look there are some problems that need to be addressed without question. No one’s down in the dumps,” he said. “We’re all very unified, we’re very upbeat, and I think that’s an excellent sign. It shows the maturity I think of our caucus.
There’s always time for the prodigal son to repent but they have to show that they’ve learned a lesson. It’s why any solution to the problem won’t include saving the Senate,” the source said. “They gave Duffy the benefit of the doubt, but it’s clear now he didn’t deserve it. He abused it, so the government stopped defending him. Mike Duffy has been revealed to be a morally weak, indiscreet individual not deserving of the office he held. It’s why he will be hounded out of the Senate.
Let me venture to suggest this is not accidental. If today both Mr. Harper and the party he leads are actively disliked by more than seven voters in 10, it may be because they have gone out of their way to alienate them in every conceivable way — not by their policies, or even their record, but simply by their style of governing, as over-bearing as it is under-handed, and that on a good day.
When they are not refusing to disclose what they are doing, they are giving out false information; when they allow dissenting opinions to be voiced, they smear them as unpatriotic or worse; when they open their own mouths to speak, it is to read the same moronic talking points over and over, however these may conflict with the facts, common courtesy, or their own most solemn promises.
Secretive, controlling, manipulative, crude, autocratic, vicious, unprincipled, untrustworthy, paranoid … Even by the standards of Canadian politics, it’s quite the performance. We’ve had some thuggish or dishonest governments in the past, even some corrupt ones, but never one quite so determined to arouse the public’s hostility, to so little apparent purpose. Their policy legacy may prove short-lived, but it will be hard to erase the stamp of the Nasty Party.
Perhaps, in their self-delusion, the Tories imagine this is all the fault of the Ottawa media, or the unavoidable cost of governing as Conservatives in a Liberal country. I can assure them it is not. The odium in which they are now held is well-earned, and entirely self-inflicted.
I tend to agree with him. It’s 100s of self inflicted wounds, none of them are that big by themselves but overtime they all take a toll. The Conservatives may have done a good job on the economy but it’s the other stuff they seem to struggle with and it could cost them the election.
Tories attacking Liberals is par for the course in Canadian politics. The style with which they stage these attacks is, of course, debatable. What is not up for debate should be MPs using their print budgets at the expense of taxpayers for partisan attacks.
According to documents made available by the Liberal party, the Tories plan to spend thousands on taxpayer-supported mailings to inform Canadians of the purported inadequacies of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. Traditionally, these mail-outs are intended to update constituents on the doings of the House of Commons. Not surprisingly, MPs often use them to lecture riding residents on how well they’re being served and all the good things — or bad things, if you’re an opposition MP — the government is doing.
The Tories, however, appear intent on crossing the ethical divide with mail-outs that are nothing more than an extension of their attack ad campaign against the new Liberal leader. They should not. They can spend as much as they want to discredit Trudeau — whether it will do them any good is another matter — but not on the taxpayer’s dime.
The flyers, which were presented to the Conservative caucus in mid-April and are to be distributed June 1, show pictures of Trudeau with a moustache and jacket over his shoulder against a backdrop of quotes — “He’s in way over his head,” for example — and encircled by what looks like a comet trail of pixie dust sprinkled by Walt Disney’s wand-waving fairy. Another part of the mail-out suggests the Liberal leader is naive on such issues as Quebec separatism, tax credits for families and the economy.
The cost of mailing these attacks for 166 Conservative MPs comes in at about $29,000, but throw in the full price of printing and distribution and, according to the Liberals, it will be more than $220,000. The money will come out of the Tories’ House of Commons budget. In other words, taxpayers will pay.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan defends the expenditure, saying it is within rules approved by Parliament and the all-party Board of Internal Economy that oversees MPs’ expenditures. He says it’s “entirely appropriate” for the Tories to inform Canadians in this way about Trudeau’s leadership qualities (or lack thereof).
What a specious justification for ripping off taxpayers. Householders were intended to provide MPs with a way to communicate “information” — farm subsidy programs, home renovation credits, etc. — to constituents. Yet they have become a vehicle for partisan propaganda.
Parliament should abolish politicians’ bulk mailing privileges. Between the serial abuse of the privilege by MPs and the fact we live in an era of ubiquitous digital communication, there is no longer a justifiable reason for taxpayers to be getting flyers and other assorted political epistles at their own expense.
Where even 10 years ago it was reasonable to have taxpayers pay the cost of receiving mailed information about the doings of their elected representative and the latest business of the House of Commons, in the digital age it is a redundant waste of money and resources. Let’s be honest: How many Canadians spend any time at all reading the flyers their MPs, provincial representatives and municipal councillors print up and send to them at taxpayer expense? The vast majority of the flyers end up in the recycling bin in mint condition.
To add insult to injury, MPs in particular have made a sport of abusing their bulk mailing privileges. This week, Conservative Party MPs have been asked by party officials to send their constituents a flyer that is nothing more than an attack ad targeting Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. It is scandalous, but it is only the latest such outrage.
Three years ago, after MPs had begun flooding their opponents’ ridings with partisan flyers, they agreed to a ceasefire: MPs would only mail flyers to their own constituents. This was quickly undone, however, when MPs began using their so-called “franking” privilege – the right to send a letter anywhere in Canada at no cost in an envelope bearing the MP’s name – to carpet bomb targeted opponents’ ridings with yet more partisan attacks, this time on letterhead.
It is an entirely uncomplicated fact that taxpayers should never bear the cost of printing and receiving partisan mailings. Yet MPs continue to spout utter nonsense in their efforts to muddy the crystal-clear waters of common sense. “It’s entirely appropriate for Canadians to be informed about those contrasting aspects of leadership they have available,” Government House Leader Peter Van Loan argued in defence of the bulk-mailing of the Trudeau attack ads, and thereby missed the point. It is within the current rules, perhaps. But playing up the strengths of a party leader at the expense of a rival is not an appropriate use of public money – especially not in a democratic country that purports to make a distinction between the wellbeing of any one political party and the general wellbeing of the taxpayer.
Just when you thought the Harper Conservatives could stoop no lower with their attack ads against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, they discovered something even more base.
Household mailings, paid for by taxpayers, are supposed to communicate information from MPs to constituents about doings in government. Every MP, of course, puts her or his spin on things because, after all, they’re politicians. But household mailings often contain straightforward information about which government office a constituent should phone, how to apply for government programs, or what this or that piece of legislation means.
But now the Conservatives have decided to use these mailings – as much as 10 per cent of the voters receive them at any one time – as nothing more than a printed negative ad against Mr. Trudeau. It’s one thing for the Conservative Party to use its money to buy television airtime to demean Mr. Trudeau; it’s another to use your money for the same base purposes. But as we see, the Harper attack machine does politics this way, always has and always will, because the Prime Minister – who authorizes all this stuff, after all – obviously thinks it works.
It’s never the big things that trip up governments, it is stuff like this. Voters aren’t stupid, we know this stuff is being paid for by taxpayers and it starts to add up. Bev Oda’s orange juice, these ten percenters, a defence minister taking helicopter rides so he can fish… It’s not a partisan thing. It’s the transition a government that is going from serving to being entitled.