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.
The company behind the Conservative Party’s powerful fundraising and voter-identification machine has been laying off staff and borrowing millions of dollars at high interest rates as it faces an “extremely challenging” cash crunch.
The Toronto-based iMarketing Solutions Group Inc. (iMSGI) last week issued layoff notices to an unspecified number of telephone workers in its call centres across the country.
The company posted a net loss of $3.9 million in the quarter ended last September, citing a downturn in its U.S. business and a “significant decrease” in its Canadian political fundraising and direct voter-contact work.
Under the name Responsive Marketing Group (RMG), the company performed the Conservatives’ voter-contact operations during the last election and was also hired to make calls for the campaigns of 90 Conservative candidates. RMG continues to work as the party’s telemarketing fundraiser.
The Tories have excelled at fundraising through the dexterous use of databases of known and likely supporters willing to make small donations when contacted by phone by RMG.
RMG has provided similar services to the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, the Wildrose Party in Alberta, the Saskatchewan Party and the B.C. Liberal Party.
But iMSGI is now cutting back on cold-calling to raise money for its roster of mostly conservative political clients, instead focussing on higher-yield calls to likely donors, according to a letter obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.
The letter from iMSGI’s human resources director Stephanie Hornby to laid off staff members said that “circumstances relating to economic pressures has resulted in iMarketing Solutions Group Inc. (iMSGI) to (sic) make the decision to temporarily cease new donor acquisition calling and focus resources on retention calling and high value house-calling.”
Calls soliciting new donors are less profitable for call centres than “retention” calls to people who have given money in the past.
“The nature of our business often necessitates ramping work up and down based on business requirements,” Chief Executive Officer Andrew Langhorne said in an email on Friday.
While some of Twitter are gloating over a Conservative firm’s demise, I am assuming they had to ramp up and expand to deal with the federal and provincial elections in the last two years and now are in an electoral down cycle with far less business coming in from Canada and the rather quiet American election cycle. To be honest, fundraising for the B.C. Liberal Party doesn’t seem like a lot of fun right now.
It does give you an idea of how political fundraising works and how hard it is to sustain it. Some might find it interesting that the Saskatchewan Party hires outside the province fundraisers. So much for a “Made in Saskatchewan” solution for the party.
Within the space of a few hours the reputation of one of Canada’s best-known and most iconic conservative thinkers, a mentor to both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, lay mortally wounded.
The first blow came at 9:30 a.m. as Flanagan was driving back to Calgary from Lethbridge where he had made his by now infamous comments on child pornography the previous evening.
His car phone rang. On the line were two officials from the Wildrose party: Vitor Marciano, press secretary to Smith; and Paul Hinman, a former MLA who is now senior adviser to Smith.
To Flanagan, who had been the Wildrose campaign manager in last year’s provincial election, these two men were not just party functionaries but friends and political allies.
And now, here they were on the phone telling him the party was cutting all ties with him. Not only that, Smith was issuing a news release condemning the statements he had made and adding, “Dr. Flanagan does not speak for me or the Wildrose caucus and he will have no role — formal or informal — with our organization going forward.”
Flanagan was reportedly stunned by the call. He didn’t realize his comments had been recorded and posted online — but even then he didn’t think his few off-the-cuff remarks about child pornography were objectionable.
It quickly got worse.
That was the first axe to fall. Shortly afterward, the CBC fired Flanagan as a paid on-air pundit; the prime minister’s director of communication called his comments “repugnant, ignorant and appalling;” and the University of Calgary, where Flanagan has taught political science since 1968, released a statement condemning his comments. U of C president Elizabeth Cannon said Flanagan was already on leave and would remain so until his retirement on June 30.
Of course they were following his own advice
Last November, in a post-mortem of the provincial election campaign, Flanagan said the Wildrose should deal more quickly and brutally with candidates who make stupid comments that embarrass the party. Smith couldn’t have acted with any more speed or brutality this week against her friend and mentor.
Like a lot of you out there, I grew up watching Mike Duffy on television. I thought he was a fair interviewer that held both sides accountable. When he became a senator, he became increasingly partisan which I thought was an odd direction for him to go with but if that is what he thought, that is what he thought.
When the scandal hit over his residency, I was a little shocked by it because I see what he is doing and what Patrick Brazeau being two different things. Let’s look at what Duffy did.
He was named to the Senate from P.E.I. despite living in Ottawa for most of his life. He went out and bought and renovated a small P.E.I. cabin in Cavendish, P.E.I. to establish his residency in. Critics say that he spends most of his time in Ottawa and he shouldn’t get a housing allowance and yet he is expected to keep a second residence in PEI. This is different from other senators in which way? The truth is that he spends most of this time in Ottawa as a senator. They meet for about 88 working days a year. When you include in holidays and weekends is about 6 months of the year which means that he does need two residences. Duffy’s mistake is that he used his housing allowance to pay for his PEI home and not his Ottawa residence. So if he had sold his home and bought a condo in Ottawa, everything would have been okay? Let’s use some common sense on this.
As for why his neighbours haven’t seen a lot of him lately, the senate is in session and therefore he would be living in Ottawa. They had some neighbours complaining that they never see the Duffy’s. First of all there are people who own cabins at Arlington Beach that I have never seen and Cavendish is a lot bigger than Arlington. It also could be that the Duffy’s enjoy their privacy. Even more scandalous is that they even spend some of their social time in both Ottawa and Cavendish.
As for the health card, I love my cabin at Arlington Beach but if I was sick, I want to be at home. For me that is Saskatoon and for Duffy, that appears to be Ottawa. While it looked back when he wanted an expedited card, I don’t have a problem with him having an Ontario health card. If he is going to spending most of his time in Ottawa, it makes sense to me.
There are no Senate rules for residency in your home province and until there are, we should back off Senator’s like Mike Duffy. He’s a part of a weird undefined system. I don’t see fraud or even a scam. If anything it seems that Duffy never realized that once he turned partisan, the attacks would follow. As we have seen now, they have. The difference for Duffy is that he is on the receiving end of them.
Of course, Harper wants to keep his majority in the next election. But the odds of that happening are already reasonably high. The House of Commons will have an additional 30 seats in the next Parliament, all but three of which will be in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Simple math suggests the Conservatives will win far more than half of these and Harper will keep his hold on the House.
But his goals are much grander than just another majority. First, he wants to bring about the permanent weakening — though perhaps not the complete collapse — of the Liberal party. Second, he wishes to establish the Conservatives as “the natural governing party,” for much of the 20th century the descriptive given to the Liberals.
Odds are longer that he will achieve both. But the odds are not small.
Harper’s hope to permanently weaken the Liberals is helped in large part by the Liberals’ own myths and misconceptions about the reasons for their success. Principal among these is the party’s mistaken beliefs that it is a party of the centre and that this is an electoral virtue.
Here is how Harper is going to carry out his sinister plan (insert evil laughter here)
The strategy is threefold. First, Harper will continue the appropriation of national symbols. Second, he will further establish his base of support among Canada’s immigrant communities. Third, he will remain focused on delivering a managerially competent, slow moving federal government.
On the first score, one needs to look no further than the government’s continued efforts to bolster Canada’s military in both its current and past engagements. There is little need for a strong connection between the actual facts of military endeavours and their glorification. If there were, our national image of an actively engaged peacekeeping force would have ceased by the 1980s.
The government’s celebration of the British triumph in the War of 1812 and its slow and dignified drawdown of troops in Afghanistan are both part and parcel of a re-establishment of military endeavour as central to Canadian identity. What is the response of the Liberal and New Democratic parties to this? Not much, except objections over the cost of fighter jets.
On the second score, the strategy to win the support of immigrants, the government has both demographics and electoral savvy on its side. The composition of Canada’s immigrant communities, their average levels of wealth, their mean social values, all of these tip them toward the Conservatives. This combines neatly with the entrance of more than two million immigrants into Canada since the Conservatives took power in 2006. Add in the Tories’ regular courting of these communities and you have a recipe for continued and growing success among a group composing an ever-larger portion of the population.
Finally, Harper will likely eschew grand bargains in exchange for managerial, deliberate government. There is no apparent need for a deal to reconcile Quebec to the constitution, in large measure because of the low odds of a referendum ever being held again.
There is also no need to fundamentally change the constitutionally mandated fiscal structure of the country. Harper can merely back farther away from meddling in provincial jurisdictions. He has something of partner in this in Mulcair, as it happens. And he can likely dispense of what seem like major problems — the aforementioned procurement of fighter jets and the ongoing investigation over electoral manipulation — through changes in personnel. It is not apparent that other scandals abound.
The Conservatives will rot out like every other (Liberal, NDP, PQ, and Liberal) government in this country. They will make mistakes, the public will grow tired of them, and we will support on mass another party. It is even happening right now in Alberta. In 2000 we had stories of a right wing permanent majority that Karl Rove was behind. How did that turn out? The same thing will happen here in Canada and the only question is if it is the Liberals or the NDP that bounce back.
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said there’s only a “pretty minute” chance Ms. Crockatt will lose: “The question shouldn’t be is she going to win, it’s what role is she going to play.”
Mr. Harper already has a caucus filled with Tories from Calgary.
“If I’m a backbench MP, I’m just fine doing that,” Ms. Crockatt said. “To me, the job is to support the Prime Minister in whatever way that he thinks.”
No Joan Crockatt, that is not your job. Your job is represent the fine constituents in Calgary Centre, not be a mouthpiece for the PMO. You are to do what you are elected to and that is to be a parliamentarian and do your best to protect and advance the interests of those that elected you while being a steward for the country. To do anything else is to abdicate your responsibilities as a MP (something that many have done under the current regime).
We do not send MPs to Ottawa as cheerleaders for the Prime Minister and cabinet, we send them to represent us and MPs need to start taking this seriously.
Please read Allan Gregg’s amazing speech. Here is a part of it.
My concern was first piqued in July 2010, when the federal cabinet announced its decision to cut the mandatory long form census and replace it with a voluntary one. The rationale for this curious decision was that asking citizens for information about things like how many bathrooms were in their homes was a needless intrusion on their privacy and liberty. One might reasonably wonder how knowledge about the number of toilets you have could enable the government to invade your privacy, but that aside, it became clear that virtually no toilet owners had ever voiced concerns that the long form census, and its toilet questions, posed this kind of threat.
Again, as someone who had used the census – both as a commercial researcher and when I worked on Parliament Hill – I knew how important these data were in identifying not just toilet counts, but shifting population trends and the changes in the quality and quantity of life of Canadians. How could you determine how many units of affordable housing were needed unless you knew the change in the number of people who qualified for affordable housing? How could you assess the appropriate costs of affordable housing unless you knew the change in the amount of disposal income available to eligible recipients?
And even creepier, why would anyone forsake these valuable insights – and the chance to make good public policy – under the pretence that rights were violated when no one ever voiced the concern that this was happening? Was this a one-off move, however misguided? Or, the canary in the mineshaft?
Then came the Long Gun Registry. The federal government made good on their promise to dismantle it regardless of the fact that virtually every police chief in Canada said it was important to their work. Being true to their election promises? Or was there something else driving this decision?
Then, came the promise of a massive penitentiary construction spree which flew directly in the face of a mountain of evidence indicating that crime was on the decline. This struck me as a costly, unnecessary move, but knowing this government’s penchant to define itself as “tough-on-crime”, one could see – at least ideologically – why they did it. But, does that make it right?
Then came the post-stimulus federal budget of 2012 which I eagerly awaited to see if there would be something more here than mere political opportunism.
It was common knowledge that this government had little stomach for the deficit spending that followed the finance crisis of the previous years. And knowing that the public supported a return to balance budgets, it was a foregone conclusion that we were going to be presented with a fairly austere budget document. That the government intended to cut 19,000 civil servant jobs – roughly 6% of the total federal workforce – might have seemed a little draconian, but knowing what we knew, not that shocking.
As part of this package, it was also announced that environmental assessments were to be “streamlined” and that the final arbitration power of independent regulators was to be curtailed and possibly overridden by so-called “accountable” elected officials. Again, given the priority this government places on economic, and especially resource development, this was not necessarily unpredictable either.
`But when then the specific cuts started to roll out, an alarming trend began to take shape.
- First up were those toilet counting, privacy violators at Stats Canada – ½ (not 6%, but 50%) of employees were warned that their jobs were at risk.
- 20% of the workforce at the Library and Archives of Canada were put on notice.
- CBC was told that it could live with a 10% reduction in their budgetary allocation.
- In what was described as the “lobotomization of the parks system” (G &M – May 21, 2012), 30% of the operating budget of Parks Canada was cut, eliminating 638 positions; 70% of whom would be scientists and social scientists.
- The National Roundtable on the Environment, the First Nations Statistical Institute, the National Council on Welfare and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science were, in Orwell’s parlance, “vaporized”; saving a grand total of $7.5 million.
- The Experimental Lakes Area, a research station that produced critical evidence that helped stop acid rain 3 decades ago and has been responsible for some of our most groundbreaking research on water quality was to be shut down. Savings? $2 million. The northernmost lab in Eureka, Nunavut awaits the same fate.
- The unit in charge of monitoring emissions from power plants, furnaces, boiler and other sources is to be abolished in order to save $600,000.
- And against the advice of 625 fisheries scientists and four former federal Fisheries Ministers – saying it is scientifically impossible to do — regulatory oversight of the fisheries was limited to stock that are of “human value”.
- To add insult to injury, these amendments was bundled in with 68 other laws into one Budget Bill, so that – using the power of majority government – no single item could be opposed or revoked.
- On the other side of the ledger however, the Canada Revenue Agency received an $8 million increase in its budget so that it had more resources available to investigate the political activity of not-for-profit and charitable organizations.
Ok, so now the facts were beginning to tell a different story. This was no random act of downsizing, but a deliberate attempt to obliterate certain activities that were previously viewed as a legitimate part of government decision-making – namely, using research, science and evidence as the basis to make policy decisions. It also amounted to an attempt to eliminate anyone who might use science, facts and evidence to challenge government policies.
Or, to keep it in driving terms, the Liberals have been simply taking leaders out for a spin since Chrétien made his exit, and then trading them in for a newer model.
At the moment, Justin Trudeau, the MP for Papineau, seems to be looming in a lot of Liberals’ eyes as next year’s model — at least until something else comes along.
This disposable-leader culture may tell us something deeper about why the Liberals are mired in third place — a sign of their inability to commit, or to tolerate anything except victory. That may not be the ideal quality to transmit to voters.
Within other parties, including the one in power in Canada at the moment, leadership comes with second chances.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper failed to win the 2004 election, even after uniting the right-wing parties. He almost resigned and consigned himself to history’s dustbin, according to subsequent stories by insiders.
But Harper ultimately decided to hang in and landed the prime minister’s job in 2006, where he remains today.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty didn’t win on his first try as provincial Liberal leader in the 1999 election, but he endured and led his party to victory in 2003. Nor did Mike Harris do well in the 1990 election, but by 1995, he earned the job of Ontario premier.
Perhaps with those McGuinty or Harris examples in mind, the provincial Progressive Conservatives in Ontario are sticking with leader Tim Hudak, even though he didn’t deliver an expected victory last fall.
The federal New Democrats also endured with Jack Layton through four elections from 2003 to 2011, their eyes fixed on long-term growth. The investment paid off with the reward of official Opposition status after the last election.
Liberals, though, don’t seem to have cultivated that kind of patience.
Martin struggled for 13 years to become prime minister, got the job for two, and walked away the night of his election defeat in 2006.
Some Liberals have since wondered whether this was the right decision — whether Martin, with his record as a finance minister, would have been seen by Canadians as the right man to steer through the 2008 economic downtown and the election that year.
She ends with this.
If history is a guide, anyone running for the Liberal-leader job —including Trudeau — should have two career plans.
Plan A should be focused on winning power in the 2015 election.
Plan B should be something out of politics, because Liberals haven’t been in a second-chance kind of mood since Chrétien began his exit 10 years ago.
This story by Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor is unbelievable. While Elections Canada says the evidence is inconclusive, the investigation has narrowed down the people involved as for some reason they drove across Guelph and used a random unlocked wifi spot address to access the Conservative database. The wifi connection was the same that was used to access RackNine’ servers.
Other records obtained by Elections Canada show that five members of the Burke campaign team used that same IP address in the final weeks of the campaign to access CIMS, the Conservative Party’s central database of voter information.
Campaign manager Ken Morgan, deputy campaign manager Andrew Prescott and volunteers John White, Trent Blanchette and Christopher Crawford all logged onto CIMS from the Rogers IP, according to the document. Through the Conservative Party’s lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, Crawford told investigators that he had always accessed CIMS from the Burke campaign office.
It seems unlikely anyone in the Burke campaign headquarters, which was located northeast of Guelph’s downtown, could have connected to a Wi-Fi signal on the opposite side of the city.
But in court documents, Mathews offers no possible explanation for how or why five campaign workers all signed on from the same IP address used by Poutine — and over a Wi-Fi signal nowhere close to their office.
Indeed, Mathews suggests that the subscriber information behind IP address looks to be a dead lead, calling it “so far inconclusive.”
Instead, his latest request for court orders focuses on the relationship between the IP address and log-ins to RackNine, the Edmonton-based call company used to transmit the robocalls.
RackNine’s owner, Matt Meier, has found the robocalls were sent using his servers by a customer known to the firm as “Client 93”, who logged on with the Rogers IP. Elections Canada has already tied this account to a disposable Virgin Mobile cellphone registered by the suspect using the bogus name Pierre Poutine.
Prescott, a RackNine subscriber known as “Client 45”, used the company to send out legitimate robocalls about campaign events. Records produced by the company show that Prescott and Poutine accessed the company’s servers from the same IP address, sometimes within a few minutes.
Can anyone give me a reason why the campaign manager and deputy campaign manager, and three volunteers would be accessing a restricted Conservative Party database from a random open wifi port across town from the campaign office and then you add on the little fact that it was the same IP address used to access the Racknine account.
According to this Ipscos/Reid poll, the NDP are only two points behind the Conservatives.
Among the regional findings:
- In Ontario, the NDP (40%) is ahead, followed by the Conservatives (34%) while the Liberals are securely in third place (22%), followed by the Green party (4%).
- In Quebec, the NDP (40%) continues to dominate, followed by the Bloc (26%), while the Tories (18%) and Liberals (15%) struggle to compete.
- In Alberta, the Tories (67%) are well ahead, and are trailed by the NDP (24%), while the Liberals (5%) and Greens (5%) are at the bottom.
- In B.C., the Tories (37%) are competing with the NDP (35%), while the Liberals are in third, (21%) and the Greens are last (7%).
- In Saskatchewan/Manitoba, the Tories are first (45%), while the NDP (43%) run a close second, and the Liberals (10%) run third. The Greens are last (2%).
- In Atlantic Canada, the NDP (38%) are in front, followed by the Liberals (30%), the Tories (26%) and the Greens (6%).
For the survey, a randomly selected sample of 1,099 adult Canadians was interviewed online throughout the Ipsos online panel. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Before someone jumps all over me because it was an online poll… I am not saying it’s an election result, I am just saying it is interesting.
Your results may vary, of course. Earlier in January, Ekos tagged Mr. Harper with a whopping 59% disapproval rating, against 34% approval — so, a -25% approval deficit. (Bob Rae, by comparison, had 44% approval against 24% disapproval.) That sounds bad. But in September 2010, the last time Ekos asked after the leaders’ reputations, it found Mr. Harper had a -20% approval deficit. And only 32% support. And then he went on and won a majority.
After nearly a decade of fearmongering, the Conservatives just keep gaining votes. The Opposition has been in disarray, certainly, but that’s precisely the point: People can see that Mr. Harper’s actions simply do not conform to the malevolent top-line items on his purported agenda. It’s far from clear to me, therefore, that it’s wise to keep insisting that agenda exists. As Chantal Hébert recently argued, the opposition parties’ screeching about Old Age Security may well make the modest reforms the government eventually proposes more palatable.
If Mr. Harper does indeed transform Canada into “Dickens’ London,” as Mr. Caplan puts it, then his party will presumably go down in flames in 2015. Certainly, there will be voter fatigue. Never mind the Conservatives’ serial murder of their own openness-and-accountability promises. This is an ostensibly pro-free-speech government that, on Monday, denied Green Party leader Elizabeth May leave to speak on the legacy of Vaclav Havel. These people are just as hardwired for eventual self-destruction as the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives before them.
But you know what? I have this weird feeling that Canada in 2015 is going to be pretty much the same place as it is now. And that Mr. Harper’s would-be successors — not least the relentlessly Harper-bashing NDP leadership candidates — are going to have to go out and win this on their own merits, not just on Mr. Harper’s demerits. If you’re wondering why Canadians aren’t rising up in furious protest, it’s at least worth considering that, despite your very best efforts, they are simply not as angry as you assumed they were.
A classless act by Government House leader Peter Van Loan. It’s not the first time this has happened.
Back in November, both she and a representative from the Bloc Quebecois were prevented from delivering Remembrance Day statements on two separate occasions.
And this folks is what drives me crazy about the Conservative Party. It’s not the big issues. I support changes to OAS and an austerity budget but it’s these petty and classless things that keep me from voting for them federally. They have a majority but can’t seem to grasp that politics is not a continual campaign. There can be time to allow the leader of Green Party to speak on Vaclav Havel and not risk losing control of their agenda yet no one in the PMO can seem to grasp that fact.
For centuries, families in Newfoundland and Labrador have grieved for those who went to sea and didn’t come home.
The risk continues. Fishing is among the most deadly jobs in the country, and the dangers inherent in travelling to the offshore oil rigs were made clear in the 2009 helicopter crash that killed 17.
Against this backdrop, search and rescue (SAR) is never just about dollars and cents for people in the province. There has been heated debate and raucous protests about the appropriate level of protection. All of which explains why the controversial helicopter ride by Peter MacKay, the ranking political minister in Atlantic Canada, touches such a hot button.
“In the context of cutbacks to basic [rescue] services, that’s pretty hard to swallow,” said Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union. “Since 1973 there’s been 193 Newfoundlanders lost their lives in the fishery.”
What makes people really upset is that McKay took a helicopter that was really needed elsewhere.
Search and rescue for the province is handled out of a central location in Gander, where 103 Squadron gets twice the national average of distress calls. There, approximately 50 military personnel and 26 civilians, a unit that calls itself “Outcasts” and features on its badge a rescue dog named Albert, operate three Cormorant CH-149 helicopters.
Each of these choppers – the same type that fetched Mr. MacKay – can carry 12 stretchers and operate in icy conditions. A base spokesman could not be reached Friday afternoon, but the squadron’s website speaks proudly of covering “the lower Arctic, the Maritimes, Newfoundland and Labrador and all offshore waters in the region,” with round-the-clock capability.
But dissenting locals argue that the base is too far from the busy waters off the southeast part of the province, and that overnight response time is sub-par.
Military standards require that SAR crews be airborne within 30 minutes of receiving a call that comes in on a weekday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. But the rest of the time they have two hours to get in the air. The latter standard falls below international norms and, given that work at sea doesn’t necessarily align with office hours, has sparked much criticism about a two-tier system.
Yeah, if I was a fisherman, I would be upset at McKay using the helicopter as well. The Calgary Herald has this
Taking a search-and-rescue helicopter out of service to pick him up at a fishing lodge is, frankly, appalling. As opposition members asked Friday, would MacKay use an ambulance as a taxi?
In e-mails uncovered under access-to-information requests, search-and-rescue personnel crossed their fingers after the request came in to pick up MacKay and hoped for "a slow night" so that the helicopter – one of three stationed in the area – wouldn’t be needed for a rescue mission.
This is worse than Canada’s top general using government jets to whisk him about the country.
This is like taking a fire truck off the street and using it as a limousine for a cabinet minister.
The issue is not that cabinet ministers should never use military aircraft. Pilots need to log airtime to stay sharp. If a minister can hitch a ride, it’s not a big deal. But when a minister orders one up when he’s on a fishing vacation, and there is a chance that public safety could be compromised by diminished search-and rescue capabilities, that is inexcusable.
MacKay has long argued that he used the helicopter as part of a planned search-and rescue exercise in July 2010, but recently released Defence Department e-mails suggest otherwise. One military official said in an e-mail that they would use the "guise" of a training mission to explain why the helicopter was sent to pick up MacKay.
The e-mails are damning. They show officials scrambling to accommodate MacKay’s request to be picked up at a private fishing lodge at the end of a vacation and expressed concern that the Cormorant chopper might be needed for a real rescue mission.
I am a big Peter McKay fan but I am starting to wonder if Harper should drop him from cabinet on this one. I know it won’t happen but this was an abuse of power. This is how governments lose power. It’s why we got tired of the Liberals and it’s why Canadians will grow tired of the Conservatives. It’s not usually a big thing, it’s things like McKay’s user of a helicopter, the Conservatives lying about Irwin Cotler and Clement’s G8 legacy fund. It death by a thousand self-inflicted cuts.