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Jean Chretien

How Heenan Blaikie’s stunning collapse started with a rogue African arms deal

It’s amazing how quickly Heenan Blaikie fell apart

The stunning collapse of Heenan Blaikie LLP, once one of Canada’s largest and most prestigious law firms, stemmed from a “loss of trust” in management over international business activities including dubious forays into Africa, where former partner Jacques Bouchard and former prime minister Jean Chrétien lobbied governments on behalf of clients, former Heenan partners and associates say.

Founded in Montreal in 1973, Heenan grew from 18 lawyers to more than 500, in offices across Canada and in Paris, where it established a beachhead in 2009. It was considered a rock-solid full-service firm — and a favourite of the Canadian establishment — until a crisis of confidence caused its foundations to crack. Lawyers began leaving, first in a trickle, then in droves, and the whole enterprise came crashing down this month.

Increasing financial pressures and friction between partners in Montreal and Toronto were key factors behind Heenan’s failure, the biggest ever for a law firm in Canada. “Montreal didn’t understand Toronto; Toronto felt the Montreal office was way overpaid and overpraised,” said one former partner.

But many also agree that Heenan’s excursions into Africa caused so much tension and tumult that partners began shaking their heads and taking their leave. “People like me said to themselves, ‘I want to work at a firm that values the practice of law in Canada, not international dictators,’” another former Heenan partner told the National Post. “It’s not what I signed up for.” He quit the firm last year.

There came “a point where confidence and faith started to disappear,” said Jean-Francois Mercadier, managing partner of the firm’s former group in Paris, Heenan Blaikie AARPI. “Partners started to lose any kind of faith in the management of the firm. There was a loss of trust in the partnership, and I think the origin is in the Jacques Bouchard story.”

Related: The End of Big Law: What Happens When the Money Dries Up

via @dlcrawford

Beyond Politics: Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien

Fascinating interview with Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien shows a side of him that not many of us have ever heard.

The missed opportunity

Why Harper’s foes need to get off the pot by Paul Wells

Liberals, you see, are quite sure every Canadian is a Liberal whose vote was stolen by Conservative skullduggery in the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2011. Canadians, in this view, think marijuana use is harmless fun, and they will blame politicians who want to harsh the national buzz. So a Liberal friend of mine was genuinely surprised when she plunked herself down behind the Liberal party table at a local community event and got her ear bent by voters, many of them from immigrant communities, asking why Trudeau was soft on drugs.Ja

The realization that many Canadians believe illegal drugs should stay illegal is one surprise awaiting the Liberals. Another is that a lot more Canadians have complex, conflicting or frankly hypocritical views on drug policy— but that it’s not drug policy that will determine their next vote. Millions will vote based on their best guess about which party will best ensure a strong economy whose bounties improve their own life and their family’s. And Justin Trudeau just spent a month talking about something else.

This is something else that Liberals cannot understand: the notion that most Canadians are no longer properly grateful for the work Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin did to clean up deficits in the 1990s. In fact, a growing number of Canadians, even the ones who don’t smoke a lot of pot, have dim memories of the 1990s or none at all.

This helps explain a Harris-Decima poll from the end of August that inquired about respondents’ opinions of the national political parties. Trudeau’s net favourable impression is way higher than Harper’s and a fair bit higher than NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s. Respondents were likelier to believe Trudeau “shares your values.” He’s having a strong year in the polls. But Harper still has a slight edge over both Trudeau and Mulcair on “judgment,” and on “economic management” it was a blowout: 39 per cent prefer Harper to only 20 per cent for Trudeau and 15 per cent for Mulcair.

Trudeau hasn’t the faintest intention of campaigning in the 2015 election with pot legalization as his main plank. But changing deep-seated attitudes toward a party takes time. And because the Liberals took two years to pick a leader after the 2011 elections, Trudeau only has three summers to define himself before facing voters, and he pretty much just blew one.

For much the same reason, I’m not sure Tom Mulcair picked the right issue when he used part of his summer to travel coast-to-coast campaigning for Senate abolition. For reasons explained elsewhere in this issue, Canadians are angry at the Senate right now. That’s not the same as believing any party has the ability, once in power, to do much about it. His Senate tour illustrates a little-noticed difference between Mulcair and his predecessor Jack Layton. Layton came from Toronto city politics. He hadn’t the faintest interest in constitutional tinkering. The NDP stood for abolishing the Senate, as it always had, and Layton never talked about it. Mulcair comes from Quebec provincial politics, where a generation grew up believing that if you have no constitutional scheme to peddle you cannot be serious.

Layton’s prosaic fascination with voters’ kitchen-table preoccupations helped him supplant the Liberals as the first choice for voters eager to block the Conservatives. Next time around that vote will be up for grabs again. Mulcair and Trudeau both plan to try to take Harper’s economic credibility away from him. They haven’t gotten around to it yet, but they believe they have time. Harper’s opponents always believe they have plenty of time.

The Road to Patriation

The Road to Patriation by Robert Duncan

This feature documentary retraces the century of haggling by successive federal and provincial governments to agree on a formula to bring home the Canadian Constitution from England. This film concentrates on the politicking and lobbying that finally led to its patriation in 1982. Five prime ministers had failed before Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau took up the challenge in the early 1970s. Principal players in this documentary are federal Minister of Justice Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister Trudeau, 10 provincial premiers and a host of journalists, politicians, lawyers, and diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic.

This was an incredible documentary to watch.  One of the best things I have seen in the last couple of years.

The lesson the Liberal Party can’t seem to learn

Excellent column by Susan Delacourt

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.

When Cabinet Had the Power

So why don’t we see Prime Minister’s shuffled out any longer?

Ministers are there to front for policy originating in the PMO, and to take the fall when it fails or changes. In a real crisis, a prime minister may choose among several dozen scapegoats.

As in Britain, to some degree, the finance minister (chancellor of the exchequer, in their more elegant style) enjoys some slight independence and prestige. He, alone, cannot be sacked casually.

But that is a function of the national debt, not of any constitutional tradition or other nicety. The country’s credit rating and even consumer confidence require the appearance of a steady hand on the fiscal tiller. A prime minister who exchanged his finance minister every few months for someone a little more plausible and charming would pay for his whimsicality. So would we.

Yet the overall budgetary policy is set from the start, and political adjustments to it (such as stimulus runs) are dictated, from the PMO. It was Jean Chrétien, and not Paul Martin, who decided that something must be done about the deficits, even if it might involve some pain; that in the larger political scheme of things, it would pay off. It was Stephen Harper, and not Jim Flaherty, who decided to resume the “middle course.”

It was Chrétien who cleverly used Martin as his straight man: implicitly allowing him to take the blame for any cuts. That’s how things are done in a PMO-centric universe.

Party discipline in the Commons in turn assures that the prime minister’s decisions stick. A government with a majority and a half-competent chief whip is not going to entertain deviant proposals from its own backbenches, any more than from the opposition’s. That government — i.e. the prime minister and his office staff — will certainly listen, behind closed doors, to political advice from these little people who come from the boondocks. It needs eyes and ears. But they are not there to be negotiated with.

For each of them, in turn, needs the prime minister’s signature on his nomination papers, if he wants to be the party’s candidate again, before an electorate trained to vote party labels. This innovation, designed at minimum to protect the party from the embarrassment of shipping nutjobs aboard, effectively stifled the power of constituency associations. Likewise, party membership meetings can extract from their leader only what he wants to give. Their manifestos mean little during an election campaign, and nothing after.

It is against this background that we view the claims of a member of Parliament to democratic significance. As Pierre Trudeau once said, arrogantly but accurately, “When they are 50 yards from Parliament Hill they are not honourable members, they are just nobodies.” (That’s 45 metres.)

This is not how Parliament was supposed to work, or did work in the ancient past. As recently as 1968, cabinet ministers were often heavy regional warlords. They were selected by prime ministers who had no choice, and could be removed or transferred only with their own co-operation. And before the days of party leadership conventions, a prime minister had to face a cabinet which, if it took a sudden dislike, could turn him out on the street by morning.

We should pine for those days. Read Bagehot to understand what went wrong.

Warren Kinsella on Attawapiskat

Warren Kinsella has a great column on Attawapiskat.

Over the years, I have advised many native bands. I have worked in communities almost as bad as Attawapiskat found in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I have advised successive governments — Jean Chretien’s, Paul Martin’s and Stephen Harper’s — about dealing with problems which are quite similar to Attawapiskat.

As the father to an aboriginal daughter, I was so proud to do that work, but I cannot tell you that I ever succeeded in what I tried to do.

I was a failure.

Now, in respect of our ongoing struggle to assist our aboriginal peoples, every federal government has had moments of which they can be proud. Chretien was, by all accounts, the finest Indian Affairs minister this country has ever seen.

Martin devoted himself to the Kelowna Accord, which would have assisted many native Canadians. Harper’s finest moment — the act which I believe history will always regard as his greatest success — was his apology to, and reparations for, those native children whose lives were destroyed in hellish residential schools.

But all of those governments, too, have ultimately been failures, as they have grappled with the issue that is Canada’s enduring shame — our relationship with those who were here first, the First Nations.

All those prime ministers have tried to prevent future Attawapiskats, and all have been unable to do so.

The blame — because that is what these sad situations typically become, exercises in blame-shifting — does not rest with governments alone. Aboriginal leaders, too, bear much of the responsibility for the ongoing crises faced by some (but by no means all) native communities.

Too often, I have been in reserves where black mould covered every surface, and the house had been condemned, but scores of children could be found living in it, peeking out at me through cracked windows and filthy curtains. While rumours circulated within the reserve about a band member who recently bought a big boat, or a big car.

Reading the paper, trying to understand the Attawapiskat situation, we shake our heads. The federal government only this week put the band in “third party management” — akin to trusteeship in a bankruptcy. But what took them so long?

Why did they pour millions into Attawapiskat for years, and only now decide that there was a problem? It defies sense.

Reading about Attawapiskat, we are reminded that such stories seem to come up all the time.

Two, three, four times a year, someone at a reserve calls up a reporter, and the terrible tales get told.

There is sameness to the stories — and there is sameness to the response.

Fingers get pointed across the aisle, the media write columns like this one, money gets spent, reports get written, and then everyone moves on.

Everyone forgets, until the next Attawapiskat happens.

There’s a understandable temptation, in the midst of stories like this one, to simply throw up our hands and call the problem one without a solution. To give up.

We cannot, cannot, do that. Right now, somewhere not far from where you live, there is a native child who is living in conditions to which you would not subject your dog.

Until we change that, all of us, this is not a country.

Talking Jack

I have never been a big fan of NDP leader Jack Layton but this week just seemed to sum it all up.  Every time I flipped on the news, there was Jack talking up a storm about Stephen Harper’s secret agenda in changing the name of Indian and Northern Affairs to the more politically correct Aboriginal Affairs.  The other highlight of the week was Jack talking about breaking up Canada with a plurality of one vote.  Everyone from Stephane Dion to Rex Murphy had fun with that one and the weird part of it is, the Supreme Court has already ruled that it needed a clear majority for separation to take place.  As Dion pointed out

In its opinion on the secession of Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada mentioned the words "clear majority" at least 13 times and also referred to "the strength of a majority." However, the Court does not encourage us to try setting the threshold of this clear majority in advance: "it will be for the political actors to determine what constitutes ‘a clear majority on a clear question’ in the circumstances under which a future referendum vote may be taken."

I kind of liked Michael Ignatieff but shortly after he promised to bring down the government (which he could not do at that time), when he would come on television and in print all of the time, I found myself saying, “just shut up already”.  It wasn’t that I found him particularly offensive, in fact some of what he was saying was correct, it was just that I was tired of politics already.  That is how I feel right now about Jack Layton.  I just want him to shut up already.  The parliament isn’t in session, I don’t hear a lot from Harper politically and I would love to hear a different tone and just less of Jack Layton.  If he doesn’t, I think a lot of more people than myself will grow tired of him.

There were times when Chretien, Romanow, Wall, and Harper were in opposition when you just never heard from them for short periods of time.  Even Lingenfelter does a good job of dropping off he radar from time to time because I think they know that all of us have other things to worry about (Saskatchewan Roughriders, Stanley Cup playoffs, how large to build my deck at the cabin) that don’t need any political intervention.  Hopefully Jack Layton learns this lesson if for nothing else; the benefit of my summer, unless he wants to help me with my deck.

The Shape of Things To Come

60 Minutes had a feature on the budget crisis’ that are happening at the state level.  Stay with me on this one.

"The most alarming thing about the state issue is the level of complacency," Meredith Whitney, one of the most respected financial analysts on Wall Street and one of the most influential women in American business, told correspondent Steve Kroft

Whitney made her reputation by warning that the big banks were in big trouble long before the 2008 collapse. Now, she’s warning about a financial meltdown in state and local governments.

"It has tentacles as wide as anything I’ve seen. I think next to housing this is the single most important issue in the United States, and certainly the largest threat to the U.S. economy," she told Kroft.

Asked why people aren’t paying attention, Whitney said, "’Cause they don’t pay attention until they have to."

Whitney says it’s time to start.

California, which faces a $19 billion budget deficit next year, has a credit rating approaching junk status. It now spends more money on public employee pensions than it does on the state university system, which had to increase its tuition by 32 percent.

Arizona is so desperate it sold off the state capitol, Supreme Court building and legislative chambers to a group of investors and now leases the buildings from their new owner. The state also eliminated Medicaid funding for most organ transplants.

Then there’s New Jersey. It has the highest taxes in the country, a $10 billion deficit and a depressed economy when first-year Governor Chris Christie took office. But after looking at the books, he decided to walk away from a long-planned and much-needed project with New York and the federal government to build a rail tunnel into Manhattan. It would have helped the economy and given employment to 6,000 construction workers.

Gov. Christie acknowledged that’s a lot of jobs. "I cancelled it. I mean, listen, the bottom line is I don’t have the money. And you know what? I can’t pay people for those jobs if I don’t have the money to pay them. Where am I getting the money? I don’t have it. I literally don’t have it."
Asked if this is going on all over the country, Christie told Kroft, "Yes. Of course it is. It’s not like you can avoid it forever, ’cause it’s here now. And we all know it’s here. And the federal government doesn’t have the money to paper over it anymore, either, for the states. The day of reckoning has arrived. That’s it. And it’s gonna arrive everywhere. Timing will vary a little bit, depending upon which state you’re in, but it’s comin’."

And nowhere has the reckoning been as bad as it is in Illinois, a state that spends twice much as it collects in taxes and is unable to pay its bills.

"This is the state of affairs in Illinois. Is not pretty," Illinois state Comptroller Dan Hynes told Kroft.

Hynes is the state’s paymaster. He currently has about $5 billion in outstanding bills in his office and not enough money in the state’s coffers to pay them. He says they’re six months behind.

"How many people do you have clamoring for money?" Kroft asked.

"It’s fair to say that there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people waiting to be paid by the state," Hynes said.
Asked how these people are getting by considering they’re not getting paid by the state, Hynes said, "Well, that’s the tragedy. People borrow money. They borrow in order to get by until the state pays them."

"They’re subsidizing the state. They’re giving the state a float," Kroft remarked.

"Exactly," Hynes agreed.

"And who do you owe that money to?" Kroft asked.

"Pretty much anybody who has any interaction with state government, we owe money to," Hynes said.

That would include everyone from the University of Illinois, which is owed $400 million, to small businessmen like Mayur Shah, who owns a pharmacy in Chicago and has been waiting months for $200,000 in Medicaid payments. Then there are the 2,000 not-for-profit organizations that are owed a billion dollars by the state.

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois has been around since 1867 and provides critical services to 70,000 people, mostly the elderly, the disabled, and the mentally ill. The state owed them $9 million just before Thanksgiving, and they nearly had to close up shop.

Asked how long his organization can go on like this, Rev. Denver Bitner, the president of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, told Kroft, "Well, we wonder that too because we really don’t know."

He says they were forced to tap their entire line of credit and all their cash reserves before the state would finally pay them as a hardship case.
"It has to be that you’ve sold off all your assets, you have borrowed from everybody that you can borrow from, and then, we’ll think about it," Rev. Bitner explained.

And according to Bitner, that’s even though the state owes his organization the money.

"The first words out of my mouth are usually an apology, because they have been you know put in this situation, that is really unacceptable. And you know there is very little I can do or say other than apologize," Comptroller Dan Hynes said.

It’s not just the social safety net that Hynes has to worry about: there have been Illinois legislators that have been evicted from their offices because the state didn’t pay their rent, and stories about state troopers being turned away from gas stations because the owners refused to take their state credit cards.

"The state’s a deadbeat," Kroft remarked.

"Yeah. I mean, the state of Illinois is known as a deadbeat state. This is a reputation that has taken us years to earn and we’ve reached, you know, the heights of, I think, becoming the worst in the country," Hynes said.

In the early 1990s, Saskatchewan was on the verge of bankruptcy because the Grant Devine governments of 1982-1991 would not curb government spending and the deficit for a province under a million people grew to over one billion dollars.  The incoming NDP government of Roy Romanow was more pragmatist than idealistic and spent almost a decade trying to get the province on solid financial footings.  That journey was documented in the book Minding the Public Purse by the Hon. Janice MacKinnon, who was the Finance Minister during the most of the cuts.  Like I said, it was a decade of austerity.  There was funding cuts to healthcare, almost no building on the University of Saskatchewan or University of Regina campuses, a higher number of students in classrooms, longer waiting lists, rural hospitals closing, decaying highways, and it was really a lost decade.  Yes Saskatchewan did grow a bit during this time but with our financial house in disarray, growth was hard.

MacKinnon talks about how close Saskatchewan was to defaulting on it’s loans.  With the precarious state of the Canadian economy (pre-Chretien and Martin), there was some legitimate concerns that this could lead to an IMF bailout and intervention.  Luckily it never came to that but it did mean higher tuitions, higher taxes, more fees, a lot of lost opportunities that we are just now seeing as a province.

What’s scary is that the deficit numbers coming out of the U.S. states are worse and for all intents and purposes, the US economy is soon going to be in as bad or as worse shape as the Canadian economy was in the early 1990s.  I keep looking at the debt crisis that is swamping the EU economies and I can’t help but wonder until how long it is that you see places like Michigan, Illinois, and California needing massive financial bailouts.  Good grief, California has even looked at dissolving as a state and becoming a territory again (I don’t think it was a serious option).

How many lost decade will the United States go through to pay for wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the greed of the banks?  It took over a decade to recover from Vietnam and the state and cities economies weren’t in such tough shape.  This could either take decades or it could be the start of the long decline of the United States as a economic power.

The good news is that from Saskatchewan and Alberta’s experience is that as voters, we understood that it had to be done.  Whether it was the right wing Ralph Klein in Alberta or the centre-left Roy Romanow in Saskatchewan, we knew it had to be done and as a whole, we stood by them as they did the heavy lifting and hard cutting.  The  bad news for many states is that Saskatchewan has a natural inclination to support the NDP and Alberta has a natural inclination to vote Progressive Conservative which means that during the tough times, the provinces returned (or in Alberta’s case, they only ever elect Conservatives) what they knew and trusted during rough times.  If you don’t have you could have a series of one term administrations that moved from spend to cut to spend to cut for short term partisan advantage which could derail or destroy the entire process.  Too make spending cuts that are needed, you need a really strong majority which is not a strength of the American system which features a lot more checks and balances.

I can’t see many states turning themselves around.

Preston Manning was right

According to Warren Kinsella anyways

The second lesson of that historic night is this: As long as the Bloc Québecois exists – and as long as vote-rich Ontario remains split between Tories, Grits and New Democrats – no party will be able to win a majority in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is closest to realizing that dream, of course. Two of the three recently-announced by-elections in Ontario and Manitoba will likely result in Conservative wins – placing Harper a wee bit nearer to a Parliamentary majority.

But in a general election, seasoned observers expect Harper will lose most of his 11 Quebec seats. And no one expects he will be able to offset that in the way that Chretien did – namely, by winning virtually every single one of Ontario’s 106 Commons seats.

And so, we will continue to get what we’ve got: A Conservative Party on the cusp of majority power, and a Liberal Party that has a much greater way to go. With the separatist Bloc, and a splintered Ontario electorate, standing in the way of the aspirations of both.

Harper’s temptation, perhaps, might be to do what Chrétien did: Hug the centre, and jettison his opposition to things like the long-gun registry, same-sex marriage and liberal immigration rules. In that way, he might attract enough urban youthful and female voters — the ones that have so far eluded him.

But in doing so, Harper knows he risks blowing apart the Conservative coalition in the way Brian Mulroney did — driving Westerners back into a Reform-style option, and Central and Atlantic Canadians back to a Progressive Conservative model. So he’s stuck.

Preston ManningIf I remember correctly, Mannings idea for forming the Reform Party (that’s Refoooooooooooooooorm Party for you old Manning supporters out there) was that he felt that Canada’s political scene was going to disintegrate into regional parties.  Libs and the PCs in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, Bloc (or something like the PQ) in Quebec, and the NDP chipping away votes all over the place which would make it really hard for someone to win enough support to get a majority.  Chretien may be the exception that proved the rule in that he won Ontario so handily and was strong enough in Quebec and eastern Canada to win three straight majorities.  To counter Chretien’s strength, Manning tried to create a national party while it’s membership wanted to keep everything that make the Reform Party unattractive to Ontario and Quebec voters so we have the stalemate that we have now and probably will have until the NDP and Liberals can cobble together a stable coalition government that doesn’t include the Bloc.

So much for the Chretien way in the United Kingdom

I know Canada had a slightly smaller deficit than the United Kingdom’s – It was 9.1% or 39bn Canadian dollars versus a U.K. deficit of 11.5% or £156bn but these cuts proposed by David Cameron are mind boggling.

Look at these numbers

During his address to MPs, it was clear that few government departments have been spared.

The national health service, pre-university education and international development budgets will be protected from the cuts — but the policing budget will fall by four per cent each year. The Justice Ministry must cut its budget by six per cent per year, but funding for fighting terrorism would be maintained.

The Foreign Office will see a 24 per cent budget cut and the British Broadcasting Corp. will be required to take on the full cost of running the world service.

Welfare funding will also be reduced and the minimum age for people seeking state pensions will be raised earlier than previously expected.

Osborne said that even the Queen would be affected, as the royal household budget will be cut by 14 per cent over four years.

In addition to these cuts, social housing is cut by 50% and the English military is being cut back to the point where even the United States is worried about it and it wasn’t exactly flush with cash before.

As a result, it will be virtually impossible for the UK to offer any meaningful military assistance to the U.S. in the future. The overstretched and under-equipped Ministry of Defense can barely function as it is. The major shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan is now well established, with a parliamentary committee reporting last year that the lack of helicopters was having “adverse consequences” for Britain. Up to two-thirds of the Apache attack helicopter fleet has been described by the Ministry of Defense as “unfit for purpose.” Last July, a plan to severely diminish the threat of Taliban improvised explosives devices (IEDs) – responsible for more NATO troop deaths than any other tactic – was scrapped due to insufficient troop numbers and helicopters. A month later, British soldiers were forced to protect the remains of a senior officer killed by a roadside bomb for three days before a helicopter was available to collect his body.

The shortages-problem is endemic. A lack of heavily armored vehicles meant two soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Army doctors lack basic equipment, such as surgical tools. A coroner at an inquest into the deaths of two soldiers in Afghanistan labeled the Ministry of Defense’s inability to provide basic equipment “unforgivable and inexcusable.” Four soldiers killed this year in Helmand did not have enough metal detectors available to trace bombs, and soldiers are even forced to dye their own uniforms due to a lack of camouflaged shirts.

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette puts it…

As part of the plan, 20,000 British forces will withdraw from their post-World War II-era bases in Germany by 2020, and overall, British troops and civilian defense personnel will be slashed by 42,000.

The equipment cuts, including early decommissioning of the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier, will force Britain to forfeit its ability to launch fighter jets from sea until at least 2019. The fleets of Harrier fighter jets are being eliminated. The planned Nimrod MRA4 Reconnaissance aircraft, previously billed by the Royal Air Force as a "significant contribution" to the fight against terrorism, is also being scrapped.

In total, over 500,000 public sector jobs could be lost.

It’s interesting to see that while the Chretien spending cuts hit all departments, they weren’t as deep.

Mr Chretien used the phrase "nothing off the table".

By contrast, Mr Cameron has already pledged to ring-fence the education, health and international aid budgets.

With extensive cuts to healthcare and education spending at the very centre of Canada’s deficit reduction work, many Canadian economists argue that it could not have been successful if they had been excluded.

The impact was, however, severe.

Dark days ahead for a lot of people in the United Kingdom.  The next couple of years won’t be a lot of fun.

The Secretive Summer Tour of Michael Ignatieff

So apparently Michael Ignatieff is on some kind of summer tour.  Since there are not a lot of Liberals in Saskatchewan, I figured he would head to the home riding of Ralph Goodale but no, he came to Saskatoon today.  I had hoped to take Mark along and give him a taste of national politics but when I looked at the interactive Liberal map, it gave no clue of where the events were other than it was a barbecue.

The Secretive Summer Tour of Michael Ignatieff

I checked out SaskLiberal.ca but there was nothing there either.

The Secretive Summer Tour of Michael Ignatieff

Even newly nominated star Liberal candidate Darren Hill doesn’t have the information on his Facebook page.

image

I have tried to sign up for Liberal Party e-mail updates before from the Sask Liberals but they are so inconsistent that I don’t know if I have been dropped from them or not.  All I know is that I wanted to hear Michael Ignatieff speak, I wanted to bring my ten year old son out to hear him speak (who is the same age I was when I started to help out on campaigns) and I was thwarted by Team Ignatieff.

I am left with one of four options. 

  1. The turnout for Ignatieff was so great in Saskatoon that they were afraid that if Mark and I were there, it would cause the already saturated Saskatoon soil to turn to quicksand.
  2. Things are going so well for the Liberals in Saskatoon that they don’t need anymore support of voters.
  3. The advance people and organizers in Saskatoon are simply going through the motions.
  4. Going to a city with no visible signs of Liberal grassroots support, rather than visiting Ralph Goodale’s riding was a big mistake.  Of course with how this tour is going, perhaps the Goodale team was content to watch this from afar.

During the last federal campaign, the campaign was three weeks old before the Liberal Party website had the name of my local Liberal candidate.  The same thing happened tour wise with Stephane Dion.  Several times he came to Saskatoon and I only heard of it after he left.  I should not have to work at finding out or have to beg to be told when a party leader is coming to Saskatoon for a public event.  Considering this was a party that ran great candidates and won seats under Jean Chretien, I find myself at a loss at how poorly they are organized in the province right now.  I have a feeling that if some more adults were in charge of things in Ottawa, this would not be happening.   Even the Saskatchewan Liberal leader’s Twitter account (that is advertised everywhere on their site) doesn’t actually have any Saskatchewan politics on it.  Somebody do something quick before environmentalists have to resort to finding Liberals somewhere else in the country and reintroduce them back into Saskatchewan after they have become extinct. 

The Long Gun Registry

M1 Rifle

At work, there is only one thing I really, really am afraid of.  It’s that someone will sneak a gun into the Centre.  Two springs ago I got a phone call from the Centre that the police thought a client had snuck a gun into the Centre.  We ripped the place apart looking for one (and never found one). 

We have had gun violence on our street where we live and I work in a section of town that has a large gang presence and the fewer guns that exist in Saskatoon, the better.  The sound of gun shots in the city is a horrifying one.  Canada has long severely limited the ownership and transportation of hand guns and I completely agree with them.

This summer at Arlington Beach we heard gun shots several times.  It is a different sound in rural Saskatchewan.  While it is an unexpected sound, it isn’t alarming, even when realizing that the gun shots came from a couple of teenagers (who later walked by with their rifles after a [hopefully productive] evening of shooting skunks and other rodents).

In rural Saskatchewan, long guns are tools.  One Sunday afternoon while visiting friends on their farm, our friends excused herself, walked out on the deck and shot a coyote who was part of a pack that was killing their family dogs.  It’s part of rural life and people have an unusual attachment to their guns… quite honestly because in a lot of families, they are both rights of passage into adulthood and family heirlooms.  They aren’t just tools, they are a way of life.

Part of the problem with the Canadian long gun registry was the opponents of it, turned the registry from a database where guns would be registered into a database where the government was just tracking your guns to be seized at a later date.  During the debate, every small town gas station bulletin board had a poster on it about how the evil Liberal government was going to international conferences about the abolition of firearms.  For all I know, the government may have been speaking out against abolishing all firearms but that wasn’t the message.  In western Canada where the Liberal Party’s infrastructure is almost non-existent, it was the only message that was heard.

Of course I have never heard anyone explain how a long gun registry was going to make Canada safer.  A .22 isn’t the weapon of choice for the gangs in Toronto and for the cases where a long gun was used, would the fact that the gun was registered ever change anything?  Even the Auditor General wonders if it is effective

The performance report focuses on activities such as issuing licenses and registering firearms. The Centre does not show how these activities help minimize risks to public safety with evidence-based outcomes such as reduced deaths, injuries and threats from firearms.

The head of the Ontario Provincial Police said this.

We have an ongoing gun crisis including firearms-related homicides lately in Toronto, and a law registering firearms has neither deterred these crimes nor helped us solve any of them. None of the guns we know to have been used were registered, although we believe that more than half of them were smuggled into Canada from the United States. The firearms registry is long on philosophy and short on practical results considering the money could be more effectively used for security against terrorism as well as a host of other public safety initiatives."

Well it does change how the police deal with emergencies and routine police calls.  Police departments frequently use the Canadian Firearms Registry data base to allow police officers to check if a residence or property might contain a registered firearm before responding to a call. The Canadian Firearms Centre says police make more than 13,000 queries to the system each week. In a Canada Firearms Centre (CAFC) survey, 92% of general duty police officers stated that they use the system.

As an article in MacLeans points out

So I asked the RCMP, who were made responsible for the Canadian Firearms Program back in 2006, and they provided up-to-date statistics. In 2008, police across Canada used their computer systems, often terminals right in their patrol cars, to pull information from the Canadian Firearms Registry On-line over 9,400 times a day.

That adds up to a staggering 3,438,729 queries from police officers last year. It’s hard to imagine a federal database more intensively mined.

I asked a veteran officer in an informal conversation to explain how the system is typically used. He said a cop called to domestic dispute will routinely conduct a quick computer check to see if there is a licensed gun owner at that address, and find out exactly what guns are registered there.

It’s not hard to imagine how discovering that a resident owns a single hunting rifle might suggest one thing to an officer; finding out the man causing the disturbance possesses several exotic weapons would indicate something else again.

Police also use the registry to conduct so-called reverse checks; in cases where they recover a gun, perhaps from a crime scene, they check on who is the registered owner. Those in favour of scrapping the so-called long gun registry make a point of stressing that, even without it, police would still be able to check out who has a license to own guns. But that wouldn’t be any help when the cops are working to trace the ownership of a specific firearm that turns up in an investigation.

A few statistics help round out the picture of how the online data is used. Police most often plug a name into the system to find out if that person is a licensed gun owner and what registered guns the individual owns. They made that sort of query more than 2 million times last year, so often that this has obviously become very basic step in Canadian police work.

They want to know if when dealing with a guy who has had too much to drink, threatening his neighbors, and is screaming and yelling at his spouse has a gun before he or she pulls it out on them.  As MPs vote to abolish the long gun registry this week, they seem to be playing more politics than looking at police safety.

In an annual report from Canada’s Firearms Commissioner prepared by the RCMP, police said they used the registry more than 2.5 million times in 2007.

But Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has not made the report public.

"Canadians don’t need another report to know that the long-gun registry is very efficient at harassing law-abiding farmers and outdoors enthusiasts, while wasting billions of taxpayer dollars," Van Loan’s office said in a release Wednesday.

A 2006 study by the auditor general found that eliminating the long-gun portion of the registry would only save taxpayers about $3 million a year.

Christmas Gift Ideas for the Emotionally Distant Father

A friend of mine/arch-nemesis has drawn her father and father-in-law for this year’s Christmas celebration and demanded a Christmas gift guide for them.  While I am generally compliant towards requests from friends who have incriminating stories about me, this one is a hard one as I don’t have a relationship with my dad * and I don’t have a lot of use for my father-in-law so I am at a bit of a loss.  While I had to laugh at the label emotionally distant father, the problem with too many dads out there is that they don’t exactly excel at communicating what they want for Christmas.  If you have to shop for one, we feel for you.

Lucky for all of us, we do buy Christmas gifts for some hard to buy for people who are fathers and here are some of the ideas that I have come up with over the last couple of years.

Books/DVDs

  • Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics by Warren Kinsella :: If you dad talks about politics all of the time and thinks he knows more than Mike Duffy but in reality has the same leadership instincts as Stephane Dion, maybe it is time to help your dad sound more knowledgeable.  This is awesome on a couple of levels.  First of all it will raise the level of political discussion in your house but if you dad lives in rural Alberta, he will have to explain to his friends why he has a book prominently displayed by the Prince of Darkness and how he is worried his child has become a liberal.
  • Jean Chretien: My Years as Prime Minister While we are talking politics and tweaking dad a bit, I suggest you pick up either a copy of Brian Mulroney’s autobiography or Jean Chretien’s autobiography.  Which one you give him, depends on how he votes.  If he votes Conservative and has a Joe Clark tattoo, give him Jean Chretien’s autobiography.  If he has campaign photos of him and Pierre Trudeau from 1968, you get him the Mulroney autobiography but you do it with a straight face… and then when all of the gifts are given out, pull out the book he wanted from beneath the tree.  If you are American, substitute the book Sarah Palin paid someone else to write for her or something about the Kennedy’s.
  • The War by Ken Burns on DVD and The War: An Intimate History.  The DVD is a masterpiece and I enjoy it every time it comes on television but the book is special in it’s own way.  It moves between the big picture of the war and the intimate details of the conflict with ease and despite telling the same story as the the mini series, has a much different feel.
  • Some books on the War in Iraq.  I recommend Fiasco or the Gamble by Thomas E. Ricks or The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army by Greg Jaffe.  All three books are great.
  • Band of Brothers (book) by Stephen Ambrose :: The men of E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, volunteered for this elite fighting force because they wanted to be the best in the army–and avoid fighting alongside unmotivated, out-of-shape draftees. The price they paid for that desire was long, arduous, and sometimes sadistic training, followed by some of the most horrific battles of World War II.  Yes the mini-series is great but this book is even better and is one of the best books on World War II that I have ever read.   If he already has Band of Brothers, he may also like Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany by Ambrose as well.  A skillful blending of eyewitness accounts (gathered mostly from the oral history collection at the Univ. of New Orleans’s Eisenhower Center and from personal interviews) gives the reader an intimate feel of what war was like for infantrymen in the European theater of operations–from the beaches of France to victory at the Elbe River.
  • Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes.  While Rhodes won the Pullitzer for The Making of the Atomic Bomb, I found this book to be even better.  Both of these books are epic endeavors of research and writing telling the story of how America started the nuclear arms race, the concerns of the scientists (and why they did it), how the Russians were desperate to find out, and the politics behind it.  All of those topics could be books by themselves and once put together, form the foundation of a couple of truly remarkable books.
  • The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson :: You can read my review of it here.  If your dad in an inventor or just loves to read an engaging story of history, this is an excellent choice for your dad as he takes a break from puttering around in the shop while working on his doomsday device and avoiding the to-do list your mother made for him.

Gadgets for Dad

  • Red AA battery magliteMagLite :: Every man needs their own flashlight.  At the cabin we have a million flashlights, some headlights and battery powered lanterns but everyone wants to use mine.  Mark got me a Maglite for my birthday last year and I can finally say, “Hands off, go drain the battery on someone else’s flashlight.”  Dads enjoy being territorial and petty once in a while, especially with a cool flashlight.
  • Olivetti Manual Typewriter :: The last manual typewriter in production and the perfect tool for dad to write out his autobiography, love notes to your mother or he could just set it up in the living room to pound out a couple of notes to the grandkids who will totally miss out on the fact that their note was written on a manual typewriter.  The other positive that unlike his laptop, DVD player, and home theatre system, he won’t need you to come over and fix this when it breaks.
  •  Numark TTi USB Turntable with iPod Dock Numark TTi USB Turntable with iPod Dock :: There is a good chance that your dad has some old school music sitting in his closet that he lovingly looks at but has no idea how to play his Best of Olivia Newton John records let alone get them on the iPod that you gave him last Christmas.  This should kill two birds at once.  The bad news is that his old records have found a second life and we aren’t sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing but that’s your problem, not mine.
  • Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones Since we are talking about your dad’s bad taste in music, why not give him a nice set of headphones.  Not just any set of headphones but some noise cancelling headphones.  They have long been a must have for frequent fliers but even for those of you whose dad isn’t flying to Toronto every week, they reduces unwanted ambient noise by 87.4%, providing a quieter environment to enhance his listening experience.
  • 23 and Me :: They send you a kit, you spit into a tube and send it back.  They analyze the DNA in your saliva, then tell you about your genetic ancestry, and your susceptibility to genetically linked medical conditions.  If you have a genetically linked condition, you also will know who to blame.
  • Atari 2600 Flashback 2 :: Okay, so your dad’s gaming skills started to fall behind when the Colecovision came out but don’t hold that against him and let him reconnect with the games of yesteryear and get him a vintage game system. It features the same wood grain paneling and look of the Atari 2600, and will capture the feel through two classic joysticks for multi-player competition and vintage controls. The system comes pre-loaded with over 30 classic games. No new purchases are required, just connect it to your TV and play! The system that brought you hits like Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Lunar Lander, Millipede, Missile Command, Combat and Pong now has them all collected on one handy system.

Outdoors

  • The Blue Pod The Pod :: If dad has a camera, he probably has a tripod or two.  If he likes to take photographs out of the house and doesn’t like the hassle of finding the perfect place for his mount, the Pod could be a great option.  Basically it is what happens when you combine a camera mount with a bean bag.  While you are at it, why not get dad a new digital camera?
  • Your dad probably has an old camcorder kicking around but new camcorders like the Kodak Zi8 are so much easier to use.  If you have grandkids, give one of these to dad, set him up on YouTube and let him go crazy or let him film himself out in the wilderness as a Les Stroud wanna be.  He will be amazed at how easy and how high quality Kodak’s camera is.
  • Leatherman :: While most men want one, it is a lot of money to shell out for a multi tool but a the same time it is a iconic brand and tool that your dad will appreciate it as a gift.  While you are at it, toss in a copy of Les Stroud’s book, Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere or the SAS Survival Handbook.  If dad isn’t likely to read, pick up all three seasons of Survivorman instead.
  • Labatt Stubby Beer Bottle Weber Go Anywhere Grill :: Dad probably already has a kick butt grill at home but this is perfect for bringing to the beach or over to your place when you don’t feel like firing up the grill yourself.  It’s also charcoal which will bring back good memories for your father of a time when he could afford to go to NHL games, drank stubby beers, and his sideburns were a fashion statement rather than the foundation for his comb-over.  While you are at it, toss in a cookbook or two about cooking with charcoal to refresh his memory on how to do it.

* The last time I bought a Christmas gift for my dad, I called his wife and asked what she was getting him.  The answer was a Dodge Viper.  I seriously said, “Err, a model one?”  It wasn’t.  So we had my $40.00 gift and her $100,000.00 gift.  I felt like a tool.

You can find more Christmas gift ideas here.  If you have any other suggestions or comments, let me know in the comments.

Tories fight back on Kinsella lawsuit

The Canadian Press is reporting that the Tories are fighting back against Warren Kinsella’s lawsuit.

The Conservatives sued the Liberals last year to silence allegations relating to an alleged $1-million life insurance offer for the vote of Independent MP Chuck Cadman.

But the party now says the cut and thrust of political discourse shouldn’t be silenced by lawsuits.

I am not a judge but when I read the press release, I saw them trying to link Kinsella to the ad-scam scandal and apparently Warren and his lawyers agreed.  I am not a big lawsuit kind of guy but if I was in his situation, I think I would sue as well.

For me the article is interesting because no matter what the outcome, the Tories lose.

If the Tories win the lawsuit and even if they humiliate Warren Kinsella so badly, his wife and family all take out Conservative Party membership cards, they are still seen as mean spirited against someone who has a personal relationship with the Prime Minister.  Plus, if they had read his book, Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics, they should have realized that Warren Kinsella is not the target politically (see 2000 General Election – The Canadian Alliance ran a website attacking Warren Kinsella but forgot that he wasn’t running for elected office) but Michael Ignatieff and to a lesser extent, Jack Layton is.

If Warren Kinsella wins, the Tories are still seen as trying to smear a Liberal strategist and taking a shot at a Chretien loyalist.  On top of that, they are out some money that is now going to be spent keeping a VW Beatle on the road (another example of the Economic Action Plan at work) or taking W@AL on a Western Canadian road trip. The other thing that those in the that bunker could learn, many us across Canada like Jean Chretien (who had a pretty good record in both general elections and with the economy).  I am not sure if they want to keep attacking him on the basis of his service to him.

If you have read Thomas E. Ricks‘ excellent book Fiasco, he makes the compelling point that many top American generals don’t know the difference between tactical thinking and strategic thinking which is why Iraq turned so badly so quickly.  Ricks uses the illustration of taking out a sniper with tanks and heavy artillery.  It was a clear tactical victory as you would need DNA samples to identify the body.  Yet at the same time there was all of the collateral damage to the community and neighborhood around them.  In winning each tactical battle, they were losing the war.  Politics is a lot like that.  I know Carville says that you have to respond to each charge made against you but you also have to keep your eyes on the big picture and that is winning the hearts and minds of Canadians.

The Conservatives risk doing the same thing.  They have a reputation for being mean spirited and partisan and you can’t be really partisan without coming across as being small minded.  That may be fine in some election campaigns but look around, people really suffered during this recession.  I want my government to take care of the economy, not call Warren Kinsella names.  If they do let a young staffer too close to the fax machine (it happens), then I want them to apologize, not try to spin things in more bizarre ways.  When you govern (and you want to continue to govern), you need to cut back on the Amp Energy Drink, take some time off from the Conservative War Room and maybe read, take up photography, walk the dog, and maybe take a road trip to the places in Ontario which have been hit hardest by the recession and listen to their stories.  Then decide if you need to be attacking Warren Kinsella, fighting him in court, or settling and then taking care of more important business.

Update: Apparently the Tories aren’t taking my advice and are planning to run ads attacking the Ignatieff family summer home in France.  Lay off small family cabins already!