- After Nigel Wright and then Ben Perrin’s testimony at the Mike Duffy trial, I am pretty confident that Stephen Harper was lying about not knowing about the payment. The plausible deniability seems less plausible every day. Or as Andrew Coyne sarcastically suggests, maybe Stephen Harper is a victim in all of this.
- Far more Liberal lawn signs visible in Saskatoon since 1993 when Jean Chretien swept to power. In many ways the shift to the Liberals has to be really good for the Conservatives as I think this comes from historic NDP vote. That being said, I still think Saskatoon West goes to the NDP.
- The interesting race may be Saskatoon Grasswoods and Saskatoon University. Kevin Waugh has been really quiet so far while everyone is asking where Brad Trost is. Trost doesn’t even have a website (although he has a web domain that goes nowhere). It’s early but the Conservatives could go 0-3 in the city.
- I also found it weird that Jason Kenney was in town last night for a fundraiser for Donauer and Block only and not for the east side candidates.
- I watched Antarctic Edge: Beyond the Ice last night which is on the rapid global warming that is happening in Antarctica right now. Winter sea ice has declined by three months and temperatures have increased by 11 degrees Fahrenheit, six times greater than the global average. Yet the NDP and the Liberals seem nervous about talking about it. Maybe it is an acknowledgement that Canada is indeed what most of the world is calling us, a petro-state (or to throw it back to the 80s; PetroCanada). Our entire country has become tied to oil and gas revenue. To tackle climate change in a serious way, it would cause a serious disruption to the Canadian economy and throw hundreds of thousands out of work. In a day and age where the “middle class” is king politically, no one wants to take a stand that would hurt them, even if it hurts the globe.
- Interesting interview on The Current with John Ibbitson. It’s worth the 20 minutes to listen to it. You may even want to listen to it again.
- In some way I feel sorry for the political staffers who have to create election material and use stock photos. They have no budget and are under time constraints and it never turns out well. Never ever turns out well.
- This won’t come up in the election but I tend to give Stephen Harper a pass for messed up military procurement, especially when the Americans who do it better than we do, also have their struggles.
- Whoever wins, is going to have a tougher go with the Canadian economy. Oil prices are to stay depressed for another two years.
- The NDP minimum wage hike makes claims that it can’t back up. Hey, a NDP populist economic policy that makes no sense, what a surprise.
- Of course neither leader has the courage to wade into Saskatchewan’s most pressing issue, what’s wrong with the Roughriders?
Iâ€™ve never met Nigel Wright, and all I know of him is what Iâ€™ve read. But after consuming the 80-page, minutely detailed RCMP document released Wednesday, I have to say I sympathize with the guy. He comes across in the document just as his defenders have described him: capable, dedicated, â€œa person of good faith, of competence, with high ethical standards,â€ as Jason Kenney put it. You get the impression of a man who found himself in a ratâ€™s nest, and tried to keep one of the rats from destroying himself. Instead, he got destroyed too.
Thatâ€™s not the sentiment youâ€™re supposed to have towards Stephen Harperâ€™s former chief of staff. Youâ€™re supposed to denounce him as the Machiavellian hand behind the dark and devious manipulations that helped bring a corrupt Senate to public disgrace. His great sin, personally paying off $90,000 in expense claims made by Mike Duffy, was a monumental mistake. But you can understand how he got there after months of maddening efforts to achieve what must have seemed a simple quest: getting Duffy to repay the $90,000 heâ€™d claimed in inappropriate housing and other expenses.
From the start, Wright doesnâ€™t think Duffy has broken any laws. The Senate rules on â€œprimaryâ€ residence are such that Duffy may be able to justify a claim that, legally, heâ€™s done nothing wrong. â€œIâ€¦believe that Mike was doing what people told him he should do, without thinking about it too much,â€ he relates in one message. But Wright is convinced itâ€™s a clear ethical breach and Duffy is morally bound to repay the money. Itâ€™s getting the senator to admit as much that causes the headaches.
In an interview with RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton, who headed the investigation and prepared the exhaustive outline, Wright reveals that since joining the Prime Ministerâ€™s Office he hasnâ€™t filed a single expense claim, paying all his flights, hotels, meals and other costs from his own pocket. It has already cost him tens of thousands of dollars, but, thanks to his corporate career, he can afford it, and, Horton writes, â€œit is his global view and contribution to public policy that taxpayers not bear the cost of his position if he can legitimately afford to fund it himself.â€ He gives the same reason for his fatal decision to write a cheque to cover Duffyâ€™s expenses, after concluding Duffy legitimately didnâ€™t have the money: â€œHe did not view it as something out of the norm for him to do, and was part of being a good person. He said it was a personal decision, and he did not want a lot of people to know about it.â€
Fascinating read. Â You have a sympathetic figure in Nigel Wright, the devious and self serving Mike Duffy and then the rather incompetent Senate. Â No wonder why Harper wants is abolished. Â They can’t even execute a scandal right.
Government backbenchers attacked MP Brent Rathgeber, who quit the caucus last week after saying the Conservatives have â€œmorphed into what we have once mocked.â€
Within 24 hours of Mr. Rathgeberâ€™s (Edmonton-St. Albert, Alta.) exit from the Conservative caucus, members of the governmentâ€™s backbenches began to take aim at the now Independent MP by disputing his comments and questioning his professionalism.
â€œHe canâ€™t get along with people in the sandbox,â€ said Tory MP Greg Rickford (Kenora, Ont.), Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. â€œBrent spoke for himself. Heâ€™s always been that way. As a provincial legislator he couldnâ€™t get along with people.â€
Mr. Rickford told The Hill Times that he â€œdidnâ€™t appreciateâ€ statements made by Mr. Rathgeber following the announcement of his resignation late last Wednesday evening.
Mr. Rathgeber announced his resignation from the Conservative caucus on June 5 on Twitter, hours after the Conservative-dominated House Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics Committee amended his private memberâ€™s bill, Bill C-461, which would have required the annual salaries of public servants in excess of $188,000 to be made public. Conservative members of the committee raised the disclosure threshold to $444,000.
This amendment, dubbed by Mr. Rathgeber as â€œthe proverbial straw that broke the camelâ€™s back,â€ led the Alberta MP to announce his resignation from Conservative caucus late Wednesday night.
The morning after announcing his resignation from the Tory caucus, Mr. Rathgeber wrote on his blog that the â€œGovernmentâ€™s lack of support for my transparency bill is tantamount to a lack of support for transparency and open government generally.â€
On his blog, Mr. Rathgeber wrote that the $188,000 salary was a compromise itself, and noted that various provinces have â€œsunshine lawsâ€ that disclose the names and departments of individuals that make upwards of $100,000.
â€œEven setting the benchmark significantly higher than any of the provinces that maintain â€˜Sunshine Listsâ€™ was apparently not supportable by a Cabinet intent on not disclosing how much it pays its senior advisors,â€ wrote Mr. Rathgeber.
He also identified the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Stephen Harperâ€™s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) former chief of staff Nigel Wright, and the $90,000 cheque Mr. Wright gave to Senator Mike Duffy to cover ineligible expense claims as a contributing factor to his decision to leave the Conservative caucus.
â€œWe have morphed into what we have once mocked,â€ he wrote.
Mr. Rathgeber ended the scathing blog post by writing, â€œI no longer recognize much of the party that I joined and whose principles (at least on paper), I still believe in. Accordingly, since I can no longer stand with them, I must now stand alone.â€
In a press conference following his arrival in Edmonton on June 6, Mr. Rathgeber blasted PMO staffers for controlling MPs as though they were â€œtrained seals,â€ although he said he supported Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.).
First of all Rathgeber is totally right. Â Backbench MPs are trained seals which means that many talented people will not choose to run for office because they don’t want to have every speech vetted by the PMO and have no input in on government decisions ever. Â
Then you get a cycle were because talented people aren’t interested in becoming MPs so you are left with many MPs from both parties who are minor league quality which of course requires more PMO oversight which then discourages competent people to run. Â Eventually you get to a situation where trained seals could do the job of many MPs as long as they can sign off on the ten percenters.
The reason why people got upset with Rathgeber is because it hit close to home. Â That and the PMO told them to be upset. Â Then it gave them a fish as a reward.
The fact is that, over the past three months, Harperâ€™s agenda has featured more so-called distractions than anything else.
Creaky wheels in the PMO and in the cabinet; cracks in caucus solidarity and public opinion turbulence have become hallmarks of the ongoing federal season.
Finance Minister Jim Flahertyâ€™s 2013 budget played to tepid reviews. He has been battling a painful illness. In the lead-up to a mid-term shuffle there has been unprecedented speculation as to his future role in the government.
For different reasons, outgoing Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney and former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright â€” who both played strategic roles on Harperâ€™s economic watch â€” are simultaneously out of the picture.
For the first time since Harper became leader, some elements of the religious right have waged open war on his leadership. That comes on the heels of a public collision between the prime ministerâ€™s parliamentary lieutenants and the social conservative wing of his caucus over the abortion issue. That clash has morphed into a larger internal battle over the democratic rights of government MPs.
An early attempt to clip the wings of Justin Trudeau seems to have backfired. Polls suggest that the latest Liberal leader is less vulnerable to the black magic of Conservative spin doctors than his predecessors.
In yet another first, the prime minister lost a seat to a byelection earlier this month and, in the process, his only Newfoundland-and-Labrador minister. Peter Penashue had initially resigned over 2011 election spending violations.
On the same general theme, a federal court judge found that fraudulent phone calls to non-Conservative voters in the last election were part of a systemic attempt to prevent them from voting. While last weekâ€™s ruling did not point the finger at the Conservatives, it did conclude that whoever was behind the manoeuvre accessed the partyâ€™s data bank.
If there ever was a time when the government needed to change the channel it would be now, but Harper does not have a lot of alternative programming to offer.
â€œIt unravelled because Duffy couldnâ€™t keep quiet. He sent emails all over the city and he told too many people about it and some of them told me,â€ Mr. Fife told CTVâ€™s Lisa LaFlamme in a talk-back when the story broke that night.
Â Unreal and kind of funny at the same time. Â Duffy finally gets an out of the problems that he is in and the sinks it because he can’t stop talking about it.
Just a related note. Â I can’t see Duffy resigning because what else can he do now? Â Would any media outlet touch him? Â
Even before the media-shy Wright stumbled unintentionally into the spotlight, the Conservatives had arguably sunk to their lowest point since Harper first won power in 2006. Theyâ€™ve spent most of 2013 on the defensive over controversies such as companies using a federal immigration program to hire foreign workers instead of Canadians, and an auditor generalâ€™s report that found the government couldnâ€™t account for how $3.1 billion earmarked for public security was actually spent. Promised trade deals havenâ€™t been inked. Highly touted pipelines are in doubt. Overall economic growth is tepid. Tory attack ads against Justin Trudeau evidently fizzled, since the Liberals now top the polls under their new leader. And Harper canâ€™t count anymore on lock-step discipline from his MPs, after some defiant Conservative backbenchers recently asserted their right to speak in the House without permission from the party leadership.
No wonder a crisis mood was setting in before an emergency Conservative caucus meeting Harper called early this week to try to first calm, and then rally, his troops. He voiced predictable disappointment over the Senate mess, didnâ€™t dare to mention Wright and then urged his MPs to get back to basics. â€œCanadians are looking to us to protect themâ€”their jobs, their families, their communities,â€ he said. â€œThat is what we must be focused on.â€ Goldy Hyder, long-time Tory insider and president of the public-affairs and -relations firm Hill & Knowlton Canada, says Harper has plenty of time to orchestrate a rebound. After all, this summer will mark only about the midpoint of his first majority term. â€œThe issue,â€ Hyder says, â€œis how you use that half-time break to develop a strategy to execute for the second half.â€
Harperâ€™s lecture to caucus, which was open to the media, was his first public show of personal attention to a dangerously volatile situation. A more methodical rebuilding effort is expected to begin with a major speech at a Tory policy convention in late June. Later in the summer, he is widely expected to shuffle his cabinet, before a Speech from the Throne next fall recasts his agenda. All this was in the works before Wrightâ€™s stunning fall. Now, Harper must strive to stay on track against howls of opposition outrage. The NDP suggests Wrightâ€™s decision to cut that fat cheque was linked to a Senate committeeâ€™s agreement to soften the more damaging parts of an audit report on Duffyâ€™s expenses. The official Opposition has asked RCMP Commissioner Robert Paulson to investigate. â€œWhat we do know is that a secret cheque was written for $90,000,â€ said NDP ethics critic, Charlie Angus. â€œAnd we understand there may have been interference with that Senate report. This suggests a much larger issue that is at the very desk of the Prime Minister.â€
Harper finds himself under direct fire after several months of watching many of his top cabinet performers forced into defensive postures. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had to scramble to announce changes to that Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which he had previously promoted as a big success, after news of companies passing over Canadians to make room for cheaper labour from abroad. Human Resources Minister Diane Finley tabled stricter Employment Insurance eligibility rules last year, but still hasnâ€™t quelled the backlash over the impact on seasonal workers, and now faces the Atlantic-province premiers jointly demanding a halt to the changes. Foreign Minister John Baird is fighting in the United Nations to stave off a bid by Qatar to lure away the prestigious headquarters of the UNâ€™s International Civil Aviation Organization from Montreal, but may be hampered by ill will among Arab countries and beyond, generated by Harperâ€™s unbending support for Israel.
Still, foreign affairs, immigration and EI arenâ€™t essential ingredients of the Harper formula. What matters more is his image as a prudent spender of public money and a smart strategist on the economy. Yet his government is looking vulnerable on both those fronts, too. That $3.1-billion gap the auditor general reported in federal accounting has made it difficult lately for Treasury Board President Tony Clement to boast of the Toriesâ€™ attention to every taxpayerâ€™s dime. When it comes to reckless spending, another favourite opposition target is the estimated $46-billion plan to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets. Despite announcing late last year that other fighter-jet options would be considered, the government recently paid about $40 million to remain in the U.S.-led F-35 consortium until at least next fall, which means this drawn-out military-procurement mess remains very much alive.
Maybe it’s a lack of strategic thinking
A shortage of strategic thinking across many policy areas might be a reason the Harper government has lacked a feeling of forward thrust in recent months. David Zussman, a University of Ottawa professor of public-sector management, says Harperâ€™s Conservatives donâ€™t often turn to senior bureaucrats for ideas, relying on them only to â€œloyally implementâ€ policy, rather than offer advice on its broad direction. Cutting mandarins out of the high-level planning leaves political aides to do more of the deep thinkingâ€”and many Conservatives admired Wright as the deepest of them all. Along with managing the Prime Ministerâ€™s Office and chairing a key weekly meeting with cabinet ministersâ€™ chiefs of staff, Wright selectively stickhandled problematic files.Â
It’s going to be a tough two years ahead. Â I am not saying he won’t be re-elected but this isn’t a government that does things easily.