Stephen Harper back in 2005.
I’ve never met Nigel Wright, and all I know of him is what I’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, “a person of good faith, of competence, with high ethical standards,” as Jason Kenney put it. You get the impression of a man who found himself in a rat’s nest, and tried to keep one of the rats from destroying himself. Instead, he got destroyed too.
That’s not the sentiment you’re supposed to have towards Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff. You’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 he’d claimed in inappropriate housing and other expenses.
From the start, Wright doesn’t think Duffy has broken any laws. The Senate rules on “primary” residence are such that Duffy may be able to justify a claim that, legally, he’s done nothing wrong. “I…believe that Mike was doing what people told him he should do, without thinking about it too much,” he relates in one message. But Wright is convinced it’s a clear ethical breach and Duffy is morally bound to repay the money. It’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 Minister’s Office he hasn’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, “it 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.” He gives the same reason for his fatal decision to write a cheque to cover Duffy’s expenses, after concluding Duffy legitimately didn’t have the money: “He 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.”
Fascinating read. You have a sympathetic figure in Nigel Wright, the devious and self serving Mike Duffy and then the rather incompetent Senate. No wonder why Harper wants is abolished. They can’t even execute a scandal right.
Over the last few years, the government of Canada — led by Stephen Harper — has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists.
It began badly enough in 2008 when scientists working for Environment Canada, the federal agency, were told to refer all queries to departmental communications officers. Now the government is doing all it can to monitor and restrict the flow of scientific information, especially concerning research into climate change, fisheries and anything to do with the Alberta tar sands — source of the diluted bitumen that would flow through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Journalists find themselves unable to reach government scientists; the scientists themselves have organized public protests.
There was trouble of this kind here in the George W. Bush years, when scientists were asked to toe the party line on climate policy and endangered species. But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada.
Science is the gathering of hypotheses and the endless testing of them. It involves checking and double-checking, self-criticism and a willingness to overturn even fundamental assumptions if they prove to be wrong. But none of this can happen without open communication among scientists. This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.
It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences. The Harper policy seems designed to make sure that the tar sands project proceeds quietly, with no surprises, no bad news, no alarms from government scientists. To all the other kinds of pollution the tar sands will yield, we must now add another: the degradation of vital streams of research and information.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama formally proposing “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector,” if that is what’s needed to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline through America’s heartland, CBC News has learned.
Sources told CBC News the prime minister is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions and is prepared to work in concert with Obama to provide whatever political cover he needs to approve the project.
The letter, sent in late August, is a clear signal Canada is prepared to make concessions to get the presidential permit for TransCanada Corp.’s controversial $7-billion pipeline, which will connect the Alberta oilsands to refineries in Texas.
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.
Which leads us back to this: Be it resolved, there is now a single homogeneous Canadian political culture, expressed via the three main party shadings. How long until platforms themselves become irrelevant? Partisans will argue their own beloved expression of Canadian liberal democracy is not only best, but distinct – as the Tories, Grits and NDP were a generation or two ago, when they disagreed about country-changing issues such as North American free trade, in 1988, or membership in NATO, in 1968.
But tick through the list of assumptions at the heart of the state today – from socialized health care to capital punishment, abortion or free trade, deficits or tax rates – and you find unanimity. The Conservatives must be for gay rights, or be written off as reactionary by the majority. The New Democrats must be for industry and thrift, or be written off as loopy dreamers by that same majority.
This convergence can create a mash-up, as political parties struggle to create differentiation amid their essential drab sameness. Thus, John Baird’s defence of gay rights in Russia doesn’t go far enough, says the NDP’s Paul Dewar. He must crank it up to 11, like the guitar amplifier in Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap. The Liberals, meantime, are beginning a two-year effort to implant the idea, by every means other than saying it, that they can be more conservative than the Conservatives when it comes to economics, and more new and democratic than the New Democrats when it comes to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. “Tough on crime” is still exclusive Conservative territory – but only because it’s one of the few old planks they haven’t ditched in the hunt for centrist votes. And, to be frank, it’s not popular enough for the other parties to bother to steal.
Taken together, this still-unfolding spectrum collapse sets up a contest of almost pure personality in 2015. Through the next 24 months, Harper will seek to recast himself as more constructive; Mulcair, happier; and Trudeau, more solid. The ad war will be personal as never before, culminating in televised debates understood by all to be winner-take-all. And the pollsters, perhaps as never before, will be flying blind. Interesting times.
Even among Ottawa insiders, few would be aware that two officials running a tiny agency Flaherty set up to try to create a national securities regulator beat them all. Douglas Hyndman, chairman and chief executive officer of the Canadian Securities Transition Office (CSTO), makes $534,043, and Lawrence Ritchie, the CSTO’s executive vice-president and senior policy adviser, $537,469. Their salaries are public because Hyndman is on long-term loan to the feds from the British Columbia Securities Commission, while Ritchie is similarly seconded from the Ontario Securities Commission, and both B.C. and Ontario publish “sunshine lists” of salaries over $100,000. They are still technically on the provincial payrolls—even though they’ve been working for Flaherty since 2009—with Ottawa compensating their home provinces. (The Harper government’s refusal to support Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber’s private member’s bill to publicly disclose federal salaries over $188,000 led to Rathgeber quitting the Tory caucus last spring; the government wanted to reveal only a handful of salaries over $444,661.)
At a glance, their pay seems out of whack by federal standards. After all, Hyndman and Ritchie together oversee only about 20 employees. Poloz, by comparison, commands about 1,240 at the central bank. But Flaherty has staked more on his high-priced ringers than the size of their shop might indicate. In an email exchange with Maclean’s, Hyndman said his “relatively small staff” belies the complexity and importance of what the CSTO is trying to accomplish. “We are using the expertise of a core group drawn from provincial securities regulators, plus some additional staff, to develop critical improvements to Canada’s system of capital markets regulation,” he said. “We also need to maintain the flexibility to move forward on either federal legislation or a co-operative scheme with the provinces.”
That last part about being ready to pursue either of two very different policy options is key. Flaherty set up the CSTO back in 2009 to bring about his goal of establishing a common Canadian securities regulator, replacing a hodge-podge of provincial stock market commissions. But some provinces challenged his plan in court. In late 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Ottawa was overstepping its jurisdiction. Despite that severe setback, Flaherty kept trying to coax provinces to come onside voluntarily—that’s the “co-operative scheme” Hyndman mentions. But if those overtures to the provinces fail, the court ruling left the federal government room to regulate in limited areas on its own—that’s Hyndman’s “move forward with federal legislation” option.
In fact, indications from federal officials suggest they are not optimistic that enough provinces will sign on to salvage Flaherty’s original grand plan. For instance, Hyndman said the CSTO’s “primary focus right now is developing proposed legislation and implementation plans that will be needed if no agreement is reached with provinces on a common regulator.” But exactly what parts of the financial marketplace the federal government will set out to regulate on its own has not yet been announced. It’s the subject of considerable speculation among private-sector experts. Flaherty’s office says the aim would be “preventing and responding to systemic risks, such as those posed by over-the-counter derivatives.”
Figuring out ways to regulate trading by sophisticated investors in derivatives, which go by exotic names such as “currency forwards” and “credit default swaps,” is a hot topic in international policy circles, largely because failures on this murky side of the market are blamed for the 2008 global credit meltdown and the recession that followed. Hyndman even suggests that losing the Supreme Court case focused the federal government’s attention “precisely where Canada needs to do a better job to get regulation right.”
Whatever slice of the market Flaherty decides to tackle, settling on that approach shouldn’t take much longer. “Our planning horizon is in months, not years,” Hyndman said. On whether he and Ritchie will go back then to their provincial jobs, or stay on to run an agency set up to bring new regulations into force, he said only, “We have not sought, nor been offered, permanent federal positions.”
Before you get all that upset, that is probably a deal for two guys of that talent who would make much more in the private sector. That being said, it probably won’t get enough provinces to sign on and in the end, will be a lot of money down the drain.
The Conservative government’s defence of gay rights abroad appears to have sharply divided Canadian conservatives. Some say it’s a natural fit for a government that has made the promotion of human rights on the world stage a priority, and aligns with the priorities and values of Conservatives and non-Conservatives alike.
“It’s just the right thing to do, to stand up for the rights of the individual no matter what country they live in,” said Stephen Taylor, director of the conservative National Citizens Coalition. But others have warned it will cost Prime Minister Stephen Harper support from within his own party.
“I’ve already seen some feedback from some of the conservative, the real conservative base,” said Brian Rushfeldt, president of the right-wing advocacy group Canada Family Action. “I think the potential of Harper and the Conservatives losing some support is very real.”
Even Conservative MPs are divided over the issue, which on the surface appears to be an outlier among many other foreign policy positions the Tories have adopted since coming to power.
“We’ve got much more important things to be doing in terms of a foreign affairs agenda along the lines of trade and health issues and various other issues that we can help these countries in,” said Conservative backbencher Maurice Vellacott. “So I don’t think we have to be promoting that in other countries. We have far too much and far more important things to be doing.”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird refused to say Friday whether he was worried Conservative members and supporters will turn against the government over the issue.
I am not sure that Vellacott speaks for many others than himself on this issue. Even the right wing Toronto Sun is speaking out in favour of John Baird.
Canada is a defender of human rights. Full stop.
That’s pretty much our response to REAL Women of Canada picking a fight with John Baird.
The foreign affairs minister has recently spoken out against the oppression of gay people in various countries — such as Uganda, with their proposed “kill the gays” bill.
REAL Women don’t like that. They think Canada has no business poking around in Uganda’s affairs — despite the fact we send them tens of millions in aid every year.
They also don’t like Baird chastising Russia for their bizarre new law against non-traditional lifestyle propaganda — whatever that means.
What it seems to mean is that gay people could be arrested for waving a flag, writing their opinions or having a parade.
Well, sorry ladies, but Canadian athletes will soon be heading to Russia and we should do all we can to make sure they compete and come home safe and sound.
Telling other countries what to do and wading into their social issues should be kept to a minimum. But sometimes you’ve just got to stand up for your values. And persecuting people because of their religion, gender, sexual orientation and so on, is one of the things we oppose as Canadians.
And there you have the problem of the religious right in Canada. They scream loud and clear when someone they agree with is persecuted but if that person doesn’t, they don’t even want them protected and everyone sees that. I have no problem in having a belief system but no one deserves to persecuted for theirs.
So how’s the mood in the party? “It’s s–tty,” one long-time Conservative political staffer, now recycled in the private sector, said the other day. “I’m a Conservative, and I don’t know what the government stands for.”
The mood this Conservative described—on condition of anonymity, like other party members who spoke for this story—was a long way from despair. “The grassroots of the party is overwhelmingly behind the PM. I don’t think that will ever wear off.” But the five-alarm gong show around Wright, Duffy, Wallin and the rest has made a lot of Conservatives angry and nervous. “If your whole message is that you’re competent people,” this former staffer said, “it is harmful to seem incompetent.”
For several days after Harper accepted Wright’s resignation on May 19, the government could offer no coherent explanation for what had happened. Right up to the end of May the government seemed unsure how to handle the mess.
The chaos led at least one old PMO hand to offer his assistance. Several Conservative sources say that at the beginning of June, Dimitri Soudas, a former PMO communications director who now works for the Canadian Olympic Committee, telephoned the PMO to offer communications advice. Whatever Soudas told his former colleagues would have been mixed in with all the other signals a government receives from its members and supporters, but by last week the Conservatives were offering a more unapologetic defence of Harper’s behaviour, coupled with sharp digs at the opposition parties. The implied message was: If we’re going to be in trouble, we won’t be the only party in trouble.
The news of the day fades from memory. Between the 2008 and 2011 elections Harper endured a steady stream of allegations and missteps, including the controversy over proroguing Parliament, the allegations about abuse of Afghan prisoners, and former minister Bev Oda’s clumsy doctoring (“NOT”) of a memo from her department. Very little of it mattered on election day in 2011, and the Conservatives won a majority of seats in the Commons for the first time.
But Conservatives know the Harper government isn’t eternal, and they have begun to wonder what it will feel like when Harper loses his grip on power for good. They hope the feeling they’ve had this spring isn’t it. “You’re associated with a certain quality, like good government, for a long time and it holds up under wear and tear,” the former Conservative staffer said. “And then one day it tips over. And once it tips, you’ve just lost it and you can’t get it back. You’ve just lost that characteristic.”
Those earlier uproars from 2008-11 often shared common features: they were of interest mostly only to people who work in Ottawa, and they tended to anger people who had never voted Conservative anyway. Conservatives were pretty sure a sitting prime minister should be allowed to ring up the governor general and shut down Parliament now and then, as indeed Jean Chrétien did on more than one occasion. It was no skin off their nose if Harper exercised the same prerogative.
But this business with Wright, Duffy, and a Prime Minister who seemed oblivious and has since seemed deeply rattled is different, another former Hill staffer said. This one described getting an earful about the Senate and about Harper’s associates during a trip through rural British Columbia. The people complaining “were our demographic, in our geography,” this source said. “More than anything else it’s our people who are upset. It kind of comes across as a feeling of betrayal.”
Government backbenchers attacked MP Brent Rathgeber, who quit the caucus last week after saying the Conservatives have “morphed into what we have once mocked.”
Within 24 hours of Mr. Rathgeber’s (Edmonton-St. Albert, Alta.) exit from the Conservative caucus, members of the government’s backbenches began to take aim at the now Independent MP by disputing his comments and questioning his professionalism.
“He can’t get along with people in the sandbox,” said Tory MP Greg Rickford (Kenora, Ont.), Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. “Brent spoke for himself. He’s always been that way. As a provincial legislator he couldn’t get along with people.”
Mr. Rickford told The Hill Times that he “didn’t appreciate” statements made by Mr. Rathgeber following the announcement of his resignation late last Wednesday evening.
Mr. Rathgeber announced his resignation from the Conservative caucus on June 5 on Twitter, hours after the Conservative-dominated House Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics Committee amended his private member’s bill, Bill C-461, which would have required the annual salaries of public servants in excess of $188,000 to be made public. Conservative members of the committee raised the disclosure threshold to $444,000.
This amendment, dubbed by Mr. Rathgeber as “the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back,” led the Alberta MP to announce his resignation from Conservative caucus late Wednesday night.
The morning after announcing his resignation from the Tory caucus, Mr. Rathgeber wrote on his blog that the “Government’s lack of support for my transparency bill is tantamount to a lack of support for transparency and open government generally.”
On his blog, Mr. Rathgeber wrote that the $188,000 salary was a compromise itself, and noted that various provinces have “sunshine laws” that disclose the names and departments of individuals that make upwards of $100,000.
“Even setting the benchmark significantly higher than any of the provinces that maintain ‘Sunshine Lists’ was apparently not supportable by a Cabinet intent on not disclosing how much it pays its senior advisors,” wrote Mr. Rathgeber.
He also identified the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) former chief of staff Nigel Wright, and the $90,000 cheque Mr. Wright gave to Senator Mike Duffy to cover ineligible expense claims as a contributing factor to his decision to leave the Conservative caucus.
“We have morphed into what we have once mocked,” he wrote.
Mr. Rathgeber ended the scathing blog post by writing, “I no longer recognize much of the party that I joined and whose principles (at least on paper), I still believe in. Accordingly, since I can no longer stand with them, I must now stand alone.”
In a press conference following his arrival in Edmonton on June 6, Mr. Rathgeber blasted PMO staffers for controlling MPs as though they were “trained seals,” although he said he supported Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.).
First of all Rathgeber is totally right. Backbench MPs are trained seals which means that many talented people will not choose to run for office because they don’t want to have every speech vetted by the PMO and have no input in on government decisions ever.
Then you get a cycle were because talented people aren’t interested in becoming MPs so you are left with many MPs from both parties who are minor league quality which of course requires more PMO oversight which then discourages competent people to run. Eventually you get to a situation where trained seals could do the job of many MPs as long as they can sign off on the ten percenters.
The reason why people got upset with Rathgeber is because it hit close to home. That and the PMO told them to be upset. Then it gave them a fish as a reward.
IN SEPTEMBER 2000 the heads of 147 governments pledged that they would halve the proportion of people on the Earth living in the direst poverty by 2015, using the poverty rate in 1990 as a baseline. It was the first of a litany of worthy aims enshrined in the United Nations “millennium development goals” (MDGs). Many of these aims—such as cutting maternal mortality by three quarters and child mortality by two thirds—have not been met. But the goal of halving poverty has been. Indeed, it was achieved five years early.
In 1990, 43% of the population of developing countries lived in extreme poverty (then defined as subsisting on $1 a day); the absolute number was 1.9 billion people. By 2000 the proportion was down to a third. By 2010 it was 21% (or 1.2 billion; the poverty line was then $1.25, the average of the 15 poorest countries’ own poverty lines in 2005 prices, adjusted for differences in purchasing power). The global poverty rate had been cut in half in 20 years.
That raised an obvious question. If extreme poverty could be halved in the past two decades, why should the other half not be got rid of in the next two? If 21% was possible in 2010, why not 1% in 2030?
Why not indeed? In April at a press conference during the spring meeting of the international financial institutions in Washington, DC, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, scrawled the figure “2030” on a sheet of paper, held it up and announced, “This is it. This is the global target to end poverty.” He was echoing Barack Obama who, in February, promised that “the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades.”
This week, that target takes its first step towards formal endorsement as an aim of policy round the world. The leaders of Britain, Indonesia and Liberia are due to recommend to the UN a list of post-2015 MDGs. It will be headed by a promise to end extreme poverty by 2030.
There is a lot of debate about what exactly counts as poverty and how best to measure it. But by any measure, the eradication of $1.25-a-day poverty would be an astonishing achievement. Throughout history, dire poverty has been a basic condition of the mass of mankind. Thomas Malthus, a British clergyman who founded the science of demography, wrote in 1798 that it was impossible for people to “feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and [their] families” and that “no possible form of society could prevent the almost constant action of misery upon a great part of mankind.” For most countries, poverty was not even a problem; it was a plain, unchangeable fact.
You know what I would like to see? Stephen Harper and the premiers making the same pledge to radically improve conditions on Canadian reserves. It’s not any of their faults that it has gotten this bad but it would be interesting to work with First Nations leaders and come up with a baseline that by 2030 (or 2020) that all First Nations would be at.
I can’t imagine how hard it would be to navigate the different groups but can it be any harder than cutting extreme poverty around the world in half?
Don Martin takes on Mike Duffy and just destroys him. There is nothing left be said.
He called him a partisan shrill, a fake friend, a fake journalist, a fake senator, and according to former Prime Ministers and aides, a fake Conservative.
I can’t imagine having my friends saying this about me. Then again, I have never done what Mike Duffy has.
It takes considerable effort to become a complete embarrassment.
Congratulations Senator Mike Duffy, you’ve finally done it.
With his wild rant on a CBC national politics show this week, the television icon has accomplished the difficult feat of offending all those in his parliamentary orbit — his former journalistic occupation, the Conservative party, senators, MPs and even the prime minister who appointed him.
A New Democrat MP’s revelation that the 27 senators given their seats by ‘I’ll-never-appoint-senators’ Prime Minister Stephen Harper would eventually cost $177-million plus expenses is fair political game.
And, MP Peter Stoffer noted in passing, Senator Duffy racked up $44,000 in travel costs during just three months of unelected service in the Red Chamber.
Poor Mike Duffy. While he relishes his star profile on Conservative fundraising tours, he gets all twisted and bitter when it attracts enemy fire.
So instead of a rational discussion on the value of the new senators to reforming the process, a tuxedo-sporting Duffy appeared on Thursday’s Power and Politics show to interrupt, insult and fire innuendo at Stoffer, snarling in disgust as he blasted the popular MP as a ‘faker’.
Now, Duffy calling someone a faker equals pot calling the kettle black.
This is the same Duffy who, as host of his own politics show, presented himself for decades as journalistically neutral, then accepted Harper’s $130,000 appointment ten months ago and now devotes his energies to shamelessly shilling for the Conservatives.
That’s the definition of fakery for you, particularly given he was appointed after airing that infamous CTV interview with then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion, a bumbling performance credited by some as the turning point of the 2008 election campaign for Stephen Harper.
Martin was taking on Duffy before it was cool to do so.
In 2004, when I arrived in Ottawa to cover politics for the Halifax Chronicle Herald, I was lucky to get a desk in the press gallery between Maurice Godin, a canny Radio-Canada veteran, and Mike Duffy, who was then the host of CTV’s political show.
Both Godin and Duffy were kind to the East Coast greenhorn, and since Godin was on the Hill in the morning and Duffy in the afternoon, I was often able to get help with a story from two of the best reporters on the Hill without leaving my desk.
I got to be friends with Duffy, a twinkly-eyed storyteller with a love for gossip and cold white wine.
He was kind enough to have me on his show a few times, including the night of Oct. 9, 2008, when CTV decided to air some outtakes from an interview in which Liberal leader Stephane Dion struggled to answer a confusing question.
I thought CTV was right to air the clip, since Dion wanted to be prime minister, but I thought Duffy’s take on the interview was way over the top. He treated it like the biggest gaffe since Robert Stanfield fumbled a football, and I’m embarrassed to say I squirmed through the panel discussion without saying that.
Duffy was in the tank for the Tories because he wanted Harper to appoint him to the Senate.
Saying Duffy did the Dion interview to get in the Senate was like suggesting that Steve Smith scored on his own goal in 1986 because he wanted to play for the Calgary Flames.
(that video never gets old)
Bonus link: Here is a video of what looks to be an intoxicated Mike Duffy attacking MPs and the Canadian Press. The best part of the video is Duffy attacking Peter Stoffer on his expenses while defending his own.
The fact is that, over the past three months, Harper’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 Flaherty’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 — who both played strategic roles on Harper’s economic watch — 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 minister’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 week’s ruling did not point the finger at the Conservatives, it did conclude that whoever was behind the manoeuvre accessed the party’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.
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. They’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 general’s report that found the government couldn’t account for how $3.1 billion earmarked for public security was actually spent. Promised trade deals haven’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 can’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, didn’t dare to mention Wright and then urged his MPs to get back to basics. “Canadians are looking to us to protect them—their jobs, their families, their communities,” he said. “That is what we must be focused on.” 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. “The issue,” Hyder says, “is how you use that half-time break to develop a strategy to execute for the second half.”
Harper’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 Wright’s stunning fall. Now, Harper must strive to stay on track against howls of opposition outrage. The NDP suggests Wright’s decision to cut that fat cheque was linked to a Senate committee’s agreement to soften the more damaging parts of an audit report on Duffy’s expenses. The official Opposition has asked RCMP Commissioner Robert Paulson to investigate. “What we do know is that a secret cheque was written for $90,000,” said NDP ethics critic, Charlie Angus. “And 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.”
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 hasn’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 UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization from Montreal, but may be hampered by ill will among Arab countries and beyond, generated by Harper’s unbending support for Israel.
Still, foreign affairs, immigration and EI aren’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 Tories’ attention to every taxpayer’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 Harper’s Conservatives don’t often turn to senior bureaucrats for ideas, relying on them only to “loyally implement” 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 thinking—and many Conservatives admired Wright as the deepest of them all. Along with managing the Prime Minister’s Office and chairing a key weekly meeting with cabinet ministers’ chiefs of staff, Wright selectively stickhandled problematic files.
It’s going to be a tough two years ahead. I am not saying he won’t be re-elected but this isn’t a government that does things easily.