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Your theme today on the Conservatives: secrecy, and secretive

Exhibit 1: Liberals Question Bernier Timeline:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s claim that he was in the dark until Monday about Maxime Bernier’s missing classified documents is under attack following the revelation that the sensitive papers were returned to the government some 24 hours earlier…Government House leader Peter Van Loan surprised many yesterday when he said the Prime Minister learned of the return of the documents on Sunday. “The Prime Minister said that he became aware of it on Sunday afternoon and that is when action was taken,” he said. That immediately drew “oh, oh” from opposition benches. Van Loan quickly backtracked and insisted that Harper was only told of the missing papers Monday, a timeline mocked by the Liberals.

So, secrecy on when the Conservatives actually knew about this – a revelation that Peter Van Loan may have let accidentally slip – from fatigue,  he claimed, but perhaps he really let slip the truth:

Sources said that a lawyer for Julie Couillard, Bernier’s ex-girlfriend, returned the documents to the government in the hours before she taped a television interview Sunday afternoon. She makes an oblique reference in the television interview, saying “as we speak, the lawyer has been duly mandated and the document has been returned.”

I’d like to get that lawyer on record saying that’s exactly the day when he delivered those.

Exhibit 2: The public think in a new (online) Angus-Reid poll that the Cons. are arrogant and secretive:

Half of Canadians believe Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is not only secretive but arrogant, according to a new Toronto Star/Angus Reid poll. The Conservatives, who have been in government for more than two years, are regarded as secretive by 50 per cent of those surveyed, with 51 per cent stating the government is also arrogant… Almost three in five – 58 per cent – are “dissatisfied” with the way the government has performed in informing the public about its policies and plans.

Exhibit 3: An article by Susan Delacourt in today’s Star describing how “it’s been a bad week for a government that prides itself on secrecy and message control”:

Taken all together, these incidents point to what seems to be a glaring irony surrounding the Harper government and its communications strategy. To wit: this capital is locked down tight when it comes to small, domestic, even trivial minutiae. But on the big important stuff, the kind of information that could affect Canada’s relations with the world, people have seen a side of the Harper communications-management machine this week that appears to be a little loose, if not chaotic.

Its amusingly painful to watch this self-immolation.

Which scandal do you go after?

Seriously, this Conservative government has so many of them going on right now, which one do you focus on if you’re the opposition? Or do you try to focus on them all, hoping that the Canadian public doesn’t care about the specifics of each scandal, but grasps that whatever the details, the Conservatives aren’t a very clean bunch while in power.

That all said, here are two things I’ve seen today that I like. First, the Canadian public seems to regard the Bernier-Couillard affair as something that needs investigation, if you believe this poll:

Canadians, according to the latest Angus Reid poll, are taking it seriously, with a majority wanting an RCMP investigation…According to the poll conducted over the past two day, the majority of Canadians believe it is a serious matter requiring the RCMP to investigate whether Bernier breached security. The online survey of 1,001 adults found that 57 per cent think an RCMP investigation into the security breach is warranted, while another 53 per cent said the Bernier situation raises questions about Harper’s judgment.

I note that we now have more sources inside the civil service apparently leaking stuff, with the Liberals now saying they’ve been told that CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, and the PMO had discussions over Julie Couillard, which Stock Day refused to confirm or deny – which might as well mean a confirmation. The Conservatives harsh treatment of the public service (not to mention all their attacks on the independent federal agencies) may be coming back to bite them – and I’m neither surprised or sad that’s hapenning.

Second, the Liberals and Dion are grabbing onto the Toronto Star report from yesterday that I talked a bit about here and charging that there was a coverup/whitewash by the Conservatives in determining who did the leak over what we’ve been calling NAFTAgate involving Barack Obama and the release of documents questioning his sincerity in opposing NAFTA supposedly to a Republican operative who then contacted the Associated Press. It’s good that Dion and the Liberals are raising this with reporters, as it keeps that story in the spotlight about how the Conservative government is so ideological, it would go to the lengths of trying to influence the US Presidential election to aid their Republican  soulmates, which a former diplomat talked about here in an article talking about Frank Sensenbrenner:

“It’s typical on the part of that far-right cabal of Tories and Republicans who have put together a network, trying to work below the radar, because they think only they can solve the problems of the two countries together”

Only the Conservative/Republican can solve the problems of the two countries. What a scary thought that is – I wonder what they consider to be problems to solve – keeping Democrats and Liberals and other “leftists” out of office? Everything  that’s happened this week almost makes the Cadman affair look tame by comparison, doesn’t it?

I guess the “busybodies” have won (or were proven right).

Your Maxime Bernier resignation timeline yesterday, and the way the Conservatives handled it:

– Around the middle of the day, when being questioned about these new reports that Maxime’s ex-girlfriend was involved with security at airports, PM Harper utters what may become a famous phrase:

“I don’t take this subject seriously.”

– In QP yesterday afternoon, in response to Michael Ignatieff’s questions, this is what Peter Van Loan said:

“Mr. Speaker,” the House leader began, “our Foreign Affairs Minister and our Prime Minister have been showing considerable leadership on the world stage”

– At about 5 pm on CBC and Don Newman’s Politics show, Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai said the following about Bernier:

“The caucus is behind him 100%. We think he’s doing a marvellous job.”

– Finally, around 7:30 7:10 pm or so, comes Harper back out to the press corps, all of a sudden taking the subject of Maxime Bernier and his ex-girlfriend VERY seriously:

Maxime Bernier has stepped down as foreign affairs minister over his sloppy handling of secret cabinet documents an error called “very severe” by Prime Minister Stephen Harper…”He told me he has left classified cabinet documents in a place that was not secure,” said a visibly shaken Harper. “Evidently this is an error that is very grave. We will review this incident.”

He accepted the resignation earlier in the day, according to this news article. I wonder how much earlier in the day. How nice of Harper to not tell his mouthpieces in QP and on TV talk shows that this was going to transpire while they went on and defended Bernier profusely to anyone who would listen. I’m sure they are thanking him profusely for his secretive manner making them look like idiots.

EDIT: I might also note that the NDP – specifically Thomas Mulclair – didn’t look too hot out of this whole affair either, since he was dismissing it on Don Newmans show right after Deepak’s claim of how everyone in Conservative-land thought Maxime was doing wonderfully. (H/T Aaron Wherry over at Macleans)

EDIT 2: Oh, and if you want to see how the Blogging Tories are trying to spin this, check out the spin cycle Mr. Stephen Taylor is trying to use for all this; apparently according to Stephen, this resignation means the government can move forward on its agenda without this distraction. That’s a pretty good attempt at spin, Stephen – at least you’re putting up a brave face about things.

It’s time for the ethics committee to investigate the Cadman affair.

You’ve seen many Conservatives and a couple of others claiming online that since the RCMP could find no evidence of any wrongdoing with what they did in trying to persuade Cadman to vote for them Conservatives, that should be the end of the matter, or that it will put the affair on the back burner.

I’m in the camp of those who say it’s far from over (and also in the camp of those who fully expected the RCMP to come out and say what they did, but that’s another story).

As Danielle points out, the RCMP also didn’t find any evidence to charge former PM Brian Mulroney with any wrongdoing over his dealings with Mr. Shreiber , but that hasn’t stopped all parties from agreeing there needs to be a public inquiry into the Mulroney/Shreiber affair to look into the unanswered questions of that mess.  If there are some unanswered questions with regards to that, there are even more involving what was offered to Chuck Cadman and what then-opposition leader Stephen Harper was referring to when he said an offer had been made to replace “any financial considerations he might lose due to an election.”

As the Toronto Star asks in its editorial today: What financial issues? What insecurity? What exactly was Cadman offered and on what terms?

There is no real difference between this situation and the Mulroney/Shreiber situation, except the most important: it directly involves the Prime Minister and top Conservative officials, rather then a former retired PM.  If Harper and the Conservative officials are innocent of any wrongdoing, as they insist, then they should have no problem with the House of Commons Ethics (edit: or Justice, see footnote at end of article) Committee taking a look into the matter. If they are innocent as they say with nothing to hide, the Conservatives need to tell Ethics Justice chairman Art Hangar to stop running from the room every time this issue is brought up. (Running away from people, be it committees or reporters,  sure seems to be a common trait with these Cons, doesn’t it?)

While I don’t hold out much hope for the Cons. to change their stance, I have a bit more hope with the NDP. The Star says in its editorial today that the NDP should now support the aforementioned committee doing an investigation now that the RCMP has ended its looking into its affair. Many NDP bloggers have taken issue with Liberals pointing to the anonymous NDP strategist who was quoted in the papers saying the real reason the NDP didn’t support an investigation into Cadman was that it would benefit the Liberals, and not the NDP.  This, they have argued, was not being representative of the NDP and it wasn’t fair to quote an anonymous spokesperson as representing the party’s views.  Well, as the Star says, there is now no reason for the NDP to oppose this investigation.  We’ll now see if the NDP really is interested in looking at this affair and get to the bottom of what exactly transpired, or if it will play politics and continue to side with the Cons. on this issue. I’m encouraged that some NDP bloggers are now supporting an investigation, so I have hope the NDP will do the right thing and change its stance on this.

And, if it does, and if Pat Martin (the NDP member on the ethics justice committee) supports this,  that would give the opposition more votes on this issue then the Cons, if I’m not mistaken. If that’s the case, the first vote should be to remove Art Hangar as committee chair if he continues to pull his running from the room act and refuses to hold a vote on the opposition motion.  With the NDP onside, I believe there still would be enough votes to start an investigation into this even with an opposition member being chair.

[email protected]: Kady O’Malley of Macleans – the expert in the media on H. of C. Committees – corrects me in my comments section by informing me that Art Hangar is actually the chair of the Justice Committee, where the Cadman affair is currently mired in. However,  she also points out nothing stops it from being investigated by the ethics committee, which is where it should be in the first place, in my view, so my original title stands, as well as my urging the NDP to change course and to also remove Hangar from his  chair position in Justice if he continues to run out on proposed votes for investigating this.

Oh, and another thing to my Conservative commentators – just because James Moore comes out on Friday and issues blanket declarations and somehow looks confident about lawsuits means absolutely nothing as pointed out in comments – if the cases were all about looking confident by acting brash,  we wouldn’t need courts, and we’d believe every word that came out of  Pierre Poilivere’s mouth in the House. In either case, that’s limited to Conservative Kool-Aid drinkers and partisans, but not the rest of the general population, I’d be quite confident in saying.

Conservatives hope public cynicism towards their acts means they go unpunished by the electorate.

There is an op-ed in the Toronto Star today penned by Nelson Wiseman,  politicial science professor at the University of Toronto which asks a very good question: “What kind of country has a ruling party that mounts an assault on its election watchdog?”

A question that is difficult to answer. Even in Zimbabwe, where the tyrannical Robert Mugabe and his party rule with an iron fist, the country’s electoral commission wasn’t attacked when it finally released results showing Mugabe had lost his parliamentary majority.  Canada and its governing Conservatives are in very isolated and dubious company indeed.

More importantly is the observation by the professor that such things as this attack on Elections Canada, the Mulroney-airbus affair, and the stonewalling of the parliamentary enquiry on the Chuck Cadman affair by the Conservatives will reinforce the publics cynical view of all parties, if not the electoral system in general.

I can’t help but think that is what the Conservatives want to happen. They want the electorate to believe that “everyone does in-and-out financing”, and they want to make the general electorate cynical towards the whole electoral process.

Why? Because, it will blunt anger toward them, and it perhaps will even depress turnout  in a future election, in a country that is already experiencing falling participation rates in elections.  The combination of low turnout and a cynical electorate, plus using these attacks on them as a way to rally the Conservative base to come out and vote to save them from the federal civil service/Liberal Party/media conspiracy (and the base of the Conservatives will come out and vote, as they believe these bogeyman stories) may prevent the Cons from getting deservedly booted out of office.

It is that  Cons. strategy that needs to be fought against both by the opposition parties and the progressive blogosphere in order to prevent this cynicism from developing amongst the voting public. The job on the anti-Conservative side is to stoke the anger of the public against the acts of this Cons. government, to make the public or the majority of the public want to remove this government.

[email protected]:30AM: A reader from the UK informs me in comments that since the release of the election results, Mugabe and his police have started harrassing and arresting certain election officials with the eye of being able to influence the results of the presidential runoff, so post-election, Zimbabwae is obviously attacking its electoral body with much more venom then Canada’s Consrvatives are.  It still doesn’t say much for Canada’s government when they share places with Zimbabwae in attacking their own country’s electoral commissions, even if Mugabe is more extreme in his case of doing it.

In and Out, the Sequel? Part 2?

It very well might be if the Winnipeg Free Press’s investigation and NDP MP Pat Martin’s complaint to Elections Canada proves to be valid:

A Free Press review of Conservative expense claims turned up 50 Tory candidates who sent a total of $854,000 to the national Conservative campaign under the category of “Election surveys or other surveys and research.” In all but two of the campaigns, the amounts transferred were either $15,000 or $20,000. Sixteen campaigns saw “in-and-out” transactions, where money was paid to the central campaign, and then returned to the local campaign or where the central campaign paid money to the local campaigns and then it was returned to central. In the other 34 campaigns, the transaction only involved a local campaign paying the national campaign. In many, the transactions occurred weeks, even months, after the election was over.

Martin is quoted in the paper as saying this looks very similar to the current “in and out ” controversy that the Cons. find themselves embroiled with Elections Canada over.  As my NDP blogging colleague Cam puts it at his site, this could be another layer of a rotted onion that has been discovered, but that will be up for Elections Canada to decide, as they won’t comment on complaints till they go to court over the issue, or settle with an agreement with the parties or persons involved.

At the very least though, it appears like this is another attempt to skirt the election laws.

Naive Con Kool-Aid drinkers takes Pierre Polivere’s statements as the Gospel

So, Christian Conservative is valiantly trying to go with the notion that somehow Elections Canada is picking on the poor Conservatives and is biased/full of Liberal moles/hates free speech, etc etc. etc.

The impression I get from his blogpiece is that apparently Pierre Poilievre under the cover of parliamentary immunity quoted out of Hansard is an authoritative source for that theory.

Let me help you out Christian Con; Pierre P. is NOT a credible source. He’s been the point man on this for the Cons. since this scandal started, and neither do the media believe him outside of the National Post editors, nor do the overwhelming majority of Canadians believe […]

Things the last 2 Chief Electoral Officers have in common.

Both Marc Mayrand and his predecessor Jean-Pierre Kingsley have incurred difficulty with Stephen Harper.

Both of them have had disputes with the current Conservative Party.

And most importantly, both of them were appointed during Conservative governments – Maynard by the current government, and Jean-Pierre Kingsley in 1990 while Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister.

So,  neither Conservative Kool-Aid drinkers nor Harper nor his parrots like Pierre Poilivere can be painting these two as “Liberal appointees” out to get them.  Maybe, just maybe, they’re objective when it comes to upholding Canada’s election laws and know when a party is doing something in contravention of the Elections Act,  regardless of who it is, the laws need to be upheld.

Interesting facts about Elections Canada

An anonymous commentator over at CalgaryGrit responded to Dan’s feeling that if the current governing Cons. has no confidence in Elections Canada, then officials will either resign or get fired (Linda Keen’ed was his apt description).  That commentator made some excellent points why this wouldn’t happen, and they bear repeating here:

Under s. 13 of the Canada Elections Act, the House of Commons appoints the Chief Electoral Officer by resolution. The CEO may only be removed for cause by the Governor General on address of the Senate and House of Commons. In other words, the Governor in Council has no power to remove the CEO, for cause or otherwise. Only the Governor General, on the advice of Parliament, has that power. The Commissioner is appointed by the CEO pursuant to s. 509 of the Canada Elections Act. As it is the role of the Commissioner to ensure the Act is enforced, I doubt anyone other than the CEO could remove the Commissioner, and then only for cause. So, it is irrelevant insofar as the CEO or Commissioner’s security of tenure is concerned that the government has voted no confidence. What is important is that the CEO retains the confidence of Parliament, which he has.

That commentator then makes an interesting follow-up -  what really matters is what happens next:

Conservatives declare no confidence in a federal institution.

With regards to the Bloc Quebecois Motion that stated more or less roughly in translation  asking “That this House express its complete confidence in Elections Canada and the Federal Elections Commissioner”, the motion passed as expected, but the Conservatives apparently don’t share the sentiment, as they unbelievably voted against this. The final vote was 152 – 117, for those keeping track.

So I guess the question that needs to be asked is will the Conservatives boycott the next election?  I mean, they obviously think Elections Canada and its commissioner (the Conservative – appointed commissioner I might add) is unfair and biased against them, with the “in and out” ruling going against them, so  how can they participate in a biased election with an apparently biased federal agency?

I have a suggestion Conservatives: do a mass resignation now in protest, and let someone else be government.

[email protected]:21pm: Andrew Potter over at Macleans sarcastically wonders if its time to bring in the UN election observer teams, since the Conservative government apparently has no confidence in its federal agency that runs elections.

UPDATE [email protected]:32pm: This is a headline that just thrills me to death to see: Harper Tories Vote Non-Confidence In Elections Canada. And the part of this newstory that amuses me to no end are these 2 parts:

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have refused to join in a parliamentary show of confidence in Elections Canada, the independent watchdog charged with ensuring electoral fairness and honesty..The organization also trains election officials around the world and has monitored contentious votes in places like Haiti, Iraq and Ukraine.

The implication being that Haiti, Iraq and the Ukraine and other countries trusts Elections Canada to be fair, but our own Canadian government doesn’t. OUCH!

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