Shame on the Star

What was yesterday’s/today’s top Canadian news story? Of course, it was the repatriation of four fallen Canadian soldiers at CFB Trenton. The event was sombre and private, however, the media did have limited access in order to adequately bring the story to Canadians while being respectful to families and other mourners. Closeup filming of grieving family members was prevented.

The limited access however has the Toronto Star remixing the story of the day into a story about themselves and they shamelessly splash their dyspepsia onto the front page.

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Above the photo, the headline teases and complains: FORBIDDEN THE IMAGE YOU AREN’T SUPPOSED TO SEE

The headline of the story reads: “Return of fallen soldiers not meant for public eyes.”

To the Toronto Star, the story wasn’t the sad return of soldiers to Canada, the story was instead the media’s limited access to the mourning soldiers and families. That other war (separate from the Canadian military) that involves the PMO and the press is purely inside baseball and it seems that the bitter attitude on behalf of the MSM has spilled over onto something that is supposed to be apolitical.

The Edmonton Sun reveals some truth into the deceit of the Star in its caption from its front page photo: “The last of four caskets of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan is unloaded at CFB Trenton in Ontario. In keeping with a new policy the media were kept at a respectful distance but were still able to photograph the sombre moment.

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Click to enlarge

The Edmonton Sun notes that while their access was limited, it did allow them to cover the event respectfully for Canadians. The Toronto Star provides a similar yet more distant photograph and claims it to be some kind of clandestine and illicit photo smuggled out from past the Tory iron curtain. We learn from the Sun that this is a fabrication.

I understand that there is a dispute between the Conservative government and the press over access to the government, however, the attitude taken by the Toronto Star today to focus the lens upon themselves instead of the news, (especially the news yesterday) is shameful. If I wanted to read a journalism trade journal on government relations I’d buy one. The Toronto Star however bills itself as a national newspaper and that’s what I thought I was getting when I picked it up this morning.

George W. Strawman

The following quotes were taken from various media sources regarding the Conservative government’s decision on not lowering the flag to half-staff during an active military engagement, and the banning media from base upon the return of fallen soldiers to Canada.

“This is yet another example of Harper’s fascination with all things Republican. Instead of openness, another deliberate move to keep a negative hidden from the public. You would think Harper would have learned something from Bush’s tactics which have earned the disdain of most Canadians and the lowest approval ratings of any President in U.S. history but it’s obvious he hasn’t.” — Pat Walters, CTV selected viewer feedback

“I guess that’s the face of transparency. Maybe I’ll check the White House home page to answer my original question as to what’s next.” — Marcel Massie, CTV selected viewer feedback

“I think it should be a concern of Canadians that Mr. Harper seems to be, in many ways, following the example and policies of the Bush Administration” — Donalda Williams Clogg, CTV selected viewer feedback

“Let us not fall into this horrible fate that the US and the UK have. We need to continue to be fully aware of the constant sacrifices and dangers our excellent troops make every day.” — Diane Bradford, CTV selected viewer feedback

“It echoes a policy attempted by the Bush administration. The White House tried and failed to prevent publication of pictures of caskets covered by the Stars and Stripes out of concern for diminishing support for the Iraq mission.”Global TV, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun, 680 News

“The Harper government has decided to ban the Canadian public from viewing today’s repatriation ceremony of the remains of four soldiers killed in Afghanistan on the weekend, evoking parallels with the Bush administration’s controversial policy of barring photographs of the coffins of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.”Mike Blanchfield, Canwest

“All media outlets are quick to note that the media ban parallels a similar decision taken by US President George W. Bush not long after American casualties in Iraq began to mount.”Jonathan Monpetit, maisonneuve

“The Conservative government is refusing to all media to cover tonight’s return of four Canadian soliers killed in Afghanistan, a surprise decision that has critics accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of adopting American-style tactics to limit public exposure to Canada’s casualties” — Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star

“In the United States, the Bush administration has been criticized for banning images of the arrival of flag-draped coffins containing the remains of soldiers killed in Iraq. White House officials imposed the ban out of worry that such photographs would lower public support for the military campaign.”CBC News

“In the U.S., the Bush administration’s concern that a stream of images of coffins draped in the Stars and Stripes would diminish public support for the Iraq war prompted the White House to impose a publication ban in 2003.”CTV News

“I agree with (Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s) decision to not lower the flag at Parliament. But banning the media? Seems unnecessary, not to mention a little George Bush-ish …”Toronto Star, selected reader feedback

“He has lifted a page from the Bush book and borrowed the Bush modus operandi .. “Dare I say president Harper is following in the footsteps of President Bush?” — Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh.

If George W. Bush is an unpopular figure in Canada, does the media’s invocation of the U.S. President when commenting on Stephen Harper’s government’s policy on not lowering the flag after every military death (and the restriction of media on Canadian bases when fallen soldiers arrive home) merely allow them to offer negative commentary when they are supposed to be filing so-called unbiased reports?

Goodale out of the race

I just received a copy of a fax that Ralph Goodale sent out today from his Parliamentary office. No, this one didn’t have anything to do with partisan fundraising but the content was nonetheless particularly partisan (at least he’s not a Minister of the Crown anymore).

Ralph Goodale fax about Liberal leadership (PDF)

Ralph Goodale will not be running for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

He cites bilingualism as his downfall. This is an honest admission. Goodale’s French ranges from weak to non-existent. At least he didn’t make up a cover story about those confusing voting systems! (mon francais est mieux que vous pense [sic]).

However, would the pending investigation into income trusts and the potential distaste among Liberals for yet another scandal focused upon their leader be too much for Goodale to make a good run at the Grit’s top job?

Regardless, Goodale will watch the race with interest and lists 5 ideas rooted in “liberalism” that he wants to see in the party under a new leader:

  • National unity and “cohesion”.
  • Canadian pluralism and identity
  • Fiscal responsibility (and hot stock tips)
  • Knowledge economy
  • Environmental sustainability

Tsk tsk Hedy Fry

The following is an email received by hundreds of staffers and MPs on Parliament Hill today:

From: Fry, Hedy – M.P.
Sent: April 18, 2006 2:33 PM
To: – LIBERAL ASSISTANTS; – LIBERAL MEMBERS/DEPUTES; – NDP MEMBERS/DEPUTES NPD; – NDP/NPD ASSISTANTS; – CONSERVATIVE MEMBERS/DEPUTES CONSERVATEURS; – CONSERVATIVE ASSISTANTS CONSERVATEURS

Subject: NWR – INVITATION TO MEMBERS/STAFF

NWR

Members and Staff are invited to attend the birthday party fundraiser for Alex Munter who is running for Mayor of Ottawa as he is almost 40! Please see the attachment for more information, and feel free to contact me or call the number on the invite for tickets.

See you there!

.
<<Members&Staff Invite.doc>>

Bryn Hendricks
Special Assistant
Office of the Honourable Hedy Fry, P.C.,M.P.
Vancouver Centre
583 Confederation Building
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
tel. (613) 992-3213
fax. (613) 995-0056

Now, sending out birthday party invitations via your work account is generally acceptable (even to hundreds of people as the case may be — however this may be reaching spamming proportions!). Staffers use their Blackberries to send personal messages all the time. Perhaps this is not the best use of public resources, but staffers are like you or me. Who hasn’t sent a personal email from their work account? You’ll notice that the email is labeled NWR meaning “not work related”. Besides, it’s nice to see that there is friendly relations accross the aisle as Fry’s assistant emailed not only Liberal Members and Staffers, but also those from the Conservative and New Democrat Parties. Shockingly, no love for the Bloc…

However, the advertising of a political fundraiser is not something that the the taxpayer’s Parliamentary email system should be used for. Hedy Fry is considering a run for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Was this email the result of her directive?

UPDATE: Bryn Hendricks gives some more details and offers an apology in the comments section: “I am the STAFFER who sent that message out. I would like to clarify a couple points. FIRST: I recieve several emails a day with respect to “housing” or “resumes” or “candidates running” for one thing or another. This email was sent out ONLY as an offer to attend an event that is happening. Not only that, I sent this message out without consulting Dr. Fry because of the massive amount of messages I receive in a day to the same effect. After consulting with Dr. Fry, she would have recommended that I not send this message out, but it was only as an over-enthusiastic person that I thought I would send it out. I appologize if that created an issue for taxpayers or Canadian’s, but assure you it was not with the approval of Dr. Fry, and not with any ill-intentions. I think there are larger issues to concern ourselves over than what a Hill-staffer choses to send out over his lunch-break as it was not meant as anything other than a point of notification just like the MANY other things that are send over the exact same email loops. My appologies.

Thanks Bryn.

I thought musicians were supposed to be original

Look over there, it’s another artist railing against George W Bush and the establishment. Yawn.

According to the UK’s Independent:

Could Neil Young, a cultural lodestone for a generation of country rock fans, really be turning his attention to President George Bush and the war in Iraq? Now Young himself has confirmed it. Not only has he recorded an entire album about the conflict, but in one of the songs he spells out who he thinks is to blame for the ongoing chaos and violence and what the consequences for that person should be. That track is called “Impeach the President”.

I attended a few shows last year including K-os and Billy Talent. During these shows, the crowd was subjected to political lectures of the leftist persuasion. Each artist is entitled to his or her view, however, I always found it somewhat ironic for Canadian musicians to their message to us on the issue of George W Bush. As Canadians, we certainly can’t vote Democrat and I’m certainly not going to take political advice from the likes of K-os (the socialist “revolutionary” who is laughing all the way to the bank).

I enjoy a good show, but I often have to stand through the obligatory and ironic two minute rant about how capitalism and excess are damning our society and how that, to my surprise, war is “bad” (well, thanks… I understand now). Political activism by musicians against the establishment always seemed disingenuous to me and I have often laughed at the imaginary prospect that a punk band might one day address the crowd between songs:

“S%*t, we’ve got something to say about George f@%*ing W Bush! … Stay the course! Make the tax-cut permanent!”

We’ve seen rants against the establishment conservatives in Canada as well (yet, the Liberals were the establishment for 12 years). During previous election campaigns, we’ve seen artists such as Avril Lavigne and Sam Roberts join the campaign to “Stop Harper”. In fact, I caught Roberts’ drunken show on Parliament Hill last year as he dropped the subtext and just went for it as he lectured the crowd by song with a track called “Socialism”. Being a rebel has always had a certain romance to it, however, when the establishment is Liberal and the rant unoriginal, there lacks a certain political cogency. Moreover, Canadian musicians ranting against the American conservative establishment are rebels without a constituency and are rather rebels on the sell.

Anyways, Neil Young’s hardly shocking unoriginal pronouncement reminded me of an article that was written in 2004. Currently unavailable online and originally submitted as a blog post on FatPipeRadio.com the article is still relevant for today’s music industry, which should be desperately seeking originality. The article was written by punk-enthusiast and current Minister of Health Tony Clement, whom is much more versed in the world of punk music than me:

Like the return of flare pants or narrow ties, once every few years rock n’ roll aspires to be overtly political in a big way. All around us, musicians are demanding “fair trade” (Coldplay concerts regularly distribute brochures and advertise website destinations), urging foreign debt relief (Bono being the most prominent advocate) or illuminating the teachings of the Dalai Lama as they inform us of the current state of Tibetan-Chinese relations (Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys).

Indeed, this kind of political advocacy is not new. From Bob Dylan’s folk songs, themselves following in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie’s depictions of the downtrodden, to Bob Geldof’s Live Aid efforts in the 1980s, rock n’ roll and social conscience have mixed quite well, thank you. That is the way it should be. Rock as a musical form has always been about breaking social and political conventions. Its birth was as a direct result of black and white fraternization. Established society considered it lascivious “Negro music”, which only heightened its allure for young people in the 1950s, and guaranteed its popularity among white suburbia. When Jack Black’s character lectures the school kids about standing up to “the Man” in the movie “School of Rock”, it was and is the truth.

Today, the biggest growth industry for protest is, of course, George W. Bush. Here, the entire entertainment industry has something to say. After the shock of 9/11, much of popular culture was silent. Soon, however, artists found their voices. Bruce Springsteen’s haunting “The Rising” is a fine example of post-9/11 mourning and reflection. Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, although conceived prior to the terrorist attacks, has lyrics and themes that evoke as well.

This year, however, most of the commentary has a more direct target: George W. Bush. Compilations like “Rock Against Bush” are getting shelf space. Thoughtful groups like Radiohead are getting into the act. And you know a cause is a cause when Moby wants to add his two cents’ worth. The Democrats’ Presidential nominee, John Kerry, is using rock n’ roll to maximum effect. He has held several fundraisers, raising $10 million at a time, featuring stars as varied as Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Mary J. Blige and Jon Bon Jovi. And so on and on.

Do I have a beef with this? Yes and no. No, in the sense that this is business as usual for rock, as described already in this column. It is, I believe, the business of rock to challenge beliefs and attack establishment figures. But yes, because there is something wrong with this picture. For some time I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew it had nothing to do with the political bent. If you like rock, be it pop, punk or folky, you get used to the left-of-centre bias. It comes with the territory. Here’s the issue: to me, it is the establishment position of Hollywood, and the entertainment industry in America generally, to be clearly anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush. That’s the consensus. The jury is in and the verdict is unequivocal: artists and entertainers want Bush out.

So, as an artist, as a rock n’ roller who wants to make a statement, how hard is it to agree with the anti-Bush side? It’s what practically everyone, except a few rockers like Kid Rock, are saying, singing and writing right now. Anti-Bush: how predictable. How mainstream! I almost have more time for the iconoclastic few that defy this consensus. Is Kid Rock more of a rebel than Michael Stipe, just by daring to back American troops in Iraq? Closer to home, are Billy Talent just aping an unthinking consensus when they cheered the defeat of Stephen Harper, as they did unabashedly at Toronto’s Edgefest just after the June 28 federal election?

By having such a consensus position, rock artists do themselves a disservice. I suspect that they end up preaching to the converted, rather than swaying public opinion. Polls in the United States back this up: even “Fahrenheit 9/11”, a huge commercial success, is making no ripple in the US presidential race because its polemics do not sway undecided voters, the Holy Grail of the campaign.

So what’s my suggestion? Merely this: if rock n’ roll artists want to be truly relevant on issues like Iraq, Bush and war, be more diverse in the opinions that are offered to the audience. Don’t be monochromatic. Have different views. Have a real debate. Rock out with Bush, not just against Bush! If that’s simply too much to ask, be more welcoming of other opinions, within the audience and throughout society as a whole. As Green Day is singing about these days in “American Idiot”, censorship is the key vice to avoid, even if the censorship comes from the oppression of groupthink.

In the meantime, enjoy the music–and think for yourself!

Shameful question of the day

NDP Youth and Families critic Olivia Chow held a press conference yesterday to outline her party’s position that the Conservative $1200 daycare allowance should instead be offered as a tax credit.

Elizabeth Thompson of the Montreal Gazette is introduced by the press theatre moderator and she first contrasts “working mothers” with stay-at-home moms and the differences in benefits each would receive under the Conservative plan.

Thompson, not getting the answer she wanted instead prompts Chow:

“A stay at home mom doesn’t have any income of her own, outside of the $1200. I guess the point that I’m trying to get: to what extent does this system, sort of, perhaps encourage women to stay at home with their kids, which is something some elements of the Conservative Party tends to advocate?

Chow chuckled off the sexist question and to her credit did not give Thompson the point that she was trying to get: that the Conservative Party advocates that a woman’s place is at home with her children.

Of course, this is not the Conservative position as the Conservative plan is not explicit about stay-at-home moms or stay-at-home dads. The factor outlined in the plan is income (which in fact was the point of Chow’s presser).

Unfortunately, some reporters have deeply held biases. A reporter should never allow these biases to affect their work. Here we see Thompson’s bias against women (as the default stay-at-home parent) and against Conservatives (as sexists). (see the update)

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Watch the video of Thompson’s question

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UPDATE: Elizabeth Thompson responds in the comments: “Those who know the media and how it works know you should never mistake a reporter testing to see just how far someone’s position goes (and just how much of that rope they may want to use to hang themselves) with the reporter’s personal views. The question I asked jibed with the views of many NDP supporters and was the logical extension of what she was suggesting – I just wanted to see whether Olivia Chow was prepared to go that far.

“As for the dispute with the press gallery – fewer press conferences means less to distract us from finding out and reporting what a government is really up to. I just wonder how long it is going to be before the people who dreamed up the strategy realize they are actually in the process of losing control of the agenda.”

Fair enough. I guess I’m still getting to know the media. Was Ms. Thompson baiting Chow? Perhaps. I’m not willing to withdraw my assertion that some reporters have deeply held biases, but I will give Thompson credit for providing a logical response and will give her the benefit of the doubt.

In cases such as these, reporters’ questions only go on the record if the person questioned makes the error of taking the bait. As a result, it is the politician that is held responsible rather than the reporter. Granted, if Ms. Chow had latched onto the question, this post would have been about her instead. My apologies to Ms. Thompson for accusing her of bias on this exchange with Chow.

Now, the second half of Thompson’s response is interesting as well: the limited number of press conferences (or PPG accessibility to cabinet) will actually damn Harper’s camp because reporters will have more time on their hands to dig up the real answers? That’s the first time I’ve heard of this angle on the issue and Thompson is likely in the minority POV in the PPG on this. It will be interesting to see if it does indeed play out this way. Will Harper’s communications team’s attempt at order lead to disorder? The strategy is keep discipline among cabinet ministers (so that they aren’t hanged by the rope that the media is so willing to provide) so I’m not convinced. The PPG may have more time to ask staffers, opposition MPs and “anonymous sources” more questions, but keeping discipline among the high level credible sources is an understandable facet of the PMO’s self-preservation strategy.

News of FAA obfuscated by CBC grumbling

It was certainly a banner day for Stephen Harper’s new Conservative government. Today, the centrepiece legislation (essentially the foreseeable legacy of this new government) was tabled in the House of Commons by Minister John Baird, the President of the Treasury Board.

However, this anticipated legislation, which is unequivocally at the centre of Stephen Harper’s mandate in Parliament, was overshadowed in the following CBC clip (linked below) by sarcasm and anger at PMO communications by CBC reporter Keith Boag.

(UPDATE: The first 1:08 minutes of) Keith Boag’s report on the Federal Accountability Act the media’s frustration
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The clip is marked with numbers which refer to the notes below:

  1. Keith Boag remarks (or complains) that Stephen Harper made them “jam” into a small room for a press conference. (Perhaps a larger venue such as the lobby outside of the HoC would be more appropriate for large crowds of reporters and their technical crews? However, I hear that reporters would prefer to “jam” themselves in the narrow hallway outside of the Prime Minister’s office and cabinet meeting room)
  2. More than 300 clauses in the FAA? Not bad. Too bad the FAA’s merits do not strike Boag enough to underscore them first in his report. This report instead begins with his anger towards cabinet accessibility.
  3. “Reporters had dozens of questions about [the FAA]”, Boag remarks as he sets up the video which includes an irate reporter complaining, “Are you going to ignore everyone (the queued reporters) in the lineup?”. Boag then edits to qualify the reporter by explaining that Harper only allowed one question in each official language. CBC’s chief political correspondent continues sarcastically, “Then he left, to champion public accountability, transparency and openness elsewhere.”

It’s always interesting when reporters make themselves the topic of the news. Stephen Harper and his communications team have done their best to control messaging and the PMO’s position (that is, after all, what a communications team gets paid for). So, as we see with Keith Boag’s report, the battle continues between the PMO and the PPG. A couple of sincere questions that I ask are: How much access to the PM and cabinet are reporters entitled to? Does the PM allow/deny access for his own benefit/peril?

In this modern era of 24 hour cable news, reporters are certainly under more pressure to get the report filed quickly (and often live) and get it with full picture, sound and comment.

The Prime Minster’s office, in contrast, is not under the same pressures and really hasn’t changed to a significant degree in its need to satiate the media since print reporters that made telephone calls for comment were the primary report filers. Modern media demands the sound bite and live video and these demands are at odds with a body (the PMO) that’s strategy has never really changed: control messaging and information flow.

If I found myself in Ottawa as a reporter for the modern news industry I would very rightly be frustrated with Stephen Harper’s communications approach that finds itself directly incongruent with the demands of my job. However, I don’t believe that I’d be justified in laying blame on the PMO for its strategy. Overall, the media’s gripe, however, is not an issue of accountability upon which the Conservatives campaigned (and subsequently received a mandate). Stephen Harper is not accountable to the Keith Boag (as a reporter) by any legal or constitutional measure. Boag may certainly vote against the Conservatives when the next election is held, but Harper’s communications strategy is certainly not part of any accountability requirement in the context of the Federal Accountability Act.

Many of those that watch Ottawa will remember the days of Jean Chretien when the former PM went on a golf vacation. The PMO would only tell the press gallery that their boss was on “personal business”.

Boag tries to link the frustrations of his job with “government accountability”. Canadians voted for change in the way that government contracts are awarded, lobbying is conducted, and the way that whistleblowers are protected. They voted for accountability in the way government works. Canadians did not vote for the Boag’s easy access to the most sought-after video and sound bite.

UPDATE: For the sake of clarity for some readers out there, I agree that the PPG/Boag certainly has the right to be frustrated. However, facile and on-demand media access is not an issue of government accountability (in the context of the FAA, or the election/mandate that was fought/received on the issue). My complaint is that it was selfish for Boag to complain about his frustration when it was unrelated to the story.

UPDATE (bonus video): The CBC scores again for biased reporting on the same night. Check out the clip below which is from a report about Access to Information:

CBC reports on Access to Information
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“Ottawa may not be a ‘culture of entitlement’ as the Conservatives claim. But it is a culture of secrecy.”

Err… wasn’t it Justice Gomery that called Ottawa a “culture of entitlement”.

Yes it was

Seriously… come on CBC. I just reality checked your “Reality Check”.

By the way, Crown Corporations (including the CBC) will be subject to reformed (and stricter) Access to Information legislation tabled by the Conservative government.

UPDATE: Much to my surprise (and likely hers as well), Zerb agrees with me.

UPDATE: Well, that was short-lived and too good to be true. Apparently Zerb misinterpreted the video and thought that the clip represented the entire report (even though it doesn’t end with “Keith Boag, CBC. Ottawa”) She focuses on her misinterpretation rather than in the fault that lies with the state-run media.

Belinda Stronach, I call BS

Today, Belinda Stronach announced that she will not be seeking the leadership of the Liberal Party. CTV News cited that her reason for not running was because of the way the Liberal Party picks their leader.

“I would rather see a Liberal party with millions of members where each and every individual has a direct vote. We have the technology. I would rather spend my energies working towards the goal, that goal, than running in a system that still values political deals for delegates over the free-market of ideas.” — Belinda Stronach, today at her press conference

“When we’re looking at renewal, what better way to renew the party than to sign up millions of members and be able to give each of those members a direct say who their leader should be?”, Stronach asked rhetorically on today’s early installment of Mike Duffy Live. Mike Duffy responded, “One person, one vote”. Stronach confirmed, “One person, one vote”.

Now, let’s rewind to Belinda’s leadership aspirations in the then-newly formed Conservative Party of Canada. Stronach had a two pronged strategy for tipping the race in her favour: youth politics and the 100 point ridings.

Under the terms of the Alliance-PC merger, the youth wing issue was to be decided at a future policy convention. During former PC and Liberal leadership races, the number of campus clubs would skyrocket under the aspirations of leadership contenders. Each campus club (sometimes only existing on paper instead of in practice) would be allotted a number of delegates to vote during a leadership contest. While the baseline national number of campus clubs would usually hover around the 40-50 mark, during a leadership contest, this number would easily surpass a couple of hundred. This would allow leadership candidates to secure a number of delegates.

Currently, the Liberal Party has a number of quota delegates from groups such as the National Women’s Liberal Commission and the Aboriginal People’s Commission. The validity of this practice is debatable and is the subject of discussion for another time.

Today, however, Belinda wishes to shut down this system of quota politics as she advocates for “one-person, one vote”.

Yet, when Belinda was running to be leader of the Conservative Party, she vigourously defended the practice of equal riding representation. In equal riding representation, if a riding in Quebec had 10 members it should be equal to a riding in Alberta with 8,000 members. She argued that each riding should be allotted 100 points (the points represented the % of the membership vote in that riding for each candidate) and that the leadership contest should be added up riding-by-riding, 100 points at a time. The strategy for Belinda was to buy up memberships in Conservative-poor Quebec ridings to muscle against Stephen Harper’s solid base of tens-of-thousands of singular members in Western Canada.

The Montreal policy convention witnessed a lot of maneuvering by Stronach. She argued for quota delegates as she lobbied for a Conservative Youth Wing. Therefore, when she was a Conservative, Stronach was against the “one-member one-vote” system. At the time, another youth wing advocate and then-boyfriend Peter MacKay caused Harper to famously kick a chair when he went up against Harper’s friend MP Scott Reid on the one-member one vote issue.

But most of the headlines from the weekend meeting – intended to draw the strands of the party together – were focused on the convention-floor showdown between Mr. MacKay and Ontario MP Scott Reid.

Mr. MacKay won the battle Saturday afternoon, when delegates voted down a rule change that would have limited the number of delegates from small eastern riding associations.

But to win that victory, the Central Nova MP had to take his dispute public, telling reporters he felt betrayed by the motion, which, he said, put the future of the party in jeopardy.

His public display of pique worked, and his message appeared to get through to the delegates gathered in Montreal for a weekend of policy debates.

When Mr. Reid, a close ally of Mr. Harper, stood at a convention floor microphone to urge members to support his motion, he was greeted by a mix of boos and cheers.

Mr. MacKay had complained about Mr. Reid, who helped broker the merger of the PCs and the Alliance, saying he was disappointed that Mr. Reid would try to renegotiate the terms of the union.

The Alliance had a one-member, one-vote rule at national conventions, but the parties agreed to use the Progressive Conservative rules: the same number of votes for every riding, regardless of size.

Now, the Reid proposal was just as valid as the Stronach/MacKay suggestion as a method for selecting a leader (and voting at other conventions). In fact, MacKay likely still believes in the Youth Wing / Equal riding method for selecting future Conservative leaders. That, of course is his strategy and belief and he’ll have a lot of support in the party. There are certainly arguments to be made in favour and against both methods. Peter MacKay certainly deserves a lot of credit for what he has brought to this party that he co-formed with Stephen Harper.

Belinda Stronach, on the other hand, has made a complete 180-degree-turn and is showing significant ideological inconsistency regarding how she believes party leaders should be elected.

She once advocated so very strongly against the one-member, one-vote proposal in favour of the Youth Wing / Equal riding proposal. Today, it is her support of this method — which the Liberal Party doesn’t practice — that has her bowing out of the race for that party’s leadership.

It doesn’t add up. What’s the difference between Belinda’s principles when she ran for the Conservative leadership and now when she was until recently considering a run for the Liberal leadership? Is principle a factor? The Liberal Party of today, Adscam notwithstanding, has considerable party structure and organization in Quebec. There aren’t any 10 member ridings for her to buy up. It can be argued that the Liberals even have a better Western Canadian organization than the Conservatives did in Quebec when Stronach was urging Conservatives to Start. Right. Now. Belinda is also playing catchup on youth politics in the Liberal party. Youth politics is an establishment in the Liberal Party and it doesn’t favour a new Liberal face.

So why advocate for a one-member one-vote system? Belinda can sell. Given an even playing field of candidates (one that she didn’t have against the obvious early favourite Stephen Harper), Belinda is a bigger draw for events in which one can sell memberships. If you were selling Liberal memberships (or anything, frankly), who’d be a better salesperson, Belinda Stronach or Bob Rae? Belinda can go to large urban areas in Western Canada which have a deficit of Liberal memberships (Edmonton, Winnipeg, Regina etc.) and sell memberships by the hundreds to those who wouldn’t otherwise care about the Liberal brand.

Belinda doesn’t have a deeply held democratic belief about how leadership contests should be held. She used to advocate quota politics and riding equality. However, now that this strategy can’t benefit her, she’s promoting a system against which she used to lobby in order to find at least part of an advantage.

Belinda isn’t defending a principle here, she’s playing politics.

Take Note debate on Afghanistan

It seems that Stephen Harper is treating the 39th session of Parliament more like a multi-partite congregation than his predecessor ever did.

Today, with a conciliatory gesture, the PMO announced that there will be a Take Note debate on Afghanistan on April 10th. Both the Liberal Party and NDP have been asking to ‘discuss’ the current Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

Contrast the attitude of the current minority government with that held by Paul Martin’s. It seems that Harper is reaching out constructively (as he did with the NDP in pre-throne speech consultations) rather than manipulating Parliamentary procedure and opposition days while making unprincipled budget re-writes in order to extend the slow death of a Gomery-damned government.

Of course, we may yet see some creative Parliamentary acrobatics, yet Stephen Harper’s olive branch to those who’d like to discuss the mission is certainly showing good faith.

I’ve learned that Rob Nicholson, the Conservative House leader initiated discussions with the other House leaders on setting up the take note debate.

There will not be a vote on the Canadian mission. The debate will allow Canadians to evaluate the opinions and statements of their Parliamentarians on the issue of Afghanistan. For example, former NDP leader Alexa McDonough supports the mission adamantly. However, there is a minority yet significant number of Canadians that do not support the mission in Afghanistan. It will be interesting to see which MPs take up this position and how they do so.

The Conservative Party is certainly supportive of our men and women in uniform and the Liberal Party, even in its new opposition role, should support the mission since it was their government which sent Canadians to secure that troubled country.

From what I understand, a vote will only occur on new mission instead of ongoing deployments. This take note debate allows a discussion and the results will hopefully preserve the morale of our soldiers. Will the mere debating (or rather ‘discussion’) of the mission phase our troops?

I hope not. They should know that there are certainly many of us in Canada that support what they do.

UPDATE: BBS calls Jack Layton on his record. It’s quite shameful when you realize that Harper’s extension of the olive branch to the NDP may be more about Jack’s partisan hackery than a need to inform Canadians about the mission.

Consider the Throne Speech passed

Stephen-Harper-throne-speech.jpgThe Liberals seem to be in automatic opposition mode and conforming with Jack Layton’s earlier constructive language, the NDP appears supportive of the Throne Speech.

NDP priorities included in Throne Speech

(remember, they also claim that they wrote last year’s budget and “invented ‘free’ healthcare”)

NDP Leader Jack Layton says that while he’s encouraged that priority NDP issues like public health care, the creation of child care spaces, electoral reform, and the environment were included in today’s Speech from the Throne, indicating the Conservative government’s willingness to listen to the opposition, he’ll wait to see how committed the new government is to action.

If Mr. Harper is serious about making this Parliament work, we will be open to working with him. Canadians want this Parliament to be productive and the NDP’s listening, but we will not move backwards on the progressive values we were elected to represent.

Who’s questioning whether or not Harper wants this Parliament to work? What are the odds that Harper wants to orchestrate his own defeat on his first Throne Speech? Please.

Otherwise, it looks good. The NDP appears to be onside already.

With the NDP and Independent André Arthur, the Conservatives have a majority of votes needed to pass the speech.

It appears that the Conservatives have some backup in Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc as well…

C’est un discours du Trône élaboré clairement dans le but d’éviter la controverse que nous a livré aujourd’hui le premier ministre Stephen Harper. Il s’agit d’un discours sans surprise et sans aspérité, n’apportant pas davantage de précisions ou d’échéanciers sur les intentions du gouvernement conservateur quant à la mise en oeuvre de ses priorités

(It’s a Throne Speech that set out clearly in the goal of avoiding controversy that Stephen Harper delivered to us today. It is a speech without surprises and without asperity, it doesn’t bring the advantage of neither details nor timelines for the implementation of the priorities of the Conservative government.)

The throne speech hasn’t obviously hasn’t upset the Bloc.

The Liberals are in automatic opposition mode:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today laid out his Conservative government’s limited agenda for the 39th Parliament, reiterating the Conservatives’ five top priorities from the campaign and adding two new priorities: federalism and international obligations. Despite these additions, Harper’s speech ignored many key national issues and failed to present a comprehensive national vision for the future of Canada. Harper’s speech ignored many key national issues and failed to present a comprehensive national vision for the future of Canada.

One of the key Liberal talking points is that this PM is only focusing on five priorities. During the election campaign, Conservative researches sent out a press release outlining 56 items that Paul Martin had either declared his #1 priority or a priority that he deemed very, very important. Canadians elected Stephen Harper and his five point plan. The throne speech outlined it again today.

In the Liberal release today, the environmental failings of this 2 month-old government was criticized:

Reneging on Canada’s Kyoto commitments to deal with climate change and the environmental degradation to Canada’s air, land and waters;

Scott Brison is the Liberal critic on the environment. Mr. Brison opposed the Kyoto protocol.