Ottawa

As some of you may know, I’ve been living in Kingston for a few years now completing an undergraduate degree and now working on a graduate degree in biochemistry (yes, all at Queen’s — I didn’t want to rent a moving truck, I used to joke). Well now that I’m in the sweet spot of the graduate degree — data accumulation and committee work finished — I’m now just left with the last bit of the write-up.

In the closing months of 2006, I was given another reason to rent a truck; I was offered a job in Ottawa and in my chosen profession (and hobby). For those of you joining this game already in progress, the profession is science and the hobby, communications. I’ll be blogging about some of that later as I get the feel for what’s appropriate. I will say that I do remain outside of the employ of the Conservative Party and government of Canada.

I am a new arrival in this epicentre of Canadian politics and I hope that the blog will reflect my vicinity to the Hill.

For those of you whom I know in Ottawa, do send me an email so that we can catch up!

Arar settlement tomorrow?

I’m hearing rumours that there will be an official announcement tomorrow (media availability?) concerning the Canadian government and Maher Arar. I’ve heard an announcement is in the works to describe the settlement of Arar’s complaint against the Government of Canada.

Will he get the $400 million that he originally asked for? I’m hearing that he’ll receive closer to $40 million.

UPDATE: The Globe and Mail puts it just north of $10 million which makes sense. Arar had updated his number to $37 million. Of course, it’ll likely be somewhere in between.

UPDATE: $11.5 million and an apology.

PMO’s letter of complaint to the CBC

This letter’s been floating around among a few reporters. I received the following text in my email’s inbox this morning.

Dear Mr Gilbert,

To be sure, freedom of the press is one of the foundations of our democratic life and the vitality of public debate in Canadian democracy. In that respect, we are fortunate in Canada to live in a political and media environment characterized by a lack of political interference that might undermine the credibility and impartiality of our media institutions, including public broadcasters.

I must admit that I was perplexed by Mr Guy Gendron’s report on the program ” Zone Libre Enquête” on Friday, January 19, 2007, which covered the oil sands industry in Alberta. Indeed, at times, Radio-Canada indulged in unacceptable innuendos, the most striking of which were as follows:

“…the day after the election of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in Canada, U.S. oil industry leaders met in this hotel in Houston, Texas, together with promoters of major oil sands projects in Alberta.”

“Talks, sometimes secret deals, as discovered by our colleague from ‘Zone Libre Enquête,’ Guy Gendron. “

“The Radio-Canada program ‘Zone Libre Enquête’ reveals that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President George Bush cut a secret deal last year .”

“So far, the Conservative government, as you know, has withdrawn… Canada is the only country to have withdrawn from Kyoto among the 35 signatories.”

Finally, I would draw your attention to the following statement:

“The oil-sands have a road map to a production level of 5 million barrels a day,” A “Current projections are more like 2-to-3 million over the next ten years.”

That quotation dates from September 8, 2004, and was made by the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources under the former Liberal government.

By beginning with the election of a Conservative government, the report neglected to highlight the decisions by the former government.

The “secret” report, “Oil Sands Experts Group Workshop Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Houston, Texas January 24-25, 2006 Oil Sands Workshop SPP Report,” which is also available at http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/oilgas/publications/oilgas_generalpubs/oilsands_spp_report.pdf , says that:

“President Bush, Prime Minister Martin and President Fox officially announced the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North American (SPP) agreement in March 2005. The energy activities of the SPP encompass a trilateral effort among Mexico, the United States and Canada, to create a sustainable energy economy for North America. The Canadian oil sands are one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon resources and will be a significant contributor to energy supply and security for the continent. As such, the three countries agreed to collaborate through the SPP on the sustainable development of the oil sands resources and an ad hoc Oil Sands Experts Group was formed that includes the U.S., Canadian and Alberta Government representatives. The first deliverable for the Group consisted of the following: ‘By January 2006, building on joint discussions with key stakeholders and scientific experts, issue a report that discusses the mid- to long-term aspects of the oil sands product market development and the infrastructure and refinery implications for increased oil sands market penetration.’ To meet this deliverable, the Group convened a workshop in Houston, Texas, on January 24-25, 2006, that was jointly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). […] The workshop brought together experts representing the oil sands industry, refiners, marketers, pipeline companies, and government.”

On several occasions, the SRC blamed the current situation on the Conservative government. As you know, the situation is much more complex, and goes beyond the election of a Conservative government on January 23, as suggested by Radio-Canada.

It is noteworthy that the report by Natural Resources Canada is made up of recommendations, whereas the reporter implied that it is binding and that the Conservative government approves the recommendations from the outset.

The SRC story contained a number of factual errors, including one regarding the appointment of the former environment minister, Ms Rona Ambrose. The story indicated that Ms Ambrose was appointed on February 16, when in fact she was appointed minister on February 6, 2006.

The report took a sensationalist tone and sought to draw a direct link between oil sands development and the election of the Conservative government, a link that is more than dubious.

On the program “Tout le monde en parle,” host Guy-A Lepage stated that the report might bring down Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative government. How could he make such a claim when most of the facts occurred under the Liberal government led by Paul Martin?

The wording used suggested to viewers that there was a link between the two events. How can any kind of link whatsoever be drawn between that meeting by oil industry leaders in Houston and Prime Minister Harper’s election the day before? There is no link between these two completely separate events. The timing angle, by which the events were depicted as occurring together within a broader environment, was unacceptable as worded in the report. There was no further clarification that would enable viewers to realize that these two events were completely separate from each other.

If the reporter felt it was important to indicate the timing of the meeting in Houston, a more nuanced wording -notably with regard to syntax- such as “Incidentally, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was elected on January 23,” would have had the advantage of dispelling any ambiguity. And as you know, the meeting of oil industry leaders was convened under the Liberal government of Paul Martin.

Furthermore, Radio-Canada spread misinformation that Prime Minister Harper and U.S. President George Bush met secretly. That information is completely false: no secret meeting or deal took place between Prime Minister Harper and President Bush.

A lot of things happened on January 24 and 25, 2006. I hope that not all those events that took place the day after January 23 have a direct link with our election. That would be rather bizarre timing.

I also want to clarify once again that our government was sworn in on February 6, 2006, which means that on February 6, 2006 , the Liberal Party of Canada was still in power.

This incident in no way diminishes my confidence in the excellent work carried out by the Société Radio-Canada. Media impartiality is essential in the knowledge and information society. The quality of our media institutions depends on it, as does the maintenance of the high degree of journalistic integrity that characterizes the SRC. We acknowledge that we are at odds with the SRC’s position. We are calling on you to consider the facts properly, so that the truth can come out of this misunderstanding.

I hope this meets with your expectations.

Yours sincerely,

Sandra Buckler
Director of Communications
Prime Minister of Canada

Telecaster’s Jim D. Patterson is a Liberal. What are the consequences for free opinion and fair elections?

Yesterday, on Dave Rutherford’s show, the Calgary radio host had Jim Patterson, CEO of Telecaster (TVB). Rutherford got right to the point which I first raised in this post: Is Jim Patterson a partisan Liberal? While Patterson admitted that he supports the Liberal Party of Canada, he denied partisanship. I outlined about $4000 in donations that came from “Jim/James D. Patterson” (or someone that shares that exact name that lives in Lakefield Ontario) over a period from 2004-2006. The data compiled included one donation made just 12 days before Canadians went to the polls in the 2006 election. This donation came at the very time that Patterson had the last word on the suitability of election advertising for the home stretch of that election campaign.

Of course, party supporters (large and small) and even high donors to political parties are able to run large private corporations and organizations, but I question how appropriate it is for Mr. Patterson to oversee the advertising process during an election when his group has admitted more than one mistake when it comes to election/advocacy advertising? Telecaster made a mistake in dumping a Canadian Renewable Fuels (CRFA) advertisement and cited an odd request that CRFA require Stephen Harper’s permission because the ad included his image. Of course, issue and advocacy advertising cannot be subject to an easy veto by a political figure who may not like the content of an ad which may hold them to account. How would election advertising work in this climate?

Telecaster admitted its error and eventually let the CRFA advocacy ads run.

However, given Telecaster’s folding to Liberal (and CBC) demands during the last election that a Conservative ad be pulled only to have the private regulatory body flip-flop and re-approve it days later is unacceptable. Free elections cannot be run in this environment.

Should a non-partisan parliamentary body be assigned to provide oversight into potential partisan abuses of Telecaster’s unique position? The free market allows competition of ideas, of product and even of partisanship. However, when an effective monopolistic cabal has editorial control over election and advocacy advertising and its suitability for viewing on every private television network, the market is not free and potential abuses are bound to arise.

Is TVB’s Jim D. Patterson a Liberal partisan?

Yesterday, I broke the story about how a regulatory body of Canada’s private broadcasters was apparently holding back advertising produced by the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA).

The reason for the rejection of CRFA’s advertising? Insufficient size (and duration) of a disclaimer describing who produced the ad spots as TVB categorized the commercials as “Issues and Opinions” due to the buzzworthy nature of renewable fuels.

However, CRFA was given another bizarre reason for the rejection of one of their ads: a two second clip of Stephen Harper stumping during the previous election on a renewable fuels promise needed a “letter of attestation” from the Conservative leader in order for it to appear in the commercial. In other words, CRFA needed Harper’s permission to use Harper’s image even though the use of such an image was from a public event and without media restriction. The clip was used by CRFA to remind Canadians of the promise made by the Conservatives during the previous election on renewable fuels.

CRFA cried foul and rightly argued that such a stipulation for advertising would mean that public figures that debate and write legislation for the public could have an automatic veto over any commercial that they don’t like that featured their image. It should be noted that the issue of ownership of the video content was never in dispute, but rather that the subject of the video (Harper) had not signed off on it’s use.

This got me thinking. Surely there are other examples of commercials produced using the images of elected officials. Election advertising and especially attack ads come to mind.

During the closing days of the previous election, I doubt that Stephen Harper signed off on the blurry, war drum fade-in of his image while Liberals warned of “soldiers with guns. In our cities. We’re not making this up”. Why would he give his permission for such a spot? Further, if TVB is responsible for editorial control over commercials that air on private broadcasters, why on Earth did a spot showing women hunched over cowering while a voice-over falsely accused Harper of being an ideologue that would prevent a woman from her right to choose get approved, while Corn Cob Bob got canned for using an innocuous clip of Stephen Harper (for about two seconds on less than 5% of the screen).

The TVB apparently greenlighted obviously slanderous ad copy while rejecting a happy-go-lucky ad about renewable fuels.

During the last days of the 2006 election, after the Liberals made those war drum spots (we’re not making this up), the Conservatives responded with their own ad with clips of Liberals saying the soldier ad was a “bad idea” etc and a clip of Paul Martin admitting that he approved the ads. The Liberals were quick to condemn the ad in a press release dated January 15th, 2006:

Conservatives Called on to Withdraw TV Spots
January 15, 2006

The Conservative Party of Canada has produced new television ads which the Liberal Party of Canada believes are in violation of Canada’s Copyright laws.

The Liberal Party of Canada calls on the Conservative Party to withdraw these ads.

Here’s the ad:

The Liberals lobbied to have the ad pulled because they claimed that the Conservatives violated CBC copyright by using a clip of Paul Martin admitting that he approved the controversial Liberal attack ads. A CP story from January 16th, 2006 gives us some more perspective:

OTTAWA (CP) — A new Conservative TV ad is reminding voters some of Paul Martin’s own candidates disapproved of a controversial Liberal attack which some say implied a Tory government would send tanks into the streets.

The Conservative ad recycles quotes from prominent Liberals including John McCallum, former defence minister, who last week called his party’s ad a mistake.

The 30-second Liberal spot was based on a campaign promise by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to station 500-member battalions of Canadian Forces personnel in major cities for deployment in emergencies.

The Liberal ad outraged military personnel, who said it implies the Tories were advocating some form of martial law.

It was quickly yanked from the Liberal party’s English website, but a French version aired on television in Quebec.

Martin has said he gave an initial go-ahead, then changed his mind and pulled the ad, which McCallum and Keith Martin, a former Reform party MP and now a Liberal incumbent, later criticized.

The Liberals called on the Conservatives to withdraw the ad in a statement Sunday, saying they believe it violates copyright laws by using CBC footage which they did not have permission to use.

But the Conservatives said all their ads were approved by the party’s legal counsel and Telecaster, the Canadian advertising authority. They added they haven’t received any complaints about the ad from the CBC.

Telecaster (TVB) initially approved the ad for distribution, however, the Liberals complained and the ad was subsequently pulled.

TVB’s greenlight of controversial Liberal ads, the rejection of CRFA’s ads which favourably portray Harper’s environmental policy, along with the pulling of the previously approved Conservative response ad during the past election after Liberals complained raises a few red flags.

As with other elements of our democracy, the approval of private advertising of election ads (and non-election advocacy ads) should be accomplished on a level playing field. Why should one party (whether Conservative or Liberal) have an advantage over the other when trying to get advertising approved for consumption by the public on private networks? Of course, private networks are free to do business with whomever they choose, but would it be a scandal if the umbrella group that is is in charge of editorial content control for these networks controlled for preferred partisanship rather than what they are supposed to control for? (hate speech, indecency, promotion of unlawful acts)

According to the Television Bureau of Canada’s website, the president of the organization is a man named Jim Patterson. In this document we find out that Jim Patterson also goes by the name James and that his middle initial is D.

I decided to search the Elections Canada donations database for donations from people named Jim/James D. Patterson. The following results describe one individual who, according to Elections Canada, lives in Lakefield Ontario with the postal code K0L 2H0.

Name of contributor Political party / Return type / End period Date received Class of contributor / Part # of the return Contribution transferred to (leadership contestant) Monetary ($) Non-monetary ($)
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Annual / 2005 Dec. 31, 2005 Individuals / Part 2a 450.00 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Annual / 2005 May 25, 2005 Individuals / Part 2a 250.00 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Annual / 2005 Dec. 20, 2005 Individuals / Part 2a 450.00 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Annual / 2004 Jun. 30, 2004 Individuals / Part 2a 500.00 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Annual / 2004 Sep. 29, 2004 Individuals / Part 2a 1,000.00 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Jun. 2005 May 25, 2005 Individuals / Part 2a 250.00 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Dec. 2005 Dec. 20, 2005 Individuals / Part 2a 450.00 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Sep. 2006 Jul. 27, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 83.34 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Jun. 2006 Apr. 28, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 83.34 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Jun. 2006 May 30, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 83.34 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Jun. 2006 Jun. 30, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 83.34 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Mar. 2006 Jan. 31, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 83.34 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Mar. 2006 Feb. 28, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 83.34 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Mar. 2006 Mar. 31, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 83.34 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Sep. 2006 Aug. 31, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 83.34 0.00
Jim D. Patterson Liberal Party of Canada / Quarterly / Sep. 2006 Sep. 29, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 83.34 0.00
James D Patterson Lloyd, Diane / Liberal Party of Canada / Peterborough Jan. 11, 2006 Individuals / Part 2a 250.00

Is this the same Jim/James D. Patterson that is the head of the Television Bureau of Canada, the private regulatory body that has editorial control over “Issues and Opinion” advertising?

If so, should a partisan be in charge of approving ads during a time sensitive period (such as an election) where parties depend on television advertising for their most critical rapid responses? Also, would it be appropriate for a partisan to have an advanced look at a competing party’s ads?

Shutting down speech on Canadian television

In Canada like the United States, television content is subject to review by regulatory bodies for a variety of reasons. In Canada, however, this material is subject to review for undesired political messaging.

Take a look at the following two produced-for-television spots from the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA):


Bio Who?


On The Hill

It might surprise you to find out that the spots were canned by a regulatory body of private broadcasters called the Television Bureau of Canada (TVB). In the opinion of this self-regulatory body for networks such as CTV and Global, the content of the ads has been classified as “Issue and Opinion” by TVB. In fact, according to a letter obtained by this blogger (reproduced below), “the subject of renewable fuels being a hot topic these days makes it an opinion expressed.” Uh oh.

You might be thinking that opinion has never really been subject to censorship in Canada unless it crosses the line of hateful speech, decency or the promotion of unlawful activity. Of course, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association is doing nothing of the sort in these spots.

Here is the letter from TVB to the advertising agency for Canadian Renewable Fuels:

The “On the Hill” spot was deemed unairable for a couple of reasons. First, Canadians would not be protected, it seems from clandestine opinions to change their economic behaviour (in the advertising industry, this is called “9 to 5, 7 days a week, 365 days a year”). Because renewable fuels is a political “hot topic”, vulnerable Canadians might suffer if the source of the advertising is not “on screen for at least 6 seconds [occupying] 1/3 of the screen in size”. The closing tag “greenfuels.org” on the spot is too covert for the audience even though it is likely meant as a plug for a website on which the CRFA presumably wants the audience to visit.

And what’s this about an “attestation letter” to the rights to use footage of Harper and the claim that the PM’s personal permission to use electoral footage of himself is needed before CRFA can proceed? Did anyone else know that the use of footage of a political candidate is forbidden in this country without the express written permission of that individual?

My pal Kory Teneycke, executive director of the CRFA wrote to the Conservative Party to inquire about such a request and passed on the party’s response to me:

Armed with confimation of his common sense, Teneycke wrote to TVB and expressed his concern:

What is your opinion on the stifling of speech on the over-regulated medium that is television in this country? I can think of a few instances of the suppression of public debate in this country, but only via government bodies. This marks a particularly egregious example perpetrated by a private organization. Further, this case is yet another example of how YouTube is helping individuals/organizations get around the regulatory filters. And why was the use of Harper’s image in a commercial that actually compliments his environmental plan such a deal-breaker for the Television Bureau of Canada?

You can write Jim Patterson, the President of the Television Bureau of Canada (Telecaster, TVB) at jpatterson@tvb.ca

UPDATE: CRFA mascot, Corncob Bob is on a Hunger Strike to protest the Television Bureau of Canada’s decision!

UPDATE: Gerry Nicholls, VP of the National Citizens Coalition and veteran of fighting censorship in advertising had the following to say when contacted for comment:

“Just another sad example of how we are regulating speech in this country and how we consistently underestimate the intelligence of Canadian consumers.”

UPDATE: Gerry also comments on his blog

Trudeau and Kennedy to be blocked by Dion?

I’m hearing that Justin Trudeau may face an interesting challenge partially originating from the Liberal leader Dion if the son of the late Liberal PM seeks nomination in Jean Lapierre’s riding of Outremont. Apparently, at least eight people have expressed interest in the nomination and among the eight is Brigette Legault (VP on Liberal Party Executive). Rumour is that Stephane Dion may end up trumping the young Trudeau’s bid by enforcing a policy ensuring that the Liberal party slates 33% female candidates for the next federal election. Outremont may be selected by Dion as a riding to be contested by a female candidate.

Legault is said to be actively campaigning, emailing Outremont Liberals for their support. As a member of the national executive, she brings significant Liberal support to the nomination race and may try and use Dion’s promise to leverage a win over Trudeau.

Speculation is also swirling around the riding of Parkdale High Park where Gerard Kennedy is reported to be interested in running. Again, a female executive member of the Liberal Party is eying that riding and may also receive Dion’s go ahead for that nomination. Elaine Flis is the VP for communications for the Liberal Party of Canada and is looking to secure the nomination from Kennedy.

Will Dion stick to his word by securing 1/3 of the candidate positions for women even if this comes at the expense of Trudeau and Kennedy? Or will Dion break his word and make these high profile female candidates select other ridings to contest?

UPDATE: Some commenters have pointed out the awkward nature of the last paragraph. It’s a false dichotomy. So let’s simply frame it this way: Will Dion stick to his word by securing 1/3 of the candidate positions for women even if this comes at the expense of Trudeau and Kennedy?

Jason Kenney interview

This week I had the chance to sit down and have a chat with Jason Kenney, the new Secretary of State for Multiculturalism. Kenney has been working multicultural outreach for the Prime Minister for quite some time and it was good to see Mr. Harper make it official last week.

In the interview we chat about the difference between the Liberal and Conservative approach to multicultural outreach, the Wajid Khan defection and more.

CBC’s Paul Hunter tries too hard on climate change story

Consider the following clip by the CBC’s Paul Hunter which aired on the National broadcast on January 9th, 2007. (Watch for the “curb” comment and the criticism of the PM and the RCMP for idling the PM’s motorcade).

Mansbridge: “As Paul Hunter discovered today, Baird may have some work to do curbing his own colleagues.”

Hunter: “But is the government listening? Even as the environmentalists were saying that inside, just outside the Prime Minister’s motorcade sat idling. At 10:30 this morning, 11:30, 12:30 and beyond, just meters from his office door.”

Hunter failed to report on a few facts that, when revealed, hardly puts the PM in a negative light.

RCMP security protocol demands that the Prime Ministerial motorcade (ie. security detail) be ready to evacuate the Prime Minister at a moments notice.

The RCMP are not permitted inside the confines of the buildings of Parliament. If not meters (meters!) from the Prime Minister’s door, then where? 10 meters? On Wellington? In Gatineau?

What was the Prime Minister doing that day? Is his office newsworthy, or his cars?

Stephane Dion’s new limo is a Cadillac, not quite so environmentally friendly.

How many greenhouse gases are produced by coast-to-coast-to-coast broadcasting during idle times at the CBC? (ie. during the nightly test pattern and re- (and first-)runs of The Hour).

Does the CBC idle its satellite trucks?

UPDATE: Steve Janke asks some more good questions.