Ipperwash contradictions

The final report from the Ipperwash inquiry was released today. The report aims to explain the events surrounding the death of native protester Dudley George by an OPP sniper’s bullet at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995.

Perhaps I’m being selective in my reading of the report, but from the “conclusions” section of the report it is written,

The evidence demonstrated that the Premier and his officials wanted the occupation to end quickly, but there is no evidence to suggest that either the Premier or any other official in his government was responsible for Mr. George’s death. — Page 675

So, is it unreasonable to be a bit put off by this CBC headline?
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“Harris government, OPP errors led to Ipperwash death, inquiry finds.”

This headline implies that the Harris government and OPP are responsible for Mr. George’s death.

This headline from the Toronto Star goes a little bit further:
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As I read the very important conclusion from the Ipperwash report above (the one about there being “no evidence to suggest that either the Premier or any other official in his government was responsible for Mr. George’s death.”), I’m surprised that the Toronto Star has found otherwise. The Star explicitly states fault (ie. responsibility) for the “Ipperwash death”.

Here’s the headline from the National Post:
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This headline is truthful about the findings of the Ipperwash inquiry. The inquiry itself did find fault in the approach of the police, and the province in the handling of the Ipperwash protest (it is easy to conclude that the approach was “wrong” because somebody died… not the ideal conclusion to any event), but the inquiry did not find fault in the provincial government for the death of Mr. George.

It is easy to see why some confusion occurs when reading the conclusions of the report for the report also reads:

The federal government, the provincial government and the OPP must all assume some responsibility for decisions or failures that increased the risk of violence and make a tragic confrontation more likely

The report concludes that the federal and provincial governments along with the OPP did contribute to an atmosphere which may have heightened tensions.

But responsibility for George’s death?

“Mike Harris cleared of responsibility for Ipperwash death”

would have been an honest headline (since it’s actually the conclusion of the Ipperwash report)

The problem with these media summaries and with the Ipperwash report itself is that each tries to invest too much into associating the final event (the death of Mr. George) with distant policies, circumstances and unfortunate, immutable realities instead of between the direct action and final result. The report connects the failed land claims process and the provincial government’s preference (but not direction) for a quick (quick!) resolution to lawbreakers breaking laws to the events that led up to Dudley George’s death. However, neither Mike Harris nor the federal government are culpable for Mr. George’s death and the report indeed states this finding. One surely cannot assign blame for death to something so distant as failed land claims processes!

New Conservative Ads

The Conservatives have launched their second barrage of ads this morning along the “Stephane Dion is not a leader” line.

This time, the Tories are focusing on Dion and the Senate and the obstructionist tactics that the Conservatives alledge the Liberals are using there.

NotALeader.ca was also launched today by the Conservatives and it features the blog of Kyoto the dog. Kyoto’s site is sure to be one of best Liberal blogs. The site also features the ads that were released today.

On the main Conservative.ca website, e-cards are featured and you can send your friends a flash animation of the Dion’s Senate tactics.

The ads have been launched to mark the dubious one year anniversary of Senate bill S-4, a bill to reduce the terms of senators to 8 years.

Conservatives, in the ads point out that senators can serve up to 45 years (until the age of 75).

Stephane Dion is on the record supporting limited Senate terms, however, he has been unable to get the bill passed by his own senators for one year now. Is Dion ineffective, or does he really favour the status quo.

Canadians have been interested in democratic reform, not the status quo and they’ve been interested in change for quite some time. The Liberals are obstructing legislation in the unelected, unaccountable Upper Chamber. Are the Liberals more interested in protecting entitlements instead of respecting the desire for reform?

Harper sizzles in latest poll

The Prime Minister’s personal numbers continue to sizzle and the latest poll shows a continuation of this trend. This latest poll final question asks for an important answer from Canadians. It’s an answer that speaks to the personality of a politician and the “main street” appeal of any candidate for the office of Prime Minister.

It’s the Harvey’s/Ipsos-Reid Hamburger poll commissioned in honour of National Hamburger Day which falls on the 28th day of this month of May.

It’s a moderately well known fact around Ottawa that Harvey’s actually is one of the PM’s favourite places to grab some food on the go and it’s of no real surprise that Harper cleans the grill (sorry) with the other contenders.

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Dion comes up with a particularly poor showing. Perhaps Canadians are already aware of his hotdog-eating etiquette.

“If this gets out, it could mean the end of the Liberal Party of Canada,” warned a local politico, requesting anonymity.

And what, pray tell, has the Grits so up in arms? It seems that when Stephane Dion touched down in Winnipeg last month, he and his entourage popped by North End mega-icon Kelekis for lunch. There, Dion shocked locals and his handlers by eating Kelekis’s world-famous hot dog with – gasp! – a knife and fork.

“It conjured images of George on Seinfeld eating a Snickers bar the same way,” said another witness who, for obvious reasons, also asked not to be named.

The same poll found that cheese tops the list for favourite topping among Canadians (63%) while only 13% of Canadian eat the burger alone.

Facebook freeze

I was wondering when this would finally happen…

Facebook, perhaps the most popular social networking site in the world where one can build a network among friends, acquaintances and professionals is to no longer be used by Conservative ministerial exempt staff.

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long. Facebook pages are like semi-private blogs that can include off-colour comments by colleagues, photos from last night’s bender and can even display deeply personal details such as one’s relationship status and sexual preference. Blogs understandably represented a communications challenge amongst a team that prides itself on tight messaging. Facebook not only represents this same challenge, but also has the potential for being a rich back-channel for opposition researchers, among others.

In fact, a reporter friend once remarked to me that Facebook was a ‘goldmine’ of information. With a few clicks, an industrious Globe and Mail scribe could find out that the press secretary to a Minister was at a Cinco de Mayo party this month, has interests that include “Ayn Rand, fast boats, ATVing and walks on the beach” and has a Guns ‘N Roses tattoo from earlier, less sophisticated
times.

David Akin, another reporter who is actively involved in the Facebook community, earlier wrote about the social networking phenomenon and then unknowingly highlighted what is likely the reasoning behind this recent decision:

“One of the reasons I wanted to be Harper’s FF [Facebook friend] was so that I could see who Harper’s other FFs were. I’m a nosy parker by profession and it’s my job to find out what his supporters and colleagues in the Conservative party are thinking about. So here was a good chance to invite myself to a virtual party where most (I suspect) are people who either are or would like to be Harper’s real offline friend. Now, the flipside of this is that all of these people at this virtual party of Harper’s friends can also see that I, too, have listed myself as Harper’s “Friend”. So, here I am, a journalist who is paid to provide independent, non-aligned and occasionaly sceptical reports on the Prime Minister and yet, here I am, on a list of his “Friends”.”

The “friend” network of a Conservative ministerial exempt staffer may include Conservatives, high school friends, Liberals, PMO staff and Mark Holland (just for kicks — and to spy on him too to see if he is as ill-timed with the keyboard as he is with what he says in public — he is). And therein lies the biggest problem for a professional network that trades on gossip, leaks and juicy details: while you’re checking them out, you’re open to the same. “Bozo eruptions” are not limited to a backbench MP freelancing opinion about social issues to a small- town newspaper reporter; Facebook, in its ease of use, and its socially reciprocating nature, lowers the threshold of access to and ramps up the rapid dissemination of the information about anyone that is about to ruin their political career.

Of course, staff will be upset by the move as Facebook is easily one of the day’s best diversions as it brings procrastination, web surfing and socializing together in a truly amusing way. However, the decision is a wise one for a team that must deal in this political reality.

The Liberals, predictably, will not follow suit in order to contrast their “openness” and “transparency” to Canadians. In fact, Stephane Dion has been an active participant of the social networking site (“Hello Facebook”). The contrarian move, of course, will be to their folly for the reasons that I outline above. But now, it is the potentially embarrassing Liberal information that is now available while Conservative information has been removed.

It should also be noted that this ban is different from that brought down by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. This ban by the Conservatives only applies to ministerial exempt staff. Facebook will still be accessible on their computers, but they are advised not to participate. McGuinty effectively had the Facebook site made inaccessible from Queen’s Park computers for all staff, regardless of their political stripe (or lack thereof). The aim of McGuinty’s ban is to cut down on procrastination while the Conservative ban is to patch up leaks before they occur.

Harper continues to embrace Afghan mission

Pollsters and media analysts alike have been warning the Conservative government that as we head into the spring and summer of this year, Afghanistan will become the Prime Minister’s true Achilles heal as more fatalities are likely to occur during the NATO mission in that country.

As bad news mounts alongside the good, it is the bad that becomes entrenched within the Canadian mindset as details emerge about alleged claims of torture from Afghan-detained detainees, the setback faced whenever one of our heroes falls, and the parallels that some dishonestly draw with the American conflict in Iraq.

However, Canadians have a history of shouldering the heavy burden of the responsibilities met in the hills and on the shores of foreign lands. Indeed, as Canadians we have always supported the fight for what is right and the common thread of this struggle has always been the establishment of the rule of law, peace abroad – which begets security at home – and the liberation of those who could not speak for themselves.

Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a visit to Kabul to emphasize the reconstruction and humanitarian efforts that currently underway in Afghanistan. Just over one year ago he made a similar yet different trip to visit soldiers that country’s southern tumultuous province of Kandahar. The Prime Minister has gone to underscore the part of the mission that can only succeed with the success of the other; Harper is promoting humanitarian efforts which can only come from the efforts of establishing civil order.

Canadians are understandably wary of seeing ramp ceremonies televised on our national news networks but it appears that enough of us appreciate (if we can never fully comprehend) the results that come from sacrifices made.

Support for the mission usually hovers at about 50% (granted, that means that 50% are either opposed or ambivalent), and Harper generally polls at about 42% while the party (and Harper) sit at about 30-35% (depending on the poll). Generally this means that Afghanistan is not a liability for the PM and that if the NATO mission starts to define this Prime Minister’s tenure, then he actually has a deficit to make up between his own numbers and that of the mission.

Thus from a communications standpoint, the Prime Minister should never act ashamed or himself wary of the mission if Afghanistan; at the end of the day, Canada is doing the right thing and the majority of Canadians understands this. Everytime the NDP captilizes on the doubtful among us, Harper is able to take a firm and rationed stance while leaving Liberals to flop around on the issue to the point where Canadians won’t trust them on any position. When Jack Layton talks about the ‘confusion’ over the Afghanistan issue, Harper can clearly enunciate humanitarian benchmarks reached. When Layton asks about the human rights of Taliban detainees, the Prime Minister can announce that the aggregate sum of rights in that central Asian country has increased x-thousand percent.

In fact, the Prime Minister has taken some of Layton’s more rational concerns and has focused them through his own lens. Take today’s trip to refine the Conservative government’s messaging on Afghanistan. The end goal of the mission has always been to help that country stand on its own with the base ideals that Canada can reflect in an emerging democracy. While security must be realized before reconstruction can be successful, if Harper is to message on all fronts and to embrace the good that has always been the Canadian mission there, he can assuage doubters of the mission while focusing some of the broader spectrum of Canada’s ideals along his own message.

Did you know that…

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe is entitled to a $110,000 annual pension once he retires?

Why is the Bloc still running candidates for federal office? How are their dreams for sovereignty served by sitting in Ottawa, collecting a salary (and eventual pension) paid for by the Canadian taxpayer?

As the the leader of the third largest party, Duceppe even occupies a better office on the Hill than the leader of the “fourth party”: Jack Layton.

Of course, Duceppe and his party were elected by Canadians in Quebec to represent their interests in Ottawa, however, with separatism at low levels of support, and with the PQ talking about shelving discussions on sovereignty for the time being in favour of focusing more on socially democratic issues, can we start electing federal members from Quebec that can represent the real and current issues on Quebeckers?

Lofty predictions, 5 cents apiece…

I’ve been passing this one around for awhile amongst friends so I really ought to write it down.

I think that Jack Layton will have to prove himself as a leader within the next year. The Green Party is eating Jack’s porridge, especially on the environment and big labour is knocking down his attempts at carving out any discernible green platform. Labour, itself, has always been a fickle ally of the New Democrats and Layton hasn’t been able to depend on them. Further, union members have been drawn in by Harper’s targeted family-friendly tax-cuts in the past and may continue to trend in that direction. Identifying the NDP’s base, is at present, as much of a challenge as it has ever been.

Couple these troubles with low polling numbers, a desire to keep the Conservatives in power due to these low polling numbers and a dwindling and growing angry base upset about this capitulation and we may see developing conditions for a crisis within the New Democratic Party.

Jack may as well be in trouble unless he figures out what it is that defines the NDP. It’s certainly not the environment. Unfortunately, it will probably be Afghanistan. But, this may not last for long as the Liberals are finding an opportunistic voice against the mission.

I believe that Dion will continue to abandon the centre to go to the left as he goes to meet the aggregate challenge to his leadership that is forming around Bob Rae. Given this, Layton and the NDP are about to be squeezed hard on the left and the casualty may be Jack’s leadership.

If that’s the case, I’ll make the lofty prediction that we may see David Miller take a shot at the job within the next year following a grassroots leadership challenge rooted within the rank-and-file of the party. Given the failing fortunes of Canada’s social democratic party, we may not see many other “top-tier” candidates go for the job. We may even see Layton run in the same leadership race in such a scenario.

Or, given the shallow pockets of the Liberals, and the thinning platform of the NDP, we may see a merger of necessity on the left. If Elizabeth May’s end-game is to sell-out the Green Party movement to the Liberals, we may see this unfold sooner.

Whistleblower stomped by unaccountable Senate

I cannot believe the news that has been swirling around the city in the past couple of days about Tory staffer Jeffrey Kroeker. Kroeker was reprimanded by a Senate report from the board of Internal Economy for having the audacity to blow the whistle on a junket taken by Senators to Dubai last year.

CTV had the original report of the trip:

Canadian senators waited in an expensive Dubai hotel for seven days after a failed attempt to reach Afghanistan when the military had warned them not to attempt the trip in the first place, CTV News has learned.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny had hoped to take his National Security Committee to Kandahar province for a fact-finding trip, as well as Dubai — a city in the United Arab Emirates that is trying to become a global business hub. Instead, the senators ended up spending seven days in Dubai.

The total hotel bill came to more than $30,000. Plane fare, meals and other expenses were not included.

CTV reported then that it obtained the information from a “leak”.

We now know that the information came from Jeffrey Kroeker, then a staffer for Conservative Senator Marjorie Lebreton.

Kroeker should be commended for bringing the excesses of the Canadian Senate to the attention of the public. Unfortunately Joan Bryden of CP makes an unfortunate comparison to the bureaucrat that was arrested two days ago for leaking the Tory’s Green Plan:

Coming a day after a federal contract employee was hauled off in handcuffs for allegedly leaking a draft of the government’s climate change plan, Liberal Senate Leader Celine Hervieux-Payette questioned how the Tories can sanction keeping Kroeker in the employ of a cabinet minister.

Of course, the situations of Kroeker and the Green Plan leaker Jeff Monaghan are completely different as Monaghan leaked government policy whereas Kroeker made available information that the Senate has actually chosen to keep itself exempt from revealing — yes, the Senate is not accountable to Access to Information requests. With respect to the environment leak, Monaghan broke his oath to keep state secrets. While the cost of junket to Dubai was meant to be kept secret by Kenny and his co-travelers, the information hardly represented any information critical to policy/security or governance. Kroeker simply blew the whistle on Senate excess. While Monaghan was an activist who leaked confidential and secret government policy that he didn’t agree with, Kroeker acted to disseminate information on the extravagant expenses of a handful of senators from the Upper Chamber which has exempted itself from the kind of transparency that keeps other facets of government accountable. Moreover, these expenses were not authorized by the Senate.

We have now learned that the Senate “investigated” Kroeker’s act in total secret and the investigation was conducted by a Senate sub-committee. Kenny himself sits on the board of internal economy, which had oversight over the investigative sub-committee, however Kenny did not think to recuse himself.

Bryden also makes an unfortunate omission in her article. She writes,

The rebuke of Jeffrey Kroeker was contained in a unanimous report of the Senate’s committee on internal economy. The 15-member committee includes four Conservative senators.

The description of a “unanimous report” is misleading here because “unanimous” means that the decision to table the report was unanimous, but the acceptance of the report was hardly the same.

In summary, what do we have here?

Unaccountable senators, part of an unaccountable Senate — the lack of transparency of that body is reflected by its lack of public accounting and disclosure — went on a seven day junket to Dubai at the cost of $30,000 to the Canadian taxpayer. The purpose of the trip was to observe the operations in Kandahar, however, it was expressed to the Senators that this leg of the trip would not happen therefore making the excursion overseas useless. Nevertheless, the senators spent seven days in the hotel, only attended two meetings, and “wrote a report”. However, CTV’s original article includes a quote from Sen. Tommy Banks that the report for the most part was written before the trip was taken. The Vice Chief of Defence Staff in two separate letters confirmed that Senator Kenny was fully aware that they could not get into Afghanistan and as such, should have canceled that leg of the trip. When Kroeker learned what they had done by staying the hotel for over a week, he knew that they had gone beyond the authorized expenses of the Senate and as such, he decided to research the costs. When he saw how galling the expenses were he made the decision to blow the whistle. What the senators did was grossly unfair to taxpayers.

Kroeker should be commended, not condemned.

This seems like politically motivated retribution by a Liberal dominated Senate for the whistleblowing act of a Tory staffer. Why should the cost of a senate junket to Dubai be “secret” from Canadian taxpayers?

Bryden’s article thankfully includes praise from Conservative Senator Terry Stratton:

Senator Terry Stratton, the Tory whip in the upper house, rejected the report’s conclusions. He cast Kroeker as a conscientious staffer who blew the whistle on misuse of taxpayer’s money.

“(The report) makes it very difficult for people to expose the unauthorized expenditure of public money,” Stratton said in a written statement issued late Thursday.

“We should be proud of the stand that Jeffrey Kroeker took. He is a staffer who saw wrong and tried to make it right.”

Unfortunately, the Globe and Mail omitted this praise from its editing of Bryden’s CP article.

Here is a statement, released from Sen. LeBreton’s office just a few hours ago:

Today the Senate Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration tabled a report with the Senate in which it called into question activities of former Senate staffer, Jeffrey Kroeker.

The report is the result of an investigation undertaken by the Committee following media reports in October 2006 regarding the alleged misuse of public money on a trip to Dubai by the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, led by Liberal Senator Colin Kenny.

Senator Stratton today rejected the report: “I am extremely disappointed that this Senate Committee has issued this report. I disagree entirely with its conclusion. It makes it very difficult for people to expose the unauthorised expenditure of public money and is contrary to all of the principles in a post-Gomery world.”

In 2006, a group of senators were to take a trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan to visit Canadian troops. This trip was cancelled due to operations before the committee left, but some of the senators decided to proceed to Dubai, in any event, where they stayed, at taxpayers expense for 10 days.

Shortly following the trip, Jeffrey Kroeker discovered that the expenses for the trip to Dubai were not properly authorised and, further, that Senator Kenny, the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence was aware he would be unable to visit the base in Kandahar before he left Ottawa.

When Jeffrey Kroeker became aware of these facts, he blew the whistle, and reported the misuse of public funds to the media.

Today’s report of the Standing Committee is retaliation by a group of Liberal senators against a hard working Senate staffer, who exposed misuse of public funds. Jeffrey Kroeker did what anyone else would do when he saw public money being misused.

“We should be proud of the stand that Jeffrey Kroeker took. He is a staffer who saw wrong and tried to make it right. I am disappointed that this action has been taken,” stated Senator Stratton.

Canada’s New Government has worked hard over the last year to toughen laws that protect whistleblowers. This is exactly the type of staffer that such laws were designed to protect.

“I am very disappointed in this action by the Committee. We need more staffers like Jeffrey Kroeker and we need to support them, not punish them for doing what any honest person would do,” concluded Senator Stratton.

About those Canadian spy coins…

Remember that story about those Canadian spy coins that hit the presses at the beginning of this year?

the Defense Department cautioned its American contractors over what it described as a new espionage threat: Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside.

The government said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

Intelligence and technology experts said such transmitters, if they exist, could be used to surreptitiously track the movements of people carrying the spy coins.

poppy-coin.jpgTurns out that the American contractors were spooked by the Canadian 25 cent poppy coin. The Royal Canadian Mint has a patent on the process by which an image can be “painted” on a coin and the novel application to Canadian coins to commemorate our nation’s war dead left the Americans suspecting espionage. Apparently, the laminate cover used to protect the paint lights up under UV light and under closer inspection the American defense contractors wrote:

“Under high power microscope, it appeared to be complex consisting of several layers of clear, but different material, with a wire like mesh suspended on top.”

This led the US Defense Department to issue a warning suggesting that radio transmitters were located on the coins. Other analysts suspected the use of nanotechnology affixed to the surface of the quarters.

h/t: AP