Election factors

As Parliamentary break week comes to a wrap in Ottawa, politicos are watching perceived paradigm shift of sorts as suddenly the chatter has moved from Dion’s effectiveness, for the first time since his election as leader, to mounting Conservative troubles capped by the so-called In-and-Out “scandal”. As Ottawa shifts and regroups before parliamentarians return to their seats next week, let’s assess the political landscape and consider the maneuverings and motivations of the federal parties.

Ottawa observers in the press gallery have predicted that we’ll quietly move into summer as the Liberals and Conservative regroup to do battle in the fall as a few parliamentary hurdles are surpassed and Canadians have time to assess the mathematics of In-and-Out that has everyone in this town both confused and hungry for more details.

However, there are a few factors which indicate that both the Conservatives and Liberals are moving towards preparing for a summer election.

Sources of mine close to Liberal preparations have quietly passed on that Grit organizers in southern Ontario have activated their volunteer base in at least 15 ridings. In fact, Stephane Dion had a campaign photo shoot within the past week in order to get, among other things, his visage wrapped around Liberals buses. The Liberals may be moving ahead for a June election for a variety of reasons including the fact that Stephane Dion’s leadership debt – a staggering $800,000 owed to creditors – comes due at the end of June. What will Elections Canada have to say about this, if anything? If the government body acts to rebuke Dion, this will take some punch out of Liberal scandal-mongering on In-and-Out.

Conservatives on the other hand are making a few preparations. On the party side, a handful of Conservative nominations have been released in order to secure candidates as soon as possible. When it comes to the Prime Minister’s office and recent messaging, Mr. Harper at a rally last night in Montreal tested a few lines on Stephane Dion’s countless opportunities to bring down the government. One assumes that if the Liberal leader feels an urgency to send Canadians to the polls that the Conservatives will underscore this as opportunism instead. On the policy front, in the past week Stephen Harper has been messaging on what will likely be the key message of an upcoming campaign: the economy. Canadians are uncertain about the future economic climate as the US goes into recession and as the Canadian economy bellies up to the same line. In the past week, the Prime Minister has linked immigration to improving Canada’s skilled worker capacity, has emphasized stronger trade relations with India, spoken about targeting economic spending to bolster strategic Quebec industries such as aerospace and space and health sciences, and has had a tri-lateral meeting with US and Mexican leaders on SPP as a compliment to NAFTA.

In a future election campaign, Liberals in Dion’s office have told me that they will run on a theme of “wrong direction” meaning that in the climate of scandal that has been constructed, the Liberals will suggest to Canadians that the Prime Minister is taking the country along the wrong path and that the policy of this government just emphasizes this. Of course, this will be problematic for Liberals as they’ve been effectively rubber-stamping every Conservative policy that has moved through the House by abstaining from votes.

Emphasizing scandal can be risky for the Liberal campaign as it leaves campaign scripting vulnerable to unforeseen events such as the RCMP’s warning that more Liberal charges are coming with respect to the sponsorship scandal. Such a development would be uncomfortable for Dion as Canadians are reminded of Liberals stealing other people’s money to fight elections (rather than spend their own as Conservatives have done with In-and-Out).

If the Liberal intend to go to an election this summer, the knee-capping factor may be the NDP. Jack Layton’s party would not want to see the writ dropped on perceived Liberal momentum as any narrative that has Dion within arms reach of Stephen Harper would cause the “Think Twice” coalition of pseudo-socialists to reconvene and urge Canadians to vote Liberal. The ideal election scenario for Layton is a ballot question that splits Canadians left and right on an issue that leaves Liberals without any semblance of cohesion. The NDP can rest assured that Harper, the strategic chess player that he is, has crafted such a scenario. The NDP knows that going to an election on Liberal terms would be a disasterous scenario for their party as their seat count would diminish and their $1.83 per vote lost would decrease the party’s war chest by millions over the period of a future Conservative or Liberal government. The NDP has been working quietly to give a soft-landing where they can for Conservatives (the Lukiwski scandal was relatively easy on the Tories and handled much better than the freelancing done by Irene Mathyssen on James Moore) and aggravating Liberal planning where they can.

Observers that think that the Prime Minister is looking for an opportunity to orchestrate an election should take stock of a few factors. On the partisan side, Conservatives are looking forward to a policy convention scheduled for the fall. Not having had a convention since 2005, the party is preparing for the event and would rather avoid an election that would jeopardize the gathering. Most importantly however, while everyone else is distracted by the narrow scope of the daily street battle of Ottawa politics, the Prime Minister is reconfiguring the broader electoral and political landscape for sustained decades-long effect. The more time that the Prime Minister has to restructure the Canadian state, its identity and political brands, the more permanence his agenda will have. Whenever the election, of the men that will seek a mandate from the exercise, one seeks the Prime Ministership as a means to an end, while the other aimlessly covets it for no other reason than to remedy the dissonance of a desanguinated party that stands for nothing else.

The Elections Canada raid (supporting information and Conservative response)

Below you’ll find the application for a search warrant from Elections Canada (the warrant), attached appendices to the affidavit of EC official Ronald Lamothe, and a list of contradictions that the Conservative Party believes to exist between Lamothe’s affidavit and the supporting documentation.

First, the search warrant:

Read this doc on Scribd: stephentaylorca-warrant

and the appendices to the affidavit sworn by Lamothe:

Read this doc on Scribd: appendices to affidavit

The Conservative Party has pointed out contradictions that exist between the affidavit sworn and supporting material provided in the appendices to the affidavit. Here are the contradictions that they emphasize (received via email (on the record) from the CPC):

In general, the text of the affidavit is extremely one-sided. It is replete with misstatement, misquote, incomplete quotes, and apparently deliberate omission of information which is contrary to the existence of their “theme” of a “scheme”. A particular concern would be some very serious distortions of the documents that the affidavit purports to paraphrase or refer to.

1. An outrageous example is the fabricated purported quote of Irving Gerstein, Chair of Conservative Fund Canada, contained at p. 54, para 229d. Compare the paraphrased “quote” in the text to the actual email from the person purporting to quote Mr Gerstein, contained at Appendix 25 of the document. The person quoting Mr Gerstein in the email does not say that Mr Gerstein even referred to a “switch” in advertising expenses, let alone that this would be necessary to avoid breaching the limit. The version of the quote in the affidavit is a fabrication by the affiant.

This fabrication undermines the credibility of all the other paraphrased quotes in the affidavit, especially where the quotes are from individuals whose statements are not contained in emails of third parties (as with Mr Gerstein) but rather were allegedly directly made in conversations with the investigators.

2. Another outrageous example is the repeated but baseless implication or innuendo that Party staff essentially fraudulently altered Retail Media invoices (pages 16, 23, 53, 54, 55). This is manifestly false: the explanation is contained at para 79, and reflected in the documents at App 19 and 23. Simply stated, one Retail Media invoice that lists some 40 ridings was obviously re-copied for ease of reference to refer to one riding at a time. The amount applicable to a given riding was unchanged.

3. This baseless implication of fraudulent invoicing is repeated at p. 25, para 92. There is reference to a Retail Media invoice for a riding of $10,657 for “radio”, while it is noted the Party invoice for that riding for “media buy” is $21,240.57. The affiant states that he “is not aware of the reason for the difference”. The reason is that he ignored another Retail Media invoice for the same riding contained at the previous page in the same Appendix (App 8, at pp. 211ff), in the amount of $10,584, for “TV”. The two Retail Media invoices together total $21, 241 – i.e., the same amount as carried forward onto the Party invoice.

4. At p. 25, para. 90, there is a paraphrased alleged quote of an official agent, Lise Vallieres, suggesting that she had never agreed to the advertising expenditure. It is disturbing that there is no reference here to the letter that her candidate sent to Elections Canada dated December 15, 2006 concerning his campaign’s participation in the regional media buy. The letter states as follows:

“Il s’agit d’un ‘placement collectif’ de publicité de plusieurs comtés lors de la dernière election générale (23 janvier 2006). Mme. Lise Vallières, agent officielle du soussigné, a accepté d’y participer de bonne foi.”

(see O’Grady affidavit in Federal Court filing)

5. Anyone familiar with federal electoral law and policy would be aware that every candidate and official agent must sign the following declaration to Elections Canada in relation expenditure listed in their return:

“I hereby solemnly declare that to the best of my knowledge and belief:

“1. the information contained in this return is correct; all election expenses in respect of the conduct or management of the election have been properly recorded;

“I make this solemn declaration conscientiously, believing it to be true and knowing that it is of the same force and effect as if made under oath and by virtue of the Canada Evidence Act.”

Yet, there is no reference to this in the several pages of paraphrased quotes from candidates and agents who were interviewed by the investigators.

6. Further, given the repeated implications in the alleged paraphrased quotes that candidates or agents did not enter binding contracts for the advertising, it is unbalanced that there is no reference to the considerable evidence in the emails that Mr Donison dealt directly with many of the local agents or candidates and he stated at the time that he was getting “solemn contractual commitments” from them (see Appendix 47).

7. Also disturbing is the innuendo at p. 54 that Party officials “chose not to seek a ruling…prior to ‘switching’.” The underlying e-mail (Appendix 21) is actually between two people in the media industry, not the Party, who simply discuss whether the Broadcasting Arbitrator should be consulted as to whether they can act as buying agents for local campaigns. There is no mention of “switching”.

Back in November of last year, the Conservative Party filed an affidavit (the “Donald Affidavit”) with the federal court. The document describes similar activities of other federal parties during previous elections and serves to rhetorically ask why the Conservative Party is singled out for what they argue is a common practice. The Conservatives maintain that these transfers for federal/regional/candidate ad buying is legal and that their position is defensible. The party is currently challenging what they argue is the selective misinterpretation of the Elections Act against them by Elections Canada. The Donald Affidavit elaborates on this argument.

Read this doc on Scribd: stephentaylorca-donaldaffidavit

No, Carole… I really have no idea at all.

This was the CBC’s chief political correspondent Keith Boag’s response to CBC Sunday host Carole McNeil as to why the seasoned journalist and a select few were excluded from a Conservative media briefing on the now famous Elections Canada “visit” at a Sheraton hotel conference room this afternoon.

Boag expresses befuddlement and files a story about the story, something that has happened more and more in this town since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister.

They say that in this town, it can be more about who you know than what you know. Today, it seems that this is still true.

In less than one week after Boag and camera crew had an exclusive tip-off to show up and film an RCMP investigation (as Boag originally reported), the senior CBC newsman files a frustrated story but fails to speculate on why he doesn’t share the same insider access to CPC news tips that he seems to enjoy from raid tipsters with special knowledge of Elections Canada’s gameplan.

Something isn’t right about RCMP “raid”

If the Conservative Party of Canada is in the midst of a confrontational legal matter with Elections Canada, isn’t it a bit imprudent for EC to use an enforcement mechanism of the state (the RCMP) to gain leverage (political and informational) against its opponent?

Let’s consider an analogy.

If I was suing Heath Canada for certifying faulty medical equipment that led to personal injury, would it be appropriate for Heath Canada to call in the RCMP to raid my office in order to gather evidence of my claim, decreasing the merit of my case in the eyes of my co-workers (or even the national media if they were called ahead of time). Since Health Canada and I have equal standing in court, would I have the power to leverage this same enforcement mechanism to help my case?

Since Elections Canada has a stake in an ongoing civil action with the Conservative Party of Canada, is conducting their related investigation in conflict with the equal standing that the Conservatives should reasonably expect in their civil case against them?

Furthermore, doesn’t a court in a civil matter have the same powers to gather and secure evidence? So, why is this being done by the RCMP and why is this being directed by one of the stakeholders in a related lawsuit?

Should Elections Canada suspend its investigation process until questions raised by the Conservative Party’s civil suit are sorted out?

UPDATE:It would seem that according to Mr. Lamothe at Elections Canada that “the Commissioner of Canada Elections is not party to this litigation”.

Who cares about policy! When’s the election?

In Ottawa this year, it seems that most parties have figured out the very fuel which drives media cycles and therefore access to important eyeballs during the dinner hour news: election speculation.

From CTV’s Question Period, to CBC’s At-Issue Panel to even CPAC’s Primetime Politics, the questions are almost cliché,

What do today’s events mean for election timing?

Will we see an election this spring or before summer?

I’ve noticed that the Conservative government has tied this number one concern of Ottawa-area reporters with the issues that they want to underscore for their constituents. Crime is perhaps the best polled issue for Conservatives and by this measure alone, it has the Prime Minister’s party towering above the others even in Liberal Fortress Toronto. Yet, it is a topic the media either doesn’t find attractive or relevant to selling ad space or commercial time. How could the Conservatives remedy the situation?

Late last year and early this year, the Conservative government made its crime bills an omnibus one and an issue of confidence. Immediately, the passage of the crime bills and Conservative-Liberal logger heads on the issue and the striking differences between the two parties on a popular Conservative issue could be highlighted. By testing the confidence of the House, the Conservatives were able to talk about their issues, but by tying it to election speculation, they had a willing open microphone in the mainstream media.

Even as polls show immobility for the Liberals and Conservatives in the electoral horserace, recent events such as the halting of the sale of MDA, the seizure of the Farley Mowatt are being seen through the lens of election timing even though most in this town have written off an election prior to the summer break. Darrel Bricker of Ipsos Reid Public Affairs tried to do his part to drive election speculation by calling the recent poll numbers as “a stalemate in perpetual motion.”

We’ve even seen opposition parties use the allure of the election story to highlight their policy differences with the Conservatives. The Liberals embarrassingly threatened to pull down the government over changes to immigration legislation by dropping a confidence motion on the government to force an election in early June. Unfortunately for Dion, the Liberal leader then proceeded to vote for the immigration legislation.

So, when will there be an election? It seems to be a matter of importance to anyone that works within the Ottawa bubble as travel schedules need to be booked, airtime reconfigured and commercials for sit-down showers benched for Lakota herbal medicine and alpaca farming opportunities. Outside of the bubble, people are concerned with real policy and how it will affect their lives. Bring on “vote-rich Ontario” and “the path to a Harper majority goes through Quebec” because if that’s how policy discussion is framed by our media framers, then parliamentarians will keep the press hounds rabid thinking Ottawa is always on the brink of election.

“Controversial” civil rights

In every struggle for civil rights, there is controversy. By its very definition, a right implies not permissibility, but rather that permissiveness is not only inherently offensive to the concept of rights, but that this frame is at the root cause of the struggle. When one has the right, it is without question.

Controversy has existed in every struggle for human rights, for without controversy there is no struggle and without struggle there is no assertion of rights.

In the fight for racial and gender equality there has been controversy. In the struggle for equality in sexual orientation, there has been controversy. For those fighting for reproductive choice and those fighting for the right to life there has been controversy.

If controversy is definitively intertwined with the fight for any civil right, isn’t it redundant to say?

In fact, when it is used selectively for some rights struggles versus others is there a values judgment and a betrayal of impartiality to one side of a rights debate versus the other?

Consider CTV’s eulogy of Charlton Heston:

“Now to the death of Charlton Heston. As an actor, he parted the Red Sea, painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, won a chariot race and survived an earthquake. But his most controversial role was played off-screen lobbying for gun rights as president of the National Rifle Association.”

Canadian news reports thankfully would not do Martin Luther King Jr. disservice and would not describe him playing a “controversial role” for civil rights, nor would they describe the Famous Five’s role as “controversial” when they asked the Supreme Court of Canada, “are women persons?” The fight for free speech has caused controversy, yet no self-respecting Canadian journalist would selectively describe such a struggle as “controversial”.

Since all rights struggles are controversial, why do some merit the qualifying (and effectively disqualifying) label?

Conservative Party looks to Karl Rove playbook

In Ottawa this week, Conservatives hoping to sharpen their political skills looked south, to the United States of America to replicate the success of the back-to-back electoral victories of George W. Bush and the Republican machine.

In caucus, Conservative MPs and senators were treated to a strategy session that was based on information written by “Bush’s Brain”, Karl Rove. Rove served in the Bush administration as deputy chief of staff to the President and is largely known as the architect of Republican victories during the past decade. “Bush has taken what we thought we knew about politics and turned it into a different game for a different generation” was heard from Wednesday’s caucus session.

Pollsters agree that Rove’s approach to mobilizing select groups of voters on highly motivating issues is the key to creating a permanent Conservative majority. Conservatives may be facing an election this fall and are increasingly known to be studying Rove’s strategies to achieve more seats when Canadians go to the polls.

The preceding would be on the front page of the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail if it were true. Since it is not, I’m thankful that I was able to find this analogous yet reality-based account buried on Susan Delacourt’s blog.

Weak attack by Dion on immigration

Yesterday, Stephane Dion, the embattled leader of the Liberal Party of Canada tried to attack the Prime Minister on a 20 year old position he wrote as a member of the Reform Party.

From CTV:

Using a 20-year-old Reform Party document authored by Stephen Harper, the Liberals tried to paint the prime minister as anti-immigrant Tuesday.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion quoted the document in the House of Commons, which said immigration should not “radically or suddenly alter the ethnic makeup of Canada.”

“(This) may look like an attempt to deliver promises made by the Reform party 20 years ago,” Dion said, saying the old report was the inspiration for the Conservative’s new immigration bill.

Well, now. Does anyone disagree? Logically, if Dion disagrees with Harper’s position, he would agree with the inverse:

immigration should “radically or suddenly alter the ethnic makeup of Canada.”

If we’re going to dig into the past to find old quotes from MPs, there are a few Liberal ones.

In 1992, Tom Wappel suggested refugees be held in closed military bases. (Toronto Star, November 16, 2002).

“We should just choose the best. The present system is not fair. Fairness means we don’t put the queue jumpers ahead; criminal refugees are deported quickly. We try not to burden our schools with English as a second language.” — Garth Turner (Edmonton Journal, May 19, 1993)

“The fact is our immigration minister has been allowing terrorists and criminals to enter Canada through our porous and faulty immigration laws.” — Keith Martin (Hansard, October 18, 2001)

“On the issue of criminality, individuals who have committed crimes in this country should be sent back to their country of origin.” — Keith Martin (Hansard, February 27th, 2001)

[Denis] Coderre said that immigrants and refugees who would “crachent sur mon drapeau [spit on my flag]” by supporting Quebec separation, should be deported. (National Post, January 16, 2002)

Canada needs to look at its immigration policies, she added. “Do we have people coming in illegally, who are running drugs?” — Hedy Fry (The Province, January 22, 2008)

Toronto MP John McKay, a Martin supporter and chairman of the Ontario caucus, has said he finds it bizarre that ”children and non-citizens” are able to determine who becomes the next prime minister. Mr. McKay attended Saturday’s meeting and voted in favour of the extra restrictions. (National Post, February 11, 2002)

If Dion thinks he’s found a smoking gun in a 20 year old quote by Harper, I’ll call his bet to the same inconsequential degree with some old Liberal quotes.