John Williamson to run

The news came this morning from the Telegraph Journal that the Prime Minister’s director of communications, John Williamson, would be seeking Greg Thompson’s seat in the next election should he win the nomination.

I spoke to Mr. Thompson by phone this afternoon and the former Minister of Veterans Affairs told me that he’s known John’s family for years and that he called John himself and encouraged him to run. Thompson says he hopes for a broad field of well qualified-nomination contestants and believes John would do well.

The Prime Minister’s office offered the following on Williamson’s projected departure from the office, “Like a lot of Atlantic Canadians, John went elsewhere for a job.  But he is now returning to the only place he calls home.”

I’ve also learned that the Prime Minister has been pleased with Williamson’s work and that had Greg Thompson not announced his retirement, John would be staying put.  He has said that his job is not easy, but he is glad that he accepted it in August and enjoys working for the Prime Minister, which he feels is “an honour and an exceptional privilege”.

Also, I’ve come to understand that John will not commence his nomination campaign until once he has left PMO. In the meantime, John will devote all of his efforts to government business and as an added precaution, he will have no involvement in New Brunswick issues and files.

Williamson will no doubt be a strong contender for nomination and his history both on the partisan/government side as Harper comms and movement side with the CTF and Manning Centre will likely offer the voters of New Bruswick Southwest the confidence they’d need to elect him to Parliament after the next election.

Good luck, John.

Senator Doug Finley Interview on Freedom of Speech

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview Senator Doug Finley on the inquiry that he is asking for in the Senate regarding the state of free expression in Canada. I wrote about this move by Finley late last week when he first rose in the Senate on the issue. I asked the Senator about his initiative, his concern over recent events, whether s.13.1 of the Canadian Human Rights Act should be repealed and if there should be a special section of the criminal code for those that inhibit freedom of expression. I also ask about Elections Canada and the in-and-out appeal by the non-partisan arbitrating body.

Sarah Palin responds to crosshairs controversy, hugs metaphor tighter

Sarah Palin got into some controversy late last week when she posted what her critics have described as a “hitlist” of Democrats who voted for the healthcare reform bill that represent districts previously held by Republicans.

To be sure, the rhetoric surrounding the debate has been intense including controversy where a coffin was allegedly placed on the front-lawn of a Congressman (the claim is disputed).

John McCain (R-AZ) weighed in to offer that talk of “target” districts has been used politically by both sides for years and years. Indeed, even in Canada, one division of a party’s “war room” is the “target seat management” desk. And you thought that we Canucks were all polite and peaceful! As an aside, the Green Party was the sole exception and referred to their war room as a “nerve centre” during the last election.

Democrats and those on the left complain that the rhetoric, especially from those in the Tea Party movement on the right has been troubling, suggesting that some in the movement hope that revolution will come to bring change as it did after the same event over 230 years ago that inspired the name of the current group of self-described “patriots”. And as any group that combats another will do to make a point about their opponents, fringe elements will be emphasized by the one as representative of the whole of the other.

Palin, in response to the criticism, has posted another Facebook post which looks to diffuse the controversy by more tightly embracing the metaphorical. In the post she writes,

March Madness battles rage! My family and I join millions of Americans enjoying college basketball’s finest through March Madness. Underdogs always get my vote as we watch intense competition bring out the best in these accomplished teams.

The Final Four is an intense, contested series (kind of like a heated, competitive primary election), so best of luck to all teams, and watch for this principle lived out: the team that wins is the team that wants it more.

To the teams that desire making it this far next year: Gear up! In the battle, set your sights on next season’s targets! From the shot across the bow – the first second’s tip-off – your leaders will be in the enemy’s crosshairs, so you must execute strong defensive tactics. You won’t win only playing defense, so get on offense! The crossfire is intense, so penetrate through enemy territory by bombing through the press, and use your strong weapons – your Big Guns – to drive to the hole. Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win.

Focus on the goal and fight for it. If the gate is closed, go over the fence. If the fence is too high, pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, parachute in. If the other side tries to push back, your attitude should be “go for it.” Get in their faces and argue with them. (Sound familiar?!) Every possession is a battle; you’ll only win the war if you’ve picked your battles wisely. No matter how tough it gets, never retreat, instead RELOAD!

– Sarah Palin

What do you think of Palin’s rhetoric? Does it serve the GOP well to whip up its base over Obama’s successful passage of the healthcare reform legislation? Do the Republicans need to regroup under a new issue or is it just the messaging that is unhelpful? Or do you believe that this is the right track and tone for the GOP to take to make gains in November?

Solidarity For Their Own Good: A history of the Canadian Federation of Students

This past week, the Graduate Student’s Association at the University of Calgary overwhelmingly voted to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). The CFS has faced much opposition from students on a number of campuses on which the organization represents and many universities are moving to decertify themselves from the organization.

An extensive document dropped in my inbox this afternoon detailing troubles with the CFS and goes into great depth on the topic. I’ll quote from the executive summary:

Although the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) has been the subject of a great deal of criticism in recent years, few have sought to gain a detailed understanding of the organization and understand how it functions in practice. At present, many students are attempting to leave the organization, but most of these attempts have been blocked through various legal maneuverings. This paper is partly an organizational analysis of the CFS, partly a political argument, and partly an exposé.

Drawing largely on a large number of primary and secondary source documents, this paper argues that the CFS is governed, de facto, as an oligarchy consisting of a relatively small group of staff and directors. Due to a number of structural factors, the proper relationships of accountability between staff and directors, and between the CFS and its member students’ unions, are partially inverted, turning the organization into a top-down structure whose corporate culture is essentially bureaucratically-oriented, rather than membership-oriented. As a result of this bureaucratic orientation, the CFS’s interest in maintaining and increasing its membership (and source of funds) eclipses its commitment to respecting democratic decision-making, local autonomy, and freedom of the speech and of the press.

The paper was written by Titus Gregory and I’m only starting to go through it in any detail. I’ve reproduced it below. Please feel free to use the comments section below to discuss/debate the ideas presented.

Senator Finley calls for an inquiry on the erosion of free speech in Canada

Today Senator Doug Finley rose in the Senate to give notice that he would “call the attention of the Senate to the issue of the erosion of Freedom of Speech in our country” and that this would be done through an inquiry.

Under the rules of the Senate, a minimum of two days must be given before a sponsoring senator can speak to an inquiry he or she would like to initiate. This means that Senator Finley is expected to speak to the issue next Tuesday at the earliest. Also, the sponsoring senator can provide a reply at the conclusion of the inquiry.

This move by Finley is likely in reaction to recent events by university officials and students at the University of Ottawa to intimidate US conservative commentator Ann Coulter from appearing on campus. Coulter’s scheduled speech was cancelled due to safety concerns this past Tuesday. The Senator will also rise during a time when federal and provincial human rights commissions have run amok, hearing complaints by politically offended groups and individuals.

The Ann Coulter cancellation at the University of Ottawa has further mainstreamed public opinion against censorship of speech drawing defense of the American firebrand by a broad cross-section of Canadian opinion-makers.

Finley’s call for a Senate inquiry will promote discussion of the values of free speech and will draw lawmakers to consider the broader view of how far this freedom has slipped away in Canada.

UDPATE: Hansard record of Finley’s notice.

Erosion of Freedom of Speech

Notice of Inquiry

Hon. Doug Finley: Honourable senators, I give notice that, two days hence:

I will call the attention of the Senate to the issue of the erosion of freedom of speech in our country.

Jack Layton’s awkward dance on abortion

At the moment, I’m watching MPs vote on motions before the House of Commons. A controversial vote on a Liberal motion on “Maternal and Child Heath” was just narrowly defeated, thanks in large part to a hold-out of Liberal MPs standing against Michael Ignatieff.

Most will remember that earlier this year, Michael Ignatieff got himself into some hot water by challenging Prime Minister Harper on the delivery of health and support for women and children in the third world. The Liberal leader decided to add the divisive issue of abortion into the mix and suffered the headline from The Catholic Register: “Ignatieff urges abortion for world’s poor”.

Before the vote, the NDP put out a press release concerning the wavering Liberal position on “maternal health” criticizing the Liberals and their leader for replacing demands to include abortion services in aid with a demand for “contraception”.

Today the Liberal Party will propose a motion asking that the government “include the full range of family planning” in its maternal and child health initiative to be unveiled in June at the G8 summit in Toronto.

At first glance, the motion is in keeping with what Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff pledged last month:

that aid for abortions abroad is crucial if Prime Minister Harper is serious about making maternal health a “top priority” for Canada.

“We don’t want to have women dying because of botched procedures. We don’t want to have women dying in misery. We’ve had a pro-choice consensus in this area for a couple of generations and we want to hold it.” – Michael Ignatieff, Toronto Star, Feb 2 2010.

But the devil is always in the details. A closer read of the motion shows that in the intervening weeks the Ignatieff Liberals have backpeddled from their earlier position, making specific reference only to “contraception” but not abortion.

If Layton is so sensitive about a simple motion before the House, he must have hit the wall when it came to not only the biggest domestic piece of American legislation since the new deal, but also the biggest horse-trading session as well.

Among concessions suffered by the Obama administration in jamming the Frankenstein piece of legislation through Congress was one final sell-out of the progressive/liberal plank of the Liberal wing of the Democratic base.

Late on Sunday, Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak wressled one final concession from Obama securing an executive order from the President banning federal funding for abortion in turn securing passage of the bill. But while we’re on the topic of federal funding for abortion, let’s check to see Layton’s reaction in the House yesterday to the passing of abortion-free Obamacare:

Mr. Speaker, 44 years after medicare was implemented in Canada, we extend our congratulations to President Obama for bringing comprehensive health care reform to the people of the United States. Now, of course, the Americans will be looking to Canada for the next steps.

One wonders if Tommy Douglas envisioned a system where “big insurance” would be guaranteed profits and profits collected by the IRS, no less. Federal funding of abortions for none, tiny hope and change stickers for everyone!

The devil is in the details, Jack.

More thorns in Stelmach’s side

The Wildrose Alliance may be doing well in the polls in Alberta under its new leader Danielle Smith, but until recently, the organization of the party has been struggling hard to catch up to make the party a credible force for contending the next election.

Today, a key Morton organizer jumped over to the Alliance. I met Bill Bewick when he was senior staff on the Morton for PC Leader campaign. Bewick now joins Wildrose in the legislature as a senior member of its research staff.

The departure of the former senior supporter of the now finance minister comes on the heels of another important hire by the Wildrose. Vitor Marciano was an Alberta National Councillor for the Conservative Party and was even in contention for presidency of the party late last year. Marciano has been a staunch Harper supporter and his placement at the top of the Wildrose will enable the party to bring some professional organizing muscle to the mix and this will be important for bringing more conservative Albertans into fold of the provincial party.

All of this without mention that earlier this year we saw Wildrose begin its 2010 momentum with the poaching of two MLAs from Stelmach’s caucus.

Pollsters will tell you that the electoral trend favours Wildrose. Now we’re starting to see some of the real-world pieces come together.

Chiefs of Staff pick their misplay of the week

Every week, the government’s chiefs of staff gather to meet to discuss everything from emerging crises and challenges to staffing issues. This high level meeting of chiefs is among the other regular classified gatherings including senior communications and issues management meetings. Save extenuating circumstances, every ministerial chief of staff is expected at the meeting.

Last week, I learned that among the pressing issues of state, the chiefs are now taking a weekly poll at the boardroom table to award an Ottawa-based reporter a dubious honour who they believe “got it wrong” that week. I’m told that the inaugural recipient of the Chief’s (dis)honour is Mike Blanchfield who wrote a puzzling piece on the Prime Minister’s YouTube experiment:

Pot, Palin and prorogation: Harper gets grilled on YouTube

OTTAWA – After being called a “pansy” by a cartoon Sarah Palin, Stephen Harper’s experiment with YouTube might yet leave him pining for the parliamentary press gallery.

The response to the prime minister’s pitch this week to hear from Canadians via the popular video website hasn’t exactly been overwhelming. By mid-afternoon Friday, just 69 people had weighed in.

But they hit on a wide variety of topics, including many Harper likely won’t be eager to address – like legalizing marijuana and 9/11 conspiracy theories.

It often wasn’t so much what they asked – it was how. Many did Marshall McLuhan proud, using the medium of do-it-yourself video to ask tough questions, while lampooning Harper with stinging messages. His controversial prorogation of Parliament was a prime target.

“You are what we call in Alaska, a pansy,” said a digital cartoon of ex-Alaska governor Sarah Palin in one posting.

“Is it a Canadian tradition for Canadian leaders to run away and hide? If a president did what you did, there would be rioting in the streets? How did you get away with it?”

Another appended Britney Spears’ video “Oops, I Did It Again,” to ask Harper whether he would ever again break his own fixed-election date law and call another snap election like he did in 2008.

Others were serious and direct, especially when it came to climate change.

One B.C. questioner challenged Harper’s conduct at December’s global climate-change meeting in Copenhagen: “I’m interested to know why Minister Prentice and yourself addressed the climate-change issue in such a way that Canada suffered an international embarrassment as the winner of the Fossil of the Day Award.”

Another questioner attached a 29-minute video of a Bill Gates presentation to buttress a question on how Harper planned to fund his maternal and child-health program that he plans to push through the G8.

On the economy, bald and goateed Martyman500 from Markham, Ont., looked straight into the camera and asked the prime minister why he was bringing in the Harmonized Sales Tax: “Why do you let big companies hire and fire workers so they have to avoid paying benefits?”

Harper has been criticized for avoiding the national media – and its tough questions – by taking his message directly to Canadians through advertising or local media.

There appeared to be few, if any, filters on his YouTube channel – based on what was posted Friday.

The prime minister has said he will answer the YouTube questions Tuesday.

Ignore the opinion writing and obvious corrosive slant on the wire service for a moment and consider Blanchfield’s barometer on YouTube participation.

Some facts from the YouTube Q&A:
At the time of this writing, the Prime Minister’s interview received:
135,291 views
1,897 ratings
4,302 comments

as for the participation:
170,000 votes were received for almost 1,800 questions submitted according to Google’s Public Policy Blog.

We expect fact from our news reporters and opinion from our columnists. Of course, at some point, 69 people had weighed in (also true: at some point just one person had weighed in). But let’s make sure facts are relevant. Blanchfield’s article suggests the PM YouTube experiment had underwhelmed. According to the raw metrics, this is not true.

Tim Hudak interview at the Manning Centre Conference

I asked Hudak about principle vs pragmatism in opposition compared to government, about how he would balance the deficit, the difference between Harper/McGuinty deficits and about the renegotiation of health transfers that is rapidly becoming visible on the horizon. I spoke to the Ontario PC leader after his remarks at the Manning Centre networking conference in Ottawa this weekend.