CensusLeaks.ca

Sunday at around 5pm, the story hit the blackberries of government staffers and journalists alike in Ottawa that over 200,000 pages of classified documents describing operations of the war in Afghanistan were posted on WikiLeaks.org, an online clearinghouse for classified government information. It has been argued by the Pentagon and by Foreign Affairs that the information released puts soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan at risk and it has certainly has handed the Taliban a propaganda victory over allied war efforts against the extremist forces in that country.

This news comes in a time period where Ottawa-watchers have been discussing the disclosure, security and privacy of data collected by governments. First, opposition parties argued that the government declassify thousands of pages detailing the detention and transfer of Afghan detainees, and then there’s been that war of numbers over the utlility and intrusiveness of the governments ability to collect data on the citizenry via the census.

Is all data created (and withheld) equally? Do defenders of an open and free society sincerely believe the new axiom that “all information wants to be free”? Is our society free because some information is held secure?

If journalism is — by one definition — to bring comfort to the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, do information dumps on the execution of the war in Afghanistan bring transparency to decisions made by our elected leaders, or do they provide comfort to the enemy? Even the decision to reveal classified documents on detainee transfers to Parliament was done reluctantly and the documents were revealed under strict guidelines.

Two arguments against the long-form census — in a debate that has turned into a “national crisis” according to one breathless account from a journalist at macleans.ca — are that the census could violate the privacy of individuals and that a mandatory burden comes with state penalty of jail or a fine or both.

We used to live in a world where releasing classified information to the enemy in wartime was akin to treason because it violated a clear national interest — our security. Yet, the founder of wikileaks and those that participated in the release of classified information will likely never see the inside of a jail cell. Our world has evolved such that it may not be reasonable for the government to expect that information can remain secure. Society has changed such that the average citizen can instantly react to information as it continuously breaks. Has our war cabinet been expanded to include the hoards of sarcastic tweeters deskchair-quarterbacking the conflict? Has elected leadership been replaced by liveblogging and instant polls? Does information want to be free because now we all can make the day-by-day decisions to effectively execute this war? No, of course not.

As the wikileaks release has shown, information can never be confidently be deemed “secure”. Even information vital to national security can be compromised and the security of this data is held paramount by our government compared to concerns over personal privacy. In this case, breach of secure information was done so according to a unilateral and unaccountable political agenda of “openness”. Troubling still, a significant subset of the voices against scrapping the long-form census are now heralding this new “transparency” of information that compromises the security of our troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

Transparency, openness, privacy and security are all important principles here. How you justify any of these at the expense of others is of course how your agenda is constituted. In this modern world, we must presume a full spectrum of agendas and since we can no longer stand together united behind one interest, we must be vigilant in protecting our own. If the state cannot ensure security in the private data it collects, we as citizens should not be open and transparent to it. If for the sake of transparency and openness, activists compromise the security and safety of their fellow citizens, they should be afforded neither from the state.

You should see Tony Clement’s Ron Maclean impression

Tonight, industry minister Tony Clement had a bit of an experience helping in a rescue of a woman drowning in a river. Clement tweets about the experience,

True story & happy ending: we were having dinner when a young woman knocked on our door, hysterical. Her friend was drowning in the river…

We rushed out & dove in. She was just too far away & I felt the undertow working on me. I had to get to the riverbank. Fortunately…

Fortunately Jennifer somehow figured out she could float on her back. Two others got her to shore. Another would-be rescuer then went into..

Went into shock, so we kept him conscious & warm. Our perimedics then arrived & took over. Folks: don’t swim in unfamiliar waters. Swim…

Close to shore. Rapids mean undertows. If a friend is in trouble get help & call 9-1-1. Be well & give your loved ones a hug. I know I am.

Post script: my wife Lynne and her father Doug got to Jennifer first. Another two locals jumped in too. It was a team effort.

It was an intense evening but it shows how community works together, even in the face of danger. All you need is love…

Now I’m totally knackered, as the Brits would say…

Clement’s first tweet on the event.

Let’s hope that we all have similar clarity of mind when we’re called to help. It’s good to hear that everyone’s safe. Now, back to the treacherous census undercurrents in Ottawa that Clement will brave next week. (amazing segue I know…)

Census change is about smaller government

I received a call today from a reporter around noon about what he conceded was “the story that just won’t go away”. He was, of course, talking about the census. He wanted to know if I could pass on a few names of possible interviews for right-wingers that support the government’s stand to scrap the long-form census. Of course, there are the folks over at the Western Standard who are taking up their obvious position against the mandatory “burden”, but in broader view, it got me thinking about who opposes the government’s plan and why the story would not just go away.

Every day it seems that there’s a new group of people lining up to bemoan the Industry Minister’s announcement that the census would forego the long-form. Certainly, this illustrates a serious problem that Stephen Harper faces as Prime Minister. Facing an opposition that can’t get its act together is one thing, but a nation where the voices of special interests are louder than ordinary citizens is another.

Indeed in this country, there are two groups of people. In fact, some would call these groups the haves and the have-nots. This is an not inaccurate way of describing it, but those that would might have the two switched. Canadians form two groups: those that receive from the government and those pay to the government. Those who form — or are constituent to — organizations dependent on government policy (and spending) are firmly against the changes to the census. Those on the other side are largely ambivalent because they are the large, unorganized and unsubsidized net taxpaying masses.

The conservative/libertarian Fraser Institute think tank’s motto is “if it matters, measure it”. The untruth of the inverse of this statement is at the centre of why this government should follow through. “If you measure it, it matters” is the motto of those net tax receiving organizations who only matter if they can make their case. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tried the ideological argument against these groups for years. But ideology is by its nature debatable; removing the framework of debate is his shortcut to victory.

If Stephen Harper succeeds in moving in this direction, he will be in the initial stages of dealing a huge blow to the welfare state. If one day we have no idea how many divorced Hindu public transit users there are in East Vancouver, government policy will not be concocted to address them specifically. Indeed if this group were organized (the DHPTUEV?) and looking for government intervention, they’d be against the census change. The trouble is that in Canada, the non-affiliated taxpayers not looking for a handout have not organized. Indeed, the only dog they have in this fight is the amount of tax they pay (aka “transfers”) to sustain the interests of others.

QMI’s David Akin exclaimed surprise that from his cell within the beehive of special interests that is Ottawa, he was shocked to find that a full half — that other half — of Canadians aren’t upset about the changes to the census when it seems that’s the only thing the other bees seem to be buzzing about. The story that “just won’t go away” is a flurry of activity “inside the beehive”, because until you go outside, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

The other recent Lockheed Martin-related news story of the past couple of weeks was the Conservative government’s huge sole-sourced $16 Billion contract with Lockheed Martin to buy F-35 fighter jets. Perhaps I was a bit naive to think that every part of that sentence should be offensive to the Ottawa media… sole-sourced… American arms dealer… flying war machines… Conservative government. No, this largest military purchase in Canadian history didn’t even make a significant blip on the Ottawa establishment radar, simply because it didn’t challenge the position of any special interest groups. There’s no bevy of community/cultural/government organizations ready to line up to criticize/laud such a move. If the government had taken $16 Billion out of HRSDC’s $80+ Billion annual budget to pay for it, however, there’d be a swarm.

I believe that this Prime Minister has a few objectives in mind as he integrates seemingly transactional initiatives into something transformative. First, he merged the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance to challenge what seemed to be entrenched Liberal electoral domination. Through initiatives such as financial starvation via election finance reform and ideological force-feeding on the policy front, Stephen Harper seeks to diminish or destroy the Liberal Party to replace them with the Conservatives as Canada’s default choice for government. His greatest challenge is to dismantle the modern welfare state. If it can’t be measured, future governments can’t pander. I imagine that Stephen Harper’s view, Canada should be a country of individual initiative, not one of collective dependence “justified” through the collection of data.

In case Liberals have short memories on their own remarks re: Helena Guergis

Today, former Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis revealed that the RCMP has cleared her of any wrongdoing in their investigation of her. The investigation was said to begin after the Prime Minister’s Office referred information that it had obtained to that arms-length agency. After referral the RCMP decided to initiate the investigation, it now seems that they have cleared Ms. Guergis.

For their part, the Conservatives say that the issue of writing a letter on behalf of a constituent with possible business connections to her husband still looms and is under review by the Ethics Commissioner.

Up until her ouster from cabinet by the Prime Minister and investigation by the RCMP, Ms. Guergis had a string of bad news events which raised questions from the Opposition about her competency and ability to represent Canadians in cabinet.

When she was ejected from cabinet and kicked out of caucus, the Opposition took an about-face to demand why she had been removed. Now that she has been cleared by the RCMP, expect this line from the Liberals and NDP to be renewed.

Despite her being cleared by the RCMP, the PMO says that Ms. Guergis is still not welcome back in caucus. If the Liberals take her into their own ranks, will it reek of hypocrisy? The following comments were made before the RCMP investigation was announced. Does Guergis have the confidence of Michael Ignatieff?

Upcoming political books

Today I received a list of upcoming books from Random House Canada for their fall season. The list is sent out to potential reviewers to provide publicity for the upcoming titles.

Here are a few that you might be interested in,

by George W. Bush (11/9/2010)
George W. Bush’s presidency in his own words. From rallying a nation after 9/11 to bringing it’s troops across the Tigris river in Baghdad. From tax cuts that stimulated the economy (and debate) to the continued growth of government and the banking sector bailout, this presidential account is sure to cause discussion.
by Ezra Levant (8/17/2010).
Ezra will do a multi-city tour to promote this book which makes a case for the Alberta oil sands against environmentalists who turn a blind eye to oil extraction in places such as Saudi Arabia and the Sudan where from it’s wars and genocide, Ezra calculates that each barrel of Sudanese oil has a tablespoon worth of blood spilled for its production. While the world inevitably continues to use cheap energy from oil, diminishing Canada’s production share only supports unethical alternatives.
by Tarek Fatah (10/19/2010)
Canada’s most famous ‘moderate Muslim’ voice speaks out against anti-Semitism in Canada and around the world held strongly among some of his co-religionists.
by Bob Rae (10/26/2010).
I’m going to read this book so I can figure out what the Liberal Party may be proposing in their platform on the foreign policy front (under Ignatieff or Rae as leader). We wonder if the book will rehash many of the guiding nuanced soft-power principles of the DFAIT establishment or if Rae (like Ignatieff used to) now believes in certain cold hard facts about the modern world and the actors now bent on destabilizing it.

Follow-up on Winnipeg Free Press vs. Vic Toews

A few days ago, I wrote an article outlining a smear by the Winnipeg Free Press against Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. The WFP went after Toews for “not disclos[ing] $18,000 in annual pension payments as required by law in a conflict-of-interest declaration for the public registry he personally signed.”

A letter from the Ethics Commissioner states, “In the spring of 2006, Minister Toews disclosed to our Office his pension rights under the Government of Manitoba Civil Service Superannuation plan.”

So why has the Winnipeg Free Press not retracted their article? The disclosure was made and the rules were followed as they existed as are being followed as they read this current day according to Toews’ staff.

Toews’ office has asked the WFP to correct and retract the article which they have not done.

Here is a letter from that office to the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press that was forwarded to me.

Hi [Editor of WFP — name withheld] –

The fact of this matter remains that the Winnipeg Free Press decided to run a misleading and false article this past Friday. This is unacceptable. The WFP’s refusal to acknowledge this troubling reality is an affront to the ethical standard of journalism deserved by its readership.

Alleging the Minister failed to disclose is in direct conflict with the lead statement by the Ethics Commissioner stating otherwise (“In the spring of 2006, Minister Toews disclosed to our Office his pension rights under the Government of Manitoba Civil Service Superannuation plan”). It is also clear from the Ethics Commissioner’s statement that the administrative oversight was that of the Ethics Commissioner – not Minister Toews (“Due to an administrative oversight on the part of our Office, the documents sent to Minister Toews for his review did not reflect the information he had provided to our Office with respect to the receipt of pension income from September 2007 onward, although they did make reference to pension rights from the Government of Manitoba”).

I’ll note that these are both facts communicated by our Office (“As confirmed by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner, Minister Toews disclosed the existence of Government of Manitoba pension income in 2006”) and the Ethics Commissioner (“Margot Booth, manager of communications for the ethics commissioner’s office, said she could not comment specifically on Toews’ situation other than to say a misunderstanding or administrative error could explain why information was missing on the public registry”) by deadline on Thursday.

Despite this, the WFP decided to allege: “Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has not disclosed $18,000 in annual pension payments as required by law in a conflict-of-interest declaration for the public registry he personally signed”). http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/mps-pension-not-listed-on-registry-98586379.html?viewAllComments=y

I will not be amending my comments. They are accurate. We have always been clear that Minister Toews has disclosed all property to the Ethics Commissioner, including a pension related to prior employment outside of politics, as required. These disclosures were first made in 2006 and this disclosure has been acknowledged by the Ethics Commissioner.

Best,
Chris [McCluskey]
[Communications, Public Safety]

Winnipeg Free Press takes a run at Vic Toews

Mia Rabson and Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press make a story out of what they perceive to be a non-disclosure of pension income from former Manitoba MLA Vic Toews, now Minister of Public Safety in the government of Canada. Rabson and Toews have sparred before in print and this story suggests that Toews has neglected to follow requirements for full disclosure and is running afoul of his party’s pledge of accountability.

The story as reported by the Winnipeg Free Press:

MP’s pension not listed on registry
Court documents show Toews receives $18,000 annually from province

OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has not disclosed $18,000 in annual pension payments as required by law in a conflict-of-interest declaration for the public registry he personally signed.

The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons requires all MPs to disclose assets, liabilities and sources of income over $1,000 outside their MP salary. If they earn income over $10,000, that fact is to be made public in a disclosure summary posted on the ethics commissioner’s website. There is no pension income listed in Toews’ most recent summary he signed on March 5, 2009. All MPs are required to review and sign the annual summaries before they are made public. Toews’ office insists he made the disclosure although it has never appeared on the summaries made available to the public over the past four years.

There are 48 MPs from all political parties who have pension income listed in their disclosure summaries.

Documents obtained by the Free Press show Manitoba’s senior federal cabinet minister has been earning the pension since 2007.

In an affidavit filed in Manitoba court April 10, 2010, Toews acknowledges earning $18,267.84 a year from the Manitoba Civil Service Superannuation Board. Those pension payments began when he turned 55 in September 2007.

Also included in court documents is an email Toews wrote to his lawyer in May 2007. In that email, Toews indicates he had not disclosed to the ethics commissioner the pension he was about to start receiving or a condo his wife owned in Gatineau, Que.

When the Free Press asked about that email in June, Christine Csversko, Toews’ director of communications said “the email is not accurate.”

Ethics have been a key flashpoint on Parliament Hill since the sponsorship scandal helped lead to the defeat of Paul Martin’s Liberal government. The Harper Tories came to power largely on a promise to raise the ethical bar of the country’s federal politicians by introducing a new era of accountability and transparency.

The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons has been in place since 2004 and is intended to enhance public confidence in both MPs and Parliament, demonstrate to the public that MPs are held to standards that place the public interest above their personal interests and provide a transparent system for the public to judge whether or not that is true.

Each year, MPs must disclose to the commissioner assets and liabilities, including outside income over $1,000, property, businesses, investments, and debts such as loans, mortgages and credit card debt. Only certain things are made public, such as the existence and source for mortgages and loans, businesses owned by the MP and outside income over $10,000 annually.

A spokeswoman with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner told the Free Press via email Thursday “income over $1,000 received in last 12 months and during the next 12 months must be disclosed to our office. It is only made public (source and nature, no value) if the income is over $10,000.”

Margot Booth, manager of communications for the ethics commissioner’s office, said she could not comment specifically on Toews’ situation other than to say a misunderstanding or administrative error could explain why information was missing on the public registry.

Toews’ spokesman, Chris McCluskey, said he has confirmed with the Office of the Ethics Commissioner that Toews “disclosed the existence of Government of Manitoba pension income in 2006.”

McCluskey did not respond Thursday when asked to explain why the pension income is not on any disclosure summary.

All that is contained on the latest summary for Toews dated March 5, 2009, are two blind trusts. According to Toews’ 2006 disclosure summary, those include an RSP and an investment account.

And a statement from Vic Toews’ office:

“Contrary to the false and misleading information disseminated by the Winnipeg Free Press in its July 16 edition, Minister Toews has properly disclosed all income to the Ethics Commissioner, as required. This includes a pension related to prior employment outside of politics. This disclosure was first made in 2006 and disclosure has been acknowledged by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner. Minister Toews is not in receipt of any pension income as a result of holding any political office.”

The statement from the Office of the Ethics Commissioner is provided for your reference below:

“In the spring of 2006, Minister Toews disclosed to our Office his pension rights under the Government of Manitoba Civil Service Superannuation plan. At the time, he provided a statement of his deferred pension benefits indicating that a monthly pension would be payable commencing September 10, 2007. At the time, it was the practice adopted by our predecessor (the Office of the Ethics Commissioner) not to include any future income in the Disclosure Summary signed by MPs. This practice has recently been revised to better reflect the requirements of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. The annual review of the compliance arrangements of MPs is currently underway and the source and nature of income over $10,000 to be received in the next 12 months, if any, will now be included in the public disclosure of MPs.

In accordance with established practice at the time, the Disclosure Summary signed by Minister Toews on May 31, 2006 did not include any information concerning income to be received in the next 12 months. Pension rights are not subject to public disclosure.

An annual review of Minister Toews’ compliance arrangements next took place starting in November 2008 and was completed in March 2009. Due to an administrative oversight on the part of our Office, the documents sent to Minister Toews for his review did not reflect the information he had provided to our Office with respect to the receipt of pension income from September 2007 onward, although they did make reference to pension rights from the Government of Manitoba. Minister Toews returned the documents to our Office without an annotation concerning the receipt of pension income. A Disclosure Summary was prepared by our Office and signed by Mr. Toews on March 5, 2009.

In summary, although Minister Toews could have corrected the deficiency in the documents, the Office did have the information on file that pension income had been anticipated. Not including it in the Disclosure Summary for his signature was an oversight on the part of the Office. An annual review of Minister Toews’ compliance arrangements is currently underway and a new and updated Disclosure Summary will be signed and deposited in our Public Registry once the review is completed.”

Chris McCluskey, the aforementioned spokesman for Minister Toews posted the following comment on the Winnipeg Free Press’ story,

The reporter requesting comment, Mia Rabson, was advised by e-mail from the Office of the Minister of Public Safety yesterday afternoon at 2:56PM EST that the statement expressed in this article is false. Her question, and our response, were as follows:

“Q: We would like to know why the pension income is not listed in his disclosure summary. Was it in fact disclosed? If not why not?

A: As confirmed by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner, Minister Toews disclosed the existence of Government of Manitoba pension income in 2006.”

In spite of this, the editors of the Winnipeg Free Press went to print with a news item containing a statement which they knew to be false. The Minister’s Office has requested a retraction. We have been waiting for an acknowledgement of this request since 3:30PM EST this afternoon.

The statement released by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner is clear:

“IN THE SPRING OF 2006, MINISTER TOEWS DISCLOSED TO OUR OFFICE HIS PENSION RIGHTS UNDER THE GOVERNMENT OF MANITOBA CIVIL SERVICE SUPERANNUATION PLAN”

We continue to wait for confirmation of receipt of our e-mail to the Winnipeg Free Press, accompanied by a reasoned answer as to why the article containing false statements was intentionally printed. We believe the readers of the WFP deserve no less.

The comment still does not appear on the story and is currently being held in moderation (McCluskey emailed me a copy). The WFP story still appears on their website despite information that they have received from Toews’ office and from the Ethics Commissioner.

Liberal Party website: French an afterthought?

The Liberal Party of Canada launched quite an attractive new website this week. It features a large photo slider panel, well-designed action tabs at the top, and great integration of blogs and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

However, what the website lacks is representation of the linguistic duality of Canada that Liberals so often get red-in-the-face when chastisizing Conservatives. Take, for example this press release put out in October of 2007 by then Liberal Party president Marie Poulin criticizing Conservatives for ignoring french-Canadians,

New Conservative Site Snubs Francophones

Francophones across Canada have every right to feel a little snubbed by the Conservative Party of Canada, Liberal Party President Marie-P. Poulin said today.

That’s because their language doesn’t show up on the front page of the party’s new site.

“The party that has trying [sic] to reach out to French-speaking Canada has a strange way of showing they care,” Ms. Poulin said. “You’d think something as prominent as your new election web-site would have at least one French word on its front page.”

The Conservative Party’s new web site, launched this morning, has a background of Conservative blue featuring a photo of the Prime Minister, his name, and six bold white words – none of which is in the French Language.

“The Liberal Party of Canada cares about Francophones across Canada and has ensured that every word on our web site is printed in both official languages. Clearly, the Conservative Party cannot say the same,” said Ms. Poulin.

-30-
For more information, please contact:

Liberal Party of Canada Press Office

Elizabeth Whiting
(613) 783-8405
ewhiting@liberal.ca

Poulin misfired as I wrote on my blog back in 2007.

Liberals are always finding outrage where there is none. Indeed, the Conservative website was recently redesigned and it is true that there aren’t any French words at Conservative.ca. However, if you go to Conservateur.ca (that’s the French word for “conservative” by the way), you’ll find a lot more French words!

Unfortunately, for the Liberals, the frech word for “Liberal” is “Libéral” so they cannot easily split content across two domains. But what happens when you go to Liberal.ca?

ENGLISH! (click the small link in the top-right to switch to French)

Francophones can access the Liberal Party website in French by going to http://www.liberal.ca/fr/. Anglophones can go to http://www.liberal.ca/.

Even web browsers with French language settings as the default go to the English version of the page.

To solve this dilemma, Liberals might try this bit of code:

<?php
$lang = substr($_SERVER[‘HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE’], 0, 2);
if ($lang == “fr”) {
load_french_page();
} else {
load_english_page();
}
?>

This would load up the relevant page depending on self-selected settings of the end-user’s browser. You could still include links to the other language in the top right corner just to show you care…

(I changed my browser language to French for the purposes of testing the Liberal website above. The page loaded in English)