Hill report

Jun 252013

Ordered to pay costs, Conservatives go after citizen whistleblowers.

by Samantha Bayard
OTTAWA, June 24, 2013 (Straight Goods News) – Conservative MPs have
filed a claim for costs seeking $355,907.56 from the eight Canadians who
challenged 2011 federal election results as a result of robocalls and voter
misdirection linked to their party's own database.

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Jun 212013

Government's reputation damaged by scandals.

by Samantha Bayard

OTTAWA, June 20, 2013 (Straight Goods News) — Heckling, clapping and rehearsed statements of government MPs will not echo through the House of Commons now until late September. Neither will we hear opposition MPs cross-examining Stephen Harper over every detail of the ongoing senategate scandal. All 308 MPs came together with unanimous consent to rise, exhausted from heavy fighting across the aisles throughout the spring sitting.

When I look back over the past six months, many of the standout topics covered are still relevant and in play today and in order to demand change in the fall we’ll have to be sure to remember the lessons learned.

I spent my fair share of time climbing through the snow navigating large gregarious Idle No More protests and marches on Parliament Hill in January. During a crisis in Attawapiskat, the plight of many aboriginal communities came to the forefront of people's minds through every medium from social media to televised hunger strikes. Though the movement brought awareness, empowered youth and sparked meetings between Ministers and aboriginal leaders, very little has been done to improve the dire circumstances that have grown out of a lack of coherent communications between the two nations.

Idle No More protestors on Parliament Hill in January. YouTube Preview Image

Protests and demonstrations persisted across Canada throughout the winter months and in March a group of determined aboriginal youths walked 1600 km through harsh terrain to bring attention to the plights of their communities.

Matthew Coon-Come, Grand Chief Grand Council of the Crees, spoke at a demonstration honoring the Cree youth: "Your journey has shown us strength and the aboriginal youth of this country can use their energies for positive goals and in inspiring ways." YouTube Preview Image

Wednesday a very emotional Bob Rae announced he is stepping down as Liberal MP for Toronto Centre, citing a need to focus on his role as chief negotiator for First Nations. In talks with the Ontario government about development of the Ring of Fire, he plans on visiting 9 aboriginal communities this summer.

Bob Rae leaves politics.
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I am sure Justin Trudeau will miss Rae’s strong articulate voice in the House. Rae’s stated goal is to focus on positive impactful change in his new role.

On the credible facts side, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, in the position created by Stephen Harper as part of his accountability platform, proved such a thorn in the side of the Prime Minister that he was not rehired when his term ran out this spring. The government has been widely seen as dragging its feet in finding a replacement and reluctant to find one that will give it the kind of scrutiny Page did.

Tom Mulcair: "Every time there's been a debate or a discussion or a disagreement, Kevin Page has been proven 100 percent of the time to be right." YouTube Preview Image

Lobbying for and against the Keystone XL Pipeline, a system to transport Alberta oil sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast of the US, has been an ongoing controversy. In March, Harper sent his natural resources and environment ministers to the US to lobby for it. Though Kent and Oliver are not the most charming in the Conservative caucus, their stridency was meant to indicate to Americans that Canadians support the pipeline. Later, Harper went to New York to deliver the same message.

The NDP's Mulcair and environment critic Megan Leslie travelled to America as well to voice environmental concerns over pipelines and tar sands oil, as well as the export of 40,000 jobs to the US the pipeline represents.

Tom Mulcair: "We think that we should take care of Canada's own energy security first."
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The voter misdirection/Robogate controversy from 2012 continued, when Elections Canada’s inquiries turned up Peter Penashue's campaign full of irregularities in campaign spending. The Conservatives cast blame on his financial agent Reg Bowers and had Penashue step down and run in a by- election. Despite crony Pierre Polievre using Question Period daily to campaign for Penashue, he lost his seat in Labrador in May to Liberal MP Yvonne Jones.

Scott Andrews, Liberal MP for Avalon : "The Conservative Party never admits defeat, never admits wrongdoing, letting his financial agent take the blame. They never say I'm sorry."
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In April, the government brought in a 442-page budget and promised to balance the budget by 2015, when the next federal election is expected. Lacking in detail, it set the stage for another round of "Trojan Horse" amendments bills.

Hidden within the Budget were new tariffs or taxes to impact prices on everyday consumer items. Justin Trudeau, just after being elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, made his House of Commons debut talking about the middle class and the little red wagon they may no longer be able to afford. "When middle-class Canadians go to a store to buy a tricycle, school supplies or a little red wagon for their kids, they will pay more because of a tax in this government's budget."

NDP's Peggy Nash: "There is a whole range of products and services where consumers will find price increases."
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There was no real competition in the Liberal leadership race which concluded in April with Trudeau easily beating out competitors Marc Garneau, Martha Hall Findlay, Deborah Coyne and others.

Justin Trudeau: "A big part of the shift towards the Conservatives in the last election was because the Liberal Party turned inwards." YouTube Preview Image

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program was debated repeatedly in the House after revelations it is being used to outsource Canadian jobs. Workers are being brought in for work that is not always temporary when they should be brought in as landed immigrants or permanent residents to get adequate rights and support. In some cases, the program allows or allowed workers to be paid 15 percent less than the going wage, driving wages down nationally.

NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims: "These rules are being elasticised in order to get cheap labour."
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House speaker Andrew Schneer has been critiqued for not having great control over the shenanigans that take place daily such as heckling and other interruptions. He is also known for ruling on the side of caution. But he did make a recent change to member statements, allowing MPs of any affiliation to stand up and speak with the recognition of the house. This decision comes at a time when dissatisfaction among backbench Conservative MPs is on the rise. It can be used to speak up in a way that they were prevented from doing by their party leaders in member’s statements. It is also a means for independent MPs and Elizabeth May of the Green Party to be heard more often.

Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc comments on House Speaker Andrew Scheer's ruling on member statements
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Dissatisfied Conservative backbenchers repeatedly spoke out, verbally and through social media and blogs, contributing to a raucous sitting. Brent Rathgeber, an MP for Edmonton- St.Albert, resigned from the Conservative caucus recently, citing authoritarian management style and lack of transparency. In his blog he has regularly criticized government actions since Bev Oda’s overspending was revealed.

"I can only compromise so much before I begin to not recognize myself. I no longer recognize much of the party that I joined and whose principles (at least on paper) I still believe in. Accordingly, since I can no longer stand with them, I must now stand alone," Rathgeber wrote in his blog.

NDP MP Pat Martin said about Rathgeber's resignation, "You know, there's a lot of grassroot Conservatives who are nostalgic for the party that they used to have and one by one they've watched these principles that they stood for being jettisoned overside the boat, you know, in the interests of political expediency."

The NDP's Pat Martin:
"I think Brent Rathgeber is probably more popular than the Prime Minister right now in Conservative circles." YouTube Preview Image

In May, the Conservatives narrowly escaped having some 2011 election results invalidated when a federal court judge ruled that the Conservative Pary database was used in widespread systemic voter suppression involving robocalls.

Justin Trudeau: "This government used every opportunity it could to block, to obstruct, to interfere with the investigation."
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Then the Senate expense claim scandal exploded. New details emerged weekly through the spring, pointing to a widespread sense of entitlement among Liberal and Conservative senators, with nationally known former TV journalists Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin most prominent. Some of the session's best days of Question Period featured Tom Mulcair, in Perry Mason fashion, cross-examining Stephen Harper over the intricacies of the scandal, and the government in full retreat.

The NDP used the scandal to renew its calls to abolish the Senate while the Liberals introduced reforms aimed at greater transparency.

Tom Mulcair on abolishing the Senate: "We know how complex it is going to be, if you don't start, if you are not serious about it you will never get it done." YouTube Preview Image

Eager to exit the session, the Conservatives accepted an NDP motion for future debate on the Senate's secretive Board of Internal Economy and made a deal resulting in the House rising late Tuesday, three days early.

Jun 212013

Former municipal councillor and star Con candidate had privileged access to Stephen Harper.

by Samantha Bayard

OTTAWA, June 17, 2013 (Straight Goods News) — The government faced new ethics charges and the possibility of being drawn into Montreal's corruption investigations. News of the arrest today of Conservative point man and former Montreal municipal councillor Saulie Zajdel on charges of breach of trust, fraud put top ministers on the defensive, trying to distance themselves from him.

Zajdel has been one of the most prominent Conservatives in Montreal. His party put heavy resources into his Mount Royal election campaign in 2011, which he narrowly lost the seat to Liberal Irwin Cotler. After that, Zajdel was put on payroll by heritage minister James Moore doing ethnic outreach, in what was widely seen as a patronage appointment. Cotler and the Liberals have said that while on the public payroll , he has acted as a "shadow MP" performing MP- like duties in the riding.

Zajdel abrupty resigned from his position working for Moore last spring, a few weeks before Zajdel joined Harper on a trip to Montreal including a public event bordering Cotler's riding. He attended a similar event with Harper in March 2012.

Megan Leslie NDP MP for Halifax questioned James Moore about why Zajdel left his job in Question Period today.

"Mr. Zajdel was praised by the Prime Minister and he was hired by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, and then suddenly, without explanation, he left his lucrative ministerial job. Why?"

Heritage minister James Moore, responding for Stephen Harper with the Prime Minister attending G8 meetings, attempted to distance his party from Zajdel. NDP leader Tom Mulcair scoffed, saying the Conservatives supported his campaigning before and after the election win of Irwin Cotler.

"Up until 2012, Saulie Zajdel still had privileged access to the Prime Minister," Mulcair told reporters. "That's clear because he was still bringing his friends to meet the Prime Minister at little fundraisers that they were holding in Montreal. Up until 2011, he was still on the payroll for Minister James Moore. That's also relevant because today James Moore was trying to be totally dismissive looking at the dates. Mr. Zajdel had left municipal politics in 2009. Mr. Moore would have you to believe that he left in 2011, he had left in '09. And after that, the Conservatives were moving him around and presenting him as the real MP from Mont-Royal. He was their star candidate. He was their guy. They gave him a patronage job after the election in '11. So they can't now pretend that the guy wasn't theirs after 2009. He was theirs. They bear some responsibility for allowing this guy to continue to have that sort of access to the Prime Minister."

Irwin Cotler has chosen not to comment on the issue.

Mulcair on the Conservatives and Saulie Zajdel
"He was their star candidate. He was their guy." YouTube Preview Image

Jun 182013

PMO spread letter requesting speaking fee return

by Samantha Bayard

OTTAWA, June 17, 2013 (Straight Goods News) — The five-figure speaking fees Justin Trudeau took after becoming MP and before becoming leader came back to haunt him this week, with charges that his fees beggared the charities he spoke to.

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Jun 182013

Report blasts government for "gross mismanagement."

by Samantha Bayard

OTTAWA, June 11, 2013 (Straight Goods News) ­- A report on the future of Canada’s submarine program says "gross mismanagement" and decreasing need have combined to make Canada's submarine program questionable at best.

Political science professor Michael Byers and defence analyst Stewart Webb today released a study called That Sinking Feeling: Canada’s Submarine Program Springs a Leak. The study was done for the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Canada bought its second-hand Victoria-class submarine fleet from Britain in 1998 for a greatly discounted price, Webb and Byers reminded reporters, but the four submarines have been plagued by mechanical problems every since. They have spent most of their service life being refitted and repaired.

Sailors and soldiers must go to sea in subpar second-hand submarines – Stewart Webb and Michael Byers
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The Royal Canadian Navy projects the submarines will reach the end of their life cycle by 2030, but mechanical problems could cut their lives even shorter.

"It’s not simply a question of quite possibly gross missmanagement of a procurement file. It is also about the safety of sailors and soldiers of the Canadian Forces, who at the moment have to go to sea in subpar second-hand submarines and — if there is no plan to replace them — maybe going to sea in these same submarines up to and potentially beyond their safe lifespan," said Byers.

The replacement of Canada’s submarines was not included in the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy ­– a strategy that sets out construction timelines to 2041. This omission raises significant questions concerning the government’s intentions for the future of Canada’s submarine program, the researchers say.

The most likely explanation for this, says Webb, is, "gross mismanagement of the file, and if that is the case the lack of a plan would result in the end of Canada’s submarine program through neglect and obsolescence rather than design."

Jun 112013

Clement marks Public Service Week by invoking old prejudices.

by Samantha Bayard

OTTAWA, June 10, 2013 (Straight Goods News) — With the Conservatives deep in phoney expense claim scandals, the government appealed to hardcore supporters today saying they want to drastically cut public service sick days. The announcement came, ironically, on the first day of National Public Service Week.

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Jun 072013

Brent Rathgeber resigns after Conservative colleagues amend his own private member’s bill

by Samantha Bayard

OTTAWA, June 6, 2013 (Straight Goods News) — In another blow to the Harper Conservatives' reputation for democratic accountability, MP Brent Rathgeber of Edmonton-St.Albert announced his resignation from the Conservative caucus. On his way out, he blasted the government for its authoritarian management style and lack of transparency.

Rathgeber has been writing critically about his party in his blog since the Bev Oda expense account controversy, but what set him off finally was his colleagues amending his private member’s bill aimed at disclosure of expenses and salaries of the highest-paid public servants.

"I don't think that I can continue to represent them when I am told how to vote, told what to speak," said Rathgeber to reporters at the Ottawa airport.

Bill C-461 was crafted by Rathgeber with the intention of disclosing salaries of $188,000 or more. The committee with a Conservative majority amended the bill and raised the amount to $444,661.

Rathgeber wrote on his blog, "I joined the Reform/Conservative movements because I thought we were somehow different, a band of Ottawa outsiders riding into town to clean the place up, promoting open government and accountability. I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked… I have reluctantly come to the inescapable conclusion that the Government’s lack of support for my transparency bill is tantamount to a lack of support for transparency and open government generally."

The NDP's Charlie Angus said his party was willing to work with him on elements of his private member’s bill on which they could agree. "Mr. Rathgeber attempted to bring forward a bill that dealt with transparency and accountability," Angus told reporters. "He had no support from the Prime Minister’s office. He actually came to us and said, 'Listen, we know ­that your party has problems but would you work with us?' and I said, 'Yes, we’ll work with you.'

"Now the government is trying to attack him," said Angus. "We felt there were two major problems with the private member’s bill. One was on the issue of journalistic sources, that the Conservatives and Mr. Rathgeber hadn’t clarified what the protections of journalistic activities were. We wanted that clear. Mr. Rathgeber was willing to work with us on that."

Charlie Angus says the NDP was working with Brent Rathgeber on his private member's bill:
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The always-outspoken NDP MP for Winnipeg-Centre Pat Martin sympathizes with Rathgeber. "It’s hard to come to work every day if you have to hold your nose, you know. And I’ve talked to Brent in the gym. And I know how unsatisfied he’s been. And he’s not alone. There’s a lot of grassroots Conservatives who are nostalgic for the party that they used to have, and, one by one, they’ve watched these principles that they stood for being jettisoned over the side of the boat in the interests of political expediency," Martin said in a scrum.

Pat Martin says Brent Rathgeber may be more popular than Stephen Harper in Conservative circles: 
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Some Conservative MPs and staffers have called for Rathgeber to resign and run in a by-election but he says he will not do so and looks forward to speaking freely as an independent.

"I can only compromise so much before I begin to not recognize myself. I no longer recognize much of the party that I joined and whose principles (at least on paper) I still believe in. Accordingly, since I can no longer stand with them, I must now stand alone."

Jun 042013

Pact would limit shipments to trouble spots like Syria, but Baird cites long gun registry for not signing.

by Samantha Bayard

OTTAWA, June 3, 2013 (Straight Goods News) ­– Sixty-one nations signed the UN Arms Trade Treaty in New York today to stop the illegal sale and distribution of arms fueling international conflicts and gang violence, but the Harper government insisted Canada not be one of them.

Argentina, the UK, Australia and other allies took time to celebrate as they signed, but Canada sat the party out. NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar asked why today in Question Period.

"This is about the regulation of global trade in weapons. It is not about domestic use. The minister has had two months to figure this out. The question is, why does he not just sign? It is time to sign this accord. Every year, half a million people die because of the illegal trade in arms. Why is the government failing to join the rest of the world in limiting the arms that go to some of the hottest conflicts in the world? In fact, right now, when we are talking about Syria, we are talking about arms going to Syria. It is time to stop that. Sign the deal now," said Dewar.

Foreign affairs minister John Baird, today's stand-in for the Prime Minister, responded, saying,"We have very strong domestic regulations with respect to the export of both arms and munitions. What we do not want to see is the NDP and their friends in the Liberal Party try to bring in through the back door a long-gun registry that would only hurt law-abiding sportsmen and only hurt law-abiding hunters and farmers. This is what the Liberals and the NDP want to do in the next election and they can be assured we will not let them get away with it."

Paul Dewar calls Baird's response on the arms treaty "a very poor display on a very serious subject."
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"This has nothing to do with the long gun," Dewar told reporters later. "This is about people in places like the Congo. This is actually about preventing Syria. This is about what happened in Sudan and this Minister of Foreign Affairs tries to make this a domestic issue, tries to make it sound as if this has got something to do with long-gun registry. It was a very poor display of our Minister of Foreign Affairs on a very serious subject. And he should not only apologize but he should get up and explain what the hell was he thinking, you know, when we have something as serious as this."

The treaty could also reduce the crime rate here in Canada by slowing the flow of illegal firearms, Dewar said, predicting it could slow the rate of gang violence even in Baird’s own riding of Ottawa-West Nepean, where several gang-related shooting deaths have occurred recently.