Monday, March 7, 2011

Harper's House of Cards

Source: CBC News: In-and-Out Worth $100,000 in Payouts
Source: CTV News: PMO Apologizes for Booting Media from Ignatieff Speech
Source: CTV News: Tories Defend use of 'Harper Government'
Source: CTV News: Kenny Stands Firm amid calls for his Resignation

I apologize if my posting seems less frequent these days, as essay season has begun and there's a legion of work to do on that front. Regardless, I take a break for a few days and the Conservatives do everything in their power to bring me back to posting...

So, the question is now where do I start?

We'll start with the less serious offences and slowly make our way towards the larger ones.

So, at an event organized by Indian High Commission, our illustrious Prime Minister gave a speech to the gathered crowd and collected journalists. After his speech, staff from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) ushered people out of the room and reportedly removed the podium as well. Then the news broke that Michael Ignatieff, Liberal/Opposition Leader, was planning on addressing those gathered as well.

So, let's just recap that again: After Harper addressed the crowd, the crowd was dispersed and even the podium was taken from the room, moments before Michael Ignatieff was supposed to address those gathered.

Now, the PMO apologized for the incident and called the entire thing a 'mistake' or as they've come to rely on as a defence a 'clerical oversight.' But at the same time, there's been condemnation with the apology. Conservatives, perhaps reaching for the last bastion of a defence they can muster, have said that Ignatieff and his camp never announced that he would be addressing the crowd, rather that he would simply be in attendance.

Granted, there was no report from Ignatieff's people about addressing those in attendance at the event. But, I know events like this and Ignatieff wouldn't have been standing on the floor, listening to Harper's speech and then decide last minute that he too would like to address the crowd. Someone would have been told, and Ignatieff would have been scheduled into the program.

A decision for Ignatieff to speak would have occurred prior to the event's start, and as such, someone somewhere would have known that Ignatieff was to speak after Harper. After all, as I've mentioned, events like this don't usually schedule in last minute speakers on a whim. So, either the staff responsible for the event dropped the ball...OR Harper's team knew full well what they were doing, and assumed that no one would notice Ignatieff's speech getting bumped.

And given other events surrounding the Conservatives, especially when it comes to wooing 'ethnic voters', having only Harper speak at an event for the Indian High Commission would be a feather in their cap come election time with Indian voters.

Call me conspiratorial, but we all know how the Harper Agenda works by this point in Canada; and that statement above rings true to me, as I'm sure it does to many of you reading this. But, of course, the PMO has apologized for the 'misunderstanding', after Ignatieff and his team kicked up a bit more dirt about it than was likely expected.

But, if the event wasn't as well reported, would there have been an apology? I think not.

That brings us to the latest in-and-out update. Elections Canada has put out a report that has much as $100,000 in tax rebates were paid to Conservative candidates for the 2006 election.

The rebates are to be used as a means of reimbursing election expenses for candidates who won their riding with a certain percentage of the total vote in their riding. But, given the skewed reporting of the in-and-out method, some candidates were entitled to ridiculous rebates. One riding for example, spent $12,000 during the course of the election but received $34,000 in TAX DOLLAR rebates.

So, that's money going from taxpayers to these riding associations for money that they didn't actually spend on riding expenses. Must be nice to get a tax break one isn't entitled to, of course big business knows how that feels, and apparently so does the Conservative Party of Canada...If only middle and lower class Canadians could know as well.

That brings me to the Harper Government. It's a term I've used on this blog numerous times throughout the years, and one that I likely will continue to use. I use it because it's easier than typing the much longer Conservative Government, or the idea of referring to the entire process as the 40th Parliament.

That, and the 40th Parliament, is too wide reaching as it also includes the opposition members who don't have much say in what gets drafted in Cabinet and Government.

And now, the Harper Government has taken steps to make sure Canadians across the nation know them as this as well.

It's been reported that a direct has come down from the PMO to change certain references from the term 'Government of Canada' to 'Harper Government.' And while the Conservatives are scrambling on the issue and denying that an order has been given down to this regard, there is some opposition from the Privy Council Office that suggests that there has indeed been directing on this issue.

The PCO has pointed out the increase of the term Harper Government over Government of Canada, pointing out that the term has been increased in usage. CTV reports that the phrase has been used 297 times in the last month alone; and that it has been used an additional 571 times since Nov. 2010, which coincides with the idea of a directive coming down.

So, if I refer to them as the Harper Government why is it ok, but when they do it it is bad?

Well, I do it for the same reason they are: Making sure Canadians know who is doing what. Though the difference is I usually point out short comings and misgivings that the Harper Government is responsible for; while they seem to be making sure that the Harper Government branding is attached to news reports that have a positive message.

Does that mean in a negative message, one that would reflect badly on the ruling party, that they would say Government of Canada?


If history, and giant cheques, have taught us anything it's that the Harper Government is doing everything in it's power to step through the bonds of being non-partisan and to integrate the workings of government and civil service with the Conservative Party of Canada.

Picture this for a moment: Take one of the NUMEROUS Canada's Economic Action Plan commercials that run on TV. At the end, it talks about the message being brought to you by the Government of Canada. Now, imagine that instead of Government of Canada, it said brought to you by the Harper Government.

Makes you feel dirty, doesn't it?

That's effectively what the Conservatives are doing in press releases and news briefs, given that a lot of these documents are either just blindly posted on government websites, and only hardcore political junkies are going to bother to go and read these documents.

Government isn't easy, and you have to take the good with the bad. Unfortunately for us, Harper wants us to believe that his government can do no wrong and that all that's good in this country is brought to us by him and his party; and that everything bad stems from Parliament and the 'Government of Canada'...Not the Harper Government.

Well, Steve, government doesn't work that way.

And that brings us to our Conservative Cabinet Minister Scandal of the Week! This will likely become a feature column on this blog, given the rate the Conservatives continue to make epic mistakes in cabinet.

Jason Kenney, our Immigration Minister and in my opinion a man who has made many gaffes in cabinet (removing mention of gays & lesbians from the immigrant handbook, anyone?), has again found himself in hot water in Ottawa.

Through a 'clerical oversight' a letter from the MINISTER, as in a letter that was written within Kenney's official capacity as Minister for Immigration, was sent to a wrong recipient. The letter was meant to go to John Duncan, a fellow Tory MP, but instead made it's way to Linda Duncan, a NDP MP.

The letter, which was sent out again on letterhead from the Ministry of Immigration and prepared by an aide for the Minister (who has taken the heat and been fired/resigned), detailed a plan to target 'ethnic' communities across Canada in hopes of boosting Conservative electoral support and also solicited $200,000 worth of donations from Conservative riding associations.

Despite increasing pressure, Kenney stands by the fact that he's done nothing wrong and that the staffer responsible for the letter has been removed from his position. To add further fuel to the flames, and take the heat off him, Kenney is claiming further ignorance by making a point to remind people that the staffer was only on the job for a few weeks before he sent the letter.

So: Is ignorance of the law/rules justification for breaking them?

Clearly not, given that we don't let offenders in court get away with such a defence. Furthermore, the NDP have correctly pointed out that even with the staffer being removed from his position, it is still using parliamentary resources for partisan purposes to have a staffer prepare the letter in the first place.

Let me clarify that.

The problem here is that Kenney used parliamentary resources for partisan purposes; so, he used taxpayer funded letterhead and a taxpayer paid aide to draft and send out the letter which solicited aid for the Conservative Party. Even if Kenney didn't mean for the letter to be sent out from the Ministry, which he claims, he still had an aide paid by Parliament/Taxpayers prepare this letter. And that alone is an offence.

So, Jason Kenney is now the Conservative Cabinet minister is the spotlight for this week. And I'm sure Bev Oda has never felt more like the luckiest person in Canada than she does right now.

The idea of ministerial responsibility doesn't just apply when Conservatives decide it does. Oda claimed responsibility for directing the now infamous 'no' in the KARIOS document, and the government and her Tory friends defended this as being within her purview as a minister. Kenney is in a similar situation, as it's clear he did indeed give the order for the letter to be created, and yet this was not within his purview and he needs to take responsibility for it.

The idea of 'the buck stopping here' is an old one, but a true one. Cabinet Ministers aren't there to take credit for good ideas and good implementation of a program/project, but are there to ensure that the Ministry they are in charge of is run in an effective manner and an efficient one. All decisions, and actions, undertaken by that Ministry become the responsibility of the minister in charge.

Either the Minister in charge takes responsibility for everything, or nothing. They are either complicit in decisions like this, or incompetent. And either one of those qualities should immediately disqualify someone from having that much control over government functions. It's time the Harper Government understood this and started to respect Canadians by giving us competent cabinet ministers who have the courage to take responsibility for their actions, as opposed to pointing fingers to interns, staffers, and anyone else they consider expendable in 'Harperland.'

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