Wednesday, November 20, 2013

With Freedom and Liberty for Some, Sometimes.

I know, I know, the senate scandal had some interesting things happen this afternoon. But, as I started this post prior to those revelations, we'll talk about this first and senate tomorrow or so. 

Somehow, I have ended up on the mailing list for Conservative MP Joy Smith; I would assume this blog has something to do with it, but who can say for sure. As such, I was treated to today's media release on her inviting a known "pornographic expert" to Canada to speak on the perils of internet pornography.

Smith made some news earlier in the year, as one of the MPs in Canada that lauded the UK's "opt-in" requirement for citizens to be able to access internet pornography. In a nutshell, the UK plans to put an automatic block on access to XXX rated websites; in order to view them, a person would have to call their internet provider and opt in.

Naturally, this has raised a great deal of privacy concerns; with some people going as far as to suggest that a list of "opted in" citizens could be used for nefarious means. (Say in an election campaign; or even perhaps to deny someone a job because they are known to be on the list.)

While those are extreme examples, I would point out that our health records (especially in Saskatchewan) continuously are found in dumpsters, alleyways, street corners, etc; and the concept of such a list falling into public knowledge does exist. Heck, there's even just the occasional 'office snoop', as we've seen with celebrity health records in the US, who is just curious to see what's there.

It also doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the real problem, in that an opt in list is about as effective as a magic rock for keeping away tigers. Opt in lists sounds good to people who don't know the first thing about technology; it's something that sounds effective and foolproof, but is far from.

An opt in list would work likely based on the user's IP address, the means that is used by your service provider to identify your computer. But there are dozens of free, online proxy services at reroute your traffic under a different IP address. These services can be both through your web client, or through a standalone program, and would most likely circumvent the opt in ban.

After all, a proxy can be used to set your traffic as coming from another country ( in the way some enterprising Canadians do to allow themselves access to American Netflix movies and services such as Hulu), so your IP could appear from a country that has no such opt in requirement.

These services are not hard to find, nor do they need a computer science degree to understand. And much like when I was in school, there will be the one kid who knows how to do these things and passes that information along to other students. This is part of the real problem, in that parents are not staying up to date with technological advances.

I self taught myself a computer at 12, with a bit of help from school computer courses that used Macs instead of my home PC; and a lot of trial and error gave me a pretty decent understanding of how to use a computer.

The next generation is even better at it than I was at that age; and I would expect this trend to keep continuing. 

Parents have at home options, such as 'nanny blocker' software that blocks keywords and access to certain sites. Again, for a technologically savvy kid, it won't stop them. Neither will an opt in ban, for the reasons we already discussed.

Older generations, like Joy Smith, see this as a solution to a problem they don't fully understand. While neglecting the fact that those who do understand it, already have seven ways and then some around their solution. 

There is one thing that actually does work, that no tech savvy kid can get around: parental supervision. Keeping computers out of bedrooms, and in public rooms of the house, for example. While that may not stop kids from accessing pornography completely, it's the only real solution, and it requires an effort by parents.

It's also never been fully enforced. That lesson has been around since the advent of home computers, yet I've very rarely seen a computer in an open space for parents to keep watch. Ultimately, it is only the parents who can enforce this kind of rule in their own homes; as legislation will only prove costly and ineffective. 

Or to borrow a phrase from the Conservatives around the gun registry; it criminalizes legal users, and doesn't prevent any crime.

Which brings me to the level of cognitive dissonance that continues to exist in Conservative caucus members and their supporters. The right has always demanded that the government stay out of their lives and bemoaned the creation of the nanny state. 

Yet, conservatives are quick to call for stricter measures and tighter bureaucracy then "left wing"counterparts. You cannot be the party that calls for social libertarianism and decreased government, while also being the party that wants to increase bureaucratic regulation or restrict the free action of others.

As stated, this is the kind of monitoring that does not work well against the tech savvy; of which, children are amongst (especially when compared to parents and grandparents). Direct parental monitoring is cheaper, and far more effective. 

If the conservatives want to protect children from the horrors they might find online, they should give parents the means and the know how to do so. Let's increase tech literacy for adults; let's encourage computers in open rooms, not bedrooms. 

Harper said at the Conservative Convention that they put money and decision making into the hands of real child experts "mom & dad", in reference to the child tax credit; well the same is true on this issue. It's time to let mom and dad watch their children, and expect mom and dad to stay up to date on technology and how their children use it. It will be far more cost effective, and far more effective in general in the long run.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Deja Harper

With much more of a whimper than a bang, Harper's three 'disgraced' Senators have been suspended from the Senate. No doubt, Conservative insiders are patting each other on the back and sitting back and assuming that this headache is finally about the pass.

But is it?

Recent polling data has shown that the government, and particularly the Prime Minister, have taken a hit in popularity. Harper's own personal credibility is in tatters, as many Canadians have stated that they do not believe Harper's chain of events. Perhaps the biggest success story here is what Mike Duffy accomplished when he returned to the Senate: He didn't make this issue about his expenses, he made it about Harper and his office.

Since Harper ascended to leadership, over people like Tony Clement and Belinda Stronach, he has always been seen as the 'control freak'. And it was understandable as to why.

Having effectively crushed the 'progressive' from Progressive Conservative, Harper knew that his party needed to reach out from its core base if it ever wanted to form government. And while it was certainly helped by the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal, it was Harper's meticulous approach to control that also helped propel him to power.

After all, we all remember the 'muzzling' of Conservative candidates. In Saskatchewan, outspoken pro-lifers Brad Trost and Maurice Vellacott often found themselves in hot water over speaking their minds during election campaigns. They gave soundbytes that often went national, and served as a gentle reminder to Canadians that the Conservative Party had some hard-right ideologues in it.

So, rather than stamp down the candidate, Harper muzzled them. No answers to reporters without it being 'approved' first. Avoiding public debate forums, or anywhere, where you could be ambushed into saying something that embarrasses the party. It's a strategy we continue to see, as I understand the current by-election in Toronto Centre has been plagued by Conservative candidate no-shows at forums...An approach the Liberal candidate is also using, it must be noted.

From that onset, we saw a leader who was obsessive over staying on point and ensuring complete control over his caucus. We know, it is well documented, that Stephen Harper is a control freak.

And so, when Harper stood up before the House of Commons to announce that he'd been deceived by his own office; people who have watched this Prime Minister since 2006 were understandably doubtful.

However, this is not the first time Stephen Harper has been misled.

Recall back to 2004, just before the fall of the Liberal Government. The budget bill was coming down, the Sponsorship Scandal was approaching full swing, and the Conservative opposition was looking to bring down Paul Martin by defeating the budget.

It was going to be a close vote, and the entire thing hinged around a single person: Independent MP Chuck Cadman.

Doug Finley and now disgraced former adviser Tom Flanagan met with Cadman in an attempt to convince him to vote with the opposition and bring down the government. On his deathbed, Cadman told his wife that the offer included a $1 million dollar life insurance policy for his support.

Conservatives have long denied this claim, even going as far as taking the Liberals to court for defamation (a suit which was later dropped without settlement paid to either side). At the heart of the suit was an audio tape by author Tom Zytaruk, who was writing a book on Cadman. Zytaruk brought up the question of the life insurance policy, prompting this answer from Harper:

"I don't know the details. I know that there were discussions,"

This was in direct contradiction to Harper's previous claim that he knew nothing about any offer, or that any offer was made to Cadman at all. Conservatives were quick to condemn the tape, suggesting that it had to be edited. However, one of the audio experts hired by Harper and Company found that the tape was not edited. More importantly, it found that the part containing the question about the life insurance policy was not edited; which was the part of the tape that Harper had contested.

And while Conservatives deny any offer was ever made to Cadman; James Moore said in the Commons that "There were three people at the meeting that we are talking about here and all three of them said that no offer was made."But this is starting to sound like Rob Ford's excuse of the wrong question being asked.

Cadman was made an offer, which the Conservatives have admitted to, outside of the life insurance offer. Cadman was to be welcomed back into the Conservative caucus, and his nomination was to be secured by the party for the next election. In addition to an uncontested nomination, Cadman would be targeted as a 'high priority' candidate for the party, and be privy to a high amount of financial support for his re-election campaign.

Jeez, why does all this sound familiar?

Oh, that's right, Mike Duffy and the Senate.

Like Finley and Flanagan, Nigel Wright made an offer to Duffy that Harper didn't know the details of. And according to the Conservatives, yet again,  there was no offer to Duffy or any kind of deal in place.

Yet, we have the the man at the centre offering a different story. Duffy and Cadman provided alternate versions of the story coming from Harper, his office, and his caucus.

Duffy, however, seems to have documents to at least cast a further shadow of doubt. Though, in fairness, one has to wonder if we shouldn't have given a lot more weight to the words of a man on his deathbed.

And again, according to Duffy's version, we see a deal in the works. A retaining of his Senate seat, a handling of kid gloves with the Deloitte audit, and the support of his Conservative colleagues.

There's a few things we can take away from the similarities in these stories.

Firstly, it would seem for a control freak, Stephen Harper makes horrible decisions when it comes to his inner circle. Finley, Flanagan, Wright, and numerous others have gone out of their way to keep the Prime Minister in the dark about unsavory details. Harper at least admits that Finley presented the deal of welcoming Cadman back into caucus, and a guaranteed election spot, but denied the life insurance claim.

Much in the same way he now denies knowing a single thing about Wright and Duffy's deal, despite the fact that more and more Top Conservatives are becoming embroiled in the scandal with each passing day.

Secondly, if anything, it shows what sort of culture Stephen Harper has fostered in his tenure as leader and Prime Minister. While the RCMP declined to press charges over the Cadman Affair, as there was no proof towards the life insurance claim, there is a question to be made over the offer that was made.

Which brings us to the Rob Ford "asking the wrong question" question. There is a strong case to be made that offering an independent MP an uncontested nomination, and high priority party financial support in the next election, exists as a direct violation of the Parliament of Canada Act. (Section 41, Articles 1, 2, and 3)

Had the Liberal complaint focused on the offer of a guaranteed nomination, as opposed to just focusing on the life insurance policy, would the outcome have been different for Finley and Flanagan? An interesting question, but one that will forever exist in the 'what if' category of life.

Finally, what we can really take away from this, is that the Harper Government has used the same kind of tactics over and over when they find themselves in political hot water. Protect Harper, deny his involvement, and lay the blame on the opposition whilst finding a staffer to throw under the oncoming bus.

And what we've seen, looking at the Cadman Affair, is that at the very least Harper always seems to know more than he's let on. Of course, the Cadman Affair died a quiet death after the 2008 election. Conservative court action kept the Liberals from using the Cadman Tape, or even mentioning it too loudly, during the campaign that saw Harper returned to power with a strengthened minority government.

The defamation case was settled, and since then we haven't heard a damned thing about it.

And that is the lesson we need to take away from this, above all else. The Conservatives have used the legal route to shut down their wrongdoings in the past, and have done so rather successfully one must admit. In a court case between Duffy and the Conservative Party, there is no guarantee that any details will make their way to light.

Worse, Duffy has now been robbed of his 'safe zone' for revealing his side of the story. Without Senate privilege, Duffy now risks libel, slander, and defamation suits if he names names and calls out anyone else involved. The Conservatives have not been afraid of litigation in the past, and it would seem to me, that they would be all to happy to induce Duffy's silence by threat of a lengthy, and costly, court process.

Canadians have a little under two years until we go to polls. An election wiped the Cadman Affair from the circuits of our memories, and that was just the tip of the iceberg showing the rot in the Conservative Party. Canadians have been denied the full story on numerous allegations against the Conservatives; from Chuck Cadman, the ETS Scandal, and now Duffy and his fellow Senators.

An election campaign does not erase the need for answers to be provided. History thus far, at least in seeing how the Conservatives deal with scandal, show that they have a lot of answer for. Canadians must demand those answers, and not allow this government to continue to tuck away the truth.

It is said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. There isn't anything said about those who are forcefully denied the truth of history, but I can only imagine what happens to people in that situation. Canadians deserve answers; the government answers to the people, not the other way around. And while suspending Duffy and the others has denied them due process, and a place to report their version of events free from litigation designed to slow them down, it has not delivered justice that any Canadian should be proud of.

This is not about Senate expenses; it is about the manner in which we expect politicians to act once elected, and how much truth and transparency we deserve by those who serve at our leisure. And right now, it seems like the truth be damned by our current government.

Government exists to serve the people, not the success of the party in power. And while denying, obscuring, and half-truths are good for the Conservative Party's future electoral fortunes; they are damning for the Canadian public.