Tag Archives: federal politics

Raitt’s state

It’s the kiss of death for a cabinet minister when the prime minister issues a statement saying he has confidence in him or her.

“The Prime Minister has confidence in his Minister of Public Works” was the word from Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s spokesperson on Jan. 9, 2002, when the minister in question was a man named Alfonso Gagliano, who was facing allegations of patronage. Six days later, he was dropped from cabinet in a shuffle.

So you can imagine how Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt feels that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has confidence in her, after her latest embarrassment.

It seems her aide had mistakenly left a tape recorder with a mistakenly-recorded private conversation in a bathroom (this was before she was fired for mistakenly leaving “secret” ministerial documents at CTV), and that tape got into the hands of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.

After successfully fighting off an injunction to stop its publication, the Herald put the tape online last night and is going to see its hit count skyrocket over the next few days.

Opposition MPs are, of course, outraged to hear a cabinet minister think that a cancer treatment crisis is “sexy”. Except, it is sexy from a political and journalistic perspective, if not a human one. And opposition MPs were just as outraged at Raitt yesterday in question period.

Neverthless, Raitt’s days as a cabinet minister are numbered. Not because she’s incapable of handling the portfolio (though she probably is), not because she has poor choice of staff (though she does), and not because she doesn’t have a soul (she doesn’t, and neither does any other politician), but because she got caught talking about the stuff that every politician thinks but no one will admit publicly.

And so Raitt will be replaced by some other politician who’s better at lying and keeping things out of the grubby hands of the press. And our government will continue to be run by people who can manage their image instead of people who can do their jobs.

Such is politics, I guess.

Now if you’ll excuse me, question period is about to start. And it’s gonna be gooooood.

If you were a journalist now, what would you have done that Mr. Murphy has not done?

It was underhanded, mean-spirited, even arguably discriminatory. CTV executives decided to air the raw tape of an interview between ATV host Steve Murphy and then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion in which Dion has trouble understanding a grammatically confusing question. The network said it was because it had news value, but in reality it was because it wanted to make Dion look bad.

The move backfired, with public opinion turning against CTV. And now the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has agreed, with two separate rulings that the network violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics. (Two panels were actually convened, one regional panel to deal with the CTV Atlantic airing, and a specialty channel panel to deal with the Mike Duffy CTV NewsNet rebroadcast later that evening.)

Coverage from CP and Canwest. Still waiting for a news outlet that actually bothers to link to the decisions. Also no peep from CTV so far.

The decisions basically rule that Murphy’s question was poorly worded, that the network should not have aired the outtakes after promising not to do so, that airing them was unfair to Dion, and that his restarts were not newsworthy enough to justify their airing.

I find myself mostly agreeing with the analysis of the council, though their analysis of Murphy’s grammar is thorough to the point of absurdity.

The specialty channel panel wasn’t unanimous, with two members providing a dissenting opinion that favoured CTV. CTV’s arguments shouldn’t be dismissed here – they argue that restarts like these are rare, even in live-to-tape interviews like this one, and that it should be up to CTV, not the council, to decide what is newsworthy, especially when it comes to the most important interview a newscaster can give – a candidate for prime minister during an election campaign.

One argument that CTV didn’t make which I’ll add is that the question Dion was asked is textbook to the point of being cliché: What would you have done as prime minister? And politicians with even a moderate amount of public exposure should know how to bullshit their way to the next question if they don’t understand it (or don’t have the answer). Had Dion just picked an interpretation of his choosing instead of asking for clarification multiple times, this would never have happened.

But that doesn’t change the fact that CTV said it wouldn’t air the outtakes, and acted in a way that made it clear to Dion they wouldn’t be aired. Dion took advantage of an opportunity, and then got a knife stabbed in his back for his trouble.

UPDATE (June 2): ProjetJ looks at the differences between the CBSC and the Quebec Press Council. The latter has been losing members who also belong to the former (arguing they shouldn’t have to belong to two organizations that do the same thing). It also suggests the press council is more secretive, making its decisions anonymously.

Maxime Bernier has new technologies

There’s no way I can make this better than it already is. (via @mediabeat)

It occured to me I’ve never actually heard Maxime Bernier speak in English before (my attention must have been focused elsewhere). Now the new Conservative minister of nothing is putting it in practice with a new blog.

Don’t expect him to be too honest or outrageous though, the Tories don’t like honesty on their members’ blogs.

Low on cash? Just ask the gummit

The federal government, apparently spooked enough by Canwest and CTVglobemedia’s cries that the mediocalypse is here, is reportedly considering a $150-million fund that would help small-market television stations. This would be in addition to the Local Programming Improvement Fund which has the same goal.

As much as I’m not a fan of consumers paying for local TV stations they already get for free, even that would be preferable to a government bailout with who knows how many strings attached.

A lack of decorum in the House of Commons

Ian Capstick points out this Macleans post which points to this video of House of Commons speaker Peter Milliken reminding members of Parliament that they shouldn’t be attacking each other personally in the House.

It’s kind of sad that this video exists at all. I haven’t watched question period recently, and I don’t know what specific incident prompted this, but I’ve watched enough to say that this could be read after question period on just about every day the House is in session. Members are banging their hands against their desks, applauding, booing, yelling incoherently, and just plain heckling people on the opposing side.

Why is this?

Is it tradition? We take our parliamentary system from the British, and a look at their house shows an even worse situation when it comes to respect of honourary members. But we’ve grown past a lot of our traditions.

Is there some other reason that this background noise is necessary when people are asking others politically-loaded questions? Maybe it’s like a laugh track on a sitcom. The cheers and jeers tell us subconsciously whether we should accept or reject a particular person’s point of view, since we’re too stupid to judge the questions and answers on their own merits. But, of course, for every cheer there’s a boo, so it all kind of washes out in the end.

Is it to keep the ratings up? Nobody wants to hear politicians asking and answering questions. But when they quiz each other to the background noise equivalent of “OH NO HE DIDN’T!”, it suddenly becomes more fun to watch. The rest of parliamentary sessions, which include statements from members, petitions, or the dedication of National Honour Your Garbage Collector Day, are dreadfully boring. The yelling might just be to wake us up so we know to pay attention, the equivalent of those sound effects machines on morning radio.

Sadly, none of these explanations instill in me much pride at being represented by this government.

New Media Fund helps new media (as long as it’s television)

The Canadian government today announced that it would combine the Canadian Television Fund and Canadian New Media Fund, two government-run funds that give money to Canadian productions, into the Canadian Media Fund, which would give $134.7 million a year to support both conventional television and “new media”, meaning those Internet things.

It’s being described as removing funding guarantees from CBC/RadCan (the CTF “crisis” started when cable companies refused to hand over money because they said too much of it was going to unpopular programming), though the Mother Corp is happy about the announcement because it allows its in-house productions to be eligible for the fund.

The Conservative government emphasizes that the new “fixed” fund will be focused on funding popular programming like Flashpoint, and not those boring CBC dramas that only get a few hundred thousand viewers. I’m hoping this means there will be more Canadian porn out there, because porn is always popular.

So, where can innovative Canadian new media developers get their cash? Not so fast:

“Applicants will be required to make their projects available across a minimum of two distribution platforms, including television.”

In other words, you can’t apply for the Canadian Media Fund unless “media” is television. It doesn’t matter if you’re popular or not, whether your content is primarily video or not. Canadian productions like LoadingReadyRun or Prenez Garde Aux Chiens are not eligible, because they’re not on television.

Just the kind of forward-looking outside-the-box ideas we’ve come to expect from our federal culture overlords.

UPDATE: Michel Dumais agrees with me, and has other critical comments about the new media fund.

Journal Daily Digest: The union cause is growing

Journal picket line

Support for locked-out Journal de Montréal workers seems to be growing, or at least solidifying. After provincial politicians agreed to boycott the Journal and Quebecor Journal-replacement journalists, federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has also agreed not to grant the paper any interviews. He joins the rather expected NDP and Bloc caucuses, but not the Conservatives (at least, the ones who weren’t dodging the question from Le Devoir).

Meanwhile, the Union des artistes and the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement have both decided to support the union (again, not unexpectedly) and say they’ll refuse interview requests. The UDA’s boycott (and the stated reasons for it) were enough to prompt an open letter from Pierre-Karl Péladeau to set the record straight.

Sign, sign, everywhere they sign

All this gave the union a kick in its step as it took to the street today to protest against Quebecor. The theme speficially was the we-take-all-your-rights contracts that Quebecor is making freelancers sign. (I can’t help but point out how self-serving it is to only worry about freelancers’ contracts now that you’re on the street.) Plenty of coverage of the pickets from:

How much do they make?

There’s still lots of confusion over how much journalists at the Journal make in a year. The employer says the average is $88,000, while the union counters that the average salary is more like $50-$60,000 a year. (Editor Lyne Robitaille, feeling that her reputation is being threatened, took another page out of the Journal (PDF) to explain her position to readers again.) Richard Martineau rakes Richard Therrien over the coals for Therrien’s blind acceptance of the union’s figures, I guess as revenge for all the stuff Therrien has written about Martineau lately).

I don’t have access to the figures, but I’m willing to bet this is merely a difference in interpretation. The employer is using figures on T4 sheets, which represent the total money being paid to employees, including overtime and other monetary benefits. The union is probably using the base salary as set in the contract for its figure, which doesn’t include the perks and is therefore significantly lower. If you’re getting paid $88,000 for 30-hour weeks, that’s one thing; if it’s for 42-hour weeks because of all the overtime, that’s another.

Also of note (and nobody disputes this) is that the staff at the Journal is tilted toward the higher end of the scale because the average age is high and the average level of experience is also high.

In other news

Senator Duffy?

Yeah, his head really is that big

Yeah, his head really is that big

Part of me still can’t quite believe it. Sure, journalists have been appointed to meaningless ceremonial posts by politicians before, but to poach English Canada’s biggest name in political journalism (well, political TV journalism anyway) and just make him a politician (from P.E.I.?) seems strange.

Sure, technically there’s nothing wrong with a journalist becoming a politician. It’s the other way around that’s a problem (except on RDI). But it just feels wrong.

For what it’s worth, the National Post explores the ethical issues in play here. There are questions about how Mike Duffy may have acted toward the Conservatives while mulling this appointment, even if he says he’s not a partisan.

I don’t think Duffy’s journalism was biased, and will probably for the most part stand the test of time. But I still think it was a mistake to accept a senate appointment. Just as it was for Jim Munson or Joan Fraser or any of the other journalists who went to the senate thinking it would raise their profile and whose names have been forgotten by average Canadians.

Then again, this Margaret Wente column alone almost makes the appointment worth it. Not to mention the fact that there’s so little news otherwise this time of year.

Chicago politics

Selling a senate seat? Blackmailing a newspaper into firing writers? Gotta be the governor of Illinois.

(Side note: “Before that, he served as a U.S. Congressman for Illinois’ 5th district from 1997 until 2003, according to his online biography.” – Could they not confirm membership in the U.S. House of Representatives with a more official source?)

It’s a fun week for politics. Though backroom undemocratic kingmaking in our government is far less sexy.

“It’s just politics,” Bob Rae said about 10 seconds ago. How true.

Coalition of the unions and separatists

Spot the non-union flags at this protest

Spot the non-union flags at this protest

On Saturday, I went downtown to Protest Central (the Guy Favreau building) to check out the pro-coalition protest. I had wanted to stop by the “Rally for Canada” anti-coalition protest, but that never materialized in this city.

Coming out of the building, I noticed a lot of presence from labour unions. I did some quick number-counting. There were 150 flags with union logos on them. The number of signs, flags and banners without union logos were so few that I have pictures of them all below.

The numbers, and the speeches given during the rally, showed something worrisome: this protest wasn’t about the grass roots standing up for democracy. It was about unions and separatists wanting to push the government more toward the left.

Continue reading

Just how big is this majority?

I’m hearing a lot about this 62% majority that’s being used as a talking point for the Liberal-NDP (Bloc) coalition government in Ottawa. But it’s not entirely clear where the calculation for that number comes from. Perhaps for that reason, I’ve seen numbers like 61% and 66% pop up on signs or in statements.

So I did a bit of number crunching based on the results of the 2008 election. Here’s that comes up:

The figure that really matters is seats in the House of Commons. By that measure, the coalition represents 163 of the total 308 seats, or 52.9%. If we include the two independent members (Bill Casey of Nova Scotia and Quebec’s André Arthur, both of whom are closer to the Tories than any other party) on the coalition side, that figure rises to 53.6%.

If we go by votes for coalition parties vs. total votes in the 2008 election, which would be the most obvious choice, they represent 7,528,737 out of a total 13,834,294 votes, or 54.4%.

If we go by votes for coalition parties vs. total votes for the four major parties in the 2008 election, discounting the parties with no seats (and independents), we get 7,528,737 of 12,737,533 votes, or 59.1%.

If we go by votes for coalition parties plus 937,613 Green Party votes vs. total votes in the 2008 election, we get 8,466,350 of 13,834,294 votes, or 61.1% (the “61% majority” figure comes from here). Green Party leader Elizabeth May has endorsed the coalition, so this one is plausible.

If we go by votes for coalition parties plus 937,613 Green Party votes vs. total votes for the five major parties in the 2008 election plus independents, discounting only the 64,304 whackjobs who voted for the Western Block Party and their ilk, we get 8,466,350 of 13,769,990, or 61.5%.

If we go by votes for coalition parties plus 937,613 Green Party votes vs. total votes for the five major parties in the 2008 election and exclude independents entirely, we get 8,466,350 of 13,675,146 votes, or 61.9%. This is where the “62% majority” comes from (well, either this or the next point), but it completely discounts people who voted for anyone who didn’t vote for candidates outside of the five parties, pretending like their votes didn’t exist.

If we go by votes for coalition parties plus Greens plus independents and unaffiliated candidates vs. total votes in the 2008 election, we get 8,561,194 of 13,834,294 votes, or 61.9%. But this makes the huge (and unsupported) assumption that independents support the coalition.

If we go by votes for all non-Conservative candidates vs. total votes in the 2008 election, we get 8,625,498 of 13,834,294 votes, or 62.3%. But this assumes that all third parties from the Christian Heritage Party to the Marxist-Leninists (respectively the 5th and 6th parties in total votes) support this coalition, which I think is a bit of a stretch. It also assumes that everyone who voted for independent candidates also supports the coalition.

So which of these figures is the correct one? The coalition backers want the highest number, 62%, but the more realistic numbers are 54% or 61%, depending on whether or not you include the Greens.

What do you think? Are there other ratios that make sense here? What calculation makes most sense to you?

Disorganized organizing

As if to underscore how unstable and disorganized our government is, there are two competing protests scheduled Saturday afternoon for and against the coalition government in different parts of the city.



On the Rally for Canada website (which features “latests twitter posts”), the rallying point for the anti-coalition forces is listed as “Trudeau’s office”, which I assume means Justin Trudeau’s constituency office at 625 Faillon Street E.

But if you go there, you’ll probably be standing with a small crowd of gramatically-challenged Tory supporters. Everyone else is going to Complexe Guy Favreau on René-Lévesque Blvd. W., the federal building which for some reason has always been turned into Protest Central by anyone with anything to say to the federal government. That protest is the one the Liberals, the unions and the Make Parliament Work website are pointing people to. It also has over 500 people RSVPed on Facebook, which means at last five of them will show up.

Personally, I don’t think public protest is going to change anything here (is Stephen Harper going to give up power because some a few hundred Montrealers that wouldn’t have voted for him anyway told him to?). I also doubt most of the people attending these protests would have the same positions if the tables were turned and Stephen Harper was trying to use the Bloc to take power away from a minority Liberal government.

But hey, if you want to walk out in the cold carrying a sign, go nuts.

Coalition myths

While the two would-be prime ministers address the nation with their talking points, and talk radio is flooded with angry phone calls, it seems obvious that many Canadians (and politicians) are basing arguments on a profound misunderstanding of the nature of parliamentary democracy. In that spirit, here are some myths being thrown about and reality checks for each:

Canadians voted for a Conservative government and Prime Minister Harper: Canadians did no such thing. Despite the impression given during election campaigns, the prime minister (and hence his government) is not chosen by the voters (you may have noticed that the words “prime minister” were not on your ballots, nor were “Stephen Harper” unless you voted in Calgary Southwest). Instead, the prime minister is chosen by the 308 members of Parliament elected by the voters. A majority of those 308 members have decided that Harper should not be the prime minister.

The coalition wants to overturn the results of the election: I don’t see where that’s the case. There are no floor-crossings involved here (and even if there were, both the Liberals and Conservatives have benefitted from such crossings and ignored hypocritical calls from the opposition that the member resign and face a by-election to ratify the change in party). The election resulted in a minority government, which means that any measure needs support of more than one party to be approved.

The Liberals were forced to act to save Canadian jobs: Oh please. This is clearly a power grab. The Liberals saw their opportunity, but it was just a matter of time before this happened. A minority situation where three of the four parties are left-of-centre and the remaining right-wing party is the one in charge just wasn’t sustainable. The economy argument is a smokescreen.

Dion is so desperate to become prime minister he’s trying to get in by the back door: While I’m sure part of Dion is gleeful about the idea, and he’s definitely better at this kind of political maneuvring than he is getting popular support from Canadians, he isn’t reversing his decision to step down as Liberal leader. The leadership campaign will go on as planned and if the government lasts that long, the winner will become the prime minister.

Making a deal with separatists threatens this country directly: If this were true (and it’s not), the Conservatives are just as guilty. Many of its laws, including matters of confidence, were supported by the Bloc Québécois in exchange for matters the two could agree on like transferring more money to the provinces. Dion’s federalist bona fides are not in question. Besides, the argument is being made on the other side that the Bloc has sold its soul to the federalists by agreeing not to take down a coalition government for a year.

The Liberals have a better plan to fix the economy: Nobody’s going to fix this economic crisis. The United States is in a recession and debt markets are in turmoil. There’s nothing a prime minister can do to fix that. They can make a small impact: the Tories want to reduce taxes and the Liberals/NDP want to increase spending, both of which will put this country back into deficit and increase the national debt. The best solution would probably be something in between, but there is no centre option here as long as the Liberals are in bed with the NDP.

The coalition will bring the stability and progressive policies needed to weather the economic crisis. Wow, I need to get some of what you’re smoking. The coalition will bring partisan gridlock to Parliament Hill in no time flat. Another election will quickly follow, in which Canadians will either punish Harper for his arrogance or (perhaps more likely) punish the Liberals for a transparent  power grab.

This crisis shows why we need a majority government: Whether this crisis is good or bad for Canada depends on which side you’re on. Majority governments are by nature more stable, because they’re run by a benevolent dictator. They also have a habit of being more fiscally responsible by being able to cut spending and make tough decisions. But minority coalitions are more democratic and involve more compromise and negotiation. And when one party attempts to do something unpopular, it can be overridden by the other three parties.

If the government loses a confidence vote, an election must be called: That’s not necessary. The King/Byng affair demonstrated that. The governor-general has the option to allow another group to become the government if she feels they would have the confidence of the House.

We must protest to ensure we get the right government: While both sides are appealing to public opinion, it’s highly unlikely that any of the four parties will listen to the public which has already divided so transparently along party lines. The Liberals and NDP have already made up their minds about forming a coalition. The Bloc has already agreed not to let it fall for a year and a half. And the Conservatives are going to fight to the last breath to keep Stephen Harper in power.

Any other misconceptions you feel need to be corrected?

Oh hell, I’ll just let Rex Murphy summarize: