By John Geddes - Sunday, May 19, 2013 - 0 Comments
Nigel Wright’s resignation from his position as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff suggests two possible paths ahead for the story of Wright’s strange decision to cut Sen. Mike Duffy a $90,000 cheque.
The first path starts from the perspective, best expressed in Scott Reid’s insightful column in yeterday’s Ottawa Citizen, that Wright dipped into his personal wealth to pay off Duffy’s illegitimately collected Senate expenses out of a perhaps overly developed sense of a dutiful political aide’s responsibility to stamp out fires before they threaten to engulf the boss.
By Martin Patriquin - Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 4:52 PM - 0 Comments
Martin Patriquin explains why the status quo is here to stay
In a column that could have been written yesterday afternoon, L Ian MacDonald said the following about Senate reform in 1985:
When Canadians think of the Senate at all, they clearly don’t think much of it, which is why the New Democrats in the Commons think they’re on to a good thing in calling for the abolition of the upper chamber.
The truly cynical would say the column was an attempt by MacDonald, who would become speechwriter for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney later that year, to tamp down the expectations of the voting public. After all, the same voting public elected Mulroney in part because he would put an end to what Peter C. Newman called “the orgy of patronage appointments” of previous Liberal governments. I was a tyke at the time, but I still remember my old man watching the debate when Mulroney made John Turner’s campaign go poof! by delivering that famous “You had an option, sir” line in that indignant, fuck-off baritone of his. Turner’s crime, in large part, was appointing three senators during his three months as Prime Minister. Mulroney was disgusted and promised change. I think the old man even voted for Mulroney—though I doubt he’d admit as much in polite company.
By John Geddes - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 6:39 PM - 0 Comments
When Canadians hear the Prime Minister calling Senator Patrick Brazeau’s situation “extremely appalling”—from Stephen Harper, uncharacteristically vivid language—they might well wonder how this character rated a Senate seat in the first place.
The short, glib answer is that he didn’t. In a way, no senator does. The continued existence of an upper chamber in our Parliament that exists to be packed with partisan patronage appointees remains a national embarrassment—or would be if we thought about it much.
But Brazeau’s personal downfall is, of course, entirely distinct from the institutional problem of a standing affront to democracy right there on Parliament Hill. Nobody should suggest that the charges of assault and sexual assault laid against him today somehow reflect on the Senate in general.
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Behind the PM’s new focus on history and heritage
A year ago, Stephen Harper flew to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum to proclaim an agenda of “major transformations” for the “next generation.” This year Harper skipped the summit in Switzerland and chose to outline his priorities to the first weekly Conservative caucus meeting of the new session with a far more modest message. He listed four priorities, the first three of which—creating jobs, keeping streets safe and supporting healthy families—were unsurprising. But it was Harper’s fourth pillar, an appeal to the Canadian identity, that was something else altogether.
In his speech, Harper foreshadowed the next wave of national commemorations, including the centennial of the First World War in 2014, the bicentennial of Sir John A. Macdonald’s birth the year after that, and planning for Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017. He also waxed eloquent about the importance of remembrance. “We can look back with pride and forward with confidence as part of a Canada standing tall, the best country in the world.”
Harper wasn’t always known for proclaiming his love of country. On day one of the election campaign that would eventually send him to 24 Sussex Drive in 2006, the first question put to the soon-to-be PM was whether or not he loved his country. Harper said a lot of nice things about Canada, but he did not answer directly in the affirmative. The perceived flub didn’t cost him the election, but it didn’t do him any favours, either. Continue…
By John Geddes - Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 1:44 PM - 0 Comments
How many senators did Prime Minister Stephen Harper appoint in 2012? How many years does the government allow, in its latest plan, for “development and acquisition” of F-35 fighter jets? How many premiers, provincial and territorial, attended the November economic summit in Halifax? (Hint: Saskatchewan’s just phoned in.)
In all cases, the answer is an even dozen. But for our purposes here—in this third annual installment of a year-capping look back—we’re interested in 12 only as the number of months in the calendar. Select just a single story for each, and 2012 might almost begin to show some semblance of coherence.
By John Geddes - Friday, December 21, 2012 at 5:33 PM - 0 Comments
Clarity and detail, I realize, can’t reasonably be demanded at a demonstration. Walking around Ottawa’s “Occupy” encampment last year, for instance, I asked the occupiers what they were against, and “greed” was a common answer. Up on Parliament Hill this afternoon as this winter’s first real snow fell, I asked “Idle No More” protestors what they wanted, and “justice” came up a lot. Hard to know what to make of those answers.
I don’t mention this to disparage either group. In fact, I think the Occupy movement, despite the fuzziness of its aims and prescriptions, accomplished something significant by elevating income inequality as a serious topic the broader economic policy debate. Perhaps the recent upwelling of discontent among First Nations represented by Idle No More will, given time, similarly coalesce around some theme worthy of greater prominence.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 10:22 AM - 0 Comments
When Nigel Wright took a leave of absence from Onex Corp., the big Toronto-based private equity company, to become Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff nearly two years ago, hard questions were asked about how such a widely connected business insider could possibly avoid ethical conflicts on federal policies that affect corporate interests. To try to put those concerns to rest, the federal ethics commissioner set up a “conflict of interest screen,” spelling out at least some files Wright wasn’t allowed to even hear about. There are grey zones, but the screen clearly deems a few topics out-of-bounds—including, for obvious reasons given Wright’s ties to Onex, “the taxation of the Canadian private equity industry and its participants.”
And yet, last May 10, an unnamed official from Omers—the Ontario municipal employees pension fund, and indisputably a major private equity “participant”—filed a report with the federal lobbying watchdog, as required by law, disclosing a phone call with Wright the previous month. Omers listed the subject of its lobbying as “taxation and finance.” For a big equity player to talk to Wright directly on taxation would seem to set off alarm bells about a possible violation of his ethical screen. Indeed, asked by Maclean’s about that call, the office of Mary Dawson, the ethics commissioner, said it planned to “follow up” with Wright on the matter, but declined any further comment.
By From the editors - Monday, August 13, 2012 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
Provinces must lead on economic as well as social policy
Federal-provincial relations in Canada often bring to mind schoolyard analogies. But which ones are most appropriate? Are the provincial premiers a bunch of unruly youngsters in need of stern discipline? Or are they more like high school grads, grown up and canny enough to show their old teacher a thing or two? Lately both seem appropriate.
Recent weeks offer plenty of evidence of both the truculence and the maturity of the premiers. At their annual meeting in Halifax at the end of July, the provincial leaders made useful progress in sharing best practices for treating heart disease and diabetes as well as establishing a national bidding process to bring down the cost of generic drugs. All this without assistance from Ottawa.
The evidence on co-operative federalism is even more convincing when it comes to education. Canada has consistently delivered top-ranked performance on international tests in math, science and reading. This seems powerful evidence that a dominant role for the federal government is not a requirement for high quality, innovative learning. A U.S. academic study recently calculated that if the American education system (which is far more centralized than Canada’s) produced students with math skills on par with Canadian students, the result would be a 20 per cent boost in income over the career of every U.S. worker.
By Paul Wells - Sunday, June 24, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Apart from some Conservative sass-talking, the NDP leader rises unhindered. Why? Paul Wells has theories
For six years Stephen Harper’s opponents have wondered when he would stop spending millions of dollars to whale the tar out of them. Apparently the answer was that he’d stop as soon as his opponent stopped being Liberal.
Say hello to Thomas Mulcair. A few surprising things have happened since the hairy cosmopolitan took over the New Democratic Party. First, his party has closed ranks behind him. That was hardly guaranteed at the outset. He arrived late to Canada-wide prominence, first elected outside the hothouse of Quebec provincial politics in 2007. His Outremont cloister has no history as an NDP hotbed. And he made a show of running as an outsider to the party’s culture. But everyone’s been grown-up about things so far, and lately he actually seems to be running a more cohesive party than Harper is.
Second, Quebecers haven’t rejected Mulcair. He was always the darling candidate of Le Devoir editorialists, but that’s an unsteady predictor of broader appeal. Many Quebecers voted in 2011 for a vague idea they had about Jack Layton, but many seem to like their new NDP MPs and they like Mulcair. A Léger poll in mid-June suggested his NDP is on track to win substantially more seats than the 59 Layton won last year. We make a lot of fuss about the unsettled Quebec electorate. Perhaps too much. The Bloc Québécois dominated Quebec for six elections and 15 years in a row. If that unsettled vote unsettles around Mulcair in a similar fashion, he could be leader of the Opposition until he’s 71.
By John Geddes - Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 12:20 PM - 0 Comments
What’s behind Stephen Harper’s refusal to pay into an European bailout fund? John Geddes explains
On the international economic stage, Canada is usually cast in the supporting role of the reliable consensus-seeker. But when he joins the leaders of the world’s major economies next week at Los Cabos, Mexico, for what is shaping up as a high-pressure G20 summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be playing a less familiar part. Harper’s refusal to contribute to an International Monetary Fund plan to help stabilize Europe’s economy has been described by a major ally as “irritating” and slammed by a former top federal Finance official for jeopardizing hard-won Canadian credibility when serious economic challenges are up for discussion at the highest levels.
The fact that Canada was holding out, along with the U.S., as the IMF sought more resources in the face of Europe’s prolonged crisis has been a simmering issue for months. Only recently, though, has it shifted from being a topic of arcane debate among international affairs wonks to fodder for loud partisan slanging on Parliament Hill. When Thomas Mulcair voiced support for the IMF plan last week, the Conservative attack machine suddenly revved up, and a succession of Tory MPs took turns denouncing the NDP leader for asking “Canadians to tighten their belts so they can hand out billions of dollars to Europe,” in the process putting “a huge burden on the economy here.”
That characterization did not, needless to say, match the IMF’s preferred description of its strategy. Since last year, IMF head Christine Lagarde has been travelling the world, seeking more than $400 billion in new support to draw on if needed to shore up Europe’s various troubled economies. Almost all of the G20’s members, from Australia to Japan, are expected to confirm pledges to Lagarde’s kitty when they gather at Los Cabos. But Harper expressed stern skepticism about putting Canadian money into any eurozone bailout at last spring’s G20 meeting in Cannes, France. Since then, he and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty have consistently argued Europe is rich enough to solve its own problems, and the IMF’s proper role is to support poorer countries.
By John Geddes - Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 2:36 PM - 0 Comments
The announcement during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent trip to China that two giant pandas will be provided to Canadian zoos signaled a long-awaited turning point toward more cordial bilateral relations.
For five years at Toronto’s zoo, followed by five more at Calgary’s, Er Shun and Ji Li will no doubt warm the hearts of many thousands. And yet, given China’s human rights record, it’s hard to celebrate the prospect without a slight pang of misgiving.
To reject outright China’s generous offer of exotic creatures for public display would be unwise, of course, in light of the realities of the changing global economy. Still, a compromise option might be worth considering.
Rather than flatly turning down the pandas, why not suggest a diplomatic alternative? What I have in mind is for Prime Minister Harper to request instead the loan for a decade of Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 3:31 PM - 0 Comments
A few years back I came upon one of those historical footnotes that gets you thinking: after Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865, as he lay dying in a boarding house across the street from the Ford Theater, one of the small group that watched over him was Dr. Anderson Abbott, Canada’s first black physician.
Reading the Prime Minister’s statement today in recognition of Black History Month, my mind’s eye again created the tableau of Lincoln’s deathbed and the singular Canadian in the room.
Stephen Harper makes reference today to black Canadians who fought in the War of 1812 (thanks, Farandwide); last year, he reminded us of black icons ranging from a rodeo cowboy, to a newspaper owner, to Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins. All worthy of note, I hasten to agree.
But at the risk of hinting at a hierarchy of trailblazers, I can’t help wondering why we don’t hear more often about Abbott. What a story: a Toronto-trained black doctor who served with distinction in the Civil War, was befriended by the president, and returned to Ontario to forge an impressive medical career.
There’s a good biographical note on Abbott here, on the website of the Oxford African American Studies Center, which is headed by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
David Naylor, the current president of University of Toronto and a former dean of medicine at the university, sends a candid email, admitting that Abbott is “under-recognized” at U. of T., where he took some of his medical training, and stood for an examination in the discipline in 1867, two years before being admitted to Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“I heard nothing about Dr. Abbott in medical school in the 1970s,” Naylor writes, “and only encountered snippets about him later while doing thesis work at Oxford in social history of Canadian medicine and health policy. In recent years, Abbott occasionally has been flagged by the Faculty of Medicine as a pioneering figure whom we proudly claim. But frankly, he’s received limited profile, and I’m one of the culprits as a past dean. Furthermore, so far as I can tell, Abbott isn’t mentioned in the 2001 official history of the University.”
By John Geddes - Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 14 Comments
Let’s assume the federal budget to be delivered day after tomorrow maintains, as advertised, more or less a holding pattern for 2010-11 on spending and taxes. The real news (after any fun surprises) will be in whatever framework it sets for shrinking the deficit over the next few years.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper summed up the challenge yesterday this way: “We know we cannot … spend at this kind of level indefinitely.” Given the $50-billion-plus deficit Ottawa is now running, his point might sound unassailable.
Credit where credit is due: A really pretty darned solid statement by the PM on the situation in Iran
By kadyomalley - Monday, June 22, 2009 at 2:08 PM - 21 Comments
“The reaction of the Iranian authorities to the demonstrations in Iran is wholly unacceptable. The regime has chosen to use brute force and intimidation in responding to peaceful opposition regarding legitimate and serious allegations of electoral fraud.
“Basic human rights, including freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, are being ignored. Demonstrations have been banned and demonstrators beaten. Injured protestors have been arrested when they arrive at hospitals for treatment. Journalists have been prevented from covering protests and subjected to arbitrary detention and arrest. Foreign press credentials have been revoked.
“Canada calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately cease the use of violence against their own people, to release all political prisoners and journalists – including Canadians – who have been unjustly detained, to allow Iranian and foreign media to report freely on these historic events, and to conduct a full and transparent investigation into allegations of fraud in the presidential election. The voices of all Iranians must be heard. I have directed the Minister of Foreign Affairs to ensure that Canada’s views are conveyed to Iran’s top representative in Canada.”
“Canada continues to be a strong and consistent voice calling on the Iranian regime to fulfill all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice. For six consecutive years, Canada has led a resolution on the human rights situation in Iran at the United Nations General Assembly. Canada continues to support freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Iran and around the world.”
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By kadyomalley - Monday, March 16, 2009 at 5:00 PM - 8 Comments
ITQ will be liveblogging the Prime Minister tonight as he makes an appearance at the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council Excellence Awards, so check back at around
5:45 p.m.6:00 p.m. for whatever the research science equivalent of the red carpet pre-show turns out to be.
Colleague Wells has helpfully assembled all the background links you need to cheer on whatever researchers you feel are most deserving of recognition.
Attention, attention! Quick scheduling update: Apparently, the Prime Minister will not be arriving until 6:30 p.m. – a half hour later than the official PMO media advisory had led us to believe. I’ll spare you the realtime play by play of the bombsniffing adventures of the very cute Labrador retriever currently bounding around the room and sign off for the interim, but check back in at 6pm for the pre-show. (Note: If anything actually happens between now and then, rest assured that ITQ will leap into instant updating action.)
By kadyomalley - Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 4:17 PM - 9 Comments
You’d think the Prime Minister would want to wait until after Jim Flaherty’s meeting with NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair – not to mention that discussion that he was so looking forward to having with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff – before complaining that their parties’ respective budget recommendations are “extremely thin”. Apparently, you’d be wrong.
Mulcair, as it happens, has a date with the finance minister later this afternoon. According to a Bloc Quebecois spokesperson, the party sees no point in holding further discussions with the government, as their proposal to address the economic crisis hasn’t changed since it was released in the leadup to the fiscal update. As for that Harper/Ignatieff confab, ITQ hasn’t been able to confirm whether it will, in fact, take place within the next few days, but with a First Ministers’ Meeting on the agenda for Friday, it’s fair to say that they’re cutting it awfully close.