Saturday, December 31, 2005

As gun violence increases, McGuintyites pursue 80s fraud case

Some smart folks think that Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant is a brilliant guy and a clever politician, and even a good bet to occupy the Premier’s office someday. First elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1999, Bryant distinguished himself in opposition, particularly on the crime and Ontario Hydro files. His riding of St. Paul’s was the only riding Paul Martin deigned to visit during the 2003 provincial election.

Bryant's mannerisms have always grated on me, especially his fake Harvard accent, but I have enough respect for his political smarts to be bewildered by his ministry’s plan to appeal a judge’s decision to toss out the only charge laid in the Airbus scandal, after a seven-week examination of the evidence. As the National Post reported Friday (subscription required):

Eurocopter and two executives from its German parent company were charged with defrauding the government in 2002. The charge followed a nine-year RCMP investigation into alleged bribes and kickbacks involving Conservative government officials and aircraft makers in the 1980s.

The allegations became known as the Airbus affair and members of Mulroney’s government were swept up in the accusations.

The ruling could have closed the door on the 12-year-old case, but officials in Ontario’s Attorney-General’s ministry want to have Judge Bélanger’s ruling overturned.

The dismissal came after a preliminary hearing that took 50 days of court time spread over two years. At the end of the preliminary hearing, the judge found no evidence to support the allegation of fraud.

I guess I can see why Bryant’s loyalty to the Liberal cause would make him loath to abandon the last thread of the Airbus case. But I don’t see why he would want to risk having to defend such an obvious waste of Crown and court resources, especially after Toronto has just recorded its 52nd gun death this year, and people in custody sometimes get double or triple credit for time served awaiting trial.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Defy the CRTC – try

As recommended recently in Macleans, I tried a free music website, It is not a download site; it’s a site that allows you to create your own radio “stations” by first choosing the artist(s) or type of music you like. Then it plays that music from that artist and similar music on your computer.

You can set up as many as 100 radio “stations” for the different artists or types of music you like. But you can’t limit a station to one artist.

A couple of caveats: You can listen to a few songs without registering, but if you want to continue you have to register with an e-mail address and U.S. zip code. I tried 90210 and luckily it worked (or they haven’t busted me yet). Pandora also offers a paid service, so if you stick to the free service you will get pop-up ads. Another commercial aspect is that it will play songs by artists you probably have never heard of, but they will be within the genre of the stations you have set up.

It also allows you to skip forward, but only a certain number of songs per hour. So if you skip a lot, you may hit a wall for a while and have to wait out the song (but you can go back and listen to any of the songs you skipped). You can also tell the site that you don’t like a song and it will never play that song again (wow, what a power rush!).

Also, adding artists to a particular radio station may take you in a direction you hadn’t intended. I added Michael Buble to my Carpenters station and ended up hearing a lot of Bobby Darrin and that serenader of Liberal leaders, Paul Anka (gag!).

But it is (audio) commercial-free and it beats listening to commercial radio online, or buying satellite radio if you’re not ready to make that leap.

Personalized handgun ban didn’t stop Boxing Day shooter

Toronto police now believe they have connected two individuals arrested shortly after Monday’s shooting in downtown Toronto to the shooting itself, and laid charges. One of the men is 20-year-old Andre Thompson. He is alleged to be one of at least two shooters who opened fire in the busy shopping district just north of the Eaton Centre Monday afternoon. He was also under a court order not to own, possess or carry weapons.

It is not known if Thompson’s gun was the source of the bullet that killed 15-year-old Riverdale Collegiate student Jane Creba. From the Toronto Sun story:

A court information sworn by a Toronto Police officer alleges that Thompson, a resident of the troubled Jane-Finch neighbourhood, was carrying a 9-mm Ruger P85 Mark 2 semi-automatic handgun and a magazine with 10 rounds of ammunition on Dec. 26.

Thompson is alleged to have fired the gun “with intent to endanger the life of unknown persons.” Anyone found guilty of that charge alone faces up to 14 years in prison and a minimum sentence of four years.

Thompson is also alleged to have broken an Oct. 6 probation order that he not own, possess or carry a weapon. Published reports indicate he recently served 30 days for a convenience store robbery.

Of course, all of these are unproven allegations stemming from an ongoing police investigation, but I will venture to suggest that if a judge signs an order with your name on it, telling you that you are not allowed to have guns, and you carry one anyway, then a generalized “ban” on handguns is unlikely to be much of a deterrent to you.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"He blunted us."

I'm not a great reader of poetry, but I came across this 1954 gem by F.R. Scott while searching The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse. It's so true it hurts.


How shall we speak of Canada,
Mackenzie King dead?
The Mother’s boy in the lonely room
With his dog, his medium and his ruins?

He blunted us.

We had no shape
Because he never took sides,
And no sides
Because he never allowed them to take shape.

He skilfully avoided what was wrong
Without saying what was right,
And never let his on the one hand
Know what his on the other hand was doing.

The height of his ambition
Was to pile a Parliamentary Committee on a Royal Commission,
To have ‘conscription if necessary
But not necessarily conscription’,
To let Parliament decide—

Postpone, postpone, abstain.

Only one thread was certain:
After World War I
Business as usual,
After World War II
Orderly decontrol.
Always he led us back to where we were before.

He seemed to be in the centre
Because we had no centre,
No vision
To pierce the smoke-screen of his politics.

Truly he will be remembered
Wherever men honour ingenuity,
Ambiguity, inactivity, and political longevity.

Let us raise up a temple
To the cult of mediocrity,
Do nothing by halves
Which can be done by quarters.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Herle”

One of the entertaining aspects of this campaign is watching the slow-motion crack up of John Duffy. Duffy was one of my contemporaries at the University of Toronto in the early 80s. As leader of the campus Liberals in a debate prior to the Model Parliament election, he gestured to his two opponents, saying, “The NDP are the party of labour. The Conservatives are the party of business. The Liberals are the party of government.” And he was serious.

His public comments and writings, in particular this op-ed a few weeks ago, in which he argues that if they reject the Liberals, Canadians would “astound the world at so ill-judged and intemperate a discarding of national opportunity” suggest that Duffy’s “l’etat, c’est moi” view of the world is little changed.

About a week ago on one of his many TV appearances I heard Duffy refer to a negative ad that the Conservatives had just begun running. “Oh, man,” I thought, straightening up in my chair. “We’re finally running an effective commercial? Where the hell is it?!” In the days since I have watched in vain, looking for this devastatingly negative ad.

Today in Duffy’s regular campaign piece in the National Post (subscription required), he reveals that this vicious attack ad is in fact the decidedly soft-edged commercial (called “Change” at the Conservative website). Here’s the actual script:

Sure you’ll hear the usual grumbling about the election, but something feels different this time.

After years of scandals, people see a new government that will work for all of us, not just insiders.

They see a new leader who’s more like one of them. Someone who’ll take a stand and tell it like it is.

Now after all these years of corruption, it’s a bit hard to imagine a real change. But more and more people are thinking just that.

Vote Conservative. And stand up for Canada.
The visuals include two newspaper headlines: “Disgrace” over a photo of Jean Brault testifying at Gomery, and a Globe headline, “Martin Liberals took illicit cash, probe told.” The last headline appears just prior to a brief glimpse of Martin on a distant TV screen (wow, I thought I was the only person in the country who still had a TV with dials on it).

It’s actually not a negative ad, but what I think campaign professionals would call a “momentum” ad: one that is aimed at people who are confirmed supporters or leaning your way. The ad reinforces people’s reasons for voting for you and leaves them with the message that better days lay ahead. (Given the static polls, it may be a little early for the Conservatives to run a momentum ad, but I’m no expert on this stuff.)

But here’s how Duffy describes the same ad:

The images depict a low growl of discontent rolling through the sports bars and family restaurants of small-town English Canada. As decent, hardworking folks look up at the establishments' TV sets, a hell-hath-no-fury female voice-over hisses at the Liberals misdeeds. And we're not talking policy differentiation here, folks. Paul Martin's image flickers on the bar TV, just as the voice-over seethes at "corruption." Cut to an actor brandishing a newspaper headline -- from before the last election -- blaring Martin's name amid allegations (subsequently disproven) linking him with sleaze.

This advertisement is as outrageous as it is typical. Linking an innocent Prime Minister who has been exonerated by a judge following a full public inquiry to "corruption" via editing-room sleight-of-hand would be shocking if it came from another party.
Um, okay. Now let’s think back to the Liberals’ attack ad on Harper from the latter part of the 2004 campaign (a campaign in which Mr. Duffy played no small part), which many believe helped turned the tide back to the Liberals, enabling them to escape with a minority:

The 30-second ad opens with scenes of tanks and guns, contrasted with a scene in an operating room to illustrate the difference in Conservative and Liberal priorities. It then suggests Quebec separatism would be a threat again and the right of women to choose on abortion would be eroded in a Harper-led Canada. The ad closes by warning that Canadians would no longer recognize their own country.
--Toronto Star, June 10, 2004
I’m sure most people recall, as I do, the ad’s touching visuals, including a gun fired in the face of viewers, and a disintegrating Canadian flag. Yeah, unsubstantiated allegations suck. But Duffy's "policy differentiation" crack suggests that he thinks unsubstantiated allegations that are about policy are okay.

Duffy then ladles absurdity on hypocrisy with this assertion:

Somehow, it seems as if the only negative attacks anyone remembers are the Liberals'. Maybe that's because they work. But let the record show who threw the first rabbit punch of '05 -- and who has stuck to announcing policy, advertised a strong record of public service on television, and won the debates by actually "standing up for Canada," not just making that phrase a slogan in a low-road attack ad.
This is a peculiar position to take immediately prior to the anticipated January onslaught of Liberal negative attacks on Harper. But then perhaps Duffy’s indignation is not sincere, merely a clever set-up for a Liberal rationalization that “the Tories started it.” Please, voters – finish it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Disabled Ethics at CP24

On Tuesday, the McGuinty government appointed CP24 anchor David Onley as Chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council. According to the release from Community and Social Services Minister Sandra Pupatello:

The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council will provide advice to help achieve an accessible society over the next 20 years. The council will advise the government [emphasis added] on accessibility standards and on sector-specific and general public education programs to support and educate individuals, businesses and other organizations about accessibility and accessibility standards.
Onley himself is quoted in the government's release, saying,

“Accessibility is not just about equipment or architecture. It is fundamentally about attitude as well. We know that if a facility or business is made accessible it becomes easier to use for all people, young and old and whatever their physical status. I welcome this opportunity to help change Ontario for the better,” said Onley.
In an interview with CITY-TV on the day of his appointment, Onley offered this endorsement of the McGuinty government:“There really seems to be a commitment here to look at the disability community as the last minority group in our society that does not have full equality.”

The three-year appointment is part-time, paying $225 per diem. As CP24’s regular afternoon anchor, Onley reads the news and does interviews with newsmakers including politicians. Neither the government’s release nor a notice on CP24’s website suggests that he will be stepping aside from his anchor job. He did his regular anchor stint this afternoon.

According to the Conflict of Interest provision in the Code of Ethics of the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada, "Broadcast journalists will govern themselves on and off the job in such a way as to avoid conflict of interest, real or apparent."

It’s bad enough that CP24 is robbing cable subscribers by running old newscasts late at night, featuring now-deceased figures such as Colin Vaughan, Bob Hunter and CITY-TV’s original assignment editor (whose name escapes me at the moment), turning the 2-6 a.m. slot into Night of the Living Dead. I thought "24-hour news channel" meant 24 hours of news, not 20 hours of news and 4 hours of CITY-TV's tape library. But I digress.

But CP24 allowing one of their anchors to provide paid advice to government – even part-time – is simply not kosher. And it is no service to the disabled to exempt them from the journalistic ethics that apply to able-bodied journalists.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Have the Liberals Jumped the Lizard?

In the 2003 Ontario election, a turning point occurred when a Conservative campaign staffer circulated a joke e-mail describing Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty as an “evil reptilian kitten eater from another planet.” The e-mail got into the media’s hands, onto the front page of the Toronto Sun, and the rest is history.

Like most gaffes that take on a life of their own, it revealed a deeper truth about the Conservatives: their negative branding of McGuinty as a weak leader, exemplified by running almost the exact same negative ads as in the previous campaign, had descended to the level of caricature. But after McGuinty had released a flurry of policy papers over the previous year the caricature was no longer credible, especially when compared to the Tories’ own leader, who had reversed or softened some of the policies and attitudes of his predecessor.

Paul Martin’s communications director Scott Reid bought himself a blue plate kitten special with this warning about Harper's child care plan on CBC television Sunday: “Don’t give people $25 a week to blow on beer and popcorn,” a comment defended later in the day by Reid’s fellow Martinite John Duffy. Finally somebody in the Liberal war room realized it wasn’t the most flattering metaphor to the moms they thought they had bought off with their handgun “ban,” and a sort-of apology was issued to reporters and repeated by Martin.

Sure enough, the crack made the front page of the Toronto Sun today with the headline “Senior Grit warns families could blow kids’ cash on beer.” Bill Carroll at CFRB Toronto spent his first hour of his call-in show on the topic. It was also a topic on Lowell Green’s show on CFRA (Ottawa).

The deeper truth that Reid’s remark reveals about the Liberals is, I think, this: “we don’t trust you with your own money, but even after AdScam you can still trust us with it – and your kids, too.” Will it be a turning point? As Kent Brockman says "Only time will tell."

As for child care, not having any kids myself I'm not up close to this issue, but what I tell people is: if you think the education system does a good job and you enjoy it when they go on strike, then vote for Martin's plan.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Phoning is for Peasants

If you have had anything to do with a nomination campaign – or any campaign – make sure you swallow any food or drink in your mouth before reading this jaw-dropper:

“One of the wonderful things about this experience is that I don’t think I made a phone call.” (emphasis added)
--Michael Ignatieff (Etobicoke-Lakeshore Liberal candidate), Toronto Star, December 7, 2005

As the author of Lesser Evils, his much-cited but apparently little-read book on the use of torture in the war on terror, Ignatieff deserves credit as a serious scholar who has come down from the ivory tower to apply ideals to real-world problems. But the foregoing quote suggests that he is naïve about the political process, and less than completely detached from his family’s history as Russian nobility.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Baghdad Hollywood Squares on Hiatus

Joining the Matt LeBlanc series Joey, the trial of Saddam Hussein and his inbred relations has been put on hiatus for two weeks after its star walked off the set. Saddam's complaints over having to wear the same pair of shorts for three days, and other insults to his sartorial standards, no doubt contributed to the tantrum. The fact that most of his cousins/co-defendants bear a striking resemblance to each other also tended to slow down game play.

When you take My Name is Earl replacing Joey on NBC Thursday nights, and add to it the public's disinterest in Saddam's dainties, you cannot deny that a clear trend is developing: the metrosexual is over. Look out, Will & Grace: you may be next!

Why don’t you ask the parents you screwed, Mary Anne?

Ontario children’s minister Mary Anne Chambers is quoted in the Globe and Mail today, wondering what will happen to the nanny-state nannies if voters are so impertinent as to toss out the federal Liberals. She asks us to “imagine how they [government-funded day care centres] would feel if even this first five years of a $5-billion plan were undermined or cut short.”

Fortunately, Ms. Chambers need not speculate. All she needs to do is ask how the parents of independent school students felt when her government retroactively cancelled their tuition tax credits. Although the McGuinty government was not elected until October of 2003, it cancelled the tax credits retroactively to January 1st, a callous and vindictive act towards low- and middle-income parents who were denied the partial reimbursement of tuition for not only the school year that had just begun, but half of the previous school year as well.

She might also ask how the parents of autistic children felt when Dalton McGuinty broke his written promise to them to fund intensive behavioural therapy past the age of six years. McGuinty has retreated to the former Conservative government’s line that autistic kids over the age of six would be better served in the education system. The Conservatives may not have been angels, but as MPP John Baird (now running for Parliament in Ottawa West-Nepean) has often said, at least they didn’t lie to parents of autistic kids.

The difference between day care and health care

Paul Martin’s comparison of government day care to health care is specious, yet typical of the casual deceit that has come to symbolize the Liberal party. As it appears necessary to explain the obvious, here’s the difference between the two. Everyone would like to have a family doctor and access to other health services as needed. But not every parent wants to put his child in day care full time from ages 1-4.

It is profoundly unfair – perhaps even discriminatory – for the government to pay up to 100% of the costs of day care for parents who choose the government-endorsed child care model (if there is room – a big if), yet offer absolutely nothing to parents who make a different choice.

Liberals and New Democrats deny that by funding only government-approved day care “spaces” (such a heartless word to use when speaking of infants!), they are endorsing state care over parental care. But how else does government show its preference than through the allocation of citizens’ dollars?

And by the way, I’m not sure the best line for Martin to use when plugging his day care scheme is to say that his goal is to make it just like the public health care system.

Monday, December 05, 2005

!@#$ Telemarketers!

I don’t know about you, but since the passage of federal do-not-call legislation in late November, I have been getting approximately six telemarketing calls a day. Thanks to my caller ID I don’t answer, but it’s irritating to hear the phone ring in the evening, and to clear half a dozen non-messages out of the answering machine.

The registry is not expected to be in place until 2007, but until then you might want to try registering in the Canadian Marketing Association’s Do Not Call Service here. I figure it’s worth a try.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Western Standard Lacks Byte

Contrary to my expectation, the Western Standard will not be posting my third-place entry in their editorial contest on their website, which is “as per the original rules” as they explained to me. The column, entitled “Take back our public services” is posted below (under "I'm Number 3!"). The first and second place winners are posted here.

As a neo-luddite, I'm not sure what is so onerous about setting up another page for a 600-word column, but whaddya gonna do? He that pays the piper calls the tune. I’m not sure if it’s going to be published in the magazine, but I’ll advise if it is.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Judicial Appointment Blows a Hole in Sorbara’s Legal Team

I noticed in a National Post item today that one of the lawyers who was supposed to help former Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara restore his good name has been appointed to the bench.

On November 2, Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler announced that Frank Marrocco has been appointed to the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. As the Globe and Mail reported on November 9, “the rules of engagement on the bench, Mr. Marrocco learned that night [when Cotler informed him of the appointment], require lawyers to jettison cases immediately to minimize potential conflicts.”

So although Marrocco is not sworn in until December 14, Sorbara has been without his services for a month. The Post reports that Glen Hainey of Gowlings has taken over Sorbara’s file. According to Hainey’s bio at Gowlings’ website, he has had some interesting files, including representing the Government of Ontario at the Walkerton Inquiry, and acting as counsel to a “Canadian tobacco manufacturer in connection with class action proceedings brought on behalf of current and former smokers in the Province of Ontario.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Election Starts Off with a Bang in Davenport

Today saw the 49th shooting death in Toronto this year. Ho hum, you might say, except that this one occurred about 200 yards from my house, and at almost exactly the same spot from which Holly Jones was snatched in 2003.

This is what Toronto gets for electing a mayor who did not run on crime, but on a bridge and his hair – not necessarily in that order. Next year will be David Miller’s much-touted “Year of Culture” presumably culminating in his glorious re-election in November. Leaving aside the slightly fascistic notion of governments deciding what culture is, what exactly will this bread-and-circuses-inspired extravaganza do for the quality of life for any Torontonians save Miller’s artsy friends?

I’m sick of the socialists, I’m sick of the crime, I’m sick of people leaving garbage and dog shit on my lawn, and I’m sick of the TTC. With any luck I’ll be moving to the 905 next year and leave it all behind.

Organized Crime Expert Okays Harper’s Usage

Liberals are brimming with more indignation than usual over Stephen Harper’s statement in the House of Commons last Thursday that they broke “every conceivable law in the province of Quebec with the help of organized crime.” The Liberals insist that they are entitled to an apology from Harper. (Why don’t they save us all a lot of time and just tell us what they’re not entitled to?) Personally, I think the Conservatives were relieved of any obligation to defer to Liberal sensibilities since Joe Volpe described two Conservative MPs as devotees of the Ku Klux Klan this spring –and refused to apologize.

Anyhow, celebrated organized crime author James Dubro has helpfully weighed in on the issue of Harper’s use of the term “organized crime” with this letter in Monday’s Globe and Mail:

Organized crime is not just the Mafia and bikers (The Harper Slur – editorial, Nov. 26). The gang that orchestrated and ran the sponsorship scandal were sophisticated, highly organized criminals. As the co-author of the definition of “organized crime” in all editions of The Canadian Encyclopedia, I would suggest that being referred to as members of an organized crime entity is an appropriate, even restrained description for some of the members of the Liberal Party and the Quebec ad agencies that systematically scammed so much money from the public purse.

24: A Race Against Time and Democracy

What can one do but laugh out loud at Team Martin’s latest contribution to the Democratic Deficit, i.e. the 24-hour nomination period in the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

On Friday night the local riding executive was informed that sitting MP Jean Augustine would not be running again, and that the party would be receiving applications from prospective candidates until 5:00 p.m. Saturday – the next day.

Two prospective candidates who had the misfortune of not being born Michael Ignatieff gamely attempted to put in their applications, but found the building housing Liberal party headquarters locked, and the headquarters office itself locked. They managed to deposit their forms but, sadly, one was disqualified for lack of membership, and the other because he had not resigned his position on the riding executive. Ergo, Ignatieff will be acclaimed as the Liberal candidate Wednesday night.

Over the weekend, local riding members protested the denial of their democratic rights. Some of Ignatieff’s prior writings were criticized as being derogatory to Ukrainians and potentially unhelpful among the riding’s expat Ukrainian and European voters. In an appearance on CTV Newsnet on Monday, Ignatieff seemed calm and well-scripted, unfazed by the fact that his nomination “race” resembles a Soviet election, in which there was but one candidate on the ballot and any comrade failing to show up for the “vote” was guaranteed a visit from the KGB encouraging him to do so. No wonder the Ukrainians are choking on their perogies.

What with the links to the Soviet Union, Ukrainian nationalism, the Iraq war and the use of torture in the war on terror, Ignatieff’s entry into politics might make a great plotline for the next season of 24 – or at least an Air Farce sketch.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I'm Number 3! I'm Number 3!

Just got a call from Virginia at the Western Standard informing me that I placed third in the opinion category of their column contest, winning "honourable mention" for this column. The contest results should be announced on their website shortly.

Take back our public services
by Joan Tintor

In Toronto, police cruisers sit parked outside a downtown police station, the police union having decided to stop patrolling. In British Columbia, teachers continue their illegal strike into its second week, idling 600,000 students and precipitating countless child care crises.

Organized labour has some clever slogans about all the good it has done for society, such as “Unions: the people who brought you the weekend.” But what have they done for us lately?

Think of the state of our roads, the quality of our education and health care, the cleanliness of our streets. The overall tax burden has grown, but this has hardly been matched by an increase in the quality of government services. Yet the wages and benefits of public sector workers continue to rise. Of course they do: by their very nature, public sector unions tend to drive up the costs and size of government. Union dues – themselves a cost driver – go to employ officials whose full-time work consists of filing grievances, lobbying the government for more workers, coordinating with other unions and supporting sympathetic candidates.

Much of the impetus for contracting out the delivery of public services stems from roadblocks faced by politicians attempting to meet the demands of taxpayers or deliver on good-faith election promises. Since public servants began to unionize, the people have gradually lost control of their public services.

Some have argued for outlawing strikes by teachers and other public sector workers, but this would be mere tinkering. The only way for the public to take back control of the services it owns is by decertifying public sector unions and restoring a direct employment relationship between government workers and democratically elected governments. Here’s why it makes sense:

Once the public has decided that a particular service is to be provided by the government, then that service is, by definition, essential. Many try to make a distinction between services that relate to safety and other government services. But public schools, transit and most other public services are legally or effectively monopolies, in that most citizens have no practical alternative when those services are not available.

Public sector collective agreements take away the public’s democratic right to decide what public services are to be delivered and what terms of employment are to be offered, provided those terms accord with employment standards laws and the common law. The wages, benefits and working conditions of public sector workers should be open to the democratic process as are all other aspects of government. They should not be decided in backrooms in negotiations from which the public is barred and on which the public’s elected representatives are forbidden to comment.

It is not the role of government to engage in unfair labour competition with the private sector. Some people think it is noble for the government to “set an example” for the private sector through higher wages and benefits. Such people don’t understand economics. The increasing taxes that those business will have to pay to support the government’s “example” mean that they will be hard-pressed to pay the employees they already have, let alone pay them more.

Thousands of private firms have policies and procedures for dealing fairly with employees; so would a union-free public sector. If the public through their elected government provides wages, benefits and working conditions that can’t compare with private employers’, then it will find itself with fewer and less capable employees.

Let’s put the “public” back into the public sector, by putting citizens and their elected representatives back in charge of our public services.

Joan Tintor lives in Toronto. She has worked as a legal assistant, free-lance writer, and political staffer for the Ontario PC government and caucus. She blogs at

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

AdScam Whistleblower to take on Pinocchio’s Brother in Ottawa South

From behind the smokescreen of hype about Marc Garneau running for the Liberals in Quebec, Stephen Harper has pulled a star candidate of his own out of a hat, announcing that retired civil servant Allan Cutler will stand for the Conservative nomination in the riding of Ottawa South. The seat is currently held by David McGuinty, brother of promise-breaking Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The release is not up on the Conservative party website yet, so here it is:

Sponsorship Scandal Whistleblower Allan Cutler Seeks CPC Nomination in Ottawa South

OTTAWA - Stephen Harper, Leader of the Opposition and leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, today announced that Allan Cutler will seek the Conservative Party of Canada’s nomination for the upcoming election in the riding of Ottawa South.

Mr. Cutler is well-known to Canadians as the career public servant who blew the whistle on the corruption at the heart of the sponsorship scandal in 1995 and lost his job as a result.

“Allan was singled out for praise by Judge Gomery in his report,” said Harper, “and some citizens have said he deserves the Order of Canada.”

“When Canadians go to the polls, the question they will face is simple: after twelve years of waste, mismanagement, and corruption, which party can provide the change in the system that is needed to clean up government in Ottawa?”

“I am honoured to announce that Mr. Cutler has decided to seek the nomination to become the next Conservative candidate in the riding of Ottawa South.”

The Conservative party is expected to set the date for a nomination meeting in Ottawa South shortly.


For information: Carolyn Stewart Olsen (613) 297-9479

Monday, November 21, 2005

Is that an AK-47 under your burqua, or are you just happy to Sunni?

Interesting report on National Review Online today about U.S. and Iraqi forces’ counter-insurgency sweep in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, which includes this tidbit:

In more than one instance — and to the delight of American and Iraqi troops — insurgents have been caught attempting to flee the battlefield dressed as women: Considered a particularly disgraceful act among Iraqis.

“They’ve proven to be cowards,” says Kerr [Capt. Patrick Kerr, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Division in Ramadi]. “We found a number of them skulking among a flock of sheep trying to escape in Ubaydi, and there have been several instances of insurgents dressing up as women trying to escape.”

In one instance, Iraqi soldiers discovered three foreign fighters dressed as women trying to enter an Iraqi displacement camp. “The Iraqi soldiers wound up killing them after the insurgents revealed their identity and tried to engage the Iraqi soldiers with AK-47s hidden under their dresses,” says Kerr.

U.S. forces claim that they are killing many upper-tier insurgency leaders (I read this recently but can’t recall the link). This plus the fact that one of the suicide bombers in the Jordan hotel bombings was one of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi’s top guys (husband of the woman whose bomb vest failed to detonate) gives me hope that (a) the insurgency is being “decapitated” by the elimination of its leadership and (b) Zarqawi is having a hard time attracting new recruits, otherwise why would he sacrifice one of his top men in a suicide operation?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Desperate Martin Plays Religion Card from Bottom of Deck

Had to laugh when I saw Bourque highlight a CTV web report that had Martin issuing a warning from Asia to the opposition leaders:

“When you are talking about the holiday season, there are also other religions that have different New Year’s at different dates and their holidays at a different date and I think we have to be respectful of that -- the orthodox churches, for example,” he said.

This from a leader who, upon changing his mind on same-sex marriage, pleaded a distinction between his own religious beliefs and his conduct as a politician.

This from a party whose attack dog Warren Kinsella mocked the religion of Stockwell Day during the 2000 election.

Most significantly, this from the leader of a party that called the 1997 election on Sunday, April 27: Orthodox Easter Sunday! (The election was June 2.)

Finally, where was the Liberals’ concern for Christmas – Orthodox or otherwise – when they brought down the Clark government on December 13, 1979?

Orthodox Christians are not accustomed to receiving any special regard for Julian calendar holidays from their government, schools or workplaces. Now the first time that we get some, it comes from a desperate Liberal clinging to power. Shove it back up your chimney, Paulie. Don’t soil my religion by using it as a prop now that you’ve lost Jack Layton.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Maybe teacher unions should focus on bullying of children

In a case of bad timing and bad taste, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) and Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) chose to go ahead today with a news release “calling on government and school boards to work with them to confront workplace bullying” based on the results of phase 2 of their Bullying in the Workplace Study.

The release came out in the late morning on the same day that the Globe and Mail is carrying a front-page Christie Blatchford piece about 18 months of sexual harassment and assault allegedly suffered by a 16-year-old girl at a Catholic high school in northwest Toronto (online subscription required). To be fair, it appears that the harassment was not reported to teachers, and Blatchford notes that it came to light when a teacher intervened on overhearing the girl being harassed in a hallway.

OECTA and OSSTF note in the release that they are using their survey to advocate not only on behalf of bullied teachers, but bullied workers everywhere. In September they released a survey on teacher bullying by students. Nowhere in their two-part study do they talk about bullying of students by students.

On a related note, in Saturday’s National Post there was a story about how Ontario education minister Gerard Kennedy is looking into the fact that some school boards are allowing teacher unions to administer his $500-per-education-worker payoffs, er, “Teacher Development Accounts.” This $80-million kitty was offered to unions as an inducement to agree to four-year collective agreements to ensure that the McGuintyites would have no labour problems in schools until after the 2007 election. The Post reports that “there is little uniformity between boards on how the non-taxable benefits are distributed -- or even the amount.”

So Kennedy offered the unions a bribe, and now he’s shocked that they’re treating the money as a slush fund? Kennedy’s surprise belongs to the same category as Captain Renault’s shock that gambling was taking place at Rick’s in Casablanca. And the Liberals’ special relationship with teacher unions will ensure that nothing will come of Kennedy’s investigation.

Iraq Reality Checks

For a reality check on the “Bush lied, people died” cant, check out Norman Podhoretz’s “Who Is Lying About Iraq?” in December’s Commentary.

For a reality check on “the Iraqis don’t want Americans there,” check out the “Thank You” commercial at The Other Iraq.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

“Toxic Nation” or Junk Science?

One of the top items on CTV last night was an Environmental Defence report to be released today purporting to show that Canada is a “toxic nation” because “Canadians are walking around with a cocktail of harmful toxic chemicals in their bodies” (CTV News website). The story also appeared in The Globe and Mail.

But the “report” is based on blood and urine samples taken from a grand total of 11 people, including: Dr. Kapil Khatter, head of Canadian Physicians for the Environment; Merrell-Ann Phare, Legal Counsel and Executive Director of the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources; and David Masty, Chief of the Whapmagoostui First Nation

Wasn’t there a song that went, “a doctor, lawyer and an Indian chief couldn’t love you as much as I do?” Now we know why: it’s hard to get in the mood when PCBs and heavy metals are weighing down certain vital capillaries.

But seriously, the point here is that established media outlets should know better than to give such prominent play to a report that, besides coming from an environmental advocacy group, has little if any scientific value because it surveyed only 11 people. Such reports should get no more than a digest item in the print media. As for TV and radio newscasts that already have a hard time squeezing a lot of news into very little time, this report shouldn’t have even made the line-up.

Props to Andre Picard of the Globe for at least getting a comment from Health Canada:

Health Canada spokesperson Paul Glover said: “It’s only 11 people. It’s not statistically significant . . . but it is an indication and we will take a look at it.” . . . Mr. Glover said “obviously Canadians will be somewhat concerned. They didn’t choose to put chemicals in their bodies. So how did they get there? But for Health Canada the question is: What is the level of risk?”

With the rise of more and craftier advocacy groups, think tanks and PR strategies (and, if you believe it, the “death” of advertising), the media’s task of determining what is real and relevant is becoming harder at the same time that it is becoming more important. But surely they can do better than getting played by an advocacy group pushing a study of only 11 people?

What’s worse is that the media is not above playing these sketchy survey games themselves. In 1997, the Atkinson Foundation (i.e. The Toronto Star) funded “Speaking Out,” a study by the pink tank Caledon Institute. According to the paper setting out the study’s description, research strategy and methodology (available at -- search publications for “speaking out”):

The Speaking Out Project was established in January 1997 to document the effects that policy changes are having on ordinary people in Ontario, especially those with low incomes. The project is a longitudinal study of 40 Ontario households, which will be interviewed intensively at six-month intervals until the year 2000. To supplement and interpret the households’ experiences, Speaking Out also analyzes a wide range of other sources of information. We will report our findings after each round of interviews.

The institute defended limiting the study to only 40 households (page 4):

We considered a number of different factors when deciding on our sample size. Too many households would have made proper tracking difficult and too costly; too few would have meant insufficient coverage of various characteristics. We decided that a sample of 40 households allowed adequate coverage of demographic and other characteristics, was manageable and accommodated the expected withdrawal of some households from the project.

Later on in the document, they reveal this little nugget (page 5):

While the smaller sample size means that we cannot automatically generalize our specific findings from these 40 households to all others in Ontario with similar demographic profiles, a range of complementary surveys and other types of studies and databases are available for our use. When the issues we explore overlap with other studies, that data will be investigated to see if generalization is possible. Thus, our analysis and reports will reflect a multimethod research approach.

By my reading, this means “our basic research is useless because our sample is too small, but we’re going to pad it out with other research we find if it confirms what our original useless research shows.”

No matter. In October 2000, The Toronto Star’s Caroline Mallan reported that the Speaking Out project had found that, despite Ontario’s economic boom, nearly half the households in the study group were worse off than they were in 1995, and another quarter of them were about the same. (I’m guessing that over a quarter of them were therefore doing better, but the Star’s story does not provide the remaining figures.)

The Star reported that the institute “melded its findings with Statistics Canada data to come up with a picture of low income people struggling to pay the bills” but since the referenced report is apparently not on the institute’s website, it’s not clear what data was “melded” or how. Could they have used StatsCan demographic data to generalize their findings, i.e. exactly what they said they couldn’t do on page 5 of their methodology?

Turning back to the toxic pretenders, I don’t know whether I have heavy metals or PCBs in my body, but I can say without benefit of a blood sample that the authors of Toxic Nation are overflowing with one unpleasant substance. I look forward to see whether “Toxic Nation” makes it into the Financial Post’s annual Junk Science Week next year. It certainly merits consideration.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Phony Health Care Debate Gets Phonier

When I blogged on the Supreme Court’s Chaoulli decision in June (see June 2005 Archive), I wrote:

As for the honest, realistic debate that many hope will be spurred by this ruling, I’m not holding my breath. The Supreme Court is unlikely to wipe away the health care delusions of Canadians, when a decade of declining services and increasing waiting lists have done nothing but reinforce those delusions.

As if on cue, here’s Jack Layton to inject a fresh shot of poison and distortion into the health care debate, by demanding – as the price of continuing to prop up the Martin government – that the federal government ban “double dipping” by doctors.

The term “double dipping” has until now generally been limited in its use to politicians who are drawing two government paycheques, such as a politician receiving an MPP pension plus an MP’s salary after having been elected to the federal Parliament. But The Toronto Star provided this definition in a November 3rd story, “Liberals draft health deal for Layton”:

Double dipping refers to a practice in which some doctors offer patients the same services in the insured public system or more quickly in private clinics for higher fees. Some medicare advocates have been urging Ottawa to guarantee that the public health system be kept completely separate from privately delivered services.

Although the practice of double dipping is not widespread, both Layton and Dosanjh have expressed concern about it and Layton, in his talks with the Liberals, has been demanding a ban on it in the Canada Health Act. Such a provision would head off any future attempts by the provinces to allow it.

Not widespread? I’ve never even heard of it until now. Frankly it sounds like another Lib-left bogeyman not unlike “extra-billing” in Ontario in the 1980s. Banning so-called extra-billing was one of the concessions Bob Rae extracted from David Peterson to catapult Peterson from opposition leader to the Premier’s Office in the minority Parliament that was the result of the 1985 election.

A doctors’ strike ensued, during which The Star ran a now-infamous editorial cartoon depicting doctors as pigs at the trough. The Peterson government eventually prevailed in banning extra-billing, however, and the province’s relations with doctors have been poisoned ever since.

The fact is, in many industrialized countries that have public health care, one of the things that makes it work is allowing doctors to work in both government facilities and private ones. But Layton will have none of this, nor will Sid Ryan, Tommy Douglas’ daughter, the health care unions, and the others who are too heavily invested in the Cuban model of health care to see reality.

One reality is that while the federal government can pass whatever laws it wants, it has little financial leverage over provincial governments to impose those laws. Since it gave up tax points to the provinces in the 1980s, all it can do is withhold cash transfers, which in many provinces account for less than 20% of their health budgets. Wealthy provinces can simply tell the feds to take a hike, as they could well afford whatever clawbacks the federal government imposes under the new law.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Money Still Rolling Despite Shaky Polling

Conservatives who have been through the sponsorship spin cycle before know better than to get too high on the Ipsos-Reid poll showing the party roughly tied with the Liberals both nationally and in (cue harp music) Vote Rich Ontario. Sponsorship revelations have been made before; polls have climbed before; and polls have come down before.

One set of numbers that should give comfort, however, is the third-quarter financial returns of the federal political parties, as posted by Elections Canada today. They show that the Conservative Party continues to out-fundraise the Liberals by more than 2-1.

Third Quarter (July-September 2005) Contributions

Conservative Party: $3,247,131 from 32,714 contributors
Liberal Party: $1,062,332 from 6,943 contributors

2005 Contributions to Date (January-September)

Conservative Party: $10,807,275 from 107,457 contributors
Liberal Party: $4,194,591 from 20,873 contributors

If the sponsorship scandal has effectively scared the Liberals off of attempting to supplement their campaign budgets with misappropriated taxpayer dollars, then in the next election they will be limited to spending only what they raise and what they can convince the banks to lend them.

If I may offer one spin line, however, it is this: Liberals and others have tried to put the money stolen from the sponsorship program in the context of the government’s overall budget, in which it is very small. The proper context, however, is the amount of money parties raise on an ongoing basis and spend during an election. In that context, $1.14 million, $5.4 million, $40 million, or whatever the Liberals stole, is huge – as the results of the 1997 and 2000 elections proved.

Correction and Apology

On November 3 I posted an item about former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers. It is former Ottawa Senators coach Jacques Martin who married Maureen McTeer’s sister, not Jacques Demers.

My apologies to everyone involved.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

High Turnout Good for Conservatives, Says Organization Guru

While the corruption in the Liberal party is an important narrative, it is crucial for conservatives to, in one of Brian Mulroney’s favourite maxims, “keep your eye on the ball.”

Richard Ciano is one of the conservative party’s Ontario vice presidents and a friend. He notes in his latest newsletter that:

Many Conservatives have been conditioned to believe that high voter turnout favours the Liberals. But by every objective measure that turns out to be false. With only a few exceptions over the last sixty years, conservative parties in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain have seen greatest electoral success when voter turnout is high.

His argument is illustrated by graphs such as these (click to view full size).

Ciano is also doing some great behind-the-scenes work in passing on his expertise and that of others, helping conservatives across Ontario organize and prepare for the next election through the Conservative Campaign Academy.

Monday, October 31, 2005

A Definitive Take on the Plame Affair . . .

. . . will not be found on this blog. I don’t know whether Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative when Robert Novak revealed her identity in 2003.

I don’t know why the CIA though it was a good idea to send her WASP husband – a former ambassador to Gabon and acting ambassador to Iraq prior to the first Gulf War – to Niger to try and confirm reports that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium for his nuclear program. (But if Nick and Nora Charles are the CIA’s template for secret agents, it explains a lot about the quality of their intelligence in recent years.)

I don’t know if Bush administration officials leaked her identity, or were merely trying to discredit her husband’s criticisms of the Iraq War and blowing her “cover” her was unintentional.

All I can say for sure at this point is that anybody who puts out a book with this cover is someone whose conceit is beyond satire.

Star Digging Into Sorbara/Royal Group

The Toronto Star has been doing some digging into the Sorbara/Royal Group affair, the result being several stories in the Saturday Star. On page A8, Kevin Donovan – who usually works on big investigative stories – reports that Sorbara increased his holdings in Royal Group Technologies shares over his 10 years as an independent director. (N.B. I cannot link to these stories; you have to go to the Star’s website and search for “Sorbara”)

This fact casts doubt on Sorbara’s most recent spin on his years at Royal, which was that he had serious concerns “from Day 1” over the freedom Royal Group’s management had from board oversight. As I noted on October 17, Sorbara’s original spin in March, 2004 – when the RCMP, OSC and Canada Customs investigations into Royal first became public – was that he “wasn’t aware of any problems” when he was being vetted for cabinet in the fall of 2003.

Saturday’s Star has two more stories on Royal Group in the business section, one of which notes that Scotiabank, banker for Royal Group and the St. Kitts resort being built by Royal founder Vic De Zen, conducted an internal review to ensure the bank wasn’t being used for money laundering. A Scotiabank memo seen by the Star notes that the accounts for the resort and a Royal subsidiary were frozen in September and October 2003. Sorbara was a Royal Group director until October 2003. Was he ignorant of the frozen accounts, or did he know and simply choose not to tell McGuinty’s cabinet vetting team?

The article ends with a bizarre quote from the contractor for the St. Kitts resort, saying he never saw anyone putting cash into any of the containers of Royal Group building products that were shipped to St. Kitts. Even if there weren’t actual bags of money leaving Royal, that doesn’t mean something improper didn’t happen. If Royal was selling its products to De Zen’s resort below cost or at an unjustified discount, then that might constitute a fraud on its shareholders.

In Praise of Crafty Bureaucrats at TEDCO and the CBC

Most conservatives bear a permanent grudge against bureaucrats, the gatekeepers and caretakers of Big Government at all levels. Tales of incompetence, waste and all the other stuff that goes on when handling other people’s money regularly feeds this grudge. Recently, however, I have been impressed by two examples of some pretty crafty moves on the part of a couple of public servants.

Exhibit A is, admittedly, a friend of mine, a guy by the name of Jeff Steiner. In recent years Jeff has been toiling as President of Toronto Economic Development Corporation (TEDCO). TEDCO is the City of Toronto’s economic development arm. TEDCO also owns much of the undeveloped (or, more accurately, underdeveloped) land on Toronto’s waterfront east of Yonge Street.

TEDCO has been in the news lately because of its ownership of lands in a strip of waterfront from Jarvis to Parliament Street, the redevelopment of which is being overseen by the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (controlled by the city, the province and the federal government).

It has also made news because of the competition to build a new mega film studio on TEDCO property in Toronto’s Port Lands. The winner was Toronto Film Studios Inc., owned by The Rose Corporation, which won a 99-year lease and the right to build a studio on TEDCO lands.

Part of the agreement with TEDCO includes a five-year “non-competition” agreement, the gist of which is that TEDCO pledges that it will not allow any competing film studio to build on city-owned lands in the area for as much as five years. There has been some sniping in the media from losing bidders calling it a “sweetheart” deal. My guess is they would have tried to negotiate a similar condition had they won, but, more importantly, can you believe that somebody in government has finally figured out how to use the fact that they are the government to leverage private development?

As Steiner told the Toronto Star, “We had open international tryouts that local competitors could have applied for,” TEDCO chief executive Jeffrey Steiner said in response. “To have someone win this competition and then allow competitors to open across the street would be ludicrous.”

If governments are going to do these kinds of deals where they leverage their property ownership and rezoning capability to get economic development – including new jobs and remediation of old industrial lands – then they should use whatever levers are at their disposal to get what they can out of the private sector. A five-year non-compete arrangement – which applies only to city-owned lands in the area– seems a reasonable concession to ensuring the studio actually gets up and running and creating economic activity.

What would the public and media say if, three years from now, the studio’s half-empty, it’s not paying its property taxes, it’s laying people off, etc., and the public finds out that competing studios on neighbouring city-owned land are prospering? They’d say, “Why would the city be so stupid as to lease land to competitors?” Thanks to Steiner’s foresight, this scenario will hopefully never come to pass.

Exhibit B is CBC President Bob Rabinovitch. Rabinovitch is they guy who now joins Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper on CBC employees’ permanent shit list. His sin? Ordering the lockout of CBC workers in August, pre-empting the media guild’s strike like Don Cherry pre-empting Peter Mansbridge in springtime.

Rabinovitch appeared at Parliament’s Canadian Heritage committee last Thursday and was called to account for having the audacity to lock out CBC workers before they could strike. Rabinovitch’s testimony would suggest that he is a student of Seinfeld, in particular the episode in which George acquires the upper hand in his relationship by “breaking up” with the girlfriend he deems insufficiently attached to him ("Yes: I am breaking up with you.”).

Rabinovitch explained to MPs that he believed the union was going to strike just as the CBC was about to launch its fall season, which strike might continue into a possible fall election (i.e. at a time that would cause the most damage to the Corp and give workers the greatest leverage at the negotiating table). As reported in The Toronto Star:

“Our evaluation was that the union would wait until early October, once the corporation had spent its main promotional budget launching its seasons,” [Rabinovitch] told the mainly hostile MPs on Parliament’s Canadian heritage committee yesterday.

“With pent-up demand for hockey and the possibility of a fall election adding pressure, it would strike at the moment when the damage to our audience would be greatest.”

Though Rabinovitch regretted the lockout, telling the committee “It has left damage to employee relations that will take time to heal,” and “It deprived Canadians of services they rely on,” he added “People have asked whether the lockout was worth it, and my answer is yes.”

Kudos to Rabinovitch for showing moxie uncharacteristic of a civil servant: taking a bold course of action, and then defending it publicly with honesty and candour.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Music Industry Reaps what it Sows

Today Statistics Canada reports that “The Canadian sound recording industry experienced its worst financial performance in six years in 2003 in the wake of bleak sales, declining new releases and a huge drop in profits.”

The report from Statistics Canada’s The Daily goes on to say:

Between 1998 and 2000, music sales in Canada fell 3.4%. But in the subsequent three-year period between 2000 and 2003, they fell at a much faster pace of 17.7%.

This overall decline in sales raises questions about factors such as illegal file downloads and swapping song files. Other possible factors in the decline include competition for the consumer's entertainment dollar from an array of media, ranging from computer games to movies to cell phones.

I usually make an effort to watch music awards shows, because it is an excellent opportunity to see who can really sing and who is a product of sampling and other digital trickery. (Have you noticed that there seem to be more and more awards shows, but less and less talent? But I digress.)

In recent years, many of these shows have included a brief segment in which some fifty-ish industry exec comes on stage in a brand new tux and lectures the viewing audience on the evils of downloading and how it is the same as “stealing,” because music is intellectual property, and the record labels have to pay all the folks who played on the record, and if there are no record sales and legitimate downloads then there’ll eventually be no rock and roll, fer Jim Morrison’s sake!

Unfortunately, rock and roll spent its first three decades dumping on the concepts of work, intellectual property and getting paid. They eliminated the concept of the single (which I remember being able to purchase at Sam the Record Man and other outlets for around a buck in the 70s), replacing it with an album containing two or three singles padded with seven or eight lesser numbers. Then they’re genuinely surprised – surprised! – when kids steal and swap only the songs they want to hear.

In his tribute to nihilism “Imagine,” John Lennon wrote “imagine no possessions.” Well, the kids are just making like Uncle John taught them, while over there Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono bicker over whose name should appear first in the song writing credit on Lennon/McCartney compositions.

In recent years so many artists have “sold out” it’s hard to keep track. The Rolling Stones allowed “Satisfaction” to be used in a Snickers commercial and “Start me Up” to promote a new version of Microsoft’s Windows software. Paul McCartney is shilling for investment firm Fidelity, while another commercial for the same firm features Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

To this has been added the phenomenon of established artists cannibalizing themselves and others, releasing covers of other people’s hits and/or “unplugged” albums (e.g. Alanis Morissette releasing an acoustic version of Jagged Little Pill – pre-released only in Starbucks outlets).

Rod Stewart is now on, I believe, his third album of the “American Songbook” (correction: his fourth) What a waste of talent, but in the man’s defence, he does have a lot of kids and ex-partners to support. Michael McDonald has now done two albums of Motown songs (I’ll cop to having the first one – which I love). Bette Midler has done an album of Rosemary Clooney hits and is now releasing one consisting of Peggy Lee’s hits.

Some guy named Kanye West is the hottest thing in hip-hop these days. I don’t follow that genre, but every video of West’s that I have seen is based on some riff or beat stolen from somebody’s else’s song. This is the cutting edge of music?

Finally, there is the promotion of performers with little or no talent (Hello Britney, Jessica and Lindsay!). Did anyone see Ashley Simpson on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live? She has no talent. None. It was embarrassing to watch someone with even less shame than talent, which I guess is a prerequisite for the preteen music market these days. I would say that Lorne Michaels should be ashamed of himself, but that would be redundant.

As the owner of very few albums, and someone who’s never downloaded or owned an MP3 player, I’m admittedly not an expert on this field. I’d be interested in hearing what other music fans have to say about why record sales are in decline.

Davenport Dinner with Monte Solberg -- only $50!

The Davenport Conservative Association (of which I am past president) is hosting a fundraiser with guest speaker MP Monte Solberg. Monte is one of the sharpest MPs in the caucus, with a great sense of humour, demonstrated regularly in his entertaining blog .

Thursday, November 3, 7:30 p.m.
Dundas Banquet Hall
1352 Dundas Street West, Toronto
(north side, between Dufferin and Dovercourt)

Guest: Monte Solberg, Conservative MP for Medicine Hat

$50 per person, $500 per table of 10

Tickets: Contact candidate Theresa Rodrigues: 416-537-2601 ext. 316 after 5:30 or during the day through reception ext. 0

Friday, October 21, 2005

Video of the Year (or at least the week)

Ryan Malcolm has got nothing on these guys . . . (Note: video link)

The best part is the third guy in the background working at his computer, oblivious to the history that is being made behind him.

The Dog that Didn’t Bark

The McGuinty government was embarrassed yesterday when the opposition Tories revealed the expense details of then-energy minister Dwight Duncan’s trip to Brussels last September. Duncan and four aides travelled business-class, had a $789.15 lunch that included six $70 steaks, a ministerial aide expensed candy, a soft drink, a magazine and a bag of almonds (each costing less than $10) – you get the picture.

In question period, Dalton McGuinty defended the expenses on the grounds that they had all been reviewed and approved by the province’s integrity commissioner. Though not in attendance at question period, Dwight Duncan (now finance minister) appeared for a scrum later in the afternoon, explaining that (1) “It’s expensive to host those kind of meals . . . but given the number of people, I wouldn’t say it was out of line” and (2) the pop and candy weren’t for him: “It was neither myself nor a member of my political staff that expensed it, nor did we authorize it, nor was I aware of it.”

The Tories’ news release entitled “$60 for Rebates, $70 for Energy Minister’s Steak” ended with this kick in the goolies for Duncan:

“Yesterday we learned that Tory ministers and their assistants will go to the ends of the earth and back, as long as they can charge the taxpayers for it...While families were opening skyrocketing hydro bills, [they were] eating expensive steaks and making us pay for it. [Ontarians] want a government that will work for them and give them open and accountable government with real integrity. They want the leadership that Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberal Party can provide.”
--Dwight Duncan, Ontario Hansard, October 10, 2002

All the high-carb, high-fat details appeared today in Toronto papers the Sun, Globe and Mail and National Post, but not a word of it made The Toronto Star. Contrast this with the Star’s treatment of the expense scandals of Ernie Eves’ cabinet ministers Cam Jackson and Chris Stockwell, and the expenses of the Harris ministry:

Tory minister repays $7,600 for hotels, food ; Jackson told by Premier’s office to review expenses; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 2, 2002. p. A.07

Minister quits over expenses ; Jackson attacked by Liberals over $103,722 tab; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 3, 2002. p. A.07

Eves to review tourism minister’s tab ; Jackson called ‘gluttonous’ by Liberal MPP; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 3, 2002. p. A.07

Inappropriate expenses must be repaid: Premier ; Jackson’s spending as tourism minister to be scrutinized; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan and Caroline Mallan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 4, 2002. p. A.06

Expense accounts detail a life of luxury ; Jackson patronized pricey steakhouses, lavish four-star hotels on taxpayer dollars; [Ontario Edition]
Betsy Powell. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 4, 2002. p. A.07

Eves’ expense receipts withheld by ministry ; Liberals furious at ‘cover up’ as big-spending minister fired; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 4, 2002. p. A.01

Former Eves staff pay back expenses ; It’s an ‘admission of guilt,’ says Liberal MPP; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan and Caroline Mallan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 5, 2002. p. A.01

Liberals grill Eves over his spending; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan and Caroline Mallan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 8, 2002. p. A.01

Eves says public should get yearly look at expenses; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 9, 2002. p. A.19

Tory ministers and assistants spent $2 million over six years ; Mike Harris billed $70,876 in personal expenses: Papers; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 10, 2002. p. A.27

Defiant MPP insists he did nothing wrong ; Cam Jackson says he was fully open about details of expenses; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 16, 2002. p. A.07

Around this point the Tories finally dug up some dirt on one of the Liberals’ lead attack dogs, Windsor MPP Sandra Pupatello, but when a Tory MPP incorrectly alleged that Pupatello had overspent her global budget every year, the Star did a story slapping the Tories’ wrists and helping Pupatello portray herself as a victim of “intimidation”:

Critic of Tory expenses used government courier for friend ; Liberal MPP defends shipping boxes to England; [Ontario Edition]
Theresa Boyle. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 10, 2002. p. A.01

Liberal claims ‘intimidation’ ; Tories admit ‘inaccurate’ charges levelled; [Ontario Edition]
Theresa Boyle. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Oct 11, 2002. p. A.07

Because of all the noise, the Tories decided in December 2002 to “strategically” release all ministers’ and staff expenses going back to their taking office in 1995. (Full disclosure: as a political staffer for transportation minister Al Palladini from 1995-1997, I was taken out by my boss with other political staff to several lunches and dinners.) Eves then announced that all the inappropriate expenses from previous years would be repaid , and that there would be new standards for expenses (e.g. no booze on the taxpayer’s dime).

From candy bars to fancy dinners: Tories lift lid on 7 years of expenses ; Reports fill more than 12,000 pages Liberals blast mass release of papers; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan, Theresa Boyle and Caroline Mallan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Dec 4, 2002. p. A.06

Smarties, cocktails expensed by Tories ; 12,000 pages of documents yield unusual receipts Seven years of spending from ministers and staff; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan and Theresa Boyle. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Dec 5, 2002. p. A.04

Queen’s Park staff ate out often: Papers ; Itemized receipts include meals, gifts Tory spending chronicled in reports; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Dec 7, 2002. p. A.14

Maps, short cab rides top ministry expenses ; Flaherty, staff billed taxpayer New documents outline costs; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Dec 8, 2002. p. A.16

Political payback hits $55,000 ; MPPs, cabinet ministers reimburse taxpayers for expenses New rules clamp down on bills for booze, trips, meals, gifts; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Feb 1, 2003. p. A.04

Then in the late spring of 2003 there was an eruption over energy minister Chris Stockwell’s visit to Europe in which he combined government business with a family vacation. (Maybe energy ministers should be barred from going to Europe).

The focus of the opposition’s ire was that part of the trip was expensed through Ontario Power Generation and not the energy ministry. The furor intensified when Stockwell revealed that his riding association subsidized $25,000 of the cost of the trip, to allow Stockwell’s family to accompany him.

Stockwell: ‘I’m not quitting’ ; Defends expenses from European trip Says opposition at ‘reptilian’ levels; [Ontario Edition]
Richard Brennan. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Jun 6, 2003. p. A.03

Stockwell’s fate in official hands ; Integrity watchdog analyzing spending ‘We ... go by whatever he rules,’ says Eves; [Ontario Edition]
Caroline Mallan and Robert Benzie. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Jun 14, 2003. p. A.30

Stockwell quits cabinet ; Steps down pending integrity commissioner’s report Eves did not ask for minister’s resignation, Tories say; [Ontario Edition]
Robert Benzie. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Jun 17, 2003. p. A.01

Later that summer, the integrity commissioner cleared Cam Jackson’s expenses that had prompted his resignation the previous year.

Jackson’s expenses deemed reasonable; Integrity czar ‘satisfied’ by MPP’s claims Clears way for Eves to reinstate former minister; [ONT Edition]
Robert Benzie. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Aug 30, 2003. p. A.04

There was no time to reinstate Jackson, however, as the election was called a few days later.

John Kerry Didn't Look this Good with a Face Full of Botox

Democrats hoping to use Tom DeLay's mug shot in their ads and brochures next year have sadly been foiled. Now they can only hope for indictments of Messrs. Rove and/or Libby.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sorbara’s Plea: Incompetent but Innocent

Recently-resigned Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara has begun to fight back against RCMP fraud allegations related to his tenure as an independent director and chair of the audit committee of Royal Group Technologies.

In an interview with Richard Brennan of The Toronto Star, Sorbara presented his main line of defence against the allegations that Royal Group shareholders were defrauded when Royal Group purchased property in Brampton from a Sorbara family company. Sorbara tells Brennan that he was concerned “from Day 1” he began serving on the board in 1994 that “we [the board] had no capacity to reverse the decisions of management.” Sorbara says he tried to assert the board’s oversight over management, but he was unsuccessful. For ten years, attending four board meetings a year and an unspecified number of audit committee meetings, he was unsuccessful.

This spin is somewhat at odds with what Sorbara told the Star in March last year, shortly after RCMP, Ontario Securities Commission and Canada Customs investigations into Royal Group became public:

Finance Minister Greg Sorbara says he did not alert a cabinet vetting team that his time as a director at a Woodbridge firm might come back to embarrass the government because he didn’t foresee any problems.

“Absolutely not, because I wasn’t aware of any (problems),” Sorbara told reporters.
--Toronto Star, March 4, 2004
Sorbara did not think McGuinty’s cabinet vetting crew needed to know about his frustrations at Royal before he was given the keys to Ontario’s treasury. Now he is telling the same media outlet that he had concerns about Royal Group management “from Day 1.”

Going back further, to when Sorbara was appointed to cabinet, he told the National Post:

I am quite satisfied with the work I did as a director,” he said. “In the main, the criticism has not been justified, and my duties there were just one of many responsibilities I’ve had over the past few years. I know the board of Royal Group is going through a transformation, in terms of corporate governance, and one of the things I now give up is the opportunity to see that work through.”
--National Post, October 24, 2003

But to Brennan last week he said:

“My energy on the board was to try and force management to try and realize that, as a public company, the responsibilities were dramatically different and that there were shareholders all over the world that had to be accounted to. That was every board meeting and they were ... like four a year. Every board meeting we would push a little, but really unsuccessfully.”

In this latest interview Sorbara admits what some in the financial press had been saying for years: that Royal Group Founder Vic de Zen continued to run Royal Group as his personal fiefdom even after Royal Group became publicly traded and hence partly owned by the working stiffs who contribute to the Canada Pension Plan and Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (N.B. Royal Group's symbol is "RYG". CPP holdings are under "Mutual Fund Ownership" and Teachers’ holdings are under “Institutional Ownership” on the MSN site). When the OSC notified Royal Group of its investigation in December, 2003, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Pension Plan held about 750,000 shares, but no longer owns any shares.

Sorbara claims to Brennan that he tried to persuade de Zen to relinquish some power:

“I started to apply pressure at the board, including urging that Vic De Zen either step down as the chair or step down as the president but not hold both positions. I urged him to give up his multiple voting shares. That would have been in probably 2002,” he [Sorbara] said.
Sorbara’s concerns did not seem to be reflected in senior executive compensation for the subsequent year, however:

Shareholders of Royal Group blasted the company’s board this year for approving a pay package for Vic De Zen, chairman and chief executive, that more than doubled to $6.1-million.
The compensation included $500,000 in salary for fiscal 2002, plus a $5.6-million bonus, compared with $2.2-million the year before.

Douglas Dunsmuir, company president, was paid $358,000 in salary and a $3.2-million bonus, also double what he received in 2001.

The company’s share price declined 43% over that time, as sales growth failed to meet internal targets, edging up to $1.9-billion from $1.7-billion.
--National Post, October 24, 2003

Little wonder, then, that Canadian Business magazine named Royal Group’s board the 4th-worst corporate board in August 2003.

As for the sale of two Brampton properties from a Sorbara family company to Royal Group, which transaction was named in the RCMP search warrant executed at The Sorbara Group last week, Sorbara says his brother Ed told him the two companies were talking but Sorbara kept out of it because of the potential for conflict of interest. The article does not delve into whether or not Sorbara, as a Royal insider, understood that the potential conflict should have been disclosed to Royal.

Time will tell what the RCMP and OSC find lacking in Sorbara’s conduct – if anything. In the meantime, Sorbara is girding himself for a battle, Brennan reports, lining up the talents of Julian Porter, one of Canada’s leading libel lawyers, and Frank Marrocco, former Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada (the Treasurer is the top position at the LSUC).

The choice of Porter is interesting. Porter was the lawyer Dalton McGuinty chose to defend him in a libel suit by Tony Clement stemming from McGuinty calling Clement “corrupt” in 1999 around the same time McGuinty was facing his post-election leadership review. Though McGuinty initially pledged to pay his legal fees out of his own pocket, he later quietly had Porter paid by the Legislature’s liability insurers. A lawyer of Porter’s experience and stature likely bills at least $500 an hour. Yet Porter ended up getting much of his Statement of Defence struck out by a judge. About 18 months after the suit was launched, McGuinty finally apologized to Clement – which is what Clement would have settled for in the first place.

The shock of the allegations seems to have caused Sorbara to undergo a bit of a crack-up. On October 11, the night he announced his resignation, Sorbara protested, “I intend to get to the bottom of this. A terrible mistake has been made and I want to know what’s up with it” (Toronto Star, October 12).

On Thursday he said, to a question from the Star’s Richard Brennan, “One of my first emotions this morning was, I just got a sense of the extent of the pain that people who are falsely accused and falsely convicted feel, and it’s not a nice feeling” (scrum, October 13, 2005). Sorbara counts himself with the likes of David Milgard, Donald Marshall and Guy-Paul Morin, who, I believe, actually woke up in prison every morning for a number of years, not in Sorbara’s house in Richmond Hill.

And now we have this interview, in which Sorbara indulges in a bit of Nixonesque paranoia, asking, “Why is this happening? Who is behind this?”

Sorbara offers a clue as to why it is happening: “The fact that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth is a reality and I think I have become a little bit more of a political target for that basis.” Now where was Sorbara when his party’s first attempt to brand PC leader John Tory – at the leadership vote, no less – was by calling him “Richie Rich”?

The Liberals had eight people toiling in a small room on the sixth floor of the Crowne Plaza Toronto Don Valley. Their strategy was to mock Tory’s blueblood upbringing by distributing silver spoons engraved with “John Tory IV,” vintage Richie Rich comic books and blue loot bags full of other satirical trinkets.
--Toronto Star, September 20, 2004
My late sister had an expression for occasions such as Greg Sorbara pleading, “don’t hate me because I’m rich.” I apologize for the vulgarity but it is apt: “My ass bleeds.”

Sorbara’s minor meltdown is understandable on one level, however. Since his return to public life as Ontario Liberal party president in 1999, he has gone from success to success. He took an impoverished party with a pencil-necked leader that had just been thrashed electorally by one of the most provocative governments in Ontario history. He raised money, found candidates, built the election team and, more than any other individual – including McGuinty – was responsible for its 2003 majority victory.

Through the McGuinty Liberals’ first two years in power, through the 50-plus broken promises and other growing pains, Sorbara never seemed to lose his composure, until the paranoid rantings that began the night of his resignation.

Remember that Sorbara’s last public embarrassment was 13 years ago, when he finished third in the 1992 Liberal leadership race. As an opposition MPP he could retreat into the backbenches unnoticed. Sorbara actually retreated even farther, announcing in 1994 that he would not run again and that he wanted to get involved in his family business:

Liberal sources say the political wounds Sorbara, 47, suffered during the leadership race were slow to heal and that he found himself bored with the marginal role he was given afterward, as critic for urban affairs.

Sorbara said in a statement that he wants to get involved in his family’s extensive business interests.
--Toronto Star, June 18, 1994

But this situation is different. Sorbara was the number two minister in the country’s largest province and there is no hiding. Hence his deer-in-the-headlights look as he walked into a scrum with reporters in a Legislature hallway the day after he resigned.

The Brennan interview and his hiring of two high-powered lawyers suggest that Sorbara is going to mount a pro-active and aggressive defence of his actions, or inactions, as the case may be. And there lies the nub of a problem. For Sorbara to prove that he had nothing to do with this land deal or the other matters for which Royal Group is being investigated requires him to prove that not only was he ignorant of the details of transactions of the family business from which he drew an income (see below), he also failed to assert oversight over a corporation that was handling the pension money of teachers, Ontario public sector workers and CPP contributors. How will that reflect on the McGuinty Liberals during the two-year countdown to the next election?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Greg Sorbara: “successful businessman” or Gary Ewing?

Recently-resigned Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara is reputedly well liked by Queen’s Park reporters and public servants for his gregariousness and good humour. He has always struck me, however, as one of those people whose arrogance is rooted in a belief that through his superior intellect he can fool enough of the people enough of the time, to coin a phrase. If one starts from that premise, then his string of successes since returning to public life in 1999 would tend to support this picture.

This arrogance would also explain his recent protestations – in the shadow of an RCMP search warrant accusing him of defrauding Royal Group Technologies shareholders in a land deal with The Sorbara Group – that he had no active role in his family’s land development business in the years prior to his return to politics as president of the Ontario Liberal party in 1999. This is what he told the Toronto Star in a story published today:
He told the Star he is a “passive participant” in the company, which his father divided between his children. He said his major income in that time period was from the company but he was doing other things, such as running a baseball franchise in St. Catharines.

Not to be fooled, however, the Star questions Sorbara’s claim:
However, the Sorbara Group’s website says Greg Sorbara has a prominent role in the company. The company states the firm has “an experienced management team combined with the personal hands-on approach of the principals Edward Sorbara, Joseph Sorbara and Gregory Sorbara.” In other forums (such as a Liberal Party of Ontario website) Greg is described as a “principal” of the Sorbara company.
When Sorbara was running in a 2001 by-election necessitated by the sudden death of Vaughan-King-Aurora MPP Al Palladini, here’s how his campaign literature described him to prospective voters:

Sorbara’s experience as a successful businessman, his long-standing commitment to protecting our environment, his proven ability to fight to ensure families get their fair share of funding for health care and public education – all make Greg Sorbara the best candidate to represent Vaughan-King Aurora.
Sorbara’s experience in business has taught him that we must make strategic investments in our future.
So Sorbara now claims that he was just fibbing to voters. He was not in fact a “successful businessman,” but the Gary Ewing of the Sorbara family, whose only business experience was running a minor-league baseball team, and his two generous brothers allowed him to draw a large income from the company in exchange for staying out of their hair.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Was Endorsing McGuinty a Bad Career Move for Malcolm?

One of Dalton McGuinty's lucky days during the 2003 election was September 19, when he appeared on Michael Landsberg's TSN show "Off the Record" with Ryan Malcolm, a waiter from Kingston who had days before been voted the first Canadian Idol.

Arriving at the studio for the taping, Malcolm was asked by reporters whom he intended to vote for in the October 2 election. "At this point, I'd have to say Dalton McGuinty. I'm a very Liberal kind of guy."

McGuinty was happy to accept the endorsement: "I'm honoured," he said. "I'm here to congratulate him. He's done a great job for Ontario and put the country on the map in a very positive way."

Two years later, McGuinty has been labelled a serial promise breaker, and on the eve of his second Throne Speech lost most of his government's brain power, thanks to the resignation of Greg Sorbara under an ethics cloud. And where is Ryan Malcolm? Rehearsing for the chorus of Ross Petty's latest Christmas kiddie show, a second album deal having thus far failed to materialize.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More Deep Thoughts from CBC Staff

Part of me wishes the CBC lockout would last ‘til Christmas, given the barn door it has opened into the attitudes of CBC workers. You cannot make up stuff like this letter from Toronto CBC employee John Corcelli that appeared in Friday’s Toronto Star:

My vision for the CBC begins with a structural change at the top – an elected board of directors. The first board, perhaps with nine people, would be elected by members of the staff and management of the CBC.

Once in place, the board would elect a new president whose term should be no more than three years. The board, with the support of the federal government, Canadians and other interested parties, would draft a new mandate. I would like to see one that is transparent, equal and progressive.
Now, before you get too alarmed that Mr. Corcelli is envisioning a workers’ paradise unaccountable to the suckers who supply it almost $1 billion dollars annually, read on . . .

The mandate would be released to the public [emphasis added] and then the work would begin to create a new CBC. The end of this lockout marks an opportunity for us to do better.
How kind of him to let the public see the CBC’s worker-penned manifesto (workers would comprise the majority of the voters electing the new board) before he sends us the bill. And people say the CBC is indifferent to the general public.

Friday, October 07, 2005

McGuinty Condemns Surplus Allocation Concept he Ran on in 1999

The Toronto Star reports today that Premiers Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest are peeved that the Martin government is planning to introduce surplus allocation legislation under which “the federal government would divvy up future surpluses by spending one-third of them on reducing the $499 billion debt, one-third on tax relief and one-third on new government spending.”

The Star quotes McGuinty: “I think it’s bad public policy to paint yourself into that corner and to give up any flexibility that you might need in this world where the only constant appears to be change,” the Ontario premier said. “The other reason I’m not supportive of that policy is because it does not address our $23-billion gap in Ontario.”

Yet in his platform for the 1999 provincial election, McGuinty pledged a rather similar surplus allocation formula:

once the budget is balanced, the fiscal dividend would be split three ways:

· 55 per cent for our priorities, primarily health care and education;
· 25 per cent in tax relief aimed at lower and middle-income Ontarians, to help them start to catch up;
· 20 per cent for debt reduction and a rainy day fund, to ensure health care and education are protected in good times and bad.
--20/20 Plan – A Clear Vision for Ontario’s Future, p. 14

As for the $23-billion gap, my empathy for McGuinty is somewhat dimmed by the fact that in opposition, Mike Harris repeatedly asked McGuinty to stand up for Ontario in demanding back the health dollars Paul Martin had cut. McGuinty usually didn’t.