Monday, January 30, 2006

Credibility Check: Stronach vs. Grewal

The near-concurrent release of Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro’s report on the Grewal affair, and the Toronto Life profile of Belinda Stronach provides an opportunity to contrast and compare what Shapiro judged to be the Martin Liberals’ completely innocent conversations with Gurmant Grewal (thanks to Shapiro’s conclusion that interviews-after-the-fact were more reliable than audio tapes), with the Martin Liberals’ negotiations with Belinda Stronach.

Both sequences of events unfolded over almost exactly the same time frame: the weekend preceding the May 19, 2005 budget vote which, had the Liberals’ lost, would have resulted in a general election.

Were there Negotiations Related to “Crossing the Floor”?

Stronach: “After also gaining Stronach’s consent, Peterson insisted on being the only go-between. ‘Both sides had to trust me. This was as sensitive as a spy coming over the wall.’ Murphy was to speak only to the PM. Stronach could consult Mark Entwistle, an adviser during her leadership bid, now a trusted friend. That Entwistle had once been press secretary for Brian Mulroney, who’d been supportive of Stronach’s bid for the Tory leadership, only demonstrated how byzantine these negotiations had already become.”
--“The Belinda Stronach Defense,” Toronto Life, February 2006

Grewal: “Mr. Dosanjh indicated that on Saturday, May 14, 2005, he received a telephone call from Mr. Bob Cheema, a businessman in the Vancouver-Surrey area acquainted with both Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Grewal. According to Mr. Dosanjh, Mr. Cheema visited his home later that evening and suggested to him that Mr. and Mrs. Grewal would be willing to join the Government in return for a United Nations position or Senate appointment for her and a Cabinet post for him. . . . Mr. Dosanjh reported that he informed Mr. Cheema on May 14, 2005 that, if the Grewals wanted to cross the floor, it was up to the Prime Minister to decide what, if any, appointment he might eventually make.”
-- The Grewal-Dosanjh Inquiry (January 2006), Office of the Ethics Commissioner

Was a Cabinet Portfolio or Other Appointment(s) Offered or Demanded?

Stronach: “During the weekend’s clandestine discussions, it was Peterson who insisted Stronach receive a cabinet post. ‘This was no backbencher,’ he said. ‘She was a high-impact political player who deserved her chance to play.’ It was serendipitous that the Human Resources and Skills Development portfolio, containing all of [college dropout] Stronach’s signature issues—education, empowerment of labour, a competitive, knowledge-based economy—was lying fallow. ‘It was beautiful the way the whole thing came together,’ said Peterson. On Sunday night, Stronach confided in her father, auto parts tycoon Frank Stronach. She still had one unmet request: ‘I wanted to look Paul Martin in the eye to make sure we had the same values.’”
--“The Belinda Stronach Defense,” Toronto Life, February 2006

Grewal: “The testimonies of Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Grewal are relatively consistent as to the nature of their discussions that evening [May 16 – the night before Stronach’s news conference]. Mr. Dosanjh spoke of his own political career and noted that the Prime Minister had made no commitments or offers to him when he agreed to stand as a Liberal candidate in the 2004 election. They also discussed Mr. Grewal’s Parliamentary pension entitlements. However, their accounts differ in one important way. Mr. Grewal indicates that Mr. Dosanjh specifically offered him a Consul General position in Boston or in Seattle or an ambassadorship to a small country. Mr. Dosanjh, on the other hand, indicates that no offers were made. There is no further evidence to corroborate either of these claims.” [Grewal had intended to record this meeting, but his newly-purchased digital recorder did not work.]

May 17: “Both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Grewal agree that during the conversation, the term “deal” was used but that Mr. Murphy, a little later in the discussion, indicated this word should not be used. Mr. Murphy testified that the Prime Minister had indicated there were to be no offers. All three parties agree that the meeting ended with no offers having been made and that there was no commitment by Mr. Grewal.”

“Prior to the arrival of Mr. Murphy at this meeting, Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. Grewal both agree that there was further discussion in relation to Mr. Grewal’s retirement and pension entitlement. However, their stories differ in the following respect. On one hand Mr. Dosanjh testified that Mr. Grewal was extremely excited about the crossing of the floor of Belinda Stronach, that morning, and how it was now easy for him to be appointed to Cabinet. However, Mr. Grewal’s account was that Mr. Dosanjh suggested a Cabinet position or diplomatic post for him and a Senate seat for his wife.”
-- The Grewal-Dosanjh Inquiry (January 2006), Office of the Ethics Commissioner

The Fig Leaf of “Separatism”

Stronach: “Her anxieties had crystallized around a poll indicating that the Bloc Québécois could win as many as 70 seats if Harper forced an election. As Peterson recalls, ‘Belinda thought national unity was too high a price to pay for one man’s ambition.’” [Joan’s note: in the TO Life profile, the nitty-gritty of the floor-crossing incident is related primarily through Peterson’s recollections. Belinda’s voice is not heard until after the deal had been done. Imagine, if you will, the power of being able to get a former Premier to do your PR dirty work.]
--“The Belinda Stronach Defense,” Toronto Life, February 2006

Grewal: “As well, both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Grewal testified that, in order to respond to inquiries, as to why Mr. Grewal was talking to them (Liberals), it should be done on the basis of principle. Indeed, Mr. Grewal testified he was told he should say, ‘the Bloc Quebecois and Alliance (sic) or the collaboration, was not the right way to go’”.
-- The Grewal-Dosanjh Inquiry (January 2006), Office of the Ethics Commissioner

The Role of Tim Murphy

Stronach: “Peterson called Tim Murphy, Martin’s chief of staff, to explore Stronach’s welcome if she crossed the floor. . . . Murphy was to speak only to the PM.
--“The Belinda Stronach Defense,” Toronto Life, February 2006

Grewal: “The Prime Minister also testified that he told Mr. Dosanjh to deal on this matter with Mr. Tim Murphy, his Chief of Staff, as he himself was occupied with preparations for the Royal visit.”
-- The Grewal-Dosanjh Inquiry (January 2006), Office of the Ethics Commissioner


The Martin Liberals would have Canadians believe – and they certainly convinced Shapiro – that they were unwilling to offer cabinet seats or other appointments in exchange for the Grewals’ two votes. But as the Toronto Life piece confirms, they did exchange a cabinet portfolio for Stronach’s one vote, during the exact same period of time, in concurrent negotiations, both involving Tim Murphy negotiating on behalf of the PM. Though perhaps once they had Stronach’s vote secured by late Sunday or early Monday, enticing the Grewals became “gravy” and not crucial to surviving Thursday’s vote.

But Shapiro might have drawn different conclusions about the credibility of Tim Murphy and Ujjal Dosanjh, had he known the details of the Stronach defection.

On Taping MPs

As alluded to above, Shapiro noted in his report that, due to technical and translation difficulties (some of Grewal’s taped conversations were in Punjabi), and due to “strong objections by those parties represented by counsel” (whom Shapiro does not name), Shapiro based his conclusions on interviews with the parties and witnesses involved, not on anything recorded on the tapes.

As has been noted by Andrew Coyne, the only person reprimanded in Shapiro’s report is Grewal, for engaging in the “extremely inappropriate” behaviour of taping a fellow MP. Shapiro gives short shrift to Grewal’s reasons for doing so: “Mr. Grewal testified that earlier that day, he decided to purchase a new digital tape recorder to record his conversations. He spoke of a previous incident in which another Conservative Member of Parliament stated that he had been approached to accept an appointment but that the story was denied by the Liberals. Mr. Grewal indicated he did not want to be caught in the same predicament.”

Grewal was likely referring to MP Inky Mark, who earlier in May went public with the claim that the Liberals had tried to entice him to resign in exchange for an ambassadorship. In addition to dismissing Mark’s story, then-Liberal MP Reg Alcock declared: “Frankly, if I was going to recruit somebody, I’d go a little higher up the gene pool.”

I have it on good authority from a caucus source that, after the Liberals smeared Inky Mark, other Conservative MPs who had also been approached by the Liberals to cross the floor refused to go public with their stories.

"Lesser Evil" Footnote: An added dimension to this is that around the same time that the “Grewal Tapes” story was breaking last spring, it was also emerging that an individual central to exposing Watergate, known as “Deep Throat,” was former FBI second-in-command Mark Felt.

Strictly speaking, what Felt did was illegal: if he suspected wrongdoing in the White House he was obliged to report any evidence to the Justice Department. But he went to the media instead. Yet Felt is not regarded as an unscrupulous lawbreaker, but as a heroic whistleblower. He knowingly committed an impropriety to expose a larger one. Did Gurmant Grewal do any worse?

Bono reworks “Vertigo” lyrics to console Martin (I am making this up.)

N.B. Right-wing computer geeks intercepted this Blackberry message to Paul Martin from U2 front man Bono:

From: Bono
To: Paul Martin
Subject: (none)
Date: Tues. 24 Jan 2006 03:08 GMT

Paul, didn’t I warn you you’d better commit 0.7 per cent of your GDP to foreign aid? When I wrote “give me what I want, and no one gets hurt,” who do you think I was talking to – the Liberian shipping registrar?

Sorry man, that’s just my Irish humour. Bummer about the election. Here are some words to cheer you up until we can get together for a pint. You can still afford to pay, right? ;-)

Good day, good day
You’re in a place called Stornoway
The voters saw that you had feet of clay
So you’re
Gonna live here
For now
Until you’re replaced.

Chin up, mate! Talk to you soon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"When I make a mistake, it's a beaut!"

So said late New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and now I can say it. Last week, I speculated that the CBC's "Campaign Confidential" insider was ubiquitous Liberal ass-kicker Warren Kinsella. Given that the CBC's The National revealed the insider's identity last night, I must now "be a man" and admit I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Turns out CC was Liberal-turned-Reformer Rick Anderson, who shares little in common with Kinsella, other than both having served at one time as nemeses of a sort to Stockwell Day.

There are a couple of references to Anderson in the William Johnson biography of Stephen Harper (which I recommend, especially to those still operating under the delusion that Harper is a social conservative). Anderson was brought into the Reform Party in the early 90s by then-leader Preston Manning for his experience and familiarity with Ottawa, gleaned from his work as manager of the Ottawa office of Hill & Knowlton:

As early as April 1992, [Anderson] advised Manning not to oppose any constitutional deal that might be forthcoming because, he said, 'the country is bone-tired of the constitutional process.' Anderson also had little objection to official bilingualism in its present form . . . .

Most importantly, Anderson rejected the strategy of the Party of the Right [Joan's note: Manning believed the Reform Party should grow by attracting disaffected voters from all parties; Harper believed it should work toward becoming a centre-right replacement for the PCs.] In his view, 'Canadian voters are ideological only in the broadest sense; they eschew ideological purity and prefer practicality on virtually all specific issues.'

Rick Anderson was the antithesis of Stephen Harper . . . His growing influence over Manning went back to a debate within the party: Should they become more professional in their approach to politics? . . . In 1991, after the breakthrough in Ontario, the Reform Party had started taking on political pros. Rick Anderson, engaged as a consultant in September 1991, was the one who emerged over time as Manning's chief strategist, replacing Stephen Harper.

There was shock among the upper echelons of the Reform Party when Anderson publicly endorsed the Charlottetown Accord in 1992. Johnson quotes Tom Flanagan:

"The few who knew the truth abut Manning's early wavering on the referendum saw the Anderson affair as further evidence that Manning's populism, combined with Anderson's advice, was leading him to depart from the Reform agenda. This was the last straw for Stephen Harper. Although he decided to continue with his candidacy in Calgary West and not to raise a public challenge against Manning, he withdrew from national office activities."

Johnson adds that Flanagan also retreated, returning to full-time teaching in January 1993. Ironically, "professionalizing" – for lack of a better term – the structure and operations of the Canadian Alliance was a key plank of Harper's platform when he ran for the party's leadership against Stockwell Day in 2002. I think it is fair to say that he succeeded, both with the Alliance and subsequently as leader of the Conservatives.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


In the days, weeks and months ahead, minds that are bigger and better-informed than mine will spin out their theories and analysis about what happened to the 200-seat Martin Juggernaut of 2002. The best theory I have to offer in that vein is this: Martin gave away his best hope for detaching himself from the Chrétien years, when Chrétien called Martin’s leadership bluff and Martin acquiesced to running in the 2000 election.

The only reason Chrétien sought a third mandate was to frustrate Martin’s ambitions. That decision crystallized when it emerged on the eve of the March 2000 convention in Ottawa, that a meeting of Martin’s leadership organizers had taken place days before at a Toronto airport hotel. An excerpt from Jason Moscovitz’s story for CBC's The National, as recounted in Toronto Star reporter Susan Delacourt’s book Juggernaut: Paul Martin’s Campaign for Chrétien’s Crown:

CBC News has found out that there was a meeting at this airport hotel in Toronto last Friday. Close to twenty-five MPs met with key Martin advisers to discuss leadership strategy. . . . At the meeting [David] Herle provided polling information on how Martin would outperform Chrétien in Quebec, as well as in Western Canada in the next election. . . . As for the twenty to twenty-five MPs, they expressed the following concerns: Martin could quit if Chrétien stayed. Some could lose their seats if Chrétien stayed.

Delacourt then recounts the Chrétiens’ reaction to the CBC report:

And at 24 Sussex Drive, Jean Chrétien was watching the news too. Francie Ducros had received a heads-up about the item when she was called for comment an hour before it went on the air. Aline Chrétien was in the room with her husband. Here it was, all the proof they needed of Martin’s treachery. Aline clenched her hand into a fist and uttered three simple words: “Four more years.”

The signal image of the Ottawa convention was a flustered Martin denying any leadership organizing, and escaping further media questions by starting down a set of escalators. Some reporters gamely followed, stretching out the never-flattering spectacle of a politician running away from the media. That set of escalators at the Westin/convention centre goes down only three stories, yet it was just the beginning of Martin’s descent.

I felt sure that in light of all this, Martin would refuse to patiently lend his credibility and popularity to another Chrétien grab for glory. Hence, I was baffled when he lined up to have his ticket punched a third time.

Now I understand why: Martin’s time as PM showed that he lacks decisiveness, audacity and is risk-averse (except when in danger of losing – then he’s willing to say or do anything!). Martin wasn’t prepared to take the heat for abandoning Liberals in 2000, despite the growing tensions between him and Chrétien. Neither did he want to abandon his caucus followers. (Chrétien, on the other hand, may have been a tad thuggish, but you could never accuse the man of lacking cojones.)

Chrétien was able to exploit Martin’s popularity in Quebec for another majority, but what Martin got out of it was an industrial-strength bond between himself and the Chrétien years. By the time of the passive-aggressive games that led up to Martin's "firing" in the summer of 2002, it was too late to establish an identity separate from the Chrétien years. At the time, the Martin people may have thought that the manner of Martin's ejection had safely ejected him a good distance from Chrétien. But today, who even remembers that Martin was a backbencher for over a year?

In my mind’s eye, I can’t help but contrast Martin and Chrétien in that French campaign commercial where they’re waving to kids, with Martin’s explanation for being unaware of sponsorship shenanigans, at a news conference after the Auditor-General report on the sponsorship program was released in February 2004: “It is no secret that I did not have an easy relationship with those around the former prime minister. . . . my advice was not routinely sought on issues related to Quebec.”

So, just to be helpful, below is a series of 2002-2004 prognostications, from various pollsters, professors and pundits, anticipating the Martin onslaught and cowering appropriately. Keep in mind, however, that all of these were made before the worst Auditor-General and Gomery revelations (February 2004 and April 2005, respectively), and most were prior to the PC/Alliance merger. That merger may be the only true legacy of the Martin Juggernaut, a ghost ship that never was.

Martin Juggernaut, we hardly knew ye . . .
(Sorry, there are no quotes from the Globe or Sun Media due to database limitations and, er, laziness.)

Perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, voters in the province have been waiting for Jean Chrétien to retire so their favourite federal Liberal can take over.

Jean-Herman Guay, a professor of political science at the Universite de Sherbrooke, said during an interview yesterday that a change in leadership could be enough to restore the Liberal domination over Quebec that disappeared with Brian Mulroney’s arrival on the federal scene.

“I think that with a new face, the Liberal Party could recapture its hegemony. It used to be that this, not Ontario, was the Liberals’ province,” he said.
--National Post, February 12, 2002

Edmonton Ellerslie MLA Debby Carlson, an active federal Liberal, said Chrétien has weakened his own position by attacking Martin. “It undermines the ability of the prime minister to do his job. I’m looking forward to a federal leadership review.”

Carlson said the Liberals could win six to eight seats across Northern Alberta in the next federal election, with Martin as leader. The Liberals now hold two Edmonton ridings.
--Edmonton Journal, June 2, 2002

The poll, conducted for The Gazette this week by SOM Recherches et Sondages, found that if an election were to be held today, the Liberals under Martin would win a whopping 60.5 per cent of the popular vote in Quebec. Under Chrétien, they would take 33.8 per cent.

If Martin were leader, the Liberal Party would decimate the Bloc Quebecois (which the survey showed would take 20.8 per cent), and would probably steamroll to the largest majority in the province since Brian Mulroney won 63 of 75 seats in 1988.
--Edmonton Journal, June 8, 2003

According to public opinion polled in the immediate aftermath of the extraordinary unpleasantness in Chicoutimi, voters so enthusiastically endorse Jean Chrétien’s departure and his assumed, if delayed, replacement by Martin that Liberals are again the first choice in every region from coast to coast. In that wonderfully shopworn phrase, if an election were held tomorrow Liberals, who won three consecutive majorities with Jean Chrétien, would grab more than 200 seats as they sweep the country behind Martin.
--James Travers, Toronto Star, August 27, 2002

As things stand now, only the Liberals are in contention for the Bloc seats. With Paul Martin as their leader, they figure they can expect to win most of Quebec’s 75 seats. If the Liberals achieve their goal, their re-established dominance of Quebec would allow them to offset any losses in Ontario in the future.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 2, 2002

Paul Martin spoke as if he were already prime minister in an emotional, campaign-style speech Saturday night that rallied Liberal supporters with hope of big ballot-box gains.

“It’s not only a question of us coming out of Western Canada with a large number of seats,” the Liberal leadership front-runner told about 450 of the party faithful at a $100-a-plate dinner.

“It’s not only a question of us coming out with seats in Winnipeg, in Regina and Edmonton and Vancouver,” he said before receiving a standing ovation. He said he wants to make sure the Liberals elect MPs in rural areas such as Drayton Valley, across the four western provinces.

The Liberal message must be that all of Western Canada will be at the table, he said.

“I don’t believe that we will ever have as good a chance as we will have at the next election. The Alliance is going nowhere.”
--Edmonton Journal, May 4, 2003

Even Chrétien was a believer – or was he?

As his rival Paul Martin listened politely, Chrétien told the crowd his legacy ensures Liberals will sweep Quebec in the next federal election. “As leader of the party, I can say that everything is in place for my successor to win a large majority of seats in Quebec at the next general election,” the Prime Minister told the Liberals, who paid at least $500 each to attend the fundraising banquet. “I would say at least 60 seats.” There are 75 seats in Quebec.
--Toronto Star, May 15, 2003

As well, the next election will not just see yet another Liberal victory but, as well, certainly a large Liberal majority as a result of the combination of the proven appeal of Paul Martin and of a couple of dozen seats in Quebec waiting to be snapped up from the now lifeless grasp of the Bloc Quebecois.
--Richard Gwyn, Toronto Star, June 4, 2003

Rod Love, Stockwell Day’s sometime campaign manager, doesn’t think so. He predicted recently that the Liberals under Paul Martin will win about 220 seats in the next federal election; the handful of seats left over will be split about evenly between the NDP and the Alliance. The federal PCs, Love says, will be wiped out.
--Ian Hunter, National Post, June 26, 2003

The federal Liberals are poised to grab up to eight seats in Saskatchewan in the next election, predicts a senior party official. Provincial party president Greg Gallagher said he’s noticed a marked change in the attitude toward the federal government.
--Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, July 15, 2003

Liberal president Stephen LeDrew calls the membership level a party record and says it bodes well for the Grits in the next election, likely the spring of 2004. In particular, he noted the significant gains in B.C. are bad news for the Canadian Alliance, which currently holds 26 of the province’s 34 seats. The Liberals have six and the NDP, two.

“The Liberal party stands poised to gain support in British Columbia in the next election. As far as the Alliance is concerned, it shows that they probably shouldn’t be taking the summer off. If the Alliance is getting the pulse of their membership in B.C., it should be rapidly quickening because we’re on the move,” said LeDrew.
--Vancouver Sun, July 25, 2003

Up to now, Martin has been all things to all people, right and left, federalist and accommodationist, nationalist and continentalist, social reformer and fiscal conservative. But the more Alberta Premier Ralph Klein cheers his view of interprovincial relations, the more Corporate Canada applauds his commitment to lower taxes, the more Martin appears to waffle on Kyoto, gay marriage and social spending, the more he looks like a conservative.

While this will help him in western Canada, where the Canadian Alliance could lose 20 seats, it could hurt him in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, where a rejuvenated New Democratic Party could draw disaffected Liberals.

In fact, if the right doesn’t unite, the NDP could become the official Opposition.
--Andrew Cohen, Edmonton Journal, September 23, 2003
[Joan’s note: Okay, this is a weak quote, but after Cohen’s trashing of Harper during the campaign, I couldn’t resist!]

It has also never seemed more natural for Quebecers to abandon the federal Tories for the Liberal family since Charest blazed that particular trail. On that score, Paul Martin’s arrival as Liberal leader will amount to the final nail in the Quebec Tory coffin.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 26, 2003

Martin could make up for any potential Ontario loss in Quebec. But that would involve a shift of sorts in his strategic thinking. So far, his brain trust has treated Quebec as the icing on his election cake. But if the Tories and the Alliance carried out a successful merger, Quebec could become the bread and butter of a Martin majority.
--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, September 29, 2003

A Liberal party led by Paul Martin, with his right-of-centre economic message, will be a contender in the West and could win several extra seats. And the New Democratic Party, under its new leader, the charismatic Jack Layton, could pick up a few more seats in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and even British Columbia.

The next election is thus shaping up as a nightmare for both Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay -- their “mutual assured destruction” in the words of Don Martin, a columnist with the National Post.
--Editorial, Vancouver Sun, October 1, 2003

Yet even using a new leader and a new name, merger math does not necessarily add up to great things for this hybrid. Simply taking any riding where the combined Alliance and Conservative vote exceeds the 2000 Liberal result (and there are 25 in Ontario alone) does not automatically equal a right-wing win.

Polling shows many Tories would rather vote Liberal than anything resembling the Alliance and Martin will have much longer Liberal coat-tails to win new seats in 2004 than Jean Chrétien had in 2000.
--Don Martin, National Post, October 16, 2003

[Joan’s Note: PC/Alliance merger agreement announced October 16, 2003. All quotes from here on are subsequent to that event.]

The advent of a new Conservative party may dampen the already uncertain Liberal prospects for growth in western Canada. It could make Ontario more competitive than it has been in years.

But the one place where it will have little or no impact in the upcoming campaign is Quebec. If there is one region Martin can count on to make up for losses elsewhere in Canada, it is his home province.--Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, October 20, 2003

Liberals are energized under their new leader, Paul Martin, and the party is ready to win more seats in Alberta, where they now hold only two of 26 ridings, federal Health Minister Anne McLellan said Saturday.

“Our prospects in Alberta look as good as they have in a long time,” the Edmonton West MP said in a phone interview from the Liberal convention in Toronto, where Martin won the leadership Friday night.
--Edmonton Journal, November 16, 2003

The merger of Canada’s two right-wing parties has so far failed to make a dent in the overwhelming popular support for Paul Martin’s Liberals, according to a new poll.

The Compas/National Post poll, conducted last week, found 49% of voters support the Liberals, compared with 19% for the new Conservative Party of Canada.

Heading into a leadership convention next month, the Conservatives are barely ahead of the New Democratic Party, which under leader Jack Layton has edged up to 17% support, the poll found.

“The Liberals are headed for a landslide in the next federal election, if this holds up,” Conrad Winn, the president of Compas Inc., said yesterday. “The public is clearly comfortable with Mr. Martin and with the party.”

A previous poll, taken six weeks earlier, also suggested the new party is less popular than the former Tory and Canadian Alliance parties combined.

That survey, by JMCK Polling of Calgary, placed the Liberals at 42.8%, the Conservatives at 17.5%, the NDP at 12.6% and the Bloc at 8.1%. Two months earlier, the Alliance registered 16% and the Tories 11.2% in a JMCK poll.

In October, a Compas poll put the Liberals under Mr. Martin at 50%, compared with 14% for the Conservatives and 10% for the Alliance. The NDP was at 14% and the Bloc at 9%.

That poll also suggested that against a united conservative party, Liberal support could drop as low as 46%, while the new Conservatives would pull in 29%.
--National Post, February 2, 2004

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Will Graceless

I'm a Canadian, and this is my American dream."
--Actor Eric McCormack, accepting best actor Emmy for Will & Grace, November 4, 2001

"McCormack says he hears 'horrible, horrible things about a Conservtive government coming. If I can get back and vote, I would.'"
--"Ex-pat stars fear Tories," Toronto Sun, yesterday

Over the years, many Canadian actors and musicians have gravitated to the United States' large entertainment industry in search of work and, if they're lucky, fame and fortune. Yet once they have achieved success in the freest, most capitalist country in human history, many of them have an epiphany and realize that America is actually a cesspool of poverty, religious fanaticism and military aggression. They then conclude that they would very much like to vote for Al Gore or John Kerry so America can become more like the Canada they left because they didn't know the right people at the CBC.

Some of the Canadians who have undergone this intellectual awakening include music producer David Foster, Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey, Alanis Morissette and her fiance Ryan Reynolds. Margot Kidder, after living in the States for many years, was inspired by her anger at the Bush administration to apply for American citizenship last year. Unfortunately, because of the 22nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution, she won't be able to actually vote against Bush (well, not in 2008 anyway).

These artists leave behind their Canadian citizenship, swear allegiance to the Evil Empire, and proudly add another vote to the Democrats' tally in New York or California -- if they make the time to vote. But they are always emphatic when visiting Canada or speaking to Canadian media that they regard Canada as their real home (no need to burn all one's bridges -- someday there may be different people at the CBC).

From the hysteria apparent in McCormack's comments, it seems that he may one day take the oath as Foster, Fox, and Carrey have done. Farewell, Eric! But if you had really wanted to vote, you could have done so by Special Ballot through Elections Canada.

Election Day Note: I will not be blogging on election day as I will be working to get out the vote for York-Simcoe MP Peter Van Loan. If the results are announced at a decent hour, I will be posting afterward.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Should Fecan chair Liberal fundraisers? Should ROBTV manager script Liberal ads?

Chris Dornan, director of Carleton University’s journalism school, has a piece in the Globe today entitled "Should Asper have joined Harper on stage?" Dornan questions the wisdom of National Post chair David Asper, who appeared with Stephen Harper, former Global journalist Peter Kent and other Conservative candidates at a campaign rally in Toronto this week. (Full disclosure #1: I went to Ryerson j-school. Full disclosure #2: I got an e-mail invite to the rally but didn’t go.)

While Dornan is careful to say that Asper’s endorsement “doesn't mean Mr. Asper is ordering his employees to be untrue to themselves,” he implies weakly that Asper’s appearance is bad optics:

But would it look odd if the publisher or editor of the Globe appeared for the cameras at a Tory campaign rally, clasping upraised arms with Mr. Harper? You bet.

A full and fair discussion of media owners participating in politics, however, would have mentioned that CTV (part of Bell Globemedia -- as in the Globe and Mail) president Ivan Fecan has helped organize Liberal fundraisers.

In 2003, Fecan was one of some 60 vice-chairs of a $700-a-plate fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Canada. The fundraiser was held in December, days before changes in election financing laws that took effect on January 1st. The changes banned corporate donations to political parties, though they are still allowed to candidates and riding associations. (The Conservative party is proposing in its election platform to ban all corporate and union donations, and limit individual donations to $1,000.)

In 2000, Fecan chaired the federal party’s annual Confederation dinner, and delivered a speech which former National Post gossip Gillian Cosgrove described as “a passionate personal testament about why he is a big Liberal.”

Another Liberal booster within the Bell Globemedia empire is Report on Business Television general manager Jack Fleischmann, again taking a leave of absence from ROBTV to run the Liberals’ election advertising during a campaign. Yet, according to e-mails of Liberal campaign members – revealed by Angry in the Great White North and published in the Globe on January 13 – Fleischmann was discussing campaign advertising with Liberal campaign organizers last August, when he was presumably still doing his full-time job at ROBTV. (He even used his ROBTV e-mail address.)

To give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Dornan is unaware of or has forgotten about Fecan’s and Fleischmann’s involvement with the Liberals.

But that points to an interesting aspect of this: Asper’s high-profile endorsement occurred during an election campaign, and he appeared next to Conservative candidates at a public rally. Fecan and Fleischmann’s support, on the other hand, is behind the scenes. Which is more transparent to the media, voters and the public? I’d say Asper’s.

Generally, I do not believe media objectivity is endangered when owners or managers of media outlets take part in partisan politics, so long as they are not involved in day-to-day editorial decisions. Good journalists are not affected by the political views of the people who sign their paycheques.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Subterranean Upticks to the Blues

Two interesting and telling anecdotes, at the end of John Ibbitson’s piece in the Globe today (subscription required):

Others, however, appear to be abandoning the Liberals for the Conservatives. One of those voters was on a flight from Moncton to Toronto on Tuesday, and we got to talking.

She is a business executive who lives in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood, and she has voted Liberal in every election she can remember. This time, she is voting Conservative, even though she likes and respects Mr. Martin, because she has lost her faith in his party, which she believes has become lazy, tired and a bit corrupt.

“The Liberals need to be spanked,” she concluded. And she wasn’t alone, she said. Someone she knows well has played host to a fundraising cocktail party in support of a prominent Toronto Liberal MP for several elections. This year, the cocktail party was for the Conservative candidate. The same people showed up.

A third anecdote: earlier this week my friend Peter Van Loan, running for re-election in York-Simcoe, held a cocktail fundraiser at the Albany Club. Another friend who attended reported to me the presence of many Mulroney-era types who have not been seen at such events since, well, the Mulroney era.

And Dylan fans, please don’t complain about my twisting one of his classics for my headline (though I admit it’s a bit of a groaner) – the guy was in a commercial for Victoria’s Secret a couple of years ago, fer gawd’s sake!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Kinsella responds

The following is an e-mail exchange from earlier today:

From: "Warren Kinsella"
Subject: Good morning
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 13:18:35 +0000 GMT

Ms. Tintor, you are certainly entitled to criticize me as you see fit. One day I may return the favour.

In the meantime, I would ask that you immediately remove from your posting any information that would assist others in identifying my family's home address. As you yourself note, I have written books about terrorism and the far right, and neither the police nor I wish to assist anyone seeking to do harm to my wife or my children.

Take down any reference to where we live, immediately, or I will be obliged to notify the Toronto Police Service about what you have done. If you wish, you may contact them directly to discuss the advisability of what you have done.

Thank you.

Warren Kinsella

From: "joan tintor"
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 11:11:41
To:wkinsella@[address extension deleted]
Subject: RE: Good morning

Mr. Kinsella,

My blog does a good deal less to identify where you live than you yourself did when you wrote a piece extolling the virtues of your Beaches neighbourhood, entitled “A Pleasantville convert” that appeared on the front page of the Toronto Star’s New in Homes section on June 15, 2002.

Accompanying the article is a large photo of you, your wife and children, all identified by name. Inside the section a map is provided of all the streets in the neighbourhood. In the text of the article, you basically narrow down your location to three of those streets. I will be happy to provide a copy of this article to the police, should they think your complaint worth pursuing.

Joan Tintor

From : Warren Kinsella
Sent : January 18, 2006 11:13:07 AM
To : "joan tintor"
Subject : Re: Good morning

That is an unfortunate and foolish response. I will pursue you now with every available criminal and civil remedy at my disposal.

Do not communicate with me again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Campaign Not-so-Confidential: smells like Kinsella

Unlike a lot of conservative bloggers, I don’t read Warren Kinsella’s blog on a regular basis. I don’t write about the person judge Gomery described as an “inexperienced political staffer” unless absolutely necessary. Yes, his slagging of the Martin Team is helpful, but only in the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” sense.

I never lose sight of the fact that whatever his tactics or short-term strategy, Kinsella’s agenda is to advance the cause of the Liberal party, federally and provincially, and promoting him does Conservatives no long-term good. I also remain mindful that he earns his living lobbying the federal and provincial governments on behalf of various clients (though he does not have any active federal lobbying registrations).

What distinguishes Kinsella from most Liberal spinner-slash-lobbyists is his impressive hypocrisy. Some years ago Kinsella earned some journalistic credibility for himself by writing a book about the threat of hate groups in Canada, such as the Heritage Front. How odd, then, that someone ostensibly devoted to tolerance would ridicule a party leader’s religion during an election campaign. I’m not a member of the Stockwell Day fan club, and I don’t share his religious beliefs, but Kinsella’s mocking of Day’s faith during the 2000 election was one of the vilest moments in recent Canadian politics, on par with the PCs’ 1993 election ad showing Chrétien’s contorted face.

Another of Kinsella’s literary endeavours was a book about his political exploits, called Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics. Yet over the last two years the author of that tome has regularly whined that he is thisclose to quitting the Liberal party, because those mean Martin girls keep kicking his ass and the asses of his friends, such as Sheila Copps and Herb Dhaliwal. There’s a word for a guy who brags about kicking asses but can’t take an ass-kicking himself. That word is pussy.

More recently, and less than a year after working on the 2003 campaign of Toronto mayoral candidate John Tory, Warren led a squad of provincial Liberals who attempted to brand the new Ontario PC leader as “Richie Rich” because Tory was guilty of (1) being born into a successful family and (2) being a successful CEO of Rogers Communications. This was a transparently Roveian attempt to undercut an opponent’s strengths. To be sure, John Tory’s success and pedigree do put Dalton “Pinocchio” McGuinty – an erstwhile strip-mall lawyer from suburban Ottawa – into a bad light, or at least a worse light. (Warren the Proletarian, by the way, lives in a house in Toronto’s bucolic Beaches, assessed at $778,000.)

As if this weren’t enough, Kinsella has managed to limbo below the minimal ethics usually observed by freelance political fixers, by dishing about one candidate to another. Last year he admitted to having appeared before the McGuinty cabinet to give them the inside dope on John Tory, gleaned from Kinsella’s experience on Tory’s mayoral campaign. Classy. Not to mention a cautionary tale to anyone considering inviting Kinsella into their campaign.

So with all this as a preamble, it is absolutely necessary to talk about Warren Kinsella today, because I am going out on a blogospheric limb with my belief that Kinsella is the so-called “insider” behind The National’s “Campaign Confidential.”

My hunch began around the third instalment, which used the word “guy” in referring to party leaders, a term Kinsella typically uses. The general tone and language in subsequent instalments reinforced my hunch. There were even a few sly Chrétien references: “Nervous Nellies” on December 15, and “mean ads” on January 2, referring to the PCs’ infamous 1993 Chrétien TV commercial.

Now we have this January 9 item on Kinsella’s own website, about his scheduled election night appearances:

“ . . . on election night 2006, I won't be guesting on Global again. Apparently I'm on CTV earlier, and CFRB later. And then something else late that night.”

Never one to miss an opportunity to promote an upcoming appearance, it is odd that Kinsella would omit the specifics of this one. Being the author of “Campaign Confidential,” and the CBC’s promise to reveal CC’s identity on election night, might explain why.

So that’s my admittedly circumstantial, hunch-based case. But no matter who the author is, “Campaign Confidential” has been reliably lame, an uninspired stream of bromides and clichés about campaigns and players past and present, that could have been written by any columnist, let alone a supposed insider.

There has been nothing particularly insightful or revelatory about “Campaign Confidential.” If Kinsella is holding the pen/mouse, how could there be? He is about as close to the inside of the Liberal campaign as a flagpole on Hans Island. CC has contributed little to the campaign discourse, unless you count the confirmation of the old dictum that “those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know.”

If Kinsella is the name behind “Confidential,” the Martin people will be furious, and rightly so. Kinsella has a decade or more of cumulative animus against these guys, mostly because they have been organizing Martin’s second leadership campaign since 1990, and they succeeded in forcing Kinsella’s hero, a prime minister who had won three majorities, to announce his retirement two years before he really wanted to.

This animus is well-known, verging on notorious. In his commentary during the election, Kinsella has all but shouted that he wants Martin to go down in flames. If the producers of The National allowed him to write “Campaign Confidential,” it does not reflect well on their fairness or judgment.

Liberals still campaigning with taxpayers’ dollars

“In Jewish history there are no coincidences,” Elie Wiesel wrote in Witness to Evil. Neither are there many coincidences when it comes to Liberal campaigns. It is no surprise, then, that seven days before the election, I received in the mail a set of revised 2005 tax forms from the Canada Revenue Agency.

A handy cover sheet reminds me that, effective January 1st of last year, the basic personal exemption is $500 higher -- $8,648 instead of $8,148 – and the lowest personal income tax rate has been cut to 15% from 16%. These were the tax changes announced by finance minister Ralph Goodale on November 14th and passed by a ways and means motion on November 23rd.

And just so the message is clear, on the revised tax forms themselves, the figure changes are highlighted in Liberal red. Though this helpful colour-coding is not visible on the PDFs on Revenue Canada’s website, believe me, it’s visible in the printed package I received.

I wonder how much this glorified Liberal brochure cost us. I can only hope that this transparent, vote-buying gambit will blow up in the Liberals’ faces and cement their electoral defeat. And, if there was any doubt remaining, it puts the lie to the Martin Liberals’ protestations that Liberal arrogance toward taxpayer dollars departed 24 Sussex with Jean Chrétien’s moving vans.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Globe arts columnist compares so-cons to terrorists

Those who don’t usually delve into any Globe and Mail sections other than the front page and the ROB might have missed Russell Smith’s Thursday column, “Free from religious loonies, thank God” (subscription required).

In endorsing Canada’s religion-free culture, Smith writes: “how lucky we are not to be living in the particularly charged and polarized cultural atmosphere of our monolithic neighbour. We don’t have to fight fundamentalist school boards here very often; nor do our broadcasters have to survive boycotts of advertisers who have been intimidated by Christian proselytizers.”

He goes on approvingly about how social conservatives are relegated to the sidelines in Canada, unlike in the U.S.:

There are religious conservatives up here, too, of course, and they rant away in their temples and on street corners. But we don’t invite them on to TV shows for “balance,” any more than we invite representatives from Hamas or Islamic Jihad or the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Smith is a good novelist – I own two of his books – and I enjoy his writing on fashion. His last novel, Muriella Pent, contained a stunning speech by one of the main characters, a black Caribbean writer, in which he shatters the cultural elite’s prejudices about literary determinism.

But Smith is not usually dismissive of an entire segment of society. Perhaps the threat of a Conservative government has unhinged him somewhat? Not to worry, Mr. Smith. Regardless of how many seats the Conservatives win, no one’s going to shackle you to a chair and force you to write rapture genre novels.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Campaign 2006: Ontario 2003 Redux?

Note: this item has also been posted to the Western Standard's Shotgun Blog.

As the campaign proceeds to its denouement two weeks hence, the similarities to the 2003 Ontario campaign waged between PC Premier Ernie Eves and Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty mount.

Both campaigns began with a respected former finance minister leading a government with a good economic and fiscal record, though somewhat tarnished on other files. (Addendum: both Martin and Eves also grew up in Windsor.) The incumbent regime was acknowledged as having a seasoned team of adept spinners and communicators. Though winning another mandate would not be easy, on paper the team looked formidable, especially against an unknown and, to some, unlikeable challenger.

The first weeks of the campaigns saw the challengers succeed in highlighting their party’s policies, many of which were appealing to middle-class families. In McGuinty’s case, these included a signed pledge to freeze taxes, and smaller class sizes in the early grades.

In 2003, there was a war room gaffe not dissimilar to the Scott Reid “beer-and-popcorn” brain cramp: an Eves campaign staffer circulated a joke e-mail describing 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 played out in media coverage for several days.

The incumbent, facing the same opposition leader they had beaten the last time, ran attack ads similar to those they had run the previous election: the Eves PCs ran an ad calling McGuinty “not up to the job” as they had in 1999. This time, the Liberals again have an attack ad suggesting Harper would have “sent Canadians to fight in Iraq.”

As an aside, the 2003 campaign also featured CAW head Basil “Buzz” Hargrove telling union members to vote Liberal if necessary, in order to defeat the conservatives. Why do the media keep treating this like big news? The NDP should have a nice bag of quotes next time to inoculate themselves against yet another Liberal endorsement from Buzz.

Which brings us to last night’s debate, the most recent parallel. In 2003, the trailing Eves needed an exceptional debate performance (or a McGuinty flame-out) to catch the rising challenger. But while Eves put in a solid and arguably superior performance, it wasn’t enough, and McGuinty did not falter. The post-debate analysis last night suggests that Martin’s performance, while respectable, will not bring him even with Harper, who did not falter.
The Ontario Tories, having beaten McGuinty once, made the mistake of underestimating him and recycling their last playbook, thinking it would suffice. Martin’s people seem to have fallen into the same trap. But as the Tories found, McGuinty 2003 was not the same opponent as McGuinty 1999. And as we are seeing, Harper 2006 is not Harper 2004. Will the Martin Liberals suffer the same fate as the Eves PCs? As Kent Brockman says, only TIME will tell.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Notorious Peterson-era Figure Carpet Bagging it to York-Simcoe

York-Simcoe is a huge 905 riding starting just north of Newmarket, running up to Innisfil (just south of Barrie) and extending from Highway 27 in the west to the Durham border in the east. It includes Keswick, Innisfil, Bradford, Holland Landing, Sutton and Georgina. Though still quite rural, it is home to many Toronto commuters.

Running for re-election there is a friend of mine, Peter Van Loan, the last elected president of the federal PC Party, and the chief organizer of the Yes! campaign to ratify the Reform/PC merger in 2003. Van Loan is a respected planning lawyer with Fraser Milner Casgrain and his family farm is in the riding, in Georgina.

So clearly Van Loan's not the carpetbagger. Who is, you ask? Come on down, Gordon Ashworth! Though The Ottawa Citizen reported in December that Ashworth is among the top Chrétien people sitting out the national campaign, he is listed on York-Simcoe Liberal candidate Kate Wilson's website as her campaign co-chair (go to the "Contact Kate" page).

Gordon Ashworth was a key figure in the David Peterson Liberal government (1985-1990), as Peterson's executive director. He was the yin to principal secretary Hershell Ezrin's yang (or vice versa), and ran the political and administrative aspects of the Premier's Office, including appointments.

Ashworth became a household name thanks to the Patti Starr affair that contributed to the defeat of the Peterson government in 1990. In 1989 it emerged that Starr, while president of the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada and chair of Ontario Place (a provincial government appointment) had authorized over $80,000 in political donations from the NCJW to various Liberal and Conservative politicians at all three levels of government. Starr had become a family friend of the Ashworths.

Ashworth resigned when it was revealed that he had accepted a free refrigerator and paint job from a company connected to Tridel, a developer that had built a housing project for the NCJW. In a statement, Ashworth said he had no idea that the items were given gratis, suggesting that it was all his wife's fault: "These renovations were overseen by my wife Dianne who has always taken on the responsibility of the management of our household and related expenses" (from Not Without Cause, a book on the Peterson years by Georgette Gagnon and Dan Rath).

And people say the Conservatives are the "Leave it to Beaver" party.

A year later Starr was charged with 11 criminal offences, including fraud and uttering forged documents, and 34 violations of the Election Finances Act. Ashworth was never charged. To this day, many conservatives still have a "Patti Starr did not buy me this fridge" magnet on their Kenmore or Hotpoint.

But it takes more than a resignation and a few bad press clippings to keep people who can get things done out of politics. Ashworth went back to federal politics, emerging in the early 90s as a federal organizer for Jean Chrétien. He vetted staff for the new government, and continued to be a key adviser and campaign organizer throughout the Chrétien era.

In 2000, he collected $19,152 from the Yukon government to advise the new Liberal regime. The contract was for 12 days. He scored again in 2001 with a four-day contract garnering $7,800, the purpose of which was to tell the government how it was doing. (Now why would you hire the guy who set up your government to objectively assess how it's doing?)

More recently, Ashworth was in the news as one of the organizers of the tribute to Jean Chrétien at the Liberals' 2003 leadership convention, and was ordered to reduce the projected $750,000 cost of the extravaganza (I guess it's not cheap to get Paul Anka to re-write the words of "My Way" - again).

He reportedly played a role in brokering the deal that saw Sheila Copps make a dignified exit (stop laughing) from the Liberal leadership race, and was Tony Ianno's campaign manager in Trinity-Spadina in 2004. He worked on Barbara Hall's 1997 and 2003 mayoral campaigns.

The return of the Liberals to Queen's Park also saw a return of Ashworth, in a way. He reportedly helped on the 2003 campaign. Then in 2004, Ashworth's firm, Afrm2 (no, that's not a typo), was given an untendered $31,000 contract to advise on communications around Windsor border security. This despite allegations from some of McGuinty's people at the time of McGuinty's review in 1999 that Ashworth was working behind the scenes against him. Time heals all wounds, I guess.

But back to the frozen fields of York-Simcoe. What would prompt Ashworth to lend his expertise to Kate Wilson? It's a long drive to Bradford from Ashworth's house in pricey Lawrence Park, where a $1-million house can qualify as a fixer-upper (er, I guess Mrs. Ashworth would know). In York-Simcoe, $1 million will buy you a farm operation.

Having lost by over 4,000 votes last time, Wilson is unlikely to prevail. But there must be something in this for Ashworth. Now what, oh what, could that be?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Guffaw-worthy guff

I would’ve been happy to go to the polls if the laws had been in place. It’s important to have greater loyalty to your community and not to a party. Candidates should follow their heart rather than blindly following the party.”

--Belinda Stronach, commenting on the prospect of a “Belinda Stronach rule” requiring MPs to resign if they wish to join another caucus (Barrie Examiner, December 20, 2005)

That’s not a negative ad – THIS is a negative ad! (Sorry, Crocodile Dundee)

The Conservatives have given John Duffy something to really complain about (click on ENTITLEMENTS under Video Centre). I saw it a few times on TV last night.