Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Friday, March 02, 2012

How Christy Clark can avoid becoming a placeholder premier

It’s a horrifying prospect for any premier, but increasingly real for Christy Clark.

She risks being a political footnote unless she can deal with the re-energized BC Conservatives, who threaten to erode the centre-right coalition that is the BC Liberal Party. Vote splitting could clear the way for an NDP government, which would render Ms. Clark the placeholder premier between Gordon Campbell and Adrian Dix – a trivia question for future political junkies.

Ms. Clark has tried various tactics – with, polls suggest, little effect. Nothing is working. Not attack ads. Not Ms. Clark’s occasional musings on her political dilemma. Not the advocacy of federal Tory stalwarts Jay Hill, Stockwell Day and Chuck Strahl on the perils of support for John Cummins and his provincial Conservatives splitting the centre-right vote.

Last year, The Globe’s Friday political page explored tactics the Conservatives might use to gain traction on the BC Liberals. Now, the reverse: advice for the BC Liberals on dealing with the BC Conservatives.

Tax food, Toronto economist advocates

Two decades after its introduction, Canadians still resent the GST. They no longer take out their anger on store clerks and restaurant servers. But every time they pay the hefty tax — 13 per cent in Ontario, where it’s combined with the provincial sales tax — there’s a spark of irritation.

A few items are exempt: basic groceries, prescription drugs, rent, medical devices, health and dental services, child care, legal aid and financial services. That mitigates the ire.

Now Michael Smart, an economist at the University of Toronto, is proposing these exemptions be scrapped. He is backed by Jack Mintz, chair of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, one of Stephen Harper’s most trusted advisers.

Smart released his paper, commissioned by the Calgary school, at a news conference on Parliament Hill. Mintz was by his side.

Both men argued that eliminating all GST exemptions would benefit the government and the public. “I’m not saying it’s politically easy,” Smart allowed. “I’m saying it’s economically sensible and I don’t think it’s impossible by any means.”

Putin urges joint Arctic scientific council with Canada

Russian leader Vladimir Putin challenged Canada to set up a joint scientific council with his country to investigate issues over Arctic sovereignty and help the United Nations draw new boundaries in the northern regions, where fast-melting ice is opening channels for oil drilling, mining and shipping.

There are Canadian concerns that Russia is exploring the shelf under the Arctic Ocean with an eye to expanding its territorial boundaries and, with it, resource rights and shipping access.

The tension has been magnified by a cool relationship between the Harper government and Moscow over several issues ranging from visa permits to Russia’s position in the Middle East.

“We have normal relations,” Mr. Putin said, adding that he would like to meet with Mr. Harper at coming G8 and G20 summits.

“The volume of trade is very low. Perhaps that is part of the problem.”

The Russian leader spoke to a group of six newspaper editors invited to his residence outside Moscow.

In response to questions about Canadian relations, he said he would push for a joint scientific team, and pointed to a successful Russia-Norway approach to Arctic sovereignty.

With friends like Harper, Bibi can do no wrong

With his country contemplating an attack on Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits his closest ally in the world on Friday: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Mr. Harper has changed Canada’s traditional positions on questions relating to Israel, to the intense satisfaction of Israel and, in particular, the very right-wing coalition government Mr. Netanyahu leads.

All previous Canadian governments had fully supported Israel’s legitimacy, security and right to self-defence. Canada signed a free-trade agreement with Israel (and the Palestinian Authority). Thousands of people moved back and forth between the two countries. Canadian Jewish organizations received all-party support.

But all previous Canadian governments also had expressed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and supported their right to a state. Canada chaired a United Nations group on Palestinian refugees and, depending on the type of resolution, acknowledged the problem of Israeli settlements, including their illegality as defined by UN resolutions, on land occupied after Israel’s victory in the 1967 war.

Whether Liberal or Conservative, Canadian governments strongly supported both Israel and peaceful Palestinian aspirations. Canada had marginal influence in the region but, nonetheless, urged both sides to talk and, on occasion, was willing to criticize actions on both sides deleterious to peace.

Taxpayers cough up $12-million for ads touting Flaherty’s budget

When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced this week that March 29 will be federal budget day, the very first words out of his mouth heralded the coming “Jobs and Growth Budget.”

If the phrase sounds vaguely familiar, it should.

Taxpayers are footing the bill for a $12.4-million government ad campaign with one common message: “creating jobs and growth.”

Complementary campaigns by Finance Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency ran throughout February and will continue through March, backstopping the Harper government's political message.

“Canada's economic action plan is helping create jobs and growth,” says the opening voice-over of two Finance Canada ads, staged in a fake coffee shop that looks remarkably like a Tim Hortons. The catch-phrase gets repeated twice more in the 30-second spots.

“Tax savings are working for Canadians, helping create jobs and growth,” says the central line in each of three tax agency ads from the CRA.

The robocalls scandal and party strategy

Much has already been written about the emerging Robocalls Scandal, in which there are allegations of fraudulent and harassing calls made to Liberal and NDP supporters during the last federal election. At the time of this writing, it has been alleged that at least fifty-seven ridings were targeted by such calls. If true, this would likely amount to the most comprehensive case of electoral fraud and voter suppression in Canadian history.

Many questions linger, such as those related to the scope and director(s) of the operation. However, there are a few questions relevant to how Canada’s political parties are reacting to this scandal that have yet to be addressed in depth by most political commentators.

First, it should be noted that the Conservatives have been adamant in Question Period over the past few days: (a) in stating that they had played no role whatsoever in the scandal, and that the whole thing is merely an opposition-fuelled smear campaign against the government; and (b) in challenging the opposition parties to produce evidence that the Tories are in fact guilty. Of course, it is the legal responsibility of Elections Canada, the RCMP and perhaps an independent and specially-appointed body — not of the opposition parties — to determine guilt. But there’s a more important question here.

The real scandal on Parliament Hill

OTTAWA — It happens like clockwork. The kids just get settled into their work, when the ice cream truck shows up on the lawn of Parliament Hill. Everyone instantly drops what they are doing and runs off, pushing and shouting, to the nearest microphone.

This week it is robocalls. Last week it was Vikileaks. Not long ago, it was federal public servants “faking the oath” at a simulated citizenship ceremony. Before that, we had a Conservative backbencher’s schoolboy crush on a Chinese reporter and NDP showboat Pat Martin’s salty tweets.

There was the Conservative senator who wanted to provide convicted serial killers with do-it-yourself nooses. There was an extended furore over a mysterious “not” included in a cabinet minister’s decree. The longer list of trivial pursuits includes Bruce Carson’s bankruptcies, Maxime Bernier’s missing briefs, Helena Guergis and the “busty hookers,” Peter MacKay’s helicopter ride, and Justin Trudeau’s supposed separatist sympathies.

Increasingly, federal politics looks more like a sit-com than ground zero for the sober pursuit of the nation’s business. Entertaining, but deeply unsatisfying.

Gossip is deplorable and irresistible — particularly when it involves pious hypocrites who delight in scolding. And tales of personal foibles, small deceptions, embarrassing liaisons, even (rarely) of private virtue, add juice, even humanity, to a dry business. No wonder we look.

Voting scandal old news for Guelph residents

GUELPH—People stroll along the wide downtown sidewalks of Guelph near Pierre’s Poutine, the epicentre of the latest political scandal to hit the small university town.

You wouldn’t know that there was an ongoing Elections Canada investigation into automated calls that sent a number of people in Guelph to the wrong polling stations in the May 2 election.

Many locals were simply over it. This is a scandal that has been brewing in the small town since last year.

“It’s not news (anymore). It’s just reached a national level,” said local political blogger and freelance writer Adam Donaldson. He says people had been hearing about the calls since last year and the national media just recently picked up on it. The local paper reported on the suspicious calls the day of the election.

Donaldson, who worked at a polling station, said he encountered about a dozen people who told him about being sent to the wrong station.

“Of course people are upset,” he said, adding that Conservatives and Liberals alike were outraged by it. “It’s an issue that can break the partisan divide because everyone can agree they don’t want their elections messed up, and they don’t want to be mislead.”

CSIS can share info with foreign agencies despite 'substantial' torture risk

OTTAWA - The federal government has given Canada's spy service the go-ahead to provide information to foreign agencies even when there is a "substantial risk" it will lead to torture, a newly released document shows.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews outlines instructions for sharing information in such cases in a four-page directive to Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Dick Fadden.

A copy of the July 2011 document — secret until now — was released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The directive is squarely at odds with Canada's international commitments against torture — which have no loopholes, said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

"There's no ifs, ands or buts to that — there's no qualifications," he said. "This is one of the clearest areas of international law."

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the federal policy is "unprecedented in our history."

Unethical and universally embraced

National Post Ottawa correspondent John Ivison reported something very interesting, somewhat in passing, in Wednesday's edition: "Veteran campaigners admit openly their side called Jewish voters on the Sabbath and said they were contacting them on behalf of their political rivals."

This is one of two forms of dodgy telephone calls currently dominating the news. We have allegations that people were directed to nonexistent polling stations in hopes they would not vote at all. And we have allegations that representatives of Party A made rude and harassing phone calls while pretending to work for Party B, in hopes of driving people away from Party B's candidate.

No one, not even scapegoat-apparent Michael Sona - the Tory staffer from Guelph who resigned last week, saying the media had made him a distraction - is admitting to being involved in, or sanctioning, the vote-suppression calls. They are beyond the pale, and there is nothing more to be said. But conventional wisdom seems to treat the other kind of calls as less reprehensible, perhaps even de rigueur.

Neither practice is defensible, but trying to trick someone into not voting is indeed more offensive than trying to trick him into voting for the other guy, if only because the latter is basically the full-time job of a campaigning politician. The law, however, seems not to make any distinction.

How parties 'identify' voters, and why it matters

For years, political campaigns have tried to connect with their supporters through "voter identification."

Campaigns need to understand who their supporters are, and most ideally, why. Smart campaign strategy and spending decisions rely on strong voter identification to know how much support exists, and whether it's firm or wavering.

Once you know who your supporters are, you can make sure they vote. And in the case of voters who don't support you, there's a strategy you can use on them too.

How does voter identification work?

In modern campaigns, paper lists of party members, donors and supporters have been replaced by databases.

Electronic records are easier to update and share across larger numbers of campaign workers. Large, national databases are replacing the use of local lists, although individual ridings may still maintain and exchange their own informal records.

Million-dollar questions: Government spent more than $1M answering written queries from MPs

OTTAWA — The federal government has spent more than $1 million in the last nine months responding to written questions from MPs — including one query that cost $253,000 alone.

One of the reasons for the eye-popping tab? The government estimates it spends $60 an hour responding to the queries.

Members of Parliament are allowed to submit written questions to the government to obtain detailed or technical information from the various ministries, and can ask that the answer be provided within 45 days.

Opposition MPs often use the written questions to unearth important government documents or detailed information on federal spending.

The written questions are considered a key tool for MPs from all parties, but they have long proven to be a bit of a thorn for governments — and they're also proving to be expensive to answer.

In fact, Alberta Conservative MP Brian Jean asked his own question of the Tory government in December on how much it's costing taxpayers to respond to the written questions.

Leak shows Harper fears Mulcair

It was shaping up as another good week in the NDP leadership race for Tom Mulcair. The party’s Quebec lieutenant had a strong debate performance in Manitoba and he picked up a big endorsement from Robert Chisholm, the Nova Scotian who left the race.

Then yesterday – and isn’t the timing interesting? – a five-year-old story came back to haunt him. It came courtesy of the Conservatives who clearly don’t want to face Mulcair as opposition leader.
The Conservatives leaked the news that instead of joining the NDP he would have joined the Conservatives if team Harper had met his demand for a cabinet post.

Mulcair had talks with the Conservatives back in 2007. I recall his volunteering the information about the talks in an interview I had with him at the time. He didn’t mention anything about a cabinet post offer and he is denying he ever asked for one.

But this becomes a whose version do you believe type of thing and it could damage Mulcair’s prospects of becoming leader. Other NDP challengers will make hay, despite the dubious source behind the story.

Frank Graves poll: So where are we? In the midst of scandal, a measure of sway

A measure of opinion during a swirl of controversy can reveal much about a government’s moral authority. So with robocalls, Vikileaks and allegations from all sides about orchestrated smear campaigns, there may be no time like the present to check in on vote intention.

Before we get to the scandal, let’s consider where we’re at:
  • Nearly a year after the election, Stephen Harper’s majority government is well short of its May 2 position and now tied within the margin of error of the leaderless and supposedly floundering NDP. Note that CPC support may well be understated since this poll covers 100 per cent of eligible voters — not just the 60 per cent who will actually show up to vote. Even still, with a two-point lead, it’s highly unlikely the CPC would retain its majority in the remote and hypothetical world of another election. Instead, it would be relegated to opposition with an NDP-led coalition.
  • The third-place Liberals have improved slightly since their disastrous performance last May.
  • The Greens are also up, though largely with younger voters who are less likely to vote.
  • The rebirth of the near-dead Bloc Québécois is significant.
The CPC is thriving in Alberta. We now see a huge divide between Alberta on high end of the favorability spectrum and Quebec on the low end. While the Conservatives continue to do well with seniors and males, older Canadians are coming around to the Liberals. The second-place NDP are doing quite well within the margin of error of the CPC. The party’s slide in Quebec with the resurgent Bloc is offset by its performance in British Columbia where it leads.

Next we considered how Canadians feel about the direction the country and its government are heading. Mirroring rising economic anxieties, confidence here continues to fall and is now on par with the historical low of October 2010.

Even more disconcerting for the government is the 15-point net deficit that has opened on disapproval of its direction — a shift that is pronounced in Quebec and among younger, more educated Canada. Albertans and foreign-born Canadians, however, are very happy.

Finally — let’s look at Bill C-30. Even in Conservative Canada, the current legislation has few fans. Fifteen per cent of Canadians support passing the legislation in its current form. And while the plurality are open to “significant changes” to the bill, those who would rather kill the bill outright outnumber those who support the current version by a wide margin. Opposition is particularly strong among NDP and Green supporters, but even Conservative supporters would prefer the bill be amended. Men and university graduates strongly oppose it. It’s worth noting that those under the age of 25 are somewhat more amenable than others to having their internet activities monitored.

With the frenzy over robo-calls overtaking the frenzy over Bill C-30, it remains to be seen how it will all play with a public that often suffers from collective ADHD.

Given the government’s weakened position and poor standing on basic directional indicators, it risks descending into areas that call its legitimacy into question. While Harper’s Conservatives retain their moral authority, our poll suggests they’d be wise to tread carefully since they do not have oodles of residual political capital at their disposal.

Original Article
Source: ipolitics
Author: Frank Graves 

Contesting electoral fraud in court is a real possibility

The scandal over possible electoral fraud is firing in many directions.

The back-and-forth in Parliament is dizzying.

The opposition puts questions to the government to which we often get complete non sequiturs as answers.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary, Dean Del Mastro, quoted the same supposed letter from a British Columbia Liberal candidate, about robocalls originating in the United States, on at least three different occasions, in answer to three entirely different questions!

NDP MP Charlie Angus finally had to say, "I don't think the member opposite was listening to the question!"

He was listening; he just did not feel obliged to respond. He had his rehearsed lines, and he never strayed from them.

A marathon of moral parsing: my head hurts

Remember when the arrival of a stable majority government was going to allow your members of Parliament to stop squabbling and concentrate on matters of state with a little serenity? Yeah, never mind. It’s starting to look like the circus is never going to leave Ottawa.

Here’s what kind of winter it’s been. Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu said every jail cell should come with free suicide rope. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said it might be okay to fire a few warning shots over the head of somebody stealing your all-terrain vehicle. MP Larry Miller mentioned supporters of the long-gun registry in the same breath as Hitler, then apologized, then un-apologized, then un-apologized some more. Basically, he’s glad he said it but sorry you heard it. You know who else had a hard time apologizing? Hitler. Sorry. Sort of.

Then there is the rather thorny bundle of issues surrounding Vic Toews. I met Toews in 1999 campaigning door to door in Winnipeg with his boss at the time, Manitoba’s then-premier Gary Filmon. That particular election didn’t end well for either of them. I remember Toews as a pleasant fellow. He’s always a pleasant fellow, unless you ask him a question in the House of Commons and he suggests your choice is to “stand with us or with the child pornographers.” Which he did on the day before Valentine’s Day.

One Billion Rising: V-Day’s Eve Ensler Launches Global Day of Action, Dance Against Women’s Violence

As the debate over reproductive rights rages in the House, and Senate Republicans have tried to thwart the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, we speak with Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, the global movement to end domestic violence, and the playwright behind "The Vagina Monologues." "The fact is we have not busted this notion that the father still dominates and has authority over women and children, and determines the rights of our lives, determines the rights of our futures and bodies," Ensler says. "If we’re going to actually free women — which is freeing men, which is allowing everybody a life of dignity and grace and not walking in fear and terror — we have to go further and be disruptive and be dangerous." Ensler has just launched a new global campaign called, "One Billion Rising," which calls on women "and the men who love them" to join together on Feb. 14, 2013, and "dance until the violence stops." Ensler also discusses the first anniversary of the "City of Joy," a groundbreaking new community for women survivors of gender violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Source: Democracy Now!
Author: ---

Netanyahu seeks Harper’s approval for military strike against Iran

hereIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Ottawa today and is expected to raise the issue of military action against Iran with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Netanyahu is keen on openly threatening Iran with an attack if it insists on developing its nuclear program, even as his own country’s military elite has warned him of the dire consequences an attack could have in the whole region.

Sarah Boesveld, writing for the National Post, suggests Netanyahu expects Harper to endorse his hawkish vision before heading south to meet President Barack Obama on Monday. But an analyst quoted in the article believes Harper’s show of support for his Israeli counterpart might not carry much weight:
“Clearly Netanyahu would like to put pressure on the Obama administration to support a more muscular, meaning possibly military, response to Iran’s nuclear program. He knows full well that there’s zero enthusiasm for that in the United States,” said Rex Brynen, a McGill University political science professor and Middle East analyst.
“He’s trying to create more pressure on the President and to do that I think it makes some sense to talk to Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper whom he knows is kind of his ideological soulmate on this issue and is likely to support him, just in the sense of creating momentum. Whether it has any impact on Washington I think is negligible.”
Meanwhile, Obama has his own plans for Monday’s meeting. He said this week he will try to persuade Israel to postpone any military action until after economic sanctions have taken full effect. In this excellent in-depth interview with The Atlantic, Obama goes over the arguments he will use to reassure Netanyahu that the United States “has Israel’s back.”

Original Article
Source: maclean's
Author: Gabriela Perdomo

Housing bubble: listening for the pop

Here’s a blog post that is going to be worth exactly what you paid for it. I promise. Like the rest of you I’ve been reading a lot of “pro” and “con” material about the possibility of a Canadian housing bubble. Including the dramatic material from our latest issue. And I have a couple of problems many of you will have shared in trying to follow the debate. One, my own involvement in the housing market (and we’re all involved, on one side or the other) makes it difficult for me to set aside wishful thinking. Two: the data are awfully slippery. A lot of what we hear is anecdotal; a lot more of what we hear, even from informed sources, seems little better than anecdotal; and where there is solid information about things like debt-to-income ratios and movements in good indices of housing prices, it’s hard to interpret.

The fact is, no one is really sure what to make of the many natural laws of housing prices whose existence has been asserted and whose revenge upon us (us owners) has often been promised. Though we do now know that one formerly popular law, “Housing always goes up”, ain’t much good. (Damn. No free lunch, you say?)

What I decided to do was this: to look for some data—any data would do as long as it seemed ostensibly meaningful—that, presented pictorially, show the U.S. housing bubble happening; and then look at the same picture for Canada, using like-vs.-like information, to see if our situation looks roughly the same. In other words, the simplest, dumbest analysis you can imagine, but performed, at any rate, without prejudice.

Bogus calls, real outrage

During last spring’s federal election, Anthony Rota, a Liberal MP fighting for his political life in the northern Ontario riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming, didn’t pay much attention to the odd report of strange phone calls to some of his supporters. He heard a few complaints about obnoxious calls from what his campaign concluded were opponents masquerading as Liberals to annoy voters. Then on May 2, election day, some voters took calls, purporting to come from Elections Canada, misdirecting them to phony polling locations. It wasn’t until he heard news last week of similar widespread incidents that Rota woke up to the possibility of something beyond local dirty tricks. “I started thinking, ‘Okay, maybe this wasn’t isolated,’ ” he says.

So did many others. The pattern Rota describes was echoed, with variations, in accounts from more than a dozen ridings. But his case stood out: Rota lost to Conservative Jay Aspin by an ultra-thin margin of 18 votes. In Nipissing-Timiskaming, at least, the possibility that bogus calls resulted in even a handful of lost votes is clearly consequential. Overall, though, the uproar was less about the impact fake calls might have had on outcomes than what the controversy says about the state of Canadian politics—especially the way Stephen Harper’s Conservatives play the game. Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, labelled current Tory political culture “Nixonian.” The Prime Minister’s 2011 campaign manager, Jenni Byrne, insisted Conservatives won with “clean and ethical” politics, although she hinted that stray local operatives might have done wrong.

Iran a 'grave threat,' Netanyahu tells Harper

Israel has the right to defend itself against a country that wants to destroy it, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today as he began a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper that is expected to focus heavily on Iran.

After arriving on Parliament Hill and being greeted by a military honour guard, Netanyahu said he wanted to talk to Harper about the "remarkable turbulence that is shaking the Middle East" and about Iran's "relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons."

"I know from many conversations that we've had that you share my view that this is a grave threat to the peace and security of the world and I think it is important that the international community not allow this threat to materialize," Netanyahu said to Harper as they held a photo opportunity in Harper's office. "As for Israel, like any sovereign country, we reserve the right to defend ourselves against a country that calls and works for our destruction.

"On that note, I can say that it is particularly gratifying to be among such good friends here in Ottawa on a cold day with warm friendship."

Ethicists who argued that ‘after-birth abortions’ are ethical receive death threats

Newborns cannot be considered “persons,” meaning there is no moral reason not to perform “after-birth abortions,” argue a pair of Australian ethicists in a controversial paper that has drawn death threats.

The authors, both of whom work at Melbourne University, say that killing even a healthy newborn could be acceptable if raising the child would put an unacceptable burden on the family.

“We claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be,” write Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva in a Journal of Medical Ethics paper.

The authors argue that a newborn cannot be considered a person because it has not developed a sense of self and future.

“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her,” they write. “It might start having expectations and develop a minimum level of self-awareness at a very early stage, but not in the first days or few weeks after birth.”

They make no specific determination of how old a newborn must be to move from being a “potential person” to personhood, saying that is a question for neurologists and psychologists.

Robo-calls: Does Elections Canada have the clout to enforce laws?

Elections Canada is coming under fire for its seeming inability to enforce electoral laws and its unwillingness to provide details of complaints about the harassing calls.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Thursday he was concerned that Elections Canada may not have the resources or the power to investigate recent claims of electoral fraud.

Elections Canada logs 31,000 complaints in robo-call scandal

“There’s no accounting for what happens to complaints once they’re made, what the results of that are,” Rae told reporters in the Commons foyer. “It’s not a transparent process and I’m troubled by it. I don’t believe they have sufficient resources.”

He said the ever-widening scope of allegations of misleading phone calls warrants an RCMP investigation, or, failing that, a public inquiry.

During the 2011 campaign, Elections Canada received more than 1,000 complaints about questionable activities — including automated, unsolicited and crank calls — but the agency will not disclose details on how they were dealt with.

Robo-calls: Elections Canada logs 31,000 complaints in robo-call scandal

Elections Canada has confirmed that it is investigating tens of thousands of complaints it has received about misleading and harassing robo-calls made during last year’s federal election.

The agency says it has been contacted by more than 31,000 Canadians with information about the calls as a result of political parties and MPs asking the public to come forward if they received any.

A statement released by Elections Canada Friday morning said that the Commissioner of Canada Elections, who is tasked to investigate all complaints made to the agency, “has the authority, during periods of high volume, to contract additional resources or call upon other law enforcement agencies, such as the RCMP, to lend assistance and expertise.”

The agency has not confirmed whether it has, in fact, called on the RCMP for assistance.

It says it will report to Parliament with its finding “in due course.”

Liberal Leader Bob Rae called the number of complaints “unprecedented.”

“We are now in uncharted waters . . . we’ve never seen anything like this,” he said Friday morning.

Rae said the volume of public complaints will make it tougher for the prime minister to stick to their line that the whole affair is a “smear” by opposition MPs.

Robo-calls worse than Watergate, dirty-tricks op opines

How bad is the alleged robo-call scandal?

Worse, apparently, than Watergate – or at least worse than any of the infamous dirty tricks that were an integral part of the mind-blowing scandal that eventually brought down U.S. president Richard Nixon.

That comparison comes from none other than the man who spearheaded the series of dirty tricks financed by Mr. Nixon’s re-election committee, the unmerry prankster himself, Donald Segretti.

Mr. Segretti told me over the phone from his Orange County law office that he was appalled to learn robo-calls may have been used to provide misleading polling-station information to Canadian voters on election day.

“We never tried to do something that would, at the end of the day, take away the right of somebody to vote,” he said. “That goes beyond a prank. It’s just wrong, on many levels.”

Their dirty tricks campaign, Mr. Segretti claimed, was designed to disrupt the Democrats, not hoodwink voters.

Unclog the pipeline process

The environmental review of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has ignited a fierce debate about the consequences of developing Canada’s oil sands. Debate is good, but unreasonable delays and continuing indecision, as with Keystone XL, show how broken the pipeline review process is.

Ottawa says it plans to reform this review process, but it must do more than work on process: The federal government must be clear about which issues should be dealt with by regulators and which by politicians and policy-makers. Hard decisions on energy or environmental policy should not be shunted to regulators. A review process should focus on project-specific issues.

Delay is one thing, and a prescribed timeline for each stage of the review process – as suggested by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver – may indeed expedite reviews. But more fundamental is the basis on which the National Energy Board makes its decisions and what issues should have standing at a regulatory hearing. Any pipeline proposal that crosses provincial, territorial or international borders must receive NEB approval before construction. The board’s mandate – set by Ottawa – is to make regulatory decisions in Canada’s public interest. The question remains how to apply it in practice.

Liberals build their case in robo-call scandal as Tory attack backfires

The opposition Liberals are assembling a database of allegedly fraudulent phone calls to electors – what they call a body of evidence against the Harper Conservatives – as the governing Tories struggle to beat back accusations they were behind attempts to suppress votes in the 2011 ballot.

This systematic approach is an attempt to add more heft to opposition accusations that the problem goes beyond Guelph, where Elections Canada has alleged a Conservative operative hiding behind the alias “Pierre Poutine” used automated calls to suppress the opposition vote.

The Liberals are collecting complaints from Canadians through local campaign staff and supporters, sifting through hundreds of tips about robo-calls or live calls in order to “piece together the extent and reach of the scheme,” caucus spokesman Daniel Lauzon said.

The phony phone-call controversy now appears firmly embedded in the federal political landscape and likely to dog the Conservatives for some time. Opposition parties are weaving the allegations into the narrative they’re building as they try to motivate supporters during the long years of a majority-government mandate – when another election still appears far off.

Food companies eye more price hike opportunities

Food companies are looking to raise prices this year, even though many food commodity prices are on the decline.

Executives at bakery giant George Weston Ltd., (WN-T63.36-0.46-0.72%) which also controls supermarket leader Loblaw Cos. Ltd., said on Thursday they are now testing more price increases after having bumped them up 5.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year. That followed on the heels of price hikes in the two previous quarters.

Maple Leaf Foods Inc., (MFI-T11.08-0.03-0.27%) another large player in baked goods and prepared meats, also has raised prices in early 2012 despite consumers’ value-conscious mood, its executives said this week.

“We may have some opportunities” to hike prices further, Ralph Robinson, president of Weston Foods, the bakery division of George Weston, told an analysts’ conference call on Thursday. “It’s a very difficult market, very challenging market right now. So we’re looking at every opportunity.”

Food makers say they are still catching up with last year’s rise in such commodities as corn, cocoa and coffee – even though many of those prices have peaked by now. Corn, for example, is down nearly 20 per cent since last summer.

Robo-calls: Veteran dirty-tricks investigator assigned to robo-calls probe

OTTAWA—The man who led the probe of the federal Conservative “in-and-out” election advertising scheme has turned his sights on allegations of illegal vote suppression in last year’s federal campaign.

The office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections has assigned veteran dirty-tricks investigator Ronald Lamothe to conduct inquiries, the Star has learned.

Elections Canada logs 31,000 complaints in robo-call scandal

As Lamothe heads to Thunder Bay to interview former RMG call centre workers, Conservative party officials have undertaken a massive project to review audio recordings of every call made by RMG staff on the party’s behalf in the last campaign, a source said. A spokesperson for the Conservative party denied that a review of the calls was taking place.

Does Elections Canada have the clout to enforce laws?

The party was concerned by revelations in the Star Monday from former call centre workers who raised questions about whether they’d misinformed voters, and admissions that some had shortened their scripts advising voters of poll location changes.

A new immigration point system for Canada starts in 2012

A revised points-based selection grid will be introduced to favour young immigrants with strong language skills, says federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Prospective immigrants in licensed professions will need to be pre-assessed to ensure they are likely to get certification in Canada before their applications are processed, Kenney said in Toronto at the annual gathering of Metropolis, an immigration research network that is about to lose its federal funding.

Currently, immigration applicants can skirt the mandatory language requirement by entering through the Provincial Nominee Program, which allows provinces to select immigrants with job offers from local employers.

Under the new grid, to be introduced by the end of the year, Kenney said provincial nominees will face a higher bar as well, because research has shown that language proficiency enhances social and economic integration in the long run.

“We must make better choices. We must select immigrants who have the skills and traits we know will lead to their success, and qualifications that are already recognized in Canada, or can be recognized in a short time,” he said.

MP Martin accuses Tories of suppressing votes to further ‘starve’ opposing parties of federal subsidies, Conservatives call Martin ‘silly’

PARLIAMENT HILL—NDP MP Pat Martin argued Thursday the Conservative Party may have had a secondary motive in alleged attempts to dissuade NDP and Liberal voters from casting ballots in the 2011 election—“starving” the opposing parties of thousands of dollars in federal subsidies by lowering their vote count.

Mr. Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Man.) made the claim after Conservatives MPs jeered him in the Commons for quoting an email the NDP received from an 83-year-old Calgary woman who added her name to a growing list of voters claiming they received phony telephone calls on election day last informing them their polling stations had changed location.

As the Commons uproar over the so-called “robocalls affair” continued for its fourth consecutive day, centering on a confirmed Elections Canada investigation into fraudulent telephone calls to voters in Guelph, Ont., Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro (Peterborough, Ont.) ridiculed Mr. Martin for suggesting Conservatives would attempt to suppress Liberal or NDP voters in ridings like Calgary’s, where neither opposition party had a hope of defeating Conservative candidates.

“The Conservatives want proof, how about this letter from 83-year-old Florence Grottenberg from Calgary?” Mr. Martin said.

“I don’t know what’s so funny,” he quickly added after government MPs laughed aloud.

Mr. Martin said Ms. Grottenberg of Calgary emailed the NDP to say she received a telephone call from the Conservative campaign the day before the May 2 election and asked for her vote, but she replied she didn’t support the Conservatives.

On voting day, Mr. Martin said Ms. Grottenberg received another call, from someone telling her that her voting station had changed to a location 20 blocks from where she lived.

“I wonder if someone on the Conservative benches would like to stand up and apologize to Florence Grottenberg for lying to her and cheating her out of her vote,” Mr. Martin said in the House of Commons.

In the tumult following the question, Mr. Del Mastro told the Commons: “This might be the only MP in the House silly enough to suggest that we would have to suppress votes in Calgary to win.”

Outside the Commons, though, Mr. Martin told reporters that vote suppression tactics could also have benefited the Conservative Party by lowering the amount of money opposition parties receive from the federal per-vote subsidy.

The NDP on Thursday released a list of 52 ridings the party said are either under Elections Canada investigation for alleged electoral interference or where voters have come forth with stories of harassing or fraudulent calls.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) continued to insist in the Commons that the Conservative party had nothing to do with fraudulent calls under investigation in the Ontario riding of Guelph—which re-elected Liberal MP Frank Valeriote with 43.4 per cent of the vote—and accused the opposition of a “smear” tactic.

Mr. Harper introduced a new element o the Conservative defence against the opposition attack—that the recent allegations of voter interference had not been reported in the nine months since the election.

“The fact of the matter is that there is an investigation in one particular riding that has been going on for some time with the assistance of the Conservative Party,” Mr. Harper said.

“Beyond that, these complaints have their origin nine months after the election, which is obviously a deliberate smear tactic by a party that lost the election,” he said in response to a question from NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel (Hull-Aylmer, Que.).

Voters who want to challenge the fairness of an election in any individual riding have 30 days to lodge a complaint, but former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley suggested in an interview on CBC Radio’s The House last Saturday that the 30-day period would begin after voters were generally made aware of the problem through a news report by Postmedia News and The Ottawa Citizen.

The Guelph investigation and other incidents, along with Conservative connections to an Edmonton robocall firm linked to the Guelph calls, were first made public in the report.

Many voters who have since spoken to the news media about suspicious or harassing calls on election day have said the attention reminded them of the voting day problems with callers and claims of changed polling locations.

Outside the Commons, Mr. Martin said the Conservative Party would benefit by weakening the opposition parties financially—aside from benefitting at the polls—if voter suppression drove down the number of ballots cast for the opposition.

Though the government has passed legislation that will gradually reduce the $2-per-vote federal subsidy and eliminate it by 2015, the allowance continues to be crucial for the smaller opposition parties.

“They’re laughing and they’re saying, ‘Oh well, Martin must be insane.’ Why would the Conservatives try and suppress the vote in Calgary, where they get like 75 per cent of the vote?” Mr. Martin said outside the Commons. “I’m telling you why, because they’re trying to starve their political opponents for resources.

“If you make 10,000 calls and only 10 per cent of them have the effect of suppressing that person’s vote, that’s a thousand people times two dollars per vote per year, that’s $8,000 [over four years],” Mr. Martin said. “I think that’s a pretty damn good secondary investment.”

Mr. Del Mastro scoffed at Mr. Martin’s claim, saying the previous Conservative minority government had included elimination of the vote subsidy in a budget it tabled in Parliament before the opposition parties forced the election.

“Mr. Martin knew for a fact that that subsidy was a do-do, extinct,” Mr. Del Mastro told The Hill Times.

“Mr. Martin knows full well that what he’s saying is ridiculous. Mr. Martin knows full well that was in the budget, Mr. Martin knows full well that we brought forward that budget and we intended to eliminate the per vote subsidy, so this new rationale brought forward by Mr. Martin is just as silly as the other things he’s been saying,” Mr. Del Mastro said.

Original Article
Source: hill times
Author: Tim Naumetz

Election call tapes under review by Conservatives

The Conservative Party is reviewing tapes of every call made by the Responsive Marketing Group call centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., in the last election before Elections Canada investigators arrive next week, CBC News has learned.

Investigators are planning to interview the centre's staff, which the Conservative Party hired to make phone calls to identify and rally supporters in the 2011 federal election.

Conservative Party spokesman Fred Delorey denied that Conservative officials are reviewing the tapes.

"The Conservative Party is not reviewing tapes from the last election," he said in an email to CBC News.

And election commissioner William Corbett has assigned veteran investigator Ronald Lamothe, who was the lead on the in-and-out probe into 2006 election spending, to head inquiries in Thunder Bay, the Toronto Star reported.

The commissioner of Canada elections ensures compliance with election laws.

Misleading B.C. election call traced to Conservative Party

hereA Mission, B.C., woman says she was given misleading information by the Conservative Party a few days before the May 2011 federal election.

Astrid Dimond said she had been called six times for Conservative donations during the last election. After a seventh call, she said she did an internet search on the caller’s phone number, which had shown up on her call display.

"It came up as the Conservative Party in Victoria," Dimond said.

The next time she received a call from the same number, she told the caller she was supporting the NDP in the election in the hopes the calls would stop.

Two days before the election, Dimond said she got another call from the same number.

“[The caller] just said, ‘Did you know the polling station had changed,’ and basically, I said, ‘No it hasn't,’ and that was the end of the conversation. I wouldn't let her continue because I knew it was a falsehood."

Dimond said some of her neighbours were getting similar calls and they all knew the information was wrong.