Doing His Job

Doing His Job?

I see that Jason Kenney, a senior and very influential minister in the Harper government thought he was just doing his job when he supported Rob Anders in the recent nomination fight in the new riding of Calgary Signal Hill.

That’s interesting because his statement would appear to be at odds with the Conservative Party position that all nominations are open and without interference of any type. How many people think that when a senior cabinet minister intervenes in a nomination battle that his support won’t influence the vote?

It’s not clear from what I have seen and in all fairness perhaps I missed it, if in fact Kenney ever commented on Anders attacks on those dreaded Red Tories. Attacks which would be at odds with all of the efforts Stephen Harper has made to make the coalition of former Reform/Canadian Alliance and PC Party members work. It was that coalition that Harper and Peter MacKay put together that brought the Tories back to power in 2006 after both parties had been opposition since 1993.

It has been reported that Kenney has leadership ambitions of his own or at least wants a kingmaker role. If that is the case he needs to clarify his position and let Tories from the left, centre and right of the party know where he stands on that issue. Does he support a big tent Conservative Party or not? I assume he does.

Kenney is a very smart and capable politician who has contributed a lot to the recent electoral success of the Conservative Party. Perhaps he was misquoted or hadn’t completely thought through his answer. Either way, he should clarify his position on that point.


Danger Pay

Once again we have the Defence Department making a decision that leaves most fair minded Canadians shaking their heads.  It seems the brain trust at DND has decided that while our embassy staff and ambassador require soldiers to protect them in Kabul, the soldiers don’t merit danger pay?

This DND decision also ignores the increasing level of violence that is being seen in the Afghan capital, a city in which westerners are often targeted. If it’s such an easy task and there is no danger involved why are highly trained troops even required? How many other Canadian embassies have similar security arrangements to the one we require in Afghanistan?

This decision follows on the heels of a couple of other bad ones that forced the minister to step in and over rule his departmental officials. For example, Minister Nicholson had to reverse the decision to make families of soldiers who died in Afghanistan pay their own way to attend the commemorative ceremony in Ottawa on May 9th. He also had to apologize for a one-cent cheque sent to the mother of a veteran who died.

Who makes these bone-headed decisions? Why are they being allowed to continue?

Anyone who has been in the military knows that no one individual signs off on such decisions. There is an approval process in place that usually requires someone higher up the chain to sign off and quite often several signatures are required. My question is who in headquarters signed off on all of the above decisions?

Equally important, who in the minister’s office is vetting decisions that are almost certainly guaranteed to get the government into political hot water? Inquiring minds want to know.


The Myth of Open Nominations

The spin keeps coming from all of the federal parties and the new buzz words are “open nominations”.

Really? This is politics, just how gullible do they think the public is? I know everyone preaches it, but how realistic is it to expect there to be a true 100% open nomination contest.

It would be quite rare at the riding level for the executive not to have a favoured candidate. To begin with members of the executive carry out the candidate search and the executive usually has a sense as to who they think will make the best candidate. How cooperative they are with other potential candidates can encourage or discourage people from seeking the nomination.

Even if the executive has a preference, there is nothing to say that party headquarters won’t “suggest” they interview someone else. Smart executive members, especially if they have political ambitions of their own, listen closely to those suggestions from on high.

In a few cases, there will be only one person stepping forward (not unusual for the Conservatives in Quebec), but when a nomination is challenged all sorts of factors come into play.

Anyone who has been involved in the nomination process knows that this takes a huge effort.  How long the party allows for the sign up of new member’s tilts the selection one way or another. If party headquarters picks a short few weeks, it will favour an incumbent. Even lead time given to announce the nomination date plays a part in who can get organized, sign up new members or prepare for the nomination.

If we look back over the last year or so we have examples at both the provincial and federal level of either candidates deposit cheques arriving to late, deadlines that were supposedly missed, headquarters staff directly supporting one candidate over another or even disallowing a candidate because of their spouse. But it doesn’t end there.

There will also be star candidates that the party wants to run in a particular riding. And yes the parties will guarantee the media and public that it will be an open contest. Yet some potential challengers will be told that perhaps the party can find them a better riding for them to run in so the star can run in that particular riding. Another way it could happen is for the party to announce the star candidate will seek a particular seat and then call the nomination meeting as quickly as possible, catching potential challengers off guard and unable to organize or sign up new members in time.

Sitting MPs usually dread open nomination meetings. They often seek assurance that the party will help them win which publically of course the party can’t do and why should they? If you have held your seat for four years or more and you can’t win a nomination battle you have a big problem. Nor should there be any need for a leader’s office to offer or suggest a template for the MP to use that suggests that MP is hardworking, a valued member of the caucus etc. That in itself looks a lot like interference in an “open” nomination process.

The nomination process is a time to bring in new blood to the party, it’s a time to get rid of some of the dead wood and it helps to keep sitting MPs engaged both in Ottawa and more importantly with their riding and the people who elected them. When the process is over, party leaders will have lost some of their key people and find some they aren’t too keen on representing the party in the next election. That is the way it has been for decades.

Nomination battles are fascinating to watch and if you are part of one it is an exhilarating experience. Everyone always hopes that each individual seeking nomination will be treated fairly and in the same manner as all other candidates. You want to know that if you won or lost it was done fairly. The hype of “open nominations” will continue as all parties try to prove to the media and public that there is a new way of doing business now. Let us see how long it takes before we start hearing complaints from potential challengers about how they were dealt with during this “open” process.  I will suggest it will be sooner rather than later.


Come Fly with Me

Watching the NDP’s feigned outrage at the Conservative’s use (misuse) of government aircraft generates flashbacks to when the Conservatives were in opposition.

At that time as head of the Conservative research group looking into Liberal misdeeds, we would often check the Challenger jet flight logs. Most of the time it was pretty boring stuff, but from time to time a few gems would show up such as holiday trips for either Prime Ministers Chretien or Martin. We even found one ministerial trip to Salt Lake City during the winter Olympics- naturally to watch a hockey game. But for the most part it was pretty routine stuff.

At that time cautionary notes that one day we might be in power and have to live with the results of our attacks on the Liberals went unheeded. It was simply too much fun to unleash our attack dogs in Question Period.

Upon assuming office in February 2006 realty set in. Other than very general guidelines on when government jets could be used, things were pretty well left open to interpretation.

At that time newly minted Prime Minister Harper recognized the pitfalls the use of government aircraft could create. He was insistent that they only be used for government business. The wrinkle in all of this though was the insistence of the RCMP that for security reasons the Prime Minister must use government aircraft at all times- even for private business, vacations etc.

This presented us with the problem of how does one account for trips that are a mixture of events IE government business, political events or personal time. Back in 2006, we couldn’t find any guidelines as to how to calculate or pay back the government for mixed use trips. In the end the decision was to look at what would a comparable commercial flight cost for the same route and destination. If the Prime Minister was not restricted to the use of the government jet, those would be the real costs he and staff would have to pay. It was far from perfect but established the principle that on any flight any nongovernment business had to be accounted for and that portion paid back to the Government of Canada.  

When a trip was being planned, great care was taken in ensuring that we knew what percentage of that trip was government business, political or personal. We would spend many hours counting the mileage of flights and figuring out which parts had to be reimbursed. Costs were calculated as above and a cheque was required as soon as possible. I might add that Harper was insistent that it be paid back quickly and would often ask in the senior staff meetings if we had received the cheque from the party.

Who could use a jet and under what conditions was very tightly controlled. Ministers wanting the convenience of government aircraft use were told in no uncertain terms to take a commercial flight.

When looking at the present issue, if nongovernmental staff, friends etc. are on the flight, then at the very least they should be paying their own way, unless the Conservative Party wants to pick up their tab and aircraft should not be used for purely political events. It is hard to believe that a Prime Minister flying to any part of Canada cannot find government events or meetings to coincide with a trip.

There is no easy solution to this problem and simplistic solutions that all costs are paid for at full value don’t work either. It will be fun to watch how the NDP puts themselves in the same political straightjacket that the Conservatives did when they were in opposition. Of course the one advantage the NDP has it that they don’t have to worry about being in government any time soon.


Truth and Consequences

They say that truth is one of the first casualties of war, but it should not be a casualty in the daily war of words we see in the House of Commons.

Recently, House of Commons Speaker Andrew Sheer ruled on an NDP motion which had accused Conservative MP Brad Butt of misleading the House with comments Butt made about witnessing voter fraud in the last election. Speaker Scheer in his ruling stated, “From what the member for Mississauga-Streetsville and other members have revealed, it is quite clear that the House has been provided with two narratives that are contradictory statements.”

When an MP or minister stands and addresses the House of Commons, they are not just speaking to other elected members, but to the nation as a whole. It is a huge responsibility they carry on their shoulders and that is one reason everything they say is recorded in Hansard. The words our MPs speak are important and they do matter.

There will always be disputes over the interpretation of what someone said or the facts used in an argument or debate. Going all the way back to Confederation, members have contorted themselves into all sorts of verbal positions to avoid misleading the House. In this case though Speaker Scheer was pretty clear about how he viewed this issue when he stated “At the same time, the fact remains that the House continues to be seized with completely contradictory statements.”

The only person who knows if the member for Mississauga-Streetsville simply got carried away the first time he stood to reference the issue or if he deliberately mislead the House is the member himself. In this case the member has apologized to the House.

Whether or not his apology was sufficient, this episode should serve as a warning to all of our elected members whether they sit on the government side or in opposition.

The public may disagree with what you say, we may argue about the facts you tell us or how you interpret them, but remember that your words will still be there for others to see and read decades from now. We are listening, so at least tell us the truth. Is that too much to ask?