4/19/2002

Something unusual happened in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening. Dr. Keith Martin, an Alliance MP, lifted the ceremonial mace, the symbol of the speaker's authority, over his head and said "Parliament is not a democracy anymore." He then placed the mace back on the table and walked out. The Liberals want to kick him out of Parliament 'for a very long time' as a result. It was a serious breach of decorum. Andrew Coyne of the National Post first wrote about it yesterday.
Sitting in the House of Commons watching four years of work go down the drain, feeling more than usually despondent about the irrelevancy of the ordinary MP, Keith Martin finally snapped.

Moments before, his private member's bill calling for simple possession of marijuana to be decriminalized had been killed when Liberal MPs, on the Prime Minister's strict orders, stood and voted for a "poison pill" amendment denying it second reading -- an unprecedented bit of parliamentary sleight of hand designed to sidestep the convention that private member's bills are not "whipped." His Alliance caucus mates rose to walk out in protest. The member for Esquimault-Juan de Fuca had another idea.

"I said to myself, this is your last, best chance to draw attention to this issue, so you'd better have the courage to pick that thing up."

So, it's really a simple matter of civil disobedience. In order to draw attention to what is happening in Parliament, he deliberately breaches one of the most serious protocols of the House. Good for him. I approve 100%.

This mornings Post has two versions of the events, Keith Martin's version and Ralph Goodale's version. Mr. Goodale is the Liberal House Leader and the very fact that he attempts to justify the government's actions is testimony to the effectiveness of Martin's tactic. The Liberals prefer to do their back-stabbing and knee-capping quietly and discreetly in the backrooms of Parliament Hill, in the dull, plodding committees where they are protected from public scrutiny by the sheer mind-numbing drudgery of their activity. That way they can quite effectively stifle any hint of independent thinking. Even when they are faced with tiny backbench revolts they can very quickly put down the revolution. Remember that Finance Committee stuff I was on about a couple of weeks ago? It's the same damn thing... If the devil is in the details then Committees are the seven circles of Liberal Hell. Well Martin's actions have drawn this thing into the light of day and I say that's a good thing.

Now the substance of what happened is pretty straightforward. The convention in the House is that private member's bills are 'free votes,' not subject to being 'whipped' by the government. Very, very few private member's bills ever make it to a vote - the government doesn't like them. Theoretically speaking, private member's bills are a chance for ordinary MP's to introduce and promote legislation on their own initiative. Practically speaking, they are an illusion, a mirage for the backbencher and the committed opposition MP designed to give a sense of faint hope. Wednesday, the government saw an opposition Member approaching the mirage and they had to stomp him. Nothing personal, the Liberals simply don't want private members (let alone opposition members) getting anywhere close to the levers of power. It's the principle of the thing.
"Sure you did everything according to the rules, sure you jumped through all the hoops, sure you won the lottery fair and square, but you didn't really expect that we would let you succeed? If the rules allowed you to succeed, then the rules are flawed and we are changing them effective immediately."

So here's the Liberal justification. It was written by the hacks in the PMO, no doubt, but it bears the signature of Ralph Goodale and it promises 'the other side of the story.' I'm going to go through the whole damn thing...

Mr. Coyne suggested the Member of Parliament was so overwrought when a motion about his bill was amended that, in a fit of emotion, he seized the Mace from its place in the House of Commons and brandished it about while he made a little speech -- all just to highlight his personal grievance.

First off, it was not a 'personal' grievance, it's a grievance that has been expressed over and over and over again by thousands of people including many Liberal backbenchers. Jeffery Simpson wrote an entire book about the lack of democracy in Canada. It is the endless refrain of anyone who is not personally compromised by the PMO. Secondly, the 'overwrought' and 'fit of emotion' descriptors are inaccurate, as you know. It's obvious that Goodale would rather discuss Martin's specific actions rather than the symbolism of what he did.

There is no doubt that this was a serious and premeditated violation of Parliamentary rules. Mr. Martin, Mr. Coyne and other various apologists readily admit that. What's at issue is whether Mr. Martin's grievance justified his publicity stunt. Was there substance behind the show?

In any democratic institution, motions are made and amended, votes are won and lost. There is nothing untoward about Mr. Martin's motion being subject to an amendment. Put the shoe on the other foot. Why is it OK for any Opposition MP to offer an amendment to any bill, but it's not OK for a Liberal MP to do so?

How dishonest. "It's only a little amendment, you guys propose amendments all the time and you don't see us whining about it!"
The amendment, accurately described as a "poison pill amendment" would have sent the bill to a committee where it would have been unceremoniously killed. Everyone knows it and only a complete idiot, or someone who believes he is talking to complete idiots, would offer such an insultingly stupid rationalization. If anyone doubted it before, here is proof positive that Liberals count on sheer slack-jawed stupidity among the electorate for their success.

Now, what about the substance of the amendment?

The Martin bill proposed some degree of decriminalization with respect to marijuana. The specific motion Mr. Martin moved was to give the bill approval in principle and refer it to the House Standing Committee on Justice.


Does Goodale think it does him any credit to pretend that he is unclear on the substance of the proposed bill? Mr. Goodale, are you so determined to belittle Mr. Martin's bill that you don't mind looking like a complete amateur yourself? Don't you think you should have made some effort to inform yourself before submitting your justifications to a national newspaper?

The amendment presented by a Liberal MP suggested that the subject matter of the bill ought to be referred instead to the Special Parliamentary Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. This is surely not unreasonable -- not an assault upon democracy as Mr. Coyne and others suggest.

It is indeed. Your slippery little amendment would deny the bill it's 'approval in principle' and end the matter.

The Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs already exists. It has been duly authorized by the House to examine issues like those raised in Mr. Martin's bill. It was created on the suggestion of the Alliance Opposition. It's vice-chair is an Alliance MP (Randy White). It has an approved budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And it is already hard at work -- within a framework and a mandate given by Parliament to ensure full examination and consultation about all dimensions of the non-medical use of drugs.

This is exactly why I loathe the Liberals, Goodale is making the argument that the bill still had a chance to succeed because the vice-chair of the committee is an Alliance member and because the Alliance had suggested the committee in the first place. Both of these considerations are meaningless. All committee vice-chairs are opposition members and no committee is struck unless it serves the interests of the Liberal government. All committees have Liberal majorities and the government is not the least bit shy about swapping Liberal members in and out of the committees if they show any sign of acting independently. This Liberal amendment was designed to kill the bill and it did kill the bill on Wednesday evening. Anyone who tries to argue otherwise is lying. Mr. Goodale is lying.

And then, out of the blue, comes Mr. Martin with his own out-of-context, one-off proposition. He wants it dealt with all on its own, right away -- his way or the doorway -- without any reference to the special committee. He must believe that he's just smarter than everybody else (inside or outside the Alliance), and he should tolerate no contrary views.

This is just pure smear... Mr. Martin's bill was the work of 4 years, done within the established framework, made votable by a Liberal dominated committee, and enjoying widespread support among all parties. There was a convention that private member's bills are free votes and if the bill had not been flawlessly researched and presented it would not have come to a vote. In order to give the appearance of honouring that convention, a convention that would not allow an enforced vote on the motion, the Liberal's introduced an amendment which killed the bill and enforced, or "whipped' the vote on the amendment.

Mr. Martin's original motion would have infringed upon the very special committee that his party requested. Furthermore, if his motion had been adopted, the House could have faced the contradiction of different committees moving in conflicting directions on the same topic.

What a conundrum! If Mr. Martin's bill had succeeded then simple possession of marijuana would have been decriminalized, not legalized, but reclassified as a misdemeanor offence. How this would have hindered the work of another committee is a complete mystery.

The amendment by a Liberal MP -- which was adopted and which triggered the Martin outburst -- actually salvaged the situation. It did not kill the subject matter. Instead, it provided for a rational, thoughtful analysis in a comprehensive and coherent policy framework by an existing and competent group of parliamentarians who are due to report to the House within a specified time-line later this year.

Just more bafflegap... the amendment was the end of the matter.

Before getting all lathered up in such a state of high dudgeon -- as Messrs. Martin, Coyne and some others have done -- it might be useful to do two things. First, don't just mindlessly mouth convenient allegations which may fit your conspiracy theories but have no basis in reality. Second, examine the substance of "the other side of the story" for its own merit, without assuming there is none.

Well, Mr. Goodale, I took your advice to examine the substance of your side of the story. There is no substance, it is a dishonest display of insults and false rationalizations. Shame on you all. Politicians have never enjoyed a high level of public respect but you Liberals are setting newer and lower standards with every passing week.















The conflicting versions about what happened in Jenin still continue to come in. I don't have a lot of comments on that; the versions are just too far apart and I'm sure the truth will emerge eventually. I'm pre-disposed to believe Israel's version of events but everyone agrees that not all the facts are available yet.

The thing that has struck me about these news reports is the continued use of 'camps' in describing these Palestinian towns. Since when do multi-storey apartment blocks with electricity and plumbing become 'camps?' It just goes to show the power of words to shape our perceptions.
GUILT BY ASSOCIATION

An op/ed piece in today's Globe & Mail was signed by the following luminaries;

WARREN ALLMAND, MARGARET ATWOOD, PIERRE BERTON, KEITH BRANSCOMBE, ED BROADBENT, HARRY BRUCE, STEVIE CAMERON, DAVID CAMERON, SILVER DONALD CAMERON, GERRY CAPLAN, MATTHEW COON COME, KEN DANBY, MOHAMED ELMASRY, GEORGES ERASMUS, FIL FRASER, KEN GEORGETTI, GRAEME GIBSON, JACK GRANATSTEIN, TOM KENT, STEPHEN KIMBER, NAOMI KLEIN, MICHELE LANDSBERG, MARGARET LYONS, FLORA MACDONALD, ROBERT MACNEIL, WILLIAM MARSDEN, STEWART MCINNES, JOHN MEISEL, JOHN MILLER, RAYMOND MORIYAMA, GRAND CHIEF TED MOSES, FARLEY MOWAT, HOWARD PAWLEY, JOHN POLANYI, ENN RAUDSEPP, JUDY REBICK, ABRAHAM ROTSTEIN, CLAYTON RUBY, PETER RUSSELL, CLAUDE RYAN, FLORIAN SAUVAGEAU, JOHN SEWELL, PADDY SHERMAN, DENIS SMITH, HAMILTON SOUTHAM, WILSON SOUTHAM, KEITH SPICER, GILLIAN STEWARD, DAVID SUZUKI, CHARLES TAYLOR, JANE URQUHART, PATRICK WATSON, RONALD WRIGHT

They are concerned about the excessive media concentration in Canada. Well, I don't care. I'm still opposed to CanWest's editorial policy and I'm not responsible for every crackpot who agrees with me.

... And I'm not defensive about it!

... Shut UP!


4/18/2002

Stephen Harper is gradually increasing his visibility and I'm pleased to see that.

Stephen Harper, the Canadian Alliance leader, made his first major foray into foreign policy yesterday, urging the Liberal government to ban all charitable fundraising for the political wing of Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based terrorist group.

Bill Graham is standing firmly behind Hezbollah

Unless Canada is provided with solid evidence, the government assumes money Hezbollah raises in Canada goes toward its humanitarian efforts in Lebanon and not terrorism in Palestinian-controlled territories, [Graham] said.

Remember when John Manley had his brief moment of fame as a Liberal with integrity? Trust me, it's true. There was a very brief period when Manley made a series of sensible and principled statements. During that brief period, Manley made a comment in the House about Hezbollah.

Hon. John Manley (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Crown Corporations, Lib.): Many weeks ago Hamas and Hezbollah were listed as terrorist organizations by the Government of Canadian.
Feb. 5th, 2002
Svend Robinson has been fired as NDP foreign affairs critic. Stand by for the self-righteous blow-up from Svend. It will come very soon, I expect.

Update: Sure enough, Svend has come through with flying colours. The CBC has 10 full minutes of video on Svend's statement and that's only because they cut away when he switched over to French... What a flipping windbag.

Among the highlights...

Svend starts right into the Anti-Semite straw man saying that some people, who he declines to name, have suggested that he has been acting out of anti-Semitism. Now, I don't claim to be infallible, but I do follow the news fairly closely and I am not aware of a single instance of anyone in the media, anyone in political circles, even anyone in blogland, who has suggested anti-Semitism as Robinson's motive. It seems to be universally accepted that the man is simply an idiot.

The CBC gives him quite a sympathetic write-up (there's a surprise, eh?)

They quote him;
"What happened in Jenin is a humanitarian disaster," he said. "There must be a full inquiry to determine precisely what has taken place in Jenin. It appears that there was a massacre in Jenin at the hands of Israeli defense forces. And if that's happened, that is a war crime."


Sounds pretty balanced doesn't it? Then the CBC tells us, again, that 79% of Canadians support neither side in the middle east conflict as if that were some kind of vindication of Robinson.

The CBC failed to quote Robinson when, during the same speech, he referred repeatedly to "... the massacre in Jenin."
Why would the CBC choose to quote Robinson's most moderate passages and ignore his most inflammatory remarks?


Quote of the Day


"We're not hiding surpluses, because you know about it, eh?"
Treasury Board president Lucienne Robillard.

Canadian troops were killed in a training exercise in Afghanistan yesterday. Four died and eight others sustained serious injuries. A terrible accident and a horrible loss. Condolences to the families.

4/17/2002

More Plane Facts


Don Boudria changed his story about where the extra $25 million went yesterday...

Here's Don on Monday:
The two planes are $38.2 million each. That is $76.4 million plus the extra parts, a one year process that is normal in any acquisition of this kind, plus pilot training, plus other associated costs, plus taxes. The total is $101 million.

That is the way it is. It is mathematics.


Here's Don on Tuesday:
In addition to the purchase of the plane, and the hon. member asked about that yesterday, there is equipment, such as communications hardware, electronic equipment, flight data recorder, monitors, security equipment, communications equipment, provisioning of parts, ground support equipment, installation of security and of course pilot training. All those things are there.

Art Eggleton doesn't want to talk about it. Presumably, Eggleton was against the purchase. But he is only the Minister of Defence so he has to accept that his opinion doesn't count for much.

Defence Minister Art Eggleton refused to say yesterday whether he supported the government's decision last month to buy two new Challenger executive jets for the Canadian Forces.

Meanwhile, defence officials disclosed that it will cost more than $512,000 to train each of the 16 military pilots who will fly the VIP jets.


New Democrat Bev Desjarlais seemed taken aback when she was told that the training cost for 16 pilots adds $8.2-million, particularly since at least some of the pilots will already have experience on the older Challengers. She wondered whether the pilot training costs are "from birth."

Good one, Bev. I think the training thing is quite telling. If we recall the original excuse for why the contract was not tendered, as Treasury Board rules require, it was that Pilots were already trained to fly these aircraft.

The contract was awarded to Bombardier without a competitive tendering process because the government wanted the new aircraft to be compatible with 412 Squadron's fleet of six Challengers. Also, there will be no need to train the pilots on a different type of aircraft.

In our next installment we look at the PM's statement that 'the American's just bought 20 jets for $2.4 Billion.' Is it relevant? Is it true?


4/16/2002


"D'Plane, Boss, D'Plane"


Please forgive me, I just can't seem to resist those bad visual puns. They are one of the reasons I love the net.

I did want to talk about these damn planes for a couple of minutes.

The PMO has purchased two new Challenger jets from Bombardier for $101,000,000.
They announced this untendered purchase late in the day on March 28th, just prior to the Easter weekend, just prior to the end of the fiscal year, against the advice of three gov't departments. The entire process took ten days and broke a number of standard acquisition procedures. There was a bit of a rush because someone discovered this unspent money in the defence budget and, if the money had not been spent on something, it would have gone to pay down the accumulated national debt of $547,400,000,000. Look at the size of that debt! $101,000,000 is nothing but a drop in the bucket, why bother making such a piddly little payment against such an incredibly large debt when you can buy yourself something as cool as two new Challenger jets?

Besides, if budgeted money is not spent by the end of the fiscal year, then the next years budget will actually be reduced. That's the way your government operates and that's why you always see this mad scramble to spend like a drunken sailor just prior to the end of every fiscal year. Nobody wants to see their budget shrink and spending the money is the only way to ensure that you get more money the next year. Which raises another question; the PM has promised to repay the $101,000,000 taken from the defence budget; it addresses the 'optics' of having our PM jetting around in new zoom-zooms while our soldiers line up at food banks and dab Home Depot paint on their green uniforms. So if the PMO actually borrowed the money from the Defence budget then the money wasn't actually spent, was it? It was loaned. Doesn't this set a troubling precedent? Following this lead, various departments could easily start transferring unspent funds back and forth, and to and fro, and all budgets would rise like boats on the tide, forever and ever, amen.

I wish I was better at finance, I've always heard that the government plays pretty fast and loose with the normal accounting principles, but this is the first time I've see a loan accounted as an expenditure.

Speaking of fast & loose... Don Boudria, the man who makes weasels look respectable, could not contain his charming personality when an opposition member said that he was quoted a price of $77,000,000 from an aircraft broker for those particular jets. Boudria leapt to his feet to proclaim, with the pride of the terminally inane, "We only paid $76,400,000." He looked and sounded exactly like a particularly obnoxious child snatching candy away from a smaller child. If there were prizes for pettiness, Boudria would win the smallest, cheapest one. What a maroon. Anyway, Boudria went on to explain that the $24,600,000 difference between the announced price and the actual price, was made up of "parts, training, taxes, and other infrastructure."

"The total is $101-[million]. It's called mathematics," Mr. Boudria told the House.

Let's look a little closer. I spoke to a lady at Public Works yesterday, I had called to ask why the government would be paying taxes to itself. She 'wasn't sure' that taxes were actually part of the equation. I'm not sure either. I've tried to find out but that has been a complete waste of time.

Remind me to do a rant on the complete incomprehensibility of the gov't information available online someday. If you want an example of a horrible website - go here Remember all the excitement when the web was first emerging? "Hyperlinks will allow instant access to information, linked references that will allow you to skim a document or get right into the nuts and bolts of it, it'll be entirely up to the reader. Customize your information!!!" The folks at Treasury Board still haven't heard about that. This lengthy document - the purchasing policy of your government - contains at least a dozen references to other documents in the first paragraph alone, yet none of those documents are hyperlinked. The document probably runs into the 100's of paragraphs and there are probably 1000's of cross-references between sections and documents. You know how many links there are? One. One link to another website in the whole bloody thing. What's the point of putting the damn thing online? Oopps! I've gone ahead and done my rant now. Don't bother to remind me later.



4/15/2002

I was looking through my archives for something else when I came across this prediction from March 17th about Bill Graham. I'd say that things have shaken out pretty much as I predicted.

While I'm on the topic of Mr. Graham, I watched the pompous twit lecturing the House again today. This time it was a passionate defence of the 'social' and 'humanitarian' aspects of Hezbollah. Little did I know that Hezbollah, despite it's more publicized terrorist activities, has a ladies auxiliary that prepares hot meals for shut-ins and knits little toques for preemies - (40% of all body-heat escapes through the top of the head, toques for premature babies save lives).

Anyway, Mr. Graham was faced with some frightfully rude questions in the House of Commons because some of those ruffians in the Opposition parties can't understand the subtle differences between a terrorist organization (which we would NEVER support) and a humanitarian/social/charitable organization (which we support unreservedly). These distasteful and ill-informed rogues on the opposition benches are so gauche that they confuse these two purposes - which can not fairly be described as even remotely similar - simply because both functions are carried out under the single name of Hezbollah. I swear these people have no concept of nuance at all.

Graham made it very clear that any money raised in Canada for the Hezbollah organization is absolutely, positively not allowed to be used to fund terrorism. It sounds like he really is putting his foot down quite forcefully on this matter. In another delightful twist, Mr. Graham challenged those who questioned the integrity of the Hezbollah organization to either prove duplicity on the part of the good people of Hezbollah or refrain from further comment. I swear, that Mr. Graham is such a wit!

Sure they fund and train terrorists - and we strongly disapprove of that, let's be very clear - but to suggest that they lie about the purposes of their fundraising here in Canada?!?!?! Well, that's just uncivil. A person who would even raise such a question is more to be pitied than reproached.
David Janes writes about the latest flag flap and says that he came up with a better headline than me. I have to agree.
Rick Glasel writes;
The Winnipeg Free Press has decided to tackle Western Canadian Issues on a permanent basis. The series is available online for free. It started well enough, with columns by Preston Manning and Doug Cuthand, but both efforts were on the tame side, and careful not to say very much. I don't think Winnipeg has been able to speak for the West since 1929, so I find the Free Press's actions a little puzzling. Winnipeg is almost exactly at the geographic centre of Canada, and it sits at the far eastern edge of the Prairies. Politically, the city is socialist on a local level, pragmatically Liberal on a federal level, and determines the ruling party provincially. Nonetheless, Manning's little history lesson in the April 11th Free Press brought back a memory for me.

Just over twenty years ago I attended a "Free The West" rally at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton. Between 1100 and 1500 raving loonies sat in the theatre seats and vented against Trudeau, bilingualism, Central Canada and the economic collapse of Alberta. In the lobby you could buy novelty Alberta passports and bumper stickers that said "The West needs Quebec like a fish needs a bicycle." Strangers would come up to you and whisper about the latest rumour of a bounty on Trudeau's head, paid for some anonymous oilmen. The rumours started at $250,000 and the last one I heard was "close to a million." One burly, bearded man, later identified in the newspaper as a dentist from Calgary, did nothing but bellow, shake and writhe for at least 15 minutes non-stop. The late Nick Taylor, ex-oilman and provincial Liberal leader, got on stage and was immediately drowned out by screams, boos and vague death threats. I swear I'm not making any of this up.

What brought this hysteria on was the oil boom and bust. By November 1981, there was so much money going into the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund, the feds were making noises about taking away the provinces' right to their natural resources for the "greater good of the nation." Several years of artificially low oil prices in Canada had already diverted tens of billions of dollars of potential revenue from the Alberta economy, and now Trudeau wanted oil royalties for the federal treasury. Peter Lougheed, a politician I still have a lot of respect for, went to Ottawa to strike a deal to protect provincial rights by distributing the wealth, and in a photo op that will go down in infamy in the office towers of Calgary, Trudeau and Lougheed raised glasses of champagne to toast the National Energy Plan. Only weeks later, the price of oil started to drop, the dreamed of royalties disappeared, and within a year, unemployment in Alberta topped 10%, housing prices dropped as much as 30%, and the Saudi Arabia of the North was in shock.

There was another rally held after the one I attended, but it only drew a few hundred people, and didn't have the same raw fury. However, some time later, a separatist was elected to the Alberta Legislature, the Western Canada Concept party held conventions and made a bit of a splash before they drained away, and a Calgary mayor told Eastern bums to go home. Eventually, Mulroney became PM, the NEP was repealed, and the Alberta economy recovered. But just like Quebecers, Albertans don't forget. There is a collective memory in both of these provinces about how the rest of the country screwed them, and don't try to convince them otherwise. Preston Manning had the vision to turn the paranoia around, get the kind of people who went bananas twenty years ago to believe they could bring about real change within the framework of a federal system of government. These people had earlier hoped that a Conservative federal government would be different, but when Mulroney ignored the West to appease Quebec nationalists who eventually betrayed him anyway, all four Western provinces were ready to march to a new beat. Thus begat the Reform Party. In Manning's column, he writes about "big" and "little" Westerners. I fear that all the "big" Westerners have abandoned the Canadian Alliance. I don't hold out a lot of hope for the "little" Westerners.

Thanks Rick.