Thursday, June 28, 2007

He's just not that into you

Toronto has issued just one same-sex marriage licence to a Canadian couple this year

But continues to attract foreign same-sex betrotheds

This can't be good for the City of Toronto's plans to market "As Gay as it Gets" Toronto, to gays in other countries. From Reuters:

In the city that was home to Canada's first legalized gay wedding -- and the host of the country's biggest and brashest Pride Week celebrations -- so far this year only one marriage license has been issued to a Canadian same-sex couple.

That compares with 319 that have been issued to same-sex couples from the United States and other countries, and it's well below the hundreds of Canadian homosexual couples who tied the knot in previous years.

So far this year, the city of Toronto says it has issued a total of 7,513 marriage licenses, with 320 of them for same-sex marriages. Of those, 118 were for Americans, 201 were for other countries -- and just that one Canadian couple.

Last year, Toronto issued 924 same-sex marriage licenses: 107 were for Canadian couples, 338 were for people from the United States and 479 for other nationalities.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Can a Liberal change?

Liberals face fundraising, leadership challenges

From an interesting piece by James McNulty in the Vancouver Province today (h/t National Newswatch):

With the heady days of Canada's largest-ever leadership convention seven months
past, federal Liberals find themselves idling in the polls.

Leader Stephane Dion has not caught fire with the public, enthusiasm for him within
Liberal ranks remains muted, and the party is millions of dollars behind the Conservatives in fundraising.

. . . Liberal renewal is an enormous job, readily acknowledged by Gerard Kennedy and Bob Rae.

During recent interviews in Vancouver, the two former leadership contenders admit that new political fundraising rules require a challenging Liberal culture shift from cocktail-and-banquet party to grassroots money machine.

Kennedy says the internal rework is a work in progress. Adding a new leader has made the process "like painting a moving train."

"The convention wanted it to catch fire right away . . . and I don't think that was in the cards," Kennedy admits. “Stephane Dion is a slow burn . . . and, yes, there's a bit of an impatience from the showbiz side of politics."
All this talk of culture shifts and setting the world on fire got me to thinking: has the Liberal party ever really, fundamentally, changed in the last four decades? Given that it has become a party centered around the pursuit and exercise of power, would it not be apt to compare the Liberal Party to a woman who undergoes cosmetic surgery, and then only when between husbands? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The fundraising changes (which are hardly “new,” having been law since January 1, 2004) are a case in point. The banning of corporate and union donations to central parties (but not ridings or individual candidates, though this was eventually implemented by the Harper government) did not spring from the Liberal “grassroots,” but solely from Jean Chrétien’s gut.

They were, along with the proposed decriminalization of marijuana, one of the radical policy changes he sprung on the public, after announcing his retirement in 2002. Pronouncing that he could now do what he wanted since he was not running again, Chrétien put forth legislation that he would never have proposed during an election (we are seeing a similar phenomenon in Toronto, with David Miller proposing taxes he never breathed a word of in the election barely half a year ago). The fact that the party has still not developed a small donor base underlines the fact that, even though the finance laws were changed by a Liberal prime minister, those changes were hardly Liberal.

And, apropos of the foregoing, McNulty’s article is short on details of whatever big changes are coming to the Liberal party, and Kennedy’s and Rae’s comments predictably deteriorate into veiled and open attacks on Stephen Harper:

Kennedy notes that while Harper runs the Conservatives as a one-man band, Dion
has given his leadership rivals prominent roles and the caucus more
decision-making power. "That's not a threatened leader, that's not insecure."

The public jury on Dion remains out. Meantime, Rae says Stephen Harper
has much to explain on Tory policy around Afghanistan, limiting federal spending
power, failure on social policies such as daycare spaces, and a green back-step.

One of the Liberal party’s most successful leaders, Wilfrid Laurier, famously predicted that the 20th Century would belong to Canada. It ended up belonging to the Liberal Party. In the Liberal party’s estimation, that was probably good enough, as will be any “renewal” they eventually undergo.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Harris portrait: a straight-up image for a straight-up leader

Simple, elegant rendering a contrast to the tacky pastiches of Peterson and Rae

Judging by the photo attached to the CTV story on the unveiling of Mike Harris’s portrait at the Ontario Legislature today, the former premier has wisely (and predictably) bucked the regrettable trend toward incorporating silly details and self-aggrandizing personal touches in what is supposed to be an official portrait.

The portrait is a straightforward image of Harris standing, with what looks like a Northern Ontario scene in the background.

The portraits of his predecessors David Peterson and Bob Rae, on the other hand, are a dog’s breakfast of distracting details and cluttered backgrounds (and in Rae’s case, foreground), including portrait-within-a-portrait “photos” of their families. Both are in shirtsleeves (Peterson looks rather dishevelled and aged, actually), whereas Harris keeps his suit jacket on.

Peterson’s and Rae’s portraits were unveiled not that long ago (both in the year 2000), yet they already look dated and tired. My guess is Harris’s portrait will age better. I look forward to visiting the Legislature at some point this summer to see the portrait for myself.

End note: Today’s Post has an op-ed from long time Harris staffer Guy Giorno, who is in accord with my general view that Harris didn’t go far enough (in government that is, not in his portrait).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mike Harris and the Toronto Star editorial board, together at last . . .

“I will never agree to that. That’s like somebody on welfare saying, I won the million dollar lottery and I have a $100,000 a year job but I still want my welfare. That is 100 per cent contrary to the principle and purpose of equalization so if that’s what they want to talk about, they’re wasting their time,”
--Ontario Premier Mike Harris on Atlantic premiers demanding more equalization while collecting offshore oil and gas revenues, July, 2001

Williams and Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald are upset because Harper’s choices deny them the chance to have their cake and eat it too, along with a rich dollop of whipped cream.
--Editorial, Toronto Star, June 13, 2007

Harris portrait to be unveiled at last

June 26th is 12th anniversary of Harris government’s swearing-in

Some welcome news, courtesy of the Toronto Star:

More than five years after former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris left office, his formal portrait is finally set to be unveiled at the Legislature.

The move follows a year of procedural and partisan wrangling between the man who governed Ontario from 1995 to 2002 and Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office.

The painting by Istvan Nyikos, who also did former Conservative premier Bill Davis’s official likeness at the Legislature, has been languishing in a Queen’s Park storage closet since it was completed in February 2006.

Harris’s portrait is now slated to go up June 26.

The Harris government was sworn in on June 26, 1995, which was ten years to the day after the Peterson Liberal government’s swearing-in on June 26, 1985.

As for the impending unveiling, I’m sure the “procedural and partisan wrangling” was in no way motivated by a desire on the part of the Premier Pinocchio to have it occur as close as possible to the October election.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Memo to Elizabeth May: this is how it’s done

Yelich gives whine-free speech about the personal challenges of public life

The Phantom Observer reminds us today of an excellent Member’s Statement given in the House of Commons yesterday by Blackstrap MP Lynne Yelich:

Mr. Speaker, there are special requirements for any woman fulfilling the duties of a member of Parliament. As a wife and mother, I am aware of the necessary sacrifices when family events occur in the constituency and parliamentary duties keep me in Ottawa.

My daughter, Ivana, turns 18 today and I am unable to be with her or for her pre-grad events. It is difficult to be far away. I want to thank my children for their understanding and patience.

It has not always been easy for them, but they have supported me, as has my husband, through this entire time knowing that there are times when the many miles of this vast country must separate us.

Even now there are some, if not many, who may question a mother sitting in the House of Commons while there are still children at home. This lingering attitude often pushes us to stretch our lives to the limit to accommodate both Parliament and family.

I am thinking of our girls today, Ivana, this year's valedictorian who is preparing for graduation after combining athletic achievement and academic excellence, and Elaina, who has established a career as a teacher and a marriage with her husband.

My family has adjusted, coped and succeeded, despite the challenges of my parliamentary life. I am proud of their sacrifices as I am so very aware of my own.

I was lucky to catch the replay of Yelich’s speech on CPAC last night. It was followed by a well-deserved standing ovation by her colleagues.

Yelich’s speech provides a good contrast with Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s recent passive-aggressive rant about how difficult it is to be a federal politician who doesn’t even have to show up in Parliament every day:

"Do I have a lot of unilateral power? No I don't. Am I earning a tonne of money? No I'm not. Am I tired and discouraged and bone-weary and in chronic pain because I'm waiting for a hip replacement? Do I have down moments? You bet.

"If you catch me in a down moment and slap me in the face, do I really want to stay? I don't know. I mean, I'm human."

To be fair, May’s comments were contained in an e-mail, not a prepared speech. But one of the first thing politicians hoping to play in the big leagues learn, is that you never complain about how hard the job is.

Blair: Media have placed impact above all

If you haven’t, you should take the opportunity to read outgoing British PM Tony Blair’s recent “lecture” (and billed as such on its cover page) on the media. The eight-page PDF is here, but below are just a few of its sharper points:

I am going to say something that few people in public life will say, but most know is absolutely true: a vast aspect of our jobs today - outside of the really major decisions, as big as anything else - is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity. At points, it literally overwhelms. Talk to senior people in virtually any walk of life today - business, military, public services, sport, even charities and voluntary organisations and they will tell you the same. People don’t speak about it because, in the main, they are afraid to. But it is true, nonetheless, and those who have been around long enough, will also say it has changed significantly in the past years.

. . . .

There is now, again, a debate about why Parliament is not considered more important and as ever, the Government is held to blame. But we haven’t altered any of the lines of accountability between Parliament and the Executive. What has changed is the way Parliament is reported or rather not reported. Tell me how many maiden speeches are listened to; how many excellent second reading speeches or committee speeches are covered. Except when they generate major controversy, they aren’t.

If you are a backbench MP today, you learn to give a press release first and a good Parliamentary speech second.

My case, however is: there’s no point either in blaming the media. We are both handling the changing nature of communication. The sooner we recognise this, the better because we can then debate a sensible way forward.

The reality is that as a result of the changing context in which 21st Century communications operates, the media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not the masters of this change but its victims.

The result is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by “impact”. Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamour, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact.

. . . .

The final consequence of all of this is that it is rare today to find balance in the media. Things, people, issues, stories, are all black and white. Life’s usual grey is almost entirely absent. “Some good, some bad”; “some things going right, some going wrong”: these are concepts alien to today’s reporting. It’s a triumph or a disaster. A problem is “a crisis”. A setback is a policy “in tatters”. A criticism, “a savage attack”.

NGOs and pundits know that unless they are prepared to go over the top, they shouldn’t venture out at all. Talk to any public service leader - especially in the NHS or the field of law and order - and they will tell you not that they mind the criticism, but they become totally demoralised by the completely unbalanced nature of it.

. . . .

I am not in a position to determine this one way or another. But a way needs to be found. I do believe this relationship between public life and media is now damaged in a manner that requires repair. The damage saps the country’s confidence and self-belief; it undermines its assessment of itself, its institutions; and above all, it reduces our capacity to take the right decisions, in the right spirit for our future.

I’ve made this speech after much hesitation. I know it will be rubbished in certain quarters. But I also know this has needed to be said.

Allan Gregg shedding partners, property

“Old hippie” leaving Strategic Counsel, selling $1.2 M country home

The Globe and Mail reports today that:

Allan Gregg, one of the most recognizable names in the Canadian polling business, has left his partners at The Strategic Counsel to set up his own shop.

Mr. Gregg said he turned 55 this year, and it had “an incredibly unsettling effect because I came to realize I’ve probably got five more years of maximum earning power.” It is very hard to make much money in a partnership structure, as the profits get distributed at the end of each year and there is no opportunity to sell the business for a lump sum, he added.

The Strategic Counsel partners include Peter Donolo, who served in the 1990s as director of communications for former prime minister Jean Chrétien. Most of the others are market research professionals.

What I don’t get is, if you are one of the chief assets of the business, then how do you also sell that business for a lump sum at the same time you are leaving it? But then I have only recently mastered online banking, so what do I know.

In a related story, last month the Globe’s real estate section reported that Mr. Gregg is selling his vacation home near Kingston. The Globe describes it as:

An 8,800-square-foot country house, with five bedrooms and seven bathrooms, situated on a 2½-acre lot, and owned by political pollster Allan Gregg. It’s set on a private point of land with 1,000 feet of shoreline on Dog Lake, just north of Kingston. Asking Price: $1,249,000.

“It’s a great place for an old hippie like me,” says Mr. Gregg.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Your Money, Their Friends continued

Auditors-General say former Québec L-G was not entitled to $700K of her entitlements

Funnily, none of the stories that come up on the Google News search mentions that Lise Thibault was appointed by Jean Chrétien. From the National Post website:

Two reports by the Quebec and federal auditors-general confirm that Lise Thibault, Quebec’s former lieutenant-governor, spent $700,000 in public money without proper justification.

The reports call for clearer guidelines and better reporting of the lieutenant-governor’s spending and calls on her to reimburse the money claimed between 1997 and 2007.

The audits found that $239,000 in Ms. Thibault’s expenses could not be linked to her official duties.

While Ms. Thibault received a $480,000 housing allowance and $96,000 for expenses from Quebec, she claimed $129,000 from the federal government for housing and meals already covered by the province.

Of that $129,000, $29,600 was paid in rent to a member of her staff.

As well, she claimed as an income supplement $343,200 in federal money intended to cover her Quebec City expenses.

“The Department of Heritage and the government of Quebec will have to work together to see what and how much can be reimbursed,” said Sheila Fraser, the federal auditor general, in an interview with LCN, a French-language TV network.

The reports also uncovered such irregularities as a $12,000 bill from the provincial air service for a one-day fishing trip in the Gaspe region of Quebec and $24,000 spent in salary and expenses for a bodyguard, including air fare, so Thibault could use her official vehicle while on vacation in the United States.

Ms. Thibault was given a chance to respond to the Quebec auditor-general but she declined.

Monday, June 11, 2007

McGuinty has led Ontario – straight to the bottom

Real GDP Growth by Province (Percentage) 2007

Your friends say McGuinty hasn’t done such a bad job? Show them this chart

I have been reading the newly-released Ontario PC platform, and what left me gobsmacked was this little chart on page 40, which shows that, of all the provinces, Ontario is expected to come dead last in economic growth this year. The numbers are from The Conference Board of Canada's spring Provincial Outlook.

According to the government's own Ministry of Finance, Ontario posted a roaring 0.5% growth in the fourth quarter of 2006. Roaring, that is, compared to its third quarter growth rate of, er, zero (or, as the ministry calls it, "flat").

Dalton McGuinty is by all accounts a nice man. His intentions were good. And he is spending plenty of our money: $22 billion more than the Ontario government was spending in 2003, to be exact.

So what’s lacking? Leadership. Leadership is to McGuinty what caffeine is to 7-Up. Never had it, never will.

Before the last election, I said that Dalton McGuinty might have what it takes to win an election, but not what it takes to be premier. I have said that he is a weak man, with no compelling reason to be in public life, besides the fact that his MPP father died unexpectedly while Junior was a suburban strip mall lawyer with a family of six to feed. Res ipsa loquitor, as the lawyers might say.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Elizabeth May: debt before dishonour

May opposed restraint, threatened to quit leadership if removed from Green Party budget committee

Party received $3 M in public funds since 2004, yet has $255 K in debt

What’s really interesting about the Vancouver Sun story about Elizabeth May’s threat to quit as Green Party leader – in addition to her whinging – is the window it provides into the financial situation of the Green Party of Canada, which everyone assumed would be rolling in rolling papers, store-bought roach clips and other goodies after public financing of political parties came into effect in 2004.

Indeed, since the fourth quarter of 2004 the party has received a total of $3,086,075.39 in public funds (see figures below). In addition, it collected $351,030.66 in contributions in 2004, and $409,357.09 in 2005. It received reimbursements of $455,489.54 for the 2006 election and $298,907.63 for the 2004 election.

Yet the Greens have strayed into the red zone (in more ways than one), with big-party-style debt problems, before they have elected one MP. The Sun reports that the party is $255,000 in debt, which it attributes to preparing for a spring election that didn’t happen:

[May] said she is personally “broke” because of her $50,000 salary and called her job “grueling.”

May’s declaration was in response to a proposal from former interim executive-director David Scrymgeour, who was urging the party to slash spending and eliminate its debt.

Scrymgeour, who refused to comment when contacted, also said that May should step down from the party’s budget review committee.

May responded that the spending cuts would kill the party’s chances of winning seats in the next election.

“I should also add that if council decided to remove me from the budget committee, I would have a hard time staying on as leader,” May wrote in the e-mail obtained by the Vancouver Sun.

“Do I have a lot of unilateral power? No I don’t. Am I earning a tonne of money? No I’m not. Am I tired and discouraged and bone-weary and in chronic pain because I’m waiting for a hip replacement? Do I have down moments? You bet.

“If you catch me in a down moment and slap me in the face, do I really want to stay? I don’t know. I mean, I’m human.”

Wow. If only the election were tomorrow, so the citizens of Central Nova could boot that laggard Peter MacKay, and replace him with this dynamo.

By the way, according to the 2001 census, average individual income in Central Nova is $23,769, average household income is $46,201, and the average family income is $52,911 (I couldn’t find the figures from the 2006 census; I don’t believe they are publicly available yet. But if someone has a link, I’d appreciate it).

I have to feel for David Scrymgeour, also a former aide to PC leader Joe Clark (when the PC party was paying Clark considerably more than May’s $50,000). Ironically, May’s whining sounds eerily similar to Clark’s, during Clark’s valiant struggle to fill the role as leader of the fifth party on less than $300,000 per annum. During the two years between his election as leader and winning a seat in Parliament, this included a supplement of more than $150,000 from the party, which was then approximately $10 M in debt. (And, as I am always obliged to disclose, voting for Clark in the 1998 leadership is the only vote I wish I could take back.)

Scrymgeour was a casualty of the 2003 MacKay-Orchard Pact – which included a provision that Scrymgeour be removed as the party’s national director – so his search for Greener pastures is in a sense understandable. But surely he’s had enough of these granola-munchers by now (in particular, May’s détente cordiale with Stéphane Dion), and is ready to come back to a professional political party.

Allowances Paid to the Green Party of Canada
2007 Q1: $310,866.83
2006 Q4: $310,867.00
2006 Q3: $310,867.00
2006 Q2: $310,867.00
2006 Q1: $266,686.28
2005 Q4: $266,686.28
2005 Q3: $261,847.00
2005 Q2: $261,847.00
2005 Q1: $261,847.00
2004 Q4: $261,847.00
2004 Q3: $261,847.00
TOTAL: $3,086,075.39

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Another Liberal leader who charted his own course

$4.3 M spent trying to crush Beaudoin, after he refused a loan to Chrétien’s former partner

The Post’s story about Paul Martin’s golf course – paid for out of his own pocket, so calm down, people – reminded me of another Quebec golf course and another Liberal leader. From the irreplaceable Lorrie Goldstein:

And even AdScam, for which Chrétien bears ultimate responsibility, doesn’t reveal the former PM at his worst. For that, we must turn to another Grit scandal -- what Chrétien and his lackeys did to Francois Beaudoin when he was president of the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Here, I’m indebted to the excellent reporting of Sun Media’s Greg Weston. Beaudoin, was an honest public servant who had the courage to say “no” to Chrétien, starting in 1996.

No, he would not approve a $1.6- million loan, later cut to $615,000, to benefit Chrétien’s friend, Yvon Duhaime, owner of the Grand-Mere inn in Chrétien’s riding. Duhaime, he said, was a bad risk, with a criminal past and a poor fiscal track record.

The fact Chrétien had even approached Beaudoin was wrong, especially considering that Chrétien was a former part-owner of the inn and a neighbouring golf course. At the time, Chrétien hadn’t been paid for his shares in the golf course and was seeking a new buyer. Chrétien’s own actions indicated he knew what he was doing was wrong. Why? Because he lied about them.

Between January 1999 and November 2000, Chrétien and his aides repeatedly insisted the BDC operated on its own, free from political interference. Finally, on Nov. 16, 2000, Chrétien was forced to admit in the middle of an election that he had lobbied Beaudoin repeatedly. [Note: this produced the infamous Chrétien quote, "It's the normal operation."]

By then, two Chrétien cronies, Michel Vennat and Jean Carle, were making Beaudoin’s life a living hell.

First, Beaudoin was effectively forced out of his post when the BDC loan to Duhaime was approved over his objections.

Seeing the writing on the wall, he negotiated a severance and retirement package in the summer of 1999 and left the bank.

But Vennat and Carle weren’t finished. Soon after, Beaudoin was accused of “irregularities” by the BDC and lost his pension.

He was smeared in the media. His cottage and home were raided, not by police, but by BDC lawyers and accountants. Incredibly, a judge had authorized the search. Meanwhile, Carle was on the phone to Chrétien’s office, co-ordinating statements in the media and the Commons. Judge Denis would later describe this as “incredible ... Carle was convinced the prime minister is the only shareholder of the BDC. They are no longer looking like a corporation should, to give the media just the facts ... but only to repeat the position of the Prime Minister’s Office.”

Vennat then wrote two letters to RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli asking the Mounties to investigate Beaudoin for “misappropriation” of bank property and as the source of a “forged” document related to Shawinigate that had been leaked.

Home raided

Six months later, the Mounties showed up at the Royal Montreal Golf Club, claiming there were investigating the membership of Beaudoin’s wife. At Christmas, they raided his Montreal home. Before Beaudoin could reach his lawyer, the attorney was contacted by a reporter who’d been tipped to the raid by the PMO. The RCMP found nothing. In April 2003, the Crown said no charges would be laid after concluding the case against him was absurd.

Finally, in September 2003, Beaudoin had his day in court.

Judge Denis ordered that Beaudoin be paid his full severance and pension. He denounced the BDC, saying he didn’t believe some of Vennat’s testimony and that Carle had lied. The publicly owned bank had spent four years and $4.3 million hounding Beaudoin.
--Lorrie Goldstein, Toronto Sun, April 10, 2005