Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stephen Harper: The gutless wonder (Parts 1 and 2)

Harper refuses to explain limits on media queries

March 31, 2011.
Posted by:
Mark Kennedy

HALIFAX — Prime Minister Stephen Harper held his news conference Thursday and declined to tell journalists — corralled behind a yellow fence 43 feet away — why he limits the daily encounters to just five questions.

The episode highlighted the brewing issue of whether Harper, as the apparent front-runner in the race, is running a campaign in a bubble to prevent embarrassing mistakes.

After several days, it is clear his daily schedule is carefully designed to minimize political risk. Harper has not done any “walkabouts” on city streets where average voters can meet him. Moreover, the photo-ops with voters — such as at a seniors’ home and a deli — have been pre-arranged. Also, people who attend rallies must be on a list to gain entry to the event.

Harper only provides one news conference per day, and it is specifically designed to ensure that it is not free-wheeling. Journalists who are travelling with his campaign tour are, as a group, only allowed to ask four questions. One more question goes to a local journalist at the news conference.

On Thursday, Harper was asked to explain why — when Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP leader Jack Layton provide news conferences with no limits on questions — he insists on no more five questions.

Harper chose not to answer that question and moved on to the next questioner.

When journalists then pressed him for an answer to the question he ignored, Harper said. “If there’s another subject I’ll answer it.”

That led to another question from a journalist, who noted that politicians such as himself promise openness and accountability. With that in mind, he was asked again, why the limit on questions during the campaign?

“If there are other subjects I’m not addressing, I’ll take them. What’s the subject? One subject.”

Journalists asked another question, about Canada’s position about the conflict in Libya. Harper answered and then ended the news conference.

Harper ‘backing out’of one-on-one debate: Ignatieff


Les Whittington and Bruce Campion-Smith
Toronto Star, Ottawa Bureau

WINNIPEG—Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says Stephen Harper’s refusal to join in a one-on-one debate shows that the Conservative leader cannot be trusted.

Harper is now “backing out” of the debate, Ignatieff told reporters during a campaign stop in Winnipeg.

“Less than 24 hours ago, he was saying, ‘Let’s go into the ring, toe-to-toe, head to head,’ and I said, ‘Look, I’m willing to do that, provided that other leaders participate in a regular debate.’ I don’t want anybody excluded (from debates).”

“And now he’s turned around. You can’t trust this man,” Ignatieff said. “This is about respect for the democratic process. I think Canadians would like such a debate. I’m willing to go anywhere, anytime (to debate Harper) and I repeat that.

“But if he’s kind of walking away, that tells you what you want to know about whether you can believe this man,” Ignatieff said.

Harper is rejecting Ignatieff’s call for a one-on-one debate, saying he’s more interested in campaigning on the road.

Just 24 hours after saying he’d like to square off against Ignatieff, Harper now says the idea is dead.

“We were open to all kinds of options. Our first preference was a direct debate with the leader of the coalition. Mr. Ignatieff insisted that his first preference was to have his coalition partners with him at the debate,” Harper told reporters during a campaign stop in Halifax.

“That’s the format that was proposed. We’ve accepted it,” Harper said.

While the networks have scheduled traditional debates involving all parliamentary leaders on April 12 and April 14, Ignatieff said he’s still ready to face off against Harper one-on-one, as the Conservative first proposed.

But Harper shut the door on the idea Thursday.

“We’re not interested in multiple debates. We were interested in one debate. Our first preference was clear. If Ignatieff wanted that debate, he could have chosen that debate but he didn’t,” the Conservative leader said.

“We’re going to spend the rest of our time campaigning across the country,” he said.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Corporate tax cuts today. Families in four years, if they're lucky

Critics slam Harper's post-dated tax break promise

Probably won't kick in until 2015
News1130 Staff Mar 29, 2011 07:13:04 AM

OTTAWA (NEWS1130) - Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's promised tax break for two-income families comes with a big catch, it probably won't kick in until 2015.

So, what do you make of this post-dated hitch?

One columnist with the National Post says promising a tax break that is still four years away and hinges on a balanced budget, is like promising your wife an exotic holiday once the household debt is paid.

We asked Vancouverites what they thought of Harper's vow. One man said Harper's tax break is an empty promise that he really has no obligation to uphold. "Is the economy going to go right down the tube? He can't promise that so far in the future, to say that the deficit is going to disappear. It's just impossible to predict."

Another man jokes, "It's not working, I'll be dead in four years. What's the point?"

The Conservatives are dubbing it a "fiscal responsibility," a move that might eventually save 1.8 million Canadian families $1,300.

Meanwhile, Michael Ignatieff is promising a Liberal government would give bursaries to help low-income high school students go to university. Students could qualify for as much as $1,500.

NDP Leader Jack Layton wants to take on growing family debts by capping the interest credit card companies can charge.

Coalition debate rages

There's still plenty of talk over coalitions but this time Stephen Harper is on the defensive. The idea by the Tories was to get the other parties on board so Harper could become Prime Minister by getting the most support in the House of Commons.

"I would not want the Prime Minister to think he can simply fail as a route to another general election. That's not the way our system works," Harper said back in 2004.

His former Chief of Staff says it would not have been a coalition, rather a minority Conservative government. The Opposition says Harper is being hypocritical and some are calling him a liar.

Poll: Political Parties wasting their time

According to the Abacus Data survey up to 90 per cent of Liberals and Conservatives supporters are unlikely to change their mind before Election Day.

Roughly 15 per cent of NDP support could change up before we head to the polls. That also applied to 36 per cent of Tories, 27 per cent of Liberals, 20 per cent of NDPers, and nine per cent of the Bloc. And only eight per cent of Green Party supporters would switch their support.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tom Flanagan confirms Harper is lying about his coalition intentions

Ex-adviser says Harper had coalition plan in 2004

Postmedia News
Mar 28, 2011 – 8:30 PM ET
By Randy Boswell

OTTAWA — A key adviser to Stephen Harper during his days as Opposition leader says the “co-opposition” arrangement Mr. Harper negotiated with NDP leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe in September 2004 was seen by Conservatives at the time as a potential avenue to a Harper-led minority government — without seeking Canadians’ approval in an election.

Tom Flanagan, the federal Conservatives’ former campaign manager and a one-time Harper chief of staff, told Postmedia News on Monday that the deal Mr. Harper described in 2004 as a “co-opposition” accord — but insisted then and insists now was not a formal coalition — was a “perfectly legitimate exercise” aimed at exploring whether there was “common ground for the Conservatives to undertake a minority government.”

Mr. Flanagan’s comments are significant because they raise further questions about Mr. Harper’s interpretation of the episode and, perhaps, his current election strategy of branding Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff a would-be coalition leader — even if he finishes second behind the Conservatives in the May 2 election — willing to strike a deal with Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe to trump a Mr. Harper minority and become prime minister.

Although Mr. Ignatieff explicitly ruled out forming a so-called “coalition of losers” on the first day of the campaign on Saturday, Mr. Harper has continued to make it the central thrust of his message to voters, casting the election as a choice between a “stable,” majority Conservative government or a “reckless,” Ignatieff-led alliance of also-rans — the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc.

But Mr. Harper’s strong denunciations of coalition-making in the current political context have led to pointed questions about his own actions in 2004, when the then-Opposition leader co-signed a letter with Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe urging Adrienne Clarkson — Canada’s governor general at the time — to “consider all of your options” before allowing Mr. Martin to call another general election.

“We respectfully point out,” read the letter, “that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise, this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.”

At a news conference in September of that year, Mr. Harper sat next to Mr. Layton and Mr. Duceppe as he elaborated on the message sent to Ms. Clarkson.

“There has been some informal chitter-chatter around the Hill that if a prime minister were weakened by his own party or defeated in the House, that he could just automatically call an election,” Mr. Harper said at the time. “That’s not our understanding of how the constitutional system works, particularly in a minority Parliament.”

On the day in October 2004 when Mr. Martin’s government delivered its throne speech, CTV journalist Mike Duffy — later appointed by Mr. Harper as a Conservative senator — reported that some Conservatives saw the Liberals’ troubles as a chance to make Mr. Harper prime minister.

“It is possible that you could change prime minister without having an election,” Mr. Duffy said on CTV on Oct. 5, 2004. “If you could put Stephen Harper — and this is some of the thinking of Conservatives — in 24 Sussex Drive, even for five or six months without an election, it would make the Conservative option much more palatable to Canadians because they’d see that they don’t have horns and a tail.”

Mr. Harper is striking a very different tone during this campaign on the question of whether a party other than the first-place finisher in an election should be given the opportunity to form a government without a fresh mandate from voters.

“You don’t try and form a government if you lost the election. That is not legitimate,” Mr. Harper said on Saturday, moments after meeting with Gov. Gen. David Johnston, while responding to reporters’ questions at the entrance to Rideau Hall. “If Canadians elect the other party, even by a minority, you respect that judgment. It is illegitimate to attempt to overturn that. And if you want to overturn it, you go back to the people and get a mandate to do so.”

Mr. Harper also argues that Ignatieff’s denials about having coalition ambitions are meaningless and that a postelection alliance with the NDP and Bloc is now the Liberals’ “hidden agenda.”

Meanwhile, however, Liberal strategists argue that Mr. Harper is exhibiting hypocrisy on the coalition issue while Mr. Duceppe has bluntly called the prime minister a “liar” over his recent denials about the aims of the 2004 “co-opposition” pact.

In the interview, Mr. Flanagan recalled that Mr. Harper — amid widespread doubt about whether Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government could win the support of Parliament after its October 2004 throne speech — was ready to consider forming a Conservative-led minority government without going to an election.

“As leader of the Opposition, (Mr. Harper) was going to be faced with the responsibility of voting on Martin’s budget and other legislation. And he was consulting with other opposition parties, and it doesn’t mean that he was trying to build a coalition,” said Mr. Flanagan.

“I was working for him at the time, but I wasn’t involved in this. I don’t know exactly. But the non-coalition explanation would be that he was seeing if there was common ground if the Liberals were defeated before Paul Martin could justifiably get a new election. Would there have been common ground for the Conservatives to undertake a minority government?”

Mr. Flanagan, author of the 2007 book Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power, added that: “At that point, we had, I think, 98 seats — slender, but it wouldn’t have been totally out of consideration. Would there have been some common basis on which the Mr. Harper government could propose a budget and maybe some other legislation that would be supported by these two parties, at least for a while?”

Asked if Mr. Harper might have had a different motivation for sending the letter to Ms. Clarkson — one other than ensuring that she explored the option of Conservative-led minority if Martin’s government fell — Mr. Flanagan replied: “I can’t see what other point there would have been in writing the letter except to remind everybody that it was possible to change the government in that set of circumstances without an election.”

He added that “it could have been interpreted as a warning shot across the bow of Mr. Martin, but again, it’s not effective unless it’s alluding to a real possibility that this could happen.”

In the end, the solidarity between opposition parties broke down, with the NDP’s Layton giving support to ensure the survival — at least for a time — of Martin’s Liberal government.

“It didn’t go anywhere, but I think it’s a perfectly legitimate exercise. It’s different from forming a coalition,” said Mr. Flanagan. “You can square the circle because (Mr. Harper) did give Martin the chance to form a government, but if that government couldn’t be sustained, then he could say, ‘Well, we would save the taxpayers the expense of another immediate election, but I didn’t rush to form a government . . .’”

Mr. Flanagan, a University of Calgary political scientist who no longer works as a Mr. Harper adviser, said he disagrees with his former boss about whether a minority government can — in certain circumstances — be formed by a second-place party.

“I actually don’t agree with him on that point. I think that’s true 99% of the time, but there are occasions when it isn’t. You had the Peterson-Rae coalition in Ontario, for example, which was a coalition of second- and third-place finishers.”

Just the Facts: Harper’s broken tax cut promises

Stephen Harper has broken seven Conservative tax cut promises. Now he’s promising help for families after his next fixed election date in May 2015, making families wait in line for five years behind large corporations.

Why should Canadians believe Harper’s tax cut promise this morning?

Broken tax cut promises:

1. Eliminate the capital gains tax when the proceeds are reinvested within six months (2006 Platform).

Promise: Broken.

2. Not tax income trusts (2006 Platform).

Promise: Broken.

3. Develop tax incentives for developers to build affordable housing (2006 Platform).

Promise: Broken.

4. The “Tax Back Guarantee” to pay down debt, achieve interest savings and apply those savings to personal income tax reductions (2006 Budget).

Promise: Broken.

5. Reducing Taxes on Diesel Fuels (2008 Platform).

Promise: Broken.

6. Allow families where one spouse is not working full-time in order to care for one or more family members with disabilities – whether children or adults – to split their
income between spouses for tax purposes (2008 Platform).

Promise: Broken.

7. Enhance the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit by making it refundable (2008 Platform).

Promise: Broken.


Liberal Party of Canada

All roads lead to Stephen Harper. The subversive strategy at play.

It's perhaps too obvious to require putting into words, but Harper's every action is designed to make him the only choice available to Canadians. How else to explain the enormous contradiction inherent in it being okay for him to install himself as Prime Minister as the head of a coalition of parties involving the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP as he proposed in 2004 but when either Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff contemplate such a move it becomes an option that Harper claims lacks any legitimacy and would lead to dire consequences? Ditto for the two times that Harper prorogued Parliament in order to force an election whose timing benefited him and no one else.

The only thing lacking any legitimacy is Stephen Harper's many arguments and maneuverings that are designed to make him the only game in town, and to ensure that all roads lead to Stephen Harper. Wake up Canada, as this is a serious abrogation of our political system for one man's political gain and power lust. The effect of these various maneuverings by Stephen Harper is too deprive Canadians and the Canadian political system of some very important options that need to be preserved in order for our democracy to be a complete one. Made especially important by the fact that we have five parties at the national level vying for power and not simply two parties (as in the US).

By denying Canadians of the very real and viable option of forming a coalition government, as presently exists in the UK, we are simply according Stephen Harper with more options of his own. That's the sole rational behind his contradictory and hypocritical stance on coalitions. Good if a coalition installs him as Prime Minister and bad if it means installing someone else as Prime Minister. Harper is more likely to remain as Prime Minister in a scenario where he forms another minority government and is not faced with the prospect of losing the confidence of the House early in his term and being replaced by a coalition of parties (as exists in the UK) that is able to command the confidence of the House. By raising the spectre of all the evil that exists in the option known as a coalition government, Stephen Harper is merely helping to advance his call for a majority mandate.

I for one was not impressed when Michael Ignatieff was so quick to swear off the very real and viable option of a forming a coalition government, rather than taking the opportunity to inform Canadians about who the real losers are when such options are denied them. What kind of leadership are we to expect from someone who is so quick to deny Canada from such important options when faced with a bit of head wind from the (inane) media and from an opponent who will use any argument, regardless of how contradictory or hypocritical, in order to ensure that all roads lead to him?

This is how dictators like Stephen Harper operate, by depriving the electorate of real choices that are integral to the system, thereby subverting the system, and diminishing our democratic rights as a consequence by allowing them to rewrite the rules and hoard power for themselves.

Could it be any more obvious? Could it be any more subversive?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Harper's coalition criticism backfires as past comes back to haunt him

By Mark Kennedy, Andrew Mayeda and Tobi Cohen,
Postmedia News
March 27, 2011 6:48 PM

BURNABY, B.C. — Prime Minister Stephen Harper's political weapon against rival parties has backfired and threatens to raise questions about his own credibility as he enters the third day of the race.

Harper's political past came back to haunt him Sunday on the question of coalition governments, as he fended off accusations by the opposition parties that he discussed forming a coalition with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP in 2004.

Harper has warned that the opposition parties will band together to form a Liberal-led coalition unless Canadians elect a majority government on May 2. Only a Conservative majority, he has argued, will guarantee the stability needed to ensure Canada's economic recovery remains on track.

He has delivered the warning at every stop on the campaign trail, including at a rally of Conservative supporters in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday evening.

Harper said the threat of an opposition coalition imperils the country's economic recovery and said the only solution is for Canadians to elect a "stable, national, majority Conservative government."

He is expected to continue pressing this at events on Monday near Victoria and in Edmonton. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is campaigning in Toronto, while the NDP's Jack Layton is in Regina.

Already, the opposition parties are striking back against Harper's allegations, accusing him of being a hypocrite for sowing fear of a coalition government, when he once appeared open to the idea himself.

The Conservatives hope lingering unease with the notion of a coalition will give them the push they need to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons. The risk for Harper is that the issue will morph into a debate about ethics, the opposition's preferred terrain. According to most polls, Harper is still considered by Canadians to be the most trustworthy leader. But the opposition hopes a series of controversies, including charges that senior Conservative officials violated election rules in 2008, will cut into that lead.

Harper's dalliance with the NDP and Bloc dates back to 2004, just months after Paul Martin's Liberals formed a minority government.

In September of that year, Harper signed a letter to then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson saying the Conservatives, Bloc and NDP had been in "close consultation" about what would happen should the Martin government fall. The letter, also signed by Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and Layton, reminded Clarkson that the three parties represented a majority of seats in the House.

The three leaders later appeared at a news conference together to discuss their arrangement, which all three leaders refused to publicly call a "coalition." Harper suggested "co-opposition" would be a better term.

But both Duceppe and Layton now say Harper discussed the prospect of a coalition at a private meeting they had at a hotel in Montreal before they signed the letter. Both leaders say Harper arranged the meeting.

For the second straight day, Duceppe accused Harper of lying about the arrangements made in 2004. "Quebecers are going to choose the truth," he said.

Layton stopped short of calling Harper a liar. But he said it was "crystal clear" that Harper hoped to become prime minister through the 2004 negotiations, even though the Conservatives didn't hold the most seats in the House.

"I know because I sat at the table where those discussions took place," Layton told reporters after addressing a rally in Surrey, B.C.

Coalition governments are not unheard of in parliamentary democracies such as Canada's. British Prime Minister David Cameron is currently governing under a coalition with the left-leaning Liberal Democrats.

Harper has argued it would be illegitimate for a party that didn't win the most seats in an election to try to form the government. He also says a coalition that includes the separatist Bloc should not be considered legitimate.

Ignatieff declared Sunday that his party will not form a coalition government under any circumstances.

"The person who has got a problem with the coalition is Stephen Harper," Ignatieff said.

"He has to explain what he was doing in Toronto hotel rooms meeting with Jack and Gilles. I don't have that problem. I don't go to hotel rooms with Jack and Gilles. I haven't had those kinds of happy conversations. So it is his problem, not mine. I was very clear right out of the gate: We are ruling out a coalition."

Ignatieff released a statement on Saturday to clarify the Liberal position on coalitions. The issue has dogged the party since December 2008, when former leader Stephane Dion attempted to form a coalition with Layton and Duceppe.

Ignatieff's statement said the party that wins the most seats on election day should be called on to form the government. The Liberals also ruled out a coalition with "other federal parties" and the Bloc.

But Ignatieff also called coalitions a "legitimate constitutional option" in Canada's parliamentary system — a statement the Conservatives say leaves the door open to a future Liberal-led coalition.

Harper's aides said Sunday his purpose in 2004 was to remind the governor general that she could deny an election request from Martin and force him to co-operate with the opposition parties.

For his part, Harper wouldn't provide a direct answer about his intentions in 2004. Instead, he focused on how the Conservatives ultimately brought down the government in 2005 by tabling a non-confidence motion. Rather than trying to form a coalition, the Conservatives wanted to force an election so they could get their own mandate from the Canadian electorate, he said.

"We began in 2005 and that was to defeat the government so that we could go to the election and get our own mandate. That's how the Conservative party formed the government," said Harper.

With files from Althia Raj and Kevin Dougherty, Montreal Gazette
© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Read more:

Tough call?

Tax and spend CONservatives

Reality Check:
Harper’s tax record

Today at a campaign stop in Brampton, Stephen Harper tried to distract from his record on taxes with the bogus claim that Liberals would raise taxes on everything from energy use to iPods.

Here’s the reality:

* Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party do not support a carbon tax and will not introduce one.

* The Liberal Party has been unequivocal in its opposition to an iPod levy – We believe it is not sustainable in a world of changing technology, and is unpopular with consumers. Canadians are already using multipurpose media devices to listen to music, like Blackberries, iPhones, iPads and computer livestreaming, on which the levy would not apply. (Liberal press release, December 16, 2010)

The Conservatives, on the other hand, are the biggest-spending, biggest-borrowing government in Canadian history. Even as they raised spending by 18% in their first three years alone, the Conservatives also:

* raised the lowest personal income tax rate to 15.5% in 2006.

* announced a new 34% tax on income trusts in 2006.

* introduced a new tax on air travellers in 2010.

* hiked payroll taxes as of January 1, 2011.

* opened the door to future tax hikes – when asked whether or not the government would raise taxes down the road, Jim Flaherty said, “I would never presume to say ‘never’…” (January 26, 2011).


Liberal Party of Canada

Fear the main factor in Harper's stump speeches

By: Jennifer Ditchburn,
The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speeches in the early days of the federal election campaign could give Canadians the shivers.

Harper paints a dire picture of war and financial calamity around the world, a teetering Canadian economy, and what he says is the "terrible price to pay" if the three opposition parties banding together to usurp a Conservative minority.

Harper opened the second day of his campaign Sunday once again sounding the alarm that his rivals were bent on overthrowing a future Conservative minority.

Aside from a description of measures his party introduced in the rejected federal budget, Harper has not yet mentioned new party policies.

"Friends, we are living in a fragile global recovery. Yes, Canada is doing relatively well, but a sea of troubles is lapping at our shores, disaster in the Pacific, chaos in the Middle East, debt problems in Europe and of course very serious challenges south of our border. Canada is the closest thing the world has to an island of security and stability," Harper told a crowd of about 300 in Brampton, Ont.

"What would the world think were we to suddenly head off into some whole new, high-tax economic direction, led by a reckless coalition, without a coherent program or even basic national principles?

"That is why Canada must have a strong, stable national government and only the Conservative party can provide that kind of government."

Striking fear in the hearts of voters about rivals is a tried and true tactic. The Liberals used it successfully in 2004, suggesting Harper had a hidden agenda that included taking away a woman's right to choose an abortion.

But the move backfired for Paul Martin in the 2006 election, when his party warned voters in an ad that Harper would put "soldiers on the streets" of Canadian cities. In the 2008 American presidential election, the Republicans used "socialist" as the dirty word against Democrat Barack Obama, warning of a scenario where the country would become a welfare state.

The Conservatives have chosen a supposed coalition as the centre of their doom-and-gloom scenarios, knowing how unpopular the former Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's attempt to form one was with voters in 2008. The Conservatives spiked in the polls shortly after Dion signed a document of co-operation with his NDP and Bloc Quebecois counterparts.

"If we don't win a stable majority, he believes he can get a mandate from the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois to govern even if he didn't win the election," Harper said.

"That's not right, that's not democracy, and Canada will pay a terrible price if that happens. That's what we've got to stop. We've got to have a strong, stable national Conservative government in this country."

Harper touched on the predominantly southeast Asian origins of the crowd in the suburban banquet hall, saying people who had sought out Canada as their new home didn't believe in taking the gamble on a risky coalition.

Winning the support of only a slightly larger swath of the ethnic vote in ridings in the Greater Toronto Area could help flip some to Conservative blue from Liberal red. A number were won with less than five per cent of the vote, including Brampton West where Liberal Andrew Kania won by only 231 votes over this Tory rival.

The Conservatives have been aggressively trying to court different cultural groups since before they came to power in 2006, and have been slowly moving toward the Liberal and NDP bastion of Toronto itself. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who was in the crowd Sunday, recently wrote to colleagues asking for their support in an advertising campaign designed to sway "very ethnic" ridings.

"We want to win everywhere, we want to represent all Canadians, we want to represent Canadians of all cultural backgrounds, and we have always to go, but now more than ever Canada needs a strong, stable national government and only the Conservative party is within range of forming that government."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Harper would never lie, would he?

Bloc leader says Harper lying about earlier coalition bid

By: The Canadian Press

MONTREAL - Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe says Prime Minister Stephen Harper is lying when he says there was no plan in 2004 to build a political coalition to replace the then-Liberal government.

Harper has repeatedly raised the spectre of a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition taking over if he fails to get his longed-for majority.

The prime minister says it's undemocratic for a second-place party to try to take power.

But Duceppe says Harper wanted to form his own coalition seven years ago against Paul Martin's Liberals.

He said there was a key meeting in a Montreal hotel where the subject of the opposition parties banding together against Martin was thrashed out.

Duceppe says Harper asked him at the time what the Bloc would like to see in the throne speech.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Harper charged with CONTEMPT, four years after the fact

Today a motion of being in contempt of Parliament (ergo the Canadian people) was brought against Stephen Harper by the Liberals.

Stephen Harper's first act of contempt against the Canadian people and against the precepts of democracy was his patent lie that income trusts cause tax leakage, which was nothing more than an artifice argument that he employed to get out from under his explicit election promise in 2006 to "never tax income trusts". Instead the contemptuous Stephen Harper double-taxed income trusts.

The need to get out from under this explicit promise to the Canadian electorate arose from the fact that once Harper got into office Harper was more concerned about appeasing the wishes of Canadians CEOs who wanted to kill income trusts for their nefarious reasons than he was about honouring his promises and election campaign commitments.

To achieve that end the inherently dishonest Stephen Harper came up with the bogus argument that income trusts cause tax leakage. This argument, as facile as it was, was successfully in duping about 99% of Canadian media (including the CBC, Globe and Mail, National Post, etc, etc.) along with virtually every one of the 308 Members of Parliament who were elected to represent the people and uphold the standards of Parliamentary democracy by demanding proof for such allegations. All Harper ever produced as evidence for this claim of tax leakage was 18 pages of blacked out documents, citing National Security as his reasons for not revealing the analysis that underlay these blacked out documents. As absurd as the argument of National Security was, and as absurd and untrue as the claim of tax leakage was, Canada's Parliament with the support of the NDP and the Bloc ushered in a tax policy that had no factual underpinnings to it whatsoever and that caused Canadians to lose $35 billion in the value of their hard earned retirement savings and a policy which saw a wave of foreign takeovers of devalued trusts, with the result that real tax leakage was caused to the tune of $1 billion a year!

So where was Canada's media and Members of Parliament when this fraudulent act was going down? Where were the cries of Contempt for Parliament when Harper was able to psin his lies about tax leakage by employing black out documents as his proof for the lame brains in Parliament? Lame brains like Jack Layton, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Pat Martin and Thomas Mulcair? Lame brains like Diane Ablonczy, Dean Del Mastro and Riok Dykstra? Lame brains in the media from A to Z? From the CBC to the Globe and Mail? Where were those cries of contempt? Why were income trust investors the only ones concerned about Parliamentary due process, accountability, transparency and the effects that Harper was having on our democracy. That was over four years ago that we first raised these issues and forewarned people about where such conduct was sure to lead.

It has only taken the rest of Canada including our media and elected representatives four years to catch up to us. Well done. NOT.

And why did it take Michael Ignatieff over four years to utter these words and actually act upon them for once?

"You have spoken, Mr. Speaker. The committee has spoken, and now the House must speak with a clear voice," Ignatieff told the Commons today.

"And it must say that a government that breaks the rules and conceals facts from the Canadian people does not deserve to remain in office."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Harpo, the juggling seal

Harper jeopardized by scandals

Operative word: Scandals (as in plural). I guess Harpo the Seal was unable to keep all those balls in the air. He only succeeded in outdoing the Chretien government by having multiple scandals instead of only one. Harpo gives new meaning to the expression "go big or go home". In Harpo's case it's "go big and go home"

Harper jeopardized by scandals

By Kris Kotarski, For the Calgary Herald March 21, 2011 3:02 AM

When Paul Martin's Liberals were swept from power in the 2006 federal election, the National Post's Barbara Kay began her postelection column with: "It isn't that the Conservatives didn't win big enough to please me; it was that the Liberals didn't lose big enough."

Although I agree with Kay's columns about as often as Canadians get to see a solar eclipse (we're due to agree again this June!), I thought she captured the postelection mood perfectly.

After a steady trickle of Chuck Guite, Alfonso Gagliano, Jean Brault and the rest of the sponsorship scandal's stars and starlets, even some left-leaning Canadians were happy to turn the page on the AdScam Liberals. I recall thinking that the election wasn't just about changing one governing party for another -more than in any other vote in our recent history, it was a cleansing ritual, with legitimate moral outrage sweeping the Liberals from power in 2006.

Fast forward to 2011, and, rather surprisingly, Canada's electoral math has not changed at all. Despite a generational global economic crisis, serious convulsions in the world's energy markets, a new era in U.S. politics and a continuing war in Afghanistan, Canadians have refused to grant Stephen Harper a majority government, just as they refused to accept Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff as prime-ministers-in-waiting.

Each time the poll numbers have inched up to put the Conservatives in majority territory, the voters have pulled back. Each time the Liberals have gained and begun to pull even with the Conservatives, the voters told them in no uncertain terms that they were not trusted to form a government just yet.

Although this uneasy balance has persisted long enough to be broadly accepted as our new Canadian consensus, the moral dimension of Canadian politics did change during the past five years, and, from Harper's point of view, not for the better.

After an initial honeymoon that lasted until the income trust decision in late 2006, the Conservatives have marched step by step to alienate groups of potential voters.

For some, the disillusionment came quickly, when a pledge to "stop the Liberal attack on retirement savings and preserve income trusts by not imposing any new taxes on them" was violated, infuriating the business community and seniors.

For others, it was the decision to prorogue Parliament, not once, but twice -first shutting down the House in late 2008 to avoid a confidence vote and a possible federal election call, and then shutting it down again in late 2009 to avoid a burgeoning human rights scandal raised by diplomat Richard Colvin, who alleged Afghan detainees turned over to Afghanistan prisons by Canadian soldiers were tortured.

I suspect that many university-educated big city voters began to think twice about Harper and his principles when Colvin was unceremoniously smeared by the Conservative government for blowing the whistle on detainee abuse.

I suspect that many more are baffled by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, who callously ordered that the word "not" be inserted into a Canadian International Development Agency memo that recommended funding a Canadian aid group, and then telling Parliament she did not know who made the change.

However, if these scandals made a Harper majority unlikely by alienating potential voters, the latest scandal has the potential to end his minority government altogether, because it is bound to seriously upset his traditional supporters.

Late last week, accusations surfaced that 66-yearold former Harper aide Bruce Carson engaged in illegal lobbying in the Indian Affairs department to secure a water filtration contract that would send 20 per cent of gross revenues to his 22-year-old fiancee, Michele McPherson, a former Ottawa escort.

Because ex-escorts do not easily leave the front pages of newspapers once they get there, this story is not going to go away. And, if an election is called this week, voters will continue to be confronted with the sort of moral rot for which the Liberals were punished five years ago.

Recalling Kay's words, we may be heading for an election where many Canadians may be hoping for the Conservatives to "lose big enough," regardless of who is on the other side. That's a dangerous mix for the PM, but it's a moral landscape of his own making.

Kris Kotarski's column runs every second Monday.

Read more:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ethical oil?

Laura Stone of the Calgary Herald reports: "Bruce Carson has taken a leave of absence but did not resign from a provincial government advisory panel for Alberta’s oil sands in light of an RCMP investigation into the business dealings of the former senior advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper."

So, I guess the best boosters in Alberta for "ethical oil" are people like Bruce Carson with past criminal charges who served jail time and are now embroiled in charges of influence peddling? Sounds like ethical oil to me. Not.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Here's Brucey.........

Harper regime in ethical tailspin
Posted on March 17, 2011

The Harper regime’s ethical tailspin continues to spin out of control after the Prime Minister was forced to call in the RCMP to investigate allegations of influence peddling by Bruce Carson, a key advisor in his inner circle, Liberal House Leader David McGuinty said today.

“It’s unprecedented to see a government face two RCMP investigations in the space of a week,” said Mr. McGuinty. “This Conservative regime is in an ethical tailspin – facing charges of breaking election laws, allegations of misleading Parliament and hiding costs from Canadians, and now an RCMP investigation into allegations of selling access to the PMO.”

Bruce Carson is Stephen Harper’s former Legislative Assistant and former Acting Chief of Staff. After travelling with the Prime Minister in his role as Senior Advisor during the 2008 election campaign, he was appointed Executive Director of the Canada School of Energy and the Environment. The CSEE is the direct recipient of large amounts of federal money.

This is not the first time Mr. Carson has been in trouble. In July 1981, Carson was disbarred by the Law Society of Upper Canada after “forging clients’ signatures and ‘misappropriating’ almost $24,000 of his clients’ money” (Ottawa Citizen, 21 July, 1981). In December 1982, he pled guilty to two counts of theft and was sentenced to 18 months in jail for misappropriating this money from his former clients.

“This isn’t just anyone who is being investigated,” said Mr. McGuinty. “This is one of Harper’s closest advisors – and another member of his inner circle under a cloud of suspicion. Once again, we see allegations of Conservative insiders doling out privileged access to the Prime Minister.”

This latest bombshell comes as multiple scandals engulf the Harper regime. This is the second time in the last week that the RCMP has been called in to investigate top Harper operatives, and just two weeks ago, four other members of Harper’s inner circle were accused of breaking Canada’s election laws and face jail time if convicted.

“Conservatives think that the Government of Canada is there to serve them and their partisan purposes. They’re wrong. Canadians are tired of the scandal, abuse, and reckless waste of their taxpayer dollars,” Mr. McGuinty concluded.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jason Kenney's ethnic pandering

Forget about the Conservative logo for a moment. Instead, ponder over just what exactly is meant by Jason Kenney's award that reads:

"In celebration of the spirit of diversity that exists within Canada awarded to the Yang Sheng Restaurant for creating an authentic multicultural dining experience."

Authentic multicultural dining experience? Who makes these judgments? The ethnicity police?

How low will these pandering Tories stoop to capture a vote?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is Jason Kenney really disquieted about Power Corp's influence over Canadian policy?

The Western Standard March 25, 2005

"Jason Kenney, a Conservative MP, says the questions being raised about Power's possible connection to Oil-for-Food are worth asking. But he's quick to point out that if the Liberals guided the country's foreign policy based on their connections to Power, then we should be asking questions about the Canadian government, too. "I am not the least bit critical of the Desmarais family for being rational actors in a free marketplace and pursuing their advantage," says Kenney. "I am, however, somewhat disquieted by the degree to which Power Corp.'s corporate interest seems to influence Canadian foreign policy. Obviously, every company seeks to influence government policy–regulatory, taxation or otherwise–but Power Corp. seems to have a particularly unique influence over Canadian foreign policy."

Globe November 2, 2006:

"High-profile directors and CEOs, meanwhile, had approached Mr. Flaherty personally to express their concerns: Many felt they were being pressed into trusts because of their duty to maximize shareholder value, despite their misgivings about the structure. Paul Desmarais Jr., the well-connected chairman of Power Corp. of Canada, even railed against trusts in a conversation with Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a trip to Mexico, and told him he should act quickly to stop the raft of conversions, according to sources."

Meanwhile Flaherty lied to Canadians about tax leakage to fulfill the wishes of "High-profile directors and CEOs" and folks like Paul Desmarais Jr. See:

It's not a gag order. It's HUSH MONEY!

For Immediate Release
March 8, 2011

What is Harper hiding with the former Integrity Commissioner?

OTTAWA – Liberals are calling on Stephen Harper to tell Canadians what he was trying to hide with his gag order and half-a-million-dollar payout to former Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet.

“A senior government official resigns in disgrace after failing to do her job, but gets rewarded with more than $500,000 of Canadians’ money,” said Jean-Claude D’Amours, Liberal MP and Public Accounts Committee member. “What is Mr. Harper trying to hide with his gag order?”

Last week media reports revealed that the Conservative government paid Ms. Ouimet more than $500,000 - $407,000 in severance pay and another $130,000 as part of an agreement that she not say or do anything that may “impair the reputation” or “be otherwise detrimental” to the government. (Postmedia News, March 5, 2011)

“Ms. Ouimet’s golden parachute tells us one thing about the Harper Conservatives’ approach to watchdogs: do nothing and you’ll get a half-million-dollar severance, but do your job properly, like Linda Keen, Paul Kennedy or Munir Sheikh, and you’ll be fired,” said Mr. D’Amours.

Liberal MP Navdeep Bains, who also sits on the Public Accounts Committee, noted that officers of Parliament are required to act independently, and will find out if this was the case.

“Canadians deserve to know what role the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office had in Ms. Ouimet’s atrocious record of sweeping away 228 whistleblower complaints without an investigation,” said Mr. Bains. “Many of these cases involved the misuse of funds and government property that would be highly embarrassing to the Conservative government.

“In less than three years, the Prime Minister has destroyed the credibility of an independent Public Sector Integrity Commission,” concluded Mr. Bains. “If public servants – and all Canadians – can’t count on the PMO or PCO to defend those who expose wrongdoing, who can they trust?"


Office of Jean-Claude D’Amours, MP, 613-995-0581
Office of the Hon. Navdeep Bains, MP, 613-995-7784

Orwell comes to Ottawa

Orwell comes to Ottawa: framing and marketing federal Income Trust Tax

How the Harper Government used taxpayer dollars for a campaign to frame and sell a new tax based on emotive slogans and claims that were almost entirely false.

Published March 7, 2011,
The Hill Times

Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. The Harper Government's framing and marketing of the 31.5 per cent tax on certain types of income trusts (ITs) announced on Oct. 31, 2006 could have been designed by the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's famous novel 1984.

The tax was a public policy train wreck that, among other things, it caused the loss of some $32-billion in retirement savings for over two million owners of trust units within two days of the announcement. Yet, the dramatic reversal of a highly publicized position by Stephen Harper does not appear to have been a serious political liability. Why? Because of the way it was framed and sold to voters.

Their perceptions are often formed on initial impressions of messages in the news media. In this case, with few exceptions, the news media bought the government's framing of the huge new tax as a matter of "fairness," and the need to eliminate serious "tax leakage." Both justifications had nothing to do with the underlying reasons for the tax.

Framing the Income Trust Tax Issue:

Wordsmiths and political marketing specialists have enormous faith in their ability to frame issues and use big expenditures on "public communications" (read propaganda) so as to sell just about any otherwise obnoxious decision by a government.

In some cases, the objective is not to create support for a policy, but to dissipate anger and neutralize potential opposition. What was a highly discriminatory (e.g., Real Estate Investment Trusts were exempted), and unjustified tax was nonetheless, audaciously framed as a matter of "tax fairness," one of the most emotive terms in the Canadian political vocabulary. The creator of the campaign was proud of his efforts—see CBC News, "Spin Cycles: Calling Dr. Spin, Interview with Dan Miles, director of communications to the minister of Finance," Feb. 2, 2007;

The huge tax on ITs was packaged with other changes to create confusion in what was called the "Tax Fairness Plan"( what Orwellian language). It included three other measures which cut taxes: (i) a reduction in the federal corporate income tax rate, (ii) splitting of seniors' pension income with the spouse (which helped only 15 per cent of pensioners—a fact not disclosed ), and (iii) an increase in the old age tax credit from $4,066 to $5,066 to be effective Jan. 1, 2007. The value of these quickly cobbled-together tax cuts was a tiny fraction of the losses suffered by seniors who held trust units.

The tax on ITs was also said to be a matter of "leveling the playing field" (another emotive and utterly misleading phrase that was repeated ad nauseam by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty ) vis-à-vis regular business corporations by using nominal tax rates in setting the tax on trust distributions at 31.5 per cent. Since the average effective tax rate for corporations was about one-third of the nominal rate, the new tax would effectively "kill" the income trusts, which had been a remarkably successful form of business organization. This is exactly what the top corporate executives who secretly lobbied the Harper government wanted.

The tax hike for some two million people was also justified in the court of public opinion by claiming that ITs were causing severe "tax leakage" for the federal and provincial governments.

Harper's spin-meisters used the official estimates of revenue losses due to income trusts (so called "tax leakage") to argue that income trust constituted a severe problem—even a crisis. Several aspects of this argument should be noted. First, until the Conservatives came to power, the federal government used the far less emotive term "revenue losses" when arguing that ITs generated less total tax revenue than did corporations. Second, the earlier claimed revenue losses were due largely to the deeply flawed methodology of the Department of Finance which omitted deferred taxes collected from the owners of IT units held in tax deferral accounts such as RRSPs. Even Prof. Jack Mintz, whose grossly inflated estimates of tax revenue losses were often cited by the Minister, said the omission was simply wrong. This serious flaw had been pointed out to officials in the Department of Finance by Dennis Bruce of HLB/HDR Decision Economics in his authoritative studies published in 2004 and 2005.

Third, despite all the claims of "tax leakage" after the announcement, Finance did not produce any estimate for 2006 ($500-million) until Jan. 28, 2007. Until then, the Minister relied on Prof. Mintz's badly flawed estimates. Fourth, consultant Dennis Bruce showed in his testimony before the Commons Finance Committee on Feb.1, 2007 that when deferred taxes are included, and the serious errors made by Finance officials are corrected, the estimated federal revenue loss for 2006 is ZERO, not the claimed $500-million. He showed that all of the errors by the Finance officials biased their estimate upwards. How convenient! Were the officials "cooking" the numbers to please the minister?

Phony Crisis:

Contrary to the emotive rhetoric of the Minister of Finance, there really was no fiscal crisis. The erroneous revenue losses amounted to less than 0.5 per cent of federal tax revenues, and the federal government was running a $10-billion surplus at the time.

The government was helped in creating the perception of a crisis when BCE Inc announced that it was going to convert to an income trust on Oct. 12, 2006. (It may have done so in order to provoke action against trusts.) This was only a month after Telus Corp.—Canada's second largest telecom—had made a similar announcement. When justifying the new tax, Finance Minister Flaherty referred to these announcements and hinted that more were in the works. He said he had to act to stop future conversions, and the loss of tax revenues. Yet we now know the government was not motivated by its claims of "tax leakage." Flaherty never told the public that the two big telecoms were then paying almost no corporate income tax—and did not expect to do so for several years (see the announcements of BCE, Dec.12, 2006, and Telus, Dec.14, 2006).

Ignore the likely induced adverse consequences:

By framing the issue emotively as one of tax fairness and of tax leakage, the government found it convenient to ignore the reasonably predictable adverse consequences induced by the IT tax. These included foreigners acquiring ITs (e.g., Abu Dhabi Energy acquired Prime West Energy), and ITs going private—both which resulted in real revenue losses vastly greater than the claimed "tax leakage," (see, for example Steve Chase, The Globe and Mail, June 13, 2007.)

Miniscule tax savings:

The Harper government did not put the claimed $1-billion annual tax savings in the so-called "tax fairness plan" into perspective—for good reason. The claimed savings amounted to less than one per cent of the $110.5—billion collected from the personal income tax in 2006/07 (Department of Finance, Fiscal Reference Tables, September 2007). The claimed savings were only three per cent of the capital losses suffered by owners of trust units within two days of the announcement of the new tax.

Soften up some potential opponents:

Was it just a coincidence that the executive director of Canadian Association of Income Funds, and the CEO of Canaccord Adams (an investment dealer) were appointed to the board of National Research Council, and Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee, respectively, just two days after the IT tax was announced?

Both organizations had vigorously lobbied then-Liberal Finance minister Ralph Goodale in the fall of 2005 when he signalled that he expected to tax ITs at source. Canaccord Adams issued a 24-page paper critical of the tax on ITs on Nov. 2, 2006. It certainly appears that CAIF was less hostile to the new tax on ITs post-Oct. 31, 2006, than it had been with respect to the Discussion Paper of Sept. 8, 2005.

Exploit the Unorganized and Politically Ineffectual:

When he was opposition leader, Stephen Harper (in a National Post op ed on Oct. 26, 2005) hinted at how the Liberals—who he was criticizing for considering taxing ITs—could exploit the political weakness of the unorganized holders of ITs. Harper observed "As one government member was quoted in the media as saying about income trust investors, 'They have no constituency. They don't count politically.' That kind of arrogance cannot go unanswered. There is just no justification for what amounts to a Liberal government attack on investors, and especially on seniors." Yet Harper did exactly that and relied on the same political calculus.

Other Factors:

The framing and marketing of the new tax on ITs was helped by several other factors. First, the NDP, led by its finance critic, was a vocal supporter of the new tax. She repeated uncritically the government's talking points. Whether this was simply an extension of the party's previous opposition to ITs, or a deal with the Harper government is unknown. Second, the integrity of Liberals was impugned by the investigation by the RCMP (prompted in part by complaints by the NDP finance critic) of allegations of leaks just prior to the announcement of the increased dividend tax credit on Nov. 23, 2005.


The Harper government used taxpayer dollars for an extensive campaign to frame and sell the huge tax on income trusts based on emotive slogans and claims that were almost entirely fallacious. In reality, the new tax caused serious harm to Canadians, harms that were quite predictable when the PM made the decision to impose the tax. The campaign was led by the minister of Finance whose statements were replete with "terminological inexactitudes." The framing and selling of the IT tax was truly a case of Orwell coming to Ottawa. And it worked. Despite the efforts of CAITI, and evidence of its adverse consequences, the killer tax played only a very limited role in the next general election. The Conservatives won 19 more seats in the Oct.14, 2008 election.

The framing and selling of the trust tax was just part of what has been a systematic and audacious effort by the Harper government to create its own version of reality for voters.

W.T. Stanbury is professor emeritus, University of British Columbia. This column was drawn from the far more detailed account in the author's forthcoming book on the income trust tax.