Stephen Harper’s Canada IV: “Never Been Ready”

As Canadians begin to see that the Tory’s last line of defence—“Good Stewards of the Economy”— is coming apart, maybe it is time to examine another subject. It is one that should earn the government some sort of recognition for Most Laughable Exercise in Hypocrisy. The subject is the exercise of good judgment in appointing people to positions of power.

Unless you are a snowbird who is really late returning to Canada after avoiding the naturally occurring winter weather disasters (in which humans, of course, play no part), you have no doubt seen the latest Tory attack ad.  It raps Justin Trudeau as “just not ready” to be prime minister. The ad features a group of just ordinary folks sitting around a table discussing that sad conclusion. “I’m not saying never”, says one woman earnestly, “just not now”.

Old ex-pat Americans like me will quickly recognize the ad as a replica of the “Harry and Louise” TV campaign paid for by U.S. insurance companies in the early 90’s to defeat health care reform. Harper’s folks get a lot of ideas and guidance from the U.S. right, especially when it comes to media.

The Canadian Harry and Louise ad is but one example of the Tories’ professed concern for Trudeau’s judgment.  I have no particular brief for the Liberal leader.  Mine is an ABC campaign, remember?  I recommend voting for Marty the Marmot before any Conservative candidate. But comparing the attack on Trudeau with Harper’s own record of exercising judgment is what supplies the comic relief here.  Take a look at just a few samples of Harper’s judgment of people and see if you want to laugh or cry.

A Harry and Louise ad about Harper’s judgment would require the line: “I am saying never—- never been ready”.

Duffy, Brazeau, Wallin, and Wright: Three Minor Leaguers and an All-Star

When it comes to Harper’s judgment in making appointments that affect our lives, the most highly publicized embarrassments have actually been relatively minor ones compared to others that have received less attention.

MIKE DUFFY AND NIGEL WRIGHT

WrightHarper selected Duffy to be a Senator from a place where he didn’t reside. This was a minor “oops”, outweighed by the fact that it allowed Duffy to travel the country making speeches and raising money for the party, while attending public events that let him charge the whole trip to all of us.  A further advantage to the appointment was that we not only got to pay for the speeches and fund raising, we also got to pay Duffy for traveling to work from the house he didn’t live in.

Senators are not big power figures in the Canadian system. But when a scandal reared its politely Canadian head from all Duffy’s shenanigans, Nigel Wright, an appointee with real power, tried to make it go away.  One does not get any closer to a prime minister than the position of Chief of Staff. Wright was the All-Star in charge of getting minor leaguer Duffy, and the Tories, out of trouble. Wright wrote a personal cheque for $90,000 to deal with Duffy’s  suspect expense accounts and cooperated in a scheme to obfuscate the nature of the payment.   Was Harper in on the deal, as Duffy claims?  Harper is famous for micro-managing personnel matters, but maybe an elaborate conspiracy by his right hand man kept him ignorant.  If so, does that say anything about the choice of Wright?

MAC2398Duffy is now on trial. He is not happy with his position under the proverbial bus and claims that he has a lot to say about the PM. This is old but ongoing news to Canadians. The trial resumes 11 August with Wright as the first witness.

PATRICK BRAZEAU

Untitled-1While we are checking the court calendar, we should not forget Patrick Brazeau, another Senator appointed on the advice of Stephen Harper. It is an unfortunate fact that oppressed peoples are sometimes subjected to the additional burden of self-aggrandizing leaders. It takes good judgment to recognize these folks.  Brazeau saw no problem in continuing to draw his public money from the Senate and his post with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, but that turned out to be the least of his problems.

Brazeau has been suspended from the Conservative caucus and is currently juggling court dates to face various charges, including fraud, breach of trust, assault, sexual assault, and cocaine possession.  Says Brazeau: “I’ll be making a political comeback. At the end of the day, governments of every stripe need to stop placing roadblocks in front of what is aboriginal people’s rights and benefits”.  One may hope that First Nations people will sort out whose rights and benefits are really at stake and who can best advance their surely legitimate cause.

PAMELA WALLIN

Pamela WallinIn some respects, poor Pamela Wallin is the least culpable of Harper’s questionable appointees.  Sure, she lived in Toronto, not Saskatchewan, her putative province of appointment that the Constitution requires.  Given the presence of a rather large patch of land called Manitoba on the way to Saskatchewan, it is pretty obvious that Toronto is considerably closer to Ottawa where the Senate sits, making travel somewhat less of a burden.  On the other hand, until recently, ignoring the residency requirement had never been a big deal. Her $29,000 travel claims for “regular” travel to Saskatchewan and back over two years is nothing to get bent out of shape about.  Wallin, however, was a well spoken and well known media figure. One suspects it was her claims for “other” travel for “networking” events similar to Duffy’s publicly funded Conservative campaign stops, that got her in trouble.   Overall, in expense claims for a two-year period, her $359,000 bill to the public is second all time only to another Tory, Gerry St. Germain, who comes in at $378,000. An audit has determined that Wallin should pay back $121,000. She is still fuming, but she at least does not appear on anyone’s criminal court docket.

Before we leave the Senate and look at some less well known but more frightening failures in judgment, let’s dispose of the excuse that “everybody does it”.  Sure, there is also ongoing scrutiny involving expense accounts of Senators from opposition parties. But, with respect, if that prompts you to shrug at Conservative actions that reflect poor judgment at best and ideologically driven corruption at worst, there is something you do not fully grasp. It is the reality of comparative wrongdoing. Nobody does this stuff to the degree that the Tories do. Since the days of the Canadian Pacific Railway, no government has.

Some Real All-Stars

ARTHUR PORTER

arthur-porter-620x349In Party of One, Michael Harris terms putting Porter in charge of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) the worst appointment decision Harper ever made. When his story had played out, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called it “perhaps the most shocking failure of judgment and due diligence in Canadian history”.  Let’s see if that was hyperbole.

Harris and May made their statements well before the infamous internal spying bill, C-51became law. (See April 22d 2015 post)  The SIRC is supposed to be an independent external review body that monitors the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and reports to Parliament on the activities of the domestic spy agency.  The SIRC chair has access to all information held by CSIS including, to put it plainly, everything they know about you.

When he was not zealously overseeing CSIS, Porter apparently had sideline involvements in bribery, as well as dabbling in Canada’s $12 billion dollar weapons trade.  He, of course, had U.S. right wing credentials and liked to display photos of himself with George Bush and Dick Cheney. Oh yes, at the time of his appointment he was already a recognized agent of a foreign country, his native Sierra Leone.

Apparently Harper does not read the National Post. In light of its editorial policy, that is surprising. But two weeks before his appointment to head SIRC, the paper reported on Porter’s efforts to be recognized as a diplomat from Cote D’Ivoire, a country at the time run by a strongman later sent to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity.

Porter did not get to represent Cote D’Ivoire but he did manage to get himself a place here on the Privy Council and the board of Air Canada.

Porter, a medical doctor, secured another position where he found time to be quite active after his appointment to SIRC.  There is a bit of scandal in Quebec that you may vaguely recall.  It is involves government, organized crime figures, and other unpleasant things. Part of it involves the award of a development contract for a  $1.38 billion hospital in Montreal.  McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), a health care consortium, recommended to the Quebec government that  SNC-Lavalin, a global company based in Montreal, was the one for the job.  Heading MUHC, and instrumental to the award was, you guessed it, Arthur Porter.

There is circumstantial evidence from which one could reasonably infer that SNC-Laval undertook to pay in installments a $30 million kickback to Porter. A court should decide whether that is true. On this and other matters, Porter has been charged with 13 counts of, inter alia, fraud, accepting a bribe, and money laundering. Unfortunately, he is in Panama fighting extradition.  SNC-Laval has not specifically admitted bribing Porter, but has copped to the general practice of paying bribes to get government contracts. The World Bank barred the company and 100 of its subsidiaries from bidding on bank projects for 10 years.

By the time Porter’s dealings pointed him toward the criminal justice system, he had resigned from SIRC in 2011. Harper thanked him for his service to his country. Harris notes that the PM didn’t specify which one.

A footnote, lest we get the impression that the PM had learned anything. When Porter resigned from SIRC, Harper named Tory MP Chuck Strahl to replace him.  Strahl lasted 18 months. He was forced to resign when the extent of his continued lobbying on behalf of Enbridge became known.   Enbridge is the company that wants to build a tar sands pipeline from Alberta to BC.  (The pipeline that I, and most British Columbians, fervently hope never comes to pass.)  Since CSIS spies on First Nations and environmental groups and the government has labeled us eco-radicals or worse, there was something of a conflict of interest with Strahl, one that was apparent to just about everyone with the exception of Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, also appointed in 2007 on advice of the Harper cabinet.

BRUCE CARSON

1303338625682_ORIGINALCarson was a Harper insider from the jump in 2006.  At the time Harper invited him to join the Prime Minister’s Office staff he was also a disbarred lawyer with convictions for theft and fraud that had earned him 18 months in jail.  In the PMO, he had a top-secret security clearance and soon become the PM’s chief policy analyst.

Carson served in the PMO twice. After the first two years, Harper managed a mutually beneficial gig for him. He was appointed head of the Canada School of Energy and Environment (CSEE), administered by universities in Alberta. The official goal of the new school was to move Canada toward becoming a clean energy leader. Instead, Carson  continued in his old role, dismissing international climate control agreements and shilling for the oil industry and Harper’s energy policies.  Not a great scandal, except that CSEE got $15 million in public funding to help Carson’s efforts.

Carson returned to the PMO. There, while involved in preparing the 2009 budget, he lobbied for a CSEE program that later got $25 million more of our money.

The end game began in 2011 when the Aboriginal People’s Network (APTN) aired an investigative report on Carson’s unlawful lobbying on behalf of a company trying to sell water filtration systems to First Nations reserves.  In fairness, the combination of poor native leadership and government neglect made this a tempting market for any entrepreneur.  The final straw was an RMCP investigation into Carson’s dealing with another water filtration company.  In that one, the company signed a deal that gave a healthy share of the profits to Carson’s fiancé, a 22-year-old former escort that he had met as a client. In all these ventures, there is evidence that Carson used his political connections.  Carson, 68, has been charged with influence peddling. His latest trial date is September 8th.

In addition to the standard “it’s not our job to do the vetting” response, the government offered for Porter and other appointments gone awry, the prime minister’s spokesman noted that Carson’s activities took place “after he was in our office” and concluded that they did not reflect badly on the image of the Conservative government.

“Ethics, Schmethics”

I will never forget sitting in a law school class when one of my fellow students asked, “But professor, wouldn’t that be unethical?”  To which the professor responded, “Ethics, Schmethics. Ethics is for Episcopalians.”

DEL MASTRO 

former-mp-dean-del-mastro-is-led-away-in-handcuffs-and-shack2-e1435265882372Former Tory MP Dean Del Mastro seems to be a direct ideological descendant of my professor. Del Mastro was recently sentenced to jail for various election law delicts, including overspending, lying, and intentionally filing false documents.  The judge called his offences an affront to the principles of Canada’s democratic system. Whether that is an overstatement, there is a particular distinction that earns Del Mastro his place in this list.

Remember the accusations of election fraud around the 2011 election that brought Harper his “majority”?  The robocall scandal? (For a quick summary, see the post below: Stephen Harper’s Canada III)  Del Mastro sat on the House of Commons Ethics Committee and Harper chose him as his go-to guy to answer questions about the illegal Conservative party robocalls.

Why All This Matters

4292341871_faf02f1a4e_bIt is almost too easy to expose Harper’s dreadful lack of judgment, especially against the backdrop of his law and order posturing and the absurd ads attacking Trudeau.

But so what?

I can only offer the wisdom of a friend and colleague given years ago. I was thoroughly fed up with both U.S. parties and not even planning to vote.  He said, “Look, the party in power gets to name the people who operate the bureaus and agencies that affect people directly and make their lives better or worse. The public doesn’t even know the names of these people, much less anything about them. But, on the whole, it is better for everyone that Democrats appoint them than Republicans.”  That was hardly a fiery endorsement of one party, but true.

It will be equally true for Canada on October 19th.  I hope you will look at the candidates in your riding and vote for the one, from whatever party, with the best chance to defeat the Conservative. Vote for anyone except the candidate who will return to power a prime minister who has never been ready.  Remember, we bear responsibility for electing people like Del Mastro and the latest Tory shining star, Wai Young. She is the Vancouver MP  who recently announced that the government was working “in the same vein” as Jesus when it gave us the C-51 spy bill. (FYI, the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:36 “Jesus wept”.)

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