Inkster on the income trust investigation

Earlier this week, RCMP commissioner Giuliano (Zack) Zaccardelli got thrust into the unenviable position of seeing his RCMP investigators are indeed conducting an investigation in the midst of an election campaign into the possibility that senior government officials may have inappropriately disclosed some market-moving financial information. This has come to be known as the income trust scandal.

Norman InksterSo today,  for a report I prepared for tonight’s national newscast, I asked Norman Inkster, the RCMP commissioner from 1987–1994, to give us some colour and background on the RCMP and their role and decision-making processes in all of this. My interview notes are reproduced below. Not all of the interview aired and this is an edited and shortened version of our discussion.

Background: On November 23, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale announces a new policy outlining how his department plans to tax distributions from income trusts and how it will tax dividends. Prior to that point, income trusts enjoyed a more favourable tax regime. Goodale had earlier signalled that he might be inclined to raise the taxes paid by income taxes. That hint caused a broad sell-off earlier this year of shares of income trust corporations. But on Nov. 23, Goodale announced that, rather than raise taxes on income trusts, he would eliminate the disparity between income trust and dividend taxes by lowering the effective tax rate on dividends. His announcement was made at 6 pm while stock markets were closed. But in the last couple of hours of trading that day, there was heavy activity of income trust issues — many more millions of shares traded hands than on an average day and the value of the shares was driven up.

Some took this to be coincidence. Others cried foul — and suggested that some Bay Street insiders got a tip ahead of Goodale’s announcement. The NDP felt that way and they wrote to the RCMP asking for a criminal investigation. Until this week, the RCMP would only say they were reviewing the request to see if an investigation was warranted. This week, they informed the NDP that an investigation was underway.

AKIN: What’s the trigger for moving from a review to an investigation?

INKSTER: Anyone can make a complaint to the police about something or someone else. The police have an obligation to accept that complaint but the police also have an obligation to make a determination whether or not those allegations are frivolous or vexatious. That is part of the review process. They look for corroboration of evidence that might have been given to them or information that  might have been given to them to see whether there's some substance to the allegation.

In this particular case, of course, they’ve gone through that and they have made a determination that indeed there is some unexplained market activity and the allegations are sufficiently serious because they go to an issue of market trust and public trust that they feel there is sufficient information there that warrants a full-blown investigation.

It doesn’t mean that the police have concluded the outcome will ultimately be criminal charges  — there may be several explanations for why that market activity occurred and they’re just going to do their bestto get to the bottom of it, to seek an explanation.

AKIN: Some have said the RCMP are off on “a wild goose chase” with this investigation. What do you make of that?

INKSTER: Anyone who makes a comment like that is really someone who doesn’t understand the seriousness of the allegations that have been made and the depth to which the RCMP or any other police force would go into something like this before launching an investigation. They’ve got far too much work to do to be going on wild goose chases. 

AKIN: Given the sensitive nature of this investigation — its focus and timing — would it merit some special attention within the RCMP, perhaps from the commissioner himself? How is this handled within the RCMP?

INKSTER: Well, you’ve really asked two questions. I’d like to deal with the first  one. It’s the worst possible situation for the commissioner of the RCMP to be called upon to do an investigation at such a sensitive time in our political history with an election going on. In that respect, in terms of the timing issue, the RCMP are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I think they’ve made the right decision and that decision is, based on the materials they’ve received, they think this subject merits further investigation and they’re going to do it now rather than wait for the election to be over. If they waited until the election was over, then there would be allegations against the RCMP that they did not move expeditiously; that sensitive information was lost; memories have lapsed and so on. So I think that they’ve made the right decision to do it now.

Within the RCMP, because it is a sensitive matter, you can rest assured that the senior officers, including the commissioner, will be keeping a close eye on the outcome.

It’s a difficult one for the RCMP to handle and the only way they can do it  it is just to go about it as thoroughly and objectively as they can setting aside any political considerations and certainly not being distracted by political events.



Arts group presses politicians for funding

The Canadian Arts Coalition, which bills itself as the largest consortium of artists and artists' organization to ever come to together in Canada, has launched a new Web site at . The group has praise for the current Liberal government's pre-election commitment to invest $306-million over the next three years in the arts. Now, it is pressing politicians of all stripes to commit to make sure that funding become a reality. The Web site contains lots of resources for voters who believe the health of Canada's cultural community ought to be a priority in this election.

The Web site notes that this additional funding amounts to about $5 per Canadian per year and, even if you see zero value in what any artists does anywhere, the arts coalition appeals to the mercenary in all of us: The $156-million that the Canada Council gets every year to distribute to artists helps to drive about $39-billion in economic activity.

Last chance to get Explorer on your Mac

If you’re running Mac OS X, the odds are probably pretty good that your Web browser is the one Apple makes — Safari. Or you might be having a little fun with Mozilla’s Firefox on OS X (a very credible alternative to Safari).

But you’re probably not using the browser that is absolutely dominant over on all the Windows boxes — Internet Explorer. Microsoft, the maker, of course, of Explorer and Windows, has noticed that Mac users aren’t so fond of Explorer and so, in what is a remarkably rare step for this remarkable company, is actually retreating from that market and will cease even making Explorer on the Mac available.

That will happen in just a few days so, if you’ve never used Explorer on the Mac or just wanted to get a copy of it because you’re a collector of Web browsers, you better get moving.


Web inventor is finally a blogger

Tim Berners-LeeOnce, while schmoozing at the Boston home of Bob Metcalfe, I ended up sitting beside Tim Berners-Lee (right), the inventor of the World Wide Web, both of us with a cold chicken plate perched on our knee trying to make the kind of awkward small talk that’s likely to occur between a wet-behind-the-ears Canadian reporter and an unbelievably brilliant scientist.  The encounter was a significant and seminal one for me but I suspect he’d be hard-pressed to remember the evening, let alone the individuals he chatted with while trying to finish his drumstick.

I’m happy to report though that when I’ve seen him at conferences or read reports by other journalists, my first impressions of him seem to be the correct: He’s not only a really smart guy, he’s also really down-to-earth and witty in a way that reflects his English heritage.

And now the man who invented the Web in 1989, has finally got a blog. (Hat tip to Dr. Weinberger for that news).

From Tim’s first post:

Now in 2005, we have blogs and wikis, and the fact that they are so popular makes me feel I wasn't crazy to think people needed a creative space. … it is nice to have a machine to the administrative work of handling the navigation bars and comment buttons and so on, and it is nice to edit in a mode in which you can to [sic] limited damage to the site. So I am going to try this blog thing using blog tools. So this is for all the people who have been saying I ought to have a blog.

Apparently I’m not the only one excited that he’s blogging. Apparently the blogosphere has got so whipped up about the fact that Tim is blogging, Tim has had to turn off the commenting feature on his blog (— but Tim, you only had 455 comments to your first post! —) and put up a polite-but-firm note:

I intend [this blog] to be geeky semantic web stuff mostly. For example, it won't be for W3C questions which should really be addressed to working groups.

So thanks for all the support, no need for more general 'thank you' comments! Thank *you* all.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Berners-Lee.


A dot-com bargain: Tucows picks up chunk of Critical Path

A Toronto company — Tucows — recently bought a big chunk of a former Silicon Valley high flier — Critical Path — which once upon a time bought up another Toronto company — DocSpace Co. — in what was, at the the time, the biggest ever dot-come windfall to date in Canadian business history. Let me give you some interesting backstory on this. 

In 1999, while working at the National Post,  I reported on a group of young people, led by Edmonton’s Evan Chrapko, a good guy who I was happy to see get filthy rich by selling a software company he and some friends had struggled to build. Chrapko, his brother and some associates were so broke at one point they slept on their desks in their downtown Toronto office and mooched meals off their benevolent venture capitalist backers while trying to build their software company.  Eventually everyone’s ship came in and Critical Path Inc. of San Francisco, Calif. bought The DocSpace Co. for more than $500–million U.S. in stock.

Chrapko and many DocSpace insiders promptly cashed in their Critical Path stock as soon as they were able. Good thing they did, too, because shortly after that, Critical Path ended up in a financial accounting scandal that torpedoed the company’s shares and caused a head-office bloodbath. (One of the DocSpace originals — the really smart Mike Serbinis of Hamilton, Ont. — survived that bloodbath and is still an executive with Critical Path today.)

Now comes the news that my good friends at Tucows Inc. of Toronto (these are the guys that wrote Blogware, the publishing platform behind this blog. Please see my disclosure) have just acquired a big chunk of Critical Path’s business — Critical Path’s Memova messaging services. Now I haven’t been a full-time technology reporter for a while now, but Memova revenue, so far as I can tell from the company’s most recent financials, accounted for the lion’s share of the company’s $17–million (U.S.) in revenue for the quarter ending Sept. 30. You read that right, by the way — a company that less than six years ago paid nearly half-a-billion dollars to acquire another software company is now doing less than $20–million a quarter. And now, of course, it will be doing less than that since Tucows has popped in and picked up for just $8–million one of Critical Path’s most significant assets and  about 50 of its employees.

Strange world, this technology thing, isn’t it?


Who's a Liberal?

My colleague Bill Doskoch, visiting the land of the free for Christmas, writes that he had a little trouble figuring out that the Deputy Prime Minister was, in fact, running under the Liberal banner.
But if you think Anne McLellan is trying to tone down the fact that she's a running as a Liberal an Alberta, how about Paul Steckle (left), the MP for the southwestern Ontario riding of Huron-Bruce? Try and find anything that says Liberal on his Web site. (You can but you'll have to dig a bit.) Steckle is definitely not your Allan Rock-type of Liberal. Last Christmas, for example, he sent around Christmas cards which showed him and his family wearing camouflage gear and holding on to rifles. He was among the three dozen or so Liberals who voted against own government's bill which legalized same-sex marriage. He'd your small-c Liberal.
Steckle's and McLellan's de-emphasis on the idea of being a Liberal are not unique in this campaign.
Many Liberal candidates — incumbent MPs in particular — I've talked to were thrilled to put up lawn signs and so on that advertised their connection to “Team Martin” for the 2004 campaign but this time around, a lot of them are saying that they're just sticking to signs that have their own name on them and counting on their own good reputation in their towns and cities to see them through on January 23.

Gomery is Canada's 2005 newsmaker

Justice John GomeryJustice John Gomery (left) is the newsmaker of the year — by a landslide — in the annual Canadian Press / Broadcast News poll of the country's editors and newsroom producers.

Gomery garnered more than half of the votes cast in the poll. Karla Homolka was a distant number two.

Now, you may have watched a lot of newscasts or read a lot of newspaper reports in the wake of the release of the first phase of his two-part report. What he had to say is one of the big reasons we're in the midst of a federal election.

And, as all the politicians get set for the final push to January 23, I encourage anyone considering voting in that election to take a minute this holiday to take their own look at what Gomery had to say, to assess for themselves his words about the culpability of the current government. Don't just rely on the summary your favourite TV reporter might have provided; read the words for yourself. If you're pressed for time, at least take a look at the summary. A quick reader will get through that in just over an hour and it's definitely a good read and it ought to get your blood moving a little quicker which will, of course, help with the digestion of that Christmas turkey.

Gomery's words are sure to be a significant part of the final three weeks of this campaign.

The current government is sure to highlight the fact that it was the Prime Minister who called this inquiry in the first place and they will seize upon the following passage (p. 77 of the summary):

“There is no basis for attributing blame or responsibility to any other Minister of the Chretien cabinet, since they, like all members of Parliament, were not informed of the initiatives being authorized by (Chretien's chief of staff Jean) Pelletier. (Prime Minister Paul) Martin, whose role as finance minister did not involve him in the supervision of spending by the (Prime Minister's Office or Public Works), is entitled, like other ministers in the Quebec caucus, to be exonerated from any blame for carelessness or misconduct.”

But the government's political opponents prefer to emphasize this passage (p. 78-79 of Summary)

The [Liberal Party of Canada – Quebec] as an institution cannot escape responsibility for the misconduct of its officers and representatives. Two successive Executive Directors were directly involved in illegal campaign financing, many of its workers accepted cash payments for their services when they should have known that such payments were in violation of the Canada Elections Act.

Blogger snags preview of Liberal attack ads

Stephen Taylor

Stephen Taylor (left) is having a very good campaign.

He's not running for election; he's blogging about it.

And, so far, he's had at least three good 'gets', as we say in the mainstream media business, on his blog. Today, Taylor puts up a post in which he claims to have a preview of the negative advertising campaign the Liberals will unleash after Christmas that attack Conservative leader Stephen Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton.

Taylor lives in Kingston, Ont. where he is doing some graduate work in biochemistry at Queen's University. He's an unabashed supporter of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives and has been blogging for a while now about the virtues of that party and its leader at his own blog and at others. Now that we're in an election campaign, though, he — and many other bloggers, for that matter — have used their platform to challenge some of the assertions put forward by proponents of political views. He's one of the bloggers CTV has invited to be part of this election blog. In addition to his revelation today about the attack ads the Liberals will run, his other greatest hits from this campaign include:

  • After the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications Scott Reid made his “beer and popcorn” remark, Taylor hit the Web and dug out Reid’s hospitality expenses. These expenses are “hiding” in plain sight but no other reporter or commentator thought to do this and, lo and behold, many of Reid’s expenses are from establishments in Ottawa that, erm, serve a lot of beer.
  • After  U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins jumped into the election debate by warning politicians not to use his country as a whipping post during the election campaign, Prime Minister Paul Martin set himself up as Captain Canada, leaping to defend our interests versus the U.S.. Taylor and Kate McMillan — who also blogs from the right side of the political spectrum — deconstructed the Liberal television advertising to make the claim that the Liberals had been planning to earn some political capital with a little U.S. bashing for some time.

This is the sort of reporting, of course, that —ahem — those of us who are paid as full-time political reporters ought to be doing. But, as one of the members of that class of reporters, I’m never to proud to single out good work when I see it no matter who’s doing it.




Are you a Ricky Gervais fan?

If so — and you're using a recent version of iTunes — you'll want to start subscribing to his podcasts. Like most of his Canadian fans, I first discovered Ricky (left)in The Office where he played — hilariously so — boss David Brent. Gervais has his own Web site from which he serves up podcasts produced by Guardian Unlimited.
It's a bit difficult to jog or work out with this playing on the old portable digital audio player as I keep giggling.

UBC is doing podcasts

Got a press release today from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, in which UBC's PR people claim that theirs is the first university in Canada to offer podcasts to “that gives alumni, students, faculty and others global audio access to UBC-related content such as the popular Talk
of the Town lecture series.”
I don't know of any other Canadian university that is doing this but if you do — let me know and we'll challenge UBC's claim (but more importantly find more podcasts).
There are some schools in the U.S. already doing this. One of those is Stanford University in California.