Delegate fees and a political skirmish

While most of you watch the World Cup, there is a nasty little spat breaking out between the Conservatives and just about everyone else over delegate fees for conventions and political contributions.

When Liberals pay $995 each to attend this fall’s leadership convention, they will get a tax receipt for part or all of that amount and it will be officially recognized as a political donation — meaning the donor’s name will be publicly released and that delegate fee will count towards the annual $1,000 contribution limit. Same thing with the NDP. Delegates will pay $195 to attend their convention in Quebec City this fall and will get a tax receipt and have it noted as an official contribution.

But the Conservatives do it different. When 2,900 paid around $600 to attend last spring’s Conservative policy convention in Montreal, no tax receipt was issued because the Conservatives say there was no political contribution as the convention was run on a cost-recovery basis. Hence there was no disclosure of donors.

Liberal Party national director Steve MacKinnon says: “That means Canadians don't know about millions of dollars in unreported donations to the Conservative party which goes to the heart of our election law, which goes to the heart of public disclosure,  which goes to the heart of the accountability Mr. Harper pretends to care about.”

The NDP think the Conservatives aren’t playing by the rules and complained to Elections Canada and, apparently, Elections Canada listened.

Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley had this to say late Thursday:

The public has the right to know exactly what happened in this case.
The Chief Electoral Officer requests the Conservative Party of Canada to provide him with the necessary documents and supporting information to allow the public to know that the law has been respected.

The Tories, furious at what they see as a partisan intervention by an independent officer of Parliament, are taking it out on the Liberals — asking Canada’s tax authorities to look at the Liberal books.

June 30, 2006 

Canada Revenue Agency

Enforcement and Investigation Section


To Whom it may concern:


Re: Improper Issuance of Political Contribution Tax Receipts


We wish to bring to your attention that the Liberal Party of Canada has publicly acknowledged that it has apparently been issuing political contribution tax receipts for 100% of the price of admission to Liberal Party functions where the ticket buyer receives significant personal benefits – for meals, drink, entertainment and the like.  This information was conveyed yesterday to the media by the Executive Director of the Liberal Party of Canada, Steve MacKinnon.


As you are well aware, receipts for political contributions can confer significant tax benefits for the donor.  It would therefore appear that the Liberal Party of Canada has been using Canadian taxpayers to subsidize its supporters to attend Liberal Party events.


We would therefore ask you to investigate the legitimacy of tax receipting practices by the Liberal Party of Canada.


Yours truly,



Mike Donison

Executive Director, Conservative Party of Canada


And if you really want to get geeky on this topic, the Canada Elections Act talks about contribution in sections 404 and 405 of the Act. Meanwhile, the helpful folks at Canada Revenue Agency put out an information circular in 2004 which addresses the issue of political contributions at fundraisers.



Canadian attitudes on the election

Driving home from CFB Trenton this afternoon after attending the ceremony there where Ministers O’Connor, Fortier, and Bernier and CDS Hillier announced plans to buy lots of planes — I have a little time to read some of the documents piling up in my electronic inbox.

The Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 39th General Election of January 23, 2006 has some interesting tidbits. For example, Elections Canada reports some results from the 2004 Canadian Election Study. This is an academic survey of electors and involves three separate polls involving about 10,000 respondents. Here are some of the data points that jumped out at me:

  • Half of those surveyed had no opinion on matters related to political financing.
  • 82 per cent of those surveyed favoured a ban on buying bulk party memberships for distribution.
  • 97 per cent said membership in a political party ought to be open only to those old enough to actually vote.

Elections Canada sez: “A link to the report of the 2004 Canadian Election Study is available at, under Electoral Law, Policy and Research > Policy and Research. The Canadian Election  Study database for the 38th general election is available at” And if that confuses you — just click here.

Quite a few people complained to Elections Canada about the 2004 Election:

By April 5, 2006, the Commissioner of Canada Elections had received 1,574 complaints  stemming from the June 2004 general election. Of these, 1,321 cases have been resolved,  while 253 remain open. In settling some cases, the Commissioner has, to date, concluded  a total of 17 compliance agreements with contracting parties. Additionally, one  prosecution arising from the 37th general election (for failure to register as a third party  and to file an election advertising report) ended with a conviction, on January 6, 2006. (p 22)

British think-tank labels Canada's Afghanistan foray "a suicide mission"

The Senlis Council is a security and development policy group based in the U.K. Today, it creates waves in Canada and in Afghanistan with the release of a 91–page study in which it accuses Canada of “unquestioningly” accepting U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Following US policies is turning Kandahar into a suicide mission for Canada
Canadian troops and Afghan civilians are paying with their lives for Canada’s  adherence to the US government’s failing military and counter-narcotics policies in Kandahar. The US-led counter-terrorist operations and militaristic poppy eradication
strategies have triggered a new war with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, and are causing countless civilian deaths. To a large extent, it can be said that Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and the  related militaristic counter-narcotics policies are significant contributors to the current state of war in Kandahar and the other southern provinces. Canada and the international community continue to seem to unquestioningly accept America’s fundamentally flawed policy approach in southern Afghanistan, thereby jeopardising the success of military operations in the region and the stabilisation, reconstruction and development mission objectives.


Notes from Committee: Emerson at International Trade on softwood, free trade with Korea and Team Canada missions

International Trade Minister David Emerson was the witness at the June 5, 2006 meeting of the Commons Standing Committee on International Trade. Some excerpts:

On Canada’s trade performance …

Canada's trade performance and, indeed, our economic performance has been really quite good, if not stellar, the last few years. You'll see on Thursday that our exports are going to exceed $516 billion, I think, for the year 2005, which is a record. Our current account surplus is going to, again, be of record scale. When you look across the economy, we've seen a very, very strong macro-economic performance in Canada, whether you're looking at job creation, the unemployment rate, the growth in investment in retail sales.

Canada needs to negotiate more bilateral trade deals:

Over the last 10 years Canada has fallen behind in terms of launching bilateral free trade agreements with other countries. When you look at the United States and Mexico, you're looking at countries that have entered into a multitude of free trade agreements with other countries. The United States has 12 free trade agreements with 18 countries. Mexico has 13 free trade agreements with 43 countries. Australia has been aggressively forging free trade agreements. Canada has really only entered into one free trade agreement in the last five years and that was with Puerto Rico, so if you believe, as I do, that Canada and our prosperity is going to be fundamentally driven by international trade, we must re-energize and focus on a successful WTO round, but we also have to hedge our bets and be looking at more aggressive negotiations of bilateral free trade agreements because the free trade agreements of our trading partners are creating advantages for our competitors in third country markets, and we cannot sit back and simply allow Canadian companies to be discriminated against as a result of what has become a competitive proliferation of free trade agreements.

Conservative government announced in February it would re-integrate the departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. how much will that cost?

We think the cost or reintegration will run roughly half a million dollars and it will be absorbed within existing budgets. In terms of the benefits, I think the benefit is that we have a more integrated, a more seamless, more informationally efficient face on the world and feeder system to bring information back into Canada and serve our various constituencies and stakeholders.

What is the cost, so far, of arguing our softwood lumber case?

The Government of Canada has actually spent, by our estimates, about $88 million over the last 5 years on expenses. International Trade Canada is about $50 million of that, so there is some part of it that's accounted for in other departments.
    I should observe that when you look at the expenses incurred by the Canadian industry, by provincial governments and when you look at the expenses incurred on the other side of the border you're looking at hundreds of millions of dollars. That's not even including the managerial resource costs for companies of having to administratively comply with these investigations and legal cases.
    I would note particularly that that dumping case is extremely expensive in terms of company resources required to provide all the information that the department of commerce requires of them. It's a case that can go on and on for years, and those expenses persist for years. So the costs of litigation are extremely high, both in terms of management, in terms of companies and in terms of governments, federal and provincial.

Canada is looking at signing a free trade agreement with Korea but here’s a problem:

    John Maloney (Liberal-Welland): We have a significant trade balance, a deficiency now, with Korea of roughly $3 billion to $4 billion a year. This translates into job losses in Canada. Specifically, the auto sector is under stress domestically. In terms of the deficiency, I understand there are roughly 130,000 Korean vehicles imported and 400 vehicles exported–roughly 150 to 1. A free trade agreement is likely to exacerbate this trade deficiency.
    How do you intend to address the situation in light of the huge trade deficiency that we do have?

Emerson: Let me just begin by saying we are not proceeding with Korea with undue haste; we've been working on this for the past…over a year I think. We've been having consultations with industry.
    We are working closely with the automotive industry. The automotive industry, as you know, has been a happy recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money in Canada. We've worked closely with them on environmental safeguards. I think we have brought the Canadian automotive industry to a position of competitive leadership in North America, and I think that's widely recognized now.
    If you look at the Canada-Korea relationship, you have to observe that Korea is going to be manufacturing a substantial number of vehicles in the United States. Those vehicles will have duty-free access to Canada under NAFTA. Eighty-five per cent of Canadian vehicles are actually sold in the U.S. So the amount of a competitive threat that the automotive sector faces in Korea is not as dramatic as is being portrayed …

    … The Canada-Korea potential free trade agreement does have the potential to offer substantial benefits to Canada, we've quantified them and modeled them, they're well in excess of a half a bill dollars, perhaps upwards into the $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year range. It's not that we're trying to get into a free trade agreement that is going to be harmful to Canada: quite the contrary.

Emerson doesn’t like the “Team Canada” trade concept:

I have to confess that I'm not a really big booster of big team Canada missions. There may be a place for them in terms of getting publicity in a given marketplace in terms of incremental value added, in terms of securing deals or joint ventures. I personally believe we have to be more focused, more selective, probably go in smaller better defined, more specialized missions where we're targeting on actually getting commercial deals done, getting specific objectives accomplished. In that sense it's going to be cheaper and you're going to have a much more precise sense of what it is you're trying to achieve. So that would be my general approach going forward.
    How much these things have cost in the past, I'll have to ask my officials to give you some idea. I've never been on one because even when I was in private industry I always thought that if you didn't go 10 times, let's say to China, to work out the details of a commercial arrangement, just going along with the Prime Minister and waving flags wasn't going to do it for you. So that would be my general approach.

Federal Conservatives tops in Atlantic Canada: Poll

Corporate Research Associates Inc. is a Halifax based firm that provides public opinion research and market intelligence about Atlantic Canada. It said today that, for the first time in 17 years of polling Atlantic Canadians about the federal government voting intentions, the Conservatives are on top.

Among decided voters polled in in Atlantic Canada, the Conservatives won the support of 42 per cent, up from 35 per cent in February followed by the Liberals at 31 per cent, down from 35 per cent, and the New Democrats at 19 per cent, down from 22 per cent.

About one in ten told pollsters they do not support any of those three parties.

The pollster said 1,503 Canadians in Atlantic Canada were surveyed between May 15 and June 6. It says the poll is accurate to within 2.5 percentage points.

Corporate Research goes on to say that Conservatives lead in New Brunswick and in Newfoundland and Labrador but the Liberals and Conservatives are tied for support in Nova Scotia in PEI.

For what it’s worth, here’s how the region elected MPs on January 23:

  • New Brunswick:  Liberals – 6; Conservatives – 3; NDP – 1
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – Liberals – 4; Conservatives – 3
  • Nova Scotia – Liberals – 6; Conservatives – 3; NDP – 2
  • Prince Edward Island – Liberals – 4

Media crushes Conservatives

A couple of weeks ago, members of the Conservative caucus challenged their friends in the Parliamentary Press Gallery to a hockey game. It was a two-hour match with no referees but with full contact in full equipment. The media, anchored by the offensive prowess of my friend and colleague Roger Smith and the goaltending brilliance of my former colleague, Joel-Denis Bellavance, won the slugfest 17–13. The Conservative side for this match featured the likes of James Rajotte, Rick Dykstra, Mike Lake, Dave Batters, Patrick Brown, Brian Jean and, in between the pipes, Dean Del Mastro.

Perhaps chastened by their loss at Canada’s game, we were challenged Wednesday to see who was best at the world’s game — soccer. Nets were were set up on the front lawn of the Parliament Buildings; chalk lines were etched in, and referees and linesmen were hired at great expense. I was placed at the centre forward position with the great support of Alec Castonguay of Le Devoir, Simon Tuck and Campbell Clark of The Globe and Mail, Allan Woods of CanWest Media, Peter Harris of Global National, Alan Findlay of Sun Media and the towering Scotsman John Ivison of The National Post, who anchored our defensive line. 

Our opposition, clad in blue T-shirts naturally, was mostly incredibly young and incredibly fast Conservative political staffers. But there were some political heavyweights. I would often look up, while running down the wing with the ball, to see the fearsome and formidable Minister of Agriculture bearing down very quickly on me. If I wasn’t about to get run over by Chuck Strahl, it was likely James Bezan or Ron Canaan. Up at the other end of the field, the Conservatives looked for offensive prowess from Rahim Jaffer, Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, and — though he was a bit late to the game — Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay.

But despite the addition of some serious cabinet talent, it wasn’t enough to overcome the grit and determination of the Parliamentary Press Gallery squad and we prevailed 2–1.

With both of those important events complete, Parliamentarians are now able to recess for the summer. The House of Commons will next sit on September 18.


Gas? Who needs gas?

Just one gallon ...Some really smart students at the University of British Columbia have figured out a way to get from Vancouver to Halifax on one just one gallon (3.79 litres) of gas, good enough to take the top prize in SuperMileage, an annual international competition for students who think they can design, build, and drive a single-person vehicle that’s going to be super-stingy on gas. That’s pretty good.

The UBC public affairs people say that teams from their school have won top prize in four of the six years the school has entered the competition and the latest victory was UBC’s fourth victory in a row.  Forty teams from Canada, the U.S. and India took part in the competition. Another Canadian school — Université Laval — came in second. That seems pretty good, too.


Barbara Epstein: Thank you.

Barbara Epstein

I never met Barbara Epstein (above) but I wish I did.

She was the co-founder of one of my favourite periodicals, The New York Review of Books. I’ve been a reader for nearly 25 years and a subscriber for almost as many.

She died earlier this week at the age of 77.

 “The secret of [the Review’s] success,” The New York Times wrote, “is this: Its editors' ability to get remarkable writers and thinkers, many of them specialists in their fields, to write lucidly for lay readers on an enormous range of complex, scholarly and newly emerging subjects, issues and ideas.”

I agree completely.

In just the last couple of issues, some remarkable pieces:

Elizabeth Drew  describes U.S. President George W. Bush’s assault on democracy.

Bush has claimed the right to ignore more than 750 laws enacted since he became president. He has unilaterally overruled Congress on a broad range of matters, refusing, for example, to accept a requirement for more diversity in awarding government science scholarships. He has overruled numerous provisions of congressional appropriations bills that he felt impinged on his executive power. He has also overruled Congress's requirement that he report back to it on how he has implemented a number of laws. Moreover, he has refused to enforce laws protecting whistle-blowers and providing safeguards against political interference in federally funded research. Bush has also used signing statements to place severe limits on the inspectors general created by Congress to oversee federal activities, including two officials who were supposed to inspect and report to Congress on the US occupation of Iraq.

The President could of course veto a bill he doesn't like and publicly argue his objections to it. He would then run the risk that Congress would override his veto. Instead, Bush has chosen a method that is largely hidden and is difficult to challenge.

Jason Epstein  reviews a couple of cookbooks, if you can call them that. Books about and involving cooking and cooks but both are a long way from “The Joy of Cooking” and Epstein is terrific tour guide:

In January 2002, the middle of the journey of his life, [Bill] Buford, a distinguished magazine editor, abandoned his job and his common sense with such passion as normally afflicts the reproductive appetite of men his age. Quitting The New Yorker, he bound himself as a “kitchen slave,” an unpaid trainee, to his idolized friend Mario Batali, a Dionysian chef-proprietor whose appearances as Molto Mario on the Food Network have made him a national celebrity and his restaurant, Babbo, a shrine. But Babbo is more than an obligatory tourist destination with its ovate proprietor on display at the bar, a life-size Humpty Dumpty in orange pigtail, knee-length pantaloons, and kitchen clogs.

Or here’s Orville Schell describing the craft of journalism as practiced in Baghdad, one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists:

Wherever in the city the news bureaus are, they have become fortified installations with their own mini-armies of private guards on duty twenty-four hours a day at the gates, in watch towers, and around perimeters. To reach these bureaus, one has to run through a maze of checkpoints, armed guards, blast-wall fortifications, and concertina-wired no man's lands where all visitors and their cars are repeatedly searched . . .

The Review has had only two editors since its creation in 1963 — Epstein and Robert Silvers. Silvers will continue as the sole editor.


240 cars ran the border in the last six months

Alain JolicoeurAlain Jolicoeur, (right) head of the Canada Border Services Agency, is in front of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence and he is getting an A-1 grilling. Jolicoeur told committee members that, in the last six months, 240 cars ran a border crossing and the CBSA could do nothing about it.

“This is simply not acceptable,’ said Senator Larry Campbell (Liberal-British Columbia).

Jolicoeur said “the vast majority” of those cars that ran the border were the result of driver confusion — drivers believing they had completed the border crossing process or drivers who were confused by or misunderstood the signs.

Campbell wasn’t buying it. “If you can’t read the signs at big border crossings, you’re coming in to do something.”

Nonetheless, Jolicoeur tried to convince the committee that the situation was getting better: he said as many as 1,600 cars ran the border in the previous six month period.