Day 1 – Iggy, then Dion

Political junkie alert: The Liberal Party of Canada has a very cool real-time delegate selection results ticker. With the first of three days of voting over, Michael Ignatieff is, as advertised, leading the way with 239 delegates who will vote for him on the first ballot of December's leadership convention. That represents 27.6 per cent of the delegates who have already been elected. In the second slot is Stéphane Dion with 160 delegates, or 18.5 per cent. If there's a surprise in these early results — and it's very important to read the fine print at that Liberal ticker to note the “unofficialness” of this early tally — it's that, compared to early predictions, Dion is doing so well and Gerard Kennedy is doing so poorly.

Volpe to appeal — says party was too hasty

Joe Volpe, facing a $20,000 fine, from the party he hopes to lead, says the panel that levied the fine didn’t get it right:

Press Release

Statement from Volpe campaign.

September 29, 2006, Ottawa- The Honourable Joseph Volpe, Member of Parliament for Eglinton Lawrence and Liberal leadership candidate released the following statement in regards to the decision handed down today by a compliance panel of the Liberal Party of Canada in regard to issues surrounding membership recruitment in Quebec.

The compliance panel seriously misconstrued the evidence before it as well as submissions and recommendations of the compliance officer and testimony of other witnesses.

“It should be noted that the panel found no evidence to suggest that Mr. Volpe or his senior campaign workers had actual knowledge of the wrongful purchase of memberships.” Liberal Party Press release

“The press release issued today by the Liberal Party prior to the compliance panels official report on Monday as well as the haste to proceed without due process seems designed to inflict as much damage as  possible to my campaign immediately prior to the delegate selection meetings” Volpe added.

We will be mounting a vigorous appeal to the permanent appeals committee of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Volpe fined but gets to stay in the race

Minutes ago, the Liberal Party of Canada announced that it had levied a fine of $20,000 against the Joe Volpe leadership campaign.

The campaign was fined after the party’s own investigation concluded that it had indeed improperly signed up party members in Quebec. The party notes that it found no evidence that Volpe had any direct knowledge himself that this was happening but, nonetheless, the campaign is guilty of failing to properly supervise its volunteers.

Volpe has 30 days to cut a cheque to the party or he’s out of the race. He also may appeal the decision.

Here’s the release from the Libs:

Date: September 29, 2006

Ottawa – The Liberal Party of Canada today issued the following on behalf of a Compliance Panel (“the panel”) appointed under Regulation 13.3 of the Party’s Regulations Concerning Expenses of Contestants for the Leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada (“the Expense Regulations”).


The panel, adjudicating a complaint investigated by a Complaints Officer appointed pursuant to Regulation 14 of the Expense Regulations, held a hearing on September 28, 2006 in the City of Montréal.

The panel directs that its forthcoming written decision be made public at the time of its availability in English and French.

The panel finds that Joseph Volpe and his campaign team violated Regulations 5 c) and 12.1 of the Expense Regulations by providing membership forms to leaders of cultural community organizations in Québec to obtain memberships for Volpe supporters without adequately instructing those leaders not to pay for the memberships of others and without providing adequate supervision of their volunteer efforts.
The panel finds that the distribution of such membership forms and the selling and solicitation of memberships resulted in an environment where Volpe volunteers improperly paid for the memberships of others.
Joseph Volpe and his campaign team accepted responsibility for the inappropriate activity, yet the panel found no evidence to suggest that Mr. Volpe or his senior campaign workers had actual knowledge of the wrongful purchase of memberships.

Pursuant to Regulations 16 b) and 16 c), the panel issues a public reprimand to the Leadership Campaign of Joseph Volpe and assesses a fine in the amount of twenty thousand dollars ($20,000.00), payable within 30 days of September 29, 2006. In default of full payment within the specified time, Mr. Volpe will be deemed to be disqualified as a leadership contestant.

The panel strongly recommends that the Regional Returning Officer for the Province of Québec put measures in place in, among others, the electoral district of Papineau, to ensure the eligibility of those who present themselves to vote.

The panel notes that the evidence in this matter does not constitute grounds for disqualification. Such a sanction would deprive Party members of the opportunity to consider Mr. Volpe’s candidacy, and should be applied only in limited circumstances where a candidate has knowingly or wilfully violated, or has shown reckless disregard, for the Expense Regulations.
Pursuant to Regulation 13.4, the panel’s decisions may be appealed to the Party’s Permanent Appeals Committee.



The Liberal's Super Weekend approaches

It's a big weekend if you're a Liberal — (a big weekend for us Ottawa journalists, too, for tomorrow is the annual Canadian Press golf tournament and the weather forecast looks promising. But I digress …) for this is the weekend that, at riding associations across the country, card-carrying members of the Liberal Party of Canada will vote for delegates who will attend the December 2 leadership convention to be held in Montreal.
Each riding association gets to send 14 people to Montreal.
Those 14 delegates selected this weekend will be “locked in” for the first ballot at that convention. In other words, party members will be voting for a delegate who promises to vote for a particular candidate on the first ballot.
It appears almost certain that no candidate will win on the first ballot and so there will be a second ballot. How do delegates elected this weekend have to vote on the second ballot? Any way they want. That's what makes this weekend so interesting for political junkies. Who will people vote for on the second ballot, when every delegate is a free agent?
My colleague Roger Smith, who covers the Liberal caucus, gets to report on all the weekend races.
In the meantime, Greg Morrow, who runs the blog DemocraticSpace, has put together a handy little riding-by-riding scorecard of delegate selection for those who want to play along. When I checked in this morning, the first-ballot tally looked like this:
Ignatieff – 25.3 per cent
Dion – 19.8 per cent
Kennedy – 16.2 per cent
Rae – 14.9 per cent
… the rest each had less than 6 per cent.
(DemocraticSpace has a big asterisk to note that his numbers omit some regions for the Ignatieff, Dion, and Dryden.)
One of our favourite Liberal bloggers, CalgaryGrit, has some nice links and predictions in a Super Weekend preview post but — be warned — he's a Kennedy supporter 🙂 . Meanwhile, Ignatieff supporter Cerberus has set up Liberal Leadership Central at his blog with more great links, predictions, and commentary.
Have fun, everyone!

Boats with guns — on our lakes — Part Two

Machine gunLast week, I noted that the U.S. Coast Guard was set to embark on live fire exercises on the Great Lakes with their new machine guns. Today, the Globe’s Margaret Philp goes deep on this whole subject, noting many objections by Canadians concerned about the optics, about safety, and about environmental pollution from the lead slugs fired by the training Coast Guard crews.

“It was a big surprise on both sides of the border. At first I thought it was an Internet hoax,” said Mike Bradley, the mayor of Sarnia, Ont., who has written a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to intervene.

“The longest undefended border in the world is gone. It's passé. And this is an example of it.”

Toronto Mayor David Miller chairs a coalition of U.S. and Canadian mayors working to restore and protect the lakes.

He said the target practice violates a treaty signed after the War of 1812 that outlaws military weapons on the Great Lakes, tampering with two centuries of peaceful history.

“This is very much the wrong direction, to militarize the border between these two countries,” he said in an interview. “It's symbolically important and practically important that the border remain open and doesn't become militarized.”

“We've spent years removing lead from the Great Lakes,” said Mary Muter, a long-time cottager and vice-president of the Georgian Bay Association, a coalition of cottage owners and boaters. “As a Canadian, these are binational waters and this is just offensive.”

Shortly after I saw the notice in the U.S. Federal Register, I asked Chris Sands about this issue. Sands is a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. He heads up the centre’s Canada Project. Here’s an edited excerpt from some e-mail exchanges we had:

On threat perception, I think that there are a couple of things at work. First, [the U.S. Department of Homeland Security] conducted an inventory of vulnerable targets and created an expansive National Critical Infrastructure Plan in 2005. Things like the Ambassador Bridge made the list, as well as (for example) the Fermi II nuclear power plant in Michigan which is right on the shores of  Lake Erie.

The US Coast Guard has responsibility to protect this infrastructure (shared with other agencies at DHS). Second, some of the shipping on the lakes, particularly of chemicals and fertilizer, is explosive and the USCG must be prepared for a lake ship being used in an attack on Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, etc. This may seem far-fetched, but so did planes used to attack buildings once upon a time.

Third, the lakes are not hard to cross in a small boat, and Congress is insistent that we patrol the US borders. Can the USCG rule out an individual terrorist, or human smugglers with a small boat full of illegal aliens, crossing by water? And if not, it would be irresponsible to assume that such a boat could be stopped and boarded without resistance.

Fourth, the USCG has been changing in recent years, in a process that parallels the one that various branches of the US military have undergone, and in a manner quite similar to the changes in US Customs and Border Protection. Once, USCG recruited locally and a career with the Coast Guard was stable — that is, you tended to stay on the Lakes, or on the Atlantic seaboard, or in the Gulf of Mexico if you wanted to do so. Now, there is more rotation through various duty locations for individuals in the Coast Guard, and the USCG has tried to standardize the equipment across the various classes of ships that it has in the fleet. This factor would have placed pressure to upgrade the weapons on the Great Lakes fleet.

The Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817  [More info here](subsequently ratified by the US Senate in 1818 to give it the status of a formal treaty) was negotiated between the United States and Great Britain to end a local naval arms race following the War of 1812. It covers naval armaments (not forts on the coast) and the provisions allow for armed vessels for policing and customs purposes. The US Coast Guard is not a naval force (it does not operate in the open seas) and its ships on the Great Lakes have always been eligible to be armed — during the Prohibition era, they chased rum runners, for example. In the Great Lakes, the USCG performs many of the functions that the Border Patrol handles on land borders and so it is logical for them to carry some armaments. Given the increased risk during war time, it makes sense for the USCG to train for all eventualities.

A correspondent who serves with the Canadian Forces — and who prefers to remain anonymous — sent along some information about the guns on the Coast Guard boats:

“the USCG is planning to mount 7.62 GPMGs, but may in the future add .50cal HMGs:“


Canada's New Government?

One of the, erm, amusing directives to emanate from the Prime Minister’s Office has been an instruction that federal government bureaucrats, when reporting any new initiative in a press release or other document intended for public consumption, is to refer to the government as “Canada’s New Government” rather than the “the Government of Canada.” Several bureaucrats — and not a few Opposition  politicians — have chafed at this instruction, believing it to be so much partisan Conservative propaganda.

Presumably, Johanne Gelinas, the Environment Commissioner and an independent officer of Parliament, would have been covered by this directive. But, here in the media lock-up, as I make my way through her six-volume indictment of federal government environmental initiatives, I have yet to find the phrase “Canada’s New Government” and have only found that old-fashioned, out-of-style phrase “The Government of Canada.”


32 million and counting

Statistics Canada today released the latest poplulation numbers for this great Dominion. As for July 1, there are now 32,623,500 people in this world who call themselves Canadian. That represents an increase of 324,000 compared to the same date last year. Most of that increase in populuation is a result of welcoming people from other countries. Statscan reported that 254,400 people from other countries became Canadian citizens between July 1, 2005 and July 1, 2006 — the largest inflow of immigrants since 2001/02.

“International migration's role in Canada's population growth far exceeds its impact in the United States,” Statscan said.  “In 2004/2005, net international migration accounted for two-thirds of Canada's population growth, compared to 38% south of the border. For its population gains, the United States counts on a fertility which is higher than in Canada.”

But while Canada’s population overall is growing — and growing at a faster clip than the U.S., Statscan adds — it was a different story in each province. Alberta’s population is growing the fastest and there are now 3.38 million people living there. PEI, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, B.C., Yukon and Nunavut all saw population increases last year. But Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories are all smaller this year than they were last year.


Commons trade committee cancels softwood hearings

Conservative members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, with support from Liberal members of that committee, have decided to cancel hearings the same committee agreed to earlier this year that were to be held this fall  in northern Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.

“I'm not in favour of travelling,” Conservative MP Helena Guergis said at a committee meeting on Tuesday. Ms. Guergis is the Parliamentary Secretary to International Trade Minister David Emerson.  “I think the legislation is here and we need to move forward and talk about the next steps in every way we can, and I've also spoken with the minister and he's happy to come before us again as well.”

Committee members held a discussion on what sorts of issues it ought to tackle this fall.

“I think that with the [enabling] legislation [for the softwood lumber deal] now in the House that we should be changing gears,” said Ms. Guergis. “It's past. We should be looking to the future and having a conversation on what the future of this agreement is going to look like in terms of maybe what the binational council is going to look like, Canada's role in the meritorious issues, and there are various other committees. I'm learning there are other things that we, as a committee, can play a very important role in the next steps in the future for this agreement, and even going beyond what we think will happen after seven to nine years, what we think could happen at that point.”

NDP MP Peter Julian unsuccessfully pushed the committee to continue with the hearings, which were to occur in Vancouver, Thunder Bay, Ont., Saguenay-Lac St. Jean, Que.

“We have a bill that will be coming forward—presumably, if it passes second reading—and it will involve hearings in any event,” Julian said. “So, we're not talking about past business, we're talking about current business. We need to know what the impact is in the Saguenay-Lac St-Jean region. We need to know what the impact is in northwestern Ontario. We need to know what the impact is in British Columbia.

“It's very pertinent, it's very relevant. I think the residents of those areas have already expressed real interest in these hearings. If this committee adopts a motion that cancels those hearings, I think folks in those regions would like to hear about it.  I would suggest we just continue given that we have the motion, and given that we have adopted this attempt to go to those three regions, and that we proceed to mesh the hearings on second reading of Bill C-24, assuming it passes second reading, at committee stage with hearings in the region. Rather than having folks, the few [who are] wealthy, come to Ottawa and express their point of view, we go to the region. That's what we should be doing as parliamentarians to hear first-hand what the impact of Bill C-24 will be in those regions.”


[Air India inquiry] Lata Pada – what this inquiry is all about

Lata Pada and her familyThis is a picture of Lata Pada and her family from the early 1980s. The others in this photo, her husband Vishnu and two daughters Brinda and Arti, died in the the Air India bombing of 1985. This photo was displayed on a large overhead screen at the Major Commission this afternoon while Ms. Pada gave her testimony. Here is an excerpt:

“For me, the inquiry is about accountability, a public acknowledgement of the past wrongs that have plagued the Air India bombing. Twenty years is a lifetime, an eternity for the families who have waited with trust and faith in the justice system. our pain was aggravated by the sheer apathy that we encountered in our attempts to meet with Government in the years following the tragedy. The Air India tragedy is Canada’s 9/11. It happened sixteen years before 9/11, yet no one woke up to that fact. Imagine how it hurts when people speak of 9/11 as the world’s most significant act of aviation terrorism, deleting the Air India bombing from our collective memories.

Canada’s most heinous act of terrorism had disappeared from the nation’s radar to the extent that the events of 9/11 registered as the first act of aviation terrorism. The Air India bombing had been relegated to a distant past, unrelated to Canada, because a majority of victims were of South Asian ancestry, the aircraft belonged to the Indian government, and the cause of the tragedy was located in some obscure sectarian issues in India. Bob Rae was the first national figure to call it a mass murder, a Canadian tragedy. The Air India bombing was a dastardly act of revenge conceived on Canadian soil by Canadians against Canadians. Let us not forget that ever! Let the inquiry serve to remind all Canadians that the potential for homegrown terrorism is very real! Today, Sikh terrorism may not be a threat, it has been replaced by the even more potent terrorist ideologies, that is the real threat that we face daily with unimaginable consequences . . .

Imagine an entire nation that cannot being to visualize the horror of the tragedy, their collective memory of this event dulled by years of public amnesia and crass sensationalism of more exciting news. Imagine a national that does not care or concern itself with a growing threat of terrorism in their own backyards …

Imagine having your life thrust into the glare of the media, the exaggerated brutalization of the trauma and horror of the event. Imagine having the phone ring every time a new news bit requires a family member to make a comment, only to be mentioned on the news along with the local news of the latest pit bull attack …

Imagine having to accept the seeming impotency of a justice system that cannot accommodate the obvious guilt and deliver a fair and just verdict, a deterrent to all future attempts of terrorist acts.”

Air India Inquiry gets underway

John MajorI’ve been tasked with covering the Air India inquiry or, as it’s formally known, the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. It may also come to be referred to as the Major Commission, after John Major (left), the retired Supreme Court justice who will oversee the inquiry.

The inquiry will make its headquarters in Ottawa at what is known as Old City Hall (right) on Sussex. Old City Hall

The first three weeks of the inquiry will be given to the families of those who died in what is still the largest mass murder in Canadian history. For the families,  this is a particularly important occasion because it will be the first time many of them will actually get a chance to be “on the record” about this event and how it changed their lives.