Bailed-out banks sponsor golf and Mugabe spends $250,000 on his birthday party


We're in a different, more frugal time

For that reason, I suspect we'll see a lot more of this — a U.S. bank, which has received federal government financial help, is sponsoring a golf tournament, and getting a lot of heat about that use of funds. There are tales of professional golfters, bankers and their friends enjoying “lavish dinner parties” and other pre-tournament luxury trappings with money that came from the bailed-out bank. (The bank in question is Northern Trust and the tournament is the North Trust Open in L.A.)

And then there's Robert Mugabe, who has been obscenely feathering his next for ages at the expense of his countrymen. Mugabe turned 85 and held a birthday party which cost $250,000. The money came from his “supporters.” Mugabe's birthday party was held just days after Zimbabwe asked other African states for US$2 billion in aid a few days ago. If Zimbabwe does get that aid, do you think it will help out the poor and starving of that country? My bet is that aid goes right to the “supporters” who kicked in so Mugabe could stuff his face with a piece of the 185-kg birthday cake.

I'd be inclined to give the bank and its golf sponsorship a bit of slack. But Mugabe? Not an inch.

In person with Stockwell Day

Last weekend, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day was the guest on a new feature that's being jointly produced by Canwest News Service and Global National. It's called In Person and, each week, Global Bureau Chief Jacques Bourbeau and Canwest News Service Politics Editor Mark Kennedy will grab a beat reporter for an in-depth interview with a top Ottawa official, usually a cabinet minister. You'll be able to watch a video excerpt of this interview and read a news story out of this interview at our Web sites or in one of newspapers.

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan was this weekend's In Person subject. My colleague Janice Tibbetts is the beat reporter on the justice file so she joined Jacques and Mark to interview Van Loan. Day, as I mentioned, is part of my reporting responsibilities. Here's an edited transcript of that interview.

Bourbeau got it started by asking if Day was encouraged by what he heard from President Barack Obama (who had visited the day before) when it came to preserving access to the American market:

The Hon. Stockwell Day:What we were encouraged with, which is not a concern, is there was lots of speculation that President Obama wanted to do a wholesale renegotiation of NAFTA. We understand now that that's not on and we think there's ways of accommodating the environmental concerns and the labour concerns. They got off to a very good start on laying out the first ground works, some of the first rules to looking at how we do environmental regulations and environmental concerns. Whether that gets drafted right into NAFTA. Whether it can be left separate as a side agreement, that will be one of the things Minister Prentice is charged with.

I know from previous provincial experience, when NAFTA was being negotiated, I was a provincial Minister of Labour at the time adn we we were able to agree on the times and have it as a side accord, because labour was a provincial jurisdiction.
So I think the goal is to have labour regulations, labour concerns, that satisify their needs and we can take a look at whether that actually gets written into the agreement or the implementation language is strong enough that it can stay as a side accord. The main thing is to have the issues addressed.


Bourbeau But is this process being driven by the Americans or do we share the concerns that President Obama has raised specifically about labour and environmental standards and how they're applied through NAFTA.

Day I'd say their concern level is maybe a little higher and maybe over time — I'm just speculating on this — President Obama may realize that a lot of the concerns he has are largely addressed within the accord. During his campaign, quite understandably, he was speaking to a large labour constituency and he wanted to make sure and get the message out to them that labour-related concerns in these agreements is actually enshrined.
Keep in mind that Mexico is also involved. So you can understand where we're at in the state of our labour maybe a little bit different than where they're at. So that's part of their focus.

Bourbeau The prime minister said that his concern is, if you embark on this process it could become very cumbersome, very time-consuming, kind of messy. Is that a concern for the Canadian government that it might not simply be worth the hassle?

Day It is a concern. NAFTA — the free trade agreement with Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, is one of the most successful trade agreements in the world but it took a while to get there. That's what I'm finding out as we're negotiating and trying to get free trade agreements around the world now with differnet countries, there's a lot of detail with these things. And when you get one in place and you get it signed — and the implementing legislation in all the jurisdictions – it's quite a feat and you don't necessarily want to start unraveling that.
Our sense is that we want to get a clear understanding of what are their actual concerns related to labour; to which country are they most focused — is it Canadian labour law? Is it U.S.? Is it Mexican? — and see how we can get it addressed. Getting those concerns addressed is the main thing. The actual process is secondary, as long as the concerns can be put to rest.

Bourbeau One of the questions that emerged yesterday, Prime Minister Obama gave assurances that the Buy America provisions in the stimulus package were consistent with the WTO and NAFTA. Do we buy those assurances? Do we in fact believe that there is nothing in there that violate those agreements or in any way threatens our ability to access American markets?

Day When we have the President of the United States coming out as he did — after the Prime Minister had raised those concerns about the Buy America provisions about three weeks ago, it was after that that President Obama came out and said we hear you Canada. They said your concerns are justified and he was very clear that he didn't want anything in the Buy America package that was going to violate trade agreements. We felt good about that. We felt even better when he insisted an amendment be put into that legislation that said just that, you can't violate ongoing and existing concerns. And it was Prime Minister Harper who led that charge and we felt comfortable with what we got from that. So he repeated it again in his visit here — President Obama did — again that gives us comfort but he did use those words “Canadians shouldn't be too concerned” and I don't think there was any hidden meaning in that but we are going to have to be vigilant, almost on a daily basis, with the various industry groups in the United States that might be pushing their representatives for some protectionist measures beyond what the original intent of what this act was. We'll just have to be aggressive and stay on top of it.

Akin:One of the things you and the prime minister have been doing is spreading the message that protectionism doesn't work, that in the long run,it hurts everybody. Here in Canada, you've got folks who are arguing for protectionist measures for our own economy. They say free trade isn't working for Canada and they say the proof is in our trade deficit of December. Commodity prices dropped and we have a deficit. That says to these critics, all the world wants from us is our wood and our rocks and where are the high-value jobs, the good jobs, that should protect us from the swings of oil prices? How do address protectionist critics right here in our own country?

Day Canada is as prosperous as it is because we have been free traders for our entire history. We simply because of great technology and great skills and great education, we produce a lot more than we can consume. And if we can't sell it abroad, then it's going to be lean times all the time, not just up and down in recession times. So any free trade agreement for Canada is very good and that can be demonstrably shown with very strong evidence. In terms of the deficit in December, the numbers were down and that's largely because the price of oil went down and the volumes that are in demand right now for oil, especially in the U.S., are down because their economy is down. So that's why we're seeing some numbers drop. But on consumer goods, in December, for the same month that we showed this drop because of oil volumes and oil prices, the manufacture and export of consumer goods to the United States went up 5.2 per cent. So on the manufactured side, we're doing o.k. We're still being hit by this global downturn.

Then people say, well, how long are we going to have this trade deficit. If you look at the April numbers for the futures market – people are buying large amounts of oil now for the future — the April numbers are $42 a barrel which is higher than it is right now. For July, they're $49. So we see that coming back into some equilibrium, maybe even some surplus.

Kennedy Mr. Day, as you know, there are real concerns out there about the Canada U.S. border because of security measures many of which have come on since 9-11. Now the prime minister yesterday made it very clear — he went out of his way — to let Americans know that we get their concerns, that anything that might happen in New York, concerns Toronto. But be that as it may, there recently was a review of Canada-U.S. security measures, and there is a view out there that perhaps border security is being used as a de dacto way of putting up protectionist measures. What do you make of that view and what can you do in your job to ensure that there is a free flow of goods and services across the border?

Day Well you've hit on one of thing things I'm beginning to learn in trade matters, is one of the tricks of the trade is you can get an industry, hopefully it's from another country and not from ours, come forward to their government and say, “As a safety issue, or as a security issue, we need to demand this from Canadian products coming in.” Sometimes that can be a bona fide safety and security issue. A lot of times it's what we call a non-tariff barrier and they will use that.

I thought the Prime Minister was very effective in terms of how he sent the message saying, look, U.S. security concerns are our concerns. We're on the same continent here. But also getting the message out that we don't consistently need to see security trumping efficiency or trumping prosperity all the time. The previous administration we understood, coming right out of 9-11, they had one goal in mind, that that never happen again. and we understand that. So for quite a period of time, it was a ramping up of security measures to the place where it's a pretty secure border. And we're saying now's the time, we'll maintain those security levels but we've got to focus on efficiency and I was really pleased to to see President Obama's response to Prime Minister Harper when he said, you now what, there's bottlenecks at the border, we should take some of our infrastructure money and change — you know, when we're talking about infrastructure at the border, we're talking about the way the lanes work. We need an extra bridge here or there. Do you need a wider receiving area for trucks? And that's where Minister Baird, for us, and Minister Van Loan on border issues will guide the discussion and guide the resources to clear up some of the bottlenecks. I think it was a great step forward for the prime minister to have President Obama talk about these bottlenecks and say, you know what?, let's address that. Let's get our infrastructure focused on that.

Kennedy What's the impact to our economy and to theirs if we don't fix that problem? If we don't reduce these bottlenecks?

Day It's like a hidden cost to a manufacturer or an exporter with just the way the auto trade is integrated back-and-forth across the border, Windsor to Detroit, a car in various forms can go back and forth six or seven times just in its construction related to where the parts are being made. That's very ineffective and costly if there's unnecessary delays. There's a major infrastructure commitment now. At that particularly border, using that as an example, the Ambassador Bridge, its the principal crossing there, people don't realize a third of all our trade with the U.S. crosses over that bridge. And now that trade is picking up so much over the last decade because of the free trade agreement, there has to be infrastructure there, there has to be alternate crossings and that's an example of an area that needs infrastructure dollars to become more efficient but you still maintain a level of security.

Akin:Forget about trade for a minute: A long time ago you lost a leadership race to the Prime Minister and since then, we've talked to a lot of folks from your party, and there's a great respect for you there. People inside your party – and outside your party — think you've been one of the most effective ministers in the last Parliament and so far in this one. You ever think about one day succeeding the guy who beat you in that leadership race?

Day Absolutely not. I'd like to make that very clear right now. I can tell you that Stephen Harper is the type of leader who is very easy to work for with all your heart and to support. He has the heart to see Canada prosper and to continue to become a great nation that it is and I can tell you to a man and to a woman, we have no problem whatsoever in giving him all the support he needs.

Akin:One day he may want to go himself…

Day Even when he does, maybe I'll take the walk with him! No I won't be walking down that other aisle. That's a very tough road. Jean Chrétien was right — occasionally — when he said that's a tough job. It is a very tought job. That's why we're giving the prime minister all the support that he needs.

The numbers are out on third-party election advertising

Elections Canada is out this afternoon with the reports on third-party advertising during the last election campaign. Under Elections Canada rules, any organization that is not a political party and that spends more than $500 during an election campaign has to file a report with Elections Canada, within four months of the election, spelling out how much they spent and where they got the money.

Some highights:

  • The “Anybody But Conservative” campaign that was quarterbacked by Newfoundland's Progressive Conservative Premier Danny Williams was certainly successful. It managed to sweep Stephen Harper's Conservatives from Labrador and the island. (Harper would have his revenge, I suppose, by naming defeated MP Fabian Manning to the Senate). The ABC campaign said it spent $81,389.62 during the election campaign and it all came from one donor: The Progressive Conservative Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. That money was spent to develop an ABC Web site, put up an ABC highway billboard, and run some TV and newspaper ads.
  • Combined, third-party groups spent about $360,000 advertising their points of view during the federal election. To put that in perspective, the combined spend of the national campaigns for the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP would have been around $60-million.
  • The third party that spent the most was the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, which spent $167,000 during the campaign. The ABC campaign ranked second. And then a social justice/union group in Montreal, Les Sans-Chemise spent the third most at about $41,000, most likely spreading some messages that would have helped the Bloc Quebecois. The National Citizens Coalition spent $24,727.82 on advertising even though it collected $86,516 from individuals whose donations were specifically targetted for election advertising. Former Encana CEO and Harper government support Gwyn Morgan donated $20,000 to the NCC for this purpose.
  • Here's the list of third party donors and the total amount of money each group donated:

    Third Party's Name Amount
    Tourism Industry Association of Canada $167,067.67
    ABC Campaign $81,389.62
    Les Sans-Chemise $41,503.23
    National Citizens Coalition Inc. $24,727.82
    Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) $8,975.80
    Canadian Union of Postal Workers $6,581.96
    Guihua, Li $4,271.41
    Dong Yu Zhi $3,514.34
    One Step at a Time $3,463.32
    Ontario Business Network $3,453.45
    Alan Deng / Zhiliang Deng $3,394.81
    Canadian Shooting Sports Association $2,923.08
    Wei Lang $2,859.38
    CommunityAIR $2,513.54
    Nanaimo, Duncan and District Labour Council $1,995.00
    Coalition of Childcare Advocates of BC $1,796.00
    Friends of Bill Casey $605.68
    Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions $0.00-  

Election day on Parliament Hill — for journalists

If you want to work as a journalist on Parliament Hill — attend press conferences in parliamentary facilities, sit in the House of Commons press gallery or even get in on the scrums in the foyer — you have to be a member of Parliamentary Press Gallery. The House of Commons security staff, in fact, won't even let you in the building unless you've got your press gallery pass dangling about your neck. This edict comes down from the Speaker of House of Commons, incidentally, who is responsible for the general operations of the Hill. But while Parliament, through the Speaker, has insisted that only accredited journalists be allowed on the Hill, the Speaker has left it up to journalists themselves to administer that accreditation system, decide who gets a pass and who doesn't, and generally be responsible for administering their own affairs in the Parliamentary Precinct.

Journalists formed a corporation — The Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery — and hired a full-time staff of about a dozen to administer the accreditation process and generally organize the affairs of journalists working on the Hill.

Because it's a corporation, the Press Gallery must hold an annual meeting for its members and, at that meeting, elect its officers and directors. Today was that day.

This year, as in other years, there was no election for the executive positions. Each individual who put their name forward (with nomination papers signed by five others) was acclaimed to the job. Richard Brennan of The Toronto Star had been our president for the last two years but decided not to seek re-election. He has been replaced by Hélène Buzzetti, a reporter for Le Devoir. Chris Rands, a senior producer with CBC Radio is the vice-president; Karine Fortin, a reporter at La Presse Canadienne is the Treasurer; and Elizabeth Thompson, a reporter with Sun Media is the Secretary.

The Press Gallery's constitution requires that five directors also be elected to sit on the board. I was elected as a director last year and was seeking re-electon this year. In the four annual press gallery meetings I've ever seen, there has always been an election for directors. You never know who is running as nominations come from the floor of the meeting. So, just in case, I've been politicking all week seeking votes should I need them (and I did.) Here, in fact, is the campaign platform I distributed by e-mail to the voters yesterday:

Colleagues —

I seek your support for re-election as a director of our Parliamentary Press Gallery. Last year, I asked for your support and committed to working on issues, such as providing wireless Internet service on the Hill that would improve our working environment and protect our independence. I'm pleased to report that we've made progress towards getting wi-fi on the Hill and I hope to continue to work on that issue. This year, the board will be working to protect and, if we're lucky, extend parking privileges on the Hill. I also seek to protect access our Members have to other services on the Hill such as the gym at 131 Queen. As a broadcast, print, and online journalist, I believe I can be an effective and sympathetic advocate for a broad cross-section of our members. I hope I can count on your support.

Chers collègues —

Je me présente comme candidat au poste de directeur de la tribune de la presse. Il y a un an, vous m'avez élu à ce poste pour faire avancer plusieurs dossiers et je croix qu'on a fait un grand pas en avant. Par exemple, on a fait du progrès dans nos efforts pour obtenir un réseau sans fil pour améliorer notre milieu de travail et afin de protéger notre indépendance.

Cette année, la Tribune va travailler pour protéger vos privilèges de stationnement sur la colline et j'envisage aussi la possibilité de les bonifier. Je travaille aussi pour proteger l'accès de nos membres à d'autres services sur la colline, tel que la salle de gym à 131 Queen. J'aimerais aussi souligner que je comprend les besoins et défis de tous nos membres, en écrit, télévision, radio ou Internet parce que je fais des reportages dans toutes ces catégories à chaque semaine. J'espère avoir votre appui pour la prochaine année.

I am pleased to say that my campaign platform seems to have been a winner for I — ahem — ended up with the most votes in the election we had for five director slots. (Six individuals put their name forward). 0

So here are the 2009-2010 directors:

  • David Akin (Canwest News Service) – Re-elected
  • Alex Panetta (The Canadian Press) – Re-elected
  • Manon Cornellier (Le Devoir)
  • Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail)
  • Luc St.-Jean (Freelance ENG technician)

You mean you guys think radioactive leaks are news?

The president of Canada's nuclear safety regulator said Tuesday he was surprised by public and media interest in what he described as minor, harmless leaks of water — including radioactive water — last December at the Chalk River, Ont., nuclear reactor operated by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL).

But Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) president Michael Binder told MPs the commission and AECL have re-evaluated their communications protocol in the wake of the leaks at the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor, and will establish a new proactive system of disclosure — even for events that pose no health risk, and may seem like routine variations on normal operating procedure.

“Given that we deemed the December leak at the NRU to be of low safety significance, we were caught by surprise at the level of interest that events generated,” Binder told MPs on the House of Commons Natural Resources Committee.

“I'm surprised that you're surprised,” said Nathan Cullen, a B.C. NDP MP. “I'm finding it hard to reconcile the history of this particular reactor over the last 18 months.”

[Read the whole story]

Khadr's legal team comes under scrutiny


Now this is weird. Award-winning, all-star reporter MIchelle Shephard reports that Omar Khadr's legal team is, all of a sudden, in turmoil. Shephard, who literally wrote the book on Khadr, has a file in The Star on this. I've been to Guantanamo all of once for a Khadr trial event but, even then, it was clear there was a weird vibe among Khadr's legal team. Having had the chance to chat informally with MIchelle about the Khadr trial, I very much get the sense reading this report that there is much more to this than she is able to report at this point. I'd say, stay tuned:

U.S. Navy Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, one of Khadr's military-appointed lawyers, said Tuesday that his supervisor had now barred him from visiting Khadr. In an emailed press release to reporters, Kuebler accused Guantanamo's Chief Defence lawyer, Col. Peter Masciola, of “ethical” violations.

“Kuebler has raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest driving Col. Masciola's management decisions on several occasions over the past few weeks, prompting Col. Masciola to express concerns about Lt-Cmdr. Kuebler's 'management' of the Khadr defence team last week,” Kuebler wrote. [Read the whole story]

NDP baiting Liberals and Tories at Finance Committee

I'm in 253-D in the Centre Block watching the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance debate the budget bill, C-10. Today's session is clause-by-clause review of the budget bill. There are 500-+ clauses to the bill and the lone NDP MP on the 12-person commitee — Deputy Leader Thomas Mulcair — got the day off to a rollicking start by insisting on a roll-call vote on each and all of those clauses. That was later modified but the Mulcair has, for the last 90 minutes, Mulcair has largely dominated the debate and has been ridiculing both Liberal and Conservative MPs.

The NDP has voted against the budget at every step, saying that, first of all, it is not an effective cure for Canada's economic ills and second of all, is being used to advance ideological goals of the Conservatives, namely rolling back pay equity rights, short-circuiting environmental assessments, and cutting back on union and social justice rights.

So Mulcair is doing everything he can to goad the Liberals into doing something — anything! — to vote for his party's amendments and against the Conservatives.

So, this morning, he has called all the Ontario MPs on this committee — that includes Liberals John McCallum and John McKay and Conservatives Bob Dechert, Mike Wallace and Darryl Kramp — “spineless, unprincipled MPs”

Some other scattered comments from Mulcair this morning:

  • ” We think it's scandalous that the Liberals are supporting the Conservatives by taking away women's rights …”
  • “The Liberal Party of Canada has completely caved.”
  • He accused the Liberals — who, last December, were set to join the NDP in a coalition government that would have replaced the governing Conservatives — of backing the Conservatives once the Conservatives abandoned plans to cut federal funding of political parties, a move that would have disproportinately hurt the Liberals because that party's difficulty raising money. “Now that they've gotten what they want for their own purposes, they're abandoning women, they're abandoning the environment, and they're abandoning social and union rights.”
  • He ridiculed the use by MPs of funding “shovel-ready” projects. “None of these guys has ever even held a shovel!”
  • He accused the Tories of playing a “shell game” with the budget because much of the federal spending will only happen if other levels of government chip in. He said that, for that reason, the budget is “an intellectual fraud.”
  • Argued that Infrastructure Minister John Baird is such a partisan that he will only direct infrastructure funding to those ridings that elected Conservative MPs.

And what do the Liberals and Conservatives say to all this? Nothing. MPs from those two parties want the budget passed as soon as possible. So they sit quietly and vote down Mulcair's amendments one after the other without responding to any of his attacks. “He'll only be encouraged to go longer if we respond,” one MP said to me privately.

Don't sniff at Liechtenstein trade!

I'm in West Block 209, listening to representatives of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives testify at a meeting of the Commons standing committee on international trade.

The committee is considering Bill C-2, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the States of the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland), the Agreement on Agriculture between Canada and the Republic of Iceland, the Agreement on Agriculture between Canada and the Kingdom of Norway and the Agreement on Agriculture between Canada and the Swiss Confederation. (Mouthful, that one, isn't it?)

Negotiations on this trade deal are done and the deal will likely get signed this summer. MPs, though, are not unanimous that this would be such a good thing.

At this committee's last meeting, we heard from witnesses representing labour groups that this deal with EFTA will be bad for Canada's perennially struggling shipbuilding industry. (Norway, it is feared, will eat our shipbuilding lunch)

Today pro-deal groups note the following:

  • Combined trade with these relatively small group of European countries totals $12.9 billion a year, making this our fifth largest trade relationship.
  • we do more business a year with EFTA than with all of South America combined.
  • This is our first bilateral trade deal with any European country. For that reason, “It offers huge symbolic value,” said David Stewart-Patterson of the CCCE.

Flaherty urges MPs to pass budget; NDP, BQ, unions object …

I write, today, from Room 253-D of the Centre Block of the House of Commons, where the House of Commons Standing Committee began hearings on the budget legislation at 10 a.m. this morning and now, at 0940 pm, is 20 minutes away from wrapping up. The highlight was the hour Finance Minister Jim Flaherty spent in front of the committee this afternoon:

As stock markets in the U.S. drooped to levels not seen in a decade and Canadian markets hit another low, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty pressed MPs to quickly pass his budget legislation which will spring billions of dollars in tax relief and spending aimed at helping Canada's economy.

But after delivering that message to the House of Commons finance committee, Flaherty told reporters that the most urgent problem for the world's governments is the global financial crisis, a crisis which Canada can do little about . . .

“Everybody on this side of the House wants these (budget) measures to be passed rapidly,” Ignatieff said. “The question is whether the situation is changing in such a way that the minister already has additional measures in view.”

The NDP, however, continues to object to the budget, saying it sets back progress on pay equity and contains insufficient help for the unemployed.

The Commons finance committee heard from several witnesses who urged MPs to vote against passing the budget.

“I think this budget should be voted down,” said Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, saying it contains inadequate economic stimulus and does nothing to help those losing jobs. “The victims of this crisis are being ignored. Women and the unemployed are being ignored in favour of fancy tax cuts that are going to do nothing in the short term.”

Barb Byers, a vice-president with the CLC, also attacked government plans to tinker with pay equity rules in the name of efficiency and belt-tightening.

“It's a huge attack on women's economic equality,” Byers told MPs, “and, I'll tell you, we feel the discrimination every time we take a paycheque home.”

The Bloc Quebecois also objects to the budget saying that while there are billions for the largely Ontario-based auto sector, there is not enough help for the forestry sector, a major employer in Quebec's rural regions . . . [Read the whole story]