NDP, Libs, BQ say no Mulroney testimony on Afghan detainees without documents

After hearing his "professionalism" questioned by former subordinate Richard Colvin last week, David Mulroney sent a letter to the House of Commons Special Committee on the Mission in Afghanistan offering to testify to "set the record straight." That's no light offer from Mulroney as his current job is Ambassador to China. Mulroney, in fact, was en route, my sources tell me, from Beijing to Ottawa late Monday night in expectation that he would get a chance to testify on Thursday.

Not so fast.

Opposition MPs tabled a notice of motion late tonight that will get voted on when the Committee meets Wednesday (a meeting at which they'll hear testimony from Gen. Rick Hillier and others).  The motion is from NDP MP Paul Dewar but I'm told the Liberals were ready to table one that was mighty similar and, basically, it tells the government that Mulroney ain't testifying until the committee gets a pile of documents that they've been asking for for ages.

"The issue is simple – we've now asked for documents, and [Defence Minister Peter] Mackay has promised them. A proper inquiry is not "he said she said'. It's about understanding what happened in 2006-2007," said Liberal MP and committee member Bob Rae.  "The committee is master of its timetable."

"We have concerns about having Mr. Mulroney appear in front of the committee before we've had a chance to look at the information promised by [Defence Minister Peter] MacKay in Question Period today (briefing notes of the minister in 2006-2007 on detainees), in order to ask the relevant questions," said Jean-François Del Torchio, a Liberal spokesman. "The government has changed its story so many time that their attempt to move this quickly is suspicious. This is another example of the government failing to be transparent.

Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister's chief spokesman, accused the opposition of playing political games. "If the opposition were serious about finding answers they would allow Mr. Mulroney to appear before the Committee."

Here's Dewar's motion, which will have the support of a majority of MPs on the Afghanistan Committeee




That the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan requests the following documents prior to the appearance of Mr. David Mulroney:

 All documents referred to in the Affidavit of Richard Colvin, dated October 5, 2009;

 All documents within the Department of Foreign Affairs written in response to the documents referred to in the Affidavit of Richard Colvin, dated October 5, 2009;

 All memoranda for information or memoranda for decision sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs concerning detainees from December 18, 2005 to the present;

 All documents produced pursuant to the orders of the Federal Court in Amnesty International and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association v. Chief of the Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces, Minister of National Defence and Attorney General of Canada;

 All documents produced to the Military Police Complaints Commission in the Afghanistan Public Interest Hearings;

 All annual human rights reports by the Department of Foreign Affairs on Afghanistan.

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PM Harper yet to take questions from opposition politicians on Afghan detainees

Since Richard Colvin's explosive testimony last Wednesday Nov. 18 that all Afghan detaineeds captured by a Canadian Forces in Kandahar were likely tortured after we turned them over to local officials, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not been in the House of Commons. On Thursday, Nov. 19, he landed in Ottawa at 0700 after a 20 hour flight from India. On Friday, leaders and senior cabinet ministers rarely attend the last session of the week under any circumstances. But Harper used to attend QP fairly regularly from Monday to Thursday.

But he'll miss QP again today — despite the rising political temperature in Ottawa and fresh allegations that Harper himself and his inner circle of advisors insisted back in 2007 on controlling all communications on this sensitive issue.

So what's keeping him from facing questions from opposition politicans when Question Period begins today at 2:15 pm in the House of Commons?

Media Advisory:

2:15 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will participate in a photo opportunity with the 2010 Canadian Men's Field Lacrosse team. He will be joined by James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. Langevin Block

Langevin Block, incidentally is right across the street from the Parliament Buildings.

Afghan torture, punishing the RCMP, and expensive whisky: Monday's top headlines and Parliamentary daybook

Afghanistan torture allegations, the RCMP Commissioner's plea to Parliament to get tough on his own force; and some really expensive whisky:  Listen to my four-minute audio roundup of what's on the front pages of the country's newspapers plus highlights from Monday's Parliamentary daybook by clicking on the link below.

You can also get these audio summaries via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at AudioBoo.fm. Look under my picture on the left hand side of the page.


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Harper and the press gallery: We still have questions…

I can't recall the last time Prime Minister Stephen Harper took questions in Ottawa from the Parliamentary Press Gallery (PPG) at an open-ended press conference. He took a question or two from the PPG when Obama was in town and I think he took a few at the National Press Theatre when Melissa Fung was released from captivity in Afghanistan.

But it's been well over a year — maybe even two? — since Harper took 20 or 30 minutes worth of questions from the Ottawa-based media. His predecessor Paul Martin would stand and scrum for 10 minutes or so once a week after cabinet meetings on the Hill. Martin's scrums were not often great in terms of quality but there was a lot of quantity. Now we're not even told when cabinet is meeting and we're banned from that floor in the House of Commons where the meetings are held!

Now don't get me wrong: Harper still does a lot of press. He's been on FOX News and CNBC in the U.S., was on Indian television last weekend, and whenever he travels in Canada, he invariably does 20 minutes or so of questions with the reporters in whatever cities he's travelling in. During a House of Commons break week — when the PM and all MPs tend to travel a bit — he might do three 20-30 minute press conferences.

Personally and professionally, I don't want to do anything to dissuade the PMO from that part of their media strategy. I'm always interested to hear, for example, what Chinese-language media in Vancouver ask the PM. Travelling with the PM last week in India, theIndo-Canadian journalists with us had different issues they wanted to talk about than we did. When he was in Winnipeg during the last election campaign, a local reporter wanted to know what kind of vegetable or fruit Harper imagined himself to be. All good, if you ask me. No question is ever a stupid question.

More questions from more people in different places and more answers from our politicians are an absolute good. The questions help us all learn more about the people and the regions they come from. The answers help us learn more about our political leaders.

But I think we'd be better served if Harper took more questions from the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Don't get me wrong here: I'm not arguing that the PPG has more of a right to ask questions than others (they don't!) and I'm not arguing that PPG members would ask better questions.  But I would argue that we might learn a bit more about Harper if the PPG got to ask a few more questions. That's because PPG members tend to follow a narrative or thread of a particular story over the long haul and will ask questions based more on historical context than the questions he receives from reporters where he's travelling.  PPG members tend to seek nuance and information that goes beyond the "talking points" and, we hope, gets into candour and personal introspection. I covered, for example, both last fall's APEC meeting in Peru as the world was going into recession and this year's APEC meeting in Singapore as the world was ready to come out of recession.  Had I the opportunity, I would have been very interested in hearing Harper's assessments of the differences in the two meetings and how his pitch for financial system reform was received then and now. I'm interested in these things because I'm betting that the readers of the newspapers I write for are interested. But as we have only a limited number of questions, it's tough to get to that point in the conversation with Harper because we have to ask about the top story of the day (see below – How Do We Decide What To Ask Harper).

This limited access is doubly frustrating because Harper is among the best politicians I've ever seen at handling a room full of journalists. He's not "hiding" from the PPG because he's likely to be tripped up. I've only seen Harper "tripped up" by a PPG member once and that was Allan Woods (then working for Canwest, now at the Star) when he led off the 2006 election campaign coverage by asking Harper if he loved Canada. The answer, of course, is yes. But Harper stumbled to get that out and it was a telling moment that, though he's tremendously well briefed on most policy files, he, at that time, still had trouble just being a regular guy. (He is a much, much better politician nowadays when it comes to connecting to everyday Canadians.)

Instead, when Harper does 30 minutes with the PPG, there are 3,4 maybe five decent stories that will emerge from his remarks – a result of the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, he's very well briefed on just about anything you want to ask him.

All of this is a long way of getting around to the rather depressing "Questions Scorecard" for the recent overseas trip of the prime minister.

I went with him (and, like all news organizations, we paid for our travel) as he spent 2 days in Singapore and 3 days in India. Several members of the PPG travelled with him but there were plenty of reporters with him who do not work in Ottawa.

We were on the same plane for 27 hours travelling to Singapore and 20 hours travelling from India to Ottawa. We did not speak to the Harper at all on the 2 full days we spent together in the plane.

In Singapore, Harper took 2 questions on our first day there (1 in English, 1 in French.) On our second and last day there, he took 6 questions. (4 in English and 2 in French.) Of the 8 questions put to him in Singapore, 5 were from PPG members.

Over 3 days in India, Harper took just 3 questions, 2 from PPG members and 1 from a Indo-Canadian journalist. At a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh, the Canadian media — about 15 of us? — got all of one question. The Indian media were allowed 1 question as well. This severely restricted press conference was, apparently, more a function of Singh's aversion to taking reporters' questions. (He never does, we were told) Moreover, Singh's PR people who organized the conference insisted we ask 1 question of only one leader. Both the Canadian interrogator (the Globe's John Ibbitson was chosen in this case) and the Indian reporter ignored that odd restriction and asked both leaders to answer their questions.

The next day, as we wrapped up our time in India, we got two more questions.

How do we decide what to ask Harper?

Some of my Twitter correspondents, incidentally, asked how it is decided who gets to ask the question when only have one or two. Here's that answer:

There's a general convention that's developed among the Canadian reporters that, when there are more reporters who want to ask questions than the PMO will allow, then we huddle up and try to come to some consensus first, on the question or questions and then, second, on the interrogator. And that's how, for example, Ibbitson ended up as the interrogator at the Harper/Singh press conference. The question was one which the group of us settled on and we left it to John to phrase it.

That's quite a contrast to the White House press corps. When Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs calls on a White House reporter, that reporter is asking whatever question it is that reporter is interested in asking. There is no thought to canvassing others if there is a chance for only one or two questions that day.

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RCMP taser tales, Afghanistan torture allegations, and football: Saturday's top newspaper headlines

RCMP taser tales, Afghanistan torture allegations, and football: Listen to my four-minute audio roundup of what's on the front pages of the country's newspapers plus highlights from Friday's Parliamentary daybook by clicking on the link below.

You can also get these audio summaries via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at AudioBoo.fm. Look under my picture on the left hand side of the page.


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New Agassi book seems like a must-read

New York Times book review editor Sam Tanenhaus reviews tennis star Andre Agassi's Open:

"“Open” is one of the most passionately anti-sports books ever written by a superstar athlete — bracingly devoid of triumphalist homily and star-spangled gratitude. Agassi’s announced theme is that the game he mastered was a prison he spent some 30 years trying to escape  . . .

"Equally hard-won self-knowledge irradiates almost every page of “Open,” thanks in great part to Agassi’s inspired choice of collaborator, J. R. Moehringer, author of the memoir “The Tender Bar,” with its melody of remembered voices. Agassi says he read it in 2006, at his last U.S. Open, and then recruited Moehrin­ger to help him write his own book. The result is not just a first-rate sports memoir but a genuine bildungsroman, darkly funny yet also anguished and soulful. It confirms what Agassi’s admirers sensed from the outset, that this showboat, with his garish costumes and presumed fatuity, was not clamoring for attention but rather conducting a struggle to wrest some semblance of selfhood from the sport that threatened to devour him."

Be sure to watch the video of Tanenhaus interviewing Agassi about the book. Terrific.

Big computers tackle the problem of climate change and, in doing so, cause climate change

The new TOP500 list is out. Geeks, like me, get excited about this. The semi-anual TOP500 ranks the world's biggest, fastest supercomputers.

At the top right now is Jaguar, a Cray XT5-HE Opteron Six Core 2.6 GHz, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Jaguary was upgraded this year at a cost of US$20-million and given the task of basically modelling the entire planet so that scientists can run various climate change problems on it.

Jaguar went 'live' earlier this year. It knocked an IBM system out of the top spot and the Jaguar folks were happy to brag about that.

The folks who operate that IBM system, though, bragged right back. The (U.S.) National Nuclear Security Administration may not have the number one slot anymore, but it's got three of the top 10, all of which are involved in modelling nuclear explosions:

The three computers in the top 10 were Roadrunner (#2, Los Alamos National Laboratory); BlueGene/L (#7, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory); and Red Sky (#10, Sandia National Laboratories/National Renewable Energy Laboratory). In addition, the Dawn platform at Livermore was ranked as the 11th fastest in the world.

“The work done on these complex machines enables us to maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear stockpile without nuclear testing,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “The supercomputing systems are a critical example of our investment in nuclear security making contributions to broader science and discovery. I am very pleased to see our laboratories and highly skilled personnel recognized for their groundbreaking contributions to the advancement of our national security programs and the field of supercomputing.”

All this supercomputing, though, may not be great news for the environment, as Bill St. Arnaud wrote on his blog this week:

… the UK Meteorological Office new supercomputer is one of the single biggest sources of CO2 emissions (Scope 2) in the UK. Paradoxically this is the same computer that is being used for climate modeling in that country. Thanks to a pointer from Steve Goldstein we learn that even America’s spy agency –NSA, is also running into energy issues and as such is building a huge new data centers in Utah and Texas, of which both will probably use dirty coal based electricity as well. There is also rumors that NCAR is building a new cyber-infrastructure center in Wyoming (presumably which will also use coal based electricity) which sort of undermines its own credibility as America’s leading climate research institute. I suspect very shortly with all the new announcements of grids and supercomputers from OSG to Jaguar, that cyber-infrastructure collectively in the US will be one of the top sources of CO2 emissions as it is now in the UK.

Bill's blog, incidentally is all about greening up the ICT sector. In one recent post, he noted that an Australian ISP with about 170,000 subscriber had gone carbon-neutral and was making its power and equipment purchasing decisions with an eye to lowering its carbon footprint.

Colvin's claims, HST break in BC and $16,000 hospital bill: Top newspaper headlines for Friday

Colvin's claims on Afghanistan torture, an HST break for B.C., and a $16,000 hospital bill: Listen to my four-minute audio roundup of what's on the front pages of the country's newspapers plus highlights from Friday's Parliamentary daybook by clicking on the link below.

You can also get these audio summaries via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at AudioBoo.fm. Look under my picture on the left hand side of the page.


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PM's message at Gandhi memorial


Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Raj Ghat, Gandhi's memorial, in New Delhi Tuesday. On the way out, he signed the visitors book:

It is a great honour to be here at the memorial for such a great indian and model for all humanity. Blessed be Gandhi's memory. Peace on earth.

Stephen Harper

Prime Minister of canada

Nov 17, 2009

Laureen Teskey Harper

Turner Valley, Alberta

For more pictures from Harper's visit to New Delhi, see here.