Harper, MacKay getting along fine at NATO summit


Some pundits have taken Peter MacKay's less-than-subtle signals that he was unhappy with the decision made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others in cabinet to deny landing rights airlines from the United Arab Emirates and, in doing so, forego the free use of the Camp Mirage staging base near Dubai, as a sign that he is preparing to leave the cabinet and perhaps even quit politics. My sources close to MacKay say he's going nowhere but who knows? Stranger things have happened.

In any event, here at the NATO summit in Lisbon, if there is a rift between MacKay and Harper over the UAE decision, the two are putting on a first-class job of hiding it. The body language between the two men — at four photo ops I saw today as well as the opening of the NATO summit — told me those two are getting along like gangbusters. I couldn't hear what they were saying in the summit room but whatever it was, they were making each other laugh and smile a lot. And, as you can see in the picture above, MacKay was Harper's wingman all day while Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon had the backseat.


On covering international summits: The 54-second photo-op, the pull-aside and the readout

When leaders — and it doesn't matter the country — attend international summits like the one going on here in Lisbon, they tend to have a lot of meetings. Some are full-on “bi-lats”, short for bilateral meetings. That's a kind of one-on-one meeting between two leaders usually held at a hotel or meeting room away from the official summit meeting. They tend to be 20-25 minute meetings. The meetings are not open to the public though journalists are allowed in for a quick photo off the top of these meetings. More on that in a minute.

Today in Lisbon, before the official beginning of the NATO summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has four bilats: with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh; with RasIveta Radicova, Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia; with Mikheil Saakashvili, President of the Democratic Republic of Georgia; and with George Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic (Greece).

Leaders can also have what is known in diplomacy-speak as “pull-asides” at summits. These are shorter meetings between two leaders that can literally be off to the side of a the main meeting room and might last five or 10 minutes. Sometimes journalists get to take a snap of these meetings.

The photo opportunities — known in the trade as the photo-op — can sometimes be for journalists covering these things the only time to see a leader during a day of summitry. Some journalists see these as a bit of a waste of time but sometimes the chit-chat between the two leaders as they pose for pictures can help inform a story. For example, at La Francophonie in Montreux, Switzerland last month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon spent a few seconds discussing Canada's failed bid to win a UN Security Council seat. In Korea last week, Harper told leaders of south Asian countries that he wanted to talk to them about human smuggling. These are the direct quotes from the PM we needed for stories we filed on those issues.

These photo-ops, though, can be mighty brief affairs. Let me show one such example: The photo-op this morning at Lisbon between Harper and Rasmussen. This is the raw video, all 54 seconds of it, from the time PMO staff let us in to the time PMO staff usher us out. This is pretty typical both for its brevity and its (lack of) content so far as Canadian PM photo ops go. They're just as brief when its a leader like the US President or leaders from China but there are about three times as many photographers.

After the photo op ends, the leader's communications staff generally issue a “read-out” in which they tell us what happened. Here's the read-out issued by Harper's communications staff about the Rasmussen-Harper meeting. It, too, is fairly typical for its length and content:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the first day of the NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. The Prime Minister expressed Canada's support for the reform and transformation agenda which will ensure the Alliance becomes even more effective. The Secretary General expressed NATO's appreciation for Canada's post 2011 engagement to provide aid, development and military training after the combat mission ends next July. Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted Canada's support for NATO's Strategic Concept. On Afghanistan, the Prime Minister also noted the desire for an effective and sustainable transfer of security to Afghan authorities.

Journalists at these summits have the exciting challenge of using these series of photo-ops and readouts as the kernels around which to build the day's reporting.


Auletta:Non-Stop News

From: Ken Auletta. “Non-Stop News.” The New Yorker 25 Jan. 2010: 38

The media is under “pressure to entertain or perish, which has fed the press's dominant bias: not pro-liberal or pro-conservative but pro-conflict.”

Tend to agree with that.

“Forty per cent of Americans, according to a Pew poll last July, now get their national and international news from cable; with the collapse of mass audiences for broadcast television, networks like Fox News and MSNBC have sought niche markets, in the process shedding all but the pretense of impartiality. Data collected by TiVo, Inc., from thirty-five thousand viewers, show that for each Democrat who watches Fox News there are eighteen Republicans, and for every Republican who watches MSNBC there are six Democrats. (Democrats outnumber Republicans on CNN by a lesser two and a half to one.)”

Cyber-jerks, Ontario's rising power rates, Mrs. Harper's safe-texting


Ottawa Sun Front Page

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Geoffrey Wheatcroft: "The Voice of Unconventional Wisdom"

On the flight to Lisbon, Portugal, I happened to read an essay by Geoffrey Wheatcroft,  reviewing new books by William Pfaff and Peter Beinart. I'm travelling to Lisbon to cover the summit of NATO leaders who will adopt a new “strategic concept”, one that sets out the new political and military objectives of the alliance but will do so, I suspect, with a mind to each country's significantly diminished capacity — both financially and politically — for grand, new military missions.

Though Wheatcroft is not writing specifically about NATO, he does have a summary paragraph which seem to me to be some reasonable starting points for discussion for the country NATO depends most heavily on, the United States:

When the present wars are “wound up”, Americans may also begin to ask other questions. Does China actually represent a military threat, as well as economic competition, to the United States? Was the eastward expansion of NATO necessary or wise? For all the neocon saber-rattling during the brief Russian-Georgian crisis two summers ago, did anyone really think Americans were going to die for South Ossetia? Does the US Navy still require 11 large carrier battle groups, “structured,” as the military theorist William Lind puts it, “to fight the Imperial Japanese Navy”? Do American troops need to serve, as they do today, in more than 1,000 bases, on the soil of 175 of the 192 member states of the United Nations?

Louis Riel: Hero or traitor? How about both?

This morning in our papers, I wade in to the debate about Louis Riel's place in our history. I must confess I'm a bit conflicted about his legacy:

“He did, at the end of the day, take up arms against an elected government. There were battles. People died. That kind of tactic, it seems to me, can never be endorsed.

And yet, he ought to be remembered for struggling to defend the Metis, who had been betrayed by the government in Ottawa.

And we certainly ought to study, understand, and reflect on why and how the actions of an unjust government might propel an otherwise good man to lead a bloody rebellion.”

[Read the whole column]

Caucus discipline: Blue team has it, red team doesn't

Let me set up this blog post with a tweet earlier this evening from Rob Silver, a Liberal pundit and commentator who was a key player on Gerard Kennedy's leadership team:

Lib MPs who leaked caucus news today were (a) trying to hurt MI; (b) hurt their fellow MPs (c) sound cool to Taber; or (d) all of the above?

When I came to Ottawa in 2005 and got assigned to cover the Conservative caucus I was disappointed to discover that, despite my best efforts, I wasn't going to crack their caucus confidentiality. Five years later, I still can't. I ain't the only one. I've heard the same thing from lots of other press gallery colleagues. While there's certainly the occasional exception, the Conservatives (who are required to turn their BlackBerry in at the door before the weekly Wednesday caucus meeting) have been remarkably disciplined when it comes to caucus confidentiality.

My friend John Ivison, whose sources on the blue team are nearly unmatched in the press gallery, had a neat piece this week in the National Post about life inside the Conservative caucus, discovering that Ontario MP Larry Miller is a frequent and respected intervenor inside Conservative caucus meetings. But despite Ivison's connections, he was only able to discover that Miller is a respected caucus voice but no one will say just what it is that Miller or anyone else actually says in those meetings. And we only rarely get a whiff of any dissenting voice. (An alert Daniel Proussalidis of NewsTalk 1010 used a fire alarm in the middle of today's caucus meeting to get one of those whiffs)

The Conservative caucus meets in one of the large committee rooms in Parliament Hill's centre block. Across the Hall of Honour, in another committee room, the Liberal caucus meets at the same time. The Liberals, like the Tories, hold these meetings behind closed doors but, in the five years I've been here, they might has well do it live on CPAC. Liberal MPs keep their BlackBerrys on them and have as much live-blogged the “secret” proceedings to journalists who wait outside. Liberal leaders in the past have asked/ordered/begged for some caucus confidentiality — and Michael Ignatieff did so again today —  but it just doesn't appear to be in a Liberal MP's DNA.

And so it was today. Some Liberal MPs are upset with the fact that their party is essentially supporting the government's decision to commit to a three-year training mission in Afghanistan. Some Liberal MPs want the troops home. Upset that their party is not doing what they want, they grabbed the first reporter they saw at the conclusion of this morning's “secret”  Liberal caucus meeting and spilled the beans. This isn't a new thing, though. It happens all the time. The Liberals are famous among press gallery reporters for being perfectly happy to air their laundry — dirty or clean — in public.

Liberal MPs found The Globe's Jane Taber who writes this tremendously ironic sentence before reporting on the Liberal dis-unity: “Behind the closed doors of the party meeting, the Liberal Leader asked MPs not to talk to the media about their concerns.” Others spoke to Ivison who is able, through the disgruntled Liberal that spilled the beans to him, actually name names of the dissenters who thought they were speaking to a group who would respect their confidentiality. The Canadian Press has a similar accounting of the “secret” goings-on. Like I said: Might as well put the meeting on CPAC.


A reminder to MPs: That 2008 Aghanistan motion says nothing about pulling troops out of Afghanistan

The government of Canada this week announced that Canada's military will keep 950 personnel in Afghanistan from 2011-2014 to help train the Afghan army. This decision is entirely consistent with the 2008 motion adopted by the House of Commons which has been widely misunderstood this week (particularly by the NDP) that the motion called for troops to leave Afghanistan when the combat mission ends in 2011.

In fact, the motion, which passed the House on March 13, 2008 by a vote of 198-77, says nothing about pulling Canadians out of Afghanistan but does say, quite specifically, that by 2011, Canadian troops will be pulled out of Kandahar.

And that, of course, is just what the government is doing: Pulling its troops out of Kandahar and setting up at a training facility in Kabul.

The full text of the motion is here [scroll down to the Government Orders section]. This excerpt seems clear to me that the motion directs the government to pull troops out of Kandahar but not out of Afghanistan:

Therefore, it is the opinion of this House that Canada should continue a military presence in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to July 2011, in a manner fully consistent with the UN mandate on Afghanistan …

And it is the opinion of this House that, consistent with this mandate, this extension of Canada's military presence in Afghanistan is approved by this House expressly on the condition that: …

(c) the government of Canada notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July 2011, and, as of that date, the redeployment of Canadian Forces troops out of Kandahar and their replacement by Afghan forces start as soon as possible, so that it will have been completed by December 2011;

William and Kate – everywhere; Ottawa cops rapped; rocker fined for strip club melee

Princess Kate Front Page

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You can also get these audio summaries automatically every day 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 in the top right corner of the “Boos” box.

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