Congratulations to the new Parliamentary Press Gallery executive

The Parliamentary Press Gallery holds annual elections for its board of directors and that day was today. I've served on the board for the last three years but find myself a little too busy with my day job to seek re-election. In each year that I've ran there has been a bona fide election with people campaigning just like the real politicians we cover. But this year, all the positions were filled by acclamation and all by excellent representatives. Here's the group:

  • President: Chris Rands (CBC) President
  • Past-President: Hélène Buzetti (Le Devoir)
  • Vice-President: Malorie Beauchemin (La Presse)
  • Treasurer: Marie Vastel (Le Presse Canadienne)
  • Secretary: Elizabeth Thompson (iPolitics)
  • Director: Daniel Thibault (Radio-Canada)
  • Director: Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail)
  • Director: Jim Bronskill (The Canadian Press)
  • Director: Jennifer Ditchburn (The Canadian Press)
  • Director: Mark Kennedy (Postmedia)


The massive PR push for Canada's Economic Action Plan (TM)

In what has to be one of the biggest single-day public relations offensives yet for a government, the federal Conservatives have dispatched more than half its caucus to various locations around the country to hold press events associated with the government's Economic Action Plan. The PMO says there are 80 press events scheduled around the country and there may well be. I only count about 70 media advisories in my e-mail inbox this evening, a handful of which are from MPs who are not Conservatives.

Meanwhile, the Liberals and NDP each hold a press conference in the National Press Theatre in Ottawa where they will try to keep the Bev Oda affair going. No word if the Bloc Quebecois have any events Thursday.

I must say: I do think it odd that for all the PR push of these 70-80 events, neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor Finance Minister Jim Flaherty — the two politicians most closely associated with the framing of the recession-fighting Economic Action Plan — have any public events scheduled Thursday. Instead, we have this list. (I have organized this by region and have converted ALL TIMES TO OTTAWA TIME as that's where I work)


08:30 SEN Elizabeth Marshall funding announcement St. John's NF


11:00 MP Rodney Weston “important infrastructure tour “ Saint John NB

12:00 MIN VIC TOEWS – Crime prevention announcement Saint John NB

11:00 MIN ROB MOORE – Photo opp / funding announcement Sussex NB

10:00 MP Greg Kerr – Funding announcement Digby NS

13:30 MP Greg Kerr infrastructure event Yarmouth NS

14:00 MIN PETER MacKAY – Funding announcement New Glasgow NS



08:30 MIN GARY GOODYEAR – Funding announcement Toronto ON

09:00 MP Bruce Stanton – Mariposa Folk Festival Orillia ON

09:00 MP Phil McColeman EAP Brantford ON

09:30 MP Lois Brown infrastructure announcement Newmarket ON

09:30 MP Pat Davidson infrastructure announcement Point Edward ON

10:00 MIN LISA RAITT infrastructure announcement Milton ON

10:00 MP Guy Lauzon infrastructure Cornwall ON

10:00 MP Paul Calandra infrastructure announcement Schomberg ON

11:00 MP Bob Rae – Bev Oda scandal presser NPT ON

11:00 MP Dave MacKenzie infrastructure Oxford ON

11:30 MIN ROB NICHOLSON Fort George tour Niagara-on-the-Lake ON

11:30 MP Paul Dewar – Bev Oda presser NPT ON

11:30 MP Stephen Woodworth “important economic update event” Waterloo ON

12:30 MIN GARY GOODYEAR AND MP Bob Dechert – Touring instructional centre Mississauga ON

13:00 LPC MICHAEL IGNATIEFF – Working families tour Toronto ON

13:00 MIN ROB NICHOLSON College tour Welland ON

13:00 MP Dave Van Kesteren “important infrastructure even” Chatham ON

13:00 MP Mike Wallace – CIDA announcement Burlington ON

13:30 MP Rick Norlock infrastructure event Cobourg ON

14:00 MIN JASON KENNEY and MP Pierre Poilievre infrastructure announcement Ottawa ON

14:00 MP Peter Braid tours infrastructure development Waterloo ON

14:30 MP Bruce Stanton and Patrick Brown Oro Station ON

15:00 MP Greg Rickford Infrastructure event Thunder Bay ON

09:30 MP Jacques Gourde – Infrastructure announcement Lotbiniere QC

10:00 MIN DENIS LEBEL will announce funding to Saint-Anthony's Hermitage Lac-Bouchette QC

10:00 MIN JOSEE VERNER – Infrastructure announcement Quebec City QC

10:30 MP Sylvie Boucher – skills funding announcement Quebec City QC

11:20 MIN JEAN-PIERRE BLACKBURN – Monument restoration Sherbrooke QC

15:00 MIN JEAN-PIERRE BLACKBURN – Speech to COOP federee Montreal QC

16:30 SEN Larry Smith infrastructure announcement Pointe-Claire QC


10:00 MIN GERRY RITZ – Funding for pig producers Winnipeg MB

11:30 MP Joy Smith “an update on the Gateway Recreation Centre projec” Winnipeg MB

12:30 MP James Bezan infrastructure announcement Stonewall MB

12:30 MP Shelly Glover infrastructure Winnipeg MB

11:00 MP Ray Boughen infrastructure Moose Jaw SK

12:00 MIN TONY CLEMENT – speech digital economy Saskatoon SK

12:00 MP Garry Breitkreuz infrastructure Melville SK

14:30 MIN GERRY RITZ and MP Kelly Block tour infrastructure project Saskatoon SK

16:00 MP Ed Komarnicki infrastructure event Moosomin SK


10:00 MIN DIANE ABLONCZY infrastructure event Calgary AB

10:30 MP Chris Warkentin”important infrastructure event” Grande Prairie AB

11:30 MP Blake Richards “important infrastructure event” Canmore AB

12:00 MP Blaine Calkins infrastructure event Wetaskiwin AB

12:30 MP Lavar Payne tours infrastructure project Medicine Hat AB

13:00 MP Laurie Hawn – Identification of WWI soldier remains Edmonton AB

13:00 MP Peter Goldring tours construction site Edmonton AB

13:30 MP Tim Uppal – Heritage announcement Edmonton AB

14:00 MIN ROB MERRIFIELD ” important infrastructure event “ Whitecourt AB

15:30 MP Blaine Calkins event Wetaskiwin AB

17:30 MIN ROB MERRIFIELD infrastructure Mayerthorpe AB

20:00 MIN ROB MERRIFIELD “important infrastructure event” Onoway AB


12:00 MP John Weston Infrastructure announcement West Vancouver BC

13:00 MIN GARY LUNN and MIN LYNNE YELICH clean energy announcement Vancouver BC

13:00 MP Ed Fast Infrastructure Abbotsford BC

13:30 SEN Yonah Martin infrastructure event Vancouver BC

14:00 MIN CHUCK STRAHL – Infrastructure announcement Chilliwack BC

14:00 MIN JAMES MOORE holds Economic Action Plan Event Vancouver BC

14:00 MP Jim Abbott infrastructure announcement Cranbrook BC

17:00 MIN LYNNE YELICH – funding for film industry North Vancouver BC

17:00 MP Mark Warawa “important infrastructure event” Langley BC

18:00 MIN JOHN DUNCAN infrastructure Esquimalt BC

18:00 MIN LYNNE YELICH tours RiNC projects North Vancouver BC

14:00 SEN Daniel Lang infrastructure event Whitehorse YT


Conservatives fan out across the country to hand out cheques: $211 million today alone

In the same week that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation launched its federal debt clock, dozens of Conservative ministers and MPs are fanning out across the country with cheques in their hand to announce, re-announce, and otherwise dish out federal funds.

Here's the scorecard:

On Mon Feb 21:

There were 16 funding announcements with a total value of $44.3 million. Of those:

  • Nine announcements $21 million benefit Conservative ridings only.
  • Four announcements worth $19.1 million benefit ridings held by MPs of at least two different political parties.
  • Two announcements worth $108,000 benefit NDP ridings.
  • One announcement worth $4 million benefits a Liberal riding.

On Tue Feb 22 (so far):

There were 20 funding announcements worth a total of $211.5 million.

  • 11 announcements worth $10.1 million were for Conservative ridings.
  • Three announcements worth $157 million were for Liberal ridings. (Just one of those was the $155 million re-announcement at CFB Esquimalt for a new helicopter operations centre.)
  • Three announcements worth $1.6 million were for NDP ridings.
  • Three announcements worth $42.5 million benefit regions or ridings held by multiple parties.

So far, there have been no announcements that benefit ridings exclusively held by the Bloc Quebecois.

On Wed Feb 23, I count at least eleven funding announcements beginning with ACOA Minister Keith Ashfield at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton at 0830 ET.



Do the Conservatives need a new pollster?

On February 11, Ekos released a poll, commissioned by its media client CBC, that showed the following national federal vote intention:

  • Conservative: 37.3 %
  • Liberal: 24.8 %
  • NDP: 14.2 %
  • Green: 10.7 %
  • BQ: 9.9 %

In its release, Ekos noted that: “From a Liberal (or indeed NDP) perspective, this poll can be summarised as nasty, brutish, and short. The opposition is losing touch with an increasingly distant Conservative party. The Conservatives have advanced with virtually all groups and now enjoy a 12.5-point lead (the largest since October 2009).”

Within hours of that poll being released, the Conservative  “Alerte-Info-Alert” bot spat out the following:

Today, CBC released a poll with results that are inconsistent with our internal polling and other recent published surveys. In the past, pollsters have sometimes reported support for our Party that is unusually high relative to the prevailing data, only to have the anomaly corrected in a subsequent poll, giving the artificial impression of negative momentum. As always, we do not comment on polling.

That's my highlight in the Tory message: The Conservatives wanted people to know that they think Ekos got it wrong. Really?

Ekos was out their poll on Feb. 11.

So there's four polls with broadly similar numbers and yet, the first poll, from Ekos, showed “results that are inconsistent with our internal polling,” the Conservatives said. Now to disagree with one poll and say its numbers are different than your own is one thing, but after four polls that are remarkably similar to the one Ekos had, it's pretty clear Ekos numbers did not show Conservative support that was higher “than the prevailing data.” In fact, Ekos is on the conservative side (if you'll pardon the pun). Perhaps the Conservative Party needs a new pollster. In other words, I now tend to discount the Conservative Info-Bot and now believe that, yes, the Conservative adds attacking Liberal Michael Ignatieff produced a measureable and significant bump in support for the Tories and depressed Liberal support.

But I now have some other questions worth exploring next time I run into a pollster:

Look at the numbers for the Green Party. One pollster, Nanos, has them at 4.9 per cent nationally. The others all have the Greens at 10 per cent or better. So Nanos is either missing fully half of Green party support or statistical sampling methods used by the others is counting Green support twice. And yet, while there is one major outlier when it comes to Green Support, the Conservative and Liberal numbers are all very close.

Also: Ekos and Harris Decima have the NDP in the same place at 14 per cent or , but Nanos and Ipsos have the NDP much higher than that, at 18 per cent or more.  Nanos finds fewer Greens. Perhaps he found more NDP supporters? And yet, Ipsos found as many Greens as all but Nanos but has the NDP has high as Nanos.


For Oda-philes: Conservative MPs get their talking points

Normally, the much-maligned “Alerte-Info-Alert”-bot memos distributed on a near-daily basis to Conservative MPs by the party and/or PMO are short and to the point, designed to give MPs back in their ridings a few common points of reference on a given issue of the day if ever they run into a local reporter or constituent with pesky questions.

But this weekend, Conservative MPs got a much longer, more detailed Alerte-Info-Alert-bot memo about the situation involving International Development Minister Bev Oda, who stands accused by her political opponents of the serious charge of lying to Parliament. Some Conservative MPs have told me they are uneasy at best, and unhappy at worst, with the situation. I've reproduced the memo below — it's been widely distributed to Conservative MPs and to some news organizations, including QMI — and I read it, then, not only as a list of talking points for MPs to use with reporters and constituents but also as an appeal from the leadership in their party to remind any uneasy MPs that they are in the right on the Oda issue. In other words, though the senior leadership of the party insist they are right (see the last line!), the very existence of this memo speaks to the fact that they're feeling the heat. So here's the memo. Does it change your mind, one way or the other?

Minister Oda and KAIROS: the Facts

Information regarding Tom Lukiwski’s response to a point of privilege raised in the House of Commons on Friday February 18.

*Our Government supports funding to deliver aid and tangible results for the people of developing countries, not subsidizing advocacy.

*Minister Oda made a decision that reflects the priorities and policies of our Government.

*The Minister has been clear: this was her decision.

*The Minister has apologized for a lack of clarity in her testimony before Committee, and has rectified that lack of clarity.

*We stand by Minister Oda and her decision not to provide millions of dollars in advocacy funding to KAIROS.

Here are the facts:

KAIROS’ Request for $7 million

KAIROS made a request for funding from CIDA in the amount of $7 million. Minister Oda determined that this request was inconsistent with our Government’s foreign aid priorities. Our Government believes taxpayers money budgeted for foreign aid should be used to deliver aid and tangible results for the people of developing countries, not for subsidizing advocacy.

CIDA’s Memo to Minister Oda Seeking Her Decision

The internal memo in question was sent to Minister Oda by CIDA public servants who were seeking a decision from her. An internal memo is not a contract requiring the parties, in this case the Minister and her department, to agree. An internal memo includes departmental analysis and a departmental recommendation, and is a tool used to convey the decision of the Minister to her officials so that they may implement the Minister’s decision. Across government, hundreds of these internal memos cross ministers’ desks everyday. This is how elected officials transmit their decisions to the public service in our system of government.

Minister Oda was the only person with the authority to make a decision regarding this application for funding. In this case, the Minister’s decision was to reject the recommendation provided to her, and direct that CIDA not provide funding to KAIROS.

The Minister had reviewed the memo, made her decision not to approve the funding application, and asked her staff to follow through on it. The Minister was travelling out of Ottawa on the day that her staff completed the paper work to implement her decision, so they, with the Minister’s authority, applied her automated signature, which is used when required because a Minister is unable to personally sign a document, and indicated her decision on the memo by clearly indicating that she did NOT approve the funding application.

The memo was then returned to the very officials who had sent it to the Minister for a decision. By definition, those who received the returned memo could not have been misled, and were not misled, by the manner in which the Minister’s decision was communicated in the document. Margaret Biggs, President of CIDA, confirmed this when she testified before a House committee on December 9, 2010:

Ms. Margaret Biggs (President of CIDA): Yes, I think as the minister said, the agency did recommend the project to the minister. She has indicated that. But it was her decision, after due consideration, to not accept the department's advice.

This is quite normal, and I certainly was aware of her decision. The inclusion of the word “not” is just a simple reflection of what her decision was, and she has been clear. So that's quite normal.

I think we have changed the format for these memos so the minister has a much clearer place to put where she doesn't want to accept the advice, which is her prerogative.

The Order Paper Question

Liberal MP Glen Pearson posed an order paper question in early 2010 to Minister Oda asking why CIDA had decided not to fund KAIROS.

In her April 2010 answer to this order paper question, Minister Oda referred to “The CIDA decision not to continue KAIROS funding.” The Liberals now assert that this answer suggests that agency officials rather than the Minister opposed funding to KAIROS. Public servants did not have the authority to approve funding for this application. Only the Minister did. For this funding request, there was only one possible decision-maker, Minister Oda, and once she made a decision it became CIDA’s decision. Her answer was not only accurate, it was fully responsive to the order paper question and could not have been answered in any other way.

The Alleged Contradiction

While testifying at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Minister Oda was asked who had inserted the word “NOT” to communicate back to the department her decision not to provide funding to KAIROS. Because she did not know specifically which staff member had inserted the word “NOT”, she said she did not know. At the same hearing, she told the Committee eleven times that she was responsible for the decision.

The Bigger Picture

The Minister has apologized for a lack of clarity in her testimony before the Committee, and has rectified that lack of clarity.

Minister Oda made a decision which reflected the priorities and policies of our Government. We stand by Minister Oda and her decision.

MPs Expenses: No iPads, no artwork on office budgets

Late Friday afternoon before a week in which MPs will be back in their riding, the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy — the secretive all-party committee which supervised the House of Commons budget, including members' office budgets and expenses — released a suite of minutes from various pre-Christmas meetings.

There is not a whole lot of detail in the minutes — apparently the board has an issue with an unnamed MPs Ottawa residence expenses and another unnamed MP wants his legal bills covered by taxpayers while s/he is being sued by a constituent.

But we do have this information:

  • MPs may not charge Apple iPads against their office equipment budgets. A handful of MPs like James Moore, Stockwell Day, and Gerald Keddy have been showing up in the House of Commons with Apple's popular tablet computer rather than bulky briefing books. Those MPs and any others that want to switch to the iPad will have to find another way to pay for $800 item.
  • The BOIE decided that MPs may no longer charge the purchase or rental of pieces of art against their office budget. MPs may purchase and expense decorative items but only if those items cost less than $100 (including the cost of framing).
  • The BOIE also decided that Friday, Dec. 24, 2010 was, in fact, a work day on Parliament Hill.

Great radio: Inside The Onion, Coke's secret, and kids rule

I am blessed with a daily commute that can take me 20-35 minutes each. I say blessed because it gives me a chance to listen to my daily diet of podcasts. One of my favourites is the podcast from This American Life, a weekly public radio show that comes out of Chicago.

It's an hour-long program with two or three stories loosely related to the same theme. I wanted to recommend three recent shows.

  • The Original Recipe: Show producers dig up what they believe is the top-secret formula for Coca-Cola, one of the most jealously guarded corporate secrets. They make a batch. They drink a bit. They taste-test the batch (left). The show says: Eureka! The Coca Cola company says, not so fast.
  • Tough Room 2011: There are three “acts” to this show. The can't-miss act is the middle one, where show host Ira Glass gets to sit in on “story” meetings at satirical magazine The Onion. A very tough room.
  • Kid Politics: Recommending the first and third acts here (boring second act in which climate change professor tries to convince teenage climate change sceptic is a fast-forward candidate). First act has kids going through the Ronald Reagan library where educators get the kids to role-play the circumstances leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada. Educators gently guide the kids to conclusion that journalists are bad. Third act is flat-out fascinating — a visit to the Brooklyn Free School where the kids make all the rules and can do anything they want. There are no tests. No homework. You can play videos all day if you want. Turns out that, if given the chance, kids would rather learn something.


Try these Friday night flicks: Bev Oda Movies

If you're at all into Twitter culture, one of things you may have seen pop up from time to time is what I'll call Hashtag Games. (If there is an actual word or phrase for these, I'd love to know about it.).  These games can be kind of fun.

The premise is simple: Someone declares a hashtag, then followers have to try to figure out the joke, and once you get the joke, you're free kick in the creativity.

One going around yesterday, for example, was #okaysuperpowers . So the idea here is to tweet out some humdrum “super powers”. Comedians and collaborators Michael McKean and Harry Shearer had fun with this. @MJMcKean tweeted out: “Can defry refried beans ” while @TheHarryShearer topped the charts with : “ Can force all the world's socks to remain in matching pairs thru end of fiscal year.”

So that was fun.

But for Canadian political junkies — who have been following the sturm und drang that is the Bev Oda Affair, a Hashtag Game popped up last night that almost instantly became one of the top 'trending” items on Twitter. It was #BevOdaMovies.

Oda, of course, has been under fire from her political opponents and editorialists around the country to quit or resign after she was caught telling Parliament one thing in December and another thing now. Most call that lying. (The Conservatives say she did no such thing.) The central document in this case is a memo from her bureaucrats in which the bureaucrats recommend her to grant funding to a non-governmental aid agency called Kairos and someone has written in, by hand, the word “not” to reverse the bureaucrats recommendation. Everyone concedes that Oda was perfectly within her rights to reverse the bureaucrat's decision. Her problem is she once said she had no idea who put the “not” into the memo; then she later said she was responsible for those three letters.

So with that belaboured set-up, the idea behind #BevOdaMovies is to tweet out real or fictional titles of movies in which this political drama is played out.

My contributions: Unforgiven, The Blind Side, Not The Greatest Show on Earth

Here though are my favourites in this category:

  • Martin Settle

    The Baird Which Projects 
  • Brian M Carroll

    A Long Day's Journey Into Not 
  • Jesse Hawken

    Dr. NOT 
  • Steve V

    The Purple Rose Of Kairos 
  • And we leave the last word on this to @TabathaSouthey:







    Breakdown on the crime bills: $2.7 billion and counting

    Federal government officials Thursday released new figures which they say show the cost of specific pieces of their crime legislation package. Here’s a breakdown. All dollar amounts are spread over five years. Click through on the links for information from the Library of Parliament for more details about each piece of crime legislation:



    Advertising works — and moves poll numbers

    We've now seen three polls out in the last few days — from EKOS, Ipsos Reid, and Harris Decima — all of which show the Conservatives up by about five percentage points and the Liberals down.

    So what was going on just before the polling period that caused this swing? Easy: Conservative ads attacking Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Ask any Conservative involved in this ad buy and these poll results all seem perfectly predictable. Negative ads work and will generally produce a swing of five or six percentage points. The Conservative “ad buy”, party sources have told me, was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ad buy the party has made outside of an election period. And, just like any advertiser, the Conservative Party wouldn't spend the money if it didn't get results.

    This seems such an obvious point but it's one that I've yet to see any of the news stories explaining these poll results circle that as the factor that moved the polls. UPDATE: Pollster Frank Graves points out that, in news coverage of his firm's poll, he did indeed attribute the move to the Tory ad campaign and I am grateful for his reminder.

    Does it show “momentum” for one party or the other? No, of course not. Momentum would exist if we saw two or more polls from the same organization that showed climbing numbers.

    And, just as negative ads attacking the Liberals worked against the Liberals and helped the Conservatives, I think it reasonable to assume that a series of negative ads attacking the Conservatives would have a similar effect. The Liberals did roll out two 15-second spots in response to the Tory attack ads but simply did not have the money to buy as much airtime as the Conservatives did.