PM Harper searches for 7th comms director in 7 years

Angelo Persichilli, who quit life as a journalist last August to become Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications, has just announced his resignation. Here is the letter released to the Parliamentary Press Gallery: Continue reading PM Harper searches for 7th comms director in 7 years

Solberg: "Bit of Keystone Kops" politics from Harper on OAS changes

In Davos, Switzerland last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had this short bit in a much longer speech that touched on many topics:

“We have already taken steps to limit the growth of our health care spending over that period. We must do the same for our retirement income system.  Fortunately, the centerpiece of that system, the Canada Pension Plan, is fully funded, actuarially sound and does not need to be changed. For those elements of the system that are not funded, we will make the changes necessary to ensure sustainability for the next generation while not affecting current recipients.”

That set off a firestorm of political debate back in Canada that continued all week. Yesterday, Continue reading Solberg: "Bit of Keystone Kops" politics from Harper on OAS changes

Harper to his caucus: "Dear Colleague: It's been quite a year …"

The Prime Minister’s Office just distributed the following letter that Stephen Harper has just released to his caucus colleagues:
Prime Minister Harper’s Letter to Caucus – Jan 2012 Continue reading Harper to his caucus: "Dear Colleague: It's been quite a year …"

In the Senate, the new majority is the Harper Party

While my family and I were out snowshoeing this afternoon, enjoying the last day of our Christmas break, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced seven more appointments to the Senate. When they are sworn in, 43 of the country’s 105 Senators will be Harper appointees. By the time the next federal election rolls around in October, 2015, 62 Senators will be Harper appointees. Continue reading In the Senate, the new majority is the Harper Party

The Supreme Court gets new judges; Harper inches towards trifecta of power

This morning, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his picks to fill two vacancies on the Supreme Court of Canada. With these two, four of the nine Supreme Court justices will have been appointed by Harper. Before the next general election in 2015 (assuming Harper obeys his own fixed-election date law), Harper will get to appoint two more.

The two appointed today replace Justice Ian Binnie, who did not have to retire until April 14, 2014 but has said he will retire as soon as his replacement is ready to take over, and Justice Louise Charron, who retired at the end of August, significantly earlier than her mandatory retirement date. Both Binnie and Charron were appointed by Liberal prime ministers.

Justice Louis LeBel must retire by Nov. 30, 2014. Justice Morris Fish must retire by Nov 16, 2013. Lebel and Fish were both appointed by Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

When Harper names Justice Fish's replacement, Harper will then have appointed the majority of justices and by the end of 2014 will have have appointed two-thirds of the justices on the Supreme Court.

This gives Harper a rare trifecta — particulary rare for conservsative-minded prime ministers — in that he will have appointed a majority of Supreme Court justices, his party has the majority in the Senate, and his party has a majority in the House of Commons.

Again, assuming that the next general election is in October, 2015, the next prime minister will get to appoint a Supreme Court justice almost immediately after that election if Justice Marshall Rothstein works right to his mandatory retirement date of Dec. 25, 2015. Rothstein was Harper's first appointee to the court.

Here's the deets released by the PMO on the two new appointees:


The Commissioner for Federal Official Affairs has set up a page with more on Justice Andromache Karakatsanis and her decisions. (Wondering how to pronounce her name? Colleague (and Greek Canadian himself) Daniel Proussalidis helps with that). Here is here PMO-supplied bio:

Justice Andromache Karakatsanis was appointed a judge of the Court of Appeal for Ontario in March 2010 and a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in December 2002, presiding in all areas of the work of the court. She served as Administrative Judge for the Small Claims Court in Toronto. 
Prior to her appointment as a judge, Justice Karakatsanis served as Ontario’s Secretary of the Cabinet and Clerk of the Executive Council (2000-2002). As the senior public servant, she provided leadership to the Deputy Ministers and the Ontario Public Service. During her career in public service, she also served as Deputy Attorney General (1997-2000) and as Secretary of the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat (1995-1997).
Following her call to the Bar in 1982, Justice Karakatsanis was appointed law clerk to the Chief Justice of Ontario, clerking for the Ontario Court of Appeal. In private practice, she practiced criminal, civil and family litigation in Toronto. From 1988 to 1995, she was Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario.
Justice Karakatsanis has also been actively involved in the administrative justice education and reform issues. She was the recipient of the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR) Medal (1996) for outstanding service to the administrative justice system of Ontario.


Here is the PMO's bio on Mr. Justice Michael J. Moldaver: “Graduate of the University of Toronto, 1971, Gold Medallist. Called to the Bar of Ontario in 1973. Appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1985. Appointed to the Supreme Court of Ontario in April 1990 and then to the Ontario Court of Appeal December 1995. Lectured at the University of Toronto Law School from 1978 to 1995. Former co-chair of the Canadian Bar Association – Ontario Advocacy Symposium Committee; Director Advocates’ Society; Member of the Board of Governors – Advocate Society Institute; Council Member – University of Toronto Alumni Association; Co-chair, University of Toronto Academic Tribunal – Discipline Subsection.”

The commissioner of judicial affairs also has a page with more information on Moldaver and his decisions.



Former tax crusader now "celebrating" tax dollars for tennis courts

Once upon a time, John Williamson was president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, an organization that then and now rails against almost all federal government spending in the hopes that slashing spending will slash your tax bills. We all want lower taxes right? Of course, we do. And lowering government spending is the way to do that, right? Simple as black and white.

John Williamson

But now, Williamson (left) is a Member of Parliament for the riding of New Brunswick Southwest and is apparently learning that the issue of government spending is not so black-and-white when your constituents expect some of their tax dollars to be spent in their riding.

Constituents of his in the town of St. Andrews (where Williamson's family is from, I believe) wanted to rebuild a local arena and expand some tennis courts. In his days as the head of the CTF, Williamson would likely have counselled the good people of southwest New Brunswick to find a way to raise the money themselves to do fix up these recreational facilities.

But when the recession hit, the Harper government set up something handy called the Recreational Infrastructure (RiNC) fund — billions of tax dollars for tennis courts, arenas, playing fields, and so on. If you agree with this kind of Keynesian intervention — and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a definite convert — then the RiNC fund was a good idea.

And, now, presumably, Williamson is also a fan of this kind of government spending.

“Our Government understands that investments in recreational infrastructure help to build strong, vibrant communities, and strong communities mean a stronger Canada,” said John Williamson, Member of Parliament for New Brunswick Southwest, on behalf of the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and La Francophonie. “Our investment of close to $100,000 has helped the Town of Saint Andrews improve the W.C. O’Neill Arena and expand the tennis court facilities. These improved facilities will add to the quality of life and the quality of services available to the families and individuals who are building their futures in Saint Andrews.”

This press release, from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, is the first funding announcement I've seen, incidentally, with Williamson's name on it.


Conservative senator condemns page who protested

Conservative Senator David Tkachuk made the following statement today in the Senate chamber:

Honourable Senators, all of you will be familiar with the following:

I do swear that I will be faithful and bear True allegiance to Her Majesty
The Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada,
Her Heirs and Successors. So help me God.

That is the oath of a Senate Page.

A regrettable incident took place on Friday during the Throne Speech. A Senate Page, Brigitte DePape, chose to disrupt proceedings.

She broke her oath to the Queen and her signed contract with Parliament not to behave in a way that brings her impartiality into question.

We were all surprised by what she did. Being a familiar face, it struck few of us as odd when she made her way from her place into the middle of the chamber. Many of us thought she was there to assist someone, not to protest. She walked back and forth with her STOP Harper sign until the Sergeant-at-Arms from the House acted to remove her.

This was clear contempt for the Parliament she had sworn to serve, taking place as it did in the middle of one of the most democratic acts in the world — a post election address from the Queen’s representative, who was flanked by a newly elected Prime Minister and the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Onlookers were MPs lead by a speaker who won a seat in this great institution at the age of 25, only a few years older than the protesting page.

Brigitte dishonoured her fellow Pages. She sullied the Page program itself. She betrayed those who put their trust in her. And she insulted this institution.

There are those who have characterized what she did as heroic.

No. Heroic are the men and women, many of them her age or younger, who serve in Afghanistan, defending the principles and practices of democracy that resulted, most recently, in the election we just had.

What she did was not heroic. She was surrounded not by enemies but by people she could trust not to harm her. People unlike her, who believe in and adhere to a code of civil behaviour.

All of us here should be offended by what she did. We expect – in fact demand — that our Pages behave in a neutral fashion. That is the only way the program can work. They are allowed to have political opinions. In fact, I hope they all do. But for the duration of their time as Pages those opinions, those leanings are to be left outside this chamber.

We are taking this incident very seriously. The Page was fired immediately. She has also been banned from the Senate, the House and the Library buildings.

The Security Sub-Committee of Internal Economy met this morning and the Steering Committee will be meeting this afternoon to discuss what the implications are for security in the Senate and for the conduct of the Page program itself. We will be looking into the hiring practices for Pages, including the background checks that are done related to those. I pray that no one else here assisted her in this stunt.

Honourable Senators, I can assure you that after due consideration, we will take all the appropriate measures that the circumstances dictate. I don’t have to tell you what would have happened if she had something else inside her jacket instead of a poster. I will keep you informed of developments.


Stephen Harper: 5+ years in office and about to hire his 6th communications director

For the record, Stephen Harper's communications directors since he became prime minister in 2006:

  • William Stairs – 2006 Fired two weeks after Harper took office. Believed to have counselled Harper to jump in and give David Emerson some political cover and Harper did not take kindly to that advice. Emerson ran as a Liberal in the 2006 election, won his riding, and but then quickly signed up to become a Conservative in Harper's cabinet. As Emerson was taking a pummelling for the switch, Stairs was trying to do communications damage control. He may also have been done in for being seen to be — gasp — on good personal terms with many members of the Parliamentary Press gallery. Later came back to PMO in charge of issues management but is now chief of staff to Bev Oda, the minister of international co-operation.
  • Sandra Buckler – 2006-2008 A lobbyist before the 2006 campaign and appeared during that campaign as a “Conservative strategist” on various political talk shows. Impressed the Conservative war room in that role (even got a call once from Brian Mulroney for doing such a good job) and became Stairs' successor as communications director. Relations between the Parliament Press Gallery and the PMO hit their lowest point during her tenure. It was during her term that the famous “list” for asking questions was asking established. During one press conference held on Parliament Hill, journalists boycotted a Harper press conference rather than submit to the list protocol. Is alleged to have famously told one journalist on Parliament Hill in response to a question: “Off the record? No comment.” Resigned on June 26, 2008. After a time away from government, later returned to become a senior political staffer. Is now the chief of staff to intergovernmental affairs minister Peter Penashue.
  • Kory Teneycke – 2008-2009 Also a lobbyist prior to joining the PMO, Teneycke had been most famous up to that point for inventing Corncob Bob as the mascot for the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association where he worked prior to succeeding Buckler. His title was slightly modified to be Director of Communication. Teneycke and Buckler shared the same communication objective, i.e. tight control of all MPs and ministers and a demonization of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, but where Buckler viewed the communications role as a shield, Teneycke viewed it as a sword. Relations improved somewhat between Hill journos and the PMO under Teneycke. He instituted occasional background briefings between journalists and his office. Teneycke saw Harper through the 2008 federal election before resigning on July 28, 2009. Teneycke later joined Quebecor Inc. with a mission to launch its new Sun News Network, where he is today as a company vice-president. (And, full disclosure, he is also the guy who hired me for the job I now hold.)
  • John Williamson – 2009-2010 Williamson was a journalist and former colleague at the National Post and went from there to head the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He joined the PMO in the middle of the fall of 2009 but, after a relatively uneventful few months, resigned in the spring of 2010 in order to seek the Conservative nomination in the riding of New Brunswick-Southwest. He successfully won that nomination and, on May 2, became the MP for that riding, succeeding the retired Greg Thompson.
  • Dimitri Soudas – 2010-2011 Soudas joined Harper's staff on Sept. 5, 2002 and, at this writing, is Harper's second longest serving aide. (Only Ray Novak, Harper's principal secretary, has been in Harper's inner circle longer). Soudas held a variety of communications roles within Harper's office eventually succeeding Williamson in early 2010 as director of communications. A fluently bilingual Montrealer, Soudas is widely seen as Harper's French-language crutch. Whenever Harper runs into trouble in French, he turns to Soudas. Soudas reviews any of Harper's French-language comments to make sure they are the right phrases. Soudas has also been Harper's top Quebec advisor for much his time with the prime minister and is credited with coming up with the “within a united Canada” amendment that neutered a BQ motion that would have the House of Commons recognize Quebec as a nation. Soudas also attempted to improve relations between the PMO and the Parliamentary Press Gallery with limited or uneven results. He announced he will depart his office on Sept. 5, 2011.

Comings and goings: Top PM aide to leave; Liberals name critics and caucus leaders

A bit of a busy morning on Parliament Hill with a few things to note:

  • The media were allowed into the first few minutes of the weekly meeting of the National Conservative Caucus (normally a closed-door event) in order to witness Prime Minister Stephen Harper individually welcoming each new member of his caucus. He then gave a brief speech before media were asked to leave and the caucus returned to its regular business. Here is an excerpt of the remarks he gave:

    What a privilege it is for all us Members of Parliament to have such a role in building this magnificent country, our Canada. Remember always these things about our country: Its history is greater than our individual achievements. Its future is more promising than our political careers. It is the land of ancient Aboriginal societies. It is the enduring partnership of Macdonald, Cartier and their colleagues. It is the place where people of all cultures come from the world over to live in freedom, democracy and justice together.

    Let the memory of our first day as Members of Parliament continue to inspire us all. Even more, let it keep us humble in the service of our country.

  • Then, during the meeting of the Conservative caucus, Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister's director of communications, announced that he will leave his post and depart the PMO on Sept. 5. Soudas is the second-longest serving aide to the prime minister (principal secretary Ray Novak has been with Harper longer), joining his office on Sept. 5, 2002. Soudas' departure is also noteworthy because Harper has come to rely on Soudas, a Montrealer, for advice on Quebec and rarely says a word in French without running it first by Soudas to make sure he's using the right phrases.
  • Meanwhile, while the Conservatives were holding their caucus, the Liberals were holding one of their own and, when interim leader Bob Rae emerged from that meeting, the Liberals had their new critics lineup and caucus leadership positions. The list of critics is here and the list of the caucus leaders is here. Among the notables: Marc Garneau is the Liberal House Leader (for which he will receive an extra $15,834 on top of his MP's salary), Kevin Lamoureux is the deputy house leader (with an extra $5,684in salary), Judy Foote is the whip (and will get an extra $11,165 in salary), Massimo Pacetti is deputy whip (with an extra $5,684 in salary, and Francis Scarpaleggia is the caucus chair (also qualifying, as a result of his position, for an extra $5,684 a year in salary). Ralph Goodale will be Rae's deputy leader but, notably, the position of deputy leader does not come with any thicker pay packet.
  • Liberal MP David McGuinty had been Opposition House Leader in the last Parliament but finds himself this time as simply the Liberal critic for Natural Resources. I don't necessarily see this as a demotion so much as I see it as a potential leadership candidate being freed up from important House duties to mount a bid, should he so choose, to be the party leader. No leadership race is underway, of course, but I note that those caucus members who do have other leadership positions — Foote, Pacetti, Scarpaleggia, Goodale, Garneau* and, of course, Rae — are unlikely leadership candidates. (*N.B. While Garneau was ready to be interim leader on condition he would not seek the leadership he did say, after Rae was selected under the same condition, that he would not rule out being considered for the permanent leader's job). In addition to McGuinty (critic for natural resources), the other potential leadership candidates in caucus are all critics: e.g. Denis Coderre (Transport), Dominic Leblanc (Foreign Affairs).