The latest attack on Parliament by Stephen Harper is explained away by the prime ministerial mouthpiece, Dimitri Soudas:
Government fully recognizes the authority of parliamentary committees to call for persons or papers as they carry out their work. However, ministers are accountable and answerable to parliament for government policies, decisions or operations... Ministers ran for office/accepted the role and responsibilities of being a minister, including being accountable to and answering questions in parliament. It's one thing for politicians to be tough on each other. But we draw the line when people who aren't elected, like ministerial staff, are humiliated and intimidated by members of parliament. (Globe and Mail)
Humiliated and intimidated? Oh please. These people are hired on to do demanding work and they are not fragile souls. If they are diligent and honest about their work, they will have no issues appearing before committee or any arm of parliament.
It goes without saying that some elected and unelected officials, of any government, have doubtless been engaged in frustrating legitimate democratic processes. Crap happens. Good people sometimes do bad things on orders from others, and sometimes bad people are put in a position to do anything they want. Delivering upon the promise of democracy demands as much transparency as the system can tolerate while still functioning normally. We should always err on the side of more openness than less.
If the public can get in an uproar over MP expenses, surely they would be upset to learn of the myriad antics played in the back-rooms of our government, whoever the government of the day happens to be.
It isn't up to the prime minister, or his cabinet, to decide who or who will not testify before parliament, and as the speaker of the house has recently ruled, parliament's right to call for records has been reaffirmed.
Parliament may call for any persons or papers be brought before parliament. Anything.
The most important question Canadians should be asking about Stephen Harper and his government is: what are you trying to hide?
The following quotation is a response by Vancouver Board of Education chair Patti Bachuss to an ill-considered comment accusing school trustees of not being willing to work with the minister of Education. This content was borrowed from the comments section of Report Card, Vancouver Sun education reporter Janet Steffenhagen's weblog, referencing a story about the chilly reception given to Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid at the recent B.C. School Trustees Association meeting. Be sure to view the video, because catching Minister MacDiarmid talking to any trustee is something of a rare event indeed.
In response to John Puddifoot - On the contrary John, trustees make extensive efforts to work with this Minister but she doesn't seem to want to work with us. We met with her last summer and briefed her on budget issues, past, present and projected. We showed her where our costs would be going up and made sure she understood and we welcomed any questions she had.
We asked where our overdue AFG funds were as the work was being carried out as we met. She said it would be along soon.
A few weeks later we got a letter late on a Thursday advising us our AFG funds were being completely cancelled and they were clawing back $400,000 in holdback funds they'd allocated to us in June. Not a very cooperative way to work together.
We've been asking for a meeting with the Minister since late 2009. She finally agreed to me us last Friday, but cancelled a few days before we were to meet. We've sent her many letters about our challenges and I've left her phone messages that remain unanswered.
Her Ministry asked our district to work together on the possibility of shared services and we agreed to and that is underway.
We've sent the Minister all our budget documents and invited her to attend any or all of our public budget meetings (our offices are three blocks apart and she lives less than five minutes from our head office). She has not attended any meetings nor responded to our invitations.
While these quieter attempts at working together don't make the 6 o'clock news, they will continue. However when the diplomatic approaches are met with indifference or not even acknowledged, we have a responsibility to our students to stand up for the supports and services they need, and it is time for some slings and arrows.
Her response to that is to send in a Special Adviser who is now hampered by Terms of Reference that will severely limit any meaningful review that could result in something positive for our schools, although we're cooperating fully and hoping very much that we'll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Fingers crossed.
Just this weekend the Minister demonstrated her unwillingness to engage with trustees to address the very real challenges facing school districts. After her disappointing speech at the BCSTA AGM, the minister took only three questions from the hundreds of trustees gathered, several whom were lined up at microphones waiting to ask questions. She said she was too busy to take more but then walked over to the news media scrum where she took the time to answer seven questions from reporters.
So John, who do you think isn't willing to work with whom?
Patti Bachuss, Chair, Vancouver Board of Education
Years ago amid great fanfare Gordon Campbell made a promise to make B.C. the best educated and most literate jurisdiction in the world.
His grade? Whether one assigns an "F" for fail, or "Did Not Complete", the result is the same.
The recently minted education minister gets to wear the problem but won't have the clout to do anything about it.
B.C. schools face cuts to libraries, lunch programs (Globe and Mail, Wednesday Sept. 9, 2009) Maintenance, extracurriculars had to be cut to protect core funding, Education Minister says -- Ms. MacDiarmid said this is an "unusual year" and suggested money will be found if emergency repairs are needed. "The ministry is not suggesting that maintenance never be done again," she said. "If student safety could be in jeopardy, clearly we will work with the school districts."
I wonder if Ms. MacDiarmid, a medical doctor, believes that seismically unsafe schools - more than 300 in the province, almost 100 in Vancouver alone, some at high risk of collapse in a major earthquake - puts "student safety" in "jeopardy"?
Stephen Harper has repeatedly claimed his management is one of prudence, that his government is running a surplus, and on Tuesday he specifically said his government would not run a deficit (Reuters, Oct. 7 2008), after having danced around that issue of late (Calgary Herald, Oct. 6 2008).
Now the election is over, the hidden agenda, or hidden deficit, has come out of its cave:
Today Parliament's independent Budget Officer cites certain Conservative government policies as fundamental causes underlying the impending federal deficit Harper and Flaherty now say is inevitable, even though just a few short weeks ago during the election they claimed would never, ever, happen.
85% of Vancouver district school children enter an unsafe building each school day
One of the advocacy projects I'm working on in my copious spare time is the on-going effort by parents to force local, provincial and federal governments to step up to the plate and once and for all deal with a looming disaster in our midst ... earthquake safety in Vancouver and other at-risk B.C. communities.
Last night I went through the entire inventory of Vancouver schools and apportioned students into "at risk" or "safer" buckets according to the seismic assessments done in 2004. Here's what I come up with: Seven of every ten Vancouver district students sit in an unsafe classroom each school day.
The safety issue is actually worse than that. If one accounts for all children attending a facility with one or more at-risk building blocks there are more than 45,000 of Vancouver's 54,000 school children (four of every five) exposed to elevated risk from earthquakes.
My review only took into account Vancouver School District - #39. While we have the most students at risk of any single district in the province, there are many tens of thousands of additional B.C. students and other school facility users that need and deserve safe schools too.
In an instant a significant earthquake can change our city. In May of this year in an instant thousands of children were killed by their own school collapsing upon them in China's Sichuan province. We've seen the same sorry tale play out all over the world.
These disasters do not only visit far off lands. It isn't a China or a Pakistan problem, it is our problem. We will see a major earthquake in this region, very likely within our lifetime. We mustn't gamble with the lives of tens of thousands of B.C. children, yet for every day projects that we know must be done sit on waiting lists unapproved and unfunded, that is exactly what our society is doing.
We should all be shocked but aren't as many parents are completely unaware scope of the problem. If you are a Vancouver area parent, next time you are at the school yard have a look at the kids and consider that on every school day 4 out of every 5 Vancouver children will spend their day in unsafe classrooms, gymnasiums, workshops, science labs, libraries, administration offices, change rooms, lunch rooms and wash rooms.
This is not an issue which only affects the obviously very old schools in our city. Almost every single school built prior to the 1970's (and even some of those built as recently as thirty years ago) requires either seismic upgrades or total replacement.
Our provincial government made a big promise in 2004 to fix and replace the broken schools but they've not yet achieved the objective they set for themselves. Its time to see that promise fulfilled: fix or replace the dangerous schools.
We are not talking about a divisive issue. Ideology plays no part in this. All parties and any government will want to do everything possible to ensure the safety of our most precious resource, our society's children. Committing the right amount of money and to an accelerated schedule to address all of the hundreds of B.C. schools at risk is simply the right thing, the only thing, to do.
Promise #1: Harper has never supported an appointed Senate, instead is a long time proponent of the Reform Party call for an elected senate, the so-called triple E senate. During the last election campaign, only days before the vote, Harper re-iterated a promise to Montrealers in a french-language televised interview:
Q: What if your party is unsuccessful in electing members from the Montreal area? What will you do? Will you appoint someone to cabinet to represent Montreal?
Stephen Harper: âNo – I’ve always believed that cabinet positions should only be filled from the ranks of elected parliamentarians.â Details
Promise #1: Broken – on February 6th Harper appointed the unelected Michael Fortier, a long-time supporter of Mr. Harper, to cabinet. Fortier had not even run in the election, bluntly telling reporters that he “didn’t want to”.
Promise #2: Stephen Harper has always asserted that the unelected Senator he appointed to cabinet, Michael Fortier, would resign and run for a House of Commons seat in the very next election. In testimony before a Senate committee on September 7, 2006, Harper reiterated this promise:
this senator [Michael Fortier] will leave his seat at the next election to obtain a seat in the House of Commons. Stephen Harper, testifying before a Senate Committee
Promise #2 broken: Despite a Montreal-area riding now available for Michael Fortier to run in, he has not resigned his seat in the Senate and is not running for office in the election to be held on November 27 of this year.
Promise #3: During the last federal election, and in the months and years leading up to the campaign, Stephen Harper and other representatives of the Conservative Party repeatedly promised Canadians that they would not tax income trusts, instead favouring corporate tax reforms to level the playing field. The issue of income trusts became a significant election issue, where Harper continually hammered the Liberals, painting them as likely to tax trusts.
Promise #3 broken: After financial markets closed on October 31 2006, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that the Harper government would indeed tax income trusts. In Question Period the next day, Harper, as part of an attempt to soften the political fall out, portrays the Conservative campaign promises as having been made only to seniors. This is disingenous in the extreme and offensive to small and large Canadian and foreign investors alike.
On January 12 Stephen Harper made a promise to Montrealers that would soon come back and bite him – he promised he wouldn’t appoint someone to cabinet to represent Montreal if no Conservative MP’s were elected in the area. On February 6th, he broke that promise.
Throughout the election campaign, a campaign almost exclusively centred on ethics, Harper had also been making another promise: to introduce The Federal Accountability Act (PDF -see page 13) as one of the key priorities for a Conservative government. On February 6th he reiterated that the Federal Accountability Act is a key government priority. This week he broke the spirit of that promise, too.
The act, subtitled ”Stephen Harper’s commitment to Canadians to clean up government”, includes specific promises with respect to the Office of the Ethics Commissioner. Quite literally it says that Stephen Harper will:
Give the Ethics Commissioner the power to fine violators.
Prevent the Prime Minister from overruling the Ethics Commissioner on whether the Prime Minister, a minister, or an official is in violation of the Conflict of Interest Code.
Enshrine the Conflict of Interest Code into law.
Close the loopholes that allow ministers to vote on matters connected with their business interests.
End ‘venetian blind’ trusts that allow ministers to remain informed about their business interests, and require all ministerial assets to be placed in truly blind trusts.
Allow members of the public – not just politicians – to make complaints to the Ethics Commissioner.
Make part-time or non-remunerated ministerial advisers subject to the Ethics Code.
Well I’m a member of the public and a resident of Vancouver-Kingsway and I’d like to lodge a complaint right now.
My party, and Harper in particular, ran on an ethics and accountability platform in order to exploit voter distrust of the Liberals. Now PM, Harper is pulling a trick that, when he was in opposition, Harper himself would have been calling for the PM’s head.
This morning’s Globe and Mail editorial on the Harper-Emerson affair concludes by asking the rhetorical question ‘where’s the Stephen Harper who pledged to run a clean and accountable government when you need him to clean up Stephen Harper?’
Let the Ethics Commissioner do his job, and keep the entire proceedings fully open to public scrutiny in order to assure its a job well done.
At yesterday’s Emerson protest rally I was the second or third of fifty people who spoke to the over 700 people assembled there. While there were a number of Conservatives in the audience that I recognized, and more that I didn’t, only one other self-identified Conservative spoke up.
I purposely got up near the front of the line to ensure that a key point was delivered early on – that the issue of Emerson’s betrayal of the majority of his electors is not an offense to partisans. I also wanted to make clear that public anger should not forget the root cause: Prime Minister Stephen Harper. For without Harper’s blessing and indeed his encouragement, Emerson would not be in a position to step into a Conservative cabinet.
For many years the issue of democratic reform and government accountability has been an issue with deep reasonance within the Reform then Canadian Alliance, and the Progressive Conservative parties, which all came together as the Conservative Party of Canada.
As one speaker said at the protest rally yesterday, the Harper-Emerson dealings, which started the very next day after the election, is as if someone took his ballot on voting day and cast it aside.
Concern over growing public cynicism over politics has been on the agenda for change, rising up out of the grass roots, of conservative-oriented parties for many years. Unfortunately the grass-roots is where political leaders apparently want to keep all the good ideas, while party and government leaders march to the tune of a different drummer.
A broken promise case in point: in an television interview in January on the french language service of the CBC (Radio-Canada), Mr. Harper was asked (paraphrased from the translation) “What will you do if you do not elect a member from Montreal? Will you appoint someone to cabinet?” To which Stephen Harper replied, smiling as he did so “No, I’ve always believed that cabinet positions should be filled from _elected members of parliament”.