One year of Harper government: What he and the CPC don't want Canadians remembering.
Feb 6 2006: The first day the CPC government is sworn into office and Harper becomes the first CPC Prime Minister in Canadian history with a weak minority of 125 (124 elected, one bought and announced this day) and swears in his first cabinet. In that cabinet are two very unexpected and disturbing choices. The first was David Emerson, a man that ran as a Liberal in the last election and had sat in the Martin cabinet prior to that election. He had shown no disagreement publicly with his leader nor the direction of the party right up to election day itself. Then, over the next 2 weeks it turns out Harper is conducting secret negotiations with the man to have him cross the floor into Harper's cabinet. Now let us take a moment and remember May 2005 when Stronach crossed into the Martin cabinet all the outrage and screaming about the unethical nature of this from Harper and the CPC. Yet in this case the crossing is unknown even to the Liberals until the day of the swearing in of the new government when Emerson showed up and was sworn in. He stated then that the sole reason he crossed was to have a cabinet seat where he felt he could do more for his constituents (which is incredibly obvious, this is an inherent byproduct of our way of governance) and that it did not matter to him whose government/party that cabinet was in. This triggered massive outrage throughout the country as well as within Emerson's riding. It also needs noting that I know of no other case where someone ran and was elected under the banner of one party and then changed sides for the first day of the new government, let alone someone that served in the cabinet of the outgoing government crossing and swearing into the cabinet of the new incoming government when they were of different parties. This is apparently a truly unprecedented act.
Then we come to the second major scandal of that day, and to my mind the bigger scandal as I said at the time. This was the dual appointment of Michel Fortier to the Senate and then into Cabinet to run Public Works. Now, during the election Harper said in French that he would not appoint unelected people to his cabinet except if a Province elected no CPC MPS. Yet the CPC elected 10 in Quebec yet felt it was necessary to appoint Fortier to watch over Quebec's (officially limited really to Montreal, but still) interests in cabinet. Yet PEI, which elected no CPC MPs got a NS MP, Peter MacKay to watch out for their interests in cabinet. So in the circumstance which did meet Harper's pledge he failed to use an unelected person but in the one that did not meet his criteria he chose to appoint an unelected cabinet minister on top of appointing him to the Senate. It also needs knowing that Fortier was Harper's top Quebec bagman for his leadership run and was his 2iC (2nd in command) for Quebec in the last election. So essentially Harper appointed his bagman to run the department historically known as the pork and patronage department as well as the department that Adscam/Sponsorship Scandal was centered in. It is also noteworthy to note the similarities here between Chretien and Harper. Chretien appointed his Quebec bagman to run PW (although at least his was actually elected as an MP unlike Harper's choice), one A Gagliano. This enabled Chretien to run a separate off the normal protocols operation which turned out to be Adscam. Indeed, once the scandal was exposed many political figures including Harper said that what else would one expect when the leader appoints a friend and bagman to such a post but to receive such corrupt governance? Yet what does Harper do at the first opportunity? He goes one better than Chretien did by using an unelected bagman that he also gives a Senate appointment too on top of PW. One more thing, because Fortier is a Senator no elected official can question Fortier on his actions as a Minister. Indeed, he rarely even takes questions about his post in the Senate preferring instead to leave it to the government leader in the Senate to take them thereby showing even less accountability. Arguably this is the least accountable Minister of Public Works in Canadian history. Posts continuing to deal with Emerson and Fortier in this month are here, here, here, and here.
Oh yes, let us not forget his deciding to appoint a Defence Lobbyist to run the Defence Ministry, which given some of his decisions on contracting over the last year may end up also proving out to be one of his biggest mistakes in this cabinet construction. Not to mention the problems the Canadian Navy is having because of how O'Connor is running his department as Dave at The Galloping Beaver has been chronicling in various posts here, here, and here recently.
In the end though Harper did something I could never understand, he tainted the first ever CPC government in the history of Canada with some very ethically dubious decisions (and that is putting the best light on it) with Emerson, Fortier, and O'Connor. Given the subsequent performances of these Ministers (or the lack of apparent performance by one since we can't tell what he is doing in PW) this showed incredibly bad judgment IMHO. Not to mention the use of Liberal precedents to defend the Fortier and Emerson appointments, this from a a party leader and government that had just finished campaigning in an election about how they would govern with a higher standard than that of the Liberals, that theirs would be a clean cut government more accountable, transparent and honest than anything Canadians had ever seen before.
March 2006: This month saw PM Harper deciding that he did not like having to answer to the same ethics code that other MPs and PMs had to when then Ethics Commissioner Shapiro launched an investigation into the Emerson crossing as covered in posts here, here, and here. Then came what was a really ugly, unfounded, and nasty smear against Shapiro by one of Harper's MPs, a man by the name of Obhrai. What he did was accuse the Ethics Commissioner of driving his brother in law to suicide. As I explained in this post that was unfounded and most clearly intended to discredit the person investigating the ethics of Harper's first acts as PM regarding Emerson. The fact that it was never apologized for nor that Harper and the CPC generally saw anything wrong with such a smear does not speak well at all for them in my view and I would expect most Canadian minds.
Then mid month we discover that the Harper PMO has instituted orders that no Minister or Parliamentary Secretary may publish anything without vetting it through to PMO first, this including op-eds to local papers on local issues and constituency issues and not just major issues dealing with their respective ministerial responsibilities. Indeed, all they were allowed to talk about were the five priorities that Harper campaigned on, everything else was to be left alone. In effect what Harper was telling Canadians was that he had little to no trust in his cabinet to do their jobs without him and his office watching carefully over them, not exactly something most PMs feel a need to do. This showed the beginnings of a fairly radical tightening of message control from this government above and beyond the norm for a new government IMHO.
By the end of March it became clear that the message control and media control policies of this new government were significantly harsher than anything from prior governments going back decades. First they stopped allowing reporters to have scrums on the third floor where it was impossible for cabinet ministers to walk out of cabinet meetings without facing the cameras and either answering questions or to be shown not answering questions. This had been standard practice for decades. The government moves them to the 1st floor claiming it was for the safety and protection of the media, something clearly and totally nonsensical since there was no history of media injuries from these scrums, the only thing that ever got injured in those was the image of the government of the day. Then they stopped using the National Press Gallery despite its ability to provide translations services between English and French for journalists because it was also under the control of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. The Harper government also decided it would control who asked the questions of the PM instead of the PPG, again a shift from prior practice although to be fair not as drastic as many of the others. The absolute capper though on just how radical and secretive Canada's new government was going to be was when they designated the fact that cabinet was meeting a secret. While cabinet meetings contents were secret the fact that cabinet was meeting has not been secret for many decades if ever in our history, and the only apparent reason for this was to make it that much more difficult for reporters to find ministers to ask questions of them, which was the normal routine for governments after cabinet meetings. While they would not answer questions on what went on in the meetings they could/would about other issues that related to their portfolios. This was also taken away by this government that promised greater transparency before and during the last election. The actions showed instead what looked to me greater media control and exclusion than anything I had seen in my 30+ years of watching federal politics and was why I titled this post "This is *NOT* the standard media message control efforts of new governments, this is something far more disturbing and damaging to our democracy" and nothing I have seen since then makes me think that was anything less than the full truth.
April 2006: Harper starts of April with the idea that the Canadian flag should not be lowered in respect to the death of Canadian soldiers as I noted here. It did not sit well with the public, and when one considers just how much rhetoric Harper and the CPC had used in portraying the Liberals as anti-military and that his CPC was the only party that respected the military and would show it the respect it deserved this really looked bad to many.
This was followed up with Harper stripping out the Access to Information elements of his much vaunted Accountability Act, and these components were significant and a part of what Harper campaigned on would be in the Act during the last election. Yet another broken promise.
However, the real insult to injury against the military by the Harper government came at the end of April when they tried to duplicate the Bush policy of preventing coverage of the repatriation ceremonies of dead soldiers returning from Afghanistan. This was initially claimed to be at the request of family members, which was quickly proven untrue, then it was the Defence Ministers fault and flunkies with Defence and ultimately in May the policy was reversed. (slight linking error, the preceding deals with the reversal and the following link deals with the original policy being implemented, sorry about that) I went into great detail on this in this post here.
May 2006: This month started with seeing a Parliamentary chair (MP Vellacott) claiming that Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin made specific comments which she never did. When confronted to back these comments up Vellacott handed out a transcript which did not show what he claimed she had said. This was also not the first questionable comment by this MP, and the fact that Harper took no real action against him other than to say he did not speak for the government just himself despite all of this speaks volumes for his contempt of the judiciary and aboriginal issues (since Harper cancelled Kelowna that was fairly clear to all but CPC true believers) by appointing this man to run the aboriginal affairs committee. A few days later Vellacott resigns his chairmanship of the aboriginal affairs committee but does so blaming political enemies and claiming he had done nothing wrong and never apologized for his horrible comments about frozen aboriginals and his false attributions of comments to the Chief Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court as I noted here. During this same period of time it turned out Harper and the CPC were talking to one of the most well known GOP media/message people, Frank Luntz. Harper even gave Luntz a private meeting of about an hour on top of Luntz speaking to the Civitas society the next day. That was covered in this post.
Then there was the sudden reversal of what the votes of the BQ were worth according to Harper. When it was to pass SSM in 2005 it was illegitimate because it affected more than just Quebec but all of Canada. Yet when it came to his budget suddenly Harper found that the votes of the BQ affecting issues that affect more than just Quebec (which a federal budget does by definition) was suddenly acceptable. A small example of his hypocrisy in action but a noteworthy one I thought at the time and still do which is why it is in this list.
Then in mid May we had the infamous Afghanistan mission debate. I covered it in great detail in this post, but the highlights are this: Harper flip-flopped from saying it was too important to allow a debate to allowing a short debate of 6 hours (ended up around 8) with less than 48 hours notice and stating that if the extension of 2 years was not approved by Parliament he would arbitrarily extend by one and trigger an election over the issue. What was truly dishonest though was that the decision was never in Parliaments hands to begin with, the power to deploy rests solely within the cabinet and PMO, not the Parliament as a whole, not even in a minority government. This was some of the crassest politics using the military I had seen in some time, and worse it was clearly done to try and create divisions within the Liberals who were at the time in the middle of a leadership contest/race.
Then at the end of May he reversed his decision regarding the coverage of repatriation ceremonies and laid all the blame as far away from his feet as possible, as I covered in this post here.
Then for May 31 2006 I did a one year retrospective on the Grewal fraud and Harper's clear record of lying to cover it up after the fact. The fact that to date he has not been held responsible for this atrocity does not diminish in the slightest the truly disgusting and dangerous deceptions the CPC and Harper perpetrated on the Canadian public and Parliament itself. That post is here.
July 2006: Now we come to some of the most illuminating actions of Harper and his government on foreign policy affairs. This is when Harper claimed that the Israeli response to the Hezbollah raid that captured two of its soldiers was a "measured response", said measured response being the destruction of the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon, which sharply differed from Canadian foreign policy for the region going back many decades and from both Lib and Conservative governments. Then, to add insult to injury he decides to take his plane to help evacuate Canadian citizens trapped in the war zone. He throws off almost everyone to maximize seat capacity to lift out Canadians, yet he keeps his staff photographer making clear his intent to make maximum political hay from this so called errand of mercy. I did a post specifically on this and several on the issue of the CPC support for Israel in this war and how dubious I was about its basis and how poor the judgment I thought was being shown because of Israel's actions.
During the middle of July there was also another court ruling in Canada's favour on the Softwood lumber dispute showing Canada was totally in the right and was just about the last appealable verdict before the Americans would have run out of appeals. Well, we all know how much that changed Harper's mind on selling out the softwood lumber sector of a billion dollars. That post is here.
At the end of July it also came to my attention that the mission in Afghanistan that Harper loved to claim was justified by how women were being freed to finally be equal participants in their society was supporting a government rebuilding the infamous ministry of vice and virtues. This was the ministry that oppressed the women under the Taliban, and it was even the same name for it at that. I never saw any sign that Harper even noticed, let alone cared about the very disturbing implications of this decision by the government we Canadians helped create and are supporting with out actions in that country.
September 2006: We see Harper telling Canadian soldiers and their families that the deaths of Canadian soldiers improves the caliber/quality of the Canadian military. This was a shocking statement and underscored how little Harper understood the military let alone having real/true respect for it despite his many protestations to the contrary.
Then we find out that the Harper PMO is violating the Privacy Act to find out who is asking of Freedom of Information requests as well as for what and providing it to the same person that controlled the list of reporters that could ask Harper questions. Further evidence of media controls beyond the traditional by this government as I discussed here in this post.
Then to cap off September it comes out that the Harper CPC were under investigation for raising political contributions illegally in their last convention. That they adopted a unique interpretation of the governing laws and regulations. Indeed, their interpretation not only was not shared by the Liberals, NDP, and BQ, but even the predecessor parties of the CPC, the CA and PCPC. As subsequent investigations have shown there was some serious election laws violating going on by the CPC up to Harper himself contributing more money than is legally allowed. This story btw I don't believe is fully over as the numbers the government provided recently in response to the ruling of the Elections Commissioner (which I will be getting to) appear quite convenient in how they appear to deal with the matter, but that will have to play itself out.
It also needs noting that the Arar report was released showing some real problems with the leadership of the RCMP, yet instead of requiring accountability by the RCMP Commissioner for the problems on his watch he instead did nothing except defend Zaccardelli. This obviously came back to bite the Harper CPC in the behind a few months later. It does deserve reminding though that Harper along with Day and Ablonski were some of those that took the RCMP leaks about Arar's guilt as a terrorist and used them to political effect in Nov 2002 (noted at the bottom of this post) in the HoC during QP to argue the Liberals were soft on terrorism for trying to help Arar get out of Syrian custody. This of course made their defending the RCMP Commissioner that much more suspect and questionable for many including myself.
October 21 2006: The expulsion of Garth Turner. What was truly disturbing about this was the way Harper was blatantly insulting the intelligence of Canadians about how this happened and how willing his top people were to join him in that insulting. Harper tried to claim he and his office had no involvement whatsoever in this matter, that it was all done by the Ontario caucus and that he didn't know a thing until after it was already decided within that caucus. This is patently absurd as I detail in this post, especially in as weak a minority as he has. If Harper wasn't lying it meant he was totally clueless about what happens in his party and had little to no control of his party members and that he was such a weak PM that his party felt it could circumvent the authority of the leader by expelling an MP from caucus without any leader involvement. As details slowly came out about who was involved this was shown to be false and once the detail that Harper's CoS was attending these meetings it truly put the lie to this claim by Harper and the senior members of his government at the time.
October 31 2006: The Income Trust tax reversal. I don't think any more needs saying given the fallout still occurring from that one.
December 2006: The RCMP Commissioner finally resigns under a cloud, and Minister Day is hauled up for hearings in a Parliamentary committee that wants to know whether there was political interference from the CPC with Zaccardelli during the period between the O'Conner report being released and his appearance almost 2 weeks later to the Parliamentary committee holding the hearings This is covered in this post here, but it raises further questions as to the connections between Zaccardelli, the CPC, and whether he was playing political games while in that position which aided the CPC.
Then we finally get to do the SSM vote yet again, this despite there being no appetite for it outside of a segment of the CPC base. This is based on one promise on the first day of the election to have a full free vote since the Liberals whipped their cabinet in 2005 it was not a full free vote. What was truly pathetic about this line of reasoning was so did the NDP then, as they would almost certainly being doing if this was raised again by the CPC making it still not a totally free vote by the definitions Harper and the CPC were using. Worse though this was a sham vote, a vote to decide whether to actually bring in legislation to undo SSM, something noticed by many SSM opponents with frustration and disgust. However it when put against the Income Trust promise breech showed how important this promise was to Harper despite it being at heart using a minority as a political tool with his own base regardless of any insult/harm done to that minority group, something no responsible PM of any political stripe should have found acceptable. It is funny thought that he felt he had to hold to this promise despite the Income Trust one yet the promise was to actually have a vote on SSM, not whether to reopen the debate, or at least that was my understanding, if I am wrong I will of course note it and apologize.
Then there was the refusal to participate in the European Mars robotics contract which stunned the Europeans and our robotics sector and could have very serious implications for our future involvement in space exploitation as I covered here. Not to mention the risk of severely weakening/gutting one of our cutting edge technology sectors in much the same was the cancellation of the Avro Arrow did to the Canadian aerospace sector as I noted here.
Then to cap off December Harper pulls a real fast one, he makes over a hundred appointments just before his much weakened and still to this day not actually in full (only part of the passed Act is apparently actually in operation/force) force Accountability Act was to come into effect. Not to mention also acknowledging that the CPC actually had done wrong according to the Elections Commissioner and that they had received contributions illegally under elections law.
January 2007: Then to start the 2007 year there was the crossing of Liberal Wajid Khan, claiming it was because Dion made him choose between working as a special advisor on the ME and Afghanistan to PM Harper while sitting as a Liberal MP. However, as Stockwell Day ended up writing on his own blog (noted by BCer here) later on Khan had already decided to cross before even the cabinet shuffle that occurred days before the ultimatum, showing that all Dion did was force the timing of a decision Khan had already made. A BCer in TO had several posts (here, here, here, and here) on this matter, including the questions that came out regarding the appointment of Khan's former CPC opponent in his riding suddenly becoming a citizenship judge apparently in a manner outside the usual vetting protocols.
Then there was the case of Alan Riddell, the CPC candidate that stepped aside for a star (Cutler, the man that broke the Sponsorship Scandal) candidate Harper and the CPC wanted to run in his riding in exchange for certain considerations, including costs already incurred covered. This was a secret deal which during the election Harper specifically stated several times did not exist. Well it turns out a court said otherwise and given that one of the principals involved in negotiating that deal was Harper's Chief of Staff it is beyond belief that Harper did not know this deal existed and likely exactly what it said. This showed yet again what kind of liar Harper is willing to be since the act itself was not illegal, but would have dinged a little the image of the pure as the fallen snow white CPC that Harper was selling in that election to the Canadian public. It is also not the first time Harper has been shown to lie to the Canadian public as I noted many times with the Grewal cover-up at the minimum. Bcer has links on this story as well here.
Finally there was the apparent attempt by minister Fortier to extort extra from Boeing to his home Province of Quebec, this despite also being the man who actually has the responsibility of signing this contract. It is hard to know how much of this is true though thanks to the veil of secrecy which surrounds Senator Fortier thanks to the decisions of PM Harper. From what little did get out it does look like abuse of power and position to try and enrich the area he is going to run in the next federal election for a seat in (assuming he keeps his word on this, he could just as easily decide to stay in the Senate despite promising not to and there is nothing anyone can do to prevent him or remove him if he does so decide, which is one of the reasons this is such an egregious action by Harper to have done especially given his oft repeated disgust in the past of the use of the Senate for party bagmen and friends of the leader/PM). In other words trying to buy votes, something a minister of Public Works doing is usually seen by most people as a corrupt action, but apparently not Harper and the CPC given he is still in that position to this day.
This is finally capped off with the sudden conversion of Harper, the lead man on fighting against Kyoto and denier of manmade climate change has suddenly become a convert to the idea and the belief that manmade global warming exists and is a problem which must be dealt with immediately. He launches negative attack ads against Dion on this issue to point out the Liberal poor record of action, yet he wants Canadians to ignore his 2002 fundraising letter where he calls Kyoto a "socialist scheme", a refrain he often used well after that letter and likely into the last year (I am not sure I heard him say so since he became PM, I think so but I am not certain but I am it was used by him in 2005) showing this is a view he held until very recently. The only possible explanation for this massive change of position is polling showing how important this issue has become, important enough that it could well play a major role in the next election and even possibly be the election question, something Harper never saw coming. For a man that has repeatedly said he does not govern by polls this is clear evidence that he does exactly that. Otherwise he would explain why he was so sure he was right beforehand, what caused him to recognize that he was way wrong on this issue, and what he sees as being necessary to make up for all the years of opposition he and his party provided against the Liberal government whenever they tried to act on Kyoto and global warming issues.
Well, I know this is a long post, and I know it is far from a complete list of Harper's scandals and questionable decisions, but it is more than enough to underscore just how dubious his first year as PM truly was instead of the glowing claims he and his supporters have been putting forward. One last point, we have often heard about how Harper has gotten more done in his "x" months than the Libs did in 13 years. Well this shows that is patent nonsense, for if Martin passed more legislation in his minority and even had a higher rate of passage to bills presented than Harper it then follows that Harper got less done than Martin's minority in terms of passing legislation let alone when compared to the 13 years of Liberal government overall. From the throne speech in 2006 to the end of Jan 2007 Harper introduced 47 bills and passed only 13, while Martin in his minority with only 2 more months introduced 93 bills and passed 54 according to this CBC reality check article.
P.S. Sorry I have not been posting much over the past few months. A combination of things, including my own preference to read other blogs and joining ongoing discussions there and issues in my offline life regarding the health of my wife as well as myself was behind it. I promise I will try to post more frequently this year than I did last year, but I also prefer to post when I feel I have something substantial to say or to discuss instead of short posts that are essentially notifications of news stories more than analysis of the contents of them which is my preference. Well I hope everyone is having a good new year and we shall see you around.