Thursday, March 09, 2006

Harper and Brison, and the Ottawa common sense black hole

VICTORIA - A Conservative prime minister who thinks he's king, and a Liberal would-be prime minister who lacks common sense and judgment.
Ah, Ottawa.
First Stephen Harper. The new prime minister is continuing to show his contempt for federal Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro in a disturbingly regal way.
Shapiro has not had a successful tenure since being named the first ethics commissioner almost two years ago. He's been criticized for bumbling and censured by Parliament. NDP accountability guru Ed Broadbent has called for his resignation.
But he's in the job, representing the public and attempting to enforce ethics guidelines. As part of that job, he has opened an investigation into whether Harper broke the conflict rules by offering David Emerson an improper inducement to join the Conservatives.
Harper says he won't co-operate. The prime minister has an absolute right to name cabinet members, he says, and anyway Shapiro's a Liberal appointee and he should just go away.
Harper was equally dismissive when Shapiro attempted to investigate efforts by the Martin government to woo Gurmant Grewal. He was the only player who refused to co-operate, or even be interviewed by the commissioner. He sent his communications director.
it shows a pattern of quite blatant contempt for the ethics' rules and the accountability system that govern every other member of Parliament.
It's one thing to make the legal argument that the prime minister is above scrutiny in this area.
But it's quite another to say the prime minister can simply ignore the ethics' commissioner when he feels like it.
And Harper's position also counts as a clear broken promise. The Conservative campaign platform promised to strengthen the commissioner's role. "Stephen Harper will . . . 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."
Harper can fire Shapiro, presumably paying severance since his term has three years to run. Or could launch an expensive - to taxpayers - legal challenge.
But the notion that he can simply exempt himself from reviews he doesn't like is sadly undemocratic.
Meanwhile prospective Liberal leadership candidate Scott Brison's hopes are unwinding as a result of the fallout from the income trust scandal.
Brison was a Liberal cabinet minister last November, when the government was considering what to do about income trusts. The news was hugely important to investment types, who could make big profits - at others' expense - if they could suss out the government's decision in advance.
On Nov. 22, Brison exchanged emails with an acquaintance, an investment banker at CIBC who specialized in income trusts, and asked how the banker was doing.
"Things are good except of course for the government bringing the equity markets to a standstill," the banker replied, referring to the long delayed income trust decision.
Brison replied immediately. "You will be happier very soon . . . this week probably." And the next day, then finance minister Ralph Goodale announced good news for investors.
Brison followed up with another email to his banker friend. "U happy?"
His friend was. "I can't express my joy properly."
That looks like a tip from a cabinet minister about what's going to happen, one that would allow insiders to make money at the expense of the unconnected.
The CIBC saw that, and passed the emails on to the RCMP, which had announced a probe of possible leaks The bank has checked its trading records, and says no one took advantage of the message.
Brison says he wishes he hadn't sent the email, but wasn't a leaker. He was just passing on public speculation, he says, and didn't actually know anything about the decision or the announcement.
But what would you think if a cabinet minister sent you an email promising your problems would be resolved within three days - and then followed up with the "U happy" message?
What is it about political life in Ottawa that erodes common sense and good judgment?
Footnote: Harper is risking a destructive showdown the Parliament. He's promised strengthened accountability legislation - which is badly needed - as soon as MPs return April 3. While the opposition doesn't want to force an election, its combined majority will give the other parties a free hand to bash Harper around for considering himself above the ethics rules that bind all other MPs.


Dave Macmurchie said...

It's interesting how quickly Mr. Harper has adopted the style of his mentors south of the 49th. Americans who care about democracy (which is not just Democrats) have been lamenting for some time the fact that they seem to have acquired another King George, after having gone to some trouble to get rid of the earlier one.

Regarding King Stephen, the Britannia on line says, "Stephen's reign was one of the darkest chapters in English history." Let's hope we're not in for a similar experience. We might be better off with Stephen King.

Anonymous said...

I don’t disagree with the notion that the PMO should be subject to the scrutiny of the Ethics Commissioner. That said, I am troubled by the fact that Mr.Shapiro took an entirely different stance when it was Paul Martin and the Stronach crossing. I seem to recall that Shapiro had past claimed that the PMO was not within his mandate, and now that position appears to have changed, solely because ????

Anonymous said...

Harper is doing the big trip to visit the troops. Just to let us know he sees no reason to discuss them being there, and for how long. Will be interesting in the hose as all three opposition parties want a debate .Lots of photo ops for the upcomimng election

Zoltan A. Simon said...

I just posted an article entitled "The black hole named Ottawa" --
you may wish to read it on my website
(it has several articles related to King Stephen and the general corruption in Ottawa).
My e-mail address is
Thank you for your attention.