Electoral Reform Coming But Wait Nobody Told Elections Canada

Yes that title is correct. The ruling Conservative party will present a bill to reform Canadian election laws this Thursday and while that seems like a good thing, someone forgot to run any of the proposed changes by Elections Canada.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal announced, “Our government is pleased to announce that it will introduce comprehensive legislation on Thursday to improve the integrity, accountability and administration of Canada’s election laws. The new legislation will respond to the motion passed by the House of Commons last year and a recommendation made by the chief electoral officer, the procedure and House affairs committee and others.” This announcement comes only seven months late on the March 2012 non-binding NDP motion calling for changes to election laws, which was unanimously agreed upon.

While this is not a new thing (first consulting with Elections Canada), one would think, no one would hope, that in light of the robocall affair currently before the courts that more would be done. But if the ruling party doesn’t consult Elections Canada or any other interested group just how far are they prepared to go? And that’s a very valid question considering the same Conservatives cut the budget of Elections Canada while the biggest electoral fraud investigation in Canadian history was taking place. Yes, as absurd as that sounds – that’s what they brazenly did.

The Conservatives loves to remind Canadians of Adscam, but what they always leave out is the reaction of the Liberal Party under PM Paul Martin. Martin knew full-well that the Gomery Commission would spell electoral disaster for his party but as history shows – his government did the right thing anyways. So why won’t the Conservative party under PM Harper do the same? It’s not like we are talking about Canada-wide electoral fraud or anything. And if you follow the advice of MP Vic Toews, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.

Do what’s right and needed. Don’t just fiddle with the election laws, give them teeth and back them up with a fully-funded and supported Elections Canada.

Contributed to the Federal Politics Journal by Roy Whyte.

Peter Penashue – Deception or Ignorance?

With the case of Conservative MP Peter Penashue’s overspending, donation irregularities and airline write-offs one must ask as disdainful as it is, was he being purposely deceptive or was he just plain ignorant of the rules? In response to the allegations before him, Penashue hid away from the opposition and media and later reappeared in his home province where he released an online cop-out where he blamed his official agent for any mistakes.

Penashue’s official agent for the 2011 campaign was Reg Bowers who responded to Elections Canada at one point by stating, “Given the circumstances, record keeping and budgeting did not get the top priority. In the beginning we had very limited funds, we couldn’t get internet connection and, as mentioned, very limited help so there was a lot of wasted time running back and forth using my own computer and resources. We had to make the most of what we had and what we knew and I got advice wherever possible.”

In response to being blamed by Penashue, Bowers stated, “When it left my desk, it was under the cap.”

Bowers was removed as official agent for Penashue after being replaced by the Conservative Party’s chief financial officer. For his work Reg Bowers was rewarded with a golden position as a federal appointee on the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

So with the overspending and irregularities in his electoral campaign return, including possible corporate donations, the question of deception or ignorance is a valid one. Penashue seems content to blame the official agent yet every single candidate for election in Canada must go through the same procedures in order to run for office and at the end for their candidate electoral campaign return. Penashue ran for the Conservative Party of Canada – the same party that likes to brag about their deep pockets and top-notch campaign team, yet this combo failed to stay within the rules and when caught out – flail about with blame.

So how is that candidates for the parties with no seats like the Christian Heritage Party or the Canadian Action Party who neither have deep pockets or election winning campaign strategists, managed to fill out their forms correctly and stay within the rules, but Penashue could not? They also had rookie official agents and candidates, and also had to wade through the same Elections Canada literature, regulations and forms – but with one glaring difference – they appear to have got it right and stayed within the rules.

Penashue should also explain how and why he signed his name to the following without knowing that everything was correct and within the rules:

Elections Canada form EC 20120 (all candidates must sign this declaration)

I hereby solemnly declare that to the best of my knowledge and belief:

– the information contained in this return is correct;
– all election expenses in respect of the conduct or management of the election have been properly recorded;
– no money, goods or services have been provided by way of loan, advance, deposit, contribution or gift during the election, except as appears in this return; and
– no other person or entity has, on behalf of the candidate made any payment or given, promised or offered any reward, office, employment or valuable consideration or incurred any liability on account of or in respect of the conduct or management of the election, except as specified in this return.

I make this solemn declaration conscientiously, believing it to be true and knowing that it is of the same force and effect as if made under oath and by virtue of the Canada Evidence Act.

To all of this Penashue has managed to say, “I’m not quitting, I’m not quitting. It’s very important to me that my constituents understand the allegations and the comments being made.” We would all like to understand how Penashue signed his name to the EC 20120 declaration without knowing if it was correct or not. Someone wishing to take on such an important role as MP should ensure that anything they put their name to is above-board and factually correct. Is that too much to ask?

So if there was no deception intended, was it down to just ignorance of the rules? Outside of Parliament each of us is held to our actions and in our places of work if we managed to bungle something so important and then sign our name to it – most would be facing the unemployment line. The least we can do is hold our elected officials to that same standard. PM Harper thus far is standing by his man.

Contributed to the Federal Politics Journal by Roy Whyte.

Alternative Political Protests

This year at the annual 420 event in Vancouver where everything marijuana is celebrated and observed including the political scene around its use – it took on special meaning. With as many as 10,000 locals taking part in the event and thousands more looking on or passing by the very busy location at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the political message for this event was rather clear even if the air was not. At this alternative political event enemy number one was the Stephen Harper lead Conservative Party. With the Conservatives making strong overtones towards taking a harsher stance on marijuana use, those in support of marijuana came out and made their voices heard.

There were representatives that were spotted by the FPJ staff from the NDP and Green Party. There may have been others but we didn’t come across them. We expected to find the Marijuana Party but try as we might, we couldn’t locate them and nobody we asked could remember seeing or hearing from them. Which isn’t wholly surprising considering the amount of consumption going on. The Green Party Youth were handing out leaflets explaining the Green Party position on marijuana as found in their party platform.

There were other groups like those behind WhyProhibition.ca also using the event for spreading a political message. The leaflet they were handing out read in part – “You wouldn’t let your grandparents choose who you date – then why let them choose your government.” With the crowd most made up of under 30’s, this type of message was the norm for the day.

Jodie Emery made a speech to the crowd between live bands to talk a little about her husband Mark who is currently serving time in a US prison for selling seeds to American citizens and to rally the crowd towards voting based on the issue of the day – marijuana. Across Canada there will be political rallies held at all types of events but none quite like this one. You can view her speech below:

First Leader Debate 2011 Federal Election

The first of the leader’s debates wrapped up last night and the conclusion seems to be that it was boring, brought no party any winning edge and as Elizabeth May described after the debates – it was devoid of much of what matters. It was bad enough that a party running candidates in every riding and the recipients of nearly one million votes didn’t even get to speak, but those that did came off as scripted cardboard cutouts of talking heads.

While the Federal Politics Journal has always suggested people vote locally instead of focusing solely on the national leader of any one party, for many Canadians the national debates are the one time they get to hear and see the party leaders discuss and debate their ideas and solutions outside of the closed hell that is often Parliament. Of course locally fielded candidates may stray or offer slightly differing opinions than their party leader, and it is this that local voters should seek out before deciding whom to cast their vote for. And yes we know, some parties don’t allow their local candidates to even speak or be seen – we are looking at you Conservatives! If you want people to vote based only on your platform and national leader than make them both available. Taking a set amount of questions while slowly leaking your own platform on top of hiding local candidates from their constituents is not the best solution to a healthy democratic system.

We were going to really sit down and parse this debate but in the end there is not much to parse or to debate about the debate. If you got to pick a winner it would be the viewer we’d guess as even though the debate was shallow, they remained civil while trying to convince people to come to their side this election. The losers are of course the Green Party and anybody who wanted to see and hear Elizabeth May.

Tonight we get hockey then back to political reality the following day.

Sheila Fraser Draft Report An Election Changer?

This just in, Sheila Fraser’s confidential report which was originally to be tabled in Parliament on April 5 but wasn’t because of the defeat of the government has been seen by The Canadian Press and it alleges illegal wrongdoing. The draft report claims that in a January 13 draft of the chapter on the G8 legacy infrastructure fund that the Harper government allegedly misinformed Parliament in order that they win approval for a $50-million G8 fund which was misspent in a Conservative riding.

The G8 meetings have brought the Conservatives much grief since the meetings took place from the huge bill to the trampling of civil rights of Canadian citizens, but now this news that Industry Minister Tony Clement along with the mayor of Huntsville, and the general manager of Deerhurst Resort chose 32 projects that received federal funding in Clement’s riding with no regard to the rules or actual need could come back to sink their election hopes. The spending guidelines were even set by the Harper government. As well, Deerhurst Resort was quickly put up for sale after the meetings by the owners Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers LLC, and MassMutual Financial Group. Question remains – how much did they receive and was it truly necessary – especially in light that it was immediately put up for sale.

The Conservatives have tried hard to market themselves as the clean party, the party of transparency, high legal standards and the party of law and order during their time in government. It’s hard to keep up that marketing campaign when your being targeted repeatedly by the opposition for being anything but.

The main issue is that the legacy fund breaks the Appropriations Act which clearly states all funding is only to be allocated based on the exact items which were presented in the estimates. In November 2009 the Conservative government tabled a supplementary spending estimate of $83 million for a ‘Border Infrastructure Fund’. Where the problem starts is that the Conservative government never stated that $50 million was to be diverted to a G8 legacy fund. The report also notes that Tony Clement was announcing spending before his government even laid down the ground rules for funding. And some of the spending was on things not even used like $26 million spent to create a Huntsville G8 Centre – they rented other facilities instead.

Some of the questionable projects highlighted in the draft report include:
$100k on a gazebo over a hour away.
$1.1 million for sidewalks and trees over 100km away.
$745k for improvements to towns some 70km away.
$274k for public toilet facilities located 20km from the summit meetings.

The timing is also horrible for the Conservatives because it comes just hours before the national leader’s debates. It will be interesting to see if the opposition parties try to use this information.

Sheila Fraser is not commenting on the contents of her report during the election which is too bad. Canadians need to know what is in that report now before the election – not after the fact.