Canadians Like Conservative Government

Twenty-two months have passed since Canadians gave Liberals the heave-ho after Adscam, and apparently, Conservative government suits them well. Before the Sponsorship Programme corruption scandal brought down Paul Martin and his administration, the Liberals painted Stephen Harper as a radical with hidden agendas that would shock Canadians. Now, however, almost two-thirds of them are only shocked to find they like him:

With the political battlefield of Parliament returning and with weapons drawn it would appear the largest number of Canadians (63%) believe that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has the ‘right stuff’ of leadership qualities and skills compared to all other federal party leaders. This compares with NDP Leader Jack Layton at 57% and BQ Leader Gilles Duceppe at 63% in his province of Québec (15% nationally), and Opposition and Liberal leader Stephan Dion with the lowest ratings of all of the Federal leaders at 36%. …
Given that the Liberals and Conservatives have the highest levels of support among voters across Canada, respondents were asked who they would choose between if they could only vote for either Stephen Harper or Stephan Dion in an election. The results were similar to the leadership attribute ratings noted above: Mr. Harper fared the best with 56% support versus Mr. Dion at 35%.

The news gets even better for Harper on voter enthusiasm. He garners 60% when voters are asked whether they could vote for him, the only national party leader to gain a majority. Even in the Liberal stronghold of Ontario, 58% of voters feel comfortable voting for Harper, while Dion can’t even find a majority (49%). Dion gets 60% in Atlantic Canada, but Harper scores 57% there as well.
Harper beats the field in negatives as well. Only 37% of Canadians say that they could never vote for the current Prime Minister, while a majority of 51% oppose Dion in those strong terms. The NDP leader, Jack Layton, gets 50% negative marks. Even in Ontario, Harper’s negatives only get to 38%. That’s actually nine points lower than Dion’s Ontario numbers, indicating a huge problem for the Grits in their key province.
It seems that Canadians have become very comfortable with their Prime Minister, across most demographic groups and regions. Dion, on the other hand, appears to have worn thin already. Adscam may have created a long-term shift in the direction of Canadian politics, and Harper may have been the right man at the right time. At least no one’s fooled about his “hidden agendas” any longer.

Canada Gives Muslims A Pass On Visual Identification For Elections

More accurately, Elections Canada — the agency that oversees elections in our neighbor to the north — has granted an exception for Muslim women to show their faces at polling stations for identification. The action by the agency defies the nation’s Parliament, which specifically required facial identification for voters:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper blasted Elections Canada Sunday for going against a parliamentary ruling by allowing Muslim women to wear veils and burkas while voting.
The move goes directly against a unanimous vote in the House of Commons this past spring to make visual identification mandatory when casting a ballot.
“I profoundly disagree with the decision,” Harper told reporters in Sydney, Australia where he is attending the APEC conference. “We just adopted this past sitting, in the spring, Bill C-31, a law designed to have the visual identification of voters. That’s the purpose of the law.
“That was the law voted virtually unanimously by Parliament and I think that this decision goes in an entirely different direction,” he continued.

Unanimity continued today on this point, as the Liberals agreed with Harper on EC’s overreach. Stephane Dion told reporters in Vancouver that they would ask EC to rethink their position. Both Dion and Harper pointed out the obvious fact that Parliament creates the laws, and agencies like EC have the mission of enforcing them, not unilaterally modify them to suit their own purposes.
EC, meanwhile, insists they know what they’re doing. “Elections Canada goes around the world helping other countries with their elections,” she said. “I think the officials at Elections Canada know how to make sure that the voting is accurate.” They claim that having another registered voter in the same polling division swear to the veiled voter’s identity will be just as secure as actually checking ID against an unveiled face. If that were true, then it would seem a waste of time to have picture IDs at all, which EC doesn’t address.
One might assume Muslim women rejoiced at the decision by EC to grant them special status. However, as it turns out, Muslims never asked for the exemption, and they don’t want it:

A spokesperson with the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations in Montreal said Muslim women were never consulted on whether they even wanted the exception.
“My jaw dropped. I was very surprised. Muslim women wearing the Niqab, which is the face veil, never made the request to have to keep it on while they vote,” said spokeswoman Sarah Elgazzar, speaking to CTV Montreal. …
“It’s absolutely unnecessary. Those women wearing a niqab always identify themselves when they need to identify themselves. The photo I.D. they show to people at the ballot box is a photo without a face veil. So people will clearly be seeing their faces,” she said.

So here we have Parliament telling EC that all voters must show their faces for proper identification at polling stations, and Muslims agreeing that they see no problem with this — and still EC persists in its strangely paternalistic fashion. It sounds as though the Commons needs to clean house at Elections Canada.

Gomery Retires

John Gomery, the jurist whose investigation into the Sponsorship Programme eventually brought down the man who appointed him to it, has decided to retire. Tomorrow he will celebrate his 75th birthday by riding off into the Canadian sunset, capping a long and illustrious career with a new commitment to clean government — even if he took a rather authoritarian tone in doing so (via Newsbeat1):

When John Gomery was named by Paul Martin to head the Adscam sponsorship inquiry in 2004, we were skeptical about how much he would accomplish. Under Jean Chretien, the Liberals became ex-pert at covering their tracks, and we feared that the pattern would continue under Mr. Martin.
But that didn’t happen. To Mr. Martin’s great credit — this fact is too often omitted when people dismiss the man’s short prime ministerial tenure as a failure — he gave Judge Gomery broad powers to get to the bottom of Adscam. And the judge delivered: His inquiry made for a riveting spectacle, with a steady parade of witnesses providing not only the expected excuses and stonewalling, but also ground-breaking new information and astonishing confessions. At the height of the inquiry, no fewer than 200,000 Quebecers were watching it on TV.
By the time the dust had settled, related criminal trials had put key Adscam players behind bars. Sponsorship-program architects such as Alfonso Gagliano fell into political disgrace. And an array of new rules were created to ensure that federal apparatchiks and their PMO overseers would never again have such unfettered discretion to rain millions of dollars from untendered contracts on friends and supporters of the ruling party.

Martin had plenty of reason to regret his choice; Gomery proved to be too good at his job. Martin had little choice but to find an independent and high-profile jurist by that time, of course. Adscam had already blossomed into a big enough scandal that appointing an apparatchik to sweep it under the rug had not been an option. Martin was never implicated in the illegality, but the obviously widespread Liberal corruption eventually toppled his government and made Stephen Harper the Prime Minister.
However, one point has to be scored against Gomery in this instance. He imposed the notorious publication ban on testimony at the public hearings he held when three key witnesses testified. The publication ban, which is perfectly legal in Canada, meant that reporters could attend the public hearing but could not report on any specifics of the testimony. Gomery did not put the proceedings in camera; government officials attending the trial could hear everything, but Canadian citizens were barred from hearing about the inner workings of the scandal that stole hundreds of millions of dollars from them.
As most of you know, that’s where CQ comes into the story. Working with a source at the trial, I published detailed recaps of the testimony — and welcomed a flood of Canadian visitors to my site. After a few days, Gomery relented and lifted the publication ban. The heightened secrecy worked wonders on Canadian curiosity. After the publication ban, Canadians couldn’t get enough of the Gomery inquiry.
In the end, though, it was Gomery’s professional work and tenacity that exposed the Liberals and brought down their government. Clean-government activists around the world owe Gomery a debt, even if free-speech activists might not hold quite as much regard for him. He deserves a splendid retirement and the gratitude of many, and not just Canadians.

Gomery Considered Naming Chretien In Adscam

Two years ago, when the Canadian political scandal surrounding the Sponsorship Programme reached its zenith of public attention, many wondered how far the scandal would reach in Liberal Party circles. According to the National Post, Judge John Gomery considered the conclusion that criminal misconduct had reached all the way to the top (via Newsbeat1):

Justice John Gomery’s letter of warning to Jean Chretien in May, 2005, said an allegation of misconduct against the former prime minister was being considered in Judge Gomery’s final report that would tie Mr. Chretien to untendered 1995 pre-referendum contracts, including one with Lafleur Communications for an outdoor advertising campaign in Quebec, a transcript of a private meeting reveals.
The transcript shows Mr. Chretien’s lawyer arguing vehemently during a June 1, 2005, closed-door meeting in Montreal with Judge Gomery that the letter did not contain enough details to allow them to prepare their final submission to the judge later that month. …
The verbatim record of the 90-minute meeting has been obtained by CanWest News after it was recently filed as part of Mr. Chretien’s ongoing court action to have Judge Gomery’s report quashed by the Federal Court of Canada because the commissioner had allegedly been biased against him throughout the hearings.
Mr. Doody told Judge Gomery at the meeting that the warning letter’s five allegations weighing against Mr. Chretien were short on details, and a written request to Bernard Roy, the commission’s lead lawyer, for more information had already been rejected.

Chretien had retired by the time of the Gomery inquest, but the effect of allegations against the former Prime Minister would have devastated the Liberal Party and its leadership at the time. Gomery considered it seriously enough to have issued warning letters to Chretien, a legal step required by Canadian law when a judicial inquest considers publishing allegations of criminal misconduct. That allows the target enough time to prepare a public defense, a rather fair-minded requirement, but Chretien’s lawyers argued that Gomery’s letters did not provide enough detail for a comprehensive defense.
In the end, Gomery did not make specific criminal allegations against Chretien. However, Gomery blamed Chretien and his senior aides for the mismanagement that allowed the Sponsorship Programme to blossom into Adscam, where hundreds of millions of dollars disappeared into thin air. Jean Pelletier also complained about the report in its final form, which argued that Pelletier’s specific direction allowed the money to go to political fronts rather than for its intended purpose, which was to sponsor cultural activities to promote Canadian unity in Quebec.
Adscam finished Paul Martin, the Prime Minister during the inquiry and a high-ranking official during the period in which the Liberal Party conducted the Sponsorship Programme. The Conservatives won the next national election and Stephen Harper replaced Martin as Prime Minister in early 2006, a direct result of the fallout from Adscam. The Liberals managed a decent showing in the election, keeping the Tories from an all-out majority — but if Chretien had been accused of criminal conduct, the Liberals would probably have all but given up the ghost.

The Disappearing Nuclear Devices

Canada has discovered a problem in its management of radioactive devices — the darn things keep coming up missing. Either through theft or carelessness, or both, Canada has dozens of radioactive devices missing, and counterterrorism agents there are very worried (h/t: CQ reader Stoo):

Radioactive devices — some of which have the potential to be used in terrorist attacks — have gone missing in alarming numbers in Canada over the past five years.
A new database compiled by The Canadian Press shows that the devices, which are used in everything from medical research to measuring oil wells, are becoming a favoured target of thieves.
At least 76 have gone missing in Canada over the past five years — disappearing from construction sites, specialized tool boxes, and generally growing legs and walking away.
Some of the devices could be used in a “dirty bomb,” where conventional explosives are used to detonate nuclear material, spreading the contamination over a wide area, said Alan Bell, a security and international terrorism expert from Globe Risk Security Holdings.

This information isn’t new, but it is the first time it has been compiled into a database and reported. Of the 76 missing devices, 35 have been confirmed as stolen, and the rest have just disappeared from the system. In Canada, the various agencies that handle these devices do not coordinate control of them, which has caused some confusion as to how many of the unaccounted devices may have gone from official control.
How much damage could these devices do? The CP report suggests that one of these, strategically placed in a city like Toronto, could contaminate a 4-kilometer area, creating havoc and economic devastation. Officials in Canada heavily criticized the report, which named the site in question, asking why the CP wanted to give target analyses to potential terrorists, but it’s clear that anyone who stole one of these devices for the purposes of a terror attack would probably have some idea what to do with it.
However, if they didn’t, the CTV report at the link provides helpful graphics, just in case.
Obviously, the Canadian authorities need to improve their systems of security and accountability regarding these devices, and this provides a belated opportunity for all nations to do the same, including the US. In the meantime, we have to hope that the devices got stolen by either idiots who have no clue what they have, or honorable thieves that will only extort money from Ottawa to return them.
UPDATE: Welcome to readers of The Corner, courtesy of Jonah Goldberg! Take a look around, and if you have a moment, try out Heading Right as well.

A Salute To Our Northern Neighbors!

Via Newsbeat1, I’m reminded that today is Canada Day. In fact, it’s the 139th year of Canada Day, which began as Dominion Day in 1868. (This is the 25th anniversary of the event as “Canada Day”.) As fitting for our northern neighbor, it celebrates no particular military victory or political event, but just humbly celebrates the nation itself.
From your neighbors to the South, happy Canada Day, and may our friendship celebrate many, many more of these days together.
Canada has a special place in my heart. To see why, please read through my archive.

Blogger Gets Bounced From Parliament

Stephen Taylor, one of my blogger pals from our northern neighbor, has covered the Canadian parliament for quite a while, and has built a well-deserved reputation for professionalism in Canada. He requested and received access to several secure areas of Parliament Hill in order to interview various MPs from the Speaker of the House. While exercising that access by speaking with and taking photographs of his subjects, members of the Canadian press decided that they had had enough of an upstart blogger — and had him removed, passes and all:

I left the hallway outside of the foyer and walked over to the railway room to interview some ‘stakeholders’ of the budget. This went off without incident and during that time, I cheerfully chatted with some reporters that were in the same room.
Having completed my interviews with the stakeholders, I left and headed on over to the Rotunda where I had a friendly chat with Jack Layton. Elizabeth May and her assistant were also hanging around chatting when I saw Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc walk by. Having heard that his party was the lone opposition party supporting the budget, I asked him for an interview. He agreed. After the interview something ugly happened.
An official from the Press Gallery walked over and informed me that he had received “complaints” about me. “Thompson?” I inquired. “Complaints”, he seemed to acknowledge. I pointed out that we were currently in the Rotunda of Parliament and that my pass allowed me to be there. “But you have a camera” he informed me. He called over a security guard to escort me from Parliament. …
Yes, the Parliamentary Press Gallery, with no powers granted to it by constitution or statute, used security to remove somebody who had the right to be present on the Hill granted to him by the Speaker of the House.

I’m not familiar with the rules for press access to Parliament in Ottawa, but I’m certain that the Speaker must be. If his office granted Stephen a pass to the areas in which he operated, it seems more than a little strange that the press liaison would have him ejected, especially for bringing a camera. Has the Parliamentary Press Gallery never heard of photography? Do they draw pictures for their newspapers instead of printing pictures?
I have had the pleasure of traveling twice to Canada and meeting the bloggers of the North. They told me at the time that the Canadian blogosphere was not as well established as the American blogosphere, but it wasn’t from lack of talent. I wonder if the Canadian press has started to fear the rise of Canada’s bloggers and have decided to use petty tricks to kneecap these independent journalists and pundits. If this is an indication of the professionalism of the PPG — and I hope it isn’t — then they should fear the bloggers.

Adscam May Lead To Perjury Charges

Just when Liberal politicians thought it safe to go into the water, it turns out that Adscam still may lie beneath the calm surface of Canadian politics. The National Post reports this morning that Adscam witnesses may have lied to either the Gomery Inquiry or to a Parliamentary committee, and some in the Commons want to pursue perjury charges (via Newsbeat1):

MPs went behind closed doors Wednesday night to decide whether to pursue perjury charges against half a dozen politicians and bureaucrats who said one thing at the Gomery inquiry and another when they testified before the Commons public accounts committee.
The MPs on the committee were confronted with the decision when they received a report that compared “discrepancies” in the testimony of key witnesses.
The witnesses appeared first at the committee’s hearings into why the sponsorship program went off the rails in 2003 and were later called to testify at the inquiry headed by Justice John Gomery. …
House of Commons lawyers advised MPs that perjury charges are a “tricky” and “tortuous path” and would be a long-shot. If MPs decide to turn the case over to Ontario’s attorney general to pursue, it would be a first in Canada’s history.
Another option, favoured by many MPs, is to report to Parliament with a recommendation that those who are unable to explain the differences in their testimony be found in contempt of Parliament.

It seems a little bit late, but apparently someone finally started reviewing the transcripts from both inquiries and found stories that didn’t match. The Gomery inquiry resulted in no charges being offered but became an important factor in the collapse of Liberal political support and the historic win of the Conservatives last year. Stephen Harper owes his position as Prime Minister in part to the exposure of Liberal corruption in Adscam.
Liberals had hoped that Adscam had become old news since the nadir of their fortunes in January 2006. They had reason to believe that their fortunes had improved. An SES Research poll taken earlier this week put them in a dead heat with the Conservatives on a national level, with both parties polling at 33%. Earlier, they trailed by only two points. That’s a significant decrease from five years ago, when the Grits had almost a majority, but a four-point improvement from last winter.
Now it looks as if the Commons will have to dredge it all back up again, and the Liberals will have to weather another tour of its darker days. The witnesses that allegedly perjured themselves in one inquiry or the other are very unlikely to be Conservatives or from the NDP, after all, and it could lead to an expansion of the inquiry that would involve even more Liberal politicians. Hundreds of millions of dollars still remain missing from the Sponsorhip Programme, and Canadians might take an interest again in finding them.
UPDATE: I’ve taken out references that the witnesses may have been MPs, although the story does say “politicians”. As Mark in Ottawa points out, the article doesn’t specify the offices held by the politicians.

Everybody Must Not Get Stoned

It seems multiculturalism may be on the wane even in a former bastion of the practice. A town in Quebec issued a declaration of “rules” for immigrants that instructed them to hit the road if they didn’t want to assimilate into the mainstream culture of the province:

Don’t stone women to death, burn them or circumcise them, immigrants wishing to live in the town of Herouxville in Quebec, Canada, have been told.
The rules come in a new town council declaration on culture that Muslims have branded shocking and insulting.
Quebec is in the midst of a huge debate on integrating immigrant cultures.

Herouxville has tired of accommodation, as the declaration makes clear. Of late, the nation has had to bend over backwards to keep people from feeling offended, and the natives have obviously gotten restless. A Toronto judge recently removed a Christmas tree from the courtroom to avoid offending non-Christians, and a Montreal gym had to frost its windows after Hasidic Jews complained about the sight of adults exercising from the street.
It’s not the only sign of pushback against multiculturalism in Quebec, either. A Montreal police officer finds himself in hot water after writing a popular ditty called “That’s Enough Already”. The song tells immigrants to either adopt the culture of their new home or take the next flight to anywhere else. The police force will now question the officer about his “motives” for the lyrics.
The Herouxville declaration isn’t as irrational as it looks. I haven’t heard of any public stonings or immolations by Muslims in Canada, but they have pressed for government recognition of shari’a courts as an option for Muslim communities. Herouxville sees the end result of multiculturalism as a replacement for assimilation and is reacting to a Balkanization that hasn’t yet begun by highlighting the worst-case scenarios. That’s not irrational, but it is quite a bit hyperbolic.
I wonder if the sudden impulse for assimilation into the mainstream culture will be enough for Quebec to drop its own multicultural demands on the rest of the Canadian Union, regarding language and cultural accommodation for itself. I’m certainly sympathetic to the argument against the multicultural impulse as opposed to assimilation for immigrants, but in this case it comes from an odd source.

Canada To Apologize For Arar Deportation

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology today on behalf of the Canadian government for instigating the 2002 deportation of Maher Arar from the United States to Syria on suspicion of connections to terrorism, suspicions that Canada later determined were false. Arar, who claimed he was tortured by Syrian security forces, will alse get a $10 million settlement — but it’s the apology that has the most meaning to Arar (via Newsbeat1 and Memeorandum):

Ottawa has reached a $10-million settlement with Maher Arar over Canada’s role in a U.S. decision to deport him to Syria, where he was jailed and tortured.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to make the settlement announcement on Friday afternoon, when he will also issue a formal apology to Arar on behalf of Canadians. Sources told the CBC the government will also pick up Arar’s legal fees. …
Ottawa set up a judicial inquiry into the case led by Justice Dennis O’Connor after Arar returned to Canada more than a year later.
O’Connor released his report in September 2006, concluding that Arar had no links to terrorist organizations or militants. He also concluded the RCMP had given misleading information to U.S. authorities, which may have been the reason he was sent to Syria.

Arar apparently can use the money. He has not been able to shake the notoriety of the case, and when he Googles his name, all that comes up are articles about his purported connections to terrorism. He will not travel outside of Canada, mostly because his name still remains on the American watch list, which makes him ineligible for entry to the US.
A year ago, a federal judge dismissed Arar’s case, ruling that he had no jurisdiction to question the decision of American security officials, especially since the RCMP had indicated that Arar was a threat. However, American officials have never really answered why Arar got deported to Syria rather than returned to Canada. He is a Syrian native, but emigrated to Canada at 17 with his parents. He holds a Canadian passport, and did at the time of the incident. Apparently because he had a casual relationship with someone under suspicion of terror links, the RCMP drew the conclusion that Arar also had links to terrorists, and added his name to their lists.
When Arar traveled to the US in 2002, that and some supplemental information given by the RCMP convinced the US to deport him — but to Syria rather than Canada. The incident started the controversy over the practice of “extraordinary rendition”, seen as a means by some for the US to send terror suspects to nations whose interrogation techniques had much less legal oversight than in the West.
The Canadians concluded last year that adding him to their watch lists was a mistake and that Arar had indeed suffered torture, which paved the way for his lawsuit and today’s settlement and apology. The question still remains about whether Arar belongs on the watch list, and this case will remain high up in Google searches until the US either makes a public case for Arar’s inclusion or removes him from their lists. In the meantime, Harper’s apology should allow Arar to return to a more normal life — at least in Canada.