French Socialist Demands Quebec Sovereignty

The political trajectory of Ségolène Royal suffered a little turbulence yesterday, as she managed to insult one of France’s allies and inject herself into a long-standing point of contention in Canada. Campaigning for the French presidency, Royal demanded “sovereignty and liberty” for the French-speaking province of Quebec — a demand met with a diplomatic MYOB from Prime Minister Steohen Harper:

Ségolène Royal was criticised yesterday for the latest in a string of diplomatic gaffes after she appeared to call for independence for Canada’s mainly French-speaking Quebec province, provoking an unusually strong rebuke from the Canadian prime minister.
Ms Royal, the Socialist presidential candidate, has been accused of a series of blunders by supporters of her centre-right opponent Nicolas Sarkozy. Recently in Beijing, she praised the speed of the Chinese justice system, while avoiding the question of human rights. But yesterday she told reporters she supported “sovereignty and liberty” for Quebec. Her comments followed a meeting with the head of the minority Parti Québécois, which wants Quebec to secede from Canada.
Canada’s prime minister Stephen Harper warned: “Experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country.”

Only a French Socialist could love the Chinese justice system for its speed, so it’s easy to dismiss Royal as a nut. However, she has a strong chance to replace Jacques Chirac in the next elections, which would give her a world stage from which to toss flowers at Beijing for their haste in using their courts to jail dissidents.
And, apparently, she can use it to insult France’s allies. The Quebec question has been a thorn in Canadian politics for many years, but majorities in Quebec have rejected secession when asked to vote on the proposition. Perhaps Royal believed that Canada allowed less freedom than China and didn’t believe the results of the referenda; if so, it shows her unsuitability for high office despite her inexplicable popularity. Her excuse certainly indicated that — she tried to back out of her demand by saying she just wanted “sovereignty and liberty” for Quebec’s citizens as individuals, as if they didn’t already have the same rights as all Canadians.
The people of France should be warned. Royal isn’t just another flavor of wishy-washy Socialist, she’s the kind of true believer who will threaten what liberty they have left. If she takes the time to praise China’s government while scolding Canada for its lack of “freedom”, she has a seriously deranged set of values.

Tories Pass Accountability Act

It took almost a year, but the Tories in Canada have made good on their campaign promises to clean up government. IThe Federal Accountability Act survived an attempt by the Liberals to delay it past a contribution deadline, a maneuver that brought condemnation from the NDP:

The House of Commons passed on Friday the Conservatives’ much-touted Federal Accountability Act.
The Tories promised during the last election to bring ethics and accountability to Ottawa, and the bill was the first piece of legislation introduced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The omnibus bill was brought to the House of Commons in April and was then scrutinized by the Senate throughout the summer and fall.
The Conservatives accused Liberal senators of holding up the legislation so the party wouldn’t be subject to new donation rules during its recent leadership campaign.

This was the fruit of Adscam, the corruption of the Sponsorship Programme that stuffed millions of government dollars into Liberal Party coffers and the pockets of its supporters. The scandal eventually dethroned the Liberals and allowed Stephen Harper and the Conservatives to come to power. The Grits spent most of two years running scare campaigns about Harper’s “secret agenda”; now Canadian voters understand the desperation of the Liberals a little more clearly.
Unfortunately, the Liberals themselves don’t get it. Their attempts to delay the act’s passage show that they have not learned much from Adscam; they have once again handed the issue of clean government to Harper and the Tories. The NDP underscored this in Pat Martin’s statement, calling their objections “smoke and mirrors” intended to deflect the new regulations.
The bill will get reviewed and updated, and it does seem that there is more work to be done. Campaign-finance restrictions should be rethought, although as with here, it’s the easiest method to make it look like campaigning has been reformed, but in the end it just limits political speech for no real benefit overall. It’s still an excellent start on ensuring that a single party in their parliamentary system can’t just start raiding the treasury for their own partisan purposes. (via Newsbeat1)

Divided Loyalties?

The new Liberal Party leader has found himself at the center of a new controversy that might impact his national standing. Stephane Dion has dual citizenship in Canada and France through his mother and refuses to renounce it. That will create the prospect of electing a Prime Minister with at least the appearance of divided loyalties in the next national elections:

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion says his loyalty to Canada is unquestioned, despite the fact he holds French citizenship.
“My loyalty is for Canada. Period,” Dion said yesterday.
The newly crowned opposition leader holds dual citizenship thanks to his mother, who was born in Paris. Faced with questions on whether he should relinquish his French citizenship because of his new position, Dion — who is one of Canada’s leading defenders of federalism — shrugged and asked why.
“If nobody is questioning my loyalty, what is the point?” he said, adding that anyone who doubts his commitment to Canada should keep their “opinions to themselves.”

When the Liberals selected Michaëlle Jean as the new governor general in 2005, she renounced her secondary citizenship in France as part of her acceptance of a leadership role in Canada. Dion does not appear to have the same impulse. His political opponents question his judgment on the issue; NDP leader Jack Layton responded that he would prefer party leaders that had only one citizenship.
The question of loyalty can be an issue in Canada, where their Quebec province has threatened to secede for decades. Ironically, Dion apparently does not support sovereigntists, even though he himself is a Quebecker. Still, with the question almost always at the forefront of Canadian politics, it will be an issue for the Liberals when they go to the polls next, probably in 2007.
Has there ever been a government leader with dual citizenship, either in Canada or anywhere else? Alberto Fujimori claimed not to have citizenship anywhere else but Peru, but later found that he had maintained the dual citizenship his parents established after his birth in Peru. In fact, he resigned from office by fax from Tokyo, surely a first in political history. That’s hardly a great precedent for Dion, and unless a number of other more stable examples appear, he might have some difficulty explaining why he’s refusing to go 100% Canadian.

Cardscam

The provincial government in Ontario has a burgeoning corruption scandal making headlines, costing taxpayers millions with little likelihood of recovery. Unlike Adscam, the notorious Liberal Party fraud in the Sponsorship Programme, this appears to have little to do with partisan politics and more to do with traditional bureaucratic corruption:

Millions of dollars charged to taxpayer-funded credit cards in Ontario are unaccounted for, the province’s Auditor General Jim McCarter reported on Tuesday.
A number of Ontario’s public sector workers, and managers overseeing expense accounts, are unable to account for the cash, he said. …
Staff at Hydro One, the massive transmission utility, purchased $127-million worth of goods and services using corporate charge cards, but Mr. McCarter’s annual report found few credit card slips or paperwork to justify those charges. …
Staff at Ontario Power Generation failed to produce any receipts at all to support $6.5-million in expenditures. Managers at the government-owned power company also spent $300,000 for gifts, and $120,000 on gift certificates, for employees. The gifts included 40 leather jackets worth $8,000 each, given in recognition of five-year safety records. …
The auditor general also examined four school boards across the province, and found one teacher spent $52,000 over two years on a purchasing card, including $4,000 spent during school breaks on DVDs, eyeglasses and Christmas lights.

The corruption appears to have spread throughout the government agencies in the Canadian province. Even quasicharitable agencies such as Children’s Aid has come to light in the audit. Purchases of $60,000 SUVs and car allowances — with some getting both simultaneously — and Caribbean vacations got charged to Ontario’s citizens, literally. They also spent money on personal trainers, gym memberships, and $150 car washes, an interesting use of funds for agencies dedicated to the benefit of underprivileged children.
The fraud centers on the use of credit cards issued to employees in government agencies and the lack of documentation that shows any relation to the mission of the government agencies. How extensive was the use of these credit cards? One school district, the Thames Valley District board, had over three thousand credit cards issued to district employees. They charged over $5 million, an average of over a thousand dollars each.
Nor was that the only fraud uncovered by the provincial audit. The investigation discovered that Ontario issued 300,000 more health cards than the total population in the province. Most of these wound up in Toronto and in communities close to the US border. Unlicensed doctors can still charge the government for services in the nationalized health-care system, calling into serious question the supposed benefit of guaranteed levels of expertise in a state-run system. It also found that CT and MRI machines get handled incorrectly, dosing children with levels of radiation far above that given adults and threatening their long-term health.
In terms of sheer damage, Cardscam appears much more significant than Adscam, and that isn’t a minimization of the fraud perpetrated by the Liberals involved in that scandal. The provincial government in Ontario needs to answer some tough questions about their management of their bureaucracies. Taxpayers do not get freebie credit cards to charge personal items and services, and they don’t expect to fund them for their public servants — and they certainly expect competence from a health-care system that they are forced to use. Expect this to get more headlines over the next few weeks.

Liberals Move Left

Canada’s Liberal Party has chosen its new leader almost a year after its electoral debacle that saw its majority disappear from the Adscam scandal. Instead of selecting front-running moderate Michael Ignatieff, Liberals chose the more liberal Stephane Dion to lead them into the next elections:

Stephane Dion has won the Liberal leadership in an upset win over Michael Ignatieff, who had been the front runner coming into this convention.
The final battle between the two former professors was not decided until the fourth ballot.
Mr. Dion had surged into the lead on the third ballot and went on from there, winning a clear majority of 54.7 per cent of the final vote.
Mr. Dion was the only candidate from Quebec. He now becomes the third party leader in a row from the province.

The BBC had more on the background of the candidates. Ignatieff ran into some problems because of his initial support of the war in Iraq, which may have kneecapped him with all but the centrists in the party. Dion, formerly the Environment Minister, ran on a green platform which will insist on full compliance with the Kyoto accords.
We can expect a more leftward turn for the Grits from Dion, which may give the party some problems in the next elections. They seem to have ceded the center a little bit with Dion. They may have strengthened their hold in Quebec, where Conservatives and Stephen Harper had so much success earlier. The G&M points out that this could also be a liability elsewhere, especially since Dion does not speak English fluently and might alienate other parts of Canada.
Michael Stickings has much more at The Reaction. Stickings, an excellent writer for liberal causes, is a member of Canada’s Liberal party and gives his perspective as a Dion supporter. Interestingly, he sees the Quebecker as a potential liability in his home province:

Which is good for the Liberal Party and good for Canada, I think, particularly if his team heading into the next election includes Ignatieff, Rae, Kennedy, and Ken Dryden, who finished fifth. Dion is not without his problems — he’s not terribly popular in his home province of Quebec given his strident anti-sovereigntist views, and he’s not exactly the most charismatic of politicians — but he should do well.

Read the whole thing, of course, and keep an eye on Michael’s posts for well-written analysis of Canadian politics from the other side of the spectrum.
UPDATE: AAAAUGH! Why did I call the Liberals Labour? I’m seriously in need of the first cup of java. Sorry — and thanks to Dave Rywall in the comments.

Canada: Iran Responsible For War In Lebanon

In a surprisingly straightforward declaration, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister has publicly declared Teheran responsible for Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon this summer, and described Syria as a “conduit” for Iranian misconduct. Peter Mackay’s statements aligns Canada more closely to their southern neighbor than to their traditional alliances in Europe, where governments have been reluctant to lay blame for Hezbollah on their obvious sponsors:

With a potential international showdown looming next week in Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay says Tehran has “blood on its hands” for backing Hezbollah in its recent war against Israel.
In an interview with CanWest News Service, Mr. MacKay highlighted Iran’s support of Hezbollah and its nuclear ambitions, which will be back in the international spotlight on Tuesday — the symbolic date in the Muslim calendar chosen by the Islamic regime to reply to UN demands to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.
“They [Iran] are certainly behind much of the difficulty that’s going on in the region by funding Hezbollah, by supporting them in terms of their activities against Israel. They have a great deal of responsibility and blood on their hands from their activities,” he said. …
“Of course, we’ve been very much caught up with what’s been happening in the Middle East, but Iran, it’s fair to say, has been described an agent provocateur.”
Mr. MacKay also pointed to Syria as “a conduit for Iran to perpetrate much of this mischief.”

Of course, Mackay gets points just for his willingness to state the obvious, a willingness that seems to escape many in the West these days. It reflects the reality of Iran as perhaps the most dangerous state sponsor of terrorism and Islamic fascism, and it comes at a moment when the world holds its breath over the potential for millenial mischief on August 22nd.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad picked that date for the Iranian response to the incentive package offered by the West for Iran to end its uranium-enrichment program. That date holds special significance in Muslim belief, as most know now; it’s the date that Mohammed rode a winged horse to heaven, after making stops in Jerusalem and Mecca. Some people believe that millenial thinkers such as Ahmadinejad will want to use that date to advance some strategy to create the chaos necessary for the return of the 12th Imam — which would either point to an attack on Israel or some act of defiance so provocative that it will start a devastating war.
So far, that remains an interesting and entertaining hypothesis and not much more. What has remained fact is the overweening deference paid to Ahmadinejad and the mullahcracy by European diplomats. Perhaps they fear that the truth will cause Iran to reject their incentive package out of petulance, a laughable notion considering the calculating nature of the Iranian ruling class. They have eschewed the firmness and resolve needed to face down the Iranians and offered sweet words and ever-increasing incentives: the basic appeasement package.
It’s good to see that Canada no longer holds any illusions about Iran and its intent in the Middle East. We only wish that more Western nations would wake up to the threat that faces us. (via Newsbeat1)
UPDATE: It’s not just the diplomats in Europe who have their lips firmly affixed to Ahmadinejad’s nethers. Try reading this Simon Tisdall piece in The Guardian (UK) without laughing at the lack of objectivity:

As the rotors of the venerable American-made Huey 214 chopper spin slowly to a halt, and the murk clears, a great, human noise replaces the sound of engines. It is not cheering; more like a giant, murmuring sigh, punctuated by shouts of joy and the screams of women.
For Meshkinshahr, a city perched on the desiccated Caspian steppes and mountains west of Ardabil, this dramatic descent to earth has the momentous significance of a prophetic visitation. Local elders say there has been nothing like it in years. Children are out of their heads with excitement.
But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clambering out of the helicopter cabin with a big smile on his face, is getting used to it. His visit, part of a magisterial three-day, nine-city procession through Ardabil province in north-west Iran, is the 18th such meet-the-people expedition since he took office one year ago this month.
Mr Ahmadinejad’s extraordinary comings and goings are a cross between American-style town meetings, itinerant Islamic evangelism, and pure political theatre. Think Bill and Al’s “excellent adventure” during the 1992 US presidential campaign; think Saladin on a soap box; then add a straggly beard, wrinkly, unexpectedly twinkly eyes, a gentle, open-handed style, and a genuine ability to connect – and you have Mr Ahmadinejad, a local hero (he was formerly governor of Ardabil), a would-be champion of Muslims everywhere, and an unlikely grassroots superstar.

Tisdall later says that Ahmadinejad “may not know much about the Holocaust”, about as close to criticism as this piece gets, but he’s quite obviously wrong. Ahmadinejad has learned how to become an adored Fuehrer, or at least pose as one for Western journalists. It worked seventy years ago, too, and it portended much the same kind of conflict in the end.

Harper Anklebiters Prefer Power Over Truth

Stephen Harper has steered a new course for Canada in both domestic and foreign policy after the debacle of Liberal rule, but that has some opponents unhappy about the loss of Canadian neutrality in the face of evil. After the Canadian PM declared support for Israel’s right to defend itself against acts of war, two Canadian politicians bemoaned the loss of “honest broker” status that created:

“We all want to encourage not just a ceasefire, but a resolution. And a resolution will only be achieved when everyone gets to the table and everyone admits that recognition of each other,” Mr. Harper said, in a pointed reference to the refusal of Hezbollah and Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
“But I have to say this. I read in some papers somewhere that someone involved in this said, ‘Well, Hezbollah will protect, Hezbollah will take care of us,’ ” the Prime Minister said.
“Hezbollah’s objective is violence. Hezbollah believes that through violence it can create, it can bring about the destruction of Israel. Violence will not bring about the destruction of Israel … and inevitably the result of the violence will be the deaths primarily of innocent people.”
Mr. Harper brushed off suggestions his tough new language on the Middle East has compromised Canada’s ability to be seen as a neutral, honest broker in the search for Middle East peace, a criticism repeated yesterday by NDP leader Jack Layton, who said Canada should be pushing for an immediate ceasefire and the presence of an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon. …
“[UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan and the UN have proposed exactly that strategy, and it’s got to be something that Canada embraces enthusiastically, right off the start, not with this hesitation that we’re seeing from George Bush and Mr. Harper,” Mr. Layton said.
Interim federal Liberal leader and former foreign affairs minister Bill Graham echoed Mr. Layton’s statements, saying Canada is in danger of losing its role as a mediator and peacemaker in the Middle East.
Mr. Graham told a Vancouver news conference that Mr. Harper has moved Canada away from its traditional non-aligned stance, and said while he supports Israel’s right to defend itself from attack, he believes Canada needs to keep some distance so it can be part of a diplomatic solution to the Middle East conflict.

This demonstrates the kind of fecklessness that Canadians rejected in their national elections earlier this year. Layton and Graham would rather keep their mouths shut about the act of war committed by Hezbollah in order to remain “honest”. Honest? Would Canada simply call the UN if Russia or China raided Canadian territory, killed eight members of the Canadian army, and abducted two more? Would it roll over and agree to give the Yukon up and release all prisoners of Russian or Chinese heritage to get their soldiers back?
If Layton and Graham endorse that course, then let them say so. “Honesty” demands it. As for Harper, however, he understands that sovereignty must be defended, or it ceases to exist. Hezbollah invaded Israel and killed and abducted its soldiers. That isn’t a crime, it’s an act of war, and it should go without saying that Israel has the right to defend itself and to ensure that an aggressor has no more capability to conduct those kind of operations in the future.
A truly honest broker for peace would recognize that. Apparently, Layton and Graham have a notion of honesty which includes hiding one’s principles for the sake of grasping power. That may be one of the reasons why the NDP and the Liberals find themselves without it.

Media To Challenge Canadian Publication Ban

The Canadian courts have imposed another publication ban on the trial of the 17 Muslims arrested for conspiring to conduct terror attacks in Toronto. Two American and two Canadian media outlets have filed challenges to this order, hoping to open the trial to the press and the Canadian public:

Four media organizations asked a judge on Monday to hear arguments on overturning a media blackout in the cases of the suspects charged with plotting to bomb buildings in southern Ontario.
The Associated Press, the New York Times, the Toronto Star and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation are challenging a publication ban a judge has imposed on courtroom proceedings for the 17 suspects arrested in the alleged plot. …
Justice of the piece Keith Currie banned the media from reporting details of courtroom proceedings as the request of prosecutors on June 12. A notice of application to quash Currie’s decision was filed last week and media lawyers met Regional Senior Judge Bruce Durno in an effort to set a hearing on the challenge.
“One justice of the peace has imposed a sweeping publication ban on all these hearings, and these hearings were the first opportunity for Canadians to learn more about the nature of the charges against these individuals and to assess the merits of the case against them,” said Ryder Gilliland, a lawyer for the media. …
Canada’s Criminal Code allows judges to institute bans against publishing details from court hearings in an effort to protect the suspect’s right to a fair trial.
Bans for bail hearings are often granted.

Of course, I have had a little experience with these publication bans. In the case of the Gomery hearings, however, the situation was somewhat different. That ban involved a public inquiry into corruption and malfeasance by elected officials and government programs. Gomery’s squelching of the press did not prevent the attendees from learning firsthand, most of whom were well-connected to the political process as well as some of the media on whom the ban applied.
This ban involves a case with higher stakes, but at a level with lower likelihood of airing anything terribly substantive. Since this involves an arraignment, the Crown will likely present enough evidence to convince the judge to hold the suspects without bail, but not enough to really tip their hands. In any event, anything presented at the bail hearing will also get presented at trial later, so the public will get their chance to hear it, eventually.
Still, the judge should seriously consider waiving the ban. This case, as the AP report notes, has had a tremendous impact on the cosmopolitan Canadians, who have been shocked at the jihadis that grew out of their tolerant society, The people have their rights as well, and unless the judge plans to ask questions about covert intelligence methods, then he should allow the media to report on the danger they presented Canada.
Of course, if they don’t, perhaps I may find another source …

Forty-Two Months For Adscam Figure

In a departure from the lenient sentencing originally given to Paul Coffin for his crimes in the Sponsorship Programme corruption ring, Chuck Guité received significant jail time for his five convictions. The Montreal court has given the former Liberal bureaucrat forty-two months in prison, the harshest sentence thus far:

Former bureaucrat Chuck Guité was sentenced Monday to 42 months in prison after being found guilty of all counts of fraud in the wake of the federal sponsorship scandal.
The Crown had sought a sentence of between three to four years. Prosecutor Jacques Dagenais told a Montreal court that Mr. Guité’s power and position of trust meant he deserved the harshest sentence to date of the three players convicted in the federal scandal. Mr. Guité was found guilty earlier this month of five counts of fraud.
Mr. Guité oversaw the program set up by then prime minister Jean Chrétien after the separatist forces’ near-win in the 1995 referendum. The others convicted in the scheme are Liberal-friendly admen Paul Coffin, sentenced to 18 months, and Jean Brault, sentenced to 30 months. Mr. Dagenais said that Mr. Brault, head of Groupaction Marketing, showed genuine remorse. …
The verdict signalled that the jury wasn’t willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he said that any irregularities in the sponsorship program stemmed not from criminal intent but from the panic that seized Ottawa in the wake of the 1995 referendum.
Mr. Guité was charged with five counts of fraud for awarding five contracts worth about $2-million to Groupaction Marketing Inc., the firm of Montreal ad executive Jean Brault. The Crown said little or no work was done.

This brings an end to all of the criminal cases under consideration, at least thus far. No move to indict any other player in the Adscam scandal has been made, and the Gomery report did not give any clear path for future prosecutions. However, it will likely not be the end of Adscam for Canadian taxpayers. No one really knows how much the Liberal Party functionaries took out of the Sponsorship Programme for work never done or even contemplated and rechanneled back into the hands of the party and its benefactors, but some estimates run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Canadians may ask themselves where all that money went, especially since the three men convicted only accounted for about $2 million of the funds. It is a question that may never find an answer.

Tories Closing In On Total Victory?

Canadian politics have transformed since the revelations of Adscam showed the rot in the Liberal governance that had been in place for more than a decade. Once considered a mere shadow of a party, the Tories roared back from oblivion to cpature a minority government earlier this year, in what appeared to be a “test drive” for Canadians. Since their election, the Conservatives have built an impressive following, polling into the 40s nationally and poising themselves for a majority government in the next elections.
The Liberals have found themselves in a free-fall, unable to find new leadership that can attract those offended by the corruption of Adscam and by the fear-based electoral tactics they used against the Tories and Stephen Harper. Until now, however, the Grits could count on Ontario as their power base. That seems to be changing as well, according to a new Ipsos poll:

According to a new Ipsos Reid survey of 770 Ontarians, conducted on behalf of Global News and CFRB, the John Tory led Progressive Conservatives (40%, +3 points from a February Ipsos Reid survey) have gained a slight edge on the current ruling Dalton McGuinty led Liberal Party (37%, unchanged).
Howard Hampton and the NDP trail further back of the pack with 17% support (-1 point), and Frank de Jong and the Green Party continue to garner a modest percentage of total votes (5%, -2 points).

The Tories lead in all but two areas of Ontario: Northern and Central. Only in Northern Ontario does the difference become significant, and the Tories match that by significant leads in Eastern and South-Western Ontario. The Ipsos results do not show other kinds of demographic information, but clearly the two parties have reached a deadlock in what used to be a lock for Liberals.
Canada appears to have turned its back on the Liberals, and the Liberals appear to have nothing with which to gain their attention once more.