Tagged: Stephen Maher

The Quebec precedent for energy transmission extortion

Former you-name-it Norman Spector (@nspector4) points out a glaring omission in my partial list of pundits who inveighed against BC Premier Christy Clark’s demand for a share of profits from the Northern Gateway pipeline, while mostly ignoring Quebec’s brazen extortion of Newfoundland hydro exports.

Stephen Maher, late of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and now typing for the Postmedia chain, had a terrific column on the dispute last weekend, one that places the Quebec-Newfoundland precedent front-and-center. The nub:

History suggests… that Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ottawa and Enbridge would be wise to quietly work to give British Columbia what it wants, because while Ottawa theoretically could force the pipeline through, that is likely not practical.

The history Maher cites is fascinating. His whole piece is a rewarding read, a rare example of punditry in which a reader learns more than the writer’s opinion.


False equivalence in the Robocall scandal – rebuttal

The Citizen’s Glen McGregor sends three points of rebuttal to my post this morning about his story (co-written with Stephen Maher) on rule-breaking election-eve Liberal robocalls in the Guelph riding that has been the eye of the storm over Conservative vote suppression efforts in May’s federal election:

  1. The Valeriote calls did give the Conservatives a new line of defence and did further muddy the water, as evidenced in any Hansard from this week. We didn’t pass on judgment on whether the defence was valid.
  2. We never equated the Valeriote calls with the faux Elections Canada calls. Both were parts of the narrative of key events leading up to election day that we catalogued in the story. Readers can draw their own conclusions about equivalence or lack of.
  3. Ottawa Citizen Managing Editor Andrew Potter has been entirely supportive of our continued reporting on this story and has not once tried to influence it in the way you suggest. Your speculation that details about the mechanics of the scandal were “perhaps” relegated to a lower position in the story to reflect his “predilections” is misinformed. Potter didn’t even handle this copy, which was filed on a Sunday (he was off duty). The editor who did made no structural changes to the story.
At some point I may weigh in with some thoughts of my own on Glen’s first two points, but in the interests of getting his response on line as quickly as possible — at the moment I am pulled over by the side of the TransCanada at Mt. Thom, and will spend much of the day in the car — I will give Glen the floor, with thanks for his contribution to the discussion.
On the third point, I will just say that I have no reason whatever to doubt Glen on this, and I’m happy to hear it.

More false equivalence in the Robocalls scandal

Steve Maher and Glen McGregor, the two Ottawa reporters who broke the Robocall scandal, have a long story in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen that warrants a close read.

The story leads with an account of Liberal robocalls in the Guelph riding on the eve of the May 2, 2011, federal election—calls that expressed dismay at CPC candidate Marty Burke’s opposition to abortion “in all circumstances.”

In a glaring escalation of false equivalence, Maher and McGregor say “revelations” about the automated calls “are giving the Conservatives a new line of defence against allegations of vote suppression and further muddying the events leading up to the federal election in Guelph.”

The Liberal calls did break an Elections Canada rule by failing to identify the candidate whose campaign team produced them. Many people, myself included, dislike receiving automated phone pitches from politicians or anyone else, but such calls are a legal and widespread feature of recent elections. I received some from my friend Ian McNeil’s campaign in the last Nova Scotia election, and for the last two weeks, I’ve been inundated with robocalls from NDP leadership candidates.

Some may criticize as negative calls that attack a rival candidate’s position on abortion, but there is nothing illegal or unusual about highlighting aspects of an opponent’s platform that another candidate thinks may prove unpopular with voters. On the contrary, doing so is a common feature of political campaigns.

To equate this with a concerted campaign to prevent supporters of opposing candidates from voting, by impersonating Elections Canada officials and misdirecting them to bogus, faraway polling stations, is risible. Yes, I realize, Maher and McGregor stop a half-step from asserting that equivalence themselves, but in its tone and copious detail, the piece takes a “Liberals did it too” approach. The headline (for which reporters are not responsible) reads: “Robocalls: Liberals, Tories used hardball tactics in Guelph, Ontario.”

This follows the widespread fasle equation of the Robocalls scandal with the Vikileaks revelations. As if revealing a cabinet minister’s hypocrisy (something the press gallery failed to do) is equivalent to organized efforts to deprive citizens of their vote.

Buried deep in the Maher-McGregor story — really deep, starting at the 21st paragraph — is some impressive reporting on the mechanics of the Robocall scam, based apparently on telephone records. In my view, this stuff should have been the story’s lead.

That it was not perhaps reflects the predilections of the Citizen’s managing editor, Andrew Potter, who, in an extraordinary breach of traditional newspaper church-state separation, took to the Citizen’s op-ed page yesterday to dismiss “hand-wringing” about the robocall flap as so much “hysterias of the pundits.” After all, writes Potter, things are even worse in Russia.

Isn’t that a great standard by which to judge Canadian election fairness, or editorial policy for that matter? (Potter’s dismissal of the latest Harper scandal is cloaked in much solemn chin-stroking about why good people sometimes do bad things.)

One other nugget in the Maher-McGregor story caught my eye. Not surprisingly, officials of Burke’s  campaign were upset when calls attacking his extreme anti-abortion views began three days before the vote. As the Citizen story reports:

Later that afternoon, Burke’s deputy campaign manager, Andrew Prescott, took to Twitter to denounce what he said was a “vote suppression” effort aimed at his candidate.

“Anti-#CPC voter suppression phone calls currently underway in Guelph, suspecting #LPC” — the Liberal Party of Canada — he tweeted at 5:22 p.m.

The Liberal calls may or may not be objectionable, and they did break Elections Canada rules, but they are not in any sense voter suppression calls. So why did that phrase spring to the fingertips of a senior Conservative Party campaign official? Is it just possible the Conservative camp had voter suppression phone calls on its mind?

For the record, Prescott has has consistently denied playing any role in the illegal robocalls being investigated by Elections Canada. He declined to speak with Maher and McGregor about the tweets he sent on the Saturday before the election.

Just hours after Prescott’s tweets, as Maher and MacGregor detail in their story, the first of several calls from a pre-paid Virgin Mobile phone somewhere in Guelph, to an Edmonton-based automated calling company, laid the groundwork for the illegal robocalls that targeted Liberal and NDP supporters on election day. Calls that really were designed to fraudulently suppress non-Conservative votes.


Maher critiques Contrarian

PostMedia’s Stephen Maher, whose blog post on the Toews contretemps I featured moments ago, has weighed in with a critique of Contrarian’s first two posts on the subject. Here’s what he wrote (and then let’s close the subject for now):

In your post on the Parliamentary Press Gallery, you say the gallery met @vikileaks30 with a “frenzy of denunciation,” but provide no examples. You do not accurately describe the gallery’s reaction to @vikileaks30. The journalists I know found it to be a matter of lively interest. Nobody reacted with anger, fear or embarrassment.
Also, to point to the failings of the gallery, you point to Toronto Star stories about Adam Giambrone and the Citizen story that identified the IP address of @vikileaks30. Those stories were not produced by reporters in the gallery. The gallery did, in fact, report on Toews divorce, just not as extensively as you would like, and did not report on Giambrone, which is a municipal story.
It seems normal to me that media outlets in Winnipeg and Toronto would approach questions of privacy differently. That has nothing to do with the gallery, however.
You may be able to argue that the gallery is too timid when it comes to the private lives of cabinet ministers, but you would need to do more research for it to be persuasive.
[For the record, Maher had not seen my last post when he sent this.]


Another view on why reporters gave Toew’s infidelity a pass

Parliamentary scribe Stephen Maher, formerly of the Herald and now with PostMedia, offers a different view on why the Press Gallery all but ignored Vic Toews’s infidelity prior to #vikileaks30. (Previous views here, here, and here.)

Maher’s blog post is the more refreshing for its inclusion of updates from people who disagree with him. It rewards  reading in full. I actually agree with most of what he says. Generally, I have little stomach for exposing the private lives of public figures, let alone their sex lives. But unlike Maher and his colleagues, I think there are clear grounds for an exception in Toews’s case.

Maher wrote:

If [a] secretly gay cabinet minister started mouthing off hypocritically about family values, I would write that story in a minute.

To which I say, substitute the word “philandering” for “gay,” and you have the nub of my argument for serious coverage of the Public Safety Minister’s extramarital monkey business.

– – –

One defense I have not heard from any press gallery member is: “I didn’t know about Toews’s infidelity.”

If no one was writing about it (beyond a few, fleeting references), how come everyone in the press gallery knew about it? Likely because they were talking about it, among themselves.

They found it interesting enough to talk about, but judged that we, as mere consumers of journalsim, did not have a need to know.

Reporters should be awfully careful when placing themselves in the position of censor. It’s a slippery slope, one all to easily greased by such considerations as future access to official sources and the political orientation of the news organization that writes the reporter’s pay check.

What real security feels like

During a brief stopover in Ottawa yesterday, a gracious member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery took me for a sail on the Ottawa River, where I snapped this photo:

In case you don’t recognize the building, it’s the posterior of 24 Sussex Drive, home of Canada’s Prime Minister. Even without Bruce Cockburn on board, I was struck by the wondrous want of any obvious standing on guard for Stephen Harper.

Our small party boarded my friend’s sailboat at the Hull marina, just across the street from the Museum of Civilization. No one checked our ID, demanded we sign a register, or x-rayed the modest-sized parcels we carried aboard (contents: six bottles Boréale Blonde, six bottles Pilsner Urquell, and 12 Montreal bagels, fresh from the oven at St-Viateur Bakery four hours earlier).

For two hours we gunk-holed along the shoreline beneath the Parliament of Canada, the Bank of Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Embassy of France, and the residence of Canada’s Prime Minister. Light wind filled our sails; fall sunlight dappled the river;  all seemed peaceful, orderly, and secure in Canada’s capital.

It struck me that this is the antithesis of security theatre: it is what real security feels like. I couldn’t help but contrast it with the recent experiences of Shoshana Hebshi and Vance Gilbert.

Take note, dear American cousins.

Surge roundup

The unprecedented rise in support for the NDP is provoking a lot of reaction from various thoughtful observers. Here’s a compendium.

From Frank Graves of Ekos Research, author of yesterday’s dramatic poll putting the NDP in second place nationally with a projected 100 seats, in a live chat this morning at ipolitics.ca:

Nothing is absolutely ruled out. But I think the public is answering Mr. Harper’s request for a majority with a pretty clear “No.” The intricacies of vote splitting might confuse this as late campaign shifts, but at slightly under 34 points, the Conservatives are well short of a majority. In fact, the implication of a majority between the NDP and the Liberals coupled with a diminished Conservative minority may pose some extremely interesting challenges.

The evidence from the surveys suggests that the NDP still have room to grow. Particularly in Ontario where they are rising, but have seen a dramatic spike up in second choice. They now lead nationally with first and second choice at 54 points — nearly 14 points ahead of the other contenders. So, yes still room to grow, but I don’t think the public have fully grasped where they have arrived and it is not outside of possibility that there will be a recoil effect. So whether the NDP wave is analogous to Clegg in the last UK election or perhaps Bob Rae in Ontario.

Graves had this to say about the Dips’ prospects in Atlantic Canada:

The Atlantic has changed dramatically in the past week where the NDP have bulled their way into what was a two-way race. The NDP began in the Atlantic in single digits and now lead. So that will be fascinating to see how that concludes.

From Andrew Coyne, @acoyne, Maclean’s National Editor and a genuine Lockean conservative (not the fake Harper kind), a series of exasperated tweets:

Oh for – arrgh!: “Harper is asking voters to consider whether they want their riding to be left outside the Tory tent.” http://bit.ly/gvEiiq

Where they serve the pork. RT @markdjarvis: http://is.gd/fI2xJS “People have a decision to make…abt whether they want to be at the table.”

But all the Tory partisans & professional shills will rationalize it to themselves that they’re the party of the taxpayer & free markets.

They’ve just utterly corrupted themselves & hope to corrupt the public. But then, if the public weren’t already corrupted, it wouldn’t work.

Politics in much of this country is just a two-way auction: state goodies in exchange for votes; votes in exchange for goodies.

Just friggin’ look at yourselves, Tories. Look at what you’ve become. Look at what you’re peddling.

From CBC’s Keith Boag, a strong critique setting forth Harper’s false statements about how parliamentary democracy works. [Unfortunately, the CBC provides no easy way to embed it.] As a Contrarian friend writes:

The most despicable thing Harper has ever done is lie to people about how their government works. It’s the big lie, so appalling no one can imagine it’s untrue.

Harper has done this twice: in the current election campaign, and in the prorogation scandal of 2008.

From former Daily News cartoonist Theo Moudakis, now inking for the Toronto Star, this take on Canada’s unnecessary election:

unnecessary election-550

The redoubtable Elly Alboim has a pot pourri of fresh #elxn41 observations: That leadership numbers and party preference are starting to come into consonance; that the NDP surge can be viewed two ways, as likely to build and spread, or likely to whither in the face of inevitable attacks from Libs and CPCs; plus some knowledgeable analysis of the variance in polling numbers and the validity of seat projections.

This final week will be the Grimm brothers’ story book of election campaigns. The potential narratives are legion and becoming more and more compelling.

There is the potential Greek tragedy in Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberals. There is the obvious Cinderella story in Mr. Layton and the NDP. Mr. Harper may get his majority he has doggedly sought (the little engine that could) or keep rolling his ball up an endless hill. If you want an alternative that’s a bit more modern, he may finally kick the field goal or like Charlie Brown, have the football snatched away yet again.

On the same excellent Carleton Journalism School website, Chris Waddell and Paul Adams offer tart assessment of the Liberals’ campaign. First, Waddell:

First the party and Mr. Ignatieff have been ineffective in opposition in parliament and its campaign has done nothing to shake that view among it appears almost three-quarters of voters.

Second Liberal policy is not sufficiently distinct from the Conservatives on economic issues for the public to notice a difference, the Liberals haven’t campaigned on the economy and the party has no recognized spokesperson with gravitas on economic matters.  Yet those issues remain very important with voters across the country and the NDP does offer a clear difference here although its policies have never faced much scrutiny. (The Liberals are trying to shine that spotlight on Mr. Layton this week.)

Third, the Conservative pre-election framing of Mr Ignatieff’s personality, character and interests has proven devastatingly effective with voters and Liberal campaigners are getting that regularly on doorsteps. Mr Ignatieff’s campaign hasn’t shaken that impression in the public’s mind.

And from Paul Adams:

The Liberals are caught in a historical dilemma. Unlike the situation during most of the 20th century, the Liberals are now alone among the parties, in that they have no roots as a populist party. The Conservatives have Reform as a predecessor. The NDP came from prairie populism and union activism. The Bloc from the separatist movement, and the Greens out of environmentalism.

But the Liberals have always been different. They have been a brokerage party with no clear ideological ground on which to stand. No one can ever remember a time when they did — except, perhaps, on the constitution and Quebec, which is hardly likely to help them now.

And as they try to perform a Gestalt in the final days of the campaign, they only reinforce the idea that while other parties stand for something, they don’t.

Finally, the Chronicle-Herald’s consistently reliable Stephen Maher notes two trends:

In 2004, Stephen Harper’s newly merged party took 24 Ontario seats with 31.5 per cent of the vote, pushing Paul Martin’s Liberals into a minority. In 2006, the Tories took 40 seats, with 35 per cent of the vote. In 2008, the Conservatives won 51, with 39 per cent of the vote.

Step by step, Harper’s team has moved in from the white, Protestant countryside, which by long tradition gravitates to the Tories, toward the multi-hued suburbs of Toronto, where significant numbers of immigrants and their children are embracing a modern Conservative message that has been carefully calibrated for them.


Voters in Quebec, in contrast, have mostly turned their backs to Harper’s stern warnings, shocking everybody by warming up to Jack Layton.

After a strong French-language debate performance, Layton’s party is now leading the Bloc Quebecois. With his folksy Montreal street French and a policy book that has been carefully shaped over the years to reduce friction with nationalist Quebecers, Layton can now hope for a real harvest of MPs on Monday.

He has been preparing the ground for years. With little hope for immediate gains, he worked hard to make the NDP electoral effort in Quebec more than symbolic. The first seedling to sprout was the election of Thomas Mulcair, giving the party, for the first time, a talented bilingual spokesman.

Before concluding…

These developments in Quebec and Ontario are terrible news for the Liberals. Some national polls now show the Grits behind the NDP. I don’t believe, given the weight of tradition and the power of incumbency, that the NDP can surpass the Liberals on election day, but who knows?

As the election began, I thought Michael Ignatieff had a good chance of connecting with Canadian voters. Until the debates, when he failed to make a persuasive case for a Liberal government, it looked like his energetic and free-wheeling rally performances might give Canadians cause to reconsider him, setting up a momentum-building redemption narrative.

Instead, in the final days of the campaign, voters on the left are evenly divided between the Liberals and New Democrats, which is ideal for the Conservatives, since strategic voters may not know how to vote to block a Tory majority.

Preston Manning’s father, Ernest, dreamed of a political realignment in Canada, with a right-wing party and a left-wing party, rather than two parties of the mushy middle.

The goal of the movement, for decades, has been to squeeze the Liberals. By framing this election around the question of whether a coalition is a venial or a mortal sin, Harper is moving closer to realizing the Manning dream.

I’m not convinced Monday’s outcome will be any sort of dream for Harper, but that’s certainly one possible result.

How Colvin got to Kandahar

Contrarian is relieved to report that whoever kidnapped Stephen Maher and published Saturday’s bizarre column under his byline has released him. His column this morning offers a useful reminder of the circumstances under which Richard Colvin went to Kandahar in the first place.

In January 2005, Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry, the political director of the provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar, was killed in a suicide bombing that wounded three Canadian soldiers.

After Mr. Berry’s death, while the Foreign Affairs Department was struggling to find diplomats to serve in the dangerous and challenging country, Richard Colvin volunteered to go to Kandahar to do Mr. Berry’s job for several months in 2006.

This is the man Peter MacKay portrays as a patsy for Canada’s enemies. Some patsy.

The whole column is worth a read.

Herald scrivener adjudicates T-J flap

The Chronicle-Herald’s estimable Stephen Maher adopts Harper’s view of the wafergate flap (“a low moment in journalism… a terrible story, and a ridiculous story, and not based on anything”), offers mild criticism of the odd gaps in the Telegraph-Journal poo-scarfing apology, and provides a useful ultra vires catalog of episodes in which the Irvings’ business interests trumped their journalistic values (a list that, he concedes, includes the wafergate apology).

Interestingly, Maher has K.C. scion and T-J publisher Jamie Irving fired outright, not simply suspended for 30 days, as others have reported. Doesn’t say what he bases this on.