Thursday, September 11, 2008

Leader-Post column contradicts Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar Conservative candidate Kelly Block that Parliament not “able to do meaningful work”

“Fixed election dates prevent governments from calling snap elections for short-term political advantage,” Harper said. “They level the playing field for all parties and the rules are clear for everybody.”

“[F]ixed election dates stop leaders from trying to manipulate the calendar simply for partisan political advantage.”
Harper promises law to set election date every four years (CBC News, May 26, 2006)
Two years ago Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Victoria Chamber of Commerce his minority government would introduce a bill calling for fixed election dates every four years.

Harper’s own Bill C-16 did just that, setting Canadian elections every four years -- with the next election being scheduled for October of 2009. He did this to “prevent governments from calling snap elections for short-term political advantage” and to “level the playing field for all parties and the rules are clear for everybody.” He said “fixed election dates stop leaders from trying to manipulate the calendar simply for partisan political advantage.”

On Sept. 7, 2008, Harper betrayed those words and, in an act of political self-interest, pulled the plug on his minority government the day before four byelections were to conclude in ridings that some predicted the Conservatives might lose.

Harper’s excuse was that Parliament had become “dysfunctional” and appears to be the message that Conservative candidates are peddling to voters on the doorstep.

In the article Race is on in wide open riding (StarPhoenix, Sept. 11, 2008) Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar Conservative candidate Kelly Block is reported to have told one resident that things were getting “untenable” in Ottawa.

“They weren’t able to do meaningful work,” she said.

Regina Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk recently dispelled this myth in his column The fix is in for an election Canadians don’t want or need (Leader-Post, Sept. 9, 2008).

Mandryk said “there really isn’t much validity to Harper’s claim if you actually compare the success of this 39th Canadian Parliament with other recent Parliaments. Canada’s longest-ever minority government managed to pass 85 bills (including three budgets and a tough crime bill) and several important motions (including one recognizing Quebec as a nation within the Canadian federation). That actually compares rather favourably with 60 bills passed in the 38th Parliament (also a minority government) and 127 bills in the 37th Canadian Parliament (the last Liberal majority whose Parliament lasted three and a half years).”

Mandryk goes on to say that “Canada’s recently dissolved Parliament was hardly any more dysfunctional than the typical situation in American politics where you have a president of one particular political stripe in the White House and a majority in Congress of the opposite political stripe.”

“Make no mistake, though -- Stephen Harper called this election for the benefit of Stephen Harper,” Mandryk said, adding that Harper wouldn’t be the first Canadian prime minister to manipulate the election timetable to his advantage.

“Not by a long shot. They all have. Harper, however, is the first to do it after passing a law saying he wouldn’t do it,” he said.

Any dysfunction that Parliament may have been experiencing was likely instigated by the Conservatives themselves.

In May 2007, Don Martin, the National Post’s national affairs columnist, dropped a bomb when he reported on a 200-page secret guidebook that details how to unleash chaos while chairing parliamentary committees that had been given to select Tory MPs.

The document, said Martin, was “given only to Conservative chairmen - tells them how to favour government agendas, select party-friendly witnesses, coach favourable testimony, set in motion debate-obstructing delays and, if necessary, storm out of meetings to grind parliamentary business to a halt.”

“It paints in vivid detail what Conservative chairs should say when confronted by challenges to their authority, how to rule opposition MPs out of order during procedural wrangling and even tells government MPs how to debate at committee when a hostile motion is put to a vote,” said Martin.

“The manual offers up speeches for a chairman under attack and suggests committee leaders have been whipped into partisan instruments of policy control and agents of the Prime Minister’s Office.”

Martin said the tactics “fly in the face” of Stephen Harper’s complaint “that opposition parties are solely responsible for the committee paralysis now breaking out on Parliament Hill as the summer recess approaches.” [Don Martin: Tories have book on political wrangling (National Post, May 17, 2007)]

A recent example of this was in March when the chairman of the Commons justice committee, Art Hanger, stormed out of meetings two days in a row and then cancelled a third meeting to avoid a vote challenging his ruling against hearing witnesses in the Chuck Cadman affair. [Speaker admonishes dysfunctional committees (The Globe and Mail, Mar. 15, 2008)]

It’s a safe bet Conservative candidates aren’t talking about this on the doorstep.

Despite her political experience as a long time member of the Saskatchewan Party, the StarPhoenix said that Kelly Block’s campaign team is protective of her stating: “Block’s campaign manager calls a reporter moments before he’s to go door-knocking with her and asks for “lead time” on any questions about Conservative policy.

“As the new candidate, she has thoughts and opinions, but we don’t want that to contradict policy,” said campaign manager Josh Boyes.

Block proves well-versed in criticizing the Liberal carbon tax but hard-pressed to say what she likes about how the Conservatives have managed the economy.

“What's going to be happening is what’s been happening,” she said.

“Could I point to one thing (I like)? No. It’s the complete package.”

Heaven forbid if a Conservative candidate or MP should actually express an open opinion or speak freely on behalf of their constituents.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s stifling control freakishness is already legendary. Conservative MPs and top bureaucrats are banned from giving unauthorized media interviews or making statements without approval from the PMO.

The article Harper tightens leash on his ministers: report (CTV News, Mar. 17, 2006) reported the Globe and Mail as saying that Harper had ordered his cabinet ministers and top bureaucrats to say nothing to the media unless it is first cleared by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“PMO will have final approval for all communications products -- even Notes to Editors or Letters to the Editor,” an e-mail sent to bureaucrats states.

Ministers were ordered to avoid talking about the direction of the government, and that the government wants them to be less accessible to the media.

“In order to keep a grip on such events (those that distract from priority areas), PMO will approve of all ministerial events.”

The five Tory campaign priorities include a GST cut, a child-care allowance, tougher criminal sentences, a patient waiting-times guarantee and a Federal Accountability Act.

At the time, the Prime Minister’s Office even “asked officials to remove the microphones that have for decades been set up in hallways outside cabinet meetings,” the story said.

Government officials and Conservatives later confirmed the instructions.

It’s interesting to note that the $1,200 child-care benefit introduced by the Conservatives in 2006 appears to be one of the things that Block is talking about on the doorstep.


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