Friday, 29 November 2013

On to the 2015 Canadian General Election. Conservative strategists must see a downward movement for their party.

This chart shows the current Canadian political party trends since 2011.

Cracks in the Conservative Party

by Tom Thorne

The recent by elections have not changed the House of Commons standings but they have shown that traditional Conservative and Liberal ridings the status quo remains with some strong testing of traditional voting in Manitoba. Hard working New Democrats like Linda McQuaig couldn’t dent Toronto Centre enough to win despite a lot of hard work.

Toronto Centre remained Liberal with 49 percent going to winner Chrystia Freeland. Linda McQuaig got 36 percent for the NDP. Conservative Geoff Pollock polled eight percent. I watched these candidates go at each other on TVOntario’s Agenda program. 

Green Party candidate John Deverell presented well and yet polled low with only three percent. The Green Party seems to poll about three to four percent no matter how good their candidates are. This also shows in other national polling.

Geoff Pollock for the Conservatives was continually on the defensive given the Senate Scandal and the Prime Minister’s Office debacle. If Linda McQuaig runs again in 2015 she may be tougher to knock off. NDP leader Tom Mulcair made several appearances but Toronto Centre’s Liberal core returned what was expected.

In Manitoba, the Liberals bruised the Conservatives in Brandon-Souris with a tight fight of 44 percent for winning Conservative Larry Maguire versus 42 percent for the Liberal Rolf Dinsdale. The NDP got eight percent which probably spoiled a Liberal upset. The Green party received four percent which could have made the race even tighter if there was no Green candidate. Brandon-Souris actually voted against the Conservatives with 52 percent of their votes. 

In Bourassa (Montreal) Liberal Emmanuel Doubourg took the riding with 48 percent. Again a traditional Liberal seat but Stephanie Moraille for the NDP polled a respectable 31 percent. Block Quebecois candidate Daniel Duranleau came third with 13 percent and Conservative Rida Mahoud got four percent. The Greens got two percent.

Provencher in Manitoba is the only real clear win for the Conservatives where Ted Falk won with 58 percent. Liberal Terry Hayward got 29 percent while Natalie Beaudry of the NDP siphoned off eight percent and James Gibson for the Green Party a further three percent. The progressive party totals here amount to 40 percent.

So what does this all mean? First by-elections are never fully indicators of the country between elections and if you are a government you can expect to lose a few of these seats. So the best we can say is after the dust settled party standings did not change and normal Liberal and Conservative real estate stayed in traditional patterns.

However these by-election tests show clearly that while the centre and left votes are split the Conservatives retain seats. However in the case of these by-elections the Conservatives mean out in all four ridings with 28.5 percent of all the votes cast in the by-elections. The Liberals garnered 40.75 percent of the votes cast. Interestingly the NDP polled 20.5 percent of the votes cast in all four ridings. 

These numbers gel with current party standings. The latest Ipsos CTV poll shows 35 percent for the Liberals up four percent. The NDP is at 24 percent down two percent and the Conservatives under Harper are now 29 percent down one percent. Obviously the by-elections show similar trend as the popular vote and polls.

As I have said before if the NDP and Liberals combined they could get wins in many more ridings. In the last general election the national percentage to form the current Conservative majority government was 38 percent and the Liberals have bested that in the current by-election.

Conservative strategists must be concerned that the negativity generated by the Harper Government is now increasing in the country. Liberals may now be cautiously optimistic and the NDP given that the Bloc Quebecois got 27 percent in the recent Ipsos CTV poll may need to look at how they will keep seats in Quebec from Liberals in 2015 since the Conservatives are moribund in that province as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister and a Quebecker does not lead the Conservatives.

Anxious Conservatives will begin to question holding their majority in 2015. They will not forget the problems with Nigel Wright and how he was hung out to dry by Stephen Harper. In addition, Justin Trudeau who has hung back in all these frays and scandals can now positively lay out a 2015 election plan that will contrast with a sense of hope against the closed up tired machinations of the Harper Government.

As for the NDP. It has the problem of holding Quebec to ensure that it remains the Official Opposition. That will be a tougher chore than they know as their vote is split by any reasonable Bloc Quebecois resurgence which provides the Liberals with a potential renaissance in Quebec in 2015. 

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 28 November 2013

When is Prime Minister Stephen Harper going to show some accountability for the Senate Scandal?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper answers an opposition question about the Senate scandal.

The public trust in the Age of Information means that screw-ups and mistakes expand into a crisis quicker than ever before. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has yet to learn that bad news travels at the speed of light and good news at the speed of sound. Accountability is important to stemming a crisis.

by Tom Thorne

There is a built in covenant between those who run for and assume public office and the electorate. People who become our politicians take on a duty that requires them to be not only responsible but ultimately accountable for their use of public resources in our name.

Our democracy is built on this covenant. When the politicians we elect become dysfunctional they need to be called to account for that is what accountable means when we trust them to build the public good.

When things go off the rails the test of any politician who is a leader is that they never obscure or play clever games with the truth. In the United States the recent wrangle over Obamacare is nothing short of denying the public good whether you agree with President Barack Obama or not.

President Barack Obama’s re-election partly on his health care initiative is denied by a hostile Republican Congress. To make their point about health care legislation Tea Party inspired Republicans deny the government the resources to maintain many government services. This clearly does not serve the public good. It is stretching the public trust to the breaking point.

As a result the electorate lose the trust in politicians and this only creates rounds of hatred ridicule and contempt. When they play congressional procedural games they deny the covenant they made with the electorate and their oaths of office to always promote the public good. 

There is no justification in filibustering by reading Dr. Seuss stories in order to take the US Government’s debt ceiling to the wall as a way to to stress the introduction of Obamacare. If these politicians oppose then they must oppose in a positive way by bringing forward useful proposals to improve legislation before it was passed. Otherwise the public trust is jeopardized.

Tangental to the act of almost closing down the US Government was the poor introduction of the web sites to register people for this new program. Although criticized by those opposing Obamacare, the President at least acknowledged the problems and took the accountability for the situation on himself. There is a lesson there for what has been happening in Ottawa.

Public trust and public good in an Information Society are brought to a conflict instantly. They are Tweeted or Face Booked and they are blogged and covered by media more than ever before. Peccadilloes such as the Senate Expenses debacle in Ottawa are evidence of the few forgetting their covenant with the Canadian electorate. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to be much more accountable for his action or inaction concerning the Senate Scandal. He is the boss and so he is accountable for what happened in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). He cannot pass his accountability to anyone else. He carries the can and would know that if he was a real leader.

In the world of media relations he would have been much better off today if he had taken the view that he alone was accountable even if he didn’t know what Nigel Wright was doing paying money for Senator Mike Duffy.

Had the Prime Minister simply stated that he screwed up when this all happened I believe that he would have ridden out this problem quicker. Had he been completely forthcoming about plan A for the Conservative Party to pay Duffy’s expenses back and his legal fees this story even with the Nigel Wright episode would be now on the back pages.  

The Prime Minister’s obscurity and vagueness combined with his vindictive view that the Senate should throw out the three senators with expense problems ensured that this sad situation escalated on two fronts the PMO and the Senate debates into a public and media debacle that make the Prime Minister look either incompetent or weak as a leader. 

A leader steps up and takes his lumps. If he has missed that he is accountable for he must regain his credibility by being accountable.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks bad because he blames underlings when things go wrong. 

What does it take to get politicians to be accountable? When Stephen Harper stands up to answer the opposition in Question Period carefully steps through the cow pads created by his own PMO about the Senate scandal. In this case the only reason for answering questions with obscurities, innuendo and blaming others is that you fear prosecution yourself.

I leave the question open whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew about the Nigel Wright payment. If he knew and he continues with his obscurities then if he did know he has lied to Parliament and if he didn’t know then he is a poor manager of his own PMO’s activity. Time to take your lumps.  

His own legal council knew and didn't tell him which has Benjamin Perrin before the Ontario and British Columbia bars. That is why the RCMP has a morbid interest in this situation. Of course if you are guilty then you need not say much or anything that could incriminate yourself.  No matter how you cut this situation those cow pads smell bad.
© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Friday, 22 November 2013

RCMP files the first round of evidence for the Senate Scandal. It just will not go away.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper must be considering his long term 
personal options as the Senate Scandal deepens.

The RCMP files a potential outline for criminal charges against former PMO Chief Nigel Wright and Senator Mike Duffy.

by Tom Thorne

The RCMP believes it has almost enough evidence to file charges at some point against fired/resigned Prime Minister’s Office Chief of Staff Nigel Wright and suspended Senator Mike Duffy. Both Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy would be charged under Section 487.012 of the Criminal Code with “Bribery, Frauds on the Government and Breach of Trust”. 

The potential case seems to hinge on Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy concocting a plan for Senator Duffy to receive private funds from Nigel Wright to settle his Senate expense claim problems. The intent was clearly to do this exchange of $90,172.24 under the table. That is the essence of the alleged criminality of Wright and Duffy.

The weak link in this plan was that many Prime Minister’s Office staff and officials of the Conservative Party knew of Nigel Wright’s payment and although there remains vague references to an approval from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on 14-15 October 2013, it remains to be shown that the Prime Minister actually knew all details of the Duffy-Wright deal.

In the 80 pages of potential evidence supplied by the RCMP it is clear that the Prime Minister’s Office was deeply involved in the Duffy expense exercise but also in the fate of the other Conservative Senators, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau who also have expense claim problems. Mike Duffy, however, is the only one of the Conservative senators to be offered a bail out by either the Conservative Party when they thought he owed about $32,000 or Nigel Wright’s personal largesse when the amount ballooned to $90,172.24. 

The 80 pages of evidence also show clearly the attempted influence of the Prime Minister’s Office on the then leader of the Senate Marjory LeBreton who they thought was an impediment to their plans. LeBreton was subsequently replaced as Government Senate Leader by Senator Claude Carignan as the Prime Minister and his office went for suspensions without pay and benefits of Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. The Senate voted to suspend their pay but allowed them to retain their benefits for two years. 

The Prime Minister’s Office has not only clearly breached the criminal code with the Duffy-Wright deal but its attempt to influence Senate proceedings and expense claim audits is also clear. In addition the following PMO staffers, senators and lawyers are implicated in the Duffy-Wright deal. 

PMO emails scrutinized by the RCMP show clearly that 25 March 2013 David Van Hemmen, Executive Assistant to Nigel Wright emailed Janice Payne, Senator Duffy’s lawyer to advise her that the “he had a bank draft to her on behalf of Nigel Wright”.
This is the bank draft that would be paid to Duffy’s lawyer for the $90,172.24 that she would subsequently disburse to the Duffy’s Royal Bank account so he could write a cheque to the Receiver General of Canada to return expense funds to the government.

This action clearly shows that David Van Hemmen knew about the Duffy-Wright arrangement. David Van Hemmen is now a Policy Advisor in the office of the Minister of State - Finance Canada.  A further $13,000 were also paid to Janice Payne’s law firm for her services for Mike Duffy. That money it appears came from Conservative Party resources controlled by Senator Irving Gerstein who at the Conservative Policy Convention microphone in Calgary denied the Duffy-Wright events. 

At least the following people knew about the Duffy-Wright deal. David Van Hemmen, then Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff, PMO, Benjamin Perrin, Special Advisor and Legal Counsel to the Prime Minister, Chris Woodcock, Director Issues Management, PMO and Senator Irving Gerstein. Others may have known but these are the key people named by the RCMP.

Whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew everything remains uncertain, but he did know about the original $32,000 amount the amount Duffy was initially to pay back. Whether he knew about the Duffy-Wright deal $90,172.24 is not fully clear at this time.

It is hard to fathom why Benjamin Perrin as the Special Advisor and Legal Council to the Prime Minister would feel constrained not to inform his client about these matters. To not inform his client would be tantamount to dereliction of duty. Surely someone with this background and duty would see the implications of what could happen when a private payment is made to a Member of the Senate to cover the return of expenses he was not entitled to claim. As a member of the British Columbia bar Benjamin Perrin is now subject to potential discipline according to reports on 21 November 2013.

The other issue that these 80 pages reveal is the considerable efforts made by Senator Duffy and his legal council to call off the Deloitte audit of him if he paid back the money. This exercise turned into communications debacle between the PMO and the Senate prompting Christopher Montgomery, Issues Management for the Senate, to advise the senators involved to back off trying to change the audit or allow the PMO to interfere with Senate due process. He was ignored. Christopher Montgomery may be the only person involved in this PMO operation to council restraint.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is ultimately accountable for the conduct of his office. Although he has ordered the PMO to fully cooperate with the RCMP investigation that does not get him off the management hook for the conduct of his people. To not know what his PMO team was doing with Senator Duffy is tantamount to dereliction of duty. The Prime Minister is known for his micromanagement of almost every part of his government. The question is why was he asleep at the switch when the Duffy-Wright deal took place?

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have crossed the Bay Street Rubicon when he "fired" Nigel Wright.

The latest Harper Government Cabinet. 
Who can or will dare to replace Prime Minister Stephen Harper?

Nigel Wright and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s future may be intertwined with several crises presently simmering in Canada.

by Tom Thorne

Nigel Wright gave up a lucrative position with Gerald Schwartz’s Onex Corporation to become the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office. He was prepared to give the Harper government at least two or three years until the next general election in 2015. His politics mirror Prime Minister Harper’s views and so Nigel Wright was seen as the bright guy with a business track record who could get the ball rolling for the Harper Government.

That all came to a halt when it was revealed that Nigel Wright wrote a personal cheque to Senator Mike Duffy for  $90,173 to help him pay back faulty Senate expense claims. In addition, it now clear that the Conservative Party paid Senator Duffy $13,000 to cover legal expenses over his expense claim troubles. Prime Minister Harper claims he knew nothing about the Nigel Wright payment or the $13,000 payment. Nigel Wright resigned and then later the Prime Minister revealed in House of Commons Question Period that he had fired Nigel Wright.

That’s the problem. Which is it? Did Nigel Wright resign or was he fired. If he chose to resign then that means the decision was completely his. If the Prime Minister fired Wright then that will create an entirely different outcome for the future for Stephen Harper. Given Nigel Wright’s track record in business, this tacky cheque writing seems out of character. There is a lot of doubt that the Prime Minister knew nothing about any of these payments. 

To put it simply Nigel Wright is a respected person in business and Conservative Party politics and for anyone to fire a heavy hitter like him even if he did a have a momentary lapse of moral fibre, is not the way for the Prime Minister to make friends and influence people in the Conservative Party power elite. The Prime Minister may have inadvertently set in motion stage one of his own political demise. Nigel Wright cannot return to Onyx and so is in a type of limbo until this situation is either dealt with by the RCMP or the Prime Minister tells his story in a more forthright manner.

By the time the next election comes around Stephen Harper will have had 10 years at the helm of this country. The Conservative Party may be looking to change horses. The PMO scandal with Nigel Wright will by that time passed through the hands of the RCMP and any charges that may be laid against Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau or Nigel Wright will be in the courts. If it reaches the courts the whole affair will illuminate the Prime Minister’s vagueness and perhaps implicate him directly.

If Prime Minister Stephen Harper is seen to have obscured any facts or gone after the three senators without any real cause and claimed to have fired Nigel Wright when he resigned himself then he certainly looks bad. There may also be wrongful suspension suits launched by the senators. Worst yet, his actions may prompt constitutional arguments of who appoints and suspends senators.  In short Stephen Harper will look like he is at the helm of a botched entangled mess.

At that time the Conservative Party will go into survival mode or engage in internecine warfare as the far right of the party and Red Tories come back to their basics and the truce that formed the current party unravels. That is a bad thing for the  Conservative coalition, for that is what it really is, to stay together. If it unravels then the 38 percent of the popular vote that gave them a majority government is in jeopardy.

That will mean they will return to a minority government situation. This impending scenario is an opportunity for the New Democratic party and the Liberal Party. The Conservative strategists will see this impending doom scenario and will begin the process of replacing the leader. Who could they get to keep the Conservative coalition together?  Stephen Harper may keep the job by default.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will stay after the next election for continuity sake but it may be clear by then that his days are numbered. He will have built up Canada’s National Debt and despite the attempts by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to balance the books or develop a convenient surplus for the 2015 election year it will all wear a bit thin. The Conservative Party will be looking for a new leader.

Much of this scenario depends on who is staying for the election and who is re-elected after the dust settles in 2015. Much of the ground that has been ploughed to this time will have rooted and begin to show a crop of reduced yield for the Conservative Party’s fortunes after 2015.

The Supreme Court will probably find that no sitting government can alter the Senate and its constitutional origins unilaterally. Therefore that issue will go into long negotiations with the provinces creating a long fight for Senate reform. If Premier Pauline Marois plays all her nationalist cards and gets a majority then there may be a crisis in Quebec.

If the NDP loses its hold on all those Quebec ridings we may see two things. A modest Liberal resurgence and the status quo for Conservatives from Quebec. The NDP may hang on to about half the seats it got last time by default. That leaves some kind of Quebec Nationalist option to modestly reappear or a Liberal resurgence to fill this void. Quebeckers will fragment the NDP grip in the the Federal House of Commons. That can only benefit Marois and her real agenda of Quebec separatism if she survives a 2014 general election.

The economy will remain tepid forcing low interest rates to continue and more personal debt to mount thus building towards a Great Credit Reckoning and low investment returns for seniors protecting their retirements. Middle class safety nets will be further eroded giving Liberals a chance for resurgence.  

Youth with good educations and large educational debt loads will become more and more cynical as their job and career prospects remain doubtful. Corporations with cash will continue to hold back on investment due to medium and long term uncertainty. Canada will remain an ecological laughing stock and the pendulum that has swung to the right on these issues will only then begin to return to the centre. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s experiment will begin to unravel in a climate of discontent with the right and his time in office. Pipelines to the USA will be thwarted by a dysfunctional US Congress. Opposition to moving tar sands crude to Montreal refineries through 40 year old pipelines will encounter public resistance. The European free trade pact will take a lot longer. The details of this deal will slow its implementation and create domestic political blowback for the Harper Government just before 2015.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has now crossed swords with several scions of Bay Street. The economy is not yet robust enough to really experience a real round of right wing economics and government spending cuts. In addition, his own leadership in the Senate crisis is suspect. His secretive style of management may well be his undoing and he has yet to reform the Senate of Canada which has turned into a millstone around his neck. 

The only thing that can really save him at this point is to show clearly that he is the best of the current party leaders. He is already unleashing election style propaganda attacks on Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair. He has to now look competent and the Conservative Party may let him alone because they have no real replacement for him because cabinet ministers are  kept in the shade and under the tight control of the Prime Minister’s Office.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Social defiance at school is a mounting threat. It has a name: Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD).

Mediated lifestyles are self centred.

Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Enough already. It is mostly lack of parental leadership with their children. It could also be an outcome of networked high technologies.

by Tom Thorne

Today my daughter who teaches school told me about a new discovery. Apparently there are children in our schools who have Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) and they regularly defy teachers and other people in authority. When I hear this kind of thing my natural inclination is to roll my eyes heavenward seeking divine intervention.

These children refuse to do what they are told or even what they are asked to do. They practice continual disobedience, exhibit hostility, anger and stubborn behaviours on an ongoing basis. They rarely cooperate with others and are always outside the greater good required by the teacher to run a class.

Teachers are now faced with this type of child who have been designated by psychiatric professionals as having ODD. As a result they must be tolerated while their “disorder” is treated. This of course creates havoc for the teacher. 

When a child changes schools, often as a way to cope after they wear out their welcome at the first school, documentation rarely follows the same day as the new school registration. The teacher is given what appears to be a normal child who in fact is a social monster.

This means teachers often encounter an ODD child out of the blue. When teachers ask the new student if he or she would like to join the class an ODD kid will defy you with “I won’t join the class.” This of course makes for extra work for the teacher. Open defiance on a continual bases can undermine the class discipline and wear down the best and most patient teachers.

So why is ODD tolerated? It seems that psychology and psychiatry professionals define these disorders which are subsequently swallowed whole by parents and school administrations as gospel. These children with alleged ODD somehow have escaped social conditioning that used to come with family life.

Personally I believe that all the bulk of these categories of children’s behaviours such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and now ODD mostly fall under a category I have invented with the all encompassing acronym called SBS or Spoiled Brat Syndrome. In the case of ADD it would be hard to say there are no real cases but in the case of ODD I have serious misgivings that this is a real disorder.

Disorder for me is a strong word. It implies something is mentally wrong with these children and if we only understand it we can treat it pharmaceutically with  drug techniques like Ritalin.  

I believe that alleged disorders like ODD are more a social syndrome that has emerged out of the wiles of an Information Age where everything is named and categorized and the child individual is self made as a centre of their tiny immature personal universe.

ODD is for me evidence of a spoiled child. It is a child with too high expectations for themselves brought about too much information and consumer goods input into developing minds where the focus is on “me”. and not social good. ODD, when it surfaces is evidence of too much ego centred lifestyle where the child is constantly pandered to by adults with undeveloped leadership skills who can’t say no and mean it.

Some of these children may be the result of divorce or alcoholic homes but the bulk of them are victims of having too much, too soon. They have developed early into sociopaths rather than useful caring social beings. Many have information devices and games that take them inwards into themselves. They live in a world of screens and earphones that cut them off from social interaction. They have quickly learned that if they focus on themselves their parents will respond to keep them happy and content. They develop what I call Spoiled Brat Syndrome (SBS).

As SBS develops it can be very much ego centred. Parents pander and treat their kids like miniature adults asking them what they like and what they don’t like and even seek their children’s approval for their parental choices and even their own parenting. These children often develop negative social skills that are fully focused on their perceived immature personal needs. They learn little about the greater good of society or their family. They are truly incarnations of the Me Generation.

Of course they don’t have the knowledge or life experience to do anything but be me focused and so we see the development and manifestation of ODD behaviours in these children. There has always been kids who were like this, but the school system was such in the past that they could be disciplined by teachers and principals who had authority to act when they encountered anti-social behaviours.

Now that political correctness is so rampant in the schools to a point where these social monsters are tolerated as people who have a mental disorder but have the right to attend school no matter how disruptive they are. The schools and especially Board of Education bureaucracies are like some contemporary families, they pander to these alleged disorders and even by their actions make them more important in the eyes of ODD victims.

The tolerance of pupils exhibiting these strange disorders is simply not working at home or at school. I am the father of five children. All of our children were taught their limits and when they tried ego trips that affected the greater good of the family or school they were disciplined with firm but fair kindness that always emphasized positive socialization.

The difference was that our family was not completely surrounded continually with communication toys, access to the World Wide Web and devices that took them out of the social context and into themselves. Contemporary parents allow withdrawal from the family and human interaction as normal. Kids sit bunched up on a couch playing games, accessing the web in a world of ear phone induced private space.

When parents ask a child to come out of this world is met with derision and pleading. They moan and whine when they are told to close down their iPads and iPods and come to eat their supper. It is as if they are jolted back to the world of human interaction. In their eyes they are removed from a world of personalized control back into the interactive human world of family life which means dealing with all the grittiness of human interaction. Their mediated world has only feedback to them alone. It is the true but negative meaning of the term “personal computing”.

When they transport this mediated version of life to school they are forced to experience a world where they lose control of their mediated existence. Naturally they find this disjointing and the interaction with anything like a classroom of other humans can be seen in their eyes as a disaster. They then rebel and lash out with bouts of ODD. 

There is always a price for widespread adoptions of techniques by a culture. Very often the outcomes are positive but networked  high technology communications devices in the hands of immature minds may very well, in some cases, produce self centred sociopaths where personal needs always trump social needs. 

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Star Chamber politics are alive and well in Ottawa. Prime Minister Stephen Harper ensures more legal wrangles.

The Star Chamber at Westminster in an annotated print dated 1835.

The Senate of Canada now has a new use. Prime Minister Stephen Harper brings back Star Chamber proceedings. Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau are suspended without pay and left in limbo for the duration of this parliamentary session.

by Tom Thorne

Although the history of the origins of the Star Chamber in British parliamentary and legal history can be traced before the Tudor monarchy starting with Henry VII in 1485, it came into its own after that time until it was only abolished in 1640 when Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Act.

The concept behind the Star Chamber is that anyone brought before this group of Privy Councillors and Common Law judges knew that they were already considered  to be guilty and an enemy of the King and state. It had powers to take the high and mighty of the realm and parade them when they were deemed morally reprehensible but in no  clear violation of the law. That could include suspected treason when no proof could be found. In short you were always guilty and any attempt or at a defence was useless. Truth didn’t matter in Star Chamber proceedings.

The Star Chamber was arbitrary and used against opponents of the King. The actions this week of Senate of Canada has charged, tried, and suspended three Senators for unproven charges or with no clear knowledge of the facts of the three cases. In that sense it is the same as the Star Chamber where  prisoners could mount a written defence (in the case of the Senate that is in Hansard) and they were subject no matter what they said to arbitrary decisions. That is how The Court of The Star Chamber operated.

The three senators are on the hot seat because they have run afoul of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s agenda to please the mysterious “base” of the Conservative Party. The Senate of Canada has been transformed into a Star Chamber where the Conservative majority in that place can easily find them guilty of “morally reprehensible acts” and suspend them. This is also close to Star Chamber powers. That court could imprison, pillory, take away offices but only maim those it found guilty. They did not have the power to put anyone to death. This “Star Chamber” can only ruin reputations.

Now we don’t live in the 17th Century and we do still observe the rule of law in Canada as Pamela Wallin stated as she left Senate Chamber after the vote to suspend her. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been in the case of the three senators clearly been breached. This can only give rise to a legal challenge to overturn their suspensions. In the limbo created by the Senate’s actions yesterday they are still senators in name only with health and insurance benefits. Their suspension can only last until the next election call in 2015 but their terms as senators remain in effect until they are 75.

This means that their senate seats cannot be filled with new senators which also means that the provinces they represent are without Senate representation. That may be unconstitutional because senators are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Can the Senate suspend senators without the Governor General’s approval? 

Their work this week to take the vote for suspension may be challenged as a breach of the Constitution of Canada. Can a senator be held for almost two years without pay be legal especially when they have a partial coverage of health and insurance which makes them in receipt of a consideration and therefore creates an ongoing common law contract with all three. In short, suspension may be moot if they are still on the books receiving any consideration. Does their suspension mean they cannot work for the Senate in any way?

A test would be for all three to turn up for Senate business. If they are denied entry to the Senate Chamber or to committee meetings they could argue that such arbitrary punishment goes against their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to a fair and impartial trial. There has been no due process. It is all innuendo and it certainly is slander if it affects their ability to make a living during the suspension.

They should cite the removal of the Star Chamber in 1640 as precedent in British and Canadian Parliamentary practice to remove arbitrary state sanctioned show trials and the institution of innocent until proved guilty as a first principle for all citizens. Senators cannot be subject to different laws than any other Canadian. 

I see a lot of legal wrangling arising from this vote. This suspension does not clear the Prime Minister or his office from their involvement in Duffy’s Nigel Wright episode. The fact that the RCMP continues to examine these cases and the work of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in this sad affair, ensures that we have not heard the end of this story. 

If the RCMP for any reason can not lay any charges against any of the suspended senators does that mean they are immediately reinstated? Also there may be a Constitutional law challenge mounted by the three senators and the Provinces they represent  now that they are denied Senate representation.

What this all says about the current Harper Government style and way of doing things is also now front and centre. Clearly the controlling management model of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his PMO is not working. Clearly Nigel Wright is  on the verge of going public or into the courts if his reputation is sullied anymore by the Prime Minister.

After the Calgary Conservative Policy Convention it may now be time to examine the record of Stephen Harper at the helm of this country in a new critical light. He cannot distance himself from this situation because he chose all three of these senators and those who work at senior levels in the PMO. He chose the people working in the PMO and he chose to play hard ball with the Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau Senate suspensions that may create a further deeper and more profound legal challenges.

Finally, Senators and members of The House of Commons must all be asking themselves what it means to come into conflict with the Harper agenda and his PMO. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has offended many conservatives who have a high opinion of for former PMO chief Nigel Wright. They may keep their political knives sharp if  the Prime Minister is ever found to be more deeply involved in this scandal than we know at this time.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Life when the cell networks and the internet are down.

Embarking on a life of high technology networking.

Cyber-incommunicado: Your life stands still in the Information Age only when the networks are down.

by Tom Thorne

Have you ever noticed contemporary cell phone behaviours when their instruments will not function?  Users who cannot get access for one reason or another feel cut off from life and happiness. They are off the net. They are incommunicado and they are very often stressed by this experience.

The stress of these moments is very telling. It is especially true of younger people who have never known a world that was not in some way tied into a network. When their phones go down they stress, fuss and expect to be on to talk, text or access web sites. They also seem to have little understanding of the technical infrastructure than enables them to connect. There is a bald acceptance that it is always there.

Yesterday the electricity was down at the home of my daughter and all of her three children wondered when it would be up again so they could resume their network connections. One of them wanted to research an essay for school. After dinner we took her home with us so she could do her work. During to the electrical blackout I was more concerned that we wouldn’t be able to warm up the pizza.

Failure of the networks they subscribe to is a major interruption to their convenience. They take for granted access to sophisticated networks that always work. It is their normal to be always connected. 

I study my own children, their husbands and wives and my grand children who live in this this world of instant communication. Older septuagenarian geriatrics like me are always under their tutelage to get the best phone plan, learn to text and use cell phone features that frankly I find mesmerizing.

All the grandchildren in our family have their own cell phones or web enabled iPods. They live a networked world and many have Facebook and Twitter accounts to tell every detail of their lives and post pictures to illustrate each moment.  They are all media celebrities and who knows when one of them may go “viral”.

All have web access through laptops,  pads of all kinds , iPods and their own cell phones. Each family has a mini cell phone network set up to retrieve kids from school, hockey, scouts or sleepovers. It is all so normal. It is life and living today. And when they are home and even in public spaces they all live in a wifi world. When they visit they ask if I have changed the password.

I am of course amused at their cell phone and web use which is now a “need” rather than a “want”. I get a great delight in teasing them. It’s my Scottish heritage and it is still alive and well in this brave new world. The other day for example I asked family members with Apple phones whether they have updated their iPads and iPhones to OS7 like I did for my iPad. 

They were surprised I even knew about OS7. I asked to let me see their phone and discovered the one I was looking at needed a further upgrade to 7.0.3 to really be up to speed. I stated that if “you are really up to speed you get a large white Apple logo at startup, your phone gets the old split silver Apple logo. Clear evidence that you are not upgraded and current.”  Better plug it in and download immediately I advised. That was too much fun especially done with a straight face. 

Of course it is of major sociological consequence that all this is happening. It is all taken for granted by most users. However to be an input output node on this almost endless worldwide network of cell, web and satellite connections is a profound social change. As a result to be cut off or suspended by a bout of cyber-incommunicado is an anathema to many users. 

I wonder whether users really understand the unseen infrastructure that is below the waterline that makes the internet and cell networks they use constantly work. Of course the expectation is that this vast system will be there 24/7 so you can play with your Facebook page posting trivial inanities. 

Generally I find the social media impoverished of wit and wisdom. It has all become a frivolous Information Age mindless tabloid. When people post pictures I try to caption them so we can raise the entertainment and content value of this new medium.

As the Information Age deepens its grasp on society it is tiresome when grandparents try to have a normal talk with grandchildren. First you have to get them to remove the earphones, stop the game they are playing with two or three remote players, or ask them to suspend texting with two thumbs a feat  my aging arthritic thumbs cannot aspire to master. They are focused on the moment. You feel that you need to dose their lunch with Ritalin to get their full attention.

Conversations are now text messages written in their pithy illiterate style. The English language is turning into what I consider to be an illiterate shorthand. The preteens and teenagers I know have mastered this new lingo and it may be the start of an entirely new version of English. This texting lingo is even more disturbing for the future of English than the current Scrabble Dictionary.  This volume brought English words that are acceptable to Scrabble culture to a new low. Imagine a texting dictionary when it appears built into new editions of cell phone software. 

So when the networks are down and the texting thumbs get a rest, what goes on in those brains of people raised on the networked world they think is so normal?  First they are sombre and disappointed. Then an adrenalin rush occurs that focuses on stimulating what they consider to be their natural entitlements to the fruits of a high technology society. 

This phase is followed quickly by a deep longing and a new mental ailment I call cyber-incommunicado syndrome. Victims go through a type of grief that can only be fixed when the networks come back up and they can log on again. 

A restored network for a user is like a drug induced high as endorphins are released creating a sense of well being and joy. One can only say that  networking in the Information Age provides further evidence that the medium is truly the message. You are your techniques.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved