While there has been a lot of focus on the Chuck Cadman story lately, and rightly so, it's also worth noting a number of other stories swirling around Parliament Hill and environs that also don't bode well for the Harper Conservatives
*After initially refusing to confirm his attendance or return committee phone calls, Harper's deputy press secretary Dimitri Soudas did appear before the ethics committee last week to answer questions about his potential involvement with a Conservative fundraiser, a developer in a legal dispute with the government, and other lobbying-related issues.
You'll recall it was questioning on the Soudas affair that bizarely caused Stephen Harper to falsely accuse opposition MPs of making ethnicity-based attacks, accusing them of only persuing the issue because some of those involved happened to be Greek.
In the committee we heard that Soudas came to a dinner meeting with his friend, CPC fundraiser Leo Housakos, and representatives of a company called Alenia North America, which wanted to sell search-and-rescue helicopters to the government:
Alenia said in a statement yesterday that it was looking for a communications firm when it met with Mr. Housakos and Mr. Soudas.
"At a dinner meeting with Mr. Housakos, where he was hoping to secure our business, he surprised us by introducing us to Mr. Soudas. We had absolutely no prior notice that Mr. Soudas would be joining us at the dinner," Alenia said in a statement.
I guess Alenia wasn't suitably impressed that Housakos was able to have a senior staffer from the Prime Minister's Office just happen to pop by their dinner meeting, as they didn't hire Soudas' buddy and went with another communications firm instead.
We also heard more about his intervention in the legal dispute between the government and a politically-connected developer whose potential support would be beneficial to Conservative prospects in Quebec:
On another front, the committee heard that Mr. Soudas intervened more than once in a legal dispute between Ottawa and real estate firm Rosdev Group in 2006. The committee heard that Mr. Soudas and another PMO official organized three meetings with Conservative officials and bureaucrats on the issue, and that Mr. Soudas once called Public Works Minister Michael Fortier directly.
Opposition MPs said the evidence leads them to believe that Mr. Soudas was attempting to win the political support of the Rosdev Group and its influential president, Michael Rosenberg. Mr. Rosenberg, a prominent member of Montreal's Hassidic community, told MPs he is part of a community group that often endorses political candidates in elections.
Liberal MP Mark Holland said that MPs are "left wondering if this is not, 'Scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' "
*Then there's John Baird, CPC environment minister, whose intervention in the Ottawa light rail project in the middle of the Ottawa mayoralty campaign was looked into by the HoC committee on government operations last week. The LRT project was a major issue in the municipal election and as treasury board president at the time Baird, who represents an Ottawa-area riding, in the middle of the election put the government's $200 million contribution to the project on hold unless the next council signed-off, even though the deal was done and had been approved by the previous council.
The intervention was an unexpected bombshell and was damaging for pro-LRT candidates, including Liberal connected Mayor Bob Chiarelli, and a surprise victory followed for anti-LRT mayoral candidate, well-connected conservative Larry O'Brien.
And if O'Brien's name sounds familiar, it should. The Ottawa mayor will be facing criminal charges related to the alleged bribery of one his opponents in that election. He has a court date in April for a scheduled nine-week trial:
While running for mayor, O'Brien is alleged to have offered to help his opponent, Terry Kilrea, get a job on the National Parole Board if Kilrea pulled out of the election race.
After an eight month Ontario Provincial Police investigation, O'Brien was charged with pretending to have influence with the Government of Canada or with a minister of the government, contrary to Sec. 121 of the Criminal Code.
O'Brien was also charged with negotiating an appointment, influencing or negotiating appointments or dealing in offices, contrary to Sec. 125 of the Criminal Code.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
The trial should prove interesting indeed, and John Baird's name has come up here too:
In his affidavit sworn out on Dec. 20, 2006, Kilrea alleges he was offered the parole board job during a meeting last summer with O'Brien at a coffee shop.
"At approximately 2 p.m. later that day (July 5, 2006), O'Brien called to advise that my name had been put forward for an appointment to the National Parole Board,'' says the affidavit.
"When I asked how this was possible, he responded that he had spoken to John Reynolds. He then instructed me to call John Baird, President of the Treasury Board, and to tell him that my name 'was in the queue' for an appointment to the board.'"
Kilrea says when he e-mailed Baird, the minsiter said he knew nothing about an appointment, and while Reynolds, the co-chair of the last CPC election campaign, admitted he's a close friend of O'Brien, he said he knows nothing about this and wasn't involved.
But back to the LRT intervention in the mayoralty race, and the committee hearings. We heard from a that Baird took an unusual interest in the file and indeed, the senior bureaucrat at Treasury Board said he never even saw the Ottawa LRT contract because Baird handled it personally.
It also appears Baird may have gone beyond the scope of Treasury Board's role:
Mr. Baird said at the time that he was intervening to make sure taxpayers were getting proper value for money: the project's price had risen to $900 million, from $600 million when it was first proposed.
Wayne Wouters, who is the most senior bureaucrat at Treasury Board, declined to provide information about how his department made its decisions, saying that such information is a cabinet confidence. But he said that it isn't Treasury Board's job to assess the cost-benefit of such a project.
*It seems Charles McVety has kissed and made up with the Stephen Harper government, Ok, well maybe not kissed. But you'll recall that not that ling ago McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, was very upset with the Harper government for not overturning same sex marriage:
Mr. McVety said the defection of people who have opposed same-sex marriage in the past will not send a good message about the Conservative Party or democracy.
“People feel they have no option, they have five anti-marriage parties and no reason to vote. They get disenchanted and they stay home,” he said.
But from being on the edge of washing his hands of the Conservative Party, McVety is now taking credit for convincing the government to deny tax credits to film productions his followers find objectiobnable:
Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, said his lobbying efforts included discussions with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, and "numerous" meetings with officials in the Prime Minister's Office.
"We're thankful that someone's finally listening," he said yesterday. "It's fitting with conservative values, and I think that's why Canadians voted for a Conservative government."
Mr. McVety said films promoting homosexuality, graphic sex or violence should not receive tax dollars, and backbench Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers support his campaign.
Sure. it's not a ban on same-sex marriage, but still its some red meat for the social-conservative, so-called values wing of the CPC feeling soemwhat abandoned by the Harper government, and important to the CPC as they try to shore-up their far-right flank just in case the Liberals ever decide the time is right for an election.
For more on the guy that claims to now be setting government culture policy visit Red Tory.
*In its never-ending game of substituting democracy and governing for a game of political chicken, after being shot-down in court over its attempt gut the Canadian Wheat Board the Harper government is planning to bring in enabling legislation and is mulling making it a confidence vote:
Proposed legislation to end the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on western barley sales could be a confidence motion, Canada's agriculture minister suggested Friday after a heated rally in Regina.
Gerry Ritz said the bill will be introduced in Parliament on Monday and the federal government is looking at all options to get it passed.
"If it takes a confidence motion we'll go there," he said.
All three opposition parties have pledged to fight the Conservatives on this. Will the Liberals back down if its made a confidence matter? Bob Rae could not be reached for comment.
*Finally, last week Brian Mulroney also thumbed his nose at the parliamentary ethics committee:
Brian Mulroney says he won’t come back to face further questioning at the House of Commons ethics committee on his business dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber.
A terse posting Tuesday on Mulroney’s website said his lawyer, Guy Pratte, has informed the committee that the former Conservative prime minister is “declining” a request for him to appear later this week.
Yes, this is a former Prime Minsiter of Canada, a member of the Privy Council, esentially saying bite-me to a committee of parliament. He has also changed his mind on the need for a public inquiry, complaining of a “jihad” against him. Classy.
Still, the committee decided to call it a day and recommend the Harper government immediately make good on its promise to call a public inquiry into the affair. However, it appears Harper is dragging his feet:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is looking for excuses to renege on his promise to call a public inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, opposition MPs charged Friday.
Liberals and New Democrats levelled the accusation after the government refused to launch the promised inquiry until the House of Commons ethics committee tables its own report on the affair.
The committee has tabled an interim report, but the Conservatives are insisting on waiting for the final report. And, perhaps, until they can find an excuse to back-out of their promise to call an inquiry. CP makes note of the timing and historical paralells:
The government's refusal to expedite the launch of a public inquiry came one day after Brian Mulroney's lawyer said there is no need for a public probe into the former Conservative prime minister's private financial dealings with arms lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber.
Mulroney originally called for an inquiry late last year, prompting Harper, who had initially rejected calls for an inquiry, to reverse himself.
Is Harper again preparing to do an about-face and once again march to Brian Mulroney's drummer on this matter? It's hard not to wonder.
Szabo said the government's refusal to quickly get on with an inquiry suggests Harper may be having second thoughts.-----
"It would appear that there is some back-pedalling on this matter," Szabo said.
Pat Martin, an NDP member of the ethics committee, said the government is using the committee as "an excuse to delay and stall."
"I think probably the Conservatives are looking for any excuse to avoid a public inquiry at all," said Martin.
"Every day that we deal with the malfeasance associated with the Mulroney administration, it hurts the Harper administration. That's an unavoidable fact.
And yet still we allow this government to continue to govern. It boggles the mind.
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