Monday, December 29, 2008
CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE
It is now into the third week of the mysterious disappearance of Robert Fowler, a former Canadian Ambassador to the United-Nations and former Deputy-Minister of Defence, and Louis Guay a career diplomat with extensive experience in Africa, including former Ambassador to Gabon, along with their United-Nations driver near the Niger capital of Niamey.
The self-imposed Canadian media black-out encouraged, if not mandated, by the Canadian Government speaks volumes about deep rooted confusion about who is the "boss" at our Department of Foreign Affairs. A Ministry which is still recovering from the incompetence of Prime Minister Harper's first term "bosses": Peter MacKay followed by the even more hopeless Maxime Bernier.
The kidnappings of Canadians Robert Fowler and of Louis Guay in Niger is the..."sort of case best handled between the two Capitals (Ottawa & Niamey);" according to a Foreign Affairs expert speaking under the cover of anonymity. The statement however begs the question about the involvement, or lack thereof, of the United-Nations. The U.N. has several times confirmed that Robert Fowler was an emissary of the Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon and that he was on..."an official trip to Niger"; which contradicts Niger's version that Ambassador Fowler was on a private visit.
Of course at the center of the problem is the Tuareg Region's "Niger Movement For Justice", a rebellious group which wants to control the area's world largest deposits of Uranium. For some yet unexplained reason this appears of concern to the U.N's Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, while Niger's President, Mamadou Tandja, says it is a problem internal to Niger and the U.N. should mind its own business. And, right in the middle of it all walk-in Mr(s) Fowler and Guay.
At least two Canadian exploration companies have mining operations in this volatile region of the Sahara. When Mr. Fowler and Mr. Guay were last seen, they were returning from a December 14th visit to one of those sites. Mr. Fowler is reported to have told Canadian engineers working at the mine that he wanted to visit..."a Canadian success story in Africa." Their United-Nations' vehicle was subsequently found abandoned near the River Niger ferry crossing heading into Niamey. The "Niger Movement For Justice" first claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. Then, within hours, denied its own claim. At the very least it appears that whomever arranged the kidnappings knew Mr. Fowler's plans or itinerary on December 14th.
In spite of the Canadian media's un-defensible, un-explained, self-imposed "cone of silence" into this matter, every conceivable effort to get to the truth and secure the Diplomats' release has been stymied. As such, our news media may be complicit in a political conspiracy of silence to cover-up a "showdown of will" between the Secretary-General of the United-Nations, Ban Ki Moon, and the President of Niger, Mamadou Tandja, in which two un-suspecting Canadians have been played as pawns.
There may be silence in Canada. There is growing speculation elsewhere that, as Niger has implied, the un-invited Mr. Fowler was sent to meddle in a matter President Tandja considers none of the U.N.'s business. And, that the nefarious kidnappings were hatched in high political circles to teach Ban Ki Moon a lesson of international diplomatic embarrassment that he will not soon forget.
The question for Canada's so far apparently complicit media is: At what cost?
Labels: Foreign Affairs
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
IS THAT ALL THERE IS?
In yet another grossly glaring example of sacrificing fundamental principles for the politically expedient; Prime Minister Harper again flip-flopped on his own course of action...The one he vowed to uphold when he introduced his "New" Government, ad nauseum, back in the late winter and spring of 2006.
Government shills and mouthpieces may have all the media lines, talking points, and reasoning they choose to defend this most recent example of failed policy. But, as Calgary "Sun" columnist Ray Clancey observed succinctly, borrowing a page from George W. Bush: "You can put lipstick on a pig - but it's still a pig."
Canada's Upper House, the Senate, mirrors the British House of Lords which draws from tradition dating all the way back to the "Magna Carta" signed in the 13th Century. Members of the House of Lords are drawn from the British social and economic elite. When he was asked back in 1867, our first Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, himself a Conservative, described the Canadian equivalent as a "House of Sober Second Thought".
I was born, raised and educated in New Brunswick secured in the belief that the 105 Members of our Upper House were indeed Canadian elite: Desirous and capable of, anxious to practice, thoughtfully intentioned insight into my beloved country's well being. Surely they had attained a plateau of knowledge, accomplishement and experience that I could only ever aspire to reach.
If only this were true. Over a 40 year career, I have been acquainted with and have had professional relationships with four current members of Canada's Senate. Two of those have been colleagues in journalism. Political patronage aside; the plateau from which they render judgement on we mortals is an illusion. A creaky, shaky, unsteady soapbox mounted on long ago ignored political platforms, ideologies, and principles from the Liberal and the Conservative Parties. Not a plateau at all, but a trough from which feed has-beens, wannabees and those incapable of being fairly elected. What a sham! What a shame on us for being played along.
I hope that the ethics and principles of my 35 years (plus) career in journalism would prevent me from accepting the appointment...but I pray never to be tested with an offer. As Peggy Lee sang back in 1969..."If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing, let's break-out the booze and have a ball, If that's all there is."
Labels: Canadian Politics
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Over the course of the next several hours he will most likely take time-off to award Christmas sinecures to 18 Tory supporters, bag men and backroom hokes in the country's biggest ever Senate packing excercise.
My gosh! All this in the same week that CTV announces it was shelving "Canadian Idol", and sidelining Ben Mulroney due to the crash of the economy. Can it get any worse? How times have changed.
Does anyone still remember the "five-point" plan? Harking back if you will to the Disneyland like atmosphere of the 2006 Federal Election. The one that elevated the Harper Tories to Government. Actually it was on November 29, 2005 - Day one of the election campaign: "Time for change; End to corruption; A brighter future." A promise a day nationwide tour in that pre-Christmas period 3 years ago. Cuts to the GST, shorter health-care wait times, a tough on crimes agenda, Senate reform, set four year Federal election terms: "stand-up for Canada."
However by the spring of 2008 once the elements of the five-point plan, minus Senate reform, were enacted by a Parliament the Mr. Harper later described as "dysfunctional"; the Tory chuck-wagon seemingly stalled. Despite, perhaps in-spite of, the Prime-Minister's best efforts to trip the Government's defeat. He was eventually forced to turn back on the spirit of his own election reforms and ask the Governor-General for the October 14th election. A signpost perhaps that Mr. Harper was prepared to sacrifice fundamental principles at the slightest pretext.
In the 2008 election that no-one wanted, Canadians sent the Conservatives a clear message. Despite a broken-down, bankrupt, and virtually leaderless Liberal Party...well, certainly the worse Liberal leader in decades... the Harper forces managed only to salvage another minority government. Conditioned as we are to accept obfuscation of the truth by the people we elect: Canadians bought into the scam. Read my lips! No-recession, No-Deficit, brighter times ahead..."Imagineers" they call them at Disneyland.
It was just about the time that Finance Department officials, mandarins and bureaucrats scattered in every which direction to distance themselves from the November "Financial Update" written in the PMO; that the country's sad reality finally sunk-in.
The playful coalition of "dink, dork and dingus" forced the Minister of Finance to back-off, whilst the Prime Minister scurried-on once more to the Governor General to save his Government's sorry "Bee-Hind". I don't know if it's in the holy water the Jesuit educated Jim Flaherty drinks...but pretty much any other Minister of Finance would have "walked the plank" over the total repudiation of his own economic plan.
The hawks are now forced to watch in disbelief as one of their own is about to plunge the country into a $30 billion (plus) deficit for the first time in a dozen years, a deficit which may extend well into the next decade. The Tory sympathizers who are about to elevate to the Red Chamber of Parliament in their Senate sinecures should remember that for the rest of us, the acrid smell of bitterness is what will be left behind as they walk by.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
FOWLER'S SECRET MISSION TO NIGER
It is almost as if the Government of Canada and the other agencies in the negotiations for the release of the Canadian Diplomat and former Deputy-Minister of Defence have borrowed a page from the events surrounding the news blackout during the capture of CBC Journalist, Melissa Fung, in Afghanistan in October...And in this Fowler case, the Canadian Media is complicit as well.
What we know so far is that the Diplomat, Robert Fowler, Canadian Embassy Official, Louis Guay, and their driver have been held captive by opposition warring rebels in the African country of Niger since last Sunday. Today's edition of the "National Post" claims that officials in Niger say the Canadian emissaries ignored protocol for visiting diplomats whilst on the mission. And: The Canadian Government is being tight-lipped over reports in the "Toronto Star" that Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has made little, if any, headway into attempts to resolve the abductions in contacts with his Niger counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister, Aichatou Mindaoudou.
Of course the mystery about which no one has so far fessed-up is: What the heck was Robert Fowler doing in Niger, apparently as a United-Nations envoy in the first place?
Here is some insight: Although Canada's former Deputy-Minister of Defence and career diplomat, Robert Fowler, was appointed a Special Envoy to the United Nations' Secretary-General last summer, it seems completely out of character for the U.N. that it never announced his appointment. The financing for his obviously clandestine, if not secretive, mission to Niger was tucked within a routine United-Nations budget document last month....$390,700.
"Inner City Press" an Internet based investigative reporting agency based in New York City implies that Mr. Fowler is an agent sent personally on a "clandestine mission" by the Secretary-General of the United-Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, to visit the Samara Hill Gold Mining operations in Niger. Samara Hill Gold Mines is owned by Etruscan Resources of Halifax. Another partner in the mining operations is Samafo Resources of St. Laurent, Quebec. Samafo also mines uranium deposits in the rebel contested Tuareg Region of the African nation.
The New York based investigative reporters have so far failed to get the United Nations to explain what is going on. The "cone of silence" is obviously firmly in place both in "official" Ottawa as well as at the United Nations. I remain hopeful that Mr. Fowler, Mr. Guay, and their driver will be released without harm. But, there is a distinct odor of nefarious intrigue, diplomatic embarrassment, perhaps even international scandal about this matter which demands a thorough investigation once our diplomats are back safe on Canadian soil. In its exclusive reporting on this matter, "Inner City Press" notes that there are conflicting reports over Bob Fowler's exact mission...but the report claims among other things that the Government of Niger has been purchasing weapons from Canada. Over recent years there have been clashes and skirmishes with the rebels of the country's Tuareg region.
Labels: Foreign Affairs
Monday, December 15, 2008
Here at home there is the usual sadness and a certain palpable degree of anger over the mounting toll of Canadian military casualties in the Afghanistan conflict. It is a sorry mess created for the political gratification of both of Canada's major national parties. The Liberals, under Jean Chretien and subsequently Paul Martin, for engaging the country into this futile effort in order to avoid committing to Mr. Bush's "Iraq Coalition of the Willing" back in 2003...and the hawkish Stephen Harper Conservatives for both accelerating and extending the commitment until February of 2011.
There are several ways to measure Canada's costs: All bad. None more demonstrative than the sad murder of 6 Canadian troop in just the past week. Three based at CFB Petawawa, and three at CFB Gagetown. In the process Canada has also lost, or abandoned, its historic, iconic and venerable role as the world's Peace Keeper. A sacred mission we cherished from the day Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for developing the notion of peace keeping more than 50 years ago. And, if Canada's government was brought to its knees in the past two weeks over plans to slash just $30-million from the coffers of our National political parties...Imagine the billions saved if we weren't fighting and losing an un-winnable war clear on the other side of the planet.
Last week when the current, and soon to transfer to the Obama Administration, American Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, invited NATO International Security Assistance Force members to remain long-term in Afghanistan: Refreshingly, The Prime Minister appeared steadfast in Canada's withdrawal by early 2011. Cynics might argue that the recent battle scars from the fallout of the October 14th Federal election are just too fresh for Mr. Harper to say otherwise...still it is "his" commitment. One of which he will surely frequently be reminded in the future by the families of Canada's Afghan victims, Canadians in general, and hopefully our elected politicians of all stripes.
Although the killing fields of Afghanistan are 12,000 miles away, and the political skirmishes of recent days in Ottawa have shone the spotlight away from this commitment of our military; clearly Canadians are battle weary and fatigued. The multiplying convoys of hearses along the "Highway of Heroes" in southeastern Ontario is a far too frequent poignant reminder of the price we have paid, and that we continue paying.
Because President Bush and his administration saw fit to engage in a quarrel over Iraq's massive oil reserves, and finish in 2003 the unfinished 1991 battle over Sadam Hussein's Baghdad; the resurgent war of terror from Muslim ideologues, demagogues, and extremists wages on in the barren Afghan mountains, valleys, and scorpion infested poppy fields and desserts. I think we've had enough...Mission accomplished!
Labels: Afghan War
Saturday, December 13, 2008
AU REVOIR M. DION
Confused you say? Finance Minister, Paul Martin, and his boss, the Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, were at odds virtually from the beginning of their relationship in the Liberal Party and in the Parliament of Canada. Chretien, "le p'tit gars de Shawinigan", felt both inferior to, and challenged by Martin, the multi-millionaire President of Canada Steamship Lines who's father had been a star Cabinet Minister for Lester B. Pearson and pretender to the Party's leadership throne until the upstart, Pierre Trudeau left him dangling in the wind. There's a lot of history there, all of it political. In politics things frequently get dirty.
Jean Chretien has never forgiven Paul Martin for engineering his Prime Ministerial demise and subsequently launching the Gomery Inquiry into the Quebec sponsorship scandal as a post script to his legacy. Chretien paid Martin back in kind when his appointee, RCMP Commissioner, the imperial Giuliano Zaccardelli, issued a December 28, 2005 News Release confirming that the National Police Force was targeting Liberal Party insiders for illegal stock market transactions in the government's Income Trust debacle. Paul Martin's Liberals, leading in the midst of a snap election, lost nearly 20% of public support virtually overnight and handed victory to Stephen Harper's Conservatives on January 23, 2006. Game set and match! To close the loop permanently...Harper dumped Zaccardelli less than a year later over his mishandling of the Maher Arar Affair...I digress.
Thus at the November 2006 Liberal Party Convention in Montreal, Liberals in the Chretien camp of old anointed their front runner candidate, the former Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae, whilst the Paul Martin camp trotted-out their star candidate, Michael Ignatieff. More than two years later most can't still quite figure out just how the Toronto based candidate, Gerard Kennedy, was made to withdraw and throw his support behind Stephane Dion...It matters not. That too is politics and Dion who had avoided being drawn directly into the Chretien/Martin squabbles during his 10 year tenure in the House of Commons became the compromise, some might now say "compromised" Leader of the Party. The fog of your confusion is now lifted, right?
I am unclear as to why people choose to enter Party politics. There are probably as many reasons as there are politicians. However I will take the high road and presume that in most there is an element, a flicker perhaps, of service to the country and to their fellow citizens. In 1996, stung by the near break-up of the country in the 1995 Referendum, Jean Chretien asked Stephane Dion, a brilliant federalist academic to join his Cabinet. Another member of academia, Pierre Pettigrew, also joined the Liberal Cabinet on the same day. As Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Dion rose to prominence...dubbed "Captain Canada" for handling the "Clarity Act" through a tumultuous Parliament. Unlike many others, the aforementioned Pettigrew included, Dion successfully transitioned to the "Martinites" championing the "Green Mantle" of the burgeoning environmental movement which climaxed with the adoption of the Kyoto Accord.
Sadly nothing in the ten years he had spent in Cabinet could have prepared Stephane Dion for the unrelenting, cruel, aggressive and downright nasty campaign against his leadership mounted by Stephen Harper's Conservatives under the banner "Stephanne Dion is no Leader!"...from the very start of his tenure at the helm of the Liberals. Eventually pretty much everyone bought into the salacious, acrimonious, reputation crushing campaign and it has now become a self full filling prophecy. Since the Federal Election of October 14Th, successive developments and events, many of them of historic proportion have catapulted Mr. Dion out of the limelight. And; in a triumph of will, Michael Ignatieff has crushed Bob Rae's leadership aspirations...Advantage "Martinites"!
Stephane Dion's reputation as a political leader is undeservedly tattered. The country is still buffeted by economic and market forces from afar. The future of our Government, as we know it, is undetermined beyond the January 27Th Federal Budget.
Author Paul Wells' conclusion to the 2006 book: "Right Side Up", bears paraphrasing: "All I know is what Stockwell Day, Joe Clark, Bellinda Stronach, Peter MacKay, Paul Martin...Stephane Dion...have had to learn at their own expense: That you underestimate Stephen Harper at your peril!"
Saturday, December 6, 2008
The constitutional crisis which gripped the country a mere two weeks after the resumption of Parliament engaged Canadians substantially more than any of the elements leading to the October 14th, Federal Election. But, after that election I think just about every Canadian wanted their officials and their Parliament to concentrate on measures to cure our economic ills rather than devolve into the... dare I say it? Three-ring circus which brought the Harper Government to its knees.
Down here in the American deep south, supporters of the conservative religious right hail their ideology with a bumper-sticker captioned: WWJD - "What Would Jesus Do?". After Thursday's determination by the Governor-General to allow the House session to prorogue until January 26, it is pointless to speculate. Still though students of Political Science may one day ask: WWAD? - "What would Adrienne (have) done?" I am of a mind to assume that the very high-profile, politically savvy former Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson, might have been far less secretive about the process, deliberations, consultations, the politics involved in making such a historic, precedent setting decision.
There were no winners in the Parliamentary and Constitutional imbroglio that gripped Canada during the recent ten day period. The country lost because our politicians dropped the ball over the economic crisis. Until the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, tabled his ill-conceived economic update on November 27th; Prime-Minister Stephen Harper was said to have a "handle" on politics...but it broke! The success of the hastily conceived coalition of the willing to bring down the government may have helped tear the Liberal Party apart and hastened the planned departure of its Leader, Stephane Dion. Okay, that may be a weak plus.
Word in Ottawa is that although it was dithering in the Leader's office which caused the "Keystone Kops" like comedy of errors over Dion's reply to the Prime Minister's speech on Wednesday...it is veteran Liberal Party videographer, Mick Gzowski, who will walk the plank. Prompting a party insider to suggest of the Leader and his entourage: "I am a fucking Liberal, and I don't think they're competent enough to run the Government."
The New Democrats came as close to power before week's end as they ever will. It is rumoured that it's been for some time the former Leader Ed Broadbent's vision to form a ruling coalition with the Liberals. Mr. Broadbent was intimately involved in the negotiations which resulted in Monday's historic agreement between the Liberals and the NDP with the support of the Bloc Quebecois. Word now is that the former New Democrat Premier of Ontario, Bob Rae, a front runner to replace Stephane Dion as Liberal Leader, is embarking on a pre-Christmas mission to shore-up the coalition and enhance his effort to grab the helm of the Liberals.
Students of obscure Parliamentary history may note that Mr. Rae may be the only Member of the House of Commons with direct hands-on experience over toppling a minority Federal government. Back in the fall of 1979 when the 6 members of the Quebec based "Creditiste" (Social-Credit) Party withdrew their support of Prime Minister Joe Clark's minority Progressive-Conservative Government: It was a young first term New Democrat MP, you guessed it, Bob Rae; who tabled the motion of Non-Confidence that toppled Joe Clark and led to the return of Pierre Trudeau as P.M. in 1980.
Doubtless the current New Democratic Members of the House of Commons, including the current Leader, Jack Layton, would like nothing better than to topple the Harper Government after the January Federal Budget with one of theirs, and possibly the "new" Liberal Leader, as Prime-Minister in waiting.
NOTE FROM BILL: I'll be taking a few days away from the "blog". This is your opportunity to catch-up on previous missed posts. Or to access some of the interactive elements in the left-hand column of this page...including the daily Ottawa news updates and the live webcam feeds from Parliament Hill and the War Memorial.
Labels: Crisis of Confidence
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Until just recently one of Mr. Harper's key staff strategists, and still a main political advisor is Tom Flanagan, an American born social conservative and professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary. As both men are well educated, well advised, and well informed; it should have been clear that the resounding defeat of the Republican Party ideology in the fall U.S. Presidential election sent a clear message to the North American neo-social conservative movement that its agenda had suffered a near fatal blow.
Ever more so, unlike the American Presidential system, Canada's Parliamentary democracy, requires that the ruling government retain the "confidence" of the House of Commons in order to retain power. Including tonight's brief five minute address to the nation, Mr. Harper, seems still to be missing the key message. Confidence is lost. The Liberals and the New Democratic Party are not going to back away from Monday's historic coalition agreement which includes an offer to govern the country should the Government be defeated in the House of Commons...not just next week, but even if the Prime Minister is successful in delaying the now apparent obvious until the late January Federal budget.
In the speech to the nation Mr. Harper appeared to extend an olive branch of some sort, suggesting an open desire to consult with the opposition parties. But at this point in time the only party which may still have anything to gain from consultations is the Bloc Quebecois. Essentially the party, Mr. Harper and his cabinet in the same breath, have been vilifying as Separatists bent on destroying the country, whilst blaming the Liberal/NDP coalition for making a "deal" with these very Devil incarnate.
Certainty is clear: The chance of this Parliament continuing to function on the basis of the results of the October 14th Federal election is over...for good! That is one of the issues the Governor-General, Michaelle Jean, must face as she wades into Constitutional uncharted waters which, from all appearances, are Shark infested.
Surely these are not matters which Mme Jean anticipated, nor perhaps even considered, when she accepted the heretofore mostly ceremonial role as Canada's Head Of State. As a child growing-up under the "Papa" Doc Duvalier regime in her native Haiti, she's probably witnessed attempted efforts to reform the system, or depending on your viewpoint, overthrowing the government. To the extent that her childhood experiences have prepared her for the difficult choices she may be making over the next several days, good for her.
At the conclusion of this Parliamentary imbroglio, as our nation's Head of State, the Constitution demands that she, the Governor-General, retain the confidence, support and goodwill of all Canadians regardless of whether we agree fully, or not, with the choices she is being forced to make and act upon.
Labels: Crisis of Confidence
Monday, December 1, 2008
FOR WHOM PARLIAMENT'S BELLS TOLL...
Whilst I understand the difficulties which would be involved in dumping early the legitimate leader of the Liberal Party, Stephane Dion, before his scheduled departure in May of next year. I must admit that I would be more comfortable if someone like Michael Ignatieff, perhaps even Bob Rae, had been the odds-on favourite to lead the new coalition government, as Prime Minister, should such be the case by Tuesday of next week.
Still though, I am buoyed by the prospect that a new government, headed by Mr. Dion, would appoint and subsequently presumably rely on the advice of an Economic Advisory Panel formed of seasoned personages including the former Prime Minister, Paul Martin, the former Deputy Prime-Minister, John Manley, former New Brunswick Premier, Frank McKenna, and former Saskatchewan Premier, Roy Romanow. Because while developments in Ottawa this week are unprecedented and of monumental significance; the root cause of the country's malaise is our collapsing economy and the apparent failure of Mr. Harper's Conservative Government to grasp, until it is now perhaps too late, the concerns of ordinary Canadians about the country's short term direction.
As things seem to be turning-out, it becomes somewhat obvious that the Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, pretty much like the rest of us, really isn't the superhero saviour of the country's well-being some would have wished him to be. Last week's Financial Update blunder which has sparked the current Constitutional crisis speaks sadly more about the volume of the Government's neo-conservative ideology than the country's real need for direction and leadership at this critical juncture in our economic history.
With four sitting days left to go before next Monday's unprecedented vote in the House of Commons, it is far too early to predict the outcome of the Parliamentary and Constitutional shake-down which may be about to occur. The anticipated $30-billion bail-out program for the economy: Including infrastructure spending, help for the forestry and automotive industries, and pension guarantees which the Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc coalition will introduce over the next few days may be a powerful antidote the the "Stephane Dion is no leader" mantra which the Conservatives are sure to resurrect during the next critical hours and days.
It is clearly much too early to predict the ultimate outcome. But regardless, students and practitioners of Political Science in decades to come will study, discuss, digest and dissect this week's developments in Canadian Parliamentary Democracy. If, as many now anticipate, by early next week the Governor-General is forced to choose, as the Constitution mandates that she must. One of her guiding principles should be that the "coalition"...shaky, faulty, weak, as it may either appear, or in fact be,...still represents 54% of the people who voted in the October 14Th general election.
Labels: Canadian Politics
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