Tuesday, April 28, 2009
A MATTER OF LEADERSHIP
As someone pointed-out just a couple of days ago, since taking-over the helm early in January, Mr. Ignatieff has been as lucky as his predecessor, Stephane Dion, was cursed. The Liberals, which some say are nearly out of debt and riding a small-wave lead in the polls over the Tories expect to come out of their Vancouver policy sessions energized and ready for battle against the Harper Conservatives.
Hold-on though! While the Prime-Minister has been doing his level best to plaster over the cracks in his own caucus over Brian Mulroney, some commentators are suggesting that Mr. Ignattieff may be facing a similar challenge over his Quebec's lieutenant's long-wished desire to lead the party himself. On the eve of the Liberal's Vancouver meetings, Montreal's "La Presse" says M-P, Denis Coderre, and the Leader haven't exactly been seeing eye-to-eye. According to the newspaper one of the more contentious issues involves Mr. Coderre's decision to invite Guy Gougoux to assume a leading role (Vice-President) of the Quebec wing of the Federal Party. Quebec is obviously a key to an eventual Liberal Government.
Mr. Gougoux heads BCP Advertising which although no charges were ever brought, the Gomery Commission learned had received Federal advertising contracts worth about $300-million during the period Jean Chretien was Prime-Minister. Mr. Ignatieff isn't in any way prepared to re-open that nefarious affair.
As for the Prime-Minister and the Conservative caucus. It's clear that scabs on wounds dating back to the period before the merger of the Progressive-Conservatives and the Alliance have been ripped-open by Mr. Harper's efforts to distance himself from his old mentor, Brian Mulroney. Lest I digress: As April is "Organ Donor" awareness month. Wags in Ottawa have been telling a joke about Mr. Mulroney donating Karl Heinz Schreiber's "tongue", preferably in a plain brown envelope...
Mr. Harper though has had a heck of a time putting the lid back on the ill-conceived notion of leaking a story that Mulroney was no longer a member of the Party. Off the record, former Progressive-Conservatives within the ruling Conservatives have pointed-out that Mulroney led his party to two straight majority victories in 1984 and 1988. Milestones which have so far eluded Mr. Harper in the three Federal elections since becoming leader.
It seems there are enough elements of in-fighting at work in both major federal parties to ward-off an election in the short-term. But: Writing in the "National Post" about the recent good fortune of the Liberal Party since Ignatieff's arrival, John Ivison says: "Happy days are here again for Liberals...The fairy-tale nature of the story has Liberals itching to bring down the Conservatives this fall."
All of which means we're likely in for a long summer of damaging accusations, attack advertising, and very few concrete accomplishments to get the derailed economy back on track.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
FLIM / FLAM
Since the mid-December kidnappings of Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay in Niger, I have bemoaned,lamented, decried the Canadian media's timidity to pursue this story with gusto and thoroughness. Instead, Canada's news organizations appeared ready with each development to accept without question the government's directive; an age old protocol to keep quiet and mind it's own business. Back during the two Great Wars it was called: "Loose lips sink ships!"
Since Ambassadors Guay and Fowler obtained their freedom a few days back we now know for instance that they were abducted by Tuareg gunman near Niger's capital, and subsequently traded to the Algerian based Al-Quaida in Islamic Maghreb in nearby Mali. Their value as hostages was clearly understood: They were after all driving in a chauffeur driven official United-Nations vehicle when kidnapped. That day they had visited a Canadian operated Uranium Mine. A key demand of the Tuareg rebels is to receive a fair share of the country's uranium mining royalties which account for two-thirds of Niger's exports. A handful of Canadian companies own about half of Niger's mining permits valued as much as $12-billion.
As Canada's media abandoned the elementary role of getting to the details of this sordid affair over the last five months, it was a handful of Internet bloggers in New York, Montreal and Ottawa, as well as Agence France-Presse operatives in Africa who both kept the story alive, and continued digging for information. For instance this "blog" was first to link the Fowler and Guay ordeal to Al-Quaida In Islamic Maghreb in the second week of January. (See: "Month #2 - Shame On Us" January 14/09)
The Canadian Government soon concluded the lack of competence of the United-Nations and especially the Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, to deal with this matter. The Prime Minister's office here in Ottawa subsequently grabbed the investigative lead. Research from a New York based "blogger" revealed that Ambassador Fowler had been appointed to his confidential mission last July by the U.N. Secretary-General, and his mandate funded surreptitiously by money buried in a regular office allocation to Ban Ki Moon in October 2008.
The two Canadian diplomats are now free, they show few physical signs of their almost five months of captivity. This weekend they are being reunited with their families in Europe before returning home. Canada's news media has been anxious and quick to jump-in in celebrating the fortunate happy ending of this nasty chapter. One is given to wonder though just where the media was...or exactly what it was doing as this affair evolved since last December 14th.
Canadians have become accustomed and wise to the obfuscation, the "flim / flam" from our elected officials and politicians. I wish sincerely and hope deeply that our economically battered news organizations don't follow down that same slippery path.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
SCRATCHING THE SURFACE ON AIRBUS
It seems that's probably a darn good thing because very little light about the so-called "Airbus Scandal" has been shed so far by the Oliphant Inquiry grinding-on in Ottawa's former city hall building.
In about 12 days of hearings, Commissioner Jeffrey Oliphant has taken testimony from roughly half of the scheduled 20 or so witnesses scheduled to appear. There have been a couple of Airbus related juicy bits, but for the most part the Commission lawyers have focused attention on the alleged $300,000 payment to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the months after he left office on June 23, 1993. Mr. Mulroney has admitted taking that money, but everyone agrees that the payments relate to another of Karl Heinz Schreiber's projects: Bear Head Industries of Nova Scotia.
Although few and far between, the emerging tidbits about Airbus are nonetheless tantalizing: Pat McAdam was a confidant of Mr.Mulroney and a key member of the Prime Minister's office. He has confirmed Mr. Schreiber's evidence that Mr. Schreiber, who was accompanied by Frank-Josef Strauss, The Head of Airbus Industries, met with Mr. Mulroney in the Prime-Minister's office in 1988 shortly before the $1.8 billion deal with Air Canada was concluded. And, Paul Smith, Mulroney's Executive Assistant, says the former Prime-Minister held a private meeting with Karl Heiz Schreiber at 11:00 AM on the P.M.'s last day in office, June 23, 1998.
Like those Porky Pig cartoons of old; I am tempted here to say: "A Ba Da, A Ba Da: That's All Folks" - Because that's pretty much about all that has been heard over the Airbus Affair. Most Canadians expect the Oliphant Enquiry to cap, once and for all, the rumours, innuendos and stories related to the purchase of the 38 airliners by Air Canada when it was still a Crown Corporation. So far Commission lawyers have done little more than scratch at the surface of the mysterious deal. Perhaps they are a bit skittish because in the late 1990's Jean Chretien's government was forced to apologize and pay a couple of million dollars in damages to Mulroney over unproven allegations in this very same matter.
Mr. Mulroney himself when he testifies, and/or Mr. Schreiber when he is recalled as a witness next month, may be able to clarify these muddy waters. What little has so far been heard has not done much to explain why Airbus paid $650,000 per each airplane, close the $25-million, to International Aircraft Leasing, a shell company controlled by Karl Heinz Shreiber shortly after the Air Canada deal was concluded about 21 years ago....And: After all, isn't that what the inquiry is all about?
Labels: Canadian Politics
Saturday, April 18, 2009
OH FOR GAWD'S SAKE!
I was reminded this week of my comments back then when the American merchant ship's captain, Richard Phillips, was rescued by the U.S. Navy: That if Mr. Fowler and Mr. Guay were American, their military would move heaven and earth to obtain their freedom. (see "Bereaved, Bitter, Blue, Bellicose..." Jan. 5/09)
At that time, Ambassadors Fowler and Guay had been held captive for three weeks since their abduction in Niger on December 14th. They have now entered their 5th month of captivity for whatever unknown demands or ransom at the hands of the Al Quaeda In The Islamic Maghreb, a southern Algerian based terrorist cell which has spread to several parts of the African continent.
Vermont native Captain Richard Phillips' rescue from the hands of the Somali pirates who had seized him two weeks ago confirms my view that when (to be polite) you screw with Uncle Sam - Captain America will seriously screw back with you! There are as many as a dozen other cargo ships and their crews being held by these Somali pirates...but the world stands-up and takes notice if the victims are American citizens.
Moving into a 6th month of Fowler and Guay's captivity, seems to me proof somewhat positive that Canada's quiet diplomacy and the Canadian media's complicity in this endeavour are abject failures, to be kind...total bullshit to be truthful.
Throughout Captain Phillips' week long ordeal at the hands of his Somali captives, America's network news media swarmed over each development...including an interminable vigil at his family's doorstep in landlocked Vermont. Not so here in Canada where our timid media has obediently acquiesced to every official request to be quiet, stand down and mind your business.
Five months later, Ambassador Fowler and Ambassador Guay remain unheard from. The author of their misfortune, the United-Nations' Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon prattles about the world. Canada's weak efforts to free two of its citizens seem at an endless standstill.
At its very best: This is a shameful, unforgivable state of affairs. Pity the fools!
Labels: Foreign Affairs
Thursday, April 16, 2009
And; pundits, wags, commentators, wannabees and hangers'on have had plenty to watch as one of the two principal protagonists in this 20 year-old affair, Karl-Heniz Schreiber, details his version of his sordid relationship with a former Prime-Minister and the confidants who surrounded him.
Little wonder that three Canadian English language television networks, CBC Newsworld, CTV Newsnet and CPAC and carrying Schreiber's testimony before Commission lawyers "gavel to gavel". Lest I digress: Although CPAC's coverage is simultaneously translated, Canada's French language TV networks haven't shifted heaven and earth to mount their own coverage. Quebec, like no other province, maintains still a relationship of reverence with former Prime-Minister Mulroney...and of course the primary language (English) of the enquiry, is doubtless a significant factor in their choice of limited coverage.
The televised coverage of the enquiry has been riveting. The 75 year-old witness, Mr. Schreiber, claims that his tale will detail seven...count'em...seven scandals at the highest levels of the government and Canadian politics. He has so far invoked a litany of names, pretty much everyone short of the Queen of England, to both bolster his own credibility, and imply the scope and depth of the shenanigans: Helmut Kohl, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Paul Martin, Jean Chretien, Marc Lalonde among the better known within his sights.
It's still early into the proceedings...there are after all more than 20 witnesses to be called. Mr. Mulroney will doubtless deliver his own much anticipated riveting version of the sordid relationship with Karl-Heinz Schreiber in due time. Now though, Mr. Schreiber has the spotlight he so covets and has been making good use of his several hours of fame. There are obviously many holes being chipped-away at his story. In the 20 years since the alleged Airbus scandal several key players have died. The real truth may never be known, and the Commissioner, Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant, may eventually have to pick his way through the Schreiber version and the Mulroney version to come to any conclusion; real or interpreted.
For now, the Karl-Heinz Schreiber version is exposed: warts, zits, name dropping(s) included. His recollection of events, the fading memory, indeed his very credibility, are under the microscope. Still, I am nagged by that old dictum of which I was reminded just yesterday. To wit: "Even a broken clock is right twice every 24 hours".
Labels: Canadian Politics
Saturday, April 11, 2009
MORAL FIBRE! - GOOD FOR DIGESTING FEDERAL POLITICS
The weekend's news columnists and the usual gadflies are rife with renewed speculation, rumours and gossip about sending Canadians back to the polls for another unwanted election by summer's end...fall at the latest.
Friday's edition of 'Le Devoir", Montreal's influential daily, claims confidential sources close to the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada say it is near certainty, the paper says 95% sure, that the official opposition will derail Mr. Harper's Conservatives and trip an election by the fall of this year.
The Liberal electioneering machine will engage following a series of planned headline making policy initiatives scheduled for discussion at the party's Biennial Convention which is being held in Vancouver from April 30 to May 2. That convention which was first set to select a new national leader following the departure of Stephane Dion, will instead officially sanction the choice of Michael Ignatieff as the unopposed party chieftain.
As for the ruling Conservatives; it seems they've held their mean spirited streak in check long enough. Operatives within the multi-million dollar Tory war-room in east end Ottawa have spent the past few weeks poring-over thousands of feet of video footage and images of Mr. Ignatieff to prepare for a series of negative ads on Canadian television in the wake of the Liberal convention and the arrival of summer.
Prime-Minister Harper himself set the effort in motion late last week in Moncton, New Brunswick accusing the Liberal Leader of having lost his "moral compass" for sending 70th birthday greetings to the former Conservative Prime-Minister, Brian Mulroney, a couple of weeks back.
Some observers believe...there's been speculation on the matter; that the testimony of the 20 or so witnesses who will appear before the Oliphant Commission could have a bearing both on the timing of a Federal election...as well as the outcome of the next national vote.
The Commissioner, Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant, is set to resume hearing witnesses on Tuesday of this week in the pesky matter involving the purchase of Air Canada's thirty-four A320 Airbus aircraft back in 1988 when Brian Mulroney was Prime-Minister.
The Conservative salvo against Mulroney's Party membership two weeks ago as the commission of enquiry got underway was a move to further distance Mr. Harper from the former P.M. - It seemed instead to backfire causing a public rift within Tory ranks and even some sympathy for Mr. Mulroney.
On the other hand as I was recently reminded by my brother: The other protagonist in the matter, Karl Heinz Schreiber, has a knack for the gift of pulling rabbits out of a magic hat when the going gets tough. Noted just this week, the CBC-TV investigative program "The Fifth Estate" claims irrefutable evidence that the late Premier of Newfoundland and Mulroney confidant, Frank Moores, was in contact with both Schreiber and the President of Airbus at the time of the $1.8 Billion purchase of the airplanes in 1988. And...Victoria B.C. political commentator and former Mulroney Chief-of-Staff, Norman Spector, has been quoted saying that the Conservatives expect...well at least hope...that some Federal Liberal back room players and strategists from the same era - The Trudeau/Chretien years - may be smeared by testimony at the Oliphant Commission enquiry.
Another Liberal scandal card could be a nice hand against supporters of Michael Ignatieff in the eventuality of a Federal election later this year. While the Airbus airplanes Air Canada bought in 1988 are so old they no longer fly; the whiff of scandal surrounding their purchase remains intriguing to both major national parties - the Conservatives and the Liberals - for the same exact reason: Fodder for another unnecessary, nasty and expensive election.
The winner in this has already been determined: Karl Heinz Schreiber! By continuing to stoke the speculation, the stories and rumours of political scandal in high places, he remains free to enjoy the pleasures of his Rockcliff home in Ottawa and avoid the grasp of the European authorities who patiently await his extradition to face criminal charges in Germany.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
POLISHING THE TARNISH
The explorer Simon Fraser, he who blazed Canada's expansion all the way to the Pacific Ocean, is buried in the historic Roman Catholic parish cemetery of St. Andrews on the outskirts of Cornwall, Ontario where he died a poor man in 1862.
Fraser was the last surviving partner of the famed fur trading Northwest Company which merged with its rival, the Hudson's Bay Company, in 1821. Hudson's Bay, every Canadian knows, is the oldest continually operating commercial establishment on the North American continent. It was formed on May 2, 1670.
The venerable Hudson's Bay Company and its 92 flagship "The Bay" stores have been the subject of multiple failed makeovers since the 1990's. Struggling through increasingly poor performance, ownership passed into American hands in 2006 when a minority shareholder, South Carolina billionaire, Jerry Zucker, bought the company. After Mr. Zucker's untimely death a U.S. based shopping centre holding company, NRDC Equity Partners, took over.
NRDC is the first owner in many years to have some sense of merchandising and the consumer retail business. Among others, it owns the high end U.S. retailer, Lord and Taylor, a company it acquired from Federated Department Stores. If I may digress ever so briefly: Ownership of "Federated" back in the halcyon days of the mid-1980's brought the over-leveraged financial empire of Sudbury born millionaire, Robert Campeau, to a crashing collapse.
Alas, since the beginning of the current economic downturn, some of the other retail assets of NRDC Equity Partners have been on the rocky road to oblivion. "Linens'n Things" flamed out in the fall. In February, "Fortunoff" filed for bankruptcy. In efforts to stop the bleeding, NRDC has pumped about $130-million in cash into "Lord & Taylor"and "The Bay."
A Toronto based retail analyst, John Williams, recently told MacLean's that mid-market department stores are on a death watch. Many of my generation will recall fondly the iconic retail giants of the mid-twentieth century: Creaghan's, Simpsons', T.E. Eaton...and some more now forgotten names. Williams says: "It's not a viable format...they're squeezed between value merchants - the Wal-Marts and Winners - one one end, and luxury stores and specialty boutiques on the other."
In 2005 in a $100-million deal, The Bay, acquired the Canadian Olympic Team clothing line from Roots Canada. "Roots" Olympic products, their marketing and most importantly the commitment to an all-Canadian made product line had ensured its success and recognition. And made it,
as well as the Canadian Olympians, the envy of the far larger producers from competing countries.
In the Olympic Games since, The Bay's clothing line, manufactured in China, has been plunged into controversy and criticism. In store sales haven't matched expectations. The tarnished image, just like the venerable Hudson's Bay Company, needs a bit of patriotic "dab and polish". Perhaps otherwise, next winter's Vancouver Olympics clothing line may be the iconic retailers' last effort to remain afloat amongst the icebergs of competition and dwindling sales. That surely would be a catastrophe!
Sunday, April 5, 2009
I'LL HUFF, AND I'LL PUFF
During our last century, movies still etched in our collective psyche have attempted to shed light on how the world's wide-ranging cultural differences colour the perspective of war. Whether it was "Lawrence of Arabia", "Back to Bataan", or "Beau Geste", to name just three; the films' characters were gripped with epic confrontations fueled by attempts to fit our western culture into molds of significantly different values.
From the dawn of modern time; along the famed "silk road" to the Orient and through the fabled Khyber Pass, westerners have failed in two milenia of attempting to come to grips with the South Asian cultural divide. The Khyber Pass, a 53 kilometer strategic mountain passage through the Hindu Kush Mountain range between Pakistan and Afghanistan, is, it seems, our cultural "night and day". Its contrast stands as a geographical reminder of the world's geopolitical differences.
At the Strasbourg NATO Summit, just when U.S. President Obama sought additional support for his planned military surge into Afghanistan; he was blindsided by Hamid Karzai. The irony of this cultural two-step is that Karzai's failing government was established, and continues to be propped-up by the American government. It was formed when the Bush administration abandoned the mission to capture Osama Bin Laden and rout the Taliban permanently out of the mountain caves into which they took shelter. No surprise there: Afghanistan's history is repleat with countless examples of two-stepping forward...and three stepping back.
In modern times; first the British, followed by the Soviets learned the painful lessons from their disastrous attempts to westernize the regions beyond the Khyber Pass. It seems that it is now our turn: At the risk of sounding like a scratchy seriously over-played record - There is no hope of creating an Afghanistan, nor a Pakistan for that matter in: as it were, "our own (western) image". And, there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict.
Give me a break! NATO leaders can huff, puff and feign outrage over Afghanistan's Shia Family Law. Central and South Asia are the cradle of humanity. At many historic junctures, there's has been a civilization not so pretty from "our" moral viewpoint. But the valuable lesson the inhabitants have learned, and still apply; since before Jesus Christ turned as white as Michael Jackson, is: Patience.
Sadly Canada's increasingly painful lesson learned is: That at the end of our commitment, whether in 2011; earlier if Karzai fails to revise the family law that embraces the Shia code...Or later if President Obama get his wish... Our billions of dollars wasted and the hundreds of casualties will amount to dismal failures.
Labels: Afghan War
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Ottawa's Mayor Larry O'Brien is rarely, if ever, at a loss for words. But it seems recently, since many constituents blamed him for plunging the city into Canada's longest ever transit strike, that he has maintained some reasonable distance from newsworthy pronouncements: That is until this week.
A published story in the west end's "Kanata Kourier Standard" quotes O'Brien on the topic of the fall 2010 municipal election: "certainly I'd vote for myself. I'm not satisfied with the way the City of Ottawa is running. For me to make any truly long-term changes for the benefits of the city, council and I have to find a way to make it run more effectively. I don't think that can happen in one term. I think that takes two terms. I'm not only going to vote for myself, I'm going to run."
There is some irony in Mr. O'Brien's choice of the Kanata weekly for his latest pronouncement: Lest I digress, the Kanata-Kourier Standard was founded in the early 1980's by a 14-year-old junior high school student, Alex Munter. The same Alex Munter who led the election polls back in 2006 until Larry O'Brien stepped into the mayoralty race and relegated Munter to a second place finish.
Well now the Mayor's intentions seem pretty clear a good 19 months before the next municipal vote. Some would surely argue forcefully that one four year term is just about all the good citizens of Ottawa can handle with Larry O'Brien at the helm.
It is never quite clear why Mr. O'Brien frequently engages his mouth before his brain. This time he has obviously opened another round of disharmonious debate at City Hall when Ottawa's municipal agenda can ill afford to be derailed yet again. Veteran city councillor Alex Cullen who has represented Bay Ward for 12 years has jumped into the fray, announcing that he too will run for Mayor in 2010. In making his announcement, Mr. Cullen was polite but nonetheless reminded voters of O'Brien's "unrealistic agenda" from the 2006 campaign, including the infamous "Zero Means Zero" campaign slogan on which Mayor O'Brien has failed to deliver every single year since the election. Forgive me: I can't quite resist the temptation to quote country singer Billy Ray Cyrus: "The truth is I lied."
There are many other unresolved City Hall skirmishes including a multi-million dollar lawsuit from Siemens, the German based engineering firm awarded a $800-million contract for a light-rail system, which was cancelled two weeks after O'Brien's election. The Mayor now supports an underground LRT line under the downtown core and he's asked the Federal and Provincial Governments to pony-up $1.2-billion for phase one. There is the city financed moth-balled 10,000 seat Lynx Stadium which failed after 3 successive professional baseball teams folded. And, the deteriorating conditions of the Lansdowne Park facilities: The Civic Centre and Frank Clair Stadium, which may leave Ottawa on the hook for $30 or $40 million in repairs...to name a couple of unresolved issues.
All eyes though along with the national media, will be focused squarely early next month on the May 6 start of the Mayor's trial on criminal charges related to influence peddling. Another candidate in the 2006 mayor's election, Terry Kilrea, has claimed that he was encouraged to withdraw from the race when, he alleges, candidate O'Brien offered him an appointment on the National Parole Board. There are allegations of a shadowy meeting in the parking lot of a Bells' Corners Tim Horton's (can it possibly be more Canadian?); and it's been reported that a mysterious Mr. X will testify that the Parole Board nomination was discussed between O'Brien and the then Chair of Treasury Board, the Honourable John Baird, during a July 26, 2006 meeting at the ritzy "Hy's Steakhouse" on Queen Street.
Lest I digress - Mr. Baird, now the Minister of Transport, is a vegetarian. Nevertheless, newspapers this week have reported that Mr. Baird's dinner companion that evening, then 18 year-old, Jonathan Maxwell Amor, has been subpoenaed by the Crown to testify at the proceedings against the Mayor. If Mr. O'Brien were to be convicted on either or both of the bribery related charges, under Ontario's law he would be removed from office and banned from future elections.
This week's outburst to the Kanata newspaper has opened the door for at least one candidate, Alex Cullen, to be standing ready for immediate election after the May trial. And, there may be others. If Larry O'Brien were to be convicted he'd be hard pressed to deliver on his commitment to run again, let alone vote for himself. Check and Mate: Oh dear!
Labels: city of ottawa
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