Saturday, May 30, 2009

 

THE ISOTOPE FIASCO

The Government is paying the price for dragging its feet on the repairs and improvements to what once was one of our proud Canadian achievements. The Chalk River facility was among the first, after Atomic Bombs fell on Japan in 1945, to harness nuclear energy for the good of mankind.

At Chalk River in eastern Ontario, scientists developed the CANDU nuclear electricity generating system used in several jurisdictions around the world. When it works, the National Research Universal reactor at Chalk River is the world's largest single source of the Isotope required for 85% of the world's nuclear medical procedures. The trouble is the reactor is old...and these days it isn't working. The break-down has led to a worldwide shortage of the precious isotope and a looming crisis for the medical community.

Although plenty of warnings were posted about the ageing reactor when a similar crisis forced a world shortage late in the fall of 2007; it is not just the Harper Government which is to blame. For most of the last 20 years successive governments have ignored the plight of the decrepit facility which is operated by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Although the reactor is increasingly unreliable, efforts to replace it were abandoned in 2008 by the Conservative Government after the flawed design of two modern replacement reactors led to uncontrollable cost overruns.

Despite the unreliability; Kanata, Ontario based MDS-Nordion, in the same period, has evolved into the world's leading supplier to the nuclear medicine community from this single source of isotopes produced at Chalk River. The web is now untangling. In a brief letter to its customers late on Thursday, MDS Nordion confirmed that the reactor will be out of service for at least 3 months and the company..."anticipate(s) that the medical community and your patients will continue to experience a significant shortage of isotopes."

Back in 1976 as a young reporter working for the CBC in Hamilton, Ontario I was given a tour of the reactor operated by that city's McMaster University. I had never seen a nuclear reactor, I remember my visit to this day. McMaster was the first university in the British Commonwealth to own and operate an experimental atomic plant. Built in 1959, it is just two years younger than the seriously defective National Research Universal reactor at Chalk River. From several indicators though it has apparently received over its 50 years of existence the "tender love and care" the Chalk River plant so desperately lacks.

Not the least of which is that just today comes word that McMaster has tapped into $22-million in Federal and Ontario "infrastructure" funding to convert its reactor to the production of medical isotopes. It is apparently the only other Canadian reactor which is capable of producing "molybdenum-99" which decays into the medical isotope. The irony is that a 50 year old reactor may be in line to replace a 52 year old reactor which is on its last leg...and the government thinks that is just fine. Good grief!

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

 

NOW FOR THE PAY-OFF

Two "western" seats on the Security Council of the United-Nations are coming-up for grabs in a rotation of some of the ten "non-permanent" seats on the UN's most powerful institution.

Canada's profile at the United Nations has been somewhat subdued in the three and a half years since the Conservative government was elected. Prime Minister Harper's close ally, U-S President George W. Bush, was somewhat lukewarm to the world body, to say the least, and Canada's foreign policy initiatives marched mostly in lock-step with the American view.

Though our representative to the United Nations is a competent career diplomat, Ambassador John McNee, who replaced Allan Rock when the Tories were elected in 2006, is hardly a household name. Previous Canadian representatives have included, Lester Pearson, Lloyd Axeworthy, Barbara McDougall and Robert Fowler. In fact the Prime Minister himself has only attended once at the United Nations in New York since his election in January 2006.

The 192-member United-Nations General Assembly will elect a total of five new members to the 15 member Security Council. Very recent events, including renewed tensions between North and South Korea, highlight the important role played by the Security Council in all of the 64 year history of the world organization. Canada has held one of the non-permanent council seats in every decade since the formation of the United Nations in 1945. In the past it's always been considered a "big boy" amongst the Security Council candidates.

Over those decades every Canadian has shared in the pride of our traditional role as "Peacekeeper" to the world (Now abandoned to wage war in Afghanistan); Lester Pearson's "Nobel" Peace Prize for solving the Suez Crisis of 1956, and our sense of inclusion and fair play on the global stage.

Under the UN's regional voting system the two "western" Security Council seats will be filled from a short list of three declared Candidates - Germany, Portugal and Canada when the General Council votes in the fall of 2010. Since coming to office Prime Minister Harper has been publicly criticised by the Opposition for his half-hearted response to Canada's candidacy. Despite concerns within the bureaucracy, the lightweights who (in succession) headed Foreign Affairs in Harper's first government: Peter MacKay, Maxime Bernier and Liberal turned Tory, David Emmerson did not accomplish much of anything in advancing the file.

As I speculated on this "post" back in February (See: PAYBACK Feb. 22) - Canada's quick response in taking over the investigation and negotiations for the eventual release of Ambassadors Robert Fowler and Louis Guay kidnapped in Niger last December, may have provided an impetus for the Harper Government to avoid the international embarrassment of Canada being left off of the Security Council in 2010. Though Fowler and Guay are both Canadian, they were working directly for the Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon. By Christmas, the UN's lame efforts at securing their release was abundantly clear, and Ban Ki Moon was treading water well beyond his depth to deal with this crisis.

In gratitude; what's obvious now is that the men in suits at the highest levels of the United Nations are leaving few stones unturned...mountains moved...pulling-out all the stops to get pledges of support flowing for Canada's bid. Recent published reports say that secret written commitments are in-hand from half a dozen African countries, the continent where Fowler and Guay were abducted; as well as from several states in Central and South America, where Mr. Harper has recently opened several trade initiatives.

On Canadian soil, and in the hands of a more competent Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon, a whole section has been set-up at DFAIT (Dept. of Foreign Affairs & Inter'l Trade) to guide and direct our candidacy. Officials are being dispatched to the African Continent, South America and pretty much anywhere else an ounce of support may be obtainable.

Canwest News Services recently quoted an unidentified insider: "They realized they'd dropped the ball...the Security Council campaign is now so important it is mentioned at just about every policy and programming meeting affecting international matters."

A turnaround at the United-Nations is harder than stopping the Titanic "on a dime". But at last, there is a glimmer of hope and a sense of optimism amongst strategists at Foreign Affairs that they may be able to salvage a monumental diplomatic embarrassment which would have been of our own making. Amen!

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Monday, May 25, 2009

 

THE CULTURE OF OTTAWA

Nothing in Ottawa succeeds like failure:

In a thoughtful reflective article about the ongoing trial of the City's Mayor, now into its fourth week, Don Martin; writing in the "National Post" last week argued that Mayor Larry O'Brien may have committed the sin of "pretending" to have influence.

During the first week of May, I watched my boss in the late 1990's, former CBC President, Perrin Beatty, testify before Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant at the inquiry looking into the relationship between Brian Mulroney and Karl Heinz Schreiber.

Mr. Beatty, a seasoned Ottawa politician is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. At the start of the Schreiber cabal and the German-Canadian's dubious relationship with Mulroney, Perrin Beatty was Minister of National Defence and as such a main target of those who promoted the plan to build light armoured military vehicles in Nova Scotia.

Under questioning by the Inquiry Counsel, Richard Wolson, the former Defence Minister confirmed the standing order of the Mulroney cabinet of the eighties and early nineties that the Prime Minister wanted to know immediately if someone purported to speak on his behalf on any government matter. Mr. Mulroney has also since testified about that directive.

As we may be learning from the trial of the Mayor, it is just that Ottawa's culture, as Don Martin puts it..."pivots on the illusion and delusion that a nod and a wink from the right person can procure favours, services or appointments." In his appearance before Associate Chief Justice Douglas Cunningham, the Judge hearing the O'Brien case last Friday, the Minister of Transport, John Baird, testified that he gets accosted regularly by people seeking a shortcut to the government's largess. To the extent that he is obliged to keep a full-time staffer to sort-out the applications, requests and demands and red-flag the unworthy.

Perhaps as Karl Heinz Schreiber was hoping to do twenty years ago; or as in the much more recent alleged transgressions of Mayor Larry O'Brien: They just believe that somehow they command precious links over those at the epicentre of Federal power. In the "National Post" article author Martin says of the O'Brien case that...(perhaps) "he was merely following standard operating procedure in a capital where those pretending to have influence are usually peddling lies."

That conclusion might explain the paradox which intrigues Political Scientist, Michael Atkinson, of the University of Saskatchewan who teaches a course on Political Corruption. Professor Atkinson wants to know why two-thirds of Canadians believe that our political parties are affected by corruption, and that almost 40% conclude the same of our judiciary and legal systems. Professor Atkinson will be speaking on the topic at the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences this week at Ottawa's Carleton University.

For a real revealing eye full over the perplexing paradox that - no matter what we do, we can never put an end to political corruption - The academics attending the Carleton conference could visit one or both of the two local intriguing and juicy legal inquiries currently involving the politicians O'Brien and Mulroney. It may just be that Canadians are suspicious and growing increasingly cynical that too frequently our politicians are up to no good.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

 

THANK YOU MR. SCHREIBER

Before summer's end there is substantial likelihood that Karl Heinz Schreiber will be deported from Canada to his native Germany where authorities there charged him more than 15 years ago with fraud, tax evasion and bribery.

When the inevitable happens, in a final sigh of relief Canadians from every corner will cheer - "good riddance!" I disagree, and let me be among the first to say "Thank You, Mr. Schreiber" for all you have done to expose a sordid and sleazy period in our country's political life.

Thanks to you Mr. Schreiber we know that pay-offs totalling more than $20-million in Canadian taxpayer money funnelled through Airbus Industries in Europe when Air Canada, then a Crown Corporation, bought more than 30 A-320 passenger jets back in the late 1980's. Thanks to you Mr. Schreiber we know that several close associates of yours and our former Prime-Minister, were among those who be benefited from those payments.

Thank-you Mr. Schreiber, because if not for you we would never know that the very same Prime-Minister, Brian Mulroney, entered with you into a shady (some might suggest sleazy) business arrangement which was kept secret for half a dozen years. Forensic accountants testifying at the Oliphant Enquiry say they are certain the money paid to Mr. Mulroney for that business relationship came from your Airbus pay-off account. What is clear is that the former Prime-Minister received cash amounts totalling from $225,000 to $300,000 to lobby on your behalf for a failed bid to build military vehicles in Canada...kept the arrangement secret for several years. In return for which, in a sweetheart deal with Revenue Canada, he paid taxes on just half of the $225,000 he claims you gave him. It may be legal, but what's "just" about that? Some Prime-Ministerial legacy indeed.

Because of his secrecy, and all you have since said and done Mr. Schreiber, the people of Canada apologized and paid Mr. Mulroney more than $2.1 Million to settle his liable claims against the Government. In the midst of the current Oliphant Inquiry we also know now that the the former Prime-Minister's expenses, as much as $2.5 million, will be paid by we taxpayers. Mr. Mulroney had an honourable career as a two term Prime Minister and Member of the Canadian Parliament. He richly deserves the lifetime pension he is receiving for that service. I think though that now exposed to the light-of-day, some may begin asking for our money back. The onus is on Commissioner Jeffrey Oliphant to be seen to administer justice on our behalf.

Mr. Schreiber although you may soon be leaving us for the fate that awaits you in Germany. In his six days before the Oliphant Commission your accuser, our former Prime-Minister, by his own account reduced you to a mere bit-player in one of the saddest chapters of our country's political life. In an attempt to salvage his own reputation, Mr. Mulroney instead ensured that his shadowy relationship with you and your colleagues remains enshrined forever as an historical sidebar to the legacy he so wishes to preserve.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

 

IN THE GLOW OF THE CITATION PRINCESS

In the mid nineties one of my last responsibilities as Executive-Assistant to the President of the CBC was to arrange and accompany the Corporation's Chief-Executive on a private charter to Moncton, New Brunswick.

There, the CBC President, Tony Manera, was to meet with the Minister of Canadian Heritage over a major funding issue. Manera resigned his Presidency several weeks later...I digress.

The aircraft we flew from Ottawa to Moncton and (as I recall) from Moncton to Calgary was a Cessna Citation Princess then dubbed around the Ottawa International Airport as the "Glowing Princess" as its overnight job was to ferry precious radio-active isotopes world-wide most every day, produced at the nearby Chalk-River nuclear reactor.

I am reminded of that flight each time the news breaks that the aging reactor, the world's largest single source of nuclear medical isotopes, shuts down...Here we go again.

Hardly two weeks ago the Prime-Minister and several of his entourage were in Prague to advance the goal of Canada-European Union trade talks which some predict have the potential of being bigger than the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) : But each time that damned Chalk-River reactor is forced out of commission; seems to me it amounts to another black-eye for Canadian trade potential.

Everyone pretty much remembers how back in November of 2007 a month-long shutdown at the same facility sparked a global shortage of medical isotopes which are used in the diagnosis and the treatment of cancer and heart ailments. The issue was then resolved only when Parliament voted to by-pass the shutdown order by the Nuclear Safety Commission on the promise by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that there was absolutely no risk of a nuclear melt-down at the facility which has been operated for 52 years by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. It has since been reported that there have been at least three, perhaps five, leaks of heavy water at the plant since that time...the most recent discovered last Friday which has occasioned the current shutdown.

The reality is that Chalk-River supplies more than 60% of the medical isotopes in the world. Both a source of pride when the plant works, and really bad news for our trade negotiators and our reputation when it fails as it has been doing increasingly more often because successive governments here have failed to develop any long-term plans to prevent the repeated problems. It takes years, if not decades to plan and build a nuclear reactor. At age 52, Chalk-River is amongst the world's oldest still operating, albeit tenuously it seems.

As early as Saturday this week the world's medical community will likely face its worse shortage of the precious nuclear isotopes in history and Canada will bear the brunt of the criticism when patients in just about every developed country on the planet start to suffer the consequences.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

 

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Unlike Justice Jeffrey Oliphant, I don't have to reserve judgement on the testimony of the former Prime-Minister Brian Mulroney at the inquiry looking into his relationship with Karl Heinz Schreiber.

I don't doubt that Mr. Mulroney's legal counsel Guy Pratte tried forcefully over his two days at bar to frame and contextualize to the best of his ability the long term association between the former Prime-Minister and the dubious credentials of his chief accuser, German-Canadian businessman Schreiber. What Mr. Pratte and Justice Oliphant received in return though was vintage Mulroney - Argumentative, combative, defensive and occasionally vindictive. "Deja-vue" re-exposure of all those things for which so many despised the former Prime-Minister by the time he stepped-out of the limelight in 1993.

Surely if it's worth forking-over almost $15-million on a tax-payer funded inquiry to discover what happened to someone else's $300-thousand...or was it $225-thousand(?)...15 years ago: Then this should have been the moment for the main protagonist to shine. Instead I have to conclude that when the train carrying the "Humility Fairy" passed by the Baie-Comeau station 70 or so years ago...Mr. Mulroney was somewhere else!

A couple of weeks back I argued on this page that most Canadians had many years ago made-up their minds on the issues revolving around Mr. Mulroney and his association with Mr. Schreiber...and we've all since moved-on. Recent polls suggesting that the Oliphant Inquiry is a monumental waste of taxpayer money seem to confirm my argument. And, the former Prime-Minister's performance at hitting the softball questions from lawyer Pratte in the last 48 hours is unlikely to change the verdict where it counts...in the Court of Public Opinion.

The "going" is about to get a lot tougher as lawyers for the inquiry, Mr. Schreiber, the Government of Canada, perhaps others, get their crack at dissecting the former Prime-Minister's recollections over his association with Karl Heinz Schreiber.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

 

SWIMMING NEAR THE SHALLOW END OF THE "GENE" POOL

So far Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien's best defence may be that those who have accused him of "influence peddling" are treading water near the shallow end of the "gene" pool.

His defence lawyer, Micheal Edelson, seems to be edging towards that conclusion suggesting that the lead-off prosecution witness, Terry Kilrea, is a perpetual "wannabe", described by a least one high ranking Cabinet Minister...John Baird...as someone who aspires to be "a player around town...someone with power and influence." The case against the Mayor hinges primarily on the credibility of Mr. Kilrea who claims that in at least two meetings with O'Brien during the summer of 2006 he was encouraged to drop-out of the Mayoralty race in return for an appointment to the National Parole Board of Canada. The other high profile witness for the prosecution is the alleged "Mr. X" believed to be teenager Jonathan Amor, 18 years-old in the summer of 2006, who was Minister Baird's dinner guest at "Hy's Steakhouse" when a meeting may have taken place between the Minister and the then candidate for Mayor, Larry O'Brien.

Regardless of the outcome of the O'Brien trial which may last up to 6 or 7 weeks some councillors at City Hall, including the acting mayor, Michel Bellemare, haven't been wasting any time raising their public profiles. The Ward 7 Councillor and Chair of the City's Transportation Committee, Alex Cullen, has already declared his intention to challenge O'Brien for the city's highest office in the fall 2010 election. Although acting Mayor Bellemare hasn't yet announced any future plans, a gushing article on the front page of the daily "Metro" on Monday travels some distance to bolster his profile.

"Metro" publishes daily in most large Canadian cities and has launched a "SunnySide" campaign promoting good news around the nation's major urban areas. It describes the acting Mayor as a 5th generation bilingual Ottawan who is..."still discovering new things about the city he loves most." The newspaper gushes on..."If the nation's capital still holds so many charms for someone who has such deep roots here, the possibilities must be endless for any tourist or visitor lucky enough to come here. And they are, said Bellemare..."

The heart of O'Brien's political career may still be beating...the corpse nowhere near chilled. Still though for foe and friend alike opportunity has "come a knockin" it seems.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

 

WHEN SMOOTH, SMOOCH AND SLEAZE INTERSECT

Word on the street in Ottawa is that media expert, Barry McLoughlin has been burning the midnight oil prepping Mayor Larry O'Brien for the city's first trial of a senior municipal official in more than 100 years. (Trial of the Century?)

McLoughlin Media has a long relationship with Larry O'Brien and were responsible for developing image and media lines for the Mayor's successful election campaign in October 2006. Everyone remembers the now infamous "Zero Means Zero" slogan which got O'Brien elected and on which he's failed to deliver over three municipal budgets.

The 2006 election campaign is at the centre of the criminal charges of influence peddling against Mayor O'Brien and McLoughlin's media consultants were called-in as early as Tuesday last after the Mayor's less than noteworthy and impressive appearance, new wife in tow both dressed in funereal black, at the May 4 start of proceedings before Associate Chief Justice, Douglas Cunningam.

Of course the real show starts on Monday, May 11 when the Crown Prosecutor Scott Hutchison begins to outline the case against Larry O'Brien. I have noted before; some in high places hope that once the framework of the case and charges against the Mayor are outlined in public; he will choose to go for the "high-jump" and plead "no contest" rather than face his accusers. Even at this early stage the case appears inching ever closer to the highest office in the land. It's believed that one of the Crown's star witnesses is David Penner, who until recently was Director of Appointments in the Office of the Prime Minister. Until now, Penner's claim to fame was that he came-up with the candidates for the 16 Senate vacancies Prime Minister Harper hastily filled last December when his Government was in fear of imminent collapse. Senator Mike Duffy and others are doubtless grateful.

Oh Lord! - Would that the O'Brien case were the only one next week with connections to current or former Prime-Ministers. But Nay! - Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the multi-million dollar Oliphant Inquiry into the relationship between Brian Mulroney and Karl Heinz Schreiber will hear from the focus of all the attention: Mr. Mulroney himself. Mr. Mulroney's testimony at a Commission of Inquiry is almost precedent setting. Since Confederation few former Prime-Ministers have ever been subpoenaed to testify at enquiries created by the Parliament they once ruled. In his now infamous "golf balls" testimony at the Gomery Commission, Jean Chretien, may have been the only other Prime Minister to face a subpoena of this nature in as many as 100 years.

The Mulroney imbroglio dates back to the 1988 purchase by Air Canada of more than 30 Airbus A-320 passenger jets. The former Prime-Minister as much as anyone else is responsible for keeping this sordid affair on the front burner for more than 20 years. It was he who accepted payments from Schreiber back in the early nineties and fudged the truth about them. Mr. Mulroney sued the Federal Government and won more than $2-million in damages over the Airbus allegations back in the late nineties. Now after appearing before a Parliamentary Committee a year ago, he's about to face the Oliphant inquisitors. Oliphant's "Terms Of Reference" forbid directly re-opening the Airbus Affair, but testimony so far into payments to Mr. Mulroney in the failed "Bear Head" light-armoured-vehicle contract has danced all over the commission payments of more than $20 million made to Schreiber in secret Swiss accounts over the Air Canada purchase. One thing has been made abundantly clear: Close friends of Mr. Mulroney - the late Frank Moores, and brothers Fred and Gerry Doucet - sure raked-in the big bucks for their lobbying efforts on "Bear Head" and in the purchase of those jet planes our national airline no longer uses.

As for Mr. Schreiber he seems to have bought himself a few more days' grace (weeks' ?) from falling into the grips of authorities in Europe. German police have been patiently waiting to collar Karl Heinz Schreiber for years over charges of fraud, tax evasion and bribery for those very same Airbus commission payments. The Minister of Justice ruled last year that he could remain in Canada to testify at the Oliphant Commission. With his personal testimony pretty much ended Schreiber figures the Harper Government will move to get him out of the country "pronto". Somewhat to the Commisoner's annoyance, Schreiber's legal counsel, Richard Auger, has given notice he may ask for an order to ensure Karl Heinz Schreiber will remain available, presumably in Canada, for any future proceedings. Justice Oliphant had little choice but to schedule legal arguments in the matter after Mulroney's testimony.

Oh God! The Schreiber fan club meets next in the phone booth at the corner of Smooch Avenue and Sleaze Boulevard.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

 

WHEN EGOS OBFUSCATE

Students of, as well as the curious about the dark side of politics are salivating this week at not One but, count'em, Two, enquiries shedding light on rarely exposed allegations over corruption.

These are: the ongoing Oliphant Enquiry down at the old Ottawa City Hall into the relationship between Brian Mulroney and Karl Heinz Schreiber; and the Crown's case against Mayor Larry O'Brien before Associate Chief Justice, Douglas Cunningham, in courtroom # 36 of the Ontario Superior Court at the Ottawa Court House.

Both cases have major implications for politics in Canada and have been given the national media scrutiny they deserve. In fact, even the U.K. based international news magazine, "The Economist" cites both in a recently published article over Canada's indifference to corruption and white-collar crime.

Last fall in the book: "Dispersing The Fog - Inside The Secret World Of Ottawa And The RCMP", journalist and author Paul Palango argued that former Mountie Commissioner, Giuliano Zaccardelli, sealed the outcome of the January 2006 Federal Election a couple of weeks before the vote, by releasing information the RCMP were investigating charges Paul Martin's government had broken the law leaking changes about Income Trust sheltered investments. The issue combined with revelations from the Gomery Commission into the Liberal sponsorship scandal determined the result of the election in favour of the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper.

Of course all of this may explain the degree of effort the current Conservative minority government is expending to distance Mr. Harper from his relationship with his former mentor, Prime-Minister Mulroney... and somehow the hope that Ottawa's Mayor Larry O'Brien will "walk the plank" before his relationship with close Harper allies is exposed. The Liberals are just as guilty of political shenanigans past - But in opposition and with a new leader, they're itching for any hot issue to force the next election sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the Conservatives may face an even bigger challenge: The vast egos of both Mr. Mulroney in one case, and of Mr. O'Brien in the other. The cases are rushing to a rapid climax. - At the Oliphant Inquiry, the German-Canadian businessman and Mulroney accuser, Karl Heinz Schreiber is scheduled for his second appearance later this week. He's expected to set the stage for the star witness, the former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney himself likely as early as next week. Besides arguing that he too is a victim of Schreiber, the former P-M will surely want to rescue his tattered legacy in government.

Meantime south at the Elgin Street Court House, another stage is being set for a cadre of close associates of the current Conservative government to be paraded as witnesses before Mr. Justice Cunningham. That's where Larry O'Brien hopes to rescue his own career and short turbulent legacy as Mayor. He's been accused of "Influence Peddling", and claims that it's a misunderstanding and a political vendetta. The inner-circle of the subpoenaed include the Minister of Transport, John Baird - Doug Finley, National Campaign Director for the Conservative Party - John Reynolds, Co-Chair of the Conservative 2006 Election Campaign - and, Lisa MacLeod a Progressive-Conservative Member of the Ontario Parliament.

Politicos, wannabees and pundits from every side are headed for several red-letter moments just around the next corner it seems. When it ends; it will be interesting to find-out who gets tossed-overboard with the "flotsam & jetsam" of Ottawa politics; and ultimately the long-term implications for Canada's reputation here and abroad.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

 

THEY'RE NOT VERY BIG SHOES

When Mayor Larry O'Brien walked-out of Ottawa City Hall on Friday he was freed from the yoke of leading Canada's fourth largest city and your nation's capital.

The Mayor and his political staff are on a nine week unpaid leave of absence as trial opens next week in Ontario Superior Court on charges stemming from allegations Mr. O'Brien attempted to bribe mayoral rival Terry Kilrea to drop-out of the 2006 election. Kilrea subsequently abandoned his challenge, ran instead as a city councillor and was roundly defeated.

Publicly, Mayor Larry O'Brien has always maintained his innocence. In meetings with the media during the week he spoke of his achievements since he was elected in October 2006 and about the charges of influence peddling he's facing..."Every inch of my life in business has been based on honesty and credibility, and I have brought that to politics." Mr. O'Brien is founder and chairman of Calian Ltd, a high-technology firm which has made him a millionaire and freed him to indulge his love of municipal politics. Permit me to digress - Sadly, his entrepreneurial skills have not translated well into municipal affairs. The learning curve has been long, slow, and arduous. If he were found guilty of the charges, Ontario Municipal Law would bar him for life from seeking elected office.

Although the Mayor's trial is scheduled to start this coming week, media sources are reporting that witnesses subpoenaed have been told they will not be called until at least the week starting on Monday, May 11. That's leading some to speculate that a deal may be in the works to avoid a trial altogether. The speculation was fueled further by an April 28 note to city council from the Mayor advising that his "Chief of Staff", Eric Lamoureux, was leaving City Hall to "pursue other opportunities" and would not be returning in July at the end of the unpaid leaves of absence.

The Mayor has always maintained his innocence, and he's told his council he is confident he will be returning to City Hall..."I am very proud of what we've accomplished together as a council to date and look forward to returning from my leave to prepare for the fall agenda".

But, it's believed there is mounting pressure from political operatives, particularly in federal Conservative Party ranks to nail-down a deal and perhaps avoid yet another public airing of the underbelly of politics. The Harper Conservatives went to considerable lengths to distance themselves from former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, and the Oliphant Inquiry now underway in Ottawa. Several high profile Conservatives close to Mr. Harper are expected to testify at Mayor O'Brien's trial, including the Minister of Transport, John Baird, who was Treasury Board Chair when police allege Terry Kilrea was offered a seat on the National Parole Board if he stepped away from the mayoralty race. The Ontario Provincial Police investigation is said to have centered on a chance meeting between Mr(s) O'Brien and Baird at the upscale Hy's Steakhouse in Ottawa in August of 2006; two months before the municipal election.

Because of the public profile of some witnesses who have been subpoenaed, the trial is expected to attract national media attention. In fact one of the first orders of business when the Judge opens proceedings on Monday is to hear an application by the CBC to allow TV cameras in the courtroom; as well as applications by Canwest News Services, representing the "Ottawa Citizen" and "Global Television" to "blog" and to use Blackberry's in the courtroom.

Any deal struck before trial would surely oblige Mr. O'Brien to step-down from office and be barred from running again. Some wags say that might be a blessing for the city. Regardless, under the current circumstances few pundits predict that Mayor O'Brien would have an easy campaign should he run again in the next election scheduled for 16 months from now, in October 2010.

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