I ambled over to a drinking fountain, impossibly thirsty in a fleeting summer rainstorm. My suit was sopping wet, my cell phone was nearly out of batteries, and it seemed everyone in the passing cars was infintely more confident than me. I wasn’t hopelessly lost, but I was in danger of being hopelessly late.

This is the story of my first trip to Rideau Hall.

Continue reading ‘In the nick of time’


Now that we’re all wrapped up talking about press gallery scrums and cabinet shuffles, it’s time to look at a very disturbing situation developing in Ottawa.

Simcoe-Grey MP Helena Guergis has apparently written to all of her former colleagues in the Conservative caucus, pleading with them to let her back in the fold.

“It is my wish to rejoin the conservative family,” reads the letter dated July 28. “It is my hope, that with your support, I would be able to re-enter caucus and continue the work of serving the Prime Minister, our Party and the constituents of Simcoe-Grey,” Guergis wrote.

Guergis is rebounding from several months of utterly disastrous press coverage. But to this day, none of the allegations made against her have been proven. And she’s been cleared of any wrongdoing by the RCMP. So she’s asking to be a Conservative again, which, we should recall, is what her constituents voted for.

But the Prime Minister’s Office remains adamant.

“Our position on this issue has not changed,” said Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “There were several reasons that Ms. Guergis was removed from caucus. We hold our members to a high standard.”

Guergis has virtually no friends among the columnists of Ottawa’s press gallery, according to the lack of opinions rushing to her defence. And even the press outside the bubble won’t back her. In fact, a recent Barrie Examiner editorial took the PMO’s line and ran with it, after calling Guergis’ defence a “spin job”. It concludes thusly:

Has [Guergis] been treated a little harshly by the PM? Probably. But did Guergis’ conduct at least deserve her removal from Cabinet, given the tight ship Harper runs? Yes, and that story cannot be rewritten.

What if Guergis isn’t spinning anything? Again, nothing has been proven against her.
In response to my tweet on this, colleague Lucas Timmons tweeted the following:

It never ceases to amaze me how women are threatened by other women’s looks. I can think of a few [press gallery] reporters who are guilty.

Time for a serious question. Are we collectively turning on Guergis because a) we don’t like her, b) she’s a woman, or c) both?

Guess what? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of those options, we need to start asking some more serious questions.

Today, the Ottawa Citizen ran a story on the front of its website about a potentially horrific storm on its way to Ottawa. They quoted an Environment Canada meteorologist as saying it was a perfect storm of sorts.
“Everything is at the maximum level: maximum cold air, maximum hot air, maximum unstable air. It’s going to be a big storm,” said Louis Allard, meteorologist with Environment Canada.
Meanwhile, the cross-town Sun tossed up a similar story, quoting the same meteorologist. But check out the quote:
“There’s nothing to indicate (the storms) will be super strong,” Allard said.
How bad will the storm be? I guess it depends not on who you ask, but when you ask them.
For the record, here is the Weather Network forecast and the Environment Canada forecast for the Ottawa area. As of 13:55 Eastern time, neither was predicting anything catastrophic.

I have a new favourite comment from a media relations office. I’d had nothing but a smooth ride with these particular folks, who shall remain nameless. And then, after I thought we’d gone our separate ways, I got this (name removed).

It is possible that XXXXX‘s answers are modified. I will send you the changes if the answers do change.

Nothing against these people. It was probably an honest mistake. But this is the kind of situation that can get really awkward really fast.

In her column today, Mia Rabson of the Winnipeg Free Press took a few shots at Liberal and Conservative senators who were absent from the chamber when the vote on the federal budget went down. She included some information that was new to me.

Conservative Hugh Segal recused himself from the vote because he sits on the board of a company the budget could affect.

This has been public knowledge for about a week, it seems. The National Post‘s John Ivison even used Segal’s recusal as a case study, and wrote a whole column about how much outside work senators should be able to do. Here are the first few paragraphs from Ivison’s piece:

Conservative Senators faced some nervous moments on Monday night before they knew for sure they had the numbers to pass their omnibus budget bill, a 48-44 vote squeaker that averted any prospect of a summer election.

The government side was helped by seven Liberal no-shows. But the vote would have been less of a nail-biter for the whips had Conservative Senator Hugh Segal not recused himself from the vote, claiming that his directorship of engineering giant SNC Lavalin might constitute a conflict of interest when it came to the budget’s proposed sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (Mr. Segal says he has no idea if SNC will be a bidder but the possibility meant his withdrawal was “the honourable thing to do.”)

I get why Segal recused himself. But let’s let Ivison make another point before I ask my big question.

Mr. Segal is paid $130,000 to sit in the Senate of Canada but augments that sum with directorships in companies like SNC, SunLife Financial and Just Energy Income Trust, which pay him a combined total of up to $300,000 in additional fees.

He’s hardly alone — I spent Tuesday lunchtime trawling through the Public Registry of senators’ outside interests and found that 47 of 104 denizens of our upper chamber top up their salaries with directorships and professional fees. It’s a wonder senators like Pamela Wallin (a director of Porter Airlines, CTV globemedia and Gluskin Sheff, not to mention Chancellor of Guelph University) and Michael Meighen (a director of five investment companies and Chancellor of the University of King’s College in Halifax) find the time to turn up for work on Parliament Hill at all.

I haven’t pored over the list of companies who count senators as directors, but I think there are questions to be asked here.

The last two federal budgets have doled out billions of dollars that have directly or indirectly helped thousands of Canadian companies and organizations.

  • The University of Guelph received $16,817,500 in stimulus funding under the Knowledge Infrastructure Program for the “development of an environmental cluster.” Did Wallin recuse herself from votes on the 2009 budget because of that conflict?
  • King’s College in Nova Scotia received $172,500 in stimulus funding under the Knowledge Infrastructure Program to “replace 10 obsolete heating and air management units that are no longer functioning at Prince Hall.” Did Meighen recuse himself from votes on the 2009 budget because of that conflict?

Those two senators might well have recused themselves. But plenty of others who voted on potential conflicts might not have done the right thing.

Ten years ago, Mark Kingwell wrote in The World We Want about the challenges of what was then seen by some as a new phenomenon: the notion of global citizenship. He argued then that thanks to the rapidly changing realities of an increasingly “global world”, we ought to reflect on the idea of citizenship itself to understand how it could work in a “post-national” world.

Disagree or not with the notion that nation-states are increasingly meaningless, but give the following passage some thought.

Countries that were formed in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rounds of unification, or emerged in strength after the upheavals of world war in the twentieth, no longer appear viable. In many cases, including Canada, the nation of yesterday is increasingly reduced to the economic colony of today, beholden to market forces. A member of the G7 (or G8 if that other crumbling nation-state, Russia, is invited; or even more lately, the G20), Canada nevertheless lacks power in arranging its own affairs. Some of this is de facto, as when our cultural experience is overrun by wave upon wave of American consumer products. But some of it comes from sheer lack of will, as when, during the Vancouver meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in 1997, Canadian leaders were cowed and even embarrassed by the demands of a visiting foreign dictator who did not wish to confront a few student protesters.

And then think about it in relation to current events — say, the G20 summit that has shaken up downtown Toronto. Start with this, from yesterday’s Globe:

The moment Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided Canada would host this week’s G20 meeting, Toronto was fated to become a fortified city.

Police and military leaders decided that Muskoka, host of the G8 summit, could not also accommodate the G20 to follow. So they were forced to accept that dozens of world leaders would be crammed into the densest corners of Canada’s largest city – and that, to protect them, authorities would need to install three-metre-high fences and summon thousands of police, leaving residents bemused and bothered.

This is the new reality of hosting global summits in an urban setting, when the only thing officials agree on is that they can’t spend too much to safeguard against the nightmare of playing host to an international incident.

“It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” said former top Mountie Norman Inkster, arguing today’s realities bear no resemblance to the last time Toronto hosted such a summit – when he was commissioner in 1988. “This is an entirely different scene now.”

The ranks of world leaders and entourages attending such summits are swelling to the point that smaller communities cannot accommodate them. And the decision to host not just the G8 but the G20, with its attendant entourage, is about more than the mere addition of numbers – it’s about adding group of countries with diverse political baggage, which in turn multiplies the flanks authorities have to protect in one of the world’s most multicultural cities.

“The ethnic mix that makes Canada the wonderful country it is brings with it some of its challenges,” Mr. Inkster said.

As soon as Canada decided to host the G20 summit in its largest city, was there any doubt it would come to this? And was there ever any doubt that this isn’t the real issue?

It’s no secret that Canadian mining companies operating abroad have long been criticized for operating unsustainable and outright harmful mines in the developing world. Critics are usually from the affected areas, and often the claims made against companies don’t maintain much momentum by the time they reach Canadian ears.

But there’s a storm brewing in Guatemala, and it might be making the people at Goldcorp, Canada’s second-largest gold mining company, nervous. The company’s defence against the most recent allegations against its operations is shaky at best. Continue reading ‘Goldcorp spins science in Guatemala’