Robyn Benson, PSAC

Channel surfing


When you’re buckling under a load of scandals—massive voter fraud still being investigated by Elections Canada, improper doings in your Prime Minister’s Office, possibly criminal activities by your appointed senators, and new questions arising about what your former right-hand man, Nigel Wright, was up to in your own office), what to do? Find a squirrel, or a bright shiny object.

When even veterans, generally a fairly conservative lot, are in an uproar against you; when a lacklustre Throne Speech has even some of your staunchest media supporters questioning your conservative credentials; when a clumsy attempt to set up the media for a fund-raising drive results in the inevitable public mockery—just look away. To Europe, that is. Get some kind of an agreement, or a declaration at least, for a big free trade deal that’s been in the works for four years. A deal that isn’t even written down, the details of which nobody knows, and which wouldn’t come into effect for another couple of years even without opposition.

You’ve changed the channel, to use the political jargon of the day.

Harper seems to have taken a leaf from the playbook of PQ premier of Quebec, Pauline Marois. Mired in scandals of her own—crumbling infrastructure, massive criminal activity in the construction industry implicating senior PQ officials—she brought in the hugely controversial Charter of Quebec Values. This seems to have backfired, creating somewhat of a backlash, with even PQ elder Jacques Parizeau weighing in against her, but she did manage to change the channel.

This is Harper’s strategy, and so far it seems to be working. Skipping the first day of Parliament, he ran off to Brussels to declare a free trade victory. The corporate media have duly declared victory for him, going so far as to call the ill-defined EU package, Harper’s “legacy.” The man who led the negotiations for the first-ever such deal, the Free Trade Agreement with the US, was unimpressed: he pointed out that there is no actual deal as yet, and that if signed and ratified, the Canada-EU pact would not be the biggest ever, as some are making it out to be. But never mind this voice of reason, and never mind Canadian health care plans and consumers who will pay another billion dollars or so annually for drugs, thanks to a major concession made to Big Pharma to give them extended patent protection. The media love this “deal” already. Cheaper wine and luxury cars! More cheese!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a Conservative omnibus motion set the tone for the new session of Parliament. It would have forced the Opposition to resuscitate all the bills that died after Harper prorogued Parliament as the price for new rules on MP expenses, and recreating a special committee looking into murdered and missing Aboriginal women. Right after the Throne Speech, NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen raised a question of privilege, demanding that the motion be split. Lo and behold, the motion proved too much even for the Speaker of the House of Commons, who has been less than impartial with his rulings in the past. He ruled in favour of the NDP.

The Senate scandal grinds on. The hapless Senator Mike Duffy, facing suspension from the Senate with his erstwhile media colleague Pamela Wallin and bad boy Patrick Brazeau, has applied for sick leave. He’s just thrown a very large cat among the pigeons—almost a tiger, by the looks of it. Conservative pitbull Dean Del Mastro is facing charges for breach of the Canada Elections Act. Former PMO Chief of Staff and convicted fraudster Bruce Carson (remember him?) is facing a criminal trial in the Spring for alleged influence-peddling.

The clouds seem to be gathering. But maybe there’s a ray of sunshine from Europe.

Big new EU free trade deal!

Keep your hand on that TV clicker. High time to hit the “previous channel” button.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on October 22, 2013 8:35 AM.

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