Entries from November 2007 ↓

Small men of Confederation

hill-harper1.jpg

During one QP this week, Stephane Dion asked Stephen Harper a blistering question, in French. The prime minister didn’t even try to answer, giving a completely evasive response, then sat down, wearing that smirk of his.

Dion sprung up, ready to pounce. “Let me try again in English,” he said. The government members started to howl in derision, sending out the clear message that Stephane Dion doesn’t speak English. Rather, he tries to speak English. It was a cheap and cruel shot, of course, a classic case of attacking a man, rather than his mind, and it was orchestrated by one person. Jay Hill.

As I sat and watched the Chief Government Whip, the former northern BC farmer and Reformer who has grown used to his Hugo Boss suits, who foppishly fashioned his House of Commons identifier lapel pin into a gaudy pinky ring, who now rules the Tory caucus with fear and insult, and who Stephen Harper surprisingly rewarded by making him “Honourable”, as a member of the Privy Council, I was reminded again why he’s a thug. He can’t help it. Jay Hill has pushed his way through life, and ended up with the perfect job – Stephen Harper’s heavy.

But I could probably overlook mockery, bullying and intimidation, if Jay Hill wasn’t also an Ontario-hater. As I found out this week, Mr. Harper’s right-hand bouncer has thrown his considerable weight behind legislation that will, for decades, ensure that Canada stomps all over the principle of representation by population.

The issue is Bill C-22. The Conservative initiative would add seats to the House of Commons, twenty-two in total, and is the result of a Harper election promise to “restore representation by population for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.” But it will do anything but, and suddenly make western voters more powerful than eastern ones.

As Jay Hill this week explained it in an article in his home town paper, The Prince George Citizen: “We used Quebec as the base and then discounted the most populous province, which is Ontario. Ontario doesn’t get the same ratio as the other provinces…and I think most people would say Ontario already has an extremely strong voice in the parliament of Canada by dint of its number…it’s never true representation by population.”

I’m sure that plays well in Prince George, where Mr. Hill’s riding has just over 100,000 voters. In Halton, where there are now 160,000 voters, well, we’re not too amused.

In fact, the Ontario premier is a tad pissed, too. Bill C-22 will give Ontario 10 new seats, which will mean that with 40% of the country’s population, it will have just 35% of the MPs in the Commons. If the counting was true, Ontario would gain an additional 11 seats (for a total of 21 more), and then MPs everywhere (except in the small population provinces and remote areas) would each represent about 105,000 voters.

But when Dalton McGuinty expressed those concerns to PMSH, he had his minister of democratic reform respond. In his letter, Peter van Loan called Mr. McGuinty, “the small man of Confederation.” Kinda like laughing at someone’s Canadian accent, wouldn’t you say?

The problem is that Bill C-22, which western supremacists like Hill and Harper espouse, will ensure BC and Alberta gain one additional seat for every population increase of 100,000, while Ontario gains a seat for each new 200,000 citizens. So much for one person, one vote. So much for equality. So much for democratic reform.

So, how could the national government possibly bring forth a new law that will make citizens who live in the West more influential than ones who live in the East?

Maybe because we have a prime minister from Calgary, who disparaged the “culture of defeat” in the Maritimes, who lamented Ontario’s failure to elect Reform MPs and who suggested there be a “firewall” around Alberta, to keep us at bay.

Then again, maybe he’s just surrounded by braying jerks.

Schreiber

schreiber-testifies1.jpg

In the House of Commons today I delivered a speech on the economy. Our task this week is to debate Bill C-28, which implements budget measures, including the GST cut. So, I stood and did my job, arguing why the government should be very worried right now about the high dollar, manufacturing job loss, income security for seniors, too-high mortgage rates and mounting financial stress for families.

These, I said to a nearly-empty House, are the issues Canadians sent us to the Hill to worry about. In the lives of taxpayers and citizens, they matter far more than do Schreiber and Mulroney.

Well, the few Conservatives there heckled me. The few Liberals applauded me. The Bloc guys ignored me. The NDP were absent. The Speaker feigned interest and the young pages sitting before him looked appropriately bored. Nothing may have changed in the nation when I concluded, but it still felt good to say those things.

Even when there are few people around, and fewer still paying attention, there’s a satisfaction in addressing the stone walls, the gilt ceiling, the richly carpeted floor and the carved wooden desks in that room. The chamber reeks history, permanence and continuum. It is an honour to stand beside one of those green upholstered chairs and speak, as the 39th person in history who has represented my town to the confederation.

So, mildly high on Parliamentary endorphins, I went for a walk through Centre Block and ended up in Room 253-D, just as Karlheinz Schreiber was taking a highly unusual oath, administered by the clerk of the House ethics committee. The place, of course, was packed. SRO. Journalists were slotted in like Highliner fishies along a couple of long tables, and bodies hugged all four of the stone walls of this, the Hill’s largest committee room.

Being an MP, I have the right to sit at any committee table, so I did. But the only available seat was one chair over from Mr. Schreiber, affording me a favoured vantage point. From there I could hear his whispered conversations with his lawyer, read the large-print, scrawled notes he was passing him, and closely watch a 73-year-old cunning man who was clearly blunted by his recent time in prison, and his jolting treatment getting to Ottawa.

Mr. Schreiber is obviously charming and adroit. It’s clear to see how he made a career out of being a schmoozer and a greaser. He’s a salesguy whose social attributes took him to dinner with prime ministers and presidents, earned him millions and ultimately led to his discrediting and downfall. He’s too much, at least I’m sure he was. Cloying and pervasive, he’d hardly seem the kind of man Brian Mulroney, imperious and himself overbearing, would befriend.

The witness showed the obvious failings of age, and understandable confusion at being thrust into a high-pressure situation. He fussed with the earpiece allowing him to hear in the high-ceiling, cavernous room, then fussed again when trying to bring in the audio from the two translators sitting in the smoked-glass booth in the corner. At first he repeatedly asked his lawyer for instructions, before gaining confidence and abandoning his no-cooperation rule. And he looked a lot more worn, less groomed, more peppered with age spots and less vigorous that the news footage and wire photos we have all been flooded with.

I stayed 75 minutes, then returned to the House. On the way back I was chased for an interview for a German TV crew – obviously desperate for any shred of Schreiber news they could get. They asked me if we Canadian politicians felt like we’re being manipulated and spun by the wily schmoozer.

Behind me TV cameramen wandered the halls, waiting for victims. Mike Duffy was in a corner of the Hall of Honour, hunched over a portable monitor showing live committee shots. Commons cops were everywhere, and microphone cables made walking perilous. Behind the building were more cameras, herded into makeshift media areas behind metal crowd-control barriers, waiting for the day’s final perp walk. And outside in the falling snow, guarding the Hill itself were extra RCMP patrol cars, which now blocked every point of vehicle access.

All for one diminutive, oft-hesitant, aged man.

Yes, I said. He has us.

Perp walk

perp-walk.JPG

It’s just after 8:30 Thursday morning and moments ago I walked into the Centre Block through the back door, between the Library of Parliament and the Parliamentary loading docks. As you can see from the pictures I snapped, the Schreiber Perp Walk is in full progress. In minutes, the car carrying KS will pull up, and he’ll be escorted through the minor media throng into the building, where he will change and prepare for his testimony.

Welcome to the circus, folks. Your national legislature hard at work. Your national media, working harder.

perp-julie.JPG
CBC’s ever-present Julie Van Deusen braves an Ottawa snowstorm to await the fugitive-celebrity.