Lesson #64: Here and there – Trudeau, Duffy and Ford

Here and there…

Heard Justin Trudeau do a media scrum yesterday prior to a Liberal caucus meeting and found him to be surprisingly articulate. He offered somewhat intelligent answers to questions posed by your usual assortment of media hacks. For instance he refused to be drawn into the debate about Ford’s admitted crack smoking when one news person attempted to equate Ford’s admission to that of Trudeau who has stated that he has smoked marijuana. He said that he would allow the people of Canada to decide if smoking a joint is the equivalent of doing hits of crack. Very smart. It seemed that Trudeau was ready for that type of question and I think that he handled it and the rest of the scrum – what I saw of it at least – well.

However, Trudeau’s numbers have taken a “hit” according to a recent poll. Of the three leaders whose parties have a realistic chance of forming the next government the only one to show any gain is the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair. Roll this around on your tongue … “Canada’s Prime Minister Thomas Mulcair” … Actually sounds plausible.

The Senate Scandal is in the news again with the release of pages of documents by the R.C.M.P. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police aka RCM Pigs) including some emails between Nigel Wright, Harper’s disgraced Chief of Staff and writer of that infamous $90k cheque, and Mike Duffy, the guy who was the beneficiary of Mr. Wright’s largess. Two things appear to rise above the rest of the shit associated with this scandal, the gift that keeps on giving. One relates to the P.M.’s claim that he only found out that Duffy received the cheque in question in May, three months after the fact when CTV actually broke the story. Assertions of this nature by the Prime Minister are less credible at this point partly because some of Wright’s emails suggest that Harper was “broadly” aware of the goings-on between Wright and Duffy during the time that these two “friends” were engaged in trying to work out the details surrounding the “wrighting” of that cheque.

The second issue which has come to light as a result of the above-mentioned release of documents is the fact that criminal charges, bribery for example, could be laid in this case. Were the two cheques that Duffy received and which he used to repay the government for his misbegotten gains actually bribes designed to buy Duffy’s silence regarding the goings on between the PMO and Mikey in the period leading up to the “wrighting” of the $90,000 cheque as well as a much smaller one, the latter to assist in the payment of Duffy’s legal fees? It is certain that the PMO certainly would not have wanted the facts of this case to emerge for public consumption and may have been willing to attempt to buy Duffy’s silence, bribery in any language.

Take Duffy’s account about how the cheque written by Wright was to be explained to Canadians, i.e. that the PMO cooked up a tale that Duffy was to relay to the media if the question about where he got the money to reimburse the government for his falsely-claimed expenses ever came up. He was to say that he had secured a line of credit from the Royal Bank.

Duffy has already told this story to the Senate while he was fighting for his political life and the salary and perks which ensue from it. That being said it would definitely have been better for the PMO had it not come out. In this context bribery cannot be taken off the table as an offence with which someone in the PMO could be charged.

It is now reaching the point of incredulity that Harper’s staff was keeping all this from him, something which would have to be true if the Prime Minister is not lying. If in fact he only discovered that Wright had used his own money to help out his “friend” – Mike Duffy – three months after the fact, this whole sordid mess is moving into Nixonian/Watergate territory. If Harper didn’t know, he should have and if he was more aware of what was transpiring than we have been led to believe, then we could see that lying twit forced to resign which is what happened to Tricky Dick Nixon. Would you buy a used car from this man? Harper is damned whether he is telling the truth or not.

Remember Rob Ford. Let’s polish off today’s JuicyLesson with a an article regarding the disgraced Toronto mayor which pretty much sums up the situation for both the city and himself. As well this piece by the Gazette’s Monique Muise investigates how a similar scenario might play out in Montreal.

Quebec has more options than Ontario to rid itself of a Rob Ford— By Monique Muise, THE GAZETTE November 19, 2013

MONTREAL – A single sheet of paper.

In the end, that’s all it took to bring down the former mayor of Montreal.

While Gérald Tremblay had suffered numerous political blows leading up to his resignation in November 2012, it was that sheet of paper — allegedly outlining an illegal electoral budget and supposedly placed on a table in front of the mayor — that finally prompted him to step down.

The ex-Union Montreal staffer who claimed Tremblay had seen the document before turning on his heel and walking out of the room had credibility issues of his own when he took the stand at the Charbonneau Commission, but it didn’t matter. Within a week, Tremblay had left city hall for good.

His successor, Michael Applebaum, would experience a similarly rapid fall from grace a few months later after being arrested and charged by Quebec’s permanent anti-corruption unit. He, too, resigned of his own volition.

But what if they had refused to leave?

As the city of Toronto is learning the hard way, there is often very little recourse when the mayor of a Canadian municipality digs in his heels. Embattled Mayor Rob Ford has remained at his post through allegations of drunk driving and abusive behaviour, admissions of illegal drug use and public intoxication, scathing editorials, out-of-control council meetings, wild media crushes, and a request from Santa Claus to please stay away from his parade.

Legislation prevents Ford’s complete removal from office unless he is imprisoned or found to be in violation of Toronto’s conflict-of-interest regulations. While the situation is undoubtedly exceptional, it could be playing out in almost any Canadian city — including our own. According to Montreal city councillor and former council speaker Harout Chitilian, however, recent changes in how elected officials are held to account mean that it’s unlikely Ford would have survived this long in Quebec.

“We have two tools (for suspending or removing a mayor),” Chitilian said. “The first one is the (municipal) Ethics Code that was put in place in 2011. It has a provision that allows a fellow city councillor or even a citizen to file a complaint based on numerous criteria that don’t necessarily involve any criminal accusations.”

If the mayor was behaving in a way that was not deemed respectful of his fellow council members or the citizens of Montreal, for instance, a complaint could be filed with the provincial Municipal Affairs Department, which would then decide whether it is legitimate. If the answer is yes, said Chitilian, Quebec’s municipal commission would be asked to conduct an investigation and could impose one of several penalties, up to and including a 90-day suspension without pay. After that, if the mayor returned to office and his or her behaviour did not change, another suspension could theoretically be in the cards.

The second tool is also a recent creation, Chitilian noted. Passed in March, provincial Law 10 stipulates that any mayor or councillor arrested for a crime punishable by more than two years in prison must step down until the court case is completed. A recent legal challenge in St-Rémi put the legislation to the test for the first time, leading to the removal of mayor Michel Lavoie from office in late August. Lavoie had refused to step down after being arrested and charged with various corruption-related offences last December. (In Ford’s case, legislation like Law 10 wouldn’t be effective, since the mayor hasn’t been arrested or charged. He has, however, been under police investigation.)

“There’s no question that the Quebec system is superior to what exists — or doesn’t exist — in Ontario right now,” said Andrew Sancton, a political-science professor at the University of Western Ontario who specializes in municipal government. “People are just dumbfounded that there doesn’t seem to be any way of getting rid of (Ford) unless he’s in jail.”

Toronto’s situation is not unique in Ontario, Sancton added. The mayor of London, Joe Fontana, has remained in office despite facing criminal charges over an alleged misuse of public funds.
While adopting an approach similar to Quebec’s would be a good idea “in principle,” Sancton said, no system is perfect.

“If it’s set up, as in the St-Rémi case, where somebody has to go to court to get a judge to do something, that’s always costly and cumbersome. … It’s going to cost somebody some money,” he noted. “With the other alternative, having the municipal affairs minister step in, people would see that as the province having too much power. That’s certainly the argument that would be made in Toronto.”
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Tomorrow: It’s time to lighten up.

Lots of peace and love coming your way.


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