Not any more

Ottawa Notebook – The Globe and Mail

In Canada on October 2, 2010 at 13:24

Governor-General David Johnston and his wife, Sharon, sit on the throne after he was sworn in as the 28th Governor-General in the Senate on Oct. 1, 2010.

Friday, October 1, 2010 10:05 PM EDT

Governor-General’s swearing-in sealed with a kiss

Jane Taber

The nation watched Friday as Sharon Johnston firmly planted a kiss on the lips of her husband, David, just minutes after he became the 28th Governor-General of Canada.

A bit awkward and certainly not as passionate as that now famous embrace between Al and Tipper Gore, it was still very loving.

It also brought some levity to the Senate chamber during what was a pretty weighty affair.

Attending the ceremony were politicians from past and present, diplomats, Supreme Court justices, former prime ministers and former governors-general. They all laughed and clapped as Mrs. Johnston first bowed and then went in for the big kiss.

Married for 46 years, Mr. Johnston, 69, described his wife as his best friend. She proved that Friday – not only with the kiss but in another genuine moment when she tugged on his jacket as he accidentally stood up at the wrong time.

Everyone laughed. She has his back.

He described his seven grandchildren – who joined him in the state landau as he left Parliament Hill – as “our miracles.”

And he talked about his five daughters, all of whom are in public service.

“All the important things in life I have learned from my children,” he said in his speech. “And now I am following them into the public service.”

It’s interesting how he got there.

The former academic and university professor is the first governor-general not to have been the prime minister’s exclusive choice. He was selected by a panel of experts who considered potential candidates and narrowed down the choices.

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The latest edition of Maclean's magazine, which has sparked furor in Quebec, is seen at a news stand in North Vancouver on Sept. 24, 2010.

Friday, October 1, 2010 8:44 AM EDT

Maclean’s forces Tory MPs into ‘separatist trap’

Jane Taber

Not: Tories, Maclean’s and separatists. Many Conservative MPs didn’t like what they did Wednesday night in voting against freedom of the press and Maclean’s magazine but felt cornered by the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

It was quite a disturbing scene. By unanimous consent, MPs from all parties condemned the publication for “the prejudice displayed and the stereotypes employed by Maclean’s magazine to denigrate the Quebec nation, its history and its institutions.”

There are 75 federal seats in the province; no politician wants to anger Quebeckers.

The magazine’s cover showed the iconic winter carnival mascot, Bonhomme, holding a briefcase overflowing with cash with an accompanying headline that called Quebec “the most corrupt province in Canada.”

“Many of us had problems with the motion,” a thoughtful Conservative MP said, feeling that it “attacked freedom of the press and free speech.”

“Ultimately, we went along for one reason,” the MP said. “It was a separatist trap that would feed their narrative. That said many didn’t care for the cover image or the fact that they didn’t clarify that it isn’t Quebec that they are stating is corrupt, it’s their political system.”

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Nigel Wright is shown as managing director of Onex Corp on Dec.20, 2004.

Friday, October 1, 2010 8:16 AM EDT

Is Harper’s new chief of staff here for a good time, not a long time?

Steven Chase

Stephen Harper’s next chief of staff appears to be on temporary loan from one of Bay Street’s largest private equity firms.

A statement this week from his employer, Onex Corp., suggests that Nigel Wright, who assumes his duties in the Prime Minister’s Office on New Year’s Day, is due back with Onex by the end of 2012.

Such a return ticket would oblige Mr. Wright to take special care while acting as senior aide to the Prime Minister to recuse himself from files that could affect Onex.

There are potentially many areas to avoid. A corporate-investment chart on Onex’s website shows the breadth of companies that count the firm as an investor or asset manager, from aerospace to manufacturing to real estate.

Onex refuses to comment on a recent statement to the National Post, which quoted the company as saying Mr. Wright is on “temporary leave” and expected back within two years.

“Nigel will start work in Ottawa at the end of October and will return to Onex in 18 to 24 months to resume his leadership of the Aerospace and Defence and Energy verticals,” the statement attributed to Onex management said.

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Friday, October 1, 2010 12:25 PM EDT

David Johnston sworn in as Governor-General

Pomp and circumstance replaced the cut and thrust of daily politics as David Johnston was formally installed as Canada’s 28th Governor-General Friday.

The 69-year-old academic, who has a background in law and served as president of both McGill and Waterloo universities, took over from Michaëlle Jean. The former journalist completed her last official act Thursday by planting a sapling at Rideau Hall. She will become the United Nation’s special envoy to her native Haiti.

In keeping with his theme, “The Smart and Caring Nation: A Call to Service,” Mr. Johnston paid tribute to Canada’s military as well as young and exemplary Canadians, including a peewee hockey player and an Olympic athlete.

After his installation, he and his wife, Sharon, were to travel by state landau from Parliament Hill to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to lay a bouquet of roses.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 30, 2010.

Thursday, September 30, 2010 5:34 PM EDT

Spirit of co-operation in Commons vanishes after just two weeks

Jane Taber

They’ve been back now for eight Question Periods after vowing to be polite and pledging co-operation. Thursday, MPs were told to put a sock in it.

“Order, order,” House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken interjected more than a few times as he tried to restore calm to the chamber.

“I remind honourable members it’s Thursday, not Wednesday,” the Speaker said, referring to the mid-week antics MPs are known for after their caucus meetings. Typically, that’s the day all hell breaks loose. “Calm down a little.”

Unfortunately, they didn’t.

“Mr. Speaker, we’ve had two examples in the last week where the House has clearly made decisions – on the long-gun registry and on the census – clearly reflecting a sense of give and take, all parties giving away somewhat to come to a conclusion and to come to a compromise,” Liberal MP Bob Rae began.

“I’d like to ask the Prime Minister a very simple question. What is his problem with democracy?”

Stephen Harper usually only answers questions from party leaders. But he took Mr. Rae’s questions, refusing to back away from his view that the gun registry should be scrapped.

“What does the Liberal Party have against law-abiding citizens? What does it have against duck hunters, against aboriginal Canadians? Why doesn’t it stand up for people of the regions of this country?”

And then there was Carolyn Bennett, another Toronto Liberal MP who gets under the skin of her Tory colleagues. A passionate questioner, Dr. Bennett demanded Industry Minister Tony Clement reverse course: “Will the government accept the will of Parliament and stop rejecting evidence-based policy-making and restore the long form census now?

Mr. Clement refused.

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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff takes questions at an 'Open Mike' town hall meeting in Montreal on Sept. 27, 2010.

Thursday, September 30, 2010 4:11 PM EDT

Michael Ignatieff ‘frustrated’ with Liberal stagnation in polls

Jane Taber

Michael Ignatieff spent the summer on a bus touring the country. He travelled 40,000 kilometres and he shook more than 15,000 hands – and yet he can’t figure out what he’s doing wrong.

Behind the closed-doors of his caucus meeting Wednesday, the Liberal Leader appeared “frustrated,” according to an MP who attended. His frustration seems to be over the fact that despite his Herculean efforts to try to connect with Canadians this summer, he hasn’t.

He can’t understand why voters don’t see what he sees in Stephen Harper’s government, according to the source. “I don’t know why Canadians don’t realize those people are not competent,” the Liberal leader told his caucus.

On Monday he started his “Open Mike” series of town hall meetings. The first one was held in the NDP-held Montreal riding of Outremont.

Although, the rooms are packed it seems they are full of Liberals, the caucus source said. The leader is preaching to the converted instead of bringing in all sorts of Canadians under a “big red tent.”

The national opinion polls, meanwhile, have not been kind to Mr. Ignatieff. Although the Liberals are within striking distance of the Conservatives, they are only just above Stéphane Dion’s nadir of 24 per cent.

The latest EKOS poll has the Liberals at 29.9 per cent compared to the Tories with 33.1 per cent. This a slight increase for Mr. Ignatieff over the past two weeks. Other recent polls show him with support in the mid-20s, although an Ipsos Reid poll had the Grits with 31 per cent support earlier this month.

When it comes to his personal approval rating and questions about how he is performing, Mr. Ignatieff typically falls behind Mr. Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton.

The caucus source said it doesn’t help matters when Mr. Ignatieff changes his mind on policy, as he did Wednesday on Employment Insurance. He reversed his support on a number of enhancements to EI benefits proposed in a Bloc MP’s private member’s bill.

Mr. Ignatieff told reporters the bill was “not fiscally responsible.” Despite his view, several Liberal MPs voted in favour of the legislation.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010 11:20 AM EDT

Confidence scenarios ‘make King-Byng look like a walk in the park’

Jane Taber

Frank Graves has some advice for the incoming governor-general David Johnston: Be prepared.

The pollster’s counsel comes amid a very confused political landscape outlined in the latest EKOS survey. Released Thursday, it shows Canadians are warming to the possibility of a fall election – and they want a majority government.

Thirty-three per cent of those surveyed (up five points from this time last year) favour a fall election, compared to 67 per cent who want one “some time later.” And 48 per cent of EKOS respondents favour a majority government compared to 26 per cent who prefer a minority government.

Don’t get too excited, though. It’s unlikely this will happen any time soon.

For starters, there is no party leader who currently can deliver more than a minority government. And the latest numbers show Canadians aren’t sure what kind of majority government they want: 26 per cent want a majority Conservative government and 10 per cent want a Harper minority; 22 per cent support a Liberal majority compared to 16 per cent who want an Ignatieff minority; and 26 per cent support none of those options.

About that fall election? Support for it comes from mostly NDP and Green Party voters whose enthusiasm may be curbed by the latest EKOS numbers showing them woefully behind the Tories and Liberals.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010 8:51 AM EDT

‘Ingenious stealth majority’ not in cards after Harper’s gun-registry defeat

Jane Taber

1. ‘The electorate is mildly polarizing.’ Canadians are squeezing out Jack Layton’s New Democrats as the gap widens between his party and the two front-running parties, according to a new EKOS poll.

The latest survey, released Thursday morning, supports what other recent polls have shown – a worrisome decline for the NDP, which faces the possibility of slipping behind the Green Party.

The NDP is now at 13.5 per cent support compared to the 16.6 per cent support they enjoyed in the EKOS poll two weeks ago. Mr. Layton’s position on the long-gun registry – in which he refused to demand his MPs support it – may, in part, explain the decline.

Elizabeth May and her Greens, meanwhile, are within spitting distance of the NDP with 10.9 per cent, up slightly from the 10.7 per cent support they polled two weeks ago.

And the poll also shows that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals have a huge lead over the NDP and Greens, polling at 33.1 per cent for the Tories compared to 29.9 per cent for the Grits. Both parties experienced slight gains from the last EKOS poll (32.4 per cent compared to 28.9 per cen two weeks agot), apparently at the expense of the NDP.

“The NDP and [Green Party] both seem to be being squeezed as the electorate is mildly polarizing with the front runners,” pollster Frank Graves says. “I don’t think [the electorate] has written off the NDP; it’s too soon to say that.”

However, Mr. Graves says if the New Democrats slip further the Greens could inherit the third party role. “As time goes on, their core issue and appeal to a younger constituency may tilt things in favour of the Greens.”

The pollster cautions, however, that these are still early days and the landscape could easily change. “I think the defecting NDP vote were highly-educated who have gone Liberal over concerns about guns, census, and related issues. The Liberals may be seem as a better bet to depose Harper. This may also explain downward drift of [the Green Party].”

The latest poll also shows a recent surge in support for the Tories in Quebec has come to a screeching halt.

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Elizabeth May poses for a photo during the Green Party's convention in Toronto on Aug. 22, 2010.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 2:49 PM EDT

Do voters want a breath of fresh Green air?

Jane Taber

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May’s unscientific view of her party’s recent climb in the opinion polls is that Canadians are “turned off by old style politics.”

“I keep hearing the same phrase from people who stop me on the street or in airports to say they support us – ‘breath of fresh air’,” she told The Globe, reacting to a new Angus Reid poll. “I think that means they find the stale air of mainstream hyper-partisan politics unpleasant.”

The poll, which was conducted this week, shows Ms. May’s party has climbed four points, to 11 per cent national support, since the 2008 election. It has the Harper Conservatives at 34 per cent compared to 26 per cent for the Liberals. The NDP is at 18 per cent.

Angus Reid pollster Jaideep Mukerji attributes the Green growth, in part, to the fact that Canadians are “parking their votes” with the party. “There hasn’t been a corresponding rise in concerns about the environment to suggest to me that Canadians are turning to the Greens for policy reasons,” he said.

Ms. May – not surprisingly – doesn’t agree.

“I think the surge in Green support is partly disgust with the current state of politics, but it is more than ‘parking’ and more than a protest vote,” she said. “Canadians are increasingly really excited about how it would improve Parliament to elect Greens.”

Last week, Ipsos Reid released a poll that showed the Greens and the NDP tied at 12 per cent support nationally. The firm suggested in its analysis that the NDP squeeze was a result of Jack Layton’s refusal to demand his MPs support the long-gun registry.

And a poll commissioned by the Green Party last month has Ms. May competitive in the British Columbia riding in which she has chosen to run against Gary Lunn, the sports minister, in the next election. Mr. Lunn has 34 per cent support compared to 32 per cent for Ms. May, according to the telephone poll by McAllister Opinion Research in Vancouver.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010 11:11 AM EDT

Tory MP sees ‘the nation as the pimp’ if prostitution ruling stands

Jane Taber

It’s caucus day on Parliament Hill and behind the closed doors of the Conservative meeting you can bet that when the Ontario court ruling decriminalizing prostitution is discussed, Joy Smith will speak up.

The Conservative MP from Winnipeg calls Tuesday’s ruling by a Superior Court justice “astounding and alarming.” And she wants it appealed, fearful other provinces will follow suit, leading to the federal government to become Canada’s “pimp.”

“My goodness we would have the nation as the pimp and that’s wrong and we can’t afford that,” she said in an interview Wednesday morning before going into caucus.

Ms. Smith is a bit of an expert on these issues. Just before the Senate rose for the summer, it passed her private member’s bill calling for a five-year minimum sentence for traffickers of minors.

Sex trafficking and prostitution are linked, she argues, noting studies she says show that where prostitution is legalized there is a significant increase in the expansion of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. For example in Amsterdam, Ms. Smith says there is an influx of human trafficking victims and some brothels have had to be closed down as a result.

Other countries where prostitution is legal have also experienced human trafficking problems.

“So why in the world would Ontario – I am speaking not for my government but for myself based on what I have done over the years – why in the world would this be happening? It’s astounding is what it is.”

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has said that the government is “very concerned” about the ruling. He is seriously considering an appeal.

“I am not the Justice Minister,” Ms. Smith said. “But I would strongly support that. There are so many women and children at risk. And I am astounded at this kind of thing would come forward in Ontario.

“We have to protect our women and children. We can’t afford [to decriminalize prostitution].”

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