Monday, August 27, 2007

Is this a little helpful assistance, or the subversion of democracy?

A raging debate is breaking out in the Northwest, over moves by the Conservative Party of Canada to set up a “go to person” in Houston, apparently designed to help voters in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley gain better access the current government of the day. It would seem that the now century old route of going through the elected representative isn’t a method that is receiving the Conservative seal of approval.

The issue first came up last week on the CBC’s Daybreak program, as the Prince Rupert based host Russell Bowers’ inquired of Cariboo-PrinceGeorge MP, Dick Harris just what his new liaison, Houston Mayor Sharon Smith might be able to do for constituents of the riding. .
Mustering up as much humility as seemingly possible, he kindly suggested that riding's that vote for the “fourth party, like the NDP party – simply don’t’ have the access to the minister or the government that allows them to get things done for their riding.” It would seem that in the view of Mr. Harris, having someone call up Ms. Smith or drop in for coffee might help spin those wheels of governance just a little bit quicker. And oh, by the way, the helpful Ms. Smith is coming to a ballot near you soon, as the Conservative nominee for the riding, a bonus we're sure and purely a coincidence, eh!
However, if one were to turn that argument around, perhaps we might ask our government of the day, why our locally, democratically, elected representative might be having so much trouble accessing Canada’s New Government.

The move seems more like setting the table for a possible election campaign, than it does for providing access for the community. The Conservatives perhaps hopeful of wrestling the Northwest away from the NDP, may somehow think that setting up a conduit may help them come Election Day.

While it’s not uncommon for political parties to set up shop in those riding's in which they don’t have a seat, normally it’s more of an informative nature. It’s a bit of an unusual step to set up almost a parallel constituency office, designed to sidetrack the riding’s residents from their “elected” representative. Surely the Conservatives have a candidate that can win the seat on her own merits and not through an organized campaign of disinformation and subterfuge.

While Mr. Harris goes about with his plans to better understand his neighbouring riding, there is a question for the fine folks of Houston to ask.

How come their current mayor, seems to have the spare time to become the "go to gal" in the riding?
Surely they haven’t run out of things on the Houston “to do” list for the “go to gal” accomplish, before she launches herself onto the National stage.
The percolating issue is burning wild in blogger land, one of the best items of which, is this blog item in the Galloping Beaver which makes the case for the prosecution if you will and asks a few questions that perhaps the new "liaison lady" can provide answers for.

The Daily News provided front page coverage of the tempest in Monday’s paper.

Conservatives urging voters to contact government through Mayor of Houston
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Monday, August 27, 2007
Pages one and three

Many residents of Northern British Columbia, and perhaps throughout Canada, were shocked to learn that the Federal Conservatives have appointed what they call ‘liaisons’ to represent ridings where MP’s are of another party.

On Russell Bowers’ morning Daybreak North radio program last week, he interviewed Cariboo-Prince George Member of Parliament and Chairman of the B. C. Caucus of Conservative MP’s Dick Harris, who announced that Houston Mayor Sharon Smith had been named a “go to person” for the Conservative government in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding, which MP Nathan Cullen currently represents in Ottawa.

“Well, we think that the folks in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding should have access to government, and in other areas of the province as well, where we are finding that opposition MP’s – particularly from the fourth party, like the NDP party – simply don’t have the access to the minister or to the government that allows them to get things done for their ridings,” said Harris in his CBC interview.

“Realistically, to have access to the ministers, you know, realistically you have to be part of the government.“

MP Nathan Cullen was upset about the announcement, and says he wants the public to know about it.

“What they’re trying to do as a principle upsets me quite a bit, and what he’s gotten permission to do is such a slap in the face for people and they’ve been riled up,” said Cullen.

“To have him shouting out from the top of the mountain about how bad I am, I don’t really worry about that. The only people I worry about are the people I actually represent, and their opinions of me.”

Vancouver Island North MP Catherine Bell has already had a similar situation happen to her in her riding. Several months ago, the Tories named a candidate as the “go-to person” for the Conservative party, in what Cullen feels is an effort to undermine her and give the perception that she is not doing her job.

However, he is not sure yet if this practice is something the government has been doing across the whole country or not.

“I’m on my way right now to Montreal, where by coincidence, we’re having a caucus meeting to find out if this is happening across the board, but I don’t know,” said Cullen on Saturday afternoon.

“But according to what Dick Harris had to say, this is an accepted policy, and that they’re going to do this in ridings where they want to do it. We’ll be taking this to the next level obviously, the prime minister and the Ethics Commission, because this is unethical and likely illegal.”

According to Duff Connacher, coordinator of Democracy Watch, not only is what Harris said generally improper, but may be crossing ethical boundaries in the Conflict of Interest Code, a code of conduct for MPs.

“There are general principles in the code that say, for example, that you have to fulfill your public duty, upholding the highest standard, so as to avoid real or apparent conflicts of interest, and to maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of each member of the House of Commons,” said Connacher in a subsequent interview with CBC Radio 1’s Daybreak North program. “And I think in this situation, that standard is not being met.”

Connacher went on to cite two specific rules of the code that he feels have been violated, and into which, in his mind, the Ethics Commissioner should be launching an investigation.

“There are also specific rules: Rule Eight of the Code says that when performing their duties. MP’s shall not act in any way to further – improperly further – another person’s private interests,” he said. “And Rule Nine says that MP’s shall not use their position as a member to influence a decision of another person in a way that improperly furthers another person’s private interests. And I think it’s – these are highly questionable actions by the Conservative MP.”

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