Hurricanes and election expenses: Politics on TV, Oct. 29 edition

Talking about Hurricane Sandy, Peter Penashue’s election spending, and the new Chief of Defence Staff

Message of the day

“The economic recovery is on track.”

Questions not answered

  • Will the Elections Commissioner open an investigation into Peter Penashue’s election expenses?

Hurricane Sandy:

Power Play started off by asking Ontario Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur about the preparations for the storm. Meilleur said that the expectation is for the storm to begin in Ontario around midnight and last for up to 12 hours, with winds gusting up to 100 km/hour, affecting mostly southern Ontario with the Niagara peninsula and the Toronto-Ottawa corridor. Meilleur notes that her department is working with federal departments like Defence and Health Canada to keep on top of emergency measures, and that it is better to be prepared than to be concerned about crying wolf.

Peter Penashue’s election spending:

Bob Rae was on Power & Politics to talk about his letter to the Commissioner of Elections about investigating Peter Penashue’s election spending. Rae said he’s not satisfied with the discussions to date, and wants to know at what point overspending becomes a problem – a few hundred dollars, or a several thousand, as with Penashue. Rae said that he’s not sure if the sanctions in the law are adequate, and that the Elections Act requires a complete overhaul.

Later on Power Play, Rae added that our elections laws are based around limits, so you don’t have the situation you see in the States. He noted that there has been no denial on Penashue’s part, and that it’s not credible to simply throw the former Official Agent under the bus for alleged inexperience.

Evan Solomon later called in an MP panel consisting of Pierre Poilievre, Charlie Angus, and Roger Cuzner to discuss the potentially questionable donations that Penashue received post-election from a half-dozen executives from a single company. Poilievre dutifully delivered his lines about how Penashue is not stepping down, that there is no evidence of wrongdoing, and that the Official Agent is dealing with Elections Canada. Angus said this was an issue of ministerial accountability (except that ministerial accountability deals with the actions of the department, not his election spending), and said that flights are expensive, so Penashue getting them for free would be a huge advantage. Cuzner cited the example of one poll that traditionally votes Liberal, where Penashue was able to visit where Todd Russell wasn’t because he respected the limits, and 25 of the 79-vote difference was attributable to that single poll.

When P&P’s Power Panel weighed in, Chris Hall noted that while all of the various allegations are supposed to be “inadvertent,” but the overall trend seems to be that the campaign knew they were in trouble. Anne McGrath said that it was outrageous that Penashue hasn’t given an answer in the House, but that was part of the usual pattern of protect and deny. Tom Flanagan said that Harper is likely to stand behind Penashue, as those ministers who have fallen were because of some perceived personal weakness, which Harper would have little sympathy for given his puritanical streak. Rob Silver said that spending 20 per cent more than is allowed is serious, and one needs to keep in mind the nature of the riding, where you need to fly around it. He also noted that none of these allegations are difficult to prove.

The state of the economy:

Don Martin sat down with Jim Flaherty to discuss the upcoming economic forecast. Flaherty said that the economic prognosis is that the economy is managing well, despite recession in Europe, but improved housing and job numbers in the States will bode well for us. He noted that inflation is lower, which will affect nominal GDP and reduce government revenue, so there remains a need to stick with spending control. Flaherty said that the deficit is on track for elimination in the medium term.

Martin then spoke with Carlos Leitao from Laurentian Bank Securities, who confirmed that in the global context, Canada is doing reasonably well, and that the downgraded GDP is not enough to worry about because of the prudence built into the budget. When asked what his advice to the minister was during the meeting with private sector economists, Leitao said that it was to stay the course. He also said that the big concern globally remains the situation in the Eurozone.

The new Chief of Defence Staff:

General Tom Lawson officially assumed the post of Chief of Defence Staff today, and Solomon assembled an MP panel of Chris Alexander, Jack Harris, and John McKay to discuss the kinds of challenges he’ll face. Alexander said that Lawson has a critical role of uniting the Forces, and preparing to deploy them for missions he can’t predict, while trying to find efficiencies. He also noted that the improvements in procurement contracts will result in savings. Harris said that Lawson will have to deal with the tension between the Leslie Report about cutting headquarters, while Lawson’s position is that there is not a lot of fat to be cut. McKay said the major challenge will be the budget, and that the Canada First Defence Strategy is effectively dead, so his sympathies go with Lawson, who has to bring a sense of realism to the government.

On Power Play, Martin spoke with Senator (and retired General) Romeo Dallaire about Lawson’s new job. Dallaire said that Walt Natynczyk’s legacy is the depth of human engagement he brought to all ranks, and that he was the right guy to bring them home in the transition period. As for Lawson, Dallaire said that “he’s got a hell of a time,” as the combat-experienced Forces won’t be as pliant as they were in the 90s. Dallaire noted that Lawson has no defence or foreign affairs white papers to draw from as he tries to make plans, and that his fear is that families, quality of life, training and education are likely among areas under consideration for cuts, which all become a cut to the future.

When P&P’s Power Panel weighed in, Hall said that Lawson’s challenge will be cutting at headquarters, while Flanagan gave credit to Paul Martin for ramping up defence spending, but that Lawson will have to live with the need to make cuts. McGrath said that Lawson will find it hard to maintain the popularity of his office at a time of contraction, and that his being a proponent of F-35s may hurt him with the public. Silver said that the government’s challenge will be managing how it raised the importance of the military while still insisting that cuts be made.

Upcoming trade mission to India:

Power Play’s strategists panel spoke about the Prime Minister’s upcoming trip to India, where Goldy Hyer noted that Harper has formed a personal attachment to India, as the world’s largest democracy with lots of English speakers and the rule of law, and he said that the fact that this is a six-day trip signals that we’ll be pushing for a free-trade deal. Robin Sears noted that the fact that not a lot of Canadians don’t have a connection with India unless they’ve come from there means that the government will need to explain why free trade will be a good idea, especially with the scepticism around wages in that country.




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