The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Friday, February 17, 2006

How can Harper trump a Jack, a queen, a prince, and a David ??

Can the disconnect between the press and the public get any greater?Pick up the newspaper and count the headlines about the "Emerson controversy."

Turn on the T.V. and see the protestors outside David Emerson's constituency office demanding he resign. Tune in a radio talkshow and hear how Emerson's jump to the Conservatives is a "white-hot" topic in the country.

Pundits everywhere are certain the defection is hurting Prime Minister Stephen Harper. His honeymoon with the public is over, they shout. The Liberals are planning a swift return to power.

Problem is, someone forgot to tell the people.

The latest poll by Decima Research reflects none of that. On release of the poll data yesterday, Decima spokesman Bruce Anderson said " the numbers signal a number of things, notably that the controversy surrounding Mr. Emerson's switch and the appointment of unelected Michael Fortier to cabinet have not affected Conservative support."

The Conservatives won the support of 36 percent of the electorate on election day and have dropped a single point according to a poll taken during their first week as government (you know, the week everyone is calling a disaster).

Liberal support, meanwhile, is off five percentage points ,dropping to 25 percent from 30 on election day.

But...but...but. How can that be? These are professionals. They have their finger on the pulse of the country? And unlike bloggers, they have editors!

Oh, that explains it. The election is over and its business as usual. In other words, the press is reporting what it thinks the story should be, facts be damned. Who cares what people really think. The accepted storyline is the Conservatives have blown it, screwed up, can't do anything right. Bury the poll. More stories about the "Emerson controversy".

We've seen this all before--during the election campaign. You remember, how every story mentioned the same-sex marriage debate. It was, you know, the most important issue of the election--- according to the reporters in the field. The same reporters who ignored the Income Trust Scandal.

Winnipeg Free Press reporter: Hey, do we have room for a story on Kreskin the Mentalist?

Winnipeg Free Press editor: Of course. We need a break from how the same-sex marriage issue is going to hurt the Conservatives. Nothing else is happening in this election. So Kreskin the Mentalist is it.

Winnipeg Free Press reporter and editor (together): We're professionals. We know what news is We're not like bloggers, who don't have editors to tell them what real news is.

Ah, yes. The bloggers. Those citizen journalists who recognized the Income Trust Scandal and kept it alive for weeks, until the RCMP announced their investigation and the "real" reporters who know how to read media releases could do a story. One story. Then it was back to same-sex marriage, which was, you know, the major issue of the election according to the professionals.

If the press hadn't been distracted by its own fantasies, it may have had to report on the obvious.

The Conservative Party is the only national party in Canada.

Remember how the Reform and Canadian Alliance Parties were dismissed as regional parties only because they had no representation in Quebec. Well, the Liberal Party has no representation in Alberta, the richest and fastest growing province in the country. So obviously, it is just a regional party centred in Eastern Canada.

And the controversy over suspending Buzz Hargrove from the NDP only reminds us that the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois are pressure groups, not national parties. One has no pretence of governing the country and the other has no chance.

In the 44 years since it was founded, the NDP has never come close to winning power, and can only hope to attract between 10 and 18 percent in the popular vote. It was formed to be the political arm of the union movement, and remains a pressure group to this day.

The NDP hopes to make hay out of the Emerson defection. Like a schoolgirl tattletale, the NDP's MP for Burnaby-New Westminster Peter Julian has gone crying to teacher, in this case the Parliamentary ethics commissioner, Bernard Shapiro. T-e-e-e-e-e-acher. It's not f-a-a-a-a-air.

Was it only last June that the NDP was calling for Shapiro's resignation?

But then we all know how dedicated NDP leader Jack Layton is to democracy. He's the party leader who refused to let his caucus members vote their conscience in a free vote on same-sex marriage, and who opposes any such vote in the next Parliament. Layton rushed to B.C. to exploit the Emerson defection. He announced Thursday a promise to introduce legislation requiring MPs to face a byelection if they want to switch parties.

The NDP will introduce its bill at the earliest opportunity as an opposition day motion, ensuring it is voted on by the House, he said.

We're sure he has the full support of NDP standardbearer Ian Waddell who came in second to David Emerson in Vancouver-Kingsway. Waddell knows all about party jumping.

He was in the provincial NDP cabinet when Gordon Wilson, elected as a Progressive Democratic Alliance member of the Legislature, jumped to the New Democrats in 1999 to become an instant cabinet minister (responsible for B.C. ferries - insert your own boondoggle joke here). Waddell had no objections to party-jumping then.

And Layton will certainly consult with another failed NDP candidate, Ed Schreyer, who ran in Selkirk-Interlake.

Back in 1969 Schreyer's provincial NDP had just won 28 seats in the Legislature, one short of a majority. Larry Desjardins, elected as a Liberal, changed his party affiliation to the self-concocted Liberal-Democrat label so that he could support the NDP and prevent a Liberal-Conservative coalition government from taking office. Now that even Paul Martin has come out of the closet as a confessed party-jumpophobe, the Conservatives have a golden opportunity.

Stephen Harper has to call the Opposition's bluff. They want to show people they are mad as hell at party jumpers and they won't take it anymore. Harper should take them at their word.

Only instead of a limp byelection bill, Harper should introduce Recall.

Protestors outside Emerson's constituency office on the weekend were wearing "Recall Emerson:" buttons, and holding signs with the same message. And at a rally on Saturday organized by the NDP, people were encouraged to sign a recall petition.

B.C. has recall legislation at the provincial level. They obviously like the idea. And if Layton truly wants to listen to the people, he has to be on side too.

Recall. The Reform party championed it. And now Harper can too.

If the NDP and Liberals are serious, they will support a bill in principle without objection. Why trigger an automatic and costly byelection (are you listening Brian Pallister) when you can let the voters who elected an MP decide his fate through a recall campaign?

Simple. Democratic. Timely.

But why limit the public's democratic right to hold the people they elect responsible?
Say an MP turns out to be a law-breaking lawyer who steals expensive rings? Why not subject him to a recall?

Or say an entire government is linked to a kickback scandal involving public funds. How many members would survive recall campaigns?

A special forensic audit commissioned by Justice John Gomery from the firm of Kroll Lindquist Avey found a paper trail showing about $1.7 million of sponsorship money made its way into Liberal Party coffers.
Last November, the Liberals whipped out a chequebook and paid off $1.14 million.

They said that was fair. Then-Opposition leader Stephen Harper called it a plea bargain with themselves.

We've since learned why the Liberals were in such a hurry to pay up.

The Kroll audit noted that it couldn't determine where $40 million in sponsorship money went because, wouldn't you know it, the records were missing. And, Gomery inquiry lawyers wouldn't let them look at financial records that were either the subject of criminal charges or ongoing criminal investigations.

One of those charged, Groupaction president Jean Brault, testified his company alone made almost $250,000 in under-the-table contributions to the Liberal Party plus another $200,000 in special services like putting party workers on the payroll during an election.

Kroll said they found evidence of an estimated $1.7 million in illegal cash donations to the Liberals, but without a concrete paper trail, Gomery couldn't state it as fact.

He did, however, write that "The Liberal Party as an institution cannot escape responsibility for the misconduct of its officers and representatives".

So what if....some future investigation, and the Conservatives have promised one, uncovers evidence of these cash donations. And it turns out the Liberal Party used the kickbacked cash to fund yet another election. Wouldn't it invalidate the elections of anyone who benefitted?

There oughta be a law. T-e-e-e-e-eacher....

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