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Conservative Party goes at Full Steam Ahead

Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird and President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario Tony Clement comment on the Auditor Generals report in Ottawa, Thursday, June 9, 2011. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Conservatives are going full steam ahead with their agendas. The throne speech went through without debate or a vote, Baird defends the ever-growing cost of the Libya mission, and the Conservatives won’t go to the Supreme Court of Canada to get the green light for senate reform. All the while, the Auditor General slammed their secrecy over G8 spending.

Auditor General Slams Tories

The Auditor General report that wasn’t allowed to be viewed during the election campaign said that the Harper Government didn’t tell Parliament about its plans for a $50 million G8 fund, which essentially boosted funding for Tony Clement’s riding.

The report was released on Thursday and said that the government "did not clearly or transparently" identify how the money would be spent when asking for parliamentary approval for the funds that paid for G8 legacy infrastructure projects.

The government put in its place a border infrastructure fund of $83 million when it came to the vote in the house.

"When government presents a request for funds to Parliament, it should be transparent about the intended use of money," Interim Auditor General John Wiersema said Thursday.

Wiersema said that the government knew that they were misleading Parliament.

"It was presented to Parliament as part of the border infrastructure fund when everyone at the time it was going to be used for the G8 Legacy Fund," he said. "Asking for money for one purpose and using it for another purpose, is a serious problem."

Clement defended his actions saying, "As a government that is committed to openness and transparency, we want to ensure that parliamentarians receive the information that they need.”

"As such, I have already directed Treasury Board Secretariat officials to look at how this perhaps anachronistic process can be improved,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said that the government "will be taking steps to ensure that the process going forward will be more robust" when it wants to request funds from Parliament. 

The report criticizes the lack of documentation that was associated with the government’s 32 infrastructure spending projects.

Federal Auditors were not able to find documentation on how and why the government chose the 32 projects that were completed out of 242 that were potential runners as well.

"Supporting documentation is important for transparency and accountability," Wiersena said.

"This was an entirely secretive, political process for which there was no public accountability and absolutely no process that meets any kind of smell test or any kind of test that we would apply to public spending of this dimension," Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said.

Another chapter in the report said that by separating the security costs for both the G20 and G8 summits, the government made it difficult for parliamentarians to understand the total cost of security for the summits.

The report suggests that the total cost of security comes to $664 million which is well below the projected $1.1 billion. However, the auditor general said the reason for cost savings is due to over-budgeting by departments and the creation of extra contingency funds in the planning process which were caused by poor co-ordination.

Rae said that regardless the $664 million price tag, the cost of security is still too much for the summits considering that France spent only $29 million on their security on this year's G8 summit in Deauville.

After draft versions of the report were leaked, former Auditor General Sheila Fraser refused to release the documents by request of all the major parties and used the election as the reason. She has since retired from her job and Wiersema took over.

In late April, a Toronto woman launched a lawsuit in Federal Court to try to get the document released but the judge said that there wasn’t time to hear her case before the May 2 election.

Libya costs $26 million and Growing

To date, Canada’s mission in Libya has cost $26 million and the price will likely double by the fall, Defense Minister Peter MacKay said at a NATO summit.

Canada is a participant of the NATO-led mission to protect Libyan civilians from Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

"The cost of this leadership, with respect to Canada's contribution to protect civilian lives, is estimated currently at $26 million until June 2, and we need to continue the momentum we've achieved thus far," MacKay told a news conference Wednesday in Brussels.

On Tuesday, MPs will vote on whether Canada should extend the four-month-old mission to September to be in line with NATO’s timeline. MacKay said that doing so would bring the cost to $60 million.

While Libyan rebels made progress in their uprising, they have since hit stalemate. NATO Security-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO has no plans to remain in Libya after the conflict ends.

All the while, John Baird defended the government’s position to stay in Libya.

Senate Reform Doesn’t Need a Supreme Court Ruling

It turns out that Harper has no intention of asking the Supreme Court if it ha the power to unilaterally reform the senate.

Tim Uppal, minister of state of democratic reform said that the government is confident that the government has the constitutional authority to proceed with two modest Senate reform bills which are to be tabled for the fourth time later this month.

One would impose limits on the length of a Senator’s term and the other would encourage provinces to take the weight of establishing the election mechanisms.

A number of provinces maintain that constitutional reform is required to make these amendments and must be approved by 7 provinces with 50% of the population. Quebec has threatened to take the matter to the country’s top court if the government persists on going on its own.

Several provinces, such as Ontario, have mentioned that the Senate should be abolished, but the Conservatives would rather make it more expensive and elected – so much for the spending cuts…

The Conservatives justify their actions with the fear of bring in constitutional fights that are in no one’s best interests.

Uppal responded to Quebec’s threat by saying that they’re going ahead anyway – it is likely that the Quebec population will respond with electing a PQ majority government – the PQ is Quebec’s separatist party. In the end of the day, senate reform might be ugly.

 

Quebec headed for a snap election?

While the Liberals are currently in power in Quebec, there has been speculation that Premier Jean Charest will call a snap fall election on the basis of controversy in the PQ leadership with the resignation of 4 prominent MNAs. Despite the weakened poll numbers, the PQ is still favored to win the next provincial election.

Speculation comes amid of a drop in PQ support and an evening of his numbers in the polls,  recent PQ turmoil, the fear of a new party that is being formed by Francois Legault that is gaining popularity despite its non-existence.

The Charest Liberals urged Legault to be fair and make a party now if it plans to run for election. The party would likely contribute to the PQ bleed out over the past few years.

The PQ bleed out has stopped and regardless of Marois’ weakened poll numbers, she is still considered the favorite to win any imminent election. She said that when the election comes around, voters will look beyond recent PQ troubles and at Charest’s three years of incompetence and cronyism.

"Our team has everything it needs to return this fall and have an election, if necessary. We'll be ready, with our platform, to respond to people's expectations and propose projects for a future Parti Quebecois government,” Marois said.

Despite the reasons why an election would be favored by Charest, he never said he would do such a thing – although he didn’t say that he would copy Harper in 2008 and claim that his minority wasn’t going well to dissolve and come back with a majority mandate.

Recent Crop Poll and Seat Count from threehundredandeight.blogspot.com

Party Poll Seats
Liberal 27% 43
Parti Quebecois 26% 59
Quebec Solidaire 17% 8
Action Democratic du Quebec 15% 15
Greens 9% 0
Other 7% 0

PQ minority – 3 short of a majority.