Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Detainee Deal A Dud

Sorry, I can't endorse this detainee deal, primarily because the government achieves its main goals. The Speaker's ruling did put pressure on the government, but it left many unanswered questions. Given the ruling, the Conservatives changed strategies, moving from complete obstruction to delay at all costs. Yes, it is a victory in this sense, the Speaker forced the government to move, but then the question becomes- just where to?

Here we sit, after effectively running out the clock on this session of Parliament, we finally get this flawed deal, that allows for further DELAY. The panel isn't picked, and I will wager further "debate" that will drag this process out as long as possible. Yesterday, Goodale championed the fact that the opposition gets to pick the panel, but that simply isn't true. In fact, all members of the panel must be agreed upon by both the government and the opposition, which almost guarantees more "ragging the puck". Throw in a few scheduling difficulties over the summer, you can pretty much bank on not much until the fall. Assuming, the parties can iron out this panel, we then move to a situation where the government member can obstruct every single piece of disclosure, EASILY swamping this panel to the point of absurdity. Don't think this will happen? I'll use every single government move to date as proof of the well established pattern. To think it changes, well...

Two major problems with this deal, both of which are glaring. These vague exceptions, dealing with "cabinet confidences" and "solicitor-client privilege" are deeply concerning, and lend some weight to the NDP's concerns. I'm more concerned with the former, because if there is some political attempt to cover up embarrassing facts, you can see how these might well fall into this column. A pretty ambiguous wording, that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Again, let me go on record now saying the Conservatives will maximize these clauses, and obstruct at every turn. If these parameters are accepted, then the panel will have to respect the spirit of the agreement and side with the government. These are gigantic loopholes in my estimation, that potentially render this whole process a waste of time.

Speaking of time, if you believe my thesis, wherein the government wants to take this issue off the table prior to the next election (I see no realistic scenario where this Parliament survives another budget), you are left with a troubling clause. This agreement is only binding on this Parliament, meaning the government must resign said understanding after any election. Let's just fast forward for a second. We have an election, and the opposition demands a restart, more signatures. The government simply refuses, and what recourse does the opposition have? Threaten another election, re-introduce motions, start from scratch AGAIN? Plus, say we do get a few tidbit releases of documents, all the more reason for the government to argue it's a new mandate, time to move on from this discussion. ZERO political appetite for immediate conflict, the issue likely fades to black (no pun intended). What a terrific clause for the government, just drag this all out until an election, and you very well could be home free. This clause will look more relevant as time passes, and people digest the gamesmanship that unfolds. If the Liberals form the next government, it's already game over for Harper, so a hollow victory on that front.

I think you can drive a truck through these loophole clauses. I think there is ample room for never ending games that lead nowhere. I think this deal is flawed, because if I'm the government, I feel like I achieved the best possible outcome in light of the Speaker's demands. Time will tell I suppose, but when you consider how the Cons have manipulated it to date, hard to get terribly excited about this "historic" deal. Looks a dud from here.


Greg said...

I am depressed because it confirms all of my suspicions since they missed the two week deadline. Parliamentary supremacy is a thing of the past.

Kirbycairo said...

Yes Greg but it is a thing of the past for one reason; the opposition Liberals failed to do their job and stand up for principle. A twelve-year old could have seen this coming a mile away, but where is a twelve-year old when the Liberal Party needs one? At every turn the LPC demonstrates that it does not deserve to win the next election. I think Mr. Ignatieff would give his mother to the Harper conservatives if they asked for her. Harper is a fascist and Ignatieff is a fool, and though the NDP did the right thing here, Layton is little more than an opportunist. So where does a principled supporter of democracy put his or her vote?

ol lib curmudgeon said...

This is a the text of an email I sent re: recent request for more money.

I was considering increasing my victory fund contribution but was waiting until I heard the result of the negotiations on the detainee documents. I am appalled at the party’s decision, which essentially gives Harper another free ride. Although I still support Mr. Ignatieff , I feel that he is getting bad advice either from a caucus which has too many self interested cowards or staff who are out of touch with party members. I believe that any success against Harper will come sooner rather than later and that an effective campaign will determine the final result. If the current war room cannot do this they should be replaced. I am also particularly offended by the increased presence of Scott Reid as a party representative in the main stream media, he is part of the group whose incompetence resulted in the current abysmal state of the party.

As some one who has voted Liberal in every election since 1962 I am disgusted at the gutless shell of the party that remains.

Hence no more money from me

RayK said...

In addition to all your valid concerns about obstruction, Steve, there's an even more fundamental problem with this deal.

If the information regarding decisions to transfer detainees or legal advice not to do so without greater safegaurds are contained in cabinet or solicitor-client documents, then regardless of what jurists are selected to rule on those matters, those documents will never be seen by MPs even if there aren't any national security issues whatsoever.

Since the Conservatives already have access to the documents, presumably they know which ones are the most important to supress and they've ultimately come to focus on cabinet or solicitor-client documents--rather than national security issues--because they know those documents are the most dangerous to them.

sassy said...

June 16 - another date that should be added to those when the Canadian flag is flown at half-mast

Steve V said...


Great point.


I'll confess something. I was going to cancel my VF contribution, done deal. As I was fuming in the car, I heard the Liberal ad on the fake lake. I took that as a sign and reconsidered. Can't say I blame you though.

Shiner said...

Parliamentary supremacy is a thing of the past.

June 16 - another date that should be added to those when the Canadian flag is flown at half-mast

The deal blows, and shows just how weak the Liberals feel they are right now, but let's not be so dramatic. As far as parliamentary supremacy goes the Speaker's ruling is what mattered, not the LPC's spinelessness.

Steve V said...


I think I acknowledged that the Speaker's ruling was a victory of sorts, but beyond that the spirit is now so bastardized that apart from precedent, it hardly settles the matter.

KC said...

Since we're talking about supremacy of parliament here, doesn't "Parliament" have to vote to effectively 'ratify' (I use that term lightly) this agreement? It was Parliament that ordered that the documents be disclosed, so presumably an agreement between party leaders wouldn't be sufficient to override Parliament. It might be a formality as leaders from parties with more than 50% of the seats in the House but given the nature of the dispute its a formality that I HOPE would be followed lest all this talk of "Parliamentary supremacy" be for nothing.

RuralSandi said...

Haven't read it in detail yet, but Duceppe's rep will have to take an oath for Canada?

weeble said...

I think, politically, the LPC should have thrown this back at the speaker for a ruling on contempt. This would have forced either an election, or a ruling against the CPC.
I think an election, even if the LPC does not gain a majority is a victory. Unless Harper gets a clear majority he will resign..he has had numerous attempts and obviously cannot convince Canadians that he is the answer. Ignatieff needs an opportunity to show he can bring the votes in, otherwise lets get a new leader who can. This status-quo is driving me nuts..we are not seeing effective leadership on either side right now.
Hey, without an increase in seats Jack will be gone as well...this might be a win, win, win...

double nickel said...

I've voted Liberal since turning 18 in the late 60's. I'm done with Iggy.

liberazzi said...

I have a feeling the Libs are ragging the puck as well realizing that this could hurt just as much.

I am encouraged by Iggy recent performances, from his recent foreign policy speech, and another speech I heard in person this week. The merger thing last week seems to have sparked him a bit. See what the summer brings on the bus.

CK said...

I've noticed many would have had the Liberals going to election over this. Due to the low numbers of the Liberals, The Harpercons could no, make that would get their majority,

Many here claim they would like them to get a spine and vote against the Harpercons, but we don't; if we did, they'd have higher polling numbers now wouldn't they?

I remember how violently most Canadians reacted when Iggy threw the gauntlet last September, hinting he would trigger an election. His numbers took a nose dive and hasn't been able to recover since.

Many lament about Steve the tyrant, yet willing to entertain a Harpercon majority. Why is that? And trust me, give him a majority, and life will be far worse for Canadians and we will be referring to today as the good ol' days.

Here is where I kinda play the devil's advocate.

Detainee documents are a terrible issue to go to election with. Ask your own neighbours and co workers what they think of the issue; real people; I will bet that most don't care about Afghan thugs hurting other Afghan thugs; Taliban v taliban; that kind of thing. Tell your aquaintance it goes against Geneva Convention, and, assuming they know what that is for openers, odds are they will tell you that Taliban who throw acid on these girls' faces are not afforded protections from the Geneva Conventions.

Now, with those honour killings coming to light, here, in Canada, the Taliban detainees are going to get even less sympathy.

BTW: anyone stop to think why the Bloc signed on to this deal? They have nothing to gain or lose if they had rejected it.

The Bloc's participation leads me to believe there is more than meets the eye here.

DL said...

The public reacts against Iggy's sabre rattling last Fall because he suddenly "announced" that Harper's "time was up" and that he wanted an election - for no particular reason other than that he felt like it. There was no issue, no narrative, nothing - just "I Count Ignatieff have decided to bring down the government because I feel like it!".

I think that one of the many many many reasons why the Liberals seem to be doing badly now (though aren;t actually doing THAT badly since most polls have them only 6 or so points behind) is that they keep backing down over and over and over again and have left people with the impression that they stand for nothing. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy the Liberals keeping surrendering because they are weak and don't want an election and they are weak and don't want an election because they keep surrendering to the Conservatives...and so it goes.

Gayle said...

I just read Andrew Coyne's take on this and after reading the agreement I have to say I agree with him.

It is pretty clear that the ad hoc committee will get to see ALL the documents, so the issue of Cabinet priviledge will not prevent the committee from seeing the documents, and making their arguments to the judges about whether they should be releasedto the House and to the public.

But more to the point, as soon as the Speaker gave the parties a chance to "work out" a deal, this was inevitable. If the opposition wanted it all, they never should have negotiated with the government in the first place. An agreement where the government handed over the documents without any safeguards was never going to happen - and there was never any chance that any safeguard that was agreed upon was foolproof.

Every agreement always has a potential to create a loophole that one of the parties could try to exploit.

In the end, I disagree with most of you here. I think this was a victory for the supremacy of parliament, and I recognize this agreement as a compromise between two polarized positions.

Should the conservatives choose to continue their delaying and stalling tactics - well that just feeds what is becoming a widely held negative impression that they are not willing to work with the other parties to do what is in Canada's best interests.

Steve V said...


You should read Simpson's latest. It makes a point I've made, namely that despite all the Lib woes, the NDP never really go anywhere. Why is that?

Jerry Prager said...

So now we have no environmental assessment in this country, pretty much what right wing liberals want, no parliamentary supremacy, pretty much what right wing liberals want... Iggy is a complete failure, in fact, while I like my local Liberal MP, (even though I voted Green last time, but won't this time because the new Green candidate is also right win), this may be the first election in which I simply don't vote. Thanks Iggy. how depressing. Democracy in ruins and falling apart every day while Mr. Do Nothing keeps floundering in Harper's wake. What a disgrace.

Greg said...

You should read Simpson's latest. It makes a point I've made, namely that despite all the Lib woes, the NDP never really go anywhere. Why is that?

Part of the reason is ideological, no doubt, but some of it also stems from being told over and over not to waste your vote on the NDP. FPTP is the big parties best friend.

Tof KW said...

Hate to say I'm beginning to side with DL of all people here. This agreement does more to hurt Ignatieff when you consider his 'election now' stance from last autumn. Sure the Liberal's poll number are gawd-awful; but has anyone seen where Harper is lately? Sorry but being 4-5 points behind is not bad, Harper was in a worse position back in December 2005. The CPofC could very well win an election now, but they such as hell won't get a majority, and would be lucky to retain even 125 of their current 143 seats.

This deal sucks and the Grits just caved ...again! Personally, I'm curious why the Bloc agreed to this, as they have no fear of elections and desire to find the truth about the detainee transfers as much as anyone.

However DL, before you get too high and mighty; remember where the NDP is polling these days. Ya the Grits suck, but the dippers aren't getting ANY traction from this fact. You should be looking at replacing Layton every bit as much as the CPofC should be reviewing new leadership candidates. Being the new guy on the block, the LPC is committed with Iggy now until the next election.

Steve V said...


Look at this poll today, you have the Cons down 8% from 2008, Libs down a couple and yet the NDP hasn't capitalized. And, we've heard forever that in some of the western provinces, voters move between the Cons and NDP, the Libs not a consideration, so that fact further highlights the NDP failure to capitalize. What I'm saying, it's hardly time to brag when your numbers haven't grown despite optimal conditions, concurrent dismal numbers of the two main rivals. My thesis, Canadians are tired of all of them, and the numbers continue to support that view.

Steve V said...


I must confess, I expected a more robust endorsement by Coyne, after reading the comment. He does acknowledge the "spirit", but then we get "murky" and subjective interpretations. Nothing he said changes my sense, and the fact you have to read between the lines to fashion an argument is disconcerting. Couple this mud, with the capacity to delay, this issue is pretty much dead in mind :)

Tof KW said...

Steve, I did go over the EKOS numbers and it was nice to see that the Conservative Party of Harper was polling at ~30% ... the drop is now beginning to eat into the base and probably due to the G8/G20 boondoggle.

Meanwhile the Liberals are also down and now hovering at ~26%, also hitting their base ... we're getting close to that H-D poll from a couple of months ago when both major parties were below 30% for the first time in Canadian history.

The NDP actually had a bit to smile about, up to 17.5% (I think - too lazy to look it up) and the only party of the 5 to show growth. Still, that number is just approaching their 2008 result and this is only one poll. Should brighten DL's day anyhow.

My point is the Grits at 26% are looking at historic lows in their popularity ... yet they are within striking distance of the Reformatories. I don't think growing a backbone can hurt their numbers any worse at this point.

DL said...

What I get from the Ekos poll is that the Liberals and NDP are both about where they were on election night 2008 - which for the Liberals was an all-time low and for the NDP was a relatively good result. But the Tories are down 7% from what they got in 2008 and Green/Other is up about 7%. When you look at the Ekos crosstabs and you see how people who say they would vote Green or Other overwhelmingly think that the federal government is on the "wrong track" etc...its pretty clear to me that WHEN the Green/Other vote collapses from 15% to 6 or 7% - some will stay home, some will go Liberal, some will go NDP and very very little if any will go Tory.

Gayle said...

"...the fact you have to read between the lines to fashion an argument is disconcerting."

Not sure what you mean here.I am not reading between anything. I am reading the plain language of the agreement.

In any event, the tendency to delay was going to exist, with or without any agreement. And I will say it again - if liberals expected the liberal party to demand everything without compromise, well that was never going to happen.

I anticipate there will be delay, which, as I said, was inevitable no matter what agreement will be reached, however I have no concerns that documents will be hidden from the other parties at the end of the day.

Gayle said...

Or to clarify - I have no concern the agrement will allow documents to be hidden.

That the CPC will try to hide them, and perhaps violate the agreement, is very much a possibility.

Steve V said...


Sorry, to clarify that comment was directed towards the Coyne piece. There is a subjectivity to this document which is very worrisome.

My attitude now, this issue is dead and Ill be pleasantly surprised if we learn much in the next two years, if ever. Hope I'm wrong.

Gayle said...

Well if it is dead, that happened the moment all parties agreed to negotiate instead of simply demanding the documents.

Personally, I think we are heading to an election in the fall either way.

Fred from BC said...

Gayle said...

Well if it is dead, that happened the moment all parties agreed to negotiate instead of simply demanding the documents.

Yes, but that was as good as you were going to get without forcing an election.

Personally, I think we are heading to an election in the fall either way.

Not unless you see the Liberal poll numbers take a big jump, and that won't happen without a reason.

Gene Rayburn said...

"Not unless you see the Liberal poll numbers take a big jump, and that won't happen without a reason."

Fred is right for once. Because the current con numbers are going down...

maybe Fred is becoming a closet Liberal.

ricky said...

This committee was a failure from the start. It should never have agreed with Harper. It was meant to rag the puck. Boy are they good at it.