RIP The Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada

Jack Layton, the New Democratic Party leader who led his party to Official Opposition status in this year’s federal election, has died after a battle with cancer.

Born in a Montreal suburb and the son of a Tory cabinet minister, Layton came to Toronto as a young man in the 1970s to acquire his master’s degree in political science at York University.

But it wasn’t long before Layton the student put his political studies into practice.

At 22, he worked as a canvasser on the campaign of Michael Goldrick, who also happened to be Layton’s urban studies professor.

“I learned that job from these fabulous American draft dodgers who’d all come up,” Layton told Maclean’s magazine in a profile published earlier this year. “They were Democrat anti-poverty activists, that sort of stuff, and they knew how to campaign.”

Layton first rose to elected office in November 1982 after several years of teaching at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now Ryerson University). The 32-year-old unseated incumbent Gordon Chong in a downtown Toronto ward.

Layton’s win was largely aided by his ability to gain the support of renters — a growing group of voters that at the time was often ignored in big-city municipal races.

“Large and enthusiastic turnouts confirmed the wisdom of this strategy and Layton soon found himself supported by left-leaning sympathizers of all stripes,” wrote a Globe and Mail profile headlined “A New Star Rising Over Left Field” and published in the months after Layton was elected.

The same profile also noted that Layton stood out among his new council colleagues.

“A confirmed cyclist, Layton has finally acknowledged winter and is today driving to appointments in his late-model sub-compact.”

Although Layton’s father Robert served in Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s cabinet, it was clear the younger Layton was cut from a very different political cloth.

“Layton wears his NDP stripes with conviction,” the Globe wrote. “He does not hesitate to agree with one supporter’s description of him as a socialist.”

Though Layton was often brash, he could also be charismatic. His way with words made him a favourite for quote-hungry reporters.

He fought developers, spoke out for gay rights and was charged with trespassing while handing out pro-unionization pamphlets at a downtown Toronto shopping centre.

Barbara Hall, a council colleague of Layton’s during those years who would eventually go on to serve as mayor herself, recalls Layton’s office as a gathering spot for young students interested in politics.

“He was able to inspire people to be part of a movement with him,” Hall told CBC News.

Layton was often seen wearing blue jeans, but in 1987 he made moves to change his appearance. A story in the Toronto Star said “Toronto’s rebel alderman has gone Bay Street.”

The scruffy hair took a trim, glasses were replaced with contact lenses and the jeans jettisoned in favour of “smartly tailored twill pants, tweed jackets, silk ties … and even the occasional blue suit” the Star reported.

The press made much of his new look and the makeover fuelled speculation, rightly as it would later turn out, that Layton had designs on higher office.

In 1988 Layton, who cycled everywhere, sued the city after he hurt his knee riding into a newspaper box on a downtown street. The injury forced him to cancel his planned honeymoon with then school trustee (now current MP) Olivia Chow.

Many of Layton’s views during his time at city hall were unpopular. He was against construction of the SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) and opposed Toronto’s bid to host the 1996 Olympic Games (it eventually failed).

Hall said the media loved to portray Layton as a scrapper, always railing against one position or another, but she remembers his ability to inspire others into action.

“There was always this sense that ‘these things are important and we can accomplish them together,’” she recalls.

In 1991 Layton ran for mayor but lost to June Rowlands.

He would go on to head the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and Hall believes it was in this role that Layton showed he was more than a simple spitter of sound bites.

“He was a consensus builder in what is really a small-c conservative organization,” she said. “He showed he had a real ability to work within a broader group.”

Hall said the battles Layton found in council chambers helped serve him well as he rose to prominence in national politics later on.

“For Jack it wasn’t a job, it was his life,” said Hall. “He lived his politics.”

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Rex Murphy shares his thoughts on the Vancouver riots

Rex Murphy is a Canadian gem. He has a way with words that I envy. So I will not delay any further – here is the link to the video, and what follows is the transcript, of his thoughts on the Vancouver rioters:

Those clod poles, ne’er-do-wells, vandals, punks, thugs and assorted clueless dolts who smacked people around, piled on others, fought with and sought to injure police, set fire to cars, broke into stores, trashed and looted at will in Vancouver last night – are all a pathetic pack of cowardly destructive losers. An older generation, not bent by the winds of political correctness would rightly have called them the scum of the earth.

There aren’t any excuses for what they did. None. None. At. All. If these whiny, pampered, useless sacks of skin even try to claim it was because their team lost, then they haven’t got the intelligence of a ball of mud. Fools don’t need a motive to be fools and destructive and threatening fools, such as those who rioted last night in Vancouver are no exception to this rule. This kind of fool will riot when “his” team wins as easily as when it loses, the game was just a convenient trigger.

The damage was one thing. The insolence is altogether another. Consider what they did.

These vulgarians defecated on the reputation of one of Canada’s first cities. They hurt the stores and the employment of honest city-caring people in Vancouver. They sprayed dirt and worse into the face of every half decent sports fan in all of North America. They turned what was – even with the loss – a moment of intense national interest and pride into a world-class embarrassment, an ugly, bloody, ignorant and arrogant stain on the city that hosted the Olympics.

They trashed our country’s reputation as well.

Those who can be identified as participating in the riot; those who in any way had a hand in instigating or spreading it; those who damaged property; those who hit and hurt other people; those who scorned and savaged the police, set cars alight – all of the vandals and hooligans, within the confines of what is absolutely legal, should be sought out, named, charged, and offered real, substantial penalties.

Riots should not be written-off as pranks. Mayhem shouldn’t be passed over as the actions of a violent few. Tearing the heart out of a city, ripping up its stores, despoiling its reputation and setting its citizens for a while in a state of fear – should draw the just, angry and full attention of the state. Those who riot should learn the hard way that it’s not a free game. That their violence and lawlessness isn’t a freebie – they have to pay for it. And ringleaders, if ringleaders there were, should be pointedly named and shamed.

Vancouver deserved better last night. Canada deserved better. Even the Canucks, who had a long worthy go of it up to the final games, deserved better.

The rioters are a third rate band of losers who still managed to cast a shadow on what should have been – win or lose – a wonderful night for all the country. Everyone in Canada who loves hockey and Canada despises these people.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.

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Sheila Fraser, Auditor General of Canada from May 31, 2001 – May 30, 2011

After 10 years as Canada’s Auditor General, Sheila Fraser retires today. During her 10 year mandate a Readers Digest poll listed her as one of the Top 10 Most Trusted Canadians.

Ms. Fraser graduated from McGill University in 1972 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. In 1981 she was employed by Ernst and Young where she worked on assignment to the Auditor General of Quebec in some cases, amongst other Quebec government offices. In May 1999, she joined the Office of the Auditor General of Canada as Deputy Auditor General, Audit Operations. She was subsequently appointed Auditor General in 2000.

Ms. Fraser made headlines in Canada when her report on the sponsorship scandal rocked the country’s political scene. She made the news again on November 26, 2006 with her report on the former ombudsman of federal inmates – the report made a series of allegations that the former ombudsman, Ron Stewart, had “often skipped work and collected $325,000 in improper or questionable salary, vacation pay and expenses during his 14-year tenure”.The case is currently being reviewed by the RCMP to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

She gave her last public speech on May 25 at the Canadian Club of Ottawa, entitled Serving Parliament Through a Decade of Change, where she warned the government faces long-term fiscal pressures that will mean “very hard choices” between raising taxes or cutting programs and encouraged the government to publicize its long-term fiscal projections because “without them, we cannot begin to understand the scale and complexity of our financial challenges and the implication of policy choices.”

The National Post columnist Tamsin McMahon took a look back at Ms. Fraser’s ten most important findings from her decade in office:

1. The Sponsorship Scandal (2003-2004)

Arguably Ms. Fraser’s most significant investigation came early in her tenure when she was asked to probe federal contracts of Montreal advertising firm Groupaction Marketing, which spawned a full-scale audit of the Liberal government’s entire Quebec sponsorship program that found “senior public servants broke just about every rule in the book.” Her findings that nearly $100 million had been funnelled to Liberal-friendly Quebec advertising and communications firms who had little to show for the money sparked an RCMP probe, a public inquiry, the firing of senior civil servants and criminal convictions. It also brought the Liberal government to its knees and paved the way for a Conservative victory.

Ms. Fraser called the sponsorship scandal a “pivotal event” in her career, in a report she released last week (May 25) looking back on her decade in office. “The sponsorship audit affected the way our office was seen by government and the public and, just as important, the way we saw ourselves and the importance of our role,” she wrote.

2. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (2003)

After alerting the RCMP to problems with the government’s sponsorship program, Ms. Fraser called in the RCMP once again in 2003 to investigate former privacy commissioner George Radwanski after her audit of his office turned up overspending on travel and hospitality and workplace culture so fraught with favouritism and punishment that she called it a “reign of terror.” Her investigation found employees in Mr. Radwanski’s “inner circle” got promotions and raises, while those who fell out of favour with the commissioner were banished to a different floor and had their names stripped from reports. Ms. Fraser also accused the commissioner and his communications director of spending extravagantly on hospitality and travel expenses with little proof that the trips had led to any meaningful work. Mr. Radwanksi called the probe a “vicious personal attack.” He was later acquitted of charges of fraud and breach of trust in an Ontario court.

3. Long-gun registry (2002 and 2006)

Ms. Fraser’s first report on the Liberal government’s controversial firearms registry erupted into a political scandal when she revealed that Parliament had largely been kept in the dark about the spiralling costs of the program, which were set to hit $1-billion.
She called the government’s actions “appalling” and said she was forced to suspend her audit when the justice department refused to hand over enough information to allow auditors to fully examine the program. Her report became ammunition for the incoming Conservatives to rally public support to scrap the registry, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to do with his new majority government.

“It was one of the most damning reports on government waste that had ever been made,” said Saskatchewan Conservative Gary Breitkreutz, who had been pushing the previous auditor-general to examine the registry.

4. Office of the Integrity Commissioner (2010)

The Conservative government created the office of integrity commissioner in 2007 to investigate complaints of government wrongdoing and protect federal whistle-blowers. But Ms. Fraser’s audit accused commissioner Christiane Ouimet of ignoring complaints and abusing her staff. In three years, the office received 228 complaints, but investigated only five and found no wrongdoing, the audit said. Ms. Ouimet “yelled, swore, and also berated, marginalized and intimidated” employees and circulated dozens of e-mails about a staffer she believed had complained about her to the auditor-general’s office, Ms. Fraser found.

Ms. Ouimet abruptly quit the post in the middle of the audit, collecting $530,000 in severance payments. An independent review of the office released in May backed up the audit’s key findings.

5. Office of the Prison Ombudsman (2006)

Ms. Fraser’s audit of Ron Stewart, pictured, the former CFL star turned prison ombudsman who retired in 2004, found he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable payments, including money for days he spent on vacation, travel to cities hosting the Grey Cup championships that he billed as a trip taken to “investigate inmate complaints” and the purchase of two computers used by his family.

Mr. Stewart collected nearly $100,000 for vacation pay, claiming he hadn’t taken a vacation for 14 years of his 26-year stint as ombudsman. Despite his frequent absences, the audit found Mr. Stewart had been handed performance bonuses over six years and that he doled out $260,000 worth of budget surpluses to staffers, disguised as overtime payments. Mr. Stewart eventually agreed to pay back $77,500 of the money.

6. Changes to the AG office

While not a finding, one of Ms. Fraser’s most significant achievements was overhauling how her office conducts its business. She began posting detailed reports of her own personal expenses, including the names of government official she met with, and in 2003 underwent the world’s first value-for-money audit of her own office. In 2003, she began issuing annual status reports that followed up on how well government departments implemented — or ignored – recommendations from her audits. The focus of the follow-up reports was to ensure governments addressed “high-risk, high-cost issues,” Ms. Fraser said.

7. Federal Anti-Terrorism Program (2005)

In 2005, Ms. Fraser’s audit of the government’s $7.7-billion anti-terrorism program, developed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.,  found Canada was vulnerable to a chemical, biological or nuclear terrorist attack.  Millions in funding meant to boost Canada’s defences against terrorism had been either wasted or left unspent because risk assessments to decide how best to spend the money were never done and only a small fraction of the nearly 6,000 front-line responders weren’t properly trained to handle a terrorist attack.

8. MPs Expenses (2010)

Ms. Fraser scored a victory when Parliamentarians bowed to her demands to examine their office expenses to see if taxpayers were getting value for their money. The government and most opposition parties caused a public furor when they criticized Ms. Fraser’s request and the Board of Internal Economy, a secretive committee that handles House of Commons expenses, suggested an audit of the legislature went beyond Ms. Fraser’s mandate. But after weeks of public protest, Parliament announced it would invite Ms. Fraser’s office to examine a “statistical sampling” of the office expenses for both senators and MPs. While Ms. Fraser promised not to name names in her audit, she said she would launch investigations into any questionable spending and refer more serious findings to the RCMP. The reports from both the House of Commons and the Senate are due this fall.

9.  Military Helicopter purchase (2010)

Ms. Fraser’s 2010 audit uncovered massive cost overruns in the government’s purchase of more than 40 military helicopters, findings the auditor-general said had implications for the government’s planned $16-billion procurement of F-35 fighter jets.
Her review found the Department of National Defence had spent $11-billion on the helicopter purchases, double its original estimate. She lambasted the government for sole-sourcing the contract and deliberately misleading the Treasury Board in 2006 about how much the purchases would cost. The cost overruns might force the Canadian armed forces to cut training and use of the helicopters to stay within budget, she warned.

10. G8/G20 Infrastructure Legacy Fund (2011)

The upcoming report on the government’s $50-million fund for infrastructure projects in communities that participated in the G8 and G20 summits was less notable for its findings than for the fact that draft versions of the report were leaked during the recent federal election. The leaked audit, whose finding have never been confirmed by Ms. Fraser, alleged that the government had misinformed Parliament on how money that flowed into cabinet minister Tony Clement’s Ontario riding would be spent warned of  “legal questions” surrounding the payments.

Ms. Fraser refused demands to unveil her final report, which was set to be published before the election but will now be made public on June 9, after Ms. Fraser retires.

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Lack of buyer’s remorse since election …

Well, the package Canada bought on May 2nd has not been out of the box or turned on yet, but already pollsters are claiming a lack of buyer’s remorse over the majority Conservative government and the new Official Opposition, the NDP under Jack Layton. Although absolutely nothing has happened since the election, the Globe and Mail today has an article with the headline, “Lack of buyer’s remorse over Tories and NDP bodes ill for Liberals and Bloc.”

The Globe and Mail article indicates a typical ‘Canadian comfort’ with election results. But no one can say this election did not provide some major changes to the scene in Ottawa, with severe blows to the Liberals and Bloc and the elevation of the NDP to Official Opposition for the first time in Canadian history, and with the largest opposition in 31 years. Some anxiety might be expected:

“Instead, here are a few highlights of how this realignment has settled and in some respects maybe even deepened, meaning the Bloc and the Liberals have major work ahead of them if they are to again become potent forces in Canadian politics.

» In the latest week results, the NDP are running at a new high of 49 per cent in Quebec. If all the coverage of so-called Vegas MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau was going to rattle Quebec voters, there’s no evidence that happened. If anything, Quebeckers seem pretty enthused with the sense of freshness of their representation in Ottawa.

» In Ontario, the NDP is at 32 per cent, seven points behind the Conservative Party, with the Liberals dropping to 19 per cent, six points below their result on election night.

» Among female voters, the NDP leads at 37 per cent nationally, compared to 33 per cent for the Conservatives, and a stunning 16 per cent for the Liberal Party.

» Among men, the Conservatives are at 42 per cent, the NDP at 30 per cent and the Liberals at a record low of 14%.”

We might want to wait a little bit longer, like after the House reconvenes and legislation is tabled, before making grand postulates like these …

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One Year, One Canadian – Buying Canadian for a Year

For the year 2011, Darren Barefoot is living entirely Canadian. His blog, OneYearOneCanadian.ca , is documenting his efforts to watch only Canadian TV shows, make Canadian investments, wear clothing made in Canada … It’s an excellent blog that really makes you conscious of the source of all the products we use/see daily, and take for granted…

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Transitions – Brutal In Their Despondency (via The Parallel Parliament)

I have no idea what to do with this blog now that I'm no longer a Member of Parliament, but there is a residue that follows an election loss, and since I spent so much time posting my sentiments throughout the campaign it would only be fitting to wrap it all up with some kind of reflection. I'm likely too close to it emotionally right now, but it's important to communicate what I'm struggling through. It was expected by most that I would win and … Read More

via The Parallel Parliament

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Canadians of Interest ~ Blue Puttees

The Blue Puttees is the nickname given to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. I highly recommend you play the song below as you read their history.

When the First World War began in 1914 the Dominion of Newfoundland had a population of about 240,000 and was not yet part of Canada. The outbreak of the war led the Government of Newfoundland to recruit a force to fight with the British Army – enough men volunteered that a full battalion strength of 1000 men was formed and maintained throughout the war. But a lack of military stores required them to fashion uniforms from scratch. Not having khaki broadcloth they made their puttees from blue broadcloth – and the nickname “Blue Puttees” was given to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

The regiment trained at various locations in the United Kingdom and after a period of acclimatization in Egypt was deployed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsula with the 29th British Division in support of the Gallipoli Campaign. On September 20th, 1915, the regiment landed at Suvla Bay where the British, Australian, and New Zealand forces had been attempting to seize control of the Dardanelles Strait from Turkey. Over the next three months thirty soldiers of the regiment were killed or mortally wounded in action and ten died of disease; 150 were treated for frostbite and exposure. Despite the terrible conditions, the Newfoundlanders stood up well. When the decision was made to evacuate all British Empire forces from the area, the regiment was chosen to be a part of the rearguard, finally withdrawing from Gallipoli with the last of the British Dardanelles Army troops on 9 January, 1916. With the close of the Gallipoli Campaign the regiment spent a short period recuperating before being transferred to the Western Front in March 1916.

In France, the regiment regained battalion strength in preparation for the Battle of the Somme. The regiment, still with the 29th British Division, went into the line in April 1916 at Beaumont-Hamel. Beaumont-Hamel was situated near the northern end of the 45 kilometre front being assaulted by the joint French and British force. The 29th British Division, with its three infantry brigades, faced defences manned by experienced troops of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment of the 26th (Wurttemberg) Reserve Division. The 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment had been involved in the invasion of France in August 1914 and had been manning the Beaumont-Hamel section of the line for nearly 20 months prior to the battle. The German troops spending a great deal of their time not only training but fortifying their position, including the construction of numerous deep dugouts and at least two tunnels.

The infantry assault by the 29th British Division on 1 July, 1916 was to be preceded ten minutes earlier by a mine explosion under the heavily fortified Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt. The explosion of the 18,000 kilogram (40,000 lb) Hawthorn Mine underneath the German lines successfully destroyed a major enemy strong point but also served to alert the German forces to the imminent attack. Following the explosion, troops of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment immediately deployed from their dugouts into the firing line, even preventing the British from taking control of the resulting crater. When the assault finally began, the troops from the 86th and 87th Brigade of the 29th British Division were quickly stopped. With the exception of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on the right flank, the initial assault foundered in No Man’s Land. At divisional headquarters, Major-General Beauvoir De Lisle and his staff were trying to unravel the numerous and confusing messages coming back from observation posts, contact aircraft and the two leading brigades. There were indications that some troops had broken into and gone beyond the German first line. In an effort to exploit the perceived break in the German line he ordered the 88th Brigade, which was in reserve, to send forward two battalions to support attack.

At 8:45 a.m. the Newfoundland Regiment and 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment received orders to move forward. The Newfoundland Regiment was situated at St. John’s Road, a support trench 250 yards (230 m) behind the British forward line and out of sight of the enemy. Movement forward through the communication trenches was not possible because they were congested with dead and wounded men and under shell fire. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lovell Hadow, the battalion commander, decided to move immediately into attack formation and advance across the surface, which involved first navigating through British barbed wire defences. As they breasted the skyline behind the British first line, they were effectively the only troops moving on the battlefield and clearly visible to the German defenders. Subjected to the full force of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment, most of the Newfoundland Regiment who had started forward were dead, dying or wounded within 15 to 20 minutes of leaving St. John’s Road trench. Most reached no further than the Danger Tree, a skeleton of a tree that lay in No Man’s Land that was being utilized as a landmark.

So far as can be ascertained, 22 officers and 758 other ranks were directly involved in the advance. Of these, all the officers and slightly under 658 other ranks became casualties. Of the 780 men who went forward only about 110 survived unscathed, of whom only 68 were available for roll call the following day. For all intents and purposes the Newfoundland Regiment had been wiped out, the unit as a whole having suffered a casualty rate of approximately 90%. The only unit to suffer greater casualties during the attack was the 10th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment.

Although significantly understrength, the Newfoundland Regiment continued to see service and after  a period of recovery coupled with additional reinforcements the regiment returned to full strength. Six weeks later they were beating off a German gas attack in Flanders. Subsequently they distinguished themselves in a number of battles; back on the Somme in October 1916; on 23 April 1917, at the Battle of Arras, where they lost 485 men in a day but checked a German attack. In November 1917 at the Battle of Cambrai the regiment stood its ground although outflanked. In April 1918 stemmed a German advance at Bailleul. Following a period out of the line providing the guard force for General Headquarters at Montreuil, they joined the 28th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division and were in action again at Ledegem and beyond in the advances of the Hundred Days Offensive – during which a Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldier, Thomas Ricketts, became the youngest soldier of the war to win the Victoria Cross.

In recognition of the unit’s valour during the later battles at Ypres and Cambrai of 1917, King George V bestowed the regiment with the prefix “Royal” on 28 September, 1917, renaming them as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This was the only time during the First World War that this honour was given and only the third time in the history of the British Army that it has been given during a time of war, the last occasion having been 101 years earlier.

When Newfoundland joined Canada as its 10th province in 1949 the Royal Newfoundland Regiment became the primary militia unit for the province. The regiment is ranked last in the order of precedence of Canadian infantry regiments due to Newfoundland’s entry into Canada long after other Canadian regiments were recognized in the order of precedence. Since 1992, soldiers and sub-units of the regiment have served to augment Regular Force units in Cyprus, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan on peacekeeping and combat missions.

On August 30th 2010, Corporal Brian Pinkson died of his wounds eight days after being injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, making him the regiment’s first combat fatality since the First World War.

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