The Capital Chronicles

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  • The chicken, the egg and the love affair with Justin Trudeau

    08/19/2014 8:53 AM

    For readers who are already convinced Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada are getting more than their fair share of attention, the events of recent days and those to come will do nothing to dispel those thoughts.

    National and local stories in the last several days have been dominated by Trudeau. He visited Winnipeg last week so he got coverage in our paper for that. On Saturday his Ottawa home was broken into while his wife and kids slept, and a menacing note left behind. The coverage of that is still dominating national stories, including a question of whether or not he needs his own security detail.

    This week Liberal MPs are meeting in Edmonton for a caucus meeting, generating coverage about a Liberal push in Alberta.

    particularly the NDP and its ardent fans.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have the fortune of being in government and therefore getting press simply by being the deciders. Harper’s annual arctic tour which kicks of later this week will get lots of coverage because he is the prime minister and he gets to go around announcing stuff people want.

    Sadly that is not the case for Thomas Mulcair. He is neither the decider nor the young Dauphin.

    His main appearances in the news in the last week have been about his party being chastised by the House of Commons for using Parliamentary budget dollars to pay for satellite party offices in Quebec. It’s a story which tarnishes the image the NDP have long tried to project as a party which is not tainted by the same kind of questionable operating tactics as the others.

    His visit Monday to Terrace, B.C., generated little attention and almost nothing on a national scale. He is in Vancouver today but it likely won’t generate much more attention.  Meanwhile Trudeau’s name is in a headline (or two or three) in pretty much every major newspaper in Canada this morning.

    A story in the Globe and Mail last week had some NDP insiders bemoaning the coverage Trudeau gets, and complaining that as the official opposition their party should automatically get second billing in every media story.

    Now they face the possibility that the third-place guy is going to get his own RCMP security detail and their guy is well, not really needing a security detail.

    Whether Trudeau and his family receive protection should not be fodder for political debate but one can hardly blame the NDP for bristling at the idea since it is just one more indication their guy is simply not as big a star as Justin Trudeau.

    Mulcair is a great politician. He can glad hand on the streets with the best of them. When he wants to be, he can be warm and charming. His ability to prosecute the government in Question Period is second to none.

    But what gets more attention in the public? Question period or a politician practically juggling an infant during a parade.

    What will generate more votes? A politician who strolls through pavilions, smiling and posing for selfies with every Tom, Dick and grandmother waiting or a politician who complains he doesn’t get a private tour of a flood zone during a major natural disaster?

    Fair or not, Trudeau and his team have found a formula that gets attention in the social media-dominated, 24-hour, play-by-play news cycle we live in today. Yes, it is helped along by a news corps that leaps eagerly at handsome shiny baubles. Yes it is aided by the fact a lot of Canadians loved Pierre Trudeau and have a je ne sais quois crush on his son. And yes it is annoying when personality trumps policy.

    But we have a chicken and egg situation here – the media cover the Trudeau circus because the public eats it up and the public eats it up because the media is covering the Trudeau circus. And around and around we go.


  • Polling polling everywhere

    08/11/2014 12:24 PM

    The latest poll on federal voting intentions probably has the Liberal Party of Canada enjoying this Monday a bit more than the Conservatives or the NDP.

    The EKOS Politics poll has the Liberals narrowing in on majority territory if an election were held today, with 38.7 per cent support, compared to 25.6 per cent for the Conservatives and 23.4 per cent for the NDP. EKOS president Frank Graves said if these results were what happened on the next election day the current Conservative government would find itself not just out of government, but down in third place.

    That’s thanks to the fact that the NDP vote is a bit more efficient in seat-rich Quebec, and the Conservative numbers are bolstered somewhat by its dominance in Alberta, where there are fewer seats to be had.

    He also said it is worth noting governments tend to do better in the polls when they are not currently sitting, since it gives them less time under fire in Question Period and more time out making vote-influencing announcements.

    Of course pollsters have taken a pummeling of late with poor predictions of provincial election results. Although EKOS it should probably be noted did well recently accurately predicting the Liberal majority government in Ontario, and the popular vote result of the opposition Tories.

    There is also more than a year until the next election and lots of room for something big to happen. The federal Conservatives may be down but with the most experienced leader (okay the only experienced leader), the biggest bank account and an enviable understanding of the electorate with its voter database, it would be foolish to write the party off.

    So what should Manitobans take away from this latest poll?

    Even Graves acknowledges the answer is probably not a whole heck of a lot.

    This particular poll has the Liberals topping the Manitoba field with 34 per cent, followed by the NDP at 28 per cent and the Conservatives at 26 per cent.

    Wait, you might be asking. The Conservatives, the party that currently holds 11 of Manitoba’s 14 seats, they are down in third place?

    Well yes, the poll would respond, they are.

    But nobody need offer up an oxygen mask to Prime Minister Stephen Harper just yet because the sample size in Manitoba is just not big enough to know whether these numbers are accurate in any way. This poll is based on responses from fewer than 100 people in Manitoba, and the margin of error is almost 10 percentage points.

    That means the Conservatives could be as high as 36 per cent and the Liberals as low as 24 per cent. EKOS has shown Manitoba numbers to be all over the place of late – in May the Conservatives were ahead of the Liberals by 13 points. Last January the Liberals had nearly a 23 point lead.

    This is the same problem you will have looking at almost any national poll. The Manitoba numbers are just not reliable because of a huge margin of error.

    So while it’s definitely fair to believe that the upswing in Liberal fortunes taking place elsewhere (in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic particularly) is at least a little bit present in Manitoba, it is far too premature to be writing the exit stories for most of the Conservative MPs in Manitoba.

    As the one-year countdown to the next federal election nears you are going to likely see a ton of polls reported on who is leading the horse race. Take all with a grain of salt when they tell you what’s happening in Manitoba unless the sample size is significantly bigger than 98 people.


  • Tweet Tweet. D'oh.

    08/5/2014 10:18 AM

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper likes Homer Simpson.

    Or does he?

    CBC reported over the long weekend that the fabled, donut-loving cartoon dad was among the 223 people Harper follows on Twitter.

    Not long after, Simpson got the boot.

    Have no fear Homer. You are in good company as Harper also does not follow Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron or any other G7 leaders. But let's be real.

    Is analyzing Harper's twitter account really going to tell us much? What are the odds he actually uses it himself? Slim to less than none. 

    @pmharper follows 224 Twitter users as of 1:20 p.m. Eastern time today. He has tweeted 2,581 times and has 493,000 followers.

    Most of his tweets are repeats of official news releases (albeit in shorter form), and the occasional "Hey, I'm a regular person just like you" injection, such as a photograph of himself at the Ottawa Red Blacks game Saturday night. (A game I was at but only knew he was in attendance because I was texting with someone who was watching the game on television).



    It's unlikely we'll dredge up anything remotely interesting (read: not preplanned for specific political gain) on his Twitter feed or even those of the opposition leaders for that matter. But what about regular old jane or joe MPs? Even cabinet ministers are allowed to tweet themselves and many do.  

    Treasury Board President Tony Clement (@TonyclementCPC) is one of the best at it, using the medium expertly to both disseminate talking points but speak directly to his friends and foes alike. Sometimes it gets him into trouble - such as picking an online fight with a teenager. But the technology also gives him a human side, and a glimpse at the man behind the name.

    Backbench and opposiiton MPs mainly run their own Twitter accounts, including reading the tweets and choosing who to follow. 

    So What about our Manitoba MPs? Generally they follow people you'd expect: other politicians, mostly in their own political party but all follow some in other parties, people in their areas of interest or expertise, media. This in itself can be useful information, giving a glimpse perhaps of who they admire, or where within their own parties they tend to lean.

    Some, such as Joyce Bateman, Shelly Glover and rookie Provencher MP Ted Falk, appear to stick solely to people and organizations connected to their political roles. 

    NDP MP Pat Martin and Conservative Bob Sopuck are not on Twitter. (Martin quit the site in 2012 after a slew of hot-headed tweets landed him in hot water.)

    But most seem to have a few on their lists that might give you a glimpse at the person behind the politician.

    A quick synopsis follows. The "last tweet" embedded is the last tweet the politician posted that wasn't a retweet.

    Niki Ashton, NDP


    Tweets: 6,080

    Followers: 9,213

    Follows: 1,410

    You might be interested to know she follows: Ron Burgundy (fictional lead character in Anchorman movie series), the Saskatchewan Roughriders (no Bombers Niki?), comedian Ricky Gervais, actress Lena Dunham, former first daughter Chelsea Clinton.

    Last tweet:



    Joyce Bateman, Conservative


    Tweets: 343

    Followers: 512

    Following: 195

    You might be interested to know she follows: Assiniboine Park Zoo, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Pride Winnipeg 

    Last tweet:



    Candice Bergen, Conservative


    Tweets: 1,655

    Followers: 3,365

    Following: 1,305 

    You might be interested to know she follows: Prime Minister of Israel, Frank Magazine, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Jennifer Jones curling team, Milt Stegall

    Last tweet:



    James Bezan, Conservative 


    Tweets: 679

    Followers: 3,504

    Following: 1,163

    You might be interested to know he follows: Winnipeg Cinematheque, Winnipeg Pizza Blog, Burton Cummings, Royal Winnipeg Ballet 

    Last tweet:



    Rod Bruinooge, Conservative


    Tweets: 227

    Followers: 5,177

    Follows: 3,389

    You might be interested to know he follows: Mike Puffy (satire of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy), Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Useful Cannabis.

    Last tweet:




    Ted Falk, Conservative


    Tweets: 53

    Followers: 228

    Follows: 80

    You might be interested to know he follows: Mennonite Heritage Village, Tip Dreg (Jesus-inspired rapper from Blumenort, Manitoba)

    Last tweet:



    Steven Fletcher, Conservative


    Tweets: 1,017

    Followers: 5,366

    Follows: 2,521

    You might be interested to know he follows: Think Geek, NFL and college football, @popehat, @vampirewiki and @superbadadvice

     Last tweet:



    Shelly Glover, Conservative 



    Followers: 2,208

    Follows: 56

    You might be interested to know she follows: Canadian country music artist Brett Kissell, Clarence House (official residence of Prince Charles), British Monarchy

    Last tweet:



    Kevin Lamoureux, Liberal 


    Tweets: 420

    Followers: 1,922

    Follows: 93

    You might be interested to know he follows: Ace Burpee, Jian Ghomeshi 

    Last tweet:



    Larry Maguire, Conservative 


    Tweets: 1,121

    Followers: 1,208

    Following: 996

    You might be interested to know he follows: Ontario curlers Rachel Homan, Brad Jacobs, Brandon Marlins baseball

    Last tweet:



    Joy Smith, Conservative 


    Tweets: 2,215

    Followers: 2,520

    Follows: 2,206

    You might be interested to know she follows: Melinda Gates, The Winnipeg Jets, Curler Jennifer Jones, Team Canada Women's hockey, Olympic hockey players Hayley Wickenheiser and Meghan Agosta.

    Last Tweet:



    Lawrence Toet, Conservative 


    Tweets: 324

    Followers: 768

    Following: 372

    You might be interest to know he follows: soccer player Christine Sinclair, crime novelist Patricia Cornwell, the Rocky Mountaineer 

    Last Tweet:




  • Haircuts and cupcakes

    06/11/2013 11:22 AM

    House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer is mulling over a point of privilege calling on him to let the House of Commons decide whether Manitoba MPs Shelly Glover and James Bezan should be allowed to sit and vote in the House until their dispute with Elections Canada over their 2011 election expenses is settled.

    Both MPs are going to court to challenge Elections Canada's interpretation of how certain advertisements they bought as MPs had to be claimed during the 2011 writ period. Glover's case is set to be heard next week (June 21) and Bezan's in September.

    The point is almost becoming moot since the House of Commons is sitting for a maximum of nine more days before rising for summer recess.

    But it seems the two Manitobans are not the only MPs still under the microscope for their 2011 campaign expenses. Mississauga, Ont. Tory MP Eve Adams is defending herself today after it was revealed she claimed nearly $3,000 in personal expenses such as hair styling, a traffic ticket, manicures and expensive post-campaign victory dinners. Some claims seemed quite petty, like a less than $3 bill for a cupcake several weeks after the campaign was over.

    Elections Canada allows candidates to claim $200 in personal expenses that they wouldn't otherwise have incurred if there wasn't an election. After the 2008 election there were numerous stories about MPs who had tried to claim hair cuts, new clothes and parking tickets. Most would have had 60 per cent of those costs reimbursed by the taxpayer, but Elections Canada was pretty careful about denying most of the claims.

    Candidates have to submit all their receipts along with their expenses. When I browsed through those documents for the 2008 election for Manitoba MPs several years ago I found a litany of interesting claims for everything from a $2 pack of gum claimed by Vic Toews' campaign to nearly $600 in clothes claimed by Judy Wasylycia-Leis. (Elections Canada only allowed $200 of that for her).
    All this is interesting mainly because if Justin Trudeau's motion passes to make what MPs claim once they're in office far more transparent, it could uncover even more of these, let's say, interesting, expense claims.

    If MPs are willing to try and get away with trying to get reimbursed for cupcakes and champagne during an election when they mostly know they have to submit receipts which can be easily viewed by the media, one can only surmise what they try to claim as MPs when the details of those expenses are kept tightly under wraps.

    That's not to say that every pack of gum or champagne dinner should be ineligible. There are probably times when they are appropriate.

    But few in the private sector would have sympathy for claims for manicures and hair styling, and an MP who makes six figures trying to get taxpayers to foot 60 per cent of the bill for a $2.63 cupcake is never going to go over well.


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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.


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