The Capital Chronicles
with Mia Rabson
05/14/2013 10:25 AM
The spin doctors are working hard today to disect the byelection results in Labrador yesterday.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue (pronounced Pen-A-shoo-way) went down to defeat at the hands of Liberal Yvonne Jones. Penashue stepped down in April, hours before Elections Canada released documents which showed his campaign in 2011 had accepted 28 illegal donations totalling $46,560, including from corporations and $18,710 of free flights from Provincial Airlines.
Trying to understand the results of this byelection in terms of what it may mean for the greater political situation in Canada today is kind of like trying to figure out whether the Titanic went down by looking how a life raft fares with an iceberg.
Labrador is a sparsely populated, community-oriented riding. So the Liberals trying to suggest this is a sign Canadians like Justin Trudeau and his message is at best premature. This is probably one of the most local ridings you can get in Canada. This was a byelection in which a well-known and popular politician prevailed for a party that has only ever lost this riding twice before. A byelection where the incumbent was in over his head when it came to figuring out how to finance an election (which makes the comment about Trudeau's inexperience seem rather ironic -- but that's a whole other story.)
The Conservatives who are trying to spin that this is no big deal because well, majority governments don't often win byelections and well, the Liberals didn't win it by as much as one poll said they would a few weeks ago so really Trudeau messed things up and this is a sign he is in over his head, is just nonsense and kind of smacks of sore losership.
Nobody should look at Labrador's results as a harbinger of what might happen in the next federal election in 2015.
But one thing that happened that is worth a smile, whether it's a trend or not, is that voter turnout actually went up over the 2011 general election. Byelections almost always have extremely dismal turnout.
In 2011, 53 per cent of Labrador voters went to the polls. Yesterday (and in advanced polls) 59.6 per cent of them did.
In 14 other byelections since 2006, turnout didn't just go down, it plummeted -- between 18 and 35 percentage points.
It's important to note turnout in the 2005 byelection in Labrador was also much higher than in almost any other byelection, at 53 per cent. It went up slightly in the 2006 general election to 58 per cent, dropped to 53 per cent in the 2011 general election and then up to 59.6 per cent yesterday.
So obviously Labrador again tends to be a horse of a different colour than other ridings, but still: any time voter turnout goes up, it's a good day for democracy.
05/13/2013 10:41 AM
If there is a race in Ottawa to be the MP with the most to say, Manitoba's Kevin Lamoureux won the silver medal.
According to Samara Canada, a non-profit think tank aiming to improve political participation, an analysis of words spoken in the House of Commons in 2012 showed Lamoureux delivered 222,451 words last year, just a few thousand shy of the 226,027 words spoken by the NDP's Peter Julian.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was in the bronze position with 174,783 words. The Conservatives' Kellie Leitch was in the usually unenviable fourth position with 120,835 words.
Samara's study looked at 54 days of debate in the House of Commons and then extrapolated to figure out how many words the MPs likely spoke over the full 129 days where the House of Commons sat last year.
As a point of comparison Samara also then compared the word counts of MPs to the length of books. Julian's word count is the equivalent of reading Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. Lamoureux could have read Conrad Black's A Matter of Principle.
On the other end of the spectrum some MPs speak so infrequently they barely read a children's book. Conservative MP Rob Anders delivered 963 words, or the equivalent of the book M is for Maple, A Canadian Alphabet. Technically Anders is second-last, but the last entry on the list isn't entirely fair. Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield spokejust 922 words, which is the equivalent to reading The Cremation of Sam McGhee. However Ashfield was absent for most of the fall after suffering a heart attack.*
Peter Penashue, the former minister of intergovernmental affairs who is running for his political life in a byelection in Labrador today, might have some trouble convincing people he truly spoke for Labradorians in the House of Commons since he barely spoke at all. Penashue had the third lowest word count of any MP, at 977 words, the equivalent of Robert Munsch's book Jonathan Cleaned Up - Then He Heard a Sound.
The list includes only MPs who were there for the full year, so anyone who quit or was elected half-way through the year isn't on the list.
Elizabeth May is the most talkative party leader, followed by the NDP's Thomas Mulcair, who finished 47th with 44,498 words.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper comes in at 109th, with 26,758 words.
Justin Trudeau is way down the list at 262, with 5,408 words.
Here are the other Manitoba MPs, and their placement out of the 302 MPs included.
30. Pat Martin, 52,154
63. Shelly Glover, 39,063
68. Candice Bergen, 36,963
133. Joy Smith, 23,081
135. Niki Ashton, 22,850
154. Vic Toews, 19,156
174. Lawrence Toet, 16,249
185. Robert Sopuck, 14,888
214. James Bezan, 10,834
218. Merv Tweed, 10,217
228. Joyce Bateman, 9,651
250. Steven Fletcher, 6,837
268. Rod Bruinooge, 4,847
It's important to note these counts include only debates in the House itself, not participation in committees.
UPDATE: Samara has updated its report to note a mistake on the count with regards to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield. A mistake in their calculations had Ashfield speaking just 922 words, the least of any MP in the House of Commons. Samara now says Ashfield spoke 9,529 words, which puts him at 231 of the 302 MPs on the list. This number should still be taken with a grain of salt, since as mentioned above, Ashfield was absent for at least two months in 2012 after he suffered a heart attack.
04/30/2013 12:57 PM
The Bank of Canada revealed the final two bills of our new "polymer notes" — or plastic money, to use the plain language they taught us about in journalism school.
The $5 and $10 bills won't be released to the public for spending until November but the designs were unveiled this morning by Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney.
The $100, $50 and $20 bills have already been in circulation for awhile.
The new $5 bill has an endorsement all the way from outer space. Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut now commanding the International Space Station, called in to the press conference, with one of the new $5 bills.
The connection is because the $5 bill features pictures of Canada's contribution to international space technology, namely the Canadarm2 and Dextre, both robotics which help build and maintain the space station.
Sir Wilfred Laurier is still the prime minister on the other side of the bill.
The new $10 note features a train travelling through the Rockies, to represent linking Canada's east and west by rail. Sir John A MacDonald is on the other side, in keeping with the old $10 bills.
Polymer notes have been used in many other countries for years. Including Australia which was the first to kick the paper money habit in 1996. New Zealand, Romania, Brunei and Vietnam are among the other nations which use polymer notes, which are more expensive to produce (19 cents each) but harder to counterfeit and are supposed to last up to 20 years.
More information on the new notes is available at the Bank of Canada website.
But last summer, there was a series of stories of people claiming the new bills were melting. Some complained they were sticking together when left in a hot car, others said they melted when placed on the stove or in a tin can near a baseboard heater.
The Bank of Canada says the notes were heavily tested, and can withstand temperatures up to 140 degrees Celsius. The suggestion the bills melt has been dismissed by many as an urban myth.
The bills aren't indestructable. Even coins will melt if subjected to enough heat, although temperatures would have to be a lot more than that produced by a space heater. It's not really a big problem if bills melt when you place them on a hot stove. Generally one shouldn't have reason to leave one's money on the oven.
This summer will maybe truly prove the point though. The $20 bills were released in November and since most Canadians don't walk around with scores of $50s or $100s in their wallets, the most commonly used note has yet to weather a Canadian summer and all the heat and humidity it can offer in certain places.
That's not to suggest you try leaving your bills in aluminum foil in the direct sunshine to see what happens. But if you accidentally forget your wallet in a hot car this July, let us know if you end up with a pool of melted plastic when you get back.
04/18/2013 12:04 PM
Most Canadians who have even a passing interest in federal politics will have heard by now that Justin Trudeau is the new Liberal leader and that the Conservatives released their first anti-Trudeau attack ad less than 24 hours after Trudeau won.
The ad has been criticized heavily for taking Trudeau's comments wildly out of context - using something he was saying his father used to think to make it appear as if he was saying Quebec is better than the rest of Canada - and for making light of his appearance at a 2011 charity event where he removed his shirt in a mock-strip tease to raise money. He raised $1,900 for the Canadian Liver Foundation at the event.
When asked about the ad Monday, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said it is all about his judgement and the charity event performance was just not the kind of behaviour one would expect from someone in Trudeau's position. She also wondered what would have been said if a woman had done a mock strip tease for charity.
Critics called using the charity performance for an attack ad cheap. In a statement, Trudeau called it gutter politics, and used it as an opportunity to ask people to donate to both the Liberals and the Liver Foundation.
The Canadian Liver Foundation reported at least 200 people called to donate money saying they were doing so because of the attack ad. The charity raised $10,000 in two days, more than it normally brings in from unsolicited donations in a month.
In a tweet earlier today, Gerald Butts, the principal advisor on Trudeau's leadership election campaign, said the Liberals have raised $408,000 since the Conservative attack ad was released. (To put that amount in context, that's a fifth of what the party raised in the entire second quarter last year).
But the ad is also likely lining Conservative pockets as well. 2011 Conservative campaign manager Jenni Byrne issued a letter to Conservatives today saying it was the media that was spinning that the ads were bad but that it didn't matter what the media said. The ads, said Byrne, "have spread farther and faster than any ads we've ever done."
According to Byrne the ad had 270,000 views on YouTube in the first two days, which beats even the interest in ads during an election. It was so popular it even crashed the party's website, which has never happened before.
Then she pleads for more money to keep the "momentum going."
"We need to make sure every Canadian sees these ads and you can help by making a $25 donation today," said Byrne.
Attack ads are not generally viewed positively by most Canadians. But so far it seems as if when Justin Trudeau is the attackee - everyone wins.
Well, except maybe the truth and democracy.
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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