Monday, December 24, 2007

I’ve Been Waiting for Four Months for Documents in Response to My Access to Information Requests Relating to Canada’s Mission in Afghanistan

On August 29, 2007, I filled out the necessary forms and sent cheques for five dollars each to the Privy Council Office, the Department of National Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Canadian International Development Agency to request copies of documents under the terms of the Access to Information Act.

The documents I was seeking concerned communications planning related to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. Last winter, I published online a thirty thousand word study of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan titled: Mission of Folly: Why Canada should bring its Troops home from Afghanistan. In the spring of 2008, Between-the-Lines, a Toronto publisher, is to publish a revised and updated book version of the study under the same title.

In the new version of Mission of Folly, I have paid particular attention to the role of the federal government and its departments and agencies in communicating the mission to the Canadian people and the world at large. In short, I have focused on the politics of the mission and the ways the government has been involved in promoting the case for the military mission to the public.

For that reason, I sought documents that would bring to light the communications strategy of the government. Let me be clear, in my requests, I sought no documents on Canada’s military strategy, troop deployments or equipment deployment in Afghanistan. Nothing I sought could be interpreted as having anything to do with national security.

Here is the first letter I sent to the Privy Council Office on August 29:

Privy Council Office August 29, 2007
General Enquiries
Room 1000
85 Sparks Street
K1A 0A3
Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing to you to request, under the terms of the Access to Information Act, the receipt of all communications planning documents related to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. With respect to the mission, I am requesting copies of all strategic public affairs plans and evaluations, all media relations plans and plans for promotional activities related to military recruitment, and/or the promotion among the public of awareness about and support for Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan. I am requesting documents on community outreach initiatives, all relevant public opinion studies and other evaluations of programs, all minutes of meeting related to the subject, all relevant E Mail correspondence, and all plans and reports related to ministerial visits to Afghanistan and to communications prior to, during and following such ministerial visits.

I am requesting copies of all contracts and/or contributions agreements awarded by
the department(s) to firms, organizations or individuals related to
the planning, delivery or assessment of the communications and
community outreach products, programs and activities listed above, as
well as copies of all electronic or written documents and
correspondence pertaining to these contracts and to the subsequent
work undertaken by these parties, including copies of all reports,
presentations, assessments and other documents prepared and submitted
by these firms, organizations or individuals under the terms of their
agreements with the department, and the invoices submitted by these
firms for their related work.

I am addressing these requests as well to: DND, DFAIT, CIDA. Naturally, I am anticipating that you will assist me with the portions that come under your purview.

Thanking you in advance.

Yours sincerely,

James Laxer,

I sent the same letter, appropriately addressed to DND, DFAIT, and CIDA. Under the terms of the Access to Information Act, I was entitled to expect receipt of the documents within thirty days.

In mid October, I received a letter from the Privy Council Office, dated October 10, 2007, which included the following passage:

“The Privy Council Office received the request on September 4, 2007.

In processing your request we have found it necessary to consult other government institutions. As a result, an extension of up to 120 days beyond the 30-day statutory deadline is required to complete your request.

Please be advised that you are entitled to bring a complaint regarding the processing of this request to the Information Commissioner (22nd Floor, 112 Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1H3). The Access to Information Act allows a complaint to be made within sixty days of the receipt of this notice.”

I decided not to bring a complaint in response to the letter, and made the same decision when I received similar letters from the other departments and from CIDA.

In the cases of DND and DFAIT, I received advice that my requests were so broadly conceived that it would take a long time to meet them. In these cases, with the assistance of the relevant officers in the departments, I revised my requests to narrow the scope and cut back the time period for the documents I was seeking. (I also made it clear that if the documents I sought were so extensive that an additional payment would be needed, I would make that payment.)

Here is the letter I sent to DND on October 5 with the revised request:

October 5, 2007

General Inquiries,
Department of National Defence,
National Defence Headquarters,
Major-General George R. Pearkes Building,
101 Colonel By Drive.

Dear (name deleted):

This is a follow up to my earlier request, which as we discussed, is to be divided into two.

This new request, therefore, covers the second paragraph in the original request.

I am requesting copies of all contracts and/or contributions agreements awarded by
DND to firms, organizations or individuals related to
the planning, delivery or assessment of the communications and
community outreach products related to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. In addition I am requesting copies of all electronic or written documents and
correspondence pertaining to these contracts and to the subsequent
work undertaken by these parties, including copies of all reports,
presentations, assessments and other documents prepared and submitted
by these firms, organizations or individuals under the terms of their
agreements with the department, and the invoices submitted by these
firms for their related work. The time period covered in this request is May 1, 2007 through August 31, 2007.

If, as with the previous request, this request proves to be unworkably broad, I would appreciate it if you would E Mail me with suggested revisions to it.

Thanking you in advance.

Yours sincerely,

James Laxer,

Nearly four months have passed since my initial requests. To date I have received no copies of any of the documents sought.

Mission of Folly will be published, as scheduled in the spring of 2008, but without the benefit of the documents relating to the communications strategy of the government and its departments and agencies.

The officers I have dealt with in each of the departments and at CIDA have been unfailingly responsive, polite and helpful. I do not attribute the unacceptably slow pace of the meeting of my requests to any of them.

The debate about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan is a matter of the greatest importance. Citizens attempting to participate in that debate should not be sidelined with interminable delays when they seek pertinent documents from the federal government.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

How the Mulroney-Schreiber Affair Really Matters to Canada

There are many Canadians whose interest in the Mulroney-Schreiber Affair does not extend beyond the delicious anticipation of watching the 18th prime minister of Canada explain to a Parliamentary Committee why he accepted bags of cash which he took some time to declare as income.

The affair does have a much deeper importance, though, which is rooted in the way key decisions were made in Canada during the crucial decade of the 1980s. It was the decade when Canada signed on to the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. The FTA, and is successor NAFTA, drove a stake into the heart of Canadian democracy. Under the terms of these treaties, Canada was required to accord “national treatment” to U.S. firms, meaning that Canada could no longer discriminate in favour of domestic firms in its taxation and subsidy policies. Nor could Canada create new publicly owned firms to compete with U.S. corporations without paying out crippling financial compensation to them.

Moreover, the FTA took much of the control of the Canadian petroleum industry out of Canadian jurisdiction. It stipulated that Canada could not have a two-price system for its petroleum in which Americans would pay the world price for Canadian oil imports while Canadians would pay a lower price. And it committed Canada, at any given time, to sell at least as much petroleum to the U.S. as it had sold on average over the preceding three years, even if this were to mean petroleum shortages for eastern Canadians who were reliant on imported oil.

The Mulroney government made all these concessions to the Americans without gaining unfettered access to the U.S. market in return. American trade law remained in place alongside the FTA, allowing the U.S. to mount countervailing duties against Canadian exporters to protect U.S. producers---as the United States has repeatedly done in the case of softwood lumber.

What has all this to do with Karlheinz Schreiber?

We know that, acting on the instructions of his Bavarian masters, whose leader was Franz Joseph Strauss, Minister President of Bavaria and the dominant voice in the Christian Social Union, the fervently right-wing partner in German politics of the more moderate Christian Democratic Union, Schreiber helped finance the overthrow of Joe Clark as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

In 1983, the PCs held a federal convention in Winnipeg and a review of Clark’s leadership was on the agenda. Strauss and his CSU henchmen saw it as their role to support the rise to leadership of conservatives of their ilk in the right-wing parties of the West. In their eyes, Joe Clark was an old-fashioned conservative, a red-tory who was too firmly Canadian for the new era of globalization. As was revealed in 2001, on the CBC program, the Fifth Estate, Mr. Schreiber helped fund the effort to fly delegates to Winnipeg who would vote against the leadership of Joe Clark.

Schreiber explained that he gave money to Walter Wolf, a member of the group that was determined to dump Clark. Schreiber put it pithily: “It’s expensive to travel, right? For this is what Walter Wolf collected the money, and then get the people in which worked for you, and you paid their fare, and perhaps he said to you, they need some money for their wives, they want to go shopping, or whatever, for the hotels.”

When Clark received the support of 66.9 per cent of the delegates, short of the 70 per cent he felt he needed, he called on the party to convene a leadership convention, the convention at which Mulroney succeeded him as leader.

Schreiber and the Bavarians had played a role, quite likely decisive, in nudging the support to dump Clark above the thirty per cent level at Winnipeg. With Mulroney as PC leader and later as prime minister, Schreiber and his associates felt they had a man with whom they could come to understandings.

Franz Joseph Strauss, in addition to being the leader of the most right-wing brand of mainstream German politics in the post-war decades, was involved in the 1970s in the founding of Airbus, the European civilian aircraft manufacturer that challenged American Boeing for the multibillion dollar business involved in selling aircraft to the airlines of the whole world. Strauss became chairman of Airbus in the late 1980s and held that position until his death in 1988.

For the past several decades, the Europeans and the Americans have been fighting a no-holds-barred struggle to sell their respective aircraft to the world. The Europeans have subsidized and bribed their way to success, while the Americans have used Department of Defense contracts to buttress their national champion.

Both sides wanted to sell their planes to Air Canada. In 1988, government owned Air Canada signed a contract to purchase 34 Airbus A330s and A340s. Not only Boeing, but the U.S. government, was heartily annoyed by this victory for the European competitor. And the details of how this came about remain highly controversial.

What matters more than how the deal was or was not lubricated, is that during the 1980s, Canada was being put out of the business of fostering national industrial champions so that it could play in the big leagues. And this benefited both the Europeans and the Americans.

If the Europeans got the Airbus contract, the Americans got the FTA, with all its arrangements that made it impossible for Canada to support its own industries. While neo-con Canadian politicians from Mulroney to Harper sold the line to Canadians that governments should stay out of the marketplace, the Europeans and the Americans spent billions ensuring the success of their industrial champions, with all the employment, technological, strategic and sleazy benefits that went with that.

What mattered when Karlheinz, everyone’s favourite Christmas uncle, helped replace Joe Clark with Brian Mulroney, is that the door was opened to the globalization deals in Canada in the 1980s that helped shove this country down the global ladder to the position we occupy today as suppliers of oil sands oil to the Americans and greenhouse gas emissions to the planet.

What I can’t fathom are the media pundits whose line of analysis is that what went on in the 1980s was the bad old days of influence peddling and that all this has happily been put behind us. Are they kidding?

When Brian Mulroney came to power and made his deals, Canadian democracy was fundamentally weakened. We live today in the nether world of plutocracy, in which those with big money ensure that they get the arrangements that favour them. They twist arms, fight wars, educate economists to peddle their line, and yes, they bribe whenever and wherever it is necessary.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Harperites on Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Do These People Have No Shame?

The position of the Harper government on climate change, unveiled before the world at the recent Commonwealth Conference in Kampala, and ready for use in Bali at the upcoming global summit on climate change is as follows: the advanced countries should not commit themselves to hard targets for greenhouse gas emissions until the major developing countries adopt hard targets.

In other words, Canada should wait for India and China to get on board with hard targets before we do.

Here’s what this means in practice. While the energy consumption of the average person in the world produces a little more than one metric ton of carbon annually (measured in carbon dioxide emissions), this average disguises enormous differences. Annual per capital carbon emissions in the United States total 20 metric tons, in Canada, 18.4 metric tons, Japan, 9.8 metric tons, France, 6.8 metric tons, Sweden, 6.1 metric tons, China, 3.0 metric tons, and India 1.1 metric tons. The average person in all developing countries is responsible for the emission of 0.5 metric tons.

The average Canadian accounts for the emission of 16.5 times as much carbon dioxide as the average Indian, 6.1 times as much as the average Chinese, 3 times as much as the average Swede, 1.9 times as much as the average Japanese, and 2.7 times as much as the average inhabitant of France.

Harper’s stance: why should we do anything serious about our own emissions until the people at the bottom end of this list get serious about theirs? Until they do, Canadians should be content with “aspirational” targets only.

Do these people have no shame?