Monday, November 30, 2009

Debating the future of the BC NDP on Globe and Mail online

I will be debating my friend Clay Suddaby today at noon on the Globe and Mail online about the future of the BC NDP - do tune in.

From the Globe and Mail:

Can the New Democrats of British Columbia shed their unwanted status as the perennial loser of elections, and forge a winning majority coalition?

In a four-part series last week, Globe columnist Gary Mason explored that fundamental, and pressing, question for B.C.’s opposition party, in advance of the NDP’s weekend convention. That series looked at leader Carole James’s insistence on scrutinizing the status quo, the pressure from party elders – including former premiers Mike Harcourt and Ujjal Dosanjh – for the NDP to tack to the centre, the need for Ms. James to reinvent herself – and Mr. Mason’s 10-point formula for the NDP to become the New(er) Democrats.

On Monday at noon (PT) 3 pm (ET), two NDP stalwarts tackle those same questions: Clay Suddaby, former chief of staff for opposition leader Joy MacPhail, who led the party in the wake of the 2001 electoral wipeout, and Bill Tieleman, who was communications director for premier Glen Clark during the squeaker NDP victory in 1996.

Joining them is The Globe and Mail’s B.C. Editor, Patrick Brethour.

Leave your questions in advance through the comment function on this story, or come back at the scheduled time and join the live conversation.

Clay Suddaby is a strategic communications and campaign consultant in Vancouver. He served as chief of staff to NDP Opposition Leader Joy MacPhail from 2001-2005 and then directed communications and research for the BC NDP's 2005 election campaign, which saw the party go from 3 to 33 seats. He was previously director of caucus services for the NDP government, following stints as director of communications for the British Columbia Ferry Corporation and director of media relations for the BC government's Nisga'a Treaty Implementation Project. Suddaby established A-Line Communications in 2007, and writes the Radical Pragmatist blog.

Bill Tieleman is one of B.C.'s best known communicators, political commentators and strategists. Tieleman writes a weekly column on politics in 24 Hours daily newspaper and The online magazine. Tieleman has previously been communications director in the B.C. Premier's Office and at the BC Federation of Labour. For the past 12 years he has run West Star Communications, a consulting firm providing strategy and communication services for labour, business, non-profits and government agencies. Tieleman holds a masters degree in political science from UBC.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Join new Facebook protest group - Defeat the HST in Parliament - and help kill the Harmonized Sales Tax this coming week!

- Joel Bedford photo of Parliament Hill

I have just created a new Facebook protest group - Defeat the HST in Parliament - and urge you to join right away, as there will likely be a vote by Members of Parliament this coming week on the legislation to impose the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Here is some of the information I have just published on Facebook about what's happening in Ottawa - and how we can try to kill the HST in both Ontario and BC permanently.

* * * * *

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government will introduce legislation to impose the Harmonized Sales Tax in Ontario and British Columbia this week - meaning a vote could come as early as Wednesday or Thursday.

Harper says that it is NOT a confidence vote and if the HST legislation is defeated it will NOT be brought back at a later date.

So this is a fantastic opportunity to defeat the HST in Parliament and save Ontario and British Columbia consumers from paying far more for goods and services without seeing any of those taxes pay for health care, education or social programs.

The revenue raised by the HST will instead go to tax credits for big business.

But there isn't a lot of time - please act now by joining this Facebook protest group and passing on the word to friends, family, co-workers - anyone who might join.

The more people who sign up the more pressure there will be on Members of Parliament from all parties to vote against the HST and kill it once and for all.

For more information on the HST in BC please see the
NO BC HST Facebook protest group - and Fight HST, the group formed by ex-BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm that is leading the opposition to the HST.

Party Positions in Parliament on the HST

Conservative Party - Support the HST and will bring in legislation this week to impose it as of July 1, 2010. All Conservative MPs are expected to support the HST.

Liberal Party - Have made negative statements about the HST, calling it "Harper's Sales Tax" - but have not said what they will do when it comes to a vote in Ottawa.

The Globe and Mail's Bill Curry
reported Friday that: "Federal Liberals acknowledge they've been placed in a bind over an HST vote forcing them to choose between political opportunity or avoiding a bitter feud with provincial Liberal cousins."

Liberal MPs said yesterday they will meet behind closed doors before taking a position on next week's Conservative government motion."I'll decide in my own sweet time," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters in St. John's. "I haven't seen the legislation. I've got to consult with the caucus."

Bloc Quebecois - Appears likely they will support the HST but only if they can get a retroactive cheque from the federal Conservative government because Quebec adopted the HST in the 1990s without receiving any federal incentive money.

Ontario will get a one-time only $4.6 billon payment and BC a $1.6 billion payment for "implementation costs" of the HST.

New Democratic Party - NDP leader Jack Layton opposes the HST and has said his MPs will all vote to defeat it. New NDP MP Fin Donnelly - New Westminster-Coquitlam - campaigned heavily against the HST in his Nov. 9 by-election win.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Disappointing speech from Carole James at BC NDP convention won't threaten her leadership

BC NDP leader Carole James delivered what can only be described as a disappointing speech at the party's convention this morning, long on rhetoric but lacking in new ideas or a strong explanation and defence of how her centrist approach can win the next election.

James delivered the speech adquately to a generally enthusiastic audience of party delegates but content-wise it was lacking details or strategy, instead relying on attacks on the BC Liberals recent performance - a target-rich environment - and predictable calls for a minimum wage increase, ending child poverty, better health care and education, support for the arts, etc.

Missing from the speech was any reference to climate change - even with the Copenhagen summit coming shortly - or the word "union" - despite the presence of dozens of union leaders and activists.

And the core of James' message was deep the speech - page 7 of 8 in the printed version, where she made it clear that the appeals to BC business - which have so far fallen on deaf ears - will continue.

She also signalled that after avoiding talking about the economy - the number one issue for voters - in the last election, now she will do just that.

My friend Sean Holman of Public Eye Online has an excellent clip of James' post-speech media scrum where the word "economy" is mentioned at least half a dozen times.

Here's what James said in her speech to delegates:

"I also want to hear from British Columbians about other changes needed to make our economy grow. Changes that are consistent with our values of environmental integrity," James told the crowd.

"In the coming months, I'll be engaging you and a broad range of British Columbians from all walks of life, and experts in their field - including concerned business leaders - on how we tackle the big challenges that face us and move beyond the conflicts that hold us back."

"How we combine a forward-looking business climate with a more equitable society. This kind of openness will make our journey to a sustainable, new modern economy that much faster."

"It's not my conviction that British Columbians won't disagree at times. But in the name of economic progress, we must build on our common ground."

"In the name of social justice we must do our duty," James said in ending that section of the speech. [I have added the bold emphasis above.]

Let me disagree with Carole James, as I have done before, not with rancour or mean-spiritedness but from a different perspective.

And I do so as the owner of a small business for 12 years as well as a former communications director in the office of former Premier Glen Clark, a former NDP executive member and still a supporter in general of the NDP - while often a critical one.

There are arguments in favour of a centrist strategy - but today's speech did not make them to the audience that needs to be behind the leader's approach.

And Carole James has been reaching out to business for the past four years or more - without any sign of success.

If anything, business organizations solidified their opposition to the NDP in the last election, spending heavily to ensure they do not have to cooperate or deal with a Premier James in power.

This is not to say - as some have assumed - that the NDP should have nothing to do with business, run up the red flag and plan for worker soviets come the next election.

I am decidedly not anti-business either - I have worked with many businesses over the 12 years of communications and strategy consulting and have business clients to this day.
I believe business will work cooperatively with an NDP government on some issues - as it did with Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark - and oppose it strenuously on others.

None of this is rocket science - but expecting a Kum Bay Ya experience with the province's hard-nosed business organizations is simply unrealistic.

Some individual businesses might even welcome an NDP government willing to listen to their concerns - which have been ignored or minimized by Premier Gordon Campbell.

But on some key issues of importance to the NDP, many businesses will by and large attempt to block, fight, protest and object to them, period.

As if to illustrate that point, in today's Vancouver Sun a letter to the editor from Philip Hochstein, head of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, attacks BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair's call for more government spending.

Hochstein instead argues for smaller government and lower taxes, saying that even the BC Liberal government has spent more than necessary on public services.

Hochstein's ICBA spent $600,000 in pre-election and election period radio ads absolutely lambasting the NDP.

And while the ICBA is perhaps the most hawkish of anti-NDP business organizations, the BC Business Council also ran ads attacking the NDP and supporting the BC Liberals.

Still, the NDP's leadership now has two years to convince the party that the path of moderation and the olive branch to business will lead to success.

Former cabinet minister Moe Sihota should easily become the party's new president at a vote Sunday morning, as he heads a so-called "unity" slate.

Like James, Sihota favours courting the business community as part of a centrist strategy to win election.

"I don't think leadership is the issue with the NDP. I think market share is the issue," Sihota told Province columnist Mike Smyth.

"For the NDP to be successful, it needs to have stronger relations with all sectors of the business community," he said. "We need to get past the imagery of the party that has been created in a very polarized province."

Whether this approach will succeed is at best unclear - but given that even James is supporting a resolution to be passed Sunday that would put her own leadership to a test by party delegates at their next convention in 2 years - what is clear is that James is staking all on the centrist strategy.

Two years from now, a new BC Liberal leader and premier will likely be in office, the economic and political context will be different and delegates to the NDP convention will have to decide what to do.

For this convention, a ceasefire on strategy and leadership are the order of the day.

Although the BC NDP are featuring a speech by Barack Obama campaign social media expert Rahaf Harfoush tonight, the party's website has not even been updated to include a full agenda for the weekend's schedule.

As of 2 p.m. today, only a draft agenda was online - without times for speakers, including leader Carole James - or details of the day's events.

The funniest button of the convention - supplied by Melva Forsberg of Babylon Buttons - reads: "Mo' business....less votes".


Friday, November 27, 2009

Bill Tieleman on CBC News Network Power & Politics - today - Friday - 3:45 p.m.

I will be appearing on CBC News Network's Power & Politics show with host Evan Solomon and Kady O'Malley to talk blogs and politics this afternoon - Friday - at 3:45 p.m. - tune in!

I will also be on the Bill Good Show on CKNW AM 980 at 9:05 a.m. on Monday to discuss the BC NDP convention with former NDP Premier Mike Harcourt and North Vancouver councilor and former NDP candidate Craig Keating.

Premier Gordon Campbell's former deputy minister Jessica McDonald rumoured to take over as BC Hydro's new CEO shortly

Will recently departed Jessica McDonald double up her salary to become BC Hydro boss as Bob Elton pushed out door by board ?


Will Premier Gordon Campbell’s former deputy minister Jessica McDonald become the new chief executive officer of BC Hydro?

A Victoria source says McDonald may be appointed shortly to replace outgoing CEO and president Bob Elton, who is apparently being pushed out by the BC Hydro board because of independent power producer complaints he was not receptive enough to their interests.

Kyle Mitchell, an Odgers Berndtson executive search firm partner, told 24 hours Thursday the job is still open until a decision is made.

But he declined comment on whether McDonald might be the successful candidate.

McDonald, who made $289,000 a year previously, could double her pay – Elton made $550,000 last year including salary, incentives and benefits.

McDonald resigned last month after serving as Campbell’s deputy minister from 2005.

McDonald's emails
and other documents may end up as evidence in the Basi-Virk case - the BC Legislature raid trial - of former BC Liberal government aides David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi, thanks to defence applications.

Certainly her husband Mike McDonald, the BC Liberals former caucus communications director, will be on the witness stand after defence allegations he was supervising political dirty tricks directly out of government office, including stacking phone calls to talk radio station CKNW.

In one April 2007 courtroom disclosure, defence lawyer Kevin McCullough, acting for Virk, outlined Mike McDonald's alleged role:

McCullough quoted a Nov. 23, 2003, document alleging calls being set up to apparently ambush NDP Leader Carole James.

"It's a call in response to Carole James -- she's going to be on the Bill Good Show tomorrow -- Mike [McDonald] asks him to 'get the posse together,'" McCullough said.

"They're not just lobbing softball questions to the premier -- they're setting the stage for calls to the leader of the Opposition," McCullough alleged.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Groups representing people with disabilities demand end to HandyDart labour dispute

The strike by HandyDart drivers who are members of the Amagamated Transit Union local 1724 has now been on for a month over concession demands from the new U.S.-based employer MVT.

HandyDart provides bus service to people with disabilities who are unable to access traditional transit.

HandyDart drivers were supported yesterday at a rally by delegates at the BC Federation of Labour convention.

Late yesterday the
BC Coalition of People with Disabilities, the BC Association for Community Living and the Social Planning and Research Council of BC together called on all parties, including TransLink - which contracts the work to MVT - to resolve the dispute and resume service

The following is their news release:

* * * * *

Community Agencies call for Immediate Resolution to HandyDART Strike

The BC Association for Community Living (BCACL), BC Coalition of People with Disabilities (BCCPD) and the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC) are calling for an immediate end to the HandyDART strike in Metro Vancouver.

“We are extremely concerned about the impact that this service interruption is having on
people with disabilities and their families in our communities,” said Faith Bodnar, Executive Director of BCACL.

The Lower Mainland’s HandyDART service is only available to people who need it for kidney dialysis or cancer treatment. The thousands of people with disabilities and seniors who rely on HandyDART to get to work, volunteer, attend medical appointments, go shopping, or visit family and friends have been stranded now for over four weeks.

“HandyDART is crucial for people with disabilities and seniors’ ability to live with
independence in the community,” said Jane Dyson, Executive Director of the BCCPD. “Most people who use HandyDART live on very low incomes, cannot afford to take taxis and have very limited transportation options available to them.”

ATU, the HandyDART staff’s union, has asked MVT, the company that operates
HandyDART, to agree to binding arbitration. MVT has rejected this proposal.

“This service interruption must be resolved as quickly as possible,” said SPARC BC Manager Emese Szucs. “We are urging MVT, ATU and TransLink to come together so that this very serious situation ends now.”

“People will become increasingly socially isolated and this is a great worry to us. With the service interruption having no end in sight, our organizations are concerned that it will drag on into the holiday season. This strike must end now,” said Dyson.

The battle for future of the BC NDP is on - in Globe and Mail - and here

As the BC NDP convention approaches on Friday, the battle is heating up on the party's future direction.

In today's Globe and Mail, columnist
Gary Mason has part 2 of his series on the arguments for which way to go - the centrist approach that favours more appeals to business or the social democratic roots approach that would move the party into left-populist territory.

Mason interviewed me several months ago for this piece and my views are remarkable similar to the ones in my 24 hours/The Tyee column this week.

In opposition to my position, Mason interviewed former BC NDP Premiers Mike Harcourt and Ujjal Dosanjh - now a federal Liberal MP, and former BC NDP government aides Clay Suddaby and Brad Zubyk - now a federal Liberal advisor.

One might wonder why two federal Liberals would be offering advice to the provincial NDP but nonetheless their positions are outlined.

BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair also weighs in on my side of the argument, as does political scientist Denis Pilon.

Here's a short quote from each but I encourage you to read the whole article, which is linked above, and Gary's other stories in the series - including the first one yesterday titled "
BC's NDP - a party in search of a playbook."

Harcourt's view: "Class warriors and socialists are as discredited today as the communist.”

Zubyk's view: "In the last campaign you saw the NDP's platform was drawn largely from a wish list of public-sector unions.”

Dosanjh's view: " I'm not settling scores here, but when I tried [as premier] to bring in the first balanced budget legislation, there was incredible opposition within our caucus."

Suddaby's view: "“I'm sympathetic to the idea of having a populist issue to run on, but just tying Gordon Campbell to this [carbon] tax did not have the right effect.”

And on the other side of the debate:

Tieleman's view: "Class is still the biggest dividing line in B.C.....You don't poach off the Liberals by being a pale imitation of them."

Sinclair's view: "At the end of the day, you have to represent somebody and the NDP is the closest thing we have to a party that represents ordinary British Columbians.”

Pilon"s view: "I'm not sure the NDP in B.C. can be effectively and completely converted into a middle-class-centre party."

All this should make the BC NDP convention an intersting place this weekend.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

BASI-VIRK - defences spars with judge over timing of application to throw out case, seeks info connected to secret witness

Defence lawyers and BC Supreme Court Justice Anne MacKenzie sparred Tuesday over an application to have corruption charges against three former BC Liberal government aides thrown out due to delay of the trial.

UPDATE - The Vancouver Sun's Neal Hall reports from BC Supreme Court Wednesday that defence lawyers are claiming a deal between the Crown and key witness Erik Bornmann breaches the constitutional rights of the three accused former aides. The Province's Keith Fraser has also filed an online story. I am unable to attend today's hearing but you can find more at the links to Neal and Keith's stories above or at The Legislature Raids.

And the defence also sought additional information connected to the secret witness whose identity will be protected thanks to a Supreme Court of Canada decision last week.

Adding to a busy but confusing day was the appearance of David Basi in person at another hearing in BC Supreme Court on separate fraud charges regarding allegations of influence peddling in a decision by the Agricultural Land Commission to remove land for a development near Sooke on Vancouver Island.

Both Kevin McCullough, representing Bob Virk, and Joe Doyle, representing Aneal Basi, clashed with MacKenzie over the impending Section 11B Charter of Rights application that could end the case because accused persons are guaranteed a trial without unreasonable delay. The charges were laid in 2004 after a December 2003 raid on the BC Legislature to gather evidence.

"Really, where we are is two years back," Doyle told MacKenzie, referring to the fact that the trial was sidetracked when Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino appealed two lower court decision regarding a secret witness all the way to the top court in Canada.

But MacKenzie wasn't sympathetic to the defence.

"People are entitled to litigate, people are entitled to make assertions," MacKenzie replied.

"The Crown was ready then, they were going to call a police officer to testify for an hour on why an informant should remain secret," Doyle said.

The defence also served notice it wants up to 373 police "source witness debriefing notes", having already received 21 that involve David Basi.

Berardino told the court that: "The Crown has disclosed to the defence those notes related to the credibility of the three persons involved in the 21 source witness briefing notes related to Mr. Basi.

Berardino suggested that the defence Section 11B delay of trial application could be filed December 3 and argued December 14.

Outside the courtroom Michael Bolton, representing Basi in the B.C. Legislature raid case, explained that the defence will file two separate applications that could lead to the matter not going to trial.

"Trial delay is different from abuse of process," Bolton explained. "That's a discrete motion to do with the deal the Crown made with witness Erik Bornmann."

Bolton also said it is possible the defence may ask for a jury trial, instead of the current plan to try the case with a judge only.

Meanwhile, Basi reportedly arrived at BC Supreme Court at 9 a.m. to make an appearance himself on the Agricultural Land Commission case because he has yet to retain a lawyer on those charges.

The hearing is expected to continue Wednesday and on Thursday a pre-trial conference will take place to discuss disclosure of Executive Branch evidence with provincial government lawyer George Copley in attendance.


Premier Gordon Campbell salutes Fraser Institute as Honourary Chair of 35th Anniversary

BC Premier Gordon Campbell saluted the right-wing Fraser Institute think tank last night as it celebrated its 35th Anniversary - by serving as Honourary Chairman of the event - which also honoured Canaccord Capital chairman Peter Brown.

Tickets to the event at the Hyatt Regency included "premium tables" at $7000 each and "premier tickets" at $500 each, plus standard $5000 tables and $350 individual tickets.

Among those attending along with Campbell, according to Urban Mixer, were former Ontario Conservative Premier Mike Harris, mega-millionaire Frank Giustra, and surprisingly even Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu.

Sponsors of the event included Canaccord Capital, Bayview Residences of Victoria, Teck Corporation, Haywood Capital Markets and Business In Vancouver newspaper.

Brown and Canaccord Capital are longtime financial and political supporters of Campbell and his BC Liberals - in the 2009 election Canaccord donated $36,000 to the party and $139,890 in the 2005 election year.

And Brown was on the private jet with Campbell that was hired by the late Jack Poole, chair of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee to fly to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Brown sits on the Fraser Institute's Board of Directors, which is chaired by former Future Shop owner Hassan Khosrowshahi and includes other right-wing corporate leaders like Brandt Louie - CEO of London Drugs, Gwyn Morgan - former CEO of Encana,

Brown received the T. Patrick Boyle Founder's Award - Boyle being a former MacMillan Bloedel Vice-President who helped fund the Fraser Institute's beginnings during the term of the Dave Barrett BC NDP provincial government.

The Fraser Institute has a long and controversial history since it was first established in BC by Michael Walker, its first executive director, as a free market and near libertarian think tank that has cleverly used its influence to move political discourse to the right.

Its "Tax Freedom Day" uses faulty logic to argue that a day around the middle of the year is when taxpayers stop "paying the government and start paying themselves." Many media dutifully report this "news" year after year without examining the research behind it or noting that taxes pay for roads, education, medical services etc.

Recently Campbell has been criticized mildly by the Fraser Institute for not cutting corporate taxes enough and failing to eliminate the Agricultural Land Reserve that protects farmland from housing developments.

The Fraser Institute wants more "balanced" labour laws - i.e. balanced for employers, does not believe in global climate change or taking action to stop it, among other controversial positions.

But none of that discouraged Campbell from being Honourary Chair of the big event.


Will BC NDP convention affirm move to centre, appeal to business as strategy to defeat BC Liberals?

Is the BC NDP betting on business or social democracy to win power?

Moe Sihota wants business support and is likely the next party president

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

NDP needs to find own path

By Bill Tieleman

November 24, 2009

"Some automatically assume that we're going to be on opposite sides. But I think that's wrong."

-- NDP leader Carole James to Business Council of B.C., March 2009

Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer thinks I'm a "crackpot."

Global Television's Keith Baldrey thinks I'm a "class warfare advocate."

And The Province's Michael Smyth thinks I'm "crazy."

But all of them agree with the views of Moe Sihota, the former NDP cabinet minister who will likely become the party's new president at this weekend's convention.

So why am I seen as so outrageously wrong by my political commentator friends?

Because I believe the New Democratic Party has to move to the populist left to win the next election, not to the mushy centre with a futile effort to gain business support.

But that's apparently the opposite direction to where James and Sihota plan to go.

Chasing 'market share'

Here's what Sihota told Smith this month when asked if James' leadership is a problem.

"I don't think leadership is the issue with the NDP. I think market share is the issue," Sihota said.

"For the NDP to be successful, it needs to have stronger relations with all sectors of the business community," he
said. "We need to get past the imagery of the party that has been created in a very polarized province."

That corresponds with Palmer's view, as stated on CKNW May 15.

"These people are crackpots! 'Cause here's their strategy summarized, right? We're going to move to the left, we're going to get our people really happy and we're going to win an election with 39 or 40 per cent of the vote," Palmer told Bill Good.

"James should put the people that make those arguments on call block at party headquarters," he added.

'Smarter than that'

Baldrey had the same view.

"Yes, there's the class warfare element of the NDP that thinks that's how to win power in the province because they did it once in 1996 where the vote was split big time -- the Reform Party was able to get nine points -- that's a lot of voters and that's what gave Glen Clark the election, it wasn't his assault on the banks," Baldrey said on the same show.

"But there are class warfare advocates in the NDP who think, 'Oh, if we just move hard left we’re going to win.' And there's just not enough voters out there," Baldrey said.

"Unfortunately, some of the people who say Carole James should remain are also the people saying we have to move left, push her left. Carole James, I'm afraid, everybody, is not a hard left wing politician," he added

Host Bill Good replied: "She's smarter than that."

Baldrey concluded: "She's smarter than that, she’s a centrist, centre-left and if they try to push her to that side of the political spectrum, I think she'll fall off."

Call me crazy

And on election night on CKNW, Smyth and Christy Clark, the former B.C. Liberal deputy premier and now talk show host, both replied that I was "crazy" for suggesting the NDP now had to move left to win.

So am I a crazy, crackpot class warrior? And, given that I was communications director to Glen Clark in the upset 1996 election, am I just trying to use the same playbook?

I strongly disagree, and actually have run my own business for 12 years, but you can be the judge.

Here's the first problem with the strategy outlined by Sihota, followed previously by James and endorsed by the punditocracy -- it doesn't and won't work.

The overwhelming majority of B.C.'s business community -- to put it simply -- hates the NDP's guts. Always have and always will.

But it's not personal -- it's common sense. The business community has its own party -- the B.C. Liberals -- that ably represents its interests in government.

The NDP can at best -- or worst -- only be a pale imitation of the real thing, a party of business.

Where the lines are drawn

While those advocating the NDP "increased market share" will say they want to represent "all" British Columbians, business and labour, rich and poor, working people and entrepreneurs, the truth is that neither the NDP nor any other party can successfully do that.

Politics is about choices, and business, to both its credit and advantage, has made a smart decision that the B.C. Liberals are their party.

What the rest of the population needs is a social democratic party that stands up equally strongly for their quite different interests, not a "me too" business wannabe.

Just look at a few key issues where business wins with the Liberals and loses with the NDP and you can easily see why real political lines are drawn in this province.

The minimum wage. The NDP want to raise it to $10 an hour. Business, especially small businesses, retail, restaurant and other sectors -- adamantly opposed the higher costs and so the B.C. Liberals have delivered, with no increase in eight years and none likely this term.

Labour laws. The NDP would want to make organizing workers easier for unions and decertification harder. Business got exactly the opposite changes from the B.C. Liberals in their first term, resulting in fewer unionized workers.

Social assistance. Welfare and disability benefits rates have
languished under the B.C. Liberals, which helps pay for their significant business tax cuts.

Workers' compensation. Benefit and eligibility cuts at WorkSafe B.C. have reduced payments to injured workers and therefore lowered premiums paid by business.

Private power. The B.C. Liberals banned B.C. Hydro from all new small power projects while subsidizing the independent power producers by paying rates enormously higher than the cost from existing publicly-owned hydroelectric dams. This huge giveaway and the privatization of one-third of B.C. Hydro's operations has put millions in private companies' pockets at consumers' expense.

Money talks

There are many more issues where the NDP's traditional positions are at odds with the interests of the business community.

That's why business has massively funded Gordon Campbell's party. In the 2005 election year, the B.C. Liberals
report on political contributions ran 999 pages and totalled an astonishing $13,112,445.

And $10,116,354 of that amount came from businesses for an amazing 77 per cent corporately-funded party.

Meanwhile the NDP's
report was almost as long at 985 pages, but total donations were just $7,543,220 -- $5.6 million less than the B.C. Liberals.

And business contributions added up to $238,769 -- $9.9 million less than the B.C. Liberals and amounting to just three per cent of their total. Individuals donated $5.2 million or 69 per cent and unions just over $2 million or 26 per cent.

We don't have full-year statistics for 2009, but during the election reporting period, the NDP raised $5.13 million and the B.C. Liberals $9.07 -- with $6.6 million coming from business, or about 73 per cent.

So presuming the new NDP approach is to cozy up to business, how can that be done without dramatically changing long-held values and risking the loss of its existing political base?

The answer is that it can't.

Learning from 2009

The failed results of the NDP's centrist strategy were evident in the 2009 election, as I have
written previously.

The number of NDP voters actually dropped by 40,377 in the
2009 election compared to 2005, indicating a failure to motivate its base. Moving more to the centre again hardly seems a winning strategy.

And while energizing all potential New Democrat voters -- maximizing the universe, in campaigning terms -- won't necessarily mean it gains a greater percentage of votes than the NDP achieved in 2005 or 2009, 41.5 per cent and 42 per cent -- what's clear is that neither of those efforts succeeded in winning government.

Ironically perhaps, and as both Palmer and Baldrey discussed May 15, is that the NDP has won election
three times -- in 1972, 1991 and 1996 -- with lower vote percentages than in 2005 or 2009 but a split right-wing vote.

The NDP can't create a viable right-wing third party to split that vote with the B.C. Liberals, but it can play its own best game based on social democratic values that bring out its voters instead of leaving them sitting on their hands or reluctantly voting for the Green Party.

And by running hard on its core values, the NDP potentially encourage other voters to demand the same kind of choice -- including a viable rural, right-of-centre party that rejects much of the B.C. Liberal approach.

Define the differences

But all of this is not to say that the NDP adopting a hard left, anti-business approach would work.

In fact, the "Take Back The Party" group is urging a significant shift left for the NDP in espousing dogmatic language and marginalized platform ideas that would be a
recipe for disaster.

No, what's needed is to honestly define the differences between the NDP and business and be clear about why they exist -- and how the NDP would fairly but firmly deal with them.

And there are some issues where the NDP can indeed win business support, most notably the Harmonized Sales Tax and its looming negative impact on a wide range of small businesses and the restaurant, hospitality and home building sectors.

Carole James and her caucus deserve strong credit for
fighting the HST -- it’s not only a tax that will hurt consumers during a recession without putting a dime into public services -- it's also a potential game-changing issue that could defeat both Premier Gordon Campbell and Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, who is also introducing an HST.

The NDP can also appeal to business people who support a fair minimum wage, who don't believe B.C. should have the lowest child poverty rates in Canada for six straight years and who believe injured workers and the poor should subsidize corporate tax cuts.

But major businesses and their organizations -- from the Business Council to the B.C. Chamber of Commerce to the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association -- will all continue to donate heavily to the B.C. Liberal Party in hopes of defeating an NDP that would take measures opposed by business.

And no amount of NDP handwringing about wanting to appeal to business or visits to corporate headquarters will ever change that.

* * * * *

Parting with CKNW

Regrettably, I am no longer appearing Mondays on CKNW AM 980's Bill Good Show -- see my blog for


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bill Tieleman leaves the Bill Good Show on CKNW AM 980

I am sorry to report that I will no longer be appearing on the Bill Good Show on CKNW AM 980 and stations of the Corus Radio Network.

I have greatly enjoyed commenting on federal, provincial and other politics every Monday morning with Bill Good and Norman Spector since 2005.

During the time I also had the unique and great opportunity to fill in as guest host on a number of CKNW radio programs, including Nightline BC, the World
Today and the Cameron Bell Show.

I want to sincerely thank first and foremost Bill Good, who has been a colleague, supporter and friend, for his encouragement.

I also want to give my thanks to his producers present and past - Rebecca Scott and Craig Sorochan now, Carly Nicol and Susan Kleiderman Neal before that. Working with all of them has been a pleasure.

CKNW News Director Ian Koenigsfest surprised and delighted me a few years back by asking me to try hosting - something I had never considered and which terrified me at first. Hopefully it was successful and if nothing else, it gave me new respect for everyone who hosts a regular program - it ain't easy.

Norman Spector and I have argued, debated and often surprisingly agreed on many federal and other political issues during our weekly session. While I have many times had fundamental disagreements with Norman it has alwasy been an intelligent, spirited and informed dialogue that I will miss.

Unfortunately, I was not able to come to an agreement with CKNW management to continue appearing on the Bill Good Show but I wish everyone there all the best and hope to appear on occasion with Bill and on the station's other programs.

It's been a good run and while I'm very sorry it has ended, one door closes and another opens.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

BASI-VIRK: Special Prosecutor wins appeal on secret witness at Supreme Court of Canada; defence, media public to be excluded from hearing testimony

Basi-Virk Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino has won a landmark appeal in the Supreme Court of Canada this morning when the court overturned two BC lower court rulings on the issue of secret witness testimony in the BC Rail corruption case.

The Supreme Court of Canada's decision means testimony about why a police informer must have his or her identity protected will take place with defence counsel, media and the public all excluded - leaving only trial judge Anne MacKenzie and the Special Prosecutor team present in BC Supreme Court.

The decision also means the trial of David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi will proceed as early as January 2010 - unless defence lawyers are successful in having it dismissed with an abuse of process motion they plan to introduce soon.

Former BC Liberal government ministerial assistants David Basi and Virk face breach of trust and fraud charges over allegations they provided confidential information about the $1 billion privatization of BC Rail in 2003 to lobbyists acting for a bidder in exchange for money and other benefits. Aneal Basi,a former government communications staffer and cousing of David Basi, faces money laundering charges related to the case.

The case exploded into public view when police raided the BC Legislature in an unprecedented search for evidence on December 28, 2003 but the case has been repeatedly delayed from going to trial over disclosure of evidence issues. Defence lawyers say there are now "millions" of pages of evidence.

The 7-0 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada's justices is a blow to the defence, which strongly objected to being excluded even from any discussion in court as to why the police informer's identity had to be so rigorously protected.

It is also likely an unwelcome decision for the BC Liberal government of Premier Gordon Campbell, as there was a possibility that without the secret witness' testimony, Berardino might have decided the case could not proceed. Berardino hinted at that previously but later said he would go ahead regardless of how the Supreme Court of Canada ruled.

Berardino was successful in having former Justice Elizabeth Bennett's original decision and a subsequent BC Court of Appeal ruling backing that decision overturned. Bennett was promoted to the Court of Appeal earlier this year and replaced by MacKenzie.

UPDATE 1: BC NDP MLA Leonard Krog says the Supreme Court of Canada decision contains both good and bad news.

"The good news is there's a much better chance that this case goes to trial. The truth has to come out," Krog, critic for the Attorney General, said in an interview.

"But as a lawyer, officer of the court and citizen, it's bad news that not even the accused's legal counsel can be present in court for testimony," he said.

UPDATE 2: Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino says he is pleased with the Supreme Court of Canada decision.

"As a lawyer you receive favourable decisions and accept them and unfavourable decisions and accept them - this is a favourable decision from the Crown's perspective," Berardino said in an interview.

But Berardino declined to comment on the issue of how the secret witness testimony would proceed or if it would have any impact on defence motions to have the case thrown out for abuse of process.

Berardino also told Canadian Press that although there was speculation the Crown would have to drop the case if the Supreme Court upheld lower court ruling, he was confident informer privilege would be upheld.

"We have from the very beginning in terms of our legal analysis is that the position we've taken has been a correct position in law and therefore we never thought we would have to discontinue the case," Berardino said.

UPDATE 3: Defence lawyer Michael Bolton says the Supreme Court of Canada ruling will not impact abuse of process applications that seek to have the case thrown out of court, nor will it stop defence disclosure requests.

"We've read and considered the court's ruling. We will continue with our disclosure request connected with informer privilege claims. The Supreme Court of Canada has laid done some guidelines to be followed by trial judges," said Bolton, who represents David Basi.

"The court has not closed off other avenues through which the judge can safeguard the interests of the accused," Bolton added.

Both defence and Crown will be back in court Tuesday November 24 to discuss the timing of the defence applications, one based on delay of the trial and another on other claims of abuse of process, he said.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling makes clear informer privilege is a difficult issue:

"Where a hearing is required to resolve a Crown claim of privilege, the accused and defence counsel should therefore be excluded from the proceedings only when the identity of the confidential informant cannot be otherwise protected. And, even then, only to the necessary extent. In determining whether the claim of privilege has been made out, trial judges should make every effort to avoid unnecessary complexity or delay, without compromising the ability of the accused to make full answer and defence," Justice Morris Fish wrote in delivering the ruling.

And the decision throws the issue of how to deal with the secret witness testimony back to Justice Mackenzie:

"In the present case, permitting defence counsel to make submissions and to propose questions to be put by the court to the witness at the ex parte hearing might well have been appropriate. The trial judge, however, will be in a better position to decide how best to craft safeguards that mitigate any potential unfairness arising from the ex parte nature of the proceedings. The adoption of appropriate initiatives is therefore best left to the trial judge," the court ruled.

But the judges made clear Bennett's ruling, and a 2-1 decision to uphold it by the BC Court of Appeal, were wrong. As Justice Fish wrote for the court:

"The limit that concerns us here is a function of the “informer privilege”, which prohibits disclosure of the identity of confidential informants.

More particularly, we are required to decide whether the trial judge erred in permitting defence counsel to attend the in camera hearing sought by the Crown to establish its claim of informer privilege. With respect, I believe that she did.

The judge’s order was intended to safeguard the privilege by prohibiting defence counsel from disclosing to anyone, including the accused — their own clients — anything they learned at the hearing.

In fact, however, the order exposed the privilege to imminent demise, since information tending to reveal the identity of the putative informer was bound to be revealed in the course of the hearing. Defence counsel would thus have been made privy to what the informer privilege is meant to deny them," the ruling states.

Here is the summary of the decision set down by the Supreme Court's justices, which heard the appeal on April 22, 2009:

"The accused were charged with corruption, fraud, and breach of trust under the Criminal Code.

Given that some material produced on an application for disclosure had been blacked out, defence counsel applied for “unredacted” copies.

The Crown objected, claiming informer privilege. The Crown contended that the claim could not be properly established without live testimony by a police officer, and insisted on an in camera and ex parte hearing.

Defence counsel objected to the ex parte nature of the hearing and applied for permission to attend, without their clients.

When the trial judge held that defence counsel could participate fully in the in camera hearing so long as they were subject to a court order and undertakings, the Crown invoked s. 37 of the Canada Evidence Act (“CEA”), which provides for non‑disclosure where a public interest is at stake.

The trial judge affirmed her previous decision, and the Court of Appeal, in a majority decision, dismissed the Crown’s appeal made pursuant to s. 37.1 CEA and upheld the trial judge’s ruling.

The Crown then appealed to this Court on the issue of whether the trial judge erred in permitting defence counsel to attend the in camera hearing, and the accused cross‑appealed on the issue of whether the Court of Appeal had jurisdiction to hear the Crown’s appeal.

Held: The appeal should be allowed and the cross‑appeal dismissed.

While everyone charged with a criminal offence in Canada is constitutionally entitled to full and timely disclosure of all relevant material under the control of the Crown, the entitlement to disclosure is neither absolute nor unlimited.

Where informer privilege has been claimed by the Crown, an accused’s constitutional right to make full answer and defence does not alone trigger an exception to the privilege.

It is only where innocence is at stake that the privilege yields and information tending to reveal the identity of the informant can be disclosed.

The strictness of the privilege is not relaxed when s. 37 CEA is invoked to protect it, and the privilege is not amenable to the sort of public interest balancing contemplated by s. 37(5).

No one outside the circle of privilege may access information over which the privilege has been claimed until a judge has determined that the privilege does not exist or that an exception applies.

It follows that the trial judge erred in permitting defence counsel to attend the in camera hearing to determine the existence of an informer privilege where, in the course of the hearing, information tending to reveal the identity of the putative informer is bound to be revealed.

However, where a hearing is required to resolve a Crown claim of privilege, the accused and defence counsel should be excluded from the proceedings only when the identity of the confidential informant cannot be otherwise protected.

And, even then, only to the necessary extent. The trial judge will be in a better position to decide how best to craft safeguards that mitigate any potential unfairness arising from the ex parte nature of the proceedings.

Lastly, s. 650 of the Criminal Code applies only to the presence of the accused at trial and has no application to the trial judge’s decision under s. 37 CEA. An application under s. 37 is a discrete proceeding, separate from and only ancillary to the criminal trial, and is therefore not caught by s. 650. [1] [23] [34] [43‑44] [50] [53] [58]
The trial judge’s decision amounted to a “disclosure order” within the meaning of s. 37.1 CEA and the Court of Appeal had jurisdiction to hear the Crown’s appeal.

The inevitable result of the trial judge’s decision was to require the Crown to reveal to defence counsel information over which the informer privilege had been claimed.

As defence counsel are outside the “circle of privilege”, permitting them access to this information — even subject to court orders and undertakings — constitutes inevitable disclosure of the information.

While the trial judge sought to restrict this disclosure of privileged information to defence counsel by prohibiting them from sharing it with any one else, her decision constituted an order of disclosure nonetheless.

Furthermore, the trial judge clearly stated that her decision was subject to immediate appeal under the CEA. [16] [30] [32]"

MORE to come....


BACKGROUNDER - Basi-Virk secret witness issue arose in July 2007 - precedents set in Air India bombing case

Today's Supreme Court of Canada decision on the issue of how to deal with testimony by a secret witness for the Special Prosecutor in the BC Rail corruption case has its roots in the Air India bombing trial.

The following excerpt comes from a story first published here and in The Tyee in November 2007:

By Bill Tieleman

Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino dropped a bombshell in B.C. Supreme Court Friday, asking Justice Elizabeth Bennett to exclude defence counsel from attending an application on whether secret witnesses could testify in camera in the B.C. legislature raid trial.

Lawyers for David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi appeared stunned by the submission by Berardino, telling Bennett they will make arguments against their exclusion when the application is made Dec. 3.

The media and public would also be excluded.

There was no discussion of who the secret witnesses who do not want to be identified were and outside court Berardino and defence lawyers declined all comment on the issue, citing the justice's ruling in court.

Berardino told reporters after the hearing that he cannot comment in any way on the in-camera secret witness application.

When asked how reporters should find out how to deal with or challenge the possibility of being excluded, Berardino said: "I think like every good citizen, you should consult a lawyer."

Kevin McCullough, defence counsel for Bob Virk, had little more to say.

"With in-camera applications lawyers can't say anything," McCullough said outside the courtroom. "Historically in-camera issues have been around safety issues, organized crime."

Vague allusionsBennett had earlier told Berardino, before the request to exclude the defence counsel was made, that the in-camera application would be heard in court on December 3.

"You have to notify the media if you intend to hold an in-camera hearing," Bennett said.When Berardino seemed to object, Bennett asked him if there was "another issue."

Berardino then passed Bennett a previous case judgement and asked her to read "paragraph 46.""Yes, there is another issue," he said.

After reading the document Bennett replied: "I understood you were talking about people we've discussed before. This is something else."

The most likely case Special Prosecutor Berardino was referring Bennett to is Named Person v. Vancouver Sun at the Supreme Court of Canada, which rendered a judgement on Oct. 11, 2007. Several media outlets joined forces in an effort to identify a secret witness.

That case arose out of the investigation into the bombing of Air India Flight 182 that killed all 329 aboard on June 23, 1985.The issue in question was whether a police informant could give testimony without being identified.

That informant was also fighting deportation to a foreign country to face criminal charges there.McCullough told Bennett that the application to exclude defence lawyers from the in-camera hearing would be opposed.

"If he [Berardino] intends to go in camera without defence counsel, you'll hear arguments from me," he said.
Then a very interesting interjection occurred.Michael Bolton (legal counsel for David Basi) to Bennett: "We'll deal with defence counsels' right to be present."

McCullough: "I think we've figured it out....

"Bennett: "No, just don't say anymore."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Basi-Virk Special Prosecutor Janet Winteringham narrowly loses in bid for election to Benchers of BC Law Society

Janet Winteringham, a senior member of the Basi-Virk Special Prosecutor's team, has narrowly lost in a vote by the BC Law Society to elect the Benchers who serve as its board of directors.

In results released at the BC Law Society website today Winteringham finished two spots out of the 12 to be elected in the Vancouver district, about 100 votes short.

As posted at this website earlier in the month, Winteringham faced tough competition.

Winteringham is second in command under senior Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino in the prosecution of David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi - the three former BC Liberal government aides facing corruption charges related to the $1 billion privatization of BC Rail in 2003.

Four of the 12 Benchers elected were newcomers, with the remaining eight being re-elected. Just 31% of the eligible 7,797 lawyers cast ballots.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Long gun registry critics can't shoot straight - Tieleman fires back with both barrels

Returning fire on gun registry critics

Align Right

- Nick Atkins photography

UPDATE November 18 - The Globe and Mail's Jane Taber reports that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is "reconsidering" his decision to allow his caucus members a free vote on the gun registry private members bill. Watch this blog for more info as it becomes available.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday November 17, 2009

Last week, many assailed my defence of the long gun registry - here's why they're wrong

By Bill Tieleman

"The recent vote is appalling. We will witness the tragic consequences of this bill."

- Dr. Carolyn Snider, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians

A lot of people had strong opinions on last week's column opposing the vote in Parliament to kill the long gun registry, passed with all Conservative and some Liberal and New Democrat MPs voting in favour.

Today, I return fire on registry critics.

Long guns aren't a problem? In 2008 a full 17 per cent of all homicides with firearms were committed using rifles and shotguns -- that's 34 deaths, Statistics Canada reports.

Rural Canadians can handle their guns?
In non-urban areas rifles and shotguns were responsible for 48 per cent of all firearm homicides.

And surprisingly, rural residents are at higher, not lower, risk of being a homicide victim than city dwellers.

When it comes to who the killers are -- rural or urban -- the statistics are disturbing: in 70 solved homicides in 2008, 40 per cent of victims were killed by an acquaintance and 33 per cent by a family member, while just 17 per cent of deaths were at the hands of strangers.

The registry isn't effective? Since the registry was passed in 1995, homicides by rifles and shotguns have dropped by nearly 50 per cent, while handgun deaths are up and non-firearms homicides are down slightly.

Last year 1,833 firearms licences were revoked and 462 firearms licences were refused, Firearms' Commissioner William Elliott report to Parliament stated.

Number one reason for revoking firearms licenses -- 75 per cent of them? "
Court-ordered prohibition or probation." Yes, 1,366 revocations last year alone were because a court ordered someone not to possess firearms -- gee, maybe they had a criminal problem.

And another 201 applications were refused
for the same reason.

What are the second-through-seventh biggest reasons for revocation or refusal of a firearms license? "Potential risk to others; potential risk to self; mental health; violent; drug offences; domestic violence."

Or look at Firearms Interest Police reports, which checks if a licence holder has been the subject of a police incident report by checking the registry.

That only happened
102,841 times last year, including over 12,000 in B.C. alone.

Perhaps the information in the Commissioner's report is why Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan
didn't want to release it to Parliament until two days after the vote.

Registered long guns are hardly ever used in crime? A number of Conservative MPs have information on their website using two-year-old stats claiming that of 2,441 homicides between 2003 and 2007, under two pe rcent -- or 47 -- were committed using registered rifles or shotguns.

Up to date statistics are not readily available, but logic is. First, 47 homicides in five years with registered long guns is not insignificant.

Second, as the registry continues to revoke and refuse long gun registration to criminals and others, as seen above, the homicide rate should drop.

Third, if stolen guns are used in a crime they can be traced through the registry -- see an example below -- meaning criminals will increasingly avoid using registered long guns.

Does it work? Here's one example from the report: "The Canadian Firearms Program provided support to an RCMP detachment, assisting with a Criminal Code of Canada warrant to recover firearms from a subject who had reportedly pointed a rifle at a co-worker and threatened to kill him."

"[It] confirmed the suspect had... nine long guns registered in his name. A warrant was granted and executed, resulting in the recovery of all nine long guns, including the suspect firearm and a quantity of ammunition."

Or this one: "Canadian Firearms Program provided support to an RCMP detachment after a suspect was stopped with four non-restricted 'long guns' in his vehicle. The suspect was evasive when questioned, leading investigators to believe the firearms had been stolen... checks on the recovered firearms determined all four were registered to a local resident and not the person who was in possession of them.

"The registered owner, who was working out of town, was contacted by police and said that, as far as he was aware, all of his firearms were safely stored at his residence. Police attended the owner's residence and discovered evidence confirming that his residence had been broken into and that all 16 of his long guns had been stolen. Subsequent investigation resulted in the recovery of the remaining 12 long guns from the suspect."

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is "biased" and "political"? A ridiculous argument but let's hear from police chief Mike Osborne of Midland, Ontario with a population of 16,000 -- in other words a small town chief, not Toronto's.

"If we’re en route and we know a person has firearms -- you always try to be cautious anyway -- but it just gives you that added information. We do use it when we attend residences to help us gauge what the threat level is," Osborne said. "I do, regardless of whether it's a handgun or a long-gun, see the value of the registry."

"To scrap it now would almost seem like a real waste of the millions that have already been spent," he said. "There's some value in making people feel responsible for their firearms in a way that makes them store and secure them properly, so that was one of the positive things that came out of this whole system.

"It changed people's attitudes about gun and ammunition storage. It put some tough laws in place that regular gun owners are more likely to secure their firearms so they're not being stolen or misused so often," he said, adding it also provided tougher licensing and training for firearms.

"People had to really want a firearm for a particular purpose... and I believe that made them take gun ownership more seriously," Osborne concluded.

Others argued that "rank and file" police oppose the registry. But that argument is completely bogus. Only one, repeat, one police union has publicly opposed the long gun registry -- the Saskatchewan Police Federation, representing 1,100 municipal officers.

But Yves Francoeur, the head of Montreal's 4,700-member police union says the registry is essential and can't believe people are complaining about registering rifles.

"We have to register our vehicles, we have to register our properties, we have to register our trailers and we shouldn't have to register our guns?" Francouer asked. "It doesn't make any sense."
Don't polls show opposition to the registry? A new Harris-Decima
poll last week said 46 per cent of those surveyed said getting rid of the registry was a good idea, while 41 per cent thought it would be a bad idea.

But an Ipsos-Reid poll in 2006 found 67 per cent supported having a gun registry.

And even in the Harris-Decima poll, 44 per cent of urban residents oppose killing the registry versus 42 per cent who want it gone. Only in Conservative-held ridings are a majority in favour of abolishing it.

The reality is that the former federal Liberal government's incompetence in creating the registry at great cost in the first place has biased many against it, even though the current annual budget is just $8.4 million and getting rid of it now won't recover the money already spent -- but will waste it.

Lastly, some critics thought it was great that the NDP leader Jack Layton and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff allowed a "free vote" that let 12 NDP and eight Liberal MPs from rural ridings to vote to kill the registry.

How political parties failed us

Political parties exist with platforms and policies to give voters clear choices that distinguish one from another. Like it or not -- and some don't -- most voters decide to cast their ballot based on the party and leader, not the local MP.

And party members and donors join and fund their choice of party based on its ideological perspective and goals -- not because it has hundreds of candidates for office who all hold different views on important issues.

That's why many New Democratic and Liberal supporters were appalled by the free vote -- they feel the gun registry is a fundamental value question, not a minor one where a free vote has little consequence.

Jack Layton was a founder of the White Ribbon Committee in Canada, a group of men working to end violence against women. It was created after the Montreal Ecole Polytechnique massacre on December 6, 1989.

And Layton promised he would let provinces implement an "absolute ban" on all handguns -- something I oppose -- in the last federal election campaign.

How does Layton square those positions with letting a third of his NDP caucus vote to kill the long gun registry?

Ignatieff told Liberals in just April of this year his caucus would block Prime Minister Stephen Harper from killing the gun registry: "We won't let him. We won't pass his bills."

But now he has done exactly that.

Both leaders face serious credibility questions on the gun registry -- and both are getting a backlash for their new positions from supporters.

And so they should.

But as I said last week, there is still time for Canadians who support the long gun registry to influence the final vote by MPs.

Contact Layton, Ignatieff and other MPs to let them know it is a vote-determining issue for you -- it's the only way to save the registry -- and save lives.