ปืนเกมยิงปลาPM does Q&A

The Prime Minister held a press conference today in the National Press Theatre to the surprise of Ottawa observers and certainly the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Roger Smith alluded to the PM’s presence there but joked that he didn’t want to use up his one question to address the PM’s choice of venue.

The presser served as a general Q&A going into the next parliamentary session. The Prime Minister addressed questions primarily on the Throne Speech and on the topic of the Afghan mission. Other issues addressed had primarily to do with the mandate that the PM is seeking including crime, the environment, and the economy.

On Afghanistan, Harper emphasized that it is his belief that anyone who wants to hold the office of PM has to look to the long term security of the country and cannot govern by uniformed political sentiment. Another important development has been the Prime Minister’s admission that “consensus” was perhaps the wrong word to use to describe what would be needed to continue past February 2009. Consensus implied unanimity on the issue, whereas the PM states that a he’d seek a majority in the House on the future of the Afghan mission. The PM says that the opposition parties need to consider all options on Afghanistan responsibly. Harper stated that it would be irresponsible for Canada to “pull up stakes” and leave Kandahar, but that they must leave responsibly. Leaving Kandahar in February 2009 would be “hard to imagine”. On a question about why Canada is shouldering a heavy burden in Afghanistan compared to other countries, the PM said that other countries do need to do more and that we’re shouldering a heavy burden because of the decision of the previous Liberal government to engage in Kandahar province, perhaps the most dangerous in that country. Finally, the Prime Minister stated that Canada has a moral responsibility to finish the job and to hand the country over to an Afghan security force that is ready to stand up on its own.

Concerning the Throne Speech, the PM was asked about the Bloc and Liberals’ non-negotiable demands for the speech. Harper mused that while he’s not a pundit, the losses of the BQ and the Liberals during the Quebec by-elections may suggest that they cannot make non-negotiable demands. The PM said that while the Throne speech may not meet the demands of the Opposition, it will try and address its concerns. Among other concerns stated above, the Throne Speech will also address Canada’s place in the world, and our sovereignty. The Prime Minister expressed that he desires to strengthen the state of Canada’s federation and therefore he will not be able to meet all of the ‘non-negotiable’ demands of the Bloc. The passing of the Throne Speech will be perceived as a mandate to govern and Harper emphasized that the Opposition cannot support the Throne Speech and then perturb his efforts to achieve that mandate. Predictably, Harper stated that an election precipitated by a defeat of the Throne Speech is not the preferred outcome. Regarding the Opposition, the Prime Minister stated that those parties must “fish or cut bait”. Asked why he wouldn’t take advantage of the disarray on the left and engineer his own defeat, Harper replied that he wants to govern, present defensible policies to Canadians and stated that the longer his party is in government, the better record they build to eventually run upon.

Peripheral questions included one about the Prime Minister’s opinion on Rick Hillier and whether or not the Chief of Defense staff faces a foreseeable termination date. The Prime Minister provided a spirited defense of the General. Another question came up regarding the Canadian Wheat Board. The Prime Minister stated that it is the policy of his government to push the policy of allowing farmers to sell wheat on an open market system.

On the economy, the Prime Minister noted that because of the high dollar, Canadian companies are now buying American companies and remarked sarcastically that we’ll soon be hearing alarm bells concerning the “hollowing out of the American economy” by Canadians.

Belinda speech in Ottawa

I travelled to Ottawa from Kingston today to attend the Belinda Stronach speech at Chateau Laurier, one block east of parliament hill. I met conservatives of every type at the function; supporters of Stephen Harper, supporters of Tony Clement and of course mostly Belinda Stronach supporters.

I also met two guys with whom I went to Queen’s. Both are hill staffers and were out to see what all of this “Belindamania” talk is about.

Belinda Stronach’s speech was a great improvement from her launch speech that I saw just one week ago. She started out with an anecdote about her son’s advice before her launch that day. “Don’t trip” and she expressed proudly that she didn’t trip acknowledging that while she didn’t fall flat in her political debut, it wasn’t without its obstacles. Indeed, she acknowledged to the crowd of supporters tonight that “I’m not a professional prolecision…” to which the crowd cheered. Somewhat humbled she corrected herself, “I’m not a professional politician” to which the crowd cheered again. Belinda Stronach also declared her position on senate reform. Stronach believes that senators should be elected and that as prime minister she will discuss, with the premiers and the provinces/territories, what would consist of a fair balanced upper house. She reiterated her stance against the federal gun registry, which has cost this country over $1 Billion. This likely pleased Tory MP Bill Casey who started the website gunregistry.ca. The website is a critical look at the wasteful federal programme. As always, Stronach also restated her stance on creating a more competitive Canada through economic reform.

After Belinda Stronach’s speech she worked the room and was surrounded by a hoard of cameras and well-wishers. The mass of people seemed to have a life of it’s own as Stronach led it through the ballroom shaking hands with as many supporters as possible. I instead wandered around the less congested perimeter of the room and met some other students. We discussed our common enthusiasm about the Stronach campaign. Belinda then exited the room with her senior team.

After a speech comes a press conference so I spotted the open room where the cameras were setting up. I set myself up behind the bank of cameras, just behind the reporters and I stood with the boom-mic operators who were recording the reporters’ questions. Interesting, I found myself in the media scrum behind the stage. I actually could have asked a question myself!

CTV’s Roger Smith asked Belinda whether or not she was buying up all of the organizers in Quebec to which she answered that all of the campaigns have paid and unpaid volunteers and that the salary figure that Smith quoted was grossly exaggerated. Later on, Smith asked Stronach a somewhat cynical question “Have you ever heard any of Paul Martin’s speeches?” When Stronach ignored the question, Smith yelled back “Obviously not!” Bizarre… I thought that reporters were supposed to report the news instead of chide the candidates. Later on CTV Newsnet, I read the headline “Stronach takes hits over Quebec campaign”. It seems that while Belinda answered Smith’s question adequately, what is newsworthy to CTV is that Smith asked her the question and thought that he did some damage.

After the press conference, after most of the supporters and press had cleared out, I hung around and met some more of the campaign staff, most of whom are either slightly younger or slightly younger than me. The youth team on Belinda Stronach’s campaign is likely a key factor helping her take a fresh approach to the leadership race. I was chatting with Belinda’s press secretary when she asked, “Do you want to meet her?”.

So, I got to meet Belinda Stronach and we chatted for a little while and I got my photo-op. I thanked her for what she’s doing for youth involvement in federal politics. I also told her that we’re going to rally Queen’s around her campaign.

She also told me something very exciting and encouraging about Kingston and the Islands. But that will have to wait for another day…

Belinda Stronach
Click to enlarge