2 min

The red herring of the day

Does anyone remember the board game Balderdash, where a player had to make up a definition for a word, and the other players would have to guess which was the correct definition of those supplied? Listening to the Conservatives explaining policy has become something akin to Balderdash.

A couple of months ago, one squirmed as they tried to invent a definition for “ministerial accountability” that did not actually fit the correct definition as it was historically known in the history of a Westminster-style democracy. Yesterday, they added “civilian oversight” to that same list of red herrings.

The subject was the crisis at the RCMP. Liberal Scott Brison suggested at the daily press conference that Harper’s decision to appoint William Elliott, a civilian, into the RCMP, was sure to cause problems, and that Vic Toews has been aware of the situation for some time, and has only done something now that the problems have been made public.

But a few hours later came Power & Politics (and let me once again thank all the gods on Olympus that it was Rosemary Barton hosting), where the Conservatives decided to put Senator Mike Duffy in the window to deliver their talking points, and Duffy tried to imply that the Liberals didn’t believe in civilian oversight of the RCMP. In common internet parlance, this particular red herring would be termed a “total fail.”

Civilian oversight, as Brison was quick to inform Duffy, means that the organization in question, whether it is the military or the paramilitary RMCP, are responsible to a minister of the Crown, who is in turn responsible to Parliament and the electorate. That does not mean placing a civilian at the head of the organization (as the Conservatives did with the RCMP) – only that the head of the organization reports to the minister. That’s why the chief of the defence staff is a general (or an admiral, if it’s the navy’s turn in charge). He still reports to the minister, but he heads the military from within. The same applies to the RCMP. Too bad this particular red herring was too difficult for the Conservatives and their spokespeople to understand.

(Incidentally, I was reminded of Duffy’s last episode of his own show).

Oh, and the point of Brison’s press conference yesterday morning? Was actually to talk about home care, and the fact that the Conservatives are eliminating the question on the census that tracked how many hours Canadians spent providing unpaid care to their own elders or those in their family with a chronic or long-term illness. Brison’s point was that this information is crucial, because we are facing a demographic time bomb, and it’s much cheaper and easier to rely on home care than to put people in hospitals or institutions, and governments should find solutions to make home care easier and more affordable for families. And yet, the government has eliminated this consideration from the “National Household Survey,” even though the question was in the 2006 long-form census. Because it’s not like governments need data to help them with tough decisions facing them in the future.

Also on the Statistics Canada chopping block – the survey of the civil service that happens every three years, because it costs $1 million a year. Because we don’t need statistics on things like workplace harassment or discrimination, apparently.

Elsewhere on the census front, Maclean’s satirist Scott Feschuck returns from vacation and ruminates about ways to rescue Tony Clement’s credibility.

Up today – press conferences from Brison (again) about cuts to summer festivals, and Jack Layton, on Harper’s silence on the census issue (which Brison covered Tuesday, but who’s counting?).
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