Dear News Media – We need to talk.

Dear News Media,

You know how much I love you, I am hooked on you. My addiction knows no geographic bounds, and many of your members around the world from every major publication in Canada (and lots of minor ones – I’m looking at you, Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal. Hiya!) to major and minor US publications, major dailies in Australia and New Zealand (so, so sorry about the earthquake. Terrifying and heartbreaking.), Japan, SE Asia, Russia, across the Middle East, Europe, Africa (hello Cape Town! I want to come to visit!), South and Central America and the Caribbean. And of course, the Grey Lady’s world news (I like it because I am so used to the look and feel of the NYT site, and because it has world news in ONE PLACE!)

I spend at least 3 hours of my day reading news, to the point where I often pick up on headlines and can’t delve into issues that much anymore, but I suppose that the nature of a time-limited addition. I get as many viewpoints as I can on issues that are of interest to me or those around me. My university friends are just as hooked, so I have to assume that this is an addiction that higher education in the liberal arts – history and political science especially – encourages. When my boyfriend calls and says, “what are you doing?” and I reply, “reading”, he could truthfully testify that it isn’t a book even though we’re on the phone and he can’t actually see me (catch my drift, Hon. John McKay?)

Media, you’re a big part of my life. I read your news. I watch your videos on my Samsung Galaxy S when I am commuting or too lazy to turn my laptop on. I have downloaded many of your apps and I talk about you to my friends and family. I believe in your role in our society and I often thank you for the oversight and for bringing worthy stories to my attention. I’m pretty sure that I would pay for your content if push came to shove. I don’t think I could be any more clear about your place in my life.

HOWEVER, we’re in a big fight.

We have a serious problem in our relationship. Not a global problem (for now, I can’t even think about the US right now), but for my current issue, a Canadian problem. You see, News Media, it is likely an election year in federal politics, and is almost certainly an election year in 50% of Canada’s provinces. I understand that you think that means you need to gear up, but really what you’re doing is showing your editorial bias and I HATE THAT PART OF YOU. Commentators and pundits are excluded from our big fight because I expect them to show themselves. This is about regular news as reported by, well, reporters. In the last week, I have two great big shining examples of where you’ve fallen down, and I fervently hope that commenters on this letter will add their own examples because honestly, this has gotten out of control and either I need news media rehab, or you need to pull your socks up.

To understand our fight, we need to agree on what your job is as the Fourth Estate. (I love the estates of the realm – if you have a moment, look them up. Not a lot of people know what the estates are anymore and it’s too bad, because they are foundational to understanding the roots of our society and also really neato) Your job, beloved news media, is to provide oversight on society – to inform and educate about virtually everything that is current without bias of any kind. In short, I count on you to be objective in your reporting on current events, and to provide pertinent points of view on any given issue or event. While this may be naive, considering that for the most part you are confused about your purpose, which is NOT to make money for your owner shareholders, I believe that your role in society transcends your owners as businesses in our capitalist economy. Basically, you are more important than money.

I want to know what is REAL, not what you THINK about issues and events in regular reporting. That’s why you have commentators and pundits: to express the concurrent views of your owners, or, if your owners want some laurels for showing an ability to present differing opinions, some non-concurrent views. I think the whole world is on to you on that front. But you need to get your act together on being non-sensational on regular reporting. We live in serious times, with serious issues before us. We don’t need reporters to give our opinions to us directly or through the use of opinion and judgment words. We are adults, in an adult relationship, and each of us has the right and responsibility to form our own opinions without the background noise you are creating.

Here are some examples of the issue:
1. Reporting on the Oda Affair by non-opinion writers has been abhorrent, and really, you were just lazy. I understand you have deadlines, but honestly, this was just plain laziness. If I could go through the evidence and realize that the affair was not really an affair at all, so could you. I give you Campbell Clark’s article in the Globe and Mail using words like “stinging rebuke” and “doctored documents” – these are opinion words that you should save for your opinion writers. I give you Bruce Campion-Smith in the Toronto Star, who writes that the Minister made a “surprise admission [when last week] she told the Commons that it was she who had directed a staff member to make the change to reflect her decision not to fund the agency.” It wasn’t a surprise admission, she had already said so in her committee testimony. I give you, on the television, Terry Milewski and Peter Mansbridge. Mansbridge says it was a “big about-face” by the government and Milewski, cynically, says, “the issue here is the government’s honesty, or lack of it”. This is so clearly opinion and judgment, which is totally inappropriate, especially for a news organization funded by ALL Canadians, not just those who share Milewski’s and Mansbridge’s opinions. If Milewski wants to be an opinion reporter, he can join the At Issue panel – but he isn’t, and he hasn’t. News media, your members need to keep their opinions to themselves unless they are presented in opinion pieces.

2. An analysis article by Tom Blackwell in the National Post is the latest flare. The article is not contained on the National Post’s Opinion pages, rather on it’s News pages. As such, I expect actual, relevant NEWS. Using a former, short-term aide to a man when that man was not in Cabinet on the issue being reported on is a clumsy attempt to lure the reader into assuming Ontario Liberal aides are turning on their ex-bosses on the issue at hand. This is simply not the case in this article. It is implied in the article that Mr. Laforet has credibility on the political challenges around the wind power issue in Ontario because he was an aide to Minister Duguid when the Minister was Minister of Energy. Obviously, Mr. Duguid has only been the Minister of Energy since January, 2010. Mr. LaForet has no clear experience working in the Ministry of Energy and it is Mr. Blackwell’s responsibility to ensure this is clear. The line, “Mr. Laforet, who worked for the energy minister for several months in the mid-2000s…” says that Mr. Duguid was the Minister of Energy in the mid-2000s and that Mr. Laforet was on his staff at that time, which is not the case. Indeed, Minister Duguid was a Parliamentary Assistant at the time Mr. Laforet worked for him. Was Mr. Blackwell trying to illustrate that Mr. Laforet would understand Minister Duguid’s thought processes? I’m not sure that working for anyone for more than a few months would make a person a credible source on their ex-boss’ thought processes. Mr. Laforet worked for Mr. Duguid before he was even in the Cabinet (approximately two years before his appointment to Cabinet) and it is fine to conclude that he has credibility as a source in his current employment – but cannot be considered a turncoat on this issue and I resent the implication on behalf of news readers everywhere that he is. We are in a time when Ontarians are paying attention to provincial politics more because of an upcoming election, and clumsily shrouding an incorrect implication as credible is not at all helpful to any Ontarian. I went to Mr. Blackwell’s boss on this one.

News media, you need to make a decision about where we are going in our relationship. If you want to be an opinion-maker, then admit it and be it. But don’t tell me you are something you are not – you cannot have it both ways. This relationship is becoming toxic, and I’m on the precipice of dumping you. It’s better to be alone than to live with your inability to know who you are. Your owners got into the business knowing the expectations of their readers. If they can’t live up to those expectations, then they need to change their business or the paradigm in which they operate.

Here’s the ultimatum: I’ll wait for you for a little while, but not forever. Make up your mind so we can move on together, or not. I’ll be here to support you if you choose what is right for all of us.

Love,

Me

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Update: Timelines and Transcripts

After having done more reading of transcripts, and some of the other red herrings around this issue, I have yet to be shown a fabrication on the Minister’s part. Could things have been done differently to ensure this affair never happened in the first place? Absolutely, I don’t think anyone who has commented here thus far would disagree. The best way the Minister could have prevented this affair would’ve been to wait to respond to the decision note until her return to Ottawa. Apologies for the length, but you must know I’m a wonk. 😉

This argument hinges on these facts:
1. Government, i.e. Cabinet, priorities for CIDA – food security, children and youth, and economic growth – are, in fact, CIDA’s formal (i.e. written in stone, on their website, projects funded or not based on, etc) priorities. CIDA bureaucrats may have their own ideas about what should be funded, e.g. their “country program objectives”, but only projects that conform to the formal priorities will be funded.
2. A “CIDA decision” can only be called such when the Minister has approved it. At any moment in the process before the Minister approves, CIDA bureaucrats’ and MO staff recommendations, ideas, post-it notes, etc are not CIDA decisions.
3. Both bureaucrats AND MO staff in all departments do due diligence on issues, project proposals, etc. Policy advisors in the MO work with the bureaucrats to work on the same issues and projects, but often take very different routes to arrive at conclusions. We cannot expect – nor would we want – Ministers to only receive information from the bureaucrats, who have their own biases and blind spots, and that’s why there is a political staff – to obtain advice and information from outside sources and stakeholders, and the Policy Advisors put it all together to make a recommendation to the Minister.
4. The only person who knows for sure who put the “not” on the memo is the person who actually did it. In all likelihood, this person is now, or was at the time, a member of Minister Oda’s political staff. It is possible that the Minister has never asked the question of her staff who wrote the “not” on the decision note in order to protect the person who was carrying out the boss’ orders from the hell that would ensue.
5. Ministers and their deputies (or, in this case, Presidents) and their Chiefs of Staff are in constant communication. Deputy Ministers (or Presidents) have constant access to the Minister. Minister Oda, at some point in the Fall of 2009, told President Biggs that she was not going to approve the KAIROS project. President Biggs cannot recall the date, but she was well aware prior to receiving the decision note back – this is all quite normal in the course of the constant conversations the Minister and President would have had.

NB: As I’ve said in comments, I’m not connected in any way, shape or form to this situation, other than as an opinion writer. I do have experience working in a Minister’s Office and am clear on how Minister’s Offices and Ministry folks interact daily, what the expectations are, etc. I feel that the relationship between the MOs and Ministries in Ottawa isn’t fantastic, but regardless, the Ministers get the last word. You can be upset about that, but for now, this is how it goes. We good? OK. Let’s look at actual evidence, and what is “reasonable”.

Friday, September 25 & 28 – Approval Days
Acting Vice-President Singh, followed by President Biggs, (nice handles!) approved a decision-note providing for KAIROS’ request for $7m in funding from CIDA. It is not yet a “CIDA decision” as the Minister has not approved the request. Bureaucrats sign first, followed by the Minister (otherwise it would seem like bureaucrats “approve” the Minister’s decisions). The decision note without a place for the Minister to disagree is forwarded to Minister Oda’s office, presumably to the policy advisor on the file (could be someone else, and this isn’t important), but someone in the MO received the note on that day or very shortly thereafter.
EVIDENCE: President Biggs acknowledges that she knew in advance of her signature on the decision note that the Minister was not going to approve the project, yet decision notes did not, at that time, have a place for the Minister to disagree (even though President Biggs knew that the Minister was not going to agree). See here at 1650 an onward.

Two months go by…
CIDA bureaucrats would expect a response shortly after the decision note was signed by the bureaucrats, because Ministers often sign shortly after the staff do, but they didn’t get one. This is the Minister’s prerogative. The bureaucrats cannot move ahead with funding to KAIROS on this particular request because it has not been approved by the Minister, but did continue to fund KAIROS until in the interim because no decision had been made by the Minister, and in that case, the status quo is kept (a reason why she couldn’t just return the document unsigned – interim funding would’ve continued). KAIROS is likely antsy, and communicating with bureaucrats (who are telling them it is waiting for Minister’s approval, even though President Biggs head directly from the Minister that the project would not be approved) and the MO (who are likely saying the Minister has yet to make a decision).

Friday, November 27, 2009 – Decision Day
Minister Oda was not in Ottawa. Perhaps she was in her riding, or on a trip as would be normal for the Minister of International Cooperation. Regardless, she was not in town and chose that day to finally make her decision about KAIROS funding. Ministers are often not in their offices on Fridays, but that doesn’t mean work stops. I am going to assume that President Biggs’ office was putting pressure on the Minister and her staff to make a decision in writing (despite already knowing the outcome), and quickly, because of a) $7m isn’t anything to sneeze at and the money needed to get out the door, and b) KAIROS needed a response to move ahead with their program or not. The Minister did not wish to continue to fund KAIROS, and so over the phone, directed her staff to insert “NOT”, which wouldn’t be an issue because she had already informed President Biggs that she would not approve the project verbally. Minister Oda is likely frustrated that there is not a place for her to disagree, even though she has said she would not approve the project, not to mention all decision notes should have this space to disagree anyway. So, instead of waiting to return, she has had enough and tells the staff (whom she couldn’t see because she was on the phone with them) to put the “NOT” on the note and sign by auto-pen, and return to the Ministry. They did so, but Minister Oda doesn’t know which staffer executed her direction. So far, so good.
EVIDENCE: Decision Note.

Thursday, December 3, 2009 – Informing KAIROS by letter
Minister Oda writes to KAIROS explaining the move to de-fund them. After having heard from the Ministry staff and her own staff; as President Biggs says, everyone did their due diligence, and the Minister decided that the KAIROS request did not meet government’s priorities for international aid funding at the time (which were food security, children and youth, and economic growth). KAIROS’ project proposal may have been funded if it was in line with these priorities, but it appears the proposal was about human rights instead. I make no judgment on the contents of the proposal. Considering KAIROS’ long partnership with CIDA, and the volume of their contact with CIDA bureaucrats, it is not reasonable to believe that President Biggs or VP Singh did not tell KAIROS that the Minister was not going to approve their new project after the Minister informed the bureaucrats that she was not going to approve the project as per Biggs’ testimony. It cannot have come as a shock to KAIROS, and if it did, that would be very surprising. KAIROS had two months of extra funding to make the transition.
EVIDENCE: KAIROS news release about the project on Dec. 2
EVIDENCE: Minister Oda’s letter to KAIROS informing them of the decision

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 & Thursday, December 24, 2009 – Kenney’s Red Herring
In Jerusalem, Minister Kenney tells an Israeli crowd that the de-funding of KAIROS was due to anti-semitism at the agency. To me, this is pure politics to an Israeli crowd, and has been shown to not be true, especially as Kenney had to later say in a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star that the reason why KAIROS was de-funded was because their proposal did not meet CIDA priorities – this is TRUE, because CIDA priorities formally ARE directed by Minister Oda from her mandate letter. The government decides that food security, children and youth, and economic growth are going to be the priorities at CIDA? That’s what happens. Kenney is correct that KAIROS was de-funded as a result of their program proposal not matching CIDA priorities.
EVIDENCE: Jason Kenney’s Letter to the Editor

Monday, March 15, 2010 – The Parliamentary Secretary Speaks
In Adjournment Proceedings in the House of Commons, Minister Oda’s Parliamentary Secretary, Hon. Jim Abbott, addresses the de-funding of KAIROS and lays out what the government’s priorities are. Mr. Abbott said, “CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS’ program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet the agency’s current priorities. This is important.” Admittedly, this makes it seem like the CIDA bureaucrats, who analyze program proposals, recommended the project not be funded. While true in absolute fact (de-funding became a CIDA decision once the Minister signed off on it), the statement is missing a word – he should’ve said, “CIDA’s Minister, after receiving an analysis of the project from department staff, determined, with regret, etc.” The Minister understands CIDA decisions to be as such only once she has approved. Abbott later apologized for not being as clear as he could’ve been. Also, President Biggs said that CIDA staff are not the only people who analyze projects – the Minister’s staff (who are employed by CIDA) do as well, so the statement is technically OK, but The argument between Hons. Abbott & McKay was more about whether KAIROS was a good partner or not, not about who made the ultimate decisions.
EVIDENCE: See 1840

Friday, April 23, 2010 – The Minister Answers
These are Order Paper questions 105 and 106 Hon. Pearson, who wants to know what CIDA reporting (under the Official Development Assistance and Accountability Act) activities and project approval criteria are. The latter is what is important. Minister Oda replied, ” Mr. Speaker, with regard to a) The CIDA decision not to continue funding KAIROS was based on the overall assessment of the proposal, not on any single criterion.” – This is TRUE. The CIDA decision is HER decision, and the overall assessment was constituted by the CIDA staff and MO staff assessment (President Biggs said so), resulting in not funding the proposal. Minister Oda then said assessment criteria are located on the website, http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca.
EVIDENCE: Order Paper questions transcript
EVIDENCE: CIDA’s website clearly indicating priorities and general criteria

Monday, September 20, 2010 – The Minister Answers – Part 2
In an Order Paper question, Hon. Anita Neville asks the Minister about gender-based analyses at CIDA. The Minister, in her reply, notes that “As a part of its aid effectiveness agenda and in order to improve the focus of aid, the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, has selected three thematic priorities.” The three thematic priorities are food security, children and youth, and economic growth. No one is concerned that government priorities have officially become CIDA priorities, which is KEY to the issue.
In Order Paper question #314, Hon. Bob Rae asks the Minister about groups that have had their funding cut from CIDA. The Minister, in response says that, “the Canadian Bureau for International Education, MATCH International Centre (MATCH) and KAIROS (Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives) have had their program renewal or extension applications turned down. Program support for Alternatives Inc. was reduced to cover only its programming in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti” and that “partnership proposals are assessed on their merits. Funding is allocated to high value initiatives.” This is consistent with government, and as such, CIDA, priorities.
In Order Paper question #331, Hon. Marlene Jennings asks the Minister specifically about KAIROS. The Minister replies, “KAIROS was recently refused funding as it was determined that KAIROS’ 2009 program proposal did not meet the government’s priorities. Unlike many other NGOs making proposals to CIDA, KAIROS is a coalition of several member organizations, some of which continue to receive separate funding from CIDA. KAIROS submitted a new proposal in April 2010, which is now undergoing CIDA’s standard evaluation process.” The government’s priorities and formal CIDA priorities are one and the same as per CIDA’s website and any reasonable understanding.
EVIDENCE: Sept. 20 Hansard Order Paper and Starred questions

Thursday, October 28, 2010 – The Minister Answers – Part 3
Hon. Francis Valeriote asks the Minister in Oral Questions about KAIROS. The “Embassy” FOI request shows that CIDA staff believed the KAIROS proposal met their country program objectives. As noted previously, CIDA staff can have all the country program objectives they want, but if they don’t match government priorities, and as such, formal CIDA priorities, then the proposal will not be funded. It’s as simple as that. Mr. Valeriote is attempting to find discrepancy where none exists. The Minister explains that according to the effectiveness standards posted on CIDA’s website, “after due diligence, it was determined that KAIROS’ proposal did not meet government standards.” Who was it determined by? The Minister and her staff. Did they have the right to make such a determination? Absolutely. Even President Biggs testified that the MO staff did their own due diligence. Maybe the Minister should’ve spelled that out, that her staff worked on the file as well, but anyone who has had interactions with MOs knows that policy advisors exist to perform their own due diligence and obtain information not just from bureaucrats, but from other stakeholders as well. It’s why there is such a title as “Advisor, Stakeholder Relations” on MO staff.
EVIDENCE: Oct 28 Hansard, Oral Questions

Thursday, December 9, 2010 – Committee Appearance
Minister Oda herself makes clear her thinking on how government priorities are, in fact, her department’s formal priorities, and that she communicates this to her department, in answer to Hon. Rae: ” Mr. Rae, regardless of who is the government, the Government of Canada has ministers who are given responsibility. Ultimately, through a mandate from the Prime Minister, you have to exercise the responsibility and the mandate you are given. There are recommendations that do come up. I would also say that there was much discussion with the department–with the department–to ensure that we had a clear understanding of my thinking and also our government’s policy and intent on how international assistance should be used. Ultimately, it’s the minister’s responsibility and it’s the minister’s decision.”

Hon. McKay asks about the “NOT”, and the Minister answers truthfully that she does not know who inserted the “NOT”. Just because McKay doesn’t understand that a) more than three people could’ve put the NOT there, and b) the Minister was on the phone with her staff, did not physically see who put “NOT” on the decision note, and therefore cannot testify truthfully as to who it was (unless she asked her CoS who it was who put it there – interesting question), does not mean that she lied to the committee. Might the Minister have said, “it was one of my staff, as I was on the phone when I made the directive?” Absolutely, but she is trained to answer only the question she is asked. Honestly, how anyone can see a lie in this is beyond me. However, the Minister has answered consistently that she directed the disagreement to be noted on the decision note, and President Biggs said she knew about the disagreement beforehand. There is no conspiracy, and the only possible misleading statement is that of Hon. Abbott on March 15, 2010, which he cleared up and apologized for on Dec. 10, 2010. In the transcript, the Minister is trying to not bring her staff into the committee room, as she has seen what happened to other staff brought before committees, rightly or wrongly, but the Minister might’ve spelled out “my staff worked on it, as they do, and I accepted my staff telling me that the project did not meet government (and formal CIDA) priorities”. The next question would’ve been, “I want to talk to your policy advisor”. The Minister takes responsibility for her staff’s work, and her ultimate decision. There is no lie, no conspiracy.
EVIDENCE: Committee transcript from Dec. 9/10

Friday, December 10, 2010
Hon. McKay raises his point of privilege, which includes statements regarding the “not”: “A reasonable person looking at the end page would reasonably conclude that all three did not approve of the grant.” I don’t believe that’s true, considering the discrepancies in dates. And more to the point, a reasonable person isn’t the audience of the decision note – Biggs and Singh were, and they knew what the NOT meant, as they had been warned about the Minister’s decision, and yet still chose to not include a place for her to no approve – and have changed the way they do business with the MO since then!

Next: “The transcript of the foreign affairs committee says that she not only did not insert the “not”, she does not know who did. Somebody is making decisions over there, but it is not the minister.” This is a ridiculous statement, if he had ever been in contact with an MO. He had just been told the Minister directed the “NOT” to be put in the document. Which staffer put the “NOT” in is unimportant – the key is that a staffer did it on her direction. She made the decision, period.

Next: “The Minister of International Cooperation was fully briefed on CIDA’s [bureaucrats] position on funding of KAIROS, which has been proven both in the testimony before the foreign affairs committee and in the documentation obtained through the access to information request.” Sure, she was briefed on what they thought. Then she told the President that she wasn’t going to fund the proposal because it didn’t match government, and thus formal CIDA priorities. Just because CIDA bureaucrats wanted to fund based on their own informal priorities, doesn’t mean she had to follow their advice. Biggs says so too.

Next: “One is left with a clear impression that the decision to not recommend was made after the minister’s signature had been appended to the document. The minister does not know who put in the interlineations and therefore cannot tell the House who made the decision, when the decision was made and why the decision, approved by the agency and possibly by the minister herself, was reversed.” This is deliberate misunderstanding on McKay’s part, and it’s incredibly disingenuous. It’s a huge leap for the Minister to not know specifically which one of her staff put the ‘NOT’ on the form that shouldn’t have required it in the first place to say that obviously, then, it’s a conspiracy. The Minister was clear that she did not approve her bureaucrats’ decision and told them so verbally, but McKay ignores that part of the testimony.
EVIDENCE: Open Parliament transcript of the point of privilege.

You know, on the whole, I think there is plenty to go after this government for. Fighter jets, maternal health issues in developing nations, etc. But if it takes me, a great big wonk, 2 hours to just write this post after going through all of it with a fine tooth comb, then I can’t imagine regular Canadians give a hoot about how government (cabinet) priorities become formal department priorities, despite departments having their own ideas and pushing back on the MOs. Canadians care that they elect representatives, and expect that the elected government will implement their priorities, which is what was done in this case. If priorities WEREN’T implemented, that would be a “broken promises” narrative. This government has a history of not getting along too well with department staff, and that is the narrative the opposition is pursuing (cf. census) to try to win votes. This simply isn’t an example of that that makes any good sense – it requires too much explanation, and at the end of the day, it’s not an issue of the Minister not getting along with her staff. If anything, the story is that the staff ignored the government’s priorities as their own formal priorities, and frustrated her with pushback to the point where they were found out, and had to change the way they do business.

This is exhausting work! Let’s talk about media coverage of the issue later this week when we see more coverage in the next few days as the story develops.

Minister Oda and ^NOT: Why I Agree With The Minister

I worked as a Ministerial aide for a few years, and even as a card-carrying Liberal, I cannot condemn the Minister for disagreeing with her public service advisors. Here’s why:

NB:
1. The “government” is Cabinet, made of of Ministers of the Crown. The public service, despite what the population thinks most of the time, is NOT the government.
2. Public service, or “ministry” bureaucrats, provide ministers with recommendations and analysis of options, but their long-term priorities (remember, governments come and go, the public service is forever) do not necessarily match the government-of-the-day’s priorities. What has happened to Min. Oda is a reflection of that.
3. Ministers also look at all decisions they have to make through a political lens. You might not like that lens, but they are the government and if you don’t like it enough, you cast your vote for the opposition in the next election.

Background:
In the fall of 2009, CIDA officials reviewed a request from KAIROS for over $7M in funding from CIDA. CIDA decided that KAIROS should be funded based on CIDA’s long-term priorities, and provided Minister Oda with a document for her to sign on September 28, 2009, that would approve KAIROS’ request if she agreed. The document did not provide any option for the Minister to disagree based on the government-of-the-day’s priorities and was already signed by the appropriate officials, which is totally normal. CIDA President Biggs noted in testimony that this exclusion of a place for the Minister to exercise her prerogative to disagree with bureaucrats had been a problem for a few years, and that documents are now formatted to ensure the Minister can exercise her prerogative (as is my experience in Ontario).

After two months of weighing her options, the Minister was pressed by the public service to make a decision as KAIROS needed the info one way or another. On the day the decision was finally made the Minister was away from her Ottawa office and was on the phone with her staff. Normally, that means all the staff (we had 12 in our office) are gathered around a table in conference call fashion. The Minister directed her staff to indicate that she disagreed with the public service and would not continue to fund KAIROS. ONE of those staffers (we don’t know which one) put “NOT” on the document because there was no place to disagree and then sign with the auto-pen. Standard stuff. We know there was an urgency about the decision, so sending it back to the public service to correct, and go through the process of getting signatures and dealing with some public service blowback, was not a reasonable option.

“Embassy”, a publication for diplomats, filed a Freedom of Information request and obtained copies of the document, presumably because de-funding KAIROS was kind of a big deal. Embassy them reported on the whole story, starting all these wheels in motion.

April 23, 2010
Minister Oda is asked an Order Paper question in the house about de-funding KAIROS by Glen Pearson (L-London North Centre). The question is here. Mr. Pearson basically asks why KAIROS was de-funded if the bureaucrats thought that the request met CIDA’s priorities. Remember, CIDA’s priorities are not necessarily the government’s priorities, and Minister Oda said as much. Once the Minister decided to not fund KAIROS, it became a CIDA decision. That’s because the Minister is the boss at CIDA. It’s like, for example, if a Vice-President at RBC wants to lend $100-million to Facebook, but the President of RBC disagrees, and directs the Vice-President to NOT lend to Facebook. It then is a RBC decision to not lend to Facebook.

No lies, simply, it seems, a misunderstanding on Mr. Pearson’s part about what “government” means, and what constitutes a CIDA decision.

October 28, 2010
Minister Oda is asked an oral question by Mr. Francis Valeriote (L-Guelph). The question is hereT. This question is about, again, the difference between CIDA priorities and government priorities, and what constitutes a final decision. Just to be clear – every recommendation or “decision” a public service department makes is NOT FINAL, nor can it be called a Department Decision until the Minister signs off on it. Mr. Valeriote’s assertion that funding KAIROS was aligned with CIDA’s bureaucrats’ country program objectives is true, but also is it true that funding KAIROS does not meet the government’s objectives (where government is Cabinet in the person of Minister Oda). There is no contradiction. Mr. Valeriote is just upset that the Minister gets to win, because she’s the Minister.

Now, the question of WHY the Minister made the decision she did is valid as well, and the Minister simply said, “because that’s what the government chose”, which is kind of like when my kid gets upset because I answer “because I told you so” when he asks why he has to go to the store to get milk even though I am perfectly capable of doing so myself. I’m the mother, I get to decide. He might not like it, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles and when he’s a father, he will do the same thing.

Again, no lies, simply the opposition being the opposition and likely purposefully not picking up on the nuances of the two statements that appear contradictory but that are both true. Also, being 15 year-olds and not liking that the government in the person of Minister Oda made a decision they didn’t like.

December 9, 2010
Here’s where we get into this, and precision in answers. Keep in mind that these people are trained to answer questions like this (thank you, Aaron Sorkin):
Person A: Do you have the time?
Person B: Yes.

The spirit of the question is that Person A wants to know what time it is. But if Person A REALLY wanted the time, it would’ve gone like this:
Person A: What time is it?
Person B: /provides actual time

When you appear before a committee, you are trained to answer as in example 1. It’s as simple as that – this is national politics, lots of power and the stakes are high. You only answer the questions you are actually asked.

Knowing that, the Minister’s testimony is here. The Minister SIGNED OFF on disagreeing with the bureaucrats’ recommendation as shown by the insertion of the “NOT”. The Minister, while on the phone with a group of her staffers, directed the NOT to be inserted, but did not physically do it herself, and does not know which one of the staffers did it. She did not lie. She answered very precisely and correctly.

In Summary:
1. CIDA bureaucrats have “country program objectives”. These do not necessarily jive with the government’s objectives for foreign aid. Check.
2. CIDA bureaucrats recommended KAIROS to the Minister through a signed document that left no room for the Minister to disagree. The latter has been a problem for a few years and the bureaucrats should’ve stopped pre-supposing agreement and left space for the Minister to disagree a long time ago. The bureaucrats finally get the message and change the way they send decision documents to the Minister. Check.
3. The Minister disagreed after 2 months of weighing her options as is her prerogative. Check.
4. The Minister, while away from her office and needing to make a decision, directed her staff to indicate such disagreement and auto-pen it, thus ending funding for KAIROS. Check.
5. LIKELY: KAIROS freaks out and goes to their MPs to ask WTF. Check.
6. Liberal members who are in opposition start asking questions that are meant to meet their own political objectives in a greater narrative of transparency and accountability. Check.
PROBLEM: There is no issue with transparency and accountability in this particular instance.
7. Minister Oda answers questions in QP and before a committee based on the “government” being cabinet in her person, and “CIDA decisions” are only real when she signs off and is very precise as a seasoned politician should be. Check.

WHERE IS THE PROBLEM?? There is simply no contempt here. I’d LOVE to find it. But I cannot. The reasons for de-funding KAIROS are the government’s prerogative, and so what if the Prime Minister directed the Minister to disagree? He’s allowed to do that too – he sets the agenda.

Also, if this is the stuff the Liberals are counting on to win an election, we’re toast.

The White House Press Gaggle.

First, “gaggle” is a fun word. “Gaggle” is plural for “Geese”. A Gaggle of Geese! Say this five times fast, for funny results: “Get a Gorgeous Gaggle of Geese”. Seriously, it’s a fun game.

According to Answers.com, a “gaggle” is also defined as:

A cluster or group: “A gaggle of photographers huddled on the sidewalk beside a swelling crowd of onlookers” (Gioia Diliberto).”

Oh, but wait! There’s more fun to be had with defining “gaggle”. It’s also a military term, namely in the US Marine Corps, and there is a Marine Corps Dictionary (later post to be had on this as well – I bet it’s full of fun acronyms of military slang like FUBAR and SNAFU, terms that my grandfather – a Captain in the Blackwatch in WWII – tried to protect my virgin ears with and said “fouled” in the appropriate place. Silly Granddad, he had no idea, until I turned 19 and he started offering me double gin & tonics the moment I walked in the door of my grandparents house. But I digress.) The Marine Corps has enough terminology to fill a dictionary! That’s neat, and it exists informally on the internet here. I’ll come back to it later. In the meantime, I will leave you all to investigate if there is a printed version. Tell me if there is!

In USMC language, “gaggle” means, literally, “an unorganized group doing nothing”. This leads me to the subject of our wee chat here, the White House Press Gaggle.

I’ve had a fascination with the White House Press Secretary since George Stephanopoulos and DeeDee Myers. I saw DeeDee speak a couple of years ago with my pal Jenn, and she was exactly as cool as I thought she would be. She wrote a book about why women should rule the world, and that is something I can get onboard with. And then, The West Wing and CJ Cregg came along, and that’s where I learned of the gaggle. CJ was awesome, with her dry wit and confidence and slight tinge of insecurity as a woman in a traditionally male job. Side note: Aaron Sorkin is a bloody genius. Personally, I think his cocaine and, inexplicably, shrooms habit just made him better. I wonder when his next thing is coming out. (I had to look it up. People, he wrote the screenplay for “Moneyball”. This is going to be so, Sorkinly awesome. Also, he’s writing a new political thing. I’m all atwitter!)

Anyhoo, the White House Press gaggle is something between a formal, daily briefing in the briefing room and an informal, one-on-one, shoot-the-breeze session with the Press Secretary or one of his/her deputies. Before The West Wing, I thought all briefings were in the briefing room. Apparently not. Especially when POTUS (that is a fun nickname too. I should be MAGIC: “Mum And Generally Impressive Caretaker”. Heh. If you call me that, like “hey MAGIC! What’s going on!”, I will answer) is traveling, there is no formal briefing room to, well, brief the press from.

!!!

I know what you’re thinking – I too was amazed that with all it’s operating rooms and gourmet kitchens and basically, a swimming pool (not really), Air Force One doesn’t have a press room. As since reporters can’t actually file from AF1 (something that the press has been speaking to WHPS [nickname alert: whips?] Robert Gibbs about) I suppose there’s no need for a formal room, but anyway, they have a “gaggle” instead. That is, they have a back and forth Q&A session, no cameras, no policy announcements. It would appear that the gaggle is where they talk about stuff like POTUS’ Final Four bracket and goofy stuff that the White House staffers bet on, apparently not for money, which I think is bullshit. It’s pretty much the same thing as a scrum, except it’s got USMC endorsement with an, some might say, appropriate definition of the people involved. I don’t know if the Canadian or British military have a similar slang for the same thing. Hey, you can look it up, because that’s how you find stuff out!

I have recently discovered in my investigation of the gaggle that the White House publishes (!!!) a transcript of the gaggle! Neato! And they actually title the document “Gaggle”! With a capital G and everything! You can find Gaggle transcripts here. Helpful! Also, Politico 44 tells you on their daily schedule if there’s going to be a Gaggle, in advance. Will wonders never cease!

Also, it looks like I am tending to include pictures in posts, but since there are no cameras at the Gaggle (I’m spelling it with a capital G now. Sometimes, one must get with the program), there are, obviously, no photos of Gibbs in action at the Gaggle. Instead, you can have this, because it’s awesome and fun and Gaggle-y: