Friday 18 November 2011

Why would Irwin Cotler step down now?

Over the years I have often shared rumours in my Suburban Newspaper column that Mount Royal Liberal Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler might step down. He has been in office for 12 years, having taken a sabbatical from the McGill Faculty of Law to run in a by-election to replace Sheila Finestone. At the start many people figured he’d be a one or two term MP. In fact,  I remember very clearly meeting him at the Cavendish Mall very early in his mandate, at which time he seemed unhappy with the constant back and forth to Ottawa.

Nonetheless, something happened to Cotler as the years went by. He really liked being an MP. A world renowned human rights activist, he saw that with a calling card as a representative from the Canadian government, even more doors opened for him. Of course his proudest moment came in 2003 when then Prime Minister Paul Martin named him Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

When  Stephen Harper and  the  Tories came to power in 2006, the rumours that Cotler would retire intensified again. He had fulfilled a dream of being in the federal cabinet. Why would he stay on as an opposition backbencher? Well, Cotler did not go anywhere. He continued to do his work and enjoyed very friendly relations with the governing Tories. In 2008 and 2011 he was back as a candidate. Even though the Liberals were reduced  to third party status last June, Cotler continues to enjoy a high profile. This past week, though, media coverage focused yet again on his future.

 On Friday  I attended a news conference at Cotler’s riding office in Côte des Neiges at which time he called into question the polling being conducted in Mount Royal by a firm tied to the ruling Conservative Party all the more confusing.

Cotler addresses riding news conference.

This firm, Campaign Research, has been identified as having representatives call constituents of Cotler to see whether they would  support the Tories in  a “pending by-election.” 
Cotler declared that he has no intention of stepping down while confirming  with me that this will be his last term in office.  That being said, the next election is not for another four years. He called the polling a potential breach of his parliamentary privilege  which “inhibits and impedes the exercise of my parliamentary functions, or indeed of any member of Parliament so targeted. For example, beyond the phone calls, emails and requests for meetings as a result of these calls, which themselves are an encumbrance, it causes confusion among the electorate. It impedes me in the discharge of my functions.”  
Cotler says he is most bothered  by the calls coming into his office from constituents asking when  a   by-election will occur. “Such questions cause damage to my reputation and credibility and would do so to any member of the House,” he said. “The insinuation, therefore, that I am abandoning my MP role here is at variance with the truth. I am saying this at the risk of sounding self-serving just to put the facts on the record, but I may have more motions on the order paper than any other member of this place. I seek to take my responsibilities as a parliamentarian very seriously, be it in committee, where now before the justice and legal affairs committee I have some 50 amendments with respect to the proposed omnibus crime bill, or in parliamentary debate, where like many other members in the House I remain an active member in take note debates, or just to use today as a case study, like other members in the House, I posed a question in question period and earlier made a statement.
“How can one correct the confusion and prejudicial damage that has been done in the minds of those who may think I am no longer their representative in Parliament or no longer discharging my duties? In short, telling my constituents that I am resigning and that there is a by-election imminently occurring is not only patently false but the clear and important point here is that it violates my privileges as a member and should be regarded by all members in this House as an unacceptable practice for this institution and its members. The particularly relevant part is that while this occurred in my riding of Mount Royal, nothing is to stop this from occurring in another riding and this practice ends up being an affront to all who serve in this place.
Cotler has asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to rule that this is a prima facie breach of privilege. He would like to see an investigation done to get to the bottom of this matter and recommend appropriate sanctions in the circumstances where appropriate.
Cotler confers with chief of staff Howard Liebman.

The by-election rumours were not, in fact, the intended focus of the news conference. Cotler regularly meets with the local community media to update them on his agenda. In this case he knocked the  Conservative government for shutting down Justice Committee work on omnibus crime bill (C-10).  He has moved 50 amendments , including those of the Quebec government. Meanwhile, he has been  retained as international legal counsel to detained and convicted Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil,  88 days into a hunger strike at the time of the news conference. A day earlier he spearheaded an all-party MP press conference in Ottawa   for Nabil and introduced a unanimously adopted resolution at the Subcommittee for International human rights.  He also pressed the government to act urgently on Iran in the wake of the UN’s IAEA report: listing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity; sanctioning the Iranian Central bank and regime officials.
Mount Royal has been a Liberal stronghold for decades and last May the Tories, with former Montreal city councillor Saulie Zajdel as their candidate, came close to an upset. Cotler earned 41.4 percent of the vote, with Zajdel grabbing 35.6 percent. Most observers agreed that if not for Cotler’s personal star power, the Grits would have lost. Zajdel recently landed a job with the federal government reporting on regional concerns for Heritage Minister James Moore. It is widely considered that in the event Cotler does step down before his term ends in four years, Zajdel would be a favourite to take the riding.
 The media turnout for the news conference extended beyond the usual community press, as local radio and television reporters came. Some of them even apologetically asked more questions about the rumours than any of the human rights matters.
If the Tories were behind this in any way, it was very poor strategy. Why do so a mere six months into the new mandate. Even if Cotler were contemplating retirement – and it was abundantly clear from our talk today he is not –at least wait a full year!  The end result of this entire exercise just makes him dig his heals in more.
With chief  of staff Howard Liebman running the show, Cotler’s office in Ottawa and here in Montreal have never been  busier. Hardly the sign of someone looking to walk off into the sunset.
Here is Cotler at his last campaign launch:

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Investment advisor expands on why we should Occupy the Bell Centre

When I picked up a copy of La Presse recently and saw Montreal investment dealer David Ipperciel’s proposal to “Occupy the Bell Centre” I was really intrigued.  I have found the salaries being paid to professional athletes revolting for some time. In the case of the Canadiens, I was shocked to see former GM Bob Gainey trade for  past his prime $7.3 million a year  forward Scott Gomez and then give Mike Cammalari ($6 milllion) and Brian  Gionta ($5 million) annual contracts beyond their worth. Yes, as my good friend Abe Hefter from CJAD always reminds me, “Gainey got Gomez in order to attract free agents like Cammalari and Gionta.”
David Ipperciel

Even if Gomez scored 30 goals, I’d have a problem with the salary he is making. Pierre Gauthier, Gainey’s successor and the man most likely truly responsible for us being saddled with Gomez, gave defenceman André Markov a three year $17 million contract last summer when there was no clear indication if his bad knee could  hold out. As of today, he has yet to play a game all season.

True, this is owner Geoff Molson’s money.  He spent $500 million to buy the Habs. It is a business. Nobody is forced to  buy tickets or souvenirs or watch the team play on television. Professional sports is entertainment. People do not complain about Daniel Radcliffe or Julia Roberts making $20 million per movie.

Here is a translation Ipperciel sent me of his piece in La Presse:

I work in the financial sector in Montreal and feel that much attention is directed towards our industry following the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Being of a generous nature, I would like to share this attention with others.

I propose a new movement: Occupy Bell Centre. People complain about the high level of salaries in the financial sector, far above the average pay.  However, the income of professional athletes is clearly higher than those of my peers.  How dare they extract such compensation!  After all, they only play a game, often in an unruly way...  Worse yet, half the teams perform below the median of their league!  How can they justify their astronomical salaries in those conditions?

Many will quickly point out than the financial sector of Wall Street had to be bailed out (not in Canada, but who’s noticing).  To those, I must recall that every penny paid out by the US government to the financial sector through the TARP program was reimbursed.  At the end, the program did not take away money from the American taxpayer.

On the other hand, professional sport teams are able to build arenas with the help of public funds, and often benefit from tax rebates or exemptions.  In contrast, the financial sector is one of the biggest contributors to government tax receipts, through corporate or personal tax, topped by a special payroll tax targeted specifically to them.

We can also expect to see new financial regulations implemented soon (Bâle, Volkner Rule).  In the hockey world, the legitimacy of violence is still being debated.  In this context, Occupy Bell Center is probably not a bad idea. 

Or why not Occupy Capitol Hill?  The governments have been important contributors of the financial crisis.  In the US, minimal targets for low income families were imposed by Congress to Fannie Mae and other agencies, in order to boost home ownership.  This helped develop the subprime market which led to the debacle.  The Chinese government manipulated the yuan’s exchange rate, which encouraged over-consumption all over the world, and launched the risk-seeking frenzy that followed because of the lower rates that it generated.  The Federal Reserve contributed by keeping rates too low for too long.  And more important, European governments exacerbated the crisis with their unrestrained accumulation of debt, threatening our social democracy.  Let us join in this popular indignation by occupying all these places!

I spoke to Ipperciel some more about his article. He agreed his tongue was planted firmly in cheek.

“No, I don’t think an Occupy Bell Centre would work,” he conceded.  “The whole ‘Occupy’  movement attracts sympathy because of its vagueness, so that everybody can relate.  An Occupy   Bell  Centre would have a more specific demand ( such as lower salaries which would bring a more polarized debate.  In any case, I was being facetious.  People are quick to denounce the big salaries of financiers.  If the salaries are too big, then why not criticize anybody else with a huge salary, like professional athletes?

“I really have no problem in principal against the high salaries of professional athletes.  I say in principal, because in practice, professional teams have become experts in blackmailing governments for handouts, whether for building a new amphitheater, or tax credits.  I’m sure you can come up with examples in hockey or Formula One. Would the salaries of these professionals be as high without government aid?  Probably not.  What they attract  -or extract- from their talent or the perceived attractiveness of their product, they entirely deserve.  They are not putting a gun to anyone’s head to buy their tickets or watch them on TV.  They deserve what they get from fans. 

"I just have a problem with what they get from government.  From what I understand, the Montreal Canadiens have paid for the Bell Centre without government aid, and they pay full taxes every year on it.  So whatever salary they pay to their team is their business, as they must remain competitive.  As for Scott Gomez, they made a bet, and do not seem to have gotten a good return on their investment.  As a citizen, I have no problem.  As a fan, I can’t be too happy.  But that  is the nature of the game.  Regarding the whole pro hockey scene, we should all be outraged as long as there is government involvement, using our tax money to make millionaires even richer? Come on!  The funny thing is that the Americans - supposedly capitalists - seem more prone to this than Canadians - supposedly socialists. Go figure."

Bravo David!   

Here is a look at Occupy Wallstreet Montreal.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Fantastic TNT G!ee High School Showdown in Montreal

The team from Bialik High School in Côte Saint-Luc, with a superb Michael Jackson Medley, took first place on November 13 at the second annual TNT JFK G!ee High School Showdown. It took place before a capacity crowd of 750 at the Eric MacLean S. J. Centre for the Performing Arts of Loyola High School in N.D.G.,   bringing in $102,000 for  The “Just For Kids” Foundation. The latter raises funds to purchase new, high-priority equipment for The Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH).
Bialik in action (photos by Rob Taussig of The Suburban).

The Bialik team of Michaela Elhadad, Samantha Leibgott, Jacky Shiff, Jordana Singer, Alizee Znaty, Levana Znaty,  Rachel Korman, Brandon Schwartz,  Sarah Shtern and Niki Sochaczevski performed an original arrangement by recording artist Kurt Schneider.  Team coordinators Diane Dupuis Kallos (affectionately known as DDK) and Samantha Druzin were assisted by John Dodge on vocals and Andree Aiza Styles with the choreography. Dodge shortened the song and recorded the music track.

The St. George's Glee team.

 Defending champions St. George’s School of Montreal came in second, with their version of Van Halen’s Jump. Team members Zac Bensoussan, Sara Diamond, Rachel Kirstein, Michaela Kovic, Polly Mendel, Alex Cohen, Andrea Kaplin, Olivia Kostin-Cohen, Matthew McPherson and Patrick Park were expertly guided by drama and theatre teacher Candace Grynol. Despite the fact she is on maternity leave this year, Ms. Grynol has been on campus and will continue to be all year to operate the highly successful St. George’s Glee Club. Since its creation two years ago, the club has held much anticipated multi-sellouts shows each May. Work is already well underway for the May 2012 presentation.  Staffers Aaron Stamboulieh (resident computer boss) and Stephanie Blum (science teacher) lent Ms. Grynol helpful hands.
Royal Vale High School of N.D.G. finished third  after an energetic performance to the tunes of Freedom- All Stars,  Price Tag by Jessie J and Everything is Everything by Lauryn Hill. Team members Kaya Benskin, Katara Dopwell, Ranee-Inez Henegan-Comeau, Ryan Vottero, Keamar Browne, Thayda Grey, Kanika McKenzie and Janessa Williams were guided by Bariyah Wright, Jodie Thompson and Selana Lobo.

Kuper Academy in  Kirkland, Lindsay Place High School in Pointe Claire, LaurenHill Academy in St. Laurent, Selwyn House  and The Study in Westmount and Trafalgar School for Girls in Montreal were the other school competing. Each school was required to raise at least $1,000. Bialik brought in $,7,340.  Dupuis Kallos was recognized with an outstanding leadership and fundraising achievement award. She personally raised $1,300

Royal Vale celebrates.

 “Thanks to the astounding popularity of the Emmy and Golden Globe winning television show Glee, teens throughout North America are embracing the Glee phenomenon by performing their own Glee music/ dance routines” said Ali Greenberg, chairperson of  the TNT JFK G!EE High School Showdown. “So we decided to create a platform for the kids to have their own glee-like competition.

 JFK is comprised of approximately 200 volunteers across four chapters throughout the island of Montreal, each one hosting an exciting fundraising event within the community each year. Now in its milestone 25th year, JFK has purchased over $7.5 million worth of equipment that the MCH might not have otherwise been able to procure within its own budget limits.
This was a highly entertaining afternoon, hosted by Virgin Radio hosts Cousin Vinny and Tony Stark. Andrea Collins, another on-air personality, was one of the judges.
Total Entertainment coordinated  the music while  drummer-vocalist Paul Lizzi kept everyone hopping in between school performances,   The Royal Vale Bollywood Troupe, a group of Grade 3 elementary students, brought the house down while the Pack Boys showed the audience why they won silver at the 2011 Canadian Hip Hop championships.
Cousin Vinny and Stark proved to be excellent auctioneers, starting the bidding at $100 and getting $1,000 for a signed and framed script by the actual Glee TV show cast.
Lisa Steinberg, the president of the executive of Just For Kids, stated that monies raised will go to the hospital’s “Rest Assured” campaign, benefiting the Anesthesia Service. Steinberg sent a very important message at the start of the event when she asked everyone to rise who ever had a child as a patient at the hospital or ever visited the hospital for any reason. Few people remained in their seats at this point.
Congrats to Greenberg, Steinberg and other stellar volunteers who made this event happen: Jill Aberman, Amanda Chicoine, Steven Eisenberg, Fran Goffman, Barbara Kurtzman Phillips, Sandra D’Elesio Lanno, Lynda Lubin, Tina Maniastis Troulis, Randi Milstein Cohen, Jill Morganstein Kimmel, Marla Oringer, Eden Polansky Flomen, Bridget Sachs, Jo-Ann Toulch, Ying Wang and Jillian Zrihen.  At the JDF office,  managing director Debbie Shapiro is the glue that keeps the operation rolling.