Friday, February 10, 2006

More on who approached whom

As I've just posted, a story in the the Surrey Leader mentions that rumours concerning the potential defection of the Grewals were circulating in the Indo-Canadian community apparently even before the negotiations of the May 15th-18th, a fact also mentioned in the Ethics Commissioner's report.

One of the conclusions of that report, of course, was that it had been Grewal who had begun the negotiations: he had offered to change parties in exchange for a cabinet post for himself and a senate seat (or diplomatic post) for Nina. While I was stuck on a flight last night I reviewed some of the earlier tapes and noticed something that I hadn't seen before.

As people will remember, each of the tapes and transcripts exists in two versions: a first, heavily edited one that was released to the public on May 31st, and a second one released during the following week that contained a fuller version.

Grewal released transcripts of six of his calls with Sadesh Kalia, a Surrey Liberal who arranged for his meeting with Dosanjh. In the fifth call was the following exchange. Here is a scan of the May 31st transcript:
Grewal tapes

Compare this to the version that Grewal released on June 7th:

Now, the question. Why would someone want to exclude Kalia's words 'You should call him and discuss your proposal'? The reason is quite simple. This innocuous piece of advice makes it clear (again) that it is Grewal who has a proposal to make.

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Surrey Leader: rumours of Grewal's defection preceded meetings

The Surrey Leader is reporting:
Grewal switch rumoured in advance: Dhaliwal

By Dan Ferguson
Staff Reporter
Feb 05 2006

Before the controversy over Gurmant Grewal's secret tapes erupted last May, Sukh Dhaliwal said he heard something was in the works that could displace himself as the Liberal candidate for Newton-North Delta.

"I heard rumours in the community... that Grewal was going to switch to the Liberals," Dhaliwal said Wednesday.

If Grewal, the Tory MP for Newton-North Delta, had crossed the floor to join the Liberal minority government last year, Dhaliwal would have been denied the party nomination because Grewal would become the incumbent Liberal MP for the riding.

Dhaliwal said there was no hint from the Prime Minister's Office that such a change might be coming when he phoned the PMO in Ottawa to ask if there was any substance to the rumours.

"They said no," Dhaliwal said.

Dhaliwal went on to win the party nomination and the subsequent federal election after the controversy-plagued Grewal decided against seeking another term.

Dhaliwal was one of 21 witnesses interviewed by parliament's ethics commissioner during the investigation into Grewal's taping of talks with senior Liberals, whom he accused of illegally offering inducements to switch sides from the Conservatives.

The MP-elect said he was asked if he had any advance knowledge of the Grewal negotiations, and told the commissioner that he had only heard rumours.

Commissioner Bernard Shapiro's report was released last week and concluded that Grewal's surreptitious taping wasn't illegal or a specific violation of MPs' rules of conduct, but the overall effect was to weaken the public's confidence and trust in the integrity of the House of Commons and its members.

Grewal, who claims the initial draft of the report exonerated him, said he is considering legal action over the alleged altering of the findings.

"It's political," Grewal protested. "Ten of the witnesses are well-known Liberals."

Other witnesses interviewed by Shapiro included Gurmant and Nina Grewal, staff members in the Newton-North Delta constituency office, Prime Minister Paul Martin's chief of staff Tim Murphy and prominent Surrey developer Bob Cheema.

According to the findings of the report, Cheema set things in motion on May 14 when he phoned then-Liberal health minister Ujjal Dosanjh to say both Grewals would be willing to join the minority government in return for "a United Nations position or Senate appointment for her and a cabinet post for him."

The commissioner said he was "unable to clarify who, if anyone, encouraged Mr. Cheema to make this approach, and Mr. Cheema himself claimed no knowledge of any such meeting."

Despite Cheema's denial, the commissioner concluded that Dosanjh was "the more credible witness" of the two and the contact did occur as described. Contacted by The Leader on Wednesday, Cheema refused to elaborate. "I got no answer and I don't talk to media," he said.
What do these rumours mean?

One point that probably should be made is that rumours about Dhaliwal's nomination are probably derivative from general rumours about Grewal's defection. According to the Ethics Commissioner's report, there were rumours about the Grewals defecting for a cabinet post and senate seat/UN post already in April. Once the idea of a defection was out there, it would have been a natural conclusion to see that this might affect Dhaliwal. (Indeed, I pointed out in a post of June 3rd that the issue of the Liberal nominations will have been discussed at some point.)

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Grewal, Stronach, and Emerson and the death of the middle man

There is an awful lot of commentary from left, right,and center on Harper's decision to appoint to his cabinet David Emerson less than two weeks after he re-elected as a Liberal in Vancouver-Kingsway, most of it critical.

And many have made allusion to the Stronach defection and the Grewal negotiations (for a humorous version, see here).

One point that it seems has escaped the attention of many is that the Emerson defection breaks new ground in the way in which it was both negotiated and communicated ('spun') afterwards.

Consider the Grewal affair. My understanding of the process (and bear with me if you disagree) is thus:
  1. Grewal decided that he wanted to become a Liberal
  2. He contacted a middle-man (or, as it seems now in light of the new information in the Ethics report, middlemen)
  3. The middle-man put him in touch with a prominent Liberal (Dosanjh) and negotiations began
  4. When it became clear that the Liberals were not going to meet Grewal's price (a cabinet seat right away for himself and a senate seat for Nina) negotiations collapsed.
What is interesting for us, I suggest, is that there is a point in the negotiations when communication strategy is discussed. They will tell the world that Grewal didn't approach the Liberals and that the Liberals did not approach Grewal. The middle-man approached both and brought them together.

The Stronach-defection was similar. My understanding (again, bear with me if you disagree):
  1. Belinda became convinced that she had no future in a Conservative Party that she felt was evolving in ways that she disagreed with
  2. She confessed her dissatisfaction with the middle-man, David Peterson, who suggested she become a Liberal
  3. Peterson, Stronach, and representatives of the Liberal government negotiated the matter, the middle-man Peterson suggesting at some point that a cabinet position is appropriate.
Again, notice how the middle-man gets credit for the deal. For public relations purposes, it is important that the Liberals did not initiate the offer, nor that Belinda initiate a request. It is the middle-man who came up with the idea. In the negotiations was Peterson an agent of Belinda or the government? both? neither? It's unclear. But that's the entire point. It is the ambiguity of his position that makes him useful in this little dance.

Now, let us consider Emerson's defection. Where's the middle man? There is none. Today's Globe and Mail reports that it was John Reynolds, former interim Alliance leader, Conservative house leader, and campaign co-chair:
The day after the election, Mr. Reynolds called Mr. Emerson at his Vancouver home.

"I said, 'How would you like to stay in the government?' So we had a conversation about the pros and cons of that, and then, I said, " 'why don't we just sit on it for a couple of days? I'm not talking to anybody. You think about it and we'll get together,' " Mr. Reynolds said.
This is a straight ahead pitch (and more than a little hypocritical in light of this).

And this is why, I suggest, that so many of us are having trouble with the story. It is just too nakedly cynical. Stronach could claim to be leaving a party that was moving away from her main-stream values (perhaps partially true) and had been cooperating with the Bloc (probably not even half-true). Grewal would have also complained about the Bloc and perhaps have thrown in unnecessary elections (pure spin). But at least the unseemliness of defection--which by its very nature implies betrayal and ideological promiscuity--was given a fig-leave of an excuse and the distracting figure of the middle man.

Harper, apparently, decided he needed neither. And that's just too cynical for most of us to accept, regardless of our ideological bent or partisan commitment.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Whither Buckets?

The election’s over; Grewal is no longer politics; Murphy is now looking for new employment; Dosanjh was re-elected, but will now sit on the opposition benches.

Most of the inquiries surrounding last summer’s events have resolved themselves: Transport Canada ruled that Grewal did not act improperly in the airport incident; he was cleared with only mild criticism by the Ethics Commissioner for his immigrant bond scheme; recently, he was seriously criticized in the Ethics Commissioner’s report on his taped negotiations last summer. The only report still outstanding–I think–is the RCMP investigation into those cheques last summer.

So, what’s to be done with this site? Not much different, I suspect. I will keep plugging away at understanding the affair and putting it in its context.

Why? Grewal is now out of the news and may well remain so forever, shouldn’t he disappear from the blogosphere, too?

I think it is important to recognize that there are many different kinds of blogs. Most blogs with a political focus might best be described as op. ed. or editorial, offering comment on recent political events. Some do this well, others less well. But it strikes me that this is the most typical blogging style. Blog post as editorial.

Buckets of Grewal has never been that. I have endulged in little editorializing, emphasizing collection, arrangment, and analysis of a wide range of issues associated with the Grewals, but especially the negotiations of mid-May 2005 and their recording and editing, as well as their varied aftermath.

If BoG has been not editorial, then, might it be described as journalistic?

Perhaps for a time it was so. But the journalistic analogy breaks down, too, since journalism is a creature of the moment. The Grewal tapes are no longer topical.

So what am I up to? Why continue?

Let us pursue the journalistic metaphor. All news stories eventually die. What happens to them then? What begins as news, attracting commentary, argument and rebuttal, inevitably slips from the hands of the journalist into those of the historian.

And this is what BoG has been evolving into for some time: a blog-history of the Grewal affair, written in real-time, with all the uncertainties, guesses, and mistakes of the historian’s work out in the open for anyone to see.

Now in this, I may be innovating, and I have some doubts that a blogspot blog is in fact the best mechanism for such an exercise. But if I can create something lasting that contributes to a fuller understanding of these events, I will regard BoG as a success.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Surrey Leader: Grewal says ethics report on taping was changed

From a local Surrey paper comes the story that Grewal saw earlier drafts of the Ethics Commissioner's report, that the first draft exonerated him, and that the second and third (final) drafts were changed to find him chiefly at fault and exonerate the Liberals.
Grewal says ethics report on taping was changed

By Dan Ferguson
Staff Reporter
Feb 01 2006

Former Newton-North Delta MP Gurmant Grewal says he received a threatening letter Friday from Parliament’s ethics commissioner after he claimed the commissioner’s report on his taping controversy had been altered to favour the Liberals.

“The letter says if I release the (draft) reports, that would be a violation of the House of Commons Code of Conduct and I would subject to disciplinary action,” Grewal said Tuesday.

“I’ve sent the letter to my lawyer for advice.”

Grewal said he is considering taking legal action over the report, claiming the first draft of the document exonerated him and laid blame at the foot of the Liberals, only to be altered through at least two subsequent versions until it was changed to find him at fault and the Liberals blameless.

He said he was “shocked and disgusted” by the final version of the report by commissioner Bernard Shapiro.

The report condemned Grewal’s decision to secretly tape talks with Liberal health minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, the prime minister’s chief of staff, on the eve of a crucial May 19 budget vote.

The Conservatives said the recordings implicated the Liberals in an attempt to buy the votes of Grewal and his wife, MP Nina Grewal, just after Tory Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to join the Liberals.

Shapiro said the surreptitious taping was neither illegal nor a specific violation of MPs’ rules of conduct, but said the overall effect was to weaken the public’s confidence and trust in the integrity of the House of Commons and its members.

Shapiro did not review the tapes in making his ruling, something Grewal said turned the investigation into a review of the propriety of taping, not the contents of the tapes.

“It’s about the messenger, not the message.”

Grewal also complained about the witnesses interviewed by the commissioner, saying 10 of the 21 are “well-known Liberals” including his rival for Newton-North Delta, Sukh Dhaliwal.

The Grewal-Dosanjh inquiry report was ready for release on Jan. 20, but was withheld until after the election.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Surrey Now (Jan. 28): Grewal threatens to sue Shapiro

From the Jan. 28th edition of the The Surrey Now
Grewal threatens to sue Shapiro over ethics report

Tom Zytaruk

The fur is flying over Parliament Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro's report on the Dosanjh-Grewal taping affair, with Grewal threatening to sue and Dosanjh accusing Prime Minister-designate Stephen Harper of hiding from the inquiry.

Gurmant Grewal, formerly the Tory MP for Newton-North Delta, cited "serious reservations" with Shapiro's findings while his wife Nina, MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells, dismissed the report as a "sham."

"I might sue the ethics commissioner," Gurmant told the Now. "There might be other lawsuits spilling over from it, I don't know."

This week, Shapiro found Grewal's actions "entirely inappropriate and deserving at the very least, of reproach."

Shapiro also found that former Liberal health minister Ujjal Dosanjh did not offer specific rewards to Gurmant, who secretly taped Dosanjh and the prime minister's chief of staff Tim Murphy. Grewal claimed he was offered inducements to cross the floor and join the Liberals prior to a critical budget vote last May that could have brought the government down.

Shapiro stated in his report that it's not clear whether Grewal actually sought inducements or played the part to entrap Dosanjh, but found his actions "extremely inappropriate" in either case.

"If his intent was the former," Shapiro wrote, Grewal "committed an extremely serious breach" of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. "If his intent was the latter," he added, Grewal was then at odds with the MPs' code of conduct.

Grewal said he'd been expecting "good news" after reading the first draft of the report, which he said was "fair." The second, third and final draft, he claims, "significantly changed in context and tone" and he's presently trying to get them released.

Shapiro noted in his report he didn't consider it necessary to rely on the contents of the tapes in reaching his conclusions, "in the face of the wealth of the primary corroborated evidence of all of the witnesses."

Grewal takes issue with this, noting 11 of the 21 witnesses are "known" Liberals, with Sukh Dhaliwal - his Liberal opponent in Newton-North Delta before Grewal dropped out of the race - among them.

Meantime, Dosanjh said he's pleased Shapiro "exonerated" him.

"I think the blame squarely rests at the doorstep of the Conservative Party and Mr. Grewal," he said. Dosanjh noted that Prime Minister Paul Martin testified at the inquiry while Harper, on the other hand, "hid" for four months.

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