VANCOUVER—As the Conservative party gathers to chart a path to election readiness for 2019, grassroots delegates will finally hear from Stephen Harper who is now charting his own course to step down before the next election.
Several sources say Harper has made no firm decision on timing, but is looking at a likely departure after parliament breaks for summer but before it resumes in the fall.
His former policy director Rachel Curran said Harper has no intention of announcing his plans in a speech Thursday night to the Conservative convention, but will keep the focus on the Conservatives’ record in government and the future of the party following a video tribute. That’s in part because no final decisions have been made, and also because Harper has told people he would not take on other work until he steps down.
“And then he will move into a new phase of his life and his career,” said Curran. “I expect he’ll have more to say about that in fairly short order.”
Harper quit as Conservative leader in October after leading the party to defeat but remained sitting as MP for Calgary-Heritage. He has taken a back seat to the interim leader Rona Ambrose, advises her and other caucus members behind the scenes, works on constituency issues and shows up to Commons votes but does not speak up publicly.
According to sources who’ve spoken to Harper over the past several months, the former prime minister had no exit strategy for his post-political career, and had laid no groundwork for a possible political defeat.
Now that future is starting to take shape as Harper looks at putting his foreign policy interests and knowledge to use.
Harper is said to be weighing joining a handful of corporate boards, and launching some kind of foreign policy venture, according to several sources including some who would not speak for the record because they weren’t authorized to do so. A couple of those familiar with Harper’s thinking suggested he is not about to start up a foreign policy institute. But it’s not yet clear what his venture would look like, whether it means forming a global consultancy group, or an organization that would act more like a think tank, or provide training, whether it would be associated with one or more organizations or a university, be based in Canada or in a number of countries.
“I think he is considering all of those options,” said Curran.
Rick Anderson, once Preston Manning’s top advisor and a Conservative debate strategist in the last campaign, said while he was in office Harper pursued a keen interest in a variety of international files, ranging from security issues, including the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, and China, to economic issues, including global trade and coordinated international fiscal and monetary policy, and “practical social policy like maternal and child health.”
“Before he went into office, relatively few people would have predicted that he would have such a keen interest in those areas and turn out to be so strong in them, including, perhaps himself,” said Anderson. Harper’s focus post-politics, said Anderson, “like other past prime ministers… tends to be a bit more outside the country than inside the country both because he actually has a deep interest in the foreign side of things, but also because he doesn’t see any particular value in former prime ministers involving themselves in domestic politics.”
Curran echoed that.
“He’s got a lengthy list of things he’s done and accomplished on that front. But I don’t think those will be his focus going forward. He’s had his political career, he’s had his career in public service, so I think he will look to build on his interests and his experience and his expertise, frankly, but I don’t think those will really be focused on domestic issues.”
A lifetime politician, Harper is not a lawyer or financier who could readily step back into a pre-political career. A frequent critic of the United Nations, Harper was unlikely to find an off-ramp there like former British prime minister Tony Blair once did. And as the government leader who railed against those who used political connections to further their personal fortunes after leaving office, and passed the Accountability Act to curtail such benefits, Harper’s options were constrained by finding a good fit with the political legacy he had wanted to leave.
The decision to stick around? One of necessity, said several. It wasn’t just that he didn’t want to pull a Jim Prentice — quit his seat outright after losing government as the former Alberta premier, PC leader and onetime Harper cabinet minister did, though that was part of it. The other factor was Harper — long described by supporters as a strategic thinker who games out his next steps — had no long-term plan.
The Globe and Mail first reported Wednesday Harper intends to step down from politics before the next election, though that had long been the assumption of his colleagues.
On Thursday, as the Conservative convention opens, the former Conservative leader — whose only public utterances have been brief bursts on Twitter since election night — will speak for the first time before about 2,100 registered delegates.
His wife Laureen Harper will hand out awards to the party’s volunteers, and Harper will speak for about 10 minutes after a video tribute hailing his contribution to reuniting the right and leading the merged Conservatives to three wins.
Longtime party supporter and strategist Jim Armour said his sense heading into the convention is that the mood in the party “is good.” Some of that can be chalked up to Ambrose’s deft performance as interim leader.
“I think there was also a realization that 10 years is a long time, and although we lost, we didn’t lose badly,” said Armour.
The party held nearly 100 seats across the country, despite being wiped out in Atlantic Canada.
Asked whether Harper needs to say sorry to the party’s membership for his loss to the third party leader Justin Trudeau, or if it’s too late, Armour said: “My sense is the Conservatives are kind of done with saying sorry. Why do we need to apologize for everything? I think it will be looking towards the future rather than looking at the past.”
That future won’t be decided until the party selects a new leader to replace Harper in May 2017. But this weekend aspiring successors and would-be leadership rivals will be out in force, glad-handing with the rank-and-file, to shore up possible future bids.
On Friday morning, before the start of policy workshop sessions — open to the media for the first time in years — members will hear a report by the head of the Conservative Fund, Irving Gerstein, who recently retired from the senate.
Elections Canada has reported the Conservatives outstripped the Liberals and the NDP— which was a distant third — in fundraising in the first quarter — news the party will likely trumpet in its biennial report to the grassroots. Conservatives raised $5.5 million in the first three months of 2016, less than at the same period last year when they were in government, but an improvement on contributions at the end of 2015 after the bruising electoral loss.
On Friday afternoon, Ambrose will host onstage interview-style chats with the three declared candidates, Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier and Michael Chong. Other as-yet-undeclared-but-presumed-to-be-interested candidates like Peter MacKay, Jason Kenney, Kevin O’Leary, and Lisa Raitt, will be featured in other speaking roles at the late afternoon session, billed Back to Blue, Looking Forward.
Many will also host hospitality suites, including Tony Clement, Chong and Bernier, as will several candidates for open seats on the party’s national council — the executive committee of the party.
“The fastest way to any voters heart is through free booze,” quips Armour. “It’s a well-worn tradition going back to the 19th century.
The Bank of Montreal says it is cutting its workforce by about 1,850 positions as consumers shift more of their banking online and technological advancements allow it to digitize some of its processes.
There were 46,166 full-time equivalent employees at the bank (TSX:BMO) as of the second quarter, a decline of 616 employees from the previous quarter.
The lender says it will trim its head count by an additional four per cent, which amounts to roughly 1,846 positions.
Earlier in the day, the bank reported that its second-quarter profit slip three per cent from a year ago as it took a $132 million restructuring charge relating to severance costs for employees and set aside more money for bad loans.
The bank said second-quarter profit fell 2.6 percent as soured oil-and-gas loans soared and the firm took a restructuring charge. The lender raised its dividend 2.4 percent to 86 cents a share.
A controversial drug that has been given to thousands of Canadian soldiers and is still in use in the military was deemed too risky for British troops in a landmark report released Tuesday.
The report by MPs on the U.K. parliamentary defence committee recommended that the British military use the anti-malaria drug mefloquine only as a “drug of last resort,” due to the risk of severe psychological side effects.
While adverse reactions to the drug are “in the minority, we do not believe that the risk and severity of these side effects are acceptable for our military personnel overseas,” the report said.
In Canada, the report was welcomed by veterans who say the Canadian military has lagged behind its allies in restricting the drug’s use and addressing the legacy of long-term side effects among soldiers.
“Canada should get in lockstep with its allies on this issue” said former Canadian Airborne Regiment soldier John Dowe, head of a three-country advocacy group pushing for an end to the military use of mefloquine.
Mefloquine, also sold under the brand name Lariam, is one of several drugs used by the Canadian military to prevent malaria on missions to countries where the disease is present.
According to pharmacy records, 15,677 Canadian soldiers were given the drug between January 2001 and March 2012, said National Defence spokeswoman Jennifer Eckersley.
The U.S. army restricted the drug in July 2013 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a so-called “black-box” warning — its strongest warning label — that highlighted possible permanent side effects such dizziness, insomnia and seizures, as well as psychiatric reactions such as paranoia, depression and anxiety.
“Neurological side effects can occur any time during drug use and can last for months to years after the drug has stopped and can be permanent,” the warning reads.
Drug manufacturer Roche requires an individual risk assessment before prescribing the drug — a step the U.K. report says was often omitted during large-scale deployments of soldiers.
Mefloquine is now used much less frequently, Eckersley said, noting that the drug was given to the majority of soldiers who took an anti-malarial in 2002-03, but just 6 per cent received it in 2012.
“We are aware of the latest U.K. Report and will be reviewing it light of Canadian armed forces’ use of the drug,” she said.
The drug was first issued to Canadians in the ill-fated 1992-93 Somalia mission. All 900 soldiers with the Canadian Airborne Regiment on that mission were given the drug as part of a clinical trial. Mefloquine was unlicensed in Canada at the time, and some veterans of the mission have blamed the drug’s side effects for violence by some soldiers, including the beating death of a Somali teen.
Dave Bona, a former Canadian Airborne soldier who suffered serious side effects from mefloquine in Somalia and Rwanda, said the U.K. report should be a turning point in Canada.
“After this report, it should be clear to the federal government. If they don’t take action, there is something seriously wrong,” said Bona from his home near Saskatoon.
After taking his first dose, Bona felt nauseous and had seizures that night. He was plagued by insomnia, nightmares and “explosive anger” during his nine-month deployment.
Bona experienced the same pattern after taking the drug in Rwanda in 1994. “I’d get so angry I could not think straight,” he said.
After his deployments, Bona’s symptoms followed him back to Canada. His marriage broke up, he turned to alcohol and he had trouble keeping jobs.
In 1999, an Auditor General’s report found that the defence department improperly prescribed mefloquine on the Somalia deployment and failed to track soldiers’ side effects as required by the clinical trial.
In 2000, Bona was kicked out of the army over his problems with alcohol. He was later diagnosed with PTSD.
For 12 years, Bona said he took every treatment possible for PTSD, but he got little relief until his long-time psychologist told him his symptoms matched mefloquine toxicity.
“I’ve done everything they said to do and still I got no relief. But it’s like breaking a leg and getting treatment for a broken arm.”
If the U.K. defence department accepts Tuesday’s recommendations, Britain will join the Australian and U.S. militaries in restricting the drug.
Canadian soldiers currently take mefloquine at five times the rate of Americans, said Dr. Remington Nevin, a former U.S. military physician and the leading expert in the neuropsychiatric effects of the drug.
Nevin, who gave evidence at the U.K. inquiry in December, said less than 1 per cent of U.S. soldiers take mefloquine under the tighter restrictions there.
“Canada is now increasingly isolated in not taking action,” said Nevin.
“It is uncharacteristic of Canada to be so far behind on such a major health issue,” he added.
Mefloquine’s side effects are especially difficult to monitor in a battle situation, as soldiers tend to “under report” symptoms or may attribute some side effects such as insomnia to other factors, the U.K. report noted.
“All of our witnesses acknowledged that there is a risk that some military personnel may hide symptoms in the belief that doing otherwise could jeopardize their careers,” the report said.
During the inquiry, the U.K. minister for welfare and veterans apologized to British soldiers who were given the drug improperly.
Bona and other veterans of the now-disbanded Canadian Airborne Regiment say they want a similar apology.
There are two questions that play over and over in Bill Yatim’s mind as he relives the July 2013 night his 18-year-old son Sammy Yatim was shot dead on a streetcar by Const. James Forcillo.
“What if he had been able to speak with me that night? What if that police officer was not on duty that night?” he told the court during Forcillo’s sentencing hearing for attempted murder. “What if that police officer was not on duty that night?”
It could have gone differently, Yatim’s mother Sahar Bahadi said, if Forcillo had asked a simple question instead of yelling commands.
“I believe if Forcillo asked my son, ‘what is your name,’ just this question, he will not shoot him, he will calm him.”
A photograph of Yatim as a toddler in his mother’s arms was put on the courtroom screen as Bahadi spoke.
“They say to move on you have to forgive. As Christians we are taught to forgive. But as a mother, I will not forget and I will never forgive. Human life matters. My son, Sammy, mattered.”
Bahadi was a constant presence during the trial, at which Forcillo was acquitted of second-degree murder for the first three shots he fired at Yatim as the teen held a knife on an empty streetcar. Forcillo was found guilty of attempted murder for firing another six shots as Yatim lay paralyzed but still holding the knife.
During the trial, Bahadi told the court, she often wanted to stand up and scream that the Sammy Yatim being spoken about in court was not the Sammy Yatim she and others knew.
“It was clear to everyone that something was wrong that night. He was not himself,” she said.
It remains unclear what happened in the hour before Yatim got onto the streetcar, she said when speaking outside the courthouse.
“The first mistake of his life took his life away.”
Bahadi’s screams were heard during the sentencing hearing last week as she reacted to Forcillo’s defence lawyer arguing that Yatim did not suffer during the second volley of bullets because he was paralysed.
“As a mother, I feel my son’s pain from every bullet,” Bahadi said Wednesday. “Every single one, every day. Sammy must have been terrified. A video of four cameras doesn’t lie. Thinking my son died in less than one minute for what?”
The defence is arguing Forcillo should receive a sentence of two years less a day on house arrest. They are seeking to overturn the law requiring he be sentenced to a minimum of five years for attempted murder with a restricted firearm because it is “grossly disproportionate” to what they describe as a case of “excessive self-defence” based on a mistake in assessing the threat Yatim posed.
Yatim bears some responsibility for what happened that night, they have argued.
The Crown’s position is that Forcillo’s actions are so egregious that he should be sentenced to well above the mandatory minimum.
“When a police officer attempts to murder a citizen, it hard to imagine a more serious breach of trust,” said Crown prosecutor Ian Bulmer as he argued a sentence of eight to 10 years would be appropriate.
The motto of the Toronto police is to “serve and protect,” Bulmer said.
“The defendant did not try to preserve Yatim’s life. He tried to take it…He did not serve Sammy Yatim and he certainly didn’t protect him.”
Responding to the defence argument that Forcillo was required to carry a firearm as a police officer and place himself at risk, Bulmer said Forcillo was not forced to become a police officer, he chose to be one.
Sammy Yatim’s sister Sara spoke briefly between the statements of her parents at the hearing.
“So I’ve been asked to write a statement explaining how my brother’s death affected my life,” she said, her voice shaking. “It didn’t affect my life. My brother was my life. He was my other half.”
Both Yatim’s parents said on Wednesday that what they hoped to see from the court is justice for their son.
“I hope there are changes in police policies for dealing with people who are in crisis in order for this painful incident not to repeat again,” Bahadi told the court. “I want the police to remain a source of confidence, security and respect for all people.”
Yatim’s death prompted a comprehensive review of the way Toronto police interact with “emotionally disturbed persons” and has resulted in changes to the way police are trained.
The defence has pointed to those changes to argue Forcillo’s training was inadequate given the systemic problems revealed in the Iacobucci report and inquests into other police shootings deaths involving people in crisis.
The sentencing hearing is expected to conclude Thursday. Justice Then has said he will reserve his decision.
The jury has heard all the evidence they will hear at the Tim Bosma murder trial.
After nine days on the stand, Mark Smich wrapped up his testimony Wednesday. This marks the end of his case, and of evidence as a whole, in the trial, which has gone on for four months.
Smich, 28, and his co-accused Dellen Millard, 30, are on trial together for the first-degree murder of Bosma.
And the two men have pointed the finger squarely at one another.
But the Crown says the pair came up with the plan together.
Assistant Crown attorney Craig Fraser suggested Wednesday that Bosma was killed within minutes of leaving his house on May 6, 2013 to take the two men for a test drive of his truck he was selling online.
The Ancaster dad would have been on “high alert” that night, suspicious of his late-night visitors who showed up after 9 p.m. to see a truck, Fraser argued.
He suggested there was no test drive that night — that Bosma only got as far as a field around the corner from his Trinity Road home before he was shot inside his truck.
Smich has insisted that he got out of the truck when they reached that field at Trinity and Book Roads.
Bosma was still alive at that point, he said. He added that Millard had made up a story about a friend dropping them off that night, getting lost and parking in a field.
Smich says Millard suggested that he get out and go with this fictional friend, to follow behind the truck so they wouldn’t have to come back after the test drive.
Smich says he got out and hopped in the Yukon, where the keys had been left in a cup-holder.
He says Millard then did a U-turn in Bosma’s truck on the road, and that he pulled out of the field and followed.
But Fraser referred earlier to testimony by Rick Bulman, a man who had been walking his dogs that night when he noticed two vehicles pulling out of the field.
“And you know why they were in that field? Because that’s where you and Mr. Millard shot Mr. Bosma,” Fraser suggested.
He insists he only discovered Bosma had been shot when he pulled over behind the truck when it stopped suddenly in Brantford.
Fraser suggested they pulled over there because they needed to do some “repositioning of the body.”
He said that if Smich had truly been “in fear” of Millard as he claims, he would have driven away. But he followed.
“You followed him, sir. That was a choice you made, because it was part of the plan,” Fraser said.
Smich continued to “play along,” Fraser argued, in the days after the murder, repeatedly calling and texting Millard.
Smich says he was trying to be normal so as not to raise suspicion, but Fraser says the messages show a comfort between them.
On May 10, just after police visited the hangar, but before Millard was arrested, he paid Smich a 50-minute visit at his girlfriend’s sister’s apartment in Oakville.
Fraser suggested Millard was there to tell him police were onto him and that they discussed what to do next.
Smich disagreed, and could recall only that Millard told him he was getting a lawyer.
Fraser pointed to evidence from several past witnesses in this trial whose stories contradicted the account Smich gave. He suggested that Smich is saying these witnesses all got it wrong.
His girlfriend, Marlena Meneses, for example, testified that Smich and Millard were “very happy” and ready to celebrate when they picked her up early on May 7, 2013.
“They just said that the mission went well,” she testified.
Smich said he doesn’t know where that description came from.
“She got that from you, inside that truck,” Fraser replied.
When the Crown wrapped up their cross-examination, Smich’s lawyer, Thomas Dungey, got up briefly.
Smich agreed with his lawyer when he suggested he must be exhausted after nine days on the stand.
“Did you kill Mr. Bosma?” Dungey asked him, his last in a series of rapid-fire questions.
“No,” Smich said.
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