Wednesday, 9 March 2011

It's hard to keep up

On the road to the Harper government's tipping point. Lawrence Martin, in yesterday's Globe and Mail, lists recent scandals. He mentions one I'd never heard of:
Just recently, the PM appointed Tom Pentefountas as vice-chairman of the CRTC. Mr. Pentefountas comes equipped with two qualifications: his close friendship with the PM’s director of communications, and zero experience in telecommunications.
Conservatives deny CRTC takeover:
In the House of Commons, opposition parties said Tom Pentefountas, the recently appointed CRTC vice-chairman, lacked the necessary credentials for the job and is only there because of his political connection to the Conservative government.

A Montreal lawyer, Pentefountas is the former president of the Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ), a political party with strong ties to the federal Tories. Moreover, said opposition critics, he is a friend of Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister's director of communications.

... In recent days, the Conservative government has been at loggerheads with the CRTC, the nation's telecom and broadcasting watchdog. When the regulator released a decision that effectively would have killed unlimited Internet-pricing packages, the government said it would reverse the move unless the CRTC backed down first.

That followed a similar move in 2009, when the government overruled the CRTC and approved the launch of wireless services by Globalive. A court quashed that move last week, saying the government overstepped its bounds.

In the Commons Monday, Heritage Minister James Moore denied accusations from the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois that the government is trying to take control of the CRTC.
One more dispute that the article doesn't mention: the Sun TV broadcast license. An earlier Lawrence Martin column, Is Stephen Harper set to move against the CRTC?
It’s not every day that a prime minister sees his one-time spokesperson [Kory Teneycke] taking control of a giant media chain’s coverage of his government. What, one wonders, will our journalism schools be telling their students about that?

As remarkable as it was, it received scant attention because the focus was on the TV bid. That bid hit a roadblock last month when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission declared that the top-category type of broadcasting licence being sought by Quebecor would not be available – if at all – until Oct. 1, 2011, at the earliest.

Observers of Mr. Harper have long noted that he doesn’t take kindly to commissions or agencies or anyone else who tends to get in the way of his wishes. It’s only necessary to look at what happened at, among others, Rights and Democracy, Elections Canada, the Nuclear Safety Commission and Parliament.

So the question naturally arises: Do the CRTC board members actually think they can get away with delaying or denying Mr. Harper’s wishes on Fox News North? Do they really believe they have some kind of independent power?

The CRTC chair is Konrad von Finckenstein, and his term doesn’t end until 2012. But insiders report that Mr. Harper now wants him out well before that date and replaced by a rubber stamper. The independently minded Mr. von Finckenstein, who did not respond to queries on the matter, is reportedly being offered judgeships and ambassadorships, one post being Chile. So far, he’s not biting. But the bait might get bigger.

In addition, CRTC vice-chair Michel Arpin is being ushered out the door. His term expires at the end of the month; he’d like to stay on, but his request is not being granted.

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