1. Why just a slap on the wrist? Joe Comartin sees a sweet deal in the $500 fine given former Tory MP Rahim Jaffer for careless driving. And he wants answers now as to how it was put together; he wants Canadians told how it happened to avoid any whiff of political interference or corruption.
This morning the NDP MP will be asking his caucus whether he should write the Ontario Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions demanding answers to the controversy swirling around Mr. Jaffer's sentence.
In his life before politics Mr. Comartin was a trial lawyer. He has 27 years under his belt and knows his way around a courtroom. He comes at this with a lot of credibility.
"I'm wearing my lenses as a defence lawyer and thinking, 'Boy, it would be great if I could get my client a deal like that,'" Mr. Comartin told The Globe about the controversial plea bargain.
Yesterday, Mr. Jaffer pleaded guilty to a charge of careless driving and was fined $500. The Crown dropped criminal charges of drunk driving and cocaine posession. A speeding charge was also withdrawn.
There is a view that Mr. Jaffer's connections helped him. Adding to this is the fact that the judge, Mr. Justice Douglas Maund, told the former politician: "I'm sure you recognize a break when you see one."
NDP Leader Jack Layton made reference to this, too, when asked about the Jaffer sentence outside of the Commons yesterday: "Well, the judge himself in the case said that this was one heck of a deal and I believe that a lot of Canadians will look at it and simply shake their heads and ask themselves whether or not this represents some kind of a double standard."
Married to junior cabinet minister Helena Guergis, Mr. Jaffer was until the last election a Tory MP from Edmonton. During the last part of his tenure in Ottawa he served as the national Conservative caucus chairman, a job requiring the person in it to be well-liked and well-known among his colleagues.
Says Mr. Comartin: "I'm inclined to think that there is no reason to be suspicious that there was political interference or anything of that sort but I think it behooves the prosecutor … or Ontario's Attorney-General to tell the Canadian people why this happened."
The $500 penalty for the careless driving charge is appropriate, Mr. Comartin says. But that's not the issue - the issue is the decision by the prosecutor not to proceed with the more serious charges.
Mr. Comartin says, for example, that the only time he can remember a breathalyzer charge being dropped was when "I had a very clear defence the machine was not working properly."
So, he is simply asking that Canadians be told why the decision was made to agree to the plea bargain. "Tell us that so the Canadian people don't think there is political interference or corruption," he says.
Liberal MP Anita Neville questioned the government on the issue yesterday in Question Period, noting the contradiction between the government's tough-on-crime policies and this sentence. She was practically drowned out by the outrage from the Tory bench.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said this was a provincial matter and there was no political interference. He called Ms. Neville's questions irresponsible and demanded she apologize and withdraw her remarks, receiving a standing ovation from his caucus colleagues.
But Mr. Comartin points out that the drug charge is a federal matter and that Mr. Nicholson was "ducking" the issue of why it was dropped.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jaffer's colleagues are being very tight-lipped about the matter. Many have avoided comment on it although some Tory pundits, including the Prime Minister's former spokesman Kory Teneycke and strategist Tim Powers, have called for a public explanation.
2. And the wasteful winner is… There's great anticipation on Parliament Hill today - it's the 12th annual Teddy Waste Awards.
Not to be outdone by the Oscars, this is a black-tie affair in which the Canadian Taxpayers Federation gives its annual nod to the municipality, province and federal department or agency that was the most wasteful.
The Teddies honour the best of the worst in government waste. For example, last year the Canada Council for the Arts won for spending $40,000 on "an artist's dream to fly a giant banana over Texas."
CTF Federal director Kevin Gaudet wouldn't scoop himself this morning and tell us the winners in advance of the press conference. Rather, he offered us a few examples of government waste that weren't "bad enough to get a Bronzed Pig statue this year."
» A huge overtime bill for MPs' chauffeurs
» A Toronto city councilor who expensed a bottle of aspirin.
» A provincial hydro company allegedly buying Xboxes and DVD players.
You get the idea. This year's winners will be unveiled at 10:30.