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Defence Minister Peter MacKay shakes hands with Colin Powell after the unveiling of the former U.S. secretary of state's portrait in Washington on December 7, 2009.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay shakes hands with Colin Powell after the unveiling of the former U.S. secretary of state's portrait in Washington on December 7, 2009.

The morning buzz

Where Peter MacKay is wanted Add to ...

1. Defence Minister seeks friendly confines. Here in Canada, Peter MacKay is under the gun for what he knew or didn't know regarding allegations of torture of Afghan detainees. Yesterday, in the House opposition MPs came close to calling for Mr. MacKay's resignation. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff charged that Mr. MacKay had misled the House and Canadians regarding the allegations.

Mr. MacKay was not in the Commons yesterday - and was likely happy about that. Instead, he was finding some respite south of the border, where he was attending meetings and the unveiling of former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell's official portrait. The two men met several years ago, immediately hit it off, and have remained friends.

Mr. Powell, of course, is a long-time Washington fixture - he was secretary of state during the 9/11 crisis and he has also served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At one time he was touted as a potential Republican Presidential candidate.

The unveiling, meanwhile, took place in the State Department's Benjamin Franklin Room. Current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the master of ceremonies. Mr. Powell spoke after her remarks. One of the first things he did was to thank Mr. MacKay for attending.

"I also want to express my appreciation for people who have come from afar from other lands, beginning with the Honorable Peter MacKay, Minister of Defence of Canada, a young man that I have gotten to know in recent years. And Peter, I thank you for making the effort to be with us today."

And we are sure, given Question Period yesterday, that Mr. MacKay was glad he made the effort, too. In the American capital, (also home of senior Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, who initially made these stunning allegations of torture and abuse and whose subsequent treatment by the Conservative government has been condemed by former ambassadors), it seems that Mr. MacKay is well-loved.

Expect the opposition to be back on the detainee issue again today.

2. Death of democracy? Stephen Harper's minority government, with the help of Michael Ignatieff's opposition Liberals, choked off debate last night on the controversial harmonized sales tax by adopting a closure motion. It's a tactic usually used by majority governments to fast-track contentious bills.

The New Democratic Party is steadfastly opposed to the HST and last night many NDP MPs loudly voiced their opposition to the new tax - which is to come into effect in Ontario and British Columbia July 1st - and to the closure motion.

"I hear cheering from across the way from a party that used to care about democracy," said NDP MP Paul Dewar. "It was called the Reform Party and it was founded because its member were tired of the west being shut out and not behind heard. It is astonishing to witness tonight the final nail in the coffin of any sense of reform, any sense of democratic input, any sense of direct democracy. It is dead. Its corpse is lying in front of us."

More votes on the HST are expected today and later into the week.

3. Michael Ignatieff's grip on caucus weakens. The Liberal Leader boldly declared last week that the vote on the controversial HST would be whipped - meaning consequences for MPs who don't show up and toe the party line. It seems, however, that at least one of his MPs, (and there were others who weren't at the HST vote last night), will not be at any of the HST votes.

B.C. Liberal Keith Martin told reporters yesterday that the HST "stinks." He said the leader has "given me permission" to miss the votes. Asked what this says about caucus discipline, Mr. Martin replied: "Well it's wise to allow that flexibility on these issues and I think Mr. Ignatieff demonstrating the ability for us to stay away is, is a sign of leadership on his part."

Really? The Liberal caucus is very uneasy these days as a result of having to support the new tax, which is very unpopular in British Columbia and is becoming more so in Ontario. Is Mr. Ignatieff worried about an insurrection?

(Photo: Captain Annalee Rice)

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