Monday, April 10, 2006

harper and security or lack of confidence ...

Conservatives ban cellphones, BlackBerries in weekly caucus meetings
The Hill Times, April 10th, 2006

The Tories say they want MPs to be focused and are concerned about security and confidentiality, but some say the move indicates a lack of confidence in caucus loyalty.

The Conservatives have banned MPs, Cabinet ministers, and Senators from carrying cellphones and BlackBerries into the new government's weekly caucus meetings on Parliament Hill for "security and confidentiality reasons" and they've barred political staffers from attending the meetings as well.

Some say the move indicates a lack of confidence of the loyalty of the national caucus.

Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton-Strathcona, Alta.), the national caucus chair, who also recently banned all staffers from attending caucus meetings except for the chief of staff to the Prime Minister Ian Brodie, recently advised all caucus members that they should leave their BlackBerries and cellphones behind or if they can't, turn their electronic communications devices in before entering the caucus meeting room in 237-C Centre Block every Wednesday morning.

"The presence of these devices has the potential to jeopardize security and caucus confidentiality. Please leave portable communication devices behind at your office when you attend caucus. For those unable to do so, arrangements will be made to check this equipment during the meeting," wrote Mr. Jaffer in the email, obtained by The Hill Times, on March 27.

In their first caucus meeting on March 28, the national Conservative caucus invited three security officers from the House of Commons security staff to brief the caucus members about how electronic devices could be used "to jeopardize caucus confidentiality."

The House of Commons security officers told the Conservatives that the physical presence of cellphones and BlackBerries, even if turned off, could be used to transmit what's going on inside caucus to anyone outside without the knowledge of the person who is carrying the equipment.

Mr. Jaffer told The Hill Times that this decision was taken jointly by the caucus officers including himself, Chief Government Whip Jay Hill (Prince George-Peace River, B.C.), Government House Leader Rob Nicholson (Niagara Falls, Ont.) and Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) in an effort to ensure caucus confidentiality and for security reasons. He denied that it had anything to do with minimizing the risk of caucus leaks to the national media every Wednesday.

"We have confidence in all of our caucus members," said Mr. Jaffer. "It was an agreement amongst all of us that this is something we want to do for confidentiality reasons, for security reasons and it also allows for a better functioning and focused caucus."

Mr. Jaffer also added that this measure will help caucus members to pay more attention to debates within the national caucus.

"Even the Prime Minister told me and others that when they were standing and talking to the rest of caucus, over 50 per cent of them had their heads down working [on their BlackBerries]. It doesn't serve the purpose of a caucus meeting. People aren't involved, they aren't focused."

But some Conservatives said the ban indicates a lack of confidence in caucus loyalty which ironically is bad for caucus morale.

"This shows that these guys don't trust their own caucus members. If they are concerned about the possible leaks, can't they [MPs and Senators] send emails or talk to people when they go back to their offices after the caucus meetings," said one Conservative source who requested anonymity.

But Conservative MP Bill Casey (North Nova, N.S.) told The Hill Times that he supports the ban because BlackBerries and cellphones are a source of distraction during caucus meetings.

Declared Mr. Casey: "I support it. First of all, just simply because the BlackBerries tend to be distracting and I know if you do make a presentation to the caucus, it can be distracting. It's a good idea strictly for the continuity of the caucus meeting."

Moreover, Mr. Casey also mentioned two bizarre incidents that happened in the last two to three years in which two of his cellphone conversations were recorded by third parties in his riding in Nova Scotia.

In the first incident, Mr. Casey said he was talking to his wife on his cellphone and the conversation was recorded by a third party. He found out about it when he went to a McDonald's fast food restaurant in his riding and when he picked up his food the server told him that another person had told the server that he had recorded Mr. Casey's conversation with his wife and repeated what he had said.

In the second incident, Mr. Casey said he used his cellphone to call one of his political assistants in the riding office and later found out as well that the conversation had been recorded by a third party.

In both cases, Mr. Casey used his cellphone while his wife and his assistant used land lines.

In the first incident, Mr. Casey was able to find out who recorded the conversation and the person confessed to recording it. However, Mr. Casey said he has not been able to find the second person.

The individual who confessed to recording Mr. Casey's conversation with his wife said that he did that using a scanner and it just happened by chance that he was able to catch Mr. Casey's conversation.

MPs and Senators from the two other national parties confirmed that they can still carry their cellphones and BlackBerries during the weekly caucus meetings.

"What's next, X-rays and body searches. That's an indication that there's not much trust operating on the basis of their Tory team or the Conservative team...That's a bizarre way to operate a caucus. I don't think you can build trust and team spirit on the basis of suspicion," said NDP caucus chair Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North, Man.).

When asked if security and confidentiality are valid reasons for such a ban, she said: "I can't believe that. If that's the case, then we're all being tapped, there's no such thing as privacy and security anywhere in the world. I find that absolutely hard to believe. It seems like science fiction. Our caucus operates differently. It's on the basis of trust. You indicate when you are in caucus meetings that all is confidential. We work together, we sort out issues and we leave as a team. We allow phones and BlackBerries and we just ask people not to disrupt meetings and not use them too much during caucus meetings."

Christine Csversko, deputy director of communications in the Prime Minister's Office, told The Hill Times that Cabinet ministers can carry their BlackBerries and cellphones in Cabinet meetings, but cannot use them.


Dennis said...

They want to be the ones to get their message out first, and not let the left lib media put their spin on it before it gets out.

I can't say I blame them.