Government Accountability. My encounter with MP Peter Braid.

I have been struggling to write this post. I wanted it to be succinct, eloquent and as respectful as possible. This has proven much more difficult than I had anticipated, especially since I did not have an actual recording of the meeting as I had requested. My meeting with MP Peter Braid was nearly a month ago now, and I am still furious and beyond frustrated with him, his actions and his words. I am still having trouble writing anything mildly respectful for a man who fills me with such contempt.

I first contacted MP Peter Braid’s office on January 3rd, 2010. I did so because MP Braid is my Member of Parliament in Canada and I was concerned about the prorogation of Parliament and the effect this would have on the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan. My email went unanswered all week, so I emailed again. On January 11th, 2010, I finally receive an email back. A stock, standard reply, that ignored my concerns and questions entirely. I immediately responded by email picking apart the stock reply and again expressing my deep concerns and asking my questions. Six days later, I received the EXACT same stock response again. Again, I wrote back immediately expressing my concerns with this response.

It was around this point that I started to call the office instead, hoping for an actual response to my questions. On the first call, I reached a message machine that promised to return all calls by the end of business day. I left a message expressing my concerns. The end of the day came and went, and I never received that call back as promised. I waited the next day, and as 3pm rolled around and it appeared I again would not be receiving a call back, I called again. Again, I reached an answering machine. Again it promised to return my call by the end of business day. Again, I waited and received no such return call. In fact, I had to call 4 times and wait 5 full days until his office finally decided to return my call.

I asked the person (whose name I won’t repeat here because I believe they are a given a script with standard answers in it and are not allowed to go outside of that) on the other end three separate questions.

1) Is it routine for a minority government to prorogue Parliament?

2) Is it routine for to prorogue mid-session with so many Bills left to be debated in the House?

3) What is MP Braid going to do to ensure the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan returns in its current form after the prorogation?

To the first question, the employee, clearly flustered and flipping through pages, started to read to me the definition of what prorogation is, and in fact said that he had had to look it up because he wasn’t sure. I said, I already know the definition of prorogation. That’s not what I’m asking. He then started telling me all about the Economic Action Plan, completely skirting my question entirely. I told him this did not answer my actual question and that I would like him to please actually answer what I have asked. After arguing with me that he had already answered the question (he had not), he said that he didn’t have an answer for the first two questions then, but that they would get back to me. As for the third question, I was told, “the committees automatically return in their current form after prorogation”. Really? This is simply untrue. While prorogation doesn’t mean the committee can’t possibly be reinstated, it does in fact mean that all Bills being considered by the House and Senate are terminated, and all Parliamentary committees cease to exist, all orders of reference to committees lapse and membership and committee chairs end their duties. This is what prorogation IS. In order for the committee to be reinstated, all Members must vote for this to happen. It is not an automatic process.

Extremely frustrated, I emailed MP Braid’s office yet again. I explained my frustrations at his office and requested that he please phone me personally since his employees were unable to actually assist me even though they were trying “to the best of their ability”. They were clearly not able, or more likely, not authorized to answer any questions beyond the script in front of them.

I did not receive a call back or return email as promised with my answers within the next few days, so I called back again. This time, I received very similar treatment. The employee started to define for me what prorogation is. Again, the employee skirted the questions entirely. When I told her, I already know that, can you please just answer my question– she responded curtly with “well, if you already know the answer, why are you asking then?”. When I pushed for an answer to the second question I was told “this is what proroguing is for”. Really? Interesting, because half the Bills are still on the table, definitely not the norm and definitely not the purpose of proroguing. The conversation ended without answers to all my questions, but again with a promise of a call back eventually when they find the answers for me.

Six days later I receive this email from the employee to “answer” my questions.

"Dear Ms. Sargent,
 In response to your questions about the Afghanistan Committee,
the  information I received is that this is a special committee
created by a motion in the  House of Commons to which all parties
agree. As a result, we can't be sure  what will happen in the
new session. Mr. Braid is in  favour of the committee continuing
its work as there are many critical issues which must be addressed.
 As you may recall, this committee was created by the Conservative
 government in response to a recommendation in the Manley Report,
 also commissioned by  this government.
On 13 March 2008, a motion was passed in the House of Commons which
specified changes to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, and also
included a description and mandate for a special Parliamentary
committee on Afghanistan.  On 8  April 2008, the House of Commons
unanimously supported a motion “that a special committee be 
appointed to consider the Canadian mission in Afghanistan as 
referred to in the motion adopted by the House on 13 March 
2008.”
 Mr. Braid understands the concern of Canadians  regarding the
treatment of captured Taliban insurgents.  It is important
to note that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by our
Canadian Forces.
 Sincerely,"

I wrote back immediately to again express my frustrations that my questions had again gone unanswered. I also asked what specific actions MP Braid was going to take to ensure this Committee resumed if he felt it was “critical”. No response for several days. At this point, I wrote another email and this time CC’d members of the opposition, and members of the media hoping this would elicit an actual and truthful response. I expressed my outrage at the lack of response, the lies I received from employees over the phone and what I felt as lack of respect for his constituency (keep in mind, his office kept telling the media during this time was that he was in fact, spending the time consulting with his constituency).

Two days later, I receive this response:

"Rebecca,

 The information you are looking for regarding Parliamentary
Procedure  may be found in House of Commons Procedure and
Practice, 2009 edition,  and can be accessed online at:
 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/procedure-book-livre/Document.aspx?sbdid=7C730F1D-E10B-4DFC-863A-83E7E1A6940E&sbpidx=1&Language=E&Mode=1

 General historical information regarding Parliament can
 be found here:
 http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/AboutParl_Process.asp?Language=E&Sect=infohist

 thank you for your interest,"

If you actually follow those links you will know that it only leads you on a wild goose chase through mounds and mounds of Parliamentary paperwork. To me, it seemed that if you are using the line “it is routine to prorogue” then you should have some evidence of this and be able to answer my questions about how it is in fact routine. It is not routine to use Parliament in the way it was used and the answers to my first two questions clearly demonstrate how different this prorogation is from past usages.

At this point, I called MP Braid’s office again and requested a personal meeting with him and was told they would have to get back to me with a meeting time. I was then told that procedure is to email this request to his braidp6@parl.gc.ca email (even though I had already asked for a personal response from him repeatedly in past emails), so I did. At this point in the phone conversation I asked when exactly they would have the information about a meeting time for me. I was told by Friday (the 29th of January). Friday came and no call or email came. At 4pm, I decided to call the office again. I was met with the answering machine again, so I left another message.

I called again on Monday, and again reached the answering machine. I called for a second time on Monday, and again, got the answering machine. So I tried a different approach less than 2 minutes later. This time, I used call block to block my outgoing number and called again. This time, to my surprise, my call was answered. To my shock, they not only seemed to recognize my voice but asked, “Is this Rebecca?”. I asked the woman whether or not they had an appointment time for me yet. I was finally told the meeting would be February25th, a full month away and only days before the end of prorogation– the object of my original concern.

I then saw this video on Power Play where MP Braid essentially says that to investigate allegations of torture in Afghanistan is tantamount to being unpatriotic:

How can you think the Afghan Committee critical while at the same time saying that investigating allegations of torture is somehow unpatriotic? Seems quite contradictory to me.

I was told to send in questions prior to our meeting, so that MP Braid could be prepared and not waste my time. I sent in these questions:

1) I have been repeatedly told by your office that this prorogation is
routine. Please explain to me HOW it is routine in comparison with
other prorogations. Is it routine for a minority government to
prorogue? Is it routine to prorogue mid-session of Parliament?

2) After several inquiries into your office regarding the Afghan
Committee, I was provided with this response: “Mr. Braid is in favour
of the committee continuing its work as there are many critical issues
which must be addressed.”, yet several days later, I watched an
interview with you on CTV’s Power Play where you insinuated that this
committee is essentially unpatriotic and calling into question the
actions of our troops. Where do you actually stand on this committee’s
work and what will you do to ensure it continues undisturbed after the
prorogue? Why, if you are in favor of the committee continuing, did
you NOT attend the all-party committee on Feb 3, 2010?

3) Over the past several weeks, I have called and emailed your office
repeatedly trying to seek answers to very specific questions about the
prorogue. During this time, I was lied to on two separate occasions,
by two separate employees, once on Jan 20th and again on Jan 26th.
What do you plan to do to ensure your office is not lying to your
constituency? Will those who have outright lied be reprimanded?

So I waited for my meeting and didn’t call or email his office anymore during this time.

When I first came into the meeting I asked MP Braid, ” do you mind if I tape this conversation”.
He responded “No, you cannot. It is my policy that only journalists are allowed to record”
Me, ” Well, actually, I freelance for this org…”
Him ” tough”.

This frustrated me to no end. I was here to talk about his office lying to me and he wasn’t going to let me tape the conversation? What about accountability and transparency in government, a platform his party promised during the last election? This would mean if it came down to it, it would be my word against his. Are you afraid of being quoted Mr. Braid? Is this why you will not let me tape you? If you have nothing to hide, there is no reason I cannot tape you. You are a public official, who was meeting with me about public business in your office. There is, in my mind, no reason I cannot tape that conversation. If I had met up with you on the street, I could understand your concern, but this was business. You had the specific questions I was going to ask you already spelled out and researched for you beforehand. Why can I not tape that?

The meeting only went downhill from there. When asked about the Afghan Committee, MP Braid started spouting off the standard party line about non-related issues. I interrupted him and said, “that’s not what I asked.” To which he responded, “well, that’s what I’m answering.”

He then started aggressively asking me what specific evidence I had about the troops being involved in torture. I started by bringing up Graeme Smith, and Ms. Ouimet, two journalists who have brought forth allegations of wrong-doing. He then again asked me what evidence I had specifically, as if it was my personal duty to prove Canadian involvement in torture to him. It is not in my power as an individual citizen to investigate Mr. Braid, not that I could even get the proper information if I tried. If Parliament can’t even get its hands on documentation, how can I as a private citizen be expected to?

The conversation continued, “Perhaps you should check your facts, there is no proof of any wrongdoing.”

To which I said, “So allegations of wrongdoing shouldn’t be investigated?”

To which Mr. Braid again replied, “You tell me the specific proof of wrongdoing.”

It went back and forth in such a manner with no real answer, so I moved on to the last question regarding his office lying to me. He was clearly getting annoyed with me at this point, as I was with him and started pressing me continually in an aggressive manner, ignoring my actual complaints and instead focusing on repeating the same lines back to me in an effort to ignore the question. It wound up in another back and forth and before I even explained the lies his office had told me in full, he abruptly stood up and said, “this meeting is over” and I was then escorted out of the office.

It shouldn’t be this difficult to get straight answers from my Member of Parliament. I should not have to be lied to and if I am, I should be able to fully detail these accounts and have assurances that it will not happen again. There is no reason I should not have a tape recording of this meeting so I can more exactly detail the interview to my readers and actually be transparent and accountable as I had wanted.

A week after the meeting, I received this letter in the mail:

"Dear Ms. Sargent,
Just a quick note to  thank you for coming in recently to meet
with me at my constituency  office. I appreciated the
opportunity to hear your questions and  concerns, and that
you took the time to hear my  thoughts as well.
Again, thank you for coming in to share your  concerns.
Please let me know if my office can be of any assistance
or  support in the future.
Sincerely,
Peter Braid"

Yes, your office can be of further assistance. How about addressing the main concern I had in our meeting– what are you going to do to ensure your office is not lying to its constituency? Or even better, actually answering my questions. If I was lied to twice in two separate phone conversations, who else was lied to during this time and who actually believed those lies? How often is this happening? What else are they lying about?

I didn’t know what else to do, so I started this group, called MP Peter Braid Out of Office. Peter Braid only won the last election by 17 votes. 17. Can we convince 18 people to switch to another candidate in the next election or 18 non-voters to vote for any other candidate? I certainly hope so. This man, in my opinion does not deserve to be in office. I am disgusted to call him my MP. Peter Braid does not represent me. He does not listen to my concerns. He is not looking out for his constituency. He is looking out for his party and himself.

Do you have letters or stories of an encounter with MP Peter Braid that you would like to share? Please add it in the commentary below. Please use your voice and express your concerns to your own MP as they arise. Keep on them and if they don’t answer your questions, tell them so, and tell everyone else who will listen. In Canada, we supposedly have a democracy, the voice of the people. I feel like the people of Kitchener-Waterloo are being ignored by this MP and that’s just not right. Peter Braid, we do not have to agree on all the issues, but I should still be treated with respect, and should not be lied to. You should answer questions honestly and forthrightly, and if you don’t want to answer it, then say so. Don’t skirt the issue. At least then I would respect you. You should be able to properly explain your actions in Parliament. If you can’t– you don’t deserve to be there.

If you have any ideas of how we can ensure this man is never re-elected, please share them with me. The K-W Anti-Torture Coalition meets in protest every Wednesday morning in front of MP Peter Braid’s office at 830 am (22 King Street, Waterloo– right across from Waterloo Public Square) to demand a public inquiry into allegations of Canadian complicity in torture in Afghanistan. Join them if you can or at least honk on your way by them to show your support!

Here are some additional stories of MP Peter Braid’s appalling actions since being in office:

Peter being part of a gang that ambushed a family doctor.

Peter giving advice on how to siphon money from university student unions through front organizations to further the goals of the Conservative Party.

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3 comments

  1. Ms. Sargent has put a lot of work into trying to get answers from a person whose job it is to represent her as a citizen. The total contempt and lack of response to her specific, reasonable questions by MP Peter Braid is like a tiny version of the huge indignity offered to Canadian citizens by the Harper government during prorogation. I commend Ms. Sargent on her tenacity and thank her for making the effort to communicate her experience to us. It is hard to believe that a government would feel so safe that they could openly disregard the concerns and questions of their voters. We definitely need to “take back” this government and remind them they work for US. If they don’t want to do that job, they should get out of office.

  2. Thanks for the comment Liz!
    I had real difficulty writing this account. The government is supposed to answer to us. Our voices are supposed to be heard. I was shocked and appalled at the lack of respect and angry at the lack of accountability. We do need to “take back” the government. Representatives should do just that, represent the people of their constituency– not their party or their own whims. If they can’t do that, I’m sure we can find others who will!

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