The Paul Calandra way of answering questions

Paul Calandra, Conservative MP for Oak Ridges—Markham, has been parliamentary secretary to the PM since just . In that short time, he made a name for himself as a nasty, dissembling thug who would respond to questions with deflections, attacks, and general non-answers – it got so embarrassing the Conservatives even stopped letting him answer certain questions! Well, as the latest video shows, he still has some QP duties… and still has his own way of answering questions: the Paul Calandra way.

The Paul Calandra way of answering questions is now so legendarily bad that there’s actually a website where you can have Paul Calandra answer your questions the Paul Calandra way. But Calandra is still elevating his game. Here is his response to a question about the CSEC spying revelation:

Mr. Speaker, last night the CBC aired a misleading report on Canada’s signals intelligence agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada. These documents were stolen by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and sold to the CBC by Glenn Greenwald. Canada’s signals intelligence agency has been clear that the CBC story is incorrect, yet the CBC went ahead and published it anyway.

Here are the facts:

Before the story aired, CSEC made clear that nothing in the stolen documents showed that Canadians’ communications were targeted, collected, or used, nor that travellers’ movements were tracked.

In addition, CSEC‘s activities are regularly reviewed by an independent watchdog who has consistently found it has followed the law.

Mr. Speaker, why is furthering porn-spy Glenn Greenwald’s agenda and lining his Brazilian bank account more important than maintaining the public broadcaster’s journalistic integrity?

Wow, eh? That’s grade-A class bullshit.

Techdirt tore Calandra’s comments apart. I’ve collected some highlights for you below, which I’ve arranged into three categories:

Outright lies
These are statements which are simply unequivocally and objectively untrue.
Misleading statements
These are statements which are technically true, but only if you ignore context or interpret certain words or concepts very narrowly. When the broader picture is considered, the statements – while technically true – are broadly false.
Smears
These are statements or implications which are both irrelevant and intended to cast aspersions.

Outright lies

… the CBC aired a misleading report…
There was nothing about the CBC report that was misleading. It stuck to the facts as revealed, and took pains to note that CSEC had confirmed them. It dutifully reported both sides of the story – both the view of people that unlawful spying had taken place, and CSEC‘s claim that it was only conducting “an experiment”.
These documents were … sold to the CBC by Glenn Greenwald.
As Techdirt notes no documents were “sold” to the CBC. Glenn Greenwald is a freelance journalist, and he was paid for the story (as any freelance journalist would be). Not the documents.
Canada’s signals intelligence agency has been clear that the CBC story is incorrect …
CSEC confirmed all of the material details of the CBC story. The only things CSEC disagreed with were the interpretations, and CBC dutifully covered CSEC‘s explanations and defences along with the opinions of experts who thought CSEC had broken the law.
CSEC‘s activities are regularly reviewed by an independent watchdog who has consistently found it has followed the law.
From the CSEC Commissioner’s 2013 report (page 20, emphasis added by me): I had no concern with respect to the majority of the CSEC activities reviewed. However, a small number of records suggested the possibility that some activities may have been directed at Canadians, contrary to law. A number of CSEC records relating to these activities were unclear or incomplete. After in-depth and lengthy review, I was unable to reach a definitive conclusion about compliance or non-compliance with the law.

Misleading statements

CSEC made clear that nothing in the stolen documents showed that Canadians’ communications were targeted, collected, or used …
Calandra is playing a word game popularized by the US officials trying to explain away the NSA‘s illegal activity. It is technically true that CSEC didn’t “target, collect, or use” Canadians’ communications. What was targeted, collected, and used was the metadata about those communications. (In other words, they didn’t actually collect what people said, they just collected the information about who they talked to, when, and for how long.)
… nor that travellers’ movements were tracked.
This is a very coy and technical semantic trick. Technically CSEC didn’t actually track peoples’ movements. They simply recorded whenever the victims happened to appear at one of their check points (i.e., wi-fi hotspots). It’s the subtle difference between having someone followed, versus having people all over the place report in whenever the victim happens to appear in their vicinity. The victim is technically not being “tracked” (directly), but the information you get about them amounts to the same thing.

Smear

Canada’s signals intelligence agency has been clear that the CBC story is incorrect, yet the CBC went ahead and published it anyway.
This statement – specifically the last clause – is designed to make the CBC‘s actions seem like irresponsible journalism. That is, of course, ridiculous. If it were the case that journalists decided not to publish something they have solid evidence for merely because someone issues a denial, what would be the point to investigative journalism at all? All “journalism” would be in such a word is simply republishing official press releases. (Granted, it’s pretty much that now, but that’s not a good thing.)
CSEC‘s activities are regularly reviewed by an independent watchdog …
I mentioned this in the outright lie section, because the CSEC Commissioner did not say all of CSEC‘s actions were legal (he explicitly said he couldn’t be sure because they were hiding things). However, it is also a misleading statement for several reasons. First of all, the “watchdog” is hardly independent. The same people who appoint those responsible for overseeing CSEC also give CSEC its directives (the Minister of Defence, and ultimately the PM). But also, it is now quite clear that CSEC‘s activities are not really reviewed. The Commissioner’s own report (quoted above) states this plainly: CSEC does not disclose all of its activities for review. They are “reviewed” only in the sense that the attempt is made, even though the conclusion is “can’t complete the review”.
… why is lining [Glenn Greenwald’s] Brazilian bank account …
This is deliberately worded to give the perception that there is something mysterious and underhanded about Greenwald’s financial dealings. The reason Greenwald has a Brazilian bank account is that he lives in Brazil.
… why is furthering porn-spy Glenn Greenwald’s agenda …
A standard Conservative tactic used to avoid answering legitimate questions is to cast aspersions either on the person asking, or on anyone else handy. Here you see Calandra implying that Greenwald has some kind of “agenda” that is served by criticizing CSEC, rather than that what is being done is merely the legitimate journalistic duty of reporting malfeasance by a government agency. (I can’t imagine what that “agenda” might be, that it calls for an American journalist living in Brazil to undermine a Canadian government agency. I’d say that if you’d like to know, you should ask Calandra, but we already know how well that will work out.) As for the “porn-spy” name-calling, the “porn” part is based on the fact that Greenwald once invested in a porn publisher. I don’t know where the “spy” part comes from, or what “porn-spy” is supposed to mean. You’d have to ask Calandra what he meant by— … oh, wait, never mind.

The Conservative government has done quite a good job of lowering parliamentary discussion to farcical levels, but Calandra surely ranks among the best of the worst. (His strongest competition may be Pierre “fuck you guys” Poilievre.) Perhaps Calandra should be less concerned about the CBC‘s journalistic integrity, and more concerned about his own parliamentary integrity.

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The Paul Calandra way of answering questions by Indi in the Wired is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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