Monday, May 30, 2016

The Party Of The Young

Tim Harper wrote his last column yesterday. In it, he reviewed the state of Canada's three major parties -- which have all held conventions in the last four months:

The three gatherings have provided a real-time barometer on the state of politics in this country.

 New Democrats chose a coup and chaos by deposing leader Tom Mulcair last month and their short-term prospects look grim.

Conservatives this weekend were waiting to see whether their so-called A-listers will actually run for their leadership or whether a perceived prospect of another seven years in opposition will give some pause.

What most distinguished the Liberal convention was its youthful energy:

The youth gave the gathering energy even if there was precious little to get excited about. Party greybeards were in the minority.

No one is making 2019 predictions this early in the Liberal term, but there can be no question the party feels good about its future.

 Harper warned all that could change:

It was a great weekend to be a Liberal in Winnipeg.

It may never get any better, but it cannot last.

It never does.

You don’t have to trust me on that one. As Trudeau repeatedly pointed out, it was five years ago this month that this party had been all but left for dead.

For the moment, the Liberals are the Party of the Young.

Image: John Woods Canadian Press

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pretty Thin, But . . .

As prime minister, Stephen Harper didn't accomplish much. Andrew Coyne writes that Mr. Harper's legacy is pretty thin:

Any honest examination of Harper’s nine-odd years in office would find a government that wandered all over the intellectual map, boasting of its commitment to balanced budgets while adding $150 billion to the national debt, talking of its respect for free markets while launching 1970s-style industrial-subsidy programs, praising the military while denying it adequate equipment, and so on. 

Its defenders point to all the things other governments might have done — a national daycare program, say — that Harper’s didn’t. But we could as well list all of the conservative policies it failed to enact, from privatization to deregulation to reform of social programs. We might talk of how the party’s social conservatives were gagged, or how the party of democratic conservatism became the party of one-man rule.

There was much that it did that it shouldn’t have — a long list that would include abusing the prerogatives of Parliament, packing the Senate with spendthrifts and cronies, and attempting to skew elections via the Fair Elections Act — and much else that it tried to do but failed, from reforming the Senate to building pipelines.

And, Coyne admits, the Liberals are rapidly undoing what Harper left on the books. However, he gives Harper credit for uniting a party which tends to self destruct:

The Diefenbaker sweep in 1958 was reduced to a minority in just four years. The Mulroney sweep in 1984, likewise, carried within it the seeds of its later demise. Both were too sudden to last.

Time will tell whether the Harper Party survives this weekend's convention and beyond.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Will The Conservatives Move Left?

Not very likely, says David Orchard, who was betrayed by Peter Mackay, when Orchard threw his support behind Mackay's bid for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party. Mackay threw in his lot with Stephen Harper. And Progressive Conservatism went out the window:

The party's leadership will likely continue to hew hard right, says a prominent member of the former Progressive Conservatives, David Orchard.

Orchard was famously misled by Peter MacKay in 2003 when the Canadian Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservatives to created the modern Conservative Party.

Orchard was running for the party leadership and dropped out to throw his support behind MacKay on the condition MacKay would not allow the merger of the two parties. Later that year MacKay sealed the deal with Stephen Harper's party.

Those who helped MacKay twist the knife still hold most of the power in the Conservative Party, Orchard told the Tyee, and that will prevent the party from shifting towards the centre.

As Harper existed stage right on Thursday night, there was no sign that the party would reject what he stood for. And that's a big problem:

Studies show younger voters in Canada, and in much of the western world, lean more to the left than in previous decades and tend to be more populist.

Meanwhile, Conservatives are trying to rebuild their popularity after Stephen Harper's long, hard shift of the movement rightwards.

Harper prioritized the oil industry, passed the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, refused to fund abortions in developing countries and proposed a telephone line for Canadians to snitch on each other if they saw a suspected a barbaric cultural practice was committed.

"The past is no place to linger," Harper told his audience on Thursday night. But that is where the Conservatives plan to plant their flag.


Friday, May 27, 2016

The End Of Globalization?

This year's American presidential campaign has given citizens around the world much to trouble their dreams. But, Murray Dobbins writes, behind the ugliness something good may be emerging -- the end of corporate globalization:

Increasingly grim inequality has revealed the broken promise and American workers are pissed. That is in large part what drives the mind-boggling Trump phenomenon in the U.S.: it's not exactly class warfare but Trump supporters sense the system as a whole -- political and economic -- is truly broken. And the support for Bernie Sanders is as close to class conflict as the U.S. ever gets. For the first time in over 30 years, these corporate rights deals are a hot U.S. election issue, with all three remaining candidates opposing the TPP.

But perhaps equally important, the state apparatus itself is showing cracks in its own consensus. This has taken the form of leaks from within the U.S. government about the TTIP and a government study of the benefits of the TPP to the U.S. Both present genuine threats to the future of these agreements in the U.S. And defeats in the U.S. could be the death knell for these deals everywhere.

And the government Cone of Silence which has been erected to protect the corporate juggernaut is starting to crack:

The leak regarding the TTIP came right on the heels of the typical reassuring noises from the Obama administration regarding protection for labour and environment standards in the TTIP. According to the New Republic article, "The Free-Trade Consensus Is Dead": "[d]ocuments leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands revealed that U.S. negotiators working on a trade deal with the European Union have actually been pressuring their trading partners to lower those same standards." The leak was a revelation to the French trade minister who declared that the talks were "likely to stop altogether" as a result. (In 1998 France killed the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the largest deal ever conceived.)

The second nail in the coffin of free trade consensus in the U.S. came from a U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) analysis of the benefits the U.S. could expect from the even larger deal, the TPP. The report, released this past week, will be difficult for promoters to explain away:
"[T]he ITC estimates a worsening balance of trade for 16 out of 25 U.S. agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors... Indeed, output in the manufacturing sector would be $11.2 billion lower with TPP than without it in 2032... the proposed 12-nation trade deal will increase the U.S. global trade deficit by $21.7 billion by 2032."
It's worth remembering that, when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, everything in the United States changed. Hell hath no fury like a nation that's been lied to. Dobbin knows how things work:

 Once members of the political elite begin to question the high priests of free trade, the spell is broken, and all sorts of alternative political narratives present themselves. It takes an accumulation of unlikely suspects breaking with the consensus before that happens and we have already seen some high-profile defectors from the TPP -- including Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, economist Jeffrey Sachs and in Canada RIM co-founder Jim Balsillie. At first the Teflon seemed to hold, but there is always a time lag when it comes to cultural change and their interventions are still playing out.

In Canada, we haven't reached that point. In fact, the Liberals are making noises about bowing to the corporate sacred cow.  They would be wise to watch what is unfolding south of the border.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Climate Change Did Harper In

If there was one policy which doomed the Harperites in the last election, it was their steadfast refusal to do anything about climate change. Chantal Hebert writes:

Last October, a mismanaged election campaign only compounded the decade-long mismanagement of some core policies. Few of those are more closely identified with Harper’s leadership than the party’s dismissive approach to climate change. On his watch, it became part of the Conservative brand and an albatross around the party’s neck.

At both ends of the nation, Harper's refusal to tackle the problem led to his defeat:

Last October, Harper’s approach paid few dividends in the parts of Atlantic Canada where projects such as TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline otherwise enjoy widespread support. His candidates were beaten across the region.

It failed even more spectacularly in British Columbia. Going into the last campaign, B.C. was a long-standing pillar of Conservative support. On the scale of the party’s past presence in the province, Canada’s Conservatives are paying a visit to a field of ruins this weekend. Here are some numbers:

In British Columbia -- which had adopted a carbon tax -- the numbers tell the story:

  • The Conservatives came out of the last election holding only 10 of 42 B.C. seats — seven fewer than the Liberals and four fewer than the NDP. It was the worst Conservative showing in at least three decades.
  • The year Stockwell Day lost to Jean Chr├ętien and the last time a divided conservative movement took on the Liberals in 2000, the Canadian Alliance won a majority of B.C. seats (27) and almost 50 per cent of the province’s popular vote.
  • Between 2011 and 2015, the Conservative share of the vote went from 45 per cent to 30 per cent. Over Harper’s majority mandate, the party lost almost 150,000 B.C. supporters.

The Conservatives will be saying goodbye to Harper this weekend. As he heads for the exit, they would be well advised to pay attention to his blind spots.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Just What The World Needs

Bob Fife reports, in the Globe and Mail, that Stephen Harper will resign his seat before Parliament resumes in September:

“He is not going to be there when the House returns in September,” one close associate said. “He has had some good conversations about what is next for him. … He has some board discussions happening and he’s looking at some options about setting up his own institute.”

Apparently, the institute will focus on foreign policy:

The institute is in its early stages of discussion, but friends say it won’t be academic or domestic-policy focused, such as the conservative think tank founded by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning. Mr. Harper’s interests will be directed largely at global “big picture” issues that he has espoused over the years.

His former policy director, Rachel Curran, said once Mr. Harper leaves politics, he will want to champion global free trade, building on his success in negotiating deals with South Korea and the European Union, as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“He spent tremendous time and energy really concluding these trade agreements and opening up trade corridors,” Ms. Curran said. “He has got a really recognized expertise and a lot of respect internationally in terms of his kind of knowledge.”

She said Mr. Harper will also want to promote his geopolitical thinking – whether it’s on human rights, the promotion of democracy or standing up to authoritarian regimes.

Mr. Harper knows something about authoritarian regimes. He'll need money to fund the institute. Word has it that he has been spending time lately with Las Vegas casino magnet Sheldon Adelson. His base might be a little concerned about where the money comes from. But one suspects the base is not on Harper's mind these days.

No, he's thinking about the world. And that's just what the world needs -- more Stephen Harper.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Is The TPP Dead?

Michael Geist thinks it might be. He writes:

First, the TPP may not have sufficient support to take effect, since under the terms of agreement both Japan and the United States must be among the ratifying countries. Implementation has been delayed in Japan where politicians fear a political backlash and seems increasingly unlikely in the U.S., where the remaining presidential candidates have tried to outdo one another in their opposition to the deal.

Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been outspoken critics of the TPP from start of their campaigns. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has shifted her position from supporter to critic, recently unequivocally stating that “I oppose the TPP agreement and that means before and after the election.” 

If the deal goes down, that's good news -- because new models are emerging for international trade agreements:

Canada already has an alternate blueprint for a trade strategy to open up key markets throughout Asia. By the government’s own admission, the Canada-EU Trade Agreement offers a better investor-state dispute settlement system than the TPP, while the Canada-South Korea free trade agreement, which was concluded in 2014, eliminates tariffs without requiring an overhaul of Canadian or South Korean laws.

There are criticisms of both of those deals, but they offer better models than the TPP.

And a recent analysis by the C.D. Howe Institute claims that the proposed agreement offers Canada  few incentives:

For example, a recent C.D. Howe study found that the Canadian gains may be very modest, with some gains offset by losses on issues such as copyright and an outflow of royalties. Given the limited effect of staying out (the study describes the initial impact as “negligible”), some have suggested that killing the agreement might be a good thing for the country.

The C.D. Howe study, which is consistent with several other reports that found that TPP benefits to Canada are among the lowest of the 12 countries, should not come as a surprise. Canada already has free trade deals with several key agreement partners, including the U.S., Mexico, Chile and Peru. Moreover, some Canadian business sectors have told the government they would be better off removing inter-provincial trade barriers before working to open markets like Vietnam and Malaysia.

The government is currently holding cross-country hearings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It will be interesting -- and critical -- to see what Chrystia Freeland and Justin Trudeau decide to do with another piece of Stephen Harper's legacy.