Saturday, April 18, 2015

Defying The Conventional Wisdom

                                Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS file photo 

Justin Trudeau appears to have ruled out any coalition arrangement with the NDP. But Chantal Hebert believes that such an arrangement is still possible:

But what if, instead, the Conservatives finished only two or three seats ahead of the runner-up?
Would Canada then not be better served by a minority government whose stability was ensured by some form of formal understanding with one of its opposition rivals?

It was in similar circumstances that David Peterson’s Liberals struck an alliance with the NDP to replace the Tories in power at Queen’s Park in the mid-1980s.
If the result had not been as close — a mere four seats separated the first-place Conservatives from the Liberals on election night — chances are the Tory status quo would have prevailed.

No leader is going to talk coalition as he or she goes into an election. But, ultimately, voters will determine what arrangements will be necessary in the House of Commons:

If they were to make a move along the lines of a coalition or some looser arrangement to oust Harper they would have to cross the Rubicon at the time of the speech from the throne.

Likewise, the current speculation is almost always premised on a second-place Liberal party to the exclusion of a) the NDP keeping the lead opposition position in a minority parliament and b) the Conservatives falling to third place.

Conventional wisdom currently has it that the odds for such outcomes range from improbable to unthinkable.

 Voters have been known to defy the conventional wisdom.

A quick note: We'll be in Montreal for the next couple of days. Enjoy Spring. It's finally here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Posing As A World Leader


Ostensibly, Indian Prime Minister Modi is in Canada to sign a uranium deal and ease visa restrictions between the two countries. Don't believe it. Tim Harper writes:

Take a look at the receiving line at the airport in Toronto and Vancouver for Modi.
There you will find Conservative MPs with some of the largest Indo-Canadian populations shaking hands as the cameras whirred.

There was Brad Butt of Mississauga—Streetsville, where 19 per cent of the population is of South Asian heritage, and there was Bob Dechert of Mississauga—Erindale, where the South Asian population stands at 15 per cent.
Kyle Seeback of Brampton West, where 27,000 residents claim South Asian heritage, was there. In Vancouver, there was Nina Grewal of Fleetwood—Port Kells, where 22,000 residents list their country of birth as India, and Wai Young of Vancouver South, where up to 15 per cent of the population is from India.

And, Harper continues, it was no accident that the last leader to address Parliament was President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine:

who publicly thanked Harper for his support in his address last September.

The Ukrainian diaspora in this country is roughly equivalent to the Indian diaspora — about 1.2 million — and it can swing at least 10 Canadian ridings.

We are told Harper’s Israeli support is a question of morality, his Ukrainian support is aided by a longtime suspicion of Vladimir Putin, and his embrace of Modi rooted in years when the Indian leader was shunned by many in the international community

The Conservatives swept Brampton ridings in 2011 and having incumbents smiling in photos with Modi will not hurt their re-election chances. 

The "economist" whose economy has tanked is now posing as a "world leader."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Insane And Stupid


The Harper government's tough on crime agenda suffered yet another defeat this week. Expect to hear more heated rhetoric about Canada's biased judicial system from Mr. Harper. But, Michael Spratt writes, judicial activism isn't killing the government's crime legislation. Stephen Harper is:

The federal Conservatives have reduced criminal justice policy to a simple flow chart. Step one: Promise ‘tough on crime’ legislation that’s easy to sell to the Conservative base. Step two: Table the bill while ignoring the advice of experts (both inside and outside the Justice department) arguing the new law would be both ineffectual and unconstitutional. Step three: Cling like grim death to the talking points, at least until step four — when the Supreme Court strikes the law down. Step five: Cry ‘judicial activism’, then refer to step one.

The pattern is always the same; only the bills change. The results speak for themselves — for the Harper government, one defeat after another in the nation’s highest court. They’ve been in power since 2006. They really should be getting better at this by now.

But they aren't -- even if their own lawyers tell them their legislation won't pass constitutional muster:

Had they been listening, they would have gotten an early indication that the legislation was unconstitutional from their own Parliamentary Information and Research Service department, which warned that “mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment are generally inconsistent with the fundamental principle that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender” — and minimum sentences “may constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.

They didn't like that message, however, so they simply ignored it. And, quite predictably, the Supreme Court told them they got it wrong:

The court did not simply hold that the minimum sentences are a poor policy choice. It found that these minimum sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment — that the legislation offends standards of decency by imposing sentencing as a “blunt instrument that may deprive courts of the ability to tailor proportionate sentences at the lower end of a sentencing range”.

The court also found that, under the 2008 law, an otherwise law-abiding person storing an unloaded, restricted firearm at his or her home would be treated as a hardened criminal and hit with a minimum prison sentence for a minor licensing infraction.

Some would call the Harperian approach to criminal justice insane. Others would call it stupid. It's both.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Living In An Alternate Universe


Yesterday, the provincial premiers met in Quebec City to map out a strategy to combat climate change. The federal government was invited to the conference but declined the invitation:

Tuesday's meeting ended with renewed calls for the federal government to show greater initiative in addressing the issue.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said the time for action is now, especially with an upcoming get-together of environment ministers leading up to an international conference on climate change in Paris in December.

"It has to be prepared, so we call upon the federal government right now to start working with us, first technically, then with the ministers, in order to work together in establishing our targets for Paris and the way we're going to present our situation, our plans in the future," Couillard told a closing news conference.
"There's no way it can be done in isolation. One order of government cannot ask the other to do the job. It has to be done together."

Yet, on that very same day, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford claimed that his government had an "already exemplary record on environmental performance."

Tuesday was also the day that the Supreme Court found that Harperian legislation to impose mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes contravened the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Harperites continue to act as if the Charter didn't exist. In their anti terrorism legislation -- Bill  C-51 -- they specifically mandate courts to ignore the Charter. And, in another court, Senator Mike Duffy stands accused of 31 offences which the Harperites claim have no connection to them.

These folks live in an alternate universe. Asylums are full of such people. But, in Canada, we've given them to keys to the kingdom.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another Ben Stein?


Joe Oliver's proposed balanced budget legislation is so inane it's hilarious. Like most Harperian legislation, the proposed bill leaves lots of unanswered questions. Scott Clark and Peter DeVries write:

In his speech, Mr. Oliver stated that the only deficit his balanced-budget law would consider acceptable would be one that results from a recession, or an extraordinary circumstance (like a war or natural disaster) with a cost exceeding $3 billion in a year. Within 30 days of a published deficit, the Finance minister would be required by law to testify before the Commons Finance committee and present a plan to return to balance. That plan would include an automatic freeze on operating spending and a five per cent cut in the salaries of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers until the budget is balanced again. Departments that helped create the deficit would see their budgets cut.

But recessions never end quite on schedule. The Harper government has posted deficits in every year since 2008-09. The deficits in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 were definitely due to the recession and the stimulus measures implemented. But what about the deficits recorded in the following years — when the economy was technically out of deficit but still too sickly to provide the kind of revenue growth that would have lifted Ottawa into the black?

Would those late-game deficits have to be offset by spending reductions under Mr. Oliver’s rule, despite the economy’s fragility? Would there be an automatic freeze on departmental operating budgets and salary reductions for ministers and their deputies? Who decides when a recession ends? Should only structural deficits be outlawed? If so, who decides if a deficit is caused by structural factors and by how much?

And what qualifies a circumstance as ‘extraordinary’? Wars, floods, tornadoes — those seem obvious enough. But what about another threat to central Canada’s automative sector? Would another $14 billion bailout qualify as a legitimate government response to an ‘extraordinary’ event?

Harperian policy has never been rooted in wisdom. It's always been about buying votes. And this legislation is aimed at Harper's base -- which is upset at a government that has never balanced the books.

Oliver presents his proposal with a straight face. And his deadpan delivery suggests that he has a future as a stand up comic. Perhaps he'll become another Ben Stein -- an economist who became famous for his flat, nasal droning in movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off,  and Dave and in television shows like The Wonder Years.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Incompetence Writ Large


There was an oil spill in English Bay last week. And we finally got a chance to see what Harperian austerity has accomplished. Michael Harris writes:

It should be noted that the oil spill, from a brand new ship on its maiden voyage, happened in calm waters. If Mother Nature had been having a bad hair day, things would have been much worse — two tonnes of toxic sludge sloshing hither and yon looking for ducks to coat and gills to clog.

Had it been bitumen, which sinks, as compared to bunker fuel that floats; had it been oozing from a ruptured tanker instead of a leaking grain ship; had it been the Burrard Inlet instead of English Bay, well, let’s just put it this way: it would have been way worse than Sharknado 3.

Six hours went by before skimming operations began. Nine more passed before encircling the leaking vessel with a boom. And while workers from other first responders showed up, Transport Canada and Environment Canada were apparently still looking for their gumboots ashore. As it was, it took 13 hours before local residents and municipal governments were even informed of the toxic spill. Thirty six hours later, it was all taken care of — except for 20 per cent of the oil that ‘must have evaporated.’

Nonetheless, Harper's acolytes took a bow:

Industry Minister James Moore thought the response was “very impressive.” More than that, fear-mongering about the event was misplaced.

“I think it’s irresponsible for people to dial up fear and anxiety,” said Moore. This from the government that made fear mongering a tactic in Canadian politics!

Moore was not the only Conservative cabinet minister who thought the feds deserved a gold star on their homework. Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford bloviated about Canada’s “world-class” safety system.

They didn't mention, of course, that:

Since 2011, when Harper received his majority and no one could stop him anymore, he cut 10 Coast Guard stations. In places like Kitsilano, Comox, and Tofino, federal cutbacks weakened the ability of the Coast Guard to monitor and manage pollution offences. As former Canadian Coast Guard Captain Tony Toxopeus told CBC, the Kitsilano station could have been on the scene of the spill with a dedicated oil pollution response vessel and 300 metres of boom “within 15 minutes.”

What has Harper accomplished? He has destroyed a world class safety system. He is, Harris writes, simply incompetent.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Contempt - Always And Everywhere


Evidence emerged last week that, when concerns were expressed about Mike Duffy being appointed to the Senate from P.E.I., Stephen Harper brushed them aside as irrelevant. The evidence should remind us that Harper's default position -- on everything -- is contempt. Frances Russell writes:

As Parliament  and Canadians ready themselves for the unrolling of one of the juiciest Conservative scandals in Canada’s colourful history – the Mike Duffy, Pamela Walin, Patrick Brazeau Senate Expenses Affair – one of the country’s leading political scientists says the sitting prime minister is going out of his way to show his contempt of parliament.

“He’s very smart, he’s very shrewd,” University of Toronto professor of government Nelson Wiseman says.

“I believe accurately that most Canadians do not understand how parliament works, don’t understand parliamentary traditions and they don’t much care,” he continued in an interview. “And he (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) was vindicated in that view in the last election when he was promoted from being a minority prime minister to being a majority prime minister.”

Canadian parliamentary democracy has evolved differently from British parliamentary democracy:

In December, 2008, Canadians got to see our governmental shortcomings up close. The newly-elected  prime minister (Harper) had lost the confidence of parliament but was able to wheedle an inexperienced governor general into doing his bidding and handing the government to him and his party during a climactic – and fated – meeting in Rideau Hall.

By contrast, Wiseman continues, “in Britain when they have an election, the prime minister who has just been defeated vacates 10 Downing Street that same day.”

Canada, he suggests, has “gone off the rails” thanks to our proximity to the U.S. and its starkly different separation of powers governance.

“The authoritarianism is completely unsettling,” Wiseman continues. “Parliament is withering away. The government has been replaced by the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) and it’s just a referendum on the prime minister when you have an election.”

The next election will be about very big issues. Mr. Harper will try to convince us that it's all about balancing the budget. But it's worth remembering what Peter Russell -- professor emeritus of political science also at the University of Toronto -- said before the last election:

“Because I really fear…this may sound extreme…that if the Harper Conservatives were to win a majority in the House of Commons, it would be an indication that parliamentary crime pays…

“We’re the fourth oldest democracy in the world. I treasure it…[don’t put it] in the hands or people who don’t treasure it or respect it…[and] try to prevent a majority from killing it…

“I’ve never been more worried in my entire lifetime of democratic citizenship in Canada about the possible outcome of an election.”

If Stephen Harper wins the next election, Canadians will know contempt -- always and everywhere.