Monday, August 31, 2015

Singing From The Same Songbook

Last week, Tony Turner -- who wrote the protest song Harperman -- was suspended from his job. Turner is a federalist scientist, whose job is to track migratory bird species. He knows what's been happening at Environment Canada. Michael Harris writes:

I have it on good authority that Turner, an expert in the highly controversial field of bird migrations, was also recently caught smiling at his desk. There are even nasty rumours circulating that he laughed at the Great Navigator during a clandestine lunch with other seditious critics of the government.

And they call this a breach of the code of values and ethics for a civil servant. Say what? How about Harper’s inner circle and members of his PMO senior staff? In Harperland, criticism set to music is worse than lying, cheating, bribery, breach of trust and peaking into other people’s forensic briefs?

Never mind that the Supreme Court has found that civil servants are within their rights to express opinions during an election campaign. Mr. Harper has no use for a court which consistently finds his legislation unconstitutional.

But perhaps it goes deeper than that. Mr. Harper is known for attempting reedy-voiced covers of old Beatles tunes. Turner is obviously a better musician -- and, I daresay, scientist -- than Mr. Harper. Perhaps it's a case of professional envy. And Mr. Turner writes his own material.

As the Duffy trial has made clear, everybody in the Harper government has to read the lines the PMO has written for them. Everybody sings from the same songbook -- except Mr. Turner.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Are 30% Of Us Fools?


Jeffrey Simpson writes that Stephen Harper's core of support is six percent:

After all, Conservative bedrock support is reckoned to be about 30 per cent, or maybe a trifle higher. So if only 6 per cent of respondents said the trial improved their opinion of the government, we’re talking about only a fifth of the core. Yikes.

Consider the picture of this government which has emerged in the wake of the evidence:

The Duffy trial turned reality on its head. The trial was supposed to be about him and his behaviour, and from the point of view of justice it so remains. But the media focus was on the Prime Minister’s Office, whose staffers were cross-examined. What that focus revealed was profoundly disquieting and completely unflattering. No wonder by an almost 9-1 margin their evidence at the trial left negative rather than positive impressions of the government.

Let’s remember that Mr. Duffy was placed in the Senate by the Conservatives because he would help them raise money and good cheer. Period. He would do their political bidding, happily and helpfully. He would shill. He was not there for policy expertise or sober second thought. He was like many senators: appointed to render faithful service to the party that made him a senator.

You would think that the trial would do Harper in:

The majority of Canadians do not find credible the testimony that the Prime Minister remained completely ignorant of what has happening, when everyone around him knew. His chief of staff, his deputy chief of staff, his issues-management guy were all either involved in the scheme or knew about it.

According to sworn testimony, his current chief of staff, Ray Novak, did know about payments to Mr. Duffy, despite various assertions of his ignorance. Indeed, so many contradictions emerged from the evidence that it became almost impossible to know who was telling the truth.

But, if the polls are correct, there are a lot more than 6% of the population that will vote for Mr. Harper. You have to wonder. Are at least 30% of us fools? 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Fundamental Realignment


Justin Trudeau, Tom Walkom writes, has done the country a favour. For the last two decades, the word "deficit" has been synonymous with "doom." But the two words are not synonyms. And now is the time to run a deficit:

But economists of all political stripes agree that if government is ever going to spend money on things like bridges and sewers, now is the time to do it.
First the spending is needed. Torontonians found that out last winter when the bitter cold caused ancient water pipes around the city to fracture.

Second, interest rates are at rock-bottom lows. As the U.S. economist Paul Krugman notes in his New York Times column, the world is awash in capital. Investing in public works is a much better use for this capital than, say, stock market speculation.
Third, the Canadian economy is stagnant. It may or may not be in recession (my guess is that we did suffer a recession in the first six months of the year but are now out of it).

Neo-liberals have convinced voters that governments are like households. Households have to balance budgets. But, in hard economic times, government debt can stimulate an economy and help households  balance their books.

Prime Minister Harper was absolutely gleeful when Trudeau  said he was willing to run a deficit -- something Harper has done, better than any prime minister in Canadian history. But that deficit was caused as much by tax cuts as it was by the global recession.

He won't tell you that, of course. Honesty is not his strong suite. The Duffy Trial has underscored that point. And the NDP has bought into the neo-liberal characterization of deficits. Now the Liberals are to the left of the NDP. 

Our politics is undergoing a fundamental realignment.

Friday, August 28, 2015

They've Read Leo Strauss


Stephen Harper has become a law unto himself. The evidence, Michael Harris writes, is incontrovertible:

The evidence from the near past is damning enough: Found in contempt of Parliament; breaking his own elections law; sending unconstitutional legislation to the Supreme Court; passing retroactive laws to make the illegal legal; publicly attacking the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; forcing out Canada’s Nuclear Safety Commissioner for following the statute governing her agency; dumping the Parliamentary Budget Officer for correcting the government’s false program costings; usurping some of the constitutional functions of the Governor-General; and passing legislation to punish political enemies such as unions and environmentalists.

But on the day that Chris Woodcock testified, Harper's disregard for the rules was on full display:

Only a leader with a sense of narcissistic exceptionalism could send a senior PMO staffer (and now campaign worker), to engage in a conversation with a sworn witness during a recess at a criminal trial. After all, Harper and his own office are smack in the middle of this evidentiary mud bath. What’s next, a visit to the judge’s chambers?

No appearance of witness tampering here. It's not a problem for a man and an office which lacks a conscience. Consider Woodcock's performance on the stand:

Woodcock inadvertently gave Canadians an insight into the blank-screen amorality at the heart of Harper’s political operation. He admitted to being ethically uncomfortable about “locking in” the Deloitte audit as part of the plan to contain the Duffy expense scandal. But when Bayne asked him if he’d said anything about those ethical misgivings, he replied no. Why would he?

Woodcock said he didn’t have the slightest problem with crafting those political lies known in Harperland as “communications lines” to make it appear that Duffy was repaying the money. This is a say-anything-do-anything crowd. Don’t forget, Nigel Wright himself divided lies into good and bad “misrepresentations”.

To them, there are clearly important and unimportant deceptions. How are Canadians to trust people like that?

Some lies are perfectly acceptable. Obviously, they've read Leo Strauss and taken his advice. And that's why they have to be turfed.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why Would Any . . .?


In his latest column, Tim Harper recounts his frustrated and frustrating attempts to talk to Conservative candidates across the country:

I never met Mike Little, the Conservative candidate in the key riding of Burnaby North-Seymour. I met every other candidate but Little had personal considerations so he couldn’t meet me. His campaign ignored my entreaties anyway until I was about to leave Vancouver, when I got a noncommittal statement on an environmental issue.

In Edmonton-Mill Woods, the campaign of Tim Uppal told me the minister of state for multiculturalism couldn’t meet me because he was too busy meeting voters. That wouldn’t be so odd, except I had first requested time with him dating back to June, before the election was even called.

After I called candidate Naval Bajaj on his cellphone, he agreed readily to an interview, but when I arrived at the strip mall that housed his campaign office a week later, it had been mysteriously cancelled. Like Uppal, a campaign aide told me he was too busy meeting voters. So, I offered to come back later that evening. Meeting voters, I was told. The next day? Meeting voters. The next evening? Meeting voters. 

Other journalists have had the same response to their requests for interviews:

Globe and Mail writer-at-large John Ibbitson reported on the weekend that he could not get an interview with the Conservative candidate in Mississauga Centre, and Glen McGregor of the Ottawa Citizen was told by the office of Don Valley North Conservative candidate Joe Daniel that he would not be doing any interviews until after the election.

If there is one thing the Duffy trial has made clear, its that Harper candidates are kept on a short leash. And if -- like Mike Duffy, Brent Rathgeber or Bill Casey -- they break ranks, the PMO will spare no effort to destroy them.

Which leaves one to ask two questions: Why would any semi-intelligent person want to be a Conservative candidate? And why would any semi-intelligent person vote for a Conservative candidate?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

No Ordinary Election


This is no ordinary election. Ralph Surette has been around quite awhile and he's seen a lot of governments. And, he writes, the Harper government is no ordinary government because of

its bewitching power, now installed in the Canadian psyche, capable of leaving even the opposition parties afraid of its power over public opinion, and functioning beyond the grasp of the mass media that have, to date, been incapable of telling the real story about Harper. For those who go on, sometimes in awed tones, about how Harper has "changed Canada," this is mainly how he's changed it -- by snuffing open debate. 

Mr. Harper's propaganda machine is "a thing of manipulative genius:"

It functions over the heads of both the opposition and the media, which have failed to bring him to book on the big issues and have, to date, served his purposes -- especially the big TV networks -- despite the snarling of the Tory base about the "liberal media."

Harper's right-wing radicalism -- especially the rich store of extreme statements from when he was head of the right-wing National Citizens' Coalition -- gets a pass. Another instance of this emerged recently in the dispute with Ontario, in which Harper refuses to dovetail the Canada Pension Plan with Ontario's proposed plan. It turns out that Harper once declared both the CPP and Old Age Security to be "tax grabs" that should be done away with.

That machine is now firmly ensconced in Ottawa. The only way to get rid of it and the rot that has infected Ottawa -- rot which has been publicly on display at the Duffy trial -- is to thoroughly fumigate the place:

What's needed is not just the defeat of a government, but a cleansing of the broader scourge of a corrosive ideology.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Not A Smart Man


We learned last week that the Prime Minister ignored the advice of his in-house lawyer. Alan Freeman writes:

When Perrin was asked by Harper’s then-chief of staff Nigel Wright to look into the whole issue of residency requirements for senators — just as the Mike Duffy expense scandal was catching fire in early 2013 — he soon found himself blindsided by the PMO’s other constitutional expert … Harper himself.

Perrin tried to object to his boss’s wobbly legal theory, but his carefully considered arguments soon ended up where all advice goes when it counters Harper’s will: the shredder. In the Harper PMO, the prime minister’s version of reality is the only one that matters. “The office obviously acts of the direction of the prime minister so his written word stands,” Perrin testified. End of discussion. Perrin was soon back at UBC.

Really smart leaders surround themselves with smart people who help them make decisions. But not Mr. Harper:

What’s truly remarkable about Stephen Harper’s one-man rule of Canada is that he really does seem to believe he is the ultimate autodidact — a master of all aspects of government policy, no matter how complex or obscure. He has experts on staff but, you see, he doesn’t really need them. And he can dispense with their advice when it becomes inconvenient.

But while Harper can claim some knowledge of economics by virtue of his master’s degree, since when is he an expert on constitutional law? Or climate science? Or statistics? Has he been going to night school without anyone noticing? Again and again, we’ve seen Harper personally determine government policy on his own, largely ignoring the views of experts — and certainly passing over any mumbled objections from his petrified cabinet ministers and shell-shocked caucus members.

The man who stubbornly refuses to take the advice of smart people -- people who know about things he knows nothing about -- is not a smart man.