Monday, September 22, 2014

Anxiety Breeds Passivity



Over the weekend, Conservative senators announced that they will re-introduce a bill which previously sparked rebellion in the Red Chamber. The bill would force unions to publicly disclose their spending. It's all part of a movement which began forty years ago. Murray Dobbins writes:

In those pre-corporate globalization days, it was conventional political and social wisdom that the economy served the nation, and by inference, the community and families. The Bank of Canada's dual mandates -- unemployment and inflation -- were still competing but full employment was one of the few shared policy objectives of all three federal parties. It wasn't until the early '80s that inflation took a serious bite out of the accumulated wealth of the West's economic elite. That changed everything and "inflation fighting" became the obsession of the West's central banks.

But more than that it also became the weapon of choice of free-marketeers like former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin who with the co-operation of the Bank of Canada used extreme inflation targets (and subsequent high interest rates) to actually suppress economic growth and deliberately create high levels of unemployment. Few people recall that under Martin's ideological war on inflation throughout most of the 1990s, unemployment hovered around 9 per cent -- higher than it is now.
Martin's war on inflation was actually a war on labour, justified by the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and subsequently, North American Free Trade Agreement. It was all about global competitiveness and that meant driving down the cost and power of labour. Enforced high unemployment was perhaps the most powerful weapon, but dramatic cuts to Employment Insurance eligibility and the elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) were effective as well. The CAP transferred money to the provinces and was targeted specifically at establishing a minimum national standard for welfare. With its cancellation and replacement with a lump sum (for health, education and welfare), the provinces radically reduced social assistance rates and shifted money into the politically popular items like medicare.

And the War on Labour continues to this day. It has reached the point now where the Harper government puts an end to strikes before they begin, based on the bogus argument that the economy is too fragile to permit labour disruptions.

The strategy is to keep workers anxious and living pay cheque to pay cheque:

Over the past few years, a stream of reports have revealed just what that sacrifice has entailed. It has even fostered the use of a new term to describe modern working life: precarity. The numbers are scary. The Canadian Payroll Association's annual poll revealed recently that 51 per cent of Canadian employees would be in real financial trouble if their paycheque were delayed by a week. A week. A quarter of those surveyed said they couldn't pull together even $2,000 to deal with an emergency. Almost half said they were spending all their income -- or more -- on basic family needs. The savings rate is now below 4 per cent -- it was 15 per cent in the 1980s. Personal debt is at record levels, some 160 per cent of annual income and no wonder: the real income gain of the average employee between 1980 and 2005 was a measly $52 -- two dollars a year. The only thing keeping many families afloat is rising house prices. But 17 per cent of mortgage holders will be under water if rates rise just 1.5 per cent.

Keep workers anxious and you keep them passive. And, if the population is passive, you can get away with anything.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wearing It Proudly


                                                 http://www.macleans.ca/

This week Stephen Harper heads to the United Nations, an organization which he has consistently snubbed. The goal is to present himself as a world statesman -- not to the UN, but to the folks back home.

The problem, however, is what the problem always is for Harper. He's never willing to put his money where his mouth is. In fact, his singular talent lies in taking money away, even as her praises his own achievements.

If you really want some insight into Harper's expertise in international affairs, Carol Goar suggested last week, look at the number of Canadian international organizations he has shut down by simply cutting off their funding:

Last week, the North-South Institute, one of the country’s oldest foreign policy think-tanks folded. Its board of directors thanked the founders, donors and staff members for their contribution to 38 years of non-partisan research to strengthen Canada’s role in to the world. Then they quietly turned out the lights.

The year before that Rights and Democracy died. It was an arm’s-length federal agency set up by former prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1988 to encourage democracy and monitor human rights around the world.

In 2010, the government cut off funding to Match International, an organization that supported women’s rights in the developing world. With a blitz of fundraising and partners in 71 countries, it survived.
Canadian Council on International Co-operation (CCIC), a coalition of 100 foreign aid groups striving to end global poverty, did not fare as well. When its grant was slashed, it had to lay off most of its staff. The organization still exists, but it has lost its voice.
Ottawa also defunded a couple of church-based development groups — Kairos, which represents 11 denominations, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace— but their members kept them afloat.

It's been clear for some time now that -- not withstanding his claims to the contrary -- Stephen Harper is no economic genius. And, when it comes to foreign affairs, Harper is an innocent abroad. The UN knows that. Still, Harper wears his ignorance proudly.


 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Better Off?

                                                            http://yrfn.ca/

The latest Conservative campaign ad proclaims that we are all "better off under Harper." But the latest EKOS poll suggests that Canadians don't feel that way at all. Rather, they believe we have entered what Frank Graves calls the "Age of Stagnation:"

So in a very real sense, progress — the promise of a better life, security and the comforts of middle class membership — has stopped. Moreover, the evidence is that the momentum of this new world of “progress lost” is in the wrong direction. The trajectories all point downward. Their gloomy outlook on the present fades to black when citizens ponder the future; only around ten per cent of us believe the next generation will experience the progress achieved by the previous generations.

The number of people defining themselves as middle class has fallen precipitously in both Canada and the United States. Here at home, the portion of the population which has fallen behind their parents’ incomes at the same period in life rises from 15 per cent to 34 per cent to 44 per cent as we move from seniors to boomers to Generation X. The long fall of the middle class is already happening; around 20 per cent have dropped out of self-defined middle class status altogether.

Lots of pundits haven't cottoned on yet:

The New York Times even says Canada’s middle class is the richest in the world (not true, but compared to what Frank Bruni calls ‘America the Shrunken’, we’re around par). The right wing commentariat gleefully seizes upon half-facts and shaky research to suggest that (a) this is a non-issue that only worries liberal policy wonks, and (b) things are going swimmingly well and anyone who says otherwise is prone to panic.

So Harper has right wing opinion makers on his side. Perhaps that's why he confidently suggests he is leading Canadians into a brighter future:

But to the public at large, this isn’t really up for debate. Canada’s ‘world-leading’ middle class is convinced it is falling behind. The public overwhelming rejects the notion that this is a crisis manufactured by the liberal intellectual elite. Furthermore, 73 per cent of Canadians reject the notion that income inequality is not an important issue. Even in the more conservative, anti-establishment constituencies, a clear majority recognizes the importance of this issue.

Never has a prime minister and his government been so disconnected to Canada's citizens. But you knew that. Didn't you?


Friday, September 19, 2014

Magic Steve


                                    http://www.stonecoldmagicmagazine.com/

Between now and the next election, Stephen Harper will try hard to be a magician. He'll try to make his record disappear. Michael Harris writes:

That is a conversation Harper isn’t anxious to have, for any one of a number of reasons. The mismanagement and bottomless dishonesty on display during the F-35 acquisition process, for instance.

Then there’s the PM’s performance during the Wright/Duffy Affair. You remember how he treated the the truth on that occasion as a kind of multiple choice exercise in storytelling. Should the PM be subpoenaed to Mike Duffy’s criminal trial, he won’t have recourse to the ‘creative option’ — not without consequences.

Or recall the belly-flop of judgment that resulted in the appointments of Bruce Carson, Arthur Porter and several other weak links to powerful and sensitive positions.

There are lots of other things Harper doesn't want to talk about:

Certainly Harper’s not keen to talk about his calamitous record with the Senate — promising not to appoint any senators and then stacking the place with every idle Tory hack with a heartbeat. And then came the unconstitutional legislation to reform the Red Chamber, followed by the drive-by smear of Chief Justice McLachlin.

Or maybe Steve doesn’t want to talk about why he has spied on Canadians since coming to office in 2006, sticking the long nose of government deeper and deeper into its citizens’ privacy. In a police state, you might put union rallies, or a vigil for murdered native women, under surveillance — as they have been in Harper’s Canada. In a petro-state you might spy on a public discussion about the oilsands — but in a democracy? In Canada?

So, like a magician, he'll try to create distractions and change the subject:

Stephen Harper would rather talk about beheadings than the dead room he has made of public discourse in Canada — and his dismal record after eight years in power.

 He'll certainly talk about the other guys:

Brian Mulroney called Tom Mulcair the best leader of the Opposition since Diefenbaker. Harper says he’s not fit to run the country because … well, because he doesn’t excel in the corporate ass-kissing department. No lip-liner for Tom.

And Justin? Justin is a callow little defiler of young brides and his father was a slut — or at least that was the gist of Ezra Levant’s recent unhinged rant on the person the polls keep saying will be Canada’s next prime minister. As Scott Feschuk cleverly put it on Twitter, this was Ezra’s “magnus Trudeau-pus … the masterpiece Ezra has been working toward all his life: Trudeau steals a kiss.”

And he'll rely on other folks like Ezra Levant to do his talking for him. When it's all said and done, maybe Ezra will make Magic Steve go away.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Harper's War On The CCPA


                                                            http://deslibris.ca

The Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives is in Mr. Harper's sites. Linda McQuaig writes:

Of course, we’re all familiar now with how Stephen Harper suppresses information that contradicts his agenda: blocking the collection of statistics, muzzling government scientists, auditing charities that critique his policies. And yet, somehow the news that the Harper government is conducting a harassing audit on the CCPA manages to break fresh ground.

This time there’s no recourse to the pretence that the audit was random. A Canada Revenue Agency document, obtained through Access to Information, makes it clear that the organization is being audited because its research and educational materials were considered “biased” and “one-sided.”

Does that mean that the Fraser Institute operates without bias? In fact, Fraser is only one of several right wing think tanks in Canada:

These right-wing policy shops have played a huge role in implanting an ideology that treats the rich as ‘wealth creators’ who must be freed from government regulation — and whose goodwill must be constantly cultivated, lest they be discouraged from investing. This has boiled down to a simple message — government bad, private sector good — that has become the mantra of our times, the guiding force in shaping public policy.

CCPA takes a different point of view -- and a much more vigorous approach to its research:

It would be a stretch for the Fraser Institute, for example, to make a claim of academic rigour. Every year, the institute receives widespread media coverage for its “Tax Freedom Day” — designed to make Canadians feel overburdened by taxes — but the research behind this PR gimmick is shoddy, based on wild exaggerations, flawed math and chicanery, according to an analysis done by tax expert Neil Brooks.

For instance, by failing to factor out inflation and income growth, the Fraser researchers concluded that over the previous four decades taxes on Canadians had risen by a staggering 1,550 per cent … when, in fact, they had risen by about 40 per cent, Brooks showed.

And, so, the Harperites have declared war on the CCPA. Imagine what would happen if voters concluded that their government had lied to them shamelessly and consistently.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mistaking Malevolence For Moral Clarity


                                                      http://www.smh.com.au/

Stephen Harper is a nasty piece of work. Just how nasty was made clear recently when he refused to allow wounded Palestinian children into Canada for medical treatment. Andrew Mitrovici writes:

What plausible excuse could Harper have for standing on the sidelines when so many of Canada’s allies — including Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Turkey and Egypt — already have provided safe havens or medical aid to scores of wounded children?

Harper’s PR flacks have claimed that it would be too risky to move those kids from whatever is left of their shattered homes in Gaza for treatment in Canada. That’s crap. We know it — everybody knows it, including the geniuses in the PMO who came up with that line of spin.

So much of what Harper says is crap. But this kind of crap reveals the man at his most craven. And it stands in stark contrast to his pledge to offer medical assistance to Ukrainians who need it. In a recent speech to the Canada-Ukraine Federation, Harper said:

 “Let me say at this point just how pleased I am to be able to support the Canada-Ukraine Foundation and the worthy cause that’s brought us all here together tonight and to salute the medical personnel who will be going to the aid of Ukrainians bloodied in the Euromaidan protest and affected by the ongoing conflict. Congratulations to everyone supporting this great cause,” Harper said. “It is, my friends, sadly too late to help the heavenly hundred who were slain simply for the crime of seeking a better country … We can help those who survived and lived to continue the struggle.”

This is the man who some insist is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize? Obviously, they have mistaken malevolence for "moral clarity."


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

He Could Care Less


                                                                 http://joyhog.com/

If yesterday served as any indication, Stephen Harper isn't going anywhere. I confess I've had my doubts he'd make it to the next election. But, as Chantal Hebert writes, it's getting harder and harder for him to exit gracefully:

As of now the odds of an orderly pre-election transition to a different Conservative leader will lengthen dramatically with every passing week.

In theory Harper could still decide to call it quits before the next campaign. Some of his predecessors left much later in the pre-writ period.

In his day Brian Mulroney did not grace successor Kim Campbell with more than a few months to make her mark before she had to face voters. Mulroney’s mandate was in its fifth year when he resigned.

Pierre Trudeau also allowed the fourth anniversary of his return to power to pass — albeit by only a few days — before he took his now famous walk in the snow in 1984.

Yesterday, in his speech to the converted, Harper focused on his record -- insisting that the country is better off because he's been prime minister:

Harper’s single-minded focus on the government’s record — including a lengthy but essentially par-for-the-course segment on foreign affairs — suggests that there has been a belated shift in the thinking of Conservative strategists.

Having spent months on attack mode only to enter a pre-election year behind the Liberal party, it seems they have come to the conclusion that they need to reintroduce Harper to voters more than they need to continue to try to pre-emptively destroy Trudeau’s public persona.

Obviously, he hasn't been reading sources of contrarian opinion or the polls:

In a recent Abacus poll Harper scored more poorly than his main rivals in virtually every leadership category, with his poorest marks earned for attitude.

As he told the last Conservative convention in Calgary -- the one that shut out the media -- he could "care less" what his opponents think. When the election comes, it will be interesting to see how much  his "care less" policy is worth.