Friday, November 28, 2014

All Smoke And Mirrors


Julian Fantino announced this week that his government had earmarked $200 million for veterans' mental health services. However, as Michael Harris points out:

Getting the news of the $200 million mental health initiative from Fantino wasn’t just insulting — it was classic Harper media control. The announcement was made on a Sunday, when opposition critics and veterans’ advocates were largely unavailable. The benefit to that strategy is that the story came out just the way the Harper government likes it — without contradiction, criticism or analysis.

There was another, obvious factor behind the announcement’s timing, of course. Coming as it did the day before Auditor General Michael Ferguson lowered the boom on Fantino’s department, the announcement offered the idea (to some) that this is a caring, compassionate government. Whatever Ferguson might say the next day, the public would be left with the impression — that all-important first impression — that Harper was already on it.

And nothing could be further from the truth. The Harper government is in court right now fighting veterans who want to reverse the more egregious shortcomings of the New Veterans Charter. The truth, as it was laid out in Ferguson’s report, is not pretty. The Department of Veterans Affairs ran veterans through a bureaucratic steeplechase towards … nothing. According to the AG, it could not even measure performance outcomes on its own programs to troubled veterans — so it had no idea if any of them were working.

The process veterans have to go through to apply for mental health benefits would baffle Stephen Hawking. People desperate for help have to jump through hoops for eight months before finding out if they even qualify for assistance. Since the day Harper came to power up to the present, more than 3,000 applicants have been turned down.

It's all classic Harper doublespeak. When you get behind the smoke and mirrors, you find there's nothing there.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Governments and Climate Change


Our present masters would have us believe that markets are the sine qua non of human existence. Conversely, they claim that government is the bane of human existence. They see its purpose as enslavement. It is, they say -- always and everywhere -- a threat to human freedom.

But history proves, Linda McQuaig writes, that markets have never developed new technologies. In fact, it has been government which has -- again and again -- supported their development:

In fact, virtually all previous major technological breakthroughs have started with heavy government involvement and financial support, notes technology professor Mariana Mazzucato in The Entrepreneurial State. Only after the state has made the initial, high-risk investments are corporations and venture capitalists willing to put their timid toes into turbulent water.

Mazzucato describes the state’s pivotal role in developing the computer industry, the Internet, nanotech, biotech, the emerging green tech sector — even the logarithm that was crucial to the success to Google.

“In all these cases, the State dared to think — against all odds — about the ‘impossible’: creating a new technological opportunity, making the initial large necessary investments, enabling a decentralized network of actors to carry out the risky research, and then allowing the development and commercialization process to occur in a dynamic way.”

And governments are critical to solving the problem of climate change -- because only governments can afford to nurture and develop green technology:

“Energy markets are dominated by some of the largest and most powerful companies on the planet, which are generally not driven to innovate …” notes Mazzucato. “Leaving direction setting to ‘the market’ only ensures that the energy transition will be put off until fossil fuel prices reach economy-wrecking highs.”

The truth is we already have solar-powered and electric cars that we could all be driving. Imagine if we also had a government that used taxes or subsidies to reduce the cost of a green car to about half the cost of a regular gas-guzzler, and ensured recharging stations for these green vehicles were as common as gas stations.

Imagine if we had a government that actively co-operated with other nations in addressing the climate challenge, and communicated to the Canadian public that it considered fighting climate change as big a priority as fighting Islamic State.

Of course, the Harper government has no intention of doing any of these things. Oil greases everything they do. And government, they say, is a dragon to be slain.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Quiet Native Revolution


In his book, A Fair Country, John Ralston Saul argued that Canada owed its existence to three founding nations -- Britain, France and its First Nations. But he took the argument further than that. What was best about us, Saul wrote, was what we unconsciously inherited from our First Nations. That inheritance has made us a "Metis Nation."

In his latest book, The Comeback,  Saul argues that Canada is in the midst of a Quiet Native Revolution. Lawrence Martin writes:

What’s happening today is comparable to the Quiet Revolution in 1960s Quebec, he says. Our indigenous peoples are about to impose themselves the way Quebec nationalists did then. Few understand this because the focus has disproportionately been on the suffering and the failures – the rapes, the poverty, the residential schools, the Attawapiskats.

There’s a new aboriginal elite. We have Inuit and Cree corporations. Supreme Court victories are giving aboriginals more control over the commodity-rich lands of the North. Climate change is playing to their agenda. The aboriginal population is rapidly increasing, as is aboriginal youth enrolment in universities and colleges. “They are smart, intellectually lean and rightfully angry young people,” he says – their clout was felt with Idle No More and will soon register more tellingly.

Never mind some of the negative stuff in the media, for example, the stories about some delinquent chiefs being overpaid. Indeed, some are, said Mr. Saul, speaking recently to a packed hall of 700 in Ottawa. But, “did anyone bother to compare the percentage of overpaid chiefs with the percentage of overpaid CEOs in the private sector?”

Indeed, Canada's natives people are putting the brakes on runaway corporatism:

Our Western model put few brakes on commercial development. Governments have too often run the Canadian North, where two-thirds of our resource wealth lies, “like slum landlords.” With the native peoples’ legal victories, their philosophy, which sees the human as integral, as opposed to a dominant part of the whole, will take hold.

Certainly, the revolution has been quiet. And the Harper government has done everything in its power to stop it. But, if Saul is right, the First Nations may -- as they have done in the past -- lead us back to our better angels.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pre-Paleolithic Neanderthals


That's what Stephen Lewis calls the Harper government. Lewis has always known how to turn a phrase. But he's also always known how to make an argument. And the evidence he offers in support of his case is damning. Tim  Harper writes in the Toronto Star:

  • Canada’s world standing is in free fall.

  • The Harper government’s contempt for Parliament and its traditions has degraded   political life and fostered voter cynicism.

  • Its attitude to aboriginals is not paternalistic, it is racist.

  • Harper’s refusal to join the rest of the world and move toward renewable energy sources is endangering future generations and contributing to a looming planetary meltdown.

  • Civil society and the ideas it fosters have been slapped down and censored, subverting democratic norms.

  • Lewis understands just how far Canada has moved from its moorings:

    "Vitriolic nastiness in debate does not breed respect,” he said. “Nor does adolescent partisanship, nor do pieces of legislation of encyclopedic length that hide contentious issues, nor does the sudden emergence of frenzied TV attack ads, nor does the spectre of a Prime Minister’s Office exercising authoritarian control.”

    "It is as though Canada had decided, like some mindless national curmudgeon, to be a permanent outlier on issues of minority rights and women’s rights,” Lewis said. “It does us damage. It does us shame.”

    He has said that there was a time in Ottawa when his father, Robert Stanfield and Pierre Trudeau led their respective parties. They could disagree and they could do it with wit. He recalls the time his father stood in the House of Commons, pointed at the prime Minister and proclaimed, "There, but for Pierre Trudeau, goes God!"

    But the three men respected each other. Lewis still believes that we can return to that kind of Canada:

    “Somewhere in my soul,” Lewis says, “I cherish the possibility of a return to a vibrant democracy, where equality is the watchword, where people of different ideological conviction have respect for each other, where policy is debated rather than demeaned, where the great issues of the day are given thoughtful consideration, where Canada’s place on the world stage is seen as principled and laudatory, where human rights for all is the emblem of a decent civilized society.”

    Let's hope he's right.

    Monday, November 24, 2014

    Taking His Cue From Goering

    Naomi Klein coined the phrase "disaster capitalism." Taking his cue from Klein, Michael Harris writes that "disaster democracy" is alive and well in Canada. It's not a new phenomenon. Herman Goering explained how it worked when he was on trial at Nuremberg:

    “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger…it works the same in any country.”

    And Harper has taken his cue from Goering:

    When Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was gunned down at the national war memorial on Oct. 22, Prime Minister Stephen Harper immediately connected his killer to radical Islam and terrorism. Long before any facts were in, Harper claimed that all Canadians had been attacked by the actions of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. There was never any talk from the PM about Zehaf-Bibeau’s mental instability or addiction to crack cocaine. His mother and Cpl. Cirillo’s girlfriend were left to develop that side of the debate on the fringes of the alternative media.

    In the wake of the terrible events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa, the prime minister’s stagnation in the polls came to a sudden end. Almost instantly, disaster democracy gave his popularity a five-per-cent boost in the polls. That is approximately what political parties can expect after a full-fledged leadership convention. It also boosted public support for Harper’s war in Iraq, which shows every sign of leading to boots on the ground there – and now perhaps also engagement in Syria.

    Now -- if the polls are to be believed -- the Conservatives and the Liberals are neck and neck. Mr. Harper proved long ago that he isn't the smartest guy in the room. But he does know how to take advantage of events over which he has no control.

    Ultimately, control belongs to we the people. But there has never been a guarantee that we the people will make wise decisions.

    Sunday, November 23, 2014

    Nowhere Man


    Yesterday, I wrote that Stephen Harper's refusal to deal with Kathleen Wynne could have significant electoral consequences. Martin Regg Cohn writes that those consequences are being felt now with the alliance which Wynne has established with Quebec premier Philippe Couillard:

    There’s a reason the Quebec-Ontario summit turned into a meeting of minds and ministers: Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard are simpatico both in style and substance.

    Beyond the good will, there are good works on offer:

    Ontario and Quebec signed an unprecedented deal to swap 500 megawatts of electricity during peak periods by way of bartering. They compared notes on climate change. And they celebrated Ontario’s francophone face in a way that touched, viscerally, the visiting French Quebecers.
    At ground level, it is a federalist fantasy come true. Together, they are laying the groundwork for a Central Canadian axis of power (sharing) that is both political and electrical — with environmental and electoral benefits.

    Harper's policy is to not attend meetings of the Council of the Federation. He claims he prefers to meet with premiers individually. But, in Wynne's case, he prefers not to meet at all:

    On the eve of the Toronto summit, Harper delivered a bizarre snub to Wynne by refusing her overtures for a federal-provincial meeting. With her request unrequited, the spurned premier went public with their correspondence — pointedly asking why Canada’s biggest province, with 13 million people, can’t get federal face time.

    Then she got down to business with Couillard — showing that where there is political will, there can be policy headway.

    And that is the point. Mr. Harper lacks the political will to do all kinds of things. In fact, the only thing he wants to do is balance the budget. And, because he has chosen to remove himself from the stage, others will take his place. Cohn writes that there will soon be a third member of the alliance -- Alberta premier Jim Prentice.

    Mr. Harper may indeed discover that he resides in Nowhere Land -- a real Nowhere Man.

    Saturday, November 22, 2014

    Ontario Is Ground Zero
    Stephen Harper won his majority by convincing enough Ontarians to vote for him. But those same Ontarians now have a premier who is not a Harper ally. Far from it. Tim Harper writes in the Toronto Star:

    There’s simply too much at stake for both sides for d├ętente, certainly not heading into a federal election campaign and the electoral riches available in this province.
    The Harper Conservatives remember how Wynne campaigned against them last spring, they know they are dealing with aggressive adversaries in Ontario and they remember well Wynne’s characterization of the Harper “smirk” during that campaign as she recounted a previous, private discussion about pension reform.

    But it's not just Wynne who the Conservatives see as their adversary:

    When Conservatives look at Kathleen Wynne, they see Justin Trudeau. Their instincts tell them to fight and discredit, not to sit and discuss the big issues of the day bedeviling the country’s two largest governments.
    They saw Trudeau stumping for Wynne last spring and Wynne returning the favour, appearing on behalf of Trudeau’s candidate in this week’s Whitby-Oshawa byelection.

    And Harper hasn't helped his case in Ontario:

    The list of Wynne’s grievances is real and long. They are not all meant to be distractions or wedges for the 2015 federal vote.
    Wynne’s agenda would include infrastructure spending, inter-provincial trade, federal transfers, employment insurance and training, her go-it-alone pension plan and the lack of federal action on missing and murdered aboriginal women. The two governments have previously clashed over refugee health care.

    For the Harperites, this is personal. Ontario voters, however, are likely to believe that it is more than that.  By now they may have understood that the Cowboy from Etobicoke is working for someone else.

    The next time around, Ontario is Ground Zero.