Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making The World Safe For Capital



Complaints about the Temporary Foreign Workers Program keep piling up. This morning the Vancouver Sun reports:

B.C. workers ranging from seasoned professionals to teenage fast-food employees are complaining about being dumped in favour of non-residents as Ottawa scrutinizes employers who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

Vern Doak is a crane operator with 37 years experience who lives in Vernon. In early March he was contacted by his union, who informed him that an American company, Oregon-based O & S Contracting, had work for him building a cogeneration plant near Mackenzie in north-central B.C.

But Doak was replaced by foreign labour. The program, Carol Goar writes, was never about filling labour shortages. It's time to answer a few straightforward questions:

If they want an “adult conversation” about work and remuneration, they should be ready to answer some key questions:

  • Why should they be exempt from market discipline? The law of supply and demand provides a clear solution to domestic labour shortages. Raise wages or improve working conditions.


  • Why are they telling Canadians their kids and neighbours have a poor work ethic? Lots of Canadians do dirty, onerous jobs — pick up garbage, go down mines, wash highrise windows.


  • Why are they comparing foreign workers whose immigration status depends on their performance to Canadian workers who have the freedom to walk away from exploitative employers?

  • The program has always been about lowering wages -- and, thereby, increasing corporate profits. Stephen Harper has never accepted the idea that government should balance competing interests. For the prime minister, there has only been one side that matters in any dispute. That's capital. That's his side.

    And his mission is to make the world safe for capital.


    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Worshipping Ignorance And Greed



    Michael Harris writes that Stephen Harper has a future -- in Arizona and several other Republican states:

    In that state, voters must now present proof of citizenship before they can cast their ballots. It’s the same in Kansas. Like a lot of Republican states, Arizona claims the legislation is designed to battle massive voter fraud.

    Except there has been no massive voter fraud, not in Arizona, not in Texas, not in Kansas, nowhere in the United States. The only fraud is the legislation itself, passed by nine Republican states since 2013 looking ahead to congressional elections, and ultimately to the presidential election of 2016.

    It's clear from where and from whom Harper gets his inspiration. Republicans are primarily white and old -- and they are scared to death that their white picket fence America is changing. It's true that the Harperites have reached out to voters of colour. But, if they have one prime directive, it's to shut down people who don't see the world as they do -- even when the evidence is on their opponents' side.

    Adam Shedletzky writes in The Tyee that the Conservatives' real opponent is reason:

    They are quite literally daring opposition parties, the media and civil society to try and win this battle between rhetoric and reason. The likes of current, past and provincial chief electoral officers, the elections commissioner, the former auditor general, the former chair of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, non-partisan civil society organizations and hundreds of respected Canadian and international academics don't scare these guys.

    With reason banished from the political landscape, it's much easier to worship the gods of Ignorance and Greed.


    Monday, April 14, 2014

    Reading The Signs



    Over the weekend, voters -- in Calgary and Kitimat -- made two important decisions. Tim Harper writes:

    In one, Conservatives in Calgary’s Signal Hill riding finally rid themselves of a six-term embarrassment named Rob Anders, handing the nomination to a former provincial cabinet minister, Ron Liepert, in a family feud for the ages.

    In the other, the voters of Kitimat, B.C., who have been promised untold economic riches for their support of the $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project took a look at the gifts offered by energy giant Enbridge and thumbed their nose at the project.

    In both cases, they rejected who and what Stephen Harper had on offer. Together they are part of a pattern. And the pattern confirms that the rebellion is underway. Conservative constitutencies are refusing to take direction from the top down. The Supreme Court has rejected Harper's choice to sit on the court. It has found significant elements of his tough on crime agenda unconstitutional. And his Senate appointments keep breaking bad. Mr. Harper is losing his grip.

    Wise politicians can read the signs and they know when they have overstayed their welcome. One wonders if Stephen Harper can read signs.


    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    A Prematurely Old Man



    Stephen Harper likes to boast that seniors are his most loyal supporters. You'll notice that he has very little to say about the young. That's because he really isn't concerned about them. Take job creation -- something for which the prime minister claims a special talent. Carol Goar writes:

    A government bent on lowering the living standard of Canada’s next generation couldn’t do a much better job than Stephen Harper and his colleagues have done.

    The Prime Minister and his high-octane employment minister, Jason Kenney , have thrown one barrier after the next in front of young job seekers. Canada’s youth unemployment rate (15-24 years of age, both sexes) was 12.2 per cent when the Conservatives took power in 2006. Today, it is 13.6 per cent . But the numbers tell only part of the story. Hundreds of thousands of young people have given up their job search and gone back to school. Others have simply disappeared from the head count.

    It's true that the millennial generation has faced a number of obstacles -- globalization among them. But Harper's policy response has been to sacrifice the young to the trends they face:
     
    First there was the massive expansion of the once-modest foreign temporary workers program. When the Conservatives took power, it was a stopgap designed to address isolated labour shortages in the oilpatch and allow employers to hire highly specialized workers with skills no Canadian could offer.
    Eight years later, it has become a high-speed causeway into the Canadian job market. Hundreds of thousands of workers — most of them low-skilled — pour into the country every year bypassing young Canadians. In the past 12 months, there have been several high-profile cases of employers turning away Canadian applicants and bringing foreign workers whose immigration status is dependent on their job performance. Whenever one of these embarrassments makes headlines, Kenney vows to crack down. “Our message to employers is clear and unequivocal: Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs,” Kenney affirmed this week after CBC reported that a McDonald’s franchise in Victoria was bringing in workers from the Philippines and cutting the hours of its Canadian staff.
    Second, there was the government’s single-minded crackdown on young offenders. Former public safety minister Vic Toews, with the full backing of his boss, spent $5 billion (on top of the existing $15 billion) on law enforcement. The provinces, who handle most drug offences, were required to ante up an additional $14.8 billion.
    If even half that money had gone to providing young people who stayed in school with marketable skills, they wouldn’t be stuck in minimum-wage retail and fast food jobs. Moreover, they wouldn’t be tarred with an unfair reputation.

    No, Stephen Harper is no friend of the young. He's a prematurely old man.

    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    The Vapid Party




     Conservatives, Andrew Coyne writes, believe in absolutes and reject moral relativism:


    Conservatives at their best disdain the lazy moral relativism that passes for sophistication in some corners of the left. There are such things as right and wrong, they insist, not right for some and wrong for others. Some absolutes remain.

    And, in a democracy, there  are still a few absolutes:

    Ideas previously accepted as axiomatic — that everyone has a right to vote, that those who don’t vote should be encouraged to, that public confidence in elections should not be undermined nor the integrity of their administrators lightly impugned — are now in play. The people who uphold these ideas — experts in election law, present and former elections officials, people with long experience in the legal and political worlds who have earned reputations for sound judgment — now find themselves dismissed as biased, or even bought. Because there are now “sides” to this question.

    The Harperites believe there are only two sides -- their side and everyone else. Everyone else is wrong. That is their only absolute. And, because every calculation is political, everything else is relative:

    The most disturbing expression of this government’s relativism is what one might call its relativization of knowledge. That it could casually dismiss the unanimous expert opposition to the bill, without bothering to offer a rebuttal, shows contempt not just for those involved but for the whole concept of expertise. Experts can sometimes get it wrong, of course, even where they are agreed. But the insinuation here is that they are wrong because they are experts, of which their very unanimity is further proof.

    And so, the Harper Party has become the party of glorified ignorance. It smugly assumes that it is right in all matters and its critics are stupid. In other words, it is an absolutely vapid organization.



    Friday, April 11, 2014

    They're Getting Worried



    This week, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives put out a media release in which they insisted that their taxes were not too low. Linda McQuaig writes:

    This defensive posture — who mentioned murder? — reveals they fear others may be slowly catching on to the massive transfer of wealth to the richest Canadians that’s been going on for the past 14 years due to the systematic cutting of corporate tax rates. 

    After all, if corporate taxes were where they were fourteen years ago,

    we’d be collecting roughly an extra $20 billion a year in taxes — enough to fund national child care, free university tuition, children’s dental care or other programs that have long existed in other advanced countries but that no one here, in these lean and mean times, dares to be caught dreaming about anymore, let alone advocating out loud.

    During those fourteen years, corporations controlled the debate -- and the government:

    For years now, all the oxygen in public commentary about taxes has been sucked up by a rabid anti-tax movement, funded by corporate and wealthy interests. Organizations like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the National Citizens Coalition have been allowed to hold court in the media as if they were simply disinterested outfits representing ordinary people. Their huge anti-tax bullhorn has been amplified by in-house commentators from the business press and then reiterated by Harper government spokespeople, all within the closed echo chamber known as “public debate.”

    But now the public mood seems to be shifting with news that Canadian corporations have been shifting profits to international jurisdictions with lower tax regimes. Consider the case of Cameco:

    which sold uranium at very low prices to its Swiss-based subsidiary, which then sold the uranium to customers at much higher prices, thereby accumulating huge profits — $4.3 billion in six years — in the subsidiary, located in a particularly low-taw tax district in Switzerland.

    Because of this, Cameco may have deprived the Canadian and Saskatchewan governments of some $850 million in taxes, obliging other taxpayers to make up the difference or governments to cut programs.

    Those Tim Horton types -- who the Harper government claims is its base -- don't get that kind of consideration. Revolt is in the air. And the rich are getting nervous.


    Just a few words about Jim Flaherty. I was never a fan. He promoted and implemented the kinds of policies McQuaig excoriates. And his proposed solution to homelessness -- sweeping the homeless off the streets and carting them off to jail -- struck me as a particularly stupid solution to a problem. Nonetheless, he died too soon. The days ahead will be difficult for Christine Elliott and their sons. They deserve our kind thoughts and deep sympathy.



    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Time To Shut This Show Down



    It was a remarkable display of arrogance. In yesterday's question period, Thomas Mulcair asked Stephen Harper if he would apologize for Pierre Poilivere's "cowardly and baseless attack" on Marc Mayrand. The prime minister rose, congratulated Philippe Couillard on his electoral victory and then sat down. And the barking seals honked and applauded.

    It's clear that Mr. Harper believes he need not answer any questions -- from the Leader of the Opposition or any of the "self styled experts" who have criticized his so called "Fair" Elections Act.  Andrew Coyne writes:

    Unable to answer its critics’ objections, the government has lately shifted into attacking their character. Mr. Poilievre told a Senate committee Tuesday the CEO, Marc Mayrand, is motivated by nothing but a desire for “more power, a bigger budget and less accountability.” The former Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, other government members hinted, was on the take: hadn’t she accepted payment to sit as co-chair of Elections Canada’s Advisory Board? The board’s other members, among them some of the country’s most widely respected political and legal figures, were dismissed by a Tory senator as “celebrities.” The provincial chief electoral officers, political scientists, law professors and other specialists who have denounced the bill were derided as “self-styled” experts. The only people, it would seem, with the integrity or the expertise to comment on the bill are the people who have drafted it to their own advantage.

    There’s precedent for this, sadly. It is of a piece with the government’s previous attacks on the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, and the current Auditor General, Michael Ferguson. Like the CEO, their criticisms were dismissed as incompetent at best, partisan at worst — though, like the CEO, both were appointed by this government. This is more than a baseless smear on three conscientious public servants. It is an assault on their independence and authority as officers of Parliament.

    Stephen Harper came to Ottawa to wreak vengeance -- first on the Liberal Party, then on civil servants, and finally on government itself. Even Mr. Harper's former director of communications, Geoff Norquay, has suggested that Mr. Harper is getting even for the "In and Out Affair."

    Stephen Harper and his trained seals have been singing the same songs since opening night. Clearly, the time has come to shut this show down.