Friday, November 19, 2010

The Jig Is Up

On Wednesday, the unelected Senate -- that chamber of "sober second thought" -- killed a climate change bill which had been passed by the elected members of the House of Commons. Its demise was made possible because the Prime Minister did precisely what he had fumed about in the past: he packed the Upper Chamber with his own partisans.

Liberal senators did not call for a vote to pass the bill. They voted to bring it to the floor for debate. The Conservatives simply killed the bill. The Prime Minister made no attempt to defend the tactic. He condemned the bill as a job killer. And he reaffirmed that his government's environmental policy was to wait until the Americans decided to act on that file.

The vote will not go down in history as a profile in courage. But, since its inception, this government has acted like a gang of school yard bullies. One does not look to them them for courage. However, the vote again illustrated that this Prime Minister and his minions are no democrats. During the previous week -- in yet another illustration of his faith in autocracy -- Mr. Harper announced that the policy of extending the Canadian mission in Afghanistan is an executive decision. Parliament, he said, could debate the decision; but it had no right to vote on it.

This is the same man who prorogued Parliament twice in the last four years. On both occasions, he was on the ropes. If votes of confidence had been allowed to proceed, his government would have fallen. This is the man who sneered when Jack Layton suggested talking with the Taliban -- the very policy which is now being pursued. This is the prime minister who dismissed as spineless the Liberal suggestion that the Canadian mission to Afghanistan be extended in order to establish the foundations of a civil society in that woe begotten corner of the globe. The Prime Minister's hypocrisy is stunning.

It is abundantly clear that Stephen Harper's word is worthless. It is the Canadian equivalent of monopoly money. Jim Prentice understood that his mission as the Minister of the Environment was to do nothing. He decided to go to where the real money is. It's beginning to look like Peter Mackay is ready to return his property to the bank and leave the game.

Consider who will be left: John Baird -- full of sound and fury -- can claim no great legislative achievements. Jim Fahlerty's record is depressingly consistent: as both a provincial and a federal Minister of Finance, he has left mountains of debt in his wake. And Tony Clement has proved that he can dance to whatever tune the prime minister chooses. He simply can't compose one of his own.

The Harper government has managed to survive. But it has run from every challenge -- until the United States has acted. And then it has chimed in with a timorous "Me, too." It has marked time. The jig is up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Looking Back In Sadness

I have, on more than one occasion, expressed my admiration for the work of James Travers. On this Remembrance Day, he wrote of his father who "learned to be a soldier at Kingston's Royal Military College" and his uncle who "died soon after wearing pilot's wings for the first time."

They would, he wrote, not recognize the Canada of 2010. "They wouldn't understand a country where patriotism is partisan, where men and women in uniform are used as political props or where death and sports are shamelessly conflated on Hockey Night in Canada."

For we have become a mean spirited country and -- according to the prime minister -- we have done it as a matter of principle. But, as Lawrence Martin made clear this week, the prime minister's principles are pure piffle -- whether they be government accountability, fiscal frugality, a firm commitment to an end date in Afghanistan, or the free market sale of Canadian assets like potash.

Many of us never accepted those principles. What is remarkable is that Harper is still selling himself as a Conservative. For the truth is that he is no such thing. His convictions are totally malleable and are easily altered by his quest for power.

He seems to have befuddled Canadians. But the rest of the world has his number. Under Harper's leadership, Travers wrote:
Canada fell from global grace because it is no longer a modest but constant light among nations. Rather than holding steady, it flickers in the gusting winds of great challenges -- among them Arab Israeli peace, African poverty and climate change -- that are to this generation what world wars were to our parents and grandparents.

Canada, like its prime minister, has become puffed up by its own self importance. It is worth remembering that we used to be a much different -- and a much better -- country.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Victory for Wooden-headedness

In the week the Republican Party took back control of the House of Representatives, Richard Cohen weighed in on the subject of Sarah Palin: "The fierce stupidity of this woman," he wrote, "is hard to comprehend. It is the well from which she draws her political sustenance." It's obvious that many Americans have been drinking from the same well.

The historian Barbara Tuchman had another term for the Palin Effect. In The March of Folly, she defined "wooden-headedness," as "the source of self deception:"

It consists [she wrote] in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring and rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.

For the simple truth is that the mess Mr. Obama inherited will take more than two years to clean up; and the Republican objective -- stated with laser like clarity by Mitch McConnell -- is to make Obama a one term president.

When John Boehner says that his priorities are the "peoples' priorities" one must ask, "Which people?" That is what the mid-term elections were all about -- which people will be served. The Republicans have been very successful over the last thirty years in convincing common folk that the priorities of the wealthy are their priorities -- even though the facts point to a much different conclusion.

At the end of his life, Mark Twain -- who, like modern American voters, had no respect for Congress -- concluded that there was little hope for "the damned human race." Thornton Wilder was a little more charitable."Wherever you come near the human race," said the stage manager in Our Town, "there's layers and layers of nonsense."

Rand Paul declared last night that he and his ilk have arrived to take back the country. It will be interesting -- and truly sad -- to see what they do to it.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.