Friday, April 29, 2011

A Failed Prime Minister

Stephen Harper set the bar for success in this election. There were only two choices, he said -- a Conservative Majority or Chaos. No one at this point can accurately predict the outcome of this election. But it would appear that Canadians -- as they do so often -- have chosen an outcome that will fall somewhere in the middle.

There would, indeed, be a certain poetic justice if that outcome was a Liberal - NDP coalition. While I welcome what appears to be NDP growth in Quebec, as a former Quebecer I'm bothered by what Mr. Layton has promised the residents of la belle province. I worry specifically about Layton's pledge to reopen the constitution. As a native Quebecer, Layton surely recognizes the risks of such a gambit. And, for all its faults, the Liberal Party of Canada has always insisted -- to the chagrin of many -- that Quebec be at the centre of the action.

In the end, Andrew Coyne -- whose instincts are surely not Liberal -- has it right. As he concluded yesterday in Macleans:

If we return the Conservatives with a majority, if we let all that has gone on these past five years pass, then not only the Tories, but every party will draw the appropriate conclusions. But if we send them a different message, then maybe the work of bringing government to democratic heel, begun in the tumult of the last Parliament, can continue. And that is why I will be voting Liberal on May 2.

It may be that Mr. Coyne is in a minority which amounts to the third largest number of seats. It may be that Mr. Harper will have the largest number of seats. But it now seems clear that -- by his own measure -- Mr. Harper has failed. Perhaps the Conservatives will begin to ponder the future under someone else. It might be good for them. It would certainly be good for Canada.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Wasteland

If a new Angus Reid Poll is an accurate snapshot of where the country is today, then we are -- as the first George Bush used to say -- "in deep doo-doo." According to the poll, the majority of Canadians believe that "the worst are full of passionate intensity," while "the best lack all conviction." Jaideep Mukerji, the vice president of Angus Reid, summarized the results of the poll:

According to results obtained to date, only 20 per cent of Canadians can be described as “invigorated” by the current political scene and these are almost exclusively Conservatives — happy with politics the way it is, as long as their chosen party is in power, the poll found. “That’s Stephen Harper’s base, right there,” Mukerji said.
The other 80 per cent were scattered between mistrust, cynicism and alienation, with only 13 per cent described as hopeful, “mid-left” voters. These were the type more likely to say that politics was a positive force and that government’s job was to help out people less fortunate.
By far, the largest clump of voters were found at the mistrustful middle, in which well over 80 per cent agreed that politicians were less honest and that current political leadership in Canada was disappointing. No one party has an advantage with these voters — roughly 30 per cent are leaning Conservative, 30 per cent are leaning NDP and 20 per cent are leaning Liberal.
“No political party has enough of a base on their own to be able to satisfy the middle,” Mukerji says.

The results do not bode well for voter turnout. We are a country which has known passionate debates before -- the 1980 Quebec referendum among them. But we survived that turbulence because Canadians were engaged in their nation's politics. It would appear that the politics of personal destruction -- and I'm thinking of those five years of Conservative attack ads -- have left us in a political wasteland.

But, regardless of who is responsible, the country is now literally in our hands. Only we can change it. Or, as Yeats accurately predicted, the centre will not hold.

This entry is  cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Voting for a Constitutional Crisis

There have been red flags galore throughout this election campaign. From Bruce Carson, to "big boss" Dimitri Soudas, to fake lakes and gazebos which were required for "border security" in Tony Cement's riding -- there has been ample evidence of what Stephen Harper used to decry. But Harper himself raised the biggest flag of all last week when he questioned the opposition's right to form a government.

But asked whether the opposition parties would have the “right” to form government, Harper said “that’s a question, a debate of constitutional law.
“My view is that the people of Canada expect the party that wins the election to govern the country ... anything else, the public will not buy,” he told Peter Mansbridge.
Harper also said that if his party comes in second in the election, he would not form a government — even if asked by the governor general in the event the front-runner failed to win the confidence of the Commons.
“If the other guys win, they get a shot at government and I don’t think you challenge that unless you are prepared to go back to the people,” he said.
“We’ll be into another election before too long. That’s why I think I need a majority mandate. I think this has gone on long enough.”

Parliamentary expert Ned Franks dismissed Harper’s comments as “constitutional nonsense.”

“There’s only one requirement for being the government and that is you must enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons,” said Franks, professor emeritus at Queen’s University.
“It’s not a constitutional debate. Constitutionally, there’s absolutely no question. There are ample precedents both in Canada and abroad to support it.”
Franks accused the Conservative leader of trying to rewrite the Constitution for his own end.
“He’s trying to change not just the Constitution in terms of what confidence means, he’s also trying to change it in terms of how governments are formed,” Franks said.

So we could face a constitutional crisis when the House returns. Or we could face one later. William Johnson in The Globe and Mail reminded English Canada that nationalism's winds are blowing again in Quebec.

Pauline Maurois, who is likely to displace the Liberals and form the next Quebec government within two years, emerged triumphant from the weekend convention of the Parti Québécois with a confidence vote of 93 per cent, the highest in the party’s history. She promptly announced that a PQ government, as soon as it was elected, would enact a program of gouvernance souverainiste – that is, would occupy various jurisdictions now exercised by the federal government.

One of the reasons the Liberals are doing so poorly in Quebec is because the provincial party -- under Jean Charest for three mandates -- have tarnished the brand. And, when Quebecers wish to change governments, they only have one option.. Some might argue that Mr. Harper would simply let Quebec go. But it has never been that simple -- not when Quebec is in the middle of the country. Moreover, if Mr. Harper deals with Quebec's demands in the same way he has and intends to deal with the opposition parties, the country is in deep trouble.

Irresistible force meet immovable object. Add to that Mr. Harper's demonization of the Bloc Quebecois for his own ends. Any Prime Minister who claims -- as Mr. Harper has -- that his government has rendered Quebec separatism irrelevant is a fool. The question before us is, "How many Canadians wish to march in a Fool's Parade?"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Lesson in Civics

Adam Radwanski writes in this morning's Globe and Mail that Michael Ignatieff has finally fallen into Stephen Harper's trap:

Mr. Harper has been setting this trap ever since Stéphane Dion’s ill-fated attempt to take power 2 1/2 years ago. Now, Mr. Ignatieff has wandered straight into it. He has 11 days to find his way out.

Oh, that wily Stephen Harper! National party leaders, writes Radwanski, are not supposed to be civics professors:

If the two men were being graded by civics teachers, Mr. Ignatieff would indeed be winning. His explanation of how another Conservative minority would work – the need for Mr. Harper to gain the confidence of Parliament, the possibility that a failure to do so will lead the Governor-General to turn to Mr. Ignatieff instead – is grounded in parliamentary conventions. Mr. Harper’s insistence that only the party with the most seats can govern, and anyone else attempting to do so is usurping the will of the people, is an open defiance of those conventions.

But the leaders are not being judged by civics teachers; they’re being judged by an electorate looking for a reasonably concise explanation of what its options are. Mr. Harper is providing that, however misleadingly. Mr. Ignatieff is not.

His column is a measure of how cynical political punditry has become in this nation. But there are occasional glimmers in the gloom. In this morning's Vancouver Sun Craig McInnes asks, "When did compromise become a dirty word?" He notes that:

Because of the low turnout in the 2008 election, Harper has been governing with the express consent of just 22 per cent those who could have voted for his party. If he gets similar support this time and a similar number of seats, to continue governing he will have to seek the support of a Parliament in which a majority of MPs were not sent to Ottawa by their constituents to keep him in office.

Harper says, unlike Ignatieff, he won't compromise with the other parties to get their support. Given the compromises the Conservatives have made in the past five years to stay in power, that seems unlikely unless Harper is trying to force a confrontation. More to the point, what benefit is there to Canadians when a party with only minority support insists it has the right to impose its views on the majority without taking theirs into consideration?

Mr.Harper maintains that, even though a majority of votes cast would not Conservative, those voters would be losers.That notion is more than just wrong, McInnes writes:

Beyond the legal position, if we believe that a country with disparate cultures and traditions can thrive under a common government, the notion that compromise and seeking consensus is un-democratic or un-Canadian, is simply offensive.

Mr. Harper doesn't get it. Neither does Mr. Radwanski.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's All About Legitimacy

Dan Leger, in yesterday's Chronicle Herald, writes that the real issue behind this election has been obscured:

What’s the great issue of the 2011 election? Certainly leadership, platforms and competing visions of Canada are in play. But something else is going on. This campaign has become a battle for legitimacy. It has gone deep and turned dark, into a place where the parties now claim that electing their opponents will taint the legitimacy of politics.

It started on Day 1 and nothing has happened to change it. The story lines have evolved, but the underlying ballot question that has emerged is this dispute over legitimacy.

The New Right -- from the first President Bush down to Stephen Harper -- has attempted to portray its opponents as illegitimate. The first Bushies claimed that Bill Clinton was an illegitimate president because he garnered only 42% of the vote. And now some Republicans, who claim a preference for tea, claim that Barack Obama is illegitimate because -- all evidence to the contrary -- he was not born in the United States.

Stephen Harper has been using that line against Micheal Ignatieff since he returned from the United States. He's not one of us, Harper claims. And he has gone even further. In this election, he argues, any other political arrangement -- other than a Conservative majority -- is illegitimate.

Democrats turned that argument on Republicans when the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in the White House. Now the Liberal Party has turned it against Stephen Harper. But there is a difference. Liberals argue that, while Harper was legitimately elected, his demonstrated contempt for Parliament has, in effect, nullified his legitimacy.

It is, indeed, a sad turn of events. Democracy is founded on the principle that differences of policy need to be debated. Most elections, writes Leger, revolve around two questions: Is it time for a change? And who is most fit to govern?

Those questions are certainly in play. But in 2011, with no great difference in party platforms, the arguments boil down to the idea that some parties must not rule because of something fundamentally illegitimate about their behaviour, their leadership or because of some hidden agenda.

Neo-Conservatism is the gift that keeps on giving. Or, more accurately, it is the poison that keeps on spreading.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Missed It By That Much!"

As Mr. Harper repeats his claim that his government stands for prudent financial management, there appears a story in today's Ottawa Citizen, reporting that the F35's the government plans to purchase are of the stripped down variety:

The multi-million dollar F-35 stealth fighter that the Conservatives want to purchase comes with all the accoutrement's of a high-tech aircraft — everything, that is, except an engine.

The government will be required to provide engines for the 65 planes to be delivered by U.S. manufacturer Lockheed Martin, according to newly released Defence Department documents.

In another time and place this story would provide the seed for an episode of Get Smart. It's not hard to visualize. Max and the Chief, entombed in the Cone of Silence, are reviewing the numbers for the purchase. When the Chief questions those figures, a flustered Max replies, "Missed it by that much!"

The point is that "smart" is not the adjective which comes to mind to describe this crew. When they present figures, the public response should be what President Obama reportedly told the Republicans on the other side of the bargaining table: "Do you really think we're stupid?"

Speaking of Harper's plan to find $11 billion dollars in savings, Paul Martin -- who has some experience constructing federal budgets -- told an audience in Edmonton yesterday:

Now I look at those numbers and I have the same reaction that the C.D. Howe has, that the Fraser Institute has, which is to say they can’t find that money without major cuts, and I can tell you one area that clearly is in danger [of] suffering, that is in fact the health care budget.

He then reminded his audience of what the Prime Minister has said in the past:

Stephen Harper has said unequivocally that he does not think that the Canada Health Act or that health care is a federal responsibility, so he’s going to stick with where the federal responsibilities in his mind are.

Mr. Harper has spent a lot of his time during this campaign running away from his past, and essentially repeating the lines of an old Bob Dylan song: "I Was So Much Older Then, I'm Younger Than That Now." Perhaps -- when the Prime Minister finally leaves government -- he will have a future as a pianist -- or better still, as a comic. Like Buster Keaton, he need never crack a smile.

If someone gets the bright idea of bringing back Get Smart, perhaps he'll answer the casting call.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Competence Myth

Patrick Brethour, in Friday's Globe and Mail, writes that Canadians see Stephen Harper as "nasty, brutish -- and competent." Nasty and brutish, yes. But competent? Only if you buy Mr. Harper's rewriting of recent history.

Paula Arab, writing in what the Prime Minister calls his "hometown" paper, takes issue with Harper's claim to prescient economic management. When he touts his government's stimulus package, Arab writes:

That’s rich — claiming credit for something his party was forced to do, under threat of a non-confidence vote and another election. The opposition parties were so frustrated with the Harper government’s downplaying of the economy, they agreed on their own stimulus package, forcing an about-face.

Here’s what Harper declared just four days before the Oct. 14, 2008, election: “This country will not go into recession next year and will lead the G7 countries. We have every reason to believe Canada will stay out of recession if Canada doesn’t start raising taxes and spending itself into deficit.”

Then there's the matter of Canada's superior banking system. Susan Riley, in The Ottawa Citizen reminds readers that:

it was Liberal governments that created the well regulated banking system Harper likes to boast about internationally - often in the face of criticism from anti-regulation zealots like the old Harper.

Finally, there is the minor matter of the $12 billion surplus the Martin government bequeathed to the Prime Minister -- which disappeared before the recession hit. It's worth noting that Mr. Harper claims to be an economist.

Anyone with a record like that is pitching into the dirt -- and he should be sent to the showers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Democracy? What's That?

Give Michael Ignatieff credit. Time and again last night, he reminded Canadians why this election was called. When Stephen Harper tried to make the point that the election was about the economy, Ignatieff countered that it was about democracy. "We need to rebuild our democracy after Mr. Harper," Ignatieff said,

Mr. Harper cannot be trusted with the institutions of our country. This is a man who simply will shut down anything he can’t control. He shut down Parliament twice,” Ignatieff said, referring to the Conservatives’ decision to prorogue Parliament on two occasions.

The historical significance of the recent non-confidence vote is lost on Harper. He is the only Prime Minister in the history of all the British parliamentary democracies to be found in contempt of Parliament. To Harper, the vote was merely parliamentary sleight of hand: "simply a case of the other three parties outvoting us." That statement encapsulates the Prime Minister's character. And, in the end, this election is about the Prime Minister's character. Since the current Conservative Party is a one man show, the man is the party. Both are full of seething resentment for the opposition -- particularly Ignatieff. But Ignatieff is right:

You’ve got to walk the walk here, Mr. Harper, and you haven’t. You keep talking about Parliament as if it’s this little debating society that’s a pesky interference in your rule of the country. It’s not. It’s the Parliament of the people of Canada.

Like Harper's PMO adviser, Bruce Carson, Mr. Harper was a bad hire. He is not the man who interviewed for the job. As Jack Layton -- who was at the top of his game -- said last night:

You’ve become what you used to oppose. You’ve changed in some way ... You said you’d clean up Ottawa from scandals and now we’ve got the most closed secretive government we’ve pretty well ever had.

This election is about the Prime Minister. Like the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who lost their jobs in the Great Recession, this man -- who claims to be an economist -- should be encouraged to find employment elsewhere.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Now It's Trudeau's Ghost

Yesterday, Stephen Harper conjured up the ghost of Pierre Trudeau and repeated what he has said throughout this campaign: "Boo!" He told an audience in Drumondviille that:

I think it’s a bit unfair to bash somebody in the grave - he’s not here to defend himself - but as you know Mr. Trudeau did have a different philosophy of government: a high-spending philosophy, a centralizing philosophy.

Unfair or not, that's precisely what he went on to do: "The comparison I’m obviously making is the fact that as we all know in 1972 ... we had a Liberal government that relied on the NDP for ongoing support." The result, Harper said, was unmitigated disaster:

All they did was spend money [and] that led to two decades of ... runaway spending, higher taxes, double-digit unemployment and double digit interest rates.

As Ned Franks, of Queen's University has noted, Mr. Harper's claim that coalitions are illegitimate is a figment of his imagination. Moreover, Harper's reading of history is highly selective. He ignores two Middle East oil shocks which had a lot to do with the stagflation of the 70's. More than that, he ignores the fact that the two highest deficits in Canadian history were run up by Conservative governments -- Brian Mulroney's and his own. In between, the Chretien-Martin governments eliminated the Mulroney deficit and ran up a $12 billion surplus. And, at the moment, Mr. Harper holds the record for both spending and deficits.

Mr. Harper is allergic to facts. That is why he deep-sixed the long term census. As long as a solid database exits, it's hard for him to support his argument. Whether its opposition politicians or members of the press, Mr. Harper finds it hard to confront a narrative other than his own. Perhaps that's because, deep down, he lacks the courage of his convictions. Or, perhaps, he simply lacks courage.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Peoples Budget

Americans woke up on Saturday to find that their politicians had not driven off a cliff. There is cause for hope. But, like previous stop gap measures, the eleventh hour agreement doesn't solve long term problems. It merely buys time. Jeffrey Sachs, of Columbia University, puts recent budget skirmishes in context:

The current budget negotiations have been a dialogue among the wealthy. The big debate has focused on which programs for the poor should be axed first. There has been no discussion of raising taxes on the rich, and quite the contrary, the White House and the Republican leadership agreed to further tax cuts last December. Obama has repeatedly expressed regret at slashing community development, energy support for the poor, and other programs, but he is not fighting the trend, only regretting it.

Sachs then draws attention to The Peoples Budget, which has been advanced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Like Paul Ryan's plan, the People's Budget would reduce the deficit by 2021; but it

would do so in an efficient and fair way. It would close the budget deficit by raising tax rates on the rich and giant corporations, while also curbing military spending and wrestling health care costs under control, partly by introducing a public option. By raising tax revenues to 22.3 percent of GDP by 2021, the People's Budget closes the budget deficit while protecting the poor and promoting needed investments in education, health care, roads, power, energy, and the environment in order to raise America's long-term competitiveness. The People's Budget thereby achieves what Ryan and Obama do not: the combination of fairness, efficiency, and budget balance.

The poor don't vote; and they cannot afford to buy lobbyists. Their voice has been missing in the current debate. But, writes Sachs, Americans have been here before:

Twice before in American history -- during the Gilded Age of the 1880s and in the 1920s, just before the Great Depression -- big corporate money effectively owned Washington. But in both eras great progressive leaders (including the two Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin) came along to restore the true meaning of American democracy: a government truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. With public protests against government by the rich now spreading in Wisconsin, Ohio and beyond, and with the launch of the People's Budget by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a great national movement to restore American democracy has begun.

The genius of American democracy is that, for over 235 years, its citizens -- from the Civil War to The Great Depression -- have always done the right thing. That's not to say that there has not been unnecessary suffering and mountains of foolishness. But, in the end, government of the people has worked for all of the people.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Ghost of Nixon

More than thirty-five year ago, in the summer of 1974, I was finishing a Masters degree at the University of North Carolina. I lived in a student residence -- a high rise affair -- where, every morning, I could walk out on my balcony and look down at a parking lot whose cars bore licence plates from all over the United States. There was always one car which caught my eye. It was a green Ford from Massachusetts, with a bumper sticker which read, "Don't Blame Me."

The reference was to the fact that, in 1972, Massachusetts was the only state not to vote for Richard Nixon. The Watergate story -- thanks to Woodward and Bernstein -- had begun to come out during that election. The Nixon campaign team had authorized burglaries into Democratic Party Headquarters. Nixon had ordered the IRS to harass his enemies; and the FBI had begun to look into the affairs of people who did not support the president.

On the evening of August 8th, I was putting the finishing touches on my thesis. I took a break and walked down to the basement -- to the Common Room -- where every student in the dorm had gathered to watch Nixon give his resignation speech. When it was over, I walked back to my room, where some of my neighbours had opened a bottle of wine and were singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I had followed the Watergate Affair. But I was a visitor, so I kept my opinions to myself. I smiled, said that I was a Canadian, and I asked why the celebration. They -- there were about six in the group -- stopped, whooped and one guy said, slowly and distinctly, "Because we finally got rid of the son of a bitch!"

I have been thinking of that night as news reports of RCMP officers throwing people out of Harper rallies have come to light. It would appear that someone in that organization has been carefully screening Facebook pages. Then there is the story that Wild Bill Elliott, now Commissioner of the RCMP, issued a security clearance to Bruce Carson -- Harper's chief adviser in the PMO -- knowing that Carson had been convicted on five counts.

Harper's response has been, "When the room is full, some people have to leave." And, he says, "bureaucrats" vetted Mr. Carson; he had nothing to do with it. Harper is as believable as Nixon was when he proclaimed, "I am not a crook!" The evidence has been mounting for five years. Stephen Harper threatens Canada's democratic institutions. And, like Nixon, Harper's acquaintance with the truth is tenuous. Michael Ignatieff has it right. He "wouldn't recognize the truth if it walked up and shook his hand."

The question is, are Canadians going to place their trust in this man? If they do, they will regret their decision. And some night -- in the not too distant future -- they will celebrate his departure. Until then, there may be run on bumper stickers which read, "Don't Blame Me."

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Man of the People?

The Harper campaign has been working from Karl Rove's playbook. It micro targets voters and it carefully screens the people who show up at Harper rallies. The Chronicle Herald has published a story which may prove apocalyptic:

A Dartmouth volunteer who helps homeless veterans was turned away from a Stephen Harper election rally last week and the man calls it a slap in the face to those who have been injured in service of their country.

Jim Lowther of the Veterans Emergency Transition Team said he is apolitical but will stand with anyone who promises to help the people he helps: former Canadian Forces members who find themselves living on the street, often as a result of psychological disorders caused by their service.

Lowther has been trying to set up a meeting with Harper to seek help for veterans but has been rebuffed.

On Thursday, he and fellow veterans advocate Gary Zwicker went to the Halterm container pier on the Halifax waterfront hoping to get a few minutes with Harper, or at least to watch his speech. But a Conservative staffer in a suit and tie denied them entry at the gate.

"We said we were veterans and we wanted to listen to what he had to say," Lowther said. "And we were turned away."

Whether it's putting a fence between reporters and the Prime Minister, refusing to take their questions, or handing out future tax cuts to carefully defined voters, the Harper campaign is all about keeping the Prime Minister away from the people. For, you see, the people are the problem.

Mr. Harper is notorious for his lack of people skills."People skills?" Deb Gray, the first Reform MP sniffed. "He was more fond of policy. Constituency work seemed like a grind to him." The man who claims that Michael Ignatieff wants to be Prime Minister "for himself" doesn't like people. What is his reason for running? Is it to get even? Is it to destroy his opponents? Is it to prove that the nerdy kid from Toronto is really an Alberta cowboy?

Richard Nixon didn't like people, either. He worked hard to keep them at a distance. And he didn't trust them at all. A word to the wise.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Cue The Confidence Fairy

This morning's Nanos Poll suggests that the Conservatives now lead the Liberals by 14 points.

To support their cause, the Harperites have invoked what the American economist Paul Krugman calls " the confidence fairy." Their argument goes something like this: Global stability rests on business confidence. Business confidence rests on corporate tax cuts. Therefore, if you reverse those tax cuts, you cause global instability. No, they say, what we need is "expansionary austerity." -- which, in the short run, will lead to unemployment. But job destruction leads to lower wages, and lower wages lead to job creation. If this sounds like a tautology, that's because it is.

That policy is now being followed in Britain. But things are not working out as planned. Krugman writes:

Did I mention that in Britain, where the government that took power last May bought completely into the doctrine of expansionary austerity, the economy has stalled and business confidence has fallen to a two-year low? And even the government’s new, more pessimistic projections are based on the assumption that highly indebted British households will take on even more debt in the years ahead.

In the United States, the Republicans -- Mr. Harper's cousins -- are arguing that, if it takes a government shutdown to achieve expansionary austerity, then so be it. The Harperites are definitely following the crowd. And -- if the polls are to be believed -- so are a substantial number of Canadians.

There is a counter argument, of course. It is contained in the Liberal platform. The difference between the two arguments is the difference between night and day, between costs and investments, between employment and unemployment, between folly and wisdom.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Deal With The Devil

So far, Danny Williams -- now a private citizen -- has said nothing during this campaign. But one wonders what Williams would say about Stephen Harper's promise to guarantee a loan for the Lower Churchill Power Project. Even more interesting was Harper's promise yesterday to settle with Quebec on the question of HST compensation. It could have been done two weeks ago. As Quebec's Finance Minister Raymond Bachand will attest, it could have been done fourteen months ago.

I'm sure Williams has an opinion. I have a hunch he might be skeptical. After all, he understood what Harper's promises were worth. Danny might even draw a comparison with Harper's promise to give Canadian families a tax break in four or five years. My hunch is that he would call Harper's promises what they are: a deal with the devil.

Clearly Mr. Harper will do anything -- will say anything -- to get elected. As Chantal Hebert notes in Saturday's Toronto Star, Mr. Harper "has been blatantly creative with the facts."

Danny Williams' estimation of the prime minister was less euphemistic. "Stephen Harper," he said, "is a fraud."