Monday, April 30, 2012

A Lost Generation

Mitt Romney and George Bush the Elder share at least one characteristic. As former governor Anne Richards used to say, each "was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Last week, Romney advised the young to “take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.”

It's nice to be able to borrow money from your folks. After all, Mitt entered the job market knowing that another George could serve as his banker. But, these days, an education does not necessarily lead to a job. The Guardian reports that, since 2008, youth unemployment in Europe has skyrocketed-- a direct consequence of the austerity prescription. That would be the same prescription Paul Ryan and Mr. Romney advocate for Americans.

"You’ve probably heard lots," writes Paul Krugman, "about how workers with college degrees are faring better in this slump than those with only a high school education, which is true.

But the story is far less encouraging if you focus not on middle-aged Americans with degrees but on recent graduates. Unemployment among recent graduates has soared; so has part-time work, presumably reflecting the inability of graduates to find full-time jobs. Perhaps most telling, earnings have plunged even among those graduates working full time — a sign that many have been forced to take jobs that make no use of their education. 

Europe has served as a laboratory for the Ryan-Romney solution. Last week, Britain went back into recession. The evidence is irrefutable:

As you look at the economic devastation in Europe, you should bear in mind that some of the countries experiencing the worst devastation have been doing everything American conservatives say we should do here. Not long ago, conservatives gushed over Ireland’s economic policies, especially its low corporate tax rate; the Heritage Foundation used to give it higher marks for “economic freedom” than any other Western nation. When things went bad, Ireland once again received lavish praise, this time for its harsh spending cuts, which were supposed to inspire confidence and lead to quick recovery. 

Throughout the Western World, the young are drowning in the economic wreckage of the last thirty years. They are a lost generation. Mitt Romney may have finally secured the Republican nomination for president. But putting him in the White House would merely compound the disaster.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Angry Young

The student protests roiling through the streets of Montreal are not about spoiled young people who want something for nothing. They are about a generation who know they are paying the price for their parents' folly. And the protests stretch far beyond the old streets of Ville Marie.

In Greece and Spain youth unemployment is 50%. In Canada it is 14% -- twice the national average. And Stephen Harper has just informed the young that, if and when they do find jobs, they will have to work until they're 67 -- unlike their parents who get off the bus at 65.

No wonder then that the kids in the streets of Montreal are talking about more than just student tuitions. It has gone way beyond that. Graeme Hamilton reports in The National Post:

So it was somewhat jarring halfway through the march to hear, in English, “1-2-3-4, this is f—ing class war, 5-6-7-8, organize to smash the state.” Rachèle Gagné, a 20-year-old political science student at UQAM, explained that the words she and her friends were chanting used a little poetic license. “Not literally smash the state,” she said. “But this has become more than a student fight, it is a fight against the government and the state.”

Stephen Harper was nine years old when student riots in Paris almost brought down the French government. That was the same year that violent clashes between the police and young people disrupted the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Mr. Harper demonstrated this week that his knowledge of history -- Canadian, economic or otherwise -- is jejune. If he knew anything about history, he would know that the angry young can bring governments down.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mockery Has Set In

Thomas Mulcair rose in the Commons on Thursday and asked the prime minister, "Will he keep our troops in Afghanistan past 2014, yes or no?" Stephen Harper hasn't answered a question for quite while now. This time he responded with yet another slur:

 "Unlike the NDP, we are not going to ideologically have a position regardless of circumstances,” Harper said. “The leader of the NDP, in 1939, did not even want to support war against Hitler.”

Never mind that the NDP didn't exist until 1961. Never mind that J.S. Woodsworth -- leader of the CCF and a Methodist minister -- had long been a committed pacifist. Never mind that Woodsworth was the only member of the CCF who did not vote to go to war with Germany.

Yet Harper's attack was continued the next day, when John Baird rose and proclaimed,

"The NDP don’t support sending troops abroad for anything. Let us look at what the former leader of the NDP-CCF when he said the following. ‘I would ask whether we are to risk the lives of our Canadian sons to prevent the actions of Hitler.’ You know who said that, it was the former leader of the NDP-CCF, J.S. Woodsworth.”

This kind of calumny has become standard fare from these folks, whose most reliable supporters are reportedly Christians. Yet, if anything, the Harperites appear to have a great deal of trouble with a number of the commandments -- particularly the one that deals with bearing false witness.

Those who tell tall tales become laughing stocks. Surely, Vic Toews can attest to that -- the social media skewers phoneys. And, thus, Twitter came alive:

"It is a fact that, at the time, the refused to support our troops during the war of 1812," wrote Pierre H. Vachon

"Damn you for not standing up to Genghis Khan!!" wrote Dan Speerin.

And Ravi Gurdial tweeted, "The NDP controls all of England's fruit, causing glasses of OJ to cost up to $16 in some instances." -- an allusion to that glass of orange juice which Bev Oda enjoyed on her recent trip to London.

You know a government is in trouble when anger gives way to mockery.

Friday, April 27, 2012

How Much Self Respect Do We Have?

"Technically, we might still call it a democracy," Lawrence Martin writes this morning. But, "in practice it's a democracy in name alone." Martin, perhaps more than any other Canadian journalist, has tracked the decline of Canadian democracy. And he has not been partisan about it. He brought the same careful analysis to the abuses of the Chretien government.

But, he writes, "with the billy-club governance of the Harper era, we are breaking new ground in the subverting of the democratic process." Canadians seem to have finally cottoned to what is happening. The Globe and Mail reports  that Harper's reputation for competence and trustworthiness has taken a hit:

When Canadians were asked two months ago to name the federal leader they believed to be the most competent, 38.1 per cent said Mr. Harper. In the latest poll, that score dropped to 24.2 per cent.

When asked which leader they trust, 31.7 per cent said Mr. Harper in February compared to just 20 per cent in April. And, in terms of who Canadians believe has the best vision for country, the Prime Minister’s numbers fell by a similar amount.

In what is perhaps the government's most Stalinesque move to date, government scientists were accompanied by media minders to a conference in Montreal. Martin, whose experience stretches back quite a ways, writes:

The Harper Conservatives have been called control freaks a thousand times, but this is wild, even for them. This is the type of thing I used to see when, back in the 1980s, I reported from the Soviet Union.

No self respecting democracy would allow this abuse of power. The question is, how much self respect do Canadians have?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

This Isn't About Jobs and Growth

Jim Flaherty claims that his budget is about "jobs and growth."  Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page  makes a much stronger counter claim. He reports that, while the Harper government's cutbacks will result in a balanced budget, they will create significant drag on the economy:

The spending restraints and cutbacks will reduce economic output by 0.3 per cent this year, climbing to 0.88 per cent in 2014.

Canada’s economy, subsequently, will grow by only 1.6 per cent in 2013, eight tenths of a point less than forecast by the Bank of Canada and the private sector consensus.

On the jobs front, restraint will result in about 18,000 fewer jobs this year than had there been no restraint, climbing to 108,000 fewer jobs in 2015. Most of the losses are due to Ottawa’s actions — including a reduction of 43,000 stemming directly from March’s spending reductions — although provincial restraint is also a factor.

Unemployment, currently at 7.2 per cent, will climb to 7.9 per cent in 2013, the report predicts.

Mr. Flaherty and  Mr. Harper have been urging Europe to do as they do. But on the subject of European economic management, Paul Krugman wrote last week:

This is, not to mince words, just insane. Europe has had several years of experience with harsh austerity programs, and the results are exactly what students of history told you would happen: such programs push depressed economies even deeper into depression. And because investors look at the state of a nation’s economy when assessing its ability to repay debt, austerity programs haven’t even worked as a way to reduce borrowing costs. 

Meanwhile, David Cameron -- who recently visited Ottawa and praised Stephen Harper for his economic wisdom -- admitted yesterday that Britain, for the second time, is in a recession.

The Flaherty budget was never about jobs and growth. It was about getting rid of government agencies which the Harperites cannot abide.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Square Heads

David Olive is right. Michael Ignatieff does not understand Canada. Certainly his conclusion that Quebec independence is inevitable must have Pierre Trudeau hurling curses at him from beyond the grave. On the other hand, it's hard to disagree with Jeffrey Simpson's conclusion that, "not since the first Diefenbaker government of 1957 has a federal government been weaker in Quebec and apparently cared so little about the province."

It was, after all, Diefenbaker's insouciance towards Quebec which radicalized Rene Levesque and gave birth to the Parti Quebecois. Simpson goes on to detail what amounts to the Harper government's collective stupor on the subject of Quebec:

For most Quebeckers, the Harperites seem determinedly disdainful of their preferences. Almost every position or policy adopted by the Conservatives drives the party base wild with excitement outside Quebec, but drives Quebeckers further from the Conservatives.

The “tough on crime” policies, for instance, are reviled in Quebec, not because Quebeckers want to mollycoddle criminals but because most citizens believe in rehabilitation and attacking the social and economic causes of crime.

The long-gun registry came about after the 1989 massacre at Montreal’s École Polytechnque. That horror imprinted itself in the population’s consciousness. Quebec has as many hunters as any other province, but the ideology around gun ownership that drives the Conservative base wild with fury over the registry finds scant echo in Quebec.

The Harperites’ affection for the British monarchy and its toy-soldier plans to celebrate the obscure War of 1812 leave Quebeckers totally indifferent and remind them of what a strange lot are the Conservatives, who used to be thought of as the Protestant/British party for decades, and appear to be so again.

If Pierre Trudeau is cursing Michael Ignatieff from beyond the grave, then surely Rene Levesque is hurling similar barbs at Stephen Harper. Trudeau and Levesque -- who didn't agree on much -- would undoubtedly agree that Ignatieff and Harper are "tetes carres."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Making Integrity The Issue

Lawrence Martin suggests Thomas Mulcair and the New Democrats have an opportunity to expose the Harper government's Achilles Heel -- integrity. If they can mount "a judicious and innovative handling of the integrity issue, the mockery of democracy that’s played out by the Conservatives week after week," they may, indeed, grab the brass ring:

The F-35 duplicity, as alleged in the Auditor-General’s report, is just one recent example. On a more absurdist note, a story last week revealed how the governing paranoiacs turned themselves inside out in trying to dodge a media question on – we’re not kidding – the patterns of snowfall in Southern Ontario.

On another issue relating to secrecy, a National Post columnist wrote: “The Tories have treated Canadians like fools – and we have obliged them by not kicking up an undue fuss.” Strong words and, coming from the right, they suggest that the issue of ethical corruption is one that can cut across party lines.

Earlier this week, Adil Sayeed and Paul Litt suggested that:

If the opposition parties believe in democracy, why not take this opportunity to make democracy the issue? There is an agenda that offers both power and principle, a chance to do well by doing good. It can be realized through a new voting system that would see the popular will directly represented in the legislature.

They suggested that both the Dippers and the Liberals ought to be able to cooperate on that agenda.

The Conservatives' contempt for both integrity and democracy are truly what defines them. Until now, they have played Canadians for fools.. If the opposition parties are wise, they will define the Conservatives by their deficits-- not just their financial deficits.

The failure of Alberta's Wildrose Party -- and the Harperites behind it -- is a reminder that even Conservatives will not abide unbridled hubris.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Things Fall Apart

On the day that the Wildrose Party appears to be on the verge of shaking things up big time in Alberta, Canadians would do well to consider what Janice Kennedy wrote over the weekend in The Ottawa Citizen:

Across the country, it seems, we Canadians are being drawn to the small, the narrow, the self-interested. Rejecting old notions of pan-Canadian equality, we have opted instead for regionalism, courting disintegration. And it no longer seems to bother us.

Some of the seeds were indeed sown in 1976 with the first Parti Québécois election, but others found fertile ground more recently. In 2004, there was Newfoundland premier Danny Williams yanking down the national flag in a fit of provincial political pique.

Three years earlier, there was Harper calling for the insulation of Alberta from the rest of Canada — which he had previously described as “a second-tier socialistic country.”

The people who were behind Stephen Harper are the same people who are behind Danielle Smith. Without the Meech Lake Accord, we have what that document promoted. Pierre Elliot Trudeau rightly foresaw what lay ahead if Canada's new Conservatives were allowed to have their way:

He thought it would be disastrous. Over and over, with crisp intellectual rigour, he dissected the accord’s constitutional failings and its self-destructive implications for Canada — the nation, that is, as opposed to some soulless conglomerate of squabbling satrapies.

And here we are -- one hundred and eighty degrees from the party and the nation which John A. MacDonald founded. The old man would not be happy.

Things are falling apart. The centre cannot hold if we continue down this path.

Friday, April 20, 2012

All The Prime Minister's Men

With the Public Accountants Committee getting ready to take up the F35 fraud, a fight is brewing over which witnesses will be allowed to testify before the committee. The Hill Times reports that Andrew Saxton, the ranking Conservative on the committee, has revealed the government's game plan: "The government is ready to call deputy ministers of the departments involved, but lower-level officials, likely including project managers, would be selected by deputy ministers."

However, they will not accept witnesses nominated by the NDP or the Liberals. One of those witnesses is Phillippe Legasse, of the University of Ottawa. Legasse has said the whole F35 procurement mess could not have happened without cabinet approval:

To be able to get through, to get Industry [Canada] to quiet down about the IRBs [Industrial and Regional Benefits], to get Public Works to just accept that letter, to get TBS [Treasury Board Secretariat] to accept this and to make it through Cabinet, there is no question that the government was complicit in this, and this is something they accepted,” he said.

The Conservatives are doing everything in their power to prevent that kind of opinion from finding its way to the parliamentary record. Liberal MP Gerry Byrne has rightly noted that the prime minister's men

"are looking to try to control the witness list. This is about trying to control the message, this is a political dynamic. There’s a political piece at play here, which members of the executive knew what when. All the president’s men sat at that table just a few minutes ago and all the president’s men made sure that the Prime Minister was protected.”

Recent reports suggest that key information has been erased from the Conservative Party's database, making it more difficult to trace those robocalls. Have you heard this story before?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stephen Harper And The Charter

Stephen Harper has refused to recognize the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a significant Canadian achievement. There are many reasons for the prime minister's ill will. Chief among them, Roy Romanow has said, is that Harper is on the wrong side of history. He harbours a burning resentment for the world of the 21st century. He has, according to Peter C. Newman, "the best medieval mind in the Commons."

Harper views the pluralism embodied in the Charter as heretical. Haroon Siddiqui speculates that Harper's refusal to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Charter is because:

It has advanced free speech, freedom of religion, women’s equality, aboriginal rights, English and French linguistic minority rights, gay rights and the rights of immigrants, refugees and multicultural minorities.

Or, Siddiqui writes, perhaps he hates the Charter because he sees it as a Liberal achievement:

The Charter was ushered in by a Liberal government — that, too, by Pierre Elliot Trudeau who was too French, too rich, too arrogant and too socially progressive for many conservatives. They loathed him. He, in turn, couldn’t care less what they thought, which made them madder still. Their hatred and his disdain made for quite a show.

But that view simply doesn't take note of the facts. Rene Levesque refused to sign the document. But if he had signed, he would have betrayed the raison d'etre of his party. What was more important was that none of premiers who signed the document were Liberals:

But let’s not forget that at the historic 1981 First Ministers’ Conference, which hammered out the Constitution, Trudeau won the backing of nine premiers, none of whom was a Liberal and as many as seven were Conservatives. Even Brian Peckford of Newfoundland and Sterling Lyon of Manitoba, who disliked Trudeau intensely, signed on. And it was a Tory premier, Bill Davis of Ontario, who helped broker the deal. 

The simple truth is that the men who repatriated the constitution -- with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- were men of far greater vision and generosity than Stephen Harper. When judged beside them, it is painfully apparent that Harper is a very small man.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Double Booking

Michael Freguson revealed that, when it came to the purchase of the F35 JSF, the Harper government was keeping two sets of books. Now parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page has revealed that, when it comes to federal spending cuts, the Harperites are adopting the same strategy. According to yesterday's Ottawa Citizen:

The unrolling of the Conservatives’ $5.2 billion in spending cuts, which has public servants on tenterhooks about their jobs, is only half of the reductions that federal departments will be swallowing over the next three years

In fact, several of the cuts which are now being made were signalled as far back as 2010:

The Conservatives have turned to the same pot of money — direct program spending — for three major rounds of spending cuts, which the Parliamentary Budget Office report says will total about $37 billion over five years.

The 2010 budget introduced reductions totalling $15 billion over five years, followed by about another $2 billion over five years in the 2011 budget and finally this year’s is aiming for $20 billion also over five years. But it doesn’t stop there.

After those cuts are absorbed, the government is counting on $10 billion in ongoing yearly savings from departments.

In the  real world, people go to jail for this kind of misrepresentation. The legal term for it is "fraud."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Fallacy That Government Is A Business

Don Lenihan writes that Canadian politics has been corrupted by a powerful fallacy. Simply put, that fallacy is that government should be run like a business. And, because successful businesses identify and fulfill consumer wants, politics has transformed citizens into consumers -- who expect to be satisfied, and who feel no responsibility for the health of the country.

The problem with this model, Lenihan writes, is that

consumers do not own or run the businesses they shop in. Nor are they responsible if a business fails, anymore than they should take credit if it succeeds. Their role is focused on purchasing and enjoying the products and services.

So, in this view, if the public is increasingly disengaged from politics, this is due in large part to the political class, which has encouraged them to see political participation more in terms of costs and benefits than rights and responsibilities.

From Lenihan's perspective, the Roboscam scandal takes on new meaning. If the only decision facing voters is to buy or reject what the government is selling, then citizens simply don't see or feel the danger that a corrupt government represents. The methods a government uses to deliver or to shut down a service are less important than the service itself.

There is a way out of the morass, Lenihan writes. But the solution rests with our political class:

It starts with recognition that the role of political debate is not just to hold government to account or even to inform the public. It is also to engage the public. How our leaders speak to citizens affects how they understand their relationship to government and, ultimately, their role in democracy. The first step in turning things around is to speak to citizens as citizens, rather than simple consumers.

Ultimately, though, things will only change when citizens stop thinking of themselves as consumers.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bob Rae's Record

Those attack ads, branding Bob Rae a "Failure," are ubiquitous these days. But Tim Armstrong, a former deputy minister of Industry and Trade in Rae's government, sets the record straight in this morning's Toronto Star:

For 18 months I worked closely with Bob Rae on two of his highest priority projects — saving Algoma Steel in Sault Saint Marie and securing Bombardier’s purchase of de Havilland Aircraft in Downsview from Boeing Inc. His dedication and negotiating skills in these two successful endeavours, and several other industrial restructurings, were remarkable.

Then Armstrong gets down to specifics:

 • In the decade before the Rae government’s election, Ontario had lost over 4 per cent of its manufacturing employment, triple the loss in Alberta and double that in Quebec over the same period — a substantial inherited problem.
 • Despite the loss of those jobs, Ontario’s manufacturing sector earnings had gone from the lowest among the Great Lakes jurisdictions in 1987 to the second highest in 1991.
 • Unemployment, at 9.6 per cent, was high, but lower than Quebec and below the Canadian average of 10.3 per cent. In the recent 2008-09 recession, Ontario’s unemployment rate was higher, for three years, than the Canadian average, something that never happened under Rae’s leadership.

Labour was very unhappy about Rae's brand of austerity -- Rae Days. But, as the federal government eliminates jobs and services, it's worth remembering that Rae tried to do just the opposite. In fact, his objective was to maintain government services and the people who provided them.

When Mike Harris arrived, he lambasted Rae for irresponsible fiscal management. The Harris solution resulted in welfare cuts, teacher strikes, the Ipperwash tragedy and the Walkerton debacle. In the end -- with Jim Flaherty as Minister of Finance -- Rae's $9.7 billion deficit was reduced to $5.6 billion.

And, finances aside, there were other initiatives.  Armstrong writes:

Other noteworthy achievements included the Jobs Ontario program; incentives to employers to hire people on welfare; the expanded child-care program; the new Trillium Drug Plan giving affordable access to those in need of therapeutic drugs; renewed emphasis on aboriginal affairs; and a deep commitment to the success of our federal system, leading to an affirmative vote in Ontario on the national referendum on the Charlottetown accord.

Meanwhile, the people behind the attack ads are keeping two sets of books.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Socking It To The Cities

When Jane Jacobs moved from the United States to Canada, she looked around at Toronto and concluded that Canada's largest city provided a model for wise urban development. "Here is the most hopeful and healthy city in North America," she wrote, "still unmangled, still with options."

Twenty-five years later -- after the Neo Conservative Revolution was firmly entrenched -- the title of her last book, Dark Age Ahead, chronicled her growing disillusionment with what the vaunted elites had done to Canadian cities.

Mathew Kelaway and Roger Keil write that the recent Harper budget is further proof that the powers that be are draining Canadian cities of their ability to prosper in the 21st century. In Jacob's beloved Toronto:

There is a public poverty that has settled across this urban region in the years between Jacobs’ optimism and gloom. It is evident in the shabbiness of our public space and the dilapidation of our infrastructure. Not for all, but for most, it is conspicuous too by the scarcity, sometimes absence, of our infrastructure — from transit to affordable housing to child care.

There is a private poverty too. It is found all over but is concentrated in the expanse between our downtown and the “cities in waiting” in the exurban belt beyond Steeles. In these inner suburbs, a new in-between city has emerged where social and economic problems abound.

But rather than address these problems, the Harperites have put all their eggs in the resources basket, choosing to build pipelines instead of cities. Given the fact that 80% of us live in cities, something is seriously out of joint. Kellaway and Keil write:

The latest federal budget displays this government’s callous indifference to its role in establishing the conditions necessary for urban centres to succeed. Urban economies build upon communities and infrastructures that support creativity, innovation and productivity. At a minimum, this means national programs for transit, housing and child care. These are the obvious strategies for enhancing our economic competitiveness and supporting, socially, our diverse urban communities.

In place of such urban investment is this budget’s promise to hasten resource development and the infrastructure — explicitly pipelines — to enable its export. Nevermind the objective of post-carbon cities as the oil-centricity of our national economy is more deeply entrenched, our dollar ever more lofty and, correspondingly, the manufacturing base of our urban economies ever more diminished. But this is a budget that continues to expose our manufacturing base not only to this “Dutch Disease” but also to economies with vastly lower wages and weaker employment standards. And, it is into such a remade labour market of our own that this budget will force future seniors for another two years, effective 2023.

Given the fact that Stephen Harper grew up in Toronto, one would think he would be familiar with the problems the city faces. But, then, one would think he is wise enough -- when procuring military hardware -- not to keep two sets of books.

It's simply a myth that the economist-in chief -- "the smartest guy in the room" -- is smart. It's not good economic policy to sock it to Canadian cities.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mitt Romney's Future Is Canada's Future

Now that the fight for the Republican nomination has been settled, Canadians should keep a close eye on Mitt Romney. His future is Canada's future. Romney personifies the financialization of the North American economy in the past thirty-five years. He did not make his money by making things. He became rich by buying, selling and closing down businesses.

Obama has the audacity to suggest that those who make more than a million dollars a year should pay 30% of their earnings in taxes. Mitt paid 13.9% last year on his $21 million income. Stephen Harper has declared that there is no such thing as a good tax.

If Romney wins the U.S. election, Stephen Harper won't have to skip a step. He will already be in lock step. If Barack Obama wins the election, the Buffett Rule will make its way north across the border.  In fact, there are signs that the migration has already started. To buy NDP support for his budget, Andrea Horvath has told Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty that he will have to impose a 2% surtax on those with incomes over $500,000 annually.

Haroon Siddiqui has written that a Harper Romney alliance would be disastrous for Canada:

Romney sees enemies around the world who need to be killed or kicked into submission.“We should not negotiate with the Taliban. We should defeat the Taliban . . . and kill them.” Squishing the “scumbags” is what Rick Hillier, our own army chief, once said, only to have Barack Obama negotiate with the Taliban, a proposition that Stephen Harper, too, considered blasphemous.

In fact, the whole F35 fiasco suggests that Harper truly believes in promoting a Pax Americana. A wiser prime minister -- Jean Chretien -- knew that joining the Coalition of the Willing was a misguided attempt by those who couldn't to accomplish what they shouldn't.

Whatever his faults, Obama has sought to dial back American triumphalism. Harper seeks to glorify it. An Obama victory would be in Canada's best interest. Heaven knows, Stephen Harper's victory has already done enough damage to this nation.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Taking Aim At Their Enemies

Jim Flaherty claims that the public service cuts he is making are moderate. He argues that the Harper government is simply demonstrating prudent financial management. But, Susan Riley notes, the cuts present a textbook case on how not to downsize. Worse still, it's becoming more and more apparent that, under the guise of  "moderation," the Harperites are getting rid of agencies they despise.

Riley quotes Linda Duxbury, a business professor at Carleton, whose area of expertise is organizational health:

When it comes to layoffs, Duxbury says, “it is more merciful to say ‘you’re losing your job,’ than sending letters to thousands saying ‘you might lose your job’.” That only creates insecurity across the system, and “turbulence and chaos for those left.” They suffer a form of “survivor syndrome,” a debilitating mixture of guilt and relief.

If anything, the F35 debacle proves that these impostors couldn't run a 7-11. But they are very good at destroying the people and the organizations which don't fit their Social Darwinist paradigm. Rights and Democracy died because, when it looked at the Middle East, it saw more than the state of Israel. The CBC is outside the paradigm because it is a "public broadcaster."

And yesterday, Carol Goar reports, the "prudent" managers of Canada's finances threw the National Council on Welfare "on the scrap heap:"

Since 1962, the National Council of Welfare had held up a mirror to the nation, highlighting the pockets of poverty and warning policy-makers of the consequences of neglecting those in need. It gave non-profit groups the facts they needed to speak credibly about hardship in a land of plenty. It tracked the emergence and growth of a crack in society between the comfortably well-off and the struggling. And it brought together social policy thinkers to find solutions to poverty — or at least keep the debate alive.

Dr. Kellie Leitch -- who remained silent as her colleagues continued to ship asbestos to the Third World -- claims that the government is simply rationalizing its resources. She says organizations like Campaign 2000 and Canada Without Poverty are duplicating  the Council's mandate. Goar writes:

Actually they don’t. They don’t have a government mandate “to advise the (human resources) minister on matters concerning poverty and the realities of low-income Canadians.” They don’t have the resources to buy Statistics Canada’s unpublished data. They don’t have the statutory authority to create opportunities for the poor to participate in the national decision-making process.

There was another reason for the death of NCW:

Everybody working in the field knew the real reason the Conservatives dumped the agency was that it was an unwanted piece of Liberal baggage. They hadn’t listened to it in years. They didn’t want to be nagged about poverty, inequality or social responsibility.

Under the smokescreen of fiscal responsibility, the Harperites are eliminating their enemies.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Deja Vu All Over Again

Peter Mackay is peddling the line that the Auditor General advocates a new kind of accounting when it comes to the purchase of military hardware. But Andrew Coyne points out that Sheila Fraser criticized the Harper government for the same violation of established accounting procedures when it purchased 43 Cyclone and Chinook helicopters:

“We found that National Defence has been slow to assess the full life-cycle costs,” she reported with regard to the Cyclones, “and some elements of these costs have still not been completely determined.” She listed some of the costs that had not been included, that should have been: “costs related to contracted Sea King support, new infrastructure, Canadian Forces personnel, and ongoing operating costs.” Similar deficiencies were found with respect to the costing of the Chinooks.

The Harperites responded to Fraser's report in exactly the same way they responded to Micheal Ferguson's report: They said they "agreed" with the Auditor General's findings; then chose to do as they wished. Coyne writes:

So there is no disagreement here: no dispute, no confusion, no mistake. In the fall of 2010, Peter MacKay was Minister of Defence. It is inconceivable that he could be unaware of his own department’s position on this major issue: that all costs should be included, including operating costs, including personnel, as the Auditor-General had recommended. Note that her report did not exclude any costs on the grounds that this was “money we’re already spending” on the asset to be replaced, an exception MacKay has tried to carve out.

And once that claim is knocked down — that this was all just a dispute over accounting — there is no escape. The government knowingly misrepresented the true costs of the F-35 in its public statements. It knew how it was supposed to account for these, under Treasury Board rules, under the Auditor-General’s recommendation, and by its own publicly stated agreement with both. And it knew how it was doing so in its own internal documents, going back to 2010. It simply chose to tell a different story to Parliament and the public.

The conclusion is inescapable. The government defrauded Parliament when it was in session. It defrauded the public during the last election. If we were living in a true parliamentary democracy -- with a responsible government -- the Harper dynasty would fall.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

History Repeats Itself

The Globe and Mail reports this morning that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in particular will feel the consequences of the Harper government's drive to reduce spending. Bill Curry reports that:

the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Agriculture Canada will be among the hardest-hit departments as Ottawa rolls out where it will cut 19,200 jobs across the country.

These cuts are being made in the aftermath of the listeriosis outbreak of 2008. The Harperites appear to have forgotten that "an independent review of the listeriosis outbreak found 22 deaths and 35 serious illnesses were connected to contaminated Maple Leaf Foods deli meats."

Those of us who live in Ontario remember an even more serious tragedy, which occurred in Walkerton, after the Harris government reduced funding to the Ministry of the Environment. Like his federal cousins, Premier Mike Harris tried to blame the debacle on the previous NDP government. However, a public inquiry laid part of the blame for the Walkerton disaster on cutbacks ordered by his government.

Jim Flaherty --a Harris alumnus -- insists that the cuts are "back office stuff."  After the F35 boondoggle, Canadians would be foolish to believe anything Mr. Flaherty tells them.

History continues to repeat itself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Joke's On Us

It was a classic con. Pose as stolid, competent managers while you raid the business, then burn it down. And they pulled it off -- until now. Linda McQuaig writes about how the Harperites must have laughed at all the rubes in The Great White North. They cut back on internet access for the poorest Canadians while sinking money into a flying white elephant:

Throughout that campaign, Harper and his ministers stuck adamantly to the $15 billion estimate — while knowing it wasn’t true — and won a majority government.

Ha ha ha! What a knee slapper! And did you hear the one about the two Canadians who walked into a polling station, only to discover it was the wrong one!

But, while a $10 billion cost overrun is apparently no big deal to the Harperites (who, oddly, present themselves as sound fiscal managers), they quickly shifted into “austerity” mode after the election, lecturing Canadians on the dire need to reign in government spending.

Just last week, citing “challenging fiscal times,” the Harper team ended a program that provides Internet access at libraries and community centres, giving low-income Canadians — about half of whom lack Internet access — a lifeline to the world, as well as a way to apply for jobs.

The nationwide program, which costs only $15 million, operates with the help of volunteers.

This is a government which believes that social programs should not be government's responsibility, because they are -- essentially -- charity. And charity should be voluntary. Except they have ditched the volunteers.

They must have done a lot of snickering on election night. They pulled it off. The joke was on us.

Monday, April 09, 2012

It All Depends On Who Keeps The Books

Yesterday, Peter Mackay admitted that the Auditor General was right. Mackay and his cabinet colleagues had known that the F-35's would cost $25 billion. The difference between the $14.7 billion figure, which the government touted, and the Auditor General's number was simply a matter of accounting:

The $10-billion difference is accounted for by a "different interpretation in the all-up costs at arriving at $25 billion," MacKay told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

"It is a different calculation than an acquisition. We have always said that $9 billion is the cost of the aircraft. There's an additional $5.7 billion then for maintenance," MacKay said.

"But the $10 billion is money that we're paying right now. That is, money that goes to pay the pilots of the CF-18 program and fuel, oil, upkeep of the existing fleet."

Ferguson's figures are based on calculations that differ from how accounting for major procurements has always been done, MacKay said.

This is an argument we've heard before. The In and Out Scandal, the government claimed, resulted from a difference of opinion about how election costs should be recorded.

Essentially, Mackay  argues that the government is entitled to its own set of facts. The numbers, he says, are what we say they are.  It's the same tactic the Harperites employed when they were found in contempt of Parliament. It all amounted, Stephen Harper said, to being outvoted. He needed a majority government to guarantee that his numbers were accepted.

Like the Bushies, the Harpies believe that they make their own reality.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Stephen Harper: International Statesman?

Over the next four years, the Harper government will cut $523.5 million from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rights and Democracy was only one of the victims of the cuts. In reality, the Harperites killed that agency three years ago.

In fact, over the last three years, the Harper government has quietly been strangling other agencies. Haroon Siddiqui writes that:

The Harperites boast a commitment to the promotion of democracy, human rights and freedom of religion abroad. Yet they have systematically eviscerated the groups that have long advanced those Canadian values. Among the victims: the Ottawa-based Forum of Federations, which promotes federalism and democratic governance; Kairos, the global human rights arm of 11 Canadian churches; the Canadian Council of International Cooperation, which coordinates public policy on foreign aid; and MATCH, which worked on rights of women in the developing world. 

The cuts to Foreign Affairs are yet another example of what Bob Rae calls the government's "organized hypocrisy."  The reason for that hypocrisy is a little hard to gauge. But then Stephen Harper, born and raised in the suburbs of Toronto, likes to pose as an Alberta cowboy. Siddiqui suggests that underneath the facade, something else is going on:

Harper came to office in 2006 harbouring a deep distrust of the federal bureaucracy, which he considered a catacomb of Liberal sympathizers. He held a particular animus for foreign affairs, whose officials he thought of as elitist, having never travelled abroad. More crucially, he feared their resistance to his blind support of Israel.

Harper is obsessive about the state of Israel  or -- not to put too fine a point on it -- he obsesses about the Netanyahu government. The reasons for Harper's obsession are not clear. But one has to wonder what Bibi knows about Stephen that Canadians don't know.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Cult Of Efficiency

The Harper government tells us that its recent budget is all about making government more efficient. It's an argument the world has heard before. In the 1930's, Dan Gardiner writes:

Liberal democracies withered while authoritarianism blossomed. And many leading thinkers became convinced that open societies simply couldn't compete.

Open societies have free markets, which means duplication of efforts, failed experiments, and wasted resources. That's inefficient. And democratic governments encourage debate, which means squabbling, delay, and private interests blocking necessary changes. That's ineffective.

Authoritarianism replaced all that with centralization of decision-making, rigid hierarchies, and planning. That meant efficiency. And, when change was necessary, it would be done, swiftly and without complaint. The trains would run on time.

Except their were drawbacks. The Germans, the Italians and the Russians stand as witnesses to those drawbacks. Fortunately, democracy -- sloppy and inefficient as it was -- prevailed:
In 1948, Luther Gulick, a highranking official in the Roosevelt administration, wrote a book to explain why. The answer, he decided, was that the supposed strengths of authoritarianism were actually weaknesses and the weaknesses of open societies were strengths.

In authoritarianism, plans "are hatched in secret by partially informed men," Gulick noted. Such plans may contain weaknesses, but those in charge won't know because they're not subjected to broad criticism. "Even the leaders tend to believe their own propaganda; they live in cocoons. All of the stream of authority and information is from the top down."

But in an open society, "the public and the press have no hesitation in observing and criticizing the first evidence of failure once a program has been put into operation." As a result, information is far more widely shared and this ultimately makes actions better informed and more effective.

Which brings us to the F35 debacle. The Harper government refused to supply detailed cost estimates for the project. The numbers it floated, we now know, were patently false. Parliament has been prorogued twice. Parliamentary committees meet in camera. And environmental hearings will be curtailed, we are told, because they are inefficient.

The Auditor General has just provided us with evidence of how spectacularly inefficient the Harper government is. To make matters worse, Gardiner writes, there are more boondoggles to come.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Hard Sell

Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor keep digging. This morning, in the Ottawa Citizen, they report that:

A training manual used by call-centre workers soliciting donations for the Conservative Party outlines high-pressure tactics designed to overcome the objections of pensioners, widowers and the unemployed to raise money for the party.

The manual used by workers in the Ottawa office of Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) instructs callers on how to deal with low-income donors who say they can't afford to give.

Everyone receives these kinds of calls. And everyone is annoyed by them. But, remember, they are made on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada -- who tell us their mission is to serve the people of this country. But consider what former employees of RMG have said about the tactics the company uses:

"I felt like I was bullying them all the time," said one former worker. "You're trying to guilt them for giving for this good cause."

"It made me feel creepy, but the whole industry is creepy. If you didn't do well, you got fired. You had to sell these guys. You had to create a sense of urgency."

The much vaunted Conservatives' fund raising advantage is based on bullying those whose support they seek. In fact, the Conservative Party's approach to everything is based on  bullying -- supporters, the opposition, its own MPs.

It has become a well established pattern.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

We Were Warned

Now that the Auditor General has confirmed the figures which Kevin Page made public over a year ago, and now that Elections Canada has confirmed that it has received reports of election fraud in 200 of this country's 308 ridings, it might be worthwhile recalling that the roots of Stephen Harper's party go back much further than Preston Manning or Bible Bill Aberhart.

The real spiritual godfather of the Reform Party was Frederich Nietzsche, who wrote in The Will To Power: "The great majority of men have no right to existence, but are a misfortune to higher men."

In his book, Whose Country Is It, Anyway?  Dalton Camp wrote that Nietzsche's axiom

is a codicil for the comfortable, for the affluent and the obscenely rich in our time, as it was the inspiration for fascism earlier in the century. The new order is not without its coterie of apologists and intellectual dandies. Indeed, it even has a political party of its own, called -- irony of ironies -- the "Reform" Party.

Back in 2004, Joe Clark warned that The Harper Party was, "a dangerous choice for voters." And two months before the last election, Robert Kennedy, Jr wrote that:

Harper, often referred to as "George W. Bush's Mini Me," is known for having mounted a Bush like war on government scientists, data collectors, transparency, and enlightenment in general. He is a wizard of all the familiar tools of demagoguery; false patriotism, bigotry, fear, selfishness and belligerent religiosity.

Harper's attempts to make lying legal on Canadian television is a stark admission that right wing political ideology can only dominate national debate through dishonest propaganda. Since corporate profit-taking is not an attractive vessel for populism, a political party or broadcast network that makes itself the tool of corporate and financial elites must lie to make its agenda popular with the public.

When Stephen Harper was found in contempt of Parliament -- and Canadians had a chance to do something about it -- they chose to give him a majority government. As the man said, "Cheat me once, you're stupid. Cheat me twice. . ." Well, you know the rest.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Swinging The Wrecking Ball

The Harper government has killed Rights and Democracy. The decision -- even though it wasn't mentioned in Tuesday's budget -- should come as no surprise. In fact, it's pretty clear that the Harperites had no respect or use for the organization which Brian Mulroney founded in 1988. Former board member Payam Akhavan told the Huffington Post that:

This seems to have been the plan all along: One of the Board members David Matas openly wrote during the crisis [when Harper appointees decreed there would be no support for Palestinian organizations] that Rights and Democracy should be terminated. This decision appears to be motivated by a narrow agenda and is yet another expression of Canada's disengagement and decline on the international stage."

In fact, even though Stephen Harper appears to enjoy the spotlight in Davos and Washington, the truth is that he and his party have little use for international diplomacy. Their management of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Andrew Cohen writes, reveals that they are all about "Small government. Small minds. Small ideas:"

At root the budget reflects a disdain for diplomacy, particularly if it evokes the legacy of Lester Pearson. To the chagrin of the Conservatives, his name adorns the headquarters of the department on Sussex Drive. In response, the Minister has reportedly struck that part of his office address from his business card.

As the budget will foster a diminished Canada at home, without ambition to address income inequity or embrace national projects, it will foster a diminished Canada abroad.

Ed Broadbent, the agency's first president, was blunt in his assessment of the government's management of Rights and Democracy:

For many years, the president and members of the board, as well as staff, worked to produce a human rights and democratic development institution that was respected throughout the world. Regrettably, the most recent appointees as chairperson, and a number of the board members, abandoned completely its mission of independence in pursuing human rights. It took on many biased views, particularly but not restricted to issues of the Middle East, and did untold damage to its reputation and indeed, in my view, contributed to the death of Rémy Beauregard.

But, then -- as the F35 debacle proves -- this government couldn't manage its way out of a wet paper bag. However, they're very good at swinging a wrecking ball.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The List Grows Longer

The Harper government keeps adding to its enemies list. First and foremost, there are the "radical environmentalists." And, of course, there is the CBC. And then there is the entire province of Quebec. Now, the government has turned its sights on the province of Ontario.

When Bob Rae rose in the House yesterday and asked,

“I wonder if the Minister of Finance could explain to us why, when he was in Toronto on Friday, he took the opportunity to single out the province of Ontario, accusing it of mismanaging its finances precisely at a time when it is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance to be speaking for all of Canada?”

Peter Van Loan responded in the usual fashion. Every answer avoids policy issues. Every question is greeted with an ad hominem attack:

“I can understand why the leader of the third party is avoiding that subject. This is not his kind of budget. This is a budget that does not increase taxes,” Mr. Van Loan said.

“When he was premier of the province of Ontario he increased taxes 22 different ways,” he said. “This is a budget that sets us on the track to a balanced budget, to eliminate the deficit in three years. When he was premier of the province of Ontario, he set record level deficits.” 

The fact that the present Federal Minister of Finance left a large whole in Ontario's budget is of no consequence. The fact that he ran up the largest deficit in Canadian history is not an issue. The fact that he is married to the deputy leader of the Ontario Conservative Party is of no weight. The fact that Ontario's industrial base was devastated during the Great Recession is not important. The country's future lies in the muck, otherwise known as the Alberta tarsands.

But consider: several of the Conservatives' Ontario seats were won by desperately thin majorities -- and that was before Elections Canada started investigating charges of voter suppression. The Harperites are playing a dangerous game. If they alienate enough Ontario voters --  as they have Quebec voters -- they will sink their own ship.

You don't choose your enemies. You make them. And, if last week's budget proves anything, it's that -- when looked at from a longer perspective -- the Harper government makes stunningly stupid choices.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Harrper's War On The Environment

Canadians were quite happy not go to war in Iraq -- even though Stephen Harper said we had a moral duty to be there. And they were shocked this summer when the prime minister suggested that Canada should take on Iran. But, when Canadians learned during last week's budget that Mr. Harper had declared war on the environment, they shrugged. Christopher Hume writes in The Toronto Star that:

Even by the standards of a regime defined by its leader’s paranoia, Flaherty’s desire to stifle all debate about the environment was heavy-handed and ominously anti-democratic. Such vindictiveness indicates Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s generals are more concerned that they let on about the real impact of the tarsands, the exploitation of which has become his government’s Holy Grail.

If there was ever any doubt that Harper, Flaherty and Co. were in the pocket of big oil, last week's budget should have dispelled that illusion. Unfortunately, the majority of Canadians don't seem to be upset:

On that score, however, the population will give [Harper] a free ride. Though Canadians like to think they care about climate change, they are singularly unwilling to do anything about it. Mere mention of relatively benign measures such as road tolls, increased gas taxes and so on has normally mild-mannered Canucks sputtering in their beer.

Besides, these are hard times; Canadian should consider themselves lucky to have a resource such as the tarsands, one that will provide thousands of jobs for decades to come.

Harper claims to be far sighted, even as he takes Canada back to the days when we were hewers of wood and drawers of water, Like his ally, Rob Ford, he worries about the "war against the car." Yet 400,000 Torontoians voted for Rob Ford. And Stephen Harper -- admittedly by stealth -- is Prime Minister of Canada.

It happened on our watch. Cassius was unhappy when Julius Caesar declared himself Emperor. But he understood why it had happened. "The fault," he told Brutus, "is not in our stars but in ourselves."

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

What's That, David?

David Frum, writing in the National Post, gushes with praise for the Harper government. "Canada," he writes, "can fairly claim to be the best governed country in the world." The occasion for Frum's accolades was the release of the Conservatives' 2012 budget -- which cut government spending, gave almost 20,000 civil servants their walking papers and raised the Canadian retirement age from 65 to 67.

One should remember that Frum famously wrote speeches for George W. Bush -- most particularly the one which labelled Iraq as a premier member of the "axis of evil." He has also claimed that the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau was "a very bad man." He took another swipe at Trudeau yesterday. Compared to Trudeau, he wrote, Harper is the very soul of common sense:

Trudeau’s budgeting was notorious for its recklessness. Harper’s budgeting is impeccable in its caution. By 2015-2016, Canada will have reduced both spending and debt to pre-recession levels. Nobody else on earth will be able to say anything like that.

What's reckless in the Harper government's economic projections:

A less dramatic economic policy can support growth and boost revenues. Here’s a trade that a lot of other countries would gratefully accept: Jim Flaherty’s plan allows spending to rise by 11.65% over 5 years. Over those same five years, revenues are expected to surge by 26%.

Frum's confidence in Canadian fiscal policy sounds a lot like his certitude that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction -- a claim that Frum and Stephen Harper eagerly supported. Frum has since become a pariah in the Republican establishment, turning on those who used to help pay his bills.

He completely ignores the fact that on the same day the budget was released, the Director of Elections Canada appeared before a parliamentary committee to report that, during our last election, there were complaints of fraud in 200 of Canada's 308 ridings.

Clearly, Mr. Frum suffers from a severe case of misplaced admiration.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.