Saturday, June 30, 2012

Canada Day 2012

Back when I taught high school students -- it seems like such a long time ago -- I used to proclaim that, were I king, I would make a cross Canada trip a mandatory part of the high school curriculum.

Before they graduated, I wanted every student to see the tide recede and roll back into the Bay of Fundy. I wanted every one of them to stop at a lookout on Mount Royal and look down on the lights of Montreal. They would have had to spend another night on the banks of the French River in Ontario, and watch the sky open up, as they left the Lake of the Woods and headed for Winnipeg. And, most of all, they would have traveled from Banff to Jasper, surrounded on both sides by those mountains.

That would never happen, of course, particularly in these times of austerity. But it could probably be done for the cost of a few F35's or a couple of prisons. The point is that it's a matter of priorities. And, despite all the flag waving, the Harper government's priorities are elsewhere.

Stephen Harper proclaims that I won't recognize Canada when he's through with it. I continue to cling to the belief that anyone who is deeply familiar with the Canadian landscape knows that he or she is very small in the grand scheme of things.

And I continue to hope that Canadians will see Stephen Harper for who he is -- a very small man.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Something To Celebrate

Robert Reich called it right -- although he was one vote short. The day before the Supreme Court found the Affordable Care Act constitutional, he predicted that John Roberts would be the justice who would back the act. Conservatives are predictably furious. They accuse Roberts of everything from legal hanky-panky to treachery.

But Paul Krugman writes in today's New York Times that: "This was a big day, a victory for due process, decency and the American people." That's because there are so many winners -- not just the 30 million Americans who do not have health insurance:

In short, unless you belong to that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people’s lives, the winners from that Supreme Court decision are your friends, your relatives, the people you work with — and, very likely, you. For almost all of us stand to benefit from making America a kinder and more decent society.  

It would be heartening if Americans could now move on to the question of jobs and how to create them. Rest assured, though, that yesterday's landmark decision will be part of the election campaign. Krugman writes that:

what was and is really striking about the anti-reformers is their cruelty. It would be one thing if, at any point, they had offered any hint of an alternative proposal to help Americans with pre-existing conditions, Americans who simply can’t afford expensive individual insurance, Americans who lose coverage along with their jobs. But it has long been obvious that the opposition’s goal is simply to kill reform, never mind the human consequences. We should all be thankful that, for the moment at least, that effort has failed. 

 Ironically, the genesis of the Affordable Care Act came from the Heritage Foundation. And the first politican to implement the plan was a Republican governor -- the man currently hoping to move into the White House -- who claims that repealing the act will be his first act as president.

You get the impression that Republicans oppose the act, not because of its substance, but because of who proposed it. Perhaps that's why they have insisted on calling it "Obamacare."

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Convocation of Dunces

Peter Mackay  -- or rather his spokesman -- crowed yesterday, after the Military Police Complaints Commission released its report:

“[It’s] one more investigation demonstrating that no credible evidence was found to support the allegations against our men and women in uniform,” said Josh Zanin, Mr. MacKay’s press secretary. “We are proud of their professionalism in the conduct of the work we ask them to do.

But that's not what the report was about. The Globe and Mail reports that most of the report was about government stonewalling:

The watchdog says Ottawa’s conduct during its long probe threatened its independence, and lamented the “overall attitude of antipathy” shown by a government that insisted it, not the commission, would determine what information should be disclosed.

The government fought the commission every step of the way:

The $3.4-million inquiry into Afghan prisoners lasted more than five years and four months, stretching back to when Canada was still fighting a bloody war in Kandahar, the heartland of Taliban insurgents.

Wednesday’s report describes how for 21 months the Harper government refused to provide records to the watchdog. “The doors were basically slammed shut on document disclosure,” commissioners say.

And the Harper government -- as always -- has learned nothing from experience:

The government offered more evidence Wednesday that it’s not about to change its approach. It resisted the watchdog group’s calls for its commissioners to be granted less restricted access to government records, saying it would prefer to decide on a “case-by-case basis.”

Peter Tinsley, former chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, said this reluctance “sets the table for a repeat” of the stonewalling and delays that afflicted the Afghan detainee probe.

The Conservatives like to claim that the prime minister is the smartest guy in the room. What they don't say is that it's a small room and the people in it are dunces.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Killing The ELA

Forty-four years ago, the federal government established the Experimental Lakes Area. Peter Kent has announced that his ministry is eliminating the agency. Michael Harris reports that the ELA has a stellar reputation. Consider what it has done:

When DFO itself was amongst the host of visionaries who couldn’t see acid rain, and politicians like Ronald Reagan were publicly questioning the scientific basis for the need to take action, it was the ELA under [David] Schindler that worked to provide the irrefutable evidence that lakes were dying. The work went on from 1976 to 2004. As a result of the findings of Canadian scientists, the EPA in the U.S. took action and new international treaties were established.

The “Metallicus” experiment established a link between atmospheric mercury deposits and mercury in fish. That is a vitally important connection to understand given that 80 percent of the lakes listed in the Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish are currently under mercury consumption advisories. ELA research on this deadly neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor has been used by the EPA to design new regulations to control the atmospheric emissions of mercury from coal-fired plants.

Harris details the agency's record. But Minister Kent says that its work can be taken up by someone else -- perhaps a university. What is more pertinent is that the ELA has established thresholds for monitoring oil sands development. Harris writes that:

the ELA established the biological and chemical thresholds where acidification becomes problematic. The fact that we can now conduct responsible monitoring in the oil sands is a direct result of invaluable research done long ago in northwestern Ontario. The lion’s share of what governments have to do now is bring in responsible monitoring at the oil sands based on ELA research, not reinvent the wheel.

And, as for the cost savings which will be generated by closing the ELA,  Harris notes that:

It is false to use cost savings as the rationale for the cut. Most of the research cost of the ELA are not paid for by government.

The costs of the installation, divided between EC and DFO according to a 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, are embarrassingly modest – $2 million annually, including approximately $650K for operating costs and the balance in salaries.

And here is a truly shameful number. How much do you think each of the four ELA/DFO scientists receives annually to cover their research expenses? Two thousand bucks. Bottom line. Canadians pay ten times more for the PM’s security detail than they do for this world class science facility. They paid ten times more for the celebration of the War of 1812. For the price of a single F-35, ELA’s operational budget could be financed for the next 150 years.

No, the ELA provides evidence that the Harper government's single minded focus on the oil sands is sheer folly. And anyone or anything which provides evidence contrary to Harper government policy must be eliminated.

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Appealing To Our Better Angels

It is hard to predict the future of the Liberal Party of Canada. Richard Gwyn wrote yesterday that Bob Rae's decision to not seek the party leadership  has made it possible --  the first time in a long time -- for the Liberal Party to choose a genuinely new leader.

But, more importantly, Gwyn  highlighted the advantages that Liberalism has as a political philosophy. The problem with conservatism is that it thrives on darkness:

The problem may reside in conservatism’s character. Inherently, it’s a pessimistic creed. Conservatives are skeptical about the possibility of improving human nature. This may well be realistic, but its political consequence is that while Conservatives can certainly offer efficiency, they have great difficulty in offering hope.

Liberalism itself (as opposed to the Liberal party) is inherently optimistic. This may well be a naive belief. But hope, or the vision thing, comes easily to liberal-minded Liberals.

The Conservative Party is led by a man who personifies conservatism -- pinched, mean spirited and arrogant. He brings out the worst in us. The Liberals must chose a leader who personifies liberalism -- optimistic, generous and deidicated to equality.

We need a leader who will appeal to our better angels. The search is on.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Problem With Cheerleaders

Yesterday, Tim Harper speculated about who would stay in and who would be tossed
out of Stephen Harper's cabinet. To qualify for Harper's cabinet, you have to be a cheerleader. But the truth is that every member of the Conservative caucus has to be a Harper cheerleader. Those with any doubts -- like the hapless David Wilks -- soon learn how to stick to the script.

Ralph Surette quotes former Reform Party MP Bob Mills on the problem with cheerleaders:

“I have always said, if you’re smart, you surround yourself with a bunch of really smart people; and if you’re dumb, you surround yourself with a bunch of cheerleaders.”

Which begs the question, "Just how smart is Stephen Harper?" I note this morning that Harper spent the St. Jean Baptiste weekend in Conservative MP Jacques Gourde's riding, addressing an invitation only crowd. After the speech, Christian Paradis -- one of the Prime Minister's most foolish cheerleaders -- declared that the Conservatives are prepared to work with the separatist Parti Quebecois.

Such a strange turn of events, given the fulmination before last year's election about the treachery implicit in any "separatist coalitons."

One wonders how Canadians can take these people seriously anymore. They're obviously not the sharpest tools in the shed.  Remember: George W. Bush got his start as a cheerleader.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Power and Stupidity

Yesterday, Dan Gardiner repeated Lord Acton's famous maxim: Power corrupts. But power does more than that, he wrote. It encourages stupidity. The Harper government's omnibus budget bill is a case study in stupidity:

Even among Conservatives, the unprecedentedly sweeping nature of C-38 produced some modest rumblings of discontent.

The government could have responded by making a show of listening to the opposition and Conservative backbenchers, picking a few innocuous amendments, and passing them. Doing that would have cost the government essentially nothing. But it may have softened the complaints a little. And, at a minimum, it would have taken away the inevitable opposition attack line of “They wouldn’t change so much as a comma! They’re treating Parliament like a rubber stamp!”

But they didn’t do that. Instead, they methodically and relentlessly voted down every single one of hundreds of proposed amendments, no matter how modest or reasonable they may be — making themselves look immodest and unreasonable and seeming to confirm that they do, indeed, expect Parliament to rubber stamp legislation.

Strictly from the perspective of the government’s self-interest, this was astonishingly dumb.

The budget bill was a ham-fisted attempt to hide the government's stupidity. But forget, for the moment, what this government does. Consider what it says. The Minister of Immigration calls an Alberta deputy minister "a complete and utter asshole." The Minister of  Environment says that Canadian environmentalists are spreading "misinformation and mischaracterization." He also claims those same environmentalists are laundering foreign money. The Minister of Public Safety says that if you don't side with the government, you side with the child pornographers. And the Prime Minister says that the world needs more austerity.

There's another famous maxim -- this one from Mark Twain:

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Something Rotten

It goes without saying that a lot hangs on the Supreme Court's review of Justice Lederer's decision to rerun the election in Etobicoke-Centre. Some claim that it's only a matter of 26 votes. But, as Michael Harris points out, a little history -- particularly the history of the 2008 election in that riding -- gives one some perspective.

Etobicoke-Centre has always been noted for its dirty politics. But in 2008 -- when Boris Wrzesnewskyj won the riding -- he was

surrounded by Tory thugs coming out of a public debate and taken to task on his stand over same-sex marriage. “Are you a fag?” he was asked. Disgusting flyers were tucked under the windshield-wipers of cars in church parking lots. Two thousand of his lawn signs were vandalized and had to be replaced. Swastikas began showing up on his material, a not inconsequential tactic in a riding where there were so many families whose parents had fled the Nazis.

Borys began to notice that bad things happened to his campaigns just before voting day. In 2008, on the Thanksgiving Day long weekend, he went to canvas three apartment buildings near Eglington Avenue. His practice was to work his way down from the top floor. He didn’t get far from the top floor before realizing that something was terribly wrong. People opened the door just a crack and stared at him silently. Finally one lady said, “You’re such a fraud.”

The building had been flooded with handouts by the Conservatives that looked like a compilation of actual newspaper stories. Though fake, the theme they retailed was deadly: Borys was missing in action in Ottawa and rarely attended committee meetings. He pulled his canvas teams and regrouped.

“They gave one example where they said I only attended 2 out of 49 meetings. I wasn’t actually even on that committee but had gone as a proxy a few times for someone who couldn’t attend. Then they made up a committee that didn’t even exist. As for the committee I was actually on, public accounts, they offered no information.”

Taken with the robocall scandal and the smearing of Irwin Cotler, the pattern is as clear as the nose on Stephen Harper's face. Something is rotten in Etobicoke Centre. But the rot is merely an extension of the rot at the heart of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Interestingly enough, Etobicoke-Centre is the riding where Stephen Harper grew up.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The World Is Watching

Philip Jennings has Stephen Harper's number. Jennings, the General Secretary of the Switzerland based UNI Global Union, recently told the Huffington Post that:

Stephen Harper is a male version of Margaret Thatcher. This man has an employer’s agenda, which has nothing to do with the welfare of the Canadian people, and he’s using this opportunity to dismantle the social safety net of the nation.

Just look south at what has happened when collective bargaining disappears in the private sector and the public sector: levels of inequality that we have never seen; wages that have stood still for a quarter of a century; and the overall economic health of the world's leading economy has suffered.

Jennings isn't the only person who has noticed rising Canadian inequality. The United Nations has begun to make the case that Canada is no longer one of the best countries to live in:

In recent weeks the United Nations Children’s Fund has told Ottawa it trails most of its peers in fighting child poverty.

The UN special rapporteur on food was given the bum’s rush when he said Ottawa is not living up to its human rights obligations by ignoring hunger in this country.

Earlier this year, the UN Committee Against Torture reported that the Canadian government

was “complicit’ in human rights violations against three Arab-Canadian men held in Syria after Sept. 11, 2001, and contributed to the mistreatment of Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay.

And, this week, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that the Charest government's Bill 78 was a cause for alarm.

Canada is changing under Stephen Harper -- and the world is not impressed. That does not appear to bother Mr. Harper. But it should bother all Canadians.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What PBO?

In 2006, the Harper government created the Parliamentary Budget Office. It was necessary, the Conservatives said, to ensure government accountability. Yesterday, the man who runs that office, Kevin Page, threatened to sue the government because it was purposely withholding information:

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is warning the federal government that 64 departments and agencies have broken the law by refusing to hand over information about upcoming budget cuts.

In a June 18 letter to the Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters, Page says he has obtained a legal opinion that confirms his right to request and receive information about the effects of $5.2 billion in cuts.

"Whether legal action will be taken going forward will depend on a myriad of factors, not the least of which is whether the information is provided or valid legal grounds are advanced by the Clerk or deputy heads for failing to provide the information," Page told The Huffington Post Canada in an email.

When asked yesterday about its battle with the PBO, John Baird -- the clown Prince of the Harper regime -- acted as the government's spokesman:

Baird replied that during the last election, the Conservatives ran on a plan for growth and job creation and, quoting that magical 750,000 net new jobs number, it seems to be working. And though he didn’t name-check the PBO at all, Baird did note the creation of its Federal Accountability Act — the one that gives the PBO its power.

It was invented to clean up the mess left by the Liberals, Baird said. “Thank goodness”, he told the House, that we’ve come a long way since the very dark days under the Liberal government.

Really? While Baird responded with a non answer, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso responded to Stephen Harper's latest lecture to the Europeans:

"We are not complacent about the difficulties. We are extremely open. I wish that all our partners were so open about their own difficulties. We are extremely open and we are engaging our partners but we are certainly not coming here to receive lessons from nobody," he said.

One wonders when Canadians will rise, en masse, and deliver the same message to the Prime Minister.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daniel Berrigan

A week ago, Chris Hedges wrote that he had encountered Daniel Berrigan, now 92, in New York City's Zucotti Park -- the place where the Occupy Wall Street protesters encamped until they were evicted. There was a time when Berrigan was compared to Guy Fawkes, another Jesuit radical.

Hedges recalled that Berrigan and his brother Philip,

a Josephite priest and World War II combat veteran, along with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, led some of the first protests against the Vietnam War. In 1967 Philip Berrigan was arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience and was sentenced to six years in prison. Philip’s sentence spurred Daniel to greater activism. He traveled to Hanoi with the historian Howard Zinn to bring back three American prisoners of war. And then he and eight other Catholic priests concocted homemade napalm and on May 17, 1968, used it to burn 378 draft files in the parking lot of the Catonsville, Md., draft board. 

The Berrigans were imprisoned. But that experience did not dissuade them from practicing civil disobedience:

In 1980 he and Philip, along with six other protesters, illegally entered the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pa. They damaged nuclear warhead cones and poured blood onto documents. He was again sentenced and then paroled for time already served in prison. Philip, by the time he died in 2002, had spent more than a decade in prison for acts of civil disobedience. Philip Berrigan, Zinn said in eulogizing him, was “one of the great Americans of our time.” 

Controversy has followed Daniel Berrigan wherever he has gone. And these days he's back in the streets, protesting corporate power. Some say that the young will lead the revolution that is coming. I'm not so sure.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Smart Economists and Stupid Economists

Last week, Mitt Romney declared that President Obama had it all wrong: “He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.” Then he declared, “It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.” Romney and Scott Walker appear to agree with each other. But is agreement a sign of wisdom?

Paul Krugman wrote yesterday that there is evidence that what Romney and Walker preach is really bad for the economy -- in the United States and around the world:

Conservatives would have you believe that our disappointing economic performance has somehow been caused by excessive government spending, which crowds out private job creation. But the reality is that private-sector job growth has more or less matched the recoveries from the last two recessions; the big difference this time is an unprecedented fall in public employment, which is now about 1.4 million jobs less than it would be if it had grown as fast as it did

And, if we had those extra jobs, the unemployment rate would be much lower than it is — something like 7.3 percent instead of 8.2 percent. It sure looks as if cutting government when the economy is deeply depressed hurts rather than helps the American people.

The really decisive evidence on government cuts, however, comes from Europe. Consider the case of Ireland, which has reduced public employment by 28,000 since 2008 — the equivalent, as a share of population, of laying off 1.9 million workers here. These cuts were hailed by conservatives, who predicted great results. “The Irish economy is showing encouraging signs of recovery,” declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute in June 2010.

But recovery never came; Irish unemployment is currently more than 14 percent.

And, this weekend, the world hangs by tenterhooks -- waiting to see if Greece, which has been forced to adopt the Romney-Walker prescription, will accept their advice. Certainly, Canada's Stephen Harper has bought their prescription. This week, after sitting around the clock, Harper's government passed its own austerity budget, which changes the essential nature of Canada's social safety net.

Mr. Harper claims to be an economist. But, as Krugman makes clear, there are smart economists and stupid economists.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Je Me Souviens

I remember. In Quebec, the phrase has always captured a sense of grievance, which goes back to the Plains of Abraham. But, stamped on the bottom of Quebec license plates, it has come to stand for more than that. It speaks to the uniqueness of the province. It is a testament to the power of memory.

Michael Harris wrote this week that Stephen Harper hopes you will forget what happened in Ottawa over the last twenty-four hours. He hopes you will forget a lot of things:

Mr. Harper hopes you forget the F-35, an unprecedented fiscal, military, and political fiasco brought to you by a corrupt military procurement system in the U.S. and a rogue DND in this country unchecked by the civilian side. Too many zeros on the cheque is the government’s best defense; that, and the availability of robots like Julian Fantino, who will apparently read anything that is put in his hands. The public money about to be wasted is unimaginably staggering and on that account meaningless – or so the government hopes.

He hopes that you will forget about the Accountability Act:

that dress rehearsal for better Tory governance that never went into production. Other politicians give you their word, Stephen Harper gives wording. His gift as a rhetorical trickster has rarely been more in evidence than in the voluminous charade known as the Accountability Act. Duff Conacher, the founder of Democracy Watch, has graded this piece of legislation appropriately – a belly-flop from the high-diving board of political BS. It features a commitment to language and an aversion to acting on the language that conjures up the PM’s greasy undermining of the Atlantic Accord. Best forgotten.

Harper hopes that it will all be forgotten. It strikes me, however, that Je me souviens has taken on a pan-Canadian meaning. It speaks to the sense of grievance that most Canadians feel, and will feel, towards the Harper government. It speaks for Canadians who work in the fishery, and who will no longer qualify for Employment Insurance. It speaks for a whole generation of Canadians who will not be able to retire when their parents did. It speaks for women who can no longer fight for pay equity. It speaks for Canada's first nations, whose lands will be befouled by the toxic sludge polluting their lands and waters.

As for me and my house, we agree: Je me souviens.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Full Frontal Assault

Bill C-38 is no ordinary piece of legislation. It is a full frontal assault on Canadian institutions and Canadian workers. That point is made this morning by two men from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Andrew Coyne writes that Parliament is defending its vital interests:

It should be noted it is not only the opposition’s interests that are being defended here. It is Parliament’s. Were MPs on the government side more mindful of their responsibilities they would be as vigilant in its defence as the opposition. So while there is a strong element of partisanship in all this, there is also a vital question of principle; though the opposition parties may be accused of past acquiescence or even participation in some of the abuses of which they now complain, that does not preclude them from discovering their backbones now. It may look tedious, even inane — all those MPs bobbing up and down in their place as their names are called, hour after hour after hour — but let us not succumb to cynicism: They are bobbing for democracy.

However, the opposition parties are defending more than democracy. They are defending working Canadians. The bill, writes Ed Broadbent, shows that Stephen Harper is no pragmatist. He is a radical who has Canadian workers in his sights:

So what is Harper up to? Why does Flaherty say any job is a good job? The message to Canadians is that you are lucky to have a job and don’t expect too much. The message to employers is that you can continue to drive down wages, even more so for women, racial minorities and foreign workers.

The Conservatives have reinforced those provisions by attacking the fundamental right of workers to strike in areas of federal jurisdiction. This right is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two principal Covenants to which Canada has committed itself. It is a right fought for and won by an earlier generation of Canadians. Canada is being reshaped in an ideological direction reminiscent of the 1920s.

Th Conservatives claim that their budget is about "Jobs and Growth." It is about neither. It is about concentrating power in the cabinet. And, in the Harper government, that means concentrating power in the hands of one man. Stephen Harper can only do that if he cripples the institutions and the people who stand in his way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's Personal

It doesn't happen very often. But, every once in awhile, someone gets under Stephen Harper's skin. It's then we get to see the chip on Harper's shoulder -- a chip which has deformed his approach to people and the world they live in.

Yesterday, Bob Rae got under Harper's skin. Rae rose in the House and, on the subject of the government's Budget Implementation Bill, said:

“The Prime Minister has stated over the years, certainly back in 1994 as a member of the Reform party, that omnibus legislation was in itself bad,” Rae said in Question Period on Tuesday.

“He stated very clearly that you could not have this kind of an effort being made without causing a serious attack on the privileges and rights of Members of Parliament. I’d like to ask the Prime Minister: has he simply been corrupted by power?”

At first, Harper refused to take the bait. He followed the standard government strategy -- answer with a non- answer:

“We are in a very difficult international financial situation. That’s why we need to take all the steps that are necessary,” he said. “I know that the Liberal party rejected all this … but we’ve been working hard and we’re prepared to get this done.”

But Rae would not back down:

This is becoming more and more like a dictatorship,” said Rae, who went on to admonish the Tories for how they have conceded power to themselves.

“Let’s look at the record. The government has increased its net debt by $117 billion. Unemployment since 2006: up from 6.4% to 7.3% … That’s some record,” he said. “The Prime Minister has no right to boast to other countries.”
 That's when Harper lost his cool:

“In terms of power and corruption, I noticed the man who said he would never run for the permanent leadership of his party is now currently prepared to accept, which I guess proves down in that corner of the house lack of power can corrupt.”

One can argue -- as Liberals are currently doing -- about whether or not Rae should seek the permanent leadership of the party. Some wish that Justin Trudeau would reconsider his decision to stay out of the race. But, as Lawrence Martin has pointed out, the Trudeau name would be a gift to the Harperites. Perhaps Justin knows that they don't deserve such good fortune.

But, more importantly, yesterday provided another insight into Stephen Harper's personal quest to destroy his enemies  Like Richard Nixon, he has a long list of them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Full Of Himself

Yesterday, in Montreal, the world got a chance to see the Stephen Harper Canadians have come to know so well -- a man who is, above all else, full of himself. More and more, he is adopting the American rhetoric of the City on the Hill -- only that city, says Harper, is Canada.

“The Canadian approach is what the world needs,” said Harper.

“A practical approach, an approach that works. An approach that includes both fiscal discipline and other growth measures.”

What is truly annoying about Harper is how he takes credit for the accomplishments of others. For the last four years he has taken credit for the solvency of Canadian banks, which owe their good fortune to the Martin government. During the election campaign, he plastered the country with signs touting "Canada's Economic Action Plan" -- which was forced on him by what he called a "separatist coalition."

Now he claims that austerity -- the very thing which got Europe in trouble -- is what Canada and the world needs. At the same time, he blames Europe for making a mess of things. But he has others deliver the barbs. The latest came from eager acolyte Pierre Poilevere, who -- three days ago -- waged his finger at the Europeans:

"They have taxed to the max, borrowed to the brink and are seeking a bailout to continue spending what they do not have," said the Ottawa-area MP, known for his hyper-partisanship.

"This prime minister will not force hard-working Canadian taxpayers to bail out sumptuous euro welfare-state countries and the wealthy bankers that lend to them."

Yes, that's our Stephen -- full of himself. One suspects the Europeans believe he is full of something else.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Insurgency Has Begun

Today, the House of Commons begins debate on 871 proposed amendments to the Harper government's Omnibus Budget Bill. The bill is Stephen Harper's parliamentary version of Shock and Awe. It is an attempt to overwhelm parliamentarians and send them scuttling for the exits. But, like the Bush invasion of Iraq, it has spawned an insurgency.

The Globe and Mail reports that, rather than dealing just with budget matters, the bill creates entirely new pieces of legislation:

For instance, the bill creates the Shared Services Canada Act, outlining the powers of a new federal department. In another section, the bill creates the Integrated Cross-border Law Enforcement Operations Act, proposed legislation outlining the powers of U.S. and Canadian police officers operating in each other’s territory. Those measures were twice introduced as a stand-alone bill by previous Conservative governments but never passed.

Stephen Harper has always argued that Canadians only care about results, not about process. Being found in contempt of Parliament was all about process and was, said Harper, entirely picayune. Now the Harperites claim that all the amendments are frivolous. NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen argues that the amendments put every MP on record  -- either in support of, or in opposition to, each element in the bill:

“The cost to them is that they have to stand up over and over again for all these things that they want to see happen to the country. If you want to take people’s pensions away, you should have to stand up and vote for that. If you’re going to get rid of somebody’s employment insurance, you should have to at least take the 10 minutes to stand up and vote for that too,” he said.

The Tories have a penchant for doing things behind closed doors. They have worked very hard to avoid public scrutiny. There is a great deal in the bill which was never part of their election platform. Those nearly 900 amendments are meant to hold the Harper Conservatives accountable -- something they used to claim was absolutely essential for good government.

Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer will let us know just how accountable this government intends to be -- and just how independent he is. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Harper handles the insurgency as foolishly as George W. Bush handled the Iraq insurgency.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Another Take On Wisconsin

Scott Walker's victory in Wisconsin was not good for unions -- in the United States, or here in Canada. And, as Canadian journalist Tony Burman writes:

This was a campaign that was bought and sold like a piece of meat, the latest shameful unraveling of once-proud American democratic traditions. In fabled, progressive Wisconsin, this election was ultimate proof that money now rules American politics. A record $63 million was spent on this recall fight, most of it from out-of-state. The non-partisan Center for Public Integrity reported that Republican Scott Walker outraised his Democratic opponent by nearly eight-to-one, $30 million to $4 million, and two-thirds of it came from out of Wisconsin. Much of it was from the same billionaires who funded the Republican primary freak show of recent months. They saw in Wisconsin an opportunity finally to put the screws to labour unions. It was the latest consequence of the 2010 “Citizens United” ruling that welcomed unlimited and often anonymous corporate and union funding of elections.

But all is not darkness. Burman also points out that:

A significant percentage of Wisconsin voters on Tuesday who voted for Republican Scott Walker indicated in exit polls they preferred Barack Obama to Mitt Romney as president. In fact, Obama’s margin over Romney in exit polls was 52 per cent to 43 per cent — even though the Republican governor won the recall vote. This is not unusual. In 2008, Obama won the state by 14 points over John McCain. Before that, Wisconsin voted Democrat for U.S. president in every election since Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1984 even though all Wisconsin governors, except for one, have been Republican ever since.

So how should one interpret what happened in Wisconsin on Tuesday? Certainly times are not good. In ordinary times, the bad economy would doom the Obama campaign. But these are not ordinary times. No doubt the November election will be close. But the Republican Party is now hard wired to the far right; and, therefore, its victory is far from certain. Burman writes that success in America still depends on appealing to the middle. And "the smart money is still on Obama. Before we know whether he can win it again, we are learning that the Republicans haven’t run out of ways to lose it."

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, June 09, 2012


In her comment on one of Susan Riley's recent columns in The Ottawa Citizen, Cathleen Kneen writes:

There is a clear pattern here, from proroguing Parliament to the omnibus "budget" bill which (among much else) guts the country's environmental protection, the purpose of the Conservative government is to undermine and where possible to eliminate the capacity of the citizens of Canada to meaningfully affect the workings of the state.

I'm not sure what you call the resulting system, but "democracy" does not spring to mind.

Kneen hits the nail on the head. Stephen Harper rode to power on the theme that big government was the source of tyranny. The truth is that Stephen Harper is all about consolidating power -- and that is the source of tyranny.

But Harper's ambitions go well beyond establishing iron fisted rule at home. He believes that his kind of power needs to be projected around the world. That is why his government seeks to establish seven military bases abroad, from Africa to Singapore to the Caribbean to Kuwait. Tom Walkom writes that:

Steven Staples, a military analyst and head of Ottawa’s Rideau Institute, calls the entire idea a waste of money.

“The notion that we’re going to have permanent bases around the world is over the top. I don’t understand the rationale for parking a bunch of equipment in Singapore in case we might need it some time. That’s why we bought C-17s in the first place — so we could move troops and material quickly.”

The hypocrisy of the plan -- as Harper shoves austerity down Canadian throats -- should surprise no one. But Walkom sees a darker purpose behind these plans:

My analysis is darker. I fear the government is deliberate in its madness. I think it is setting up foreign military bases because it fully expects to have Canadian troops fight alongside the U.S. or NATO in more Afghanistan-style wars.

I think it has learned nothing from the past 10 years.

Harper learned nothing from the 2008 financial collapse. He has learned nothing from Afghanistan. Like a 21st century Ozymandias, he will leave ruin in his wake -- and he will leave it well beyond the borders of Canada. Megalomania results in that kind of harvest.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Matador Of the North

Michael Harris wrote this week  that Stephen Harper is the Matador of the Great White North, treating the opposition -- all opposition -- like a benighted bull:

You know the bull will soon drop to its knees, pink froth at the nostrils, eyes rolling up inside the skull, instinctively thrashing the air with sluggish horns. It doesn’t know the contest is now a formality – like democracy in Canada. 

Last May's election literally made Harper the King of the Hill. And, these days, he does whatever he wants to. But, Harris asks, how long will the people in the seats allow the bull's torture to continue?

But what about all those spectators sitting in the arena watching the bull’s slow and sloppy death in the dust? Will the daily bludgeoning of democratic institutions become the new normal or will it offend? Might it even become the proffered evidence of Stephen Harper’s superiority and fitness to govern? After all, this is a torero who goes for ears, nose and tail with brio.

Today, writes Susan Riley, there are signs that the spectators are tiring of the show. And some of the people who won't take it any more are Conservatives:

The dissidents are mostly Progressive Conservatives, but not exclusively. This week, for instance, former Alberta Reform MP Bob Mills joined Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in decrying the elimination of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (a Mulroney-era initiative.)

More importantly, there is rebellion brewing in Harper's own backyard:

Harper, busy defending the dinosaurs, risks being eclipsed by newly-visible conservative moderates like [Alison] Redford. While the prime minister remains determined to remove any obstacle to rapid development of Canada’s resources, environment be damned, Redford insists on sustainability. While Harper is quick to exploit divisions — portraying Alberta as a potential victim of mythic eastern bastards — Redford is promoting a pan-Canadian energy strategy, led by Alberta. In tone, Harper is tough, impatient and secretive — note the many surprises buried in his omnibus budget bill — while Redford preaches inclusiveness and transparency. She will be the first Alberta premier ever to launch Edmonton’s pride festivities.

It's still too early to make predictions, of course. But a wounded bull is an angry bull. And Harper could find himself hoisted on more than the horns of a dilemma.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Marching Backwards

In terms of social and environmental policy, the Harper government has been determined, from the first day it took office, to lead Canada back to the 19th century. But now American energy consultant Jeremy Rifkin maintains that, economically, Canada is also marching backwards. In an interview two days ago with The Globe and Mail, Rifkin said:

Focusing on the oil sands “is putting [Canada] back in the 20th century, when Europe and Asia are absolutely moving into the 21st century.” Because other economies are shifting dramatically to renewable energy, he said, “this is a really, really historic mistake for Canada.....[It] could potentially become a second tier country.”

That cannot please Stephen Harper, who once called Canada a "second tier socialist country." But Rifkin's argument that the government's focus on the oil sands is short sighted makes a lot of sense:

He said the oil industry will never be able to remove itself from a growth-collapse cycle that is created by gyrating oil prices, and so it needs to be phased out. While the industry will have to be kept on “life support” during the transition to renewables, over time new technologies will generate a far superior return on investment.

It is a “curse” to be one-resource economy, Mr. Rifkin said. At the same time, “Canada is [now] the bad guy” because of the negative reputation of the oil sands and its contribution to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Rifkin's criticism will not be well received by a government which has been bought and paid for by the oil industry. And that is why Harper can't see that there is what Rifkin calls "a third industrial revolution" underway:

It includes a sharp shift to renewable energy, which will be collected mainly through massive numbers of wind, solar, geothermal and biomass generators distributed broadly – and often attached to buildings. Hydrogen and other storage technologies will ensure the power is available when it is needed, and Internet-like technology will control the complex distribution of power. Electric and fuel cell cars will draw power from that grid.The shift to this kind of distributed, clean power is absolutely crucial to prevent a devastating increase in the planet’s temperature, and a mass extinction of human beings, Mr. Rifkin argued at a Toronto hydrogen conference on Tuesday. “We have to be off carbon in 30 years,” he said.

Harper has never had a very good sense of history. But he is, nonetheless, fixated on the past. And that fixation will cost Canada dearly.

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

An Ill Wind

There is a chill in the air this morning. When Scott Walker kept his job last night, it became more difficult for unionized workers  -- public and private -- to keep theirs. There are two sets of numbers everyone should keep in mind. The first number is  52 % -- the same number that won Walker the governorship the first time around. The second number is $30.5 million -- the size of the Walker war chest.

Forbes Magazine reports that:

Wisconsin’s Governor has out-raised opponent Tom Barrett, the Mayor of Milwaukee, by almost 8 to one: $30.5 million to Barrett’s $3.9 million. Of that huge haul, $1.68 million — or, almost half Barrett’s total — came from 14 members of the Forbes billionaires list, all but one of whom live outside Wisconsin.

So the lesson to be learned is just what money will buy -- and how far some people will go to buy it. And there is another lesson: There will be those who will line up behind Walker to try and repeat his success -- if that's what you call it.

Among his imitators is Canada's Stephen Harper. Harper has made no secret of the source of his inspiration. And Republicans have made no secret of whose mouth they will put their money behind. God help the United States if Mitt Romney succeeds.

It is an ill win that blows out of Wisconsin.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Battle Has Begun

And, if we thought we had heard the last of robocalls, we were sadly mistaken. Allison Cross reported in yesterday's National Post that the electors of  Etobicoke Centre are receiving what appear to be voter identification calls from the Conservative Party:

The calls, which began on Friday and continued through the weekend, started with the person saying they were calling on behalf of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

They appeared to have been voter-identification calls, designed to create a list of supporters for a byelection. The calls also apparently claimed voters would have their votes “taken away” by a court decision.

So we know what the Conservative line is going to be. The Ontario Court decision to rerun the election is an attack on democracy. It's the classic case of the kid who kills his parents and calls for mercy because he is now an orphan.

To the Conservative claim that the Liberals are orchestrating a coup, Borys Wrzesnewsky offers a straight forward response:

"The court is actually there to protect the rights and interests of the electorate,'' he said. ``We don't know who the winner was. And that's why the court called for a byelection.''

The Conservative reaction should come as no surprise. This is, after all, Stephen Harper's Party. And the electors of Etobicoke Centre are in for more of the same. But, having been there once before, it will be interesting to see if they buy a return trip.

Monday, June 04, 2012

God On His Side

Canadians have long held that Church and State are separate entities. Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney -- both Catholics -- were instrumental in legalizing abortion. Perhaps they felt, like many Catholics, that they were not bound by each and every papal pronouncement. Or perhaps they personally held to the tenets of their faith, but felt it was not their job to legislate church doctrine.

 When it comes to Stephen Harper -- particularly when it comes to environmental policy and science in general -- one has to wonder. Ray Grigg cites a previous piece by the Alberta journalist Andrew Nikiforuk:

Because the Prime Minister will not publicly discuss his religious views, Nikiforuk's conclusions are conjectural. But the Prime Minister is known to belong to an Alberta fundamentalist Protestant church that espouses "evangelical climate skepticism". Nikiforuk contends that this church holds seven tenets which "not only explain startling developments in Canada but should raise the hair on the neck of every thinking citizen regardless of their faith: 1. Disdain for the environmental movement, 2. Distrust of mainstream science in general, 3. Distrust of the mainstream media, 4. Loyalty to the party, 5. Libertarian economics as God's will (God is opposed to government regulation or taxation), 6. Misunderstanding of divine sovereignty (God won't allow us to ruin creation), 7. Unreconstructed Dominion theology (God calls on humans to subdue and rule creation)."

Given the changes in the Omnibus Budget Bill, one has to wonder if Harper labours under the misplaced faith that God will not let us befoul creation:

A mere sample is staggering: no funding for the Polar Environment Arctic Research Laboratory, the definitive and authoritative monitor of northern climate change; withdrawal of financial support for the Kluane Research Station, a 50-year project studying high-latitude ecological changes; the slashing of almost all marine pollution monitoring; and dissolution of the National Round Table on Environment and Economy, the only institution that attempts to find sustainable business options that are satisfactory to both industry and environmentalists. Despite arguing austerity, the government found an additional $8 million of scarce money for Revenue Canada to more closely monitor environmental charities to be certain excessive funds are not being used for "political" advocacy. "Nearly half of the budget implementation bill," writes [Elizabeth] May, "is directed at re-writing Canada's foundational environmental laws." This includes the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Decisions once based on public processes guided by science now move to ministerial discretion.

President Kennedy, in his inaugural address, famously alluded to Isaiah when he declared, "God's work on earth must truly be our own." The problem is that history is full of religious zealots who claimed that God sanctioned ignorance and stupidity. It has never been God's work to burn witches or declare war on heathens. In fact, it has never been God's work to declare war of any kind -- on heathens, on science or the environment.

But, then, history was never Stephen Harper's strong suit. For him, perhaps faith trumps history. Perhaps he really believes that God is on his side.

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Austerity For Thee, But Not For Me

On Friday, Gerald Caplan reminded Globe and Mail readers of the deeply rooted hypocrisy at the core of the Harper government. -- hypocrisy which has been on display since newly elected David Emerson crossed the floor and entered the Harper cabinet:

A Postmedia News analysis reveals that 35 of the 141 Conservative candidates who lost at the polls received jobs in places such as the Prime Minister’s Office, Health Canada, ministers’ offices or on boards and agencies.” Mr. Harper (who as opposition leader couldn’t condemn patronage appointments fervently enough), explained through a spokesperson that “each one of the candidates identified … was qualified for their position and earned their job based on merit.” Who might have thought otherwise?

Of course, these appointments are being made as the Harperites are "reforming"  EI.  -- for which the majority of Canadians are ineligible:

Of course we need to be realistic here. There are, after all, only so many ambassadorships and Senate seats available for the jobless in Canada, who number at least 1.4 million souls. It’s true there’s something called Employment Insurance, but only 40 per cent of the jobless actually get EI – when they finally get it at all. Because the government slashed staff at Service Canada, workers have waited for months for their meagre benefits, especially over Christmas. And when it finally comes, this lucky minority gets a max of 55 per cent of their average earnings. That means over 850,000 of those who lose their jobs get exactly nothing.

As the failed candidates garner six figure salaries, Caplan points to a distinct trend:

This is the third time the Harper government has forced workers to work for less. Recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program has permitted employers to pay migrant workers up to 15 per cent less than regular workers. And in the process of ending last year’s labour dispute at Canada Post, the government took an extra kick at the workers by imposing a wage increase which was actually lower than the Crown corporation’s offer. For those who envy the cushy job of a postal worker, make sure you too demand the lush $48,000 that letter carriers, postal clerks and mail handlers all make.

You would think that this government couldn't live with the cognitive dissonance between its make work program for failed candidates and its obvious shafting of ordinary folks. But in Harperland, it's standard operating procedure. The prime directive is: austerity for thee, but not for me..

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Abstract Thinking

This week, the Harper government  legislated Canadian Pacific workers back to their jobs, claiming it was "protecting the economy." It used the same argument to justify its back to work legislation at Canada Post and Air Canada. But, Tom Walkom writes this morning,  General Motors' announcement yesterday that it will shut down one of its Oshawa assembly plants reveals the Harper claim for what it is -- a lie:

When Stephen Harper’s Conservatives talk about protecting the economy, they are speaking of an abstraction.

They override the right to strike of rail and airline workers in order to further this abstraction. They run roughshod over the environment in its name.

But the real economy is not an abstraction. It is people’s jobs and wages. It is our livelihood. It is how we get by.
And this real economy is not doing well.

The fact is that the real economy is slumping all over the world:

Worldwide, the real economy of jobs and wages is in deep trouble. Europe’s ham-fisted handling of the eurozone debt crisis has thrown millions out of work in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Greece. Britain’s ill-advised government austerity scheme has thrown more out of work there.

Faced with slowing growth and consequent job losses, China is engaged once again in a game of currency devaluation, in a bid to boost its exports.

These events in far-away places have ricochet effects around the world. On Friday, the U.S. announced that its already too-high unemployment rate has started to inch up again.

The prime minister has been leading the austerity charge at home and abroad. GM's announcement is just another example of the wages of austerity. Stephen Harper is not concerned about the wages of ordinary working folks. In fact, he's doing all he can to lower them -- because the concept of wages, like the economy, is an abstraction.

Friday, June 01, 2012

A Sledgehammer To Swat A Fly

In this morning's Globe and Mail, four former environment ministers --Tom Siddon, David Anderson, John Fraser and Herb Dahliwal --  published a letter which they have sent to Stephen Harper. The four men -- two Conservatives and two Liberals -- question the wisdom of the Harper government's new environmental legislation, and the process -- the omnibus budget bill -- which is being used to pass it:

We are especially alarmed about any possible diminution of the statutory protection of fish habitat, which we feel could result if the provisions of Bill C-38 are brought into force. Migratory salmon and steelhead are icons of our home province. Our experience convinces us that their continued survival would be endangered without adequate federal regulation and enforcement, particularly in the area of habitat protection.

And they are angry that these changes have been hidden in the budget bill :

With respect to process, we find it troubling that the government is proposing to amend the Fisheries Act via omnibus budget legislation in a manner that we believe will inevitably reduce and weaken the habitat-protection provisions. Regrettably, despite the significance of the legislation, to date the responsible ministers have provided no plausible, let alone convincing, rationale for proceeding with the unusual process that has been adopted. Quite frankly, Canadians are entitled to know whether these changes were written, or insisted upon, by the Minister of Fisheries or by interest groups outside the government. If the latter is true, who are they?

Tom Siddon is particularly incensed at Harper's government:

The people are asking, ‘what is this government up to?’ We’re not stupid, we the people. We don’t understand why you have to roll this all into one bill and ramrod it through Parliament.

“This is unbecoming of the Conservative party to which I belonged.’’

It's  truly sad that John A. Macdonald's Conservative Party has been hijacked by a small but determined group of tinpot dictators, whose philosophy of government the former ministers accurately describe as, "using a sledge hammer to swat a fly."

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.