Monday, December 31, 2012

Out of Touch

There is no love lost between Stephen Harper and Joe Clark. When Clark's official portrait was hung in the Centre Block four years ago, Stephane Dion and Paul Martin attended the ceremony. But, breaking with tradition, Harper managed to be away in Europe.

So, when Clark came out in support of Theresa Spence last week, it's a sure bet that Mr. Harper was not pleased. Michael Harris writes:

But for a former prime minister, and a Conservative one at that, to pay his respects to Chief Spence presents a challenge to the sitting PM. After all, Harper has shown himself to be the Tin Man of Canadian politics, a calculator on two legs who lacks a heart. You get the feeling he would rather have a root canal than a discussion with someone who had a beef with him.

Instead, Harper enlisted Senator Patrick Rousseau to carry his water. Rousseau told Spence she should call things off. But he's in the Prime Minister's pocket. And his relationship with First Nations organizations these days are rocky:

This is the guy who effectively called a CP reporter a bitch, who dubbed the former native organization he headed up a “Mickey Mouse” operation, and who is now suing that same organization — which he says should cooperate with him as a Canadian senator. Brazeau claims that Theresa Spence isn’t a good role model for native kids. Maybe Justin Trudeau punched him a little harder than anyone knows.

Mr. Harper won't come to a premiers' conference. Why should he meet with Chief Spence?

And so Stephen Harper has placed his bet. It is clear from his strategy that he believes he will be going neither to a meeting nor a funeral and that sufficient pressure can be brought to bear on Chief Spence that she will voluntarily discontinue her hunger strike. That is why he has placed the prestige of Leona Aglukkaq and Patrick Brazeau squarely on the barrelhead by having both of them support the government’s position.

If Harper is right, his victory will be, at best, a partial and temporary one. Yes, there will be people who will praise his steadfastness on matters of protocol as a sign of leadership. But those will mostly be white people who are simply tired of wrestling with the profound issues raised by Chief Spence.

Harper is betting that Theresa Spence -- and the problems she personifies -- will go away. He doesn't understand the desperation of Canada's native peoples. The man at the top is truly out of touch.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Private Wealth and Public Squalor

Today's Toronto Star  reports that things have been as they are in Attawapiskat for decades -- and there's not a lot of hope that they will change:

The community was founded in 1893 by Catholic missionaries. The steepled church, an aging grey structure next to the Attawapiskat River, remains the most striking structure.

In 1901, the Hudson’s Bay Co. built a store here. Most natives lived in the bush at the time, hunting, trapping and fishing, and it was only in the 1930s that the settlement began to grow. Housing came in the 1970s, running water and sewage treatment arrived in the 1990s.

It’s been unravelling since it all began.

The local priest says that the main problem is that there's nothing to do  -- unemployment is at 70%. Therefore, kids there see they have no future, and they simply don't attend school:

The children feel no obligation to attend because they wake up in households where they have never seen their parents go to work. “What is the point, they think,” says Vezina.

No education, no employment. It’s that simple, he sighs. 

Homes and  a new school need to be built. But that work has been stalled. Attawpaiskat is a microcosm of what's happening nationally. While governments tell us we have a debt crisis, Paul Krugman has been writing for years that we have a jobs crisis.

It's not that there are no things which need doing. In Toronto, the Gardiner Expressway is crumbling. In Montreal, pieces of the Ville Marie Expressway fall on cars; and the Champlain Bridge is on the verge of falling into the St. Lawrence. But the chorus from all government benches is the same: "We can't afford it." The books must be balanced.

The American economist Dean Baker wrote recently that, "Of course, the point of economic policy is to produce an economy that improves the lives of the people in a sustainable way." By that measure, what is happening at Attawapkiskat -- and in Canada in general -- is an abject failure.

 In the words of another economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, our economic policy has generated "private wealth and public squalor."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

How Not To Buy An Airplane

David Olive writes that the F-35 fiasco is a case study in how to bungle a military purchase:

If anything’s to be gained from the monumental botch that is the costliest and most multi-functional military aircraft project ever attempted, the Joint Strike Fighter program from which the F-35 is derived should be taught at the Royal Military College and its peers worldwide. It is an epic case history of supplier over-reach on the part of defence contractors, and deficient decision-making by public policy makers.

From the beginning, the F-35 was too much airplane -- and it promised the impossible:

 The folly of the F-35 – an exercise in hubris for which Napoleon’s Russian excursions are roughly analogous – is that it was to be the first fighter plane that would accommodate the varied needs of all four branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. And to make affordable an aircraft program of unprecedented cost, Lockheed would have to peddle as many F-35s to as many countries as possible. 

The government did not exercise the skepticism that anyone buying a used car would apply to such a purchase. To begin with, the manufacturer did not have a good track record:

The checkered history of F-35 sponsor Lockheed Martin should have given pause to Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND). Soon after the Bethesda, Md. company was created in a controversial 1999 merger, the world’s largest defence contractor was mired in managerial chaos and culture clashes. New-product delays and cost overruns became routine with flagship projects including Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor, C-130J cargo plane, and its latest-generation satellites. In 2006, the year Ottawa formally committed to the F-35 purchase, the U.S. Army killed Lockheed’s troubled Aerial Common Sensors spy plane. And the repeated delivery delays with the F-35 have prompted the Pentagon’s chief procurement officer this year to label the F-35 “acquisition malpractice.”

And, having refused to let Parliament see the books, the Harper government simply lied about the costs:

From the time that Ottawa settled on the F-35 in July 2010, it misinformed Canadians through last year’s general election that the purchase price was $9-billion. Today the estimate, properly including decades of maintenance costs, is about $44 billion. Other likely national F-35 buyers have publicly disclosed the plane’s spiralling costs. “What distinguishes Canada has been the denials of the government,” Stephen Saideman of McGill University’s political science department wrote earlier this year. 

The lesson is pretty clear. Don't believe a government which loudly insists that it is competent. It's a variation on Nixon's line, "I am not a crook!"

Friday, December 28, 2012

Holding Their Breath

It's truly remarkable. The Republican Party will not move away from its one big idea: No new taxes. Ever.

After losing in November, Republicans appear to have chosen David Farragut as their source of inspiration. "Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead," they shout. Then, like children, they hold their breath until they turn blue -- or red.

Public opinion isn't on their side. Robert Reich writes:

Public opinion is already running strongly in favor of President Obama and the Democrats, and against the GOP. In the latest CNN/ORC poll, 48 percent say they’ll blame Republicans if no deal is reached while 37 percent blame Obama. Confidence in congressional Republicans is hovering at about 30 percent; Obama is enjoying the confidence of 46 percent. And over half of all Americans think the GOP is too extreme.

Yet Republicans haven’t budged. The fact is, they may not care a hoot about the opinions of most Americans.

If you are wondering why they are unmoved by anyone or anything, consider Reich's explanation for what is happening:

The national party is in disarray. Boehner isn’t worried about a challenge to his leadership; no challenger has emerged. The real issue is neither he nor anyone else is in charge of the GOP. Romney’s loss, along with the erosion of their majority in the House and Democratic gains in the Senate, has left a vacuum at the top.

House Republicans don’t run nationally. They run only in their own districts — which, because of gerrymandering, are growing even more purely Republican. Their major concern is being reelected in 2014, and their biggest potential obstacle in their way is a primary challenge from the right.

What Americans are witnessing is the triumph of Tip O'Neill's dictum: All politics is local. The parochial  trumps the national. They are no longer all in this together.

 Rest assured. There will be a reckoning.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Doomed To Repeat Themselves

Today, Postmedia's Michael den Tandt asks a question of national import: Can the Conservatives learn from their mistakes? For, indeed, they have made many. But they all add up to one major mistake:

The hardest knock of all against the Tories, however, and the one that cuts deepest, is simply that they’ve forgotten how to listen. Their opponents will say they never knew how to begin with. That is untrue. If the Conservatives had a single secret weapon over the past seven years, beyond their extraordinary fundraising network, it was their ear.  They had an unerring sense of what, when all is said and done, Canadians want.

In the past year, however, and especially since the spring, the Tories have stumbled from one deadfall trap to the next – with they themselves doing the digging. They consider their two omnibus bills in 2012 to be triumphs of efficient government: Doing the job Canadians elected them to do. From a Conservative standpoint, that is to re-structure every aspect of the economy, and the government’s relationship with it, in light of what is most efficient. Only this approach, the thinking goes, can prepare Canada for the challenges of the 21st Century.

In the end, rule by fiat will catch up with the Harperites. The evidence of rebellion is everywhere -- in Quebec, in B.C. and in the Idle No More protests of Canada's First Nations. Den Tandt suggests a couple of things which Harper could do to improve his and his party's standing -- like holding press conferences and dumping cabinet ministers like Vic Toews, Peter Mackay and Gerry Ritz.

However, don't count on Stephen Harper taking den Tandt's suggestions, because the prime minister suffers from the same disease that infects all of modern conservatism -- terminal certitude. These jugheads are dedicated to repeating their own failures.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Democracy Or Oligarchy

The American editor and essayist Lewis Lapham has delineated the three hallmarks of democracy. Michael Harris refers to them in a piece he wrote for ipolitics:

Lewis Lapham, author and twice editor of Harper’s Magazine in the United States, made the same point. Democracy, he wrote, announces itself in three fundamental ways: an honest public discussion about issues; accountability of the governors to the governed; and equal protection under the law.

By Lapham's yardstick, Canada is not a democracy -- "let alone a parliamentary democracy. It is an oligarchy with a few well chosen friends and millions upon millions of people to ignore, vilify or bamboozle."

Consider the matter of whether or not there is public discussion of government policy:

For several years, the Conservative government lied its brains out about the F-35 program. They lied about whether there had been a competition, about whether there was a contract, and most spectacularly, about how much these jet fighters would cost the poor saps who have to pay for them.

But contrition is for little people. Oligarchs never say they’re sorry. After being outed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, by the auditor general and then by independent accounting firm KPMG, the prime minister told a national TV audience that the accounting firm’s report “validated” the government figures for the F-35, and that an “assumption was just made” that Canada would buy these aircraft. This, of course, is the stuff that makes the grass turn green.

And then there is the issue of accountability to the governed:

Jim Flaherty’s last budget, the Agatha Christie budget, brought down billions in cuts. But the mystery of what was cut — where, and by how much — endures. The lion’s share of federal departments haven’t responded to requests by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page for the precise nature of the Harper government’s slashing.

If opposition MPs and parliamentary officers don’t know the details, it is impossible to debate the cuts — which is, of course, pretty much the idea.

Finally, there is the question of equal justice before the law:

This is a very important question because as the Harper oligarchy suppresses the rights of the political opposition, unions, officers of parliament, environmentalists, scientists and aboriginals, it finds itself more and more before judges.

The PM’s view is that you win some, you lose some. Actually, he’s lost quite a few and will probably lose more in 2013 because of the alleged unconstitutionality of much of his justice legislation as contained in poorly-debated omnibus bills. And that is a universe the prime minister is comfortable in — the winner-take-all world of expensive court rulings and a grinding process — life as an elitist joust where he with the longest lance usually prevails.

Theresa Spence's hunger strike is an attempt to do what Canada's opposition parties have been unable to do -- replace oligarchy with democracy.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Reader's Response

Two days ago, I published a post on Stephen Harper and guns. Yesterday, I received an email from a reader. That term, while accurate, is a bit misleading. Like me, the reader is a retired teacher. But, unlike me, he has been an officer in the Canadian Forces. And, during summers, he used to shoot competitively at paper targets. He has been a friend for twenty-seven years. This is his response:


Until I read your blog yesterday, I had never heard of the National Rifle Association of Canada, despite its existence since 1978. I was, however a member of two other shooting groups, the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association and another Canadian federation from which Canada's Olympic shooters are drawn. I've forgotten its name. Where these two federations differ from the NRA of Canada is that neither attempts to justify firearms as a means of protection. Their purpose is to promote sports shooting through competitions, training, and weapons safety.

The older of the two federations, the DCRA, had a more serious role early in its history. Like Fort Henry and RMC, It was founded in the mid to late 1800's as Britain was scaling back its military support for Canada, and it was intended as a means of creating a body of shooters who could be assimilated into a colonial militia in an "emergency" (like an American invasion) with less training time. Numerous military ranges were built close to towns across the Country - one, I've been told, was just outside Picton. The rifles used by the DCRA were military issue, while the government supplied ammunition. Until the 1970's, DCRA members competed with customized military rifles, using issue ammunition supplied by DND.

At no time have I heard either federation argue that owning firearms was valuable for self-defence. It's a shame such a "nut" organization as the NRA of Canada has seen the light of day in our country. A Wikipedia search revealed it's headquartered in Edmonton. Doesn't anything worthwhile come out of that province?

This morning on CNN, Fareed Zakaria made an interesting point about gun control in the States. As you know, President Obama responded to the Newtown shootings by stating something had to change, that solving gun violence would be a complex process because the reasons for the violence are complex. Not only is there a need for gun control, but a need to examine how mental illness is handled, as well as to examine how gun violence is promoted by movies and video games. The NRA, of course, lept on the last two solutions, in addition to arming even more Americans. Zakaria maintained solving gun violence is not a complex affair: the solution is as plain as the nose on

He pointed out that while the USA has a mere 5% of the world's population, Americans own 50 % of the world's firearms, and in general are by far the most heavily armed citizenry in the world, well ahead of Ethiopians. US Gun killings are twelve times greater than in any other developed country. Is mental illness an important cause? Zakaria claimed the USA has one of the best mental health systems in the world. How about movies and video games? Europeans see the same violent movies and play the same video games as Americans. But in Europe killings by firearms are a twelfth of the USA's. In Japan, where violent movies and video games are always on the cutting edge, the murder rate by firearms is 0%! Strict gun controls are a fact of life in all those countries.

I can't believe Obama is ignorant of this kind of information, Owen. Once again, he's showing himself "full of it", playing on the hearts of Americans who desperately want change, all the while signalling the NRA and its supporters that they have nothing to fear from him.

Americans may have concluded some time ago that the 2nd Amendment gives them to right to own and bear arms - any arms of their choice, it seems. But knowing how the American constitution was drafted by some very bright men, I doubt this was the intention of the amendment. It would have been a counterproductive way of creating a nation where its citizens felt secure. I think modern Americans have bastardized the intent of the 2nd, which was to provide a military balance between the rulers and the ruled by enabling citizens to arm themselves in militias to discourage executive attempts to overturn the constitution by force of arms. There would have been nothing startling about this approach to those who drafted the amendment.

A little more than 100 years earlier, when Charles II was restored to the English throne, a very similar arrangement was agreed. To protect the monarch from the citizenry, a small standing army was formed comprised of the "Guards" regiments (the Coldstreams, Grenadiers, etc.). To protect citizens from the Monarch, a much larger body of part-time, armed militias were formed throughout the country. It provided an effective stand-off until commoners had control of government, and there was no further need for such armed guarantees. 

There's a huge difference between a citizenry being armed this way, and the way in which today's Americans are arming themselves.

Perhaps you've studied this matter before. If so, I hope I haven't bored you with the detail.

I wrote back to say that, indeed, I was not bored; and I asked permission to publish his response.

I only have one thing to add. In the 1960's, my friend was stationed in Cyprus, as a member of the peacekeeping force which was sent there by the United Nations. More than most, he understands how difficult it is to actualize a policy of Peace On Earth Good Will To Men. But we live in hope. Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Behind The Numbers

When Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released a report  two weeks ago, which documented the average annual salary of a federal employee as $114,100, there were howls from the usual critics. Andrew Jackson writes:

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation was quick to jump on the report of the Parliamentary Budget Office on federal government pay and compensation, saying that it provided “shocking numbers on the overly generous compensation of federal government employees.” Echoing similarly-exaggerated claims by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and other employer groups at its recent pre-budget hearings, the House of Commons Finance Committee has just called for a review of public sector compensation and benefits.

But, if you dig down in the numbers, things become a little clearer:

Three of Canada’s leading academic economists — Morley Gunderson, Douglas Hyatt and Craig Riddell — conducted a study for the Canadian Policy Research Networks in 2000. The foreword summarizes their views on public/private pay:

(T)he answer to the question of whether there is a ‘pay premium’ associated with employment in government is far from a simple one. On the one hand, some groups, such as senior managers and specialized occupational groups, such as information technology workers, are paid less than their private sector counterparts. On the other hand, women in government, especially those employed in service jobs, such as food services, tend to be more highly paid than women in the private sector. It is clear that employment and pay equity policies, coupled with decades of collective bargaining, have narrowed the pay differentials between men and women and between the highest and lowest paid workers.”

A 2006 report by the Treasury Board Secretariat comparing federal sector and private sector compensation similarly found that the average federal government pay premium was “small” and existed mainly for lower-paid workers. Managers and professionals in the federal government, particularly senior managers, lag behind the private sector. Only a handful of senior deputy ministers earn the $220,000 per year needed to break into Canada’s top one per cent of taxpayers.

The Harper government and its allies have been conducting  a war on wages for over a decade.The problem is that their targets are lower paid workers -- not those who earn high salaries -- particularly in the private sector.

And you wondered why those F-35s cost $45 billion?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Harper And Guns

On the day the NRA advocated having an armed guard in every American school, Thomas Walkom wrote that the gun issue could come back to haunt Stephen Harper. For all of his bloviating about the long gun registry, Walkom reminds his readers that Harper originally voted for it:

Certainly, Harper was careful. Then a Reform MP, he broke ranks with his party to vote with the Liberals for the gun registry.

He claimed at the time that he was following the wishes of his Calgary West constituents. But, as he would explain later and in a different context, he was also uncomfortable with emotional, populist issues.

A party that wanted to govern, he liked to say, couldn’t waste its time on marginal groups.

But for Harper, policy is all about votes. His uncritical support of Israel is about votes in Canada. His rejection of the BHP bid for Potash Corporation was all about votes in Saskatchewan. His recognition of Quebec as a "nation within a nation" was about votes in that province  -- even though Quebecers soon figured out that his declaration -- like his apology to Canada's native peoples -- was just hot air.

Now the National Firearms Assocication has Mr. Harper in its sights:

 "The price of our freedom is unceasing vigilance,” declared one recent editorial in the NFA’s official magazine. It warned that “fifth-columnists” inside the federal bureaucracy — in alliance with the United Nations — were plotting to keep alive the Liberals’ insidious “social engineering experiment.”

These days, the people he courted as allies are turning against Mr. Harper.

Friday, December 21, 2012

She Has His Number

As Theresa Spence enters the tenth day of her hunger strike -- and as Canada's First Nations put the Harper government on notice that they will be Idle No Longer -- it's becoming clear that Stephen Harper has a big problem -- a problem of his own making. Michael Harris writes:

If you want to know why Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike, it is because official apologies from on high do not feed families, build houses, install water systems or educate kids. It is because some of the poorest bands in the country have concluded that Stephen Harper has to be put on the spot.

Native peoples have discovered what Quebecers discovered sometime ago. As movie mogul Sam Goldwyn once declared, "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."  The bald truth is that you can't take what Stephen Harper says to the bank. The prime minister apologized to Canada's first nations. But

on the very day that Stephen Harper was apologizing to aboriginals for the unimaginable crimes against them, including the residential school tragedy, Pierre Poilievre was in the studio of an Ottawa radio station lecturing natives on how to live “responsible” lives. Having forgotten the enormity of what has been done to the indigenous people of Canada, the government explains away the shameful mess of native life by ascribing character flaws to the very people who have been damaged.

When last year's housing crisis at Attawapaskat burst into the national media:

Harper purposely and falsely left the impression with Canadians that the Conservatives had given every person in Attawapiskat $50,000. As NDP MP Charlie Angus pointed out at the time, what the PM didn’t say was that the money was spread out over six years. So when the real calculation was done, each resident of Attawapiskat received $8,000 per year — or less than half of what is spent per capita on other Canadians on things like health and education.

As Angus put it, “Harper’s line rang out like a dog whistle to a racist base that believed that those Indians couldn’t be trusted with our money.”

Deep Throat's advice to Woodward and Bernstein applies as much to the Harper government as it did to the Nixon Administration -- follow the money:

If there are people who think band councils in Canada don’t properly account for the expenditure of public monies, what must they think about the Harper government, which still continues to deprive parliamentary officers of basic financial information about departmental cuts from the last budget? What must they think about the Al Capone accounting of the F-35 program? What must they think about G8 and G20 spending that was $900 million higher than any other such meeting on earth?

Chief Spence can be forgiven if she needs the prime minister’s ear for a few moments. How can there be $28 million to market an ancient war and no money to provide clean drinking water for aboriginal communities?

Chief Spence has Stephen Harper's number. She knows exactly how much his word is worth. It's a lesson all Canadians should heed.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The War On Wages Continues

On the subject of rotating teacher strikes in Ontario, Tom Walkom offers a little historical perspective:
When Bob Rae’s New Democratic Party government overrode collective agreements in 1993, many private sector unions — including the Steelworkers and my union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers — broke with their public sector counterparts to support the NDP regime.

The essence of their argument would be familiar today: private sector workers had already suffered from what was, at the time, the biggest recession since the 1930s; therefore, public sector workers had to sacrifice as well.

It was an argument that resonated with their rank and file. But it ignored the real story, which was that government was changing the rules of the entire collective bargaining game.

We know that, two summers ago, Jim Flaherty met with Canada's movers and shakers, and one of the items on their agenda was lowering the cost of Canadian labour. That wish became reality when Bill C-377 passed the House. Last week, Tim Hudak -- whose bulb has never burned very brightly -- announced that, when he becomes premier of Ontario, he will table Right to Work Legislation. And, yesterday, General Motors announced that it will move production of its Camero from Oshawa to Michigan -- even though Canadian and Ontario taxpayers helped keep the company alive during its darkest hours.

Walkom writes that the teachers strike is a moment of truth for Canadian labour:

So think of this latest foray against teachers as part of a package. In Ottawa, the federal government brings temporary workers into Canada to staff doughnut shops. They do so not because the ability to pour coffee is an unusual skill, but because doughnut-shop owners don’t want to pay the wages expected by Canadian workers.

In Ottawa and at Queen’s Park, governments respond to deficits by cutting away at social spending. The reason here is that programs like employment insurance keep workers from becoming so desperate that they will take any job at any wage.

Like Canada's native peoples, it's time for labour to be Idle No More.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No Lincoln

Errol Mendes writes that Stephen Harper recently went to see Stephen Spielberg's Lincoln. If Harper saw himself in the man, he's deluded:

If he saw any of himself in the film’s focus on the rather Machiavellian methods Lincoln used to obtain congressional approval for the 13th Amendment proscribing slavery for all time, then Canada had better watch out.

While Harper certainly could offer a list of the devious machinations he’s used to secure his political objectives — from eliminating the Progressive Conservative Party to treating Parliament, the Crown’s prorogative powers and taxpayer’s money as his playthings — there is nothing even remotely similar in how the two men have handled power.

Lincoln devoted his efforts to establishing a "more perfect union." And he advocated acting "with malice toward none, with charity for all." Mendes writes:

Lincoln, no doubt, was prepared to engage in unsavory politics in the right cause. The Harper Conservative government also engages in unsavory politics, but to what end? Killing the Liberal party? Imposing policies on most of the country in order to secure a base that can deliver elections? Focusing on wedge politics to divide Canadian society? Abandoning principled conservatism in order to push through massive budgets that hide environment-damaging measures that advance the interests of the most powerful lobbies?

Most of all, Lincoln believed in government of the people, by the people and for the people. Mr. Harper believes that his country would be better off if  "the people" kept their noses out of government -- most particularly, his government.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Getting Their Act Together

A new poll, published by Forum Research, predicts that, if there is a by-election in Toronto, Rob Ford will be reinstated as mayor -- unless his opponent is Olivia Chow:

Ford came out tops in a variety of three-way and four-way combinations that did not include Chow (Trinity-Spadina). When her name was added, she mopped the floor with all rivals, including Ford.

If Ford were facing popular Newstalk 1010 host John Tory and councillors Adam Vaughan and Shelley Carroll, the mayor would be re-elected — albeit with only 31 per cent of the vote, the poll suggests.

In a council-only three-way, Ford’s 37 per cent would beat staunch Ford critic Vaughan (30 per cent), and Carroll (16 per cent), the poll says. Ford still won when TTC Chair Karen Stintz was added to the slate.

Adding Chow to get hypothetical three-way, four-way and five-way races saw her triumph in all cases, with support ranging from 37 to 42 per cent. 

There is more than enough ambition is political circles these days. Ford is betting that ambition will divide his opposition. After all, the same strategy has worked very well for Stephen Harper. All politicians speak nobly of putting city or country before personal gain. Rarely, though, do they mean what they say.

But unless Canada's and Toronto's progressives get their act together -- instead of squabbling among themselves -- their country and their city will be ransacked.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Elizabeth May

As 2012 draws to a close, Michael Harris reviews the state of all of Canada's federal parties -- except the Bloc Quebecois. He has some insightful comments about each. But I am particularly struck by what he writes about Elizabeth May and The Green Party:

For now, the Green Party is Elizabeth May. Despite all the institutional barricades erected in front of this prodigiously hard-working politician, she tears the pant leg off the government on everything from the environment to the Canada-as-resource-colony model promoted by our CEO-PM himself. She runs the most intellectually alive office on Parliament Hill. The place is staffed by people who walk through the door just to be around her and to help.

But 2013 will be frustrating because May’s message of unification, the only certain answer to Harpocracy, will fall on the ears of two relatively newly-elected leaders, both of whom think they will be able to get the job done alone. At some point, the Greens must elect more members, since not even Elizabeth May can run on empty. If this woman isn’t allowed to take part in the next TV debates, we should all watch the shopping channel.

May's task is difficult because the other leaders aren't buying co-operation as the answer to the Harper juggernaut. And, until she is joined by other members of her party, Mr. Mulcair -- and whoever leads the Liberals -- will continue to ignore her.

That situation is truly tragic.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Evidence Suggests Now Is The Time For Pension Reform

Martin Regg Cohn writes that federal bureaucrats have presented Finance Minister Jim Flaherty with a plan to shore up the faltering Canadian pension system. Private pensions have been decimated by the Neo Conservative Revolution. Cohn writes:

The world of pensions is collapsing around us. Traditional “defined-benefit” pensions that reliably promise to pay a fixed amount in future — really the only payments worthy of the name “pension” — are being phased out in the private sector. The registered savings and pooled plans offered up as alternatives are merely Potemkin pensions — glorified savings plans that expose workers to the risk of stock market volatility and the madness of high management fees charged by Bay St.

The bureaucrats argue that Canada is in the unique position of being able to afford an overhaul of the pension system:

“Canada’s current social security contributions and payroll taxes are relatively low compared to other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries,” the paper notes pointedly.

Currently, Canada allocates a mere 5.5 per cent of its economic activity (GDP) to social security and payroll taxes. If all the improvements outlined in the paper were phased in, the percentage would rise to 6.3 per cent. Even under this improved scenario, Canada’s contributions would still be low by OECD standards — and remain at the very bottom of the G-7 group of industrialized countries.

Mr. Flaherty's prime directive, however, is to keep Bay Street happy:

He announced yet again Friday that “this is not the time to put another burden on employers and dampen employment prospects of Canadians,” citing the supposed “softness of the economy.”

Flaherty is adamantly opposed to reform, even though he recently admitted that those profits on Bay Street are, in truth, nothing but "dead money." For a man who was trained as a lawyer, Mr Flaherty has an astounding immunity to evidence.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sometimes There Are No Words

But the American columnist E.J. Dionne has found some that adequately describe the situation:

We have had enough. American politics is plagued by timidity and paralyzed by opportunism whenever we even consider talking action to curb gun violence. No other developed country in the world has these massacres on such a regular basis. In no comparable nation do citizens have such easy access to guns. On no public question other than gun violence are those who demand solutions after an ungodly episode accused of “politicizing tragedy.”

And, of course, there are those on the other side of the debate who also have found words. But one wonders if those words proceed from an addled brain:

Steve Dulan, a board member for the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners who is supporting a state bill that would allow concealed weapons in schools and other gun-free zones, said Friday that having armed teachers inside Sandy Hook Elementary School would have, "if not prevented, then perhaps minimized," the tragedy.

"We do know that armed citizens defend themselves all the time, in all kinds of different contexts," Dulan told HuffPost Live host Alyona Minkovski.

There comes a time when it's not difficult to understand who truly understands an issue and who is simply demented. If nothing else, what happened in Connecticut yesterday has separated the rational people from those who are off the wall.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Truth? What's That?

For those who wonder why Peter MacKay is stiill in cabinet, Michael Harris has a straightforward answer:

Very simple; Peter MacKay has done no worse on this file than Stephen Harper. In fact, he has merely followed the core of Stephen Harper’s communications strategy: the Conservatives aren’t bound by the facts, they create them. What they say is fact becomes fact. Here are a few examples from the Boss himself on the subject of the F-35.

“A lot of the developmental costs you’re reading in the United States, the contract we’ve signed shelters us from any increase in those kinds of costs. We’re very confident of our cost estimates and we have built in some latitude, some contingency in any case. So we are very confident we are within those measures.”

Peter MacKay may be taking heat these days. But he was simply repeating what Stephen Harper said. He was doing exactly what he was asked to do. Both men operate on the firm conviction that saying makes it so. Harper followed the same strategy last week when he announced that his government had approved the takeover of Nexen by CNOOC:

Just this past week, after taking heat for the multi-billion dollar Nexen deal, in which a Canadian resource company became a Chinese asset, the prime minister told the House of Commons that the “vast majority” of Canadians approved of the transaction.

That wasn’t true, as multiple national polls inconveniently pointed out. How did the PMO explain it? Well, turns out the PM meant that the vast majority of Canadians who called his office liked the idea of China taking over part of Alberta. Of course.
It's been a long time since we've heard the truth from either Mr. Harper or Mr. MacKay.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Underhanded Economists

The F-35 fiasco should serve as a cautionary tale: beware of politicians who claim to be economists. For, Andrew Coyne writes, -- even as the Harperites peg the cost of those jets at $45.8 billion -- they still can't bring themselves to tell the truth:

Now, this increase in the reported price does not mean the cost of the planes has “skyrocketed” or “ballooned” or whatever other word you might have read. I mean, it has — from $75 million per plane to $88 million, with further increases likely to follow. But acquisition costs are only a fraction of the total: just $9 billion, a figure that has not changed even after this 20 per cent increase in unit price. The rest, almost all of it, is for sustainment and operations.

The new line, as expressed in government documents and repeated by the defence minister, Peter MacKay, is that the planes will cost $45.8 billion “over 42 years.” Not 20 years, or 30 years, but 42 years. And then the spin: it was a billion dollars a year before, it’s pretty much a billion dollars a years now. So you see? Nothing’s changed. 
How does the government get 42 years? By adding in 12 years for “development and acquisition,” from the decision to acquire the planes in 2010 to the delivery of the last plane in 2022. No previous estimate included development costs. And indeed they add next to nothing to the total: just $565-million. But by tacking on another 12 years, they allow the government to spread the cost over a much longer time frame, and make the annual cost of the planes seem much lower than it is.

Harry Truman once quipped that he wished he had a one handed economist on his staff. He complained that, when economists made an argument, they would conclude with the phrase, "on the other hand." Unfortunately, Harry offered no advice on what to do about underhanded economists. But one imagines that, if he were around to watch the Harper government in action, he'd be far from complimentary.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Keep Those Wages Down

When all the rhetoric has cooled, Tom Walkom writes in today's Toronto Star,  it should be clear that the Chinese government and the Harper government share the same objective:

The real problem with China’s Communists is not that they’re unusually wily but that, like the Harper Conservatives, they want to keep workers’ wages down.

If Ottawa were truly worried about the effect of Chinese investment on the lives of real people, it never would have allowed one Chinese-controlled firm to import 200 low-wage “temporary” coal miners into B.C. instead of employing Canadians.

The joint effort to keep wages low is shared by several governments. Yesterday's passage of right to work legislation in Michigan is an attempt to do the same thing. And Tim Hudak's proposed "Path to Prosperity" for Ontario is more of the same. Today's editorial in The Star makes the point that Hudak seeks to turn private sector workers against unionized workers:

If he wants to be the heroic debt slayer, Hudak needs to drop the divisive tactics, such as his attempt to foster anger among private sector workers against their neighbours in the public service. Nowhere in his plan does Hudak explain how the economy will be better off when thousands of middle-class employees get laid off, stop spending money in stores or paying for their kids’ university education. 

Both Mr. Harper and Mr. Hudak hold master's degrees in economics. And the only thing both men appear to have learned  from a so called "higher education" is that, at all costs, workers wages must be kept down.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Champerty and Maintenence

The Conservative Party of Canada appears to be incapable of embarrassment. Consider their argument against the robocall case, which opened yesterday. Arthur Hamilton, the party's lawyer, accused the Council of Canadians of bringing the case forward for the purposes of "champerty and maintenance" -- to push their political agenda and to fundraise on its behalf.

Tasha Kheiridden points out that there are all kinds of organizations which do that, as a normal part of the political process. She then goes on to list a number of such organizations on both the left and the right:

But the jewel in this crown involves none other than the prime minister himself. In 2000, Stephen Harper was president of the National Citizens’ Coalition. The NCC had a history of fighting for its political agenda through the courts, including supporting one of its vice-presidents, businessman David Stockell, in his 2000 lawsuit against three NDP MLAs who had failed to keep their election promises. That same year, Harper launched his lawsuit against the federal government, Harper v. Canada (A.G.), alleging that Ottawa had denied groups like the NCC freedom of speech by banning third party advertising during elections.

According to former NCC vice-president Gerry Nicholls, the NCC paid for everything, using Harper’s name for symbolic purposes, “fighting for free speech as an individual on behalf of individuals.” Harper ultimately lost the court challenge at the Supreme Court, but he and his organization gained exposure and recognition for the lawsuit, and the NCC counts it among its major campaigns for freedom.

In other words, Hamilton is accusing the COC of exactly what it has done for years -- and which is, in no way, illegal. Hamilton gives Canadians an idea of where Conservative heads are. It's all about fundraising. The idea that the Conservative Party of Canada might have broken Canada's election laws is inconceivable -- although the party admitted doing precisely that with its own In And Out fundraising scheme.

Khieridden's conclusion is ironclad:

For Harper’s party to allege champerty and maintenance by the COC is thus pure hypocrisy. For the Tories’ lawyer to say that the COC believes it will succeed in “sinking the Harper agenda” by a set of lawsuits is laughable.

The COC will gain publicity, a soapbox for its cause, and donations from supporters new and old. But if the government’s agenda is so feeble as to fall over this lawsuit, then it doesn’t deserve to stand in the first place.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Things Fall Apart

Not all Conservative MP's agreed with Stephen Harper on the Nexan Energy deal. James Bazan wrote to one of his constituents in Manitoba:

“I would like to note that I am strongly opposed to this deal, and I have raised my concerns directly with cabinet as well as with the prime minister. As I have stated to my colleagues in cabinet, due to China’s dismal record on human rights and freedoms, I take particular exception to allowing a state-owned company from China to purchase a Canadian company. The Communist Chinese government continues to fail to grant even the most basic of human freedoms to its citizens, as they strip away their national wealth to invest around the world. CNOOC’s past possible human rights abuses and failure to report oil spills is something I am also very concerned about …

“As a Conservative, I am in favour of keeping markets open in Canada, however I do not support allowing state-owned and state-controlled enterprises to take over publicly traded Canadian companies, as these state-owned and controlled business (sic) are not on the same level playing field as other free-enterprising corporate entities. Markets should operate in a manner that allow (sic) for fair and proper investment. State control, through financial manipulation and investment, do (sic) not allow for openness or fairness to the average investor. Large amounts of state investment distort markets for all other participants, while limiting other opportunities.”

Obviously, Mr. Bazan's objections didn't carry much weight with Stephen Harper -- but, then, neither did Bill Casey's, Garth Turner's or Chuck Cadman's. Michael Harris writes that Mr. Harper -- an apostle of free markets and a soldier in the war against tyranny -- is willing to overlook a lot about China:

Isn’t China the country where there is no independent judiciary, where religious repression is routine, where arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings are commonplace, where torture is a normal state tool, where Liu Xiaobo is looking at 15 years in prison for circulating a pro-democracy pamphlet, where websites are censored and blocked, and where they slaughtered their own students in Tiananmen Square?

Harris observes that things are beginning to fall apart for the Harper government. Eventually voters tire of the hypocrisy.

 This emperor has no clothes.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Murphy's Conundrum

Pity poor Rex Murphy. He doesn't understand what he calls the "unbalanced and disproportionate" antipathy Canadians feel for Stephen Harper:

For, step back a little, make a little space, and you will see that in his personal and domestic conduct, Harper is almost stereotypically Canadian. He’s a mild, unobnoxious, hockey-mad fellow. He doesn’t boast.He shuns the spotlight he could be commanding every day. He keeps his privacy and doesn’t insist, like many public figures, in conducting a soap opera around his position or his family. He’d be the ideal neighbour — he wouldn’t just drop in, too reserved for that (which is great), but I’m sure he’d lend a shovel when needed. Probably even help dig out your car if you were stuck, and take your thanks with a self-conscious smile and reassurance that it was no trouble.

Really?  Murphy advances this opinion in the same week that the cost of those F- 35 fighter jets was revealed to be $45 billion instead of $16 billion, and that Mr. Harper approved the sale of Nexxen Energy to China's state owned energy corporation. Two weeks ago Canada voted against recognition of Palestine at the UN.

There were those calls in Irwin Cotler's riding, which the Speaker of the House labelled "reprehensible" -- not to mention the robocalls in the last election. And there was Joe Oliver's claim that environmentalists were enemies of the state. In fact, Mr. Harper likes to label  all his opponents enemies of the state. Remember "Taliban Jack?"

And then there is the business of Harper's hidden agenda. Rex writes:

Even though he is Prime Minister and has a majority, many still believe he keeps that damn agenda up his sleeve. Query: What’s the point of a hidden agenda that stays hidden? Will it still be hidden when he leaves office? If so, what was or is its point?

What, indeed, is the point of keeping government estimates away from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page? Why did Mr. Harper not want to release those documents on the treatment of Afghan prisoners? Why do the Conservatives insist that so many  parliamentary committees meet behind closed doors? And why are Canadian scientists not allowed to speak with the media?

Why is Stephen Harper so deeply dispised by a majority of Canadians? The answer is as plain as the nose on Mr. Murphy's face -- and as old as the human race: What goes around comes around. When you treat people with contempt, they will return the favour.

Mr. Murphy simply hasn't been paying attention.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Fraud -- Pure and Simple

In case his readers have forgotten, Jeffrey Simpson reviews the increasingly tangled web of deceit which surrounds the F-35 fiasco:

The contract, insisted the government, would cost $9-billion for the aircraft, and $7-billion for maintenance over 20 years. Over and over, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the entire Conservative chorus repeated this mantra.

Critics in the U.S. alerted Congress that cost overruns were plaguing the project. The Parliamentary Budget Office in Ottawa said, no, the cost would be more like $30-billion over 30 years, for which the PBO was predictably denounced by the Conservative chorus.

Alan Williams, a former assistant deputy minister who had forgotten more about procurement than any minister had ever learned, warned repeatedly that the project was off the rails. Predictably, the Conservative chorus denounced him. The Speaker of the House found the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to reveal the full costs of the program, but that didn’t stop the government from being re-elected.

Other countries, alarmed at the F-35’s mounting costs and questionable technical reviews, began to delay purchase commitments. Still, the Conservative chorus stuck with the mantra, denouncing all doubters as anti-defence, pacifists and know-nothings.

Deeper and deeper, the Harperites dug themselves into the hole of their own rhetoric – until Auditor-General Michael Ferguson’s devastating report last April unveiled the true costs to be way higher than the government’s mantra. Worse, the report said the Defence Department had told the government that costs had skyrocketed. Yet, the government, campaigning for re-election, kept that information from the public.

The Harperites, as is their habit, all sang from the same hymnal. Most importantly, they did so during the last election, after they had been found in contempt of Parliament for not revealing the cost of the purchase. In a court of law, that's called fraud.

And they got away with it.

Friday, December 07, 2012

In Their Sights

The Harperites are gunning for Justin Trudeau. Michael Harris writes this morning that:

Not only does the Harper government have the magic wand of incumbency, it has the ruthless machinery to destroy its opponents. The political roadkill is everywhere. And the coming assault on Trudeau hangs in the air like an unspent thunderstorm ready to burst.

And, on the other side, Justin's recent pronouncements on the Nexxen deal and the gun registry have made progressives uneasy. But he stands for an old idea -- which, in the Harper era, seems remarkably fresh:

“Our democracy is in trouble. I trust the people to change that. I trust the people to restore the idea that Canada is a better place than it is now. I trust the people to decide if I’m right for this job.

“I would like to see people vote for something rather than against something. I would also like to improve our idea of citizenship — not just obeying the laws and paying taxes, but Canadians getting involved and being the agents of change. I love the country and I trust Canadians to believe in themselves again.

What a concept! Trusting Canadians to believe in themselves again. Stephen Harper has  diminished Canada's democratic institutions. And, operating on the principle that austerity is good for the soul, he has robbed the majority of Canadians of the hope that things will change, replacing it with the grim notion that plutocracy is the way of the world.

Harper -- the anti-Trudeau -- has trashed the idea of the Just Society. Injustice -- in the Middle East -- or in an economy -- where the gap between the rich and the rest of us grows -- is the way of the world. While the banks record huge profits, the economy stagnates.

In the end, the choice is between hope and despair.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Price Of Power

The prime directive of any good journalist should be the people's right to know. But consider the saga of Peter Kent. Lawrence Martin writes that Kent, a member of The Canadian Broadcasters Hall of Fame, has been in the forefront of those who make sure Canadian scientists don't talk to journalists:

The latest example of such muzzling concerns David Tarasick a researcher in Kent's ministry who is the co-author of a study on the ozone whole over the Arctic. Tarasick had offered to discuss his findings with the press:

It’s the type of story that Kent once pursued avidly for the CBC. But Kent’s office, as revealed by emails recently obtained by Postmedia, brought out the big muzzle and clamped it on Tarasick’s jaw.

When the issue first arose early in the year, Kent denied issuing any gag order. “We are not muzzling scientists,” he told the House of Commons. It was just, he said, a case where circumstances did not allow Tarasick to give interviews.

The emails contradict this version of events. They reveal officials in Kent’s department thought it would be fine to go ahead with the interviews. But Kent and the Prime Minister’s Office wanted their own propaganda spin on the ozone report — and so they silenced the scientist.

A man who used to enthusiastically chase stories on global warming bowed to the Prime Minister's Office and refused to let journalists know about the latest Canadian research on the environment. After all, the citizens of this country paid for that research. More than that, a functioning democracy needs information:

You’d think that, if one Conservative minister had the courage to stand up and say, “Wait a minute prime minister, this is not the way a democracy works, this is not the way freedom of speech works,” it would be Peter Kent. You’d think he’d be asking the question: “What are we afraid of? What is wrong with airing different views on the subject? If we disagree with Tarasick, we can say so.”

Kent was uniquely placed to do precisely that. But he didn't. Such is the price of power.

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Most Stupid People

Lately, Tasha Kheiridden has been aiming her barbs at the government she once supported. Her most recent target is Corrections Canada, which has decided that more double bunking is appropriate for Canada's inmates. There are at least two reasons why the policy is not a  good idea. The first is that double bunking is more expensive than housing one inmate in each cell:

Putting two inmates in a cell originally designed for one is a recipe for spreading disease, straining facilities, increasing stress, and making prisons more dangerous places. Over time, this money-saving measure may end up costing taxpayers more.

On the health issue, prisons should take their cues from hospital designers, who increasingly are abandoning double-occupancy rooms in favour of single ones. Why? Because in the long run it costs less, due in large part to the reduction in the spread of communicable diseases between patients.

Secondly, double bunking puts inmates in a pressure cooker, increasing the likelihood of prison violence:

Roommates without criminal records have a hard enough time getting along; why should one expect that two offenders will coexist peacefully in a 10-by-7 foot cell? According to the British National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, “an estimated 90 per cent of all prisoners have a mental health problem, including personality disorders, and /or a substance misuse problem.”

Recently, Canadian federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers attributed a rise in violence in western prisons to overcrowding. Sapers told the Calgary Herald that “crowding has that effect: it creates tension and it increases opportunities for interpersonal violence because people are in closer proximity.”

Conservative prison policy is based on the fervent conviction that what inmates need is more punishment. Such policy underscores the fact that, while the Harperites live and breathe ideology; they have very few good ideas.

 What John Stuart Mill wrote in the 19th century remains true in the 21st century: "Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative."

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Old Man In Ottawa

Stephen Harper claims that Conservative values are Canadian values. But, based on recent polling data, Frank Graves concludes that Mr. Harper is trying to stop a wave that is not moving in his direction:

When looking at values overall we are struck by their level of stability. This is to be expected and welcomed; values constitute the moral charter for societies and it would be a very bewildering and unstable world where values were shifting rapidly. But within this placid world of normative stability there are some conspicuous exceptions. All of the values which are demonstrating downward trends are conservative values.

Respect for authority and traditional family values, still very important in older and conservative Canada, hold no resonance in younger and university-educated Canada. The overall trajectory in all portions of society is downward for these and related conservative values such as minimal government and security. Not only are these trendlines significantly downward but this decline in subscription to conservative values is even more pronounced in younger Canada, metropolitan Canada, university-educated Canada and among women.

Graves writes that the Harper government is serving a "gerontocracy," which he warns, "could have the negative effect of reinforcing the sclerotic stagnation evident in the current economy." It's strange that a man who sees himself as an economist can't see the red flags. But, then, Mr. Harper didn't see the Great Recession coming, even when it was just around the corner.

Even more importantly, Graves' findings explain why Mr. Harper insists on doing things behind closed doors. Despite his claim that Canadians are true conservatives, he knows that his interests are not in the public interest. Transparency would put an end to the juggernaut. The gerontocracy would be toppled.

Stephen Harper became prime minister before he turned fifty. But he is -- and always has been -- an old man.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Joyce's Modest Proposal

While the press follows Justin Trudeau everywhere, both Paul Adams and Andrew Coyne  have chosen to give Joyce Murray some attention. Adams writes that what she proposes deserves serious consideration. Like her fellow British Columbian, Nathan Cullen, she urges opposition party cooperation. Adams writes:

For Joyce Murray, the experience of the Cullen campaign for the NDP leadership is instructive. Cullen’s advocacy of joint nomination of candidates was met at first with derision. Many commentators, inside the party and out, felt it hobbled his candidacy. But after a while, the idea — combined with his winning personality, it has to be said — began to attract attention and win wider appeal, some of it organized by outside groups such as Leadnow. Some people who had been on the sidelines joined the party to support Cullen and his idea. He went from being a marginal candidate to running a strong third, and in doing so he opened the door to a discussion of the idea.

Andrew Coyne also backs Murray's proposal as a one time election pact:

The details no doubt vary, but here’s how I can see it working. The opposition parties would agree on a single candidate to put up against the Conservatives in each riding. Were they to win a majority, they would pledge to govern just long enough to implement electoral reform: a year, two at most. Then fresh elections would be called under the new system, with each party once again running under its own flag, with a full slate of candidates.

Such an arrangement would be the first step on the road to proportional representation. A system which casts aside more than 60% of the votes will ultimately fail. If Canada is to survive as a democracy, it will have to move to some form of proportional representation.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

First Rate Intelligence?

Ever since the United Nations vote on Thursday, the Harper government has portrayed itself as a beautiful loser. It and eight other nations -- most notably the United States -- voted against support for Palestine. Canada, say the Harperites, is on the side of moral clarity. Haroon Siddiqui wrote yesterday in the Toronto Star that:

The vote was overwhelming, more than two-thirds in favour — 138 for, 9 against and 41 abstentions. Much to Canada’s shame, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was among the loudest pipsqueak noises against the tide of history.

Even the United States, chief patron of Israel, was subdued, dishing out brief boilerplate statements. But the voluminous Baird was keen to showcase Canada in the august company of the Czech Republic, Panama, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.

Stephen Harper claims that he is a loyal supporter of Israel. In truth, he is a loyal supporter of a like minded government; and he ignores Israeli opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu:

The prime minister portrays himself as a staunch ally of Israel, and tends to brand those who don’t agree with him as anti-Semitic and bully them — as discovered by the Christian ecumenical group Kairos, the Canadian Arab Federation and Palestine House, whose funding was cut, and Montreal-based Rights and Democracy, which was destroyed.

In fact, what Harper has done is to take sides with the right wing in an ideological and political struggle within Israel and the Jewish diaspora. He could have sided with those who do not agree with Israeli expansionism and permanent war on the Palestinians.

But Stephen Harper is incapable of balancing competing interests -- whether they be the interests of business and labour, Alberta and British Columbia or Ottawa and the provinces. The only thing he knows how to do is pick sides. And, like most people who call themselves conservatives these days, he is on the wrong side of history.

Scott Fitzgerald wrote that, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."  It has become abundantly clear that the Conservative caucus is not populated by people of first rate intelligence. And, when it comes to foreign policy, the prime minister is first among equals.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The New Newspeak

NDP environment critic Meghan Leslie understands how indebted the Harper government is to George Orwell. Rather than reading 1984 as a warning against tyranny, the Harperites have adopted the novel as a how to manual. Their messaging is thoroughly imbued with the principles of Newspeak. Those principles are particularly apparent when it comes to environmental policy. Leslie invites her readers to consider Harperian definitions for the following terms:

In the Conservative world, “responsible” means expedited. Gut environmental assessment laws, exempt pipeline projects from the Species at Risk law and Navigable Waters protection, and from fisheries habitat protection laws, and you’re a general in the Conservative War of 2012 — the war on the environment.

 “Consultation” means talking to a hand-picked group of friends who share your agenda, and perhaps posting a document on a website to solicit comments — with no disclosure of what the comments were and, likely, little consideration of them. No need to give any reason for the decision you were going to make all along, either.

“Open and transparent” means holding a record number of committee meetings behind closed doors, requiring the Parliamentary Budget Officer to take you to court to get basic information on departmental spending, and erasing pesky words like “environment” from websites that contradict your new reality.

“Accountable” means proroguing Parliament when your government is found in contempt for hiding documents from Parliament.

Orwell warned that those who called themselves socialists were not really socialists, just as the party which calls itself Conservative isn't really conservative. He understood that people like Stephen Harper really didn't have a philosophy. But they did -- and do -- have an objective. “If you want a picture of the future," O'Brien told Winston,  "imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.