Friday, February 28, 2014

The Munchkin Brigade

John Baird and his brigade are in the Ukraine this morning. Tim Harper writes that it's interesting to examine the composition of the group:

The delegation on the ground in Kyiv Friday includes Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, representatives of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, an unelected Conservative senator and a couple of Conservative MPs, including Ted Opitz, who could use a few more votes from constituents of Ukrainian heritage to build on his mighty 26-vote victory in Etobicoke Centre in 2011.

There are no Liberals or New Democrats in the delegation because, according to Jason MacDonald, the prime minister's spokesperson:

Justin Trudeau’s comments on Russia and Ukraine — for which he has apologized — means there is “no role for the Liberals in this government mission,’’ and the opposition NDP “wouldn’t pick a side.”

Jean Chretien -- like Stephen Harper -- could get nasty at times. But he wasn't afraid of his political rivals:

Chrétien occasionally had opposition MPs aboard foreign trips and he led a number of Team Canada trade missions that brought together premiers of all political stripes — from Manitoba’s Gary Doer to Ontario’s Mike Harris and Alberta’s Ralph Klein — for a common goal. No fistfights broke out.

Baird's trip to the Ukraine has the same objective as Harper's recent trip to Israel -- he's buying votes back home. Conservative foreign policy does not look out on the world. It looks inside -- to the voters back home. Theirs is a small world and they are small people.

They are the Munchkin Brigade.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Road Not Taken

Stephen Harper is obsessed with the name Trudeau. When he arrived in Edmonton, a university drop out, he admired Pierre Elliott Trudeau. By the time he graduated from the University of Calgary, his hero had become his bogeyman. Now he is faced with Trudeau le fils and, Michael Harris writes, he has come to a fork in the road. He must decide how to deal with his obsession.

Given his nature, he will probably rev up the Harper Hate Machine:

Harper’s hatred might be so blinding that he will opt to go to war with the son of the guy with the rose in his lapel. He has gathered his Praetorian Guard of dirty tricks around him, he has gorged on corporate contributions, so it’s obviously on his mind.

If he goes that route, you can bet the farm that the Harper-hate machine will be coming after Trudeau like fire ants at a picnic. They will do it on every front — from sex, love and rock-n-roll, to mad notions of Stephen Harper’s vast experience and rock-solid judgement.

But, given his history -- and the fact that, so far, the machine has not been able to sabotage Justin -- the man who twice prorogued parliament to avoid his own self induced demise, may choose another route:

But there is another possibility. With all the signs of trouble in the Tory jungle — from Jim Flaherty’s obstreperous outbursts, Michael Chong’s rational reforms, and a general sense in the back bench that it’s no fun being a eunuch — Harper could run before he gets run over.

And, as was the case in Frost's poem, the road he chooses not to take will make all the difference.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Justin's Main Stream Economic Vision

The details are lacking, Tom Walkom writes, but Justin Trudeau's economic vision is becoming clear. First, there is his focus on the middle class:

Trudeau’s argument here is that both poor and rich gain when the middle class prospers.

For the poor, a strong middle class represents a “ladder to stability and security.” Put simply, this means that a minimum-wage retail worker, while unlikely to become a corporate CEO, has a fair chance at getting a well-paid factory job — but only if such jobs exist.

For the wealthy, Trudeau says, a satisfied middle class diminishes the threat of voters electing a government hostile to the free-market “growth agenda.”

Second, there is the matter of taxes:

In his speech, Trudeau said only that he would not raise taxes on the middle class. But in an earlier interview Saturday on CBC Radio, he went further, ruling out any kind of tax hike.
“I don’t think we need to raise any taxes,” he said. “We are not going to be raising taxes."

On that score, he is simply repeating Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair's line. Which brings us to the deficit:

Trudeau’s language on government finances is more sophisticated than that of those who preach austerity. Fiscal discipline, he said Saturday, is important. But in the end, government budgets can be balanced only if the economy grows.

In general, he’s right. Canada’s federal deficit was eliminated in the ’90s by a surging world economy, not by the then Liberal government’s decision to cut spending. 

The real question is, can his  government generate enough growth to eliminate the deficit? Walkom doubts that the world economic engine will repeat its performance in the 1990's.

Finally, Justin -- like Harper -- likes pipelines:

Like Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he wants pipelines built to move Canadian oil and gas to global markets. Like New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair, he wants a “robust environmental policy” to make sure that other nations don’t discriminate against Canadian crude.

He assumes there will be a surplus in 2015. Unlike Harper, he proposes to invest the money in education and infrastructure, rather than in tax cuts.

It's not a radical vision. In fact, it's pretty conventional.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Where Are The Big Ideas?

Murray Dobbins writes that none of our political parties are adopting big ideas. It's not that they're not out there. He points to the Alternative Budget which the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives has released in response to Jim Flaherty's do nothing document:

The CCPA's alternative budget replaces most of the revenue lost through tax cuts by measures that are actually quite modest, including:
  • Reversing just half the recent corporate tax cuts to raise $11.6 billion.
  • Setting a new high income tax bracket of 35 per cent for earnings over $250,000 in order to raise $2.5 billion (it was 80 per cent in the 1960s).
  • Closing tax loopholes and dozens of tax credits to raise $9.6 billion.
  • Creating a 1 per cent withholding tax on all assets held in tax havens to raise $2 billion (catching the tax dodgers could raise even more).
  • Establishing a 0.5 per cent financial transactions tax -- the so-called Robin Hood tax -- to raise $4 billion.
  • Placing an inheritance tax on estates over $5 million to raise $2 billion.
  • And finally, implementing a carbon tax of $30 a tonne to raise a net amount of $7.5 billion (after provision of a green tax refund).
That's about $40 billion in new -- or rather recovered -- revenue from modest tax increases that could be sold to Canadians if the NDP actually had faith in the intelligence of the people they hope will vote for them. 

All three parties -- most recently Justin Trudeau's party -- has committed to not raising taxes. But Dobbins points out that:

We live in a fabulously wealthy country -- twice as wealthy in real dollars per capita as we were when medicare was first introduced. Everything we dream of is possible. But it requires a political party with the courage to put forward Big Ideas.

Instead, the Conservatives offer lower cell phone rates and the NDP offers lower ATM rates. It used to fall to the NDP to offer big ideas -- which the other parties eventually adopted. But now:

Regrettably, Thomas Mulcair and the NDP have opted for small ideas. Canadians won't be fooled. A recent Ipsos Reid poll asked -- in addition to for whom people would vote -- who they thought would win the 2015 election. Forty-five per cent thought Trudeau's Liberals would win, 43 per cent believed the Conservatives would emerge victorious and just 13 per cent thought the NDP would win.

Tommy Douglas would be appalled.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Inconvenient Truth

If the Harperites read their own internally generated research, they know why Justin Trudeau is a threat. The Globe and Mail reports that a document prepared last October by Employment and Social Development Canada concluded that between 1993 and 2007:

“The wages of middle income workers have stagnated. Middle-income families are increasingly vulnerable to financial shocks."

The report is blunt in its assessment:

The authors say middle-income families have seen their earnings rise by an average of only 1.7 per cent a year over the 15 years ending 2007.

“The market does not reward middle-income families so well,” says the report. “As a result, they get an increasingly smaller share of the earning’s pie” compared with higher-income families."

A spokeswoman for Employment Minister Jason Kenny points out that the report stops at 2007, the year after the Conservatives were elected:

"Our government has reduced taxes and made life affordable for Canadian families,” Alexandra Fortier said in an email Sunday, adding a “typical” family of four enjoys tax cuts of $3,400 a year, thanks to Conservative policies.

That “typical” family includes working parents who together earn $120,000 a year, with two children.

Canadians know that, with an average annual income of $47,000, the increase in part time work, and the hollowing out of Canadian manufacturing, the $120,000 figure is pure fiction. In fact, the middle class has stayed afloat by going into debt -- something the report stresses:

The report also refers to debt, saying “many in the middle spend more than they earn, mortgaging their future to sustain their current consumption.”

“Over the medium term, middle-income Canadians are unlikely to move to higher income brackets, i.e., the ‘Canadian dream’ is a myth more than a reality.”

In short, Canada is on the same path the United States was on before the collapse of 2008. It's true that the decline began during the Liberal ascendancy -- which will be a problem for Trudeau. Will Canadians believe the man who leads the party which engineered the decline of the middle class?

For both Liberals and Conservatives, the report simply repeats the inconvenient truth.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Harper's Achilles Heel

Some commentators were disappointed that both of Justin Trudeau's convention speeches were not barn burners. But Michael den Tandt writes that Trudeau's second speech was masterful in the way it went after those who voted for Stephen Harper the last time around. He did not demonize them:

Appealing directly to disenchanted Tories, Trudeau first debunked the notion of the Blue base as “some angry mob to be feared.” Rather, he told his audience, “the 5.8-million Canadians who voted Conservative aren’t your enemies. They’re your neighbours.”

If the Conservatives plan is to run on the theme of promises kept, Trudeau's plan seems to be to contrast promises with performance. He knows that hypocrisy is Stephen Harper's Achilles heel:

“This Conservative party is not the party of John A. Macdonald. It is the party of Stephen Harper. And here is the hard truth about Mr. Harper. I believe that as a young idealistic reformer, he was a principled man. But over eight years as Prime Minister, he has abandoned the principles he held dear. And not just about senators.”

Trudeau knows there is dissension in Conservative ranks. Income splitting is the most recent example. And so, it was income splitting that Trudeau turned to in his speech. It was a bad idea to begin with, he said. But on this issue -- like so many others -- it's beginning to look like Harper will again betray his principles:

“He looked straight into those cameras and told the nation that they were being treated unfairly, and if he was elected, he would right that wrong.”

Trudeau didn't chew up the scenery.  He didn't breathe fire and brimstone. He simply took direct aim at Harper's Achilles heel.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Progressive Party?

Andrew Coyne is upset. The Liberals may have a new leader. But he worries that they are pretending to be a left wing party:

This is not a “new” or “reinvented” Liberal party; it is not even the centrist party of recent memory. From the evidence of the convention, it is an almost parodically left-wing party, and even if, as expected, the leader ignores most of the members’ handiwork in drafting the platform, what has been coming out of his own mouth is not hugely dissimilar: a difference more of degree than direction.

The fact is that it's just too soon to know what is really happening in Montreal. However, there is hope in what Coyne finds frustrating -- national strategies:

A small sample of the resolutions before the convention (almost all of those proposed to date have passed) would include: a National Transportation Strategy, a National Energy Strategy, a National Grid Strategy, a National Manufacturing Strategy, several National Strategies for Childhood Development, a National Framework for Mental Health, a National Action Plan on Disability, a National Water Policy, a National Pharmacare Program, a National Youth Jobs Strategy, a Science-based Innovation Strategy and a Transformative Canadian Infrastructure Investment Plan.

Coyne worries that they would all cost money -- which is true. But they signal an entirely different approach to the federation. They would require consultation with the provinces -- something Mr. Harper hasn't done in eight years, even if his ads on the Canada Job Grant give the impression that consultation is standard Harperian procedure.

The truth is that Coyne doesn't buy Trudeau's argument that the middle class is struggling:

It’s simply not true that the middle class is in such dire circumstances as Mr. Trudeau claims. Real wages are at record levels; family incomes have been rising for the better part of two decades; average net worth, for all the talk of household debt levels, is also at an all-time high.

One assumes that he does buy the fiction that the average income for a family of four -- two adults and two children -- is $120,000 a year. If the Liberals really want to help the middle class, they'll have to become a progressive party. So far, there has been scant evidence that's who they are.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Picking Up The Tab

Jim Flaherty's budget may have been full of happy talk. But, Frank Graves writes, Canadians -- particularly young Canadians -- are not happy. They know they've been had:

The simple fact is that the agenda of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is no longer about an incremental, gradual shift away from a progressive state to a model of minimal government embodied by neo-conservative Reaganism or Thatcherism. The public may now see trickle-down economics as a cruel hoax — but it still seems to be the theory informing the current government’s approach to the economy.

Stephen Harper has led nothing less than a profound transformation of the federal government. The ratio of federal government revenue to GDP is now down to 14 per cent — the lowest level seen in over 50 years — and the current budget makes it clear that this is a work in progress.

Graves' latest poll, however, indicates that young Canadians aren't on Harper's side:

The change we see happening seems to be in the realm of small-c conservative values. As the government has shifted right, the public has shifted away from conservative values. This is especially true of younger Canadians, who are less likely to vote than other citizens — a fact that goes a long way in explaining the paradox of a government and an electorate going in different directions.

In Europe and the United Kingdom, commentators have noted that while the younger generation is the most socially progressive, it is less collectivist and statist. It would appear this is not the case here, where younger citizens are much more likely to rate minimal government as a value lower today than they did in 1998 (those the under the age of 25 give “minimal government intrusions” a mean rating of 42, compared to 62 in 1998). At 42 on a scale to 100, this means that minimal government as a political value has virtually no relevance for younger Canadians. The only place it continues to resonate is in older, conservative Canada and the Langevin building.

The Harper Party works on the assumption that the young don't vote; and, therefore, they have nothing to fear. But make no mistake. This weekend's Liberal convention is all about coralling and directing the youth vote.

The young know that they will have to pick up the tab for the Harper years.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

It's Not Inevitable

Stephen Harper has said that the Keystone XL pipeline is "inevitable."  He bases his conclusion on a simplistic analysis: We've got the bitumen. You need it." The first part of that proposition is true. The second part isn't. But the most important truth is that, when it comes to selling Keystone, Harper has been his own enemy.

The prime minister came to Mexico intent on selling Keystone to Barack Obama. The president reminded him, however, that he has kicked the tires and has doubts about what Harper is selling:

"Stephen and I, during a break after lunch, discussed a shared interest in working together around dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. And this is something that we have to deal with."

"Stephen" has done nothing about greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, during his tenure, they have gotten worse. And, like Jim Flaherty's deficit projections, Canadian emissions are always grossly off target. That's the problem:

"I said previously that how Keystone impacted greenhouse gas emissions would affect our decision. But frankly, it has to affect all of our decisions at this stage because the science is irrefutable," Obama said.

He said increasing "severe weather patterns" has "consequences for our businesses, for our jobs, for our families, for safety and security."

"It has the potential of displacing people in ways that we cannot currently fully anticipate and will be extraordinarily costly. So I welcome the work that we can do together with Canada," Obama added.

Harper has never worked together with anyone to reduce emissions. The only notable thing he has done is to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol. He has personally fanned opposition to the pipeline.

Obama has no reason to buy Keystone. He knows what Harper doesn't. It's not inevitable.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

His Fundamental Weakness

From now until the next election, the Harper Party will repeat the same meme -- Trudeau lacks experience. Never mind that Mr. Harper himself has very narrow life experience. Michael Harris writes:

Stephen Harper was a university drop-out from suburbia who became an office boy in an oil company out west, and then a student again.

Armed with his degree in Economics, Harper moved straight into politics as peach fuzz policy advisor to the newly minted and cash-short Reform Party. He got the job because he was smart and right-wing, but also because he was a cheap hire. And there, in different forms, Stephen Harper has remained for the rest of his working life.

The real issue is intelligence. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner identified eight types of intelligence, one of which is emotional -- or interpersonal -- intelligence:

Trudeau’s high emotional intelligence even oozed from his Valentine’s card – he was flirting with the whole country. He is as likeable as a movie star who strayed into the 7/11 store of politics. The man likes human beings. People get the feeling he’s not a sneak. It’s why they light up when Trudeau enters a room and clam up when Harper does. And he’s no silver spoon sissy – just ask Frank Magazine’s ex-newshound.

Trudeau’s handlers, unlike Harper’s, don’t have to control the venue and the crowd to get a good reception. No one has to hold up applause signs. Nobody is asked to leave the meeting because they were seen at a rival party event.

Stephen Harper knows what the real issue is:

Consider this. If Justin Trudeau is so completely unequipped to run the country, so woefully inexperienced, why is Stephen Harper training his hate-machine exclusively on such an incompetent rival?

No, it's Stephen Harper who lacks experience and who looks at the world through a very narrow lens:

Harper’s political worldview, pinched by inexperience and poisoned by partisanship, is Right or Left in every sense of the word. Anything run by him, country, company, or bingo game will be dominated by division and conflict.

That's his fundamental weakness.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Targeting General Leslie

Andrew Cohen acknowledges at the beginning of his latest column that he is a friend of retired general Andrew Leslie:

(A note: I have known Leslie, his wife and children for 10 years. We’re friends).

That said, he then reviews the facts:

As part of their severance, those who serve 20 years or more are offered a last move, at government expense, after they retire. Soldiers are asked to live in many places; the policy recognizes that the house you occupy at the end of your career may not be where you want to remain.

Leslie served 35 years at home and abroad and moved 18 times. When he left the military in 2011, he wanted to simplify things. He moved from a bigger house to a small one, in the same neighbourhood. The move cost some $72,000, of which the real estate fees could have come to perhaps $60,000. The rest went to packing and moving.

If Leslie -- like retired General Lewis Mackenzie -- had sided with the Harperites, there would have been no problem. However,

Andy Leslie is a Liberal. His father was a Liberal. His service notwithstanding, that displeases the government. Tell us, Minister Nicholson, would you have ordered an inquiry if Leslie had been running as a Conservative? Would your question have been as sharp, your anger as hot?

Could it be that Leslie’s expenses would never have found their way into the media at all? And could it be that the Conservatives wanted Leslie to join them, when they learned that he was going to the Liberals? Let us see this for what it is: a drive-by smear.

This is the party which spread rumours by phone that Irwin Cotler was retiring -- two years before he did retire. This is the party which aired commercials of puffins pooping on Stephane Dion's shoulder. This is the party which proclaimed that Micheal Ignatieff had returned to Canada -- but "not for you."

We know how Mr. Harper and his acolytes play the game. Cohen correctly concludes:

As we disparage a decorated general, seeing scandal that isn’t there, consider the greater affront of a government that tolerates a minister, Julian Fantino, who insults veterans as he cuts their services. Now there’s gratitude.

Then ask yourself why Andrew Leslie and other good people would even contemplate entering our soiled, sorry public life.

Under Stephen Harper, public life in Canada has become a boil -- an infection, not a vocation.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ignoring The American Experience

Some Americans have been warning Canada that following in their footsteps isn't wise. They warned that establishing mandatory minimum sentences fills up jails but does not deter crime. Still, as crime has fallen in this country, the Harperites have insisted that they know more about punishment than judges, and so our prisons are crammed to over capacity.

Now, an American lawyer, who has been battling American voter ID laws, warns that the "Fair" Elections Act will cause voter suppression. Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Pennsylvania, cites what has happened in the United States:

Multiple academic studies point to an impact on turnout, especially among specific demographic groups: the young, the poor, and minorities.

The measured statistical effect has ranged from a couple of percentage points to more than a dozen, depending on what the study's measuring, what state it's looking at and the state's ID requirement.
  • Researchers at the universities of Washington, Mexico and Northern Arizona concluded that white voters in Indiana were 12 per cent more likely than blacks to have the proper ID, and Republicans were 15 per cent more likely to have it than Democrats.
  • In a national study, researchers at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis concluded that black youth were 22 per cent more likely than whites to be asked to show ID, and that 13 per cent more black youth said their lack of adequate ID kept them from voting.
  • Statistics guru Nate Silver estimated in 2012 that voter ID laws would reduce turnout by 2.4 per cent in Pennsylvania and help Republicans by 1.2 per cent. He predicted a similar pattern in Kansas, and lesser echoes in Idaho, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Utah.

Don't expect the Harperites to listen. Voter suppression is what the "Fair" Elections Act is all about. They know that 40% is the best they will ever do when it comes to public support. They want to ensure that they'll stay in power. So they'll legislate that outcome -- American experience be damned.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Not Seeing The Other Half

For some time now, Robert Reich writes, the United States has been devolving into a We and Them Society -- as in, Why should we pay for them? He sites several examples:

The middle-class and wealthy citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, for example, are trying to secede from the school district they now share with poorer residents of town, and set up their own district funded by property taxes from their higher-valued homes.

Similar efforts are underway in Memphis, Atlanta, and Dallas. Over the past two years, two wealthy suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, have left the countywide school system in order to set up their own.

One reason for the divide is -- and has always been -- race. But in the three decades following World War II, when incomes were rising for everyone, there was a notion that we are all in this together. As income inequality has increased, so has the notion that it is every man and woman for him or her self.

Now Americans can choose whether or not they wish to see their neighbours:

Being rich in today’s America means not having to come across anyone who isn’t. Exclusive prep schools, elite colleges, private jets, gated communities, tony resorts, symphony halls and opera houses, and vacation homes in the Hamptons and other exclusive vacation sites all insulate them from the rabble.

America’s wealthy increasingly inhabit a different country from the one “they” inhabit, and America’s less fortunate seem as foreign as do the needy inhabitants of another country.

In Third World countries, the wealthy build high walls, topped with shards of glass, to make sure that "they" can't get in. Is this what America has become -- a nation where half of the country doesn't even see the other half?

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

No Comparison

When Nelson Mandela died, Stephen Harper eulogised him as a “great moral leader…He left prison with his mind closed to any settling of scores and his heart open to those he had fought against. He demonstrated that the only path open to his nation was to reject the appeal of bitterness.”

In Friday's Globe and Mail, Gerry Caplan used that standard to compare the present prime minister of Canada to the former president of South Africa. The comparison is enlightening:

Mr. Mandela practised magnanimity. Harper proudly declares: “I couldn’t care less what my critics say.”

Mr. Mandela practiced the politics of generosity. Harper practises the politics of mean.

Nelson Mandela ends a lifetime of unimaginable adversity without bitterness or need to settle scores, Stephen Harper emerges from an apparently model middle class background driven by bitterness, resentment and an obsessive, paranoid need to get even with mortal enemies who had done him no harm. As The Globe’s John Ibbitson put it, “some days the PM seems to be about nothing but grudges.”

Mr. Mandela leaves prison on warm and respectful terms with the warders who guarded him. Mr. Harper grows up inexplicably driven by visceral fury against Liberals/civil servants/elites/scientists/environmentalists/progressives/dissidents/journalists, none of whom had ever personally hurt him in the slightest way.

Mr. Mandela’s great achievement was to unify his impossibly divided nation. Mr. Harper’s electoral strategy has always depended on dividing and polarizing Canadians.

Mr. Mandela laboured to reconcile all South Africans to the new rainbow nation. Mr. Harper has never been interested in anything but the “base” – the 40 per cent of Canadians who are potential Conservative voters.

Nelson Mandela was always uncomfortable when others held him up as a moral icon. "I'm no saint," he told them. “I never was one, even on the basis of the earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying.”

You'll never catch Stephen Harper making such an admission. But, compared to Mandela, Mr. Harper is a very small man. There is no comparison.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Road To Fascism

The Harper government has ordered the Canada Revenue Agency to carefully audit the books of organizations opposed to pipelines. Murray Dobbins correctly wonders if big oil has subverted Canadian democracy. But the government's use of the tax man to get at its enemies is not Dobbins' biggest worry. The more frightening development is Stephen Harper's use of the security establishment to monitor Canadians:

Harper's general list of assaults, as bad as they are (and columnist Lawrence Martin has compiled a pretty thorough one here), is different from our prime minister's genuinely frightening decision to enlist the country's security apparatus in the direct and immediate service of the oil industry. Nothing like this has ever happened before in Canada.

Mr. Harper is not the first prime minister to spy on Canadians. But his use of this country's security infrastructure goes far beyond anything Canadians have seen before:

Paranoid governments in the past have used the RCMP and CSIS to spy on political enemies, infiltrate activist organizations and have even sent in agent provocateurs to tarnish the image of political protest. But to arrange to have intelligence and police agencies, government representatives, a government agency supposedly responsible to Parliament and the Canadian people (the NEB) and corporate executives all sit around a table to explicitly violate not only our democratic rights but the law of the land is a grotesque step beyond.

The prime minister's use of the security establishment to pursue corporate ends confirms that he truly is a corporatist tool. He has set us on the path to fascism -- which Mussolini defined as the "merger of state and corporate power."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Will He Go With A Bang Or A Whimper?

Yesterday, Jim Flaherty signalled that he is packing his bags. In announcing his opposition to income splitting, he placed himself in direct opposition to his boss and the men, like Jason Kenny, who hope to replace the prime minister -- if and when he retires. Flaherty also became a target for social conservatives -- mainly evangelical Christians -- whose vote Harper bought with his promise to split incomes. Andrew Jackson writes:

Evangelical Christian institutions in particular had close ties to the Reform Party and have maintained and even increased their influence on policy under the Harper Conservatives. They have lobbied for a so-called pro-family agenda, including opposition to gay rights, opposition to abortion rights, and, more successfully, policies to support the traditional family with one earner and a stay at home spouse.

Despite the fact that both partners in the great majority of today's families with young children choose to participate in the job market, or have little financial choice but to work, the Harper government scrapped plans to establish a national child care program after it took office, replacing it with an inadequate cash benefit paid out to all families with young children.

The key point here is that there are very close connections between senior Harper government policy advisers, and religious and social conservative organizations that want to use tax policy to help restore the traditional family with a stay at home spouse. That is likely a major reason why family income splitting looms so large on the Harper government agenda.

The fact that Flaherty is opposed to income splitting does not mean that he is opposed to families. There are lots of things that could be done to support families with one working spouse -- like paying a living wage. That, however, would run up against the business community, who maintain that labour costs are too high. That is why they support the Temporary Worker Program, which has the effect of driving down wages for all Canadians.

Besides the obvious unfairness of income splitting -- analysts on all sides agree that the benefits would go primarily to the wealthy -- there is the fact that Mr. Flaherty's vaunted six billion dollar surplus would be cut in half:

Call it Harper's $3-billion Mad Men giveaway. Income splitting would allow families to share up to $50,000 in income for tax purposes. This would benefit some couples by more than $6,000 per year in cases where one partner (usually a man) is in a high income tax bracket, and the other partner (usually a woman) has no or low earnings. There would, however, be no benefit at all for single parents (who account for more than one in four families with children), and very little benefit for couples where both partners work, but are both in one of the lower tax brackets.

In other words, income splitting is -- economically -- as stupid as cutting the GST. By now Flaherty knows that, despite his claims, the prime minister is no economist. The question is: Will Flaherty go with a bang or a whimper? Will he resign, stating his strong opposition to a stupid promise? Or will he join the other bobble heads and slip quietly away?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Boot Stamping On A Human Face

Heather Mallick writes, in  today's Toronto Star, that the essence of the Harper government is personal cruelty:

I object to the Harper government for many reasons ( provides a good listing service): damage to water, earth and sky via the tarsands, love of pipelines, no census, mandatory jail sentencing, service shrinkage, rubber-stamp Senate appointments, no harm reduction for drug users, the push for salesmanship over foreign aid, turning the Immigration Minister into judge and jury for deportations, silencing of scientists, rail safety deregulation, demonization of public servants, effective banning of strikes, contempt for women’s rights, proroguing of Parliament, voter suppression, plans for socially divisive income-splitting, and many more issues.

But I wouldn’t object to the above on principle if they were arrived at democratically, without abusing the absolute power given to the winner in our bizarre political system, without disrespecting the courts, without giving one the feeling that one no longer lives in an organized society based on the rule of law.

Harper gets his way by bullying individuals, generally the weakest ones.

Yesterday's budget was yet another illustration of the Harperian practise of preying on the weakest. The budget will be balanced, but the cost will be counted in human lives. I note, for instance, that youth unemployment is at 14% -- twice the national average. And what does Mr. Flaherty offer? Loose change for apprenticeships.

Mallick writes:

But probably the best definition is this. The hallmark of Harper conservatives is that they take everything personally. They don’t just oppose Liberals, they hate Justin Trudeau. They don’t just oppose some Muslim fundraising, they hate that benighted teenager Omar Khadr.
Governments should be generalists, asking, “What is good for the nation?” Harperites are vengeful, asking, “Whom shall we make suffer?”

Or, as Orwell put it, "If you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mistrust Breeds Contempt

Mitchell Anderson writes that Canada has become The Great Weird North, where the government doesn't trust its own citizens. Consider the evidence:

Revelations last week that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was spying on Canadians cell phones through airport Wi-Fi networks only came to light due to documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Ontario's privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian said she was "blown away" by the news, adding that CSEC's methods seemed those of a "totalitarian state, not a free and open society."

If the "Harper Government" is suspicious about the general Canadian population, they are downright paranoid about people opposed to pipelines. In 2012, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver referred to Canadians questioning pipeline expansions as "environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade." A month later Ottawa released a revised anti-terrorism strategy that lumped environmentalists in with white supremacists as a threat to national security.

Not creepy enough for you? Last week the government introduced sweeping changes to Canada's Election Act without bothering to consult with Canada's chief electoral officer, who called the new bill an affront to democracy. News enthusiasts will recall how a federal court judge determined the database controlled by the Conservative Party was implicated in what he called "widespread" electoral fraud in 2011 and that party lawyers employed "trench warfare in an effort to prevent this case from coming to a hearing on the merits."

Anderson then asks the obvious question:

If the government doesn't trust Canadians, why should we trust them?

For better or worse, Canadians and their government have a long-term relationship. Without trust, any relationship goes south fast. It's becoming clear that the "Harper Government" doesn't trust Canadians, and that Canadians shouldn't trust them either.

We deserve better from this relationship. More trust. More money. More respect. 

When the man at the top is paranoid, he lives in fear and sows contempt. And contempt is what he reaps.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Mark Of Tyrants

Tom Walkom writes that the Harper government's new citizenship bill is a Trojan Horse:

It is presented as an attempt to reduce fraud and rationalize the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, both of which are sensible aims.
But it would also give Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government unprecedented authority to strip Canadians — including thousands born in this country — of their citizenship.

In the past, the only way a person born in Canada could be stripped of his or her citizenship was to be convicted of treason:

No more. Bill C-24 would let the government unilaterally strip citizenship from any Canadian — naturalized or native-born — who has been convicted in any country of a terrorist offence and sentenced to at least five years in jail.

Other crimes that could cost Canadians their citizenship would include treason and espionage.
In all cases, the only caveat is that the person could not be left stateless.
Decisions in these matters would be made by cabinet alone rather than a court.

The Harperites know that their only real opposition comes from the courts. They have focused intently -- whether a decision involves pipelines or citizenship -- on removing the courts from the equation.

Every piece of legislation they bring forward marks them as tyrants.


Sunday, February 09, 2014

Struck Dumb Or Plain Dumb?

As the Harperites have abandoned veterans, cut postal service to seniors and insisted that everyone must bow in awe of the deficit, the silence of the Tory backbench has been remarkable. Michael Harris writes:

Why don’t these ordinary Conservative MPs speak out against the injustice of the so-called “universality of service” rule that declares injured soldiers unfit for duty and therefore unfit to serve? Retired general Romeo Dallaire has.

And why don’t they say something about the built-in disincentives for injured soldiers who are afraid to come forward for help — especially those suffering from mental distress? Soldiers know that 90 per cent of those who go to military support units for treatment end up getting the boot.

The truth is that, politically, there is an advantage to be had by speaking up for veterans:

What makes the Silence of the Cons so remarkable is that they have absolutely nothing to lose by standing up for veterans. In fact, they have a great deal to gain — and to give.

Think about it. Say you’re a backbencher who is never going anywhere on the ladder of blind ambition — not to cabinet, not to a parliamentary secretary’s job (with an extra fifteen grand), not even to a committee chairmanship. The only place you’re going is back home to face your constituents. And they all just saw you vote down an NDP motion to keep the veteran centres open. They’ll remember that — they can count, and numbers are bullshit-proof.

But they have sat -- or stood -- like department store manikins, forgetting the people who sent them to Ottawa. They owe the prime minister nothing:

When will it sink in (as it did with Brent Rathgeber) that Stephen Harper has no goodies for these backbenchers, no respect, no coattails to ride — and compromised conservative credentials? The prime minister is a dictatorial cult figure who has adopted the same goals and the worst instincts of the people he once insisted were undermining democracy. At a social level, he is deconstructing Canada while delivering the nation’s treasure to corporations.

Either Stephen Harper has struck them dumb -- or they are just plain dumb.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Legislating Apathy

Yesterday, the Harper Party moved to limit debate on its so called Fair Elections Act. Three days, they said, is all it should take to debate the bill. The reason for the three day limit is abundantly clear: the longer the bill is exposed to sunlight,  the more its real intention becomes clear:

“A big part of this bill is about voter suppression,” NDP deputy leader David Christopherson told The Huffington Post Canada.

Young people, aboriginals and low-income Canadians are being unfairly targeted by a bill that the Conservatives have labelled the Fair Elections Act, the NDP argued.

Changes that eliminate being vouched for by a friend or colleague as sufficient identification on election day will hurt certain segments of the population who have no fixed address, such as those living on the street in Vancouver’s lower East side, said Libby Davies, the party’s MP for the area.

Another measure that prevents Elections Canada from continuing its current campaign of encouraging young people to vote is designed to keep anti-Tory voters away, Christopherson suggested.
“We’re talking about a lot of Canadians who might be the kind to look to the government to actually provide an improvement to our society. That is exactly the kind of Canadians [the Conservatives] want to keep away from the ballot box, because that is not the type of government that they offer,” he said.

And, to ensure that those objectives are met, Chief Electoral Officer Mark Mayrand says the Harperites have "taken the referee off the ice."

None of this should come as any surprise. Take a look at the players. Just as Julian Fantino is the Minister In Charge Of Abandoning Veterans, Pierre Poilievre is the Minister in Charge of Democratic Reform. Both men lack any credibility on their files. Of Poilievre, Lawrence Martin writes:

But if the young man with the bookworm looks and wicked tongue really wants to establish credibility as a minister of democratic reform, there’s another way of doing it. He could start by lowering some stone walls. Since he’s so concerned about the work of Elections Canada, he might lend a hand with its robocalls probe.

But Poilievre won't do that, of course. The Conservatives are all about building walls --- "firewalls" is the prime minister's phrase. The best way to do that -- and maintain power with 30% support -- is to make sure that those who would vote against you don't show up at the polls.

And you can make it happen -- or not happen -- by legislating apathy.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

He Won't Change

Yesterday, Rob Ford announced that he would not attend World Pride in Toronto because "I'm not going to change the way I am." Judging from his continuing escapades, it would seem that the public can take that statement to the bank.

And, after reading Robin Doolittle's book Crazy Town, Tasha Kheiriddin writes that Ford is anything but mayoral:

The Fords — according to Doolittle — live in a world of thugs and drugs. From high school on, the four Ford siblings — Kathy, Randy, Doug and Rob — were enmeshed in the drug culture in various ways, as users and (allegedly) in the case of Doug, as a seller. Kathy’s journey led her to being shot in the face, Randy’s to involvement in a kidnapping. Rob enjoyed his weed as a teenager, prescription pills as an adult, and crack cocaine after the death of his father.

Kheirddin admits that Ford's substance abuse problems might cause some to feel sympathy for him:

But the association with criminals should not. The drug-addled friendships nurtured in the plaza at the end of the Fords’ leafy childhood street haunt the family to this day. And they cannot be excused because of the Fords’ good works over the years. No matter how much football you coach, if you’re doing crack, you are contributing to the same criminal behaviour you claim to want to eradicate.

Ford argues that this is all part of his private life and should be out of bounds in any public discussion. But now he is being sued by his former brother-in-law for allegedly arranging a jailhouse beating. And his legal problems keep coming. On the weekend, he was ticketed for j-walking while under the influence.

Ford is right. He won't change. And if Torontoians are smart, they won't re-elect him.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Big Bang?

There has been much debate about Justin Trudeau's Senate gambit. Bill Tieleman claims that it is merely sleight of hand. But Lawrence Martin thinks it may be a big bang moment, which starts the process of democratic reform:

The Trudeau gambit could well touch off a chain reaction or at least provide momentum for more reform. There is much criticism of his exploit – and much of that criticism is justified. But there is broad support. People are fed up with hyper-partisanship. Even conservative groups like the Canada West Foundation and commentators like Robert Fulford see value in what the young leader has done.

In contrast to the prime minister, Trudeau has done some power pruning:

There is no mistaking the overall effect of the measure. It is a peeling back of power. It strips the leader of caucus numbers and Senate influence. It provides greater independence to a legislative branch of government heretofore heavily influenced by the party leader’s dictates.

Trudeau's decision stands in stark contrast to Harper's standard operating procedure. He has no intention of letting his senators go. He only dismisses them when they refuse to follow his dictates.

There are, to be sure, problems with what Justin has done:

While Mr. Trudeau has set senators free of his party, he has not provided an adequate new formula for appointing them. A blue-ribbon panel to anoint senators will face all kinds of credibility questions.

Still, Trudeau the Younger may have begun a process which must happen if the Harper mode of government is to be brought to its richly deserved end.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Stigma Within Themselves

Yesterday, the Harper Party defeated an NDP motion to reverse the closure of Veterans Affairs Offices across the country. Julian Fantino has been the face of the government on this issue. But now it's clear that there are 145 other MPs -- including the prime minister -- who stand behind him. What Michael Harris writes of Fantino applies to all 146 of them:

The very important man seemed to have forgotten that at least one of the veterans he stood up at that meeting was fighting fascists before Julian got his first pair of shiny boots. The minister was not talking to a bunch of office go-fers, but the senior partners of the Conservative party’s core support.

The Harperites send others off to war. But they know nothing of it and the scars it leaves behind:

Harper marketed the Afghanistan War — then forgot about its veterans.

Eight suicides in their ranks in a matter of weeks says something is dreadfully wrong. Where are the 447 mental health workers promised a decade ago when the government was busy promoting the war?
What happens if a soldier doesn’t have his ten years in before he suffers a “catastrophic” injury? Why can’t a vet be found who agrees with the new Veterans Charter and its one-time-only payment, intended to get the gum of a ruined life off the shoe of government?

For former sergeant major Barry Westholm, the final straw came when Harper MP Cheryl Gallant opined that, for soldiers with PTSD, "the stigma was within themselves." Westhom resigned from the party. There will be more resignations.

Most certainly, there is a stigma. But it's not within the veterans. Behold the Harper government -- small minded and led by a very small man.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Self Service

The numbers are in on Stephen Harper's trip to Israel. The Canadian Press reports:

The survey, conducted from Jan. 23-Jan. 27 by Harris/Decima for The Canadian Press, suggests a third of Canadians held a favourable impression of Harper's first foray to the Middle East.

Twenty-six per cent, meantime, said they held an unfavourable view.The majority of those polled, however — 42 per cent — said they had no opinion.

The trip served Harper's interests quite well. That thirty-three percent represents his base. He'll need them in the next election. But did he serve Israel's interests? Murray Dobbin writes that Israelis did not fall had over heals for Harper. In fact, there was significant opposition to what he said in the Knesset:

As the Haaretz editorial stated: "[Harper's] words blinded the eyes of Netanyahu and the ministers in his cabinet. He gave them the false feeling that everything is okay, that they are right, that if we only stand firm a bit longer, a lot more Harpers will sprout at the heads of the Western powers."

As for Harper's criticism of those who refer to Israel as an apartheid state, Dobbins writes:

The list of senior Israeli officials describing their approach as apartheid includes Shulamit Aloni, who once served as minister of education under Yitzhak Rabin, and former prime minister Ehud Barak. Another former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, declared: "If the day comes when the two state solution collapses, and we face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights, then as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished."

Mr. Harper's trip to Israel was calculated to serve his own interests, not Israel's. But then, that's what Stephen Harper is all about -- self service.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

No Tragic Hero

On Friday night, Conrad Black was stripped of his membership in the Order of Canada. Tim Harper writes:

Black is now one of only six Order of Canada recipients stripped of the honour and forced to return the insignia. And what a photo op that would be when he hands it over.
He joins a pack of fraudsters, a Métis leader who let loose with a string of anti-Semitic invective, and a one-legged kid who ran across the country, only to be convicted later of fraud, assault and drunk driving.

Black fought to keep the honour, at the same time claiming that the people who would review his case were anonymous nobodies.  They included Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters. One presumes that you are anonymous if you don't travel in the same circles as Black.

Now the former Lord of Crossharbour sounds like the fox in Aesop's fable: “It’s really a sideshow. I’m not preoccupied with the Order of Canada. All sorts of people who should have it don’t. And frankly all sorts of people who do have it shouldn’t.’’

The Greeks held that tragedy generates catharsis. Despite the mistakes a tragic hero makes, one can still feel pity for him. However, Black is no tragic hero.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Unrestrained Nastiness

Yesterday, former soldiers protested the closing of Veterans Affairs Offices across the country. They were told they could be better served on-line. And Julian Fantino, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, simply told them to go away.

Bruce Moncour was a member of the delegation which was supposed to "meet" with Fantino last week. It was no meeting. Moncour writes:

Minister Fantino didn't show up for the scheduled time, and when he did appear right before our press conference, his behaviour was condemnable.

When Minister Fantino was a no-show for the meeting I was not surprised. When military veteran MPs came to the meeting instead and repeated the same rhetoric about service centre employees who will be able to fill the void of personal support workers, or how we are "misinformed" again, I was not surprised.  
What I witnessed that day is but another slap in the face, and the slaps keep coming. The slaps I have endured over the last seven plus years fighting an insurance company are unbelievable.

This is a government which preaches accountability but which dodges it whenever it is held to account. This is a government which finds money to advertise Canada's prowess during the War of 1812, but skimps on wounded soldiers from the War in Afghanistan. This is a government that accused Jack Layton of treachery for not supporting the troops. But, it turns out, the government's support for its troops is -- like everything else it stands for -- empty rhetoric.

However, there is one thing the Harper government gleefully displays -- unrestrained nastiness.