Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Don't Call It The Conservative Party


In Canada, Conservatism means Confrontation. It's not about respect for institutions or the rule of law. It's not about wise economic management. It's about focusing on "the other" and destroying him or her. Lawrence Martin writes:

It’s not just Mr. Harper who equates conservatism with confrontation. There’s his new Defence Minister. Many commentators, myself included, have written flatteringly about Jason Kenney over the years; super smart, tireless worker, more inclined to fact than fiction. But more recently, he has come across as a gaffe-prone grandstander. His office has made unsubstantiated charges about Russia confronting Canadian warships in the Black Sea. He tweeted a photo purporting to show Muslim women in slavery that proved to be nothing of the sort. He wrongly accused the NDP of opposing every overseas military deployment in Canadian history. He also got his facts wrong about the Liberal record on defence spending.

There are yahoos in the party -- Larry Miller comes to mind -- who have no clue about the meaning of the word the party takes for its logo. But there are others -- like Chris Alexander -- who you would expect would not throw words about carelessly:

Mr. Alexander has had experience as a diplomat – in Afghanistan, no less. But you’d never know it. Last week, he listed the hijab as a face covering that has no place in the citizenship ceremony. The problem? It’s a head scarf, not normally used to cover the face. “Hey, before you send a race-baiting e-mail,” tweeted Liberal strategist Gerald Butts, “at least know the difference between a hijab and a niqab.”

Like the Cowboy from Etobicoke, the Conservative Party of Canada is a fraud. Call it the Confrontation Party. Call it the Know Nothing Party. Call it the Harper Party. But don't call it the Conservative Party.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Moral Clarity?


Minister of Foreign Affairs Rob Nicholson has declared that extending Canada's war effort into Syria is a matter of "moral clarity." After reviewing the results of military incursions into Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Gerald Caplan writes:

Lesson learned? We’re living them. They’re in the headlines every day. The consequences expected of military intrusions are rarely achieved. On the contrary: overwhelmingly, when the west has intervened in foreign lands with little understanding of local conditions and no strategy or plan beyond military force – we should add here Vietnam and Cambodia, though they aren’t Muslim like all the others – the result has been increased violence and chaos there and increased danger to ourselves as shown by al-Qaeda, 9/11 and the Islamic State.

Perhaps, Caplan writes, these military interventions provide another kind of moral clarity:

Canada’s mission involves collaboration with war criminals, mass murderers, ethnic cleansers and deadly fanatics of various kinds. How else to describe the rulers of Syria and Iran, our tacit allies against IS? Or the Iraqi militias – also allies – described by the United Nations as guilty of war crimes and perhaps crimes against humanity? Or Kurd fighters from an organization listed as terrorist by NATO? We’re already tight with Saudi Arabia, which can teach IS lessons about serious beheadings.
The truth is many of our allies are hardly better than IS itself. That’s what’s morally clear. We throw around accusations of genocide against ISIS when we ourselves collaborate with war criminals and terrorists. Is it moral to send our troops into Syria when we haven’t been invited by its government, a clear violation of international law despite the government’s flimsy rationalizations? (Ask Putin about the Ukraine.)

Nicholson's moral clarity is the same moral clarity that burned witches in Salem.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

War By Other Means


Over the weekend, Charles Taylor addressed the Broadbent Conference. He's a remarkable man with a remarkable mind and a remarkable history. Like Pierre Trudeau, he grew up in privilege, the son of French and English parents. The two men knew each other well and worked together at Cite Libre. Back in the '60's, they ran against each other in the Town of Mount Royal -- and Taylor knew he was going to lose.

I was living in Montreal back then, and I remember the contest. There were sharp differences of opinion. But the contest was marked by mutual civility and respect -- a far cry from the exchanges this week between Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair.

Back in 2007 Taylor co-chaired Quebec's Commission on Reasonable Accommodation of Cultural and Religious Minorities. He is uniquely qualified to comment on Stephen Harper's politics:

"We're in a context where Islamaphobia is very powerful in the West," he said.

"It's perfectly understandable emotionally. We have to get over it and the worst and the last thing we need is for our political leaders to surf on it and encourage it."

Taylor said Harper seems "tone deaf" to the dangerous impact his rhetoric can have, although he said it also seems to be a deliberate tactic to whip up support in the run-up to the next federal election, scheduled for October.

He called on all political leaders to show restraint, even if it costs them votes, rather than risk "terrible damage" to Canadian society.

In the long run,Taylor said, Harper's politics will be counterproductive:

"Ask yourself what are the recruiters for Islamic State saying? They're saying (to Muslims), 'Look, they despise you, they think that you're foreign, you're dangerous, you're not accepted here, so why don't you come with us?'" 

Carl von Clausewitz wrote that war is "politics by other means." For Stephen Harper, the reverse is true. Politics is war by other means. And that kind of politics, Taylor warned his audience, destroys societies.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Only Making Matters Worse


As Canada prepares to enter the Syrian civil war, red flags are everywhere. The latest comes from Yemen. Tom Walkom writes:

In Yemen, it’s hard to figure out who the good guys are. The Saudis and Egyptians back President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the person they regard as the country’s legitimate leader.
He was the consensus choice of the country’s two main political parties in a 2012 election where he was the only candidate.

Both the Houthis and southern secessionists boycotted that vote.

Hadi’s enemies now include the Houthis and forces aligned with Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president.

Saleh used to be Washington’s man in Yemen, helping America in its fight against Al Qaeda terrorists. At that time he was viewed as a good guy.

But the U.S. eventually decided he was no longer useful. As part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s embrace of the so-called Arab Spring, Saleh was persuaded to step aside.
Now, for the time being at least, he is a bad guy.

The problem in the Middle East is that the good guys and the bad guys keep exchanging white and black hats. Stephen Harper lives in a world where it's easy to tell the bad guys from the good guys -- and where international law has no meaning.

Given Harper's simplistic view of the world, foreign military intervention only makes matters worse.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Could It Be That He Miscalculated?


Stephen Harper believes that Bill C-51 will help pave the way to his re-election. But polls indicate that support for the bill is slipping -- even among Conservatives: Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

This week, Conservative MP Michael Chong, never one to blindly toe the line, criticized the bill’s lack of oversight in a statement to the House of Commons: “However, while I fully support Bill C-51, I also believe we need greater oversight of Canadian security and intelligence agencies by a parliamentary committee of elected MPs, who are directly and democratically accountable to Canadians. That greater oversight is even more important as we give these agencies new powers to combat terrorism.”

That same day, at committee hearings on the bill, Connie Fournier, founder of the former conservative online forum FreeDominion, criticized the bill’s infringements on privacy and freedom of speech. Fournier is going a step further, reviving her website to fight Bill C-51 — and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

I feel like we’re in some kind of alternate universe,” she recently told the Tyee. “You spend your life working for the Conservative party, and the Conservative party finally gets in, and (now) you’re saying, ‘I hope the NDP really steps up and protects us from our Conservative government.'”

The committee has heard criticism from others on the right as well. Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal supported the bill but called for more independent oversight. Former Security Information Review Committee chair Ron Atkey predicted the bill could not survive a constitutional challenge. So did Brian Hay, chair of the Mackenzie Institute, who said “… permitting a judge to break a law, or to ignore the Charter to uphold the law or to protect a society which is to be based on law, seems, at best, contradictory.”

Still, nothing is going to stop Mr. Harper from ramming the bill through Parliament. Clearly, there is no one left in the Harper organization with the courage -- or smarts -- to reign in his Dark Side. He has the votes. He'll do what he wants.

That's what he really meant when he said Canada needed a "strong, stable, national Conservative government."

Could it be that Canadians have finally cottoned on to who their prime minister is? And could it be that he miscalculated?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

He Wants It Both Ways


When Stephen Harper rode into town almost ten years ago, he claimed that he was the new sheriff and he vowed to make Canadians feel safe. To that end, Steve Sullivan writes, he made all kinds of changes:

He amended the Dangerous Offender law, brought in mandatory minimum penalties for gun crimes, raised the age of consent, toughened penalties for white collar criminals and abolished accelerated parole review.

He repealed the faint hope clause for killers and brought in consecutive sentences for multiple killers. He cracked down on sex offenders, drug dealers and young offenders. He toughened prison rules and made pardons much harder to get. He went after cyber-bullies and those found by the courts ‘not criminally responsible’.

Now Harper wants to limit statutory release, abolish parole for some killers, crack down on sex offenders (again) and, of course, get those terrorists.

If you listen to Harper's election pitch, you'd have to conclude that, as a sheriff, he's been an abject failure:

Harper’s election year message is clear: Canada is a perilous place. In 2015, things are apparently so bad here that we need judges to give police and spies permission to break the law to deal with “terrorists” who don’t seem to know any actual terrorists. And rural Canadians, of course, need to arm themselves right away. Because terrorism. Or murderers out on parole. Or both.

 Harper’s campaign slogan this fall might as well be, “Don’t Keep Calm and Vote Conservative.” Or, “A Vote for Justin Trudeau is a Vote for Terrorism.” Even former U.S. presidential candidate Ralph Nader has noted the deep strain of paranoia in Harper’s campaign strategy.

But after almost 10 years of the Harper government, it turns out we’re still in mortal danger from … everything. Listen to the PM and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s more danger around today that there was when he took power. And the message is getting through — a recent poll suggests Canadians feel less safe than they did a few years ago.

Never mind the facts:

I could, I suppose, point out the facts. That Canada is not a more dangerous place. That the homicide rate is lower than it has been in decades. That there’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that more children are being sexually abused by predators today than a decade ago.

And can we please stop pretending that Canada was until recently some kind of sleepy and innocent cul-de-sac when it comes to terrorism? Air India ring a bell? The FLQ? How about Denis Lortie, who walked into the Quebec legislature with a gun 30 years ago and killed three people?

Clearly, Mr. Harper wants it both ways. He wants Canadians to believe that his efforts have made them safer -- and that they are more unsafe than they've ever been. That patently insane pitch might help him get re-elected.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

He's A Doodle!


Stephen Harper displays two of humanity's ugliest traits -- slander and stupidity. In the past, he made an effort to disguise those traits. But now, with an election on the horizon, he's taken them out of the closet and allowed them to parade around nakedly. Most recently, he has slandered women who choose to wear niqabs -- most significantly, Zunera Ishag. Gerald Caplan writes:

What he has done – this great authority on the Muslim religion – is to slander an entire “culture” as “anti-woman.” What he’s done is to unleash his caucus to join the piling-on of this one woman – “stay the hell where you came from” – even if they then pretend to apologize. She is defenseless; he bullies her from his privileged place in the House of Commons while his mindless minions stand and cheer. The court ruling that there’s no law prohibiting her from wearing her niqab at a the citizenship ceremony is unambiguous; Mr. Harper is challenging it. Jason Kenney has been exposed for peddling misleading photos of women in niqabs; he has not apologized. And all of this scapegoating, this character assassination of one woman, is being done for the crassest of political purposes.

And, yesterday, the man who claims to be a brilliant strategist announced that he will extend and expand the war against ISIL. Unquestionably, they are barbaric folks. But, militarily, it is the height of folly to insert yourself into the middle of a civil war. And that is precisely what Mr. Harper proposes to do.

 He will do this not for the Iraqis. After all, they support a culture which he says is "anti-women." As he has slandered Ms Ishag, he wants to slander the opposition parties because they won't support his stupidity. Remember, this is the same man whose "Economic Action Plan" was going to make the Canadian economy better.

You don't hear anything about that anymore. You can't defend stupidity. But you can slander those who call it what is is.

No doubt about it. He's a doodle.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

One Of Harper's Prime Directives


Errol Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, wonders what will happen when judges start acting in secret.The old adage that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done still holds true. Bill C-51 shreds that basic principle. Mendes writes that the bill is a vicious attempt to compromise the judiciary:

Problems with the bill are many, although the one [Ron] Atkey was talking about — one that has received very little attention from politicians and the media — is in the section that would authorize CSIS agents to apply for judicial warrants that could contravene charter rights.
This section would amount to one of the most serious attempts by any Canadian government to compromise the independence of the judiciary by forcing them to be silent partners to unlawful acts. Under C-51, CSIS could apply for permission to break the law — short of causing bodily harm or undermining sexual integrity — in order to disrupt threats to the nation’s security. Court hearings for such “disrupt warrants” would be conducted in secret, with no judicial oversight or review to prevent abuses.

Harper has no regard for the courts. He has disbanded the research department at the Ministry of Justice -- the folks who used to check whether or not proposed legislation would run afoul of the Charter of Rights. And, because no one in the Harper government bothers to ask any more if a law is constitutional, the whole of the warrant process will be struck down:

The tragic irony here is that, by introducing a warrant process that is clearly unconstitutional, the Stephen Harper government is putting the entire framework of disrupt warrants at risk of being struck down. It would have been better for the safety of Canadians, and for national security in general, if C-51 had never been tabled in the first place. C-51’s drafters have not learned critical lessons from the tragedy of the Air India bombings, from the O’Connor Commission report and from our closest allies in the fight against global terror.

But Bill C-51 has never been about protecting Canadians. It's about sabotaging the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- which has always been one of Stephen Harper's prime directives.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Moment Of Truth


Justin Trudeau's moment of truth is about to arrive. The Harperities have decided to extend and expand the mission in Iraq. Trudeau opposed the original mission. But, since then, he has supported Stephen Harper's Bill C-51. Michael Harris writes:

Justin Trudeau lent his party’s support to Bill C-51, a bill that former prime ministers, Supreme Court justices, the Canadian Bar Association and hundreds of experts have denounced as dangerous, unnecessary, and unconstitutional unless it gets key amendments with respect to more oversight.

His father would have been up in arms:

Trudeau has jumped on the fear bandwagon, despite the fact that C-51 will allow Canada’s largely unaccountable spy agency, CSIS, to carry out its operations ignoring the Charter of Rights. The Charter was his father’s crowning political achievement. Pierre Trudeau would never have supported the criminalization of dissent.

Despite his claim that he does not want to hand Stephen Harper a weapon to use against him,Trudeau the Younger -- unlike Tom Mulcair -- is on the wrong side of history. Will Trudeau also choose to be on the wrong side of the Iraq mission?

His moment of truth is quickly approaching.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

You Can Trust Him -- Until You Become Inconvenient


If you wonder why Canada's international reputation is in tatters, consider a recent incident. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

A Conservative senator of Vietnamese heritage has pushed through a private member’s bill recognizing the flight of Vietnamese people to Canada after the fall of Saigon and the arrival of Vietnam’s Communist government.

The government is rushing the bill through the Commons, to the delight of those who favour it. The good senator has also lobbied, thankfully without success, for Canadians to fly the old red-and-yellow-striped South Vietnamese flag, instead of the yellow-starred banner flown by today’s Vietnamese government – the same government with which Canada is negotiating within the Trans-Pacific partnership and with which Canada generally has sound bilateral relations.

No matter. At a recent Vietnamese cultural event attended by Mr. Harper and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney, the hall was decked out in the old flag. Worse, Mr. Kenney paraded around with a version of it draped across his shoulders, like a middle finger held up to the Vietnamese government.

It’s a wonder Hanoi didn’t withdraw its ambassador from Ottawa. Instead, the Vietnamese embassy sent a protest note to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which, of course, is helpless in the face of political dog-whistling.

Last time around, Harper and Kenney were buying the votes of women who wore niqabs. No longer. They have become inconvenient. And all votes are interchangeable.

Strange, isn't it? Harper's election message is that you can trust him better than any of the other leaders on offer. But that's only half of his pledge. What he doesn't add is "until you become inconvenient." Those who doubt that part of the pledge should ask Garth Turner, Rahim Jaffer, Helena Geurgis, Bill Casey, Nigel Wright  and -- oh yes, Mike Duffy -- if it's true.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Future Is In Our Hands


There was a time, Murray Dobbins writes, when Canadians were highly engaged with their governments. We possessed a high degree of civic literacy:

That was the so-called golden age of capitalism and it wasn't just because of expanding government services. It was so-called because of a much broader and well-informed citizen engagement -- both through social movements and as individual citizens. The level of trust in government was much higher than it is today. And absent from the picture were the factors that today dominate the political conversation: fear and economic insecurity.

Demagogues like Stephen Harper know how to play on fear and economic insecurity. That is why they do their best to promote both. And, using these tools, they can destroy a democracy. Consider Harper's record on that score:

It's a familiar list, including Harper's bullying of Governor General Michaëlle Jean to force the proroguing of the House, his guide book on how to make parliamentary committees ineffective, the use of robo-calls and other election dirty tricks, his attempt to break the rules in appointing a Supreme Court judge and his neutering the House of Commons question period through a deliberate strategy of refusing to answer questions -- a practice that institutionalizes a contempt for Parliament that spreads outward to the general public. At a certain point it doesn't matter who is responsible -- the institution itself becomes risible and irrelevant to ordinary citizens. Which is, of course, exactly what Harper intends.

Now, with Bill C-51 -- which Dobbins dubs The Secret Police Act -- Harper stands on the threshold of bringing the whole democratic edifice down. And he's doing it with the cooperation of the media establishment. But things seem to be changing:

Given our shamefully biased media, Canadians still manage to resist Harper's continued assault on our political sensibility. The first polls on the Secret Police Act (don't call it by any other name) were alarming, with upwards of 80 per cent agreeing with the need for tougher anti-terror laws. But things are changing very quickly as the result of a determined fight-back by civil society groups, a phalanx of heavy-hitting experts and the NDP. A Forum Research poll this week showed support for the Act was down to 38 per cent with those disapproving at 51 per cent -- an amazing turnaround. The highest levels of disapproval were amongst "the youngest (64%), New Democrats (77%), the best educated (65%) and the non-religious (70%)."

Now is the time, Dobbins writes, for Canadians to take their democracy back. Unless we renew our civic literacy, we will lose what we used to hold most dear:

Yet a huge effort will be needed to completely immunize Canadians against the next wave of Harper fear-mongering. That's the only lasting solution to voter manipulation and a healthy democracy. Until we realize that, progressive politics will remain crisis management and we will continue to pin our desperate hopes on coalitions and proportional representation. But without a high degree of civic literacy these institutional fixes will be ultimately dissatisfying.

The future of Canadian democracy is in our hands.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Tale Told By An Idiotic Orwellian


Remember when Stockwell Day used to lead the cabal which today passes for the Conservative Party of Canada? Those were the days when Day insisted that the St. Lawrence River flowed into Lake Ontario, not the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Well, the party has returned to the days of yore. The prime minister and his acolytes have returned to their bedrock base and are spouting all kinds of idiocy. Michael Harris writes:

Conservative MP John Willamson offered his insights on the competition between “whities” and “brown people” for jobs. Not to be outdone, his caucus colleague Larry Miller invited people who insist on wearing the niqab to “stay the hell where you came from” (presumably he wasn’t talking about Scarborough).

And Stephen Harper is promoting the idea that those who believe they are too far away from a police station should buy their own guns for their own protection -- except, he says, that's not what he meant:

So, yeah, a campaigning prime minister gave the green light to vigilantes — much the way he did to Islamophobes, anti-First Nations bigots and anyone who hates environmentalists. Former Ontario attorney general Mike Bryant said Harper’s words were a direct invitation to commit illegal acts.

“It’s vigilantism,” said Bryant. “People are going to find themselves facing the criminal justice system and being charged with serious crimes if they decide to follow what the prime minister is suggesting.”

Ah, but this is Harperland, where the words mean what the man says they mean. The PM insisted it was “patently ridiculous” to interpret his words as an incitement to vigilante acts. Why? Because all he was trying to do was show that the Conservative Party of Canada was pro-gun owner, while the other parties are clearly anti-. The words themselves meant nothing; the sentiment was everything. As usual, most of the press corps assumed the supine position.

You have to ask yourself, who would buy this kind of idiocy? If the polls are to be believed, there are lots of idiots to be had for the taking. The strategy is transparent:

Harper has simply made the calculation that if the way to give a chameleon a nervous breakdown is to put him down on plaid, the way to win an election in our disappearing democracy is to offer Canadians only two flavours — vanilla or chocolate.

That means hitting the hot buttons, over and over. Before oil prices tanked, greed was the button of choice. Now it’s fear. It makes things starkly simple — black and white, good and evil.
As simple as War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery … and Ignorance is Strength.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Game Of Inches

The upcoming election, Geoffrey Rafe Hall writes, will be about nasty, brutish and small things. That's because Stephen Harper has nothing else to run on:

Lacking evidence of either sound fiscal management or a healthy economy — and certainly having nothing to offer on the ‘change’ front — Stephen Harper is confronted with the problem of campaigning on not much at all.

The PM’s answer to that problem so far has been to deliver more of the same — more fear, more legislation that ‘gets tough on crime’ – but these tired old tactics won’t, on their own, mobilize support beyond the party base.

So his first task is to shore up his party's base. That's what all the fear and smear is about. His past election victories have been based on playing a game of inches:

Remember how narrow the margin is between winning and losing in federal elections now. In the northern Greater Toronto Area in the last federal election, seven seats were up for grabs. Five went to the Conservatives, who received 39.2 per cent of the votes cast. One seat went to the Liberals with 38.2 per cent of the vote; the NDP took one seat on 20 per cent of the vote. Less than 59 per cent of eligible voters actually cast a ballot — meaning that the difference between winning one seat and winning five came down to the choices made by less than one per cent of voters.

So even the smallest of actions matter. One tactic that has proved effective in galvanizing base support, regardless of political affiliation, is what psychologists call “out-group derogation”. In simple terms it means creating an Us vs. Them split in supporters minds, with the ‘Them’ group presented as threatening. The tactic works, and Conservatives have used it before. But it really only works well when the distinction between “us” and “them” is based on shared values — such as banning face coverings in citizen ceremonies.

But that's a risky strategy. What if  the "shared values" the Conservatives espouse are shared by only their base?

What if, in the process of identifying and shunning the ‘other’, that group expands beyond the boundaries set by shared values — by many Canadians’ discomfort with the niqab, for example — to a broader multicultural/multiracial society? What if, in the heat of an election campaign, some of the ‘Us’ camp get roped in with ‘Them’?

The Conservatives have courted the immigrant vote. But, if immigrants become convinced that Harper has them in his sites, what happens to his game of inches?

Stephen Harper has made gross miscalculations in the past. Perhaps this is another one. And perhaps it will do him in.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Establishing His Bona Fides


Last week, Jason Kenney claimed that Russian aircraft provoked HMCS Fredericton  as it participated in a NATO exercise in the Black Sea. When the Ottawa Citizen asked DND for a comment, they refused to go near Kenney's statement and referred the paper to NATO. Stewart Webb writes:

NATO brusquely dismissed Kenney’s tales of an old-fashioned Cold War showdown involving Canadian forces — stating that Russian overflights have operated at altitudes higher than the 500 feet cited by Kenney’s office and that there had been no confrontation with Russian warships. NATO reported that at one point two Russian warships were seen off the horizon by the Canadian task group in the Black Sea, but that the Russians followed all regulations required of vessels in international waters.

Some might put the blunder down to the new defence minister's inexperience. But Kenney's claim is part of an entrenched pattern:

In April 2009 Kenney’s predecessor, Peter MacKay, reported that two TU-95MSs had come within 192 kilometres of Canada’s Arctic coastline. This incident occurred the day before President Barack Obama visited Ottawa. “I am not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of having deliberately done this during the presidential visit,” MacKay said at the time. “But it was a strong coincidence”.

In August 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s communications director Dimitri Soudas e-mailed journalists claiming that a pair of TU-95MSs had been intercepted approximately 56 km from the Arctic coastline by our CF-18s. “Thanks to the rapid response of the Canadian Forces,” Soudas wrote, “at no time did the Russian aircraft enter sovereign Canadian airspace.” NORAD’s commander did not rebuke the accusation this time, but NORAD’s spokesman Lieutenant Desmond James has this to say: “Both Russia and NORAD routinely exercise their capability to operate in the North. These exercises are important to both NORAD and Russia and are not cause for alarm.”

The international community knows that, when it comes to crying wolf, the Harperites have established their bona fides. And, as the man who is rumoured to be first in line to replace Harper, Kenney has established his bona fides as a man who is well qualified to mislead the nation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Paranoia Unbound

Stephen Harper has always defended his abolition of the long gun registry by saying it prohibited farmers and hunters from using the tools of their trade. But last week, in Saskatoon, he said that Canadians needed guns to protect their castles:

“My wife’s from a rural area and obviously gun ownership wasn’t just for the farm, but was for a certain level of security when you’re a ways away from immediate police assistance,” he said.

He now suggests that Canadians are under attack from jihadists and from prisoners who will not be behind bars forever. Lawrence Martin writes:

The Conservatives were already pushing hot buttons everywhere – provocative rhetoric about the niqab, sabre-rattling on Russia and Iran, fear-mongering on terrorism, lock-’em-up-forever legislation on crime and punishment.

It’s hard to recall another time when we have witnessed such a flame-throwing approach to politics, policy and Parliament. Too often, the governing party resembles a band of belligerents rather than sage public servants. How many fights do they want to pick? Are they not concerned about the impact on the country’s social fabric, the dangers of pitting one Canadian against another?

We have known for a long time that Stephen Harper is paranoid. But there used to be a few people in his government who could keep him from going over the edge. No longer:

Other governments had men at the top who served as voices of reason or restraint – think of Don Mazankowski in Brian Mulroney’s government, or John Manley under Jean Chrétien. Mr. Harper has no such force of measured resistance in his office or cabinet, no one to keep his harder-edged ideological impulses in check.

And his acolytes in Parliament are sounding like Joe McCarthy:

Meanwhile over at the Commons public safety committee, critics of the government’s security legislation were being treated as if they themselves were threats to national security. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney spoke out against the “so-called experts” raising concerns about the bill – a group that includes national security specialists, former prime ministers and former Supreme Court justices.

One witness from a civil liberties group was accusingly asked if she was “fundamentally opposed to taking terrorists off the streets.” Another Tory questioner said the executive director of Greenpeace’s opposition to new surveillance measures “makes me wonder if your organization is a national security threat.”

Mr. Harper now knows no restraints. He is Paranoia Unbound.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Questions And Answers


Stephen Harper doesn't like questions. He doesn't take them. In Question Period, he dodges them. On tough days, he doesn't show up.  When things really get uncomfortable, he prorogues parliament and nobody shows up.

But Mike Duffy's trial starts in three weeks. Harper will not show up to answer questions. But his PMO staff will have to be there to answer questions. Michael Harris writes:

The questioning will be direct and unavoidable — the opposite of Question Period, and those exercises in stand-up comedy that go by the name of “press conference” in the Harper era. For the collection of PMO staffers who offer evidence against Duffy, it will be a new experience to deal with a grand inquisitor like Donald Bayne. Bayne, the accused’s lawyer, is not a member of the press who can be put off with a load of pre-fabricated flapdoodle from the Langevin Block. He is a detail man who is relentless, and who knows the criminal law and how to get answers to his questions.

More importantly, he has a wagonload of emails between his client and the PMO, as well as other evidence, to direct that razor-sharp mind of his. Bayne is someone who demands your “A” game. People like Benjamin Perrin, the PM’s former legal advisor, and Ray Novak, his current chief of staff, had better bring theirs.

Most importantly, Nigel Wright had better bring his:

The most critical witness from the PMO of the day will be Nigel Wright, the PM’s former chief-of-staff. Wright is a titan compared to the many political hacks who will testify against Duffy. He is also a gifted negotiator and a lawyer.

And Wright is something else that Stephen Harper probably doesn’t understand. Though deeply loyal to the Conservative party, he will not lie for the Prime Minister. According to the people who know him best, Wright is a deeply religious man who will answer truthfully any question put to him under oath.

And there are two questions which Wright will have to answer:

What did the “good to go from the PM” email mean? If it means what even recent speakers of the English language would be entitled to conclude, it means that Stephen Harper approved the deal he later pretended to know nothing about. It would be Harper’s Richard Nixon moment: the leader of the country caught out knowingly and deliberately misleading the nation.

But there is at least one other question that could have serious consequences for this Prime Minister. Did Harper or did he not fire Wright, as he claimed on a Halifax radio show weeks after CTV’s Bob Fife broke the story of “Duffygate”?

It will be interesting to hear Wright's answers -- and Harper's responses.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pitching To The Young


Justin Trudeau did Q and A sessions recently at the University of British Columbia and at McGill. He knows that there are lots of potential votes on campus. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

Pollster Angus Reid’s latest survey on the matter gives the Liberals 34 per cent of voters in the 18-34 age category, compared to 29 per cent for the New Democrats and just 22 per cent for the Conservatives. Among over-55 voters, the Conservatives lead the Liberals 38 to 32 per cent, with the NDP at 22.

Ipsos Reid has the Liberals seven points ahead of the Conservatives among 18-34-year-olds, but the Conservatives lead by four points among voters over 55. Nanos Research’s “Party Power Index,” which blends voting intentions and prime ministerial preferences, shows the Liberals ahead among 18-to-29-year-olds but trailing among those over 60.

It's not easy to get the young to the polls -- and that fact has worked in Stephen Harper's favour.  But there is another reason Harper doesn't make his pitch to university students:

Liberal supporters have much more formal education than Conservative supporters. Put crudely, the more formal education a voter has, the more likely he or (especially) she will be to vote Liberal.
For example, the latest Ipsos Reid poll has the Liberals leading the Conservatives by 41 to 29 per cent among those with a university education, but trailing 36 to 23 per cent among those with less than a high-school diploma. In the Probe Research survey, Liberals led by 10 points (45 to 35 per cent) among those who had attended university, but trailed by a whopping 37 points (57 to 22 per cent) among those who did not finish high school. Other polls show the same pattern.

Those with university education, especially professional school training, tend to be among the business and intellectual leaders in any society. By income, status and responsibility – and ability to be heard publicly – they are society’s “elites.”

Attacking those “elites” is a staple of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Polling numbers show why: Fewer of these “elites” favour the Conservatives than the Liberals. Attacking “elites” holds few risks and offers an appeal to the Conservative base, which skews much older and has less formal education. The resulting political divide is a conflict more of culture than of class.

Harper knows who his enemies are. Trudeau's challenge will be to get Harper's enemies -- and the young are among them -- to the polls.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Only One Answer For All Time


Neo-Liberals have been preaching the same message for over thirty years: Debt -- all debt -- is bad. And they have relied on a well worn analogy. Public debt, they say, is like household debt. But, Scott Clark and Peter DeVries write:

We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again: When a government spends money on infrastructure that will provide services to Canadians for decades to come, that’s not the same as spending the same money on programs and services that only benefit current generations.

Programs and services that benefit people paying taxes now should be paid for by the people using them. But public infrastructure is different. Things like modern transportation systems are going to be around for 20, 30 years or longer, and will be used by Canadians who aren’t paying taxes now but will be in the future. So it’s fair and logical to expect future generations of taxpayers to share the burden — through debt.

And right now the economy reqiures public spending:

Build an efficient new highway system and you increase productivity for trucking companies — possibly earning them a return of five per cent, which is taxed. And given the government can issue 20-year bonds at 2.0 per cent right now, the argument for new infrastructure spending becomes bulletproof: cheap debt for higher productivity and higher tax revenue.

This means that if the federal government spends $5 billion fixing the Champlain Bridge — money which could be borrowed in financial markets on 50-year bonds in the first year of work — the spending wouldn’t show up in the budget until the work is done. At that point, the government would start recording $100 million in new spending in every federal budget for 50 years (assuming the bridge that lasts 50 years), along with the annual interest costs associated with the borrowing. Not really a big deal.

The answer to the problem of debt is the same answer to most of life's problems. It depends. But for Neo-Liberals, there are no extenuating circumstances. There is only one answer -- for all time.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Garbage Keeps Piling Up


Mike Duffy's trial starts in three weeks. And wouldn't you know it? Nigel's Wright's name is back in the news -- not for his role in the Duffy Affair, but for the role he played in the awarding a contract to a man John Baird has called "a dear friend." Michael Harris writes:

A Jewish community centre in Markham applied for a federal grant from the federal Department of Human Resources to pay for an expansion to its facilities under the Enabling Accessibility Fund. Totally cool.

Public Works Minister Diane Finley’s department received 355 such applications, which her bureaucrats reduced to just 25. The cut-off to make that shortlist was 82 out of a possible 100 points. The top 25 applications were then sent out for external evaluation. Out of that number, just four were ultimately approved for funding.

Since the application at the centre of this scandal scored a lowly 52 out of 100 points, it didn’t make the short list and didn’t qualify to be sent out for external evaluation. At least, it didn’t qualify until the minister personally intervened and overruled her professional staff. Another victory for putrefied politics over sound public policy.

Finlay intervened after some heavy lobbying:

Baird, Peter Kent, Nigel Wright and others in the PMO either advised, strong-armed or lobbied Finley into reconsidering the project. Wright told Dawson that he had advised Finley that the matter had to be considered “carefully and fairly.”

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson found that Findlay broke conflict of interest guidelines. Stephen Harper says that she “acted within her discretionary powers and in good faith …” He had the same reaction when Dawson found that Christian Paradis did the same thing:

Paradis was found to have given preferential treatment to Rahim Jaffer by telling his departmental staff to meet with the former CPC MP about his company Green Power Generation. Before the ink had dried on Dawson’s finding against Paradis, Harper was dismissing the ethics commissioner’s finding as meaningless. He told reporters in Bangkok that Paradis didn’t act with “ill intention of any kind,” and “did no harm.”

The garbage keeps piling up.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

All Hat, No Cattle


Chris Westdal, former Canadian ambassador to Russia, is not impressed by Stephen Harper:

I thought leaders in times of crisis were expected to keep calm and carry on, maintaining stiff upper lips and carrying sticks bigger than their tongues. Not our guy. He mongers fear across the land — fear of criminals, fear of terrorists, fear of Iran, fear of Russia — fear in every case gussied up with purple prose, proud to be certain, proud to be loud.

The proud to be loud meme has not done Canada's international reputation any good:

The Harper government has been, by Canadian standards, uniquely bellicose in the world. Our government has been vocally skeptical about a nuclear deal with Iran. Our government is the only one to have labelled Russia “evil”. Our PM is the only one who had to “guess” whether he’d shake Russian President Putin’s hand (although he made sure his press secretary let everyone know how brave he’d been). Other G-20 leaders saw fit to mind their manners. Of course, those leaders — unlike ours — might actually have some role to play in bringing peace to Ukraine.

Internationally, Harper is known as a Canadian Colonel Blimp -- all talk and no action:

If Vladimir Putin is the 21st century’s answer to Adolf Hitler, for instance, then why did Mr. Harper lead the opposition at NATO’s Wales summit against a U.S./UK pitch for a boost in defence spending? (It’s worth remembering that when President Obama convened a core-group Ukraine huddle at that summit, our PM — Kyiv’s most certain friend — was simply excluded.)

And we simply don't talk to people anymore:

Not only are we short-changing the military, we’ve apparently given up on negotiation. We shut our embassy in Tehran down. With Ukraine, we were the only country to withdraw our ambassador from Moscow at the height of the crisis in Crimea. Across the board, our diplomats have been muzzled and marginalized, their operations nickel-and-dimed to death.

So the next time you hear Stephen Harper tell you that you should be very afraid, consider how the rest of the world takes what he says. The Cowboy from Etobicoke is all hat and no cattle.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Old And Ugly


Justin Trudeau is beginning to sound like his father. Michael Den Tant writes:

Monday evening in Toronto, Justin Trudeau delivered a 40-minute speech in which he attempted to provide a coherent, internally consistent philosophical frame for all his future policies and decisions. It was, essentially, a manifesto. It’s fair to say that no Canadian politician has delivered a speech quite like this, in recent memory.

De facto, Trudeau is attempting relieve the Conservative party of what remains of its intellectual high ground. In the process of calling out the Harper government for what he flatly termed anti-Muslim fear-mongering, the Liberal leader provided the most complete account yet of his political aspirations and motivation. Conservative partisans should not be surprised to discover that, once again, he has an eye to grabbing their lunch money; this time, the ideal of individual liberty itself.

In his speech, Trudeau reminded his listeners of  a long and ugly history in this country:

First, Trudeau’s observation that state-sanctioned fear of “the other” is nothing new in Canada: “the Chinese head tax, the internment of Japanese and Italian Canadians during the Second World War, our turning away boats of Jewish or Punjabi refugees, our own history of slavery. No Irish need apply. We don’t speak French here, so speak white. The discrimination faced by Greek and Portuguese Canadians in this very city.”

And then he drew a line connecting that history to the Harper government:

Next, the link he draws between these historical abuses and the Harper government’s recent monomaniacal focus on combating Islamism, even as it pointedly battles a court order striking down a ban on wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies, even where identity is not at issue. “Across Canada, and especially in my home province, Canadians are being encouraged by their government to be fearful of one another,” Trudeau asserted in the speech. “For me, this is both unconscionable and a real threat to Canadian liberty.”

The Harper majority rests on its appeal to immigrants who now live in Canada's suburbs. The Liberals used to own those votes. Trudeau wants them back. And the plan to get them did not materialize on the spur of the moment:

Monday’s speech and the strategy underlying it have been in the works for months, according to Liberal party sources. But the hook was a series of recent Conservative missteps — ­from a Facebook post caterwauling about a non-existent imminent attack on the West Edmonton Mall, to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s conflation of the hijab (headscarf) and the niqab, to Conservative MP John Williamson’s facepalm-inducing recent musings about “whities” and “brown people” –­ that together convey the impression that, contrary to all its careful messaging of the past two decades, this Conservative party may not be friendly to minorities, after all.

Clearly, Trudeau is linking Harper to what is old and ugly in this country. Time will tell if that strategy works.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Pathetic Failure

A lot of electronic ink has been spilled of late on the subject of Bill C-51. And the effort has been called for. But the irony of all that spent energy is that it is working in Stephen Harper's favour.

The prime minister used to burnish his credentials as an "economist." No more. He has good reasons to not talk about his economic expertise. Tom Walkom writes:

At a fundamental level, the economy is failing. Any number of studies point to this fact. The latest was released this week by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. It says the quality of work in Canada, as measured by wages and job security, has fallen to a 25-year low.
More and more people are trapped in low-paying jobs. More and more are contract workers deemed to be self-employed.
Wage growth for those who already earn good salaries is high. Wage growth for those who earn little is low.

The study says the reasons for this decline are so deeply embedded in the structure of the globalized economy that they will be difficult to reverse.

This picture, of Canadians doomed to live in a world of precarious work, is deeply depressing. It is also a picture that affects far more people than terrorism ever would. 

To date, two people have been killed in what the government insists were terrorist attacks. And, this past weekend, we suffered our first casualty in Iraq.  The death of Sgt. Doiron may change that conversation. But Mr. Harper desperately wants to keep the conversation from circling back to the economy.

As an economist, our prime minister is a pathetic failure. Soon, on the subject of foreign affairs, the same judgement may await him.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Sometimes Wisdom Comes With Age


The conventional wisdom holds that Stephen Harper's base is old and intellectually lazy. I suspect that's true. But we need be neither physically nor intellectually frail as we age. Michael Clague, who will turn 75 this year, reminds us of that simple truth. He certainly carries no brief for Harper's anti-government:

The very idea of government that Mr. Harper conveys is not in the tradition of our three great parties. His Conservative party campaigns on being anti-government. Previous debates among Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats were around how much government should itself provide programs and services, but all recognized that government has a responsibility to make sure they are provided. It was part of the social contract with citizens. Now our federal government takes no interest in the idea of a social contract. Let the chips fall.

This federal government does not inspire Canadians to believe in the best our country has to offer. It mobilizes us through fear. Fear of crime. Fear and anger of Big Government. Fear of external threats. Fear that environmental action will destroy our economy.

Like the man who has insisted that the present government bear his name, Clague knows that he and it are not who or what they claim to be:

I would have thought such fundamentalist conservatism would include a staunch defence of civil liberties, human rights, transparency, truthfulness and the need for public, democratic accountability. Instead, we have an aggrandizement of unaccountable political power in the prime minister and his office. Omnibus budget bills contain so much policy over so many subjects that profoundly affect Canadian lives that it is impossible for the opposition parties, the public and the media to decipher them for meaningful discussion and debate. 

And he knows what a true leader does:

Whether my next prime minister is 56 or 75, I'm looking for a leader who is frank with Canadians about the immense challenges that are shaping our future, who reminds us that there are no simple solutions, and who recognizes that compromise and give and take are essential. I'm looking for a leader who calls Canadians to public service and commits to making a difference for the health and well-being of all members of society. I'm looking for a leader whose inspiration engages us to take responsibility for building a better a country -- a leader who is accountable, who acknowledges her or his shortcomings, who encourages divergent views, and who does not pander to our base instincts.

Mr. Clague reminds us that, sometimes, wisdom comes with age.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Headpieces Filled With Straw


For the second year in a row, Andrew Coyne was underwhelmed by the Manning Conference. It used to be, he writes, the home of the Conservative Party in exile:

It was the place where Conservatives, starved for talk about ideas by a leadership that long ago declared its contempt, not just for ideas, but even for the idea of ideas, mingled with conservatives, the broader movement outside the party, and recalled a time when it was still permissible to think that governments are elected to change things, not just to perpetuate themselves in power; that elections are opportunities to win a broad mandate from the public, not to dangle a few precisely crafted baubles of nonsense in front of the right micro-demographics; that governing is something done openly and through Parliament, not secretly and by any means at hand; and all the rest of what we have been educated, after these many years of misrule, not to expect.

But just as Harperism has seeped into the press, the military and the civil service, it has now firmly entrenched itself in what masquerades as a serious event:

The more open the conflict between what conservatives are supposed to believe and what the Conservatives have tended to produce, the more it has been resolved in favour of the party. As late as last year, when the party was at its lowest point in the polls, there was still a useful tension in the air, the odd veiled suggestion that the Conservatives had lost their way. But this is an election year, and the party is back in contention, and so this year’s conference has thus far broadly favoured politics over ideas, discretion over debate.

Conservatives have drunk the Harper Kool-Aide. Now the lust for power tramples everything and everyone in its path. Like the hollow man who heads Canada's Conservative government, it appears that the movers and shakers at the Manning Conference have "headpieces filled with straw."

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Not A Very Bright Man


Zunera Ishag hails from Pakistan. Gerald Caplan writes:

She came to Canada in 2008, passed her citizenship test five years later with flying colours, and is now ready to take the oath of citizenship. She’s been “imagining [this moment] for so long” because she’s anxious to be a full and active member of Canadian society. She and her husband chose Canada over other countries, she says, because “It is especially important to me to live in a country of religious freedoms since I am a devout Muslim.”

But Ms. Ishag has run afoul of "Conservative values:"

The story begins in 2011, when then-immigration minister Jason Kenney arbitrarily decreed that faces couldn’t be covered at citizenship oath-taking ceremonies. This was a direct blow to Ms. Ishaq. She is prepared to unveil herself in private to an official before taking the oath, but will not appear unveiled at the public ceremony. She approached the University of Toronto’s legal aid clinic who put her in touch with Lorne Waldman, one of Canada’s top-notch immigration lawyers. Mr. Waldman went to court to challenge the government and won. In his words, “The Court found that the policy of requiring a woman to remove her facial covering, where there is no question of identity or security, was illegal. The government is required to follow the law.”

Well, not so fast. Never mind the law. We’re talking about politics here. The government has decided to appeal the ruling against them, as just one of their battery of pre-election attacks against Muslims here and abroad. For what I believe are crassly political motives, they are deliberately inflaming Canadians against each others. Now we know what Conservatives mean by “Canadian values.”

Quite simply, the Conservatives have decided that she is a useful weapon in their re-election campaign. By scapegoating her while introducing their much-criticized new anti-terrorism bill, they hope to convince frightened voters that the Conservatives are their best hope against dangers of all kinds. But in doing so, they are instead actually jeopardizing the country’s security. Stephen Harper and his minions are actually subverting the work of our security forces by alienating much of the Muslim community.

If the Harperites were serious about fighting terrorism, they would know they need the cooperation of devout Muslims:

Yet even moderate Muslims – the large majority – are outraged by the way the government has, among other things, been picking on this one harmless Muslim woman, and in the process mocking the right of all Muslims to follow their religion in the way they want. Out of sheer political opportunism, Stephen Harper is undermining that community’s trust in official Canada while very likely estranging and radicalizing some Muslims, perhaps dangerously. How can he possibly not understand this?

How can he not understand? He makes no attempt to understand. That would mean "committing sociology." The simple truth is that -- all his self generated hype aside -- the prime minister is not a very bright man.

Friday, March 06, 2015

What's Behind It All?


I wrote yesterday that Canada's newest piece of proposed tough on crime legislation is unnecessary. In fact, Stephen Harper's whole tough on crime agenda is unnecessary. So what's behind his latest move? Michael den Tandt and Tasha Kheriddin believe Harper has found his wedge issue for the next election. And so does Michael Harris:

There is always a sub-plot with everything done by the sneakiest prime minister Canada has ever had. And it’s always basically the same: Steve doesn’t care about doing the right thing, he cares about doing the right thing for the base. The Conservative base likes the idea of locking up perverts forever, just as it liked the idea of shutting down free injection sites for degenerate heroin junkies.

Never mind that the legislation will turn Canada's prisons into ticking time bombs:

Warden Steve also seems to have forgotten another thing — if these changes are made, Canada’s prisons will instantly become far more dangerous places. As any correctional officer who works in one of Canada’s 52 federal institutions will tell you, it is tough, dangerous work at the best of times. Death can make an appearance over something as trivial as a purloined cigarette, or not enough mashed potatoes on the food tray.

 So just imagine what it will be like for guards to deal with lifers who know they are never getting out. Think about it. By taking away all hope of parole — no matter how small or distant — you have turned that inmate into a time bomb. He is no longer human — just one of the living dead. He has no reason to play by the rules, no reason to rehabilitate, and absolutely nothing to lose. Double-bunking people is bad enough in the volatile world of prison; burying inmates alive behind bars strikes the match and lights the fuse.

But that's a minor irritation for Harper. Two things really irritate him: The Supreme Court and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. His proposed legislation is an attempt to make an end run around both.

That what's really behind it all.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

For Harper, Fear Trumps Facts


Back in 2008, Stephen Harper decided to cut public funding to the opposition parties. As the head of a newly elected minority government, it was a stunningly stupid move. When they threatened to revolt and form a coalition government, he prorogued Parliament and went around the country declaring that coalition governments were illegitimate and would lead to political Armageddon.

Now, with his economic leadership in tatters, he has proposed two pieces of legislation to "keep Canadians safe." Bill C-51 vows to protect  Canadians from the jihadists who Harper claims are at the gates. Yesterday, he proposed legislation to protect Canadians from the "heinous" criminals who are within.

Both pieces of legislation are unnecessary. The second bill, which Andrew Coyne has dubbed the "Throw Away The Key Act," was announced at a campaign stop and underscores the new Conservative campaign slogan -- "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid:"

According to the government, the measure is needed “to keep Canadian families and their communities safe” from “heinous” (that word again: has it ever been used except in front of “crimes” or “criminals”?) criminals, those “whose actions mean we cannot risk permitting them on the streets.” The suggestion is that Canada’s streets are menaced by a wave of elderly jailbirds, released on parole after a scant 25 years in the slammer.

This is — does it even need saying? — nonsense. Not every prisoner is paroled after 25 years: only those judged at low risk of re-offending. Those designated as “dangerous offenders” can already be kept locked up for life. Parole, further, does not mean prisoners are simply set loose in the community, or released unconditionally: rather they remain, as a backgrounder by the Parole Board of Canada explains, “subject to the conditions of parole and the supervision of a … parole officer.” For how long? “For the rest of their lives.”

What sort of risk do they represent? According to figures from Correctional Service Canada, of 658 “murder offenders” released on parole between January 1975 and March 1990, just five — an average of one every three years — were convicted of a second murder. None of the five had originally been convicted of what was then called capital murder, the equivalent of the Harper government’s “heinous” crimes.

To be re-elected, Mr. Harper has to convince Canadians  that they are at the mercy of the depraved. In his own mind -- like Richard Nixon before him -- he is surrounded by enemies. And all of them are depraved.

He is convinced that he sees the world as the majority of Canadians do. If that is true, the country is lost. Because in such a country, fear trumps facts.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

History Is His Enemy

Stephen Harper has always made two claims: 1) that he knows how to manage Canada's economy; and 2) that the Liberals would lead Canada on the road to ruin. Lawrence Martin writes:

The Liberals, [Harper] declared, would turn Canada into another debt-drenched Greece. His government had achieved good results “by pursuing sound economic policies, reducing taxes, focused investment, balancing our budget, all of the things the Liberal Party opposes, all of the things the Liberal Party would reverse to give us the kind of result we have in Greece.”

But former finance minister Ralph Goodale begs to differ:

Under the Liberals, there were nine straight surpluses beginning in 1996. Under the Conservatives, a string of seven deficits. On the pertinent matter of national debt (as per any Greek comparisons), it went down significantly under the Liberals but has gone up by more than $160-billion under Mr. Harper. The Liberals posted not a single trade deficit while the Harper Conservatives have had one practically every year. The Conservatives have been more impressive on tax cuts, although the Liberals did bring in one of the largest in history. On employment, it’s no contest – the Liberals in a walk.

It's true that Harper was in office throughout the Great Recession. However, it seems clear that the Recession was the result of the policies Harper advocated -- just as the Greek situation resulted from policies which Harper urged upon that nation after the G20 summit in 2010.

The problem is that Harper -- like Henry Ford -- lacks historical perspective:

Studies show that economic growth has been on average more than 2 per cent higher under Liberal governments than under Conservative ones. On budget balancing, the Tory historical record is one to run from.

Much in the respective records has to do with timing, circumstance and the turn of fortune. Conservative prime minister R.B. Bennett, for example, served during the Great Depression. But even Pierre Trudeau, considered one of the weakest Liberal economic performers, posted GDP numbers more than twice as high as the Harper government.

And that's why Harper has spent so much money on propaganda. He believes it can erase history. And history is his enemy.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Money Counts. People Don't.


The Harperites are always hell bent on going to war -- as long as someone else is willing to fight it. They are hoping to win the next election on the meme that they protect Canadians. But they don't do the protecting. Canada's veterans are tasked with that job. And Harper's treatment of veterans is appalling. Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

While terrorism is good business for the Tories, they continue to fail the people who fought it on the frontlines — Canada’s veterans.

Just last week, the case of former master corporal Paul Franklin, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, made news again for all the wrong reasons. Franklin’s defenders, including comedian Rick Mercer, tore Veterans Affairs Canada to shreds in early 2015 for demanding that the former soldier prove every year that his legs were still missing, to qualify for a government-funded wheelchair.

So Pierre Lemieux, parliamentary secretary to the Veterans Affairs minister, announced on February 27 a mindbogglingly insensitive change in policy: Franklin and similarly disabled vets will instead have to provide proof every three years that they are still disabled — that their missing limbs have not miraculously grown back. If they don’t, the federal government could, for example, repossess their wheelchairs — as it has done to Franklin twice in the past.

Governments take on the characteristics of their leaders. And so, the Harper government is Stephen Harper personified -- paranoid and devoid of people skills:

Also in the past week, the public learned that the Tories had shelved a survey of veterans’ satisfaction with government services. Last conducted in 2010, VAC’s “national client survey” found that while veterans of older conflicts were generally satisfied with the department’s performance, vets who served in more recent conflicts such as Afghanistan were not. Satisfaction levels among those modern-day veterans had dropped from 80 per cent in 2007 to 68 per cent in 2010.

The survey was scheduled to be repeated in 2012-13. That never happened. The government decided to skip it — an irresponsible decision for several reasons. When a study shows a marked decline in satisfaction, it’s a good idea to conduct a follow-up to find out if what you’re looking at is a blip or a trend. And the Conservatives have profoundly changed the way services are delivered to vets by closing offices and moving to a Service Canada and online access model; one would assume Ottawa would want to know how that’s working out.

But Mr. Harper doesn't want to know how things are working out. He only wants to know whether or not he'll win the upcoming election. Charles Dickens would recognize him immediately, just as he recognized an earlier character:

But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

For Stephen Harper and Ebeneezer Scrooge, money counts. People don't.