Sunday, May 31, 2015

Entrenching The Corporate Agenda


Stephen Harper is a man of inconsistencies. But, if there is one thing he's been consistent about, it's putting his signature to free trade deals. Each of those deals contains an ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) clause. Murray Dobbin writes:

This is not hyperbole -- that is the actual, stated objective of ISDS: if a new law affects the expected future profits of a foreign-owned company, it can sue the federal government for damages. And the decision is made by a panel of trade lawyers whose bias is, naturally, in favour of facilitating corporate interests -- because that is who they normally work for. They aren't environmental lawyers or labour lawyers or human rights lawyers. They're trade lawyers. Foxes judging the right of other foxes to kill chickens.

ISDS arrangements trump democracy. And a lot of that has been going on:

The rate of challenges is increasing and the rulings are actually getting worse. In 2007 the Nova Scotia and federal governments rejected a proposal to create a huge quarry in an environmentally sensitive area important to local communities. The company won before a NAFTA tribunal and is seeking damages of over $300 million. But the reasoning was even more outrageous than usual. The company successfully argued that an environmental review panel relied on "community core values," which company lawyers argued was unacceptable. Adding insult to injury, the panel ruled on the basis that there was a "possibility" the review panel's decision might have been overturned in federal court. Effectively, the company just did an end-run around Canadian environmental laws and the Canadian judicial system by going straight to NAFTA.

Corporations know they have a friend in Mr. Harper. Citizens by now should know that the prime minister doesn't work for them. At every turn and everywhere Stephen Harper seeks to sabotage rule of the people, by the people, for the people.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

He Will Long Be Forgotten


Peter Mackay's departure has generated a lot of commentary. Michael Harris writes that another brick has fallen out of the wall:

Fortress Harper has just seen another huge breach blown in the castle walls. Peter MacKay, the last of the former Progressive Conservatives serving at the time of the Canadian Alliance/PC merger, is walking away from the Harper government just months before the biggest battle of the party’s life.

And, in case you've forgotten, his exit mirrored Stephen Harper's:

Oddly enough, Stephen Harper did the same thing himself back in 1997 when he quit the Reform Party. Harper quit because he believed Reform was going to lose. (They actually became the Official Opposition.) And MacKay was the cabinet minister who said the Tory caucus was like a “morgue” after the recent Alberta election went to the NDP — perhaps a sign for him that big political changes were on the horizon.

Something is happening in Harperland. Over the last two years, the prime minister's A team has simply got up and walked away. Andrew Coyne, however, believes that Mackay really wasn't A team material:

Harper made him his first foreign affairs minister, an appointment that caused great puzzlement in Ottawa, though not nearly as much as in other capitals, where the notion that the foreign minister should be something other than a placeholder for the prime minister still holds. More importantly, he was given responsibility for ACOA, his father’s old firm, in which he carried on the family tradition with alacrity.

After 18 unmemorable months at Foreign Affairs, he replaced Gordon O’Connor at National Defence, where he oversaw a string of procurement bungles culminating in the F-35, whose costs the government understated by a factor of five, staving off Parliament’s demands for the real figures just long enough to win re-election.

Then it was off to Justice, where he was responsible for shepherding a number of bills through Parliament that seemed almost designed to be found unconstitutional, even as Justice department lawyers were losing case after case at the Supreme Court.

Mackay was, like Harper himself, all hat and no cattle:

That such a palpable cipher could have remained in high office for nearly a decade is a testament to many things: the thinness of the Tory front bench, the decline of cabinet, the prime minister’s cynicism, the media’s readiness to go along with the joke. The one thing it does not signify is his importance. He had all of the titles, but little influence, and less achievement.

He will long be forgotten.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Wright Thing

The Duffy trial is about to resume. The question hanging over the proceedings is: What will Nigel Wright say when he takes the stand? Michael Harris writes:

It is doubtful that Nigel Wright will endorse [Donald] Bayne’s argument that the demonizing of Duffy was a “fraud, a fiction and a lie.” But will he cover for the prime minister?

People who know Wright say he will not. For one thing, he’s a lawyer who understands the oath and, at the best of times, uses language like a man defusing a bomb. This is the worst of times, so Nigel will be checking his zipper twice before leaving the loo. For another, he’s a businessman who could be ruined by taking one for the team, because the truth might seep out elsewhere.

People who know Stephen Harper suspect that prime minister is in for a rough ride:

One iconic Conservative player (who once described the PM as a “lying weasel”) told me Harper might be able to survive Duffy’s acquittal — but not being caught telling a big lie. In that player’s opinion, Harper is in for a rude awakening. Under oath, with the right questions, and with a judge who will allow some latitude in Bayne’s questioning, the truth will come out. It’s one thing to be thrown under the bus. It’s quite another to crawl under it yourself — with your hand on the Bible.

Meanwhile, the Senate is doing its best to close the closet door:

Now, in a state of decorous pandemonium, the Senate is disgracing itself yet again — trying to use parliamentary privilege to keep information vital to Duffy’s defence secret. The Senate leadership is stepping on old men, women and children in a mad rush for the lifeboats. They are devising an escape for the forty or so other Duffys and Wallins and Brazeaus who will soon be thrashing around in the wider net cast by Auditor General Michael Ferguson and his $21 million audit.

It will be fascinating to watch and listen when Nigel does the Wright Thing.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Superlative Debates


The Harperites claim that the standard leaders debate is stuffy and boring. Steve Sullivan suggests that there is a way to spice up the debates. Instead of Harper debating Trudeau, Mulcair and May, Sullivan suggests that Harper go one on one with some other opponents:

What if outgoing Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers debated Harper on the impact of his tough-on-crime policies? Sapers could calmly explain in detail what happens when you fill Canada’s prisons to the breaking point – the overcrowding, the violence, the lack of counselling and monitoring for convicts released directly into the community without parole.

Sapers could ask Harper why he targeted a small group of people with mental health issues who have committed heinous crimes — but refuses to deal with the growing population of inmates with mental health issues in our federal prisons getting no treatment and being held in solitary confinement. The Mulroney moment of the debate might go something look like this: “Mr. Prime Minister, Ashley Smith went to a provincial institution as a teenager for throwing crabapples and she left a federal prison in a body bag. You have a choice, sir. How many more Ashleys will it take before you do choose to act?”

Or there could be a debate between the prime minister and Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault:

What about a head-to-head between Harper and the information commissioner his government stabbed in the back, Suzanne Legault? She’s all business and she’d be a fearsome opponent. I can imagine her reading out statements a younger Harper made about open government, and then detailing his own disgraceful record on government information control and message-management. Then she could go in for the kill and tackle him over the budget omnibus bill clause that would retroactively change the law on gun registry data to make destroying the data legal — even though Legault has said it was an illegal act when the RCMP did it.

She could explain to him that no judge anywhere in the nation would accept the PM’s claim that trying to go back in time to reverse the effect of a law amounts to merely closing a “loophole” — that being prime minister doesn’t give him the keys to his own personal Tardis. That would be a hoot to watch.

But most entertaining of all would be a debate between Harper and Mike Duffy:

But since we’re daydreaming … who would be the perfect Harper debate opponent, the rhetorical Rhonda Rousey who would leave the PM flat on the map and tossing in the towel? Why, Mike Duffy of course. The last time the two appeared on stage together Duffy was throwing nothing but underhand; this time it would be hardball, drilled right at Harper’s head. Televise it live and you’d have a ratings monster. (The Conservatives could run Economic Action Plan ads during the breaks, so that it wouldn’t be a dead loss for them.)

I suspect the prime minister would frantically search for the nearest closet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Big Blue Propaganda Machine

 Jeff Sallot offers some perspective on the Big Blue Propaganda Machine:

How big is the propaganda machine? Well, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reported last year the government employs no fewer than 3,300 communications staffers whose primary function is to make the government look good. The cost to taxpayers is $263 million a year.

The total number of journalists in the press gallery — your independent watchdogs on government — is less than 300. And no newspaper, television network or other Canadian media outfit has anything like the funds the government has available to manufacture propaganda. With these vast resources, the government had every reason to believe it could pull a fast one . . .

Sallot then goes on to report how the propaganda machine was used against information commissioner Suzanne Legault. But Legault is only the latest target. Think Mike Duffy, think Helena Geurgis, think Patrick Brazeau. And then think about the upcoming election.

The ad wars have begun. And the Conservatives are absolutely convinced that they can pull as fast one.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Raising Those At The Bottom


There has been a lot of discussion about the 1% of us who are fabulously wealthy. A new OECD report, In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All, suggests that concentration of wealth at the top does not promote economic growth. And taking our cue from recent economic research, our current political discussion is focused on cutting the rich down to size.

But Clive Cook suggests that a careful reading of the report leads to a different conclusion. We need to  focus our efforts on raising the economic prospects of those at the bottom of the income distribution:

How does the growing gap between low incomes and average incomes hold back growth? The study ventures some plausible ideas. This one is top of the list:

A main transmission mechanism between inequality and growth is human-capital investment. While there is always a gap in education outcomes across individuals with different socio-economic backgrounds, the gap widens in high-inequality countries as people in disadvantaged households struggle to access quality education. This implies large amounts of wasted potential and lower social mobility.

That means we should be making major investments in public education at all levels and employment opportunities the improved schools would support:

The policy agenda this seems to recommend would focus on improving the schools that serve low-income families, and on raising the incomes of the households concerned — through lower taxes and higher wage subsidies. The study also backs efforts to get more women into the workforce and to enable people to move from irregular or part-time employment to proper jobs.

Quite simply, the neo-conservative agenda we have been living with for the last forty years has put the cart before the horse. Rather than rewarding the wealthy for creating mythical jobs, we should be helping those at the bottom get the jobs which keep the economy growing.

Monday, May 25, 2015

An Empty Chair


An empty chair can symbolize a lot of things. John F. Kennedy's empty rocking chair symbolized the loss a nation felt after the president's assassination. But, in Stephen Harper's case, an empty chair at the consortium's leaders debate would symbolize many things -- none of them good.

To begin with, an empty chair is a pregnant emblem for a leader whose most salient characteristic is arrogance. Michael Harris writes:

Canada’s national political conversation has been emptied out by a sitting prime minister who is contemptuous of anything he can’t control. He believes that he can pay his way to re-election through the black magic of marketing and the usual bribing of the electorate with taxpayers’ money. There is nothing left but Harper’s cynicism – and his personal conviction that Canadians don’t want to talk about government anymore.

And that arrogance has led him to conclude that he has no obligation to talk to anyone:

When you think about it, Harper has never really wanted to talk with anyone other than the country’s corporate elites, and then really only a few resource peddlers. He talks at the rest.

He doesn’t answer the Opposition in parliament. Harper has never convened a first minister’s meeting where the premiers as a group could talk with him about the state of the country. Instead he talks down to them, if he talks to them at all.

Harper didn’t want to talk with Chief Theresa Spence about tangible ways to improve the lives of First Nations people some time before there is a human colony on Mars. He doesn’t talk with organized Labour about anything. He has more interaction with cats and chinchillas than journalists.

But, more than anything else, an empty chair at the consortium debate would symbolize Harper's cowardice:

Harper might be able to spin the 2015 election process into a vast electronic cattle-drive. That, after all, is what he has done with governance in Canada. But avoiding the huge audiences of the TV debates being staged by Canada’s major broadcasters can also be viewed as chickening out on the rumble.

At least Patrick Brazeau climbed into the ring with Justin Trudeau. Perhaps Harper has figured out what Brazeau never did – that underestimating your opponent can make you look weak. At the same time, hiding away from the electorate is no place to be for a man who keeps telling everyone he’s a leader. Then again, Harper is no stranger to hiding from things.

When historians write the saga of the last ten years, Stephen Harper may go down as the prime minister who hid in the closet. That's why his chair was empty.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Follow The Money


Recently, Linda McQuaig asked a question which, so far, has stayed under the radar. Who, she asked, owns Stephen Harper? Mr. Harper has done his best to keep the answer to that question secret:

In the 2002 Canadian Alliance leadership race, Harper disclosed some of his donors but kept secret 10 of the major ones. A list of donors to Harper's Conservative party leadership race two years later was at one point posted on the party's website but has since been removed.

At the time of those races, it was legal for leadership contenders to receive unlimited donations from corporations, including foreign-owned businesses operating in Canada.

Which led McQuaig to wonder if  the Koch Brothers are somehow connected to Harper:

In the recent U.S. congressional elections, the Koch brothers helped secure the victory of an unlikely band of far-right extremists who control both the House and Senate.

Among some 3 million political ads for both parties, there wasn't a single mention of the issue of income inequality -- either for it or against it, says Sam Pizzigati, editor of a newsletter on inequality at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies.

We do know that the Koch Brothers support the work of the Fraser Institute, one of Harper's most vehement enablers. But, even if the Kochs have not contributed to Harper's rise, we should know who did. It's instructive to remember that Karl Heinz Schreiber gave Brian Mulroney the money to fund his first campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Schreiber did not give Mulroney money out of the goodness of his heart. We now know what he wanted in return.

Deep Throat's advice to Woodward and Bernstein is as relevant today as it was forty years ago. You find out all kinds of things when you follow the money. If Harper has not made it easy to do that, it's probably because he knows what happened to Richard Nixon after Woodward and Bernstein took Mark Felt's advice.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Have The RCMP Become Politicized?


On Tuesday, the RCMP  announced that it had arrested ten young Montrealers who were off to join the jihadist hordes in the Middle East. And, almost immediately, Stephen Harper flew to Quebec to remind nous autres that his government was tough on jihadists. Interestingly enough, almost as soon as the Mounties arrested the youngsters, they let the kids go.

Which raises the question, is there a political alliance between the RCMP and the Conservative government? Tom Walkom asks his readers to consider some recent history:

In 1999, the Mounties, accompanied by a television crew, raided the home of then British Columbia’s NDP premier Glen Clark. Clark was charged with breach of trust and accepting a benefit. His political career was destroyed. The New Democrats were trounced in the next election.
Three years later, Clark was acquitted of all charges.

A month before the 2006 federal election, the RCMP announced they were undertaking a criminal investigation of then federal finance minister Ralph Goodale over the leak of confidential tax information about so-called income trusts.

That scandal eventually turned out to be less than it seemed. Goodale and his aides were eventually vindicated, although a senior bureaucrat was charged and convicted.

But the income-trust affair did help sink Paul Martin’s Liberal government, allowing Harper to become prime minister.

An independent investigation into the Mounties’ handling of the affair found that the force had broken no rules because there were none to break.

No party is completely spared the fallout from RCMP investigations. The force’s decision to charge former Conservative senator Mike Duffy for allegedly accepting a bribe from former Harper top aide Nigel Wright has done the prime minister no good.
But the puzzling decision not to charge Wright for offering that alleged bribe promises to mitigate any political damage to the Conservatives.

Mere coincidences? I'm not so sure.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Man Who Would Be King


Yesterday, the broadcast consortium announced that all the party leaders -- except Stephen Harper -- had agreed to attend a debate in French and a debate in English. Harper, you see, only plays by the rules he makes. And sometimes he breaks those. Think of his fixed election dates.

Such "imperial vanity," Michael Harris writes, may eventually sink Harper:

A politician can get away with a lot — until he starts rubbing the public’s face in his indifference to the rules mere mortals must obey. With Harper, we’re getting pretty close to that point.

So here’s another question: Can Stephen Harper — by the simple act of stamping his foot, taking his bat and going home — derail the national leaders’ debates? Will this decision turn into another yawner, as was the contempt of Parliament finding against Harper, or a step too far for a man infamously averse to playing fair?

The prime minister does not intend to -- you'll excuse the expression -- "reform." His recently announced infrastructure program again shows his obsession with making the rules:

An even more dangerous course of action for a party already known for partisan cheating is the government’s new Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program. A better name would have been the Canada 150 Elect Conservatives Program; the deadlines for tapping into the fund are ridiculously tight, and the Opposition is accusing the government of gerrymandering the program for blatant political gain. The man who might be Canada’s next prime minister, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, didn’t mince words. To him, the program is a “slush fund” underwritten by the public for the benefit of Conservative MPs.

The man who would be king assumes that Canadians will accept anything he does. A better student of history might recall all the kings who were deposed -- starting with mad King George III.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Always Rigging The Game


From the beginning, everything Stephen Harper has done has had one objective: to rig the game in his favour. His latest foray is his attempt to legislatively re-write history. Steve Sullivan writes:

So far, Harper has limited himself to offending democracy and the law. Now he’s re-writing history. Buried in his government’s latest omnibus budget bill is an amendment to the Access to Information Act which denies people the opportunity to make access to information requests for data from the defunct long gun registry.

Big deal, right? The data was destroyed months ago, when the Harper government repealed it. But this amendment is backdated to the day the government introduced the bill to kill the registry — not the day the bill became law. It also would protect the RCMP and other government officials from any lawsuits or prosecutions linked to the destruction of the registry data — retroactively.

Time and again, Harper has sought to place himself above the law. And, time and again, the Supreme Court has told him the the law takes precedent over his wishes:

Stephen Harper is not a good loser — and he’s been losing a lot lately. The Supreme Court justices barely gave themselves time for a bathroom break last week before they came back and shot down the government’s argument that Omar Khadr deserved more time in a federal penitentiary — the third humiliating court defeat for the government on the Khadr file, if anyone’s counting.

But, if he can re-write the law on the gun registry, why not re-write the law on Khadr?

Will Harper amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to say that all teenagers who went to Afghanistan in 2005 and killed a U.S. soldier cannot be sentenced, even in another country, as a young offender? Could he amend his Life Means Life Act — which is not even close to being law yet — to retroactively apply to anyone named Omar Ahmed Khadr so he can never be released from prison unless Stephen Harper personally says it’s okay?

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault recently pointed out that had the Martin government taken Harper's tack, there would have been no investigation of Adscam and no Gomery Commission:

Legault herself speculated about what the Liberals could have done a decade ago in order to eliminate the threat of the sponsorship scandal, had they been in a position to do what Harper is doing right now. “Because this could have been done, you know, to erase the authority of the auditor general in 2005 when she was investigating the sponsorship scandal,” she said.

So the man who rode to power on the sponsorship scandal is trying to make certain that Paul Martin's fate is not his own.

It's always about rigging the game.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

One Or Two Loose Screws


Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney announced that the Harper government will show "zero tolerance" for groups advocating a boycott of Israel as a protest  against that government's treatment of Palestinians. Those who now openly criticize Israel include former president Jimmy Carter and Pope Francis. And their criticism is based on recent events. Murray Dobbins writes:

Indeed, during the recent Israeli election, Netanyahu declared towards the end of the campaign that there would never be a Palestinian state so long as he was prime minister. For most observers, this was at once shocking and simply a statement of what Netanyahu had always made clear by his actions: his continued building of settlements throughout the West Bank, his refusal to consider (even in negotiations) East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, his stunningly brutal bombing of Gaza and his repeated insults directed at U.S. President Barack Obama regarding Israel's responsibilities in reaching a peace settlement.

Netanyahu's new Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked -- who, incidentally, does not possess a law degree -- recently declared on Facebook:

"What's so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy? … in wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure." In the same post she declared war on Palestinian mothers: "They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there."  Under Article 3 of the UN's Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, this kind of statement ("Direct and public incitement to commit genocide") is listed as an act that is "punishable" under the Convention.

Clearly, there are some loose screws in Netanyahu's cabinet.  But Harper's threat to punish people like Carter and the Pope -- as well as his obsessive pursuit of Omar Khadr -- suggest that there are one or two loose screws banging around in the heads of the Harper cabinet.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Targets Of Our Fellow Citizens


Bill C-51 has been passed by the House and is on track for speedy passage in the Senate. As it has from the very beginning, the Harper government is focused on aping the American experience. But, before we rush down that road yet again, we would be wise to consider what Chris Hedges recently wrote about the New American Security State:

A totalitarian state is only as strong as its informants. And the United States has a lot of them. They read our emails. They listen to, download and store our phone calls. They photograph us on street corners, on subway platforms, in stores, on highways and in public and private buildings. They track us through our electronic devices. They infiltrate our organizations. They entice and facilitate “acts of terrorism” by Muslims, radical environmentalists, activists and Black Bloc anarchists, framing these hapless dissidents and sending them off to prison for years. They have amassed detailed profiles of our habits, our tastes, our peculiar proclivities, our medical and financial records, our sexual orientations, our employment histories, our shopping habits and our criminal records. They store this information in government computers. It sits there, waiting like a time bomb, for the moment when the state decides to criminalize us.

The new security  state transforms all its citizens into snitches:

A state security and surveillance apparatus, at the same time, conditions all citizens to become informants. In airports and train, subway and bus stations the recruitment campaign is relentless. We are fed lurid government videos and other messages warning us to be vigilant and report anything suspicious. The videos, on endless loops broadcast through mounted television screens, have the prerequisite ominous music, the shady-looking criminal types, the alert citizen calling the authorities and in some cases the apprehended evildoer being led away in handcuffs. The message to be hypervigilant and help the state ferret out dangerous internal enemies is at the same time disseminated throughout government agencies, the mass media, the press and the entertainment industry. 
“If you see something say something,” goes the chorus. 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn provided witness to what happens in such as state:

His masterpiece “The Gulag Archipelago” . . . chronicles his time in Josef Stalin’s gulags and is a brilliant reflection of the nature of oppression and tyranny, describes a moment when an influx of western Ukrainians who had been soldiers during World War II arrived at his camp, at Ekibastuz. The Ukrainians, he wrote, “were horrified by the apathy and slavery they saw, and reached for their knives.” They began to murder the informants.

“Kill the stoolie!” That was it, the vital link! A knife in the heart of the stoolie! Make knives and cut the stoolie’s throats—that was it! 

That rationale for C-51 is that it protects us from the outsiders who seek to destroy us. But the reality is that the bill is aimed at those who the government deems the enemy within.

And, therefore, we are now the potential targets of our fellow citizens.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Richler On Stephen Harper


The late Mordecai Richler saw through the phoneys who inhabited the Canadian landscape. He had no patience for narrow nationalism -- whether English or French. He particularly loathed French Canadian nationalism, which he believed was rooted in old totems and religious sophistry. His son Noah has inherited his father's sensibilities.

For Noah Richler, Stephen Harper's narrow fear mongering has the same smell as  Maurice Duplessis' paranoia of two generations ago. He writes in The New Statesman:

Fear of Islam – not just Islamic State or “Islamism” – has bridged even the chasm of the country’s “two solitudes”: English- and French-speaking Canada. Recent polls suggest that Quebec sovereigntists, historically loath to support the Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, have come round with alacrity to his agitated views about security and the Muslim other.

Just over a year ago, the indépendantiste Parti Québécois (PQ) was defeated in the provincial election after pledging to bar citizens from wearing religious headscarves, turbans or “ostentatious” pendants while in government employment. But where the PQ’s “secular charter” failed, Harper appears determined to succeed. Since 22 October 2014, when the prime minister hid in a closet as a gunman rampaged through the Canadian House of Commons, Harper has shown himself to be a born-again version of his old acrimonious self. In no time at all, he used the hastily dubbed “terrorist” attack in Ottawa – in which a mentally ill vagrant named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a soldier at the capital’s National War Memorial before storming the House of Commons and being shot dead – to foment the sort of fear and political division that has served the Conservative government so well since it took office in 2006.

“The international jihadist movement [has] declared war . . . on any country, like ourselves, that values freedom, openness and tolerance,” Harper said after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January. The following month – and not coincidentally in Quebec – Harper pledged to overturn a law allowing prospective Canadians to wear the niqab during citizenship ceremonies. (In reality, any applicant must affirm her identity and remove her niqab before a magistrate privately, prior to the public ceremony.) Then, in March, the prime minister told parliament that the niqab was “rooted in a culture that is anti-women”.

A year ago, Quebecers wisely chose to reject Duplessis' revived navel gazing. But Stephen Harper is attempting to make navel gazing a national past time. Hardly surprising, really, for the Narcissist-in-Chief.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Sad State of Affairs


Susan Delacourt writes that the Conservative proposal for leaders debates is a shining example of what she calls Harperology 101:

He likes rules, as long as he’s making them, not so much when others do. (See Supreme Court of Canada rulings, independent watchdogs, etc.) His Conservative candidates have been no-shows at election debates in their ridings for years now, through several elections. And of course, Harper is famously and proudly dismissive of the mainstream media. Add that all up, and what other outcome would we expect when confronted with the mainstream, broadcast media making the rules for the TV debates?

For ten years he has been making the rules about communicating with Canadian voters. And, so far, his formula has been successful. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

The Conservatives are focused not on broadening their base but activating the base they have. With perhaps one exception. Conservative support seems to have widened in Quebec, where the issues of terrorism and identity politics around Muslim women’s head coverings, and the recruiting of several high-profile candidates, have helped.

The Conservatives need about 40 per cent of the national electorate to win. They benefit hugely from a split vote between the Liberals and New Democrats, a split that is not disappearing as the NDP gains ground in polling data and by winning the government in Alberta.

Split opposition is exactly what a party with a dedicated and motivated core vote needs. The party with such a core doesn’t even think much about the other 60 per cent of the electorate. It wants its own hard core to coalesce by fearing some of the 60 per cent (the other parties return the favour by scaring their supporters with the thought of another Conservative government): social liberals, secularists, tax-and-spenders, Big Government lovers, CBC-watchers, “elites” of all kinds.

The Conservatives know how to craft a message. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Reinforce everything all the time. Make the party’s four themes lock together: balanced budget, low taxes, smaller government, personal security. Mix in a little patriotism and Stephen Harper as a tried and trusted leader, and you have the Conservative campaign long before the election is called. All parties try tight messaging; the Conservatives do it best.

It's a supremely cynical approach to politics. By appealing to Canadian stupidity, he wins -- a truly sad state of affairs.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Making Sure the Majority Don't Get There


Things could get ugly when the polls open on Election Day, 2015. Stephen Maher writes:

When Elections Canada mails out Voter Information Cards this fall, a new sentence in bold letters will appear at the bottom: Please note that this card is not a piece of ID.

This means that on election day, tens of thousands of people will likely turn up at their polling station, voter cards in hand, only to learn that they can’t vote.

In the last election, 400,000 Canadians used these cards to identify themselves. Another 120,171 had someone, usually a neighbour or relative, vouch for their identity.

This time there will be none of that, thanks to the Fair Elections Act passed by the Conservative government last year.

It's not that this problem was unforeseen. Harry Nuefeld, an expert on Canadian elections, warned the Conservatives that there would be problems:

“It can be anticipated that many tens of thousands of otherwise fully qualified voters will simply be unable to meet the new attestation-of-residence requirements,” he writes. "During my 33 years of election administration … my observation is that voting fraud which involves persons deciding to impersonate someone else, or find some other creative way to vote more than once, is extremely rare in this country.” 

But Pierre Poilievre, the minister responsible for ramming the "Fair" Elections Act through Parliament, would have none of it. There was potential fraud everywhere, he claimed. What he didn't say was that he and his party know that the majority of Canadians don't buy what he and they are selling. The only way to stay in power is to make sure that the majority of Canadians don't get to the polls.

Friday, May 15, 2015

His Legacy -- A Pigsty


During the 2006 leaders debate, Stephen Harper asked Paul Martin, “Will you tell us, Mr. Martin, how many criminal investigations are going on in your government?” The answer was "two." Harper rode one of those investigations -- the Gomery Commission -- all the way to power.

In the next leaders debate, Michael Harris writes, it would be interesting to hear Harper answer the same question:

If someone were to ask Steve the same question during the 2015 debate, he wouldn’t have enough fingers on both hands to compute the response. By my count, the Harper team has been the subject of at least 15 investigations.

 The public record keeps getting longer:

The Conservatives cheated in the 2006 election. Criminal charges of improper election spending were dropped in March 2012 as part of a plea deal. The CPC pleaded guilty to exceeding election spending limits and submitting fraudulent election records. They chequebooked their way out of the slime — paying a $52,000 fine and then repaying a further $230,198.

The PM’s former parliamentary secretary, Dean Del Mastro, has been convicted on three counts of election fraud arising out of the 2008 election. He is now facing the possibility of jail time. His cousin, David Del Mastro, is also facing charges related to the 2008 election.

What about the conviction of Guelph Conservative party worker Michael Sona? Although the robocall case has faded from view, it remains an unsolved crime — because although the existence of a conspiracy was acknowledged by two judges, the conspirators themselves remain unknown. Now that Elections Canada has been castrated by the ‘Fair Elections Act’, their identities probably will never be known.

Peter Penashue, former minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, had to step down after it was alleged that corporations had made illegal contributions to his 2011 campaign. He paid back $47,000 to Elections Canada.

Those investigations dealt with election fraud. But there are a host of other appointments which suggest Harper makes poor personnel choices:

And then there’s the little matter of Harper’s Senate appointments. Senator Mike Duffy has been charged with 31 offences related to Senate spending. If convicted he faces financial ruin, probably jail time. The prime minister is on record as saying he knew nothing about the secret $90,000 payment from his chief of staff to Duffy.

Is there anyone beyond his immediate family (and possibly Paul Calandra) who still believes that?

Suspended Senator Patrick Brazeau, who now manages a strip club, will be guest referee at a Great North Wrestling match in Ottawa scheduled for May 30, starring ‘Hannibal The Death Dealer’ and ‘Soa (Spirit of Allah) Amin’. Another personal choice of the PM.

Brazeau is facing two trials on personal matters: for assault and sexual assault, and for assault, threats and possession of cocaine. A framed photo of Brazeau, the PM and the alleged victim in this case has been entered into evidence at Brazeau’s ongoing sexual assault trial. The court has set aside 12 days in June for a preliminary trial on Brazeau’s Senate expense charges — the very day that Duffy’s trial is scheduled to resume. That trial could easily run into the fall election.

And then there are the cases of Arthur Porter and Bruce Carson, who face legal problems over the way they handled their affairs. Harris rightly observes that the man who road into Ottawa claiming he would clean up the place has turned it into a pigsty.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The New Serfs


The OECD has warned that increasingly concentrated wealth at the top of society spells disaster for the world's economy. Frances Russell writes:

When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issues a report entitled Power From the People, it’s time for governments to sit up and take heed.

“Inequality has risen in many advanced economies since the 1980s largely because of the concentration of incomes at the top of the distribution," OECD economists Florence Jaumotte and Carolina Osorio Buitron state. “Measures of inequality have increased substantially, but the most striking development is the large and continuous increase in the share of total income garnered by the 10 per cent of the population that earns the most,” they write in an OECD Finance and Development paper released in March.

You need look no further than the new labour market to see what concentration of wealth has wrought:

CBICWorldMarkets economist Benjamin Tal warned in a paper released in March that “our measure of employment quality has been on a clear downward trajectory over the past 25 years…. While the pace… has slowed in recent years, the level of quality, as measured by our index, is currently at a record low – 15 per cent below the rate seen in the early 1990s and 10 per cent below the level seen in the early 2000s.”

Tal goes on to report that the distribution of part-time/full-time employment since the 1980s shows a clear trend: “Since the 1980s, the number of part-time jobs has risen much faster than the number of full-time jobs. The damage caused to full-time employment during each recession was, in many ways, permanent…full-time job creation was unable to accelerate fast enough during the recovery to recover lost ground.” Tal also had another grim statistic: “During the year ending January, 2015, the number of self-employed workers rose four times faster than the number of paid employees. And since the late 1980s, the number of part-time jobs has risen much faster than the number of full-time.

“The damage caused to full-time employment during each recession was, in many ways, permanent,” he continued. “Over the past decade, wages in high-paying sectors rose almost twice as fast as wages in low-paying sectors …In other words, the fastest growing segment of the labour market is also the one with the weakest bargaining power.”

What we now have, Russell suggests, is a New Feudalism. A whole generation of Canadians faces part time and precarious employment, with no pensions and no benefits. And, if the Harper government has its way, the Canada Pension Plan won't do anything to alleviate their situation.

They are the new Lords of the Castle. And the young are the new serfs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Taxes Or Integrity?

It's beginning to look like taxes -- whose tax cuts are best -- will be the central theme of the next election. But, Lawrence Martin writes, if the central theme is integrity, the Harperites will be toast:

So let’s say an audit is being done on you or your organization and that the audit could land you in deep trouble. It could possibly lead to criminal charges. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just order up changes to the audit? How about having the offending paragraphs deleted?

But even if you could, you wouldn’t want to take the risk. If you got caught, you would be in worse trouble, your credibility and integrity shattered.

Which brings us to the Prime Minister’s Office. If we are to believe the evidence, this is in fact what top officials in the highest office in the land did in handling the Senate expenses’ controversy. They took an extreme risk and are now getting caught. As for impact on integrity, time will tell and will probably spell hell.

Moreover, the Harperite propensity for telling lies is well documented:

In terms of breach of the public trust, falsifying audits ranks high. The Harper Tories have been caught at it before. There was a case involving former cabinet minister Bev Oda altering a document for CIDA funding. In another they went so far as to distort a report by former auditor-general Sheila Fraser. They used her words to make it look like she was crediting their party with prudent financial management when in fact she was crediting the Liberals.

Which suggests that they will continue to tell lies as long as they can get away with them. And, unless integrity becomes a central focus of the next election, they will continue to lie -- as they continue to destroy this country's democratic institutions.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Reform? Forget It.


Michael Chong's Reform Act is about to die in the Senate. Andrew Coyne writes:

The private member’s bill, introduced by Conservative MP Michael Chong, is popular with the public, as the first serious attempt to free MPs, even a little, from the iron grip of the party leadership.

Moreover, it passed with all-party support in the House of Commons — by a vote of 260-17 — albeit in substantially watered-down form.
So it wouldn’t do to actually vote it down. Bad form, old chap. And anyway, unnecessary.

Instead it will simply never come to a vote. The Senate rises for the summer June 23, not to return until after the election. That’s just six weeks from now: 18 sitting days, by the Senate’s leisurely calendar. If the bill is not passed by then, it dies, along with every other piece of legislation still on the order paper.

You can bet that Bill C-51 -- the Anti Terror Bill -- will be passed quickly. But the Senate simply doesn't talk about what it doesn't want to talk about. And the Conservative dominated Senate doesn't want to talk about Chong's bill:

The first Liberal to speak on the bill, Sen. Joan Fraser, did not get to her feet until May 7, two months after its introduction; a motion to adjourn quickly followed. It has not been debated since.

Perhaps the bill may yet pass second reading, at this pace. Perhaps it might even be reported back from the Senate’s standing committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament. But it’s a safe bet that it will fall just short of passing before the Senate closes up shop. So near and yet so far. Sorry, old bean.

Not that there was much to discuss. As it made its way through the House, the bill was gutted:

The Reform Act, in its present form, already represents something of a defeat for reformers. It was modest enough as first drafted (its two key measures: removing the requirement for a candidate to obtain the party leader’s signature on his nomination paper, at the same time as it set out a process for MPs to remove their leader). But when that met with resistance from the leaders’ offices, it was amended, and amended again, until there was very little left.

If you had hoped we would return to Responsible Government, forget it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

From The Bottom Up


It's no secret that Stephen Harper hates government. For almost a decade, he has worked maniacally to reduce the size and the scope of the federal government. At the same time, he has steadfastly refused to meet with the premiers. Somewhere along the line, he forgot that Canada is a federation. And, in the end, he may well have spawned a reaction he didn't foresee.

Christopher Waddell writes that the NDP victory in Alberta may point the way to a massive shift in how Canada is governed:

So, in reality, the NDP Alberta victory has created an unprecedented situation at a time when the federal government has vacated the field of policy-making. Whether it is in energy, health care, environment and climate change, social services, transportation, infrastructure or pensions (just to name a few), the field is virtually wide open for the three provinces to implement joint policies that can completely undermine or counter whatever the federal government may want to do.

Together, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec collectively are the home of 73 per cent of Canada’s population, produce 74 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product, are responsible for 71 per cent of Canada’s energy exports, 70 per cent of all Canada’s merchandise exports and about 80 per cent of our imports by dollar value.

If the three provinces decide they want to do something together on economic policy, taxation, social policy or anything else, either the rest of the country jumps on board or is left behind. 

Quebec and Ontario have already signaled their intention to establish a cap and trade system:

A broader collective effort by the three on climate change could both make progress on the issue and soften both opposition to the pipeline and some of the damage done by the Harper government’s reputation on climate change.

Equally valuable could be the development of a national energy strategy that looks at what we produce, what we export and how we sell it, designed to ensure all three provinces maximize their returns, particularly in the US market. If Alberta, Ontario and Quebec started down this path, how long would it be before British Columbia and Newfoundland jumped on board, again despite Ottawa’s unwillingness to participate?

If the Harper government continues to block attempts to improve the Canada Pension Plan, the three provinces could respond with their own supplementary system much as Ontario is starting to do.

Not happy with the new prostitution law, mandatory minimum sentences or other changes in the Harper government’s pandering to the “tough on crime” crowd? Collectively the provinces could take the federal government to court to overturn laws they believe are detrimental to the administration of justice and the criminal justice system. On past performance, the federal government is a consistent loser whenever it is challenged this way.

Mr. Harper believes that the world is organized from the top down. Canadians could be staging a coup -- from the bottom up.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Changing The Frame

George Lakoff, a Professor of Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley, argues that we all see the world through brain structures he calls frames:

Those brain structures are called “frames.” If the facts don’t fit your frames, the frames stay; the facts are ignored, belittled or attacked. The facts alone won’t set you free.
All words are defined relative to largely unconscious cognitive frames. Hearing a word activates and strengthens the frame. If I say “Don’t think of an elephant!” you will think of an elephant. Arguing against, or negating, frames just helps the other side.

Politicians understand  how important it is to sell their frames to voters. And, for the last thirty years, conservatives have managed to effectively frame issues to their advantage. However, the conservative frame is rooted in denial:

Conservatism means denying a central truth: that private life and business depend on public resources. Indeed, it means destroying public resources and maximizing private control and private gain. It means putting public health in private hands, making everyone pay through the nose for maintaining their bodies. It means destroying unions. Unions are about freedom, freedom from corporate servitude and wage slavery, freedom from unsafe working conditions, and the freedom in later life that comes from fair pensions, which are delayed payments for work done earlier in life. It means destroying nature for private gain, not public benefit.

Progressives see the world through a different frame:

[Progressivism] means caring about others as well as taking care of yourself, and it means working through the government to provide public resources for all. Private business and private life depend on public resources — roads, bridges, sewers, an electric grid, satellite communication, public schools and research universities, public health and national health care, public safety, and on and on. The private depends on the public, both in business and private life.

Canada has always been about

kindness, warmth, hospitality, co-operation, community and what goes with all that, including public education, health care for all, a love of nature and care for the environment, a welcoming of immigrants, a respect for native peoples, an aversion to war. As an American, those were the values that I and other Americans associated with Canada. The centre has been empathy – caring and acting on that care.

Canadians have traditionally seen their country through a different frame than the one Mr. Harper  espouses. The next election will be all about changing the frame.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Becoming Their Own Targets.


Chantal Hebert writes that it's been a rough week for the Harperites. They're beginning to look long in the tooth and extraordinarily incompetent. Consider Mr. Harper's "surprise" trip to Iraq:

The prime minister travels to Iraq and Kuwait — close to the frontline in the war against Islamic State extremists — ostensibly to show his support for our troops. Scores of photo opportunities follow. In their eagerness to showcase their boss in the role of commander-in-chief (and rake up pre-election points), the seasoned operators of the prime minister’s spin machine break protocol and post two promotional videos that feature members of Canada’s special forces. 

And the PMO -- not the Senator's travels -- was the centre of attention at the Duffy trial:

RCMP documents filed as part of Mike Duffy’s trial show that Harper’s palace guard doctored an independent Senate audit in an effort to keep a lid on the expense scandal. Slowly but inexorably, the disgraced senator’s trial continues to turn into a trial by proxy of the ethical culture that prevails at the highest levels of the current government. 

The wheels are coming off the Harper spin machine. Nothing underscored that more than Omar Khadr's first news conference after being released on bail:

The Conservatives lose a legal battle to keep Omar Khadr behind bars until a court hears a federal appeal of the decision to let him out on bail. That happens just as the Conservatives are primed to bask in the glow of the adoption of their anti-terror bill in the Commons. 

All week long the prime minister and his acolytes spit into the wind. And they became their own targets

Friday, May 08, 2015

Can She Stay In The Driver's Seat?


Jim Prentice, the turn around and he's gone premier of Alberta, used to be a member of The Trilateral Commission. Michael Harris reminds his readers that the commission is:

a body set up in 1973 by establishment types worried about an “excess” of democracy creating a “governability” problem in the West. Those were the days of the energy crisis, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, environmental protests and a peace movement that ended up forcing a halt to the Vietnam War. Today, those same forces are in play. Back then, the Commission concluded that people — particularly young people — had to be more passive and obedient to established authority if “democracy” was to survive.

The problem, as the commissioners saw it, was that democracy got in the way of profit. Prentice's proposed budget put profits ahead of people:

When Prentice told Albertans to “look in the mirror” to understand what had caused the province’s financial crisis, it was his Marie Antoinette moment. Prentice’s budget offered austerity to the masses and another all-day sucker to corporations.

And no, the math was not all that difficult to figure out. For years, the PCs had been lining the pockets of the oil companies with obscenely low resource royalties that weren’t even competently collected. In fact, Alberta failed to collect nearly $2.5 billion in royalties every year since 2009 because the provincial government bungled the math. Premier elect Rachel Notley called it: This election saw Albertans take back their government from the people who believed they owned the place.

What happened this week in Alberta was a glaring reminder that things should be the other way around. The people who both Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice work for were told to leave the driver's seat and sit in the back of the bus:

Rachel Notley, giant-killer, is the polar opposite of what both Prentice and Harper represent. A labour lawyer and union activist, she attended her first anti-war demonstration in the early 1970s at the age of nine, with her mother. She said she was amazed by what people could accomplish when they came together. Some forty years later she and her party have pulled off the greatest political upset in Canadian history.

The very people Harper has vilified, Notley embraced. In her victory speech, she thanked public servants, teachers and health care workers. She thanked Alberta’s Indigenous people for “the trust we have been given tonight.”

“The government belongs to you,” she said as her supporters cheered. “And you will be treated with respect.”

Now we will wait to see if Notley can stay in the driver's seat.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Young Are Mobilizing


The conventional wisdom holds that the young are disengaged from politics. But Samantha Power writes that Rachel Notley's newly elected caucus is the youngest in Canada:

Many of the newly elected NDP MLAs in Alberta have never known another party to be in power. They are in their 20s and 30s. At that age, the thought of creating change in the province can be overwhelming. Forming a government itself seemed an unheard of proposition.

The 53-member caucus is younger and more diverse than any previous caucus of the past 44 years. Rachel Notley's New Democrat government has set the record for most women in caucus at 45 per cent. Openly gay MLAs have been elected for the first time in the province. And with MLAs in their early 20s, the median age of the caucus is about to drop. The elected party represents an Alberta that has been slowly changing, unnoticed to the rest of the country.

While the Harperites have been pitching to seniors like me, they've failed to notice that Alberta and the rest of the country is now much different than the nation of their imaginations. And they have purposely neglected the young -- even in their own back yard:

This shouldn't come as a surprise to Albertans themselves. The province has the youngest population in the country.

The median age, which is now more accurately reflected in its elected provincial representatives, is 36.5, four years younger than the national average. Alberta also has the highest proportion of people who are of working age, something that may have contributed to a growing concern among voters over class sizes in schools, daycare spending, and social services.

Even as a young man, Stephen Harper gave the impression that he was prematurely old. It may well be that the young will force him into premature retirement.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

What's The Difference?


Tom Walkom writes that, if a Martian landed in North America's Attic, with the express purpose of studying Canada's three major political parties, he might very well be befuddled. They seem very much alike:

Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals support balanced budgets, tax cuts for small business and subsidies for families.
They support building pipelines to move oil and gas to market, although they differ on which ones should get the nod.
All three parties are fans of free trade in general. The Liberals and Conservatives support a trade and investment pact with the European Union. The NDP hasn’t yet made up its mind on that one, although it does back free trade with South Korea.

There are differences, of course. The Dippers are the only party advocating a national day care program. However:

There is an eerie similarity among all of these sworn political enemies. At times, Mulcair’s NDP is reminiscent of the Liberals of past decades. At times, Trudeau seems to be advocating Harperism with a human face.

Perhaps the NDP victory in Alberta  will force all three parties to differentiate themselves. And it might cause smart Conservatives to question Stephen Harper's claim that Canadian values are Conservative values. But, at the moment, Canadian voters seem to have the same choice Henry Ford gave those who bought his Model T. They could have any colour they wanted, said Ford, as long as it was black.


Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Tax Cuts Only Work When There Are Jobs


Everybody's talking about tax cuts. Stephen Harper has be doing it for six months. Yesterday, Justin Trudeau talked about tax cuts. It's true that Trudeau's proposals would spread the money more evenly and put it into the hands of the people who need it most. But it's also true that tax cuts only work if you're making money. Put another way, tax cuts benefit those who have jobs. And, at the moment, nobody is talking about creating jobs.

Scott Clark and Peter Devries write that no one is talking about using public money to create jobs:

The question centres on the word “deficit”. Stephen Harper has convinced Canadians that all public borrowing is ‘bad’. Oliver continues to pull this Pavlovian trigger in his speeches and, no doubt, it will be play a big role in the Conservative election campaign. The opposition parties leaders are thoroughly spooked and seem to have convinced themselves that even mentioning the concept of deficit spending would be political suicide.

But public borrowing is a tool; it has no moral status. Deficits are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on the context — the size of the debt, the cost of borrowing and the use to which the borrowed funds are put. No credible economist would recommend a return to the bad old days of the 1980s. But the Conservatives’ claim that running a deficit in 2015 would turn Canada into Greece is complete rubbish.

At today's interest rates, public debt is easily serviceable:

Consider the following: A deficit of 1 per cent of GDP would be about $20 billion; a deficit of 0.5 per cent of GDP would be about $10 billion; a deficit of 0.25 per cent of GDP would be about $5 billion.
A deficit under 0.5 per cent of GDP is relatively small, if not trivial, by any statistical fiscal standard. A deficit under $20 billion would still allow the ratio of debt to GDP to decline from its current level. In fact, even if the deficit ratio was held constant — which implies increasing deficits — the overall debt burden would continue to fall.

The federal government is in an excellent position to be the ‘bulk borrower’ for the provinces — to secure low-interest loans to use on infrastructure projects that would boost the economy in the short term while increasing economic productivity long-term. Right now, Ottawa can borrow using thirty-year bonds at about 2.5 per cent — dirt-cheap debt, much cheaper than the provinces could secure on their own.

All the parties continue to put the cart before the horse. Tax cuts only work if the people who receive them have incomes. And, for most Canadians, that means having a job.

Monday, May 04, 2015

He Doesn't Do Well In A Court Of Law


The Harper government is rushing to prevent Omar Khadr's release from jail. The National Post reports:

Federal lawyers have signalled to Khadr’s defence team that they will seek a rushed hearing with the Alberta Court of Appeal on Tuesday morning, just hours ahead of an afternoon hearing that was scheduled to set conditions on Khadr’s release on bail.

“The federal government is defying legal tradition” by heading directly to the appeal court and proceeding without providing the generally accepted practice of 10 days’ notice, Khadr’s lawyer, Dennis Edney, told the Edmonton Journal.
The anticipated federal action is aimed at keeping Khadr, 28, in prison until appeal courts have heard the federal challenge of the Alberta decision granting him bail while his convictions are appealed in U.S. courts.

Steve Sullivan wrote last week that the Harperites do not want to set Khadr free under any circumstances:

Never mind that he was a 15-year-old child soldier when he was accused of throwing a grenade in Afghanistan that killed an American soldier. Never mind that he may have confessed under duress, that he may have been tortured in Guantanamo. The prime minister has no use for nuance, or context. Politically, he needs an unrepentant terrorist — and Khadr only fits the bill as long as he remains locked up and out of reach.

Evidence that Khadr is a threat to public has never seen the light of day:

The Department of Justice lawyers arguing the Crown’s case presented no evidence to show Khadr offered a risk to the public. It’s one thing to spray the Commons floor with invective about a criminal case; it’s another thing entirely to prove that case in a court of law.

Khadr fits Harper's narrative that jihadists are at the gate. Therefore, he is politically useful. But it's more than that. For the prime minister, this is personal:

But Harper’s obsession with Khadr seems to go beyond politics into the realm of personal vendetta — and it’s costing the rest of us a lot of money. Think of it as an extension of the Harper government’s use of public money for partisan advertising; just as the PM sees nothing morally wrong with using taxpayers’ funds to sell himself to the voting public, he has no problem at all with using the courts to deliver his public safety PR line.

Mr. Harper has never done well in a court of law. The law isn't his strong suite.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Not So Comfortable Pews


In the latest edition of The New York Review of Books, Gary Wills writes that Pope Francis is making the billionaires -- particularly Catholic billionaires -- quake. On the eve of his encyclical on climate change, they are mounting what they hope will be a pre-emptive strike:

Now, as the pope prepares a major encyclical on climate change, to be released this summer, the billionaires are spending a great deal of their money in a direct assault on him. They are calling in their chits, their kept scientists, their rigged conferences, their sycophantic beneficiaries, their bought publicists to discredit words of the pope that have not even been issued: “He would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate,” they say. They do not know exactly what the pope is going to say in his forthcoming encyclical on preserving God’s creation, but they know what he will not say. He will not deny that the poor suffer from actions that despoil the earth. Everything he has said and done so far shows that Francis always stands for the poor. 

The poor may be always with us. But they're easier to deal with when no one calls attention to them. They get in the way of profit:

Those who profit from what harms the earth have to keep the poor out of sight. They have trouble enough fighting off the scientific, economic, and political arguments against bastioned privilege. Bringing basic morality to the fore could be fatal to them. That is why they are mounting such a public pre-emptive strike against the encyclical before it even appears. They must not only discredit the pope’s words (whatever they turn out to be), they must block them, ridicule them, destroy them. The measure of their fear is demonstrated by an article in First Things, the Catholic journal that defended the donations to bishops of the pederast religious founder Marcial Maciel. The First Things writer Maureen Mullarkey calls the pope “an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist,” and continues: “Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologized propaganda.” 

I was educated by Jesuits. I found some of them unbearable. But Francis is one Jesuit I admire. He's making those who sit in the comfortable pews nervous -- as they should be.