Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Paying To Be Lobotomized


We are awash in images, Chris Hedges writes. And that makes it easy for corporate propagandists to succeed. It's been that way for quite awhile:

The entrapment in a world of nonstop electronic sounds and images, begun with the phonograph and radio, advanced by cinema and television and perfected by video games, the Internet and hand-held devices, is making it impossible to build relationships and structures that are vital for civic engagement and resistance to corporate power.

We have become, Hannah Arendt wrote, "atomized" -- unconnected and illiterate individuals. And, as long as we are unconnected, corporate power brokers will succeed by simply numbing and dumbing down the nation's citizens:

Totalitarian societies, including our own, inundate the public with a steady stream of propaganda accompanied by mindless entertainment. They seek to destroy independent organizations. In Nazi Germany the state provided millions of cheap, state-subsidized radios and then dominated the airwaves with its propaganda. Radio receivers were mounted in public locations in Stalin’s Soviet Union; and citizens, especially illiterate peasants, were required to gather to listen to the state-controlled news and the dictator’s speeches. These totalitarian states also banned civic organizations that were not under the iron control of the party.

The corporate state is no different, although unlike past totalitarian systems it permits dissent in the form of print and does not ban fading civic and community groups. It has won the battle against literacy. The seductiveness of the image lures most Americans away from the print-based world of ideas. The fascination with the image swallows the time and energy required to attend and maintain communal organizations. If no one reads, why censor books? Let Noam Chomsky publish as much as he wants. Just keep his voice off the airwaves. If no one attends community meetings, group events or organizations, why prohibit them? Let them be held in near-empty rooms and left uncovered by the press until they are shuttered.

The object of a totalitarian state is to keep its citizens locked within the parameters of official propaganda and permanently isolated. Propaganda and isolation make it difficult for an individual to express or carry out dissent. Official opinions, little more than digestible slogans and clichés, are crafted and disseminated by public relations specialists on behalf of the power elite. They are repeated endlessly over the airwaves until the public unconsciously ingests them. And the isolated public in a totalitarian society is unable to connect its personal experience of despair, anxiety, fear, frustration and economic insecurity to the structures that create these conditions. The isolated citizen is left feeling that his or her personal misfortune is an exception. The portrayal of society by systems of state propaganda—content, respectful of authority, just, economically secure and free—is mistaken for reality.  

In Canada, all this has been accomplished with public money. We are paying to be lobotomized.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Better Than The News


HarperPAC had a lifespan of one week. Given Mr. Harper's use of American political consultants and tactics, it's passing strange that an idea which has so much currency south of the border should die so quickly in the Great White North. If you wonder why the political action committee did not make it into the prime minister's arsenal, Michael Harris writes, remember that Mr. Harper seeks control -- of everything:

In less than a week, three of Harper’s old buddies, one of whom shared a past with him at the National Citizens’ Coalition, pulled the plug on HarperPAC. Not only that, but they promised to return all the money they had collected. (I would like to see the list of donors.)

Why did they do that?

In a word, they were poaching the Harper brand and Himself was not pleased. It was like stealing the formula for Coca-Cola. In fact, Harper was reportedly so displeased that the party and the prime minister were plotting a legal battle to force the shutdown before the group voluntarily disbanded.

It's all rather bizarre. When he was head of the National Citizens Coalition, Stephen Harper went all the way to the Supreme Court to argue for third party advertising. But that was then. This is now. And now:

It is all about controlling the message. As his political woes deepen, Harper has a habit of moving away from substantive discourse and doubling down on the emotional and irrational. He is a master channel changer and his success begins where debate ends.

The last thing Harper and his apparatchiks want is a reasoned discussion about the Iraq Mission against ISIS. Literally everything being done in Iraq and Syria has been done before — there and elsewhere — and failed; sending in the trainers, boots on the ground, partnering with Iran, arming the Kurds, and hoping for a political alliance between Shia and Sunni factions forged by the government in Baghdad.
Here is a number to keep in mind. At the peak of the second Iraq War, the U.S. had 505 bases manned by 166,000 troops in country. A total of $25 billion U.S. was spent training and equipping of the Iraqis with virtually nothing to show for it. 

Mr. Harper is doing  everything he can to make sure the facts don't get out -- whether on Iraq or climate change.  He proclaims -- in the words of Kory Teneyche -- that, "We're better than the news. We're truthful."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Death Of The Liberal Party?


Jeffrey Simpson asks a question which needs asking. Peter C. Newman tried to answer it after the last election. But, like Mark Twain's first obituary, his answer proved to be premature.  What is happening these days, however, raises the question yet again -- because, at the moment, the traditional Liberal coalition simply isn't there. Simpson writes:

Quebec, the federal Liberals’ bastion from 1896 to 1980, has not voted a majority of seats for that party in 35 years. Quebeckers spent many years and six elections refusing to think about participating in governing Canada, or even being much interested in federal affairs by voting for the Bloc Québécois. When they ditched the Bloc, francophone Quebeckers did not return to the Liberals, but voted en masse for the New Democratic Party, which remains their preferred federalist option.

The Prairie West had departed the Liberals more than half a century ago. Voters that comprise two other elements of the Canadian political mosaic split more recently from what had been the grand Liberal coalition.

French-speaking minorities outside Quebec in New Brunswick, northern and eastern Ontario and Saint Boniface in Manitoba used to be the most faithful of Liberals. Most of the ridings with these minorities have not voted Liberal in many elections.

Similarly, Liberals used to dominate Ontario’s industrial cities (or parts thereof): Windsor, St. Catharines, Hamilton, (the east part of) London, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Cornwall. They don’t hold these seats any more, in part because private-sector union presence has dwindled. Liberals, not New Democrats, used to win a majority of these voters.

In 1990, when Jean Chretien won the  Liberal leadership, he was called "yesterday's man:"

He had been in and around politics for most of his adult life before becoming leader. It was said that he had lost touch with his native province, Quebec; that he was a terrific handler of files that someone smarter than himself had crafted; that he was corny, folksy and likeable but lacked the gravitas to be prime minister.

Not enough people understood that, as one of his female cabinet ministers once said (privately of course), he had “balls of steel.” Cross him and you paid a price. He had been underestimated politically throughout his career, and had not been accorded the respect of intellectuals and senior strategists in the Liberal Party. It was asserted that he did not know enough about the world; that he did not read his briefing notes; that complexity was his enemy; and that in due course all these alleged weaknesses, and others, would do him in.

But all of those years in the cabinet had made him a very smart politician. It remains to be seen if Trudeau knows what Chretien knew.

I'll be away tomorrow. But I should be back on Monday.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Another Willy Loman


Stephen Harper believes in marketing. His career has been based on his firm conviction that he can sell anything to Canadians. But, Michael Harris writes, the sales pitch isn't working like it used to:

As we begin the bumpy descent towards the October election (assuming it will be called), there is only one question to be answered: can Harper (assuming he runs) market his way to victory in the most important election in the country’s history?

The PR-as-reality machine has slipped its gears. Consider the economy. Aren’t we really better off with Steve, the CPC fondly asks? Not according to this year’s first quarter numbers for the GDP, which took the country half-way to a recession.

As for balanced budgets — if you go one-for-seven in baseball you end up on the bus that takes you from the bigs to the boonies. It took Harper seven years to balance his first budget.

The picture of Dean Del Mastro making his way in handcuffs and leg irons to a waiting police van blows a hole in the tough on crime sales pitch. A sizable number of Harper's caucus isn't buying it anymore:

Nearly three dozen non-offering MPs — that’s a sizeable percentage of the whole crew. When you add in cabinet lunkers like John Baird, Peter MacKay and James Moore, not to mention small fry like Christian Paradis and Shelly Glover, you have to start wondering about the captain. After all, these people are professional wind-sniffers. They smell defeat.

The man who was hell bent to re-make Canada in his own image is beginning to look like another Willy Loman.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Courts Know Their Man

                                       Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has launched a Charter challenge to the Harper government's destruction of gun registry data. Steve Sullivan writes:

The Federal Court had to decide whether to believe the government’s assurances that it would not destroy the data while Legault’s case proceeds. It chose discretion over faith — it signalled, effectively, that the Harper government’s solemn word of honour wasn’t going to be nearly good enough this time. Justice department lawyers tried to convince the court that there was no need for the government to produce a physical copy of the records because the Public Safety minister had made “four separate undertakings” to preserve them.

On Monday, the court told the government to deliver the goods by 10 a.m. Tuesday so they could seal the information until all court challenges are dealt with.

The Harper government does not like being reminded about its obligations:

In 2009, when the will of Parliament was to replace his government with a Liberal-NDP coalition, Harper went running to the Governor General with his tail between his legs. In 2011, when the will of Parliament held that Harper’s government should immediately turn over data on the cost of corporate tax cuts and crime bills, it refused — and was found in contempt of Parliament as a result.

What is the source of this obstinacy? The man who insists that the government bear his name:

Stephen Harper seems to have learned just one lesson, and that one early on: winning is all, while rules are for the weak. We all knew kids like that on the playground growing up — the ones who would change the rules mid-game if they were losing, or burst into tears and run home. Most people outgrow that kind of stuff. Harper turned it into a career.

He really believes that rules can be changed at his whim:

His government changed accelerated parole laws for first-time, non-violent federal offenders already in prison serving their sentences. The Supreme Court told him it was unconstitutional and out of bounds. Harper ignored them. When a Conservative MP introduced a private member’s bill to extend the time between parole hearings for violent offenders sentenced after the law’s passage, the government amended it to apply it retroactively so offenders already serving their sentences might have to wait five years for their next parole hearing — even though the law at the time they were sentenced set the period at two years.

The courts know their man. And they keep reminding him that he can't unilaterally change -- or make -- the rules.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Another Name For Financial Madness


Last Saturday, 250,000 Britons marched against Austerity -- something the newly re-elected David Cameron believes is good for the UK. Which raises the question, Who is austerity good for? Duncan Cameron writes:

Both social democratic and neoliberal market economists defend austerity, but the reasoning (do not spend more than you receive in taxes) behind the policy is not strong enough to explain why the doctrinaire approach was adopted.

Big capitalists support austerity, but cutting public spending is bad for business. Mainstream media sell austerity as if it were new and true, even while it undermines audiences and readership, and drives away advertisers.

The remarkable willingness to pursue austerity, despite its destructive consequences, originates in the people who run the bond market: investment bankers, hedge-fund operators, pension-fund managers, and wealthy rentier capitalists of all stripes.

The people who profit from austerity are behind it.

We live in a world where bond dealers are king:

The game for the bond-market dealers is to make money selling corporate debt, since that is where the bankers' fees add up the fastest.

The more government bonds dealers have to sell, the less the need for pension funds and investors to load up on corporate debt, and the lower the profits for the investment houses that sell corporate bonds.
Government deficits create the need for borrowing so the financial market "austerians" rant about the need to balance government budgets, so as to maintain the value of existing government debt, and leave room for new corporate debt.

Private companies rely on selling bonds to finance business expansion. The bond market overshadows the stock market. Stock markets, where money is raised through selling ownership shares, is limited to well-established companies with a record of profit-making.

The international bond market is huge; outstanding securities amount to a whopping $20.89 trillion; and that does not include domestic bonds.

Bond used to be the name of a man who had a license to kill. It has since become a name for financial madness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It Will End In Catastrophe


Pope Francis' encyclical continues to make waves. Five Republican candidates for president -- who are also Catholic -- have attacked Laudato Si, claiming Francis knows nothing about science. They forget that the Pope's first degree was in chemistry. They and their followers profess what Gary Wills calls "Holy Ignorance:"

When a Republican politician, asked about climate change, says, “I’m not a scientist,” most of us hear just a cowardly way of dodging the question; but the politician’s supporters hear a brave defiance of an alien force. When we hear only “science,” they hear “godless science,” the kind that wants to rob them of their belief in creation and force evolution into their minds. That science is marching in a battalion of forces—the media, the academy, the government—that has them besieged. “I’m not a scientist” does not mean, “I have not heard enough about the science, and need to hear more,” but “I know the evil intent or effect of science, and I will not let it affect me.” They summon a courage not to know. 

True to his Jesuit training, however, Francis is all about the courage to know -- and the courage to argue an entirely different case:

"The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."
"The emptier a person's heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume."
"Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us."
"For indigenous communities, land is not a commodity, but a gift from God, a sacred space."
"Earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone."
"We should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst."
"We have to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor."

What Francis has done is marry science to traditional Catholic social teaching. Concern for the planet and concern for the poor amount to the same thing. That's a case modern neo-liberalism has been trying to deny for almost fifty years.

For the pope, neo-liberalism amounts to self- centred nihilism -- and it will end in catastrophe.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why Does Chong Stay?


Michael Chong used to be Stephen Harper's Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. The story of how he came to resign his position makes interesting reading. Michael Harris writes:

Chong was the Intergovernmental Affairs minister back in 2006 when the prime minister broke all the known rules with his unilateral declaration that Quebec was a “nation.”

Harper did not bother to put the measure through cabinet, but simply did it by decree. Even though Chong was the minister responsible, he wasn’t informed about Harper’s decision until he was on his way to Wednesday caucus back in November, 2006. His then deputy minister, Louis Levesque, gave him the news.

The deputy also informed his minister that he, Levesque, had been in talks about the nation status issue the night before. It was staggering news. Chong’s deputy was involved in this hugely important decision and the minister was not? It was the clearest example of executive governance under Harper yet on record.

The rising star of the Conservative party was shocked by the PM’s unilateral action. He believed that it was the duty of the Clerk of the Privy Council to tell Harper that even the PM had to obey the rules. But with the Clerk’s office politicized under Harper, just like every other part of the government, that never happened.

Harper’s unilateral authoritarianism did not come as a complete surprise to Chong. As an MP and cabinet minister, he had noticed that Harper liked to make most of the big decisions at meetings of Planning and Priorities, a small but powerful committee of handpicked subordinates which the prime minister chairs. In the early innings of the Harper government, full cabinet rarely met and P&P did most of the heavy lifting.

Chong mulled over whether there was a way he could rationalize support for nation status for Quebec. He concluded that it was policy and procedural poison. There was nothing he could do but become the first Harper cabinet minister to resign.

Now the unelected Conservative majority in the Senate has gutted Chong's Reform Act  -- which passed the House by a vote of 260 to 17. The Duffy trial has shown us that Mr. Harper makes sure that caucus votes his way. He can't claim that he knew nothing about what was going on in the Upper House.

Garth Turner refused to endure such arrogant insouciance. So did Bill Casey and Brent Rathgeber. Why does Chong stay?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

He Knows An Easy Mark

Opposition to the Prime Minister is building. But Stephen Harper has always known that more voters despise him than support him. That's why the Fair Elections Act -- with its truly Orwellian title -- is now law. Linda McQuaig writes:

Stephen Harper's re-election strategy depends on a lot of you not voting. And if you mess with his plan by showing up at the polling station on Election Day, he's prepared for that, too: he's made it a lot harder for you to vote.

The prime minister has made it so much harder that "many tens of thousands" of Canadians may be denied their constitutional right to cast a ballot in the upcoming federal election, according to Harry Neufeld, former chief electoral officer for British Columbia. 

When Harper spouts his line about Conservative values being Canadian values, he knows that what he's saying is patently false . But he's been very good at rigging the game in his favour. That's because he's very good at a very old type of fraud -- bait and switch:

The Conservatives put the new election laws in place ostensibly in response to the national outcry over the robocall scandal, in which party operatives were accused of using automated phone calls to direct non-Conservative voters to the wrong polling stations on election day. The misleading calls were reported in ridings across the country and appeared to be targeted based on information from closely guarded Conservative party data.

In the end, only one person, Conservative staffer Michael Sona, who worked on a local campaign in Guelph, was convicted and jailed. However, in his verdict, Judge Gary Hearn wrote that "the evidence indicates he did not likely act alone."

The scandal raised the extremely serious question of whether the governing party had deliberately undermined the legitimacy of election results. Surely what was needed was a thorough investigation and a tightening of the election laws to ensure no such thing ever threatened our democracy again.

What we got instead was a bait-and-switch that the Conservatives have turned to their advantage. They overhauled the election laws all right, but the new laws did nothing to prevent the sort of treachery involved in the robocall scandal. If anything, they make it tougher to uncover robocall-style deception in the future by preventing the release of details about investigations conducted by Elections Canada.

He's a con man of considerable talent. And he knows an easy mark when he sees one.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Not With A Bang

James Moore left yesterday. And Don Meredith was booted from the Conservative Senate caucus earlier in the week. It looks like things are falling apart in Harperland. And, as she travels the country, Chantal Hebert writes that she's picking up on that vibe, too:

In Ontario and British Columbia, the NDP has been on the move in the polls while Conservative support has stalled or declined. Ditto in Atlantic Canada
The NDP and the Liberals have long been communicating vessels for opposition votes but there is more than the usual opposition arithmetic at play behind the deficit in support of the Conservatives.
By all indications, a sizeable proportion of the 2011 supporters that they expected to come home as disenchantment with the Liberals set in are keeping their options open and/or are checking out the New Democrats.

It was not supposed to be this way. The budget and Bill C-51 were supposed to put the opposition parties on the ropes. But, instead, the Harperites have fewer and fewer defenders:

But perhaps what struck me most was how few people were willing to speak up in defence of the government. As opposition to Harper has become more vocal, support for his re-election has become more discreet.
That stands in stark contrast with the immediate lead-up to the last campaign when even non-Conservative voters would often readily concede that they felt Harper had managed the global economic crisis with competence. That sentiment was omnipresent in Ontario — where he subsequently won his majority.

Four years later, many die-hard Conservatives privately admit that they expected more from their party’s first majority government in almost two decades. They are underwhelmed by the sum of Harper’s third mandate.
More than a few of them find it hard to take pride in a team that has chosen to dumb itself down by making ultra-partisan MPs such as Pierre Poilièvre and Paul Calandra its poster boys in the House of Commons.

It may all come to and end, as Eliot wrote, not with a bang but a whimper.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty


Stephen Harper wants to build a monument to the victims of Communism. Critics call it a misplaced monstrosity. But while those critics bemoan the ugliness of the proposed monument, Harper has been busy constructing a much uglier monument to himself. It's called Bill C-51. Michael Harris writes:

C-51 is the transparent and triumphant work of someone who likes martial authority, likes being photographed around people in uniform, likes dishing out punishment to anyone who crosses him, and wants to turn Canada into a giant yard-sale for the oligarchs who run things. The most repressive kingdom on Earth gets Canadian weapons and the Wheat Board. The nation with the world’s worst human rights record snares a long-term trade deal and Nexen. Even Tim’s is gone.

And have you noticed that there’s no war Stephen Harper doesn’t want to get in on, or foment? His stupefying habit of baiting Russian President Vladimir Putin is only the most recent example; Harper runs Canadian foreign policy as though it were a rumble in a parking lot. And now he has navigated the most undemocratic piece of legislation of his term — his legacy bill — through the democratic institutions he controls completely for another few months.

Justin Trudeau should have known better than support the bill. The NDP and the Green Party did .And the hacker collective Anonymous does, too:

C-51 is designed for the things Harper doesn’t like. He doesn’t like free speech. He doesn’t like protestors who take their convictions to the street. He doesn’t like public information getting out there without his approval — so he doesn’t like any displays of independence from scientists, journalists, bureaucrats or judges. He doesn’t like unions, or environmentalists, or opposition in any form. C-51 is made by and for a man who — like every dictator everywhere — thinks that his should be the last word on everything.

Those who stood up against this kind of state intrusion were the victims of Communism. And now, in the name of less intrusive government, Harper gives us Bill C-51. He is Canada's Ozymandias.

Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

He Makes The Rules


Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault took the Harper government to court this week over the destruction of the long gun registry. Back when the government passed legislation to end the registry, she reminded Public Safety Minister Vic Toews that registry information was subject to Access to Information laws. And, therefore, there should be no rush to destroy that information.

But, on Tuesday, Stephen Harper admitted that the government ignored Legault and pressured the RCMP to destroy the records quickly. There is a paper trail to document that pressure. Steve Sullivan writes:

That includes emails that detail significant pressure on registry officials to destroy the information and destroy it quickly. Pierre Perron of the RCMP’s firearms programs wrote: “Just for the record, (the) minister’s office is putting a lot of pressure on me to destroy the records sooner.” Other officials referred to “pressure from senior RCMP to move up the delete date.” And another Canadian Firearms Program manager wrote: “Between you and me, someone will owe us lots of drinks at (the Prime Minister’s Office) if they want this to happen by end of August.”

And, just to make sure that the government will bear no legal responsibility for its actions, the budget bill contains a clause immunizing the RCMP from the legal consequences of carrying out the government's wishes. Tony Clement claims that this is all a tempest in a teapot. But changing laws retroactively is a big deal. The Harperites have written their own get out of jail free card.

It's clear that the prime minister believes, as he told his security detail, that he makes the rules. His contempt for the rule of law is absolutely stunning.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

He Doesn't Practice It At Home


Eight hundred years ago this week, King John was forced to sign the Magna Charta.  But today, Errol Mendes writes, King Stephen is trying to place himself above the document which is the foundation of parliamentary democracy:

And yet, in the actions of the Harper government we see all too many instances of powerful people trying to set themselves above the law. How else can one read an attempt by the government to hide inside a massive omnibus budget bill a law that would retroactively invalidate an investigation into unlawful conduct by the RCMP — an attempt to re-write the application of the law in the past?

Harper's contempt for parliamentary democracy continues to mushroom:

What are we to think when the prime minister’s office, the highest in the land, colludes with supposedly independent members of the Senate in an attempt to alter an independent audit by an outside accounting firm of senators’ allegedly improper expenses?

When the federal government prohibits donations to political parties by corporations and trade unions with the aim of preventing big money from stealing elections — and then spends millions of dollars in public money on thinly-disguised political ads — can that be interpreted as anything but a gesture of contempt for the law?

When a government elected on a promise of accountability and transparency works to undermine every independent officer of Parliament charged with keeping the government open and transparent (the nuclear safety commissioner, the parliamentary budget officer, the chief military police complaints commissioner, the acting privacy commissioner and, most recently, the correctional investigator), is it exercising power on the people’s behalf, or merely to trash its enemies and settle scores?

Mr. Harper laughs off these abuses as picayune obstacles that get in the way of the greater good. Mendes warns:

That’s how it starts. When a government’s abuse of power is laughed off as a “loophole”, a mere detail, we’re watching the foundations being laid for arbitrary government — for government operating outside the rule of law. The kind of government the Magna Charta was supposed to free us from.

The man who preaches the virtues of democracy around the world doesn't practise it at home.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

When The Leaving Was Good

As Stephen Harper seeks his fourth mandate, Geoff Stevens writes that he knows neither love nor respect:

This will be difficult, I know, but try to imagine you are Stephen Harper.

You are prime minister of Canada. You are approaching your 10th anniversary in that high position. You have won three consecutive general elections and are looking to make it four in a row on Oct. 19. With your majority in Parliament, you have more power and control today than an American president. You rank among the most successful political leaders in Canadian history.

Yet something is wrong.

Success does not translate into affection and admiration. You are successful, but you are not loved. Schoolchildren do not squeal with delight when they see you. Their fathers do not hoist them on their shoulders for a better view. Their mothers do not rush home to tell neighbours they have touched the garment of the prime minister of Canada. For all the sense of moment you generate, you might be an ordinary MP or a school trustee. 

Harper's success, ironically, has been fuelled by his ability to make enemies. And, ten years in, he has made a lot of them:

You have already assembled an impressive enemies list for the election campaign. Heading the list is the chief justice of Canada and her infuriating Supreme Court. The court keeps saying "no" to you. "No" to mandatory minimum prison sentences, "no" to appointing supreme court judges who don't meet eligibility requirements, "no" to abolishing or reforming the Senate without provincial consent, "no" to federal anti-prostitution laws, "no" to banning doctor-assisted suicide and, most recently, "no" to your government's efforts to stamp out the medical use of marijuana.

You upped the ante in your war with the court last week when your health minister, Rona Ambrose, declaring that she was "outraged" by that ruling, accused the court of steering young people toward marijuana use, just like, she said, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau who proposes decriminalizing possession of pot.

An election that pits the government against the Supreme Court would be an appalling precedent. But it's not as though Harper doesn't have other enemies to choose among. There's also the Senate — his own Senate — which cannot control the wastrels in its membership. There are all those terrorists in our midst who must be put down by Bill C-51, the new anti-terrorism law. There are those annoying scientists and environmentalists who keep insisting climate change is real.

And there is Vladimir Putin. Bashing Putin must be good domestic politics, because Harper was back in Europe again last week, stamping his foot and demanding the Russian leader get out of Ukraine. If Putin noticed, he has not responded, but he will have other opportunities to yield to Harper's demand before the polls close here on Oct. 19. 

What it all adds up to, Stevens writes, is that Harper's back is against the wall. One wonders if he occasionally thinks that he should have left when the leaving was good.


Monday, June 15, 2015

So Far They Have Gotten Away Scot Free


The RCMP have charged Mike Duffy with thirty-one offences. But, Michael Harris writes, the PMO should be on trial, not Duffy:

It is the nagging doubt that Duffy’s day in court is a “show trial” that feeds the idea that the Senate itself is the real problem. The leadership in the Senate looks hypocritical, self-aggrandizing, and screamingly at odds with any known concept of equal justice.

For starters, both the Government Leader in the Senate and the Senate Speaker made Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s bad apple list.

And it's their connections to the PMO that really should leave a bad taste in citizens' mouths:

That rattling sound the attentive can hear from the Duffy trial is more bones in the Senate closet soon to be on display. The PMO was directly and intimately involved in undercutting the independence of a supposedly independent parliamentary institution, got Senate reports changed, and interfered in a forensic audit being done for the Senate by Deloitte.

When the Senate had a chance to show its independence and integrity, it slunk away from getting to the bottom of these gross, institutional invasions.

Even though the PMO dispatched Senator Irving Gerstein to ask a buddy at Deloitte if the audit could be stopped if Duffy paid back his disputed housing expenses, the Conservative majority on the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee didn’t act. They refused to demand testimony from Senator Gerstein or the insider he turned to at Deloitte, Michael Runia. To this day, no one can explain how the PMO got the Deloitte audit weeks before it was delivered to a Senate committee.

It's clear that the majority in our House of Sober Second Thought is owned lock, stock and barrel by the PMO. The people in that office are behind the Duffy story. And, so far, they have got away scot free.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Future Of Medicare


Boosting the Canada Pension Plan is on the election radar. But we haven't heard a word about medicare. And, Murray Dobbins writes, there are several vultures circling that program. B.C. doctor Brian Day has launched a constitutional challenge to medicare, which would allow medicare corporations to compete with publicly funded medicare.

Then there are the investor dispute mechanisms in all of Stephen Harper's free trade deals:

The flurry of corporate rights agreements being pursued by the Harper government are also a threat to the viability of medicare. The Canada-EU deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), will immediately add at least $2 billion to drug costs in this country. The 51-country Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) now being negotiated in secret, threatens to apply the deregulatory imperative of investment agreements explicitly to services -- including health care. As Public Services International (PSI) has pointed out, TISA "would restrict governments' ability to regulate, purchase and provide services. This would essentially change the regulation of many public services from serving the public interest to serving the profit interests of private, foreign corporations."

But the biggest vulture of all is Stephen Harper himself:

Harper hates medicare more than any other aspect of Canadian governance and democracy. He actually quit politics in the late '90s to become the head of the viciously right-wing National Citizens Coalition -- an organization founded in the early 1970s explicitly to fight medicare.

Until 2014, medicare in Canada received federal funding through a 10-year (legally binding) accord negotiated by the provinces and the federal government, providing provinces with a 6-per-cent increase every year. But what is in place now is a 10-year funding formula imposed by Harper on the provinces with virtually no consultation. Its increase per year is just 3 per cent -- which means a loss of $36 billion over the 10 years. It is classic Harper -- make a structural change whose bite is worse and worse as years go by. The underfunding systematically pushes provinces to cut and privatize.

Harper has abandoned all federal oversight or guardianship. There are no strings attached to the money. And the equalization aspect of the former accord is also gone, meaning increasingly unequal health care across the country and an erosion of the principle of universality. Lastly, the current funding formula not only brings the funding contribution of Ottawa to a record low 19 per cent; it is not legally binding and if Harper wins the election he could unilaterally chop billions from medicare any time he chooses.

Even if CPP contributions are increased for everyone, they would never cover the costs of private medical care. And Mr. Harper is focused on returning this country to the good old days -- when all medicare was private.

One quick note: We'll be away in Ottawa tomorrow. But I'll be back on Monday.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Sad Demise Of The CBC


There has been a lot of commentary already written about Evan Soloman and the CBC. Amid the Niagara of words about what has happened, I found two columns particularly enlightening. Rick Salutin wrote that Soloman -- and other CBC celebrities -- are emblematic of a culture of greed at the Mother Corp:

Evan is surely the boss of his own conscience but still, he may have found it confusing at CBC regarding what was valued there. Big emphases on money-making and business shows, led by the happy crassness of Kevin O’Leary till he very consistently dumped CBC, having made his rep there, for bigger money in the U.S. Vast discrepancies between salaries and deference paid the top dogs/hosts, who often do little of their own work, and the grunts they depend on. Even the ads that clutter broadcasts. Isn’t this supposed to be owned by the people? You don’t get such messiness at the BBC.

We shouldn't be surprised at this kind of behaviour. Stephen Harper has been filling the corporation's board with Conservative fundraisers. What better way to do the public broadcaster in than by destroying it from the inside?

But there's also the question of individual ethics -- particularly the ethics of broadcasters who call themselves journalists. Michael Harris wrote:

Journalism is not about sleeping with your sources. It’s not about trying to please the government by bending the tone and content of stories or broadcasts to the political agenda of the day. And it’s certainly not about monetizing your fame with the very people you report on. Nor is it about brokering art deals.

Neo-liberalism -- and Stephen Harper -- corrupt everything they touch. They are responsible for the sad demise of the CBC.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bennett's Ghost


Stephen Harper continues to repeat the same mantra -- cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy creates jobs. But, Mel Hurtig writes, economist Jim Stanford knows that the reality is quite different:

Economist Jim Stanford has made careful comparisons of Harper's claims against his actual performance in articles for the Globe and Mail and others. Stanford says that there are some 400,000 discouraged unemployed workers who do not appear in the official unemployment statistics and that with other forms of hidden unemployment, the true unemployment rate in recent years is above 12 per cent. New job creation in Canada has barely kept pace with its population growth; indeed, in 2013 Canada ranked in the lower half of industrial countries with net job creation lagging 1.4 points behind population growth.

"When Canadian officials boast that the pace of job-creation or GDP growth is relatively high," Stanford states, "they neglect to mention that Canada's economy must generate more growth and jobs just to stand still.... Canada's real GDP growth since the pre-recession peak (in 2007) ranks an uninspiring 17th among the 34 countries of the OECD.... Real per capita GDP remains 1.4 per cent lower than it was at the beginning of 2008. In fact, real per capita GDP is still lower in Canada than it was at the beginning of 2006 (when the Harper Conservative government first took power); during almost six years of Conservative 'stewardship,' therefore, Canadians have experienced no economic progress (by this measure) whatsoever."

Hurtig has been fighting an uphill battle for decades, as the Canadian economy was sold off to foreign interests. Besides corporate assets, Canadian jobs are now being sold as part of the bargain:

Regarding unemployment figures, 19 OECD countries have lower rates of unemployment in a recent three year average.

We lag at 14th position in terms of annual growth in compensation per hours worked. All of these countries have seen higher growth in wage rates: Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Mexico, Korea, Norway, the Czech Republic, Australia, Poland, Great Britain, Luxembourg and Denmark.
Conservatives like to argue that the best job creator is a growing economy. But as Saskatchewan MP Ralph Goodale notes, the Harper government's growth record is the worst since the early 1930s under then prime minister R.B. Bennett. 

Strange, isn't it? Another prime minister with roots in the Maritimes, who went to Calgary and became rich. Perhaps when he retires, Harper -- like Bennett -- will take up residence in Britain. Perhaps Stephen Harper is really R.B. Bennett's ghost.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Our Decade Of Derpitude


Economics these days is drenched in derpitude. If you're unfamiliar with the term, Paul Krugman provides some context:

"Derp" is a term borrowed from the cartoon “South Park” that has achieved wide currency among people I talk to, because it’s useful shorthand for an all-too-obvious feature of the modern intellectual landscape: people who keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong.

He then goes on to provide some American examples of economic derpitude:

The quintessential example is fear mongering over inflation. It was, perhaps, forgivable for economists, pundits, and politicians to warn about runaway inflation some years ago, when the Federal Reserve was just beginning its efforts to help a depressed economy. After all, everyone makes bad predictions now and then.

But making the same wrong prediction year after year, never acknowledging past errors or considering the possibility that you have the wrong model of how the economy works — well, that’s derp.
And there’s a lot of derp out there. Inflation derp, in particular, has become more or less a required position among Republicans. Even economists with solid reputations, whose professional work should have made them skeptical of inflation hysteria, have spent years echoing the paranoia of the goldbugs. And that tells you why derp abides: it’s basically political.

It’s an article of faith on the right that any attempt by the government to fight unemployment must lead to disaster, so the faithful must keep predicting disaster no matter how often it fails to materialize.

In Canada, we have endured an epidemic of the same kind of derptitude. We are constantly being told that austerity and a petro economy are the boulevards to economic salvation. But, lately, we have witnessed strange omens. Alberta -- until recently the seat of economic derpitude -- just elected a government which claims to believe in social (as opposed to neo-liberal) democracy. And the latest surprising surge in employment is rooted in the manufacturing economy, as the Canadian dollar dipped below 80 cents U.S.

It just may be that our Decade of Derpitude is coming to an end.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Say Nothing. Do Nothing.


It's interesting to compare Stephen Harper to the much reviled Brian Mulroney. Michael Den Tandt writes:

Back to Mulroney who, at the time he stepped aside in 1993, was considered the most popularly disliked Canadian leader ever. “He bugs us still,” wrote Peter C. Newman years later. Controversy followed Mulroney everywhere. His cabinet was a revolving door of ministers moving in and out due to various infractions and peccadillos. There was Meech, the rise of the Bloc, Charlottetown. Later there was, of course, the Schreiber affair.

But Mulroney got some very important, difficult things done; free trade with the United States and Mexico; an acid-rain treaty and Arctic sovereignty agreement with the United States.; the GST, which made it possible for Paul Martin in the mid-1990s to balance the books; and leadership among the Western democracies in the fight against South African apartheid.

Mulroney managed all this, and the headwaters of his constitutional failures, too, by focusing on the very big files; and by making it his business to forge personal bonds with every member of his caucus, including the backbenchers dismissed by his predecessor, Pierre Trudeau, as “nobodies.” Mulroney was, like him or loathe him, a terrifically skilled politician, and ambitious for the country to boot.

Mulroney has put forward his suggestions for Senate reform:

Appoint two eminent persons, a former auditor general and a former Supreme Court judge, and have them craft a new plan for Senate spending and residency, the former Tory prime minister told the Canadian Bar Association in Montreal last week. Then have the PM of the day appoint candidates from lists provided by the provinces.

From Harper we have heard nothing; and he has done nothing. That appears to be Standard Operating Procedure these days:

On aboriginal affairs, in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, there is the sound of crickets. On assisted suicide, despite a Supreme Court ruling months ago requiring a new law, crickets. On pipeline development, supposedly the very core of the nation’s economic future, there is a witless Twitter campaign by Conservative MPs against Tim Hortons, sparked by the donut chain’s spurning of ads for pipeline builder Enbridge­ — itself an idiotic cave-in to the now fashionable distaste for “Big Oil.”

Lost on the Tory Timbit warriors, seemingly, is that neither they nor their leader have extended the least energy, consumed the least political capital, in oh, two years, trying to persuade Canadians pipelines are environmentally safe and economically necessary.

Apparently, Mr. Harper believes that, if he keeps his mouth shut, he will be re-elected.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Don't Make Book On It. But . . .


It's too early to make predictions about the federal election, but it appears that Justin Trudeau's support for Bill C-51 has hurt him. Michael Harris writes:

In his latest poll, Graves placed the NDP and the Conservatives in a tie with 125 seats apiece, and the Liberals at 83 seats, based on a 338 parliament. If that model were to hold, the Trudeau Liberals would see a pick up of 47 seats, the Mulcair NDP would add 30 seats, and the Harper Conservatives would lose 34 seats. Canada would have a minority government led by either Harper or Mulcair. Trudeau would be reduced to the most disappointed of political players; the king-maker who wanted to be king.

Trudeau has always known that the Harperites were gunning for him, not Mulcair. He knew that Bill C-51 was a carefully devised trap. By supporting it with promised amendments, he thought he could avoid the trap.  However:

Canadians seem to be getting tired of fear politics all the time. Support for the master of scare-politics, Stephen Harper, is at historic lows. The CPC’s support appears to be “baked in” at just under 30 per cent, with very little prospect for growth. Harper is still the first choice of a significant bloc of voters, but he is the second choice of almost no one.

The more Canadians learn about the bill, the more they are appalled by it. The prime minister still feels it's his trump card. Who knows? Maybe it will be. Either way, the Bill may turn out to be Justin's nemesis.

If present poll numbers hold, we may wind up with the possibility of a hung parliament on the eve of the election. And Canadians may choose -- as Britons did -- to stick with the devil they know. Or they may decide that Harper has to go and choose the person they feel has the best chance of ousting him -- think Lester Pearson in 1957 or Brian Mulroney in 1993.

Don't make book on it. But the Liberals could be in for another rough ride.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Hedges On Bill C-51


Back in March, Chris Hedges planned to address a demonstration on Bill C-51. However, his plane was delayed getting into Toronto, so the crowd never heard what he had to say. Nonetheless, his speech has been made available at rabble.ca. It's  well worth reading. The corporate state has won, he writes, and it's up to us to do something about it:

There are no internal constraints left to halt totalitarian capitalism. Electoral politics is a sham. The media is subservient to corporate power. The working class is being disempowered and impoverished. The legal system is a subsidiary of the corporate state. Any form of dissent, no matter how tepid, will soon to be blocked by an internal security apparatus empowered by anti-terrorist laws that will outstrip anything dreamed of by the East German Stasi state. And no one in Ottawa or Washington intends to help us. Opposition parties, such as the Democratic Party, may cry foul when out of power, but once in power they bow to the demands of the omnipotent military and security organs that serve our corporate masters.

Any state that has the ability to inflict full-spectrum dominance on its citizens is not a free state. It does not matter if it does not use this capacity today. It will use it, history has shown, should it feel threatened or seek greater control. The goal of wholesale surveillance, as Hannah Arendt wrote, is not, in the end, to discover crimes, "but to be on hand when the government decides to arrest a certain category of the population." No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere at any time, whose conversations, messages, meetings, proclivities and habits are recorded, stored and analyzed, as ours are, can be described as free. The relationship between those who are constantly watched and tracked, and those who watch and track them, is the relationship between masters and slaves.

There will, if this law is not blocked, be no checks left on state power. State Security will operate outside the law. Citizens will be convicted on secret evidence in secret courts. Citizens will be subject to arbitrary searches and arrests. Due process will be eradicated. Internal security organs will serve as judge, jury and executioner. The outward forms of democratic participation -- voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation -- will remain, but become meaningless forms of political theater.

Once the security services become omnipotent those who challenge the abuses of power, those who expose the crimes carried out by government are treated as criminals. Totalitarian states always invert the moral order. The evil rule. The righteous are condemned.

Try to defend the treaty rights of First Nations people and you will go to prison. Try to halt the tar sands, fracking, or the bitumen-carrying pipelines and you will go to prison. Try to oppose Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and you will go to prison. And once you are seized by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service you can be subjected to sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, the disorienting poles of extreme light and darkness or extreme heat and extreme cold, along with stress-position torture, waterboarding, beatings and pressure-point torture. And it will all be legal.

The only option we have, writes Hedges, is to rebel -- as Albert Camus defined the term:

The rebel, for Camus, stands with the oppressed -- the unemployed and underemployed workers, the people of the First Nations whose land and lives are being exploited, Palestinians in Gaza, the civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the disappeared who are held in our global black sites, the poor in our inner cities and depressed rural communities, immigrants and those locked away in our prison system. And to stand with them means a refusal to collaborate with political systems that mouth the words of justice while carrying out acts of oppression. It means open and direct defiance.

Something to think about before casting your vote in the next election.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Sphinx In The Desert


Stephen Harper's reaction to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been to have no reaction at all. Stephen Maher writes:

Stephen Harper is increasingly declining to engage on subjects that don’t advance his electoral interests, to the point that his silences are sometimes more noteworthy than the things he says.
Harper has failed, for example, to comment on the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report into crimes committed against aboriginals at residential schools.

Harper did not say anything at the closing ceremonies he attended at Rideau Hall. He did not hold a news conference, as most leaders would do as a matter of course when their government has received $50-million report that took six years to put together.

But this leader doesn’t do that kind of thing. The last time he held a real news conference in Ottawa was in December 2012.

Instead, Maher writes, Harper has become "sphinxlike:"

After saying nothing in Ottawa, he went to the Toronto riding of Finance Minister Joe Oliver to warn television viewers about the threat from jihadi terrorists, delivering his tough lines in front of a backdrop of mute supporters and a huge flag, as he recently did in Montreal.

On Thursday, Harper took four questions. None were about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Perhaps that's because he's been getting feedback from his base. Over at the National Post, the backlash has set in. Andrew Mitrovica writes:

Rodney E. Clifton, professor emeritus of education at the University of Manitoba, and retired anthropology prof Hymie Rubenstein argued that Justice Sinclair’s report failed to note what they claim were the more redeeming qualities of residential schools:
  • A lot of the kids wanted to be there and their parents were happy they were there;
  • The kids were learning how to read, write and speak English so they could “fully benefit from membership in the new country of Canada”;
  • Yes, the kids were “severely” and “routinely” caned and strapped, but everybody was doing it back then;
  • Sure, some kids were “segregated” by sex, but two Inuk teachers sometimes spoke to them in their native tongues and they weren’t punished for doing so;
  • Other kids even went home on the weekends and during the summer;
  • The schools’ “caring” Christian teachers and religious leaders did their best under trying circumstances, but now they’re being unjustly “libeled” by Justice Sinclair.

Harper could, like the politician he most resembles -- Richard Nixon -- figuratively go to China and lead his base in another direction. But the prime minister won't do that. He doesn't lead his base. He is a prisoner of it.

And, so, he has chosen to become a Sphinx and survey the desert he has created.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Useful Scapegoats


There is much about Mike Duffy that makes the blood boil. His ego is as large as the man himself. And that ego is the source of his troubles. But, Michael Harris writes, Duffy's standard operating procedures have been the same procedures the Harper government has operated under from the very beginning:

Back in 2008, for example, then-minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Rona Ambrose went to Whitehorse to announce millions in mining training for aboriginals. But she was also the star attraction at a Conservative fundraising event at the Mountain View Golf Course that had been scheduled for weeks before the official business. Bottom line? Taxpayers subsidized CPC fundraising — period.

And they continue to do it, as evidenced by the track record of that Energizer Bunny of partisan politics, Jason Kenney. Back in 2014, when he was Employment minister, Kenney went on a coast-to-coast-to-coast road trip to advance “the skills shortage agenda” of the Harper government. By day, he was busy with his official duties, but by night he mixed duty with fundraising like rum and Coke. Guess who paid the freight for the partisan stuff?

If Stephen Harper were truly interested in cleaning up government, a lot of people and things would receive the same kind of public scrutiny Duffy is receiving. But that's not going to happen:

Of course, Harper is not big on getting to the bottom of things, especially his own messes. Despite repeated requests, he refused to call a public inquiry into robocalls — which remains a serious unsolved crime.

He didn’t call a public inquiry into the thousands of missing and murdered native women, though First Nations peoples and the Canadian people are demanding it.

He didn’t call a public inquiry into the shootings on Parliament Hill, though recently released reports show that many serious questions need to be answered before this government hands over Hill security to the Mounties who failed to get the job done that tragic day.

So it’s not remarkable that Stephen Harper has no interest in seeing parliamentarians scrutinized on their expenses; he and his colleagues are too busy helping themselves to public funds to advance the partisan agenda of the government and the Conservative Party of Canada. It’s doubtful that the government’s advertising spending — taxpayer-funded and largely partisan — could stand the test of an independent audit.

It's only when word leaks out about how those in the Harper Kingdom operate -- think  Patrick Brazeau, Bev Oda, Helena Geurgis -- that people get thrown under the bus. All the residents of the kingdom are useful scapegoats.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Could He Have Been Wrong?


Bill C- 51 was supposed to have been Stephen Harper's trump card. If the economy went south, he could scare voters into supporting him. It worked a couple of elections ago, when he claimed that coalition governments were for losers.

But Mr Harper's gift for political poker seems to be failing. Steve Sullivan writes:

It’s remarkable to recall how, only months ago, many members of the pundit class were calling the security issue Harper’s ace in the hole — a policy area where he had a clear position and a solid advantage over the New Democrats and Liberals. But the timing worked against him: Terrorism gave him a polling bump that lasted just long enough for too many people to learn just enough about C-51 to loathe it.

Now, and quite suddenly, the bill is a political problem. This week we saw something astounding: a group of right-leaning critics of the bill — including National Firearms Association president Sheldon Clare and National Post comment editor Jesse Kline — calling the information-sharing provisions in C-51 “the long gun registry on steroids” and warning of a split in the Conservative party’s own voter base.

The Conservative base -- which Harper has courted assiduously -- doesn't  like the bill. Now the base is rebelling. They write in an open letter:

“Bill C-51 represents everything that principled conservatives have been fighting against for the past decade,” reads a letter signed by the critics and posted on the website StopC51. “It is appalling that a Conservative government would even consider voting for such legislation, much less crafting it and pushing it into law.”

The letter goes on to excoriate C-51’s provisions for “secret trials” and online censorship, to accuse Harper of rank hypocrisy for pushing C-51 after having damned the long-gun registry and the long-form census as unacceptable intrusions into Canadians’ privacy, and to state the bill violates basic small-c conservative principles by extending the reach of Canada’s security services into an extralegal grey zone. It warns that C-51 risks depressing the Conservative core vote and allowing the New Democrats or Liberals to come up the middle.

“On balance, there is no need for C-51,” it reads, “and it is politically foolish to bring in such legislation that can only result in a massive political defeat.”

Could Mr. Harper have been wrong? Has he lost touch not only with a majority of Canadians, but also with his own formerly stalwart supporters?

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

It Will Take Another Government


Yesterday, Justice Murray Sinclair tabled the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The report's 94 recommendations are wide ranging. Tim Harper writes:

The commission has called on the federal government to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, something to which the Conservatives now merely “aspire.”

It wants a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation, it wants Pope Francis to come to Canada within a year to issue an apology for the role of the Catholic church in the residential schools, it wants all levels of government to provide annual reports on the progress toward reconciliation. It wants the prime minister to issue an annual “State of Aboriginal Peoples” report. It wants a monument to the survivors in Ottawa and all provincial capitals and a national holiday honouring survivors and victims.

The report recommends:

a change to the oath of citizenship to include respect for treaties with indigenous people, a requirement that all law and journalism students in Canada be taught the legacy of residential schools and a requirement that medical and nursing schools make aboriginal health a required subject,

as well as an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. We know how the Harper government has reacted to that suggestion. 

The government's reaction to the report in general has not been encouraging. Ryan Maloney, in the Huffington Post, reports that the Harperites were unmoved by the report:

On Tuesday, the TRC released a long-awaited report on the shameful legacy of the residential school system. The push for a national inquiry and adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People were both included among 94 wide-ranging recommendations.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has previously ruled out taking both actions and, in question period, hinted its position was unlikely to change.

The truth is that it will take another government to act upon the report's 94 recommendations. The prime minister is good at offering apologies. But, as Canadian veterans know, he refuses to put his money where his mouth is. Talk is cheap. And Stephen Harper is full of talk.

As long as he is prime minister, there will be no action on the TRC report. It will take another government to change conditions for Canada's native peoples.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

It's About Obsessions

Stephen Harper is a man obsessed. He's obsessed by Alberta bitumen. He's obsessed by the Liberal Party -- particularly the name Trudeau. And he's obsessed with punishment -- most particularly, the punishment of Omar Khadr. Gerry Caplan writes:

Under the Geneva Conventions, which govern the rules of war, soldiers who kill other soldiers in battle are not committing crimes. Otherwise, how could we have civilized wars? It was only some time after 9/11 that George W. Bush unilaterally decided that al-Qaeda fighters weren’t legitimate wartime combatants entitled to this protection. So Mr. Khadr was found guilty of a crime that wasn’t a crime when it happened – if it happened. And he remains the only person in modern history to be tried for killing another soldier during a battle.

But, as his serial defeats in the Supreme Court make clear, Mr. Harper has  nothing but contempt for legal definitions and codes. Some way or other, he is determined to get Mr. Khadr:

In virtually all Harper endeavours, through the reams of predictable propaganda there emerges a particular spin line that is unfathomable to normal people. This has now happened on the Khadr file, as articulated in recent weeks by Public Security Minister Steven Blaney. As if labelling him a terrorist murderer is not enough, Minister Blaney has taken to impugning Mr. Khadr’s integrity. Mr. Khadr, it seems, has not been honourable in his dealings with an honourable government.

For example, in trying to explain to the CBC’s Evan Solomon why the government keeps challenging Mr. Khadr’s right to be free on bail, Minister Blaney said this: “Someone who pleaded guilty to a horrible crime…this was the basis on which Omar Khadr was brought back into the country. He said: ‘Okay, I’m going to do eight years for those horrible crimes for which I have pleaded guilty, behind bars’, and now he is questioning – challenging – the commitment he made, and he was allowed in Canada on that basis and now he is challenging that position.”

A country which hands over the reins of power to a man driven by obsessions and not evidence is in for a very rough ride.

Monday, June 01, 2015

National Security Means Environmental Security


Stephen Harper has vowed to make national security a central plank is his election platform. But, Chris Wood writes, if we want to ensure our national security, we should be -- first and foremost -- concentrating on our environmental security. Unfortunately, over the last twenty-five years, governments of all stripes have not been focused on the environment:

In 1989, Canada was a leader in global climate discussions. But in 1993—the last year of the Progressive Conservative mandate – the Auditor-General pointed out that Canada had no “federal framework of desirable water quality objectives for the major ecosystems across Canada.” We still don’t.

Reporting a decade later in 2003, the Environment Commissioner found the by-then Liberal government’s progress toward reviewing the safety of thousands of chemical products brought to market before modern testing, “slow.” He warned that it was “likely that some of them do not meet today’s standards.” A dozen years later, the work is still unfinished, with no completion date in this decade either.

In this decade, blue-green algae toxic to neural and liver systems are spreading in Canada’s lakes and even oceans. Endocrine system defects and cancers are on the rise, while scores of semi-metabolized pharmaceuticals linked to endocrine disruption – from anti-depressants to byproducts of cocaine – are found in every major southern river from the St. Lawrence to the Saskatchewan to the Fraser. In 2014, the Conservative Party of Canada government withdrew federal protection from several thousand of those waterways.

Mr. Harper has vowed to add $150 million to the RCMP's anti-terrorism budget. But, it's our environment which provides terrorists with all kinds of soft targets. But, instead of protecting  the air we breathe and the water we drink, the prime minister believes we are protecting ourselves by pursuing ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Protecting the homeland means protecting the environment in our own backyard.