Thursday, June 30, 2016

They Also Begin At Home

During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau made a number of promises to immigrant communities across the country. He has kept some of those promises. Avvy Go writes:

To his credit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has either delivered on a number of his promises, or has taken some critical first steps towards their implementation, not the least of which are the inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the reinstatement of the Court Challenges Program, and the acceptance of more than 20,000 Syrian refugees.

In some immigrant communities, the change in government has even generated rumours that there are now more generous rules granting permanent resident status for non-status immigrants. Several ethno-racial legal clinics are seeing a sudden surge of clients who have lived underground for many years in Canada, and are now reaching out for help to regularize their status.

But Trudeau promised much more. And there is much more to do:
On other issues, repeated assurances have been made for reform with no concrete action. An example of this is the Liberal promise to revoke the Conditional Permanent Resident (CPR) status, which forces sponsored spouses to stay in a relationship with their sponsors for two years or risk losing their permanent resident status. This CPR provision has been shown to increase the risk of domestic violence and abuse. Immigration Minister John McCallum has said that the CPR will be revoked, without stating when or clarifying whether the revocation will be made retroactive to cover all those who have been, and continue to be, subject to investigation by immigration authorities.

Further, while there has been talk to reform the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, the consultations to date have been skewed towards employers and agencies that broker contracts, as opposed to the migrants living in precarious conditions.

True, the “to do” list for the new government is long. But it is not long enough. 
Missing from the list is the much needed renewal of Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism (CAPAR) instituted by the Paul Martin government in 2005. Little to no action has been taken over the last 10 years to maintain programs that were once designed to combat systemic racism, let alone implement new measures to address growing colour-coded disparities. Although it is encouraging to see significant commitments and initiatives with respect to Indigenous issues and concerns, for peoples of colour Canada has effectively wasted 10 years on this important file.

Yesterday Trudeau, and Presidents Obama and Pena Nieto made a joint commitment to co-operation and openness. Like charity, they also begin at home.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

That's When They Turn On You

As the leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada meet today in Ottawa, they're feeling pretty good -- particularly after last week's vote in Britain. Tom Walkom writes:

Their cheery collaboration is being deliberately portrayed as a counterpoint to the British public’s gloomy rejection of the European Union.

In effect, the three NAFTA amigos are saying: Hey don’t worry overmuch about Britain and the EU. Global integration is going gangbusters. Look at us.

If it were only that simple.

It's not that simple. Donald Trump is talking about getting out of NAFTA -- unless he gets his way:

In fact, NAFTA is on uncertain ground. In the U.S., presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has taken a hard line against it.

On Tuesday, in an unusually coherent speech, he repeated his promise to either radically renegotiate NAFTA in America’s favour or have the U.S. withdraw from the pact.

And Canadians themselves are not that gung-ho on the deal:

In Canada, a poll this week found support for NAFTA is split, with roughly 25 per cent in favour, 25 per cent opposed and the remainder indifferent or unsure.

No wonder. The addition of Mexico in 1994 to the original Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement has helped manufacturers who locate in that country. But it hasn’t necessarily helped Canada.

Cheaper Mexican wages have encouraged auto plants to build there — often at the expense of jobs in Canada. Even Toronto’s troubled new Bombardier streetcars are being built, in part, in Mexico.
Canada’s trade deficit with Mexico stands at about $10 billion.

What the Amigos should remember as they meet, writes Walkom, is that sometimes people get fed up. That's when they turn on you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Incapable Of Complex Thought

Everywhere in the English speaking world, Lawrence Martin writes, conservatism is in trouble:

In Britain, party hardliners pushed David Cameron into calling a referendum on the European Union. With the Brexit result, they are now in control. The consequences for Britain and well beyond Britain, as the great wealth of analysts agree, could be dire.

In the United States, the Republican Party fell under the sway of Dick Cheney and his ilk. They brought on the Iraq war, the consequences of which have been dire and still are. The Republican Party then fell into the grip of the radical-right Tea Party. Now they are under the control of demagogue Donald Trump. His appeal has similarities to that of the rebels in the British Conservative Party. It is driven by aging, angry-man populism.

If you like Brexit, if you liked the Iraq war, if you favour the retrograde prejudices of Donald Trump, you will like the direction of modern-day conservatism.

And that's the point. Increasingly, modern day conservatism has shown itself to be retrograde, morally bankrupt and incapable of meeting the demands of the new century.  However, Canadian conservatives haven't figured that out yet:

They don’t see Brexit as a step backward. They don’t see the new conservatism as a sure bet to lose the battle of the generations. In Britain, surveys showed the youth were most opposed to Brexit, seniors most in favour. In the correctly named Grand Old Party, the appeal under Mr. Trump is primarily to aging, less-educated voters. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives played mostly to the old-age demographic as well. Millennials being the voice of the future, what are these parties thinking?

It would appear that conservatives -- Canadian conservatives particularly -- preach selfishness and are incapable of complex thought. 


Monday, June 27, 2016

Remaking The World

The ripples from Britain's decision to leave the EU keep spreading. The most immediate shocks, of course, are being felt in the UK. Michael Harris writes:

David Cameron and his government, gone; Britain’s senior EU official, Jonathon Hill, gone. Aflame with divorce anger, European leaders wanting the UK out of the marital home tout de suite. More than a million Europeans living in London potentially gone. The opposition Labour Party in chaos with half the shadow cabinet resigning after millions of voters rejected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s injunction to stay in the EU. And the unthinkable prospect of a Donald Trump/Boris Johnson transatlantic political axis.

On the economic side, Moody’s lowered the UK’s “outlook” from stable to negative. Overnight, Britain slipped from the fifth-largest economy in the world to sixth, leap-frogged by France. The pound dropped like a stone. There are reports that Brexit wiped out $2-trillion in wealth, though it is far from certain whether those assets were made of anything more substantial than paper.

And then there is Scotland. Scots recently voted against independence largely because they were told that if they split with the UK, they would also be splitting with the EU. Now that Scotland has apparently lost the highly valued EU connection, there has been an immediate call for a second vote on independence. In fact, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is threatening to veto the Brexit vote, and directly lobby EU member states to allow Edinburgh to remain inside the pan-European trading bloc.

The United Kingdom may soon be a thing of the past. And, likewise, the EU -- at least as it is presently constituted -- may soon be assigned to the dustbin of history:

The whole European shooting match is now in play. What is to stop hard-right nationalists in places like France and the Netherlands from demanding a referendum of their own on their futures in the EU? There is already the same anti-immigrant sentiment in those countries waiting to be exploited by native populists cut from the same cloth as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Both countries will be facing elections next year and it’s a safe bet that leaving the EU will be front and centre on the political agendas, pushed by National Front vice-president Florian Philippot in France, and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands. And they are not the only countries that might be thrown into chaos by the euroskeptics taking heart from the Brexit vote.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the political opposition in Sweden has been inspired by Britain bailing out of Europe. Opposition leader Mattias Karlsson told the WSJ the British vote was inspiring and that, “We will start campaigning for a Swexit.”
Likewise with Italy’s Northern League and its leader Matteo Salvini. He said that it’s time Italians had the chance to pass their own judgement on EU membership. Salvini, who is an unabashed Trump supporter, is known for his vitriolic attacks on migrants, and his praise for the “good works” of fascist Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Trump in turn has expressed his hope that the Northern League leader will be the next prime minister of Italy.

The world is being remade -- and whether or not it will be for the better is entirely uncertain.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Lessons Learned

We don't know what the long term consequences of Britain's decision to leave the EU will be. But, Tom Walkom writes, there are already lessons to be learned:

First, democracy and advanced capitalism aren’t always compatible. Britain’s voters were asked whether they wanted to stick with a globalized system designed to increase wealth in the aggregate. The majority looked at what they were getting out of the arrangement and said no.

Second, nationalism is alive. There was a time, not so long ago, when the nation-state was viewed as passé. It is not. When Britain’s leavers said they didn’t want to be governed by bureaucrats in Brussels, they meant it.

Third, full labour mobility is, politically, a step too far. The conceit of the European Union was that it had erased borders — that EU citizens could travel, work and live anywhere.
Thursday’s referendum showed that a lot of Britons simply don’t agree. If the polls are right, a lot of other Europeans don’t agree either. They fear an unrestricted flood of newcomers will drive down wages. Sometimes, these fears are justified.

Fourth, the refusal of centre and left parties to deal with any of this has allowed the hard right to monopolize antiglobalization sentiment. In Britain, the right dominated the leave campaign in part because there was no one else.

In the United States, would-be presidential nominee Bernie Sanders articulated a centre-left critique of globalization. But his Democratic party didn’t agree. Now demagogue Republican Donald Trump has the field to himself.

The United States has its critics of globalization on both the Left and on the Right. In Britain, it was the Right that won the day. And there are lessons, too, about the kind of leadership the Right espouses:

The motives of those who voted to leave the EU in Thursday’s referendum were not always noble.

Racism played a role as did plain old xenophobia. Those leading the leave campaign were hardly Churchillian. They included Nigel Farage, the odious leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party as well as former London mayor Boris Johnson, a buffoonish toff who may well end up being the country’s next prime minister.

But the most important lesson was simply this:

Global integration may serve that abstraction known as the economy. But it doesn’t always help real, flesh-and-blood people.

The lessons are there. We'll have to wait and see if people around the world are paying attention. 


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brain Damaged

 The Harperites have never liked the courts or judges. Michael Harris writes:

Remember Stephen Harper’s attack on Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin — the one that had her squirmin’ in her ermine? And then there was Dean Del Mastro’s assertion that his guilty verdict on four counts of electoral fraud was only Judge Lisa Cameron’s “opinion.”

The CPC crew has always been happiest being judge in its own cause. It treated the judiciary like interfering busybodies good only for rubber-stamping the government’s agenda, constitutional or otherwise.

So on one level, it’s no surprise to see the Harper appointees who control the Standing Committee on Internal Economy returning at warp speed to a scandal that’s a political shade of kryptonite. They are once again in full-throated pursuit of Senator Mike Duffy for — you guessed it — disputed expense money. Nearly $17,000.

The problem is that Justice Charles Vaillancourt found Duffy's expenses allowable under Senate rules -- something Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, has reiterated:

Bayne points out that this amounts to challenging and attacking Justice Vaillancourt’s finding of facts on those very same impugned expense matters now being regurgitated by the Senate. As Bayne reminds the Clerk of the Standing Committee on Internal Economy in a hand-delivered letter dated June 22, “leading evidence which is inconsistent with findings made in the accused’s favour in a previous proceeding” is precluded from subsequent proceedings. “Thus Justice Vaillancourt’s positive factual findings about all of the impugned expense matters cannot be challenged, attacked or contradicted.”

Justice Vaillancourt had all the evidence available to arrive at his decision. There was no new evidence, as the Standing Committee on Internal Economy originally claimed in their June 8, 2016 letter to Duffy asking for repayment of $16,955 in ineligible expenses.

I have written earlier in this space that perseveration is a symptom of brain damage. One has to wonder if the Conservative caucus in the Senate is brain damaged.


Friday, June 24, 2016

For Good Or Ill

Britain is out. Yesterday was momentous and there is no telling what the consequences will be. But, Andrew Nikiforuk writes, yesterday had everything to do with what he calls, "the misery of bigness:"

Years ago, the great Austrian economist Leopold Kohr argued that overwhelming evidence from science, culture and biology all pointed to one unending truth: things improve with an unending process of division.

The breakdown ensured that nothing ever got too big for its own britches or too unmanageable or unaccountable. Small things simply worked best. 

Kohr pegged part of the problem with bigness as "the law of diminishing sensitivity." The bigger a government or market or corporation got, the less sensitive it became to matters of the neighbourhood.

In the end bigness, just like any empire, concentrated power and delivered misery, corruption and waste.  

Kohr was an iconoclast whose

masterful and humorous work, The Breakdown of Nations, argued the root of most evil lies in big government and big institutions. Whenever power reached it, a critical mass, its wielders, no matter how nice or educated, tended to abuse it. Bigness not only allowed but invited the abuse.   

The only way to stop the cancer of bigness was to return to the modesty of smallness.

"If a society grows beyond its optimum size, its problems must eventually outrun the growth of those human faculties which are necessary for dealing with them," wrote Kohr.

The problem, he added, "is not to grow but to stop growing; the answer not union but division."

Yesterday the Brits put another nail in the coffin of globalization. Despite what its cheerleaders say, it's falling apart. The centre cannot hold -- for good or ill.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Restoring Faith In Environmental Assessments

By the time Stephen Harper left office, no one believed a word of any environmental assessment issued by the federal government. Jason MacLean writes:

In 2012 the Harper government gutted the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Thousands of natural resources projects were exempted from assessments of their potentially significant adverse environmental effects.

Energy projects — including politically charged pipeline proposals — were subjected to far narrower reviews with radically restricted public participation. Fish habitats have been put in serious jeopardy, with 99 per cent of Canada’s rivers and lakes left unprotected.

Summing up the state of Canadian environmental law following the controversial 2012 omnibus amendments, Devon Page, the executive director of Ecojustice, frankly observed that “Canada has some of the worst environmental laws in the world.”

The Trudeau government has declared that it will review all environmental assessment procedures:

Building on its interim measures announced earlier this year, it will appoint expert panels to review the key environmental laws gutted in 2012. They will report back in January 2017, have a mandate to rebuild trust in environmental assessment processes, modernize the National Energy Board and introduce safeguards to the Fisheries Act and Navigation Protection Act.

The government has before it a Herculean task, given the cynicism that Harper left in his wake. For the review to be successful, Maclean writes, three things must happen:

First, the government’s review truly has to be an overhaul, not merely a touch up. With just over 1,000 days until the next election, the government may be tempted to do the bare minimum to declare victory. At a recent meeting of leading environmental assessment practitioners and scholars, for example, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change asked whether there was anything “worth keeping” in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. The answer, no matter how politically inconvenient, is no.

Second, the fundamental assumption underlying environmental assessment must shift from how a proposed project will proceed to whether it proceeds at all. And the way to answer that question is not by mitigating adverse biophysical impacts, but by assessing whether a project will make a net contribution to sustainable development and decarbonization, thereby helping us meet our Paris climate change commitments.

Finally, the government says that public consultation will be the core of its review. It promises a co-ordinated, open and transparent process based on scientific evidence, working in partnership with indigenous peoples, provinces and territories and input from the public, industry and environmental groups. 

Getting agreement on expansion of the CPP took considerable effort. But it will be much more difficult to restore faith in the government's ability to conduct objective environmental assessments.

Image: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Now For The Tough Stuff

It's interesting that one of the loudest voices from the Right is giving the Trudeau government a thumbs up. Michael den Tandt writes:

There was good, bad and more than a bit of ugly in the first sitting of Canada’s 42nd parliament. On balance, however, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are hitting the 2016 BBQ circuit with a breeze at their backs — as much because of how they’ve adjusted to mistakes, as their successes.

There were mistakes and miscues. But the government recognized them -- publicly:

The Liberals have shown themselves nimble enough to adjust on the fly. The same goes for their handling of Bill C-14, the law regulating assisted dying, which was a hot potato foisted on them by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2015 ruling and the Harper government’s refusal to address it.

As I argued last time, the passage of C-14 through the Senate Friday is not only a triumph for the ministers responsible — Health Minister Jane Philpott and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould — but a positive signal about the viability of Trudeau’s new, independent Senate. It has passed its first major test.

Finally, voters who opted for the Liberals last year will note the party promised them three core, bread-and-butter reforms in the campaign: a new Canada Child Benefit, a tax cut for middle-income earners and national pension reform.

It's too early to call the Trudeau government a success. But it's doing politics differently than the previous government. This week's pension deal underscores that fact.

Now for the tough stuff.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Isn't That How Democracy Works?

Despite howling from the Conservatives and the Fraser Institute, Ottawa and the provinces have reached a deal to expand the Canada Pension Plan. A short time ago, such an outcome seemed impossible. However, Canadian Press reports:

Following weeks of talks and an all-day meeting in Vancouver on Monday, finance ministers emerged with the agreement-in-principle.

Even provinces such as Saskatchewan and British Columbia, which had expressed concerns about the timing of CPP reform, had signed on. Only Manitoba and Quebec declined to agree to the terms.

The agreement came together as pollsters pointed to overwhelming popular support for public pension reform amid concerns about the adequacy of retirement savings.

The federal Liberals ran on platform to upgrade the public pension system, as did their Ontario cousins. The result also means Ontario will abandon its project to go it alone with its own pension plan.

Why such an abrupt change in the winds?

Sources familiar with the talks said doubters had concerns about the potential economic impact of boosting the CPP, even at the late stages of negotiations.

They said Ottawa made a major push in the final days and hours, which helped secure enough country-wide support to expand the CPP. To make the change, they needed consent of a minimum of seven provinces representing at least two-thirds of Canada’s population.

The sources also suggested Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself was involved in the extra effort.
On top of that, Ontario, which had been moving forward its more-ambitious pension plan proposal, backed away from its earlier demands that CPP reform should be just as robust.
But, then, isn't that how democracy is supposed to work?


Monday, June 20, 2016

A Pretty Accurate Assessment

Now that the House has risen, Michael Harris has issued Justin Trudeau his report card. He has given Trudeau quite a few A's (or dimes, which we used to get with good marks):

Trudeau gets another dime for keeping the promise to pass legislation on medically assisted dying, despite the political, ethical, and emotional minefield that had to be navigated to pull this off. For all the dark murmuring about Trudeau’s alienation of the Senate, he got Bill C-14 through the Red Chamber without compromising the government’s commitment to retain some limits on access to doctor-assisted suicide.

Who knows? With his arm’s length advisory board recommending merit-based senate nominees, the PM may be well on the way to transforming the Red Chamber into an independent body capable of fulfilling its parliamentary obligations without a constitutional amendment. That’s a lot better than a Senate that played partisan stooge to the PMO’s dark machinations during the Harper years, culminating in the Wright-Duffy fiasco.

Trudeau gets an A+ and a big bag of dimes for each of unmuzzling scientists (with the notable exception of Patricia Sutherland) withdrawing Canadian jets from Iraq and Syria; bringing gender equality to the cabinet table; bringing back the long-form census; and lowering middle-class taxes while creating a new tax bracket on income over $200,000 — all in jig time.

This gives hope that the momentous issues ahead might actually be delivered as promised — the inquiry into missing and murdered native women; a revamped electoral system that will do away with the partisan nonsense that the Tories tried to pass off as democratic reform; the legalization of marijuana; a nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations; the amending of the secret police provisions of Harper’s so-called national security legislation, Bill C-51; a new Health Accord with the provinces, and a national framework for fighting climate change.

But not all of Trudeau's marks win praise at home:

The guy who paddled the Rouge River in Scarborough and then set McDonald’s aflutter by dropping in for a bite, gets a D for leaving Canadian veterans waiting on key elements of his reform plan to undo the damage of the Harper years. Disabled veterans are still awaiting pension reform promises and the reopening of those nine Veterans Assistance Centres closed during the Harper years to help his government “balance” the budget.

The PM gets an F for allowing Harper’s sleazy “future appointments” to stand, largely it seems, from fear of lawsuits that might arise if he cancelled these jammy gigs. For that matter, he gets another F for letting Harper-appointed public servants hang around key departments he must ultimately redirect if he is to fulfill his legislative agenda. Insiders saw stark evidence of that at the climate talks in Paris. Too much retro-Harper think.

He also gets an F for not sending all of the proposed pipeline projects back to square one of the environmental assessment process. For starters, a complete reset was what he promised First Nations, environmental groups, and several British Columbia mayors during the election campaign. But more importantly, Harper had made a mockery of the assessment process and the National Energy Board to the extent that none of its previous decisions can be trusted. They need to be revisited if public confidence is to be restored in how the government green lights major pipeline projects.

And then there's the biggest F of all:

And now for Trudeau’s biggest F — as in FU — the Saudi arms deal. No matter how many tortured political yoga positions adopted by Foreign Affairs minister Stephane Dion, this is a stinker. It is not about Canada keeping its word: it is about Canada abandoning its core values. This is checkbook pragmatism at its worst. This is feeding people to the sharks for money.

The Saudi Royal family makes Henry VIII look like a new-age, sensitive guy. They cut off heads at the drop of a veil. They mete out a thousand lashes for a few words of free expression. They crush the slightest movement toward democracy and they do it with equipment purchased from the Americans — and now from Canada. And if that isn’t enough reason not to sell them armoured vehicles mounted with heavy machine guns, how about the Saudi-led genocidal war against Yemen?

All in all, it strikes me as a pretty accurate assessment.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Making Three Point Shots

Justin Trudeau is changing the rules about how to do politics. Evan Solomon writes:

“We were perhaps behaving in a way that was resembling more the previous government,” Trudeau told stunned reporters as he explained that he would cede to opposition requests to more fairly distribute seats on his electoral reform committee—a sudden and surprising climbdown. Did Trudeau just compare himself to Stephen Harper? Yes, he did. This was after he’d already reversed course on the assisted-dying bill’s Motion 6, which would have limited opposition debate. And after he’d apologized—numerous times—for the infamous elbow incident. Trudeau was just doing what he has done since the campaign: breaking the five cardinal rules of political communication.

Those five cardinal rules -- up until now --  have been:

1. The flip-flop rule: Reversing decisions makes you look indecisive. Stick to your promises or people will stop trusting you.
2. The loser rule: Never repeat your negatives because you end up validating them. It goes without saying that you don’t compare yourself to the man you just defeated.
3. The blabber rule: Once you’re explaining, you’re losing. Keep messages simple.
4. The message-control rule: Never let the opposition or caucus take over the agenda. Leaders control; leaders look strong.
5. The wimp rule: Never give in to the opposition’s criticisms. Their job is to oppose. Your job is to lead.

Trudeau's approach, Solomon writes, is the equivalent of the three point shot in basketball:

Every time Trudeau fades back and launches another of his high-risk moon shots—legalizing pot, pricing carbon, buying navy ships, changing the way elections are won—you think he’s going to fail.

There are misses, for sure, lots of them, as Trudeau is the first to admit. But when he scores, he scores big. The age of political incrementalism, the policy layup shot, is over. Trudeau is breaking the rules and hitting all net.

There are a few other mistakes I'd like to see him admit -- starting with the Saudi arms deal. But, if he admits too many mistakes, his fans may not fill the seats.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Until It Has Had Its Say

Chantal Hebert writes this morning that the battle over Bill C-14 signals a new source of opposition for any Canadian government -- the Senate:

The legislative discussion over bill C-14 is over but the debate over the role of a more independent Senate in the larger parliamentary scheme of things has only just begun. It is already eliciting some diametrically opposed views as to the way forward.

There are two clearly different views about how the Senate should function:

At one extreme, there are those who would invest a more independent upper house with the mission of perfecting the work of their elected colleagues. In their book, a decrease in partisan attachment increases the moral authority of the senate, to the point that it should use the powers vested in it by the Constitution to the fullest — even when it means going against the will of the House of Commons.

But power is intoxicating. Its fumes are addictive. Almost every governing party eventually succumbs to the delusion of believing itself infallible and invincible. The cure usually involves a voter-imposed spell in opposition rehab.

And there's the rub. The Senate is unelected. Recognizing that fact, a majority of senators sent the bill back to the House, with its most controversial clause, "reasonably foreseeable," in tact.

The second theory of how the Senate should operate is also intriguing:

At the other extreme, there are those who feel that a still unelected but more independent Senate is ultimately even less accountable than its previous partisan version. No particular party is responsible for its actions. They argue such a Senate should be content to play the role of if not silent at least always compliant partner to the elected majority in the Commons.

Except that under the current electoral system, a majority government does not de facto speak for a majority of voters, it just speaks for more of them than any other of its opposition rivals.

I suspect this version of how the Senate works will go the way of the Dodo -- thanks to the Mike Duffy trial. The days are gone when the PMO can call the tune and have senators do its bidding.

In fact, the Senate will no longer do any government's bidding -- until it has had its say. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

When Politics Becomes Reality TV

Kevin O'Leary wants to lead the Conservative Party of Canada. But, before they hand him the keys to the kingdom, the Conservatives would do well to examine the fate of another star of reality television -- who is spontaneously combusting. Micheal Harris writes:

Frothing-at-the-mouth populism is face-planting south of the border. The Donald is not only getting the big “F— you Donald Trump” from rocker Neil Young. He’s not only being told that he’s a fascist democracy-killer by the likes of Johnny Depp — in effect, according to the actor, the “last” president of the United States Americans will ever have if they’re foolish enough to elect him. He isn’t just being called out as a fake and a fraud by the Republican establishment, including the party’s last presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

The polls seem to indicate that Young and Depp are not alone in their opinion of Trump:

Despite the Rosie O’Donnell treatment Trump has meted out to Hillary Clinton, the first woman running for the White House in American history leads the Donald by 12 points nationwide. Trump owns a 70 per cent disapproval rating with women; with Mexican Americans, the Donald’s disapproval soars to 89 percent — and when it comes to African Americans, the reality TV star is about as popular as the Zika virus, with a stunning 94 per cent disapproval rating.

And then came Orlando:

Orlando was a train-wreck for Trump. Obama, he hinted, had not taken forceful action to stop domestic terrorism because he sides with Muslim extremists. It was an odd moment — a presidential candidate actually suggesting that a sitting U.S. president was in some way complicit with terrorists — was a traitor. As Bloomberg News reported, that “landed with a thud for the majority of Americans, with 61 per cent disagreeing with that suggestion.”

Trump also displayed what a horse’s ass he is when it comes to informed analysis of world events. In referring to the Orlando shooting, the Donald talked about the danger of allowing “thousands and thousands of Syrians into the country.” But the shooter Omar Mateen was an American citizen, born in Queens, New York. And his parents didn’t come from Syria, but Afghanistan.

You don't have to be smart to make it on Reality TV. You just need to be controversial -- the more the better. And, in the final analysis, everybody loses -- including the star.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

No Referendum

There is a lot of chatter -- particularly from the Conservatives -- about holding a referendum on electoral reform. Gerry Caplan doesn't think a referendum is a good idea. He writes:

To raise issues related to democracy is to raise the question of referendums (or referenda), which are favoured by the Conservatives. They insist only a referendum can legitimize something as fundamental to our democracy as changing our voting system. Presumably the Conservatives also believe a referendum would end up supporting the FPTP status quo, as they themselves do.

But there’s a huge problem here. As any sensible political scientist will attest, the legitimacy of a referendum depends to a substantial extent on the clarity of its language. It must not be too complex or raise issues that most voters will find baffling and thereby diminish the credibility of the result.

Consider the question which was used a few years ago in Ontario:

“Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature?
“The existing electoral system.

“The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional).”

How many Ontarians were really familiar with what the Citizen's Assembly had proposed? The best solution -- after having a fair hearing on the subject in the revamped  parliamentary committee -- is to  choose one system and give it a trial run. If it doesn't work, it can be abandoned or tweaked. If it does work, we should keep it.

Image: the

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Getting To The Bottom Of The Afghan Prisoners Debacle

In May of 2007, The Toronto Star ran a story about how Afghan soldiers -- who had been captured by Canadians -- were being abused in prison. Michael Byers and William Schabas write:

As one detainee told reporter Rosie DiManno, “They whipped me with rubber hoses. Another time, they used a chain to hang me from the ceiling, my head toward the floor.” The same detainee said Canadian officials visited the prison operated by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS), but were never allowed to speak with prisoners.

As the late James Travers wrote, also in this newspaper, the story was part of a “long march into twilight” for Canada. The country that “gave the world Lester Pearson’s peacekeeping and Brian Mulroney’s stand against apartheid” now had to struggle “with Stephen Harper’s apparent blindness to compelling evidence of Afghanistan prisoner abuse.”

Three months later, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission estimated that “one in three prisoners handed over by Canadians are beaten or even tortured.” In March 2007, the U.S. State Department reported that: “Complaints of serious human rights violations committed by representatives of national security institutions, including arbitrary arrest, unconfirmed reports of torture, and illegal detention were numerous.”

Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin was posted in Afghanistan during this period. He wrote 17 separate reports that warned explicitly of torture and were distributed widely within the Departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defence. As Colvin explained when called to testify before a Parliamentary committee, “for a year and a half after they (senior Canadian officials) knew about the very high risk of torture, they continued to order military police in the field to hand our detainees to the NDS.”

The torture of prisoners of war is a war crime:

The Convention Against Torture stipulates that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court specifies that even in “an armed conflict not of an international character,” such as existed in Afghanistan from 2002 onwards, the “cruel treatment and torture” of detainees constitutes a war crime.

The prohibition extends to anyone who knowingly facilitates torture, including by “providing the means for its commission.” For this reason, any soldier who transferred a detainee to a known risk of torture could be guilty of a war crime. Any superior who ordered the transfer of a detainee to a known risk of torture could also be guilty of a war crime. This responsibility extends all the way up the chain of command, including government ministers.

Nevertheless, the Harper government did its level best to sweep all the evidence under the rug -- where it remains to this day. Justin Trudeau seems bent on cleaning out the putrid stable that Stephen Harper left behind. But, so far, he has refused to touch the Afghan detainee issue.

It's time for Trudeau to show us what he's made of. 

Image: the

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Envy Is A Very Unattractive Quality

Canadians are supposed to have a reputation for being polite. But, Robin Sears writes, that stereotype doesn't apply to the Canadian press corps. They are pretty good at stoking class envy:

Rarely a month goes by without some lazy reporter, certain of a front-page story, digging up the shocking total of hotel costs of some well-travelled trade minister, or the abomination of the two bottles of Ontario wine consumed at a “working dinner” with a visiting dignitary. (the quotes conveying always the ‘some work, some dinner!’ sneer).

Lately, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau has been the target of their barbs:

One wonders if the mostly male editorial writers at Canada’s two national newspapers could plausibly claim to be such staunch guardians of the public purse, if they were attacking a First Man and his choice of tailor.

The same gang tried it on Mila Mulroney and Laureen Harper, from time to time. But now they have doubled down.

It's time, Sears writes, to give Sophie her due:

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau happens to be an accomplished, popular and valuable champion of Canada and of several charities, and reportedly, a devoted mother. Are we really going to whinge about the domestic support we provide her in those roles, or the costs of the Canadian designed gowns she wears, or what the cost of the orange juice she consumes might be? It is demeaning, but not of her or her husband.

Come on, let’s drop this veiled sexism and embarrassing class-envy. Let’s be proud of a committed young family, raising their children in the public eye, while attempting to lead the country, and to be exemplars of Canadian values to the world.

Envy is a very unattractive quality.

 Image: mtlblog

Monday, June 13, 2016

It's Later Than We Think

The real battle in the United States won't be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Chris Hedges writes that the real battle is between corporate power and ordinary citizens. And, if ordinary citizens are to win the battle, they must understand their opposition:

The reach and effectiveness of corporate propaganda dwarfs even the huge effort undertaken by Adolf Hitler and Stalin. The layers of deception are sophisticated and effective. News is state propaganda. Elaborate spectacles and forms of entertainment, all of which ignore reality or pretend the fiction of liberty and progress is real, distract the masses.

Education is indoctrination. Ersatz intellectuals, along with technocrats and specialists, who are obedient to neoliberal and imperial state doctrine, use their academic credentials and erudition to deceive the public.

The promises made by the corporate state and its political leaders—we will restore your jobs, we will protect your privacy and civil liberties, we will rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, we will save the environment, we will prevent you from being exploited by banks and predatory corporations, we will make you safe, we will provide a future for your children—are the opposite of reality.

The Citizens United  decision has allowed the corporate elite to establish a huge propaganda machine:

The corporate state, operating a system Sheldon Wolin referred to as “inverted totalitarianism,” invests tremendous sums—$5 billion in this presidential election alone—to ensure that we do not see its intentions or our ultimate predicament.

These systems of propaganda play on our emotions and desires. They make us confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge. They get us to identify with the manufactured personality of a political candidate. Millions wept at the death of Josef Stalin, including many who had been imprisoned in his gulags. There is a powerful yearning to believe in the paternal nature of despotic power.

But, if the Trump and Sanders campaigns prove anything, it's that ordinary citizens are beginning to wake up to the fact that they've been played for chumps. There is some hope. But time is short:

We still have options. Many who work within ruling class structures understand the corruption and dishonesty of corporate power. We must appeal to their conscience. We must disseminate the truth.

Climate change, even if we halt all carbon emissions today, will still bring rising temperatures, havoc, instability and systems collapse to much of the planet.

It's later than we think.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Those Who Could Stop It Remain Silent

In Israel, the voices arrayed against the Netanyahu government are becoming louder. Murray Dobbins writes:

In the space of two days, new critics emerged from within the highest positions of Israel state power. Moshe Ya'alon -- until recently the Israeli Defence Minister -- and Major General Yair Golan, the Israeli army's deputy chief of staff, confirmed what many of Israel's most vociferous (and vilified) critics have been saying for years: that Israel is heading down the road of extremism and racism.

Golan issued a warning that linked attitudes and actions in pre-war Germany with trends in Israel today. ''It's scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here,'' he said.

And political commentator Michael  Brizon has entered the fray:

Israeli political commentator Michael Brizon, who writes under the pseudonym B. Michael, concluded the failure of Western governments to criticize what is happening in Israel is itself a new form of anti-Semitism. Writing in a Haaretz op-ed titled ''Yet Again the Jewish People Face Great Danger and the World Is Silent,'' Brizon lamented the fact that the greatest danger to Israel is now from within, not from its traditional enemies. ''With our very own hands, we anointed the Huns who rule over us."

The irony for Michael is palpable: Israel's promise has been lost, he wrote, and ''all that remains is a big mouth, brandished fist, and endless hidden hatred, militarism, paganism, and self-righteousness. And the world is silent.''

That silence is what terrifies Michael: ''...if you persist in your silence, you indifferent world, that will be categorical proof that you really are anti-Semitic, exactly as we've always been told.''

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, is not bothered by Netanyahu's policies:

As if to prove the point, just days after this piece was published, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order intended to punish companies and groups that join the BDS campaign -- the Boycott, Divest, Sanction campaign to peacefully pressure Israel to comply with international law and recognize Palestinian rights.

''If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you,'' Cuomo said. Officials have been directed to compile a list of companies and groups that have signed on to the BDS campaign.

The Trudeau government is also opposed to the BDS movement.

The Holocaust happened because those who could have stopped it remained silent.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Different Folks, Different Rules

The Isle of Man tax avoidance scheme is nothing new. Linda McQuaig reminds her readers that Brian Mulroney cut the same kind of deal with the CRA:

The riveting image of the former prime minister accepting wads of cash from a notorious lobbyist — admitted by Mulroney under cross-examination at a 2009 public inquiry — was so eye-popping that it completely eclipsed another fascinating aspect of the story: the sweetheart tax deal Mulroney got from the Canada Revenue Agency after he failed to report the cash.

Although Mulroney had hidden the cash payments (totalling $225,000) from tax authorities for six years, his lawyers managed to cut a deal that allowed the former PM to avoid any fines or penalties, and only required him to pay half the taxes he would have paid if he’d obeyed the tax laws — laws that chumps like you and me are legally obliged to obey.

And the treatment of Mulroney wasn't exceptional -- for the wealthy:

The KPMG scam is undoubtedly just the tip of a gigantic tax-avoidance iceberg. Canadians for Tax Fairness, a labour-sponsored group, calculates Canada loses more than $7 billion a year in revenue due to wealthy individuals and corporations using tax havens.

Under the Harper government, this sort of tax avoidance by the rich tended to be viewed as a benign activity, a victimless crime, part of the notion that taxes are inherently bad. But, of course, that’s only true if you’re willing to go without schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, pensions and other public goods that require tax revenue.

The flourishing, highly lucrative tax avoidance business can also be blamed for the complexity of the tax system, so frequently bemoaned by right-wingers.

The folks Leona Helmsley called "the little people" have their taxes withdrawn with every pay cheque. It's their paper trail and they can't hide it. The wealthy have become very good at hide and seek. It's time the Trudeau government declared that different rules for different folks is no longer government policy. And the new policy has to have teeth. 


Friday, June 10, 2016

Conservative Hypocrisy

On Sunday, when NDP MP Nikki Ashton tweeted that she was heading south to stump for Bernie Sanders, Conservative commentators were up in arms. Michael Harris writes:

But what (Conservative supporters wanted to know) was a Canadian MP doing knocking on doors with campaign workers stumping for a U.S. presidential candidate? Ashton told CBC that Sanders embodied the NDP’s own leftist politics. “I believe we can learn from the kind of work that they’re doing, the bold ideas they’re putting forward, the ways in which they’re engaging and inspiring people.”

Still, those on the blue end of the political spectrum fumed. The House of Commons was sitting and there was very important legislation hanging by a thread in the Senate, from the assisted dying bill to the RCMP union debate. So what was Ashton doing in Fargo?

For the most part, Ashton parried the blows skillfully. She explained that she paid for her own trip and that the House does not sit on Sundays — the day she was in Fargo. She was back in Ottawa on Monday in time for question period. She told the National Post that she found many similarities between North Dakota and her riding in Manitoba. Her father Steve Ashton went with her. (The former NDP MLA has time on his hands since losing the seat he has held since 1981 in the recent Manitoba provincial election that saw the Progressive Conservatives win a majority.)

There was no mention, of course, of Stephen Harper's recent visit to Las Vegas, where Republican money man Sheldon Adelson convened a conference on healing a divided political party:

Just how political was the event Harper attended in Las Vegas? You be the judge. Harper’s old advisor, American political guru Arthur Finkelstein — the guy who taught the National Citizens Coalition the art of the political attack ad — was in attendance. Trump himself was invited to speak at the RJC gathering where Harper spoke, although the GOP’s answer to Elmer Gantry declined to attend. Adelson has pledged $100 million to get Trump and other Republicans elected, and Trump in turn has renounced his earlier position of neutrality in the Israeli/Palestinian standoff. He now not only supports Israel’s illegal settlements, he favors their expansion.

 Harper himself tweeted that he was in Las Vegas to support Israel — a handy way of denying he was there providing the campaigning Republican Party with political advice during a presidential election year. He wrote on April 10, 2016: “Thanks all for a great weekend in support of Israel.” Influential American Rabbi Shmuel “Shmuley” Boteach tweeted photos of Harper at the event, with the caption, “The Jewish community and @RJC honoring the great prime minister of Canada Stephen Harper – a great friend of Israel.”
There are three different stories to account for the former PM’s second trip to Las Vegas: Harper was advising a Republican fundraising group on how to unite their divided party, or he was there “exclusively “ to support Israel, or (if you don’t like either of those narratives) the RJC was honoring the former prime minister. Which was true? Perhaps all three. While in office, Harper behaved exactly like a northern Republican.

Harper didn't have to be paid a lot for his services. Besides his salary as an MP, he will do very well when he retires:

Harper collects his MP salary of $167,400 even though he has not participated in debate in the House of Commons since he lost power, and only shows up in Parliament to vote. Besides catching the odd matinee, or browsing in the business book section at Chapters, he has found time to join the Ranchmen’s Club of Calgary and the Calgary Petroleum Club, where he will rub shoulders with his favorite people — oil executives.

Harper has earned over four million dollars from taxpayers so far, has had free transportation and has stayed in some pretty nice public housing. If he lives to an average age, he will receive almost $10 million from taxpayers, according to the Huffington Post.

Apparently, political defeat has done nothing to dampen Conservative hypocrisy.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Put It Out Of Its Misery

Tom Friedman believes that the Republican Party is morally bankrupt. He wrote this week in the New York Times, that it should be blown up and reconstructed from scratch:

Today’s G.O.P. is to governing what Trump University is to education — an ethically challenged enterprise that enriches and perpetuates itself by shedding all pretense of standing for real principles, or a truly relevant value proposition, and instead plays on the ignorance and fears of the public.

It is just an empty shell, selling pieces of itself to the highest bidders, — policy by policy — a little to the Tea Party over here, a little to Big Oil over there, a little to the gun lobby, to antitax zealots, to climate-change deniers. And before you know it, the party stands for an incoherent mess of ideas unrelated to any theory of where the world is going or how America actually becomes great again in the 21st century.

It becomes instead a coalition of men and women who sell pieces of their brand to whoever can most energize their base in order for them to get re-elected in order for them to sell more pieces of their brand in order to get re-elected.

The United States needs two parties to function democratically:

America needs a healthy two-party system. America needs a healthy center-right party to ensure that the Democrats remain a healthy center-left party. America needs a center-right party ready to offer market-based solutions to issues like climate change. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense gun laws. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense fiscal policy. America needs a center-right party to support both free trade and aid to workers impacted by it. America needs a center-right party that appreciates how much more complicated foreign policy is today, when you have to manage weak and collapsing nations, not just muscle strong ones.

But cowardice is the hallmark of today's GOP. None of the party's leaders will take on Donald Trump:

All top G.O.P. leaders say they will still support Donald Trump — even if he’s dabbled in a “textbook definition” of racism, as House Speaker Paul Ryan described it — because he will sign off on their agenda and can do only limited damage given our checks and balances.

Really? Mr. Speaker, your agenda is a mess, Trump will pay even less attention to you if he is president and, as Senator Lindsey Graham rightly put it, there has to be a time “when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”

Like an old dog who's hips haven't given out, the Grand Old Party should be put out of its misery. What succeeds it is up to those who have the courage to reject Mr. Trump as the party's presidential candidate. 


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Prime Ministers And The Press

Yesterday, Lawrence Martin provided an historical review of the relationship between prime ministers and the press. And, while Justin Trudeau's appearance at last week's Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner was hailed as a tour de force, Martin writes that we shouldn't expect the camaraderie to last:

In one campaign, John Turner got filmed giving a couple of women friendly pats on the posterior. It became a national sensation. The media labelled his campaign plane Derri-Air. Brian Mulroney tried getting along with the media but got in trouble over such weighty affairs of state as the platoon of Gucci loafers adorning his allegedly two-acre wardrobe chamber.

On his anti-social calendar, Mackenzie King described the press gallery dinner as his most unpleasant outing of the year. Jean Chrétien’s folksy charm worked for a while with the press but he fumed at Shawinigate coverage. Pierre Trudeau soured on gallery dinners after one in which a bevy of half-smashed scribes pelted his table with buns.

Inevitably, prime ministers determine, though often it is their own folly that is the cause, that the media are biased against them. Justin Trudeau may be even more apt to feel set upon than his father. In Pierre Trudeau’s era, the press was more liberal. Today, the fellow who runs the great mass of print media in the country is an avowed conservative, Postmedia’s Paul Godfrey. Though not the force it used to be, print still factors heavily in the national discussion and never have conservatives been in control of more major newspapers.

Our democracy would be in trouble if camaraderie between our leaders and the press were the order of the day. However, it is refreshing when -- for one night of the year -- politicians and ink stained wretches can have the courage to laugh at themselves.

And it's also a sign of a healthy -- not a toxic -- democracy. 


Tuesday, June 07, 2016

World Of Wonders!

Over the weekend, the Swiss held a referendum in which they rejected a proposal for a guaranteed annual income. Andrew Coyne writes:

The model on which the Swiss voted was at the outer limits of what anyone has imagined a basic income could or should entail. At 2,500 Swiss francs a month (about $40,000 a year) for every man, woman and child in the country, the gross cost of such a program in Canada would come to about $1.4 trillion, or more than two-thirds of our gross domestic product. Even netting out the money not spent on the programs it replaced, the Swiss plan was reckoned to cost a quarter of GDP in additional taxes. No wonder voters rejected it. 

But that doesn't mean a guaranteed annual income is a bad idea. And, interestingly, Coyne rejects the traditional conservative argument that a GAI would increase the likelihood of "moral hazard" by encouraging people to do nothing:

One of the oddest objections to the basic income idea, in this light, is that it might reduce work incentives. Whatever minimal inducement to idleness there may be in, say, a $10,000 annual income guarantee, it is trivial compared to the benefits of cutting implicit tax rates to 20 or 25 per cent. Neither is a basic income needed as a substitute for wage labour, as some advocates contend: robots are no more likely to make humans obsolete in the 21st century than threshing machines did in the 18th.

Coyne does make the traditional conservative argument that a guaranteed annual income would streamline the cornucopia of government programs:

OK, so maybe a one-size-fits-all basic income guarantee is out of reach, at least at one go. It’s still possible to move in that direction, one piece at a time. Indeed, we already have what amount to basic income guarantees for children in the new Canada Child Benefit (combining the old Universal Child Care Benefit, the Canada Child Tax Benefit and the National Child Benefit Supplement) and the elderly, via Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. The federal Working Income Tax Benefit is a basic income for the working-age population, in embryonic form.

Could the WITB be merged with OAS/GIS, the basic personal exemption, other federal and provincial tax credits, and provincial social assistance programs to create a universal adult income guarantee? In principle, certainly. Would it be worth some additional cost? Again, yes: ensuring no one goes without, while restoring work incentives and granting greater choice in public services, would seem one of the best uses of public funds imaginable.

It's intriguing to see conservatives like Coyne and Hugh Segal argue for a guaranteed annual income. World of Wonders!


Monday, June 06, 2016

The Future Belongs To The Independents

Bill C-14 has gone to the Senate. Who knows what will happen to it there? A clue can be found in independent senator Frances Lankin's email to several of her colleagues:

“For your information, I intend to submit amendments to; 1) establish another review process focusing on Informed Consent and the social conditions and social determinants of health issues that can limit peoples’ real options and lead them to considering MAID because other alternatives of support are not available…and 2) to establish an end date for the reviews of eighteen months from the date of commencement…I will continue to discuss Senators Cowan and Carignan’s amendments with them (and engage Andre and Murray) and will let you all know how that is proceeding. Frances”

Michael Harris writes that the Trudeau government is passing legislation to independent senators to stick handle through the Senate:

The same strategy is being followed with Bill C-7, the RCMP union bill, which would give the Mounties the right to collective bargaining. That bill is being carried in the Senate by former Liberal, and now independent senator, Larry Campbell. Another new independent appointee, Sen. Andre Pratte, is likewise steering the government’s Air Canada bill through the Red Chamber. As one senator put it to me, “In all cases, the newbies are being given a chance to shine.”

The independent senators know they are the wave of the future. But they also realize they are being discriminated against by the traditional factions still in control of the Senate. In a June 1, 2016 letter to Sen. Donald Plett, Chair of the Selection Committee, Sen. Elaine McCoy, demanded fair representation on Senate committees for Independent senators.

That's where the battle has been joined -- between the newbies and senators who are used to operating in the time honoured fashion. It will be interesting to see how that battle ends.


Sunday, June 05, 2016

When People Know What They're Buying

When the Trudeau government agreed last week to adopt an NDP motion which populates the election reform committee on the basis of the votes each party received in the last election, it set up a working model of proportional representation. Andrew Coyne writes:

Strictly speaking, it does not matter whether a majority of the members of the special parliamentary committee on electoral reform are Liberals, or whether a majority are drawn from the opposition parties. The committee may be tasked with consulting the public, studying different models of reform, and advising the government how to proceed, but nothing says the government has to accept its recommendations.

On the other hand, symbolism matters in politics. Whatever influence the committee has will rely less on its formal authority than its moral authority, depending on how genuinely it is seen to have consulted, how warmly its recommendations are received — and how legitimate the committee itself is perceived as being.

The committee will give Canadians an accurate notion of how proportional representation works. And, if it works well, the going should get easier:

The whole issue of electoral reform is rooted in the divergence, common under the first past the post system, between the parties’ representation in the House and their share of the popular vote. If the Liberals’ rhetoric about the current system “distorting the will of the electorate” exposed them to ridicule for having set up the committee along those same distorted lines, the committee as now designed is a working model of proportional representation, “a lab rat,” as Conservative commentator David McLaughlin has put it, “for how PR might work in the House of Commons.”

 It's impossible to predict how things will work out. However,

already the possibilities are intriguing. A majority on the committee could be formed by any combination of the Liberals and the Conservatives (with three votes) or the NDP (with two) — or both the Bloc Québécois and the Greens, each of whom has one vote. Assume for the moment that the popular assumptions about each party’s position are true: the NDP and the Greens favouring PR, the Conservatives and the Bloc the status quo, while the Liberals plump for ranked ballots. Do the Liberals work out a deal with the NDP, some sort of hybrid of PR and ranked ballots? Do the Conservatives cut their own deal, perhaps with the Liberals, perhaps with the NDP, offering to vote for either’s preferred reform in return for the referendum the Tories hope will kill it?

Whatever happens, it's always easier to sell something -- and generate return business -- when people know what they're buying.


Saturday, June 04, 2016

From the Tiger's Back To The Tiger's Belly

Our last two prime ministers surfed to power on populist waves. But neither man was a populist. Susan Delacourt writes:

With the arrival of Justin Trudeau and his new government this past year, Canadians seem to be caught in some ambivalence about populism.

Trudeau may be popular, but he’s not populist. No Canadian would confuse him with Mr. Everyman, even if he held some ordinary jobs in his past: teacher, bouncer, snowboard instructor. He grew up at 24 Sussex Dr., rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Queen and Ronald Reagan, and since becoming prime minister, he’s been cultivating a reputation as an international celebrity.

It’s actually been striking to see how Trudeau has been so deliberately non-populist. Even before he moved into the job his father used to hold, Trudeau didn’t seem to be fussed about reminding Canadians that he enjoyed a higher-than-average income and lifestyle. 

And, while Stephen Harper was good at stoking populist anger, he was himself an elitist:

Harper did the whole hockey-dad, guy-from-the-suburbs routine while he was prime minister, but the fact is that he wasn’t like most Canadians, before or during his time running the country. He spent most of his career in politics, he was above average in intelligence and he didn’t have a lot of time for friendship.

Harper wouldn’t be the first name to come to mind in those poll questions about which politician you’d like to meet over beer or coffee. (Harper drank neither.) “I can’t even get my friends to like me,” Harper joked in his eulogy for the late finance minister Jim Flaherty.

Nonetheless, Harper played the populism card successfully through several elections, casting his Liberal rivals as Starbucks-swilling elites. Nowhere was this more evident than in the contest with then leader Michael Ignatieff, whose international reputation and Harvard experience were transformed into a political liability. 

In the United States, a man who is certainly no populist plans to ride a wave of populist anger all the way to the White House:

Donald Trump is a billionaire, a very un-average American, riding a wave of populist anger, some of it directed at privileges for the wealthy in the United States. Income inequality is a growing problem in the U.S., but it seems that the contest this fall is likely to be a choice between two of the richest people in the country: Trump and Hillary Clinton. It all tells us that populism is an extremely unpredictable force in politics, operating against logic or even its own rules. Populism can be forgiving of political errors, or brutally unforgiving, too.

The man or woman who rides a populist wave rides on the back of a tiger. He or she can quickly discover that they have moved from the tiger's back to the tiger's belly. It happened to Stephen Harper. It could happen to Justin Trudeau. And who knows what will happen to Donald Trump?


Friday, June 03, 2016

How We Take Our Leave

Tom Walkom has a must read column in today's Toronto Star. The contentious debate over Bill C-14, he writes, is about much more than the right to die. It's also about the right to live:

If government has any role in this life and death matter it is not to ensure that as many as possible exercise their right to die. Rather it is to create conditions that would allow as many as possible to keep on living.

The right to death is not the same as other rights. Unlike, say, the right to free speech, it is irrevocable.

Those exercising free speech rights can reverse themselves later. Those exercising death rights cannot. Death is a one-way ticket.

Canadian society recognizes this when it comes to suicide. Suicide is seen as a tragedy. We devote medical resources to psychiatrists and others in the hope that they can talk people out of suicide. We involuntarily commit to hospital those deemed at risk of harming themselves.

In Toronto, special fences exist along the Bloor-Danforth viaduct to deter would-be suicides from hurling themselves into the Don Valley.

In short, while suicide is legal in Canada, society does everything it can to convince those weary of life from taking this extreme measure.

Moreover, he points out, the debate occurs as Canada wrestles with how to deal with an aging population:

In Belgium, according to government statistics, 75 per cent of those who take advantage of voluntary euthanasia are between the ages of 60 and 89.

It is no coincidence that Canada’s debate over voluntary euthanasia comes as this country struggles over how to pay for the costs associated with an aging population. We may decry death, but it is the cheapest solution.

Palliative care is not cheap. But I watched my mother die in palliative care a little over a year ago; and I was impressed with how she was treated in her final days. Jim Morrison wrote -- quite rightly -- that nobody gets out of here alive. That fact is undeniable. The debate is really about how we take our leave.