Thursday, December 29, 2011

Quebec Awaits

It has been remarkable how sanguine political commentators have been about the place of Quebec in Stephen Harper's Canada. Back in August, in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson wrote:

The fading of Quebec in federal politics is not a temporary event. It has been going on for years and will continue for years to come.

If the federalist answer to Quebec separatism is to enmesh Quebec within the federal fabric, that answer is failing.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the province will settle into its own parallel universe and quietly let the rest of Canada -- read  "the Harper government" -- go its own way.

But Robert Asselin writes that Quebec is a land of unfulfilled expectations. Even though a new provincial party, the Coalition pour l'avenir du Quebec -- the Coalition for Quebecs's Future (CAQ) -- and an official NDP opposition promised a brighter future for Quebec, not much has happened:

Under the weak political leadership of Nicole Turmel, the inexperienced NDP caucus fumbled, offering a mediocre parliamentary performance. On the most important issues, the NDP was unable to get traction on most attacks they launched against the government, leaving Prime Minister Harper almost alone on the ice.

On issues that were crucial to Quebecers, they were invisible. To make sure Quebec’s opposition to the Conservatives’ omnibus crime bill (C-10) was heard, Quebec Justice Minister had to come to Ottawa to denounce it. On the appointment of unilingual anglophones to the Supreme Court and Auditor General positions, the NDP was remarkably inefficient. People who thought this new cohort of NDP MPs would bring some edge and renewal in Ottawa are now perplexed.

As for the CAQ, Asselin writes that the party's leader, Francois Legualt, is more of a beancounter than a leader. His "accountant’s instincts outshadow his visionary pulses."

So the powers-that-be have concluded that Quebec has gone back to sleep. Those who have reached that conclusion are profoundly ignorant of life in la belle province. It is precisely when Quebec is "sleeping" that revolution is brewing.

Those who ignore Quebec do so at their peril.

Just a brief postscript. My wife and I will be gone for the next couple of days to attend our son's wedding. I'll be back posting in the new year. Happy New Year to all. Bonne annee a tout le monde!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Canada's John Bolton

John Bolton, the former American Ambassador to the United Nations, once quipped that:

There's no such thing as the United Nations. If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.

And for that bit of folderol, George Bush sent him there. John Baird, whose name will live in infamy at the UN, has another way of putting it:

"Listen, I mean, we don't go along to get along. That's just not a phrase."

But it is a phrase -- which Baird only adopted after Canada lost its bid  for a seat on the Security Council. It was only then that "the Harper government" discovered that giving the world a middle finger salute has consequences. They then retreated the the defence that they stood on principle. But the world had figured out early that the Harper regime stood for profit, not principle.

So, Mr.Baird declared yesterday that Canada would not stand for a Security Council seat this year. Why be embarrassed yet again? Why be exposed -- again -- as the hypocrites they are?

One wonders if Baird calls Bolton for advice.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

To The Right, March!

In his review of the year which has almost ended, Lawrence Martin writes:

In 2011, Canada took its sharpest turn right in its history. It will go down as the year of transformation in Canadian politics, the year when the political right gained unprecedented control, when the traditionally dominant centre was hollowed out and when the party of the left, for the first time, became the country’s official opposition.

That observation will stand the test of time. The question is, was 2011 an aberration or an omen of things to come?

Many Canadians have been shocked by Harper's ascendancy. And some of those who are no longer with us must be in turmoil. Martin writes:

This Prime Minister’s rightward trajectory no doubt has Pierre Trudeau rolling over in his grave, which is exactly what Mr. Harper wishes. Old Tories like Robert Stanfield are probably doing the same.

And some of those who are still with us are not happy. Jean Chretien certainly isn't. And, although he's never said so publicly, one gets the distinct impression that Brian Mulroney isn't, either.

The real question is how long it will take Canadians to cotton on to the fact that they've been had. The election results suggest that 60% of Canadians aren't buying what Stephen Harper is selling. That makes no difference to the prime minister, of course.

But opposition is building. It's coming from the courts -- who recently struck down the Conservatives' plan for a national securities regulator. And  it's coming from the provinces -- who will not take the death of the gun registry or the government's plan to defund medicare lying down.

Last but not least, I suspect that the Harperites will rue the day they threw Helena Geurgis out of the party. Whatever her faults -- and they are glaring -- she will get her revenge.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Unleashing The Ugly

Conservatism, like Dr. Jekyll, has undergone an ugly transformation. Those who claim that mantle these days say they stand for liberty. However, they have long forgotten Edmund Burke's caveat: "But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint."

And, on the subject of restraint, they have also forgotten Burke's dictum: "I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business."

Instead, they have turned to Ayn Rand, who confidently proclaimed: "If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject." For Rand, selfishness was a virtue. The central problem each human being faced, she wrote, was simple: "The question isn't who is going to let me;  it's who is going to stop me."  

And these days, the question of who is going to stop me is particularly important when one considers the problem of truth telling. In Canada, Stephen Harper's Conservatives have implied that Irwin Cotler -- who made an international reputation helping Soviet Jews emigrate to Israel -- is a closet Anti-Semite.

In the United States, Newt Gingrich has accused Barack Obama of being "the best food stamp president in history."  Mitt Romney has resorted to a flat out falsehood:

“President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing — the government.”

Presumably, that is why Wall Street and General Motors have recovered so nicely -- and why corporations are sitting on so much cash.

The simple truth is that today's Conservatives are not conservatives. They are radical libertarians, who have unleashed some ugly demons. It's time for truth in advertising.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dickens For The 21st Century

Every year, as Christmas approaches, I think again of A Christmas Carol. The world has always been opposed to the idea of Christmas -- unless it can be turned into a money making proposition. If Christmas can serve the ends of business, by all means, it should be celebrated.

But, as Marley's exasperated ghost reminded Scrooge: "BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business!" The common welfare has always been under attack by the forces of greed  -- no more so than in the last three decades -- when those forces have established well protected bunkers in both Ottawa and Washington.

And, all too often, religion and capitalism have formed a noisy alliance -- like the chains Marley's ghost dragged around with him. The result has been an assumed Divine Sanction, wherein Christianity is proclaimed to be on the side of the wealthy. That is why the Ghost of Christmas Present warned Scrooge:

There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."

That alliance has produced darkness -- the perfect metaphor for ignorance. If there is a common theme among many of those who stand for office these days, it is how little they know. "Darkness is cheap," Dickens wrote, "and Scrooge liked it."

Scrooge's journey is from darkness to light -- from ignorance to wisdom. For one hundred and sixty years, readers and audiences have cheered when he finally gets the point his ghostly visitors have been trying to teach him:

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.

Once again, hope dictates that we must not shut out the lessons that they teach.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hell Hath No Fury

When Helena Geurgis melted down almost two years ago at the Charlottetown Airport, she received little sympathy. When she was asked to take off her boots for a security screening, she exploded. According to The Toronto Star:

Guergis "slammed her boots into the bin" provided by security personnel and then, according to the account, said to one of the airport staff: "Happy f---ing birthday to me. I guess I'm stuck on this hellhole."

It was a typically Harperian response to what she perceived as a problem. But, when Geurgis's husband -- former MP Rahim Jaffer -- got into trouble last year, Harper moved quickly to cut all ties with her. He kicked her out of the cabinet and the party and he called in the RCMP to investigate Geurgis's suspected criminal behaviour. He did not ask her to resign, pending the investigation. He simply made her persona non-grata. Some called that strong leadership.

But even Conrad Black -- who at the time was having his own legal troubles -- argued that Geurgis should be accorded due process:

I know something of the presumption of guilt, the pre-emptive strike on a person’s reputation and the media lynch mob. Let those who defamed Ms. Guergis, sacked her from Cabinet, expelled her from the Conservative caucus, disqualified her for renomination and selected another candidate in her place — let them tell us why they did this. Not a word of alleged misconduct has followed this defenestration, beyond vague grumbling about her husband’s touting himself as a contact with MPs, not an offence and not imputable to his wife.

And that really is the issue. Following on the Conservatives acknowledged "reprehensible" treatment of Irwin Cotler, and his duly noted "contempt" for Parliament, Geurgis' lawsuit once again puts Stephen Harper in a highly unflattering spotlight.

One should expect that the spin machine which blackened the names of Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff will rev up yet again. But this time the arena is the courts, not the House of Commons. And, as the Supreme Court illustrated yesterday, they are places where Mr. Harper can be outvoted.

More than that, when Ms. Geurgis puts you in her sights, life can become very unpleasant. Hell hath no fury like her.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lies and Damned Lies

The Harper Conservatives refused to admit that they were spreading misinformation when they told the constituents of Mount Royal that Irwin Cotler's retirement was imminent. But the prime minister claims that opponents of the Tar Sands are spreading misinformation about Canada's gold producing tar pit. As Michael Harris writes at iPolitics:

As proof, he said that Alberta’s bitumen is no dirtier than other heavy oil. This tawdry piece of sophistry completely disregards the real comparison his words so carefully avoid – the relative emissions from conventional versus tar-sands oil from well to refinery.

But, as when he was confronted with crime statistics or the long form census, facts have absolutely no relevance for the man who likes to call himself an economist:

As the European Union discovered before issuing its Directive on Fuel Quality that eschewed Alberta bitumen, tar-sands oil is 22% dirtier than conventional oil, emitting 107 grams per megajoule of CO2 equivalents as compared to 87.5 grams from light, sweet crude. The corporate Tories and their enabling army of flat-earther, climate-change deniers may seethe, but the science is what it is.

How can one justify such a blatant lie? Well, like Conrad's Mr. Kurtz, perhaps Stephen Harper is hollow at his core. Or perhaps Gerry Caplan has it right:

Like the American conservatives whom the Harperites so envy, our government has concocted a new reality of its own that it is systematically imposing on the Canadian people. The values and moral code of Mr. Harper’s new Canada are clear.

Whatever the reason, what comes so confidently from Mr Harper's mouth usually has no relation to the facts. There are lies and damned lies. Increasingly, the Harper government  shows a fondness for the latter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Man Who Hated Health Care

Anyone who has followed Stephen Harper's political career should not be surprised by Jim Flaherty's take it or leave it offer to the provinces. And those who fear for the future of medicare should recall what Stephen Harper has said in the past. Back in 1997, as President of the National Citizens Coalition, Harper declared that: "It's past time the feds scrapped the Canada Health Act."

It was all part of Harper's take on the country. Universal public health care was a sign of Canada's second rate status:

Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status, led by a second-world strongman appropriately suited for the task.

Like his promises to kill the long gun registry and to get tough on crime, Harper intends to eventually get rid of medicare. Flaherty's ultimatum, Thomas Walkom writes, is the first step:

Stage two has not yet been announced. But it is intriguing to see that Ottawa still wants to continue talking to the provinces about health, even as it insists that the main topic of contention — money — is non-negotiable.

What will they talk about? My guess is “flexibility.” Having warned the provinces that he plans to eventually starve them of cash, Prime Minister Stephen Harper can now tell the premiers that he’ll turn a blind eye if they try to make up this shortfall through creative solutions — even if such solutions (delisting of all but core services? user fees?) run directly counter to the letter and spirit of medicare.

For Harper, talk of flexibility is merely a smokescreen to hide his long held intention. It is all part of his long term plan to remake the country. The prime minister refused to follow his father's wishes and become an accountant. But he has no qualms about putting accountants in charge of the country. And what was that about a "second world strongman?"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Leadership By Bean Counter

 In his academy award winning film, Roger and Me, Michael Moore documented what happened to the world's largest corporation after a bean counter was put in charge. After Stephen Harper tore up the Kelowna Accord, he called on Sheila Fraser to audit Canada's native communities. Lawrence Martin writes this morning that Ms. Fraser smelled a rat:

Ms. Fraser’s department had done a report before the Tories came to power showing that an average band produces close to 200 reports a year. If the bands didn’t file audited financial statements, their funding was cut off or delayed. The AG’s office thought that for any government to pretend it didn’t know where the money was being spent was foolhardy. There was likely some abuse, but no more or less than most other organizations.

The Conservatives’ motivation in pushing for the band audits was political, the AG’s office suspected. They wanted to score points with their base and the chiefs were an easy target. 

Having been stiffed by the recently retired Ms. Fraser, Mr. Harper has returned to his original game plan. Come hell or high water, his government will rely on bean counters as their first line of defence in its dealing with Canada's first nations.

Attawapiskat is the tip of the iceberg -- an iceberg which has only increased in size and complexity over more than a hundred years. If Stephen Harper thinks that the solution to the problem lies in appointing talented bean counters to solve it, he should consider the recent history of General Motors.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Is Keynesian Economics Dead?

Robert Samuelson asks that question -- and gives his answer -- in this morning's Washington Post:

Governments have ceded power to bond markets by decades of shortsighted behavior. The political bias is to favor short-term stimulus (by lowering taxes and raising spending), which is popular, and to ignore long-term deficits (by cutting spending and raising taxes), which is unpopular. Debt has risen to hazardous levels, undermining Keynesian economics as taught in standard texts.

Were Keynes alive now, he would almost certainly acknowledge the limits of Keynesian policies. High debt complicates the analysis and subverts the solutions. What might have worked in the 1930s offers no panacea today.

The problem with the austerity solution is that when governments slash spending, they also decrease government revenues -- and deficits continue to balloon. Austerity has not improved Greece's financial situation; just as it did nothing to cure Japan's decades long slump. It's an old story. By focusing on the forest, policy makers don't see the trees. Austerity does not create growth.

It's true that bond markets possess more power than they warrant. One needs only to recall that Moody's, Standard and Poor's and Fitch's rated those sliced and diced mortgages -- which so enriched Wall Street  --  as gold plated investment opportunities. The real question policy makers should ask is, "Why do  the bond raters still have any credibility?" Instead, we kneel before them, humbly seeking their approval.

Debt is a problem. But austerity now makes the problem worse.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Our Third World

Anyone who has been to a northern reserve knows that Attawapiskat is not an aberration. Bob Rae is right. Northern native communities  are "our third world." And it's most revealing that  the Harper government's first response to the tragedy at Attawapiskat was, as Tim Harper wrote last week, to "send in an accountant." When faced with a crisis, Stephen Harper only has three responses: send in an accountant, send in the troops and -- if those two strategies don't work -- prorogue Parliament. Imagination is not this prime minister's strong suit.

And, if Harper does meet with people, it's on his own ground. He'll talk to Canada's native peoples in Ottawa. But, although he is fond of visiting the north, he does not visit native reserves. The Red Cross has been there and seen it all before. According to John Saunders, the Red Cross's Ontario Director for Disaster Management:

“Some of the living conditions here with the shacks that we’re seeing here are pretty extreme,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s certainly not unusual to many [aboriginal] communities across the country.”

Rae says it's time for Stephen Harper to visit Attawapiskat and other native reserves. It's time to show the people who live in the North -- which Harper vows to staunchly defend -- a little respect.

I don’t think he has a great deal of credibility with the people who are living here, or the people who are living in a great many other northern communities, because this is not about planes flying by or about defending the north from the Russians,” he said.

“This is about defending the north from poverty, from terrible conditions in terms of housing and poor substandard education.”

Harper, says Rae, “has to wear this thing, he has to take personal responsibility for what’s happened.” Don't expect the prime minister to do that. He's much better at pointing fingers than taking responsibility. But, as Harry Truman used to say, the buck stops on his desk. And Harper claims to know the value of a dollar.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Punishing the Young

At Durban two weeks ago, a young woman rose and addressed the delegates:

I speak for more than half the world’s population,” declared Anjali Appadurai of Maine’s College of the Atlantic. “We are the silent majority. You’ve given us a seat in this hall, but our interests are not at the table. What does it take to get a stake in this game? Lobbyists? Corporate influence? Money?”

Out of the mouth of babes. Conservatives howl that we are burdening our children with a mountain of debt. But they will not lift a finger to stop the crisis that will engulf us all. Thomas Homer Dixon writes in this morning's Globe and Mail:

The climate negotiators lie to each other and the world when they claim the world can still limit the planet’s warming to two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, the point at which many experts believe the risks from climate change rise sharply.

It’s a lie because we’ve already experienced 0.8 degrees warming, and we’ve got at least another 0.6 degrees on the way due to carbon already in the atmosphere. Given that global carbon dioxide emissions of about 35 billion tons each year are now growing at an average of 3 per cent a year – which means they’re doubling every 23 years – it’s virtually certain we’re going to use up the remaining 0.6 degrees of leeway. In fact, the emerging consensus among climate experts is that we’ll be lucky to limit warming to 4 degrees.

Our best and our brightest have become very accomplished liars. Last week, the Speaker of the House ruled that spreading lies about Irwin Cotler was "reprehensible"  but acceptable. The next day the press revealed that the company which had spread the lies had helped Scheer get elected. International Development Minister Bev Oda claimed she had not altered a document -- and then admitted that she did.

No one has been relieved of his or her duties. One would expect that the government would issue an apology for its treatment of Cotler. No, said Peter Van Loan, the Conservatives were merely exercising their right to free speech. And, unlike the impotent elites in Europe and the United States, Canada's government is getting things done.

But the young are not fools. They know for whom things are done -- and it's not for them.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Do You Think Of Me Now, Dad?

Jeffrey Simpson writes this morning that:

Those who thought the Harper government would ease up a bit after winning a majority were wrong. Noblesse oblige is out, or, rather, was never in. If anything, the Harper government is more bullying, scornful of dissent, intent on controlling every utterance, contemptuous of the media and determined to carry on political war at all times and by all means.

Stephen Harper has a chip on his shoulder as big as the country. Some may wonder where it came from. I'm no psychologist: but it seems to me that, like all bullies, Stephen Harper is a painfully insecure human being. And I'm willing to bet that the root of that insecurity goes back to Harper's relationship with his father.

A recent article in The Vancouver Sun gave Canadians some perspective on young Stephen Harper: When he dropped out of the University of Toronto and headed west, Harper boarded with Imperial Oil Executive Frank Glenfield and his wife, Mary. Glenfiield told reporter David Staples:

"Stephen had broken with his family because they had wanted him to be a chartered accountant at the University of Toronto, where his brothers were. He decided he was going to be a pioneer, he was going out West. He was going to find his own way.

"I was virtually told to hire him, but I did. And he was a very troubled boy when he came. I think what upset him the most was rebelling against what the family wanted him to do.

Harper was not the first son to knock heads with his father. Nonetheless, that relationship was critical. The elder Harper made sure that his son found a job.  And, Mary told Staples, the rebel's opinions were decidedly different than they are today:

Harper was conservative in his habits, "dead dull in some ways" as Mary puts it, but he wasn't Conservative at first in his politics. As Frank said: "When Stephen first came to Edmonton, he was a Trudeau Liberal. He thought Trudeau was God."

But, essentially, "He was very self-absorbed," Mary said. "I would say he's absorbed by two things. One is himself and the other is: Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing the thing that I should be doing?"

Harper was promoted to a job in the computer services department; and, when the department moved to Calgary, Harper moved with it. Later he enrolled in the University of Calgary, which according to Glenfield was "right . . . of the Ayatollah Khomeini, as you probably know, and he became very much under that influence." Like many converts, Harper became more Catholic than the Pope. And he became a man who brooks no rebellion and no opposition. 

Harper's story is a cautionary tale for all fathers. Like George W. Bush, the prime minister had something to prove to the old man. And his fellow citizens are bearing the consequences.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fuddle Dudde Encore

Justin Trudeau had his fuddle duddle moment yesterday. When Environment Minister Peter Kent responded to Megan Leslie's criticism of the Conservatives' performance at Durban by saying she had no right to criticize the government because she had not been there, Trudeau lost his cool.

After all, it has been long standing Canadian practice for opposition members to accompany government representatives to international conferences. But the Harper government has put an end to that practice. Elizabeth May went to Durban on her own -- and was seated as a member of the delegation from Papua-New Guinea.

To accuse Leslie of ignorance because the government had refused to let her attend the conference was dumbfoundingly hypocritical. Hence, Trudeau's response -- for which he immediately apologized. Lawrence Martin writes this morning that:

Justin chose a low-taste phrase for which he should be reproached. But we’re not exactly in an era of eloquence. Profanity is increasingly used and accepted, privately and publicly. Swear words sell.
On the one hand, what happened in question period yesterday is a sad example of how irrelevant Parliament has become. Yesterday, Gloria Galloway reported in The Globe and Mail that the Conservatives are proposing "to move more of the debate at Commons committees behind closed doors."

Someone has to call a spade a spade. Peter Kent is not a piece of excrement. But what came out of his mouth yesterday was.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bait and Switch

Stephen Harper claimed that, with a majority, his government could focus -- laser like -- on the Canadian economy. But since their return to Parliament Hill, the Conservatives have paid no attention to the economy. Instead, they have passed legislation to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board; they passed their omnibus crime bill; and, last night, they passed a bill to add 30 more seats to the House of Commons.

Yesterday, Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae pointed to the difference between Tory promise and performance:

Although the Government has pretended that it was the economy all along that has been its preoccupation, and that in fact it’s the economy they wanted to drive their activities, the facts tell us something very different,” Rae told reporters. “They have not been focusing on the economy this fall. They have been focusing on issues that are frankly of secondary importance to Canadians, that are not top of mind for Canadians. The top of mind issues for Canadians is jobs and work. It is the economy, it is health care, these are the issues that dominate every poll and they certainly dominate every meeting that I have in my constituency or across the country.

No one should be surprised by the Conservatives' bait and switch campaign. Their recent attempt to tar Irwin Cotler was more of the same. Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer found that behaviour "reprehensible" but "technically" allowable. Let's be clear: the Conservatives staged an organized campaign to lie -- but  "technically" that's alright.

The Harper government claims it is focused on the economy. But, in fact, it is engaged in "reprehensible" behaviour. Pure bait and switch.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Smearing Irwin Cotler

Andrew Cohen writes that Stephen Harper has had Irwin Cotler in his sights for some time. Two months ago, the Conservatives spread the rumour that Cotler --three and a half years before the next election -- was about to resign. It wasn't the first time they had been so underhanded. Cohen writes:

Cotler’s stature among Jews notwithstanding, the Conservatives brazenly distributed a flyer to his constituents in 2009 claiming that he had attended “the anti-Semitic” human rights conference in 2001 in Durban, South Africa. Didn’t you know that Cotler is a closet anti-Semite?

The Harper line is that anyone who doesn't support the present government of Israel is anti-Semitic. And, their candidate, Saulie Zajdel, spouts that line. Cohen writes:

Zajdel, you should know, couldn’t carry Cotler’s briefcase. He is all-Israel all the time, convinced that it’s the only issue of interest to Jews in Canada. Or should be.

Behold, the Conservative Jewish strategy: outflank the Liberals on Israel. Paint them soft on security. Be more Zionist than Theodor Herzl.

The point is to make Canadian Jews — who have historically supported the Liberals as urban, progressive, internationalist centrists — one-issue voters.

It's classic Harper wedge issue politics. And it has nothing to do with Israel. For the Conservatives, Stephen Harper is the anti-Trudeau; and Pierre Trudeau is the Anti-Christ. Irwin Cotler sits in Pierre Trudeau's old seat, which they covet. Their goal is to plant their flag on Mount Royal. And they will stop at nothing in their quest to raise it there.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Storm Clouds Over Europe

Paul Krugman reminds his readers today that tough economic times can sow the seeds of authoritarianism. He then offers an analysis of what is happening in Europe. The economic crisis there, he writes, is killing the European Dream:

Specifically, demands for ever-harsher austerity, with no offsetting effort to foster growth, have done double damage. They have failed as economic policy, worsening unemployment without restoring confidence; a Europe-wide recession now looks likely even if the immediate threat of financial crisis is contained. And they have created immense anger, with many Europeans furious at what is perceived, fairly or unfairly (or actually a bit of both), as a heavy-handed exercise of German power.

And the truth is that, historically, what happened in the United States in 1932 -- the election of a leftist government -- was the exception, not the rule. Europe appears to be following the rule:

Right-wing populists are on the rise from Austria, where the Freedom Party (whose leader used to have neo-Nazi connections) runs neck-and-neck in the polls with established parties, to Finland, where the anti-immigrant True Finns party had a strong electoral showing last April. And these are rich countries whose economies have held up fairly well. Matters look even more ominous in the poorer nations of Central and Eastern Europe.

The more the political elites on both sides of the Atlantic preach austerity, the worse things will get for ordinary citizens. And, as their anger grows, there is no guarantee that they will turn to another Franklin Roosevelt -- even if such a leader is available.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What's A Border For?

Perhaps it was inevitable. Historians for a long time now have been predicting Canada's eventual integration into the American Empire. The agreement which Stephen Harper and Barack Obama signed last week is just another step along the way. And, besides, say the commentators, it's not just inevitable -- it's painless.This week, a Globe and Mail editorial  called it "a good thing." Most Canadians will not notice the changes we have accepted.

It's all about paperwork. Less paperwork makes business more profitable. But to make business more profitable, we have paid a price. Tom Walkom notes that "the agreement requires Canada to adopt more U.S.-style security measures — and share more information on Canadians with the U.S."  However, those measures are vaguely defined: the agreement refers to "informal information sharing." Ask Maher Arar what that phrase means.

Canada has agreed to share information informally with a country which, since 9/11, has drastically infringed upon the rights of its own citizens. Walkom reminds his readers that:

As a result of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. has suffered a kind of psychotic break. It spies on the most mundane habits of its people, such as which library books they read. In at least one case, it has carried out the extrajudicial execution of an American citizen.

Its agents are no longer permitted to torture people on their own. But even Obama has refused to renounce the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition — sending suspected terrorists to third countries to be tortured.

It maintains a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay that, in the understated language of a 2010 Supreme Court judgment, has engaged in the “improper treatment” of detainees — including a Canadian.

But, as the government's new crime bill makes abundantly clear, Canada's justice system is now more about punishment than rehabilitation. Robert Frost claimed that "good fences make good neighbours." If that's not true, what's a border for?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The History We Don't Know

Jeffrey Simpson is full of praise for Richard Gwyn's two volume biography of Sir John A. Macdonald. And he mourns the place which history holds in modern Canada:

In schools, history remains an orphan, barely taught, often entirely neglected. In the media, ahistoricism reigns. Even in universities, it’s alarming to be among graduates for whom Pierre Trudeau is a vague figure, Sir Wilfrid Laurier an inconnu, and Sir John A. the man with a big nose on our currency.

The Harper government's plan to celebrate the  200th anniversary of the War of 1812 illustrates how little history it knows. But then that's not surprising for a party whose historical memory begins with Preston Manning.

Many people laugh at Sir John's weaknesses. Some years ago, as we were entering Bellevue House -- Macdoanld's former residence in Kingston -- I asked our ten year old son what he knew of Macdonald. "Canada's most famous drunk," was his answer. Simpson and Gwyn do not excuse Macdonald's failings:

Macdonald was a man of many imperfections, which is perhaps why he expected less-than-angelic behaviour from his fellow men. He drank a great deal, went missing in action for stretches (including long vacations in England), held the Indian affairs portfolio but made egregiously wrong decisions at key moments.

But those very failings enabled Macdonald to free himself and this nation from the prevailing ideologies of the time. Simpson writes:

he had a vision of a country with all its crinkled diversity and improbable distances. He loved the British connection, but, as Mr. Gwyn explains, always sought distance between the Mother Country and the new creation, the strategy adopted by his successors until Britain ceased to be a world power. He held the English Protestants and the French Catholics together more in a marriage of convenience than a tight embrace, despite factional tensions over language and religion. They’re still together in that distant but enduring relationship.

In an age noted for its inflexibility, Macdonald was notoriously flexible. He understood the country to its core -- something the present government doesn't. Rather than accepting Canada as it is, the Harper government seeks to remake it in its own image.

Harry Truman once said, "My debt to history is one which cannot be calculated. I know of no other motivation which so accounts for my awakening interest as a young lad in the principles of leadership and government." It's a shame Mr. Harper didn't bring Truman's knowledge of history to his job.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Abuse of Power

 Jennifer Ditchburn reports this morning that, having installed a new unilingual auditor general, the Conservatives would rather not hear from him:

Five different individuals – inside and outside Auditor-General Michael Ferguson's office – told The Canadian Press this week that officials there expect the opportunities for him to testify on his quarterly reports will be reduced. 

This from the government which came to power touting its Accountability Act. But after two prorogations of Parliament, limiting debate on government legislation and ignoring a court decision that the government's plan to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board is illegal  -- because there was no vote from the farmers who supply it with product -- this government's character has been firmly established.

All input from opposition parties is rejected. Ditchburn writes:

This week, Conservatives on the public accounts committee rejected a Liberal motion to call the newly appointed Mr. Ferguson to testify about the controversial G8 legacy infrastructure fund. The committee is actively studying the fund, and has heard from ministers with responsibility for the file.

Mr. Kramp said interim auditor-general John Wiersema had already answered more than 50 questions about the G8 legacy fund over the course of various appearances, the last on Oct. 5.

But it has been long-standing practice for the Auditor-General to testify at committees on the general content of reports, as Mr. Wiersema has done, and then to return later to comment on specific aspects. On those occasions, government officials from relevant departments are also called in so they can respond to recommendations and criticisms.

The Harperites threw out longstanding practices long ago. They have interpreted the election results as a mandate to do as they choose. But Ed Broadbent, a member of the advisory committee for the auditor general's office, speaks truth to power. “It goes to the heart of the accountability of spending that is so crucial to a parliamentary democracy, so ... if it proceeds, [this] is an outrageous act.”

There have been all kinds of outrageous acts since Stephen Harper became prime minister. Abuse of Power -- it's become this government's nom de plume.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Canada At Durban

David Olive writes in today's Toronto Star that Canada has many "firsts" to its credit:

First in North America with universal health care and prudent branch banking. First on this continent to take up arms against the fascist overthrow of Europe, and first with peacekeeping. First to spearhead the Commonwealth sanctions that hastened the demise of apartheid in South Africa. First with insulin and first to explore the potential of stem-cell research. 

But when it comes to the world's most pressing problem -- climate change --  Canada is racing to the back of the line, and trying to get other nations to follow. It is deeply ironic that the Harper government -- which claims to know how to manage the nation's economy -- should be so pig headed about climate change:

To be crass about it – and maybe that’s what environmentalists should do – the financial punishment we inflict on ourselves by failing to reduce emissions translates to between $21 billion and $43 billion in lost economic activity for Canada by mid-century.

That’s the financial price we’ll pay for global warming, calculated not by NGOs but Ottawa’s own National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy. And that estimate is based on a modest degree of global warming.

Moreover, trumpeting their majority, the government refused to accept Elizabeth May as a member of the Canadian delegation. So she sits at Durban, representing Papua-New Guinea. The latest polls suggest that Ms.May speaks for the majority of Canadians:

The latest polling on environmental attitudes, reported by Environics Research Group late last month, finds that even at this time of peak concern over the economy, more Canadian identify global warming as the greatest threat to the world than terrorism or any other issue.

And 56 per cent of Canadians want Ottawa to sign onto a new global climate treaty, even if its more ambitious CO2 reduction commitments mean job losses at home and higher prices for energy.

Canadian proclamations at Durban make absolutely no sense, until you remember that the Government of Canada is headed by Stephen Harper -- a man who, according to Peter C. Newman, has "the best medieval mind in the Commons."

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Morally Adrift

There has always been an unpleasant stench of righteousness about the Harper Conservatives. I use the word "stench," because they obviously don't practise what they preach. They lack a collective conscience. But, Frances Russell writes in The Winnipeg Free Press, "the Conservatives' penchant for playing hardball and dirty tricks against opponents -- and fast and loose with the truth -- could be catching up to them."

The latest example of Conservative contempt for the truth is the organized campaign to plant the notion -- with three and a half years to go before an election -- that Irwin Cotler intends to resign. Then there was Peter Mackay's participation in a "search and rescue" exercise."The minister was called back from vacation and used governmental aircraft only for government business and that is appropriate," Stephen Harper said.

Russell takes a closer look at the record:

MacKay joins a growing list of ministers caught being more than a little economical with the truth. There was International Development Minister Bev Oda, who last spring repeatedly told Parliament she had no idea who had inserted a scribbled "not" on a signed official document cancelling government funding for a humanitarian aid agency offside with the government's philosophy. Much later, she admitted to Parliament that she was indeed the insert's author. But she paid no price whatsoever and continues in her portfolio to this day.

And who can forget Industry Minister Tony Clement and the scandal over the $50-million border infrastructure fund that magically transported itself some 200 kilometres north to spruce up his Parry Sound-Muskoka riding with gazebos, fancy toilets, sidewalks and parks in the run-up to an election -- causing the auditor general to cite the government for misleading Parliament. Clement was then promoted to Treasury Board president.

Misleading Parliament  -- according to British Parliamentary tradition -- is a firing offence. But no Harper minister has resigned or been fired for misleading Parliament. That is because the Conservative Party of Canada has no respect for parliamentary tradition.

One can  only hope that the voters of Canada have more respect for the truth than the "Harper government." -- which is, obviously, morally adrift.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Canadian Republicans?

At the end of his reflection on the border security agreement which Stephen Harper and Barack Obama signed this week, Lawrence Martin writes:

In many respects, we have what might be described as our very own Republican Party at the helm in Canada. Public opinion prevents it from going as far in social areas as the GOP. But on war, on the security file, on trade and in many other policy domains, the similarities are apparent.

It's hard to disagree with that conclusion. A review of the government's record and future plans -- the omnibus crime bill passed the House last night, and yesterday Peter Kent announced that Canada will withdraw from the Kyoto protocol -- suggests that we do, indeed, have a government which has wholeheartedly bought the Republican narrative.

Given the farce which is presently taking place in the Republican Party these days -- Paul Krugman calls it a contest between the cynics and the clueless -- Canadians have many reasons to worry. Martin speculates that the Harper government has triumphed because Canadians have matured. "With age," he writes, "Canadians have become more secure about their independence."

That depends on who you talk to. The natives of Atawapiskat displayed their independence yesterday by telling Mr Harper's third party manager to take a hike. And, if one considers the recent election results, only 25% of Canadians buy the Harperian definition of independence.

The simple truth is that Stephen Harper -- despite his triumphal pronouncements -- has always been prime minister by default. Canadians have grudgingly put him where he is. It's an appropriate response to a man who bears a perpetual grudge.

Stephen Harper may be a Republican. It's too much of a stretch to claim that Canadians have become Republicans.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Newt's Resurrection

Paul Krugman writes that to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, "there are only two ways to make the cut: to be totally cynical or to be totally clueless." Mitt Romney is the cynical candidate:

Romney embodies the first option. He’s not a stupid man; he knows perfectly well, to take a not incidental example, that the Obama health reform is identical in all important respects to the reform he himself introduced in Massachusetts — but that doesn’t stop him from denouncing the Obama plan as a vast government takeover that is nothing like what he did. He presumably knows how to read a budget, which means that he must know that defense spending has continued to rise under the current administration, but this doesn’t stop him from pledging to reverse Mr. Obama’s “massive defense cuts.”

All the others are clueless -- except Newt Gingrich. He's not clueless. But he's no towering intellect, either:

He is by no means the deep thinker he imagines himself to be, but he’s a glib speaker, even when he has no idea what he’s talking about. And my sense is that he’s also very good at doublethink — that even when he knows what he’s saying isn’t true, he manages to believe it while he’s saying it. So he may not implode like his predecessors. 

More importantly, he is a deeply flawed candidate, who is the incarnation of what the Republican Party says it despises. He has effectively turned government to his personal advantage. But it would appear that Republican loathing for Romney and Obama could make Newt king.

Newt's resurrection says even more about the Republican Party than it does about Gingrich.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Behold The Party

When Peter Van Loan admitted this week in the House that the Conservative Party had been behind a campaign to spread the rumour that Irwin Cotler was resigning, he did so without a hint of embarrassment. More than that, Bruce Anderson writes, " he took cynicism to an new jaw dropping level:"

No mumbling the normal apologies about “overzealous workers, blah, blah, blah, won’t happen again, etc.” Instead, Canadians were told that this kind of grime should be considered vital free speech – and must be protected, not prevented, by our laws. Efforts to rein it in would have worse consequences than letting it continue. This was the sound of a politician who had left home without an ethical or moral compass that morning.

It was yet another indication that the Harper government lives in an Orwellian world -- where War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength and Freedom is Slavery.

Anderson, however, pulls no punches. This was not some kind of clever political strategy:

this is wrong. Not clever, not amusing, not evidence of a more sophisticated political machine that works all the angles while others are asleep at the switch. Just wrong on every level.

Yet this government professes to be tough on crime. It stands for family values. Its base claims to be militantly Christian. But it admits telling lies and it calls them free speech.

"A man is but the product of his thoughts," Gandhi said. "What he thinks he becomes."

Behold Stephen Harper's party.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Anti-Trudeau

Stephen Harper despised Pierre Trudeau. He was nine years old when Trudeau became prime minister, and twenty-five when Trudeau retired. Watching Harper pontificate and react, one gets the impression that Mr. Trudeau was the bogeyman who haunted Stephen Harper's childhood nightmares. Indeed, it's not too much of a stretch to believe that -- somewhere in the prime minister's office -- there is a portrait of Trudeau which Harper uses as a dart board.

Nowhere is Harper's disgust for Trudeau more apparent, Lawrence Martin writes, than in the right wing nationalism Stephen Harper trumpets:

Patriotism pivots on pride in a resurrected military and morality-based missions. Pride in country is now linked to our refurbished armed forces and what Harper sees as moral crusades. National security, law and order, tighter immigration standards and bumper-sticker sports populism are among the features of a new right-wing nationalism. It is an accelerating trend and many Canadians worry that Harper, the anti-Trudeau, is taking it too far.

Martin then goes on to enumerate the various manifestations of Harper's right wing mania: message control, anti-democratic instincts, anti- labour policies, and anti intellectualism. But most disturbing of all is the Harperite cult of the leader. Recently released e-mails illustrate how the government has sought to define itself as the product of one man's vision. And, for five years, we have seen the flip side of that equation -- smearing the leader's opponents, whether they be Stephane Dion, Micheal Ignatieff or, more recently, NDP environment critic Megan Leslie, who the Harperites accused of treachery.

Pierre Trudeau had his faults. But he understood the horrendous consequences that accompanied the right wing nationalism espoused by leaders like Maurice Duplessis and Adolph Hitler. His opposition to that ideology was based on the results of its application in the 20th century.

Unfortunately, all of that history is lost on Stephen Harper. And he appears quite willing to repeat it.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Plenty Of Blame

Richard Wagamese writes that Attawapiskat is not an isolated case. There is plenty of blame to go around for the tragedy there and on other native reserves. The problem, he writes, is that the elites -- in Ottawa and at the AFN -- have chosen to look the other way:

The real shame of Attawapiskat is that the people who knew these conditions existed never told Canadians about them. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives knew. Shawn Atleo’s Assembly of First Nations knew. But it has taken a tragedy to reveal the stark truth.

The Harper government's first reaction was -- predictably -- to define the problem in financial terms, and then to seize control of whatever levers were available:

Rather than initiate immediate physical action, Mr. Harper scheduled another meeting with Mr. Atleo. Then he put Attawapiskat under third-party management. What this effectively means is that the government put the blame squarely on the Indians. The subtext is that native leaders mismanaged millions and put their own people in danger. Meantime, nothing was being done for the people freezing in unheated tents, beyond the generosity offered by the Red Cross and fellow Canadians.

It was classic Harper strategy -- point fingers, assign blame and never accept responsibility. Those who have looked at the amount of federal funding for housing at Attawapiskat have pointed out that it is no surprise that people there are living in third world conditions.

But Wagamese writes that Shawn Atleo is also responsible for the tragedy at so many Canadian reserves.

Mr. Atleo failed to show leadership long ago. I’ve been a journalist since 1979, and I know how easy it is to craft a press release, hold a news conference and inform the public. But you have to want to do it. You have to want to confront wrong and demand change. I wonder if having his budget depend on a cozy relationship with the government prevents him from doing that. 

These problems predate Mr.Atleo. The truth is that, for most Canadians -- living in large cities in the south -- conditions on northern native reserves are out of sight and out of mind. And, therefore, we all bear responsibility for the tragedy we must now confront.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Big Man, Little Boy

We certainly are raising a peculiar crop of leaders these days. Since he was elected, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has frozen out the Toronto Star. He has told his staff that they are to have no dealings with the paper -- including  issuing press releases to the largest daily in the country. His anger at the Star stems from an article the the paper published while Ford was running for mayor.

John Honderich writes this morning that:

There is no purpose served in rehashing the details. However, the Star has always stood by the story, noting it was carefully checked by our lawyer before publication.

Candidate Ford was furious and filed an immediate notice of libel, which is entirely and appropriately his prerogative. But he never followed up, as required, and his suit has now lapsed.

Mayor Ford has repeatedly said his freeze will stay in place until the Star runs an apology above the fold on page 1. As he recently told reporter Daniel Dale, “I don’t talk to the Star till you guys apologize. You guys (are) liars.”

Ford has every right to be furious. And he has every right to take legal action. The fact that he has let the case slide suggests the mayor knows his complaint won't survive legal scrutiny. And, if he does not want to personally talk to Star reporters, he can exercise that option. But he has gone farther than that. Honderich reports that:

The mayor’s staff was holding a briefing on arts funding and other members of the city hall press gallery were told about it privately. In this case, they were also specifically asked not to tell the Star about it. In other words, the mayor’s staff was trying to use other journalists to enforce its freeze. Thankfully, they did not go along.

Ford is the big kid who insists on bringing his own ball to the game; and -- when he doesn't get his way -- he picks it up and goes home. As I have written before in this space, the children are in charge. And, like most children, they are going to leave it to others to clean up the mess they create.