Tuesday, July 31, 2012

To Jerusalem -- Via New York and Toronto

The Globe and Mail reports that Mitt Romney's foreign policy has Canadian roots. Dan Senor, who has accompanied  Romney on his tour of Israel, was born in New York but grew up in Toronto -- where his mother still lives. Mr Senor went to high school in the Forest Hill section of Toronto and graduated from the University of Western Ontario.

Returning to the United States, he made friends in high places:

After graduating from Western, he studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and worked for a Republican senator from Michigan. For good measure, he also attended Harvard Business School.

Along the way, Mr. Senor displayed a talent for attracting mentors in high places. They included David Rubenstein, head of the private-equity giant Carlyle Group, where Mr. Senor worked, and William Kristol, the dean of neo-conservative commentators, who took an early interest in his career.

In Jerusalem last week,

Romney departed from official U.S. policy and described Jerusalem as the “capital of Israel,” a label that Palestinians say undermines their claims to the city. During the fundraising breakfast, Mr. Romney also compared the economic success of Israelis to that of Palestinians, attributing some of the difference to “culture.” Such a comment is “racist” and “shows a lack of knowledge,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Senor's job is to turn media lead into gold. He has a track record. In 2003, Senor became the chief spokesman for Paul Bremer. His job was to make a disaster look like a triumph. But, occasionally, he let his guard fall:

In the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Rajiv Chandrasekaran memorably quoted Mr. Senor as saying: “Off the record, Paris is burning. On the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq.”

My only comment is that this Canadian is deeply embarrassed.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Into The Fire

Stephen Harper -- that shrewd political strategist --  has maneuvered himself into the hands of the Parti Quebecois. He has vowed to stay out of the upcoming provincial election. But he will, nonetheless, be at the centre of the debate. Daniel Leblanc gives Globe and Mail readers a preview of that debate:

The issue of Canada-Quebec relations is guaranteed to play a part in the provincial election. The governing Liberals are set to campaign on a promise of constitutional stability, arguing that PQ Leader Pauline Marois’s priority is calling a third referendum on sovereignty and causing political chaos in the province. The upstart Coalition Avenir Québec, meanwhile, is trying to attract sovereigntist and federalist voters with its promise of a 10-year moratorium on constitutional battles, in order to focus on economic and social matters.

The PQ is refusing to box itself in on its timetable for a referendum on sovereignty, but vows to quickly make life miserable for the federal government after nine years of relative calm with the Charest government.

The truth is that, when Harper chooses to withdraw, he makes himself a target. And the PQ has a lot of ammunition. Leblanc writes:

As part of its strategy, the PQ argues that the Liberal government of Jean Charest has failed since 2003 to force the Harper government to adopt policies on crime, the environment and gun control to meet Quebec’s demands.

The PQ accuses the Liberals of failing to launch effective offensives on issues such as Ottawa’s decision to pull out of the Kyoto Accord or the dismantling of the long-gun registry, which have faced wide opposition in Quebec.

Harper thought that, by officially declaring Quebec a nation within a nation, he had solved a long standing problem. As usual, Mr. Harper's rhetoric is stronger -- but not smarter -- than his policies. He's gone from the frying pan into the fire.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Those Lesser Mortals

While it may be true that Alison Redford and Christie Clark are having a strong and public disagreement, at least they can sit around the same table and talk. And talk they did last week -- with all the other members of the Council of the Federation. Apparently, Stephen Harper believes that joining them is beneath his dignity.

Last week, the premiers put Harper on notice: His refusal to deal with them as a group was no longer acceptable. Michael Harris writes that Jean Charest put the issue succinctly:

Unilateralism was effectively bringing about the de-confederation of the country. The media had fallen for the seductive spin of Ottawa on a number of foundational issues, none more important than health care. In plain language, Charest said, Ottawa is abandoning medicare in Canada and is trying to cover that fact with “spin”, which the media is falling for like teeny-boppers seeking locks of Justin Bieber’s hair. 

And Robert Ghiz said that the Prime Minister's one size fits all solutions were simply unwise:

Prince Edward Island, the premier said with both dignity and dash, had three main industries, all of them seasonal: agriculture, the fishery, and tourism. To reform EI, without consulting the provinces, and reducing all of the very different places in Canada to the same formula, simply lacked “common sense”. Not everybody could, or should, move to Alberta.

Even Saskatchewan's Brad Wall was on Ghiz' side:

“On the big, federal fiscal tools, and the way they have been used, I agree with my good friend Robert,” said Wall. “There hasn’t been the necessary consultation and it is not the case that one size fits all in Canada. In fact, there are 58 distinct regions across the country so the need for consultation is very great.”

And, in the interest of consultation, the premiers invited Harper to their next conference on the economy. The subject should interest Harper. He claims -- however dubiously -- to be an economist. But he's not in the habit of meeting those he considers lesser mortals.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Irony! The Irony!

Joseph Conrad was not noted for his sense of humour. But, if he were writing Heart of Darkness at the beginning of the 21st century, instead of at the end of the 19th, Mr. Kurtz' last words might be these. Certainly, China's bid for Nexen Energy is fraught with irony. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

For those with a sense of history, a delicious irony attends the CNOOC bid and the largely enthusiastic reaction it has received from the provincial government and the Alberta oil patch.

Three decades ago, these same voices excoriated the creation of a Canadian state-owned energy company, Petro-Canada, calling its Calgary headquarters “Red Square” and denouncing it as a government-favoured intruder in the midst of free-enterprise heaven. When a Chinese SOE enters the field some decades later, its arrival is greeted with open arms.

Brian Mulroney's Conservatives put an end to Canada's state owned oil company. Now Stephen Harper's Conservatives must decide whether a foreign state owned company should be allowed into the oil patch. And Harper is in a bind:

Blocking the CNOOC takeover would imperil both the improved relations and the possibility of a free-trade negotiation, something the Chinese government had proposed. Mr. Harper’s government has also boasted about Canada welcoming foreign investment and opposing protectionism – except when it stopped the Australian firm BHP Billiton Ltd. from taking over Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan.

Harper didn't allow a privately owned Australian company into Canada's resource rich economy. Too many votes -- in his own backyard -- were at stake. Who knows what he will do now?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Glorifying War

Yves Engler writes this morning that the Conservative government is preparing to go to war:

By setting up overseas bases and increasing the military’s size, the Conservatives are preparing for future wars. They’ve also built the cultural and ideological foundation for constant war. In one of innumerable examples, the updated 2011 citizenship handbook Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship praised this country’s military history with more than a dozen photos depicting war or armed forces personnel.

And they have introduced an unrelenting propaganda campaign which unabashedly glorifies the military:

The Conservatives’ militarism is unrelenting. After waging war in Libya they organized an $850,000 nationally televised celebration for Canada’s “military heroes”, which included flyovers from a dozen military aircraft. Harper told the 300 military personnel brought in from four bases: “We are celebrating a great military success. Soldier for soldier, sailor for sailor, airman for airman, the Canadian Armed Forces are the best in the world.

George W. Bush  is a tragic example of how those who enjoy war but who have never experienced it can cause needless death and ruin a country. Mr. Harper and Mr. Bush have a lot in common. And when it comes to war, they both claim that it is a glorious experience.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Show Her The Money

Andrew Coyne, in this morning's National Post, accuses B.C. premier Christy Clark of engaging in political extortion:

Clark’s real weapon is political: the opposition of much of the B.C. public to the project, and the price the federal Tories would likely pay at the polls were they seen to be overriding the government of B.C. on the matter — her own, or her likely NDP successor’s. The list of demands she has suddenly produced, far behind in the polls with less than a year to go before the provincial election, are an obvious attempt to inoculate herself on the Gateway issue, without actually coming out against it.

While it's true that Clark's demands look like a desperate attempt to stave off political defeat, the real question is: What say do British Columbians have in the natter? Given the Harper government's approach to federal-provincial relations, the answer would appear to be none. So what are they to do in the face of Harper's indifference?  Precisely what Clark is doing.

At the end of his column, Coyne calls for an end to political games. China's proposed purchase of Nexan Energy and the Northern Gateway pipeline should both be subject to transparency, he writes. But Coyne is whistling into the wind. This, after all, is the Harper government -- which was found in contempt of parliament for its lack of transparency.

Clark's gamut is an understandable response to the way Harper has played his cards. She's calling his bluff. It will be up to Clark's successors -- and Canada's native peoples -- to shut the pipeline down.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Harper and Mammon

Michael Harris weighs in this morning on China's bid to buy Nexen Energy. Five years ago, he reminds his readers, China was -- in Stephen Harper's lexicon -- the devil's disciple:

There was a time when Parson Harper presided over a morality-based view of “Communist China”, that iniquitous, one-party dictatorship that murdered its own students, threatened Taiwan, and trampled the rights of its citizens. The place that needed nothing so much as an improving lecture from you-know-who. The Bad China.

Under that policy, the Dalai Lama fared well with Stephen Harper. He got an honorary Canadian citizenship back in 2006. He got twice as many private meetings with the PM as Canada’s premiers have so far managed. And Parson Steve blew off official protests from Beijing as if they came from Papua New Guinea instead of the world’s most populous nation.

But, this spring, how things had changed. Harper went to China, looking like Jean Chretien leading Team Canada:

On Harper’s most recent trip, he led a delegation of 40 executives, including Patrick Daniel of Enbridge Inc., and Tom Gitzel of Cameco Corp., the world’s largest uranium producer. The goal was to make a pitch for greater access for Canadian companies to Chinese markets. It would be hard to get less access with only 3 percent of our exports going to China and a whopping trade deficit that doesn’t speak well of Steve’s business acumen. The inevitable banking and insurance conquistadors went along for the ride. They all love the new China policy. They should. They are its true authors and its principle, and possibly only, beneficiaries.

And that's the point. When there's money to be made, Harper bends to the wishes of his real constituency -- big business. And for business -- particularly those business that claim they are hamstrung by environmental assessments -- China is a new paradise:

There is a certain mad logic to the metamorphosis. With boat-loads of oil to sell, what better place to sell it than a country with no pollution regulations, no free elections, and a brutal leadership that doesn’t have to worry about environmental assessments. (Come to think of it, neither does Steve.) And unlike the Americans, the Chinese don’t have to borrow the money to buy our goo. Why, if things work out really well, the Harper government could probably offload mountains of uranium in China – strictly for peaceful purposes of course.

The Harper government claims it acts on principle. The truth is that the only principle it recognizes is profit. And everything  -- and everyone -- is expendable for the sake of profit.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Heat's On

Thomas Homer Dixon writes this morning that the hot weather we have endured over the last decade has taught us something about crop yields:

In the past few years, agricultural scientists have shown that crops critical to humankind’s caloric supply – including corn and soybeans – are extremely sensitive to even short periods of high temperature. Output of these crops increases as the temperature rises to about 30 Celsius, but then it falls sharply as the temperature keeps rising. For instance, just one day of 40-degree weather will produce a 7-per-cent drop in the annual yield of corn compared with its yield if the temperature stays at 29 through the growing season.
That phenomenon has a direct effect on food prices:

The drought and heat wave have already led to record corn prices. The world’s integrated grain markets will transmit these higher prices around the world, in time affecting just about everyone.

It may be easy for people to deny climate change. But they can't deny rising food prices. Unfortunately, as is always the case, rising prices always affect those who can least afford them the most. Combine those rising food prices with a burgeoning human population, and you have a humanitarian crisis such as the world has never faced before.

The heat is on. Either we take climate change seriously or we will turn the planet -- literally -- into hell on earth.

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.

Monday, July 23, 2012

21 Trillion

That's the number of dollars the super rich have hidden in off shore tax havens, according to a recent report written by James Henry for the Tax Justice Network:

Mr Henry said his $21tn is actually a conservative figure and the true scale could be $32tn. A trillion is 1,000 billion.

Mr Henry used data from the Bank of International Settlements, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and national governments.

His study deals only with financial wealth deposited in bank and investment accounts, and not other assets such as property and yachts.

The report has generated some skepticism, given its sponsors. However, given what we know of the one percent, that number should not be surprising. More importantly:

The report highlights the impact on the balance sheets of 139 developing countries of money held in tax havens that is put beyond the reach of local tax authorities.

Mr Henry estimates that since the 1970s, the richest citizens of these 139 countries had amassed $7.3tn to $9.3tn of "unrecorded offshore wealth" by 2010.

Private wealth held offshore represents "a huge black hole in the world economy," Mr Henry said.

For more than thirty years, Conservatives have peddled the nostrum that if you give the wealthy a  break -- a tax break -- they will use that extra money to create jobs. It would appear that they have squirrelled that extra money away in offshore accounts.

Milton Friedman sold world leaders the idea that tax breaks encouraged altruism among the wealthy. He also claimed that tax breaks encouraged "rational" behaviour. The truth was quite the opposite. And thousands of years of human history have simply confirmed a simple truth. The wealthy do not act out of altruism. Giving them a break simply encourages more greed.

Is it any wonder that our economy has collapsed and our eco-system is on the verge of collapse?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Putting Us In a Box

Michael Behiels writes that if Canadians expected to see any federal-provincial conferences during the Harper regime, they should give up on the idea -- for two reasons:

First, Stephen Harper will not resuscitate the longstanding practice of inter-state federalism because the process threatens to undermine the very expansive conception of his executive powers. Public federal-provincial conferences allowed prominent premiers, such as Peter Lougheed, René Lévesque, Alan Blakeney, and Bill Davis, to help fashion the national agenda. Most assuredly, PM Harper will have none of this! 

Whether dealing with health care, changes to the criminal code or restructuring Old Age Security, Harper rules by decree. All of these changes mean downloading costs to the provinces. But the prime minister's response is simple: Deal with it.

The second reason he will not meet with the premiers, writes Behiels, is Harper's dedication to an ancient conception of federalism -- which John A. Macdonald fought against during his entire career. Remember, Canada's constitution resided in London. And the British House of Lords had a say in how the country was governed. They believed in what Behiels calls "classical federalism:"

These august Lords, most of them Scottish nationalists and strong advocates of a decentralist Imperial Federation conception of the British Empire, replaced the centralist Macdonaldian conception of a quasi-federal system with their concept of a watertight compartments classical federal system of equal and sovereign states within their respective jurisdictions.

 Harper and his Conservative Party and government, strong supporters of provincial rights, are totally committed to restoring the theory and practice of watertight compartments classical federation . . . This form of decentralized and asymmetrical federalism dominated federal-provincial relations during the Laurier, Borden, and King eras until the late 1930s.

That view of federalism changed during the Great Depression, because no one element in the federation had the fiscal wherewithal to stimulate the economy. And, with the advent of World War II, the collective effort needed to fight the war was best served by a strong central government, acting in cooperation with the provinces. When Quebec threatened to separate, the best way to deal with the tensions that threat occasioned was to "talk them out."

Harper's believes the federation was created in his image. He's not very good at talking things out. He's not very good at sharing the spotlight. And he's certainly not good at sharing power.Therefore, Canada is ill equipped to face its next crisis. In fact, Harper survived the last crisis because he had to deal with a combined opposition that was stronger than he was.

 But with his coveted majority,  he has put himself -- and Canada -- in a box.

Friday, July 20, 2012

European Caricatures

The Conservatives have spent a lot of time and energy berating Europe. Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty and Pierre Polievre have all suggested that the Europeans are inept bumblers. The latest broadside has come from Senator Doug Finlay, who wrote in the Globe and Mail that they have "taxed and regulated away any chance of serious economic growth."

The Conservatives believe that all 27 European countries are in the same boat as Greece. But Dan Gardiner writes in today's Ottawa Citizen that there are several countries that are doing quite well -- particularly when one looks at their net debt:

According to the IMF, Canada’s net debt in 2011 was 33.3 per cent. That’s good. It’s better than Germany’s (56.1 per cent). It’s better than that of most other developed countries’. And it’s vastly better than that of France (80.4 per cent) and Italy (99.6 per cent).

But it’s worse than Canada’s net debt in 2006 (26.3 per cent), when Stephen Harper took office. It’s also worse than the 2011 net debt of the Netherlands (31.8 per cent). And it’s much worse than the 2011 net debt of Denmark (2.6 per cent).

And it’s positively horrible compared to the net debt of Sweden (-21.4 per cent). And Finland — which, as we have seen, has a net debt of -59.9 per cent.

 Why are Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark in better fiscal shape than Canada? Well, consider taxes in those countries:

Yes, these countries have higher taxes than we do. That’s how they pay for the social services their people want without piling up debt. But has that stifled economic growth? According to the OECD, the average annual growth rate in Finland and Sweden, between 2000 and 2010, was equal to or higher than in Canada. Norway was a little lower. Only Denmark did poorly. And remember that during that time Canada benefited massively from one of the biggest commodity booms in history, a detail Conservatives seldom mention when they’re praising the Great Helmsman.

Unemployment? In 2011, it was 7.5 per cent in Canada. That’s low relative to most developed countries. In Finland, it was 7.8 per cent. In Denmark, it was 7.7 per cent. In Sweden, it was the same as in Canada. In the Netherlands, it was 4.5 per cent. In Norway, it was 3.3 per cent.

Yes, some European countries are in trouble. But the ones that aren't in trouble followed policies which the Conservatives have demonized. However, this government won't tell you that. They deal in caricatures, not facts.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Something's In The Air

In his review of Stephen Harper's first year of majority rule, John Ibbitson wrote that the prime minister had  been "unbound." And the passage of the government's omnibus budget bill seemed to prove Ibbitson's point. But, as the contents of the bill were made public, something else happened. The public showed signs of discontent.

Frank Graves reported that the Conservatives' poll numbers were dropping in key areas of the country. Up to the passage of the budget, Canadians were bullish on the country's future. But now they are evenly split:

The latest numbers show opinion split down the middle: 45 per cent say that the country is headed in the right direction compared to 46 per cent who say otherwise. A majority of respondents in Quebec, Atlantic Canada and British Columbia say the country is not on the right track.

No doubt, Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor's reports of election dirty tricks have had something to do with the Conservative decline. It's interesting that Postmedia -- until now a reliable echo chamber for the Conservatives -- has not been kind to the prime minister. Even more interesting was a column a week ago by Michael denTandt -- another Postmedia stalwart. Dent Tandt concluded the column with the following observation:

In 2011, this same prime minister based an election campaign - successfully - on the notion that a coalition of "losing parties" holding a majority of seats in the House of Commons would lack the legitimacy to govern. This was, simply, a lie. In 2012 this prime minister, having once argued forcefully against the legitimacy of omnibus bills, forced one through himself, in the process changing more than 70 laws. This summer, Canadians are expected to forget all this, and more, because we live in uncertain economic times. Europe, you know. We go along, to get along.

Stephen Harper is not Maurice Duplessis. But the call to overlook abuses of democracy, for the sake of economic expediency - which is a never-ending murmur, beneath every move the Conservative government now makes - is insidious. It's not tyranny, nor should it be called that. But some days, you can see tyranny from here.

When Postmedia begins to comment on the stench emanating from Fortress Harper, you know something is in the air. And it's an ill wind.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In The Wake Of MOUS

Michael Harris writes this morning that Stephen Harper suffers from MOUS -- Master of the Universe Syndrome. Harris lists the symptoms of the disease:

Here are the main symptoms of MOUS. You stop caring about what others think about you. They are merely the Plankton People – Vladimir Putin’s ringing coinage for the human flotsam and jetsam who throng to those soon-to-be terminated protests against his dark dominion in Russia. The kind of people, I might add, who now find themselves under arrest when a Harper cabinet minister is heckled. (The heckler should have been given Conrad Black’s Order of Canada: he may have stopped Jason Kenney from congratulating himself again.) What next, Rick Mercer in handcuffs for cracking jokes at the government’s expense?

When you have MOUS, it never crosses your mind that people would like more from their government than a cattle prod in their junk. That’s because being Boss is in your blood. You, and you alone, know what’s good for everybody. And what’s good for everybody? Well, it just happens to be what’s good for your friends. The pipeline people, the military, and of course, the Harper Party.

With MOUS, you stop worrying about being surrounded by dubious colleagues and cabinet ministers. The people closest to the PM may be a gaggle of fatted capons, but I don’t say they’re stupid. It’s just that their political actions suggest a strange – how shall I put it - slowing or even a reversal of evolution. One wonders when will Gary Goodyear be a newt again, Vic Toews a bonobo? Judging from the way they have spoken for their departments and answered the government’s critics and the Canadian people, surely it can’t be long.

Unfortunately, Harris writes, Harper's disease is now in its advanced stages:

In advanced MOUS, you stop caring if you are caught out in lies, boneheaded decisions, or tawdry reprisals against innocent people. How else could a prime minister who gave us the F-35 debacle, spent $900 million more on summits than anyone else on earth ever has, and blew $43,000 of public money going to a baseball game, lecture Europeans on fiscal management?

It really is a debilitating disease. But those who suffer from it are blissfully unaware that it has infected them. Unfortunately, their communities -- or, in Harper's case, their countries -- are only too mindful that the disease is fatal -- for everyone. Most tragically, it leads to witch-hunts:

There is a witch-hunt going on in Canada these days to eradicate independent information-bearers. Gone, the Science Advisor to the PM; gone, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Lab; gone, the Experimental Lakes Area; gone, the National Roundtable on Environment and the Economy; gone, protection for endangered species; gone, much of the evidence gathering capacity of Fisheries and Oceans, the National Research Council, Statistics Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. There was less blood on the floor at the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.

In the wake of MOUS, all must bow before the power of the Master. In his world, everyone else is a mouse.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

People, Not Policy

On last Sunday's talk shows, Ed Gillespie claimed that Mitt Romney had retired "retroactively" from Bain Capital. In response, Dana Milbank wrote in the Washington Post:

Retroactive retirement! It was a brilliant formulation, perhaps the greatest addition to the political lexicon since “no controlling legal authority.” And it raised tantalizing possibilities: If Romney can do it, perhaps others can go back in time to rearrange events.

George W. Bush could retroactively end his presidency on Sept. 1, 2008, before the financial collapse.

Donald Rumsfeld could retroactively pull out of Iraq before the insurgency. President Obama could retroactively deny government funding for Solyndra.

Romney was a very successful businessman. I have no doubt that he is a fine husband and father. But it really is remarkable that, as a politician, he has gotten this far. In his quest for the presidency he  -- or his surrogates -- keep putting their collective feet in their collective mouths.

Romney may complain bitterly about President Obama' s attacks. But his Republican opponents fired at Romney with the same ammunition. Romney's solution was to carpet bomb them with political ads. And that, unfortunately, will probably be what this campaign is all about -- carpet bombing the country with ads.

It's has become all about people -- not policy.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Taking Sides

The Globe and Mail reports this morning that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's proposal to overhaul Canada's banking dispute settlement system "looks suspiciously like a gift to the country's big banks." Barrie McKenna writes:

The changes are a direct and significant challenge to Canada’s existing national ombudsman – the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investments (OBSI), headed by Douglas Melville. The minister’s eight-paragraph press release doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of OBSI, which has handled thousands of complaints and secured millions of dollars in compensation in the past decade.

OBSI was created in 2002 by the country’s banks, under a threat from Ottawa to impose a federal arbitrator. But the banks have never fully embraced their offspring. It’s seen as overly costly ($8-million budget in 2012, intrusive and often embarrassing. Among other things, Mr. Melville tracks which banks face the most complaints (a dubious honour that went to Toronto-Dominion Bank in 2011).

Flaherty dropped the news on a Friday afternoon, a time traditionally chosen for burying a story. Flaherty knows that Barclay's Bank is in turmoil for its attempt to fix the LIBOR rate. If you want to help the banks these days, it's best the public doesn't know about it.

It's pretty clear that ordinary citizens -- once again -- are getting the short end of the stick:

An already weak system is being watered down even more. Anita Anand, an associate law professor at the University of Toronto, said the proposed changes are unlikely to be consumer-friendly.

“A single system that applies to all firms would be preferable because it provides certainty for consumers,” Ms. Anand said.

The shift to multiple dispute resolution providers is also conceptually at odds with Mr. Flaherty’s push for a single, strong national securities regulator, she suggested.

In a submission to the Finance Department, investor advocate and blogger Ken Kivenko said the private-sector system will add “opaqueness and secrecy,” weaken consumer protection and undermine OBSI’s ability to fund itself over the long-term.

This all may suit the banks.

The Harper government has never seen itself as a referee, whose purpose is to reach a just settlement in a dispute. In foreign affairs, in labour relations and now in banking, it has defined its mission as taking a side -- and helping its chosen side win.

It's interesting that the winners are never the citizens who elected -- however dubiously -- this government.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Omar Khadr And The Harperites

Nothing encapsulates what the Harper government is all about more than its refusal to allow Omar Khadr back into Canada. Certainly the government's reaction puzzles the Americans.The Canadian Press reported last week that:

One of Khadr's U.S. lawyers said last month he has been told American officials can't understand Canada's reluctance to ask that Khadr be returned home.

Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson said U.S. officials are frustrated by the delay of the return of the last Western national  held at the much-maligned U.S. military prison.

U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta signed off on Khadr's transfer in April, he added.

Khadr simply doesn't fit with the government's narrative on the Middle East. Despite the evidence, the Conservatives  -- who are certain that God is on their side -- have determined that Khadr is more than a convicted felon.. He is an alien.

But then so was Conrad Black. And his return was expedited. The contrast tells you a lot about Mr. Harper's commitment to justice. It's right up there with his concern for the environment.

God must be on Mr. Black's side.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Now That's Interesting

Gordon Gibson floats a truly interesting idea in this morning's Globe and Mail. He suggests that the antidote to our political polarization, which Stephen Harper has worked so hard to create, lies in a Single Transferable Vote. The idea has been proposed before -- in B.C., and by former Liberal leader Stephane Dion. But Gibson suggests that STV may be an idea whose time has come.

The concept is not foreign to our politics. On one ballot, preferences are listed, 1, 2, 3, and so on. After first choices are counted, lower candidates drop off and their supporters’ second choices are counted, and so on. Most of the parties use a variation of this system to choose their leaders. It not only gauges sentiment and support most accurately; it also militates in favour of civil politics and against polarization. If a candidate wants your second-choice vote, they will be respectful of your first choice.

However, it would take some cooperation between the NDP and the Liberals to make it happen:

To get a joint majority as a temporary coalition, they would only need to prevail in 170 seats, so this kind of deal in, say, 200 ridings should produce that. In a recent poll, 64 per cent of NDP and Liberal supporters liked some such idea. The only condition would be that the winning party (probably the NDP as we speak) would promise as a first item of business to bring in an STV system for future elections. The coalition would then continue to govern for a bit under agreed terms of engagement (as have the Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats in Britain), with the next election and next government chosen under the new and better rules.

There is definitely something out of joint with a system that gives the party that gains 33 - 39% of the vote an overwhelming majority. Gibson's proposal would give the concept of one person/one vote new meaning.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Worshiping At The Altar of Greed

Modern conservatives have worked very hard to make Greed sound reasonable. Thus, when Tim Hudak released his latest policy proposal last week, it was wrapped in the language of "reason." Entitled "Path to Prosperity: Flexible Labour Markets," Hudak proposed ditching the Rand Formula and transforming Ontario into a "right to work" province: "No clauses in any provincial legislation, regulation or collective agreement should require a worker to become a member of a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment," he proclaimed.

In effect, Hudak's proposal would defund unions and the result would be what exists in 23 of the United States. Hudak is betting that jobs would come to Ontario because wages would go down.

Much has been written since Hudak released his proposal. The most trenchant  and -- not surprisingly -- intelligent response comes from Ed Broadbent. He begins by reminding his readers that Canada has signed two international agreements:

In 1976, Canada ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which recognize the right to a union. We legally committed ourselves to recognize both the right to a union and the right to bargain collectively – just as important as other fundamental human rights.

These international treaties affirm that unions are an important means for workers to exercise democratic checks on power.

For, in the end, Hudak's proposal -- like those of his federal brethren  -- is about removing impediments to oligarchy. "In democratic societies," Broadbent writes,

there are two principal arenas of non-violent conflict over power: the state and the workplace. Just as political democracy entails the right to select or reject one’s representatives and enables us to pursue, share and exercise power in the real world of free citizens, democracy in the workplace also requires that workers have their own representatives and some real power.

This check on power is what Canada’s Supreme Court decision in 2006 was all about. Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin wrote in her decision that unions’ collective bargaining power bring “dignity, liberty and autonomy” to working people.

Both the federal and the provincial Conservatives are bought and paid for. And those who pull the strings believe that dignity, liberty and autonomy for working people get in their way. Such is indeed the case when you worship at the Altar of Greed.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Progressives and Regressives

Yesterday, in a short blogpost, Robert Reich put American politics and our own politics in perspective. The real battle, he wrote, is not between Liberals and Conservatives. It is between Progressives and Regressives:

Regressives want to take this nation backward — to before Social Security, unemployment insurance, and Medicare; before civil rights and voting rights; before regulations designed to protect the environment, workers, consumers, and investors. They want to sabotage much of what this nation has achieved over the last century. And they’re out to do it by making the rich far richer, turning Americans against one another in competition for a smaller and smaller slice of the pie, substituting private morality for public morality, and opening the floodgates to big money in politics. 

Progressivism in the United States emerged as a response to the Robber Barons and the Gilded Age. It was all about returning government to "we, the people." Progressives, Reich wrote,

are determined to take this nation forward — toward equal opportunity, tolerance and openness, adequate protection against corporate and Wall Street abuses, and an economy and democracy that are working for all of us. 

His blogpost is accompanied by a video clip. It is much different than the recently released NDP ad. It's worth a look.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Taking The Harper Road

The NDP released its first real attack ad yesterday. It could have been produced in the Conservative war room -- at least it looked a lot like what has come out of that war room in the last five years. Lawrence Martin writes:

It comes with an ominous voiceover. It shows the prime minister in an unflattering pose – sweating like a dog.

And it takes on the notion that Harper is a superb manager, something he has been repeating -- nationally and internationally -- every chance he gets. Unquestionably, Harper has had a run of good luck. But the policies he has championed have actually weakened Canada's financial position:

On the deficit question the Conservatives can be more fairly attacked because of their exorbitant pre-recession spending which wiped out much of the surplus left by the Paul Martin Liberals. In addition, the government’s elimination of two percent of the GST – a move opposed by the great majority of economists – cut a giant hole in revenues, making the deficit far worse than it would have been.

So, Martin writes, Harper had it coming. The question is: Is this kind of advertising good for our politics? My wife and I live on the north shore of Lake Ontario. We are bracing for the steady drumbeat of political advertising that will cross the water from New York State after Labour Day. It gets nastier with every election cycle. And it's non-stop.

The United States is politically paralyzed. Are we headed for the same fate?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Has Justin Got "It?"

"It" can be defined a number of ways -- intelligence, the common touch, gravitas. The main knock against Justin Trudeau is that he doesn't have what "it" takes to be Liberal leader. But Lawrence Martin writes that previous leaders -- who had "it" -- didn't fare very well:

Michael Ignatieff had intellectual heft. Sank like a stone. Stéphane Dion had policy gravitas. Sank like a stone. Paul Martin was a policy wonk. Didn’t last long in the big chair.

The Conservatives have hit pay dirt when they chose youth over experience:

For the Tories, there was Brian Mulroney. On becoming party leader in 1983, he was young, had zero experience as an elected politician, and only a glossy grasp of the issues. By contrast, Robert Stanfield, a previous leader, was a deeply conscientious issues type. Mr. Mulroney won two majorities. Bob Stanfield lost three elections in succession.

But that strategy has also failed. Joe Clark was an excellent Minister of Foreign Affairs. As prime minister, he  lasted as long as a summer dandelion. So where does that leave Justin? Perhaps what really matters, Martin writes, is a strong behind the scenes operation:

If he enters the race, [Justin] will need something the Grits haven’t had since Eddie Goldenberg and Jean Pelletier stood guard for Jean Chrétien: a first-rate management team.

 I can remember when Pierre Trudeau was an unknown quantity. Jean Marchand was supposedly the man to watch. Say what you will about them, but Keith Davey and Jim Coutts had a lot to do with the elder Trudeau's success.

Monday, July 09, 2012

They Don't Get It

David Olive wrote last week that there are three things this generation of world leaders doesn't get:

The first point is that this is no run-of-the-mill industrial recession. This is a rare financial recession, whose devastation is acute and widespread in the world.

To listen to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s hectoring of Europeans to get their fiscal house in order, or the conviction of British PM David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that troubled nations would be best served by adopting their tough-love prescriptions (a view shared by most Republicans in the U.S.), is to conclude that these folks think the current difficulties lend themselves to expedient “solutions” and will soon blow over.

 But it's going to take a decade, Olive wrote, to repair the damage done in the last three decades.

The second thing world leaders don't understand is that the austerity they currently advocate is a false hope:

And so America’s dynamic recovery of 2009-10 has stalled. The aftershocks of the U.S. downturn have pushed Europe into recession. Even China this week slashed its GDP growth estimates for this year to a mere 3 per cent to 4 per cent, after close to a decade of double-digit growth. Japan remains mired in economic stagnation of two decades’ duration.

The latest failure of capitalism sucked demand out of the global economy. All of the world’s biggest economic engines have conked out, for lack of demand. And it’s that paucity of demand – or the spending that creates jobs and tax revenues – that is the immediate cause of unmanageable sovereign debt in Europe. The latter was a non-issue prior to a collapse in demand that drained public treasuries. Those treasuries have been abruptly starved of tax revenue even as requirements for emergency state assistance have soared. 

And last, and most importantly, governments need to invest in the future. The debt they incur now will reap dividends:

Otherwise current generations will suffer the future consequences of deprivation of income, of child support (hungry children have difficulty learning), and of superior formal education (slashing school budgets is a sure route to lack of future competitiveness).

A range of social ills derive from the false economy of balancing the books on the backs of present generations, which are made to forfeit opportunities to flourish in mind and heart. There’s much work to be done in the world – replacing century-old infrastructure, to start – and a rare abundance of idled skilled labour to do it.

We can talk, as the austerity champions do, of long-term gains to be had from the imposition now of brutal economies. But as John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

What Olive is advocating is nothing new. It worked during the Great Depression. But today's leaders are not students of history -- and, so, they don't get it.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Mean Place Gets Meaner

Tondra MacCharles reports this morning that, in Canada's prisons, the number of violent assaults is on the rise:

Over the past three years, ending March 31, 2012, the total number of assaults Correctional Services Canada reported behind bars rose from 1,415 in 2009/10, to 1,566 in 2010/11, to 1,669 in 2011/12.
That’s an increase of 15 per cent in just three years.

During that time, the poplation in Canadian prisons rose from 13,500 to 14,400. And yet Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced, as part of the Harper government's plan to streamline Corrections Canada, that three prisons will close -- the maximum security Kingston Penitentiary, a medium security Quebec facility, and the Ontario Regional Treatment Centre for the most serious mentally ill prisoners. The government intends to shift the 1,000 inmates affected into other existing institutions.

The prisons in the Kingston area are already 60% double bunked. It's no wonder then that Canada's chief prison investigator, Howard Sapers, reports that "the number of incidents where force was used against federal offenders has increased by 37 per cent in the past five years — to 1,339 in 2011-12 from 975 incidents in 2007-08."

Prison guards are under siege. And the government's new tough on crime legislation means that the population in Canada's prisons will rise.

Welcome to Stephen Harper's Canada. He intends to make it a meaner place. And it keeps getting meaner.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Stiglitz on Inequality

In Canada, there has not been much comment on an op-ed piece which Joseph Stiglitz published in The Washington Post two weeks ago. Stiglitz examines American economic policy over the last decade. Because Stephen Harper has followed the same policy, Canadians should ponder Stiglitz' analysis. The data, he writes, are not good:

The seriousness of America’s growing problem of inequality was highlighted by Federal Reserve data released this month showing the recession’s devastating effect on the wealth and income of those at the bottom and in the middle. The decline in median wealth, down almost 40 percent in just three years, wiped out two decades of wealth accumulation for most Americans. If the average American had actually shared in the country’s seeming prosperity the past two decades, his wealth, instead of stagnating, would have increased by some three-fourths. 

Stiglitz argues that all of this was not mere happenstance. American economic policy is driving inequality -- and the results have been disastrous:

The Great Recession has made this inequality worse, which is likely to prolong the downturn. Those at the top spend a smaller fraction of their income than do those in the bottom and middle — who have to spend everything today just to get by. Redistribution from the bottom to the top of the kind that has been going on in the United States lowers total demand. And the weakness in the U.S. economy arises out of deficient aggregate demand. The tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003, aimed especially at the rich, were a particularly ineffective way of filling the gap; they put the burden of attaining full employment on the Fed, which filled the gap by creating a bubble, through lax regulations and loose monetary policy. And the bubble induced the bottom 80 percent of Americans to consume beyond their means. The policy worked, but it was a temporary and unsustainable palliative. 

And how do Republicans intend to remedy this problem? What the country needs, Mitt Romney says, is more austerity:

The austerity advocated by some Republicans will lead to higher unemployment, which will lead to lower wages as workers compete for jobs. Less growth will mean lower state and local tax revenue, leading to cutbacks in services important to most Americans (including the jobs of teachers, police officers and firefighters). It will force further increases in tuition — data published this month show that the average tuition for a four-year public university climbed 15 percent between 2008 and 2010, while most Americans’ incomes and wealth were falling. This will lead to more student debt, more profits for bankers — but more pain at the bottom and middle. Some, seeing the consequences of their parents’ debts, won’t be willing to take on the levels of debt necessary to get a college education, condemning them to a life of lower wages. Even in the middle, incomes have been doing miserably; for male workers, inflation-adjusted median incomes are lower today than they were in 1968.

Note that the Republican prescription for this problem is the same one contained in the recent Conservative budget. The difference, the Harperites argue, is that we pass austerity, The Americans -- mired in gridlock -- can't. All the conservatives have done is to find a shorter path over the cliff.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Confidence Men

On  July 4th, while the Americans were setting off fire works and putting out forest fires, Jeffrey Simpson reports that Conservative cabinet ministers were crisscrossing the country, making spending announcements:

Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, was announcing money for John Lewis Industries in La Tuque, Que., at 10 a.m., then hurried along to Saint-Irénée to dump money into Le Domaine Forget de Charlevoix. Gail Shea, Minister of National Revenue and Prince Edward Island’s cabinet representative, was in Abram Village, PEI, at 10 a.m., then at Coleman, PEI, at 2:30 p.m.

Ministers were at such places as Martin’s Family Fruit Farm in Waterloo; the Town of Blue Mountains; Minto, N.B.; Plum Point, Nfld.; Fredericton. Tough as times supposedly are for the federal government, Gary Goodyear, the Minister for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (an agency created by the Harper government), was announcing a new fund for Southern Ontario businesses.

Remember: this is the government that just cut spending on OAS, on Employment Insurance and Foreign Aid. This the government which shuttered Rights and Democracy and the Experimental Lakes Area. And this is the government which just beat back every amendment to its budget bill with the same refrain: We can't afford it.

It is, indeed, curious that a government which claims to be a universal beacon of sound financial management could be working so obviously at cross purposes. But, then, Simpson provides a little historical perspective:

In the 16 years that Conservatives have been in office since 1963, they have run just two surpluses – the first two years of the Harper government. These surpluses were inherited from the Paul Martin government that, together with the previous Chrétien government, ran nine consecutive years of surpluses.

The Harperites took a $13.8-billion surplus inherited from the Martin government and made it a $5.8-billion deficit in 2008. Since then, the Harperites have presided over $111-billion in deficits.

No, the Harperites are not stellar managers. But they are stellar confidence men. And, yes -- as the ascension of Julian Fantino makes clear -- they are mostly men. And, like all good confidence men, they have a gift for sizing up their marks -- us.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Too Smart To Stick Around

Pundits of all political stripes were expecting Stephen Harper to shuffle his cabinet this summer. Bev Oda left the cabinet yesterday and Julian Fantino replaced her. The shuffle was a fizzle. Why did Harper not deal the country another hand of cards?

The truth is, no matter how he shuffles the deck, Harper knows he has a lousy hand. He's known that from the beginning. That's why he has ridden herd on his caucus from the very beginning. They are not this country's best and brightest.

And despite his electoral success last May, they still keep getting themselves in trouble. Vic Toews can't open his mouth without putting his foot in it. And Peter MacKay -- who is the reason Stephen Harper is prime minister -- can't add or subtract. Lawrence Martin asks:

What kind of message is being sent to the public when so many in the Conservative government are not held to account for their actions? What is it about Mr. Harper that makes it so difficult for him to show a degree of contrition or humility that would sit so well with the public? How much hubris is in that tank?

The answer -- and it should be clear to everyone by now -- is that there is a lot more hubris in the tank. In the Harper government, the caucus and the cabinet are straw men and women. Their job is to do as they are told. Those who refuse -- the Jim Prentices, the Belinda Stronachs, the Bill Caseys, the Garth Turners -- leave of their own accord.

They're too smart to stick around.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Cold Lay Up

Micheal Harris continues to chronicle the demise of the Experimental Lakes Area.  A poll conducted by Forum Research has revealed that  "a whopping 50 percent of Canadians disagreed with the decision to close down the world’s only whole-lake eco-system experimental facility that has made so many planet-improving discoveries."

So the Harper government has been scrambling, trying to get  a Canadian university -- or a consortium of universities -- to take over ownership of the ELA.  But Dr. Carol Kelly, a former professor of Microbiology at the University of Manitoba, says:

The idea that ELA research is more suitable to universities is incorrect. This is because university funding is always short-term, whereas the whole ecosystem experiments were and are long-term, usually requiring a decade of work. This is because the lakes must be studied before the manipulation is done, during the manipulation, and then after as the lake recovers. So far, government has been the only institution with this type of long-term capability, by making use of a permanent facility and a permanent staff.”

The Harper government, of course, will offer no funding at all.

If a white knight cannot be found, the government has invented a new Orwellian term to describe the mothballing of ELA. It will undergo a "cold lay up"  It sounds so antiseptic, clean and harmless. Actually, the term is yet another example of what comes out of the back end of a horse.

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Economic Royalists

In today's Toronto Star, Linda McQuaig takes on the debt-mongers -- provincial and federal. They argue that we can't afford Ontario Place:

Dalton McGuinty’s government tries to convince us we can’t afford to provide this healthy, active recreation  for our children for the next five years. Also on the hit list — school playgrounds. Some 600 sites may soon be sold off by the cash-deprived Toronto school board. (Not to worry, there are still malls where our children can hang out.)

Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Harper government has just taken away two years of retirement benefits from millions of Canadians, with its decision to raise the entitlement age (starting in 2023) to 67. Harper never hinted at this major change during the last election campaign, but now insists it’s essential to keep government finances solvent — a claim that Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has dismissed as “silly.”

She reminds her readers that there are two kinds of debt -- consumer debt and invested debt. Today's conservatives, who are in the driver's seat, believe that all debt is consumer debt. And, in fact, it was consumer debt -- which they championed -- that got us into this mess. But investing in a nation's people and infrastucture is invested debt. That kind of debt is the antidote for our current malaise. McQuaig reminds her readers that:

It’s worth noting that in 1936, during the height of the Depression, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt had the foresight to ignore the debt-mongers and establish a wide-ranging social security system that survives today, providing crucial support to tens of millions of Americans. And Britain, despite record debt levels immediately after World War II, brought in national health care and a comprehensive social insurance system that helped spark the postwar boom.

It's exactly those programs that are now under the gun. Roosevelt called his opponents "economic royalists." Their goal, he undertood quite rightly, was to undermine democracy.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Who Speaks For Canadians?

Over the weekend, Conrad Black ventured the opinion that Canada's "almost slavish veneration" of the UN was coming to an end. Calling the recent Human Rights Council criticism of Quebec's Bill 78 "outrageous," Black wrote that:

Unfortunately, Canada was, for most of the UN’s history, far too indulgent of it. First, as a victorious ally and charter member, it was part of the Anglo-American governing consensus. Then, after Lodge gave Pearson the Suez peacekeeper idea (and Pearson forgot that it wasn’t his originally), the foreign policy establishment in Ottawa began to view the UN as a way for Canada to distinguish itself from the U.S. at little cost, and to allow itself, with a modest foreign aid budget, to pander to Third World countries without seriously annoying our traditional allies. This gradually developed into the Chrétien government’s endorsement of “soft power,” a phrase originated by former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s national security adviser Joe Nye, which was a soft alternative to the use of American military might. It is a concept that has any validity only when there is a hard power option, which Canada did not possess. As practised by this country, soft power was a fraud, it was just more softness.

And that's what the Harper government is all about -- hard power. Never mind diplomatic niceties -- even at home. The only thing people understand is contempt. And that contempt, Harper proclaims, is a Canadian value. He speaks for Canadians. Lord Black  appears to believe that he, too, speaks for Canadians.

Before advancing that argument any further, both Black and Harper might consider the results of a new EKOS poll. No doubt Mr. Black would repeat John Diefenbaker's observation that "polls are for dogs." And it is true that they are merely a snapshot in time. As of yesterday, the NDP is on top, with the support of 34.2% of Canadians. Conservative support has slipped to 29.3%. The Liberals are stuck in a holding pattern at 19.2%.

But there is a bigger story behind the numbers:

"The major notable factor here is a pretty alarming for the government, decline in support,” EKOS president Frank Graves said. “They’ve lost over 11 points of support and to see a government that secured a majority under 30 points one year later, I think is pretty well unprecedented.”

The numbers call into question the Conservative claim that they represent ordinary Canadians:

I would stress it’s not much different from the very good result [the NDP] got in the last election,” [Graves] said. “What’s really different here is a majority government under 30 points a year out and with evidence that they may in fact be poorly poised to weather any further ethics storms or any other missteps.”

Crucially for the government are the numbers revealing how Canadians feel about the direction in which it is heading, Graves pointed out. Only about a third (34.8 per cent) of Canadians thinks the government is moving in the right direction, while over half (55.2 per cent) believe the government is moving in the wrong direction.

Canadians are beginning to treat the Harper government with the same contempt which it has shown them.  The UN hopes that Stephen Harper does not speak for the majority of Canadians. Apparently, Lord Black hopes he does.