Friday, August 31, 2012

Oh, Quebec, Where Art Thou?

Jeffrey Simpson's column, in this morning's Globe and Mail, is a sad commentary on Quebec's links to the rest of Canada:

In most walks of life – in what we might call civil society – the links are thin. And within the political realm, where historically francophones and other Canadians interacted constructively or with conflict, again the links have frayed.

Today, more than at any time in Canadian history, there are almost no federalists in Quebec political life who speak often and with conviction about the merits of the Canadian federal system. There are no federalist champions from Ottawa whose voices resonate in Quebec, and there are few in the realm of provincial politics.

The two original partners in Confederation seem to be leading entirely separate lives. They no longer share the same house. And the Harper government is absolutely unconcerned about this state of affairs:

The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hugely unpopular, devoid of impressive ministers, led by someone Quebeckers have come to think of as remote and uncaring of their aspirations, driven by an agenda incubated somewhere else.

Indeed, the summer’s saddest (or funniest) political spectacle was Mr. Harper’s appearance in Quebec. Surrounded by imported ministers – some of them unilingual English-speakers – and his rather feeble Quebec contingent, Harper’s team organized a forlorn photo op in the middle of nowhere, really, and presented the entire fabricated affair as a relaunch of Conservative hopes and intentions in Quebec.

So the task of keeping the marriage going falls to Thomas Mulcair -- or the new Liberal leader, whoever that may be. And the task will be, as they say in French, "formidable."


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Monumental Stupidity

Jim Flaherty likes to wag his finger. Two days ago, he wagged it at the business community for sitting on $500 billion. It was the private sector's time, he said, to step up to the plate. However, "at a certain point, it’s not up to government to stimulate the economy.” The truth is that -- only when it faced its imminent execution, in 2008 -- did Flaherty and his boss deem it appropriate for the government to give the economy a boost.

Tom Walkom writes in the Toronto Star that, as with Stephen Harper's claim that science will determine the fate of the Northern Gateway pipeline, the government is working at cross purposes. Science will do nothing, if those who do the science have been cashiered.

Fiscally, Ottawa began to pull back on spending. Instead, it focused on reducing corporate taxes.

The assumption here was that if businesses were allowed to keep more of their profits they would invest them productively.

But in the real world, corporations don’t invest when the economic outlook looks gloomy. Why hire workers if you’re not sure you can sell what they produce?

Instead, corporations took the extra profits provided by government and sat on them — either in the form of cash or short-term cash equivalents.

Businesses won't invest if consumers don't have money to spend. And without jobs, they have no way to buy what business is selling. Harper government policy has put more money into the hands of those who already have it -- and less into the pockets of those who don't have it.

The myth has been circulating for some time that this is smart policy. The truth is that it is monumental stupidity.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

McGuinty And The Teachers

Governments these days aren't into labour relations. And so, Dalton McGuinty has torn a page out of Stephen Harper's playbook, ordering Ontario teachers back to work before they took strike action. As Tom Walkom writes this morning, this is about politics. There are two by-elections taking place in Ontario, and McGunity hopes his stand against teachers will restore his majority.

But, more importantly, McGuinty's Liberals have bought into the myth that austerity causes growth:

They are focusing on the province’s deficit, now $15 billion, rather than the economic circumstances that created this shortfall.

Those circumstances have to do with a faltering economy that through job loss and weakened consumer demand is starving government of revenues.

A far-sighted government would focus on restarting the economy and raising those revenues. A near-sighted government, like this one, focuses on reducing spending alone — with no thought as to how such cuts might further hobble the overall economy.

It's the same thinking which has brought Britain into recession a second time and the same thinking which Stephen Harper says will be Canada's salvation.

When I was in the classroom, I lived through six strikes -- four in Quebec and two in Ontario. I hated every one of them. They unleashed ugly feelings. They caused financial distress. We became the targets of public anger. But what I hated most was knowing that I was a political football.

That said, the strikes gave me a living wage. They gave me a pension. Most importantly, they gave me a future. Today's political godfathers want to abolish all three of these things. My children wonder if they have a shot at any of them.

Walkom is right: "This fight isn't just about teachers."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Observations From An Odyssey

I returned from a trip across Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with the following impressions:

1. In Quebec, Jean Charest and his Liberals are in deep trouble. Nonetheless, the results on September 4th will be close. If Pauline Marois wins the election, it will be by a narrow margin. She will, perhaps, lead a minority government. For Quebercers, it's a case of which leader they dislike the least. But one thing is certain: the leader they dislike the most is Stephen Harper.

2. No matter how many times you've been there, the view of the St. Lawrence from atop the ramparts of Quebec City is always magnificent.

3. In New Brunswick, the pulp and paper industry is no longer a powerhouse. In Florenceville, however, the potato is still king. Regardless, both the Irvings and the McCains appear to be doing quite well.

4. Those who believe that Quebec's separation would be of little consequence completely ignore the huge number of French Canadians who live in New Brunswick -- still Canada's only officially bilingual province.

5. In Lunenburg, work on the Bluenose II is almost complete.

6. A significant number of Nova Scotians -- whether they serve tourists or fill lobster traps off the Eastern Shore -- work seasonally. They are simply acknowledging the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Denying them employment insurance benefits will not alter that fact.

Whenever I travel across Canada, I am struck by the nation's vastness, beauty and generosity. This trip again confirmed that impression. What was different this time around was the uneasy feeling I had that the gulf between the country and its pinched, grasping and mean-spirited prime minister is profound.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What Science?

Stephen Harper claims that science will determine the viability of the Enbridge Pipeline. But he also insists that science must meet his deadline of 2013. However, as the Canadian Press reported yesterday, science will not be able to meet that deadline.

For one thing, the project is massive and requires multiple environmental assessments:

The pipeline is to traverse nearly 1,000 streams and rivers in the upper Fraser, Skeena and Kitimat watersheds.

For another, federal budget cuts have reduced both the human and technological resources needed to make those assessments:

The federal government recently sent letters to 92 habitat staff members within Fisheries and Oceans in B.C., telling them that their positions will be cut. Thirty-two of them will be laid off outright.

The cuts will mean the department in B.C. has half the habitat staff it had a decade ago.

All but five of the province’s fisheries field offices will be cut as part of a $79-million — 5.8 per cent — cut to the department’s operational budget, including the offices in Prince George and Smithers that would have had the lead in monitoring pipeline effects.

Mr. Harper is directly responsible for both of these outcomes. As former Environment Minister David Anderson says,

“You can’t do these studies on the spur of the moment. It takes time to do them. And the federal Fisheries have just been subjected to the most remarkable cuts, so you’re in the throes of reorganization and reassessment and re-assigning people, and on top of it you throw them a major, major request for resources and work.

“It can’t be done.”

Mr. Harper has no intention of doing it. Like the bitumen he is hellbent on selling, he pollutes the truth.

Just a brief note: My wife and I are heading for Nova Scotia to visit family. We'll be back near the end of the month. I'll take a break from blogging until then.

This entry is cross posted at Eradicating Ecocide.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What Happened To Progressive Taxation?

In the last thirty years, the idea that taxes should be progressive has disappeared from public discourse. Robert Reich writes that the father of free market capitalism believed that nations should institute progressive taxation:

Even Adam Smith, the 18th century guru of free-market conservatives, saw the wisdom of a graduated tax embodying the principle of equal sacrifice. “The rich should contribute to the public expense,” he wrote, “not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more in proportion.”

Last week, Mitt Romney offered the bromide that he was not going to release his tax records.The public could take his word that he had never paid less than 13% of his income in taxes. It was a remarkable moment. When most Americans deliver roughly 30% of their income to Uncle Sam, Romney claims that his 13% is worth so much more because he earns so much more.

What Romney doesn't understand, writes Reich, is the notion of equal sacrifice:

Equal sacrifice means that in paying taxes people ought to feel about the same degree of pain regardless of whether they’re wealthy or poor. Logically, this means someone earning $20 million a year should pay a much larger proportion of his income in taxes than someone earning $200,000, who in turn should pay a larger proportion than someone earning $50,000.

But Romney’s alleged 13 percent tax rate is lower than that of most middle class Americans who earn a tiny fraction of what he earns. 

And that's the point. Neo-conservatism has no room for the notion of equal sacrifice. It has been replaced by the notion of get as much as you can.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Ghost Of Trudeau

John Ibbitson writes in this morning's Globe that the Harper government is quietly preparing for a Parti Quebecois victory in Quebec. The Harperites are busy mapping out their game plan:

The Prime Minister will declare that he has no mandate from the Canadian people to negotiate with a separatist government over a series of measures that would lead to the slow-motion breakup of the country.
He will say as well that the Conservative government remains focused on the economy: on creating jobs, improving productivity, expanding trade and eliminating the deficit. He will urge the government in Quebec to do likewise. This is Plan A.

But, should Pauline Marois call a referendum, Harper will be up the creek. His decisions to elevate the Queen, to kill the long gun registry, and to abandon the Kyoto Accord offend Quebecers of all political stripes. In fact, Harper has been rubbing Quebec's nose in the dirt ever since he was elected -- which accounts for the five seats he holds in the province. 

That, writes Ibbitson, is why the Conservatives need Pan B -- which would involve Thomas Mulcair: "Mr. Mulcair has deep roots in the province, served in Jean Charest’s cabinet, and loves a good fight."

If ever there was a Hail Mary Pass, the Conservative Plan B is it. But what is even more interesting is Ibbitson's claim that:

At all costs, the Tories want to prevent the revival of the Liberal Party in Quebec. If Justin Trudeau were to become Liberal Leader, they would not want to see him emerging as the next generation’s champion of federalism in French Canada, and would do nothing to encourage him in that role.

The force that has driven Stephen Harper and the party he built is a pathological hatred of Pierre Trudeau. It would be more than ironic if Trudeau's son rose -- like Marley's ghost -- to haunt Stephen Harper's days and nights.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Stockman's Broadside

Pundits were buzzing this week, after David Stockman released an op-ed in The New York Times. Ronald Reagan's former budget director had little good to say about the party he once represented as a congressman and the plan the party's candidate for vice president is selling:

Thirty years of Republican apostasy — a once grand party’s embrace of the welfare state, the warfare state and the Wall Street-coddling bailout state — have crippled the engines of capitalism and buried us in debt. Mr. Ryan’s sonorous campaign rhetoric about shrinking Big Government and giving tax cuts to “job creators” (read: the top 2 percent) will do nothing to reverse the nation’s economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse. 

This was not the first time Stockman disagreed publicly with his party's economic policies. Back in 1981, in an article in The Atlantic, William Greider quoted Stockman as saying that Ronald Reagan's initial tax cut 

was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate.... It's kind of hard to sell 'trickle down.' So the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really 'trickle down.' Supply-side is 'trickle-down' theory."

Stockman also told Greider that, "None of us really understands what's going on with all these numbers."

Paul Ryan once worked for Jack Kemp, the Apostle of Supply Side Economics. Stockman still believes that Kemp's economics were, and are, profoundly misguided:

These doctrines now saddle our bankrupt nation with a roughly $775 billion “defense” budget in a world where we have no advanced industrial state enemies and have been fired (appropriately) as the global

Ryan's so called Path to Prosperity, Stockman wrote,

boils down to a fetish for cutting the top marginal income-tax rate for “job creators” — i.e. the superwealthy — to 25 percent and paying for it with an as-yet-undisclosed plan to broaden the tax base. Of the $1 trillion in so-called tax expenditures that the plan would attack, the vast majority would come from slashing popular tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance, mortgage interest, 401(k) accounts, state and local taxes, charitable giving and the like, not to mention low rates on capital gains and dividends. The crony capitalists of K Street already own more than enough Republican votes to stop that train before it leaves the station. 

Needless to say, Mr.Stockman is no longer popular among Republicans. But he still has the courage to speak truth to power.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

They Call The Shots

The Globe and Mail  reports this morning that:

For two days every summer, a select group of CEOs, other business leaders, and policy experts is invited to a retreat with the Finance Minister. The event is private. Participants are allowed to talk about the meeting afterward, but cannot reveal who said what.

No one knows exactly what is on this year's agenda. But, through an access to information request, The Globe has discovered what was discussed at last year's retreat:

During last year’s sessions with business and policy leaders in Wakefield, Que., the minister was urged to adopt measures to reduce the pay of Canadian workers, limit union power by enacting U.S.-style right-to-work legislation, and allow two-tier health care.

The details are in a briefing note to Mr. Flaherty from his deputy minister that summarizes what was said.

There were also calls for a higher retirement age and to open Canada’s shipping, telecom and airline industries to more foreign competition.

Compare the deputy minister's summary with the recently passed federal budget, and you have a disturbing picture of who calls the shots in Harperland. Where did the changes to OAS come from? What about the "reformed" employment insurance policy? And then, of course, there is the government's decision to pay foreign workers 15% less than the current Canadian wage -- which depresses all Canadian wages.

In fact, The Globe reports:

Labour issues surface in several discussion categories, with the general view that Canadian workers are overpriced. “Need to address wage differentials in labor market among countries; we are losing jobs to other countries,” the memo reads. “Right to Work legislation should be pondered as it creates inequities in productivity; US example was provided.”

The memo indicates calls were made for junior public servants to be paid less. “Reduce public service wages (not in higher ranks, but those in the lower ranks such as administrative and clerical staff as they earn more than their private-sector counterparts) and reduce the overall size of the public service.”

It was all in this year's budget. It's pretty clear who calls the shots.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Canadians and Climate Change

Stephen Harper likes to claim that his values are Canadian values. If Harper truly based his decisions on evidence, he might begin to revaluate that assumption. According to a new poll from Insightrix Reseach, only 2% of Canadians believe that climate change is a hoax:

Almost one-third — 32 per cent — said they believe climate change is happening because of human activity, while 54 per cent said they believe it's because of human activity and partially due to natural climate variation. Nine per cent believe climate change is occurring due to natural climate variation.

But it's also interesting to note how opinion varies throughout the country:

The survey found 44 per cent of Quebec respondents, 34 per cent of Atlantic Canadian respondents and 32 per cent of those surveyed in British Columbia are likely to believe climate change is occurring due to human activity. Alberta and Saskatchewan came in at 21 per cent while Manitoba was at 24 per cent.

Harper has always assumed that Alberta speaks for Canadians. If he were truly wise, he would know that navel gazing is fatal when walking in heavy traffic. I suspect that he will come to that realization at some time in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

All That Outrage

It's interesting to see what's happened to the Party of Moral Outrage. When the Sponsorship Scandal broke, the Conservatives were in high dudgeon. They had a right to be outraged. But their outrage was nothing new. Their predecessors, the Reform Party, were always the Party of High Dudgeon. They railed against Senate patronage, and they vowed to put an end to it by making senators accountable to the electorate.

Since then, Stephen Harper has packed the upper chamber with his own partisans and senate reform has dropped off the radar screen. Now the Globe and Mail reports that:

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, asked about the propriety of appointing fellow cabinet minister Vic Toews to the bench, said Monday that government ministers should not be ruled out for such appointments.

Mr. Toews is particularly noted for his moral outrage -- whether he is accusing the opposition of being on the side of child pornographers or insisting that Corrections Canada should be more concerned with punishment than rehabilitation.

Given his personal history, he would be wise to follow that old adage about what people who live in glass houses should not do. Unfortunately, Mr. Toews and the party he serves have always been much better at throwing stones than ensuring the integrity of glass houses.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wealth and Health

We have known for twenty-five years that neo-conservative economic policies produce extreme income inequality. Now a report by the Canadian Medical Association makes clear that the same policies have led to health inequality. The CBC reports that :

The gap in self-reported health status between income groups seems to be growing, with 39 per cent of those whose households earned less than $30,000 a year describing their health as excellent or very good compared with 68 per cent of those earning $60,000 or more.

"When it comes to the well-being of Canadians, the old saying that wealth equals health continues to ring true," Dr. John Haggie, president of the CMA, said in a release.

"What is particularly worrisome for Canada's doctors is that in a nation as prosperous as Canada, the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' appears to be widening."

The late Tommy Douglas discovered as a child that the wealthy had much better health care than the poor. It was the gap in care which energized his commitment to public health care in Saskatchewan and eventually every province in Canada.

We have known for a long time that wealth buys better health. But we have assumed that Medicare solved that problem. The truth is that, as wealth has trickled up to the top, the poor have paid a medical price:

Those with the lowest incomes were also more likely to report being diagnosed with a chronic condition, 41 per cent, than those with household incomes of $60,000 or more, 28 per cent.

Everyday, in every way, life gets better for the wealthy. But, for the vast majority of Canadians, it gets worse.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Romney, Ryan and Cheap Grace

Now that Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate, the transformation of the Republican Party is complete. The Party of Lincoln is now the Party of Ayn Rand. The party of small business and the family farm is now the party of big business and private capital.

One might have thought that the Great Recession would have halted the Republican March to Plutocracy. After all, it was Republican faith in unregulated markets that brought about the economic meltdown. Alan Greenspan admitted as much. But, instead of taking Greenspan's suggestion that their policies were misguided, Republicans doubled down, insisting on more tax breaks for the wealthy and huge cuts in social spending. That is what Mr. Romney's running mate stands for.

How does one account for this remarkable refusal on the part of Republicans to re-evaluate their position? Mike Lofgren, a former Republican staffer, offers an explanation:

Having observed politics up close and personal for most of my adult lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the transformation of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war.

The religious right has energized the Republican Party -- and it has wrestled control from the party's formerly ascendant secularists:

The results of this takeover are all around us: If the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels and demons, and so forth, it is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party, and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary beliefs. All around us now is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science. Politicized religion is the sheet anchor of the dreary forty-year-old culture wars.

So much so, writes Lofgren, that

there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: Major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to share their feelings about their faith in a revelatory speech, or a televangelist like Rick Warren will dragoon the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, offering himself as the final arbiter. Half a century after John F. Kennedy put to rest the question of whether a candidate of a minority denomination could be president, the Republican Party has reignited the kinds of seventeenth-century religious controversies that advanced democracies are supposed to have outgrown. And some in the media seem to have internalized the GOP’s premise that the religion of a candidate is a matter for public debate.

But worse still has been the acceptance of a kind of religious orthodoxy which the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace:"

By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as before.

Because Republicans now believe with religious fervor that they carry the keys to the Kingdom of Economic Salvation, they insist that America needs more of the same. Mitt Romney is their Moses. And, if for some reason, he doesn't lead them into the land of milk and honey, Paul Ryan -- like Joshua -- will see that they get there.

The truth is that, if Americans buy what the Republicans are selling, they will be wandering in the desert for another forty years.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Harper's Assault On Knowledge

Valerie Knowles writes this morning that, to date, the press has paid little attention to what federal budget cuts have done to government libraries:

To date, the Immigration and Refugee Board, Transport Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Public Service Commission, National Capital Commission and Canadian International Development Agency libraries have been closed. Other libraries, such as those at Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada are scheduled for imminent closure. In still others, staffs are being drastically cut.

Even when forward-looking library managers take into account the reality of digital publishing and act accordingly, they and their staff, to say nothing of outside researchers, cannot but deplore the consignment of valuable books, documents and photos to basements, where they will be out of reach of researchers and in danger of being lost forever. 

Along with the gutting of Statistics Canada,  the Conservatives are systematically destroying government data bases. And this is of no small concern. Government documents illuminate how decisions are reached. Take, for instance, the business of refugee policy. Knowles writes:

Developments in refugee policy at the Cabinet level can be tracked online, but the critical decisions made by the Cabinet were communicated to immigration officials in an “Operations Memorandum” inserted in an immigration officer’s instructions manual. “These instructions,” reports Michael Molloy, [President of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society] “governed how Canada resettled refugees from Chile, Uganda, Eastern Europe and the early phase of the Indochinese refugee movement and had a profound impact on Canadian refugee procedures down to this day. So far as we know, only one copy of the Ops Memorandum still exists: in the Immigration department’s library, which will close in September.” At this writing, it is unclear what is to become of historical material of this sort when this — and other libraries — close.

Commentators have had a lot to say about the Harper government's war on science. But  that war is being fought on several fronts. In fact, the Harperites have declared war on knowledge. The reason is simple: knowledge is power. And, if the public is given access to knowledge, they can mount their own counter offensive.

We couldn't have that, could we?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

How Not To Do Labour Relations

Just as Peter Kent is the Anti-Environment Minister, Lisa Raitt is the Anti-Labour Minister. Her job has been to legislate Canada Post, Air Canada and Canadian Pacific workers back to their workplaces before a strike got underway. But an indication of just how clumsy the Conservatives are at handling labour relations occurred yesterday when a federal court ordered the government to replace its chosen arbitrator:

In a decision released Wednesday, the court said arbitrator Guy Dufort’s previous work for Canada Post and history as a Conservative candidate in Quebec casts doubt on his impartiality.

“In light of the unique context of labour relations and the special law, the court concludes that a reasonable and sensible person might worry that the arbitrator is biased because of these two reasons,” says a summary of the decision.

Dufour was on a list of possible arbitrators. But CUPW says it was unaware of Dufour's ties to the Conservative Party:

The union says Dufort’s Facebook page contained links to Conservative groups under the “activities and interests” section, and he was “friends” on the social networking site with both Raitt and Tory MP Steven Fletcher, the junior minister responsible for Canada Post. The links have since been removed.

Apparently, such blatant conflict of interest did not strike the Conservatives as a problem. Dufour replaced the original arbitrator, retired judge Coulter Osborne, who quit after it became public knowledge that he was not bilingual.

There are two givens in labour relations in Canada. One is that arbitrators are impartial. The other is that -- at least in the federal workplace -- they should be bilingual. The Harper Conservatives clearly do not intend to abide by what used to be labour relations axioms.

They don't know how to do labour relations -- and they don't intend to do them.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Man Of Science

Stephen Harper said yesterday that there would be an independent review of the  proposed Northern Gateway Project:

“The only way that governments can handle controversial projects of this manner is to ensure that things are evaluated on an independent basis scientifically, and not simply on political criteria,” Harper told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver.

He also added that he was going to stay out of the dispute which that project has caused between Alberta and British Columbia:

“I’m not going to get into an argument or a discussion about how we divide hypothetical revenues.”

As is typical with Mr. Harper, he stirs the pot then leaves the scene. And, as always, when you parse what he says, you have to set his words alongside his actions. Under the recently passed budget bill, the cabinet -- not the National Energy Board -- will decide the fate of Northern Gateway. The pipeline's future is in the hands of Canada's most powerful politicians.

It's worth remembering what Jack Layton said about Stephen Harper: "For me it's a question of trust. I do not believe you can trust Mr. Harper with his word." Layton could work with Mr. Harper. But he had no illusions about the prime minister.

When Harper claims that science will determine the fate of Northern Gateway, Canadians should remember Layton's warning.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Federalism Upside Down

Don Lenihan and Graham Fox argue this morning that, under the Harper government,  federalism has been turned upside down:

The federal government seems to have opted for a more transactional approach to governance, concentrating on issues like border security, crime and natural resources. The Harper government seems uncomfortable with complex processes and relationships, so its guiding principle is to keep things as simple as possible.

By contrast, the Council of the Federation (COF) is emerging as a new kind of collaborative forum. The provinces are using it to build and test the strategies and coalitions they think governments need to solve complex issues. Premiers Robert Ghiz and Brad Wall’s effort on health care and Alison Redford’s push for a national energy strategy are examples.

True to their fundamentalist roots, the Harperites believe that all problems should be simple and require simple solutions. Unfortunately, the world has always been more complex than their philosophy acknowledges. That leaves the provinces to deal with the big problems -- health care, the environment, equal access to government services.

The Harper Conservatives have always been content to deal with the world as they wish it would be. But the federal government will not be able to withdraw from tough decisions forever. The question is, how long will Canada have to live with Conservative Denial?

At some point, the federation will have to be placed right side up.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Much Ado About Religion

Lawrence Marin takes a little time and space this morning to rebut the theocons who were outraged when he asked whether the prime minister's religious faith influences his policies -- or lack of them. Martin was answering people like Michael Coren, who called Martin a "twit" for suggesting that some Catholics rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation. Coren was apoplectic:

If you don’t believe in transubstantiation, you’re not a Catholic; if you do, you are. You can believe in almost all of the other teachings of the church, but if you deny the wafer becomes the body of Christ, you are not a serious Catholic.

Shades of Dean Del Mastro questioning Justin Trudeau's Catholic credentials. But to his credit, Martin offers some personal testimony:

I was raised as a Catholic in a strict Catholic environment. I am still – they haven’t excommunicated me yet – a Catholic. I go to church occasionally. But I don’t believe in transubstantiation. In fact, most Catholics who I know do not believe in it.

 I'm sure that there will now be calls for Martin's excommunication. But, as I recall, Jesus Christ faced the same calls. And the solution the authorities sanctioned was quite brutal. One hopes we are now beyond that.

But, then and now, there has always been much ado about religion.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Quebec's Generation Gap

In the spring, it became clear that Quebec was experiencing what -- in my youth -- we called a "generation gap." Konrad Yakabuski writes, in today's Globe an Mail, that the kids in the street will definitely have an effect on the election. But what that effect will be is hard to predict:

Mr. Charest is all but counting on the radical student organization Mr. Nadeau-Dubois leads to create a ruckus when the province’s colleges and universities start classes this month. Another violent student uprising against his government might just drive fearful and fed up voters to back the federalist Liberals on Sept. 4. Of course, it also possible that Mr. Charest’s attempt to turn the election into a referendum on tuition fees could backfire if voters believe that he provoked the confrontation and prolonged the stand-off by refusing to negotiate with the students for months last spring.

In Canada's English language press, the kids are seen as privileged whiners. But young Quebecers have the impression that they have been cheated. Like the Quiet Revolutionaries, they dream of an economically vibrant Quebec. Unfortunately, Quebec's economy is in the doldrums:

Quebec’s share of the Canadian population and economy has been shrinking for decades. Its debt is now equal to 55 per cent of its gross domestic product, by far the highest in Canada. A reduction in federal transfer payments, a possibility when the current equalization formula expires in 2014, would be catastrophic for its finances.

And an independent Quebec would face more economic headwinds:

Martin Coiteux, a professor at Montreal’s École des Hautes Études Commerciales business school, calculates that an independent Quebec (assuming its share of accumulated federal borrowing) would have a debt burden in between those of Italy and Portugal, two of Europe’s biggest basket cases.

Like the young, Quebec is caught between a rock and a hard place. It's hard to predict whether or not this election will improve the the lot of either. Regardless of how the election turns out, Quebec's generation gap is growing.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Flanagan's Folly

Tom Flanagan beats the drum in this morning's Globe and Mail for the Northern Gateway pipeline and all other pipelines. He cites section 92(10) subsection (a) of the BNA Act which

gives the federal Parliament jurisdiction over railways, canals and “other works and undertakings” (including pipelines in today’s world) extending across provincial boundaries. British Columbia, or any other province, simply does not have constitutional jurisdiction to block a pipeline coming from another province if federal authorities approve it.

However, Mr. Flanagan -- like the religious fundamentalists who are the Conservative Party's base -- makes no room for extenuating circumstances. He does not mention that Mr. Harper was  elected with less than 40% of the popular vote. One can infer that, if 60% of Canadians did not vote for Harper, they did not vote for his policies.

A wiser commentator -- who knew more about Canadian history -- would know that the constitution Mr. Flanagan cites was arrived at through compromise, when the leaders of the colonies north of the American border thrashed out their differences. And -- using the BNA Act as a starting point -- compromise has kept this country together for 145 years. Again this week, Stephen Harper said he did not wish to engage in that process.

The BNA Act is a guide. It is not Holy Writ. Canada cannot be ruled from on high, by decree. Neither the Prime Minister nor Mr. Flanagan understand that. And that is their folly.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Riding Herd On The Civil Service

Michael Harris reminds his readers that the RCMP has been a troubled organization for a very long time:

There were all those sled dogs they slaughtered; there was that dynamite they stole and tried to link to the FLQ; there was the membership list of the Parti Québécois they stole during one of 400 illegal break-ins; the infamous barn-burning; they pepper-sprayed Canadian citizens at the Asia Pacific Economic Conference so a dictator like Suharto wouldn’t be discommoded; they pepper-sprayed them again at the Summit of the Americas; they tasered an 82 year-old man in his hospital bed in the name of law and order; their investigators were central in the events leading to the torture of Maher Arar; they rifled their own pension fund; they abused their female members if Catherine Galliford has it right and then dragged their heels on the investigation; Robert Dziekanski didn’t survive his airport encounter with them and then they lied about what had happened; Ian Bush didn’t survive his detachment office encounter with them; they killed Darren Varley.

And, of course, there was that investigation into the leak from Ralph Goodale's office during the 2006 election.

Now many women who served in the force are alleging sexual harrassment. The Red Coats -- and the government -- are circling the wagons. Harris writes:

I would submit the problem is government agencies who are trying so hard to please Dear Leader they are at risk of giving themselves hernias.

This week, eighty lawyers accused Jason Kenny of aiding and abetting Conrad Black's return to Canada. Kenny and the Prime Minister claim that only civil servants handled the Black file. But, when the government sends media minders to conferences to keep a tight rein on Canadian scientists, are we to believe that the public service does not understand whose side they are supposed to take?

Methinks Mr. Kenny and the Prime Minister do protest too much.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Another No

A week after the premiers invited Stephen Harper to their next meeting on the economy, he rejected the invitation -- again. He does G8  and G20 summits. And he certainly does Davos. But he has no time for the premiers. The Canadian Press reports that:

When asked if there would be a first ministers meeting in the fall, [Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall] said simply, "No."

MacDougall added that the prime minister meets regularly with the premiers on an individual basis, citing 74 such meetings since 2010. But Harper has not met with them as a group since 2009 when they gathered to discuss the economy following the global financial crisis.

"The federal and provincial governments worked well together to deliver the stimulus programs to help secure our recovery," MacDougall said in an email. "The prime minister always discusses the economy with each of the premiers (when) he meets with them."

In Harper's view, things are going along swimmingly. That was also his assessment during the 2008 election, just before the advent of the Great Recession. Meanwhile, opposition to Harper's dream of an oil port in Kitimat is growing. Native peoples are threatening to set up barricades. And he is about to become persona non grata in Quebec.

Harper is self absorbed, but he is not self aware. On the international stage he is increasingly viewed as The Ugly Canadian. That moniker is now being applied within his own borders.

So, like Louis IXV, he has retired to Versailles. And citizens are preparing to storm the Bastille.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Harper and Quebec

Tim Harper warns in today's Toronto Star that -- if the betting is right, and Jean Charest calls an election today -- Ottawa could be radically transformed. If the Parti Quebecois wins that election, Stephen Harper's government could be shaken to its foundations.

The Conservative majority was quite consciously built on the assumption that Harper didn't need Quebec to govern. And it was based on the further assumption that Quebec was prepared to exist quietly in a parallel universe.

If  the PQ wins, Quebec will be anything but quiet. They have vowed to attack the federal government everyday as a pretext for a referendum. And, if there ever was a federal government that is easy to paint as toxic to Quebec's aspirations, it's the Harper government. On gun control, on prisons, on health care, on the appointment of unilinqual officers of parliament -- the majority of Quebecers have no love for Stephen Harper and his minions.

And, as Tim Harper points out, the official opposition has much deeper Quebec roots than the other three parties. Thomas Mulcair could make hay of the situation:

The federal NDP shares goals with the PQ, such as the extension of language laws requiring the primacy of French in federally-regulated workplaces, and the two parties are natural allies when it comes to social and environmental issues.

Mulcair will also be carrying with him an official party policy, the Sherbrooke Declaration, which would allow Quebec to separate on the barest 50 per cent plus one mandate, regardless of the wording of a referendum question.

The Sherbrooke Declaration has always been highly controversial. Whether or not -- if push came to shove -- it would be good for the country, is an open question. And, if the PQ does win the election, you can expect that the Liberals will convince Justin Trudeau that the stars are aligned in his favour.

As for the Conservatives, there is no love lost between them and Charest. But he's the best hope they have.  If Charest calls an election, the Harperites should join those black veiled women who climb Mount Royal on their knees, on the way to St. Joseph's Oratory. At this point, only a novena will save them.