Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Perverse Politics

Mitt Romney's supporters are engaging in the same kind of perverse politics which the Romney campaign has practiced. Two days ago, David Brooks suggested that there was an upside to Romney's opportunism: If Americans elect Romney, Brooks wrote, he will work with intransigent Republicans and more reasonable Democrats.

Brooks is not the only one to make this argument. The Demoines Register has based its endorsement of Romney on the same argument, as has the Orlando Sentinel. Ezra Klein writes that these endorsements validate Mitch McConnell and John Boehner's policy of unrestrained obstruction:

These endorsements are proving Republicans right. As they show, the Republican strategy to deny the president any cooperation and make his Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place has done Obama enormous political damage. In that way, the endorsements get the situation backwards. 

However, there is a huge downside to this strategy:

If this strategy wins Republicans the election, they’ll employ it next time they face a Democratic president, too, and congressional Democrats will use it against the next Republicans. Rewarding the minority for doing everything in their power to make the majority fail sets up disastrous incentives for the political system.

If Romney wins the election, respect for the truth in political campaigns will have reached a new low. But, more ominously, he and the Republicans will have ushered in a new set of political imperatives which will shake the foundations of the American political system.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Quo Vadis, Mr. Hudak?

With Ontario's Liberals in disarray, Martin Regg Cohn speculates in this morning's Toronto Star about what the province would look like under Tim Hudak:

Hudak still clings to panaceas: Unspecified tax cuts to goose economic growth, ramp up total revenues and magically balance the budget at warp speed.

Note that Hudak never says which taxes he’d cut — a form of Mitt Romney redux on reductions and deductions — just that he wants a “flatter personal income tax structure” that squeezes out the last remnants of progressivity from our system. Tax cuts would produce a “counter-intuitive” increase in revenues thanks to massive spending by consumers and corporations newly flush with tax money.

Tax cuts, says Mr. Hudak, encourage growth. But there's a problem:

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney notes that Canadian corporations are already flush with $560 billion in “dead money” that they’re not investing productively. Why, when they’re already sitting on such a stash of cash, would Hudak expect them to suddenly start investing any extra money from his tax cuts?

Hudak's vision of the Canadian economy is exactly like Stephen Harper. Perhaps that's because they share similar academic and career paths:

Hudak, who has a masters in economics, knows better than to promise he can defy the laws of economics by transforming Ontario into a trickle-down uptick. The Tory leader has never actually worked as professional economist, but as a practicing politician he has some experience in telling people what they want to hear.

 It's amazing that this falderol still has a shelf life.  But, after November 6th, Americans may wake and proclaim, "It's alive!" Here in Canada, Mr. Harper and Mr. Hudak keep trying to electrify the creature.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Not Their Finest Hour

After the Supreme Court's historic ruling on Etobicoke Centre last week, some commentators applauded the decision as a reaffirmation of Canadians' right to vote. But Michael Harris points to the minority opinion, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, which takes issue with the quality of evidence upon which the majority based its decision:

First, the evidence is not relevant to the matter before this Court…after-the-fact information that a non-entitled voter was qualified is not relevant to whether he was entitled to receive a ballot on election day … Votes were set aside in this case because of failures in the registration and identification prerequisites of entitlement. These cannot be remedied by after-the-fact proofs of qualification…”

Chief Justice McLachlin’s logic is hard to argue – without the voter establishing his qualifications in an approved manner prior to voting, doesn’t the Act clearly state that he is not entitled to vote? It does. But her deadliest analysis was aimed at Elections Canada, the agency that came up with this dubious “fresh evidence” at the eleventh hour of the process.

“The reliability of the evidence is questionable. All that Elections Canada has done is attempt to discern names that are handwritten in the poll book, and type them into the NROE database [National Register of Electors] to find the closest match. Some of the names typed in are significantly different from their closest match, suggesting that the person in the NROE is not the person in the polling book. It is also entirely possible that handwritten names have been misread, or that two individuals have the same name…”

What was at issue in Etobicike Centre was the integreity of the elections process. It doesn't matter if a candidate wins by a landslide, if the people in charge of elections don't ensure that integrity. McLachlin argued that Elections Canada was responsible for the problem and a by-election was the best way to set the record straight.

As was the case in Bush v. Gore south of the border, this was not the Supreme Court's finest hour.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Honey, I Abandoned The Kids

Judith Maxwell, former chair of the Economic Council of Canada, tells the Globe and Mail: “People over their forties in Canada have no idea what it’s like for a young person trying to find a pathway to adulthood right now.”

Our present political masters, focused entirely on the next quarter's results, have not given any thought to the next generation:

 While young people have always struggled to get established, economists and labour experts say this time is different. Those in their 20s today are facing far more hurdles than their parents’ generation, and those difficulties are likely to linger, with profound economic consequences for Canada. There is diminished job security, the growth of temp work, rising costs for food, tuition and housing and record debt levels. To top it off, young people entering the work force today are far less likely to retire with a company pension than their parents’ generation.
Consider the data:

The different playing field for young people today can be measured in a number of ways. One is the decline of secure jobs: The proportion of 20- to 24-year-olds in temporary positions has climbed steadily, to about 29 per cent this year from 21 per cent in 1997, Statistics Canada data show.

Full-time work is harder to find as well. Last month, a broader measure of youth unemployment – which includes not only the jobless, but part-timers who would prefer full-time work and people who’ve given up looking for work – hit 19.6 per cent, the highest level for any September in 15 years.

Today's young have been abandoned by their governments. Our leaders tell us they are focused on the future -- that is why they are cutting spending.  And, all the while, certain that their own retirements are secure, they toss the young under the bus.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What Happened To The "Reform" Party?

The day after the Harper government announced it was limiting debate on its second omnibus budget bill,  Michael Den Tandt wrote in The National Post:

Conservative MPs would like to have more sway within the Harper government. In unguarded moments some will grouse aloud (but off the record) about the whippersnappers in the PMO, barely out of short pants. Cabinet ministers can’t much like the fact that, through the Privy Council, this PMO wields influence directly on the senior bureaucracy. Ministers today are spokesmen and women for the government – not decision makers.

There’s nothing cabinet ministers can do about this though without losing their jobs, or worse. Former minister Helena Guergis serves as an abject lesson. The prime minister will stand by most ministers through thick and thin, despite their mistakes: That appears to be the main benefit, for them, of ceding power. But if and when a minister gets ditched, it’s all the way and for good, with no hope of redemption. So, forget about seeking reform from within this government.

The truth is that the "Reform" Party never wanted reform. What they wanted was power. And, like the man who leads their Republican cousins south of the border, they were willing to say -- and do -- anything to get it. After they have achieved their objective, Den Tandt writes, they then are caught in a Catch 22 conundrum: "One must have power to effect change. But having power removes the desire to effect it."

So, when will we get rid of the rot at the centre of Canadian politics? Only when people change the politicians. But the people should know that, inevitably, the power they bestow on their representatives will eventually corrupt them.  It is always  the people who must clean house.

The Reformers eventually become The Corrupt. Some would argue that these Reformers were always the Corrupt.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Standing Athwart History

For those of us who live outside the United States, the angry divide there is profoundly puzzling. There are, indeed, two philosophies of government at stake in this election. But the anger suggests that the fault lines run deeper than that. Eugene Robinson's column in this morning's Washington Post offers an important insight into the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney: "It is too simplistic to conclude," he writes, "that demography equals destiny.

Both men are being sincere when they vow to serve the interests of all Americans. But it would be disingenuous to pretend not to notice the obvious cleavage between those who have long held power in this society and those who are beginning to attain it.

The United States has changed radically in the last thirty years. While Republicans were actualizing the Reagan Revolution, there were all kinds of other revolutions taking place:

In my lifetime, we’ve experienced the civil rights movement, the countercultural explosion of the 1960s, the sexual revolution, the women’s movement and an unprecedented wave of Latino immigration. Within a few decades, there will be no white majority in this country — no majority of any kind, in fact. We will be a nation of racial and ethnic minorities, and we will only prosper if everyone learns to give and take.
Our place in the world has changed as well. The United States remains the dominant economic and military power; our ideals remain a beacon for those around the globe still yearning to breathe free. But our capacity for unilateral action is diminished; we can assert but not dictate, and we must learn to persuade.

While the Reaganites desperately tried to return to the world of Ward and June Cleaver, the ground shifted under their feet. The presence of an African American in the White House is a daily reminder of how much the ground has shifted.

Republicans dearly hope to accomplish what the late William F. Buckley sought to do in the pages of National Review: to "stand athwart history, yelling stop!" and to "tell the violated businessman's side of the story."

We all have wished to go back to an idyllic past. Thomas Wolfe, however, understood how the world works. "You Can't," he wrote, "Go Home Again."

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Vote For Plutocracy

In a split decision, the Supreme Court today upheld Ted Opitz' win in Etobicoke Centre. The court reinstated 59 of the 79 votes that Justice Thomas Lederer threw out, reasoning that the only invalid votes were "instances where there was no voter's signature on the registration certificate. The signature is supposed to be the voter's statutory declaration that he or she is over 18 and a Canadian citizen."

Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin was in the minority, who would have discarded 65 of the 79 ballots. The majority on the court held that the discrepancies were merely clerical errors. There was no attempt, they said, to manipulate the vote.

So the Conservative juggernaut continues. What is abundantly clear -- both here and in the United States -- is that there is no majority support for the conservative agenda. That is why, in the U.S. there has been a concerted effort to deny the poor and people of colour access to the voting both. That is why Mitt Romney now claims he is a moderate -- until after the election. And that is why Conservatives misdirected voters to the wrong polls in the last election.

Today's ruling does nothing to change any of these things.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Culture Of Fear

The Harper government came to power braying about government accountability. To ensure that accountability, they established the Parliamentary Budget Office and hired Kevin Page to keep tabs on government spending.

Yet that very same government, Tim Harper writes in today's Toronto Star, has frustrated Mr. Page's attempts to do his job:

Page is preparing to take more than 60 government departments and deputy ministers to court in a bid to force them to provide information on government cuts, information to which he is entitled under the mandate given him by the very government which is now forcing him to the courts.

It speaks to the culture of fear in the capital, this government’s predilection to demonize its opponents and makes a mockery of what is left of its pledge of accountability and transparency.

It speaks to more than that. It tells a tale of tyranny -- a saga of one man rule.

The prime reason we send our representatives to Ottawa is to review and approve how the government spends our money. Yet the Harper Conservatives -- in fact, all of our representatives -- will be expected to take the government at its word.. It's their money. And they are superb managers. The problem is that Page has consistently shown that they are incompetent managers. In 2010,

Page questioned the government’s spending on its law-and-order agenda, cast doubt on the infrastructure spending and job creation, and challenged Flaherty’s target for balancing the books.

Last winter, when Page said Old Age Security is properly funded and can continue on its current path with a retirement age of 65, Flaherty dismissed Page’s view as “unbelievable, unreliable, incredible.’’

He has butted heads with the government on the true cost of its troubled F-35 military procurement and its Afghanistan mission.

Jim Flaherty questioned Page's credibility. And Tony Clement argued that Page was acting outside his mandate. Flaherty and Clememt are quite prepared to do their master's bidding.

What about those other Conservative MP's? It's time they held their own government to account -- instead of the other way around. It's time they stopped living in fear.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Unexamined Treaty

Lawrence Martin writes in The Globe and Mail that Canada will soon sign a trade agreement which the Harper government has kept completely under wraps. And unlike NAFTA -- which can be cancelled on six months' notice -- this deal can only be renegotiated after fifteen years. The deal may be good for Canada. The problem is we simply don't know if it's good or bad.

The government's secrecy, however, suggests that we're being flim-flammed. Gus Van Harten, of Osgoode Hall, believes he smells a rat:

One of the protestations is that national treatment clauses heavily favour Beijing. The Chinese have far more domestic barriers and restraints to trade than does Canada. Investors in China are required in many instances to use local suppliers and labour. Not so investors in Canada.

Another major sore point is the dispute settlement process. Unlike most other investment pacts, this one allows for settlements behind closed doors. As incredible as it sounds, Prof. Van Harten says, Chinese asset owners in Canada “will be able, at their option, to challenge Canadian legislative, executive or judicial decisions outside of the Canadian legal system and Canadian courts.

The first piece of legislation the Harper government passed was the "Accountability Act." It then ignored its own legislation. And, ever since, it has been operating behind closed doors. Socrates proclaimed that the unexamined life was not worth living. Surely, the unexamined treaty is not worth signing.

Monday, October 22, 2012

George McGovern

How do you take the measure of a man's life? By the standard usually applied to George McGovern, he was one of  America's biggest losers. After all, in 1972, he lost 49 of 50 states. But, when I was finishing a masters degree at the University of North Carolina in the summer of 1974 -- when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency -- I began each day passing by a car which bore Massachusetts plates and a bumper sticker which read, "Don't Blame Me." It seems to me that the real losers of the 1972  election were the American people.

It wasn't that McGovern didn't make mistakes. After all, he had voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. But, a year later, he acknowledged that mistake:

“We are fighting a determined army of guerrillas that seems to enjoy the cooperation of the countryside and that grow[s] stronger in the face of foreign intervention,” he said in a widely noticed Jan. 15, 1965, Senate speech that marked him as the leading Senate pacifist. “We are further away from victory over the guerrilla forces in Vietnam today than we were a decade ago.” He then laid out a five-point program for withdrawal from the war.

McGovern's opposition to the war  was based on experience and knowledge. In World War II, he piloted a B 24 bomber over Europe on 35 missions. And he held a doctorate in American History from Northwestern University.

The son of a Methodist minister, who was raised on the Social Gospel, McGovern took seriously Christ's command to feed the poor:

In 2001, Sen. McGovern was appointed the first U.N. global ambassador on hunger and published “The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time,” in which he proposed a plan to alleviate world hunger by 2030. In 2008, he and former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) shared a $250,000 award from the World Food Prize Foundation for their work combating hunger among children.

He was a man who had known personal tragedy. His alcoholic daughter, Theresa, collapsed and died in the snows of Wisconsin in 1994. He understood pain, disappointment and defeat.

And what of that defeat in 1972? Consider who worked with him on that campaign: Bill and Hilary Clinton were there. So were Gary Hart, Bob Schrum, Sandy Berger and John Podesta. If one measures a life, not by the number of battles a person wins or loses, but by what he or she leaves the next generation, then George McGovern's journey on this planet was, indeed, time well spent.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Symptom of Cowardice

Some commentators such as Jeffrey Simpson have praised Dalton McGuinty for leaving politics at a time of his choosing, on terms of his choosing. But there are others -- even Liberals -- who aren't happy about those terms. Former McGuinty cabinet member and federal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy is one of them. "I think people should be certainly questioning why this is in place and I still don’t have any understanding as to why this is necessary," Kennedy told the Globe and Mail.

And there is certainly unhappiness among Ontario voters. Lori Turnbull also writes in the Globe that:

This is an unnecessary abuse of the Premier’s prerogative to advise the Lieutenant-Governor to prorogue; the surprise adjournment serves no democratic purpose whatsoever and it prevents the legislature from fulfilling its fundamental purpose – to hold the government to account.

Prorogation has become standard procedure in Canadian politics -- and it has been used for purposes for which it was not intended. Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament in  2008, when he faced a non-confidence vote, and in 2009 when questions about the treatment of Afghan prisoners became impossible for them to handle.This time, Energy Minister Chris Bentley and the premier himself were facing contempt of parliament motions.

Prorogation has become a dodge -- a refusal to be held accountable for one's actions. It has become a symptom of cowardice.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Conscience and Credibility

Amid the cynical furor of Canadian politics, Andrew Coyne singles out four people -- three men and one woman -- who have credibility because they are guided by conscience, not convenience. Coyne writes:

Politics is about packs; the more ruthless, more disciplined, more pack-like of the parties mauls the others into submission. It prizes loyalty, not before all other virtues, but to their exclusion. We hunt together, the aspiring politician is told. Stick with the pack. And so each learns to scrape and smear, to manipulate and deceive, to promise one and threaten another, exactly as he is told.

Luckily, there are some people who refuse to run with the pack. Coyne cites four of them: Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser, and her successor Michael Ferguson.

Kevin Page has encountered nothing put stonewalling from the Harperites, who insisted on government accountability:

Various ministers of the government have been sent out to smear him, first claiming he was incompetent, then, when his numbers were borne out, that he was exceeding his authority. Through it all the PBO has kept digging, kept issuing his reports, kept demanding to see the data to which he is entitled under the law. And slowly, grudgingly, the government has been forced to yield.

 When Mark Carney announces that interest rates will remain stable for fifteen months, people know he means what he says:

That credibility is partly personal, partly institutional. It is a reputation that has been earned over many years, under both Carney and his predecessors: A Bank of Canada governor does not make promises he will not keep, or say things he knows to be untrue. More than an expectation, it is almost a definition.

And, when Sheila Fraser accused the Chretien Liberals of breaking "every rule in the book,"

there were furtive attempts to go after her as well. Whisper campaigns were put about to the effect that she was out of control, that she was embarked on a “witch hunt.” We recall how that turned out. Whatever institutional power the government might have possessed, Fraser’s  reputational power demolished it. It wasn’t even a fair fight.

Finally, there is Michael Ferguson. He called the F-35 purchase the boondoggle it was:

Even as the government was pretending to accept his findings the former parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister, Laurie Hawn, was circulating a letter accusing the Auditor General of misunderstanding such basic terms as “acquisition,” of being unable to get basic facts right, even of being “disingenuous.” But the public knew whom to believe.

All four of these people have been smeared by Canada's elected politicians. But, despite the attacks, they have credibility. No one believes our politicians. At the moment, it's only the people of conscience who stand between us and plutocracy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hispanic Isn't Spanish For Stupid

Tim Harper reminds his readers this morning that, south of the border, the Hispanic population has exploded. The community:

has grown 43 per cent over the past decade, and will be 30 per cent of the U.S. population by 2050 (double the size of the African American population).

Mitt Romney has said that his preferred way of dealing with that community is "self deportation." And Canadian governments have never recognized its existence:

With the most fundamental demographic shift of our lifetimes unfolding before their eyes, successive Canadian governments have blissfully continued traditional relations on traditional matters based on a United States that no longer exists.

There is no evidence that foreign affairs has paid anything more than lip service to the Hispanic explosion south of the border, a cultural and business transformation happening outside the doors of our consulates and embassies, with Canada as spectator.

And that willful ignorance comes at a cost:

By not reaching out to the new Hispanic U.S., Canada is unable to bring its message to this demographic group.

It loses out on tourism, it falls behind on attracting both skilled Hispanic immigrants and temporary foreign workers who pick fruit, work in hotels and, yes, meat packing plants, doing jobs Canadians are unwilling to take.

It means we are missing niche trade and business opportunities because Hispanic buying habits and preferences are different than African Americans.

It means we are not crafting environmental policy that will conform with a segment of the U.S. population which, polling shows, is more protective of the natural environment than Americans as a whole, whether because they are working in environmentally threatening environments or live in areas that are more likely to be fouled by industry.

And it means we are losing the battle for attention from U.S. political and business elites who routinely vacation in Caribbean and Latin American locales where the potential photo-ops are better for business and re-election prospects.

One suspects that the Harper government -- whose neglect of Quebec suggests that it still has trouble with French on the back of Corn Flakes boxes -- doesn't know what the word Hispanic means. They would do well to read the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, who recently observed that "Hispanic is not Spanish for stupid."

Anyone who ignores Spanish speaking Americans, or hopes they will simply go away, is just that -- stupid.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Heading For The Exit

Very few politicians have the good sense to quit while they're ahead. And so it was with Dalton McGunity. Perhaps he figured he would go down to defeat in the last election. And he would have, if Tim Hudak's Conservatives had not imploded. In opposition, the party could have renewed itself in the traditional way.

But to almost everyone's surprise, McGuinty almost won a third majority mandate. One seat may not seem like much. But, sometimes, it is everything. Faced with difficult labour negotiations, he needed that one seat to pass a wage freeze. So he convinced Elizabeth Witmer to resign and went to war with his traditional allies, Ontario's teachers.

It's hard to know who was giving McGuinty strategic advice. Perhaps he kept his own counsel. At any rate, it was bad advice. Faced with the NDP -- which insisted that the government negotiate with its employees -- and the Conservatives -- who wanted to tear up union contracts -- McGunity had no allies.

So he is betting that, by proroguing the legislature and getting out of the way, he can press the reset button. We'll see how that works out.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Can The Centre Hold?

Paul Adams correctly analyzes what used to be the Canadian centre:

The modern Liberal party was re-engineered a half century ago by Lester Pearson, who made it into the quintessential party of the “mixed economy”, a formula that was popular across the western world. The booming private sector would be guided by government, but not consumed by it. Keynesian fiscal policy would manage the ups and downs of the business cycle and social programs would allow the emergence of a capitalism with a human face.

In its day, this really was a politics of the centre. It expressed a very broad social and political consensus that extended from labour unions to chambers of commerce. Working people had good jobs in the private and the public sector, many of them unionized. They appreciated the additional economic security they got from public health care, old age pensions, and unemployment insurance.
But with the election of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney, the centre began to shift:

In power after 1993, the Liberal party also moved decisively away from its centrist election platform, which called for “moderate” deficit reduction coupled with new social programs such as day care. Instead, the government cut funds for social programs, aimed to eliminate the deficit rather than reduce it, and eventually cut debt and taxes.

Significantly, Paul Martin adopted the “no deficit rule” – an explicit renunciation of the Keynesian notion that government fiscal policy should be used to manage the ups and downs of the business cycle. Jean Chr├ętien promised in the 1997 election that no more than half of future surpluses would be devoted to tax cuts and debt reduction, but that proved not to be the case.

It all came crashing down with Micheal Ignatieff, who tried to be a politician of the right and the left. Adams writes that what Ignatieff offered Canadians was policy incoherence.

Now the Liberals are trying to recover. The Conservatives have staked out a position on the right. The NDP has staked out a position on the left. If there still is a viable Canadian centre, perhaps the Liberals will rise again.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rebalancing The Economy

 The Globe and Mail reports that former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge suggests that the bitumen from the Tar Sands be routed to Eastern Canada. Because energy is the lifeblood of industrial economies, he suggests that giving Canadian industry access to Alberta's oil is better than readjusting the equalization formula. Unfortunately, with their characteristic tunnel vision, the Conservatives are fixated on Asia:

By and large, the philosophy at the moment is a pure hands-off philosophy, i.e. ‘Let today’s market and today’s relative prices determine what happens,’ with relatively little thought to the future and relatively little thought about, if you will, leaning against the wind,” said Mr. Dodge.

The financial meltdown of 2008 should have taught our present masters about the perils of a hands off philosophy. Moreover, that approach ignores Canada's struggling provinces:

“When you have the big tilt at the moment as we do, in what I call the resource super cycle, then you have to think very hard about tilting the playing field back a little bit toward the other sectors and that would be tilting it back towards the lower-income provinces,” he said.

Typically, the Harperites are capping equalization payments:

Last December, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that future growth in the overall budget for equalization would be capped at the rate of economic growth by tying it to the rise in nominal gross domestic product through to 2018-19.

But Mr. Dodge calculates that this cap on equalization at a time when some provinces are enjoying big gains in resource revenues means the disparity between provinces will worsen. Mr. Dodge pegs this gap at $2-billion in 2012 and $6-billion by 2020.

What Dodge  implies is that the Harperites lack a national vision. They are truly provincials.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

No There There

In his review of Thursday night's debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, Hendrick Hertzberg -- in The New Yorker -- draws his readers' attention to the following exchange between the two candidates:

BIDEN: I love my friend here. I—I’m not allowed to show letters, but go on our Web site. He sent me two letters saying, “By the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin?” We sent millions of dollars. You know… [crosstalk]

MARTHA RADDATZ (moderator): You did ask for stimulus money, correct?
BIDEN: Sure he did. By the way…

RYAN: On two occasions we—we—we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants. That’s what we do. We do that for all constituents who are… [crosstalk]

BIDEN: I love that. I love that. This was such a bad program and he writes me a letter saying—writes the Department of Energy a letter saying, “The reason we need this stimulus, it will create growth and jobs.” His words. And now he’s sitting here looking at me. And by the way, that program, again, investigated. What the Congress said was it was a model. Less than four-tenths of one per cent waste or fraud in the program. And all this talk about cronyism. They investigated and investigated, did not find one single piece of evidence. I wish he would just tell—be a little more candid. 

Mr. Ryan has declared that 30% of Americans are "takers." Granted, that number is considerably lower than Mitt Romney's 47%. But what the exchange reveals is that Ryan is quite willing to be a taker himself.

Romney campaigned as a "severe conservative" and now claims to be a moderate. Ryan, who slammed Obama's support for Green Energy, was quite willing to access  that support for his constituents.

Political hypocrisy is nothing new. But when Romney and Ryan repeat their claim that Barack Obama is a "failed leader," one has to ask,"Who are they?" It seems pretty clear that they are opportunists, who are -- in the words of that  Romney campaign strategist --  etcha-sketch politicians. They will say whatever it takes to get elected.

What Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, California, applies equally to the Republican ticket. There is no 'there' there.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Lost Generation

While the Harper government touts its record for job creation, it never mentions youth unemployment. That's because it focuses on its core constituency -- baby boomers, like me, who have retired. For the Harperites, the young don't matter. Indeed, they are a lost generation.

Carol Goar, in the Toronto Star, invites her readers to consider the facts:

 The International Labour Organization (ILO) projects no change in the job outlook for youth until 2016 at the earliest.
  Statistics Canada shows temporary and contract work is increasing at a faster pace among young workers than the rest of the population.
  According to Ottawa’s labour force survey, the youth unemployment rate has scarcely budged since the recession. It peaked at 15.2 per cent in 2009. It is 15.0 per cent now.
  The Canadian economy is undergoing profound structural change.
  Governments are cutting thousands of high-quality jobs in the public sector.
  And Ottawa is bringing in hundreds of thousands of temporary foreign workers to a plug holes in the labour force.

Previous studies in the United States and the UK have tracked the long term consequences of youth unemployment. In the UK:

Those who had experienced one bout of unemployment were still paying a wage penalty of 8 to 10 per cent two decades later. Those who had been out work several times were earning 12- to 15-per-cent less than their peers. Every layoff heightened the stigma they carried in the eyes of prospective employers.

Canada's present masters are intent on cutting costs. They have no desire to invest. And, by not investing in the young, they are impeding economic growth, even as they pat themselves on the back for their wise economic management.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

In A Pickle

Stephen Harper, Tom Walkom writes in The Toronto Star, has managed to get himself in a pickle over Huawei Technologies:

On the one hand, his free-market instincts tell him that business knows no nationality, that cheapest is best and that, if Chinese companies can deliver high-quality telecommunications equipment at low prices, then Canadian firms would be fools not to buy it.

On the other hand, he is an ardent admirer of the U.S. way of doing things — and in particular of America’s tough-minded approach to national security.

Harper, the Calgary economist, is desperate to stay on the right side of cash-rich China so that it will invest some of its billions in Canada’s resource sector.

But Harper, America’s best friend, is equally desperate to stay on the right side of big brother in Washington.

There is a certain poetic justice in his dilemma. For a man who thinks in black and white terms, it must be frustrating to face a problem which has no easy answer. Interestingly enough, Canadians have been working with firms like Huawei for most of their history:

To Canadians — and perhaps even some Americans — these corporate structures might seem familiar. Huawei, the report says, is controlled not by its shareholders but by an “elite subset of its management” —which makes it similar to many firms, including Bell Canada.

Like, say General Motors, Huawei gets substantial support from the state. Like every U.S. defence contractor, it has links to its country’s military. And like American firms operating in Canada, it must adhere first and foremost to the laws of its homeland.

There is a way out of the dilemma, Walkom suggests:

So look for limited action, such as new federal rules that bar Huawei from bidding on a proposed new secure Canadian government telecom system. But don’t expect Ottawa to tell Bell Canada it can’t use the cheapest supplier.

And for the rest of us? Don’t get too spooked. Most of our Internet and phone conversations are already susceptible to monitoring, either by Canada’s Communications Security Establishment or the U.S. National Security Agency.

In the end, the man of  rock solid "principles" will quietly abandon them -- again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Mark Twain knew what he was talking about. So did Upton Sinclair. Yesterday, The Sixth Estate suggested that the next self regulation debacle is going to be in the airline industry, which is also subject to the government's Safety Management System:

We don’t have to wait for a major airline crash to discover that there are major systemic flaws in the SMS approach as taken by the government, although that’s probably what it will take, if the agriculture system is any indication in this regard. Recently the Auditor-General examined airline SMS and the results were pretty much what you’d expect when you combine a manic deregulation agenda with the general incompetence of the Harper Cabinet.

Specifically, the Auditor-General found that under the new system, Transport Canada decides in advance which companies are considered at high risk of an accident, and then it focuses on those companies. That was their first failing grade: the risk assessment process is vague and is often ignored. The Auditor-General reported that “the Department did not often use the standard risk indicators” — in other words, they massaged the numbers when it came to individual airlines. I quote: “for most large air carriers… and large airports,… Transport Canada is missing key risk information and has no formal process in place to collect that data.” So they’re winging it.

In other words, relying on data which business itself generates, the government focuses on operations it considers unsafe and completely ignores everyone else. Where is the incentive to tell the truth?

Now Tom Walkom writes that the same approach is being used by Health Canada to monitor drug safety:

What’s this got to do with XL Foods, an Alberta meat packer whose beef products are being recalled as unsafe in Canada, the U.S and Hong Kong? The answer is that both are examples of what happens when governments cut so-called red tape without thinking through the consequences.

In both cases, entire regulatory systems were subtly changed so that government officials would view the industry being regulated, rather than the public, as their primary client.

Governments -- and most particularly the Harper government -- now see business as its primary client. And, as always, when business or government cuts costs, someone has to make up the difference. When government reviews the statistics business generates, instead of checking the actual products or services it produces, we get lies and damned lies.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Policy By Stealth

A month ago, Allan Gregg spoke at the opening of Carleton University's new Public Affairs Building. He writes in today's Toronto Star:

I never expected these remarks would “go viral.” Like most public speakers, I held out nothing more than the modest hope they would reach beyond those in attendance, that they would have some impact on the broader conversation.

The most obvious reason for the reaction my speech received is that there are a lot more people than I realized who harbour some of the same concerns I expressed — namely, that governments are ceasing to use evidence, facts and science as the basis to guide policy and instead, are retreating to dogma, fear and partisan advantage to steer the ship of state.

If anyone doubts Gregg's central thesis, I urge them to review last week's presidential debate. Mitt Romney delivered a superb public performance. But, as all kinds of fact checkers have noted, many of his statements were patently false -- starting with that $716 billion "cut" to medicare.

Stephen Harper's Conservatives, inspired by Romney's party, have taken dead aim at the people who provide the facts.Gregg writes:

Even a cursory examination of the most recent federal budget reveals that the 19,000 job cuts announced therein were not to be achieved across-the-board or through attrition, but were targeted very precisely at researchers, statisticians, scientists and other organizations who might use data to contradict a government which believed that evidence and rational compromise are not the tools of enlightened public policy, but barriers to the pursuit of an agenda based on ideology over reason. 

For the truth is that, for the Harper government, reason is the enemy. Like Cotton Mather, Stephen Harper believes that Canadians are Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God. He intends to put the nation on the path of righteousness. However, righteousness is the real enemy. There is a history which supports reason as the root of good government:

More than anything else, societal progress has been advanced by enlightened public policy that marshals our collective resources toward a larger public good. Over time, we discovered that effective solutions can only be generated when they correspond to an accurate understanding of the problems they are designed to solve. Evidence, facts and reason form the sine qua non of not only good policy, but good government.

Gregg then goes on to analyze the "newspeak" behind the titles of government legislation:

What’s disconcerting about all of this is not just the substance of these bills, but why a government would want to disguise that substance. Maybe dismantling the Wheat Board or sending more potheads to jail is a good thing. But before we make those decisions, let’s look at all the facts; have a full and rational debate; and make a reasoned decision on what is best for all the parties involved. For voters to determine whether they support these measures requires that they know what is at stake and what the government is actually doing.

Moreover, for the rule of law to work, the public must have respect for the law. By obfuscating the true purpose of laws under the gobbledygook of double speak, governments are admitting their intentions probably lack both support and respect. This too explains this government’s obsession with secrecy, message control and misdirection.

And that is Gregg's point. The Harperites are painfully aware that they have the support of only 39% of Canadians. They have always lacked a mandate -- so they can only implement their policies by stealth.

Monday, October 08, 2012

We've Seen This Movie Before

Tim Harper writes this morning that Gerry Ritz' handling of the tainted meat mess is part of an established pattern for the Conservative government:

Ritz initially denied there was a problem and fell to the usual Harper government fallback of defending industry when it should have been reassuring consumers.

When it became clear there was a problem, he disappeared.

He was not in the House of Commons to rebuild confidence in consumers, or take questions, he blithely defended meat quality at a Saskatchewan luncheon as the crisis grew, he cut short a briefing in which he referred to anything that knocked him off his talking points as a “technical question."

He returned to Ottawa only last Thursday — and did answer questions for two days — but then refused interview requests and ducked all the major political talk shows over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The way this government handles a problem is to retreat inside its bunker and simply refuse to answer questions. We saw it in the case of Afghan prisoners; we saw in the case of the F35 jets (in that case the information the government provided was -- according to the Auditor General -- false; we see it now in the government's refusal to provide the Parliamentary Budget Officer details on the cuts it is making to government programs. Tony Clement justifies this stonewalling, saying that PBO Kevin Page is "operating outside his mandate."

To the Harper government, questions about its performance are out of bounds. They violate the basic principles of democracy -- every day.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Radicals At The Gate

Just as Stephen Harper radically remade the Conservative Party, Michael den Tandt suggests that Justin Trudeau and his inner circle plan to rebuild the Liberal Party from the ground up:

Almost to a man and woman, the people closest to Justin Trudeau are “Greeks” (a cross between a Grit and a geek); bright, capable young people who, not many years ago, were toiling in relative anonymity at the feet of the party’s 1990s-era giants. Most are parents with young children. Like Trudeau himself, they tend in their backgrounds to hew to what is generally perceived as the party’s left wing. Some are people who’d hoped, in 2006, that Gerard Kennedy would win the leadership and revitalize the Liberal party. But they’re not talking about revitalizing any longer. They’re talking about starting over.

In 2006, Gerard Kennedy was met by indifference from the power brokers in the party's upper echelons. Their candidate was Michael Ignatieff. They failed to get their way the first time around. But they succeeded the second time; and Ignatieff -- who admitted that he was a better teacher than a politician -- quickly disappeared.

Now, almost decimated, the party's brass will not present much of a head wind to Justin's ambitions. And policy will come later:

There will be no leadership campaign policy booklet, such as the one produced by Michael Ignatieff in his 2006 leadership effort, Trudeau organizers say. Instead he will articulate his values and principles, sketching a frame within which later policy proposals will emerge. For now, the team’s main practical goal is to introduce him to people – as many as they possibly can, nationwide. “It’s less about the air war,” says [Trudeau adviser Katie]Telford. “He’s got to go out there and shake lots of hands and meet people and hear about the issues on the ground, and see how that evolves his message and his thinking.”

The Trudeau team is playing a long game -- which will be more about rebuilding a Liberal coalition, than just feeding the base. We'll have to see how that plan works out.

Friday, October 05, 2012

No Gateway

Northern Gateway, Jeffrey Simpson writes this morning, is dead:

Yes, regulatory hearings before the National Energy Board will continue until the NEB approves the project. And yes, Enbridge will keep pushing for it. And yes, the Harper government, which is so publicly committed to the project, will continue to extol its virtues as part of the need to get Canadian resources to Asia.
But it will never happen:

To survive, the Gateway pipeline would have to push past the growing opposition of British Columbians in general, the opposition of the current Liberal provincial government and the NDP government likely to replace it next year, the unanimous opposition of environmentalists, considerable opposition from at least some of the aboriginal groups along the route and, if all this were not enough, the likelihood of prolonged court battles.

Despite Stephen Harper's ham handed attempt to remove all the obstacles, the people will have none of it. Perhaps the oil will flow down the Fraser Valley to Vancouver, where there will be opposition to loading it onto tankers at the port of Vancouver. Perhaps it will flow east to Sarnia. In both cases the pipelines have been built. But you can bet that, after the tainted meat scandal, Canadians will insist that those pipelines be maintained and not self regulated.

It's a reminder that the people of Canada can put an end to Stephen Harper's dreams. Now what about that dream of remaking Canada?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Remember Walkerton

Tom Walkom writes in this morning's Toronto Star that the ever widening meat recall is Stephen Harper's "Walkerton Moment." The tainted water scandal in that small Ontario town marked the beginning of the end for Mike Harris' government. Walkom writes:

Neither Harris nor Harper invented deregulation.

In Ontario, Bob Rae’s New Democratic Party government cut back drinking water inspections well before Harris became premier.

In Ottawa, Liberal prime minister Jean Chr├ętien’s 1997 decision to hand over meat inspection to his industry-friendly agriculture ministry set the stage for deregulation there.

But like Harris, Harper accelerated the trend.

Indeed, federal efforts to eliminate so-called red tape not only mirror those of Harris but are championed by former Harrisites like Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

For food safety, the results have been disastrous.

Modern conservatives are obsessed with governmental red tape. And they insist that businesses and public services should be self regulating. Alan Greenspan famously believed that there was too much at stake for Wall Street to not police its own actions. He did not factor in the human tendency to cut corners. So called "self interest" is another name for tunnel vision:

But to Harper — like Harris — deregulation only made sense. Harris assumed that small Ontario towns like Walkerton would have the good sense to keep their drinking water clean.

Harper assumed that profit-making companies would make sure that their consumers received safe products.
In both cases, they were wrong.

In Walkerton’s case, as the judicial inquiry later found, those in charge of the town’s water supply exhibited a bonehead determination to break the rules. Because there was no provincial oversight, no one noticed that a particularly virulent strain of E. coli called 0157:H7 had entered the town’s tap water.

 The truth is that self interest and the public interest are mutually exclusive categories. Conservatives have been selling the idea that they are synonyms. That's a lie.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Crumbling Castle

John Ivison reports that cracks are beginning to show in the Conservative Fortress. The backbenches are getting restless:

Simply put, I think MPs on the government side of the House who have been around since 2004, 2006 or 2008 are thinking about their legacy and resolving that always voting at their party’s call, and never thinking for themselves at all, is not how they want to be remembered.

There are no whispers of regicide in the Conservative caucus. Mr. Harper will remain Prime Minister until he or the voters decide otherwise. He remains respected for leading the party into majority government but he is not loved and, crucially, he is no longer feared.

If what Ivison writes is true, the Harper government could be at a turning point. The backbench -- and Conservative Senators -- are tired of being treated with the same contempt the Prime Minister feels for the opposition:

There is a widespread feeling on the backbenches that they have been taken for granted. A number say they are fed up being told what to do by “kids in short pants,” young enough to receive their briefing notes in phonics.

There have been rumblings from a number of Conservative senators, upset at being treated as a rubber-stamp by the Prime Minister’s Office, that they will start to send poorly thought out legislation back to the House.

There comes a time when the dictator's time runs out. The clock is ticking on Mr. Harper.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Engaging The Young

Today -- when Justin Trudeau formally enters the Liberal leadership race -- his mission, Lawrence Martin writes in the Globe, will be to shake up the system:

At 40, Justin Trudeau isn’t terribly young, but he has the aura of youth. As such, and given the other marketing advantages he possesses, he has the potential – slim but not out of the question – to lead the way for generational change in the exercise of political power in the country. The clock is ticking on the baby boom legions. They’ve run the show too long. Those behind them have watched in despair. They don’t vote. For the most part, they’ve stayed on the sidelines.

There was a time when 40 was considered the beginning of middle age. But we baby boomers, used to being the centre of attention, are refusing to open the corridors of power to our children. Those in power have proclaimed that Mr.Trudeau is just a kid.

It's true.that Trudeau has a lot to prove. But, Martin writes, if he can ignite a sense of idealism among the young, he will have done this country a great favour:

Idealism is the currency of the young and, if Justin Trudeau is to succeed and the Liberal Party to have new life, a new sense of it is essential. His appeal should be one of broad scope. It should be nothing less than an appeal to “change the system.”

The young are so turned off by how Ottawa operates that only a sweeping reform will suffice. Pierre Trudeau’s vision for stirring new interest in politics was “the just society.” Justin Trudeau’s should be “the new democracy” or something of that sort. It’s an appeal that cuts across party lines, regional lines and age barriers.

Mr. Harper has just told the young that they will have to work two years longer than their parents before they can retire. The job prospects they face are much bleaker than their parents' prospects at their age. And, when young Quebecers objected to a tuition increase, Mr, Charest's response was the political equivalent of telling them to go to their rooms.

However, it's worth noting that the young got their way. For better or for worse, a new government has rescinded the tuition increase. The lesson should be pretty clear: It's much better to engage the young than to go to war against them.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Losing Candidate Or Losing Party?

As Republicans bemoan the growing lead Barack Obama has over Mitt Romney in the polls, they are turning on Romney, calling him a bad candidate. That's passing strange. Romney has espoused all the party's current positions -- even if they are contrary to positions he has held in the past.

Richard Cohen writes in The  Washington Post that -- even if Romney is a robotic candidate -- the real problem lies not with Romney but with his party and its primaries:

Since Republicans are so focused on the individual and not on the system that produced him, they miss the real problem. The system in this case is the series of incredibly damaging primaries and caucuses that, in the crucial early stages, produce a candidate who could sweep Bavaria. The Iowa caucuses alone take the GOP so far to the right that it all but dooms the winner. Romney had to vow to stop thinking. He had to virtually declare himself anti-Hispanic (criticizing Texas for providing tuition discounts to the college-age children of illegal immigrants). While he has now moderated his approach, it is a bit late. Hispanic is not Spanish for Stupid.

Consider what have become core Republican beliefs:

 A GOP candidate has to oppose same-sex marriage, deny global warming and insist — against all evidence — that local control of education is the best. The only way around these positions is to skip the Iowa caucuses entirely. It is no place for a moderate. It is, really, no place for a thinking person.

The truth is that Mitt Romney is the last of a dying breed -- the moderate Republican. Names like Edward Brooke, Charles Percy and Mark Hatfield spring to mind. Go a little further back and you'll encounter Everett Dirksen and, yes, Dwight Eisenhower.

Romney is losing because the Republican Party has no place for him. And this election is proving that the majority of American voters have no place for the Republican Party.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.