Friday, May 31, 2013

Broadcasting Despair

It is tempting to enjoy the downfall of the Ford Brothers -- most particularly, perhaps, because their troubles are of  their own making. But, Paul Saurette warns in today's Toronto Star, progressives need to understand the danger inherent in the Fords' ruination:

Even progressives who regret the damage the Fords have done to the municipal agenda and disdain the faux-populist affectations of a couple of self-entitled rich guys passing themselves off as regular joes, should mourn the events of the last few weeks and think carefully before indulging in too much schadenfreude. For although these scandals might ultimately topple one or two “Teflon” conservative politicians (which wouldn’t be a bad thing), the long term effects of scandals like these are likely to make it even harder for us to advance progressive political agendas.

Why might this be the case? The ease with which Doug Ford was able, devoid of irony, to demean the media by insulting politicians, is indicative of a political worldview that is both fantastical and real at the same time. It is a perspective that closely mirrors what Thomas Frank has termed “backlash populism.” 

The American Right -- particularly the Tea Party -- seeks to, in the words of Grover Norquist, drown government in a bathtub. Their goal is to sow cynicism; and their own incompetence does that nicely. You would think that citizens could see through the scam. But, Saurette writes:

Contemporary neuroscience has shown that sheer repetition is a powerful strategy of persuasion. Neurons that fire together, wire together, as they like to say. The constant repetition of these faux populist talking points actually works with lots of people. As Daniel Kahneman – winner of a Nobel prize for his pioneering work in behavioural economics – has shown, the more times you hear something (even if you don’t really believe it), the more familiar it feels. And the more familiar it feels, the more true it seems. Familiarity may breed contempt among some. But it also breeds acceptance among many others. And the faux populist story has been circulating in Canada in politics and the media for several decades.

So piling scandal upon scandal accomplishes Norquist's goal:

With each scandal, the bar of what we expect of our politicians is lowered farther and farther. It now takes truly absurd events to shock us. And so we become even more cynical about all politicians. If we can’t even trust the guys who yell loudest about stamping out crime; and if we have to watch even the hand of the guys who lecture longest about keeping the public till free from those who feel entitled to their entitlements, who can we put our faith in? 

The left must give Canadians something to believe in. Stephen Harper and the Fords are hell bent on broadcasting despair.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Looking The Other Way

Over the last two days, Stephen Harper has tried every trick he knows to distance himself from Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright. But, Andrew Coyne writes, the quagmire in which Mr. Harper finds himself is about much more than those two men:

The government’s multiplying, metastasizing scandals — from Duffy’s improper expense claims to the efforts, apparently coordinated between the Prime Minister’s Office and senior Tory Senators, to cover these up, to the robocalls affair, to the arrest on charges of fraud and money laundering of Arthur Porter, the prime minister’s choice for chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee — are not, in my view, wholly unrelated. Rather, they stem from a culture that has taken root among the Conservative hierarchy — a culture of expediency.

For Stephen Harper, being found in contempt of parliament was merely a matter of being outvoted -- and winning a majority meant being able to do whatever he pleased. Those two propositions are the source of the government's problems, which is to say, all roads lead back to who Harper is:

People don’t make ethical choices in isolation. They take their cues from those around and above them. Maybe Duffy’s expense padding had its roots in the Senate’s historically lax culture: indeed, given the absence of controls on senators’ expenses, it would be astonishing if only a couple of senators had succumbed to the temptation this presented.

But the efforts to cover this up, like the obstruction of the robocalls investigation or the curious lack of due diligence in the Porter appointment, are suggestive of something else: a habit of looking the other way at bad behaviour, if not actually encouraging it; and, when it is brought to light, of denying, and minimizing, and explaining it away.

And that is what Mr. Harper is trying to do -- explain it away. It's a strategy that has worked for the last six years. And it may yet work again. Coyne believes we will probably never get the answers the opposition keeps demanding.

But, then again, Canadians may refuse to look the other way and just throw the bums out. That's usually how it works.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Harper's Perfect Storm

It's easier to deal with returning chickens -- or kids -- if they don't all come home at the same time. During the Mulroney years, Michael Den Tandt writes, scandals had the good sense to occur annually:

It’s not like it was in the Mulroney years, when the government parceled out its catastrophes at a leisurely pace, on average one a year. That was so 20th Century. In 2013 everything happens at full throttle ­- especially, it seems, when the wheels come off what was previously a well-oiled, ruthlessly efficient machine.

Now the man who sold himself as distant but competent is watching, as the consequences of all his mistakes hit the fan at the same time:

First of course is robocalls, a pattern of gerrymandering first unearthed by my Postmedia colleagues Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher in February of last year. Last Thursday Federal Court judge Richard Mosley ruled that in the May 2, 2011 election, electoral fraud occurred in ridings nationwide, albeit not to a degree great enough to change outcomes. While he did not point fingers at any individual or party, the judge found the perpetrator or perpetrators had access to the Conservative Party’s CIMS database. The fraud was high-tech and widespread. Elections Canada continues to investigate.

Next is the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and its patronage-tainted hiring of Kevin MacAdam, a former staffer of Defence Minister Peter MacKay. Monday the Halifax Chronicle-Herald reported that a Public Service Commission draft report on the 2010 hiring was edited to delete a paragraph suggesting political interference. The edit was done at the behest of MacKay’s office, according to the account by the Chronicle-Herald‘s Paul McLeod.

Moving from patronage back to alleged fraud, one-time Stephen Harper appointee Arthur Porter is back in the news. Porter, whom the Harper government named chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee in 2010 and who resigned in 2011 following a National Post investigation into his dealings, was arrested in Panama this week and charged with fraud. As head of the SIRC, Porter had access to state secrets.

All of this, of course, was prequel to the Duffy-Wright Affair. And, Den Tandt writes, if the Keystone Pipeline goes down, that will be the coup de grace. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Now Is The Time

From the day he took power, Stephen Harper -- like Rob Ford -- has viewed the parliamentary press corps as maggots. Edward Greenspon writes in the Toronto Star:

When he came into office, Harper threw out long-held rules of government-press engagement. He sowed fear and showed favouritism. Access was severely restricted and doled out based on perceived friendliness of given journalists. Public servants were forbidden from providing background on serious policy matters. A system was introduced by which the PMO, rather than the gallery, decided who could ask questions at press conferences. The List, as it came to be known, was an early flashpoint. The PMO refused any compromise. A Fourth Estate short on self-respect quickly folded. In time, a number of Ottawa reporters were subjected to harassment and vilification and PMO minions exerted pressure on publishers to reign in recalcitrant reporters and editors.

But with the ascension of Justin Trudeau, the tide began to turn:

Ottawa reporters scoffed instead of quaked at the Conservative attack ad and derided the prime minister for stepping out of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral to put his personal stamp on the ad. The Twitterverse derisively jumped on his pronouncement not to “commit sociology.” These reactions are not the work of Liberal lickspittle-ism, as Senate majority leader Marjory LeBreton suggested last week, but the natural by-product of the gallery reclaiming its indispensable adversarial role.

And now it is absolutely essential that the press reclaim that role. As yesterday's Question Period illustrated, the Harper government has retreated into the bunker. They have no intention of providing any answers. They will certainly not call a public inquiry, as Paul Martin did. They know full well that it was public scrutiny which paved their path to power.

Greenspon singles out two reporters -- CTV's Bob Fife and Andrew Coyne -- for their exemplary work. But the entire Ottawa press corps must follow their lead. Greenspon warns:

It is pure folly to dismiss Stephen Harper. For sure, his loathing of the media predisposed him to underestimate the brewing Senate scandal as the frothing of gallery members envious that some in their ranks had been elevated to a higher calling. But as prime minister he has repeatedly proven to be most lethal when seemingly down and out. And he knows how to play out the clock.

Now is the time for all good journalists to come to the aid of the country.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dr. Freud Would Be Fascinated

When historians sit down and -- with the advantage of hindsight -- evaluate the Harper years, they will certainly mention the Wright-Duffy Affair. They may conclude that it was the beginning of the end for Stephen Harper. But they will also point out, as does Lawrence Martin, that Wright-Duffy was only one of the prime minister's serial abuses of power -- the Afghan prisoners episode, the F35 debacle, and Harper's two prorogations of Parliament.

When they put these incidents in context, they may conclude that prorogation was Harper's prime directive. Paul Wells wrote in Maclean's last week that Stephen Harper's legacy really is the number of government agencies he has shut down:

Since the 2011 election, Harper has shut down the Health Council of Canada, the National Council of Welfare, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Rights and Democracy, the First Nations Statistical Institute and the National Council of Visible Minorities. The Millennium Scholarship Foundation, the Council for Canadian Unity and the Canadian Council on Learning were shut down a little earlier. The end of the mandatory long-form census was only the beginning of sharp cuts at Statistics Canada.

But Harper has preferred not to announce most of that. His goal is to last long enough in power to durably limit the federal government’s ability to intervene in Canadian public life. The only part of the job that seems to interest him is the part that involves wandering around Ottawa, boarding up old government offices. And it’s work he’s reluctant to admit to.

Harper has moved beyond policy into the murky realm of pathology. He came to Ottawa to get even with a lot of people. First on his list was Pierre Elliott Trudeau.  But there are darker demons which drive the man.

He would fascinate Dr. Freud.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Selling Their Souls

The Harperites have always pushed the envelopes of campaigning and governance. The Wright-Duffy Affair has provided us yet another example of how they govern. But, last week, Mr. Justice Richard Mosley reminded us yet again of how they campaign. Tom Walkom writes:

A federal court judgment on the so-called robocall affair provides an even more telling example of the blurred border between hardball partisanship and outright illegality.

In its broadest sense, the May 23 ruling by Justice Richard Mosley went against the eight citizens who brought the case.

But a careful reading of the judgement suggests that the bad news just keeps coming for the Harper government:

First, Mosley found that electoral fraud did take place. Someone was trying to subvert the election act by misdirecting voters.

Who committed that fraud? The judge, quite reasonably, said this question was impossible to determine.

But he also said that the “most likely source of information used to make the misleading calls” was a computerized database “maintained and controlled by the Conservative Party of Canada” that had been set up to monitor voting intentions.

In short, whoever committed this fraud almost certainly had access to the Conservatives’ carefully guarded computers.

Second, the judge found the Conservatives to be unduly obstructionist, at one point referring to their delaying tactics as a form of “trench warfare.”
The Conservative Party itself, he noted, made “little effort to assist with the investigation at the outset.”

It's all part of a pattern. What the pattern suggests is the Conservatives know they can't win the debate. That's why they have omnibus budget bills. It also suggests that they know they can't win elections by the accepted means.

So they game the system -- just as they game Senate audits. The end result is that they squander whatever integrity they used to have. They have sold their souls.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Fords Hit The Fan

The day after Rob Ford publicly denied using crack cocaine, The Globe and Mail runs a story claiming that his brother Doug used to traffic in hash:

Ten people who grew up with Doug Ford – a group that includes two former hashish suppliers, three street-level drug dealers and a number of casual users of hash – have described in a series of interviews how for several years Mr. Ford was a go-to dealer of hash. These sources had varying degrees of knowledge of his activities: Some said they purchased hash directly from him, some said they supplied him, while others said they observed him handling large quantities of the drug.

The sources are unidentified; and local police don't seem to recall any of the details. But in his youth, the Globe reports, Doug was a member of a local group called the RY Drifters:

But long before he took over the family business and pursued public office, Doug Ford’s circle of friends was a group of young people who called themselves the RY Drifters, after the Royal York Plaza, a strip mall many of them frequented.

They came from prosperous families. But money and comfort did not mean they did not have problems:

But the prosperity disguised a disturbing trend among many of the area’s young adults – an attraction to crime that went beyond typical teenage rebellion. Former Ford associates interviewed for this story identified at least 10 RY Drifters who became heroin addicts, some of whom turned to break-ins and robberies to support their habits.

It's not an unusual story. Lots of boomers -- including me -- grew up in comfort. The problem the Fords face is the same problem that Stephen Harper faces. People are beginning to think that they are not who they say they are.

Conservatives like to say that they stand for the primacy of the individual. But rampant individualism leads to a shipwreck. Mayor Ford's ship is on the rocks.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Phony Conservative

For anyone who has been paying attention, it's been evident for a long time that Stephen Harper is a phony. There has always been a chasm between what he says and what he does. The Duffy-Wright Affair has once again illustrated that chasm. Michael Harris writes that Harper is no conservative:

Stephen Harper has forgotten that real conservatives care about values lived, not values espoused. They detest dishonesty, sleaziness and abuse of office. All three of those traits drip from the PMO/Senate scandal like poison from a boil. Before scurrying away to an insignificant Perrier-fest in Peru, the prime minister failed to drain that abscess.

Harper defines conservatism as blind loyalty -- to him. He does not, however, display any sense of loyalty to his underlings.

Consider the prime minister’s ride down the slippery pole of changing stories. When the Mike and Nigel story first broke, the PM’s chief of staff was practically canonized — you know, a saintly friend paying back improperly-claimed taxpayers’ money that a semi-penitent Conservative senator could not repay himself. Why, Pierre Poilievre himself said it. So it had to be true, right?

Then Dubious Duffy morphed into Bad Duffy when he contradicted Nigel Wright’s version of that $90,000 cheque. Out of caucus he went. Next, when it became obvious the St. Nigel story was coming across as bogus stigmata, the PM’s “full support” turned into blaming his former chief-of-staff. It was all Nigel’s fault now and the PM knew absolutely nothing about anything.

Harper has played Canada's real conservatives for fools -- and he has done it for a long time. The backbench should do some thinking. When things got tough, Harper left them to shoulder the burden. If they continue to do that, they truly are fools.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Michael Corleone In Ottawa

Stephen Harper says he knew nothing about Nigel's Wright's cheque to Mike Duffy. That's probably true. But Harper's plea of ignorance does not preclude his giving Wright instructions to make Duffy an offer he couldn't refuse.

Harper learned long ago that, like any good don, he had to insulate himself from his operatives. It's all part of what Leo Strauss called "the noble lie." Don Lenihan writes that the concept is diametrically opposed to the populism which was the bedrock of the old Reform Party:

While the new party appropriated the language of accountability from the old Reform Party, it did not embrace the values and culture on which it was based. The reasons take us back to Stephen Harper’s break with Reform in 1997. The rupture was caused by tensions between Preston Manning’s populism and Harper’s commitment to conservative principles.

Harper has always been a Straussian:

In Strauss’ view, successful democracies are led by an elite group which can make the right decisions for the public, even though these will often conflict with what the public would expect or accept. Enlightened leaders bridge this gap by telling the public a story it can accept — what Strauss called a “noble lie.”

The unavoidable conclusion from the last few weeks is that the culture in the PMO is decidedly Straussian rather than Reformist, elitist rather than populist. Indeed, the Conservatives appear to have their own well-crafted version of the noble lie. It rests on the claim they remain true to their Reform roots, especially the commitments to transparency and accountability.

In reality, the communications machine crafts the government’s messages, and then foot soldiers like [Michelle] Rempel are called on to deliver it. Under Harper, this has become an elaborate system of governance. The party uses sophisticated data systems and research to tailor its messages to the public’s mood. Voters are told what the government wants them to hear and the gap between what is said inside and outside the PMO is protected by a wall of secrecy.

And now word has gone out that omerta will be strictly enforced. We can only hope that there are members of the Conservative Party willing to stand up to The Don.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Their Howard Beale Moment

Yesterday Stephen Harper held a pep rally and beat it out of town. He gave no answers. He thinks it will go away. But, as Lawrence Martin wrote yesterday in the Globe and Mail, the integrity issue is reaching a critical mass. It's not about Mike Duffy or Nigel Wright anymore. It's about Stephen Harper himself, for the government and the man are one:

Mr. Harper and his band might be able to make people forget about the Senate scandal, and other affronts to the integrity of the system. But there’s simply too much out there for this government to escape the reckoning – a dire one.

Yet the Harperites still think they can avoid that reckoning:

It’s remarkable what this government thinks it can get away with. The Canadian Press is reporting that Team Harper is buying ads on the taxpayer dime to promote a job grant program that doesn’t yet exist. The ads began running in prime-time slots this week. Peter Van Loan, the government House Leader, described the Canada Jobs Grant program as a “proposal that needs to be fleshed out and developed fully.” Thus far, it hasn’t even got the approval of the provinces. Yet, our money is being used to advertise it.

Last week, The Globe and Mail revealed the Conservatives withheld tens of thousands of documents it was obligated to disclose as part of a human-rights case in which it’s accused of discriminating against indigenous children. Now, according to The Globe, the government is using its failure to hand over the files to try to get the proceedings put on hold.

We’ve learned the Tories can’t account for $3-billion from the security and anti-terrorism budget. Before this, before their attacks ads, we saw the Speaker of the Commons, himself a Tory, issuing a ruling that, in effect, repudiated Mr. Harper’s gagging of his own MPs. One wonders where Nigel Wright was on some of these abuses. Maybe he tried to do something but was rebuffed.

Three times before, when Harper's arrogance threatened to torpedo his government, he created a diversion. In 2008, when he ended public funding for political parties, he prorogued Parliament and came back with a stimulus program which he is still advertising today. In 2009, when he refused to hand over documents concerning the detention of Afghan prisoners, he again prorogued Parliament. In 2011, when Parliament found his government in contempt, he raised the bogeyman of a "separatist coalition" and scared enough Canadians to win a majority.

This time the bogeyman is in his office. And it is real. Harper will probably try to shut things down again. But Canadians have reached their Howard Beale moment.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Who They Are

Beginning with his caucus meeting today, Stephen Harper will try to wash his hands of The Duffy Matter. But, Andrew Coyne writes in The National Post, this stain will not wash away. To begin with, Nigel Wright's claim that his personal cheque was charity to a friend in need simply does not wash:

It is impossible to believe that Nigel Wright, a man with two law degrees and substantial experience of both politics and business, could have been unaware of the dangers — political and legal, to his party and to himself — involved in such a transaction. Whether in fact it broke any laws, it crosses all sorts of ethical red lines that, as a matter of prudence if nothing else, anyone with any sense would wish to avoid.

Yet, if we are to believe the (latest) story we are being told, in “a moment of weakness,” Wright gave in to Duffy’s pleas — either out of pity for his impoverished state or a desire to spare the taxpayer or both — and wrote him a personal cheque for $90,000. The story, on its own, is preposterous. There is no evidence Duffy was hard up for money, and if he were, there were a dozen other, better, simpler remedies than having Wright pay him out of his own funds.

But, even more than that, there is the Harper government's own record -- beginning with reports that the late Chuck Cadman was offered a one million dollar insurance policy in exchange for his vote to bring down the Martin government. The pattern was set long ago:

People who have made the kinds of compromises, moral and otherwise, that this government has made over the years; who have learned to justify to themselves the kinds of behaviour that are this government’s signature; whose first instinct in this, as in previous episodes, is not to clap their hands to their faces crying “my God, what have we become?” but to think of every possible way to spin and dissemble their way out of it; who have grown so spectacularly deluded as to publicly suggest, in the words of Calgary Centre MP Joan Crockatt, that the current wave of resignations shows how high their ethical standards are — such people are not capable of altering course in the way suggested. That is not who they are.

Who they are has been obvious from the very beginning. From the Cadman Affair, to David Emerson crossing the floor, to the Duffy Matter -- there is nothing new here. What is surprising is that they have gotten away with it for so long.

Monday, May 20, 2013


In an attempt to put Nigel Wright's resignation in perspective, Paul Wells returns to a passage he and John Geddes wrote two years ago:

Someone who was there paraphrased Harper’s message to his ministers at his first cabinet meeting in 2006: “I am the kingpin. So whatever you do around me, you have to know that I am sacrosanct.” Harper was telling his ministers that they were expendable but that he wasn’t. If they had to go so that his credibility and his ability to get things done were protected, so be it.
It wasn’t personal,” this source said. “It was his office.”

If you work for Stephen Harper you're expected to take the blame. That's what Nigel Wright did yesterday. The talking points will be: "This was Nigel's mistake. He paid the price. Case closed."

But this is Stephen Harper. We know the man well enough by now to understand that the $90.000 cheque was not just Wright's idea. His statement yesterday hints that there was more going on behind the scenes:

“I did not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy’s expenses were repaid, either before or after the fact.”

Harper didn't know the means. He didn't want to know. But who hatched the plan? And why? Surely the answer must have something to do with information Harper wanted to bury. That's not surprising. Stephen Harper works hard to make sure information he does not approve goes down the memory hole. Wells writes:

It’s really sweet that Stephen Harper believes he cannot win a fair fight of full information in the light of day, but as an operating principle it is getting tired. The desire to bring every debate to a screaming halt rather than engage the debate is one of this prime minister’s two or three most obvious defining characteristics. It’s obvious even where scandal is not involved. As one example among many, the Supreme Court reference on Senate reform this autumn will hear three days of public arguments the Harper government did everything to avoid, first by stalling for years on the very notion of a reference, and then by asking the Court, pathetically, to bypass public argument and go straight to delivering an opinion.

We will see more of that in the days ahead. It is easy to predict, based on long observation of this prime minister, that any question about what this government did, what this prime minister’s Senate appointees did, how Harper’s office handled it, and what will be done to fix these attitudes in the future will be answered with, “Nigel Wright gave up his job. Isn’t that enough? It’s time to move on.”

Wright's resignation is supposed to put an end to the matter. It's all very Nixonian. But, as that president discovered, the cover up is worse than the crime.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Wrong Kind Of Attention

Last week, Toronto Star columnist Rick Salutin compared Joe Oliver to Willy Loman, the woefully misguided drummer in Arthur Miller's play, Death of A Salesman. In Canada's ongoing pipeline saga, Salutin wrote:

Resources Minister Joe Oliver is the Willy Loman of this drama, without Willy’s panache. His attacks on climate scientist James Hansen or Al Gore are ludicrous; those two lack any personal, financial interest for undermining Canadian oil; their sole motive, wrong-headed or not, is saving the planet. Weak sales strategy, minister.

Willy was not much of a salesman. But he was a legend in his own mind. And his inability to see who he was -- and the harm he caused -- was at the heart of Miller's tragedy. The Harper government's insistence -- from the beginning, and again last week at the Council on Foreign Relations -- that the Keystone Pipeline is a "no brainer"  has generated a continent wide backlash. On Friday, Rick Smith -- the Executive Director of the Broadbent Institute -- wrote, also in the Star:

Simply put, Big Oil is reaping what it sowed. In a country where due process is respected, where people want to have their say, the heavy-handedness and arrogance of oil companies and the Harper government turned a previously obscure environmental issue (I mean, who really paid any attention to pipelines up until the last year and a half?) into a much more potent concern regarding the erosion of democracy and fairness.

Like Willy, the Harperites believe they can sell anybody anything. But the truth is that they -- like Willy --  are pathetic salesmen. Stephen Harper continues to insist, like Willy's long suffering wife Linda, that "attention must finally be paid." The trouble is, it's the wrong kind of attention.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Culture Of Entitlement

Following the news that Pamela Wallin has resigned from the Conservative caucus, Andrew Coyne takes a hard look at the Mike Duffy fiasco:

So Duffy’s behaviour is not the issue. The issue is the culture that enabled it. The Tories may find it expedient to disown him now, but it wasn’t five minutes ago they were cheering him to the rafters, inviting him to campaign in their ridings and defending him in public, long after his misconduct was known. Expelling him from caucus at this late date changes nothing. The time to discipline him was when when he was first caught out, not after every alternative had been exhausted. Indeed, he should never have been appointed, if for no other reason than that he was legally ineligible: to be the senator from PEI, you have to be from PEI.

The Harperites went to great lengths to protect Duffy. They offered Patrick Brazeau no such protection. The question -- the elephant in the room -- is Why?

The revelations of recent days suggest one reason: because of the sorts of things the auditors were likely to uncover, had they been allowed to do their work. And, perhaps, because of the many other rocks that might be overturned as a result: for example, Duffy’s alleged lobbying on behalf of Sun News. (Who was the “Conservative insider with connections to the CRTC” Duffy is reported to have approached? What could possibly have led him to believe his efforts to influence a quasi-judicial tribunal would be fruitful? Did he do this entirely on his own? Unprompted? Unpaid?)

Duffy was a Conservative Party operative on the public payroll. He wasn't the first. And the problem certainly extends to senators  from other parties. But this party -- this government  -- came to office railing against the corruption in the House of Sober Second Thought and in government in general. Rather than insisting on accountability, the Harperites have hopped on the bandwagon. Michael Harris  reminded us of the numbers last week: "By October 2015, 62 per cent of the 105-member Senate will have been appointed by Stephen Harper."

And Harris simply stated the obvious this week. Mike Duffy may be gone. But Stephen Harper is the one who should be roasted. It is he who drives the current culture of entitlement.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Henchman's Curse

Two of Stephen Harper's senate appointments have been shoved out of the Conservative caucus. The Senate was their reward for doing the Prime Minister's dirty work. But one of life's axioms is that what goes around comes around.

Patrick Brazeau helped Stephen Harper kill the Kelowna Accord. It was Brazeau, the deputy national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, who supported Harper during the 2006 election. The Assembly of First Nations backed Paul Martin and the Accord. Michael Harris writes:

It was the age-old battle over reserve and non-reserve aboriginals and the differing treatment they receive from the federal government. Harper got his first minority government in 2006 in part because Brazeau, then CAP’s deputy-national chief, helped kill the Kelowna Accord. Two years later, he was in the Senate.

Mike Duffy also performed an essential service for Harper during the 2008 election. Lawrence Martin reminds his readers that:

Duffy has been a favourite of the PM’s. He was viewed as having done the Conservatives a great favour in the 2008 election. At the end of the campaign, when momentum could have tilted either way, Liberal leader Stephane Dion stumbled in responding to a CTV question he couldn’t understand. The CTV reporter promised Dion he wouldn’t run the clip — but Duffy turned around and made a major story of it. The Conservatives later acknowledged it really swung votes their way in the final days. It wasn’t much later that Duffy was named a senator.

Stephen Harper would not be where he is today without the assistance of Brazeau and Duffy. But henchmen come with their own baggage. Mr. Harper operates on the assumption that he exercises complete control over his minions. The problem is that minions eventually screw up. And men like Brazeau and Duffy screw up big time.

Henchmen are their own curse.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

That Vision Thing

Tom Walkom's analysis of the BC election is interesting.  In the end, he writes, British Columbians were asked to choose between two negatives:

On Tuesday, B.C. voters were left with two negative questions: Did they hate the Liberals enough to get rid of them? Or did they fear the New Democrats enough to avoid them?

In the end, they chose fear over hate.

Fear seems to be the operative word these days. It was fear that was at the heart of Adrian Dix's campaign. Like Stephen Harper, Dix didn't offer a vision. He simply portrayed himself as an incrementalist:

Throughout the campaign, Dix did his best to reassure voters that the new New Democrats had been thoroughly defanged. Unlike the NDP governments of Dave Barrett in the 1970s and Glen Clark in the ’90s, he insisted it had no plans to do anything remarkable.

This time, however, the NDP was determined to portray itself as bland. Dix may have been Glen Clark’s chief of staff during the tumultuous ’90s. But his campaign motto this time was minimalist: “one practical step at a time.”

His promises — such as one to ensure that nursing home residents receive two rather than just one bath a week — were underwhelming.

That strategy gave Stephen Harper a majority government. Now Canadian corporations are sitting on $500 billion of dead money.Tom Mulcair and Andrea Horvath should be taking notes. Canadians are looking for what the first President Bush called "that vision thing."


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Time To Ditch The Duffer

Tom Walkom writes that when it comes to residency, Senate rules are unambiguous:

The constitution act is crystal clear on this. It says a senator must be at least 30 years old, own $4,000 worth of real estate in the province he represents and be “resident in the province for which he is appointed.”

And, try as he might, the Artful Dodger can't dodge certain facts:

As the Senate’s own internal economy committee found, Duffy does not hold a P.E.I. health card. He does not pay income tax to P.E.I. He spends only 30 per cent of his time in the province. How then can he be resident in P.E.I.?

And if he’s not resident in P.E.I., he cannot be a senator from that province. Indeed, the constitution act specifies that if a senator is found not to live in the province he was appointed to represent, his seat is deemed vacant.

The Senate has always been a home for political partisans. But, under Stephen Harper, the Senate has become the last defense against the will of the House of Commons. Micheal Harris reminds his readers that it was the Senate which enforced Harper's denial of climate change. It was the Senate which killed

by stealth Bill C-311 after the House of Commons had passed the climate change bill. And this under a prime minister who once promised that he would never allow an unelected Senate to go against the will of the majority of Members of Parliament.

Walkom puts the case succinctly:

Mike Duffy came from P.E.I. It is a heritage of which he is justly proud. He vacations on the island. But he doesn’t really live there any more. And because of that, he cannot — by law — represent P.E.I. in the Senate.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Citizens, Not Consumers

Natalie Brender writes in The Toronto Star that, if disasters such as the factory collapse in Bangladesh are to be avoided in the future, we are going to have to stop acting as consumers and start acting as citizens. Private initiatives by non governmental agencies aren't enough:

As usual, the reason for this state of affairs is that things are complicated. The locations, actors, incentives and pressures involved in today’s global supply chains are so diverse and complex that uncoordinated action from any number of angles isn’t enough to make a major difference.

If private voluntary initiatives aren’t enough to produce consistent results, another solution is to weave them more closely together with governmental regulation. Getting government involved with buyers and suppliers across a given commercial field has the potential to ensure that all firms abide by common rules. Accordingly, new kinds of public-private partnerships are emerging. In some, national or regional governments work with the private sector to develop goals and metrics for compliance with environmental and labour standards. In other cases, a government might encourage corporate compliance with regulations by offering lighter penalties for violations in return for corporations’ transparency and disclosure.  

The assumption, of course, is that governments act not only in their own workers' interests, but in the interests of workers across the world. And the present Government of Canada is going to do no such thing. It has firmly planted its flag in the employers camp. Trade deals are written to protect international investors; and -- as far as the Harperites are concerned -- citizens are consumers.

Brender's colleague at the Star, Susan Delacourt, has done a lot of work lately documenting the Conservative take on citizenship. In the Harperian universe, everything -- including the self respect of the Conservative caucus -- is for sale. The workers of Bangladesh and other Third World nations will continue to suffer as long as the present Government of Canada remains in power.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Stiglitz On Higher Education

Joseph Stiglitz writes in this morning's New York Times that, just as America is beginning to recover from the crisis which rocked the world financial system, another storm is about to hit:

The crisis that is about to break out involves student debt and how we finance higher education. Like the housing crisis that preceded it, this crisis is intimately connected to America’s soaring inequality, and how, as Americans on the bottom rungs of the ladder strive to climb up, they are inevitably pulled down — some to a point even lower than where they began.

Just as home owners found themselves with mortgages they couldn't repay, American students now find themselves with debt they can't repay:

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, almost 13 percent of student-loan borrowers of all ages owe more than $50,000, and nearly 4 percent owe more than $100,000. These debts are beyond students’ ability to repay, (especially in our nearly jobless recovery); this is demonstrated by the fact that delinquency and default rates are soaring. Some 17 percent of student-loan borrowers were 90 days or more behind in payments at the end of 2012. When only those in repayment were counted — in other words, not including borrowers who were in loan deferment or forbearance — more than 30 percent were 90 days or more behind. For federal loans taken out in the 2009 fiscal year, three-year default rates exceeded 13 percent.

And the aftermath of the Great Recession has made things worse:

Like much else, the problem of student debt worsened during the Great Recession: tuition costs at public universities increased by 27 percent in the past five years — partly because of cutbacks — while median income shrank. In California, inflation-adjusted tuition more than doubled in public two-year community colleges (which for poorer Americans are often the key to upward mobility), and by more than 70 percent in four-year public schools, from 2007-8 to 2012-13.

With costs soaring, incomes stagnating and little help from government, it was not surprising that total student debt, around $1 trillion, surpassed total credit-card debt last year. 

It's a depressingly familiar story. Caught in the jaws of a financial system which piles up profit for the few, the economy stagnates -- because, faced with a mountain of debt, students neither form families nor buy homes:

Those with huge debts are likely to be cautious before undertaking the additional burdens of a family. But even when they do, they will find it more difficult to get a mortgage. And if they do, it will be smaller, and the real estate recovery will consequently be weaker. (One study of recent Rutgers University graduates showed that 40 percent had delayed making a major home purchase, and for a quarter, the high level of debt had an effect on household formation or getting further education. Another recent study showed that homeownership among 30-year-olds with a history of student debt fell by more than 10 percentage points during the Great Recession and in its aftermath.)

It’s a vicious cycle: lack of demand for housing contributes to a lack of jobs, which contributes to weak household formation, which contributes to a lack of demand for housing.

The Masters of the Financial Universe have given birth to a vicious, not a virtuous, cycle. They really aren't the sharpest tools in the shed.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Nasty Party

Andrew Coyne's opinions tend to fall on the right side of the political spectrum. That fact, however, does not make him a fan of the Harper government. In this morning's National Post he writes:

We’ve had some thuggish or dishonest governments in the past, even some corrupt ones, but never one quite so determined to arouse the public’s hostility, to so little apparent purpose. Their policy legacy may prove short-lived, but it will be hard to erase the stamp of the Nasty Party.

The Harperites have deliberately chosen to present themselves as the Nasty Party. Coyne, in fact, agrees with some of Harper's initiatives -- like raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security. The problem with the government is its style: "as overbearing as it is under-handed and that on a good day:"

When they are not refusing to disclose what they are doing, they are giving out false information; when they allow dissenting opinions to be voiced, they smear them as unpatriotic or worse; when they open their own mouths to speak, it is to read the same moronic talking points over and over, however these may conflict with the facts, common courtesy, or their own most solemn promises.

There are certain laws -- like the law of gravity -- which govern existence on this planet. This government's essential flaw is that it ignores the principle of what goes around comes around. It has nothing but contempt for its opponents, the press and -- most surprisingly -- the public. The result, Coyne concludes, is that:

"The odium in which they are now held is well-earned, and entirely self-inflicted."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Big Steve Is Watching You

One wonders if the Harper caucus has any backbone at all. We know that Big Steve has spent taxpayer money keeping an eye on his own MPs:

Opposition parties accused Stephen Harper’s government of spying on its own MPs and being poor money managers Thursday after The Huffington Post Canada revealed Conservatives had spent $23 million on media monitoring in two years — including millions to track their own backbench MPs.

It sounds like life in the House of Harper doesn't breed much trust. Father knows best:

NDP MP Charlie Angus told reporters the Tories are probably keeping tabs on their backbench because these are the MPs causing the prime minister “a great deal of trouble.”

“They’re certainly not following the party line. They’re running off on tangents all the time. So obviously the Prime Minister’s Office is trying to keep tabs on their behaviour,” he said.

But if Harper wants to do that, Angus suggested, the Conservative party should foot the bill, not taxpayers.

If Stephen wants to keep an eye on his MP's he certainly can do that -- and bear the consequences. But his penchant for using public funds for that project -- and for those pamphlets which attack Justin Trudeau -- goes over the line.

But Big Steve makes the rules. His lust for control betrays his deep seated insecurity. And he believes that, if he wants to keep his eye on you, you should pay for his privilege.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

You Can't Believe A Word

Andrew Coyne has an interesting take on the National Research Council's new mandate. The NRC was originally established to do the kind of research which business could not and should not do:

Hence it is well-established economic principle that basic research is the sort of thing governments should fund. By the same token, however, government should not be in the business of funding applied research, that is research directed to commercial uses. Not only is this unnecessary — business can perfectly well fund this sort of thing on its own — but it inevitably tilts the pitch in favour of certain activities over others: some technologies, innovations, products, firms and industries will be funded, at the expense of the rest.

The Harper government likes to claim that it is devoted to "free markets." But, Coyne writes, that claim is patently false:

After so many previous episodes — the auto industry bailouts; the proliferation of subsidies and tax breaks to other favoured industries, even including the venture capital industry; the extension of regional development subsidies to every part of the country; to say nothing of its highly discretionary foreign investment policy, jawboning of banks, etc. etc. etc. — it should by now be clear to everyone: This can no longer be described as mere political posturing. It accurately reflects the government’s current thinking on the economy. We have to stop talking about the Harper government having “abandoned its principles”. Whatever might once have been the case, these are its principles.

This is a government which believes in market intervention -- not in favour of ordinary citizens, but in favour of business:

It is simply wrong to refer to the Harper government as “free market” in orientation. Its economic policy is, and has been for some time, heavily interventionist — perhaps the most interventionist of any government since Trudeau’s.

Stephen Harper claimed he was in favour of accountability -- then shut down all avenues to it. He claimed he was fiscally responsible then ran up the biggest deficit in Canadian history. He claims that markets should be allowed to function freely, but insists that they function according to his rules.

Coyne's point is simple: You can't believe a word he tells you. He's a fraud.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

"We Don't Make Mistakes. Bureaucrats Do."

When Marc Garneau -- Canada's first astronaut -- was not invited to a ceremony celebrating the Canadarm's contribution to space exploration, the Harper government blamed that oversight on the officials at the air museum and space agency, who issued the invitations.

Hard to believe, writes Michael Harris:

And is the Harper government actually claiming that it never occurred to them to glance over the guest list or to invite our first Space Man to the Canadarm ceremony?

Bottom line? The crunchy cons chose to punish the rival politician rather than honour the astronaut.

It is bred in the bones of this regime. Everyone knows that the Harper Conservatives have made a policy out of excluding sitting MPs from events to announce federal initiatives in their ridings. It’s dirtbag politics at its grimiest and the message is as unambiguous as a punch in the gut: “All goodies come from Steve, not your MP, or the government of Canada.”

When these folks are caught in a lie, they always blame a bureaucrat. Consider the case of poor beleaguered Peter Penashue:

When he was caught breaking elections rules by exceeding spending limits in the form of non-monetary contributions, the first response was that he had done nothing wrong.

When that bull wouldn’t fly, the minister blamed an inexperienced member of his campaign team, Reginald Bowers, for his troubles. Except the fall guy wasn’t exactly a neophyte. Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver appointed Bowers to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board because of his “decades of experience in business and economic development.”

And when Penashue resigned after admitting that he had spent $47,000 more than he was entitled to under the law, the prime minister endorsed his re-election bid in Labrador.

Now we discover that Human Resources Minister Diane Findlay was warned in a memo a year ago that temporary foreign workers were filling jobs that could be done by unemployed Canadians:

"Evidence suggests that, in some instances, employers are hiring temporary foreign workers in the same occupation and location as Canadians who are collecting EI ( Employment Insurance) regular benefits."

The problem isn't the public servants. It's the dolts to whom they answer.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Canadian Class Warfare

Linda McQuaig writes that, until the temporary foreign workers program blew up in its face, the Harper government was able to keep one of its key initiatives -- class warfare -- under the radar:

Apart from this clumsy fiasco, the Harperites have been adroit at keeping their anti-worker bias under the radar. Instead, they’ve directed their attacks against unions, portraying them as undemocratic organizations run by “union bosses” who ignore the interests of ordinary workers.

It’s revealing that this harsh critique of unions largely comes from business think-tanks and conservative politicians — folks who aren’t generally known for championing workers’ rights but who apparently can’t sleep at night at the thought workers aren’t being well represented by the people they elect to run their unions.

Of course, the real reason Harper attacks unions is because they’ve been effective in promoting the interests of working people over the past century. By establishing norms for higher wages and benefits in the workplace, and by pushing governments to implement universal social programs, unions are largely the reason we have a middle class in this country.

The Harper path is a well worn path. Margaret Thatcher trod it in  Britain. Ronald Reagan smiled as he did the same in the United States. And Harper's announcement that he intends to control labour negotiations at the CBC, Canada Post and Via Rail is  inspired by Thatcher's and Regan's war on unions -- particularly public sector unions:

Business think-tanks, like the Fraser Institute, are helping out by generating papers showing that pay is higher in the public sector.

That’s true; that’s what collective action achieves. But the difference is not dramatic, and is mostly due to higher public sector wages for women and minorities in low-paid jobs. This is offset by generally lower pay for public sector professionals and managers, compared with their private sector counterparts, notes Andrew Jackson, senior policy adviser to the Broadbent Institute.

But harping on the allegedly overpaid public sector allows the Harper team to do what it does best: drive a wedge between people. Harper hopes to stoke resentments in struggling private sector workers, duping them into thinking the big rewards have gone to public sector workers rather than to where they’ve actually gone — into corporate coffers and CEO pay

The Harrperites make no attempt at balancing competing interests. They choose sides -- and the side they always choose is the side where most of the money is. Their objective is to make sure even more money finds its way into those coffers. It's Canadian class warfare.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Pontification From The Pompous

Conrad Black -- that great defender of the Common Man -- argued in Saturday's National Post that public service unions are a public plague. He was defending the Harper government's decision to dictate labour policy at the CBC, Canada Post and Via Rail. The solution to public service strikes is straight out of Alice In Wonderland -- off with their heads:

The CBC should be reformed as Charles I and Louis XVI were reformed, by the liberative stimulation of decapitation, and the vital and creative elements should be allowed, and financially permitted, to flourish.

Black holds a particular animus towards teachers unions:

Labour strife in education has been one of the greatest frustrations of modern Western society. As it became less and less an occupation for single women or wives in the era before most women were in the workplace, and became more the occupation of people (of both sexes) who had to support a family from a teacher’s income, pressures for higher compensation steadily rose. Skyrocketing costs have been accompanied by sharply declining standards of educational effectiveness, and in the level of competence of students. Matriculation numbers have been maintained only by making the examinations and the curriculum simpler.

Mr. Black began his career by selling exams to his fellow students at Upper Canada College -- from whose hallowed halls he was expelled. Like his conviction for obstruction of justice in the U.S., he felt it was a miscarriage of justice. One suspects his treatment by teachers might have shaped his opinion.

In the end, the Lord of Crossharbour refers to the august Maurice Duplessis:  "They do not have the right to strike against the public interest." But who determines what is in the public interest?  Duplessis was not working in the public interest during the 1949 strike at Asbestos, Quebec. And, when Archbishop Charbonneau sided with the workers, he managed to get the Pope to replace the archbishop.

Does Mr. Black speak for the public interest?  Does Stephen Harper?  No, it's just more pontification from the pompous.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Resource Curse

In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Al Gore referred to something he called The Resource Curse:

The so-called resource curse is most often understood in the context of small nations whose revenue streams are dominated by the exploitation of a single resource. It’s a bit more complex than that with Canada, but the resource curse has multiple dimensions and [that includes] damage to some extremely beautiful landscapes, not to mention the core issue of adding to the reckless spewing of pollution into the Earth’s atmosphere as if it’s an open sewer.

Gore isn't giving voice to a new idea. Harold Innis had a somewhat different phrase for the same problem. He called it The Development Trap. An economy built on exporting a single resource -- fur, wheat or oil -- made Canada dependent on more developed nations. Former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed understood the problem and insisted that oil should be used to develop an economy powered by the production of finished goods.

The present government is a collection of -- in James Hanson's phrase -- Neanderthals. One doubts that any of them have read Innis's work. And it's a safe bet that none of them read what Al Gore has written. We are told that the Harperites are intent on re-writing Canadian history. Perhaps that's because they refuse to learn from it.

And, so, we are all victims of The Resource Curse.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Smallest Man In Canada

Michael Harris writes that Stephen Harper is the Wizard of Wrath:

Just as in the movie, our Wizard is playing the bully with the big stick to the very end. In big things and little ones, the movie Wizard was nothing like the superior being that Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Lion expected to see when he was finally exposed. With Stephen Harper there is not much on display other than the lust to control, exercised with that familiar and most un-Canadian mean streak. 

For, if there is one word which best characterizes the man, it is meanness: Chantal Hebert writes:

It is not unusual for a government to shed support over the first half of its term. That is when the policy heavy lifting usually gets done. But it is more unusual for a governing party to devote so much energy on making unrelenting nastiness one of its defining features.  

Any government eventually takes on the personality of the man at the top. John Diefenbaker was a bumbler. His government mirrored the man. Lester Pearson was, by equal turns, modest and generous. It was no accident that he got so much done in such a short time -- and he led a minority government.

Harper is the polar opposite of Pearson. Harris writes:

I was talking the other day to one of Canada’s great public servants — a man who, in fact, was recruited by Harper when he came to power. Robert Marleau spoke about the days when the facade of partisanship often vanished, and quite pleasantly so, when members opposite got together out of the glare of the TV lights. In the House of Commons they were rival parties: Behind the scenes they were just men and women with a lot in common. Not now. As Bob Marleau put it, “Political chivalry is dead these days in Ottawa.”

And, if you compare Harper's legacy to Pearson's, there's not even a hint of greatness. Hebert examines the record:

He promised to fix the democratic deficit that plagued Parliament. Instead Harper’s contribution to that deficit already surpasses that of his predecessors.

The Conservatives were going to end the culture of entitlement that pervaded previous governments. Instead, some of Harper’s senators and ministers have embraced that culture in relative impunity.
The prime minister also vouched to restore accountability to government. Instead, he has presided over increasingly opaque budgets and a Kafkaesque regime of communication designed to obscure rather than inform. The auditor general himself has trouble following the money through the federal system these days.

We are told that the Conservatives want to rewrite Canadian history. It's not hard to understand why. By historical standards, Stephen Harper is not only the meanest prime minister Canada has ever had. He's also the smallest.

Friday, May 03, 2013

He's Worried

Carol Goar wrote in theToronto Star that Stephen Harper is "at risk of sneering himself into irrelevance." Boston has its suspected terrorists. So does Canada. And Canadians are troubled:

[Harper's] comments on terrorism in the last three weeks have left Canadians shaking their heads, hoping he doesn’t really mean what he says and looking elsewhere for answers. They want to know how young men amid them, going to the same schools as their kids, turn into mass killers. Who is radicalizing them? How does this metamorphosis happen in plain view of their unsuspecting parents, friends, teachers and imams?

The Prime Minister's response is, "Don't think. Act." And his not-so-brilliant mouthpiece, Pierre Poilievre tells us -- twice -- that "the root cause of terrorism is terrorists."

Never mind that the rhetoric runs contrary to government policy:

Less than two years ago, on the anniversary of the 1985 Air India disaster — Canada’s first brush with global terrorism — Harper announced a five-year, $10-million initiative to “better understand what terrorism means in the Canadian context, how that is changing over time and what we can do to support effective policies and programs to counter terrorism and violent extremism in Canada.”

No, this is all about Justin Trudeau. Harper hated the father. Now he is faced with the spectre of the son. Despite Justin's claim that Stephen Harper isn't afraid of him, the truth is that Justin is Harper's worst nightmare. And today's Decima poll suggests that Mr. Harper may not be sleeping well.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Scientists In Chains

Melissa Mancini, over at the Huffington Post, has documented Stephen Harper's war on science. Consider the record:

  • Environment Canada put out 71 news releases in 2012, compared with 110 in 2005, a decrease of more than 35 per cent.
  • The Department of Fisheries and Oceans put out 128 news releases in 2012, compared with 243 in 2005, a decrease of 47 per cent
  • The National Research Council put out 14 news releases in 2012, versus 33 in 2005, a decrease of 58 per cent
  • Natural Resources Canada put out 154 news releases in 2012, compared with 176 in 2005, a decrease of 13 per cent

Then there are the cases of government scientists who have been ordered not to say anything about their research to Canadian -- or any other -- media outlets:

  • Environment Canada scientist David Tarasick was prevented from talking to media about a research project he had worked on that had discovered the largest hole ever found in the ozone layer in 2011. When responding to a reporter who asked for an interview, Tarasick replied, “I’m available when Media Relations says I’m available.”
  • Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist Kristi Miller was forbidden from talking about a virus affecting salmon in B.C. Her research on the topic was published in the prestigious science journal Nature, but interview requests about the research were denied. When she testified about her findings in August 2011 at the Cohen Commission – a review of a decline in Fraser River salmon populations – she said she believed it would have been useful to talk to the media when her findings were published.
  • Ottawa has been accused of trying to get international status removed from Dr. Frederick Kibenge’s salmon health laboratory at University of Prince Edward Island after it revealed infectious salmon anemia in B.C., something that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency denies exists on the West Coast.
  • Last year when federal scientists attended a polar ice conference in Montreal, they were assigned media minders before they could be interviewed by reporters.

Why?  According to Calvin Sandborn, a professor at the University of Victoria:

“Government doesn’t want scientists talking to the public about science and about facts,” he said, “and everything is controlled to ensure that a certain political point of view is carried forward.”

The truth will set you free. And that worries the Harper government. That's why they have put Canadian scientists in chains.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

One May Smile And Smile

Tom Walkom writes that no one should be taken in by the cosmetic changes to the Temporary Workers program, which Jason Kinney announced two days ago:

The backpedaling Monday by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney underscores a bitter truth about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

It has been forced to retreat marginally from its long-running campaign to push down wages in Canada. But it hasn’t given up the war.

Kenney’s tactical retreat was announced with much fanfare. As cameras clicked, the minister announced numerous changes to Ottawa’s temporary foreign workers program.

Yet only one is significant. That’s the government’s decision to axe a provision allowing employers to pay foreign temporary workers up to 15 per cent less than the going wage.

Even the Harperites had come to realize that, at a time when 1.4 million Canadians are out of work, this was unduly provocative.

But the goal remains the same -- to drive down labour costs and increase corporate profits -- not just in Canada but around the world. Things could be different. When the Harper government signs its much ballyhooed trade deals, it could insist on labour and safety standards which would go a long way to preventing the kind of disaster that happened in Bangladesh:

Canada and other rich nations could help by insisting that wage and labour rights be preconditions for trade with a developing nation like Bangladesh.

To put it another way, trade and immigration policy could be used to boost wages there toward Canadian levels.
But that is not what is happening. Instead, Canada’s government is using trade and immigration policy to lower wages here toward Bangladeshi levels.

The lesson Othello learned from Iago applies equally to Stephen Harper: "One may smile and smile and be a villain."