Saturday, August 31, 2013

No Simple Answers

The United States and France appear ready to attack Syria. If that happens, Iran says it is ready to attack Israel. And Israel has atomic weapons. Bob Rae wrote this week that:

A couple of years ago I had the chance to meet Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres, Israel’s prime minister and president, respectively, in separate meetings. The subject was Iran. For Mr. Netanyahu, the issue was clear: Iran is arming itself with a nuclear capacity, and the rest of the world had to be prepared to “act.” For Mr. Peres, the conversation went in a different direction. We know Iran is up to no good. But, if we bomb Iran, what happens the next day? What are the consequences?

As the drumbeat for a response to what seems to be a clear violation of the 1925 ban on chemical weapons grows louder, no one seems to be asking, "What happens on the day after?" Rae wrote:

There’s always time for “consequential thinking.” The world wanted an international constabulary after the end of the Second World War but we were unable to make it happen. Real politics intervened. There is a crying need for a continuing, thoughtful, effective response to the terrible loss of life in Syria, most of it at the hands of its own government. But let us not make the mistake of assuming that missiles alone will resolve the crisis or even assuage our consciences. And don’t make the mistake of being ambushed by our own rhetoric. Killing civilians by bombing them with aircraft is also a crime.

You would think that after Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, we would be thinking about consequences. Surely our historical memory goes back that far. But going to war clouds the mind. Even thinking about it has that effect.

First and foremost, we need to remember what Harry Patch -- the last surviving veteran of World War I -- said before his death in 2009: "War," he said, "is organised murder, and nothing else."

Private Patch should remind us that there are no simple answers to the crisis in Syria.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Not Dead Yet

After the last election, Peter C. Newman offered the opinion that Michael Ignatieff had presided over the death of the Liberal Party of Canada. But Michael Den Tandt writes from Prince Edward Island that the party is showing signs of life:

Eighteen months ago, at the party’s biennial convention in Ottawa, the party was adrift: Brave talk of policy innovation had produced little beyond a motion calling for legalization of marijuana. Media coverage revolved around the cat-and-mouse game then being played by interim leader Bob Rae, who was weighing a run at the permanent job. Other leadership aspirants – none of them [Justin]Trudeau – were circling each other and Rae, warily. The old Liberal sport of anonymous internecine back-stabbing was, if not at a full boil, then bubbling away on simmer.

Under Trudeau, the Liberals appear to be getting their act together:

This week, by contrast, in numerous conversations, four messages have emerged with an almost Harperian consistency: First, support the leader; second, talk up the plight of the middle class; third, be the most open and accountable party in Ottawa; fourth, do not be goaded by a nettlesome, impatient media into revealing platform policy before that cake is fully baked. If nothing else the approach is organized and coherent, in contrast with the chaos that ruled under previous leaders Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion.

Other than Trudeau's full throated rejection of the Quebec Charter of Values, not much has emerged on the policy front -- and it won't, says Justin, until the dynamic process of consulting Canadians is finished. What the Liberal take on the economy will be is anybody's guess. If it's conserative-lite the party may again face its demise.

But hanging, it is said, concentrates the mind. It would appear that their near death experience may have re-invigorated the Liberals. They're not dead yet.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Making Duffy An Enemy

John Ivison compares Senator Mike Duffy to Kevin Spacey's character in the recently released film, House of Cards:

Frank “The Whip” Underwood was speaking from experience when he said: “Friends make the worst enemies.”

Kevin Spacey’s menacing character in House of Cards is intent on bringing down all those on his own team who betrayed him when he was passed over for high office.

 The vindictiveness, if not the malevolence, bears a striking similarity to a certain former Conservative senator, who feels he has been thrown to the wolves by his former colleagues, in the interests of political expediency, while innocent of all transgressions.

Duffy had obvious connections within the Conservative Party. But he has more connections within the Ottawa press corps. And information keeps leaking out to the media. Bob Fife's recent revelations that Nigel Wright acted with the assistance of Senators  David Thachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen in arranging the $90,000 payment and whitewashed audit of Duffy's expenses blows a hole in the prime minister's story that Wright acted on his own.

And Fife's revelation that former Harper director of communications Angelo Persichilli informed Duffy that the Conservative Party would turn against him "if he didn’t repay the money" makes the Wright payment look anything but benevolent.

Harper seems to have forgotten that Duffy has been around Parliament Hill for thirty years and he knows how to play the game -- which means he knows how to get even. Ivison writes that, if the case and Stephen Harper go to court, there will be two different stories:

The suggestion is that the course of events recalled by Mr. Duffy do not tally with the version put on the public record by the Prime Minister — a tantalising prospect that would surely have repercussions on Mr. Harper’s grip on power were he to add to, or change, his story under oath.

That's why Harper's acolytes are asking Duffy to resign. Don't count on it. They have made a one time friend an enemy.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Separating The Parties

Quebec is a French island in an English ocean. That's undeniable. The question has always been, "How should Quebecers react to that fact?" There have always been those who have argued that, to survive, Quebecers must look inward and erect political and cultural bunkers. Others have argued that Quebec must look outward and embrace the world.

The Parti Quebecois has opened the isolationist argument again with its proposed Charter of Quebec Values. That charter is not only separating Quebecers; it's also separating each of the three federal political parties. Tom Walkom writes:

Federal reaction to Quebec’s proposed ban on religious symbols speaks volumes. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is firmly but politely opposed. Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats hope the whole issue will miraculously go away. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are vigorously trying to say nothing.

Harper lost Quebec a long time ago. His silence is cowardly. But he has nothing to lose. It's Tom Mulcair who is caught in a bind. Fifty-seven of his one hundred seats come from Quebec. Those seats are filled by a number of soft nationalists, who believe they can best defend Quebec's interests as members of the New Democratic Party. So Mulcair must walk a political tightrope.

Only Justin Trudeau is categorically opposed to the new charter. But, Walkom writes, his opposition is couched in interesting terms:

Moreover, the Liberal leader has been careful in his language. He doesn’t call the proposed ban racist (although, arguably, it is). Rather he says that it is unnecessary and counterproductive — that it would tarnish Quebec’s image across the world.

Like Mulcair, Trudeau is a native son. He can voice his opposition as a Quebecer. He will be lambasted by hardcore nationalists. On the other hand, there is significant opposition to the PQ's Charter both inside and outside Quebec.

Justin has a long way to go before he can overcome the Liberals' reputation for political convenience. But his stand on the Quebec Charter of Values is a start.

We await further developments.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

He's Got To Be Kidding

Peter MacKay has accused Justin Trudeau of committing a criminal offence by smoking pot. But Althia Raj, of The Huffington Post, writes:

While it is illegal to grow, traffic or possess marijuana, smoking weed is not a criminal offence.

University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran has written to the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society asking that they investigate MacKay, a former provincial Crown prosecutor and, as the current Attorney General of Canada, the person charged with enforcing the rules of the land, for unprofessional conduct as a lawyer.

It's an important distinction which MacKay should have known about. And his failure to note that distinction goes straight to the issue of whether Canada's Minister of Justice tells the truth. The record on that score, Michael Harris writes, is pretty clear:

The F-35 debacle was the former Defence Minister’s credibility Waterloo. There were the two sets of books his Department kept for the project – one with the real price tag for cabinet, and the other that was $10 billion lower for parliamentary and public consumption. Remember when the former minister said this in the House of Commons in December 2010?

“Mr. Speaker, let us look at the actual contract. What the Canadian government has committed to is a $9-billion contract for the acquisition of 65 fifth-generation aircraft. This includes not just the aircraft, but also includes the on-board systems, supporting infrastructure, initial spares, training simulators, contingency funds. This is a terrific investment for the Canadian Forces.”

Then there was the matter of the cost of the mission to Libya:

He told the CBC in October 2011 that Canada’s part in bringing down Colonel Muammar Gaddafi cost $50 million.

But a senior Canadian officer, Major-General Jonathan Vance, said the minister had been told before the interview that the final cost would be $106 million. MacKay simply denied he had been told the higher figure – leaving Canadians to choose between the credibility of the general or the only Harper cabinet minister to be twice fined for violating Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act.

And, of course, there was that promise he made to David Orchard:

And then there is that matter of winning the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives on the promise to David Orchard never to merge John A. MacDonald’s party with the Canadian Alliance.  So much for credibility.

MacKay claims that Trudeau's credibility is "up in smoke." He's got to be kidding.

Monday, August 26, 2013

No Economic Geniuses

Scott Clark and Peter Devries write that the stated focus of Jim Flaherty's seventh annual "national policy retreat" was  job creation and economic growth. The Harper government likes to repeat that those two objectives are -- and always have been -- its reasons for being.

But all that talk has not yielded much of either:

The economy has been in a growth decline since 2010 — job creation has been dismal. In 2009, real GDP declined by 2.9 per cent and then bounced back in 2010 to 3.3 percent. Since then, growth as been decelerating: to 2.4 per cent in 2011, to 1.7 per cent in 2012 and to a forecast of roughly 1.6 per cent in 2013.

Growth is forecast to increase in 2014 to around 2.5 per cent — but economists have been forecasting a turnaround for the past three years and it still hasn’t happened. Why should it happen in 2014 when the global economy remains so weak?

Mr. Harper had a hand in weakening the world economy.  Martin Wolf recently wrote in The New York Review of Books:

Austerity came to Europe in the first half of 2010, with the Greek crisis, the coalition government in the UK, and above all, in June of that year, the Toronto summit of the group of twenty leading countries. This meeting prematurely reversed the successful stimulus launched at the previous summits and declared, roundly, that “advanced economies have committed to fiscal plans that will at least halve deficits by 2013.”

That was the summit Flaherty's boss, Stephen Harper, hosted. He pushed hard for his confreres to cut their deficits:

It was an attempt prematurely and unwisely made. The cuts in these structural deficits, a mix of tax increases and government spending cuts between 2010 and 2013, will be around 11.8 percent of potential GDP in Greece, 6.1 percent in Portugal, 3.5 percent in Spain, and 3.4 percent in Italy. One might argue that these countries have had little choice. But the UK did, yet its cut in the structural deficit over these three years will be 4.3 percent of GDP.

Yet Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty continue to trumpet their job creation record:

In promoting its job creation record, the government makes the claim that the economy has recovered all the jobs lost during the recession. Not bad when compared to some other G-7 counties, but certainly not good enough for Canadians. In February 2008, the unemployment rate hit a low of 5.9 per cent; in July 2013 it was 7.2 per cent. In February 2008, the labour force participation rate hit a high of 67.8 per cent; in July of 2013 it had fallen to 66.5 per cent — clearly indicating that many Canadians had simply withdrawn from the job market because of a lack of opportunities.

In other words, the “real” unemployment rate — including these discouraged workers — is much higher than 7.2 per cent. In February 2008, the ratio of persons employed, aged 15 and over, to the Canadian population aged 15 and over (the ‘employment ratio’), reached a high of 63.8 per cent. By July 2013 it had fallen to 61.7 per cent. The economy simply wasn’t growing fast enough to create enough jobs for a growing adult population.

The truth is that Mr. Harper's and Mr, Flaherty's economic record is dismal. It is true that Canadian banks are in much better shape than many others. But that was the work of the previous Martin government.

No, despite their claims to the contrary, Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Harper are no economic geniuses.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

They Know A Phoney When They See One

The folks on the Rock are very good at spotting poseurs. The Toronto Star has reprinted an editorial from the St. John's Telegraph which captures what Stephen Harper's trip to the North illustartes:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in virtual campaign mode as he began his regular summer trip to Canada’s North earlier this week. His targets? Well, everyone else, of course.

“Their instincts are all bad,” he said about the Liberals and New Democrats. “Tax-and-spend proposals so extreme they would make the worst European budget look solid in comparison. . . . Big government bias that would build bureaucracy at the expense of families and communities.”
Their platforms are, he charges, a collection of “dangerous ideas and vacuous thinking that would reverse the progress we have made.”

Ah, yes, all that progress — the stripped-down government that didn’t ever actually arrive. Between 2006 and 2012, the party that isn’t for building the bureaucracy actually built it by 14 per cent, according to the parliamentary budget officer — adding 34,000 public servants in that time.

Newfoundlanders know that talking about pogress and actually delivering it are two different things:

The Harper Tories are our best bet for a stable economy, because the other parties are such spendthrifts?

Sure, if you don’t stop to think that the Tories came along with the biggest budget deficits in Canadian history, not to mention Senate appointees like Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy who have shown in spades that the politics of self-entitlement are not restricted to the federal Liberals.
Or that, despite promises of budget surpluses some time in the future, the fact is the current Tories seem more skilled at bait-and-switch — promising restraint, delivering deficits — than anything else.

It's all bait and switch -- something the Harperites do very well. But all that proves is that they are phoneys.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Refusing to See Them

Stephen Harper's Northern Tour was supposed to be a political triumph. He delivered red meat speeches about the "vacuous" and "dangerous" opposition. And he announced that he was running in the 2015 election. But, yesterday, the tour ended with a vivid picture of how the prime minister defines power.

Michael den Tandt, who has been following the prime minister on his northern trek, writes:

The final public event on Stephen Harper’s annual summer tour was very nearly derailed Friday after a journalist from China’s state-owned newspaper got into a shoving match with a female staffer from the Prime Minister’s Office and was pulled away by members of Harper’s security detail.

As the prime minister was taking a question from the CBC’s James Cudmore, People’s Daily Canada bureau chief Li Xue Jiang began insisting to PMO staffer Julie Vaux that he was next in line to ask a question.

Harper was visiting Raglan to trumpet a $750,000 federal investment in wind power generation for the remote nickel mining site. Li had wanted to ask Harper to clarify Canada’s foreign investment regulations, he said, in light of China’s state-owned CNOOC’s takeover of Calgary-based Nexen last winter. Earlier, it had been agreed among the pool of reporters travelling with Harper — among them journalists from CBC, Radio-Canada, the Toronto Star, CTV, The Canadian Press, Global, Sun Media and Postmedia — that Li would ask one of five questions allowed by the PM in Friday’s media availability.

It is Harper’s practice to limit the number of questions he takes from reporters — typically on this trip, four from the national media, one from any local media present, and one from Radio-Canada. Because of the limit on questions, reporters typically pool their efforts, and also determine by consensus who will pose them, and in what order. Questions are not shown to PMO staff in advance.

The mounties hauled Li away. Shades of the 2011 election. Harper simply didn't want to answer his question. But, as Li himself said, "It's not democratic."

Unfortunately, Harper is not concerned with democracy. Whether it's the Parliament of Canada, the provincial premiers, or the press, power for Stephen Harper means having the ability to make people go away.

He believes he can make them disappear simply by refusing to see them.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Can We Take Him At His Word?

When asked this week if he would run for re-election in 2015, Stephen Harper answered, "Of course, yes." It was a pretty flatfooted statement. But Tasha  Kheiriddin, one of the prime minister's most steadfast supporters, writes that his answer is open to interpretation:

Some surveys have found that the public thinks the untested Justin Trudeau would make a better Prime Minister than the seasoned Harper. Trudeau is seen to care more, to share people’s values more. Add to this the bad smell of the senate scandal, and Harper will have trouble playing the integrity card, one of his great assets until now.

No, she writes,  Harper is more interested in making the Conservatives Canada's natural governing party than he is in achieving personal Nirvana:

Harper is not a revolutionary. His practice of “incremental conservatism,” a term coined by his former advisor Tom Flanagan, has been methodical and steadfast. His eye is on the long game — with or without him in the driver’s seat. The paradox of this “control freak” politician is that he will not risk undoing his legacy by clinging to personal power.

And, Harper -- according to Kheiriddin -- is engaged in succession planning:

There already is some evidence of torch-passing within the Conservatives. Even before the recent cabinet shuffle, soon-to-be-minted or promoted ministers, such as Kellie Leitch, Michelle Rempel, and Chris Alexander, started standing in for cabinet colleagues, making announcements and defending the Tories on television. The process paved the way for their ascension to more senior roles in cabinet. It gave them experience and credibility in the eyes of both the public and the Conservative base.

Kheiriddin's argument rings hollow. Her contention that Harper would play Sydney Carton for the sake of the conservative movement doesn't fit the man. For Harper. self interest has always been a far, far better thing. As Michael Harris wrote last week, the prime minister "has turned conservatism into just another brand of political opportunism — power for power’s sake. It is no longer tethered to a philosophy — just to an individual."

I wouldn't take Stephen Harper at his word, either. But, if he does decide not to run, there will be nothing noble in his decision. He will go for the same reason he prorogues parliament -- to avoid a reckoning.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Founding Fathers Would Weep

Chris Hedges writes that, with the sentencing of Bradley Manning, the United States is now a penal colony:

There are strict rules now in our American penal colony. If we remain supine, if we permit ourselves to be passively stripped of all political power and voice, if we refuse to resist as we are incrementally reduced to poverty and the natural world is senselessly exploited and destroyed by corporate oligarchs, we will have the dubious freedom to wander among the ruins of the empire, to be diverted by tawdry spectacles and to consume the crass products marketed to us. But if we speak up, if we name what is being done to us and done in our name to others, we will become, like Manning, Julian Assange and Snowden, prey for the vast security and surveillance apparatus. And we will, if we effectively resist, go to prison or be forced to flee.  

 The dark future which Orwell warned us about has now arrived:

Wednesday’s sentencing marks one of the most important watersheds in U.S. history. It marks the day when the state formally declared that all who name and expose its crimes will become political prisoners or be forced, like Edward Snowden, and perhaps Glenn Greenwald, to spend the rest of their lives in exile. It marks the day when the country dropped all pretense of democracy, obliterated checks and balances under the separation of powers and rejected the rule of law. It marks the removal of the mask of democracy, already a fiction, and its replacement with the ugly, naked visage of corporate totalitarianism. State power is to be, from now on, unchecked, unfettered and unregulated. And those who do not accept unlimited state power, always the road to tyranny, will be ruthlessly persecuted. On Wednesday we became vassals.

And, Hedges warns, America will pay a price for instituting the new surveillance state:

We will pay for our criminality. We will pay for our callousness and brutality. The world, especially the Muslim world, knows who we are, even if we remain oblivious. It is not Manning who was condemned Wednesday, but us.

The founding fathers would weep.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Stephen Harper insists that proroguing Parliament is a "completely normal" procedure. But not even The Globe and Mail is buying that line. It editorializes today that:

Yes, this will be a more routine use by Mr. Harper of the royal prerogative to prorogue than in the past but it is not justified by the circumstances, and it has the odour of political convenience. We repeat what we said before: Parliament should not sit silent at the whim of the prime minister.

Tom Mulcair has a blunter assessment:

"He doesn't have the courage to face Parliament and that's the problem with Stephen Harper," Mulcair said. "He's a bully, he always centralizes power but when the time comes for him to answer for what he's been doing, he runs and hides. That's his repeat behaviour."

The Globe also notes that prorogation is standard operating procedure for Harper whenever he is under substantive attack:

Under normal circumstances, this would not be of much concern; it could even have been expected. But the prime minister’s reputation precedes him, and a potentially damaging issue is once more dogging his government: the Senate expenses scandal and the mysterious payment of $90,000 by the former chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office to disgraced senator Mike Duffy.

Mr. Harper could have let the current session continue to December and then prorogued, allowing him to return with a fresh start in January. But he has chosen not to wait. The result will be the delay of the return of Parliament after the summer recess by as many as six weeks – six weeks during which Parliament could have been addressing questions about the Senate scandals, as well dealing with ongoing issues of vital concern to Canada and Canadians: the Keystone XL pipeline; the possible entry of Verizon into the Canadian cellphone market; the economic recovery; free trade with Europe; and the crisis in Egypt.

Mr. Harper is full of bluster and down right nastiness. But he is also gutless. When the going gets tough, Stephen Harper goes away -- and hopes that the messes he creates will go away with him.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Check Out Time

Stephen Harper confirmed yesterday that he intends to run for re-election in 2015. Michael Harris at ipolitics gives ten reasons why Harper should retire. Consider three of Harris' reasons:

First, Harper is tempermentaly unsuited for the job. He is a politician who doesn't like people:

And as strange as this may seem, he doesn’t much like politics either. At least not the part most of us would associate with the world’s second oldest profession — meeting people, experiencing the world, trying to make things better for the people whose affairs you temporarily hold in trust. As Preston Manning told me, the Stephen Harper he knew didn’t enjoy constituency work, didn’t enjoy speaking, didn’t enjoy foreign travel. He was a one-issue operator — the economy. The CEO prime minister has shown how little he has to bring to the wider complexities of running a country. What else can you say about a public figure living in the 21st century who thinks the environmental movement is about poor countries screwing money out of rich ones?

Second, Harper has been thumbing his nose at the rules and skirting the law since he arived in Ottawa. The RCMP and Elections Canada are constantly investigating his associates:

It was Stephen Harper who left Senator Irving Gerstein in charge of the Conservative Party Fund even after the debacle of the In-and-Out scandal. That was the little contretemps in which charges against Gerstein and three other party officials were dropped in return for the party pleading guilty to exceeding election spending and submitting fraudulent election records.

This the Tories called a “victory”.

Since Senator Gerstein’s name appears in court documents filed by the RCMP in their investigation of the Nigel Wright/Mike Duffy affair, has the PM picked up the telephone and asked if Gerstein knew about the deal to use party funds to cancel Duffy’s debt, or that Wright himself would pay? As the top Tory in the land, wouldn’t that be the normal thing to do, especially when his own chief-of-staff was involved?
And the Mounties aren’t the only ones lifting rocks. Investigators from Elections Canada are looking into scores of federal ridings for alleged voter suppression. Charges have been laid already against a Conservative Party worker. The want us to believe the whole thing was masterminded by 22 year-old Michael Sona, apparently the Professor Moriarty of election-stealing. No, really. A judge has found that CPC computer data was used in cases of attempted electoral fraud in ridings beyond Guelph — though without any material effect on the outcome of the vote.

But, most of all, Harper has despoiled conservatism.  True conservatives should be appalled:

Former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber had it right. The Conservatives under Harper are no longer Conservatives — not fiscally, not socially, not politically. They are a lost tribe following a cult figure.
That figure has led them into record deficits, tawdry scandals and strange alliances like the one with China. Harper has turned conservatism into just another brand of political opportunism — power for power’s sake. It is no longer tethered to a philosophy — just to an individual.

There are more reasons for Harper's retirement than for his re-election. But Mr. Harper isn't into re-assessment. He never asks when it's check out time.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Frozen In Time

With the Senate scandal taking its toll, and the Lac Megantic disaster still fresh in the public mind, you would think that Stephen Harper might be engaged in a re-think. But, if one is to judge by the rhetoric he has been employing on his tour of the Far North, it would appear that his brain is frozen in time.

Michael Den Tandt writes in The National Post:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper used the occasion of his eighth annual Arctic summer tour to deliver a blistering, highly partisan and combative speech in which he defended his record across the board and hammered the opposition relentlessly.

“What I’m telling you is that with the NDP and the Liberals, what you see is what you get,” Harper told a crowd of party loyalists in this northwestern Canadian capital of 23,000. “Dangerous ideas and vacuous thinking, that would reverse the progress we have made.”

Vacuous thinking?  Reversing progress? The man is talking about himself and his party. Harper trots out classic Conservative boiler-plate:

Hitting all the hottest-button themes on which he campaigned in 2011 — harsher treatment for criminals, greater personal freedoms, lower taxes — Harper accused Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats of having policies “so far outside the Canadian mainstream, they don’t want to talk about them.” He slammed Mulcair for having travelled to Washington, “where he lobbied against Canadian energy exports and jobs in private.”

Harper launched into the Liberals as well, saying they “don’t talk about their alternatives, because they don’t have any.” In a dig aimed at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who has promised to legalize pot, Harper cracked that “I guess I don’t count legalizing the marijuana trade as a serious economic policy.”

 “Their instincts are all bad,” he charged of the Liberals and New Democrats. “Tax and spend proposals so extreme they would make the worst European budget look solid in comparison… big government bias that would build bureaucracy at the expense of families and communities. And would put the welfare of the criminal ahead of the interests of law-abiding citizens.”

With crime rates the lowest in forty years, the people of Lac Megantic must be heartened to know that public safety is one of Mr. Harper's main priorities. And, as far as serious economic policy is concerned, the prime minister makes no mention of the sputtering Canadian economy.

Mr. Harper should be written up in a medical journal. His brain is frozen -- but he can still walk and talk. Unfortunately, he's a little behind the times.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Keep Your Mouth Shut

Clayton Ruby writes that the federal and Alberta governments want to pipe bitumen through Enbridge's already constructed 9B pipeline. They also want to increase the pipeline's capacity from 240,000 barrels a day to 300,000 barrels a day.

And, to make sure that the oil industry gets what it wants, the Harperites have made the approval process meaningless:

Until recently, any interested group or individual could comment on the merits of a pipeline project or any other project seeking approval from the NEB. But in 2012, the Harper government snuck in amendments to the National Energy Board Act through omnibus Bill C-38. They wiped out much of the legal protections for Canadian fish and fisheries. They turned the NEB from an independent decision-making body into one that merely advises the cabinet. Even that wasn’t enough. Harper wanted to silence critics, too.

These amendments to the National Energy Board Act gave the NEB the power to screen out members of the public and scientific community likely to bring up “irrelevant” issues like skyrocketing cancer rates in downstream communities, the poisoning of watersheds and the negative impact of the tarsands. Prospective applicants are actually told not to bother if they intend to make submissions about tarsands development.

Today, anyone who wishes to be heard must fill out a nine-page Application to Participate Form just to submit a letter of comment. The obvious goal is to reduce the number of people putting their concerns on the record. Requiring that people submit a nine-page application form just for the right to submit even a one-paragraph written comment creates a tremendous disincentive for participation. Successful completion of the form does not guarantee the right to participate. That right remains at the NEB’s sole discretion.
And it works! Before these changes designed to keep the critics silent were enacted, the NEB heard 1,544 oral or written submissions at the Northern Gateway hearings. Now, they will hear only 175.

You would think that after the Lac Megantic disaster, the powers that be would see trouble ahead and try to head off opposition by giving opponents a seat at the table. But this is the Harper government -- headed by an "economist" -- who didn't see The Great Recession coming.

This government is not gifted with foresight. But it does know how to tell people to shut up.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Oh, What A Tangled Web

Things are starting to get interesting -- and potentially nasty. John Ivison reports in The National Post that Mike Duffy is unhappy:

Mr. Duffy’s lawyers have barred him from speaking to the press but he has told friends that he feels he has been thrown under the bus and that the Conservative PR machine is out to destroy him.

Sources close to the now-Independent senator at the centre of the expenses scandal said Mr. Duffy was recruited to present a “kinder, softer” face to the Conservative Party in the run-up to the 2011 election. Friends say he was told that political appearances on the Senate tab were not only tolerated, they were expected by the Prime Minister.

Harper has no qualms about throwing people under the bus if they threaten his own political future. Ask Garth Turner. Ask Bill Casey. Ask Helena Geurgis. Ask Brian Mulroney. And, so far, the prime minister has been able to hear the thump under the wheels and move on.

But, if the Duffy case gets to court, Ivison reports that:

the senator’s lawyers will call Stephen Harper as a witness and grill the Prime Minister under oath, sources said.

That rotund but smiling face may now be haunting the prime minister's dreams:

Mr. Duffy’s case for the defence is likely to rest on public statements by Mr. Harper that show he was comfortable the senator satisfied all residency requirements (the RCMP alleges Mr. Duffy broke the law by claiming a primary residence in Prince Edward Island, when his primary residence was really in Ontario). Back in February, Mr. Harper told the House of Commons that all Conservative senators conformed with the Red Chamber’s residency requirements. “That’s the basis on which they were appointed to the Senate and those requirements have been clear for 150 years,” he said.

The prime minister wove this web. He now appears to be caught in it. If nothing else, the Senate scandal reveals that Stephen Harper is a poor judge of character. He may, indeed, discover that he misjudged the kinder, softer face of the senator from Kanata.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Piffle About Taxes

Four years ago, Stephen Harper declared: "I don't believe that any taxes are good taxes." We've come to expect that kind of piffle from the prime minister. But, Devon Black writes, these days all politicians are singing from the same hymnal:

The “Read my lips — no new taxes!” approach to politics is so popular right now that even Thomas Mulcair hopped on the anti-tax bandwagon last week, promising no new taxes if the NDP forms the government after the next election.

The problem is, of course, that we need things which we can't afford to pay for on our own:

We all benefit from things like hospitals, schools and roads, which are paid for by taxpayers. But instead of defending taxes as mildly unpleasant but fundamentally necessary, our politicians seem hell-bent on cutting them down to the lowest level possible.

We have lost the sense that we are all in this together. Conservatives, who have dominated debate in this country for thirty years, have been mesmerised by Ayn Rand and made selfishness a virtue. It sounds catchy. But that vision quickly breaks down:

That reasoning is attractive on the surface, but even a moment’s consideration should give us pause. Paying a few dollars less in income tax might be nice, but we can’t buy clean water or effective electrical grids on our own.

This vision of a low-tax, low-government society is a fundamentally selfish one that would leave all of us worse off. Taxes aren’t government theft; they’re a collaborative investment in our country. Individually, none of us can afford to pay for all the services government provides. Together, our taxes help shape Canada into one of the best places on Earth to live.
The next time the prime minister touts the advantages of lower taxes, ask yourself: Could the good people of Calgary -- his "hometown" -- clean up from this year's flood on their own?


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Poor Pick Up The Tab

The bill for Stephen Harper's Wonderful World of Austerity is coming due. Nick Fillmore writes in The Tyee:

The austerity program and other government cuts have had disastrous consequences for millions of Canadians. According to a July report by the Canadian Medical Association, there are staggering disparities in life expectancy based on the amount of education a person receives. Residents of rich neighbourhoods live an average of 86.3 years, while those living in a poor neighbourhood average only 65.5 years, a difference of 21 years.

Meanwhile, Canadians grow increasingly hungry. In March 2012 882,188 people received food from a food bank in Canada -- an increase of 2.4 per cent over 2011 and 31 per cent higher than in 2008, when austerity measures were launched.

Children are not spared austerity's impacts. According to UNICEF's most recent report, out of 29 top countries, Canada ranks in the bottom third for relative child poverty.

It's classic Conservative policy, borrowed from Mike Harris. It's called downloading costs. And what that really means is that the costs are downloaded on the poor -- which flies in the face of international agreements Canada has signed:

When it comes to complying with international law concerning the rights of its citizens, Canada is a rogue state. We have signed international laws that oblige us to provide certain benefits to all citizens. This means ensuring the right to adequate standards of living, including access to food, housing and clothing; the right to participation in the labour force and community; as well as providing citizens with the opportunity to report violations of these rights.

However, importantly, the Harper government has neglected to adopt the part of the Covenant that would establish a complaints mechanism that would allow groups or individuals to go to the UN to protest the treatment they receive. They've made sure the process doesn't work and that there will be no complaints.

While they cut, they game the system in favour of the rich and feather their own nests. Meanwhile, the poor pick up the tab.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

From Dream To Obsession To Delusion

Having nixed the Northern Gateway Pipeline with their over the top rhetoric -- and with the future of the Keystone Pipeline in doubt -- you would think that the Harper Conservatives would re-examine their sales pitch. Instead, Tim Harper writes in today's Toronto Star, they are using the same strategy to sell the Energy East TransCanada pipeline. Harper asks:

How can we believe in the integrity of a “science-based” environmental study of the pipeline when Harper is not only cheerleading for the project, but has left final approval in the hands of his cabinet?

It is just this type of unlevel playing field – streamlined environmental review process, political approval getting way ahead of the regulator’s appraisal, the evangelical fervor and the nation-building rhetoric from the oil industry and politicians – which galvanized opposition on the West Coast against Harper.

It is also the over-the-top political proselytizing from Harper and his key ministers, and the misreading of U.S. politics, which has thrown approval of the Keystone XL in doubt.

However, never willing to admit a mistake, they continue to barrel forward, convinced that the people of Quebec will be a pushover. The project might have more of a chance of success if Alberta and Quebec were left on their own to work something out:

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois would have a better chance of selling the project at home if she negotiated with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, not a flag-waving prime minister. 

But our prime minister dreams of turning Canada into an energy superpower. Dreams can become obsessions. And obsessions can become delusions. Stephen Harper passed over from obsession to delusion some time ago.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It's Who They Are

It's not just the $140,000 in illegitimate expenses -- which Stephen Harper is on record as saying are "comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country." It's not just that Wallin's tab is considerably larger than Mike Duffy's tab. It's that she doctored her records ahead of the audit. It would appear that, like Bev Oda, Ms. Wallin feels free to alter official documents.

And, of course, there is the matter of scale. John Ivison points out in The National Post that:

Lest any of the senators currently in the spotlight have forgotten — which is unlikely — [Senator] Lavigne was sent to the big house for using a mere $23,000 for personal use — at least $10,000 of which was for travel expenses for trips taken by his staff.

The Harperites roared into Ottawa full of outrage, claiming the moral high ground. They promised a new age of accountability and righteousness. What they offered instead was self righteousness and no accountability.

When historians write about the Harper years, they will link the prime minister's name with hypocrisy. For, if Stephen Harper stands for anything, it is hypocrisy. It is who he and his acolytes are -- hypocrites.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Trudeau The Elder

For the Canadian Right, Pierre Elliott Trudeau is the bogeyman. Stephen Harper, who used to admire Trudeau, came to believe the standard Conservative line, best expressed by Bob Plamondon in his book, The Truth About Trudeau:

“Far from being one of the best of our prime ministers, he was one of the worst. [He] left deep divisions and scars that remain to be healed. … It took successive leaders many decades to clean up the disorder.”

Somewhere between the time he left Toronto and started to refer to Calgary as his "home town," Harper dedicated himself to undoing what Trudeau had achieved. But, Andrew Cohen writes in The Ottawa Citizen, Plamondon's take on Trudeau is fundamentally misguided:

Consider national unity, where Trudeau was indispensable. Plamondon correctly argues that Trudeau was “obsessed” with bringing home the British North America Act, a process that initially left most Canadians indifferent. After all, he says, we’d done fine with things as they were. Sure, patriation would happen, “but only when the time was right.”

Yet the time was never right — and likely never would be, at least in Trudeau’s lifetime. We had been trying since 1927 to free the BNA Act from British trusteeship. That paralysis appalled Trudeau, who believed in a striving, mature, self-respecting nation. His magnificent obsession, as it was called, was what drove him to detach ourselves from Great Britain, to create an amending formula and to entrench a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was to become adults in this world.

If anything, Stephen Harper wishes he could turn back the clock and return us to our colonial past. As for dividing the country -- a mantra which the right continually repeats -- Cohen writes:

Trudeau repeatedly took on the forces of division. He spoke for Canada with a singular, eloquent passion. In 1968, at a federal-provincial conference, he challenged Daniel Johnson’s suffocating nationalism. In 1970, he vanquished the terrorists in the October Crisis. His response crushed the FLQ, sparing Canada the violence that stung Italy and West Germany in the 1970s.

In 1980, in the Quebec Referendum, he rallied the flagging federalists. In three timely, brilliant speeches, he reversed the trend — an intervention reflected in a shift in public opinion. As one critic said, had Trudeau been a separatist rather than a federalist, Quebec would be independent now.

In 1987, he challenged the Meech Lake Accord, and in 1992, the Charlottetown Agreement. He thought they were flawed. Such was his stature among Canadians that both times he carried the day.

Every time things became hot in the Constitutional Wars, we were told this was the end of Canada. If it wasn’t the separatists in Quebec, it was the premiers or the devolutionists in the most decentralized federation in the world. Patriation, the Charter, the collapse of Meech Lake, the end of Charlottetown: each time, the Cassandras, the Jeremiahs, the shiver sisters, the currency traders — and often the political elite — issued their alarms.

Trudeau, bless him, ignored them. He knew this country was stronger than that.

Cohen freely admits that Trudeau was a flawed leader: "He made mistakes and enemies." But, "That’s what greatness is. Nations don’t raise statues in parks to managers of banality or accountants of envy."

What really drives Stephen Harper is his knowledge that he isn't Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In the final analysis, he is an "accountant of envy." He may battle Trudeau's son. But he can't hold a candle to Trudeau the Elder.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

On The Margins No More

John Ralston Saul writes that scientific experiments to starve our aboriginal peoples should  come as no surprise:

When Canadians learn that malnourished aboriginal children were used for nutritional experiments, they cannot really be surprised. Shock is a more plausible reaction. We should never be beyond shock. But not surprised. That would be to feign innocence, when we all know that for more than a century, Canadian authorities of all sorts continually acted badly when it came to indigenous peoples. Many Canadians knew this when it was happening. The standard public discourse made these actions possible. These were our governments, our authorities. Our responsibility cannot be denied.

And Canadians are deluded if they think that matters will return to what they have been:

Those days are long past. That is, the aboriginal position has changed radically. And that was the underlying message of last winter’s protests and fasts, of Idle No More.

Those who were forbidden the right to hire lawyers as recently as the Indian Act of 1927 now have more than 1,000 lawyers of their own. They are in an increasingly strong legal position, having won case after case at the Supreme Court over the past 40 years. Having been forbidden the practice of their own spiritual beliefs, an increasing number of their young are embracing them. Forty years ago, there were virtually no aboriginals in colleges and universities. Now, there are more than 30,000 and the number is growing. There are thousands of indigenous corporations and businesses. And when National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo stands up to give the 11th LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture on Saturday, he will be the third indigenous lecturer in the series.
The central point is that we are witnessing a remarkable comeback. A century ago, we were convinced that aboriginal peoples would disappear. Today, those same aboriginal peoples are central players in Canada’s future.

If Stephen Harper thought that a public apology for the horrors of residential schools would be enough to keep Canada's native peoples quiet, he was sadly mistaken. First Nations want more than an apology. They want respect -- and they want a seat at the table:

The simple truth is that we are all witnesses to the remarkable comeback of the aboriginal peoples. This will mean fundamental shifts in power, in financing and in how we all live together. We can pretend this is not happening; we can manoeuvre in order to delay it. But it is going to happen. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by embracing this comeback as living proof of the strength of these cultures and peoples. We are witnessing how central they are to the future of this country.

Canada's First Nations refuse to live on the margins. They will be front and centre from now on.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Brain Injured Immigration Policy

The Harper government is presently "consulting" Canadians on what kind of immigration policy Canada should promote. Debbie Douglas  and Avvy Yao-Yao Go write that the government looks at immigration -- as it looks at all things -- through an economic lens. However, there is more to immigration than economics:

For a national consultation on immigration planning to be meaningful, Canadians need to know all the relevant facts and consider the multi-purpose roles of immigration policy — a notion captured by the concept of nation-building. Immigration planning must not simply be understood as an economic imperative.

Unfortunately, the Harper government suffers from economic tunnel vision:

The government’s priority is to use immigration to support Canada’s economy. While there is nothing wrong with this objective, it is the short-sightedness and bias with which the government is approaching this goal that needs to be challenged.

Equally alarming have been many changes to a number of specific economic pathways that have given unprecedented influence to employers to determine which newcomers will ultimately be granted permanent residency status. For example, the Canadian Experience Class, the Live-in-Caregiver Program and the Foreign Skilled Worker Program all grant employers a significant role in what really is the job of the nation — determining who can acquire citizenship.

For Canada as a country to succeed, we need immigrants of all backgrounds and skills to come here to build a permanent home. For immigrants to succeed, they need to have a sense of belonging that only comes about when their entire families are integrated into Canadian society.

It's fascinating to watch the family values folks give short shrift to those values. Their motto is "Show me the money!" That's all it's ever been. And, as Douglas and Go  correctly observe:

Any discussion around our future immigration plan is incomplete if it does not also include a soul-searching exercise of who we are as a people, and the values we choose to embrace. If all that Canada is about is protecting our current economic interests, and the only use of immigrants is to further that goal, then we should just make that clear — both to ourselves and to the people we are inviting to join us. But surely, there is more to Canada than our GDP index or the size of our treasury.

The Harper government perseverates about the economy. When I taught school, we paid attention to students who were stuck on one idea. It was a symptom of potential brain injury.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Uneasy Lies the Head

The knives are out.Tim Hudak's days as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party are numbered. Bob Hepburn writes in The Toronto Star:

In the wake of disappointing losses in four of the five byelections last week, now comes news that Hudak is facing a new open revolt within his party, with two separate calls for a leadership review by groups of Tory activists furious over the party’s poor showing.

If the calls succeed, Hudak could be dumped as leader at the party’s convention set for Sept. 20-22.
Such an outcome is unlikely because it’s almost impossible to rewrite party rules overnight, which the two motions to be pursued during the convention are trying to do. Currently, a leadership review can be held only after an election, and Hudak easily survived such a review after the 2011 vote.

So don't expect Hudak to make a quick exit. But the natives are clearly restless:

In the coming weeks, Hudak must deal with the latest blows to his leadership or face certain electoral defeat. Among them:

  • Mounting anger over the party’s miserable byelection results. With the Liberals supposedly reeling from the scandal over the $585 million in fees to cancel two gas plants, Hudak was confident of major gains in all five ridings. Instead, it was the NDP that made big gains, with the Tories winning only in Etobicoke-Lakeshore where Toronto deputy mayor Doug Holyday used his personal popularity and the political machine of Mayor Rob Ford to win

  •  Continuing voter rejection, with Hudak ranked dead last in personal approval ratings of just 27 per cent. He trails both NDP Leader Andrea Horwath (43 per cent) and Premier Kathleen Wynne (35 per cent), according to a Forum Research poll released last week.

  • Increasing alienation among progressive party members fed up with Hudak’s deliberate move to re-introduce the controversial hard-right policies of former premier Mike Harris

  • The Harris vision no longer sells in Ontario. Ontarians don't view his time as premier as the good old days. Hudak failed to see that truth. However, if Hudak goes, Rob and Doug Ford are waiting in the wings. Getting rid of Hudak may only be the first of many nasty turns for Ontario Conservatives.

    For now, Mr. Hudak probably isn't sleeping well. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

    Thursday, August 08, 2013

    Let The Ladies Have At It

    The by-election in Toronto Centre promises to be very interesting. Chrystia Freeland and Linda McQuaig  --  women with strong media profiles -- will go head to head for Bob Rae's old seat. The riding will eventually be bifurcated by seat redistribution. John Ibbiston writes:

    Toronto will get two of those ridings. One of them is in suburban Don Mills. The other essentially bifurcates the existing riding of Toronto Centre. Whoever wins the by-election will get to choose next time out between staying in Toronto Centre, which will encompass part of the lower downtown, or running in the new riding of University-Rosedale, which covers the University of Toronto and several exclusive neighbourhoods.

    The losers may decide to seek the nomination in whichever riding the winner vacates.

    But, more importantly, both women can serve as superb spokespersons for their parties. The Liberals have long had a reputation for expediency. The New Democrats have recently acquired a similar reputation.

    For those of us who have been asking,"What do the parties stand for?" Ms. McQuaig and Ms. Freeland have an opportunity to answer that question.

    Wednesday, August 07, 2013

    Enemies Within

    Michael Harris suggests that, despite Stephen Harper's recent attempt to list his enemies, his real foes are inside his own tent. That may be the real story behind the the sound and fury over Mike Duffy:

    Could the answer be that the deal was the brainchild of the PMO, and that Senator Duffy was forced to agree to the payback for reasons not yet known? If so, what could those reasons be?

    “Maybe someone who didn’t owe anything was forced to go along with this scheme against his will,” says a player with personal knowledge of the events surrounding the Nigel Wright payment to Duffy — not for direct attribution. “Wouldn’t it be interesting if the RCMP were to question people about threats against a sitting legislator to get him to plead guilty to a non-crime for political purposes? Wouldn’t that be interesting?”

    It's been obvious for some time now that the Conservatives' dysfunction  has nothing to do with fringe players. The bad guys aren't rogues. They reside in the Prime Minister's Office. Harris suggests that  an audit of Duffy's expenses would ultimately lead back to the 2011 election:

    The government also was labouring under the shadow of dirty tricks in the last election, from robocalls that had Elections Canada investigating 56 ridings where voter suppression had been alleged, to the use by the CPC in 14 Conservative campaigns of the U.S. firm Front Porch Strategies, an campaign organizing group with close ties to the Republican Party. The law is murky on whether it is legal for foreigners to campaign on the ground in a Canadian election, as Front Porch did in the campaigns of Julian Fantino and Rick Dykstra.

    The Conservatives know exactly how they won the last election. And they are working furiously to make sure that the public never discovers the skeletons they left behind. The real enemies are those within the party who know where the skeletons are buried.

    Tuesday, August 06, 2013

    Republican Delusions

    Paul Krugman wrote in yesterday's New York Times that the Republican Party is fleeing from reality:

    Last week House Republicans voted for the 40th time to repeal Obamacare. Like the previous 39 votes, this action will have no effect whatsoever. But it was a stand-in for what Republicans really want to do: repeal reality, and the laws of arithmetic in particular. The sad truth is that the modern G.O.P. is lost in fantasy, unable to participate in actual governing. 

    Election defeats should act as splashes of cold water, arousing political parties from their slumber and forcing them to get their bearings. But modern Republicans have completely lost theirs:

    How did the G.O.P. get to this point? On budget issues, the proximate source of the party’s troubles lies in the decision to turn the formulation of fiscal policy over to a con man. Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has always been a magic-asterisk kind of guy — someone who makes big claims about having a plan to slash deficits but refuses to spell out any of the all-important details. Back in 2011 the Congressional Budget Office, in evaluating one of Mr. Ryan’s plans, came close to open sarcasm; it described the extreme spending cuts Mr. Ryan was assuming, then remarked, tersely, “No proposals were specified that would generate that path.”

    What’s happening now is that the G.O.P. is trying to convert Mr. Ryan’s big talk into actual legislation — and is finding, unsurprisingly, that it can’t be done. Yet Republicans aren’t willing to face up to that reality. Instead, they’re just running away. 

    If their 2012 election defeat did not act as a splash of cold water, the Meltdown of 2008 should have. Instead, Republicans keep insisting that what the nation needs is lower taxes and more concentration of wealth. That prescription is not just political suicide. It's insane. 

    Unfortunately, because legislation has to get through the Republican controlled House, the United States could be in for a long stretch of insanity.

    This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

    Monday, August 05, 2013

    A Human Rights Issue

    Nothing illustrates the essential malevolence of the Harper government more than its transformation of Canadian prisons. Even though crime is at its lowest level in forty years, Mr. Harper's army is dedicated to getting its pound of flesh from the people who live on the margins. Phil Gibson writes:

    The atmosphere in Canadian prisons is becoming explosive, as the proportion of visible minorities, mixed with gangs, racists and violent offenders in the general population, sets new records.

    “Aboriginal people and women are entering federal penitentiaries in greater numbers than ever before. Twenty-one per cent of the inmate population is of Aboriginal descent and nine per cent of inmates are Black Canadians. Incarceration rates for these two groups far exceed their representation rates in Canadian society at large,” reads the latest annual report of Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers.

    “In the last five years, the number of federally incarcerated women has increased by almost 40 per cent while the number of Aboriginal women has increased by over 80 per cent in the last decade. In fact, if not for these sub-groups, the offender population growth rate would have flatlined some time ago,” Sapers reported in June, 2012.

    The Harperites say they are building new facilities. However,

    the trouble is, new accommodation is being built as cookie-cutter additions and renovations to existing prisons, according to old specifications. The ninety-six bed wings are being grafted onto deteriorating institutions with no provision for mental health care, aboriginal cultural needs or elder care.

    What is lost in the hype, says Ivan Zinger -- executive director of Sapers staff -- is the realization "that [as] our criminal justice system increasingly captures disadvantaged segments of the Canadian population, the gradual hardening of conditions of confinement has become a human rights issue.”

    And, when it comes to human rights, the Harper government doesn't even acknowledge that they exist.

    Friday, August 02, 2013

    He Doesn't Get It

    Tom Walkom writes that Stephen Harper doesn't get the new world economy. Like Dr. Frankenstein's monster, the creature he helped create has run amok and is trashing his home. If we have had some good fortune, Harper has had nothing to do with it:

    The secret truth of this recession is that Ottawa hasn’t had much to do with Canada’s relatively good fortune. Rather it has been our natural resources that — up to this point — have pulled us through.
    As long as countries like China are willing to pay top dollar for petroleum and other commodities, the countries that possess such resources do well. Australia, a resource economy governed by the leftish Labour Party, has survived the Great Recession as handily as Conservative-run Canada.

    But when it comes to economic policy, the Harper government has been a failure:

    The Harper government’s failure is longer-term. It still operates under the assumption that free trade and free markets will conquer all. This is an old model. It is out of date. True, the Great Depression of the 1930s was aggravated because there were too many barriers to the free movement of labour, goods and capital. But the Great Recession of the 21st century is aggravated by the fact that there are too few.
    This is the lesson of the crippled eurozone. It is also the lesson of Japan, which started to do better only after it elected a nationalist (and right-wing) government willing to challenge trade orthodoxy
    Canada’s Conservatives, however, remain focused on Quixotic, old-style projects that seem doomed to fail.

    The truth is that Stephen Harper isn't stuck in the 20th century. He still hasn't emerged from the 19th century, the last time the world was awash in free trade fever.

    You may recall that, in 1914,  it all came crashing down.

    We're off to Montreal for a couple of days. Enjoy the holiday. I'll be back on Monday.

    Thursday, August 01, 2013

    Pipelines And Pipe Dreams

    Barack Obama has been signalling that the Keystone Pipeline is not all it's cracked up to be. In a recent interview in the New York Times, he said that the argument that Keystone will be a big job creator is a myth. In reality, it may only produce 2,000 immediate jobs and 50 to 100 long term ones. Tasha Kheiriddin writes that, if Keystone goes down, the dream of a Conservative political hegemony will go down with it:

    Pipelines represent the key to a Western Canadian century – and the Tories’ dreams of political hegemony. Just like opening up the St. Lawrence Seaway boosted Central Canada at the expense of the Maritimes in the last century, so enriching the West would reduce Ontario and Quebec’s interests, both economic and political.

    Oil is the Conservative lifeblood. Without it, the present government will die. But, Mr. Harper has already shot himself and his party in the foot. Obama has also signalled that if Canada had a better record of looking out for environmental interests, Keystone would be an easier sell. And, if Obama kills Keystone, there will be ripples throughout North America:

    If Obama kiboshes Keystone, its impact will nonetheless be significant, due to two factors: symbolism and timing. On a symbolic level, American environmentalists would embrace a Keystone rejection as a sign that pipelines can be defeated. The decision would energize their movement and encourage their Canadian brethren to fight similar projects with renewed vigour. As in the United States, their votes would matter, as evidenced by the British Columbia government’s recent rejection of Northern Gateway in its current form, due to concerns over Enbridge’s ability to clean up spills.

    Harper has ignored the first rule of economics: a strong economy is a diversified economy. He has put all his eggs in the pipeline basket. If the Keystone dream dies, so do all the other Conservative pipe dreams.