Thursday, October 31, 2013

It Will Be All About Integrity

Stephen Harper came to power howling about the lack of Liberal integrity. And the irony is that integrity will be Harper's undoing. Michael Harris writes:

Integrity is the great leveller — and that is bad news for Stephen Harper. It is the fatal deficit of all powermongers. The Harper government’s clothesline is sagging under the weight of dirty laundry.

The man who posed as a scourge against corruption has come to personify it. Consider the record:

Outcast former MP Bill Casey tells me that the PM changed the wording of the Atlantic Accord, cheating Maritimers out of the agreed-upon deal. The PM told him that the words said what he decided they said, case closed. Casey wouldn’t support his own government’s budget for that reason, and was cast out.

The Harper government fudged the numbers on the F-35 jet-fighter acquisition — by a minimum of $10 billion. When they were outed by the auditor general, the Parliamentary Budget Office and an independent audit, their response was more lies. Even Peter MacKay, then at Defence, admitted that cabinet had the higher number from DND but used the lower one instead.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has told whoppers about new policies designed to move science to the back of the bus, while the Harper government bulldozed its way through Parliament with omnibus legislation that leaves species at risk in Canada at the mercy of megaprojects.

And then there is the cast of characters who have, at one time or another, been the apple of the PM’s eye — and, more importantly, his appointments. Bruce Carson, who came to the PMO with a criminal record and may add to it before his latest legal problems are over. Arthur Porter, who was the overseer of our spy agency, until he ended up in a Panamanian jail fighting extradition to Canada. Election expense cheater and former Harper cabinet minister, Peter Penashue. The PM’s former parliamentary secretary Dean Del Mastro, now out of caucus and facing charges for election expense cheating. Stephen Harper may have integrity, but can he recognize it?

There comes a time when everyone's past -- good or bad -- catches up with him. Those who point out hypocrisy don't have to be saints. Mike Duffy is no saint. But he has defined what the next election will be all about.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

His Luck Is Running Out

There's a scene in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad World where Jonathan Winters destroys a gas station and two of its attendants. As the Senate debacle unravels, the prime minister -- consumed with rage -- looks more and more like Jonathan Winters on a rampage.

At the end of the scene, having obliterated the building and its inhabitants, Winters hops in a tow truck and drives away, unscathed.

Lawrence Martin suggests that things will not work out that way for Stephen Harper:

But the list is long and Harper’s odds are not good. There is a common thread running through his governance, a pattern of subverting or attempting to subvert the system, the public trust. It has finally caught up to him.

The prime minister has been lucky. He has made a career out of blaming others for his troubles. But his luck is running out.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Abolish The Senate? You've Got To Be Kidding.

Mike Duffy's speech yesterday should have reminded all Canadians why we have a Senate. Mitchell Anderson  writes in The Tyee:

Harper's response to Mike Duffy's disloyalty has been thermonuclear: essentially to set a precedent where the PMO can unseat the same senators recently appointed at a whim and without due process -- relying on a legal anachronism dating back to 1300.

As Duffy told his colleagues yesterday, the Senate is the last brake on an imperial prime minister:

If successful, Harper would succeed in further advancing his incremental coup d'état of the PMO on our government institutions. The motion being rammed through the upper chamber would remove about the only good thing you can say about the job-for-life jackpot enjoyed by senators: tenured job security that could in theory counterbalance the ballooning power of the PMO.
Not surprisingly, when senators actually wanted to debate this motion, the government invoked closure -- perhaps worried their upper chamber caucus members are awaking from their stupor as obedient "Harper seals." 

What appears to be an old folks home for retired bagmen and women actually performs an important function. The Senate may need reform. But it should not be abolished:

The prime minister may also have inadvertently instigated Senate reform. Imagine if senators seized the opportunity to prove to the Canadian people that they actually have a vital role to play in our democracy. The job-for-life privilege Canadians find so egregious should be the very trait of the upper chamber that would allow its members to stand up to the unbridled power of the PMO. Canadians would cheer them on.  

Everything depends on what the Conservative majority does with the motions to expel Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. They could simply suspend the resolutions pending the result of the RCMP investigation -- which would be standard operating procedure.

Of course, by that time, all of Mike Duffy's evidence will be made public -- and Stephen Harper will be looking for the exit.

Monday, October 28, 2013


Stephen Harper has abandoned three of his senatorial appointees -- including the man he once called  "my most valuable senator."  Abandonment defines the man. And in foreign affairs, Joe Clark writes, Stephen Harper has "all but abandoned the global arena."

Foreign affairs has never been the prime minister's strong suite, even though he has spent  a lot of time in international forums. Clark writes:

In the seven years between his first election and the time I am writing this, Stephen Harper would have been exposed directly to informed and passionate leaders describing similar challenges and opportunities in the developing countries they lead. Conversations of that kind may well have influenced his willingness to serve as co-chair, with President Kikwete of Tanzania, of the UN Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health. They could have informed his government’s more recent interest in international trade, including with some countries in Africa and the Americas. However, there is little evidence of much impact on the government’s understanding of the human and political dynamics of countries outside the West.

Under Harper, Canada has lost its international credibility:

During the decades when Canada was earning a respected reputation in the world, part of our strength was that we felt no need to sit always at the head of the decision table. Our competence meant we often served there — on issues respecting arms control, the environment, human rights and international development. But Canada operated as effectively from a seat at the side, becoming trusted as a reliable, respected and responsible partner, and building concentric circles of influence on issues from defence, to development, to conciliation, to trade. Perhaps to a fault, we were known for our quiet and constructive work. By contrast, the Harper government’s performance in international affairs has shown more interest in the podium than in the playing field.

Most problematic is Mr. Harper's "megaphone diplomacy." He doesn't engage in the world -- he lectures it. That kind of behaviour is dangerous:

During the Cold War, the Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Peter Carrington, urged the superpowers to avoid what he called “megaphone diplomacy.” That was defined as “diplomacy based on assertion through the media rather than on discussion,” and Lord Carrington considered it a dangerous practice between nuclear-armed superpowers. It is as counterproductive today, especially for a country like Canada, which has real skills and assets in diplomacy, when we apply them.

Clark suggests that Canada's foreign policy is deeply rooted in the prime minister's psyche. He doesn't like to talk to people -- either at home or abroad:

The government has indicated its preference for bilateral discussion where, by definition, the number of factors and actors is limited and easier to predict, if not control. That seems to be a strong personal instinct, and extends well beyond international policy. It may be why he avoids the federal-provincial conferences and co-operation at home which have been key to critical Canadian accomplishments — from health care to the free trade agreement, the environmental round table to the Kelowna Accord.

If Stephen Harper abandons his "most valuable" people, it's no wonder he chooses to abandon the world.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Reverse Midas Touch

In 2008, when Stephen Harper cut public funding for political parties, the opposition rose and threatened to take down his nascent government. He prorogued Parliament and bellowed that the other parties were engaged in a conspiracy to deny Canadians the minority government of their choice.

In 2011, after being found in contempt of Parliament, he declared that "contempt" merely meant being outvoted, then raged rabidly about "separatist coalitions." Now, when the political threat comes from within his own ranks, he rages at those he appointed.

The pattern is pretty clear: Stephen Harper assigns blame, but he accepts none. And that, Andrew Coyne writes, is the problem:

As diverting as these tales of petty vendettas and double-crosses and he saids-she saids may be, it is important not to lose the thread. We can marvel at how much this or that senator claimed on his or her expense account, we can debate whether it was smart tactics to threaten so and so with such and such. But what’s essential is to ensure that the integrity of public office is upheld. That’s what makes this such a big story. That’s why it matters.

Harper is working very hard to make sure that Canadians lose the real thread -- because it winds its way back to him:

This is what makes the prime minister’s interventions in the House this week so problematic, in hindsight. Granted, he has been suspected from the start of having directed the secret payment to Duffy, and the subsequent whitewashing of his misdeeds. And indeed Duffy’s peculiarly blinkered sense of outrage, that the prime minister should have demanded he repay expenses he had falsely claimed, gave him the opportunity, as I wrote last time, to turn the situation to his advantage. No, he had no knowledge of Wright’s activities. But had he ordered Duffy to repay? “Darn right I did!” Was he in support of the Senate motion to suspend all three senators without pay? “Unequivocally.”

But in so doing the prime minister, more than anyone has to date, made himself the issue. By boasting of how he had been the one to bring Duffy to account, he was in effect saying: I am the standard. I am the enforcer. The rules are what I say they are, and I will decide in any given case what punishment should be given out.

The prime minister has always insisted that he makes the rules -- parliamentary conventions and the law be damned. The result is that he has thoroughly corrupted the Canadian political system. The late Gore Vidal claimed that modern Republicans possessed a Reverse Midas Touch. "Everything they touch," he said, "turns to poo."

The same can be said of Stephen Harper.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

It Takes One To Know One

Jim Flaherty brought forward his third omnibus budget bill this week. And, as in the past, it is full of all kinds of things which have nothing to do with the budget -- like labour relations between the public service and the government. Tom Walkom writes in The Toronto Star that the bill is a full frontal attack on public service unions:

The government’s latest omnibus budget bill would give the government the unilateral power to determine which civil servants are essential workers and thus disqualified from striking.

This in itself is a break from standard Canadian practice, aping a Saskatchewan measure whose constitutionality is currently being appealed to the Supreme Court.

But the real bite in the government’s proposed changes to Canada’s Public Service Labour Relations Act has to do with arbitration. Most federal public service labour disputes are settled by neutral arbitrators without the need for strike or lockout action. The new law would permit arbitration only when the government agreed.

Even in areas deemed essential, the government could veto arbitration unless it had designated at least 80 per cent of the workers as ineligible to strike.

And in those instances where arbitration was permitted, arbitrators would be required to give a “preponderance” of weight to the government’s claims as to what it could afford.

In the end, says Toronto labour lawyer Steve Barrett, the government will have “stacked the deck” against its employees.

It is, indeed, interesting that while Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau are arguing in the Senate that the deck has been stacked against them, public service workers are getting the same treatment. The Harperite mantra is that they are all "fat cats." Mr. Harper can go to his base next week and claim  that he and Toronto mayor Rob Ford have declared war on the fat cats.

As always, it takes one to know one.

Friday, October 25, 2013

'Til Death

Yesterday, in the Postmedia papers, Andrew Coyne wondered why Stephen Harper would risk so much over Mike Duffy's expenses. He ended his column by paraphrasing Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons: "it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . but for Duffy?"

On the same day, in The National Post, Tasha Kheiriddin answered Coyne's question:

The only real option for Prime Minister Stephen Harper is to fight to the death — to shred Mr. Duffy’s credibility, and with it, his story. The Tories are masters of the attack ad and the research that goes with it, which makes it all the more likely they will do what they do best: throw their opponent under a shiny blue bus.

And when the issue of integrity is at stake, they won’t hesitate to sacrifice one of their own. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, now Minister of Tourism, Maxime Bernier resigned from cabinet in disgrace in 2008 after leaving NATO documents at the home of his ex-girlfriend, who had been linked to organized-crime figures. Former Minister of State for the Status of Women Helena Guergis was turfed in 2010 on unspecified allegations regarding her conduct, fueled by news reports that her husband, former MP Rahim Jaffer, had consorted with con men and “busty hookers.” Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was hauled before a commission of inquiry in 2008 over his relationship with fraudster Karl-Heinz Schreiber.

When Duffy met with Wright and Harper, he was reminded that, like More, he served at the King's convenience. That meant that, if necessary, he had to take a bullet for the boss. Mr. Harper should have known when he appointed him that  Mr. Duffy would accept accolades, but he would not bow out, as Mr. Wright did.

Mike Duffy is no Thomas More. But his predicament is the same. After having remained silent all this time -- and with nothing left to lose -- he has spoken. In the end, this is all about the power of the King. And, in the end, either Mr. Duffy's or Mr. Harper's head will be put on public display.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Neither Our Best Nor Our Brightest

Two days ago, Mike Duffy took aim at Stephen Harper. Yesterday, Pam Wallin framed the issue:

The Government, through Senator Carignan, has truly put the cart before the horse – the sentencing before the trial – and that is why it would be both unfair and troubling if his motion proceeds.

If it does, each and every one of you will seriously have to consider whether this is a place of sober second thought, or a place where anyone who enters must blindly follow a political master’s dictates.

And yesterday Stephen Harper -- that paragon of accountability -- insisted that he was demanding accountability from an old reprobate. He did not mention that it was he who appointed Duffy, and that, as The Disaffected Lib reports, in Duffy's office there is an autographed picture of Harper and Duffy with the inscription, "To Mike, my most valuable senator."

It's hard to feel sympathy for any of the principals here. This is, after all, a war among the privileged.

The next salvo will be Duffy's release of those emails -- which the PMO claimed didn't exist. But, in the end, it should be obvious that this crisis is entirely of Stephen Harper's own making. He chose Duffy and Wallin with the expectation that they would use their considerable communication skills to vanquish his enemies. Now they have declared him the enemy.

It should also be obvious that Mr. Harper is neither our best nor our brightest prime minister.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From Contempt To Contemptible

In 2011, Stephen Harper was found in contempt of Parliament.  At the time, he defined contempt as "being outvoted." And, having won the subsequent election, he proceeded on the assumption that "contempt" was a meaningless concept. What mattered was winning.

After Mike Duffy's speech in the Senate yesterday, Mr. Harper will be forced to re-examine his definition of contempt. For, as Michael den Tandt writes, his house of cards is falling apart:

Here’s where this leads: If Duffy’s story is true, and he can indeed prove it, then the entire senior Conservative power structure in Ottawa is on trial. And if, as [Duffy's lawyer, Donald] Bayne has hinted, there’s evidence the prime minister knew of the Wright-Duffy deal before May 15 — when he has said repeatedly he did not know — then Harper himself will be irreparably damaged.

Den Tandt believes that the only way out is a public inquiry, where all the principals -- including Mr. Harper -- must testify under oath:

There’s just one way to get to the bottom of it. The principals — including Wright, Duffy, former PMO director of issues management Chris Woodcock, LeBreton, former PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin and indeed Harper himself, as well as Brazeau and Wallin — must tell their stories under oath, in a public forum. Emails and documents must be made public. If there’s been lying or other wrongdoing, those responsible must take their lumps — up to and including the PM himself.

But that's the last thing Stephen Harper wants. He knows what the Gomery Inquiry did to the Liberals. Without it, Stephen Harper would not be prime minister. And Mr. Harper is not one for testifying under oath. He will do anything and everything to make sure that doesn't happen.

One thing is certain. The prime minister is going to be schooled in the difference between "contempt" and "contemptible."  And, this time, he's going to be on the receiving end.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

That Big Mouth

On the day Stephen Harper returned to Question Period, planning to crow about his new trade deal, Donald Bayne crashed the party. Mike Duffy's lawyer took direct aim at the Prime Minister's Office and at Stephen Harper himself. Andrew Coyne writes:

Donald Bayne may not have succeeded, in the course of Monday’s press conference, in lifting his client clear of the muck. But he has certainly dragged the rest of the Tory hierarchy down into it.

And the muck keeps getting deeper. This story is no longer about Mike Duffy:

Duffy has long since ceased to be the issue. Certainly if the excerpted emails and memos his lawyer read out are indicative, he was indeed counseled on several occasions by senior Tories, including Sen. Marjory LeBreton (the former government leader in the Senate), Sen. David Tkachuk (the former chairman of the Senate internal economy committee) and Nigel Wright (the former chief of staff to the Prime Minister) that he was entitled to his entitlements.
But it’s what they did after that is of more particular interest. Duffy is aggrieved that, having first encouraged him, party grandees then abandoned him, and have now moved to suspend him (along with senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau) from the Senate without pay. But the story he has begun to tell — and threatens to tell further — promises to do them far greater harm.

Contrary to the picture the PMO has put about, of a lone Wright, acting on his own and without consultation, suddenly deciding to pay Duffy’s expenses out of his own personal fortune, Duffy offers further evidence that it was part of a sustained exercise in damage control of which a good many top Conservatives either knew or took part, among them — according to Wright’s lawyers — three officials in the PMO, including Benjamin Perrin, then the prime minister’s legal counsel. 

The story is now about the prime minister's inner sanctum -- and about the prime minister himself. He and they tried to make unpleasant facts disappear. Mr. Harper is learning -- as his mentor Richard Nixon learned -- that the cover up is what does you in.

 And that "the biggest mouth in Ottawa" would not stay shut for long.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Will Wallin And Duffy Sink The Ship?

Pam Wallin says she will challenge her suspension from the Senate. Mike Duffy has a doctor's note to cover his absence. But several sources have reported that he is very unhappy.

Over the years, Stephen Harper has cut lots of people loose -- Garth Turner, Bill Casey, Bruce Carson and Tom Flanagan. He dumped Helena Geurgis and sent the RCMP after for her, looking for malfeasance. They found none.

But they seem to have a lot on Senator Duffy and the PMO. And that raises an interesting question: Could the prime minister, who demands loyalty but shows none, have come up against an immovable object -- one that a grudge will not remove?

Paul Wells writes that Harper can carry a grudge for eternity:

He can carry a grudge. “He will refer to things that were said in Conservative caucus when he was first an MP, when he was first elected as a backbencher, and will use that as a basis for judging that person forever. If he forms a negative impression of someone, he retains it more than a decade after the fact, even if it’s based on a trivial encounter.”

And the intensity of those grudges is perhaps best illustrated by his banishment of his old mentor, Tom Flanagan:

Since Tom Flanagan wrote his book spilling many of the secrets of the early Harper years, Harper has continued his grudge against him. He probably won’t change his mind on that. More than two years later, Flanagan turned up at a Calgary Stampede event at which Harper was to address the crowd. While he was speaking, the Prime Minister caught a glimpse of his former chief of staff. Later, in the “green room” set aside for Harper’s use a short distance from the main event, he was livid. “Who the f–k let him in?”

But it's one of life's well worn axioms that what goes around comes around. It could well be that the media stars the prime minister chose to drum his message across the country have had a belly full of Mr. Harper. Both Wallin and Duffy may want to challenge his veracity under oath.

If they did that, the results could sail the ship of state into the perfect storm.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Consider The Record

Last week's throne speech made mention of "polluter pays" legislation. It appears that the Harperites will offer Barack Obama a carrot, if he approves the Keystone XL Pipeline. Unfortunately, the pending legislation is a little late and, simply put, only a little.

Two weeks ago Michael Harris wrote a column questioning the competence of Mr. Harper's new Minister of State for Science, Greg Rickford. Rickford responded to the column, claiming that he wanted to "set the record straight."

Harris sets out that record, and it illustrates just how fraudulent the Harper government is when it makes promises.  Harper once declared that "the fundamental challenge of our time is to make real progress on environmental protection while preserving jobs and standards of living." It's interesting to compare that statement to Harper's record on science and environmental protection. Harris directed Mr. Rickford to very recent history:

Consider that atmospheric and climate research in Canada is now funded at 70 per cent of the level it was when you came to power in 2006.
  • Your government walked away from Kyoto and still hasn’t bothered to come up with a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector.
  • Your boss dumped the Office of National Science Advisor in 2008 — but we did get an Office of Religious Freedom.
  • Your government cut the foundation that funded Canada’s Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in 2011. Peter Kent came up with a great defence: The Harper government hadn’t shut down PEARL, just the funding programs that paid for it.
  • Point by point, Kent’s public statements about PEARL were called “factually incorrect” by one of the co-founders of the research facility. Or when a minister says it, does it become a fact?
  • Your government made the decision to close the Mersey Biodiversity Centre in Nova Scotia as of 2014.
  • Your government axed the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.
  • Your government closed seven of nine marine science libraries in Canada.
  • Your government closed the Ocean Contaminants Program, lock, stock, and barrel and fired Dr. Peter Ross, a leading world expert on the effect of pollution on marine mammals.
  • Your government close the Habitat Management Program at Fisheries and Oceans Canada — but why not, since under the new gutted Fisheries Act there was no habitat to protect anyway?
  • Your government fired 136 scientists from Environment Canada and cut its budget by $200 million in 2011 and $53 million more in 2012.
  • Your government fired 436 scientists and professional staff at Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Your government would rather appoint David Suzuki to the Senate than bring in a carbon tax.

The record shows that the Harperites are masters of misrepresentation. But you already knew that, didn't you?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Not As Advertised

Stephen Harper skipped out on Parliament the day after the throne speech. He'd spent the last one hundred and eighteen days avoiding the legislature -- and he needed an excuse to keep avoiding it. His signing of the Canada Europe Trade Agreement provided that excuse. At the moment, there is only an agreement in principle. But Canadians should think twice before they -- and their representatives -- make the deal binding.

That's because, Tom Walkom writes, the deal is not about trade:

First, as with all modern trade agreements, this one is not really about trade. Yes, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement does remove tariffs on most goods traded between Canada and the European Union. But, with key exceptions — particularly in agriculture — most of those tariffs were low to begin with.
Rather, CETA — like the North American Free Trade Agreement before it — is really concerned with investment, regulation and standards.

The deal is really about making the world safe for investors:

With some exceptions, it would give investors on either side the right to demand compensation from any government action that interferes with private profit.

How this would work in practice remains unclear. But it should be noted that a similar provision in NAFTA has been used successfully by U.S. companies to strike down Canadian laws.

Oddly enough, similar attempts by Canadian companies operating in the U.S. have never been successful.

As for Harper's claim that the deal will create 80,000 jobs, that promise is as believable as his promise to deliver open and accountable government:

Incidentally, Ottawa’s prediction that the pact will create 80,000 new net jobs throughout the entire economy is entirely bogus, since it is based on the absurd assumption that no one can ever be unemployed.
The truth is that the net job effects of this deal won’t be known for years. But, in the short run, it’s a near certainty that some Canadians will lose their jobs.

It would be wise to remember recent Canadian history:

The Canada-U.S. free trade arrangement wiped out entire industries in this country, ranging from furniture-making to light manufacturing — all in the midst of a gruelling recession.
The negative effects of CETA promise to be far less sweeping, since there is not much of Canadian manufacturing industry left to destroy.

There will be winners. Canadian beef farmers, for instance. But Harper's pitch that the deal is in the national interest is dubious. As with all things Harper, the Canada Europe Trade Agreement is not as advertised.

 But it did give him a chance to get out of Ottawa.

Friday, October 18, 2013

She Refuses To Be Quiet

Brigette DePape -- who held up that Stop Harper sign during the last throne speech -- has greeted this week's throne speech with the scorn it deserves:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is spending over a billion dollars on a Spy Castle made of shiny glass windows, the most expensive Canadian government building ever constructed. Meanwhile, he continues to cut services that the middle class values. Simply look at federal health cuts, which will total $36 billion over a decade. 

She understands what is behind Harper's attempt to rebrand himself as Captain Consumer:

The government boasts of its consumer-first agenda, hoping to appeal to everyday folks. The effort to re-brand the public as consumers fits well with the neoliberal agenda Harper is aggressively pursuing. As my friend TJ Dawe pointed out, we are increasingly consumers when our social services are cut, because we have to buy them ourselves. It's convenient for the Harper agenda if we are just consumers -- if what we care about is how we spend the money in our own purse, not how the government spends our money. 

But DePape is not merely grinding an axe. Where some might see gloom and despair, she sees healthy rebellion:

What I found most inspiring since Harper's last throne speech are people stepping into their power as not just consumers, but active decision-makers and influencers on the issues that matter most: young doctors standing up to Minister Joe Oliver after he tried to cut funding to refugee health care; families rising up with the Occupy movement, drawing attention to much-needed system change; and residents demanding a National Housing Strategy to end homelessness, Canada being one of the few countries without one.

I have to admit that there are times that I have despaired over public acceptance of the Harper agenda. But, if Depape is right -- and Frank Graves' latest poll seems to indicate that she's on to something -- then there may, indeed, be hope that the ancien regime is on its last legs.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bread And Circuses

Yesterday's throne speech offered little tidbits to various types of voters -- cheaper cell phone and cable rates and the right to carry beer across provincial borders. It's a time honoured political strategy: when the news isn't good, invite the plebeians to a circus. The truth is, Tom Walkom writes, that -- when it comes to sound economic management -- the news for Conservatives isn't good:

The truth is that Canada’s economy is not doing well. Official unemployment may be hovering around the 7 per cent mark (last month it was 6.9 per cent). But official unemployment figures do not take into account those who are underemployed or who have simply given up looking for work.

The Harperite take on employment is the same as Mark Twain's take on the weather: They talk about it. But they don't do anything about it:

Instead, [they] focus on ill-advised measures that range from unhelpful to counterproductive.
First, after a brief flirtation with stimulus spending in 2009 (and I give Harper credit for that) the government has assumed that Canada’s job woes are entirely structural.

Indeed there are problems with the structure of the economy. Jobs in manufacturing — and even in information technology — are moving offshore; automation is replacing human labour.
But the world is also going through a long cyclical slump, one in which consumers don’t have money to spend and businesses are afraid to invest. In this kind of world, Ottawa’s focus on fiscal austerity — on pulling government money out of the economy — only makes matters worse.

Second, the government is systematically taking aim at anything, from employment insurance to unionization, that keeps wages up. The Dickensian notion here is that full employment can be achieved only if most of us are willing to work for peanuts.
Third, the government is focusing its efforts on the alleged mismatch between jobs and skills. It argues that there is plenty of work around but that Canadians don’t have the right skills to get those jobs.

If there is anything consistent about Harperite employment strategy, it is the concerted effort to drive down wages -- which is what the temporary foreign workers program was all about. That program hasn't worked out so well. In fact, for workers, Mr. Harper's entire economic program hasn't worked out very well.

"When bread is lacking," Walkom writes, "circuses always come in handy."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

He's Desperate

Michael Den Tandt writes that today's throne speech is aimed directly at Justin Trudeau:

It also betrays more than a whiff of desperation. For of all the issues the Conservatives could have made their own, few contain more sheer political peril than this. It is a gusher that, once tapped, will be difficult to cap.

Why the desperation? Put simply, despite all the hype and the message discipline, the Conservative record is a record of failure:

On procurement — the Byzantine process by which Ottawa buys hardware for the military — nothing short of a stand-alone procurement agency, managing a system shorn of political interference, will impress the government’s critics. That’s because of the disaster of the Royal Canadian Air Force fighter-replacement project. In 2010, you will recall, the Conservatives hitched their star to a sole-source plan to buy 65 F-35 fighter-bombers, for $9 billion. In late 2012, driven by life-cycle costs that had skyrocketed past $46 billion, that plan was shelved and replaced with a new “options analysis.” The damage to the government’s credibility was enormous.

Justice-wise, the Conservatives discovered in August that Canadians weren’t much bothered by the fact that the Liberal leader had admitted to smoking pot while an MP. For years, the Conservatives have been hammered for their ideological, punitive and not-very-effective approach to marijuana prohibition. Their tough-on-crime agenda works best, at a popular level, when it focuses on protecting the rights of victims of violent and sexual crimes. Therefore, we should expect new measures to crack down on sex criminals, and scant or no mention of pot.

And when it comes to the Keystone XL Pipeline, the government's complete lack of commitment to the environment is coming home to roost:

Ottawa has routinely missed its own targets for establishing greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction regulations for the oilpatch. It can no longer do so, because U.S. President Barack Obama is hammering on the front door, requiring the Harper government give him something — anything at all — that he can use as cover to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

So what have they got left? Cell phone rates and cable television charges.  It's targeted policy, which is intended to lock up votes.

It's survival time. And Mr. Harper is desperate.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Much Is At Stake

After tomorrow's throne speech, the opposition parties have vowed to hammer the Harper Conservatives. But will they keep the Harperites in their sights, or battle each other? Tim Harper writes that, if the present regime is to fall, either Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau has to begin to look prime ministerial :

The NDP leader is hampered on three fronts.
Chosen to build on an NDP quest for power and an end to moral victories and years as the “conscience of Parliament,” he must now mightily push back against a Canadian political tide which seems determined to return to its traditional alignment.
He must also deal with the reality that skill and proficiency in the Commons no longer translates into national attention as it did a generation ago.
And he has not yet provided a defining brand for his party, an easily recognizable voter association that allows Canadians to think of an issue, or a raison d’être for Mulcair and his New Democrats. 

And, so far, Justin Trudeau has been allowed to tour the country and be content free:

He was shrewd to react quickly and passionately to the Quebec Charter of Values while Mulcair, a former Quebec cabinet minister who commands a large caucus from that province, held his fire until the Parti Quebecois proposal was tabled.

Trudeau won the battle for attention with his late summer pot-smoking revelation and he showed an uncanny penchant for grabbing attention, and often adulation, as he toured the country.

Opposing a truly stupid piece of legislation and advocating the legalization of pot do not make a prime minister. And Stephen Harper knows that, if he can get Trudeau and Mulcair to take up arms against each other, he'll be able to escape scrutiny.

Much is at stake in the upcoming parliamentary session.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Radical Christian Right

Chris Hedges writes that, if you want to understand what is presently playing out in Washington, you have to understand the Radical Christian Right. They know what they want -- and what they want is frightening:

There is a desire felt by tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement known as the Christian right, to destroy the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment, radically diminish the role of government to create a theocratic state based on “biblical law,” and force a recalcitrant world to bend to the will of an imperial and “Christian” America. Its public face is on display in the House of Representatives. This ideology, which is the driving force behind the shutdown of the government, calls for the eradication of social “deviants,” beginning with gay men and lesbians, whose sexual orientation, those in the movement say, is a curse and an illness, contaminating the American family and the country. Once these “deviants” are removed, other “deviants,” including Muslims, liberals, feminists, intellectuals, left-wing activists, undocumented workers, poor African-Americans and those dismissed as “nominal Christians”—meaning Christians who do not embrace this peculiar interpretation of the Bible—will also be ruthlessly repressed. The “deviant” government bureaucrats, the “deviant” media, the “deviant” schools and the “deviant” churches, all agents of Satan, will be crushed or radically reformed. The rights of these “deviants” will be annulled. “Christian values” and “family values” will, in the new state, be propagated by all institutions. Education and social welfare will be handed over to the church. Facts and self-criticism will be replaced with relentless indoctrination.

Senator Ted Cruz's father is a radical right preacher and a director of Purifying International. He obviously has gone places since he left Calgary. He and his son espouse the notion of Dominionism, or Christian Reconstructionism:

This ideology calls on anointed “Christian” leaders to take over the state and make the goals and laws of the nation “biblical.” It seeks to reduce government to organizing little more than defense, internal security and the protection of property rights. It fuses with the Christian religion the iconography and language of American imperialism and nationalism, along with the cruelest aspects of corporate capitalism. The intellectual and moral hollowness of the ideology, its flagrant distortion and misuse of the Bible, the contradictions that abound within it—its leaders champion small government and a large military, as if the military is not part of government—and its laughable pseudoscience are impervious to reason and fact. And that is why the movement is dangerous.

They are, indeed, dangerous. And, in Canada, they are Stephen Harper's most rabid supporters:

Dominionists believe they are engaged in an epic battle against the forces of Satan. They live in a binary world of black and white. They feel they are victims, surrounded by sinister groups bent on their destruction. They have anointed themselves as agents of God who alone know God’s will. They sanctify their rage. This rage lies at the center of the ideology.

They are 21st century Crusaders, who wish to re-establish The Holy Land. If that can't be done, they are convinced that we are in the End Times.

And we like to think that our prime ministers are rational men.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Making The Swamp Bigger

When Canada went to war in Afghanistan twelve years ago, self congratulation was in the air -- and journalism did not serve the country well. Jeffrey Simpson wrote in yesterday's Globe and Mail:

The early coverage was largely ahistorical, gung-ho, a big group hug for the Canadians – a travesty of journalism, really. What Canadians needed then was a clear-eyed analysis of the country and its history, an understanding of its regional antagonisms, an appreciation of the daunting, even impossible task Canada and its government – to say nothing of the entire North Atlantic Treaty Organization – had signed up for in that forbidding, post-medieval place.

The Chretien government began the mission. But it was the Harper government which used it to rebrand Canada as a warrior nation. Moreover, the mission allowed the asthmatic Stephen Harper to play Douglas MacArthur. And, when the truth contradicted MacArthur, it was the truth which surrendered.

The Globe's Graeme Smith revealed the Afghan prisoner whitewash:

Canada’s government lied about many aspects of the detainee affair, insisting that Ottawa didn’t know what was happening or that Afghan authorities were examining all allegations of misconduct – despite memos from Canadian officials on the ground saying that wasn’t so.

In his book, The Dog's Are Eating Them Now, Smith recounts the story of the Canadian mission to Afghanistan. Simpson writes:

How the West, including Canadians, unintentionally made things worse is a textbook case of cross-cultural misunderstanding and hubris. The West will tell itself heroic stories, then forget about Afghanistan.

Our soldiers did what they were asked to do. They made the swamp bigger. But the people who put them there have not been held to account.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Middle Class Is Front And Centre

Michael Den Tandt writes that the next election will be about the Canadian middle class. Justin Trudeau has made it his mantra. And now the Conservatives -- as they try to take the focus off Mike Duffy and friends and talk instead about "consumers first" -- will  try to make it theirs. Den Tandt writes that rhetoric about the long suffering middle class is not just political hot air:

This problem is already giving Canadian politicians night sweats, driving their future planning and shouldering other issues — climate change, to name one — into the ditch. And it dictates that Federal Election 2015, to the extent it revolves around policy at all, will be about the one remedy to income inequality/stagnation that is both politically feasible and economically sound: education. Education, skills training and “strategic” learning are about to become the dominant buzzwords in Canadian politics.

Stagnating middle class incomes is a world wide problem. Mr. Harper likes to trumpet his claim that Canada is a world economic leader. But, when Canada is compared to other countries, the data give us no reason to cheer:

In Divided We Stand, the OECD’s 2011 examination of income inequality across the developed world from the mid-1980s through 2008, Canada posted average annual household disposable income growth of just 1.1%, versus the OECD average of 1.7%. Australia, by contrast, racked up an impressive 3.6%. Other countries outperforming Canada included the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Israel, the Czech Republic, Finland, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal and Chile.

One obvious solution is to raise taxes on the wealthy. Den Tandt predicts that none of the major parties will go there. That's curious because, as income inequality has risen, taxes have fallen. And there is the simple demand for social justice. Linda McQuaig has made it an issue in her campaign; but Tom Mulcair moved quickly to take that idea off the table.

The middle class may be front and centre. But social justice isn't.

Friday, October 11, 2013

At The Mercy Of Vengeful Gods?

Gerald Caplan wonders, in today's Globe and Mail, why the NDP has such a hard time establishing itself outside the prairies. Darrell Dexter's defeat on Tuesday follows a pattern:

It’s not entirely easy to explain, but there are clues. For the four provinces besides Nova Scotia that have ever elected NDP governments, two completely opposite electoral patterns emerged over the decades. In the agreeable tradition, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the NDP wins repeatedly. In the lamentable tradition – BC and Ontario – either the NDP premier or the entire government is gone after a single term. Nova Scotians chose the wrong tradition.

And, though the pattern is clear, the reasons behind it aren't so clear:

All Darrell Dexter needed to do was to discover the Manitoba/ Saskatchewan secret and B.C. and Ontario’s Achilles heel. But here’s the rub. No one knows what works and what doesn’t. Each leader (even Bob Rae, back then) was fully committed to the party’s ideals of social justice and equality, although implementation depended on circumstances. Saskatchewan’s political culture has as many differences from Manitoba as it has commonalities. Nova Scotia, like every province, has its own distinct political traditions. And it’s not clear that the Saskatchewan NDP’s secret even works for Saskatchewan any more.

Certainly part of the explanation has to do with circumstances. Both Bob Rae and Darrell Dexter came to power at the beginning of deep recessions. Perhaps like the Greeks, the Dippers are at the mercy of cruel and petty gods.

It's a conundrum for Tom Mulcair. Will his party follow the prairie tradition or the other tradition? Certainly, Stephen Harper would like to see Mulcair succeed. The bane of his existence is the Liberal Party of Canada.

 But where the New Democrats go from here is anybody's guess.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Colour It Beige

Lawrence Martin doesn't expect much from the upcoming throne speech. He predicts that it will be a pretty bland document:

If the leaks are to be believed, this Throne Speech will be a bean-counter’s delight, with vote targeting evident in every paragraph. It will feature all kinds of consumer-friendly initiatives, such as addressing excessive telecom charges. There will be support for families. There will be a sermon on how proud we should be to be Canadians – especially under this government.

The speech will have new offerings in areas such as military procurement and greenhouse gas regulation, but the Conservatives are probably right in thinking that there’s no widespread demand for major change.

In the midst of growing income inequality, global warming and no opportunities for youth, the Harper government will offer more of the same. Why? Martin says it's because we ageing boomers rule the roost. We have become complacent in our old age:

The atmosphere is closer to complacency: “It’s come on Canada, let’s go out and paint the town beige,” said pollster Frank Graves. And that suits the government just fine, he says.

Then Martin writes something curious:

There’s the reality that, on a comparative basis, these are relatively good times. There are serious problems: energy markets, falling middle class, collapsing manufacturing base, aboriginal peoples, deteriorating democracy and so on. There’s the usual anxiety about the future. But to stand back from the daily headlines is to see a country in a rare comfort zone. Maybe only in the 1920s and 1950s were conditions comparable.

It may be true that we face no FLQ crisis. And we are no longer officially at war. But good times? We are led by a petulant, small minded prime minister who has the support of 25% of the population. Obviously, the times are out of joint.

Beige is the colour of a country that is going nowhere.

On an entirely different note, I just read that Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize. Like Chekhov, she is a master of the perfect little story. Today is a great day for Canadian literature. And it reminds us that even beige countries are capable of brilliance.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

A Reputation In Tatters

Stephen Harper is skipping the Commonwealth Conference. The man who put "royal" back in the navy and the air force doesn't have time for the Commonwealth. There really is nothing surprising about that. International relations is not the prime minister's strong suit. As Tom Walkom points out in today's Toronto Star:

Stephen Harper has little use for the international institutions that Canada once championed. He plans to boycott an important Commonwealth meeting next month. He regularly snubs the United Nations.

Harper likes to say that these institutions don't share Canadian values -- which is to say that he conflates his values with Canadian values. The truth is that Mr. Harper's values were best articulated by Willie Sutton. He goes where the money is:

Most of all, he prefers to interact in the world through trade deals that enhance Canadian business opportunities — no matter who is on the other side.
Jordan may, as Amnesty International alleges, torture prisoners. But that hasn’t stopped Harper from inking a free trade deal with that country. 

And so CIDA's mission is now to promote Canadian business abroad -- and  CSEC  spies on Brazil's resource and energy companies.

The international community cottoned on to Stephen Harper long ago. That's why Canada's international reputation is in tatters.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

They Know Nothing

Former Ontario premier Mike Harris appointed a high school drop out as his first Minister of Education. Stephen Harper has followed in Harris' footsteps. The other Michael Harris -- who writes for ipolitics -- notes that, when it comes to science, Harper's ministers know as much as the benighted John Snoblen. Linda Keen -- who Harper fired as the head of Canada's Nuclear Safety Commission -- has observed that:

There is no science department in the federal government run by a scientist, not Health, Environment, Natural Resources, Agriculture or Fisheries and Oceans.

Expertise is not a requirement for appointment to Harper's cabinet. Consider Greg Rickford, the new  science minister:

For one thing, Greg Rickford was trained as a nurse and a lawyer. So health or justice maybe. But a science portfolio? That is an especially bad choice.

But it's not to hard to see why Rickford was slotted for science. The shuttered Experimental Lakes Area is in his riding:

The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) Canada’s former world-class facility for whole ecosystem freshwater research, was in Rickford’s Kenora riding. After appearing to be a champion of the 58-lake outdoor lab, Rickford manfully genuflected to his government’s dunderheaded decision to close the facility.

And when Canada's scientists criticized the decision to close the ELA, Rickford became the face of Tory fundraising:

In order to fight off the folks in white coats, Rickford needed a little help. The televangelist moment had arrived: “We can’t let these attacks go unanswered. Can you make a small contribution today? Even as little as $5 can have a large impact in helping Greg.”

And the Conservative Ministry of Truth went after the scientists:

“The article “Greg Rickford, Canada’s new science minister, has poor track record” was written by the same group of radical ideologues who have led a campaign of misinformation about Greg’s work to protect the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA).”

The Harperites wear ignorance as a badge. Like Sergeant Shultz in the old sitcom, Hogan's Heroes, their motto is, "I know nothing at all!"

Monday, October 07, 2013

Running Scared

It's clear now that Republicans are trying to upend the constitution by nullifying both an election and a Supreme Court ruling. Joshua Holland writes that, to understand what is behind their quest, you have to understand the Republican base -- which is composed of three distinct segments:

Democracy Corps – a Democratic-leaning polling firm – released a study this week based on a series of focus groups they conducted with loyal Republican voters. They divided them up into three sub-groups which together represent the base of the party. Evangelicals represent the largest group, followed by Republicans who identify with the tea party movement. “Moderates,” the third group, make up about a quarter of the party’s base, according to the pollsters.

Evangelicals and libertarians are, for the moment, in the driver's seat:

Evangelicals still focus overwhelmingly on social issues. They think gay rights are the biggest threat to our society, but they also worry about the loss of what they see as an idyllic small-town culture. They feel besieged as the cultural ground shifts beneath them, and see themselves as a beleaguered, “politically incorrect” minority.

Tea partiers display a libertarian streak, and are far less concerned with social issues. They are staunchly pro-business. But there’s an easy alliance between these two groups – which make up well over half of the GOP base – because Evangelicals think the tea partiers are fighting back, and vice versa.

The party has always had these supporters. But moderates used to bring a sense of realism to the table. Unfortunately, the ranks of Republican moderates have been shrinking:

Moderates are not so sure about their place in the current Republican Party. They worry about the ability of Republicans in Congress to make government work. They believe the party is stuck, not forward-looking, and representative of old ideas. They worry about the Republican Party’s right turn on social and environmental issues — which makes it difficult, especially for young moderates — to view the Republican Party as a modern party.

Evangelicals and libertarians share little -- except an overpowering paranoia:

Both groups displayed a high level of paranoia, according to the researchers who conducted the study. They noted that this was the first time, in many years of conducting focus groups, that participants worried that their participation might trigger surveillance by the NSA or an audit by the IRS. In addition to thinking that Obama is a liar, and a covert Communist, these two groups were also more likely to express the belief that he is secretly a Muslim.

And it is that paranoia which is behind the shutdown. In short, the Republicans are running scared.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A Sad And Sorry State Of Affairs

Susan Delacourt's new book, Shopping For Votes: How Politicians Choose Us And We Choose Them is creating quite a stir. Delacourt's central thesis is that Canadians no longer act as citizens  -- with rights and responsibilities -- but as consumers, who are motivated by self interest, not the national interest.  Jeffrey Simpson wrote in yesterday's Globe and Mail that:

It is a depressing book for anyone who believes in a broad public interest and the capacity of political parties (and the media) to even discuss that interest. It is more depressing still because this state of affairs reflects what we, the public, have come to expect.

Depressing but, unfortunately true. Delacourt herself writes:

“In a nation of consumer-citizens, the customer is always right. It is not the politician’s job to change people’s minds or prejudices, but to confirm them or play to them, to seal the deal of support. Speeches are not made to educate or inform the audience but to serve up marketing slogans. Political parties become ‘brands’ and political announcements become product launches.”

In practise, this means that what any party needs to govern is its core vote plus a small slice of the electorate:

For the Conservatives (and the NDP, for that matter), this means identifying only perhaps 10 per cent of the electorate beyond their core votes, then governing or campaigning only with them in mind. When the Conservatives make decisions in foreign or domestic policy, they think only about their core vote and this extra 10 per cent of political consumers.

And that makes a party leader a Director of Marketing, something which Stephen Harper has mastered:

The notion that he is surrounded by people who plan and execute the marketing is wrong. Mr. Harper directs the marketing, involving himself in all aspects of it, presiding over a huge staff who do nothing but focus on communications, event-planning and, at central party headquarters, organize a massive information-collection effort on citizens in every corner of Canada so as to better identify which voters will be most influenced by which message.

It's a sad and sorry state of affairs -- and it's toxic to democracy.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

It's About His Judgement

Stephen Maher has spent a great deal of his journalistic energy investigating the robocalls swindle. But this week -- after  a second person was taken to the hospital from Patrick Brazeau's house -- Maher focused  on Stephen Harper's senate appointments:

The appointments of Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin were all announced on the same day, Dec. 22, 2008, along with 15 other delighted Conservatives. They must all have had a lovely Christmas, enjoying congratulations from friends and relatives at their good fortune to have been guaranteed an excellent income with near-absolute job security until age 75.

Those appointments are like the ghosts of Christmas past, a recurring nightmare for the prime minister, returning to haunt him on front pages and TV screens for the rest of his political career, threatening to draw it to an untimely end.

Mr. Harper used to rail at Liberal Senate appointments. But Maher writes that Harper's record is far worse than the Liberals. Besides Brazeau, Mike  Duffy and Pamela Wallin,

Irving Gerstein, long the party’s chief fundraiser, was charged in 2011 with Elections Act violations, charges that were dropped when the Conservative Party pleaded guilty and paid a $52,000 fine.

Leo Housakos, a longtime Montreal political organizer who raised funds in municipal and provincial politics, is now under the media spotlight on the sidelines of the Charbonneau commission into the construction industry.

Fabian Manning had recently been defeated by Newfoundland voters. He resigned his Senate seat to run again in 2011, and when he lost, Harper reappointed him, along with defeated candidates Larry Smith and Josee Verner.

It was enough to make a Liberal blush.

And, of course, there are other Harper appointments -- like Arthur Porter, Bruce Carson and Nigel Wright.

Mr. Harper keeps touting his formidable management skills. But that increasingly appears to be pure propaganda. If the opposition is wise, they will make the next election about the prime minister's judgement. By that time it should be abundantly clear that Mr. Harper doesn't know anything about modern economics.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Consumers First. Really?

John Ivison recently reported that the Harper government is going to announce a "Consumers First" agenda in the upcoming throne speech. Rick Smith writes that, if there is one person the Harper government hasn't stood up for, it's the consumer:

Guided by the idea that Ottawa needs to get out of the way of business, Harper has been trumpeting the mantra of red-tape cutting since first elected in 2006.
What this has really meant are cuts to safety inspections and costly adherence to the wisdom of deregulation. Hardly the building blocks of a “consumers first” agenda.

The Harper years are riddled with examples of business making victims of consumers:

Take food safety. Who could forget Canada’s largest-ever beef recall last fall. People across the country became sick from the E. coli outbreak after consuming tainted meat produced at a federally regulated facility in Brooks, Alberta. The government’s own post-mortem of the XL Foods Ltd. recall shone the light on a food-safety system that had failed.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency failed to notice during routine inspections that the plant had not properly implemented or regularly updated its own plan to control risks. The massive facility — 430,000 square feet in total — slaughtered between 3,800 and 4,000 cattle daily.

The beef recall came months after the Conservative government tabled a budget that cut $56 million from the food agency’s operating resources over a three-year period.

And there is the matter of rail safety:

Though more the inheritors than the architects of Canada's reckless rail-safety deregulation, the Harper Conservatives ignored repeated warnings about the folly of allowing the railway industry to police itself.

A Canada Safety Council report issued in 2007 called the deregulated industry "a disaster waiting to happen" and criticized the government's abrogation of its responsibility to public safety and the environment.

And disaster did strike, when aging rail cars with inaccurately labeled hazardous materials exploded in Lac Mégantic, Quebec claiming 47 lives, eviscerating the core of the town at immeasurable cost to the community and at a monetary cost of close to a billion dollars.

With their single-minded focus on getting oil to market, Canada has seen massive increases in the amount of oil being shipped by rail — from 500 carloads in 2009, to a projected 140,000 this year. The Harper government is apparently content to continue to expose Canadians and our environment to unnecessary risk.

Mr. Harper is desperate to take the focus off his wayward senators and the sputtering economy. So, like the practised magician he is, he will try to create a diversion.

Will we sit through this act again?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Will No One Rid Me Of This Meddlesome Reporter?

The man who has prorogued Parliament three times and skipped the UN General Assembly the same number of times is offended by questions. The Canadian Press reports that, when Harper was in New York last week -- thumbing his nose at the UN -- a reporter for CTV crossed an invisible line:

During an event last week in New York, [Dave] Ellis asked Harper about the charges laid against then-Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, even though reporters and photographers had been told questions were not allowed.

The Prime Minister's Office then decreed that Mr. Ellis could not accompany Mr. Harper on his upcoming trip to Malaysia:

The TV networks fought back, insisting that they — not the Prime Minister's Office — should decide who to assign to cover Harper when he travels abroad.

Shortly after news of the dispute became public, however, Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for the prime minister, said no accredited journalist would be prevented from boarding Harper's plane.

As it should be. But consider for a moment the arrogance -- the spiteful pettiness -- displayed by the prime minister. He obviously thinks he's Henry II reincarnated, a king who rules by divine right. Any and all questions can be avoided. What matters is that his courtiers carry out his orders.

Perhaps he feels he is a Lion In Winter. Truth be told, he's nothing more than a tomcat  -- who continues to treat the country and its press as his litter box.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

He'll Huff And He'll Puff

Lawrence Martin wondered yesterday what could have possessed Stephen Harper to tell Barack Obama that Canada would not accept a "no" on the Keystone Pipeline:

One possibility is that it was just Stephen Harper – who’s rarely prepared to take no for an answer from anyone – being Stephen Harper.

Another possibility is that Mr. Harper knew that his long-time parliamentary secretary Dean Del Mastro was about to be hit with charges on alleged campaign spending violations. The ever-political PM may have wanted to make big splashy news on the same day in order to overshadow the negative story.

Another is that Mr. Harper senses that Mr. Obama is no longer quite as popular in Canada, making the Prime Minister less hesitant to take him on. Enough bilateral sugarcoating – let’s hit back.

Or maybe, Martin suggests, Harper is playing the long game, and sees Keystone as a 21st century analogue to the St. Lawrence Seaway:

But think again of the St. Lawrence Seaway – it took the better part of three decades to get an agreement with Washington to move ahead with the project.

When Mr. Harper said he wouldn’t take no for answer, perhaps he was thinking down the line to getting Keystone done with a more compatible White House occupant.

The problem with the Seaway analogy is the difference in context. It was not built in the wake of a warming planet. And, therefore, Mr. Harper would do well to remember what happened to the wolf who huffed and puffed and threatened to blow the house down. He could wind up being boiled in his own bitumen.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Crazies Rule The Roost

It has been clear for some time now that the Republican Party is The Stupid Party. But with today's shut down of the federal government, the Republicans have earned the moniker, The Delusional Party.  They are "rebels without a clue," Paul Krugman writes. Unless they can defund health care, they will refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling:

Now suppose it became clear that U.S. bonds weren’t safe, that America couldn’t be counted on to honor its debts after all. Suddenly, the whole system would be disrupted. Maybe, if we were lucky, financial institutions would quickly cobble together alternative arrangements. But it looks quite possible that default would create a huge financial crisis, dwarfing the crisis set off by the failure of Lehman Brothers five years ago.

No sane political system would run this kind of risk. But we don’t have a sane political system; we have a system in which a substantial number of Republicans believe that they can force President Obama to cancel health reform by threatening a government shutdown, a debt default, or both, and in which Republican leaders who know better are afraid to level with the party’s delusional wing. For they are delusional, about both the economics and the politics. 

And, remember, a minority of the party has got them into this spot. Instead of leading, John Boehner is being led. The tail is wagging the dog:

The votes to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling are there, and always have been: every Democrat in the House would vote for the necessary measures, and so would enough Republicans. The problem is that G.O.P. leaders, fearing the wrath of the radicals, haven’t been willing to allow such votes.

The Republicans made a Faustian bargain in 2010 and accepted the Tea Party into their tent. Now the crazies rule the roost.