Saturday, November 30, 2013

"I Could Care Less"

That was Stephen Harper's message to the Conservatives Halloween convention. This week -- after watching their western numbers drop, after refusing to call witnesses to testify to the Senate Committee looking into Mike Duffy's expenses, and after listening to Paul Calandra's absurd answers in question period -- it's obvious that the Harper Party could care less about the truth or parliamentary democracy.

Chantal Hebert writes in this morning's Toronto Star:

How else to describe a strategy that systematically involves the government maniacally digging itself deeper in what is fast becoming a bottomless credibility hole?

With every innuendo-laced answer, Calandra leads the House of Commons — and his government along with it — further into La La Land.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is an approach that (understandably) inspires little confidence and even less enthusiasm within the ranks of the Conservative caucus.

It can’t just be the burden of having to sign hundreds of Christmas cards before the House rises for the holidays that accounts for the dejected body language of so many Conservative MPs as Calandra does his PMO-orchestrated song-and-dance.

Stephen Harper was found in contempt of parliament in 2011. Since then, there has been no change in his approach.  The man is contemptuous of everything and everybody. But the situation may change  -- and the impetus for that change may come from his own party. Conservative Michael Chong -- who resigned from Harper's cabinet when the prime minister declared that Quebec was "a nation within a nation"  -- is about to introduce a private members bill which would enable MP's to vote out their leader:

In the big picture of parliamentary democracy, that would be a positive development, for it is only by taking matters in their own hands that MPs will restore some much needed meaningfulness (and dignity) to their roles in the Commons.

It will be interesting to see how far Chong's bill gets -- and whether the Conservative caucus cares more than their leader does.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Matter Of Self Respect

The Senate scandal has shredded Stephen Harper's credibility. You would think that would cause a caucus revolt. But, Michael Den Tandt writes, it isn't happening:

I caught nary a whisper of this turning into open revolt or even a long-term subterranean assault along the lines of former prime minister Paul Martin’s multi-year campaign to supplant Jean Chretien in the late 1990s. The reason is simply that Harper’s hold on his party is too powerful. For many Conservative MPs, he is the only leader they’ve known. “There’s no talk of leadership revolt,” said one. “People are nervous and concerned. That’s a long stretch from a leadership challenge.”

That's not surprising. The party is full of members who can't speak without a script. And the scandal has taught us that the PMO provides the script. That said, things could change:

There’s the possibility that Wright and Duffy will be charged criminally; and that other actors in the saga, including senior sitting Conservative senators, will be caught up in the investigation. No one can predict how any of that will play out.

Harper's strategy is to ride it out. He's done it before -- and he's thrown a lot of people under the bus. The prime minister is assuming that Wright will lie down quietly as he grinds his former chief of staff into the dust.

The question confronting Mr. Wright is the same question which confronts every member of Stephen Harper's caucus. How much self respect does he have?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Much To Hide

This morning the CBC reports that, during the G8 and G20 summits three years ago, the Harper government was a "partner" with the National Security Agency. Together, they spied on our allies. The American whistle blower Edward Snowden has released another batch of documents:

The briefing notes, stamped "Top Secret," show the U.S. turned its Ottawa embassy into a security command post during a six-day spying operation by the National Security Agency while U.S. President Barack Obama and 25 other foreign heads of government were on Canadian soil in June of 2010.

The covert U.S. operation was no secret to Canadian authorities.

An NSA briefing note describes the American agency's operational plans at the Toronto summit meeting and notes they were "closely co-ordinated with the Canadian partner."

The operation was not just about protecting foreign leaders from terrorist threats. Rather,

the spying at the Toronto summit in 2010 fits a pattern of economic and political espionage by the powerful U.S. intelligence agency and its partners such as Canada.

That espionage was conducted to secure meeting sites and protect leaders against terrorist threats posed by al-Qaeda but also to forward the policy goals of the United States and Canada.

The G20 summit in Toronto had a lot on its agenda that would have been of acute interest to the NSA and Canada.

The secret NSA documents list all the main agenda items for the G20 in Toronto — international development, banking reform, countering trade protectionism, and so on — with the U.S. snooping agency promising to support "U.S. policy goals."

Security experts warn that the espionage was very likely illegal. But, then, legalities have never impressed the Harperites -- perhaps because they have so much to hide.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Harper's Credibility Gap

Stephen Harper has never been a man to admit a mistake. And now -- confronted by the biggest mistake of his political career -- he refuses to admit that the problem he faces is of his own making. Lawrence Martin writes:

In the face of Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair’s heavy artillery, Mr. Harper has contradicted himself several times on aspects of the story. The Commons has never seen him squirm so much. But on the matter of not knowing how Mike Duffy’s expense claims were repaid, he has held firm and likely will continue to do so no matter how much evidence is adduced to the contrary.

He will hope his support holds in the same way that support for someone with worse problems, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, appears to be holding. Mr. Ford has stuck to the line that he represents the average guy. He doesn’t. He’s an insult to the average guy. I suspect this will register before long and his support will unravel before long, as Mr. Harper’s likely will.

Mr. Harper has been extraordinarily lucky. He has never really had to pay for his mistakes. The problem is that he confuses luck with skill -- his own. Most of all, he refuses to recognize how he has destroyed his own credibility, now and in the future. Martin writes:

Now that the nature of the PMO operation has been laid bare in an RCMP report, a major problem arises for the Conservatives. If more controversies arise, how credible is the PMO’s word going to be? For example, if more incriminating evidence is forthcoming on electoral-fraud allegations related to the 2011 election, are people going to believe that no one from Mr. Harper’s inner sanctum knew or was involved?

The PMO has been trying to put the blame on one rogue operative, a kid named Michael Sona. With party lawyer Arthur Hamilton looking on, several Conservative staffers have given statements to an Elections Canada investigator alleging that Mr. Sona boasted about his robo-calls work. Last week, we learned that two staffers who gave some of the most damaging testimony said they had met with Mr. Sona during a certain time frame. We then learned from Mr. Sona’s travel records that he was on a beach in Aruba during that period.

Having succeeded several times before, he believes that denial will get him through this crisis. But -- as countless politicians before him have discovered -- when the people stop believing you, you're finished.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Going South

The damage keeps piling up. Yesterday the Conservatives won Brandon-Souris by a mere 391 votes. In Provencher, Vic Toews' former riding, Liberal numbers went from 7% to 30%. And, Michael Harris writes, if Nigel Wright's claim that Stephen Harper gave him a "good to go" is true, Harper will join Toews as a former MP:

There is not a single, informed person in Canada who believes that Duffygate comes down to two evildoers — Duffy and former chief of staff Nigel Wright. Yet this is our prime minister’s sad refrain — regardless how many facts emerge to render his version of events little more than delusion in a footrace with farce.

Conservatives -- real conservatives -- insist those who represent them tell the truth:

They traditionally expect their leaders and MPs to tell the truth — just ask ‘Lyin’ Brian.’ Wantonly misleading the public is supposed to be what Liberals do. Not only has Harper turned his mania for control on his own MPs, corseting the few who are actually allowed to speak in talking points — he has lied egregiously on Duffygate, and attempted to cover that fact with the aura of office.

They also insist that their representatives be accountable. And Mr. Harper promised them that he stood for accountability:

“We will improve Canadians’ faith in public institutions by making government more accountable and effective … Our first priority will be to clean up government.”

Voters understand that the Harperites have not cleaned up government. In fact, they have sabotaged it.  Their hypocrisy is catching up with them. And they are going south.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Time To Resign?

Over the weekend, Tom Walkom wrote that, if Stephen Harper were as smart as his enablers claim he is, he would declare victory and resign. Harper has achieved much of what he set out to do:

First, he is a political success. He managed to knit two parties at daggers drawn, Reform and the old Progressive Conservatives, into a coherent machine.

He won three elections with that machine. He made his Conservative Party competitive again in the crucial ridings around Toronto — while holding onto the West and (briefly) making major inroads into Quebec.

He has successfully refocused the country’s attention toward matters dear to the heart of small-c conservatives: crime and punishment, unregulated markets, leaner social programs, the military.

To achieve those victories, he sabotaged parliamentary democracy in this country. He's smart enough to know that parliamentary democracy would sabotage his agenda. And Harper's agenda would be harder to reverse if he resigned:

Both NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau are running as anti-Harpers. Mulcair is portraying himself as the prosecutor-in-chief, whose job is to unearth the roots of Harper’s involvement in the Senate scandal. Trudeau’s pitch seems to be that he’s more likeable than Harper.

Neither opposition party has scripted an overall plan radically different from that of the governing Conservatives. On key economic matters, such as trade, pipelines and natural resource extraction, the Liberals and Conservative have near-identical views. The NDP position in many of these areas
remains mysterious.

But don't expect a resignation. Harper loves his job too much; and he really doesn't want to surrender control of his government or his party to anyone else -- even though Jason Kenny and Peter MacKay have signalled that they're waiting in the wings.

And, besides, the line that Harper is brilliant -- like everything else that emanates from these folks -- was cooked up in the PMO.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago

Fifty years ago, I was sitting in a high school geometry class in Montreal when the intercom came on, piping in a live radio report that John F. Kennedy had been shot. The same thing had happened a little more than a year before, when the intercom and radio informed us that Russian warships had turned back from Cuba.

On that October day, I walked to the bus stop, not knowing if I would come home in the afternoon. But at least I had some context for the first announcement. On November 22nd, there was no context.  I got off the bus and walked home. My mother had turned on the TV. We watched as Walter Cronkite  -- obviously shaken -- confirmed Kennedy's death.

Death on television was common in my youth. But Jack Webb and Richard Boone always made sure that justice was done in the space of thirty minutes. This was a new world.

For many of my generation, the Kennedy assassination marked our loss of innocence. We learned the meaning of an abstract concept -- injustice. And we learned that the world could change in eight seconds -- the time it took for Lee Harvey Oswald to fire those three shots.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

We'll be in Toronto for a couple of days. I hope to be back on Monday.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cornering The Artful Dodger

The prime minister's story, Andrew Coyne writes, hangs by a thread:

The Prime Minister has hung onto that single thread even as every other part of his story has fallen apart: as “acted alone” became “very few,” as “full confidence” turned to “acted honourably” turned to “deceived,” as “resigned” turned to “dismissed.” So long as it could not be proven that he knew what he denied knowing, he could not be caught in a lie; and so long as the whole issue was framed as “did the Prime Minister flat-out lie to Parliament,” the multiple lies told by everyone around him, before, during and after the whole sordid affair might be made to recede into the background.

If the convention of ministerial responsibility meant anything at all, Stephen Harper would have resigned long ago. But he has steadfastly claimed that he is not responsible for the people who work for him -- because he didn't know what they were doing. But, as things unravel, it's increasingly clear that Harper did know what was going on:

The go-ahead. Speak to the PM. We are good to go. It is hard to read that as anything but an indication that the Prime Minister not only knew, but approved of the deal.

The orginal deal was that the party would cover Duffy's expenses. Documents seem to indicate that Harper knew of the plan. But, when the party balked, Nigel Wright cut Duffy a personal cheque. Coyne writes:

Suppose that had remained the deal. It is not clear to me why it would be any more lawful to make a secret payment to a sitting legislator from the party’s bank account than from Wright’s.

More important, it does not seem to be clear to the RCMP. It is that agreement, to make Duffy “whole,” the investigating officer attests — or to use the language of the Criminal Code, to “give and exchange money in exchange for something to be done or omitted to be done” — that “constitutes the bribery offence” he believes occurred.

Mr. Harper's story is a matter of Clintonian parsing. Whether the party wrote the cheque or Nigel Wright wrote it, money was offered in exchange for something to be done. Yet Harper keeps dodging, claiming he is not responsible for what happened.

This time, The Artful Dodger has been cornered.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

It's Hard To Miss The Pattern

Lawrence Martin writes that the Harper government can't account for $3.1 billion and no one appears to be too upset about it:

The money was initially targeted for public security and anti-terrorism funding. There was $12.9-billion allocated. Only $9.8-billion has been accounted for. Mr. Ferguson asked the Treasury Board, which is supposed to track spending scrupulously, to explain the gap, to come up with some answers. It didn’t have any. It still doesn’t.

The Conservatives, who tout themselves as first-rate managers of the public purse, seem just to have brushed it off. They hoped, maybe in their wildest dreams, that the story would go away in a few days after the A-G’s revelation back in April. And that’s what happened.

To put what has happened in perspective, it's useful to recall the Sponsorship Scandal -- which gave Stephen Harper the keys to 24 Sussex. The Gomery Commission concluded that:

$2 million was awarded in contracts without a proper bidding process, $250,000 was added to one contract price for no additional work, and $1.5 million was awarded for work that was never done, of which $1 million had to be repaid. The overall operating cost of the Commission was $14 million.

The Harperites huff and puff about Justin Trudeau's admission that he smoked marijuana; but  they say nothing about Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. Not only is there a double standard. There's a problem of scale.

There is also the problem of the minister in charge. Tony Clement was the man who diverted anti-terrorism funds to his riding in order to spruce up the place:

Where is Mr. Clement now? He is President of the Treasury Board. After the G8 funding duplicity, Mr. Harper brazenly put Mr. Clement in charge of oversight of all government spending. For the flight of the $3.1-billion, Mr. Clement has offered no public apology. Nor has the Prime Minister.

It's hard to miss the pattern.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

At The Nadir

Rob Ford declared "outright war" on Toronto's City Council yesterday -- comparing his situation to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. Never mind that the analogy was inappropriate and stupid. Inappropriateness and stupidity are two badges Ford wears proudly. Andrew Coyne writes that Canadian politics have reached a new low:

Something snapped at Toronto City Council Monday afternoon, and it wasn’t just Rob Ford’s cerebral cortex. Watching the mayor and his brother strutting about the council chamber — ignoring the speaker, taunting other councillors, shouting down city officials, screaming insults at spectators, the whole carried out with an air of anarchic glee — was to sense the last tether connecting our politics to some sort of civilized norms breaking under the strain. We are adrift now, floating wildly, with no idea of where we will end up.

We have now reached the holy grail of modern Canadian Conservatism -- unbounded ego, sailing on a sea of evasion:

We have seen, by turns, the remorseless apology (“All I can do is apologize and move on”), the bargaining for time (“I have nothing left to hide”), the pseudo-legal clam-up (“I can’t say anything, it’s before the courts”), the non-denial denial (“I do not smoke crack; I am not an addict”), the Clintonian verb-parsing (“you didn’t ask me the right question”), the claim of diminished responsibility (“in one of my drunken stupors”), the appeal to impossible standards (“I’m not a perfect person”), the appeal to no standards (“everybody does it”), the invocation of class envy (“all these rich and elitist people … they’re the biggest crooks around”), the plea for sympathy (“this is the second-worst day of my life, after the day my father died”), the declaration of pure, all-devouring solipsism (“I love this job”). And that’s just a partial list.

It's all about burying evidence in a rhetorical cloud. And the rhetoric is nothing more than bile -- brainless, spiteful contempt. Conservatives have made book on that bile -- and we have arrived at the bottom of the barrel.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Facts Are Catching Up With Them

Haroon Siddiqui writes that, in the end, buffoonery won't bring Rob Ford and Stephen Harper down. Eventually, the truth that they are not who they say they are will catch up with them:

Both play the outsider.

Harper of Etobicoke, pretending to be a Calgarian, says he “didn’t go to Ottawa to join private clubs or become part of some elite.” He’s there only to take on the civil servants, “the courts,” the “union bosses,” the media, etc.
Ford, a fellow-Etobian, is “watching every dime” at City Hall, taking on lazy unionized workers and the media “maggots.” But his claim of having saved $1 billion is a fraud — as explained by the Star’s Daniel Dale, “Deconstructing Ford’s fiscal record,” Nov. 9. It’s a must-read for citizens. Ford promised not to cut services or raise taxes but did both — cut $73 million of services, raised user fees and property taxes — 2.2 per cent in 2012 and another 2 per cent this year, and yet another $1,000 per household for the subway extension to Scarborough. He promised not to dip into reserve funds or the annual surpluses but did.

Both men say they believe in law and order -- for other people:

Ford and Harper are law-and-order men. But Ford breaks the law, and how! Harper breaks his law on fixed Election Day. Both show no respect for the institutions that keep the rule of law, the police and the courts.

And both men have made a career of stoking public resentment:

Both whip up outsider rage, what Nietzsche called risentimento, the suspicion of the not very successful against the successful, “the elite.” Ford is “fightin’ for the little guy,” Harper for “the unsung heroes — the cab drivers, the small business owners, the farmers, the office workers.”

The problem is that, time and again, what they say is at odds with what they do.The facts have caught up with Ford. My bet is that they will eventually catch up with Harper.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Tale Of Two Economies

Last week, Jim Flaherty announced that Canada would run a surplus -- just in time for the 2015 election.  Scott Clark and Peter Devries suspect that Mr. Flaherty is playing with magic numbers. But, while Flaherty was trumpeting his projected surplus, Statscan released numbers that were far from magical. The Huffington Post reported that:

StatsCan’s latest numbers on Canada’s trade balance, released Thursday, look positive on the face of it: Exports and imports both grew, and Canada’s trade deficit with the world shrank by more than half, to $435 million.

But dig a little deeper into the data, and what you see is a story of two different export sectors. As BMO chief economist Doug Porter put it in a client note Friday morning, “there is energy (doing just fine) and there is everything else (doing anything but fine).”

While energy exports have seen a $63.6-billion surplus for the past 12 months, everything else has seen a $72.9-billion deficit.

The numbers are remarkable. The hallmark of a strong economy is diversification. But, during the Harper years, Canada has settled into an old nineteenth century pattern -- what Harold Innis called the "resource trap."

While resource extraction booms, manufacturing is on life support. Doug Porter notes that:

manufacturing employment in Canada — which is heavily dependent on exports — has shrunk by 20 per cent since 2000, even as jobs in the rest of the economy grew by a bit more than 20 per cent.

The result is regional disparities which could eventually tear the country apart. For Alberta and Saskatchewan, it is the best of times. For the rest of the country, it is the worst of times.

But, then, it became clear during the past week that the country is run by bobble heads.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hollow At The Core

The Rob Ford Circus has laid bare the void at the centre of modern Canadian Conservatism. Michael Harris writes that the party -- and what it stands for -- has degenerated into what he calls ROFO Madness:

ROFO madness is when you smoke crack cocaine and show up in videos making death threats. Your mother blames it on your weight problem. Then you sell bobblehead dolls of yourself to people lining up to have their picture taken with you.

As with business and government, and news and entertainment, notoriety and celebrity have merged. And there are always cheerleaders in the media — no matter how many times you pull your pants down in public.

And so, having been ditched by CFRB, the Ford Brothers are headed for SUN TV, where they will become the Jerry Springers of Canadian television. But the madness cannot be contained to Toronto. Consider the reaction of the Harperites to the trials of their political linchpin. Consider, most particularly, the reaction of Peter MacKay, the Minister of Justice. His ministry has busily been enshrining more severe punishment for drug users. And Mackay has declared Justin Trudeau unfit for office. Harris writes:

Here’s what Canada’s justice minister said when the sinophile currently leading the Liberal Party admitted to taking a toke:

“By flouting the laws of Canada while holding elected office he shows he is a poor example for all Canadians, particularly young ones. Justin Trudeau is simply not the kind of leader our country needs.”

But MacKay applies a different standard to the mayor:

But when Rob Ford admits to buying and smoking drugs — including crack cocaine — while holding elected office? When he admits to drinking and driving, maybe even drinking on the job? Not a word about law-breaking from Peter. Not a word about fitness for office. Not a peep about coming up a tad short in the role model department. No, Peter MacKay gushes compassion and intones that that the mayor “needs help”.
This is hypocrisy squared. On the one hand there is MacKay’s partisan hypocrisy, offensive because it involves issues of equal justice. On the other, there is the Conservative Party of Canada’s deep policy hypocrisy.

The hypocrisy suggests that the Harperites are hollow at their core. They live, T.S. Eliot wrote, in "death's twilight kingdom."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Making Accountability Real

At the beginning of the last century, the heyday of Progressivism, a new tool was given to voters -- the recall election. The Rob Ford saga has many lessons. But one of them is that Ontario voters should be given the right to recall their politicians. Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

If Ford had any sense of decency, he would step down of his own accord. But failing that, he is correct when he says that it is the people who voted for him — not the media, or the city’s councillors — who should decide whether he stays or goes. So why not give those same voters the power to strip him of office, and then either re-elect him, or not?

Jurisdictions around the world, from California to Switzerland, have recall and referenda laws. British Columbia has one, which was used most recently to dispose of the province’s HST, after politicians broke a promise not to enact it.

Of course, politicians of all stripes are afraid of the beast they would unleash. But, at present, those same politicians feel they can do as they wish until the next election. There is no mechanism to make mid-term corrections. If voters had the ability to recall their politicians, mistakes could be dealt with before their consequences became unbearable. For instance, Kheiridden writes:

Had there been such a law on the books when the gas-plant cancellation controversy exploded in Ontario, Wynne’s minority might already have been driven from office.

And, on a municipal level, if a Mayor could be recalled, why not a councillor? You can see why many politicians are gun-shy when it comes to empowering voters in between elections.

Typically a recall election cannot be held unless there is a high threshold of voters who demand it. Others will argue that legislators can try to build a "firewall" around a leader -- as Toronto City Council is attempting to do this morning -- to try and minimize the damage he or she can do.

But, in the end, the people who can stop the bleeding are voters. Recall elections would make  accountability real.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Who Will Follow Harper?

Murray Dobbins writes that it's easy to become obsessed with Stephen Harper. But whoever follows him could make things worse. After all, Paul Martin made Stephen Harper possible, just as Brian Mulroney made Martin possible. Together they established corporate government in Canada:

No one was prepared for what Finance Minister Paul Martin had in store for the country (he effectively ran the Chretien government). Mulroney had established the foundation for corporatism with the free trade deal with the U.S. Martin delivered punch number two: the gutting of federal spending and revenue raising. In his famous 1995 "deficit-fighting" budget speech he boasted not about the reduced deficit but about radically diminishing the role of government: " is the very redefinition of government itself that is the main achievement of this budget... Relative to the size of our economy, program spending will be lower in 1996-97 than at any time since 1951." When surpluses went through the roof, he slashed taxes -- and revenue -- by $100 billion over five years.

That is why progressives need to give serious thought to who will follow Harper. Unfortunately, corporatism is now well established in both of the two main opposition parties:

We can expect almost nothing from trying to engage the Liberal Party except the next phase in the neo-liberal normal. Little has changed in the party of Paul Martin, and Justin Trudeau seems too weak morally and too lazy intellectually to establish a vision that can stand against the party's power brokers. Yet progressive Liberals must use their voices and pocketbooks to press their party to pledge a reversal of Harper's right-wing social engineering.

And the party which Dobbin long supported is now marching under the corporate flag:

The NDP with its long history of social justice principles should be the party committed to repairing the damage done by Harper. But without a concerted campaign by its own members and supporters we are likely to be disappointed. NDP leader Tom Mulcair has essentially declared that even if his party becomes government in 2015 he will do little more than administer the train wreck left to him by Harper. What else are we to make of his repeated, aggressive statement on raising personal taxes? He told the St. John's Telegram in August: "Several provinces are already at the 50 per cent rate. Beyond that, you're not talking taxation, you're talking confiscation. And that is never going to be part of my policies, going after more individual taxes. Period. Full stop."

So what's to be done? Dobbins believes that both opposition parties have to be led from the bottom. Unless Canadians push the leaders of all parties to abandon the corporate model, we will stop electing prime ministers and replace them with "economic managers."

And, if it comes to that, democracy will have died in this country.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Price Of Integrity

One has to wonder what Nigel Wright really thinks of Stephen Harper. After all, in the prime minister's estimation, Wright has gone from the soul of virtue to the source of political putrefaction. Michael Harris writes:

Think about Harper’s “narratives”. First, it was full support for Wright and no resignation; that morphed into accepting his resignation with regret; next it was Wright did not resign but was sacked; and finally it was righteous indignation and a sense of betrayal that drove the PM to fire his rogue chief-of-staff.

Through all of the Harper's changing narratives, Wright has remained silent. But, unlike Harper, he has co-operated with the RCMP:

The difference between Harper’s idea of cooperation and Wright’s? Harper denied he had documents until he was formally and specifically asked for them. Wright contacted the RCMP and volunteered his information. So who is really cooperating?

And what exactly does it mean when the PM first said that “no one” in his office knew that Wright had given $90,000 to Duffy, and then changed that to “not many” knew? Did he mean not many of the cleaning staff?

Perhaps Wright is doing more than considering his career options. Perhaps he has learned what so many others who have worked for Stephen Harper have learned: Loyalty leads to dismissal. Perhaps, Harris writes, Wright is doing some genuine soul searching:

I hope he forgives me for saying it, but this is no longer politics; that quaint thing Anglicans call the soul is in play. If this matter comes to court, with Wright either as an accused or a witness, he will be sworn in and asked under oath what really happened.

Perhaps he has not only learned the price of loyalty. Perhaps he has also learned the price of integrity.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Silver Foot?

Ann Richards, the late governor of Texas, claimed that George Bush the Elder was born with "a silver foot in his mouth." Justin Trudeau runs the risk of being tagged with the same epithet. His reference to China last week was another example of  his tendency to speak before he thinks. Andrew Coyne writes:

It’s just … weird. He was not challenged to “say something positive about China,” to which he might have replied with the standard hope that “prosperity and trade with the West will in time lead to a relaxation of the regime’s grip” or a backward glance at “the success of the market-oriented reforms that have lifted so many Chinese citizens out of poverty” or even, if he wanted to be edgy, a rueful “we might not like it but you have to admit their dictatorship has a certain brutal efficiency that poses a challenge to the democracies,” which would be mostly wrong but not completely crazy.

Trudeau the Elder also said provocative things. But he did so purposely. You get the feeling that this was not a gaffe as defined by Michael Kinsley -- when a politician unwillingly tells the truth. Instead, writes Coyne, Trudeau's gaffes suggest shallowness -- the ramblings of a man who is not a serious thinker.

Will gaffes be Trudeau's undoing? That remains to be seen:

The next election is nearly two years away. There will be many more chances to take the measure of Mr. Trudeau, who will have many more chances to demonstrate his capacity to grow and mature. One gaffe does not disqualify him from office, nor even do four or five. But the more evidence they are given of his flightiness, the less willing Canadians will be to hand him the keys to the car.

Stephen Harper may be driving Canada into a ditch. But, if Trudeau leaves Canadians with the impression that he too will careen to the ditch, they won't change drivers. Particularly when they know that the other driver has a silver foot on the pedal.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Breaking Faith

Today we honour the dead. And that's as it should be. "If ye break faith with us who die," John McCrae wrote, "we shall not sleep." It's easy to keep faith with the dead.  It doesn't cost much.

But we have broken faith with the living, the veterans who have come home and who will carry the wounds of war for the rest of their lives. Guy Parent, who replaced military ombudsman Pat Strogan, is doing the same thing for which Strogan was fired. Parent reports that the government has abandoned returning veterans. According to the Canadian Press,

Guy Parent's long-awaited assessment of the government's so-called veterans charter found that veterans are receiving inadequate compensation from the government for their pain and suffering.

Hundreds of severely disabled veterans, in particular, will also take a financial hit once they retire because some of their benefits will end and they don't have military pensions, Parent says in the report.

And the proposed budget will cut the offices which deliver veterans services. The Globe and Mail reports that:

The Conservative government says it is closing the offices in Corner Brook, Nfld., Charlottetown, Sydney, N.S., Windsor, Ont., Thunder Bay, Ont., Brandon, Man., Saskatoon, Sask., Kelowna, B.C., and Prince George, B.C. by February to adjust to the changing needs and demographics of veterans across Canada.

Veterans Affairs officials point out that veterans will still be able to obtain help at Service Canada locations. They can also call the department, use their computers or request a home visit.

In its quest for re-election, the Harper government has decided that Canadian veterans are expendable. The truth is that, for the prime minister, breaking faith is standard operating procedure. Everyone is expendable -- except the man Alison, over at Creekside, calls "Commander Dress-up."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Self Unmade Man

In his review of Paul Wells' book, The Longer I'm Prime Minister, Crawford Killian writes that Stephen Harper has a history of political misjudgement:

One of Wells' key points is that Harper is the author of most of his own misfortunes. He's the guy who ignored China until the Keystone XL pause taught him to seek foreign markets for oil; that made energy exports to China his priority #1. And that led to a declaration of war against "environmentalists and other radicals" who might stall the Northern Gateway pipeline to the Pacific.

Perhaps his worst failings might be called human-resources errors. For a man who understands voters, he's a terrible judge of people. He tends to put them in jobs where their behaviour backfires, creating more problems.

Remember Maxime Bernier, leaving classified documents in his girlfriend's apartment? Vic Toews, dividing Canada between his supporters and the child pornographers? Tony Clement, dispenser of tax largesse in the form of gazebos in his own riding? Bev Oda of the 16-buck orange juice? Peter Kent and Leona Aglukkaq? Not to mention a host of disposable gofers in the prime minister's office who soon burned out or otherwise failed.

This, after all, is the man who made Dean Del Mastro his parliamentary secretary, a man now turfed from the Conservative caucus after charges of violating election spending. And this is the man who swore he would reform the Senate, before appointing dozens of mediocrities including Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.

Wells gives Harper credit for playing the long game. But the prime minister has almost sabotaged that game several times by making poor personnel choices. He knows strategy; but he doesn't know people. His strategy for dealing with poor choices is to accuse those around him of disloyalty and then dispose of them.

Eventually, that strategy catches up with you. The Senate scandal may well be Harper's undoing.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Living in Ford Nation

Mitchell Anderson writes that we're all living in Ford Nation now:

Mayor Ford’s puzzling popularity in the face of one salacious scandal after another seems to be propelled by his cheapening effect on values — and how that appeals to a morally lazy electorate. Like a pair of drunks egging each other on, Ford and his die-hard supporters are enabling each other’s bad behaviour, something that’s gone far beyond mere substance abuse.

Ford’s everyman appeal stems in part from how he makes it respectable to indulge our ugliest instincts. Don’t care about the poor? Neither does he. Are you a racist and a homophobe? So, apparently, is the mayor. Drive drunk? Who doesn’t?

We may not like it, but we get the government we deserve. And, if we choose to overlook our leaders' shortcomings, we have only ourselves to blame. What is true of Ford is also true of Stephen Harper, whose alliance with Ford helped propel him to a majority government:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made a career of appealing to the smallest of human sentiments. The latest speech from the throne was notable mainly for its myopic focus on consumer trivia like cell phone rates and cable costs — as if the highest ideal to which Ottawa can aspire is to make it cheaper to tune in to Honey Boo Boo.

Many Canadians are now represented by politicians who share their unchallenged values. Harper is spending billions on prisons, untroubled by the evidence which says crime rates are falling, or that incarceration exacerbates criminality. Scientists somewhere are making depressing proclamations about climate change — but honestly, who has the energy to think about such things?

And what we accept as reality today wasn't always so:

Lester Pearson won a Nobel Peace Prize for his courageous diplomatic work inventing the now long-discarded practice of military peacekeeping. Pierre Trudeau battled political foes and provincial interests to ratify the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Despised by many during his remarkable life for such difficult and principled work, in death his casket was carried by both Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro. Even Brian Mulroney took a principled stand against apartheid and U.S. military intervention in Central America.

Harper and Ford's operating philosophy is ME:  What I want is what I deserve. And when we elect them, we get what WE deserve.

Friday, November 08, 2013

A Rogue State?

Noam Chomsky writes that the United States has become a one party nation and a rogue state:

The U.S. is still a one-party state, the business party. But it only has one faction: moderate Republicans, now called New Democrats (as the U.S. Congressional coalition styles itself).

There is still a Republican organization, but it long ago abandoned any pretense of being a normal parliamentary party. Conservative commentator Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute describes today's Republicans as "a radical insurgency — ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition": a serious danger to the society.

Chomsky claims that the United States represents a serious danger to other countries. That is why China is calling for the "de-Americanization" of the world -- something that Samuel Huntington foresaw fifteen years ago:

In 1999, political analyst Samuel P. Huntington warned that for much of the world, the U.S. is "becoming the rogue superpower," seen as "the single greatest external threat to their societies."

A few months into the Bush term, Robert Jervis, president of the American Political Science Association, warned that "In the eyes of much of the world, in fact, the prime rogue state today is the United States." Both Huntington and Jervis warned that such a course is unwise. The consequences for the U.S. could be harmful.

It is now common for the U.S. to act alone, without international allies:

To take a typical example, a few weeks ago U.S. special operations forces snatched a suspect, Abu Anas al-Libi, from the streets of the Libyan capital Tripoli, bringing him to a naval vessel for interrogation without counsel or rights. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry informed the press that the actions are legal because they comply with American law, eliciting no particular comment.

For those who claim that America's actions are justified, Chomsky imagines a situation where the shoe would be on the other foot:

Reactions would be a bit different, needless to say, if Cuban special forces kidnapped the prominent terrorist Luis Posada Carriles in Miami, bringing him to Cuba for interrogation and trial in accordance with Cuban law.

In his recent book, How We Lead, former prime minister Joe Clark writes that foreign policy under the Harper government is driven by the same imperative. That kind of behaviour entrenches the rule of the jungle. And, in the jungle, no one is safe.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Burning The Bridge

Conservatives are congratulating themselves. They believe that -- having disposed of Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau -- they have achieved a great victory. But, Michael Den Tandt writes, it was no victory at all:

For clues as to why, let’s examine Canadian Conservatism today from the point of view of a voter from, say, southwestern Ontario. We look to these folks because they are at the heart of the East-West coalition that propelled  Harper to a majority in 2011. These are, as a rule centrist pragmatists; people who supported premier Mike Harris’s provincial Tories back in the day – until they didn’t.

Consider the Ontario Conservatives who gave Harper his majority:

They are represented in cabinet by figures such as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, MP for Whitby-Oshawa. He was a scrapper at Queen’s Park in the Harris days; within Harper’s circle he comes off as almost avuncular. Or there’s Diane Finley, MP for Haldimand Norfolk, the minister of public works. More often than not, when asked a question in the House of Commons, she tries to answer. There’s Lisa Raitt, MP for Halton and minister of transport. Amid the din of imbecilic partisanship, Raitt has often stood out as a thoughtful presence. 

Ontario Conservatives have no love for the Reform Party -- the people who Harper is courting. They voted for Bill Davis again and again and they believe in personal responsibility:

Personal responsibility is a core conservative value. It may be the most important conservative value. Individuals, not government, must see to themselves, their families and their communities. Those who go astray, as we’ve heard so often in the talking points about Duffy, Wallin  and Brazeau, must be held accountable. And those in charge are generally expected to embrace Harry Truman’s dictum: The buck stops here.

Stephen Harper, from day one of this affair, has taken a quite different approach: Day after day, week after week, he has blamed everyone but himself, and in particular blamed his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright. This makes many Conservatives uncomfortable: No one who knows Wright believes that, if he did indeed keep Harper in the dark about his $90,000 payment to Duffy, it was for any reason other than to protect the PM politically. However misguided and wrongheaded that was, it was an act of loyalty. Harper has repaid it with disloyalty.

My hunch is that, when historians write the story of the Harper years, they will write that things fell apart with the Senate scandal and -- more importantly -- Harper's handling of it. That's when he burned the bridge between western and eastern Conservatives.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

False Populists

Stephen Harper posed as a populist last weekend, claiming that he and Laureen didn't go to Ottawa to join an elite. That line, Lawrence Martin writes, doesn't ring true:

The populist schtick isn’t an easy sell when your government has given far more tax cuts to the corporations than to the little guy; when it’s been manifestly on the side of big oil; when it takes on unions at every turn; when its penchant for muzzling and censorship is legend; when it favours judges ill-disposed to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; when the Prime Minister’s version of grassroots democracy has been to centralize and expand executive power at a rate heretofore unseen.

To try to escape the hole he has dug for himself, Mr. Harper has returned to his Reform Party roots and appealed to his supporters' essential ignorance. He's convinced that the corruption of his office is of no interest to the base. They simply don't buy Mike Duffy's allegations.

However, there is at least one Conservative who will confirm Duffy's story. Martin writes that former MP Inky Mark had an experience similar to Duffy's:

“They’d call you up and tell you what to do. One time, someone from his war room threatened me. I said, ‘Don’t tell me what to do just ‘cause you got a little office in Ottawa. And tell Stephen Harper the same thing.’ ”

The Senate expenses scandal is no surprise to Mr. Mark, he said, because for the Harper operation, the end justifies the means. In the 2006 campaign, Mr. Mark said, the bullies wanted him to take part in a scheme to allow his campaign to go beyond official campaign spending limits. He refused. The Harper “populists” demanded to vet every single one of Mr. Mark’s press releases, as they did everyone else’s. He said no.

Like Rob Ford -- who drives a Cadillac to work -- Stephen Harper is a servant of the wealthy. Like Charles Foster Kane, both men are false populists.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

It's Only The Beginning

After attending last week's Conservative convention, Tasha Kheiridden wrote that the party was "a party  under lockdown." In fact, the public was not welcome at the event:

Canadians, unfortunately, saw none of it, since reporters were banned from attending. In fact, the press was excluded from most of the convention. No events were open until the prime minister’s speech on Friday night. Velvet ropes and security guards kept reporters out of the day’s policy and constitutional debates. Reporters were not allowed to walk on the plenary floor the next day to talk to delegates during their policy deliberations.

The party also made every effort to make it as difficult and unpleasant for working journalists as possible. Few electrical outlets for laptops, no copies of the program book, no Internet access (unless you managed to pay after multiple tries). No water, at first (and when a few jugs were finally provided, no cups).

Mr. Harper has been at war with the press since he arrived in Ottawa. It's so much easier to govern when the people don't know what you're doing:

Harper figures that the average Canadian doesn’t care how he treats the media, and he’s probably right. But people should care, particularly the members of his own party. The reason Harper keeps the press in the dark is that he doesn’t like what most of them say about him. Limit their access to information, he figures, and you limit what they can report, and the damage they can do to his agenda.

So Stephen Harper set the tone and the theme. "I could care less," he said. Self absorbed as he is, he believes that he knows what and how Canadians think and feel. He believes that if he can get enough Senators to do his bidding, he can get enough Canadians to follow suit.

What he doesn't understand is that the storm has only begun to break. Mike Duffy will not go silently. And, if the RCMP charges Nigel Wright -- a lawyer who knows that it's best to stay mum when you're under investigation -- Harper will be at the centre of a maelstrom.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Behold The Conservative Base

On Friday, Gerry Caplan wondered whether the Conservative faithful, meeting in Calgary, would experience a dark night of the soul. They faced at least two significant questions:

Which is true: when Mr. Harper said that no one in his office except Nigel Wright knew about the deal with Senator Mike Duffy, or when he now says “a few people” knew? (The number 13 is used by many.) Do you find it credible that his chief of staff, senior aides in his office, the party’s chief fundraiser, the party’s top lawyer, and several close allies in the Senate may have all hid from the Boss Man the money they were giving Mr. Duffy?

And, of course, there was that other question:

Which is true: when the Prime Minister announced he had accepted “with great regret” Mr. Wright’s resignation for giving $90,000 to Mr. Duffy, or when he said this week that Mr. Wright had been dismissed for his “deception”? Had someone else fired Mr. Harper’s chief of staff and informed him only days ago?

Mr. Harper -- as is his custom -- provided no answers to any questions . Yet Laura Payton reported that the faithful left the convention happy:

Delegates say they trust the prime minister and that the media is blowing the situation out of proportion. They argue Duffy's $90,000 in questionable expenses were repaid, which is better than the Liberal Party did during the sponsorship scandal of 10 years ago.

They also argue that Nigel Wright, Harper's former chief of staff who wrote the cheque that covered Duffy's expenses, was concerned about taxpayers when he offered the money. That Duffy didn't have to repay the money out of his own pocket is beside the point, some said, because in the end it didn't cost Canadians.

Matt Altheim, a delegate from Edmonton, called Harper "squeaky clean."

"We have one staffer wanting to pay back the public purse $90,000.... a staffer decided to do that," he said.

"I think it's an issue to be aware of and to be concerned [about] ... but I think people here, the issues for them are good governance, the economy and some of the crime legislation that's coming forward. The things that are going to change this country," Altheim said.

And, so, their faith in Mr. Harper remains unshaken. John Stuart Mill's observation remains as true today as it did one hundred and forty years ago.  "Conservatives are not necessarily stupid," he wrote, "but most stupid people are conservatives."

Behold the Conservative base.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Standing Firmly By The Wealthy

Ten anti-union resolutions were passed at the Conservative convention in Calgary. They are aimed at making Canada a "right to work" nation. It's wise, therefore, to examine what has happened in the nation which pioneered right to work legislation. Right to work is the brain child of the Republican Party -- the source of inspiration for Harper Conservatives.

On Friday, in The New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote that Republicans have declared war on the poor:

Republicans in leadership positions try to modulate their language a bit, but it’s a matter more of tone than substance. They’re still clearly passionate about making sure that the poor and unlucky get as little help as possible, that — as Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, put it — the safety net is becoming “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” And Mr. Ryan’s budget proposals involve savage cuts in safety-net programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

All of this hostility to the poor has culminated in the truly astonishing refusal of many states to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Bear in mind that the federal government would pay for this expansion, and that the money thus spent would benefit hospitals and the local economy as well as the direct recipients. But a majority of Republican-controlled state governments are, it turns out, willing to pay a large economic and fiscal price in order to ensure that aid doesn’t reach the poor. 

Modern conservatives have come to view poverty as a moral failure -- a sin which must be punished. And market ideology provides the rationale for their insanity:

So what’s this all about? One reason, the sociologist Daniel Little suggested in a recent essay, is market ideology: If the market is always right, then people who end up poor must deserve to be poor. I’d add that some leading Republicans are, in their minds, acting out adolescent libertarian fantasies. “It’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now,” declared Paul Ryan in 2009

Mr. Harper said that the next election should not be about choosing among candidates for Canadian Idol. But, of course, everything he says is laced with unintended irony. It's obvious that the Conservative Party of Canada sees itself as a contestant on American Idol.

And, like their Republican mentors, they stand firmly by the wealthy.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

When Will He Turn On Them?

Some of Stephen Harper's most perceptive critics are on the right. This week, in the Sun newspapers, John Robson called for the prime minister's resignation:

Unless it is OK for the prime minister to lie repeatedly and openly on an important matter, Stephen Harper must resign or be dismissed.

And this morning, in the Postmedia papers, Andrew Coyne reviews Harper's speech to the assembled throng in Calgary:

And so we get this damp recital of past slogans, this parody of a parody of an empty cliché of a speech, this 4,000 word migraine. A strong, stable national government! Protect our economy amid global uncertainty! For those who work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules! For our children! And the generations to come!

If you thought he was going to take the opportunity to level with Canadians about the Senate scandals — to explain what happened, to tell what he knew, to clear up the many contradictions and gaps in his story, even to acknowledge it’s an issue, beyond the sins of a few miscreant senators — you should have known better. If you were one of those who thought he might even, in a bold flourish, call for a national referendum on Senate abolition, well, you must be the kind who still believes in flourishes.

Some men grow in public office. Others calcify once they get there. Stephen Harper is of the latter variety:

It’s possible this refusal to change, to pivot, to reach out, to inspire, to do anything but what he has been doing is simply a display of Harperian sang-froid, the legendary long game — an ability to see past transitory difficulties, without the sort of panicky thrashing about that consigns other party leaders to the deep. But it’s also possible he just doesn’t get it: how deeply his party is loathed, how narrow his base has become, how unnerved his party is by the rolling six-month knife-fight that is the Senate scandal.

And so, Coyne writes, the race to succeed him has begun, Jason Kenny and Peter Mackay have taken to defending Nigel Wright. One wonders when Mr. Harper will turn on them.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Quaint Notion Of Responsibility

While Rob Ford insists that he has no reason to resign, and the prime minister's story changes every day, Andrew Coyne writes that the concept of responsibility has become a quaint notion -- a relic of the past:

There was a time when public office holders were expected to take responsibility for these things, as a matter of personal honour if nothing else. But conventions last only as long as they are observed. Today, the prime minister clings to his position — I was the victim of a conspiracy involving everyone around me — as tightly as Senator Duffy clings to his paycheque.

Indeed, the notion that conventions matter is itself a convention. In recent years they have been discarded by the dozen, and the faster they fall the less any of them are missed. A glance at the headlines is enough to see how little remains.

Consider the case of Mr. Harper:

To recap, the prime minister is not responsible. He is not responsible for appointing Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau to the Senate. He is not responsible for appointing senators from provinces in which they were not resident, and he is not responsible for their subsequent activities shilling for the Tories across the country at public expense.

No, the people who are responsible are his enemies. Mr. Ford claims that The Toronto Star -- which broke the story of the video allegedly showing Ford smoking crack cocaine --  is the source of his troubles.

I have a friend of fifty years, a true political conservative, who has taken to referring to Mr. Harper as Prime Minister Nixon. Harper lost his support the day David Emerson crossed the floor and joined the government. He also originally supported Rob Ford. But not now. He says he's tired of the chain of lies.

One wonders how many other conservatives feel as he does.