Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Someone Else Will Pick Up The Tab

The Harperites promised Canada's Afghan Veterans a National Day of Honour. But they're not going to pay for it. Tim Harper writes:

Corporate Canada and True Patriot Love, the charitable foundation that is raising the money to get families to the capital to be properly honoured, deserve credit.

They have stepped in to allow the Harper government to do this on the cheap.
The highlight for families arriving in Ottawa will be a private breakfast with Prime Minister Stephen

Harper and other VIPs, with corporate donations of $10,000 or more guaranteeing your company prime signage and related advertising for the event.

Companies will foot the bill -- and, for their charity, they will get to advertise. The model comes straight out of  the Jerry Lewis School of Fundraising:

Why would this government simply not decide that, on behalf of Canadians, they would tell these families, ‘You lost a loved one, you paid the ultimate price, we will pay to get you here so your loved one can be properly honoured by a grateful country?’

According to Harper’s chief spokesperson, the government was answering a corporate call.
Jason MacDonald said there was a “tremendous appetite” from corporate Canada to participate in this day.
“This allows them to touch the families of those who have paid the ultimate price, in a direct way,’’ MacDonald said.

The Harper government  -- for all of its hype -- has treated Canada's soldiers as cannon fodder. And they have debased the notion of charity to boot. All of this is done in support of one of the cornerstones of  Harperism: Someone else will pick up the tab -- financial, social, environmental.

And the government gets a Get Out Of Jail card in the bargain.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Big Dog

It really is time to bury the notion that Stephen Harper is a brilliant strategist. Andrew Coyne writes:

We are so heavily invested, we media types, in the notion of Harper as master strategist, able to see around corners and think seven moves ahead and what not, that we tend not to notice how many times he has been screwing up of late. The sudden and more or less complete rewriting, on the same day as the Supreme Court decision, of the colossally misjudged Fair Elections Act, after weeks of waving off any and all criticism as self-interested or partisan or both? Merely a prudent bid to cut their losses. The unusual public goading of Barack Obama (“a no brainer … won’t take no for an answer… etc”) into making a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project, six years after it was first proposed? Either a play to the base or a wink to the Republicans or a deliberate raising of the diplomatic stakes, anything but what it looks like: a catastrophic fumbling of a key file.

It should be pretty clear by now that Mr. Harper has always had a chip on his shoulder. A majority government only made that chip bigger. And that chip always sabotages his plan. And the plan has always been transparent -- to create as much carnage as he can for as long as he can.

Coyne writes that Tom Flanagan has the prime minister's number:

It is telling that among the prime minister’s most trenchant critics these days is Tom Flanagan, once one of his closest advisors, an academic-cum-political strategist who is at once both deeply conservative and shrewdly pragmatic. This government is neither. It is reckless, not in the style of governments that overread their mandate, but in an aimless, scattershot way. It is partisan, but for no purpose other than stubbornness and tribalism. It will take every fight to the limit, pick fights if none present themselves, with no thought to the consequences of either victory or defeat but seemingly out of sheer bloodlust. Like the proverbial dog chasing the car, it has no idea what it will do when it catches it.

In the end, Mr. Harper's "strategy" has but one objective -- to prove that he is the big dog -- whose privilege it is to relieve himself on other people's lawns.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Real Face Of The Conservative Party

In his eulogy for Jim Flaherty, Stephen Harper said, "It is a fact that Jim, as fiercely partisan as he was, was also genuinely liked and respected by his opponents, liked by his enemies. That’s something in this business, something I envy – I can’t even get my friends to like me.”

It was Harper's pathetic attempt at humour. But, like his handlers' attempts to dress him in blue sweaters, or his own rendition of old Beatles songs, there's always something off key or flat when Harper performs.

As with any movement  built on the cult of personality, the leader wears a false face. With this prime minister, you know when you're getting the false face. If you're searching for the real face of the Conservative Party, you need look no further than Pierre Poilievre. Gerry Caplan writes:

This is a government passionately committed to not reaching out, to not seeking consensus. This is a government that scorns fairness and honour. In Lawrence Martin’s words, Mr. Harper is “known more for his classless smear campaigns against opponents than any degree of soft-heartedness.” You have to wonder how and why Jim Flaherty tolerated it for so long.

With Poilievre you get the real thing without the blue sweater -- and without the lame attempts at humour. Poilievre is all vengeance all the time. He is what the Harper Party is all about.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Perhaps It's Just Stupidity

In at least one way, Stephen Harper is absolutely consistent: He is the author of his own misery. That was apparent in 2008, when he almost brought his government down by removing public funding for political parties. It was apparent again last week when the Supreme Court reminded Harper that, if he wanted to reform the Senate, he would have to play by constitutional rules.

And, Robert Asselin writes, it was apparent when Barack Obama decided to delay approval of the Keystone Pipeline. Harper has only himself to blame:

Back in November 2008, President-elect Obama issued a statement: “Few challenges facing America — and the world — are more urgent than combating climate change. Many of you are working to confront this challenge … but too often, Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership. That will change when I take office.”

Obama sent a signal from the beginning of his administration that climate change would be on his agenda. But Harper isn't good at picking up on signals from other people:

Knowing the oilsands were a tough sale for the Obama administration because of their obvious environmental footprint, what did the Harper government offer to make Keystone acceptable?

Not much. The Harper government came to the table with no real substantive offering. After eight years in office, Harper still hasn’t put forward meaningful greenhouse gas emission regulations or policies that would make Canada a world leader in research, clean technologies and energy innovation. Instead, his government bought massive ads in D.C. subway stations to argue Canada is a stable, friendly country that has a lot of oil to sell.

Prime Minister Harper’s approach to selling the Obama administration on Keystone amounts to this: We have a lot of oil, so do yourself a favour and take it. And if you don’t take ours, you’ll be stuck with Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russia and a lot of unstable countries.

The prime minister, in effect, told  Obama that -- when it came to energy --  Canada was in the driver's seat. He did not foresee that the Americans would look for new sources of energy within their own borders. And he did not foresee the enormous backlash against Keystone within those borders.

Foresight isn't one of Harper's strengths. He didn't foresee the financial meltdown of 2008. His spin machine likes to trumpet the message  that one of his strengths is standing by his principles. But perhaps it has nothing to do with principles.

Perhaps it's just stupidity.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

It Takes Sunny Ways

Yesterday -- for the second time in a month -- the Supreme Court reminded Stephen Harper of two truths about Canada. The first is that, as prime minister, he is obliged not to make the rules but to follow them. The second is that this country is a federation.

Harper has consistently operated on the assumption that he can ignore the constitution. Errol Mendes writes:

This is a landmark decision and, along with the Supreme Court’s take on the Nadon appointment, it shows the court nailing down the fundamental constitutional limits of the Canadian parliamentary and federal order for a government that seems to be looking for ways around the rules to achieve its political ends.

There is an established procedure for amending the constitution -- the consent of seven of the provinces representing 50% of the population.  But abolishing the Senate would take more than that:

Finally, given the court’s emphasis on the need to respect the architecture of the Constitution, its finding that Senate abolition would require the unanimous consent of the provinces was almost a foregone conclusion.

Constitutions are not easy to change. They are purposely made so. And governing Canada has never been easy. It takes, in Laurier's memorable phrase, "sunny ways" -- something Mr. Harper lacks.

The simple truth is that Harper is temperamentally unsuited for the job. Deep down he knows that; and he has tried to change the rules to suit his own convenience. The court has reminded him that the constitution takes precedence --  not the prime minister's personality.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Lies and Damned Lies

Mark Twain wrote that there are "lies, damned lies and statistics." The truth of that aphorism was proved once again this week after the New York Times reported that the Canadian middle class was in better shape than the American middle class. Jason Kenny went all a twitter. Justin Trudeau had it all wrong, he tweeted. His claim about middle class angst was not "evidence based." Tom Walkom responded:

Given that his government has eliminated the long-form census, cancelled Statistics Canada studies and squashed straightforward scientific research, it’s a bit rich for Kenney to call for evidence-based anything).

More importantly, Walkom wrote that statistics only make sense in context -- and part of context is history:

In fact, the Times report merely confirms what was widely known.

First, the U.S. has been whacked hard by the post-2008 slump. Canada’s resource-based economy has been whacked less.

Second, between 1980 and 2010, Canadian and European income-redistribution programs helped middle-income citizens weather all storms.

In the U.S., by contrast, tax and subsidy programs are more favourable to the wealthy.
Presto: The poorest in America saw their incomes fall; the middle class stagnated and the wealthy forged ahead.
In European counties like Norway, the poor fared better. Canada, as usual, tended to be in the middle.

The Harper neo-conservatives have not had as much time to destroy the welfare state as their American cousins have had. The numbers in both countries are headed south. What has made the difference is when those numbers began tracking down.

Another part of context is geography. And, Michael den Tandt writes, things are worse for Ontarians than they are for Albertans -- who are Kenny's chief focus:

Perhaps most important, the flutter in the aftermath of the NYT’s study misses the prolonged economic malaise in Ontario, in contrast with the resource-based boom in the far North and West. Ontario is a waning power economically, having joined the ranks of the “have-not” provinces under the federal equalization formula. It may not be coincidental that Kenney, a Calgary MP, saw fit to enthuse about the economic status quo; a minister from Southwestern Ontario, whose manufacturing economy has been hammered by factory closings, might have taken a different tack. Economists from Don Drummond to, most recently, the Fraser Institute’s Livio Di Matteo, have chronicled in detail the causes of Ontario’s prolonged slump — including limp exports, un-competitively high energy prices and runaway debt. All good? Um, no.

Den Tandt suggests there are some other numbers Kenny should focus on: 

But here’s the rub; politically, [Ontario's] clout is still growing – from 106 of 308 MPs in the House of Commons in 2011, to 121 of 338 in 2015. Of the 30 new seats now in play, 15 are in Ontario. So, this is the question for the Tory caucus: Do you really want to be telling Ontarians, who comprise nearly 40 per cent of this country’s 35 million people, that they should buck up, while your principal rival is telling them he feels their pain?

Kenny would be well advised to consider another of Twain's aphorisms: "Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Corrupted Party

Linda McQuaig writes that there is no better contrast between what the Conservative Party used to stand for and what it stands for now than the contrast between Douglas Roche and Stephen Harper. Roche represented Edmonton between 1972 and 1984. He was appointed to the Senate in 1998. He retired from the Senate in 2004.  Throughout his career, he has been a tireless advocate for nuclear disarmament:

Roche has spent decades championing nuclear disarmament, peace and social justice — causes that have fallen by the wayside in our current rush to celebrate greed and cheer on military intervention.
Launching his twenty-first book this week, Roche is a striking reminder of the gulf between the old Progressive Conservative Party that, at its best, found room for truly public-spirited individuals, and Stephen Harper’s soulless new version.

He believes, quite simply, that war has become an outmoded method for solving disputes:

Gentlemen no longer duel, for instance. But for centuries they did. As Alexander Hamilton prepared for his famous 1804 duel with U.S. vice-president Aaron Burr, he wrote in his diary that he strongly disapproved of duelling but felt obliged to participate because people would look down on him otherwise.

The lack of duelling today doesn’t mean that humans have evolved into more sensitive beings — just that society regards duelling as unacceptable and outdated. Aggression is now channeled into contemporary practices like corporate takeovers or derivatives trading.

But Mr. Harper is still addicted to the old way of doing things:

Under Harper, Ottawa has shown an enthusiasm for the institution of war, making something of a fetish out of celebrating Canada’s war history, pumping up our military spending and no longer even feigning an appreciation of peace. Our troop contributions to UN peacekeeping missions, already on the decline under the Liberals, have plummeted to 53rd in the world, in between Paraguay and Slovakia.

Roche has served as the President of the United Nations Associations of Canada; and, in 1985, he was elected Honorary President of the World Federation of United Nations Associations. Stephen Harper refuses to speak to the UN.

The distance between Douglas Roche and Stephen Harper is the distance between Peace and War. And that distance illustrates just how thoroughly Mr. Harper has corrupted the Conservative Party of Canada.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Ugly Blast From The Past

It's not news to note that the Harper government is fixated on the past. From dropping the word "progressive" from the party's moniker to building a resource based economy -- with the focus on one resource -- the Harperites are detemined  to make the clock run backwards. And the "Fair" Elections Act is part of that agenda. Paul Adams writes that, when Canada was founded, the franchise was not available to everyone:

We tend to think of women’s suffrage as the last significant extension of the franchise, occurring around the time of the First World War. We also tend to think of the expansion of the franchise as a steady forward march. Bit by bit, more and more people got the vote, and steadily we become more democratic.

The process has been much more herky-jerky than that.

Two years after women got the vote, Parliament re-affirmed that aboriginal people, including Inuit, could not participate in elections. Nor could minorities such as Chinese, Japanese or Hindus vote federally in places such as British Columbia and Saskatchewan where they were barred from voting provincially.

Canada's first inhabitants have been overlooked since we -- the Europeans -- arrived.  Pierre Poilievre proposes to continue that policy:

Most Canadians don’t live on reserves. Most Canadians don’t have parents or grandparents who were forbidden from voting by law. And most Canadians would have trouble imagining the circumstances of those who do.

As First Nations leaders have pointed out, many people living on reserves don’t have driver’s licences or even bank accounts. Interestingly, ‘status cards’ — the core identification document on reserves — have a photograph but not the address required by the proposed bill. Moreover, these cards expire and may be difficult to renew.

We know that aboriginal people rely on the vouching provisions of the current law to a far greater degree than other Canadians for precisely those reasons.
Lurking not far beneath the suggestion that most Canadians think it is reasonable for voters to have ID in their pockets on election day is the sense that only the “deserving” — the upright, respectable citizens — should be participating in our democracy.

There is racism just below the surface of the "Fair" Elections Act. This is the government which tore up the Kelowna Accord and treated Chief Theresa Spence with contempt.

Without a doubt, the Harperites are an ugly blast from the past.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How's He Doing?

This week marks the first anniversary of Justin Trudeau's ascension. Lawrence Martin writes that the Harperites are filling the air with polls. They have tried to make hay in the aftermath of Jim Flaherty's death, pushing the meme that he  -- and they --  have been superb economic managers. However,

Mr. Trudeau’s accomplishment has been to bring back the Liberal support base. That base is traditionally larger than the Conservative one. This has been evident in polls that have shown the Grits around 35 per cent and the Tories at around 30. That picture has held not only for the past year, but dating all the way back to September of 2012, when Mr. Trudeau announced his intention to seek the leadership. With his name on the ticket, hypothetical polls immediately showed the big change.

Tories hope that the corner is now being turned, that they’ll draw even with the Grits or close to it. If there is little or no movement, they might as well go back to the drawing board. It will be a clearer signal than ever that the economy cannot save them. It will be a signal that after many years in power, fatigue has set in and the public wants change, pure and simple.

This was the case in the latter years of the St. Laurent Liberals, the Pierre Trudeau Liberals, the Brian Mulroney Tories and others. If it wasn’t the policies that turned people off, it was the governing culture.

It seems increasingly clear that Mr. Harper and his acolytes have overstayed their welcome. Despite their economic hype, it's their style and their shift to the past which leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Canadians:

The culture of the Harper operation grates. A country is supposed to be governed by consent, not by coercion. With this man, there has been too much of the latter.

There’s that and there is the progressives’ argument that this is a country moving backward in time. Backward on criminal justice policies, backward on the environment, backward on labour rights, on democracy and backward, with the unremitting focus on resource exploitation, on economic vision.

By the end of the month Stephen Harper should have a good idea of how he's doing -- and whether or not it's time to head for the exit.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Looking After Tom And Daisy's Interests

Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have concluded in a recent study that democracy has been successfully subverted in the United States. That country, they write, is now an oligarchy.

The American Supreme Court has had a hand in establishing that oligarchy. In the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the court concluded that those whose skin was black were not people. In the Citizens United decision of 2010, the court decided that corporations were people. The consequence, Michael Harris writes, has been that those with more money have more free speech:

As U.S. neo-conservative consultant Arthur Finkelstein has always said, money is important because it determines who gets heard. It was exactly what bothered Thomas Jefferson when he warned against the dangers to American democracy posed by “the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations.”

Stephen Harper tried the same legal gambit back in 2004, when he headed the National Citizens Coalition:

Like his Republican brethren, Harper too went to court to lift spending limits in political campaigns. Like his Republican brethren, he too argued it was a free speech issue and wanted no spending limits on so-called third parties during elections. He went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where he lost in 2004. The judges decided that setting limits on third-party political contributions during the writ period was not a free speech but a fair play issue.

Now Harper is trying to do legislatively -- through Bill C-23 -- what he could not do legally. The bill's objective is to entrench a Canadian oligarchy. Like his Republican brethren, Harper is looking after the interests of Tom and Daisy Buchanan  -- who got away with murder.

On the subject of great literature, I have one footnote. Over the weekend, Alistair MacLeod died. His novel, No Great Mischief, is the finest rendering of Cape Breton and its people that we have.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stephen Marois?

On the surface, Stephen Harper and Pauline Marois  couldn't be more different. They have diametrically opposed visions of what is best for this country. But, Haroon Siddiqui writes, they are disturbingly alike:

  • Both use phony wedge issues to consolidate their base and polarize the public. Neither cares for the long-term consequences of deeply dividing society. Her charter of Quebec values dealt with a crisis that did not exist. He spent billions on “tough-on-crime” initiatives when crime has been going down.
  • Both exploit prejudices against minorities. Marois was crude in going after Muslims, Jews and Sikhs in the name of secularism. He is clever in isolating Canada’s one million Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism. Both use the same tactics of hand-picking totally unrepresentative Muslims to attack the community.
  • Both copy the Republican Party’s dirty tactics of suppressing the votes of groups that are likely to vote for the opposition. For years, the GOP has been making it nearly impossible for blacks, Latinos and the young to vote. The PQ government made it difficult for Anglos, especially students, in Montreal to vote. The Harper government is changing election laws to try to disenfranchise about 500,000 people who are not likely to vote Conservative.
  • Both use Orwellian terminology to peddle their wares. She called her signature issue the charter of secular values when, in fact, it violated the most fundamental secular value, the right to religion. He calls his plan to make elections unfair “the Fair Elections Act.”

  •  Siddiqui adds to the list:

  • Both Marois and Harper spend government money on advertising campaigns promoting programs that advance their partisan purposes — she in pushing the charter, he in spending at least $200 million on his Economic Action Plan and other initiatives central to the fortunes of the Conservative party.
  • Both treat the opposition not as adversaries but enemies. Anyone who does not agree with her is not a true Quebecer; anyone who does not agree with Harper is not a Canadian patriot.

  • You get the idea. In fact, when it comes to doing politics, Harper and Marois come from the same gene pool.  In the last election, Quebecers took back the keys to Marois' kingdom. Siddiqui wonders if Canadians will eventually do the same for Harper.

    Perhaps -- with two caveats: First: Marois was defeated by an opposition which was sustained and focused. And, second: Campaigns matter. Besides having to deal with relentless opposition, Marois was disorganized and anything but focused.

    We shall see.

    Saturday, April 19, 2014

    Smelling A Skunk

    Eric Grenier writes that, the more Canadians learn about the Fair Elections Act, the less they like it:

    Opposition to the Conservative government's proposed Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23) is widespread and growing, according to a new poll by Angus Reid Global.

    The survey, conducted online from April 14-15 and surveying 1,505 Canadians, found that 59 per cent of Canadians who said they were very or fairly familiar with the proposed legislation were opposed to it, an increase of three points since Angus Reid last polled Canadians on the topic in February.

    Unfortunately, there is still a significant number of Canadians who haven't bothered to look into what the Harperites are selling:

    Nevertheless, a majority of Canadians (69 per cent) said they were not familiar with the bill, including 27 per cent who said they had not heard of it before Angus Reid polled them. That did decrease by 11 points from February, however, as the number of people saying they were very familiar with the bill increased by three points to eight per cent, and the proportion who said they were fairly familiar jumped by eight points to 23 per cent.

    There was an important difference in support for Bill C-23 between those who knew something about it and those who said they didn't. And why not? It is called the "Fair Elections Act" after all. Whereas just 41 per cent of Canadians who said they were familiar with the proposed legislation supported it, 52 per cent who said they knew little to nothing about it were in favour. 

    And therein lies the rub. The government is depending on ignorance and apathy to finesse its future. But Tom Walkom warns that fixing Canadian democracy will take more than defeating the Fair Elections Act:

    But the real problems of Canadian democracy are much deeper. They centre on the fact that, even without these new impediments to voting so few Canadians bother to cast ballots.
    In 2011, only 61 per cent of those eligible to vote did so.

    Harper’s Conservatives are right about one thing: Feel-good ads from Elections Canada won’t persuade non-voters to vote. People will vote only if they are inspired to do so, presumably by those seeking office.

    And that will only happen when Canadians begin to smell a skunk in the woodpile.

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    Christians Like Us

    The Harper Party insists that its values are the values of the vast majority of Canadians. But, Linda McQuaig writes, Senator Linda Frum's recent musings reveal just how narrow and inverted Conservative values really are:

    Frum’s adamant insistence — at a Senate hearing and later in a series of well-publicized Twitter exchanges — that Elections Canada should not encourage people to vote sounded so out of sync with widely-held democratic principles that it appeared mystifying.

    Indeed, it only made sense when you realized she was inadvertently revealing how deeply she and other Harperites mistrust the public at large — and how much they fear entrusting the vote to those beyond the Harper base.

    Encouraging the vast horde of Canadians to vote is the last thing they want. Frum’s strange remarks captured the deeply anti-democratic tendencies of the Harper Conservatives.

    In truth, the Harperites are snobs. The only people who matter, they say, are people like us. That is the central thrust of the "Fair" Elections Act. And it explains the government's insistence on shutting down dissent:

    The Harper team is notorious for muzzling government scientists, cutting funding to groups insufficiently aligned with its agenda and launching an aggressive campaign of tax audits of environmental charities criticizing government policies.

    The latest example of the crackdown on dissent comes from revelations that the United Church of Canada finds itself under scrutiny from the CRA:

    I heard this from members of Toronto’s Trinity St. Paul’s United Church congregation, including opera singer Mary Lou Fallis, a recipient of the Order of Canada. Fallis says that participants at a recent church event defending public health care were quietly warned not to say anything directly critical of the Harper government due to fears about the audit.

    The United Church, with more than 3,000 congregations across the country, has a long tradition of social justice advocacy and taking stands that would annoy the Harper government — such as supporting First Nations in their opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and opposing Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

    The Harperites are proud of their so called "Christian" roots. But, as always, the only people who count are "Christians like us."

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    The Stench Keeps Getting Stronger

    Geoff Norquay -- Stephen  Harper's former Director of Communications -- believes that, with the RCMP's decision to drop its investigation of Nigel Wright, the Senate scandal is off the public's radar screen. But Michael Harris asks the question we should all be asking ourselves: "Does the RCMP work for us, or the PMO?"

    The stakes are high here for all concerned. The hallmark of the Harper government is the impulse to politicize everything from science to the running of elections. Is justice being added to the list? There is a growing suspicion that the RCMP is now the prime minister’s police force.

    The Mounties' decision is of a piece with other actions they have taken:

    During the 2011 election, RCMP officers assisted in the ejection of non-Harper supporters from a Conservative rally in London, Ontario. The unwanted attendees had posted pictures of themselves on Facebook attending a non-Conservative rally and had been spotted by organizers of the London event. The Mounties later admitted that tossing the students out “was not in accordance” with the RCMP’s mandate. But it was perfectly in keeping with the Harper Police mandate.

    The RCMP also forced down a small plane flying over Ottawa and Gatineau with an anti-Harper sign. The sign was produced by the Public Service Alliance of Canada; 20,000 PSAC members had been slashed from the public payroll by the Harper government. The sign read, ‘Harper Hates Us.’
    Vigilant Mounties on the ground ordered the plane to return to Rockcliffe Airport, where the pilot, Gian Ciambella, was told that his sign could be construed as hate speech. He was also told that the Mounties are responsible for the prime minister’s safety.

    Despite a fanciful story that Ciambella had flown too close to Parliament, Transport Canada later confirmed that the pilot had never entered restricted airspace. The Harper Police had ordered down a Piper-Super-Cub flown by a pilot towing a sign to make his living — an anti-Harper sign.

    The spin is that the RCMP has been tasked with guaranteeing the prime minister's personal security. But it's beginning to look like their job is to ensure Mr. Harper's political security.

    The stench from the Harper bunker keeps getting stronger.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    Making The World Safe For Capital

    Complaints about the Temporary Foreign Workers Program keep piling up. This morning the Vancouver Sun reports:

    B.C. workers ranging from seasoned professionals to teenage fast-food employees are complaining about being dumped in favour of non-residents as Ottawa scrutinizes employers who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

    Vern Doak is a crane operator with 37 years experience who lives in Vernon. In early March he was contacted by his union, who informed him that an American company, Oregon-based O & S Contracting, had work for him building a cogeneration plant near Mackenzie in north-central B.C.

    But Doak was replaced by foreign labour. The program, Carol Goar writes, was never about filling labour shortages. It's time to answer a few straightforward questions:

    If they want an “adult conversation” about work and remuneration, they should be ready to answer some key questions:

  • Why should they be exempt from market discipline? The law of supply and demand provides a clear solution to domestic labour shortages. Raise wages or improve working conditions.

  • Why are they telling Canadians their kids and neighbours have a poor work ethic? Lots of Canadians do dirty, onerous jobs — pick up garbage, go down mines, wash highrise windows.

  • Why are they comparing foreign workers whose immigration status depends on their performance to Canadian workers who have the freedom to walk away from exploitative employers?

  • The program has always been about lowering wages -- and, thereby, increasing corporate profits. Stephen Harper has never accepted the idea that government should balance competing interests. For the prime minister, there has only been one side that matters in any dispute. That's capital. That's his side.

    And his mission is to make the world safe for capital.

    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Worshipping Ignorance And Greed

    Michael Harris writes that Stephen Harper has a future -- in Arizona and several other Republican states:

    In that state, voters must now present proof of citizenship before they can cast their ballots. It’s the same in Kansas. Like a lot of Republican states, Arizona claims the legislation is designed to battle massive voter fraud.

    Except there has been no massive voter fraud, not in Arizona, not in Texas, not in Kansas, nowhere in the United States. The only fraud is the legislation itself, passed by nine Republican states since 2013 looking ahead to congressional elections, and ultimately to the presidential election of 2016.

    It's clear from where and from whom Harper gets his inspiration. Republicans are primarily white and old -- and they are scared to death that their white picket fence America is changing. It's true that the Harperites have reached out to voters of colour. But, if they have one prime directive, it's to shut down people who don't see the world as they do -- even when the evidence is on their opponents' side.

    Adam Shedletzky writes in The Tyee that the Conservatives' real opponent is reason:

    They are quite literally daring opposition parties, the media and civil society to try and win this battle between rhetoric and reason. The likes of current, past and provincial chief electoral officers, the elections commissioner, the former auditor general, the former chair of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, non-partisan civil society organizations and hundreds of respected Canadian and international academics don't scare these guys.

    With reason banished from the political landscape, it's much easier to worship the gods of Ignorance and Greed.

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    Reading The Signs

    Over the weekend, voters -- in Calgary and Kitimat -- made two important decisions. Tim Harper writes:

    In one, Conservatives in Calgary’s Signal Hill riding finally rid themselves of a six-term embarrassment named Rob Anders, handing the nomination to a former provincial cabinet minister, Ron Liepert, in a family feud for the ages.

    In the other, the voters of Kitimat, B.C., who have been promised untold economic riches for their support of the $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project took a look at the gifts offered by energy giant Enbridge and thumbed their nose at the project.

    In both cases, they rejected who and what Stephen Harper had on offer. Together they are part of a pattern. And the pattern confirms that the rebellion is underway. Conservative constitutencies are refusing to take direction from the top down. The Supreme Court has rejected Harper's choice to sit on the court. It has found significant elements of his tough on crime agenda unconstitutional. And his Senate appointments keep breaking bad. Mr. Harper is losing his grip.

    Wise politicians can read the signs and they know when they have overstayed their welcome. One wonders if Stephen Harper can read signs.

    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    A Prematurely Old Man

    Stephen Harper likes to boast that seniors are his most loyal supporters. You'll notice that he has very little to say about the young. That's because he really isn't concerned about them. Take job creation -- something for which the prime minister claims a special talent. Carol Goar writes:

    A government bent on lowering the living standard of Canada’s next generation couldn’t do a much better job than Stephen Harper and his colleagues have done.

    The Prime Minister and his high-octane employment minister, Jason Kenney , have thrown one barrier after the next in front of young job seekers. Canada’s youth unemployment rate (15-24 years of age, both sexes) was 12.2 per cent when the Conservatives took power in 2006. Today, it is 13.6 per cent . But the numbers tell only part of the story. Hundreds of thousands of young people have given up their job search and gone back to school. Others have simply disappeared from the head count.

    It's true that the millennial generation has faced a number of obstacles -- globalization among them. But Harper's policy response has been to sacrifice the young to the trends they face:
    First there was the massive expansion of the once-modest foreign temporary workers program. When the Conservatives took power, it was a stopgap designed to address isolated labour shortages in the oilpatch and allow employers to hire highly specialized workers with skills no Canadian could offer.
    Eight years later, it has become a high-speed causeway into the Canadian job market. Hundreds of thousands of workers — most of them low-skilled — pour into the country every year bypassing young Canadians. In the past 12 months, there have been several high-profile cases of employers turning away Canadian applicants and bringing foreign workers whose immigration status is dependent on their job performance. Whenever one of these embarrassments makes headlines, Kenney vows to crack down. “Our message to employers is clear and unequivocal: Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs,” Kenney affirmed this week after CBC reported that a McDonald’s franchise in Victoria was bringing in workers from the Philippines and cutting the hours of its Canadian staff.
    Second, there was the government’s single-minded crackdown on young offenders. Former public safety minister Vic Toews, with the full backing of his boss, spent $5 billion (on top of the existing $15 billion) on law enforcement. The provinces, who handle most drug offences, were required to ante up an additional $14.8 billion.
    If even half that money had gone to providing young people who stayed in school with marketable skills, they wouldn’t be stuck in minimum-wage retail and fast food jobs. Moreover, they wouldn’t be tarred with an unfair reputation.

    No, Stephen Harper is no friend of the young. He's a prematurely old man.

    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    The Vapid Party

     Conservatives, Andrew Coyne writes, believe in absolutes and reject moral relativism:

    Conservatives at their best disdain the lazy moral relativism that passes for sophistication in some corners of the left. There are such things as right and wrong, they insist, not right for some and wrong for others. Some absolutes remain.

    And, in a democracy, there  are still a few absolutes:

    Ideas previously accepted as axiomatic — that everyone has a right to vote, that those who don’t vote should be encouraged to, that public confidence in elections should not be undermined nor the integrity of their administrators lightly impugned — are now in play. The people who uphold these ideas — experts in election law, present and former elections officials, people with long experience in the legal and political worlds who have earned reputations for sound judgment — now find themselves dismissed as biased, or even bought. Because there are now “sides” to this question.

    The Harperites believe there are only two sides -- their side and everyone else. Everyone else is wrong. That is their only absolute. And, because every calculation is political, everything else is relative:

    The most disturbing expression of this government’s relativism is what one might call its relativization of knowledge. That it could casually dismiss the unanimous expert opposition to the bill, without bothering to offer a rebuttal, shows contempt not just for those involved but for the whole concept of expertise. Experts can sometimes get it wrong, of course, even where they are agreed. But the insinuation here is that they are wrong because they are experts, of which their very unanimity is further proof.

    And so, the Harper Party has become the party of glorified ignorance. It smugly assumes that it is right in all matters and its critics are stupid. In other words, it is an absolutely vapid organization.

    Friday, April 11, 2014

    They're Getting Worried

    This week, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives put out a media release in which they insisted that their taxes were not too low. Linda McQuaig writes:

    This defensive posture — who mentioned murder? — reveals they fear others may be slowly catching on to the massive transfer of wealth to the richest Canadians that’s been going on for the past 14 years due to the systematic cutting of corporate tax rates. 

    After all, if corporate taxes were where they were fourteen years ago,

    we’d be collecting roughly an extra $20 billion a year in taxes — enough to fund national child care, free university tuition, children’s dental care or other programs that have long existed in other advanced countries but that no one here, in these lean and mean times, dares to be caught dreaming about anymore, let alone advocating out loud.

    During those fourteen years, corporations controlled the debate -- and the government:

    For years now, all the oxygen in public commentary about taxes has been sucked up by a rabid anti-tax movement, funded by corporate and wealthy interests. Organizations like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the National Citizens Coalition have been allowed to hold court in the media as if they were simply disinterested outfits representing ordinary people. Their huge anti-tax bullhorn has been amplified by in-house commentators from the business press and then reiterated by Harper government spokespeople, all within the closed echo chamber known as “public debate.”

    But now the public mood seems to be shifting with news that Canadian corporations have been shifting profits to international jurisdictions with lower tax regimes. Consider the case of Cameco:

    which sold uranium at very low prices to its Swiss-based subsidiary, which then sold the uranium to customers at much higher prices, thereby accumulating huge profits — $4.3 billion in six years — in the subsidiary, located in a particularly low-taw tax district in Switzerland.

    Because of this, Cameco may have deprived the Canadian and Saskatchewan governments of some $850 million in taxes, obliging other taxpayers to make up the difference or governments to cut programs.

    Those Tim Horton types -- who the Harper government claims is its base -- don't get that kind of consideration. Revolt is in the air. And the rich are getting nervous.

    Just a few words about Jim Flaherty. I was never a fan. He promoted and implemented the kinds of policies McQuaig excoriates. And his proposed solution to homelessness -- sweeping the homeless off the streets and carting them off to jail -- struck me as a particularly stupid solution to a problem. Nonetheless, he died too soon. The days ahead will be difficult for Christine Elliott and their sons. They deserve our kind thoughts and deep sympathy.

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Time To Shut This Show Down

    It was a remarkable display of arrogance. In yesterday's question period, Thomas Mulcair asked Stephen Harper if he would apologize for Pierre Poilivere's "cowardly and baseless attack" on Marc Mayrand. The prime minister rose, congratulated Philippe Couillard on his electoral victory and then sat down. And the barking seals honked and applauded.

    It's clear that Mr. Harper believes he need not answer any questions -- from the Leader of the Opposition or any of the "self styled experts" who have criticized his so called "Fair" Elections Act.  Andrew Coyne writes:

    Unable to answer its critics’ objections, the government has lately shifted into attacking their character. Mr. Poilievre told a Senate committee Tuesday the CEO, Marc Mayrand, is motivated by nothing but a desire for “more power, a bigger budget and less accountability.” The former Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, other government members hinted, was on the take: hadn’t she accepted payment to sit as co-chair of Elections Canada’s Advisory Board? The board’s other members, among them some of the country’s most widely respected political and legal figures, were dismissed by a Tory senator as “celebrities.” The provincial chief electoral officers, political scientists, law professors and other specialists who have denounced the bill were derided as “self-styled” experts. The only people, it would seem, with the integrity or the expertise to comment on the bill are the people who have drafted it to their own advantage.

    There’s precedent for this, sadly. It is of a piece with the government’s previous attacks on the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, and the current Auditor General, Michael Ferguson. Like the CEO, their criticisms were dismissed as incompetent at best, partisan at worst — though, like the CEO, both were appointed by this government. This is more than a baseless smear on three conscientious public servants. It is an assault on their independence and authority as officers of Parliament.

    Stephen Harper came to Ottawa to wreak vengeance -- first on the Liberal Party, then on civil servants, and finally on government itself. Even Mr. Harper's former director of communications, Geoff Norquay, has suggested that Mr. Harper is getting even for the "In and Out Affair."

    Stephen Harper and his trained seals have been singing the same songs since opening night. Clearly, the time has come to shut this show down.

    Wednesday, April 09, 2014

    Democracy Itself

    Pierre Polivevre has met all criticism of the "Fair" Elections Act with a mantra of talking points and -- in the case of Marc Mayrand and Sheila Fraser -- ad hominem attacks. It's all been rather depressing. But, Murray Dobbin writes, those very tactics present opponents of the government with a real opportunity.

    The bill copies Republican attempts to suppress large segments of the voting population. But those attempts backfired:

    In at least some cases efforts at voter suppression in the U.S. have backfired because the attack on black and Latino communities has galvanized them to get out the vote. The government of Florida reduced the early voting period which prompted black churches "to conduct a two-day 'souls to the polls' marathon. And even as election day turned into a late election night, and with the race in Ohio, and thus for the 270 votes needed to win the presidency, called by 11 p.m., black voters remained in line in Miami-Dade and Broward, two heavily Democrat counties in Florida, where black voters broke turnout records even compared to 2008."

    Efforts to suppress the vote in civic elections in North Carolina and Texas also backfired, resulting in record turn-outs of the people targeted by Republican party controlled board of elections.

    Barack Obama was re-elected because his political machine targeted the very voters the Republicans tried to disenfranchise. Not being allowed to vote gave them a reason to vote. Dobbin is right:

    While many in those communities have found little reason to go to the polls given the slim likelihood of any change in their lives, no one likes to be told what they can and can't do -- especially when it comes to rights. For the people targeted by Harper for disenfranchisement, the 2015 election could be purely about democracy itself.  

    It's not just about the economy anymore. It's not just about the muzzling of scientists. It's not just about the Senate scandal. It's about democracy itself.

    It's time for the opposition to mobilize voters.

    Tuesday, April 08, 2014

    Gone The Way Of History?

    Chantal Hebert writes this morning that the Parti-Quebecois may turn out to be a one generation wonder:

    One of the PQ’s worst fears has long been that it would turn out to be the party of a single generation.
    Over their short time in office, Marois and her team have done much to turn that fear into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Like the Harper Conservatives, the PQ is tone deaf:

    To every message that Quebec voters were tuning out sovereignty, the PQ has essentially responded by shutting its ears to all but those who sang from its hymn book.
    Over the past month, that self-imposed tone-deafness has led to a campaign of false notes, from the second-coming atmosphere that attended the recruitment of media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau as a star candidate, to Marois’s end-of-campaign mea culpa that she spent too much time entertaining the twin notions of sovereignty and a winning referendum.

    That does not mean that Quebec nationalism is dead. It raises its head with each succeeding generation. But the direction it takes is critical. With Maurice Duplessis it was inward looking and afraid of the future. With Jean Lesage's Quiet Revolution it looked out on the world and threw off the shackles of the Catholic Church.

    Rene Levesque -- who began his political career in Lesage's cabinet -- pushed nationalism further to the left and insisted that his party's founding principles be social-democratic.

    Trying to predict the next reincarnation is a fool's errand. For the moment, it appears that Levesque's dream  -- and Pauline Marois' premiership -- have gone the way of history.

    Monday, April 07, 2014

    The Rich Get Richer -- But Nobody Else Does

    That's the conclusion of a report which was recently released by the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives. According to the Canadian Press:

    The country's 86 richest individuals and families — or 0.002 per cent of the total population — are getting exponentially richer and now have accumulated as much wealth as the country's poorest 11.4 million.

    That's more than in 1999, when the richest 86 had as much money as the poorest 10.1 million and enough to buy up everything in New Brunswick and still have about $40 billion left over, according to the report, to be released Thursday.

      It looks like wealth inequality will be an issue in 2015:

    Statistics Canada also showed wealth gravitating to the top. While median net worth rose almost 80 per cent since 1999 to $243,800 per family unit, the top 40 per cent possessed 88.9 per cent of total net worth, leaving the bottom 60 per cent with a mere 11.1 per cent of the pie.

    Eye-opening was the data that showed the poorest 20 per cent of family units had more debts than assets.

    The Harper government will continue to talk about averages. But it's clear that wealth in Canada is increasingly skewed -- and that doesn't bother the Harperites in the least.

    For them, the present state of affairs is simply the way of the world.

    Friday, April 04, 2014

    The Oil Barons Are In Charge

    The conventional wisdom, Linda McQuaig writes, is that ordinary people don't understand the science of climate change:

    It’s we ordinary people, with our self-absorption or resistance to change, who are the prime culprits in the world’s failure to act against climate disaster.

    But that's backwards:

    By focusing on the alleged failure of ordinary people to tackle climate change, we take our eyes off the real culprits behind the drapes — the fossil fuel industry and lickspittle governments, the best example being the one in Ottawa.

    Big Fossil is the wealthiest and most powerful lobby in world history. Any serious attempt to tackle climate change would involve it giving up future profits that are truly staggering.

    That’s because, according to the International Energy Agency and other authoritative sources, at least two-thirds of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground if there’s to be any hope of meeting the widely-agreed target of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. (So far we’ve warmed the planet by just 0.8 degrees and that seems to be working out just fine, right?)

    Since Big Fossil owns the rights to those reserves, leaving them in the ground would mean it would have to walk away from trillions of dollars — about $20 trillion, according to U.S. environmentalist Bill McKibben.

    Governments around the world are going to war to protect those oil reserves. Or, if they're not at war, they're bending over backwards to do the oil bobby's bidding:

    Stephen Harper’s government has undermined international climate negotiations, gutted Canada’s environmental review process, targeted environmental groups with harassing audits and championed unbridled oilsands development.
    Its craven devotion to Big Fossil has made it a perennial recipient of the Fossil of the Year Award, disdainfully issued each year by the Climate Action Network, a global association of more than 850 environmental groups.

    Stephen Harper is his father's son. He works for the oil companies -- not thirty-three million Canadians. The oil barons are in charge.

    We'll be in Ottawa for the next couple of days. I should be back on Monday.

    Thursday, April 03, 2014

    Sheer Stupidity

    The Harperites have always insisted that their principal virtue is competent economic management. But, recently, Christopher Flavelle has been making the point that their record tells a different story:

    When the Conservatives took office in 2006, the median family income was $47,600. In 2011, the latest year for which Statistics Canada has released figures, it was $47,700. (Both figures are in 2011 dollars.)

    In other words, at the end of Stephen Harper’s first six years as prime minister, a household in the middle of the income distribution was pulling in $100 more than it did when he took office. In fact, 2011 median income was $1,600 lower than at its pre-recession peak in 2008. 

    Things have looked a little better for those at the top of the income distribution. In 2006, adjusted market income for the highest-earning 20 per cent of Canadian families was $104,000; by 2011, that had increased 5 per cent, to $109,200.

    The change was less sunny for the bottom quintile of families, who saw their adjusted market income fall 6 per cent over the same period, to $8,300 from $8,800.

    None of this should be surprising. Wedded as they are to the doctrines of Milton Friedman, the Conservatives are repeating the same pattern that drove the American and the world economy off the cliff in 2008.

    And, just as Americans tried to deal with income inequality by going into debt -- particularly mortgage debt -- the same pattern is being repeated here:

    As incomes stagnated, the cost of living rose, pushing households deeper into debt. In 2006, Canadian households had debt equal to 135 per cent of their nominal disposable income, a figure roughly equal to U.S. households and about one-fifth lower than in the U.K.

    By 2012, household debt had jumped to 165 per cent of disposable income in Canada, while it fell to 111 per cent in the U.S. and 152 per cent in the U.K. In fact, of the countries for which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports these data for that year, Canada’s household debt levels were the highest for 2012, the latest for which figures are available.

    In Canada, history -- recent history, not ancient history -- is repeating itself.  The meltdown of 2008 held no lessons for the Harperites. They claim they stand for sound economic management. The truth is  they stand for sheer stupidity.

    Wednesday, April 02, 2014

    Love And Ambition

    Taken separately, both are worthy pursuits. But, when combined with the catalyst of romance, they are an explosive compound. Consider the case of Dimitri Soudas and Eve Adams. Tim Harper writes:

    This week, we present deposed Conservative party executive director Dimitri Soudas and Conservative MP Eve Adams, he a man who has been spinning narratives for a living for years and has made enemies along the way, she a woman who has worn her ambition on her sleeve since arriving here, no matter how clumsily she has pursued that ambition.

    “At the end of the day I chose the woman I love over a job I didn’t want in the first place,’’ Soudas said Tuesday.

    That is at odds with a much more widely reported narrative about a man who was told he was in charge of the nominations in 337 Conservative ridings heading into next year’s election, but was told to stay away from his fiancée’s coveted Oakville-North Burlington riding. He couldn’t — love and all that — and paid the price, the trigger pulled by a man to whom he has pledged unflinching loyalty, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

    This wasn't the first time the good ship Harper was blown off course by a power couple:

    Former Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis, too, stood by her dashing husband, the former Conservative caucus chair Rahim Jaffer, whom she wed the day after the 2008 election — also known as the day after Jaffer somehow lost his previously safe Alberta seat to a New Democrat.

    The tawdry and warp-speed demise of that couple has been well-chronicled. Jaffer faced drug possession and impaired driving charges, then allegations he was using his wife’s office for personal gain. Guergis was tossed from cabinet and caucus, the RCMP was called in, she was declared roadkill by Harper, then was embarrassed in her bid to recapture her fleeting political magic in her riding north of Toronto, now remembered there as the former Miss Huronia who squandered influence in the national capital.

    There are lots of other examples, not necessarily Canadian. One only needs to remember Bill and Hillary. They weathered the storm. Perhaps Dimitri and Eve will do the same. It will be interesting to see what happens to Stephen Harper.

    In the end, love and ambition could play a part in his demise.

    Tuesday, April 01, 2014

    A Sore Winner

    In his most recent column at ipolitics, Michael Harris recounts observations from people who have had to deal with Stephen Harper:

    “You have to appreciate Orwell to get a feel for Harper,” former Liberal interim leader Bob Rae told me. “His government doesn’t like alternate sources of information. It likes to be the sole source of information.”

    NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair met Harper in 2007, and was struck by the “strange” character of the man who has made his party “smug, smart-ass, and full of half-lies.” His utter dismissiveness of opponents was striking to Mulcair: “He never looks at his adversaries. There is no eye contact. It’s robotic. He pivots when he rises and looks at the Speaker. He never looks at his interlocutors. Questions don’t interest him. He is less and less connected with the question. What you get to see of him in the House is his right shoulder.”

    But perhaps the most telling anecdote comes from Bill Phipps, the NDP candidate who Harper ran against in 2002, and who he refused to debate:

    “I went over to congratulate him at his headquarters and he wouldn’t shake my hand. He told me he despised me! I couldn’t figure out how he could despise me, since he didn’t know me.”

    The prime minister is a man who appears to hate every other human being he encounters:

    The list of people Harper hates, not counting the ones on the official enemies list the PMO keeps, is long: judges, journalists, environmentalists, professors, union leaders, scientists, federal bureaucrats, First Nations peoples, Palestinians, all opposition parties, and anyone or anything named Trudeau.
    Remember, this is a PM who won’t talk to the premiers, wouldn’t talk to Chief Theresa Spence, doesn’t hold press conferences and won’t speak at the UN — except through his finger puppet, John Baird.

    One has to wonder if his supposedly brilliant mind is also a diseased mind. He is, after all, a sore winner.