Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Four To Go


As Lawrence Martin sees it, there are four scenarios in Stephen Harper's future. The first is to hold an election at the prescribed date, set in place by a law he passed:

The thinking here is that he needs the time to make up ground on the leading Liberals. Also, he doesn’t want to risk alienating voters by changing the set October date. The timing of the Duffy trial, slated to run from April to June, is troublesome, but it’s better than being seen as forcing an early election to avoid it. The image of being morally bankrupt (see last week’s Paul Calandra fiasco) is already hurting the government. It doesn’t want to fuel that perception.

Then there's the possibility of a spring election:

Mr. Harper brings in a February budget that contains highly controversial measures, then triggers an election on it for the end of March. Many would see this as blatantly opportunistic, coming just ahead of the Duffy trial. But Mr. Harper would rely on the hope that the timing is an issue only for the campaign’s first few days, as we’ve seen in the past. Not to be ignored in these calculations is the chance that the Duffy charges could be settled out of court, or that the trial’s timing is pushed back. No doubt, the Prime Minister’s men will be pulling all strings possible to bring about such outcomes.

A third possibility is that Mr. Harper might call an election this fall:

If Justin Trudeau’s popularity numbers start to slide, Mr. Harper may pounce right away. There is concern in Liberal circles and hope in Conservative precincts that the reason Mr. Trudeau is rushing an autobiography into print (it will be released in three weeks) is that there are embarrassments from his past that he wants to disclose on his own terms, instead of leaving the deed to the Harper attack machine. The Conservatives have a budget update to deliver, and if they’re gaining ground, they may use it – with some big tax-cut promises – as a springboard for a snap election. It would be 31/2 years into a majority mandate. Jean Chr├ętien went to the polls twice on a similar time frame.

And then, of course, he could resign:

The PM reads the tea leaves/billboards and concludes that it’s time. He calls a Conservative leadership convention to be held in February. The option has much to recommend it. He goes out as one of the big winners in party history, having moved the conservative agenda appreciably forward in many policy areas. He avoids the distinct possibility of a humiliation at the hands of a Trudeau.

Mr. Harper always holds his cards close to his vest. So predicting which scenario he might follow is not easy. Reports are that the party is clamouring for him to leave.  But this is a party which grovels before its leader. And despite the fixed election law, we should all know by now that Mr. Harper believes he can break rules with impunity.

So which route will he take? Your guess is as good as mine.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Canadian Rodney Dangerfield


Last week was not a good week for Stephen Harper. Certainly, Paul Calandra's performance in the House did not cover his boss in glory. But, Michael Harris writes, Stephen Harper's performance at the UN -- in front of an almost empty chamber -- gained him no praise or respect:

Harper has got to realize that you can’t score points talking up peace and maternal health. Everyone in the world knows he is itching to get deeper into the war in Iraq to bolster his international tough guy cred.

You can’t win applause at the UN when you have consistently made clear that the will of the majority of member states means nothing to you. The world’s top diplomats are beyond being taken in by blue sweaters, Beatle songs, and phoney speeches. Day in the Life of videos, cat photographs, and patriotic selfies now work only with dear friends and relatives.

Harper has as much respect for the UN as Calandra has for the House. And the international community has returned the disrespect:

The prime minister long ago used up any “benefit of the doubt” account he might once have had on foreign affairs. His analysis a decade ago would have had Canada front and centre in the last Iraq debacle — which anyone who takes a second to think about it knows set the stage for this latest ISIS fiasco.

The old thesis is back. One can bomb one’s way to peace in the Middle East without telling the folks back home what’s going on. You know, like Viet Nam. Only undemocratic war mongers believe that. And for that matter, only war mongers celebrate the beginning of the First World War, the way Harper did.

 Back home, the natives are getting restless:

Maybe it was published rumblings on Bourque Newswatch of Harper’s imminent exit from politics, a story based on anonymous sources in the Conservative Party of Canada from across Canada. While some might want to dismiss Bourque, it was an earlier series of stories on the same site correctly reported the looming corruption scandal at SNC-Lavalin.

Everyone -- at home and on the international stage -- is tired of Stephen Harper. The prime minister is now the Canadian version of Rodney Dangerfield.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

All That Dead Money


In 1974, Arthur Laffer famously drew a curve on the back of a napkin while he had dinner with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal. The curve illustrated Laffer's theory that, as governments cut taxes, their revenues increased. Margaret Thatcher gave the curve a try and it didn't work. Ronald Reagan gave it a shot, too; but he managed to create the biggest deficit  -- up to that time -- in American history. Next in line was Brian Mulroney, whose application of the Laffer Curve caused Canada to hit the "debt wall."

Paul Martin, Mulroney's successor, managed -- with a great deal of pain -- to bring government revenues into surplus and he began to pay down the national debt. But then came Stephen Harper, who insisted that taking the path that Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney had trod before him would bring Canada to the gates of economic Nirvana.

However, Frances Russell writes:

Corporate Canada reached a milestone in 2014. For the first time ever, it now has more cash on hand than Canada’s entire national debt – $630 billion and counting.

In other words, Canada’s big corporations could pay off Canada’s entire national debt in one fell swoop with just the cash sitting in their collective bank accounts. And they wouldn’t even have to touch their other assets.

David Macdonald, the senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, has had the temerity to point out that tax cuts have not increased government revenues or economic productivity:

Back in the 1990s, Corporate Canada said it would use the new money to build more factories, employ more workers and make Canada more productive.

“Governments dutifully cut social programs as taxes decreased,” Macdonald says. “But Corporate Canada passed on making Canada’s economy more productive….(And) Canadians are left with weaker health care, veterans care and other social programs.”

The Harper government's response was to order the Canada Revenue Agency to audit the CCPA because it displayed political bias. But the CCPA has the facts -- and history -- on its side. Wherever governments have followed Arthur Laffer's advice, the result has been a pile of dead money -- not increased government revenues.

And Stephen Harper continues to assert that Laffer's laughable curve is sound economics.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Getting It And Them


Paul Calandra's behaviour this week -- first preening arrogance, then blubbering self pity -- is symptomatic of our sick politics. Andrew Coyne writes:

There is no useful distinction to be made between sincerity and pretence in this tableau. Mr. Calandra’s self-pity was undoubtedly genuine, his manipulativeness admirably unforced. And the House’s empathetic response? We know you have no intention of changing anything. Neither do we. Indeed, your non-answers weren’t a great deal different than the non-answers we are normally given, or the ones we’d give ourselves, in the same position, just more obvious. Our chagrin was as feigned as your contrition.

Mind you, in a way being obvious does make it worse. Though the non-answer is as frequent a feature of Question Period as the non-question, it is ordinarily bounded by the time-hallowed conventions of hypocrisy. The minister who takes the trouble of pretending to answer does Parliament the courtesy of dissembling; by his efforts at concealment, he implicitly acknowledges there is a standard expected of him, even if he declines to meet it. He’s still not answering the question. But by observing the proper rituals, custom is respected, and a certain equilibrium between the parties is maintained. The Mafia operates on much the same lines.

Coyn'e analogy to the mafia goes straight to the point. There is nothing of national interest any more in the House of  Commons. Everything is now about self interest. And, therefore, everyday we see nothing but complete contempt for the fundamental institution of our democracy:

Calandra’s overtly nonsensical answers, by contrast, represented a deliberate flouting of convention. He was not just refusing to answer the question: he was rejecting the whole concept of question-answering. He was not only taking no care to conceal his refusal: he was going out of his way to make it obvious. It was a calculated snub to the Opposition, offered up, what is worse, in full view of the public. No wonder they were so filled with fake indignation.

Coyne rightly points out that the Harperites don't have a monopoly on contempt for Parliament.  But the Conservatives have raised that contempt to a new high. Consider the parade of Harper's parliamentary secretaries -- Pierre Poilievre, Dean del Maestro and now Calandra. What does that collection of blubbering boobs say about the man who appointed them?

It says that the Prime Minister doesn't care a whit about getting things right. He cares only about getting it -- (power) and them. (the opposition)

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Next Wedge


This week, the Conference Board released a report predicting generational warfare between Canadians. Macleans has also jumped on the bandwagon. Linda McQuaig writes:

I turn to Maclean's if I want to know what idea conservatives will be pushing next. So when I saw a recent copy of Maclean's featuring a jarring photo of an old person's wrinkled hand with the middle finger raised, I realized the right is gearing up to make generational conflict the next big thing.

Along with the photo of the raised middle finger was a cover photo of a smiling, white-haired older woman holding a wad of $50 bills, with many more floating around her head, as if money were raining down on her. The cover headline: "OLD. RICH. SPOILED."

Harperian politics is all about driving wedges between people. But it's also about total misrepresentation. McQuaig writes that, while the young face miserable employment prospects as a result of Harper's phobia of deficits, the real gap is still the gap between rich and poor:

So the suggestion that seniors as a group receive too much government support is absurd. Rich seniors, who need it least, are dramatically over-subsidized by government, while poor seniors definitely need more help, but have been all but abandoned by the Harper government.

For that matter, the precarious financial situation of young people is part of the erosion of economic security of working people in general, as the increasingly powerful corporate sector has pushed governments to redesign tax and trade laws in its favour, and to weaken union and workplace protections. This has allowed corporations to scoop up an increasingly large share of national income, at the expense of labour.

This corporate-government attack on workers has been fierce, but older workers, with more seniority, have been better positioned to defend themselves.

In fact, spending on infrastructure would increase everyone's employment prospects. However,

both Maclean's and the conference board's Stewart-Patterson suggest that young people could deal with their plight by launching a tax revolt -- the right's favourite cause that would lead to further cuts to our social safety net. How convenient for the right if it could enlist young people in its anti-tax crusade. 

What the right really fears is that young people will turn on them:

Above all, the right wants to ensure that the anger of disaffected youth doesn't end up directed towards the corporate elite -- as it was during Occupy Wall Street's campaign against the growing wealth and power of the 1%.

The accumulations at the top have continued to grow, and will lead to an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, as economist Thomas Piketty has documented in his widely acclaimed New York Times best-seller Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

The Harper government -- and before that the Harris government in Ontario -- has been very good at driving wedges between Canadians. They believe they have found the next big wedge.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Mere Mortal


Andrew Nikiforuk writes that, according to Gus Van  Harten, the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement -- which Stephen Harper signed without any public debate -- trumps both First Nations and provincial rights which, up to this point,  have been enshrined in Canadian jurisprudence.

Van  Harten has several concerns about the agreement:

It gives China unique Most Favoured Nation status and "obligates Canada, but not China, to open its economy to the other state's investors."

It allows Chinese investors, in general, to purchase assets in Canada that Canadian investors would not be able to purchase in China.

It limits Canada's ability to screen Chinese investments to review under the Investment Canada Act while preserving China's ability to screen Canadian investments at any level of government and without the limitations imposed on screening by the Investment Canada Act.

It allows foreign investors from either country to bring claims against the other, but it does not allow either government to bring claims against foreign investors -- a clear imbalance.

It omits a reservation designed to preserve aboriginal rights, something included in all of Canada's 25 other similar investment and trade agreements.

The treaty has a lifespan of 31 years -- a longevity greater than the great majority of similar treaties signed by Canada.

It gives a special status to foreign investors such as the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) or China Petrochemical Corp. (Sinopec) in the form of substantive legal protections not enjoyed by other private parties, including domestic competitors.

It allows investors such as Chinese state-owned corporations to bring claims against the government in secret. (Van Harten says the arbitration would have to be made public only when an award is issued.)
Furthermore the treaty's definition of investment is extremely broad.

It does not mean just land or buildings but includes resource concession rights, debt instruments (that is, portfolio investment), intellectual property rights and "any other tangible or intangible... property and related property rights acquired or used for business purposes."

The Harper line about these trade agreements is that they create jobs.  But, obviously, their prime purpose is to protect investors -- at the cost of national sovereignty. You can bet that both the First Nations and the provinces will challenge the treaty in the courts -- all the way to the Supreme Court.

Three years ago, Harper insisted that he needed a majority government. He believed that, with a majority, he would be free of all restraints -- from parliamentary convention, from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and from the division of powers set out in the British North America Act.

Once again, the courts will have to remind Mr. Harper that he is a mere mortal.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Fossil Fool


Stephen Harper is at the UN today to attend a meeting of the Security Council. He chose not to attend yesterday's meeting on climate change. As appalling as Harper's decision to skip that meeting was, Tom Walkom writes that, in the end, he probably did the climate a favour. In the past, when Harper has attended such meetings, his strategy was two fold: to obstruct and to delay:

He made an alliance of convenience with Russia, Australia and, at one point, Japan to deep-six any attempt to resurrect Kyoto.

In 2011, Canada became the first country to formally withdraw its ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.
For a while, Harper aligned himself with U.S. President Barack Obama. Canada, the prime minister said, would follow Washington’s lead on the climate-change file.

He gleefully supported Obama’s efforts to replace binding international commitments with voluntary ones.

To that end, Harper solemnly agreed, at the 2009 Copenhagen summit, to reduce Canadian greenhouse gas emissions in lock-step with the Americans.
But the prime minister never delivered. The U.S. under Obama is on track to meet its 2020 targets. Canada, by the federal environment department’s own admission, is not.

Two days ago, the Rockefeller Foundation announced that it was moving its assets out of fossil fuels. Stephen Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Fund, announced that "progress toward complete divestment from fossil fuels is being made slowly but surely." When the family that made its fortune from Standard Oil says that the future is not in fossil fuels, you would think that announcement might give people like Mr. Harper pause.

But he's always been slow on the uptake. That's because he's a fossil fool.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Bunker Buster


The conventional wisdom these days seems to hold that Stephen Harper will never testify at Mike Duffy's trial. But Scott Reid, who used to be Paul Martin's director of communications, knows what kind of damage scandal can do to a prime minister's future. He writes that no one should underestimate the havoc Duffy can wreck on Harper:

Imagine all of this unfolding in public – again. Except this time with added rigour and filled-in details. Not leaked out in spastic bursts through media reports, but explored carefully and transparently according to the rules of court. Imagine Nigel Wright’s testimony – as he’s compelled under oath to describe what conversations he had, with whom, and when.

For Harper, this situation is a blazing bonfire of political risk. The best-case scenarios are nerve-fraying. What might happen in the worst of all worlds is the stuff of horror films. The government may want to believe they’ve put this behind them but as this week’s brief pre-trial appearance reminds us, it’s back. Mike Duffy, the good senator from Just-Make-It-Out-To-Cash, is fighting for his freedom – and he is pointed at this government like a loaded weapon.

Any trial is also bound to explore questions that have so far gone unanswered. What sort of deal was originally cut with Duffy for partisan versus Parliamentary service? Why were the Conservatives willing to quietly vanish his expenses when they were thought to be only $30,000? How does that square with later denunciations of his profligate ways? What lies behind that email reporting the prime minister to be ‘good to go’?

In the end, Reid speculates, Harper may decide to get out of town. If he left by Christmas, his party still might have enough time to rehabilitate itself. After all, Dalton McGuinty's departure allowed Kathleen Wynne to win the next election.

However you look at it, Duffy is a precision guided missile aimed straight at Harper's bunker -- the kind of weapon the Americans call a "bunker buster." In the end, Duffy may not just destroy the bunker. He may destroy the prime minister.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Anxiety Breeds Passivity

Over the weekend, Conservative senators announced that they will re-introduce a bill which previously sparked rebellion in the Red Chamber. The bill would force unions to publicly disclose their spending. It's all part of a movement which began forty years ago. Murray Dobbins writes:

In those pre-corporate globalization days, it was conventional political and social wisdom that the economy served the nation, and by inference, the community and families. The Bank of Canada's dual mandates -- unemployment and inflation -- were still competing but full employment was one of the few shared policy objectives of all three federal parties. It wasn't until the early '80s that inflation took a serious bite out of the accumulated wealth of the West's economic elite. That changed everything and "inflation fighting" became the obsession of the West's central banks.

But more than that it also became the weapon of choice of free-marketeers like former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin who with the co-operation of the Bank of Canada used extreme inflation targets (and subsequent high interest rates) to actually suppress economic growth and deliberately create high levels of unemployment. Few people recall that under Martin's ideological war on inflation throughout most of the 1990s, unemployment hovered around 9 per cent -- higher than it is now.
Martin's war on inflation was actually a war on labour, justified by the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and subsequently, North American Free Trade Agreement. It was all about global competitiveness and that meant driving down the cost and power of labour. Enforced high unemployment was perhaps the most powerful weapon, but dramatic cuts to Employment Insurance eligibility and the elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) were effective as well. The CAP transferred money to the provinces and was targeted specifically at establishing a minimum national standard for welfare. With its cancellation and replacement with a lump sum (for health, education and welfare), the provinces radically reduced social assistance rates and shifted money into the politically popular items like medicare.

And the War on Labour continues to this day. It has reached the point now where the Harper government puts an end to strikes before they begin, based on the bogus argument that the economy is too fragile to permit labour disruptions.

The strategy is to keep workers anxious and living pay cheque to pay cheque:

Over the past few years, a stream of reports have revealed just what that sacrifice has entailed. It has even fostered the use of a new term to describe modern working life: precarity. The numbers are scary. The Canadian Payroll Association's annual poll revealed recently that 51 per cent of Canadian employees would be in real financial trouble if their paycheque were delayed by a week. A week. A quarter of those surveyed said they couldn't pull together even $2,000 to deal with an emergency. Almost half said they were spending all their income -- or more -- on basic family needs. The savings rate is now below 4 per cent -- it was 15 per cent in the 1980s. Personal debt is at record levels, some 160 per cent of annual income and no wonder: the real income gain of the average employee between 1980 and 2005 was a measly $52 -- two dollars a year. The only thing keeping many families afloat is rising house prices. But 17 per cent of mortgage holders will be under water if rates rise just 1.5 per cent.

Keep workers anxious and you keep them passive. And, if the population is passive, you can get away with anything.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wearing It Proudly


This week Stephen Harper heads to the United Nations, an organization which he has consistently snubbed. The goal is to present himself as a world statesman -- not to the UN, but to the folks back home.

The problem, however, is what the problem always is for Harper. He's never willing to put his money where his mouth is. In fact, his singular talent lies in taking money away, even as her praises his own achievements.

If you really want some insight into Harper's expertise in international affairs, Carol Goar suggested last week, look at the number of Canadian international organizations he has shut down by simply cutting off their funding:

Last week, the North-South Institute, one of the country’s oldest foreign policy think-tanks folded. Its board of directors thanked the founders, donors and staff members for their contribution to 38 years of non-partisan research to strengthen Canada’s role in to the world. Then they quietly turned out the lights.

The year before that Rights and Democracy died. It was an arm’s-length federal agency set up by former prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1988 to encourage democracy and monitor human rights around the world.

In 2010, the government cut off funding to Match International, an organization that supported women’s rights in the developing world. With a blitz of fundraising and partners in 71 countries, it survived.
Canadian Council on International Co-operation (CCIC), a coalition of 100 foreign aid groups striving to end global poverty, did not fare as well. When its grant was slashed, it had to lay off most of its staff. The organization still exists, but it has lost its voice.
Ottawa also defunded a couple of church-based development groups — Kairos, which represents 11 denominations, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace— but their members kept them afloat.

It's been clear for some time now that -- not withstanding his claims to the contrary -- Stephen Harper is no economic genius. And, when it comes to foreign affairs, Harper is an innocent abroad. The UN knows that. Still, Harper wears his ignorance proudly.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Better Off?


The latest Conservative campaign ad proclaims that we are all "better off under Harper." But the latest EKOS poll suggests that Canadians don't feel that way at all. Rather, they believe we have entered what Frank Graves calls the "Age of Stagnation:"

So in a very real sense, progress — the promise of a better life, security and the comforts of middle class membership — has stopped. Moreover, the evidence is that the momentum of this new world of “progress lost” is in the wrong direction. The trajectories all point downward. Their gloomy outlook on the present fades to black when citizens ponder the future; only around ten per cent of us believe the next generation will experience the progress achieved by the previous generations.

The number of people defining themselves as middle class has fallen precipitously in both Canada and the United States. Here at home, the portion of the population which has fallen behind their parents’ incomes at the same period in life rises from 15 per cent to 34 per cent to 44 per cent as we move from seniors to boomers to Generation X. The long fall of the middle class is already happening; around 20 per cent have dropped out of self-defined middle class status altogether.

Lots of pundits haven't cottoned on yet:

The New York Times even says Canada’s middle class is the richest in the world (not true, but compared to what Frank Bruni calls ‘America the Shrunken’, we’re around par). The right wing commentariat gleefully seizes upon half-facts and shaky research to suggest that (a) this is a non-issue that only worries liberal policy wonks, and (b) things are going swimmingly well and anyone who says otherwise is prone to panic.

So Harper has right wing opinion makers on his side. Perhaps that's why he confidently suggests he is leading Canadians into a brighter future:

But to the public at large, this isn’t really up for debate. Canada’s ‘world-leading’ middle class is convinced it is falling behind. The public overwhelming rejects the notion that this is a crisis manufactured by the liberal intellectual elite. Furthermore, 73 per cent of Canadians reject the notion that income inequality is not an important issue. Even in the more conservative, anti-establishment constituencies, a clear majority recognizes the importance of this issue.

Never has a prime minister and his government been so disconnected to Canada's citizens. But you knew that. Didn't you?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Magic Steve


Between now and the next election, Stephen Harper will try hard to be a magician. He'll try to make his record disappear. Michael Harris writes:

That is a conversation Harper isn’t anxious to have, for any one of a number of reasons. The mismanagement and bottomless dishonesty on display during the F-35 acquisition process, for instance.

Then there’s the PM’s performance during the Wright/Duffy Affair. You remember how he treated the the truth on that occasion as a kind of multiple choice exercise in storytelling. Should the PM be subpoenaed to Mike Duffy’s criminal trial, he won’t have recourse to the ‘creative option’ — not without consequences.

Or recall the belly-flop of judgment that resulted in the appointments of Bruce Carson, Arthur Porter and several other weak links to powerful and sensitive positions.

There are lots of other things Harper doesn't want to talk about:

Certainly Harper’s not keen to talk about his calamitous record with the Senate — promising not to appoint any senators and then stacking the place with every idle Tory hack with a heartbeat. And then came the unconstitutional legislation to reform the Red Chamber, followed by the drive-by smear of Chief Justice McLachlin.

Or maybe Steve doesn’t want to talk about why he has spied on Canadians since coming to office in 2006, sticking the long nose of government deeper and deeper into its citizens’ privacy. In a police state, you might put union rallies, or a vigil for murdered native women, under surveillance — as they have been in Harper’s Canada. In a petro-state you might spy on a public discussion about the oilsands — but in a democracy? In Canada?

So, like a magician, he'll try to create distractions and change the subject:

Stephen Harper would rather talk about beheadings than the dead room he has made of public discourse in Canada — and his dismal record after eight years in power.

 He'll certainly talk about the other guys:

Brian Mulroney called Tom Mulcair the best leader of the Opposition since Diefenbaker. Harper says he’s not fit to run the country because … well, because he doesn’t excel in the corporate ass-kissing department. No lip-liner for Tom.

And Justin? Justin is a callow little defiler of young brides and his father was a slut — or at least that was the gist of Ezra Levant’s recent unhinged rant on the person the polls keep saying will be Canada’s next prime minister. As Scott Feschuk cleverly put it on Twitter, this was Ezra’s “magnus Trudeau-pus … the masterpiece Ezra has been working toward all his life: Trudeau steals a kiss.”

And he'll rely on other folks like Ezra Levant to do his talking for him. When it's all said and done, maybe Ezra will make Magic Steve go away.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Harper's War On The CCPA


The Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives is in Mr. Harper's sites. Linda McQuaig writes:

Of course, we’re all familiar now with how Stephen Harper suppresses information that contradicts his agenda: blocking the collection of statistics, muzzling government scientists, auditing charities that critique his policies. And yet, somehow the news that the Harper government is conducting a harassing audit on the CCPA manages to break fresh ground.

This time there’s no recourse to the pretence that the audit was random. A Canada Revenue Agency document, obtained through Access to Information, makes it clear that the organization is being audited because its research and educational materials were considered “biased” and “one-sided.”

Does that mean that the Fraser Institute operates without bias? In fact, Fraser is only one of several right wing think tanks in Canada:

These right-wing policy shops have played a huge role in implanting an ideology that treats the rich as ‘wealth creators’ who must be freed from government regulation — and whose goodwill must be constantly cultivated, lest they be discouraged from investing. This has boiled down to a simple message — government bad, private sector good — that has become the mantra of our times, the guiding force in shaping public policy.

CCPA takes a different point of view -- and a much more vigorous approach to its research:

It would be a stretch for the Fraser Institute, for example, to make a claim of academic rigour. Every year, the institute receives widespread media coverage for its “Tax Freedom Day” — designed to make Canadians feel overburdened by taxes — but the research behind this PR gimmick is shoddy, based on wild exaggerations, flawed math and chicanery, according to an analysis done by tax expert Neil Brooks.

For instance, by failing to factor out inflation and income growth, the Fraser researchers concluded that over the previous four decades taxes on Canadians had risen by a staggering 1,550 per cent … when, in fact, they had risen by about 40 per cent, Brooks showed.

And, so, the Harperites have declared war on the CCPA. Imagine what would happen if voters concluded that their government had lied to them shamelessly and consistently.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mistaking Malevolence For Moral Clarity


Stephen Harper is a nasty piece of work. Just how nasty was made clear recently when he refused to allow wounded Palestinian children into Canada for medical treatment. Andrew Mitrovici writes:

What plausible excuse could Harper have for standing on the sidelines when so many of Canada’s allies — including Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Turkey and Egypt — already have provided safe havens or medical aid to scores of wounded children?

Harper’s PR flacks have claimed that it would be too risky to move those kids from whatever is left of their shattered homes in Gaza for treatment in Canada. That’s crap. We know it — everybody knows it, including the geniuses in the PMO who came up with that line of spin.

So much of what Harper says is crap. But this kind of crap reveals the man at his most craven. And it stands in stark contrast to his pledge to offer medical assistance to Ukrainians who need it. In a recent speech to the Canada-Ukraine Federation, Harper said:

 “Let me say at this point just how pleased I am to be able to support the Canada-Ukraine Foundation and the worthy cause that’s brought us all here together tonight and to salute the medical personnel who will be going to the aid of Ukrainians bloodied in the Euromaidan protest and affected by the ongoing conflict. Congratulations to everyone supporting this great cause,” Harper said. “It is, my friends, sadly too late to help the heavenly hundred who were slain simply for the crime of seeking a better country … We can help those who survived and lived to continue the struggle.”

This is the man who some insist is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize? Obviously, they have mistaken malevolence for "moral clarity."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

He Could Care Less


If yesterday served as any indication, Stephen Harper isn't going anywhere. I confess I've had my doubts he'd make it to the next election. But, as Chantal Hebert writes, it's getting harder and harder for him to exit gracefully:

As of now the odds of an orderly pre-election transition to a different Conservative leader will lengthen dramatically with every passing week.

In theory Harper could still decide to call it quits before the next campaign. Some of his predecessors left much later in the pre-writ period.

In his day Brian Mulroney did not grace successor Kim Campbell with more than a few months to make her mark before she had to face voters. Mulroney’s mandate was in its fifth year when he resigned.

Pierre Trudeau also allowed the fourth anniversary of his return to power to pass — albeit by only a few days — before he took his now famous walk in the snow in 1984.

Yesterday, in his speech to the converted, Harper focused on his record -- insisting that the country is better off because he's been prime minister:

Harper’s single-minded focus on the government’s record — including a lengthy but essentially par-for-the-course segment on foreign affairs — suggests that there has been a belated shift in the thinking of Conservative strategists.

Having spent months on attack mode only to enter a pre-election year behind the Liberal party, it seems they have come to the conclusion that they need to reintroduce Harper to voters more than they need to continue to try to pre-emptively destroy Trudeau’s public persona.

Obviously, he hasn't been reading sources of contrarian opinion or the polls:

In a recent Abacus poll Harper scored more poorly than his main rivals in virtually every leadership category, with his poorest marks earned for attitude.

As he told the last Conservative convention in Calgary -- the one that shut out the media -- he could "care less" what his opponents think. When the election comes, it will be interesting to see how much  his "care less" policy is worth.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hubris Is Alive And Well

Some economists saw the Great Recession coming. Certainly Robert Reich did. But, as Paul Krugman writes in this morning's New York Times, an army of economists missed the boat. They did so for a number of reasons:

Clearly, economics as a discipline went badly astray in the years — actually decades — leading up to the crisis. But the failings of economics were greatly aggravated by the sins of economists, who far too often let partisanship or personal self-aggrandizement trump their professionalism. Last but not least, economic policy makers systematically chose to hear only what they wanted to hear. And it is this multilevel failure — not the inadequacy of economics alone — that accounts for the terrible performance of Western economies since 2008.

During those decades, economists focused on idealized models. And,

starting in the 1980s it became harder and harder to publish anything questioning these idealized models in major journals. Economists trying to take account of imperfect reality faced what Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff, hardly a radical figure (and someone I’ve sparred with) once called “new neoclassical repression.” And it should go without saying that assuming away irrationality and market failure meant assuming away the very possibility of the kind of catastrophe that overtook the developed world six years ago.

Some economists  -- like Joseph Stiglitiz -- got the post crisis right. However,

all too many influential economists did — refusing to acknowledge error, letting naked partisanship trump analysis, or both. “Hey, I claimed that another depression wasn’t possible, but I wasn’t wrong, it’s all because businesses are reacting to the future failure of Obamacare.”

There was a great deal of historical evidence to support the notion that counter-cyclical spending was necessary to reboot ravaged economies:

but European leaders and U.S. Republicans decided to believe the handful of economists asserting the opposite. Neither theory nor history justifies panic over current levels of government debt, but politicians decided to panic anyway, citing unvetted (and, it turned out, flawed) research as justification.

And, so, those who got it wrong led the way. It was not the first time this happened. It happens whenever hubris is given full sway.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Daffy's In Charge


Last week was a banner week for the Harper government. It announced the ratification of FIPPA. And it also announced a reduction in EI premiums -- not for employees, but for employers. David MacDonald writes:

The idea is that small businesses with a payroll of under about $550,000 a year will have a portion of what they paid in EI refunded to them. Only the employers get some of their money back, not any of the workers. Also, this is at a time when EI is so restricted that six out of 10 unemployed Canadians can't even get it.

This is going to cost half a billion dollars a year, but will only amount to a maximum of $2,200 per business. Even with this miniscule amount, Minister Oliver is flogging this as a job-creation strategy. Well if $2,200 is going to incentivize behaviour that can go either way and you don't even have to hire anyone -- you can get it by doing nothing.

It might help a bit if that money went into the hands of employees -- who would spend it -- and create some demand in the economy. But it won't do much for business. And, in fact, it will restrain job creation:

Say you're a business just over the $550,000 payroll cap. Why not just fire your summer student or cut back her hours to get yourself under the cap? Your reward for firing a student…a tax break! What if you pay minimum wage and don't want to invest in training? Your reward for sitting back and doing nothing…a tax break! Now what if you want to expand your business but you're close to the payroll cap? You may well think twice before hiring that person and losing your tax break.

What will the EI cut do? Simply add to the pile of dead money sitting atop the Canadian economy. Proof yet again that the Harperites are stuck in an ideological trough -- and that Daffy Duck is in charge of the store.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The March Of Folly Continues


On Friday, the Harper government announced that it had ratified the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China. It has taken awhile. Apparently, several Conservatives were wary of the agreement. But, with the prime minister heading to China, they decided (or were told to) sign on to one for the Gipper.

Jeremy Nuttall writes in today's Tyee that Gus Van Harten  -- who specializes in foreign treaties at Osgoode Hall -- believes that Canada will  lose big with this agreement:

Van Harten said FIPA is practically a one-way deal in favour of China, and Ottawa needs to acknowledge the non-reciprocal aspects of the deal and explain why they would ratify it two years after it was first signed.

"It seems to me the federal government has conceded to China under pressure to give them this treaty," said Van Harten. "My guess is this is the price China has demanded to open its purse strings for investing in the resource sector in Canada."

He said China had ratified the deal right away and seemed to be getting antsy Canada had taken so long, even speculating the recent detentions of two Canadian coffee-shop owners in the country on accusations of spying may have been part of Beijing's pressure.

The government claims that Canadian and Chinese investors will operate under the same rules:

But Van Harten doesn't buy that line.

"One aspect of the treaty is it has an exclusion of all existing discriminatory measures in Canada or China," he said. "China, it's safe to say, has far more existing discriminatory measures than Canada does."

Local government rules or different tax rates will now be locked in under the agreement, giving Chinese officials a tool to punish any Canadian investors it wishes to, he said.

Nuttall prefaces his report with the story of Mark Kitto a British publish, who -- until recently -- operated in China:

In 2005 his business was taken from him by a partner who was Chinese, at the time a legal necessity for foreigners, in cahoots with the Chinese government in what has become one of the most fabled stories of expat anguish in China and the subject of Kitto's upcoming book That's China.

During his day in court during the dispute, Kitto managed to prove the conspiracy against him by producing a letter from the public relations arm of the communist party to his business partner instructing him to fabricate evidence for the case.

"In the letter that went from the state council of information office to the person they were asking to fabricate evidence included the line 'We need to teach this foreigner a lesson,'" Kitto said on the phone from England, where he now lives.

The judge sided with Kitto, but after taking a phone call came back and reversed the decision. 

Apparently, Mr. Harper believes Canadians will not suffer the same fate. The March of Folly continues.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Stunning Inequality


The Broadbent Institute has just released a study on the distribution of wealth in Canada. Rick Smith, the institute's director, writes:

While the growing income share of the richest 1 per cent often dominates the headlines, looking at the distribution of wealth as opposed to income provides a broader view of the economic resources available to an individual or family.

A family’s wealth can be thought of as the amount of money that would be left over if they sold all their assets and paid off all their debts. Assets might include such things as houses, vehicles, stocks, bonds and savings. Debts might include mortgages, student loans or consumer debt.

For example, the wealthiest 10 per cent of Canadians accounted for almost half (47.9 per cent) of all wealth in 2012, while the poorest 10 per cent held more debts than assets.

The share of wealth at the bottom is particularly disconcerting: 30 per cent of Canadians together owned less than 1 per cent of all wealth; and the bottom half of Canadians controlled less than 6 per cent of wealth combined.

It’s important to put the distribution into context. The median wealth of the richest 10 per cent — meaning half in this group own more, half own less — was more than $2 million in 2012. In contrast, the median wealth of the poorest 10 per cent was a debt of $5,100.

Moreover, when you exclude pensions, the richest 10 per cent of Canadians own an even larger share of financial assets, which include things such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, investment funds, income trusts and tax-free savings accounts. The richest 10 per cent controlled almost $6 of every $10 (59.6 per cent) of such assets in 2012, more than the bottom 90 per cent combined.

Meanwhile, the bottom half of the population combined held less than 6 per cent of financial assets and the bottom 70 per cent of the population only 16 per cent — a clear shot across the bow of the various rosy reports trumpeting post-recession financial wealth recovery for Canadians.

When the prime minister bragged that we wouldn't recognize the country after he was through with it, he wasn't kidding. He may want to be remembered as the man who was in office when one of John Franklin's ships was discovered.

But his real legacy will be -- and is -- stunning inequality.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Welcome To The Harperian Universe


The Harper government plans to enter the 2015 election with a hefty surplus. But, Linda McQuaig writes, don't expect that money to be spent on health care:

Medicare, with its principles of equality and accessibility regardless of income, represents values that are the very antithesis of the marketplace but that apparently resonate with Canadians. As the Romanow commission on health care noted: “Canadians view medicare as a moral enterpise, not a business venture.”

 But this clearly puts medicare at odds with Harper’s fierce anti-tax, pro-market views — views that led him to serve for four years as president of the National Citizens Coalition, the far-right advocacy group started in the 1960s by a militant opponent of public health insurance. In a 1997 speech to a right-wing U.S. organization, Harper showed his contempt for Canadian social programs — and the pride Canadians take in them — when he dismissed Canada as “a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it.”

In the Harperian universe it's every man and woman for himself. And, on the health care file, the prime minister has rapidly been moving towards that universe:

Waiting until he’d secured his majority, he announced plans in December 2011 that would effectively cut in half the rate of growth of federal health transfers to the provinces, starting in 2017 — amounting to an estimated cut of $36 billion over ten years.

The cuts — along the lines long advocated by the right — will dramatically shrink public funding for health care over time, forcing Canadians to pay more of their health care costs privately, on the grounds that the public system is unaffordable.

But there will be money for income splitting -- which will dispose of half the surplus -- and the money will go disproportionally to the wealthy. Then, because we appear to be going to war, military spending will go up.

Welcome to the Harperian Universe.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More Poor Choices?


Yesterday, the Harper Party released its latest campaign ad. It was Stephen Harper's steady hand at the tiller, the ad claimed, that has guided Canada through the economic storms of the decade. But Scott Clark and Peter Devries beg to differ. The economy, they write, is dead in the water:

The dismal job creation numbers over the past 12 months merely show a long-term trend becoming entrenched. The economy has been in a growth and employment slump since 2010, with economic growth and employment growth falling year after year. The government’s response to this stagnation has been to repeat the same, threadbare talking point: that a million jobs have been created since 2008.

The Harper government has been in denial about Canada’s poor economic and job performance for some time. The overall unemployment rate remains mired at seven per cent and the unemployment rate for young Canadians has been stuck between 13 and 14 per cent. Two key numbers — the labour force participation rate (the number of people employed as a percentage of the population) and the employment rate (the ratio of working people age 15 and older to the population) — are both below their 2001 and 2008 levels.

Too many Canadians have stopped looking for work altogether. Most of the jobs created over the past year have been part-time; in fact, Canada seems to be degenerating into a part-time employment economy with stagnant labour income. The government seems oblivious. Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s only jobs strategy is to hope for a recovery in the United States. He believes, apparently, that there’s nothing the federal government can do to strengthen domestic demand and job creation except stick to the plan to eliminate the deficit by 2015-16.

Oliver’s predecessor, the late Jim Flaherty, spent years sniping at the U.S. and other G7 countries for failing to take action to eliminate their deficits quickly. Washington ignored him, taking the view that a rapid reduction of the temporary stimulus from the 2008 recession would undermine the recovery.

And guess who turned out to be right? The United States -- not without obstruction from Harper's cousins, the Republicans -- made better choices. It is, after all, a matter of choices:

The Harper government is committed to lower taxes, lower spending, balanced budgets and smaller government. But why should Canadians accept these as the only options? There’s nothing inevitable in this climate about years of sluggish growth. It’s a choice — a political choice.

And if their latest ad is any indication, the Harperites are betting that Canadians will make the same choices in 2015.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Smell Of Desperation


If you want to really know what's driving the Harperites these days, Devon Black writes, consider the tactics they are using:

Twice in the last three months, Conservatives have sent individuals into Liberal events in the hopes of deliberately instigating missteps — while secretly recording the whole thing for release later.

The latest example concerns retired general Andrew Leslie, who criticized Israel's tactics in Gaza, but who also recognized Israel's right to defend itself:

So, every nation has the right to defend itself. Every nation has the right to defend its people. So keep that as a thought bubble.

Then there’s this little Chinese gentleman about 2,700 years ago who said, in Cantonese: ‘Never do what your enemy wants you to do.’ So, just keep that as a thought bubble . His name was Sun Tzu.
So what does Hamas – who’s actually guided and directed by [whos has] funding and the leadership provided mainly by Iran and Syria – what did they want Israel to do? They want Israel to, essentially, fall into the trap of igniting world opinion against them, by killing civilians.

Of course, the Conservatives exploded. Joe Oliver called Leslie's response “deeply disturbing” accusing Leslie of “(placing) blame on Israel for defending itself.” And immediately a fundraising letter went out to the party faithful.

These tactics are much like those used by Republicans in 2009:

Memories are short in politics, but for anyone who was watching U.S. politics in 2009, these tactics probably seem familiar. That was the year ACORN, a collection of organizations best known for running voter-registration drives in low-income communities, was put out of commission. Two conservative activists — posing as a sex worker and her boyfriend — tried to get ACORN staff to make damaging statements while the conversations were recorded on hidden cameras.

The selectively-edited footage, and the furor it raised in the media, forced ACORN to shut down — even though several subsequent investigations cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing.

The Conservatives are running scared. And that, writes Black, should worry all Canadians:

The first sting saw Liberal MP John McKay criticizing Justin Trudeau on tape. In the second, retired general (and Trudeau advisor) Andrew Leslie was caught holding a nuanced position on the conflict in Gaza. Neither incident seems to have held the public’s interest.

But unlike the ACORN scandal, which was triggered by activists working on their own, these two Canadian incidents appear to have been carried out by Conservative staffers: one by a former intern to Health Minister Rona Ambrose, and the other by a parliamentary assistant to MP Rob Anders.

Rather than developing a strong platform, based on reasoned principles, the Conservatives have instead focused their energies on tearing down enemies — which they apparently have in abundance. Sometimes the targets are obvious — though you have to wonder if we really need any more anti-Trudeau attack ads at this point. The Conservative base must be so well-conditioned by now that just playing that clip of Trudeau stripping probably elicits a Pavlovian response.

But when Harper lashed out at Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin earlier this year, it seemed less like calculation and more like a tantrum. Harper could have taken his government’s repeated losses before the Supreme Court with a pinch of humility and learned from the experience, the way adults do. Instead, he took cheap shots at one of our nation’s most respected institutions.

They have run out of ideas and are running on bile. You can smell their desperation.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Things Could Get Very Nasty


Canada's job creation numbers have been dismal. Carol Goar writes:

The numbers are striking. Since last autumn, Canada has created 50,000 part-time jobs but lost 20,000 full-time positions.
What was once a whisper — are we becoming a nation of part-timers? — has swollen into a worried chorus.

A report by Randall Bartlett and Derek Burleton for the Toronto Dominion Bank acknowledges the growth in part time work. But both economists conclude that, as the American economy picks up, Canadians will return to full time work. Goar, however, questions their research:

  • The authors don’t examine the possibility that employers have permanently scaled back their payrolls to reduce their exposure to risks beyond their control.

  • They don’t take into account the structural changes that have reshaped the Canadian workforce: globalization, outsourcing, the hollowing out of the manufacturing sector, the sharp increase in income inequality, the westward shift in the country’s economic fulcrum and the influx of hundreds of thousands of foreign workers.

  • And they summarily dismiss the idea that this might be the new normal. But to millennials, it is a real fear. This is all they’ve known since they entered the labour force. They suspect it is all they ever will know.

  • The so called "recovery" doesn't feel like one:

    Workers are skeptical. This doesn’t feel like a normal recovery. Five years after it began, employers are still making do with part-timers, temporary workers and contract employees. Skilled workers who lost their livelihood during the recession are now doing low-wage service jobs. College and university graduates can’t get an economic foothold. A new business model seems to have taken hold.

    The report is long on hope -- perhaps because the authors recognize that, if the trend in part time employment continues, we have the tinder that could start a revolution. And, then, things could get very nasty.

    Sunday, September 07, 2014

    Dipper Drift?


    In yesterday's Toronto Star, Chantal Hebert suggested that, if recent events in Ontario are an indication of the party's future, the NDP may be drifting back to third party status. In the recent provincial election, traditional Dippers voted Liberal to stop Tim Hudak:

    In the provincial campaign, the platform put forward by Tory leader Tim Hudak went a long way to convince many progressive voters to stick with the Liberals rather than risk facilitating a Conservative victory by giving their vote to the third-place NDP.

    And in the race for mayor of Toronto, Olivia Chow has slipped to third place:

    It should come as no surprise that a Forum Research poll that suggested Mayor Rob Ford (Open Rob Ford’s policard) was still in the running for re-election — with Olivia Chow running third — was followed by a Nanos poll that showed that John Tory had consolidated his lead on his main rivals.
    For scores of Toronto voters, ousting Ford from office this fall comes before loyalty to a political brand.

    Could the same thing happen into the 2015 federal election?

    To many, the first-place Liberals come across as a safer haven than the third-place NDP, regardless of the comparative skills of their leaders or even their respective policies.

    With every passing month, NDP hopes that a barrage of Conservative attack ads will chip away at Trudeau’s credibility are fading. After more than a year, they have yet to make a dent in the Liberal lead in voting intentions

    The New Democrats’ own efforts at portraying the Liberals as Conservatives in disguise are also falling short.

    It's quite possible that Justin could stumble. And he is still policy lite. But, faced with the devil they know, many Dippers might hold their noses and vote Liberal.

    Saturday, September 06, 2014

    How Many McJobs Go With That?


    When Burger King gobbled up Tim  Hortons two weeks ago, Joe Oliver crowed about Canada's low corporate tax rates. But, Linda McQuaig writes, Oliver was telling whoppers, not selling them:

    One might be left with the impression that the corporate creator of the Whopper plans to invest a whopping $11 billion in Canada. Now there’s a whopper for you — but it’s not inside a bun.

    The truth is that the Burger King-Tim Hortons deal is just a paper transaction that, apart from enriching some stockholders, likely will provide zero benefit for Canada, in terms of job creation or additional revenue for the public purse.

    Certainly, south of the border, Americans were unimpressed:

    Burger King is clearly trying to take advantage of a popular U.S. tax scheme known as “tax inversion,” whereby a corporation takes over a foreign company to get around U.S. tax laws requiring corporations to pay tax on their worldwide incomes. Canada doesn’t have such a requirement, making it easier for companies headquartered here to avoid taxes through “transfer pricing” — that is, shifting profits to offshore tax havens.

    The Obama administration has been trying hard to clamp down on this “unpatriotic” tax inversion scheme, whereby some of America’s wealthiest corporations have managed to dodge billions of dollars in taxes.

    The American president understands that this is all about a race to the bottom. And he would appreciate a little help from Canada:

    The more we cut our tax rates, the more other countries feel obliged to cut theirs. Round and round it goes, with less and less revenue for vital public programs everywhere. It’s a race to the bottom only corporations can win.

    Instead, we should be supporting the Obama administration in its efforts to stop international corporate tax dodging. The White House is now locked in a fierce battle with powerful corporations over tax inversion schemes and also over the U.S. corporate tax rate, which — at 35 per cent — is one of the highest in the world. Corporations want it slashed.

    But the Harperites have always been bottom feeders. No one appears to have asked, "How many McJobs go with that? And will they be filled with Temporary Foreign Workers?

    Friday, September 05, 2014

    Et Tu, Brian?


    When Brian Mulroney appeared before a parliamentary committee to explain his connections to Karl Heinz Schreiber, Stephen Harper let it be known that Mulroney was persona non grata. Yesterday, Mulroney got his revenge. Interviewed for CTV's Power Play, he took Harper apart.

    On the prime minister's public spat with Beverley McLachlin, he said:

    You don't get into a slagging contest with the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, even if you thought that he or she was wrong. You don't do that.

    On  Harper's attitude toward the United Nations:

    When Canada, for the first time in our history, loses a vote at the United Nations to become a member of the Security Council ... to Portugal, which was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time, you should look in the mirror and say: 'Houston, I think we have a problem.

    On Harper's foreign policy:

    [It]  has to be enveloped in a broader and more generous sweep that takes in Canadian traditions and Canadian history in a much more viable way. We're in the big leagues ... so we have to conduct ourselves in that way. We can't be out-riders.

    On Harper's relationship with he United States:

    He also chastised Harper for his relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama, suggesting the prime minister doesn't have the kind of close ties that allow him to call the Oval Office and ask for bilateral backup on a number of issues.

    "If you can't do that, you don't have much clout internationally. The relationship with the United States is something the prime minister alone has to nurture the same way he would tend to the most delicate flowers in a garden. It's that important."

    The interview appeared on the same day that Paul Martin and Joe Clark signed onto an initiative to improve the relationship between First Nations and the federal government.

    With three former prime ministers -- two of them Conservatives -- standing in public opposition to him, Mr. Harper must be experiencing the same sinking feeling Caesar felt when he discovered all those senators gathering around him and Brutus wielding that dagger.

    Thursday, September 04, 2014

    All Hat And No Cattle


    Stephen Harper is in Wales today, bellowing at the Russian bear. NATO will discuss the necessity of increasing defence spending to meet the challenge from Russia -- something which Stephen Harper has flatly rejected. He has an election to win and tax cuts to deliver. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

    Mr. Harper has cut defence spending hard in the past two years, attempting to balance his budget so that he can offer Canadians tax cuts and targeted spending in next year’s pre-election budget. He’s not going to take on any potential spending commitments, however vague, that might be used against him politically.

    By now, the international community knows who Mr. Harper is:

    Traditional allies are getting accustomed to Canada being an outlier under Mr. Harper’s leadership. But they are especially frustrated at the gap between the Prime Minister’s rhetoric about countering Russian aggression and Mideast terrorism while his government slashes military spending.

    He came to power promising to end a "decade of darkness" for Canada's military. What he didn't say was that he would spend money in praise of Canada's past battles -- like the War of 1812:

    To put matters aphoristically, Mr. Harper’s government likes the idea of the military more than it likes the military itself.

    The idea of the military means history, monuments, medals, ceremonies, parades and repeated rhetorical praise. The military itself means buying equipment, deploying it, dealing with veterans and wrestling with a budget that always seems to go up unless the political masters get tough.

    NATO is discovering what Canada's veterans and First Nations have known for a long time. Mr. Harper takes perverse pleasure in serving up warm rhetoric. But the Cowboy from Etobicoke is all hat and no cattle.