Saturday, October 25, 2014

Down For A Bit


I haven't blogged much over the last few days. We are currently involved in moving my ninety-one year old mother into an assisted living facility in Montreal. For today, all I wish to say is that, while cancer is a viscous disease, and diabetes is a horrific disease, the most tragic disease is the one that results in the body outliving the mind.

I will be back in -- hopefully --  at a not too distant date. There is plenty to write about.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Man Behind The Curtain


Andrew Coyne is a philosophical and an economic conservative. So one would expect that he would support the present government. But he saw through the facade long ago. Despite his conservative bias, he has very little good to say about the Harper government:

If the nastiness of its politics is the dominant impression of this government, it is in part for lack of anything else to identify it. It seems so pointless, all this poisonous effort for so little actual accomplishment, until you realize that is the point: The partisanship is in place of the policy, not in pursuit of it. The end is only power, and power is, with few exceptions, the only thing of consequence this government has achieved.

Coyne sees the government's critics as inconsequential -- a judgement that will either prove valid or invalid. Nonetheless, Coyne writes:

It is the belief in this government’s consequentiality that, oddly, unites its critics and its friends. Much of that, I think, is bound up in the prime minister’s persona. Foes see a ruthless revolutionary; fans, a sober-sided, get ’er done chief executive, capable of making, as a Globe story put it recently, the “tough decisions.” He seems a formidable character, for good or ill: It is hard to believe that all that intelligence and self-discipline could not be in the service of some larger purpose, or at least some grander strategic design. Even dispassionate observers like Maclean’s magazine’s Paul Wells, in The Longer I’m Prime Minister, attribute to him a vast, if incremental, efficacy: so incremental it eludes the naked eye.

That judgment has always seemed -- to me, at least -- weak minded. Harper is a Canadian version of the Wizard Oz. If he's been successful, it's because he has been allowed by an apathetic public to operate behind a curtain. And he does his best to keep the curtain drawn.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Irresponsible Government


Brent Rathgeber's book, The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada is seminal. Frances Russell writes:

Canada’s parliament is now a damp squib, a meek handmaid to power. Parliament is ruled by the prime minister and the cabinet , not the other way around. Conservative MPs see themselves as obedient servants of the party, cabinet and prime minister, not representatives of their constituents.
You could call it “executive or presidential democracy.” It certainly is the polar opposite of parliamentary democracy.

Certainly, Rathgeber has witnessed that decline -- particularly in the last eight years. He writes:

“The current government prefers to govern by order-in-council and executive edict as opposed to having to answer to an occasionally meddlesome Parliament,” Rathgeber writes. “As a result, the executive has so neutered the institutions of Parliament as to render them nearly impotent, practically unable to fulfill their constitutional duty to hold the executive to account…(T)o the greatest extent possible, it prefers to run all aspects of Parliament rather than be accountable to it.”

Living next door to the United States, we have adopted a presidential model of leadership:

The most corrosive and dangerous development in Canada’s fully Americanized parliamentary system is the highly centralized power of the PMO and cabinet with a majority government. Add the now-complete stifling of the rights of ordinary MPs to say or do anything on their own, and Canada has degenerated into a virtual dictatorship.

And that’s without including the ability of the prime minister to prorogue, recess and dissolve parliament at whim.

And no one can claim that the trend is present in all parliamentary democracies:

Compare this sorry state of affairs to the parliamentary system in place in Britain and Australia, Canada’s sister parliamentary democracies. “(British Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher was deposed by her own caucus, and twice in the last four years the Australia Labour Party has rejected a leader (and prime minister) and then rejected the replacement on the will of the caucus,” Rathgeber writes. “This is normal; this is parliamentary democracy as it should be, where the leader leads the caucus but does not dominate it. The aforementioned Westminster democracies, which have not fallen prey to creeping presidentialism , are thought to be much more functional by academics…”

It's quite clear that Stephen Harper would be quite comfortable with the monikers "Mr. President" and "Commander-in-Chief." And that's precisely why he needs to be thrown out of office in the next election.

We'll be in Montreal for the next couple of days. My plan is to resume blogging on Monday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Steve And Bashar


Paul Adams writes that Stephen Harper is now Bashar Assad's newest ally. The coalition he has joined strengthens Assad's hand:

  • Most obviously, it strikes directly at the most potent rebel force that rose up in opposition to his regime — the one that has acquired the most territory and has the strongest fighting force.
  • By targeting Islamic State, it allows Assad to divert military resources to fight other rebel groups, including the al-Qaida linked Al-Nusra Front and the so-called ‘moderate’ rebels we supposedly support.
  • The anti-Islamic State mission also creates a diplomatic opening for Assad to begin rehabilitating his regime from pariah state to unlikely Western ally.

And Adams offers a few facts for comparison:

The U.S. government recently said that Islamic State had abducted between 1,500 and 4,000 Yazidi women, some of whom were apparently sold as “brides”. That’s awful — but how does it compare with the record of the Assad regime?

Although it’s notoriously difficult to assemble statistics on sexualized violence, there is substantial evidence that the Assad regime has used rape as a weapon, and on a scale yet to be matched by Islamic State. It also has a ghastly record of torturing and murdering civilians — including children.
Best estimates of the number of people killed in Assad’s war so far are in the neighbourhood of 300,000. The number killed by Islamic State to date may be in the tens of thousands.

None of this means that Islamic State is a victim. They are beyond the pale. The question is: Is the Harper mission the solution to the problem? Past history suggests it isn't. But Stephen Harper is no student of history -- even recent history.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Peddling Snake Oil


Stephen Harper has been traveling the country, announcing tax breaks. So you know the election campaign is on. But the real proof that Mr. Harper is in campaign mode, Michael Harris writes, is that the three cornerstones of Harperism are now firmly in place - fable, fear and smear:

Fables are comforting tales with few details. And, if there is one thing Mr. Harper doesn't want Canadians to look at, it's the devil in the details:

With the Canada-Europe CETA deal — which remains a work in progress, no matter how many press releases they’ve issued — we’re told that Canada’s GDP will go up 32 per cent. No mention in that bald prediction of who will benefit, or what it will cost. How many subsidies will the federal government have to pay to people like cheese producers? How much will seniors end up paying for their pharmaceuticals if the Europeans get their way? Judging from his past performance, Harper’s deals will be good for the five-carat wedding ring set. For lesser mortals, it will come down to a chicken-wing in every pot.

Then, of course, there is Harper's newly minted war in Iraq, which is being fueled by fear:

That same mainstream media (with notable individual exceptions, including the intrepid Canadian Press) is endorsing Harper’s view that Canadians are in imminent danger of being beheaded at the outlet mall by Islamic State. Man-eating pythons rising up from the toilet bowl pose more of a direct threat.

And, finally, there is the attempt to smear Justin Trudeau -- which has apparently been outsourced to Jason Kenny:

Jason Kenney is apparently spending 20 per cent of his time whipping the shiny new pony on Twitter. Kenney’s staff is in on the act but the minister assures us they do the work on their personal time. (They would never kick the pony during working hours because that would be … well, that would be dirty pool, right?)

The whole idea is to sow seeds of doubt about Trudeau's judgment. But, that tactic could well backfire. It might cause voters to take a second look at Harper's judgment:

As for trashing Justin Trudeau for being inexperienced or having poor judgement — does Harper really want to go there? A debate about judgement? Does he really want to revisit all his least statesmanlike moments — from recruiting his staff from the ranks of guys who have done time to turning Libya into Thunderdome?

It's the tried and true Harperian formula. The question is: After almost a decade, do Canadians know a snake oil peddler when they see one?

Monday, October 13, 2014

When The Righteous Are In Charge

The IMF recently released a report warning that the world economy is once again tipping towards recession. Why? Paul Krugman writes in today's New York Times:

The proximate answer lies in a series of policy mistakes: Austerity when economies needed stimulus, paranoia about inflation when the real risk is deflation, and so on. But why do governments keep making these mistakes? In particular, why do they keep making the same mistakes, year after year?
The answer, I’d suggest, is an excess of virtue. Righteousness is killing the world economy.

The righteous believe that ordinary folks -- who are drowning in debt -- will have to pay for their sins. They also believe that those who led them there bear no responsibility for the mess they helped create. Put simply, the righteous believe in punishment, but not forgiveness:

As I said, it’s about righteousness — the sense that any kind of debt forgiveness would involve rewarding bad behavior. In America, the famous Rick Santelli rant that gave birth to the Tea Party wasn’t about taxes or spending — it was a furious denunciation of proposals to help troubled homeowners. In Europe, austerity policies have been driven less by economic analysis than by Germany’s moral indignation over the notion that irresponsible borrowers might not face the full consequences of their actions.

So the policy response to a crisis of excessive debt has, in effect, been a demand that debtors pay off their debts in full. What does history say about that strategy? That’s easy: It doesn’t work. Whatever progress debtors make through suffering and saving is more than offset through depression and deflation. That is, for example, what happened to Britain after World War I, when it tried to pay off its debt with huge budget surpluses while returning to the gold standard: Despite years of sacrifice, it made almost no progress in bringing down the ratio of debt to G.D.P.

It's obvious where the Harperites stand. Whether it's the economy, or justice, or international affairs, they stand four square for punishment. God, you see, is on their side.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

And They Call That Brilliance


Last month, Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced the Conservatives job creation plan -- to cut Employment Insurance contributions to small businesses. Tom Walkom writes that the "plan" represented yet another attack on the Employment Insurance regime in Canada:

Under Oliver’s plan, small-business owners will see their employment insurance premiums cut by about 15 per cent over the next two years.

Lower payroll taxes, the finance minister said then, would encourage these small businesses to hire more workers.
Oliver’s claims were supported by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a lobbying group, which said the measure would create about 25,000 person-years of employment over an unspecified period.

This week the Parliamentary Budget Office released a cost-benefit analysis of Oliver's plan:

In a report released Thursday, it says that the two-year, $550-million tax break will produce only 800 net new jobs.
That works out to $687,500 per job.

There was another way to use Employment Insurance to create jobs:

Instead of lowering EI premiums overall (which, according to the parliamentary budget office, would have created 10,000 net new jobs), the government made a bow to its key small-business constituency.

But, as always the stated aim of the policy was not its real aim. Oliver was buying the votes of small business, not creating jobs. Nothing illustrates the corporate juggernaut better than what has happened to Employment Insurance in the last 25 years:

During the 1990s, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals used the employment insurance surplus to pay down the deficit and offer tax breaks to corporations.

When he took power, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did much the same. In 2008, the EI fund’s $57.2 billion surplus was quietly absorbed into general government revenue. Even now, the Conservatives are reluctant to relinquish their hold on the EI windfall.
The parliamentary budget office estimates that over the next three years, Ottawa will collect $6.4 billion more in EI premiums than it will spend on the unemployed.

That's because only 38% of Canadians are now eligible for Employment Insurance.

And they call that brilliance.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

When Journalism Fails


 Apparently, many journalists -- including Andrew Coyne -- believe that Stephen Harper's decision to join the bombing brigades in Iraq is justified. Michael Harris believes that Harper's decision is folly and that the reaction to it illustrates "the slow collapse" of Canadian journalism. After all, when it comes to war in the Middle East, Harper has a record. That record includes not only his full throated campaign to join George Bush's invasion of Iraq, but also his support for military action in Libya:

Harper helped bomb Moammar Gadhafi out of power, even though regime change was expressly excluded from the UN mandate. The prime minister had his million dollar fly-over of the Parliament buildings to celebrate his ‘mission accomplished’ moment. It was all downhill from there. The dictator was not replaced by nation-building democrats, but by the armed thugs of the Misrata militias. Since 2013, their accomplishments have included ethnic cleansing and torture.

Libya is now so dangerous that not even the United Nations nor the U.S. maintain a presence there. Harper never talks about Libya anymore — a place he proudly bombed — except to say we’re not responsible for the current chaos. But with the dust of the Libyan fiasco not yet settled, Harper buys into a mission that is eerily like it. Canada will help bomb another evildoer into the dust and save the day. Like we did in Libya — for a cool $100 million.

You would think that, when journalists looked at the record, they would smell a rat. But Canadian journalists have endured the same fate as journalists everywhere  -- and the ignorance which is a consequence of their fate:

Writing in The Guardian, reporter Anjan Sundaram offers a theory to explain our shrinking knowledge, explaining along the way how genocide in the Congo never quite got on the radar of Western editors:

“The Western news media are in crisis and are turning their back on their world. We hardly ever notice. Where correspondents were once assigned to a place for years or months, reporters now handle 20 countries each … As the news has receded, so have our minds.”

Harper thrives because, in his world, Ignorance is Strength. But in the real world, Harris writes, Harper is "a thundering bozo." When journalism fails, that's what we get for leaders -- thundering bozos.

Friday, October 10, 2014

He Should Blush


It's fascinating to hear the Harper Party conflate its own self interest with the national interest. The latest example is a Tory proposal -- buried in an omnibus bill -- to change the Copyright Act so that  "free use of news content" could be used in political ads.

The change would provide a treasure trove for those who produce attack ads. Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

What’s truly bizarre about this is that the Conservatives haven’t done well with attack ads over the last couple of years. Every time they run one, the Liberals seem to grow their lead in the polls. Nothing the Tories have thrown at Justin Trudeau has stuck. He has a tendency to trip over his own tongue; Canadians, it seems, just don’t care.

The proposed change once again illustrates the furniture which occupies Conservative head space. And Harper himself claims that the present situation represents a form of  "censorship." Tim Harper writes:

If Harper has his way, his Canada in 2015 will include a media that becomes an extension of the government, dutifully collecting news footage that can be twisted and used for partisan purposes, then thrown back as an ad at the network that covered the news in the first place.

It means that every reporter chasing a silent Conservative down the halls of Parliament, every technical crew schlepping cameras and microphones over to the Hill, every producer and editor putting together a piece on the nightly newscast and every anchor introducing the segment, is working not just for their network, but ultimately the political war rooms of this country next year.

It means the government that makes a virtue of taking no free rides and doing its own heavy lifting when it comes to bombing ISIS targets, is only too happy to freeload off the backs of journalists, without seeking permission or providing compensation. 

Mark Twain once famously observed that, "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to." Stephen Harper really should blush. He needs to.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

What To Do With The Surplus?


There's going to be one. And, if the Harper government gets its way, it will go to tax cuts. That happened under the Liberals, too. Linda McQuaig writes:

The trick is to make surpluses disappear quickly by doling them out in tax cuts — before there’s time for a serious national debate about what the electorate actually wants to do with their money.
So when Ottawa started generating big surpluses in the late 1990s, it quickly began slashing taxes — particularly on corporations and high-income earners. As a result, Ottawa now collects about $50 billion less in taxes per year than it would have if it hadn’t done all that tax-cutting, according to labour economist Toby Sanger. That has deprived governments of the revenue they’d need to provide the kind of enhanced public programs many Canadians probably would like. 

That's what right wing think tanks are advocating.  The International Monetary Fund, however has suggested that now is the time to spend on infrastructure. Scott Clark and Peter Devries write:

“The time is right,” says the International Monetary Fund in its latest World Economic Outlook, “for an infrastructure push.”

“In many advanced economies,” says the report, “there is still substantial slack … Robust demand momentum has not yet taken hold … There are now worries that demand will remain persistently weak — a possibility that has been described as ‘secular stagnation’.”

Yet the Harper government insists that the way to grow an economy is to create supply, not demand. Which raises the question, who was all this austerity for? Not for ordinary folks. Consider what has happen to medicare funding, writes McQuaig:

When medicare was established in the late 1960s, Ottawa covered 50 per cent of the costs. Today, Ottawa contributes just 20 per cent — and this will fall to a mere 12 per cent over the next few decades under the new health care funding formula unilaterally imposed on the provinces by the Harper government in 2011.

The money which used to fund medicare has gone into the pockets of the wealthy, a trend which will continue if the Harper government introduces income splitting:

This is, of course, exactly what the Harper government is planning to do. It has promised to introduce income-splitting — a costly and deeply unfair tax cut which would see almost all of the benefits go to well-heeled families with stay-at-home mothers.

If you're a politician these days, it pays to look after the rich. they'll look after you in your retirement. The surplus benefits the wealthy and those who serve them.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Fire. Aim. Ready.


Paul Adams has an interesting piece this morning over at ipolitics. As of yesterday, Canada is now officially at war. Adams points out that, in the last twenty-five years, the United States has led five major wars in the Middle East. The only one that succeeded was the First Gulf War. It succeeded because Colin Powell thought very carefully about the situation before sending troops into the desert. What guided Powell was what has become known as the Powell Doctrine, which is best summarized in the answers to five questions:

  • Is the goal clear and important?
  • Is it a last resort after non-military efforts have failed?
  • Does the mission command the support of the American people and the international community?
  • Have the costs and expected gains been clearly analyzed?
  • Can the planned military mission achieve the intended political objectives?
  • Are the goals clearly circumscribed and is there a plausible exit strategy?

Adams writes that some thought has been given to answering the first two questions. But the rest of the answers -- particularly to questions 4 and 5 -- have been ignored:

Neither the Obama administration nor, for its small part, the Harper government has been frank about the potential costs of the mission. I am thinking now not just of the financial expense of an open-ended mission. I’m also talking about blowback from the Muslim world — which includes the implications of allying ourselves with the loathsome, head-chopping Saudis and, if we are honest, Bashar Al-Assad’s Syrian dictatorship. Not to mention the motley crew of Iraqi fighters who are now our military avatars.

Nor do many people who know about these things think that the military mission as it is now conceived — that is, bombing Islamic State and supplying the ragtag forces of our new best friends on the ground — can achieve its supposed aims. Stephen Harper, who seems so pleased just to be on the team, may say the mission is to “contain” Islamic State. But Obama, whose team it is, says the goal is to “eliminate” it.

We have entered a war without thinking about its long term consequences. When going to war, the standard advice is," Ready. Aim. Fire." We've got that advice backwards.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

One Last Assault On Labour


Jim Stanford writes that, by resurrecting Bill C-377, the Harper Party is making one last assault on labour. The bill died in the Senate last year when Conservative senators, led by the now retired Hugh Segal, revolted and refused to pass the bill because -- according to Segal -- it was "flawed, unconstitutional and technically incompetent."

The revived bill is still probably unconstitutional because "it almost certainly violates provincial constitutional authority and federal privacy standards." But whether or not a bill could pass constitutional muster has never been a Harperite concern. So the prime minister's minions plan to charge ahead.

But, Stanford writes, that strategy has been failing throughout the country:

 In addition to the C-377 debacle, several other labour issues unfolded badly for the Conservatives (and their provincial counterparts) in the last year. Ottawa backtracked dramatically on its Temporary Foreign Worker program in the face of public outrage – opposition led by unions. In Ontario, PC leader Tim Hudak self-immolated in fiery anti-union rhetoric. In B.C., Premier Christy Clark’s attempt to paint the teacher’s union as public enemy number one backfired; she finally withdrew (after a needless three-month strike) her plan to unilaterally seize control over classroom sizes. Even in Alberta, the least unionized province, new Premier Jim Prentice quickly abandoned two confrontational (and likely unconstitutional) anti-union pension bills, told by MPPs they were hurting badly in their constituencies.

As in so many other areas, the tide is turning against the Conservatives. Unions are increasingly being seen as:

an institutional bulwark on the side of all those who work for a living, defending vulnerable people within a social order that is increasingly lopsided. As unions succeed in that effort, the political value of union-bashing will continue to erode.

But don't expect the Harperites to get that message.

Monday, October 06, 2014

A Foolish Mission From A Foolish Prime Minister


After the Conservatives vote this afternoon to go to war, we will enter the annals of historical folly. Dishonesty and folly are Stephen Harper's hallmarks. They are present in everything he does. But his entry into Iraq is truly foolish, for several reasons. Michael  Harris writes:

When Steve made his war announcement against the beheaders, there was a strange addendum.

Although Canada would join the noble bomb-fest in Iraq, there would be no bombing in Syria without the permission of the leader of that country.

But the leader of that country is the same monster Steve wanted to bomb only a few months back. Remember that guy, the one who used poison gas to kill his own people? Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in that country’s civil war. So why does Steve need the permission of the monstrous President Assad to save Scarborough from ISIS?

Besides the problem of asking his enemy's permission, Harper has created the problem of bombing people who could be his allies. How does he propose to distinguish between enemies and allies:

And then there is the small difficulty of identifying who to drop the bombs on. For years, a deadly civil war has been raging inside Syria to topple President Assad. Many factions are involved in the fight, including some that are backed by the United States, and others that are mortal enemies.

That is where the trouble starts. The U.S. backs the Free Syrian Army. But it does not back and instead targets the Jabbat al-Nusra group because of its alleged affiliation to al Qaeda. And that is a problem because the Free Syrian Army sees Jabbat al-Nusra as a valued ally in the fight against Assad. Remember that old the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend thing?

Michael den Tandt writes that this is Harper's Churchillian moment. But there is a big difference between Harper and Churchill. Churchill was no fool.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Severe Meglomania

A month ago, Brian Mulroney took Stephen Harper apart on national television. This weekend, writing in the National Post, Conrad Black told Harper his fifteen minutes were up:

If Harper really, seriously, wants his government re-elected, he should let it change leaders. That does not appear to be his pleasure and I can’t blame a man for wanting to keep his job, but he must know that if he doesn’t, his countrymen will be profoundly tempted to do it for him. The only federal leaders in Canadian history to win four straight elections were Macdonald and Laurier; the only person in any serious democracy to do so in the last century was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Stephen Harper is distinguishable from them.

The polls keep telling Harper the same thing. But he  keeps soldiering on -- literally -- into the sands of Iraq. Now Peggy Mason, Canada's former ambassador for disarmament to the United Nations, warns that Harper's hopping on the bombing bandwagon will make matters worse:

Stephen Harper and his allies are underestimating their opponents as a bunch of religious extremists bent on spreading wanton mayhem and terror. Islamic State may be brutally ruthless, but they know exactly what they are doing.

Their core is made up of seasoned, motivated fighters and an extremely experienced leadership that go back to the “dirty war” waged by the American and British Special Forces in Iraq between 2006 and 2009.

ISIL is playing a strategical game of chess with its every move, while the West is playing military tic-tac-toe.

Mr. Harper has never been one to ask for advice. And it's clear he's taking none. But, as the chorus gets louder, it should be abundantly clear that the prime minister suffers from severe megalomania.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

War: The Ultimate Wedge


Stephen Harper planned to win the next election on the economy and tax cuts. But his numbers have  tanked for a year. And the latest EKOS poll reveals that the Liberals are where his was when he won his coveted majority. So a change of plan is in order. Ever the opportunist, Harper has found his issue: War. It's the ultimate wedge. Michael  Harris writes:

But think about it for a moment. Does the U.S. really need the help of military gnats like Estonia to deal with insurgents without an air force? Does it really need Canada to kick the stuffing out of the bad guys? Of course it doesn’t.

The coalition, of which Harper is eager to be a part, is merely a P.R. ploy by Washington. A recent U.S. poll showed that when the air strikes against ISIS are presented as America and its Western and Arab allies working in concert, support for the mission in the U.S. is high at 73 per cent. But when the air strikes are portrayed as a unilateral American operation, support drops to 50 per cent.

Members of the coalition are merely helping President Obama to market the war back home, just as lobbyists like Hill & Knowlton were paid millions of dollars by the government of Kuwait to market the first Iraq War in 1990.

The other way the war on ISIS is being marketed is through fear mongering, this PM’s strong suit. Harper has worked up justifiable revulsion at beheadings like James Foley’s into the nonsensical proposition that ISIS represents a serious threat to Canadian security. If ebola doesn’t get you, ISIS will.

Canada's six F-18's won't tip the balance. But they will provide Harper with a weapon to use against his opposition -- particularly Justin Trudeau. Ottawa, he will say, is a place for real men. And, he'll bring up Robert Borden, in whose footsteps he will claim to walk.

But Borden ran a Union government. That is not Harper's way. He has not consulted the opposition at all. Harris doubts that, his claims to the contrary, he consulted his cabinet:

Please remember this man doesn’t give a fiddler’s fornication about anyone else’s ideas or opinion.

The last nine years have proved that Stephen Harper is no economic genius. History will record that he was no military genius, either. But, for the next year, that is exactly what he will try to convince Canadians he is.

Will they buy it? We shall see.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Not For You


Stephen Harper tells us that there are lots of things we can't afford -- like veterans affairs offices, lawyers to check the proposed constitutionality of legislation, and home mail delivery. But last week we paid the tab -- $300,000 -- to fly two European representatives round trip to celebrate the Canada European Trade Agreement.

Linda McQuaig wonders what, exactly, there is to celebrate:

According to Harper government hype, routinely repeated uncritically in the media, the trade deal will be a boon for all Canadians, boosting our economy by $12 billion, generating 80,000 jobs and adding $1,000 a year to the incomes of Canadian families.

But as economist Jim Stanford has pointed out in a concise analysis, these big economic gains were calculated by a computer model — based on a series of assumptions that are “not remotely realistic.”

For instance, they assume Canadian companies will sell as many services in Europe as European firms do (despite being thousands of miles away), and that Canadian firms will then invest these profits in new capital here – even though Canadian firms have notoriously hoarded profits in recent years rather than re-invest them. Yet this wildly optimistic assumption about re-investment accounts for more than half of the $12-billion economic boost.

As for job gains, well, the models actually showed productivity gains, not job gains. But knowing the public has little interest in something as esoteric as productivity gains, these somehow morphed into more politically popular job gains, in a sleight-of-hand by government spin-doctors that Stanford dubs “intellectually dishonest.”

Most far-fetched is the claim that the deal will boost the incomes of Canadian families by $1,000 each. As Stanford notes, the government simply took the $12 billion economic boost – a specious number at best – and divided it by the number of Canadian families.

That last calculation is mind boggling. Our prime minister claims to be an economist. But he's obviously math challanged. The last Conservative minister who suffered from the same disability was Bev Oda. When she started ordering $16 glasses of orange juice, she disappeared.

What has Harper bought? He's bought a legal regime to protect investors from Canadian law:

This could mean, for instance, that if a future Canadian government wanted to create a new public program – such as universal pharmacare or national child care – it could face lawsuits from disgruntled European firms objecting to the way the program limited their opportunities to sell drugs or child care to Canadians.

Imagine the outrage if a Canadian government had negotiated a trade deal that gave such an extensive set of rights to labour unions, allowing disgruntled unions to sue the Canadian government for millions of dollars. And then, to top it off, the government had spent $300,000 so that foreign officials could attend an exclusive soirée with Canada’s “union bosses.”

Mr. Harper's is a proud Thatcherite:

Over the past 30 years, virtually all the gains of economic growth have gone to the top 10 per cent of Canadian families. If this pattern of the past three decades continues, there will be no gains from the trade deal for ordinary Canadian families. Really only for the corporate sector are the gains significant. Indeed, the trade deal is, above all, a kind of constitution that enshrines corporate rights above the reach of national laws, that is, above the reach of democratically-elected governments.

During the last election campaign, Mr. Harper accused Michael Ignatieff  of not coming back to Canada "for you."  While it's true that Harper has always been here, it's clear that whatever he does, it's not "for you."

Thursday, October 02, 2014

What Will the Liberals Do?


Stephen Harper is going to war, believing it will help him get re-elected. Chantal Hebert writes that, in adopting the same rhetoric he used to support the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, he may speed up his departure:

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, the prime minister added that the U.S.-led intervention was “noble and necessary.”
As leader of the Opposition a decade ago, Harper’s case for Canada’s participation in the American-led coalition against Saddam Hussein was also essentially based on the contention that the country had an absolute moral duty to join its closest allies in a quasi-holy war.

Except that crusade did not work out well. It destabilized the entire Middle East and created the situation which has led Barack Obama back into a quagmire he sought to avoid. So far, the United States has actually built a coalition and has not engaged in shock and awe.

With their squeezed budgets, the truth is that the Canadian military can't do that much. The NDP appears to be opposed to the mission. The questions is, what will the Liberals do? Hebert writes:

From pipelines to international trade, there is no lack of examples of general Conservative policy directions upon which Justin Trudeau has been content to stick a Liberal smiley face rather than chart a substantially different course.

Up to a point, it is an approach that makes strategic sense for — even as support for the Conservatives is declining — a plurality of voters feel that the country is headed in the right direction.
But in this instance, substance matters more than style and holding a finger out in the air to determine which way the public opinion wind is blowing is of little use, for the history of military engagements suggests that initial public and/or editorial enthusiasm is no guarantee of enduring support or, for that matter, success.

We are about to see what Justin Trudeau is made of.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Insincere Sincerity


Michael den Tandt writes that the apology Sun News issued this week to Justin Trudeau will go down in  history as a superb example of  insincere sincerity:

Having first suggested last week that Levant is not really a Sun News journalist, but rather a mere comment contributor, the network saw fit to broadcast its mea culpa via a voiced segment, in vintage newscaster baritone, that aired just before Levant’s regular Monday evening spot. The host himself did not apologize, or acknowledge the apology in any way. It was as though, as far as he was concerned, it hadn’t happened.

Like Paul Calandra's blubbering last week in the House of Commons, everyone knows that, behind the babble, there is no commitment to change:

Perhaps Levant threatened to quit rather than personally apologize? Or maybe the network preferred not to force the issue. Either way, it is now a given there will be future Levantist overreach, given this host’s odd, almost fetishistic obsession with the Trudeau family, and the federal election in the offing. No matter what tripe Levant spouts, whether about the Roma or about a federal politician, Sun Media does not withdraw his platform. Clearly, they love the guy.

Brian Mulroney reportedly insisted on the apology. But clearly there will be no attempt to change the organization's culture. In fact, nothing in Conservative culture has changed -- not for Levant, for Calandra -- or for the master of insincere sincerity --  the multiply apologetic Rob Ford.

But, den Tandt writes -- all indications to the contrary -- people are not stupid:

There is a reason why Levant is not taken seriously by many. There is a reason why Calandra is now a punch line. There is a reason why Rob Ford, before cancer took him out of Toronto’s mayoral race, was on track to get booted from office, and it is simply that most people are not idiots.

Despite every attempt by political professionals to purge a sense of honour from our politics, the majority of individuals still possess an instinct for truth. They still respond viscerally to its obvious presence or absence. They still can spot insincerity for what it is. And they are still predisposed, in a democracy, to punish politicians who routinely play them for fools.

Which begs the question: How will Canadians react when Stephen Harper tells them that going to war in Iraq is a "noble" enterprize?