Sunday, November 30, 2014

Laughing All The Way


Stephen Harper is in power because the two so called "progressive" alternatives have spent more time fighting each other than fighting him. The current furor over sexual harassment continues that scuffle -- despite Peter Goldring's recent inane suggestions. Tim Harper writes:

The level of distrust between the two parties seeking to become the progressive alternative to the Stephen Harper Conservatives has never been deeper.

Had the tables been turned, New Democrats believe Tom Mulcair would have reached out to Justin Trudeau to seek a solution. Liberals are convinced Mulcair would have burned Trudeau if their leader did not act quickly and decisively.

Regardless, Trudeau and Mulcair have never had a conversation about this matter or how to handle sexual harassment or sexual assault complaints.

The whole mess plays into Harper's hands -- even though his hands are not clean:

This is the town, after all, in which a disgraced senator-in-exile, Patrick Brazeau, ends up as a manager at a strip club a couple of blocks from his former office. By the way, some of his employees said at the time, wouldn’t we love to know some of the familiar faces who make up the club’s lunch time clientele?
Brazeau has yet to have his day in court where he faces a sexual assault charge, among others.

It is up to Trudeau and Mulcair to come up with a solution to a problem that has been around for a long time. But, if they keep shooting at each other, Mr. Harper will stay where he is -- laughing all the way.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Back In The Resource Trap


Falling oil prices are puncturing Stephen Harper's dream of transforming Canada into an energy superpower. Tom Walkom writes:

For this government, Alberta’s oilsands were the key to Canada’s economic future.

Alberta heavy oil would be sold to the world at premium prices. Spin-offs would provide jobs for Canadians across the country.

It was a coherent vision. But it rested on one thin reed: an oil price high enough to cover the cost of extracting bitumen from the tarsands.

Now, with oil prices expected to remain low for the indefinite future, the entire project looks increasingly iffy.

A couple of things have happened that Stephen Harper didn't -- or wouldn't -- foresee:

The reasons for the oil price collapse are varied. China’s energy-reliant economy is slowing down. New shale oil production from the U.S. is creating a glut. The cartel known as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has been unwilling or unable to enforce high prices.

Anyone with a knowledge of history knows that this is an old problem for Canada. Harold Innes called it the "resource trap. And, for most of the twentieth century, Canada's politicians tried to avoid it:

Sensible countries try to lessen their dependence on volatile commodities. Canada, whose economy has been dominated by resource exports since the 16th century, spent much effort over the years trying to do break free from this dependence — usually by encouraging secondary manufacturing. The aim was to diversify the economy so that offsetting forces were created.

A fall in oil prices, for instance, might hurt Alberta’s petroleum sector. But the consequent cheap energy would aid Ontario manufacturers and the country could keep on an even keel.

For years, this was the unstated theory behind what was in effect a crude form of industrial strategy. Much of the time, it more or less worked.

And, if there's one thing Harperites don't believe in, it's having an industrial strategy. Unfettered markets are the way to salvation. Except they aren't.

And, once again, we're caught in a resource trap.

Friday, November 28, 2014

All Smoke And Mirrors


Julian Fantino announced this week that his government had earmarked $200 million for veterans' mental health services. However, as Michael Harris points out:

Getting the news of the $200 million mental health initiative from Fantino wasn’t just insulting — it was classic Harper media control. The announcement was made on a Sunday, when opposition critics and veterans’ advocates were largely unavailable. The benefit to that strategy is that the story came out just the way the Harper government likes it — without contradiction, criticism or analysis.

There was another, obvious factor behind the announcement’s timing, of course. Coming as it did the day before Auditor General Michael Ferguson lowered the boom on Fantino’s department, the announcement offered the idea (to some) that this is a caring, compassionate government. Whatever Ferguson might say the next day, the public would be left with the impression — that all-important first impression — that Harper was already on it.

And nothing could be further from the truth. The Harper government is in court right now fighting veterans who want to reverse the more egregious shortcomings of the New Veterans Charter. The truth, as it was laid out in Ferguson’s report, is not pretty. The Department of Veterans Affairs ran veterans through a bureaucratic steeplechase towards … nothing. According to the AG, it could not even measure performance outcomes on its own programs to troubled veterans — so it had no idea if any of them were working.

The process veterans have to go through to apply for mental health benefits would baffle Stephen Hawking. People desperate for help have to jump through hoops for eight months before finding out if they even qualify for assistance. Since the day Harper came to power up to the present, more than 3,000 applicants have been turned down.

It's all classic Harper doublespeak. When you get behind the smoke and mirrors, you find there's nothing there.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Governments and Climate Change


Our present masters would have us believe that markets are the sine qua non of human existence. Conversely, they claim that government is the bane of human existence. They see its purpose as enslavement. It is, they say -- always and everywhere -- a threat to human freedom.

But history proves, Linda McQuaig writes, that markets have never developed new technologies. In fact, it has been government which has -- again and again -- supported their development:

In fact, virtually all previous major technological breakthroughs have started with heavy government involvement and financial support, notes technology professor Mariana Mazzucato in The Entrepreneurial State. Only after the state has made the initial, high-risk investments are corporations and venture capitalists willing to put their timid toes into turbulent water.

Mazzucato describes the state’s pivotal role in developing the computer industry, the Internet, nanotech, biotech, the emerging green tech sector — even the logarithm that was crucial to the success to Google.

“In all these cases, the State dared to think — against all odds — about the ‘impossible’: creating a new technological opportunity, making the initial large necessary investments, enabling a decentralized network of actors to carry out the risky research, and then allowing the development and commercialization process to occur in a dynamic way.”

And governments are critical to solving the problem of climate change -- because only governments can afford to nurture and develop green technology:

“Energy markets are dominated by some of the largest and most powerful companies on the planet, which are generally not driven to innovate …” notes Mazzucato. “Leaving direction setting to ‘the market’ only ensures that the energy transition will be put off until fossil fuel prices reach economy-wrecking highs.”

The truth is we already have solar-powered and electric cars that we could all be driving. Imagine if we also had a government that used taxes or subsidies to reduce the cost of a green car to about half the cost of a regular gas-guzzler, and ensured recharging stations for these green vehicles were as common as gas stations.

Imagine if we had a government that actively co-operated with other nations in addressing the climate challenge, and communicated to the Canadian public that it considered fighting climate change as big a priority as fighting Islamic State.

Of course, the Harper government has no intention of doing any of these things. Oil greases everything they do. And government, they say, is a dragon to be slain.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Quiet Native Revolution


In his book, A Fair Country, John Ralston Saul argued that Canada owed its existence to three founding nations -- Britain, France and its First Nations. But he took the argument further than that. What was best about us, Saul wrote, was what we unconsciously inherited from our First Nations. That inheritance has made us a "Metis Nation."

In his latest book, The Comeback,  Saul argues that Canada is in the midst of a Quiet Native Revolution. Lawrence Martin writes:

What’s happening today is comparable to the Quiet Revolution in 1960s Quebec, he says. Our indigenous peoples are about to impose themselves the way Quebec nationalists did then. Few understand this because the focus has disproportionately been on the suffering and the failures – the rapes, the poverty, the residential schools, the Attawapiskats.

There’s a new aboriginal elite. We have Inuit and Cree corporations. Supreme Court victories are giving aboriginals more control over the commodity-rich lands of the North. Climate change is playing to their agenda. The aboriginal population is rapidly increasing, as is aboriginal youth enrolment in universities and colleges. “They are smart, intellectually lean and rightfully angry young people,” he says – their clout was felt with Idle No More and will soon register more tellingly.

Never mind some of the negative stuff in the media, for example, the stories about some delinquent chiefs being overpaid. Indeed, some are, said Mr. Saul, speaking recently to a packed hall of 700 in Ottawa. But, “did anyone bother to compare the percentage of overpaid chiefs with the percentage of overpaid CEOs in the private sector?”

Indeed, Canada's natives people are putting the brakes on runaway corporatism:

Our Western model put few brakes on commercial development. Governments have too often run the Canadian North, where two-thirds of our resource wealth lies, “like slum landlords.” With the native peoples’ legal victories, their philosophy, which sees the human as integral, as opposed to a dominant part of the whole, will take hold.

Certainly, the revolution has been quiet. And the Harper government has done everything in its power to stop it. But, if Saul is right, the First Nations may -- as they have done in the past -- lead us back to our better angels.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pre-Paleolithic Neanderthals


That's what Stephen Lewis calls the Harper government. Lewis has always known how to turn a phrase. But he's also always known how to make an argument. And the evidence he offers in support of his case is damning. Tim  Harper writes in the Toronto Star:

  • Canada’s world standing is in free fall.

  • The Harper government’s contempt for Parliament and its traditions has degraded   political life and fostered voter cynicism.

  • Its attitude to aboriginals is not paternalistic, it is racist.

  • Harper’s refusal to join the rest of the world and move toward renewable energy sources is endangering future generations and contributing to a looming planetary meltdown.

  • Civil society and the ideas it fosters have been slapped down and censored, subverting democratic norms.

  • Lewis understands just how far Canada has moved from its moorings:

    "Vitriolic nastiness in debate does not breed respect,” he said. “Nor does adolescent partisanship, nor do pieces of legislation of encyclopedic length that hide contentious issues, nor does the sudden emergence of frenzied TV attack ads, nor does the spectre of a Prime Minister’s Office exercising authoritarian control.”

    "It is as though Canada had decided, like some mindless national curmudgeon, to be a permanent outlier on issues of minority rights and women’s rights,” Lewis said. “It does us damage. It does us shame.”

    He has said that there was a time in Ottawa when his father, Robert Stanfield and Pierre Trudeau led their respective parties. They could disagree and they could do it with wit. He recalls the time his father stood in the House of Commons, pointed at the prime Minister and proclaimed, "There, but for Pierre Trudeau, goes God!"

    But the three men respected each other. Lewis still believes that we can return to that kind of Canada:

    “Somewhere in my soul,” Lewis says, “I cherish the possibility of a return to a vibrant democracy, where equality is the watchword, where people of different ideological conviction have respect for each other, where policy is debated rather than demeaned, where the great issues of the day are given thoughtful consideration, where Canada’s place on the world stage is seen as principled and laudatory, where human rights for all is the emblem of a decent civilized society.”

    Let's hope he's right.

    Monday, November 24, 2014

    Taking His Cue From Goering

    Naomi Klein coined the phrase "disaster capitalism." Taking his cue from Klein, Michael Harris writes that "disaster democracy" is alive and well in Canada. It's not a new phenomenon. Herman Goering explained how it worked when he was on trial at Nuremberg:

    “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger…it works the same in any country.”

    And Harper has taken his cue from Goering:

    When Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was gunned down at the national war memorial on Oct. 22, Prime Minister Stephen Harper immediately connected his killer to radical Islam and terrorism. Long before any facts were in, Harper claimed that all Canadians had been attacked by the actions of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. There was never any talk from the PM about Zehaf-Bibeau’s mental instability or addiction to crack cocaine. His mother and Cpl. Cirillo’s girlfriend were left to develop that side of the debate on the fringes of the alternative media.

    In the wake of the terrible events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa, the prime minister’s stagnation in the polls came to a sudden end. Almost instantly, disaster democracy gave his popularity a five-per-cent boost in the polls. That is approximately what political parties can expect after a full-fledged leadership convention. It also boosted public support for Harper’s war in Iraq, which shows every sign of leading to boots on the ground there – and now perhaps also engagement in Syria.

    Now -- if the polls are to be believed -- the Conservatives and the Liberals are neck and neck. Mr. Harper proved long ago that he isn't the smartest guy in the room. But he does know how to take advantage of events over which he has no control.

    Ultimately, control belongs to we the people. But there has never been a guarantee that we the people will make wise decisions.

    Sunday, November 23, 2014

    Nowhere Man


    Yesterday, I wrote that Stephen Harper's refusal to deal with Kathleen Wynne could have significant electoral consequences. Martin Regg Cohn writes that those consequences are being felt now with the alliance which Wynne has established with Quebec premier Philippe Couillard:

    There’s a reason the Quebec-Ontario summit turned into a meeting of minds and ministers: Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard are simpatico both in style and substance.

    Beyond the good will, there are good works on offer:

    Ontario and Quebec signed an unprecedented deal to swap 500 megawatts of electricity during peak periods by way of bartering. They compared notes on climate change. And they celebrated Ontario’s francophone face in a way that touched, viscerally, the visiting French Quebecers.
    At ground level, it is a federalist fantasy come true. Together, they are laying the groundwork for a Central Canadian axis of power (sharing) that is both political and electrical — with environmental and electoral benefits.

    Harper's policy is to not attend meetings of the Council of the Federation. He claims he prefers to meet with premiers individually. But, in Wynne's case, he prefers not to meet at all:

    On the eve of the Toronto summit, Harper delivered a bizarre snub to Wynne by refusing her overtures for a federal-provincial meeting. With her request unrequited, the spurned premier went public with their correspondence — pointedly asking why Canada’s biggest province, with 13 million people, can’t get federal face time.

    Then she got down to business with Couillard — showing that where there is political will, there can be policy headway.

    And that is the point. Mr. Harper lacks the political will to do all kinds of things. In fact, the only thing he wants to do is balance the budget. And, because he has chosen to remove himself from the stage, others will take his place. Cohn writes that there will soon be a third member of the alliance -- Alberta premier Jim Prentice.

    Mr. Harper may indeed discover that he resides in Nowhere Land -- a real Nowhere Man.

    Saturday, November 22, 2014

    Ontario Is Ground Zero
    Stephen Harper won his majority by convincing enough Ontarians to vote for him. But those same Ontarians now have a premier who is not a Harper ally. Far from it. Tim Harper writes in the Toronto Star:

    There’s simply too much at stake for both sides for d├ętente, certainly not heading into a federal election campaign and the electoral riches available in this province.
    The Harper Conservatives remember how Wynne campaigned against them last spring, they know they are dealing with aggressive adversaries in Ontario and they remember well Wynne’s characterization of the Harper “smirk” during that campaign as she recounted a previous, private discussion about pension reform.

    But it's not just Wynne who the Conservatives see as their adversary:

    When Conservatives look at Kathleen Wynne, they see Justin Trudeau. Their instincts tell them to fight and discredit, not to sit and discuss the big issues of the day bedeviling the country’s two largest governments.
    They saw Trudeau stumping for Wynne last spring and Wynne returning the favour, appearing on behalf of Trudeau’s candidate in this week’s Whitby-Oshawa byelection.

    And Harper hasn't helped his case in Ontario:

    The list of Wynne’s grievances is real and long. They are not all meant to be distractions or wedges for the 2015 federal vote.
    Wynne’s agenda would include infrastructure spending, inter-provincial trade, federal transfers, employment insurance and training, her go-it-alone pension plan and the lack of federal action on missing and murdered aboriginal women. The two governments have previously clashed over refugee health care.

    For the Harperites, this is personal. Ontario voters, however, are likely to believe that it is more than that.  By now they may have understood that the Cowboy from Etobicoke is working for someone else.

    The next time around, Ontario is Ground Zero.

    Friday, November 21, 2014

    The Meaning Of Silence


    There has been nary a word from the Conservative Party since Michael Sona's sentencing. What are we to make of that? Michael den Tandt writes:

    Keep in mind, key questions that emerged on the very first day the story broke in 2012, courtesy of Postmedia’s Stephen Maher and the Ottawa Citizen’s Glen McGregor, are still outstanding. Does it make any sense at all to think that a 22-year-old planned and executed this scheme, which required access to the party’s Constituent Information Management System (CIMS) database, on his own? And would he have participated had he thought such actions were antithetical to the values of his party and his bosses?

    The Conservatives have made no attempt to answer those questions. Harperites don't like to answer questions. After Joe Oliver's budget speech the other day, there were no questions. That's why the speech was given outside the House of Commons, where questions are inevitable. Questions might lead to an attack of humility:

    We’re long past the moment when anyone could reasonably expect humility or remorse from this prime minister. “Never apologize, never explain,” appears to be among Stephen Harper’s guiding principles. It’s always worked for him before.

    But, really, a little humility is in order:

    There’s Dean Del Mastro, the former Peterborough, Ont., MP and parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister convicted of over-spending and filing a false document to cover that up, who is now awaiting sentencing. And there’s the Ol’ Duff, arguably still the greatest single threat to the Conservative legacy, whose 41-day trial is set to begin in early April.

    Beyond all that, there’s the miasma of tawdriness that hangs over so much of this Conservative party’s political tool kit; personal attacks on the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; tactics that, since the in-and-out affair in the 2006 election, have skirted the edge of legality and sometimes crossed over; and an advertising strategy that, though legal, routinely, deliberately quotes Conservative opponents out of context.

    For this prime minister, humility is a sign of weakness. Eventually voters will reach a different conclusion.

    Thursday, November 20, 2014

    Yesterday's Man -- Again


    There is a lot of florid rhetoric coming from supporters of the Keystone Pipeline these days --  both north and south of the border. But, Tom Walkom writes, Keystone isn't as important as its shills claim it is:

    The truth is that even if Keystone fails, a pipeline from the tar sands to tidewater will be built. The Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats disagree on many things. But all agree that the so-called Energy East pipeline — from Alberta to New Brunswick — should go ahead.

    Similarly, a world with no Keystone will not much affect carbon emissions. As long as there is some method of getting Alberta heavy crude to markets — by train, truck or pipeline — tarsands production will go on.

    The United States has found energy reserves in North Dakota, so Alberta bitumen is no longer the prize  it once was. And, if Alberta oil finds its way to the Atlantic, it will make its way to world markets.

    The truth is that Keystone is an idea whose time has passed. And its chief shill has proved -- once again -- that he is yesterday's man.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2014

    Coming Home To Roost


    The Canadian Press reported yesterday that former Conservative MP Bill Casey wants to run for the Liberals in his old riding:

    Former Conservative and Independent MP Bill Casey says he plans to seek the federal Liberal nomination in his Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.

    Stephen Harper threw Casey out of the Conservative caucus after Casey voted against his government's budget because it altered the terms of the Atlantic Accord, which governed cash transfers  between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland Labrador. Casey said that Harper had betrayed his constitutents and Casey felt it was his duty to speak for them. The Harper spin machine declared Casey persona non grata .

    Mr. Casey says his motivation for running is not revenge:

    Casey says there are several reasons why he wants to re-enter politics, but primarily he wants to "raise the alarm" about the declining state of the parliamentary system.

    It will be interesting to see what happens in the upcoming federal election. Mr. Harper has betrayed lots of people on his way to power. Those betrayals are coming home to roost.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014

    Change Is In The Air


    The Harperites won both by-elections yesterday. But it's instructive to focus on the number of eligible voters who tramped to the polls. In Oshawa-Whity, only 30% of those who could vote bothered to vote. But in Yellowhead -- that Tory stronghold -- only 15% of eligible voters bothered to show up.

    The big shift came in Oshawa, where the Liberals tripled their numbers. Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

    They didn’t win, but they increased their share of the vote in spectacular fashion. Caesar-Chavannes received over 13,000 votes, though only one third of eligible voters cast a ballot. In 2011, voter turnout was nearly twice as high — and only 9,000 souls voted Liberal. Impressive.

    The NDP vote collapsed:

    Their vote in Whitby-Oshawa declined by two-thirds from 2011, to a dismal eight per cent. Since they ran the same candidate, name recognition was not a factor — which means something else was. That could have been the anybody-but-CPC vote: Whitby-Oshawa has a sizeable chunk of union voters who should have been backing the NDP, but they may have switched their allegiance to the candidate they thought could upset the Tories — ie, the Liberal. 

    Last time around, Stephen Harper won his majority by dividing the opposition. And, if there is any lesson to be taken from Oshawa, it's that the opposition now refuses to be divided.

    Change is in the air.

    Monday, November 17, 2014

    Time For A Walk In The Snow?


    Conrad Black observed last week that the Harper government had "run out of steam." And Stephen Mahar suggested that Jason Kenny was ready and willing to fill the prime minister's shoes. Michael Harris writes that the Conservative base has tired of Stephen Harper for several reasons -- but, most particularly, two. The first is his lack of integrity:

    Harper came to power promising to do things differently than the Liberals of the Ad Sponsorship era. The base expected a new integrity reflecting the best conservative values — integrity, frugality and respect for Canadians. Instead, Canadians have been fed a steady dose of behaviour out of the prime minister’s own office that redefines unethical and, in some cases, verges into the criminal.

    Harper’s former parliamentary secretary, Dean Del Mastro, has been convicted of election fraud, including exceeding spending limits, failing to report a personal contribution of $21,000, and knowingly submitting a falsified document. This came on the heels of an earlier election-related sleight of hand — the in/out scandal — that saw the party plead guilty to election fraud.

    Then there’s Arthur Porter, the man Harper appointed to oversee Canada’s spy agency, who is in jail in Panama fighting extradition to this country, where he faces a bevy of criminal charges. Finally, one of Harper’s closest former aides, Bruce Carson, is facing influence peddling charges. Carson was hired by Harper despite the PM knowing of his previous criminal record for fraud.

    And lest we forget, there’s the whole Wright/Duffy mess and the murky robocalls business and self-serving rejigging of Elections Canada’s abilities to promote voter engagement and prosecute wrong-doing.

    Harper also sold himself as a frugal manager of the nation's pocketbook:

    This prime minister blew close to a billion dollars on the G8 and G20 meetings in Toronto and Muskoka. He blamed the debacle on “thugs.” He wasted $28 million on commemorating the War of 1812 when he was closing veterans centres to save a paltry $3.8 million. And he has doubled the cost of the PM’s personal security to a whopping $20 million and climbing. The once ostensibly cost-conscious politician now thinks nothing of spending a cool million to fly his own limousine to India for a state visit or burning $45,000 of taxpayers’ money to attend a Yankee game.

    When it comes to matters that go directly to the Conservative soul, Harper's most fervent supporters have found him wanting. And they are encouraging him to take a walk in the snow.

    Sunday, November 16, 2014

    The Consequences Of His Inaction


    There are some who believe that the deal which the United States and China reached on greenhouse gas emissions will force Stephen Harper to act on climate change. But Jeffrey Simpson warns that such optimism is misplaced. To begin with, the Republican dominated congress will act immediately to nullify the agreement. And, of course, Harper is philosophically a Republican:

    When a leader such as Mr. Harper spends the better part of a decade not even speaking about the issue, let alone the rest of what political leadership entails, there is almost no chance the general public will be alerted to its importance. This is especially true of the leader’s natural political followers.

    Leadership means a willingness to spend political capital on an issue, and in Canada’s case, there is no such leadership at the top. That this absence would suddenly shift as a result of a China-U.S. understanding is improbable in the extreme.

    There are several reasons for Mr. Harper's refusal to act:

    First, Mr. Harper doesn’t like the issue of climate change. He avoids it wherever possible and looks distinctly uncomfortable when forced to discuss it. He considers it a political and economic loser.

    Second, the core of his party doesn’t like the issue either, believing climate change to be unrelated to human activities, too expensive to worry about, or a plot by lefty enviros to nail: a) Alberta; b) jobs; and c) “hard-working taxpayers.” Canadians who want more action won’t be voting Conservative anyway.

    Third, Mr. Harper dislikes being pressured. When it happens, he prefers to push back rather than yield. Call it stubbornness. Call it principled. It’s how he is. The idea that he would be pressured by a “deal” whose impact won’t be felt for decades belies everything we know about the man.

    What some call stubborn others would call pig headed. As for principles, we've seen Mr. Harper shred his principles in the pursuit of power. If power depended on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, he would move.

    But the Prime Minister calculated long ago that power lay in the other direction. He is quite content to let the planet suffer the consequences of his inaction.

    Saturday, November 15, 2014

    On the QT


    Canadians like to think that income inequality is an American problem. But, Linda McQuaig writes, on that meme, Canada is a close second behind the United States:

    It’s true that the U.S. has the most extreme inequality, but a recent OECD report noted that Canada has the second-largest share of income growth going to top earners.

    However, even that OECD report understates the drift of wealth to the top in Canada — according to dramatic data from a recent academic study which received relatively little attention.

    That study presents some pretty stark numbers:

    It shows that billions of dollars in income received by the very richest Canadians have not been included in calculations of their income. That’s because the wealthy funneled this money through private corporations in order to legally reduce their taxes — a practice that is more widely used in Canada than the U.S.

    Once this income — amounting to an astonishing $48 billion in 2010 — is added to their reported personal incomes, Canada’s rich are considerably richer than we’ve been led to believe.

    For example, according to commonly-used data, the average income for Canadians in the top 1 per cent is $359,900. However, this doesn’t include money channeled through their private corporations. Once we include this additional income, the actual average income of these high-rollers rises to a much heftier $500,200.

    And, remember, all of this has been happening while 37,000 civil servants have lost their jobs, while medicare funding has been cut and while veterans affairs offices have been closed:

    The study also shows that the share of Canada’s national income going to the top 1 per cent — commonly believed to be 10 per cent — is actually 13.3 per cent, once private corporation income is included. This share has been rising, from 12 per cent in 2009 to 13.3 per cent in 2011 (the latest year available).

    Meanwhile, the OECD has warned that:

     “Recent empirical work finds that high levels of inequality are harmful for the pace and sustainability of growth.”

    The rich keep getting richer -- but our politicians want to keep it on the QT

    Friday, November 14, 2014

    Their Real Enemy

    From the very beginning, Stephen Harper has claimed that he stands for and with the troops. But, Michael Harris writes, the men and women who have actually been in battle have declared war on the Harperites:

    In fact, the veterans are here not to praise Caesar but to bury him. That’s why veterans Ron Clarke and Mike Blais have launched an Anybody But Conservative campaign to rally opposition against the government in time for the election.

    Those who have been watching the veterans’s file closely on Harper’s watch — rather than listening to the Top Gun drivel being dished out by the PM — know that a national disgrace has been unfolding in Canada. While the Harper government has been a great little military monument-builder ($50 million added to that budget), it has abandoned the flesh-and-blood veterans who came back from war needing help.

    The budget tells the story:

    Since 2011, the Harper government has cut $226 million from Veterans Affairs administrative funding — a 30 per cent chop. That’s why one of Harper’s strongest supporting groups — veterans — has turned against him. Or rather, Harper abandoned them first.

    And statistics tell the sad tale of what has happened to vets under Harper's watch:

    Take the issue of suicide. The Canadian Forces have a suicide rate that is twice as high as the rate in the British Armed Forces, which are three times larger. What ever happened to the idea of hiring an adequate number of mental health workers to deal with the victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the handmaiden of suicide in many cases? When Peter MacKay was minister of Defence, he promised to hire extra medical personnel to deal with this dire legacy of Afghanistan. I guess he couldn’t figure out how to turn it into a photo-op.

    Worst of all, Harper appointed Julian Fantino to the veterans portfolio:

    The Harper government saved $3.8 million by closing those nine VA centres. It proceeded to add $4.5 million to Fantino’s ad budget to assure the viewers of Hockey Night in Harperland that the government was doing a great job with vets.

    Canada's veterans figured out long ago that the man who likes to walk around in a flight jacket talks out of both sides of his mouth. They are rising in a growing chorus to tell it straight. They know their real enemy.

    Thursday, November 13, 2014

    The Pushback Against Dictatorship Continues

    Michael Harris' book Party of One details how Stephen Harper has corrupted Canadian democracy. Now you can add John Ralston Saul to Harper's enemies list. Saul's latest book, The Comeback, focuses on the harm Harper has done to Canada's First Nations and the environment. Saul is particularly critical of the prime minister's use of omnibus bills. Lawrence Martin writes:

    Saul devotes a chapter of his book to detailing how so-called ‘budget’ bills have been used by the Harper government as camouflage for making controversial changes to law — for example, downgrading environmental protections and changing unemployment insurance eligibility — with very little debate.

    The Conservatives have defended the bills by saying that other governments have used them as well. This, says Saul, “is an intentional misrepresentation, which is to say, it is a lie.”

     Other governments passed omnibus bills:

    Past governments have built packages of laws, Saul acknowledges, but he argues they tended to be linked by a single theme, were smaller than the Harper government’s omnibus bills and were subjected to more debate. The Harper bills are designed, he says, to short-circuit public debate: “The democratic function is eliminated as a reality. What remains is pro-forma voting.”

    In twelve months, says Saul, “Parliament was bullied into radically altering 133 largely unrelated laws through two acts.” 

    The pushback against dictatorship is now out in the open. Only time will tell if Canadians are paying attention.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    The Phony Warrior


    Now that Remembrance Day is over, Thomas Walkom reminds his readers that a day that was set aside to honour the sacrifices of many is now being used by one man to pave his way back into office:

    Patriotism is powerful tonic. The wanton killing of W.O. Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo reignited the militant side of Canadian patriotism, a side that — following the disaster of the Afghan War — had been in abeyance.

    The prime minister understands this well. It explains his decision to abruptly interrupt a long-planned trip to China in order to make a cameo appearance at Ottawa’s Remembrance Day services Tuesday.
    To miss the chance of publicly honouring military sacrifice would have been to miss a crucial political opportunity.

    Harper will use the murders of two Canadian soldiers to whip up domestic fear of terrorism and to present himself as a "steady hand." He claimed that it was his steady hand that guided the economy. But that line began to ring distinctly hollow. He needs the same line with a different context. Recent events have provided him with that context.

    Walkom warns that we could be in for an early election:

    His announcement that he will increase the baby bonus is a classic example of bribing voters with their own money. To ensure Canadians understand who is bringing them these cheques, the government is running non-stop ads that trumpet the new goodies.
    The effort appears to be working. Over most of the year, Trudeau consistently outpolled Harper in popularity. Yet in the latest Nanos tracking poll, the two were in a statistical tie.

    Harper understands that he has to act before his new claim about being a steady hand begins to ring as hollow as his claim to economic clairvoyance. He is a phony economist. -- and a phony warrior.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    Remembrance Day 2014


    We have become mesmerized by bad behaviour. Michael den Tandt writes that honour is is short supply these days:

    Honour is AWOL, missing without leave, in the case of the famous Toronto radio host now accused of serially assaulting at least nine women. Jian Ghomeshi has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime. The allegations against him have not been tested in court. But setting aside the outcome of the police investigation, it is clear from multiple accounts that Ghomeshi ran CBC Radio’s flagship culture show, Q, as his private, undisputed fiefdom. Medieval, you might say.

    Honour was in short supply last week in Ottawa. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau turfed two MPs from his caucus over allegations of “serious personal misconduct.”
    As far as I have been able to tell, Trudeau went to some lengths to avoid identifying the alleged victims, or indeed the way in which they had been victimized. New Democrats promptly leaked the fact that the allegations concerned sexual harassment of female NDP MPs – and then unloaded on the Liberal leader for making the matter public. The New Democrat deputy leader, Megan Leslie, suggested Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House that a better solution would have been to deal with it all in-house, in other words secretly. 

    Den Tandt suggests that, on this Remembrance Day we look to our veterans who have always adhered to a Canadian tradition:

    In Afghanistan it was embodied in the Canadian Forces’ “3-d” approach to conflict – defence, diplomacy and development. This was always more than sloganeering. Even the sergeants in the Canadian Forces – especially the sergeants, in my experience – sought to embody strength with compassion. This is not to portray them as delicate do-gooders, but simply to acknowledge that they were very aware they had a purpose over and above that of killing the enemy.

    Long before Afghanistan, in Rwanda, or the Medak Pocket in Croatia, the CF ethos lived in a willingness to do the perilous and hard work well, even when the country was uninterested. In Haiti, in 2010, after the earthquake, I remember sitting quietly in the dark, listening to Canadian soldiers speak to one another of the horrors they’d seen that day. There were strength, competence and decency to make any Canadian’s heart swell with pride.

    The history of war is the history of folly. But, in the midst of folly, human beings can still be guided by their better angels.

    Monday, November 10, 2014

    The F-35 By Any Means


    We learned late last week the the Harper government has ordered four F-35's. Michael Harris writes:

    According to a Canadian Press story by Murray Brewster based on a Pentagon leak, the Harper government plans to buy four F-35s and slip the acquisition into the current fiscal year. In order to get the controversial jet by 2016 or 2017, Canada has to provide the F-35 Project Office with a letter of intent by mid-November. All this is documented in a U.S. Department of Defense slide show. Not a peep in Ottawa.

    Nothing has been broached in parliament about this potentially imminent order of a jet that is grossly over-budget, grossly delayed in production, and mired in operational problems. If the story is accurate, there never was a meaningful review of the F-35 decision of 2010 — another lie.

    After CP broke the story, defence minister Rob Nicholson was not in Question Period last Friday. But the government once again played silly bugger on the F-35 file when Bernard Trottier, the minister’s parliamentary secretary, rose to answer in his place.

    Refusing to address the information in the Pentagon leak, he simply parroted the speaking points that no decision had been made to replace Canada’s fleet of CF-18s. Does anyone believe that if the Harper government wants to buy four of these jets that the F-35 will not be the choice to replace the CF-18? This is simply vintage Harper — getting what he wants by other means. 

    Once again, Harper has shown his utter contempt for Parliament -- and by extension, Canadian voters. Despite the fact that the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General revealed that the government had lied about the cost of the jets -- and that they had supposedly gone back to the drawing board -- Harper is focused on getting what he wants by any means necessary.

    If Harper is not thrown out in the next election, democracy in Canada -- like truth from the Prime Minister's Office -- will be dead.

    Sunday, November 09, 2014

    It's Going To Be A Very Nasty Election


    On Friday, the Canadian Press reported that The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada has voted to abandon its traditional neutrality during federal elections:

    Members of the union have complained bitterly about what they claim is the muzzling of federal scientists and political interference with their work.

    The union, which represents some 55,000 professionals in the public service, has traditionally chosen to stay at arm's length from elections.

    But union president Debi Daviau says the government's war on labour unions and its cuts to public service jobs have forced a change in strategy.

    "Extraordinary times call for extraordinary actions," Daviau said in a written statement Friday.

    Unions will become, in the Harperite lexicon, subversives. And, with Canada's entry into Iraq, you can bet that the the prime minister will paint his opponents as weak kneed cowards. Those who oppose income splitting will be branded anti-family. And those who oppose the kind of trade deals Harper has been signing will be called the enemies of prosperity. Environmentalists are already enemies of the state.

    The Conservatives have bottled their venom. They intend to release it every day until the election. And it's going to be a very nasty election.

    Saturday, November 08, 2014

    Becoming Our Burden


    As EKOS reports that the Harperites are making political hay from the fear of terrorism, Paul Adams argues that there is a good case to be made for doing almost nothing about it:

    It’s never going to be easy to catch lone-wolf terrorists before they strike. None of what the government is suggesting now seems likely to change that. And the expanded police and intelligence state we erected after September 11 already seems capable of catching and convicting the mostly low-grade terrorist conspiracies springing up in our midst.

    And, when it comes to the Islamic State,

    in one of the most extensive studies of the Islamic State publicly available, the counter-terrorism expert Richard Barrett has noted that there is no evidence it has established any training or planning for terrorist strikes outside Iraq and Syria. What it does is encourage sympathizers in the West to commit isolated outrages like those recently perpetrated here and in Australia.

    Indeed, unlike al-Qaida, Islamic State is preoccupied closer to home. It is trying to be much more than a terrorist organization. It is trying to seize, control, defend and administer territory — to become a state in fact as well as in name. It is attempting to do these things in extremely exigent conditions, leaving few resources and little energy for terrorizing the rest of the world.

    Adams argues that, if radicalized Canadians return home, we do have a problem. But he points out quite correctly that:

    It is in the very nature of terrorism that it works by creating fears disproportionate to its power to create actual physical harm.

    If we run around acting out our fears with extravagant counter-measures, we give the terrorists an unearned victory — and ourselves an undeserved burden.

    And it's quite clear that Stephen Harper is completely focused on becoming our burden.

    Friday, November 07, 2014

    Use Your Eyes


    George Shultz is a Republican with a PhD in economics form MIT and a long record of public service. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

    Mr. Shultz will turn 94 next month, but his interest in public issues persists. His latest interest is climate change. He’s bought an electric car, placed solar panels on his house and has been telling those in his party and beyond: “The climate is changing. If you don’t like the science, use your eyes.”

    What to do? Mr. Shultz favours two approaches. First, increased government funding on clean technology research. Second, a revenue-neutral carbon tax, of the kind British Columbia implemented in 2008.

    Imagine that from a pillar of Republicanism – a plea for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Most Republican politicians run from the issue of climate change, their latest dodge being that they are not scientists and therefore cannot have an opinion on the science.

    Shultz is a conseservative. But he was never a neo-conservative -- which is a round about way of saying that he accepts the validity of science. And the science is getting more and more ominous:

    Last week’s fifth report of the International Panel on Climate Change . . . reported with more urgency and certainty than ever that the Earth is warming due to man-made emissions, principally from the burning of fossil fuels. The consequences for humanity will be grave, said the IPCC.

    In that assessment, the panel agrees with Mr. Shultz, who has said that his two preferred policy choices – research and a carbon tax – will be far less costly than the long-term expense of dealing with climate change.

    There are some conservatives who can actually think their way through a problem. But they are an endangered species.

    Thursday, November 06, 2014

    They Claim He's a Smart Man


    The Conservative "Family Tax Cut"  is straight out of the fifties. Linda McQuaig considers three families, each earning a total $100,000 in income:

    Imagine three families, all raising kids, all with total household incomes of $100,000.

    In the first household, the breadwinner is a single mother. Her benefit from the Family Tax Cut: zero.
    The second consists of two working spouses, each earning $50,000. Their benefit from the Family Tax Cut: zero.

    The third consists of a man earning $100,000 with a stay-at-home wife. Their benefit from the Family Tax Cut: Bingo! They get $2,000.

    Incomes are equal, but benefits are not. What's the difference?

    By what stretch of logic could that be considered fair? Are the other two families not “hardworking” enough? Does the Harper government consider them defective in some way?

    Their only flaw, in terms of qualifying for this tax break, is that they’re not the kind of traditional family that Stephen Harper and his base clearly prefer.

    Income-splitting also would reinforce the dominant role of men in relationships. The income-splitting itself is for tax purposes only. There’s no actual transfer of money to the lower income spouse (typically the woman), so it will do nothing to increase her autonomy or bargaining power within the relationship.

    Harper's economic policy is straight out of the 19th century. His "family policy" is straight out of the middle of the last century.  His view of the future only stretches as far as the next election.

     And they say he's a smart man.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2014

    What's New?


    As the details of Stephen Harper's income splitting plan are made public, it becomes clear how grotesque his "family friendly" policy is. Carol Goar writes that a small minority of Canadians will give income splitting enthusiastic support:

    For about 15 per cent of the population, the answer is an enthusiastic yes. These taxpayers — typically high-earning breadwinners with stay-at-home spouses and kids — will receive an average of $1,140 more a year in tax relief and children’s benefits.

    For 12 per cent of Canadians — single parents and working parents in similar tax brackets — the answer is an equivocal yes. They’ll get an additional $615 a year in children’s benefits, but no tax reduction.
    For the remaining 73 per cent of the population — couples without children, parents of children over 18, young singles and pensioners — the answer ranges from an altruistic maybe (in the case of grandparents) to a flat no (in the case underemployed youth). They will get nothing.
    What this amounts to is a massive income transfer wrapped in child-friendly language.

    And, when you get into the fine print, the gross injustice of Harper's tax break is stunning:

  • The lion’s share of the $27 billion will go to better-off families. They’re the only ones who can afford the “traditional” model of child-rearing in which Dad works, Mom takes care of the kids and one income supports everybody.

  • A disproportionate percentage will go to parents in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where one-earner families are more common than in eastern Canada. According to the Broadbent Institute, which analyzed the regional impact of Harper’s plan, 22.8 per cent of families with children in Alberta are eligible for the maximum benefit compared to 13.8 per cent nationally. Just 7.4 per cent of Quebec families with children qualify for the full benefit. (Ontario is in the middle at 14.1 per cent.)

  • Parents in their late 20s and 30s, who set aside money to start a family, will do better than their younger counterparts who need two incomes.

  • And families with grandparents nearby who can take care of the children will be at an advantage. This arrangement allows one parent to work part-time while the other maximizes the family income.
  • In all cases, tax dollars flow from the majority of Canadians to a well-off minority.

    But Harper has always been about serving the interests of a well off minority.
    What's new?

    Tuesday, November 04, 2014

    Inconvenient Questions


    Word has it that Stephen Harper wants to clamp down on individual liberties on the pretext that national security demands such a clamp down. Murray Dobbins writes that Harper should -- but won't -- answer some very inconvenient questions:

    The bigger questions remain to be asked and so they won't likely be answered. Mr. Harper, who eagerly adheres to the (simplistic) idea that jihadists "hate our freedoms," might reasonably be asked to explain why he is so eager to destroy those freedoms in response to the jihadists' "war" against the West. Isn't that exactly what they want -- or does Harper want to rid us of freedoms so the jihadists won't hate us so much? Wouldn't a genuine response be to celebrate and enhance our freedoms even more (perhaps by ending the auditing of groups critical of the government)?

    There is another question the government seems decidedly uninterested in: What is it about our Western societies -- supposedly the model for the entire world, morally, culturally and socially superior -- that alienates some young people so much that they can suddenly decide it's all right to kill innocents and it's worth dying for a cause so remote and alien to their lived experience that it is scarcely possible to believe they can understand it let alone truly embrace it? Could it possibly have anything to do with 35 years of neoliberal assault on community and consumer capitalism's failure to provide meaning to their lives beyond purchasing the next electronic gadget?

    No one seems to wonder whether or not Harper's foreign policy has anything to do with what has happened:

    The other question not being asked is what would a rational, enlightened (we are enlightened, right?), effective response to so-called "radical" Islam look like? The "this changes everything" gang certainly don't intend to change Canada's foreign policy or recommend a change to its allies. Yet it is key to any long-term solution.

    But arriving at long term solutions means "committing sociology." And the Harperian vision has always been short term. It stretches no further than winning the next election. One can only hope that Canadians -- who may not be as cynical as their prime minister -- are at least smarter than he is.

    Monday, November 03, 2014

    We've Seen This Movie Before


    Stephen Harper has made an initial six month commitment to the war in Iraq. If anyone thinks the war will be over in six months, Jeffrey Simpson writes, he or she has been smoking something funny:

    Last week, the U.S. military and civilian leadership gave an off-the-record briefing in Baghdad. The New York Times reported the briefers saying it will be a “multiyear” campaign. In Syria, the briefers predicted that no ground campaign against the Islamic State could begin for 12 to 18 months.

    In the words of Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “the basic goal of degrading and defeating the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous.” Air attacks, a more effective Iraqi army and even an improvement in the so-called “moderate” Syrian forces would still leave “some form of violent Islamic extremism.” He says U.S. military officials have told him “that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years, if not more than a decade.”

    That kind of commitment will cost money. And last week the prime minister's proposed  tax cuts sliced the surplus in half. Harper is increasingly looking and sounding like George W. Bush. The parallels are particularly pertinent when it comes to understanding the situation Harper has pompously walked into:

    In an excellent survey for the RAND Corp., Seth Jones has underlined how “Salafist-jihadi” groups have grown in size and number. Since al-Qaeda first gained international notoriety, these groups have split into four types: al-Qaeda itself, headquartered in Pakistan; groups affiliated with al-Qaeda whose leaders have sworn loyalty to it; other Salafist-jihadi groups; and inspired individuals (perhaps such as the Canadian terrorists who killed two soldiers last week) and networks.

    Lumping these groups together is a fundamental mistake easily made by the media and politicians swimming in their own rhetoric. For example, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader, cut off all ties between his organization and the Islamic State in February because it would not accept his leadership.

    Groups affiliated with al-Qaeda exist in Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Algeria. These groups, and other sorts of terrorist organizations, differ greatly about how much, if at all, to target Western countries and interests. Some wish to concentrate on the “near enemy,” states near to where they operate; others do want to strike Western interests that represent the “far enemy.”

    Years after the the United States left Vietnam in humiliation, Robert McNamara admitted that the fundamental mistake American leaders made was not understanding their enemy.

    We've seen this movie before.

    Sunday, November 02, 2014

    Comforting The Rich


    Stephen Harper revealed his income splitting plan last week. It's classical Conservative policy. Comfort the rich, they say, and everyone else will benefit. Scott Clark and Peter Devries write:

    According to the Harper government, income-splitting will cost Ottawa $2.4 billion 2014-15 and $1.9 billion in 2015-16. That’s an awful lot of revenue to give up just to make a small group of well-heeled taxpayers happy. Why do these households deserve a deep tax break more than the vast majority of Canadian taxpayer? How can the government justify a re-distribution of income that benefits the wealthy?

    There is no justification whatsoever for introducing income-splitting on social or economic grounds — certainly not in the current economic environment. The argument that the government makes — that it did it for seniors and therefore it should be applied to other families — doesn’t make a particle of sense. The fact is that the Harper government gave income-splitting to seniors to make amends for its decision to tax income trusts.

    Income-splitting is being done to placate a small part of the Conservative base at the expense of virtually everyone else. The rollout will be explicitly political: those households that qualify will be able to collect their tax cut when they file their 2014 tax return, just in time for the election.
    It’ll be interesting to see how this tax change plays out with Canadians as they come to understand what it means to them — or rather, what it doesn’t mean. The Harper government obviously is expecting people to be disappointed, which explains their decision to sugar the pill with other tax breaks:

     Mr. Harper announced an enrichment of the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), which would benefit almost 1.7 million families with children. First, the monthly benefit for a child under age six will be increased from $100 to $160. Second, under the UCCB, children aged between 6 and 17 will receive $720 per year. Enhanced payments will take effect in January 2015 and will start to show up in monthly payments in July — just before a fall election. The cost of the enhanced UCCB will be offset by the elimination of the existing child tax credit beginning in 2015.

    The simple truth is that the economic policy of our "economist" prime minister doesn't -- and never did -- make a particle of economic sense. It's always been about buying votes from a narrowly targeted group of voters -- Canada's wealthiest citizens.

    Saturday, November 01, 2014

    The "Talent" He Courts


    Pity poor Dean del Mastro. He stands convicted on all counts. Del Mastro claims he is the victim of a gross injustice. Michael Harris writes:

    In fact, one of the things noted by Judge Cameron in rendering her verdict was Del Mastro’s lack of credibility. She noted how he obfuscated the evidence and avoided telling the truth on the stand. In some cases, he left questions asked on cross-examination ignored and unanswered. While such tactics are grounds for promotion in the Harper government, they are not traits that generally end well when you are under oath in court.

    The inescapable lesson behind Judge Cameron's judgement is that Stephen Harper has a lousy eye for talent:

    What makes this even more farcical is how the prime minister has — again — demonstrated his appalling judgement on major appointments. He made Dean Del Mastro his parliamentary secretary. And despite demands from the opposition that Del Mastro step down while he was being investigated, Harper kept him on until he was formally charged by Elections Canada.

    That’s right. The same acute eye for talent that put Arthur Porter (now languishing in a Panamanian jail) in charge of oversight for CSIS — that tapped Bruce Carson a senior policy advisor and appointed two senators now facing criminal charges — has struck again. Del Mastro is further proof the PM should start outsourcing his staffing requirements — maybe to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

    But there is a larger lesson. Evidence of the del Mastro syndrome stretches back further than the last election:

    In 2006, the CPC used an accounting scam — moving money in and out of local and national accounts — that allowed the party to spend a million dollars more than the spending limits allowed. This became known as the In-and-Out scandal, which resulted in charges five years later.

    In 2011, Harper cabinet minister Peter Penashue was forced to resign and run in a by-election after an Elections Canada investigation found that he had accepted illegal contributions in 2011 and overspent his campaign limits. The woman who beat him in the by-election, Liberal Yvonne Jones, described the outcome this way: “People are tired of the fearmongering. They were tired of the attack ads. They were tired of the lies.”

    Don't expect Stephen Harper to learn any lessons from all of this. But, if Canadian voters have not learned any lessons from Harper's appalling eye for talent, we are in deep trouble.