Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Another Reason


The Harper government hopes that concluding the TPP deal will be its October Surprise. Constitutional convention dictates that, in an election campaign, the sitting government becomes a caretaker government. But this government is contemptuous of all constitutional conventions. Scott Sinclair writes:

This would not be the first time this government has run roughshod over constitutional convention. Prorogation of Parliament, contempt of Parliament, misleading Parliament, omnibus budget bills … the list of abuses is long.

But, more importantly, an election campaign  is no place to consider the trade deal. Even if Barack Obama gets the version of the trade deal he wants, Congress will have to put it under the microscope:

Even if an agreement is hammered out in Atlanta, the president must give Congress 90 days’ notice before signing anything, and that only starts the legislative clock ticking. Congressional consideration would extend well into 2016, making the TPP a political football during the U.S. elections.

Which means that nothing is going to happen until well after the election is over. And there are a lot of things we should be concerned about in the proposed treaty:

At the last meeting, the U.S. secretly cut a side deal with Japan to allow Japanese and other automakers to sell cars and parts with high levels of Chinese content duty free in North America, undercutting the Canadian and Mexican industries. Economist Jim Stanford estimates this could cost the Canadian auto sector 24,600 jobs.
With energy and commodity prices in the gutter, many Canadians understand it is not a good time to be sacrificing well-paying jobs or weakening struggling manufacturers that are the main hope for reviving our stagnant economy.
These high-profile issues are just the tip of the iceberg. The TPP could mean major changes in matters ranging from access to medicines to the weakening of privacy protections. Unfortunately, there is no way these and other potential surprises buried in the massive text would be properly aired in the closing days of the campaign.

The Harperites, however, will not take any of these concerns into consideration. Another reason they must be tossed from office on October 19th. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Time Will Tell

                                     THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Pierre Trudeau's ghost haunted Roy Thomson Hall last night. Stephen Harper has been doing battle with that ghost since he entered public life. And, last night, Tom Mulcair tried to call it from the grave. Michael Harris writes:

Several times during this entertainment, Mulcair linked Bill C-51 to the invocation of the War Measures Act. As Tommy Douglas had stood against the War Measures Act in 1970, Mulcair’s NDP was now standing up against Bill C-51 — unlike Justin Trudeau, he insisted.

The Liberal leader stole Harper’s family values turf by standing up for his famous father, who died exactly 15 years ago yesterday. Justin defended Pierre Trudeau from the attacks of the two other leaders with whom he shared the stage. He talked about his pride in being the son of such a man as Canada’s most famous prime minister — a stark contrast to the image of Pierre Trudeau offered by NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.  “Fifteen years ago tonight he passed away," Justin reminded his audience, "and he wouldn’t want us fighting battles of the past.” 

Even committed Harperite Tasha Kheiriddin admitted that Trudeau won the night:

But even if you disagree vehemently with his positions, you couldn’t deny that he delivered them with conviction. Throughout the night, he clearly articulated Liberal policies, defended them passionately, threw in some good zingers (describing Stephen Harper’s northern strategy as “all sled, no dogs”) and, most importantly, didn’t trip up. And so, Trudeau won last night’s debate.

Perhaps, Harris suggests, that's because Trudeau -- who was supposed to be not ready for prime time -- is a better politician than either Harper or Mulcair:

It started with the arrival of his bus at the place Toronto’s mucky mucks gather to celebrate culture. While both the other leaders pulled up at the main entrance and quickly disappeared inside, Trudeau’s bus stopped 50 meters from the venerable front doors.

A cavalcade of acolytes poured out, Justin following closely behind. It had the feel of a heavyweight boxer making his way to the ring for the main event minus the hoodie and the shadow boxing. Sort of like Mick Jagger taking to the stage at the El Mocambo in another era. A rock star in the age of the rock star.

Trudeau waded into the crowd of supporters standing behind the ropes on the sidewalk with that big bear embrace that excites royal photographers. The money shot. The guy with the royal jelly embracing the great unwashed. Democracy.

Time will tell.

Monday, September 28, 2015

He Thinks They're One And The Same Thing


At tonight's Munk debate, Stephen Harper will claim that -- just as he is  a master of economic policy -- he is also a foreign policy guru. But, Michael Harris writes, Harper's foreign policy is all about milking the world for money while being guided by humanity's darker angels:

Behind the emotional appeal to the worst angels of our nature and fear mongering is a decade’s worth of diplomatic disaster.  The world has become a much more dangerous place for Canadians due almost solely to the Harper approach, and Canada has been involved in some of the darkest episodes post 9/11 – including a dubious role in Afghanistan that might yet spark a public inquiry into allegations of war crimes.

Harper's betrayal of Canada's traditional role in the world is breathtaking:

Consider some of the breathless reversals of Canadian foreign policy under Harper: While even China announces a cap-and-trade policy to reduce carbon emissions in the name of planetary salvation, Harper was the first world leader to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.

He also refused to honour Canada’s commitments at Copenhagen to reduce carbon emissions. To be sure it wouldn’t come back on his watch, he then dismantled the entire climate change branch within Foreign Affairs and has yet to regulate the energy industry.

Under Harper, and without informing either Parliament or the United Nations, Canada withdrew from the UN convention to fight drought in Africa and other vulnerable countries, making Canada the only state to do so out of 193 that signed on to the convention. The rest of the world saw encroaching deserts as an urgent problem because they are so obviously tied to famine and poverty. Then foreign minister John Baird referred to the convention as a fruitless “talkfest.”

For Harper, foreign policy must -- first and foremost -- generate profits:
After a brief flirtation with moralizing against evil-doers, Harper now routinely does deals with the devil. Despite its human rights record, Harper has cut huge deals with China, including Sinopec, the giant Chinese petroleum and chemical company. That $4.6 billion deal for 9 percent of Syncrude was eclipsed by the sale of Calgary-based resource company Nexen to the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. The price-tag was $15 billion but the conditions could prove much steeper – Canadian sovereignty. That’s because Harper granted China the right to sue Canada for unlimited damages if domestic laws by any level of government in this country harmed the value of Chinese investment here.

 Once upon a time, Harper said this: “I don’t think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values. They don’t want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar.” If you are wondering what happened to the man that spoke those words, he has undergone a sea-change. The new Harper now sells out Canadian values without so much as a blink.
How else can it be explained that Canada just sold $15 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, a country recently described by The Atlantic as a world champion of human rights abuse? This is a country that plans to behead and then crucify 21 year-old Ali al-Nimr for protesting against the state during the Arab Spring when he was a teenager. But I thought the beheaders were the bad guys? Now it turns out ISIS is something quite different: Saudi Arabians without money.

Harper knows nothing about economics or foreign policy. But what's worse, he thinks they're one and the same thing.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

On The Way Out


It's not easy to tell the truth -- particularly when people don't want to hear it. Linda McQuaig caused something of a political firestorm awhile back for suggesting that -- if we're really serious about climate change -- most of the black goo in northern Alberta will have to stay in the ground. Yonatan Strauch and Thomas Homer-Dixon write that the numbers back up McQuaig:

The math says that having a safe climate requires leaving huge oil reserves in the ground. To avert warming so catastrophic we can’t adapt to it – generally thought to be about 2 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures – the atmosphere can absorb only so much carbon.

This is known as the global carbon budget. According to the International Energy Agency’s 450 scenario, staying within this budget requires more than half of fossil fuel reserves to remain unburned. Most importantly for Canada, even with sharp limits on coal emissions world oil consumption soon peaks below 100 million barrels per day – not far above current levels of consumption – and then declines to around 80 mb/d in 2035.  Stephen Harper has bet the Canadian economy on the oil sands. But, even as he was placing that bet, the action at the tables was changing. 

Consider what has happened to coal:

Ten years ago, coal was a solid investment. Consumption was growing fast; meanwhile, solar and wind power were relatively expensive. Today, investment banks like Citigroup and HSBC warn the coal industry is in permanent decline, while noting that renewables are increasingly competitive. Of course, in the U.S. cheap natural gas from fracking has played a big part in coal’s shifting fortunes. But the rapidly falling cost of renewables has been important too.

The same fate could await oil: 

What’s happening to coal could easily happen to oil. Global demand could soften far sooner than currently seems possible, thanks to a combination of carbon policy, increased vehicle and infrastructure efficiency, and electric vehicle growth driven by plummeting battery costs. This is an energy innovation scenario we should be betting on, not against. 

But Harper -- and Canadians in general -- won't talk about what's happening. They refuse to look at the math:

It’s no wonder many Canadians don’t want to discuss these hard numbers. For Canada to become a fossil-fuel “energy superpower” the world has to blow its carbon budget. The price of oil has to stay above $80 a barrel long enough to justify long-term investments in oilsands infrastructure. A modest carbon tax could buy us some social license. And for a few short and shameful decades, Canada could profit from climate destruction.
But this alternative scenario seems increasingly unlikely. In a world evermore worried about climate catastrophe, Canada is probably going to find it ever harder to expand the oilsands. As global markets for oil shrink, the highest-cost highest-carbon oil will be left in the ground first—and that’s our oil. This will make the current oil down-turn look like a walk in the park.

What's happening in Alberta these days is a canary in the coal mine. And coal mines are on the way out.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Weapon Of Mass Destruction


The damage Stephen Harper has done within our borders is apparent everywhere we turn. But Canadians may not be aware of how much damage he has done to their country's international reputation. Harper's tenure on the international stage has been just as destructive as it has been at home. Daryl Copland writes:

The inventor of peacekeeping, long-standing proponent of North-South relations, and determined promoter of sustainable development — once universally welcomed as an honest broker, helpful fixer and provider of good offices and innovative ideas — is today regarded as an obstruction to progress, a country with little to bring to the table.

Canada’s vaunted foreign service has languished, marginalized and under-employed by a government uninterested in professional diplomatic advice or enlightened international initiative.

Unrecognizable to its former partners and friends, Canada has become something of an international pariah — a serial unachiever, the fossil of the year, the country that others don’t want in the room. The one-time boy scout has become a distant outlier in the international system, sometimes ostracized but more often simply ignored. 

Harper claimed we wouldn't recognize Canada by the time he was finished. Our international partners don't recognize us either. When they look at us, what do they see?

All fight, no talk. Dialogue, negotiation, compromise and knowledge-based problem-solving have given way to hectoring rhetoric and debilitating retrogression. Diplomacy and multilateralism have been written off.

Over the past decade the warrior nation wannabes in Ottawa preferred to preside over disastrous years of war in Afghanistan, to help open a Pandora’s Box of multiple misfortunes by participating in an illegal regime change exercise in Libya, and unthinkingly to join in the anti-ISIL bombing of Iraq and Syria, thus worsening the refugee crisis and exposing Canadians to a heightened risk of retaliation at home and abroad. 

It's really quite a record. At home and abroad, Mr. Harper has been a one man weapon of mass destruction.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Who Do You Trust?

There was a lot of sound and fury last night about niqabs.  But they are red herrings. The central question in this election is, "Who do you trust?" Michael Harris writes:

This week has seen another trainwreck for CPC credibility. How funny is it that the guy who campaigns in sweaters with ‘Canada’ on the back hires an Australian Svengali to fix his campaign? Or touts a public endorsement from an ex-hockey player and de-facto American who can’t even vote thanks to his political hero’s changes to the rules?

This week, Harper tried to enlist the Terry Fox Foundation in his crusade:

And can anyone believe the transparent, cynical and deplorable attempt by Steve the Marketer to use Terry Fox as a campaign prop? Harper’s wife Laureen and Industry Minister James Moore announced that a Harper government would match Canadian donations up to $35 million for the annual Terry Fox run.

Moore, who had enough sense not to re-offer (but not enough to keep his mouth shut), made it up as he went along, declaring that the plan had the support of the Fox family. Pure Pravda.

God love Terry’s deceased mother, who for decades maintained the purity of his work by not accepting any private or political sponsorships. Despite Moore’s hot air, the Fox family made clear that they had not enthusiastically endorsed the Conservative party’s attempt to use Terry Fox as electoral bait. In fact, the family never knew about the matching pledge caper until James and the other Great One’s Missus dropped the bomb.

But here’s the thing. After the family registered its displeasure over this classless opportunism, Stephen Harper doggedly insisted that he was asked to set up the $35 million matching plan. In other words, it was the family that had it wrong.

Harper has made a career of telling whoppers. But they're catching up with him. This week he claimed that cancelling the F-35 would "crater" the Canadian aerospace industry -- a claim that an official at the Pentagon immediately denied. It was a new twist on the fabrications Harper has told about the flying elephant:

The best the Conservative leader could do was to pass out the same baloney sandwiches he slapped together years ago. There’s only one problem. Both the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, and current Auditor General Michael Ferguson outed Harper on the real costs of controversial jet as a matter of public record. This is not staying on message — this is putting your hand in the blender and expecting a manicure.

Mr. Harper may claim that Muslim women are trying to hide behind niqabs. The truth is that he is desperately trying to hide behind one.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Respect Isn't In His Dictionary


Stephen Harper has always treated his political rivals with contempt. But these days, David Krayden writes, he is equally contemptuous of his base. Consider the case of the National Firearms Association:

Leave it to the ‘tough guys’ of Canadian politics to pick fights in all the wrong places and remind the little people of who’s really calling the shots. A former party flag-waver has learned that bitter lesson — which is why Sheldon Clare, president of the National Firearms Association, is now running as an independent against the Conservative incumbent in Cariboo-Prince George, B.C.

Clare heads an organization that wields only a fraction of the power enjoyed by its carnivorous cousin in the U.S., the National Rifle Association, the bête noire of liberals everywhere. The NRA routinely tilts the table in Senate and House races south of the border, while Clare’s group can’t really be called a power-broker.

According to Clare, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney’s staffers got into the act as Harper dispatched his personal servant, Kory Teneycke — fresh from ‘managing’ Sun News into the ground — to hold the line. (Teneycke’s role in this story is particularly hilarious because, as the Sun News chief, he never missed an opportunity to insert a gun story into the daily lineup. He once assigned reporter  Alexandra Gunn to do five live stand-ups about a new salt-firing assault rifle designed to kill flies.)

Clare says he was told not to “be used by the NDP as a stick to beat up the CPC” and to refrain from criticizing Bill C-51 in the interests of political solidarity. In return, the NFA says it got a guarantee that Bill C-42, which addresses firearms licensing, would be amended.

Clare was outraged over the whole affair and went public, claiming that Teneycke just shrugged and said the group had been “played.” Maybe you think that kind of “play” is just good clean fun, or bad politics, or just politics as usual. At any rate, it’s politics as usual for these Conservatives. Harper doesn’t merely take his core supporters for granted — he seems to relish every opportunity he gets to rub their noses in the mud for being naïve enough to believe a political promise.

Then there are all those social conservatives who used to believe that -- like Moses -- Harper would lead them to the Promised Land:

He never had any intention of pursuing their objectives, of course. He made that clear in 2012, when MPs were debating Conservative backbencher Stephen Woodworth’s motion to examine whether a child is considered human at conception or birth. Harper gave his House Whip, Gordon O’Connor, a barn-burner of a speech to read, belittling the motion and proclaiming that “abortion cannot be eliminated. It is part of the human condition.” Debate’s over, social conservatives. Back to your kennel.
And, of course, there is the military:

Somehow the DND funding chart keeps showing the arrow pointing upwards — but the obsolete equipment isn’t getting replaced. And those who leave the military — particular those who leave with lingering trauma and missing limbs — soon find out that all those kind words about service to country and a nation’s eternal gratitude don’t add up to a real veteran’s pension any longer. As with gun owners and social conservatives, the message is the same: Take what we’re offering, shut up and get back in line. Oh, and remember to vote Conservative.

The word "respect" isn't in Mr. Harper's dictionary.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

You've Heard This Story Before


Bruce Carson's trial did not last long. We now await the judge's decision. On one level, the trial was about one individual's corrupt behaviour. But, on another level, the trial revealed yet again how the Harper government corrupts everything it touches. David Keith provides a little context:

In the spring of 2004, University of Calgary President Harvey Weingarten recruited me back to Canada to help build a top-notch research centre that would inform the hard energy choices faced by Alberta, Canada, and the larger world. In September 2006, I travelled to Ottawa with Weingarten to showcase our efforts and help raise funds. We met with Carson, who was seen as the prime minister’s go-to guy for climate policy, an increasingly hot topic as the Kyoto accord gained visibility. My impression of Carson then and in succeeding months was of a gruff lawyer keen to cut through the spin and craft a middle-ground deal on climate policy. 

Carson was soon appointed to the position of Executive Director of the University of Calgary's School of Energy and the Environment. And it immediately became apparent that Carson was the oil patch's go-to-guy: 

It soon became clear that Carson was simply using his academic post to further the interests of the conservative government and a narrow segment of the energy industry. Documents released by the RCMP contain emails and interviews making it unequivocally clear that Carson worked closely with industry leaders to produce meetings and reports that had the patina of stakeholder representation, while in fact aiming to avoid meaningful public debate.

Leaders of Alberta’s universities did nothing substantive to manage the problem until Carson’s scandal forced their hands. Even then, they failed to act decisively to ensure that public money was used for research that supported broad public interests.

Keith's conclusion bears repeating:

This is a national problem. Over decades, Canadian governments have emasculated or killed institutions that gave independent advice on science and technology so that they are now among the weakest in the G7. Federal and provincial governments increasingly demand that research funding be tied to matching money from industry, so work that threatens industry’s interests does not get funded. It’s a good idea to tie some applied work in engineering to industrial interests, but this requirement must not apply to policy analysis.

But you've heard this story before.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Living In A Bunker


The Harperites have always lived inside a bunker. During this election, they've fortified the barricades. Lawrence Martin writes:

In the election campaign, the Conservatives have barred their candidates in a great many ridings from participating in all-candidates debates. That’s right. The candidates are censored by the leadership from taking part in the most basic, the most elementary of democratic functions. The Conservatives dispute that this is going on but evidence contradicts their half denials.

You might think Tory candidates with even a pinch of pride would refuse to put up with this. You’d think they’d tell the leadership that this isn’t the Canada they grew up in, that this isn’t Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Instead they kowtow.

They choose not to see or hear. Or to know. Anne Kingston recently wrote in Macleans that this government's attempt to destroy information is unprecedented:

It examines the impact of the killing of the long form census, how hundreds of small towns like Melville, Sask., have been turned into statistical dead zones and ghost towns. They are no longer factored into employment numbers, poverty rates, divorce rates.

But the report is about more than that. It tells of the degradation of knowledge across the board in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa and the threat it poses to a functioning democracy. It’s about how studies on air pollution and toxic chemicals containing unwelcome news have vanished. It tells of how credible information about our history is being supplanted by mythologizing historical narratives. It’s about how our data collection system with its emphasis on voluntary surveys is now skewered so that there is less evidence – how convenient is this for the party in power – of a poverty problem in this country. It reminds us that we’ll never find out if there was really a politically-driven crackdown on charities opposed to government policy. Why? Because the Canada Revenue Agency ordered employees to destroy all text-message records.

This is a government which has chosen to know nothing. And, it has concluded that the less we citizens know, the better. Of course, when you live inside a bunker, you can't see the end when it's coming.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Supreme Narcissist


In last week's debate, when Stephen Harper talked about "old stock" Canadians, he wasn't talking about the oldest stock Canadians -- Canada's native peoples. Consider his record of that file. Michael Harris writes:

It was a telling moment in the debate. It was also perfectly in keeping with the Harper government’s view of indigenous peoples. They are invisible, except when beating drums or wearing feathers at one of those ghastly public ceremonies the Harperites like to substitute for real action on the injustices facing Aboriginals. Here’s just one example among many: Shoal Lake #40 – a reserve without safe drinking water for 17 years and counting.

The Crown-First Nations gathering of January 2012 promised renewal of the relationship and real engagement between the two parties. A year later, it was the same old same old. The Governor General didn’t even bother showing up for the anniversary. And that was a big diss since David Johnston represents the Crown, and First Nations treaties are with the Crown — not with any crass politico who fills an office by representing something less than a majority of Canadians.

Harper talks endlessly. But his words are plug nickels:

It would be hard to imagine a person for whom talk is cheaper than Stephen Harper. Point of fact: Harper record on Aboriginal issues is abysmal. Under the Constitution Act of 1982, Section 35 expressly affirms native treaty rights. In 1995, under the same section, Canada recognized that First Nations have an inherent right to self-government.

But instead of hitting the reset button, instead of consulting with First Nations as required by law, and moving towards full implementation of treaty rights and native self-government, Harper has lowered the boom on Canada’s natives at every opportunity. He wouldn’t meet Chief Teresa Spence but he did sic Deloitte on her and publish their audit during her hunger strike.

First, Harper poisoned the relationship by ramming through omnibus legislation, Bills C-38 and C-45. Both of them had a profound effect on native concerns for the environment and sharing in resource

The Harper government also made surreptitious and unilateral changes to the contribution agreements with Canada’s 630 bands. These contribution agreements are their primary source of income. Conditions buried in the appendix to the agreement appeared to suggest the bands would have to support the government’s omnibus legislation in order to access their funding.

After setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to get to the bottom of the residential school fiasco, referred to by former prime minister Paul Martin as “cultural genocide,” the Harper government refused to hand over documents requested by the commissioners. In the end, the Commission had to sue the very government that created it in order to do its job.

Mr. Harper's definition of "Canadians" are people who look and act like him. Put another way, he is a supreme narcissist.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

His Time Is Up

Stephen Harper doesn't know it. But he's yesterday's man.  His policy prescriptions have long since passed their best before date. Tom Walkom writes:

When he came onto the political scene in the late 1980s, Harper was on the cutting edge of what was then the new conservatism.

Like Thatcher, he was determined to shrink government.

In Harper’s view, a properly sized government would get out of the business of funding social programs like medicare.

Its main economic task would be to remove anything, including tariffs and regulations, that interfered with the free market. 

He wasn't the first to advocate such policies. Ironically, it was the Liberals before him who advocated smaller, passive government:

Under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, the federal Liberals too adopted the new orthodoxy of free trade, low taxes and balanced budgets.

In fact, it was the Liberals who, in 1995, obligingly took apart much of the welfare state they had helped create.

The effects were dramatic. In 1995, federal spending accounted for 22 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product. By 2006, it had dropped to 15 per cent.

As spending on social programs like welfare and employment insurance fell, the Chrétien-Martin Liberals used the resulting surpluses to lower personal and corporate taxes. That, in turn, made it politically more difficult to introduce new spending programs. 

 But times -- and the problems that accompany them --  have changed:

Put bluntly, the needs of capitalism have changed.

Business remains remarkably productive. But it cannot translate that productivity into profit unless customers have the wherewithal to buy its goods and services.

Right now, too many don’t.

The world economy is limping. Europe is in a mess. Japan is stagnant. The U.S. recovery is slow.

The new miracle economies that the world had been counting on, like Brazil, are no longer quite so miraculous.

Even China, with its strange amalgam of communism and cutthroat capitalism, is faltering.
Now the OECD is calling on governments to take up the slack. And former bank economists, like Don Drummond, write that it's time for government to stimulate the economy:

Mainstream fiscal conservatives, such as former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, say the government should fret less about deficits and instead spend on useful infrastructure.

Even the normally tight-fisted International Monetary Fund wants advanced nations to loosen the purse strings.

A paper released this week by the Ottawa-based Centre for the Study of Living Standards and co-authored by former TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond concludes that market forces alone cannot get the economy out of its funk.

Government, the paper says, must play a more active role, through measures such as investing in public works, improving access to child care and offering direct grants to promising businesses.

Mr. Harper's time is up. This election will tell us if Canadians have finally cottoned onto that fact.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bigotry At Its Heart


Many watching Thursday's debate were shocked to hear Stephen Harper make a distinction between refugees and those he called "old stock Canadians." If they had been familiar with Harper's history and his Reform roots, they wouldn't have been shocked at all. Murray Dobbins writes:

Not much is written these days about the nature of the Conservative base post-merger of the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Alliance Party (formerly Reform). But the base is largely the same today, and in my book Preston Manning and the Reform Party I documented just how dangerous the immigration issue was for Manning and his then-policy chief, Stephen Harper. No other policy issue took up as much time on the political massage table as this one -- with Manning having to use all his persuasive powers to neutralize the alarming resolutions coming from the famous "grass roots" of the party.

Leading up to 1991 policy convention, the most important the Reform Party ever held, there were 18 riding resolutions on immigration. Every one of them was considered by the party executive as extreme in one way or another: imposing various restrictions on immigrants, settlement in remote regions, demands for "ethnic balance," the deportation of immigrants with criminal convictions, etc. None of them made it to the convention floor, replaced by the Party Policy Committee with three more moderate ones.

From the very beginning, the Reform Party was anti-immigrant:

One way top Reformers played to the anti-immigrant vote was through the promotion of the writings and speeches of William Gairdner, one of the party's most popular keynote speakers. In his book, The Trouble with Canada, Gairdner (in a chapter called "The Silent Destruction of English Canada...") spoke of "invading cultures" and proposed quotas on "non-traditional" immigrants (those not from the U.K., U.S., New Zealand, Britain or white South Africans). Gairdner warned "in 250 years Canada could become a Chinese nation."

And the National Citizens Coalition, which Harper headed, opposed -- among many other things -- the settlement of Vietnamese refugees:

Among its many well-funded campaigns (against the Canada Health Act, fair tax reform, unions, and restrictions on corporate political spending) was a hysterical campaign against Canada admitting the so-called "boat people" -- the 1978-79 wave of refugees from post-war Vietnam. The NCC took out two full-page ads in The Globe and Mail warning that the government's policies would lead to "at least 750,000 [Vietnamese] in the not too distant future." The actual number was 60,000. 

The line from the Globe and Mail sounds suspiciously like Harper's claim that the other two parties would open the door to "hundreds of thousands" of refugees.

Bigotry was always at the heart of the Reform Party. And, even though he tries to hide it, Stephen Harper occasionally reminds us that he never was a Conservative. He was -- and is -- a Reformer.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Out Of The Closet


At several junctures in last night's debate, Justin Trudeau interrupted Stephen Harper with a simple declarative sentence: "That's not true."  Mr. Harper's government has distinguished itself with its in-your-face dishonesty. But, Michael Harris writes, it is even more noteworthy for its in-your-face corruption:

Cheating, lying and misleading the House of Commons, elevating the ethically dubious to high office — these are not good character references for any party leader. For Harper — who leads a party that prides itself on its moral values — they could be fatal.

The news this week was full of Tory roadkill. Harper Senate appointee Patrick Brazeau entered a guilty plea to assault and cocaine charges. A sexual assault charge was dropped, along with three other criminal charges, but Brazeau still faces a drunk driving charge and a criminal trial on fraud charges over his disputed Senate expenses. Despite all of that, he’s still hoping for an absolute discharge and a return to the Red Chamber. Not a winner with the base.

Nor were the revelations that came out at Bruce Carson’s trial this week. The Crown produced evidence it says shows the former Harper advisor using his government contacts — some at cabinet level — to advance a scheme to enrich his then-fiancé, a former Ottawa sex trade worker.

Carson was hired by Harper as a key advisor despite having done jail time for fraud and theft (which Carson disclosed during the vetting process for his security clearance. He even had cabinet minister John Duncan’s staff writing ‘media lines’ for him that were essentially aimed at misleading journalists and the public about Carson’s role in selling water treatment systems to First Nations reserves. It looked and smelled a lot like the PMO manipulations in the Mike Duffy case. The judge has reserved judgment in Carson’s case; he’ll face charges for illegal lobbying next year.

Harper famously hid in a closet earlier this year. When he came out, Harris writes, he dragged his skeletons with him. And now that they are on full view, his base is not pleased. A recent Abacus poll found:

that Conservative voters are the ones least likely to say their party’s leader really wants their vote (67 per cent), has values that line up with their own (46 per cent) and has new ideas about how to improve the economy (52 per cent.)

Compare that to the Liberal camp, where 85 per cent say Trudeau wants their vote, 56 per cent believe his values are pretty much the same as theirs, and 80 per cent say he has new ideas about “how to improve the country.” Mulcair also enjoys a much stronger level of commitment from his supporters than Harper, though his numbers were “not quite as strong as those of Mr. Trudeau,” according to the poll.

Perhaps Harper should have stayed in the closet.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Facts? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Facts


When it comes to evaluating the recently announced federal surplus, it's wise to remember that Stephen Harper has been waging a decade long war on facts. Chris Turner writes:

The crux of the matter is that experts, especially in technical and scientific fields, are beholden not to short-term policy goals but to verifiable facts. And Harper’s Conservatives have demonstrated time and again that they are more than happy to ignore, manipulate, even eliminate problematic facts to get what they want.

This is one of Harper’s most distinctive and potentially lasting fingerprints on the country after a decade in power — a dismissive smear across the government’s fact-finding apparatus that has substantially diminished its ability to tell Canadians who they are, what’s happening in their country, and how their government’s policies are affecting their lives and their world.

The elimination of the long form census and Mr. Harper's omnibus budget bills have destroyed this country's ability to make wise decisions:

Killing the long-form census is perhaps the less comprehensible measure. It was an act of willful self-blindness in which the Conservatives deliberately chose to gather much less information — of lower quality — about what is happening in the country to figure out how to run it. It only makes any kind of sense in light of Harper’s stated distaste for those meddling eggheads who “commit sociology” and other sorts of egregious liberal artistry using the data gathered by the census. If you’re tired of dodging reports showing that your crime bill won’t reduce crime and your economic policies don’t improve the economy, why not simply compromise all the numbers feeding them?

The 2012 omnibus budget bills were a more full-throated articulation of the anti-expert agenda. They hacked and slashed through government-funded laboratories and science programs, as well as rewriting more than 70 separate pieces of legislation in a radical diminishment of Canada’s environmental stewardship program. The reworked Fisheries Act now no longer protects more than 80 per cent of the freshwater species of fish facing extinction it used to cover. The Navigable Waters Protection Act, which once guarded millions of bodies of water from reckless development, now applies to less than 200. (The “Idle No More” movement among Canada’s First Nations began as a direct response to the enormous reduction in protection of indigenous rights this represented.)

Harper rose to power on the backs of the ignorant and the disaffected. His aim is to ensure that all citizens stay that way. As long as they don't have "just the facts, ma'am," he can always skate past the finish line.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Something Doesn't Compute


Stephen Harper began the week by crowing about his surplus. He fancies himself a magician; and so, nothing he says or does is ever what it seems. And such is the case with the "surplus." Jim Stanford writes:

The Conservative government has been criticized (including by the Parliamentary Budget Office) for its routine practice of underspending Parliament-approved budgets in many departments, and approved but unspent allocations were a significant factor in this week's announced surplus. Lapsed funds totaled $8.7 billion in fiscal 2014-15, higher than expected in the budget, and continuing a trend of higher-than-normal lapses. The short financial summary from Finance Canada does not provide details on which departments accounted for the biggest amounts of lapsed funds. In the past, substantial lapsed funds were booked in departments such as including veterans' affairs, youth job-creation, and security. We won't know until the release of detailed public accounts how much was underspent in each area.
Another factor which can affect a small balance (up or down) is the timing of various revenues and expenses, and the treatment of accounting issues like depreciation of public capital. Here, too, we do not have enough information from this summary report to know if timing decisions affected the balance one way or the other. We should note that the government's net debt rose by $4.7 billion during the year, and it had a net financial requirement (to fund operations) of $2.7 billion. In other words, the government was still borrowing money, even though it declared a (paper) surplus. This difference can arise because of accounting treatment of fixed assets, etc., which reduce the apparent deficit even though the government still needs to borrow. The directional gap between a positive surplus and continued cash borrowing, suggests that these timing issues were likely important to the achievement of the "official" surplus -- but again we won't be able to tell for sure until the full public accounts are released.

What is particularly interesting is how surplus EI funds have been used to plug holes:

We can be sure, however, that surplus funds siphoned from the Employment Insurance system account for more than the entire $1.9-billion surplus for the federal budget as a whole. EI revenues exceeded EI expenses by $4.5 billion for 2014-15, according to the Finance Canada summary. That means that for every $1 in bottom-line surplus declared by the government, $2.38 was reallocated away from the EI system. The EI surplus arises because benefit eligibility has been tightened so aggressively, and most unemployed Canadians can no longer qualify for benefits. (At present, under 40 per cent of officially unemployed Canadians qualify for regular EI benefits.) Yet Canadian workers (and their employers) still pay into the system. The resulting surplus becomes a convenient slush fund for subsidizing other government fiscal priorities -- in this case, declaring victory over the deficit in the middle of an election. Without this transfer from the EI program, the federal government (excluding EI) would have recorded a $2.6-billion deficit (approximately equal to what the government originally predicted for the year).

Strange, isn't it? We are officially in recession, yet the government declares a surplus. Which raises the question, "Who does the economy work for?" Something doesn't compute.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

God's Agent


Stephen Harper doesn't talk about his evangelical religion. But  its footprints are all over his policies. Andrew Nikiforuk writes in the Tyee:

Most Canadians still don't even know that Harper has been a long-time member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical church established by a Canadian nearly 100 years ago. It has a wide following in Alberta.

Harper's church believes that Jesus Christ will return to Earth in an apocalypse that is "imminent." It does not support abortion and homosexuality and believes that those who aren't born-again are "lost."

The publication Christianity Today has called Harper "The Smartest Evangelical Politician You Never Heard Of." But take a look at his policies and his legislation and you'll see what drives him. Consider his policy on Israel:

The Israeli press understands Canada's new religious reality. During Harper's celebrated state visit to Israel in 2014 the local press published an analysis noting that views of "the devout evangelical Christian prime minister" probably played a key role in Canada's new strategic union with the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Under Netanyahu, anti-Arab harassment and hatefulness have reached dangerous heights. Even the conservative Israeli president Ruvi Rivlin has despaired about the racism, extremism and "thuggishness that has permeated the national dialogue" in Israel.

But that's not what Canadians now hear from their evangelical prime minister. His government has declared a "zero tolerance" approach towards groups that support boycotting Israel to protest its dealings with Palestinians, conflating criticism of state policies with "anti-Semitism." That meant the Canadian government has identified as enemies such boycott backers as the United Church of Canada, Canadian Quakers, labour and student groups.

It's not just Harper's policy towards Israel that shows the influence of Evangelicalism. Domestic policy is full of it:

Religion explains why Harper appointed a creationist, Gary Goodyear, as science minister in 2009; why the party employs Arthur Hamilton, as its hard-nosed lawyer (he's an evangelical too and a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance); why Conservative MP Wai Young would defend the government's highly controversial spying legislation, Bill C-51, by saying it reflects the teachings of Jesus; and why Canada's new relationship with Israel dominates what's left of the country's shredded foreign policy.

It also explains why Harper would abolish the role of science advisor in the federal government only to open an Office of Religious Freedom under the department of Foreign Affairs with an annual $5-million budget. Why? Because millions of suburban white evangelical Christians consider religious freedom a more vital issue than same-sex marriage or climate change.

Like the Puritans of Salem, Harper believes that if he can't convert you, he should destroy you. Those who see themselves as God's agents are a clear and present danger.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Bottom Feeders


Like the other lies crafted in the PMO, the Harperites are trying to sell the idea that they are tough on crime. As part of their campaign, they have gone after NDP candidate Carol Baird Ellan in British Columbia. Michael Harris writes:

Consider the case of Carol Baird Ellan. The Conservative Party attack-machine is going after the ex-judge turned NDP candidate in Burnaby North Seymour for being soft on crime. The Cons have an entire website devoted to examples of Baird Ellan handing out what they describe as “lenient” sentences to serious criminals, including sex offenders.

When you compare judges records with Mr. Harper's record, you discover undisguised contempt for courts and judges:

Unless the Conservatives are saying that Baird Ellan misconstrued the law, their complaint is not against the judge at all. It is against the statutes under which she made her sentencing decisions. If Harper thinks the laws under which she exercised discretion are flawed, why didn’t he pass new statutes to force judges to send sex offenders to jail and throw away the key?

Last April, the SCC struck down the Harper government’s law that set a mandatory-minimum sentence of three years for gun crimes on a first offence, and five years on subsequent convictions. The 6-3 ruling written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin found that among many other defects, mandatory minimum sentences threaten the principle of proportionality in sentencing. Or as the Chief Justice herself put it, “They function as a blunt instrument that may deprive courts of the ability to tailor proportionate sentences at the lower end of a sentencing range.”

But consider a long list of Harper's appointments. Bruce Carson's trial starts today:

This week in Ottawa, Carson’s criminal trial for influence peddling begins. The charge relates to the accusation that Carson used his influence as a former government official to try to sell water filtration systems to native reserves, and that he directed 20 per cent of the revenue from the deals to his then fiancee, Michele McPherson. McPherson is a former escort who worked in the Ottawa sex-trade.

Carson also faces three other charges of illegal lobbying which will be tried in court next year.
For the Conservatives, the connection between Harper and Carson is not the best example of their being tough on crime. Carson was Harper’s research and policy director in the opposition years, and joined the PMO staff as a senior adviser after Harper won the 2006 election.

The thing is, before joining the PMO, Carson already had two criminal convictions — one for theft in 1983 and another for fraud in 1990. He had been sentenced to 18 months in jail on the theft conviction. He was also disbarred by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Here’s the kicker: Carson’s lawyer, Patrick McCann, said his client fully disclosed his criminal past during his security clearance check BEFORE starting work at the PMO. So, despite knowing about his record, this tough-on-crime prime minister hired him anyway.

Then, of course, there was the late Arthur Porter and that righteous defender of family values, Vic Toews -- Harper's former Minister of Justice -- who was appointed to the bench in Manitoba.

These guys are bottom feeders. They've always been bottom feeders.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Spitting Into The Wind


Last week, Stephen Harper pulled an Australian rabbit out of his hat. Up until now, he's been a pretty successful magician. He's created diversions to distract his audience from what he's really doing. The diversions are called wedge issues. But his show has been on the road for a long time; and it's getting stale.  History shows that, when the show gets stale, Canadian voters shut it down. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

What does the historical stroll reveal? That Canadians do not have formal term limits for the leaders, as do Americans, Mexicans and the French for their presidents, but somewhere in the eighth or ninth year of a prime minister’s tenure, the public says “time’s up.” Call it, for lack of a more precise phrase, the “democratic instinct.”

It doesn’t much matter which party is in power. The state of the economy is not of cardinal importance. How much money a party throws around before and during a campaign doesn’t count for much. None of these, and other factors, seem as critical as the democratic instinct that it’s “time for a change.”

From Louis St. Laurent to Jean Chretien, ten years is about as long as a prime minister gets. Louis St. Laurent got eight years. John Diefenbaker got six. Mike Pearson got five. Pierre Trudeau got eleven, but he was really finished after nine. Joe Clark got nine months.

When Stephen Harper dreamed of establishing a dynasty, he was spitting into the wind:

If he wins this election with another majority, he would remain in office for more consecutive years than any postwar prime minister. Even if Mr. Harper managed for a couple of years with a minority, he would still win the longevity award. Alas, for him, the electorate is not going to give him a majority. It increasingly looks like even a Conservative minority is doubtful.

Opinion polls can, and will, change. Take them for what they are worth; snapshots of a point in time. Today, the serious ones all point in the same direction: The Conservatives are at or below 30 per cent.

The trouble with spitting into the wind is that your own saliva comes back and hits you in the face. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Does She Have Her Own Room?


Chris Alexander is only the latest Harper attack dog to be sent back to his kennel. Rick Salutin writes that there have been many of them:

The parade of Tory attack dogs has been long and luminous. It's how John Baird and Jason Kenney got their Ottawa start, fangs ever-bared. You thought it came naturally to them but as they moved up, they grew less vicious and slid out of the role while others arrived: Joe Oliver, implying environmentalists are terrorists, yet never quite at ease in the part; Julian Fantino, snubbing wounded vets, more comfortably. Dean Del Mastro. Peter Kent, formerly a smooth TV journalist who went straight for the jugular as a minister (he provoked an early, endearing Justin Trudeau obscenity in the House) yet was dumped anyway: did Harper simply not trust the type? Kent was still at it this week, falsely slagging a Syrian "terrorist," then half-heartedly apologizing.

Paul Calandra is an interesting case. He seemed a born potty-mouth. You could picture him during recess in the schoolyard. Then one question period he overreached, yammering irrelevantly about Thomas Mulcair supporting genocide against Israel as if he couldn't shut it off. Next day he was back tearfully apologizing and hasn't been the same meanie since. He still shows up on TV but without the old bile. Maintaining high rabidity levels isn't that easy for most people. (There are exceptions: Pierre Poilievre.) These guys were recruited to play a role and you don't say No to the boss.

Joining the Harper fraternity requires that aspiring rush candidates go through a nasty initiation ceremony. Ultimately, the price of admission is that you sell your soul. There have been some who, when they saw what was going on, left the fraternity house. People like Garth Turner, Bill Casey and Brent Rathgeber. But most young fools wanted a fraternity sweatshirt -- with a big H on it.

One wonders if Jenni Byrne has her own room in Animal House.

Friday, September 11, 2015

It Couldn't Happen To A Nicer Guy


The wheels are falling off the Harper campaign bus. Michael Harris writes:

No wonder Jenni Byrne is folding like a $3 dollar suitcase. Reform-style loons have broken out of their shallow graves and are once more shambling across the landscape.

And how did Stephen “He’s Not Perfect” Harper react? By insisting the Conservative Party of Canada runs only the best candidates. Given the exploits of Jerry “The Urinator” Bance, Ryan “The Enforcer” Leef and “Sgt.” Sue MacDonell, it was an odd thing for him to say.

The facts are simply catching up with Mr. Harper. And facts are what he has worked so hard to bury:

Confabulation has always been Harper’s reflex response whenever he doesn’t like what the facts have on offer. And so — with the economy in recession, unemployment on the rise, the oil patch in a shambles and the dollar at 75 cents — Harper says the economic news is good … that it proves his plan is working. Still, Steve insists he balanced the budget this time. Fiddling with the math and balancing the budget are not the same things, but it hardly matters. The man isn’t listening.

Steve also didn’t believe in the long form census. To him, facts are just another form of opposition. He didn’t believe at first that there was a recession in 2008. He didn’t think it mattered that he was found in contempt of Parliament. (It mattered. The man who found him in contempt, former speaker Peter Milliken, thinks he still is in contempt.) Steve didn’t think there was anything wrong with making an unconstitutional appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada. Put a girl in ermine and she gets uppity — it was all Beverley McLachlin’s fault, we were told.

Andrew Coyne writes that the Harper campaign is going nowhere. Even the inestimable Margaret Wente writes that Harper is toast. Others -- like John Baird, Peter Mackay and James Moore -- faced the facts before the election. Now it's Harper's turn.

It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Alexander's Ragtime Rant


Politics, Robin Sears writes, is about dialogue:

Successful politicians know how to listen, to respond respectfully and through that dialogue, learn. Some Canadian politicians’ increasing fascination with steely message discipline at the expense of listening or respectful response is dangerous for democratic dialogue — and, often, for their own careers.

Dialogue is not in Stephen Harper's skill set. And everyone who works for him follows a strict code. Like the prime minister, they memorize answers from the Harperian catechism and repeat them ad nauseam. You would think that a political animal like Mr. Harper would understand this simple axiom:

Successful political dialogue requires listening and empathy. When a constituent tells you of their grief, their dreams or their anger you may not respond with rote defensive talking points.

In the end, the Harperian formula leads to self destruction:

There is no excuse for the appalling response that Alexander offered CBC’s new election star Rosemary Barton. Nor for his surly defensive nonsense about the government’s record on refugees. His scowling adolescent attack on the media for its failure to give the story adequate attention would have been laughable if it were not so appalling. Especially in the face of the mounting human tragedy and the Canadian — and international — failure to respond adequately to it.

His return the next night, after being summoned to Ottawa by his masters, clearly put through hours of message training “refreshment” was less disastrous in performance but more damaging in substance. He told a series of whoppers that will now be fact-checked and return to bite him and the government.

The media are finally beginning to examine the numbers -- behind the budget, behind employment statistics, behind the refugee crisis. And, increasingly, Canadians are appalled. You can only spin a web of lies for so long until they catch up with you.

They've caught up with Chris Alexander. They'll soon catch up with Stephen Harper.

We'll be away for the next four days. I'll be back on Friday.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

His Record Is Abysmal


We're officially in a recession. And, next month, we may be officially out of it. But that doesn't mean, Jim Stanford writes, that the Canadian economy is in good shape. In three specific areas, the economy has been limping along for years:

Investment: For years Canada relied on energy megaprojects to lead business investment. But that engine is now sputtering badly, for the foreseeable future. Expensive corporate tax cuts didn't produce any measurable uptick in investment. We need new strategies to elicit badly needed capital spending -- both private and public.

Exports: This government's trade strategy consists almost exclusively of signing lots of free trade deals. They've inked six, and are negotiating several more (including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which might be concluded before Canadians go to the polls). Yet Canada's actual exports hardly grew at all under Conservative rule -- by far the worst record in post-war history. It turns out that producing valuable goods and services that foreigners actually want to buy, is a lot more complicated than signing trade deals and waving them about.

Productivity: Free markets and low taxes are supposed to automatically spur efficiency. But Canada's measured productivity performance has been abysmal: growing less than 1 per cent per year, badly lagging previous governments and most of our trading partners. Upgrading, innovation, and investment are the prerequisites for productivity -- yet we've gone backward in every area.

Mr. Harper's policy prescriptions have done nothing to improve any of these three economic measures. In fact, they have made each measure worse. For nearly ten years, his "steady hand" at the helm have left the economy gasping for air.

Simply put: Mr. Harper's economic record is abysmal.

Friday, September 04, 2015

And Little Children Die


Stephen Harper works hard to control people. But he can't control events. And events are catching up with him. At the beginning of the week, events caught up with his economic policy. And, two days ago, events caught up with his immigration policy.

The picture of little Aylan  Kurdi's lifeless body speaks volumes and shouts out the message that Canada's immigration policy -- like so much else that Mr. Harper does -- is morally bankrupt. Michael Harris writes:

They’re taking to calling refugees ‘migrants’ these days. I worry about that. But by any other name that photo — that motionless little body — would have rocked the world. What are we becoming?

And, if you're worried about what we're becoming, consider Chris Alexander's reaction:

Listening to the minister pile up superlatives on the Harper government’s deplorable human rights record — including with First Nations peoples in this country — was like listening to Donald Trump introduce himself. Believing his line would mean forgetting how this ‘compassionate’ clan of Conservatives refused to issue visas for injured kids from Gaza who wanted to come to Canada for medical care.

This was the same pack of philanthropists who didn’t want to extend medical coverage to refugees in Canada, forcing Canadian doctors to demonstrate in front of Parliament.

Alexander is supposed to be among our best and brightest. Instead, he proves the wisdom behind Mark Twain's admonition: "It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt."

That's what happens to people who immerse themselves in a culture of willful ignorance. Their brains atrophy. And little children die.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

What Happens After October 19th?


The outcome of this election is uncertain. But regardless of who wins, Andrew Coyne writes, what happens after October 19th is also uncertain:

So it’s an unusually unpredictable election. But that doesn’t begin to describe how uncertain the outcome is. Because it isn’t just the results on election night that are impossible to predict: it’s what happens after. Even if the polls as they now stand turn out to be an exact reflection of each party’s share of the vote on Oct. 19, that still doesn’t give us the first clue who will be governing us.

For one thing, it is always difficult to know how precisely the polls will translate into seats. But suppose the current projections are right: that the NDP wins about 125 seats, to the Conservatives’ 120 and the Liberals’ 95. What then?

In a properly functioning democracy, the Conservatives could try to form a government:

Among the imponderables: who does the governor general call upon to form a government? The answer is not, as popularly believed, the party with the most seats. Rather, by convention it is supposed to be the incumbent who gets first crack. Probably that is what would happen, and probably Stephen Harper would accept. But what if the gap in seats between the NDP and the Conservatives were larger? Would he try to form a government with, say, 110 seats? 105?

And, what if Harper -- like Joe Clark -- refused to call back the House for five months? Or what if the Governor General called on someone else to form a government and -- like Mackenzie King --  Harper refused to accept Donald Johnston's decision? This is a man who believes that all decisions rest with him and him alone.

My bet is that a prime minister who has kept two dozen orders in council secret would not go quietly or easily. However, if the Conservatives were reduced to third party status, much of the uncertainty would be cast in the dustbin.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Time To Get Out Of The Box


The recession is here. It may be short and it may be shallow. But it underscores a simple message: Stephen Harper's main claim to fame is hogwash. Tom Walkom writes:

Politically, the economy under Harper has experienced yet another recession undercuts his carefully crafted image as an economic manager.

On Tuesday, both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party chief Tom Mulcair were quick to make that point. Both cited the recession as proof that the Conservative approach is not working.

Certainly, Canada’s January to July recession does underline the fundamental flaws in Harper’s approach to the economy.

He assumed the Chinese-led resource boom would continue unabated and that the price of oil would never collapse.

He assumed that all government need do is cut taxes, encourage pipelines, sign free trade deals and do its best to keep wages down for business.

He assumed that if troubles arose, the invisible hand of the free market would sort everything out.

Harper claimed that it was his firm grip on the tiller that steered Canada through heavy waters. In fact it was the price of oil. 

Harper's policy has been repeated throughout Canadian history. Historian Harold Innis called it the "resource trap."

Unfortunately, Walkom writes, so far neither Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau have said much about what they would do differently. Now is the time to think outside the box we've been in for the last twenty years.