Saturday, October 31, 2015

Democratizing The Corporate Media


A lot needs to be done to re-establish democracy in this country. Murray Dobbins writes that the place to begin is with our corporate media. They almost universally endorsed Stephen Harper. That was, perhaps, a blessing:

But the newspapers perhaps did us a favour in the last week of the campaign with their inane endorsement of the Harper autocracy for yet another four-year term. Post Media -- the most recent iteration of the Conrad Black coup in 1999 -- and the Globe and Mail without an iota of embarrassment or shame actually managed to write editorials justifying the re-election of a man turfed from office by a tsunami of voter revulsion.

The shamelessness extended without a pause to outright untruths in the Globe and Mail and the National Post editorials -- both of which declared their support because of Harper's economic record. The Globe declared: "The key issue of the election should have been the economy and the financial health of Canadians. On that score, the Conservative Party has a solid record." And the National Post: "Harper's commendable record in office cannot be dismissed. Our economy is in good shape..."

Obviously, the majority of Canadians weren't listening -- or reading. Nonetheless, the blanket endorsement of Harper underscored whose interests the media were serving:

Those who run the country's daily newspapers reveal themselves to be as contemptuous of democracy and society as the party they endorsed. They reveal themselves as concerned only about "the economy" but for them this is just a code word for the corporate elite, the 1% -- not the economy of ordinary wage and salary earners.

The irony of this endorsement is the endorsers' fundamental belief that government -- and by extension, the voting rabble -- should not be interfering in the economy at all. It is something to be clinically separated from the exercise of public policy. Government should simply facilitate economic growth by "getting out of the way" of business by signing "trade" deals, gutting corporate and wealth taxes, and driving down wages.

In the last thirty years, ownership of Canadian media outlets has been concentrated into a few hands, even as readership declined:

Today we can take some solace in the fact that the same demented "free market" ideology that continues to play havoc with the real Canadian economy (the 99%) is helping to weaken the newspaper industry in Canada. Newspapers that continue to ignore the wave of contempt that swept the Harperium from power will deserve their fate.

Reading the Postmedia papers is a demoralizing experience given that nowhere do you find Canadian values reflected in their reporting or opinion pieces. But when you learn that the National Post's paid subscribers (2014 numbers) total only 83,671 out of 24 million-plus eligible voters it sort of lifts your spirits (though they do get an additional 100,000 digitally). The Vancouver Sun, another Postmedia paper, manages just over 86,000.

People are going elsewhere for news. Online media experienced a big bump in visits during the election. The Tyee saw a 70 per cent jump in visits to their site during August to October as they ramped up election coverage, and's increased by 50 per cent -- with 880,000 individual readers and close to five million page views -- demonstrating voters' considerable appetite for "fact-based" journalism.

If the corporate media are to survive, they will have to be democratized. They will have to re-learn the definition of the phrase, "we the people."

Friday, October 30, 2015

Aboriginal Canadians Want In


The next parliament will be home to 10 First Nations MPs -- eight of whom are Liberals. The Fair Elections Act was aimed at suppressing native voters. But, Michael Harris writes, it did just the opposite:

Despite Harper’s best efforts to suppress the indigenous vote, aboriginals led the nation in a stunning spike in voter turnout on October 19. Several reserves ran out of ballots, and voter turnout was up by 270 per cent in some places where the indigenous vote was crucial.

If the Fair Elections Act was supposed to blunt the energy of the Idle No More movement by making it harder to cast a ballot, it actually ended up galvanizing the native vote. Just ask defeated Natural Resources minister Greg Rickford, who saw the native vote in his former riding of Kenora rise by 73 per cent.

Canada's native peoples will no longer sit on the sidelines. And they have an agenda:

The road to the grand reconciliation that Trudeau’s victory makes possible leads straight through the water supplies of First Nations communities. On the campaign trail, Trudeau pointed out that 93 different native communities were under 133 varying boil-water advisories. For seventeen years, the community of Shoal Lake has had to hike across the ice to get its drinking water.

More than a decade ago, the bill to give aboriginals the most basic human right of all — access to clean drinking water — was $600 million. The new prime minister will be looking at a much higher cost — and he has only given himself five years to get the job done. But he must get it done.

But the deeper problem is that while Canada’s First Nations have experienced a population boom, the growth in their funding has been capped at two per cent since 1995. It is virtually impossible to supply essential childhood and family services without raising that cap — unless the government concludes that a series of one-offs grants will fix these vast, systemic inequities. History shows that such an approach is folly.

The Indian Act itself must be boldly reimagined. As it now stands, its main purpose is to limit who can be defined as an Indian. The judicial argument is moving in exactly the opposite direction. The Supreme Court is now examining the question of whether non-status Indians and Metis are also the federal government’s responsibility under the Constitution. If the answer is yes, the Indian Act will be less than useless — and Ottawa will be facing an aboriginal population inflated by hundreds of thousands of people entitled to federal programs.

As important as all these things are — water, education and health, adequate funding and modernized legislation — it all ends up dwarfed by the monumental issue of treaty rights.

There is  a lot which needs to be done. And now, Harris writes, is the time to put a First Nations MP in charge of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

They Were About Power


There is much on the Liberal agenda that Andrew Coyne doesn't like. But he admits that the proposals are ambitious -- even radical:

All right. It’s an ambitious platform. Strikingly so, in fact. One consequence of the long campaign is that ideas that are objectively radical come to seem commonplace, through sheer repetition. No, the Liberals would not take Canada on an abrupt “lurch to the left,” as one commentator claimed. But neither is this the formless, shapeless party of old. These are big, bold, often risky proposals, and if some are not especially well-considered, well, you can’t say we weren’t warned.

But there is much else that represents a real departure, including a complete revamp of child benefit policies, scrapping a passel of existing programs worth $18 billion annually in favour of a new Canada Child Benefit that would deliver more to those at the bottom and less to those at the top. Add to that legalizing pot, expanding the Canada Pension Plan, “putting a price on carbon,” implementing every one of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and a “non-partisan, merit-based” process for Senate appointments — not to mention the political revolution that electoral reform alone would bring about — and you have quite the packed agenda.

The agenda indicates that the Liberals are serious about "Real Change:"

The point is that they are substantive, lending credibility to the “Real Change” slogan. If the Liberals have absorbed some ideas they once rejected — such as free trade, keeping corporate tax rates low, or providing benefits in cash rather than in kind — they have also proved willing to strike out in fresh new directions of their own. And it worked. If there is one single reason for their remarkable success in this election — from third to first, from 25 per cent in the polls to 40 per cent — it is their daring.

It makes what the Conservatives accomplished over the last ten years look lilliputian:

Contrast, on the other hand, the offerings of the Conservatives. I don’t just mean in the thin little document the party put out as its platform, almost self-parodying in its spray of micro-targeted tax credits in every direction. I mean over the last 10 years. What, in all seriousness, does the Harper government have to show for its time in office? I mean on the positive side. The Accountability Act, its first piece of legislation; the European and Trans-Pacific trade agreements, still unratified; its deft handling of the financial crisis, and its work over the last few years in unwinding the deficit it so rashly plunged the country into.

But, then, the Harperites were never about policy. They were about power.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

There's Hard Work Ahead


For Justin Trudeau, the hard part is about to begin. Richard Gwyn reminds his readers that Trudeau's father came in with hope and optimism, but by 1972 things had become unstuck:

For Trudeau the First, though, it all came unstuck in the next election, of 1972. Only Quebecers’ instinctual, almost automatic, support for one of their own kept him in office, and this by a mere two elected MPs.
Success, this is to say, is impermanent in Canadian politics, not least so because few voters any longer feel strong loyalties to any party, fewer here, quite possibly, than do any others in the world.

Which is to say that the way Trudeau goes about things is just as important as what he goes about. Unfortunately, Stephen Harper may be gone, but Harperism isn't:

While Canadians wanted Prime Minister Stephen Harper out, writes Ensight principal Jason Lietaer, “the Conservative party itself was not seen as a spent force.” Rather, voters supported its key policy of “balanced budgets.”

Lawrence Martin has a few suggestions about how Trudeau can accomplish "real change:"

A sure way for him to change politics would be to depoliticize the environment. The Conservatives were pilloried for running a permanent campaign. Mr. Trudeau won’t have to face the electorate for another four years. If he is smart, he won’t look at his standing in the opinion polls for the first three. If he is preoccupied with what’s good for the public as opposed to the party, it will pay off.

To diminish patronage and channel bipartisanship, Mr. Trudeau needs to resurrect the good idea that Mr. Harper had – and subsequently discarded – of an independent public appointments commission.

Mr. Harper brought the West in. The new-generation leader needs to find a way to bring the youth in. A minister of youth or a youth secretariat of some kind might help.

To open information flows, the integrity of the access-to-information system needs be restored. A tough-minded journalist (I nominate the CBC’s Neil Macdonald) would be a good choice to run it.

There's a lot of work to do. And it will be hard work. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We Can Also Surrender It


Stephen Harper should not be allowed to go gently into that good night. At least not until we figure out how he got away with it. Crawford Killian writes that Harper's sojourn in power was one long ego trip:

Now, as the dust settles on the election, we should consider a new possibility: Harper did what he did for no reason except to show he could do it. It's been one long ego trip.

Live and learn. Absent-mindedly, we watched him ascend to power, until he actually staged a hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservatives and proceeded to a hostile takeover of Canada itself.

We sat back passively as a man who acted like one of H.G. Wells' Martians made the government his own:

A suburban kid in mid-century Canada, Stephen Harper had a mind like one of H.G. Wells' Martians, an intellect "vast and cool and unsympathetic" to his fellow Canadians. He saw us as wannabe Swedes, trying to make the country into a welfare state. But Harper knew better.

Well-funded think tanks and lobbyists supported right-wing causes. With their help Harper herded western Canadians -- almost as alienated as he himself -- toward a conveniently empty spot on the political spectrum.

Step by step, Harper moved his right-wing fringe toward power. The Liberals, PCs, and New Democrats failed to recognize what a threat he was, which must only have intensified his contempt for them -- and for the rest of us, we who preferred to watch Jean Chretien struggle with Paul Martin.

The fault for Harper's rise rests with us who refused to see him as the threat he was. People like Joe Clark  warned us what would happen. But our minds were elsewhere. And, as long as Harper could keep our minds elsewhere, he succeeded. We allowed him to feed his ego:

So we are left with a quietly appalling conclusion: Stephen Harper was on one of the greatest ego trips in history. He studied the system, gamed it, and gained power over Canadians for close to a decade. It wasn't to promote some conservative ideology; conservatism was just another throwaway gadget, a convenient utensil. He used it to promote himself, not to promote conservatism. Whether the party survives his departure is of no concern to him. He was a dancer in darkness, dancing for no one but himself.

We dare not forget him. By his long success, Harper made himself the model for the next vast, cool intelligence that comes out of the Canadian suburbs. The alienated voters of his base will recognize the next Harper when they see him (or her). Distrusting Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the civil service, they will put their hopes in another solitary saviour. 

We can take our government back. But Stephen Harper reminds us that we can also surrender it.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Cracks Are Showing


It didn't take long for cracks to show in the Harper party. The divisions are essentially three. Michael Harris writes:

There are three factions left in the rudderless ghost ship that is the CPC – the lineal descendants of the Reform Party, led by Jason Kenney; the angry and so far leaderless Ontario Conservatives who got shellacked by Team Trudeau in their former strongholds in Toronto; and the vestiges of the old progressive conservatives hanging around in the weeds. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Peter MacKay would like to be their leader. There is a greater chance of Rob Ford becoming an ecclesiastical diplomat.

The Ontario Conservatives are subdivided into Ford Nation -- people like Earl Cowan, who famously called reporters, "lying pieces of shit" -- and Bill Davis Tories -- represented by people like former Senator Hugh Segal.

Then there are longtime Progressive Conservatives -- like Bill Casey -- who, for the moment, have joined the Trudeau Team. Of these folks, Harris writes:

As for the former PCs, they must finally realize in full horror what they gave away all those years ago by throwing in their lot with Stephen Harper: Stripping citizens of their citizenship, snitch lines, the bull about barbaric practices and all those appointees who ended up in court or jail – including a privy councillor and the parliamentary secretary to the PM – definitely not the stuff of John A. MacDonald.

It will be interesting to see if anyone can be found who can bring these folks together. Hugh Segal suggests that they wait two years before even trying to accomplish that feat.

It just may be that they can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bringing Science Back


The Harper government declared war on science and scientists. Jeremy Kerr and Isabelle Cote write that science and scientists must be given a seat at the policy making table, because a lot of damage has been done:

Whether it was measuring contaminants in our streams and rivers, poisons in the air, or patterns of glacier melt, no fact was too small or technical to escape Orwellian scrutiny. Scientists, whether in public or on the phone, have been watched by communications staffers to ensure that no one said anything unscripted. Meanwhile, regulations and laws that helped avoid unnecessary and expensive environmental and health impacts following industrial development are in ruins or no longer exist.

There are several ways to restore science in Ottawa:

Draconian protocols that prevent Canadians from learning about federal scientists' discoveries should be discarded, except in clearly stated cases where sensitive information needs to remain confidential. In a mature democracy, communicating factual information from publicly funded science should never be misconstrued as meddling in politics. Federal scientists, like researchers in general, need the freedom to publish their findings without political interference, attend scientific meetings and interact with other experts, and speak about their research to the media and public

Whether it was through the Fisheries Act, Environmental Assessment Act, Environmental Protection Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, or Energy Board Act, federal environmental legislation has been gutted or repealed. The Species at Risk Act, the last safety net for Canada’s treasured wildlife, has been undermined through systemic inaction for several years. We need these laws back and we need them to function as they were intended.

Canada’s ability to detect environmental problems as they arise, let alone to predict them in advance, has been smothered. Experts in federal departments, like Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada, have been silenced and starved of support. Rebuilding capacity, morale, and a sense of mission for the public service is essential to knowing how Canadians' health and environments will be affected by economic activities and global changes.

And, finally, when  they were in opposition, the Liberals proposed restoring the position of Chief Scientific Officer:

As one of their final efforts in the 41st Parliament, the Liberals proposed a formidable Motion on Scientific Integrity, which was defeated on May 26 this year. That motion proposed the restoration of a Chief Scientific Officer. Our closest allies, like the UK and the U.S., have asked their best scientists to serve in such roles for decades. Why? Because facts matter when making policy to grow economies, create jobs, or to manage fast-moving emergencies. The UK government, for example, uses a kind of scientific SWAT team so that nation's research leaders can bring the best science to manage crises, like the Fukushima meltdown. Canadian scientists have the expertise. The new government should use it.

These suggestions are not new. They merely restore science to its former position in policy making. The Harperites proudly burnished their know nothing credentials. A week ago, Canadians passed judgement on those credentials.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Fog Has Lifted


Robin Sears wrote this week that, on the morning after the election, the atmosphere in Ottawa had changed:

A senior First Nations leader, returning to the capital by train from working hard for the ouster of the Hun, greets an old colleague with nothing more than an overly fierce handshake and a penetrating smile that lasts several seconds longer than it would have two days earlier. A member of the permanent establishment greets a colleague in its seat of power, the bar of the Rideau Club, with a raised glass, no one having to say or guess to whom or what is his salute.
Sadly, for the hundreds of now unemployed young Tory staffers and their bosses, the return of Canada to normalcy — a Liberal government madly peddling back to the centre having campaigned on hazy promises to deliver more progressive Elysian fields — will soon erase their thousands of hours and a decade of effort to imprint a darker vision on the country.

And Andrew Coyne writes this morning that -- when you look at the numbers --  it's clear that things are now very different across the country:

Indeed, across much of the country we have some of the most contestable politics in memory. Where in the United States redistricting has led to an increase in safe Republican and safe Democratic seats, or indeed states, polarizing the country on regional and ideological lines, the opposite has occurred here.

The number of ridings won by a margin of less than five per cent has increased from 42 in 2008 to 51 in 2011 to 68 in 2015. What is more, in 35 ridings, the third-place party finished within 10 per cent of the winner. In only 16 ridings was that true in 2011; in 2008, five. That’s competitive.

Broad national parties. The largest provinces riven by three- and even four-way fights. Relatively fewer safe seats. And, not coincidentally, the highest turnout in more than 20 years. There’s lots of good news in this election: for democracy, and for Canada.

The fog has lifted.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Eventually They Figure Things Out


Monday's election was historic. But the corporate media and its scribes are already trying to re-write history. Michael Harris writes:

Nor is there much more of the historian in Paul Wells’ touching but mostly irrelevant comment that he still likes Harper, whom he believes will be seen by history as an estimable prime minister, maybe even a great one.

And John Ibbitson, who saw Harper's 2011 election  as a Big Shift, still hasn't grasped what happened on Monday:

It was curious to see another author and journalist, John Ibbitson, opining as an ‘expert’ about the reasons for Harper’s political demise. For one thing, his most recent book on the Conservative leader was more of a peck on the cheek than an investigation — a few gentle scratches, but mostly purring.

For another, Ibbitson is the government-friendly columnist from what is left of the Globe and Mail, that rabbit hole of a newspaper that believes you can endorse a party without its leader. In his previous book, Ibbitson predicted a “seismic shift” in Canadian politics and culture, a Tory dynasty stretching out to the crack of doom.

And, as Andrew Coyne can testify, when push comes to shove, The National Post has no room for dissenting opinions.

It's important to note that, despite the support of Canada's publishing moguls, Stephen Harper finally had his rendezvous with the people -- who knew who he was and decided they had had enough of him:

It comes down to this: you can’t have a dictatorial liar running a democracy for the benefit of his corporate buddies and expect a country like Canada to tolerate it forever. Canadians ultimately drop the gloves when they come face to face with tyrants — and kick the stuffing out of him.

That is what really happened here. The country really did embrace the “better angels of our nature”, to borrow the phrase Trudeau borrowed from Lincoln. It was more disgusted by than afraid of Stephen Harper.

It didn’t appreciate his lies about what he was doing and why, his degradation of Canadian foreign policy for domestic political gain, his toxic manipulation of information that belonged to everyone, and his vicious mistreatment of anyone who dared to tell him that the sun didn’t orbit around … him.

The people are not always right -- the first time around. But, eventually, they figure things out.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Because Of Who He Was


Working for Stephen Harper, David Krayden writes, was not a pleasant experience:

Since he first became leader of the Canadian Alliance and then the new Conservative party, Stephen Harper insisted upon absolute caucus control and on absolutely getting his own way on every question. MPs who resisted this form of party discipline quickly discovered what life on the Parliamentary Library Committee was like.

Though this rigid caucus control began when the party was in opposition, it intensified when the Conservatives became the government and Harper was able to take a Prime Minister’s Office that was already too large and too powerful and make it even more so. The tyranny of the PMO and the way that Harper’s minions — kids who went straight from grad school to high-priced and high-handed positions as extensions of Harper’s will — harassed and bullied MPs and cabinet ministers was a familiar tale by the time Harper was into his third term. As MPs left — or were booted from caucus, bruised and panting for air — they showed everyone what caucus solidarity meant to Stephen Harper.

The reasons for Harper's defeat go well beyond the campaign he ran. They have to do with the man himself:

In fact, those who trace the roots of Harper’s defeat to the campaign itself may be missing the point. Harper didn’t lose the campaign in the last week, or at any single point in the last three months of the marathon campaign. He lost it when he ran a majority government without vision — a government with no reason for exercising power beyond power itself.

He lost it when he consistently failed to deliver a positive conservative message. We heard an awful lot from him about how feeble and unworthy his opponents were — but rarely anything that could inspire and energize Canadians. Such an approach to politics might work for a while (as it did in his case) but ultimately it leaves even supporters with little to believe in, to hope for.

Harper rose to power because of who he was. And he lost that power because of who he was.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Harper Party


Civil war is about to descend on the Conservative Party of Canada. Michael Harris writes:

The biggest loser of all in Election 2015 is the Conservative Party of Canada. That party is now a tangle of angleworms in a jar. That’s what happens when an organization allows itself to become a cult and the cult leader fails utterly. It’s always the flood after a Sun King falls.

The fingers are pointing everywhere in the Conservative camp now, assigning blame. The party is already returning to its bitter old divisions — with Reformers in the West blaming Ontario for betraying them, and the remains of the old Progressive Conservatives in the East convinced that the job of reconstruction has to be taken out of the hands of Albertans.

This battle won't be between North and South. It will pit East against West:

Everyone knows that Jason Kenney has a death-grip on the party apparatus — just as they realize Kenney doesn’t have what it takes to win a national election. Adding to his problems, Kenney’s celebrated grip on the ethnic vote may have been permanently weakened by Harper’s hate-mongering wedge assault on Muslims over issues like the niqab — a remarkably ugly gambit that may have impressed bigots but spooked all immigrants.

Ontario Conservatives are hungry for a leader from Ontario after the values of the party’s Western wing offered up failed wedge politics as its only answer to the problem of winning a fourth term. There are several candidates waiting in the progressive wing, from the principled Michael Chong — who resigned from cabinet rather than allow Harper to rule by personal fiat — to former PC leader Peter MacKay, who nicely managed to miss the Tory trainwreck by getting off at the last station. And then there’s the wild card in the mix, Doug Ford. A wounded bear is more predictable.

Harris suspects that, even though Harper is no longer the official leader of the party, his fingerprints will be all over the process which chooses his successor.

The Conservative Party was an intentional misnomer. It's always been the Harper Party.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

We Await The Future


The day after Justin Trudeau delivered his father's eulogy, Stephen Harper -- then head of the National Citizens Coalition -- wrote a scathing assessment of Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

Mr. Trudeau embraced the fashionable causes of his time, with variable enthusiasm and differing results. But he was also a member of the “greatest generation,” the one that defeated the Nazis in war and resolutely stood down the Soviets in the decades that followed. In those battles however, the ones that truly defined his century, Mr. Trudeau took a pass. And so it is to the ideals of the greatest generation, and not those of Pierre Trudeau, that Canada should properly dedicate itself.

Harper made no mention of the October Crisis, the repatriation of the constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Instead he wrote that near the end of Trudeau's life:

I came face to face with a living legend, someone who had provoked both the loves and hatreds of my political passion, all in the form of a tired out, little old man.

The boy who used to be the president of his high school's Liberal Club came to hate Trudeau and everything he stood for. We can leave his reasons to the psychoanalysts. But it will surely rank as one of history's great ironies that the man who despised Pierre Trudeau was soundly sent packing last night by Trudeau's son.

Andrew Coyne writes this morning that what Justin Trudeau accomplished last night is unprecedented in Canadian history:

To have come back from 19 per cent of the popular vote in 2011 to almost 40 per cent, and from 34 seats — 11 per cent of the total — to 184, a majority: there’s just no precedent for it. To have done so, what is more, having started the campaign well back in third, against more experienced and better-financed opponents, tells you just how well the Liberal campaign went — and how well Trudeau performed. 

Mr. Trudeau will have a full plate. We await the future. 


Monday, October 19, 2015

An Historic Election


It's been a long time coming, this last day of the election campaign. And it's been a campaign that covered a lot of ground -- some good soil and some swamp. Tim Harper writes:

We went from debating budget bottom lines to a discussion which cut to the core of what it meant to be Canadian — the value of our citizenship, our history of welcoming the world’s neediest, our treatment of our neighbours, our place in the world, our accommodation to others with different customs and garb.
Some of the debate soared. Some of it headed straight to the ditch, sullied by a welt of lies and exaggerations meant to sow fear and appeal to our innermost darkness rather than challenging us to rise above the distractions and seek to become better Canadians.

Niqabs, snitch lines and revoked citizenships really had no place in this campaign, but there they were, alongside brothels in the suburbs and “marijuana stores” beside schools.
Early on, it appeared we were heading for history with the potential election of Mulcair and the first NDP government in this country.

What ever happens, today will make history:

If he wins, Trudeau will become the first offspring of a prime minister to win the job himself and he will have steered a party from third place at the dissolution of Parliament to victory for the first time in Canadian history.

If he loses Monday, Harper will be the first prime minister in 36 years to go from a majority of his making to conceding defeat on election night. The last? Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, in his 1979 defeat at the hands of Progressive Conservative Joe Clark.

Should Harper prevail, he will become the first Canadian leader to win four consecutive elections in more than a century, since Sir Wilfrid Laurier. He would have done it by defeating four different Liberal leaders. 

This has been no ordinary election. It has made history.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

There Is A Lot Of Work To Be Done


It's beginning to look like -- after the smoke has cleared -- we will have a new and different government. Murray Dobbins writes that will mean we will get some kind of proportional representation. But he warns that:

The desperate need for proportional representation has to some extent distracted us from just how inadequate and unresponsive the rest of the system is. It has taken the likes of Harper to actually push the other parties to suddenly call for change when they have for decades supported first-past-the-post because executive dictatorship is an attractive form of governance to those who run political parties.

Given this history, it is hard not to conclude that political parties themselves are the biggest barrier to genuine, participatory democracy. Parties have, with rare and short-lived exceptions, always acted in their own interests whenever faced with a choice between that goal and working for the country. That has always been true of the two Bay Street parties and now that the NDP has drunk the we-can-win Kool-aid, they join their ranks, adopting a strategy that replaces principle with opportunism.

The current system encourages the reproduction of political clones:

If the current election-machine NDP wants to win an election it will have to do so as a liberal party that has reached an accommodation with globalization and finance capital. Little by little the adoption of Liberal and Conservative political strategy has corrupted what remained of a social democratic party. By the time they win an election on this basis they will be completely indistinguishable from the Liberals they are determined to replace.

The Liberal/Conservative mode of doing politics doesn't suit a political party that wants to change the political culture. Such a party cannot achieve change unless it becomes an integral part of the community whose values it claims to share. This is why the NDP consistently underestimates the desire for change in its support base and miscalculates its response to the politics of opportunism. If the NDP is confused about whether it’s a party of change or just another competitor on the field, it’s no wonder its potential supporters are confused.

After this election, Canadians will have to address the issue of civic literacy. In the end, the change we seek has to come from us:

If you truly want change, who will be the agent of that change? In other words, it is not so much what is to be done (make your own list) but what model of organizing can begin to accomplish it. Change doesn't just happen because millions of people say they want it. Post-election, this will be the critical task of all progressives -- take what we know is possible and use it to rebuild community, reclaim the commons and build a broad-based social movement with the power to challenge the status quo.

There is a lot of work to be done.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Political Willy Loman


For the last ten years, Stephen Harper has been trying to remake Canada in his own image. Alan Freeman writes that, despite his Herculean efforts, Harper has failed. Want the proof? Consider his Heritage  Department's attempt to identify the ten most influential Canadians:

Topping the list of Canadian icons was none other than the Antichrist himself, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Number 2 was Terry Fox. Tommy Douglas, the socialist father of medicare, came in third. Lester Pearson, father of the wishy-washy UN peacekeeping tradition, was fourth. Environmentalist David Suzuki and the late NDP leader Jack Layton came in sixth and seventh, respectively.

The only Tory on the list was Sir John A. Macdonald, who punched in at No. 8. Wayne Gretzky, whose ill-timed entry into the current election campaign at a Harper rally makes him an honorary Conservative, was ninth.

When asked what national accomplishments made them most proud, the respondents’ answers were every bit as depressing from a Harperite point of view: medicare, peacekeeping and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Nobody seemed to care about the War of 1812, income-splitting or the founding of the Tim Hortons donut chain.

Heritage Minister Shelley Glover dismissed the whole exercise, saying that "the government 'will not be telling people whom they ought to be celebrating' — news to those of us in Ottawa still getting used to those frequent CF-18 flypasts."

Yesterday, the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives, but not Harper. Word on the campaign trail is that, even those who plan to vote Conservative are saying they don't like Harper:

As hard as Harper tried, this country hasn’t really come around to his way of thinking — something the ‘experts’ had been telling us for years was bound to happen. The core Conservative base remains somewhere around one-third of the population, having hit a high-water mark of 39.6 per cent for the Tories in the 2011 election.

More than 60 per cent of Canadians have always rejected Harper’s vision for the country. Conservatives have been virtually wiped off the electoral map in the provinces, with the exception of Newfoundland/Labrador and Saskatchewan, where Tory-like Brad Wall is premier.

“The values and attitudes of ordinary Canadians have not shifted notably,” said pollster Michael Adams, who has done extensive work on social and political views in Canada and the U.S. On foreign policy, Canadians still value the Pearsonian concept of peacekeeping as much as they honour the military legacy of Vimy Ridge. At home, Canadians don’t want to see their federal government dismantled and they still favour carbon taxes to fight climate change.

Who knows what Monday's outcome will be? But it's beginning to look like Stephen Harper is the Willy Loman of Canadian politics -- someone with big dreams, who eventually committed political suicide.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Woods Are Burning


There's always a fire to put out. Justin Trudeau is dealing with the fallout from the news that his campaign co-chair has been consulting for Trans Canada Corp. But, if you think that's a big fire Michael Harris writes, it's nothing like the Harper campaign -- which is a conflagration. The cause of the blaze is Harper's alliance with Rob and Doug Ford:

The idea of standing in front of a campaign rally in a half-filled room with Rob and Doug Ford in the front row — glaring with their tiny, mad eyes — would be enough to scare the pants off a hitman.

And yet, that’s the humiliating scene to which Stephen Harper submitted himself like a lamb in Etobicoke earlier in the week. On Saturday, the Fords will do it to him again when they host the Conservative leader at another Toronto party rally. The Conservative campaign has now passed beyond putting out fires, into the realm of flat-out, hair-pulling desperation.

In a new ads -- targeted at immigrant communities -- Harper claims that Trudeau is soft on weed and a mad eyed advocate for brothels:

In a new series of Conservative party ads, translated into Chinese and Punjabi and running in small newspapers and flyers, Harper claims that Justin Trudeau’s values boil down to: community brothels, bubblegum and doobies waiting for the kids in every corner store and safe injection sites for drug addicts. So, yeah. Pretty much the end of civilization as we know it.

And his antidote to Trudeau is the Fords?  Talk about bumbling irony:

Both brothers have been linked to the drug trade — the Globe and Mail reported that Doug sold hash in the 1980s. Rob’s admission of drug use happened under duress, of course, since by the time he owned up to it, everybody on the planet with a phone had seen the video of him with his Happy Pipe. He was an out-of-control substance abuser — just the kind of foil you want for a libertine like Justin, right?

The woods are burning all around Harper -- and he's desperate.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

For Who And What He Is


Carol Goar has an interesting column in today's Toronto Star. She writes that this election has held a mirror up to us and forced us to face some hard truths -- some good, some not so good. Among the not so good is the notion that our fabled tolerance is a myth:

If the polls are right, eight out of 10 Canadians find it “offensive” that a few Muslim women wear niqabs when they take the oath of citizenship. Have these people ever attended a citizenship ceremony? Have they ever spoken to a woman who wears a niqab? Are they affected in any way by what Muslim women wear?
Casting judgment on minorities has somehow become acceptable in Canada. How did we let this happen? Why aren’t we standing up to the perpetrators?

On the other hand: 

Our humanitarian instincts remain strong. We entreated Ottawa to welcome Syrian refugees the same way Canada took in 37,000 Hungarian refugees in the 1950s, 7,000 Ugandan refugees in the 1970s and 60,000 Vietnamese refugees in the 1980s. When the governing Conservatives did not rise to the challenge, we rolled up our own sleeves and worked through our churches, community groups, service clubs, schools and universities to sponsor refugees privately. 

And, when our federal government refuses to recognize our humanitarian instincts, we act on our own:

We’re becoming a do-it-yourself nation. We organize, fundraise and volunteer to sponsor refugees, protect the environment and provide relief to people in natural and man-made disasters. We no longer look to Ottawa as the guardian of medicare. It’s up to us. We no longer expect our national government to set pan-Canadian standards or build public consensus. We do what we can ourselves. 

How will this effect Monday's vote count? It's hard to say. But it appears that, while Stephen Harper has changed this country for the worse, we have seen the man for who and what he is. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

That Has To Change


Even if Stephen Harper wins a minority,  it looks like he won't be around long. Whoever forms the next government will face the task of rebuilding the public service. Jeremy Nuttall writes:

No matter who forms government after Monday's election, they need to move quickly to end the culture of intimidation, inefficiency and top-down management that infects Canada's public service, say two former top bureaucrats.

Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and the former nuclear safety watchdog Linda Keen agree the public service needs major, quick reform.

Kevin Page may be out of government, but he has not given up his passion to reform it:

Too many people are being appointed to powerful positions with little or no experience in a department, he said. "These people are moving paper around as opposed to engaging and providing fearless advice to cabinet ministers."

And though many civil servants may be proven performers, many appointments to top jobs are made based on relationships and networking instead of looking for the best candidate, Page said. He too was guilty of this, he acknowledged.

That's resulted in civil servants more concerned with keeping deputy ministers and MPs happy and delivering services however the government wants instead of providing alternative, more effective solutions, he said.

And Linda Keen, former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission agrees. Moreover, she has a tale to tell:

Keen, appointed by the former Liberal government, said she was really pushed from her job because she rejected a government plan to build a new nuclear reactor that didn’t meet modern safety standards. The plant being pushed by the Conservative government was based on 40-year-old design standards.

Instead of improving the design, the government set out to get her, Keen said.

Keen said former Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Gary Lunn, then natural resources minister, was an ideologue who told her it was her job to promote the plan for new reactors, not regulate them.
Lunn did not return multiple requests for comment.

Keen stood her ground, worried about her reputation in the scientific community if she started bowing to politicians instead of ensuring the safety of the reactors, she said.

Keen said she started hearing she was a target because of her opposition to the new plan for the reactors.

"They're after you," a friend working for a senator told her. "They're going to get rid of you." 

The Harperites told ambitious civil servants that advancement depends on telling the government what it want to hear, not what it should know.

That has to change.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

It's No Wonder


I have suggested on several occasions that the ghost which lurks in Stephen Harper's closet is Richard Nixon. But Marie Marguerite Sabongui, writing in The Guardian, suggests that the ghost which haunts Harperland is of more recent vintage -- George W. Bush. She makes a compelling case. The parallels between Harper and W. are striking:

Under Bush, the White House denied the existence of man-made climate change and gutted the ability of the US Environmental Protection Agency to go after polluters. Under Harper, the government took aim at Environment Canada, slashing its budget and restricted the ability of its own regulators to crack down on cancer-linked pollution. The Conservative Party silenced the government’s own scientists, who, for the first time ever, mounted a political campaign against Harper. Canada was also one of the first countries to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to address climate change and is the only country in the world to have withdrawn from a UN treaty to address desertification. And the list of environmental programs that Harper has slashed funding to is long and devastating.

And there is the spectre that haunts this election:

Under the guise of cracking down on voter fraud — which doesn’t exist — Republicans in state capitals passed voter-ID laws across the United States. In reality, this was a blatant attempt to restrict the ability of working families and minorities — the majority of whom are likely Democrats — to vote. Similarly, Harper’s Fair Elections Act, passed in June 2014, attempts to address the non-existent problem of voter fraud. The result is that thousands of seniors, students and First Nations will find it much harder to cast a ballot in this election.

And, like Bush, Harper claims that he is tough on crime, while paralyzing public institutions:

While the US is learning from its past and addressing the issue of mass incarceration, under Harper, Canada has recently undertaken the largest expansion of prisons since the 1930s, despite a record-low crime rate. Echoing the doctrine of Republicans in the States, he cut funding to the arts, cut funding to Canada’s public broadcaster and destroyed the national gun registry, which experts say had historically contributed to Canada’s low rates of gun violence.  

It's no wonder people are asking, "What has happened to Canada?"

Monday, October 12, 2015

He Miscalculated


There's one week to go. Stephen Harper has tried to make this election about the economy and terrorism. But -- Tim Harper writes -- in this election, the ballot question is about change:

Over the longest election campaign in modern Canadian history, the Conservative leader has not been able to change the ballot question in this campaign — the hunger for change.
After 70 days, the hunger is still there and that means the final week of this marathon looks more and more like Justin Trudeau’s to lose. One unintended consequence of this long campaign is that Harper gave his Liberal challenger time to grow as a leader and prove that he was up to the job. It’s an open question as to whether he could have done that in a more traditional 37-day campaign.

The kid who supposedly wasn't ready increasingly looks like he is. Still, a lot can happen and a lot can change quickly:

The NDP surprise came late in 2011 and Harper’s majority was not apparent until voting day. British Columbia Liberals and Alberta Progressive Conservatives confounded pollsters and prevailed at the final moment. Kathleen Wynne surged to a majority in Ontario in the final days.

A ten week campaign was supposed to give Stephen Harper the time to pummel his enemies. Clearly, Mr. Harper miscalculated.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Change For The Worse

The polls tell us that 70% of us want change -- change as a counter weight to the change Stephen Harper has delivered in the past ten years. If you think not much has changed, Carol Goar reminds you of exactly what this prime minister has "accomplished:"

  • A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for members of Parliament to spurn their constituents. Now, for half of parliamentarians, it is normal.

  • When the Conservatives took power, no one could have imagined the cancellation of the mandatory full-length census, the single best source of information about how the nation is changing and how the government is meeting these challenges. Now it is gone.

  • Before 2006 no Canadian prime minister — indeed no head of government in the Commonwealth — had ever been found in contempt of Parliament. It has happened twice on Harper’s watch. The Speaker of the House of Commons ruled that the government lied to Parliament and refused to release public documents. These actions contravene the principles on which responsible government is built.

  • Never has a prime minister attacked the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the personification of Canada’s strong, independent judiciary. Harper broke ranks, challenging Beverley McLachlin and by extension the rule of law.

  • Every prime minister for the past century has broadened the right to vote — to women, ethnic minorities, First Nations, Canadians living abroad, individuals with disabilities and homeless people. Harper attempted — with partial success — to reverse the process, disenfranchising thousands of voters with his Fair Elections Law.

  • For 58 years, no prime minister cavilled about providing life-saving medicine to refugee claimants awaiting their hearings. It was a mark of a decent nation. Harper slashed the Interim Federal Health Program “to defend the interests of Canadian taxpayers.”

  • Before Harper took power, Canadians were not a fearful people. We did not obsess over criminals in our communities, terrorists infiltrating our borders, bogus refugees exploiting our generosity or foreign wars threatening our security. We took reasonable precautions and got on with life. We trusted our fellow-citizens and gave refugee claimants a fair hearing. Now all of that is gone — dismissed as hopelessly naïve and unworldly.

  • Nor were we a xenophobic people. We weren’t unnerved by kirpans or offended by niqabs. We didn’t use terms such as “barbaric cultural practices.” We didn’t regard outsiders as a threat; immigrants and their families as a burden; or refugees as potential terrorists. We took pride in our reputation as one of the world’s few successful pluralistic societies.

  • If Harper's objective was to make history, he has, indeed, done that. But it's not the kind of history we -- or he -- should be proud of:

    No prime minister has treated Canada’s Charter of Rights as an inconvenience he could ignore, challenge or test at taxpayers’ expense. No prime minister has sicced federal tax auditors on charities that protect the environment, speak for the poor, or fight for freedom of expression. No prime minister has stripped judges of their discretion to sentence lawbreakers. No prime minister has treated Canadian citizenship as a benefit that can be revoked at will by the government. No prime minister has forbidden federal scientists to share their findings with their international peers or the public.

    There's a big difference between a change for the better and a change for the worse.

    Saturday, October 10, 2015

    Bravely Looking Into The Future

    Making political predictions is always a risky business -- particularly in this election, when the polls are all over the place. At the end of the last election, Peter C. Newman opined that the Liberal Party was dead. But, Chantal Hebert writes, Justin Trudeau will probably be the only leader of the three major parties who will be around to contest the next election:

    The fact that, with a week to go, the possibility of the Liberals forming the next government is not just a figment of partisan imagination is more than most of them dared hope when they picked Trudeau.
    Back then they gambled that he would mature on the job. It was not an obvious call but he has grown in his role, especially since the campaign started. It has been more than a decade since the Liberals have felt good about their campaign. For the first time since Jean Chrétien retired more than a decade ago, the party is poised to make gains on election day.

    And what of Stephen Harper?

    The reverse is true of Stephen Harper. 
    He consistently expanded the Conservative tent over four elections but this fifth campaign has mostly been about the party falling back on its core vote.

    It is not yet clear how successful Harper has been at holding the line against his rivals. His electoral swan song could still end on the false note of a defeat.

    For it is almost certainly his last campaign.

    Finally, there is the question of Tom Mulcair's future:

    And what of Thomas Mulcair, the leader who spent the first half of the campaign on the cusp of a historic victory only to now be at risk of losing the official Opposition title he inherited from his late predecessor?

     If — as the polls are suggesting — he leads the NDP back to third place, Mulcair is unlikely to get another kick at the election can.

    The New Democrats have a long and unbroken record of federal defeats and almost as long a history of giving their leaders a second or even a third chance. But a defeat this time would feel different to many party loyalists for they were asked to put quite a bit of water in their ideological wine on the way to their latest bid for government.

    In ten days we'll know the answers. But today, Hebert -- who is an excellent journalist -- has bravely looked into the future.

    Friday, October 09, 2015

    His Best Laid Plans


    The polls are all over the place. But, if you go to political events -- even Stephen Harper's invitation only events -- you hear interesting things. Michael Harris writes:

    Here’s some human intelligence gathered by yours truly on a trip this week to Vancouver. It’s not a poll. It’s just a hunch.

    Shortly before I arrived, Jason Kenney had been at an event put on by the city’s large South Asian community. One prominent member of the local Sikh community approached the minister and told him that if the government’s inflammatory statements about the niqab resulted in attacks against Muslims in Canada, the Conservatives would bear the responsibility. Three attacks later, his words took on new meaning.

    Those attacks are backfiring on Harper and a storm is brewing:

    He has always courted the immigrant vote, and rather successfully. But the niqab offensive is reminding a lot of Canadians of the immigrants in their own past. With Harper’s racist attack on Muslims (not ‘borderline’ racist, as former Newfoundland premier Danny Williams suggested) and new legislation giving the government several ways of stripping Canadians of their citizenship, there is a restlessness rippling through an important part of the Harper base.

    And it’s not just Sikhs. It’s Jews who remember their grandparents being turned away from Canadian shores. It’s Irish who remember hearing stories about how their relatives were treated like dirt here after they fled the potato famine in their native land to come here. It’s Japanese who recall the internment camps where they were sent for the crime of their ethnicity. It’s the Italians who will never quite forget being called ‘wops’ and ‘dagos’ as they tried to make their way in this country.

    In a nutshell, everyone who has ever tried to make a fresh start in Canada has reason to worry about Stephen Harper’s war on the niqab. Could it be that they’re thinking we’re all Muslims now?

    Some people call it karma. Some people simply hold to the belief that what goes around comes around. However you put it, the prime minister's best laid plans are going astray.

    Thursday, October 08, 2015

    Politics At Its Most Cynical


    Did Stephen Harper make his comments about banning niqabs from the public service because he was drawn off script? David Krayden writes:

    First off, there is no room for improvisation in a Stephen Harper script. When cabinet ministers receive their speaking notes from the PMO for a political event, what they get is a tightly-worded succession of talking points loosely linked by references to local dignitaries and the weather. Any digression from the core topic — congratulating the Harper government for its good works — is strictly verboten.

    So I really don’t think Harper doubled-down on this topic on a whim. The fact that he said it days earlier, in French and in Quebec, made it a premeditated policy announcement. If Harper were to inadvertently promote an expanded niqab ban in one official language, he would not repeat that mistake in English.

    No, Harper's comments were carefully calculated to appeal to the worst instincts of some Quebecers. And, if the polls are to be believed, the gambit has worked -- even though Harper knows that the Supreme Court will, once again, send his porposed legislation into the dumpster.

    It's politics at its most cynical. But that really shouldn't surprise anyone.

    Wednesday, October 07, 2015

    From Every Hill and Mole Hill

    Most assuredly, Stephen Harper has been listening to Lynton Crosby -- who has a long record of calling forth bigots. Jeff Sallot writes:

    A Federal Court of Appeal ruling Monday cleared the way for Ishaq to obtain her citizenship papers in time to vote on Oct. 19.

    You wouldn’t blame her if she doesn’t vote Conservative. Harper isn’t worried about losing votes in the Muslim community, of course. Instead, he’s appealing to the prejudices of a small slice of the Canadian population who can be riled up by irrational fear.

    Harper made a cynical political calculation to elevate the niqab to the level of a national political issue. He had polls (paid for by us, of course) that showed that a niqab ban would be popular. He doubled down when his government lost the first judicial go-round and went ahead last week with an appeal of the Ishaq case.

    So that’s where we are in late 2015 — submitting the legal rights of Canadian citizens to public opinion polls. But why stop at trashing the rights of Muslim women? Why not take polls on other civil rights — say, French language rights? There was a time in Canada when language rights might not have survived the test of popular opinion.

    Conservatives once used to be guided by their better angels:

    That was also a time when Canadian political leaders, including Conservatives, weren’t afraid to actually lead. Bob Stanfield, to his great credit, sacked a Tory candidate in New Brunswick in the 1974 election for refusing to support bilingualism. Stanfield didn’t need to find his political courage in a printout of polling data.

    That was a time when women wore religious garments without controversy. Like Sallot, I was taught by nuns:

    The most exotic people in my neighbourhood were the Catholic Ursuline nuns who taught me in elementary school. They wore long black gowns and headwear from the Middle Ages. It fully covered their hair. But you could see their faces. And you knew if you were in trouble before they spoke a word. 

    Harper is calculating that bigots will keep him in office.  And so he is calling them out from under every rock and away from every hill and mole hill.

    Tuesday, October 06, 2015

    What Does He Say In Private?


    The differences between the Liberals and the Conservatives are getting starker. Susan Delacourt writes:

    If this election is distilling down to a potentially ugly culture war in the final two weeks before the vote, much could rest on how Canadians feel about the people living around them.

    Trudeau gave an important speech in Brampton on Sunday — one that all those who have dismissed him as ‘not ready’ probably ought to see for themselves. This being an election and all, it was analyzed immediately afterward through the prism of political strategy — for its ability to mobilize support, to give the Liberals the impression of momentum, and so on.

    Simply put, Trudeau is clearly gambling that if Canadians have to choose between generosity and suspicion toward their neighbours, they will summon up their generous side. If that’s your view, the Brampton speech on Sunday probably spoke to your Canada in a way we haven’t seen in this country in a long time.

    The Conservatives, on the other hand, are -- and always have been -- suspicious of their neighbours:

    In case you missed it, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and Women’s Minister Kellie Leitch announced the establishment of a special RCMP “tip line” for citizens to report people they suspect of indulging in “barbaric cultural practices.”

    Already, the announcement has sparked widespread parody, including the website, which lays out all the ways in which Conservative policies also could be regarded as culturally offside, if not “barbaric.”

    In Winnipeg last week, Conservative MP Joyce Bateman presented a list of Liberal candidates she alleged to be anti-Israel, clearly believing it would be a crowd-pleaser at a debate sponsored by B’nai B’rith. It was not. She was booed down by many attendees and at least one shouted “shameful” as she tried to read out her list.

    It's all very Nixonian. It's worth remembering that, on the White House Tapes, Nixon called Trudeau the Elder an "asshole." Pierre's response to the news was that he had been "called worse things by better people."

    One wonders what Harper says about Trudeau the Younger in private.