Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Not So Brave New World


The world is being overwhelmed by Syrian refugees. And it's easy to lose sight of what's really happening in the Middle East. Rouba Al-Fattal writes:

Most world leaders and analysts have argued that a common Western strategy is needed to end the crisis. In the quest for that common strategy, Western policy-makers deliberated for months and came up with a beautiful road map for Syria. Russia came up with a road map of its own. The gist of both proposals is to seize fire, come together at the negotiation table, set up a committee to draft a new constitution, reform some political and economic elements, run a referendum, call for presidential and parliamentary elections and — hopefully — live happily ever after.

It’s such a nice fantasy — but it’s a laughable effort on both sides. How often can we forget our history? Did the road map for the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process lead to a two-state-solution? Did the road map for postwar Iraq lead to peace and stability? Why should this experiment be any different? How many road maps can we draw for people who don’t want to go anywhere? Let’s get real — unless this plan belongs to the people directly affected by the war, it’s not worth the paper it is printed on.

We're in a new world, Al Fattal writes, where old alliances have dissolved and new ones are being forged:

From a European perspective, Russia can provide the needed stability in Syria — which is why French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin have recently been seen cozying up to each other. We shouldn’t be surprised to see the European leaders softening their stance on Russia and giving some concessions on Ukraine in exchange for a deal on Syria.

The U.S., fearing a Russian beachhead in Syria that could translate into a stronger presence in the Middle East and new alliances with Europe, had no choice but to intensify its military efforts by sending “boots on the ground” to fight ISIS in Syria — something President Barack Obama had vowed not to do.

But that’s not the only strategic shift the U.S. has attempted. Despite the outcry from traditional allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. recently reached a nuclear deal with Iran. This landmark agreement turns the tables on the existing actors and gives a seat to a new player. The wisdom here is that the United States gains a new ally which should help in maintaining a balance of power against Russian dominance in the Middle East. This new U.S. strategy, which reads like a page from a beginner’s primer on international relations, only helps to widen the rift between the U.S. and Western Europe.

Stability will only be restored to the Middle East after these strategic shifts have been accomplished. Until then, many will die and many will flee. And those numbers will grow the longer the players seek military advantage.

It's a new world -- but not a brave new world.

We'll be away for the next couple of days. But I should be back on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Very Dark Place


Things are starting to get crazy. Mohamad Jebara writes:

Recent suggestions by some American and European officials that mosques should be closed, and Muslims rounded up and placed in camps, are not merely troubling. They’re reminiscent of past injustices which the civilized world vowed never to repeat.

People do crazy things when they get scared. History provides us with plenty of examples:

Due to the frenzy aroused in the indoctrinated, many innocent and law-abiding Canadian and American citizens of German and Japanese descent were unjustly persecuted; their properties were confiscated, they were gathered into internment camps and their basic human rights were limited and abused.

Many injustices have been, and continue to be, perpetrated against our First Nations people, who were subjected to ethnic cleansing through residential schools, forced to convert to Christianity and denied the basic rights of citizenship until 1960. Their ancestral lands were confiscated, their lives treated with disregard.

Looking back, we are ashamed at what others have done in our names. But, when we look forward, we tend to forget the past:

The demonization of peoples and religions is an insidious process that infects entire cultures. Shakespeare vilified European Jews when he wrote The Merchant of Venice, as Charles Dickens did when he made his child-slaver Fagin a Jew in Oliver Twist. For centuries, Jews were portrayed in Western media as sly, deceitful, evil and merciless — a portrayal that allowed the ‘civilized’ world to stand by in silence — and in some cases even rejoice — as the Nazis worked to annihilate European Jewry.

The enemy is the Islamic State. It is not Islam. If we fail to see that distinction, we will end up in a very dark place.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Another Challenge


Stephen Harper used to talk about the virtue of individual responsibility. But, when it came to defending an individual's civil liberties, all of that rhetoric went up in smoke. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson  believes -- as Harper did -- that civil liberties get in the way of good police work. Michael Harris writes:

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson wants warrantless access to online subscriber information. That, in itself, is not remarkable. Police always want fewer obstacles between their work and the people they pursue — more John Wayne, less Perry Mason. It’s the old argument: It’s plenty hard enough to catch the bad guys, we’re told, without bureaucrats putting roadblocks in the way of the good guys.

It wouldn’t surprise me to find small graven images of Stephen Harper and Vic Toews on Commissioner Paulson’s desk, given how much he sounds like them. Harper and Toews both saw the world the way Paulson does, in binary black and white: Give the police the power they ask for and forget about the implications for civil liberties.

Harper simply didn’t give a hoot about privacy issues from the point of view of the individual. This is the man who gave us Bill C-51, after all. Harper’s approach to privacy law always came down to reduced protection for individuals online and far more power for police and other security services. Bill C-13 (the so called ‘cyberbullying’ law) and Bill S-4 (the Digital Privacy Act) were all about invasion of privacy without consequences for the invaders.

To Harper and Paulson it doesn't matter that the Supreme Court upheld the right of internet privacy in R v Spencer.  The police, the court ruled, need a warrant to search internet subscriber information:

And it wasn’t just a matter of names and addresses, as the old Harperites and the police always insisted in their zeal to pursue a bad idea. It was high-tech snooping without due process or independent oversight. The high court saw far greater values to protect than the right of police to snoop.

But, unlike Harper, Paulson hasn't gone away. He represents another challenge which the Trudeau government faces.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Putting The Numbers In Perspective


Canadians across the country are getting ready to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees. In the small community in which my wife and I live, a family of 11 arrived two months ago. But before we begin congratulating ourselves too heartily, Jeff Sallot writes, we should put that number -- 25,000 -- in perspective:

While 25,000 might seem like a big number, it’s still only 10 per cent of the total number of immigrants to Canada in an average year.

On the other hand, 25,000 is two-and-a-half times the number of Syrian refugees the United States plans to admit next year. Now that is shocking.

And, given the number of people who have fled Syria, that number is a mere drop in the bucket:

The UN has registered more than 4 million refugees who have fled Syria for safety. There are at least 1 million more who have not been registered. Inside Syria itself, about 7 million have been displaced by the civil war. Half of Syria’s prewar population has been forced to move.

These are the fortunate few. An estimated 250,000 have been killed in the conflict. For every one refugee who arrives in Canada, ten have already perished.

These three frontline countries rarely offer refugees resettlement, permanent residency or a path to citizenship. The Syrians live in shantytowns on the fringes of cities or in camps, some for more than two years now.

The frontline governments hope a political settlement can be reached in Syria so that the refugees can go home — the sooner the better. Many displaced Syrians reckon they have nothing to go back to. They would rather take their chances on the seas, or wait patiently for a country like Canada to accept them as permanent residents.

There is much more which needs to be done. And now that Vladamir Putin has installed anti-aircraft missiles which can shoot down coalition bombers, the situation could get much worse.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thorough Corruption


Like Junior, Red Skelton's mean little kid, Stephen Harper's avowed purpose in life has been to throw a wrench into the workings of government. He remained true to form -- even as he was leaving -- making 49 re-appointments and future appointments, whose purpose was to hamstring the incoming government. Alan Freeman writes:

The 49 appointments, including renewals and new appointments, have effectively blocked the newly-elected government from determining the future course of key agencies like the National Energy Board. In one remarkable case of chutzpah, the government renewed in advance the term of Canada Post’s CEO, Deepak Chopra, until 2021 — even though Chopra was the architect of the Crown corporation’s decision to kill door-to-door mail delivery, a policy opposed by both the Liberals and the NDP. (In this case, the Liberals may be able to undo the appointment because it was made “at pleasure”. Others won’t be so easy.)

Several of the future appointments were made just before the government's mandate ended:

What’s particularly curious about the future appointments is that several of them came down just days before Harper called the federal election in early August, at which point the so-called “caretaker convention” came into effect. That convention calls on the outgoing government to show restraint in its exercise of power during an election campaign, and to not do anything controversial. Knowing that the convention was about to come into effect, the government rushed ahead regardless with its future appointments — surely knowing that it could do it with a wink and a nod from its top bureaucrats.

Harper showed no respect whatever for parliamentary conventions. But he couldn't have accomplished what he did without the clear collaboration of senior public servants:

It’s clear that many deputy ministers, each holding their jobs at the pleasure of the PM and reporting to a Privy Council clerk equally beholden to Harper, have spent a decade conveniently ignoring their duty to serve the government and people of Canada. Many have known no other government and may now suddenly find themselves a loss when actually asked for real advice, let alone being forced to speak “truth to power”.

Harper's parting appointments are a reminder of how thoroughly he corrupted the civil service.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Empty Barrels


Just as they did before the American invasion of Iraq, most of our media -- particularly television -- are once again fanning the flames of fear. Andrew Mitrovica writes:

In times of free-floating anxiety like these, the corporate media does not act as a brake on the state; quite the opposite. Rather than challenge the extraordinary and expanding security powers of Western states, corporate media outlets routinely urge them to exercise those powers more pervasively and ruthlessly. Rather than the question the rush to declare “war” — especially when the target is a non-state actor which has proved itself stubbornly resistant to the traditional tactics of war — they join the chorus calling for more airstrikes, more ground troops, more action.

Worst of all, the corporate media will never acknowledge — from one episode of panic to the next — that it ever made a mistake, ever took things on faith that it should have verified, ever owed it to the people making life-and-death decisions to shoulder some of the burden of the terrible consequences of errors.

And it's not Fox News or the now defunct Sun News that are beating the drums of war:

And I’m not just talking about rancid right-wing radio and Fox TV commentators. I’m talking about ‘mainstream’ journalism as well. I’m talking about the talking heads who dutifully trot out the usual ‘experts’ — superannuated white, male members of the national-security industrial complex now working as consultants — as they point fingers at everyone but themselves and the state institutions they once served.

These suits are given free rein to say whatever they want, confident that the reporter doing the questioning will nod solemnly and never seriously challenge a word. So they’ll blame the latest ISIS atrocity on American whistleblower Edward Snowden — calling him a traitor, claiming he has “blood on his hands.” These pastured espiocrats will claim that the only way to combat terrorism is to grant to already vastly powerful, secret and unaccountable government agencies even more authority, money and staff. They’ll rush to accuse Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama of weakness, to condemn them for failing to jump into the Syrian quagmire with both feet.

When "experts" start beating their war drums, it's wise to remember that empty barrels make the most noise.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tearing Down The Firewall


If you really want to know what the Harper years were all about, Andrew Potter writes, you have to go back to the letter which Harper and Tom Flanagan sent to Ralph Klein in the aftermath of the 2000 election:

Addressed to Alberta premier Ralph Klein and signed by six people (including Harper and his adviser at the time, Tom Flanagan), it was a plea for Alberta to take charge of its own future. The goal was for Alberta to carve out a place for itself in Confederation, using its existing constitutional powers, that would insulate the province from an “increasingly hostile government in Ottawa.” The letter’s proposals included creating a provincial pension plan (like the QPP); a provincial police force (like the SQ or OPP); collecting its own provincial income tax (as Quebec does); forcing Senate reform back on to the national agenda; and taking over complete provincial responsibility for health care.

Apart from this list, the letter demanded that Klein do whatever he could to reduce the transfer system that saw Alberta send $8 billion a year to other parts of the country. In its concluding paragraph, the letter says, “It is imperative to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction.”

When Klein refused to take their advice, Harper decided to go to Ottawa and build the firewall from there:

Once you realize that Harper’s agenda was to build a firewall around Alberta from Ottawa, a lot of what he did while in power starts to make more sense. More specifically, a lot of what seemed like high-level ideology is revealed as simple tactics. A case in point is climate change. It is one thing to insist (as Harper rightly did) that Canada should not go it alone on emissions reduction. It is something else entirely to indulge in barely concealed denialism.  But once you realize that any comprehensive deal on emissions that would actually do anything worthwhile would involve leaving a lot of oil in the ground in Alberta, forever, then denialism becomes more comprehensible.

To protect Alberta, Harper had to shut down three sources which were essential to the proper functioning of the federation:

Data: It wasn’t privacy, as Tony Clement said, or freedom, as Max Bernier argued, that was the real rationale for killing the mandatory long-form census. It was to throw a whole lot of noise into the demographic signal that the census had been giving for decades. That is also why Statistics Canada as a whole was gutted over the course of the Harper years. Without accurate data, social planners are flying blind.

Expertise: No government in living memory has been as hostile to experts and to evidence as the Harper government. But as Laval economist Stephen Gordon recently argued, it wasn’t all forms of expertise and evidence that gave the Tories hives – plenty of their economic initiatives were rooted in the best available evidence. What the Tories were allergic to was expertise that steered the evidence in directions they didn’t want to go – “committing sociology,” in Harper’s wonderful turn of phrase. That is why scientists were muzzled, policy shops were shuttered and bureaucrats were ignored.

Money: Here is the meat in the sandwich. When it comes to social planning, the ultimate source of Ottawa’s power is the spending power. And this is where Harper had his greatest success. By the end of his tenure as prime minister, Ottawa’s spending, as a share of GDP, had fallen to levels not seen since the middle of the 20th century. And the spending that does remain is overwhelmingly devoted to either just keeping the lights on or takes the form of transfers to the provinces and individuals.
Harper’s policy genius here was the two-point cut in the GST, which currently costs the federal treasury about $12 billion a year. Harper’s political genius was the creation of an all-party and pan-Canadian consensus around the virtues of a balanced budget at that historically low level of federal spending.
No data, no experts and no money. Starve the beast, but make it blind and deaf at the same time. This is Harper’s “Ottawa Firewall” in a nutshell.

Justin  Trudeau has moved immediately to restore data and expertise to government. Finding the money to make government function will be difficult, because neo-liberalism isn't dead. But it's beginning to look like Rachel Notley -- who introduced  her proposals to deal with climate change over the weekend -- is very much in favour of tearing down the firewall.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Let's Hope They're On The Same Page


On Friday, Carol Goar took stock of the Harper years. Of Mr. Harper, she wrote:

The former prime minister was neither an ogre nor a brilliant manager. He was an introverted politician who relied on fear to maintain control. Over time, he alienated all but his party’s core supporters.

She then turned her attention to the incoming government:

As the Liberals begin their mandate, they need to be conscious of their blind spots and Achilles heels. They are a largely eastern, lawyer-loaded party that closely resembles the political elite of the past. They campaigned skilfully but they haven’t mastered the levers of power.
They must guard against any sign of entitlement. That means filtering out the adulation of their acolytes and refusing to demonize their opponents. It also means reaching out to the people who didn’t vote for them. Trudeau promised on election night to be a prime minister “who never seeks to divide Canadians, but takes every single opportunity to bring us together.” Every new leader makes some version of that pledge. Few stick to it. 

The Canada and the world that Justin Trudeau has inherited is full of challenges: 

The fledgling prime minister had a challenging first month: a worse-than-expected fiscal update, a horrific terrorist onslaught in Paris, a tense G20 meeting in Turkey and a jittery APEC summit in the Philippines. He stuck to his election commitments, ignored the second-guessers shouting from the sidelines and sidestepped the obvious pitfalls. It was hard work.

Having acknowledged all that, Goar's final sentence bears repeating: 

The time for celebrations and score settling, winning sides and losing sides has passed. The nation voted to turn the page.

Let's hope that Ms. Goar and Mr. Trudeau are on the same page.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Why The Dippers Lost


Some folks are beginning to look through the embers to explain why the official opposition is now the third party. Geoffrey Rafe Hall writes:

Many observers, picking through the post-mortem of the NDP campaign, have laid most of the blame on the niqab debate and the eruption of identity politics, on Tom Mulcair’s flat performance in the first leaders’ debate, and on Justin Trudeau’s substantial personal appeal. All of these factors contributed to the result, of course — but not one of them was solely capable of toppling what should have been a well-run, sturdy election machine.

It may not seem obvious now, but the seeds of the NDP’s defeat in October were sown years earlier — before Jack Layton’s death and the breakthrough of 2011. Both were momentous events that had negative and long-lasting repercussions. Ultimately, the gains in the 2011 election fostered a climate of arrogance and complacency within the NDP’s senior ranks and shifted the focus away from building a robust election machine to operating the levers of power. Jack’s tragic death, which triggered a genuine and heartfelt outpouring of grief from Canadians everywhere, virtually guaranteed that the party would not conduct a critical analysis of events.

Layton's triumph  was also the party's downfall. Like Stephen Harper, Layton insisted on message discipline:

Career advancement was halted for anyone who failed to adhere rigidly to dogma prescribed in many cases by senior political staff — not the party leader. Greater emphasis was placed on centralized messaging and communications at the expense of organization, technical innovation, voter and volunteer identification and recruitment. In short, the NDP’s organizational strength was allowed to atrophy.

But, ironically, even though the party movers and shakers insisted on message discipline, the message wasn't clear:

From the get-go, the NDP campaign lacked a clear direction and message. Why did they want to win government? Was it to replace Harper? Usher in change? Provide economic stability? The party failed to answer these questions for voters, or to offer them any inspirational arguments for a NDP government.

The party seemed to have forgotten who they were -- and lots of traditional Dippers voted for Trudeau -- a message that Justin should heed.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Who Wants To Do That?


What happened in Paris a week ago was horrific. It can't be justified and it must be dealt with. But, for the last fifteen years, our response to what has been happening in the Middle East has been wrong headed. Since George W. Bush invaded Iraq, western policy has been all about eradication. Michael Harris writes:

But the more relevant question is whether a strategy of “eradication” works. Fourteen years of boots on the ground in Afghanistan should have shown the United States that it doesn’t. Two superpowers — the USSR, then the U.S. — tried the military option for 24 years; Afghanistan remains an unreconstructed narco-state with the Taliban back in business and Kabul as corrupt as ever.

Boots on the ground accomplished even less in Iraq. Revisit in your memory President George Bush strutting across the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in September 2003 beneath a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished.” It was War on Terror rhetoric at its most perverse. Thirteen years on, that “war on a noun” is still an utter failure.

Shock and Awe may assuage a need for revenge. But it doesn't solve the problem. It only makes things worse -- because it obliterates perspective:

You stand a better chance of being struck by lightning than of dying at the hands of a terrorist — but most governments see a hidden benefit in exaggerating the threat. After every attack attributed to terrorists, governments take another step towards the complete surveillance state. France is no exception. In the wake of the Paris attacks, French President François Hollande has asked to change the Constitution of the Fifth Republic.

What's even more worse, is that it gives rise to the Surveillance State:

The journey towards global surveillance rides the bullet train of fear and prejudice. The more speed it picks up, the further democracy recedes in the rear-view mirror. The National Security Agency spied on all American citizens with its collection of so-called ‘metadata’ — something Americans would still know nothing about were it not for a fellow named Edward Snowden, now a fugitive in exile for alerting his countrymen to the 21st century version of Watergate.

So what should be done?

The most sensible way to deal with terrorists is to stop characterizing them as fanatics or mentally unstable. As former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says, all terrorists are members of political movements. They have grievances and goals which need to be understood rather than caricatured. Otherwise, we have no way to intervene against them other than the sharp edge of the sword — always an excellent recruitment tool for outfits like ISIS.

But that would mean "committing sociology." And who wants to do that?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

He Won't Recognize Canada


The Conservatives are already missing Stephen Harper. Susan Delacourt writes:

A photo of Stephen Harper, emblazoned with the caption “Miss Me Yet?”, has popped up on the blogs and Facebook posts of some core Conservatives. A new website,, has declared that Justin Trudeau “is already letting Canada down” and is vowing to “bring conservatism back to Ottawa.”

That's because the mandate letters Trudeau  sent to each of his ministers make clear that the Liberals' first order of business is to undo much of what Stephen Harper did:

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould appears to have the largest list of Conservative measures to unravel; she’s already announced the move to abandon a court challenge of niqabs at citizenship ceremonies and has been tasked with a wide-ranging review of the past decade’s changes to the criminal justice system. She has also been instructed to restore the old Court Challenges Program and help other ministers repeal bits of the controversial C-51 security law and C-42, the so-called “Common Sense Firearms Act,” which critics said watered down gun control laws in Canada.
Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly will be reversing funding cuts to the CBC. Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef will be taking a hatchet to many provisions in the Fair Elections Act. Finance Minister Bill Morneau will be scrapping income-splitting for families and other “unfairly targeted tax breaks.”
When Citizenship and Immigration Minister John McCallum is done with the task of getting 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year’s end, he also has to repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act that give the government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals, and also eliminate a $1,000 fee imposed on those who hire foreign caregivers.

Then there are all the things that the Liberals promised to do -- like spending on infrastructure. 

Stephen Harper won't recognize Canada when the Liberals get through with it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Anger And Wisdom Don't Go Together


Writing in yesterday's Globe and Mail, Bob Rae repeated some advice he once received from a good friend: It’s hard to be smart and angry at the same time. Justin Trudeau needs to take that advice to heart as he wrestles with the problem of ISIS. Rae writes:

More than a decade ago, September 11 generated an angry response from the United States. The assumption was that eliminating the Taliban, which had without question aided and abetted al-Qaeda, would be a quick, surgical operation, to be followed by the democratic reconstruction of Afghanistan.

A short two years later, George W. Bush decided that regime change needed to happen in Iraq as well. Several hundred thousand casualties and trillions of dollars later, Mr. Bush’s ally Tony Blair admitted that the ham-fisted way the invasion of Iraq had taken place contributed directly to the creation of Islamic State and the brutal chaos in northern Iraq and eastern Syria. Afghanistan remains deeply unstable.

The invasion of Iraq -- which was supposed to be a demonstration of Shock and Awe -- created ISIS. We would be foolish to repeat Bush's mistake. Rae writes:

We are indeed in a war, because of the violent and extremist ideologies and techniques of jihadi extremism and their incompatibility with any kind of world order. A statelet that enslaves, oppresses, kills and tortures is an affront not just to “the West,” but to every conceivable standard of decency and the rule of international law.

But it is not a war like others in our past, and it will require imagination, solidarity, courage and extraordinary resilience for us to succeed. We need to learn from our mistakes. The urge to strike back is human and entirely understandable. But it has to be matched by a full range of non-military responses that thus far we have not been capable of in any systematic way.

This is the opportunity for Canada – we have been engaged in this struggle for the past 15 years, and have learned much. Our soldiers are wise, as are our aid officers and diplomats. We have to share these experiences with others as we wrestle with the choices ahead.

This is a time for wisdom to prevail over anger. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

We Need Not Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past


After Friday's events in Paris, there have been loud and sustained calls for vengeance. While the impulse is understandable, Robin Sears writes, we must not let  terrorists turn us into beasts. Sears cites Charles Taylor, the Canadian philosopher with a world-wide reputation:

Canada’s priceless contribution to the world’s understanding of the essential role of tolerance or mutual accommodation in every successful community is the philosopher Charles Taylor. Taylor puts his case starkly. None of us, he cautions, is capable of resisting the seduction of prejudice, exclusion, or even collective punishment if we are sufficiently terrified by propaganda about “the other.”
Equally, each of us is willing to walk the path of inclusion, tolerance and openness to religious, ethnic and racial diversity with sufficient reassurance about its wisdom and safety. He cites France’s painful passage from being one of the world’s most inclusive societies post-revolution, to its more shameful treatment of its Muslim citizens since they landed on its shores post-Algerian war.

The roots of what happened in Paris go back along way -- just as the causes of the cauldron in the Middle East go back at least a century. And so, Sears writes, Canada stands at a crossroads:

So Canada and the world stand once again at this crossroad — do we build walls or bridges? Do we cede victory to these sub-humans who revel in their ability to shed massive amounts of human blood purely to instill terror — and refuse sanctuary to their fleeing victims? Or do we teach our children well, about the dead end that such cowardice necessarily delivers?
Do we again commit the sin of rejecting refugee ships like the St. Louis in Halifax or the Komagata Maru in Vancouver. Will a future Pier 21 curator mount a photo of a dead Syrian family, next to the courageous but rejected Polish family?
Because there is another lesson from Paris, and all the horrors like it, that we will no doubt yet have to endure.

We need not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Let's Hope He's No Fool


It didn't take long for Justin Trudeau to be tested. On Friday night, the gauntlet was on the ground -- thrown, not by Canadians, but by terrorists in the streets of Paris. Michael Harris writes:

For Justin Trudeau, mass murder in Paris is his trial by ordeal as prime minister. It didn’t take very long. At the end of the month, Paris was supposed to be the glittering venue where a new, young prime minister, and an impressive delegation, would announce to the world that the old Canada is back. No more fossil awards, no more climate change denial on behalf of oil companies or the Koch Brothers, no more corporate-driven “facts” on the environment, no more beating the war drums. Canada was not shaking its finger at the world anymore, but offering an embrace.

But that's the kind of world we live in -- a world where someone else's mistakes come back to bite you. Now the French, unsurprisingly, have vowed to conduct a "pitiless war." But Andrew Bacevich, writing in the Boston Globe, reminds us where pitiless war in the Middle East has gotten us:

“It’s not as if the outside world hasn’t already given pitiless war a try. The Soviet Union spent all of the 1980s attempting to pacify Afghanistan and succeeded only in killing a million or so Afghans while creating an incubator for Islamic radicalism. Beginning in 2003, the United States attempted something similar in Iraq and ended up producing similarly destabilizing results. By the time the US troops withdrew in 2011, something like 200,000 Iraqis had died, most of them civilians. Today Iraq teeters on the brink of disintegration.” 

There will be all kinds of pressure on Trudeau to join the continuing March of Folly. He's young. But let's hope he's no fool.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Closer To Home Than They Realize


It's been surreal to watch and listen to Stephen Harper's former cabinet ministers distance themselves from their boss. Bob Hepburn writes:

Let’s start with Rona Ambrose, the new interim party leader. Without a hint of insincerity, Ambrose insists her caucus will no longer engage in the “nastiness” of the old Harper government and will be more “constructive, effective” in working as the Official Opposition.
Also, Ambrose has completely reversed herself on the need for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. For years, the Tories refused to hold an inquiry into what the RCMP says are more than 1,200 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Now she is all in favour of an inquiry, saying it “is an absolutely non-partisan issue, it should never be political.” 

And then there's Tony Clement, who deep sixed the long form census:

Next is Tony Clement, the former industry minister who cancelled the long-form census of 2011, a move widely denounced inside and outside of government. Clement was relentless in implementing the change, insisting it was needed to protect citizen privacy.
Now Clement is expressing regrets, saying in hindsight that “I would have done it differently.”

And, of course, there's Kellie Leitch, who -- academically at least -- is supposed to be very bright:

Then there’s Kellie Leitch, the former labour minister at the centre of one of the lowest points in the Tory campaign. She hit that point when she joined cabinet colleague Chris Alexander in announcing “a snitch hotline” to report “barbaric cultural practices.” In reality, Leitch was urging Canadians to target Muslims in their neighbourhoods.
Now Leitch, who apparently dreams of succeeding Harper, says the plan was misunderstood and not communicated very well.

Hepburn writes that the Conservatives must really think voters are stupid. Given the results of the election, and their own pronouncements, it's pretty clear that stupidity is closer to home than the former Harperites realize.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Listening To Our Better Angels

When facts caught up with Stephen Harper's claim that he was the best person to manage the economy, he tried to stoke the fires of xenophobia, convinced that the heat he generated would lead him all the way back to Sussex Drive. He failed. But, Errol Mendes writes, we should look carefully at the numbers:

Yet, drilling down into the election results, the Conservative strategy partly succeeded at least in Quebec in parts where there was a dominant francophone population. In these ridings, where there are not many and in some cases, not any, Muslims or people from other cultures, the Conservative campaign played into what are often the catalysts of incipient racism and xenophobia, namely fear of loss of identity and suspicion of the “different other”. The French policy of secularism imported into francophone Quebec also played a part.

Canadians, as a whole, are decent people. However, some decent people are easily manipulated:

But irresponsible political leaders attempted to drive a large hole into that precious quality of respect for diversity that Canada gives to the world. The campaign of Stephen Harper partially succeeded in that. It massively rebounded on him and his party due the fact that it wounded the NDP and its leader who courageously stuck to his principles and stood by the fundamental right of the solitary women to wear her niqab at the citizenship ceremony as long she had shown her identity without the face covering beforehand. The demise of the NDP in Quebec due to the xenophobic strategy of the Conservatives led the majority of progressive voters to swing massively to the Liberals as the main hope of ousting the Harper government. The majority Liberal government will no doubt bury the barely disguised xenophobic proposals and actions of the Harper government. However, what limited success those proposals and actions had in Quebec is deeply troubling not only for Canada, but I suggest for many parts of our troubled world. There are growing number of examples in Europe of similar attempts by usually far right politicians to use various forms of xenophobia to make inroads into main stream and sometimes even traditionally progressive parties.

The same kind of race baiting is alive and well in European politics. And, after yesterday's events in Paris, it's bound to raise its ugly head again. Language and symbols -- like niqabs -- can inflame a population:

Language and symbols as much as guns and bullets can cause great damage to any society and pose the greatest dangers to those in democratic societies whose very guarantees of freedom of expression can be used by those who may want to gain power by scapegoating and vilifying the minorities who are part of their increasingly diverse societies.

That is why what happened in Canada a month ago is so important. Like it or not, we are an example -- either good or bad -- for the world. And, for the moment, we have listened to our better angels.

Friday, November 13, 2015

They've Forgotten Their Audience

In 2011, Stephen Harper garnered the editorial support of 95% of Canada's newspapers. This time around, that number had dropped to 71%. A good portion of that 71% came from the Postmedia chain, whose  chairman -- Paul Godfrey -- told his editors that he would brook no dissent from the chain's support of Harper. Michael Harris writes:

Godfrey committed what the late senator and Globe and Mail editor Richard Doyle said was the unpardonable sin of the industry: he held up the newspapers he runs and got a reflection of himself. And remember how this was done. On the weekend before the election, Godfrey disfigured the front pages of all his newspapers with a full-page attack ad in support of the Harper Conservatives.

From the Ottawa Citizen to the Vancouver Sun, the same fear-mongering ad advised readers that voting Liberal or NDP “will cost you.” Godfrey tried to impose the PM’s plan for re-election, the magic mantra of fear and forgetfulness, on the Postmedia audience. And just to be sure to catch the eyes of the dullards, that front-page wrap was bright yellow. A good choice of colour, given what Godfrey was up to.

The problem is that those who support the chain's editorial position are a distinct minority. And Godfrey's first job is to sell newspapers:

Godfrey’s forced march of Postmedia editors through the swamps of political partisanship could cost the chain dearly. The National Post is already floundering under a $650 million debtload, kept afloat by U.S. hedge funds that extract big interest returns on their “investment.” No one is happy about that and many others in this besieged industry are taking on water.

In the meantime, Godfrey is totally out of touch with the people who hold the chain’s fate in their hands — his dwindling band of subscribers. According to a new report from the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, Canada’s newspapers were, as the Huffington Post put it, “in the tank” for Harper for the past two elections.

Canada's newspapers are in trouble. That's because they have forgotten who their audience is.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Participatory Democracy


Justin Trudeau has made a lot of promises. And, Susan Delacourt writes, he's calling on Canadians to help him keep them. That's a complete turnaround from the man he replaced:

The difference boils down to this: Stephen Harper only made promises that he had the power to deliver on his own. Trudeau, on the other hand, needs help from people and institutions outside his government to make good on his campaign pledges — help from premiers, from other countries and, perhaps most importantly, from Canadian citizens themselves.

Consider Trudeau's promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada before years end:

Citizenship and Immigration Minister John McCallum has made no secret of the fact that Liberals can’t pull this off by themselves. Getting the Syrian refugees here is something the government can organize, McCallum has said, but making the necessary settlement arrangements requires Canadians to suit up for service too — by providing homes or other aid to newcomers in their communities.

“There are many Canadians across the land who want to reach out to help us in this endeavour,” McCallum said this week.

Let’s be clear — that’s more than just a platitude. It’s a condition for making this promise a reality by Dec. 31.

And, then, there's Trudeau's promise to tackle climate change:

What this means, in essence, is that Canada’s prime minister will not be sitting alone at the table in Paris — and any commitments from Canada at these talks won’t be the product of a simple declaration from on high. As the Ottawa Citizen’s Glen McGregor observed on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning this week, it means that Canada’s future plans on climate change will be hammered out in Paris hotel rooms as well as at the big UN negotiating table. Trudeau’s going to Paris to negotiate with the world — but while he’s there, he’ll also have to negotiate with the Canadian delegation he’s bringing with him.

Trudeau's approach to governing is risky. When other people have skin in the game, they don't always do as you would wish them to do.  But it's a refreshing change from the last guy. And it could change our politics:

This attitude speaks to an idea of government very different from the one held by the last government — that the responsibility for making things work in government belongs to citizens as well as politicians. In this version of government, citizens aren’t merely passive “taxpayers” — they’re participants.

We shall see what the future brings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Their Coming Enriched This Country

                                                     CBC Digital Archives

Thirty-six years ago, Canada opened its doors to a flood of refugees from Vietnam. Tim Harper writes on this Remembrance Day:

Scott Mullin was 22 and barely out of Carleton University when the Star headlined a March 5, 1979, piece about him — “Viet refugees view Canadian as a god.’’

A few months later, the CBC called him “The One-Man Board of Immigration,’’ in a July 1979 piece from reporter Peter Mansbridge.

Mullin, now the vice-president of community relations for the TD Bank, determined which of the so-called Vietnamese “boat people” came to Canada and which were denied passage, relying largely on gut impressions which resulted in far more “yays” than “nays.” 

As a banker, Mullin is concerned about making good investments. But he knows that, besides investing in things, you have to invest in people. In 1979, he told Mansbridge:

"We have to look upon this for ourselves as an investment in the future,’’ the young Mullin told Mansbridge 36 years ago. “The first six months we might have a lot of problems, but what’s this guy’s son going to be like and how’s he going to do? I think that’s the important thing you have to look at.’’

Just as in 1979, today’s Canada’s immigration officers must be given the latitude needed to their jobs, he says, and they would be looking at the potential of the family unit, not necessarily the parents, but the 14-year-old girl who learned to speak English while in a refugee camp.

 “You look at it as a generational investment,’’ he says. “It’s not mom and dad. It’s the kids.’ As he looks back, he knows the first generation of Vietnamese Canadians he admitted did reasonably well. 
“The next generation did extremely well.’’

Today we remember our soldiers who have died in four wars. But we should also remember those who have fled wars to live  among us -- and whose coming has enriched this country.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Are They Better At Trade?


During the last election, Stephen Harper trumpeted the record number of trade deals he had signed. But, Gus Van Harten argues, if you look at the deals, it's clear that Mr. Harper has been selling us down the river:

The right trade agreements can create opportunities for Canada. But the Harper government has seemed more interested in getting lots of deals than in making sure each is good for Canada’s economy.

The three most important deals are:the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe, and the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

We have not been given a lot of information about the deals until now. The TPP has people like Jim Basillie very worried -- with reason. It continues a pattern established with FIPA:

1. The Harper government gave Chinese investors “market access” to Canada — a right to buy what they want in our economy — without getting the same for Canadian investors in China.

2. When Harper announced the deal he said that it “ensures non-discriminatory treatment” for foreign investors. But the terms let China keep all its existing laws, policies, or practices that discriminate against Canadian investors.

3. In FIPA, the Harper government exposed Canada to potentially massive financial liabilities due to the special and lopsided rights it gives to foreign companies, which can seek uncapped amounts of public compensation from governments directly before international tribunals.

One of the reasons Mr. Harper lost the election was because his claim that he was a good economic manager was no longer credible. Careful examination of his trade pacts underscores his economic illiteracy.

We'll have to see if the Liberals are better at trade than Mr. Harper was.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Doing Infrastructure Right


Justin Trudeau has vowed to spend $51.1 billion on infrastructure over the next ten years. Allan Freeman writes that, before a penny is spent, some pretty serious strategic thinking needs to be done. Such thinking was not a hallmark of the last government:

Back in 2009, when the global financial crisis provoked a rapid drop in economic activity, infrastructure spending was a big component of the Conservative government’s Economic Action Plan. The theme at the time, repeated ad nauseam by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, was “shovels in the ground.” The idea was to get work going as quickly as possible on infrastructure projects to provide much-needed economic stimulus. Projects, he kept on saying, were to be “timely, targeted and temporary.”

Another phrase Flaherty repeated a lot in 2009 was “use it or lose it.” Provinces and municipalities were warned that if they didn’t get the excavators digging and the concrete pouring by March 31, 2011, the promised cash would be clawed back by Ottawa. Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.

What it boiled down to was pork:

The Harper Tories discovered that Keynesian economics and big deficits provided fabulous opportunities for local infrastructure projects — otherwise known as “pork”. In total, 7,000 provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure projects were greenlighted under the Economic Action Plan, leading to the construction of hockey rinks, day-care centres and small-craft harbours. They were great projects for politicians looking to pose for local media at ribbon-cuttings — but they had little or no strategic impact on the economy.

Like everything the Harperites did, it added up to vote buying. What we need, writes Freeman is strategic investment in the economy:

If infrastructure investment is supposed to bring transformational change this time around, the new government should think long and hard about the impact of projects — and make choices. Instead of shelling out $20 million each on five regional centres to study climate change — a typical Canadian response that would respond to the requirements of politics — why not concentrate efforts on one national centre and spend the $100 million in one place, where it can have significant impact?

Let’s think strategically, even if that means concentrating funding on projects that necessarily will be geographically limited, like high-speed rail in the Toronto-Montreal corridor. Even if it means some ridings will get less cash, and backbenchers will enjoy fewer opportunities to hand over enormous novelty cheques.

The new government has to think beyond the next election.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Trudeau And The TPP


Justin Trudeau will be tested on many fronts. One of the most important fronts is international trade -- where the TPP has just landed in his lap. Tom Walkom writes:

Released Thursday, the final text confirms most critics’ fears.
Certain kinds of new-generation prescription pharmaceuticals will receive enhanced patent protection. That means they will become more expensive — both for individuals and provincial drug plans.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a bad deal for medicine,” said the aid group Doctors Without Borders.

Governments will find it harder to protect the privacy of Canadian citizens. If, for instance, a Canadian credit card company wants to store electronic information in cheaper data banks abroad, governments will be able to intervene only if they can prove a “legitimate policy objective.”

The dispute settlement system that already allows American and Mexican companies to challenge Canadian environmental and other laws before special trade arbitrators has been expanded to include all nations in the TPP.

The new pact will deviate from the existing North American Free Trade Agreement in that hearings held under this system will now be open to the public — unless the arbitrators decide otherwise.

Oh yes. And the threshold for reviewing foreign takeovers of Canadian companies has been raised from $600 million to $1.5 billion.

But the most immediate casualty of the new deal is the Canadian auto industry. Under NAFTA, only auto parts containing 60 per cent North American content could move duty-free between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Earlier this fall, the Harper government admitted that the TPP would reduce this local content threshold to 40 per cent. The final text shows that for some crucial auto parts, the new threshold is even lower — 35 per cent.

What this means in practice is that auto makers operating within the TPP will be able to obtain up to 65 per cent of their parts outside the trade bloc — from cheap-labour countries like Thailand.

Clearly, the TPP is meant to enshrine neo-liberalism's global juggernaut. Put bluntly, it threatens the kind of democracy Trudeau has been preaching. 

It will not be easy to renegotiate the pact. It will not be easy to walk away from it. But it would be foolish to reject either option.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

They Don't Get It


The Harperites don't seem to understand why they lost the election. "We got the big things right," Jason Kenny says. "We got the tone wrong." Andrew Coyne disagrees. The Harperites lost because they got the big things wrong. They were always about power, not principle:

With each about-face, broken promise or abandoned principle, from corporate subsidies to foreign investment to deficit spending, from the rights of MPs to the discussability of abortion to Quebec’s nationhood, it became harder and harder to understand just what principle or philosophy was guiding Conservative policy — other than blind obedience to the leader.

At their very core, they knew their was no philosophy -- no set of principles -- which guided their decisions. That is why they ultimately lacked confidence. And that lack of confidence had disastrous consequences:

And from this void grew the darkness. People are inclined to be generous to others when they feel confident in themselves; they will be open about their plans when they believe in their purpose — and trust that others can be brought round to them as well. Not only is it not enough to change the tone, then. It’s not even the point. What has to change first is the Tory psyche. They have to believe in themselves, which is to say they have to believe in something.

In the end, they were in power to serve the ego of one man. Michael Harris has it right. They were a Party of One. That is why they lost the election.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Most Canadians Wish Him Well


It's not easy to carry the high expectations of a nation on your shoulders. Just ask Barack Obama. That is the task facing Justin Trudeau. He's made a lot of promises -- and it will take time to implement them. Take the Inquiry Into Murdered Indigenous Women. Michael Harris writes:

The new minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, has already felt the pressure to call a public inquiry into 1,200 missing and murdered native women that Stephen Harper refused to call. In the first scrum of the new cabinet, Bennett had to point out that you just don’t just ‘announce’ inquiries.

There is a great deal of groundwork that must be done, including soliciting input from indigenous groups and other departments of government. How much should be budgeted? How long should hearings take? How broad should the scope of the inquiry be? When will Parliament get its report? Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould obviously will be a key player in helping define those parameters. The right commissioners also will have to be found.

And, then there's the problem of crafting policy to deal with climate change:

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna will be going to the Paris climate meetings, along with the prime minister, other federal party leaders and any premiers not tied up in elections. The idea behind this grand delegation is to announce to the world we are no longer the country that walked away from Kyoto and failed for ten years to regulate our energy industry.

That’s all to the good; Canadians don’t want to add to the national collection of Fossil Awards earned by Harper’s environment ministers. Neither do they want Canada to agree to climate change goals too ambitious to be realized — or too puny to be meaningful. McKenna will be heading into whitewater just weeks into her job — and the redoubtable Elizabeth May will be there to mark the government’s report card.

And there is the problem of restoring services for Canada's veterans:

Now it will be up to Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr — who knows a thing or two about the reality many of these veterans face — to make good on Trudeau’s promise to re-open those nine Veterans Affairs centers shuttered in a venal attempt to “balance” the budget.

The VAC centers looked after urgent needs, and it will be a matter of urgency to re-open them. And will the Liberals proceed with or drop the court case in British Columbia pitting Ottawa against military veterans who believe they are owed a duty of care that transcends the niggardly terms of the New Veterans Charter?

There is much to be done. And it will take time -- probably too much time. But, if Trudeau keeps his pledge to lead an open government, I suspect most Canadians will give him that time.

I also suspect that most Canadians wish him well.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Yesterday In Perspective


I like to read Andrew Cohen's column when I'm looking for perspective. Perhaps that's because, like me, Cohen -- who teaches journalism and international affairs at Carleton -- is an ex- Montrealer. He remembers what Quebec used to be and he understands what it has become. More importantly, he understands the complexity of this country. On Tuesday, he wrote:

At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Justin Trudeau and his new ministry arrive at Rideau Hall. They swear allegiance, they stand before the cameras, they look fresh and different.

It is a change of government, a transfer of power, bloodless and seamless. Canada has been doing this without fuss for 148 years. While Germany had Reichs and France had Republics, we have always accepted without challenge the election of new leaders, regardless of party, period or policy.

It is cliché on this occasion to stand up and salute democracy. But as John F. Kennedy put it at his inauguration, a new government is less a victory of party than a celebration of freedom.

Cohen then wrote about the fortnight between the election and yesterday:

This autumn fortnight is soothing because we are still digesting what happened on Oct. 19. Few thought it possible.

We took a party that was moribund four years ago, with the fewest seats in its history, and made it the government, with the second-highest number of seats in its history, the most since 1949.
We returned the country to the two-party system of mainstream parties, with the New Democrats back in third place. Behold, the status quo ante.

We elected the second-youngest prime minister in our history and the first son of a prime minister. Margaret Trudeau has the unique distinction of being both wife and mother of a prime minister.

We chose a government with more women and more aboriginals. It has seats in every province and almost every big city. It is rural and urban, black, white and tan, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths. Canadians see their reflection in their Parliament.

We turned out to vote, almost seven in 10. On some reserves, they ran out of ballots.

There will be tough times ahead and the new government will have to get up to speed quickly. But yesterday should remind us that we can be guided by our better angels. We have much to celebrate and much for which to be grateful.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

When You're Not Running A One Man Show

Some pundits on the Right -- like  Andrew Coyne and John Ivison -- have suggested that Justin Trudeau's promise of a cabinet based on gender parity is a mistake. But there is more to doing a good job than just competence. Life experience, Tim Harper suggests, is critical. And Trudeau's caucus contains an abundance of both:

As it is, the first Trudeau cabinet is likely to include a former general, an author and journalist, a city councillor who was a wrongly accused political prisoner in his native India, a doctor who spent years training physicians in underdeveloped Africa, an engineer and former astronaut, a former mayor and a specialist in aboriginal business and leadership, and an Oxford law graduate named as Quebec’s “up and coming” woman of the year seven years ago.
There are likely to be three former ministers, at least two aboriginals, a successful businessman, a former negotiator for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Timor and a quadriplegic who overcame a tragic drive-by shooting to become an Alberta cabinet minister.

People may have forgotten that, when Attawapaskat was in crisis, Stephen Harper sent in an accountant to fix the problem. It was typical for a man whose frame of reference is very narrow and whose life experience is extremely shallow.

And consider the backgrounds of several of the women who may be in Trudeau's cabinet:

Carolyn Bennett, a doctor, is a former junior minister in the Paul Martin government.
South African-born Joyce Murray is a former British Columbia environment minister, founder of a successful reforestation company in her home province and a federal leadership candidate.

Kirsty Duncan, from Etobicoke North, is a medical geographer who served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Prize.

On the East Coast, Yvonne Jones is young (47), has served in the Newfoundland and Labrador cabinet, was the provincial Liberal leader, and took out Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue in a 2013 byelection.

Judy Foote served 11 years and held four portfolios in the Newfoundland cabinet. Both women are tough, as well, both having fought breast cancer.

In Manitoba, MaryAnn Mihychuk is a geoscientist who held two portfolios in the NDP government of Gary Doer and was a trailblazer in the mining industry.

Newly elected Whitby MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes reclaimed Jim Flaherty’s old seat. She was born in Grenada, was a volunteer at the Congress of Black Women of Canada, on the Ethics Board and Governing Council of the University of Toronto and entrepreneur of the year.
Maryam Monsef from Peterborough-Kawartha fled with her family from the Taliban in Afghanistan, is the first Afghan-born MP in Canadian history and co-founded a campaign that has raised over $150,000 for women and girls in Afghanistan. Anita Vandenbeld from the Ottawa-area has served in 20 countries for the United Nations development program and was a Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, her neighbour, Karen McCrimmon, is the first woman to command a Canadian Air Forces flying squadron, and Carla Qualtrough of Delta, B.C., is the former legal counsel for both the British Columbia and Canadian Human Rights Commissions — and, oh yeah, she was born visually impaired and won three medal at the Paralympics. 

There are all kinds of possibilities when you're not running a one man show.