Thursday, December 31, 2015

Doing Things Multilaterally

Donald Trump and Stephen Harper may not have noticed, but multilateralism is back. Velma McColl writes:

In 2009, many claimed the chaos surrounding COP15 in Copenhagen marked the end of multilateralism — a fatal blow to the UN. It seemed to speak to the futility of trying to bridge so many interests, so many regional voting blocks, that no agreement could possibly be crafted to meet all the multilateral conditions for a global climate deal.

For many, it was a final proof, after years of experimentation and incremental successes, that national interests would always trump a global good, thwarting collective climate action into the foreseeable future. There was plenty of finger-pointing at governments, but also outside actors recognized that they had, perhaps inadvertently, undermined political will, contributing to the collapse.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Harper would like you to believe that the world doesn't work multilaterally. But what each man lacks is perspective:

Looking back, it is not surprising that countries were too deeply divided when they arrived in the Danish capital in 2009. It was likely naïve to expect otherwise. The world was dealing with the fallout of the economic crisis and the five key UN regions — Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America/Caribbean and Western Europe/other (including the U.S., Australia and New Zealand) — saw the next 10 to 20 years very differently. That’s not to mention the fact that countries like India, Brazil, South Africa and the other emerging players were already economically stronger than they were in 1995. In the same period, China became the world’s second-largest economy and the largest single greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter.

And each man refuses to acknowledge a glaring truth:

Looming over all climate negotiations is a concept, embedded in Kyoto, that the developed world is responsible for accumulated global GHG emissions in the atmosphere and should therefore act first and largely alone — represented by ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ in the legal texts.

Acknowledging that truth meant acknowledging that developed countries would have to pony up funds to help poorer nations adapt to a warming world. The Paris Agreement put the financial framework in place. Multilateralism was back.

Let's hope it continues in the new year. Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Wiser Man


Brian Mulroney won the biggest majority in Canadian history. And he suffered the worst defeat. But, if you really want to know what happened to the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper, you should ponder the differences between the two men.

Andrew Cohen writes that, in a recent speech before the Albany Club, Mulroney spoke of what changes the Conservatives would have to make after Harper's departure. The first change had to do with trust:

Here is a former leader warning Conservatives that they will only return to power “when Canadians feel they are worthy of their trust, that we reflect their values and that we offer them a vision of Canada that is grand, generous and true.”

He calls for his co-religionists to adopt a tone that rejects “harshness,” that understands Canadians and projects confidence. This is a rejection, without directly saying so, of the small, mean and narrow politics of the last government.

Mulroney took his inspiration from  people who were not on the list of approved Conservative sources:

Mulroney buttressed his theme by citing Sir John A. Macdonald, the founder of his party. But Mulroney, knowing the properties of a good speech, is unafraid to quote from others, including Robert Kennedy, Theodore Sorensen and D’Arcy McGee. Heavens, he even cited Lester Pearson, whose good name John Baird and other Conservatives refused to utter.

And that was why Mulroney never underestimated Justin Trudeau:

He warned Conservatives publicly not to underestimate Justin Trudeau, which they did, and warned them privately that they would be defeated if they did not run a different campaign. He quietly predicted a Liberal majority 10 days before the election. He was right about his party and his country.

Mulroney made mistakes -- both in and out of office. But he is a much wiser man than Stephen Harper is or -- one suspects -- ever will be.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

History Will Be The Judge


At the moment, the Liberals are euphoric. But they face three big challenges. Robin Sears warns that, if they fumble these challenges, their euphoria could be replaced by much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those challenges are carbon rollback, democratic reform and resetting the relationship with Canada's First Nations:

The Paris summit has generated expectations tough to manage. A national carbon-pricing scheme eluded the Chrétien and Martin governments. The Harperites ducked it as too politically toxic. Real reductions in emission levels soon are now table stakes in climate change. Ottawa will attempt the “triangulation” triumph of the Notley team — welding big business, First Nations, and the green community as its carbon-cutting champions. Failure would be a boost to the NDP and give Conservatives new sneer ammunition. An NEP-style fiasco, still whispered about anxiously among some in the oilpatch, needs to be avoided at all costs.

Democratic reform is long overdue. Some pieces — House committee reform — should not be too hard, others are as hard as political change gets. Changing how the Senate is selected, governed and managed is challenging. Trudeau’s plan already looks shaky: secret selection by the PMO of the winners from a set of secret nominations, delivered in secret by an advisory panel he chooses.

But it  is re-setting the relationship with Canada's native peoples which is Trudeau's greatest challenge:

Reforming the appalling educational system that enrages parents of First Nations children has frustrated half a dozen federal governments. Poisonous water, embarrassing health care, mouldy housing, and social decay all lead to prison or suicide for rising numbers of young aboriginal Canadians. And then there is the resolution of the nightmares revealed by the residential schools inquiry, and the horrors yet to come in the inquiry into why so many indigenous women go “missing” — that creepy euphemism for bodies yet to be found.

All three of these challenges are immense. They will require the kind of political skill which eludes most national leaders from most nations. Yet the Liberals are betting that they can pull off this trifecta. History will be the judge.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Powerful And Dangerous Illusion

                                                        Carlos Osorio / AP
 Chris Hedges writes that, in the United States, the corporate state has triumphed:

The seizure of political and economic power by corporations is unassailable. Who funds and manages our elections? Who writes our legislation and laws? Who determines our defense policies and vast military expenditures? Who is in charge of the Department of the Interior? The Department of Homeland Security? Our intelligence agencies? The Department of Agriculture? The Food and Drug Administration? The Department of Labor? The Federal Reserve? The mass media? Our systems of entertainment? Our prisons and schools? Who determines our trade and environmental policies? Who imposes austerity on the public while enabling the looting of the U.S. Treasury and the tax boycott by Wall Street? Who criminalizes dissent?

Donald Trump is the incarnation of the corporate state -- which maintains its authority by keeping the so called "silent majority" entertained and propagandized. The central message behind both conduits is fear:

The German psychoanalyst and sociologist Erich Fromm in his book “Escape From Freedom” explained the yearning of those who are rendered insignificant to “surrender their freedom.” Totalitarian systems, he pointed out, function like messianic religious cults.

“The frightened individual,” Fromm wrote, “seeks for somebody or something to tie his self to; he cannot bear to be his own individual self any longer, and he tries frantically to get rid of it and to feel security again by the elimination of this burden: the self.”

And, so, the frightened but entertained see Mr. Trump as their saviour. It's all an illusion, of course. But it's a powerful -- and a dangerous -- illusion.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Real Test: Tax Fairness

Murray Dobbin writes that there has been a palpable change in Ottawa -- a change which he applauds:

I feel the same relief as every other Canadian that public scientists can now speak their minds, that Harper's war-mongering is history, that we are overnight no longer a pariah on the world stage, that there is at least hope that Ottawa will take Aboriginal concerns seriously and that ministers with a passion for their portfolios are more likely to deliver the goods.

But those changes have been easy to make:

These are the low-hanging fruit of the "Canada is back" mantra because none of these initiatives cost much money. The only commitment so far to address the enormous social and other deficits racked up over two decades is a modest increase for the highest-income earners. Otherwise the cupboard is bare. And past Liberal governments, of course, helped make it so.

The real test for Justin Trudeau's government, Dobbins writes, will be whether of not it re-establishes tax fairness in Canada:

Their first test is on the table right now. I am referring to a report produced by the group Canadians for Tax Fairness (C4TF) (disclosure: I am on the board) detailing the extensive damage done to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) by the Harper government. The report is unprecedented in that it was produced with the enthusiastic co-operation of 28 (current and recently retired) tax auditors, fraud investigators and managers of the CRA. Many of them had approached the C4TF over recent years with revelations of Conservative efforts to weaken the agency's ability to collect revenue owed to the government. According to the report, the interviews revealed repeated themes:
  • Politicians and lobbyists are increasingly finding ways to influence CRA operations.
  • Corporate lobbying to avoid prosecution is a reality.
  • Employees are aware of political interference about proceeding with investigations.
  • There are high attrition rates of experienced professionals.
  • Reduction or shutdown of enforcement offices across the country.
In terms of lost revenue, the key finding was the government's systematic gutting of the tax division responsible for investigating offshore tax havens and recovering the revenue lost to the resulting tax evasion and avoidance. C4TF estimates that there is at least $199 billion in Canadian wealth hidden in tax havens around the world, resulting in the loss of up to $10 billion in revenue every year.

The Harperites were absolutely committed to making sure future governments could not recover from their decade in power. And the way they sought to ensure their legacy was to transform tax -- a three letter word -- into a four letter word. The proof of their success was recently illustrated by how quickly Finance Minister Bill Morneau backed off his musings about raising the GST.

But, to his credit, Morneau quickly changed the rules on tax dodging:

Morneau has already changed Canada's position regarding corporate tax dodging. The practice of transnational corporations transfer pricing and tax shifting -- shifting profits made in higher tax countries to low tax locations -- robs global governments of between $100 billion and $240 billion a year. The new government signed onto an international agreement negotiated by the OECD and the G20 called Base Erosion and Profit Shifting aimed at forcing corporations to pay taxes in the countries where the profits are actually made. Canada ranks as the third-largest loser in the G20 when it comes to the amount of untaxed corporate revenue.

It's a step in the right direction. But, on the issue of tax fairness, much more remains to be done.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

What, We Worry?


After consuming Christmas turkey and stuffing, we turn to making New Year's resolutions. Keeping the resolutions is always a problem. But at least we make them. After their defeat in October, the Conservatives have had no trouble keeping new resolutions -- because they haven't made any. Michael Harris writes:

The Harper era is over. The surest way to take up permanent residence in the political wilderness is to pretend otherwise. And that is exactly what the party is doing by continuing to shirk its responsibility for the awful policies and rotten behavior which were so roundly rejected by Canadians two months ago.

Their interim leader, Rona Ambrose, thinks that all the party needs is a new face and a new voice:

To the extent that Rona Ambrose affects the choice of the permanent leader, the Conservative Party of Canada will remain moribund — a captive of the party’s Reform wing, which will not soon be rushing to carry Peter MacKay around on its shoulders as the new Steve. None of the usual suspects stands much of a chance of winning back power. Think about it … Jason Kenney as a champion of renewal?

The central problem the Conservatives face is that they don't understand the significance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

After the Charter became law, power was vested in citizens. In one stroke, the authority of the ten provinces and the Parliament of Canada was restrained, if not diminished.

They view the Charter as a Liberal conspiracy. And the new leader must tow that line. Put simply, the Harper Party has never understood how the world has changed. And, in their certitude, they think no new resolutions are required.

Whether he wears pants or a dress, the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada will be Alfred E. Neuman.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas 2015


This is that time of year when we look back on the old year and look ahead to the new one. My sense is that, while the world is in a darker place at the end of this year, Canada's situation has improved. We have started to return to our vital centre, after turfing a government of which Ebeneezer Scrooge would have approved. 

Like Scrooge, Stephen Harper approved of darkness and the cold. Dickens wrote that Scrooge was:

Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

As a species, Canadians are not Scrooges. True, there are Scrooges among us. Mr. Harper was one of them. It's too early to tell which of Dickens' characters Justin Trudeau resembles -- although at the moment he appears to be Scrooge's nephew Fred, inviting us to spend Christmas dinner at his and his wife's table.

We'll have a better idea of who he is next Christmas. But for today -- and for this year -- Merry Christmas to all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nothing Normal


On the At Issue Panel for December 10th, Andrew Coyne and Chantal Hebert were not concerned about the 49 future appointments Stephen Harper made to government agencies just before the election. Hebert and Coyne said all the appointees appeared competent and that should be the only requirement for the job. Maryantonett Flumian begs to differ. She writes:

The real issue here has nothing to do with the incumbents’ qualifications, their partisan affiliation or lack thereof. It has to do with the legitimacy of the outgoing prime minister exercising his appointment authority for future appointments — reappointing people, in the last days of his power, whose term of appointment would be coming to an end after the general election.

The appointment authority of the prime minister and his government is an important lever to achieve the government’s agenda. In acting the way it did, the Harper government usurped part of that authority in order to continue to influence public governance after it had lost power. This is why those appointments are illegitimate and objectionable, irrespective of the objective competence (or incompetence) of the appointees.

A  number of the appointees still had time to run on their tenures:

The appointees would continue in office until their current terms are completed, period. For good behaviour appointments already in effect, cause for removal would be required — including an address of both Houses in the case of NEB appointments. (It should be noted that the government won’t have a majority in the Senate until all vacancies are filled, and might need to appoint additional senators against the possibility of the eight independent senators voting with the Conservatives.)

Flumian writes that what Harper did is called "stocking the fridge." Given the former prime minister's contempt for parliament, for the courts, for the press,  and voters in general, there is nothing surprising in what he did. During his years in power, contempt became the new normal.

But there was nothing normal about Stephen Harper.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Ship Is Sinking


The Postmedia chain was in trouble when Conrad Black tried to convince Canadians -- and himself -- that he was the reincarnation of Lord Beaverbrook. Things have gotten worse since Paul Godfrey took over the chain. Andrew Mitrovica writes:

Postmedia’s recent litany of sins is a long one, and familiar to anyone who worries about the state of journalism in this country. Its Toronto-based head office managed to disgrace itself thoroughly during the recent election by forcing 16 of its major daily papers to run editorials endorsing Stephen Harper — a repeat of its disastrous mandated endorsement of the provincial Progressive Conservatives during the last Alberta provincial election.

Three days before the federal vote, the chain ran yellow front-page ads paid for by the federal Conservatives on most of its major dailies, warning Canadians of the awful risks of voting Liberal. Then there was National Post columnist Andrew Coyne’s surprising resignation as the Post’s op-ed editor just days before the vote — apparently because he was ordered to close ranks on the paper’s endorsement of Harper.

What have Godfrey's firm editorial decisions wrought?

Bootlicking the party in power isn’t a long-term strategy to grow readership; its 12 leading dailies lost 179,868 paid subscribers in just the three years to the end of 2014, while its revenues dropped by about a quarter over the same period. The chain has continued to liquidate staff and consolidate operations as its business model implodes. And as the quality of the product continues to fall off, and as readers flee as a result, Godfrey carries on collecting at least $1.4 million per year for his work in squeezing out nickels and dimes for Postmedia’s hedge-fund ownership.

Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail’s media reporter, James Bradshaw, turned the knife on his newspaper’s chief rivals by noting that Standard & Poor’s had downgraded Postmedia Inc.’s credit rating “to the same grade ailing Greece.” Bradshaw pointed out that the downgrade was triggered by the credit agency’s warnings that “the newspaper company could struggle to refinance its high-interest debt” and that its capital structure was “unsustainable” in the long-term.

Like that other flagship of unregulated free market capitalism, SunNews, Postmedia is sinking.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Whose Vision?


It's a sure bet that two men will be in the news a lot next year -- Donald Trump and Pope Francis. No two men could be more unalike. Michael Harris writes:

The Donald holds the view that too much is never enough — a fact nicely captured in his cover-shot in the September 7, 2015 issue of Bloomberg Business Magazine. There, he is surrounded by a pile of cold, hard cash — the patron saint of the uber-wealthy. Had Trump been there when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he probably would have kept on dancing around the Golden Calf.

Francis has very definite views on wealth and what should be done with it:

Here’s what Pope Francis had to say about that Bible story: “The worship of the ancient Golden Calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.”

Francis is not a stranger to a rough and tumble world. Before he joined the Jesuits, he worked as a bouncer. Some would say that Trump still is a bouncer. For Trump,

the rich know best. By that, Trump apparently means denominating worth only in wealth, taking a disproportionate share of the world’s resources, bending everyone else to America’s interests, and creating an even more virulent strain of American exceptionalism than the one the country already suffers from.

And with his promise to create a super-military that no one would dare challenge, there are dark historical resonances.   He sounds like Benito Mussolini invoking the spirit of the Roman Empire just before marching into Ethiopia — a fascist draped in red, white, and blue who wants to “bomb the shit out of ISIS.”

Francis has quite different take on relations with the Muslim world:

The Vatican gave treaty recognition to Palestine at a time when Western governments have abandoned millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza to hopeless misery in refugee camps for decades. He has decried what he calls the new colonialism in Africa. He has said that Muslims and Christians are “brothers and sisters.” And he has also denounced the “idolatry” of money and the cult of consumerism.

The new year will offer its own take on whose vision has more traction.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Change -- One Way Or Another


Things are wretched in Alberta. Unemployment is rising and real estate prices are sinking. Cheap oil has devastated the petro province. But, Mitchell Anderson writes, cheap oil could save the planet:

Most of the easily extracted oil deposits are long gone. What's left are high-cost, high-risk long-shots like the Alberta oil sands, deep water reservoirs off Brazil and drilling the high arctic. Companies hoping to profit from the last dregs of the petroleum age need to convince their investors to part with massive amounts of capital in hopes of competitive returns often decades down the road.

The wheels are now falling off that business case. Billions have already fled the Alberta oil sands in the last year as the global price of oil collapsed from over $100 per barrel to below $40. Shell recently announced it was writing off $4.1 billion on their failed arctic exploration program.

The planet gets thusly saved -- not at international confabs -- but in the boardrooms of fossil fuel companies increasingly unable to convince their investors to proceed with massively expensive and risky projects that might only be profitable dozens of financial quarters into the future.

And, as the price of oil falls, alternative energy sources become more economically viable:

And won't falling oil prices torpedo the nascent renewable energy sector? Perhaps in the past, but it's not so nascent anymore. Deutsche Bank recently released a study showing that solar generation costs will match or beat conventional fuels in 80 per cent of global markets in two years.

And because oil is primarily a transportation fuel, the bank believes ''oil prices do not have a material impact on solar demand.'' Their analyst Vishal Shah added, ''We believe the trend is clear: grid parity without subsidies is already here, increasing parity will occur, and solar penetration rates are set to ramp worldwide.''

For Alberta -- and Canada -- the conclusion is inescapable. We have spent the last decade putting all of our economic chips on oil. We have adopted Casino Capitalism. In a casino, you can win big for awhile. But, when you lose, you get taken to the cleaners.

If we don't change our economic model, we will be forced to change it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

It's Alive!


If you think neo-liberalism is dead, consider what happened this week to Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Faced with a less robust economy than he anticipated, he'll have to consider new sources of revenue. He mused that those new sources might include the GST. Alan Freeman writes:

That appeared to be what Finance Minister Bill Morneau was doing earlier this week when he gave a convoluted response to a journalist that was interpreted as opening the possibility to a GST hike sometime in the future.

Within hours — probably after a panicked call from the Prime Minister’s Office — Morneau tweeted a climbdown of his own: “Contrary to misleading headlines, we are not considering changes to the GST.”

What Morneau made clear is that the Liberals are scared to death of being slammed as tax-grabbers by the Conservatives. While much of the Harper legacy is being scrapped — his obstinate refusal to take action on climate change, his surly, tough-guy foreign policy — the anti-tax mantra lives on.

Neo-liberals don't believe in deficits -- under any circumstances. And they don't believe in taxes. The Liberals have gone half way, by planning to run deficits. And they'll raise taxes on one percent of the population. But the notion that citizens should pay for the services they demand?  That is a notion they can't stomach.

So Stephen Harper's legacy lives on:

The Harper Conservatives used anti-GST sentiment in the 2006 election to help get themselves elected and soon lowered the tax by two percentage points to 5 per cent. It was a populist brainwave that boosted Harper’s anti-tax street cred but left economists scratching their heads — and deprived Ottawa of an estimated $14 billion to $15 billion a year in revenue. 

Lowering the GST never made economic sense. It's better to tax consumption than income. Apparently, the Liberals haven't learned that lesson either.

Neo-liberalism is alive and well.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Nothing To Do With Justice


The prosecution and defence have finished the heavy stuff. All that's left for them to do is the closing arguments. So what have we learned from the Duffy trial? Michael Harris writes:

Lots of public figures are symbolically burned in public. But not many are hoisted in effigy in the nation’s capital as money-grubbing scoundrels floating high above the Ottawa River like evil genies.

Not many are denounced by their own boss and his stooges before their day in court. Not many face guilt by editorial before the allegations against them have been tested in court.

The exercise was all about throwing Mike Duffy under the bus with more than the usual flourish:

Harper’s animus against Duffy is easy to understand; the former PM didn’t like anyone in particular, except the guy in the shaving mirror, and Duffy had committed the high-crime of temporary insubordination.

But what's really troubling is the number of people who walked away unscathed:

Why wasn’t Ray Novak there to explain why both he and Nigel Wright advised Senator Duffy not to co-operate with the Deloitte audit? And why did the Senate shut Duffy down when he wanted to go before the Senate audit committee or the Deloitte auditors to answer their questions and provide documentation?

What was Senator David Tkachuk thinking when he leaked information out of the Senate’s forensic audit to people who were being scrutinized? On April 16, 2013 Tkachuk told Duffy that auditors had discovered per diem claims for a ten-day period while the P.E.I. senator was on a cruise in Florida. The Deloitte audit itself was not officially released until 13 days later on April 29, 2013. Tkachuk was co-chair of the Internal Economy Board.

Finally, what business did Harper’s PMO have ordering and getting the removal of certain paragraphs from a Senate report? Here is how former Senate Clerk Gary O’Brien put it to the RCMP: “… Obviously it was, that was a political decision, that’s a political decision.” As for the PMO’s advice to Duffy to not co-operate with Deloitte, O’Brien found that to be “inappropriate” — and why wouldn’t he?

Regardless of your opinion of Duffy, the trial had nothing to do with Justice.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Much Harder To Bring To Fruition


The Truth And Reconciliation Commission released its report on Tuesday. If all of its 94 recommendations are implemented, the way Canada is governed will radically change. Tom Walkom writes that some changes will be easy:

Many recommendations involve education. Aboriginal history should be taught to all children. Lawyers should learn about traditional aboriginal law. Journalism students should be taught aboriginal history in order to help them avoid tired stereotypes.
Such recommendations are politically easy. Provincial governments may be reluctant to spend money teaching aboriginal history. But they won’t oppose the idea outright.
Nor will any sensible politician oppose recommendations calling on government to improve the health of aboriginal people (although, again, some may balk at spending money).

Other changes, however, could result in pitched battles. For instance, the commission recommends that larger first nations be able to make "laws within their own communities." That's a very tall order. The recommendation suggests that

the whole nature of law should be rethought, first to integrate traditional aboriginal legal rules into Canadian practice and second to allow indigenous people “to become the law’s architects and interpreters where it applies to their collective rights and interests.”
That sounds a lot like a separate level of government and courts.

Justin Trudeau says he wants to establish a new relationship with Canada's First Nations. It's easy to talk about a new relationship. It's much harder to bring it to fruition. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rich Man's Charity


One of the images which emerged from the Climate Conference in Paris was of Bill Gates standing with the leaders of nations. That image makes Gerry Caplan  feel uneasy:

The all-male photo included the heads of five governments and, in the middle, Bill Gates – an elected leader of nothing, but head with his wife of a multi-billion dollar charitable foundation funded by them from his unfathomable personal wealth.

It's not that the Gates Foundation doesn't do good work. It's about the work it does -- and about the work it doesn't do:

Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced an $11-million grant to – wait for it – MasterCard, to establish something called a financial inclusion lab in Nairobi, Kenya. After three years, if all goes well, MasterCard may be willing to foot the bill itself. The $11-million is an outright gift, not a loan, from Gates to MasterCard, and God knows that MasterCard needs it. In 2013, the company earned a profit of $3.1-billion. Its stock has jumped 330 per cent over the past five years.

Linsey McGoey, a former advisor to the World Health Organization, has coined a phrase for this kind of giving  -- philanthrocapitalism. McGoey has documented a number of Gates' donations:

According to Ms. McGoey, this little caper “was only the most recent in a long list of donations that the Gates Foundation has offered to the world’s wealthiest corporations. From Vodafone, a British company notorious for paying zero corporate tax in the United Kingdom, to leading [for-profit] education companies such as Scholastic Inc., the Gates Foundation doesn’t simply partner with for-profit companies: it subsidizes their bottom-line.”

Caplan writes that it's hard to know whose interests Gates is serving:

Of course you can’t accuse the Gates family of enriching themselves in the name of doing good. It’s what constitutes “doing good” that’s at issue, and the right of private zillionaires to impose their views, biases and ideologies on the public sphere.

Like all UN agencies, WHO is very far from perfect. But at least its staff, who make health-related decisions that touch the lives of tens of millions of people, are experts in their field. Like them, Bill Gates has many preferences that he feels very strongly about.

For example, as The Lancet once pointed out, far from being brilliantly effective, as he insists, Gates Foundation grants “do not reflect the burden of disease endured by those in deepest poverty.”

Something to think about as Christmas approaches.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Breathtaking Change

It's hard, Lawrence Martin writes, to think of another government -- in all of Canadian history -- that has changed direction more radically than the present government. Consider what happened last week:

The landing of the refugees is a hallmark story, one which will endure in our history books. The reaching out of the government and the Canadian people to the refugees on their marathon of hope was a Terry Fox-type moment. We like to think of Canada as a big-hearted country, one where openness and tolerance are ingrained in the national fabric. If those qualities were put in doubt by the xenophobic lurches of our previous government, they are back now.

In the same week came the Paris accord on climate change. Our new government, unlike the former, was a big proponent of such an accord, one which has the potential of making a difference.

In the same week, as symbolized by the invitation to a White House state dinner, came a rebirth of relations with the United States, relations which had gone sour.

And there have been other huge changes:

A change of spirit was evidenced partout. Relations with our aboriginal peoples were put on better footing with the announcement, among other things, of an inquiry into missing indigenous women. Relations with Ontario and other provinces are improved as a consequence of greater compatibility with Mr. Trudeau’s Liberalism.

In Ottawa, the hostility that often characterized the relations with the institutions – the public service, the foreign service, the media, the Supreme Court, the parliament – has been removed. It didn’t take much, just a leader showing goodwill in place of its opposite.

Not all has gone smoothly. An incomplete spending bill was sent to the Senate. And the Right is grumbling about deficits.Things could be a lot different a year from now. 

But, for the time being, Stephen Harper's Canada is history.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Senate Reform Will Be Slow


The Mike Duffy trial played a large role in the defeat of the Harper government. Dan Leger writes:

When the history of the 2015 election is written, the Duffy affair will be seen as a key factor in the downfall of the Harper Conservatives. The party that came to power off the back of the Liberal sponsorship scandal with claims of ethical purity and accountability was shown to be just as arrogant and corrupt as its bad old predecessors.

Before the election writs were even issued, Stephen Harper had been tainted by more than two years of bad publicity about the Senate and the people he appointed to sit there.

So instead of a smooth kickoff and a relentless march to victory, the early weeks of the Tory campaign were disrupted by the Duffy courtroom revelations. Harper’s talking points were overshadowed by trial evidence, given under oath, which laid bare how the schemers in his office tried to cover up the scandal.

More importantly, the trial has underscored how imperative it is to reform the Senate. But real reform would mean opening up the constitution -- and no one wants to do that. So reform will be piecemeal and it will be slow. The process has already begun:

Some steps have already been taken by the Senate itself, although arguably only at gunpoint. The rules have been clarified and tightened on expenses, travel and accommodations.

The Senate is also making itself somewhat more accountable by posting expenses online, so that we in the grateful Canadian public can see where our money is going.

And Justin Trudeau has proposed striking a committee which will submit candidates for consideration. But the real work will begin once the Duffy trial is over. The truth is that reforming the Senate will not be easy and it will take a longtime.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

It's Not Just Racists. It's Racism.


Last week, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson acknowledged that "there are racists in my police force." His frankness was long overdue. But, Julie Kaye and Beverley Jacobs write, Paulson's admission doesn't get to the real problem:

Paulson’s statement reinforces the false notion that there are merely “a few bad apples” in the force. There are a few bad apples, of course; as Grand Chief Doug Kelly, leader of the Sto:lo Tribal Council in British Columbia, said, “some of the worst racists carry a gun and they carry a badge.” But Paulson’s acknowledgement of the existence of racists in the RCMP fails to account for the systemic racism, sexism and violence underlying the relationship between policing and injustice towards Indigenous women in this country. It therefore fails to move us forward on the difficult path of reconciliation.

If the Commission On Murdered And Missing Aboriginal Women is to get to the heart of the matter, it will have to deal not just with racists but with the systematic racism in Canadian society. That is the only way forward to reconciliation:

Domestic violence is a serious problem in Canada for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women. However, the RCMP’s decision to arbitrarily frame the crisis of missing and murdered women exclusively in terms of domestic violence ignores the disproportionate targeting of Indigenous women by strangers and obscures the context of colonial violence that Indigenous people must endure, as recently documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools.

Reconciliation requires that Paulson account for the ways the RCMP implemented policies of residential schooling, removed Indigenous children from their families and communities, perpetuated sexualized violence and falsely blamed Indigenous persons for the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Ongoing mistrust in the “processes that exist” rightfully extends to Paulson and his office.

We have long looked down our noses at the United States for its systematic institutionalization of Jim Crow. It's time we looked at our own history and recognized how we too have institutionalized racism in Canada.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

It's Time To Spend


People scratched their heads this week when Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz announced that he was prepared to employ negative interests rates to prime the Canadian economy. What he was really saying, Tom Walkom writes, is that it's time for the Liberal government to spend:

But the more important lesson is his statement that this task could be better accomplished by the federal government running deficits.
Citing the late British economist John Maynard Keynes, the central bank chief reminded his audience that when interest rates are already low, fiscal policy (the willingness of governments to spend more than they take in) is always more powerful than monetary policy (attempts by central banks to promote investment).
In effect, he was telling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau to go for it — to run deficits if necessary in order to get the country working again.

Switzerland has already employed negative interest rates: 

In Switzerland, where the practice already exists, one commercial bank has served notice that it will start explicitly charging its depositors negative interest next year.
This means that those who insist on leaving their savings deposited in this particular bank could see them shrink bit by bit until nothing is left.

In Switzerland, you get a better return by investing your money, not by putting it in the bank. Poloz was saying that the fixation with deficits will not get Canada out of its economic slump. 

It's time for some Keyensian economics. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Same Old Soreheads

The Conservatives tried to create a firestorm over the nannies who help look after the Trudeau children. But, Michael Harris writes, it was all sound and fury, signifying nothing:

'Nannygate' is for nincompoops. The new PM has shuffled responsibilities in the official household to add two nannies to help with the young kids. No additional cost to the public. Even the Canadian Taxpayers Federation affirmed that, without additional costs, this is not only a dog that won’t hunt, it’s a dead dog.

 Having failed to ignite public outrage, they then turned to Sophie Trudeau's wardrobe:

Nobody was surprised to see the newly-downsized Cons chirping about Trudeau’s recent spread in Vogue. Justin and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau could be the world’s new political power couple. The point of attack against “the hottest first lady in the world” and her “hot” hubby could be the dress Sophie was wearing in the photo — an Oscar de la Renta creation. Someone will almost certainly ask why she wasn’t wearing a Canadian designer. You know, someone with the big issues in mind.

Stephen Harper built his career on the politics of personal destruction -- and his model was the modern Republican Party:

Party leaders were told a long time ago to borrow generously from the U.S. Republican Party playbook: war, deregulation and privatization. Crush all opposition. Lie reflexively. Pander to the Born-Agains. Trash all opponents. And stoke that fear machine like there’s no tomorrow.

They ramped up that strategy in the last election and Canadians weren't buying. The Harperites don't understand why they lost. They're still the same old pathetic soreheads they've always been.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Inequality and Women's Health


A number of studies have documented how income inequality is bad for your health. If you're someone who used to work in North American manufacturing or a person of colour, that's been obvious for a long time. But a new study, by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, demonstrates that inequality has deleterious effects on middle class white women. Crawford Killian writes:

"The post-1999 episode in midlife mortality in the United States is historically and geographically unique, at least since 1950," Case and Deaton say. During the same period, mortality in the same age cohort in six rich countries (and in American Hispanics), continued to fall. The same cohort of Canadians suffered less mortality than anyone but the Swedes and Australians.

What was the difference? Three causes: "Suicide, drug and alcohol poisoning... and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis."
And who was dying? "The turnaround in mortality for white non-Hispanics was driven primarily by increasing death rates for those with a high school degree or less." Some post-secondary but no degree? Little improvement. A B.A. or more? "Death rates fall by 57 per 100,000."

"Although all three educational groups saw increases in mortality from suicide and poisonings," Case and Deaton say, "and an overall increase in external cause mortality, increases were largest for those with the least education."

These are precisely the people who were hit hardest by The Great Recession. And they are the people whose incomes have been falling ever since. But white women are now bearing the brunt of our brave new economy:

The report has predictably caused a stir, and one analyst, social-science blogger Andrew Gelman, has gone deeper into the numbers. He finds that the increase in deaths stopped in 2005: "Since 2005, mortality rates have increased among women in this group but not men."

"Actually what we see," Gelman says, "is an increasing mortality among women aged 52 and younger -- nothing special about the 45-54 group, and nothing much consistently going on among men."

Other researchers confirm the problem for women. A 2012 study found that white women without a high school diploma "lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008," by which time equally educated black women were outliving them. Earlier this year the Urban Institute published similar findings.

It's tough out there for everybody -- except those at the top of the economic pyramid. However, they haven't noticed the rebellion that is bubbling down below.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Return of The Just Society?


Yesterday, Justin Trudeau's Liberals took the first steps toward establishing an inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal Women. Those actions, and the mandate Trudeau has given his Minister of Justice -- Jody Wilson-Raybould -- are clear signs that Canadian justice policy has undergone a radical shift. Rosemary Cairns Way writes:

The mandate letter highlights the problem of the increasing incarceration rate of Indigenous Canadians (they represent 23 per cent of the federally incarcerated and just 4 per cent of the population), the overreliance on (and abuse of) solitary confinement in overcrowded and under-resourced federal correctional institutions (currently the subject of constitutional litigation in Ontario and British Columbia), and gaps in service for both Aboriginal Peoples and the mentally ill which plague the criminal justice system. The mandated review sends a very clear signal that the era of punitive and ideologically-driven criminal justice reform is over.

Under Stephen Harper, justice was all about punishment and victims rights. Focusing on the rights of victims -- particularly victims who are women -- is laudable:

Paying explicit attention to the needs of victims is always politically wise. It remains to be seen whether this commitment will have any real impact on how women victimized by violence experience the criminal justice system. The admission that the system is failing women is an essential first step.

But, unlike the perennial battle which has once again surfaced in the United States,

The Liberal platform on handguns and assault weapons is focused on tighter gun control and increasing restrictions on gun ownership. While it undoubtedly will be vigorously resisted by the gun lobby, it’s unlikely that the implementation of this policy will put the government at risk of being labelled “soft on crime,” a fate most governments are eager to avoid.  

Most importantly, the fixation with punishment will fade:

The letter specifically identifies community safety and value-for-money as legitimate goals, suggesting that this government recognizes that putting more people in jail for longer periods of time is an expensive and ineffective way to keep the public safe. It is also a strategy which disproportionately targets the already vulnerable — something the previous Conservative government consistently refused to admit.

Perhaps we are witnessing the return of The Just Society.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The New York Times Has Noticed


Canada is back. If you have any doubts, Richard Gwyn writes, consult the New York Times:

The New York Times was the first outsider to spot that something most unusual was happening here. Canadians, declared this august newspaper, had somehow gained “a renewed sense of national identity rooted in diversity, in humane and inclusive social policies at home and in humanitarian services overseas.”
“The thrill of the moment may be fleeting,” continued the Times, but it could “awaken new generations to public service and as an antidote to the cynicism about politics that has sadly become the norm in established democracies.”

The credit, according to Gwyn, goes to Justin Trudeau:

That the credit for this achievement is due overwhelmingly to Justin Trudeau is self-evident. His election campaign was one of the most skilful ever staged in this country. His construction of his cabinet was more inventive by far than any before it: asked why he’d chosen as many women as men as his ministers, Trudeau’s reply was the unanswerable, “Because it’s 2015.”

That doesn't mean that Trudeau will have an  easy ride. The economy is preforming worse than the Conservatives predicted. Now Justin will get the blame. And negotiating a solution to climate change is a Hurculean task:

Difficulties are certain to accumulate soon. The most threatening is that Trudeau’s campaign promises will soon be revealed as a good deal more expensive than he’s yet admitted. Getting a climate change agreement that actually commits countries to their emission-reduction promises will be exceedingly difficult, not least when a nation as large as India says it must go its own way.

But Gwyn believes that the stars have aligned:

But what’s happened is that a union has taken place between the right leader and the right country.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Ottawa -- For The Moment -- Has Changed

Allan Fotheringham claimed that Ottawa was the town that fun forgot. That was certainly true during the Harper years. Michael Harris writes:

During Harper’s tenure, 24 Sussex looked more like a monastery or a morgue most nights. It was as if everyone in the house was in the basement grooming cats. Steve was not into entertaining. When he did hold court at home, you only got in if you could prove you were related to him, made regular contributions to the Conservative Party of Canada, once lived above his garage, or were accompanied by Pierre Poilievre.

Former Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milliken, was never once invited to 24 Sussex in 10 years. Nor did Harper accept a single invitation to the Speaker’s Scotch nights, the purpose of which was to take some of the toxic partisanship out of the Ottawa scene. Milliken knew that good Scotch, judiciously applied, could channel shared humanity amongst the bitterest rivals. Steve was always fine with a double dose of toxic on the rocks.

Justin Trudeau has not moved into 24 Sussex -- and it will be quite awhile before he does. But the mood in Ottawa has changed:

So it was very significant, at least to me, that the new parliament opened with Trudeau congratulating all elected MPs. It was more than a grace note. It showed that unlike his predecessor, the new prime minister knows that Canadians elect parliaments, not governments. It showed respect for an institution that under Harper had become dysfunctional, or at least it had according to parliamentary experts like former speaker of the house Milliken, former auditor general Sheila Fraser, and former clerk of the House of Commons Robert Marleau.

In short, the man everyone feels comfortable calling Justin seems to enjoy the din raised by many voices — even the ones singing from different hymn books than his. In a nation grown used to Harper’s suffocating intellectual homogeneity, it is a blessed relief. The new PM can apparently handle diversity, just like the country. He also seems able to have fun. Whenever Harper tried to have fun, he was patting animals against the grain of their fur or shaking hands with panda bears. It was staged torture. With Trudeau, it seems natural.

Christmas will be different this year in Ottawa. Let's hope that the Season Of Good Will survives in the New Year.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

There Are More Demagogues Waiting In The Wings

Donald Trump said last week that, if there were more people carrying more guns, things would have turned out differently in San Bernardino. Many have been appalled by the rise of Trump. Chris Hedges believes that his rise is the inevitable consequence of the death of  liberal institutions. He writes:

These institutions, which once made possible piecemeal and incremental reform, which sought to protect the weak from the tyranny of the majority and give them a voice, acted as a safety valve to ameliorate the excesses of capitalism and address the grievances of the underclass. They did not defy the system of capitalism. They colluded with the structures of privilege and white supremacy. But they provided some restraints on the worst abuse and exploitation. The capturing of major institutions by corporate power and the moral bankruptcy of our elites, especially members of our self-identified liberal class, have shattered this equilibrium.

Both American political parties have betrayed those who are voiceless:

Republicans, like Democrats, did not prevent wages from declining, unemployment and chronic underemployment from mounting, foreclosures from ripping apart communities, banks from looting the U.S. treasury, or jobs from being exported. The two major parties colluded to pass trade agreements, ranging from NAFTA and the WTO to the now-pending TPP, that impoverish workers and weaken the power of government to intervene to protect the citizenry and the environment. They worked together to strip citizens of constitutional rights and install the most pervasive security and surveillance state in human history. They collaborated with Wall Street to trash the global economy and seize trillions in taxpayer money in bailouts. The two parties funded disastrous and futile imperial wars that enrich the arms manufacturers and defense contractors while bankrupting the nation. They militarized police, rewrote the laws to explode our prison population and destroyed social service programs such as our welfare system, which was dismantled by the Clinton administration. The two parties orchestrated the corporate coup d’état while diverting citizens with the battles over gay rights, abortion, “Christian” values, gun laws and affirmative action.   

Those who have been betrayed think they have found their saviour in Trump. He has harnessed their anger and promises simple solutions and retribution on those they think  have stolen their jobs -- like immigrants, particularly Mexican immigrants. What Trump represents is a home grown fascism -- something the world has seen before:

The disgust directed at an ineffectual liberalism—as was true in late imperial Russia and the latter days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Weimar Republic and the former Yugoslavia—has given rise to a rejection of liberalism.

And, Hedges predicts, Trump's brand of fascism will grow unless those who have been excluded are brought to the table:

This American fascism will expand unless there is a radical restructuring to reintegrate dispossessed Americans into the economy. The failure to reverse the corporate assault, the continued expansion of poverty and despair, will accelerate the country’s breakdown. It will ensure the emergence of demagogues who, channeling this rage, will stoke white vigilante violence and call for the state repression of all groups including Black Lives Matter, abortion providers, environmentalists and anti-capitalists that are blamed for the country’s decline. 
There are more demagogues waiting in the wings.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Let's Hope History Doesn't Repeat Itself


Yesterday's throne speech was short -- a mere two thousand words. But it promised what Justin Trudeau campaigned on -- real change. And Trudeau just might deliver. Compared to previous prime ministers, Chantal Hebert writes, Trudeau is in a position to make good on his promises:

Jean Chrétien was sworn in against the backdrop of a unity crisis and a runaway budget deficit of an unprecedented magnitude. It was clear from Day 1 that big spending cuts would be in the offing.
His first victory also coincided with the massive arrival on the opposition side of the House of Commons of two parties — the Bloc Québécois and the Reform Party — whose very existence was meant to shake the pillars of the federal temple.

And everyone knew that, when Stephen Harper came to town, he planned to burn down the temple:

Stephen Harper had let it be known before he won his first election in 2006 that he believed the federal capital to be home to a liberal trifecta made up of the media, the civil service and the judiciary.
He came into office convinced that every parliamentary institution was rigged against the Conservatives. Then he spent a decade turning that perception into a reality. Ironically, his biggest nemesis turned out to be some of his own appointees.

Trudeau faces immense challenges, both at home and abroad. He does not come to office at an easy time. Nonetheless, this is a season of hope:

More than a few insiders hope that sheep will be able to safely sleep with lions in the Senate and, in the process, change the culture of a place that has long been a home to some of the most carnivorous partisan animals in the country.

They want to believe that freeing senators of their partisan chains will not just make them easier prey for the army of lobbyists who are about to go to war for a share of the bounty attendant to an activist government agenda.

Most MPs — regardless of party affiliation — want to think that it is it possible to make the more than 300 of them who are neither party leaders nor cabinet ministers feel relevant enough that they no longer feel the need to vent by heckling each other in the House of Commons.

Justin's father assumed office with similarly high hopes. But, four years later, the country was deeply disappointed. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself. 

Friday, December 04, 2015

Kicking The Harper Habit

The Conservatives, under Stephen Harper, were addicted to power. Michael Harris writes:

The Conservative Party of Canada is still deep in the throes of withdrawal — and the addiction to absolute power is the hardest habit of all to kick. Their thrashing on October 19 came about because of what they did with that power — that, and the fact that they allowed their party to become a cult led by a man who diminished them all. The lesson clearly hasn’t sunk in.

That's clear every time Rona Ambrose opens her mouth. But Ambrose isn't the only one to not have taken the election to heart.  Consider the case of Erin OToole, who briefly replaced Julian Fantino as Minister of Veterans Affairs:

In a recent blog post, O’Toole tried to make the case that Justin Trudeau displayed “hubris” when he said Canada was “back” the day after the election.

It wasn’t hubris. It was the way a lot of Canadians saw it. The “hubris” actually belonged to the former minister of Veterans’ Affairs, who has been drawing some rather absurd parallels between the policies of the new government and those of the old one.

He really couldn’t have picked worse examples. For starters, he claimed that the Liberals “abandoned” their promise to bring 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees to Canada, leaving them with a policy that looked a lot like Harper’s.

Trudeau did not “abandon” his promise — he rescheduled part of it. The number is still 25,000 — higher than the Conservative number — but the arrival times were moved three months down the road. Nor is the Trudeau PMO screening the refugee files to prioritize Christian candidates. Despite the verdict at the polls, O’Toole is still pushing rejected Harper policy.

But where O’Toole became poisonously partisan was in his claim that the Liberals are pursuing the same policy on climate change as the Conservatives did at the Paris talks. O’Toole’s party did nothing for the environment during its decade in power, except make it more vulnerable to destructive resource exploitation.

Harper promised for seven years running that he would regulate the energy sector. He never did. It takes an awful lot of hubris to defend seven years of sitting on your hands.

Clearly, the Conservatives haven't kicked their Harper habit.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

It Will Take More Than Plastic Surgery

The Harperites have undergone some plastic surgery. They believe Canadians will like Rona Ambrose's face and her soothing tone of voice. But Andrew Coyne writes that it will take more than a new face and a new voice to reboot the party:

Conservatism is not just losing elections. As a political movement, it has — let us not mince words — ceased to offer a coherent or attractive alternative. On the most pressing questions of the day, from the environment to social justice, it is either unwilling or unable to present any serious answer to the prescriptions of the left, or even to offer much resistance.

At best it can hope to profit from the left’s miscues, but even in power it lacks the self-confidence to define an agenda, let alone pursue one. The nastiness of the Harper government may have been peculiar to it, but in its aimlessness and timidity, its unwillingness to invest political capital or confess to an ideology, it has its counterparts in conservative parties across the country — in sharp contrast to the robust self-confidence of the left.

Under Stephen Harper, power trumped policy. The most glaring example of Harper's failure was on environmental policy:

A generation of environmentalists has grown up fully versed in the potential for market solutions to be applied to environmental problems; markets, they realize, are social institutions, like governments, each with its own proper sphere. Conservatives could have seized this opening, and run with it. If you like what the market can do for you in the environment, they could have said to voters, can we interest you in what it can do for your schools and health care?

I don't agree with Coyne. Conservatives have regarded the market as sacrosanct -- a glaring misunderstanding of the complexity of life. And I suspect that most Canadians -- when push comes to shove -- would also disagree with Coyne. Canada is a huge, sparsely populated country, where the market can't solve some intractable problems.

But I take Coyne's point: It will take more than plastic surgery to revive the Conservative Party.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

No Small Task


Justice delayed is justice denied. Throughout the Harper years, the federal government worked very hard to delay justice. Its first assault on Justice was to shut down the Court Challenges program, because -- the Harperites claimed -- it was too expensive. The fallout from that decision was that only those with deep pockets could afford to take the federal government to court.

That was because, in every challenge to the federal government, its lawyers employed delaying tactics. Take the case of compensation for the survivors of residential schools. Jeff Sallot writes:

There are scores of examples of government lawyers dragging their feet in an effort to outlast the plaintiffs, lawyers for the indigenous people recently told The Globe and Mail’s Sean Fine. The Harper government, for example, refused to allow old federal documents, including cabinet orders, to be used as evidence unless the plaintiffs could produce a witness to explain the documents.

How’s that supposed to work? Have you ever tried to subpoena a dead cabinet minister? Most of the authors of those orders are dead; those that aren’t probably could not recall anything more than what the documents say, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued. They recently won this legal point — but not until after a long legal battle ate up more time.

And there is the case of three Muslim men who are suing the government for what happened to them in Syria -- and for the role the federal government played in their treatment there:

The men were never charged with any crime. They were merely collateral damage in the terrorism scare after the 9/11 attacks.

A judicial inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, determined that information provided by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service led to their arrests in Damascus. But the inquiry did not have authority to order compensation for the men. So, they continue their fight in lawsuits that have dragged on now for years.

Justin Trudeau has tasked his Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, with restoring the Court Challenges program and with undoing the damage the Harperites have done.

That is no small task.