Monday, February 29, 2016

He Refuses To Go


The ghost of Stephen Harper haunts Ottawa. Michael Harris writes:

Harper invented the “future appointments” system as a way of governing for years beyond his mandate, tying the new government’s hands on the leadership of agencies like the National Energy Board. He and ministers like Lisa Raitt did it by “filling the pipeline” with Tory candidates for posts long before their existing appointments ran out.

Canadians also found out that Harper had transferred huge swaths of federally-owned pasture lands to the provinces —— without the mandatory strategic environmental assessments put in place by former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Then there were the specifics of all those cuts Harper made —— and willfully concealed from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and therefore, from Parliament. Treasury Board President Scott Brison published the formerly anonymous cuts.

One of them was particularly hypocritical. Despite all the florid protestations of support for the Canadian Armed Forces, the former PM was secretly pulling the rug out from under the military —— exactly as he had done with veterans. In 2012, Harper cut $1.19 billion from DND’s budget. The current Liberal Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, shrugged and said “What’s done is done.”

But most galling of all is the return of that flying white elephant, the F- 35. The Liberals announced last week that the plane is back in the running to replace the CF-18's. Has Mr. Trudeau gone wobbly? Perhaps. But the military-industrial complex is alive and well. And they are waving the unemployment flag:

The Department of Defence offered another, and technically accurate, reason why the Trudeau government was paying its club fees to remain part of the JSF program: to ensure that Canadian companies, which have already won more than $700 million in contracts associated with the F-35, will remain in the running for future contracts.

The reality check? That logic will only apply until the Trudeau government actually chooses a replacement for Canada’s fleet of CF-18s. If that choice is not the F-35, all bets will be off on future contracts, whether Canada is still a member in good standing of the consortium or not. Here is what Lockheed Martin’s executive vice-president had to say on that subject:

“If in fact the Canadian government were to decide not to select the F-35, we will certainly honour the contracts that we have here with the Canadian industry,” Orlando Carvalho told reporters in Montreal. “But our approach in the future would be to try and do business with the industries that are in countries that are buying the plane.”

I suspect the same kind of story is behind the Saudi armored cars. There's big money in the arms business. And the profits are huge. If there is one thing Stephen Harper believed at his core, it was that profit makes the world go round.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Interdependent, Universal and Indivisible


As a sop to his evangelical base, Stephen Harper established the Office of Religious Freedom back in 2013. The tenure of its present Ambassador, Andrew Bennett,  expires at the end of March. Bruce Ryder and Luka Ryder Bunting argue that, rather than replace Bennett, the Liberals should shut down the office.

The office is problematic for a number of reasons:

The international promotion of religious freedom by Western states risks repeating “civilizing” colonial missions, imposing fixed standards without sensitivity to cultural and historical specificities, adding to the already overburdened social salience of religious difference, and neglecting other sources of tension and conflict. The international promotion of religious freedom is a fraught project if it does not engage local populations appropriately or undermines plural and contextualized understandings of religious freedom across the globe. Canada must not assume that our model fits well with the experiences and needs of other states.

To make matters worse, the Harper government provided a stellar example of religious hypocrisy by

promoting religious freedom abroad while simultaneously undermining it at home, most blatantly in the case of the niqab. Moreover, by creating an office dedicated solely to the promotion of religious freedom, the Harper government appeared to attach more importance to religious freedom than it did to other human rights.

Ryder and Bunting believe that separating religious freedom from other human rights creates a human rights hierarchy:

There should be no hierarchy of human rights, no privileging of some over others. The promotion of religious freedom alone can lead us to see only part of people’s experiences, and can obscure other equally important issues. For example, women and children may be denied basic rights across an entire society, whether or not they are members of religious minorities. States may imprison individuals solely on the basis of their beliefs, religious or otherwise. Viewing complex and interwoven issues through the lens of a single human right will not produce adequate responses. Canada should take an expansive view and advocate for the protection of all human rights.

They suggest that the government establish a Human Rights Office which recognizes -- as Stephane Dion has said -- that human rights are "interdependent, universal and indivisible."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

An Idea Whose Time Has Come


Guy Giorno came out this week in favour of proportional representation. Before you get too excited, you might remember that, once upon a time, Stephen Harper was also in favour of proportional representation. That was until he figured out that only 30% of Canadians supported him and that he'd  never become prime minister under PR.

Nevertheless, Kelly Carmichael writes, support for proportional representation keeps mounting -- because under PR almost all votes count:

In the 2012 election in Sweden — a country which uses proportional representation — only about 1.4 per cent of voters cast votes which elected no-one. In the most recent election in New Zealand, which uses proportional representation, about 6 per cent of voters cast ballots which elected no-one.

In our last election, "the number of voters whose votes went nowhere was over nine million — about 52 per cent of those who voted."

And what about the argument that proportional representation leads to government instability?

What about “stability”? A study comparing democracies over 50 years found elections were actually slightly more frequent in countries with winner-take-all voting systems. Proportional representation usually leads to stable majority governments, built on common ground, giving parties a strong incentive to work together.

In fact, legislatures which are elected by proportional representation have quite a record of accomplishment:

Research shows that proportional representation is strongly correlated with positive outcomes such as lower deficits, more surpluses, lower levels of national debt, lower income inequality, better environmental outcomes and higher scores on the United Nations Index of Human Development. The bottom line: PR produces policies that reflect all voters better.

The bottom line? Proportional Representation is an idea whose time has come.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Military Intelligence


There was a time when that phrase was thought to be an oxymoron. But, Michael Harris writes, on the subject of the Middle East, the soldiers have it right, starting with former NATO commander, retired Major General David Fraser:

As reported by Murray Brewster of Canadian Press, Fraser said if he had to do it all over again, he would have left the Taliban government in power and simply concentrated on hunting down al Qaida. Fraser, it seems, had seen the ruinous consequences of “regime change” up close and personal. All it accomplished in Afghanistan was the creation of a “30 to 40 year problem” across that country and the entire Middle East.

That was the heart of the matter. Afghanistan wasn’t the only place where deposing a government actually “compounded” the problem — at least according to the former NATO commander. It also happened in Iraq, where toppling Saddam Hussein and disbanding the Iraqi Army ushered in a period of dangerous instability in the region.

The same thing happened in Libya, where the regime of Moammar Gadhafi was bombed out of existence by unchallenged NATO airpower. The power vacuum created by toppling Gadhafi has been filled by a zoo of warring militias and the country remains ungovernable to this day. How bad is it? The U.S. has had to return to this failed state in the middle of the Iraq/Syrian war to bomb ISIS, which is now a player on the ground in Libya.

In Washington, the Joint Chiefs were telling Barack Obama the same thing. Seymour Hersh has reported that:

The Chiefs made the point that toppling al-Assad would create a power vacuum that ultimately would be exploited by groups like ISIS. They also argued against providing arms to so-called “moderate” rebels to overthrow al-Assad and his Damascus government. The moderates were already in bed with the more extreme groups who are being armed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

According to Hersh, the White House ignored the Joint Chiefs of Staff — with a remarkable result. The Department of Defense started to undermine administration policy by sharing intelligence with foreign military liaison services — Russia, Germany and Israel — knowing that it would be leaked to the al-Assad government.

That's where things get very thorny. As a general principle, though, those who have fought in wars know more about it than those who haven't. And those who haven't would be wise to listen to those who have.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

After The Gold Rush


This morning, Alan Freeman asks the question nobody else wants to ask: What if Alberta oil doesn't have a future?

That word — ‘curse’ — is one development economists use to describe the anomalous position of countries awash in natural resource wealth (like oil) where economic growth is nevertheless sluggish and outcomes are actually weaker than in countries that aren’t as “blessed”.

When oil prices are high, there’s so much money to be made in extracting it that other sectors of the economy tend to languish. Agriculture and manufacturing suffer because nobody can compete with the inflated wages in the resource sector. Government revenues are subject to booms and busts, driven by global commodity cycles completely beyond local political control. And oil wealth too often breeds corruption, as those close to power scramble for a share of the resource manna.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Harold Innes coined the phrase "resource trap" decades ago.And our contemporary world is full of examples of it: Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Angola and Nigeria.

In Alberta's case, consider the numbers:

The statistics are striking. In the two decades between 1994 and 2014, Alberta’s GDP grew by an average of 3.5 per cent a year. The province, with something over 11 per cent of Canada’s population, accounted for 25 per cent of net new jobs for the entire country in the ten years to 2014. Two years ago, resource concerns, led by the oilsands producers, invested $126 billion in their facilities, accounting for almost half of all non-residential capital investment in Canada.

Now the situation has changed:

The Saudi oil minister, Ali Al-Naimi, could have been talking directly to Canada’s oil industry this week when he told an energy conference in Houston that he plans to pump as much oil as he can to maintain his market share — even if the price remains mired where it is, around US $30 a barrel.
“Inefficient, uneconomic producers will have to get out. That’s tough to say, but that’s fact,” the Saudi said.

For the last thirty years -- and particularly for the previous ten years -- we have been obsessed with the Economics of Oil:

The problem is that while we were busy convincing ourselves that turning northern Alberta into a giant open-pit mine was the surest way to fortune, we forgot about the benefits of a diversified economy. It became our version of the resource curse. In 2014, natural resources accounted for a whopping 31 per cent of Alberta’s GDP, the same as in Saskatchewan. In Newfoundland, it was 33 per cent. In Ontario, natural resources accounted for only 7 per cent of GDP, while in Quebec the figure was 10 per cent.

But now the Gold Rush is over.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

We'll Soon See


Many wondered how much of Stephen Harper's legacy would live on after he left office. Certainly, Harper did everything he could to cast his footprints in stone. As it turns out, Tim Harper writes, a great deal of what Harper tried to do is disappearing:

It started early with the announcement of the restoration of the long-form census.
Liberals have overturned the closing of veterans offices, pledged to reverse funding cuts to the CBC, overturned two pieces of legislation it considered punitive to labour and restored funding to First Nations which had been frozen under the previous government’s transparency act. It also suspended all court action against First Nations which did not comply with the legislation.
It changed the way the Conservatives dealt with sick leave for federal employees, has given permission to federal scientists to speak to the media and is ending an audit of charities by the Canada Revenue Agency, which was seen to be payback for advocating for the environment.

It has changed the way senators are appointed — although it is behind schedule and has a long way to go before there can be any clarity on this initiative.

It will fully restore health-care coverage for all refugees and asylum claimants to the pre-2012 levels, before Conservative cuts.

It is revamping the environmental assessment process — a major Harper initiative — while keeping the right of cabinet to make the final decision on pipeline projects.
On the foreign policy file, the Liberals have lifted some sanctions against Iran and will engage that country again, and they have warmed relations with Washington.

Trudeau's real test will be his first budget, where  he'll put money to his promises. And that's why the Conservatives are howling so loudly. Harper's prime strategy for transforming government was to starve it. Trudeau says that now is the time to feed it.

We'll soon see what Mr. Trudeau is made of.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

To Whom The Money Should Go


As soon a Bill Morneau announced that the federal deficit this year would be at least $18.2 billion, the howling began. "Batten down the hatches," John Ivison warned, "Liberals are full speed ahead toward a sea of red ink." And Tasha Kheiriddin wailed, "Almost $20 billion in the red an it isn't even March." Rona Ambrose claimed her party bequeathed a balanced budget to the country before it was thrown out of office. She forgot to mention that  her party's budget was predicated on $65 oil -- which is now $30 a barrel.

Amid all the sound and fury, Dylan Marando writes that citizens and politicians alike should not lose sight of how that $18 billion+ should be spent:

Unfortunately, what’s missing from the current discourse is a call for a broader trickle-up approach to stimulus, whereby the economic engines of recovery are not just bridges or international accords but also the typically overlooked purchasing power of low-income Canadians.

To be clear, this isn’t a plea to move low-wage workers up the skills ladder. Nor is this a call for job creation. The claim being made here is far simpler: If you put more money directly in the pockets of people in low-income households, they’ll buy more, and the economy will benefit.

Consumer spending makes up more than half of Canada’s GDP. Increasing the purchasing power of Canadians is essential for long-term economic stability. Yet 4.6 million Canadians live on low incomes. Inequality is rising. We are failing in our effort to maximize the number of active participants in our economy.

Mounting evidence demonstrates that measures like an increased minimum wage can be an effective means of boosting aggregate commercial activity, even when we take into account the potential negative effects on business investment.

We have spent three decades shovelling money into the hands of the wealthy, who -- despite the rhetoric -- tend to sit on what they have:

The logic behind these effects is straightforward. Low-income households, when given increased financial capacity, are more likely to spend. Unlike the many Scrooge McDucks in the corporate sector, they don’t sit on piles of “dead money”. They don’t withhold demand.

And, by the way, these are not new ideas. They've been around since the Great Depression.  But we also learned from that debacle that the way deficits are used makes all the difference.

Monday, February 22, 2016

One Way Or Another


Justin Trudeau is under pressure to bail out Bombardier. Tom Walkom writes that, unless Trudeau breaks with precedent -- like John Diefenbaker -- Bombardier will get its money:

If Trudeau follows the usual pattern, he will comply. Diefenbaker, the only prime minister to withdraw government support from the aerospace industry, is still vilified for his actions.
The standard justification for government support of this particular industry is that every other country does the same. In fact, that’s true.
The Americans subsidize their aircraft manufacturers through defence spending. Brazil does it more directly. Europe’s Airbus Group SE is intimately connected to key governments throughout the continent.

When we bought our CF-18s, we were subsidizing the American aircraft industry. If we buy another American fighter to replace our aging fighters, we'll continue to subsidize the American aircraft industry. So why not subsidize our own?  

Some argue that, if we're going to support the industry, we should nationalize it. But we tried that, and it didn't work out well:

The history of the modern aerospace industry in Canada can be traced back to 1974 and the attempt of then prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government to fashion a high-tech industrial strategy.
To that end, Ottawa bought Toronto aircraft manufacturer de Havilland. It purchased Montreal’s Canadair the next year.

But governments have short attention spans. By 1982, the Trudeau government had reversed course. It now wanted to rid itself of these money-draining enterprises.

In 1985, Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government sold de Havilland to the U.S. company Boeing Corp. A year later it sold Canadair to snowmobile maker Bombardier.

Both went at bargain basement prices. In both cases, governments assumed much of the companies’ debt.

But private enterprise does not guarantee success. By 1992, de Havilland was on the block again. Eventually it was purchased by Bombardier and the Ontario government. True to the new orthodoxy, Bob Rae’s New Democratic Party government put up most of the money in return for a minority of the shares.
A few years later, Queen’s Park quietly sold its remaining stake in de Havilland to Bombardier.

One way or another, Bombardier will get its money. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

This Is War


In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Charles Murray wrote:

Another characteristic of the new upper class — and something new under the American sun — is their easy acceptance of being members of an upper class and their condescension toward ordinary Americans. Try using “redneck” in a conversation with your highly educated friends and see if it triggers any of the nervousness that accompanies other ethnic slurs. Refer to “flyover country” and consider the implications when no one asks, “What does that mean?” Or I can send you to chat with a friend in Washington, D.C., who bought a weekend place in West Virginia. He will tell you about the contempt for his new neighbours that he has encountered in the elite precincts of the nation’s capital.

Writing last week for Bloomberg View, Clive Cook owned up to being the "friend" in Murray's op-ed:

When my wife and I bought some land in West Virginia and built a house there, many friends in Washington asked why we would ever do that. Jokes about guns, banjo music, in-breeding, people without teeth and so forth often followed.

 These Washington friends, in case you were wondering, are good people. They’d be offended by crass, cruel jokes about any other group. They deplore prejudice and keep an eye out for unconscious bias. More than a few object to the term, “illegal immigrant.” Yet somehow, they feel the white working class has it coming.

My neighbours in West Virginia are good people too. Hard to believe, since some work outside and not all have degrees, but trust me on this. They’re aware of how they’re seen by the upper orders. They understand the prevailing view that they’re bigots, too stupid to know what’s good for them, and they see that this contempt is reserved especially for them. The ones I know don’t seem all that angry or bitter — they find it funny more than infuriating — but they sure don’t like being looked down on.

These are the people who are backing Donald Trump. The irony, of course, is that it's Trump --  a card carrying member of the elite, and a man who inherited his wealth, before he put it to work for his own good -- who has tapped into this white working lass anger.

Like Howard Beale in the film, Network,  they're signalling that they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. For decades, conservatives have been accusing progressives of engaging in class warfare. It's time somebody acknowledged that is exactly what Donald Trump is doing.

Former New York Times columnist Chris Hedges has been delivering that message for sometime. And, he writes, the United States is in very dangerous territory.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mr. Dithers?


Chantal Hebert writes this morning that the Trudeau government is showing signs of being all hat and no cattle. She offers four examples:

  • Second only to that of the prime minister, the credibility of the finance minister is an asset that must be preserved at all costs. That is even truer in the case of a government led by a prime minister with limited economic credentials. This week in the House of Commons, the Bill Morneau-Trudeau tandem came across as less than the sum of its parts.

  • With the date of his first budget still to be announced, the finance minister looked like a deer caught in the opposition headlights as he used recycled talking points to evade questions as to the government’s thinking on Canada’s fiscal state. 

  • The Bombardier file was sitting on Trudeau’s desk on the day he moved in the prime minister’s office. After almost four months, the prime minister should have more to offer than evasive answers.

  • If Trudeau feels that Bombardier’s call for yet another financial lifeline is final proof that Canada cannot continue to try to hold its own in the global aerospace industry, he should say so and cut the government’s losses.

  • Down the hall from the House of Commons, the Senate is spinning its wheels as its members try to divine how the Liberal government sees the way forward now that it has decided to keep the place at arm’s-length. They may soon turn to an Ouija board.
  • A senator tasked with representing the government in the upper house has yet to be appointed. That was initially expected to happen in late January. A month later, Trudeau’s new appointment process has yet to result in a nomination. Meanwhile more than a few Senate veterans are at a loss to figure out how the government is planning to get its bills through an upper house peopled with opposition and independent members in a timely manner.

  • The indigenous file is central to the Liberal agenda but the upcoming inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women was never meant to be its centerpiece policy.
  • Government-led consultations as to its terms of reference were supposed to ensure a result-oriented mandate.
    But the consultations have led Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to conclude that the tragedy is greater than she initially believed. As a result, the actual purpose the government has in mind for this exercise is even less clear today than when it was sworn in last year.

    As Finance Minister, Paul Martin earned a reputation for making tough decisions. But as Prime Minister, he soon earned the nickname Mr. Dithers. It would be tragic if Mr. Trudeau also earned that moniker.

    Friday, February 19, 2016



    Mike Duffy is not a sympathetic figure. And the media, taking its cue from the Harper spin machine, has worked very hard to make him less sympathetic. But, Michael Harris writes, there's a big difference between being a pariah and being guilty. Once the Duffy trial moved out of the media and into the court room, things changed:

    When the venue shifted from a prime minister’s public vendetta to close scrutiny of the evidence in court, [Donald] Bayne showed why he said he was surprised when the Crown laid charges against his client in the first place. Over and over again, Bayne zeroed in on the Senate Administrative Rules to show that what Duffy did was permitted — and in some cases, required — under the system in place from 2008 to 2012, the period of Duffy’s alleged criminal liability.

    In his surgical cross-examination of Mark Audcent, the Law Clerk of the Senate, Bayne proved beyond any known concept of reasonable doubt that Duffy was largely operating within the Red Chamber’s rules.

    Take Duffy’s much-pilloried expense claims for housing. Bayne got Audcent to confirm that the Senate does not provide guidance or criteria for, or definitions of, a primary or a secondary residence. That was the same conclusion reached in two independent audits, one by Deloitte and the other by KPMG.

    Did Duffy lie, cheat or misrepresent when he signed a declaration saying that he was a resident of P.E.I.? Turns out he didn’t. In order to become a senator he was obliged to designate his P.E.I. property as his primary residence. The PMO and the PCO knew that — because they both pre-vetted Duffy’s appointment.

    As Audcent also testified, there was no definition of how much time a senator has to spend in his provincial residence and no prohibition against designating a cottage as his primary residence.
    Bayne was equally sure-footed in showing that Duffy’s travel expenses on behalf of the party were not merely permissible, but that partisan activities were in fact an “inherent” part of a senator’s parliamentary functions. The Law Clerk of the Senate agreed.

    Bayne went further. He got Audcent to confirm that there was no definition of partisan activities to guide senators and that he wasn’t aware of any limitations on such partisan work, beyond campaigning in a writ period or during a nomination.

    It became clear that the Duffy Trial was a show trial. And instead of pilloring Duffy, the trial gave us an insider's look at the Senate, the PMO and the former Prime Minister of Canada. And the pile of rot just got higher and deeper.

    Is Duffy guilty of breaking any laws? Mr. Justice Charles Vaillancourt will let us know after hearing closing arguments next week. But that decision is no longer the central issue. In fact, it never was the central issue.

    Thursday, February 18, 2016

    Friedman's Ghost


    Justin Trudeau won the election on his promise to run deficits but return to a balanced budget by the end of his term. He's backed away from the promise to return to balance by the end of the term -- something that isn't surprising, given the slowing U.S. and Chinese economies. But, Tim Harper writes, Trudeau will have to eventually answer the questions, "How big and How long?" And the answers to those questions will not come easily:

    Big city mayors have big city hopes for infrastructure spending. The AFN wants a targeted First Nations infrastructure program.
    Bombardier is knocking at Ottawa’s door and if the Trudeau cabinet has not already decided to float the company $1 billion (U.S), Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains set the stage for that Tuesday, reminding us the aerospace sector employs 180,000 people and adds $29 billion to our gross domestic product.

    Tax changes aimed at helping the middle class did not come in revenue neutral and is costing the treasury up to $8.9 billion over the next six years.

    The cost of the Syrian refugee resettlement program will top $1.2 billion over six years, according to one estimate, there is $1 billion allocated for humanitarian aid for refugees in the region and Ottawa pledged $15 million to the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights this week.

    Alberta has already been promised some $700 million in a special fund, and Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador could also be eligible for such help. The CBC has been promised $150 million annually in new funding. The Canadian Association of University Teachers wants an investment of $1.1 billion over three years to support scientific research and access to post-secondary education.
    Some of these expenditures are admittedly small change in a $2-trillion budget. Others are not. Most are laudable. But how many are doable?

    The times call for Keynesian economic solutions. But Trudeau faces an opposition which is fixated on the failed economic policies of Milton Friedman. And the myths Friedman perpetuated are alive and well.

    It will take a great deal of political skill to silence Friedman's ghost. 

    Wednesday, February 17, 2016

    They're Not Happy


    Tom Mulcair will soon face a leadership review. If those who attend the convention are anything like Gerry Caplan, Mulcair won't have an easy time of it. Caplan writes:

    As someone who loudly endorsed Mr. Mulcair for leader, what bothered me so much about the campaign was how many bad judgments he and his advisers made, judgments that were quite clearly off-base at the time.

    In a nutshell, Mulcair wasn't Jack Layton:

    They ignored Jack Layton’s final gift to his party: the theme for the 2015 campaign. Literally on his deathbed, Jack memorably offered the party his last, best advice:

    “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

    But Caplan  is not just upset about the tone his party adopted. His anger has been stoked by policy decisions:

    Instead of a campaign that mobilized NDP activists by making them proud of their party, Mr. Mulcair and his team instead presented a set of ideological conservative propositions that demoralized party members from the get-go. New Democrats were both perplexed and deeply disappointed to find balanced budgets and no deficits to be the major economic policies their leader offered the nation. While activists were passionate about reducing the curse of inequality, the NDP campaign served up knee-jerk neoliberal economics that even mainstream economists had repudiated.

    And, then, there were the debates:

    Was it really possible that Mr. Mulcair’s team refused to participate in a debate on women’s issues unless the Prime Minister did? What could the campaign have been thinking? The only acceptable NDP answer had been: Yes, we’ll be there. Full stop. But no “there” ever happened. There was only one culprit to blame, and many did.

    Caplan was equally displeased with Ontario's Andrea Horwath. He gives credit to Mulcair for standing up the Harperites attack on the niqab. Nonetheless, if Caplan's  views are mainstream, the Dippers aren't happy these days. 

    Tuesday, February 16, 2016

    Poilievre's Future


    The last federal election cost $443 million. But we shouldn't, Susan Delacourt writes, get too exorcised about the cost:

    That’s about $5 more per person than the cost of the 2011 election, but last year’s 78-day campaign was more than twice the length of the last one. It was also more of a box office success: nearly three million more voters than in the 2011 election. 

    All of those new voters means that democracy won the last election:

    The political parties of all stripes are saying — with some justification — that the increase in turnout is a result of their increased sophistication in getting out the vote with data and analytics. But while that is no doubt true, it can’t be the only explanation. Nor is it enough to say that Canadians were motivated to vote last year because it was a “change” election.
    Big data and big change aside, Elections Canada itself probably played a major role in upping voter turnout. And that is a particularly sweet ending to a decade in which this institution was demonized and demoralized by the government in power. 

    And given how the Conservatives tried to hamstring the people who Stephen Harper once referred to as "those jackasses at Elections Canada," that number is remarkable:

    Recall, for instance, how former democratic reform minister Pierre Poilievre introduced the Fair Elections Act in 2014, and how he defended the measures reining in Elections Canada’s authority to promote voter participation.
    “Clearly the public advertising and outreach campaigns of Elections Canada have not worked,” Poilievre said in a CBC interview after introducing the legislation. “Since they came into effect, voter turnout has actually plummeted.”

    Poilievre may have wished that voter participation would plummet. But, in the future, Mr. Poilievre should be careful what he wishes for:

    Last fall, Elections Canada went ahead and gamely tried to get the vote out anyway, especially among people who hadn’t shown a big interest in voting in previous elections — youth and aboriginal people in particular.

    Elections Canada set up 71 “satellite offices” for voting at select university and college campuses, YMCAs and friendship centres, and gathered more than 70,000 votes this way, most at the campus locations. Another pilot project in hospitals produced 22,000 votes from people in acute or long-term care.

    Elections Canada also introduced an online voter registration service, which 1.7 million people used to see if they were on the voters list. More than 300,000 people in Canada got onto the voters’ list through this new online route, according to the report issued last week. As well, voters were permitted for the first time in 2015 to apply online to cast a special ballot if they were unable to vote at advance or election-day polls. The number of people voting this way more than doubled over the 2011 special ballot figures.

    Elections Canada did its job despite Conservative attempts to shut it down. One wonders what lies ahead for Pierre Poilievre.

    Monday, February 15, 2016

    Are These People Capable?


    The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has given rise to yet another crisis in the United States. These days, when it comes to governing, America seems to be in a continual state of crisis. And, Paul Krugman writes, the reason can be laid squarely at the feet of the Republican Party:

    On the substantive divide between the parties: I still encounter people on the left (although never on the right) who claim that there’s no big difference between Republicans and Democrats, or at any rate “establishment” Democrats. But that’s nonsense. Even if you’re disappointed in what President Obama accomplished, he substantially raised taxes on the rich and dramatically expanded the social safety net; significantly tightened financial regulation; encouraged and oversaw a surge in renewable energy; moved forward on diplomacy with Iran.

    Any Republican would undo all of that, and move sharply in the opposite direction. If anything, the consensus among the presidential candidates seems to be that George W. Bush didn’t cut taxes on the rich nearly enough, and should have made more use of torture.

    There is a fundamental divide between the two parties. And that's because one of the parties has descended into lunacy:

    Beyond that, there are huge differences in tactics and attitudes. Democrats never tried to extort concessions by threatening to cut off U.S. borrowing and create a financial crisis; Republicans did. Democrats don’t routinely deny the legitimacy of presidents from the other party; Republicans did it to both Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama. The G.O.P.’s new Supreme Court blockade is, fundamentally, in a direct line of descent from the days when Republicans used to call Mr. Clinton “your president.”

    Now the Republicans are claiming that Barack Obama has no right to nominate someone to the Supreme Court in the last year of his presidency -- although that's precisely what Ronald Reagan did in the last year of his presidency. Twenty years later, Anthony Kennedy is the only swing vote on the Court. How long is the Court supposed to remain evenly divided?

    And, after the last Republican debate -- which seemed to continually return to the refrain, "You lie" -- you have to ask yourself, are these people capable of governing the most powerful nation on earth?

    Sunday, February 14, 2016

    Doing The Right Thing When It's Difficult


    Last week, Justin Trudeau said that his government will not meet its promise to balance the books before the next election. The Conservatives will hammer him for breaking a key election promise. But, Tom Walkom writes, Trudeau is doing the right thing:

    Not that there is anything wrong, in principle, with balancing budgets. Everything else being equal, budget balancing is a good idea. It forces government to exercise some discipline over spending. It signals to voters that if they want extra services they should be prepared to pay higher taxes.
    these days, everything else is not equal. The world economy is weak. Japan is struggling, as are parts of Europe. The Chinese economy is slowing.

    So-called miracle economies like that of Brazil are no longer quite so miraculous. Nor has the much anticipated U.S. recovery lived up to expectations.

    The decision by central banks to slash interest rates to near (or in some cases below) zero boosted the stock market for a while. But it has not helped the real economy much. Companies are happy to use cheap money to buy one another. In a time of uncertainty, they are less keen on expanding job-creating productive capacity.
    For countries such as Canada that rely on natural resources, falling commodity prices have added an extra burden.

    The world has changed since Trudeau set his 2019 deadline. There are only three ways to balance the books: cut spending, raise taxes or sell crown assets. And, at this point, there is little left to sell.

    Trudeau's plan to spend $60 billion on infrastructure will help. That number may have to be bigger. The Conservatives will howl and call Trudeau names. But they've done that for ten years.

    Still, doing the right thing can be really difficult.

    Saturday, February 13, 2016

    Therein Lies The Road To Perdition


    There is more than poisoned water, Chris Hedges writes, at the core of the debacle in Flint Michigan:

    The crisis in Flint is far more ominous than lead-contaminated water. It is symptomatic of the collapse of our democracy. Corporate power is not held accountable for its crimes. Everything is up for sale, including children. Our regulatory agencies—including the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality—have been defunded, emasculated and handed over to corporate-friendly stooges. Our corrupt courts are part of a mirage of justice. The role of these government agencies and courts, and of the legislatures, is to sanction abuse rather than halt it.

    The primacy of profit throughout the society takes precedence over life itself, including the life of the most vulnerable. This corporate system of power knows no limits. It has no internal restraints. It will sacrifice all of us, including our children, on the altar of corporate greed. In a functioning judicial system, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Flint’s former emergency manager, Darnell Earley, along with all the regulatory officials who lied as a city was being sickened, would be in jail facing trial.

    When we place our government in the hands of technocrats, the kinds of things that happened in Flint become common place. And it's not as if we haven't been warned:

    Hannah Arendt in “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Gitta Sereny in “Into That Darkness,” Omer Bartov in “Murder in Our Midst,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn in “The Gulag Archipelago,” Primo Levi in “The Drowned and the Saved” and Ella Lingens-Reiner in “Prisoners of Fear” argue that the modern instrument of evil is the technocrat, the man or woman whose sole concern is technological and financial efficiency, whose primary measurement of success is self-advancement, even if it means piling up corpses or destroying the lives of children.

    “Monsters exist,” Levi noted, “but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men.” These technocrats have no real ideology, other than the ideology that is in vogue. They want to get ahead, to rise in the structures of power. They know how to make the collective, or the bureaucracy, work on behalf of power. Nothing else is of importance. “The new state did not require holy apostles, fanatic, inspired builders, faithful devout disciples,” Vasily Grossman, in his book “Forever Flowing, wrote of Stalin’s Soviet Union. “The new state did not even require servants—just clerks.” 

    These technocrats are numb to the most basic of human emotions and devoid of empathy beyond their own tiny inner circle. Michigan state officials, for example, provided bottled water to their employees in Flint for nearly a year while city residents drank the contaminated water, and authorities spent $440,000 to pipe clean water to the local GM plant after factory officials complained that the Flint water was corroding their car parts. That mediocre human beings make such systems function is what makes them dangerous. 

    The long refusal to make public the poisoning of the children of Flint, who face the prospect of stunted growth, neurological, speech and hearing impairment, reproductive problems and kidney damage, mirrors the slow-motion poisoning and exploitation of the planet by other corporate technocrats. These are not people we want to entrust with our future.

    Yet we continue to put our futures in their hands. Therein lies the road to perdition.

    Friday, February 12, 2016

    That Word He Used To Trumpet


    Stephen Harper has disappeared. He has not been showing up for work in the House of Commons. Perhaps, Michael Harris suggests, he believes he is the member for Las Vegas/Fort Myers. His party doesn't seem to mind. But they still have not come to terms with their defeat. And their cheerleaders, people like the peanut gallery at the National Post, keep shilling for more of the same. But Harris reviews the record:

    Under Harper the economist, 400,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. Worse than that, he presided over a one-third drop in Canada’s value-added exports — the better to concentrate on rapid, unsustainable and environmentally harmful resource development.

    While the rest of the industrialized world was investing in alternative energy sources to save the planet, Harper’s master plan was to subsidize pipelines and pollution and damn the torpedoes. That’s why he dropkicked Kyoto into oblivion and replaced it with the environment-killing omnibus bill C-38. And Rona now talks about how much the Cons love nature.

    Harper spent tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars promoting so-called government programs. Much of this material amounted to thinly-disguised promotional bumf for the Conservative Party of Canada.

    So great was this prime minister’s disrespect for Parliament that he shuttered the seat of government for an incredible 181 days for purely political reasons. He unleashed the Canada Revenue Agency on NGOs and environmental groups, using audits as a weapon against his perceived political enemies.

    Harper’s attack on civil liberties was deep and disturbing. Bill C-51 gave police-state powers to agencies like the RCMP, CSIS and SEC. Some of you may remember that these same agencies were already spying on environmental groups and then meeting every year with representatives of the oil industry to brief them on the alleged threats facing their projects.

    Harper the diplomat turned Canada into what former Conservative PM Joe Clark called a “denier and an outlier”. For the first time in fifty years, Canada couldn’t get elected to a seat on the Security Council at the UN, losing the spot to Portugal. He turned the world into a comic book narrative of good and evil, preferring bombing to talking whenever he had the choice.
    The NDP has reviewed the reasons for their loss -- even though the review was painful. Tom Mulcair has acknowledge the campaign shortcomings and has taken responsibility for them. We'll see if he survives.

    Perhaps Steve believes that, as long as he hides, he can escape that word that he used to trumpet -- accountability.

    Thursday, February 11, 2016

    Only In America


    New York Times columnist Tom Friedman calls Bernie Sanders a socialist "whose ideas died in 1989." That's a strange conclusion, Gerry Caplan writes. In Canada, Sanders would be a member of the New Democratic Party:

    If he calls himself a democratic socialist rather than a social democrat, it’s probably because not a dozen Americans have a clue what social democracy might mean. In the U.K., he’d likely be in the moderate anti-Jeremy Corbyn wing of the Labour party. In Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Spain, all the Nordic countries, he’d be a middle-of-the-road member of existing social democratic parties. He’d be enthusiastically embraced by tens of millions of people.

    Across the rich world, only in the United States is Bernie Sanders seen as some kind of extremist of the left. It shows just how dangerously far to the radical right America’s political culture has moved.

    Eighty-five years ago, Sanders would have been one of Roosevelt's New Dealers. But the crackpots in the Republican Party have managed -- since Ronald Reagan -- to move the political conversation increasingly to the right. Now they are on the verge of tipping over into lunacy:

    After all, the remaining GOP candidates, most of them crackpots, are now considered mainstream, even moderates.

    And, when they engage in dirty tricks, as Ted Cruz did in Iowa -- by suggesting that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race -- Donald Trump claimed to know the source of Cruz' malady: "Because he was born in Canada," shouted Trump. 

    The source of evil for Republicans these days seems to be Canada:

    “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production,” he told students at Georgetown University. “But I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down.” Throw in a couple of “hard-workings” here and there, and Comrade Bernie could jump right into the middle of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party.

    Nowhere are the absurd limits of American politics better exposed than when Sanders is bitterly pummelled for supporting something really far-out, even near-Bolshevik – a Canadian-style public health system.

    God help Canada and Canadians if Donald Trump becomes president.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2016

    Neither Stephen Nor Pierre


    Carol Goar has an interesting column this morning on Justin Trudeau's leadership style -- which is nothing like his father's:

    A pattern is developing in Canadian politics.
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet a group expected to be unfriendly or censorious. He will listen carefully to its position but make no firm commitment. To the surprise of his critics, he will emerge unscathed.

    Consider where's he's been and what he's done in his first one hundred days:

  • It happened last week in Calgary when he met oil company executives. He couldn’t promise relief from plummeting crude prices or guarantee that a pipeline to either coast would be built on his watch. What he undertook to do was build a national consensus that getting Alberta’s landlocked oil to a sea port is in the interest of all Canadians.

  • It happened the week before in Montreal, where he met the city’s combative mayor. Denis Coderre had publicly declared his opposition to the Energy East pipeline. The pundits were primed for an embarrassing clash between the two Liberals. But after his audience with Trudeau, Coderre indicated that he could change his mind.

  • It happened in November when he attended his first G20 summit meeting in Turkey. Critics of the fledgling prime minister warned he was in for a dressing down by world leaders over his decision to withdraw Canada’s fighter jets from the U.S.-led coalition combat mission in Iraq and Syria. The timing could scarcely have been worse for Trudeau. The night he left for the summit, terrorists attacked Paris and killed 129 people. ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) claimed responsibility. Stemming a tide of retaliatory rhetoric, Trudeau stood his ground, saying Canada would bring home its CF-18s in March but contribute to the mission in other ways. If he faced reproach or pressure to reverse his stand, there was no report of it. 

  • He's still on his honeymoon and the really tough stuff lies ahead:

    The most likely explanation is that Trudeau hasn’t yet given his foes a substantive target. His government hasn’t enacted any legislation, tabled its first budget, produced its climate change strategy, approved any pipelines or pulled a single warplane out of the Middle East (although it soon will). 

    But one thing is certain. When it comes to dealing with people, Trudeau is neither Stephen Harper nor his father.

    Tuesday, February 09, 2016

    Only Time Will Tell


    The Right is up in arms. Rona Ambrose calls the changes Justin Trudeau has made in the battle with ISIL "shameful." John Ivison claims that, "Canada is not playing its full part in the battle against ISIL," and Andrew Coyne writes that "what Canada is about is standing by while others engage in combat on our behalf."

    They are aboard the bandwagon -- the same bandwagon that claimed its mission was to destroy Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction -- and which gave rise to ISIL. Shock and Awe didn't work then. And it hasn't worked this time around, either. In its second life, it has brought in Russian bombers on the other side.

    And tripling the number of trainers puts more Canadian boots on the ground. Trudeau's strategy is high risk. Jeff Sallot writes:

    Trudeau’s strategy also runs a big risk. Canadians will be training ethnic Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq who have a political agenda all their own. Yes, they want to rub out ISIS — but they also want to establish an independent Kurdish state. The Iraqi government in Baghdad — a government that Ottawa says it supports — doesn’t like the idea of partitioning its territory.

    Our NATO allies in Turkey also have concerns about the Kurds. Turkey has a substantial Kurdish population of its own along the border with Iraq. A Kurdish separatist revolt against Baghdad in Iraq could quickly explode into a Kurdish rebellion against Ankara.

    Not to mention the sight of returning body bags. We are not out. We are in. And only time will tell how it will end.

    Monday, February 08, 2016

    Strangling Our Future


    Youth unemployment is a problem world wide. Carol Goar reports that:

    Our youth unemployment rate is 13 per cent. In Sweden, 19.4 per cent of young people are looking for work. In France, the youth jobless rate is 25.9 per cent. In Spain, it is 46 per cent. In Greece it is a staggering 48.6 per cent. (It is hard to get comparable statistics from Africa, where youth can mean anything from 12 to 30 years of age.)

    The International Labour Organization -- which is sponsored by the UN -- is raising the profile of the problem:

    Determined to provide impetus, the ILO launched a Global Initiative for Decent Jobs for Youth in New York this month. The UN’s 28 other agencies joined the campaign. “Today two out of every five young persons of working age are either unemployed or working in jobs that don’t pay enough to escape poverty,” said ILO director-general Guy Ryder. “Our challenge is to continuously find new and innovative solutions as we look into the future of work.”

    During the Harper Era,  youth unemployment mushroomed:

    Former prime minister Stephen Harper did more to undermine than assist young job seekers. Between 2006 and 2014 his government opened the floodgates to low-skilled temporary foreign workers, who took the entry-level jobs normally sought by young people.

    In 2013, he claimed there was a severe skill shortage in the land. There were plenty of jobs but employers couldn’t find workers with the skills they needed. This misalignment, Harper said, was “the biggest challenge our country faces.” No one could figure out where these job vacancies were. Reporters, economists, the parliamentary budget office and the Conference Board of Canada did some digging and discovered they didn’t exist. Federal officials were relying on data from Kijiji, a classified ad service operated by eBay. It allowed employers to post the same job in various categories, which led Ottawa to double and triple count. 

    Justin Trudeau vows that his government will reverse that course:

    Justin Trudeau has pledged to spend $455 million a year helping young Canadians find work. His intent is to create 40,000 jobs annually by expanding Ottawa’s summer jobs program; increasing the number of co-op positions available for business and engineering students; giving a one-year payroll tax break to employers who hire young Canadians for permanent positions; and relaunching a youth service program like Katimavik, started by his father in 1977 and eliminated by the Harper government in 2012. 

    But, Goar writes, most of Trudeau's efforts are focused on the public sector. More needs to be done in the private sector. Will the Captains of Industry step up? We'll see. Any society which cannot make a future for its youth is strangling its own future.

    Sunday, February 07, 2016

    Upstream, Downstream


    At the end of January, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr announced new guidelines to evaluate the impact of new pipelines. Jason Maclean writes:

    The new regulations stipulate that oil pipeline decisions will be based on science and traditional indigenous knowledge; the views of the public, including affected communities and indigenous peoples; and the direct and upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that can be linked to pipelines.

    During their press conference announcing the new regulations, McKenna and Carr repeatedly intoned that “Canada needs to get its natural resources to market in a sustainable way.”

    When pressed about greenhouse gas emissions, McKenna told reporters that the guidelines included projections about both upstream and downstream emissions. And there is the rub:

    While this is a notable improvement on the NEB’s steadfast refusal to consider either the upstream or downstream emissions of oil pipelines, the problem remains that most of the GHG emissions arising from a pipeline are downstream emissions. An environmental assessment that arbitrarily excludes downstream emissions effectively exports not only Alberta’s bitumen crude oil but also its ultimate emissions.

    In terms of science, peer-reviewed analyses demonstrate that in order to have a better-than-even chance of keeping global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, at least 85 per cent of Alberta’s remaining ultimately recoverable bitumen must remain in the ground. In one model, the percentage rises to 99 per cent.

    No oil pipeline that will expand the extraction of Alberta’s unconventional oilsands can pass a scientifically valid climate test because any increase in unconventional oil production is incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. This is the scientific standard that must be applied to the Energy East project proposal if the government’s assessment is to be trusted by Canadians.

    Justin Trudeau has vowed to assist Alberta's ailing economy and to fight climate change. If those commitments mean seeing the Energy East Pipeline construction through to New Brunswick, it appears that Trudeau has vowed to square the circle.

    It will be interesting to see if he can do that. That feat has been tried before -- but without much success.

    Saturday, February 06, 2016

    Let The Debate Begin


    Last week, Chrystia Freeland signed the Trans Pacific Partnership. While doing so, she maintained that her signature was in no way her government's ratification of the accord. There would be, she said, extensive public consultation and debate before the Liberals made that decision.

    Murray Dobbin writes that, if history is any guide, the consultation will be shallow and the debate short lived:

    For many of us who have dealt in the past with the trade bureaucrats promoting these investment protection agreements, it is easy enough to suspect that Freeland is being deliberately misinformed by her own staff. There is no doubt that the Trudeau government is eager to portray itself as open to persuasion on the TPP. To bolster the position that they still might say no, the government has engaged in a flurry of consultations across the country and has made a point of inviting ordinary concerned citizens to send in questions and criticisms to Global Affairs Canada. Sounds good so far. But it is the execution that raises serious questions about how genuine the consultation will be.

    First, the consultations reveal that the vast majority have been with groups supportive of these agreements: provincial government ministers, business groups, industry reps, universities, etc. Of 74 such meetings (as of Jan. 31) there have been just a handful with "students" (but no student council representatives who have actually studied the TPP) and a couple with labour -- the CLC and Unifor. There have been literally no meetings with NGOs that have actually taken the time to closely examine the TPP -- not the Council of Canadians, not the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, not any First Nations (whose solemn agreements with governments can be trumped by ISDS), nor any environmental groups.

    The real bone of contention has always been the Investor Dispute Settlement Mechanism. And, again, if history is any guide, things do not look good:

    Since NAFTA came into effect on January 1, 1994 it has been subjected to over 35 NAFTA investor-state claims. Nearly two-thirds of these have involved challenges to environmental protection or resource management. Canada has already paid out over $170 million in damages in six cases (lost or settled) and abandoned most of the "offending" legislation and regulations. We currently face additional corporate challenges totalling over $6 billion in potential penalties for NAFTA "violations" such as the Quebec government's decision to ban fracking under the St. Lawrence River.

    It's pretty clear that these trade agreements are written to favour large countries with large economies -- specifically, the United States. It appears that the bureaucrats in Global Affairs Canada do not recognize that fact. But, if there is a clear rejection of the TPP among Canadians citizens then, perhaps, Canada will not ratify the agreement. Perhaps.

    In any case, let the debate begin.