Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Very Old Lesson

Alberta isn't the only province caught between a rock and a hard place. Newfoundland is in the same boat -- and for the same reasons. Alan Freeman writes:

We’ve all heard about that special connection between Newfoundland and Alberta — stories of hard-working labourers from the island province flying out to Fort McMurray to make their fortunes in the oilsands.

Unfortunately, the east-west linkages went deeper. When politicians in Newfoundland hit their own gusher in offshore oilfields like Hibernia, they looked to Alberta for guidance. What to do with the billions in windfall royalty revenues that in 2008 turned Newfoundland and Labrador into a “have” province for the first time after decades of equalization payments from Ottawa?
Sock it away for a rainy day like those boring Norwegians? Hell no. We’ll have a big party like our buddies in Alberta.

And now that the price of oil has tanked, there is hell to pay -- literally:

Taxes have been raised across the board; the HST has been hiked to 15 per cent from 13 per cent, the gasoline tax is up 16.5 cents per litre and the province is introducing a highly regressive “deficit reduction” income tax levy that will cost $300 for a taxpayer earning $25,000 a year. Public servants will be laid off. Half the province’s libraries will close. Those $1,000 baby bonuses are long gone.

It's a repeat of the Alberta saga. There were other ways to deal with the boom. But they were paths less -- in fact, they are seldom -- taken. There is a very old lesson here.


Friday, April 29, 2016

In Harperland, Stupidity Rules

Perhaps stupidity is a virus. Despite the verdict in the Duffy trial, Michael Harris writes, stupidity still rules in a lot of roosts:

A significant part of the Canadian Establishment is not only blaming a victim — it’s blaming an exonerated victim. Some want even more punishment for a man the courts decided deserved no punishment at all.

Consider RCMP Assistant Commission Gilles Michaud who

actually wrote congratulatory letters to the investigators who worked on the Duffy case and helped come up with the 31 charges against him.

Never mind the fact that the Mounties never “got their man” on anything, not even jaywalking. In the wake of the court’s verdict, the RCMP decided it was “inappropriate to comment”.
Small wonder. It’s hard to speak with a mouthful of crow, even if you’re the assistant commissioner who held the splashy press conference announcing all those bogus charges. Besides, it gets harder to congratulate the team for a 31-0 blowout when they’re on the doughnut-hole end of the score.

The there was the National Posts's Andrew Coyne:

When a judge issues a stunning rebuttal of a vicious and baseless criminal case that made salacious headlines at Duffy’s expense for years, it’s simply not normal to argue that ‘acquittal does not equal innocence’. That’s what Andrew Coyne wrote in the immediate aftermath of Justice Charles Vaillancourt’s decision. Some people have forgotten that, as an accused person, you answer only the charges as they are brought against you — not every aspersion cast against your character that comes along.

And also in the pages of the Post, there appeared an article by Richard Staley, Harper's lawyer, who claimed that Harper acted honourably:

As soon as the laughter dies down, I’d like to ask each and every reader to judge Staley’s claim based on what came out at Duffy’s trial — especially the part about the PMO’s “ruthless” behaviour.

Staley says he was instructed by Harper to cooperate with the RCMP and that doing so was politically inexpedient — which, he argues, offers some sort of evidence of good faith.

He talks about it as if Harper had a choice. He didn’t. If he hadn’t cooperated, it would have been seen immediately as a cover-up — and rightly so. Is Staley really suggesting that the former PM had the option of suppressing all the emails that put the lie to Harper’s claim that only Duffy and Nigel Wright were in on this deal? That it was somehow selfless of him to hand them over?

Besides, had Harper refused to cooperate, it could have led to him being subpoenaed. Everyone remembers how much he likes answering questions. Imagine the fun he would have had answering them under oath.

Staley also points out (correctly) that there is a constitutional principle that prosecutorial decisions must be free of partisan concerns. He forgets that Harper was the serving PM who congratulated the RCMP when they charged Duffy, through his spokesman Jason MacDonald. Harper was also the PM who directly involved the RCMP in the Helena Guergis affair when he had Ray Novak write on his behalf to the RCMP commissioner to pass on unfounded criminal allegations against her. (I might add that in the wake of her exoneration by the Mounties, she was kicked out of the Conservative caucus anyway. Harper rules.)

In Harperland, stupidity rules.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Stephen Harper has disappeared. And, Andrew Cohen writes, his legacy is disappearing as quickly as he did:

Stephen Harper was a failure in power. He created nothing lasting. Of prime ministers since 1945 who served a full term or more, his is the thinnest record.

Harper took on none of the big social issues – abortion, gay marriage, capital punishment – which animated his loyalists. He championed no constitutional reform and established few innovative programs. He proposed no new national initiatives – museums, pipelines, high-speed rail – or declared a projet de société.

When compared to his predecessors, Harper comes away looking pretty small:

John Diefenbaker passed the Bill of Rights. Lester Pearson created Medicare, the Auto Pact and the flag. Pierre Trudeau patriated the Constitution and entrenched the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Brian Mulroney brought free trade and a national sales tax. Jean Chrétien established the Clarity Act and reset national finances.

On criminal justice, the Supreme Court has struck down his laws on mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and limited credit for pre-trial detention. His changes to the parole system and prostitution laws may be next. The Court Challenges Program dismantled by Harper has been restored.

The long-form census has been restored. Ministers and diplomats can talk again. The Anti-Terrorism Act and Fair Elections Act will be amended. There is new money for culture and aboriginals.
Abroad, Canada has withdrawn from the bombing campaign against ISIL. We’re seeking the seat on the UN Security Council the Conservatives lost, and we may return to peacekeeping. We’ve taken a leading role in combating climate change in ways Harper disdained.

In the end, he will be remembered as a prime minister who truly didn't understand his country:

Stephen Harper misread the country. His instincts were dark and conservative in a decent, progressive country. When Canadians had a choice, they discarded him. Now they’re discarding his legacy.

He is the incredible shrinking man.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Albatross For A Long Time

The Conservative Party of Canada is in a bad place. Even Conservative cheerleader L. Ian MacDonald admits that -- as a recent EKOS poll suggests that those who call themselves Conservatives wish that Stephen Harper would rise again from the ashes:

There is no chance — none at all — of the Conservative party turning to Harper to lead it again. For that matter, there’s no sense out there that Harper would even accept a draft, in the highly unlikely event that one were to develop.

And none of his potential replacements look like good bets:

Peter MacKay recently accepted a partnership at a major international law firm on Bay Street, and has two young children at home. As much as he — as a favourite son of Atlantic Canada and representative of the party’s progressive wing — might be thinking about a leadership run, he knows it’s not the right time for him. [Kevin] O’Leary might be good entertainment, but a leadership race is much harder than a TV reality show. He also doesn’t speak French, and it’s a measure of how disconnected he is from political reality that he doesn’t see that as a problem.

Lisa Rait also doesn't speak French; and Kellie Leitch will have a hard time living down her snitch line.  Maxime Bernier could probably get a majority of the population of the Beauce to vote for him. But the rest of Canada is a different story. And, after Justice Vaillancourt's verdict, the whole Conservative machine smells dirty.

No, the Harper Years will be an albatross around the party's neck for a long time.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bombardier Gets What It Wants

I used to teach in the Eastern Townships, not too far from where the Bombardiers got their start making snowmobiles. I should be clear at the outset: I acknowledge that snowmobiles are essential in the Far North. But, as recreational vehicles, I find them loud and simply annoying.

Nonetheless, the Bombardier and Beaudoin families have used snowmobiles to leverage their way into the transportation business. And, Alan Freeman writes, they are masters at getting governments to come to their terms.

Consider how the families got into the aircraft business. They bought government owned Canadair back in the 1980's:

It all started in 1986, when Bombardier became the dark horse buyer for Canadair, the federally-owned aircraft manufacturer that already had spent $1.5 billion developing the Challenger business jet. At the time, the Challenger seemed even a lousier bet that the C Series is today, with Canadair having sold only five of the jets in 1984 and 22 in 1985. Bombardier paid a scant $120 million for the whole company. The Mulroney government was relieved to get the thing off its hands.

The sale turned out to be a brilliant move for both Bombardier and the government. Thirty years later, the Challenger is still in production and Bombardier’s decision to stretch the business jet into a passenger aircraft created the whole regional-jet segment of the industry. Bombardier — which started improbably as a maker of snowmobiles — turned into the world’s third-largest maker of civilian
In the 1990's, the families bought Toronto based de Havilland:

Bombardier used similar tactics in 1992 when it bought de Havilland Aircraft of Toronto from Boeing. Once again, Bombardier was the only real bidder for what looked like a doomed asset, and it managed to get grateful Ontario and federal governments to finance much of the deal. 

And they bought Shorts Aircraft from Maggie Thatcher's government in the midst of  "the troubles" in Northern Ireland. And the company has been able to snag long term contracts building rolling stock for Montreal's Metro and the Toronto Transit Commission. Bombardier has always had trouble meeting deadlines. But it has made all of those enterprises profitable:

When it came to Thatcher’s reluctant decision in 1989, the money ended up being well spent. Bombardier may be infuriating for politicians to deal with — making promises on timelines and research and development costs that it can’t seem to meet, refusing to dilute the control of the founding family — but when it comes to jobs and investment in R&D, it generally delivers what it promises.

At de Havilland, Bombardier developed the Q400 turboprop aircraft; it still makes it there. And the C Series, with its new order for 75 planes from Air Canada and the real possibility of an even-bigger order from Delta in the U.S., may be at the point of taking off.

Bombardier may be all sort of things, but it’s not a take-the-money-and-run kind of investor. If it weren’t for Bombardier, chances are Canadair, de Havilland and Shorts all would have closed down long ago and Canada would have an aerospace industry making parts for others and doing maintenance on aircraft built elsewhere.

So, don't be surprised when the Trudeau government gives Bombardier what it wants. It's very good at getting what it wants.


Monday, April 25, 2016

There Was A Reason For the Judge's Scorn

In the wake of the Duffy verdict, Michael Harris writes, we should know what was going on in the minds of the RCMP and the prosecutors. He lists a number of questions. For example:

  • Did the Commissioner of the RCMP or his staff have any communications from the PMO regarding the Duffy case, and if so, will he make them public?
  • Did the Commissioner of the RCMP or his staff communicate with the Minister of Public Safety or his staff about the Duffy case? If so, did he offer or receive any advice and will he release those communications?
  • Will the Commissioner of the RCMP fully describe his role in the Duffy case, including exactly how and by whom investigators were assigned to this case?
  • What are the names of the lawyers who worked on the Duffy file?
  • Who assigned the prosecutors to this case?
  • Did these lawyers meet with RCMP investigators before the 31 criminal charges against Senator Duffy were laid?
  • Did lawyers express any disagreement with the decision to lay those charges or were the Mounties an prosecution lawyers always on the same page?
  • Did prosecution lawyers offer any advice to the lead RCMP investigator on this case? If so, what was it?

Normally, you'd expect the opposition to raise these questions. But the opposition is what's left of Harper and Co. And they have learned nothing:

Every once in a while, a defeated political party reminds everyone of why it was thrown out, and more importantly, how unfit it remains for office. Rona Ambrose showed once more that she is a not a leader but a dead-end partisan just as uninterested in the truth as her former boss.

In the wake of last week’s court verdict, instead of acknowledging that things had gone horribly wrong in the political persecution of Mike Duffy, Ambrose and almost all of her caucus had nothing to say about the disgraceful conduct of Harper and his PMO. Worse, they had nothing to say for themselves – not even that this kind of political scape-goating and abuse of power was dead wrong and would never happen again under Conservative auspices.

Justice Vaillancourt understood exactly who he was dealing with and that's why his final conclusions were so scathing.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

That's No Accident

Despite what happened in Edmonton two weeks ago, progressivism is finding new life across the country. Ed Broadbent, Michal Hay and Emilie Nicolas point to a string of issues which are now front and centre in Canada:

Across the country, the fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage is picking up steam. In Toronto and Montreal, Black Lives Matter and Montréal Noir are successfully pushing for public consultations and independent inquests in recent police shootings and are raising awareness about persistent systemic anti-black racism. Meanwhile, Indigenous rights activists have followed suit with widespread actions to draw attention to chronic underfunding and injustice.
The Alberta provincial budget’s determination to reject austerity and instead protect core public services, invest in new infrastructure and enact new climate protection measures is being widely applauded. The Supreme Court of Canada has rendered two historic verdicts, one dismembering the Harper government’s dubious criminal justice legacy, the other extending important new rights to Métis people.
Roiled by Liberal fundraising scandals, the Ontario and Quebec governments are in full-on damage control mode to rid politics of corporate and union contributions – a long-standing progressive demand. Finally, the federal government’s announcement of a process to reform our voting system is imminent, opening the door for Canada to join the majority of democracies with more effective electoral systems based on the principle of proportionality.

And the Right -- as underscored by last week's verdict at the Duffy trial -- is in retreat:

What’s not on the public policy agenda? Well, with few exceptions across the country, the hoary canards of the political Right: government retrenchment, “tough on crime” legislation, restrictions on civil liberties, and old-tyme climate change denial, are rarer than Canadian hockey teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In fact, both the Ontario and Manitoba Progressive Conservative parties have recently come out in favour of carbon pricing.

What are the causes? Well, the Great Recession has caused people around the world to re-evaluate the smug certitude of Conservatism -- Canadian or otherwise:

Why is this leftward tilt in our political discourse and public debate happening? One reason is certainly that in the wake of the recession, and with rising inequality, environmental degradation and flagging employment impossible to deny, the political Left has momentum around the world and Canada is part of this tide.
This increasing progressivism takes different forms in different countries. In Europe anti-austerity parties like Spain’s Podemos are gaining ground powered by record engagement of young people. In the United States, the unlikely candidacy of Bernie Sanders has captured the imagination both of aging hippies and tech-savvy millennials.

How it will all shake out is still uncertain. But you'll notice that Stephen Harper is nowhere to be seen. That's no accident.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Regret Is Everywhere

Kellie Leitch tearfully regretted this week that she had had anything to do with the "barbaric practices" snitch line. And, when Mike Duffy ran afoul of Stephen Harper, he too regretted his decision to go to work for the man:

“The sad truth is I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong out of a fear of losing my job and out of a misguided sense of loyalty,” Duffy told his fellow senators.
“… This kind of politics is not why I came to the Senate of Canada. It’s not why millions of Canadians voted for the Conservative party. It’s not the Canadian way.” 

Among Conservatives these days, regret is everywhere. It's interesting that no one admitted to any poor choices before the Harper government came crashing down. Susan Delacourt writes:

What would have been better, even Leitch and Duffy would probably agree now, is if these Conservatives had expressed their aversion to this brand of politics before it stopped working for them.
It’s pretty easy to be regretful in defeat; it’s far more difficult, but also more courageous, to speak up when you’re in a position to stop bad behaviour in its tracks. 

Only one member of the caucus -- Michael Chong -- resigned on a matter of principle. Yet he, too, stuck with the boss. Some former Conservatives -- like Bill Casey -- took Harper on, paid a heavy price, and were eventually vindicated. But, all told, they were never a very courageous lot. They are, however, regretful.

Friday, April 22, 2016

He Stands Naked

Mr. Justice Charles Vaillancourt understood how Stephen Harper's PMO worked. And he didn't mince words:

“Damage control at its finest,” administered with “ruthless efficiency,” he called it. “The political, covert, relentless unfolding of events is mindboggling and shocking. The precision and planning of the exercise would make any military commander proud.”

They ran up quite a score -- 0 to 31. No runs, no hits, and one error after another. But, in pronouncing judgement on Harper's PMO, Vaillancourt was also passing judgement on Stephen Harper. Michael Harris writes:

Up until yesterday, Stephen Harper and PMO had escaped scot-free from Duffygate — though their role in the affair was obvious, disgraceful, and (with the exception of the 2015 election results) completely unpunished. Consider the actions of the former PM.

Donald Trump might have called Harper ‘Lyin’ Steve’ for the multiple versions of the facts he gave about Duffygate — none of them true. The former PM insisted that the whole affair had unfolded between Wright and Duffy. In fact, more than a dozen people in his office worked on the file, pressuring Duffy to do the deal or risk losing his Senate seat.

Harper’s PMO staff also sought and obtained changes to Senate reports and breached the confidentiality of an independent audit commissioned by the Senate.

Harper claimed Wright resigned. Then he said he was fired.

Stephen Harper denied knowing about the details of Wright’s scheme to repay Duffy’s housing expenses — as incredible a statement as any Canadian politician has ever uttered.

Harper's prime directive has always been to get even. That's what the Duffy trial was all about. Mr. Justice Vaillancourt understood that. And Stephen Harper, like the emperor in the fable, stands naked before Canadians.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Pipelines Don't Make Sense

 "Tidewater." For the oil industry, that's Nirvana. Get Canadian oil to tidewater, the barons say, and our economic future will be rosy. But that argument no longer holds water -- or oil. Eugene Kung writes:

A number of years ago this argument may have been true, especially when you ignore the economic, environmental and social costs not captured by market prices (which economists call "externalities").

But we live in a different world today. Oil prices have plummeted and are forecasted to stay low for some time. The U.S. is now a major producer of oil that is cheaper than that from the oil sands, and it recently lifted its 40-year ban on exporting oil. In addition, solar and wind power are now "crushing" fossil fuels, with investment nearly double that of oil and coal combined in 2015. And finally, the world came together in Paris and agreed to aim to hold global temperature increase to 1.5 C, which necessarily requires a decarbonization of the global economy.

All of these factors mean that the economic case for getting oil to tidewater by pipeline in Canada has evaporated.

Even some of the oil barons are beginning to sing a different tune:

Last month, a brief from Oil Change International debunked the economic myth of tidewater access and concluded that producers of Canadian oil are already getting the best possible price through existing pipelines to the U.S., which access the largest heavy oil market in the world.

The brief discusses why Western Canadian Select (WCS) -- the key Canadian benchmark for heavy oil -- trades at a discount to other benchmarks such as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the primary benchmark for U.S. Gulf Coast and Midwest oil. The two key factors are quality and geography: WCS trades for less than WTI because it is lower quality crude that is more expensive to refine, and it must travel longer distances to refineries.

Economics has caught up with the oil sands. And Alberta is in for a rough ride. But the sooner everyone gets used to the idea that there will be no new pipelines, we can move forward.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Young Want In

The data has been crunched and the trend is clear. In the last election, the young showed up in droves to vote. Susan Delacourt writes:

That future may have arrived already already — through the 2015 election — according to a new study out right now by Abacus Data and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Youth turnout jumped by 12 percentage points between the 2011 and 2015 elections — and the study suggests that it may be time to stop labelling Canada’s young people as politically disengaged and apathetic.

The study’s report, titled “The Next Canada,” suggests that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may well owe his majority victory to the large number of people aged 18-25 who showed up at the ballot box last fall — and that this infusion of youth into Canadian politics may be here to stay.

After bemoaning the apathy of the young, the powers that be are taking note:

About 45 per cent of Canadian voters between 18 and 25 supported the Liberals in the 2015 election, the Abacus/CASA study found, while only 25 per cent voted for the New Democratic Party and 20 per cent voted Conservative. (Another 5 per cent voted for the Bloc Québécois and 4 per cent for the Green Party.)

It helped that the Liberals had a young leader. But they also were more attuned to the values of the up and coming generation. They want government to begin "creating job opportunities for them and making post-secondary education affordable. Like older voters, young Canadians are also concerned about the health care system and cutting taxes, too."

I suspect that climate change is also on the top of their agenda. The times they are a changin'. And the young want in.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Justice For Omar Khadr

The Trudeau government recently announced that it would not pursue the appeal of Omar Khadr's release on bail. That's a good first step, Gerry Caplan writes. But there's more that needs to be done. Consider the history:

The Afghan firefight in which an American soldier was killed was actually his first and only battle. Mr. Khadr himself was badly wounded. There is at least a reasonable possibility he did not kill Sgt. Christopher Speer at all.

Under the Geneva Conventions, which govern the rules of war, soldiers who kill other soldiers in battle are not committing crimes. Otherwise, how could we have civilized wars? Yet Mr. Khadr was found guilty of a crime that wasn’t a crime when it happened – if it happened at all. And he’s the only person in modern history to be tried for killing another soldier during a battle.

From the first, well before any trial, Mr. Khadr was treated by his American captors as guilty. Over the years, including when he was still legally a child, he endured physical and psychological torture, solitary confinement, endless interrogation, post-traumatic stress, and was subjected to a kangaroo court disguised as the American military justice system. A series of Canadian governments, both Liberal and Conservative, consistently denied him his rights. On his lawyer’s advice, he confessed to his “crime” for fear he’d never otherwise get out of Gitmo.

There are a number of debts which need to be paid:

The Conservative caucus owes Mr. Khadr his youth. Tom Mulcair owes him, finally, some serious attention. The Liberal government has huge debts to him as well. Some members of today’s government were also members of the Liberal government that so shabbily mistreated him and denied his rights from the get-go.

Omar Khadr may be home. And he may be out of prison. But the story isn't over. 


Monday, April 18, 2016

In Praise Of The Supreme Court

Last week, The Supreme Court issued three more landmark decisions. The first two decisions struck down more of Stephen Harper's tough on crime agenda. Tom Walkom writes:

On Friday, the court unanimously swept aside provisions of the former Conservative government’s Truth in Sentencing Act that limited a judge’s ability to give credit for time served in pretrial detention.
In a second decision that same day, the majority struck down another Conservative law that required a minimum sentence of at least one year for previously convicted drug traffickers.
In both cases, the top court said, restrictions on judicial discretion were so broad as to be unconstitutional.

Mr. Harper ordered his Ministry of Justice to stop asking whether his legislation could pass constitutional muster. The result has been an array of decisions that should have reminded Harper -- and all Canadians -- that a prime minister is not above the law. Since Mr. Harper has all but disappeared, it's hard to know if the lesson has sunk in.

The far more important court decision came Thursday. That’s when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Métis and non-status Indians are Ottawa’s responsibility and must be treated as “Indians” under the constitution.

Among other things, that makes members of the two groups eligible for certain kinds of health care and tax exemptions available now only to the Inuit and residents of First Nations communities.

But the court also confirmed, in an almost casual manner, that Ottawa has a constitutional duty to consult meaningfully with representatives of the Métis and non-status Indians before doing anything that might impinge on their rights.

The justices said they didn’t have to formally restate that obligation in their decision because it was already settled law.
But it will act at the very least as a reminder to Ottawa, which has not always been anxious to include Métis and non-status Indians in its talks.

Canada's Metis peoples have lived in limbo since 1867. The Court reminded us that all God's children have a place in the choir -- and that it is a source of wisdom.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Spend It On The Kids

Jerry Diakiw has a terrific idea. If governments are looking for good infrastructure investments, he writes, focus on kids. That's not just a noble sentiment. There's lots of evidence to suggest that it's wise policy:

Our new federal government plans to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure projects. But according to James Heckman, Nobel laureate in the economics of human development, infrastructure spending only sees a rate of return of roughly 1 to 2 per cent — while investing in disadvantaged children before they start school has a proven record of yielding an 8 to 10 per cent rate of return.

 Children who participated in two early childhood projects run during the 1960 and 1970s — the Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian Project — have been studied intensively now for 40 years and the results have been both powerful and instructive. The findings show how narrowing the inequality gap and reducing child poverty makes economic sense. Early childhood intervention delivered to disadvantaged kids aged one to four, and their parents, promotes economic efficiencies and reduces lifetime inequalities.

The Abecedarian Project produced a phenomenal 10 per cent rate of return on the initial government investment. Compare that to a standard 5.8 per cent average rate of return on investments in stocks.

That's not to suggest that there aren't roads and bridges to be repaired. In Montreal, where I grew up, huge chunks of concrete have been falling on cars as they passed under overpasses. That's what happens when you neglect regular maintenance.

But while taxes have been lowered, the evidence has been accumulating:

These studies, and more recent ones from other countries, demonstrate that early intervention for kids in disadvantaged homes, focusing on these soft skills, has a direct and positive effect on wages, schooling, teenage pregnancy, smoking, crime and performance on achievement tests. The children who benefit from early intervention are healthier and make better lifestyle choices.

The legacy of neo-liberalism has been a rash of social pathologies. If we build new roads and bridges but are left with the pathologies, we will be no further ahead.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Necessity Of Civic Virtue

Chris Hedges sees a bleak future for the United States. The ruins of post industrial America are all around. He describes what has happened in places like Elizabeth, New Jersey:

Elizabeth was devastated by the 1982 closure of its Singer plant, which had been built in 1873 and at one time had 10,000 workers. The 1,000 or so African-Americans at the plant worked mostly in a foundry that made cast-iron parts for the sewing machines. The work was poorly paid and dangerous. White workers, many of them German, Italian, Irish, Jewish, Polish or Lithuanian immigrants, dominated the safer and better-paid factory floor. The city was built around the sprawling plant. Generations of residents organized their lives and their families on the basis of Singer jobs or income that the facility indirectly produced. And then, after a long decline, the factory was gone. 

And what happened in Elizabeth has happened throughout the United States:

The year Singer closed its flagship factory in Elizabeth there were 2,696 plant shutdowns across the United States, resulting in 1,287,000 job losses. Singer workers in Elizabeth under the age of 55 lost all retirement benefits, even if they had worked for the company for decades. Small businesses in the city that depended on the plant went bankrupt.

In postindustrial cities across America it is now clear, after the passage of years, that the good jobs and stability once provided by factories such as the Singer plant have been lost forever. The pent-up anger and frustration among the white working class have given birth to dark pathologies of hate. The hate is directed against those of different skin color or ethnicity who somehow seem to have heralded the changes that destroyed families and communities. 

Those dark pathologies of hate are what is driving the Trump campaign. And they won't go away, even if Donald Trump does:

This sentiment, on display at Donald Trump rallies, will outlive the Trump campaign even should the candidate be, as I expect, deposed by the party elites. It is a very dangerous force. It presages violence against all who appear to have been empowered at the expense of the white working class—African-Americans, Muslims, undocumented workers, homosexuals, feminists, artists and intellectuals—and will feed the rise of a Christianized fascism.  

That's a strange phrase, "Chritianized fascism." But it's nothing new -- just as fascism is nothing new. It arises when a culture or civilization has reached the end of the road. And many societies have reached the end of the road:

We are no more immune to the forces of decay and death than were ancient Athens, ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, the Mayans, the Aztecs, Easter Island, Europe’s feudal society of lords and serfs, and the monarchal empires in early 20th-century Europe. Human nature has not changed. We will react as those before us reacted when they faced collapse. We will be increasingly consumed by illusion. We will seek to stop time, to prevent change, to embrace magical thinking in a desperate effort to return to an idealized past. Many will suffer. 

But what is deeply disturbing is that Hedges believes what is happening in the U.S. will eventually engulf us all:

This time, collapse will be planetwide. There will be no new lands to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate, no new natural resources to plunder and exploit. Climate change will teach us a brutal lessen about hubris.

Not a very uplifting message on this new Spring Day. But, Hedges writes, such a future awaits -- unless we recover what Plato called our civic virtue.


Friday, April 15, 2016

A Different Crowd

Some commentators view what happened in Edmonton last weekend as an exercise in self destruction. Not so, writes Murray Dobbin. The membership of the NDP has sent a clear message. Principle is more important than political opportunism:

The NDP has paid a staggering price for the politics of its last two leaders. Jack Layton was more in tune with the social democratic roots of the party than Mulcair, but he launched the shift to a strategy aimed at achieving power. The inevitable result was to water down social democratic principles and move the party to the centre.

It also led to political opportunism. Instead of continuing to force Paul Martin's minority Liberal government to pass progressive legislation by threatening to withhold support, Layton defeated the Liberals in 2005, believing the resulting election would be the next step toward power. Instead it resulted in the election of the most destructive, right-wing government the country has known.

The party under Layton made Stephen Harper prime minister. And Dobbin lays the blame at the feet of  the two public relations gurus into whose hands the party placed its future -- Brian Topp and Brad Lavigne. Brian Topp founded his own public relations firm with two other partners:

But these partners were not NDPers -- one was Ken Boessenkool, a former aide to Stephen Harper and later chief of staff for Liberal Premier Christy Clark until he was forced to resign for inappropriate behaviour. (The other partner, Don Guy, was a Liberal.)

Brad Lavigne was a vice-president of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, one of the world's largest public relations firms and a symbol of the darkest aspects of corporate and political damage control and manipulation of public opinion. It's perhaps most infamous for its work creating public support in the U.S. for the first Gulf War. In 1990, Hill+Knowlton helped arrange testimony at the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus by a "witness" (actually the Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter) who claimed she saw "Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die." Her testimony was later found to be unsubstantiated.

You can tell a lot about a political party by the company it keeps. The NDP, writes Dobbin, has decided to join a different crowd.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Poloz Seal Of Approval

The Conservatives -- and the Parliamentary Budget Office -- continue to pummel the Liberals over their budget. But Stephen Poloz made it clear yesterday that the Bank of Canada has a different take on things. Tom Walkom writes:

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, central bank chief Stephen Poloz said the government’s decision to run $29-billion deficits this year and next will more than offset the negative effects of a slowing world economy, a rising Canadian dollar and low oil prices.
The net effect, he said, is that he now expects Canada’s economy to do better this year than the Bank had predicted in January.
In an accompanying report, the bank says the government’s decision to spend more than it takes in promises to add an extra half a percentage point to the economy’s growth rate.

That doesn't mean that Canada's economy will be firing on all its cylinders. But, then, neither is the world's economy:

The world economy continues to struggle. China, a crucial player, faces financial stress. Japan’s wage growth is lacklustre. In Europe, investor confidence is sagging.
Throughout, downward pressure remains on the price of oil and other commodities that Canada sells abroad.
The crucial U.S. economy is recovering but not at the pace the bank had expected in January.

So, things may not be great. But, at least they're better -- because, instead of following Milton Friedman's doctrine, the central bank doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting.

Poloz has made it clear for some time that his ability to influence interest rates can do only so much to keep the economy on track and that the government, with its control over spending and taxation, should do more.
With their decision to deliberately run stimulative deficits, Trudeau and Morneau have complied.

For the time being, at least, Friedman and his acolytes have been sent packing.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Those Who Adapt

The Leap Manifesto appears to be tearing the New Democratic Party apart. But, Tom Walkom writes, it's hardly a radical document. And a number of its recommendations are being advocated or implemented:

Like Ottawa and virtually every provincial government, the manifesto calls for investment in clean energy projects. As Ontario has found with its windmill policy, this isn’t always a politically painless process. But except for the manifesto’s suggestion that, (as in Germany and Denmark) such projects be community-controlled, it is hardly novel.
In fact, the Trudeau Liberals have already promised to undertake many of the manifesto’s recommendations. They have said they will implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; they have pledged to invest in public transit and green infrastructure.

Like the federal NDP, the manifesto calls for a national child-care program. Like the federal NDP (sometimes) and both U.S. Democratic presidential candidates, the manifesto opposes trade deals that limit government’s ability to regulate in the public interest.
Like former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, the authors favour imposing a financial transaction tax to help pay for all of this.

The stumbling block is the manifesto's insistence that we build no more pipelines. In Alberta that's heresy -- understandably. But the world is changing. And energy is no longer spelled O. I. L.

Those who adapt will survive. Those who don't will meet the same fate as the creatures who gave us fossil fuels. 


Thursday, April 07, 2016

Down Time

I've been having health issues that have kept me away from the computer.  With a little recovery time, my back and legs should be renewed. I hope to be back in about a week. Best wishes to all.