Sunday, March 31, 2019

Ford The Control Freak

Doug Ford wants to upload the cost  -- and the control -- of the Toronto subway system to the province. Martin Regg Cohn writes that there's a certain logic to that:

He alone shall be empowered to navigate the routes, bankroll the construction and borrow the funding. He’s not wrong about that, as past columns have argued, for there are good reasons for Queen’s Park to both pay the way and show the way.
He who pays the piper, or the tunneller, calls the tune. The problem is when the piper sounds out of tune, and displays a tin ear.

To begin with, when Ford was a city councillor, he insisted that the city call the tune. He has changed his position.  He changes his positions a lot:

When he’s not picking a political fight with Toronto over the size of city council (threatening to use the notwithstanding clause to overrule the courts), he’s filing a quixotic court case against Ottawa’s perfectly legal carbon tax. Ford is consistently inconsistent, doesn’t play well with others, and doesn’t abide by boundaries, but we already knew that.

And more than that, by tearing up plans and work that has already been done, Ford -- who insists he is all about saving money -- will drive the province deeper into debt  and delay subway expansion:

Ford is fighting an old fight over the Eglinton Crosstown, trying to bury more of the LRT in low density areas to the west, where the expert research shows the costs exceed the benefits. The heavy expense of tunnelling should be decided logically, not ideologically.
It is on Toronto’s eastern and western flanks — along the Eglinton Crosstown where work is underway, and the Scarborough extension that was supposed to go out to tender next month — that Ford is wearing his suburban blinkers. By tunnelling further, he will only bury us under deeper debt and delay the day of opening — for which there will be a reckoning.

New technology can make subway building cheaper than it used to be. But Ford's decisions to shut down wind farms and go to court are already costing Ontarians lots of money.

This isn't about money. This is about control. As with everything else, Doug Ford insists that he be in the driver's seat.

Image: PressFrom

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Justin On The Ropes

This weekend marks the seventh anniversary of Justin Trudeau's boxing match with Patrick Brazeau. The general consensus then was that Brazeau would have Trudeau on the ropes. That didn't happen. But Trudeau is on the ropes now. Susan Delacourt writes:

Wilson-Raybould’s new evidence serves to underline her contention, made in explosive testimony last month, that the Prime Minister was far from casually interested in the future of SNC-Lavalin. As it’s described in some detail, Trudeau and his team just kept punching home the point, from September, all the way to February.
Without saying explicitly the contents of the conversations they held before she quit cabinet in mid-February, Wilson-Raybould hints that Trudeau remained set on the path to grant that DPA, with or without her, and having already shuffled her out of the way to veterans affairs.

 No one can predict how this fight will end. And -- make no mistake -- this is a fight:

This story isn’t over yet and no one is entirely sure how it ends, for Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould or the Liberal party to which they both still belong. It is not even clear at the moment who is administering the knockout blows. Wilson-Raybould is out of cabinet, but Trudeau is back on his heels too, apparently unable to end this match.

Seven years ago, Brazeau and Trudeau agreed that the winner would get to cut the loser's hair:

When it came time for Trudeau to publicly shear the ponytailed Brazeau in the Commons foyer, he opted to make a minor clip with the scissors, barely visible. Trudeau would confide later that there was no way this son of Pierre Trudeau was going to be photographed cutting the hair of one of Canada’s Indigenous people.

Trudeau doesn't want to cut Wilson-Raybould's hair. But he may have met his Delilah.

Image: AbeBooks

Friday, March 29, 2019

Nader On Trump

Ralph Nader doesn't pull his punches. He's not impressed with the Mueller Report:

What a farce and distraction this whole exercise turned out to be! Mueller’s assigned subject was Trump. So, does this prosecutor demand to interview Trump, to subpoena Trump? No. Does this special investigator conclude with any legal recommendations at all? No. He just wants to be forgotten as he slinks away into deliberate silence (unless he is made to testify before the House Judiciary Committee).
The assignment to Mueller was doomed from the start. Its charge was far too narrow and proof in such matters is very difficult to find. Intent to collude requires direct examination of the President himself. But why would Trump have to collude at all? The Russians interfered in his favor in various ways to the detriment of Hillary Clinton and all he had to do was accept such foreign largess.

There is all kinds of evidence of Trump's malfeasance, Nader argues. And it's in plain sight:

Consider all the print, TV, and radio time the mass media used on the Mueller Russian probe compared to Trump’s cruelty and viciousness from his brazen “deregulation,” or open flouting of statutorily mandated government missions.
These policies have directly harmed innocent children, the elderly, patients, consumers, and workers and have wreaked environmental ruin, polluting the air, water, and soil with lethal toxins. He proudly took away protections leaving defenseless humans to suffer more deadly coal dust, coal ash, and coal pollution.
He has blocked our government’s responses to the climate crisis looming everywhere.
He has gotten away with massive federal deficits caused by his tax holidays for corporations and the rich, including the Trump family. Take that, next generation of Americans!
He backs for-profit colleges who have committed serial crimes against their impoverished students while heavily subsidizing these corporations with your tax dollars.
He is pushing to weaken or eliminate modest controls over imperial Wall Street, upsetting even Wall Streeters like Timothy Geithner, setting the stage for another Wall Street collapse on the economy, causing workers to lose their pensions and savings, before they, as taxpayers, are required to again bailout the Wall Street speculators and crooks.
He lies repeatedly about current realities, falsely brags about conditions he is actually worsening. He opposes any increase in the frozen federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and does not adequately enforce fair labor standards. He has hired and personally profited from many undocumented workers while attacking their presence in the U.S.
He pays more attention to one golf ball than he does to the estimated $60 billion in annual wage theft or $350 billion a year in the health industry’s computerized billing fraud, or the gouging drug prices he falsely promised the people he would reduce.

Millions of Americans should be marching in the streets demanding Trump's resignation, Nader writes.

Don't count on it.

Image: Truthdig

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Duller And Duller

If you're looking for rationality and consistency, don't look to Doug Ford. Yesterday, Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxxe left her job as Ford shut down her agency. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Now, after savaging the economists who dismissed his false predictions, Ford has silenced Dianne Saxe, the environmental commissioner who spoke “without fear or favour” no matter which party was in power. But she has not gone quietly.
At her farewell news conference Wednesday, she warned of storm clouds amid global warming and a provincial chill.
Ford’s Tories tried to shoehorn the environmental watchdog role into the office of auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, but Saxe wouldn’t bite. Like many policy experts, Saxe has read Lysyk’s bizarre public critiques of energy conservation, in which she claimed it doesn’t deliver value for money.
“I do not think she will be an advocate for the environment the way I was,” Saxe told reporters Wednesday.
In an interview, the outgoing environmental commissioner said she met Lysyk to discuss the transition plan dictated by the premier, and came away disheartened by the auditor general’s narrow approach.

Now, Ford is going to court to fight the Trudeau government's carbon tax:

Ford never backs down from a fight, even if it means paying more than $30 million in legal bills out of the pockets of Ontario taxpayers to fight the federal government that also represents them. By withdrawing the province from its partnership in a proven cap and trade system — pioneered by Republicans in California and propounded by a right-leaning premier in Quebec — Ford forced Ottawa to act to pick up the slack.

Instead, Ford has introduced his own carbon tax:

Saxe has long argued that cap and trade harnessed free market forces to set a flexible price for carbon so that pollution would no longer be free. By dismantling it, Ford paved the way for the more rigid and costly federal carbon tax, while depriving Ontario of billions of dollars in revenues raised at auction to subsidize conservation (retrofitting buildings and bankrolling mass transit to reduce vehicle pollution — the two biggest sources of emissions).
Despite the irony of a right-wing government rejecting a right-wing remedy for global warming, the contradictions from Ford’s government are even more glaring. For all of Ford’s public attacks on carbon pricing, his government has quietly proposed to impose a carbon tax of its own on industrial polluters (who will of course pass on the cost to consumers, not leave it in their pockets, as the premier likes to say).
The only difference is that Ottawa will rebate most of the revenues to consumers at tax time (an average of $300 a year per household), while Ontario’s Tories will funnel the money into a fund for industrial polluters. Ford loves to attack the federal tax as a “cash grab,” yet never acknowledges that it is at least revenue neutral (or even cash-positive for people who reduce fossil fuel consumption, leaving more money in their pockets).
Which is why Ford isn’t truly axing the tax, merely sacking Saxe. But his zigzags come at at a cost.
Ford’s irrationality and inconsistency have made life utterly unpredictable for the private sector, which seeks only certainty from the province: Ontario businesses have been forced to sign up for cap and trade, then wind it down, then comply with a federal carbon tax, and now prepare for Ford’s alternative industrial tax — while Ford rips up signed energy contracts and proclaims fidelity to free enterprise principles in the same breath.

That's our premier. He's never been very bright. But, as he ages, he gets duller and duller.

Image: The Nationalist Party of Canada

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Back Story

A while back, I referred to a column which Josh Freed had written in The Montreal Gazette. Freed wrote that the SNC Lavalin furor was playing differently in Quebec than in the rest of Canada. This morning, May Warren expands on that theme in The Toronto Star:

“It’s a big part of Quebec Inc.,” said Andrew McDougall, a lecturer in political science at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “It looks like they were trying to do their best to make sure that that company did well and they didn’t get blamed for any job losses that arose out of the company suffering a conviction or moving away.”
Dan Horner, an assistant professor at Ryerson University and expert in Quebec history and society, said the company employs a lot of people in positions that are seen as “very good jobs.”
Furthermore, “Quebecers are used to SNC-Lavalin having a huge influence there, through the donations that they make to political parties both provincially and federally,” Horner said.
“They’re sort of a point of pride in Quebec, because they are sort of a Quebec-based firm that is a major player on the international scene as well.”

And the Liberals view Quebec as their insurance policy:

“Clearly their strategy is that if they suffer losses elsewhere in the country, they could pick up seats in Quebec,” Horner said.
It’s “a simple numbers game,” said Sean Simpson, vice-president of public affairs at the polling firm Ipsos — the Liberals need to keep at least 170 seats for a majority government so they can’t afford to lose many.
They’re already looking at potential losses in other parts of the country, like the three seats in Alberta that Simpson calls “probably a lost cause.”
Meanwhile, support for the NDP “is anemic” in Quebec, he said, and has been declining since Jack Layton’s 2011 surge of support there.
“If you’re looking around for a target of where you’re going to grow in the face of declines elsewhere, Quebec is almost the only option that provides a decent return on investment in terms of the number of seats you could potentially pick up.”

Historically, a party needs seats from Quebec to form a government:

With roughly a quarter of the population and a quarter of the seats in the House of Commons, the traditional notion has been “that you cannot be prime minister without winning a good number of seats in Quebec,” [Sean] Simpson said — and, other than the Bloc, the Liberals have been “sort of the default party” there.
The Conservatives haven’t been able to gain traction since the days when they had a charismatic, French-speaking leader.
“That’s what made Brian Mulroney win with some of the biggest majority governments this country has ever seen, because he was somehow able to unite people in Alberta and people in Quebec.

That's the back story.

Image: Podbean

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

It's In The Voters' Hands

Donald Trump will not be impeached. Nancy Pelosi acknowledged that fact awhile ago. After the release of William Barr's four page letter, it's clear he won't be charged with conspiracy or obstruction of justice. Richard Cohen goes back to three presidents to put Trump's presidency in perspective:

Robert Dallek begins a section of his superb biography of John F. Kennedy, “An Unfinished Life,” with three quotes. The first is President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous one about the “bully pulpit.” Trump uses his to belittle his critics and spread misinformation.
The second quote is from Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The presidency . . . is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.” Who can claim Trump as a moral leader? Not even the infinitely adaptable Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) can say that.
And the third quote is from President Harry S. Truman: “On my desk I have a motto which says ‘The buck stops here.’ ” With Trump, the buck never stops. He is forever blaming others for his own shortcomings. Taken together, the three quotes encapsulate the obligations and responsibilities of the modern presidency. Trump whiffs on all three.

It's clear, Cohen writes, that Trump and his real colluders -- the Republicans -- have to go.  But Cohen doesn't have faith in the Democrats:

The Democratic Party, a mob of the unready, has set off to alienate the vast middle of the American electorate. It talks of socialism, as though the voters are clamoring for the government to take over General Motors. It suggests breaking up megacompanies such as Amazon, as though its customers feel abused by low prices and Shazam-fast delivery. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Post.) The Democratic Party has presidential candidates who endorse universal Medicare without acknowledging its cost or what it would do to private insurance. It has candidates who support reparations for the descendants of slaves — a morally correct impracticality and, I would imagine, a hard sell in the sad areas of the country that Trump carried. Try making the argument to an out-of-work coal miner.

However, it's precisely the vast middle that has to repudiate Trump. One wonders if they're smart enough to do it.

Image: Quora

Monday, March 25, 2019

Like Gotti

Donald Trump is crowing and taking a victory lap this morning. And we'll hear a lot more crowing in the days to come. While it's true that Robert Mueller found no evidence of a conspiracy with Russia, it's not true that Mueller cleared Trump of obstruction of justice charges. Trump claims that's what Mueller did. But, as usual, Trump is lying.

What Mueller did was leave the decision to prosecute Trump for obstruction in Barr's hands. Given Barr's previous statements about the Mueller enquiry and his view of the president's expansive powers, there is the distinct possibility that Trump may walk away unscathed.

It's an indication of how thoroughly the American system has been corrupted under Trump -- which happens to be the subject of Andrew Sullivan's latest column in New York Magazine. Sullivan writes:

Talk about “ripe for tyranny”! And that, it seems to me, is the real salience of the tweets. Trump is showing his foes and friends that he can say anything, abuse anyone, lie about anything, break every norm of decency, propriety and prudence — and suffer no consequences at all. It’s all a dominance ritual. And just think about what he has actually claimed: that the heads of the FBI and DOJ engaged in treasonous and illegal activity; that Russia, despite the unanimous judgment of U.S. and Western intelligence, did not attempt to intervene in the 2016 election; and that the opposition party cannot “legitimately” win an election. The latter — repeated over the years — is a direct assault on liberal democracy, and on the integrity and legitimacy of the entire system. It opens up the very real possibility that Trump will not concede an election he loses. In any functioning democracy, such statements would end any politician’s career. They merely burnish Trump’s hold.
In this post-truth world, where Trump has allied with social media to create an alternate reality, lies work. This week, he approached the press corps simply repeating, “No Collusion! No Collusion!” And he will continue to say this regardless of what the Mueller report may reveal, because it doesn’t matter what actually happened. Whatever Trump says will become the truth for 40 percent of the country, while the expectations of the opposition, troubled by pesky empiricism, may well be deflated. Fox, a de facto state propaganda channel, will do the rest.

This is a dark time for the United States, indeed, for the world. However, there is a ray of hope. If Washington can't deal with Trump, perhaps New York State can. There are a raft of indictments waiting for Trump in New York. Prosecutors will deal with Trump under the RICO statutes. Like New York mobsters before him, prosecutors will attempt to take his organization apart.

It took a while for them to catch up to John Gotti. But, like Gotti, Trump may die in jail.

Image: The New York Times

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Caucus Eruptions

These days, Canadians and Brits are being treated to lessons in caucus management. Robin Sears writes:

This government is still fighting a controversy that has cost them two ministers, an MP, the clerk of the privy council, and the prime minister’s most essential adviser. Angst over the disarray erupted in a very tense, sometimes hostile, caucus meeting last week. It is reported that senior staff have been assigned to do a better job of listening to grievances, sending and receiving messages from the centre to caucus and back. In the nine weeks of parliament left it seems unlikely that this will do much for wobbly morale.
Again, last week, it is the mother of parliaments that offers the most gripping real-life reality TV about the strange combination of family politics and biker-gang style turf wars that are the nature of every caucus. The U.K’s delightfully irascible House Speaker John Bercow dealt a savage blow to the May government, forbidding them from a third whack at the same Brexit bill. Theresa “one-note” May has nonetheless told EU leaders she will try again. A deeply frustrated EU gave her only 14 days to get it done.

In the end, both governments will be faced with the question of whether or not they will keep their leader. In both cases, their opponents are playing peek-a-boo. And, in both cases, the life is being sucked out of each government:

A constantly fissiparous caucus leeches valuable resources from the job of governing. Treacherous caucus deal-makers can deliver some very poor policy — a Brexit referendum, for instance. Even in opposition it can be wounding, as voters reasonably ask whether a leader who cannot manage their own tribe should be given the keys to the kingdom.
Consider how many files must be gathering dust on ministers’ desks due LavScam management sucking all the resources at the centre. Consider the deep divisions among lifelong friends it has already wrought. Then contemplate what a body blow is has been to morale and to planning a campaign only weeks away from soft launch.

 The question that should be discussed seriously -- and is being overlooked -- is whether or not the opposition party would make things better.

Image: Indy 100

Saturday, March 23, 2019

White Supremacy Is On The Rise

Tony Burman writes that those who think the New Zealand mosque shootings were the act of a lone wolf have their facts wrong. Those facts show that White Supremacy is on the march:

In the words of the Anti-Defamation League, the shootings in New Zealand are the latest indication “that violent white supremacists pose an international terrorist threat … (who) can inspire others like never before.” In their crosshairs are Muslims, above all, but also Jews and other minorities.
And ominously, this has been a crisis largely allowed to fester in full view. A toxic mix of indifference, complacency and complicity by governments and police have provided the spark.

The man who always gets his facts wrong -- Donald Trump -- claims that the movement represents "a small group of people." But Trump himself has fanned the flames of bigotry:

In truth, it has actually been Trump’s policies and rhetoric that have emboldened the white supremacist movement. Does it surprise any of us that the alleged New Zealand shooter described the current U.S. president as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
In the United States, white supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people since 9/11 in 2001 than any other category of domestic terrorist. The Anti-Defamation League has reported that 71 per cent of extremist-related deaths since 2008 were committed by members of the far right or white supremacist movements — compared with only 26 per cent for Islamic extremists.
Although U.S. studies indicate there has been a gradual decline of left-wing violence in the past decade, violence by white supremacists and other far-right groups rose during Barack Obama’s presidency, and has surged since Trump took office.

There are several reasons for the white supremacist surge:

They include growing public fears about the increase in immigrants and the far-right’s sophisticated use of social media to inspire each other.
But they also have been given virtual free rein to operate with very limited police oversight.
In fact, their threat has been largely ignored by political and police authorities in the U.S. and Europe. Instead, the obsession since 9/11 has been to demonize Muslims and to place the counterterrorism spotlight overwhelmingly on extreme Islamist groups.
Significantly, this has not been due to mere oversight on the part of public authorities. In many cases, it has been wilful.

It's not just white supremacy that's on the march. Wilful ignorance marches proudly beside it.

Image: Our Weekly

Friday, March 22, 2019

Sour Grapes

It's time, Susan Delacourt writes, to know the full story behind the SNC-Lavalin Affair. It has sucked all of the air out of the room:

The saga of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin has now consumed six full weeks of federal politics. It has eclipsed the federal budget and pretty much anything else that may be on the Trudeau government’s agenda.
Remember those Canadians being held in China, including one facing the death penalty? The international panel warning that the world has 12 years to get its act together on climate change or face environmental catastrophe?

And yet everyone -- even Jane Philpott -- is playing coy:

Philpott’s interview with Maclean’s, with no disrespect to interviewer or interviewee, was baffling in many parts. She confirms that she knew a full month before the SNC-Lavalin story broke — and warned the prime minister — that Wilson-Raybould would see this as the cause for bouncing her out of her job as justice minister.
“I think Canadians might want to know why I would have raised that with the prime minister a month before the public knew about it,” Philpott said.

However, there are things that Philpott has chosen not to talk about -- for instance, her meeting with Mr. Trudeau over the shuffling Wilson-Raybould out of Justice:

Trudeau waived solicitor-client privilege for the period of time during which Wilson-Raybould was justice minister. She was still justice minister when Philpott spoke to him. Trudeau has spoken freely about this meeting, and did again on Thursday, in the hours after the Maclean’s story was published.
He said, intriguingly, that Philpott herself had offered to help him soften the career blow to Wilson-Raybould in moving from justice to the Indigenous services portfolio, which was the original idea of the now-infamous cabinet shuffle.
“She then mentioned it might be a challenge for Jody Wilson-Raybould to take on the role of Indigenous services and I asked her for her help, which she gladly offered to give,” Trudeau said.
From that account, it doesn’t sound like Philpott left the meeting with an urgent need to tell Canadians of what she knew about SNC-Lavalin, or call the police or some parliamentary authority. She still hasn’t said what she knows. Why not?

All of this is self-destructive. And the Liberals have a history of forming circular firing squads. Sour grapes could destroy the Trudeau government.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Stuff That Comes Out Of The Back End

In Ontario, it's getting  wider and deeper. Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced  this week that by increasing average class size in the province's high schools, students would be prepared "for the reality of post-secondary, as well as the world of work."

Remember, she was talking average class sizes. What that means is that lots of classes will be in the 35 to 40 student range. That's not alarmist. I taught back in the days when the average was 28. I routinely taught classes of 36 to 38 students.

The Minister has been smoking something funny. Kristi Rushowy writes:

Thompson’s comment drew the ire of educators, with one calling it “outlandish.”
“There is no evidence that larger class sizes increase resiliency,” said Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, adding that as class sizes have shrunk in recent years, student achievement and graduation rates have shot up.
The minister, he said, “hedges, obfuscates and spins” to avoid talking about the cuts being made to education, accusing the Ford government of being “willing to sacrifice quality” to save money.

Andrea Horvath understands what's going on:

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused the Ford government of cutting $1 billion from education, “cramming more students into crowded classrooms” and turning the system into the “Hunger Games.”
“I mean, if students are being told they’ve got to make it on their own, they’ve got to fight for (teacher) attention, the government is bringing the Hunger Games into our schools,” she said, referring to the popular books and movies about a dystopian society where youth are forced to fight one another to the death.
The government has estimated it will save about $250 million in the first year alone with the loss of teaching positions.

Like most modern conservatives, the Fordians know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. That's why, in Ontario, the stuff that comes out of the back end of a cow keeps getting wider and deeper.

Image: Organic Fertilizers

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Budget

There's an election coming, so yesterday's budget was aimed at that reality. But, Alan Freeman writes, even though there is a considerable amount of spending, it's not very showy:

What we got today was an unusual pre-election budget, with few shiny baubles and lots of measures that promise a lot more in the future than deliver much in the present.
The Liberals continue to unbothered by their long-forgotten 2015 promise to balance to budget, figuring that the zero-deficit voters are all captured by the Tories and that Liberal and NDP leaners don’t give a fig whether the budget deficit is $20 billion, $10 billion or zero, provided that the economy is still growing and taxes are basically flat.
In fact, the government did better than expected in the current year, because of robust revenues, and now say the 2018-19 deficit will come in at $14.9 billion. And that’s after a year-end spending spree of $4.2 billion. That mad money includes $3.2 billion in cash going to municipalities in a one-time boost of federal gas-tax revenues and money for energy efficiency programs administered by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.
On housing, Morneau expanded the amount of money that first-time buyers can borrow tax-free from their RRSPs to $35,000 from $25,000 — enough to say he’s done something, but hopefully not enough to threaten the future of Canadians’ future pension security, which is what RRSPs are for in the first place.
Then he introduced a First-Time Buyer Incentive, a complex financial instrument that gets the CMHC in the business of providing shared equity mortgages of up to 10 per cent of a home purchase but would not add to buyers’ monthly payments and only be repayable on resale.
Sounds like free money but there will be strict limits on eligibility, including a maximum household income of $120,000 and the requirement to fill all the other rules of insured mortgages, including a $1-million maximum. 

Still nothing for low income housing. But with the average Toronto home selling for $870,000, maybe it will make some difference.

And, as the father of three sons who are still paying off their university debt, I welcome the lower interest rates on student loans.

But, most important of all, there is the beginning  of a pharmacare plan:

On pharmaceuticals, there’s creation of a new Canadian Drug Agency, set up with the goal of cutting drug costs by $3 billion but no commitment to go through with an expensive National Pharmacare plan. That promise will have to wait until the election campaign.

Will that be another broken promise?

We'll see.

Image: FYI Music News

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

You're Kidding

Randy Hillier's ouster underscores the fact that Doug Ford is a phony. Hillier has always been rough around the edges. But, like him or not, he represented his party's roots. Martin Regg Cohn writes:

Who is Randy Hillier, exactly? A populist to his boots, and the grassroots.
Not just Tory blue, but blue collar. A rural riding man, plain-spoken and gruff, always dressed in suspenders.
Hillier arrived at Queen’s Park as a disrupter — no less a rabble-rouser than Ford himself. A former head of the Ontario Landowners Association, a Liberal-hating libertarian fighting for farmers’ property rights, he defied at first the legislature’s rules of decorum.
Until he didn’t. Hillier had an epiphany, embracing the legislature’s traditions and parliamentarians’ privileges (not perquisites but rights). Recruited by former PC leader John Tory, Hillier ultimately renounced the landowners and embraced party politics.
Today, a Tibetan flag hangs in his office, a testament to his fight for freedoms. He famously teamed up with ex-NDP MPP Cheri diNovo against what they deemed arbitrary legislation banning pit bulls (a misguided dissent, but Hillier’s bark was worse than his bite).
In recent years he could be outspoken, but not out of line (unless one considers it disloyal to support parliamentary democracy across party lines — as Hillier did by reaching out to New Democrats and Liberals on MPPs’ rights). He privately warned his fellow Tories they were “walking on thin ice” when courting corporate donations while contemplating legislative concessions.

Those activities put him on the wrong side of Mr. Ford:

His undoing probably came last year, when he privately approached Ford’s trusted campaign chair (now chief of staff), Dean French, with criticisms of PC tactics as NDP support rose. Tensions erupted when French was seen blasting Hillier during a campaign stop in front of other candidates, prompting another eastern Ontario MPP, Steve Clark (now in Ford’s cabinet), to break up the shouting match before the media caught wind of it.
Matters came to a head last month, when Hillier made the mistake of heckling New Democrats during an exchange on autism, muttering, “Yada, yada, yada.” While there could be little doubt he was targeting the NDP, French and Ford seized on the opening to claim he must have been mocking the parents of autistic children — an improbable insult, but easily leveraged for the premier’s purposes.
In a heartbeat, Hillier was suspended — ostensibly by caucus, but in reality by French and Ford. A perfect pretext, a flawed context — and unpardonably cynical for the premier to be profiting from the anguish of autism.
“Mr. Hillier’s comments crossed the line and that is unacceptable,” Ford mewled, with mock empathy.
That would be the same Ford who in 2014, as a Toronto councillor, publicly opposed an Etobicoke home for teens with autism that had “ruined the community,” later telling an upset father to “go to hell.” The same Ford who was seen chuckling while a New Democrat MPP asked about sexual assault (the premier later claimed he hadn’t heard the question — fair enough, except that he demanded the benefit of the doubt he refused to give Hillier).
Behold our empathy premier, skilled in sensitivity training. Behold his political hardball, where autism is a useful ally in tarring and evicting an annoying dissenter, sending an unmistakable message to all Tories.

Ford, the man of the people? You're kidding, right?

Image: Twitter

Monday, March 18, 2019

Brin's Axiom

Max Boot has been a voice on the political right for a long time. I have seldom agreed with him. But I agree with him on his opinion of the modern Republican Party. He writes in The Washington Post:

You can debate when the GOP’s road to ruin began. I believe it was more than a half century ago, when Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon showed their willingness to pander to racists to wrest the segregationist South from the Democrats. The party’s descent accelerated with the emergence of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s, of Sarah Palin in the 2000s, and of Ted Cruz and the tea party in the 2010s. There were still figures of integrity and decency such as John McCain, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. But the GOP evinced no more enthusiasm for any of them than it had for George H.W. Bush. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the party’s plunge into purgatory picked up momentum.

Under Trump the party has fallen to its absolute nadir:

Republicans now found themselves making excuses for a boorish, ignorant demagogue who had no respect for the fundamental norms of democracy and no adherence to conservative principles. The party of fiscal conservatism excused a profligate president who added $2 trillion in debt and counting. The party of family values became cheerleaders for what Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has witheringly and accurately called the “porn star presidency.” The party of law and order became accomplices to the president’s obstruction of justice. The party of free trade did nothing to stop the president from launching trade wars. The party of moral clarity barely uttered a peep at the president’s sickening sycophancy toward the worst dictators on the planet — or his equally nauseating attacks on America’s closest allies. The party that once championed immigration eagerly joined in the president’s xenophobic attacks on refugee caravans. And the party that long castigated Democrats for dividing Americans by race pretended not to notice — or even cheered — when the president made openly racist appeals to white voters.

The Republican Party is now a hollow shell:

Faster and faster went the GOP’s descent into oblivion. Now its bankruptcy is complete. It has no more moral capital left. The Republican Party as we once knew it — as a party of limited government — officially ended on March 14.
That was the day that 41 of 53 Republican senators voted to ratify President Trump’s blatantly unconstitutional and transparently cynical declaration of a national emergency so that he can spend money for a border wall that Congress refuses to appropriate. This comes 16 days after 182 out of 195 House Republicans voted the same way. Only 13 Republicans in the House and 12 in the Senate dared to block this flagrant assault on the Constitution. So only 10 percent of Republicans in Congress have any — any — principles left. By an interesting coincidence, that’s also the percentage of Republican voters who disapprove of Trump. The party of Lincoln — the party that freed the slaves and helped to win the Cold War — is now devoted exclusively to feeding Trump’s insatiable ego and pandering to his endless lust for power.

The story reads like a Greek Tragedy. And it serves to underscore Lord Acton's old axiom: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Actually, it's David Brin who got it precisely right.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

What Are They?

It has been instructive to watch the flip-flops Ontario's Conservatives have done on the subject of the sex-ed curriculum. Martin Regg Cohen writes:

Behold the politics of pedagogy, where the Tories play footsie with fundamentalists who believe there is a biblical injunction against teaching children age-appropriate sex-ed updated for the modern age:
In 2010, the Tories under Tim Hudak railed against the revisions. By 2014, the PCs reconciled themselves to an update under interim leader Jim Wilson (ejected last year from caucus in a sex scandal). In 2015, Patrick Brown’s PCs rallied with social conservatives against the curriculum, but later renounced so-cons and backed the update (until Brown was rejected by caucus amid allegations of sexual impropriety).
When Ford took over as leader last year, backed by those same so-cons, the Tories repudiated the curriculum once again. Today, a PC government has grudgingly recognized that in the internet era there is no turning back the clock — not when children know more than their parents about the digital world we (they) live in.
In this political byplay, the Tories are masking their about-face by loudly proclaiming a parental right to opt out of sex-ed for their children (though Lord knows children will ultimately litigate against anyone barring them from the right to know about such matters, as they successfully have in other court jurisdictions).
What is most peculiar about this disingenuous PC boast is that such an opt-out was offered by the allegedly godless Wynne Liberals all along, in a vain attempt to satisfy fundamentalists (religious and social) who claimed to know not only what was right for their own children, but what was best for all of us — by depriving all children (theirs and mine) of an updated curriculum. The latest opt-out is not only nothing new, but it was a compromise on offer all along.

Consider, too, the Fordian position on the "carbon tax" -- which Ford railed against last week -- but which Enviroment Minister Catherine McKenna pointed out is exactly that  -- a carbon tax.

Which leads to this question: Is the Ontario Conservative Party guided by any principles? If so, what are they?

Image: Shutterstock

Saturday, March 16, 2019

What's With Scheer?

That's the question Andrew Coyne asks in his most recent column, which comes on the heels of Andrew Scheer's statements on events in New Zealand:

Responding to the horrific massacre of Muslims at prayer in New Zealand, the Conservative leader issued a statement Friday afternoon expressing his “profound condemnation of this cowardly and hateful attack on the Muslim community” along with “the type of extreme and vile hatred that motivated this despicable act of evil.” He added: “To the Muslim community around the world and here at home in Canada, we stand with you.”
It was spot on: straightforward, fitting and right. It was also about 15 hours too late, coming as it did only after Scheer had come under intense criticism for the inadequacy of his first response, which spoke vaguely of an attack on “freedom” and unspecified “worshippers.” The appositeness of the second only highlighted the strange, withholding coldness of the first.

Scheer either over reacts -- his call for Justin Trudeau's resignation -- or under reacts -- his first statement on the massacre in Christchurch. And, rather than being an exception, this inability to get his statements right is now a pattern:

The suspicion that this was no accident is not unreasonable, given Scheer’s past statements and actions. Perhaps he truly did not hear the questioner at a recent town hall who invoked “pizzagate,” the lunatic conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was connected to a child sex ring supposedly operating out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria.
But nothing required him to speak at last month’s “United We Roll” rally on Parliament Hill, whose stated purpose — to protest federal environmental policies on behalf of unemployed workers in the oil industry — may have been legitimate, but which had clearly been infiltrated by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant elements. At the very least, he might have taken the opportunity of his appearance to denounce these views. He did not.

Scheer is like the kid who's always in the wrong place at the wrong time:

Just as disturbing was Scheer’s recent endorsement of conspiracy-minded interpretations of a United Nations document called the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, an unenforceable statement of good intentions with regard to the handling of immigrants and refugees to which most of the world’s nations agreed last year.
This, on top of his party’s unceasing alarmism on the subject of the asylum seekers entering Canada illegally via our southern border — a legitimate issue, to be sure, and one on which the government may deserve criticism, but nothing like the existential “crisis” of so much Conservative rhetoric.

He wasn't ready for prime time when he won the leadership of the Conservative Party. And he's still not ready.

Image: The National Post

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Biker Mob

Donald Trump has warned his opponents that things could get tough for those who try to deny him a second term. Daniel Dale writes in The Toronto Star:

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an extaordinary warning to political opponents on Monday, telling a right-wing website that “it would be very bad, very bad” if his supporters in the military, police and a motorcycle group were provoked into getting “tough.”
Trump uttered the remark in an interview with Breitbart News. It came, according to Breitbart, as Trump was arguing that “the left” plays politics in a more “vicious” manner than the pro-Trump right even though “the tough people” are on Trump’s side.
“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,” Trump said.
The quote went largely unnoticed by the U.S. media until the Star tweeted it on Thursday, when it prompted alarm and criticism.

This is not the first time Trump has made this kind of threat:

Trump made another veiled suggestion of retribution from the military, police and Bikers for Trump at a campaign rally in November. After mocking Antifa protesters as weaklings — “you see these little arms,” he joked — he said, “And then you see the clubs in their hands. You know, they’re tough guys, right. Where are the Bikers for Trump? Where are the police? Where are the military? Where are the ICE? Where are the Border Patrol? No. No. We’ve taken a lot. We’ve taken a lot, folks.”

There really is an organization which calls itself Bikers for Trump:

Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox, a chainsaw artist described in one 2017 newspaper profile as “exceedingly polite,” offered in advance of Trump’s inauguration in 2017 to form a “wall of meat” between the president and protesters. He said, though, that he expected a peaceful gathering. While group members have had verbal confrontations with anti-Trump protesters, there have not been reports of major violence.
Trump met with some of the Bikers for Trump at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey in August. In November, Cox travelled to Florida and made unfounded allegations of election fraud. In December, Cox and his German shepherd stood outside the courthouse where former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was to be sentenced for lying to the FBI, with Cox telling Mother Jones magazine he was “here to make sure [Flynn’s] family is not assaulted or intimidated.”

Some people take all of this as a joke:

“I think it’s more of a hope than a threat,” liberal MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell tweeted about Trump’s comments. “Trump’s supporters aren’t as bad & violent & criminal as he hopes they are. They peacefully watched President Obama inaugurated twice. They’ll do that again for the next Democrat. Let’s not help him fan his imaginary flame.”

Still, it's yet another peek into Donald Trump's fevered brain.

Image: The Toronto Star

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Back To Basics

Doug Ford  announced yesterday that education in Ontario is going back to the basics. Kristin Rushowy reports:

While he wouldn’t commit to keeping class sizes at their current levels, he said “I think the people of this province will be quite thrilled when they see” his government’s education reforms, which are expected to be unveiled Friday.
“I can tell you — we are going back to the basics. We’re going to make sure our students understand math, reading, arithmetic … We need to put more training with our teachers, and focus on our students.”

This from a man who knows nothing about education. It's true that math test scores have been going down over recent years. And the math curriculum needs overhauling. It has been trying to teach large concepts to kids before they can grasp large concepts. So a more student focused curriculum might help. But Ford thinks that the place to begin reforms is with the last generation:

Education Minister Lisa Thompson is set to announce changes to the math curriculum on Friday, which will fully come into effect in September 2021. Boards will hire a “math learning lead,” and the province will support 1,000 schools — roughly one quarter of all elementary and secondary schools — with extra numeracy help.
It will also require all new teachers to pass a math knowledge exam before they can be certified to work in public schools, and require the province’s 16,000 middle-school teachers to earn additional qualifications in math.
The government will also direct teachers to “focus on fundamental concepts and skills” and move away from “discovery math.” It will also boost online resources for students and parents.

Ontario's Conservatives are -- as usual -- looking through the wrong end of the telescope. They were born too late. And they're too stupid to figure that out.

Once again. life is not going to be easy for educators in Ontario.

Image: Trendsmap

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Not Creative Destruction

After Theresa May's second failure to get Parliament's approval for her Brexit plan, things are in a state of chaos. Jonathan Manthorpe writes:

There will be much sound and fury, posturing and plotting in the House of Commons this week. But when all is said and done, the most likely result is that Britain will opt to ask the EU for more time to try to find a consensus that can get the support of a majority of MPs.
Whether the remaining 27 members of the EU are willing to give Britain extra time is a big question.
If they do, it won’t be much time. There are critical elections for the European Parliament due on May 23, elections in which the EU faces the rising of populist nationalism.

Neo-liberal economists subscribe to the doctrine -- first enunciated by Joseph Schumpeter -- of "Creative Destruction." From the financial meltdown of 2008, to the disastrous Brexit Referendum to the election of Donald Trump -- around the world Chaos has been King.

But what has been left in its wake? International institutions -- and the global order which was rebuilt after the Second World War -- are teetering on the edge of extinction.

This is Destruction -- pure and simple. There is nothing creative about it.

Image: International Liberty

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The View From Quebec

Last week, my wife's cousin in Montreal sent her a link in an e-mail. It was a column by Josh Freed, who writes for The Montreal Gazette. It reminded us of how different Quebec is from English Canada. Freed writes:

Throughout English Canada, especially Ontario, most columnists, editorialists and letters-to-the-editor are outraged and practically crazed about the PM’s behaviour.
They’ve demanded he resign, “dissolve Parliament” and call “immediate elections.” They speak of the “worst scandal since the 1873 Pacific (rail) Scandal” and talk of feeling “embarrassed” for Canada on the world stage.
You’d think Trudeau had done something no other world leader would ever do — like paying hush money to a porn star he had sex with.
Meanwhile, here in Quebec, the whole affair has been greeted with a collective shrug. Yes, Trudeau badly mismanaged events and communicated like a marionette — but more out of “amateurism” and “maladroitness” than malice, say most opinion-writers.
Trudeau and his minions may have pestered former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould too much about SNC-Lavalin — and failed to understand her no meant no. But as La Presse’s Lysiane Gagnon put it: “It’s hardly scandalizing to learn that in closed-door meetings politicians discuss … politics.

Freed's column reminded us of how much the province we grew up in is different than the province we live in. As kids, we grew up on the English side of the Two Solitudes. Montreal was roughly divided in half by St. Laurent Blvd. West of St. Laurent, English was the predominant language. East of St. Laurent, most people spoke French. And, as kids, we rarely crossed what we used to call "The Main."

That has changed. In the neighbourhood in which I grew up, both languages flourish side by side. But the divisions were -- and are -- more than just linguistic. As a university student, I read two accounts of the Battle of The Plains of Abraham -- one by the English historian, Douglas Creighton, and one my French historian, Michel Brault. They were two different narratives -- a tale of two countries.

We tend to forget these days how the history of this country has been about bridging The Solitudes. But we would do well to remember that now.

Image: Wikipedia

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Promise Kept?

At the moment, we are consumed by the SNC-Lavalin Affair. But, Tom Walkom writes, a much more important problem is about to burst onto the political landscape:

One of the more important political events last week was the reminder that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has committed itself to some form of pharmacare.
I say some form because the government’s Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare is still coy about what its final recommendations will be.

The need for universal pharmacare is painfully obvious:

Most Canadians have some kind of drug coverage. But it varies wildly, depending on age, province of residency and employer.
Some face high out-of-pocket costs in the form of deductibles or co-payments. Others do not.
About 20 per cent of Canadians have no real drug coverage at all. Yet Canadians pay among the highest prices in the world for pharmaceuticals and spend more on drugs than citizens of almost every other country in the world.
The advisory council report notes that Canadians spent $34 billion on pharmaceuticals last year and the cost continues to rise exponentially.
A universal pharmacare program, such as that enjoyed by every other major industrial country that offers universal health care, would go a long way toward solving this cost problem. That’s the conclusion of health economists who have studied the issue.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau would like to see a program that would plug the holes:

Morneau’s preference, which he outlined in an impolitic burst of honesty last year, is a more modest pharmacare system aimed strictly at those with no other form of drug coverage – a fill-in-the-gaps program.
The problem with this is that it would tack on another dissonant part to the Rube Goldberg contraption that is the Canadian drug system, without addressing costs in any meaningful way.

Universal pharmacare would do just that:

Theoretically such a federal-provincial-territorial-Indigenous agency could co-exist with a fill-in-the-gaps system. But it makes more sense to go to all of this bother only for something more comprehensive, such as universal pharmacare.

Will pharmacare be a promise kept? At the moment, Canadians are focused on the promises Justin hasn't kept.

Image: Council of Canadians

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Breaking Up The Digital Monopolies

For a second day in a row, I return to the opinions of Robert Reich. It's time, he writes, to break up the digital trusts. One hundred years ago, The first Gilded Age produced giant economic monopolies:

America’s first Gilded Age began in the late 19th century with a raft of innovations – railroads, steel production, oil extraction – but culminated in mammoth trusts run by “robber barons” like JP Morgan, John D Rockefeller, and William H “the public be damned” Vanderbilt.
The answer then was to bust up the railroad, oil and steel monopolies.

Unfortunately, history has repeated itself:

We’re now in a second Gilded Age, ushered in by semiconductors, software and the internet, which has spawned a handful of hi-tech behemoths and a new set of barons like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google.
The answer is the same as it was before: bust up the monopolies.

These three trusts control the economic landscape:

Nearly 90% of all internet searches now go through Google. Facebook and Google together account for 58% of all digital ads, which is where most ad money goes these days.
They’re also the first stops for many Americans seeking news (93% receive news online), and Amazon is now the first stop for a third of all American consumers seeking to buy anything.
With such size comes the power to stifle innovation. Amazon won’t let any business that sells through it sell any item at a lower price anywhere else. It’s even using its control over book sales to give books it publishes priority over rival publishers.
Google uses the world’s most widely used search engine to promote its own services and content over those of competitors. Facebook’s purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram killed off two potential competitors.
Contrary to the conventional view of America as a hotbed of entrepreneurship, according to the Census Bureau, the rate at which new job-creating businesses have formed in the US has halved since 2004.
Amazon – the richest corporation in America – paid nothing in federal taxes last year. Meanwhile, it is holding an auction to extort billions from states and cities eager to host its second headquarters.
It also forced Seattle, its home city, to back down on a plan to tax big corporations like itself to pay for homeless shelters for a growing population that cannot afford sky-high rents caused in part by Amazon.
Facebook withheld evidence of Russian activity on its platform far longer than had been disclosed. When the news came to light, it employed an opposition research firm to discredit 

And the individual wealth of their founders is stratospheric:

The combined wealth of Zuckerberg ($62.3bn), Bezos ($131bn), Brin ($49.8bn) and Page ($50.8bn) is larger than the combined wealth of the bottom half of the American population.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has propsed breaking up these three monopolies. She's a Democratic. But she says the president she most admires is Teddy Roosevelt -- a Republican.

Once upon a time, there used to be progressive Republicans.


Saturday, March 09, 2019

Four American Myths

Robert Reich writes that there are four great American myths:

The first tale: The Triumphant Individual.
It’s the little guy or gal who works hard, takes risks, believes in him or herself, and eventually gains wealth, fame and honor. The tale is epitomized in the life of Abe Lincoln, born in a log cabin, who believed that “the value of life is to improve one’s condition.” The moral: with enough effort and courage, anyone can make it in America.
The second tale: The Benevolent Community
This is the story of neighbors and friends who pitch in for the common good. It goes back to John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity, delivered onboard a ship in Salem Harbor in 1630. Similar ideals of community were found among the abolitionists, suffragettes and civil rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s. The moral: we all do better by caring for one another.
The third tale: The Mob at the Gates 
This is the story of threatening forces beyond our borders. Daniel Boone fought Indians, described then in racist terms as “savages.” Davy Crockett battled Mexicans. Much the same tale gave force to cold war tales during the 1950s of international communist plots to undermine American democracy. The moral: we must be vigilant against external threats.
The fourth and final tale: The Rot at the Top.
This one is about the malevolence of powerful elites – their corruption and irresponsibility, and tendency to conspire against the rest of us.
This tale has given force to the populist movements of American history, from William Jennings Bryan’s prairie populism of the 1890s through Bernie Sanders’ progressive populist campaign in 2016, as well as Trump’s authoritarian version.
Trump wants us to believe that today’s Rot at the Top are cultural elites, the media and “deep state” bureaucrats.But the real Rot at the Top consists of concentrated wealth and power to a degree this nation hasn’t witnessed since the late 19th century. Billionaires, powerful corporations, and Wall Street have gained control over much of our economy and political system.

These myths continue to survive. But Trump has turned each myth inside out. For Trump, the triumphant individual is the mob boss. For him, the benevolent community has become the mean spirited community which shares mutual hatreds.

The Mob at the Gates has become those who are memorialised on the base of the Statue of Liberty -- "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

And, indeed, with Trump, the rot starts with him.

Myths can be and are manipulated all the time. The problem arises when a nation confuses myth with reality -- and when crime becomes the nation's business.

Image: Children's Friend

Friday, March 08, 2019

A Lucky Man

Paul Manafort got lucky yesterday. Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced him to four years less a month in jail. Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 19 to 24 years. But Ellis concluded that Manafort had led, "an otherwise blameless life."

Manafort's record suggests otherwise. Matt Stieb writes:

Far worse than those criminal actions are his career highlights that were legal — or, at least weren’t under the scope of federal prosecutors. After setting up a lobbying shop with Roger Stone and Charles Black Jr., Manafort took his talents abroad, where he spent decades vouching for authoritarians in exchange for astonishing amounts of money. In 1985, Manafort signed a $600,000 contract with Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in exchange for boosting his reputation on the hill as an anti-communist; it worked, and Congress sent millions in covert aid to Savimbi.
According to an astonishing report by the Atlantic’s Franklin Foer, it worked so well that the money Manafort routed to Savimbi allegedly emboldened the rebel leader to extend the Angolan Civil War, resulting in hundreds of thousands of additional deaths. In the late 20th century, Manafort was something akin to the lobbying-for-authoritarians edition of Forrest Gump, popping up around the globe wherever an autocratic leader needed a patina of legitimacy. He worked for the Saudis; for Ferdinand Marcos, who assassinated his primary opponent, in the Philippines; for Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire; and was indirectly involved in the Contra-like Karachi affair. The Center for Public Integrity tidily summed up his efforts in 1992, calling Manafort’s firm the “torturer’s lobby.”

But it all comes down to the facts of the case against Manafort -- and the context in which those facts are presented. In the United States, there are two kinds of justice -- justice for the well connected and justice for nobodies:

Class and race work together in the prosecutor’s office, judge’s chambers, and juror’s box, providing something close to a systemic guarantee: A poor person, or person of color — or one of the millions of Americans to which both identities apply — will not face the same criminal justice system that men like Paul Manafort experience. But the criminalization of poverty and criminalization of race aren’t the only embarrassing divides on display here. The stigmatization of poverty and race also ensure that [certain clients] would not receive the amiable treatment that Manafort enjoyed. 

Next week, Manafort faces another judge in D.C. It will be interesting to see the context in which she operates.

Image: New York Magazine

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Criminal Law And Family Law

Susan Delacourt writes that the SNC-Lavalin Affair illustrates the difference between criminal law and family law. Jody Wilson-Raybould and Gerald Butts told two different tales at the Justice Committee:

Where Wilson-Raybould, a lawyer, presented a case, Butts, a non-lawyer and literature graduate, presented a story. Where the former justice minister came armed with copious notes, Butts came to the justice committee armed with confessions and insider tales of how cabinets are made and political relationships are maintained.
Wilson-Raybould presented her exit from Trudeau’s cabinet last month as a matter of legal principle and the limits of ministerial confidence. Butts explained how he gave up his job at Trudeau’s side, also last month, because of a trust breakdown between Wilson-Raybould and the prime minister, for which he took prime responsibility.

It's a contrast that has turned traditional stereotypes on their heads:

The difference between the Butts and Wilson-Raybould testimony at the Commons justice committee has actually turned some familiar gender stereotypes upside down — well, if you go along with this notion that men deal in abstraction and women deal in the contextual; that men lean on rules while women need to know circumstances.
It was Wilson-Raybould who told her story last week with black-and-white, absolute certainty of her position and a minimum of emotion. She refused, for instance, to respond to questions about how she felt in this whole drama, letting long pauses substitute for replies to her MP interrogators.
It was Butts who injected the proceedings on Wednesday with talk of regret, relationships and emotional, anecdotal asides to friends and foes around the committee table.
This distinction in their approach even applies to the very central matter at hand — whether SNC-Lavalin was eligible for a deferred prosecution agreement in its ongoing fraud and corruption charges.
When it came to the basic question of whether a final decision had been made inside the government on such a plea deal for SNC-Lavalin last fall, it now looks like Wilson-Raybould was adopting the hard, take-no-prisoners line, while Butts and Trudeau’s PMO were looking for something that would be more of a collaborative, make-everybody-happy kind of thing. The woman minister was saying a hard No; the prime minister and the team around him (mostly men) were saying “maybe.”

Delacourt says that the different approaches speak to two different types of law:

Beyond these Venus-Mars differences in the two testimonies, maybe the more significant and immediate distinction is one also found in the legal system — between criminal and family law.
Broadly speaking, criminal cases get sorted out by a fair hearing of both sides: prosecution and defence, and the winner is the one with the clearest case. Family law often requires a repeated back-and-forth between the disputing sides — mediation.

And it's mediation that has been the problem. Trudeau has failed at what was supposed to be one of his strengths. Will admitting that failure do a lot of damage?

Stay tuned.

Image: Huffington Post

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Cohen's View

I always enjoy Andrew Cohen's take on things. Maybe that's because he's an ex-Montrealer. But he's also a man of considerable political and international experience. This is what he writes about the SNC-Lavalin Affair:

If the answer is clear, the cost is not. Wilson-Raybould had to leave a government that had put “inappropriate” pressure on her as minister of justice. In her j’accuse, she airily invoked Watergate and the Saturday Night Massacre.
“I am a truth-teller,” she declares, claiming a monopoly on truth, even if her truth brings down her government.
Jane Philpott says her principles will not allow her to stay in cabinet, either. She was a star of the government – a confident practitioner with a social conscience and an affecting story of personal loss. It is about integrity, she says.
So, both Philpott and Wilson-Raybould have walked away. Maybe they know something we don’t. Maybe they deserve the Profile in Courage Award. Or maybe this is about impulse, affront and self-righteousness – how to feel sanctimonious today while things fall apart tomorrow.
Now they are playing Samson, not Delilah. They are determined to pull down the temple on themselves.

Wilson-Raybould talks about "her truth." But one's version of the truth is affected by one's experience -- which means that truth has different shades:

In life, though, there is more than one truth. Both former ministers have yet to prove why their truth is so superior that they have lost confidence in their government, and why their colleagues and Canadians should, too.
So now, persuaded of their own wisdom, these stern daughters of the voice of God have put everything they’ve achieved in cabinet at risk. This is either naïveté or presumption.
If we accept their judgement, the prime minister has to go. Do they want his job? That might explain things.

Tom Walkom writes that Trudeau's truth and Wilson-Raybould and Philpott's truths are mutually exclusive. They can't be finessed. Someone has got to go.

We'll see.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Out Of The Frying Pan

Yesterday, things got a lot worse for Justin Trudeau's government. Jane Philpott's resignation has sent shock waves through Ottawa. The Liberals are out of the frying pan and into the fire. Chantal Hebert writes:

Until late Monday, most Liberals believed that now that Wilson-Raybould had laid her cards on the table and described what she called sustained attempts of high-level political interference in the legal handling of SNC-Lavalin’s legal file, the worst was behind them.
They stand to be more shaken by this second resignation than they were by anything they heard over the course of the former attorney general’s testimony last Wednesday.

Wilson-Raybould and Philpott are friends and they dislike taking orders from the Prime Minister's Office:

Over the past three years, both have butted heads with the PMO over various files. There is no doubt that they have often compared notes.
And, yes, there are probably not enough fans of the ex-attorney general left at the cabinet table for this latest resignation to be the start of a chain reaction.
But the former treasury board president was also widely considered both one of the top performers in the Liberal cabinet and one of the government’s steadiest hands. She is a popular member of the Liberal caucus. Like the former attorney general, she plans to remain in that caucus.

Both women are ministers who Trudeau can't afford to lose. To lose them both in a month could be a fatal blow to Mr. Trudeau -- who hasn't offered much in his defence.

This is not how one successfully manages a government.

Image: The Toronto Star