Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Road To Hell

Canada and Canadians are deeply embarrassed. The applause a former Nazi received in the House of Commons has left us all red-faced. Michael Harris writes:

Yesterday Justin Trudeau apologized for unwittingly honouring a former Nazi in Canada’s Parliament.

He apologized to the Jewish community, the Ukrainians, the Roma and everyone else who suffered from the scourge of Adolf Hitler and his mad-dog fascism. But it was a day late and strangely hollow. 

Harris is usually supportive of Trudeau. But not this time:

Justin Trudeau’s no-show in Parliament on the day House Speaker Anthony Rota resigned in disgrace, is the story here. It marks a new low in the PM’s political career, even though he took every question in question period today.

Instead of standing up to the barrage of insults, demands and denunciations that he knew was coming, he sent House leader Karina Gould into the fray to take the heat. In a voice sometimes reduced to a whisper, Gould did her best to take one for the team.

Gould admitted that honouring someone in Parliament who had fought with an SS unit against the Russians in the Second World War was shameful and unforgivable.

There is a story behind how the 98 year old Ukrainian got to the House of Commons:

Hunka’s own son was the person who contacted the Speaker’s constituency office to suggest that his father should be invited to Parliament for Zelenskyy’s speech.

For one thing, Hunka was Ukrainian-born. For another, he had fought the Russians as a teenager. On paper, it must have looked good — widely separated generations standing up to the Russian Bear. Except, of course, for the Nazi thing.

The law of unintended consequences claimed a few more victims. Hunka’s son wangled the invitation to Parliament during Zelenskyy’s visit to garner praise for his father’s war record, and to show common cause with the embattled Ukrainian president.

Instead, Hunka has now been outed as a Nazi collaborator, who was part of a unit that swore allegiance to Hitler. The standing ovation he received in Parliament after being recognized by then-Speaker Rota has turned into something very different. He may now face extradition to Poland and retroactive justice for alleged war crimes.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies alleges that Hunka’s unit “was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable.”

Even Zelensky himself now faces major headaches over the bungled guest list that has captured the world’s attention. Remember, Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said he invaded Ukraine to rid it of neo-Nazis. Canada’s face plant has empowered him.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Image: TheTimes Of Israel

Monday, September 25, 2023

Dancing To A Madman's Tune

Donald Trump just skipped the second Republican debate. He figures the nomination is in the bag. E.J. Dionne explains what is happening:

Trump wants his foes to stay weak. By not showing up, he reduces them to squabbling bit players trying to bring each other down while the major contenders offer pale imitations of his own message and values.

Republican voters once open to someone other than the former president are concluding that if they’re going to get Trumpism, they might as well go with the guy who invented it. And they’re getting little useful advice from party leaders who — as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told his biographer McKay Coppins — see Trump as a disaster but are too timid to say so publicly.

All of this was not inevitable:

It didn’t have to be like this, because the strength of Trump’s lock on the party is vastly exaggerated.

Sure, Trump has an unshakable base, those who would stick with him if he were indicted a dozen more times. But that hard core accounts for no more than about 35 percent of the Republican primary electorate. There really is (or was) room for someone else to break through.

But not one of them has inspired real excitement, and the politician who once seemed best placed to take on Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has had a miserable year.

As a result, Trump has been able to combine his base with a fair share of the largest group of Republicans: those with a more or less positive view of the former president but willing to support someone else.

The sad news for the country is that Republicans let a real chance to end Trump’s career slip away. The opportunity might not come around again. Critics of the GOP enjoy observing that the more Trump is indicted, the more Republican voters flock to him. The timelines of his growing lead and his expanding list of felony counts do overlap, but there are better explanations for his comeback.

Republicans have simply not shown the courage to take Trump on. They're cowards. And, as a result, they're dancing to a madman's tune.

Image: Pinterest 

Friday, September 22, 2023

Clouds In The Future

Politics isn't just about elections. It's also about what happens between elections. Doug Ford made that abundantly clear yesterday when he reversed his decision to build houses on Ontario's Greenbelt. Despite the change, the editors of The Toronto Star were not impressed:

Let’s be crystal clear. There is no redemption in doing the right thing only under extreme duress and after all excuses have been exhausted. By his own hand, Ford has done massive, perhaps irredeemable, damage to his credibility and government.

“It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt,” Ford told reporters in Niagara Falls as he announced the scrapping of a land-swap plan to remove 7,400 acres from the protected area in a plan that stood to make billions for developers.

His foray into Greenbelt development was not, as he put it, “a mistake.” To call it a mistake implies inadvertence.

Rather, his Greenbelt gambit was a conscious decision to reverse a previous commitment he had made to Ontarians not to open the protected zone for development.

 He did it not out of error or ignorance, but because he thought he could get away with it.

 He couldn't and didn't. I see clouds in Doug's future.


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

We Should Be Ashamed

The news services are abuzz with Justin Trudeau's accusation that the Indian government was involved in the murder of a Canadian citizen. But, on that subject, something happened in the House of Commons yesterday that should concern us all. Erica Ifill writes:

On Monday, Trudeau rose to address Parliament and inform the nation that Canadian security agencies had been engaged in a weeks-long investigation of the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, which, The Globe and Mail confirms, “can be linked to Indian government agents.” Nijjar was a Canadian citizen who was gunned down in Surrey, B.C., this past June. He supported Sikh separatism, which raised the ire of the Indian government, so much so they labelled him a terrorist. That may be India’s viewpoint, but here in Canada—unless our constitutional rights were taken away from us in our sleep—we can politically support who we want. And one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; it’s all a matter of power and perspective. This revelation should expand our lens in analyzing issues of foreign interference, as global powers rearrange themselves amid the breakdown of the post-Second World War international order and the rise of authoritarianism; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi encapsulates the latter, as described by the Financial Times: “Modi has cultivated an image as a macho man—boasting of the size of his chest and of his willingness to use violence against India’s enemies.” As Trudeau stated unequivocally: “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.” (The Indian government has denied the allegations.)

Following the prime minister, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rose to address the House, attempting to match the PM’s stateliness, and instead face-planted his unseriousness into a puddle of anti-Black racism. In expressing regrets to Nijjar’s family, he slipped over his last name and said the N-word. With the hard “r.” He quickly corrected himself and everyone pretended that it didn’t happen and proceeded to continue with the issue at hand. The Conservatives didn’t blink, particularly Leslyn Lewis who was sitting adjacent to him and seemed to be accepting of that language, since she didn’t immediately object. And neither did the so-called anti-racism Liberals. And neither did the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

The silence was deafening. It says something about us and our politicians -- and we should be ashamed.

Image: AZ Quotes

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Mike Roman

In Georgia, a guy named Mike Roman has been indicted in the case involving Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the results of the election in that state. Michael Harris writes that Roman has been a Republican dirty trickster for decades:

Roman’s backstory is a tangled tale, but one worth telling. That’s because in today’s politics, borders mean nothing. What happens in the U.S., and elsewhere, doesn’t stay in the U.S. All politics, like commerce, is globally linked.

After dropping out of the University of Miami, Roman found a career in politics, first as a fixer, later as a dirty-trickster.

Roman became something of a backroom boy wonder. He went on to work on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, John McCain and Giuliani.

Despite his claims of being a political researcher and consultant, he was actually a sultan of scaremongering. In the 2008 presidential election, he promoted a video of two alleged members of the New Black Panther Party standing outside a polling station in Philadelphia. One of the alleged intimidators was holding a nightstick.

The video was played on a loop on Fox News. Richard Hasen, a professor at the University of California and an expert on election law, made this comment:

“The video was certainly used by political operatives to create this false impression of voter intimidation and fraud being a major problem.”

But here's the thing. Roman is connected to the Conservative Party of Canada:

As busy as Roman was with his Republican machinations, he found time to help out the Conservative Party of Canada. On April 11, 2019, Andrew Scheer, then-Conservative leader and leader of the official Opposition, was the keynote speaker at a closed-door event held at a luxury resort in the foothills of Alberta.

At that meeting, the leader and Conservative party strategists talked to oil company executives about political campaigns. Not energy policy, but campaigns.

At the same meeting, Roman had some ideas of his own about how to deal with opponents like environmentalists. He talked about “countering such groups with opposition research.” It was a euphemism for something he was very familiar with — digging up dirt on your opponents. What the Russians would call “kompromat.”

The Republican operative was closely associated with an organization named the International Democrat Union. Roman first shows up as the organization’s treasurer, later as assistant chairman. The chairman of the IDU was then, and is now, Stephen Harper.

Eighteen months after resigning his seat in Parliament, on Feb. 21, 2018, Harper became chairman of the International Democrat Union. Founded in 1983, the IDU is dedicated to getting right-wing governments elected around the world. Influence or interference? It is a very fine line.

Since its start 40 years ago, the IDU has expanded dramatically. It now has 84 member political parties, some dedicated to increasingly harsh versions of right-wing politics. India’s ruling right-wing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, joined the IDU in 2016, and Israel’s Likud followed suit in 2018.

One of the IDU’s members, Victor Orbán’s governing party in Hungary, has been criticized by the European Union for the steady erosion of democratic institutions. The EU has even openly questioned if Hungary is still a democracy.

Human Rights Watch has accused Orbán of sustained “attacks on rule of law and public institutions” by undermining judicial independence and putting journalists under surveillance.

Something to keep in mind as Pierre Poilievre rises in the polls.

Image: The Tyee

Friday, September 15, 2023

Don't Be Fooled

Global News reports that in 2018 Doug Ford instructed his Environment Minister, Rod Phillips, to make environmental legislation ineffective:

When Ontario Premier Doug Ford first took office in 2018, his first environmental minister was given a simple yet central task: get climate legislation out of the way of business.

The mandate letter written for the province’s minister of environment, conservation and parks suggests his task was to remove environmental and climate legislation, not to create more of it.

Rod Phillips, the first in a string of Ford’s environmental ministers, was told to scrap the province’s cap-and-trade program, fight the federal government on the price on carbon and review environmental laws to make sure they weren’t cumbersome for voters and didn’t obstruct business interests.

Phillips was asked to work with other ministers to look at “various pieces of environmental legislation that impact businesses” and make sure the laws and regulations are “as flexible and nimble as possible.” He was instructed to make sure environmental assessments — a complicated set of studies designed to predict the impact of new projects on the areas around them — could be completed within a calendar year.

In October 2018, months into its first term, the Ford government officially killed cap-and-trade — triggering the federal carbon backstop that added a surcharge to the price of fuel in Ontario.

To combat that, the environment minister was also told to work with his colleagues at the attorney general’s office to fight the “imposition of a regressive carbon tax on Ontario’s citizens” and to use legal action to “stop this carbon tax in its tracks.”

Now, Pierre Poilievre is touring the country promising to "axe the tax." Neither man is a friend of the planet. Don't be fooled.

Image: The Toronto Star

Monday, September 11, 2023

Not New And Improved

Their convention is over and the Conservatives are riding high in the polls. Given the policies they adopted on transgender kids and race-based hiring, Canadians should be wary of the party. But, Michael Harris writes, they should be even more wary of the party's leader: 

Poilievre presents as the champion of regular Canadians. In fact, he is a privileged creature of the Centre Block, someone who entered Parliament in his early 20s and never left. His entire resumé is politics.

For almost all of his nearly 20 years in Ottawa, Poilievre didn’t feel the need to sing Canadians a lullaby about what a sensitive, new-age guy he really is. He was too busy being Canada’s answer to Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, a partisan attack dog ready to do his leader’s bidding, biting, or bullshitting.

On the policy side, the unreconstructed Poilievre fronted the dubious Fair Elections Act. As an answer to the robocalls scandal and illegal voter suppression, it was absurd. It made voting harder and cheating easier. Instead of strengthening Elections Canada, Poilievre’s legislation hobbled it. Much of it was dumped when Trudeau came to power.

During the three-week illegal occupation of Ottawa in 2022 by truckers who were against mandatory vaccinations against COVID and wanted the government to resign, Poilievre sided with the truckers. Two of the he occupation’s leaders are currently on trial for criminal mischief.

Not only is Poilievre himself not new, (he has been in politics longer than Trudeau) but, according to The National Post, the team that is coalescing around him is deeply connected to the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper.  

Jenni Byrne was a key Harper staffer; Shuvaloy Majumdar worked for Harper and Associates, as well as Harper-era cabinet minister John Baird; Arpan Khanna worked for Jason Kenney; Melissa Lantsman worked for several Harper cabinet ministers and Doug Ford’s 2018 election campaign; Adam Chambers was executive assistant to Harper finance minister Jim Flaherty; Sean Speer was a senior adviser to Harper; Carl Vallée was Harper’s chief spokesman when Poilievre was the PM’s parliamentary secretary; Paul Taillon worked for former Harper cabinet minister and ex-Alberta premier Kenney; and Brooke Pigott was Harper’s director of public opinion research.  

The Poilievre Party or Harper 2.0?

This is not the new and improved Conservative Party. It's the party that still hasn't found its way out of the ooze.

Image: Winnipeg Free Press

Saturday, September 09, 2023

For A Long Time

The Greenbelt scandal has become quicksand for Doug Ford. It has exposed the "man of the people" for what he is. Emma Teitel writes:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford must assume us “folks” aren’t too bright. How else to explain the premier’s lame excuse that he wasn’t aware of alleged biases in the disastrous Greenbelt land swap process because he doesn’t “believe in micromanaging” his ministers?

There’s no question: whether you’re loading a dishwasher, or trying to build housing on a mass scale, micro-mangers are annoying and bad for morale. But in order to be a micromanager one must attempt to manage, period. And Ford appears to have done nothing of the sort.

A halfway decent manager, never mind a micromanager, would stop this project in its tracks, not steer the thing in a marginally different and likely harrier direction. But once again, we’re not dealing with a good manager, or a manager period. We’re dealing with a premier embroiled in a potentially career-ending scandal, whose usual shtick cannot and will not save him now.

Ford pretends to be just a regular guy. He isn't:

“I meet with the common folks,” he said. “Do you know what I do? I want to find out what the people are doing. I go into the local Walmarts, the Home Depots, the Sobeys and the Loblaws and the Metros to talk to people. I go into the Canadian Tires. That’s where you get how people are feeling.”

Unfortunately for the premier people aren’t feeling very good about his government at the moment. According to a new survey from Abacus Data, overall support of Ford’s Progressive Conservatives fell two percentage points in the last two weeks — to 27 per cent. Even worse for Ford: the government’s support among committed voters has fallen seven percentage points since July, a shift Abacus’ chief executive called “significant.”

Throughout this scandal Ford has all but scoffed at reporters for hammering him on the land swap scandal, characterizing it as a non-issue in the minds of regular folks who just want housing built. But clearly it is an issue, one that is probably made worse by Ford’s insulting invocation of “regular folks” to distract from his government’s arguably low moral character.

Regular folks — a.k.a. the people of Walmart, Sobeys, Canadian Tire and every big box store Ford didn’t mention — are perfectly capable of reading a report indicating that their housing minister did a horrendous job managing the province’s most critical file.

Regular folks are perfectly capable of seeing in the news that the premier initially stood by that minister and when asked about this fact by reporters, shot off a string of non sequiturs about the common man.

Doug has never been who he pretends to be. Some of us have known that for a long time.

Image: Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Thursday, September 07, 2023

We've Been Here Before

The owners of Big Tech are the new Robber Barons. Linda McQuaig writes:

Like the Railroad Barons of the late 19th century, today’s Big Tech giants strut around, acting like they own the world (which they mostly do). Among their many imperious actions, they’ve taken to blocking Canadians’ access to our own news.

This is their high-handed response to Ottawa’s attempt to force them to pay Canadian publishers for news content, which Big Tech giants Google and Meta link to on their social media platforms.

Without some crackdown by Ottawa, Canadian publishers will have trouble staying in business, as Google and Meta (which owns Facebook, Instagram, etc.) are managing to scoop up billions of advertising dollars that used to support the Canadian media.

So, it’s easy to side with the Canadian media business — even though it’s largely dominated by corporate chains. (Torstar, which owns the Toronto Star, also owns a half-dozen smaller Ontario newspapers. The largest Canadian newspaper chain by far — owning about half of Canada’s newspapers — is Postmedia, which has a strong right-wing bias and is owned by a U.S. hedge fund.)

But the battle with Meta, Twitter, and all the rest isn't just about advertising revenue:

Ottawa’s intervention on behalf of Canadian media — important as it is — doesn’t even attempt to achieve what Canadians really need: more control over the digital universe that increasingly dominates our lives.

The core problem is that the technology that largely determines our access to the news — and just about everything else we do online — is controlled by a few Big Tech giants that are highly sophisticated in extracting money from us, governing how we search for information and, in the process, shaping public discourse and much else about the way we live.

What we need is a public digital infrastructure that is not beholden to private interests.

As James Muldoon, a political scientist at the University of Exeter, puts it: “I don’t think access to humanity’s collective knowledge should be controlled by a for-profit company.”

An open-source digital system — which would be publicly funded — could enable democratic governance, allowing independent media to flourish. And a public search engine — a publicly financed version of Google — could ensure us all access to the vast trove of human knowledge and information, without being routed in ways that limit our control and benefit private interests.

This may sound too wildly ambitious, but it’s really just an updated version of the wildly ambitious public takeover of the key, emerging market in the early 1900s — for electricity.

They wanted to create a new public infrastructure for hydro power, wresting control from the mighty private interests — dubbed “Water Barons” — who had taken over the transformative new power source.

This pitted them against the likes of powerful Toronto business mogul Henry Pellatt, who headed a syndicate pushing for rights to develop Niagara Falls power. (Pellatt is best known for the massive mansion he built for himself, which he called “Casa Loma.”)

But the popular movement for “public power” triumphed.

Shortly after his 1905 election, Conservative Premier James P. Whitney created Ontario Hydro, turning electricity into a public utility and declaring that water power “should not in the future be made the sport and prey of capitalists.”

This public takeover of electricity, ratified overwhelmingly by municipal voters, proved crucial to the province’s development. By ensuring low electricity rates, it enabled Ontario industry to compete with larger U.S. businesses.

Creating a public infrastructure for the digital world today could be just as transformative. But it would require the Trudeau government to be truly bold and innovative and actually challenge Big Tech’s power and control over our lives.

We've been here before.

Image: Institute For Cultural Evolution

Monday, September 04, 2023

Those Who Seek Scapegoats

Canada has a housing crisis. And some are blaming immigrants. Susan Delacourt writes:

If politicians in this country are going to be seized with housing in the coming months — as they are all promising — they’re going to have to learn to tread carefully around the minefield of immigration.

Blaming immigrants for the housing crisis in Canada is something that all political parties say they’re keen to avoid, yet there have already been risky remarks on that score, across the board. And there will probably be more.

New Housing Minister Sean Fraser embarked into that perilous territory a few weeks ago when he said Canada might need to crack down on universities attracting foreign students without the means to house them properly.

Fraser, to be clear, said he wasn’t blaming the students and indeed stressed: “we have to be really, really careful that we don’t have a conversation that somehow blames newcomers for the housing challenges.”

That didn’t stop Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre from accusing Justin Trudeau’s government of whipping up resentment against immigration.

And Doug Ford has hopped on the bandwagon:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford continues to pin the housing crisis in his province — not to mention his Greenbelt scandal — on the desperate need to accommodate Ottawa’s abrupt increase to the number of newcomers to Canada.

“I didn’t know the federal government was gonna bring in over 500,000 (newcomers),” Ford said at a testy news conference this week.

“I didn’t get a phone call from the prime minister saying, ‘Surprise, surprise. We’re dropping these many people in your province and by the way, good luck, you deal with them.’”

To hear Ford tell it at that news conference, most of the unhoused people in his province are people who weren’t born in Canada. He talked of a phone call he got from a new Canadian in danger of losing his house and about the refugees and asylum seekers sleeping in church basements.

As my Queen’s Park columnist colleague Martin Regg Cohn put it, “if tolerance is truly his goal, the premier is playing with rhetorical fire … It’s not a dog whistle. It’s a bullhorn being blown from Ford’s bully pulpit.”

The housing crisis has been a long time coming. It began when, under the neo-liberal economic policies of the 1980s, the government got out of the business of housing its citizens.

Beware those who seek scapegoats.

Image: Linked In