After watching Pierre Polievre make the Sunday rounds extolling his government's achievements, it would be easy for the politically disengaged and ignorant to conclude that the Harper regime is the greatest thing since the proverbial sliced bread. By Polievre's account, his government has put more money into the pockets of 'hardworking Canadians' than any other in Canada's history. What's not to like about TFSAs (a leg up for both working and retired seniors, according to trickster Pierre), income-splitting and new pending budget measures for seniors. All is well with the world.
Except that it is not. Scratch beneath the surface of such self-serving rhetoric and you will find a profoundly anti-democratic regime with barely concealed contempt for those who hold differing views, that latter considered one of the most important elements of any society that deems itself healthy and dynamic. The regime has used every trick at its disposal to demonize those dissenting voices as it extols a consumer-driven politics meant to turn us into a people who embrace mediocrity and absence of bold vision.
Although I have written about it many times, the Harper-directed CRA witch hunts make for a good illustration of the profoundly intolerant and anti-democratic nature of the Harper regime.
Steven Zhou writes: If a democratic system thrives on participation from a civil society free to express itself without state intervention, then Canadian democracy could use some help these days.
Citizens who band together into groups that push politicians to engage a problem should, in theory, be a vital aspect of democratic decision-making. Yet the Harper administration, in its infinite political wisdom, has devoted millions of taxpayer dollars via Canada Revenue Agency, formerly Revenue Canada, to, in effect, target groups that are critical of federal policies.The statistics paint a damning picture: The CRA launched a series of 60 audits in 2012, and, tellingly, the targeted organizations all seem to espouse views that don't fit so well with the Harper agenda.
These 'political-activity audits' have primarily targeted environmental groups, human rights organizations, and labour-backed think tanks like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Meanwhile, more conservative-minded groups like the Manning Foundation or the Fraser Institute have not faced such aggression from the CRA. Many of them have also, like their leftist counterparts, participated in 'political activities.'And this pattern holds true for the CRA's latest target: [T]he latest charity to be targeted in a significant way is the United Steelworkers' Humanity Fund, a labour-backed organization that has supported food banks and disaster relief initiatives for over 30 years.
It has donated about two per cent of its annual revenue to the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), an umbrella organization that advocates for more accountability in the Canadian mining sector, among other things.
This support for the CNCA, an organization that hasn't shied away from its political purposes, is apparently what the CRA is zeroing in on. The fund has often butted heads with the Harper administration over labour issues, and wants more oversight of Canadian mining practices abroad, which, according to its president Ken Neumann, is primarily why the CRA began auditing the group's finances last year.The intended purposes of such audits, of course, are to provoke both fear and self-censorship: Such audits can certainly disrupt an organization's day-to-day operations significantly, but this kind of trouble isn't the main reason why these intrusions are bad for Canadian democracy in the long run. Targeted organizations that are forced to go through the lengthy auditing process can, whether the government intends it or not, become examples of what not to say or do in the Harper era.One can hardly blame other charities if they decide to interpret the current inquisitorial atmosphere as being politically motivated. This means that if they want to keep their charitable status, practicing a degree of self-censorship may end up being totally rational. This is an anti-democratic development almost by definition, and it hardly matters whether a particular agenda is behind it all, though the available evidence suggests that Revenue Canada's choices aren't exactly politically neutral. Will such practices, profoundly inimical to democracy, be noted by average Canadians, or will their vision be blinded by budget baubles designed to cultivate the selfish part of their natures?
Re: Doubling is troubling, April 11 Eleven million people with TFSAs seems like a lot of lost tax revenue. It is simply another way to avoid taxes and should be stopped, not increased. Of course under Harper it will only increase and continue to decimate our social programs.
The opposition must be united in campaigning against this blatant tax cut and revenue loss.
Elaine Purdie, Toronto
The Conservative government seems to think they are doing such a great service to Canadian families by providing its Universal Child Care Benefit and by increasing the TFSA contributions to $11,000.
Social Development Minister Candice Bergen actually thinks that the Child Care Benefit gives families an equal choice. And Finance Minister Joe Oliver believes that the TFSA is somehow equally beneficial to all.
Are they deliberately blind to the plight of middle and lower income families? Do they not understand the situation of single parent families? What percentage of families have a stay-at-home parent? Who can afford a properly licensed daycare facility? Who has the disposable income to put away $5,000 a year let alone $11,000?
It’s obvious that Oliver, Bergen and company do not know or care to know the real financial situation for the vast majority of Canadian families and they certainly do not want to hear what the experts are saying. They might have had a better understanding had they not cancelled the long-form census, but why bother with data when you can make policies out of ideology?
It really is time to unseat this incredible bunch of no-nothing ideologues.
Stephen L. Bloom, Toronto
There is an underlying aspect to the various tax cuts the Harper Conservatives have implemented or will be implementing – increased TFSA contributions, GST cuts, income splitting, etc. – that has fallen below the radar. The commitments Joe Oliver is talking about are ways to destroy the federal government’s ability to raise revenues for generations to come and impede the ability of progressive future governments to repair the social safety net Stephen Harper has been slashing since 2006.
What voters fail to see is that for every 50 cents of tax breaks they get from Harper, they face a dollar in increased fees or lost coverage at every level of government because federal transfers are disappearing.
The extra cup of Timmy’s they can now buy every week means fewer meat inspectors, transportation safety checks, fiery tank-car derailments, or uninvestigated chemical spills in our lakes and rivers.
Sure, the rich will benefit more now, but in the end, everybody loses.
Mark Jessop, Barrie
Given that the doubling of the TFSA maximum will cost future governments billions in revenue, any measure that ties governments hands regarding running any deficit would inevitably result in massive cuts to programming, which could prove politically toxic.
It remains to be seen how firm the “no deficits” language will be, but if the current government really does intend to tie the hands of future governments, one has to assume that the Conservatives are thinking that those future governments will not be Conservative.
Humans, and other primates, it appears, have an innate sense of fairness. We expect, for example, in times requiring sacrifice, that no member of society will be exempted. When we are part of a long queue, for example, we expect everyone to bide their time and wait as well; someone attempting to jump the queue is rightfully deeply resented and scorned.
Of course, rules and expectations of fairness and equality are broken everyday by those with the means. If you are willing to pay for the privilege, you can buy into express lines, such as those that exist at Universal Express and Disney World FASTPASS. If you are in need of a new kidney fast, there are brokers who can arrange such transactions with dispatch.
Are there things that money cannot or should not be able to buy? That was the central question Michael J. Sandel posed in a book I read several months ago called What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. A very thought-provoking work, it explores the fundamentally alienating effects that some purchases can have, as in the above-mentioned kidney transactions, that leave us with less regard for our fellow-travellers in life. Indeed, there are some cases that really reduce them to mere commodities.
I couldn't help but think of such things this morning as I read about how some people are circumventing the tough water-rationing measures recently imposed in California, a state now in its fourth year of extreme drought. Gardens stayed lush and lawns verdant as citizens paid tanker trucks to deliver thousands of gallons to homes in the seaside suburb of Santa Barbara. They drilled in back yards, driving the county’s tally of new wells to a record. Some simply paid fines for exceeding allocations, padding the water district’s budget by more than $2 million.
“People feel strongly about their landscaping and want to keep their homes beautiful,” said Patrick Nesbitt, who drilled a well to hydrate parts of his 70-acre estate but let his polo field go dry. “Why should anybody object?”Actually, there are many reasons to object. One is the fact that money is being used here to opt out of good citizenship, which a healthy society requires. Why should certain parties be exempt from turf-removing initiatives that others are following as they substitute drought-tolerant plants for thirsty lawns?
Paying tanker trucks to bring in water simply postpones dealing with the drought, and one can't help but wonder where that water is coming from. Are other jurisdictions selling water for short-term profit? And what about this statistic from wealthy Montecito, California? The top three users for Montecito in 2012/13 guzzled close to 30 million gallons alone... enough water to provide the needs of a small townEven the drilling of wells that the well-heeled can afford are acts of massive disrespect of the greater good. The aquifers, quite frankly, cannot take it: Measurements of water levels in wells throughout the state show that aquifers are being significantly depleted in many areas as more water is drained out than seeps back into the ground.
An analysis of groundwater data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey and two other agencies has found that, of 3,394 wells across the state, water levels declined in about 62 percent of the wells between 2000 and 2013. As noted by Dennis Dimick in National Geographic As drought worsens groundwater depletion, water supplies for people and farming shrink.I am not offering any fresh insights here about the contradictory impulses of human nature; the fact that "some animals are more equal than others" was noted a long time ago by George Orwell and many others. But given the times in which we live, such behaviour does merit increased scrutiny and perhaps even condemnation.
Lest all of the above prove too dispiriting to readers, allow me to leave you with something that should leave us all feeling a mixture of both shame and hope:
It seems that a candidate for Alberta's Wildrose party, Rick Strankman, has made a bit of a faux pas, one that he blames, as politicians are wont to do, on a volunteer: A Wildrose candidate was forced to apologize and retract a poster Thursday that called on party supporters to bring their wives’ pies to a meet-and-greet.
The poster encouraged constituents in Drumheller-Stettler to attend an “old fashioned pie auction” next week and “BYWP (Bring Your Wife’s Pie!!)” Meanwhile, rumours abound that Strankman has hired a new campaign manager:
In the lead-up the May 7 British election, Prime Minister David Cameron, I guess, thought it was time to masquerade as 'one of the people.' He was photographed at a barbecue eating a hot dog:
His mode of consumption elicited a flurry of responses from some Twitter wags: Hahhaa, David Cameron eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. Silver service only for the privileged!" was typical of the comments on Twitter Tuesday, 30 days ahead of Britain's general election. "What kind of monster eats a hot dog with a knife and fork?" asked another.Cameron eating a hot dog with knife & fork has echoes of when rich Mr Pitt did same with a Snickers bar in Seinfeld:
Unlike Mr. Pitt, I somehow doubt that Mr. Cameron will be establishing any new consumption trends in the foreseeable future.Recommend this Post
It seems that one of Berzins' fellow pastors does not hold with putting LGBT people to death, a fate another right-wing crazed evangelical named Steve Anderson enthusiastically advocates. The pastor in question asked to have his congregation’s listing removed from Anderson’s church directory, a decision which Pastor David Berzins of Word of Truth Baptist Church condemned as the act of a traitor to his faith, even though the offending clergyman is a personal friend of his. Here is Berzins in full rhetorical fury:
While right-wing religious zealots like Pat Robertson and Gordon Klingenschmitt are the two crazed evangelicals I most frequently highlight in my blog, we would all be very naive to believe we lack home grown examples of the corrupting influence the bully pulpit can bestow. Here in Ontario, for example, the 'Rev.' Charles McVety is a leading exemplar of such madness.
Yesterday, McVety was in his glory at a rally held outside of the Ontario legislature to protest the revamped Ontario sex-ed curriculum which, despite widespread consultation, doesn't sit well with some.
Many of the protesters were new Canadians, some obviously from very conservative societies in which sex is not openly discussed nor countenanced. While they have every right to protest, of course, they and everyone else have to understand that living in a society such as ours entails ongoing compromises; there is always a tension between individual sentiments and the state's laws, but that is one of the things that makes a healthy democracy dynamic.
Parenthetically I must confess, however, that when some of the protesters aver that they will remove their kids from school over the issue, I don't know where they will go other than to be schooled at home. Some said they would send them to private schools, but they seem unaware of the fact that private schools are not exempted from fulfilling curriculum requirements either.
Against this background, there are the self-aggrandizers like McVety who only add fuel to the fire in order to promote their peculiar religious doctrines of hatred, exclusion and condemnation. Deeply homophobic, the crazed evangelical sees dark motives behind the new curriculum, given that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is gay. In a thinly veiled allusion to Wynne, he talks, as you will see, of her not having aright to 'force [her] idea of sexuality' on two million children.
Fortunately, enjoying a majority, the Ontario government has no intention of caving in to such extremisits.
Some will remember the abuse heaped upon NDP leader Thomas Mulcair back in 2012 when he said that Canada was suffering from the same Dutch disease that afflicted the Netherlands after natural gas fields boosting that nation's currency reduced the competitiveness of its exports back in the 1970s. The culprit in Canada was the unrestrained exploitation of its oil fields, leading at one point to our dollar being valued higher than the American one. Exports suffered, manufacturing continued to decline, and the Harper regime gleefully denigrated the NDP leader for an inconvenient truth.
It would seem that Mulcair's analysis has been validated by both statistics and analysis.
Says Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Emanuella Enenajor, "The currency's appreciation of almost 60 per cent over the last 15 years has really hurt the manufacturing sector".The fact that oil prices have now dropped is not having the salutary effects one might hope for: Just because low oil prices are reducing transportation and energy costs, and the floundering loonie is making Canadian exports attractive again — it doesn't mean the sector will bounce back immediately.
You can't just turn the lights back on in the factory and start sending the widgets out the door again.
When the energy sector started to lose steam, the old stalwarts of the economy weren't there to pick up the slack.
"The Dutch disease that Canada has experienced has been more than a decade in the making, and I think it has really hurt business confidence," added Enenajor.Of course, with an election in the offing, expect the Harper regime to give no quarter, evidenced by party stalwarts like the redoubtable, predictable and hyper partisan Pierre Poilivre: "The leader of the NDP calls [the natural resources] sector a disease!" Pierre Poilievre sneered at Mulcair across the floor of the House of Commons last week. Here is the interview with Emanuella Enenajor:
Time for a brief follow-up to Elizabeth May's fine dissection of how Harper environmental cuts contributed to the slow response to Vancouver's English Bay oil spill. In today's Star, Tim Harper repeats and reflects upon the facts May addressed.
Denunciations are flying fast and furiously from the likes of May, B.C. Premier Christie Clark and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. Of course, predictable denials of culpability are coming from the likes of Industry Minister James Moore (“Politicians piling on by spreading misinformation is unhelpful,’’) and Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford (“I won’t engage in speculation,’’ “it’s not helpful to finger point,” “I think we should all concentrate on the cleanup").
Here are the facts that set the rhetoric into perspective: The Conservatives closed the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.
The city of Vancouver says it was not informed of the leak until 12 hours after it was detected, but the federal government disputes that. It took six hours for the Coast Guard to get booms in place in response to the leak, but a former commander of the closed station, Fred Moxey, told the Vancouver Sun the response would have been six minutes if the station was still open.
The closed station was within hailing distance of this leak, something that should have been so easily contained, occurring in calm waters in an urban area.Conservatives also closed the Vancouver Environment Canada station of Environmental Emergencies and the Marine Mammal Contaminants Program within the department of fisheries and oceans.
Conservatives also closed regional offices of the emergency in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Dartmouth, N.S., and St. John’s. It has been replaced by a 1-800 number which rings in Gatineau, Que., and Montreal, says Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.We can, of course, look forward to a full-court press from the Harper regime in order contain the damage to its brand the anemic and belated response is causing.
One can only assume that will take the usual form: vilification of all Harper critics, the only strategy this hateful regime seems to know.Recommend this Post
Every time I hear Elizabeth May speak, my respect for her deepens. Watch as she explains how the response time to Wednesday's oil spill in English Bay was hampered by Harper cuts and that fact that cleanups has been privatized.
If you have as low an opinion of the CBC's disgraced chief business correspondent, Amanda Lang, as I do, watch the following video. I think you will find that, with her absolutist questions typical of the extreme right and the intellectually deficient, she does not exceed expectations.
Another one sends his greetings from jail in Panama. The disgraced Arthur Porter, the Harper-appointed former Chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee of Canada and alleged fraudster, has a message for his former good buddy: Porter told The Canadian Press in a recent phone interview from La Joya prison that he wouldn’t mind a visit from Harper while the prime minister is in the region this weekend for the Summit of the Americas.
“If he wishes, he is most welcome to come and see the conditions that I live in now,” Porter said of Harper during the conversation, which was drowned out at times by the shouts of other inmates in the background.
“The [prison] air is the same, the infections are the same, the difficulties in finding water and food are the same. You know, some days are better than others.”
Porter has been detained since May, 2013, in the Central American country as he fights extradition to Canada. He faces fraud charges in Canada related to a $1.3-billion hospital project in Montreal.Alth0ugh the Prime Minister will likely pass on the invitation, I can't help but think he would find that prison air, shall we say, bracing. Recommend this Post
It is a mental picture I hope all Canadians carry to the polls this October:
“To Duff, a great journalist and a great senator, thanks for being one of my best, hardest-working appointments ever,” reads a photo signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper entered as an exhibit Thursday.Recommend this Post
Truthfully, I don't know the answer to that question, although some might say that any action is better than none on the climate-change file. In any event, a Star reader offers his thoughts on the matter:
Provinces can lead the way on global warming, April 7 The fact that the Ontario government’s decision to endorse cap and trade was leaked to Canada’s leading business newspaper confirms my worst fears. This decision is a victory of Bay Street over Main Street.
Clearly, we need a system of carbon pricing if we’re serious about making the polluters pay. Cap and trade offers many benefits for corporations, lawyers and consultants, but there is no evidence that it has been successful at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, whereas there is clear evidence that the carbon tax in B.C. has already resulted in a 10 per cent reduction in GHGs.
Cap and trade is an excuse for inaction that appeals only to those sectors of the corporate community that profit from pollution. It is losing its appeal to the insurance companies and enlightened business leaders who have to pay the price of inaction on climate change.
It has no appeal to the rising number of environmentally conscious Canadians who want to see our government regain respect in the world community. Even those who invented the cap and trade system prefer a carbon tax for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Cap and trade works in theory but not in practice — the United Nations says it has worked badly or not at all. It is complex and difficult to co-ordinate across different jurisdictions; it requires constant tinkering, constant political will and a large bureaucracy. It creates synthetic, government-backed assets that are vulnerable to manipulation and speculation. In short, it is a highly indirect, economically inefficient and expensive way of curbing GHGs.
We need a carbon tax. It could be spun as a fee and dividend system in order to gain political support, if done with two caveats.
1) A portion of the revenues should be invested in a climate change fund that would finance mitigation and adaptation. For example, 40 per cent might be invested in renewable energy, rapid transit and energy efficient housing; and another 10 per cent devoted to disaster management — not only here in Ontario but in those countries where climate change will be most disastrous.
2) Rather than give each citizen an equal share of the revenues, with a half-share for children, we need to take special steps to lessen the impact of a carbon tax or fee on low-income households and on rural and remote communities. We can do this via tax credits or lump sum payments that are indexed to match increasing carbon levies. Opting for cap and trade will clearly be putting Bay Street ahead of Main Street.