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"There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent." Leo Tolstoy
Updated: 7 min 48 sec ago

Nowhere Man

2 hours 40 min ago

Yesterday, I wrote that Stephen Harper's refusal to deal with Kathleen Wynne could have significant electoral consequences. Martin Regg Cohn writes that those consequences are being felt now with the alliance which Wynne has established with Quebec premier Philippe Couillard:

There’s a reason the Quebec-Ontario summit turned into a meeting of minds and ministers: Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard are simpatico both in style and substance.
Beyond the good will, there are good works on offer:
Ontario and Quebec signed an unprecedented deal to swap 500 megawatts of electricity during peak periods by way of bartering. They compared notes on climate change. And they celebrated Ontario’s francophone face in a way that touched, viscerally, the visiting French Quebecers.At ground level, it is a federalist fantasy come true. Together, they are laying the groundwork for a Central Canadian axis of power (sharing) that is both political and electrical — with environmental and electoral benefits.
Harper's policy is to not attend meetings of the Council of the Federation. He claims he prefers to meet with premiers individually. But, in Wynne's case, he prefers not to meet at all:

On the eve of the Toronto summit, Harper delivered a bizarre snub to Wynne by refusing her overtures for a federal-provincial meeting. With her request unrequited, the spurned premier went public with their correspondence — pointedly asking why Canada’s biggest province, with 13 million people, can’t get federal face time.
Then she got down to business with Couillard — showing that where there is political will, there can be policy headway.
And that is the point. Mr. Harper lacks the political will to do all kinds of things. In fact, the only thing he wants to do is balance the budget. And, because he has chosen to remove himself from the stage, others will take his place. Cohn writes that there will soon be a third member of the alliance -- Alberta premier Jim Prentice.

Mr. Harper may indeed discover that he resides in Nowhere Land -- a real Nowhere Man.

Ontario Is Ground Zero

Sat, 11/22/2014 - 06:22                                                  
Stephen Harper won his majority by convincing enough Ontarians to vote for him. But those same Ontarians now have a premier who is not a Harper ally. Far from it. Tim Harper writes in the Toronto Star:

There’s simply too much at stake for both sides for détente, certainly not heading into a federal election campaign and the electoral riches available in this province.The Harper Conservatives remember how Wynne campaigned against them last spring, they know they are dealing with aggressive adversaries in Ontario and they remember well Wynne’s characterization of the Harper “smirk” during that campaign as she recounted a previous, private discussion about pension reform.
But it's not just Wynne who the Conservatives see as their adversary:

When Conservatives look at Kathleen Wynne, they see Justin Trudeau. Their instincts tell them to fight and discredit, not to sit and discuss the big issues of the day bedeviling the country’s two largest governments.They saw Trudeau stumping for Wynne last spring and Wynne returning the favour, appearing on behalf of Trudeau’s candidate in this week’s Whitby-Oshawa byelection.
And Harper hasn't helped his case in Ontario:

The list of Wynne’s grievances is real and long. They are not all meant to be distractions or wedges for the 2015 federal vote.Wynne’s agenda would include infrastructure spending, inter-provincial trade, federal transfers, employment insurance and training, her go-it-alone pension plan and the lack of federal action on missing and murdered aboriginal women. The two governments have previously clashed over refugee health care.
For the Harperites, this is personal. Ontario voters, however, are likely to believe that it is more than that.  By now they may have understood that the Cowboy from Etobicoke is working for someone else.

The next time around, Ontario is Ground Zero.

The Meaning Of Silence

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 05:33

There has been nary a word from the Conservative Party since Michael Sona's sentencing. What are we to make of that? Michael den Tandt writes:

Keep in mind, key questions that emerged on the very first day the story broke in 2012, courtesy of Postmedia’s Stephen Maher and the Ottawa Citizen’s Glen McGregor, are still outstanding. Does it make any sense at all to think that a 22-year-old planned and executed this scheme, which required access to the party’s Constituent Information Management System (CIMS) database, on his own? And would he have participated had he thought such actions were antithetical to the values of his party and his bosses?
The Conservatives have made no attempt to answer those questions. Harperites don't like to answer questions. After Joe Oliver's budget speech the other day, there were no questions. That's why the speech was given outside the House of Commons, where questions are inevitable. Questions might lead to an attack of humility:

We’re long past the moment when anyone could reasonably expect humility or remorse from this prime minister. “Never apologize, never explain,” appears to be among Stephen Harper’s guiding principles. It’s always worked for him before.
But, really, a little humility is in order:

There’s Dean Del Mastro, the former Peterborough, Ont., MP and parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister convicted of over-spending and filing a false document to cover that up, who is now awaiting sentencing. And there’s the Ol’ Duff, arguably still the greatest single threat to the Conservative legacy, whose 41-day trial is set to begin in early April.

Beyond all that, there’s the miasma of tawdriness that hangs over so much of this Conservative party’s political tool kit; personal attacks on the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; tactics that, since the in-and-out affair in the 2006 election, have skirted the edge of legality and sometimes crossed over; and an advertising strategy that, though legal, routinely, deliberately quotes Conservative opponents out of context.
For this prime minister, humility is a sign of weakness. Eventually voters will reach a different conclusion.

Yesterday's Man -- Again

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 06:14

There is a lot of florid rhetoric coming from supporters of the Keystone Pipeline these days --  both north and south of the border. But, Tom Walkom writes, Keystone isn't as important as its shills claim it is:

The truth is that even if Keystone fails, a pipeline from the tar sands to tidewater will be built. The Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats disagree on many things. But all agree that the so-called Energy East pipeline — from Alberta to New Brunswick — should go ahead.

Similarly, a world with no Keystone will not much affect carbon emissions. As long as there is some method of getting Alberta heavy crude to markets — by train, truck or pipeline — tarsands production will go on.
The United States has found energy reserves in North Dakota, so Alberta bitumen is no longer the prize  it once was. And, if Alberta oil finds its way to the Atlantic, it will make its way to world markets.

The truth is that Keystone is an idea whose time has passed. And its chief shill has proved -- once again -- that he is yesterday's man.

Coming Home To Roost

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 05:56


The Canadian Press reported yesterday that former Conservative MP Bill Casey wants to run for the Liberals in his old riding:

Former Conservative and Independent MP Bill Casey says he plans to seek the federal Liberal nomination in his Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
Stephen Harper threw Casey out of the Conservative caucus after Casey voted against his government's budget because it altered the terms of the Atlantic Accord, which governed cash transfers  between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland Labrador. Casey said that Harper had betrayed his constitutents and Casey felt it was his duty to speak for them. The Harper spin machine declared Casey persona non grata .

Mr. Casey says his motivation for running is not revenge:

Casey says there are several reasons why he wants to re-enter politics, but primarily he wants to "raise the alarm" about the declining state of the parliamentary system.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the upcoming federal election. Mr. Harper has betrayed lots of people on his way to power. Those betrayals are coming home to roost.

Change Is In The Air

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 06:20

The Harperites won both by-elections yesterday. But it's instructive to focus on the number of eligible voters who tramped to the polls. In Oshawa-Whity, only 30% of those who could vote bothered to vote. But in Yellowhead -- that Tory stronghold -- only 15% of eligible voters bothered to show up.

The big shift came in Oshawa, where the Liberals tripled their numbers. Tasha Kheiriddin writes:

They didn’t win, but they increased their share of the vote in spectacular fashion. Caesar-Chavannes received over 13,000 votes, though only one third of eligible voters cast a ballot. In 2011, voter turnout was nearly twice as high — and only 9,000 souls voted Liberal. Impressive.
The NDP vote collapsed:

Their vote in Whitby-Oshawa declined by two-thirds from 2011, to a dismal eight per cent. Since they ran the same candidate, name recognition was not a factor — which means something else was. That could have been the anybody-but-CPC vote: Whitby-Oshawa has a sizeable chunk of union voters who should have been backing the NDP, but they may have switched their allegiance to the candidate they thought could upset the Tories — ie, the Liberal. 
Last time around, Stephen Harper won his majority by dividing the opposition. And, if there is any lesson to be taken from Oshawa, it's that the opposition now refuses to be divided.

Change is in the air.

Time For a Walk In The Snow?

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 05:49


Conrad Black observed last week that the Harper government had "run out of steam." And Stephen Mahar suggested that Jason Kenny was ready and willing to fill the prime minister's shoes. Michael Harris writes that the Conservative base has tired of Stephen Harper for several reasons -- but, most particularly, two. The first is his lack of integrity:

Harper came to power promising to do things differently than the Liberals of the Ad Sponsorship era. The base expected a new integrity reflecting the best conservative values — integrity, frugality and respect for Canadians. Instead, Canadians have been fed a steady dose of behaviour out of the prime minister’s own office that redefines unethical and, in some cases, verges into the criminal.

Harper’s former parliamentary secretary, Dean Del Mastro, has been convicted of election fraud, including exceeding spending limits, failing to report a personal contribution of $21,000, and knowingly submitting a falsified document. This came on the heels of an earlier election-related sleight of hand — the in/out scandal — that saw the party plead guilty to election fraud.

Then there’s Arthur Porter, the man Harper appointed to oversee Canada’s spy agency, who is in jail in Panama fighting extradition to this country, where he faces a bevy of criminal charges. Finally, one of Harper’s closest former aides, Bruce Carson, is facing influence peddling charges. Carson was hired by Harper despite the PM knowing of his previous criminal record for fraud.

And lest we forget, there’s the whole Wright/Duffy mess and the murky robocalls business and self-serving rejigging of Elections Canada’s abilities to promote voter engagement and prosecute wrong-doing.
Harper also sold himself as a frugal manager of the nation's pocketbook:

This prime minister blew close to a billion dollars on the G8 and G20 meetings in Toronto and Muskoka. He blamed the debacle on “thugs.” He wasted $28 million on commemorating the War of 1812 when he was closing veterans centres to save a paltry $3.8 million. And he has doubled the cost of the PM’s personal security to a whopping $20 million and climbing. The once ostensibly cost-conscious politician now thinks nothing of spending a cool million to fly his own limousine to India for a state visit or burning $45,000 of taxpayers’ money to attend a Yankee game.

When it comes to matters that go directly to the Conservative soul, Harper's most fervent supporters have found him wanting. And they are encouraging him to take a walk in the snow.

The Consequences Of His Inaction

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 06:00

There are some who believe that the deal which the United States and China reached on greenhouse gas emissions will force Stephen Harper to act on climate change. But Jeffrey Simpson warns that such optimism is misplaced. To begin with, the Republican dominated congress will act immediately to nullify the agreement. And, of course, Harper is philosophically a Republican:

When a leader such as Mr. Harper spends the better part of a decade not even speaking about the issue, let alone the rest of what political leadership entails, there is almost no chance the general public will be alerted to its importance. This is especially true of the leader’s natural political followers.

Leadership means a willingness to spend political capital on an issue, and in Canada’s case, there is no such leadership at the top. That this absence would suddenly shift as a result of a China-U.S. understanding is improbable in the extreme.
There are several reasons for Mr. Harper's refusal to act:

First, Mr. Harper doesn’t like the issue of climate change. He avoids it wherever possible and looks distinctly uncomfortable when forced to discuss it. He considers it a political and economic loser.

Second, the core of his party doesn’t like the issue either, believing climate change to be unrelated to human activities, too expensive to worry about, or a plot by lefty enviros to nail: a) Alberta; b) jobs; and c) “hard-working taxpayers.” Canadians who want more action won’t be voting Conservative anyway.

Third, Mr. Harper dislikes being pressured. When it happens, he prefers to push back rather than yield. Call it stubbornness. Call it principled. It’s how he is. The idea that he would be pressured by a “deal” whose impact won’t be felt for decades belies everything we know about the man.
What some call stubborn others would call pig headed. As for principles, we've seen Mr. Harper shred his principles in the pursuit of power. If power depended on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, he would move.

But the Prime Minister calculated long ago that power lay in the other direction. He is quite content to let the planet suffer the consequences of his inaction.

On the QT

Sat, 11/15/2014 - 06:21


Canadians like to think that income inequality is an American problem. But, Linda McQuaig writes, on that meme, Canada is a close second behind the United States:

It’s true that the U.S. has the most extreme inequality, but a recent OECD report noted that Canada has the second-largest share of income growth going to top earners.

However, even that OECD report understates the drift of wealth to the top in Canada — according to dramatic data from a recent academic study which received relatively little attention.
That study presents some pretty stark numbers:

It shows that billions of dollars in income received by the very richest Canadians have not been included in calculations of their income. That’s because the wealthy funneled this money through private corporations in order to legally reduce their taxes — a practice that is more widely used in Canada than the U.S.

Once this income — amounting to an astonishing $48 billion in 2010 — is added to their reported personal incomes, Canada’s rich are considerably richer than we’ve been led to believe.

For example, according to commonly-used data, the average income for Canadians in the top 1 per cent is $359,900. However, this doesn’t include money channeled through their private corporations. Once we include this additional income, the actual average income of these high-rollers rises to a much heftier $500,200.
And, remember, all of this has been happening while 37,000 civil servants have lost their jobs, while medicare funding has been cut and while veterans affairs offices have been closed:

The study also shows that the share of Canada’s national income going to the top 1 per cent — commonly believed to be 10 per cent — is actually 13.3 per cent, once private corporation income is included. This share has been rising, from 12 per cent in 2009 to 13.3 per cent in 2011 (the latest year available).
Meanwhile, the OECD has warned that:

 “Recent empirical work finds that high levels of inequality are harmful for the pace and sustainability of growth.”
The rich keep getting richer -- but our politicians want to keep it on the QT

Their Real Enemy

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 07:48

From the very beginning, Stephen Harper has claimed that he stands for and with the troops. But, Michael Harris writes, the men and women who have actually been in battle have declared war on the Harperites:

In fact, the veterans are here not to praise Caesar but to bury him. That’s why veterans Ron Clarke and Mike Blais have launched an Anybody But Conservative campaign to rally opposition against the government in time for the election.

Those who have been watching the veterans’s file closely on Harper’s watch — rather than listening to the Top Gun drivel being dished out by the PM — know that a national disgrace has been unfolding in Canada. While the Harper government has been a great little military monument-builder ($50 million added to that budget), it has abandoned the flesh-and-blood veterans who came back from war needing help.

The budget tells the story:

Since 2011, the Harper government has cut $226 million from Veterans Affairs administrative funding — a 30 per cent chop. That’s why one of Harper’s strongest supporting groups — veterans — has turned against him. Or rather, Harper abandoned them first.
And statistics tell the sad tale of what has happened to vets under Harper's watch:

Take the issue of suicide. The Canadian Forces have a suicide rate that is twice as high as the rate in the British Armed Forces, which are three times larger. What ever happened to the idea of hiring an adequate number of mental health workers to deal with the victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the handmaiden of suicide in many cases? When Peter MacKay was minister of Defence, he promised to hire extra medical personnel to deal with this dire legacy of Afghanistan. I guess he couldn’t figure out how to turn it into a photo-op.
Worst of all, Harper appointed Julian Fantino to the veterans portfolio:

The Harper government saved $3.8 million by closing those nine VA centres. It proceeded to add $4.5 million to Fantino’s ad budget to assure the viewers of Hockey Night in Harperland that the government was doing a great job with vets.
Canada's veterans figured out long ago that the man who likes to walk around in a flight jacket talks out of both sides of his mouth. They are rising in a growing chorus to tell it straight. They know their real enemy.

The Pushback Against Dictatorship Continues

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 07:11

Michael Harris' book Party of One details how Stephen Harper has corrupted Canadian democracy. Now you can add John Ralston Saul to Harper's enemies list. Saul's latest book, The Comeback, focuses on the harm Harper has done to Canada's First Nations and the environment. Saul is particularly critical of the prime minister's use of omnibus bills. Lawrence Martin writes:

Saul devotes a chapter of his book to detailing how so-called ‘budget’ bills have been used by the Harper government as camouflage for making controversial changes to law — for example, downgrading environmental protections and changing unemployment insurance eligibility — with very little debate.

The Conservatives have defended the bills by saying that other governments have used them as well. This, says Saul, “is an intentional misrepresentation, which is to say, it is a lie.”
 Other governments passed omnibus bills:

Past governments have built packages of laws, Saul acknowledges, but he argues they tended to be linked by a single theme, were smaller than the Harper government’s omnibus bills and were subjected to more debate. The Harper bills are designed, he says, to short-circuit public debate: “The democratic function is eliminated as a reality. What remains is pro-forma voting.”

In twelve months, says Saul, “Parliament was bullied into radically altering 133 largely unrelated laws through two acts.” 
The pushback against dictatorship is now out in the open. Only time will tell if Canadians are paying attention.

The Phony Warrior

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 06:19

Now that Remembrance Day is over, Thomas Walkom reminds his readers that a day that was set aside to honour the sacrifices of many is now being used by one man to pave his way back into office:

Patriotism is powerful tonic. The wanton killing of W.O. Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo reignited the militant side of Canadian patriotism, a side that — following the disaster of the Afghan War — had been in abeyance.
The prime minister understands this well. It explains his decision to abruptly interrupt a long-planned trip to China in order to make a cameo appearance at Ottawa’s Remembrance Day services Tuesday.To miss the chance of publicly honouring military sacrifice would have been to miss a crucial political opportunity.
Harper will use the murders of two Canadian soldiers to whip up domestic fear of terrorism and to present himself as a "steady hand." He claimed that it was his steady hand that guided the economy. But that line began to ring distinctly hollow. He needs the same line with a different context. Recent events have provided him with that context.

Walkom warns that we could be in for an early election:

His announcement that he will increase the baby bonus is a classic example of bribing voters with their own money. To ensure Canadians understand who is bringing them these cheques, the government is running non-stop ads that trumpet the new goodies.The effort appears to be working. Over most of the year, Trudeau consistently outpolled Harper in popularity. Yet in the latest Nanos tracking poll, the two were in a statistical tie.
Harper understands that he has to act before his new claim about being a steady hand begins to ring as hollow as his claim to economic clairvoyance. He is a phony economist. -- and a phony warrior.

Remembrance Day 2014

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 05:08

We have become mesmerized by bad behaviour. Michael den Tandt writes that honour is is short supply these days:

Honour is AWOL, missing without leave, in the case of the famous Toronto radio host now accused of serially assaulting at least nine women. Jian Ghomeshi has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime. The allegations against him have not been tested in court. But setting aside the outcome of the police investigation, it is clear from multiple accounts that Ghomeshi ran CBC Radio’s flagship culture show, Q, as his private, undisputed fiefdom. Medieval, you might say.

Honour was in short supply last week in Ottawa. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau turfed two MPs from his caucus over allegations of “serious personal misconduct.”As far as I have been able to tell, Trudeau went to some lengths to avoid identifying the alleged victims, or indeed the way in which they had been victimized. New Democrats promptly leaked the fact that the allegations concerned sexual harassment of female NDP MPs – and then unloaded on the Liberal leader for making the matter public. The New Democrat deputy leader, Megan Leslie, suggested Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House that a better solution would have been to deal with it all in-house, in other words secretly. 
Den Tandt suggests that, on this Remembrance Day we look to our veterans who have always adhered to a Canadian tradition:

In Afghanistan it was embodied in the Canadian Forces’ “3-d” approach to conflict – defence, diplomacy and development. This was always more than sloganeering. Even the sergeants in the Canadian Forces – especially the sergeants, in my experience – sought to embody strength with compassion. This is not to portray them as delicate do-gooders, but simply to acknowledge that they were very aware they had a purpose over and above that of killing the enemy.

Long before Afghanistan, in Rwanda, or the Medak Pocket in Croatia, the CF ethos lived in a willingness to do the perilous and hard work well, even when the country was uninterested. In Haiti, in 2010, after the earthquake, I remember sitting quietly in the dark, listening to Canadian soldiers speak to one another of the horrors they’d seen that day. There were strength, competence and decency to make any Canadian’s heart swell with pride.
The history of war is the history of folly. But, in the midst of folly, human beings can still be guided by their better angels.

The F-35 By Any Means

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 05:38


We learned late last week the the Harper government has ordered four F-35's. Michael Harris writes:

According to a Canadian Press story by Murray Brewster based on a Pentagon leak, the Harper government plans to buy four F-35s and slip the acquisition into the current fiscal year. In order to get the controversial jet by 2016 or 2017, Canada has to provide the F-35 Project Office with a letter of intent by mid-November. All this is documented in a U.S. Department of Defense slide show. Not a peep in Ottawa.

Nothing has been broached in parliament about this potentially imminent order of a jet that is grossly over-budget, grossly delayed in production, and mired in operational problems. If the story is accurate, there never was a meaningful review of the F-35 decision of 2010 — another lie.

After CP broke the story, defence minister Rob Nicholson was not in Question Period last Friday. But the government once again played silly bugger on the F-35 file when Bernard Trottier, the minister’s parliamentary secretary, rose to answer in his place.

Refusing to address the information in the Pentagon leak, he simply parroted the speaking points that no decision had been made to replace Canada’s fleet of CF-18s. Does anyone believe that if the Harper government wants to buy four of these jets that the F-35 will not be the choice to replace the CF-18? This is simply vintage Harper — getting what he wants by other means. 
Once again, Harper has shown his utter contempt for Parliament -- and by extension, Canadian voters. Despite the fact that the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General revealed that the government had lied about the cost of the jets -- and that they had supposedly gone back to the drawing board -- Harper is focused on getting what he wants by any means necessary.

If Harper is not thrown out in the next election, democracy in Canada -- like truth from the Prime Minister's Office -- will be dead.