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"There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent." Leo Tolstoy
Updated: 1 hour 27 min ago

An Ugly Blast From The Past

17 hours 49 min ago


It's not news to note that the Harper government is fixated on the past. From dropping the word "progressive" from the party's moniker to building a resource based economy -- with the focus on one resource -- the Harperites are detemined  to make the clock run backwards. And the "Fair" Elections Act is part of that agenda. Paul Adams writes that, when Canada was founded, the franchise was not available to everyone:

We tend to think of women’s suffrage as the last significant extension of the franchise, occurring around the time of the First World War. We also tend to think of the expansion of the franchise as a steady forward march. Bit by bit, more and more people got the vote, and steadily we become more democratic.

The process has been much more herky-jerky than that.

Two years after women got the vote, Parliament re-affirmed that aboriginal people, including Inuit, could not participate in elections. Nor could minorities such as Chinese, Japanese or Hindus vote federally in places such as British Columbia and Saskatchewan where they were barred from voting provincially.
Canada's first inhabitants have been overlooked since we -- the Europeans -- arrived.  Pierre Poilievre proposes to continue that policy:

Most Canadians don’t live on reserves. Most Canadians don’t have parents or grandparents who were forbidden from voting by law. And most Canadians would have trouble imagining the circumstances of those who do.

As First Nations leaders have pointed out, many people living on reserves don’t have driver’s licences or even bank accounts. Interestingly, ‘status cards’ — the core identification document on reserves — have a photograph but not the address required by the proposed bill. Moreover, these cards expire and may be difficult to renew.

We know that aboriginal people rely on the vouching provisions of the current law to a far greater degree than other Canadians for precisely those reasons.
Lurking not far beneath the suggestion that most Canadians think it is reasonable for voters to have ID in their pockets on election day is the sense that only the “deserving” — the upright, respectable citizens — should be participating in our democracy.
There is racism just below the surface of the "Fair" Elections Act. This is the government which tore up the Kelowna Accord and treated Chief Theresa Spence with contempt.

Without a doubt, the Harperites are an ugly blast from the past.


How's He Doing?

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 05:39


This week marks the first anniversary of Justin Trudeau's ascension. Lawrence Martin writes that the Harperites are filling the air with polls. They have tried to make hay in the aftermath of Jim Flaherty's death, pushing the meme that he  -- and they --  have been superb economic managers. However,

Mr. Trudeau’s accomplishment has been to bring back the Liberal support base. That base is traditionally larger than the Conservative one. This has been evident in polls that have shown the Grits around 35 per cent and the Tories at around 30. That picture has held not only for the past year, but dating all the way back to September of 2012, when Mr. Trudeau announced his intention to seek the leadership. With his name on the ticket, hypothetical polls immediately showed the big change.

Tories hope that the corner is now being turned, that they’ll draw even with the Grits or close to it. If there is little or no movement, they might as well go back to the drawing board. It will be a clearer signal than ever that the economy cannot save them. It will be a signal that after many years in power, fatigue has set in and the public wants change, pure and simple.

This was the case in the latter years of the St. Laurent Liberals, the Pierre Trudeau Liberals, the Brian Mulroney Tories and others. If it wasn’t the policies that turned people off, it was the governing culture.
It seems increasingly clear that Mr. Harper and his acolytes have overstayed their welcome. Despite their economic hype, it's their style and their shift to the past which leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Canadians:

The culture of the Harper operation grates. A country is supposed to be governed by consent, not by coercion. With this man, there has been too much of the latter.

There’s that and there is the progressives’ argument that this is a country moving backward in time. Backward on criminal justice policies, backward on the environment, backward on labour rights, on democracy and backward, with the unremitting focus on resource exploitation, on economic vision.
By the end of the month Stephen Harper should have a good idea of how he's doing -- and whether or not it's time to head for the exit.



Looking After Tom And Daisy's Interests

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 05:53


Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have concluded in a recent study that democracy has been successfully subverted in the United States. That country, they write, is now an oligarchy.

The American Supreme Court has had a hand in establishing that oligarchy. In the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the court concluded that those whose skin was black were not people. In the Citizens United decision of 2010, the court decided that corporations were people. The consequence, Michael Harris writes, has been that those with more money have more free speech:

As U.S. neo-conservative consultant Arthur Finkelstein has always said, money is important because it determines who gets heard. It was exactly what bothered Thomas Jefferson when he warned against the dangers to American democracy posed by “the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations.”
Stephen Harper tried the same legal gambit back in 2004, when he headed the National Citizens Coalition:

Like his Republican brethren, Harper too went to court to lift spending limits in political campaigns. Like his Republican brethren, he too argued it was a free speech issue and wanted no spending limits on so-called third parties during elections. He went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where he lost in 2004. The judges decided that setting limits on third-party political contributions during the writ period was not a free speech but a fair play issue.
Now Harper is trying to do legislatively -- through Bill C-23 -- what he could not do legally. The bill's objective is to entrench a Canadian oligarchy. Like his Republican brethren, Harper is looking after the interests of Tom and Daisy Buchanan  -- who got away with murder.

On the subject of great literature, I have one footnote. Over the weekend, Alistair MacLeod died. His novel, No Great Mischief is the finest rendering of Cape Breton and its people that we have.


Stephen Marois?

Sun, 04/20/2014 - 05:34


On the surface, Stephen Harper and Pauline Marois  couldn't be more different. They have diametrically opposed visions of what is best for this country. But, Haroon Siddiqui writes, they are disturbingly alike:

  • Both use phony wedge issues to consolidate their base and polarize the public. Neither cares for the long-term consequences of deeply dividing society. Her charter of Quebec values dealt with a crisis that did not exist. He spent billions on “tough-on-crime” initiatives when crime has been going down.
  • Both exploit prejudices against minorities. Marois was crude in going after Muslims, Jews and Sikhs in the name of secularism. He is clever in isolating Canada’s one million Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism. Both use the same tactics of hand-picking totally unrepresentative Muslims to attack the community.
  • Both copy the Republican Party’s dirty tactics of suppressing the votes of groups that are likely to vote for the opposition. For years, the GOP has been making it nearly impossible for blacks, Latinos and the young to vote. The PQ government made it difficult for Anglos, especially students, in Montreal to vote. The Harper government is changing election laws to try to disenfranchise about 500,000 people who are not likely to vote Conservative.
  • Both use Orwellian terminology to peddle their wares. She called her signature issue the charter of secular values when, in fact, it violated the most fundamental secular value, the right to religion. He calls his plan to make elections unfair “the Fair Elections Act.”

  •  Siddiqui adds to the list:

  • Both Marois and Harper spend government money on advertising campaigns promoting programs that advance their partisan purposes — she in pushing the charter, he in spending at least $200 million on his Economic Action Plan and other initiatives central to the fortunes of the Conservative party.
  • Both treat the opposition not as adversaries but enemies. Anyone who does not agree with her is not a true Quebecer; anyone who does not agree with Harper is not a Canadian patriot.

  • You get the idea. In fact, when it comes to doing politics, Harper and Marois come from the same gene pool.  In the last election, Quebecers took back the keys to Marois' kingdom. Siddiqui wonders if Canadians will eventually do the same for Harper.

    Perhaps -- with two caveats: First: Marois was defeated by an opposition which was sustained and focused. And, second: Campaigns matter. Besides having to deal with relentless opposition, Marois was disorganized and anything but focused.

    We shall see.


    Smelling A Skunk

    Sat, 04/19/2014 - 06:47


    Eric Grenier writes that, the more Canadians learn about the Fair Elections Act, the less they like it:

    Opposition to the Conservative government's proposed Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23) is widespread and growing, according to a new poll by Angus Reid Global.

    The survey, conducted online from April 14-15 and surveying 1,505 Canadians, found that 59 per cent of Canadians who said they were very or fairly familiar with the proposed legislation were opposed to it, an increase of three points since Angus Reid last polled Canadians on the topic in February.

    Unfortunately, there is still a significant number of Canadians who haven't bothered to look into what the Harperites are selling:

    Nevertheless, a majority of Canadians (69 per cent) said they were not familiar with the bill, including 27 per cent who said they had not heard of it before Angus Reid polled them. That did decrease by 11 points from February, however, as the number of people saying they were very familiar with the bill increased by three points to eight per cent, and the proportion who said they were fairly familiar jumped by eight points to 23 per cent.

    There was an important difference in support for Bill C-23 between those who knew something about it and those who said they didn't. And why not? It is called the "Fair Elections Act" after all. Whereas just 41 per cent of Canadians who said they were familiar with the proposed legislation supported it, 52 per cent who said they knew little to nothing about it were in favour. 
    And therein lies the rub. The government is depending on ignorance and apathy to finesse its future. But Tom Walkom warns that fixing Canadian democracy will take more than defeating the Fair Elections Act:

    But the real problems of Canadian democracy are much deeper. They centre on the fact that, even without these new impediments to voting so few Canadians bother to cast ballots.In 2011, only 61 per cent of those eligible to vote did so.

    Harper’s Conservatives are right about one thing: Feel-good ads from Elections Canada won’t persuade non-voters to vote. People will vote only if they are inspired to do so, presumably by those seeking office.
    And that will only happen when Canadians begin to smell a skunk in the woodpile.


    People Like

    Fri, 04/18/2014 - 05:22

    The Stench Keeps Getting Stronger

    Thu, 04/17/2014 - 05:40


    Geoff Norquay -- Stephen  Harper's former Director of Communications -- believes that, with the RCMP's decision to drop its investigation of Nigel Wright, the Senate scandal is off the public's radar screen. But Michael Harris asks the question we should all be asking ourselves: "Does the RCMP work for us, or the PMO?"

    The stakes are high here for all concerned. The hallmark of the Harper government is the impulse to politicize everything from science to the running of elections. Is justice being added to the list? There is a growing suspicion that the RCMP is now the prime minister’s police force.

    The Mounties' decision is of a piece with other actions they have taken:

    During the 2011 election, RCMP officers assisted in the ejection of non-Harper supporters from a Conservative rally in London, Ontario. The unwanted attendees had posted pictures of themselves on Facebook attending a non-Conservative rally and had been spotted by organizers of the London event. The Mounties later admitted that tossing the students out “was not in accordance” with the RCMP’s mandate. But it was perfectly in keeping with the Harper Police mandate.

    The RCMP also forced down a small plane flying over Ottawa and Gatineau with an anti-Harper sign. The sign was produced by the Public Service Alliance of Canada; 20,000 PSAC members had been slashed from the public payroll by the Harper government. The sign read, ‘Harper Hates Us.’
    Vigilant Mounties on the ground ordered the plane to return to Rockcliffe Airport, where the pilot, Gian Ciambella, was told that his sign could be construed as hate speech. He was also told that the Mounties are responsible for the prime minister’s safety.

    Despite a fanciful story that Ciambella had flown too close to Parliament, Transport Canada later confirmed that the pilot had never entered restricted airspace. The Harper Police had ordered down a Piper-Super-Cub flown by a pilot towing a sign to make his living — an anti-Harper sign.

    The spin is that the RCMP has been tasked with guaranteeing the prime minister's personal security. But it's beginning to look like their job is to ensure Mr. Harper's political security.

    The stench from the Harper bunker keeps getting stronger.


    Making The World Safe For Capital

    Wed, 04/16/2014 - 05:54


    Complaints about the Temporary Foreign Workers Program keep piling up. This morning the Vancouver Sun reports:

    B.C. workers ranging from seasoned professionals to teenage fast-food employees are complaining about being dumped in favour of non-residents as Ottawa scrutinizes employers who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

    Vern Doak is a crane operator with 37 years experience who lives in Vernon. In early March he was contacted by his union, who informed him that an American company, Oregon-based O & S Contracting, had work for him building a cogeneration plant near Mackenzie in north-central B.C.
    The program, Carol Goar writes, was never about filling labour shortages. It's time to answer a few straightforward questions:

    If they want an “adult conversation” about work and remuneration, they should be ready to answer some key questions:
  • Why should they be exempt from market discipline? The law of supply and demand provides a clear solution to domestic labour shortages. Raise wages or improve working conditions.
  • Why are they telling Canadians their kids and neighbours have a poor work ethic? Lots of Canadians do dirty, onerous jobs — pick up garbage, go down mines, wash highrise windows.
  • Why are they comparing foreign workers whose immigration status depends on their performance to Canadian workers who have the freedom to walk away from exploitative employers?

  • The program has always been about lowering wages -- and, thereby, increasing corporate profits. Stephen Harper has never accepted the idea that government should balance competing interests. For the prime minister, there has only been one side that matters in any dispute. That's capital. That's his side.

    And his mission is to make the world safe for capital.


    Worshipping Ignorance And Greed

    Tue, 04/15/2014 - 06:42


    Michael Harris writes that Stephen Harper has a future -- in Arizona and several other Republican states:

    In that state, voters must now present proof of citizenship before they can cast their ballots. It’s the same in Kansas. Like a lot of Republican states, Arizona claims the legislation is designed to battle massive voter fraud.

    Except there has been no massive voter fraud, not in Arizona, not in Texas, not in Kansas, nowhere in the United States. The only fraud is the legislation itself, passed by nine Republican states since 2013 looking ahead to congressional elections, and ultimately to the presidential election of 2016.
    It's clear from where and from whom Harper gets his inspiration. Republicans are primarily white and old -- and they are scared to death that their white picket fence America is changing. It's true that the Harperites have reached out to voters of colour. But, if they have one prime directive, it's to shut down people who don't see the world as they do -- even when the evidence is on their opponents' side.

    Adam Shedletzky writes in The Tyee that the Conservatives' real opponent is reason:

    They are quite literally daring opposition parties, the media and civil society to try and win this battle between rhetoric and reason. The likes of current, past and provincial chief electoral officers, the elections commissioner, the former auditor general, the former chair of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, non-partisan civil society organizations and hundreds of respected Canadian and international academics don't scare these guys.

    With reason banished from the political landscape, it's much easier to worship the gods of Ignorance and Greed.


    Reading The Signs

    Mon, 04/14/2014 - 08:13


    Over the weekend, voters -- in Calgary and Kitimat -- made two important decisions. Tim Harper writes:

    In one, Conservatives in Calgary’s Signal Hill riding finally rid themselves of a six-term embarrassment named Rob Anders, handing the nomination to a former provincial cabinet minister, Ron Liepert, in a family feud for the ages.
    In the other, the voters of Kitimat, B.C., who have been promised untold economic riches for their support of the $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project took a look at the gifts offered by energy giant Enbridge and thumbed their nose at the project.
    In both cases, they rejected who and what Stephen Harper had on offer. Together they are part of a pattern. And the pattern confirms that the rebellion is underway. Conservative constitutencies are refusing to take direction from the top down. The Supreme Court has rejected Harper's choice to sit on the court. It has found significant elements of his tough on crime agenda unconstitutional. And his Senate appointments keep breaking bad. Mr. Harper is losing his grip.

    Wise politicians can read the signs and they know when they have overstayed their welcome. One wonders if Stephen Harper can read signs.


    A Prematurely Old Man

    Sun, 04/13/2014 - 06:40


    Stephen Harper likes to boast that seniors are his most loyal supporters. You'll notice that he has very little to say about the young. That's because he really isn't concerned about them. Take job creation -- something for which the prime minister claims a special talent. Carol Goar writes:

    A government bent on lowering the living standard of Canada’s next generation couldn’t do a much better job than Stephen Harper and his colleagues have done.

    The Prime Minister and his high-octane employment minister, Jason Kenney , have thrown one barrier after the next in front of young job seekers. Canada’s youth unemployment rate (15-24 years of age, both sexes) was 12.2 per cent when the Conservatives took power in 2006. Today, it is 13.6 per cent . But the numbers tell only part of the story. Hundreds of thousands of young people have given up their job search and gone back to school. Others have simply disappeared from the head count.
    It's true that the millennial generation has faced a number of obstacles -- globalization among them. But Harper's policy response has been to sacrifice the young to the trends they face:
     
    First there was the massive expansion of the once-modest foreign temporary workers program. When the Conservatives took power, it was a stopgap designed to address isolated labour shortages in the oilpatch and allow employers to hire highly specialized workers with skills no Canadian could offer. Eight years later, it has become a high-speed causeway into the Canadian job market. Hundreds of thousands of workers — most of them low-skilled — pour into the country every year bypassing young Canadians. In the past 12 months, there have been several high-profile cases of employers turning away Canadian applicants and bringing foreign workers whose immigration status is dependent on their job performance. Whenever one of these embarrassments makes headlines, Kenney vows to crack down. “Our message to employers is clear and unequivocal: Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs,” Kenney affirmed this week after CBC reported that a McDonald’s franchise in Victoria was bringing in workers from the Philippines and cutting the hours of its Canadian staff.Second, there was the government’s single-minded crackdown on young offenders. Former public safety minister Vic Toews, with the full backing of his boss, spent $5 billion (on top of the existing $15 billion) on law enforcement. The provinces, who handle most drug offences, were required to ante up an additional $14.8 billion. If even half that money had gone to providing young people who stayed in school with marketable skills, they wouldn’t be stuck in minimum-wage retail and fast food jobs. Moreover, they wouldn’t be tarred with an unfair reputation.
    No, Stephen Harper is no friend of the young. He's a prematurely old man.

    The Vapid Party

    Sat, 04/12/2014 - 06:39



     Conservatives, Andrew Coyne writes, believe in absolutes and reject moral relativism:


    Conservatives at their best disdain the lazy moral relativism that passes for sophistication in some corners of the left. There are such things as right and wrong, they insist, not right for some and wrong for others. Some absolutes remain.
    And, in a democracy, there  are still a few absolutes:

    Ideas previously accepted as axiomatic — that everyone has a right to vote, that those who don’t vote should be encouraged to, that public confidence in elections should not be undermined nor the integrity of their administrators lightly impugned — are now in play. The people who uphold these ideas — experts in election law, present and former elections officials, people with long experience in the legal and political worlds who have earned reputations for sound judgment — now find themselves dismissed as biased, or even bought. Because there are now “sides” to this question.
    The Harperites believe there are only two sides -- their side and everybody else. Everybody else is wrong.  That is their only absolute. And, because every calculation is political, everything else is relative:

    The most disturbing expression of this government’s relativism is what one might call its relativization of knowledge. That it could casually dismiss the unanimous expert opposition to the bill, without bothering to offer a rebuttal, shows contempt not just for those involved but for the whole concept of expertise. Experts can sometimes get it wrong, of course, even where they are agreed. But the insinuation here is that they are wrong because they are experts, of which their very unanimity is further proof.
    And so, the Harper Party has become the party of glorified ignorance. It smugly assumes that it is right in all matters and its critics are stupid. In other words, it is an absolutely vapid organization.



    They're Getting Worried

    Fri, 04/11/2014 - 05:38


    This week, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives put out a media release in which they insisted that their taxes were not too low. Linda McQuaig writes:

    This defensive posture — who mentioned murder? — reveals they fear others may be slowly catching on to the massive transfer of wealth to the richest Canadians that’s been going on for the past 14 years due to the systematic cutting of corporate tax rates. 
    After all, if corporate taxes were where they were fourteen years ago,

    we’d be collecting roughly an extra $20 billion a year in taxes — enough to fund national child care, free university tuition, children’s dental care or other programs that have long existed in other advanced countries but that no one here, in these lean and mean times, dares to be caught dreaming about anymore, let alone advocating out loud.
    During those fourteen years, corporations controlled the debate -- and the government:

    For years now, all the oxygen in public commentary about taxes has been sucked up by a rabid anti-tax movement, funded by corporate and wealthy interests. Organizations like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the National Citizens Coalition have been allowed to hold court in the media as if they were simply disinterested outfits representing ordinary people. Their huge anti-tax bullhorn has been amplified by in-house commentators from the business press and then reiterated by Harper government spokespeople, all within the closed echo chamber known as “public debate.”
    But now the public mood seems to be shifting with news that Canadian corporations have been shifting profits to international jurisdictions with lower tax regimes. Consider the case of Cameco:

    which sold uranium at very low prices to its Swiss-based subsidiary, which then sold the uranium to customers at much higher prices, thereby accumulating huge profits — $4.3 billion in six years — in the subsidiary, located in a particularly low-taw tax district in Switzerland.

    Because of this, Cameco may have deprived the Canadian and Saskatchewan governments of some $850 million in taxes, obliging other taxpayers to make up the difference or governments to cut programs.
    Those Tim Horton types -- who the Harper government claims is its base -- don't get that kind of consideration. Revolt is in the air. And the rich are getting nervous.


    Just a few words about Jim Flaherty. I was never a fan. He promoted and implemented the kinds of policies McQuaig excoriates. And his proposed solution to homelessness -- sweeping the homeless off the streets and carting them off to jail -- struck me as a particularly stupid solution to a problem. Nonetheless, he died too soon. The days ahead will be difficult for Christine Elliott and their sons. They deserve our kind thoughts and deep sympathy.



    Time To Shut This Show Down

    Thu, 04/10/2014 - 06:15


    It was a remarkable display of arrogance. In yesterday's question period, Thomas Mulcair asked Stephen Harper if he would apologize for Pierre Poilivere's "cowardly and baseless attack" on Marc Mayrand. The prime minister rose, congratulated Philippe Couillard on his electoral victory and then sat down. And the barking seals honked and applauded.

    It's clear that Mr. Harper believes he need not answer any questions -- from the Leader of the Opposition or any of the "self styled experts" who have criticized his so called "Fair" Elections Act.  Andrew Coyne writes:

    Unable to answer its critics’ objections, the government has lately shifted into attacking their character. Mr. Poilievre told a Senate committee Tuesday the CEO, Marc Mayrand, is motivated by nothing but a desire for “more power, a bigger budget and less accountability.” The former Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, other government members hinted, was on the take: hadn’t she accepted payment to sit as co-chair of Elections Canada’s Advisory Board? The board’s other members, among them some of the country’s most widely respected political and legal figures, were dismissed by a Tory senator as “celebrities.” The provincial chief electoral officers, political scientists, law professors and other specialists who have denounced the bill were derided as “self-styled” experts. The only people, it would seem, with the integrity or the expertise to comment on the bill are the people who have drafted it to their own advantage.

    There’s precedent for this, sadly. It is of a piece with the government’s previous attacks on the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, and the current Auditor General, Michael Ferguson. Like the CEO, their criticisms were dismissed as incompetent at best, partisan at worst — though, like the CEO, both were appointed by this government. This is more than a baseless smear on three conscientious public servants. It is an assault on their independence and authority as officers of Parliament.
    Stephen Harper came to Ottawa to wreak vengeance -- first on the Liberal Party, then on civil servants, and finally on government itself. Even Mr. Harper's former director of communications, Geoff Norquay, has suggested that Mr. Harper is getting even for the "In and Out Affair."

    Stephen Harper and his trained seals have been singing the same songs since opening night. Clearly, the time has come to shut this show down.