Northern Reflections

Subscribe to Northern Reflections feed
"There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent." Leo Tolstoy
Updated: 52 min 27 sec ago

When He's Naked, He Looks Ridiculous

11 hours 3 min ago


Yesterday, the opposition parties hammered the Harper government on what was supposed to be its signature issue going into the upcoming election. The NDP's Nathan Cullen observed that the prime minister had "painted himself into a corner:"

They spent the surplus before they had it, and they spent the surplus on an economic scheme in which only 15 per cent of Canadians receive any benefit, but 100 per cent of Canadians will have to pay for it.
Still, Joe Oliver insisted, the government would balance the budget and not cut services. Scott Clark and Peter DeVries write:

The PM has never liked budgets. He never saw them as a means to articulate a vision of the economy and the country. To Harper, a budget is a PR document — and a Trojan horse for pushing through legislative changes that have nothing at all to do with the budget.

Past governments, both Liberal and Conservative, saw the budget as their most important policy and political document. Budgets set out the government’s fiscal, tax, industrial, social, developmental, international and defense policy objectives and the policy initiatives the government intended to take to achieve them. They were visionary documents. You didn’t have to agree with the vision … but it was there.

No longer. Since 2006, major policy decisions have been made outside the budget, with no discussion or parliamentary debate. The change in the Canada Health Transfer escalator was made at a meeting of federal and provincial finance ministers in December 2011. Harper announced the change in eligibility for Old Age Security benefits in Davos, not Parliament. And he announced his “family tax package” in Vaughan, Ont., back in October — shortly before the oil market fell off a cliff.

At every turn, Harper has tried to cut Parliament and the budget process out of the equation. Once upon a time, governments had to table a Borrowing Authority Bill if they needed incremental borrowing. Parliament demanded that any Borrowing Authority Bill be accompanied by a budget in order to provide the proper economic and fiscal context to justify the borrowing.

In the 2007 budget, the Harper government eliminated the need for a Borrowing Authority Bill. Now the government can borrow through an Order-in-Council — no budget, or parliamentary approval, required. 
That's what happens when a man who claims to be a "trained economist" turns out to be utterly incompetent. He doesn't present a budget -- because he doesn't know how to budget. The trained economist has no clothes. And, when he's naked, he looks ridiculous.

Democracy? What Democracy?

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 06:37


Last week the Harper government awarded a ship building contract to the Irving family. Like the F-35 contract, it was awarded -- by a "bureaucrat" -- without a competition. Michael Harris writes:

Is there anyone in the country who believes the Harper government’s latest whopper that a $26 billion contract for new frigates was the work of a bureaucrat and that cabinet had nothing to do with it?

Is there anyone who believes that it was a wise move for the public to make this staggering purchase, the largest in Canadian history, as a sole source contract – i.e. an award with no competitive bidding process?

Is there anyone who doesn’t know from the catastrophic bungling of the F-35 stealth jet-fighter project, that sole source contracts add on average about 20 per cent to the overall acquisition costs – as procurement expert Alan Williams said repeatedly at the time? Williams now correctly says that no one really understands what the government is doing with the frigate program. That is, of course, Stephen Harper’s idea of political Nirvana.
The Harper government is following the model of other so called western "democracies:"

What is happening in Stephen Harper’s Canada — the hoarding, and choking off information, and outright lying — is going on in many of the aging, decrepit democracies in the West. The establishments of several countries have effectively decided that they are above the law and often argue national security issues to justify their anti-democratic, and in some cases, thoroughly illegal behaviours.
Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, the energizer bunny of post-politics money-grubbing, misled the British people on that country’s participation in the Iraq War. There was no proof of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s hands, and without that evidence, the invasion likely violated international law.

In the wake of 9/11, President George W. Bush repeatedly told Americans than the country did not torture detainees captured in the war on terror, and that its detention and interrogation program was “humane and legal.” More than that, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney insisted that intelligence gathered by the CIA was essential in thwarting terrorist plots.
Then just before Christmas last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee lowered the boom in a 6,000-page report based on thousands of classified CIA documents. The U.S. did indeed practise illegal and widespread torture during the Bush presidency, including medically unnecessary rectal feeding or hydration, a series of simulated drownings called water-boarding, and extreme sleep deprivation.

Finally in Australia last June, the courts declared an unprecedented censorship order concerning a corruption case that involved current and past heads of state, their relatives, and senior officials, and seven senior executives connected to the Reserve Bank of Australia. The court case deals with allegations of multi-million dollar bribes made by agents of the RBA to national leaders in Asia in order to secure contracts for the supply of Australian-made polymer bank notes.The super-injunction argued “national security” concerns to justify the banning all reporting about the case, and even banning publication of the details of gag-order itself.

It's comforting to know that democracy is in such good hands.

Neo-Liberalism: The Undying Monster

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 04:16

Neo-Liberalism came to Canada long before Stephen Harper came to Ottawa. It was ushered into public policy by Brian Mulroney, who privatised crown corporations like Air Canada and Petro Canada. Jean Chretien and Paul Martin contributed to its juggernaut by signing NAFTA and by introducing fiscal restraint.

But Donald Gurstin argues in his book, Harperism: How Stephen Harper And His Think Tank Colleagues Have Transformed Canada, that neo-liberalism's entrenchment in this country is the result of the long hard work of organizations like the Fraser Institute, the Frontier Centre and the Macdoanld-Laurier Institute:

As of this writing in mid-2014, a tightly knit, smoothly operating neo-liberal propaganda system has been installed in Canada. The foundations of wealthy businessmen, corporations, and individuals are investing more than $26 million a year in neo-liberal think-tanks and single-issue advocacy organizations. (This figure doesn’t include Calgary’s School of Public Policy, whose financial statements are buried within the university’s accounts.) The long-term goal is to discredit government as a vital institution and to champion market alternatives.

As a result of the massing on the right, the political space is crowded with a seemingly endless flow of studies, reports and commentaries supporting neoliberal perspectives. Of course, people are not automatons who blindly internalize these messages. But gradually, and especially as a result of constant repetition, some ideas rise to prominence, while others fade away. People are presented with a changing set of ideas from which they must make selections to make sense of their world: economic freedom and school choice are unqualified good things; the tax burden is burdensome and requires relief; government is inefficient because it harbours bloated bureaucracies and overpaid public employees; the private sector is hobbled by red tape; and so on.
As a result of the constant drumbeat from the Right, neo-liberal ideas have assumed the status of axioms; and they made Stephen Harper's success appear inevitable. The damage has been catastrophic:

He’s hobbled government’s long-standing social-democratic obligations by slashing revenues to their lowest levels — in relation to the size of the economy — they’ve been at in fifty years, when the state first implemented its major social programs. One estimate pegs Harper’s tax cuts at $45 billion a year in foregone revenues. With total revenues at about $250 billion, that’s nearly a 20 per cent cut. Call it privatization by default. If there’s not enough money in the public coffers to finance health care, post-secondary education and rising old age security needs, they will have to be provided by the private or voluntary sectors or by individuals.
But Mr. Harper's success was never inevitable. It has only been possible because the Right has understood what Goebbels meant by the Big Lie. If you repeat a lie often enough, people will assume that it is true.

The Great Recession should have proven that neo-liberalism was a Big Lie. But, thanks to the think tanks, it keeps re-appearing -- like Frankenstein's monster in those old Universal sequels.

That Grievance Mentality

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 06:38


Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address this week. Here are a few highlights:

  • We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions.”
  • “We still need … a higher minimum wage.”
  • “Free community college is possible.”
  • “Let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”
  • “Let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top 1 per cent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth.”
  • “No challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

Jeffrey Simpson writes:

Could any Canadian imagine Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying such things? If Mr. Harper were a U.S. legislator, he would have been sitting in the House of Representatives chamber with the sullen-looking Republicans. The Republicans might have chosen Senator or Congressman Harper to deliver their critical reply to the President’s address.
The speech made clear just how much distance there is between Harper and Obama. I suspect that Obama really has little use for Harper -- a suspicion that is bolstered by Harper's cancellation of the Three Amigos Conference:

With political optics defining almost everything in Ottawa, the Harper government dreaded a late-February meeting in Canada featuring Mr. Harper, Mr. Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Planning had been proceeding until the Harper government abruptly announced it was pushing back the meeting until some unspecified later date.
What Ottawa dreaded was the public airing, on Canadian soil, of disputes over Keystone XL and Canadian visa requirements on Mexicans. This would not have looked good, since it would have underscored how clumsily the Harper government has played both files.
What has sent Canadian-American relations south, Simpson writes, is Harper's "grievance mentality:"
A grievance mentality has settled over the Harper government because of Keystone XL, which Mr. Obama obviously opposes, although no final decision has been rendered.
The grievance mentality is deepened by the sense that the Americans have given nothing in return for Canadian participation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the venue Canada provided for the U.S.-Cuba talks. Things have improved a bit, but they got so bad a while ago that the U.S. ambassador to Canada had to get Prime Minister’s Office’s approval for meetings with cabinet ministers.
That grievance mentality, however, does not confine itself to Canadian-American relations. It defines everything Stephen Harper does. It shows through in his dealings with Parliament, with the provinces, with evironmental groups -- with anyone who opposes his agenda.
Harper came into politics with a chip on his shoulder -- a chip which has only grown bigger over the years. The man is the walking definition of  "grievance mentality."

Going To War In His Armchair

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:21


Stephen Harper told us that there would be no boots on the ground. It turns out there are, and they're on the front lines. Michael Harris writes:

At some point, a Canadian soldier is going to be captured or killed in action. The prime minister will hold a sorrowful press conference — without taking any questions. The emotional dividend from these inevitable events will be used by his hawkish administration to justify a more “robust” response — i.e. more boots on the ground to protect our forces. And so on … until it’s Afghanistan Redux.
Those of us with longer memories might call it Vietnam Redux:

This, of course, is exactly how the Americans eased their way into the war in Vietnam after the French were whipped. That initial helping hand to the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam turned into a military operation that dropped more bombs on North Vietnam than were dropped in the entire Second World War — and the Americans still lost.

It ended on April 29, 1975, with a desperate airlift of U.S. citizens from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon, as the Viet Cong overran the city. It was a war that started with trainers and advisers. It ended with the deaths of more than fifty thousand U.S. soldiers — and 3.8 million Vietnamese. So forgive me if the “trainer” explanation rings a little hollow.
And, if anyone in the Harper government actually read history, they might have paid attention to the Russian experience in Afghanistan:

Before the Americans showed up with their army, the Russians were the occupiers. They tried to force changes on an ancient society which didn’t see the world through western eyes. The result was a bitter war that the Russians lost to an alliance of local forces — including the Mujahideen, which gave the world the CIA’s most famous trainee: Osama Bin Laden.

It is instructive to read through the dispatches from Russian generals trying to tell Moscow it was losing the war. The Politburo ignored the warnings, wanting only good news from the front — the kind of news that reinforces the idea that the war is “working.”
But Mr. Harper is an armchair general. He knows nothing of war -- and nothing of history.

Tearing Away At the Nation's Core

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 06:29

The Harper government is busy preparing new anti-terror legislation. But, Colin Kenny writes in today's Toronto Star, we don't need new legislation. We need adequate funding of the institutions which apply the laws we already have:

No less than eight pieces of anti-terrorism legislation have successfully passed through Parliament since the Twin Towers fell. These laws made comprehensive changes to Canada’s legal landscape to ensure the country has the powers it needs to prevent terrorism.Harper himself has acknowledged this, stating just recently to the press that, “the reality is that our security agencies are able, in the vast majority of cases, to identify threats that are out there and to prevent them from coming to fruition.”
So why the new legislation? The prime minister believes it is an all important a wedge issue:

Harper sees the passage of further counterterrorism legislation in Parliament, no matter how unnecessary, as a valuable wedge issue that will help with his re-election. Last year, the prime minister’s handlers went to great lengths casting him as a reincarnated Ronald Reagan on the world stage, unafraid in staring down the Russian bear.

Now, they’re trying to burnish this tough guy image by having Harper pretend he’s making big strides in combating terrorists by passing superfluous laws.
It's all about votes at home. It's always been about votes at home.

Mr. Harper's economic strategy has also always been about votes at home. Yesterday, the Bank of Canada drove another nail into his economic strategy. While he has been buying votes, he has also been shredding the nation's core principles -- something he will continue to do with his new anti-terror legislation.

They Didn't Know What They Were Doing Or . . .

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 06:06


In last Sunday's New York Times Paul Krugman tried to answer the question, "Why do conservatives hate good government?" His answer was pretty convincing:

Well, the political scientist Corey Robin argues that most self-proclaimed conservatives are actually reactionaries. That is, they’re defenders of traditional hierarchy — the kind of hierarchy that is threatened by any expansion of government, even (or perhaps especially) when that expansion makes the lives of ordinary citizens better and more secure. I’m partial to that story, partly because it helps explain why climate science and health economics inspire so much rage.
What they seek to establish is a rigid, class society -- where everyone knows his or her place. In today's Toronto Star, Carol Goar argues that Stephen Harper is well on his way to establishing ssuch a society, where movement between the classes is non existent. A poll from Pollara suggests that:

A substantial chunk of the adult population — 45 per cent — is trapped below the middle class. They think they’re stuck there for life, no matter how hard they work.

“The key finding (of the poll) is that Canadians have very low confidence in their social mobility.They don’t think they can move up.”

Consider some of the poll's other numbers:

  • Half of Canadians (49 per cent) said they were worse off financially than their parents.

  • More than half (55 per cent) were pessimistic about the employment outlook for their adult children.

  • Eight out of 10 working Canadians said their salaries were not keeping pace with the cost of living.

  • More than three-quarters (79 per cent) were worried about being able to afford health care as they aged.

  • A sizeable majority (85 per cent) agreed that “income inequality is no longer about the gap between rich and poor; but between the very rich and everyone else.”

  • As Reformers, the Harperites sold themselves as the champions of the little man. But once in power, they became the little man's worst enemy. With everything they have touched, the Harperites have produced the opposite of what they promised.

    Either they didn't know what they were doing. Or they lied.

    The Rooster's Mistake

    Tue, 01/20/2015 - 06:03

    Since coming to office, Alan Freeman writes, Stephen Harper has had an incredible run of good luck:

    The Liberals had bequeathed the Tories a sound fiscal situation and a string of surpluses, so much so that in its early years, the Harperites could cut taxes and still boost spending on their favourite causes like the military, with seemingly no consequences. They also inherited a well-regulated banking system and an earlier ban on bank mergers that meant no Canadian bank was big enough to swagger on the world stage and do the kind of foolish things their U.S. and UK counterparts ended up doing. These factors, the consequence of Tory fortune rather than policy decisions, made a real difference when the financial crisis hit.

    But the Tories’ real stroke of luck was that resource prices, particularly oil but also coal, iron ore and other commodities, remained strong even after the financial crisis, reflecting China’s continued growth. As manufacturing in central Canada collapsed, the West surged, filling federal coffers and providing jobs to unemployed workers from Central and Eastern Canada.

    What’s more, real-estate prices not only didn’t dip, they kept roaring ahead. Again, luck was the major factor at play. Like other bubbles, Canada’s real-estate boom was powered by its own internal logic, as well as low interest rates. It didn’t really make any sense but the politicians weren’t about to complain. When it came time to vote, Canadians peered south of the border and saw devastation when it came to employment and house prices. Canada was doing pretty well so they held their noses and voted for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in 2008 and 2011.
    Perhaps appointing Jim Flaherty as Minister of Finance bestowed the Luck of the Irish on Harper. But that luck has run out:

    The collapse in the price of oil isn’t the fault of Harper or his hapless finance minister, Joe Oliver, but neither was the run-up in the price to their credit either. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of fortuitous circumstances. The problem occurs when you take that luck for granted, promising tax cuts and a return to surplus when prudence would have told you to hold off.
    Harper has made the rooster's mistake. He has assumed that, because he crows, the sun comes up every morning. He's still crowing -- but the sun is setting.

    The Poisoned Well Of Information

    Mon, 01/19/2015 - 06:47


    Will Colonel Sanders get the chickens to vote for him again? That, Michael Harris writes, is the question which the next federal election will turn on. And, given what has happened to the Canadian media, it's a lot easier to get the chickens to vote:

    The mainstream media could once be relied upon to distinguish the hot air from the facts. That is still partially true, and there are many fine journalists on the scene. But the media landscape is profoundly changed. You could be forgiven, for example, if you mistook CBC board meetings these days for Conservative party fundraisers. According to the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, it is donor country, full stop, with eight of the eleven current members of the board having contributed to the CPC. It is transformation-by-patronage of a national institution, handing over the controls of a 767 to someone without a pilot’s license. Conflict of interest is everywhere these days:

    The truth is, the mainstream media outlets have ceded obscene tracts of their authority to people they should be covering, not covering up for. Why should Stephen Harper be writing editorials for the National Post? Why did the calamitous Fords get a radio show from CFRB, a news/talk station with a CRTC license? What was John Tory doing on his radio show, informing his listeners or setting the stage for a successful campaign for mayor of Toronto?

    Far too many of the facts that fill our newspapers and television broadcasts come from people with skin in the political game – either as representatives doing PR for the political parties, or former politicians embarking on post-political image-revision. If you had to choose, who would you rather listen to on one of those back-slapping panels that plague contemporary television – Andrew Mitrovica or Stockwell Day? What on earth is Stockwell Day doing on the CBC as a political commentator? Are we supposed to believe Day has suddenly rediscovered his honesty and cojones now that he only has to make his living as a “political consultant” (a.k.a. lobbyist)? He is still a partisan and he now stands to lose hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, if he is no longer part of the “in crowd” in Ottawa.
    There is one more question behind the next election. How many of those who didn't vote last time around will vote this time?

    There are a lot of theories floating around about why 9 million Canadians didn’t vote in the last election. I lean towards the view that the hellish cascade of agenda-driven, special interest, utterly poisoned communications has persuaded them that dropping out is better than engaging. They don’t know who to believe, they don’t trust anybody, and they don’t think they matter. And the less wealthy and more disenfranchised they are, the more likely they are to ‘fuggit.’
    They know the well of information has been poisoned. And they have elected to get nowhere near it.

    What He Says They Mean

    Sun, 01/18/2015 - 03:29

    Watching the Harper government serve up a pre-election budget has become a drama in the Theatre of the Absurd. That's because -- as Tim Harper wrote last week in the Toronto Star -- for Stephen Harper, politics trumps math:

    The new Conservative math is political math.
    There’s another name for it. It’s a shell game.
    Finance Minister Joe Oliver appears ready to arbitrarily set a future oil price — one that neither he nor Prime Minister Stephen Harper can predict — that will allow him to proceed with voter-friendly promises in an election year.Even as he pushed the budget date into April, he told a Calgary audience Thursday that he will balance this budget, then run surpluses in the years to come, rising to over $13 billion by 2019-20.
    The Harperites find themselves in this predicament because they predicted a surplus based on $81a barrel oil. And they spent the surplus before it materialised. Moreover, they've based their whole re-election strategy on a balanced budget and tax cuts from their non-existent surplus:

    They have to balance the budget so they can make good on a promise Harper made on a chilly early April day in Vaughan almost four years ago — the doubling of the limit for Tax Free Savings Account contributions to $10,000, a vote-friendly initiative that was contingent on the deficit being eliminated.
    In the short term, there is a cost. The finance department has estimated that the existing TFSA program, introduced in 2009, cost the government more than $400 million in foregone revenue in 2013.
    But that figure will be in the tens of billions when accounts are drawn on in the years to come.Similarly, an adult tax fitness credit is tied to the balanced budget.Then there is the matter of other pre-election spending, such as money that should go to veterans and the ongoing costs of an air mission against Islamic State in northern Iraq.
    There is an old adage about not counting your chickens before they hatch. The same rule applies to surpluses.

    When former MP Bill Casey went to Harper to complain that he had altered the Atlantic Accord, Harper told him that the words in the accord "mean what I say they mean." The same rule seems to apply to budget numbers.

    Election Law? What Election Law?

    Sat, 01/17/2015 - 07:38

    There has been lots of speculation recently about whether Stephen Harper will break his own fixed date election law -- for the second time. It's remarkable, Andrew Coyne writes, that a man who insisted on the law should have such little regard for it. What is even more remarkable is that Canadians -- in general -- also have little respect for the law:

    Not only does he not feel bound by it, but neither do the rest of us seem inclined to insist that he should. We have all somehow come to accept that it is perfectly normal, even acceptable, for the government — the government! — to disobey the law if it feels like it, as if the laws that are binding upon the rest of us were not binding upon the governments that pass them. This is surely an astonishing state of affairs, in a democracy, a measure not only of the corrupting effects of power but of how the rest of us have been corrupted along with it.
    It is, indeed, an astonishing state of affairs. But it's worth remembering that, for Stephen Harper, "contempt of Parliament" was merely a matter of being out voted. And, given the fact that he won the election that contempt triggered, Canadians seem to believe that contempt comes down to votes.

    Coyne correctly observes that:

    We should not have to wonder whether the laws Parliament passes are of any worth or meaning, or whether the government we elect will seek refuge in fine print and Clintonian wordplay to wriggle out of them. We should not have to worry that our government is trying to con us. We are entitled to some expectation of good faith, and if we have lost even that then the implications are a lot worse than an untimely election call.
    We are in deep trouble.

    To The Showers

    Fri, 01/16/2015 - 05:39

    An election is in the offing. And Stephen Harper has come to the plate swinging. But, Michael Harris writes, he already has three strikes against him.

    Strike One is his record on the environment:

    They have greedily championed oil and gas while doing nothing to protect air and water. Consider the piece of legislation with the Orwellian name — the Navigable Waters Protection Act. NDP house leader Nathan Cullen said it as well as anyone could:

    “It means the removal of almost every lake and river we know from the Navigable Waters Protection Act. From one day to the next, we went from 2.5 million protected lakes and rivers in Canada to 159 lakes and rivers protected.”
    Harper has done more than favour oil and gas companies. He's done nothing to reign in corporate corruption:

    Canada now has more corrupt companies on the World Bank’s blacklist than any other country in the world. A stunning 115 of those companies are comprised of disgraced engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and its subsidiaries — the same company that the Harper government supported with an $800 million loan guarantee to build the dubious Muskrat Falls power development in Newfoundland and Labrador.
    Strike Two is his failure to make government accountable to its citizens:

    That is, after all, what got him elected in 2006 (that and a little cheating during the campaign). So it was beyond hypocritical this past week for the PM to portray himself as a champion of democracy and free speech after the dreadful killings in Paris. He even politicizes tragedy.

    Here is the real man … the one who dedicated his entire communications effort to smothering free speech, who undermined access to information, the life-blood of any democracy, with endless delays in handing over government documents that belong to us. In some cases, his government has simply — and unconstitutionally — refused to fork them over. He has also mused about charging $200 per access request — which would certainly suppress the urge to ask.
    Strike Three is that real man is not anything like the people he claims to represent:

    Stephen Harper is not who we are.

    Canadians don’t want to see medicare slowly reduced to a ghost of its former self by a prime minister who once headed an organization created to destroy it.

    Despite the stunning selfishness of some of its stars, Canadians don’t want to see the CBC brought to its knees and “restructured” by a man who prefers public relations to journalism.

    Finally, Canadians don’t want to save money on the backs of veterans who didn’t take to the closet in the face of clear and present danger — especially when Harper has so egregiously used the military for political gain. There has to be more for our soldiers than bullets and beans.
    He claims that, this time out, he'll put one into the bleachers and cross home plate for the fourth time. If Canadians are wise, they'll send him to the showers.

    Now Is The Time, Justin

    Thu, 01/15/2015 - 05:47


    Talk of proportional representation has been around for a long time. Linda McQuaig writes:

    The most widely-supported version of PR for Canada — called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) — is used in Germany, Scotland and New Zealand, and has the advantage of combining local representation with a seat count in the legislature based on the popular vote. MMP was recommended by the Law Commission of Canada in a 2004 report on Canadian electoral reform. It has the support of nonpartisan groups like Fair Vote Canada and the Canadian Electoral Alliance.
    And, last month, exactly such a proposal was presented to the House. It had the support of the NDP, the Green Party and 16 Liberal MP's. Curiously, Justin Trudeau voted against the proposal. The question is why? Stephen Harper is the incarnation of the argument for PR:

    The rise of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives — with their aggression, their willingness to flout democratic rules and traditions, their indifference to the interests of those who didn’t vote for them — has highlighted the danger of an over-empowered minority in an urgent new way.
    With only 39.5 per cent of the popular vote in the 2011 election (plus an unquantifiable amount of hubris), the Harper government has exercised 100 per cent control over Parliament, using that power to sabotage international efforts on climate change and implement a whole range of other policies at odds with the values of most Canadians.
    McQuaig suggests that a minority government may, indeed, be what we are left with after this year's election:

    A minority government is distinctly possible — and opposition parties undoubtedly would work together to ensure the end of the Harper government.

    That could involve some kind of deal between them, a deal which should require the implementation of proportional representation in order to ensure a permanent guarantee of greater democracy.
    If Trudeau the Younger is serious about democratic reform, he should be talking about proportional representation.

    The Other Path

    Wed, 01/14/2015 - 06:27


    Like a Puritan obsessed with sin, Stephen Harper is obsessed with austerity. He is not alone in his obsession. Most of Europe's leaders share it. And their obsession has led The Financial Times' Martin Wolfe to write that their economies suffer from "chronic demand deficiency syndrome." The OECD has also been trying to get those who mistake economics for theology to see the folly of their moralistic crusade.

    Not all countries take a moralistic approach to economics. Murray Dobbins writes that the Scandinavian countries -- particularly Norway -- have chosen another path:

    A recent study, "How Can Scandinavians Tax So Much?" on Norway, Sweden and Denmark, demonstrates how national governments can actually address underlying structural demand weaknesses -- or rather, in their cases, how to prevent such weaknesses from developing in the first place. The key is not just high government spending but a dedication to revenue collection that comes as close as possible to eliminating leakage in the tax system.

    The top marginal income tax rate in the three countries is between 60 per cent and 70 per cent compared to 43 per cent in the U.S. and about 50 per cent in Canada. Add in other taxes like consumption and payroll levies and the average Scandinavian worker gets to keep just 20 per cent of her paycheque. In the U.S. that same employee keeps 63 per cent. How can such high tax rates (which would be denounced as "punitive" here) result in some of the best economic outcomes on the planet -- high standards of living, high labour participation rates, highly profitable corporations and high placements (all higher than Canada) in the world competitiveness sweepstakes?

    With the governments pumping billions of dollars into the Scandinavian economies there is no "chronic demand deficiency syndrome." They do not rely on debt-financed consumer demand, and the reduction of private consumer spending makes for more rational economic decision-making overall. The U.S. has accomplished what appears to be a stable recovery by also rejecting the austerity obsession and engaging in repeated rounds of quantitative easing  -- artificially pumping money into the economy through bond purchases. Canada, meanwhile, is actually sucking billions out of the economy through tax cuts to sectors (corporations and the 1 per cent) who aren't spending it.
    Over the last thirty years, rather than injecting money into our economy, our governments have withdrawn billions of dollars:

    Of course we have withdrawn billions since 1985 -- over $60 billion a year in abandoned revenue at the federal level if you go back and count Paul Martin's huge tax cuts in 2000-2005. If we had that money back to spend, the vast majority of it ultimately ends up being spent in the private sector -- and might actually convince Canadian corporations to invest some of the $626 billion in idle cash they are now sitting on. (An IMF report recently chastised Canadians corporations for accumulating idle capital at a faster rate than any other country in the G7.)
    And, rather than taking in money from our petroleum wealth, we have sold that resource at fire sale prices. Norway took a different tact:

    In Canada we have virtually given away our energy heritage through criminally low royalty rates over a period of some 70 years. Norway bargained hard with oil companies to develop its relatively new found resource -- and kept ownership of it. The result, as reported in The Tyee last year, is a heritage fund of (as of a year ago) $909,364 billion (Canadian). That puts tiny Norway $1.5 trillion ahead of us and while each Canadian has a $17,000 share of our $600 billion debt national debt, each Norwegian has a $178,000 stake in their surplus. Norway puts aside a billion dollars a week from its oil resource.
    Clearly, there is another path. And austerity isn't it.