Wednesday, May 04, 2016

We'll Know The Answer

When news broke that John Ridsdel had been beheaded by terrorists, Justin Trudeau sounded like William Tecumseh Sherman: “I do want to make one thing perfectly, crystal clear,” Trudeau said, his ministers standing behind him. “Canada does not – and will not – pay ransom to terrorists, directly or indirectly.”

Andrew Cohen writes that, at that moment, Justin also sounded like his father:

It was a bold, bald refusal. What was striking about his declaration and the subsequent explanation was his tone and delivery. It was largely free of the hesitation – the verbal tick of ums and ahs – that sometimes punctuate Trudeau’s speech.

His statement on ransom felt instinctive, even guttural. It flowed from him like his defence of citizens’ rights (“a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”) in the election campaign. Or when he invoked the memory of his father (“I’m incredibly proud to be Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s son and I’m incredibly lucky to be raised with those values.”)

In talking about hostages, he exuded a confidence shorn of doubt. More than ever, he was his father.

The jury is still out on whether or not Justin is his father's son. And, responses in these situations are more difficult than they at first appear. Trudeau the Elder said he would not bargain with James Cross's kidnappers. However,

Morality is messy. Six weeks after the kidnappings in Quebec in 1970, Trudeau’s government negotiated with the kidnappers who held Cross. In exchange for his release, the kidnappers were allowed safe passage to Cuba.

Ultimately, then, Pierre Trudeau did what was necessary to save a life. In a similar situation, his rhetoric notwithstanding, would Justin Trudeau not do the same?

That's a difficult question. Chances are that Justin will be tested on this file yet again. And we'll know the answer.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Owning A Cottage Is Not Enough

In the wake of the Duffy Affair, Errol Mendes writes, the Senate has begun reforming itself:

The Senate to which Mr. Duffy returns is, in a multitude of ways, much different from the chamber from which he was suspended. The Senate leadership, in particular those on the powerful internal economy committee, has greatly tightened expenditure and travel rules. In the wake of the damning Auditor-General’s report, the Senate leadership, along with most senators, will also endorse a forthcoming independent oversight mechanism that they promise will be far more rigorous than anything seen in the House of Commons in terms of financial transparency and accountability.

The Duffy Affair  began with Stephen Harper's claim that Mr. Duffy was a resident of Prince Edward Island -- a claim that Duffy himself had a hard time swallowing. And, when Harper referred his plans for reform to the Supreme Court, the Court informed him that reform would have to be done with the consent of the provinces -- because the Senate had to reflect the regions of the country.

So, as the Senate gets back to work, one of the first items on its agenda should be clarifying what residency means:

For this reason, the very loose rules of primary residence undermines the architecture of the modernized Senate. So, too, do the so-called strengthened rules that say senators only have to show that their driver’s licence and health card comes from their province of appointment, and that their taxes are filed in the same province.

To improve the Senate’s credibility, and build Canadians’ trust in the revamped chamber, every senator must prove that the actual length of time they spend in their province reflects how they can be legitimately representing the interests of their constituents. Their physical assets, including property, should reflect and reinforce that representation.

Owning a cottage in a province should not be enough to make you a senator.


Monday, May 02, 2016

The Flying Edsel

Lately, Michael Harris has turned his sights on military equipment -- its sale and purchase. When it comes to those Saudi armored vehicles, he says, there's a skunk in the woodpile. And a familiar stench is beginning to arise -- again -- over the F-35. Over at the Ministry of Defense,  the word is that the purchase of the F-35 is still under consideration -- despite Justin Trudeau's promise that it was dead. Harris writes:

This is an issue in which Justin Trudeau either earns his wings as a new type of politician, or he ditches in the same sea of double-talk that swallowed up his predecessors. Either his government is running the show, or bureaucrats over at Industry Canada are – the ones who are still dazzled by the lure of industrial benefits for the Canadian aerospace industry if Canada only sticks with the F-35.

The Harper government pumped out plenty of fog about the F-35. And the United States Air Force continues to cloud the skies. But the news on the F-35 -- and how it performs -- keeps getting worse:

Despite all the public relations that tax dollars can buy, the Pentagon doesn’t even know if the $100-million planes are fit for combat. In the United States, the F-35 program was supposed to deliver 1,013 aircraft by fiscal 2016; it has delivered 179. Since the project began in 2003, the cost of the aircraft has doubled. According to the Government Budget Office in Washington, it costs $30,000 an hour to fly. The last F-35 is now scheduled to be delivered in 2040 — fifth generation jets produced at horse and buggy speeds.

 Five of six F-35s were recently unable to take off from Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. After 15 years of “development” and billions of dollars of investment, the planes could not boot up their proprietary software to get airborne — a story first reported in Flight Global and picked up by the Daily Mail.

Consider the opinion of that well-known peacenik John McCain about the F-35 program. If anyone should have been an advocate for this futuristic weapon it should have been McCain. Instead, America’s most famous pilot-cum-POW and the Republican senator from Arizona, excoriated the F-35 last week at a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said he could not “fathom” how the delivery schedule of the F-35 made any strategic sense. He added that the history of the F-35, “has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance.”

Mr. Trudeau still needs to prove he's in charge -- not the oil barons, and not the military-industrial complex. Grounding the Flying Edsel would be a step in the right direction.


Sunday, May 01, 2016

From The Same Folks

We've been told that the "Sharing Economy" is the way of the future. But a new book by Tom Slee questions that proposition. Tom Walkom writes:

But as Tom Slee writes in his authoritative new book What’s Yours is Mine, the original idea, however laudable, has turned into something far darker.
Or as he puts it: “The sharing economy is extending a harsh and deregulated free market into previously protected areas of our lives. The leading companies are now corporate juggernauts themselves.”

Slee holds a PhD in theoretical chemistry and works for a Waterloo software company. He knows something about innovation. But he believes that companies like Uber and Airbnb are innovations which do more harm than good:

Uber enthusiasts, he writes, attribute its success to technology. But the real reason Uber thrives is that it avoids paying many of the costs borne by regulated taxi services, including insurance and mechanical fitness tests.

More important, and again unlike regulated taxi firms, it is not required to provide services to everyone, such as those using wheelchairs.
When Uber enters a city, Slee writes, it usually offers bonuses to its drivers and discounts to its customers.
Over time, as it captures more of the market, these incentives are scaled back. In the end, Uber ends up raking in as much revenue as regulated taxi fleet owners, yet faces lower costs.

Airbnb also thrives because it doesn't have to play by the rules that govern other property owners:

Accommodation sharing, too, is not always what it purports to be. Airbnb claims to connect those needing hotel space with ordinary people willing to rent out an apartment or extra room.

The reality is that in some cities almost half of Airbnb’s hosts have multiple listings — that is, they are in the landlord business.

Yet unlike regular bed-and-breakfast operations, Airbnb landlords are not required to adhere to government health and safety rules.
Nor, to the dismay of some neighbours, are they subject to zoning bylaws.

It's more of the same -- from the same folks who brought you Neo-liberalism.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Very Old Lesson

Alberta isn't the only province caught between a rock and a hard place. Newfoundland is in the same boat -- and for the same reasons. Alan Freeman writes:

We’ve all heard about that special connection between Newfoundland and Alberta — stories of hard-working labourers from the island province flying out to Fort McMurray to make their fortunes in the oilsands.

Unfortunately, the east-west linkages went deeper. When politicians in Newfoundland hit their own gusher in offshore oilfields like Hibernia, they looked to Alberta for guidance. What to do with the billions in windfall royalty revenues that in 2008 turned Newfoundland and Labrador into a “have” province for the first time after decades of equalization payments from Ottawa?
Sock it away for a rainy day like those boring Norwegians? Hell no. We’ll have a big party like our buddies in Alberta.

And now that the price of oil has tanked, there is hell to pay -- literally:

Taxes have been raised across the board; the HST has been hiked to 15 per cent from 13 per cent, the gasoline tax is up 16.5 cents per litre and the province is introducing a highly regressive “deficit reduction” income tax levy that will cost $300 for a taxpayer earning $25,000 a year. Public servants will be laid off. Half the province’s libraries will close. Those $1,000 baby bonuses are long gone.

It's a repeat of the Alberta saga. There were other ways to deal with the boom. But they were paths less -- in fact, they are seldom -- taken. There is a very old lesson here.


Friday, April 29, 2016

In Harperland, Stupidity Rules

Perhaps stupidity is a virus. Despite the verdict in the Duffy trial, Michael Harris writes, stupidity still rules in a lot of roosts:

A significant part of the Canadian Establishment is not only blaming a victim — it’s blaming an exonerated victim. Some want even more punishment for a man the courts decided deserved no punishment at all.

Consider RCMP Assistant Commission Gilles Michaud who

actually wrote congratulatory letters to the investigators who worked on the Duffy case and helped come up with the 31 charges against him.

Never mind the fact that the Mounties never “got their man” on anything, not even jaywalking. In the wake of the court’s verdict, the RCMP decided it was “inappropriate to comment”.
Small wonder. It’s hard to speak with a mouthful of crow, even if you’re the assistant commissioner who held the splashy press conference announcing all those bogus charges. Besides, it gets harder to congratulate the team for a 31-0 blowout when they’re on the doughnut-hole end of the score.

The there was the National Posts's Andrew Coyne:

When a judge issues a stunning rebuttal of a vicious and baseless criminal case that made salacious headlines at Duffy’s expense for years, it’s simply not normal to argue that ‘acquittal does not equal innocence’. That’s what Andrew Coyne wrote in the immediate aftermath of Justice Charles Vaillancourt’s decision. Some people have forgotten that, as an accused person, you answer only the charges as they are brought against you — not every aspersion cast against your character that comes along.

And also in the pages of the Post, there appeared an article by Richard Staley, Harper's lawyer, who claimed that Harper acted honourably:

As soon as the laughter dies down, I’d like to ask each and every reader to judge Staley’s claim based on what came out at Duffy’s trial — especially the part about the PMO’s “ruthless” behaviour.

Staley says he was instructed by Harper to cooperate with the RCMP and that doing so was politically inexpedient — which, he argues, offers some sort of evidence of good faith.

He talks about it as if Harper had a choice. He didn’t. If he hadn’t cooperated, it would have been seen immediately as a cover-up — and rightly so. Is Staley really suggesting that the former PM had the option of suppressing all the emails that put the lie to Harper’s claim that only Duffy and Nigel Wright were in on this deal? That it was somehow selfless of him to hand them over?

Besides, had Harper refused to cooperate, it could have led to him being subpoenaed. Everyone remembers how much he likes answering questions. Imagine the fun he would have had answering them under oath.

Staley also points out (correctly) that there is a constitutional principle that prosecutorial decisions must be free of partisan concerns. He forgets that Harper was the serving PM who congratulated the RCMP when they charged Duffy, through his spokesman Jason MacDonald. Harper was also the PM who directly involved the RCMP in the Helena Guergis affair when he had Ray Novak write on his behalf to the RCMP commissioner to pass on unfounded criminal allegations against her. (I might add that in the wake of her exoneration by the Mounties, she was kicked out of the Conservative caucus anyway. Harper rules.)

In Harperland, stupidity rules.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Stephen Harper has disappeared. And, Andrew Cohen writes, his legacy is disappearing as quickly as he did:

Stephen Harper was a failure in power. He created nothing lasting. Of prime ministers since 1945 who served a full term or more, his is the thinnest record.

Harper took on none of the big social issues – abortion, gay marriage, capital punishment – which animated his loyalists. He championed no constitutional reform and established few innovative programs. He proposed no new national initiatives – museums, pipelines, high-speed rail – or declared a projet de société.

When compared to his predecessors, Harper comes away looking pretty small:

John Diefenbaker passed the Bill of Rights. Lester Pearson created Medicare, the Auto Pact and the flag. Pierre Trudeau patriated the Constitution and entrenched the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Brian Mulroney brought free trade and a national sales tax. Jean Chrétien established the Clarity Act and reset national finances.

On criminal justice, the Supreme Court has struck down his laws on mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and limited credit for pre-trial detention. His changes to the parole system and prostitution laws may be next. The Court Challenges Program dismantled by Harper has been restored.

The long-form census has been restored. Ministers and diplomats can talk again. The Anti-Terrorism Act and Fair Elections Act will be amended. There is new money for culture and aboriginals.
Abroad, Canada has withdrawn from the bombing campaign against ISIL. We’re seeking the seat on the UN Security Council the Conservatives lost, and we may return to peacekeeping. We’ve taken a leading role in combating climate change in ways Harper disdained.

In the end, he will be remembered as a prime minister who truly didn't understand his country:

Stephen Harper misread the country. His instincts were dark and conservative in a decent, progressive country. When Canadians had a choice, they discarded him. Now they’re discarding his legacy.

He is the incredible shrinking man.