Monday, April 27, 2015

He Needs Another Closet


When it comes to shifting blame, Stephen Harper is a past master. Last week, in the House of Commons, he suggested that Mike Duffy made an inaccurate claim about his residency. Harper implied that the whole mess currently in front of the court was Duffy's own doing. Michael Harris writes:

Here is the constitutional truth about Duffy and the Senate. Both the Prime Minister and the Governor General have the obligation to assure that an appointee is eligible for an appointment to the Senate before they are elevated. The GG accepts the appointment on the advice of the PM, not the nominee. They not only blew it, they knowingly blew it — unless the PM is going for the Hans Christian Anderson Award for fairly tales; that he was the only guy in Ottawa who didn’t know where Mike Duffy — or Pamela Wallin for that matter — really lived.

But, as has happened so often in the past, Harper claims his hands are clean. That's why Harper needs to be called as a witness:

Which is why the Great Marketer has to be put under oath at Duffy’s trial. The Crown has already gainsaid the PM on the issue of Duffy’s constitutional eligibility for the Senate. The Crown has said that he probably wasn’t eligible for the appointment. Unless the Privy Council and the GG’s office are full of sycophantic dolts, they would have told the PM the same thing. So why was the appointment made? We need Harper’s evidence under oath in court — the one place where political marketers don’t have the last word. Well placed sources tell me that the PM knew well about the hazards of appointing Duffy from PEI, but said the critics “would get over it.”

However, Harper will not come to court willingly. He'll try very hard to find a constitutional closet to hide in.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It Deserves A Horse Laugh


The tabling of the budget last week signalled the beginning of the election campaign.  A careful reading of the document makes clear that Stephen Harper's election strategy will be rooted in deceit. Michael Harris wrote:

Still, no one should be surprised. This misbegotten government’s modus operandi is about much more than information control. It’s about soaring, jet-propelled skullduggery in a never-ending political campaign. It’s a power fantasy. It’s Steve’s way.

Armed with his narrative of convenience, Harper programs the electorate with fictions of prosperity, compassion and prudence. In the real world, he acts quite differently. There, he underfunds Coast Guard stations, veterans’ offices, First Nations tribal councils, railway inspections, scientific research and Employment Insurance processing.

Mr. Oliver's budget is full of the new math -- the kind that doesn't add up:

Numbers have a wonderfully elastic quality to them; like Harper cabinet ministers, they say what they’re told to say. Numbers are the favourite tool of fraudsters and politicians alike. One swindles money, the other swindles votes.

Under the old system, the minister assumed an unchanged price for oil over five years in making his projections. But Joe Oliver, viewing the resource landscape through rose-coloured bifocals, is predicting that the price of oil will increase in each of the next five years.

No matter what he says, the minister can’t see into the future. For us to believe his revenue forecast, we have to blind ourselves to some obvious facts. There’s a price war going on in the oil industry. Key producers are turning on the taps to put weaker players with a costlier product out of business. Major producers like Saudi Arabia are also hedging against any softening of long-term demand for their product — because of a working climate change treaty, for example. The last thing they want is to create a situation where demand diminishes or disappears well ahead of supply. The fastest way to diminish demand is to make oil so expensive that it encourages the rapid development not only of costlier product — like tar sands bitumen or fracked oil — but of renewables, like solar.

But besides the convenient oil calculations, there are all kinds of other examples of sleight of hand:

He didn’t, for example, explain that the government is effectively abandoning infrastructure investment until 2017, at which point it proposes to come across with chump change. He didn’t mention the national yard sale the Harper government has been running to funnel public asset value towards balancing the books. (Selling an asset to balance a budget isn’t good management. It’s desperation.)

The final item of fiscal trickery in the budget was almost too brazen to imagine. Oliver slyly waited for the new fiscal year before bringing down his budget — and promptly dumped the government’s last remaining shares it held in General Motors as a result of the 2009 auto bailout.

This allowed Oliver to use $2.1 billion to help balance the budget. It was the most expensive $2.1 billion any Canadian government ever made, given that it imposed a $3.5 billion loss on taxpayers in Canada and Ontario. Market analysts thought it was a bad time to sell. Even the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge pointed out to Oliver that had he waited just two more weeks to sell, Canada would have received an extra $100,000,000 for the shares. Prudent fiscal management — or just another costly bonbon for Goldman Sachs, the buyer?

Sound fiscal management? You bet. If there ever was a budget that deserved a horse laugh, this it it.

Just one personal note: My mother died on Friday. She died as she had lived: determined to cling to life as she became increasingly fragile. She was, as Dan Ackroyd said of Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy, a doodle. And now she's free.

We'll be away for a couple of days this week to attend her funeral.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Defying The Conventional Wisdom

                                Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS file photo 

Justin Trudeau appears to have ruled out any coalition arrangement with the NDP. But Chantal Hebert believes that such an arrangement is still possible:

But what if, instead, the Conservatives finished only two or three seats ahead of the runner-up?
Would Canada then not be better served by a minority government whose stability was ensured by some form of formal understanding with one of its opposition rivals?

It was in similar circumstances that David Peterson’s Liberals struck an alliance with the NDP to replace the Tories in power at Queen’s Park in the mid-1980s.
If the result had not been as close — a mere four seats separated the first-place Conservatives from the Liberals on election night — chances are the Tory status quo would have prevailed.

No leader is going to talk coalition as he or she goes into an election. But, ultimately, voters will determine what arrangements will be necessary in the House of Commons:

If they were to make a move along the lines of a coalition or some looser arrangement to oust Harper they would have to cross the Rubicon at the time of the speech from the throne.

Likewise, the current speculation is almost always premised on a second-place Liberal party to the exclusion of a) the NDP keeping the lead opposition position in a minority parliament and b) the Conservatives falling to third place.

Conventional wisdom currently has it that the odds for such outcomes range from improbable to unthinkable.

 Voters have been known to defy the conventional wisdom.

A quick note: We'll be in Montreal for the next couple of days. Enjoy Spring. It's finally here.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Posing As A World Leader


Ostensibly, Indian Prime Minister Modi is in Canada to sign a uranium deal and ease visa restrictions between the two countries. Don't believe it. Tim Harper writes:

Take a look at the receiving line at the airport in Toronto and Vancouver for Modi.
There you will find Conservative MPs with some of the largest Indo-Canadian populations shaking hands as the cameras whirred.

There was Brad Butt of Mississauga—Streetsville, where 19 per cent of the population is of South Asian heritage, and there was Bob Dechert of Mississauga—Erindale, where the South Asian population stands at 15 per cent.
Kyle Seeback of Brampton West, where 27,000 residents claim South Asian heritage, was there. In Vancouver, there was Nina Grewal of Fleetwood—Port Kells, where 22,000 residents list their country of birth as India, and Wai Young of Vancouver South, where up to 15 per cent of the population is from India.

And, Harper continues, it was no accident that the last leader to address Parliament was President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine:

who publicly thanked Harper for his support in his address last September.

The Ukrainian diaspora in this country is roughly equivalent to the Indian diaspora — about 1.2 million — and it can swing at least 10 Canadian ridings.

We are told Harper’s Israeli support is a question of morality, his Ukrainian support is aided by a longtime suspicion of Vladimir Putin, and his embrace of Modi rooted in years when the Indian leader was shunned by many in the international community

The Conservatives swept Brampton ridings in 2011 and having incumbents smiling in photos with Modi will not hurt their re-election chances. 

The "economist" whose economy has tanked is now posing as a "world leader."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Insane And Stupid


The Harper government's tough on crime agenda suffered yet another defeat this week. Expect to hear more heated rhetoric about Canada's biased judicial system from Mr. Harper. But, Michael Spratt writes, judicial activism isn't killing the government's crime legislation. Stephen Harper is:

The federal Conservatives have reduced criminal justice policy to a simple flow chart. Step one: Promise ‘tough on crime’ legislation that’s easy to sell to the Conservative base. Step two: Table the bill while ignoring the advice of experts (both inside and outside the Justice department) arguing the new law would be both ineffectual and unconstitutional. Step three: Cling like grim death to the talking points, at least until step four — when the Supreme Court strikes the law down. Step five: Cry ‘judicial activism’, then refer to step one.

The pattern is always the same; only the bills change. The results speak for themselves — for the Harper government, one defeat after another in the nation’s highest court. They’ve been in power since 2006. They really should be getting better at this by now.

But they aren't -- even if their own lawyers tell them their legislation won't pass constitutional muster:

Had they been listening, they would have gotten an early indication that the legislation was unconstitutional from their own Parliamentary Information and Research Service department, which warned that “mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment are generally inconsistent with the fundamental principle that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender” — and minimum sentences “may constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”.

They didn't like that message, however, so they simply ignored it. And, quite predictably, the Supreme Court told them they got it wrong:

The court did not simply hold that the minimum sentences are a poor policy choice. It found that these minimum sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment — that the legislation offends standards of decency by imposing sentencing as a “blunt instrument that may deprive courts of the ability to tailor proportionate sentences at the lower end of a sentencing range”.

The court also found that, under the 2008 law, an otherwise law-abiding person storing an unloaded, restricted firearm at his or her home would be treated as a hardened criminal and hit with a minimum prison sentence for a minor licensing infraction.

Some would call the Harperian approach to criminal justice insane. Others would call it stupid. It's both.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Living In An Alternate Universe


Yesterday, the provincial premiers met in Quebec City to map out a strategy to combat climate change. The federal government was invited to the conference but declined the invitation:

Tuesday's meeting ended with renewed calls for the federal government to show greater initiative in addressing the issue.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said the time for action is now, especially with an upcoming get-together of environment ministers leading up to an international conference on climate change in Paris in December.

"It has to be prepared, so we call upon the federal government right now to start working with us, first technically, then with the ministers, in order to work together in establishing our targets for Paris and the way we're going to present our situation, our plans in the future," Couillard told a closing news conference.
"There's no way it can be done in isolation. One order of government cannot ask the other to do the job. It has to be done together."

Yet, on that very same day, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford claimed that his government had an "already exemplary record on environmental performance."

Tuesday was also the day that the Supreme Court found that Harperian legislation to impose mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes contravened the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Harperites continue to act as if the Charter didn't exist. In their anti terrorism legislation -- Bill  C-51 -- they specifically mandate courts to ignore the Charter. And, in another court, Senator Mike Duffy stands accused of 31 offences which the Harperites claim have no connection to them.

These folks live in an alternate universe. Asylums are full of such people. But, in Canada, we've given them to keys to the kingdom.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another Ben Stein?


Joe Oliver's proposed balanced budget legislation is so inane it's hilarious. Like most Harperian legislation, the proposed bill leaves lots of unanswered questions. Scott Clark and Peter DeVries write:

In his speech, Mr. Oliver stated that the only deficit his balanced-budget law would consider acceptable would be one that results from a recession, or an extraordinary circumstance (like a war or natural disaster) with a cost exceeding $3 billion in a year. Within 30 days of a published deficit, the Finance minister would be required by law to testify before the Commons Finance committee and present a plan to return to balance. That plan would include an automatic freeze on operating spending and a five per cent cut in the salaries of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers until the budget is balanced again. Departments that helped create the deficit would see their budgets cut.

But recessions never end quite on schedule. The Harper government has posted deficits in every year since 2008-09. The deficits in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 were definitely due to the recession and the stimulus measures implemented. But what about the deficits recorded in the following years — when the economy was technically out of deficit but still too sickly to provide the kind of revenue growth that would have lifted Ottawa into the black?

Would those late-game deficits have to be offset by spending reductions under Mr. Oliver’s rule, despite the economy’s fragility? Would there be an automatic freeze on departmental operating budgets and salary reductions for ministers and their deputies? Who decides when a recession ends? Should only structural deficits be outlawed? If so, who decides if a deficit is caused by structural factors and by how much?

And what qualifies a circumstance as ‘extraordinary’? Wars, floods, tornadoes — those seem obvious enough. But what about another threat to central Canada’s automative sector? Would another $14 billion bailout qualify as a legitimate government response to an ‘extraordinary’ event?

Harperian policy has never been rooted in wisdom. It's always been about buying votes. And this legislation is aimed at Harper's base -- which is upset at a government that has never balanced the books.

Oliver presents his proposal with a straight face. And his deadpan delivery suggests that he has a future as a stand up comic. Perhaps he'll become another Ben Stein -- an economist who became famous for his flat, nasal droning in movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off,  and Dave and in television shows like The Wonder Years.