Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Corrupted Party



Linda McQuaig writes that there is no better contrast between what the Conservative Party used to stand for and what it stands for now than the contrast between Douglas Roche and Stephen Harper. Roche represented Edmonton between 1972 and 1984. He was appointed to the Senate in 1998. He retired from the Senate in 2004.  Throughout his career, he has been a tireless advocate for nuclear disarmament:

Roche has spent decades championing nuclear disarmament, peace and social justice — causes that have fallen by the wayside in our current rush to celebrate greed and cheer on military intervention.
Launching his twenty-first book this week, Roche is a striking reminder of the gulf between the old Progressive Conservative Party that, at its best, found room for truly public-spirited individuals, and Stephen Harper’s soulless new version.

He believes, quite simply, that war has become an outmoded method for solving disputes:

Gentlemen no longer duel, for instance. But for centuries they did. As Alexander Hamilton prepared for his famous 1804 duel with U.S. vice-president Aaron Burr, he wrote in his diary that he strongly disapproved of duelling but felt obliged to participate because people would look down on him otherwise.

The lack of duelling today doesn’t mean that humans have evolved into more sensitive beings — just that society regards duelling as unacceptable and outdated. Aggression is now channeled into contemporary practices like corporate takeovers or derivatives trading.

But Mr. Harper is still addicted to the old way of doing things:

Under Harper, Ottawa has shown an enthusiasm for the institution of war, making something of a fetish out of celebrating Canada’s war history, pumping up our military spending and no longer even feigning an appreciation of peace. Our troop contributions to UN peacekeeping missions, already on the decline under the Liberals, have plummeted to 53rd in the world, in between Paraguay and Slovakia.

Roche has served as the President of the United Nations Associations of Canada; and, in 1985, he was elected Honorary President of the World Federation of United Nations Associations. Stephen Harper refuses to speak to the UN.

The distance between Douglas Roche and Stephen Harper is the distance between Peace and War. And that distance illustrates just how thoroughly Mr. Harper has corrupted the Conservative Party of Canada.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Ugly Blast From The Past



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.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How's He Doing?



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.



Monday, April 21, 2014

Looking After Tom And Daisy's Interests



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.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stephen Marois?



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.


    Saturday, April 19, 2014

    Smelling A Skunk



    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.


    Friday, April 18, 2014

    Christians Like Us



    The Harper Party insists that its values are the values of the vast majority of Canadians. But, Linda McQuaig writes, Senator Linda Frum's recent musings reveal just how narrow and inverted Conservative values really are:

    Frum’s adamant insistence — at a Senate hearing and later in a series of well-publicized Twitter exchanges — that Elections Canada should not encourage people to vote sounded so out of sync with widely-held democratic principles that it appeared mystifying.

    Indeed, it only made sense when you realized she was inadvertently revealing how deeply she and other Harperites mistrust the public at large — and how much they fear entrusting the vote to those beyond the Harper base.

    Encouraging the vast horde of Canadians to vote is the last thing they want. Frum’s strange remarks captured the deeply anti-democratic tendencies of the Harper Conservatives.

    In truth, the Harperites are snobs. The only people who matter, they say, are people like us. That is the central thrust of the "Fair" Elections Act. And it explains the government's insistence on shutting down dissent:

    The Harper team is notorious for muzzling government scientists, cutting funding to groups insufficiently aligned with its agenda and launching an aggressive campaign of tax audits of environmental charities criticizing government policies.

    The latest example of the crackdown on dissent comes from revelations that the United Church of Canada finds itself under scrutiny from the CRA:

    I heard this from members of Toronto’s Trinity St. Paul’s United Church congregation, including opera singer Mary Lou Fallis, a recipient of the Order of Canada. Fallis says that participants at a recent church event defending public health care were quietly warned not to say anything directly critical of the Harper government due to fears about the audit.

    The United Church, with more than 3,000 congregations across the country, has a long tradition of social justice advocacy and taking stands that would annoy the Harper government — such as supporting First Nations in their opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and opposing Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

    The Harperites are proud of their so called "Christian" roots. But, as always, the only people who count are "Christians like us."