Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Really Nasty Piece Of Work


Glen McGregor reports that Stephen Harper will skip Flora MacDonald's funeral:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not attend the funeral of former external affairs minister Flora MacDonald, a pioneering political figure credited with leading the advance of women in modern Canadian conservative politics.

Instead, Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch will represent the government at the service on Sunday — the day, according to a CBC report circulating Wednesday, that Harper will ask the governor general to dissolve parliament and kick off the federal election campaign.

A lot of other people will be attending:

Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, who made MacDonald his external affairs minister in 1979, is returning from summer holidays in the United States to speak at the service.
Former PC senator Lowell Murray, also a cabinet minister under Clark, will speak, and former PC MP David MacDonald will officiate. There is speculation that former prime minister Brian Mulroney will also attend.

You'll notice that these folks are all Progressive Conservatives. MacDonald, like Clark, warned against the Reform takeover of the party. Perhaps that's why Harper acknowledged her passing with a curt tweet which mis-spelled her name.

Harper's reaction merely confirms that there never was a place in his party for Progressive Conservatives. And it shows yet again that he really is a nasty piece of work.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Government By Obsession

When it comes to looking into the economic future, the Harper government's  record is nothing to brag about. And, in election years, the Harperite crystal ball is thoroughly unreliable. Consider, Scott Clark and Peter Devries write, what happened in 2008:

The November 2008 Economic and Fiscal Update forecast annual surpluses as far as the eye could see. Two months later this forecast was thrown into the trash. In response to the crisis Harper and Flaherty quickly discarded their Conservative orthodoxy and became temporary Keynesians. They introduced the largest stimulus budget ever, in an effort to increase economic activity. After that, deficits were recorded for seven consecutive years until, in this year’s April budget, Finance Minister Joe Oliver declared the government would finally register a surplus in 2015-16.

It's worth remembering that Harper and Flaherty became temporary Keynesians because they were a political minority. Who knows what they would have done if they had won a majority? Now fast forward to 2015:

The elimination of the deficit never had anything to do with good economic policy. The Conservative government’s sole economic policy objective has always been the elimination of the deficit. This is the only criterion it uses to judge its economic record; nothing else has mattered — not stronger economic growth, not increased job creation, not improved productivity, not saving the environment, not greater tax efficiency and tax fairness, and not strengthening federal-provincial and Aboriginal relations. The primary objective of the Harper government has always been to diminish the role of the federal government in economic policy. Eliminating the deficit no matter how small was critical to achieving that objective. 

Stephen Harper is obsessed with diminishing the role of the federal government. Period. Circumstances have nothing to do with what role the government should play. Therefore, economic data are meaningless to him:

Statistics Canada has reported that economic growth has declined for four months in a row (January to April). Private sector economists have now revised down their forecasts of real GDP growth for 2015 by about 0.6 per cent. Earlier this month, the IMF also cut its forecast for economic growth in Canada for 2015 from 2.2 per cent to just 1.5 per cent. Shortly thereafter the Bank of Canada cut its forecast for economic growth for this year to 1 per cent, while declaring the economy had contracted in the second quarter. That means Canada was in a “technical” recession in the first six months of the year.

Never mind that the latest data differ significantly from the data the April budget was built on. Besides, that budget was built on false premises to begin with:

The April budget was built on smoke and mirrors: overly optimistic economic growth and oil price assumptions; cutting the contingency reserve by two-thirds; selling shares in GM at fire sale prices; raiding EI revenues; and even booking “savings” from unilateral changes to federal employees’ sick leave benefits. Without these tricks the government could not have paid for the income tax cuts it announced last October and still have balanced the budget.

The facts don't matter. They have never mattered. It's called Government By Obsession.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

You've Got To Be Kidding


Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau are criss-crossing the country, trying to articulate the central question behind the upcoming election. For Gerry Caplan, the question is simple and straightforward: Can Stephen Harper be trusted with another term in office?

For Caplan,  trust is the bedrock issue:

In a real sense, the entire history of Mr. Harper’s almost 10 years in office has revolved explicitly around trust. Time after time, his government pushed initiatives that were harshly criticized by experts in the field. Each time, we had to ask ourselves: Do I believe what the government is telling me or do I go with the scientists, academics, health experts, constitutional maven and all the other specialists who have attacked so many of the government’s initiatives?

From the perspective of trust, Harper's record shouts back at voters:

The Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette reported that the government will run a billion-dollar budget deficit this year, despite explicit assurances from the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Joe Oliver that the budget will be balanced.

What should us poor citizens do in the face of such a disagreement? How can we know what’s true? Since most of us can hardly be experts in all areas of governance, we really have no choice but to accept one side or the other. The answer, as so often in the past nine years, boils down to this: We can only believe the government’s blanket assurances if we disregard the evidence of the experts.

And Harper has nothing but contempt for the evidence of experts:

When the Harper government tells us that certain forms of asbestos are not necessarily toxic, yet virtually all scientists agree that all asbestos kills, there is no middle ground. We need to decide which side has the most credibility. This is not a hard one.

When the overwhelming number of scientists believe climate change is a clear and present danger but our government refuses to take the issue seriously, implicitly denying the scientific findings, whom do we believe? Another no-brainer, I’d say.

When the government actively pursues its law ‘n’ order agenda while Statistics Canada reports that violent crimes in Canada have generally fallen for the eighth straight year, what should we believe about how dangerous our streets are? And why does this issue remain a Harper government priority when the facts tell a different story? Are we talking about ideology and political opportunism, or evidence-based public policy?

Or when a large variety of experts warned against the excesses and dangers of the anti-terrorist bill C-51, while the government turned a completely deaf ear? There was no middle ground: You had to trust either the government or its authoritative critics. Again, not a particularly hard choice.

And the examples multiply still. When the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada publicly disagree, who do we believe? When armed forces veterans and the government bitterly disagree, what do we think? When the Prime Minister insists he had nothing to do with Mike Duffy being paid $90,000 by the PM’s own chief of staff, can we believe Mr. Harper? Wouldn’t that depend on how credible he’s been on other matters?

Can we trust Mr. Harper? You've got to be kidding.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Stiglitz On Greece


Joe Stiglitz has been spending the last little while in Greece, checking out the state of affairs. Those affairs, he predicts, will get worse and follow a course of events which keep repeating themselves:

As I read the details, I had a sense of déjà vu. As chief economist of the World Bank in the late 1990s, I saw firsthand in East Asia the devastating effects of the programs imposed on the countries that had turned to the I.M.F. for help. This resulted not just from austerity but also from so-called structural reforms, where too often the I.M.F. was duped into imposing demands that favored one special interest relative to others. There were hundreds of conditions, some little, some big, many irrelevant, some good, some outright wrong, and most missing the big changes that were really required.

Greece, he writes, is a sacrificical lamb on the altar of neo-liberalism:

Austerity is largely to blame for Greece’s current depression — a decline of gross domestic product of 25 percent since 2008, an unemployment rate of 25 percent and a youth unemployment rate twice that. But this new program ratchets the pressure up still further: a target of 3.5 percent primary budget surplus by 2018 (up from around 1 percent this year). Now, if the targets are not met, as they almost surely won’t be because of the design of the program itself, additional doses of austerity become automatic. It’s a built-in destabilizer. The high unemployment rate will drive down wages, but the troika does not seem satisfied by the pace of the lowering of Greeks’ standard of living. The third memorandum also demands the “modernization” of collective bargaining, which means weakening unions by replacing industry-level bargaining.

That's not to say that structural reforms aren't needed. But, as in the past, those in charge have got their economics wrong:

Structural reforms are needed, just as they were in Indonesia, but too many that are being demanded have little to do with attacking the real problems Greece faces. The rationale behind many of the key structural reforms has not been explained well, either to the Greek public or to economists trying to understand them. In the absence of such an explanation, there is a widespread belief here in Greece that special interests, in and out of the country, are using the troika to get what they could not have obtained by more democratic processes.

Special interests. Does that sound familiar?  The results could well be catastrophic -- not just for Greece but for all of Europe. Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

He Really Does Think We're Stupid


For the last two years, Stephen Harper has claimed that he is "delaying," not refusing to appoint Senators. On Friday, he said -- unequivocally -- that he was refusing to appoint Senators. Campbell Clark writes:

The government is already fighting a court case brought by a Vancouver lawyer, Aniz Alani, who argues that Mr. Harper’s refusal to appoint senators over the past two years, and the PM’s statements that he doesn’t see any need to fill the vacancies, amounts to a breach of his constitutional duty. The Constitution states that the Governor-General “shall” appoint senators, and by convention, the viceroy only does that on the advice of the PM.

In that case at the Federal Court, the government has been filing materials to back up an argument that Mr. Harper is delaying appointments, not refusing them. They include an affidavit from McGill political science professor Christopher Manfredi, who declared that there’s no constitutional convention that dictates how much time PMs have to appoint senators, and they can take their time. But refusing to appoint senators?
“Certainly, at some stage, senators have to be appointed,” Federal Court Justice Sean Harrington wrote in May, when he rejected the government’s motion to dismiss Mr. Alani’s case. He noted that if there were less than 15 senators, the required number for quorum in the chamber, Parliament could not function. (Mr. Alani argues the Constitution requires Mr. Harper to appoint senators, and refusing to do so defeats constitutional provisions guaranteeing levels of representation to provinces.)

But he's gone one step further. The provinces, he says, are responsible for the whole mess. Until they can get their act together, there will be no appointments. This from the man who has never met with the provinces to discuss Senate reform  and who -- for the last six years -- has refused to meet with the provinces at all. 

It's typical Harper balderdash -- shift responsibility. There is, you know, no made in Canada recession. It's the fault of international markets. He really does think we're stupid.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

They Don't See Much


The Harperites want to build a monument to the "victims of Communism." China is one of the last officially communist countries. Yet Mr. Harper and  Rob Nicholson, his Foreign Affairs Minister, have taken a curious approach to China.

China has been cracking down on human rights activists for some time, writes Jonathan  Manthorpe:

The crackdown on human rights activists has huge implications. The emergence of this group over the last 10 years represents the most serious threat to the survival of China’s one-party rule since the nationwide student uprising of 1989. The severity of Xi’s response to the rising influence and popularity of these lawyers, and to their role in countering the corruption and arbitrary power of party officials, is a clear indication of the threat he believes the movement poses. The purge undoubtedly will taint Xi’s planned visit to Washington in September — another indication of how seriously he takes the threat of the human rights movement.

Yet the near-silence on the persistent and widespread human rights abuses committed by China’s Communist Party stands in sharp contrast to Nicholson’s regular blustering about the iniquities of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This week, we learned from the CBC that Nicholson is demanding that his staff produce a steady diet of fear-stoking statements about terrorism in the run-up to October’s election — the apparent aim being to blunt criticism of the C-51 ‘anti-terror law’.

One wag recently quipped that Mr. Harper's foreign policy was "all mouth and no brain." In fact, what is true of Harperite foreign policy is true of all Harperite policy. Harperites claim their policies are cast in stone, while they continue to spout hot air.

Stone, yes. They are immune to deep and careful thought. They have no time for root causes. But they have committed all kinds of time and resources to communicating drivel and untruths. They only see what they want to see. And they don't see much.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Facts Are His Enemy


Stephen Harper claims that the upcoming election will be about security vs. risk. For once, Murray Dobbin agrees with him. What Dobbin is opposed to is Harper's claim that his Conservative government is the unquestionable home of security -- be it economic or national.

Consider Harper's  -- and other past governments' -- economic accomplishments:

When it comes to economic and social security, the vast majority of Canadians haven't been this insecure since the Great Depression. It's not as if we don't know the numbers -- 60 per cent of Canadians just two weeks away from financial crisis if they lose their job; record high personal indebtedness; real wages virtually flat for the past 25 years; a terrible work-life balance situation for most working people (and getting worse); labour standard protections that now exist only on paper; the second highest percentage of low-paying jobs in the OECD; young people forced into working for nothing on phony apprenticeships; levels of economic (both income and wealth) inequality not seen since 1928. Throw in the diminishing "social wage" (Medicare, education, home care, child care, etc.) and the situation is truly grim.
Most of these insecurity statistics are rooted either directly or indirectly in 25 years of deliberate government policy designed by and for corporations. Governments have gradually jettisoned their responsibility for economic security, slowly but surely handing this critical feature of every Canadian's life over to the "market" for determination. Economic policy has been surgically excised from government responsibility to citizens and is now in the singular category of "facilitating investment" -- a euphemism for clearing the way for corporations to engage in whatever activity enhances their bottom line.

And on the national security file, Harper has made Canada a bulls eye for terrorists:

As for the kind of security Harper likes to talk about, we are in fact less secure now under the Conservatives' policies than we have ever been. Harper's foreign policy could easily make us targets for the very "jihadists" that he rails on about. His involvement in the destruction of Libya, his aggressive stance in Afghanistan, the carte blanche he provides Israel in its brutal oppression of Palestinians in Gaza and the illegal occupation of the West Bank, and his comically ineffective "engagement" in the war on ISIL all contribute to terrorists identifying Canada as a reasonable target for retribution.

If we actually had some smattering of national interests in the Middle East, it could be argued that the risk is worth it. But we don't. The net result is not only increased national insecurity but the trampling of our rights to privacy and our civil liberties with Bill C-51 -- legislation that does nothing to enhance our defence against terror but dramatically undermines our personal security as citizens.

Mr. Harper's record speaks for itself. But he will do everything he can to obscure it. Facts are his enemy.