Thursday, December 17, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
In July, Dimitri Soudas, the PM's spokesman,was remarkably vague -- and not at all contrite -- when I talked to him for this story, which was written after constituents in Peter Van Loan's riding complained about the minister passing off government cheques as his own, or as Conservative party benevolence.Recommend this Post
In fact, the federal Treasury Board investigated whether it was proper and in the face of that, all Soudas could tell me was that he was "proud" of the big cheque given to the good citizens of Innisfil.
Tonight, I heard Soudas telling CTV's Tom Clark that it was "NOT appropriate" for MPs to be slapping party logos and MPs' signatures on government cheques.
So, my questions are:
1. When did the PMO decide that Van Loan and others were off side with their carnival-sized cheques? They've known since at least July that this was going on.
2. And, since when did MPs start doing anything independently in this government? Did all these MPs and ministers just head to to the copy shop and get these cheques printed up themselves, by huge coincidence?
If Mr. Soudas would like to answer these questions, in light of his comments to the Star last July, we'll happily print them here.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
But last week's frosty public exchanges between the lord of 24 Sussex Drive and the lady of 1 Sussex Drive -- or, more properly, between their delegated spokespersons -- has observers simultaneously bewildered and transfixed by a bizarre spectacle: blunt words whizzing between the capital's two most exclusive addresses over a fundamental fact about Canada's system of government.
The unresolved "head-of-state" debate between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean -- sparked by a Canwest News Service story about Jean's controversial use of the phrase to describe her job during a Paris speech -- has also ignited a lively, nationwide discussion about who truly personifies the Canadian state, and whether it's time to recast that symbolism and redraw the boundaries between the Queen, governor general and prime minister....How the two most recognizable faces of Canada came to engage in a stare-down over the definition of head of state is baffling.But behind the unprecedented public disagreement between PM and GG are suspicions -- which await archival confirmation decades from now -- that the debate is linked to last December's drama over whether Jean would grant Harper permission to prorogue Parliament, thus preventing a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition from taking the reins of government.
She eventually agreed to Harper's request, but observers have been left to speculate about whether the decision followed arm-twisting by the prime minister, hard bargaining by the Governor General, or threats from one side or the other about calling on the Queen herself to help resolve the potential impasse.
For this highlighting this issue, Randy Boswell is awarded recognition for taking a baby step towards redemption. He does, however, miss the big picture.
The panel -- devoid of the words "de facto" or "Queen" -- is now a flashpoint in this unseemly and un-neighbourly struggle, a symbol of the strange clash between Canada's top two officeholders over symbolism itself.
This is not an issue of mere symbolism. There is a fight going on over the power at the heart of our government. Harper is laying the ground work for any future confrontations with the GG. His minions openly challenged the authority of Jean during the prorogation crisis. He has assumed and publicly yearned for some of the perquisites of the Office of the GG. His lack of respect for the Office Jean holds weakens it. By challenging her, arguably correct, assertion he further erodes Jean's authority in a future crisis.
This suits Harper's modus operandi perfectly. He often seeks to foment a crisis to force an issue to his benefit. This is what disaster federalism is all about. By challenging her authority, assuming portions of her role and challenging her authority he is actively seeking to weaken her for when the next, inevitable, confrontation comes about. The fact that the idea of recasting her role is in the media shows he has had a considerable measure of success in this endeavour.
I am no monarchist but seeking to undermine the authority of the Crown seems a bit seditious to me.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Any day now, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government will acknowledge a grim watershed – last year, for the first time in more than a decade, Ottawa spent more money than it collected from taxpayers and wound up with a budget deficit on its hands.
When the final calculations for 2008 are released, that shortfall is expected to come in at $5.8 billion.
That's nothing, however, compared to the $55.9 billion annual deficit the Conservatives predict for 2009 as they flood the country with money in a bid to offset the impact of the recession.
Presiding over the first deficit since 1996 will be a glaring embarrassment for Harper, who told voters during the election campaign last fall Ottawa's finances were fine.
"We are not running a deficit," he said during a television interview a year ago. Only two months later, a re-elected Harper warned Canadians in a prime-time interview the days of balanced budgets were over....
"The Conservatives ran through the surplus of $13 billion that they inherited before we even got into the recession," said John McCallum, Liberal MP and former chief economist at the Royal Bank.
"We certainly don't object to fiscal stimulus during a recession – that's the appropriate thing. But we do object to the Conservative practice of spending like crazy when times were good," he said....
"They're not just putting their toe in the water, they've leapt in up to their neck," Kevin Gaudet, director of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, said of the expected deficits.
The Conservatives' Sept. 10 budget update was unable even to say when the fiscal bleeding would stop, indicating only that it would be some time after 2014-15.
In fact, the government's current forecast of Ottawa's deficit financing would be much worse had Flaherty not snuck a hefty payroll tax increase into his calculations. Without fanfare, the Conservatives signalled their intention to raise payroll taxes in 2011-14 to generate $15.5 billion in extra revenue.
So how did Harper, who arrived at 24 Sussex preaching government restraint and blasting the Liberals for their free-spending ways, become Canada's deficit king?
Part of the answer, of course, lies with the unexpectedly deep recession. But it's not that simple. The record shows the Conservatives were flirting with a deficit well before the recession hit. And, by ratcheting up expenses in good times, the Harper regime ensured the size of those deficits would be a lot larger when things went bad.
... Even before this year's economic rescue package, Ottawa was poised to overspend its budget by $15.7 billion, according to Finance Canada documents. So the federal government would have run a hefty deficit in the current 2009-10 fiscal year even without the stimulus spending.
This situation results from the Tories' decisions to sharply reduce sales taxes and lower personal and corporate income taxes while simultaneously allowing a relentless upsurge in Ottawa's spending.
Besides lost GST revenue, the government as of this year is also foregoing $15.3 billion as a result of personal income tax cuts and $7.1 billion from corporate income tax reductions. In all, Conservative tax measures have trimmed Ottawa's revenues this year by $33.9 billion – equal to three-fifths of the expected budget deficit. And, by 2013, Finance Canada says Ottawa's business tax revenues will be reduced cumulatively by $60 billion.
BTW, other bloggers may feel free to make their own "Baby Step" Awards.
Update: Post title added and font fixed.Recommend this Post
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Guns help define less intrusive Conservative government at home and more muscular foreign policies abroad.
So it's hardly surprising that a law-and-order administration associates itself with arms raffles or that Stephen Harper made the Afghanistan war his own and so often uses soldiers as props. What's remarkable is that keeping gun control alive is better for the Tories than keeping the promise to kill it.
Liberals did Conservatives a lasting favour by introducing the long-gun registry and then letting a break-even proposition become a $2 billion embarrassment synonymous with red tape. With the possible exception of same-sex marriage, nothing alienated more Western, centre-right and rural voters. Once-safe Liberal seats swung Conservative and haven't budged.
How valuable is the registry to Harper? Precious enough that Tories continue to bash it as symbolic of the Liberal nanny state, but have not abolished it in three years in power. Harper is now leaving its fate to a private member's bill – a process prone to failure.
He then uses that observation as a launching pad to a more general maxim for all parties. Avoid accountability at your own peril.
If Conservatives listened to their own rhetoric – and weren't hunting eastern, swing and urban voters – shooting the gun registry would have been a first-term priority. If they believed in protecting the public purse, then the Prime Minister wouldn't be asking for $3 billion to spend behind closed doors. If accountability was more than a slogan, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page wouldn't be fighting for the independence and funding necessary to do his job.
Liberals paid the highest political price for avoiding that discipline. Now Conservatives are making the same mistake even as they continue pointing fingers at the Liberal folly. What both missed or ignored is that ruling parties put themselves at greatest peril when they spend fast, loose and in the dark.
Sage advice indeed.Recommend this Post
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Has Big Media ever had it so bad?
Journalism, chiefly south of the border, didn't put up much of a challenge to the moneyed men before they climbed aboard their golden runaway trains - just like it didn't put up much of a challenge to the pap trotted out to justify the Iraq war.
So, while the fourth estate is in dire straits, sympathy isn't exactly washing over the walls. Nor should it be. Journalism got corporate and soft. If, in the post-Watergate era, it leaned too much to the anti-establishment side, abetting welfare-state excesses, it has now been much the opposite, abetting easy routes to war and market chaos.
As media ownership became concentrated in the hands of a few corporate giants, journalists too often came to reflect the ethos of those corporate giants. Counterculture voices of the left, traditional sources of opposition to corporate rule and war, were marginalized.
Canadian journalism moved to the right of the population. ... We could be at the tipping point wherein a counterculture wave rolls in. More courage and daring and Jon Stewart-type outrage is in order - new rogues of journalism to set us straight. From those corporate owners who sought to impose their bias, the media need regain its independence.
Canadian journalism hasn't been caught off guard to the American degree. But ... our journalistic voices were tame in charting his folly. Those who tried to hit hard had to listen to sophomoric garbage about being "anti-American." Of course, telling the truth about the Bush administration was about the most pro-American thing anyone could do.
the resolve to stand up to vested interests isn't what it should be. There needs to be more independence and a hardening of the challenge function. We buckle too easily. When the Governor-General made her decision to sustain the Conservative government in office, she gave no explanation. Instead of demanding one, our media folded like deck chairs.
There's a dismaying conformity to our journalism, and little thinking outside the box.
As for television's conformity, we all know about that - those news delivery panels of chuckleheads who kibitz with one another instead of just telling the story.
The times are hard for the media. The shakedown is coming. Let it bring with it a new spirit - a journalism that is tougher, less knee-jerk, less beholden to elites, more beholden to the truth.
Let us give Mr. Martin his due. Fine words that are better late than never. The test, of course, is to see if he follows through.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
So how did I know Stephen would get the job? Was I clairvoyant? No. It was nothing more than simple, old-fashioned, logical deduction. The list of potential candidates --people who would have the proper skill set to run an organization like the NCC -- was not that long.
Being NCC president is not a run-of-the-mill job. First of all, you need to be an ideologically pure, small "c" conservative. That means you must reject Pierre Trudeau and all of his works. You must view the CBC as a socialist-run boondoggle. In general, you must believe that whatever the private sector can do, the public sector can do-- worse.
You must also know how to communicate effectively. You must know how to handle hostile media interviews and how to boil down complex socio-political issues into tidy 15-second sound bites. And you must have the debating skills to take on everyone from union bosses, to left-wing academics, to politicians, to NCC supporters who want a refund because the latest newsletter contained a split-infinitive.
And you must have no compunction about picking up the phone and asking a successful businessman for a $5,000 donation to help pay for radio ads featuring pigs oinking to the tune of The Blue Danube.
To me Stephen Harper fit the bill. Not only was he known as a principled ideological conservative, but as a Reform MP he had been a consistent and forceful champion of NCC causes. He spoke out vehemently against the MP pension plan, he denounced the Mulroney government's election gag law and he ensured that NCC representatives could appear before House of Commons committees.
What's more, Stephen was a longtime member of the NCC and had spoken at some of our events. Plus, I knew David liked Stephen. The two had first met back in 1987 at one of the Reform party's founding conventions and had become friends. Many times David would tell me how impressed he was with this "bright, young Calgary MP."
Well that is nice. By lavishing such high praise on Harper, it appears that all of the budget inflicted woundsin the Harper - Nicholls relationship have healed.
But perhaps this choice of extract serves a subtler purpose. There has been a lot of speculation as to Harper's future. With the ascendancy of Ignatieff, the Oh for three record in elections and, most importantly, the manifest fallibility Harper demonstrated in the Prorogation fiasco; people have been looking for signs Harper is preparing the ground for a retreat from public life. How about this?
Elected officials are constrained by the need for popularity every four to five years. The average one is consumed by the monthly opinion polls. The really bad ones worry about the approval of every group coming through their offices looking for a handout. Working with you in the NCC provides me with an opportunity to do much more -- to fight for basic conservative values of free markets and free elections, whether fashionable at that moment or not.
I am honoured to join you in your fight. The battle for political and economic freedom will have its victories and setbacks, as it has in the past.
It will never end ... and we shall never surrender."
Maybe it is wishful thinking on my part. But you have to sift through the signs as would a Kremlinologist with this bunch. If this is a sign of an imminent retirement, it brings to mind a quote from a book worth reading:
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Go read this article outlining the nature of HarProrogue
And a point form explanation of how Parliament works:
You know the typical story. The bully elbows another kid in the head, but instead of taking the abuse, the kid fights back.
The scrap is stopped by the teacher. The bully lies, saying it's the other kid's fault. The teacher ducks responsibility and reprimands them both. The bully wins and the good kid learns that it's easier to take abuse than to stand up for what is right.
Canadians, let's cut the crap. In the recent government crisis, Stephen Harper threw the first elbow and the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois stood up and fought back.
Harper started it and he deserves to be punished. Zero tolerance for bullies in my Canada.
(I would have reversed the order of that last point).
Fact No. 1: Harper's Conservatives failed to win a majority mandate.
Fact No. 2: The opposition, duly elected by Canadians, are in the majority.
Fact No. 3: In order for a minority government to do the country's business and pass legislation, they must co-operate with the majority opposition.
Fact No. 4: If the minority government fails to co-operate and is defeated, we have an election or the Governor General asks the opposition to form a government.
More clarification for those who fall for the Conserva-spin:
This is the no-spin reality. The Conservatives are duty bound to govern this country in co-operation with the opposition.
Instead of upholding this solemn trust, Harper dared the opposition to force another election by introducing right-wing measures that would undermine them -- and the country. He proposed to eliminate subsidy support for political parties and the right to strike for public-sector workers.
Worst of all, in a worldwide crisis, he failed to introduce economic stimulus that the G20 are insisting on.
Would you bow down to a proposal that would weaken party democracy, worker's rights, and the entire economy? Would you throw the country into another indecisive, expensive election? Or would you be brave, throw partisan divisions aside, and co-operate with other opposition members to band together and get the work done?It is strong. It is concise. It lays Harper and his nature bare. Support writers pointing out the danger of Harper by going to the article. Email it to a friend. Post it on a board at work. Get the word out.
Recommend this Post
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I tried transcribing on the fly but I was abysmal at it. So what follows is the gist of the conversation:
On confidence votes:
Mansbridge quoted from a speech Harper gave on September 17 in which Harper stated the importance of maintaining the confidence of the House through a vote. Mansbridge pressed him on how Harper ran away. The wee man didn't have an answer.
On the Political party subsidy
He stated that the vote subsidy and other poison pills did not, in his opinion, spark the crisis. So much for that talking point come January 27. This was not a reason for the crisis. Harper was asked in three different ways. And he gave the same answer. Maybe he didn't understand the question. Can he have a do over.
Why did the Coalition arise? There was a conspiracy. Harper the conspiracy theorist.
On the Liberal Party
The Liberal Party has a long tradition of governing and appealing to a wide spread of hte Canadian people. Sounds like an endorsement to me.
He failed that part big time.
I'm not sure how easy it is to pick up a plant.
If the Liberal Party wants my recommendation (as if), they would save this for future commercials.Recommend this Post
Monday, December 8, 2008
Insiders speaking out
This time it is insiders "close" to Harper who are letting us in on the not so secret real Steve (my highlights in bold).
What else, say political observers, could have led Mr. Harper to include in what should have been an innocuous economic statement several incendiary measures, especially the move to eliminate federal subsidies for political parties?
"He did not do that for ideological reasons," says Gerry Nicholls, a political consultant and one-time colleague of the prime minister. "He did it because he wanted to destroy the Liberal party. That's what it was all about.""He pushed away his ideology because he thought he could win," says Mr. Nicholls, who worked with Mr. Harper at the National Citizens Coalition. (The inner sanctum!)
"When things don't go Stephen's way, he has a tendency to go into a really dark place," says Mr. Nicolls. "When things don't go his way, his reaction is to quit."
"This (week) isn't the first time he has gone down a road like this," says Bob Plamondon of Mr. Harper's partisan-based decisions...
"I don't think he's a man who possesses a high level of emotional intelligence," says Mr. Plamondon. "He just doesn't get it."The author, a former Tory insider...
Harper as a Toom Tabard
Lack of real world experience:
Mr. Harper does have a master's degree in economics, which he earned in 1991 from the University of Calgary. By then, he was chief policy wonk for the nascent Reform party. He never taught economics or worked as an economist in any conventional sense.
But that's academic, so to speak. When the notion of Harper-the-economist is raised, critics point out that he cut the GST by two percentage points. It was a move decried by real economists of all political stripes, as the profession generally favours consumption taxes over income or other indirect forms of taxation... (decried by real economists, I love it)
Focus on personality issues:
Beyond those his friends brought up earlier, there is this amazing bit of petulance and classlessness:
But an op-ed he wrote for the National Post after the death of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 2000 may provide insight into the depths of Mr. Harper's contempt for Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal legacy. It is remarkable for its bitterness, considering the article was published days after Mr. Trudeau died.
Mr. Plamondon, the author of soon-to-be-released Blue Thunder: The Truth about Conservatives from Macdonald to Harper, points to many instances and mini-scandals that betray the spirit of democracy: the in-and-out financing scheme; the Cadman affair; bringing newly elected Liberal MP David Emerson across the floor and into the Conservative cabinet; accusing Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission president Linda Keen, a career bureaucrat, of being a Liberal appointee (evidence of Mr. Harper's belief that being accused of being a Liberal is an insult) and then firing her hours before she was to appear before a House committee; and violating his own fixed-election date law.
I expect that after reading this piece Harper may have gone to his dark place.
Recommend this Post
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
On the other hand, baby shoe futures are at an all time low due to a lack of use along the path to redemption. There is however, a glimmer of life on the horizon.Recommend this Post
Thursday, November 27, 2008
But his latest blog post (Harper’s new tack: change you can’t believe in) is a great example of a subtle phenomenon that occurs when a political personality has reached his best before date. You start to see unflattering images of him/her in the press and highly critical editorials written about him (granted as Mr. Wells points out in the comments this is akin to an earlier post he has written but the tenor is a smidge different).
You can bet the Harpoids aren't happy about that photo. And the descriptions he uses! Lord a goshen, it is almost like he thinks Steve is an incompetent. There are too many body slams to make it worth while to extract quotes.
Key an eye on this. It may be a sign that the defunding gambit marked the apogee of the media love affair with Harper.
At least, we can always hope :).Recommend this Post
Monday, November 24, 2008
It gets off to a good start:
"Opposition parties fear the Harper government intends to use the global economic crisis as an excuse to carry out ideologically-driven spending cuts. "
And Tom Flanagan can't help but blurt out:
"I'm hopeful there will be some ideologically-driven, neo-conservative cuts to government," political scientist Tom Flanagan, a former chief of staff to Harper, said in an interview.
Such cuts, he added, would be consistent with Harper's long-term goal of reducing the size and scope of government.
"I think that's always been sort of the long-term plan, the way that Stephen was going about it of first depriving the government of surpluses through cutting taxes . . . You get rid of the surpluses and then it makes it easier to make some expenditure reductions."
(My highlights in bold.)
Saturday, November 22, 2008
"We learned that when we all contribute to and share the benefits of good health care, we are all better off. We learned that the best way to build the bonds of social solidarity is by having our children attend great public schools in an environment that reflects the diversity in society around us. Most importantly, we learned that the measure of a great society and nation is how well we collectively take care of and lift up the weakest members, and that preserving the dignity of our neighbour preserves the dignity of us all.
But what we may not have learned is that building a fair and compassionate society is not a destination, but a journey. The fight for greater equality and justice never ends."..."The 2008 federal election failed miserably to excite Canadians. The few who did vote did so with little enthusiasm or sense of national purpose or pride. There was no appeal to our better selves to pull together as we enter uncertain economic times, nothing to restore energy and passion to national politics and government, nothing to remind us that we are stronger when we act together as Canadians and share in national projects and endeavours.
Canadians must have the opportunity next time to vote for a strong national government that can inspire us to look over the horizon and leave a better world for our children and grandchildren."Recommend this Post
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
"Just as Harper backed Bush's effort to block global progress on climate change, this time he helped Bush stymie European-led efforts at the G20 summit in Washington to restore regulations to international financial markets."...
"Harper's resistance to European calls for tighter regulations is ironic, since he has the luxury of presiding over a country that's been spared the worst of the financial meltdown, largely because of the Canadian tradition of tighter domestic financial regulations.
This has allowed Harper to ride out the current financial storm politically unscathed, even gaining re-election in the middle of it.
In fact, although Harper's record on this has received little attention, his government had started to push Canada down the dangerous road toward looser financial regulation."...
"One can draw solace perhaps from the realization that Canada doesn't shape the course of world events. Still, it's disappointing to realize that we're using what little influence we have at organizations like the G20 to help the exiting Bush administration do this last bit of disservice to the world."Recommend this Post
Thursday, November 13, 2008
After only three years, significant media outlets are readily willing to highlight articles with the headline: "Harper's Lies".
Didn't it take an even longer time for Bush to get to the stage where the MSM would openly refer to him as a liar?
The Conservative comment machine thereafter proceeded to tie their pajamas in a knot with a series of incredible contortions.Recommend this Post
"This convention seems set to serve as a networking and venting opportunity for the true believers who are, truth be told, the least influential Canadian demographic on this government's agenda-setting."
"There are no rivals on the right and thus little incentive to cater to Conservative diehard demands. Harper has the luxury of taking them for granted."
If the haters that form the backbone of the Conservative Party think he has turned his back on them his retirement party will be reminiscent of Mussolini's
To make it even better, The Star rubs their nose in it here.
When they are reminded that the only way they could give vent to their lunacies was by forming a splinter party,it is a good day.
"Of course, if Harper is too cavalier about ignoring party policy resolutions and going his own way, disgruntled Conservatives could choose to start their own breakaway party. That's what Harper (and others) did in the 1980s in protest over Brian Mulroney's government. The new party was called Reform."
Let us hope for more dissent fomenting editorials, intentional or otherwise.Recommend this Post
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
"Steps should be taken to make sure that fisheries allocations take into account the needs of species that cannot survive without Pacific salmon."
While there may be, as the comments to this editorial demonstrate, a lot of discussion of the efficacy of limiting salmon fishing as a method of preserving the Orca population, any time a major daily makes a point of pushing for conservation over raw economic interests it deserves an attaboy.
Recommend this Post