Friday, October 30, 2015

Reflections On The Post-Harper CPC

Whatever else you say about the results of the election on October 19, it was the end of Stephen Harper's career as leader of the CPC and Canada's Prime Minister.

By all measures, this election was the CPC's to lose.  They had control over the government and its messaging, they had a financial warchest rumoured to be many times the size of their competitors, and they had control over the timing.

So, what did they do wrong?  Lots.

Harper had spent his entire time as leader of the CPC consolidating his control over the party and its top ranks.  It had become the Stephen Harper Party, for better or worse.  Personal brand of the leader is often a powerful force in making a party's success.  Making the party all about the leader is never a good idea.  Leaders sooner or later lose their legitimacy, or they become tired of what they are doing and lose their "touch".  Although the CPC appeared unified behind Harper, that doesn't mean Canada was unified behind them.

The first thing that Harper did was run a campaign that was about fear and division.  He lashed out at Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, snidely calling him "Justin" at every turn, claiming that he had neither the smarts nor the experience to be the next Prime Minister.  He played the classic socialist bogeyman arguments against the NDP.  All this is pretty normal fare in Canadian politics, but somehow Harper took it to new lows - borrowing tactics from US Republican / Teaparty politics.

When attacking his peers didn't get him the traction he wanted, Harper turned on his own campaign manager, Jenni Byrne and brought in Australian Lynton Crosby.  Shortly after Crosby's name was floated, we got two gems out of Harper - "Old Stock Canadians" and the Niqab issue.  Both were distinctly vile to Canadian sentiments.  While they briefly got traction, they both backfired on Harper.  Yes, a somewhat ham-handed response by Mulcair destroyed his support in Quebec, that support didn't come Harper's way to any great extent even in Quebec.  Canadians saw this for what it was - KKK style racism, and they turned on Harper in droves.

Then, when Crosby jumped ship to save his "professional reputation" (as a purveyor of division and racism, I might add), Harper turned back to his usual stock approaches to campaigning, hoping desperately that Canadians wouldn't put together what his government was doing.

Harper ran a most un-Canadian campaign.  He threw people under his political bus.  His candidates weren't to be found campaigning on the ground in most ridings, even his cabinet ministers were nearly invisible most of the time.  That made the campaign all about him, and Canadians don't _like_ Harper.  They might have voted for him previously, but really that was because the Conservative attack machine had managed to assassinate their characters before the election - in essence, making Harper the least unpalatable option.

It didn't do the CPC any favours that in the last four years they had accrued the baggage of repeated scandal (Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau, Bruce Carson and others), a reputation for not answering questions in the House and a legislative agenda that more and more Canadians rightly saw as mean-spirited, if not downright malicious (Bill C-51, Bill C-24, the "Fair Elections Act").  No amount of sweater vests and kittens can overcome the shadow that casts.

So, what does the CPC need to do to rebuild?  A lot, and very little of the post-election analysis out of CPC members has even broached the realities.  MPs need to recognize that they are intelligent, thinking beings who should speak out for their constituents, not just act as party brass dictate they should.  A decade of "Harper's Trained Seal Act" has left the party with a deficit of ideas and original thought in the senior ranks.

Further, the party has to acknowledge that it has acted in an incredibly racist manner.  Yes, Jason Kenney (Minister of Curry in a Hurry) built up a lot of support within Canada's various immigrant communities, but he did so while part of an organization which gained much of its backing by playing off mistrust between groups, rather than unifying them.  The niqab issue, like the turbans in the RCMP 20 years earlier, is incredibly divisive and destructive.  It was a "throw an entire vote under the bus" moment, and the government's continued appeals even after losing the case in the courts merely cemented the overt racism of Harper's campaign.  The CPC cannot be seen to govern for all Canadians until it acknowledges that.

Further, legislation like Bill C-24 and the "Barbaric Cultural Practices" act are vile.  C-24 created a two tier citizenship.  Anyone who holds, or is eligible for, citizenship in another country is suddenly subject to further punishment, not at the discretion of the courts, but at the decision of the minister - making it a political decision.  I'm still not sure how many Canadians really understand how vile that really is.   The "Barbaric Cultural Practices" act was another part of the Conservative war machine.  It was designed specifically to attack the most visible crimes associated with the Muslim community (for acts which we already have laws against).  It was unnecessary, and again overtly racist - designed to whip up public outrage and fear, not to address a real gap or problem in our society.

If the CPC wants to come within striking distance of the keys to 24 Sussex again, they will have to acknowledge how they became the Harper Party, and what they did as that party.  Then, and only then, can they start to make the broadly inclusive coalition that is needed to ascend to power.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Senate Reform - Harper's Way

Earlier this week, Stephen Harper basically tried to make Senate Reform in Canada the province's problem to sort out.  More or less, he said that he wasn't going to appoint any more senators until the provinces come up with a plan to reform or abolish the Senate.

Harper has finally figured out one thing - namely that Senate reform cannot be done by legislative fiat, nor can he simply bully his way through.  Any meaningful reform has to have actual leadership to drive it.  Harper doesn't want to lead, he wants to dictate.

Basically, what Harper did was a "Halt or the dummy gets it" hostage taking approach.  This is not the approach of a leader, but rather that of a manipulator who doesn't understand how to build consensus.  Consensus among the provinces is not easy to build.  It will take being open to negotiation and careful consideration.

Harper has had the last decade to build consensus between the provinces and get the reform process rolling along.  Instead, he has treated the provincial premiers like dirt, tried to play them off against each other and generally has acted as a force of division.  On the Senate file, he stuffed it full of cronies and bag men, it blew up in his face.  Then he tried to "reform" it by proposing to do so through legislative fiat rather than through the Constitution's amending formula.  When the Supreme Court pointed out how every one of his proposals was unconstitutional, he gave up and went into a sulk.

Now, after watching Mulcair rise far above his expectations in the polls, Harper comes out with a passive-aggressive "it's not me, it's you" approach to the Senate file.  This is not leadership, it is a gross failure to lead.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On The Liberal Party's Sliding Support

Over at the National Post, John Ivison is trying to give more credit to the attack ads and a handful of missteps for the sliding support of the federal Liberal Party.

Ivison has missed two key points that have driven supporters away from the Liberals:

Bill C-51 and Bill C-24.  Along with the so-called "Fair Elections Act", these two pieces of legislation represent Harper's most egregious attacks on Canadians and our citizenship.

Trudeau had a golden opportunity to call this chicanery out and make a huge pile of political hay in the process.  All he had to do was denounce the bill when the Conservatives refused key amendments.  Instead, the order was given to the LPC caucus to vote for Bill C-51.

Similarly, Trudeau has been astonishingly blind to the intersection of Bill C-51 and C-24, which between them not only violate our Constitution in both word and principle but in fact create a legal construct that resurrects both the archaic concept of banishment, but places the decision making entirely in the hands of politicians.  This violates one more principle of our government - those who make the law should never be the same people charged with its enforcement.  Further, Bill C-51 does not make terrorism a crime.  No, far from it.  Bill C-51 is a piece of legislation which makes political dissent a crime.

When Trudeau gave the order to vote for Bill C-51, he enabled Bill C-24.  In doing so, he made second class citizens of every Canadian who is eligible through their parents or grandparents to hold citizenship in another country - even if they have no meaningful association with that other country.  Canada is a nation filled with immigrants and their children.  First, second and third generations are all now second class citizens, all subject not to equal treatment under the law, but to unjust punishment at the hands of the ministers.

Many of these people are potential supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada.  How many who are not died-in-the-wool supporters of the LPC do you think are going to continue to support them?

Two leaders have been abundantly clear in their opposition to Bill C-51:  Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May.  Both of whom represent parties with platforms that many Liberal supporters could easily adapt to.  Justin Trudeau and his advisors would do well to bear this in mind.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On Recession Economies

So, today the Bank of Canada lowered its prime lending rate to 0.5%.  Supposedly, this signals that Canada is sliding into a recession.

Those of us who have been watching have long ago figured out that the minute the bubble burst on oil prices, Canada was going to slide into a recession.  Arguably, if you aren't in the oil patch, Canada has been in a recession for the last four or five years.  What am I talking about here?

Jobs.  Sure, the government has posted "new jobs growth" regularly, but let's be honest with ourselves here.  Most of the jobs involved have been service jobs.  Jobs that pay poorly, have terrible hours and don't even provide a subsistence level of income.  If you're a skilled knowledge worker, you might luck out and get a contract job.  But guess what?  Contract work is unstable, and instead of paying a premium for your skills, you'll be lucky to get the same dollars you made as a full employee.

So, how do we end up with a long running "jobs recession" but still have economic growth for the last few years?  It's not really difficult to see.  If you have money invested in companies, they end up looking like they are posting profits, and the GDP numbers improve.  Basically, we're measuring two different things.  Growth in the size of the economy has become the rising tide that only floats the boats of the truly wealthy.  The rest of the "boats" are so far away from the water that the tide isn't even going to reach them.

Lower interest rates?  Well, it makes it easier to borrow money, right?  Sure ... except you need to have the income in the first place to support the loan.  So who benefits?  Once again, it makes it easier for business to borrow.  Oh, great, that means they can create jobs, right?  They could, but in today's world, they have been funnelling those funds into projects which eliminate jobs like automation projects; and as much as possible, new work that requires people gets shoved offshore wherever it is cheapest, or (until recently) assigned to temporary foreign workers instead of Canadians.  

The net effect of Harper's lovely little war on the middle class has been that those who aren't part of the privileged classes are screwed.  Lose your job?  Chances are the next one won't replace your previous income, and most certainly won't have any stability to it.  The problem is that business has decided that people are a risk, not an investment.  They are no longer willing to invest in people to solve problems.

Harper can deny that we're in a recession all he likes.  The cold, brutal reality is that we have never recovered from the consequences of the 2008 downturn, and the current crude oil price war being waged by Saudi Arabia and others is going to continue to keep things depressed.  Business may well post profits, the GDP will seem to grow, and workers will continue to be left behind.  

Thursday, July 09, 2015

About That October Election

Everybody in the media seems quite convinced that there is going to be an election scheduled for October 19, 2015.

Don't be so sure about that.  Harper has more than a few cards that he can choose to play.

The basis for this October date is the "Fixed Election Dates" act that Harper pushed through parliament in 2006.  Let's be abundantly clear - this act does not oblige the Prime Minister to request the dissolution of parliament in time for this date.  It essentially orders Elections Canada to set up for polling on that date, but there is nothing whatsoever which constrains the Prime Minister or the Governor General's powers with respect to dissolving parliament.

What are the other options that Harper can play out?

1.  Let the current Parliament run through until the mandate dissolves automatically in Spring 2016.

The last election was in Spring of 2011, and therefore the 5 year limit in the Constitution comes into play.  This is an almost unavoidable wall for Harper, as the Constitution doesn't make the dissolution a discretionary power of the Governor General at this level.

2.  Prorogue Parliament Until Dissolution

If Harper decides to let the current mandate run out in 2016, he may decide to prorogue parliament rather than give the opposition a place to readily beat the government over the head with.  Rather than bother with that possibility, he's quite likely to prorogue parliament and then continue to spend taxpayer dollars on his ongoing propaganda campaign.  (He can do all that using "Order In Council" to keep things going)

3.  Drag Canada Into A Shooting War

Harper has been trying to drag Canada into one of several conflicts.  Right now there are two hotspots he's playing this card in - Iraq/Syria/ISIS and Ukraine.  Harper has been pulling out all the stops to make ISIS as terrifying as possible, with the latest volley coming from an obscure Senate committee report.

Other than his ongoing desire to play "War PM", why would Harper be doing this?  Simple - there's a little clause lurking in the Constitution which allows for the current parliament to be extended if there is an "apprehension of war".  Harper has to convince 2/3 of the house to go along with this little charade.  A year ago, I would have said "fat chance" to that going anywhere.  But that was a year ago, before the Liberals voted for Bill C-51.  Today, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Liberals (or a reasonable percentage of them) vote for this motion, out of fear of being called "soft on terror" or something of a sort.

In short, there is very little reason for Harper to call an election for October.  He has plenty of options, and unless he thinks that he can win, he doesn't have to dissolve parliament in time for October 19.  No doubt he is hoping that his rivals will spend enough of their war chests over the summer on the assumption of an October election.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

That's A Turnabout

When I first started writing this blog, Michael Coren was a regular target for my ire, especially when he would go off spouting right wing talking points about gay marriage.  Quite frankly, I saw little difference between his columns published in the Sun newspapers and the tirades of his then ally Charles McVety.

About a month ago, I saw a segment on CBC's Power and Politics (starts at 1:39:00) where McVety and Coren were talking about Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum.  I was shocked at the irrational flailing about of McVety, and even more stunned by how reasonable Mr. Coren was sounding.  

I applaud Mr. Coren taking steps to change in light of new evidence and information.  While I don't expect to agree with him on all matters in the future, I applaud his thoughtful, reasoned approach.  I wish him well.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Dangerous Change In Law

In his latest abuse of the legislative processes, Harper has slide a particularly slimy bit into the 2015 budget implementation bill:  
The Harper government moved to retroactively rewrite Canada's access to information law in order to prevent possible criminal charges against the RCMP, The Canadian Press has learned. 
An unheralded change buried in last week's 167-page omnibus budget bill exempted all records from the defunct long-gun registry, and also any "request, complaint, investigation, application, judicial review, appeal or other proceeding under the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act," related to those old records. 
The unprecedented, retroactive changes — access-to-information experts liken them to erasing the national memory — are even more odd because they are backdated to the day the Conservatives introduced legislation to kill the gun registry, not to when the bill received royal assent. 
The date effectively alters history to make an old government bill come into force months before it was actually passed by Parliament.
 Oh, but this gets better.  It turns out that this is intended to squelch an ongoing investigation by a parliamentary officer - the Information Officer, Suzanne Legault.
In an interview airing later Thursday on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Legault expanded on the ramifications of passing these amendments. 
"What this does is that it erases the right of the requester to have ever made this request. It erases the right of the requester to have ever complained to my office. It erases all of the investigative powers that I have used during this investigation. And it erases the referral that I have made to the attorney general of Canada. And it erases the recommendations I have made to the minister. 
"What these provisions do is they actually erase any potential administrative, civil or criminal liability for any actors involved throughout the investigation and in the destruction of those records in contravention to the Access to Information Act."
Creating retroactive legislation in Canada that reaches back years in time is unusual, although technically legal as long as it isn't a criminal code change.
"An argument has been made that there are elements in the information act, the Access to Information Act, that contradict something in that other piece of legislation. At best that is a loophole," he said at an event in Windsor, Ont. 
"I'm not sure there really is a contradiction, but to be perfectly clear, the government is clarifying the information act to make sure it is in full conformity with Parliament's already expressed wishes on the long-gun registry that the RCMP has executed as they were required to do according to the law." 
The RCMP also rebuffed Legault's accusations, saying it did nothing wrong.
"The RCMP disputes the OIC's (Office of the Information Commissioner's) view that it denied a right of access under the Access to Information Act by destroying records that were responsive to the request," Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer said in a statement.   ( CBC )
However, in this case, it is quite clear that Harper is trying to squelch an investigation into possibly illegal actions of the RCMP and other government officials with respect to the Long Gun Registry data. So, even if this legislation is technically "legal", it doesn't mean it is right. No government should be using legislative fiat to make its indiscretions "disappear".

Once again, what we see here is a government trying to "change the rules" when they suddenly become a political liability.  

I've said it before - Harper needs to go.  This man is attacking not just the people of Canada, but the institutions of government itself.