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.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Harper The Fascist Part MMXVIII

Remember in 2013, I wrote a rather lengthy post explaining the parallels between the Harper Government and fascism?

Yeah, that.

In the last week or so, the Harper Government has passed Bill C-51, which more or less turns the entire RCMP-CSIS-CSEC establishment into the PMO's private police force.  It grants the state extraordinary powers of surveillance, arrest and detention with virtually no oversight except for that of the Minister responsible for national security.  There is so much wrong with Bill C-51 and the structures it creates that I could rant about it all day.  If Harper creating a politically controlled police force doesn't terrify you, I don't know what will.

But it gets better.  Our strutting little "Dear Leader" is now threatening to go after Canadians who criticize Israel under the rubric of "hate crimes":
The government's intention was made clear in a response to inquiries from CBC News about statements by federal ministers of a "zero tolerance" approach to groups participating in a loose coalition called Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS), which was begun in 2006 at the request of Palestinian non-governmental organizations. 
Asked to explain what zero tolerance means, and what is being done to enforce it, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney replied, four days later, with a detailed list of Canada's updated hate laws, noting that Canada has one of the most comprehensive sets of such laws "anywhere in the world."
Just think about this for a moment.  Harper is essentially saying that Canadians who are vocally critical of Israel's behaviour towards its Palestinian neighbours are committing a "hate crime".   If this doesn't strike you as creating a class of political dissident similar to what China, the Soviet Union and other totalitarian states have done, you're missing the boat.

We aren't talking about criticizing the Jewish peoples here, we are talking about criticizing the State of Israel, which is a political entity on the world stage.  Criticizing its actions as a nation and a political entity is not spreading lies and calumny about a particular people, and in no reasonable world would it be treated as a "hate crime" in even the most generous sense of the term.

Harper and his gang want to walk in lock-step with Netanyahu.  Fine.  As the Prime Minister of Canada, that is his call to make.  As citizens of this country, we all share the right to disagree with that, and to take steps to voice that disagreement.  Attempting to characterize opposition as "hate crime" is yet another attempt by the Harper Government to silence its opponents.

He has already turned the CRA on environmental groups that represent an obstacle to his "big oil" agenda, now he is looking to turn the police on to any who criticize his government's foreign policy.

I will go a step further and predict that the Harper Government is going to use the tools of Bill C-51 to gather evidence without warrant, and to move any trials associated with this behind closed doors under the guise of "national security concerns".

... and just to finish up today, I will point out to the "Conservatization" of the branding of our government - in the form of allowing the London High Commission to issue blue-and-gold business cards to Embassy staff.  Canada's colours are not blue-and-gold.  There are guidelines for this long established.  What is this other than the government screwing around with the image of Canada where it thinks it can get away with it.  Yet another piece of a government dancing around the realm of fascism by attempting to brand the government in line with the political party currently in power.  

Saturday, May 09, 2015

What Happened, Alberta?

On Tuesday, May 5 2015 Alberta did the unthinkable - it elected an NDP majority government.

For most who grew up in the province, this was an almost unimaginable change in government.  Since the 1930s when the Social Credit party swept to power under "Bible Bill" Eberhart, Alberta has consistently voted right wing or centre-right under Lougheed.  Its political past has been one of apparent unity.  Certainly since the 1980s, the joke has been you could get a bale of hay elected in Alberta as long as it was running under a conservative banner.

Over at Evil Scientist, there is a decent analysis of the election and its outcome, but I think there's a bit more to the story that bears consideration.

Several factors had eroded public confidence in the governing PCs, a party which had held power since 1971.

Few people have acknowledged the party's inability to select a popular, or even capable, leader after Ralph Klein resigned.  First they selected Ed Stelmach, who promptly turned around and bungled a review of Alberta's royalty regime and in doing so upset a large chunk of the boardroom boys who like to think they are in control.

Then, when they pitched Stelmach out, they replaced him with Alison Redford.  Redford may not have been a bad premier had she been able to act on her own.  After the first few months in power, it became very clear that Redford was beholden to power brokers within the party.  After doing a few modest things which were socially progressive, her government turned around and tabled Bills 45 and 46 which were a gross attack on Alberta's labourers and in particular those who worked in the civil service.  Those bills all by themselves would have pushed an enormous number of voters away from the PCs in Edmonton.  This was followed by a series of scandals where Redford was painted as a selfish, entitled Premier who was grossly abusing taxpayer dollars with private flights, and a private apartment atop a government building.

By this point, public outrage against the PCs was building quite strongly.  Those on the political right decried the abuse of public dollars, those on the political left were appalled by the neoliberal assault on labour rights.  Further, a steady erosion of both health care and education services, resulting in increasing fees at the door for both, unacceptable waiting times for treatment and other problems resonated with Albertans as an unacceptable problem.

The PCs no doubt thought that they had won a great victory in 2012 when the progressive vote in the province collapsed to the benefit of the PCs following a series of bungled "bozo eruptions" from the WildRose Party's candidates and leaders.  The party brass failed to understand that much of that vote in 2012 was not solid "PC support", but rather a strategic vote to keep the WRP out of power.  So, when the PCs started implementing ever more neoliberal legislation and acting more and more like Harper's Conservatives federally, it naturally had a price.

In the run up to calling the election, and during the election campaign itself, Premier Jim Prentice bungled several things which cost his party a substantial amount of support.  First, there was the astonishingly arrogant "look in the mirror" comment, which no matter how he intended it to sound came across to most Albertans as arrogant, smug and paternalistic to say the least.  Then there was the budget, where he refused to address corporate taxes at all, which just resulted in a lot of people deciding that Prentice was just a puppet of the corporate boardrooms who clearly had far too much influence already.  In the debate, Prentice cooked his own goose with the wonderfully condescending "Math is Hard" comment, which Notley promptly turned back on him. (Few have noted the similarity between Prentice's comment and the 1990s uproar over a Barbie doll)

So, why didn't the seemingly right leaning Alberta voters run over to the WildRose Party?  First, I think that the NDP managed to plant the idea in voters minds that there was little difference between the PCs and the WRP philosophically.  The mass defection to the PCs led by Danielle Smith didn't help matters, and previous associations between WRP leader Brian Jean and Prentice would hardly have helped.  Jean not only worked alongside Prentice in Ottawa, but donated $10,000 to Prentice's leadership campaign.

A wooden performance at the debate where Jean seemed to be unable to answer questions directly, and stuck rigidly to a "no taxes" script echoed the tightly controlled approach to politics that Canadians have seen from Stephen Harper's Conservatives federally.  This could not have played well for the WRP.  A policy convention in the fall where social conservative elements in the WRP were able to defeat a motion that would have broadened the party's human rights position to include LGBT rights would also have been a deterrent to more socially moderate voters who might have otherwise considered the WildRose Party an acceptable option.  Jean did state that he was not willing to take on "controversial" topics, but his voting record in Ottawa didn't exactly lend socially progressive voters any confidence.  Also, voters had a difficult time squaring the party's lower taxes mantra with the costs of providing services that the public demands.  Simply saying you could save billions by cutting management was naive, and enough voters remember the chaos of Klein's cuts in the 90s to be wary.

Prentice didn't step into an easy position.  Oil prices had tanked when he took the reins of power, and over the coming months, Alberta's oil patch shed over 20,000 jobs.  This only accounts for a percentage of the actual losses, with contractors and smaller players having lost enormous amounts of business that never show up in the "jobs" numbers.  Voters weren't exactly buying the "low taxes = jobs" line out of the right wing - they had already figured out that "jobs" were inherently insecure.  What will remain a mystery is why Prentice triggered a snap election.  The timing made no sense.  An economic downturn, a public upset with Redford's leadership and with Prentice's seeming arrogance.  Calling an early election, even in the face of apparent disarray in the WRP, was a silly move.

But how does this translate into the massive swing to the NDP that we saw on Tuesday?  After all, Alberta had a number of other options to vote for which were closer to the Lougheed era PCs philosophically, including the Alberta Liberals, The Alberta Party and the Green Party.  Simply put, none of those parties had the electoral presence.  Both David Swann and Greg Clark are well liked and respected, but their parties have been struggling to be heard at all.  The fact that no other centre-left party had a full slate of candidates running didn't help those parties either.  Not to be overly dismissive, as both the Liberals and Alberta Party represent a very centrist vision that we should pay attention to, but the damage to the Liberal brand in Alberta has been so severe that the word itself is almost a swear word for many Albertans.

Ms. Notley delivered a solid campaign which responded to many of the expressed concerns of Albertans.  When candidates who seemingly didn't even campaign at all got elected, it was clear that the vote was primarily on the strength of Ms. Notley's presence and clarity.  As much as the right wing desperately tried to scare voters away from the NDP, most voters clearly were looking for change.  Was this a "protest" vote as some have claimed? Only in part, but saying it was a protest vote is to dismiss the votes of those who voted for the NDP because they represented a vision that they believe in.  I think that Albertans declared that there was a limit to how far into the unfeeling corporatism that has infested the right wing of politics they are willing to embrace.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Brian Jean: WildRose's Second Lake Of Fire?

Newly minted WildRose party leader Brian Jean is running around the province trying to drum up votes like every other politician in Alberta these days.  His latest "fear" seems to be that the PCs are going to start sliming his party.

“I think they’ll even claim our ethnic candidates are
racist. I wouldn’t be surprised.” 
The interview is over but a couple minutes later Jean phones back. He wants to add something. 
He says the PC run the same kind of playbook as the federal Liberals tried on Stephen Harper. Remember, Jean served in the Harper government, as did Prentice. 
“They tried to demonize him. They said we had a secret and hidden agenda. They claimed we were theocrats and racists and bigots and there were going to be soldiers on the streets of Canadian cities.” 
“The PCs do this because they have taken over the space of the Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta. The PCs have taken that ground.” 
For the record, Jean says he “has no interest whatsoever” in pushing social agenda issues. Gay-straight alliances will stay with Wildrose.
I suspect most Albertans know very little about Mr. Jean, except that his son passed away recently.  I certainly hadn't heard of him before myself.

As a former MP, I sincerely hope that Mr. Jean doesn't think his resignation erases his past history as a politician, because it does not.  I didn't feel like wading through all of the Hansards since 2004 to figure out how Mr. Jean had voted on every issue, so I wandered over to Campaign Life's lovely little "reference card" to find out how MP Jean had voted on Social Conservative hot button issues since he went to Ottawa.

The upshot?  Campaign Life likes this guy - he's been a very obedient little MP for them.  Let's take a closer look at his voting record:

Transgender Rights (Bill C-279 and Bill C-389):  Nope.  He's opposed to that.  

Gay Marriage (Bill C-38, Motion 12):  Nope, he opposed that.  

Abortion (Bill C-484, Bill C-510, Motion 312):  Mysteriously he supported both bills which would have reopened the abortion debate, as well as Motion 312.  

Hate Speech (Bill C-304):  Yup, he voted to remove hate speech protections from Canada's human rights law.  

Basically, if you are gay, trans, or female, this guy doesn't have much room for you in his world.  If you belong to a minority that is frequently subjected to hate speech, he figures your abuser has more rights than you do too.  

He's remarkably closed-mouth about his beliefs, which is his right.  As voters, we then must turn to his past actions to understand exactly what this man represents.  He's been a very dutiful ally to all things the TheoCon base wants.  He might be somewhat less verbose about things than the unlamented Alan Hunsperger, but does that mean that voters should trust his statement that he “has no interest whatsoever” in pushing social agenda issues?  

Mr. Jean refuses to answer for his votes on the matters as an MP, and now he's running to be the next Premier of Alberta.  He has a responsibility to be honest with Albertans on this - not just "oh I won't push those issues" (as Danielle Smith so vapidly tried to convince us of in 2012).  There is a fundamental inconsistency between his actions as an MP over the best part of a decade and statements made to the Calgary Sun.  

Thursday, April 09, 2015

WRP, The ISS Just Saw Your Reality Cheque Bounce Past Them

When newly minted WildRose leader Brian Jean spoke on the party's budget plank, he demonstrated just how unrealistic the neoliberal model of government is.
"We believe that any Albertan that goes into any government service will see inefficiencies and things they would actually see to change themselves. We are bringing forward practical solutions to change things. We are not going to affect any front-line workers and I would not suggest it's an axe."
Yeah ... sure.  When was the last time you dealt directly with a government frontline worker?  Registries?  Nope - those are all privately operated now.  Taxes?  Nope - those are all automated these days.  Health Care?  Yes, if you went to a hospital; no if you went to your family physician or a walk-in clinic.  Alberta Works?  Yes.  Schools?  Nope - those people are employees of the school boards.

In the two cases where government employees are involved, if you see "inefficiencies" that you want to change, the people involved are front line workers.  
Jean is also promising to improve health care and education, and make government more accountable. He said Albertans are frustrated by what he called "countless scandals" involving the abuse of tax dollars and the entitlement of senior government officials.
The PCs have failed miserably for the last couple of decades to be prudent fiscal managers.  The piddling size of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund demonstrates this, as does the enormous deficit the government is facing in the wake of a downturn in the oil market.

That said, WRP's "plan" isn't exactly realistic either:
The leader of the Wildrose Party is promising to return Alberta to balanced budgets by 2017 without raising taxes. 
But Brian Jean did not offer up full details on how his party would accomplish the feat as he introduced a five-point priority list in Calgary on Wednesday. 
The centrepiece of the plan is to roll back the tax and fee increases introduced by the Tories in the spring budget and create a long-term savings strategy.
So, you're going to reduce taxes (that's what all those fees are that Prentice just slapped Albertans with), and you are going to balance the budget?  All without addressing the systemic problem of the current revenue models?  Good luck with that.
The other four Wildrose priorities are: 
  • Patient-centred health care and seniors care: implement a 'Wait Time Guarantee' to reduce surgical and specialist queuing.
  • World-class education: "back to basics" curriculum and grading.
  • Democracy and accountability in Alberta: the party vows to curb waste and cronyism by capping severances, reducing managers and eliminating corporate welfare.
  • Supporting rural industries and communities: "We recognize that the long-term health of Alberta depends on ensuring our rural industries and communities have the support they deserve," the party's website says.
Seriously?  They think they can do massive overhauls of health care and education without spending money?  Good luck with that.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Why The "Fight Against ISIS" Is A Farce

Prime Minister Harper's current political "divert the public's attention" strategy is to beat on the war drums over ISIS.

Yes, ISIS is a brutal lot, and they are doing a lot of horrible things.  Should they be held accountable for their actions?  Absolutely.  Are the western powers the right people to "hold them accountable"?  No.  Not in the slightest.

Way back in 2002 (before I started this blog), Bush the Lesser decided to invade Iraq, turning one foolhardy war in Afghanistan into two wars.  Invading Afghanistan was foolish enough, invading Iraq was ludicrously stupid.  Both of these were essentially colonial wars of occupation.  Over a decade later, the invading forces pulled out after fighting bloody wars against insurgencies in both countries with dubious results.

Those of us old enough to remember the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, will remember the western powers pouring vast sums of money and munitions into the "Mujahideen" resistance, which ultimately gave rise to the Taliban.  Yes, the same Taliban which eventually took control of Afghanistan and gave support to the development of al Qaeda under Osama bin Laden.

Starting to see a pattern here?  Namely that factions and squabbling among quasi-militarized groups in the area are incessant, and more importantly that foreign interventions have this nasty tendency to end up creating the conditions for the next escalation.

So, returning to Bush the Lesser and Iraq, there's an important bit to consider.  Bush wandered into Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein, declaring "Mission Accomplished" a year later.  The fighting in Iraq would continue for a decade after that.  However, deposing Hussein and banning the Baath party was the beginning of the problem, not the end of a problem.  You see, the United States in its usual ham-fisted manner left some half-million Iraqis wandering around loose with no money and lots of weapons.

These people became the military leadership of what is now ISIS.  That's right.  You can pretty much blame the existence of ISIS on the ham-fisted approach taken in Iraq (and to some extent Afghanistan).

So, fast forward to today, and Canada's current government is in a mad rush to get into a shooting war against ISIS.  Quite frankly, this is a ridiculous thing to do.  Even if we (the western powers) were successful in dismantling ISIS, the odds are that whatever intervention we make will create the conditions for yet another violent, paramilitary organization to arise.

The simple reality is that wars of occupation are guaranteed not to succeed in today's world.  An aerial campaign against ISIS is unlikely to be effective in the long run.  It is not terribly difficult for an organization like ISIS to disperse in ways that make aerial attack ineffective, and even if a ground war were to be undertaken, it will create the same problems that we saw in Iraq.  WWII style heavy equipment warfare simply is the wrong solution here.  This is a war that needs to be fought behind the scenes.  Dismantling ISIS cannot be done using standard military approaches.  Attempts to do so will simply result in the rise of a new rival - likely originating by whomever becomes the  local "resistance" against ISIS.

There is a role for western powers in the region, but it is not the military role that Harper has been putting forward.  Ultimately, we have to take a "hands off" approach, and allow the region as a whole to settle its own squabbles.  The current borders are the consequence of a failed exercise in nation creation as the colonial powers pulled out of the Middle East in the early 20th century.  Those borders were created to satisfy the political and economic objectives of the colonial powers, not the peoples who live there.  While we can, to some degree, provide humanitarian intervention and relief, beyond that, it is not ours to prop up states which have only limited validity in the eyes and minds of the people who live there.

Harper wishes to style himself a "War PM" to deflect attention from Canada's growing economic woes (pay no attention to the 20,000+ jobs lost since November, 2014 in Alberta).  Make no mistake, by committing Canada to an expanded role against ISIS, Harper is hoping that Canadians will forget the mess that he has made in this country.  He is hoping that Canadians will be so scared by the horrific behaviour of ISIS that we will rally behind his brand out of fear.