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.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Canada's Economy: Not Exactly Healthy

If you are a worker, you already know that Canada's economy is a mess.  The only people who don't seem to know it are at the top.

Press Progress published a very detailed analysis of how messed up our economy is today.  A few of the highlights:
First, the good news: Corporate Canada's profits have hit a 27-year high, according to a new report by CIBC World Markets. Bay Street has never been happier, right? 
Well, there's just one little catch: new Statistics Canada data shows the Canadian economy shrank in January. All those layoffs and store closures you've been hearing about lately? "Ugly" retail sales? That stuff.
Yeah ... "that stuff".  If you work in retail, you've probably been smelling the rot that's been happening as hours of work are cut further and further in stores, although strangely the execs in head office don't seem to be taking pay cuts, or the quality of product being brought in has nosedived at about the same rate that sales have been tanking.

In Calgary (and the rest of Alberta), we've been experiencing enormous numbers of layoffs in the oil patch.  Not hundreds of jobs, but thousands of them lost.  One thing to notice though, is that the people at the top are not the ones bearing the brunt.  It is contractors and middle tier workers carrying the burden.

In Alberta, we are being fed the line that "corporate tax hikes will kill jobs".  This is a straight up lie, and we all know it.  It's a gambit play by the wealthy to keep as much money as possible, at the expense of Albertans.  It is not merely a matter of raising the tax rate, but also closing up all of the escape hatches used to funnel revenues out of Canada.  You earn a dollar here, or on our resources, you pay a fair price for it.  Current corporate taxation and royalty regimes in Alberta definitely are not reasonable, especially when we compare ourselves with say, Norway.

There's a point to this.  It isn't just that we are losing jobs in retail, or that the oil patch in Alberta is tanking.  It is that we have had a uniquely narrow-focused government which has been paying off their big donors (big business and the executive classes).  It isn't Canadians who have been winning, it is the wealthy who have been winning, at the expense of Canadians.  Alberta hasn't put a plug nickel into the Heritage Savings fund in ages.  Why?  Because our governments have been happily handing money over to the corporate world in the name of "jobs".

Jobs, which I will point out, are at best conditional fictions on a good day.  Corporate Canada argues that taxes kill jobs.  This is a lie.  Downturns kill jobs.  Austerity budgets kill jobs.  The speed with which layoffs and cuts begin the minute there is a downturn of any sort tells us a great deal about how much those jobs are really worth.

Canada's governments need to start looking out for Canadians.  Not Canadian corporations, not international corporations.  Canadian citizens.  Period.  Anything else is a disservice to the people that our government is elected to serve.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Harper's Slide Into Fascism Is Complete

With the tabling of Bill C-51, Harper has completed his slide into fascism, with a healthy dose of totalitarianism added to it.

Effectively, Bill C-51 not only creates a PMO-controlled police state, but it also effectively criminalizes any form of political dissent by leaving the decision of what constitutes a "threat" in the hands of policymakers without any kind of legislative oversight.

Others have commented at length why this bill is bad news.  Frankly, none of those commentaries are surprising in either their content or the fears that they rightly express.  When I took the veil down from this blog in 2013, the first post I made discussed in detail why I believe that Harper is a fascist, and the lengthy trail of evidence that goes with it.

Canada has never experienced the likes of Harper in the past.  Unlike Europe whose dalliances with fascism gave rise to WWII, we have been relatively insulated from those kinds of predations from our political leadership.  We haven't lived through the darkness of totalitarian rule before, but here we are today.

Consider the sequence of policies and actions taken by the Harper regime.  Under Harper, the long form census was scrapped - an act which has hobbled the ability of Statistics Canada to provide the kind of clear, highly reliable information that is necessary for informed decision making.  Science has been corporatized to such a degree that even basic research is compromised if not marginalized.  In particular, environmental sciences have been systematically defunded, making it all but impossible to objectively assess the consequences of major environmental impacts such as the Tar Sands operations in Alberta are having.  Education, especially past high school, has become focused on "useful" degrees, leaving domains such as the liberal arts to languish, impairing the ability of schools to teach critical thought and creative expression.  There has been a steady pounding of the military drum, with over $50 million spent on commemorating the 1812 war, and a paltry few hundred thousand on the flag's anniversary or the anniversary of the constitution.

Hitler used the Jews as a target to focus public ire on, Harper is using the "Jihadi Threat" to focus public ire on this nation's Arab citizens.  Okay, so Harper hasn't called for their extermination yet, but is the current whipping up of fervor and fear over "radicalization" (allegedly happening in the mosques) substantively different to Hitler's propaganda campaigns against the Jews in the 1930s?  I argue not so much.

The current CRA "audit campaign" against charitable organizations who have made statements which the government doesn't like is so blatantly politicized it isn't even funny.  This is yet another part of Harper's overall attempt to squelch any form of dissent or disagreement.  If he can't come after you directly through the force of law, he will come up with other tools of oppression.

The list is nearly endless.

Totalitarianism can arise from the far end of either right or left leaning governments, but let us make no mistake, Harper is a totalitarian and he just happens to have chosen the symbols of state to entrench himself with.  He is a fascist.  He will always be a fascist, our language has no other words for this kind of government and its patterns.

In tabling C-51, Harper has begun his campaign of undermining Canada's Constitution and in particular the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in earnest.  This law, like many others this government has passed grossly violates fundamental principles of liberty and justice.  It uses broad, ambiguous wording which can be interpreted arbitrarily to go after anyone whom the PMO decides is a "threat".  While I firmly believe that much of C-51 will collapse when challenged before the Supreme Court of this country, the fact is that any Supreme Court challenge is likely to be decades in the making before a ruling happens.

In the meantime, as long as Harper and his band of authoritarians remain in power, Canadians live under the shadow of a government which is willing to create a class of political dissidents the likes of which we have only read about in the past.

If this sounds "alarmist" to you, I encourage you to spend some time studying the political tactics of previous totalitarian regimes in other nations, their rise, the political strategies used and so on, and then spend some time paying close attention to Stephen Harper's actions since the mid-1990s to present.  The parallels are there, and I argue that we should be very worried about the effects that this man is going to have on this nation.

To our countries opposition parties, every last one of you should be decrying this bill for what it is:  an unwarranted, unjustified attack on liberty and freedoms guaranteed in this nation's Constitution.  

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The International Game Of Chicken

The current low oil prices have been characterized as a high stakes game of "chicken" between OPEC countries and "non-conventional" producing countries like Canada and more recently the US.

I don't pretend to know the state of the books for OPEC's countries, but I imagine they have a significant chunk of change set aside, and won't find that prolonged low prices won't be a particular impediment.

The extraction techniques for both Alberta's Tar Sands, and the Shale fields in the US are much more expensive to run.  Back in August of this past year, the rumblings of "cutting costs" were already starting to roll around the oil patch in Calgary.

I predict that the downturn we will experience in Alberta will be at least as severe, if not more so, than we saw in 1980.  If prices stay low for more than a couple of months, the oil patch will start axing investment and people at a ferocious rate.  We're just coming through to the end of the first full quarter of these low prices, and probably around the end of the next quarter we will start to see things happen as companies start to try to keep themselves profitable.

There are already modest scale layoffs happening in downtown Calgary, and larger cuts are yet to come.  Companies like Talisman Energy have bought themselves a bit of time by selling off to new ownership - it will take a few months for the new owners to start intervening.  But other companies are already making major changes to their capital investment plans, with cuts being announced almost daily.  If you don't think this is going to be a messy time in Alberta, just wait and watch - it's not going to be pretty.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Little Heresy - Alberta Style

So, according to Premier Prentice, the downturn in oil prices is going to create an $11 Billion hole in provincial revenues, and is now talking about putting the brakes on all kinds of infrastructure spending, including a new cancer hospital in Calgary.

Okay, that's a significant chunk of change.  Let's talk about this for a moment.

As the leader of the governing party, Mr. Prentice has a responsibility to all Albertans to ensure that the machinery of government continues to operate smoothly.  Over the last 25 years, we have seen the government make further tax cuts all over the place, in particular to the benefit of corporations, but also introducing a rather ridiculous 'flat tax' income tax scheme.

Every time, the government has tied itself even more so to the revenues from resource royalties to fund programs.

Mr. Prentice, you want to balance the books?  Here's how you do it.  Take a long look at all of the possible revenue sources the government has access to.  Not just tar sands royalties (which are, a pittance because your predecessors cut them to almost nothing).

First, Mr. Prentice, you need to take a long, hard look at the taxation system.  Are the corporations who do business in Alberta paying their fair share?  No?  Then we need to design a taxation system that ensures that they do, especially since so many of the corporations are basically funnelling monies out of Alberta and Canada as quickly as they can.

Second, we need to look at what the individual income tax system does.  Is a 10% flat tax ensuring that we are taxing incomes fairly across the board?  Or do we need to return to the graduated system that was developed in the 1950s?  (Hint:  probably)

Third, and here's where I commit heresy, you need to take a longer range view and determine the means to stabilize provincial revenues so that we are insulated from the vagaries of the resource markets.  This may mean, *gasp*, implementing a sales tax (like damn near every other jurisdiction in the world) that sits in line with the GST, but is not harmonized with it - we don't want to hand control over those revenues over to Ottawa either.

Oh yes, and you need to shed this fetish that conservatives have developed lately with "Public Private Partnerships" and start thinking about long term debt financing instruments like bond funds again.  PPPs just hang the taxpayer with long term operating costs and leases.  One thing that Redford had done (although clumsily) was to structure our finances with a distinction between long term infrastructure costs and operating costs.  That's a distinction that matters, and we need to shed this silly "debt is bad" mantra - yesterday.  Long term debt that is used for purchasing infrastructure is not a bad thing.  It never was.

Alberta needs to funnel every dime it gets in resource revenues into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund. Now.  In a couple of decades we can use the investment income off that fund to sustain the entirety of the government (hint:  take a long look at Norway).  In the meantime, let's use all of the instruments of revenue collection available to the government so that we can actually have a reasonable standard of living for the PEOPLE of this province.