Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rob Ford and the Mysterious Reappearing Video

So, the mysterious video that Rob Ford claimed "didn't exist" has resurfaced.

Frankly, the fact that Rob Ford appears to have smoked some crack, and by his own admission a considerable amount of pot, really doesn't bother me.  At least not the deeds themselves.

Quite frankly, the whole idea of a "war on drugs" that makes criminals out of everybody who touches a chemical for the purpose of "getting high" really doesn't make any sense to me.  I've certainly argued that there is no good reason for pot to be illegal, and frankly I don't know that making other narcotics illegal does any good either.  We need new approaches to the problems that can result from these drugs.

The issue that Rob Ford presents is one of honesty and integrity.  Ford has tried to evade and deceive on this issue for months now.  It hasn't been pleasant to watch, but the mayor has desperately tried to avoid coming clean on this matter.  In the process, allegations have been made that suggest that Rob Ford and his brother were selling drugs back in high school.

The issue is one of character.  Technically, Ford has skated around the edges of illegality.  Perhaps he was smoking crack in that video, perhaps not.  However, he did attempt to deny the existence of this video, and now, in the wake of his long time friend's arrest, it turns up.  Suspicious?  To say the least. There had been speculation that Ford had his allies running about trying to acquire the video before it got into the hands of media.  It is entirely possible that the speculation was more than just idle guessing.

No, just as Canadians are rightly becoming deeply troubled by Stephen Harper's evasiveness and changing story in the Senate Scandal (which should really be the "Duffy-Wright Affair" if you ask me), Torontonians should be profoundly worried about Ford's conduct.  He has lied to the public - the existence of the video makes that clear now.

Can Ford legitimately continue to occupy the Mayor's chair?  Legally, perhaps - he has not been charged with, or convicted of, any criminal offence yet.  Morally, and ethically, is a much different question.  A leader who has lied on a matter of personal integrity is of very questionable character indeed, and his credibility in the political sphere should be seen as non-existent.

Ironically, had Ford come clean in response to the initial allegations about the video, I think the political picture today would be quite different for him.

CPC Policy Convention Resolutions ...

[Update]What Got Passed[/Update]

Although back room conversations at this weekend's CPC convention will no doubt be dominated by discussions of how badly Harper has been handling the Senate Scandal, and the latest revelations of the Rob Ford smoking crack video story, there are a number of topics on the floor that Canadians should be paying attention to:

1.  A Series Of US-Inspired "Labour Reforms"
2.  A "Less Progressive" Tax System

( CPC Convention Policy Motions Document )

The Conservatives have had it in for organized labour in this country ever since the Reform party made its way into parliament.  The Harper Reformatories have already gone after the unions that are attached to the Federal Government in Canada.  The most recent budget implementation bill (yet another one of Harper's enormous "omnibus" bills) contains clauses that give the Federal Government exclusive rights to decide who is an "essential" worker that cannot strike.

The resolutions before the party faithful this weekend are all the more troubling.
At least nine resolutions for amendments to the Conservative party’s policy book seek to crack down on the power of organized labour. The labour reform proposals are sponsored by various riding associations in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.
I don't have the actual resolutions at my fingertips, I wish I did.  However, as one might expect among the various resolutions are a few which are in essence promoting US-style "right to work" legislation.

Some Conservatives, notably Ontario’s Tim Hudak and MP Pierre Poilievre, have been vocal in their support for U.S. “right-to-work” style laws since last December, when Michigan became the 24th state to make compulsory union dues illegal. 
Such laws have become increasingly popular since the 2008-2009 recession as a means to lure businesses into economically depressed states but have also attracted criticism. U.S. President Barack Obama has said the title is a misnomer for laws that really mean “the right to work for less money.” 
Let me be absolutely clear about "Right To Work" laws - in my opinion those laws are nothing more than a return to pre-union era labour laws which resulted in horrific exploitation of workers.  They ultimately shift the balance of power so far into the hands of businesses that they can drive wages down to the point that workers cannot make a living.

I believe that there is a careful balance between the powers that employers and those that unions are able to wield.  Those who fall into the trap of believing that businesses will "pack up their marbles and go elsewhere" are overlooking that those same businesses are essentially saying that they are unwilling to work in the best interests of the people who live in a given region.  You want to do business somewhere?  Be prepared to invest there, not just exploit the workers.

There are not one, but nine, such resolutions scattered through the convention resolutions book.  These resolutions range from blatant "we must implement right to work legislation" to more subtle resolutions which attack unions by demanding public transparency in the form of unreasonable reporting requirements to demands that unions be constrained in their use of funds so that they cannot contribute to "causes outside the workplace".

These are not small, trivial changes.  These are deliberate moves to hobble the ability of Canadian workers to organize effectively.  Further, depending on how such legislation was put together, it could prevent labour unions from collaborating with each other, or merging to form larger organizations which can more readily withstand the predations of employers bent on exploitation (Wal-Mart comes to mind as an example of one such company).

The second area of interest is a move to demand a "less progressive" tax system.  (see page 60 of the policy book)  The specific amendment reads:

vi) We encourage the Conservative Party to move to a less progressive tax system by reducing the number of personal income tax brackets. 
For those who don't live in Alberta, this smells like Ralph Klein's "flat tax" initiative.  A bracketed taxation system supports the middle class of Canada by taxing people's income at different levels - meaning that people are taxed at the levels that reflect their earnings.  A flat tax tends to punish those with smaller incomes and essentially gives a tax break to the highest earners for whom the amount demanded in taxes is a minor portion of the income.

In essence, the Conservatives wish to dismantle a key component of our taxation system which serves as an automatic load balancing mechanism.

On the next page of the policy book, we also find another piece of the Harper program to hobble future governments:


The Conservative Party believes the government should enact balanced budget legislation, which includes overrides for declared national emergencies or other defined, and presumably rare, circumstances.
i) Until a balanced budget (predicted for 2015-2016) is achieved, the government respect the objectives for spending cuts set out in the March 2013 budget;
ii) The government freeze budget spending at 300 billion dollars in the year following the achievement of a balanced budget in the 2016-2017 financial exercise (the 300 billion dollar amount will correspond to the approximate level that spending will have reached if the projections of the May budget are realized, in comparison with the 276 billion dollars for the current financial exercise);
iii) That after the 2016-2017 budget, and for the four subsequent years (thus until 2020-21) the federal government freeze spending at 300 billion dollars per year in current dollars. 
Borrowing a page from the "Debt Ceiling" model in the United States, the CPC seeks to impose in law a ceiling on government spending for the next government.  We've seen how well that works out in the US.  Along with a number of other things that the Harper Government has done already and is moving to do in the future.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Harper Is Revising History For His Political Gain

I've said in this space before that Harper will lie through his teeth if he thinks that it is to his political gain.

Yesterday, Harper threw form Chief of Staff Nigel Wright under the bus in a fit of historical revisionism that would make a holocaust denier ashamed.

Yahoo News published this article which really does quite a nice job of calling into question Harper's tirade in the House of Commons yesterday:

It appears that the Tories have a new strategy in their defence in the ongoing Senate expense scandal: relentlessly vilify Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright. 
Last spring, Wright admitted to gifting Senator Mike Duffy $90,000 to repay taxpayers for alleged inappropriate expense claims. In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Harper led the most scathing attack we've seen since spring against his former right-hand man. 
"From our side there is one person responsible for this deception. That person is Mr. Wright by his own admission," the Prime Minister said. 
"For that reason...Mr. Wright no longer works for us, Mr. Duffy shouldn't either." 
The tone of the comments about Wright today are a stark difference from what we heard earlier this year.Here's a bit of a recap of what the Harper government had previously said about Wright. As you'll see, it appears that the narrative has evolved over the past few months. 
May 15:- Statement from Andrew MacDougall, former Director of Communications for the PMO, on the day revelations about Wright's $90,000 cheque to Duffy surfaced (Source: Toronto Star)"Mr. Duffy agreed to repay the expenses because it was the right thing to do. However, Mr. Duffy was unable to make a timely repayment.Mr. Wright therefore wrote a cheque from his personal account for the full amount owing so that Mr. Duffy could repay the outstanding amount." 
May 16:- Statement from Andrew MacDougall, former Director of Communications for the PMO. (Source:Globe and Mail)“Mr. Wright will not be resigningMr. Wright has the full support of the Prime Minister.” 
May 19:Statement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the day Wright announced his resignation. (Source: CBC News)"It is with great regret that I have accepted the resignation of Nigel Wright as my Chief of Staff. I accept that Nigel believed he was acting in the public interest, but I understand the decision he has taken to resign. I want to thank Nigel for his tremendous contribution to our Government over the past two and a half years."... 
June 5:- Harper in the House of Commons"Mr. Wright was using his personal money to make sure the taxpayers were reimbursed. That is a decision he took on his own that he chose not to inform me about. He admits that was an error in judgment, and he will be accountable to the Ethics Commissioner for that decision." 
October 24:- Harper in the House of Commons"Mr. Wright, to his credit, recognized that decision was totally wrong and he has resigned." 
October 28:- Harper during a radio interview on News 95.7"Look, I think the responsibility whenever things go wrong is for us to take appropriate action. As you know, I had a chief of staff who made an inappropriate payment to Mr. Duffy. He was dismissed."...Kinsella followed up with a quick post on his website:"I’m doing Sunday’s column about what Stephen Harper did to Nigel Wright in the House this afternoon," he wrote."I’ve seen some appalling stuff in Ottawa, over the years, but that ranked up there. Disgusting and dishonest."The Toronto Star's Tonda MacCharles suggested that Harper's performance in the House was part of his new plan of action."The prime minister portrayed himself as a man dismayed by the turn of events, frustrated by greed and delays in the Senate and betrayed by two men who abused his trust," she wrote in her column on Tuesday."It was all part of a calculated strategy to deflect blame away from the prime minister, his senior staff and top party officials as the Conservatives head into a weekend convention in Calgary." 
[ Related: Canadians showing little sympathy for Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau ] 
Former Conservative Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber perhaps said it best in his blog, writing that, while he believes that Harper didn't know about the $90,000 cheque, it's time for him to take responsibility."Given the growing number of senior confidants of the Prime Minister who were either directly involved or in the know, it is no longer acceptable to blame the entire debacle on a rogue Chief of Staff, no matter how clear you are when you blame him!" the now independent MP wrote."Whichever scenario has led to this, it is the Prime Minister who is responsible to Parliament for the operation of the PMO and the actions of its employees. The Prime Minster is responsible for both the ethical standards and the general competence of those within his office. Nigel Wright cannot have taken “full responsibility” for this fiasco; it is the Prime Minister who is responsible for him and every other employee complicit in, or wilfully blind to, what was going on."It is time for the PM to man up, take responsibility, clean house, and promise greater transparency and less top-down control in the future. That would restore Canada’s commitment to Responsible Government and the Prime Minister’s reputation as a leader."Taking responsibility for what happened in his office?It might just be a radical enough idea to work.

[Update: 31/10/13]
     CBC has a similar story that lays out some other inconsistencies in Harper's story quite clearly:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/wright-duffy-cheque-affair-harper-s-explanations-changing-by-the-day-1.2289226

[/Update]

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Harper's Eyes Wide Shut Moment

As the Senate Expenses Scandal unfolds, Canadians are seeing the consequences of the culture that Harper has fostered in the CPC in his drive to gain power.  

When Harper set his sights on power, specifically on making the CPC "Canada's Natural Governing Party" for the coming decades, he decided on some key fundamentals to guide the operation of the party:  The first was an unyielding control over every action and word to come out of the party's political apparatus.  The second was to do everything possible to undermine parliament in such a way as to hamstring any other party from undoing Harper's legislation.

Harper came to power in 2006 with promises of more "open and accountable" government.  Greater transparency came in the form of a government which suddenly became slow to respond to information requests, and those it did fulfil were heavily redacted.  Accountability, well, Harper did create the Parliamentary Budget Officer.  The first occupant of that position, Kevin Page, turned out to be a problem for Harper, as he questioned just about everything that the Harperites did, and did so publicly.

In 2007, Harper discarded earlier promises of attempting to reform the Senate based on long asked for (in Western Canada, at least) principles of a "EEE" Senate.  He started appointing people to fill the Senate vacancies, and since then has used the Senate for more patronage and partisan appointments than any prime minister before him.  

In 2008, Harper chose to appoint Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau to the Senate.  Each one was appointed because of what Harper believed they could do for him.  Whether that was bringing in votes, or money, doesn't really matter.  They were brought into the Senate so that they could work full time on partisan activities without the CPC having to pay their salaries.  

Harper erred significantly in his handling of both Duffy and Wallin though.  Most new senators are not used to being in the public eye, and are appropriately cautious about their conduct.  Duffy and Wallin are both former journalists.  Not only are they used to being in the public eye, they are also accustomed to spending to support their position.  I'm sure that neither of them thought twice about the expenses they would be claiming.  They would be accustomed to privileged treatment when travelling for business in their prior lives.  It wouldn't occur to them that there was a lot of subterfuge involved in their appointments in the first place.  Duffy was no more a resident of PEI than I am, and Ms. Wallin had long ago put down roots in Toronto.  Her origins in small town Saskatchewan are very much a part of the past, not the present.

So, when this whole mess blew up last winter, Harper was no doubt feeling more than a little flat-footed about the whole thing.  Collusion and calumny come naturally to Harper.  He knows that he has to hide a certain amount of his activities from the public.  What he underestimated was that he failed to govern the actions of those who act on his behalf.

Harper's failure here is one not of political judgment, but rather one of his own character flaws.  He is so accustomed to lying, subterfuge and deceit as part and parcel of the power game.  Using other people as tools is as natural to him as using a screwdriver is to a mechanic.  Harper's blind spot has always been that he doesn't understand that others do not see the world as he does.  

While Duffy and Wallin can hardly be shown as "innocents" in this.  They both knew full well that there was a degree of subterfuge and dishonesty at play when they were appointed.  Harper knew it, and I'm sure that they did too.  Both of them had to be aware that they were being appointed not for their political acumen but for what Harper perceived they could do for him.  They were told, and no doubt believed, that the expenses they were claiming were perfectly legitimate.  With only limited experience dealing with public opinion, they wouldn't have had a clue what the public reaction would be to these expenses being disclosed.

At the end of the day, though, for all of Harper's prevarications lately, the responsibility for this mess lies on his desk.  He made these appointments, gave these Senators their marching orders, and his PMO staff gave them the guidance regarding their activities and expenses.  While Harper may try to claim "plausible deniability" in terms of his knowledge of events and specifics, that does not absolve him of responsibility.


Monday, October 28, 2013

There Is No Honour Among Thieves

Make no mistake about it, I have little sympathy for Mike Duffy.  When I caught wind of his political aspirations several years before he became a Senator, he ceased to be among the journalists that I had much respect for.  

That said, Duffy's last couple of speeches in the Senate speak volumes.  Today, he revealed the existence of yet another cheque originating within the CPC apparatus to bail him out of the financial quagmire that he found himself in.

Senator Mike Duffy set Ottawa abuzz Monday with his latest revelations from the Senate floor. Duffy says Conservative party lawyer Arthur Hamilton was part of a scheme to cover his $13,560 legal bill. An audible gasp went up from senators as Duffy dropped his latest bombshell. 
Duffy says he received two cheques as part of a larger plan he says was devised by the Prime Minister's Office. The legal bill payment is in addition to the original $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Make no mistake about it, all of this mess points quite clearly to the PMO, and in particular at Harper.  Even if we accept that there is a common principle in the PMO where the PM is not told certain things in order to give him "plausible deniability" should the scheme backfire, Canadians need to bear in mind that it is Harper himself who sets the tone in the PMO.

So, when you consider that Harper appointed quite a few of the Senators on the basis of their ability to help the CPC win a majority government.  There was an intent when Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were appointed.  They weren't appointed to represent regions of Canada.  They were appointed for their ability to bring votes to the table.  No doubt, the PMO set the tone which made both Wallin and Duffy believe that they could expense quite lavishly as long as they claimed to be on "Senate Business".  I don't even think that they necessarily broke the rules where Senate expenses were involved.  However, they did break a covenant with Canadians, and in doing so, broke open the festering mess that has been the Senate under Harper.

While the responsibility for the overall mess in Ottawa sits clearly on Harper's desk, Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau all bear the responsibility for having the poor judgment to engage in Harper's scheming to gain greater power.

Harper promised Canadians a more open, accountable government.  He has delivered anything but. 

On Russell Brand's Interview

I heard Brand's interview late last week, and I've been stewing on it ever since.  

On a lot of topics, I have to say that I agree with Brand's frustration.  The existing power structures are not healthy - in fact I would argue that they have been subverted by a series of forces and factors over a very long time.  

Yes, there are enormous problems with environmental destruction, income inequality and political power distribution in general.  I agree with Russell Brand on these principals - these issues deserve our attention, and to be addressed on the political stage.

To some extent the early signs of the population recognizing what has evolved, and how broken it has become.  The "Occupy" movement is one example of a broad-based recognition of the links between money and power.  In Canada, the Idle No More movement has rightly brought a unique focus on the treatment of First Nations in Canada.  

Where Russell Brand lost me (and it happens quite early in the interview) was in his justification for not voting:

It's not that I'm not voting out of apathy, I'm not voting out of absolute indifference, and weariness, and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now and has now reached a fever pitch, where we have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that [is] not being represented by that political system, so voting for it is tacit complicity with that system.
First of all, I have a fundamental problem with Brand's approach here.  He is essentially saying "I won't vote unless somebody changes things to something I like".  That is pushing the responsibility for the change outward and away from him.  It is one thing to say "things have to change", and have some ideas as to what shape you want things to take, quite another to take the stance that Brand has taken.

Second, I call out Brand's "standoff" stance for making the ever critical mistake of choosing not to use all of the tools available to him.  No democracy I am familiar with tries to factor for the opinions of those who do not vote.  Given the nature of Brand's grievances, a failure to vote is all the worse for his position - it all but guarantees that the "keys to power" are handed straight to those that would do the most damage in his eyes.

We have seen this happen quite clearly over the decades in Alberta since Peter Lougheed stepped aside.  Alberta has one of the worst voter turnout rates in the country - largely because the internal power structures have been so effective at dismissing inconvenient opposing opinions, and generally putting in place politicians who are (just) smart enough to step away from implementing the most destructive policies (Klein tried repeatedly to put in place the pieces to privatize Health Care in this province, but never fully implemented it because of the public resistance to it).

In many respects, this is the "boil the frog" approach to issues.  Take a long range approach and very carefully undermine things in ways that are not immediately obvious.  When the right crisis occurs, the public will accept the desired change as "necessary".

While I can agree with Brand that there seems to be a degree of "futility" in trying to vote against the power structure, it is utterly essential to vote.  You may end up voting for someone/something that is still distasteful to you (I've done it more than a few times), but symbolically it remains important because it is one of the mechanisms available to challenge the power structure that you object to.  It is not "being complicit in the system" as Brand accuses it of being, but rather using one of an arsenal of weapons to confront them on their own ground.

If voting is inadequate, then another option is to stand for office yourself.  Be the change that you want to see.  Stand for what you believe is right.  Certainly in Canada and the UK, there is no legislative impediment to doing so, and no legal consequences.  Again, this is using one of the tools of the system, against itself.  It can be a long, hard struggle to be heard.  In Canada, I have to give the Green Party and its leader Elizabeth May a lot of credit for the hard work that has been put in trying to become recognized and legitimate in the minds of Canadian voters - but they have come a long ways from their start in the early 1980s.

When we look to the United States, I will say that there is an exceptional problem evolving in the form of overt voter suppression laws.  In a number of states, Voter Id laws, in conjunction with a series of amendments to laws related to the acquisition of appropriate identification documents have created an environment where a significant number of otherwise legal voters are unable to vote because they cannot acquire the appropriate documentation.  This is a very serious problem, and one which may require drastic action to correct.

Brand seems to think that revolution is near, if not imminent.  I am not so sure of that.  Protests such as Occupy have done more to make the general public more aware of what is happening behind closed doors.  I do not think that they have gotten anywhere near mobilizing the collective mass of population to take up arms in revolt.  As much as I have railed against the rise of Corporate Feudalism on this blog, I for one am not about to demand armed revolt either.  Protests on the streets have little impact on those whose power base is found in the boardrooms of our nations.

In Calgary, we got a lovely little taste of that when a video recording of a Real Estate Developer's conference session was leaked to the media.  Make no mistake about it, the people behind that organization, and the Manning Centre, don't give one whit about groups on the street.  It doesn't even enter their consciousness.  What got their attention was when in 2010, their candidate for Mayor - Ric McIvor - got roundly trounced by Naheed Nenshi.  They then spent the next couple of years trying to put together a counter-strategy to undermine a Mayor that apparently isn't sufficiently compliant to their wishes - to the extent of spending over $1 Million to "train" candidates through the Manning Centre.

While Brand might want "revolution", that is very short-sighted of him.  First of all, revolution will create more shadows in which undesirable power structures can evolve and seize power - and those powers can often be as bad or worse than what is to be overthrown.  We should not ignore that reality.  The best disinfectant for corruption is light, not more shadows.  Additionally, Brand's call for revolution overlooks the fact that a new power structure has emerged in the world that renders the nation-state impotent.  The multi-national corporation is able to supersede or subvert nation level laws.  This has been the case for decades, but it has only come to light as a significant political power since the late 1980s, as Neoliberal policies enabled economic "globalization" and corporations started moving work to countries where labour was cheap.

Do things need to be changed in the Western democracies?  Absolutely.  I think that the changes that are needed require people to see the would-be puppet masters for what they are, and then to take steps to undermine them.  At the level of the Nation-State, that can mean more rigorous accountability and legal structures which weaken the ability of the multi-national corporations to subvert the powers of national governments.  At a higher level, the world needs to develop a coherent legal / governmental structure that protects the citizens of all nations from the predations of multi-national power.  I do not believe that the world is ready for that yet though.  There are enormous cultural and logistical barriers yet to be overcome.  Structures like the EU to a certain extent reflect what I believe the long term direction will be, but they are far from a complete implementation which will successfully overcome the psychopathy of corporate interests.






Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Duffy's Testimony Before Canada's Senate

Full Text

Read it.  It's a bombshell that very clearly ties Harper into this whole scheme.  It doesn't make any of the parties involved look good - in fact in many respects it makes Duffy look pretty low too - which is part of the reason I suspect that he is being basically truthful in this speech.

Like you, I took a solemn oath to put the interests of Canadians ahead of all else. However, the sad truth is, I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong out of a fear of losing my job and out of a misguided sense of loyalty.
A promising start to the speech.  I still maintain that Duffy willingly engaged in an act of fraud when he claimed a recreational property on PEI as a primary residence when he's been a resident in Ottawa for decades.
I immediately contacted Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, and explained that I was doing nothing improper. Nigel Wright emailed me, saying he had my expenses checked and he was satisfied that my accounts were in order, that all was in compliance with Senate rules.
The fact that Duffy's expenses "were within the rules" according to Nigel Wright suggests that the Senate expense rules are far too loose.

The Prime Minister wasn't interested in explanations or the truth. It's not about what you did; it's about the perception of what you did that has been created in the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.
So Harper's worried about "keeping his base"?  Gosh - isn't that a surprise.  The fact that executing a lie comes so quickly to Harper's mind says a great deal ... and none of it good.

The PMO piled on the pressure. Some honourable senators called me in PEI. One senator in particular left several particularly nasty and menacing messages: Do what the Prime Minister wants. Do it for the PM and for the good of the party. I continued to resist. Finally, the message from the PMO became: Do what we want or else.And what was the "else?" He said the Conservative majority on the steering committee of the Board of Internal Economy, Senator Tkachuk and Senator Stewart Olsen, would issue a press release declaring me unqualified to sit in the Senate.
Here's where there is a large amount of shared poor judgment for both Harper and Duffy.  Duffy knew perfectly well that he wasn't resident in PEI prior to being appointed by Harper, and Harper was clearly willing to engage in the fiction that Duffy was representing PEI.  Further, later in the process, it becomes a handy lever for Harper to use when things get out of control.

Duffy is showing an enormous amount of poor judgment in this whole affair himself.  Harper is demonstrating the pathological dishonesty that has been the hallmark of his rise to power.

There was an undertaking made by the PMO, with the agreement of the Senate leadership, that I would not be audited by Deloitte, that I'd be given a pass; and further, that if this phony scheme ever became public, Senator LeBreton, the Leader of the Government of the day, would whip the Conservative caucus to prevent my expulsion from the chamber. 
PMO officials confided it wasn't easy to get this commitment to do as they were told from Senators LeBreton, Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen, but the email chain shows it took hours of shuttling back and forth as the lawyers checked with their principals about the guarantees they were going to give to ensure that I wasn't censured for going along with this PMO scheme. 
Given all of those emails, you can imagine my shock when I heard there is not a single document about all of this in the PMO, not one. In response to an access to information request, CBC was told there is not a single document related to this matter in the PMO. 
I never believed for a moment that the PMO was being honest with the CBC when it claimed that it had no documents related to the Duffy affair.  This is not a minor "lie".  It speaks to a deliberate effort to cover up what has been going on.  If the PMO truly does not have those documents, it can only be because it has gone on a document shredding spree that would put Oliver North to shame.
Then, in May, after someone leaked selected excerpts of a confidential email I had sent to my lawyer in February, in which I voiced my opposition and concern about the deal, the PMO was back with a vengeance. I was called at home in Cavendish by Ray Novak, senior assistant to the Prime Minister. 
I find it interesting that a confidential e-mail got leaked.  If Duffy used facilities at the Senate to send that e-mail, then it tells us that there is a level of surreptitious surveillance going on in the halls of Parliament that Canadians should be very concerned about indeed.

If Duffy used personal equipment to send that e-mail, then we need to further ask just how much control Harper has over CSEC that this e-mail came to light.

There are two major issues here, and both are issues of unwarranted surveillance.

This motion, put forward by Senator Carignan, is in direct conflict with any sense of fundamental justice. Not only is it a firing without a firing, as Senator Segal has correctly pointed out, it deprives me, not only of a paycheque but of a health plan, of life insurance. This, a guy who came back off sick leave because of serious heart problems. Who is going to buy the heart drugs I need? What kind of a country do we have when the power can override the sick leave provisions of the federal government of Canada Health Care Act or arrangement?
To be honest, I do not like this particular paragraph.  Having worked in private industry as a journalist for decades, Duffy should know full well that paycheques, health plans and life insurance provided by ones employer cease once you have been terminated.  Further, thousands of small business owners and their employees don't make enough money to support those kinds of benefits either.  Duffy is whining about his "entitlements" here, and I see no evidence that he has been fighting to make those available more broadly than himself.

And those same senators who conspired to put me in this corner, conspired to destroy my reputation with Canadians, they are going to sit here in judgment of me? Let me be clear: I have violated no laws. I've followed the rules, and I've got a ton of documentation, including a two-page memo from Senator LeBreton's office about it, and I never received a single note from Senate finance or the leadership that suggested anything in my travels was amiss. 
There's an old saying, Mr. Duffy:  When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.  You should not be surprised that a PM who was willing to let you lie about residing in PEI when appointing you has appointed other people who are just as willing as he to throw you under the bus.

I am less convinced that Mr. Duffy's actions did not violate any laws.  There have been revelations of all sorts of questionable expense claims, even if we ignore the residency issues.  At the very least, there is a significant degree of question around the fictions used when he was originally appointed.  There are also a fair handful of dubious expense claims to be considered.  Claims which on their own would probably be overlooked by Canadians, but when more fundamental issues are raised about the Senator's legitimacy cannot be ignored.

The upshot of Duffy's speech is that Harper was directly involved from the beginning.  He claims to have significant supporting documentation.  I would hope that he has the gumption to do the right thing, and turn it all over to the RCMP when they come knocking.  Personally, I'd like it all out in the public sphere, but if the RCMP criminal investigation results in actual charges being laid, that wouldn't hurt my feelings too much.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Developer Witch Hunt Proceeds

Wow ... if you are considering voting for a candidate who is being backed by the Developers in this city, ask yourself if this is the kind of backroom politics you want to support:


Global News has learned there was an organized effort by some developers to track down who was behind a secretly taped video earlier this year.
In it, the founder of Shane Homes outlines a plan to try and control city council. Cal Wenzel later denied that he was trying to buy votes, but defended his right to organize support for pro-development candidates.

It contains the following gem:

The CEO of the Urban Development Institute – speaking on behalf of Westman and Wenzel – denies any threats were made.“Those guys were in a room where they felt they were having a conversation, and then something like that happened,” explains Guy Huntingford. “They were trying to figure out who was there, so they could get some more communication back to them.” 
This is ugly in the worst way possible.  When you vote, please make sure it's an informed vote.  


From the memo to the staff of one developer urging them to vote a particular way, here's the list of Developer-sanctioned candidates:

If this is anything, it is a revealing of the whispered "Builder's Slate" - the candidates that the builders are endorsing for Calgary City Council.

The list of candidates implicitly endorsed in this builder's memo:

Ward 1:  Chris Harper
Ward 2:  Joe Magliocca
Ward 3:  Jim Stevenson
Ward 4:  Sean Chu
Ward 5:  Ray Jones
Ward 6:  Joe Connelly
Ward 7:  Kevin Taylor
Ward 8:  
Ward 9:  Richard Wilkie
Ward 10: Andre Chabot
Ward 11:  James Maxim
Ward 12:  Shane Keating
Ward 13:  Diane Colley-Urquhart
Ward 14:  Peter Demong

Mayor:  Jon Lord


I know how I will be voting now ... and the names _aren't_ on that list.

Wenzel's comments in November were clear enough in my opinion.  The attempt to find who leaked the video, and the "communication back" contains an implicit threat that I find even less acceptable than Wenzel's obvious desire to control council for his own self-interest.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Will Fracking Be The Catalyst?

In the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot in the news regarding Canada's First Nations.  The UN Special Rapporteur finished his tour and quite correctly stated that Canada is facing a crisis with respect to its relations with its First Nations.

Harper threw a couple of ambiguous references to Aboriginal peoples in the Speech From The Throne, but it seems unlikely that any of those represent meaningful change as the aboriginal peoples would like to see.

Ironically, the thing that might just serve as a catalyst for a meaningful change for Canada's First Nations in the national dialogue is resource exploitation.  Whether that is Fracking, Oilsands, or Transportation of those resources, the public is not entirely in love with these practices.  Industry hasn't been very successful in gaining public support for their efforts.  Outside of Alberta (which is a political anomaly in Canada), there seems to be a great deal of discomfort with these practices, and events like today's rail explosion will only serve to make more Canadians uncomfortable with the implications of how these resources are being exploited.

While the events this week in New Brunswick are profoundly troubling on a number of levels, the protest itself is aimed at a target which I think a good many Canadians will be able to get behind and support - namely putting the brakes on exploiting resources using techniques which are coming increasingly into question.  What exactly happened between the RCMP and the protestors to provoke the heavy response from the RCMP and the escalation into violence and property destruction is not clear to me, and the accounts that I have been able to find have all suffered from a distinct feeling of being incomplete.  

That said, Canada's First Nations people are at a crossroads with respect to the national dialogue.  If they play their hand carefully, First Nations will be able to use this to initiate a much broader discussion with the engagement of Canadians as a whole.  Canadians are becoming more and more wary of the activities of large corporations and a government which is increasingly willing to bend to their will, and the combination of ongoing problems related to fracking activity, issues with the oil sands developments and the repeating problems with transportation of oil and bitumen creates a point of shared intersection where a conversation might be started.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Speech From The Throne

As expected, yesterday's Speech From The Throne was a mixed bag of feel good items and attempts to set political traps for future governments.

As expected Harper starts off by trying to brag about his economic record:

  • Last year’s deficit was less than forecast. Our Government will balance the budget by 2015. 
    §  And it will go further. Our Government will enshrine in law its successful and prudent approach. Our Government will introduce balanced-budget legislation. It will require balanced budgets during normal economic times, and concrete timelines for returning to balance in the event of an economic crisis.

    §  Our Government has already set an ambitious debt-to-GDP target of 25 per cent by 2021. And it will reduce that ratio to pre-recession levels by 2017. 

Oh ... the deficit was smaller than anticipated?  For those who had forgotten, Harper came to power in 2006 with the Federal Government in a budget surplus position (we were paying debt off in 2006).  By 2008, he had already spent Canada into a deficit position ... and that was before the financial crisis happened!  For Harper to claim a "reduced deficit" as some kind of an achievement is damning himself with faint praise.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Is YOUR Boss Telling You How To Vote?

It's Calgary, 2013.  I thought we had a fairly mature democracy.  Certainly one above the kind of political shenanigans that the builders are pushing.

In today's Calgary Herald, an article appears which talks about the President and CEO of Excel Homes and Apex sending a memo to the employees of his company suggesting strongly how they should vote.

(alternate source for the memo:  http://globalnews.ca/news/909342/leaked-memo-points-to-builders-slate-of-election-candidates/ )

“There has never been a more important time in the history of this industry that our collective voice is heard,” states the letter signed by Greg Lefebre, president and CEO of Excel Homes and Apex, a land developer. 
“We encourage each and every one of you to do your own due diligence on the issues at stake in this civil election and elect the candidate that will best represent your interests on our city council.” 
Despite this open-ended encouragement, Lefebre’s note adds: “as an organization we have endorsed the candidates as attached to this memo.” 
Attached is a map of all 14 city wards, with names of candidates. They include challengers to incumbents in five wards, including sitting aldermen that Shane Homes founder Cal Wenzel suggested were “the dark side” in a secretly videotaped political speech to industry colleagues.
Let me be abundantly clear - under no circumstances should an employer be telling their staff how they should be voting - EVER.  That Mr. Lefebre thought that this was an appropriate action to take says a great deal about how far big money in this city is willing to go to ensure that its interests are looked after.  (and you can be sure that the interests of big money aren't likely to align with the average person's interests)

If this is anything, it is a revealing of the whispered "Builder's Slate" - the candidates that the builders are endorsing for Calgary City Council.

The list of candidates implicitly endorsed in this builder's memo:

Ward 1:  Chris Harper
Ward 2:  Joe Magliocca
Ward 3:  Jim Stevenson
Ward 4:  Sean Chu
Ward 5:  Ray Jones
Ward 6:  Joe Connelly
Ward 7:  Kevin Taylor
Ward 8:  
Ward 9:  Richard Wilkie
Ward 10: Andre Chabot
Ward 11:  James Maxim
Ward 12:  Shane Keating
Ward 13:  Diane Colley-Urquhart
Ward 14:  Peter Demong

Mayor:  Jon Lord

Well ... at least its out in the open now.  Vote as you see fit, but please make sure it's an informed vote.

In the realm of electoral reforms, it seems to me that it's time to take this kind of money-driven nonsense out of the picture.  Actions like this should carry with it penalties.  Remember, corporations are run by people, but corporations ARE NOT PEOPLE, AND THEY ARE NOT CITIZENS.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pay to Go Politics in YYC

So, yesterday there was an "all candidates forum" sponsored by The Calgary Chamber of Commerce, the Urban Development Institute - Calgary and The Canadian Homebuilders Association - Calgary Region.

I did not attend this forum - for several reasons.  We already know that the developer community (or at least notable cabal within that group) have a "bone to pick" with the incumbent city council, and would dearly like to make things more "developer friendly" in the future.  They are entitled to that opinion and to advocate for it.  I have enormous problems with the obvious attempt to sponsor a slate of candidates trained by the right-wing Manning Centre - but that is because I object on general principals to the obvious play of partisan politics that smacks of.

However, there is a little nugget about last night's forum that I want to bring to your attention:




That's right - they are charging $25+GST / head ($26.25) for people to hear what candidates have to say.  If there is one thing that makes me angry, it is this notion that during an election, voters should have to fork out money to hear what the Candidates running to represent them have to say.

I'm sure that the sponsors would all wring their hands and talk about "cost recovery" and so on.  I have news for you - what you did by making that a "pay to attend" event is you immediately placed a price on information during an election.  Screw you.

The manufactured outrage that you have been fostering in this election campaign is revolting, and it is clear that you are only interested in talking to those willing to let you influence them with your propaganda.  Ever since the 2010 election, the right wing in this city has been on an anger-fest over Mayor Nenshi.  Big money lost that election, and they are trying to manufacture outrage to overturn Nenshi - or at least get enough of "their people" on council to make Nenshi's life hell for the next four years.

The UDI put out the following in a brochure at the start of the election:


UDI - Calgary calls on all 2013 municipal candidates to:
1. ACKNOWLEDGE the ongoing need for a strategic, innovative, and collaborative approach to managing growth in Calgary.
2. RECOGNIZE Calgary for what it is, as well as for what it was designed for - a UniCity with room for growth within City boundaries.
3. DEMONSTRATE leadership in putting Calgarians first when working to balance municipal fiscal capacity and control with business certainty and consumer demand. 
What this boils down to is that the developers in this city want to keep their business model as it is.  Why?  Simply because it is easy for them.  They know they can make money developing this way.  The rest of us have to live with the results.

If I were running any of those firms, I would be looking at changing the business model to adapt to the inevitable changes that are coming.  Calgary cannot be allowed to sprawl indefinitely for the next fifty years.  Doing so is unsustainable on so many levels it isn't funny.

We saw that when the initial builds for Douglasdale, Mackenzie, Mackenzie Towne caused traffic lights to be installed on Deerfoot Trail.  Possibly the dumbest decision ever made, but one made out of expediency.  Deerfoot is already running over capacity, even with all the lights removed, after a decade of construction projects to replace controlled intersections with interchanges.  ... and that is just the infrastructure that we can see.  The miles of water, wastewater, gas and electrical infrastructure that have to be installed in subdivisions is huge, and that means upgrades to sewage treatment facilities, the pipelines that feed them, new reservoirs for water (anybody else notice that Calgary is fairly arid most of the time?), generation capacity for electricity and so on.  We can't seem to keep up with the infrastructure problems we have now (there are roads in my home community that are crumbling and should have been replaced years ago)  Public transit in Calgary is a bad joke.  If you live east of the Deerfoot in south Calgary, it's even worse.

Calgary is growing.  There can be no mistake about that.  We need to find ways to grow that are more practical than simply spreading out indefinitely.  I may live in a suburb today, but I have long since recognized that the psychology of the suburb is rapidly becoming non-viable.  We need to change how we build this city.  Continuing to do what we are doing today will simply exacerbate the problems that are already brewing.

The developers are trying to protect their business model - and they don't give a damn about the long term problems that they are creating.  As a Calgarian, I want something better than that for the generations to come.  More of the same isn't it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On Living Wage, Minimum Income and Corporate Feudalism

I have ranted on this blog in the past about Corporate Feudalism and how this is resulting in larger and larger corporations which end up abusing their employees - usually in the form of trying to push wages down as low as they can, and trying to avoid paying benefits as much as possible.  

In the grocery business, we are watching the various major players (Superstore, Sobeys, Wal-Mart, Target) engage in a race to the ethical bottom.  Superstore in Alberta just experienced a worker strike in part because the company wanted to hack 30% off wages - of employees who are already underpaid.  Wal-Mart's wages are notoriously low and we seem to hear about questionable policies which are clearly designed to make it impossible for workers to even make a basic living at their jobs - scheduling policies which insist that part time staff cannot be scheduled for more than a certain number of hours a week, and yet they have to be available to the company "around the clock".  

To call such things exploitative is an understatement.  So, to my surprise, on CBC's "The 180" program last week, I heard Senator Hugh Segal speaking favourably about a minimum income construct.  Like the concept of a "Living Wage", the concept of "Minimum Income" is an attempt to come up with a public policy tool to combat the ever growing problem of poverty.  (Yes, I know I am oversimplifying both notions here - please bear with me)  

With Switzerland holding a referendum on a proposal to implement one, it seems worthwhile to take a closer look at Hugh Segal's position.  (To be honest, I am somewhat surprised to see this position being publicly expressed by the Senator, given the current government's desire to micromanage every utterance of its members.  
The wrong approach is to ignore the problem, letting the ideological conceit that a rising tide lifts all boats obscure the hard reality that many Canadians have no boat or access to anyone who has ever had a boat. Our prisons are disproportionately filled with younger people, First Nations people and representatives of the ten per cent of Canadians who live beneath the poverty line -- as is the case with Afro-Americans in the United States.The cost of keeping every one of these human beings in prisons is between five hundred to a thousand per cent more than what an automatic top-up would cost. Knowing that poverty is the most reliable predictor of trouble with the law, early use of our health care facilities, lower life span, illiteracy, family violence and unemployment, all of which cost tens of billions of tax dollars at a time when tax dollars are hard to find, should spur innovation. Never mind the core inhumanity of not helping the people whom we need as productive, taxpaying, full participants in our economic mainstream. And for those on the far right who resent "paying people to do nothing" remember this: The vast majority of folks living beneath the poverty line are working, on occasion, in more than one job, just not earning enough to get by.
What I was quite unaware of was that Canada had actually experimented with a minimum income project back in the 1970s, under the name "Mincome".
Mincome was an experimental Canadian Basic income project that was held in Dauphin, Manitoba during the 1970s. The project, funded jointly by the Manitoba provincial government and the Canadian federal government, began with a news release on February 22, 1974, and was closed down in 1979. The purpose of this experiment was to determine whether a guaranteed, unconditional annual income caused disincentive to work for the recipients, and how great such a disincentive would be. 
It allowed every family unit to receive a minimum cash benefit, with every dollar over the benefit amount taxed at 60%.[citation needed] The results showed a modest impact on labor markets, with working hours dropping one percent for men, three percent for wives, and five percent for unmarried women. [1] However, some have argued these drops may be artificially low because participants knew the guaranteed income was temporary. [2] These decreases in hours worked may be seen as offset by the opportunity cost of more time for family and education. Mothers spent more time rearing newborns, and the educational impacts are regarded as a success. Students in these families showed higher test scores and lower dropout rates. There was also an increase in adults continuing education.[3][4]  
It's hard to complain about those outcomes, really.  However, as Senator Segal alludes to in his commentary, the far right will complain bitterly about any such program, largely on the basis of false stereotypes about the faces of poverty.

Equally interesting is a study by Dr. Evelyn Forget which analyzed the data from the Dauphin experiment from a health outcomes perspective.  The upshot of that study was that the demand on the health care system was significantly reduced.

I don't have any expectation that a large scale Mincome style program is likely to be implemented in Canada anytime soon.  I don't think that any of the major political parties have this on their collective radar as an objective - and that includes the NDP and Green parties.  This simple fact is that in the last decade or so, nobody has taken the flag up to pursue the issue of poverty and its side effects on our political stage.

The results of the Mincome experiment are intriguing.  I think that there are some interesting additional questions that need to be asked (and answered) about Mincome:

1)  Does this kind of program break the dependency cycle that has been so clearly identified as a criticism of current welfare programs?

2)  Dauphin, Manitoba is a fairly small population.  When scaled up to a larger population, do we continue to see similar outcomes?

3)  How does it compare with other approaches to poverty reduction?

4)  What are the implications with respect to government revenues and how they are collected?

5)  Does this approach intersect with existing programs, or does it supplant them? ... and how?

The concept bears further investigation, and I must applaud Senator Segal for having the courage to start the dialogue, especially at a time when corrupt neo-liberalism holds sway in the corridors of power.  Perhaps Switzerland will begin the process of a larger scale experiment that we can follow carefully.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Consumer Friendly Throne Speech?

So, the Harper Government is promising a "consumer friendly" Throne Speech this week.

Among the "goodies" being discussed are "a la carte cable" and a "passenger bill of rights", all as part of a "grow the economy" strategy.  More or less, the Conservatives are going to put forward a combination of incentives to stimulate consumer spending.

I have no doubt that this is in large part intended as a political "trap" for the NDP and Liberals - put a bunch of things on the table which in principle the opposition parties cannot object to, and attempt to drag the national dialogue away from the Senate Expenses scandal.

How effectively it will be able to drag people's attention away from Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau depends entirely on the ability of those people to stay out of the headlines.  With Brazeau facing a series of court dates, and Duffy's audit requiring the RCMP to file for document production orders in the courts, it seems unlikely that the mess in the Senate is going to quietly disappear for Harper - as much as he might wish it to.

As for this sudden focus on the "consumer" (read the "middle class"), this strikes me as another attempt on the part of the government to persuade Canadians to "support the economy" by spending more.  

For example, consider the concept of "a la carte cable TV" offerings.  I've personally argued for this for years.  I have absolutely despised the fact that to get a handful of channels that have programming I might want to watch that I am obliged to take a package with hundreds of channels that I will never watch this side of creation.  (Really, when did fly fishing become a spectator sport?  or poker for that matter?)  I have always liked the notion that I can order the handful of channels that I want and not have to worry about the other 200 channels of content I couldn't care less about.  

Superficially, this type of scheme is appealing.  So, what you have to look at is how these things are going to be priced.  I'll put money that this will be the TV equivalent of "super concentrated laundry detergent" - an excuse to sell less product for a lot more money.  Will it really benefit Canadian consumers?  Only in terms of convenience, I suspect.  If, like me, you are incredibly picky about what you spend your time watching, then it might save you a couple of dollars a month over basic cable, but if you are more wide ranging in what you watch and follow, then chances are the total cost of a broad range package will equal or exceed what you are paying today for a package subscription.  

Watch for traps in these arrangements too - service charges being added to modify your subscriptions, or additional "equipment charges" for whatever device is used to manage what you are subscribed to.  Either way, the Cable TV companies are going to make off like bandits on this one.  There are a thousand ways they can charge more for less, and in doing so, save themselves significant costs on upgrading their infrastructure because they will be using less gross bandwidth.  Meanwhile, consumers will no doubt be paying more per channel than they are today.

The second thing to consider about the Conservatives sudden "focus on middle class Canadians".  This is an attempt to get us all spending more.  The last time we saw this kind of strategy being used to buoy a shaky economy (and yes, the economy in Canada is shaky these days) was in the wake of the 2000 "Dot Com Bubble" failure.  The Bush Republicans decided to focus on economic growth facilitated by consumer spending.  We all know how that turned out ... eight years later, the Great Recession started as a result of the housing bubble's collapse - and although the recession itself officially ended in 2009, the fact remains that the US economy has been shaky at best ever since.  

There are a lot of reasons for that, but at its core, it is because the middle class in the US has been gutted by the same economic mentality that has driven most manufacturing out of the country.  There is no doubt that the US has gutted its manufacturing sector starting the 1980s.  (When was the last time you picked up something that said "Made in USA" on it?)  We are seeing the same thing happening with today's IT knowledge work as well.  More and more it is being sent offshore to workers in countries like India, Pakistan and China where the labour is "cheaper".

So, when a government starts to focus on "economic growth" based on vehicles like consumer spending, you know that the core of the economic engine in the country has been hollowed out, and they are trying desperately to make their economic performance look better than it actually is.  If this government was really interested in economic growth, they would be fostering the growth of industry here so that the middle class have jobs they can depend on.  A stable middle class will spend money willingly, without being goaded to do so by government programs that create the illusion that it is safe to do so.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

When Logic Does Not Factor Into Policy

Yesterday, Canada's Minister for the Status of Women spoke on the recent decision for Canada to restrict funding related to War Rape and Forced Marriage victims to organizations and programs that exclude abortion.

As a pediatric surgeon, she said she's confident Canada has chosen to target its aid where it will do the most good. 
"We have to pick a targeted area, where we're going to be able to have an impact," Leitch said in a phone interview from New York. 
"As a physician, I'm very confident in saying that we have chosen the right one, that pre- and post-partum care is the place where we'll have the most meaningful impact to save the lives of children and their mothers." 
She noted that childbirth is one of the leading causes of death among young women between the ages of 15 and 19 and blamed that largely on the appalling conditions in which they're frequently forced to give birth.
The logic of this is beyond ridiculous.  As a doctor, she should know damn good and well that maternal health includes contraception and abortion.  Excluding these from the discussion does nothing more than reduce women to the role of baby machines.

The issues of the conditions in which women are often forced to give birth are no different than the issue of the conditions which women are forced to deal with when seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy.  Period.  Anybody who thinks that because abortion isn't being funded/supported/provided that women don't seek out such solutions has wool where their brains should be.

What the Harper Government is really doing is using this issue as a piece of red meat for their squirming base of religious fundamentalists.  Make no mistake about it, the religious far right desperately wants to regulate sexuality in this country, and their beach head is abortion.  They think that they can justify slamming the door shut on abortion in Canada, using many of the same revolting tactics that we have seen used in the United States, where progressively more invasive laws have been pushed through at the state level which have rendered access to abortion virtually impossible in some states.

Ms. Leitch should also be quite aware that forced marriage regularly includes forcing girls into marriage before they are physically mature enough to carry a child safely to term, and war rape in general does not respect age at all.  In both cases, access to abortion is a legitimate need for the women affected by these atrocities.  A girl who has had her first period is capable of becoming pregnant, but that doesn't mean that she is able to carry the fetus to term safely, and the injuries from early sex can be fatal.   That she is a paediatrician and takes a position that excludes a particular treatment option for the victims of these practices is disgusting.  She should be fully aware of the dangers involved in such situations for the young woman.

Turning to the question of "War Rape", and pregnancy which could result from such activities, the position she is taking effectively revokes the notion that woman has autonomy over her body in all circumstances.  Once again, we find the ridiculous "pro-life" trope surfacing that denies women autonomy over their bodies.  Pregnancy is not without consequences for the mother, no matter how much we might idealize it as a "wondrous time" in life.  I can only imagine the psychological trauma that someone who is raped in a war zone, and then obliged to carry the resulting child to term would face.  In effect, we are not only rewarding the rapist with offspring, but for the remainder of that woman's life, she has to face a recurring trauma resulting from knowing the origins of that child.  (worse, in some countries, the rapist is actually granted rights with respect to that child, which would spawn still more recurring trauma for the mother)

Logically speaking, there is no way that you can claim to be helping the health of women in these situations and exclude access to abortion.  Doing so is logically inconsistent, and exposes the victims of these crimes (and both are criminal acts in my opinion, regardless of the local laws in other countries).

Once again, the Harper Government is making policy decisions based on ideology, not on facts and reason.  I shudder to think what Harper is going to do on the home front between now and the next election.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

More On Duffy and Conservative Corruption

I must admit that while I really don't much like Mike Duffy and the seemingly endless stream of evidence of corruption with him at the root of it is fatiguing to read about all the time, it is still an important issue.

I am not going to argue about Senate Reform in this post - I remain unconvinced that the Duffy/Wallin/etc expenses scandal really points to an urgent need to overhaul the Senate - in fact, I am much more of the opinion that framing the expenses scandal in those terms is a red herring intended to distract the public from the real problems.

So, what are the issues then?  Corruption.  Starting with a Prime Minister who has created an environment in his party that encourages cheating, disrespects the structure and processes of parliament and by definition encourages abuse of the public trust.

Let's take a step back in time, shall we?  Remember 2006, when Paul Martin's minority government fell and an election sent the keys to 24 Sussex to Stephen Harper and his Conservatives?  I thought you might.

In 2006, we got the first overt clues as to Harper's agenda and what he has fostered in the CPC since becoming the party leader.  

The first clue was the "In-and-Out Scam", a thinly disguised money laundering scheme that Harper's campaign people dreamed up to sidestep campaign spending limits.

Then, we learned that the CPC had written and distributed a manual for their MPs to disrupt the business of parliament.  This is particularly concerning when you realize that this manual was part of the operating procedures for a party that was now in power.

Fast forward to 2008, and we have Prime Minister Harper calling a snap election - a snap election which flies in the face of his vaunted "fixed elections dates" law.  Now, per se, Harper didn't entirely break his fixed election dates law, because it did not place any limits on the Prime Minister's ability to approach the Governor General to dissolve parliament.  However, he did violate the spirit of his own law, which was the result of long standing complaints by the Conservatives (and the forerunner Reform party) about the "political game playing" around election calls.

Then, in 2011, we see the worst possible forms of electoral fraud taking place - voter suppression tactics.  On top of that, Harper has seen several of his MPs pay the price for breaking campaign finance rules - most notably Peter Penashue, but several others as well.

So, when you find yourself looking at Harper's ill-behaved Senate appointees and wondering what's going on, I think you need to look back at Harper.

I have no problem with a discussion around Senate reform, but let's make it a constructive discussion that isn't coloured by a knee-jerk reaction to corruption instigated by a Prime Minister whose acts have created an environment where corruption, undermining and fraud are the rule.