Friday, November 29, 2013

Alberta Bills 45 and 46

Others have spoke very eloquently about the problems with Bills 45 and 46.

What I want to bring to readers' attention is how the Redford Government is abusing not just legislative procedure, but democracy itself.

It is not unusual for this government to limit debate on bills.  What is unusual is to introduce a motion limiting debate prior to tabling the bill itself.  No MLA should ever have voted in favour of limiting debate on a bill without first having had the chance to vet it.  Yet, that is precisely what has happened here.  In the Hansard from Tuesday, November 26 Afternoon session:
Mr. Hancock: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have a number ofnotices to provide to the House today. First, I would like to giveoral notice of intention to introduce Bill 45, the Public SectorServices Continuation Act, which will be sponsored by myself.I would also like to give oral notice of intention to introduceBill 46, the Public Service Salary Restraint Act, and Bill 42, theSecurities Amendment Act, 2013, which are sponsored by thehon. Provincial Treasurer and Minister of Finance.Mr. Speaker, I also would want to provide oral notice ofintention of introduce two motions. The first motion would be:Be it resolved that pursuant to Standing Order 77(2) Bill 45,Public Sector Services Continuation Act, may be advanced twoor more stages in one day and that if Bill 45 has not yet beenintroduced, then immediately following the passage of thismotion the Assembly shall revert to Introduction of Bills for theintroduction of Bill 45, Public Sector Services ContinuationAct.The second motion that I'd like to give notice of is:Be it resolved thatA. On Thursday, November 28, 2013, the Assemblycontinue sitting beyond its normal adjournment hourof 4:30 p.m. for consideration of Bill 45, PublicSector Services Continuation Act, and any relatedmotions; andB. Upon Government House Leader advising theAssembly no later than the time of adjournment onThursday, November 28, 2013, the Assemblyreconvene on Friday, November 29, 2013, at 10 a.m.for a special sitting, and the only business to beconsidered by the Assembly that day shall be Bill 45,Public Sector Services Continuation Act, and anyrelated motions.
If something about this smells a little strange, it is the pre-emptive issuance of motions to limit debate on these bills when there is no legislative crisis at hand.  When there is a crisis at hand, I can appreciate the need to be expedient.

So, the government is moving to push this legislation through with only the bare minimum of process.  With the excessive majority that the PCs have in the legislature, this is almost unnecessary window dressing.

The second item in the Hansard of interest comes from Thursday Afternoon's session:
Ms Notley: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. ...3:10The other action which occurred, frankly, just occurred, Mr.Speaker, in that it is now as far as I can tell 3:10, and I have notyet received a copy of either Bill 45 or Bill 46, yet I am advisedthat the media have received a briefing on this bill as of 2:45,which also amounts to a breach of the privilege of the members ofthis Assembly.
Note that the media was briefed on this
What's the big rush?  They only have to whip the votes to get this legislation through.

The short answer is that the government doesn't want us to look at the legislation too closely, nor do they want any amendments or scrutiny before it becomes law.

These two bills are arguably the most blatant attack on collective bargaining, and labour rights in general that we have seen in decades.  At best, parts of the legislative could be considered punitive - punishing all public sector unions for the wildcat strike that prison guards pulled earlier this year.  At worst, it demonstrates a government that is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, and legislation which is also arguably unconstitutional as well.

It is the willingness to subvert the core principles of our parliamentary democracy that is most concerning.  Whether Redford is taking a page from Harper's playbook, or Harper has modelled his approach to governing on the worst excesses we have seen in Alberta is irrelevant.  In both cases, we are seeing the processes of democracy being made a mockery, and laws being passed which grossly overreach the authority of the government.

Harper's "anti-bullying" law resurrects Toews' "spy on everyone" internet surveillance law which violates all sorts of principles of our constitution, and arguably the Redford government has passed a number of authoritarian laws which fundamentally overreach as well.

These are not conservatives in any reasonable understanding of the term - they are authoritarians.

The Rumbling Begins?

Harper's leadership is becoming increasingly shaky in the wake of the Senate Expenses scandal.  Rick Mercer's Rant this week hit the nail on the head as far as Harper's denials in the House of Commons are concerned:


"Either he is psychotic or he was in on it"

Perhaps more interesting is that some of Harper's backbencher's are starting to talk openly about curtailing the PM's powers.  

One of the solutions they have embraced – the cause of their shackles – is the removal of the leader’s power to veto individual candidates. Because it is difficult to win an election as an independent, Harper and the other party leaders have enormous power over their MPs, since no one can run under their party’s banner without their approval. 
Chong is expected to table a private members’ bill that would give veto power over a candidate to the riding association executive rather than the party leader or his designate, sources said. Chong’s riding association of Wellington–Halton Hills put forward a similar resolution at the Conservative convention in Calgary earlier this month. That resolution would have prevented the national party from appointing candidates — unless the electoral district association (EDA) failed to do so.
I'm not sure that legislation of this nature is actually going to stand up to scrutiny.  Such matters are largely a function of the party's constitution rather than an issue that is driven by legislation.  I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea, but I wonder if it would be deemed an unreasonable constraint on the ability of an association to make its operating rules as it sees fit.  (Notably, similar motions have been defeated at CPC policy conventions)

However, it isn't the actual proposal that is of interest here, so much as it is a matter of understanding that Harper's back-benchers are starting to balk at the shackles that the Harper PMO has imposed on them.
The longstanding tradition in British parliamentary democracy by which the government is accountable to the House and the leader is accountable to the caucus is not the case in Ottawa “where everybody is accountable to the Prime Minister’s Office,” Rathgeber said.
If others in the CPC back benches are starting to see this same issue, then it is possible that someone in that group may yet rise to become Harper's Dalton Camp.  

This may be premature - it comes on the heels of a bruising couple of weeks for Harper and his allies on the Senate Scandal, so we may just be seeing a few taking advantage of opportunity to gain a little media exposure.

My personal estimate is that it will be at least twelve months before the forces within the party that are opposed to Harper to one degree or another can gain sufficient momentum to openly challenge him.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I'm No Expert On Aboriginal Issues ...

But I'm pretty sure that the Harper Government(tm) isn't doing it right.  

Carolyn Bennett has an excellent article on Huffington Post today on the subject in light of the most recent bunch of documents to be released from the RCMP's investigation into the Senate mess:
We now know the Conservatives' refusal to fund First Nations students attending school on reserves at the same level as their provincial counterparts is coming straight from the top. An internal PMO memo released as part of the ITO suggested language to the Prime Minister to reprimand the Conservative Leader in the Senate for not having better control over Senators and the work of Senate Committees. The memo specifically uses a Senate report calling on the government to "invest heavily in Aboriginal education" as an example of a failure to ensure "Government messaging and direction are followed." 
This is not just a shocking example of Stephen Harper's anti-democratic command and control style of government, but clearly demonstrates that the Prime Minister callously refuses to provide First Nations students with the equality of opportunity they deserve. The federal government only provides half to two-thirds of the per-student funding for First Nation schools compared to provincial schools and only one third of First Nations students are graduating high school. Rather than fixing the funding gaps highlighted by First Nations, the Auditor General and numerous other reports, the response of the Prime Minister is to simply clamp down on Parliamentarians trying to highlight the issue. Whether it is First Nations water systems, housing or education, the Conservative answer is to ignore funding shortfalls and download further responsibilities onto already underfunded First Nations with no additional resources.
 I don't know what the right answers are, but when our own government's internal communications is treating Canada's First Nations peoples as "adversaries", there is little chance that we will see meaningful reform and improvement of the lot of our First Nations under this government.

Canada deserves better than this, our First Nations deserve better.

More on Baird and Iran

People, even the media who watch such things, seem mystified by the Harper Government(tm) stance on Iran.

It's no big surprise, really.  When I took this blog out from under wraps in May, I wrote a lengthy essay describing the "Modern Fascism" that Harper has been cultivating.  On foreign affairs, I wrote the following:
Naturally, he would play on this in such a manner as to play up the idea that Canada is being marginalized on the world stage and use that to build up a form an nationalism not unlike what happened in Germany in the post-WWI years as a result of the isolation and restrictions that the Treaty of Versailles ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Versailles ) created.
With Iran, The Harper Government has done something which only makes sense in the context of Harper trying to isolate Canada on the world stage.  Like his position on Sri Lanka, Harper takes an absolutist "all-or-nothing" approach to the issues, and then withdraws any support for compromise - thus removing Canada's voice entirely from the discourse.

In the context of Canada's role on the world stage, he is taking a stance which is the polar opposite of where Canada typically plays well.  Where Canada has historically been the voice of compromise and reason, Harper's voice on the world stage is one of bluster and hostility.  We all know that Canada hasn't got the economic or military muscle to back up this belligerent stance that Harper is taking, so for the world, Harper's voice on the stage is easily ignored.

Here in Canada, we cannot ignore it.  At first, I assumed that Harper's approach to foreign affairs was merely a result of his lack of awareness.  That was in 2006.  Since then, I have become convinced that not only is it deliberate, but that it is part of a larger strategy on Harper's part to dismantle everything that he loathes about Canada's history.  If it serves to isolate Canada on the world stage in the process, so much the better for his propaganda campaigns.

It will take years to clean up the mess this nasty little man is making.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On By-Election Results

There were four by-elections in Canada yesterday.  One in Quebec, one in Ontario and two in Manitoba.

Nobody expected Vic Toews' riding, Provencher, to change hands and it didn't even twitch that way all evening.



Similarly, the Quebec riding of Bourassa was expected to remain a Liberal safe seat, and was similarly clear all night.  It started off with the Liberal candidate holding 48% of the vote, and stayed that way.


Toronto-Centre was a more up in the air.  It could easily have gone either to the Liberals or the NDP.  It pivoted between Liberal and an NDP lead a couple of times over the course of results coming.

The nail-biter all night was Brandon-Souris.  It flipped between Conservative and Liberal candidates leading all night.  In fact, it was the last flip with 20 polls still to come in that set the Conservative lead and held it for the remainder of the results.


Of the four by-elections, Brandon-Souris had by far the best voter turnout - at 44.7%.  All the rest of the ridings were well below 40% voter turnout.

What I do note is that in the two Conservative "stronghold" seats, repeating what we saw in the Calgary Centre by-election of 2012, the margin of victory was narrowed measurably.  Brandon-Souris was a gap of 1.4% (or approximately 400 votes).  Both of these ridings are typically considered "safe" for Conservative candidates, and in both by-elections, the margin of victory was around 20% less than the previous general election.

When seats that were typically considered "safe" for Conservatives are being won by margins 10-20% narrower than the previous election, that's a potentially serious problem for the Conservatives.

I will differ with Maclean's writer Paul Wells on his analysis of the results.  I think that this has bought Harper a little bit of time before the looming "night of the long knives" that has been brewing ever since the Senate Expenses scandal blew up in the PMO's collective face.  Had the Conservatives lost Brandon-Souris, I think Harper's career in the party would have been toast.  They didn't, and that buys him some time.

Will he last until 2015 or until spring of 2016 when an election must be called?  That is much harder to tell.  I suspect that the longer that the Senate mess remains in the headlines, the less time Harper will have before being forced out.

Is this good news?  Yes, it is.  The longer Harper holds on, the less time any potential successor will have to put the scandals behind the party.

Monday, November 25, 2013

If Harper Wants To Be Skeptical About Iran ...

Baird's comments about the deal reached with Iran yesterday which theoretically is intended to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capability are somewhat laughable.

"We're deeply skeptical of Iran and its ability to honour its obligations," he said. 
Baird added that Canada believes "every diplomatic measure" should be taken to ensure that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. 
"A nuclear Iran is not just a threat to Canada, or its allies," he said. "It would also seriously damage the integrity of decades of work for nuclear non-proliferation. It would provoke other neighbouring states to develop their own nuclear deterrent."
The supposition that Iran does not have nuclear weapons capability already is something of a bad joke, in my opinion.  While the western powers have been "boycotting" Iran for years, it has retained close ties with both China and Russia, and there has been significant trade in both weapons technology and intellectual scholarship between those nations.

At the very least, I would suspect that Iran has acquired a nuclear arsenal through trade with either China or Russia over the last thirty years.   They may well have it as a well guarded secret, but it certainly would not surprise me.
"Effective sanctions have brought the regime to present a more moderate front and open the door to negotiations," he said. "The Iranian people deserve the freedom and prosperity that they have been denied for all too long by the regime's nuclear ambitions. Until then Canadian sanctions will remain tough and will remain in full force."
I do not think that sanctions have ever significantly caused any regime to change its stripes.  What has more likely happened in Iran is that the power structure has gotten comfortable over the last couple of decades and no longer feels the need to be quite as bellicose as they were in the days following the revolution of 1979.  In other words, it has moderated not because of the sanctions, but in spite of them.

If Iran is in fact pursuing a program of developing nuclear weapons, I suspect strongly that the program  is already at the point where Iran has decoupled its civilian and military programs from each other - and hidden the military programs well out of the way.   Iran is a mountainous country, I do not doubt that they have quietly built plenty of facilities in strategic locations that would not be entirely obvious at the outset - even in this era of satellite surveillance.

Iran has made the commitments in this agreement now because they believe they can meet them without compromising their existing programs and plans.  Not because any amount of pressure from western powers is going to make them stop those programs.
 

In Harper's World, Everything Is Partisan

Harper has turned everything into 'partisan advantage' in Ottawa.

When Flaherty "asked" the opposition for "input" into the next budget, the letter was designed as less of a sincere request for input as a partisan attack.

"I will not entertain the traditional 'laundry list' of new spending or subsidy programs typically sent from the opposition," Flaherty writes. 
"Additionally ... I will reject any proposal to impose new taxes on Canadians as recently suggested by the opposition — from increased business taxes to taxes on carbon."
Of course, this is typical of Harper's M.O.  Everything is about scoring "partisan points".  In this case, the Conservatives have used language to imply that the opposition is all about raising taxes and spending "irresponsibly".  (Please see my previous post about how the right-wing politics of the last couple of decades has been used to starve governments of the funds needed to act in the best interests of their citizens).

The Harperites have once again proven that in their Ottawa, collaboration has been replaced by corruption.



Sunday, November 24, 2013

Societal Dysfunction and Why We Need Food Banks

A friend made the following, very perceptive, comment the other day, and it serves as the inspiration for this post.
What is wrong with us/our governments that we either cannot or will not address the systemic issues that force so many people to rely on food banks? They were supposed to be temporary! Now they are a fixture and needed more than ever. That is a systemic societal failure.
On the whole, there is an underlying point to this comment that I want to address in the context of today's political environment, because it is our politics which I see as central to this issue.

How did we get to the place that we are in today?  It's a long story, and one that begins in the UK with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.  Thatcher was the first of the "Neo-Conservative" heads of state that swept the world during the 1980s and 1990s.

The emergence of the modern day food bank coincides with the rise of this new breed of right-wing conservatism in our political discourse and the global recession of the early 1980s.  Calgary's Interfaith Foodbank marks their beginnings as being in 1982 at the height of the recession.  This, in my opinion not just mere coincidence, but an important confluence of events.

Thatcher all but dismantled labour unions in the UK, and in the United States her close friend and ally Ronald Reagan went after social programs including education.
Further following his less-government intervention views, Reagan cut the budgets of non-military[153] programs[154] includingMedicaidfood stamps, federal education programs[153] and the EPA.[155] While he protected entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare,[156] his administration attempted to purge many people with disabilities from the Social Security disability rolls.

Friday, November 22, 2013

There Aren't Enough Hours In The Day ...

I'm suffering from a shortage of available hours.  There's way more going on than this writer has time for.  Within 24 hours this week, there have been major revelations on three different tracks of news and events in Canada's politics.  FATCA came to my attention, Rob Ford's self-immolation found new lows, and today's topic, the latest round of court documents in the Senate Expenses Scandal.

First up, I want to direct readers to Michael Spratt's analysis, he points out where there may be significant concerns for the CPC and its lawyers in this unfolding debacle.

Harper has consistently played the "plausible deniability" card throughout this debacle.  This card is wearing thin - fast.  Not just a little bit thin - it's positively threadbare.  As more comes out in this investigation, it becomes less and less plausible to believe that Harper didn't know in considerable detail what was going on, and the general shape of it, even if he didn't know "every detail".

When things are at the level of the Chief of Staff in the PMO, it is difficult to believe that Harper was not informed.  It becomes even less likely in my opinion when there is a pair of e-mails from Nigel Wright saying in effect "I have to ask permission from Harper" followed by "I have permission".

Add to this, Harper's story has been changing as this scandal unfolds.  At first he was completely behind Duffy, and there couldn't possibly be anything wrong; now he's thrown Duffy under the bus and is talking about him as some kind of pariah.  First he reviewed Pamela Wallin's expenses himself, and it was all just fine; then when the heat gets a bit too much, she gets thrown under the bus with Duffy.  Nigel Wright "resigned", and then a few months later he was "fired".

I do not think that Canadians can reasonably be expected to believe that Harper "didn't know" at this point.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bill C-13 Does Not Address Online Bullying

In spite of the Harper Government's public claims to the contrary, Bill C-13 has very little to do with online bullying.

It talks about a whole lot of things, but only a small fraction has anything to do with online bullying.  At its core, it adds a few changes to essentially broaden the definition of child pornography and pornography by creating a definition for "intimate images".  This is not particularly meaningful in the realm of online bullying.

The very definition of an "intimate image" is highly problematic at the best of times:

162.1 (1) Everyone who knowingly publishes, distributes, transmits, sells, makes available or advertises an intimate image of a person knowing that the person depicted in the image did not give their consent to that conduct, or being reckless as to whether or not that person gave their consent to that conduct, is guilty 
(a) of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years; or(b) of an offence punishable on summary conviction. 
Definition of “intimate image”(2) In this section, “intimate image” means a visual recording of a person made by any means including a photographic, film or video recording,(a) in which the person is nude, is exposing his or her genital organs or anal region or her breasts or is engaged in explicit sexual activity;(b) in respect of which, at the time of the recording, there were circumstances that gave rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy; and(c) in respect of which the person depicted retains a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time the offence is committed.
Fundamentally, this sounds like an attempt (and a very bad one) to define what constitutes an "obscene" image rather than an "intimate" image.  Using this definition, some of the pictures we have seen of Rob Ford could be construed to be "intimate images", and yet the publication of those very images have provided valuable public insight into the character of this man who would be mayor and claims further to have designs on the Prime Minister's office.  Does Rob Ford peeing on a bush in a parking lot have a "reasonable expectation of privacy"?

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that this law gives the police extraordinary powers to seize people's computers "on the balance of probabilities", among other things.

Further, this law is actually remarkably naive in terms of its provisions regarding the removal of an image from websites.  Once an image is posted in a public forum, it can spread through the internet in  a completely untraceable manner.  Simply put, once the picture is posted, the damage is done.  Further, while you can request that an image be removed from a specific site, outside of Canada the Canadian government has very little ability to enforce removal orders.

What I find even more troubling is that the law does very little to address the notion of making harassment a criminal offence.  While Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons were victimized by people passing around pictures of them, the government seems to have overlooked that it is not just the picture which is the issue, but the messages that were associated with those pictures and the context in which they were distributed and whether they were directed at these unfortunate girls.

These girls did not kill themselves over the pictures, but over the treatment that they received at the hands of those who accessed those pictures and then addressed them.  The Internet is a harsh place, and it is one which will continue to be so, regardless of this law.  A quick search through the legislation mentions "harass" exactly once.

372. (1) Everyone commits an offence who, with intent to injure or alarm a person, conveys information that they know is false, or causes such information to be conveyed by letter or any means of telecommunication. 
Indecent communications(2) Everyone commits an offence who, with intent to alarm or annoy a person, makes an indecent communication to that person or to any other person by a means of telecommunication.Harassing communications(3) Everyone commits an offence who, without lawful excuse and with intent to harass a person, repeatedly communicates, or causes repeated communications to be made, with them by a means of telecommunication.
In many respects, this is the only part of the legislation which begins to address the kinds of behaviour that actually turn into bullying.  Unfortunately, I don't believe that this is an effective tool in the management of bullying in part because it is at the same time both overly broad in terms of the kinds of communication and overly narrow in that it specifically talks about it being "knowingly false".

Bullying is a very subtle social behaviour, and it often operates on the principle of "wrapping a lie with just a little bit of truth".  Remember that people often say things which get turned against them by the bully - it may be perfectly true as a statement, but when couched in the right words can be used as a tool against that person.

Further, the bill itself appears to do very little to identify the form and structure of bullying practices in the world of the internet.  Perhaps even more unsettling is that it also fails to recognize that much of the bullying often involves youth.  (and certainly the high profile cases do)

Sadly, Bill C-13 seems to be more of a resurrection of the kind of overreaching legislation that made Toews' "Internet Surveillance" Bill C-30 so unpalatable to Canadians.  Ultimately it expands the powers of the police to engage in search and seizure of people's activities while doing precious little to effectively identify the kinds of activities which comprise bullying behaviour.

... and more detailed analysis by a lawyer is here:  http://blog.privacylawyer.ca/2013/11/some-comments-on-new-canadian.html

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Never Heard Of FATCA? You Should

Until recently, I had never heard of FATCA, in fact it was a program on CBC that brought it to my attention.

FATCA is seriously troubling for Canadians.  In theory, it should only affect people who have American citizenship.  But, the law itself has enormous implications for countries outside of the United States.

FATCA is so intrusive it often needs to be somehow incorporated into foreign countries’ legislation in order for the banks to be able to comply with it without breaking domestic laws (such as the ones that govern the release of confidential information). It isn’t clear yet how Canada plans to do this. 
The “how” here matters, because it might determine whether Parliament gets a say in all this or not. Ottawa might, for example, decide to re-interpret the existing U.S.-Canada tax treaty to allow financial institutions to abide by FATCA provisions. This would shut out lawmakers. 
Another way to by-pass the Hill could be to draft a document that looks like an intergovernmental agreement and then call it by another name–say, “memorandum of understanding,” which does not require parliamentary action.  
Wondering why we haven't heard anything about this?  Yeah, so am I.  The Harper Government seems loathe to discuss anything publicly, and just as the TPP negotiations are so deeply secret that we learn more from foreign sources about them than from our own government.  This appears to be another one of those situations.

I have several problems with FATCA from a philosophical perspective.  First is the extra-territorial nature of the legislation itself.  I object on a fundamental level with governments writing legislation which ultimately places the obligations for that legislation's implementation on foreign powers.  US law is not a universal law, and it should not be imposed upon other nations.

The second aspect of this law is that it essentially obliges Canadian banks and the CRA to act as agents for the IRS.  Not only do Canadians end up paying the direct costs of this attempt to ensnare American expats who aren't meeting their US tax obligations.  I have a huge problem with this - if the US wants to catch tax evaders, then they should bear the costs of doing so.  Taxpayers in foreign jurisdictions should not be generally responsible for implementing laws written in the US, much less the costs of implementing those laws.

One aspect of this law which is particularly offensive is the fact that the US law imposes penalties on foreign companies doing business in the United States who fail to comply with the terms of this law.  From a tactical perspective, I can appreciate the carrot-and-stick nature of this feature of FATCA, but that doesn't make it right.  However, it creates an environment where banks may well choose to violate Canadian laws to avoid the penalties.

Lastly, there is a fundamental point about FATCA - the US government has absolutely no right whatsoever to Canadian personal data - much less our banking data.  This is a criminal abuse of power and an unreasonable invasion of privacy. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

On Bullying and Thuggish Behaviour In Canada's Politics

As a human being, I see Rob Ford as a tragic character.  The man is so obviously in over his head it's not even funny.  His closest advisors and family have enabled his proclivities for substance abuse, and I would go so far as to suggest that he may well be little more than the puppet on the throne rather than the master of his actions.

As a Canadian, I am appalled by the Fords and their behaviour in the last few weeks.  It is not that their behaviour is embarrassing to Canada - it is, but that is secondary to what I want to talk about here.  It is the way in which the Fords throw their weight around (literally and figuratively) in council.

One of the favourite "escape hatches" of the far right in this country when confronted with their own misdeeds is to try and accuse their critics of exactly the same failing.  We've seen it time and again with the CPC in the House of Commons.  How many times, when confronted with their own fiscal mismanagement have we heard the Harper government dredge up past scandals?  Countless.

In the case of the Fords, it's a more direct form of bullying.  When Rob Ford was confronted in council session about his drug use since being elected, Doug Ford turns around and accuses the councillor questioning his brother of using marijuana.

"Everyone in this chamber is coming across as holier than thou, lily white," Ford began before setting his sights on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who earlier filed a motion demanding Ford take a leave and apologize for lying about smoking crack cocaine. 
"The question is: have you ever smoked marijuana?" Ford asked to surprise. 
Ford repeated the question several times, raising his voice. 
"It's a question. It's simple. A yes or a no, have you smoked marijuana?" he asked as fellow councillors called for a point of privilege and speaker Frances Nunziata attempted to calm things down. "The answer, I guess, is yes. The answer is yes, I guess." 
Ford then called on other councillors to stand up if they had tried smoking pot.
"The whole council will stand up. So don’t come across that you're holier than thou," he said.
There is a fundamental issue with this kind of "counter-attack" - it attempts to draw a false moral equivalence between actions.  Whether or not councillor Minnan-Wong had smoked pot is immaterial.  The question is no longer about whether Rob Ford has used crack cocaine, but rather the fact that he has lied to council and Toronto as a whole about it.

Then, in an interview on US network Fox News, Rob Ford continues the process of escalating threats against various members of council:
If that’s all they’ve got well you know what if you wanna get nasty we can get nasty, and I can start digging up dirt on every single one of those politicians down there but they don’t want to so you know what? And like we said if you wanna do drug testing I’ll do drug testing but when my brother asked the question to Council Member Wong(?) have you ever done marijuana or cocaine the whole council erupted and said you can’t say that you can’t say that? Why? They can say it to me. Why can’t the other Councillors answer those questions?
Notice the attempt to make the issue of Rob Ford's behaviour as mayor a "tit-for-tat" issue, as if there is no difference between individual councillors' roles and the position of Mayor.

Today, in a council meeting, we have the Fords throwing their literal weight around in council - knocking over one of their peers.

What is the problem here?  It is the insistence on the part of the Fords that nobody should ever dare question them or their politics.    Instead of confronting issues directly, these goons insist on trying to turn the issues around on their opponents and make their opponents "responsible" or somehow "equally bad".

This is ultimately very damaging to political discourse.  It is the approach of childish politicians who still haven't figured out that politics in a democracy is not about absolute power, or always getting "your way", but rather it is the art of compromise.  It is precisely this unwillingness to compromise that has doomed Harper's desire to reform the Senate to the wastebasket.

[Update 19/11/2013]
Article from CBC posted late yesterday:  Rob Ford Says He's Quit Drinking

Another aspect of this is the unwillingness to take responsibility for your actions, or to recognize the position that one is in as a public leader.

Consider the following from CBC's interview with Rob Ford:

Mansbridge asked Ford if he's been drunk while driving. Ford told Mansbridge he hasn't driven while drunk but may have driven after moderate drinking. 
"All of us have done this," said Ford. "Whoever has a licence. You've gone to a dinner party or a restaurant with your wife and had a glass of wine. Do you drive? Absolutely you drive. I've never been drunk and driven." 
Ford answered "no" when Mansbridge asked if the mayor did crack more than once during his time as mayor. Ford described his crack use as "an isolated incident" that happened more than a year ago. 
Ford said he was "probably pretty inebriated" when the video was shot of him doing crack cocaine."You know what happens when you get to a certain point, when you're very inebriated. You might remember this, you might not remember that. There's blackout period I think we've all gone through. Some people are perfect. I'm not."
This sounds like a teenager caught doing something particularly stupid and is being reprimanded by their parents.  "Oh, everybody else does it".  Sorry, Mr. Ford, but that doesn't cut it.  First of all, not everybody else does it, and just because "everybody else was doing it" doesn't mean you should do it.
"There's two types of people: poor people and rich people and I side with the poor people," said Ford. "I've been honest and I'm being punished for it." 
Ford has been "honest"???  You've got to be kidding me.  Apparently we're supposed to ignore the fact that when rumours of the first video turned up, he denied its existence entirely.  He and his brother went after the Chief of Police for mentioning that they had recovered that video, until a day or two later Rob Ford admitted to having smoked crack cocaine.  No, Mr. Ford, the issue is precisely that you have not been honest about this.

Further, Rob Ford is not being "punished" for this.  He has been the advocate for "tough on crime" - zero tolerance for drugs, alcohol and gangs, and yet that is precisely what he has been doing.  The "lock em and through away the key" justice that Ford has been advocating is not what he is being subjected to.

City Council has apparently decided that Rob Ford's antics of late are unacceptable in the man who is the public face of Toronto.  If that's the worst punishment that he's receiving, he should be thankful.

Lastly, Mr. Ford and his supporters should perhaps consider the "But everybody else does it" reasoning a bit - particularly in the context of what their respective parents would say.  Mine would rightly point out that "I had a choice not to follow the pack".
[/Update]

Harper ... Linking Him To Ford

In the last two weeks, we've heard a lot about - and from - Rob Ford.  He's been, to say the least, prominent in the headlines - shocking most of the time, belligerent the rest.

Of some consideration though is the dead silence coming from the PMO where Rob Ford is concerned.  Harper has been silent on the matter, and aside from allowing Peter Mackay to wander in front of a live microphone trying to link Rob Ford's antics with Justin Trudeau's stance on legalizing marijuana.

A signature aspect of Harper's government has been the "tough on crime" business.  Throw more people in jail for longer.  Less latitude for any kind of criminal behaviour.  Yet, here we have a Mayor whose ties to the CPC are no surprise who is admitting that he has committed multiple crimes while in office.  The silence from Ottawa is almost deafening.

Considering how Harper has thrown so many people under his political bus lately, one wonders just how come Rob Ford is getting the kid gloves treatment.


Oh wait ... Harper isn't going to throw someone under the bus when he perceives that there is still a partisan gain to be had.

Welcome to the hypocrisy of the far right's "tough on crime" agenda.  It's fine to be "tough on crime" until it is one of their own...then it becomes something different.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

So ... Wenzel Is Suing Nenshi?

It came out in the news yesterday that Shane Homes' president Cal Wenzel has decided to sue Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi over statements made during this year's election campaign.

At first, I found myself scratching my head over this lawsuit.  Why bother?  It was one sentence in one interview in the middle of an election campaign.  Big deal.

Then it occurred to me - the move is consistent with a SLAPP lawsuit.  In the short term, it has little to do with actual defamation of Cal Wenzel - I think that the leaked video that he was so angry about did far more damage to Cal Wenzel's reputation than any statement that Naheed Nenshi had made in an interview.

But, looking at it going forward, the implications of Wenzel's lawsuit are significant.  It sends out a message to candidates that during an election, you better not tread on toes of the rich and powerful, for they will sue you after the fact.

Consider the impact of this lawsuit on future campaigns.  Suddenly, you have a situation where candidates will be unwilling to speak out on significant issues in the campaign (and the developers themselves became an issue in the 2013 campaign) for fear of being sued after the fact.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shorter Coyne On Senate Reform: Give All The Power To The PMO

In the wake of this week's Supreme Court Hearings on the Senate Reform consultation questions that the Harper Government posed last spring, the National Post's Andrew Coyne has postulated that the provinces shouldn't be part of the amending formula.

The government's lawyers have gamely maintained that much of tis short-term agenda for Senate reform - term limits, consultative elections and so on - could be pursued unilaterally.  At the other extreme, abolition, they submit, could be achieved under the Constitution's general amending formula:  seven provinces with 50% of the population. 
The consensus view is that the feds are out to lunch.  Almost no one supports them in their first position; and while three provinces agree that seven-and-fifty is sufficient for abolition, the rest insist that unanimity is required.   And if that is so, everyone seems to agree, it's not going to happen.
Mr. Coyne seems to think that this is an unreasonable burden for our illustrious PM to have to bear.
If every province's consent - and by province, of course, we mean premier - were required, then any one premier could stop it.  Thus each would have an incentive to demand the moon as the price of his consent.  The whole process would bog down in the same mire that sank Meech Lake and Charlottetown.
Suggest a national referendum as a solution and be prepared for the scorn that blows your way.  Meaningless!  No legal consequence!  Whatever the people might wish the Constitution requires the premiers' consent to amend it.  If the premiers don't want it - even if one premier doesn't want it - then it's not on.
Of course, Mr. Coyne is conveniently mischaracterizing what happened with the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords.

Meech Lake died in the Manitoba legislative assembly:
In Manitoba, however, things did not go as planned. With many First Nations protesters outside, the legislative assembly convened to approve the accord. Unanimous support was needed to bypass the necessary public consultation and Member of the Legislative Assembly Elijah Harper raised an eagle feather to mark his dissension. Harper opposed bypassing consultation because he did not believe First Nations had been adequately involved in the accord's process. 
Even though a legal route was found to give Manitoba more time (the deadline would be extended three months, with Quebec being able to re-approve the Accord), Clyde Wells and opposition leader Thomas Rideout agreed to cancel the planned free vote in the Newfoundland House of Assembly, because the outcome would have most likely been a refusal. The accord was officially dead.
The Charlottetown Accord died in precisely the kind of mechanism that Coyne suggests going forward - a referendum.

What Coyne is really playing to is precisely the weakness that I argued earlier will prevent Harper from ever achieving meaningful parliamentary reform - his unwillingness to engage with the collective needs and interests of the premiers.  Ironically, both Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords did just that and at that level were successful enterprises.  Meech Lake died in large part on Elijah Harper's vote in the Manitoba Legislature, and in part because support for it collapsed in Newfoundland subsequently.

In fact, the Meech Lake accord's failure raises an additional point which Coyne is overlooking - that is the impact of constitutional amendments on First Nations peoples in Canada.

Constitutions aren’t supposed to be easy to amend. But when a Constitution cannot even be amended in obedience to the desires of the vast majority of its people, it is no longer the embodiment of their highest ideals of government. It is an impediment to them. It is less a basic law than a straitjacket. 
The problem isn’t so much the level of consent that is required, but whose. The Constitution is supposed to belong to the people. In fact it belongs to the premiers — a legacy of the patriation round. Before then it was unclear just whose consent was required. The British North America Act was silent on the matter: As an act of the British Parliament it was assumed that any amendments to it would be enacted by the same means.
This is where I get rather annoyed with Coyne, who is clearly playing a poorly thought-out bit of populist politics.  In fact, if he thought about it for even five minutes, he would realize why the amending formula in the Constitution is written as it is.  One of the issues in Canada is that our population is heavily concentrated in a couple of regions, potentially to the detriment of other regions.  The general amending formula is designed to ensure that the two most heavily populated provinces (Ontario and Quebec) cannot "gang up" on other provinces and create significant imbalances in power that would negatively impact smaller population centers like PEI, or Saskatchewan.
  • 38. (1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by(a) resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons; and(b) resolutions of the legislative assemblies of at least two-thirds of the provinces that have, in the aggregate, according to the then latest general census, at least fifty per cent of the population of all the provinces.Marginal note:Majority of members 
    (2) An amendment made under subsection (1) that derogates from the legislative powers, the proprietary rights or any other rights or privileges of the legislature or government of a province shall require a resolution supported by a majority of the members of each of the Senate, the House of Commons and the legislative assemblies required under subsection (1).Marginal note:
    Expression of dissent(3) An amendment referred to in subsection (2) shall not have effect in a province the legislative assembly of which has expressed its dissent thereto by resolution supported by a majority of its members prior to the issue of the proclamation to which the amendment relates unless that legislative assembly, subsequently, by resolution supported by a majority of its members, revokes its dissent and authorizes the amendment.Marginal note:
    Revocation of dissent(4) A resolution of dissent made for the purposes of subsection (3) may be revoked at any time before or after the issue of the proclamation to which it relates.
This is difficult for Coyne, and for Harper, to swallow.  Not only does it require that the Federal Government engage with the provinces, but that it do so as peers of the provinces.  Referendums are a useful tool in making certain political decisions, but not necessarily all of them.  In the case of amending Canada's constitution, the prairie provinces have long argued that the interests of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are too readily suborned to the interests and desires of Quebec and Ontario when it comes to matters decided solely by representation by the will of "the majority population".  The amending formula of the Constitution is designed to ensure that regional interests are held in balance with those of the concentrated population.

In short, if Harper isn't willing to engage with all of the provinces in the spirit of political discourse and compromise, then chances are his much vaunted desires for Senate reform will come to naught.  Other Prime Ministers before him have managed to achieve political consensus among the provinces, I fail to see why this is suddenly "impossible".  Difficult, perhaps, but hardly impossible - just beyond Mr. Harper's willingness to attempt.

I for one would not want to see sole authority over this nation's constitution in the hands of Parliament alone - especially not this parliament or the current PM.  The risk of malignant dictatorship is far too great.

Rob Ford Wants To Sue?

Apparently, Rob Ford has caught the conservative bug for suing everyone in sight.

First of all, while it may be possible to sue over statements that several people gave to police during the course of investigation, I'm thinking that Mr. Ford is going to have a small credibility problem with evidence.

Last week, we had Rob Ford admitting to using crack cocaine "while in a drunken stupor", not to mention an appalling video of an apparently intoxicated Rob Ford ranting and making threats.  When asked about the video, Ford actually looked baffled by the video - as if he had no recollection of what happened or when that video was taken.

Now, fair enough, we all forget things.  However, when something like this comes before a judge and the plaintiff (who has apparently a seriously flawed memory to start with) is claiming that he "never" said/saw/did what is in the statements to police, one might imagine that the court is going to consider the plaintiff's admitted past behaviours.

One can imagine Rob Ford on the witness stand, and the defence lawyer asking him:  "Sir, you have admitted to using crack cocaine while in a drunken stupor,  driving while impaired and not being able to remember past events.  So, how do you propose to this court that we should take your word for what happened over that of the defendant?"

I'm not thinking Rob Ford would have much to work with ...

Warren Kinsella summarizes this latest outburst rather nicely.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

LSN Lies About PEI Sexual Development Guide

Apparently PEI has published a guidebook for parents as to what is normal sexual development for children, and the folks over at LifeSite News don't like it very much.   

Link to the actual guidebook: http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/CSA_Healthy.pdf

According to LifeSite:
A new guide from the government of P.E.I. is telling parents that it is “natural and healthy” for young children to “touch the ‘private parts’ of familiar adults” and to look at “nude pictures on the Internet, videos, magazines”. Parents are also being told that they should not discourage their children from masturbating. 
Of course, what LifeSite quietly chooses not to tell the readers is that the guide does give parents some fairly sensible guidelines as to appropriate responses to those behaviours where they would be inappropriate.

For example, the bit about young children touching the private parts of familiar adults occurs in a table with three columns:

Under Normal and Healthy:
Touches the “private parts” of familiar adults and children with hand or body .
Under Of Concern:
Touches/rubs the “private parts” of familiar children or adults after they have been told consistently not to do so . 
Seek Professional Help:
Sneakily touches/rubs the “private parts” of adults or children and, if questioned, deny it . 
Notice anything?  The PEI guide does point out that curiosity driven behaviours are perfectly normal, and only become a matter of concern if the child doesn't respond to appropriate guidance from the parents.

Of course, LifeSite is so concerned about regulating other people's morality that they won't let a few obvious facts get in the way of a good tirade.
The experts state that a child should not be discouraged from masturbating and “should not be told that it is 'bad,' 'dirty,' or 'nasty’”. “It is important to keep in mind that there are no absolutes,” the guidelines state. “Normal, healthy behaviour covers a wide range and may not be expressed the same, or to the same extent, in every child.”“I don’t know what ‘children’ they are referring to, but no normal children do these things at those age groups,” said Landolt who is a lawyer, mother of five children, and grandmother of nine. 
I somehow imagine that Ms. Landolt's household had so many implicit taboos around sexuality that she never saw her children do any of these things.  They were no doubt smart enough to keep it well out of her sight after seeing one of their older siblings disciplined.

Children are naturally curious about all things, and anybody who believes that they won't be curious about their bodies (and the bodies of others) is blind to reality.
Landolt called the guidelines “permissive” and said that parents operating by them will only encourage their children to become “sexually involved at a prepubescent age.”  
“It sets them on a dangerous journey when they are not ready for it,” she said. 
Frankly, after reading the PEI book, there is nothing in it that strikes me as either particularly licentious or unreasonable.  It lists a series of fairly normal developmental moments and when they are likely to occur.  It then gives parents a general guideline as to when problems may be developing.
The pamphlet's advice bears echoes of the views of the 1940-50s researcher Alfred Kinsey, a controversial and highly influential figure considered by many as the “father of the sexual revolution,” who claimed that his research found that infants were sexual. While Kinsey is still widely cited and used in many circles, researcher Judith Reisman famously exposed his abhorrent research methods, which included sexually molesting babies as young as five months old to collect data on children’s “orgasms.”  
Pointing to the guideline about adults allowing children to “touch” their “private parts”, Landolt called it a “diabolic attempt” to make children “vulnerable to sexual activity” and “acquiesce to sexual acts of adults.”  
Landolt said that P.E.I parents should be outraged that their tax dollars were used to fund a guide that promotes a “misleading destructive journey” for children. 
Trust LSN to use every opportunity to slag Kinsey's work.  Of course, the booklet doesn't cite Kinsey.  Apparently, in the LSN bubble, whatever Kinsey did was bad because they don't like his research methods.

The good news for the rest of the world is that Kinsey opened the door to an open discussion of human sexuality at all levels, and that's a genie that's proving very difficult for them to put back into the bottle.

Flaherty's (mis)Adventures In Balanced Budget Land

Flaherty is expected to deliver an "optimistic" fiscal update report today, which will show the government tracking to achieve a "balanced budget" by 2015.  
Unlike last year's update which went down like a spoonful of cod-liver oil — tastes awful, but good for you — Flaherty has signalled he expects to report a better-than-projected deficit this fiscal year and a bigger surplus in 2015.As it turned out, last year's doom and gloom update, with its warning of a $6 billion hole in revenue intake and elevated global risks, never did pan out. Last month the government reported that it had beat its low bar for a $25.9 billion deficit by a tidy $7 billion — mostly because of government cost-cutting and stable revenues.
Hmmm...there's only one way that the government can reduce its deficit at the same time that it has taken billions out of the government's revenue stream in the form of tax cuts (2% reduction in the GST amounts to some $14 billion in revenues the government has forsaken, and who knows how much the Harperites have doled out in corporate welfare tax cuts - at least some $20 billion since 2006 ), and that's by making cuts which hurt the middle class in this country.

Make no mistake about it, not one of Harper's changes to Canada's tax system has benefited middle income Canadians.  There has been a very careful shell-game going on where the burden has been subtly shifted.  Sure, he throws you a bone - a few hundred dollars of GST per year, but then turns around and opens up the corporate tax system so that even more large corporations pay little or no tax.  What little money the government has left today is being funnelled into a massive military spending program at the expense of Canadian citizens.  (I don't need to point out that every one of those enormous purchases (F-35 fighter jets, new ships, Arctic bases etc.) is mired in difficulties because the military wasn't ready for the money and could not set up the programs to make these acquisitions fast enough.

Harper talks a good game (sort of) on tax cuts.  Riding on the coattails of Bush I and Reagan, he plays the "taxes are evil" card on a regular basis in his speeches.  He talks about "austerity" (which always ends up hurting the middle classes the most) as if it is some kind of magic pill.  It's not.  We know it's not.  When it comes down to it, Harper's economic policies are nothing more than Reaganomics re-imagined and cloaked in the justification of "economic crisis" that he has crafted by blithely shackling the government's ability to address issues by removing its funding.







Monday, November 11, 2013

An Interesting Analysis Of The Recent Scandals

In reading the following article from Global Research: The "Scandalization" of Canadian Politics:  The Hard Truths of Neoliberal Conservatism,   I found myself agreeing with the author on some points, but substantially disagreeing with the extrapolations being drawn from the basic evidence.

If I were to distill this entire article down to its essence, it is very much the "Panem et Circenses" hypothesis applied to current neoliberal politics in Canada.  In short, the power players in (and just behind the veil) of Canadian politics are creating and using these scandals as a way to divert Canadians from the actual policies that are being implemented.
We are talking about much more than a few incidental scandals. More and more of what goes by ‘politics’ according to the media – statecraft, elections, parliamentary debates – is taken over by endless ‘revelations’ about individuals, their personal failings or corrupt practices. Political conflict takes the form of duels between individual establishment figures: politicians, newspaper editors, radio hosts, and police chiefs. We all fill social media sites with our own views about who we think are the good guys in this gladiator sport.
The metaphor of 'panem et circenses' is quite apt.  There can be no doubt that the Senate Expenses Scandal has provided months of high political theatre, and Rob Ford's implosion the last week or so has certainly been entertaining, if tragic on a human level.

The blogosphere has been alive with commentary on both subjects, and rightly so.

Why apolitical rebellion? Rimbert and Keucheyan argue that when media-fuelled scandals occupy our attention, the air seethes with schadenfreude about the powerful. Yet this resentment often remains passive: private rather than collective and focused on individual misgivings instead of systemic corruption. 
...  
All this explains why scandal risks pushing politics into a conservative direction. This is particularly the case in times of deep economic, social and ecological uncertainty, such as ours. Scandal can hit the ‘left,’ ‘centre’ or the ‘right.’ Yet in all cases, the danger is that politics is reduced to morality contest while systemic corruption remains intact. Names and personalities change but policies and structures of power are not questioned.
I will partially agree with the authors here.  There is no doubt in my mind that when voters disengage from the political sphere, it is the far right which benefits.  We've seen this in Alberta for years where voter turnouts are chronically low at both the provincial and federal levels and the running joke on the street is that you can get a bale of hay elected if you slap a conservative banner on it.

The political right has been very successful in exploiting voter apathy since the early 1990s in Canada.  The rise of "populist" politics in Canada's prairie provinces (e.g. the Reform movement in the 1980s) plays very much on voter apathy.  These movements do not invite discourse, but rather they are the "religious fundamentalist" of politics.  They adopt hardline positions and push them constantly rather than engaging in actual discourse.  Sooner or later, more moderate voters disengage for the same reason that people don't discuss theology with fundamentalists.

More recently, we saw this in the CPC policy convention in Calgary, where the hardline base once again pushed through policy directives which play to their views - overriding more moderate positions that the party had taken in order to seem "appealing" to mainstream voters.

Interestingly, I disagree with the author's claim that scandal results in passive disengagement, at least in the situation in Canada.  The response in Canada to both the Senate Scandal and the Ford Implosion has been for the disengaged to start engaging and taking a closer look at what is going on and begin formulating actual opinions about what is going on.
What is worse, scandal evokes desires to ‘clean up the mess’ by means of authoritarian intervention. Problems with elected politicians? Bring in the RCMP or the Police Chief to restore order. Yes, the very RCMP whose legitimacy is actively in question because of their role in cracking down on political protests and clearing the path of resource companies when First Nations attempt to defend their land, as the Mikmaq of Elsipogtog have been doing. Yes, the same Toronto Police force that, Rinaldo Walcott urges us to remember, “constantly stops, questions and cards black people and aboriginal people with less evidence of suspicious activity than warrant documents concerning Ford and Lisi reveal.”[3] 
Here's the second place that the author's argument starts to go off the rails.   First, I think the author has misunderstood the situations that are cited as examples of why the police should be considered "suspect".  The G8/G20 protest handling was so clearly driven by Harper's authoritarian streak that we are far better to look at it as a function of the political power structure manipulating the police rather than the police themselves.  At lower levels, there is no doubt that the orders from on high were interpreted as a license to engage in much harsher terms than we have seen in the past, but I suspect strongly that if you followed it through, you would find that orders came down from the PMO, no doubt with a "carrot-and-stick" incentive thrown in for compliance.

I have little doubt that Elispogtog was much different.  In fact, I would argue that Elsipogtog is far better understood through the lens of Corrupt Neoliberalism:  Corporatocracy, than as a direct failure of the police.  We already know that Harper has exerted considerable direct political control over the RCMP's top levels, and as the G8/G20 events demonstrated, Harper would not hesitate to use those tools to suppress protesters.

So, if I come back around to the Senate Expenses scandal, and the referral of it to the RCMP, I think what we really have is Harper attempting to bury the issue using the most expedient tools possible.  In general terms, police will not comment on an active investigation publicly, nor will a politician's office.  By creating a criminal investigation, Harper (theoretically) gagged every major player in the discussion ... except that he miscalculated Mike Duffy's response.  Harper assumed that Duffy would play along and be quiet in return for a bit of "hush money".  A poor assumption apparently, as Duffy has chosen to fight back after being thrown under the Harper bus.

With respect to the Rob Ford situation, I am much less familiar with the Toronto Police force and the politics of it.  I don't doubt that there are problems with implicit or even explicit racism in the actions of the GTO police force.  Ever since 9/11, racial profiling has become a tool of law enforcement agencies across the continent.  Yes, this does need to be addressed, and it does represent a serious problem.  However, it does not present actual evidence that the ability of the Toronto Police to carry out a serious criminal investigation has been compromised.  Again, I have little doubt that the Fords hoped (beyond reason, it would seem) that the police would carry out their investigation, arrest a few drug dealers and gang members and the whole mess would go away.  It didn't.  Instead, the police appear to have done their job quite thoroughly and the implication is that the Mayor himself is linked to illicit (if not outright illegal) gang activity.

While I agree that the events cited do mean that we have to be careful in our interpretation of police activities, I do not think that we can simply discount the Senate and Ford investigations as mere political chicanery based on those other events - it is simply an unreasonable extrapolation.  Every so often, attempts to bury things by creating an investigation backfire - both Harper and Ford have encountered this very reality, by their own hands no less, as the evidence keeps leading to their front doorsteps.
Scandalized politics is dangerous in more ways than one, particularly when it is connected to a surge of populist politics.[14] For progressives, radicals and the left, scandal is dangerous because it can keep popular anger passive and foster cynicism. Worse, it can deepen the desires for authoritarian solutions right-wing populism has been cultivating for decades. 
Again, the author is making a questionable extrapolation.  He is confusing the desire on the part of leaders like Harper to implement authoritarian solutions with the public's desires.  Harper has shown himself to be an authoritarian many times in the past.  His desire to use those kinds of solutions to "make a problem go away" is no surprise.  However, to assume that the broader body of the public believes that such solutions are the desirable approach is very questionable.

I think that in Alberta, we have seen the great irony of that populist authoritarianism come to the surface with the so-called "distracted driving" law that was rammed in a few years ago.  In theory, this law is supposed to stop drivers from doing things while behind the wheel that take their attention away from driving (e.g.  Using a cell phone, eating a hamburger, shaving, whatever).  This law is so overreaching that most people have long since tuned it out.  The definition of "distraction" is so broad, so imprecise, that just about anything except having your hands on the wheel is considered "distracted".  The result - compliance is low, enforcement is ... well ... spotty.  What does the province think an answer is?  Oh, well, they're going to stiffen the penalties.

Is it the public that is seeking stiffer penalties?  No.  It is the knee jerk reaction of a right-wing politic that seems to think that punishment is deterrent.

Does scandal result in disengagement?  Quite the contrary, I would argue.  After a long period of relative indifference, we are seeing Canadians taking a look at the issues in the light of politicians who are themselves corrupt, cynical and manipulative.  A quick survey of the comments sections in news sites shows more people critiquing Harper and his policies than we have seen since 2006.

Not being a resident of Toronto, I really don't see enough of what Ford and his allies are pushing to really comment on his policies.  What little I have seen simply demonstrates what I always thought about Alberta's Ralph Klein - a man of limited intellect who somehow manages to buffalo enough people into thinking he's a "right good guy" (in the 'I drink with people like that all the time' scheme of things).  Ford seems to be cut from similar cloth, although with a much harsher nasty streak in him that Klein didn't have.

At the end of the day, while there is a "bread and circuses" aspect to the current scandals, I do not believe that either Harper or Rob Ford and their power brokers are organizing these scandals as a means to foster disengagement or to distract the public from what they are doing in office.  I think that both of the current scandals represent the consequences of their activities escaping their ability to explicitly control all of the variables in the increasingly complex stories they are weaving.  Further, I do not believe that they fully understand the impact of the Internet's elephantine memory.

The author is correct about two fundamental points though:

1.  Far right politics gains the most from a disengaged electorate.  (why else do you think the HarperCon$ played the Robocall game in 2011?)

2.  Harper and his allies (like Rob Ford) have been diligently working to undermine our system of government for their own benefit.