Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bishop Henry Returns ...

It has been quite some time since I felt a need to address something that Calgary's Bishop Fred Henry has written.  Then I happened to wander past the Calgary Diocese website and read his latest "pastoral letter" (or whatever his columns on the website are officially known as).  The title is benign enough:  "Heal the Wounds, So Many Wounds ..." 

Unfortunately, what the reader is then subjected to is possibly the most offensive screed the Bishop has written in several years.

It starts off with one of the Bishop's standard attacks on "liberalism", and then goes after Transgender people:
The cutting edge of liberal culture is the attempt to label the two created human sexes, male and female, as arbitrary and unjust impositions on humanity. This involves an attempt to separate sex from gender, that is, the biological fact (human anatomy and chromosomal cellular structure) of the two human sexes from their social and cultural expressions, which they term "gender," and which is seen as totally socially constructed and in no way grounded in nature. 
Then, using such a phenomenon as hormonal treatment and "sex-change operations," they begin to deny the very stability and reality of the two created sexes. After that, they claim that whether or not one undergoes such an operation, one's subjective feeling about what sex/gender one is trumps the physical facts of one's body. 
- See more at: http://calgarydiocese.ca/messages-from-the-bishop/1362-heal-the-wounds-heal-the-wounds-so-many-wounds.html#sthash.jjOtfvFp.dpuf
Lovely, Bishop Henry.  I see that once again you have returned to your old haunts - by attacking that which you refuse to even attempt to understand.  Are you really going to argue that chromosomes define gender?  Or that physical anatomy defines gender?  Still?

I'm going to come back to this topic in a minute, because there are a couple of other gems in the Bishop's screed that I think warrant bringing to your attention.
The soul and the body are in a master/slave relationship, the former legitimately dominating and re-making the latter. For Biblical people, the body can never be construed as a prison for the soul, nor as an object for the soul's manipulation. Moreover, the mind or will is not the "true self" standing over and against the body; rather, the body, with its distinctive form, intelligibility, and finality, is an essential constituent of the true self. 
Let me get this straight - the Bishop wishes to argue that the distinction between gender and sex that there is actual evidence for, is overruled by the mythology of a soul (which may or may not exist - I haven't seen any evidence which objectively substantiates such a claim), and somehow the "soul and body are intertwined", and therefore couldn't possibly be at odds with each other?  Sure ...
Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with each other and their ideas. Most of the time it is a good thing. But it is not an end in itself, and to tolerate or excuse a grave evil in society is itself a grave evil. 
Oh, even better.  He doesn't quite go as far as saying it, but essentially the Bishop is saying that transgender people are a "grave evil".   Wow - that's quite a claim, Bishop.  Just what is the evil that transgender people are perpetrating?

Let's come back to the Bishop's complaint that gender and sex are inextricably linked with each other for a moment.  We already know plenty of situations where chromosomes and anatomy don't fully align, such as a woman with a 46 XY karyotype, or perhaps he'd prefer to review Swaab's 2009 paper about brain differentiation during gestation.  Either way, the Bishop's argument that chromosomes or genitalia tell the "whole story" is complete nonsense.

As for gender roles, we know those are in large part social constructs.  The impact of messages in mass media about how boys should behave or what girls should do are pervasive, as are the messages we live with in our social circles.  The effect of these in socialization is neither trivial nor easily ignored.  Yet, we have a lot of transgender people who manage to successfully transition and blend into their new social roles.  If the two were inextricably linked as the Bishop claims, this would seem to be a nearly impossible task, and yet it happens.

As for the Bishop's implicit declaration that transgender people are some kind of "grave evil", I would suggest to the Bishop that he needs to substantiate just what this grave evil might be.  What I see are a lot of people bravely living their lives as honestly as possible.  If the Bishop thinks that this is "deceptive" and "evil", perhaps the Bishop needs to be reminded of the old saw about "walking a mile in another person's shoes".   There are a good many people in the Transgender community as a whole who might justifiably take umbrage at the Bishop's attempt to invalidate their reality and lived experiences.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

Reflections On The Post-Harper CPC

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

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

So, what did they do wrong?  Lots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Senate Reform - Harper's Way

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On The Liberal Party's Sliding Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On Recession Economies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 09, 2015

About That October Election

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

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

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

What are the other options that Harper can play out?

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

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

2.  Prorogue Parliament Until Dissolution

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

3.  Drag Canada Into A Shooting War

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

That's A Turnabout

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

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


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

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Dangerous Change In Law

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

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

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

Monday, May 11, 2015

Harper The Fascist Part MMXVIII

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

Yeah, that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 09, 2015

What Happened, Alberta?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Brian Jean: WildRose's Second Lake Of Fire?

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 09, 2015

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 06, 2015

Why The "Fight Against ISIS" Is A Farce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Canada's Economy: Not Exactly Healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Harper's Slide Into Fascism Is Complete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list is nearly endless.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The International Game Of Chicken

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

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

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

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

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