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.