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Monthly Archives: May 2013

STEPHEN HARPER AND THE ROAD TO PERDITION

The death of democracy is not likely to be a death by assassination by ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment. – Robert Maynard Htutchins

Frank A. Pelaschuk

WHAT? WHO? ME?

In times of trouble, Stephen Harper makes it abundantly clear the buck does not stop with him. Instead, when it comes to blunders, breaches of ethics, and plain old-fashioned malfeasance, when accountability and transparency are called for, this hulking bully and his gang of arrogant asses, prefer to cut and run, to scapegoat, to smear and question the patriotism of critics or, failing all else, throw staffers and redundant allies under buses. They deflect, obfuscate, and flat out lie, gleefully pointing to the faults of others while denying their own, tongue in cheek, eyes and fingers crossed.

Harper and his crew are spineless. Incapable of introspection or of experiencing shame, poisoned by arrogance, smugness, malice, and the corruptive allure of power, not one of them appears to have the moral fibre of even a besotted drunk, unwilling to step forward, to own up to mistakes or to condemn the deliberate acts of wrongdoing committed in the name of their party, preferring instead to resort to the role of vile pit dog savaging all those who dare question or challenge them; they cannot even contemplate the possibility of ever being wrong, wayward and/or just plain stupid.

Even when confronted and cornered, trapped by truth and evidence, even when left with no place to run, no sewer drain to ooze into, can they stop themselves from cravenly squealing with the anguished self-pity of the guilty accused, “I know nothing”. The only outrage Harper and thugs can muster seems always to be the pathetically childish lament one hears in schoolyards, “But you did it too”!

SHILLS

Perhaps simply exhausted by the Senate expenses scandal, Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton, government leader and defender of the Senate, provided a glaring demonstration of this oft employed, unworthy, and inexcusable political dodge used for so long and with some effect by Harper and his cadre of knaves, bursting into a hissy fit tirade against Tory critics “populated by Liberal elites and their media lickspittles…”. Whatever the cause for the outburst, it was an embarrassingly scant defence for the imbroglio that threatens the very body, which she chairs. The fact that four greedy senators, three of them Harper appointees, have brought disrepute to her house, the fact that the report released for public consumption on one of them, avaricious Mike Duffy, was scrubbed of its harshest criticisms by two members of the Conservative dominated economy committee, David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen, that LeBreton herself had declared the matter on the same individual closed after the declaration by Duffy that he would repay $90,000 of the illegally claimed expenses, appears to neither trouble nor offend her. To LeBreton, these are asides and immaterial; it is all the fault of the Liberals and “their media lickspittles”. It was enough that double-dipping Duffy, Harper stooge, former media superstar darling and major Conservative fundraiser, was repaying the fraudulently obtained claims. Conservatives across the land loudly sang his praises: he had done “the honourable thing.”

LeBreton, characteristically of Conservative shills, perhaps of all shills of any stripe, accepts no responsibility for fostering the public perception that allegations of fraud can simply be cleared away with repayment or, worse, the suggestion that with repayment, no crime has been committed in the first instance. She and the Conservative dominated senate economy committee had ignored repeated calls to have the RCMP brought in. The Duffy file was closed. And the world was happy and went to sleep believing that Duff, good ol’ Duff, had repaid the debt with his own, hard earned money.

In fact, it was only much later, long after Nigel Wright, Harper’s chief of staff had resigned, exposed as the one who actually cut the $90,000 cheque for Duffy, when Duffy was a no show at a public hearing in a second review held by the same Conservative dominated committee that had investigated him earlier, did LeBreton take a breather from attacking media lickspittles to express something akin to dismay and an acknowledgement of something awry, even that, it should be noted, with a self-pitying whine: some members of the senate “had betrayed us.” The egocentrism or wilful blindness is jaw dropping but hardly surprising. By “us”, I have no doubt she meant Conservatives. Had she displayed similar anger over the fact that Canadians had even more reason for complaint, after all, they’re footing the bill, I might have been able to work up a modicum of sympathy for her.

But, when the Senate did act, only after Duffy’s no show at the second hearing, the Conservative dominated economy committee, the very committee that had released the whitewashed report on Duffy, caving in to the public outcry and growing resentment, appeared ready to act at last, reinstating the original unexpurgated report and agreeing to hand it and other documents to the RCMP. Clearly they had had enough of Duffy; angry now with what he had wrought, they would not just let him go, they would toss him. As we know from past experience, once Conservatives determine someone expendable, the toss under the bus is often brutal and swift, though, for Duffy, the Conservatives certainly showed considerable restraint and a puzzling, and unusual, desire to appear more than fair before calling in the police and even then only pushed to do so by Duffy’s own odd behaviour. One needs only contrast his treatment with that of Helena Guergis, another disgraced Conservative member, who was extended none of the courtesies or support offered Duffy. When her problems surfaced, she was not only expelled from the Conservative caucus, the police were immediately called in and Harper, with his inimitable style, abetted by his lowlife crew, set about to methodically wage a vicious and vindictive campaign that effectively ended her career as a politician.

Now that Duffy has been dispensed with, and with the recent leak of an email to a Conservative insider from Duffy (possibly leaked by the PMO) clearly outlining his desire to maximize the benefits of his Senate appointment, even angling for a position in cabinet, it is all but certain that he will meet a similar fate to Guergis if not worse. One thing is certain: notwithstanding concerted Conservative efforts to protect themselves by protecting him until he became a liability, good ol’ Duff’s reputation has been destroyed. If tears are shed, it’s likely by Duffy.

I’M SORRY, I DON’T KNOW WHY, IT’S YOUR FAULT

But, while it is the Harper pit dogs, Pierre Poilievre, Eve Adams, Kellie Leitch, Chris Alexander, Michelle Rempel, et al who usually and with relish do the dirty work outside of the House, seldom varying from their script of the day and, only occasionally, showing signs of discomfort from swimming in all the muck, Harper himself is not above joining them though it’s clear he doesn’t like the idea of dirt sticking to him. When the story of the Mike Duffy/Nigel Wright deal broke, Harper was asked about what he knew of the $90,000 gift. Immediately one could almost hear the massive Conservative cog shift gears. Harper and his stooges across the Conservative landscape blinked, loudly sang the praises of Wright, Poilievre, that unlikable, oleaginous hack, almost breathlessly reverential, claiming Wright had done “the exceptionally honourable thing” and Harper reaffirming his full confidence in his chief of staff. Well, that confidence lasted all of two or three days. Wright was gone and Sen.Tkachuk was talking to those media lickspittles admitting that he had spoken to the Prime Minister’s Office and to Nigel Wright while Duffy was under investigation. Had he talked to Harper? That was the question in need of answering.

But Harper wasn’t taking questions. After addressing his Conservative senators and MPs with an invited media in attendance May 21, still not answering questions, Harper flew to Peru and Colombia on a trade trip. While in Peru, he did reiterate his anger over the crisis at home adding something new and, for Harper, something that must have come particularly hard because so unfamiliar to him: he uttered the word “sorry”. And I bet he was. But not sorry enough to own up to any of this.

When he returned to the House, May 28, nine days after Wright had resigned, still not having answered questions, Harper finally respond to intense questioning by an effective Mulcair and Trudeau. As expected, he denied all knowledge of the $90,000 gift to Duffy, the deal negotiated and whether or not there were documents. It was the classic plausible deniability defence that no one could refute yet any really bought. That Wright, Harper’s chief of staff in the PMO, could engage in this deal without Harper being made aware stretches one’s credulity. How was that possible?

This is the man, after all, who maintains strict control of his office, his caucus and his message. He did not know what had happened in his own office by his own right hand man and yet, on questions regarding Pamela Wallin’s expenses, he was able to say months ago, and with a straight face, that he had seen her documentation and they were “comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over that period of time.” That he would know more about Pamela Wallin’s expenses than about the machinations in his office is rather remarkable to say the least and certainly very difficult to believe. Two months later, still under investigation and just days after Duffy had left the Conservative caucus, Wallin did the same, forced to do so by Harper. In question period, when asked why she had been asked to resign and what had changed that made him ask for her resignation, Harper evaded the question. Same old, same old.

WHO’S THE HYPOCRITE? YOU ARE! NO, YOU ARE!

In Harper’s absence, Conservative MPs engaged in the familiar pattern of obfuscation, stonewalling, misdirection, and deflection. When questioned about how much Harper knew about the Wright/Duffy matter and the alterations to the audit report on Duffy, the MPs suggested that, if dissenting members to the senate economy meeting who had not signed off on the report were unhappy, they should have released a minority report of their own. Of course, Conservatives were playing to the public as they always do and without informing it that Senate rules do not allow for such reports.

As well, this nest of vipers, and Harper would pick up on this with his return, began to attack the credibility of Thomas Mulcair on two fronts perhaps smelling blood. They went after him for first claiming in 2010 he had never been offered a bribe and then disclosing, when approached by the police two years ago, the Mayor of Laval, Giles Vaillancourt, approached him in 1994 with an envelope suggesting he could help Mulcair. Mulcair states that he did not see the contents of the envelope and that he walked out and, because he had, there was no bribe to report, just a suspicion. The other issue is that of NDP member, Tyrone Benskin who had failed to pay provincial taxes to the tune of $58,000. For the gleeful Conservatives, these two events are clear evidence of Mulcair and NDP hypocrisy.

These are serious issues. Benskin was easily dealt with, Mulcair removing him from the shadow cabinet, stripping him of his deputy critic role when he found out. The other matter is not so easily explained and does need a more definitive response for Thomas Mulcair. If he thought a bribe was being offered, why not approach the police, even if he believed that there was not enough evidence at the time to charge and/or convict Vaillancourt? And why wait all these years before making it public? Clarification is needed from Mulcair.

That said, however, the Conservative attempt to make hay from this rather than answer questions regarding the Senate scandal, is just another example of deflection and diversion. This is where the Harper gang prove themselves unworthy of the positions and trust they hold. They cannot continue to bend the rules and play the playground bullies and then offer the cowardly whinge when confronted, “But you did it too!” It’s childish and we need more than children governing our country.

As well, there is no moral equivalency. Pointing to the crimes of others does not absolve one from one’s own crimes. In other words, the Conservatives have only pointed out that there is a reason to do something about the Mulcair issues but have offered no reason why something should not be done about the Senate scandal, the Duffy/Wright $90,000 “gift”, the doctored report, and the role Conservatives, Harper and the PMO played.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THEM

Just recently, the oily Tony Clement embarked on his own version of deflection. No doubt aware of the unjustly low esteem in which civil servants are held by the envious public and quite willing to exploit that, perhaps hoping this will be sufficient to distract voters, Clement announced his intention to have all public servants undergo rigorous performance reviews with the goal of ridding all government departments of “deadwood”. Those who agree with this may be ecstatic but they would do well to consider Tony Clement and his performance rating before they dance. This is the man, during the G8 and G20 conferences a few years back, who set aside $50 million as a boondoggle slush fund for his riding. This is the man who, as president of the Treasury Board, mislaid $3.1 billion in taxpayer money.

But this move against civil servants is mere distraction. Conservatives are hoping that voters are really as stupid as they believe. Voters, however, would do well to look at Harper and his performance, especially as a judge of character. Can it be trusted? Let’s look at a few examples:

Does anyone recall Harper’s contempt of parliament citation or that he cut and ran twice, shutting down Parliament?

Some in Harper’s gang still believe global warming is a myth.

Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources, called environmentalists “radicals” suggesting they were stooges for foreign interests. He still has Harper’s support

Despite evidence to the contrary, Harper’s gang would have you believe that crime is on the rise and that more jails are needed. Conservatives prefer to play to our fears and prejudices rather than to our hopes and generosity.

Harper has muzzled Canadian scientists with threats of job loss.

He misled voters during the last campaign about the true costs of the F-35s.

He also clawed back disability pensions of veterans.

Harper is the man who appointed three of the four senators involved in the Senate scandal.

He’s the one who had personally cleared Pamela Wallin though, we now know, she had to repay expenses falsely claimed and there is expectation we will hear much more about her.

He also loudly crowed Mike Duffy had done the “honourable thing” when we were all led into believing it was Duffy who had repaid the $90,000 to which he was not entitled and, when that went bust, said the same of Nigel Wright who was the one who had actually settled good ol’ avaricious Duff’s debt. And, of course, Harper knew nothing about it.

Too, this is the man who supported Bev Oda, the minster who forged a government document, who more than once had to reimburse the state for padded expenses and who was finally toppled because of a $16 glass of orange juice.

Harper threw his support for Peter Penashue, the MP forced to resign because of overspending and accepting corporate donations even calling him the best ever MP from Labrador. Clearly the voters didn’t think so in the by-election.

And our slush fund king, Tony Clement? Well, he still has Harper’s support, as does Jason Kenney who used government letterheads to fundraise for a Conservative advertising blitz.

And, of course, we mustn’t forget Arthur Porter, well-known Montreal oncologist, ex-head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) who became a fugitive and now awaits extradition in a Panama jail facing charges of fraud, money laundering, abuse of trust, and conspiracy to commit government fraud. And, yes, he was another Harper appointee.

See a pattern here? Well, it appears Harper and gang know their voters. Some couldn’t care less about any of this.

GOD YOU’RE STUPID!

That Harper and gang can still garner a support of 38% is astounding to me and clearly indicates something wrong. We need to reform the electoral system. Can it really be true that Harper, Hudak, and all Conservatives have accurately gauged the populace as replete with self-absorbed morons more interested in the main chance for themselves than in the greater good of society? Surely not. And yet, apparently so. For some, and they will always be with us, there will never be too much power, too much exploitation, too much having and too much taking. It’s the larger number of voters, however, who trouble me more. These are the ones who sell themselves so cheaply, bought for pennies a day, for whom the promise of lower taxes is apparently sufficient to continue electing manipulative, deceitful, and unethical politicos, such as Harper and his miscreant gang, who consider ethical behaviour, integrity, honesty, truth, fairness and Democracy mere hindrances to be overcome.

We have got to change this.

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THE SENATE, THE WHITEWASH, AVARICE AND THE SILENCE OF STEPHEN HARPER

“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.” – Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass

Frank A. Pelaschuk

Can it get much crazier than this?

When Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate and Stephen Harper had declared the senate economy committee investigation of Mike Duffy closed after Duffy declared his decision to “voluntarily” refund the Senate for money obtained through fraudulent expense claims, they doubtless believed the matter behind them. The report was released and Conservatives across the land loudly and at every opportunity blithely sang the praises of Duffy saying he had done the “honourable thing”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the whole story, as we now know.

Nothing was said of Duffy’s refusal to co-operate with the committee once the $90,000 to which he was not entitled was repaid. Nor was the public informed that the report on Mike Duffy had been “cleaned” up, the harshest criticisms removed by two Conservative senators on the Senate internal economy committee, David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen, because Duffy, we all believed, had repaid what was owed. Tkachuk admits to seeking advice from the Prime Minister’s Office but denies he was ordered to clean Duffy’s report, which the public saw. Neither Liberal Sen. Mac Harb nor Harper Conservative appointee now Independent, Sen. Patrick Brazeau, also under investigation by the same committee, were accorded similar consideration: Sen. LeBreton loudly and publicly threatened them with garnishment.

Then, of course, came the revelation that it had been Nigel Wright, Harper’s chief of staff, and not Mike Duffy, who repaid the money. Immediately, Conservatives across the land loudly and at every opportunity blithely sang the praises of Wright for doing “the exceptionally honourable thing” for taxpayers. Those words, later echoed by other members of Harper’s execrable crew, “exceptionally honourable thing”, were Pierre Poilievre’s. Further, Conservatives were, to use Andrew Coyne’s phrase, “shocked, simply shocked”, that Duffy had misled them.

There were questions, of course, but no answers from Stephen Harper. Duffy was to be re-investigated by the same secretive Conservative-dominated economy committee that had closed the file on him in the first place. Liberal Sen. James Cowan, Leader of the Opposition, called for a public hearing and was accused by Sen. David Tkachuk of being a “publicity hound.” The heat was on, this was too close to the PMO, it smelled bad; even so, Wright still had Harper’s full confidence. He had done the “honourable thing” for the best of motives. So we were repeatedly told.

But Harper wasn’t talking even though a scandalized nation was eager for answers. Why had Duffy’s file been closed once the $90,000 was repaid? Why had he quit co-operating with the committee? Why had the two Conservative senators cleaned up the report? Why was Duffy being re-investigated? How much faith can Canadians entrust to this committee and its re-audit of Duffy? Why did Wright make the gift? Why was that gift not made public? Why did they want Canadians to believe that it was Duffy who had made the payment? What negotiations were involved? Where were the documents? Were there documents? Had lawyers been involved? Why did Wright resign? How much did Stephen Harper know? When did he know if he did?

Of course, when Wright resigned on May 19, a true trooper, he took full responsibility for what had transpired declaring Harper knew nothing of the $90,000 gifted cheque! Credible? Hardly. Not with this control freak of a prime minister.

Still, Harper wasn’t talking except to announce that he would be addressing his MPs and senators on the following Tuesday, May 21. Media was also invited to attend. Was Harper making a new start towards accountability and transparency?

But what happened on that morning was extremely telling. To all intents and purposes, Harper, apart from voicing his displeasure with what had happened, had addressed none of the issues Canadians wanted addressed.

When he walked into the packed room Tuesday, Conservative members had loudly and enthusiastically greeted Harper. Observers may have been confused. Was this a government in crisis? Watching the televised event and the enthusiasm of Harper’s supporters awakened memories of a video I had seen on television of Saddam Hussein from years ago. He was addressing a room filled with party faithful all loudly applauding him in a sustained ovation as he calmly surveyed the seated audience. Eventually, after a brief speech, he began to call out names, evidently of those he no longer trusted. Those called rose and quickly strode out of the chamber stone-faced and doubtless aware of the executioners waiting for them. This was repeated several times and, with each name called, the applause grew louder and more sustained the expressions of those applauding more desperate and frantic as one person after another rose and left the room for their inevitable fate. Clearly those remaining in the audience were desperately hoping Hussein would notice the enthusiasm and sincerity of their love for him and that he would spare them. For most, it worked.

Observing Harper and those Conservatives reminded me of that horrifying clip. It was as if, by exhibiting such enthusiastic devotion to their leader, those Conservatives hoped to stave off the crisis that was threatening to overwhelm and, perhaps, destroy them. Maybe they were desperately hoping that Harper would offer something reassuring that would take away all their troubles or, with a wave of his hands, undo the past. If so, they must have been grievously disappointed. Harper said absolutely nothing of value to resolve the matter of the Senate crisis.

True, he did state that he was not happy with the conduct he had witnessed. And he did restate his position of 2005 saying, “Anyone…anyone, who wants to use public office for their own benefit, should make other plans – or better yet – leave this room.” Nice words then but had anyone listened? Today the words are as hollow as the man who uttered them.

Earlier in his brief statement, and it was brief, he said: “Our Federal Accountability Act, the toughest accountability legislation in the history of this country forever changed the way business is done in Ottawa.”

Well, not really. Think F-35 jets, Bev Oda and padded expense accounts, ship designs that cost three times what it takes to build. And remember Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry, who faced allegations of political interference in a contract for renovations on Parliament Hill, who gave Rahim Jaffer special access to his office, who spent a weekend with lobbyists, who was investigated for involvement in relocation of the Employment Insurance centre in his riding and who rejigged the formula for structures for private companies so that they did not have to go through an environmental assessment review and finally, whose aid charges taxpayers $11,415 for a trip to Las Vegas (repaid when exposed). Looks like the same old same old business as usual.

But that’s Harper for you; every allegation of ethical and questionable accounting breaches glossed over if one of Harper’s favoured few. And, if needed, there’s always a staffer to throw under a bus.

Stephen Harper went on to say, “We have: Strengthened the powers of the Auditor General. Toughened the office of the Ethics Commissioner, reformed political financing.” Well, yes and no. When has the present ethics commissioner taken any meaningful action on anything recently?

Harper went on to say that his government had, “Dramatically tightened lobbying rules. And beefed up auditing and accountability within government departments.” Huh? That must have been news to Kevin Page.

Finally, Harper added the howler: “Canada now has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of governance in the world.” Said from the mouth of the leader of one of the most secretive, petty and punitive governments Canada has ever endured.

And then, to demonstrate how open and transparent he and his government is, Harper refused to take any questions from reporters he had invited to this gong show.

Most accountable and transparent? Canadians know better. They want better. They ain’t getting it. Even as I write this, Conservative MP Eve Adams, parliamentary secretary to Minister of Veteran’s affairs and another talking air-filled pointy-head made the same claim as Harper: “Canada now has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of governance in the world.” Well, we know how this is going.

Harper’s failure in this matter is dismal and absolute. He failed to take advantage of that showing to answer questions regarding Duffy, what he knew of Wright’s gifting of $90,000, and whether such behaviour was meant as a cover-up to stave off questions. With such enthusiastic conservative support, one would think Harper would have faced the issue of scandal, corruption, fraud, avarice, and the senate head on. He did not. Instead, he talked about being sidelined by “distractions” and, as above, offered self-congratulatory mythmaking bombast so far from reality those attending must have believed they had entered some fantastic parallel universe.

Conceivably, though I doubt it, Harper has forgotten those scientists and public servants muzzled with threatened job loss if they spoke to the media. And he might have forgotten about the prolonged smear campaign he, van Loan, Baird, Flaherty and the rest of the thugs waged against ex-Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page who disputed the figures offered by Harper and Mackay regarding the F-35s, the false figures with which Harper ran and won his campaign. But I doubt he forgot that as well. And Harper might even have forgotten how Page was stonewalled by almost every government ministry refusing to hand over documents he had requested so that he could do a proper accounting of public expenditures. Again, I doubt that.

Immediately after that meeting, Harper left for trade talks in Peru. It was only there, on foreign soil that he finally responded to two questions regarding the Senate scandal in which he expressed his frustration, reiterated his anger, and said how sorry he was. But the expression of sorrow rang false because lacking evidence of true remorse which might have been revealed by acknowledging guilt, admitting that he had dropped the ball, that the Senate must be investigated and the rules overhauled, if not done away with, with the assist of all parties. Then, mea culpa barely expressed, he promptly, and typically, threw under the bus, his once trusted advisor, Nigel Wright who, only a few days before, had his full confidence. He denied knowledge of the $90,000 cheque, the negotiation, and the meeting between Wright and Duffy. Wright had acted alone and without Harper’s approval. That really does stretch one’s credulity and I, for one, am not buying it. With this government, almost no one accepts full responsibility for his actions. Why should he or she? There are plenty of sacrificial lambs available and just as many buses.

On May 22, came news that the RCMP had requested documents regarding Duffy’s file. The request was dated May 16 and yet Marjory LeBreton did not see fit to inform the public.

As if all this wasn’t mad enough, we were rewarded with this absurdity by Conservative MP Joan Crockett who tweeted, “Our government has the highest ethical standards demonstrated by 3 resignations: 2 from Senate caucus & the PM chief of staff.”

Some people just don’t get it. Crockett, clearly not a profound thinker, evidently believes that forced resignations for unethical behaviour are testament and proof of high, ethical standards! Crockett’s statement, characteristic of Harperite slugs, is not only incredibly stupid, it also reveals a disturbing line of reasoning that those unfamiliar with this odd, scandal-driven storyline might conclude written by Lewis Carroll: the number of resignations determines the measure of integrity. Interesting. I had always believed the measure of ethics included ethical behaviour as well as honesty, integrity, openness, accountability, remorse, and a sense of shame. For Conservatives, especially Harper and his crew, those words are foreign concepts useful when necessary but mostly a hindrance.

The Senate needs more than a few changes and they do not include new rules or an elected body. While I do believe there are some in the Senate who are honest, hardworking and deserving, they are not making the news. I am with the NDP: the Senate must be abolished.

I also think, on reflection that Crockett might be on to something when she suggests resignations are proof of a government’s ethical standards. Using her criterion, let’s have a real demonstration of the highest ethical standards by Harper and his gang who have, thus far, eschewed the same.

CONSERVATIVES, CORRUPTION, AMORALITY AND THE BIG FIX

A conservative government is an organized hypocrisy. – Benjamin Disraeli

The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted the spoons – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Frank A. Pelaschuk

NOT SO FAST MARJORY LEBRETON

Not all that long ago, (May 9th, 2013), with the recent release of the audit on the three senators who had made false housing and travel claims, Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate, stated the matter was over as far as Mike Duffy was concerned. This declaration was made after the public had been informed that Mike Duffy had repaid $90 thousand dollars he had collected while not entitled to do so after making false claims. LeBreton also threatened Liberal Sen. Mac Harb and Sen. Patrick Brazeau, Stephen Harper appointee, now an Independent, with garnishment if they didn’t repay their false claims on time. Neither Harb nor Brazeau, it would appear, would be offered any leniency by the Conservative dominated senate. The difference between the three cases, as far as the public was led to believe was that one, Duffy, had “voluntarily” offered and made restitution to the tune of $90 thousand. However, with the latest revelations regarding Conservative Sen. Duffy, it is clear that LeBreton spoke far too soon.

When word came, with much fanfare, that Duffy had repaid the $90 thousand, Stephen Harper and the rest of the Conservative chorus began to sing his praises. Duffy, who had admitted to no wrongdoing, had done the right thing; he was honourable. So went the line. The way they sold it, it was unlikely there was a finer, more honest individual to be found anywhere across this great land. Well that sounded good, didn’t it? Of course, not everyone was buying it.

Some suggested it was time to call in the RCMP. Neither LeBreton nor Harper would have any of that. The matter was closed as far as they were concerned. For others, however, there was still that nagging question that needed a response: If guiltless, why would Duffy feel impelled to repay the housing claims to which he was entitled? The forms were confusing, he had claimed. He may have made a mistake. “But I would not knowingly fiddle,” he had said. He had also said, “Canadians know I am an honest person…”

The audit results suggest otherwise. And because they do, more than repayment is called for.

But Duffy’s refund was not the whole story, was it. Not by a long shot. For weeks the public had been led to believe that he had repaid the money out of his own funds, presumably the money he had illegally claimed as his entitlements. We now know that Duffy, forewarned by another senator, Conservative David Tkachuk, about what to expect, that the audit would, as it did, find that he had abused his office, could not afford to repay the money on time. Not to worry; he had a good friend in the PMO willing to help. The money was repaid. The name of the benefactor was Nigel Wright, Chief of Staff to Stephen Harper. But none of this was made public until May 15. Intriguingly, once the refund was made, good ol’ Duff no longer co-operated with those investigating him and LeBreton declared the matter closed.

Unfortunately, the narrative as the cretinous Duffy, Stephen Harper and the Harper gang may have sought isn’t as straightforward as they would have us believe. It was true; the government was repaid money Duffy had undeservedly claimed, but the repayment was not from Duffy’s wallet nor was it even with the taxpayers’ own money. Instead, the debt was paid with a “gift” from Nigel Wright, Harper’s right hand man. But none of this, as stated above, was made public by Duffy, Wright or anyone else who may have known. If the $90 thousand was a loan, Duffy and Wright had a duty to inform the auditors as well as the Leader of the Government of the Senate, LeBreton, and the Ethics Commissioner. But not a whisper for weeks until May 15th, when the story broke. Only then did Wright finally inform the Ethics Commissioner of the $90 thousand cheque. If, however, the $90 thousand was a “gift” rather than a loan from Nigel Wright to good ol’ Duff, then surely the rules were broken. As cited in the Globe and Mail (May 15th), “senators are prohibited from accepting gifts that could reasonably be seen to relate to their position.” No ambiguity there. Clearly the $90 thousand “gift” had everything to do with Duffy’s senate position, the anticipation of the audit outcome and the preserving of his position and whatever reputation he had left. Forewarned, the debt repaid, Duffy no doubt expected that that would be the end of the matter. With LeBreton’s help, that’s exactly what transpired. Now the public might be forgiven for shaking their heads with disappointment if not disbelief. The public might also be forgiven for wondering if these people have any clue as to how this looks, if they even care or if they experience any sense of shame. If Harper and gang have any inkling what ethics entails, they obviously are unfamiliar and indifferent to the practice of it and they certainly don’t care what you and I think. And they will continue to not care until you and I loudly scream: We are not going to take it any more!

THE CONSERVATIVE CONCEPT OF HONOUR

When the story broke out on May 15, something interesting but unsurprising began to take shape. The Harper regime went into full spin mode. On CBC’s Power and Politics that afternoon, Pierre Poilievre, that Conservative stooge who can always be relied upon to give the government spin on almost any story, kept insisting that Nigel Wright had “done the exceptionally honourable thing” for the taxpayers by paying off Duffy’s debt. Wow. Now that is spin. Wright had saved Duffy’s hide to spare you and me!

So, according to Poilievre, Wright is “exceptionally honourable”. But what is so honourable about this secret pact requiring negotiation between Wright, Duffy, the senate and, for all we know, Harper himself? What is so honourable about a deal bailing out a double-dipping senator who, once the debt was repaid, went mute, became uncooperative, and refused to share records with investigators, and was found to have deliberately made false claims to money that wasn’t his to take in the first place? To suggest, as Harper stooges have, that Wright’s act was pure selfless generosity, just an old friend helping out a pal and attempting to spare the Canadian taxpayers from the pain of the loss of the $90 thousand dollars illegally obtained by Duffy, the same honest Duffy who claimed expenses from the senate while campaigning for Harper and the Conservatives last election, rather than a measure to protect the senator, stretches all credulity. But that is precisely what Harper and his gang want us to believe. This was no attempt at a cover-up. No, indeed. Wright “had done the exceptionally honourable thing”. So said Poilievre. What is remarkable about that statement is that Poilievre and other Harper Conservative pinheads (Kellie Leitch, Michelle Rempel, Chris Alexander et al) had said almost exactly the same thing of Duffy when they went about attempting to convince us that it was Duffy who had paid off the debt he claims he did not owe! It’s remarkable how easily Harperites can shift. Pat phrases always helps; myth making bullshit for any and all occasions.

One could almost be excused for laughing except this is no laughing matter. In the past, Wright himself had been looked at and cleared for ethical breaches. But this $90 thousand gift from one so close to Harper’s office deserves full public scrutiny. Why the secrecy if there was nothing untoward? If this was simply a pal helping a pal, what was there to negotiate? Did Marjory LeBreton and others in the Senate know? If so, how much did they know and to what extent were they involved? Once the $90 thousand was paid, why did Duffy stop co-operating with the investigators, falling silent and refusing to hand over documents that could have cleared him if he is innocent of wrongdoing? Did Stephen Harper know of this gift? Did he play a role in any way? The PMO’s office says Harper knew nothing. With Harper’s well known penchant for control, is that even credible?

The day following the Wright revelations, the Ottawa Citizen ran the following headline: “PMO’s integrity thrown into question” (May 16). Now that is a howler. What integrity are they talking about? This is a government from day one that has demonstrated that it will exercise any excuse for any act, lie or deed committed by one of their members, cronies or friends. Time and again Harper and gang have demonstrated readiness, even eagerness, to point fingers, throw staffers and colleagues under buses, and smear those who dare question its style of governance. It’s even been cited for contempt of parliament. Ministers have been forced to resign for padding expense accounts and accepting illegal corporate donations while campaigning. The truth is, Harper and gang will take a line, any line, twist it, hammer it, chisel it, and hack it to pieces until it fits the filthy portal of lies they insist it must fit. This is a government so ethically challenged that even the staunchest of Conservative supporters are beginning to understand that the promise of an open, honest and transparent government offered by Harper has not only never flown, it has never even sprouted wings.

CONSERVATIVES AND THE ELUSIVE NATURE OF TRUTH

The nature of truth is irresistible. It cannot be stopped. But it can be delayed, interfered with, and denied for some time. Harper’s gang have been doing such for some time; they are well practiced in obfuscation, obstructionism and plain old-fashioned lying. Eventually, truth will out, but occasionally it needs a little help. The RCMP must be brought in.

Notwithstanding Harper’s support of Wright, itself a key insight into Harper’s dark nature, the deal between Wright, Duffy and the senate must be thoroughly investigated. Even if what transpired was legal, it certainly poses some ethical questions. That Harper cannot understand that or, based on his response to past issues, most likely doesn’t care, speaks volumes but should surprise no one. To this regime, ethics, integrity, honesty, truth, shame are just words and little more. Some people just don’t understand them and they never live by them. That so many in Harper’s circle including Harper himself could be devoid of the moral compass that guides most of us is shocking. These people are like zombies, devoid of the things that give a person value and meaning as a human being. They live in a vacuum in which anything goes and the only thing that offers them sustenance is not the doing of the right, just, honourable thing, but the main chance, i.e., what they can get from anything and anyone however and by whatever means. They are beyond redemption and contempt. Harb, Brazeau and perhaps all members of the senate and even parliament should be investigated as well with the books examined and the record set straight. If laws have been broken, charges must be laid. If found guilty, those senators and/or MPs must be booted out of office, they must lose their pensions and they must pay fines and serve time.

When that is done, the public should then turn its attention to the senate and drive a stake through its rotten, pustule plagued, useless, patronage burdened heart.

And then the public should turn its eyes on Stephen Harper and his gang of amoral thugs who can excuse and justify anything vile that suits their needs.

When will the anger turn to rage and the rage to a whirlwind?

HARPER, NUMBERS AND TAX THIEVES

God loves the poor but he helps the rich. – Yiddish proverb

Frank A. Pelaschuk

STEPHEN HARPER AND TAX THIEVES

With the shifty Stephen Harper gang, the numbers seldom add up. This is a peculiarity of a government that touts itself as a great money manager, fiscally responsible and economically solid. When the Conservatives first came into office under Harper, they inherited a surplus budget of $13 billion from the Liberals. With the latest budget, the Harper gang predicts they will move from a $25.9 billion deficit to a surplus of $800 million by 2015. Just in time for the next election. Meanwhile, somewhere along the line, they lost $38.9 billion.

On May 8th, the Harper crew announced that they would allocate $30 million dollars to go after tax cheats who ripped us off for over $29 billion with off shore accounts. But how seriously are we to take Harper’s promise? Clearly not very when we know that this government plans to cut $300 million from the budget of the Canada Revenue Agency as well as eliminate thousands of jobs over the next three years. The numbers just don’t add up.

It’s a shell game a grossly cynical and manipulative regime expects Canadians to buy into. From all appearances, this anti-Democratic Harper government is more interested in protecting the offshore accounts of their tax evading business pals than in doing anything of substance to recapture the funds stolen from Canadians by tax avoidance schemers. In fact, it is even more difficult to give credence to anything Harper has to say regarding tax evaders when, in addition to cutting funding and personnel in the CRA, his government spent $100 million over the past year promoting itself with colourful, misleading, publicly funded Action Plan propaganda ads. Harper, in other words, is more willing to spend over three times the amount on himself than he is to the recovery of unpaid, hidden offshore taxes, money that, if recovered, would pay off the national debt. Calling those scofflaws “tax evaders” or “tax cheats” is almost too gentle and close to misleading: they are, in reality, lowlife thieves stealing money that belongs to Canada and Canadians. That this government appears not to be as eager to pursue them as diligently some might wish could lead to suspicions that Harper and gang, with their pro-business bias, sympathizes with those malefactors who apparently share the sentiments voiced by another infamous scofflaw, tax evader Leona Helmsley: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Nice. No doubt accurate as well.

That we have individuals in government who apparently subscribe to that notion is all too obvious. They sit in the senate and the House, write laws that benefit a few and punish the rest, and ceaselessly repeat, “less taxes” and/or “less government” while padding expenses and making false housing claims. By “less taxes”, of course, they mean a full, publicly funded twenty-course meal for the “contributors of society, the wealth creators, the deserving people,” at the table and a jagged piece of bone stripped of all meat for the “little people” at their feet.

Even so, even with everything rigged in their favour, for the wealthy elite, this is not enough. When it comes to tax thieves, Harper nods, makes the appropriate sympathetic noises, and offers a few promises. But it is all sham. Very little will be accomplished towards closing the offshore accounts of the most egregious offenders and prosecuting them for the tax thieves they are. For some, presumably the contributing deserving rich, the “real” wealth creators as they would have us “little people” believe of them, there is no such thing as having too much. Harper and gang appear to agree. Perhaps that’s what they mean when they say “less government”. How much different from the United States. There, at least, Helmsley went to jail. The victim of too much government.

CONSERVATIVES, THE SENATE AND THE SWEET LIFE

Over the years, whenever a senate opening came along, I occasionally wrote to various prime ministers offering my services to be a member of the senate. When I made the offer, I also made a pledge that, for that money, I would be honest and show up for work every day, even on weekends. I never did receive a response and was never certain whether it was my offer to appear on weekends or to be honest which kept me from the senate. I was convinced I fit the bill.

Now I had made those overtures after I became aware that there were a few senators who appeared less than interested in the job making only the minimum required appearances and no more to keep their seats and collect their salaries. Well, I was willing to do more. And, as we have recently learned with the release of the audit on several senators, Liberal Mac Harb, Conservative Mike Duffy and Conservative appointee, now Independent, Patrick Brazeau, not all are all that honest when it comes to making housing and travel claims. The report on Conservative Sen. Pamela Wallin is pending. Had I been appointed, the public would have received a bonus: an honest person. I couldn’t lose, I thought. My offers were rejected. Hell, they weren’t even acknowledged. Or course, I now realize that I was a bit more than naïve. Whereas I had thought appointments were for public service (okay, full disclosure: I admit to having done very little towards public service) and that judgement, honesty, integrity and ethics were musts (these I believe I do possess; ask me, I’ll tell you), it turned out what was really wanted were stooge rubber stampers willing to support the policies of the governments of the day. Just as well I didn’t get a seat. I’d find it difficult to endure the stench of so much corruption.

The report of the independent audit of the senators released on May 9th had determined that the two conservatives and one liberal senator had made false housing and travel claims. Mike Duffy had already repaid $90 thousand for false housing claims and then, apparently tipped off by Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk, chair of the committee investigating the four, repaid an additional one thousand plus for claiming per diems while vacationing in Florida for twelve days. For that, Duffy blames a young staffer. That’s what Conservatives do; they point fingers and plead ignorance. As a result of the audit, Brazeau has to repay over $48 thousand and Harb over $51 thousand. It is worth noting that, of the four senators investigated, three were Harper appointees.

Mike Duffy is an interesting case. He claimed that he hadn’t done anything wrong. Is that really credible in light of the fact that he has paid back over $91 thousand dollars? But there is another issue that should concern Canadians. Is repayment sufficient punishment? Is it even punishment? Good ol’ Duff, as he likes to refer to himself, made the claim that the expense form was confusing. Really? This from the mouth of a once respected journalist, who stated with that folksy charm he likes to adopt, “Canadians know I am an honest man…”. Well, good ol’ Duff, I don’t know that.

When the audit was released, it immediately became plain that there would be no further punishment for those offenders even though some senators, the auditors, and the public believe the RCMP should be called in to look at the books of those four members. Perhaps that should extend to all senators and publicly elected MPs as well. Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate, stating that the rules would be tightened up seems to confirm that no further action will be contemplated against the three. Harper, in the House, supported LeBreton stating his government would not pursue the matter because the rules were “confusing”! This, as you will note, is a particularly generous line from the prime minister, the same Stephen Harper who, not all that long ago, offered no such lenient extension towards those collecting UI when he passed legislation allowing authorities to barge into their homes for no other reason then the belief that they may be fraudsters. If the rules were that befuddling, why not seek clarification?

But, as for those three who actually did rip off Canadian taxpayers to the tune of $190 thousand, it is a mystery why Harper is taking such a soft approach. Well, it might not be that much of a mystery after all, not with Harper and his gang. If the issue is to be put aside once and for all, one thing is certain: the RCMP must be called in to investigate those three. And if charged they must face trial and if found guilty they should be removed from the senate, lose their pensions and serve time in jail. If jail is good enough for Helmsley, it’s good enough for them.

THE NATIONAL HOUSEHOLD SURVEY

Three years ago, the Harper conservatives announced they would cancel the long form census replacing it with the voluntary National Household Survey. To many, the move made no sense. There would be problems they predicted. But Harper’s is not a government that listens. Instead, typically of bullies, Harper rammed the deal through and the results are less than stellar.

In the past, the mandatory long form survey went to one in five households. Because the form was mandatory and because 94% of those receiving the forms complied in filling them out, the results were extremely accurate. The same cannot be said of the voluntary National Household Survey released May 8th, which went to more people, close to 30% of the households, and yet were filled by only 68% of those receiving it. In some areas, the compliance rate was far below that of the average, the sampling in some areas so small that whole communities across the country were dropped from the survey. The results cannot be trusted. This is not a good outcome, made even worse because Harper had been warned and refused to listen. This is not the first time Harper and gang have turned a deaf ear to the voices of reason. They pulled out of Kyoto because they still believe that climate change is still unproven. We have the minister of resources Joe Olivier maligning scientists and environmentalists for their criticisms of the XL Keystone pipeline, and we appear to have some folks in the Conservative party who still believe that man walked side-by-side with dinosaurs three thousand years ago when the earth was formed in seven days by a supreme being.

When the Harper regime made the decision to kill the long form in favour of the voluntary survey, the justification was privacy concerns. This had been voiced by Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board, the same man of the $50 million slush fund boondoggle, the very man whose department has somehow mislaid $3.1 billion of taxpayer money. That claim is a red herring. Information on those who filled the long form census has never been made public. Another claim is that as voiced by Conservative Mike Lake, parliamentary secretary for the minister of industry. On the day of the release of the voluntary National Household Survey, Lake appeared on CBC’s Power and Politics stating anywhere from three to seven times with slight variations the following: Canadians have the right not to be threatened with fines or jail time for not wanting to answer questions regarding their religion, the number of bedrooms they have or how much time they spend with their kids. This is another red herring ludicrous on several levels. No one has ever gone to jail for refusing to fill the long form census. But Conservatives never let the facts interfere with their narrative. All too often, as with this issue, they create a scenario that has no basis in reality in the hope that Canadians are as stupid and fearful as the Harper gang believe. Well, it might work for the paranoid and truly stupid, but one might pause to ask this: If privacy is an issue with the long form census, why isn’t it an issue when Canadians fill out income tax forms? They, too, demand information some Canadians, judging by the number of offshore accounts, clearly do not wish to share.

HARPER, SHIPS AND AN ‘OLD TROTSKYITE’

In March, the Minister of Public Works, Rona Ambrose, and the Minister of Defence (and Ineptitude), Peter MacKay, announced that Irving Shipbuilding would be paid $288 million to design Arctic offshore patrol ships. They did not, however, disclose that the design of a Norwegian ship had already been purchased by Canada for $5 million. Nor did Ambrose or MacKay reveal that the Norwegian ship had been designed and built for $100 million, one third of the cost that we are paying just for the design. This is Harper’s version of sound money management. It is also a very, very disturbing picture of a very, very sweet deal for Irving Shipbuilding if not for Canadian taxpayers.

It was Terry Milewski of CBC who brought these facts to light. The reaction from Harper’s gang was predictable with one of the talking airhead puppets, parliamentary secretary Chris Alexander, hurling out the charge that Milewski was “an old Trotskyite”. Typical. Alexander didn’t bother to deny the story preferring instead to resort to diversion and finger pointing with a charge against Milewski that had nothing to do with the validity of the story. I could care less if Milewski is a Trotskyite, old or otherwise, or if he’s a man from Mars or if he takes marshmallows with beer. Is the story accurate? Gauging from Alexander’s ridiculously simple-minded ad hominem attack, clearly so.

No one who has followed Harper and gang would be surprised by the way Alexander responded. He and the others in the Harper regime apparently believe they are in a war in which every critic or questioner is the enemy and must be treated as suspect. Never answer, never explain, never listen, always attack. They are bullies of the worst sort, vile, dishonest, deceitful and totally devoid of a sense of shame. I’ve said that before, I’ll say it again.

As for Harper and his numbers? They just don’t add up. They didn’t with the F-35s; they don’t with the design costs submitted by Irving Shipbuilding; they fail with the National Household Survey. As money managers Harper and gang went from a surplus of $13 billion to a deficit of $25.9 billion. As money managers they spent $100 million on propaganda while allocating only $30 million to close offshore accounts of tax cheats that, were the money recovered, would not only clear the national debt but leave a surplus of over $3 billion. Perhaps, over time, Harper and gang might find that missing $3.1 billion. But again, they might not. They are cutting back on funds and personnel in the CRA.

Do you still believe Harper and thugs are better stewards of this nation? If so, you must still believe in the tooth fairy and that the world is only three thousand years old. Poor you.

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