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Monthly Archives: December 2013

THE SAVAGE MONSTERS: STEPHEN HARPER’S CONSERVATIVISM AND ROB FORD’S POPULISM

Frank A. Pelaschuk

We are forsaken like children lost in the woods. When you stand before me and look at me, what do you know of my sufferings and what do I know of yours? And if I fell at your feet and cried and told you, would you know any more about me than you know about hell when they say it is hot and sets one shivering? Therefore we men should stand before each other with as much awe, thoughtfulness, and love as before the gates of hell. – Franz Kafka (from a letter to Oscar Pollak)

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. – Aldous Huxley

They defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance. – Edmund Burke

Where is their dignity unless there is honesty? – Cicero

The quotes above say a lot about people like Stephen Harper and the Harper gang including Jim Flaherty and his friends the Ford brothers in Toronto. They also say as much about those who continue to support them. They are a disagreeable group and do not mind that they are; indeed some seem to glory in it. The politicos, whether the present day tin-pot conservatives in Ottawa or of the foul populism of the Ford brothers, are largely bottom feeding panderers backed by special interest groups in Big Business and supported by narrow, parochially obsessed scavengers content to feed off their droppings freely offered in the way of cheap, flashy promises. They are shameless in their fixations and in their petty narrowness blind to the bigger picture, closed to the wisdom of others, blind to their own corruptive smug incompetence and completely indifferent to the needs of the whole of society and their own ugly negative impact: it’s all about them, “what’s in in for me?” Theirs is a tawdry, skewed view of humankind: those that deserve get, and they and their cronies deserve. Failures, underachievers, the poor and unfortunate are freaks, undeserving masters of their fate and the bleakness of their existence products of their sloth, incompetence, criminality. The poor and needy are worthless creatures, easily bought and discarded with cheap promises and mythic lies (tax cuts create jobs, Conservatives are the greatest money handlers in the history of the universe, Stephen Harper never cuts and runs, more jails will reduce crime) only to be gingerly approached and pandered to when absolutely necessary (photo-ops with “ordinary” folks) during election campaigns. There is little room for the empathetic toryism of Joe Clark and the departing Hugh Segal.

For the Harper gang, compassion is weakness, ethics and integrity hindrances; theirs is the distorted social Darwinism of “survival of the fittest”: top dog wins and they are the top dogs. They view welfare recipients as potential fraudsters and, when it comes to crime, take “the one-size fits all” view removing the discretionary sentencing powers of judges, imposing longer jail times and setting harsher sentences for the mentally ill and warehousing them in prisons: these are criminals we’re talking about. Facts will never get in the way of gut feelings, the “truthiness” of what they “feel” about crime, criminals, and justice. For Harper’s gang, and for many in the public, it doesn’t matter that statistics show crime has declined; the Harper gang will pander to those who just “know” that’s not true. So out with judiciary discretion, no more mollycoddling of the worthless, the liars, the cheats, the thieves. And, if one of their own gets caught lying, cheating, stealing, well, hell, anyone can make a mistake and that’s all it is, a mistake, nobody’s perfect. You want to get tough, get tough on those lying, cheating, thieving, leeching, homeless nobodies on UI. More jails, throw away the keys. And those bleeding hearts? Gimme a break, it’s Big Business we should be weeping for, Big Business that needs taxpayer help, Big Business cronies that deserves the breaks and the good life. After all, they are “wealth creators”.

For the Harper Conservatives, it’s about tax cuts, jobs, the economy and growth, all laudable but, when reduced to just these four, cruel, exclusive, harmful and most likely to result in public service cuts, exaggerated projections of budgetary shortfalls and more public service job loss. But, just before the next election, the great conservative myth kicks into gear and, as has happened countless times, the conservatives will have achieved that miracle, not just of a balanced budget, but a surplus. It works every time and too many fall for it. But such concentrations on tax cuts, jobs, the economy and growth also creates a certain level of meanness leading to such thoughts as voiced by Industry Minister James Moore: “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.” And then there’s Peter MacKay who opined that poor criminals should simply sell their belongings to pay the victim fine surcharge mandated by Harper’s gang.

This is the conservative humanism of today: cold, calculating, cruel. Ontario Justice Colin Westman had a response for MacKay. “You have to understand, these people have nothing….someone has to remind the minister there are broken people here who don’t have anything to give….a high portion of them are broken souls” (Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 18, 2013, Andrew Seymour). These are the conservatives of today: boorish, thuggish knaves who make, then break, the rules, give themselves raises, set their own pensions, help their friends and treat as enemies all critics. They live in a bubble; they never see, because they never look for, the hungry homeless huddled in the cold or scavenging for food in garbage bins.

And if you’re poor, disabled, mentally and physically ill, if your roads are collapsing, your drinking water polluted, your health failing, well, too bad, there’s more important concerns, like getting re-elected with more shiny, broken promises. Your life’s tough? Gimme a break, brother, you think it’s easy being a politician these days, everyone hands out wanting, wanting, wanting and then bitching if I claim for a spa, coffee and toothbrush or treat a crony for a meal on the public dime while campaigning? You want housing for the poor, improved healthcare, better roads, every child fed? What am I? Made of money? Who’s going to pay for it, sister? I want to get re-elected and you worry about those whining folks, those lowlife have-nots who have only themselves to blame? Okay, okay, you drive a hard bargain. Tell you what; I’ll cut a deal but no, no more money for roads, for bridges, for healthcare, for homes, for seniors. I’ll cut the price of your telephone calls, maybe the price of sports equipment for your kids and lop off a hundred in taxes. That should be enough to shut you up. But you understand, now, that’s less for education and higher costs for your dear old mother’s medication. If you want to thank me, and I suggest you do, just remember this next time you vote: I’m the guy that cut your taxes. And, if I break a promise or two, don’t worry, there’s more. I never forget the little guy. See ya next election, now get lost.

Moore says the comments were out of context and the reporter who broke the news takes a hit. For Conservatives, it’s blaming and then shooting the messenger. Anything goes with this shameless, shiftless lot, Harper and his gang and their erstwhile counterparts in Toronto, the thuggish and brazen Ford brothers. They are products of the same roiling, slimy pot, the Fords emerging less polished and the Harper crew gleaming yet just as offensive, both parties equal offenders nevertheless in their debasement of democracy and the electorate. There is nothing too low, too vile, for them to not exploit or degrade; the viler, the better particularly when it comes to wooing those members of the so-called Ford nation those brainless nitwits who somehow confuse belligerence, vulgarity, dishonesty, brutishness, and questionable associations with leadership. They embrace Rob Ford as one of them. God help us all if that’s the case. Pandering to the worst and lowest while brother Doug hands out $20 bills as if further proof is needed of how cheaply love can be purchased.

But if Ford Nation is made of ordinary folks, as they claim, Rob Ford carved in their image or they his, what can one say of cabinet minister Jim Flaherty, who should know better, yet claims and defends Rob Ford as a friend once even coming close to tears over the shenanigans of this comedic, asinine figure who lives in a world all his own.

Now loyalty is a good thing, admirable in most instances. But in the case of Rob Ford, misplaced, nothing to boast about, and even less to support when, in spite of all the lies, all the questionable antics, all that is offensive about Rob Ford and his ever present shadow, Doug Ford, Flaherty’s only offering on this issue is to opine that Rob Ford should perhaps seek some help. What Rob Ford has done is no silly, harmless schoolboy prank. He bought illegal drugs and denied it. He hangs around folks of questionable character. He is a swaggering bully, he says things on the fly and then lies, lies, lies only to apologize time and time again. With the Harper gang and their own troubles with the Senate scandals, there is not even the crumb of an apology. Harper knows nothing, has done nothing, sees and hears nothing; Nigel Wright is the fall guy, just another of many in Harper’s entourage thrown under the bus.

If Flaherty’s loyalty to Ford impresses you, if his suggestion that Ford seek help seems sufficient, what of his outrageous response to Jason Kenney who, on Nov. 19, apparently having had enough of Ford, had suggested that Ford resign. Flaherty, according to a CBC report, took exception to that confronting Kenney in Parliament and suggesting that he “shut the f**** up” regarding Ford. In fact, according to the same report, the contretemps became so heated that some MPs were fearful blows would be struck. Which is strange behaviour from the Finance minister. It’s one thing to be loyal, but being stupid about it is another. Rob Ford has debased the political office he holds. Apparently that’s okay with his supporters, but why is Flaherty fine with that? Surely, even buffoonery has its limits. Are lying, bullying vulgarity, thuggery, and fake apologies the new normal?

Apparently.

When one looks at the Harper gang, you just knew politics was going to take a bad turn over time and it did, in spades. There was Penashue forced to resign for his 2011 campaign irregularities including accepting corporate donations. Even so, he was shameless enough to run again in the by election with Harper’s equally shameless endorsement as the “best Member of Parliament Labrador has ever had”. And then there was Bev Oda, according to an article in The Star (July 3, 2012, Joanna Smith and Allan Woods) was known for subjecting staffers in her department, The International Development Agency, to a reign of terror and for routinely breaking smoking regulations. Known for lavish spending of taxpayer money, including upgrading to a more expensive hotel to accommodate her smoking habit, she had been forced to repay previous spending anomalies until finally felled by questionable ministerial funding decisions which led to a forged government document and, later, by a $16 glass of orange juice. But even then there is some question as to why she resigned: was it the misuse of expense claims or the fact she felt she had served long enough as some have suggested. Pushed or not, I see little honour in their stepping down. That said, in some respect, these could be said to be the highlights during Harper’s governance. Two individuals actually stepping down even if pushed. But that was then. Today, we have the Ford and the Senate scandals and Harper peculiarly mute on one and pleading ignorance on the other.

In some ways, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s response to the Ford issue is emblematic of all that is wrong with the Harper Conservatives and the state of politics today. There is no shame in associating with discreditable people, with smoking crack, with uttering misogynistic comments, and with lying, lying, lying. All that’s necessary is to apologize; mutter the words, mumble them, roll your eyes; there’s no applause metre for sincerity. The Harper gang rolls on. Robocalls, subversion of the electoral process, illegal campaign claims, that’s all in the past. Never mind that Dean del Mastro faces charges for breaking election rules in the 2008 campaign, or that Shelly Glover refused to give Elections Canada a full accounting of her campaign expenses until learning she was to be promoted by Harper or that we have prima donna Eve Adams illegally denied claims for spa treatments during the 2011 campaign. Some might quibble and say that, in the grand scheme of politics, these are small issues. Perhaps. But I am not as tolerant as some towards those who fudge about the small things. How trustworthy can they be with the big things?

Perhaps, even in my old age, I’m still a bit naïve. I don’t believe politics has ever been completely clean, but has it ever been this dirty, so degraded by so many for so long? No one today, least of all Harper and Rob Ford, appears ready, willing or decent enough to want to accept responsibility for their acts; they finger point, they lie, they obfuscate, they run and hide. But, to defend such behaviour is indefensible and inexcusable. Democracy is taking a hit and Ford Nation and Flaherty’s response to Jason Kenney may help explain why.

While neither Kenney nor Flaherty has denied the episode took place, Flaherty’s comment to reporters appears a confirmation. “You know, I’m the minister for the Greater Toronto area. I don’t comment on the mayor of Calgary” (the Canadian Press, Dec. 15, 2013).

That is an astounding statement on several levels and exposes Flaherty in a light that is both puzzling and disturbing. Why commit oneself to Ford, as Flaherty has clearly done? For the rest of the country not buying into the populist garbage, Rob Ford is a laughingstock, a clown who, if incapable of experiencing shame, has certainly shone the spotlight on Toronto and not to its credit. Flaherty’s loyalty is disconcerting and suggests singularly bad judgement. Not only was his response childish, Jason Kenney, from Calgary, and just another in the long string of Conservative members for whom I have little regard, has every right to demand of Ford what many Torontonians clearly wish for: the resignation of Rob Ford, the crude entertainer who would be prime minister of Canada. As well, the comparisons between the two mayors are particularly invidious. Unless there is something of which the public is totally unaware, there are no comparisons and there can be no comparisons because there is no moral equivalency at play here; the argument evidently hinted at by Flaherty of a nonexistent moral superiority of Toronto’s mayor is untenable, offensive and risible because nonexistent. Just look at the two men, Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi on one side and Toronto’s Rob Ford on the other. Both are, without doubt, widely recognized across Canada. That’s about the extent of the similarity. That Flaherty would even go there, pit his friend Ford’s reputation against Nenshi’s is outlandish and as mystifying as Harper’s gang going after veteran’s, especially disabled veterans, and clearly evidence of poor judgement by both Harper and Flaherty. Surely there is no percentage in defending the inexcusable? True, world wide, Ford is more likely to be recognized than Nenshi, but as a target of ridicule and an object lesson of the extent of the abasement of Canadian politics. Could Flaherty really prefer to defend a scoundrel, however lovable he may appear: a repeat liar; a man who has admitted to breaking the law in smoking crack after months of denying he did so; the same man who later apologized after months of lying about the existence of a tape showing him doing exactly that; the same man who consorts with questionable characters; who has been taped numerous times while publicly intoxicated; who has been caught on camera using a public park as a lavatory; a man who has not shied away from misogynistic crudity; a man who is a bully and absolutely disagreeable in almost every respect; who apologizes time and again promising that’s the last of surprises only to add another the next day? And none of this, apparently, troubles Ford and his supporters; in fact, he appears to relish rubbing the public nose into his sewer. This is what Flaherty supports, unless, perhaps, there is more than friendship involved. Could it be simply a matter of politics, Flaherty and the conservatives afraid of alienating Ford Nation, who, true enough, appear more than happy to swallow from that that filthy swamp? If that is it, if it’s only about politics with Flaherty and the conservatives, even more shameful than misplaced loyalty; it confirms the worst of my suspicions of Harper’s gang: they are not just tolerantly willing to turn a blind eye to the follies of their own, they are also actively unscrupulous, willing go to any length to get and to hold on to power and nothing, nothing, is too vile for them: if it helps, go with it. But to succeed they need willing accomplices, those amoral self-interested “me” folks, those folks who time and again support them and only on the condition they get something, however small and shiny, in return. Go figure. Anything can be forgiven and anyone bought with a few cheap promises and a few dollars a day in tax cuts.

But let’s now turn away from Ford and Ford Nation to examine the equally offensive Naheed Nenshi. As far as I am aware, the Calgary mayor has not been accused of smoking crack, has not had a video of him smoking crack, and has not lied about smoking crack. Clearly that is evidence of dullness, reckless law abidingness. I am not aware of his associates so do not know if any have a criminal past and I know of no public intoxication on his part, or of any existing video of such, nor do I know of his use of a park, building or tree as a public urinal. Nenshi seems to have problem with fun-loving risk-taking. During his term in office he has revitalized Calgary, seen crime rate decline, and, during the Calgary flood earlier this year, he was front and centre in keeping the public informed, in organizing response efforts, and in boosting morale. This guy is just too uptight. In fact, so offensive is Nenshi he was re-elected by a surprising margin of 74% of the vote. If Flaherty were to comment on Calgary’s mayor, what would he say? “Nenshi’s a disgrace. No one is that good. His smiling persona is a con; his support rigged, a fluke, that 74% achieved only because only 39% of those who could, voted. And all that about him during the flood? Just leftist media propaganda. This mythmaking is making my mayor and friend Rob Ford look absolutely terrible!” Yeah, I guess that would hurt. Poor Nenshi. He doesn’t even have his own nation!

Loyalty to friends and family is commendable. But loyalty to the unworthy, the amoral and untrustworthy is not only misplaced, it is shameful. But what do the politicians of today know or care about shame? There are a few, we know that, but they are rare, too often silent, or, even more sadly, fleeing to kinder havens. When integrity, ethics, honesty, decency and acceptance of individual responsibility play little to no role in governance, is there need for shame? That conservatives, provincially and federally, have been relatively mute on Ford should alert undecided voters who still believe in democracy, the value of ethics and demand law-abiding behaviour from those they elect. Ford deserves no defending. If he had any shred of decency, he would simply resign and fade into the sewer. He is vulgar, loose with the truth and facts. If he’s admired and defended, it’s by morons who don’t even value themselves, let alone others or it is by those political opportunists, the users and posers who believe it is more important to curry to the lowest and worst than to adhere to a code that enhances and ennobles. Kenney, at least, had this right.

Not so Flaherty. Not the Harper gang or the provincial conservatives. Shhh! Don’t make waves. Who the hell needs a moral compass? It’s all about winning. Good guys finish last.

And you out there? When will you wake up, if ever? When will you take responsibility, how long before you have had enough?

Harper and his gang and the Ford brothers believe you are stupid, that you are merely self-interested and narrow and can be bought with slogans and by pandering to the worst in you. Next election, prove them wrong.

***

But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine

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JUSTIN TRUDEAU: MAN OF DESTINY?

This time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone. – Lewis Carroll

Frank A. Pelaschuk

You can tell a lot about a person by how well he handles defeat. But it is how well he handles victory that can, at times, be more revealing of his character. We had a good glimpse of this with Justin Trudeau. It wasn’t pretty.

Trudeau likes to talk about himself as “authentic”. And we saw how authentic at the by-election victory party in the Montreal riding of Bourassa. I have no doubt that was the real person we were seeing and hearing. Instead of taking the opportunity to congratulate his opponents, he could not rise above the partisan fray even in the face of victory, seizing the moment, instead, to sidestep magnanimity to wag his finger and rail against the NDP for running a negative campaign. This is no way to win new friends; the response was petty, churlish, and ungenerous, hardly the behaviour one expects of a leader, especially a leader who has had a good night. Instead of reaching out in an attempt to mend fences, his immediate instincts were to tear them down. For Trudeau, bonhomie is a mask for public viewing; incivility is the real thing. That type of behaviour signifies an aspect of Trudeau that is unpleasant and suggests a closer kinship to Stephen Harper, the most ungenerous, most petty, most unworthy and ignoble of any public official, than some would have imagined. The truth is, no election campaign is completely positive; sniping and fabrications and cheap shots are part of the package; they are not new, not good, should be, and can be, avoided, but they are a fact. Some one of character might have allowed the opportunity to snipe pass. It’s too easy to be mean and small; Trudeau opted for the easy.

The hectoring was bad enough; it was disingenuous and hypocritical, the NDP and Tories no doubt having stories of their own about how the Liberals ran their campaign. But for some in the NDP, the most hurtful aspect of Trudeau’s mean-spirited victory speech was the appropriation of parts of Jack Layton’s final communication written on his deathbed. It’s allowable, but in the context of his victory, it was merely shabby, using Layton’s words to club the party for which he gave his all; a rubbing of salt into NDP wounds.

Trudeau says he admired Jack Layton. But there was none of that at all, that night. He knew exactly what he was doing and later said he had no regrets. It was obvious he had a clear understanding that many Canadians from all walks of life had grown to love and embrace Layton if not his politics. It was to that emotional memory that Trudeau was attempting to hitch his wagon and his star. It was unseemly and very tawdry.

Many still remember that final, famous message, a message full of love, generosity, humaneness, and optimism that Layton left for us. It was this love for Layton that prompted Trudeau, this cheap, withered offshoot of liberalism, to adopt those words and exploit them as a rallying victory cry for the Liberal Party; Trudeau was attempting to feed off the reflected glory of a dead man. He was standing in Layton’s light and diminished himself in the doing. What he did was not admiration nor admirable; it was the opportunism of cynicism. Trudeau knows this; Layton’s words, especially their meaning, are simply too large for him. Trudeau knows that, too, is true, as do most who admired Layton. Trudeau has no philosophy and, as of yet, has no vision. So why not steal another man’s words and meld them to suit your own needs. They sound good. And they are good. The thing is, Jack Layton, exemplified the best of the NDP philosophy, his final words reflecting more accurately the values of the NDP than the “economic diplomacy” of the Harper Conservatives or the fuzzy, picayune glamour of the Trudeau Liberals. In truth, judging from the public response, the words Layton wrote apparently reflect the hunger, if not the values, of many Canadians.

It is easy to quote words that are eloquent and full of meaning. It is also easy to take their meaning and distort them. It is believing them and living them that is the trick. If it is true that people believed in the words of Jack Layton or, at the least, wish them to be true, then Justin Trudeau is not the man who will ever live up to the promise or the hope of that vision. The Liberal party has long ago lost its way. Trudeau is no modern day Moses; his appeal may be broad, but it is limited; an empty box, wrapped nicely, offers nothing but an empty promise.

Jack Layton, good and generous as he was, was but one man. But his vision was a shared vision, an inheritance from the CCF, J.S. Woodsworth, Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Ed Broadbent, and the men and women of the past and present who make possible the NDP vision of today. Jack Layton was a part of that vision. He believed in it and he lived it and, because he did, he was able to put those words on paper. But he knew he wasn’t the only one; it was not a one-man show. He shared the vision with countless others and they made him possible just as he made the vision and the possibility real. He was not alone; they were not alone. Dying and in death, he did not abandon them nor they him. But he, as do most of the NDP, wanted more for those others, those who felt marginalized, excluded, of value only when their votes were needed. He knew that too many deserved more and better and were all too often left behind. He, and his beloved NDP, wanted and want to change that. He knew that as they struggled to feed themselves and their families they also struggled with hope and ideas, inchoate and raw, perhaps a little unfocused; they just needed a little guidance, a nudge and reasons for hope. As leader of the NDP, Layton was prepared to do that. He knew they needed to be reached and moved, but not with high-minded words and empty promises, but with the recognition of the truth of their own desires, an acknowledgement that their doubts, fears, needs and concerns were real, were heard and needed attending to. His final words are a reflection of the legacy of those who actually lived and live those words.

The NDP is not perfect; nothing is except, perhaps, Justin Trudeau’s hairdo. Nevertheless, it is the party of hope, not of fear. Usurper Trudeau may look a better package than Mulcair, and he may appropriate Layton’s words, but if that is all the Liberals have, than why not go with Justin Bieber who could probably earn a few more votes from the young and scatterbrained? And to anyone doubting the substance and experience of Thomas Mulcair, I suggest they tune into Question Period in the House. He is by far the most effective weapon against the Harper gang.

True, he is no Jack Layton. He is his own person, a man of substance, knowledge and integrity and he stands alone with others in a shared, honest, and positive vision. Even so, substance apparently accounts for little with the public: it’s either tax cuts or glamour. The limited versus the limited. That Harper, for all his missteps, for all the scandals, for all the corruption, is still ahead of Mulcair in the polls is astounding. Notwithstanding reality, the myth of Conservatives as better money managers somehow still lives! Will someone please ring a bell.

What does it take to rouse those public members who are in thrall of Trudeau or who still support Harper and his knavish thugs? What does it take to rouse the public from its hellish version of life, its narcissistic, zombielike pursuit of self and self-interest with its fixation on glitz, sham, and shallowness to the exclusion of all else, resembling life of some sort, suggestive of movement and doing but, in the end, as sentient as a grain of dust?

Harper is a pox. Trudeau is a terrible joke. Both are bad for Canada. Watch Harper. Judge for yourself. But, the next time you tune in to Question Period in the House, look at Justin Trudeau. Watch what happens when he poses his questions to the Conservatives. If he thinks it a particularly good question, and he often does, he will become a little taller, smiling smugly as he slowly scans the House and gallery when done reading from his cheat sheet. You will notice the slight pause, the curl of his lips, and then, as if satisfied, the abrupt nod as he returns to his seat. He appears to be waiting for applause and asking of the world: Am I not beautiful? Am I not clever? It could be though, that those are the words he tells himself, the abrupt nod signalling a happy concurrence with himself.

Yes, one can occasionally learn much from how well an individual handles his victories. Authentic? In Trudeau’s case, it is chimera, as substantial as a shimmering ephemeron. A puff of wind, poof! nothing there.

That’s all we need. More straw men, more magical thinking, more nothing. And you are to blame. Instead of demanding more and better, you accept less and that is exactly what you are getting with Harper. Trudeau will be no different.

Poof! Nothing there.

***

But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine

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