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Monthly Archives: September 2014

STEPHEN HARPER: THE COWARDLY LION

The first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie. – Joseph Schumpeter

Idealists…foolish enough to throw caution to the winds…have advanced mankind and enriched the world. – Emma Goldman

Frank A. Pelaschuk

IS IT THAT TIME ALREADY?

You know Harper’s on the election trail when you see him tieless, checkered shirt unbuttoned at the neck, striding to and fro across a stage, his back to enthralled members of his caucus and playing to a camera and an unseen audience. His face glowing with the exultation of an ecstatic, he enumerates his government’s “achievements” loudly trumpeting that Canada is the envy of the world and Canadians are better off than ever under his leadership.

He’s talking to those whom you would think would know but, of course, he’s aware of the camera, it’s not to them he and his caucus are playing. One thing is certain, he has introduced an Americanism that appears here to stay: campaigning early and in earnest one full year before Canadian’s next go to the polls. That is if he keeps to his own fixed election agenda and doesn’t go sooner than the October 19, 2015 date. With this gang, one never knows; since he introduced the fixed dates, Harper’s never adhered to it. With the Mike Duffy trial now set for April 7, 2015 and the very real possibility of embarrassing revelations, voters might wonder if they can expect more of the same.

Maybe we do know after all.

Regardless of when, from now to the election, we are about to be flooded with even more of the triumphalist rodomontade, bombast, hypocrisy, lies, accusations, mudslinging, and bribery in the forms of taxpayer funded ads, hysterical hyperbolic speeches and shiny promises of tax cuts and a few other incidental baubles for the easily lead and the cheaply bought. Watching Harper work his MPs on the first day of the fall session (September 15, 2014), one cannot doubt his enthusiasm though he gives the impression of anxiety as he spins the Conservative mythology; he believes and wants us to as well: theirs is the best, wisest, and sanest government in the world and they are the best, wisest, and sanest money managers in the history of the mankind and he, Harper, is the best, wisest and sanest leader since time began. Clearly, and we must understand this, only he and his Conservatives can save us from the perils out there. Well, that is in their imaginings. All he really expects and wants of us, and many already have, is to park our minds, put them in neutral and swallow the swill holus-bolus. For some it’s a lot easier than for others.

Today, however, one senses something close to desperation, his declarations urgent, his warnings direr, Harper and his MPs making more appearances in the press though, it is true, Harper prefers to speak to the American press. Apparently he agrees with Senator Marjory LeBreton: the Canadian media is rife with lickspittle elites.

He’s worried, seems less convincing than as one trying to convince. Still, he looks more at ease then he does in that old picture of him wearing a cowboy hat and a black vest, hands on hips, his expression wary, shifty eyes shifted to his right, the smile a sickly grimace as if aware how dismal is his effort to appear one of the hoi polloi, a casual member of the masses. But that was a while back when he first sought to soften his image, to suggest that he was one of us, just regular folk, one who listens, cares. Did it work for you? To some, the transformation was convincing enough; he got his majority with less than 40% of the vote. So why does it seem, with all his claims to great achievement, the act of bonhomie does not come all that easily, that his exhortations appear a bit forced and his expression not all that inviting? Maybe it’s the cameras that intimidate. Whatever it is, there’s something false about it all, too stage crafted to appear natural and casual and convincing. He appears as comfortable as would the Duchess of Windsor mud wrestling before drunken males.

If Harper is running scared, and he should be given his propensity for secrecy, non-disclosure, bullying, ridiculing, smearing, and refusal to share information with Canadians and the opposition members who represent them, it is because he knows, come next election, he has a very good chance of losing to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. He certainly is not running scared because he has second thoughts about his policies or his goals, narrow to the extreme. He should, but he doesn’t nor do his supporters. Conservatives are not much given to second-guessing themselves; they are certainly not much given to reflection, to doubts. They are deaf to the voices of others, oh, no, not their friends, those lords and masters in industry or those generous donors to the Conservative coffers with off-shore accounts, but to the opposition members, the very people we elect to insure our interests are heard, considered and met. The sad fact is, the Harper gang, and that is what they are, thugs in suits, do not much care what we think: they have their majority. They believe their narrow base of core supporters will be enough and it well may be with the creation of thirty new gerrymandered ridings that will almost certainly garner them 22 more seats, provided the apocalypse doesn’t strike first or supporters switch on their brains. That will be a long wait.

SO WHO IS THE NEW(ISH) HOPE?

If Harper loses, and I hope he does and the whole gang are decimated to extinction, I am uncertain we will be better off even so; it will just be the Liberals swapping places and the NDP returning to their usual third place. It’s always been thus: Liberals, Conservatives, Conservatives, Liberals. It’s a game chicken voters are too timid to end by trying something daring. Instead of booting both teams off the field and awarding the cup to the third team, Canadian voters would rather stick with the tried and true, the arrogant, cruel, corrupt and corruptible they already know and understand than risk the uncertainty of what they may believe competent and well-intentioned but fear because untested.

Untested. They would be wrong, of course. If any of them took the time to objectively watch the performances of the three parties in the House during Question Period, if they took the time and made the effort to fully appreciate how dismal the state of affairs has become, there is little effort required to discover this, they would know that the NDP is far from untested and, while imperfect in some ways, certainly has less baggage than the other two parties and is better placed to not only offer Canadians what we want but what we need: open, honest, ethical leadership.

It is not Justin Trudeau’s fault that he is young and relatively inexperienced, but it is that he is too eager in his ambitions to bide his time and gain seasoning before going for the leadership of the nation. Nor is it his fault that his name evokes rosy of flower children and Trudeaumania but false memories that gloss over the reality of the War Measures Act enacted by his father. Nor is it his fault that he is handsome and charismatic and draws the attention of the young and thoughtless who prefer celebrity to ideas or a clear vision. And it is not his fault a few of the old, perhaps harkening back to the days when they may have been “progressive’, will declare their vote for a change, something new, without really meaning it in the crunch, opting instead for the same ol’ same ol’. But it is his fault when he plays on these rather than offer Canadians valid reasons why he and his party would make a better choice to lead this nation.

If one watched Question Period in the House, he would note that Trudeau is absent more often than not, too busy raising funds and garnering support for his party. Too, he would note that, when Trudeau does make an appearance, he all too often throws his support to the Conservatives on such contentious issues as the Keystone XL pipeline or the Temporary Foreign Workers Program which allows companies to replace Canadian workers for foreign workers for less; Trudeau would tweak the program which allows for the suppression of wages rather than scrap it altogether as the NDP suggest. Too, without any apparent knowledge of what the full impact will be, Trudeau and the Liberals have thrown their support behind the secretive, costly free trade deal the Conservatives and the Chinese government cooked up over two years before ratifying it on September 9th. That’s when Canadians learned about the deal. What’s worse, the sellout takes effect this October 1st. That is three weeks after Canadian’s learned it was a done deal. The Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), locks Canada to it for 31 years and, according to experts, gives much to China, very little to Canada. The deal could cost Canadian taxpayers billions should China dispute a regulation any level of government might put in place that might place restrictions on how it conducts its business here. With their investments in the energy field, if they conduct business as they do in China, efforts to clean up the environment, which is already moving at glacial speed, thanks to the Harper gang who don’t believe it’s real, would be moot. FIPA is a Conservative effort conducted behind closed doors, with neither debate nor input from the opposition parties. While the NDP has called to put a stop to the deal before it takes effect, the Liberals have opted to support it without knowing what the full effect will be on Canada, the Canadian economy, and Canadians. If it was such a great deal for Canadians, why the secrecy, why the silence, why no debate? When Harper and gang are silent on a trade deal rather than shouting it from the rooftops, as is their wont, we should be prepared for the worst.

Trudeau seems a nice young man but surely we deserve better than this.

SO, IT WAS AN ELECTION, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT?

In 2006, Harper promised to usher in a “new era of accountability” if he was elected. He was, the promise broken, and the Conservatives laughing. Oh, that. That was just another election promise; surely Canadians knew that. If not, we quickly learned.

From the very first, Conservatives have openly and defiantly dismissed the concept of transparency when, in December of 2008, he prorogued Parliament rather than face a non-confidence vote when the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc Quebecois joined forces threatening to defeat the budget. Since then, he has shut down Parliament, i.e., cut and ran, on three other occasions. That is one method of governance. Another is not to meet with Canadian media or to answer questions in the House by those people we elect to ask them. Harper and his gang have turned this form of governance into farce at times resembling performance art worthy of Dadaism if not a monkey house. Harper and his gang have made a mockery, not only of their offices, but also of the parliamentary process and of those who vote for them.

I don’t know about those who support the Conservatives, but I believe in democracy, in the right of citizens to be informed and believe that governments must be held accountable; that includes answering questions put to them in the House. Harper and gang flatly disagree routinely resorting to non-sequiturs, fingerpointing, evasion, diversion, derision, outright lying, and just acting up. And this is the sanest government in the world?

However offensive their antics and stubborn in their refusal to be accountable, it quickly becomes apparent that they are not indifferent stewards of our nation; no, they are too far gone for that. Theirs is the mindset of the corporatocracy; they govern on the behest of corporate interests in the core belief that it is business and money that keeps the world moving and that anything can and should be bought and sold for gain. They have long ago become corrupted by power and by the desire to cling to it. While their ideology may lead them to reject the Darwinism of evolution, they are not averse to passing legislation to make it easier for industry with their distorted free enterprising Darwinism of survival of the fittest. If the Conservatives were absolutely free to do what they would, they would doff their hats and sing in the streets, “Anything Goes”. They have become fixated with creating surpluses, selling off Canadian resources and cutting corporate taxes at the expense of public service jobs, social programs, our infrastructures and the environment. Let the next generation worry about the devastation left in their wake.

They talk about tax cuts, boasting of it how much they have saved consumers while thinking nothing of spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars on ads informing us, much of it on Facebook! Really.

While Harper and John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, strut upon the world stage loudly and belligerently trumpeting their support of Israel and Ukraine, condemning Russia’s incursion into the Crimea, and hedge their bets on Iraq, they do so ignoring the screaming voices demanding answers and declaring them all bluster and hot air hoping the public will not notice. Yes, their voices are loud, but the sabres they rattle are very, very small plastic toothpicks indeed.

Talk and noise, while allowing our military resources to suffer greatly. Our men and women are ill equipped with old, out-dated gear. Half of Canada’s Naval ships are either being repaired or sold for scrap. The four used British submarines purchased 20 years ago have never properly performed and have been in constant repair. Canada’s air force C-18 planes are due for retirement in 2020. Unfortunately, the F-35s, upon which the government has set it’s sights while deceiving the public as to the real costs, will not be ready by that date. Remember Harper and MacKay campaigning, feuding with the then Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, regarding the true costs of those Cadillac of jets? Harper and MacKay boasted the figure was only $9 billion for 65 jets. Page disputed this saying the figures were closer to $45 billion. Harper and gang refused to show him the books, preferring instead to smear Page and his reputation and refusing to renew his contract. To this date, the true costs remain unknown though $45 billion appears to be the number many critics have settled on though some claim a much higher number: $125 billion. Nevertheless, the Conservatives won the vote. But, if that, if the misleading numbers regarding the F-35s doesn’t rile you, this might. Search and rescue has taken a beating; there was a time, I don’t know if it still applies, when someone needing help found himself talking to a call centre in Spain! The Search and Rescue team are saddled with obsolete planes that daily imperil our brave responders. Shockingly, it was recently revealed the Royal Canadian Air Force had to raid the aviation museum in Trenton for parts for its search and rescue planes. Scavenging for parts when the Harper gang spend millions advertising programs that don’t even exist! Lord help us. Lord help those poor folks who must rely on those planes.

Yeah, Harper and gang are the best and wisest money managers in the world; just ask them. They’ll tell you.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS

Harper’s is a government of loudmouths and blowhards. Harper talks tough, and he is, when it comes to civil servants, to the poor, elderly and young. It’s easy when you’re a coward and a bully and your opponent is defenseless. But he’s not so tough with his corporate friends who don’t pay their fair share, who hide funds offshore, as if they didn’t pay little enough as it is; indeed one gets the impression that the Harper gang plots with their business friends to suppress low income wages by replacing Canadian with foreign workers.

They are monsters of indifference not only when it comes to ethics, transparency, but also in how little respect they hold for voters, opposition members and for the House itself.

This week, Harper was in the United States. He was in New York but not attending the UN Summit on Climate Change (he could not care less). One hundred and twenty-five world leaders were in attendance. President Obama was there. Not Harper. After losing Canada a seat on the UN Security Council, after years of trashing the UN itself, after four years of shunning the opportunity to speak at the Assembly, he was there, finally, to give a speech. An election must be approaching. But he was not there to speak on climate change, terrorism or Canada’s role in Iraq. No, he was there to speak on something totally different, laudable and important: combatting preventable deaths of mothers and children. However, he undermines his own message somewhat with his government’s denial of funding to charities practicing family planning, including abortion for war rape victims and child brides forced into marriages in these war-ravaged, poverty-stricken areas of the world. He further diminishes his message by outlining his solution to preventable deaths of mothers and children by pushing the same message he does at home: Free enterprise. For Harper, everything is reducible to free trade and the free flow of capital. Prosperity and wealthy will naturally follow. He can’t give it a rest. Even doing the right thing, like saving lives, must be monetized.

Just prior to that, he attended an event sponsored by Goldman Sachs answering questions by a Wall St. Journalist. It was only then, on foreign soil, before a foreign press, that Canadians learned that Obama had sent Harper a letter requesting more help in combatting ISIL. We already have 69 “advisors” in Iraq whose presence there would be evaluated after 30 days. Harper stated he would consider the request after consulting with his cabinet. There is nothing in that appearance about seeking advice from the opposition or debate or holding a vote. What is very disturbing about this is that Canadians and their representatives did not learn of this first; they had to hear it from foreign journalists on foreign soil. Too, CTV reported on the late evening National News September 25th, the story didn’t quite unfold that way. According to the report, sources from the White House stated it was Harper who approached the President, writing to ask in what way Canada could help. This may appear small, and it is, but, if true, says something about Harper’s character, which would surprise no one following him. By having one of the most important leaders on the world stage turn to him for assistance, Harper inflates his own significance in hopes of convincing Canadians that he is, indeed, a world player. This is typical Harper. As is his making of significant announcements when he is out of the country because he is too cowardly to face his Canadian audience and because he has determined that the Canadian media is out to get him (all that is except Sun Media for whom Harper can do no wrong).

While Harper was in New York, and before his conference in the with the press, Thomas Mulcair, at home, struggled for two days to get answers to legitimate questions: How long would those 69 advisors be in Iraq; when did the 30 day evaluation period begin and when would it end; would Canada be asked to do more; would there be feet on the ground in Iraq? Canadians have every right to know the answers to these questions. Well, not so according to Harper’s Conservatives.

When Mulcair posed these questions in the House, Paul Calandra, either Harper’s immoderately idiotic parliamentary secretary or Harper’s voluntary whipping boy and sacrificial lamb, responded on behalf of the government for the absent Harper. He stood up and read from a script a reply that had nothing to do with the question but would have done Lewis Carroll proud. After several more attempts to get a straight answer to direct questions, Calandra responded in the same ridiculous vein reading from the same sheet of paper. Mulcair, angry now, addressed the Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer, pointing out he had an obligation to enforce rules and compel government members to respond to questions put to them. When Mulcair once again tried to get an answer from the government side, Calandra again read from the script, prompting an exasperated Mulcair to address the Speaker with this: “Well, Mr. Speaker, that does not speak favourably about your neutrality in this House.” Scheer immediately retaliated by denying Mulcair the final question to which he was entitled, moving on to the third party leader, Justin Trudeau.

All this happened on September 23, before Harper spoke to the American press and before his speech in the UN. That evening, on CBC’s Power and Politics, Conservative James Bezan laughed off the episode with a dismissive and well-worn phrase, “It’s called question period, not answer period”! If that is not contempt for Parliament, nothing is. Pardon my naiveté, but I expect an answer when a Member of Parliament puts a question to the governing party. The next day, Scheer responded to Mulcair’s charge, saying there was nothing he could do, that, if members wanted to change the way things are done, they would have to do it themselves. He could not, he said, direct the question nor direct a response. Then he repeated the same facetious line Bezan had the day before, “That’s why it’s call question period, not answer period”! That Scheer said this with a smirk should have made the blood of all Canadian’s boil. This from the Speaker of the House who is supposed to be neutral. Immediately after Scheer spoke, both Conservative and Liberal members stood up and gave Scheer a standing ovation! To their credit, the NDP kept to their seats.

If it is as Scheer states, if it’s true his hands are tied, then perhaps it is time the Speaker be given more power to ensure that government response are relevant to the questions posed. As it stands, his function is little more than to rise and shout over the bedlam, “Order. Order!” If one of his duties is to impose decorum, he has failed miserably. Since Scheer has become Speaker, all pretence to decorum in the House has vanished. Is he really that weak, that powerless? I think not. I sense that the Conservatives feel emboldened to make Asses of themselves because Scheer has taken the easy route; he simply washed his hands of the matter and Question Period. His neutrality has been questioned in the past as when he sat for two weeks on requests by Elections Canada to suspend Conservatives Shelly Glover and James Bezan for not filling out proper expense claims during the 2011 campaign. Both finally did so, Glover when learning she was to be promoted and Bezan with claims to having been “vindicated” after he submitted an accurate report and Elections Canada dropped the matter.

What we are witnessing in the House today is a perversion of democracy, a mockery wherein government members could as easily be baboons for all their antics and their non-responses. For this, I blame Stephen Harper and his gang. It’s not entertaining except, it seems to the Conservative members, who jump up and enthusiastically applaud and thump each other on the back whenever Harper or one of his members opens his or her mouth to offer a non-response or, when someone like Calandra, the sacrificial Fool in the House, likely acting on instruction from Harper’s handlers, retorts with nonsensical innuendo by reading from a script in hopes of smearing the opposition NDP with something so obscure that even most Conservative members don’t know what’s going on. These are apes enamoured by their own idiocy. I am not amused nor should you be. If Question Period in the House does not give members of the public answers to their concerns, it does give them ample opportunity to witness for themselves how completely underserving Harper and his gang are of holding public office. They certainly don’t deserve the pay and the padded expense accounts.

Scheer, too, must be held accountable for much of antics we see in the House. He has lost or surrendered control of the House. He could censure members who refuse to offer responses relevant to the questions put to them by naming them or having them removed. He can do the same when government members evade, obfuscate, lie or ignore the question altogether. As it stands now, he has washed his hands of the whole affair and refuses to accept responsibility. We all are familiar with that story. It’s a spectacle unworthy of those who have the nerve to call themselves Parliamentarians. Something needs to be done; somehow, someway, the Speaker’s role must be enhanced and his partisanship eliminated as much as possible. But members of parliament, too, must change. They are not answerable to their party or their leader but they are to the people.

If the behaviour in Parliament we have been subjected to doesn’t repel you, nothing will; you are indifferent to ethics, to democracy and deserve the contempt of all those who do believe governments must be accountable to those who elect them. When the Speaker of the House simply shrugs his shoulders and repeats a silly statement that is specious and dishonest, you can only despair. Is this what we expect from our leaders? Do we not deserve better?

One can almost forgive Calandra if his was the only act of buffoonery and he was dumb enough to offer himself for the role assigned by Harper; if he was acting under instructions, he should simply have said, “No”. Why would anyone set himself up to be the laughingstock of Canada?

Interestingly, the next day, perhaps realizing that the Calandra show might have gone too far, the Minister of Defence at least made an attempt to appear as if he was answering questions on Canadian troops in Iraq while in fact not doing so. The result is the same and just as bad, just as offensive and yet better than what we witnessed the day before. Today, September 26, even as I am writing this, Paul Calandra, teary-eyed and voice breaking, stood up and apologized to the House.

Too late.

Perhaps it was from the backlash from the public. Perhaps his own fellow Conservatives were embarrassed. Nevertheless, too late.

Shame on Stephen Harper and his government.

Democratically elected, the Harper Conservatives are absolutely the least democratic party in the past few decades. By their very behaviour in the House, they have degraded Parliament and threaten our democracy. They are unworthy of this country, of our support, and of our trust; they have consistently and persistently degraded their positions with the élan of monkeys and the truly stupid, cruel and thoughtless: Michelle Rempel, Candice Bergen, Pierre Poilievre, Kellie Leitch, Joe Oliver, Mark Adler, Chris Alexander, Brad Butt, Shelly Glover, James Bezan, Leona Aglukkaq, Colin Carrie, Andrew Scheer, Peter MacKay, Rob Nicholson, Paul Calandra, Jason Kenney, John Baird, and, of course, Stephen Harper are the most notable wallowing in that foul swamp.

These are the people you folks want in office?

Even greater shame on you.

Yes, yes, and yes again…they belong in the trashcan of history.

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

***

They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty not safety. Benjamin Franklin

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