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LOST HORIZONS: THE NDP’S SQUANDERED OPPORTUNITY

If a man harbours any sort of fear, it…makes him landlord to a ghost. – Lloyd Douglas

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. –Marcus Aurelius

Laugh, and the world laughs with you/Weep, and you weep alone. – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Frank Pelaschuk

“Everyone loves a winner/But when you lose, you lose alone”. This is a reworking by William Bell and Booker T. Jones of familiar lines penned by Ella Wheeler Wilcox: Laugh, and the world laughs with you/Weep and you weep alone. Surely, if any lines applied to two political individuals, it would be these and the individuals Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair. For both, there was a profound reversal of fortune, the NDP leader riding high on a wave of possibility and the Liberal leader in third place, an object in some quarters of amusement and ridicule.

Going into the campaign, the NDP appeared at the top of their game with a real possibility of victory. They felt good, the supporters felt good. It was going to happen, their second place finish hadn’t been a fluke. Then the wheels came off.

As the October 19th election day approached, it became increasingly evident that Trudeau and the Liberals would be forming the next federal government. It was less clear who would be forming the official opposition though there were signs it would not be the NDP. Early in the evening of the big day, as the ballots were counted, it was all but over. Thomas Mulcair and the NDP had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Oh, they did have considerable help from the Harper Conservatives, the Conservative core base and others who could not differentiate bullshit from hay as the Harper mob engaged in the familiar filthy territory working on the worst in us, not just our fears but also our prejudices. We were fed daily diets of the poison: niqab-wearing women wanting to impose their foreign ways on Canadians and Muslims terrorists pounding on our doors thirsting for our blood. It was nonsense and it was vile but it worked on the thoughtless and mean-spirited. Nor did it help the Liberals proved themselves particularly adept able to mount a very nimble campaign that drew the curious who quickly became supporters as Trudeau appeared to shift the party smartly to the left inexplicably abandoned by the NDP. In the end, however, it was the NDP leadership and strategists who failed the party and its supporters. It was a stunning rout, a turnaround that firmly ensconced the NDP in its traditional third spot position seeming to confirm what many sceptics had long believed: the 2011 election results that made the NDP official opposition had been a fluke a vote more for the recently deceased Jack Layton than for the NDP.

Now, more than one hundred days into his mandate, Trudeau looks even more like a winner except to the hypocritical Conservatives who demand of him and his government what they themselves were never prepared to offer under Harper. Even so, as well as Trudeau appears to be doing, and he is holding the popular vote, there are, in some areas at least, signs of growing impatience from those who voted for the Liberal promise of real change as the promises are delayed, reworked or quietly dropped. While these voters, perhaps not all die-hard Liberals, may be favourably impressed by his apparently boundless energy and sunny disposition and his clear desire to be all things to all people, and while they are no doubt pleased that he has, for now, made himself and his cabinet readily accessible to the media and the public, extremely rare events during the Harper reign of error, Trudeau’s apparent willingness to pose for selfies with every awe-struck man, woman and child who cross his path may be wearing a bit thin suggesting a frivolity and lightness that may be unfair but is nevertheless an impression out there. Too, those old enough to remember, may be troubled by reminders of the bad old scandal-plagued days of cronyism, payback and corruption triggered by some of the hiring practices of a few of Trudeau’s ministers. As for Mulcair, the corollary to the first part of the cliché, “But when you lose, you lose alone” seems particularly apt and poignant when one looks at the NDP’s almost deliberate self-destructive miscalculation of the public mood and its deafness to the voices of those die-hard NDP supporters (derisively labeled the “radical left” by columnist John Ivison in his appearance on CTV’s Question period Feb. 14).

How the two leaders responded immediately after the election is revealing. Next day a triumphant, jubilant Trudeau was in a Montreal subway greeting ecstatic transit users. It is true; everyone loves a winner. But Mulcair…well, he simply disappeared, licking his wounds no doubt curled up in some dark corner wondering what the hell had hit him. He was entitled. But for how long? Oh, eventually he did emerge but it would take him almost three months to publicly shoulder responsibility in the form of an open letter that might have been written by an NDP committee. Too little, too late.

I understand that Mulcair was bruised and hurting. But how much better an image he would have cut had he quickly got to his feet, dusted himself off and said: Back to work. He did not lose alone, even if he felt he had. But he behaved as if the lose was his alone by retreating. That was not the act of a leader. If his supporters felt abandoned, who could blame them? They might rightly have expected words of solace, hope and reflection as well as insight into what had happened and what lay ahead for the NDP within days of the loss. It did not come. That was a failure.

Surely, by Election Day, it could not have been a surprise. It should not have been. If so, what does that say of Mulcair as leader or the NDP as a party? Were they ready? The missteps suggest not.

Since the days of Ed Broadbent, when the NDP began to be seriously noticed by increasing numbers of voters as viable for the role of official opposition at least, the party had embarked on a path towards self-ruin. The party founded on the principles of “social democracy”, of “democratic socialism” began to shy away from those terms; they were not conducive to winning said those who wanted to win. To hear some ignorant and malevolent wing nuts tell it, the “social” in social democracy is incompatible with democracy because “social” is just “socialism” abbreviated and “socialism” as we all know is just another word for “communism”. Like I said, ignorant and malevolent. It doesn’t help that the NDP also seemed determined to distance itself from workers and unions who once were the backbone of the party. It’s all right for the Liberals and Conservatives to have incestuous ties to the titans of Big Business, taking their money, even hiring lobbyists to work in government or allowing ousted or retired MPs to sit on company boards but it is somehow not okay for the NDP to have support from labour. Can someone please help me understand the double standard? I have even heard workers, minimum wage earners in some instances, and high earners in the trades, thanks to unions, talking about Big Labour and bad-mouthing unions and unionists as greedy and too powerful. One almost wants to cry: Are people really that desperately stupid, that cowardly, that envious, that they will shill for Big Business but not even work up enough courage to accept the union hand willing to help them up? It’s perverse this desire to pull down others rather than pull oneself up. It’s bad enough the enemies use the NDP ties to socialism and labour as somehow unpatriotic and dangerous, but it’s another when the NDP runs from its own great history and its raison d’être. Saying something doesn’t make it true but running from it somehow validates the lies. That the NDP has allowed itself to be defined by others is unconscionable.

It could well be that Mulcair is a sincere social democrat and has been all his life. But he was at one time a Quebec Liberal minister before he joined the NDP. Until recently, I cannot recall him or any NDP leader over the past twenty or thirty years talking much, let alone with pride, about “democratic socialism” except to refer to it obliquely or at meetings attended solely by NDP supporters. Now, one is left with the impression he has just discovered his NDP roots chastened after being clobbered by Trudeau who had adopted a sopped up version that allowed him to appear to take on the role traditionally played by the NDP. It is not that Trudeau had become a “leftie”. Far from it. The party, long before Mulcair, had become muted regarding a fairer tax system avoiding talk about eliminating Harper’s income splitting plan that did nothing for the poor. Trudeau promised to roll it back and promised to raise taxes for the wealthy albeit without acknowledging the moneyed folks would just find other loopholes to avoid doing the just and moral thing: pay their fair share. But it was when Mulcair walked away from deficit spending to stimulate the economy, which was stalling all around him, that the Liberals saw their opportunity. They would proudly wear the label, for this round at least, of the “tax-and-spend” party. They had accurately read and understood the public mood. Any move by Trudeau in that direction would have looked as if it were a major progressive shift. It was not but it looked good and gave the Liberals another edge, this time as daring and creative risk takers; they saw an opportunity, seized it and milked it for all it was worth. In the past, the NDP has always been charged as incompetents for the same – and punished as well. What would have happened had they dared to do what Trudeau had? We will never know. They had blinked. What we clearly know is this: the sell-out drift to the right didn’t work too well for the NDP. The Liberals, with nothing to lose, took a chance with no real risk.

The NDP placed too much faith in the polls. They believed what they read and heard and, as a consequence, became frozen with fear by the very possibility of winning. Mulcair and the NDP could smell victory, taste it, feel it. That possibility turned them to jellyfish; they became terrified of making mistakes. They were muted in their promises with the exception of trumpeting their swing to balanced budgets. Instead of going for the new, the bold, the right and brave things, the things they have always claimed to be for, they chickened out and hunkered down and ignored what was going on around them looking instead to the playbooks of the other parties in hopes of emulating what worked for Conservatives and Liberals – in the past. The mistakes the NDP made were not small nor were they innocent; they were acts of desperation leading I suspect to many sleepless nights of second-guessing almost every decision they made. Oh, how they wanted to win! So, instead of stepping out and being better and more daring, they took what they thought was the safer, surer road. Was there any talk by Mulcair of healthcare? I missed it if so. How about poverty, homelessness, education, justice, and a multitude of other big and little but important things? There was little talk of the plight of single, low-income families, of single parents holding two, three menial, minimum wage jobs. Oh, yes, there was the $15 a day daycare promise, but what else? Overwhelmed by thoughts of success, timidity and caution drove them to the right joining the Conservatives and Liberals in vowing to restore the middle class and doing what the Conservatives had promised, and mostly failed to do for ten years: the NDP would balance the budget. Not only that, they would balance the budget for four years in a row!

That was about it. That was their big gift to the Canadian public. Another party joins the centre.

But if that was a mistake, and it was, the blunder was even more egregious when it came to Trudeau. The NDP looked at Trudeau and dismissed him as a lightweight. He looks good, has nice hair and as far as they were concerned that was about it. They had forgotten that he knew how to fight and to win even when everyone else dismissed him as a lightweight. The NDP did not offer him due respect and that, too, may have cost them. Yes, Trudeau was a lightweight. The public wanted balanced budgets and they would give them that. But what was the plan if things got worse? How would the NDP balance the budget? What would be cut sacrificed and lost? Is that when it began to unravel?

For some, including the NDP leader, it was Harper’s war against two women for refusing to remove the niqab during the citizenship swearing in ceremony and Mulcair’s “principled” stand in support of the women, which had doomed the NDP campaign. I was proud of Mulcair when he stood in opposition to the Harper gang on that issue. And I was also proud when Trudeau did the same and just as unequivocally. The Conservatives, vile, ignoble, filthy hucksters, many still sitting MPs, had sought to sow division and intolerance by picking on the niqab issue playing to our fears and ignorance and parochialism. In doing so, the Conservative goal was not to defeat the NDP but to divide the vote between the NDP and Liberals. It worked in Quebec with a huge loss to the NDP, the ignorant and benighted buying into Harper’s invidious campaign of hatred and fear. Yet, it did not harm Trudeau whose youth, charisma and name evidently enough to gain the Liberals a few seats from those who never bought into the racial and religious bigotry. I do not doubt Mulcair’s claim of taking a stand on principle regarding this matter. I would have expected no less from any individual. And I have no doubt it cost him and the party dearly. We have the results. That the Conservatives did very well in Quebec is disturbing for it lends added credence to the charges of Quebecers as susceptible to fear, ignorance and intolerance as the rest of Canada. If the Liberals succeeded it was because they appeared firmer and surer in judging the public mood and it seems almost unfair that just as the NDP had turned its back on deficit spending the Liberals should benefit for embracing it.

It may well be that the NDP will find solace and take pride by claiming they remain the conscience of the country and that they fell, gloriously, on a matter of principle. Well, given what happened this round, principles largely shunted aside for the brass ring that is a bit of a lark, isn’t it?

Mulcair’s recent mea culpa, may please some and sway others. I don’t want to hear it. Too often we have witnessed the betrayal of the left by the party of the left, the nabobs in the NDP having determined large ideas and ideals too risky, perhaps too esoteric, for the public at large to fully appreciate. For years the NDP harped about being the party for “ordinary citizens”. I’m one of them and I have never liked that. I may by ordinary, but I don’t like being told that I am. Is it really necessary to talk down to voters, to abandon core values and run from one’s history in order to appeal to those who may not understand what the NDP believes and hopes for? Why is that preferable to “work” by which I mean the effort necessary to “inform”, “educate” and “encourage” members of the public of the virtues of the NDP in clear, honest, and enlightened terminology demonstrating that its policies are not only doable, meaningful and better but also superior to the clichés, pat answers and glib, glitzy empty promises to which they have been subjected countless times. The NDP does not have to outdo the Conservatives by promising balanced budgets year after year; they just have to demonstrate that provincially they enjoyed a record far superior than either party when it came to financial reliability and fiscal management. The NDP had the opportunity to show that they were indeed the ones able to deliver real change: they were new, fresh, young, eager, and able. Instead, Mulcair and the party let the promise and possibility slip through their fingers. They were careless, incompetent, and arrogant. True, there was a new face leading a revitalized Liberal party, but the name attached was old, familiar and, for some, held a lot of baggage. Though the Liberal promises were many, large and seemingly daring, they were often too big, too unrealistic. As well, many of the faces are not that young and were, in fact, the faces of the vile, scandalous past that drove the Liberals from office for ten years replaced by something even worse, a sinister cabal of cold-blooded, vengeful, mean-spirited men and women with hearts that beat only at the mention of oil, tax cuts and power and, perhaps, a bit more energetically when suppressing votes or working with Big Business in devising ways to supress the wages of Canadian workers.

I applaud the NDP’s efforts in reaching out to its supporters in hopes of understanding what went wrong. I don’t think it is all that difficult. The post mortem conference call in which NDP supporters were allowed the opportunity to vent was useful but not long enough to allow more to be heard. Nevertheless, for the most part, comments were excellent, suggestions sound and criticisms constructive. However, I thought Mulcair and the NDP strategists got off lightly for a campaign that, to my eyes, appeared directionless, unfocused, stale, and suffering from a dearth of ideas. Canadians really are a polite, tolerant bunch. I listened with incredulity as some, thankfully few, even praised the leadership and strategists for a well-run campaign! A couple, if I recall correctly, suggested, as did Mulcair, that the niqab issue was what had defeated the NDP. I don’t believe that is true. Perhaps in part but there were other factures at play. I don’t recall anyone taking Mulcair to task for his stand. They should not.

I do wish the NDP had listened more to its core members and not forgotten the end goal in politics is to make a difference for the better and for all members of society even if it means playing second fiddle. Many of the things that make Canada great were a result of the NDP simply holding the balance of power. It’s what one does with what one has that matters. Power for the sake of power is meaningless and often harmful. One need only look towards the anti-democratic Harper gang to realize that.

Of course I would love to see the NDP win, but not at any price. When Mulcair stood up against Harper’s anti-terrorist bill, C-51, I was extremely proud of him and the NDP. That is what matters. Harper squandered any possibility of a legacy that would make one proud. Yes, dollars and cents do matter but so do decency, honesty and personal integrity, openness and a willingness to work for all Canadians rather than special interests. Harper held power for ten years most of it abusive. He had a majority. Instead of offering governance, he offered something that was darker, viler, and more anti-democratic than anyone could have imagined. Not only did he refuse to listen to the public and opposition members, he refused to extend a hand of reconciliation and comfort to the meanest and poorest among us. He actually set about to govern for special interests, to settle scores, and ram through legislation with omnibus bills hoping no one would notice. His party broke election laws and he and his gang targeted all critics as enemies sometimes questioning their integrity and patriotism. Power wasn’t enough. He hungered to wield his majority as if it were a club. He stifled debate, smeared journalists, silenced government scientists, labeled those on welfare potential fraudsters, and suggested environmentalists were terrorists. Harper’s governance, his abuse of power is nothing for which one should aspire.

The NDP, I believe, and I don’t like saying any of this, forgot what it was about and sought, instead, to become what no one wanted: another centrist party. They wanted to win more than they wanted to make a difference so they ignored much of what made the NDP great and a party of profound accomplishment and possibility. It had dropped the ball and became irrelevant in doing so. Trudeau and the Liberals were ready and willing to risk. That they were successful could simply be attributed to a leader that was young, good-looking, and willing even if apparently naïve. But it was more than that. The Liberals had a youthful team of keen, smart people who knew exactly what they wanted and where they were going and how to get it. They refused to be plagued by self-doubt. In contrast, the NDP appeared tired and moribund; it had run out of ideas and took the polls far too seriously and the young Trudeau not seriously enough. The party capitulated, moving to the centre allowing the Liberals to fill the void. You don’t win by turning your back on what you are or by selling out; you may realize your goal but you also lose what you are by doing so.

When Harper refused to debate on the major networks against the Liberals and the Greens, the NDP capitulation was absolute. Instead of calling Harper’s bluff, the NDP caved crowing they were only interested in debating Harper. Mulcair blew an opportunity to introduce himself to millions and to pointedly demonstrate by the empty spot reserved for Harper the straw man who had governed the nation for close to ten years. He had dismissed the third party, misjudged the real threat. That was a blunder of monumental stupidity and surrender. What made it even more painful is that Mulcair going into the first debate seemed a sure bet based on his outstanding achievements in the House only to prove himself a bumbling suitor on his first outing. Trudeau walked away with the prize that night. Mulcair improved but never really recovered. Trudeau outshone him at every turn it seemed.

What had become of the firebrand, that great performer in the House?

Oh how I wanted the NDP to win but early into the campaign I, as so many others, saw it slipping away with disbelief and grief. They did not dwell upon the things that mattered to me: a truly universal and unified healthcare across the country, pharmacare, housing for the homeless, more opportunities for the young to get an education, more work on infrastructure, more assistance for First Nations peoples, more help for the elderly, more protection for workers. The NDP attempted to pass themselves off as something they were not. They came across as opportunists at worst or lost at best. They made a promise that was unnecessary and ludicrous given these hard times. The Liberals took the big leap. The NDP could have, should have. They saw a hill and shaped it into a mountain. They thought it was a winner but it was insurmountable.

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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.

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They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin

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STEPHEN HARPER, AN EARLY VOTE, AND VETERANS BETRAYED – AGAIN

What difference does it make to the dead…whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy? – Mohandas Gandhi

To hate and fear is to be psychologically ill…it is, in fact, the consuming illness of our time. – H. A. Overstreet

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. – Marcus Aurelius

 

Frank A. Pelaschuk

The Dirty Game

I have asked this before, but I’ll ask it again: Do Stephen Harper and his gang, or any politician for that matter, believe in anything but the main chance? What do they value? Is it money only, power, recognition, admiration? Do any really believe the reasons they offer for seeking office: “I want to serve the public” or “I wish to contribute or repay my debt to society”? Or is everything that makes them what they are as politicians solely dependent upon the gains made and losses counted, but never acknowledged: What’s in it for me?

We have an NDP MP crossing the floor to the Liberals, leaving federal for provincial politics. We have Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party in Alberta and eight other members abandoning their party, their supporters and, presumably, their principles to join the governing Progressive Conservative Party of Jim Prentice. Said Smith of two defectors earlier: They had been “seduced by the perks of power”.

Do those words now make her blush; do they trouble her at all?

It’s been said that politics is a dirty game. I’ve even said it. Perhaps it is. But if dirty, it’s the players, and those who stand apathetically in the sidelines allowing it to happen that make it so. I do not believe it is politics that corrupts or even power but proximity, the corruption is already there, in the individual. For some, it doesn’t take much of a nudge for the worm of greed and lust and power to succeed at its work.

To me, Harper and his gang and all Conservatives of their stripe, are the foulest of all. They hold no loyalty, not even to what they say or promise or believe; what they discard today as not useful to their goals, they will reclaim tomorrow; in truth, they hold no belief but that of self-interest; they bend with every breeze and label it “flexibility”. Yesterday the Harper gang was the Reform party. Then they were the Alliance party. Then they swallowed the Progressive Conservative party with the assist of PC leader and backstabbing opportunist, Peter MacKay. They then spat out the progressives to become what they are today, the party of shifting shapes and constant betrayals.

They know exactly what they want but not who they are because they are hollow men and women, petty and vindictive self-aggrandizing opportunists. They believe the worst of everyone because they judge all others by themselves and their own behaviour. I will not trust them because I cannot trust them. The only thing I believe of them is that they are dishonest, deceitful, anti-democratic, hypocritical and amoral; some of the members more so than others but amoral nevertheless for all too often they defend the indefensible. I do not believe them because they themselves do not believe in anything except what can be bought, stolen or bartered, but only and always to their own advantage. For them, everything has a price, even principles and people; the first are easily sold, the second cheaply bought.

So, when Harper vows he will hold to his own election date of October 19th this year, I don’t believe him; he has never served the full term preferring to end it early when the gods and the gullible easily bought seem to favour him. Why not, particularly today, when he is apparently closing the gap between the Liberals and their youthful, inexperienced leader and appears to have a few things working in his favour. As we know, Harper is averse to taking real risks; a lot can happen between now and October. As it is, there are some issues that might give him pause. There is Dean del Mastro to be sentenced for election fraud sometime this month. Conservatives already lost one staffer to jail, Michael Sona, for his role in the robocalls scandal. Fortunately for Harper and in spite of the sentencing judge’s voicing of strong reservations in his belief that Sona had acted alone and that he, the judge, did not wholly trust the testimony of the chief witness against the young campaign worker, and despite calls from observers, politicians, and legal experts, Yves Côté, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, has decided not to pursue the matter. When Pierre Poilievre introduced the so-called Fair Elections Act, critics had predicted the move of Côté’s office, one of the outcomes of the Act, would lead to political interference. Once the investigative arm of Elections Canada, which is answerable to Parliament, the move of the Commissioner’s office to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutors, which is answerable to the government, fuelled these suspicions. Whether that was at play or not in his decision is not known and doesn’t matter. Perception does. Sona, a young staffer of 23 at the time, is held solely responsible and takes the fall. It stretches one’s credulity to believe that one so young would be given that much independence to act alone and in such a criminal manner without the knowledge of senior members of the Conservative Party. As if Sona and del Mastro were not headaches enough, there is the matter of Mike Duffy’s trial set to begin on April 17 of this year. This, too, might make Harper pause. If he waits for the October date, it could be he believes whatever fallout from the trial there is will not be enough to harm him. That wait could actually help him. However, if he believes the risks are too great and goes early, and I believe he will, it might lead to speculation that he’s worried and trying to forestall any resultant damage to himself and the party. As it stands right now, no one really knows what “good ole’ Duff” has in store for Harper though Duffy did make plenty of noise suggesting fireworks were in the offing. In the past, when staffers and MPs proved themselves no longer useful and, worse, liabilities, Harper has shown no compunction about throwing them under the huge, vindictive, Conservative bus. Doubtlessly still smarting from being abandoned and then denounced after proving himself as a fundraiser and merciless loyalist Conservative hack who personally and with gleeful gusto saw to the political annihilation of Stephane Dion, Duffy may yet prove to be the Harper’s most dangerous foe.

But the signs that he will go for an early election are there despite the various scandals, the mishandling of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, the resignations of Peter Penashue, called by Harper the best MP Labrador ever had, for illegally accepting corporate donations during the 2011 campaign and of Bev Oda, forger of a government document, for padding her expense claims, twice. Harper staunchly defended both and, when he did finally accept their resignations, concocted an aura of virtue around their resignations. The thing is, they were caught cheating; there was no choice in their resignations and certainly no honour. But, in Harper’s world, not everyone pays a price for ethical lapses: the truth is made false, the false truth.

There is a whole list of offenses, enumerated in other posts, among them Shelly Glover and James Bezan, initially refusing to submit full reports of expenses during the 2011 campaign. Glover figured in another story in early 2014 when she was caught on camera attending a fundraiser in which were gathered members of the community who could possibly gain from decisions made by her ministry. When she saw the CTV camera, her alarmed reaction was, “What are they doing here?” Leona Aglukkaq did the same thing, sneaking through the back door of a hotel to attend a fundraiser. You can judge for yourself how proud they are of their actions. But ask yourself this: Was their behaviour ethical? Do they deserve to be re-elected?

So, how is it that Harper can be rising in the polls, when he and his group have persistently and insistently worked at corrupting our electoral process and debased our democracy? I’m not yet talking about the so-called Fair Elections Act but of the robocalls and the “in-out” schemes, the first attempting to keep voters from the polls and the second allowing for illegal transfers of money between various levels of the Conservative party which allowed it to spend more and make greater claims from Elections Canada (or, more precisely, from the Canadian taxpayers’ wallet). That netted the Conservatives a $52,000 fine; however, the plea bargain spared four upper echelon members of the party from facing the courts and perhaps jail time.

But these many attempts to subvert the electoral process, are mere child’s play to what Pierre Poilievre, the oleaginous minister of democratic reform, has managed to do with his rejigging of the Elections Act, now referred to (ironically by some) as the Fair Elections Act, that, along with the addition of thirty newly minted gerrymandered ridings, rigs the election game to almost guarantee the Conservative desired outcome: another win, perhaps even another majority.

Incredibly, this new Bill, C-23, seems to have raised barely a whimper of protest or outrage from the public. Why not? Not only does this bill threaten to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, it also denies the public the possibility of ever knowing of future Conservative (or even Liberal or NDP when and if they form governments) attempts at end runs around election laws. With the Commissioner of Canada Elections now in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutors, the government of the day could intervene if one of its members was under investigation. Who would know? Too, names of those under investigation for suspected voter fraud cannot be made public without the consent of the party investigated. Initially, when first introduced, the Act denied the Chief Elections Officer the right to speak of investigations or any matter; its role was to be reduced merely to notifying voters where to vote. That was changed after much howling from critics and then the public. We have already seen how Conservatives have behaved when it comes to flaunting the rules; with almost no possibility of prosecution or even exposure, there is no incentive (except one’s pride in one’s personal integrity) for Conservatives to behave any differently than they have in past elections. Nothing’s changed except for the voters; it will be harder to do so.

So how is it possible Conservatives are faring as well as they are? Have they forgotten Conservative Brad Butt standing in the House and pantomiming a concocted story in support of Bill C-23? That’s where he misled the House, that is, he lied in Parliament, about witnessing with his own two lying eyes how opposition workers scooped up Voter Information cards to be used by voters to pose as voters to whom the cards were addressed. It was shameful, dishonest. It was a fraud! And yet nothing, absolutely nothing happened to Brad Butt except to earn the scorn and contempt of those who understood exactly what he had done, the contempt he and his party displayed for the opposition and the House and democracy itself. Instead of condemning his vile, lying behaviour, Harper and his gang defended Butt.

So, a year-and-a-half of scandal, resignations, charges of corruption, rigging votes, and bribing voters with shiny trinkets, and still leading the NDP, the Official Opposition. I ask again: How can that be?

Luck, War, Terrorism, Fear

Apparently a good bout of luck and a forgetful and fearful populace helps. ISIS came along instilling fear in the West with horrific images of beheadings and mass slaughter easily lending public support for Harper’s joining Britain, France, the United States, and other nations in the war against terrorism. This one act, joining the war, immediately gave Harper the opportunity to stoke the flames of fear by raising the spectre of terrorism at home with the forewarning Canadians were under threat and that his swift (?), if conditional, response in joining the war was clear evidence that his government, under his leadership, with his experience, was the only government capable of ensuring the safety of Canada and Canadians. In other words: In time of difficulty (Harper’s gang would say “crisis”), you don’t swap horses midstream.

While some may have been sceptical about the danger posed to Canadians and not shy in voicing it, Harper must have been sitting on God’s lap for shortly after that dire warning, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was murdered, run down in a St. Jean Sur Richelieu parking lot and another seriously injured. The driver was later killed. Without having all the information, Harper and gang were already talking up terrorism in the House. Two days later, Corporal Nathan Cirillo was gunned down at the Canadian National War Memorial on Parliament Hill. Again, the killer was shot down, this time in the Centre Block of the parliament building. It appeared Harper’s warning had become reality; terrorists had struck at the heart of Canada.

But had they?

While it made for compelling news, high drama of live television coverage, as the second event unfolded on Parliament Hill, despite the wild speculations of two or more gunmen, it quickly became apparent this attack, too, was the act of a lone individual. In spite of the media’s hype and the Harper gang’s best efforts, it quickly became evident that both the murders of Vincent and Cirillo were not acts of terrorism but rather individual acts of desperation by deluded, extremely angry, deeply troubled, self-destructive young men using ISIS as justification for their mad, violent actions. That they had visited ISIS websites seeking and perhaps finding vindication for their rage and self-pity, apparently was enough for the Harper gang to label them terrorists rather than what they really were, troubled, suicidal losers. These were not terrorists; there was nothing in their acts ennobling of suggestive of a cause except the cause of sad losers in desperate straits. They were not fighting for some ideal or religious cause but rather out of vengeance for real or imagined wrongs done to them by a society they believed to have turned its back on them. For Harper and the gang, and those Canadians who live in constant fear of terrorists, aliens, and UFOs, none of this matters; unlike as in the past, when attempts to sneak online spying legislation into omnibus bills led to howls of protest, Harper and gang could now safely, with very little blowback, pass new laws granting CSIS greater power to spy on Canadians without any meaningful oversight. Not to worry, trust us says Harper’s Minister of Public Safety, Steven Blaney, Canadians will be safer than ever. But how can we believe a government that has attempted to subvert the electoral process and has made changes to the Elections Act that rigs the game in their favour? We can’t. Bill C-44 will allow CSIS the ability to operate outside of Canada and break laws on foreign soil and even spy on allies. It also grants protection to anonymous informants and promises harsh punishment to anyone revealing the identity of CSIS spies including those who break laws. Those protesting these moves as a threat to civil liberties themselves have reason to fear but less from terrorists than from their own government which, in the past, showed little reluctant in calling critics of omnibus bills sympathizers to pornographers and environmentalists as “radicals”, stooges to foreign interests. To Harper and the gang, all critics are the enemy, their patriotism suspect. Nothing works like fear and paranoia, especially when fuelled by one’s own government that has recently enjoined citizens to report “suspicious” behaviour. I can just imagine many people settling scores but offering up names under the protection of anonymity.

Recently, in an appearance on CTV’s Question Period with Robert Fife, Blaney uttered this trite homily: “There is no liberty without security.” At the end of this post you can read Benjamin Franklin’s response to that. It was written over 200 years ago. Blaney is wrong, wrong, and wrong again; There is no security without liberty. Unfortunately, the massacre in Paris, France on January 7th, of two policemen, a maintenance worker, and nine cartoonists and journalists working for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and a third police officer the next day, evidently in response to the magazine’s work including satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad has given Harper another chance to fire the flames of fear. Harper, not one to shrink from seizing any opportunity, however tragic, has attempted to draw a link, tenuous at best, between this event and what Canadians have experienced at home by inserting the sad reminders of the shootings in Sidney, Nova Scotia of three RCMP members, the hit-and-run murder of Patrice Vincent in St. Jean Sur Richelieu, Quebec, and the murder of Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa, Ontario. It says more about Harper than it does terrorism. But, if it works for him and we drink from the poisoned cup of fear, well, that says as much about us, doesn’t it?

In light of the brutal killings in Paris, Harper’s comments on free expression and the free press and democracy the following day are really hollow and self-serving; this is the fellow who refuses, unless it advances his own personal agenda, to meet with the press preferring to vilify them, refuses to answer direct questions in the House from opposition members preferring that he and all his members stick to prescribed scripts. He is the same leader whose members have labelled critics “radicals”, of siding with pornographers, and smeared Pat Stogran, Veterans Ombudsman, Kevin Page, ex-Parliamentary Budget Officer, and threatened diplomat Richard Colvin with jail time if he filed documents of involvement of abuses of Afghani prisoners before an investigative committee. He has proven himself leader of one of the most anti-media, secretive, anti-democratic governments we have ever endured.

So, why is he rising in the polls?

It is likely more than Canada’s entry into the war against terrorism and the deaths of two fine men that gives Harper the boost he presently enjoys. He ended 2014 with a budget surplus and immediately went on a spending spree, purchasing a military transport plane, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster, at double the purchase price, bringing to five the number of C-17s and making a commitment to procure four F-35 stealth fighters. When asked about the exorbitant transport cost, Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson huffed, puffed and squirmed without giving any reasonable response. But the promise of purchasing the F-35s is even more troubling. Canadians may recall that Harper and Peter MacKay, then minister of defence, during the 2011 election campaign had promised to purchase 65 of them quoting a figure of $9 billion. When challenged on that by Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Office, the Conservatives embarked on another campaign, that to discredit the PBO questioning his credentials and character by suggesting he was biased and politicizing his office. It wasn’t so; Harper and gang had done that. When Page’s term ran out, Harper, in a snit of pettiness, refused to renew his contract. Small, vindictive, and extremely telling. With the purchase of the four F-35s, revealed through a leaked Pentagon document, critics suggest that the move is not only rushed but also meant to force future governments into buying more F-35s because the commitment of even only four jets will require costly training and extremely expensive replacement infrastructure to house them. Harper and MacKay finally prevail if only in a small way – at first – but do so deviously and at who knows what final cost. We certainly can’t rely on the figures offered by this regime. By opening this gate and forcing Canadians into a commitment that may prove very, very costly, Harper and the gang has once again proven themselves deceitful and far from the best money managers since the world began by their own accounting. But where are the voices of anger, the moans of scepticism or the sneers of derision from the public? During the 2011 campaign, the public was either sleeping, sold a bill of goods or both when they re-elected the Harper gang. Were they still sleeping when this came out? But, what the hell, it’s only money and not theirs. Too, he now had a surplus thanks in part to service cuts and to the 35,000 public servants thrown out of work (presumably all the same “deadwood” Tony Clement of the $50 million slush fund spoke of last year) and Veterans Affairs which returned to the treasury $1.13 billion of unspent money allocated for veterans.

Tricks And Treats

But Harper was not done with doling out the dough. In October, he announced he would introduce Income Splitting albeit in a reduced form than originally promised, which will add another $2000 to the wallets of the wealthy, or about 15% of households. That this will do absolutely nothing for single parents, low-income earners and those abandoned homeless dying on our streets evidently doesn’t trouble this gang. The marginalized don’t vote.

It seems Conservatives really do live by the motto, “Those that have deserve more”. Even so, those families with children will still benefit, though it’s also true single parents and single income families will not do quite as well as those who really don’t need the extra $2000. As of January 1st, child benefits will go up by $60 a month. Unfortunately, especially for those single parents who had better not get all excited and start spending it on things they may need today, none of that money will come to them any time soon. No, the money is to be held in trust until July. Then, all eligible families will receive a cheque of $420 for each child. Just in case you have failed to notice, that wad of money will arrive just three months before the October 19th election date (that is, if Harper keeps to that date, which I don’t really expect, but he may surprise us all). Now the cynic in me says that Harper is sending several messages to those with children. One of them is that he hopes they will remember that big payday when they vote. He also hopes they will know to whom they should be grateful. He is also saying that he knows these folks can be bought easily. That’s probably true. He’s proven it in the past. He’s also saying they’re stupid. He’s proven that in the past, too; how many times is he allowed to poke them in the eye before they wake up and say they’ve had enough?

So, there he is, still in office with only 40% of the vote of those who voted. And how many of those who could vote actually did vote? Well, 61%. That means 39% were too lazy, too apathetic or too self-absorbed to make the effort. I’ve heard it too many times, “My vote doesn’t count” as justification for not voting. Are they imbeciles? That line of reasoning suggests they are. They are certainly irresponsible and as citizens contemptible.

Still, Harper was not through with handing out money by the end of 2014. He also promised $500 million to vaccinate children in the developing world. This is part of the $3.5 billion announcement Harper made in May towards maternal and child health care. I’m all for helping vaccinate children and promoting maternal and child health. But why not spend some of it at home when more children than ever go hungry? Why not spend more for the homeless, for the First Nations communities without proper housing and no potable water? Why is it that Canadian children go hungry every day, single mothers are forced to hold two or three jobs to feed their children and endure misery and debt because their wages are substandard, the minimum wages totally inadequate. In the past few days, people have been found frozen to death on our streets. For politicians, especially those Conservatives who believe generosity should only extend to those who already have, the excellent November 29, 2014 piece by Global TV’s 16X9 on child poverty, Generation Poor, should be required viewing. It would not hurt for every Canadian to watch it either and that it be compelled viewing in universities if not all levels of education. Perhaps there might be less judgement and more action when it comes to the poor. Twenty-five years ago, all political party’s agreed to bring an end to child poverty by the year 2000. Nothing has happened, more children than ever live in poverty. Perhaps it’s time we held accountable the Liberals and Conservatives and demand explanations for just one question: Why has poverty become an accepted fact of life? Nothing can excuse the public’s apathy. Even less can we excuse our governments continued indifference and inaction that create and ensure conditions whereby people die on our streets, children go hungry, and single parents struggle, without any assistance, to juggle jobs, family and simply existing. Let Harper explain to that thirty-two year old single mother on the program why all opportunities have been closed for her as she holds two jobs and cares for her family and is on the verge of despair. Or perhaps Harper can explain to that 16 year old, pregnant, scrabbling for food, homeless, so desperate to escape her home life she chose the street and without job prospects, why she should hope. What has Harper done for these people here, in his own country? He treats the meanest and saddest of us as fraudsters and conspires against them punishing them even more with punitive mandatory victim surcharges should they appear before the courts stealing to feed their addictions or alcoholism or for stealing a pair of socks. Ontario Court Justice David Paciocco struck down this legislation as unconstitutional, “so grossly disproportionate that it would outrage the standards of decency” (Andrew Seymour, Ottawa Citizen, July 31, 2014). Yes, by all means help others elsewhere as much as we can but not at the expense of our own people and certainly not to promote Harper’s image on the global stage.

But, if Harper is truly intent on helping, on making a contribution with money for third world nations, perhaps he should consider removing some of the restrictions on how the money will be used to best serve those in need. Those organizations that promote family planning, including the right to abortion, will receive no Canadian assistance. So victims of rape and child war brides will be forced to endure a lifetime of poverty, illness and misery or risk losing all assistance and likely death should they opt for abortion. If this is generosity, it is a cruel, inhumane, and perverse generosity that is not reflective of Canadians but a bigoted, blind and immoral Conservative parochialism that denies choice and makes generosity conditional with the imposition of Harper’s hypocritical “family values”. It is blackmail and it is indecent and degrades the humanity of the gift. What is accomplished by forcing a child to a lifetime of misery? For Harper and his mean-spirited group of hypocrites it is this: Accept our morality, take our help, and shut up. Nice folks all right. Still, he’s doing better in the polls than he has for some time.

Angry Vets And Fantino’s Spurious Announcement

But are gains in the polls, a war supported by the public and public acquiescence to anti-terrorist legislation, the introduction of income splitting, increased child benefits, and offering to support an NDP motion to compensate victims of the drug, Thalidomide, for long term needs along with hoping to avoid fallout from the Mike Duffy trial sufficient reasons for me to believe we will have an early election? Perhaps.

Perhaps it has something to do with the tumbling oil prices. For years, at the risk of ignoring all else, he has been fixated on the oil industry, the Keystone XL pipeline in particular, as the sole economic engine of the country. The apparent collapse of the industry and with it jobs and his hopes has him showing signs of bending, oh, ever so slightly, but bending nevertheless, when, recently, he spoke to CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, albeit still quibbling, attempting to redefine such words as “levy” and “tax” with the rather commonplace “price” voicing his willingness to set a cost for greenhouse emissions. He is still against “job-killing” carbon taxes but is prepared to consider the Alberta model which “imposes a price on emissions for companies that don’t meet energy-efficiency targets. Those companies can also pay that money into a clean-energy research fund” (CBC post, Dec. 17th, 2014). Said Harper the equivocator, “It’s not a levy, it’s a price.” Well, a rose by any other name…. This is the man who, in early December of last year, said, “Under the current circumstances of the oil and gas sector, it would be crazy, it would be crazy, economic policy to do unilateral penalties on that sector.” So, when is it sound policy? Evidently not when the price of oil and gas were soaring. This man is incapable of backing down, of admitting he might be wrong, that perhaps others, scientists, educators, you and I might know more than he. Even when and if he retreats, and he hasn’t retreated on the carbon issue, it’s always to his own story, his facts and his reality.

Still, it was a concession, if even only a tiny one.

But then, too, after a year of snubbing Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario, there was Harper making another concession agreeing finally to meet her in Toronto just before he was to attend the Junior Hockey game between Canada and Russia playing for the gold. In doing so, he silenced Wynne, perhaps appeased a few Ontarians and mended a few fences. When Canada won the gold medal and his day came to an end, he must have experienced something akin to a glow of a warm hug that made him believe he was magic, he was golden! because, earlier that day, before Wynne and the gold medal, he had made a move that almost all Canadians, particularly military veterans have been calling for: he had demoted Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino. If Harper felt golden, if he believed he still had the magic touch, should we begrudge him?

Well, yes.

What took him so long? Why had he continued to support a man who had managed over eighteen months in the ministry to offend all veterans, serving military men and women (no doubt they could see the bleak future awaiting them and were second-guessing their choice of career) and almost every Canadian except the Harper gang who stood with him through thick and thin until thin and thick became too much. Even so, because of Fantino’s popularity in his riding and with his large Italian base and because he draws in a large amount of cash to the party of money, he still ended up with a soft landing returning to the post of Associate Minister of National Defence. Hardly a rejection. As NDP leader Thomas Mulcair rightly put it, it was a “half-hearted firing of an incompetent minister.” It was under Fantino that the New Veterans Charter changed the way injured soldiers were compensated. Instead of receiving pensions for life, as they expected and deserve, they have been dismissed with lump sum payments, which, on the average, will mean less compensation over a lifetime than for those who fought in previous wars. The move is offensive and dismissive: “Here’s your goddamn money. Now shut up and get out of sight.” And it was under Fantino, as most will recall, that nine veterans offices were closed. These were essential regional offices for members suffering from physical and mental disabilities. The Harper response: Need help? Drive to the nearest Service Canada centre. Too far? Too bad. Stressed, desperate, suicidal? You can always call Service Canada. Don’t do anything foolish while your waiting. Sorry about that.

For those who may have seen it on television, none can possibly forget the wife of a soldier suffering PTSD attempting to get answers and help for her husband as she pursued a fleeing Fantino down a corridor. Nor can anyone forget his snubbing of elderly vets by showing up late and then snapping and wagging a finger at a veteran for daring to call him up on it, “This finger-pointing stuff doesn’t work with me”. Clearly it didn’t. Fantino was as stone, immovable and as cold. Even then, he wasn’t done with poking the eyes of veterans.

Just days before the Auditor General’s fall report was to be released, a report expected to be damning in its criticism of the Harper gang’s shameful treatment of veterans, the Harper gang in the persons of Fantino and Rob Nicholson, Minister of National Defence, announced an additional $200 million for mental health programs for vets. The money was to be distributed over a six-year period. Surely this was good news. Surely this would lead to kiss and make up with veterans sucked back into the Conservative fold. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. The thing is, at it’s best, the announcement was misleading. At it’s worst, it was a scam, a good show with only part of the story, a photo-op that was mostly spin, no cotton but a lot of wool pulled over our eyes. Yes, there was to be $200 million for mental health programs. Unfortunately, it was to be distributed over a period slightly longer than the six years announced. The money would be spent over a period of 50 years! Now, when one considers this massive attempt to mislead veterans coupled with the $1.13 billion set aside for vets clawed back and returned to the public purse because unspent, it would be surprising to no one, except, perhaps Harper, if our veterans believed they had once again been victims of yet another betrayal. This, too, in the wake of Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s fall report which was, indeed, highly critical of the Harper regime’s treatment of veterans.

As outlined in the report, Veterans Affairs was not providing veterans the timely access to mental health services. The applications forms for disability benefits are extremely difficult to fill and some vets have had to wait up to eight months before they receive benefits. Many veterans have been forced to endure long delays in obtaining medical and service records and extensive wait times for mental health assessments, some waiting 3 to 7 years. Too, of the claims applied for, there is a denial rate of 24%. All of these suggest that Veterans Affairs is acting more like an insurance company than a much needed and deserved service. Interestingly enough, when the report was released, Fantino was nowhere in sight. He was in Italy attending a commemorative service. When asked about his absence in the House, his response was this: “In my world, ‘Lest we forget’ means something.” Does one laugh or cry over such a response? Were the vets amused? Is this how a government should treat the men and women who are asked to put their lives on the line when called upon?

Now there was a time when Conservatives might have been able to rely on the vote of military men and women, particularly veterans who, for some reason, appeared to blindly believe that Conservatives really did care for them. Well, it is true the Harper gang likes the pomp and circumstance of war, quite willing to spend on monuments and the pageantry of display as if lavish exhibitions of remembrance of wars past and present equals respect, honour or love. It doesn’t. It is almost as if this regime believes military service is its own reward and enough reward. It isn’t. It’s by one’s actions that we know a man, know were his values and his sympathies lie; it is easy to throw up monuments to heroes and mouth the words that make us feel good for a day and then wash one’s hands saying, “We’ve done our bit, here’s your tribute.” It is all show, of course, and rings hollow.

We have men and women killing themselves. One wants to weep. When will it end? In the Afghan war, between 2002 and 2014, 138 soldiers died in combat; in that same time span, more than 160 soldiers have killed themselves. The policies of the Harper government may well have contributed to many of those deaths. How many more will feel compelled to take their lives because the government they trusted has failed them? Harper’s choice of Julian Fantino as veterans affairs minister, was clearly a bad choice. What made it worse was Harper’s refusal to acknowledge he had made a mistake. Not only was Fantino incompetent, he was abrasive and offensive. He not only alienated veterans, those very folks most likely to support Conservatives, he managed to offend almost every Canadian. He, and the whole Harper gang, have disgraced themselves with their treatment of our veterans and of our serving men and women as if they were distant, unacknowledged, unloved, black sheep members of the family. I know if I was young and contemplating a career in the forces, I would seriously reconsider. Why should anyone be prepared to sacrifice everything, family, friends, even their lives, for a nation led by a regime that treats veterans as broken goods of diminished worth? Little wonder we see military men and women, mostly elderly, but not all, angered, in shocked disbelief, that they should be so ill-served by their own country.

Will the vets be happy with Harper’s replacement? Probably not. True, O’Toole had seen military service, but too many veterans and viewers have seen him when he was parliamentary secretary to the industry minister on CBC’s Power and Politics and CTV’s Question Period and other media bravely defending Fantino and the government’s handling of Veterans Affairs. It’s the same ol’ same ol’. A softer image is window dressing, nothing more, unless the message changes.

Even so, the Harper gang is doing better in the polls than they should, than they deserve.

How can that be?

Are you, those who vote for Harper and his gang, really that desperate for that shiny tax break, too blind to not see beyond the spin, to indifferent to the pain and needs of those without homes, without food, without hope? Are you that fearful, that cold, that self-absorbed, that greedy, that cheaply purchased? Or is it just something even simpler than that?

Do you really not care?

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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.

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They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin

 

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