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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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POLITICS, POLITICIANS AND THE PUBLIC: THE ENDLESS SHAMELESS DANCE

Politics, n.pl. A means of livelihood affected by the more degraded portion of our classes. – n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

Politician, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers from the disadvantage of being alive. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Frank A. Pelaschuk

They are politicians. They are of a type often found in groups of the like minded holding sordid ambitions involving recognition, influence, expense accounts and lifelong pensions, who, in seeking office, hold firmly (often unjustifiably) to the belief they are the right person for the job which, unfortunately, is dependent on the votes of the fickle, greedy, gullible, and ignorant which they quickly establish, often successfully, by currying favour with offers of promises that are largely extravagant and unrealistic and unrealizable in the full knowledge the promises cannot be met, will not be met and were never meant to be met.

The individual, and the group to which he belongs, while not necessarily needing but always mindful of the advantages of such should the need arise, will, in his quest for office, often add insurance that will almost certainly garner a few extra votes: they will pander to the worst in us, exploiting our fears and our biases: scapegoats are of particular use for electioneering purposes whereas honesty, integrity, loyalty, truthfulness, respect, openness, transparency, and the ability to experience shame have little place and hold little value and are certainly not requirements of the job but must, nevertheless, be loudly acknowledged as virtues deeply ingrained to appease those for whom such things matter. In truth, however noble these qualities may seem and however loudly the public may proclaim its desire that those who run for office possess most if not all these traits, it would be best if they were left at the door. Conscience and decency are obstacles and will bode no good for the individual or the party for the truth is this: the voter rarely cares about scruples unless in some way he feels personally negatively affected. Occasionally, in this mixture, aberrations can be detected and seem almost a fault because such rarities: there are some who actually are good, decent, able, intelligent, non-partisan, and worthy of the office they seek. They do not always last. Megan Leslie and Peter Stoffer of the NDP were such. Unfortunately, too many are not of the calibre of Leslie or Stoffer possessing none of their talents, work ethic and certainly none of their decency. I am thinking in particular of those Harper Conservatives who, if capable, were and are more noted for their naked ambition, shrillness, spitefulness, vindictiveness, partisanship, aversion to truth, and just plain unlikablity. They are sewer dwellers revelling in muck.

The crew of the last regime, many still MPs if only as official opposition, were and are exemplars of this group as were the Liberals of the past until chastened by their ouster from first to third place recovering after years of exile for one too many excesses involving scandal and corruption. Regardless of the party, once having gained power, the winning group, with shovelfuls of hypocrisy, invariably quickly loses interest in the voter and the public in general breaking many of the promises with demands the public lower expectations their attention now focused on the special interests groups that contributed greatly to their victory. The victorious party invariably offers familiar excuses pointing fingers at the previous government for having left the cupboard bare or in some otherwise fashion imposed constraints that make it impossible for them to fulfill all they promised. In this regard, the Liberals have good cause for such claims, Harper overspending in procurement of planes and ships, often at double cost, and cutting taxes for the wealthy and, shortly before the election, renewing contracts of bureaucrats long before their terms expired. The victor will repeatedly remind voters how bad it was with the previous regime. It’s doubtful anyone will quickly forget. Meanwhile, those suddenly out of power, let’s call them losers, armed with equal amounts of hypocrisy and with a proclivity for revisionism regarding their behaviour, seek every opportunity to punish the new government with demands and expectations they themselves had refused to honour in the firm conviction that the opposition’s first duty is to oppose, obstruct and undermine rather than work with the government of the day. None of this can be unexpected, even if disheartening, for much of the Tory gang with the same level of meanness, spite and hypocrisy still hold office, ugly people with ugly mindsets. They are doing exactly what the previous Liberal governments have done when they, too, were booted out of office.

Once in power, the party, whether Liberal, as it is today, or vile Conservatives as it had been for close to ten years, will always offer small demonstrations of making efforts to honour their promises; these are usually largely insignificant measures with, perhaps, one or two major initiatives loudly trumped to suggest great importance, movement and impact. The public always embraces them initially and with great enthusiasm – This is what we voted for! – acting surprised and pleased, just as the governing party intends. Eventually, as noted above, rather quickly in fact, the ruling party will move on preoccupied with fulfilling its own agenda including paying off debts to major donors and backers with various forms of favourable legislation, government jobs, business contracts or various forms of public recognition often with a cost borne by the citizenry. The voter thus dismissed and unheeded until once again called upon to partner in the same squalid political dance four or five years down the road, will quietly step aside and observe a sad truth no other party demonstrated more clearly, loudly and viciously than Harper’s Conservatives: the primary duty and function of any governing party, seemingly, is to survive. Towards that end, the governing party, having obtained power, must work diligently at clinging to it for as long as possible by any means possible even at the expense of democracy exacting vengeance against opponents and critics while also resorting to deceiving the public, lying to the public, cheating the public, and changing laws and electoral processes to their advantage. Who can blame them: What use is power if it cannot be wielded and abused?

But a politician is nothing without an audience and is even less without his voters just as a dancer is without his partner. He is fully aware it is not often the dull, decent honest man or woman or the visionary with true ideas, ability, and integrity or even the steady, reliable truthful plodder who occasionally gets things done who are most rewarded but rather the hustler, the smooth talker with bold, flashy promises, and the panderer who appeals to our greed, vanity, fears and ignorance. He knows it doesn’t take much: push a button, any button, the selfish button, the bigoted button, the religious button, the patriotic button, the ignorance button, the stupid button, the fear button but, for god sakes, never, never, press the wake up button, the thinking button: that’s the road to certain ruin. The politician knows that voters will always, always, claim to want honest, decent, truthful individuals running for office and he knows voters will always, always, aver they want change, real change, but he also knows it’s just hot air, knows that many of them, enough to allow him and his group to lead and mislead a nation over the years, are primarily concerned with one thing: What’s in it for me? So he tells them, fingers crossed, offering the familiar uplifting homilies and vague outrageously extravagant undertakings as if new, never before promised or heard the player and played partners in deceit and self-deception. It’s all about winning and losing, of suasion and deceit, of pandering and being bought. It’s about power, image and perception. This is politics. Governance apparently has been relegated an ancillary role.

SHALL WE DANCE?

Well, that is politics as played by Harper and his gang who introduced Canadians to a soulless era of authority and dogma rather than guidance and wisdom.

Harper as prime minister is gone but his husk haunts the Hill. We have a new government. Under Trudeau, we may take a step back to kinder, gentler and possibly even effective governance, but it is likely the Harper rot and methods will win the day in the end. You can see it in the official opposition, many of the same people behaving in the same way slavering and impatient eager to witness if not bring about the downfall of the Liberals.

And the Liberals will fall. All parties and all leaders, however good and effective, fail over time and often for no good reason than the urge for change without real change. When that happens it will be the Conservatives once again back in power. Federally, it’s always been so.

Yes, after a long hiatus, the Liberals are back. They and the other parties made big promises for the middle class, more benefits, more money in their wallets, less taxes. Unfortunately, none were interested in focusing on poverty, homelessness, health, education, assistance for single parents holding down two, three jobs though, it is true, there was a nod towards First Nations members. It was all about the middle class, the marginalized marginalized even more. That was surprising from the NDP, less so from the Liberals and expected from the Conservatives. So, yes, there are new, fresh faces and among them, a few familiar battle-scarred veterans to offer comfort of wisdom and experience but it’s the same old ground, the same beneficiaries and the same losers at the bottom. Occasionally, a bone is thrown to the losers. It didn’t matter, Trudeau, won the voters. Sunny days, sunny ways.

After Harper, any change would seem a seismic shift and for the better. But is it?

Within weeks of the election, Stephen Harper renewed the contracts of many of his bureaucratic appointees. Some of these renewals were made well in advance of the expiration date and were clearly intended to tie Trudeau’s hands with Harper appointees in senior positions. This was a filthy, mean-spirited move by a scheming prime minister who likely suspected his days were numbered but still wanted to have some say in government or at least to make things difficult for the Liberals. Trudeau, denied the opportunity to put his own people in the bureaucracy, wrote letters to the appointees requesting they step aside and reapply for the positions. It’s not clear how many have obliged (if any) if only for the appearance of decency and to eliminate the suspicion of cronyism run amok. Thanks to Harper, the taxpayer faces the real possibility of paying millions to buy out these bureaucrats if Trudeau goes that route. He will be held to blame, the Conservatives will see to that, and possibly accused of cronyism with his replacements. For some, that appears to be acceptable, a few journalist stooges admiringly labelling the Harper manoeuvre a creative use of his authority. Creative it certainly was, but vile and abusive as well. Had the Liberals or the NDP done such, one can imagine the howls of outrage from those hypocrites. The thing is, Trudeau might have been better served by first reviewing the appointees to determine for himself if they were indeed all Harper hacks or whether they were capable men and women able to work with his regime in a non-partisan manner. They should not be disqualified simply because they are Harper appointees but because they are incompetent or clearly too partisan to do their jobs effectively on behalf of the Liberal government. If the lesson was rough on Trudeau, hopefully he has learned from it and works to bring an end to that kind of shabby, cheap chicanery. There is nothing admirable in what Harper did. He was clever, yes, but devious, shameless and contemptible as well revealing as much about his character as many of his other questionable past actions and deserving of nothing but contempt. While I do not support the Liberals, I do not believe Justin Trudeau is of the same dirty cloth nor do I believe his caucus of the same snarling, partisan, mean-spirited, parochial vacuity so openly exhibited by such Conservative stalwarts as Michelle Rempel, Pierre Poilievre, Jason Kenney, Peter van Loan, Kellie Leitch, and those booted out of office Chris Alexander, Dean Del Mastro, Paul Calandra etc. In that respect thus far, the differences are obvious and hopeful.

But limited. A few days from this writing, the PBO declared the Liberal plan for the middle class doesn’t add up and will reduce revenue by $8.9 billion over six years. Increasing taxes for the top 10% will only lead them to scurrying about to find and take advantage of other loopholes available to them. That’s a fail particularly when those at the bottom are completely shut out. And it’s an even more egregious fail when the middle class is defined as those earning between $45 and $90 thousand.

THE PARTNERS

Trudeau began well, however, fulfilling a commitment to form a cabinet with equal numbers of men and women. That was not mere tokenism for these are all people from all walks of life with real ability and accomplishments certainly suggesting a promise of great things to come. And he started moving on some of his promises, many of them small but not without significance to those affected. He has moved to look at pardons and the costs for applying for them which, under Harper had tripled. Trudeau’s minster of justice and attorney general of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould, a First Nations member, will look towards reducing the time one can apply for pardons from five to ten years to three to five years. She will also be working with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to set up an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women as well looking into physician-assisted death. She is extremely impressive.

Too, the government will repeal CRA audits of charities, which, under Harper, targeted “left” leaning organizations for being “too political” such as Oxfam for wanting to end poverty. As well, in another great move, Trudeau has set out to depoliticize the public service by looking at ways to keep appointments of the clerk of the Privy Council at a remove from the Prime Minister’s Office. Small but promising moves. Unfortunately, so soon into the mandate, there are clouds that threaten the Trudeau honeymoon. The Liberals are at risk of falling into old habits. Politics has a way of doing that to even the best.

To all his minsters, Trudeau wrote “Mandate” letters outlining many of his goals, desires and expectations. I recommend all Canadians read them and take him at his word when he says, “I expect Canadians to hold us accountable for delivering these commitments…. We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government” (http://pm.gc.ca/eng/ministerial-mandate-letters).

Trudeau has chosen very good men and women with his appointments but there are also glitches that are not insignificant.

His pick of Jane Philpott as Minister of Health who very early in her term appears well on the road to mending fences with provincial leaders in working for an accord on pharmacare, the sharing of patient information between doctors, long-term care, and funding, is a particularly good choice. Hopefully, there will be a time we see increased funding, less reliance on the private sector, and standardized treatment and care between provinces and a consistent, long term plan for training of nurses and doctors and the end of health and education being used as political footballs often resulting in cuts and demands for doing more with less. But I will not count on that happening soon.

We have the impressive Catherine McKenna who, within days of her appointment as Minister of Environment and Climate Change, was in Paris playing a significant role during the climate change summit. This is a formidable and talented member who managed to unseat another formidable and talented member of parliament, NDP’s Paul Dewar.

Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, seems another extremely good choice. Young, bright, energetic, she has the task of overseeing the reform of the Senate. The committee of prominent Canadians formed under her guidance, however, suffers from the inclusion of Heather Bishop, a talented folksinger with a great voice, who engages in hypnotherapy, a form of “new-age” quackery popular in the ’70s discredited by reputable scientific bodies. Hers is a very odd choice for a government proclaiming itself determined to make policy that is evidence-based. Monsef will be the minister looking at electoral reform. This was a major promise by Trudeau when he declared last year’s election the last first-past-the-post. But, if he opts for the ranking system, well, nothing will have changed; it’s another rigging of the game.

Another possible good choice, which has yet to be demonstrated, is Harjit Singh Sajjan, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Armed Forces with combat experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan, as Minister of Defence. The Liberals had vowed to pull Canadian planes from the ISIS mission in Iraq without saying when while at the same time hinting at involvement in other ways. However, their dithering on the role they would play in the war against ISIS in the future has likely been the reason for Canada’s exclusion from the summit by allies meeting in Paris to determine how to best combat ISIS. Sajjan claims this is not a snub. Really? This is not a good beginning for the defence minister nor does it indicate a government fully embraced by the US-led coalition combating ISIS.

A FEW GOOD STEPS, SOME STUMBLES

John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, is an old experienced hand for the Liberals. He is responsible for overseeing Canada’s efforts to resettle refugees into Canada. Unfortunately, it has not gone as smoothly or as well as the Liberals had hoped and promised. When campaigning, they had vowed to introduce 25,000 refugees to Canada by year’s end in just a little over a two-month period. There were sceptics saying it could not be done and there was the NDP making a much lower but clearly more realistic commitment of bring in 10,000 during the same time frame. Even so, the Liberals insisted they were up to the task. The tally by year’s end turned out to be 6,000. The difficulty is not the number of Syrians taken in; any number is better than none. The difficulty is the extravagance of the promise in the first place and that so many wanted to believe it possible they were willing to overlook that the Liberals had over promised and failed to deliver and likely knew they would fail. It didn’t matter. People preferred to believe in hype and hope especially when presented by a young and sincere Liberal leader with a famous patronym. What made it even worse, in spite of repeated delays in meeting the challenge, the Liberals vowed to bring in thousands more by the end of 2016. The first was a foolish promise, the timeline impossible. It was a promise that could not be met or kept observers warned yet Trudeau and the Liberals went ahead ignoring them trusting in the generosity and compassion of Canadians to forgive and forget because the promise was made with the “best” intentions. That was something Harper did all too often. Thus far, Canadians appear willing to give the Liberals a pass excusing the delay as a result of an enthusiastic grand gesture. But should the Liberals get off that lightly? Does anyone really enjoy being played?

Still, the Liberals know how to score points at little cost. One of which was to make a quick decision on the so-called Monument to Liberty to honour the victims of Communism. Not only would this monstrosity be moved and downsized, the government would reduce by half Ottawa’s contribution towards it. These are good moves but not good enough. The project should have been scrapped. At the very least, it should be renamed: The Monument for Victims of Tyranny perhaps. It is an offensive travesty that memorializes the victims of one tyranny over the victims of others as if mass murder were more tolerable when committed by free enterprisers in the name of Nazism, fascism, despotism, or capitalism. The Harper gang offered strong support for this eyesore with donated crown land and taxpayer monies evidently holding to the belief victims of any –ism do not deserve equal consideration. By not insisting that the project be scrapped or renamed, the Liberals appear to agree. That is disappointing.

So, how new and fresh are the Liberals when one looks at the party rather than the young, bright faces? Overpromising, as with the Syrian refugees, may strike some as quibbling. People were brought in; lives were saved and transformed for the better. But it was the cynicism behind the promise that disturbs me. It’s not new; this kind of tugging at the heartstrings has been practiced probably since politics began.

In fact, there is not much that’s new though what we now have is much, much better than what we had with Harper.

Nearing the end of the campaigning, the Liberals removed the Liberal national campaign co-chair, Dan Gagnier, one-time lobbyist for TransCanada following reports of him offering detailed advice via email on how to lobby a minority government led by Trudeau. Looked like Trudeau was on top of it. Only, it appears, the energy sector had nothing to worry about. Janet Annesley, former executive from Shell and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers was hired as chief of staff for Jim Carr, Minister for Natural Resources. As well, Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance, one-time executive chair of one of Canada’s largest human resources companies, Morneau Shepell, hired Sharan Kaur, former communications expert for TransCanada, as senior special assistant.

And then we have Lawrence MacAulay, agricultural minister, hiring as his chief of staff, Mary Jean McFall, who ran for the liberals. This is an extremely problematic promotion because of the very real possibility of conflict of interests. Her family owns one of the largest agricultural businesses in the egg-laying and egg-grading sector. She was a former Egg Farmers of Ontario board member. Friends in high places, debts being repaid with jobs in high governmental positions – this is the old-style cronyism practiced for decades by the Conservatives and the Liberals.

Is this new? Is this fresh? Is this better? These should worry Canadians who recall the many Liberal scandals of the past. And the Liberals are just into their fourth month!

It will be interesting how much Liberal support TransCanada will garner in light of recent reports the energy giant is suing the US government for shutting down the XL Keystone project. Under NAFTA and other trade deals, notably the EU-Canada deal, CETA (Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement), and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), companies can sue democratically elected governments for passing laws Big Business does not like leaving taxpayers footing the costly bills if decisions favour business. American businesses have been very successful in going after Canada for laws they claimed interfered with their ability to earn profits (or profiteering). Such rights, referred to as ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement), handicap governments even in protecting citizens from harm in matters of health and in protecting the environment. A few years back we saw this at work when Canada attempted to remove a gasoline additive deemed harmful and banned in the states. Faced with a lawsuit, Canada cravenly backed down. But they had done that earlier when they became signatory to Chapter 11 of NAFTA and surrendered Canadian sovereignty to American Big Business interests. But it works both ways, as well. Canada, under Harper and now Trudeau, has consistently opposed labelling origin of country in meat products. The US insisted on that until pressured by Canada and hoping to close the TPP, it scrapped that requirement. For them, it’s a small concession when the benefits are huge. This is unconscionable when Harper insisted on this and is still unconscionable under Trudeau. When people die from tainted meat as they did a few years back, there will be no way to trace meat products to their source. Profit over lives. How can Canadians trust any leader who places the health of Big Business over the health of consumers?

This is a big deal and should worry all Canadians. In truth, it should worry all citizens of signatory states. CETA, which has yet to be ratified, apparently poses some problems for Europeans who are less prone than Canadian governments to roll over as they did for the Americans with NAFTA and TPP. Americans have no doubt who will benefit more from TPP for they call this the Made In America deal. As of this writing, Canada and European Union Officials are in secret talks to rewrite a clause that protects businesses from “arbitrary” government legislation, i.e., anything Big Business doesn’t like. Chrystia Freeland, international trade minister, refuses to call the talk “negotiations”. What is it then? Clearly the EU has concerns about sovereignty. Perhaps they have seen what has happened to Canada under NAFTA. Canada has been at the losing end of innumerable lawsuits. Is that what Europeans want? Was that what Canadians signed for when they voted for Mulroney? The deals now pending, CETA and TPP, promise to be much worse and more effective in eroding Canadian sovereignty. Canadians do not know what the deals offer, what is being surrendered and lost. Trudeau’s mandate to Freeland was to quickly close these deals. I suspect she will and to Canada’s detriment. Trade deals cloaked in secrecy were the hallmark of the Harper era. Look at the trade deal with China locking Canada in for thirty years. One certainty is this: Canadian sovereignty is imperiled to corporate interests. The plutocrats, which Freeland warned against in her book, Plutocrats: the Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, will have won if Trudeau and Freeland stand by and allow the takeover by the corporate elite. So secretive is TPP that those involved in the negotiations risk arrest if they leak any part of the agreement. Is this for what Canadians voted? The Conservatives have begun the process of replacing our democracy with a corporatocracy. Will Trudeau continue on that path? Signing these deals without removing the ISDS clauses will be an absolute betrayal of Canadian interests to Big Business and the Plutocrats. What does Trudeau or Freeland who literally wrote the book on the dangers we face under a plutocracy have to say?

Finally, on the issue of trade, we have to question Trudeau’s commitment to human rights when he insisted days after a mass execution of political prisoners the $15 billion military equipment Arms deal with Saudi Arabia would go ahead as planned. It’s business as usual and 3,000 Canadian jobs saved at the price of human rights and lives lost in a deal with one of the world’s biggest violators of human rights. Supporters of the highly secretive deal have said Canadians and the Saudis share the same values. Really? Do Canadians really share values that deny women the right to drive, opt for abortion or to vote? Do we share values that call for public stoning of women and hanging of men for adultery? Harper, who signed the deal, refused to track human rights violations in Saudi Arabia as required by Canada’s own trade policies before any deal can go ahead. The Liberals initially refused to release the report and then relented promising the public an edited version of human rights in Saudi Arabia. Why are Canadians kept in the dark regarding this deal? What did Harper and now Trudeau want to keep from us? What guarantees has Canada that the Saudis will not use the equipment against its own people? It has in the past.

So what really differentiates Trudeau from Harper? You either believe human rights matter or you don’t. Harper believed more in business and profit. What about Trudeau? Canada is the only member of NATO to refuse to sign the Arms Trade Treaty to control and regulate the global arms trade. As a result, Canada, mostly because of the Conservative pro-business at any cost attitude, has sided itself with South Sudan, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Saudi Arabia all of whom visit gross human rights indignities upon their own people. Under Harper, Canada has even opposed having guns stamped identifying origins of manufacture. That is not something to be proud of. Yet the Liberals will go ahead with the deal. As with the Conservatives, it all boils down to money and those you prefer to sleep with. While the Conservatives, foul as they were, never disguised where their interests lay, the Liberals offer hand wringing lip service saying they are locked into the deal. That’s hypocrisy. What is even more laughable if not so tragic is Tony Clement who for years worked with one of the most secretive and mean-spirited governments in Canada now calling on the Liberals to release in full the report on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. https://www.opencanada.org/features/ten-facts-about-canadas-arms-deal-with-saudi-arabia/

Trudeau better? Maybe. But relative to what? It’s easy to say “Yes,” after Harper. I see a few things I like. As of yet, I’m uncertain they are enough. I see a few too many reminders of the bad old days of the Sponsorship era.

Politics, you gotta love it. Better yet, we gotta change it.

***

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

 

 

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?

***

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 nor safety. Benjamin Franklin

 

STEPHEN HARPER AND JUSTIN TRUDEAU: TWEEDLEDUM AND TWEEDLEDEE AT WAR

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

    Agreed to have a battle;

For Tweedledum said Tweedledee

    Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

Just then flew down a monstrous crow,

    As black as a tar-barrel;

Which frightened both the heroes so,

    They quite forgot their quarrel

                        – Lewis Carroll

I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others. – Thomas Jefferson

Our inequality materializes our upper classes, vulgarizes our middle class, brutalizes our lower class. – Mathew Arnold

Frank A. Pelaschuk

THE SLAUGHTER

For some, Justin Trudeau’s sudden and totally surprising decision to expel the 32 liberal senators from the federal liberal caucus at the end of January, following months after his announcement that MPs would post expense travel and hospitality claims, was the clearest evidence to them that he had the true makings of a leader: he could keep a secret, make decisions, and act upon them in a ruthless fashion. Others are not so sure. It was true the move took almost everyone by surprise, not only because of its brutal suddenness, but also because of its sweeping implication of indictment, judgement and verdict: none of the senators affected, most of them liberal loyalists to the core, were consulted, and all were treated with equal shabbiness without regard to stature, status, and quality. Repudiated by Trudeau and the liberal party, tainted, Trudeau’s denials withstanding, apparently for drinking from the same public well poisoned by conservative Harper appointees Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and liberal Mac Harb, the senators were no longer welcome. Stunned, bloodied, tarred and abandoned by their own, still calling themselves liberals, they must have wondered what had hit them.

What was the message intended in that massive expulsion? Was it a George W. Bush moment, Trudeau saying, “I’m the decider” and flexing his muscles lest there be any doubt? Or was the move, as Trudeau suggests, the first step towards eliminating partisanship and returning the chamber to the days of sober second thought. Don’t bet on it. Some have offered that the move was merely a pre-emptive strike, in anticipation of the senate report to be released by the auditor general, Michael Ferguson, Trudeau’s desperate effort to dissociate himself and the liberal party from the seemingly endless Senate scandal in expectation that revelations would show that skimming from the public trough is not merely the purview of the three Harper appointees and the lone liberal prodigal. I would bet on that. Almost certainly, even if inadvertently, the move has effectively stigmatized the reputations of all liberal senators in the eyes of the public. What does Trudeau know or anticipate? It was neither right nor just but it was dam clever. The ball was thrown in Harper’s court. The buzz was immediate: “bombshell’ (National Post), “tactical masterstroke” (The Province). Trudeau was indeed the decider, the boss, the man in control. To Andrew Coyne, Trudeau “is the liberal party” (National Post, February 23, 2014). Some claimed it to be the most significant change to the senate since its inception. Bold it was; Trudeau had achieved the buzz he craved and needed; he had proven himself one tough bastard. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, the only party that has consistently sought the abolition of the Senate, had apparently been caught flatfooted. The gadflies, those lovers of eye candy over substance, were in love with Trudeau all over again, only more so; his ratings soared. He had done something exceptional; they just didn’t know what or its significance, but it looked and sounded good.

THE SPIN

Smearing and sacrificing others for one’s own ambition is not new in politics. Harper has made an art of such behaviour throwing scores of individuals under buses, some deserving, some not: if you’re not for them, you’re the enemy. Trudeau has not reached that stage; nevertheless, in aping Harper in the manner with which he dispatched the senators, he demonstrated that liberals and conservatives are both sides of the same coin, each as self-serving and as single-minded in the pursuit of raw power as the other: get in the way, you’re toast. If it’s legal, if it’s effective, if it’s headlines and boosts one’s image, anything goes. This is war; there are always casualties.

From the day he decided to run and was elected liberal leader, it has always been Trudeau’s party. While there had been a few naysayers within and without, liberal fortunes almost immediately reached new, dizzying heights: few had doubts this was the new saviour of the Party even though it appeared he had little to offer except charm, youth and inexperience; for the public, this apparently is enough. Few had doubts those soft Tory supporters, disenchanted with the Harper gang, would eventually drift back to the liberal fold. Thus the cult of personality, with the name of another Trudeau, had been reborn. Still, there were those niggling, irritating, doubters, the pragmatists who wanted only to know what he offered that was new and different, what were his party’s policies, what new ideas he brought, and where he stands on certain issues: abortion, assisted suicide, proportional representation, unions, public servants, healthcare, power sharing between federal and provincial governments?

Policies? Ideas? Well, they can wait. Enjoy the moment, let the world love him.

For liberals, any glimmer of appearing to be open, transparent, and honest, is seized upon and brandished with the smugness of righteousness. When that glimmer happens to be from Trudeau, that sparkling darling of the media and the public, as when he “reported” on himself for a “mistake” in claiming $840 to which he was not entitled, the liberals went into paroxysm of self-congratulatory ecstasy. He had put himself on the line, revealed that he, too, was capable of weakness, of making mistakes, was close to being just like them; it was risky; what if others saw him as just another politico taking the high road only because he was about to be caught or exposed. Not to worry; the risk paid off, Trudeau was a hero, a virtuous, self-effacing young man in the dirty world of politics. He was willing to suffer the slings for admitting to making expense claims he should not have made. Oh, how everyone loved this, especially the liberals; what further proof of integrity was needed?

But how had this happened in the first place? As reported by CBC’s Leslie MacKinnon, these were “errors” “inadvertently” made when he used “one of his parliamentary travel points to pay for a trip to a paid speaking engagement in 2012…” The mistake was “due to a ‘human error’ by his staff”. How could that be when Trudeau had, in June of 2013, stated unequivocally he had not used parliamentary resources for his public speaking events? As Mulcair pointed out, in that same CBC report, “he’s stolen a page from Stephen Harper’s playbook – deny, deny, deny – until you get caught and then you apologize” (CBC, Leslie MacKinnon, Jan. 16, 2014). Errors. Inadvertence. We’ve heard it all before from Harper and his crew time and again when caught in a lie or breaking the rules: “it’s an opposition smear campaign”; “it never happened”;  “I made a mistake”; “someone on my staff messed up”. No one owns anything, least of all his or her own wrongs.

I have never held any hope for better from Harper and have not been disappointed. There was just something about him I have never liked and it had more to do than with him being a conservative, intransigent and relentlessly partisan, though these were and are more than reasons enough for me to detest him; it was the folks with whom he surrounded himself, Pierre Poilievre the architect of the odious so-called Fair Elections Act meant to rig votes and disenfranchise tens of thousands to the advantage of the conservatives, and Dean del Mastro, Shelly Glover, Vic Toews, Rob Nicholson, Peter MacKay, Joe Oliver, Rob Nicholson, and on and on. Vicious, partisan, self-serving, mean-spirited and, more than a few, truly ethically challenged.

We all know about Harper’s loud denunciations of the liberals for their lack of openness and transparency when they held power and we know of his avowals to do better if elected. Well we have learned over the years that those were just words, his fingers crossed and his tongue forked. Instead of openness and transparency, we have in Harper and his regime the most secretive, deceitful, vicious, corrupt and anti-democratic government in recent memory. Most shocking is not that he and his conservative crew had early on shown signs of holding the electoral and democratic processes in contempt, but that they have actively and systematically acted on that contempt without any appreciable drop in their core base of support: the “in-out” scam; robocalls, illegal campaign claims, illegal corporate donations, all attempts to subvert the electoral process; had the new Bill, C-23, been in effect, it is doubtful we would have learned of these. But even all that is not enough for the conservatives. Devoid of shame, decency and credibility, in the full, proud awareness of their own vile corruptness and clearly content to spread their poison, Harper, Poilievre and the rest of these hypocritical, anti-democratic monsters, not content with the gerrymandered extra seats they will gain with the redrawn boundaries have, with the recent, offensively misnamed Fair Elections Act, set out to completely rig the game in their favour, striping Elections Canada of the right to investigate campaigning fraud and inform the public.  Still, even that is not enough for them. Having eliminated as acceptable IDs the election information card and vouching, that is, declarations by others that you are who you and the card say you are, in place for decades, conservative Brad Butt, to buttress the justification for doing so, made the claim that he had seen campaign workers pick up voter cards discarded by recipients in an apartment building. These cards, he said, were to be handed over to other people who would then be vouched for at a polling booth. There he was, standing up in the House offering, while miming the actions of those nefarious workers that would have done the Gong Show proud, a vivid description of what he, personally, had witnessed. The implication was clear, based on that one sighting, voter fraud was rampant and he had seen it with his own two crooked eyes. The thing is, it was all a lie. Bogus. A fabrication. An untruth. Fiction. Later, in the House, by his own admission, he stated he had witnessed no such thing. He said he had “misspoke”, he had been “mistaken”. Misspoke! Mistaken! About what he had publicly and loudly claimed to have personally witnessed with his own lying eyes? Butt’s ludicrous but damaging story may have changed but not my opinion of him; to me, he will always be a lying horse’s ass. If it’s not a staffer’s fault, and it usually is with conservatives, it’s a “mistake”. But this was no error. It was a deliberate attempt to deceive and mislead in order to bolster conservative claims of widespread voter fraud as justification for the changes to the Elections Act. Come hell or high water, the conservatives would disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, those least likely to vote for them. When asked in the house about the figures regarding voter fraud, Harper could give no concrete answer to the amount saying that Elections Canada, the very body he intends to muzzle and deprive of investigative powers, could give the numbers. The conservatives just know, they have this gut feeling, this thing Stephen Colbert called “truthiness”, that the poor, the elderly, those on the margins are cheats, liars, fraudsters. They never, ever look into their own befouled nest. Bill C-23 will be the real Harper legacy for future generations: it is a template of vileness and corruption to be admired and emulated by like-minded politico scum. Deceitful, dishonest, detestable! For conservatives, all that is beside the point; to them, all that matters is that we believe they are economic wizards. They promise to erase the debt and have a surplus expected to be of about $10 billion just in time for the 2015 election. And they will, off the backs of 19,000 public servant jobs and public service retirees, with closures of Veterans’ offices across the country, by withholding $3.1 billion from the DND (to be paid back later by future generations), by slashing services and ignoring the infrastructure. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Economic wizards? Yes, economic with the truth, economic with the facts, economic in ethics and integrity.

THE SEARCH

On most things, we know where Harper’s conservatives stand and for whom (not you and I). We know they are self-serving, venal and absolutely ruthless; theirs has been a quest for POWER and, having achieved it, keeping it, by any means. We know all critics are viewed, not just with suspicion, but also as enemies. We know Harper’s ambition has been to exterminate the liberal party. There is nothing admirable or noble in any of this though one would not know this by the strength of core conservative support.

But where does Trudeau stand? Where are the liberal ideals, vision, and policy? Referencing Jack Layton more than once, Trudeau talks of hope. Hope is not enough. Where is the beef?

Ask that of any of his supporters. Oh some might speak of his promise to legalize marijuana and the liberal wish to legalize assisted suicide, but most would simply blink before the lights went out. They don’t know because Trudeau himself doesn’t appear to know or, if he does, he’s keeping it to himself. Even his stand on assisted suicide is uncertain; it seems to be the position of liberal members rather than of Trudeau who, according to reports, had left the convention during the vote.

Blinded by the brilliance of his smile, supporters might have also become deaf to the emptiness of his offerings. To quote Gertrude Stein, “There’s no there there.” Stein was referring to her home in Oakland, California, which had been razed and, to all intents, no longer existed for her. I believe Trudeau is a decent man, but that is it: as of yet, there is no there there. Harper and his crew, on the other hand, have lots of substance, but it’s all in the form of meanness, spite, vindictiveness, and self-serving venality. No, nothing admirable about them.

Perhaps, in time, Trudeau will prove there is more to him than I believe; as he stands today, there’s nothing that suggests he should be the next prime minster any more than Harper should be now. I bear no grudge for Trudeau, he seems a likable fellow, but I do not see the maturity and depth one should expect, nay, demand, of a leader. Anyone who goes for a cheap laugh, as he did on a Quebec program with the referencing of the troubles in the Ukraine, with the loss of many lives, tying it to the Russian hockey game at the Olympics, needs to grow up. Now I do not for a moment believe that was callousness on Trudeau’s part. Rather, it was the callowness of youth and inexperience. Of course, Conservative Chris Alexander and other conservatives were quick to leap on their high horses indignantly harrumphing against Trudeau as clear evidence that, in the world of global politics, he would be a lightweight disaster. Maybe. But this comes from members of a government whose “economic diplomacy” allows them to do business with regimes notorious for human rights violations and where child brides are legal. These are the members whose government will not fund organizations that provide safe abortions for war rape victims and forced child brides. That is the obscenity, not Trudeau’s careless attempt at levity.

To his credit, Trudeau publicly apologized and he did so again to the Ukrainian ambassador. But only after much noise from the other parties though liberal MPs staunchly declared he had no reason to apologize. When he did so, they appeared uneasily subdued. But Trudeau did apologize and that should not be diminished. I can’t image Harper or his thugs doing so as easily. Truth, doubt, self-criticism, self-examination. Useful for the children of light but meaningless for Harper and his gang.

THE STAR

Trudeau promises to be different and better. Last summer, he and the liberals proudly declared that they, MPs and senators, would voluntarily post their travel and hospitality expenses and challenged the other parties to do the same. Supporters immediately trumpeted the move as a seismic leap into openness and transparency. The conservatives accepted the challenge but the NDP dismissed it as a stunt insisting that such postings would be meaningless without verification, which would necessitate the involvement of the auditor general. As it stood, the NDP correctly pointed out, the Trudeau “stunt” allowed MPs and senators to cherry pick what would be declared and revealed. On Monday (Feb 24), when the liberals released their expenses for the period from September to December 31, that’s exactly what was revealed: the NDP had it right, the postings were incomplete and did little to inform the public of the true costs of the travel and hospitality claims. Surprisingly, when the conservative senators posted their claims, they had done better than the liberals; they had included the costs of their spouses. The ex-liberal senators did not saying the information included were based on what MPs currently release. Liberals promise to add spousal costs in the future. Different? Better? Certainly meaningless if meant to demonstrate openness and transparency. But what is revealed should give pause to taxpayers. Do we really need the Senate? What does Trudeau think?

Well, Trudeau had a chance to let us know his thinking on many issues last weekend with the liberal party policy convention. Unfortunately, it got off to a rocky start.

Among the stars at the convention was one on whom Trudeau appears to pin much hope, his senior advisor on foreign policy and defence, retired, much decorated, Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie considered a shoo-in liberal candidate which may disturb some liberals who took Trudeau at his word when he said that nominations for candidates would be open and free. He was to speak at the convention introduced by retired Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, another much respected veteran and one-time liberal senator until he and his colleagues were booted from the liberal caucus. Leslie did get to speak but Dallaire did not do the introduction . He was no longer wanted or needed. Shades of Harper. Is this the road to take with one of Canada’s heroes?

But, if Trudeau and Leslie were expecting an easy ride, the conservatives had a surprise for them. The day before the convention began, the government had leaked documents revealing that star Andrew Leslie might prove a problem for the liberals. Taxpayers had funded his move to a new home within the same city and only a few blocks from his first home for a cost of $72,000. Clearly this was no ordinary move, no ordinary bill. Given the Senate scandal and the public’s sudden concern for how their tax dollars was being spent, the conservatives saw their opportunity and took it and pounced; the NDP joined in. Leslie was just another big spending liberal living high on the public trough. Immediately, the liberals were screaming foul and defending their man. ‘“It’s quite clear that this government is ready to be vicious and ruthless with anyone, even with a Canadian hero, that dares disagree with their ideology and their approach,” Trudeau told reporters…’ (CBC, February 18).

Leslie’s move was not illegal. He considers it a “benefit” for his years of service in the military. Perfectly right, he’s entitled to his entitlements would say those more concerned with the niceties of legalese than the naïve niceties of perception. For them, judgement, optics, even the ethics, of claiming such an entitlement for a move of only a few blocks within the same city at such an exorbitant cost to taxpayers, is of little concern. The liberals, however, see this as a concerted conservative smear campaign. Of course it is. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that there is something unseemly about accepting such largesse at taxpayer expense. Seventy-two thousand dollars. Seven years ago, my wife and I moved from Richmond, B.C. to a small town in Ontario east of Ottawa. We hired a reputable trucking company that estimated the total weight of our goods to be slightly over 8000 lbs. The charge for the move, three months storage, for our flight, and final delivery to our new home came to slightly over $13,200. For an additional $1,100, we also shipped our car. Even accounting for inflation, even taking in that Leslie’s belongings may have exceeded the weight of ours and that there may have been costs that we did not incur, it is difficult to imagine how the $72,000 move in the same town can be justified or excused. Yet the liberals did exactly that. Their surprise and indignation, while clearly political posturing, is misplaced and should lead them to look at Andrew Leslie in a new light. This was the new and better? It was a “benefit” to which he was entitled, he claimed. Maybe so. However, because one is entitled to something doesn’t always make it right that he take it. The hypocrisy all round, from the conservative leak to the sputtering liberal outrage, is breathtaking and unseemly. Everyone seems to be in on the take. What’s in it for me? With what can I get away? One needs only look at the behaviour of conservatives Bev Oda and Peter Penashue, both gone, of Shelly Glover, James Bezan, Deal del Mastro and the three Harper Senate appointees. Offensive as it may be, Leslie’s moving claim was legal at the least.

Leslie and the liberals have their supporters. These charge that going after Leslie on this issue is tantamount to going after our military veterans. Give me a break. We know that’s what conservatives do; this is another matter entirely. Canadians should be more concerned about equity rather than defending what is clearly questionable. There is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law. Unfortunately, Leslie opted to follow the letter rather than the spirit. And that is a shame. Canadians should be asking themselves this: Why are certain military retirees like Leslie entitled to make outrageous moving claims while hundreds of other military personnel are suddenly thrust into bankruptcy selling homes for tens of thousands of dollars less than their value because of forced transfers? These military men and women have been abandoned by the government, the military and the public. It is this that should elicit howls of outrage rather than a rush of support for Leslie.

THE SCAM

Leslie and the liberals have accused the Tories of going after Leslie for purely partisan reasons because of his role as Liberal advisor to Trudeau. No kidding. From day one, Harper’s gang has demonstrated that no vile, dirty trick is too vile or too dirty not to be used including vote rigging, making it easier for wealthy parties (i.e. the conservative party) to make more telephone calls without claiming them as expenses, and striping Elections Canada of the power to investigate campaign fraud and reporting on them. Harper’s thugs, in effect, have entrenched the right to cheat during elections. So why the (gasp) surprise? Even before the convention was to begin, the Toronto Star had released documents outlining Conservative plans to undermine Trudeau. And they did, with Leslie. That is in their nature. For Tories, smearing opponents is a Pavlovian response; to criticize them is to immediately have them slavering and straining against the chain to get at you. In this instance, reprehensible as the tactic is, vile as their motives may be, which have nothing to do with informing Canadians or saving them money but everything to do with discrediting Leslie, the public has every right to know of these expenses. But, we should also be aware of the source and of the reason why it was made public. No one walks away clean on this.

Yet there is something else about Leslie that is just as telling as his claiming of his entitlements. While speaking at the convention, he had suggested that the conservatives had courted him and he had rejected them. But that wasn’t quite the story. According to the oily anti-democratic minister of democratic reform, Poilievre, it was Leslie who had approached them, which Leslie appears to confirm. Surely Trudeau could not have been happy with this turn. On CBC’s The House with Evan Solomon, Trudeau, while claiming there had been “no active courting” of Leslie, had this to say of Leslie: “He had a range of conversations with different people, different political parties and I’m quite pleased that after reflection…he chose to serve his country through the Liberal Party” (CBC, February 22, 2014). Even with something as straight forward as this, those politicos have to spin: where is the pride in being second choice or in having a star candidate who is clearly shopping for the best deal – for himself? Leslie is no kid; one would think he would know which party most represented his philosophical/political leanings. Apparently not. Perhaps he had difficulty in differentiating between conservative and liberal ideology, which is easy enough considering how much they agree on when it comes to the Keystone XL Pipeline and helping themselves to their entitlements. Of course it could just be as simple as this: Leslie sees the liberals as the sure bet for next election, and he’s a winner. Or so the liberals are betting. Political philosophy? That can wait.

Leslie “chose to serve his country through the Liberal Party” Trudeau said. Leslie was a victim of a smear, Trudeau said, because he “dares disagree with their ideology and their approach,” It’s painfully obvious and sad because so patently untrue. This is to what politics has come, a star candidate willing to palm himself off to the highest bidder and the buyer gilding the lily. If a rookie to politics, Leslie sure acts like a pro: he may not know what he believes but he certainly knows what he wants. Crass opportunism has degraded politics to its present state. It has less to do with serving one’s country than serving one’s self. And that is a shame.

We have seen too much of that from the conservatives, those who cherish no belief but the economic Darwinism of capitalism: What’s in it for me? With the certitude of their own superiority, Harper and crew are not prone to doubt or self-examination, why should they accept such from others? They don’t. The liberals show every sign of following the Harper example and that, too, is a shame.

Hope. Different and better. Nice sentiments. Even rumblings of the rebirth of the Just Society invoked by father Pierre Trudeau. Platitudes and public stupidity appear to be the winning combination conservatives rely upon. It appears the Liberals do as well.

Would Trudeau be a better leader than Harper? I don’t know. I know this: turning a blind eye to the failings of one of your own while zeroing in on the same failings in others is nothing but hypocrisy. Too, demonstrating the ability for ruthlessness is not necessarily a quality of leadership but, rather, a demonstration of power fuelled by fear and the desire to impress. That’s a sign of weakness.

I dislike Harper. I don’t like what he and his crew have done. As a leader, I don’t believe he is fit to lead an outhouse brigade. But then, there I go, wrong again. He does. They govern this nation.

I do believe Trudeau a better person than anyone in Harper’s gang, but how much better do you have to be to eclipse bottom-feeders?

We need a change, a real change. Conservatives and liberals rule as if by divine right; they have been the only parties that have governed since Canada became a nation. We need to change how we vote so that the results are truly fair representation. Though Harper and gang would have us believe otherwise, there is more to governance than “economic diplomacy” and rigging the game. Nor is it enough to turn to Justin Trudeau’s liberals with the same platitudes we heard from Harper; liberals are just a softer image of the same message Harper offers. Surely we have had enough of that.

We could do a lot worse than Mulcair and the NDP. We have done. We still are.

***

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

STEPHEN HARPER’S PURSUIT OF IGNORANCE

“All too often, we hear stories of veterans who are ignored or disrespected by government. What a shameful way to treat men and women who risked their lives to defend Canada. This shame will end with the election of a new government.” – Stephen Harper

“Tyrants have not yet discovered any chains that can fetter the mind. – Charles Caleb Colton

 Frank A. Pelaschuk

STEPHEN HARPER’S SEARCH FOR LOVE

No doubt, when he visited Israel for a week this month with his entourage of 208, the trip of a number of them funded by taxpayers, Harper must have thought he had indeed entered the promised land. He was not only warmly welcomed, embraced and loved upon arrival, he was embraced and loved even more lavishly when he spoke in the Israeli Knesset offering his unequivocal, stentorian support of the Jewish state. He lapped it all up, of course, in hopes, perhaps even believing, that this event and his reception might be sufficient to cause those at home to forget the Senate and other scandals. For a week at least, Harper could imagine himself a leader and take comfort in the knowledge he was widely loved – too bad it wasn’t by those at home.

The putative purpose of the trip was to promote commercial interests, which tie in neatly with Harper’s economic agenda, as well as peace and security. From the outset, however, it was clear the trip had more to do with the political fortunes of the conservative party than in improving Canada’s standing in the Middle East as honest broker. And while the trip did show Harper at his best and most shrill in his support of Israel, it was also most telling of his narrowness of vision and of the smallness and pettiness of his nature. Those who support his fixation on the economic agenda will be favourably disposed to Harper and believe the trip to have achieved some measure of success. Others will not be so generously inclined. This is a man, after all, who could not extend a gracious hand towards Canadians in the Arab community by including them in the entourage. And though this was ostensibly a trip to promote Canadian interests, the man who leads this nation is so small, so petty, so partisan, he could not bring himself to include members of the opposition parties; it was the folks who matter most to the fortunes of the conservatives, community and business cronies and friends with deep wallets who were invited as well as family members and conservative MPs and senators. It would be nice to know for how many, and for whom, taxpayers paid the tab and at what cost.

In reality, the trip to Israel was just another way for Harper to cut-and-run again from all his troubles; he had little doubt that his strong support of Israel would earn him glorious public adulation from the Jewish community; perhaps it would be enough to silence his critics or woo back those wavering supporters. It was also the perfect photo-op but not to be discussed, suggested, or even hinted at until conservative Mark Adler inadvertently blew it when, denied a chance to have his picture taken with Harper and other Jewish dignitaries at the Wailing Wall, he was recorded crassly grumbling, “It’s an election…this is a million dollar shot.” Hubris and ambition writ large. “It’s an election”…that about sums the totality of the true meaning of that sojourn for Harper and his gang. Later, Adler would say the media didn’t get the joke. Maybe not, but his voters did.

While many have justly praised Harper for his strong support of Israel, many others were puzzled and as justly disturbed by his failure to voice his own government’s concerns regarding Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land. According to our own Department of Foreign Affairs, Development and Trade, Canada sides with the UN in condemning the settlements. Even so, while in Israel, Harper had remained largely silent on this issue. As in so many other occasions, he had missed an opportunity to demonstrate not just leadership, but near statesmanship. But he’s a midget with a rather grandiose image of himself and his achievements. Instead, he barked, hectored, and wagged a finger brushing off opportunities to openly declare Canada’s position on the illegal settlements. Though he didn’t say it, the suggestion of criticism from others bordered on anti-Semitism. Said he to a question regarding the settlements: “Any attempt to have me, while present in the Middle East, single out the state of Israel for criticism, I will not do.” Why not? How deep and sincere is the friendship that cannot withstand scrutiny and criticism especially when scrutiny and criticism are called for?

But if Harper was hoping for an end to his troubles, with his Israeli trip and the six weeks away from Parliament for the winter break, how he must have suffered, perhaps disturbed to the point of nausea, upon learning about Mark Adler’s simple and single-minded goal of seizing the moment for a photo-op. Surely Harper could have done better. Did he, even if only for a trice, ever reconsider the size of the contingent and its makeup of friends, families, supporters, and moneyed backers? Did he even, if only for a trice, have doubts of the propriety of such a large, partisan gathering? Had he thought and reflected, even if only for a trice, he might have won some over had he displayed a bit, just a bit, of generosity and inclusiveness rather than adhering to shoddy partisan showiness aimed at garnering support at home with his tough talk and apparent trade gains? Generosity from such as Harper and his crew is such a rare commodity that it might have gone a long way towards redeeming the image so many have of him as niggardly, petty, and mean-spirited. But that is not Harper’s nature.

STEPHEN HARPER AND THE ETHICALLY CHALLENGED

Perhaps Harper had a hint that not all would be as hoped for even before he departed with his crew of conservative supporters, toadies, and freeloaders with news of Shelly Glover’s latest foray into challenging ethical boundaries. This is not new territory for Glover. She is the recently minted minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages who, along with James Bezan, had refused to submit a full and accurate account of expenses for the 2011 election campaign which led, Marc Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada, to recommend to Andrew Scheer, Speaker of the House, in May of 2013, that both MPs be suspended until they filed the completed forms.  Unfortunately, the Speaker of the House, in a partisan move that has, of late, the appearances of becoming routine, sat on it for two weeks allowing both MPs to file applications in the Manitoba Queen’s Bench seeking to have the decision set aside. Eventually Glover filed a report that satisfied Elections Canada. The amount of overspending disputed by Glover was $2,267. Shortly thereafter, she was promoted to her present position. Nice.

But, even more troublesome for Harper, and certainly for voters and taxpayers, is the matter of a little fundraiser in Glover’s Winnipeg riding reported by CTV News January 17th of this year. This was held at a private house party attended by Glover and supporters and members of the arts and cultural community who stood to benefit from any favourable decisions she made towards funding their various organizations. Glover’s presence made it a clear breach of conflict-of-interest rules, i.e. a breach of ethics. Glover, apparently surprised and unhappy to see the news team at the doorway, is overheard uttering a surprised, high-pitched whine, “What are they doing here?” offering by way of explanation, sounding much like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she’d only stopped by “briefly”. Outside, Glover told CTV News that the gathering was of long-time Tory friends, though the invitation obtained by CTV clearly shows the invitation was specific to members of the arts/cultural community. The next day, clearly hoping to repair any damage she may have incurred, Glover notified CTV News that she had returned the money raised during the event and had told her riding association to never do anything similar again. She also admitted that some in attendance did deal with her office and that she had, perhaps in hopes of forestalling criticism, written to the Ethics Commissioner of a possible (?) breach of ethics. Shelly Glover had been caught. While she may not agree, it is fortunate that CTV News was there that night. Even though the sum raised was paltry (estimated at $1700), the clear breach of ethics is far from trivial. People who attempt to cheat on the small cannot be, nor should be, trusted with the big things. And Glover has attempted such twice. Which is something the minister of economic development for the north, Leona Aglukkaq, might think about. Again, it was CTV News in a January 28, 2014 article reporting that she was in attendance at a fundraiser held in her honour. As CTV pointed out, those in attendance stand to gain from the decision her ministry makes. In fact, one of the attendees was “Nellie Cournoyea, the former premier of the Northwest Territories and now the chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which received more than $200,000 in funding from Aglukkaq’s department.” She too claims she had done nothing wrong, yet, learning that that CTV News had staked out the hotel where the event was held; she sneaked in through a side entrance.

Perhaps this is the new normal, and another unsurprising low, for the conservatives in Harper’s gang. The only concern I have is how many such illegal fundraising events went unnoticed and unreported.

The truth is, the Tory list of such breaches is long and offensive. Ranging from allegations of resorting to robocalls to subvert the electoral process, to smearing opponents, to Senate scandal and fraudulent expense claims, to stonewalling Kevin Page, the previous Parliamentary Officer, regarding the costs of the F-35s, to stonewalling the present PBO, Jean-Denis Frechette, about the true costs of the savage cuts to the civil service, including the loss of 19,000 jobs, to false claims for spa treatments (that’s conservative MP Eve Adams), to allegations of accepting illegal corporate donations (conservative ex-MP Peter Penashue), to a forged government document and claim for a $16 orange juice (if you guessed ex-MP Bev Oda, buy yourself that same drink), to allegations leading to charges yet to be proven of exceeding election spending and donation limits as well as filing false claims (that’s conservative Dean del Mastro), to…well, you get the picture.

For far too many conservatives, ethics and integrity, honesty and truth, transparency and openness are foreign, perhaps even indecent, concepts. Certainly they have little interest in practicing what they demanded of others when in opposition.

But what can we say of even the best of them in the conservative group, and they are very few, about whom there has not been a whiff of suspicion of scandal or wrongdoing, a man widely and highly regarded by all sides of the House, Chuck Strahl?

His recent resignation as head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) just weeks after it was disclosed that, while still on the payroll of the federal government as head of SIRC, he had, in December of 2013, registered as a lobbyist for Enbridge with the B.C. Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists. One of his duties in SIRC was to oversee CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which routinely spies on Canadians and critics of this government including those activist environmentalists whom conservative Joe Oliver labeled “radicals”. CSIS also solicits “friendly” foreign spy agencies to do so on their behalf (they return the favour by doing the same for other countries). Here was Chuck Strahl, Mr. Clean, legally collecting salaries from a Federal Government agency meant to oversee an agency, which may keep tabs on the critics of the very pipeline company he lobbies for. Smacks of conflict-of-interest to me. The law, however, allows for those holding public office to lobby governments provided they are outside of the Federal Government. It may be legal, ethically it’s dubious. It stinks. It may meet the letter of the law, but does it meet the spirit of the law of the lobbyists’ own code of conduct?

In resigning, Strahl maintained he had done nothing wrong. He’s right. Nevertheless, for some, myself included, there is more demanded than merely doing what one is “legally” permitted. There is the smell test. Strahl should have known better, he should have behaved better. In politics, perception can be everything.

As for the resignation, well, it was a little late and only after a public outcry. From Strahl, I actually expected more; I liked the man. But I should have known better.

Even so, I don’t believe he’s mean. Unlike Harper and the rest of the gang.

STEPHEN HARPER LOOKS FOR WAR – AND FINDS IT

To find out how mean, one has only to look at Chris Alexander, former parliamentary secretary and still bobblehead promoted to Citizen and Immigration. Canada has set out on the dubious path of reducing the amount of health care available to refugee claimants from so-called “safe” countries. These are nations which Harper and gang have deemed to have no record of human rights violations and, because “democratic”, to be unlikely to produce genuine refugees. This is an arbitrary and cruel decision shortsighted, wrong-headed and totally without merit. One needs only look towards Hungary and the Roma experience in which the Roma, a minority, have been routinely persecuted, beaten, and murdered. Those asylum seekers from Hungary and other countries with similar questionable track records when it comes to treating their minorities will now be fast tracked, declared bogus and deported because of the built in bias associated with the label “safe”. The numbers will not be large, but sufficient to feed the ignorance and fear of bigotry of those who oppose immigration. Instead of appealing to the best in the majority of us, Harper and his gang pander to the worse in the least of us, the fear and ignorance that allows for scapegoating and justifies the denial of health care unless their refugee claims are accepted, the denial of a fair hearing, the denial of protection merely because it has been decided no nation with whom Canada trades can possibly commit wrong against its own people: they are democratic countries, they are friends, they are us only not quite as good, just and fair as we Canadians. There cannot be refugees from “safe” countries; they must be bogus, out to bleed dry the generous good will of the Canadian people. This is what Harper means by “economic diplomacy”. This blind adherence to an economic ideology is cruel, unfair and unworkable. While refugees are waiting for the process to carry out, will we really deny treatment to those who need it?

Apparently yes. Let’s look at our veterans and how Harper treats them.

In previous posts, I have written about Harper’s systematic attacks against war veterans. In the October 9th post of last year, I wrote the following but with spelling corrected:

But Harper and gang have not finished with disabled veterans. They are planning to shut down nine Veterans’ Affairs offices across Canada for efficiencies and economic reasons. Unfortunately, this is certainly not something the veterans want or need. In fact, this appears to be an act of aggression fraught with hostility towards them. Now, many of them have over the years needed and developed personal relationships with experienced people who heard them out and knew their stories and understood how to work with them. All that support and trust will suddenly end for many veterans. For the personal contact, some will have to travel long distances to meet with strangers who may not know their stories or their needs. Too bad, says Harper’s gang. Julian Fantino dismisses those concerns saying veterans will receive better service. He says veterans can call by phone, go on the Internet, or drive to the nearest Services Canada outlet to have all their concerns met. You can see by this how much Harper and gang really respect those men and women. For many of these good people, it is the loss of the relationships that will hurt the most when these closures take effect. For some, face-to-face sessions are crucial and, not wishing to dismiss Service Canada employees, no doubt overburdened themselves by Harper cutbacks, how many of them are trained to deal with the needs of disabled veterans?

On January 28th, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino was to meet with several veterans regarding the closures of eight Veterans Affairs Offices slated for this week (one has already closed). Aware he might be late, he cancelled the meeting sending, three MPs in his stead. Then, just before they were to hold a late evening news conference, Fantino made an appearance. By then the veterans were clearly, and rightly, offended, if not downright irritated, by Fantino’s cavalier treatment of them and let him know in no uncertain terms. Apparently insulted when one of the vets had the temerity to upbraid him with a scolding finger for his spectacularly bad performance, Fantino left the room. If he was attempting to win friends, he failed miserably. In fact, his response to their concerns was much as it was last October, and just as bluntly cold. “The decision has been made. We have found alternate accommodations that we feel will adequately address veterans and their needs” (National Post, January 28th, 2014).

Fantino further reiterated the government position the veterans could seek assistance from any of the 600 services Canada offices across the country, they could go online or phone for assistance. Most Canadians, except conservatives MPs it appears, would recognize immediately that there is a problem with all three scenarios and poses definite challenges for suffering vets, especially those afflicted with severe physical and mental disabilities including PTSD. What would the training be for those working at Service Canada? Are veterans seeking and needing immediately and urgent attention expected to wait in line with other users seeking other services at these centres? How will that work? If vets resort to the telephone, how long are they expected to wait on hold when telephoning? What is an acceptable wait time for a person who is contemplating suicide or perhaps who may pose a threat to others? Ten minutes? Thirty? Forty-five minutes? Of course, vets could always use a computer. The fact that many of them may be too old to learn the skills, may be too damaged to use one even if they had the skills, or simply have no desire to use one, preferring, perhaps, to speak to a live, breathing professional, might pose a problem. One vet, at the news conference admitted to computer illiteracy. That was just one individual. He was the same vet who also regaled his audience with a story of contacting a Service Canada centre and being told he could expect to meet with someone in about 48 hours. He then asked what he should do if he was outside with a rope around his neck. There was a lengthy silence at the other end of the line. Finally the Service Canada representative gave the answer: “Call 911.” Now there’s a solution.

And what was the response to all this by the Harper gang? The vets, they suggested, were just dupes of the Public Service Alliance of Canada trying to preserve their jobs. That’s the Harper line; it’s an old one and it smacks of brutal condescension: the vets are too old, too feeble, too troublesome, too stupid, to have the ability to act, think, and fight on their own.

But no one’s laughing except, perhaps, those brutish conservatives who know, just know, they’ll have that balanced budget with even a huge surplus by 2015, just in time for the next election with promises of big, shiny goodies and more tax cuts. When that happens, all this will be forgotten. So they hope; so they believe.

Just think of this: In the last two months, at least eight desperate veterans committed suicide. How many more will be sacrificed to Harper’s agenda?

This is Harper’s great economic strategy. Sacrificing thousands of public service jobs, cutting services across the board, scapegoating veterans, unionists, immigrants and those on welfare. He has silenced our scientists, and the Department of Fisheries has closed seven research libraries across the country to centralize and digitalize materials containing what some have called the most comprehensive collections of data on fisheries and aquatic and nautical sciences. Unfortunately, some scientists expect much of this material to end in the scrap heap. An unidentified prominent research scientist, as reported in the The Tyee, said, “All that intellectual capital is now gone. It’s like a book burning. It’s the destruction of our cultural heritage.  It just makes us poorer as a nation,” (Andrew Nikforuk, December 9th, 2013, The Tyee). This is a move that seems clearly aimed at stifling any research that might conflict with the government’s own agenda regarding economic growth and development. This is a government so intent on achieving its goals of economic growth, balanced budget and tax cuts at all costs and any costs, that it is quite willing to have all of Canada race from the world of light to the darkness of ignorance and barbarism. Anything and anyone can, and will, be sacrificed. As if Canadians, particularly the vets, haven’t sacrificed, and tolerated, enough.

ONE STEPHEN HARPER QUOTE EVERYONE SHOULD KEEP IN MIND

If you can believe Harper in anything, perhaps it might be those words with which I began this post and which bears repeating: “All too often, we hear stories of veterans who are ignored or disrespected by government. What a shameful way to treat men and women who risked their lives to defend Canada. This shame will end with the election of a new government.”

Let’s take him at his word on this.

Harper is no hero. He is a small, petty, fixated individual with limited to no vision. A government without heart is just an insensate machine; it swallows people whole, grinds them to nothingness and then spits them out.

Remember the veterans next election. Remember the indignities and abuses they endured under Harper’s vicious governance.

Remember also those others who have had the rug pulled from under them by Harper and his gang. Think of those whom you may know who have fallen on hard times, who have lost their jobs and are now collecting unemployment checks and are now all looked upon as potential fraudsters. Think of all the homeless who may have died from hunger, cold, illness or from simple indifference and lack of care on our mean streets.

It is not all Harper’s fault, of course not. But he has made it worse. He has made it easier, acceptable, almost de rigueur, for conservative supporters to become just plain mean.

***

To the memory of the great Pete Seeger (May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014) – Now there was a man.

***

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

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

STEPHEN HARPER, ROB FORD AND THE LIMITED VOTER

The same people who can deny others everything are famous for refusing themselves nothing. – Leigh Hunt

Where is there dignity unless there is honesty? – Cicero

Frank A. Pelaschuk

Stephen Harper and his gang believe you are dumb. So does Rob Ford. They believe that your only concerns are bread and butter issues. They believe their assaults on Democracy and the democratic process doesn’t interest you. They believe you are fearful and that the fear must be exploited. They believe you can be bought with cheap promises and shiny gewgaws. The fact that so many of you still support them tells me they are on to something.

The old adage goes like this: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

But what happens when most of the players involved experience nothing of shame, are insensible to outrage, one side contemptuously certain of the venality of the other, believing anyone can be bought with vague promises and pandering appeals to their worst instincts, and the other proving them right, easily dazzled and easily swayed and, once hooked, remain stolid and loyal as dumb oxen, impenetrably blind to light, knowledge and wisdom. Almost nothing will shake them, almost nothing will wake them; they live but are dead upstairs stirred only by the vulgar hijinks of TV reality shows or the latest salacious Miley Cyrus romp. And the coarser it gets, the more aroused they become. Neither side is interested in the ennobling possibility of politics but only in what politics can do for them. For one side, the aphrodisiac is power and influence, for the other, cheaper TVs and more duty-free goods from across the line.

CLONES

To look at both men, Stephen Harper, manicured, stiff, measured, articulate, and apparently publicity shy, and Rob Ford, always in apparent disrepair, loud, coarse, and publicity hungry, it is easy to believe them from different worlds. That is surface and artifice. Politically, they are kindred spirits neither trusting nor respectful of the Democratic process; both believe the worst of us and pander to the worst in us. As politicians, they are successful, each in his own way. Their supporters are many from all walks of life and they are of a kind. They believe themselves underdogs, victims of “special interests”, i.e., unions, the left wing media, the liberal agenda, and distrust almost everything governmental.

These folks, fearful and angry, encouraged from the sidelines, egged on by Harper and Ford conservatives, are going to save the world from itself. How? Less taxes.

Conservative supporters, especially those beloved core supporters, succumb easily, almost eagerly, to cheap, empty promises: promises of less government, less taxes, less crime. They believe the Tory mythology that they, the voters, are under constant danger from crime, lefties and unionists. They are told, and believe, that our justice system is lax and fixed to benefit criminals; that more prisons and harsher sentences will reduce crime; that crime is rising; that those on welfare are leeches; that unions are special interests and unionists are lazy, fat and overpaid; that Oil is ethical; climate change, fear mongering; environmentalists, radicals. They are warned that Conservative opponents side with pedophiles, are soft on crime, and are the enemy. They are told that Big Business is always good, moral and sacred; that corporate tax cuts equal job creation; that well-paid workers threaten business and, therefore, jobs; and that Big Business is the cure for all societal ills. Why shouldn’t they believe it: Everyone knows that Conservatives are the best money managers ever.

Mythology.

DUPES AND STUPES

Still, some folks willingly suspend all credulity. They want the promise of magic and the Snake Oil salesman knows this and he has them. And, because they want to believe, they mistake the unbending resolve, suavity and glibness of Harper for strength, wisdom and knowledge and the vulgarity, tell-it-like-it-is-in-your-face bombast, threatening behaviour, and public outrages of Ford somehow endearing and indicative of a straight shooting, no nonsense type, someone to be trusted, someone just like them, one of the “ordinary” folk. It’s utter rot, of course. And you’re left wondering: What that hell’s wrong with these people? Will they never wake up? There is nothing endearing about thugs who govern without consultation, who govern in secrecy, who subvert democracy and threaten public servants and scientists and mistreat disabled veterans in the way Harper has and there is nothing endearing about thugs behaving like thugs, as Rob Ford and his brother, Doug have, and it is certainly less charming when the “ordinary” citizen claims Ford as his own and turns him into a folk hero. If that is the ordinary citizen, then god help us all.

But who is to blame for all this? When has public service degenerated to self-service? Is the politician solely to blame for exploiting every opportunity, every weakness, for resorting to every vile trick, no trick too vile or too low to not be used? Perhaps it is the exploited who are at fault, the voter who has surrendered his capacity to think, to reason, and to investigate, preferring instead to leave that for others, those who stand to benefit most, either out of laziness, indifference, or dependence. It is no longer, if it ever was, that simple. For whatever reason, politicians and voters have become co-conspirators, accomplices in working towards the degradation of the Democratic process. The truth is, and there is no greater evidence of this than in the shocking display put on by the Ford brothers and their supporters in Toronto, that neither side frets about the greater good of all of society for the only good they believe in is the benefit to themselves. They do not concern themselves with respect, ethics, honesty, integrity, decency or shame for one side is always willing to buy and the other to be bought: the only value the exploiter believes in is power and the only logic of merit is the logic of legalese. Whatever is legal is allowable, whatever one can get away with is acceptable, and whatever one can pull over another is legitimate because the other is just a dupe, a fool, a simpleton, deserving of the entire ill that comes his way. However, should the fool inadvertently gain some good, the exploiter will take credit.

It is easy to see the benefits for the users and exploiters, the Harpers and Fords, but what’s in it for the exploited, the willing dupes, co-conspirators in their own exploitation? Well, that appears to be rather vague. They appear not to know what they want but are amiable to the promise of better and more and if the promises are never wholly met, never fully honoured, never energetically pursued, it doesn’t matter, a soupçon will do, perhaps a cut in mobile roaming fee charges will serve or the unbundling of television packages; there’s always more promises and more tomorrows.

So, are those Harper and Ford supporters simply dumb like those Tories believe? Are they so indifferent, so locked into their narrow narcissistic lives that they cannot see or comprehend what’s happening around them? Are they that immoral and empty that nothing matters, that nothing shocks because it doesn’t touch them personally? Have they, in fact, become that jaded, that insensate, they no longer care? Do the exploited not see themselves as used? If so, perhaps, in that sense, because they don’t, they are not. They sell themselves too cheaply because they value themselves only as objects to be purchased: give me this I’ll give you that. Buy me: cut my taxes, cut the price of my cable or phone or television set; I don’t want much, but I want something. In return, I’ll give my vote, I’ll give my forgiveness, I’ll believe everything you say. To the onlooker who cares about the state of our politics and our world, there can only be bafflement mixed with fear. The turncoats within have hired themselves out and opened the gates. The barbarians have taken over and Democracy is getting a rough ride.

SO, WHO’S TO BLAME?

Alise Mills, the Conservative pundit who frequently appears on CBC’s Power & Politics attempts to make the case that there can be no linkage between Harper and the Rob Ford of today. That’s hardly credible. Rob Ford’s character did not develop overnight, nor did his present difficulties; surely those who knew him best saw the signs long ago. He is an open book in many ways, proudly playing upon his crudeness, loudness and ignorance, adopting the role of the loner and underdog fighting for the ordinary against the insiders and elite (i.e., unions, the educated and Big Government). And that was hardly a secret; certainly not unknown by those needing, and willing to use, his help. That, too, was Harper’s shtick, without the crudity, playing the role of underdog and pandering to the fears and prejudices of the uninformed, the “little” guy, both, however, Harper in particular, downplaying their efforts to accommodate Big Business with tax cuts, deregulation in environment, in labour, in workplace safety, and with concerted attacks against the public service and union bashing. For the envious, attacking public servants and unions are always winners: it’s easier to drag well-paid workers down to your level rather than pull yourself up to theirs. It’s easy to understand why the so-called “Ford Nation” was a natural fit for Harper and Harper for them. Did it matter that Ford was coarse, vulgar, unlikeable? He was one of them, shared their values, their vision. And Ford was hugely popular. So, why not a few photo-ops of them together, shaking hands, working the barbecue crowd, the perfect odd couple. Ford could bring in the votes and he did, helping Harper make considerable gains in Toronto and ensuring his much lusted after majority. Which is all very interesting, particularly now with the on-going Ford saga.

If Mills is right, what accounts for Harper’s muted response to the Ford dilemma for so long? If there is no linkage to be made, why has Harper, leader of the law and order get-tough-on-crime brigade, been so silent in denouncing the antics of his one-time ally and very best friend? Why has Harper not forcefully demanded that Ford resign from office? Why not even timidly? This is the mayor of Canada’s largest city. This is the man who has disgraced his office. This is the man who, for months, denied smoking crack, denied being a drunk, denied drinking and driving, denied consorting with alleged criminals. This is the man who has revealed himself to be a liar with his sudden, almost daily offerings of apologies for admissions of smoking crack, buying drugs, drinking and driving. This is the man who, in an angry response to a charge by an ex-staffer in a police report, denied consorting with prostitutes. The response was a tirade that was misogynistic and shockingly vulgar especially in regards to his wife who latter appeared with him in a news scrum looking shell-shocked as he once again offered an apology. This is the man who, to all those admissions, would cavalierly add, “I made mistakes.” No big deal. But how many mistakes, how many apologies before members of Ford Nation have had enough? This is the man, along with his brother Ford, points to other councillors saying he hasn’t done anything they haven’t done the only difference being he was “honest enough” to admit it! As if the guilt of others absolves him! Well that’s their world and they’re sticking to it.

THE HYPOCRISY OF HARPER’S OMINOUS SILENCE

It’s a freakish gong show, ridiculous and sad for politics and Democracy. And yet, what has been the response of the Conservatives provincially and federally? Muted. Tim Hudak belatedly and mildly distancing himself from Ford, though, it is also true, neither Kathleen Wynne nor NDP provincial leader, Andrea Horwath, were hardly stellar regarding this matter. It is the federal Conservative response that is most telling and disturbing, however. Not that long ago, when Justin Trudeau declared he was in favour of decriminalizing marijuana use, Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay, the minister of incompetence in everything, pilloried him, attempting to paint him as a drug pusher to children. Yet, when the PMO finally commented on the Ford saga, Nov. 18th, weeks after it began, his comment was less about Ford, in fact, Ford wasn’t even mentioned, but more about Trudeau. “These latest allegations are troubling. Our Government does not condone illegal drug use, especially by elected officials while in office, including Justin Trudeau,” ran part of the statement. Not only was this ad hominem cheap, it was the revelatory, a desperate attempt to divert by a hypocritical Harper who wants it both ways. He wants to appear to condemn drug use without condemning the self-admitted crack smoking, drug buying, cocaine snorting, drunk driving Ford lest he offend members of Ford Nation. But this double standard is not unique in politics and certainly not to Conservatives who are double-jointed to the core. Just as Ford denied and denied until finally confronted by the evidence proving him a liar many, many times over, Harper still insists on denying he knew anything about the Duffy/Wright deal. Not believable, not credible. We saw how Harper behaved with the senate scandal. And we see how Ford behaves today with his own troubles. Secrecy, disrespect for the public and for their offices, Harper, once cited for Contempt of Parliament, his gang and the Ford brothers are poison in the well. Yet some of the public happily drink from it. Apparently, to those in the rose coloured world of Conservatism, the poisoned water is magic, nothing is as it seems: honest criticism is lack of patriotism, fakery is reality, lies are truth, ethics anti-democratic, secrecy openness, opponents enemies, and knowledge dangerous. Who cares about facts, truth, integrity? Not Conservatives who have made subverting the electoral process a fine art nor those who vote time and again for Harper and the Fords who appear to live in a world all their own. And it isn’t pretty.

THE DAY THE THUGS CAME

When Toronto councillors stripped Ford of most of his powers on Nov. 18th, viewers were witness to a spectacle that was raw, thoroughly ugly, and utterly menacing. We saw the Ford brothers for the thugs they are as they ignored the speaker, mocked councillors, derided city staffers, and roamed the chamber to scream at heckling spectators. We saw Rob Ford knock over councillor Pam McConnell as he attempted, so he said, to go to the aid of his brother whom he believed involved in an altercation with a spectator. Another councillor repeatedly demanded that Ford apologize to McConnell. Evidently that was difficult for Ford. When he finally did, using McConnell’s name, the apology was as heartfelt as all the other apologies in the past few weeks and just as insincere. But, if knocking down fellow councillors and heckling spectators wasn’t enough, there was another episode that was extremely disturbing. Rob Ford, accompanied by his bodyguard driver, roamed the chamber with the bodyguard taking pictures of hecklers in the gallery. There was little doubt what Ford intended by this. What was that in aid of if not meant to intimidate?

It is beyond understanding that people still support either Rob or Doug Ford. It is shocking to me that they are treated as celebrities, that they have garnered the attention they have. They are hoodlums, worthy of nothing but contempt. Instead, they get their own TV show.

I have heard some say over and over that Rob Ford needs treatment, that he is endangering his life. That is probably true but I couldn’t care less. The sooner he leaves office, the better. I don’t care how he leaves, as long as he leaves. I feel no sympathy for him and can’t even work up pity. And that is sad. If he possessed a shred of dignity, some sense of pride, an iota of shame, he would know that stepping down would be the best move for Toronto, the city he professes to love. It could even help him. Crude, loud, profane, he insists on staying in office and has declared war on all those who oppose him. We have seen him exposed and humiliated, he says, but, if humiliated, it is difficult to see. It is not his fault. It never is with the Harpers and the Fords. It never seems to end and it’s always the fault of others. For Ford, it is enough that he has apologized, time and time again. He wants to move on, voters are expected to take him at his word that he is not an addict, isn’t a drunk, that pictures of him with alleged felons is a one off, just the mayor posing with ordinary folks as far as he knew. To his mother and sister, the only problem Rob Ford suffers from is his weight problem. His brother Doug, a person who would know, one thinks, considering their closeness, says he has never seen Rob drunk. Yet the world has seen more than a few videos of an apparently intoxicated Ford. Hell, he’s been even taped taking a leak in a public park. He is surrounded by enablers and all, like himself, deniers: he’s done nothing wrong, he hasn’t a problem, the elitist lefties are out to get him, he’s loved by voters. Sadly, that last may be true. There are some who see him simply as some harmless, goofy, loveable buffoon and nothing more. To them, as to the Ford brothers, the whole thing smacks of the conspiracy of the left out to get Ford. They dismiss his drug use and public drunkenness as a private matter during time off work. Yes, he is entitle to time off; the thing is, he is mayor 24/7. His behaviour hasn’t affected his job, they say. How could they know? They, too, are deniers. It is immaterial to them that he has failed the test of character, that his flaws and faults are many and serious.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS

Earlier, I stated that Harper and Ford were kindred spirits. Who can doubt it? Harper and the Ford brothers are pathetic, weak men. Harper takes no responsibility for what happens in his office as with the Duffy/Wright affair. Rob Ford accepts no blame for his actions. People were out to get him. Had he behaved, there would have been nothing to get. And while Harper may appear to be more refined, he is no less a bully than the Ford brothers who have made their way into the public consciousness largely by the force of their brutish antics. Harper and Ford think nothing of pointing fingers, of pleading ignorance, of denying wrongdoing. These are the acts of children, of bullies and cowards who cannot man up and take responsibility. Even so, there will be those in the Ford camp who will say that Rob Ford did step up, that he did accept responsibility. They live in a world of fantasy and nothing will alter that.

There are too many too willing to defend the indefensible and the inexcusable. Too many will say that Ford’s private life has nothing to do with his public life. Since when has character become a nine to five role?

Ford cares no more about democratic process than Harper’s Conservatives. If he did, he would resign. But he will not any more than Harper will. And for that, we can thank their supporters.

Too many of us expect too little from our leaders. Too many of us say we want leaders just like us. I ask this: What is the glory in having leaders “just like us” when so many of us are flawed, incapable, and disinterested? When I vote for a person, I want them to be better than me, and not just more knowledgeable about pinching dollars, cutting costs, and lowering taxes. I want them better than me in wisdom and humaneness as well. We don’t live alone. I want them to have a broader view of my society and theirs and the world at large. I do not want them to pander to the worst in me, to my prejudices, my ignorance, and shallowness but rather to help me understand that there is no place for such things. I want them to make me proud that my vote helped elect individuals who worked for the good of all members of society, who are not tied to business interests, who are not blind to workers’ needs, who believe that justice is not just about punishment but also fair treatment.

I have actually heard people say they like Rob Ford because he is just like them. That terrifies me, for what I see in him is dangerous hucksterism, disingenuousness, magical thinking, buffoonery, ignominy. If he is truly representative of the population, then, perhaps, we should have a means test for voters. Surely it’s not too much to ask voters to inform themselves, to be aware of the issues, to know their candidates and the party policies. When I hear some declare, as if it was something of which to be proud, “I don’t vote”, I want to ship that person to a deserted island because he has already isolated himself from society by his disinterest in how it operates or is governed. When asked why they don’t vote, they sometimes say they are not interested, that they don’t know enough, that their vote doesn’t count. These are excuses from individuals who haven’t grown up, who cannot see, or don’t care, how our lives are intertwined and how our actions affect others. We already have too much of that in public life. There is no room for apathy, laziness, for leaving the decisonmaking to others. “Politics doesn’t interest me.” How can anyone say that of something that affects almost everything in their lives every day? It is these people that the Harpers and Fords love. They don’t think, they don’t analyze, they don’t absorb, they don’t remember. They just don’t care. They are zombies; they go through life asleep and are the ones who will do as they are told when they are told. They believe in nothing because they know nothing beyond their own needs wants and fears. And because they cannot see beyond their own narrow sphere, they vote for the populist emptiness of Ford and for the secretive, vindictive, and mean-spirited free enterprise governance of Harper and gang. They don’t mind, they don’t know, they don’t care.

And the rest of us? Well, we pay the price.

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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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