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

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

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

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

 

Frank A. Pelaschuk

The Dirty Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luck, War, Terrorism, Fear

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

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

But had they?

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

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

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

So, why is he rising in the polls?

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

Tricks And Treats

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

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

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

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

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

Angry Vets And Fantino’s Spurious Announcement

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

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

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

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

Well, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can that be?

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

Do you really not care?

***

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 THE VOTER IN THE AGE OF INFANTILISM

 Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the Majority share in it. – Leo Tolstoy

If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience. – George Bernard Shaw

Avoid revolution or expect to get shot. Mother and I will grieve, but we will gladly buy dinner for the National Guardsman who shot you. – Dr. Paul Williamson, father of a Kent student

 Frank A. Pelaschuk

 

ENEMIES EVERYWHERE: THE SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY

John Baird’s condemnation of the UN Human Rights council and the appointment of Canadian William Schabas to head a commission examining possible war crimes in Gaza should surprise no one. The Harper regime has, almost from the first, been vocal in its antipathy to the United Nations. Too, anyone who voices criticism of Israel, as has Schabas and others at times, inevitably risks condemnation by Harper and gang with suggestions of being pro-Palestinian and/or anti-Jewish.

Such a stance is offensive if not surprising and indicative of a stubbornly blind mindset that refuses to acknowledge the possibility of more than black and white. This digging in of one’s heels and refusing to tolerate or even consider dissenting opinions is neither admirable nor productive and suggests the profound weakness of insecurity. It’s the fear similar to that experienced by bullies who, knowing deep within themselves they have wronged, wait for the bullied to strike back. They behave as they do because they believe themselves righteous besieged by enemies when none may at first exist. Eventually, however, it becomes fact, the enemies real. The bullying escalates and so does the bully’s fear as the resentment of the bullied intensifies.

Harper’s gang is made up of that kind of bully, frightened of what they have wrought for themselves, brave as a vindictive group but too cowardly to seize the opportunity to co-operate, to listen, to discuss, to be transparent, to include and to accept and even adopt the ideas of others. Instead, they brandish their majority as a club. For Harper and his gang, the velvet glove, the ability to admit to being wrong or to apologize, is less appealing than sneering dismissal and exclusion; they mistakenly perceive generosity, openness and tolerance as weakness. If you ain’t for us, you’re ag’in us. But how can one be for them with such an attitude? It may work for a time but it poses its own risks. The enemies grow in number and so does the fear from the bullies’ camp. It is a poisonous mixture: power, abuse of power, fear and more abuses of power. Add to that the ingredients of intolerance, the willingness to pander, degrees of bigotry, ignorance, arrogance and a propensity towards deceitfulness, the mixture becomes downright toxic.

If Harper occasionally shares the same doubts as the rest of the world on any matter, and that is not a given, they are surely of a fleeting nature not to be nurtured but, rather, excised as quickly and brutally as possible. The message is set in stone; it cannot and will not be changed. When things do go awry, it’s not Harper and crew, it’s the world aligned against them, the world of lazy public servants, egocentric scientists, ignorant students, leftist scholars, radical environmentalists, the mangy poor and helpless, just ordinary citizens, that is out of step. So when critics question Harper’s unwavering support of Israel and condemn Israel’s deadly response to the Hamas bombings in the West Bank, we cannot be surprised when the response is, “Israel has the right to defend itself.” That’s true. But what of its swift, brutal and at times apparently indiscriminate bombing of civilians that have resulted in massive numbers of slain Palestinians when measured against Israeli lives lost? There are brutes on either side, the naysayers, the don’t-give-a-damn-what-you think types, the zealots and cowards; there are also the hopeful, those live-and-let-live folks, good decent people who only wish peace. Every life lost through senseless slaughter is to be mourned, regretted and condemned. Again, however, the response is predictable: “Hamas is shelling bombs from schools and hospitals, using civilians as shields.” But is that true? Perhaps. However, I prefer evidence over taking the word of politicians with their own agenda. But such claims do add legitimacy for a response that is overwhelming and extreme, the forces of one side massively outmanned and outgunned by one of the most efficient armies in the world. I don’t know who is right. I know that Israel has every right to exist as a nation as any other. So, does Palestine. Whose story does one accept? I cannot help but be reminded of one episode during the Gulf War in which a young woman claimed to have witnessed Iraqi soldiers removing babies from incubators in a Kuwait Hospital and leaving them on the floor to die. Naturally, the world was shocked and outraged. This added another layer of legitimacy for the invasion of Iraq and provided further justification for the ouster and death of a vile dictator. Unfortunately, two years later, the world learned the story was false. The witness had lied, not only about her name and the story but also about being in Kuwait at the time; in reality, the “witness” was the daughter of a Kuwaiti ambassador. It was all a vast propaganda scheme to add fuel to justify the invasion of Iraq and just another of a long list of atrocity propaganda dating back to the Crimea war when “heathens” and “Huns” ate babies. Israel may well be right about Hamas; we have witnessed how they murder their own. But surely there is nothing wrong with questioning what we are fed and demanding more information. Atrocity stories make it more palatable to accept the bombing of known UN-run shelters for displaced Gazans. The killing of innocent men, women and children on either side is insupportable. Harper should say that. Instead he stands fast: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Can’t we even ask the question?

It is not Harper’s support of Israel that troubles me; I support it, too, but not without reservation, without doubts. It is his refusal to accept that others have legitimate concerns about what they see as Israel’s disproportionate response to the Hamas bombings. Loyalty to a friend is one thing and it’s commendable; but acknowledgement that the friend can and may be wrong and, in the wake of such widespread condemnation, might do well to reconsider the extent of force in its response to Hamas, is probably a better test of friendship. To ridicule critics, to label them as anti-Israeli and of possibly questionable character, perhaps pro-Palestine and in need of monitoring is no way for a government claiming to be a democracy to behave. An enemy of my friend (or of those whose votes I’m pandering for) is my enemy. It is almost as if, in recognizing the humanity of the Palestinian victims, Baird and Harper and the rest of mob believe we are denying the humanity of the Jews. It may win votes, but isn’t the price too high?

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS

Not all should be accepted on face value, especially when it appears to coincide with one’s own worldview. So, when the Harper gang, one of the most secretive, petty, angry and partisan regimes this nation has ever endured, offers its version of events, of facts, of what they believe, one must be particularly diligent. Are Harper and his crew attempting to inform, expressing a true belief, or are they intending to mislead with malicious intent? When a government goes out of its way to remove obstacles to governmental spying on Canadians under the pretext of going after child abusers and then condemns sceptics with charges of “siding with pedophiles”, can it rightly claim to be working in the best interests of Canadians? A government that prefers secrecy to openness, deceit over truth, and punishment over understanding is a government that fears its citizens. How can we trust it when it doesn’t trust us?

This is not new. For the Harper gang, all critics, regardless of the cause, are suspect, dangerous, anti-Harper, anti-Conservative. They are the enemy; as such, they are worthy targets of the smear.

In a recent fundraising effort, the Conservatives went after Justin Trudeau, a man for whom I have grave doubts as a leader. But they did so with a lie. They told a story but left out some details. The lie of omission. They attacked Trudeau for visiting the Al Sunnah Al-Nabawiah mosque in 2011. He had, indeed. They further claimed, Jason Kenney even using his government email, that the US security agencies considered the mosque a recruitment centre for extremists. That, too, is true. However, what Kenney (who in the past illegally used government letterheads to fundraise for his party) and the other Harper gang omitted to tell us is this: That fact only became public when published in the New York Times a month after Trudeau’s visit. There is no doubt what Kenney intended with this vile, less than accurate attack. Too, nowhere in the email does Kenney acknowledge that just last year, two years after Trudeau, he had visited the same mosque, which, by then, presumably, he, and every member of the Harper gang, knew had garnered American interest. What makes the attacks so vile is that, knowing the truth, the Conservatives persisted in suggesting something even more sinister about Trudeau than doubts about his leadership abilities, innuendo that he supports extremists, terrorists, was, in fact, unpatriotic. That is vile stuff. It is also dishonest stuff. But it is also typical of the Harper thugs. When questioned about his visit, Kenney, a senior cabinet minister with Conservative leadership aspirations, claims he did not know that the mosque was suspect! The same excuse Trudeau used. However, the truth is on Trudeau’s side; he could not have known because the news had not yet been made public. What is Kenney’s excuse? Well, the Conservatives simply shrug, gloss over these facts and blithely continue fundraising and smearing Trudeau while ignoring his legitimate, to the point question: If the mosque is a known haven for terrorists, why hasn’t the government done anything about it? No answer.

But there have been other attacks against Trudeau and they, too, are misleading, dishonest, and partisan in the Conservative tax funded jabs against the Liberal leader.

The ads are aimed at parents, evidently in hopes of scaring up votes, and clearly more concerned with crushing Justin Trudeau and maintaining the health and wellbeing of the Conservative agenda than the health and wellbeing of their putative targets: children. In their efforts to add legitimacy to their propaganda, the Conservatives sought support from the medical profession in hopes they would give their stamp of approval to the Conservative anti-drug ads. Fortunately, the Canadian Medical Association, The College of Family and Physicians of Canada and The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons quickly saw through the Conservative ploy refusing to sign on. The ads suggest that Trudeau is endangering children with his stand on marijuana, which is one of legalization. Julian Fantino, minister of veterans affairs, has issued a flyer stating that Trudeau’s “first order of business is to make marijuana more accessible to minors,” and the Liberals plan on making “buying marijuana a normal, everyday activity for young Canadians” (CBC News, Aug. 16, 2014). This from a man who used to be a cop! Well, for this gang, no trick is too dirty, too vile, to not be used.

That Harper failed this time to recruit three highly respected and influential health bodies to act as his stooges is no reason for us to simply heave a sigh of relief and sit back. The Harper Conservatives are devious, clever, and dishonest, as we have seen. They will use any trick, the viler the better, to defeat their foes and flog their economic agenda, which includes squelching dissent, appeasing Big Business and suppressing worker wages.

In the past few weeks, we have learned that the fix Jason Kenney and the Harper gang promised to stop employers from exploiting foreign workers at wages 15% below that of Canadian workers was all smoke. For almost a year after the news was made public of wage suppression, Alberta companies were still allowed to exploit foreign workers at below rate. The Harper gang knew this. The Harper gang allowed it to happen. Another flap, and more promises by the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Multiculturalism. This government has aided and abetted corporations in their war against Canadian workers. They have kept silent about corporate wage suppression speaking out and acting only when the news once again made headlines.

Harper and gang have a lot for which to answer.

CONSERVATIVES, THE SECRET COURT AND THE DOUBLE STANDARD

Recently, the secretive House of Commons multi-party committee, the Board of Internal Economy, made up of four Conservatives, one Liberal and two NDP members, found the NDP guilty of misusing parliamentary resources with satellite offices and mass mail-outs. For many, myself included, the judgement is extremely questionable smacking more of payback by Kangaroo Court, the Liberals still smarting over their loss of Official Opposition status to the NDP and the Conservatives from Tom Mulcair’s effective questioning of Stephen Harper over his knowledge of the Duffy/Wright scandal. If the NDP committed wrongdoing, they must, of course, do the right thing.

The problem with the mail-outs, it appears, was a matter of a technicality: they were partisan in nature, that is, were not messages from individual MPs but mail designed to benefit the party according to Conservative John Duncan. Well, I don’t know. Almost every month I receive one or two mailings from the Conservative MP in my riding. True, there is lots of information about the accomplishments of the MP (not much) accompanied by many photos of him (too many). The messages clearly promote the party and it’s agenda often with claims proven to be untrue as with the Conservative Economic Action Plan, touting programs that didn’t even exist. The cost of advertising non-existent came to $2.5 million for taxpayers. The flyers also boast of Conservative support for the veterans. Well, we have witnessed what veterans think of this regime and its treatment of them.

There is, however, cause for concern on the matter of the satellite offices. The NDP claims it sought permission from the Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer, to set up the offices; they also claim Scheer gave his approval. The Speaker, however, denies that he did so. Who does one believe? Scheer is a Harper appointee to the position. That doesn’t make him biased. But that he sat on requests from Elections Canada to suspend Shelley Glover and James Bezan for refusing to submit a full account of their expense for the 2011 campaign likely does. At the time, Scheer made the disingenuous claim there was no indication that the requests addressed to him were meant for the House. Elections Canada reports to the House, therefore any correspondence directed to the Speaker concerning members of parliament must, perforce, be also for the members of Parliament. His response on that occasion leaves me to doubt his version regarding the satellite offices and it certainly leads me to question whether he meets the standard of non-partisanship required of that post.

It is not the first time I have asked that question. Conservatives are not shy about politicising offices and agencies that have been and should remain, non-partisan and independent. Even with the Supreme Court, this gang could not stop itself from attempting to malign it when it lost its bid to appoint Mark Nadon to the high court. Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay, clearly unhappy with that outcome and with other decisions from the Supreme Court, set out to sway public opinion against the court by openly attacking the decisions, the court, and its members, engaging in contemptible efforts to smear Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin with charges of political interference regarding the Nadon affair. Their attempts failed because their story was an outright lie. Judging from the reaction from the public, few fell for the Harper/MacKay smear job.

Ethical? The Harper gang are as morally bankrupt as any political group can be. A few years back the Conservatives paid a $52000 fine after a plea bargain that allowed four upper echelon members to escape appearing before the courts over the “in-out” scam during the 2006 election that allowed Conservatives to illegally transfer monies that cost Canadians $2.3 million according to figures offered by Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher of Postmedia (April 10, 2012). That is money that belongs to Canadians but somehow ended up in the Conservative coffers.

Nevertheless, Harper and gang continue to assert they ran a clean, honest and ethical campaign in each of the last few elections. This is the party that threw a young staffer, Michael Sona, to the wolves for the robocall scandals, which led to investigations of voter suppression by Conservatives. Though Sona was the only one charged and found guilty for that, it was clear that the presiding judge, Justice Gary Hearn, did not believe he acted alone. This is significant and is at variance with a decision reached earlier by Yves Coté, Commissioner of Canada Elections, whose job it is to investigate election fraud. Coté’s investigation had found no evidence of involvement of voter suppression by others in the party. How Yves Coté, responds to the decision by Justice Hearn will be a good indicator of his independence especially since his office has been moved from Elections Canada, which reports to parliament, to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutors, which reports to the government. This move was clearly meant to handicap the Commissioner and leads to suspicions of a real probability of political interference by the government, particularly this government. It is a legal truism that investigators and prosecutors must work independently of each other. That can never be truer than in this instance when a government attempts to rig elections, as has the Harper gang. If there is no further investigation of the robocalls scandal, Canadians should be very concerned; Harper will have accomplished what he set out to do. That’s not good for democracy and it’s certainly not good for Canada.

Clean and ethical? Well we have Harper’s one-time parliamentary secretary, Dean del Mastro, pleading not guilty, now before the court facing four counts of election fraud during his 2011 election campaign. It was del Mastro, along with Pierre Poilievre, who viciously savaged Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, for the investigations into election irregularities, in the majority of which Conservatives figured prominently. Clean? Ethical? Conservative Peter Penashue resigned for accepting illegal corporate donations for his campaign. We have Shelly Glover caught on camera attending a fundraising event attended by the very people who stood to gain from decisions made from her office. The same happened with Leona Aglukkaq, minister of economic development for the North, who sneaked into a fundraising event by a side door rather than face the cameras waiting at the front door. Yeah, they are clean all right.

There are few sinners as interesting as hypocrites.

So, when the Conservatives are demanding that NDP repay money, pardon me for asking questions of my own. Will the Harper gang reimburse Canadians the $2.5 million for the false advertising in their Economic Action Plan? Will the Conservatives repay the $2.3 million owed for the “in-out” scam between May of 2007 and the fall of 2011? Will Tony Clement give a full accounting of the $50 million slush fund for his riding during the G8 and G20 conferences? Will the government explain why it was necessary to spend close to a billion dollars for security for the same conferences and will it apologize for the mass arrests of peaceful protesters leading to only a handful of charges and few, if any, convictions? When Jason Kenney illegally used the government letterhead to fundraise on behalf of the Conservative Party, did he repay what was owed to the taxpayer? If the NDP owes money, and they may well do, make them pay. But, in the interests of justice and fairness, perceived and real, the Conservatives must also repay what they have pillaged from Canadians and it’s a lot, lot more than supposedly owed by the NDP. As Harper is fond of saying, If you throw mud, some is bound to stick to you.

THEY SIMPER, SHY AWAY AND PLEAD IGNORANCE

If governments lie, operate in secrecy, spy on citizens, defame one’s reputation, and abandon the basics of democracy, how worried should we be? Should we be concerned with the politicization of once independent government watchdog agencies, of attempts to disenfranchise voters, of efforts to turn the highest court into political organs enforcing government goals? Does it matter that our government masks legislation in omnibus bills and limits debate, refuses to consult with opposition members and feels no need to respond to questions in the House except to obfuscate, prevaricate or utter scripted nonsense having nothing to do with issues at hand? Must we accept a government that imposes its agenda because of its majority, that deregulates for the interests of Big Business against the interests of the public, and that blithely refuses to accept responsibility when things go terribly wrong?

For Harper and the gang, with the exception of getting power and clinging to it, nothing is more sacred than the market and their economic agenda.

Earlier last week, the Transportation Safety Board released its report on the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, which cost 47 lives. It’s a harsh indictment not just of the rail company involved, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MM&A), but also of the Harper gang with it’s laissez-faire approach to Big Business which, as we all know, are honest brokers more than capable and more than willing to regulate themselves. They are all honourable companies run by honourable people, you see. So Big Business and their stooges (Harper and gang, if you don’t know it by now) would have us believe.

But on what is that belief based when, in the wake of the Maple Leaf tainted meat scandal that left 23 dead, the Harper crew cut the role of food inspectors to that of mere rubber stampers of in-house testing results by meat producers. Even then, not long after that tragedy, it was American border guards who caught the tainted meat shipped to the US by XL Foods. Where was the government oversight? As a result of that failure, this led to the largest tainted meat recall in Canadian history. Recently, the Mount Polley Mining Corp. breach of the tailings pond dam occurred in British Columbia. Said the minister of energy and mines, Bill Bennett, “If the company has made some mistakes… they will have to bear the responsibility.” Nowhere in that statement is the acceptance that the government has failed to provide proper oversight. From all levels of government, the public is told that it can, must, and will trust Big Business. The thing is, it’s not the mine owners who bear the real costs when these catastrophes occur, and they inevitably do. It is always the innocent who pay, those folks who place their trust in the very governments who have sold them out to Big Business. This philosophy of hands-off, trust business, approach is based on a false premise that free enterprisers like Harper and gang are fond of spouting, a sophomoric cliché that we on the bottom rung are to embrace as fact. It goes something like this: It is in a business’s own self-interest to protect their workers, to be honest, to be good citizen, to be good wards of our environment. It’s an old, tired refrain and it’s absolutely untrue. With very few exceptions, the bottom line is always the final arbiter of what corporations believe to be true and good: profits and enriching the wallets of shareholders even at the risk of cutting corners is always for the greater good. Take your chances, cross your fingers and, if someone dies, pray like hell it’s your competitor who is to blame. As long as governments like the Harper gang are in power, as long as they are in the pockets of Big Business, workers will continue to be exploited and companies allowed to cut corners. The trust of citizens will be betrayed time and again and it is the public who will be left to clean up the mess and who will pay for the mess. Corporations and executives will continue to rake in the dough and their political stooges to pad their pensions and become company board members when they retire from politics far richer than when they first entered the dirty game.

Trust Big Business and the government whose lodestone is free enterprise? There are too many graveyards filled by trusting citizens and innocent workers who placed their trust in governments that sold them out for an economic agenda.

The Lac Mégantic catastrophe came about because MM&A performed the minimum required in following the regulations, even cutting corners. They did the minimum and time and time again were cited for infractions. But, as the report makes clear, Transport Canada knew of the violations and yet did next to nothing in the way of corrective action. The Harper gang did not follow up or ensure that MM&A complied with all of the rules.

Following the report, the government was peculiarly silent. Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport, emerged briefly from her warren to issue a statement that, typically from members of this gang, attempted to distance herself and her government from all responsibility. The rules are there, the railway company broke them. And that, apparently, is good enough, all that this regime intends to do. This sidestepping of responsibility is craven and abhorrent but, again, unsurprising. Why accept responsibility when staffers can be thrown under buses or, as in the rail disaster, companies can be fined and two or three employees scapegoated. The MM&A workers followed the rules; they did the minimum required of them and so did MM&A Railway and this Harper gang.

Where was the oversight? “Who is the guardian of public safety,” asked Wendy Tadros chair of the Transportation Board of Safety. Good question. Evidently no one.

WELCOME TO THE AGE OF INFANTILISM

So when I read that the government has quietly contributed $4 million of taxpayer monies towards a memorial commemorating the victims of Communism, I am not surprised. Nor am I surprised they attempted to do so with little fanfare. And yet, for free enterprising ideologues, it is odd that they haven’t pulled out the trumpets and sent them ablaring. The memorial is entitled Tribute to Liberty. The irony is rich. This is the government that has been linked to voter suppression, to robocalls, that has players facing election fraud charges. This is the party that has rigged the game with changes to the Elections Act that will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters and whose redrawing of electoral boundaries will likely garner them another twenty-two seats.

I want to ask, Where is the memorial for the victims of Capitalism? Where is the memorial for the 146 garment workers burnt to death in 1911 in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York because they were locked in and couldn’t escape? Where is the memorial for the 275 trapped in a Pakistan fire and the 1100 killed when a Bangladesh factory collapsed while making garments for European and North American companies? Where is the memorial for the thousands of men and women imprisoned and murdered by gun totting company thugs simply because they were unionists. Every day in every corner of the globe, workers die because management cut corners in the name of profit. It’s easier to replace workers than machinery. Miners, forest workers, first responders, military men and women, nurses, doctors, and countless others put their lives on the line daily to ensure that the economy runs smoothly. The appetite of Big Business is insatiable; there is never enough, the greedy pigs must be fed, the money shovelled into their open mouths as they step on the necks of those who have made them wealthy and successful. It is to such as these our government panders. So, no, there will be no national monument for workers.

Perhaps it’s a sign of naiveté, which should be surprising in someone who has reached the age I have, but I can still be shocked by the behaviour of others, this government in particular. I find it particularly offensive that those in positions of trust can lie, cheat, deny, blame others, and steal from the public purse time and time again without suffering shame and guilt. Why is that? Who is to be blamed? Well, I blame immoral, opportunistic individuals who enter politics for less than noble reasons, those folks who can spin the yarn and fake the warmth and win the brass ring to the road of enrichment, not of the self but of the bank account.

But I blame the voter even more. They continue to vote the same slime in again and again. I am puzzled as to why people stand in line for hours so that they can take Selfies of themselves with Rob Ford, that lying, amoral clown who deserves ridicule and contempt rather than the glow of admiration you see in the faces of those simpletons who apparently care nothing about morality, decency, honesty, law, order, and judgement. When is enough enough for these people? Have these politicians no shame? Have those voters lost all discernment? Are they blind, stupid, indifferent or all of these? I suspect it is the latter. When asked about Ford, those people speak proudly of him as the man who has saved them money (they never explain how), who is just like them (god help us), just ordinary folks (they forget he comes from a fairly wealthy family). They appear to find it amusing that he smokes crack, that he has lied, lied, lied and lied some more. They appear to be deaf to his misogynistic potty mouth, indifferent to his buffoonery, blind to his cartoonish version of the modern man. That he is an object for scorn, that he is dishonest and consorts with criminals does not deter these folks: he’s a celebrity, a folk hero.

These folks, the supporters of the likes of Harper and Ford, are truly frightening. It’s all a lark. Why worry, be happy. Who cares about the stench of corruption and moral decay, it’s all about the main chance and aren’t we all playing the game. So offer us shiny political bribes; we can easily and cheaply be bought and distracted with a few dollars in tax cuts and by cheap tinsel celebrities. Why worry, be happy, indulge the excesses, the vacuity, the vulgarity and the inanity of those narcissistic zombies.

In some respect, Harper offends me more because he is the bigger threat. He is smarter than Ford and meaner. He is petty and vengeful and he uses his majority as a club to ram legislation through. He is anti-democratic and not above rigging the game. His fixations at times appear to be from a world of unreality, as if wishing to to mark his reign of error by convincing himself that his is the Age of Triumphalism.

Not quite. It is true, we have entered a new era but it is far from glorious. It is a sad, dismal age, the Age of Infantilism.

 ***

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’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

STEPHEN HARPER AND THE SHAMELESS CONSERVATIVE ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY

 

“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation.” – Oscar Wilde

“After all, we have all eternity in which to despair.” – Enrique Vila-Matas

 Frank A. Pelaschuk

HARPER AND THE ART OF PETTY PARTISANSHIP

To really gain some appreciation of how shameless is Harper and his regime, just consider this: out of the 60,000 Diamond Jubilee medals handed out to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne, Tory hacks, partners, and supporters, including two anti-abortionist extremists who spent time in jail for their illegal picketing of abortion clinics, and Jennie Byrne, Conservative Campaign manager, as well as Lauren Harper, Stephen Harper’s wife, were among the recipients.

While even among Conservatives there may be worthy individuals whose contributions and achievements have been significant, there is something indecorous about a regime distributing these trophies to members of its own family: it stinks and is suspect, appearing to be more reward for services rendered on behalf of Harper’s Tory Party than for services and achievements in volunteerism, charitable works or contributions to the Sciences or Arts and Culture. Awarding medals to party loyalists, friends, and spouses, for no other reason than they are party loyalists, friends, and spouses, diminishes and taints in the most offensive way the honours given those who truly deserve them.

It is apparent that Harper and gang are willing to debase almost anything for purely partisan purposes. For example, we have recently learned that the Harper gang has determined that Canada must finally recognize veterans who served in the Second World War in Bomber Command operations in Europe. Now that is good news for those few remaining survivors if a little late after over seventy years of being ignored. Unfortunately, the new veterans’ minister, Julian Fantino, had determined that some of those very veterans being honoured, now in their late eighties and nineties, would have to wait a bit longer to receive their medals. Incredibly, the reason for this delay had to do with scheduling conflicts that would interfere with this government’s ability to exploit this to the max in photo ops! Fortunately, and not for the first time in matters involving veterans, the government and Fantino beat a hasty retreat after a public backlash of shock and anger. This is the same government of thugs that had clawed back the disability pensions of veterans, the same government led by Stephen Harper who had once said, “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.” Well, for Harper, those were just words as we now know. That claw back was an act that was despicable and indefensible. Nonetheless, he did say something that could become true and bears repeating: This shame will end with the election of a new government.

Let’s take him at his word.

HARPER & CREW: THE SHAMELESS BARBARIANS

Now Harper and his crew, whatever I might think of them, are not dummies. It is difficult to imagine that anyone in that party with a shred of self-respect might not be troubled by the optics of such blatant partisan largesse. Not a bit of it with this misbegotten group.

Over the years, Harper’s Conservatives have demonstrated an absence of a moral compass; with their absolute majority they are like untutored children who neither respect themselves or others enough to not undervalue or to not dismiss such simple constructs that make for good citizenship and sound governance: ethics, integrity, honesty, openness, transparency, fairness. Untutored, undeveloped, petty, mean-spirited, they are also sly and full of tricks; though outnumbered, they are the schoolyard bullies protected by a flawed electoral system that allows them to torment, threaten and abuse with a ruthlessness and shamelessness that suggests religious zealotry. Only Harper and his crew can save this nation and by God they’ll do it regardless of who opposes or questions the need for salvation.

The Conservatives have their hardcore band of supporters and they have their majority. That is enough – for them.

I suspect they seldom, if ever, are troubled by self-doubts or pause to reflect on some of what they do. If you have ever watched Power and Politics over the past year, you have seen the likes of insufferable Pierre Poilievre, Candice Bergen, Chris Alexander, Shelly Glover, and Kellie Leitch mislead, obfuscate, and point fingers rather than deviate from the script of the day to respond honestly and openly to direct questions and you know, just by watching them that, when it comes to the Conservative message, they have never had a moment of doubt, have never felt a need to reflect on how they come across: they are true believers and, as such, shameless in their adherence to the Party line. And it is their apparent inability to question, to doubt, to experience a sense of shame that most troubles me about these Tory dogmatists.

A developed sense of shame is one of many characteristics that elevate man from his fellow creatures. To know shame requires a conscience, which allows us to recognize and experience feelings of unease, embarrassment and guilt with a readiness to atone. Unfortunately, far too many of us, and that includes those in politics, are incapable of experiencing embarrassment. When threats of exposure or when actual exposure takes place eliciting much public hand wringing and loud mea culpas, and we see examples of such in the news almost daily, what is often witnessed is not true remorse, not genuine signs of shame, but rather grief that one has been found out and fear of what comes next. However, for the shameless, as in the instance of Harper appointee Senator Pamela Wallin who recently repaid well over a hundred thousand for expense claims to which she was not entitled, there is no apology, no admission of wrongdoing, not even fear, but a clear display of grief, not for the taxpayers who were rocked and ripped off by members of the Senate, but for herself. In fact, this once much admired and respected journalist has tastelessly opted to play the role of victim. Here is part of her statement as excepted in the Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 14, 2013:

“I wish to make it clear. I was not treated fairly by the Deloitte review, which was not conducted in accordance with generally accepted accounting principle, nor have I been treated fairly by the Senate Committee. Evidence that casts doubt on the correctness of the amounts owing was either ignored or disregarded during the review.

Unfortunately, the Senate succumbed to a ‘lynch mob’ mentality. There was no regard to procedural or substantive fairness. I am disappointed and angry about the way in which this matter was handled, and any implication that I behaved dishonestly.”

Poor Pamela. Apparently she knows all about generally accepted accounting principles and yet somehow fell victim of the system. Well, you have to give her credit for chutzpah if nothing else.

It would be refreshing if, just once, someone in Harper’s coterie of sanctimonious hypocrites would just stand up, man up, and freely admit they had defrauded, lied to, cheated, and abused taxpayers: perhaps one of those Harper appointed Senators or one of those ex-ministers forced to resign for padding expense accounts or accepting corporate donations while campaigning; perhaps someone like Vic Toews who accused opponents to omnibus bills of “siding with pedophiles”; maybe Joe Oliver who called environmentalists “radicals”, or those members of the Conservative Party who attempted to subvert Democracy with robocalls and directing voters to non-existent polling stations or those who sought to skirt the rules regarding election campaigning with “in-out” schemes or who doctored campaign expense reports before handing them in to Elections Canada and now hold ministerial posts. But that is wishful thinking, for we have seen how Harper rewards those MPs who act contrary to the party line or wishes: they are dumped, thrown under that ruthless Conservative bus.

Even when it comes to investigating allegations of voter suppression, the Conservatives manage to imbue the process with a stench of rottenness. Why, for example, was the Conservative Party lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, in attendance at the Elections Canada hearings of witnesses into this issue? That this has only come out months after the fact raises serious questions about the independence of the hearing and of Elections Canada. Certainly there is a suggestion of intimidation, particularly since one of the witnesses was Michael Sona, the young staffer so cold-bloodedly discarded by Harper and the Conservative gang of thugs for his reputed involvement in this matter. To believe the Harper gang, this bright, capable but very young man was the mastermind of the plot to subvert the electoral process.

Do the right thing? Harper’s Conservatives? It will not happen, not voluntarily, and certainly not when there is no potential for political and/or personal gain. With this group, respect for the allure of power and all its corruptive promises are more enticing than the value of a good name. For politicians, especially of this stripe, the first natural instinct seems to be to evade, to deny, to lie, to distort, to point fingers, and, when all else fails, to cut and run. When such, as Harper and gang, do not value themselves, imagine how little they value those whom they represent.

However, even if any one of their member did resort to self-abnegation, to public mea culpas and grovelling admissions of guilt with pleas for understanding and forgiveness for “mistakes” (they are always mistakes, aren’t they?), such exhibitions would appear merely self-serving and unseemly and ring hollow. How sincere can any apology be after whatever offence is exposed by whatever means? Still, some try; sometimes it works; people buy into it.

But what can one do with the shameless, those who claim victimhood, who believe that repaying what they were not entitled to in the first place is more than sufficient punishment and that, in doing so, however reluctantly, they have earned redemption if not the mantle of virtue? Perhaps all we can do is be awed at the magnitude of such extraordinary hubris.

HARPER AND THE ETHICALLY CHALLENGED

I began with questioning how the Diamond Jubilee Medals were handed out. This may seem a paltry issue to some, but it does illustrate what is symptomatic of the partisan rot that has infected this regime.

It is one thing to have members of the Senate and House who rip off taxpayers by making fraudulent expense and housing claims whether by “mistake” or with deliberation. And it is another thing for this government to shamelessly self-promote every day with its Canada Economic Action Plan ads to the tune of over $300 thousand, which are more about promoting Harper and his crew than about job creation. In fact, some of the Canadian taxpayer money went into advertising Tory programs and grants that don’t even exist. Probably most disheartening, at least from the Tory perspective, is the knowledge that this expenditure of funds has proven an absolute waste; that ads have flopped as Tory propaganda. No one is looking at them.

And if, for some, my pointing out some of the partisan nature of the Diamond Jubilee Medal distribution and the $300 thousand plus in self-promotion comes across as churlish, a curious focus on the relatively paltry, they would do well to recall what happened to MP Bev Oda. She was more than a minister who had, or had a staffer, forge a government document and yet had managed to keep Harper’s trust and support; she was also a repeat offender when it came to padding expense claims amounting to thousands of dollars and then being forced to repay them. Most revealing, it was only after public outrage for claiming a $16 glass of orange juice that Oda was finally forced to resign. Sometimes, it’s the seemingly small things that can trip you. Perhaps from this episode there is a lesson to be drawn: If you want to get away with something, go big; it appears that, for the Canadian public at least, there’s something chintzy and in your face about that overpriced orange juice that made the whole thing unbearable.

But there are other things that were not so trivial. There was Peter Penashue forced to resign for accepting corporate donations during his election campaign. Of him, Harper said, “This is the best Member of Parliament Labrador has ever had.” There was sanctimonious Dean Del Mastro, the loud, bullying Conservative defender in the House against those robocalls questions who has suddenly fallen silent due to troubles of his own with allegations of campaign irregularities. And we have Christian Paradis, still in cabinet, still supported by Harper in spite of several allegations of ethical breaches including political interference and spending a weekend with lobbyists at a retreat. There are more from others, Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin in the Senate with fraudulent expense claims, Tory senators David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen doctoring the Deloitte report on Duffy, Nigel Wright in the PMO, now gone, writing a $90 thousand cheque, and Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu facing allegations of attempting to obtain greater job benefits for his girlfriend and having to repay $900 for “mistakenly” claiming housing expenses to which he was unentitled. Harper threw his support behind Boisvenu pointing out that he was a “tireless supporter of the victims of crime.” While it is true that Boisvenu has suffered terribly with a daughter murdered and another killed in a road accident and deserves our sympathy, it does not entitle him a free pass on the allegations against him.

When accumulated, these and other breaches present an extremely disturbing picture of Harper and gang’s high tolerance for breaches of ethics. They are clearly untroubled by them, their concerns no doubt on loftier pursuits like ramming through the Keystone XL pipeline and worrying about the economy and fulfilling the promise to get rid of the debt just in time for the next election. It is astounding the number of “mistakes” Conservatives make in money matters and even more astounding that the public swallows that swill of them as fiscally responsible. I still want to know from the president of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement of the $50 million slush fund, what happened to the missing $3.1 billion from the treasury. If anything, these “mistakes” should lay to rest the myth of Conservatives, as they keep reminding us, as inherently superior fiscal managers.

HARPER’S TWISTED VIEW OF DEMOCRACY

But even all that pales to what should really offend Canadians. Harper and his gang pose a real threat to Canadian Democracy.

It is a truism that citizens of any nation can only be assured of a free society if there is a free press and an open, honest, and transparent government accountable to its people. Five years ago, Harper and thugs set out to restrict if not destroy the Access to Information database. In the process, his has become the most secretive, manipulative, paranoid, and ethically challenged regime in Canadian history. Canadians have difficulty in getting answers from anyone in government. Canadian civil servants and scientists have been muzzled under threat of losing their jobs and the previous Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, was stonewalled at every turn when trying to obtain documents regarding government expenditures and projections.

Access to Information is, as it should be, the hallmark of a free, open society. This is what people are willing to die for the world over. They do not sacrifice themselves for the right to vote, but for the promise carried in that right to vote. A vote in a dictatorship means nothing if the end result is the same old same old: the same old dictator, the same old secrecy, the same old abuses of human rights, the same old subversion of the electoral process. Citizens and journalists have a right, if not a duty, to be informed and to hold their governments accountable; that means governments, in turn, have a duty to be accessible, open, and honest to the press and its citizens in the full knowledge that they, these governments, will, and must, be held accountable. Except in the interests of national security (yes, there are exceptions even in a free society), and these exceptions must be rare, almost non-existent, a nation’s citizens and press must never be denied access to any, any, information pertaining to its governance. Governments do not have the right to keep from its citizens the true costs, for example, of government procurements. Governments do not have a right, to slip in legislation without informing its citizens and opposition members and allowing for debate. Yet Harper and thugs, notably Peter MacKay, then Minister of Defence, kept lying about the real costs of the F-35s during its last campaign. And Harper and his thugs created massive omnibus bills, which were rammed into law in which information and debate was limited and legislation passed without either the opposition or Canadians knowing what they were. This is a government that does not listen to its own citizens. Don’t believe it? Let’s take one example. The majority of Canadians supported the long gun registry. Even police chiefs across the nation supported it. Harper and thugs, however, preferred to hear and listen to special interests groups who make up much of the hard core base that supports the Conservative party. Again, there are more examples. Just look around, read the papers, look back. And remember.

When a government scapegoats members of society, as Harper and gang have, that government undermines all of society. When a government smears, spies on, and questions the patriotism of opponents, as Harper and gang have, that government undermines Democracy and poses a real threat to that society.

By its own admission, this government’s priorities have everything to do with the economy and jobs but little to do with better working conditions, raising the minimum wage, and improving the lot and well being of the poorest and meanest amongst us. This is the government that has consistently attacked workers and yet has gone out of its way to give every tax break, every benefit of doubt possible to big business including the hiring of temporary foreign workers for less pay and allowing, even encouraging, companies to ship jobs overseas. How do these measures better the lot of working Canadians and how do they improve the economy? Harper does not care about the health of the economy of individuals but rather the health and welfare of the economy of big business. Never forget that.

Look at Harper and gang’s efforts (at times extremely offensive in the form of Joe Oliver) on behalf of the Keystone XL pipeline that may create many jobs but only for shortterm while certainly offering long-term gain for a very, very few. Theirs is the plundering Capitalist mentality of Al Capp’s General Bullmoose: What’s good for General Bullmoose is good everybody. It ain’t true, folks.

But for Harper and gang, Capitalism always trumps Democracy.

HARPER CUTS AND RUNS – AGAIN

By the time Parliament resumes, October 16th, Harper will have made just five appearances in the House over a period of six months. That is an absolute disgrace for a leader of any nation. After the spring session and over the summer, he has moved, like the sneak and snake he is, to prorogue Parliament for the third time. As in the past, it was to avoid answering questions and to rebuild his party’s fortunes. This is the regime that has worked tirelessly on behalf of Keystone XL and yet cannot bring itself to work on the business of governing Canada too fixated on its own problems than on the health and welfare of the nation.

H.L. Mencken wrote, “Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.” Sadly, Harper gives credence to that sentiment. We can change that by heeding the words of Ralph Nader: “There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.”

Amen.

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