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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

 

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A GRIEVING MILITARY WIDOW’S OPEN LETTER TO STEPHEN HARPER

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

Frank A. Pelaschuk

On March 12, I received an email from Joan Carbage Larocque asking for help. While I do not know her, I knew of her. I had made a brief mention of her and her husband in my October 9, 2013 posting, Stephen Harper: Wolf Among Sheep.

She very, very briefly outlined some of her difficulties. I have no experience with the military but I did make some suggestions. Unfortunately, they were not all that helpful; she had already covered that ground.

Joan Larocque has been a grieving widow of a military man since 2005. Since that time, she has been looking for answers in hopes of finding closure and the solace of peace. She needs closure. Thus far, it has been denied her.

It is clear that her grief will never end but it is also equally clear that she feels that she deserves better, deserves some answers and a public apology for what she, her family and her husband’s memory have endured. I agree.

Because I want to help her in any small way possible, I suggested that she write an open letter, which I would post on my blog. Though the letter is addressed to me, and the few readers I do have, its most obvious target is Stephen Harper, the Department of National Defence, and Robert Nicholson, the Minister of Defence. It is they who can give her the solace she needs. They simply have to do the right, the decent thing. I hope they read her letter.

Our military men and women and their families have been badly treated by Stephen Harper and his crew. Perhaps their knowing a little about Cpl. Jacques Larocque and his loving wife might finally persuade them to help her and her family find that solace of peace she so desperately seeks and deserves. A little nudging from the public might help but, with this crew, one never knows. They don’t appear to listen to our veterans.

There are many other families out there who are suffering, who need our help and support, who deserve better from Harper and his crew than they have been receiving. Harper has spent millions in promoting Canadian military achievements yet has clawed back on services for the military. He plans to spend even more millions in celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary as a nation. It’s an absolute disgrace and nothing more than about promoting the Conservative brand through propaganda and mythmaking. The money could be put to better use, with modernizing military equipment, with better services for our military personnel and for our veterans and their families. Too many have survived wars only to lose the one within themselves. This government has failed them; too many military families are forced into bankruptcy. This government appears determined to deny there is a “social contract” with those who serve and have served us very well; it’s time Canadians returned the favour, let us honour the “moral contract” to treat our men and women better than we have. We can all help. Write to your MP. Better still, write to Stephen Harper. Or simply forward this post to him, to your MPs, and to your friends.

A Note: This is Joan Larocque’s letter. I helped somewhat with suggestions regarding spelling, punctuation and with clarification of matters that appeared unclear to me. That said, Mrs. Larocque had final say in all matters relating to her heartfelt words and it appears in whole without editorial interference.

A WIDOWS LETTER

by

JOAN CARBAGE LAROCQUE

You don’t know me, but I am a soldier’s wife. I would like to tell you and your readers a little about my husband and what he meant to me.

Cpl Jacques Larocque Born March 24th 1965 – died August 27th, 2005.

Jacques joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1982 in Montreal, Quebec at the age of just 17.  I met him in 1986 and we married the following year; together we raised four wonderful Children.  It was very apparent to me from the moment I met him that Canada and his career in the Canadian Armed Forces were a high priority in his life and that he was very passionate about serving.

He was a avid sportsman and hunter, participating in many sports teams for the CF (Canadian Forces) community.  We were posted often having lived in Shearwater, Nova Scotia, Trenton, Ontario, Gander, Newfoundland, Yellowknife, NT, and again Trenton Ontario all of which we enjoyed.

Jacques did a number of TD’s (Temporary Duty) on exercises and four deployments (volunteered) to the Middle East in Canada’s effort on Terrorism. When away, we missed him terrible but fully supported him. Jacques was the glue that kept my family together. My sons respected him as a father; our youngest boy was sure he had the “best dad” in the world and didn’t hesitate to tell everyone. He was very Nurturing to Our daughters and as well as being extremely protective. Daddy’s girls!!!

Personality wise, he was a quiet, soft spoken man that was passionate, dedicated and honourable; he was the perfect example of a decent human being. He volunteered at the schools the kids went to and assisted where he could. He helped strangers and neighbours/friends alike, with whatever and however he could. As a partner, husband and father he was made for all three roles and filled them with every bit of his soul juggling the roles he had in life with ease.  Always calm, always cool, a true peacekeeper. He was well respected amongst his peers as well and a true sportsman but with a competitive nature.

Jacques really had not been ill much of his life, we led a fairly healthy lifestyle.

Just turning 40 and on his forth tour of duty in the middle east in two and a half years, Jacques had returned home complaining about not feeling well, he had seen the MO (Medical Officer) three times and was diagnosed with acid reflux, each time but was not feeling any better. Though he was grey in colour when he came home, he told me there was nothing to worry about; the Military Doctors were treating the acid reflux with medication

When he died in front of my family, and me, I was in shock, he had acid reflux; you don’t die from acid reflux.  As a family we questioned the CF, we wanted answers. As a CF member you are only able to receive CF medical care, you do not get provincial health care. Therefore the CF health care services would have been the ones to answer our questions as to what happened to Jacques: How could a healthy man (according to the Department of National Defence), who had been fit enough for four tours of duty in a foreign country collapse and die just three weeks after returning home from what appeared to be the only medical issues he had: acid reflux?

The autopsy report stated Jacques  had two previous heart attacks and obviously devastating heart disease, blockages, chronic congestive heart failure, and angina I started thinking back In early 2000 he had been refused mortgage insurance, (just after he was first diagnosed by DND with Acid reflux) however DND assured us that the civilian medical facility that declined Jacques had no idea what they were talking about. Jacques, according to DND, was a fit and healthy man encouraging him to just ignore the civilian source: “there was nothing wrong with” Jacques. In Jacques’s medical file it was stated during the BOI (Board of Inquiry) that the outside civilian medical source refused to insure him because he was at a high risk for mortality because of his blood tests. Therefore in the last two months of his life, he was not only helping fight the war on Terror he was also fighting a war he could not win; to survive an undiagnosed heart attack at the same time; he didn’t have the tools.

When he passed, I was inconsolable, I was confused and heartbroken…I was lost and devastated…I was questioning everything.

The answers lay with his medical file and the DND. I begged the DND to let me see his medical file, to answer my questions. They chose to do a Board of Inquiry instead. At first they asked for patience and would speak with me once the BOI was complete, six months they said, then I would receive a copy of the file and a debrief. More then two years later, I was still waiting, I sent many emails; time and again I was told to wait.

I needed to know and to understand what happened, Jacques was my husband, my partner, my soul mate, he was in many ways my reason for living; I cried each and every day.

The pain I felt was overwhelming and paralyzing. I didn’t know what happened to him, all I knew is that he went over to the middle east healthy, he saw the DND Medical doctor three times because he was not feeling well; he came back a very ill man, and he collapsed and he died.

I tried and tried to explain to the DND that I really needed to understand what happened to him. He was my rock for over 20 years, he held me together.

After years of waiting, DND sent me a partial copy of the BOI and left out things like the executive summary and that is when the communication stopped. The one thing the BOI report made clear was that this death was NOT service related. They never spoke to me about what I had or had not received.  They did not respond to my emails or letters.

Do you know how painful it is to have questions, need desperately to have the answers? I wanted to understand so that in my heart and soul I could try to start mending and gain peace in my life. Instead, I was met by cold silence. I didn’t even get acknowledgements of my own efforts. I felt totally abandoned by the Military!

Disregarded like trash.

In 2008, I started to write to Minister MacKay, maybe if the department refused to respond to me the elected minister would. I was told the file was closed and he was not about to open it. COLD, CALLOUS AND UNCOMPASSIONATE. I was in pain, a pain I feel to this very day! Other days, I felt angry; Jacques was a servant of Canada, he deserved better. He was promised proper health care; he did not get that. I reached out to others for help in my plight: I had not been given closure; I needed closure.

I reached out to the DND Ombudsman’s office in 2010.  They started an investigation. They had questions. I spoke to them many times but again, no answers were forthcoming. One month led to the next, I would ask for an update. Still no answers.  It was apparent to me that DND preferred I “move on”

Jacques was my life for over twenty years. We planned to grow old together. How can I as his life partner have his life end and not know why. I knew how; he had heart disease for many years; acid reflux presents similar symptoms as heart disease, but acid reflux will not kill you; undiagnosed heart disease will.  But it takes just a blood test or a stress test to rule out the demon of heart disease, a test Jacques never got. That is right, no blood was ever taken; he was never tested for what killed him therefore in reality. HOW SAD IS THAT? Jacques had a treatable disease, but …

On the day the witness side of the BOI was complete in November, 2005, a rep from VAC called me to offer me a pension they felt I may be entitled to, I had no idea even what VAC was at that time. Within three weeks of application it was approved. I am in receipt of a “disability pension” from VAC.  In 2012, I was presented by DND at CFB Trenton aka 8 Wing with the Sacrifice medial and the Memorial Cross. DND was still stating that Jacques death was not service related when I was presented with these medals.

Through the access to information and privacy act (Dec 19, 2007) I was able to get a document (January 23, 2006) that stated under medical opinion “if this client had received different management there may have been a more favourable outcome. An assessment was provided at 100% in Jacques’s favour. The signature on this document was ED Callaghan Adjudicator.

In early 2013, I was so exhausted and frustrated with the CF and the MND office, that I contacted CTV news, I am not a fan of being in the public with my story, I tried to keep it quiet, but I felt I had no choice and told my story.

DND and VAC (Veterans Affairs of Canada), sister departments, looked at the same file, arriving at different conclusions. I wanted a consensus and I wanted answers to my questions. YOU CANT HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!!!

The day CTV spoke to the MND office, I was to receive the call I had been waiting 7.5 years for. Peter MacKay, the MND at the time, had made a new determination Jacques death was service related. Finally. Finally. Now I would get answers to my questions and Jacques could rest in peace.

I emailed the Minister, thanking him and presenting him with my unanswered questions. Once again, the waiting started. I waited and waited. Silence from his office, I emailed again. I waited. Nothing.  Six months later, a cabinet shuffle, can you believe that? So I did what one would do. I emailed the new Minister of National defence. I received a response August 21, 2013 “In the case of your husband, the Board of Inquiry concluded that his death was not attributable to service. This determination has not changed, even after higher-level review.”

My husband’s death was no longer service related, you got to be joking. I thought I had already got the insult to injury, but no, no, this was incredible. How could these two elected officials treat a grieving widow and a family this way? Mr. Nicholson just came from the justice department, surely he could see the injustice in this case! I wrote him again. Silence. I sent the document of (August 21st, 2013) on to CTV News, and low and behold as they were airing the story Mr. Nicholson’s office calls me and stated that I misinterpreted his letter and that Jacques death is service related. I had misinterpreted?? Deep, deep breath. Off goes another email with the same questions related to Jacques’s death to see if I will finally get the answers after eight long, long years. That was October 2013, I didn’t even get an acknowledgement that my letters and emails have been received. Then the CF calls me for the long overdue debrief. On December 05, 2013 the debriefing took place here, in Guelph.

The delegated civilian and military members that met with me spoke ONLY of the first BOI which stated the death was not service related and would not take questions….and would not respond to the change of determination by MND (Minister of National Defence) Nicholson or his predecessor, Mr MacKay….surely the minister of Justice and the MND would understand a person’s need for closure, to have the questions with the loss of a loved one so dear to them that it exceeds words. If Mr Nicholson does not want to answer my questions in writing I have asked (Dec 05, 2013) for a meeting with him, one-on-one, him and I. Again that letter has gone unanswered, not acknowledged. Silence.

The DND Ombudsmans office tells me that it’s with the Minister, and they can do no more then that. The file remains open.

Of the 40 short years Jacques lived, 23 years of those precious years were in service to Canada. Don’t you think the MND can offer me a few short moments of one hour of one day so I can understand and come to terms with what happened almost nine years ago?

Lest we forget!

Joan, beloved widow of Jacques.

***

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

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

Frank A. Pelaschuk

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

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

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

Where is their dignity unless there is honesty? – Cicero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

STEPHEN HARPER’S SHUFFLE HUSTLE

He [the Emperor] is taller by almost the breadth of my nail, than any of his court, which alone is enough to strike an awe into the beholders. – Jonathan Swift, The Voyage to Lilliput

Just because everything is different doesn’t mean anything has changed. – Irene Peter

Frank A. Pelaschuk

NEW! IMPROVED! YOU GOTTA BUY THIS!

“New faces, experienced hands”. That is the message we are to take from Stephen Harper’s latest cabinet shuffle. Well, is it?

We have the same old guard with the same old, tired Harper message: economy, tax cuts, jobs.

James Flaherty is still minister of Finance.

Tony Clement of the $50 million boondoggle and the missing $3.1 billion (does no one out there even care?) is still Treasury Board president.

John Baird is still minister of Foreign Affairs, still belligerent, still loud and still angry, just slightly less so.

Peter van Loan is still government leader of the House. Always a dedicated partisan, his most notable achievement of late has been the role of would-be brawler when, finger wagging, he charged across the floor of the house cursing opposition NDP members in a vivid display of the level of decorum and discourse he and his colleagues have unleashed upon the House since Harper took power.

Troglodyte Joe Oliver also retains his position as minister of Natural Resources. Combatively unpleasant, mean-spirited, ignorant, and partisan as they come, clearly the kind of person Harper likes, he has endeared himself to oil lobbyists with his free wheeling ad hominem attacks against environmentalists and scientists who warn of climate change and the dangers posed by the XL Keystone project.

Unfortunately, we still have Christian Paradis, in a reduced role, one of only four elected Tories from Quebec, Paradis who has himself been embroiled in several allegations of ethical “missteps” in the past. As a performer, he has proven himself to be ineffectual, inconsequential and as dazzling as a bowl of cold porridge.

Too, we have Gerry Ritz, still minister of Agriculture, the same minister who was there during the tainted meat scandal of 2008, the same minister who quipped of the listeriosis outbreak that this was akin to a “death by a thousand cold cuts”. Hundreds fell ill; twenty died. And he was there in 2012 when the Americans came to the rescue initiating one of the largest meat recalls in Canadian history upon finding tainted meat shipped from the Alberta XL Food plants. No quips that time. This is the same Ritz who will tell you that Conservatives have increased the number of food inspectors. It may be true that there have been more hires for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, it may be true that they are called “Food Inspectors” but, thanks to Harper’s Conservatives, the role of meat inspectors have been reduced to that of rubber stampers of in-house testing results performed by meat producers.

And we have two, two! ministers who have simply swapped positions, weak, vain, Progressive Conservative sell out, Peter MacKay, moving to Justice and tough, stats-be-damned, twin to Toews, scapegoating panderer Rob Nicholson moving to Defence. A straight swap where everyone loses but those two.

And, finally, we have Leona Aglukkaq who has simply moved from Health to the Environment. As minister of health, she has proven time and again that she really took her job of health seriously going out of her way to ensure the health and well being of Big Business over that of Canadian consumers. Hell, with her in place, she made certain we did not even get a decent labelling program for our food products. Gotta love her.

So those, I guess, is what Conservatives mean by “experienced hands”. The same old same old.

ENEMIES

Changes? A few. Peter Kent is gone. No loss there. As Environmental minister, he was more effective as a Harperite stooge than as watchdog for Canadian interests against the depredations of Big Business. During his term, he has slashed environmental regulations, gutted the environmental assessment process, walked away from Kyoto Accord, and lied time and again about the reduction of Canadian environmental standards. Unfortunately, with Aglukkaq replacing him, Canadians and environmentalists have little reason to celebrate though I expect there may be more than a few business types out there gleefully rubbing their hands as they eye the resources of our National Parks. Also gone is shrill Conservative loyalist Marjory LeBreton, once government leader of the Senate and overseer of the whitewashed Duffy audit by two Conservative Senators. She, too, will likely be unmissed except by those Liberal media lickspittles who may have a soft spot for her. Vic Toews is also gone. That is good news. I know nothing about his replacement Steven Blaney so will refrain from saying anything more than this: I suspect he will be hard pressed to match his predecessor for unpleasantness and bile and sincerely hope he doesn’t try. Harper has enough of that type around him already. But, if Toews was of a blindly partisan mindset disturbingly parochial in meanness, spite and fury, he wasn’t alone; almost any member of Harper’s gang could have sprung up from the same vile, dark, dank woodwork that smacks of paranoia where everyone who opposes them is not only stupid, but a threat, a danger, something to be condemned and destroyed: they are the enemy.

And to prove that they would not suffer them easily, Harper and gang had little difficulty in working themselves into attacking their critics. Some were ridiculed as radicals, stooges for outside environmentalist interests; others had their patriotism questioned, reputations smeared and endured brutal innuendo regarding their mental competency; opponents of the online spying bill were ridiculed by Vic Toews with suggestions they sided with pedophiles and were soft on crime. And if you were unemployed, collecting welfare, well, you are naturally suspect: you are a fraudster, a liar, a druggie, an illegal, a lazy lowlife leech if not all of that. The Conservative staple? If you ain’t one of them, if you ain’t for Harper and his gang, you’re against them. It is that simple.

For those who believe this an exaggeration, they would do well to wake up and pay attention to the news. They would have learned on July 16 that the “newcomers” to cabinet posts were given a ten-point checklist kit direct from the PMO which included information not only of the bureaucrats to avoid who could not take yes or no for an answer but also “who to engage or avoid: friend and enemy stakeholders” i.e., anyone who has dared to speak out against them.

That there is a list, that it would be long, should surprise no one. The only thing shocking about this revelation is that the secretive, underhanded Harper gang would submit such a list so baldly. That is either hubris or enthusiasm gone overboard.

This behaviour by Harper and gang is grossly wrong. It is undemocratic and bespeaks a sick paranoia that is the real threat to our Democracy. It is also shallow, lazy, and just plain irresponsible. And it all rests with Harper.

Even so, even as offensive as it is, there are some, however, who by some peculiar reasoning process find this attitude of meanness and scapegoating appealing and justified. For them, they really are beset by enemies and they are called them. These are Conservative supporters who cannot or will not think things through, who would rather buy into the view that the world is rife with danger, that thieves, rapists, pedophiles freely roam amongst us and that crime is constantly on the rise and that harsher sentences and more jails and further stigmatizing of the mentally ill are the just solution to all that troubles them rather than listening to this bare, simple fact: it just ain’t so. For such as these, confirmation of their fears by panderers and exploiters such as Harper and his gang are sufficient. Gut feelings, the truthiness first propounded by comic Stephen Colbert, are the things to rely on, not facts, and certainly not scientific facts. Irene Peter must have been thinking of these types when she said, “Ignorance is no excuse – it’s the real thing.”

TALKING BOBBLE HEADS BROUGHT TO LIFE!

Anyone who follows politics and watches the news will have almost immediately realized that, at best, Harper and gang have simply pulled a con game, the old switcheroo where faces may have shifted but the ideas, what there are of them, remain stuck in the same old sewer. The speakers may be different, but the words and message are the same and are already just as tired and trite when the past robotic parliamentary secretaries, Michelle Rempel, Kellie Leitch, Candice Bergen, Shelly Glover, Chris Alexander, and Pierrie Poilievre first spouted them before their elevation to cabinet where they, no doubt, will continue to spout them. In their ubiquitous appearances in the media, including CBC’s Power and Politics, they have clearly earned Harper’s approval demonstrating their fidelity with daily, programmed performances of slavishly repeating set responses to questions asked a dozen ways in the vain hope of getting even one honest answer. Expert at evasiveness, at obfuscation and outright lying, these talking, lifelike mannequins have suddenly come into their own, Harper kissing them with the breath of life, soaring into the stratosphere approaching but never quite attaining the freedom and independence they so hungered for; we will witness them in the House, we will hear the party line and talking points and we will note the standard non answers to even the simplest and most innocuous of questions; we will admire their performances. Even blessed with life, it will be as good, if not better, as the good old days when they were mere bobble heads on Power and Politics; they have been inoculated against openness, against truth, against integrity, against independent thinking, and against any sensation resembling the emotion of shame. Shame? Have any of them known the experience and, if so, have any of them been humbled. Likely not.

“New faces”? Turns out, not so new and not so fresh after all when it comes to ideas.

Now I have read and heard on the news that these people are “smart”. Well, I don’t know. What I have seen of them in their performances in the House, on Power and Politics and other news items, convinces me not of their intelligence but that when it comes to partisanship, to mindless adherence to the party line, when it comes to sticking to and endlessly repeating the Harperite talking points of the day, these live talking dolls are non-pareil.

New faces? New ideas? These six mouth the Conservative refrain with an aplomb that is frightening because they are never, never in doubt and because they are never, never in doubt, they never, never answer questions directly or truthfully, preferring evasion, diversion, historical revision, dishonesty, and pointing fingers to the offences of other parties that often date back years and are beside the point. Occasionally, they have displayed signs of actual life with flashes of anger and frustration but never, never of shame. Of all of them, Chris Alexander strikes me as the least offensive and the smartest. He steps in for Jason Kenney as Immigration minister. Michelle Rempel, for whom a new post was evidently created, always appears wide-eyed and startled as a deer caught by headlights. Whenever one of the opposition members who usually appears with her and the others on Power and Politics speak, she invariably interrupts, talks over them, shakes her head and rolls her eyes determined to drown out the other. She is determined, lest it missed it the first dozen times, that the audience will hear her talking point for the umpteenth time.

Watching Kellie Leitch on Power and Politics is always interesting. Whenever her counterparts speak, she sits there, shaking her head a smirk pasted on her mug and, as Rempel, has little trouble in trying to addle the other member by talking over, interrupting, and hectoring.

And there is Candice Bergen, tireless lobbyist for paranoid gun lovers with her successful bid to get rid of the long gun registry, her unblinking eyes wide, wide, to connote sincerity I suspect, and Shelly Glover, rigid and imperious (of whom more will be said), both equally stupefyingly unpleasant and just as rude as the others.

But, of all of them, the most cringingly obnoxious is the oleaginous Pierre Poilievre, the new minister of state for Democratic Reform. Certain, viciously arrogant and obstructionist, he is the-takes-no-prisoner adherent who, along with Peter van Loan, offers the clearest testament to how little things have changed with Harper’s shuffle. This is the fellow who has waged war against Elections Canada during its investigations of allegations of Conservative attempts to subvert the electoral process by means of robocalls, redirecting of voters to nonexistent polling stations, and of election overspending employing the “in-out” scam. This is the fellow who had praised Mike Duffy for doing “the honourable thing” when everyone thought Duffy had repaid the Senate with his own money for illegal housing claims and then, as easily, shamelessly switched gears and praised Nigel Wright for “doing the exceptionably honourable thing” when he wrote out a $90,000 cheque to pay off Duffy’s debt. Those are weasel shifts and Poilievre is the master of such shifts. And he is going to be in charge of election reform? We should be worried, very worried.

Changes? Yes, a few of the faces in cabinet may be “fresher” but the message and those passing it are as stale as last year’s joke. Partisan, secretive, dishonest, dismissive, dismal, evasive and abusive, these six will be little more than carryovers of what we have endured from Harper and vile gang over the years. They are a perfect fit because, as is the rest of the Harper crew, these six are utterly lacking in shame, scruples and charm.

BUT WHAT HAS CHANGED?

Change? Well, Rempel was given a post created just for her it seems. But wasn’t Harper about smaller government as well as changing the Senate? It appears, under Harper, bloated government is here to stay. However, with Poilievre as minister of Democratic Reform, there may be some move to reform the Senate. Even so, the move will be less about reform than ensuring Conservatives salvage something for themselves from the Senate debacle. An elected Senate? Revised rules for housing allowances? Abolishment? Oh, if only. One thing is almost certain. There will be more erosion of our Democracy in the way of attacks against our electoral process.

But of particular interest is the curious case of Shelly Glover, our new Minister of Heritage and Official Languages. This “fresh” face, straight-backed and haughty, is the same Shelly Glover who, along with fellow Conservative, James Bezan, had been investigated by Elections Canada for illegal overspending and claims. This is the same Shelly Glover who refused to submit a proper audit of her campaign expenses, the same Glover who, along with Bezan, Marc Mayrand of Elections Canada had recommended be suspended until they made things right in letters he wrote to the Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer. The Speaker, however, sat on the letters for two weeks, allowing Glover and Bezan time to take the matter to court while Poilievre (see above), ran to their defence in the House renewing his attacks of Elections Canada. When news of the letters and the recommendations came out, the opposition were further enraged when Scheer stonewalled, refusing to act on Mayrand’s suggestion offering the excuse that the matter was before the court! Could this be partisan politics at play from a Speaker who is supposed to be unbiased? Perhaps.

But then, something changed; Glover, the outraged ex-cop who should have known better, who should have behaved better, suddenly reconsidered and agreed to submit a revised report. Instead of being fired, or urged to resign – anyone remember Penashue who resigned over campaign irregularities? – Shelly Glover is rewarded with a significant portfolio. Why is less demanded of Glover than of Penashue? She deliberately broke the rules, she sought to wage war with Elections Canada. She cheated. But no punishment. Once again Harper has demonstrated that, when he favours one, no sin, no foul deed is so egregious that it cannot be forgiven or overlooked. This is a government of many foul deeds and as many foul people.

IT’S ALL ABOUT NOTHING

Can anyone still believe this shuffle amounts to change? If so, shame on you. This is the same old Harper and the same old ethically challenged gang. The Conservatives may have lost a few faces, but they remain thugs, they behave as thugs. The message remains the same: the economy and jobs. A sense of shame, ethical behaviour and sound moral judgment is still wanting in this group of vile bodies. The bullies and guttersnipes still rule the roost. It’s all a game and, come next election, there will still be some among you who will still insist that Harper is the most capable, the best leader for the country. You will not care about ethics, integrity, or decency. Perhaps you never did. You will only care about what’s in it for you and will be bought easily and cheaply. If Harper is a threat to Democracy, so are those who support him.

Change? Ironically, just hours after the cabinet shuffle, CTV reported that the RCMP have been stonewalled by the PMO in its investigation of Duffy, Wright, the cheque and what the PMO knew. Unsurprisingly, the PMO issued a denial though they did admit to there being an email of the deal which, not that long ago, Harper denied existed. The PMO claims it wishes to co-operate with the RCMP but that the RCMP had not placed a request for the document. Incredible. And this from the government of “law and order”? Weasel excuses. Poilievre must be proud.

On July 15, Harper shuffled his cabinet. What has changed?

In my first posting, Harper: The Beast In Him, I began with these words: I dislike Stephen Harper; I dislike his gang.

I have never liked this crew. I have not changed in that opinion. I dislike them still.

How do you feel? Will you ever wake up?

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