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STEPHEN AND JUSTIN: BILL C-51, OPPORTUNISM AND SUBMISSION IN THE AGE OF FEAR

A timid person is frightened before a danger, a coward during the time, and a courageous person afterwards. – John Paul Richter

It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had the individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his convictions. – Robert G. Ingersoll

 Frank A. Pelaschuk

CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK?

When Justin Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party in April, 2013, some sneered at the Liberals dismissing their choice merely as a shallow, photogenic youngster, inexperienced and riding on the coattails of his father’s name. For the Liberals, however, that was enough: they had a winner and they knew it.

The goal, of course, is to attract new, younger voters to the Liberal fold. In the age of superficiality, of selfies and narcissism, it was hardly necessary that those drawn to the Liberals be particularly knowledgeable; the draw was all that mattered, someone young, handsome, articulate, and charismatic: he was one of them, he understood them, he knew where they were coming from: besides, he was cute, had great hair, and had won much admiration for defeating the brash, handsome, controversial Conservative Senator, Patrick Brazeau, in a charity boxing match when the odds had the senator wiping the floor with the lanky Liberal MP. Too, it did not hurt that his deceased father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Liberal and Prime Minister, larger than life and polarizing at the time, was still enough of a draw to earn some support from the elderly, those who harken back to the days of the late 60s and 70s and early 80s through the prism of nostalgia: memories not of what was but rather of what should have been. Compelling, charming, abrasive, intellectual, dashing, reckless, Trudeau père had married a vivacious, slightly insecure, and much younger woman, perhaps not quite up to his intellectual capabilities, but she was beautiful, endearing, fun loving, and naïve if a bit reckless and self-destructive. They had three children, all boys, the perfect family if briefly with it’s share of grief, a disintegrating marriage and later the death of the youngest at 23. It is not surprising that among Liberal supporters today, women outnumber the men.

Unfortunately, memory is an unreliable friend, the Trudeau era no Camelot. While it is true Pierre Trudeau gave us the Canada Act which included the Constitution Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, we also had the FLQ and the October Crisis in1970 that clearly delineated a leader who, in the name of public security, squandered his reputation as a lifelong advocate of civil rights by placing the nation in lockdown with the imposition of the War Measures Act. The following excerpt of a seven-minute exchange with CBC’s Tim Rafe did nothing to help:

Trudeau: “There’s a lot of bleeding hearts around who don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is ‘go on and bleed’ but it’s more important to keep law and order than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don’t like the looks of…”

Rafe: “At any cost, any price? How far would you go? To what extent?”

Trudeau: “Well, just watch me.” (CBC Digital Archive)

It looked good to the timid, easily swayed and easily frightened, showcasing a leader at his best and worst and who was prepared to act decisively and at any cost. But not all were impressed. Imposition of the Act was akin was akin to “using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut” quipped NDP leader Tommy Douglas

So here we are 44 and 45 years later, this time with the Conservatives leading the government and another Trudeau leading the Liberal party. Again, to hear how Harper and his gang tell it, Canada is besieged, in crisis, its citizens in direct danger not just because of the lickspittle, anti-Conservative media or an “activist” (i.e., anti-Conservative) Supreme Court, and not just from the murderers and mad dogs roaming our streets: terrorists are everywhere and they are pounding on Canada’s doors. Those who downplay those fears as alarmist and extreme urging caution in how we react are dismissed with innuendo their loyalty questioned.

It should surprise no one that a government, particularly one as secretive, mean-spirited and anti-democratic as this one, would play to our nightmares and appeal to our bigotry during its slumping fortunes. It’s been done before. But how far is Harper willing to go?

Well, we already know don’t we?

THIS ISN’T GOOD

Long before ISIL entered the scene, Harper and his party have proven themselves quite willing to label critics in the environmental movement as radicals, stooges for foreign interests. Government employees have been fired, threatened with jail time, stonewalled, smeared, their reputations tarnished and medical records leaked. We have Conservative McCarthyite Mark Adler offering a bill that would require employees of watchdog agencies to swear loyalty oaths; employment will no longer be based on merit but on which political party you supported, or worked for years ago. If that passes, cronyism as played by Peter MacKay will be commonplace and accepted practice. But of what is this government afraid that it works to deceive Canadians by means of such dirty tricks, the frequent attempts to slip in spying legislation into omnibus bills and, when caught, hurling charges accusing critics of “siding with pornographers”.

Crime has always been a good bet for Conservatives, always eager to feed the fears, ignore the facts, and give the public what it wants: punish, punish, punish, one size fits all. The world is dangerous, full of bad guys and no one is redeemable except, perhaps, those Conservatives who subvert electoral rules, hold secret, illegal, fundraising events and pad their expenses.

But these days, even get-tough-on-crime measures aren’t enough. So thank God for ISIL and those horrific images of mass slaughters and videos of beheadings and a burning offering Harper and his Conservatives glimmerings of how they could reverse their sliding fortunes in time for the next election. Without debate, discussion or consultation, Harper joins coalition forces and involves Canada in the war in Iraq with the promise Canadian soldiers would play strictly advisory and support roles. The public approved, his fortunes immediately rose. Where was the downside in joining the forces of good to stop those Islamic monsters?

But, if the boost wasn’t as much as Harper expected or wanted, the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent shortly after allowed him to quickly frame the narrative and raise the spectre of terrorism. The death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on Parliament Hill two days later, in a separate incident, was a godsend lending credence to the speculation and giving him an extra bounce after Canadians watched events unfold on Parliament Hill on television while media wildly fuelled speculation about the number of gunmen and victims. The initial confusion and reaction is understandable. However, Harper’s exploitation of the tragedies, working up hysteria to win public support for new, draconian, anti-terrorism legislation for his own political ends, is not.

And if all this helped Harper, the war, the deaths of two fine men, how much more could he have gained if, when reports came out of Canadian soldiers engaging ISIL in combat, one or two Canadian casualties were added. He could throw that into the campaign speeches he’s been giving across the country for an election yet to be declared, evoking jihadists with every other word and having us imagine the rest: bloodthirsty savages slathering at our doors wielding bloodied knives and leaving behind a trail of headless corpses. Still, even without dead Canadian soldiers in Iraq, he’s doing well. Almost daily we hear reports of more arrests, of plots foiled. My God, we are under siege!

So it’s working, this pandering to our fears and emotions, providing impetus for Harper’s Bill C-51, the new anti-terrorist legislation, with no public blowback and with little to no resistance from the opposition, particularly the Trudeau Liberals who have promised to vote for the bill regardless of its shortcomings. When the bill passes, and it will, CSIS will be given broader powers without any parliamentary oversight. Harper doesn’t trust the opposition members we elect and do. In fact, oversight will be almost none existent, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), an “independent” government agency empowered to investigate and review CSIS, has proven itself ineffective, it’s members government hack appointees and itself prone to controversy with chairs Chuck Strahl, former Harper cabinet minister, forced to resign in 2014 for lobbying activities and Arthur Porter (2008-2011), facing charges for fraud, conspiracy to commit government fraud, abuse of trust, receiving secret commissions, and money laundering while also in the role of director general for McGill University Health Centre.

The bill is dangerous with real potential for abuse. So why is Justin Trudeau so eager to sign off on it? There are no terms of reference. Who defines what makes a terrorist or a criminal act. The Act prohibits “advocating” or “promoting” terrorism. But how are these terms defined? As Terry Glavin pointed out (Ottawa Citizen, Feb. 12, 2015), C-51 is not just about terrorism. Unions and activists will almost certainly be targeted, as they have been, if their actions have a negative economic impact, as when a union strikes or environmentalists set up roadblocks. Would these be deemed acts of terrorism? Almost certainly with this government. Bill C-51 grants CSIS sweeping powers to arrest and detain without warrant and for longer periods, allows CSIS to shut down Internet access of whomever it deems a threat, and denies accused individuals the opportunity of facing their accusers. This is not a bill for a free democracy but for a nation governed by an iron fisted despot.

Is this what Trudeau is willing to sign off on? How far is he willing to let Harper go?

SPY VS. CITIZEN

It’s easy to understand Harper’s motive for putting this forward. He is a demagogue, he is anti-democratic, his is the interest of corporate kleptocracy not the fair and just society that Pierre Trudeau talked about and then abandoned when it suited his needs.

As I stated many times, Harper and his gang are not above smearing their opponents. In trying to rally voters to his side, in whipping up the vision of terrorists banging on our doors, no one should be surprised that Harper resorts to planting the seed of the big, insidious and invidious lie: those who do not support him are against him. By itself, if used only in the rhetoric of campaigning, one party against another party, that may not seem so bad. But when used in the context of war, terrorism and electioneering for the purpose of stigmatizing opponents, of casting doubts to their loyalty, it becomes a weapon of potent danger. Only someone small, vicious, and corrupt would impugn another’s name and honour by questioning his loyalty, doubting his patriotism and by suggesting he supports the enemy in the full knowledge that it is not true simply to score cheap political points. Harper and gang are doing it now. Even as recently as today (February 17th), Harper was sowing division when, in a French-language interview, he said many employees of CBC’s French-language network, Radio-Canada, “hated” Conservative values. If by that he means his values, he may be right; I know I loathe them. Unfortunately, too many Canadians are swallowing that Harper poison. It’s not true, it’s not fair, and it’s destructive not just to the individual affected but also to society at large.

But how does one respond to the vicious smears, the innuendoes and the politics of division when there is always a whole population of the ignorant, bigoted and plain stupid ready to drink from the tainted Harper well?

A federal court recently ruled that Zunera Ishaq, a Muslim, should be allowed to wear her niqab while taking the oath of citizenship. Harper’s response before a gathering of faithful dolts was swift appealing to the lowest aspect of our nature. “I believe, and I think most Canadians believe that it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family. This is a society that is transparent, open and people are equal.” It was a vicious statement, one of division and intolerance, meant to inflame, to isolate and to stigmatize the woman and her community by suggesting with the use of the word “hide” that there was a more sinister aspect behind her desire to wear the niqab. The niqab and burkha are not religious requirements but some Muslims have interpreted the Qur’an’s admonition for modesty as such. However, Zunera Ishaq stated she was quite willing to unveil herself before a government official but not to be unmasked in public. This should satisfy us. Not so for Harper. He must plant that vile seed of mistrust and suspicion. Personally, I would prefer to see the face of my fellow citizens and would wish newcomers embrace our mores. But I have family members who are unhappy that I wear T-shirts only instead of buttoned shirts, even at family celebrations and funerals. That Zunera Ishaq prefers to wear a niqab makes her no more suspect than wearing a T-shirt makes me a redneck. As well, the last part of the statement caused me to smile. Harper’s regime is as closed, secretive, distrustful, petty and vengeful as any tinpot dictator’s. He has invoked closure, refused to consult with opposition members, attempted to slip laws into omnibus bills, subverted electoral laws, engaged in cronyism, and thrown those no longer useful to him under the bus. As for being equal…tell that to the single parent who may want to know why she or he has been left out in the cold while the well-off become even richer by an extra $2,000 thanks to Harper’s income splitting bill. Tell that to the Canadian worker who has been replaced by a foreign worker thanks to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program or to the low income earners whose wages have been suppressed as a result of the united efforts of Harper’s gang and big business.

The storyline Harper has framed is deeply disturbing. It does him no credit and it does Trudeau no credit when he appears to buy into it.

What has happened to the Liberal Party? Well, nothing really. It’s the same ole’ same ole’ not the new and better Justin promised. As has Harper, Trudeau has proven himself as venal as any cheap politician though, as one wit noted, there is no such thing as a cheap politician.

So it’s a tossup with the voters who cannot seem to count above two: Conservatives or Liberals, Liberals or Conservatives. It is as if the two parties, with public consent, really do believe they are entitled to rule by divine right. To the Conservatives and Liberals, the NDP as official opposition is merely an aberration so they work together in the secretive Board of Internal Economy to temporarily change the rules in hopes of financially destroying the NDP for engaging in what they all do with taxpayer funded mailouts.

BACK TO THE WHIZ KID AND HIS STORY OF NEW LOVE, ETC.

So what do Justin Trudeau and his Liberals have to offer that is new and different from Harper and his gang?

Well, very little, as it turns out.

In August of last year, he said, “A Liberal government will ensure that every Canadian is included….My vision is for a strong, united Canada and for a strong, respectful government.” We’ve heard that speech before. “Inclusion”, “openness”, “transparency”, “honesty”, are the buzzwords. And that’s the problem, they’re just buzzwords. After almost ten years of governance, suffused with an inflated image of himself as an economic mastermind, Harper has long ago proven himself a failure in every way. Integrity? None. Honesty? None. Openness? Nope. Truthful? Economic genius? Who is kidding whom?

Early in his term, we saw how it would be with Trudeau. He spent more time working the crowd than working in the House. Except for Elizabeth May, who does not get to ask questions in the House every day, none of the leaders have a stellar record of attendance during question period, “once considered a crucible of democratic debate in Canada, but now increasingly heavily scripted political theatre” (Jason Fekete, Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 30, 2014). Of 125 question period sessions in 2014, Thomas Mulcair attended 74, while Trudeau, with 49 appearances vied with Harper’s 46 in the race to trivialize and diminish Parliament. On that basis alone, there is no reason to vote for either Harper or Trudeau. For the record, May’s attendance was 100 out of 125 question period sessions.

In January of 2014, Trudeau boldly booted 32 Liberal senators from his caucus. The move came in the wake of the Senate scandals and while clever and unexpected, was perhaps meant more to show that Trudeau, young and inexperienced as he was, could be as decisive and brutal as anyone when necessary. But what did it accomplish? If the ploy was to eliminate partisanship in the Senate, what did it do for the House? How do you tell a life-long believer and member he is no longer a Liberal? Just as easy order a member of Harper’s gang to develop ethics.

And while he has proven himself as adapt as Harper in flexing his muscles, can Trudeau really be trusted to keep to his promises? Well…no. Remember his much ballyhooed open, free from political interference nominations promise? That proved a bust from the start with allegations of Trudeau publicly supporting some nominees and blocking others, of changing rules and membership cutoff dates behind closed doors. New, different, better? Hardly.

So, if quite not all he promised, if slow in unveiling some of his platform and less than open in some of his actions, it is true he still has a way to go in matching Harper in pettiness, ruthlessness, vindictiveness, and hypocrisy; that will likely come with time, the hardness and meanness, though I do not really believe Trudeau will ever develop the taste Harper has for wallowing in the sewer. Even so, Trudeau has shown himself able to surprise and, in doing so, of occasionally being remarkably reckless and as opportunistic as any old pro when, as recently as February 9, he made an appearance at a news conference with Eve Adams trailing behind him. Was this a joke? Apparently not. It did, however, elicit as much conversation as John Baird’s sudden departure a few days earlier. What was Trudeau thinking?

The loss of Baird, capable, partisan, and adroit as he was, is certainly more significant for Harper than that of Adams but the damage to Trudeau in embracing the defector may be greater. Which may explain why the Conservatives are still rubbing their hands and smiling. Not only had they rid themselves of a troublesome and toxic MP, Trudeau had, in welcoming her to his party, proved himself truly lacking in judgement. If he had failed to recognize the move by Adams for what it was, the last desperate gasp to salvage her political career and fulfill her personal ambitions, other Liberals did. If he had been under the perception he had made a coup, it is not all that surprising Trudeau would spring Adam’s defection before a clearly shocked media; what was surprising is that he would also spring it on his own supporters. It quickly became apparent that only a few members of his inner circle knew about Adams’s sudden conversion to the Liberal fold. Had more been informed, Trudeau may have been persuaded to withdraw the welcome mat thus saving him from embarrassment over the unseemly show. His failure to understand she was no great prize, certainly not of the calibre of John Baird, and that she had nothing to offer, in fact, might prove a liability, poses a real problem for him and the Liberal Party. How could he not see that Adams, by her own reckoning “25 years a ‘progressive’ conservative’”, was not a good fit for his goal of rebranding the Liberals as united, inclusive, honest, open and transparent? Had the ambitious Adams snookered an opportunistic Trudeau? Maybe. Other than baggage, what does she bring? More than one reference has been made of her telegenic looks. Is that the sum of her gifts? Well, turn about is fair play; the same has been said of Trudeau. I can just see it, Trudeau on the hustings, smugly offering platitudes while the cameras frantically shift from Adams to Trudeau to Adams ad nauseam: who cares about substance when you’ve got all that beauty? But, really, did Trudeau even pause to reflect?

Just days before her defection, she stood in the House staunchly defending the government in her role as parliamentary secretary to the health minister. Yet, as she and Trudeau sat side-by-side facing the media, she was able to claim without offering so much as a smirk that, “after a long and very difficult period of reflection” she could no longer support Harper’s “divisive”, “mean-spirited” leadership. It was enough to make one cringe. She also wanted to “better the lives of all Canadians.” Well, one Canadian in particular. “We need a kind, generous and strong leadership that champions shared vision for how to made Canada work for anyone,” she went on to say. Of income splitting, she had these words, “As a government, we were given a tremendous opportunity with the purported surplus to do right by folks. Instead the government is still about to roll out policies like income splitting which will devour the surplus without benefiting most Canadian families or creating a single job….I cannot support mean-spirited measures that benefit only the richest few.” As if this was news to her! Yet, in December 2014, she was loudly and extravagantly praising income splitting in the House, calling it a “simple, time-tested plan” and suggesting that all families would be better off.

Which is the real Eve Adams? I guess the phoney one.

But it is for her achievements outside of the House for which she has drawn most attention and which should have given Trudeau reason to pause if her 25 years as a Conservative wasn’t reason enough. During the 2011 election, Adams attempted to claim $2,777 in personal expenses including spa treatments and dry-cleaning costs. In December of 2013, she was caught on camera blocking cars at the pumps of an Ottawa Esso station throwing a hissy fit over a $6 carwash. There were allegations of misconduct against her and fiancé Dimitri Soudas with accusations they had paid for party memberships to build support for her nomination bid for the new federal riding of Oakville-North Burlington. As well, Soudas, a confidant of Harper’s and executive director in the PMO, was ordered by Harper not to interfere in Adams’s campaign. He did and was fired. In March of 2014, Adams angered a crowd of Conservatives attending a board meeting in the Oakville-North Burlington riding. She was asked to leave, she refused, more angry words before she finally left. When the Conservative Party finally cleared her to run in the riding, the party was forced to put a halt to the nomination process in order to investigate claims of dirty tactics by Adams and her opponent, Natalia Lishchyna. Due to an injury, which resulted in a concussion, Adams withdrew from the race in August. On February 9th 2015, Adams crossed the floor to join the Liberals. During the public unveiling, Adams neglected to reveal that, two weeks before, the Conservatives had informed her by letter she would not be allowed to run as a candidate for the Conservative Party. That was fine, the Conservatives were eager to help with that bit of news.

This is a woman of ambition who clearly feels entitled and doesn’t mind the perks while riding on the taxpayer dime. So what was the upside for Trudeau except to claim that he had poached a member from the Harper gang, a member who was already on the way out? This had all the hallmarks of gamesmanship as some have posited, nothing new, nothing different, certainly nothing better.

Now Adams had declared her intention to run against finance minister Joe Oliver in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence. She would have to prove herself by “earning” the nomination in a process that would be free and open, Trudeau said. He said the same before and broke the promise in three other races. If Trudeau places a thumb on the scale in Adams favour, it could do irreparable harm to him with his own base. Some Liberals in the riding are already extremely unhappy with the idea of a parachute candidate and have made it clear they did not want nor would they support Adams. Is the risk of alienating lifelong Liberals worth it? Yes, if Adams turns giant killer by defeating Joe Oliver. But then Trudeau would be stuck with her, her overweening ambition and overwhelming sense of entitlement. If she lost, well, that’s one problem and one gigantic headache removed. But, what of the bitter aftertaste for those loyal, ignored, Liberals, Trudeau doing what all leaders apparently do all too often, opt for the expedience of one-upmanship, the cheap and easy short-term gain, lofty words and principles tossed aside for the photo-op, the telegenic booby prize. The same ole’ same ole’.

But it could be that Soudas, not Adams, is the real draw. As a close confidant of many years to Harper and as an insider in the PMO, he doubtlessly could provide much insight of Conservative strategy. But then, could he be trusted? Unlikely. He is poison, his career as a political insider surely over. And, if he did it all for love as some have suggested, even more foolish. If Adams loses, will true love conquer all?

While I have absolute contempt for the anti-democratic Harper and his Conservatives, with their anti-unionist/anti-worker/pro-business stance and would never, ever, vote for them, it is not to Justin Trudeau or the Liberals I would turn. I see too much in both that suggest they are brothers in spirit. Both will say and do anything to win the upper hand even sacrificing many traditional values that differentiates the parties. At one time the Liberal Party was proud to declare itself progressive, which suggested some support for individual rights and freedoms, for social and political reform. But that is gone by the wayside, winning and power the end game. Harper and Trudeau are two faces on the same coin and that is an unhappy thought. Interfering in riding association’s nominations and embracing Eve Adams and just two examples of Trudeau’s profound lack of judgement, blatant duplicity, and shameless equivocal scruples.

Yet it is his declared intention to support Bill C-51 that is most offensive and puts the lie to the Liberal brand of old. His father did the same. Trudeau has surrendered to Harper and his gang to such an extent that he has allowed Harper to define him. At least Pierre Trudeau was his own man. We do not need more anti-crime, anti-terrorist legislation. We do not need a police state. But that is what we will end with if Harper continues as he has and refuses to allow for parliamentary oversight and amendments to the bill. Of all the leaders, Elizabeth May, as of this writing, has been the only voice foursquare opposed to C-51. For that, I applaud her. The bill is vile, it is dangerous, it is contemptible. Those who support it are opportunists, stooges, and/or cowards. The new bill will almost certainly result in abuses and be taken to the highest court and likely struck down.

Trudeau says he will support the anti-terrorist bill. The NDP appears to be leaning against support but have yet to declare themselves decisively. I hope they do vote against it. It will pass, regardless, thanks to the Conservative majority, but I would hope there are some politicians who will see this bill for what it is and find a bit of backbone.

Those who oppose Bill C-51 are soft on terrorists. That will be the Harper spin and some will buy it. It will not be true, of course. Only a simpleton would believe that.

Any politician, and I mean any, who supports C-51 out of fear that voters will buy into the Harper narrative has already lost; they have allowed Harper to define and shape them. They will not have my vote but they will have earned my contempt.

Andrew Jackson said: “One man with courage makes a majority.”

Think of that. Where do you stand? What kind of person are you?

***

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

***

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

 

STEPHEN HARPER AND JUSTIN TRUDEAU: TWEEDLEDUM AND TWEEDLEDEE AT WAR

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

    Agreed to have a battle;

For Tweedledum said Tweedledee

    Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

Just then flew down a monstrous crow,

    As black as a tar-barrel;

Which frightened both the heroes so,

    They quite forgot their quarrel

                        – Lewis Carroll

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

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

Frank A. Pelaschuk

THE SLAUGHTER

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

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

THE SPIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SEARCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE STAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SCAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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