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BOUGHT AND SOLD: POLITICIANS AND THE TRUE COST OF DEMOCRACY

Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen. – Pretty Boy Floyd by Woody Guthrie

But the banks are made of marble,

With a guard at every door,

And the vaults are stuffed with silver,

That the farmer sweated for.Banks Are Made of Marble by Pete Seeger

Einstein’s theory of relativity, as practiced by Congressmen, simply means getting members of your family on the payroll. – James H. Boren

 

Frank Pelaschuk

 

If any group was emblematic of the filth of politics in recent years, it was the Harper regime. For them, as I have often said, no dirty trick was too low, too vile to not be used and no target was off limit when it came to the smear campaign or fomenting fear and racial and religious intolerance as played by the likes of Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, Pierre Poilievre, Peter MacKay, Kellie Leitch, Chris Alexander (gone), Dean del Mastro (gone, serving a month in jail for election fraud), Michelle Rempel, Shelly Glover (gone), Maxime Bernier, Tony Clement, and Leona Aglukkaq (gone) to name a few of the worst in that vile pack.

Today, playing second fiddle without the majority with which they abused their offices and wielded as a bludgeon against opposition members, they are hard at work attempting to present a kinder face and gentler manner in the form of Rona Ambrose at the helm; it doesn’t work, the nastiness and arrogance by which they comported themselves came too easily to be anything but bred in the bone. That is what they are.

The Liberals replaced them, sweeping into office with fresher younger faces, more energy, with many promises including more openness and greater transparency. The last regime promised the same and immediately ushered in close to ten years of secretive, corrupt, bullying governance. The Liberals were convincing; I would have preferred the NDP but I didn’t really begrudge Trudeau his win. However, just a few months into their mandate, the Liberals appear to be offering less than voters may have hoped and more than they may have bargained for.

THE BIG REVEAL

When finance minister Bill Morneau released his budget declaring a plan to run a deficit of $29.4 billion the first year, critics raised serious concerns that Morneau had deliberately lowballed incoming revenue by pegging oil prices at $25 rather than stabilizing at $40 a barrel as most economists predict. The Liberals dismiss the charge calling this approach “prudent” while others call it hocus-pocus, the familiar shell game of lowering expectations and then taking credit for sound fiscal management when expectations are exceeded even if barely. Mostafa Askari, assistant parliamentary budget officer, has informed us that the Liberal budget was not as transparent as it could be because the numbers projecting cost estimates for the next five years have been marked as “confidential”. As a result, the PBO could not give a complete report on the first Liberal budget. According to the Ottawa Citizen’s Kathryn May (Citizen, April 7, 2016), this had not happened over the past 12 years under Paul Martin and Stephen Harper though, it is true, the PBO had been forced to take the Conservatives to court to get access to information regarding budget cuts and the impact as a result. Barring a catastrophe, no one should be surprised if the Liberals balance the book or arrive at a surplus by next election. We’ve seen this game before. It’s ugly, deceitful and has unfortunately become accepted practice. That still makes it wrong and it’s certainly not all that transparent which seems to put a chink in the Liberal promise of openness and disclosure.

Sure, I understand why the voters bought the youth and vigour, but surely they wanted more than the end of a regime of mean-spirited negativity, of partisan cheap shots, of fudged numbers, of smear campaigns, of targeting critics as enemies, and of laws furtively slipped into omnibus bills. Surely they wanted more than the hope and optimism promised by Trudeau’s “Sunny ways”. Voters wanted a government that acted humanely and decisively on the Syrian refugee crisis. They got that, probably not as quickly as promised but they got it. That was good, very good. More importantly, it was right.

In 2006, Harper abolished disability pensions for veterans forced to retire from the military because of injuries. He replaced the pension with lump sum payments. Trudeau and the Liberals campaigned on bringing back the pensions. They also vowed to bring back the nine veterans offices closed by the Harper gang and, now elected, have promised the offices will reopen by year’s end. That’s a good, wise, move which most Canadians likely support. However, they will not reintroduce disability pensions. Instead, they will increase the amounts of the lump sum payments. That’s not only an extremely bad move, it’s a broken promise. It’s a betrayal of those who sacrificed and will sacrifice so much for this country. For the veterans, the Trudeau win was preferable to Harper’s return but it’s still a mixed bag of win, loss and betrayal.

Trudeau has made application to regain a seat on the UN Security Council for Canada. That’s another good move. In doing so, he declared Canada would promote peace and human rights. Well, he was less than truthful on that, I suggest, after announcing his government would honour the light-armoured trade deal with Saudi Arabia one of the world’s egregious violators of human rights. The deal, brokered by Harper is, itself, in contravention of Canada’s own human rights policy regarding international trade, which states that Canada must monitor and ensure that the other party to the deal does not violate human rights. That was expected of Harper, but Trudeau? The young prime minister offers several excuses for going through with it. Firstly, he says the deal was already signed and sealed and cannot be broken. Secondly, he claims no other nation would want to trade with us if we broke the contract. Those are excuses and they ring hollow. The Dutch had no qualms about breaking a contract with the Saudis over human rights. Liberal Jean Chretien had no qualms about walking away from a Conservative helicopter deal that resulted in severe penalties for Canada. As for the second excuse, well, that’s just ridiculous. Canada still signs global trade deals clearly suffering no fallout over the failed helicopter debacle, though, it must be noted, again under Harper, Canada has inked a deal with China another violator of human rights. Canada’s standing would almost certainly rise globally as a defender of human rights were Trudeau to cancel the deal likely leading to even more trade with better trading partners. Even if not, should human rights be of secondary consideration? Sometimes doing the right, moral thing does come with a cost; it could also pay dividends. Liberals, no doubt holding their noses will honour the deal because $15 billion and 3,000 Canadian jobs are at stake. Not all that much different from Harper really when it comes to the bottom line. But, for those seeking consolation, Trudeau did promise that he would, in the future, consider human rights when brokering a trade deal. It doesn’t help the citizens of Saudi Arabia nor does it do anything to curtail human rights abuses but, what the hey, there are 3,000 Canadian jobs saved if not Saudi lives. No, the Liberals will not lose any sleep over abuses. Principle’s a honey if it don’t cost money. If the voters expected more and better from this government on this issue, they did not get it.

Nor did they get what they might have hoped for when they look at some of the Liberal hiring practices.

Bill Morneau, a powerhouse in the private sector as executive chair to one of the largest Canadian human resources firms, has created an economic advisory council made up mostly of upper management from such diverse private corporate sectors as Canada’s GE branch; Cenovus a tar sands company; Linacare a Vancouver-based cosmetics company; two executives from Starfort Investments; and from Mohr Davidow Ventures (Rabble.ca, Karl Nerenberg, March 21, 2016). Now, the Trudeau government would want us to concentrate on the fact that, of the fifteen members to the Council, 8 are women. That part is good. However, as Karl Nerenberg points out, absent are representatives from Labour and the Indigenous communities. Now that’s not good. Apparently Big Business has as strong an ally with Trudeau’s regime as it had with Harper’s. So much so in fact, representatives from the corporate world can be found working for, or with more likely, various ministers. Sharan Kaur a former communications expert for TransCanada, works for Morneau as Senior Special Assistant. Jim Carr, natural resources minister, has hired a former executive of Shell and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Janet Annesley. So what has really changed with this change of government? Well, it seems, it’s a bit of a mixed bag but not when it comes to business. The plutocrats are going to do very well with Trudeau at the helm.

Welcome back, Liberals, they missed you. Sort of.

In the trade area, Canadians can expect little to change. By now, we have come to accept NAFTA apparently untroubled that it allows corporate interests to supersede the sovereignty of the trading nations. The Europeans, having taken note of this, have insisted upon changes to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), called “gold plated” by Canada’s international trade minister, Chrystia Freeland. It is all but a done deal. The changes are to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause allowing for appeals, a putatively independent 15-member permanent trade tribunal that will make it slightly more difficult, but not impossible, for companies to challenge the laws of a nation that may impact corporate profit-making. “Gold-plated”? Absolutely. Corporations for some time have become more powerful than some nations with corporate interests superseding the laws of a nation. If that worries you, the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Canada and eleven other nations including the US, which calls it an “American Made” deal, will prove even more problematic. Negotiated under a cloak of secrecy, with severe penalties for anyone revealing details of the deal, Canadians have little to no knowledge of what will be gained or, more likely, lost until the deal is ratified which Trudeau appears ready to move on. For some critics, the TPP is one of the worst deals ever granting multinationals even greater powers over a nation’s right to introduce laws protecting their citizens from the depredations of Big Business. How different are the Trudeau Liberals from the Harper Conservatives? Not much. How far are we now from a true Corporatocracy? Not far.

YOU’RE A HYPOCRITE. NO, YOU ARE!

Most of us are familiar with the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and the numerous abuses allowed under the Conservatives that encouraged the suppression of Canadian wages of low-income earners. In 2015, Trudeau and the Liberals demanded the program be scaled back, that there be greater transparency, compulsory workplace audits etc. (go to http://ntfw.ca to find out more on the Liberal stance on TFWP), all laudable. However, the governing Liberals, clearly cognizant of the debt owed to the east coast for its sweep of 32 seats and hounded by its own elected east coast MPs working on behalf of seafood processors, have very, very quietly removed the requirement that companies file a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) form. Foreign workers are now free to work for the processors. The Liberals claim this is a temporary measure. Well, we heard that before.

The truth is, Canadians have always suspected it, felt it in their bones: the rich are treated differently from us and better; they have more advantages, more tax loopholes, and more government ears eager to hear what they have to say particularly when the speaker is waving a wad of bills. Recently, surprise, surprise, there has been much in the news seeming to confirm that suspicion. Corporations and wealthy individuals do get more and better and more and more again.

Fintrac (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada), a federal anti-laundering agency, has recently revealed that a Canadian bank has been fined $1.1 million for failing to report suspicious activity, including transfers of money. Of particular interest is the federal agency using its discretionary powers to withhold the name of the bank. The fine, a pittance that can likely be written off through some loophole, will, Fintrac claims, act as deterrence by sending a strong message. How? Where is the deterrence when the offender escapes public notice and possible censure? In the past, Fintrac has fined smaller companies without hesitating to name them. Why did this bank get special treatment? True, this is a first fine ever imposed on a bank. Strangely enough, I derive no solace from this bit of information because I find more worrisome the fact that a government agency, in not naming the bank, appears more interested in protecting the interests of the bank, which may or not be assisting gangsters or tax evaders, rather than that of its customers or of Canadians in general.

That appears to be the trend with Canadian governments. The previous government under Harper appeared loath to pursue tax evaders with offshore accounts though it has been estimated corporations and wealthy individuals have stiffed Canadians to the tune ranging from $7 to $9 billion a year. Yet, instead of going after possible tax cheat ripping off billions, the Harper gang laid off over 3,000 CRA workers and proceeded to politicize the agency by ordering it to audit and harass “left” leaning charities purely on a partisan basis. When Trudeau became prime minister, he said targeted audits of charities would cease but those already under investigation would continue. Nothing then about tax cheats or offshore account.

So, how serious is this government when it comes to tackling offshore accounts and tax evaders? Probably not at all serious.

On March 8, 2016, CBC reported a story straight out of spy school in which a member of their team received a brown envelope containing documents revealing CRA amnesty offers, with a confidentiality clause, for wealthy tax dodging “high net worth clients”, fraudsters in other words, of KPMG, provided they pay back what is owed. KPMG is a huge auditing firm that has allegedly helped individuals and corporations set up shell companies in the Isle of Man (CBC News, Mar. 8, 16, Harvey Cashore, Dave Seglins, Frederic Zalac, Kimberly Ivany http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/cra-kpmg-anger-at-secret-deal-1.3479792   https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2752975-May-2015-CRA-amnesty-offer-to-KPMG-Clients.html ). What makes this news even more difficult to endure is the fact that other Canadians, ordinary and unsophisticated, have been innocently caught up in similar scams by unscrupulous firms. The CRA not only went after them, they went after them with a vengeance with penalties grossly disproportionate to the offence levying fines ranging from $50,000 to $70,000 for illegitimate claims between $10,000 and $20,000. Even recently, KPMG and members of the CRA have been caught meeting at the Chateau Laurier. When CBC’s Frederic Zalac attempted to speak to the new Canada Revenue minister, Diane Lebouthillier, she refused to respond to his questions. Said Trudeau regarding the leaked news, “It is a concern to us that Canadians – all Canadians – pay their fair share of taxes, and we will ensure that that continues to be the case in the future. (italics added FP) (CBC).” In the future… that’s rather telling isn’t it? There have been some who say the cost of trying to recover money owed would be too costly. How’s that? Some politicians have said the same, as have some columnists. Even some ordinary coffee drinking folks, those law abiding tax-paying suckers buy it. That argument can be made when we spend many thousands to punish and imprison petty criminals, but when fraudsters stash billions in foreign havens, the argument is specious. If the object is to punish criminals, tax evaders, who are cheats, fraudsters, and thieves, have a greater and wider impact on all citizens. And those who abet them, those politicians who write laws making it easier for people to funnel their money elsewhere, to evade paying their fair share, to rip off and gouge Canadians, are as culpable. What the CRA has offered with the secret document is tantamount to a reward: Go thou and sin; if caught, apologize, pay up what you owe and sin no more, all is forgiven. Hysterical isn’t it?

Laughably, the CRA denies there are special deals. If that were so, why insert a confidentiality clause? Trudeau initially promised to set aside $90 million a year for five years ($444.4 million) for “special added” tools to combat tax cheating. A good start would be to hire back the 3,000 CRA accountants fired by Harper. Then they might take a look at look at the activities of some of the large accounting firms and our banks, RBC for one. Among the 11.5 million leaked documents from Mossack Fonesca a Panamanian law firm exposing the world of offshore accounts, RBC was named as creating at least 370 foreign corporations on behalf of clients. Now, offshore accounts may be legal but making up a corporation seems to be a tax avoidance dodge. With the leak of the so-called Panama Papers, politicians of all stripes have expressed faux outrage, mock surprise and offered platitudes and promises to look into the matter. The sad thing is, this has been going on for decades. It’s not news nor is it new. Tax cheats are no secret. What may have been is the role government plays in passing laws making it easier for corporations and the wealthy to cheat. One thing is certain: corporations and wealthy individuals caught cheating must pay the severest penalties, including jail time. Now that may be a deterrent.

HAPPY HOUR

And then, when it seems things couldn’t possibly get worse for the average taxpayer, it does.

For most of us, the closest we get to politicians may be on television or, when running for office, they knock on doors begging for support and money. A few of us may write letters seeking help or to scold or to offer suggestions on some issue; even fewer receive anything but a form reply.

But there are a privileged few able to access politicians at any time – for a price. Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about this but it’s a practice likely as old as politics. As long as there is money, politicians will always listen. Everyone once-in-a-while, there are flurries of reports of politicians in on the take. Politicians will parade before the media expressing shock and outrage hastening to add that such breaches are rare, most who serve the public are honest, hard working members of parliament. The public will awakened momentarily, they’ll huff and puff and quickly go back to sleep and it will be business as usual.

It shouldn’t be.

For a price, one could meet Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario or any member of her cabinet. We have the report by Adrian Morrow for the Globe and Mail March 29, 2016, of two Ontario provincial ministers, Charles Sousa, Finance Minister, and Bob Chiarelli, Energy Minister, attending a fundraiser at $7,500 per individual December 7, 2015. The Liberals raised $165,000. The event, promoted by the Bank of Nova Scotia, one of the banks behind the privatization of Hydro One, took place a month after the initial public offer (IPO), which resulted in 15% of the government company being sold for $1.8 billion earning the syndicate $29.3 million from the privatization deal. Very cozy. Regarding the secret fundraiser, Sousa simply commented this was “part of the democratic process”. Say, what? Morrow also notes there had been another fundraiser with Wynne and, again, Chiarelli meeting lobbyists at $6000 per individual. So that is Sousa’s version of the democratic process. It’s not mine.

Following the revelations, a rattled Wynne called off all private fundraising events and hoped her ministers, who, she admitted, had been instructed to raise up to $500,000 a year, would do the same. You see she wanted to take the lead in setting an example. That might have had merit had she done this on her own rather than nudged by blaring headlines. Further, she vowed she would change regulations regarding fundraising. Corporate and union donations would not be allowed or accepted. There would be changes regarding third-party advertising. And there would be limits for individuals (it’s $100 max in Quebec). But, and one likely expected this, there was a caveat: the changes would be phased in over time and not be completed by next election. Presumably this provides enough warning and time for lobbyists to pour money into the party coffers and party shakedown artists to get to work on others.

It has been reported that Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, can be met privately for $10,000 and $20,000. Unlike Wynne, Clark says there will be no changes in how she and her party raise funds. She governs for everyone, she says and owes no favours. Maybe so. But we’ve heard all this before, bags of money waved before politicians and not a single one of them influenced. Yeah, right. The dough raised by the Liberals and the profit made by the syndicate at the fundraising event just happened to be a coincidence. They really do believe we are that stupid.

Then we have federal justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould attending a fundraiser held by a prestigious law firm for $500 a head. Which makes her a piker next to Clark. That she did so is unseemly fairly shrieking conflict of interest. When asked about it, she said she was there as a Liberal minister not as Justice Minister. Incredible. Did I neglect to mention they really, really do believe us that stupid? This incident seriously leads to questions regarding her judgement. Her response is legalese, a weasel’s plea that makes her contemptible. Yet Trudeau, her boss, sees nothing wrong with it. This is the man who promised to introduce a new era of brighter, better, more transparent governance; he has just demonstrated he is as phony as Harper who promised exactly the same when they took over from the Liberals.

Now there are folks who will defend such conduct. There are folks who will defend offshore accounts saying they are legal while ignoring ethics. Ethics are for suckers. There are folks who will also defend fundraising efforts where those with money buy access to politicians. I’m not one of them. Politicians will say no favours are bought. They will say they cannot be bought and claim they can look themselves in the mirror. That’s because they possess no shame. We are to take them at their word. After all, they are referred to as Honourable members. But why should we? How can we? Meetings held in secret do not offer affirmation of integrity. They certainly do not offer reason to not doubt. I know this, when I offer money, I expect something in return. Even when I give to charity, I expect to feel better. And I know when someone offers me money he wants and expects something in return. Politicians will not even admit that.

Not all politicians are bad or corruptible. But neither are they all good, decent, truthful, and trustworthy. The revelations we have been plagued with recently have cast a harsh glare on those in whom we place our trust. The news regarding those who have held and are presently holding office, mostly Conservatives and Liberals, even the NDP, both federally and provincially, provide the clearest evidence of the certainty that politicians, some even handsome and youthful, and relatively inexperienced wear many masks, all ugly. Over the years, I have seen the masks of Shamelessness, of the Liar, of Hypocrisy, of Cravenness, of Avarice, of the Panderer, of Complacency, and of Deceit. Almost every member of the Harper gang wore those faces, some all at once. The Liberals before them were the same but, probably, with a bit more flare. Even today, with a relatively new mandate, we can see signs of the old Liberal party habits that eventually led to their exile for ten years. How long has it been since the public has set eyes upon the faces of Nobility, of Integrity, of Decency? These are characteristics that need no masks. A few may recall Tommy Douglas, Stanley Knowles, and Robert Stanfield; occasionally we have sightings of Joe Clark and Ed Broadbent who offer hints of the better part of nature.

It’s one thing for politicos to make large promises and then scale them back or even break them. But I would prefer it if they did not offer the same excuses: the other guys made the mess, the other guys left the cupboard bare, the other guys do it so why can’t I.

Politics is a filthy game. Whatever nobility may have been are now distant, not even memory.

So what are we to make of politicos who craft laws that benefit the wealthy and corporate interests, who can grant themselves raises four times higher than they grant public servants? We have heard a lot about offshore accounts and those taking advantage of them and those holding office saying they are legal. So what if they are legal? Why are appearances and ethics dismissed? Why should corporations and the wealthy be allowed special private access to politicians and granted loopholes denied most Canadians to maximize their profits and minimize paying their share? Why are tax cheats offered special, secret deals by the CRA?

Perhaps the answer lies with those politicians who meet in secret with individuals with fistfuls of cash.

Yes, I’d rather meet a con than a politician because the politician’s likely both.

On a Personal Note: I wish to honour the memory of my dear, dear friend, Gunther Voigt. To those of us who knew and loved him, he was simply “Dutchie”. He was loud, brash, sometimes crude but he was also much more. He was always kind, generous, truthful. He was always there for you. For the past few years, we did not meet as often as we wished but when we did, it was as if we had never been away. He was the brother I never had. I will always cherish his memory and my thoughts will be with his match and his love, Ingrid. Our thoughts are now with her and his two daughters.

***

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

 

 

HARPER, NUMBERS AND TAX THIEVES

God loves the poor but he helps the rich. – Yiddish proverb

Frank A. Pelaschuk

STEPHEN HARPER AND TAX THIEVES

With the shifty Stephen Harper gang, the numbers seldom add up. This is a peculiarity of a government that touts itself as a great money manager, fiscally responsible and economically solid. When the Conservatives first came into office under Harper, they inherited a surplus budget of $13 billion from the Liberals. With the latest budget, the Harper gang predicts they will move from a $25.9 billion deficit to a surplus of $800 million by 2015. Just in time for the next election. Meanwhile, somewhere along the line, they lost $38.9 billion.

On May 8th, the Harper crew announced that they would allocate $30 million dollars to go after tax cheats who ripped us off for over $29 billion with off shore accounts. But how seriously are we to take Harper’s promise? Clearly not very when we know that this government plans to cut $300 million from the budget of the Canada Revenue Agency as well as eliminate thousands of jobs over the next three years. The numbers just don’t add up.

It’s a shell game a grossly cynical and manipulative regime expects Canadians to buy into. From all appearances, this anti-Democratic Harper government is more interested in protecting the offshore accounts of their tax evading business pals than in doing anything of substance to recapture the funds stolen from Canadians by tax avoidance schemers. In fact, it is even more difficult to give credence to anything Harper has to say regarding tax evaders when, in addition to cutting funding and personnel in the CRA, his government spent $100 million over the past year promoting itself with colourful, misleading, publicly funded Action Plan propaganda ads. Harper, in other words, is more willing to spend over three times the amount on himself than he is to the recovery of unpaid, hidden offshore taxes, money that, if recovered, would pay off the national debt. Calling those scofflaws “tax evaders” or “tax cheats” is almost too gentle and close to misleading: they are, in reality, lowlife thieves stealing money that belongs to Canada and Canadians. That this government appears not to be as eager to pursue them as diligently some might wish could lead to suspicions that Harper and gang, with their pro-business bias, sympathizes with those malefactors who apparently share the sentiments voiced by another infamous scofflaw, tax evader Leona Helmsley: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Nice. No doubt accurate as well.

That we have individuals in government who apparently subscribe to that notion is all too obvious. They sit in the senate and the House, write laws that benefit a few and punish the rest, and ceaselessly repeat, “less taxes” and/or “less government” while padding expenses and making false housing claims. By “less taxes”, of course, they mean a full, publicly funded twenty-course meal for the “contributors of society, the wealth creators, the deserving people,” at the table and a jagged piece of bone stripped of all meat for the “little people” at their feet.

Even so, even with everything rigged in their favour, for the wealthy elite, this is not enough. When it comes to tax thieves, Harper nods, makes the appropriate sympathetic noises, and offers a few promises. But it is all sham. Very little will be accomplished towards closing the offshore accounts of the most egregious offenders and prosecuting them for the tax thieves they are. For some, presumably the contributing deserving rich, the “real” wealth creators as they would have us “little people” believe of them, there is no such thing as having too much. Harper and gang appear to agree. Perhaps that’s what they mean when they say “less government”. How much different from the United States. There, at least, Helmsley went to jail. The victim of too much government.

CONSERVATIVES, THE SENATE AND THE SWEET LIFE

Over the years, whenever a senate opening came along, I occasionally wrote to various prime ministers offering my services to be a member of the senate. When I made the offer, I also made a pledge that, for that money, I would be honest and show up for work every day, even on weekends. I never did receive a response and was never certain whether it was my offer to appear on weekends or to be honest which kept me from the senate. I was convinced I fit the bill.

Now I had made those overtures after I became aware that there were a few senators who appeared less than interested in the job making only the minimum required appearances and no more to keep their seats and collect their salaries. Well, I was willing to do more. And, as we have recently learned with the release of the audit on several senators, Liberal Mac Harb, Conservative Mike Duffy and Conservative appointee, now Independent, Patrick Brazeau, not all are all that honest when it comes to making housing and travel claims. The report on Conservative Sen. Pamela Wallin is pending. Had I been appointed, the public would have received a bonus: an honest person. I couldn’t lose, I thought. My offers were rejected. Hell, they weren’t even acknowledged. Or course, I now realize that I was a bit more than naïve. Whereas I had thought appointments were for public service (okay, full disclosure: I admit to having done very little towards public service) and that judgement, honesty, integrity and ethics were musts (these I believe I do possess; ask me, I’ll tell you), it turned out what was really wanted were stooge rubber stampers willing to support the policies of the governments of the day. Just as well I didn’t get a seat. I’d find it difficult to endure the stench of so much corruption.

The report of the independent audit of the senators released on May 9th had determined that the two conservatives and one liberal senator had made false housing and travel claims. Mike Duffy had already repaid $90 thousand for false housing claims and then, apparently tipped off by Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk, chair of the committee investigating the four, repaid an additional one thousand plus for claiming per diems while vacationing in Florida for twelve days. For that, Duffy blames a young staffer. That’s what Conservatives do; they point fingers and plead ignorance. As a result of the audit, Brazeau has to repay over $48 thousand and Harb over $51 thousand. It is worth noting that, of the four senators investigated, three were Harper appointees.

Mike Duffy is an interesting case. He claimed that he hadn’t done anything wrong. Is that really credible in light of the fact that he has paid back over $91 thousand dollars? But there is another issue that should concern Canadians. Is repayment sufficient punishment? Is it even punishment? Good ol’ Duff, as he likes to refer to himself, made the claim that the expense form was confusing. Really? This from the mouth of a once respected journalist, who stated with that folksy charm he likes to adopt, “Canadians know I am an honest man…”. Well, good ol’ Duff, I don’t know that.

When the audit was released, it immediately became plain that there would be no further punishment for those offenders even though some senators, the auditors, and the public believe the RCMP should be called in to look at the books of those four members. Perhaps that should extend to all senators and publicly elected MPs as well. Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate, stating that the rules would be tightened up seems to confirm that no further action will be contemplated against the three. Harper, in the House, supported LeBreton stating his government would not pursue the matter because the rules were “confusing”! This, as you will note, is a particularly generous line from the prime minister, the same Stephen Harper who, not all that long ago, offered no such lenient extension towards those collecting UI when he passed legislation allowing authorities to barge into their homes for no other reason then the belief that they may be fraudsters. If the rules were that befuddling, why not seek clarification?

But, as for those three who actually did rip off Canadian taxpayers to the tune of $190 thousand, it is a mystery why Harper is taking such a soft approach. Well, it might not be that much of a mystery after all, not with Harper and his gang. If the issue is to be put aside once and for all, one thing is certain: the RCMP must be called in to investigate those three. And if charged they must face trial and if found guilty they should be removed from the senate, lose their pensions and serve time in jail. If jail is good enough for Helmsley, it’s good enough for them.

THE NATIONAL HOUSEHOLD SURVEY

Three years ago, the Harper conservatives announced they would cancel the long form census replacing it with the voluntary National Household Survey. To many, the move made no sense. There would be problems they predicted. But Harper’s is not a government that listens. Instead, typically of bullies, Harper rammed the deal through and the results are less than stellar.

In the past, the mandatory long form survey went to one in five households. Because the form was mandatory and because 94% of those receiving the forms complied in filling them out, the results were extremely accurate. The same cannot be said of the voluntary National Household Survey released May 8th, which went to more people, close to 30% of the households, and yet were filled by only 68% of those receiving it. In some areas, the compliance rate was far below that of the average, the sampling in some areas so small that whole communities across the country were dropped from the survey. The results cannot be trusted. This is not a good outcome, made even worse because Harper had been warned and refused to listen. This is not the first time Harper and gang have turned a deaf ear to the voices of reason. They pulled out of Kyoto because they still believe that climate change is still unproven. We have the minister of resources Joe Olivier maligning scientists and environmentalists for their criticisms of the XL Keystone pipeline, and we appear to have some folks in the Conservative party who still believe that man walked side-by-side with dinosaurs three thousand years ago when the earth was formed in seven days by a supreme being.

When the Harper regime made the decision to kill the long form in favour of the voluntary survey, the justification was privacy concerns. This had been voiced by Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board, the same man of the $50 million slush fund boondoggle, the very man whose department has somehow mislaid $3.1 billion of taxpayer money. That claim is a red herring. Information on those who filled the long form census has never been made public. Another claim is that as voiced by Conservative Mike Lake, parliamentary secretary for the minister of industry. On the day of the release of the voluntary National Household Survey, Lake appeared on CBC’s Power and Politics stating anywhere from three to seven times with slight variations the following: Canadians have the right not to be threatened with fines or jail time for not wanting to answer questions regarding their religion, the number of bedrooms they have or how much time they spend with their kids. This is another red herring ludicrous on several levels. No one has ever gone to jail for refusing to fill the long form census. But Conservatives never let the facts interfere with their narrative. All too often, as with this issue, they create a scenario that has no basis in reality in the hope that Canadians are as stupid and fearful as the Harper gang believe. Well, it might work for the paranoid and truly stupid, but one might pause to ask this: If privacy is an issue with the long form census, why isn’t it an issue when Canadians fill out income tax forms? They, too, demand information some Canadians, judging by the number of offshore accounts, clearly do not wish to share.

HARPER, SHIPS AND AN ‘OLD TROTSKYITE’

In March, the Minister of Public Works, Rona Ambrose, and the Minister of Defence (and Ineptitude), Peter MacKay, announced that Irving Shipbuilding would be paid $288 million to design Arctic offshore patrol ships. They did not, however, disclose that the design of a Norwegian ship had already been purchased by Canada for $5 million. Nor did Ambrose or MacKay reveal that the Norwegian ship had been designed and built for $100 million, one third of the cost that we are paying just for the design. This is Harper’s version of sound money management. It is also a very, very disturbing picture of a very, very sweet deal for Irving Shipbuilding if not for Canadian taxpayers.

It was Terry Milewski of CBC who brought these facts to light. The reaction from Harper’s gang was predictable with one of the talking airhead puppets, parliamentary secretary Chris Alexander, hurling out the charge that Milewski was “an old Trotskyite”. Typical. Alexander didn’t bother to deny the story preferring instead to resort to diversion and finger pointing with a charge against Milewski that had nothing to do with the validity of the story. I could care less if Milewski is a Trotskyite, old or otherwise, or if he’s a man from Mars or if he takes marshmallows with beer. Is the story accurate? Gauging from Alexander’s ridiculously simple-minded ad hominem attack, clearly so.

No one who has followed Harper and gang would be surprised by the way Alexander responded. He and the others in the Harper regime apparently believe they are in a war in which every critic or questioner is the enemy and must be treated as suspect. Never answer, never explain, never listen, always attack. They are bullies of the worst sort, vile, dishonest, deceitful and totally devoid of a sense of shame. I’ve said that before, I’ll say it again.

As for Harper and his numbers? They just don’t add up. They didn’t with the F-35s; they don’t with the design costs submitted by Irving Shipbuilding; they fail with the National Household Survey. As money managers Harper and gang went from a surplus of $13 billion to a deficit of $25.9 billion. As money managers they spent $100 million on propaganda while allocating only $30 million to close offshore accounts of tax cheats that, were the money recovered, would not only clear the national debt but leave a surplus of over $3 billion. Perhaps, over time, Harper and gang might find that missing $3.1 billion. But again, they might not. They are cutting back on funds and personnel in the CRA.

Do you still believe Harper and thugs are better stewards of this nation? If so, you must still believe in the tooth fairy and that the world is only three thousand years old. Poor you.

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