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
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.
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