Monday, April 25, 2011


(Read it here first. This is an exact copy of the Globe editorial. Only the words have been made up.)

Last week on these pages, we expressed our preference for Michael Ignatieff over Jack Layton. We found Mr. Layton to be living in a past when income gaps between the rich and the rest of the population were narrower than today, and social programs were stronger than now. Mr. Layton’s Canada is gone, replaced by the bracing and refreshing winds of a global capitalism that has taken flight, a flight this country dares not miss. Jack Layton has not boarded that flight.

We discovered in Michael Ignatieff a powerful intellect that has honed a thankfully modest set of proposals for reform. A dollop of hope afloat in a sea of realism is how we would summarize the Canada Mr. Ignatieff would lead.

But that brings us to Stephen Harper the candidate for Prime Minister this paper endorses to lead the country for the next half decade.

Over the past five years of Conservative minority government, Canadians have come to trust Stephen Harper and he has come to trust quite a few of them as well. He no longer fears that most Canadians are welfare sloths, hooked up to the drip, drip, drip of socialist chicanery. The odd young woman in a crowd in Guelph still spooks him, but he’s ever calmer as his crowds howl down reporters’ questions.

The switch to the glasses and the sweaters has helped. And the piano playing has been therapeutic whatever those who cherish the memory of John Lennon might say.

Given the greater relaxation Mr. Harper would experience as leader of a majority government, we feel sure that over the next five years he will complete his book on hockey and even learn to skate.

Mr. Harper has come a long way from his days in the Reform Party, and at the helm of the National Citizens Coalition, when he believed that medicare was sapping the vital bodily fluids of Canadian manhood. Now it is all Canada around which he is throwing up firewalls and not just Alberta. That is to be cheered.

Mr. Harper’s hand on the economic tiller is steady as she goes. It’s a good thing that neither Mr. Harper nor Jim Flaherty anticipated the economic crash of 2008 or understood that it would hurl Ottawa into years of deficits. Better a team of political leaders committed to tax cuts than a Prime Minister and a Finance Minister with a clue about how the economy functions. We prefer sleek headed men who sleep at nights and attend barbecues by day. This country needs leaders who do not terrify investors through excess thought. Such men are dangerous.

At this paper, we have had our share of concerns about Mr. Harper. While we support the purchase of the next generation of jet fighters---the price of admission to meetings of the truly powerful, where on occasion Peter MacKay has been mistaken for the doorman---we’re less sure about the new prisons. Who exactly is going to inhabit them? Longer prison sentences inexorably lead to the incarceration of men over sixty. Men over sixty---however bad when they were young---lack the hormones for serious nastiness. Providing such men with room, board, free medical care, television and dominoes-for-life is an oddly socialist idea, more a reward for crime than a punishment.

In any case, excess space in the prisons can always serve as hangars for the fighters.

Some of the members of past and present Harper cabinets have worried us and we’re not just talking about Bev Oda, Helena Guergis, and Maxime Bernier. On the whole, it’s better for ministers to be able to distinguish between their positives and their negatives, to avoid attacking the hired help at airports and not to lose classified documents in the lingerie. We’re not sure if Lawrence Cannon knows which wars we’re in and the ones on which we’ve taken a pass. At times Jason Kenney seems to be auditioning for the role of costumes consultant for a Canada Day pageant, complete with dancers from every land whose sons and daughters have graced our shores. They’re citizens, not props, we try to tell him. But you can’t fault his enthusiasm.

Tony Clement can be problematic. During his watch, every Port O Potty in Muskoka was freshened up, recalling the days when local businessmen won contracts to build Post Offices and bridges and to plow Main Street. (Oh, those days are now.) To give Clement his due, he’s so busy Tweeting that he can lose touch with the winking and nudging that goes on between Bala and Severn River.

The cancelling of the mandatory long form census struck as at Canada’s National Newspaper as a little nutty. We worried that Stephen Harper might be spending too much time listening to talk radio from Montana where there is anxiety that the United Nations guys in the Black Helicopters are about to seize power.

Mr. Ignatieff is a man with a big brain and a small program. He has laboured mightily and brought forth a mouse.

We prefer Stephen Harper, a helmsman not easily budged from his convictions, however unfashionable they may seem to some. They called him a colossal fossil in Copenhagen, but he stayed in his hotel room, kept his head down, and took pride in leading a nation where fresh water and clean natural gas are deployed by giant machines to separate bitumen from sand.

Tailings yes, and the odd dead duck, we can agree. Warts acknowledged, and greenhouse gases are warts, Stephen Harper gets it. Canada is, always has been, and will be over the course of the 21st century, a land of stuff. Comparative advantage, this paper embraces. Some peoples create cities, new industries, culture, education, ideas, science and cures for disease. We do stuff.

Stephen Harper is the leader this country needs and this paper endorses.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Stephen Harper: Now He’s The Champion of National Unity

Now we’ve seen everything---Stephen Harper, who only a few years ago counseled Albertans to build “firewalls” around their province to protect it from Canada, has proclaimed himself the indispensable champion of national unity. Without him at the helm of a majority government, this one-time quasi-Alberta separatist would have us believe there will be no one to protect the country from a new round of sovereignist upheaval in Quebec.

In fact, I’d be surprised if Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois didn't regard a Harper majority government as one of the essential “winning conditions” for a sovereignty referendum should she succeed in becoming premier of Quebec in the next provincial election. The PQ is well ahead of Jean Charest’s hapless Liberals in the polls, but an election does not need to be called for two and a half years.

A Harper majority government would be the most English Canadian-centred majority government since the Unionist (mostly Conservative) government of 1917 that imposed conscription during the First World War. That government’s remoteness from Quebec inspired the introduction of the first ever resolution---it was never put to a vote---in the Quebec legislative assembly advocating the secession of the province from Canada.

Ever since the federal election of 1993 when the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois---heirs to the disintegrating Progressive Conservatives---won large swaths of seats in the House of Commons, a showdown between Alberta regionalism and Quebec nationalism has been in the making.

Reform leader Preston Manning---Harper was a Reform Party MP---saw the collision coming. Absurdly, he was fond of portraying himself as Canada’s Abraham Lincoln standing on guard against the “peculiar institution” of bilingualism.

The tradition of the Alberta right flows from the Social Credit through the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance to Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada---not to be confused with John A. Macdonald’s Conservative Party, formally the Liberal Conservative Party. No political tradition is as alien from the social values and culture of Quebec as the political steam of which Harper is a part. Just as the old Reformers knew that they could not abide bilingualism and Quebec---this sentiment was one of the main reasons the Reformers broke away from the PCs---Quebec nationalists know that they have nothing in common with the current federal manifestation of the Alberta right.

Nothing would fire up the engines of the aging Quebec sovereignists more than a Harper majority. They would make the case that Harper’s Canada is remote from Quebec and everything the Quebecois aspire to.

That Harper took the lead in recognizing Quebec as a nation within Canada would make little difference to the Quebecois. Everyone knows that Harper’s motive was to head off Michael Ignatieff who promoted the idea during his failed bid for the Liberal Party leadership in 2006.

In the winter of 1980, when Parti Quebecois Premier Rene Levesque was launching the first Quebec sovereignty referendum, nothing upset his plans more that the resurrection of Pierre Trudeau through his electoral victory over Joe Clark’s short-lived PC minority government. Instead of facing Clark during the referendum campaign, Levesque had to do battle with Pierre Trudeau, a much more daunting proposition.

The truly hopeful development in Quebec during this election campaign has been the stunning rise in Jack Layton’s standing in the province.

For six federal election campaigns in a row, the Bloc Quebecois has been dominant in Quebec. Now the Quebecois are turning in huge numbers to the NDP, embracing a progressive federalist party that could give them a voice in governing the country. Layton’s breakthrough in Quebec has the potential to change the landscape of Canadian politics.

Harper’s boast that he alone can keep the country together is merely the latest demagogic claim he has made in his desperate bid for a majority.

Friday, April 22, 2011


As the Prime Minister of a long-established, if complacent, democracy, Stephen Harper is supposed to say that for him the will of the people is paramount. He is supposed to declare that whatever House of Commons Canadians establish through their votes, he will accept it and work with it. He is supposed to say that he is the servant of the people.

Remarkably, Harper says none of these things. He insists that the only House of Commons he can work with after the election is one in which his party has a majority of seats. Should his party end up with the largest number of seats in a minority Parliament, he has declared that he cannot work with the other parties.

He will not alter a single jot or tittle in the budget he presented in March in a bid to win the support of one or more of the opposition parties. Quite simply, he does not recognize the legitimacy of the members of the other parties in the House of Commons, even though their presence in the House is the result of the expression of the will of the people. He is not required, he is saying, to heed the voices, the wisdom or the ideas of other Parliamentarians.

As a politician in a democracy, even if you secretly have nothing but loathing for the views of others, you are not supposed to make that contempt obvious. You are supposed to claim that you recognize the legitimacy of others.

That is the conventional thing to do.

The conventional is often dull, pretentious and ceremonial. But it is also an essential form of shorthand. It lets us know whether we can trust someone at first glance. We recoil, for instance, when a man bites a dog.

Not only does Stephen Harper refuse to acknowledge the will of the people and the legitimacy of parties that are not his own, he calls into question the essential principle of the Westminster system of parliamentary government. The principle is that a ministry must enjoy the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Commons. Furthermore, if one ministry does not enjoy the confidence of the House, it is appropriate for the Governor General to seek to form an alternative ministry that does enjoy the confidence of the House.

I can’t help wondering if Stephen Harper doesn’t know what happened to the Stuarts, missed the Glorious Revolution of 1688, or spent so much time at Reform Party gatherings that he had no time to read Locke.

Canada is one of the few democracies in which there is no formal sharing of power among political parties in the governing of the country. Even in the United States, the country Harper wishes he led, the President of the United States has to share power with the Congress. Consider the plight of Barack Obama having to deal with John Boehner in the House of Representatives. No one imagines that he loves it. But it does it. He does not call into question the constitutional authority of the House to pass money bills.

When one party controls the Presidency while another party controls the legislature or national assembly, the French call it co-habitation, something with which they are familiar.

In the democratic world, Stephen Harper alone wraps himself in the cloak of: “Sans moi, le deluge.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


(Let’s raise the tone of the debate. This is about values, and principles, not which level of government has jurisdiction. Vote for what you believe in.)

1. If you believe that the wealthy are the bastion of liberty in a world threatened by the torpor of equality and that the example of the poor is needed to prod the young on to enterprise, success and innovation.
2. If you believe that Stockwell Day played with dinosaurs when he was a child.
3. If you believe that tar sands oil is “ethical” and that it is our duty to ensure that American SUVs never do without.
4. If you believe that nurses, teachers, bus drivers, hospital workers, and garbage collection workers are overpaid while bankers and corporate executives have a tough time making ends meet.
5. If you believe that vehicle and gun owners are stigmatized, even criminalized, when they are required to register their accouterments.
6. If you believe that global warming provides a useful challenge to slothful species, and that only the fit deserve to survive.
7. If you believe that the wealthy should be allowed to buy the health care they need ahead of the less well-heeled.
8. If you believe that corporations and the animal spirits of those who run them are enervated by over-taxation.
9. If you believe that the price of freedom is whatever it costs to buy the very latest jet fighters off the shelf.
10. If you believe that aboriginal peoples have received all they deserve from the settler societies that have taken their land


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Great Disconnect: Stephen Harper’s Platform and What Canadians Really Want

There is a yawning gap between the platform Stephen Harper is presenting to the Canadian people and what Canadians tell pollsters are their major concerns. The dangerous disconnect between what the people want and the plans of those who control the state is all too clear in our fraying democracy.

Canadians list health care and jobs as their top priorities. Harper’s leading issues are: corporate tax cuts, crime, jet fighters, deficit reduction, and income splitting. A Fortress North America security deal with the United States is very much on his to-do list. Further down the list is the privatization of CBC television and a much expanded role for religious organizations in the delivery of social policy.

It’s not that Harper will do nothing on the questions of health care and jobs, the top concerns of Canadians.

On health care, Harper will readily go along with provincial initiatives to increase the private delivery of services. He will not defend the Canada Health Act, which embodies principles he has always detested. Yes, he’ll act on health care, but in ways that are exactly contrary to what Canadians want.

On jobs, Harper will freeze the size of the federal public service, along with freezing the salaries of those who work for the federal government. Harper and his ministers will contribute to the culture of loathing for public sector employees which is now sharply on the rise in Britain, where employees who have been laid off as a consequence of government cutbacks can’t get jobs in the private sector because their work in the public sector shows up on their CVs.

Harper’s advice to young people looking for jobs will be to act eager, be polite, wish your customers a nice day, smile and don’t worry too much about the pay. (The Harper government actually has no job creation strategy, apart from lower corporate taxes. Their stimulus program----forced on them by the opposition----has expired. Now their strategy is to sell oil sands oil to the Americans and pray for economic recovery south of the border. Prayer is undoubtedly good for the soul, but only in business schools is it regarded as an economic policy.)

The above scenario depends, of course, on Harper’s Conservatives winning a majority of seats in the House of Commons on May 2. That is not bound to happen. Canadians hold the power to prevent it.

On the other hand, Harper only needs about forty per cent of the votes, distributed effectively, to achieve his goal. To stop Harper, about sixty-two per cent of voters will have to cast their ballots for parties other than the Conservatives.

A substantial majority of voters will definitely reject Harper---nobody disputes that. Will that majority be substantial enough? We’ll only know on the evening of May 2.

Meanwhile if Harper gets his forty per cent of the vote and a majority of seats, he will insist that Canadians have given him a mandate to govern and to implement his policies.

And on Thursday evenings on soon-to-be-privatized CBC television, the panelists will tell Peter Mansbridge that during his watch Stephen Harper has transformed Canada into a more “conservative” country. In reality, the basic values and priorities of Canadians have changed very little over the Harper years. Neo-cons, including Harper, have always regarded Canadians as a stubbornly intractable lot.

A few pearls from the compiled wisdom of Stephen Harper before he became Prime Minister convey the contempt: “Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it…..Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country…..The rest of the country has responded in no uncertain terms that we [Albertans] do not share their Canadian values….Let us build a society on Alberta values.”

Dealing with a beast---the Canadian people---for whom one has such little respect requires a sharp stick to keep the dullard moving in the right direction.

If the Conservatives get their majority, the first two years of untrammeled Harper power, will be very sharp indeed. The Conservatives will act on the theory that you front-load the nastiness so that a semblance of calm can be restored during the run-up to the subsequent election.

“You voted for this,” Canadians will be told, by those in the pay of our right-wing Main Stream Media, by the cynical members of the punditry (pretty much the same group), and by those who profit from a society with an ever-wider gap between the rich and the rest.

The fact that most Canadians will actually have voted against this will receive short shrift. In 1988, 53 per cent of Canadians voted for parties that opposed the free trade deal with the U.S., but the deal was implemented because the Conservatives won a majority of seats with 43 per cent of the votes.

A Harper majority need not befall us. We have the time and the means to stop the Sheriff of Nottingham from gaining control of the castle.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Over My shoulder: I see Stephen Harper

Crime fighter Stephen Harper says that Canadians deserve “to live in a country where they don’t have to look over their shoulders as they walk down the street.”

Throughout the ages, fear-mongering has always been a weapon of choice of those we need to fear.

The theory that Canadians are afraid when they walk down the street is nonsense, of course. Having walked down the streets of Canadian cities and towns at all hours of the day and night for more decades than I care to confess, I have had few moments of anxiety, unless you include fear of dogs, cyclists on sidewalks and pedestrian-hating motorists. I once went for an early morning run at Lake Louise and the garbage cans with pictures of grizzlies on the lids did scare me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up at Dupont and Christie in downtown Toronto, a tougher neighbourhood that the one where Stephen Harper spent his childhood.

It’s not exactly a secret that the crime rate has been falling in Canada for several decades but that doesn’t stop Harper from promising to spend billions on more prisons, along with the billions he plans to spend on jet fighters, just in case the Americans, the Russians or the Danes (with whom we have borders) launch an air attack on us. I love the way so-called conservatives who claim to spend taxpayers’ dollars with great prudence are always ready to squander billions on tough-guy outlays, while resenting the expenditure of a nickel to improve the lives of people.

It’s not that hard to frighten people who watch a lot of TV and who seldom visit a city to imagine that downtown Toronto is a fearsome place. In fact, Toronto has a lower crime rate than the cities to the west of it, and they’re not exactly terrifying either.

Locking up more people for longer won’t drive down the crime rate---witness the results of such policies in the paradises of the U.S. and China. Greater social and economic equality would help, to some extent, but crime is not going away, it’s just not getting worse at the moment.

What I do fear is the fool’s gold pledges of those who promise us something approaching complete security. And just as absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute security equals absolute tyranny.

When I look over my shoulders, what I see is Stephen Harper and his minions skulking through Facebook and the myriad other online activities of Canadians to find out what we’re up to. That’s how they draw up their enemies lists.

George Orwell understood all of this. Beware the half smile on the face of the man behind the glasses.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Stephen Harper Does Not Want YOU To Vote

Stephen Harper and his operatives in the Conservative War Room have determined exactly who they want to show up at the polls on May 2. They don’t want YOU.

In 2008, only 59 per cent of those eligible to vote did so. The Conservatives hope the turnout will fall further still. And they are doing everything they can to get 40 per cent of those who do vote to vote Conservative. That 40 per cent needs to be carefully spread out across the country, with particular attention to several dozen ridings that are up for grabs in the lower mainland of B.C. and on Vancouver Island, in suburban Manitoba, on the edges of the Greater Toronto Area donut, in southwestern Ontario, in the region around Quebec City, and in targeted locations in the Atlantic Provinces.

Here’s the profile of those they’d like to see at the polls: white men over fifty, especially those who don’t spend much time in city centres; Christian fundamentalists; those in “ethnic” communities who have been vetted by Jason Kenney (a leaked memo exposed the Conservative plan to harvest votes from those they depict as “ethnics”); gun owners; youngish neo-cons who want to grow up to be like David Frum (not a large demographic); and, of course the rich, as well as those who think they will be rich. Women are generally unreliable; and the young are a downright menace. If you’re under twenty-five, Harper almost certainly wants you to pass on voting. Look what happened to the nineteen year old woman who was muscled out of a Harper rally because Conservative spooks found a picture of her on Facebook side by side with Michael Ignatieff.

If all goes according to the War Room plan, the Conservatives should win a bare majority of seats in the House of Commons. With 59 per cent of Canadians voting and 40 per cent of those who do vote choosing Conservative candidates, the planners are counting on winning a majority of seats with the support on election day of 23.6 per cent of Canadians who are eligible to vote.

This is no old-time Canadian election in which party leaders use the biggest megaphone they can find to reach the largest number of Canadians through newspapers and the television networks. In those old-time elections, about 75 per cent of those eligible actually voted.

For Harper’s War Roomers, the idea is to keep the various bits of the message as narrowly focused as possible to hit those who are targeted without riling up those not intended to hear parts of the message that are not for them. Take the Conservative pledge----I don’t use the term Tory to depict these Reformers-Without-Stetsons---to kill the long-gun registry as an example. The Harperites have selected the ridings they believe Conservatives can pick up from other parties by focusing on the gun registry---the NDP-held seat in Welland in Southern Ontario is a case in point.

There, Harper hammers home the pledge to eliminate the gun registry. But it’s not a message he wants people in the GTA, not too far away from Welland, to hear. People in the GTA generally support the gun registry. In the GTA, Harper would rather talk about the benefits of “stability” that supposedly flow from majority government, as he recently did, to a selected group of influential representatives of those described by the Conservatives as “ethnic” media organizations, mostly newspaper publishers.

For every target audience, there is a message. For corporate Canada, the message is the lowest corporate taxes on offer. For high-income families, the message is tax cuts through income splitting, although not until the deficit has been eliminated (don’t hold your breath). For the oil patch, the message is full speed ahead with the oil sands, the environment be damned. For communities close to military bases, the message is that austerity applies to everybody but the military.

Lower voter turnout is not just a lucky break for the Conservatives. Right-wing political parties have been assiduously working to lower voter turnout in Canada, the U.S. and Europe for several decades. While running for office, the leaders of these parties denigrate government, those who work for governments and the benefits to society that flow from government programs. They promote the idea that politicians are cynics who are “all the same”, “in it for themselves” and “not to be trusted.” (The rich, who DO vote, know that whatever the ethical merits of those who hold leadership positions of right-wing parties, they can always be counted on to back business against labour and to spend billions bailing out the banks when that is required.)

Negative advertising, it has long been known, has the effect of driving down voter turnout in the electorate at large.

No, Stephen Harper does not want YOU to vote. His plan is to tranquilize the majority of Canadians into a state of torpor while he takes complete control of the instruments of the Canadian state.