Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Vanity Production?

Yesterday morning, I read a piece by Martin Regg Cohn on the impending sale of Ontario's Hydro One. When it is completed, 60% of our publically-owned asset will have been sold off. During a brief walk in the afternoon, I decided to write a letter to my local MPP with a copy to Premier Kathleen Wynne to protest the sale. While it may be of some interest to people residing in Ontario, my letter may be regarded by those residing elsewhere as a vanity production, perhaps, given the ultimate futility of speaking or writing to our representatives in our currently debased democracy.

Whatever its ultimate utility may be, writing this missive has at least been personally cathartic:
I am writing to express my deep disappointment over your government's decision to sell off 60% of Hydro One. It is a profound betrayal of the people of Ontario and a flagrant abuse of democracy that I fear will have far-reaching consequences.

I was one of the many who chose to cast my vote in the last election, not for the NDP but for the Liberals. Their platform seemed sound, and I was repulsed by what I saw as the political opportunism of Andrea Horwath in forcing the election. A leader's integrity is one of my paramount considerations when I vote, and I thought I saw it in Kathleen Wynne.

While I admire that Ms. Wynne has shown strength of conviction in some areas, such as the revamping of the sex-ed curriculum, despite fierce opposition from some quarters, I lament the fact that she does not have the same courage and principles to resist the neoliberal siren call of privatization of public assets. As we well know, the private sector's sole responsibility is to its shareholders and the profits they expect, and we have no reason to believe that its majority ownership of our Hydro assets will change that. The public good will always be, at best, a tangential consideration.

Not once during her bid for re-election did the premier talk about privatizing Hydro One. To say that a general review of all assets was to be undertaken as the cover for this decision is, frankly, dishonest and insulting. Also, the Hydro assets are, as you well know, generating very healthy annual profits. To suggest their sale is needed to fund infrastructure projects is disingenuous, and indicative of a very narrow vision that excludes other possibilities, such as road tolls or an increase in the income tax rate to fund such construction. I will also state the obvious: those assets belong to all Ontarians. They are not your government's to sell.

At a time when cynicism about the electoral process is widespread, and voting numbers continue to decline, the decision to sell such a prized asset can do nothing but promote more of the same. If you are so convinced that this is a good decision, then hold a provincial plebiscite. Only with the approval of the people can you make any claim to be representing them in this matter.

I am one of the electorate with a very long memory. I can assure you my support for your party and government ends the day the sale of Hydro One begins. Next election, my vote will be for the NDP.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Stealin' All My Dreams

That's the message Blue Rodeo delivers in this music video, which features some timely reminders of the almost decade's worth of depredations that have taken place under the Harper regime.

On a side note, I came across the video last night and immediately prepared this post for publication today; this morning I received a note from David, who sent me links both to the video and the National Observer article. I guess it's true that 'great' minds think alike, eh? Thanks, David.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Day Well-Spent

There is something both restorative and energizing about spending time among people who are politically engaged, and that is probably the best way to describe those in attendance at both the Toronto Star Tent and the Bestsellers Stage yesterday at Toronto's Word On The Street. As much as I have a strong aversion to Toronto's congestion, it has an energy that so many other cities lack.

It was, weather-wise, a perfect day to go down to Harbourfront Centre, the new home of the annual celebration of the written word. And for the first time, I got there early enough to snag a decent seat (actually, it was front-row) at the Toronto Star Tent, where Tim Harper, Thomas Walkom and Bruce Campion-Smith held forth on the current federal election campaign. That alone was worth the trip.

Hilariously hosted by Dan Smith, who described himself as "a recovering journalist," the format this year lent itself to far more questions from the audience than did last year's event. Here are a few highlights:

While none of the journalists was able or willing to predict the outcome of the election, Thomas Walkom said that its outcome depends on the answer to this question: "How sick are you of Harper?" Assuming the majority of Canadians are very fatigued of the current regime, the outcome will depend upon how the vote splits. He would not even rule out the possibility of a majority government.

Tim Harper said the two things were a surprise to him in this campaign, one being the fact that Justin Trudeau is still very much a contender, having brought control to his messaging after having had an earlier propensity for speaking off the cuff and getting himself into trouble. The other surprise is the Mulcair campaign having adopted a very cautious strategy; it is, in fact, something he writes about in today's Star.

All three journalists were rather dismissive of polls as merely being "snapshots in time" rather than predictors of election results. What surprised me was that the 'free polls' made available to the media are what were described as "cheap polls," ones with shallow samplings that pollsters provide for the free publicity it brings their companies. Parties' own commissioned polls, which are not released to the public, are much deeper and expensive. Were I able to have a real conversation with these fellows, however, I would question the relatively benign cloak they cast over polls; I have always been of the opinion that they not only reflect public sentiment but also influence it.

Disheartening for me was the assertion by Tim Harper that the niqab is an election issue, and not just in Quebec. The banning of it at citizenship ceremonies has widespread support judging by the email he gets, and it could cost Mulcair support. Walkom has no doubt that it is simply Harper playing upon anti-Muslim sentiment. Writer Michael Harris has some interesting things to say today about the issue in iPolitics.

Despite my repeated efforts to be recognized by the host to ask a question, it was not to be. I therefore approached Tim Harper at the end of the session to ask him what he finds most disappointing about this campaign. His answer echoed what I think many of us feel - the fact that big issues like climate change and pharmacare are not really being addressed, attributing it to the caution the two opposition parties have adopted owing to the closeness of their standings in the polls. He did add that this campaign is hardly unique in that failure, which reminded me of what Robert Fisk said the other night about the lack of statesmanlike vision afflicting contemporary politicians.

The afternoon session I attended was interesting as well, featuring Kevin Page and Bob Rae speaking about their respective new books.

Addressing the general dysfunction of our politics, Rae observed that its hyper partisanship, and the fact that campaigning seems to go on year round, 24/7, is a major problem and has debased discourse. He said that it is incumbent upon both citizens and the media to ask the hard questions and hold the parties responsible, a prescription I usspect is far easier said than done. I was able to get myself recognized to ask him a question, which basically revolved around whether or not the Canadian soul has been too debased these past several years to be able to recover to the point where a healthy democracy is now possible.

Rae answered by saying he did not think that was the case, and he cautioned against laying all the blame on the Harper regime, as it is far from the only party responsible for our sad state of affairs. Had I been permitted a follow-up question, I would have asked him that since all parties have contributed to the problem, what are the chances of any kind of rehabilitation of the Canadian psyche taking place?

While still trying to maintain a certain objectivity that, I suppose, comes from the years he spent as a civil servant, Kevin Page, who has a surprising facility for deadpan humour, lamented the loss of nobility that once came with being an MP out to serve the public good and to hold the executive to account. He observed the loss of values and vision that echoed what Tim Harper alluded to, but he also said that decision-making has become debased (that is my word, not his).

Page says that spending information has to be made available to the entire parliament, but he relayed his frustrating experiences while serving as the Parliamentary Budget Officer seeking such information from deputy ministers only to be told that he couldn't have it. Decisions are therefore made in a fiscal vacuum; the cost of a politicized public service has been high.

Beyond the monetary considerations, however, Page observed that there is no discussion on what kind of institutions we want, be they military, parliamentary, or what have you. This is an ideological government bent on enacting legislation on that basis alone. It used to be that civil servants, for example, would present three options for a decision. Now they are told those options are not needed if they don't fit into the government's 'vision.'

I will end this rather lengthy post with an anecdote Bob Rae told about talking to a cab driver. Rae asked him who he favoured, and he replied, "Rob Ford and Donald Trump." When asked why, he said that they speak what is on their minds. In other words, to this man they had 'authenticity.'

A sharp and perhaps bitter reminder of what mainstream politicians seem so sorely lacking in today.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Word On The Street

I'm heading to Toronto this morning for Word On The Street, the annual celebration of the written word that is always a worthwhile experience.

At noon, I am hoping to get a seat in the Toronto Star Tent, where Tim Harper, Thomas Walkom and Bruce Campion-Smith will be discussing the upcoming federal election.

At 2:00 p.m., Kevin Page will be discussing his new book, Unaccountable: Truth, Lies and Numbers on Parliament Hill at the Bestsellers Stage. Unfortunately, he will be sharing the stage with Bob Rae.

If you live near Toronto, perhaps I'll see you there. I'll be wearing a black JazzFM91 cap.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

UPDATED: It Has Come To This

I am prefacing this by reproducing a comment I made 0n kirbycairo's post, A Dark Hour Upon Us. Kirby, one of our top-shelf bloggers, always provides insightful analysis and commentary, and in yesterday's piece, he offered a rather gloomy assessment of the human condition.

I wrote back:

I find myself in agreement with your gloomy assessment of the human condition, Kirby. While we have certainly experienced social evolution in the past century, it always seem to take very little to rip away the veneer of civilization we encase ourselves in. As you well know, that is why demagogues are so dangerous.

We are part of the animal kingdom, something we are reminded of on a daily basis. However, like other animals we do have the capacity or potential to be good and philanthropic. Of that I have no doubt. But that capacity has to be carefully nurtured in order to express itself and grow. Today, we have no one in the political arena willing to do the hard lifting required of leadership that would bring out the best in us. And we, of course, are the enablers of that weak leadership that exploits and manipulatse our passions and our prejudices.

In my view, we all are to blame for our abject failures.

I have been avoiding political shows for the past week, for reasons of burnout that I wrote about recently. Yesterday, however, I tuned into the first part of Power and Politics, as they were discussing that morally repugnant $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a followup to the justification that Stephen Harper gave yesterday for pursuing it:
At a campaign stop in Rivière-du-Loup, Que., Harper was asked whether he was putting Canadian jobs ahead of human rights concerns.

"As I've said in the debate, it's frankly all of our partners and allies who were pursuing that contract, not just Canada. So this is a deal frankly with a country, and notwithstanding its human rights violations, which are significant, this is a contract with a country that is an ally in the fighting against the Islamic State. A contract that any one of our allies would have signed," he said.

"We expressed our outrage, our disagreement from time to time with the government of Saudi Arabia for their treatment of human rights, but I don't think it makes any sense to pull a contract in a way that would only punish Canadian workers instead of actually expressing our outrage at some of these things in Saudi Arabia."

So, essentially it has come to this: jobs before morality. A greater indictment of the Harper regime I cannot think of. However, as you will see in the following video, despite the commendably tenacious efforts by P+P host Rosemary Barton, who never fails to impress, neither of the opposition party representative would answer her question of whether they would cancel the contract, although near the end, Paul Dewar does get pinned down.

A bankrupt nation, some would describe Canada as.

UPDATE: While Canada continues to parcel out its collective soul to the highest bidders, Germany, as it has with the refugee situation, is showing real leadership:
Germany has decided to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia because of “instability in the region,” German daily Bild reported Sunday.

Weapons orders from Saudi Arabia have either been “rejected, pure and simple,” or deferred for further consideration, the newspaper said, adding that the information has not been officially confirmed.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Truth From A Letter-Writer

This was sent to me by Anon in response to a previous post. Enjoy!

Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks to supporters during a rally at Swish Group of Companies in Peterborough on Monday (Sept. 21).
Peterborough This Week

20 non-answers from Conservative leader Stephen Harper, according to a letter writer

To the editor:

Are you a member of the media who wonders if the Prime Minister will ever hold a news conference where several questions can be asked, and substantive answers given?

That is never going to happen.

Harper focuses on economy during rally in Peterborough on Monday

So, sit back, relax and read the continuously revised and updated "Stephen Harper Non-Answer Generator". Available now as a download at

The most recent non-answers include:

1. “In 2010 I decided to rename the Government of Canada as the Harper Government in official communication because he who has seen Me has seen the Party."

2. "We do not allow people to cover their faces during citizenship ceremonies. But we do allow Canadian goalies to cover their faces during hockey games."

3. "Under my watch, greenhouse gas emissions actually went down in 2008... until they started going up again in 2009."

4. "When bad actions arise, the role of the leader is to take responsibility and hold people accountable, and that’s exactly what we’re doing....not including, of course, my chief of staff Ray Novak, Stephen Lecce, Chris Woodcock, Joanne McNamara, Andrew MacDougall, Patrick Rogers, Arthur Hamilton, David van Hemmen and very few others."

5. "My favourite Bible verse? Luke 8:17: For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open."

6. "First we bring them [the CBC] to their knees. Then we restructure them."

7. "What I know is this: Mr. Duffy should have repaid his expenses. He did not because Mr. Wright paid them for him...paid them for him...paid them for him...whirr!...bleep!...paid them for him."

8. "Our government has a real tax incentive plan to create 125,000 at-work daycare spaces."

9. "Well look, um, the Prime Minister is always ultimately accountable for the government. Um, we're running on our record, which includes having the worst economic growth of any Prime Minister since the days of R. B. Bennett in the 1930s. It's not my fault we've run six consecutive deficits, increased the federal debt by $158 billion, and Canada is the only G7 country in recession."

10. "The House of Commons passed Mr. Hyer’s bill [Climate Change Accountability Act]. When it went to the Senate, I instructed the Conservative senators to kill it. I am proud to say this was the first time in Canadian history that appointed senators killed a bill without a single day of study in the Senate!"

11. "Let me assure you that our priority will remain to ensure stability and security for Canadians. The government will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society."

12. “The 24/Seven videos summarize the activities of government for interested Canadians. As Mr. Teneycke [Conservative campaign spokesman] said: ‘We’re better than news, because we’re truthful.’”

13. (singing, to the tune of Sweet Caroline): "Hands, shackled hands/Reaching out, shackled feet, touching you/Dean Del Mastro/Bad times never seemed so bad/I'd be inclined/To believe that you are sad...." -- upon learning Dean Del Mastro was sentenced for cheating on his 2008 campaign expenses.

14. "It is perfectly legal to mail my own birthday cards for people to sign and mail back to me. Canada Post needs the business."

15. “The Federal Court has ruled against our government’s cuts to refugee health care, saying the changes amount to ‘cruel and unusual’ treatment, and ‘outrage Canadian standards of decency.’ Really? Are we our brother's keeper? The parable of the Good Samaritan clearly does not support the idea of extended health care for refugees because we are Canadians, not Samaritans.”

16. “I realize how important it is for northerners to have access to healthy food. That’s why our government launched the Nutrition North program in 2011. Since then, a food basket for an average family of four has been reduced by $110 a month. Two litres of orange juice is now only $26, and five kilograms of flour only $25.”

17. "We have achieved a $1.9 billion surplus for the 2014-2015 fiscal year because government departments massively underspent their budgets. Making huge cuts to veterans, aboriginals, seniors, and immigrants really did pay off!"

18. "Let's be clear, friends. The NDP want to create one million quality child care spaces that parents could access for $15 a day, and the Liberals want a more generous child benefit that will lift 315,000 children out of poverty. Friends, we're gathered here tonight to be make sure that does not happen! That is not our Conservative vision for our country!"

19. "Old stock Canadians are the real Canadians of our country."

20. "Wayne Gretzky said I have been 'an unreal prime minister and wonderful to the whole country'. He has been a true gentleman on and off the ice, and doesn't mind I took away his right to vote in our elections. And even though Wayne played centre, now he'll be best remembered as a right winger!"

David Buckna

Kelowna, B.C.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Robert Fisk

Last evening my wife and I attended a talk given by Robert Fisk, the renowned British journalist who has lived in and covered the Middle East for almost 40 years. The talk was quite dense, given the complexity of the issues and dynamics of that region, and I realized how little we understand about what is really going on there.

I did not take notes, but fortunately an interview with him in The Tyee covers some of his salient points, one of which is the sad devolution of Canada's international presence:
"I was so amazed that [Canada's Minister of National Defence and for Multiculturalism] Jason Kenney made the statement that some of the refugees could be terrorists. He was basing his argument on some story about someone in a camp talking about fighting Assad.

"When you go back and look at how Canadians reacted to the Vietnamese boat people, some were suggesting that some of them might be communists, as if that were a reason not to take them in. Kenney is playing an old card, that Muslims would be prone to terrorism while Christians won't be.

"Some pundits have argued that there are extremists in the refugee camps, and while we need to do something, we can't, because security. It's a bad card to play because it's immoral, and though it is immoral, it's a bad card to play because it will become reality. Someone will plant a bomb to make it look like it was the wrong thing to do to let refugees in.

"Merkel has stepped forward and done more to expunge moral guilt of any German leader since World War Two. She did what Obama should have done. She said: Bring me your huddled masses. The idea that we're going to go over and kill ISIS, Assad, the Yemen leadership -- to continue the bombing campaign -- is infantilism.

"We have to abandon the politics of Harper and Cameron. It might be the statesmanship of 1940, but it's not the statesmanship we need. I'm talking long-term, to plan for the next 50 years. Future generations don't matter to politicians. Harper had opportunities that he didn't even think about, let alone grasp. Canada's natural position in the world is to be a great moral power, that tries to put out fires, bring people together, and look out for the suffering and the poor. None of that applies to Harper."

There was much more to his talk, including his belief that ISIS, with its quite mechanical, passionless destruction of heritage artifacts (paintings, for example, are not slashed to pieces but put through shredders), is a weapon being used and funded by Saudi Arabia to destabilize the Shia forces in the Middle East. But that may be the topic of another post.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Meat For The Conservative Base

... is, I hope, indigestible for the rest of us.
At Sunday's Calgary-Signal Hill all-candidates debate, Conservative candidate Ron Liepert responded to criticisms of the Conservatives' controversial Bill C-51 by suggesting "civil liberties" and "freedom" are not the most pressing issues facing the country in light of "criminal activities."

"I know there's a whole group of people including a couple of the speakers here tonight who talk about civil liberties and about the freedom of having the right to pretty much choose to do what you like," Liepert told voters.

"Folks, that's not the country we live in."

This was not Liepert's first foray into absurdist pronouncements. Last year, he told CBC Radio that supporters of solar and wind energy are "extremists" who live in a "dream world."

It is is hard to understand how the Harper base can feel proud of supporting such patent idiots unless, of course ....

Echoing His Master's Voice?

People who read my blog regularly may have noticed that lately I have been posting videos and images more than I have been writing. The fact of the matter is that as a political junkie I have overdosed, something I suspected might happen due to this ridiculously long election campaign. Hardened cynic though I am, even I can take only so much of the obviously cheap and manipulative politicking that occurs during such a campaign, a campaign decidedly lacking in scope and vision, one that abjectly fails to address the real crises we face. Each leader, with the exception of Elizabeth May, is content to tinker around the edges at best, and leave the issues that require both adult discussion and adult, mature Canadian engagement, unacknowledged and unaddressed.

So I feel tired, and may, (or may not) write less frequently for a while.

Here is a story that to me, is emblematic of the dysfunctionality of those who represent us and one of the reasons I am losing heart: the stoking of fear, at which the Conservatives excel, is obvious here.
In a video obtained by the Star, Daniel offered this warning to voters in Don Valley North: “So I think there is a different agenda going on in terms of these refugees.

“Whereas at the same time Saudi Arabia is putting up money for 200 mosques in Germany I think the agenda is to move as many Muslims into some of these European countries to change these countries in a major way.

“That is something that I certainly don’t want to see happening in Canada. I think Canada is the greatest country in the world.”

Mr. Daniel refused, of course, to be interviewed by The Star about his comments.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

On 'The Great One's' Illiteracy

A pity that Wayne Gretsky is apparently unacquainted with Mark Twain, evidenced by the former's ringing endorsement of Stephen Harper.

Said the Addled One,
“I think you’ve been an unreal prime minister. You’ve been wonderful to the whole country,” said Gretzky, before he was interrupted by the cheers of the partisan crowd, who jumped to their feet applauding.

“Honestly, I wish you nothing but the most success to you and your family. I know you have the country’s best interests at heart.”
Although God obviously shortchanged Gretsky in a very important area, at least he gave him sufficient physical prowess to get by in life. A shame the hockey player felt the need to stray into matters he knows nothing about.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Last Night's Debate

I tuned in to last night's leaders' debate on the economy with little enthusiasm and low expectations; the exclusion of Elizabeth May suggested that there would be little fire and more of the same rhetoric I have come to expect in this campaign. While I wasn't entirely wrong, there were one or two surprises.

First, in the "no surprise' category, Stephen Harper continued with his references to the turbulence of world economies and his "stay the course" message - reassuring to his base, no doubt, but singularly uninspiring to the rest of us. When asked by moderator David Walmsley what new ideas he had since the economy has flatlined and things are bad for people, Harper answered by entirely rejecting the premise of the question. I guess when you are the Emperor, questions that displease are dismissed.

Thomas Mulcair performed as a prime-minister-in-waiting, repeating his promises for day-care spaces and modest increases in corporate taxation. Although by the luck of the draw he occupied the centre, with Trudeau on the left of the screen and Harper on the right, he seemed to have been aptly placed. He was evasive when asked about the costs of his carbon plan, but, in my view, made no mistakes. Harper light might be an appropriate label to affix to his lapel.

Justin Trudeau was the one who surprised me. Passionate when the others were calm, I got the impression that he was presenting the human side of politics, where the fate of the country matters more than for reasons of wanting power. As he pointed out, the record low rates at which the federal government can borrow money makes it the perfect time to invest in our woefully neglected infrastructure, a time when we can aspire to more than what the soulless Harper vision offers. He seemed to have some fire in his belly, whereas the other two appeared to have ingested mega doses of Maalox.

Here are a few highlights from Mr. Trudeau's performance:

The part I recall most vividly was when Trudeau talked through the camera to Canadians, asserting that he was being straight with them in proposing the measures he was outlining. With his earnest demeanour, he carried it off, in my view, quite successfully.

For more in-depth analysis and some fact-checking, here are the CBC's Susan Ormiston and Adrienne Arsenault: And finally, the At Issue panel weighs in:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rick Mercer On The Youth Vote

Rick says it would be 'a seismic shift" if young people turned out in force to vote. Let's hope they heed his words.

Tee Hee

I trust this needs no explanation:

Unfortunately, however, there seem to be a lot of Charlie Browns out there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fire And Rain

I've seen fire, and I've seen rain, sang James Taylor in his eponymous song.

Now the rest of us have too.

Memories Are Made Of This

Almost like a blooper reel, these reminders of some of King Stephen's 'finer' moments will, one hopes, serve a useful purpose. Enjoy.

24/Stephen: "Proud Conservative Moments"

Proud Conservative moments

Posted by Press Progress on Tuesday, September 15, 2015
H/t Press Progress

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Heroes And Villains

The heroes, of course, are the ones who risk their lives fighting these conflagrations; the villains, the rest of us, for our unwillingness to force real measures to combat the climate change:

The Heart Of Harper

Many thanks to MBarrett, who sent me this. If you can't see the graphic too clearly owing to my inexpertise in manipulating screenshots, you can see the original here.

This lithocardium was salvaged several years ago from a dumpster behind the Ottawa General Hospital following Prime Minister Stephen J Harpers transplant upgrade to a flintier organ of greater Mohs hardness number.
This specimen is still functional and may be used for a clean implant or to replace the existing organ of any austerity minded politician, neo conservative, banker, tax auditor, or parking enforcement officer. It has been tested and is guaranteed to be inert and unresponsive.

Anesthesia is clearly unnecessary for the above mentioned candidates and their high viscosity oleohemodynamics make auto-implantability a breeze.

Material: Athabaska cretaceous with fossil inclusions
Color: black
Composition: iron 70%, grits 0%, tar 33%, cynicism 25%, sarcasm 18%
Operating temperature: cold
Melting point: 25% Ipsos Reid Nanos
Modulus of rupture: 50 kRefugee / riding
Abrasion resistant with flaking

Organ may reject recipient. Drugs are advised. Seek the advice of a qualified lithocardiologist.

All proceeds donated to the Canadian Council for Refugees

Disclaimer / Clarification: Some viewers have mistakenly believed the above item to be the normal human heart of Stephen J Harper and asked eBay to remove the item on the grounds of my engaging in human organ trafficking. I apologize for the confusion. As noted under the description, the item for sale is NOT a real, normal human organ and contains 0% human or other biological tissue, empathy, spirit or soul. It is entirely composed of rock stone gravel and other inert material.">here.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Harper's Message Control

Some might call it extortion. Others, a gag order. Some would perhaps be more comfortable with the term loyalty oath. Whatever the label, however, one thing is clear: in Harperland, those who vie to carry the party's electoral banner must agree to give up some basic freedoms or pay a heavy penalty.

iPolitics reports the following:
Unsuccessful nomination candidates risk losing a $1,000 “Good Conduct Bond” they were required to post with the Conservative Party when they applied to seek a nomination if they do anything the party decides doesn’t meet its criteria for good conduct. If, however, they meet the party’s test they get their $1,000 back at the end of this election campaign.
While many apparently pay this admission price with no qualms, perhaps in the hope of proving their worthiness as seals-in-training, others are troubled by it. Said a former nomination candidate,
"It is anti-democratic and highly controlling: entirely inconsistent with how a Parliamentary democracy is supposed to work,” iPolitics was told. “An MP is expected to represent a constituency and should be free to express their views as well as his or her own. The system was never meant to function by squelching free speech by the edict of one man.”

“How is anyone supposed to bring up new ideas? And how can you test ideas if debate is forbidden.”
Apparently this anonymous source doesn't seem to appreciate the authoritarian dynamics that permeate the Harper party of one, dynamics that have rendered it a such a fossilized parody of a democratic entity.

This 'good conduct bond' originated in 2006, and while definitions of conduct are not given, certain specific prohibitions are outlined:
I will not seek the nomination of another political party, or run as an independent candidate, and will not endorse, campaign for or publicly support any opposing candidate or political party, in the next federal election,” reads a copy of the declaration obtained by iPolitics.

“I further confirm that following the nomination process, when the nominated candidate resulting from the process contests the election, I will take no steps, and make no comments whether public or amongst Party personnel or members which could be interpreted or understood to oppose the nominated candidate in any way.”
Inky Mark, a former Reform Party and Canadian Alliance MP who is running in this election as an independent, assumes this gag order bond was imposed by Harper:
"He doesn’t want any backlash, any criticism of the process, nothing. He just doesn’t want any negative commentary. It’s just his idea of controlling everything, everything around him.”
And it is precisely that proclivity, applied to the entire country, that increasing numbers of Canadians are finding odious as they prepare to vote in the upcoming election.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Apocalypse Continues

This time, the California wildfires are threatening not only home and people, but the same giant sequoias reported on last week.

Seeing Harper For What He Is

John Langs carved "Anybody But Harper!!" into his 46-acre field of rye near Brantford, Ont. Each letter is 100 metres tell.

Star readers once more offer their trenchant assessments of Stephen Harper's character (or lack thereof):
It’s hard to reconcile Stephen Harper’s ongoing tough talk on standing up to terrorism when we remember that during the gunman’s attack on Parliament Hill last October, Harper jumped into a storage closet and hid for 15 minutes.

Indeed, it was reported by CBC News, that one week later, he apologized to his caucus telling them he felt remorse for doing so. (At the time, many of his MPs were alarmed by his sudden disappearance.)

It certainly seems that Harper’s actions graphically illustrate his penchant for looking after No. 1. One might wonder if this is a good character trait for someone supposedly looking after a country.

J. Richard Wright, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Stephen Harper relates everything to ISIS. The question to him becomes: How many more Canadian bombs would have prevented that little boy drowning? Canada is facing a crisis beyond Harper’s understanding. It’s difficult to imagine Canada’s international reputation getting any lower, but he is doing his best to realize it.

Raymond Peringer, Toronto

As a member of the PEN committee for Writers In Exile and a supporter of our local refugee shelter, “Romero House,” I have watched the brutal immigration policies of the Harper government over the last 10 years.

In 2011 the Harper government said they wanted any refugees admitted into Canada to be sponsored privately, to keep costs down. Okay, so there were hundreds of church and community groups that said yes, found refugee families and individuals in the camps to sponsor, many of them Syrian. These private groups made their applications for the refugees, found accommodation, bought furniture, donations of food and people to help integrate the people into Canadian society. Then they waited – three months, nine months, 16 months, two years and Canadian immigration simply refused to process them. No response, no explanation, nothing. We couldn’t believe it.

This was under then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and it’s just as bad now under Chris Alexander.

In scores of these projects the accommodation had to be let go, the furniture sold and the groups disbanded and the refugees continue to live in the camps without hope.

I have no idea why the Conservative government refused to process these applications for years. Private individuals would pay. Whatever is going on in Ottawa, we have to challenge it. Especially now with this heartbreaking Syrian crisis.

Keith Ross Leckie, Toronto

.....Even a cold-hearted economist like Mr. Harper should realize many of the refugees include highly trained individuals, including doctors, scientists, technologists and tradesmen. If Canada had been led by xenophobic leaders in the past, our country would never have survived long enough to achieve its unique ethnic diversity but instead would have disintegrated into an assortment of resource-rich territories belonging to the U.S.

Lloyd Atkins, Vernon, B.C.

Friday, September 11, 2015

I Hope This Gets A Lot Of Airplay

Here is the newest NDP ad, a clever sendup of the Conservative record using the job interview format so favoured by the Tories in their attacks on Trudeau.

A Troubled Tory Campaign

By now, the majority of media pundits agree that the Tory campaign is in trouble; the degree of that trouble is one of the finer points the talking heads like to quibble over. Last night's At Issue panel tackled this and other campaign matters in what I thought was a good, solid discussion. This was followed by The Insiders, who provided complementary analysis. Both are embedded below:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"What Happened? You Used To Be The Good Ones!"

Ad Busters has created a powerful anti-Haprer commercial that deserves to be shared far and wide.
For generations, we Canadians were seen as peacekeepers, as mediators and as the inspired environmental stewards of a vast country — for much of the 20th century we were a force for good in this world. We wore the Maple Leaf with immense pride, and were welcomed everywhere with open arms. You may remember American travelers wearing our flag patch on their backpacks to protect themselves from scorn.

Today Canada has lost its purpose, lost its soul. Wearing the Maple Leaf is no longer a badge of honour. After nine years in office, Stephen Harper has decimated Canada's reputation on the world stage. We are no longer the proud nation we used to be.

An Eloquent Voice

Samia Mazdar, whose parents came to Canada from Syria, quietly and eloquently discusses why she will vote in the upcoming election. She also serves to remind us of the values Canada once proudly embraced.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Clearly, There Is Method In Harper's Madness

Recently, Robin Sears wrote a piece severely critical of the Conservative response to the Syrian crisis, a commentary prompted by Immigration Minister Chris Alexander's disastrous appearance on Power and Politics. In it, he suggests that rather than the snarling and aggressive response Alexander gave P&P host Rosemary Barton, he could have said something like the following:
“Like every Canadian tonight, I grieve at the horrible deaths, the fate of members of the Kurdi family on the shores of Turkey.

Like many people watching tonight, I looked at that photo of their lifeless son, Alan, lying like a broken doll on the sand, and I confess, I sat down and I cried ...

I called the prime minister immediately. His reaction was that of a husband and father first, and then he said, “Chris, get me some thoughts on how we can do better, how we can do more, by the morning. This is unacceptable, to me and to our values as Canadians.

I called my department, told them I would be there in a few hours, and we worked all night to ensure we could respond quickly and powerfully to this mounting tragedy. Here’s what the prime minister has ordered us to do …
Of course, we all know that nothing approximating the above has or ever likely will pass the lips of either the Prime Minister or any of his functionaries.

Polls suggest that this is costing the Conservatives politically:
The Nanos survey conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV News suggests many Canadians switched their voting intentions in recent days. The three-day sample puts support for the NDP at 32.7 per cent nationally (up 2.3 percentage points from a week ago), followed by the Liberals at 30.8 per cent (up 0.6 percentage points). Support for the Conservatives has slipped to 26.2 per cent (a 2.3-percentage-point drop).
And yet Stephen Harper remains obdurate. He has refused a 'non-partisan' meeting with Mulcair and Trudeau to address the crisis:
"We're not going to get into partisan games on this," said Harper during a campaign stop in Toronto Monday afternoon.
Pulling numbers out of thin air, he said:
"We've already brought in tens of thousands. As I say, I've already announced that we will increase that number," he said.

"Look, we're obviously pleased that Canadians are seized with this issue and Canadians want us to respond. That's what we are doing."

Harper also repeated his assertion that changes to refugee policy will not be enough to curb the influx of those fleeing violence, and that ongoing military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is the only way to curb the refugee crisis.
Then there is this:
Stephen Harper says the government is looking to improve the refugee resettlement process, but it will not airlift thousands of refugees from countries such as Syria and Iraq, where extremist organizations operate, without conducting a proper security screening.

"To help, we must ensure we screen every potential refugee carefully. We have been clear that we are willing to take more people, but we must be sure we are helping the most vulnerable.

"We cannot open the floodgates and airlift tens of thousands of refugees out of a terrorist war zone without proper process. That is too great a risk for Canada," Harper said on Tuesday during a question-and-answer session on Facebook.
And what is one to make of this, wherein Stephen Harper admits to the possibility of electoral defeat?
In the face of declining poll numbers, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said he still believes he will win the most seats come Election Day but acknowledged for the first time that his political rivals have gained ground.

“We are fighting for and we believe there will be a Conservative government, but the reality is this is a real choice for Canadians, and an NDP government or a Liberal government are real possibilities.”
The method in Harper's madness becomes apparent once the above is examined; a pattern emerges, and his strategy becomes clear. Harper realizes that broadening his base of support is likely impossible, so instead he is doubling down on what he believes his core holds dear: strong 'leadership' and inflexible clear 'principles'.

In doing so, he is sending out a message that if they decide not to vote in October, they run the very real risk of ceding government either to Mulcair or Trudeau or, in what would be a nightmare scenario for the core, a coalition of the two parties. Hence the obdurate refusal to meet with the other leaders on the Syrian crisis, hence the refusal to speed up the process of bringing in refugees, hence the reminder of the potential danger of bringing in terrorists with them, and hence the reminder of the ISIS 'threat.' They are all of a piece.

Then again, I could be completely wrong here, and the Harper campaign is simply beginning to implode.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Too Good Not to Share

I admit it; I am taking great delight in the mockery of the Harper regime:

UPDATED: A Most Visible Sign Of Contempt

It is well-known among those who follow politics that governments frequently show contempt for the people that they 'serve.' However, rarely is that contempt telegraphed in advance of an election. Jerry Bance, who is running for the federal Conservatives in the Toronto riding of Scarborough Rouge Park, owns and operates XPress Appliance Service, an appliance repair company in the Greater Toronto Area. As you will see in the following video, he sets a new depth for disdain that I suspect few will want to emulate.

"I deeply regret my actions on that day. I take great pride in my work and the footage from that day does not reflect who I am as a professional or a person," Bance said when contacted by CBC News for comment.'

Response to the story on social media sites was nearly instantaneous. The hashtag "peegate" was soon trending on Twitter, as Twitter buzzed with disparaging jokes, comments and bad puns targeting Bance and the Conservative Party.
Bance's Dear Leader will be campaigning today in Toronto.
A media advisory from the Conservative campaign names two candidates who will join him, but does not mention Bance.
Happy Labour Day, everyone (excluding Jerry Bance, of course).

UPDATE: The errant Mr. Bance is no longer a Conservative candidate, a loss, to be sure. As Thomas Mulcair puckishly observed, “This must be someone who’s adept at Stephen Harper’s trickle down theory of economics.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

An Arboreal Barometer

Some of them are mute witnesses to over three thousand years of history. Towering and majestic, some as tall as the Statue of Liberty, the giant sequoia, native to a limited area of the western Sierra Nevada, California, is now under severe stress due to California's deep and protracted drought.

As the following report makes clear, although they have withstood millennia of insect infestations and droughts and will likely survive this current crisis, they are being challenged in ways that perhaps they have never been in their long history. And while they may continue to stand, lesser trees around them are dying at unprecedented rates. Just one more reminder of what we continue to do to the earth by our collective indifference to climate change.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Exactly How Does Facebook Define Community Standards?

Living in a democratic society, of course, entails the promotion, encouragement and defense of a diversity of views. With that I obviously have no quarrel. But, as the saying goes, with that freedom comes responsibility. it is the second part of this equation that some people refuse to accept.

When, for example, does freedom of expression cross the line into the promotion of hatred? I have a specific reason for asking that question, which I shall get to in a moment.

I have had a Facebook account for about seven years now; the reason that I joined goes back to our first visit to Costa Rica in 2009, where we met a group of hospitality students staying at the resort and joined them for a day's excursion. All of us were taking a lot of pictures, and when I inquired how I could see theirs online when they got home, they told me to join FB, where they would be posting them. Thus my social media experience began.

Nowadays I use it primarily to share political stories, people's blog posts, etc., as well as to receive various feeds from newspapers and political groups that interest me.

Because the following subject is one I find profoundly distasteful, I thought long and hard before writing this post, as I have no desire to give any kind of publicity or wider exposure to a group of xenophobes and racists, yet I am interested in getting feedback from readers. Yesterday the following appeared in my timeline:

Accompanying this were a variety of comments, a few of which I am reproducing here. Some of it is pretty vile.

... you crack me up. Sure there are Muslims who work. There are exceptions to every race. Believe it or not I've met a chinaman who doesn't like rice and black man who prefers heavy metal to rap music and doesn't play basketball. But the stereotypes exist for a reason. The fact of the matter is these Muslim refugees ARE costing us money for them to be here. We don't want them here, as a tax payer I have the right to not want to waste it on them. I'd rather use it to build a new park or maybe feed our homeless and let them have housing instead of these pieces of shit taking it all while our people starve on the streets.

... We as in WE THE PEOPLE. And of course they are refugees? But the wars and problems the middle East have is all a product of their own choice to follow such an evil ideology. Christian founded countries are the ones that have a greater quality of life and now they wanna come and take what we have after they ruined their own country. And yeah I would rather have a park over a Muslim parasite mooching 1 cent off our tax dollars. I'm happy that little boy drowned. Maybe the money Canada saves from not having to pay for them will be used to re-pave a street instead? And in case you didn't noticed WCAI is worldwide as in Worldwide Coalition Against Islam. We are just one person.

Well fortunately for me I live in a free Democratic country that isn't run by evil Islamic ideologies. It reminds me of 2 brothers that inherited a million dollars each. One brother invested his money right and is reaping the benefits while the other brother blew his money by making poor choices and is now trying to mooch off the other brother. This is no different. You reap what you sew.

...But all people of the islamic ideology are behind an evil ideology that promotes anti-semitism, rape, child molestation, beastiality, persecution, ridiculous law suits and wearing bed sheets and curtains for clothing. And if you think about it the similarities of the Islamic and Nazism ideologies are uncanny. The only difference is Hitler never bothered disguising the holocaust as a "peaceful religion"

In my mind, this is racism thinly disguised by 'economic concerns'. Interested in making a complaint about the group, I checked Facebook's reporting criteria. Under Encouraging Respectful Behaviour, this is what I found:
Hate Speech

Facebook removes hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their:

National origin,
Religious affiliation,
Sexual orientation,
Sex, gender, or gender identity, or
Serious disabilities or diseases.

Organizations and people dedicated to promoting hatred against these protected groups are not allowed a presence on Facebook. As with all of our standards, we rely on our community to report this content to us.
Feeling I was on pretty solid ground, I lodged a complaint. About two hours later I received this reply:
Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the photo you reported for containing hate speech or symbols and found it doesn't violate our Community Standards.
I am disappointed in Facebook's response, and it appears there was no effort made to read the comments accompanying the illustration.

So I am left with the question which is my post's title: Exactly how does Facebook define community standards?

I welcome, as always, your comments.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

UPDATED:A Shameful Indifference

By now we have all seen the terrible image of the drowned three-year-old Syrian refugee on the shores near a Turkish resort. The juxtaposition couldn't be any more telling of desperation confronting world indifference.

What perhaps isn't as widely known is the fact that the boy, Aylan, and his bother and mother, Galip and Rehan Kurdin who also drowned, were rejected for emigration to Canada:
Canadian legislator Fin Donnelly told The Canadian Press that he had submitted a request on behalf on the boys’ aunt, Teema Kurdi, who had wanted to bring the family to Canada, but her request was turned down by Canadian immigration officials. Teema Kurdi, based in the Vancouver area, is the sister of the drowned boys’ father Abdullah, who survived.
Fin Donnelly, who is running for re-election in Port Moody-Coquitlam said he delivered a letter on behalf of Teema Kurdi, Abdullah’s sister, to Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander in March but that the sponsorship request was not approved.
Exactly what is our responsibility in an humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions?

In today's Star, Tony Burman ponders that very question, and asks why so little is being said about it during our current election campaign:
In recent weeks, the approach by Canada’s political class, led by its major political parties, seems to be based on a 21st-century notion about this country — that this worldwide refugee crisis really doesn’t involve Canada directly, and really doesn’t matter to Canadians.

With the crisis worsening by the day, it is time for this to end. We need to increase pressure on our politicians in this election campaign to push this issue aggressively to the fore.
Burman reminds us that historically, indifference has not been the Canadian way:
In recent decades, Canada’s doors were wide open to thousands of refugees. Since the 1970s, 6,000 Ugandan Asians fleeing Idi Amin’s regime, 13,000 Chilean refugees escaping the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, 20,000 Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union, as well as 18,000 Iraqis, 3,300 Haitians and many, many others were all welcomed to Canada.

There was also, of course, the dramatic response by Canadians in 1979-80 to the flood of refugees trying to escape communist Vietnam.

The government’s initial commitment was to settle 500 Vietnamese, but through the actions of private sponsors, community and civic groups, that number eventually grew to more than 60,000.
Contrast that with our current regime:
In spite of promises to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years, the Canadian government has been criticized by refugee groups as being laggard in what it actually delivers. In the past three years, only 1,300 Syrian refugees have been admitted. According to the UN, Canada has dropped from the fifth-highest refugee recipient in 2000 to the ranking of 15th last year.
Defending and spinning the indefensible has become the only remaining skill-set of the once promising Chris Alexander, our Citizenship and Immigration minister, who, during his appearance on Power and Politics yesterday, was effectively eviscerated by host Rosie Barton, especially near the end of the panel:

If you don't have time to watch the video, BuzzFeed has a summary of the dustup.

It is easy, and perhaps only human nature, to regard this crisis as something occurring 'over there.' Many of us may find it difficult to get emotionally involved in the plight of people we do not know or do not identify with. But that's ultimately beside the point. Whether we acknowledge in our hearts or only in our minds, there is but one conclusion to be drawn: each country, including ours, has a moral and ethical responsibility to help these unfortunate people who, by virtue of the birth lottery, were not born into the advantages that we enjoy but have in no way earned.

UPDATE: it appears that Chris Alexander has entered into damage-control mode:
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander dropped campaign plans Thursday to rush to Ottawa and deal with the fallout of Canada’s rejection of a request to take in the Syrian family whose mother and two young sons drowned this week trying to get to Europe.

“I am meeting with officials to ascertain both the facts of the case of the Kurdi family and to receive an update on the migrant crisis,” Alexander said in an emailed statement.
Too little, too late, some might say.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Some Compelling Reasons To Vote

H/t Memorial March for the Victims of Harperism

H/t David Suzuki Foundation

If anyone you know is not certain whether he or she is registered to vote, checking out one's status is easy by a visit to Elections Canada Online.

Meanwhile, the truly disenfranchised are getting some help in Halifax through something called the Identification Clinic.
The Identification Clinic is a volunteer group that aims to put IDs in the hands of the homeless and the disadvantaged.
One of the group's founders, Darren Greer,
found his first clients by walking up to people on the street, and asking if they needed help. They replied with an immediate and enthusiastic yes.

"A lot of them have had ID before and have lost it," said Greer. "They are so often asked for it, and refused services because of it, that they understand probably better than a lot of us what these IDs mean."
Not only will this project facilitate access to social services, but also to the voting booth, as the necessary identification will have been obtained.

God knows, in the election we all have a vital part to play.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

UPDATED: Something For The Harper Base To Ponder

Unless they want to add complete hypocrisy to their many other shortcomings, members of the Harper base have much to consider these days, not least of which is their leader's contemptuous treatment of military veterans. The group Harper has been quite fond of using for propaganda purposes knows only too well how shabbily they have been treated upon their return from risky, some would say foolhardy, engagements abroad. Finally, if the veterans have their way, a day of reckoning is at hand.

Two veterans with combined service of 52 years, Tom Beaver and Ron Clarke, write that the upcoming election is the perfect opportunity for those who claim to support our vets to make their outrage felt. And they have much reason to feel outrage.
[We] did not come home to peace but to another battle, this time with Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Their shameful record of failure to properly support veterans in the last decade is well-documented.

Within weeks of entering office the Conservatives brought into law a bill which stripped from disabled soldiers the right to a lifetime pension. This was replaced by a woefully inadequate one-time lump-sum payment.

When veterans sought justice in the courts, the Conservatives spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to oppose us — saying there was no special obligation by government to its military personnel.

Despite documented evidence of increasingly longer waiting times, the Conservatives proceeded to kill 900 jobs, slash budgets and close nine veterans offices. Meanwhile, Veterans Affairs managers collected more than $500,000 in reward money for cutting costs.

More of us took our own lives than were killed in the entire Afghanistan War. The number of soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder has more than doubled. Yet getting timely help is very tough.
The veterans discovered they were dealing with a new enemy well-versed in a different kind of warfare:
When veterans protested the cutbacks and the loss of meaningful pensions, the government tried to smear the courageous soldiers who were standing up. The government was caught circulating private medical records to politicians to discredit the veterans involved.

Between 2006 and 2014, the Conservative government clawed-back more than $1 billion from money budgeted to take care of returning veterans.
Both Beaver and Clarke, however, are hopeful that redress is near:
The most recent poll by Insights West shows a startling 73 per cent of Canadians are dissatisfied with how the Conservative government has treated veterans. More surprising is that 64 per cent of Conservative voters in the 2011 election are dissatisfied, with 25 per cent of Conservative voters very dissatisfied.

One-third of Conservative voters go one step further and say the lack of support of veterans is a “reason to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives” in this year’s federal election.

It is very encouraging that the poll shows so much support for better treatment for veterans, but there is only one survey that really counts for Canada’s veterans and that’s on Oct. 19.

On that day our organization, Canadian Veterans — Anyone But Conservative — Campaign 2015, is asking Canadians to support fair treatment and respect for veterans by voting for the candidate in your riding who has the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate.

For the sake of our country and our veterans, please join us and let’s work together to defeat Stephen Harper and his Conservative government.
There are many reasons to get behind this movement. The gross mistreatment of veterans is one of them.

UPDATE: Read veteran Harry Smith's thoughts on the Harper regime's mistreatment of veterans here.