Thursday, March 31, 2011

Are All Attack Ads The Same?

In today's Star, Bob Hepburn has an interesting article entitled Harper the king of nasty attack ads, an article well-worth reading. It got me thinking about fallacies of reason and the importance of critical thinking, subjects about which I have previously written.

So I decided to make a brief post here on one of the most common fallacies, the ad hominem, followed by video of two attack ads, one from the Liberal Party and one from The Conservatives. I will then leave you to consider whether one or both of the ads fall under the ad hominem label. offers some interesting insight on the purpose served by the fallacy known as the ad hominem, which means the attack on the person rather than on his/her arguments:

The abusive ad hominem is not just a case of directing abusive language toward another person. . . . The fallacy is committed when one engages in a personal attack as a means of ignoring, discrediting, or blunting the force of another's argument.

An example of an ad hominem would be the following statement:

I can't believe a word that Al Gore says about climate change because he couldn't even keep his marriage together.

You will notice the fact that Gore's marital status has nothing to do with the facts that he has been promoting for many years on global warming, yet the purpose here is for you to dismiss those facts by cultivating a disdain for those who experience marital failure.

Enjoy the videos:

The Latest Nanos Poll

Liberals narrow gap to 6 points in campaign’s ‘first possible shift’

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Terry Milewski's Damning Documentation of Harper's Enthusiam for Coalitions in the 90's

Click here to read the full story of how Harper, both in print and in a TVO interview, spoke of coalitions as a logical and desirable outcome of a minority government.

Harper Places New Restrictions On Press

In a Globe online article I just read, new restrictions are being placed on the kinds of questions the P.M will entertain:

Conservative officials ... announced the national Harper tour would no longer take questions on local campaigns.

This is in reaction to some embarrassment the poor boy has experienced lately, and is in addition to the 4 questions he will allow from national reporters per day.

I have only one question: Why does the press let him get away with this?

A Supplement To My Previous Post

As was pointed out by a few commentators, in my previous post I seem to have been unclear in the matter of overall costs for the F-35 jets. I re-watched the interview with Laurie Hawn that I mentioned earlier. To be frank, even after a second viewing I'm not sure I completely understand what he was saying. Here's how I interpret his assertions after that second viewing:

Total Program Cost -$9 billion.
Total Units to be acquired - 65
Per Unit Acquisition Cost of the F-35 - $75 million

Using those figures for my crude calculations suggests a total alleged purchase price of under $5 billion. I therefore can only assume that when he says total program cost, he is including maintenance costs for the plane, acquisition of infrastructure to fuel the planes, since, for example, mid-flight refuelling is not possible using our current equipment, etc.

In any event, please judge for yourself. I probably should have included the link to the Hawn interview which immediately preceded the GAO interview. Nonetheless, I was struck by Hawn's insistence that each plane will only cost $75 million when there seems to be strong evidence to the contrary, as confirmed in the followup with the GAO. As well, his insistence that they will be buying the plane after initial costs come down is refuted by Sullivan. Production of the F-35s may begin by 2016, the year the Canadian Government is saying it will purchase the jets. That will, of course, also be when the plane is most expensive.

I welcome any further clarifications of this that you may be able to offer. Again, apologies for any confusion I might have created in my previous post.

To watch the Hawn interview, click here.
To watch the followup with the GAO, click here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Evan Solomon's Explosive Interview Demonstrating Harper Lies

I have made no secret of my absolute disdain for the Harper government and the threat I sincerely believe that it poses to both democracy and our Canadian way of life. While Conservative true believers quite blithely dismiss such concerns as partisan hyperbole, sometimes something comes along that objectively suggests the foundation of lies upon which the Conservative Party is building its campaign.

That something occurred on today's (Tuesday's) installment of Power and Politics with Evan Solomon. Solomon first interviewed Laurie Hawn, Parliamentary Secretary to Defense Minister Peter McKay, who insisted that the Conservatives, despite the Parliamentary Budget Officer's assertions to the contrary, will be able to buy 65 F-35 jets for $9 billion, including all of the associated infrastructure. He dismissed the objections raised by NDP candidate Jack Harris and Liberal candidate Dominic LeBlanc that this figure cannot withstand scrutiny, and that the costs will be much higher, ($120-$130 billion for each jet), telling them that they didn't understand the math behind the figure.

After the interview, Solomon conducted one with Mike Sullivan, the Director of U.S. Government Accountability Office equivalent to both our Auditor General and our Parliamentary Budget Officer. It was during this interview that the deceptions being perpetrated by the Harper regime should have become obvious to even the most ardent Tory supporter who still claims to think independently. Click here to watch the interview.

Thomas Walkom on Secret Agendas

Well, back to more serious matters. Thomas Walkom has an interesting column in today's Star suggesting that Harper's talk about conspiratorial coalitions and secret agendas could really prompt people to start thinking about things the Conservative leader has said in the past that suggest a dark future for Canada as we know it.

Colbert's Take on the Collapse of the Harper Government

Today, for a change, something a little different and a little lighter: a clip from The Colbert Report on the fall of the Harper Government. Kind of reminds all of us to come up for air periodically.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Help Get Out The Vote – Election 2011

Much has been written about the badly damaged state of our Canadian democracy; not only has the Harper Government, for the past five years, shown its contempt for Parliament, but also for the people of Canada, who have the right to expect responsible, representative and transparent government from all of our elected representatives.

The level of citizen engagement in our democratic society has dropped to dangerously low levels; the federal election of October 2008 saw a turnout of 58.8% of eligible voters, the lowest participation rate since Confederation, resulting in the second Harper minority government. The distribution of those votes means that we are allowing a minority of people to determine the direction our country takes, the policies that are enacted, the treaties that are signed, etc. Given that a good portion of those who vote are 'true believers' of one political stripe or another means that we are essentially allowing special interests to determine our collective fates.

Does this sound fair? Does this sound reasonable?

I believe there is a way to begin to remind those who govern that they are accountable to us, not to those monied interests who can employ expensive lobbyists agitating for more and more targeted tax breaks and other policies that may work counter to our collective interests. That way is to have a much larger proportion of average citizens exercising their franchise.

That is the reason I have created a Facebook page entitled Help Get Out The Vote – Election 2011. And while I may have a political philosophy that runs counter to someone else's, I invite people of all political stripes to participate in order to help increase political awareness and to discuss ways to significantly increase voter turnout in the upcoming federal election.

It is my hope that people who like this page will extend invitations to their family and friends to visit and contribute to it; the more ideas, discussion and plans that people can offer, the better will be our results.

My only role as moderator, as I see it, is to try to keep discussion on a respectful level; diverse views are welcome. I will only delete comments that are slanderous, rude, racist or otherwise inappropriate.

So let's use the power of social media to achieve something important. Let's work toward building a better, more democratic Canada!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What Do Harper's Tactics Reveal About the Man?

If we really stop to think about them, the overwhelmingly negative nature of Prime Minister Harper's government and his campaign tactics reveal something that should deeply concern everyone. It occurs to me that all of the contempt his government has shown for Parliamentary democracy, all of the corrosive hatred and fear-mongering infesting his attack ads and his poisonous public pronouncements that so far substitute for a platform, are predicated on a core philosophy: that the people of Canada are stupid and easily manipulated, that power is to be won at any cost, and that collateral damage, i.e., the moral and psychological health of the nation, is of no consequence.

Is this really the man we want to be leading our nation?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Coalition Monkey- Harper's 2004 Words Betray His Hypocrisy

The CBC's Terry Milewski has a great posting here on Harper's assessment of coalitions' constitutionality when he was seriously considering one with the NDP and The Bloc back in 2004.

Which Political Party Most Closely Reflects Your Values and Views?

To find out the answer to that question, CBC has put up a neat application called Vote Compass. Give it a try.

A New Facebook Page to Encourage Greater Voter Participation

I have established a Facebook page entitled Getting Out the Vote - Election 2011. My hope is to establish a forum for political discussion, the end goal being to increase the voter turnout for the upcoming federal election.

During the 2008 election, slightly over 58% of eligible voters cast ballots, the lowest in the history of Confederation. Given the distribution of those votes, we as Canadians are allowing the fate of our country to be determined by a minority of people.

Does this seem fair? Does this seem reasonable?

Although my Facebook effort may ultimately accomplish little, I hope as many of you as possible will participate in the page with your ideas, observations, suggestions and links to politically useful sites, including your own blogs.

I look forward to hearing for as many of you as possible. Click here to get things started.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Power and Politics: Evan Solomon's Interview with Helena Guergis

Watching last evening's interview with Helena Guergis, a politician I have never been particularly fond of, especially given her airport tantrum a couple of years ago, I couldn't help but think that the Harper Conservatives probably now wish that they had treated her better.

Readers will remember that she was summarily removed from Cabinet and expelled from the party for reasons that were never fully explained; the fact of her marriage to Rahim Jaffer, who came under suspicion for influence-peddling, presumably made her a victim of guilt by association and hence a liability to the party. This, despite the fact that embarrassments by other Conservative M.P.'s (Bev Oda and Maxime Bernier come to mind) have not resulted in similar party retribution.

Now sitting as an Independent Conservative, she acquitted herself with impressive grace, saying that she hopes to return to the Conservative Party when it is under 'a different leader.' She also talked about the freedom she feels as an Independent, no longer having to go through a long and complicated approval process for permission to speak publicly, fetters she has been bound by in the Harper regime, given as it is to exerting complete control over all government members, requiring them, amongst other things, to fill out a Message Event Proposal (MEP) detailing who they would like to talk to, why, and what, precisely, they wish to say.

She also revealed how her sister, Christine Brayford, Guergis' riding's chief financial officer, had been asked to be part of the 'in and out' scheme but refused, as it didn't seem legitimate to her.

You can see the entire interview here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tony Clement Debases His Humanity Again

Why would I be surprised at anything I read about the Conservatives? This article about Tony Clement's letter to the Senate members urging them to oppose the passage of Bill C-393 has to be read for the insight it gives into Clement's character (or lack thereof). Note how effectively his points are refuted in the email sent to the Senators as a challenge to Clement's veracity

A Breaking Story About Tony Clement

Here is the link to a breaking story, accompanied by an official memo, detailing Industry Minister Tony Clement's efforts to delay Senate passage of Bill C-393, the bill that would allow the cheap export of life-saving drugs to Africa.

Will the Harper Government Sacrifice Lives to Score a Political Advantage?

The answer to this question, as I have feared since election speculation started, is likely to be yes. A story in today's Star talks about the bills the Harper Government wants to pass into law before dissolution comes, and they include two crime bills and one that will better compensate injured soldiers.

Unfortunately, getting the Senate's final approval on Bill C-393, the NDP bill that passed in Parliament recently amending Canada's Access to Medicines Regime, is of little interest to Harper and his Conservative-dominated Senate. C-393 would make it much easier for generic drug manufacturers to send to Africa life-saving drugs to treat aids, tuberculosis, and malaria, potentially saving millions of lives. etc.

There is little doubt in my mind that the Harper team, which to my knowledge has never felt constrained by moral considerations, sees real campaign advantages in enacting crime and compensation bills, their supporters tending to believe in the need for more incarceration and better support for the troops. Very likely as well, Team Harper will blame the 'parisan games' of the 'coalition responsible for this unnecessary election' for the drug bill not having time to complete its way through the Senate.

The untold numbers of Africans who die as a result of this bill's obstruction will be the victims of the Harper regime's immoral but hardly surprising decision to put their political fortunes above all else.

So yes, to answer the question that pundits have been asking, the integrity of the Government will be an issue in this election.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What Do Peter Mansbridge and Ed McMahon Have in Common?

In my younger days, I was quite a devotee of late-night television, my allegiance owed almost exclusively to The Tonight Show starring, as they used to say, Johnny Carson. The nightly ritual was the same. Ed McMahon would introduce the star, and Johnny would come out to perform his droll monologue, periodically assisted by the always-reliable Ed. For example, Johnny might make a declaration such as, “Boy, it was really hot in downtown Burbank today,” and Ed, the perfect second banana, would ask, “How hot was it? at which point Johnny would say, “It was so hot that....(followed by a punchline that usually elicited sufficient laughter to ensure that the routine would survive in one form or another for as long as Johnny wanted.)

Because of its importance in spotlighting the star, being a second banana in show business has a long and respected history. Being a journalist and behaving like a second banana does not.

Watching The National last night, I couldn't help but remember that relationship between Ed and Johnny. Peter Mansbridge's brief interview last night on The National with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was, to say the least, disappointing, given that his questions were reminiscent of a second banana whose job it is to make the star shine.

Take, for example, the first softball question Mansbridge lobbed to Flaherty:

You've said all along that you didn't want an election. You reached out to the NDP, met with them, and today there was stuff in the budget for the NDP. Did you miscalculate what would be enough for the NDP?

This gentle query offered Flaherty the predictable opportunity to appear statesmanlike and beyond political games by saying he didn't know what it would take to satisfy the NDP (of course implying how unreasonable the party was being) and then talking about how it is the Finance Minister's responsibility to “look at the big picture,” consult widely and look out for “the best interests of the people.” He went on to talk about other things in the budget intended to meet some of the Liberal demands, but concluded that none of the measures seemed "good enough for the opposition parties" (at least he didn't say 'opposition coalition' this time).

Peter then threw another dainty slo-pitch, this one even more leading, by asking:

If it does end up in an election ... does that cause damage to the recovery program?

He could very easily have asked a much less biased question by inquiring how an election now might affect the economy.

Mansbridge's final question came when he asked Flaherty that if he didn't want an election, "Why didn't you try putting through an amendment?” Notice how he didn't make a much more hard-hitting query such as why Flaherty didn't ensure Bloc Quebecois support by including in the budget $2 billion for the harmonization of federal and provincial tax that Quebec undertook in 1992, a precondition for support already previously articulated by Giles Duceppe, an agreement, by the way, that most are saying is essentially already a done deal. In other words, Mansbridge allowed to stand the fiction that the Harper Government has done everything it could to avoid an unnecessary election, a fiction that will doubtless form a large part of the government's election narrative.

As frightened of offending the Harper regime as the CBC may be, I expect much much better from our national broadcaster.

To watch the entire 3:48 minute interview between Mansbridge and Flaherty, click here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Harper-Orchestrated Attempt To “Change The Channel”

Watching last night's edition of CBC's Power and Politics, as I frequently do, offered yet another opportunity for insight into the Harper mind, a mind that many would describe as dark, manipulative, and contemptuous of everyone outside of 'the Conservative philosophical tent' (which, when you think about it, must be a small abode indeed, given its very restricted range of thought and vision.)

The predictable discussion occurred throughout the first half-hour of the show, as Liberal Scott Brison, Conservative Tom Lukiwski and the NDP's Yvon Godin discussed the contempt of Parliament verdict by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. As was to be expected, Tory Lukiwski spun the partisan and already frequently-repeated line that the contempt finding was simply partisan politics and a sham. This is, of course, the Conservative narrative, one we will hear incessantly if an election is called. However, the really interesting development came in the next half hour.

In that segment, Solomon was interviewing Conservative James Rajotte, Liberal Ralph Goodale, and the NDP's Thomas Mulcair about the pending federal budget and how the contempt finding might affect the vote on it. Suddenly, looking at his Blackberry, Evan Solomon broke in with the news that there had been a leak about the Conservative budget, and he then went on to articulate the details of the leak: forgiveness of student loans for medical personnel willing to work in isolated areas, money for research and development, etc. At that point I believe Mr. Solomon thought that the CBC had scored a coup. I told my wife that there are no leaks in the Tory 'ship of state' (please forgive the tired metaphor), and that this revelation was clearly designed for another purpose.

My 'spider sense' tingling, I switched over to CTV's Power Play with Don Martin where, lo and behold, he was announcing the same leaks, when previously he had been talking about the contempt finding. Back on CBC, Solomon was trying to get Mulcair and Goodale to evaluate the specific details leaked and wisely they demurred, suggesting to the host that he was simply being used by the Tory apparatus for spin purposes. Solomon did look decidedly disappointed a few minutes later when he announced on-air that the leaks had been sent to several news agencies.

This transparent attempt to 'change the channel' away from discussion of the contempt of Parliament finding, I think, gives us an idea of how the Harper regime will conduct their campaign, should an election be called. Today may well see the beginning of the process culminating in a non-confidence motion on the budget so that the Government will fall on that issue, thereby circumventing a formal vote in Parliament on the contempt findings, which would allow the Conservatives to continue during the campaign with the narrative that the Committee’s finding of contempt is, once more, only a partisan sham, proven by the fact that the opposition voted down a responsible budget that would have benefited all Canadians.

It is clear to me that yesterday's above-described events offer potent proof that the Harper Government's contempt is hardly limited to Parliament. It suggests a mentality that cynically views most people as easily manipulated, easily distracted, and easily convinced to overlook all of the egregious violations of democracy they are guilty of.

God help us if they are right.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Harper's Uncanny Ability to Maintain his Political Fortunes

In reading Lawrence Martin's Harperland, I was struck by how many times Prime Minister Harper and his operatives have had their political skins saved, not just by their own Machiavellian machinations, but by external events.

Take, for example, Harper's first unnecessary prorogation of Parliament in order to avoid a confidence vote that would have surely toppled his government. Having badly miscalculated the political opposition to ending public subsidies for all parties, a measure he included in Finance Minister Jim Flarherty's 2008 economic update, he faced the prospect of a coalition of the Liberals and the NDP, with a promise of support for at least 18 months from the Bloc Quebecois, to form a new government after a confidence vote in the House. According to Martin, Harper was ready to concede defeat having made a rare but huge tactical error. But fate intervened to save him.

Although not part of the coalition, the Bloc Quebecois leader, Giles Duceppe, was invited by Dion and Layton to take part in a public signing to demonstrate their ability to work together and thus form a replacement government without an election, something quite constitutionally legitimate. However, the inclusion of Duceppe gave Harper the opening he needed, whereby he went on a campaign to denounce this unholy alliance with 'separatists' as an attempt to 'highjack democracy.'

Harper was successful in his propaganda blitz and the rest, as they say, is history. His visit to Governor General Michelle Jean secured him the intended result: a prorogation of Parliament, during which the idea of a coalition lost its momentum, largely due to the public outrage against it that Harper had fuelled.

Similarly, in 2010, to avoid a showdown in Parliament over his refusal to turn over Afghan detainee documents that many believe would have shown that his Goverment had known that those Afghans turned over to the authorities by the Canadian military faced torture, he once more prorogued Parliament, this time on the pretext of 'recalibrating' his Government's agenda. Initially, this backfired on the Prime Minister, as Canadians expressed their outrage through protests, Facebook petitions, etc. But then two things happened: the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the opening of the Winter Olympics in B.C. The ensuing public diversion of attention allowed the Harper regime to dodge another bullet.

There are numerous other examples in the book, but what does all of this suggest? That Harper is capable of using any opportunity for political benefit, which leads me to predict the following:

Given that he has already used the terrible recent tragedy in Japan to suggest now is not the time for an election, there is little doubt in my mind that he will use Canada's entry into the Libyan conflict to do two things. He will again suggest that a time of war, as he has called it, is not the time for political games by the opposition parties in trying to engineer an election; experienced and stable leadership in paramount in these perilous times. Also, he will take the opportunity to talk about how this sudden incursion into Libya demonstrates the need for up-to-the-date military aircraft, and so his Government's decision to spend untold billions on the 65 F-35 jets is yet another example of his wise and prescient leadership.

Once more, external events will likely save this Prime Minister's hide.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Heather Mallick's Friday Column

The Star's Heather Mallick (a one-time writer for the Globe and Mail before that paper purged itself of most of its progressive writers) had a good column in Friday's edition that draws a sharp distinction between the recently more aggressive Liberal ads critical of Harper's autocratic practices and the Conservatie attack ads, which appeal to our baser natures. Well worth reading.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

If You Can't Take The Heat, Timmy ..... Parts 2 & 3

In my post yesterday, I commented on the predictable outrage being expressed by the Hudak camp over the Family Coalition ad depicting the young head of the Ontario Conservatives as the dupe of monied interests. I opined that there was a deep hypocrisy in Conservative campaign chairman Mark Spiro's complaint that the ad is not accurate, and invited him to examine some of the defamatory attack ads run by his federal counterparts. Many thanks to the sixthestate website for pointing out that Mr. Spiro worked in the Harper war room in 2006 and 2008, a fact that only increases the depth of his hypocrisy in complaining to the Television Bureau of Canada about the ad.

Happily, Messrs. Hudak and Spiro have two new ads that will probably result in further twisting and knotting of their underwear. Enjoy:

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Dark Shadow of Stephen Harper

The dark presence of Stephen Harper loomed heavily today during the Parliamentary Committee hearing into whether International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda should be held in contempt of Parliament for her earlier misleading and evasive answers regarding her department's defunding of KAIROS.

While the evaluation of her testimony will undoubtedly split along party lines, her 'answers' to the Committee's questions, in which she frequently simply proclaimed her probity, had all of the earmarks of a carefully scripted and carefully rehearsed performance, doubtlessly orchestrated by the Prime Minister's minions (a.k.a. The PMO). Her inability or unwillingness to answer questions with either a 'yes' or a 'no' without very animated prompting by M.P. Pat Martin bespoke the evasiveness of someone with something to hide. While watching this performance, I was reminded of all the evidence Lawrence Martin brings forth in Harperland that nothing happens in the Harper Regime without the explicit approval of Mr. Harper or his operatives.

Let the spin begin.

If You Can't Take The Heat, Timmy .....

As I predicted earlier, the right-wing has begun to howl over the the Working Famalies' ad showing an actor representing Tim Hudak meeting with some corporate executives complaining about government regulations that are hampering their thirst for unlimited profits. It ends with the Hudak-actor nodding in agreement when the question is asked, "Can we go back to the old days, when you and Mike ran things?", followed by "That a boy."

According to a report in today's Star, the Hudak cabal is complaining to the Television Bureau of Canada, claiming that Working Families, a coalition of unions, is really a front for the Liberals. Conservative campaign chairman Mark Spiro says that since the meeting depicted in the ad never happened, it is a violation of the guidelines for accuracy in advertising.

Really, Mr. Spiro? Have you taken no notice of either the tone or the slanderous nature of the attack ads currently being churned out by your federal brethren?

The depth and breadth of Conservative hypocrisy is truly a thing to behold.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Facade of Integrity – Harper Regime Calls in the RCMP

With an election in the air, the past few days have seen the Harper regime trying to perpetrate the illusion of integrity. On Tuesday we learned that Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose called in the RCMP to investigate allegations that Sebastian Togneri, a former staffer, tried to impede access to information requests by first trying to retract and then ordering heavy censoring of documents that had already been cleared for release. His subsequent resignation has allowed Ambrose to claim that “no current member of this government is involved in this case." Today we learn that former Conservative bigwig Bruce Carson is being investigated for influence-peddling. The investigation was ordered by Harper.

To the naive, the requests of Ambrose and Harper for police investigation might suggest an underlying integrity to the Harper Government. To many of us who follow Canadian politics, their actions bespeak a desperate attempt at damage control.

One need only look at the sequence of events in the Carson scandal. As reported in The Toronto Star,

“Carson reportedly illegally lobbied Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan on behalf of a company that was trying to sell water filtration systems to First Nations reserves with poor water quality. “

Federal law stipulates that no former employee of the government can engage in lobbying of that government for at least five years after leaving its employ.

I have a simple question for a Government that trumpets its empty rectitude: When he was being lobbied, why did Minister Duncan not report it and initiate action against Carson? Since Duncan had to have been well acquainted with both Carson and the lobbying regulations, why did he conceal his contacts with the former adviser?

My other question, which I think can readily be answered, is why has Harper called in the authorities at this point? The answer, I believe, is not difficult to deduce. As reported in The Star,

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network uncovered the alleged wrongdoing in an investigation into the activities of Bruce Carson, a longtime Tory political operative who advised the Prime Minister on energy and environmental issues.

Since APTN is planning to broadcast a program on March 25 revealing the full details of its investigation, it would seem that Harper had no choice but to call in the authorities. In the letter (which APTN quoted) Harper's office sent to William Elliot, Commisioner of the RCMP:

a government official writes that Harper’s office “became aware of the existence of materials in the possession of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.”

“These materials contain troubling details about recent actions and claims made by Mr. Bruce Carson, a former employee of the Prime Minister’s Office,” wrote Ray Novak, Harper’s principal secretary.

The inference I draw from all of this is that because APTN is about to run this explosive expose, the Harper Government had no choice but to call in the RCMP in a desperate play at damage control and misdirection.

To attribute anything but the basest and most cynical motivation in this affair is to caught in the sleazy game the Prime Minister and his operatives play.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ethical Politicians – A Contemporary Oxymoron

While I know that I am hardly alone in harbouring a deep cynicism about almost all politicians, sometimes their lack of moral fibre is made apparent, not by way of spectacular revelations, as in the Liberal sponsorship scandal or the sordid Mulroney-Schreiber affair, but in much more subtle ways, such as the personal choices they make.

This occurred to me last evening while I continued to digest in small amounts, as mentioned in a previous post, Lawence Martin's Harperland. The passage pertained to the televised debate in 2008 between Harper, Dion, Duceppe and Elizabeth May. The rules stipulated that participants could not bring notes for the exchange, although they were permitted to write down notes during the debate. During both the French and English debates, Green Party leader May, seated beside Harper, noticed the Prime Minister, below table level (doesn't that bring back memories of less than apt high schoolers?) using 'cheat sheets,' describing them as “small index cards with reprinted font all over them.” Because she lacked the confidence to confront Harper, she said nothing.

After stepping down as Harper's communication director, the sometimes ethically-challenged Kory Teneycke, in reference to the cheating, responded with the kind of misdirection we've come to expect from the Conservatives: ”...who cares? ...She's just lucky she was in the room.... The process was poorly served by her presence.”

Both Harper's dishonest behaviour and Tenecke's dismissal of its significance reveal much about the kind of government operated by the Harper regime.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lawrence Martin's Column Today

In today's online Globe, Lawrence Martin offers a lacerating analysis of the departure of what he calls “the ethcially upright” (Chuck Strahl, Stockwell Day, and earlier, Jay Hill) from the Harper regime. He describes them as “low key and reasonable, not inclined to engage in character assassination. They won admiration for their sense of decency, so it’s in this respect that their departures will hurt the government.”

Consider the key material Harper has to work with in terms of Cabinet representation from Ontario: ”From the old Harris government, the Tories have House Leader John Baird, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Trade Minister Peter Van Loan, Industry Minister Tony Clement and campaign manager Guy Giorno.”

Need one say more?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Anti-Tim Hudak Ad

Ever notice how the right-wing feels it's perfectly fine to run attack ads, yet when they are the subject, they cry foul? I'm waiting for the howls to begin.

Reflections on a Failing World

Usually much more optimistic than me, my wife, for the past year or so, has insisted that humanity is a failed species. I, usually much more the pessimist, have resisted her conclusion, pointing out evidence that the human spirit is alive and well: the uprising against tyranny in the Middle East; the people of good will who work ceaselessly and passionately to right the wrongs they see in the world, or extending help to those who need it; the outpouring of humanitarian aid when natural disaster strikes.

I find I must now reassess that optimism. With thanks to The Disaffected Lib for providing the link, I read the article by Chris Hedges entitled “This Time We're Taking the Whole Planet With Us,” his thesis being that historical patterns, so ably discussed in Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress (a book I highly recommend), suggest there is little hope for the long-term survival of humanity. The patterns of ecological and environmental exploitation, the pillaging and ultimate destruction of economies by the oligarchs, etc., once confined to individual societies and countries, are now occurring on a global basis, contends Hedges.

Having read two of Hedges' books and heard him speak while on a book tour, I previously thought that some of his analyses were rather overwrought and exaggerated. I now realize he is more prescient than I had imagined. For example, when I heard him speak over a year ago, he suggested that what he called 'Brand Obama' would ultimately prove to be simply more of the same old politics. It was an assertion that I resisted. However, even while acknowledging that Obama is constrained by the recalcitrance of both Republican and Democratic Senators, I think Hedges is right.

For example, the continuation of tax cuts for the wealthy, while it could seen as a political expedient and compromise, suggests an unwillingness to address the real problems confronting the United States. Similarly, after watching the film Inside Job, which just won an Academy Award for Best Documentary (a film I also highly recommend, providing as it does an accessible explanation of the 2008 financial meltdown), I was quite disappointed in Obama. I learned that some of the architects of that disaster, as well as those who had been in regulatory positions and could have prevented it, are either now part of Obama's administration or important advisers to him.

So what is my point here? I guess it is to suggest that time is getting very short; our world is in dire peril, and it is our moral duty, no matter how busy our personal or professional lives may be, to educate ourselves so that we can confront and oppose those who use the facade of democratic elections to dismantle our world.

There may not be much time or hope for success, but I don't want to go down without a fight.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Barbarians Are No Longer At The Gate

In my last post, I made passing reference to Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. The following video, from Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC, has to be seen to be believed, as she makes a very compelling case that the doctrine is now being applied in Michigan, thanks to Governor Rick Snyder. It makes what has happened in Wisconsin look like merely the warmup act. I suspect Canadian neocons are watching with bated breath.

More on Harperland - Intolerance of Dissenting Opinion and Misuse of the RCMP

While I am a reasonably fast reader, especially when it comes to fiction, I sometimes have to slow down and digest small chunks of non-fiction that deal with the political arena, lest I do grievous harm to my blood pressure or mental state. Such was the case as I made my way through Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, dealing as it did with how the right wing exploits natural or human-made disasters to advance the cause of free-market economics, despite the damage that system can do to those upon whom it is imposed.

I am exercising similar caution with Lawrence Martin's fine political analysis, Harperland, which, as I mentioned in an earlier post, confirms our worst fears and suspicions about the Harper regime. This morning I read a couple of parts that reflect both Harper's contempt for opposing viewpoints and his authoritarian bent:

Michael Biels, a history professor at the University of Ottawa, wrote a newspaper piece opposing Harper's decision to confer nation status on Quebec. Senator Marjory Lebreton, a former Mulroney loyalist who was named Senate leader for switching her fealty to Harper, contacted the university and demanded that Biels be disciplined and forced to issue an apology. Fortunately the university resisted her demands, saying that freedom of speech is a mainstay of academic institutions. Since the implications of this incident are obvious, no further comment from me is needed.

Many will recall the next example, which occurred when the Conservatives had a caucus meeting in Charlottetown in 2007. As was the tradition P.H. (Pre-Harper), journalists gathered in the lobby of the hotel to talk to caucus members as they passed by. The Prime Minister's Office, with its Harper-directed mandate to keep media contact to a minimum, ordered the RCMP to remove the reporters from the hotel. Besides this wholly inappropriate and probably illegal use of our federal police force for political purposes, this incident made me wonder anew exactly what role Harper played in another political misuse of police authority, the widespread violation of Charter Rights that occurred during the G20 Summit in Toronto last June.

While I strongly encourage everyone to read this fine book by Lawrence Martin, I do have to post this warning: CONSUMPTION OF ITS CONTENTS MAY POSE RISKS TO YOUR PHYSICAL OR EMOTIONAL HEALTH

Friday, March 11, 2011

Last Night's CBC At Issues Panel

As I do most Thursdays, I watched last night's At Issues Panel on the CBC's National News. As usual the panelists, Allan Gregg, Chantal Hebert, and Andrew Coyne had a lively but respectful discussion, this time on the many issues undermining the credibility of the Harper Government.

Allan Gregg made a disturbing suggestion; even though the issue of Harper's contempt for Parliamentary democracy has been especially manifest this week through House Speaker Miliken's two rulings, plus the fact that the Conservatives tabled demonstrably false cost estimates for the purchase of the F-35 fighter jets, he doubted that such will resonate with the public. He opined that the concept of Parliamentary democracy, so regularly violated by the Harper Government these past few years, may not mean much to the public, since nothing the Government does seems to be reflected in public opinion poll results.

That, plus the George Carlin video posted yesterday, got me thinking about the vital role that critical thinking plays in an informed and vital democracy. In the past I wrote fairly extensively on the topic, and if anyone is interested in either my thoughts or links on the subject, they can be found on my other blog, Education and Its Discontents.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Followup On Diana Swain's Report

My last post dealt with a disturbing investigative report done by the CBC's Diana Swain.

I am convinced that the only way to move the Ministry of Health to ensure that similar tragedies don't happen in Ontario is to spread the word of the report to as many people as possible and to subject the Ministry to a barrage of letters demanding fast action. Here is the letter that I am sending off to Deb Matthews, the Ontario Minister of Health, with copies to Premier McGuinty and my local MPP:

Dear Ms Matthews:

Having viewed Diana Swain's disturbing investigative report on the CBC about Rose McKenzie, the Ontario nurse whose negligence in California resulted in a patient's brain damage and quadriplegia, I am writing to request that the Ministry of Health take immediate action.

According to the report, Nurse McKenzie, despite having been stripped of her nursing license in California, had no trouble finding another nursing job in Ontario; she simply omitted any reference to what had happened on the self-reporting form used by the Ontario College of Nurses.

I am sure you will agree with me that, for the sake of patient safety, changes need to made with all urgency, lest a similar tragedy occur here. In this age of technology, measures to ensure the full and free exchange of pertinent personnel information internationally are undoubtedly both feasible and relatively easy to initiate.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience as to how your Ministry plans to ensure the safety of all patients in Ontario.

Diana Swain's Disturbing Nursing Report

Last night on the CBC's National, there was a profoundly disturbing report by investigative reporter Diana Swain outlining how a nurse from Ontario, Rose Mckenzie, while working in California, was grossly negligent in her care of Spencer Sullivan, who had undergone a routine surgery for neck pain. As a result of McKenzie's negligence, Sullivan was left a quadriplegic with brain damage.

The most disturbing part of the report is the fact that although she was stripped of her nursing licence in the U.S., she is now working as a nurse in Oakville, the problem being that self-disclosure of any past problems is the only way the Ontario College of Nurses could have become aware of the loss of her licence. Obviously, McKenzie did not self-disclose.

Click here to read the whole report and see the CBC news video.

P.S. Despite the Harper Regime's hatred of the CBC, such reports amply demonstrate its value.

George Carlin's Screed

Many thanks to Orwell's Bastard for posting this video in which George Carlin talks about the 'man behind the curtain.' Although directed at an American audience, his acerbic observations about who is really in control seem equally applicable to Canada, especially under the Harper regime.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Refresher Course in Harper's Disdain for Democracy

I am currently reading Lawrence Martin's book Harperland, which anecdotally confirms some of our worst fears and suspicions about Stephen Harper and the Harper Government (see, even I've taken to referring to our government that way), and even though I no longer subscribe to The Globe and Mail, I do check it regularly for columns by Martin.

Today's piece, entitled On the road to the Harper government's tipping point, is a reminder of the myriad abuses of democracy that the Prime Minister is responsible for. At a time when many of us despair of the possibility of any change in the next federal election, it is useful to remember that the fate of our democratic traditions and institutions ultimately does reside in our hands, no matter how much the government seeks to undermine those traditions and institutions.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Harper's Orwellian Use of Language

One of the greatest pleasures I derived as a teacher was doing a unit on language as part of the Grade 12 English course that I regularly taught. At the beginning of that unit, we read George Orwell's seminal essay, Politics and the English Language, which offered a trenchant, if at times challenging analysis of how language can be used to curb freedom and undermine free and critical thought. It was a theme that later formed the basis of his most popular novel, 1984.

After further study which included exploring fallacies of logic, I would give students an assignment requiring them to analyze the misuse of language and logic in our society today, which invariably led them to look at the pronouncements our politicians make. I was reminded of those times yesterday morning as I read Heather Mallick's amusing yet perceptive column in The Toronto Star on the Harper Government's manipulation of language. I would encourage everyone to read it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

G20 Summit - The Issue That Won't Go Away

Responding to a recent editorial in The Star calling for a G20 Summit inquiry, readers' letters amply demonstrate that this is an issue that won't go away. Click here to read them.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Do We Need A New Political Literacy? Part 1

I take much comfort in reading the political views expressed by many members of Progressive Bloggers, giving me as it does a sense of community, shared purpose and the knowledge that passion for politics and love of our country is alive and well.

Nonetheless, I cannot help but be discouraged by poll results showing strong ongoing support for the Harper Conservative Government, despite its regular and unapologetic attacks on what many of us see as the fundamentals of democracy and good governance.

While there is hardly a need to provide a comprehensive list of those attacks, a few of the more recent and egregious examples will serve to illustrate that my antipathy toward this government goes well beyond philosophical disagreements:

- The request by the opposition members for the Afghan detainee documents was met by deep resistance and cries of confidentiality. Even a ruling by the Speaker of the House ordering those documents be made available was met with an unsatisfactory compromise, foolishly accepted by The Liberal Party.

- The unnecessary proguing of Parliament by Stephen Harper to avoid defeat of his Government in the House was a gross misuse of privilege, sadly abetted by former Governor-General Michelle Jean

- The contempt shown to Parliament by speaking lies about the need to reform the Census with the claim that many hundreds had complained about its intrusive nature when, in fact, there might have been no more than a dozen objections.

- The refusal by the Government to permit Ministers' aides to testify before Parliamentary Committees, despite the fact that the latter have the power to compel such testimony.

- The entire tissue of lies surrounding the cessation of funding to KAIROS by Bev Oda.

I have asked myself why, despite these serious offences, they are dismissed so readily by so many. Of course, there are several combinations of possible answers, ranging from people's inertia, indifference to, or alienation from the political process to being too busy working and maintaining a family life to have the time for such concerns. I wonder, though, if there might be an additional factor at work: an ignorance of and therefore an inability to understand the very principles that are the foundations of our government.

We hear many cries coming from government and business that it is time to teach financial literacy at a young age so that people can avoid falling into crippling debt in the future. While I don't disagree with that notion, in my mind of equal if not greater importance is the imparting of a kind of political literacy by our schools that will help to bring about a more knowledgeable and engaged citizenry.

In future posts, I will try to suggest what such a model might look like, and some of the changes that would be necessary to bring this about.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

G20 Inquiry Demands on Facebook

For those who might be unaware, late last June a Facebook group was created calling for an inquiry into the G20 abuses. Here is a Toronto Sun article from last July discussing it:

Call for G20 inquiry grows on Facebook
Last Updated: July 9, 2010 4:45pm
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Almost 60,000 people have taken to Facebook to demand a full public inquiry into Toronto police action at the G20 Summit last month.

A group called Canadians Demanding a Public Inquiry into Toronto G20 created the Facebook page June 27, on the last day of the Summit.

The group also created an online petition calling for Chief Bill Blair to “be removed from his post.”

Blair this week said he won’t be stepping down and ordered a review of his officers’ involvement in the G20. The review upset some people who wanted public input.

A police spokesman said Friday the service has no comment.

Creators of the page are hoping an inquiry will answer questions from the public.

“It’s time for the healing process to start,” said a page organizer. “Which is why we’re asking for an inquiry to provide complete transparency. Why did things unravel like they did.”

Facebook users were told an inquiry should be supported by Ottawa and establish the “facts and causes of an event or issue, and then to make recommendations to the government.”

One Facebook user, named “Green,” said he has been in fear of cops since the G20.

“I now live in fear that I am on some type of watch list,” Green wrote. “ I am scared that my house will be raided or that charges will still be laid, even though all I did was exercise my rights.”

He said his “view of Canada as a free state have been completely smashed. “

Facebook user Jeremy called for all cameras and phones taken from protestors by police be returned to their owners without film evidence being destroyed.

“The police can destroy any footage they like,” Jeremy said. “No matter how incriminating, so that if ever a public inquiry is made, there will be no hard evidence.”

Another user said he supports Toronto cops who do their jobs.

“I support the police force that acts in a true and just way,” the man said. “I do not support those who were in Toronto during the G8/G20 Summits.”

Claudia Calabro, of the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, said her group is pushing for a full and open inquiry.

“There has to be an independent inquiry to be funded by the government,” Calabro said. “It has to be ordered at the federal level.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tim Hudak's Silence on the G20 Abuses

It is hardly surprising that Tim Hudak, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, is keeping silent even when conservative elements of Canadian society are demanding that Dalton McGuinty call a full and independent inquiry into the G20 abuses of peaceful protesters. The usually voluble youngster who was mentored by Mike Harris knows better than to risk offending his core supporters who, of course, include the majority of police associations.

Nonetheless, it is perhaps worthwhile remembering where the sympathies of this self-proclaimed defender of 'Ontario's families and seniors' (have you ever heard him give a speech where he doesn't mention at least one of those two groups?) lie. As a guest columnist for the Toronto Sun on July 5, 2010, this would-be premier wrote the following. (I have put in bold some of the key parts.) Not once does he express anything but unwavering support for the police. Not once does he express the least bit of concern over the egregious violations of Charter Rights committed by the police. Apparently Mr. Hudak's sympathies for Ontario families and seniors have some very real limits:

The downtown core of Toronto was turned into a conflict zone by a group of lawless hooligans a little more than a week ago.

These reckless thugs were not in Toronto to protest a legitimate political cause. Instead they are part of a circuit of criminals who travel to international summits with one goal in mind — to destroy property, incite mayhem and terrorize law-abiding citizens.

Sadly, in the wake of the violence, a number of usual-suspect special interest groups are attempting to pin blame, not on the hooligans, but instead on our police services or the federal government.

But it wasn’t frontline police officers who spent a weekend smashing in storefront windows, and it wasn’t federal government officials who torched police cars.

Instead these were the acts of violent anarchists, with a long history of using “peaceful” protest marches at international summits as cover for reckless acts of extreme violence.

That is why I oppose the orchestrated attempt by these activists to demonize our police services in the wake of the G20 violence. I proudly stand behind the men and women of our police services that were faced with a daunting and difficult task of protecting the public against these professional vandals and hooligans.

After a week of silence on the G20, I hope Dalton McGuinty will join me in clearly supporting our men and women in uniform.

McGuinty should also have the courage to finally explain why his government passed a secret law to expand police powers during the G20 summit. I believe the public would have understood the necessity of these new powers to contain the violent thugs, but that does not mean McGuinty had the right to hide these new powers from the public.

We all know Ontario’s police officers have two fundamental responsibilities:
First, they are expected to preserve order and protect law-abiding families and businesses from criminal activity.

Second, they are expected to bring those responsible for criminal acts to justice.

It is on this second responsibility that we should now focus our attention.

We must make sure the thugs and hooligans who trashed downtown Toronto are held accountable for their crimes. The right to speak must never be confused with the right to vandalize property that tarnishes the reputation of our city and province.

The McGuinty government must do everything in its power to ensure the criminals behind this violence are caught, tried to the fullest extent of the law and held personally financially responsible for the cost of the damage they have caused.

In addition, the authorities should co-operate with any resident or business that wishes to pursue a civil action against the individuals and groups responsible for this violence.

In the meantime, the senior levels of government should establish a fund to compensate small business owners for property damages and the interruption of business caused by repairing the damages.

The hooligans behind the G20 violence gave our city a black eye on the world stage. We must not let special interest sideshows distract our attention from holding these criminals accountable for the harm they caused.

Now is the time for us to reclaim the reputation of our city and make it clear to the world that in Toronto, law-abiding citizens get protected, criminals get punished, and justice always gets done.

It is hoped that the perceptive reader will see the irony of some of Hudak's comments, especially those talking about criminals getting punished and justice getting done.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Message to Premiers and Prime Ministers: Even the Right is Demanding a G20 Inquiry

Politicians should know they are in trouble when even the more conservative elements of society, traditionally unquestioning supporters of the police and their tactics, begin to demand a full public inquiry into the massive abuse of people and their Charter Rights that took place during Toronto's G20 Summit. For example, The National Post has published an editorial calling for an inquiry. The Toronto Sun's Joe Warmington writes very critically about the police misbehaviour. The Globe and Mail has solid coverage of the report by the Canadian Civil Liberties Union demanding an inquiry. A more politically balanced paper, The Ottawa Citizen, baldly states that McGuinty is wrong to oppose an inquiry, as does The Toronto Star.

Despite the facile denials by both Premier McGuinty and Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews of the need for such an inquiry, a consensus seems to be emerging that it is the only way to clear the miasma of suspicion and cynicism that has engulfed Canadians over what transpired last June. The graphic video footage seen by so many clearly reveals that our complacent assumptions about Canadian rights and freedoms are little more than quaint notions, easily suspended at the whim of our political leaders and their underlings.

Only a full inquiry can begin the healing process.