Tag Archives: Stephen Harper

Courting Canada’s Conservatism


Much has been written about the country – our country – that Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has wrought over the past decade. Indeed, this is not the Canada that Pierre Trudeau, or even Brian Mulroney, left behind.

Still, every individual lucky (or unfortunate) enough to occupy the official residence at 24 Sussex Drive makes his or her mark on the political and cultural landscape of the nation – for better and for worse.

For his part, Mr. Harper clearly hopes that however the election in October plays out he and his crusty crew of Tories will be remembered and admired as competent fiscal managers, demonstrably capable in all matters concerning the economy. And, until about a minute ago, that might have been a fair expectation.

The current condition of Canada’s commercial and labour markets has all but undermined the current government’s fondest dreams of a legacy on economic grounds. Two consecutive months of negative growth, stubbornly low commodity prices, moribund employment in just about every sector and region of the country have done quick, nasty work to the agenda.

Yet, there is one area where Mr. Harper may well have secured a place for himself in the history books: The judiciary.

In a fascinating and bravely reported piece in a recent edition of the Globe and Mail, that newspaper’s justice writer Sean Fine observes, “Mr. Harper’s battles with the Supreme Court are well known. The court has struck down or softened several of his crime laws. When the Prime Minister named an outspoken conservative, Marc Nadon, to the Supreme Court in 2013, the court itself declared Justice Nadon ineligible. Mr. Harper would go on to publicly assail the integrity of Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, turning an institutional dispute into a very personal battle.”

But a closer look behind the curtain reveals a far more successful campaign to remake the country’s judicial system in a decidedly Conservative image. As Mr. Fine reports, “While those public conflicts were playing out, the government was quietly transforming the lower courts. The Conservative government has now named about 600 of the 840 full-time federally appointed judges, or nearly three in every four judges on provincial superior courts, appeal courts, the Federal Court and Tax Court.”

Why does this matter as long as the Supreme Court retains at least a modicum of ideological independence? The answer is that the high court doesn’t actually do the daily heavy lifting in our judicial system. The courts with which Mr. Harper is most concerned are, Mr. Fine writes, the ones that, “at the appeal level, decide how the government’s crime crackdown is to be implemented. At the trial level, they decide high-profile cases. In constitutional cases, they rule on social and legislative facts – anything that establishes the real-world context in which a law plays out, such as whether prostitution laws endanger sex workers.

“Higher courts, including the Supreme Court, do not change these facts, unless they view them as wildly wrong. Constitutional rulings depend on these facts. The judges, who can serve until they are 75, may be sitting long after other governments have come along and rewritten the laws. They also are a farm team or development system for the Supreme Court.”

In effect, “They are Mr. Harper’s enduring legacy.”

Economic conditions run hot and cold, but matters of justice, law and morality are enshrined in the democratic institutions we embrace and on which we depend.

This is where Canada’s new conservatism will root itself and ensure, among other things, that Mr. Harper will be remembered long after he’s left the political stage.

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Hoisted by their own petard


There was never anything essentially wise – beyond the obviously political considerations – about the Government of Canada’s white-knuckled determination to balance its budget come hell or Armageddon.

In their quietest moments even the fiscal hawks among us must admit that into all lives, some red ink must fall. Individuals, banks, commercial enterprises and, yes, even governments do, from time to time, deficit-finance their way to durable prosperity. That’s simply because the coincidence of opportunity and solvency is not always – in fact, never – perfect.

Knowing this, then, we ought not become the saps that campaigners on the hustings seem to think we are when they point to their debt-defying antics as proof of their unimpeachable sagacity.

Of course, the Harper government isn’t the first in this country to claim that it, and only it, has the best interests of the average tax payer at heart when it refuses to consider any alternative to a bottom line that reads: zero.

The problem is this ambition just doesn’t appear sensible, or even achievable, at the moment.

“Rotten Luck”, thy name is Torytown.

Oil prices are slumping more deeply than anyone expected. The economic revival in the United States is losing steam. The tragi-comedy that is the Grecian formula for European recession unfolds even as a downturn in our Greater Canuckistan’s resource-fired economy conjures the dreaded “R-word” here.

Now, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Jean-Denis Frechette, says all of this is becoming a lethal cocktail for Conservatives.

According to a CBC report last week, “The government had projected a slim, $1.4-billion surplus for 2015 in its budget, which was presented last April.

The PBO estimates a budget outlook updated with the lower GDP numbers alone would show a $1.5-billion deficit at the end of this year and a $0.1 billion, or $100 million, deficit in 2016-17. Canada would be back at a $1.5 billion surplus in 2017-18, according to the PBO projection.

Added the public broadcaster: “But that’s not the whole picture. Weak GDP growth, the budget office says, would be partially offset by higher inflation and lower interest rates. Once those are taken into account, the projected deficit is $1 billion this year, with a small surplus of $0.6 billion, or $600 million, in 2016-17, and $2.2 billion in 2017-18.”

In fact, writing in the Globe and Mail earlier this year, Jim Stanford, an economist with Unifor, had this to say:

“From the outset, the battle to slay the deficit was all about political optics, not economics. Canada’s deficits after the 2008-09 meltdown were among the smallest in the world. Our debt burden (the more important concern) is small compared to those of other countries and other periods in history. Indeed, as a share of GDP, the debt has been shrinking since 2012. So whether Ottawa has a small surplus or deficit any year is irrelevant.

“For this government, though, it’s a political imperative. Nothing will prevent the Conservatives from forecasting balance next year.”

Nothing, so far, has. Ignoring the writing on the wall has become a singular pastime in Ottawa. And no one plays the game more stubbornly than Finance Minister Joe Oliver who continued to insist – despite the rather compelling, new evidence to the contrary – that the government will better than balance the budget.

“We have looked at our numbers and we are very comfortable that we will have a surplus this year,” he said last week.

Such insistence, once merely economically unwise, is now becoming politically perilous to the self-described standard-bearers of wise money management.

Are certain petards about to hoist certain MPs, after all?

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Monuments or monstrosities


Nothing so divides a citizenry than the idols its government choose to worship on its behalf. Time, of course, has a funny way of levelling the peaks and valleys of what, initially, seems like a ferocious debate of eternal consequence.

When the French built their Eiffel Tower in 1867, it was derided by the intelligentsia as, “this truly tragic street lamp”, “this belfry skeleton”, “this mast of iron gymnasium apparatus, incomplete, confused and deformed”, “this high and skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant ungainly skeleton upon a base that looks built to carry a colossal monument of Cyclops, but which just peters out into a ridiculous thin shape like a factory chimney”.

In fact, Parisian artists published a formal complaint in the popular newspaper Le Temps, an excerpt of which read: “We come, we writers, painters, sculptors, architects, lovers of the beauty of Paris which was until now intact, to protest with all our strength and all our indignation, in the name of the underestimated taste of the French, in the name of French art and history under threat, against the erection in the very heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower which popular ill-feeling has already christened the Tower of Babel.”

Nowadays, this formerly “monstrous” edifice is, arguably, France’s most loved symbol of Gallic civilization, the signature icon of the City of Lights.

What, I wonder, will we one day say about the so-called “Mother Canada” monument, the 24-metre-tall brainchild of a Toronto businessman who, having seen the graves of Canada’s war dead in Europe, thought it would be a swell idea to erect a statue in honour of them along one of the prettiest and ecologically significant coastlines in the country, Cape Breton’s north shore?

Indeed, what will eventually think about a memorial to victims of communism planned for a highly visible site in the heart of Ottawa’s government district, right next to the Supreme Court complex?

At the moment, and in both cases, the chattering classes are enraged (though the hoi polloi generally wonder what all the fuss is about).

Writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald recently, veteran columnist Ralph Surette was almost beside himself at the sheer effrontery of the Harper government’s moral and material support for Mother Canada.

“For those who still don’t fully understand the game, the ‘Mother Canada’ controversy should provide some enlightenment,” he needled. “The discovery that Parks Canada has furnished $100,000 to the project – after swearing that the statue in Cape Breton Highlands Park was a purely private project – blows the lid off the scheme. The political engineering on this comes from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“This is Stephen Harper building yet another monument to himself. It’s not just the money. The fact that the rules governing national parks have been casually trashed to accommodate the project has the PMO’s fingerprints all over it. No use hollering at Parks Canada bureaucrats. Like everyone else in government, they’ve been reduced to yo-yos of the PMO, detached from their guiding principles.”

As for the victims of communism memorial, controversy also attends. According to a recent editorial in the Toronto Star, “The problem with the project isn’t its size – though the original design was in fact far more intrusive than it needed to be. As we have written before, the issue is the very idea of turning a prime site in the middle of Ottawa’s government precinct over to a politically motivated memorial that does not speak to Canada’s own history.”

There is, of course, another solution to the various contretemps:

Stop erecting idols altogether.

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Welcome to New Torytown


It is, perhaps, a measure of just how conservative Canadians have become over the past decade that Thomas Mulcair is still considered, in many quarters, a socialist threat to all that is worthy.

In fact, there’s almost nothing leftish or wobbly in this leader of the federal New Democrats; if anything, he represents an almost “Clintonian-Blairish” shift to the centre of the political spectrum. And it seems to be working out fine for him.

Writing in iPolitics earlier this month, EKOS Polling chairman and founder, Frank Graves, noted, “Just as it looked like we were setting into a three-way tie, the NDP appears to be opening up some daylight between itself and the Conservatives ­– who are still stuck at sub-30 – and the listless Liberals, still drifting downward in a significant erosion of their support. New Democrats should be jubilant. Liberals should be very concerned. But the worst news here may be for the Conservatives.”

\The pollster added: “NDP and Liberal fortunes are inextricably connected; they tap a shared pool of promiscuous progressive voters who are now looking more favourably at the NDP for a variety of reasons – the election result in Alberta, dissatisfaction with Justin Trudeau’s qualified support for C-51, and a rising sense that the New Democrats are a plausible option to dislodge the current government.”

What’s more, Graves observes, “We do know that those outside of the diminished Conservative base are increasingly receptive to some form of government arrangement between the progressive parties.”

That’s probably because Mr. Mulcair is sounding more and more conservatively avuncular,and less and less radically agitated, these days. Consider his comments at a recent gathering of the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto.

“As our country’s financial capital – hosting 40 per cent of corporate headquarters in Canada – Toronto’s business community has its finger on the pulse of the entire Canadian economy,” he began. And, looking at the performance of our economy over the past number of months, there is reason for concern.

“The first quarter in particular has some alarming news. Gross Domestic Product took the deepest plunge in nearly six years ­– down by 0.6 per cent. Business investment – down. Exports – for the second quarter in a row – down.

Household spending – the lowest growth in nearly three years.

“And BMO’s overall revised projection for 2015 sees the slowest growth for Canada’s economy, outside of recession, in the past thirty years. But as worrisome as these first quarter trends are, they don’t tell the whole story.

They don’t give us a sense of what’s happening to Canada’s middle class – the best measure of a well-functioning and diversified economy.”

Then came what has become the NDP’s rallying cry in recent weeks: “In 2015, middle class families are working harder, but falling further and further behind. Over the last 35 years, while our GDP has grown 147 per cent, income for the typical Canadian family has actually shrunk by 7 per cent.

And household debt is up – way up ­– hitting a record 163 per cent of disposable income. The Governor of the Bank of Canada, Stephen Poloz, calls that ‘a significant risk to Canada’s financial stability’.”

Suddenly, Mr. Mulcair is sounding like a kinder, gentler version of Stephen Harper. The former’s focus on the middle class may be apocryphal (after all, who really believes that socio-economic rhetoric ever produces durable results), but it is politically cunning. He is, in effect, eating the prime minister’s lunch; Mr. Harper’s emphasis on “hard-working families” seems almost clunky by comparison.

Mr. Mulcair may be Canada’s first federal Progressive Conservative in more than a decade.

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The federal race to the mushy middle


In a circumspect piece for the Globe and Mail about a month ago, Michael Adams, president of the Environics Institute, argued that, despite the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing of those to the left of the political centre, the current government in Ottawa has not, in fact, made Canada measurably more Conservative over the past eight years.

Indeed, he wrote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper “sometimes plays to public opinion, sometimes carefully runs against it, and sometimes flouts it in areas where he won’t face consequences. He navigates public attitudes astutely, but I see little evidence that he has changed them.”

Specifically, “On crime, he has not moved public opinion. Quite the opposite: He has heeded it in a way his predecessors did not. In the past, elites pursued evidence-based policy while the public still favoured old-fashioned punishment. . .When Parliament abolished the death penalty in 1976, more than three-quarters of Canadians still backed it. Mr. Harper. . .didn’t have to persuade Canadians that a ‘tougher’ approach was preferable – just that he was the man to deliver it.”

What’s more, “on domestic security, (Harper) has not shifted attitudes so he can pursue a more aggressive agenda of surveillance and preventive detention. Canadians are alarmed by the threat of terrorism and willing to give the government a lot of latitude in keeping them safe. This reaction troubles civil libertarians, but it is not new.”

In fact, if recent polls mean anything, Mr. Harper joins his nemesis, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in the mushy middle of affection among prospective voters – not an eventuality that seemed likely even last fall, when the latter appeared to be riding high on a wave of “change-for-the-sake-of-change” support. 

According to the Weekly Nanos Party Power Index Tracking (period ending January 16th, 2015), “Harper and Trudeau continue to be tightly locked in the weekly preferred Prime Minister (metric). Thirty-one per cent of Canadians prefer Harper as PM, 31 per cent also prefer Trudeau as PM, while 18 per cent prefer (Thomas) Mulcair, five per cent prefer (Elizabeth) May and 14 per cent were unsure.”

And just last week, Ipsos offered this: “The four-point lead that the Conservatives enjoyed just last month has evaporated, with a new Ipsos Reid poll conducted exclusively for Global News revealing the federal Liberals and Conservatives are once again tied. This tight race appears to be the natural resting point for public opinion in Canada. When one party jumps out ahead, the advantage doesn’t last long and the two leading parties return to a tie.”

Said the pollster: “If the election were held tomorrow, the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau would receive 34 per cent of the decided vote (up three points since January), while Harper’s governing Conservatives would receive 33 per cent (down 2 points) of the vote. In the last year, as Canadians continue to acquaint themselves with Justin Trudeau, most of vote-support fluctuation has been with the Liberal Party, ranging between 31 per cent and 38 per cent of the popular vote. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are the known quantity and have experienced relative stability between 31 per cent and 35 per cent.”

In other words, it’s a dead heat everywhere except in Atlantic Canada where, Ipsos reports, the Grits are running in majority territory (47 per cent, versus 26 per cent for the NDP and 24 per cent for the Tories).

All of which suggests that if the prime minister hasn’t made Canada any bluer, Justin Trudeau hasn’t made it any redder.

Let the games continue.

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Move over RCMP. . .there’s a new kid in town


As the Harper government openly discusses its efforts to transform this country’s civilian spy agency from a strictly intelligence-gathering organization to an effective police force – imbued with all the powers of search, seizure and, if necessary, apprehension – it steadfastly refuses to speak plainly about its plans for the nation’s fighting men and women in some of the world’s most dangerous places.

According to a report this week in the Globe and Mail, the federal government’s new “anti-terrorism legislation, which was unveiled Friday (January 30), would give CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) the right to disrupt terrorist activity, such as by pulling suspected terrorists off planes or messing with their bank accounts. A judge would have to sign off on such actions ahead of time. The legislation would also make it easier to arrest people for promoting terrorism.”

This is a fair distance down the road from the agency’s embarkation point, articulated in the early 1980s and reiterated currently on the inveterate data-miner’s official website: “The Service’s role is to investigate threats, analyze information and produce intelligence. It then reports to, and advises, the Government of Canada to protect the country and its citizens. . .CSIS’ proactive role complements law enforcement agencies such as police forces, which investigate crime and collect evidence to support prosecutions in courts of law.”

Apparently, complementing law enforcement agencies is no longer enough. CSIS must now become one among that number.

Again, according to a Globe report, the new legislation would also, “criminalize the advocacy or promotion of terrorism (fair enough); lower the threshold for preventative arrest or detention of suspected extremists (uh-oh); relax the requirements necessary to prevent suspected jihadis from boarding a plane (hmmm); grant government departments explicit authority to share private information, including passport applications, or confidential commercial data, with law enforcement agencies (do tell); make it easier for authorities to track and monitor suspects.”

All of which raises natural questions about CSIS’s 30-year role coordinating and collaborating with actual cops.

Has it, or has it not, been doing its mandated job? And if the answer is, “no, it hasn’t”, then how much more success will it enjoy when its desk-bound intelligence analysts suddenly find themselves with upgraded badges?

“Good afternoon, ma’am, I’m agent Mulder. . .This is my partner, Scully. . .We’d like to ask you some questions.”

“No, Scully, I’m Mulder, you were Mulder last week (and besides she’s a he).”

“Sorry about that. . .Let’s start over.”

“Good afternoon, sir, I’m agent Scully. . .This is my partner, Mulder. . .We’d like to ask you some questions.”

And yet, even as Harpertown seeks to equip its spooks with new powers to reveal – and act on – the ‘truth’ about the alleged bad boys and girls in our midst, it has no compunction about withholding information about its own military actions abroad.

The recent deployment in Iraq, for example, was sold to Canadian citizens as a support operation to NATO. Not even Canada’s Chief of Defence, General Tom Lawson, is wagging that tail anymore. Speaking before a House of Commons’ committee last week, he stipulated that “we’re seeing an evolution of that mission.”

The evolution’s end being: directing drone strikes on Islamic militants, engaging directly in a shooting war with combatants and. . .well, comporting themselves in a way that not even the Americans are willing to embrace.

Or, as Stephen Chase of the Globe wrote last week, “The U.S. military says Canada’s military advisers are the only coalition forces it knows of that have engaged in firefights with Islamic State militants in Iraq and that American troops have not, to date, been authorized to direct air strikes from the ground as Canadians are doing.”

If this is the necessary work of our foreign force, so be it; but, then, why hide the policy behind weasel words, coarse deflection and transparent partisanship?

“This is really what we get from our opposition,” Mr. Harper told the Commons last week. “Every time we talk about security, they suggest that somehow, our freedoms are threatened. I think Canadians understand that their freedom and their security more often than not go hand and hand. Canadians expect us to do both, we are doing both, and we do not buy the argument that every time you protect Canadians, you take away their liberties.”

Sure, Father Canada, whatever you say.

After all, you will soon know what everyone in this vast, compromised democracy thinks and does.

The truth is out there.

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Oh, what a messy slick we spill


Oil has a nasty way of sticking to everything it touches, including the best-laid plans of men, governments and hired gunslingers in the spin-rooms of the nation.

Not so long ago, black gold was Canada’s economic salvation. It was better than  manufacturing, technological innovation in the non-resource sector, and even financial services at generating long-term jobs and huge dividends for high-flying investors.

Indeed, so went the fairy tale, oil was the last, best hope to power these industries and aspirations and return the country to its always mythological status as the world’s next, big superpower of opportunity.

Oh well. Easy come, easy go – which has become, in New Brunswick, our preferred provincial slogan, beating out such bromides as “Be in this place” and (my personal favorite) “Hell, it could be worse, though we don’t possibly see how”.

Still, Alberta’s blackened, big sky country may want to rip a page from the picture-perfect province’s sloganeering songbook as it begins to send thousands of expat Maritimers back home to their sea-bound coasts.

With oil hovering below $50 a barrel – down more than 100 per cent since mid-October – and no discernible bottom to the price plunge, the West’s formerly gilded streets are about to be lined with foreclosure notices, each prettily packaged in recyclable envelopes, courtesy of your friendly, neighbourhood big, Bay-Street bank.

Oh, how the ironies abound.

To Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, oil meant certain reelection in October. That’s because royalties from this resource enabled their utterly fantastical predictions of surplus, their wholly irresponsible promise to permit income splitting among families that could well afford to pay the tax man that which is properly due to him, and their cynically calculated (and needlessly costly) diversions regarding the Child Tax Credit.

Now, they’ll be lucky to muster enough cash to cover the cost of the laces for the finance minister’s new shoes come budget time some months away.

As it is, they can’t work fast enough to fit themselves for boots of clay.

According to a Globe and Mail report last Thursday, “The Conservative government will not release the federal budget until at least April, a delay meant to give Finance Minister Joe Oliver more time to assess the impact of plunging oil prices on the Canadian economy.”

As Mr. Oliver told a press conference in Ottawa, “Given the current market instability, I will not bring forward our budget earlier than April. We need all the information we can obtain before finalizing our decisions. . .“This new reality poses a great, though not entirely unprecedented challenge. . .It represents the third largest price decline in the last four decades, exceeded only by the 1986 OPEC collapse and the sharp decline and rapid recovery we saw during the Great Recession. . .Given the current volatility, there is no consensus about how low will prices fall and how long they stay there. Nevertheless, every knowledgeable person I have spoken to believes, and history tells us, that prices will eventually move well above (the) current level.”

In fact, though oil’s price may not have yet bottomed, there is, evidently, a point at which the Canadian economy’s ability to compensate for its clear and utter dependence on the stuff simply fails.

Only a week ago, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne all-but bragged about the coming resurgence in her province’s manufacturing sector. Low petroleum prices, she noted, meant a lower valuation of the Canadian dollar against its U.S. counterpart. Since south of the border is where more than $300-billion of this country’s good wind up each and ever year, logically the boon to exporting ought to be commensurately marvelous. Read: Who needs oil?

Well, apparently, we do; and the sticky, messy stuff is not cooperating.

Says former finance department deputy minister Scott Clark, in a separate Globe piece last week, “If the government tries too hard to show a surplus, in other words twists and turns in the wind and does everything to show a surplus, I think you lose political and professional creditability. . .The reality is a lot has changed and if I were the Conservative government, I’d be saying ‘that’s the fact.’ Things have changed and we should just realize that and deal with it.”

Of course, that makes just too much sense for this country’s leadership, almost more enamoured of its own talking points on oil than it is with the sticky stuff, itself – if that’s even possible.

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Canada’s climate chickens now come home to roost


For months, even years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has insisted that he is as environmentally friendly as the next guy, and so is his government.

In fact, with the leader of Canada’s largest trading partner, he has played a high-stakes game of truth or dare. Just as soon as U.S. President Barack Obama announces a convincing program to dramatically reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions, he has said, so will he.

Now that the former has done just, to the surprise of the developed and developing world, alike, it remains to the latter to answer the only question that matters on an inexorably warming planet: Now what, Captain Canada?

Indeed, the policy change south of the border, announced last week, is not merely surprising; it’s stunning. The new U.S.-China joint agreement would see the Yanks cut GHG output 26 per cent from 2005 quantities by 2025. The previous commitment had been a reduction of 17 per cent by 2020, a target the Americans are, in any case, quite likely to hit.

The Chinese, meanwhile, have thrown themselves into a multi-billon-dollar build-out of renewable energy technologies and production facilities (including, it should be noted, nuclear) – an initiative that should help them fulfill their new pledge to cap the production of GHGs to levels comparable with the United States by 2030.

Why this accord, and why now?

As different as are their respective political conventions, economic institutions and societies, the U.S. and China still share one embarrassing habit in the arena of energy production: their relatively heavy use of coal, a fossil fuel that makes oil and particularly natural gas seem, by comparison, pristine.

According to the Centre for Energy and Climate Solutions, “In the United States, coal is the third-largest primary energy source, accounting for 18 per cent of all energy consumed in 2012 with the electric power sector accounting for 91 per cent of U.S. coal consumption.

“With the highest carbon content of all the fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion represented 24.5 per cent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. . .Globally, coal is one of the most widely distributed energy resources with recoverable reserves in nearly 70 countries. The U.S., China, and India are the top producers and consumers of coal. Worldwide, coal supplies 29.7 per cent of energy use and is responsible for 44 per cent of global CO2 emissions.”

Of course, given the most recent news from the front lines of the global-warming wars, some sort of U.S.-China compact on the issue was not entirely unexpected.

Earlier this month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fifth word on the subject in as many years. It makes for chilling reading.

Reported the Guardian: “The new overarching IPCC report builds on previous reports on the science, impacts and solutions for climate change. It concludes that global warming is ‘unequivocal’, that humanity’s role in causing it is ‘clear’ and that many effects will last for hundreds to thousands of years even if the planet’s rising temperature is halted.”

Added Bill McKibben, a climate crusader of the first and most popular order, in the piece: “For scientists, conservative by nature, to use ‘serious, pervasive, and irreversible’ to describe the effects of climate falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola. . .Thanks to the IPCC, no one will ever be able to say they weren’t warned.”

No, they won’t, Mr. Harper. So, again, what say you?

The federal government’s reduction target, even before the new agreement between its two biggest export markets, was doomed from the outset. Only the rosiest prognosticators suggested that a 17 per cent cut in GHGs from 2005 in this country had a hope in Hades of materializing by 2020. The reason is simple.

This government’s political and ideological capital is invested entirely in the success of the western tar sands. That’s where it wants derelict Canucks from the East and the Centre to work. That’s where it wants to find its tax revenues and corporate royalties.

It cares very little about anything else that might have been considered, at some point in the elegiac past, authentically Canadian.

The Tories’ current conundrum is that the world, through the U.S. and China, is beginning to turn a corner (late, perhaps) that might well leave their atavistic thinking behind, along with their government.

They just might be thinking about using the fuel in the ground to build the infrastructure necessary to, one day, abandon it forever, except as seed for renewable manufactures.

Then what, Captain Canada?

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In Canada, all children are being left behind


On almost every issue of significance to Canadian society, the federal Conservatives and NDP could not stand further apart. But on child care, in at least one important respect, they march in lockstep together: Both parties dramatically miss the point.

Early childhood education should, first and foremost, be about children – their welfare, their development, their opportunities to become happy, engaged, enthusiastic learners, thinkers and, eventually citizens.

So what, pray tell, does the Harper government’s determination to line parental pockets with a few more ducats every year under its Universal Child Care Benefit have to do kid-centred early childhood education?

On the other side of the ideological coin, what does the New Democrats’ proposal to subsidize as many as a million new daycare spaces across the country have to do with preparing the next generation of leaders, educators, professionals and skilled workers?

Granted, the NDP scheme at least attempts to acknowledge that, nowadays, families need two working spouses to make ends meet.

In contrast, the Tory concept seems tethered to weirdly antiquated notions about motherhood; its new $160-per-month, per-child under six, program is an undiluted attempt to resurrect the conviction that women with kids do actually belong in their homes until such time as they can make their great escapes back into the working world (yeah, after 10 or 12 years, good luck with that, ladies).

Still, each model, in its own way, utterly ignores the compelling bang for the billions of bucks each purports to spend, simply because neither focuses on kids, but rather on the adult parents, whose votes will fuel the next great democratic lottery come the autumn of 2015.

To this audience, Mr. Harper likes to say things like: “We have always been clear that money and support to help families raise children should not go into more bureaucracy. It should go to the real experts on child care. That’s mom and dad, and that is what we are doing.”

Well, no, actually, mom and dad are not always, or even usually, the “real experts on child care”. (My wife and I certainly weren’t when we had our two kids in the early 1980s).

Then again, neither are, necessarily, the legions of lightly trained, underpaid, overburdened daycare workers slogging away in frequently poor conditions from coast to glimmering coast in this country.

The real experts are those who have studied the science, research, policy and practice of early childhood development.

They are those who apply all of this where it matters – in the classroom, where kids benefit from structured play, early and often, where kids benefit from the certainty that what they learn in pre-school will carry them seamlessly into primary education systems.

And, in fact, this model works in Canada.

Look to Quebec, for one.

Just one decade after that province introduced a universal early childhood education system, integrated into higher grades, it went from the bottom to the top on many social indicators.

From having Canada’s lowest female labour participation rate, it now has the highest. Where Quebec women were once less likely to attend post-secondary education than their counterparts in the rest of Canada, today they dominate. Meanwhile, student scores on standardized tests have gone from below the Canadian average to above.

The research also shows that Quebec fathers are more involved in child-raising than ever before. Now, 82 per cent of fathers in that province take paid leave after the births of their kids, compared to just 12 per cent in the rest of Canada.

Moreover, childhood programs that allow mothers to work have slashed Quebec’s child poverty rates by 50 per cent.

I have lifted all of this, shamelessly and almost verbatim from the Early Years Study 3, published in 2011, because it is the gold standard of research on this subject in this country.

Here’s another:

“Based on earlier studies, we estimate that in 2008 universal access to low-fee childcare in Quebec induced nearly 70,000 more mothers to hold jobs than if no such program had existed – and increase of 3.8 per cent in women employment,” Montreal economist Pierre Fortin wrote in 2012. “By our calculation, Quebec’s domestic income was higher by about 1.7 per cent, or $5 billion, as a result.”

All of which should persuade any thinking person that public policy on child care should be about the child – not the venal, cynical intentions of political operatives looking to the next election, the next opportunity to lock in votes at the expense of real socio-economic progress.

In this respect, the lockstep march of the federal Conservatives and NDP is one step forward and one step backwards – which is to say standing still and, therefore, nowhere.

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How the Grits are crashing their own party


In politics, like comedy, timing is everything. In timing, like comedy, politics is everything. That said, welcome to the strange, recent displays of young Justin Trudeau, Leader of the federal Liberal Party, aspiring Prime Minister of Canada.

What persuades him to characterize the Government of Canada’s decision to commit planes and troops against the latest incarnation of Middle East violence as a genitally influenced decision is anyone’s guess.

But to say, as he did last week, that his Tory nemeses “whip” out the nation’s aging fleet of fighter jets to illustrate just how well they still work in the ugly business of killing people and decimating far-flung enemy states is the apex of juvenility. It is, as one commentator correctly adjudged, the sign of “an unserious mind.”

Of course, it can be argued that Canadians have endured far too many serious minds since the world went to hell In 2008.

On the Liberal side, there have been those of Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, each spewing their self-referential brand of national purpose and pomp.

On the NDP side, there have been those of Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair, each scolding, in their own tiresome ways, Canada for its disengaged, anti-progressive tendencies.

Then, there’s been the true pater familia of all political dads – none other than Prime Minister Stephan Harper, himself – who has done his reformist best to convince the country that he’s a benign, hands-off father-figure who won’t interfere in the business of his constituents if, and only if, his constituents utterly subjugate themselves to his politically crafted ideology.

Into this absurd company marched Justin Trudeau, the son of legends, promising a more sensible and respectful form of leadership. In him, scores of citizens saw a new hope, a new mandate, and a “back-to-the-future” apparatus for a fully engaged, skilled, educated, and largely independent public bureaucracy.

Certainly, it was his candour that caught the devoted attention of the mainstream media. He was the first, major federal political figure to support decriminalizing marihuana. He was among the first to publicly support a woman’s right to choose abortion, despite stiff opposition within his own caucus. And he was out front, first and centre, with a pledge to introduce universally accessible early childhood education.

On the latter issue, he has squandered his mojo in the face of Mr. Mulcair’s announcement last week of a comprehensive daycare plan. On soft drugs, he seems to have ceded some of his leadership to, of all people, Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who now says he’s willing to consider parts of what is, in effect, Mr. Trudeau’s original proposal.

And now, young Justin has this to say about foreign policy:

“Why aren’t we talking more about the humanitarian aide that Canada can and must be engaged in?,” he freelanced to journalist Don Newman at a conference last week.

So far, so good; but then there was this: “Rather than. . .trying to whip out our CF18s and show them (the Islamic State) how big they are” why don’t we. . .well, do the other thing?

To which, government attack dogs replied in predictable fashion.

“Mr. Trudeau’s comments are disrespectful of the Canadian Armed Forces and make light of a serious issue,” PMO spokesperson Jason MacDonald told CTV News. “Our involvement in the fight against (the Islamic State) has been motivated by a desire to do our part in fighting a group that has made direct terrorist threats against Canada and Canadians, in addition to carrying out atrocities against children, women, and men in the region. As the Prime Minister has said: ‘we take that seriously and will do our part.’”

Game, set and match.

Is Mr. Trudeau in danger of screwing up his free lunch with Canadians? Major polling agencies have confirmed that the young politico is still running well ahead of his arch-rival Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Still, that could change in a heartbeat. It’s a long way to the ballot box next fall, and in politics, like comedy, timing is everything.

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