Monthly Archives: August, 2015

This week in Electionland – Through the Looking Glass edition

For some mood music, jump to the end of the article. CW: misogyny, violent lyrics, profanity. But also some damn good mashing up.

This was the week when I gave up on the election.

I’ll admit that even going in I was extremely skeptical. (See for instance my seven-part series on why voting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and probably isn’t even a worthwhile exercise most of the time.) And granted, my patience was essentially gone by the end of last week. But keeping track of the literally absurd squabble over deficits that ate up several news cycles this week pushed me past my limits.

I tuned right out.

Which perhaps was the intention of most of the parties involved. Because while “the economy” may be a top priority for many voters, those same voters quite likely don’t want to spend more time than is strictly speaking necessary thinking about the specifics of the federal government’s budget. They just want to have secure jobs and decent incomes.

And besides, partisans are going to stand by their parties no matter what position they take. As the brilliantly-named “O-bots” have shown over the past seven years, loyal party members are happy to denounce a policy when in opposition and then whole-heartedly embrace that same policy when in power, and never mind how contorted the mental gymnastics involved are.

So, for instance, witness supporters of the NDP straining to reconcile themselves to Thomas Mulcair’s words of praise of Margaret Thatcher: Continue Reading

Unist’ot’en camp facing imminent RCMP raid – what is Stephen Harper thinking?

On Friday morning, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs received word that the RCMP had booked up hotel rooms in Smithers and Burns Lake, two communities in close proximity to the Unist’ot’en Camp.

The Unist’ot’en Camp, as you’ll recall, sent out an appeal late last month for assistance and support in the face of what they said was a looming raid by the Mounties on their territory. Now, it appears that that raid is imminent:

“It’s definitely going to come down,” Phillip told Vancouver Observer. “We don’t have precise numbers, but it very well could be more than 200 (officers), because this story is totally rippling across the country.” […]

“I don’t want to disclose names, but there have been top political leaders who have contacted senior levels of the RCMP again, attempting to persuade them to stand down,” said Phillip, who will be heading to the Unist’ot’en Camp on Sunday to support its residents and bear witness to any police action that may take place. 

To mount an operation of this size and begin to execute this plan, (RCMP) would have had to have approval at the highest levels, at that takes considerable time, and I suspect those decisions were made weeks ago.” [my bold]

Phillip has been drawing attention to the impending confrontation between the RCMP and Indigenous land defenders and pipeline resisters for months now. In February, he said that there was the potential for another crisis on the scale of Oka surrounding Northern Gateway and other controversial pipeline projects.

For their part, members of the Unist’ot’en Camp have made it clear that they intend to hold firm and not be moved by police intimidation. Just days ago, they issued a declaration signed by all five Unist’ot’en chiefs, enacted specifically “in response to increasing encroachment onto Unist’ot’en territory by the Crown and associated industry and RCMP”, reasserting their “unbroken, unextinguished and unceded right to govern and occupy these lands”.

As rumours swirl that the RCMP intends to charge the land defenders under the hyper-controversial anti-terrorist law Bill C-51, it’s hard to imagine how the situation could become more highly charged. Continue Reading

Policing for profit: Why the criminal justice system only makes reforms it can profit on

Starting next Tuesday, drivers in Ontario face stiff new penalties for distracted driving:

As part of the new Bill 31, which was introduced by the Liberal government and will come into effect Sept. 1, drivers can be fined $1,000 (up from $280) and receive three demerit points should they be caught by police.

It’s intended to be so restrictive that motorists put down their phones and end what Staff Sgt. Mitchell called a distracted driving “epidemic” on our roads…

Transportation Minister and Vaughan MPP Steven Del Duca congratulated lawmakers on passing the bill unanimously and said it was about time we recognized the risks inherent to distracted driving.

He added he has two daughters, one eight and one four and he hopes they will be safer as a result.

Del Duca further noted the rules are justified considering distracted driving is now as big a problem in this province as impaired driving.

Del Duca is, if anything, understating the case. Statistics from 2013 showed that there were actually more fatalities from distracted driving than from drunk driving in this province. Multiple studies have shown that the average driver’s reaction time when using a cell phone is significantly slower than if they are drunk or high. (Also, for those who like their evidence anecdotal, Mythbusters “confirmed” it by getting drunk and driving around.)

So clearly, the government has an interest in deterring people from distracted driving. That interest is well backed up by thoroughly documented evidence from multiple reliable sources, including the government’s own statistics. This is a clear example of evidence-based policy-making.

It’s also a policy that will make cops across the province a lot of money. Continue Reading

Trudeau on surpluses – ours were good, Mulcair’s would be bad

Oh my friends, my friends – the things I do for the sake of political coverage!

I just spent the last half hour of my life – a half hour I’ll never get back, I hasten to add, a half hour which brought me thirty minutes closer to death – watching a Liberal Party rally livestreamed on the CBC’s website. I watched first Paul Martin and then Justin Trudeau lecture a crowd of rowdy partisan holding incoherently eerie clearly-aiming-at-being-subliminal red-and-white signs reading “leader” and “plan”, on the virtues of Liberal economic leadership. I heard Paul Martin tell the crowd that he knew a thing or two about creating a balanced budget, and that the Conservatives had squandered his surpluses, to raucous applause, and then I heard Justin Trudeau tell the crowd that a balanced budget was entirely the wrong decision for Canadians right now, to raucous applause.

Oh my lord the cognitive dissonance was real. To hear about all the compassion that the Liberal Party supposedly has for average Canadians while also hearing Martin extol his many many surpluses in the 90s – surpluses that were racked up on the backs of working Canadians – was borderline nauseating. Continue Reading

The RCMP has a history of helping the Conservatives win elections

Last week, as Nigel Wright took the stand in the interminable trial of disgraced former Senator Mike Duffy, there was one glaring contradiction in the process which was impossible to ignore. Duffy stands accused of multiple charges, one of which is accepting a bribe; this charge stems from a $90 000 cheque he received from Wright, then the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, which went towards repaying dubious expense claims. The cheque was given with a lot of conditions – Duffy had to follow the strict messaging program that the Prime Minister’s Office had laid out, had to abandon his insistent claims of innocence in the ongoing expense scandal, had to in fact stop advocating his case and leave things in the capable hands of the Conservative Party of Canada.

It takes two to tango, and one can’t accept a bribe which isn’t offered, which is why it’s so strikingly odd that while Duffy’s on trial in large part for accepting the $90 000 cheque from Wright, the private equity banker and titan of finance stands accused of no crimes at all.

It’s not just bribery charges that Wright dodged. It’s well-documented that the PMO and a handful of influential Conservative senators were actively seeking to manipulate the findings of an independent audit of Senate expenses by Deloitte, and yet none of them – not one – was charged with any wrongdoing. We know that the RCMP was well aware of these efforts because transcripts of their interviews with multiple senior staffers in the PMO during a criminal probe into the whole affair are now a matter of public record, entered into evidence at the Duffy trial.

Wright also stands accused in some quarters of taking a fall for the PMO team. His highly equivocal testimony seemed to shield not only Stephen Harper, but also the PM’s current Chief of Staff, Ray Novak, who was cc’d on an email which revealed Wright was behind the payment and who was in on a conference call wherein the payment was discussed. Novak, Wright insisted, was in and out of the room during the call, and Wright himself never saw fit to discuss the payment details with the PM, though it seems they discussed literally every other aspect of the case. (As for the email, the CPC says that Novak simply never read it.)

That testimony was flatly contradicted this week by former PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin, who insists that he was in the room with Novak when Wright revealed his role in the payment. Perrin, stunned at the impropriety of this, turned to Novak for a reaction, and saw only a blank face.

The testimony of these two high-ranking insiders has reopened long-standing questions about the decision to not charge any of the Prime Minister’s staff. This past week, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called on the RCMP to reopen the investigation into the PM’s senior staffers, particularly Nigel Wright.

The National Observer has a fantastic interview up with Lori Shenher, an experienced investigator who has taken on multiple large-scale cases of financial fraud and led the investigation of the Robert Pickton case, who questions why in the hell the RCMP never charged any of these folks in the first place (SG is Sandy Garossino, the article’s author and a former Crown prosecutor): Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: Is this it?

Three weeks of this dismal depressing excuse for an election have dragged past us, but looking forward we see little consolation – just two more months of this mundane nonsense, this putridly pretentious speechifying, this bland and carefully targeted promise-making, this cautious avoidance of anything too bold or substantial or, god forbid, anything truly controversial.

To sum the whole sordid business up in a single sentence: Is this it?

This is – or it was supposed to be – the most important election in decades. Through all the long miserable years of the Harper majority, partisans of the various opposition parties have been saying, “Just wait until 2015 – we’ll get them then!” And now here we are, it’s their big moment, their time to shine, to show us their vision for a better government – and this is it?

The conventional wisdom from the veteran campaign journalists seems to be that the parties are all waiting until after Labour Day to pull out their marquee policy announcements and their show-stopping speeches and whatnot, the idea being that a lot of folks are on vacation right now and, from a marketing politics point of view, in the immortal words of George W. Bush press secretary Andrew Card, “you don’t introduce new products in August.”

Card was explaining why the Bush administration held off on making its case for their invasion of Iraq until the fall of 2002 – it wouldn’t have sold as well in the summer, he insisted. And perhaps he was right. But there’s something unspeakably cynical about such an approach.

First of all, seeing a major change in policy as a product to be sold, rather than an idea to be debated, reveals a great deal about the fundamentally manipulative approach that many insiders take to the political process, and that’s equally true whether the “product” is a war in Iraq or a candidate for Prime Minister of Canada.

But secondly, it shows that the parties – all of them – are afraid of telling us too much about their candidates products. Deciding it’s not worth the effort to make too vigorous or detailed of a pitch because it’s cottage season demonstrates that none of the parties’ chief strategists marketers are very interested in telling the whole story, getting down into the fine details, making a thorough case for their policies. They’re operating on the level of impressions.

And hell, that’s modern politics. I can’t expect them to do any differently. But it makes for a miserable campaign, especially for people (like me) who, for reasons that are probably too complicated and uninteresting to get into here, have committed themselves to reading as much about this goddamn spectacle each day as time and morale will allow for. Continue Reading

The NDP is feeling the pressure on pipelines

Thomas Mulcair probably wishes the Energy East pipeline was already a done deal.

That way he wouldn’t have to put up with the steady stream of protest directed his way at campaign events across the country.

Last week, I summed up some of the internal dissent that the NDP is currently reckoning with over the issue of pipelines, which has sharply divided the leftist and neoliberal wings of the party:

It began with candidate Linda McQuaig’s comments last week that much of the “oilsands oil” will probably have to be left in the ground – a position which is held by most prominent climate scientists and which, taken literally, is hardly controversial, given the vastness of Alberta’s reserves. The attacks on McQuaig and the NDP from oil industry lackeys was fast and furious, and Thomas Mulcair very quickly and publicly caved in, proclaiming that the NDP was committed to bringing tar sands oil to market. “We’re in favour of creating markets for our natural resources, we’re in favour of developing them, but that has to be done sustainably,” Mulcair insisted, a litany he would find himself repeating all week.

In the aftermath of that ridiculous controversy, Mulcair has faced an onslaught of protest. His campaign biography book launch was disrupted by a banner drop. Protestors followed his every move during a four-city swing through Quebec. He’s faced subtle rebukes from provincial-level politicians and an out-in-the-open one from a prominent former MP over the party’s tortured stance on pipelines and the tar sands.

Then, just a few days ago, hecklers caused a major disruption at what was supposed to be a major campaign speech in Winnipeg: Continue Reading

“Prime Minister Doug Ford.” Think about that, and tremble with despair.

The long knives are already out for Stephen Harper as he struggles to contain the rapidly metastasizing Duffy scandal and faces down an increasingly intransigent NDP lead in the polls. Although anonymous Conservative Party insiders are insisting that the Prime Minister would try to hang on as leader of a minority government and quite possibly run for reelection, there’s little doubt that Harper would be interested in once again being Leader of the Opposition in the event of a Conservative loss this fall.

And already, potential rivals for the Conservative leadership are positioning themselves for a run.

The Walrus pointed out in long form last fall what many political observers have long known to be true – Jason Kenney wants Stephen Harper’s job. For those unfamiliar with Kenney, he’s your pretty standard-issue Conservative boogeyman – a terrifyingly uncompassionate human being, uniquely ill-suited to his five-year term as Minister of Immigration:

In his five-year stint at Immigration, the longest of any minister’s in history, he managed to pull off a precarious balancing act: boosting the number of newcomers, among them thousands of cut-rate temporary foreign workers, needed to fill the yawning corporate maw, while brandishing the lexicon of a law-and-order zealot who cast asylum seekers as guilty until proven innocent. Staging showy crackdowns on alleged human smugglers, marriage fraudsters, and whole classes of refugees he branded as “bogus,” he used such inflammatory language that it has changed the terms of the national debate. “What Kenney has done is create this whole new vernacular,” says Philip Berger, co-founder of a national physicians’ campaign against Kenney’s cuts to refugee health care. “It’s creating a terrain of hostile attitudes to refugees.”

Currently the Minister of Defence, Kenney’s latest schtick is serving as a cynical cheerleader for our extremely limited war non-combat operation in Iraq and Syria. As I wrote in “The ISIS racket“:

I don’t think the political elite have much interest in actually defeating or degrading ISIS. They do, however, have an interest in looking tough – there’s an election this fall, after all! – and getting tough on terrorists never polls poorly. The fact is that this is a very complex conflict, full of regional and sectarian rivalries which confuse even people who have lived there their whole lives. If the HarperCons think a couple CF-18s and some military advisers to the Kurdish peshmerga are gonna make even a trivial difference in this conflict, they’re dumber than they look…

More likely, though, is that they’re cynically manipulating political instability in Iraq and Syria for political points at home in what’s shaping up to be a tough election. The war on ISIS is pretty much win-win – if it goes well, Harper & Co. (and especially Kenney, who’s got his eye on Harper’s job if and when Steve calls it quits) get to brag about Canada’s contributions to the glorious non-combat operation, but if ISIS takes more territory, they can hammer on the theme that now more than ever it’s important to oppose this terrorist menace. And all the while they can steadfastly ignore and evade questions about the effectiveness and realism of their chosen strategy, and bash any opposition leader who questions them as unpatriotic and soft on terrorism.

But as depressing as the notion of a Kenney-led Conservative Party may be, it pales in comparison to this: Continue Reading

Hunter S. Thompson on voting strategically

Hunter S. Thompson hated Richard Nixon.

I mean that on a personal level, and I mean it quite literally. Thompson felt a deep seething angry hatred for Dick Nixon. The depth of his loathing for the disgraced former President is evident in every sentence of his masterful obituary of the man:

Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man — evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him — except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.

If you want a deep dive into the miserable vicious struggle of national American politics at the height of the Cold War, check out that obit – Thompson summoned some of his more in-depth analysis for the occasion of the death of his long-time nemesis.

Most people know Thompson mainly as that drug-addled fiend that Johnny Depp played in a few movies, and to be sure, he was that. He was also a vile misogynist and a dangerous individual with little regard for the feelings of either friends or strangers.

He was also – and this in no way excuses his abusive and reprehensible behaviour – he was also one of the great journalists of the twentieth century.

And I say this mostly because he was among the first to whole-heartedly embrace the insight that there is no such thing as true objectivity in journalism, and that pretending to be objective is often incredibly harmful to reporting on politics, as he himself pointed out in his Nixon obituary: Continue Reading

Terrorism fear-mongering isn’t just to win votes – it’s also about money

Once the wheels started falling off the little red economic wagon and it became clear that Harper couldn’t claim a budgetary surplus no matter how much he cooked the books, it was obvious that the massive frightening super-threatening threat posed by Islamist terrorism would be a centrepiece of the Conservative campaign.

Here at The Alfalfafield, I’ve extensively covered Harper’s security theatrics in the months leading up to the election, from his undercover action hero visit to the front lines of Iraq (and the racist nationalistic war-glorifying speech he gave to Canadian troops stationed in Kuwait), to his fear-mongering announcement on increased funding for the security and intelligence agencies who Risk Their Lives to Keep Us Safe, to Jason Kenney’s aggressive posturing on ISIS and the Canadian government’s insistence that this is a winnable war, dammit, to the government’s sneaky insertion of provisions allowing them to revoke the passports of suspected “terrorists” via a secret trial process into the omnibus “budget” bill, to the government’s spurious pre-crime pursuit of a Winnipeg man on bogus terrorism charges.

In yesterday’s election news round-up, I discussed the Conservative Party’s latest bit of fear-based politicking, their proposal to ban travel to certain “terror hotspots” around the globe – said hotspots to be determined by politicians, obviously.

And the straightforward interpretation for these policies is that they’re effective from an electioneering perspective. The HarperCons seem to be following the playbook from the Bush/Cheney ’04 campaign, which was successfully able to propel a relatively unpopular incumbent to reelection on the basis of terrifying the crap out of the electorate.

It’s an open question whether these tactics will be effective in this context. There are many obvious differences between Bush in 2004 and Harper in 2015 – perhaps the biggest being that Bush could invoke 9/11, while all Harper can point to is his Parliament Hill broom closet. Be that as it may, the HarperCons have eagerly been painting Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as soft on terror: Continue Reading

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