Tag Archives: Teh Economy

Does it really matter who wins the election tomorrow?

This was the week that the campaign jumped the shark.

I’ve almost started a few posts with that line, but I had a funny feeling I’d need it for later. It’s like when I’m asked to rate your pain on a scale from one to ten; no matter how badly it hurts, I’m saving my “ten” in case it gets worse.

I’m glad I waited, because good god what a weird final week it’s been. Let’s just take a minute, for instance, and appreciate the fact that Rob friggin’ Ford and his bully brother Doug actually just hosted a Conservative Party rally for Stephen Harper. Ok? Letting that sink in?

The party of law and order, the party that literally just this week was publishing shady ads in Chinese and Punjabi warning people that Justin Trudeau was going to peddle pot to your kids and flood your neighbourhood with junkies, the party whose leader recently made the absurd statement that marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco, on one of the very last days of a campaign in which it’s fighting for its life, basically held the #elxn42 iteration of Ford Fest, with recovering alcoholic/crack addict, racist, and alleged extortionist Rob Ford in attendance despite allegations from his former chief of staff that he was a habitual drunk driver while mayor emerging earlier that day, and complete with a barn-burner of a crowd-warmer speech by failed mayoral candidate and former big-time hash dealer Doug Ford, a man who has publicly expressed interest – during this very election campaign! – in taking Stephen Harper’s job if the Cons should happen to lose.

I mean, at a certain point, words fail. “Absurd” doesn’t really cut it, does it?

It must speak to the desperation within the Harper camp. They’re obviously hoping that some of that Ford Nation magic will rub off on their campaign, which is questionable logic to me. How many hardcore Ford fanatics were thinking of not voting Conservative?

At this point, Harper’s trying every trick he can think of to cling to power. This week, the Cons called in all their favours with Postmedia and the Thompson family to secure across-the-board endorsements from virtually every major daily in the country, including the single most absurd endorsement of all time, in which the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives while calling for Stephen Harper’s resignation.

Following up on the furor over the seemingly bought-and-paid-for endorsements, today people in cities across Canada woke up to newspapers wrapped in full-page ads in the style of Elections Canada notices proclaiming that “Voting Liberal will cost you“: Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: TPP fails to make an impact, is still important anyway

Last week I typed my weekly summary of the election news amid the ongoing TPP negotiations, and rumours were flying that a deal was imminently going to be announced, or, alternatively, that talks were irrevocably breaking down.

As it turned out, neither rumour was true. It wasn’t until mid-morning the next day that exhausted negotiators and trade ministers trumpeted the successful conclusion of the secretive deal.

The focus of my piece last week was the parties’ and media’s divided focus between issues of substance, like the TPP, and race-baiting sideshows like the niqab debate. It’s unfortunate but true that race-baiting sells more newspapers, drives more traffic, and quite likely mobilizes more voters than does in-depth discussions of trade policy, and so it was no surprise to see the initial fanfare surrounding the TPP’s completion quickly give way to yet more discussion of the niqab, with the Prime Minister telling the CBC’s Rosemary Barton that the Conservative Party is looking into proposing a ban on public servants wearing niqabs. The statement came in an interview which purportedly focussed on the economy and the TPP’s passage, and yet Harper’s off-hand comment dominated a few news cycles and provoked even more hysteria and outrage.

And so while Thomas Mulcair still insistently points out his party’s nominal opposition to the deal (about which more later), and while Harper frequently mentions it as a major accomplishment, the TPP’s impact on the campaign so far seems to have been negligible. It’s been largely absent from the leading headlines of the day, and if its passage impacted anybody’s poll numbers, it did so in such a minor way as to be unnoticeable.

Since then, we’ve learned relatively little about the actual terms of the agreement – but the little we’ve learned has been dispiriting. Wikileaks managed to get its hands on what appears to be the final version of the chapter on intellectual property, which is every bit as horrendous as critics had feared. OpenMedia described it in almost apocalyptic terms:

Internet freedom group OpenMedia warns that the leak confirms Internet advocates greatest fears, including: new provisions that would induce Internet Service Providers to block websites without a court ruling, 20-year copyright term extensions, and new criminal penalties for the circumvention of digital locks. Reacting to the leak, OpenMedia’s Digital Rights Specialist Meghan Sali had this to say:

“Canadians are going to see their democratically-created laws over-written in favour of laws that benefit giant, U.S. media conglomerates and censor the Internet,” Sali said. “And while the government has been busy trying to convince Canadians of the so-called benefits of this pact, they’ve silently traded away our digital future behind closed doors.”

Meanwhile, the costs to Canadian businesses embedded in the deal are still shrouded in mystery, although a couple of preemptive bailouts of major industries don’t bode particularly well for the country’s economic prospects under this new economic order. Prime Minister Harper promised an unconditional bailout of the dairy industry in a shameless attempt to buy the votes of farmers; they’re guaranteed to be compensated for losses of any kind, not just losses resulting from the implementation of this sick excuse for a trade deal. This bailout is certain to be embraced by many dairy farmers, given the massive collapse in Canadians’ consumption of milk over the past two decades. What Harper’s dairy bailout accomplishes, aside from political damage control, is essentially a massive subsidization of an increasingly unpopular industry – one which has a surprising amount of political clout, as animal rights activist and farmer Yan Roberts points out: Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: The TPP and the niqab fight for centre stage

As we enter the final two weeks of the longest election campaign in living memory, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on a stunning contrast.

For the past four days, negotiators from the twelve nations participating in the super-secretive Trans Pacific Partnership have been feverishly bargaining in Atlanta, Georgia, straining to get a deal done. As The Alfalfafield goes to the presses for the day, the rumours are that a deal is close, but we’ve heard these rumours before many times. (For those readers who aren’t up to speed on the TPP, here’s my summary from back in July, as well as more coverage from The Alfalfafield on the subject.)

The plain truth of the matter is that until every detail is worked out, everything could fall apart – and that’s my abiding hope. However, the steady drumbeat of upbeat rumours and selective leaks from insiders suggests that the principal negotiators want to at least create the impression of progress. The Japanese trade minister has apparently made it clear that he’s leaving Atlanta tonight for a long-scheduled meeting in Turkey tomorrow, so there’s a sense of now-or-never-ness to the whole affair. It’s preposterous that trade ministers who have in many cases gone several nights without sleep are being pressured to make concessions that will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people and swell the profits of major international corporations on the basis of a man’s need to catch his flight on time, but such is the reality of the TPP. When you take a step back and look at it, the whole process is damned illogical.

After months of being a softly-simmering back burner story, over the past few weeks the TPP has stepped into the spotlight of Canadian news. But as I wrote earlier this week, the media’s focus has been narrowly focussed on the two under-negotiation issues of changes to Canada’s system of supply management in dairy farming and restrictions on the sourcing of auto parts, with precious little mention of the deeply problematic aspects of the agreement which have been public knowledge for quite some time: Continue Reading

The Unkillable Trans Pacific Partnership

This is one of those times that I hate being right.

A few weeks back, with negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership on the rocks after representatives from Japan and the NAFTA countries failed to reach an agreement on auto policy, some pundits were saying that a deal this year was now looking impossible, given the election timelines in various TPP member countries. But I wasn’t so sure:

Given how high the stakes are and how close the deal is to slipping away, I have a funny feeling that we’re going to see some desperate last-minute negotiations. And if Harper slips in the polls, it wouldn’t be surprising if he thought that cobbling together a “major trade deal” in the final weeks of the election campaign was the path to victory. Never mind about what’s actually in the damn thing – the public won’t get to read it, by some accounts, until four years after it’s ratified.

If you’re attending all-candidate meeting or if you get your door knocked by canvassers, please consider bringing up the TPP. And for all our sake, don’t vote for any candidate who supports this terrible deal. Meanwhile, watch out for a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon sometime within the next two to three weeks. There’s too much potential profit on the table for the major players in this negotiation to let this opportunity slip away.

Literally two and a half weeks later, we’re on the eve of – guess what? – a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Substance and logic the big losers in last night’s debate

I watched the whole damn thing.

Really I did. Without the aid of intoxicants, I sat through a painful hour and a half of shouting, statistics, and (old) stock lines from the leaders of the Big Three Parties.

I even took notes!

Looking back over them now, I can see with more perspective how utterly incoherent the evening was, how jumpy. How each subject was dealt with perfunctorily, with the utmost brevity. How the super-liminal branding by the Globe and Mail was a hideous distraction, as was the ominously dark and distorted and angled and looming false-colour photo of the Parliament Buildings that they inexplicably selected as a backdrop. How much goddamn squabbling and shouting and incoherent crosstalk there was.

Some sample quotes from my hasty scribbles:

  • “TOTAL INCOHERENCE ON TAX RATES. They’re all wrong.
  • “Mulcair: ‘Harper dodged the question!’ Then he dodges his question.”
  • Fear-mongering! Lies!”
  • “Harper: Canada: it’s not great, but it’s as good as it gets!”
  • Child care is Mulcair’s answer to the housing bubble?!?!”
  • “Trudeau keeps saying ‘top 1%’ – I guess the focus groups liked that line?”
  • “SQUABBLE SQUABBLE!”

Upon further reflection, I think taking notes was a waste of time. Continue Reading

The Great Leap Forward – it sounds great on paper, but how do we get there from here?

If you haven’t heard about the Leap Manifesto yet, and you’re concerned about the future of humanity in the face of myriad challenges, challenges which are corporate, environmental, and white-cis-het-patriarcho-supremacist, then perhaps you could go take a look at it.

(I tried to pick a section to highlight and quote here, but it was all too reasonable and on point. So I’ll wait here while you read it.)

OK. So. A concrete plan for a transformation of the Canadian economy and political system and energy infrastructure and racial relations and worker/capitalist relations, all in the name of making Earth more habitable and life more enjoyable in both the short and long term.

Sounds great, right?

So why in the hell haven’t we been hearing more about this kind of thing from, I don’t know, ANY MAJOR POLITICIAN?

Funny you should ask…

Here’s the thing. We’ve never had any shortage of great ideas in terms of how we should radically transform the world to make it more inclusive, equitable, environmentally sustainable, racially just. Plans to conclusively end poverty once and for all have been kicking around for a century or more. And I’m not saying that these ideas and plans and schemes and manifestos have been ill-informed or poorly designed or unworkable in practice.

It’s just that, well… Continue Reading

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

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

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

This week in Electionland: There’s a war on for the soul of the NDP

ALSO: Duffygate and the things it distracted from; the Liberals struggle to stay relevant; campaign coverage is increasingly a story that’s being covered

For months, this week has been circled in red on the calendars of Cdnpoli nerds across the country. Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper’s one-time chief of staff, was scheduled to testify this week in the ongoing Mike Duffy trial about the $90 000 personal cheque he wrote the then-senator in an effort to make the rapidly metastasizing scandal surrounding Duffy’s residency expenses go away. The scheme backfired spectacularly, leading to Wright’s resignation from the PMO. Ultimately, Duffy was charged with bribery for accepting the cheque, although Wright, oddly enough, was never charged with anything for writing the cheque.

And, as expected, the testimony was contentious and scandal-ridden. Stretching over several days, and set to continue tomorrow, the Wright testimony has been a centrepiece of the still-young campaign, with Duffy’s legal team seeking to demonstrate that the Prime Minister’s Office sought to buy Duffy’s cooperation in their messaging war and attempted to deceive the Canadian people about the source of the funds Duffy paid back to the government.

But surprisingly, the real story of the week, at least from where I was sitting, was the increasingly visible internal struggle in the NDP.

Long-time NDP leftist stalwarts have been distressed by the rightward drift of the party over recent years – look at, for instance, the open letter from 34 prominent NDP members to Andrea Horwath in the midst of last year’s Ontario election campaign accusing the party leader of abandoning its base and running to the right of the Liberals in an ill-conceived attempt to win over Conservative voters. Up until this week, the federal NDP had been able to keep a tight lid on internal dissent over its increasingly neoliberal policies, but attacks against the party from within shot to prominence in recent days.

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.

For instance, when he launched his campaign autobiography (which he apparently wrote on his BlackBerry, amazingly) in Toronto on Monday, the book-signing was interrupted by anti-pipeline activists who briefly shut the event down before they were escorted out. Speaking to reporters about the incident, Mulcair had this to say: Continue Reading

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