Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Swing-State Voters Favor Taxing The Rich To Lower Deficit: Poll

WASHINGTON -- Republicans may find a resolution to make the rich share more of the pain in debt-reduction "rather pathetic," but new survey data suggest voters in swing states favor the idea -- strongly.

Poll data by the Democratic-aligned Public Policy Polling released Wednesday said voters in Ohio, Missouri, Montana and Minnesota back hiking taxes on the wealthy -- even for people with incomes as low as $150,000.

The respondents were asked: "In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose raising taxes on those with incomes over $1,000,000 a year?"

Nearly 80 percent of voters in the four states backed the idea.

The new poll comes a day after Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) labeled Senate Democrats' efforts to pass a non-binding resolution expressing that sentiment "pathetic."

But the poll, commissioned by a number of liberal groups including and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, aims to support legislation that would not just support tax hikes, but actually enact hikes larger than many Democrats have been willing to back.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) aims to hike tax rates on income over $1 million to 45 percent and set rates as high as 49 percent for income over $1 billion. The top rate is currently at 35 percent. At the end of the Clinton administration, it was 39.6 percent.

Dean Baker, an economist with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, estimated that such rates would have a huge impact on the deficit in 10 years, while leaving other taxes and rates on the upper middle class on down untouched.

"Instead of cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits, lawmakers could pass the Schakowsky millionaire's tax and raise about a trillion dollars," Baker said.

Republicans have insisted repeatedly that the only option for cutting the debt is cutting spending, and have been adamant that raising revenues should not be part of the equation.

"Making the rich pay higher tax rates is both overwhelmingly popular and necessary in these tough economic times," said PCCC co-founder Adam Green. "Cutting life-saving programs while saying new tax rates for the rich are off the table is an extreme position, completely out of step with the majority of Americans."

To back their argument, PCCC sent an email blast nationwide asking members to contact their senators and tell them to back Reid's resolution -- and the actual tax-hikes.

"Majority Leader Harry Reid is putting every senator on the record -- he's called for a vote in favor of raising taxes on the rich this week," the email said.

"Can you call your Senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, right now and ask them to vote yes?," said the version of the message sent to The Huffington Post.

Both senators have backed a more limited millionaire's tax before. Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered a measure last year to restore the Clinton-era tax rates for millionaires and billionaires, but it failed before President Obama cut a deal with the GOP to leave the Bush-era cuts in place for two more years. Sens. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Schumer are also backers of the Reid resolution.

Source: Huffington 

Yellowstone Oil Spill: Exxon Mobil Took Longer To Seal Pipeline Than Publicy Disclosed

LAUREL, Mont. -- Federal documents show it took Exxon Mobil nearly twice as long as it publicly disclosed to fully seal a pipeline that spilled roughly 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.

Details about the company's response to the Montana pipeline burst emerged late Tuesday as the Department of Transportation ordered the company bury the duct deeper beneath the riverbed, where it is buried 5 to 8 feet underground to deliver 40,000 barrels of oil a day to a refinery in Billings.

The federal agency's records indicate the pipeline was not fully shut down for 56 minutes after the break occurred Friday near Laurel. That's longer than the 30 minutes that company officials claimed Tuesday in a briefing with federal officials and Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

An Exxon Mobil spokesman said the longer time span was based on information provided to the agency by the company and the discrepancy might have come about because Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing was speaking without any notes in front of him when he addressed Schweitzer.

"Clearly our communication with the regulator (DOT) is the one that we've got precision on," spokesman Alan Jeffers said.

It was not the first time the company offered clarification of its response and assessment of the spill. A day earlier, the company acknowledged under political pressure that the leak's impact could extend far beyond a 10-mile stretch of the river it initially said was the most affected area. The company had earlier downplayed government officials' assertions that damage was spread over dozens of miles.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Budget Battles Force One-Sided Compromises

The national calls for “shared sacrifice” during these times of austerity presuppose that giant corporations like Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil share the same amount of privilege and power as, say, your grandmother.

If the upper one percent has to pay slightly more taxes, say the GOP and some Democrats, including the president, then octogenarians have to say bon voyage to their traditional Social Security and Medicare payments.

It remains to be seen if the GOP is willing to meet President Obama halfway on his plans to tax the wealthy at slightly higher rates. Even if the president did get the GOP to acquiesce in this one area, the lavishly rich would still be taxed at historically low rates (no one is seriously considering going back to Eisenhower’s 91 percent, or Nixon’s 70 percent).

Basically, this is all a fight to go from 35 percent to the Clinton-era 39 percent top marginal rates. A four percent increase simply doesn’t carry the same punch as significantly gutting the social safety net for the poor majority. A single mother of four is going to feel the toll of dwindling food stamps way, way more than a hedge fund manager is going to feel the miniature tax creep—if it happens at all.

Yet, this narrative of “shared sacrifice”—as if all parties are equally sacrificing their means—has fully permeated the national discourse.

Nowhere is this kind of one-sided compromise more apparent than the funding chaos that just ensued in New Jersey. Using his line-item veto authority, Governor Christie hacked away at the Democrat-controlled legislature’s spending plan, slashing $900 million from the budget.

Christie nixed healthcare funding for low-income workers, tax credits for the working poor, and money for AIDS relief and mental health services, yet he managed to add funds ($150 million) for some of the wealthiest towns in the state.

The governor’s attack against the poor follows his recent signing of a law that limits the ability of New Jersey’s public employees to collectively bargain for healthcare benefits, and cuts the paychecks of those workers in order to increase their contributions towards healthcare plans and pensions.

The state Democrats laid down during this vicious attack on the working poor in the spirit of bipartisanship, naturally. Sharing the sacrifice, and what not. Of course, then the Democrats were simply shocked—shocked!—that a Republican governor, who they had just sold out their own party in order to support, would then turn around and stab them in the back. Senate President Stephen Sweeney furiously spat that Christie was a “bully” and a “punk,” and that he wanted to “punch him in his head.”

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Jobs

Like the country it governs, Washington, DC, is a city of extremes. In a car, you can zip in bare moments from northwest DC, its streets lined with million-dollar homes and palatial embassies, its inhabitants sporting one of the nation's lowest jobless rates, to Anacostia, a mostly forgotten neighborhood in southeastern DC with one of the highest unemployment rates anywhere in America. Or, if you happen to be jobless, upset about it, and living in that neighborhood, on a crisp morning in March you could have joined an angry band of protesters marching on the nearby 11th Street Bridge.

They weren't looking for trouble. They were looking for work.

Those protesters, most of them black, chanted and hoisted signs that read "DC JOBS FOR DC RESIDENTS" and "JOBS OR ELSE." The target of their outrage: contractors hired to replace the very bridge under their feet, a $300 million project that will be one of the largest in District history. The problem: Few DC citizens, which means few African Americans, had so far been hired. "It's deplorable," insisted civil rights attorney Donald Temple, " can find men from West Virginia to work in DC. You can find men from Maryland to work in DC. And you can find men from Virginia to work in DC. But you can't find men and women in DC to work in DC."

The 11th Street Bridge arches over the slow-flowing Anacostia River, connecting the poverty-stricken, largely black Anacostia neighborhood with the rest of the District. By foot the distance is small; in opportunity and wealth, it couldn't be larger. At one end of the bridge the economy is booming even amid a halting recovery and jobs crisis. At the other end, hard times, always present, are worse than ever.

Live in Washington long enough and you'll hear someone mention "east of the river." That's DC's version of "the other side of the tracks," the place friends warn against visiting late at night or on your own. It's home to District Wards 7 and 8, neighborhoods with a long, rich history. Once known as Uniontown, Anacostia was one of the District's first suburbs; Frederick Douglass, nicknamed the "Sage of Anacostia," once lived there, as did the poet Ezra Pound and singer Marvin Gaye. Today the area's unemployment rate is officially nearly 20 percent. District-wide, it's 9.8 percent, a figure that drops as low as 3.6 percent in the whiter, more-affluent northwestern suburbs.

DC's divide is America's writ large. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for black workers at 16.2 percent is almost double the 9.1 percent rate for the rest of the population. And it's twice the 8 percent white jobless rate.

The size of those numbers can, in part, be chalked up to the current jobs crisis in which black workers are being decimated. According to Duke University public-policy expert William Darity, that means blacks are "the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there's a downturn, they're the first to be released."

That may account for the soaring numbers of unemployed African Americans, but not the yawning chasm between the black and white employment rates, which is no artifact of the present moment. It's a problem that spans generations, goes remarkably unnoticed, and condemns millions of black Americans to a life of scraping by. That unerring, unchanging gap between white and black employment figures goes back at least 60 years. It should be a scandal, but whether on Capitol Hill or in the media it gets remarkably little attention. Ever.

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones 

Michele Bachmann’s Marcus Bachmann Problem

Politico's James Hohmann published a story Tuesday on the unique role of Rep. Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus, on the campaign trail. Aside from the obvious points about how he's had to pick up the slack on the home front since his wife left for Washington, the piece notes a few of the recent controversies that could become "liabilities" on the campaign trail—namely, the fact that his family farm received subsidies, and that his Christian therapy practice accepted Medicaid funding.

That might be a stretch. The fact that Marcus Bachmann received farm subsidies is bad because they're the kind of government handout the candidate loves to hate, but it's really not the kind of thing that sways voters—especially when you consider that a lot of Republican primary voters also receive farm subsidies. There is one part of the Marcus Bachmann story, though, that is already becoming an issue for the Bachmann campaign.
In addition to the fairly commonplace practice of accepting Medicaid payments, Bachmann's Christian therapy clinic has also been accused of dabbling in something called "conversion" or "reparative" therapy, in which gay people are supposedly cured of their gayness through steady doses of prayer. The American Psychiatric Association does not endorse "conversion therapy" and has suggested it might have damaging mental health consequences. But as Hohmann's story notes, Marcus Bachmann is not a member of any of Minnesota's three major professional organizations for psychologists. For Marcus Bachmann, this is bigger than science; it's a moral imperative. Gays, he has said, are like "barbarians" that need to be "disciplined."

That's extreme, and in a post-DADT, Cuomosexual world, it's only going to become increasingly more so (even Focus on the Family has conceded that the younger generations feel differently about things like gay marriage). Because Michele has identified Marcus as her top adviser, he's fair game for the criticism that would undoubtedly pour out if, say, top strategist Ed Rollins had said the same thing. Marcus Bachmann is the kind of character that candidates normally wouldn't think twice about throwing under the bus, or at least keeping their distance from, once they've finally made it. But that's obviously not possible.

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones 

Conservative Fundraising: Tories Trounce Liberals By $10 Million

THE CANADIAN PRESS — OTTAWA - When the Conservatives are kicking your butt by $10 million in fundraising each year, it might be time to try something new.

For the Liberals, that something new is ripping a page — or rather a letter — right out of the Conservative play book.

Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Tuesday his party is going to start more targeted appeals for contributions.

The Tories have perfected that strategy over the years by sending out letters to party members and others, asking them for support in pushing specific policy issues.

For example, they've used the threat of a political coalition on the left, their campaign for the abolition of the gun registry, as well as a distinctly pro-Israel foreign policy, to gather cash.

Rae said the Liberals are turning themselves into a "professional fundraising organization," and following the example of successful parties inside and outside Canada.

"The one clear message that we get from everybody is that dollars follow message and dollars follow commitment and dollars follow particularly things that people are engaging in," Rae said.

"And that's really where we have to strengthen our capacity to connect with Canadians, and say, look if you're really interested in protecting health care, if you're really interested in ... having a set of policies which take a different view to the lock 'em up, throw away the key that's being presented by Mr. Harper, then help us to do it."

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

East Africa Drought Threatens 10 Million, Say Aid Groups

OTTAWA - A coalition of aid groups is urging Canadians and the government to help stop an escalating humanitarian crisis that threatens the lives of 10 million East Africans.

Five of Canada's largest relief agencies, operating under the banner of the Humanitarian Coalition, are making the appeal in the face of what the UN is calling East Africa's worst drought in over 60 years.

The coalition says a devastating lack of rain has reduced livestock, incomes and food supplies, causing food prices to skyrocket and exacerbating an already-precarious situation.

CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Quebec, Plan Canada and Save the Children Canada are uniting to raise funds for safe drinking water, food, health-and-nutrition services, shelter materials and family support.

Patricia Erb, head of Save the Children Canada, says the situation in East Africa is "dire."

She says aid groups and their supporters must act now to prevent the loss of thousands of lives to malnutrition and dehydration.

"Infants and children are especially vulnerable," Erb said in a statement. "Their survival depends on all of us — aid agencies, governments and the public — working together."

Emergency relief operations are ramping up to meet the region's increasing needs, including those of thousands of refugees. More than 1,000 are arriving in Kenyan refugee camps daily, said CARE Canada's Kevin McCort.

"Organizations are scaling up programs in Kenya, and throughout the affected region, but resources are strained," McCort said.
"Support is urgently needed to ensure people continue to receive the life-saving support they need."

The Humanitarian Coalition has a combined presence in more than 120 countries.

Source: Huffington  

Cancer Society Spends More On Fundraising Than Research

CBC — An Ontario cancer researcher is concerned that the Canadian Cancer Society has proportionally shifted funding away from research and is spending more of its dollars on fundraising and administration costs.

"Most scientists don’t realize that the budget has been going up and up, and donations have been growing, but the budget for research has been shrinking," said Brian Lichty, a researcher at McMaster University who is looking into treating cancer with viruses that kill tumours. "So they are surprised and disappointed when they find out that this is the case, and the trend."

CBC's Marketplace analyzed the Canadian Cancer Society’s financial reports dating back a dozen years. It discovered that each year, as the society raised more dollars, the proportion of money it spent on research dropped dramatically — from 40.3 per cent in 2000 to under 22 per cent in 2011.

Watch a video report

The amount of money spent on research has increased slightly over the years, but as a portion of the Cancer Society’s growing budget, it's almost been cut in half.

Lichty and some of his colleagues set up an information booth at this year's annual Relay for Life fundraiser in Ancaster, Ont., to raise awareness about the drop in funding for research at the Canadian Cancer Society. Over the years, his research team has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the society, but he’s not afraid to criticize it now.

"Cancer researchers are spending a lot of their time, or most of their time, trying to figure out how to get the money to fund their research, rather than actually doing research," Lichty said.

"And it has become a much bigger portion of what our day-to-day activities amount to."

Marketplace asked the Canadian Cancer Society for an on-camera interview, but it declined, instead responding by email:

"While funding cancer research is a crucial part of the society’s work, we also have profound responsibilities to do everything we can to reduce the risk of Canadians ever developing cancer and to provide meaningful support to people living with cancer."

But when Marketplace scrutinized the financial reports, it found that a greater percentage of funds was not being directed toward support, information and advocacy.

Instead, the reports reveal that the area that’s getting the greatest portion of donor dollars is fundraising, up from 26 per cent of all monies raised in 2000, to 42.7 per cent in 2011.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Attacks on Pride: An open letter to Toronto Councillors

Dear Councillors,

I am sure you have many other things to do with your time apart from endlessly debating the issues of Israeli Apartheid and its positioning within Toronto Pride. I have appealed to you before but do so once more as in July 1st's daily Israeli newpaper, Ha'aretz, Irwin Cotler (Canadian MP, co-founder of the Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Antisemitism and former justice minister) has finally put this argument to rest when he states unequivocally that criticism of Israel as an apartheid state is within the bounds of legitimate discourse. While my Jewish voice and those of countless others did not allay your fears in this regard, I hope the man who has led the charge not only against antisemitism in Canada, but who coined the phrase "the new antisemitism," can allow cooler heads to prevail.

I have written to you before as a member of the Jewish community and the gay community, as someone who has fought for justice my whole life, be it for Jewish rights, gay rights or, now, justice in Palestine. What being Jewish (and gay) has taught me is to fight for the rights of others, not only my own.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, Councillor James Pasternak and Councillor Doug Ford, I hope you are listening: Cotler has suggested that it is not only legitimate criticism, but it is an important principle of democratic speech. Neither you Councillor Mammoliti, nor you Councillor Ford, nor your brother Rob, the Mayor, have terrific records when it comes to defending LGBT rights in this city, and it is becoming more and more clear to most of us that any problem with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid has become a ruse to defund Pride (and no doubt other minority cultural organizations to follow).

Councillor Mammoliti, you claim that "hate groups" (read the article here) however, I do not believe that as a Jew of conscience I have been participating in a "hate group") and "politics" have no place in parades, yet to be clear, you fund Pride as a cultural organization. Also to be more clear, your own city staff and manager have told you that the term Israel Apartheid DOES NOT contravene city policy. Now, Councillor Pasternak, I understand you want to change that policy (although you all voted unanimously to adopt the report) but again, I suggest you read Mr. Cotler's views on that -- he has a few years experience when it comes to antisemitism and the law. I too have fought antisemitism in this city, when neo-Nazis David Irving, Ernst Zundel and the like, were active here in Toronto.

Banning/threatening Pride because of a group, many of whom are Jewish, that criticizes Israeli state policy, cannot be compared to the real work of ridding a city of discrimination and antisemitism. These charges are clearly wrongheaded and dangerous thinking.

Councillor Mammoliti perhaps it is also unclear to you that the way Pride and many other institutions came to be is exactly through "activism," "politics" and engagement in civil rights. You would not have an anti-discrimination policy if it were not for the tireless work of the Dudley Laws in this city or the Doug Stewarts (Black Cap) or, frankly, the Tim McCaskells (of the Toronto Board of Education, Aids Action Now and now QuAIA) or Tony Souzas (also of QuAIA, founder of Gay Asians Toronto etc). Frankly, your homophobic comments over the years do not make you a great candidate to take on this debate. It's hard for most of us not to have suspicions that perhaps you have another agenda.

As for Team Ford, it's hard for us there as well not to think that with Rob Ford's absence from ALL Pride events and with the upcoming deficit we are now facing (which you admitted on 640 talk radio was indeed one of the concerns re-funding of Pride), that this isn't about antisemitism, hate or anything of the sort, but rather a reason to slash culture funding wherever you can (and maybe with a smattering of homophobia?). I mean, what else can we think with your voting record on LGBT issues?

I urge you to drop the witch hunt against the LGBT community and the larger agenda to defund Pride (and no doubt other city cultural events) and to calm the rhetoric. Do we really want to be a city that doesn't allow the expression of political opinions, in or outside of parades, marches, cultural events? TIFF, which you support generously, has a political position many times a day with films that espouse them from all over the world, so too Luminato, Caribbana, etc. And they are not all opinions you personally (or other constituents) might find "tasteful." The LGBT community has always had strong opinions on many matters, some specifically LGBT related, some about unions, and even some about the military. This is what makes for democracy.

Finally, if you think we are successful and affluent enough to be able to fund ourselves (as Councillor Mammoliti also stated in several interviews), then perhaps we should take our parade elsewhere (or let it die) and all the millions of dollars we bring with it. You might have quite a few very angry businessman and taxpayers when you have to add those lost millions to the deficit. And to be even-handed, you will have to cut off TIFF and Luminato and all the other cultural events that make this city not only great, but frankly put even more dollars in your coffers. A city without culture is not only dead but poorer in all senses of the word.

You cannot begin to cherry-pick with culture; policing the speech and actions of the LGBT community is not part of your job any more than deciding which films get played at TIFF or what plays happen in the theatres. Funding culture with the knowledge that it pays back tremendously is what is fiscally and morally responsible and hence part of your jobs as Toronto city councillors. We are your gravy.


You Spill What You Drill

The frequency of oil spills suggests a deep-seated problem in the energy industry.

Oil spills have made a lot of headlines in the last year. And yet, while I knew about the BP spill in the Gulf, Enbridge’s pipeline spill in Michigan, and the 12 spills from the brand new Keystone pipeline carrying oil from the tar sands to the United States, I intimately felt the impact of the 28,000 barrels of oil that, at the end of April this year, leaked from the Rainbow pipeline in northern Alberta in the biggest spill that Alberta has seen in almost 40 years.

The Rainbow spill literally hit home for me, because that oil was soaking into the traditional lands of my people, the Lubicon Cree. It poisoned the air, water, and soils of the community of Little Buffalo, where I was born, and where my family and friends still live.

I was furious that Plains All American, the company that owns the pipeline, kept pumping dirty tar sands oil for five hours after first detecting the leak, and that it took four days for Alberta regulators to officially notify my community of the spill. And I was frustrated, though not surprised, that Alberta government officials were dismissing reports of community members feeling sick from the noxious odors, and of how school had been suspended due to health concerns.

And yet, as devastating as those local impacts are, it would be a mistake to see this as an isolated incident. A week before the Rainbow spill, Kinder Morgan had to shut down its Trans Mountain oil pipeline after what the company deemed “a small amount” of oil (with no further explanation) spilled into a farmer’s field. And, a few days after the Rainbow spill, there was a major spill from the Enbridge pipeline in the Northwest Territories. This spill was originally downplayed as just four barrels’ worth of oil, but the company later admitted that it could be as much as 1,500 barrels’ worth, spilling forth from an opening the size of a pinhole, which their monitoring equipment couldn’t detect. In late June, we saw another pipeline leak and explosion in northwestern Alberta, and, just this past weekend, another Exxon Mobil pipeline spilled an estimated 42,000 gallons of oil in Montana.

One time can be called an accident. Twice may be a mere coincidence. But five times (or 12 times, as in the case of the Keystone pipeline) shows signs that there’s a much bigger problem. That is what is being recognized south of the border, where a recent bit of investigative reporting uncovered how pipeline operators’ funding of safety research has skewed research priorities and enabled pipeline operators to mold federal- and state-level safety rules in a way that has enhanced corporate profits at the expense of protecting the public from dangerous pipelines.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

A Hard Landing for Collective Bargaining

If any further evidence is needed to prove that Canada’s federal industrial relations are in desperate need of repair, we don’t have to look further than the recent labour dispute at Air Canada.

Negotiations took place over four months. Talks were fuelled by aggressive and ambitious company demands for significant cuts. At the same time, members of the CAW union were determined to make long overdue gains after a decade of sacrifice.

There is no question that these were difficult negotiations. Unfortunately, they were made more difficult by external factors that were well beyond the union’s control.

For starters, Air Canada didn’t shy away from making plans to hire replacement workers (scabs) in the event of a work stoppage. Under the Canada Labour Code – the legislative text that governs federal labour relations – companies are within their right to do this, often to the detriment of workers.

Most employers don’t venture down this path. In fact, hiring scabs is illegal in the provinces of Quebec and British Columbia. Replacement workers create animosity, often fuelling anger and violence on strike lines. Their employment also creates a chilling effect on bargaining.

In light of this, it’s not surprising that the final hours of contract talks – often the most critical time in any negotiation – were bogged down. Insincere discussions over outstanding issues got us no closer to reaching a deal, and at this point we were not far apart in many of our views. With a company contingency plan already in place, and scabs scheduled to work, negotiations were destined to fail. We were bargaining with a company that had no real sense of urgency.

Despite labour unions and supporters’ constant efforts to establish federal legislation that bans the use of replacement workers, the Harper government only turns a blind eye. The Conservatives seem content to watch workers take part in a senseless game of chicken with very large and well-resourced employers that have little to lose.

As scabs filled in behind Air Canada customer-service desks on the first day of a three-day strike, the company boldly reassured the public that things were “business-as-usual.” Yet, only hours after the strike began, Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt signalled the Harper government’s intent to force Air Canada employees back to work through legislation – even though a final settlement was well within reach. In her words, the strike posed a threat to Canada’s economic recovery. Frankly, that was a bogus claim.

Back-to-work legislation is a last resort in the face of major economic and social disruption. In this case, it was an ideologically driven knee-jerk reaction to a situation under total control. Workers were rightfully upset. Forcing workers back on the job and then imposing an arbitrated settlement not only fuels discontent, but also undercuts collective bargaining and workplace democracy.

The strike at Air Canada may not have happened if there had been a ban on replacement workers. Also, I’ve little doubt that the Harper government’s absurd and heavy-handed back-to-work legislation will set a dangerous precedent for future interventions in federal negotiations. This legislation contained language suspiciously consistent with the employer’s demands around flexibility and cost-competitiveness, the merits of which are entirely debatable.

These moves send a clear signal that the government is more intent on attacking workers’ rights than on working to strengthen the important institution of collective bargaining. With Harper’s new majority government, it seems as though things are destined to get worse.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

The Wrong Road to Senate Reform

If we want serious change to the upper house, we need to take it out of politicians' hands.

Reform of the Canadian Senate is long overdue. A respected, elected second house of Parliament is needed now, more than ever, to ensure that diverse regional concerns are well-articulated and integrated into national action. This is essential if Canada is to deal with critical 21st-century challenges and ensure the presence of a respected Canadian voice in world affairs.

Yet the Conservative government is misleading Canadians into believing that mere tinkering with a Senate structure dating back to the 19th century – establishing nine-year term limits and à la carte elections – is sufficient. The New Democrats and some provincial premiers, on the other hand, are suggesting that outright abolition of the Senate is even better. Both the government and Official Opposition are conspiring to dumb down a very important debate affecting the fundamental nature of the Canadian federation and our coherence as a nation. The choice between a partially reformed Senate and no Senate is really not a choice at all: Both options lead to an increasingly dysfunctional and discredited Parliament.

Senate reform is too important a component of any serious plan for improving the functioning of Canadian democracy to be left to the legislative fiat of shortsighted politicians. Rather, the people of Canada must be directly engaged in the debate over this vital issue, and must ultimately be consulted through a national referendum.

Due to an insufficient amount of democratic legitimacy in Senate, our national leaders have increasingly deferred to provincial premiers on matters of national concern in unaccountable federal-provincial negotiations. The national interest is too often equated with the haphazard sum of disparate provincial-government interests, dependent on highly improbable provincial-government co-operation for even the minimum national standards or actions.

The result is a lack of national action on climate change, an increasing patchwork of health-care policies, the absence of a national clean-energy strategy, a crumbling national infrastructure, and a stalemate on pension reform. This ongoing drift toward national incoherence has not only failed Canadians, but has also led to Canada’s increasing insignificance on the global stage. Among other things, we are ignored during international climate-change discussions, and are no longer considered worthy of a UN Security Council seat. Furthermore, with our recent infamous UN vote blocking the addition of asbestos to the list of hazardous chemicals, we have relegated Canada to the sidelines of history on this issue, further devaluing the Canadian perspective on the international stage.

We need to re-imagine a more robust elected Senate that provides a valuable counterweight to the purely provincialist perspective voiced by individual premiers in current federal-provincial forums. To this end, we have to consider the role of the Senate in representing regional concerns in a more imaginative and truly democratic way. The Senate is not meant to represent the interests of regional economic and political elites as defined by provincial governments.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

Kansas Abortion Rules Spark Patient Privacy Fears

TOPEKA, Kan. — Abortion-rights supporters worried Tuesday that regulations Kansas is trying to enact would give the state health department unfettered access to patient medical records and suggested it could endanger the privacy of women who have terminated pregnancies.

Supporters of the new rules called such concerns unfounded because state law contains protections against patient information becoming public. One anti-abortion leader said the abortion providers and their allies are trying to stir up privacy fears to avoid scrutiny of their operations.

A new Kansas law requiring abortion providers to obtain a special annual license – and the accompanying health department regulations – are part of a wave of new restrictions enacted across the country. Abortion opponents capitalized on the election of Republican governors or large GOP legislative majorities; Kansas has both. The state also previously drew national attention for a fierce debate over medical records and abortion patients' privacy when an attorney general investigated clinics.

The new regulations took effect Friday, but a federal judge blocked their enforcement until a lawsuit involving two of the state's three abortion providers is resolved. The rules specify what drugs and equipment they must stock and set standards for room sizes and temperatures, among other things. The judge also blocked the new licensing law.

One regulation says "all records shall be available at the facility for inspection" by the secretary of health and environment or his staff. Abortion-rights advocates said giving such access allows health department officials to review highly personal information, and they don't trust Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration because he is a strong opponent of abortion.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Mitch McConnell Chides President Obama For Not Accepting GOP Debt Arguments, Invitation

WASHINGTON -- Democratic and Republican negotiators tasked with working on debt negotiations sounded as far apart as ever Tuesday on a deal to keep America's bills paid -- but they agree they want the President to pay them a visit to move things along.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's sudden request for President Obama to drop by for lunch was spurned by the White House, so McConnell invited him again Tuesday afternoon.

“My hope, as I made clear, was that he would listen to Republicans and hear firsthand why we think raising taxes in a weak economy is a bad idea and what the realities are over here," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

“My goal, as I said on Thursday, was to get together and talk about what’s actually possible," he said. "The Obama administration said it wasn’t 'a conversation worth having.’ Republicans in Congress believe that finding a way to reduce the deficit and put Medicare on more secure footing is a conversation worth having. So today I’d like to re-extend the offer."

White House spokesman Jay Carney actually said that it wasn't "worth" it to have the president listen to what Republicans will not accept in a deal, saying, "that's not a conversation worth having. We need to have a conversation about what will pass."

“I think the best way to solve this impasse is for the President to hear what needs to be done, and how we can do it -- hear what can actually pass here in Congress," McConnell said. "He needs to understand the principle at stake here from our point of view."

The White House is likely to turn McConnell down once again, but Democrats on the Hill expected Obama would agree to a bipartisan meeting with the leaders of both chambers, perhaps on Wednesday.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested Republicans are the ones not willing to talk or negotiate, noting that top leaders on the other side of the aisle have abandoned debt and budget talks.

And he kept up the Democratic argument that Republicans are holding their position in order to shield the wealthy from sacrifice in tough times.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Why Internet monitoring is bad for Canada

I want to start this column with a statement from the Office of the Privacy Commission: "Privacy is often viewed as a fundamental human right and, arguably, the right from which many other essential freedoms flow: individual autonomy and decision making, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of thought."

The government has promised to push through an invasive, anti-Internet set of "Lawful Access" electronic surveillance laws within the first 100 days of Parliament. If passed, these laws will turn Internet service providers (ISPs) against their own customers by making them collect our personal information without court oversight.

Why should Canadians be concerned about these Internet surveillance laws?

It will force Internet service providers to identify anonymous customers upon request, without the need to demonstrate that there is any suspicion these customers have done anything wrong.

It will implement open-ended requirements that may force millions of dollars in ISP investment in new surveillance technologies. This cost will be passed onto Canadians.

The laws make warrantless seizure of our personal information legal so that, in the future, there will not be any means of tracking the use and abuse of these unchecked powers.

A coalition of Canadian Privacy Commissioners have expressed deep concern regarding these bills, which, in their words, "enhanc[e] the capacity of the state to conduct surveillance and access private information while reducing the frequency and vigour of judicial scrutiny." This will be done, the commissioners continue, in the absence of any evidence demonstrating need.

Elements of these laws will absolve service providers from any obligation to verify that state agents are legitimately requesting information before handing it over.

Independent ISPs -- which fight Big Telecom to provide us with affordable Internet prices -- have come out publicly to say the government's online spying plan will destroy Canada's already fragile Internet choice and competition. If this scheme goes through, Big Telecom will increase its stranglehold on Internet pricing in this country.

The federal government has promised to pass a large proportion of these invasive laws soon after Parliament reconvenes, bundled along with dozens of other crime prevention laws. This will leave little if any room for substantive debate. According to the privacy commissioner, "the federal government has presented no compelling evidence that new powers are needed."

Basically, the legislation would impose warrantless online surveillance that is invasive, costly, and poorly thought out. Police and other authorities need to have the tools and information necessary to do their jobs, but passing this legislation for that purpose is like trying to hit a fly with a sledgehammer -- not only is it overkill, it simply won't work.

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David Brooks: GOP 'May No Longer Be A Normal Party'

The Republican party “may no longer be a normal party,” David Brooks writes in his New York Times column Tuesday.

In negotiations with Democrats on the debt ceiling, Brooks says that Republicans have already extracted large concessions: trillions of dollars in spending cuts, including cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, so long as Republicans agree to raise taxes for the wealthiest Americans and give fewer tax breaks to oil companies.

It's the “the deal of the century,” Brooks writes, and “if the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment.”

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.
The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.
This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party.
The Republican insistence that tax increases must be off the table in any debt ceiling deal is a sign, Brooks writes, that over the past few years, the Republican party “has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.”

“To members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation,” Brooks writes.

The Obama administration has warned that if the government's $14.3 trillion borrowing limit is not raised by Aug. 2, the U.S. will face its first default ever, potentially throwing world financial markets into turmoil, raising interest rates and threatening the economic recovery. Many congressional Republicans indicate they're unconvinced that such scenarios would occur, and some administration officials worry that it could take a financial calamity before Congress acts.

With the Aug. 2 deadline nearing, the Senate canceled its July Fourth recess planned for this week.

Obama has said that in talks Republican and Democratic negotiators have found more than $1 trillion in potential spending cuts over the coming decade, including reductions favored by both sides.

A Democratic official said last week that of those cuts, roughly $200 billion would come mainly from savings from Medicaid and Medicare, the government health insurance programs for the poor and elderly.

Another $200 billion would come from cuts in other automatically paid benefit programs, including farm subsidies. Another large chunk would come from cuts in discretionary spending that Congress approves every year -- presumably more than $1 trillion, which is more than the White House but less than Republicans have proposed.

Both sides would then also count whatever interest savings they achieve through those deficit cuts.

Source: Huffington 

An Employer Side Payroll Tax: Giving Corporations Even More Money to Sit On

These days, it appears as though the main goal of government policy is to give as much money as possible to corporations and the wealthy. This is an area where there has been considerable success, with the profit share of GDP at near record highs and the richest 1 percent holding a larger portion of the nation's wealth than at any point since the late '20s. The proposals for an employer-side payroll tax cut should be seen in this light.

The argument being pushed by proponents of the cut is that a temporary reduction in the employer's side of the payroll tax will give them more incentive to hire workers. This argument does not pass the laugh test, but of course, most of the things being said in elite Washington circles these days do not pass the laugh test.

As usual, the flaws can be exposed with simple arithmetic. The employer's side of the payroll tax is 6.2 percent. The argument goes that if we temporarily eliminate this tax, then it is cheaper to hire workers, so employers will hire more.

This argument depends on the responsiveness of labor demand to the price of labor. The employer tax cutters would say that labor demand is quite responsive to changes in price. However, the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Over the two-year period 1995 to 1997, we raised the minimum wage by more than 15 percent, after adjusting for inflation. There is a large body of research that shows that this increase had no measurable impact on employment. There also have been two subsequent increases in the national minimum wage as well as several increases in statewide and citywide minimum wages. The overwhelming majority of research on these hikes shows that there was no measurable impact on employment.

If we can permanently raise wages by 15 percent and see no measurable decline on employment, how can we think that a temporary reduction in wages of 6.2 percent would have a major impact on employment? Even in Washington, 15 percent is larger than 6.2 percent. A smaller change in the cost of labor cannot have a bigger effect than a larger change, and a temporary change cannot have a bigger effect than a permanent change. (If the tax cut is in place for one year, then an employer hiring in July gets the lower cost for six months.)

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Source: Huffington 

Jeff Sessions: Saying Millionaires Should Share Pain Is 'Rather Pathetic'

WASHINGTON -- Having the Senate declare that millionaires should share more of the pain involved in putting America's financial house in order is "rather pathetic," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) declared Tuesday.

The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee made that pronouncement after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) bowed to GOP pressure and yanked from the floor a resolution on U.S. military action in Libya in favor of moving to budget issues.

Reid's first measure in that direction is a non-binding resolution that states: "It is the sense of the Senate that any agreement to reduce the budget deficit should require that those earning $1,000,000 or more per year make a more meaningful contribution to the deficit reduction effort."

The measure describes how well the wealthy have done lately, citing statistics that say the median income of S&P 500 companies chief financial officers jumped $2.9 million last year alone, even though the "median family income has declined by more than $2,500" in the last 10 years.

The resolution also notes that 20 percent all income goes to the top 1 percent, and 80 percent of the nation's income growth over the last quarter century has also gone to the top 1 percent.

Sessions and his colleagues found expression of such ideas of little use, and said it only delays getting around to major cuts.

"It's a sense of the Senate," Sessions scoffed. "We're supposed to have legislation in place by Aug. 2 to deal with raising the debt limit -- and that's got to be real numbers and real figures."

"So I guess we can say we're beginning to talk about something with this rather pathetic response from the majority leader," he said. "I'm not happy about that."

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) was equally unimpressed, but suggested it was a sign Democrats were getting ready to listen to the GOP.

"While today, obviously, we're not going to have anything really serious to talk about -- it's just a sense of the Senate -- my sense is that very quickly we're going to have something before us that actually is real," Corker said.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Living in conservative times

We surely seem to be living in conservative times -- with the NDP trying to distance itself from all things socialist and the public apparently unable to sate its appetite for all things royal.

Certainly it's easy to get the impression from the media that Canadians, content with their capitalist bounty, are primarily focused on the activities and outfits of the Royal Family.

So perhaps it's out-of-sync with the times to suggest that we're actually in the middle of a class war, and that it's been heating up lately.

Of course, the genius of the architects of today's conservative revolution has been to obscure the class war they've been quietly waging, keeping us distracted with foreign military ventures, royals and other celebrity sightings.

Behind all these diversions, the class war has been relentlessly proceeding. While incomes at the top have steadily climbed, incomes of ordinary Canadians have steadily eroded. The real median Canadian family income hasn't risen since the late 1970s -- even though today's typical family now has two earners, compared to just one earner 30 years ago. In other words, Canadian families are working about twice as hard to keep up to where they were a generation ago.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crunch, ordinary Canadians stand to lose even more ground. As the recent labour battles at Air Canada and Canada Post show, employers -- now with firm backing from Ottawa -- have new wind in their sails as they demand concessions and insist that new employees be hired at lower wage and benefit levels.

This means that employers are demanding the next generation of workers be paid less than today's workers. If this isn't evidence of an ongoing class war, it's hard to think what would be.

But never mind, look at how pretty our future queen is, and how warmly she relates to a crowd.

A key part of the conservative revolution has been undermining unions.

David Doorey, a labour and employment professor at York University, notes that in the past 15 years, right-of-centre provincial governments have changed legislation in ways that make it more difficult to unionize.

With unions weakened in the private sector, conservatives are turning their sights on the last bastion of union power -- the public sector, where unionization rates remain a healthy 71 per cent (compared with just 16 per cent in the private sector).

Conservative commentators like to portray public sector workers, struggling to protect their hard-won gains, as a pampered elite. (Meanwhile, the royals, among the most pampered people on the planet, are portrayed as down-to-earth whenever they flash a smile.)

Of course, it's true that unionized public sector workers often enjoy higher wages and benefits.

That's the whole point of unions -- to win a better deal for their workers.

But that shouldn't be seen as a threat to other workers. On the contrary, gains won by one group of workers establish a benchmark that can help other employees win the same.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers won paid maternity benefits in a 42-day strike in 1981, and in the process put pressure on government and other employers to provide similar benefits. Today, paid maternity benefits are enshrined in federal law; union contracts often provide additional maternity benefits.

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Toronto G20: Kettle-Cooked Justice

"So why didn't these idiots just stay at home? What were they trying to prove?"

I patiently tried to explain to my friend that we live in a free democratic country and we have a right to get involved in a peaceful protest.

"What are you talking about? Did you see the burning police car? That was no peaceful protest, my dear!"

My friend's voice sounded slightly acidic and took on that snarky I'm-way-more-informed-than-you tone. I stared at my feet in silence. This conversation took place almost a year ago.

Today, we all know other facts that have come to our attention since the G20 police crackdown. The police beat many innocent people with their batons. The police first denied and then admitted that they shot rubber bullets at the protesters. The police also made up their own arrest and detention laws as they brought down the hammer on our collective civil liberties.

For those of us who have experienced brutal oppression brought on by a police state in other parts of the world, we simply could not believe that this scene was actually unfolding in downtown Toronto. I continually winced as I saw the police batons viciously rise and fall on the cowering bodies that had their hands up in the classic act of total physical surrender. The state was clearly the master. We were clearly being told to be the obedient servile servants.

As an experienced Toronto criminal lawyer I have defended many individuals accused of serious gun related crimes. A "typical" club shooting, for example, involves two groups of young men who take out their guns and start shooting at each other. Innocent people who just happened to be at the club on a given night are sometimes shot and killed. What is always amazing is that when being interviewed by the police, around 50 or more individuals at the club claim not to have seen anything or insist that they were in the bathroom at the time of the shooting. When no witnesses come forward, the police publicly wring their hands about the lack of "community cooperation" or the lack of "trust" between the police and certain visible minority community groups.

This wringing of the hands about cooperation and related blather about trust certainly did not apply to the police themselves when one of their own was being investigated in the aftermath of the G20 summit. No police officer who worked with Const. Glenn Weddell could recognize him as he allegedly beat a local Toronto man and shattered his arm.

It would appear that some police officers took great exception to the fact that they were being photographed as they meted out their version of street justice. Eventually, there were two "failed" investigations. There was a supposed total lack of evidence. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigated and interviewed at least 11 police officers who were working alongside Weddell during the incident. One of the interviewed officers was actually Weddell's roommate during the G20. Each and every one of these officers basically shrugged their shoulders and claimed that they knew absolutely nothing. They were all in the proverbial bathroom as this beating was going on. The truth appears to be that Const. Weddell was well protected within the thin blue line.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Fortress Around North America

The U.S.-Canada perimeter will see Canada give up a lot to gain a little.

THE MARK: What can you tell us about the perimeter-security deal that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama have proposed?

STUART TREW: What we have so far is the joint statement that Harper and Obama released on Feb. 4. There's a Beyond the Border Working Group that's been set up, which is, from what we understand from the Department of Foreign Affairs, really focused on the border – asking questions like, “How do we get goods moving across the border more quickly, with fewer barriers and less red tape?”

The Beyond the Border Working Group is really looking at Canada's relatively insignificant request to ease the flow of goods across the border, making it less expensive for large and small business to move goods across the border – the "thick" border, as we hear from the chambers of commerce and the business lobbies. The [perspective] in the United States is, "Okay, we want an entry/exit system. We want you to harmonize with our security policies." And that would include information on who is entering and leaving Canada. The U.S. thinks that's a blind spot. It wants data, and Canada wants a little bit of extra ease of movement of goods.

There's a difference in the level this is at in Canada and the United States. In the United States, there's somebody from the western-hemisphere section of the State Department who is the lead. In Canada, there’s a senior Department of Foreign Affairs representative who answers directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. So, just to give you an idea of the importance that each side is putting on this process, in Canada, the PMO is calling the shots on this deal; in the U.S., it’s relegated to the person who would normally deal with it. Canada has probably given this deal too much weight.

At the end of the day, we're going to see an imbalanced deal that requires a lot of Canada in terms of information sharing and highly problematic security arrangements [related to] privacy and civil liberties. What we're going to get is a very modest agreement from the U.S. to help ease the flow of goods across the border. I don't think Canadians are going to see that as a good deal. I think they're going to recognize it as very lopsided as soon as they see it. The PMO has already oversold it, in terms of its importance to the Canadian economy. I think it will be very difficult to convince anyone that this is a good deal.

THE MARK: What security and economic policies are the U.S. and Canada attempting to harmonize?

TREW: Related to the Beyond the Border Working Group, there's a Regulatory Co-operation Council that was established at the same time. We're told it's separate from the security side of things, but that it has a very broad mandate to deal with regulatory harmonization or co-operation in any number of areas. These aren't specified either. If we look to past North American summits, we see that they made fun of critics by saying, "We're just talking about jelly beans." In fact, what they were talking about were things like intellectual property rights.

This is the biggest bone of contention in the United States right now. Whether it’s copyright or pharmaceutical drugs, the United States would like to see considerable harmonization on how things are regulated. The U.S. is particularly concerned about file-sharing websites like isoHunt, as well as the importation – through B.C., and other ports – of counterfeit goods from China, India, and elsewhere in Asia. File sharing and counterfeit goods are two things that just drive the U.S. entertainment industry crazy.

The U.S. feels that Canada's regime is not equipped to deal with these things, which is why we are seeing this move toward enforcement of laws against counterfeit products at border points and in transit. The United States is pushing the world to go in that direction, as is the European Union.

Full Article
Source: The Mark 

7.5 Million Lame Excuses for Not Voting

Saying you're "too busy" might be a good excuse for turning down a romantic advance, but for voting?

Some 7.5 million people eligible to vote in the May 2 election didn't, and most of them said it was because they weren't interested or were too busy to exercise their most fundamental democratic right. Those were the two most popular excuses for not casting ballots on election day, during advance voting polls, or, really, at any time during the campaign, as voting in this country is about as easy as it gets on this planet. A full 28 per cent of non-voters – that's something like two million Canadians – said they were disinterested, which is kind of understandable given the often meaningless ridiculousness displayed by our federal politicians. Twenty-three per cent claimed they were too busy (which, ha, no, no you weren't) to vote. Others cited illness or disability (they get a pass), being away from home (10 per cent), or said they just thought their candidates or campaign issues were awful (eight per cent, but that's as good a reason as any to spoil your ballot).

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Source: The Mark 

The PM on how he sees Canada’s role in the world and where he wants to take the country

Q: Let’s start with election night. Was it fun?

A: It’s always fun when you win.

Q: Did you take a moment to enjoy it?

A: Yeah. Look, as I think you know, we were pretty confident we were going to win, frankly, from the outset—the question was the margin—and we were feeling pretty good in the days leading up to it. I suppose, yeah, it was exciting that night. But you’re also coming off the end of a long, gruelling campaign, so there’s also a sense of relief and a sense of exhaustion all wrapped up together.

Q: If you’re not going to stop and enjoy that one, what are you going to stop for?

A: I did enjoy it. We have to enjoy things. These guys—my staff—probably enjoyed it more than I did. I’m always thinking. The next task is almost immediately on my mind.

Q: I saw you give an interview after the election in which you alluded to the next task: you want to establish the Conservatives as the natural governing party of Canada. What does that entail?

A: What I want to do, of course, is really entrench, over time, a Conservative-majority coalition in the country. I probably—the more I’ve thought about it—I should probably stay away from the natural governing party terminology, because I think as soon as a party believes it’s the natural governing party it’s in a great deal of trouble. Since coming to office, we’ve grown steadily. We’ve grown from our base out. We haven’t tried to re-engineer the Conservative movement, we’ve built on it by bringing more people into it. We still have more work to do to be as representative of people as we’d like to be, but all the elements are there in terms of the coalition. I think, obviously, it has to be backed up with an agenda, and the agenda has to be successfully implemented, and the country has to buy into it and be happy with the results. So that’s the big thing we have to do, but I think in the end—given the outcomes of the election—we’re greatly helped not just by our own result but by the relative incoherence of the opposition as an alternative for government.

Q: This is a fundamentally different mission from when you started off in politics. The Reform Party, by virtue of its name, was about changing the political landscape, changing the political structure in Canada. When you’re trying to become the natural governing party you want to be where Canadians are, you have to be where Canadians are, so it’s more about managing a consensus than being a catalyst for change.

A: Well, first of all I think you have to remember, I began my serious political involvement in the Progressive Conservative Party way back, so my involvement has always been about conservatism. I began in the traditional Conservative Party and then became involved in the Reform Party, and—I think as you know probably better than anyone—my involvement in the Reform Party was really to re-invigorate conservative principles in Canadian politics. And I think with the eventual merger of the Reform Alliance and Progressive Conservatives, we’ve achieved an organization that embodies conservative principles but is also pragmatic and trying to reach a sufficient number of Canadians to form a government. But it’s also about, in the success of advancing conservative principles, of moving the country toward the values that you represent and that you demonstrate through the policies and the programs you deliver. And I think that both those things are happening. I also think the party and the government have been moving the country toward conservative principles. I think there’s an increasing number of people who vote for us not just because they think we’re the best choice but because they actually believe we [have] the values that are closest to their long-term values. And we’re starting to see in our own polling that at the federal level more people identify themselves as Conservatives and as voting Conservatives than any other party, and that is a huge change, and that never happened even during previous Conservative governments. So I’m optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction, but we have a lot of challenges.

Q: You’ve been running for something for nine years now, and you have had no real job security, you haven’t known from year to year where you’re going to be.

A: Yeah, in nine years I’ve run four national election campaigns, two leadership campaigns, a party referendum merger, and a couple of other convention processes. And of course by-elections. You know, I’ve been elected five times in my riding in nine years. I’ve been literally running non-stop.

Q: In addition to that, you’ve had all the false alarms about elections.

A: Yeah, every three months. Look, it’s been exhausting. I wouldn’t say as much for me as for my senior staff and for, frankly, senior public servants. Every three months we’ve had the plan for the government and every three months we’ve had the plan for the election. The great irony is that only once did I threaten an election, then I actually called it—that was in 2008—but every single three months in between we’ve had a threat of an election, and we’ve always taken it seriously. One of the reasons we won is in spite of the fact the other guys made the threats, we were always the best prepared. But yeah, it’s been two tracks, and it’s been exhausting to everyone involved in it. So it’s very different now planning for a four-year period.

Q: Over that nine years you develop habits of mind. I would imagine that you’re making short-term calculations all the time about how this is going to play, how that’s going to play. You try and look long-term but you have to be constantly aware that you may be going to the polls soon. Now that you’re in this longer-term mandate, how do you stop thinking that way?

A: Well, I’m not sure you completely do. There are some good disciplines this teaches you. Even when we were thinking short-term, you don’t ignore what could be the long-term or mid-term consequences of your actions. I would always point that out to staff: something may be great today, you know—we got a great headline today—and six months later everybody goes, “What were you thinking?” You’ve got a big problem, especially in a minority context. So it does heighten your political instincts, but I think that’s good. The party has to—and the government has to—move the country with it. Now, does that mean the country has to agree with you on every single issue? No, but even in a minority I never took the view that the opposition parties or even the country at large had to agree with every single thing we were doing, but they had to agree with the direction we were taking and that will remain the case. It’s just that we’re less under the gun from day to day.

Q: At the Conservative convention on June 10, you made quite a remarkable speech. The first thing I noticed was how much time you spent thanking people who worked in the parties, and thanking your MPs, your ministers, your staff, in great detail and with great specificity. And having watched you deliver speeches over more than 20 years now, I don’t think I ever recall an occasion where you went so far out of your way to express personal gratitude. Was that deliberate?

A: Well, I’m not sure it is that different. I think I’ve done similar things, maybe not at quite the same length, but on similar occasions. The party convention is unique in that you have, literally in one room, almost every single person who is responsible for whatever success the organization has had, and they also happen to be in the room at the moment where the organization has its greatest success, and so that’s obviously the appropriate thing to do. I’m the first to say, you look over the past nine, 10 years, we’re today a majority government not because we have the best leader but because we have the best team, and we have the best team on every level—and they actually work together as a team far more than any of the other guys.

Q: You don’t think that you operate differently at a human level than you would have 10 or 20 years ago?

A: Well, I think as you spend more time at any occupation you get better at everything you do—I hope—and so I think I’m better at a lot of things than I was 10 years ago. But do I think there’s a sudden change at the convention this year? No, no, no.

Q: Another striking thing, to me, was some of the language around foreign affairs, and you said that, essentially, Canada needs to redefine its national purpose, and that its national purpose is no longer just to go along with everyone else’s agendas. How would you describe Canada’s definition of its national interest in the past?

A: Well, I’m not going to belabour analyzing previous governments, I’ll just say this: since coming to office—in fact since becoming prime minister—the thing that’s probably struck me the most in terms of my previous expectations—I don’t even know what my expectations were—is not just how important foreign affairs/foreign relations is, but in fact that it’s become almost everything. There’s hardly anything today of any significance that doesn’t have a huge international dimension to it, beginning first and foremost with the economy. Yeah, we have a strong economy, but really we have a stronger Canadian economy within a world economy. When we had a world recession it didn’t matter that there wasn’t a single thing that had caused the recession anywhere else that was present in Canada, we were still in a recession, and we didn’t go down as far as the others, and now that it’s recovering, we’re recovering ahead of the others. But nevertheless, we’re just a piece of the global economy. That’s the first thing, and whether you go to security matters or pandemics, it’s all international. I’m not saying it is not necessary to have good relations with a lot of people; in fact, having good relations, first and foremost, with our most critical ally, the United States, is essential to Canada’s well-being, as are our good relations or good dimensions of relations with a large number of other players. But it isn’t enough, in this day and age, to say we get along with people. We have to have a clear sense of where we want to be and where we would like our partners to go in the various challenges that are in front of them. Whether they’re economic challenges or security challenges or anything else, we better know what we’re trying to get out of this and where we’re going to align ourselves, and it’s not just good enough to say, “everybody likes us.” That is not a sufficient way to protect your interests when your interests are so deeply enmeshed with everybody else’s.

Q: So what do we do differently?

A: First and foremost I think you see the differences in this government in terms of how we approach foreign relations. First of all, we take pretty clear stands. We take stands that we think reflect our own interests but our own interests in a way that reflects the interests of the wider community of nations, or particularly the wider interests of those nations with whom we share values and interests. Whether it’s taking strong and clear positions, for instance, at the G20 on something like a global financial regulation and a banking tax, we don’t just say, “Well, a consensus is developing for that. We’ll go along with it.” It was not in our interest. It actually happens to be bad policy as well. So we worked to oppose that particular agenda. I won’t get into specifics, but in some issues of foreign affairs or conflicts, what are the Canadian values or interests at stake? We think it’s pretty important that our long-run interests are tied somewhat to our trade, but that they’re more fundamentally tied to the kind of values we have in the world: freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law. We see over time—it’s not an ironclad rule—but those societies that promote those values tend to share our interests, and those that do not tend to, on occasion, if not frequently, become threats to us. We also make sure as well—and this is important—that we have the capacities. I know we’ve received some criticism for re-investing in our military, but when you’re in a dangerous world and countries are from time to time called upon to do things to deal with those dangers, if you don’t have the capacity to act you are not taken seriously. Nobody takes your views seriously unless you can contribute to solutions, and it’s very difficult to contribute to solutions unless you can contribute across the range of capabilities, up to and including military capabilities. I think if you look back—I think Hugh Segal’s written quite eloquently on this recently—Canada’s been at its most influential when it’s actually had a range of capabilities, so we’ve made sure we have capabilities.

Q: And when it’s actually been using them.

A: And when it’s been using them. If capabilities are just in the freezer all the time then they’re not really capabilities, right?

Q: You think Canadians are prepared?

A: We’re trying to make our foreign aid more effective. We don’t fund talk shops anymore, we fund aid that actually makes a difference. On the economy, if there’s a banking crisis and a debate over banking we make sure we’ve got a good record on that, but we also make sure we have good people who understand the subject matter who are able to be at the table and drive discussion. So that’s what we do across a range of issues. I say it’s a very different shift from simply every country likes us and would raise its glass to us at a cocktail party. That’s not the issue.

Q: It’s one thing to say you want a strong-in-principle foreign policy, and another thing to carry through. I admired a lot of things the government initially said on China and human rights violations, but when we had a negative response from China on the trade front, your government’s line shifted. We’ve also seen different policies with regard to Afghanistan, some based on principle, some buffeted by what our allies would want, or the public wants.

A: I think on China we’ve been clear from the beginning that we’re anxious to have good relations and to pursue vigorous economic relations, but we are going to continue to speak out on democracy and human rights issues, and we have. I think it took the Chinese government some time to get used to the fact we had shifted the approach from one of utter silence on those issues, but the shift was made and I think it’s a productive relationship. On Afghanistan, look, the issue is complex and obviously the government’s been trying to decide as it goes forward each step of the way what’s the next best thing to do. I’ve said from the beginning we’ve needed to be engaged there on all levels to try and affect outcomes, but that the goal cannot be the permanent military occupation and kind of de facto governance of the country. This is a position not only that we’re pursuing but that I’ve argued with our allies. I think if you look at what’s happened, the positions we’ve been arguing have, over the past two or three years, become the positions of our allies, after we’d already been clear which direction we were going.

Q: Do you think you can wield the same influence on Israel? You’ve been a strong supporter of Israel for some time, but you’re now more or less isolated in the G8.

A: The Middle East question is more difficult in terms of the opinion of others. I wouldn’t go so far as to say isolated, but it is a difficult position. That said, in my mind, the stakes are very clear, the issue is very clear and the stakes are very important. We all recognize there has to be a two-state solution, but we have in Israel essentially a Western democratic country that is an ally of ours, who’s the only state in the United Nations whose very existence is significantly questioned internationally and opposed by many, including by the other side of that particular conflict—still, to a large degree—and when I look around the world at those who most oppose the existence of Israel and seek its extinction, they are the very people who, in a security sense, are immediate—long-term but also immediate—threats to our own country. So I think that’s a very clear choice. That doesn’t mean there aren’t individual issues that become quite complicated and nuanced, but I think it is important and I will continue to be very clear with other leaders the way I think we should see this problem.

Q: You’re confident that Canadians are prepared to accept a more muscular foreign policy? I noticed that when you talked at the convention about Canada’s founding principles, you mentioned first the phrase “courageous warrior.”

A: I think you have to take the triumvirate: the courageous warrior, compassionate neighbour, confident partner.

Q: Yes, but you didn’t choose to say a nation of peacekeepers, nation of immigrants, or hewers of wood or drawers of water, you said a courageous warrior, and that is not a way that Canadians are really accustomed to thinking of themselves.

A: Well, not recently, but in fact Canada has a proud military history, beginning with the War of 1812 that essentially began to establish our sense of national identity. That was really the genesis of the geographically wide and culturally diverse nation we have today. We’ve been consistently involved on the right side of important conflicts that have shaped the world in which we live, that are largely responsible for moving the world in the overall positive direction in which it is moving. Look, let me give you the two big threats of the 20th century. First, fascism. Canada, next to its big-three allies, played one of the largest roles in the world in the defeat of fascism, which purged the world of one evil, and obviously the most robust military engagement anyone’s ever been involved in. And then through a different kind of engagement, the long, sustained state of alert of the Cold War against Communism, the other great threat to the world and to our civilization. In spite of, quite frankly, the ambivalence of some Liberal governments toward that, Canada, in fact, remained engaged in that from the beginning to the very end. I’m not dismissing peacekeeping, and I’m not dismissing foreign aid—they’re all important things that we need to do, and in some cases do better—but the real defining moments for the country and for the world are those big conflicts where everything’s at stake and where you take a side and show you can contribute to the right side.

Q: You suggest that we are in one great conflict, or that we’re heading to one that we need to be prepared for.

A: I think we always are.

Q: What is the nature of that present threat?

A: Well, I think it’s more difficult to define now. We know there are challenges to us. The most obvious is terrorism, Islamic extremist terrorism. We know that’s a big one globally. We also know, though, the world is becoming more complex, and the ability of our most important allies, and most importantly the United States, to single-handedly shape outcomes and protect our interests, has been diminishing, and so I’m saying we have to be prepared to contribute more, and that is what this government’s been doing.

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Source: Macleans