Sunday, August 30, 2015

Determined, pragmatic 'Anybody-But-Conservative' movement may finally topple Harper from power this year...

I can hear it in the exasperated voices of friends and acquaintances as we discuss the ongoing federal election campaign in Canada.  Regime fatigue has definitely set in this election campaign. 

"Harper's got to go!" one friend told me last night.  She lives in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in west Toronto, a bellwether seat that usually swings to the winning party.  Last time, the Conservatives took it, defeating Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.  This time, all three parties are competitive there.  My pragmatic, progressive friend told me last night she's leaning NDP this time. 

The progressive majority in this country has put up with Harper's regressive policies and dysfunctional leadership for almost ten years.   We're sick to death of him now and more determined than ever to get rid of him.  I suspect this year we'll finally get our wish.  

The election call in early August did wake a slumbering electorate.  While most Canadians have continued to enjoy their summer, most have also started listening more closely than they otherwise would've in August.  Thus, the Mike Duffy trial revelations of a big conspiracy within Harper's office to lie to the public about Senate corruption simply reinforced sour opinions of Harper's team and judgment.  The slumping economy has also undermined Harper's main message that 'we're better off staying the course.'  With most middle class Canadians barely getting by, living pay cheque to pay cheque, the spectre of more of the same seems woefully inadequate.

I'm beginning to think that Harper's choice to call the election so early will prove to be a big blunder that no negative ad campaign come September and October will overcome.  It might've been possible that most Canadians would've simply missed the minutiae of the Duffy trial revelations this month were there no election call.  Instead, with their political senses heightened by the call, Canadians were given a daily dose of scandal for two weeks as well as Harper's increasingly uncredible denials.  

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's steady, cautious campaign thus far has done much to calm many fears that persist about the NDP forming a government.  Talk of modest, progressive, incremental change isn't scaring anybody.  An old video of Mulcair praising the free market policies of Thatcher's Britain should prove to even the most skeptical conservative that Mulcair is not some lefty lunatic.

In his rush to the centre, Mulcair is ceding much progressive ground to the Liberals' Justin Trudeau, whose campaign is showing resilience and renewed strength.  The NDP has a careful balancing act to maintain in order to win over centrists while not alienating their progressive base.  Thus far, they're mostly succeeding although it's clear that Trudeau's Liberals are targeting those same voters with vigour.

Polls now show Tom Mulcair overtaking Harper in the "Best Prime Minister" category.  Even Justin Trudeau, who the Tories have labeled "Just not ready," is competitive in those same polls with the incumbent.   That's got to hurt, especially after the Conservatives spent millions pushing the anti-Trudeau line.

Ultimately, I suspect the anti-Trudeau attack won't work as well as the Conservatives hoped.  The Liberal vote is coming back from its historic low of 19% in 2011, currently pegged around 27-30% in polls today.  But now, pragmatic centrists and progressives looking for change have switched to the NDP, pushing them into the mid-30s, well ahead of the Conservatives.  

Another woman I met last week who lives in Waterloo, Ontario told me she likes Trudeau but does worry about his level of experience for the job this year, while her fatigue with Harper was obvious.  So that means, "I guess I have to vote for Mulcair," she said. 

As the next month-and-a-half rolls out, voters determined to change the government will take a close look at their local ridings and decide which opposition party has the best chance to knock off the Tories, or at least add to the seat count for the party with the best chance of beating the Conservatives nationally.  In most parts of Quebec, that will be the NDP.  In Atlantic Canada, it will mostly be the Liberals.  In BC, it will be the NDP, except in parts of the Lower Mainland where the Grits are competitive again.  In Ontario, it will also depend on the region in which they live.   Downtown Toronto might lean NDP, while the outer suburbs will mostly lean Liberal.   In some ridings where both the NDP and the Liberals pose strong challenges to the Tories, the choice will be agonizing. 

In a healthy democracy, most of us can tolerate a victory or two by our ideological opponents should they earn it.  In many ways, Harper did well earn his 2006 victory over a tired Liberal government and a Prime Minister in Paul Martin who failed to impress much with his dithering style of leadership.

Harper then got luckier facing off against the hapless Stephane Dion in 2008, but still failed to secure a majority in progressive Canada.  In 2011, Michael Ignatieff's uninspiring leadership, coupled with a surging NDP, forced a Liberal collapse that handed enough seats in Ontario to give Harper a majority even though he got less than 40% of the national vote.  

Currently, Harper is failing to crack 30% in the polls.  Those polls also show that the vast majority of people currently backing other parties will not consider the Conservatives as their second or third choices.  Thus, the chances of Harper getting back up into the mid-high 30s seems unlikely, barring major screw-ups by Mulcair and Trudeau on the hustings.   The Conservatives' only real hope now is to inspire their own base like never before and suppress the opposition vote.  Their "Unfair Elections Act" is a tool in their arsenal to that end, but I suspect these sleazy Tory tactics won't work this time.  Voters determined to get change will make it to the polls regardless of Tory robocalls illegally misdirecting them.  Plus the Tory base is shrinking and badly outnumbered by Canada's progressive majority.

The grassroots desire for change is palpable and firming up.  We are simply waiting and watching this election campaign to see which opposition party poses the greatest national threat to Conservative rule.  Once that becomes clear come early-mid October, we should expect a big swing behind that party to finish the job October 19th.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Stephen Harper has never turned down an opportunity to turn down an opportunity to show support for LGBT Canadians

Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau at Montreal's Pride Aug 16, 2015
It's sad that in Canada in 2015, we've grown so accustomed to Stephen Harper's absences from the country's major Pride celebrations that we almost expect it every year.  Instead, we shrug and barely notice his continued non-leadership. 

Harper's absence yet again from Montreal's Pride yesterday was "noted," remarked NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.   It was all the more glaring considering all the other major party leaders including Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May were present yesterday.   The best the Conservative party could muster were two obscure local Montreal candidates. 

Of course, I'm sure many Tories will gripe that Mulcair, Trudeau, and Duceppe would, of course, show up to Montreal's Pride as they're from that city.  However, Mulcair and Trudeau also showed up at Toronto's Pride in June.  Trudeau was also present at Vancouver's Pride earlier this month, despite Harper's early election call that day.   Attending any of these celebrations shows important symbolic support for LGBT people. 

But as we know Harper will have none of that.  Harper doesn't even attend Pride celebrations in his home city of Calgary, nor Edmonton.  He simply doesn't care about LGBT Canadians, or at least he's happy to be seen as not caring.   It's one of his little tricks for keeping his bigoted base happy and their donations rolling in to the Conservative Party.  He'll do nothing legislatively to attack gays (at least, not since 2006 when he half-heartedly attempted to revisit equal marriage and lost), but he's been more than happy to ignore LGBT issues completely for 9 years, as well as quietly de-fund LGBT arts festivals and organizations here and there.  

Harper has never turned down an opportunity to turn down an opportunity to show symbolic support for LGBT Canadians.  After almost 10 years of this, it's beyond shameful.   It's yet another reason why Harper needs to go as soon as possible.   

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Harper's "verbal liarrhea": PM lies today about pot, safe injection sites, and pensions on the campaign trail

Stephen Harper has no shame.  He's willing to say anything as long as it conforms to his narrow-minded and often dangerous worldview.

Clearly, facts are irrelevant to him.  Today, we got Harper's latest dose of what I'll call "verbal liarrhea." Expect many more posts on this subject in the days and weeks ahead.

I'd like to credit for the amazing breakdown of Harper's lies today, which I've quoted extensively below:

Harper lie #1:  “Most Canadians (when) you actually ask them, do not want the full legalization of marijuana.”

Reality:  A 2014 survey by Angus Reid Global found that 59 per cent of the 1,510 Canadians surveyed supported legalizing marijuana and 41 per cent were opposed.

However, in a survey where Canadians were given a third option -- decriminalization for possessing small amounts – only 37 per cent supported legalization, while 33 per cent chose decriminalization and 14 per cent supported the current laws. That survey included 3,000 people and was conducted by Ipsos Reid on behalf of the federal government.

Harper knows full well his statement today about Canadian support for legalization was a lie because his government ordered the poll that showed massive support for either legalization or decriminalization.   Only 14% of Canadians support Harper's position.   Yet, he's willing to ignore Canadians' views on marijuana and instead is now promising to spend millions more on his failed war against drugs. 

Harper lie #2: “I think the statistics in places like Colorado are very clear on this. When you go down that route, marijuana becomes more readily available to children.”

Reality: Marijuana has only been legal in Colorado since Jan. 1, 2014, so extensive research has not been conducted.

However, drugs have been decriminalized in the Netherlands since 1976, and past-year cannabis use among young Dutch citizens appears to be declining. Among those aged 15 to 24, past-year use dropped from 14 per cent in 1997 to 11 per cent in 2005, according to a study in the journal Addiction. 

Harper lie #3:  Today on safe injection sites, Harper said, “Providing programs that do not provide treatment, in our view, is just throwing away the key and writing off somebody’s life. Trying to manage their decline, that’s not what we want to do. Our anti-drug strategy is based on prevention, enforcement, but most of all treatment.”

Reality: Insite does, in fact, provide addictions counselling in the hopes that users will opt to enter the on-site detoxification program, which is the first step in treatment.
Studies published in the journals Addiction and the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that Vancouver opiate drug users were more likely to enter detox programs after Insite opened.

Harper lie #4: "I am delighted to see, quite frankly, that our refusal to co-operate with the imposition of this tax is making it more difficult for the Ontario government to proceed," Harper said today, claiming it would be bad for the economy for ordinary Ontarians to have enough money to survive and feed themselves during retirement.  

Reality: First of all, Harper is a hypocrite.  He's forced thousands of civil servants in Ottawa and across the country to pay higher payroll deductions for their defined benefit pension plans in recent years. 

Secondly, pension savings are not taxes.  That's a big lie pushed by Harper and his allies in the corporate media.  The government doesn't touch those savings; they go into an independently managed, defined benefit pension plan and earn value over time.  When we retire, we reap the benefits.

The great horrific truth is that Harper simply doesn't really care much about ordinary Canadians and their retirement savings.   If he did, he'd support increasing CPP contributions now for all and not force us to wait until age 67 to collect our Old Age Security, as he's planning to do.

Ordinary Canadians without defined benefit pensions have no good options for reliable savings.   The only plans that provide great potential earnings are RRSPs, but they aren't reliable and can collapse in value, like they did during the great 2008 Wall Street swindle.   Some employers do match monthly contributions to group RRSP plans; however, again there is no guarantee of payouts during retirement.  Only a hope and a prayer.   In decades past, the private sector did provide better retirement options to their employees with defined benefit pensions.  But those pensions are long gone and the result is now a major crisis, particularly with our aging population.

Kathleen Wynne's plan to enhance the CPP is much needed.  Harper's opposition is despicably short-sighted, much like most of his decisions.

I hope we see past Harper's big lies this campaign and kick the thug out on his ass where his verbal liarrhea won't hurt us anymore. 

It's time to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aka the dirtiest trade deal you've never heard of...

Recently, it was revealed that the as-yet-unapproved Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, currently being negotiated in complete secret, could force the CBC, Canada Post and other Crown corporations in Canada (and other public bodies in other participating countries) to operate solely for profit under the deal’s terms.

The information was obtained and released by Wikileaks and states that a “majority of TPP countries” have agreed that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) will have to “act on the basis of commercial considerations.”

The document — a briefing for ministers ahead of a December, 2013 TPP meeting which makes clear that final decisions on these issues hadn’t been made at that time — also indicates that state-owned companies may be subject to all the rules of the TPP.  If that were to be the case, governments would not be able to fund Crown corporations with taxpayers’ money if that funding has “adverse effects” on another TPP country, says Jane Kelsey, a professor of law at the University of Auckland, in an analysis of the document she prepared for Wikileaks.

“It looks like SOEs are not allowed to get government support or non-commercial assistance. … That kind of support is often essential for SOEs that provide public functions that are not profitable or are even loss-making.”

This is but one scary possibility this possible agreement might thrust on unsuspecting populations whose governments are negotiating away their best interests, including Stephen Harper's government.  

Have a look at this video below at some of the very real threats we face if the TPP is approved.  The video was produced in Australia, but the issues raised in it are relevant to all countries that could be effected by the new deal.  

There has been little discussion around the TPP in Canada except about its potential impact on supply management.  In truth, Canada stands to lose much more than simply its dairy industry. 

As a progressive, I now think that enough is enough: it's time to stop the TPP from happening.  The best thing we can hope for is to elect a new government in October that won't sell out Canadians to the global corporate agenda like Stephen Harper secretly plans to do.

I'm starting to strongly suspect that means we must vote in the NDP, which at least has a strong history opposing these kinds of sell-out trade deals which only make the select few rich even richer while the vast majority of Canadians lose out.   While we appear stuck with previously negotiated trade deals, it seems like the TPP is one we can't afford to sign.   

Friday, August 7, 2015

First Leaders' debate reaction: Trudeau soared, Mulcair was decent, and May drew real blood.

Harper's campaign is having trouble attracting good spellers, it seems.
I suspected Justin Trudeau had some moxie he was saving for the election campaign.  His unusually low profile in the weeks preceding last weekend's election call seemed designed to keep expectations low.

But since the election call, Trudeau has been quite strong.  That reached new heights in last night's Maclean's leaders' debate in Toronto.

Overall, I'd give Trudeau the night as he was the most passionate, engaging, and surprisingly well-spoken on a variety of issues.  He did everything he needed to do quite well.  His attack zingers landed directly on their targets and inflicted damage.  On tough questions, he gave good answers and then quickly pivoted to strong counter-attacks against his opponents, especially on Bill C-51 and the fight against ISIS, in which he quickly turned his answer into a passionate attack on the Harper government's treatment of veterans.  It was so strong that Harper was forced to quickly (and unconvincingly) defend his government's record on veterans before getting back to ISIS fear-mongering.

Even Trudeau's closing statement which ended the broadcast was great, finally giving us a convincing idea what drives him to be a leader and why he's doing this: he wants a better Canada for his three kids and he offers something "better" than Stephen Harper's rather dreary status quo.  This was the Trudeau so many were excited about in 2013 and for most of 2014.  Trudeau's performance will undoubtedly bolster Liberal spirits and fortunes.

But it is still early days.  It's difficult to know if this one debate in early August will have lasting impact.  If nothing else, it signals that Trudeau is back in this game and we should look forward to stronger performances from him in upcoming debates.  As increased Liberal strength in the House of Commons is key to denying Harper another majority, this is cause for joy.

Watching Green Party leader Elizabeth May in the debate was as awesome as I expected it to be.  She was sharp, frequently deflating Harper's lies with expert precision and doing herself proud.  There's no doubt why the Tories will do everything they can not to see May in future debates alongside Harper: she damages him greatly and assists the other party leaders in their similar efforts.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was also quite decent last night.  As an unfiltered introduction of himself to English Canadian voters, it was a fine performance, if also somewhat flawed.  He got dozens of awesome attacks in against Harper and many great lines.   He even got Harper to admit that we're likely in a recession again.   Mulcair spoke often about his experience as a former cabinet minister.  He looked calm, dignified and prime ministerial - like a worthy alternative to Harper.  By contrast, Trudeau looked like the eager young man next to his older opponents and perhaps a bit less prime ministerial.

But Mulcair held back too much in the big fights, his frequent smiles looked forced, and he didn't help himself by frequently facing the debate moderator instead of looking into the camera.  When Mulcair screwed up his final statement with a "Sorry," he barely recovered and almost rushed through it.  It reminded me of his 2012 NDP Convention speech which he also rushed through without a care in the world because he knew at the time the quality of that 2012 speech would have no impact on the leadership vote.  But of course, the quality of his performance in last night's debate will most certainly have an impact on this election.

For Mulcair, he was decent but there is much room for improvement in future debates.  He's going to have to more clearly articulate his vision and passion in upcoming debates so Canadians have a clearer idea why he wants to be Prime Minister and what he would do with that power.

We already know full well what Harper plans to do with more power.  Harper was solid, although his lines of defense frequently fell flat.  He was pilloried on the Senate.  He refused to show leadership by apologizing for appointing all of the problem senators of recent years.   Harper also finally admitted that we are likely in a recession, which is not going to win him any more votes.

Overall, Harper, as the default incumbent choice, could only consider last night a victory if the other leaders fell flat.   They didn't.  Trudeau soared, Mulcair was decent, and May drew real blood.