Monday, April 27, 2015

Sidelining The Youth Vote

The potential of the youth vote, about which I have written several times on this blog, is, without question, great. The fact that only a low number of young people turn out to vote should be a source of grave concern for all those who desire real change in Canada.

Sadly, those low numbers are a cause for celebration among our main political parties, their occasional rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

The math is simple. If a group does not vote, their concerns can be ignored. And the more their concerns are ignored, the less appealing the act of voting becomes to them. Case closed. Cue the status quo.

Consider the latest budget, as examined in a Globe and Mail editorial:
Much has been made of the fact that the new federal budget is craftily geared by the Harper government to appeal to specific segments of the voting population. Seniors are getting all kinds of goodies, some designed specifically for their age group and others that are available to all, but which will (nudge nudge wink wink) benefit them the most. Two-income couples with children under 18 are big winners, too, as are small-business owners.

Left off the gravy train are young people. Why? Because they are way less likely to cast a vote than older people are, and they don’t make up as large a share of the population as they used to. By being disengaged, they have now become conveniently ignorable, not just by the government but by the opposition parties, too.
Such is not good for the health of a democracy.
A 2013 Parliament of Canada study concluded that more young voters than ever are dropping out of electoral participation at all levels of government. Worse still, their apathy is permanent. They don’t start voting as they get older, which is one of the key reasons the average participation rate in Canada is dropping. A country where, a generation ago, more than 75 per cent of the population routinely voted in major elections is now lucky to have a 61 per cent turnout.
In this situation, those who do vote are courted by the parties, with resulting lopsided budgets like this last one that pander to select groups rather than promote a vision for the country. Of course, it is subsequent generations who will bear the brunt of ever-diminishing national programs, health care money, government pensions, etc.

It would be easy and preferable if we could simply blame the Harper regime, which has raised to high art vote-targeting. But that would not be the whole truth:
In the 2011 federal election, all three major parties focused on the middle class and on families. They made few direct references to youth. When they did, it was more often about “youth crime” or “at-risk youth” than it was about youth unemployment or university tuition. The parties are doing the same in this election, all led by the Harper government’s pro-senior, pro-family budget.
All are complicit in the erosion of our once healthy and dynamic democracy.
Is there a way to get young Canadians back in the game? Not in this election, unfortunately. The apathy of young voters has caused politicians to tune out. Politicians tuning them out has made young voters more apathetic. The vicious circle goes round and round. And we’re losing a generation of voters.
Our current crop of 'leaders' have much to answer for.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Contemptible, Arrogant Martinet

The other day I wrote a post about the resurrection of Bill C-377, the Harper backed private member's bill that would wage war against unions in Canada. Toward the end of the post I made reference to Senator Don Plett's arrogant dismissal of witness Paul Cavalluzzo during Senate hearings on the bill after the latter suggested Conservative senators are probably the last people who should be lecturing anyone about corruption and transparency.

Plett insulted the witness by telling him he considered “your time and my time to have been wasted with you here today not answering my questions.”

Press Progress offers this video of the exchange:

As you can see, the pompous and arrogant Plett sanctimoniously offers himself and the Senate as exemplars of fiscal rectitude and transparency. To this, Press Progress responds:
The Senate is transparent? The Senate isn't corrupt? Really, Senator Plett?

Last year, Conservative Senators reportedly tried to whitewash an audit of Mike Duffy's expenses, deleting paragraphs detailing Senator Duffy's attempt to dodge auditors and hide his expenses.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson is slated to release what is expected to be a damning report on Senate expenses. At least 40 current and former senators recently received letters from Ferguson asking them to account for questionable expense claims. Several senators are said to have expensed over $100,000 with one reportedly billing taxpayers to the tune of $250,000.

Senator Plett himself appears to be among the Senate's highest rollers -- a CBC investigation in 2014 found Plett had the second highest expenses in the Senate, billing taxpayers over $12,000 (mainly for first-class air travel) during one five-week period in 2012 while the Senate was debating suspending Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau.
Arrogance in public servants is always profoundly distasteful. When it is practised by pompous and contemptible martinets like Plett, it is intolerable.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Meanwhile, Back At Campaign Central

Hate campaign, that is. True to form, the Harper regime wasted no time in denouncing the decision to release Omar Khadr on bail pending his appeal. And in addition to playing to their rabid base, they took the opportunity to excoriate both Trudeau and Mulcair with some verbal prestidigitation:

Meanwhile, Thomas Walkom offers a good analysis of the government's strategy:
Conservative Roxanne James, [seen in the above video] the government’s designated spokesperson, said Ottawa opposes Khadr’s release because he has been convicted of “heinous crimes.”

What she should have said is that, in the lead-up to this fall’s election, the Conservatives hope to use the Khadr affair as a political wedge issue.
A polarizing figure since his arrest in Afghanistan, the former child soldier is viewed in rather absolutist terms by the Canadian public. There are those who believe he is an inveterate terrorist who deserves no mercy, while others see him as a victim of his parents' jihadist zeal and a political football very useful when governments want to vent their demagogic spleen and manipulate the masses.
He is, in short, a perfect political vehicle for a Conservative prime minister hoping to use crime and national security as defining elements in the election campaign.
Khadr's political usefulness began with the Americans:
The Americans, meanwhile, were desperate to have their much-maligned military tribunal system score a judicial victory. Khadr seemed to fit the bill. The U.S. had already decided to ignore the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan. Instead, captives like Khadr would be labelled “unlawful combatants” and accorded none of the usual rights of soldiers at war.
Not far behind, the Canadian government picked up the ball:
... by then, Harper had discovered Khadr’s political usefulness. The organizations that the Conservative base loves to hate — including human rights groups, liberal churches and lawyers — were all clamouring for Ottawa to bring Khadr home, where he could have a chance at parole.

So the prime minister resisted. The more the critics clamoured, the more strident his resistance became.

Last year, the Conservatives castigated Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for suggesting that Khadr be treated fairly.
Clearly, in contrast to the take-no-prisoners approach the Conservatives usually employ in their politicking for the hearts of Canadians, they are making an exception for Omar Khadr.

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Thanks to Ed Tanas for bringing the following to my attention:

Taking its cue from the Conservative Party, the Liberals Party is attempting to turn the tables on reckless, unjustified and overtly partisan political ads masquerading simply as useful public information (meted out to the public at taxpayer expense, of course).

The Liberals said people are angry about what they view as wasteful government spending, and they wanted to remind Canadians how much the Tories have spent since 2006.

“After 10 years, Stephen Harper thinks he owns the government — he doesn’t. The people of Canada do,” Liberal party spokesman Olivier Duchesneau said.

The party would not disclose how much they are spending on the limited Stanley Cup playoff ad buy.

As usual, the government is showing its egregious contempt for the intelligence of the public:
The Conservative government defended the spending.

“Advertising is a key way for the government to inform Canadians about important issues such as tax credits and public health issues," said Stephanie Rea, spokeswoman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement.
Let's hope the above whopper sets everyone's spider sense tingling.

Friday, April 24, 2015

This Deserves To Be Watched Regularly Until October

Journalist Michael Harris (Party of One) recently appeared on Steve Paikin's TVO show, The Agenda. People should watch this on a regular basis to be reminded regularly of Stephen Harper's anti-democratic and contemptuous ways.

A Cudgel Resurrected

To the red-meat crowd (a.k.a. the Harper base et alia), few things can seem more gratifying than an attack on unions. Viewed as the enemy of all that is good and holy (i.e., unfettered profits), unions, we are often told, have had their day and really shouldn't be disrupting our lives anymore. Anything that restrains them can only redound to the public good.

While critical thinkers can see this for the propaganda it is, critical thinkers are not the ones being courted by the Harper regime. And so, in search of yet another divisive and polarizing issue, Tim Harper writes that Bill C-377,
first introduced by British Columbia Conservative backbencher Russ Hiebertin December 2011, has been revived by a Senate committee and there was Hiebert this week, again staking his claim to some type of Conservative medal as the man who has most doggedly pursued his boss’s agenda.

Hiebert is still flogging what must be considered the most fundamentally flawed piece of legislation to come from this majority government, a punitive assault on labour unions which would tip the collective bargaining process in the country to the employer, violate privacy and freedom of association rights of union leaders and tie up unions up with unnecessary, trivial, insulting paper work.
While Harper lapdog Hiebert extols the bill as one providing accountability and transparency,
Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff calls it “an unwarranted, unconstitutional, venal and indefensible bill that is inherently flawed and must be withdrawn.”
Designed to hobble unions with paperwork and make it easier to decertify them, while simultaneously making union membership more difficult, would force unions to publicize their budgets, their expenditures, how much they would be able to pay workers in the event of a strike and what type of money they would have to promote their cause in the case of a breakdown of a collective agreement.

Employers would not be compelled to disclose any of that.
A particular incident is instructive of the obdurate mindset of the bill's backers:
Manitoba Conservative Don Plett showered praise on Hiebert for his hard work and announced it was time to make this bill law.

But when he clashed with Paul Cavalluzzo, a constitutional and labour lawyer with more than four decades of experience, the bombastic Plett insulted the witness by telling him he considered “your time and my time to have been wasted with you here today not answering my questions.”
I suspect that what Plett really meant was that Cavalluzzo did not provide the answers that he wanted to hear.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Less Than Meets The Eye

So much for fiscal prudence. So long credibility.

Those words, written By Scott Clark and Peter DeVries, succinctly summarize the illusions, misdirection and magical thinking that Joe Oliver's budget is based on.

As the authors point out, six 'rabbits' that Oliver pulled out of his hat on Tuesday conceal some disquieting truths:
First, the government changed the methodology the Finance Department uses to forecast oil prices. Oliver is now forecasting that oil prices will increase in the coming years, averaging $54 a barrel in 2015, $67 in 2016, $75 in 2017 and $78 a barrel in 2018 and 2019.
According to projections by the World Bank, this is quite an optimistic forecast.
The second rabbit was the selling off of capital assets to cover one-time spending. In the budget, asset sales amounted to an incremental $1 billion in 2015-16, resulting from the sales of the government’s GM shares. These shares were sold at a steep loss solely to achieve a political commitment — a balanced budget in 2015-16
The next feat of prestidigitation is found in the contingency fund:
In previous budgets, Finance included a contingency reserve of $3 billion per year. The contingency reserve is also there as a buffer in the event that economic results do not turn out as expected. The contingency reserve was cut to bone Tuesday — to just $1 billion in each of the next three years.
Given the precarious financial outlook for the world, this cut can only be seen as foolish, reckless, and overtly political.
The fourth rabbit was an increase in the “lapse” — the amount of funds appropriated to departments and agencies by Parliament but not spent during the course of the year. The lapse for 2015-16 and the next two fiscal years has been increased...
The consequences of such 'lapses' cannot be underestimated. Here is but one example:

The fifth rabbit was the government’s decision to continue to assume higher-than-required Employment insurance (EI) premium rates. This generated an additional $1.8 billion in 2015-16.
And, as Thomas Walkom points out,
The finance minister managed to win his surplus this year largely by taking $3.4 billion from the employment insurance account...
The final rabbit — certainly not the least controversial — is government’s forecast of $900 million in 2015-16 resulting from legislating “a modernized disability and sick leave management system” on public sector unions in the budget bill yet to be tabled.
Since negotiations are ongoing, bargaining in bad faith is not too strong an accusation to level against the government which, in fact, may relish a battle with the unions going into the election, given public antipathy toward those who do well in unionized environments. Nevertheless, counting on almost $1 billion being extracted from public servants does appear to be a tad wishful.

All in all, once the surface of this budget is scratched, the alleged economic prowess of Stephen Harper is once again exposed for the myth that it is.