After much prodding by other bloggers, I set this up for my own writings. The name is in honour of the two women that mentored me throughout my life on politics and intelligence issues, as well as being wonderful family members, now alas deceased. I hope to live up to their standards at this site.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Harper shows his contempt for both Canadians and our military

First off, I wanted to post the image Dave/Cheryl put up at Galloping Beaver showing a half-mast Canadian flag, but I could not get this blog to do so, so I am linking to it HERE.

Now, to the actual substance of this post. According to Harper and his Minister of Defence the reasoning behind this restriction of cameras at Trenton is to protect the privacy/dignity of the families of the fallen soldiers. Let us look at this official reason for a minute. First off, according to various family members both from the side that agrees with the Harper decision and from those that disagree one common thread did emerge. That thread being this policy was not discussed by the Harper government with any of these or as far as we know any other military families, indeed Minister O'Connor specifically said he did not speak to any of the families involved this time prior to the announcement of the change in policy. So this is a unilateral policy shift by the Harper government. It was not the result of any requests by the families, it was not the result of any outcry from other families that have gone through this claiming the media was obtrusive and disrespectful of their grief, it was not the result of anything other than the sole desire of the Harper government. Which is their prerogative as a government, but that is not the issue here, the issue here is that the reason this government gave for this unprecedented policy change has no actual connection to reality, as in there is absolutely no evidence to support this premise as having any connection to any desire by families for this change.

Now, why would this government provide a reason that has not got any evidence to corroborate that there was any need or desire from those supposedly being protected by this new policy? On the surface of it this makes little sense. However, when one considers the tendency of this party and leader to lift lock stock and barrel political rhetoric, tactics, and strategies from the Bush/GOP then this explanation makes much more sense. For it is EXACTLY the same official reasoning provided by the Bush Administration when it implemented the same policy to block media access to repatriation ceremonies for its fallen soldiers from Iraq as noted by Dave and Dana at Galloping Beaver here. Consider for a moment just how often we have seen the same rhetoric used by Bushco and the GOP against their liberal opponents that the CPC and Harper specifically has used since gaining office against any of his opposition. The first visit to Afghanistan he claimed Canada would not "cut and run" despite domestic opposition that desired such, except for the reality there was and so far is no such opposition in the Parliament from any side wishing for such an action. Then the very next day he tells PM Karzai that the Canadian commitment is contingent on the survival of his minority government, which given his hard line there at all costs line the day before was really twisted. It contradicted his own rhetoric of the prior day, yet again used for domestic political aims, just like Bushco and the GOP have used the Iraq deployment to cast their opposition as untrustworthy and disrespectful (even disloyal/treasonous) to those in uniform.

Take also their arguments about the "Liberal media conspiracy" against the CPC and Harper. This is lifted from the GOP playbook as well, and there is far less evidence to support this contention in the Canadian media than there ever was in the American media, which given the paucity there is really saying something. However it is very useful to discredit any voices that may show elements of your party/government you do not want to see out there because they could be used to harm your electoral chances, something the American right has exploited to great success and we see Harper and the CPC mimicking at every turn. All the new restrictions on media access including blocking the media from covering Cabinet meetings from the third floor overturning decades of history, restricting the knowledge that a Cabinet meeting is even scheduled/happening, and other restrictions going beyond the usual in the case of a new government. Not to mention the constant refrain about how the media is out to destroy the government, biased against the government, etc. One thing a media is supposed to do is be skeptical of anything a government tells them regardless of party affiliation and ask hard questions, Harper made good use of this when in Opposition yet he wants to not have to face the same as a government unlike all other prior governments?!? Classic media control a la the GOP/Rove playbook.

I could go on chapter and verse with various examples of the CPC and Harper lifting language and rationales in many cases literally verbatim from the GOP/Bush playbook. Trying to dismiss this as an unfair and unreasonable attempt to "smear" Harper with the antipathy many Canadians have towards GWB appears to be the sole defence to this argument, which may sound good does not hold up well when those advancing this argument can provide multiple examples of this copying of the GOP/Bush playbook. Harper has made clear on many occasions over the last decade for his admiration of the success and the means by which it was achieved by the GOP, he in 2002-03 set forth both a policy speech (props to Canadian Cerberus) and paper while acting as the leader of the CA the argument that Conservatives in Canada needed to change directions towards fighting a culture war instead of the more traditional conservatism of Canada. He made clear that social conservatism must be at the heart of this new Conservatism and if this costs them some older/traditional Conservative support and voters so be it. So we know from throughout his political lifetime Harper has on many occasions admired openly and desired to emulate the means by which the GOP has done so well electorally in America the last decade or two, and we know his party has had contacts with their American counterparts (props Canadian Cerberus) including the last election. So trying to argue this is an argument without substance is clearly unsupported by the facts in this matter. Trying to claim this is "Harper derangement syndrome" incidentally is just further evidence of CPCers lifting GOP rhetoric instead of made in Canada rhetoric since this is clearly linked to "Bush derangement syndrome" This being something Charles Krauthammer "diagnosed" in one of his columns a few years ago to explain the antipathy many Americans feel towards Bush instead of accepting the possibility that it is Bush's own policies and actions which created this antipathy. Something I see too many Canadian Conservatives doing the exact same thing with, as well as blaming anything on the Liberals, just like Bush blaming 9/11/01 on Clinton's government. Then there is the automatic and repeated use of the argument that Liberals cannot offer any criticisms with any credibility, again something used by Bush and the GOP against the Dems to sidestep actually having to answer uncomfortable questions.

So that there is plenty of evidence to show this is yet a further adaptation of the GOP/Bush playbook by Harper and the CPC. How does this all show disrespect though to both Canadians and those in our uniform as I state in my headline you ask? Ah, now that is actually very easy to explain. First off, how does this show contempt to Canadians generally? The contempt is in the apparent underlying motive for this change, which is to limit as much as possible the negative imagery of death coming from the Afghanistan mission, especially since Harper went out of his way to adopt the mission/issue as his own from the outset of his time as PM. That motive relies on the premise that the more Canadians see fallen Canadian soldiers returning the faster they will stop supporting this mission and the use of force in Afghanistan. I find that very contemptuous indeed. I happen to have more faith in my fellow Canadians than that. I believe that as long as the public is kept fully informed as to the state of the mission and how it is achieving it's goals, kept fully aware that the mission stays the one they were told it was, and that the reason is a good/moral/legal/righteous one (to quote Cathie from Canada) Canadians will continue to keep strong support even in the face of mounting casualties. Only when Canadians feel these deaths are in a dishonourable mission, or when the government is playing partisan games with the mission and/or is hiding things/lying to them about the reality of this mission would I believe that this effect would occur. To believe Canadians are so weak minded, so cowardly and so afraid of casualties even the service of a just mission shows just how contemptuous this PM and his party is towards Canadians generally. Which when one reads older Harper public appearances like that policy speech/paper I refer to earlier is entirely consistent. After all we are in his words a third rate socialist welfare state, a country one can have so little pride in, a country that is all mouth and no guts on human rights and such, etc.

As for the contempt to the soldiers, that is also simple to see. These men and women are in a profession where they place their bodies in harm's way to protect our nation and the values and systems of law it believes in. They accept that not only are they risking their own deaths but that their profession requires them to be able to kill, with all the psychological and spiritual costs killing other human beings carries with it. They operate in some of the most ugly and depressing environments in human existence, and not just on the battlefield. Being deployed to clean up after a major natural disaster isn't usually a pretty place either. They do all of this so we can live in the country we do. To not be able/willing to face the reality of this when the reality is negative, which death certainly is, shows a degree of moral cowardice that is contemptuous of the sacrifices these men and women make for us. Is it too much to want Canadians to face the bad along with the good, to accept and pay our respects when these fall doing the mission we sent them on? I do not think so and neither do several of the military people I know and have spoken to about this issue. This was also why I was so strongly in favour of lowering the flag, it costs little and yet carries with it great symbolic value and while Remembrance Day is a good thing it is only one day in the year and these deaths and horrors happen on any day of the year. Yet instead of solemnly repatriating our fallen and allowing all Canadians to see it when the body is returned (incidentally for those relatives that are elderly, far away or disabled these broadcasts may well be the only time they see their family member being so honoured) this government wants to minimize it as much as possible. To argue the ceremony in Afghanistan when the plane is loaded is sufficient sounds good, but I also know that it is the repatriation ceremonies on Canadian soil that tends to get the main coverage by the networks and the visual media, and that appears to be what Harper wants to hide from the Canadian public and not protecting the families.

Now, I can accept a change in policy where the media is say restricted from asking questions of family members at these ceremonies unless they come to them to do so, but I strongly believe these ceremonies need to be covered for the Canadian people. After all, the military does this not just for the families but for themselves as well, so to argue this is a totally personal/private/family matter is also inherently incorrect. This is something that should be covered by visual media, one can restrict the media from talking to family members at this ceremony and I wouldn't be upset about it. They could even ask each family member what their feelings are on their loved one ceremony being televised and go case by case that way. This though is something else entirely, it is arrogance and moral cowardice by Harper, and he is using families of soldiers and the fallen soldiers themselves to score political points to further enhance his chances of a majority next time out. In other words it is his partisan political aims that are driving this decision and he is willing to politicize the Canadian military repatriation ceremonies to do so, as well as reversing the flag lowering.

Incidentally, if Harper had only reversed the flag lowering I expect it would have blown over fairly quickly aside from hard core partisans. However having this one-two setup with the flags yesterday and then restricting media access to repatriation ceremonies Harper has guaranteed much greater coverage, and a much greater chance of this being seen in a negative manner by more than just partisans, as well as by being so blatant in copying both action and rationale from the Bush playbook on the Trenton restrictions makes it far easier for non-partisan Canadians to see this as Harper acting like GWB. After all the coffin controversy in the USA has been so extensively covered over the last several years that the general public cannot miss the identical nature of both act and reasoning. Harper is very vulnerable to being seen as too much an admirer of America and the American political process, which is not something the clear majority of Canadians has ever felt was a good thing in their PM's. Indeed, this is why Harper and the CPC kept using the phrase America is our neighbour not our nation in the last election to combat this problem. Which given that Harper governs like he is an American, indeed in some respects he is acting like an American President as opposed to a Prime Minister, is one of his biggest weak spots, so why does he reinforce it so strongly in this matter?

What is really sad is that the Liberals are the ones that sent the troops to Afghanistan. They are the ones that started the policy of flag lowering for deaths in Afghanistan. They are the ones that were quite willing to accept media coverage of returning military bodies with all the potential negatives that could go along with it. The Liberals supported this mission from the outset and also trusted in the Canadian public far more than it appears Harper is willing to. Yet it is Harper and the CPC that have told Canadians time and again how contemptuous of the military and anything to do with it the Liberals are, and how it is only the Conservatives that respect the military and can be trusted to properly support them. Well we are seeing the reality of that here, and it is clear that for all their faults and underfunding of the military the Liberals still had more respect and more moral courage in facing the returning military fatalities than Harper is, and Martin was also a minority PM that wanted a majority next time out. This shows which man is more inclined to play politics with this issue, and yet again it turns out that the rhetoric of Harper and the CPC turns out to be based on their projections of their own faults and failings onto their opponents/enemies instead of reality based.

Incidentally, I live in a military city. I was raised around many that wore the uniform or had in their past. Even my father had if only reserve. I was a cadet in my teens. I was getting ready to shift to reserves while I considered joining the Navy as Reg forces when I ripped apart ligaments in my right knee. By the time that was healed up I was again about to submit my application forms when I started throwing blood clots for no apparent reason. That permanently killed my military career aspirations. So I tend to take military issues seriously, and I do not automatically look at them first through a politically partisan lens. This government/party has spent its entire life going on and on and on about how much more respect they had for the military, how they would restore its honour and self dignity. Yet so far at almost every turn they have instead done what they can to politicize the mission in Afghanistan, used the troops as photo-op pieces while manufacturing phony opposition (cut and run), and done what they can to minimize the coverage of military deaths in Afghanistan with first the flag lowering cancellation and now the media blackout on the repatriation ceremonies.

I would also point out that using WWII comparisons as to why we don't do something doesn't apply on any issue regarding repatriation of bodies since we didn't do so for that war. We left them where they died then. It is only in the last few decades we started repatriating the bodies so the protocols that have been in place until Harper altered them about how they were covered by the media have been consistent since visual media/TV became a significant media source. We also have not been in a serious ground combat environment since Korea, so we have gone three generations almost with no significant military casualties because we have not been in true war zones since then. So the idea of Canadian troops dying in any significant numbers is something most Canadians did not grow up with. The flag lowering allowed a way to remind Canadians of this, and it was a way to remind the soldiers and especially the families of the fallen that their sacrifices have been noticed and acknowledged by the Canadian public. We can lower them for the death of an unelected federal senator, are we saying that we feel the service of a politician is more significant and important than the death of someone in a Canadian uniform? Seems a lot like that to me. However, the flag issue can at least be argued on the grounds of tradition, as flimsy as I may personally find that argument. The closure of repatriation ceremonies to the media though is truly unprecedented in our history AND there is not valid argument presented to date. As I said at the outset the family privacy claim is unsupported by any facts that such was desired by anyone other than the government itself. Harper is placing his own political aspirations for a majority government ahead of respecting the troops and their families with this action. Harper is also showing his contempt for the wider public in both his regard for their ability to accept casualties in a legal/honourable mission and in their ability to see this as a politically driven move remarkably identical to something Bush did to hide the deaths coming from the Iraq war.

Oh yes, before someone leaves a comment about how actions speak louder than words and what do I do to show my support for the troops other than take shots at Harper, don't go there. Since the day we deployed to Afghanistan right after 9/11/01 I put a poppy in my hat, a hat I tend to wear almost everywhere year round. Last year I added a pin commemorating our veterans that Andrew at Bound By Gravity mentioned on his blog last year as well as how to get one. I have on many occasions been told by those in and out of uniform how much they appreciate the fact I wear a poppy to remember that we have troops in a dangerous place and that it is likely to cause many deaths before it is done. Whenever I go to the NS Tattoo I always look for the veterans and go up to them to thank them for their service to our country, and I occasionally see tears in their eyes in gratitude. I always have some symbol of our fallen military dead when I go out, it is not much but it is what I can do in my circumstances so I do it. I also watch all repatriation ceremonies I can to acknowledge these deaths to both pay my own respects as well as to not avoid the ugliness in the reality of warfare while acknowledging the beauty in sacrifices motivated by duty, honour, and a willingness to place our country/society ahead of one's own life/interests. That kind of self sacrifice is something I have a very high regard for. So I tell people now that anyone that tries to claim I am all talk for partisan politics on this issue had best not expect any response.

I would also add this last point, we are not officially in a war. While yes we are in a conflict, and yes it is de facto pretty much a war, we never actually declared this as a war. As Dave at Galloping Beaver points out in the comments at this thread at Canadian Cynic's this is officially a Contingency Operation, not actually a formally declared war, at this is not a minor nit pick despite what I expect some CPCers will argue. So trying to cite examples from prior wars to support this policy shifting with flags and repatriation coverage is also inaccurate because of this. It also puts the lie to anyone claiming this is a "war" and therefore "wartime" rules apply. This is inherently untrue until and unless a formal declaration of war is passed in Parliament and to date this has not happened. So trying to use the "shut up its wartime" defence of this government only further demonstrates the inherent ignorance of those making this argument and their inability to check their own information instead of repeating what their party leaders have told them to think. Not to mention their preference to silence opposition instead of refute/rebut them. The CPC claimed this was how the Liberals operated, yet there was far more internal dissent within the Liberal party when they were governments than we see to date in the CPC, and that according to CPCers those that supported the Liberals worked only from Liberal talking points while the CPCers actually knew their issues and were speaking from an informed and principled position. Well, here is one way to tell just how principled and thoughtful Conservatives are, if they declare this is a war then they know far less about this mission and military matters generally than they are trying to portray themselves as. War is something too serious a term to abuse so easily when we are talking about actual use of military assets/forces.

Well, I could keep on going on this issue, it really has irritated me more than almost anything since the Grewal fraud and Harper's cover-up of it and who was responsible for it. Incidentally, I noticed Grewal is under RCMP investigation again, this time for his practice of collecting and cashing checks made out in his name instead of his riding association account for purposes of reelection. Not to mention the failure to provide tax receipts, here are some examples. If he is charged expect the whole Grewal fraud of last May/June to resurface, and given the massive defence Harper gave Grewal as an honest, honourable man being persecuted unfairly by the media and the Liberals to protect the Liberals from their aledged "scandal: of selling Senate seats for MP votes. Which as all my regular readers know is a lie, a lie created by Grewal and whomever edited the recordings released May 31 05 as the full pristine and uncut recordings by Harper and the CPC after having the recordings in their custody for 12 days after Grewal initially played an 8 minutes segment of the recordings and accused the Liberals of offering a Senate seat to his wife for her and him to cross to the Liberals. If anyone is thinking I am looking forward to this happening if Grewal is charged, you are right. I consider the Grewal fraud last year to be the most serious dirty tricks operation in our political history, and the fact that it was covered up as well as it was at the time by Harper and the CPC one of the most serious miscarriages of justice as well. Not to mention it showing beyond any doubt that Harper's famous person honesty was pure myth, because no one of any honour and/or honesty could have been a party to a cover-up of a potentially criminal offence of fraud and slander let alone aimed at a PM and with the intentin of bringing down a minority government, and Harper wais most certainly a party to that.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

How was the untendered contract awarded in the first place to a political friend of the government?

I just finished watching today's Question Period and something was raised there that I think was not properly dealt with. A question was asked regarding the letting of an untendered contract to look into the tendering process itself to a friend/political ally of someone in the government, unfortunately I missed exactly who it was specifically and as yet I haven't got a Hansard transcript to work from. John Baird made a big deal of saying that as soon as it was noticed and brought to his attention that such happened that the contract was cancelled immediately and that this was what real accountability looked like, which is why the Liberal asking the question didn't recognize it supposedly. Ok, I can accept that once it was found out (although I have to wonder whether it was found out from media reports and if it had not come out there would this contract still be in place, and if it was a media report that caused it to be noticed then we see the media demonstrating yet again why the better access to the government and government information/documents for the media results in better government and why restricting such access is antithetical to open government) it was cancelled, but there was one question neither asked nor answered. That question is how did this untendered contract end up in the hands of a political ally/friend of this government in the first place?

It would be interesting to find out exactly how this contract was awarded, when it was cancelled, and whether that cancellation date was prior to the media report or after. However what it does show is that the accountability government has already had sloppy enough contract tendering to its friends despite claiming such would never happen on their watch within its first 2 months. I would also wonder how many untendered contracts have been let in Quebec by Public Works that also "coincidentally" go to friends/supporters of the CPC. In any event, while this particular contract was cancelled once the Minister knew about it, the question still must be how did it get tendered to that person in the first place and why didn't the Minister already have in place orders that all untendered contracts must be vetted for political affiliation to prevent the use of government contracts for rewarding political support instead of making sure the most qualified recipient/firm gets the contract regardless of such affiliation.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

SSM: Here we go again...*sigh*

While not one of the five priorities it appears that Justice Minister Vic Toews is signaling that we can expect the SSM to be returning to the halls of Parliament sooner rather than later. Apparently the last go round was not good enough, supposedly because the Liberal government whipped its Cabinet while releasing all backbench MPs made it not a free vote which requires another bite at the apple. One problem though with that line of reasoning comes to mind. The NDP also whipped its caucus on this vote so if they again whip in this new vote it will have exactly the same problem the last one did according to Conservatives, it was not a full free vote of all Parliamentarians. Until and unless they can get the NDP to promise to not whip their members on such a vote the sole reason the CPC provides for needing to revisit this issue will remain. Therefore it would appear that the official reason for revisiting this issue is not likely the actual one. Which means that the only other logical reason for revisiting this issue is the fact that the CPC lost last time around and do not like the reality that SSM is state sanctioned throughout Canada.

So the only reason to revisit this in reality is to try and overturn this result and go back to the "traditional" definition of marriage, in other words take the right to marry away from gay couples. Now the only arguments brought against SSM come down to either religious belief or some form of internal distaste for the idea of gays marrying. What has never been shown is the harm allowing such marriage will do to the society whereas the harm depriving rights from citizens is quite clear and obvious. I see this intent of Toews as a direct furtherance of the religious opposition to SSM and trying to reverse what most Canadians have agreed is reasonable and now done needs to be left alone. It is not out of some principle regarding what a free vote is for the reason I already laid out, and without that fig-leaf the CPC has not got any reason for doing this other than to placate their section of their base which is against gay rights generally and especially SSM. Well I will state here and now that I personally find such actions indicative of bigotry and intolerance towards homosexuals and I will oppose it wherever I see it, and this government appears ready to display that bigotry masked in a principle that clearly cannot be met so long as the NDP see this as a fundamental issue requiring whipping of their caucus.

Any Conservatives that choose to leave comments calling me a fear monger or someone smearing the CPC with bigotry and intolerance go right ahead. Don't expect any response. I am not the one trying to limit the rights of Canadian citizens that are recognized as Charter rights by most of the Provincial Supreme courts before the federal government formalized it. The only way to override SSM in those Provinces where their Supreme Court ruled is to invoke the Notwithstanding clause, something Harper appeared to promise was not something he would do, yet I know Toews is on the record as saying this clause is something he thinks a CPC government should invoke often to transform the country into the Conservative vision of what it should be. The fact that such use of this clause guts the power of the Charter is no accident but the underlying intent is my belief in his and others within the CPC that feel the Notwithstanding clause needs to be used on things like SSM.

Harper to Canadians: ACESS DENIED

Well well well, what do we see here? Why it is Prime Minister Harper suddenly going back on yet another one of his main crusade points in his morality campaign against the Liberal government. This time he is going back on what was certainly one of his longer running themes, access to information restrictions by the government being such an evil and destructive thing to transparent and accountable to Canadians government. After all he used to tell us, if you do not know what the government is doing in your name how can you approve or disapprove of it? Suddenly though one of the cornerstones of his Accountability Act is no longer apparently as important as it was during that morality crusade AND the last election campaign. Now that it is his government suddenly the idea of the public being able to request information from the government and actually expect an answer is apparently something that needs more study and cannot be implemented in the Accountability Act, at least not at this time. Wow, who would have seen that one coming? After all, it is Harper himself that told Canadians how important it was for the average citizen to be able to find out what the government is doing, it was Harper that told us that the restrictions the Liberals had in place were so corrosive to democracy and offensive to all that believe in accountable and responsible government and should not be tolerated in an open and free democracy. Yet now that he has his first government he is not content with doing his best to restrict the media's access to the physical aspects of his government except in Harper approved formats, he includes their ability to research what the government is doing via paperwork as well as restricting the ability of any Canadian to do so as well?

Some transparent government Harper is running to date. There is a veil of secrecy coming down upon the Canadian government the likes of which have not been seen in decades. When one takes together the media restriction limits, the restrictions upon his MPs and their staffs and the need to clear everything through his office, the five priorities being the sole approved discussion points for the government, and now this unwillingness to improve the access to information access for Canadians after bemoaning them for so long in Opposition a really disturbing pattern forms. This is a very weak minority government doing this degree of restriction and expecting the public to believe it is acceptable. Indeed, they are truly acting in these areas as if they have a majority and not a minority. They are acting as if the public will be content to simply let the Conservatives do as they please for the first year or two and feel that they can run roughshod over the media since they feel the only real opposition to their agenda is the media. Which unfortunately would be nice since the BQ are afraid of the CPC at the moment, the Liberals are leaderless, and the NDP are being led by a man more interested in power himself than the principles of his party and protecting that legacy as well as trying to improve upon it.

This is yet one more brick in the wall of secrecy Harper is placing around his government from the Canadian people and the Canadian media. Remember that access to information requests are a major tool in investigative journalism into what the government is doing, how it is doing it, and who it is doing it with. It is how many scandals get their first taste of existence when a reporter finds something in such a request which sets them on a trail. So when Harper reverses himself on implementing the access to information protocols he campaigned on as part of his loudly proclaimed at every turn masterpiece of cleaning up government Accountability Act after all the other media restrictions and public speaking by his government even to the idea of keeping the fact Cabinet is even meeting a secret it becomes quite difficult to claim this is nothing out of the ordinary for a new government. Even if that were true it is irrelevant seeing as the CPC and Harper campaigned and won the election on ethics, accountability, cleaning up government and doing things differently than the old corrupt ways. Harper is trying to pretend he did not run a morality campaign last time out. The thing about a morality campaign is if it works the downside is that the standards one spoke so strongly for while in that morality campaign are a fair standard by which whomever used the morality campaign to win can and should be evaluated and not the history of prior governments. Harper wants to reap the benefits and avoid the drawbacks, which seems to be a fairly consistent theme with him when one thinks about it.

I am becoming increasingly worried that my fears for what a Harper government would mean for this country may actually have been understating the reality instead of overstating it. Given all the use of this Accountability Act as a shield for all the ethically questionable decisions of Harper's since the first day of his swearing in (Emerson, Fortier, O'Conner, being contemptuous of any protest of Emerson as being superficial in nature, dismissing Shapiro's responsibility to launch a preliminary investigation despite the obvious outcome being what it was etc) to see one of what was touted as a primary component of it being removed "for further study in committee" is both offensive and about what I have come to expect from this government in its short lifetime to date. So this is the clean cut Conservative government that was going to show how much better and morally superior it was to the prior governments, especially the Martin Liberal one. Harper is doing something I never thought possible, he is making me somewhat nostalgic for the government of Joe Clark or even Mulroney, although that one is only by a hair and could fall back at any time. I really did not care for Mulroney's arrogance and willingness to gamble with the future of the country as he did, especially not when he describes it that way himself. Unfortunately I fear Harper if he opens up Constitutional discussions will be making the same arrogant mistake with potentially even worse consequences than Mulroney left us with, and those were no small negatives.

*Thanks to Maple Leaf Politics for the article referenced*

P.S. If anyone thinks I am the only one troubled by Harper's actions where the media is concerned and the potential for some really serious negative impacts for Canada and the ability of Canadians to find out what their govenrment is really doing (as opposed to what they are telling us, something that never should be trusted without reservation or verification) this post by Steve at Far and Wide is an interesting read IMHO.

Monday, April 03, 2006

This is Harper's idea of respecting the military more than Liberals did?

This is a short entry, and one being posted thanks to A BCer in Toronto posting about it first here. However, unlike him I am willing to show a certain degree of political outrage over it, after all it is what the CPC has been doing with the military throughout its history in Opposition and apparently since becoming government enjoying using them as political props by PM Harper and a political shield by Harper regarding the Afghanistan deployment. To be fair I do not know why the policy suddenly changed with the new government, but I do find it remarkable that both Chretien and Martin had flags lowered for the death of a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan out of respect (save one time in Nov 2005, reason not given although given the chaos Parliament was by then I suppose it could have slipped through the cracks) yet there have been three deaths since Harper was sworn in and no flag lowering for any of them. I cannot see what was wrong with honouring our dead this way and I would have thought this was a Liberal policy that he could in good conscience continue given the supposedly strong respect and commitment to our military Harper claims he has and his party represents. For a PM and party that made such a big deal about the contempt Liberals have been showing the military while a Conservative government would be far more respectful this is very bad symbolism indeed. The question is whether this indicative of things to come or simply an isolated case, and only time will tell on that one. so far Harper's rhetoric is there but the real test will be in his actions and the actions of his government. Rhetoric is something the military has heard time and again from both Liberal and Conservative governments in the past, what they want to see is actions that match the rhetoric, and this unfortunately does not.

Is it a big deal? I suppose that depends on your POV. I suspect that it matters to those in the military and their families though as proof of the regard for the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, and for a military that is supposed to be so demoralized by years of Liberal neglect and abuse this seems particularly odd for the Conservatives and Harper in particular to have allowed to happen. Unless of course they were unaware of the tradition Chretien and Martin had going with the flag lowering, but then that would mean that Harper paid far less attention and respect to our military in Afghanistan and especially those that have fallen in that mission to date than he made himself out to be doing. Either way this is something Harper should explain why he didn't continue upon takeover and either implements again or explains why he feels it should not be continued. This was a cheap and easy way to reaffirm the idea that the CPC and Harper are more supportive of the military than the Liberals and they blew it. Indeed, it was a cheap and easy way to remind Canadians that the CPC and Harper support the military more than the previous government.

Yet again Harper demonstrates his appalling inability understand basic political symbolism, just as he showed on his first day as PM with Emerson and especially Fortier's unnecessary Senate appointment and the double whammy of appointing that unnecessary Senator (who just happened to be Harper's leadership campaign chair in Quebec as well as the CPC election chair in Quebec in the last election) to run the Ministry of patronage and corruption, also known as Public Works. This time though it is the military that gets disrespected, something Harper and the CPC claim to truly care for more than any other party and leader. Well actions speak louder than words, and here the Liberals clearly showed more respect in this action than Harper. Not smart, not wise, and if Harper has any sense at all will be something he corrects as soon as possible.

Harper appears interested in taking a Constitutional on Canadians' heads

I first heard about this yesterday while doing a quick check of some blogs while house-sitting for my parents while they went away for the weekend. I could not believe I was reading what I was reading when I did encounter it. I chose to not comment on it then in part because I was having trouble believing that Harper would be this foolish even after the prior evidence of foolishness since he came to power (Emerson, Fortier, Shapiro among others) given the recent history of such Constitutional discussions. After all I know he is old enough to remember the last two times we did this, both in Trudeau's time and in Mulroney's, and the fallout each session created for the long term. In the case of Trudeau it was the "night of the long knives" as perceived within Quebec which in turn seriously strengthened the belief within Quebec that it did not count for much if after all the Constitution could be repatriated and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms incorporated without their consent. It became over time one of the more useful tools for the separatists to use to whip up anti-federal/Canada sentiment.

However, as bad as the fallout from the Trudeau Constitutional discussions were the ones Brian Mulroney left us with made things far worse. For one thing it appears that his primary motive for his Constitutional talks was not principle, not belief in the need to include Quebec (although I will grant this one was a secondary motive for Mulroney) but his quite egotistical need to equal and/or pass Trudeau in the area of Constitutional reform. He was jealous of what Trudeau had accomplished and wanted to be able to claim that he did as much or even more by bringing in Quebec as well as making other changes. Well we know what that got us. First we had the Meech Lake process which ended up in disaster, not because of NFLD and Premier Clyde Wells despite the mythology that built up surrounding it (probably because it was more politically useful to blame a Liberal Premier than an Aboriginal MLA for the collapse of the Accord) but rather one Aboriginal MLA in Manitoba by the name of Elijah Harper (interesting coincidence of names to our current PM, thankfully no relation that I am aware of) who did not believe that the Accord was in the best interests of Aboriginals in this country and refused to allow it to pass in the Manitoba Legislature which needed unanimous consent to pass it within the necessary timeframe.

As a direct result of the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord Lucien Bouchard, the best friend of Brian Mulroney that Mulroney brought in to politics along with many soft separatists that he ran as PCPC candidates in 1984 and 1988 with the promise of giving Quebec special powers and status within the Confederation, broke away from the PCPC and took those PCPC MPs that were former separatists with him to create the Bloc Quebecois. When Meech Lake failed it was seen, and with good reason I might add, as the public rejecting the idea that Quebec is a special Province and therefore deserves powers that the other Provinces do not get to have. Thanks to the splitting from the PCPC of the BQ (which also attracted some Liberal Quebec MPS, but the clear majority of the original BQ and its core organizers were PCPC MPs and founded by Mulroney's best friend Lucien Bouchard.) to this day we are dealing with many negative repercussions from this debacle which was totally Brian Mulroney's fault (Who else remembers the infamous Mulroney line about sometimes you just need to roll the dice?). It was he after all that recruited these soft nationalists knowing their views and did so by promising them something he had no business promising since he could not guarantee it would happen since it required unanimous consent by all Provinces, hardly the easiest thing to get. He knew that the primary interests of these MPs were not the future of Canada but the future of Quebec, yet he brought them in and their networks within Quebec so he could have those back to back majorities. When he could not fulfill his promises to them they quite reasonably decided there was no longer sufficient interest/cause for them to stay within the PCPC or indeed any federalist party and decided to give the separatists federal representation with the BQ to help facilitate the destruction of Canada with the removing of Quebec from Confederation and being the voice of the Parti Quebecois in Ottawa in truth if not in name.

Then, just to add insult to injury Mulroney starts down the Charlottetown Accord with which he put to the general public in a referendum. It was sold as the last chance to keep Canada together and there was a lot of fear driven rhetoric placed behind it by Mulroney and the PCPCs, which in turn made the defeat of it that much easier for Quebecois separatists to sell that defeat as a rejection by Canada of Quebec and its aspirations and needs. So those two Accords, Meech and Charlottetown were instead of being the tools of healing and saving Canada became the tools which nearly destroyed it in the 1995 referendum in Quebec. It was the fervour raised by both the Accords within Quebec and the defeat of both which helped pitch the idea that separation was the only thing left for Quebec to do to maintain its social/cultural integrity and the fiscal disarray of the Feds after the Mulroney years made the economic argument appear that much more credible and sensible as well. So we have seen the last two Constitutional conferences of two PMs, one of whom succeeded in his goal and the other did not ended up creating serious negative long term impacts that we are still to this day recovering from. Yet Harper wants to reopen this? Madness in a minority position, especially a minority which is most likely to be propped up by the BQ since there is a certain degree of overlap in their agendas where devolution of powers is concerned from the feds to the Provinces.

Now, why did I rehash all of this? I did so to remind everyone that for at least a generation now the idea of Constitutional discussions has the taint of chaos and negative impacts to them, even in the one case where the goal was actually accomplished. It is also important to remember that both Trudeau and Mulroney had majorities for their respective mentioned Constitutional discussions and proposals. Harper has the weakest minority in our history. There is no desire to reopen the Constitution in the vast majority of the country, although I will note that there is some interest in the country for some things that can only be dealt with via opening up the Constitution, i.e. Senate reform EEE style. There is not though a general interest in doing so now, nor did the current PM and his party campaign in the slightest about opening up the Constitution for changes if they were elected. This is not something the average citizen thought was going to be a part of this government since it was not a campaign issue, and it certainly isn't a part of the (in)famous five priorities of this government as determined by PM Harper himself to his party and to the public.

So by doing this Harper is again opening himself and his party up to accusations of having a "hidden agenda", something they have been doing whatever they can to dismiss and ridicule as paranoia and fear mongering by Liberals. So why provide yet more ammunition to give that argument/accusation substance? Especially why chose to do so on something as inflammatory and explosive as musing about the need to reopen the Constitution?!? It is also important to note that while Harper mused about opening up the Constitution he did not state for what purposes specifically he feels it may be necessary for. He was remarkably vague about the specifics that he feels this inherently controversial action necessitates, which both feeds the hidden agenda belief and also asks the question why he would muse about something this potentially explosive without any specifics as to why he feels this may be/is necessary.

Harper is opening a very messy can of worms if he chooses to open up Constitutional discussions. Even if he believes he can keep it focused on a few specifics of his choosing and nothing else he will still give voice to every special interest that wants a specific Constitutional change by virtue of opening up the discussion at all. Indeed, the more he ignores these other voices the more he looks like he is being arrogant in his refusal to consider the wishes of Canadians other than those wishes which correspond to his. Given this PM's perception issues in the country for arrogance and narrow mindedness (I mean in terms of considering ideas from outside his ideology and/or political affiliation nothing more) to ignore these voices feeds this, whereas if he chooses to open it up even slightly to any of these voices to be given credence then he has to open it up wide open or buys the worst of both worlds. Once this conversation gets started Harper *WILL* lose control of the discussion and debate, it is inherent in the nature of these conversations. This has been shown to be true when the conversations took place in a majority federal context, in a minority federal context with the Bloc Quebecois holding balance of power this will only be more so I suspect, and the law of unintended consequences has shown itself to play a major effect in all prior such discussions so I would expect it would happen here as well to the detriment of the country.

If Harper really thinks opening up the Constitution is necessary he should have campaigned on it and not bring it up without warning once elected. Or he should make it a part of his platform for the next election so he can get the mandate for it AND provide the basic shape of what reforms he wants to make so that if he wins the next time out he has a real mandate to do these changes as well as to not let it degenerate into a mess where everyone expects their issue to be on the table. To do things with the Constitution during this minority government with the absolute lack of any mandate to do so is just about the worst way to handle this I can think of. To do it this way is to be willing to take insane risks with this country, and not the act of a responsible PM at all.

This is really a bad idea for this Parliament, period. This was not what was campaigned on, it was not what the CPC was elected on, and Harper has no mandate to do so nor does he have the control a majority grants to at least keep the discussion under some sort of control within the federal level. If he must do this he first needs to lay out exactly what he wants to change, why he thinks it needs changing, and then sell it to the general public so that the Premiers will feel the pressure to commit to it as well instead of opposing it. Even doing it this way is fraught with risks but at least it is the honest way to go given the circumstances of Harper's minority, the election campaign which got it for him, and the complete lack of any discussion and/or promises within that election campaign of any discussion of Constitutional change.

I do not know what Harper is thinking with all of this. Instead of appearing to be gaining a better understanding of his new position and the responsibilities that go with the power and perks he appears to be losing understanding he once had. If he thinks Canadians are so fed up with the Liberals that he can do what he wants without the Liberals being a serious threat for a few years then I think he is making a very serious error indeed. He should reflect on the reality that despite the perfect storm against the Liberals last time out and their terrible election campaign they still got a third of the seats in Parliament and his party got 11 seats less than Martin did from the electorate. This was because they did not trust Harper and the CPC to not have this "hidden agenda" and such and that despite their ethical issues at the time the Libs still ran the country from the red to the black fiscally, helped grow the economy, and generally kept domestic peace after the referendum of 1995 until the Sponsorship scandal broke in the public thanks to the AG. The Liberals are far from beaten, far from totally rejected by the general public, especially if the CPC and Harper govern in a manner contrary to their election promises (something they have been doing since literally the first day of their government) and demonstrate that the agenda they ran on is not the agenda they actually enact as a government, thereby proving that the hidden agenda is not fear-mongering but reality after all. This is especially so if Harper and the CPC do this in a weak minority, since if they are this arrogant and contemptuous of the campaign promises they made to gain power with a minority which could be brought down anytime, what would Harper and the CPC be like with a majority where they would have at least four years to do whatever they wanted with.

I do not understand why Harper is making these basic mistakes, but he is. The reason the hidden agenda rhetoric had potency was that there really were indications that what this man and his party would do in power was different from what they would campaign on, and here they are doing everything possible to help shore up the diminishing belief in the hidden agenda. Politically this is a bad idea, and personally I think the country is not currently ready for a Constitutional discussion at this time so to try and have one I fear would do more harm than any possible good. Harper's intentions here may be good, but then we know what the road to Hell is paved with after all...

For other concerned opinions on this raising of the Constitution by Harper see Dave's at Galloping Beaver, Steve's at Far and Wide, Publius at Canadian Publius, BC Waterboy at Kalamalka Rainbow, John at Dymaxion World, and the Faithful Tribune at Best/Worst of Times.