Tagged: Stephen Harper

Sen. Duffy: The other side of the story

If I had edited Mike Duffy’s speaking notes before his address to the Senate yesterday, I would have red-penciled the opening reference to a “heart condition” aggravated by “months of unrelenting stress,”  and to “my beloved Prince Edward Island,” along with a few adjectives  at the end (“monstrous,” “outrageous”). As John Iveson noted in the National Post, “Duffy does not cut a very sympathetic figure,” and these rhetorical flourishes don’t help. Still, it’s hard to read this and not suspect that the senator has a point, and that Prime Minister Harper has a problem. It’s long, but I urge you to click “read more” and keep reading after the jump.

Honourable Senators,

I rise today against the orders of my doctors who fear my heart condition has worsened after months of unrelenting stress. But given the unprecedented nature of today’s proceedings, I feel I have no other choice than to come here to defend my good name.

Like you, I took a solemn oath to put the interests of Canadians ahead of all else. However the sad truth is, I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong, out of a fear of losing my job, and a misguided sense of loyalty.

pullquoteMuch has been made of the $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright. I hope I’ll be able to give an explanation of the chain of events, and the circumstances surrounding that gift, without impinging on the rights of others to a fair trial should criminal proceedings follow. Let me summarize it this way:

Dec. 3rd, 2012, The Ottawa Citizen ran a story asking how I could claim expenses for my house in Kanata, when I had owned the home before I was appointed to the Senate? The inference was clear. I was doing something wrong. I immediately contacted Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and explained that I was doing nothing improper. Nigel Wright emailed me back, saying he’d had my expenses checked and he was satisfied that my accounts were in order. That all was in compliance with Senate rules. In fact he said there were several other Senators in the same situation, and that this was a smear.

Following the PMO’s advice, I ignored the media. But the attacks from Postmedia continued, and the political heat escalated. So after caucus on Feb. 13th I met the Prime Minister and Nigel Wright. Just the three of us. I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules.

But the Prime Minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.

I argued I was just following the rules, like all the others. It didn’t work. I was ordered – by the Prime Minister – to “pay the money back!” End of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout. Just the 3 of us.

[Continued after the jump]

Read more »

Judgment call: appeal dismissed

Webster's Third 250It’s always risky to opine on issues of spelling and grammar, and sure enough, several readers have objected to the graphic I posted [original source unknown] mocking a purported spelling error in the Harper Party’s TV ad attacking newly anointed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. These readers variously argue that many dictionaries rate judgement (two e’s) a perfectly acceptable spelling, or even consider judgment (one e) to be an exclusively American orthography.

Arguing from the authority of recent dictionaries is a mug’s game, since postmodernist lexicographers have rejected prescriptivism in favor of descriptivism. The job of a dictionary, these rubber-kneed democrats believe, is not to tell readers how words should be spelled or used, but merely to record how they are spelled and used—by pretty much anybody, including party hacks in the PMOs media firm de jour.

The Merriam-Webster Company set this trend in motion half a century ago with its 1962 publication of the massive Webster’s Third International Dictionary, which critics of the day scorned for its unhelpfully equivocal definitions like the following:


It is the case that British usage favors (or should I say favours) an extraneous e in judgement, but this has never been standard Canadian usage, let alone USian. The Supreme Court of Canada uses judgment. So do the Appeal Court of Nova Scotia and all its lesser progeny. The Canadian Press Style Book uses judgment. The Globe and Mail Style Book uses judgment. Etc., etc.

Sure, like many usage tiffs, it’s a picayune point, more likely to entertain those who despise Harper than those who revere him. Picayune, but valid.

Does Harper have the proofreading chops to be Prime Minister?



H/T: Copy editor extraordinaire DB

A different view of PM Stephen Harper

From Halifax artist Shawna Mac:



[Click here for the full-sized image.]

“I’m not very good with ‘art talk,’ ” Shawna replied when I asked her what she was going for in this picture. “It just seems there is a lack of contemporary historical Canadian art. Most of the pictures being made these days are either derogatory, abstract, or pretty flowers and landscapes.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but someone should fill in the blanks.  I’m just glad I live in a country where I don’t go to jail for it.”

To my undiscerning eye, the image imparts a schoolboy geekiness to the Prime Minister, to which Shawna replies, “Geeks are cool right now, and I do have a fondness for geeks.”

Find more work by Shawna Mac (who guards her full name online) here and here.


An ironic footnote to the Flanagan affair

As at least one news organization has noted, Tom Flanagan was Stephen Harper’s campaign manager in the 2004 federal election when the Conservative Party levelled charges against then-Prime Minister Paul Martin strikingly similar to those that so damaged Flanagan last week.

At the heart of the beleaguered professor’s misgivings about child porn laws is the question of when and how the legal system should intervene to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. A similar, though not identical, issue separated the Conservative Party of Canada from the other three other parties contesting the 2004 election.

The details of the dispute are not particularly important, but you can read about them in this CBC backgrounder from June of that year. What is pertinent is Harper campaign’s decision, 10 days before the election, to issue a news release condemning the Liberal position under the  headline, “Paul Martin Supports Child Pornography?”

The tactic misfired badly. Most people found the allegation offensive. It reinforced public suspicions of Harper as a zealous ideologue. The Conservatives, who had been nipping at the Liberals’ heels, slipped in the closing days of the campaign, and finished with a disappointing 99 seats to the minority Liberals’ 135.

What part Flanagan played in the episode is uncertain, but given his role as campaign manager and putative Harper confidant, it is at least plausible that he supported the foolhardy tactic. Writing later that fall in the poly-sci journal Policy Options, former Progressive Conservative campaign chair Graham Fox offered this analysis:

The release was a colossal mistake that simply cannot be forgiven in the major leagues, but it was just that: a mistake. No one would believe that a staffer in the Tory war room actually thought the prime minister supported harm being brought to children. It was an overzealous reaction to the cut and thrust of an election campaign. The bigger mistake was the leader’s unwillingness to acknowledge the incident for what it was, apologize and move on. The event should have been a stumble that lasted one hour. It became a debacle that lasted several days and forced a break in the leader’s tour to make time for a team huddle and regroup.

The offence is instructive on two levels. First, it reveals the rigidness of Team Harper’s approach to politics…. More so than the offending comments themselves, the Conservative campaign’s inflexibility in this regard proved to be its Achilles’ heel.

More worrisome for Tory supporters, however, is the apparent reason behind at least some of the campaign’s inflexibility. Speaking off the record, many senior Conservative strategists tell a troubling story about the discussions in the war room that followed reports of comments made by Tory candidates or other bad news items. It wasn’t just that the campaign could not adapt, but that it was difficult to convince the leader’s inner circle that such comments were even a problem that warranted a reaction. They could not predict that a great number of Canadians would be offended by the false allegations made against Martin and would rally to his defence. They could not foresee the backlash against their own leader and against the candidates in swing ridings.

Cut to 2013. Does anyone actually think that Tom Flanagan supports harm being brought to children? The charge is just as outlandishly crass as the CPC’s assertions about Martin. But whereas nine years ago, raising such an overblown charge cost Harper seats, and possibly the election, the same charge against Flanagan last week touched off a devastatingly destructive moral fury. Flanagan must wonder if he has stepped into Reverso-World.

I have no particular brief for Flanagan, but the attacks on him strike me as bizarre and offensive. What is this impulse, so common today, for citizens to work themselves into sanctimonious lather in support of moral positions so obvious and universal we ought to be able to take them as given? Seriously. Can witch trials be far behind?

[A few links to the 2004 controversy survive on line, including this CBC News story after Harper changed the headline on the release but prolonged the damage it caused, this parody, the CBC backgrounder, the Policy Options piece, Wikipedia’s entry on the election, and a couple of contemporaneous blogs.]

When one side flouts civil norms

Yesterday, White House press spokesman Jay Carney kiboshed the idea of minting a platinum trillion dollar coin to get around the Congressionally imposed debt ceiling that Republicans are using to ransom deep cuts in medicare and social security.

Some economists have urged President Barack Obama to exploit a legal loophole that would allow the government to print a single $1,000,000,000,000 coin, and deposit it with the Federal Reserve Bank, thereby enabling the US Government to pay bills Congress has already authorized.

MSNBC Host Chris Hays summed up the case for the coin this way:

If this seems surreal or ridiculous or magical to you, you are not wrong. It’s totally bizarre and unprecedented. Even if it’s legal, as many legal experts believe it to be, it seems to run against our expectations of how our government does and should behave. It’s the kind of thing that just isn’t done. But that, you see, is the entire point. Behaviour of individuals within institutions is constrained by the formal rules–explicit prohibitions–and norms–implicit prohibitions that aren’t spelled out, but just aren’t done.

Chris-HayesAnd what the modern Republican party has excelled at, particularly in the era of Obama, is exploiting the gap between these two. They’ve made a habit of doing the thing that just isn’t done. Requiring a 60-vote majority for nearly every simple procedural vote just wasn’t done, and then the Republicans did it. Refusing to confirm any candidate for an open position because you object to the position’s very existence just wasn’t done, but Senate Republicans did precisely that with the newly created Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which they continue to boycott. And most clearly before the summer of June, 2011, opposition parties didn’t use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip with which to extract ransom, and they certainly didn’t threaten default as a means to gain political leverage.

The president has been extremely reticent to meet this extraordinary degradation of previous norms with innovations of his own. He is, at heart, an ardent institiuionalist. But there is no way to unilaterally maintain norms. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. And the only way to produce a new set of healthy norms is to do some innovating of your own.

And you can tell, I think, the trillion dollar coin idea spooks republicans precisely because it would be so out of character. It would so gleefully and flagrantly violate their own expectations about how democrats play the game.

I go back and forth on whether Obama is a leader of exceptional forbearance, or a patsy who can’t play hardball. In this case, I’m dismayed that the President has once again abjured what may be his strongest weapon on the eve of negotiations that promise to be not just difficult but fraught with potential harm to the United States and the world.

Since Contrarian readers may not have followed this looming crisis all that closely, I will follow the advice of James Fallows and include these two sentences in this discussion:

  1. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize one single penny in additional public spending.
  2. For Congress to “decide whether” to raise the debt ceiling, for programs and tax rates it has already voted into law, makes exactly as much sense as it would for a family to “decide whether” to pay a credit-card bill for goods it has already bought.

For those who prefer to ingest their economic news visually, here is Hayes’s entire commentary on the Republican Debt ceiling fiasco (the coin discussion starts 25 seconds in):

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And here is the bipartisan panel discussion that followed.

At first blush, this is a discussion about the intricacies of US politics. But in Canada, over the last two years, the Harper Government has been flouting Parliamentary norms in a manner that is, so far as I know, unprecedented in scope. Harper has cobbled together massive omnibus bills that change dozens of important federal laws touching wide-ranging spheres of Canadian affairs–ranging from National Parks to native rights to protection of waterways. Harper has used his parliamentary majority to force these laws through with a minimum of debate.

Just as Republicans can say Democrats used the filibuster too, Harperites can say Liberals used Omnibus bills, too. Yes they did, and sometimes in regrettable ways, but never on this massive scale.

What we’ve seen from Harper in the last two years is a flouting of norms, and as Hayes says, once norms are gone, they’re gone, and you can’t get ’em back. Once Canada’s dalliance with the radical right ends, as inevitably it one day will, the most important task facing a moderate or progressive alternative will be to repair the damage Harper has done to Canadian Parliamentary Democracy.

Has Chief Spence got the Harpersphere worried – update

Just after Christmas, I noted an angry denunciation of Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement by a Harper-friendly journalist. I took it as an early sign that Spence holds “outsized potential to cause trouble for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.”

Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert seems to agree, albeit somewhat convolutedly:

On the societal role of government, the gap between the various non-Conservative constituencies in this country has always been smaller than the gap between those who support the current government and those who don’t.

The ranks of those who sympathize with the activist goals of the Idle No More movement stretch from Joe Clark, a former Tory prime minister on whose foreign affairs watch Canada embraced free trade with the United States, to the likes of Peter Julian, a former executive of the nationalist Council of Canadians, who is now energy critic for the NDP.

Against significant odds, social peace has mostly prevailed in Canada since Harper came to power. But over that period his government has hardly gone out of its way to expand its tent.

If anything, it has been more content than its predecessors to draw lines in the sand between its tent and the comparatively smaller ones of its squabbling rivals.

A risk in to that approach is that the number of people who feel left out in the cold tends to keep growing.

On that basis, the Idle No More movement — if left unattended — could snowball into the biggest challenge Harper has encountered since he was first elected as prime minister seven years ago this month.

Meanwhile, Alberta neocon Ezra Levant has gone nuclear over his discovery that the Attawapiskat Band has assets, and its protesting chief gets a nice salary. This apparently disqualifies both from carrying out any protest. Moreover, all chiefs are guilty by association with this non-crime, so the entire Idle No More movement must be dismissed.

The Harpershpere is indeed in high gear. Perhaps they are worried.

Who gave how much to whom at what cost to taxpayers

Now that we have freed the 2011 election donations data from the deadening grasp of Elections Nova Scotia, there’s no end to the interesting things one can do with it. For example:

In 2011, 4130 Nova Scotians…

Donated $1,057,213.29…

Of which 90.18% (amounts up to $750 per person) could be used as a Nova Scotia provincial tax credit.

Economists call this a tax expenditure. If donors did not receive a credit against  taxes they owed, the province would have raised $953,451 more revenue.

Personally, I think that’s a small price to pay to get corporate, union, and large private donations out of the business of financing election campaigns.

At the federal level, the Harper Conservatives are taking the opposite approach, ending public election financing, a change that will increase the role wealthy individuals, corporations, and unions will play in future Canadian elections.

US Republicans mimic Harper’s disdain for the census

The ultra-conservative US Tea Party movement is taking a page from Stephen Harper’s playbook: gutting the census. Last week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill that would shutter several Census Bureau projects and programs. Robert Groves is the Bureau’s director:

[Video link]

My mother, a school board member in her tiny Maine town, had a bumper sticker that read, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” You might equally, if less pithily, say, “If you think the census is expensive, try not knowing what’s happening to your country’s population.”

Gathering statistical information about a country’s demographics has been a hallmark of civilized countries for centuries. The requirement for a  decennial census is embedded in the US Constitution. Nothing better illustrates the no-nothing arrogance of neoconservatives, US and Canadian, than their contempt for evidence that might betray flaws in their ideology.

H/T: Nathan Yau

Truth in environmental assessment

As long as the Harper Government is hell bent on reforming Canada’s environmental assessment process, a Contrarian friend thinks we could save a lot of time by making this the first step:

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