New book by former PBO, Kevin Page
It became very personal. Intimidation and fearmongering were all too common tactics of the Harper government. They were a mean-spirited bunch and I’ve never understood the need for that kind of approach. But perhaps even more frightening than the intimidation tactics themselves is the fact that, in large measure, those tactics worked. If you displeased the people at the top, you were open to ridicule or even dismissal. It made for a closed shop atmosphere, which I can only surmise was a part of their strategy to keep power.
It was Kevin Page’s job, as the country’s first ever Parliamentary Budget Officer, to take a hard look at how the government spent public dollars. His appointment fulfilled a Conservative campaign promise.
But it wasn’t long before he was being vilified by that same Conservative government.
When told that his small Prairie town had, in profound ways, fallen off the statistical map of Canada, Walter Streelasky, mayor of Melville, Sask., is incredulous. Streelasky had no idea Melville had been rendered a “statistical ghost town” after the mandatory long-form census was cut in 2010, and fewer than 50 per cent of the one third of Melville’s 4,500 residents who got the voluntary National Household Survey that replaced it in 2011 completed the form. Melville still exists—but as a shadow. We know how many people live there, but nothing about them—where they work, their education levels, whether they’re married, single or divorced, how many are immigrants, how many are unemployed, how many live in poverty. Melville’s numbers, then, aren’t factored into Canadian employment numbers or divorce rates or poverty rates. According to Sask Trends Monitor, the high non-response rate in the province resulted in “no socioeconomic statistics about the populations in about one-half of Saskatchewan communities.” Nationally, we’re missing similar data on 20 per cent of StatsCan’s 4,556 “census subdivisions,” making a fifth of Canada’s recognized communities statistical dead zones.
Behind the emotional appeal to the worst angels of our nature and fear mongering is a decade’s worth of diplomatic disaster. The world has become a much more dangerous place for Canadians due almost solely to the Harper approach, and Canada has been involved in some of the darkest episodes post 9/11 – including a dubious role in Afghanistan that might yet spark a public inquiry into allegations of war crimes.
Our trigger-happy PM routinely chooses war over diplomacy. He has also chosen the venal economic self-interest over taking a principled stand every time.
Now, conservatives are scared of everyone and everything. A skinny brown kid brings a homemade clock to a Texas school. A woman wears a niqab to her Canadian citizenship ceremony. An Alberta mother tries to treat her child’s severe epilepsy with medical marijuana. Everywhere they look, the political right is frightened. While they once imagined themselves as the barrel-chested man’s man, they’ve now become the clichéd housewife standing on a chair, shrieking at a mouse.
Working internationally, I am often asked how the Canadian economy is responding to low oil prices, and how this is linked to national politics.
As the Canadian government abandons economic prudence in favour of a “tar sands above all” policy, the country increasingly feels like Nigeria where, as Kingsley Moghalu writes in this week’s Financial Times, “oil patrimony is the result of an unimaginative politics, one which assumes that government cannot do anything to enlarge a country’s economy, and that its only role is to divide the spoils. Politicians have therefore concentrated on rewarding their supporters — and as the [oil] bounty has diminished, that debate has become more and more bitter.”
Moghalu was describing the plight of the Nigerian economy under sustained low oil prices. He could just as easily be talking about Canada (or Russia).
(This is reposted from August, 2015)
Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have racked up dozens of serious abuses of power since forming government in 2006. From scams to smears, monkey-wrenching opponents to intimidating public servants like an Orwellian gorilla, some offences are criminal, others just offend human decency.
To spare you abuse fatigue, we’ve divided our list into two parts. The second one runs Thursday. Please help us out. As you read, if any abuses we’ve forgotten come to mind, either make a note in the comments thread after this piece or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line Harper Abuse List. We will fold what we get into a final version as a handy reference for the campaign.
ASSAULTS ON OUR COUNTRY
CBC announced today at a town hall for staff that it is selling all its property across the country, including major production facilities in Montreal and Toronto. These buildings were paid for by Canadians to allow the public broadcaster to produce quality original Canadian programming purely in the public interest. The announcement confirms a trend to strip CBC of that ability.
Shortly after its 2006 election, the government removed the word “equality” from the mandate of Status of Women Canada, a federal government organization formed to “promote equality for women and their full participation in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada” (“equality” was reinstated after protest). Cuts to funding of that organization saw 12 of 16 regional offices shuttered and the elimination of the $1-million Status of Women Independent Research Fund. Funding criteria was redrafted; dozens of women’s service providers (including rape crisis centres) that engaged in advocacy or lobbying for law reform, became ineligible for funding or saw budgets slashed.
Edgar Schmidt was once a lawyer earning $155,000 a year for the federal Justice Department, examining proposed laws for consistency with the Charter of Rights. But he felt uneasy about the way he was told to do his job, believing that officials in his own department – and the Justice Minister himself – were involving him in breaking the law. So he sued his employer.
Monday, in an Ottawa courtroom, his lawsuit against the Justice Minister, deputy justice minister and the department comes to trial, calling attention to an issue that has received little notice thus far in the federal election campaign: the Conservative government’s frequent clashes with the courts over the Charter of Rights
At first, the closing of the library at the Lethbridge Agricultural Centre looked methodical. Staff were informed of the closure in July. Then in early August they were told they could help themselves to items from the collection.
And then it all went south from there: in mid-August summer students began filling an extra-large dumpster with journals and reports. Reportedly, one scientist jumped into the dumpster to rescue a set of journals. Distressed staff began to select more and more books from the collection in order to rescue them.
More than 100 former Parks Canada employees have signed an open letter saying they have concerns about the firing of a senior parks scientist in Jasper, Alta., this summer.
They also criticize what they call the “purging of science-based management” in national parks, and are blaming the federal government.
Top Conservative cabinet ministers met publicly with senior staff from KPMG’s tax division, and one went so far as to promote the firm, even as the Canada Revenue Agency was alleging the company set up an offshore tax “sham” that deceived the government and deprived the treasury of potentially millions of dollars, a CBC News investigation shows.
The Conservative government is downloading billions of dollars of health-care costs on the provinces, says the parliamentary budget officer, making federal finances sustainable over the long term but leaving provincial governments to stare down severe financial pains in the coming years.
The PBO’s annual long-term fiscal sustainability report released Thursday says the Harper government’s decision to scale back the growth in Canada Health Transfer payments means provincial governments will increasingly struggle to afford health-care services for their citizens.
The federal government has spent more than $1.3-million in legal fees to prevent new mothers who fell seriously ill while on maternity leave from collecting disability benefits in addition to the employment insurance that is paid to new parents.
A class action lawsuit was launched in Federal Court in 2012 by two Calgary women on behalf of an estimated tens of thousands of new mothers who were denied the EI disability benefits or dissuaded from applying for them. It is seeking more than $450-million in compensation.
Questions are being raised as to why the federal government stopped issuing a bi-weekly report on gas prices, just as that report was showing a large spike in profits made by refiners.
The Fuel Focus Report from Natural Resources Canada had been issued every two weeks for years until the series stopped with the July 24 issue, shortly before Prime Minister Stephen Harper called a federal election in early August.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Harper government doesn’t want attention drawn to the deal it just signed with China.
Why? Because after two years of delays, the official announcement of an investor-protection treaty with the world’s second-largest economy came in the form of a press release late Friday afternoon. That’s how you release information if the idea is to bury it.
OTTAWA — Dairy farmers parked tractors at the foot of Parliament Hill, walked cows through downtown Ottawa and dumped milk on the pavement Tuesday to protest what they say is a looming trade deal that threatens their way of life.
Farmers in Ontario and Quebec fear that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive 12-country trade deal that’s said to be near an agreement in principle, could spell the end of the supply management system that keeps their operations profitable.
JOBS AND ECONOMY
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s suggestion the new Alberta NDP government is to blame for the province’s recession is “make believe.”
Ms. Notley said in an interview that the province’s fiscal problems have more to do with global forces and the policies of the previous Progressive Conservative government.
OTTAWA — The Seafarers International Union of Canada is preparing to take the federal government to court over the use of foreign sailors — some of whom are allegedly being paid as little as $2 per hour on internationally-flagged ships in Canadians waters.
The labour group, which represents unlicensed sailors in all of the country’s coastal waters, has been firing warning shots for a month over the growing refusal of shipping agents to hire Canadian crews — something to which the federal government has allegedly turned a blind eye.
ON THE WORLD STAGE
Dr. Abuelaish’s bridge-building routinely takes him across Canada and the world to talk about the path to reconciliation he explores in his best-selling book, aptly titled, I Shall Not Hate. “If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis,” he wrote, “then I would accept their loss.”
Dr. Abuelaish may not be “old-stock” — but he certainly wants to be a ‘new’ Canadian. He has been waging another, much more private battle with Ottawa for years now — to become a Canadian citizen. And Harper and his faithful handpuppet, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, have basically told him to take a seat at the back of the bus.
OTTAWA — Critics are raising an alarm over what they say is an ongoing erosion of government control over the export of Canadian military goods.
The Star reported Wednesday the Conservative government quietly amended the export law to permit Canadian shipments to Israel and Kuwait of prohibited weapons such as banned handguns or automatic weapons.
According to two new regulations published Wednesday, the Conservative cabinet approved the changes two weeks ago. The new rules take effect immediately and add Israel and Kuwait to an approved list of 37 countries to which Canadian exporters can legally ship weapons that remain prohibited under Canada’s Criminal Code, including “fully automatic firearms, electric stun guns and large-capacity magazines.”
It began when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau attacked the Conservative government’s failure to support refugees under Stephen Harper’s leadership: “They cross the oceans and they make it to Canada,” Trudeau said of asylum-seekers, who have dominated the news lately due to the worsening civil war in Syria, “and what does Mr. Harper do? He takes away their health care.”
Prime Minister Harper was indignant: “We have not taken away health care from immigrants and refugees. On the contrary, the only time we’ve removed it is where we had clearly bogus refugees who have been refused and turned down. We do not offer them a better health care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive. That is not something that new and existing and old-stock Canadians agree with.”
Harper’s reference to “old-stock Canadians” got lots of attention. But what’s far more shocking, say refugee experts, is his stony denial of the truth: that the Conservative government has diminished the medical insurance provided to most refugees in Canada—tens of thousands of them, in fact.
The Syrian refugee crisis has exposed a wall of bureaucratic hurdles in Canada’s renowned refugee-sponsorship system that did not exist during previous crises, when the country brought in huge airlifts of desperate people.
Migrants wanting to come to Canada as refugees now face long waits at visa offices abroad and for applications to be processed here. Refugee certification from another country or a United Nations agency is required before some kinds of applications can be reviewed.
The latest government list of refugees pre-approved for private sponsorship has just nine Syrian cases on it, despite the growing crisis and increased demand by Canadians who say they want to help.
Known as the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) list, it has refugee cases from around the world that have been vetted by Canada and are ready to come within a month or two. Each case can represent a single person or a family.
Canada’s international clout is “under threat” as its honest-broker role is replaced with a more assertive stand that plays down traditional multilateralism, an internal Foreign Affairs briefing document is warning senior federal government insiders.
The presentation, obtained by The Globe and Mail, is stamped “Secret” and was prepared by senior Foreign Affairs officials for a deputy-minister-level meeting Sept. 9. Departmental officials do not lay blame at the feet of the Conservative government, which has run foreign policy for the past nine years, but their analysis echoes criticism of Prime Minister Stephen Harper levelled by ex-diplomats, foreign observers and his political opponents.
When Stephen Harper faces his rivals in a key foreign policy debate Monday night, he’ll confront new revelations about the safety of Canadian embassies abroad.
CTV News has learned many of Canada’s diplomatic missions in the Middle East and Africa are not safe – putting the lives of diplomats and staff at risk.
REALLY SPECIAL CONDIDATES
But what he doesn’t mention is his business has collected over $400,000 in contracts from the federal government since declaring his intention to run for Canada’s governing party earlier this year.
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TORONTO — Two Toronto Conservative candidates have been officially dropped from the election campaign after one was once caught on video urinating in a coffee cup and the other was seen making prank calls in several online videos — including one where he pretends to have a mental disability.