It’s a phrase we hear often these days: eating is political.

In other words: we’re actors in food systems. Our decisions carry vast implications—the ethics of the brand we support, say, or the type of living beings we decide to ingest.

Yet now that elections are looming, it’s worth considering the literal sense of the phrase.

George Washington, after all, is forever associated with cherries: a symbol of humility and aversion to lies. François Mitterand had a not-so-secret addiction to caviar—anathema, said some, to his socialist past. Bill Clinton, of course, was the Prez of BBQ and fried chicken, indulging in the richest of Southern foods, it would seem, whenever opportunity arose. And we all know Obama’s love of quality burgers—especially In-n-Out Burger—frequent stops for him and his entourage that in some ways helped launch his social media persona.

We can even find some reaching significance on the plates of our past Canadian PMs. Budget king Paul Martin, for example, had a well-documented obsession with the ultra-frugal Kraft Dinner.

If food is the way to the political heart, what do the eating habits of our Prime Minister candidates reveal?

Spoiler alert: a mostly opaque snapshot of dullness, disjointedness, and general disingenuity.* (*though if the candidates return my dinner party invitation, more may soon be revealed).

Where to begin?

Justin Trudeau

Consider our dear Papineau homeboy Justin Trudeau. Though the Liberal leader has revealed little of his culinary personality, he gains hipster points for slagging off Schwartz and holding his latest presser in a retro Québécois diner (the latest foodie cult object, if you didn’t know). Sadly, however, Mr. Trudeau’s hipster swag is severely undermined by the generic grilled salmon meal he cooked as part of the Win a Date with Justin Trudeau contest, promoted by such gems as the snapshot below:

trudeau food
(via Maclean’s)

Popular opinion, however, is firmly in Mr. Trudeau’s favour when it comes to the culinary. An Abacus poll ranked him Canadian’s top choiceto have over for dinner with your family (43%),” as well as to “cook the best meal (41%)”. (Incidentally, he also outranks cat-loving Harper in the animal category, voted “most trusted to look after your pet (40%)”).

Stephen Harper

What of Mr. Harper, our teetotalling incumbent, who once famously said, “I don’t drink, except when I do.” What be the gastronomical keys to his heart?

We’ve boiled long weeks of exhaustive research on this question down to a simple answer: they’re dictated by his PR team each day.

Mr. Harper’s ubiquity in culturally-capitalistic food photos is matched only by his ability to appear lifeless when caught by the lens. Harper’s habit of seeming photogenically disengaged is so widely known that regular citizens have dedicated blogs to the phenomenon.

One, called Things Harper Does to Seem Human, captures Harper’s utterly unnatural food moments —captioning them with faux-naturalistic brilliance: “Buying candy from a machine. Everyone needs something to munch on while doing a little shopping,” says one.

via Tumblr
via Tumblr

While a posed Yellowknife shot says, “Just chilling round the campfire. Eating dinner. Getting ready to sing Kumbaya.”

Keenly aware of his poor “normalcy” index, Mr. Harper’s PR team recently crafted a Twitter campaign dubbed #dayinthelife. Yet besides beefing up his already prolific set of cat photos, the campaign’s thick veneer only served to reinforce his lack of humanity further.

The PM eats some unspecified breakfast which is dominated by Stanley the cat. Near noon, the PM’s “working lunch” is mentioned, though glossed over using lingo from generic dietary trends du jour; the suggestion is that it’s something similar to broccoli and fish (how perfectly healthy).

There’s no mention of dinner.

Stephen & Maureen Harper inspect some hot cross buns in photo op on campaign (via International Business Times)

Yet there is one thing thing of substance we do know about the PM’s eating patterns. It’s a big one, as antithetical to his stony public image as the perpetual selfies with kittens. Journalists and aides both corroborate that hot sauce is Mr. Harper’s serious vice. He is said to regularly request the spiciest version of any available food, to add jalapenos to his mother’s lasagna and possess a voluminous collection of deathly-hot sauces in his own kitchen.

Thomas Mulcair

If Harper is intent on ingesting all manner of PR-friendly goods (while secretly mainlining hot sauce late at night with Stanley), Thomas Mulcair is just as intent on abstaining altogether.

So-called “angry Tom” has been trying (to mixed reviews) to turn his frown upside down. Yet he remains mad as hell at his food.

All of it.

There is simply no evidence Mr. Mulcair eats. Or that he has ever eaten. Surely not on camera. Even the Maclean’s portrait of the candidate, perhaps the most intimate yet, offers only one fleeting reference to consumption. Mulcair downs some quick hot chocolate (no food)—only after a grizzly daylong trek through the snow.

Even food-themed photo ops suggest Mulcair’s disdain for ingestion.

Consider Obama, Trudeau or Layton. Each one can be seen wolfing down diner fare at their rural campaign stops. Though Mr. Mulcair uses similar resto backdrops, he hasn’t been seen so much as sipping a cup of joe.

Yet no one can accuse the industrious NDP head of slacking off in the kitchen. Even when he slaves away at the pizza oven, as at the Brampton pizzeria where he announced tax cuts to small businesses, Mr. Mulcair didn’t indulge in a single bite from his labours.

(via Mississauga Times)

Then there’s those pre-Orange Wave photo ops alongside the eponymous Mr. Layton. Just take a look below. Genuine though his smile may be, Mr. Mulcair conspicuously refuses to share in the pleasure of the bite; meanwhile Mr. Layton is in obvious joy with the food in his hands.

  

The sum of our findings… if they’re findings at all?

At best they’re useless – and at worst they are grim. For either these candidates are ashamed of their true passions (a bad sign), or their eating habits are impossibly dull and unconscious (even worse).

Elizabeth May

Perhaps there’s one candidate who proves the exception to this culinary rule. In the fiery vegetarianism espoused by Elizabeth May we see her natural fit with party ideals, not to mention the genuine, seemingly enjoyable relationship to food.

She’s known to haunt several Ottawa restos, is loved by the waitstaff, speaks passionately about seafood in her home province of Nova Scotia (though it’s unclear if she ‘cheats’ on the veggie diet), discusses openly her recipes and food thoughts with journalists, and even shows off her unvarnished love for the kitchen on this cooking show.

Let’s be clear: this is far from an endorsement of May (or her diet). Though I can’t help be moved by a politician that actually eats, actually experiences food, rather than posing with it: after all, that’s what humans tend to do.

Social media has been set ablaze following the news that Bill C-51, the Conservatives’ so-called “anti-terrorism” legislation, has passed. The Conservative government intends to use their new legislative weapon to ban any BDS movement on the grounds of hate speech. I won’t elaborate on that question here, since Jason quite eloquently did so in a previous article.

Obviously anti-semitism and BDS aren’t synonymous. Many Israelis and Jews throughout the world are against the occupation and colonization of the West Bank and the illegal blockade of Gaza – does that make them any less Jewish? If anything, it would make them more human!

But what this whole debate underlines, once again, is that you can’t consider yourself Jewish if you don’t prostrate yourself completely at the feet of almighty Israel that can do no wrong – you aren’t Jewish unless your every action is a perfect emulation of Israel’s moves.

Support of Israel and Neo-Nazis in Ukraine

In this parallel universe that Harper, Netanyahu and Irwin Cotler, among others, have created, your “Jewishness” is defined by your support for Israel. Thus as long as you support Israel, all is fine and well. As long as you support Israel, you can even support, let’s say, the Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, even arm them and give them training. You can send strategic advisors to the aid of notorious anti-semites such as Andriy Parubiy or Andriy Biletsky and yet still be anointed with the title of “biggest friend of the Jewish people.”

Militants of neo-fascist Ukrainian party Svoboda.
Militants of neo-fascist Ukrainian party Svoboda.

The hypocrisy of the Harper government has reached new heights within the past few weeks, especially after this government’s megalomaniac decision to directly intervene within Ukraine’s internal affairs. Defence Minister Jason Kenney decided to quell the rumours of the potential affiliation of Canadian troops with Neo-Nazi elements by issuing a statement refuting those claims.

But in issuing that statement, Jason Kenney proved his complete lack of understanding about the Ukrainian conflict or, at least, his intellectual dishonesty. It’s interesting to see that Jason Kenney seems to know how to separate a “Neo-Nazi” from a “Non Neo-Nazi” better than the Ukrainians themselves.

The sphere of influence of Neo-Nazi terrorist outfits in Ukraine is larger and more powerful than ever and indistinguishable from the state apparatus. Neo-Nazi elements are present within every single major party represented within the Ukrainian parliament, within government, and within the National Security Council, which is the main actor through whom Canadian military officials are coordinating their operations in Ukraine.

Re-Defining Anti-Semitism

I guess being the best friend of Israel, gives you those sorts of benefits… Fighting against Islamic fanaticism on one side of the globe and supporting Neo-Nazi fanaticism on the other – that’s Stephen Harper’s foreign policy in a nutshell.

boycott_divestment_sanctions_560

Anti-semitism has become a word that has been thrown around so much that it’s become merely a tool nowadays – a rhetorical figure of speech to quash contrary points of view. Unfortunately, because of its over usage and conflation with any criticism of Israel,  the word has become devoid of its original essence, which is the hatred of the Jewish people, perpetuated by millennial racial stereotypes.

A year ago, this Conservative government organized the grandiose gala of anti-semitism in Ottawa and, with figures from across party lines, jointly denounced the “new anti-semitism:” a monstrous and preposterous new epidemic afflicting the world – the criticism of Israeli crimes against humanity.

This is the whitewashing of anti-semitism for political purposes, at its best. This type of whitewashing succeeds at doing exactly what it supposedly condemns: creating a racial stereotype and thus facilitating racism – in this case anti-semitism. In the universe of this new era of anti-semitism that comes in the drapes of criticism of Israel, Jews are seen to be a monolithic group: all support Israel, all support the illegal blockade of Gaza, and since Netanyahu said it a few months ago, every single Jew is against a two-state solution. As Steven Blaney said – at the time referencing the Qu’ran as justification for bill C-51 – “violence starts with words, hatred starts with words.” May I add violence starts with misleading racial stereotypes and hatred grows through the perpetuation of those racial stereotypes.

Nazi propaganda pumped racial stereotypes and conglomerated Jews as one and the same. That is how hate speech was born then and how it is born now. In defining Judaism as supporting Israel, the Harper government and all those that abide to such a logic are instigating hate speech, promoting a false racial stereotype and should be convicted under the hospice of their new draconian hate speech laws.

תיקון עולם

The curtain falls on 2014 and it’s time to look back on all of the great accomplishments, all of the great eye-watering moments, the laughs, the hilarious mix-ups, the lyrical fumbles, and feel-good moments with a happy ending attached to it. At least that’s what you usually see at end-of-year reviews that usually appear at this time of the year.

This post is not for the feeble hearted, if you’re trying to escape from the yucky austere murkiness of this past year, you will find no refuge here!

Because this past year was anything but joyous for hundreds of thousands, even, dare I say, millions of Canadians, of all walks of life, who saw the sharp knife of austerity cut into their savings, into their public services, into their communities, into their livelihoods.

2014 was yet another year that fed the relentless ascent of inequality within Canadian society. From the shores of British Columbia to the shores of Nova Scotia, governments were replaced and/or re-elected, but all were invested with the sordid straight-jacket of “fiscal responsibility.” Every single one, left, centre, and right took the oath of austerity under the threat of the Damocles’ sword of the financial markets. Here’s a little trans-Canadian journey along the straits of austerity in 2014.

By Cem Ertekin

In British Columbia the reinvigorated Liberal government of Christie Clark, victors of an electoral ‘fluke,’ promoted austerity in the province, within the first year of their new mandate.  Main stream media alluded to the “boringness” of the budget. In all honesty, it did have a pretty boring title: Balanced Budget 2014. But apart from that the Balanced Budget 2014 was in fact an exhilarating piece of legislation for all the austerity groupies, except for the Fraser Institute for obvious reasons. Although the BC budget went the extra mile, cutting funds from education to law enforcement, and gave way, on the other hand, hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to oil and gas tycoons, the Fraser Institute underlined that it wasn’t enough, austerity along their lines is only complete when all barriers to corporate and personal greed are destroyed. “Ambition,” as defined per the Fraser Institute dictionary, is a full out assault on collective ownership. The only thing that can be seen as ambitious is the transfer of public wealth into the hands of a few private entities, a process more commonly known as austerity.

In the Prairies, only Manitoba has resisted the wrath of austerity. That being said, Manitoba is far from being a success story. With the rise of the Provincial Sales Tax (PST), which has had a negative impact on the poorest of Manitobans. The economic situation of Indigenous communities in Manitoba, especially the plight of Indigenous children and women, is disastrous, as it is across Canada.

In Saskatchewan austerity is synonymous with prosperity, believe it or not, in the name of preserving the Saskatchewan Advantage. The Saskatchewan Advantage, as per the Wall administration, is nothing more, or nothing less, than handouts for the fracking lobby and austerity for the rest. In the lyrical fairytale of the Saskatchewan Advantage, austerity is the tempo, to which its raconteurs sing praises.

By Cem Ertekin

In Big Sky Country, the new Premier is all about the cuts. In 2013, Redford had already put the axe to the few relics of what seemed once to have been some sort of welfare net. The price of oil plummeting will be the perfect excuse for Jim Prentice to extend those cuts even further in the year to come. Is this the end of the Calgary School’s laboratory? Only time will tell.

In Ontario and Quebec, both Liberal governments were re-elected back to office in 2014 and not so surprisingly they both re-started their austerity measures and severe amputations. Quebec’s austerity budget was ushered through the national assembly with “rigour” and “responsibility.” When you thought things couldn’t get worse, we jumped from the frying pan into the freaking oven. There have been cuts across the board to healthcare and educational services, deep cuts to employment initiatives and to unemployment programs – a trend which was already initiated by the PQ, but especially aggravated by the Liberal administration. On the other hand, very “gracefully” and in a very “generous” manner, the Couillard administration offered more funds for First Nations education in return for unchecked access to the natural resources of Northern Quebec within the framework of Le Plan Nord. Neo-colonialism anyone?

In Ontario it seems as if austerity has frozen over, Ontario might have dodged the bullet of Tim Hudak’s slashing fetish, but didn’t get Wynne’s ‘Disneylandic utopia some had raved about. No increase in healthcare or educational services. A literal 0% rate of increase for the next two years at least in both those sectors, no plan to tackle the omen of having the highest tuition fees in Canada, a pitiful increase to the provincial minimum wage would has been frozen for years, a 1% increase across the board for social services and social programs… It’s the frigid kiss of austerity with a smile!

UNITE AGAINST

In the Maritimes, in the meanwhile, the emphasis was put on “deficit reduction” the politically correct synonym for austerity. In Nova Scotia the cuts put forward by the outgoing Dexter administration were not rolled back, they were solidified. The Liberal government continued their focus on balancing the budget on the backs of those most obviously in need.

After slashing the only librarian in Corner Brook, Newfoundland’s second biggest city, the Conservative government of Paul Davies continued their quest to slash taxes, while providing Newfoundland & Labrador with the best Health Care, Education and Social Services in the country, and, as the cherry on top, promised a return to a budget surplus in 2015-16, obviously these kinds of fairy tales have as for backdrop the Tory utopia of “No-government-is-good-government Land!”

In New Brunswick, Gallant and his Liberal administration have beaten the Conservative incumbents, and have sworn to impose a moratorium on fracking. That’s a very positive update, but we’ll have to wait and see. Will Galant have the courage to dispossess the Irving clan of their private domain, i.e. New Brunswick, or will he be deposed for trying?

In the Canadian North and for native communities throughout Canada, 2014 was just another year of excruciating violence. The federal government continued to deny Indigenous communities rightful justice when it comes to the more than 1200 missing or murdered Indigenous women and imposed colonialist type austerity on First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities throughout Canada. It has withheld funds for education from First Nations communities, because of their refusal to have the Federal Government impose a “White Man’s” education on them. Coming from the same government that offered the “historical” excuses for the residential schools system, I would call it hypocritical, but I think hypocritical doesn’t cut it! As if that wasn’t enough  the Conservative government  imposed some kind of Neo-Colonial management on First Nation communities through their Orwellian First Nations Transparency Act (FNTA), threatening to withhold funds once again if First Nation communities don’t accept to hand over their sovereignty to Ottawa.

It’s hypocritical, to say the least. Because while the Conservative government is bickering about “First Nations Transparency,” the record of Canadian dollars in Tax Heavens was shattered this year, at around 170$ billion. Canadian banks made yet another year of trailblazing profits. Unfortunately for them, it seems like its going to “cool down” a bit. *tears* Multinational Oil and Gas corporations this year cashed in an estimated $34 billion in direct and indirect subsidies from all levels of government. In even better news, the budget surplus which was crafted through the panoply of austerity measures, which has been the plight of so many working Canadian families has been handed to the richest 1% of Canadian families, through the Conservatives income splitting scheme. And while Canadian workers make less and less per hour in salary compared with the price of living, Canadian multinationals are sitting on 630 billion dollars. This is what the real face of austerity is. Austerity is highway robbery, the privatization of our common public wealth.  If it’s a question of “tightening one’s belt,” then we will ask who’s belt is to be tightened?

There’s one image that sums-up all of the 2014 cycle for me perfectly: the image of minister Aglukkaq reading a newspaper in the HOC while a debate was raging about the bitter Food Crisis, which pushed some of her constituents to dumpster dive to find some scraps of food. That image embodied perfectly the misery of Canadian politics in 2014.

A luta continua!

Yesterday, the Conservative government put their ‘money’ where their words were, and officially joined the new coalition of the willing. As I write Canadian fighter jets have joined the mission in Syria and Iraq. The Conservative government is leading Canada into a war that they deem is a moral imperative, a war against the horrific evil of ISIS and their genocidal tendencies, and a war to uphold the values of humanity.

Given the razor thin lines drawn by this Conservative rhetoric, either you are for war, that is, in favor of a military intervention against ISIS, or you’re giving a free pass for human rights to be trampled, or perhaps even worse, you are a de facto ”ally” of the ideology which drives ISIS.

In Bushian terms either you’re part of the ”Free World” or you’re part of the axis of evil.

I couldn’t contain my profound amazement, uncomforting disbelief and utter bewilderment (and yes, I went through all of those states of emotion in merely five minutes; it was one heck of an emotional rollercoaster ride), as I heard our beloved Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, making the government’s pitch for a military intervention, address the House of Commons the other day.

0806-baird

The centerpiece of his argument was, believe it or not, women’s rights. Yes; women’s rights. During his fiery intervention, John Baird said that ‘his’ Canada didn’t sit on the sidelines while people were being massacred, blatant disregard for human rights was being done, and innocent women and children were being purposefully targeted.

In his words, it was Canada’s ultimate moral duty to intervene, in order to prevent such things from happening. At the end of the speech, you got this feeling that this was a moment John Baird had long dreamed about. Surely, he had dreamt as a child that one day he would be the champion of the oppressed, of the marginalized, and the champion of those ”lost causes” and that he heartfeltly would rise to the occasion and save Canada’s honour, and in doing so also that of the world.

That would be great story, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, this is not a dream, this is a nightmare. The Conservative government so far has been a nightmare instilling terror into the hearts of thousands of Canadian citizens. When it comes to upholding human rights, women’s rights, and minority rights, the Conservative government has done Canada, or at least the idea people once had of Canada, a huge dishonor.

No matter how imbued with beautiful lyricism the rhetoric is, mere rhetoric cannot change facts. The Conservative government may paint itself as the Fidei Defensor of women and women’s rights all it wants, but that won’t change the fact that more than 1200 Indigenous women are missing or have been murdered, and that the Conservative government has done nothing to prevent this systemic problem, because, in their words, it isn’t a systemic problem whatsoever. If we were to apply Conservative logic here, than the Conservative government would be siding with criminals, rapists and murderers.

As the Conservative government stood-up, shouted, cheered and celebrated their mission in Iraq by high-fiving each other, what were they really cheering for? Were they cheering for the innocent lives would be saved, or were they applauding this historic decision, and the fact that, now, in some deranged egomaniac way, their names would be forever in books of Canadian history? Maybe they were applauding the idea that, after an awful summer and few months, this war would be their saving grace?

IraqQpGNEWS23092014_tnb_3

One thing is certain: this Conservative government will go down in infamy. If any of the joyous Conservatives thought that the vote on the war was ”their historical moment”, don’t fret about it guys, you already have that covered! For hundreds of impoverished and marginalized communities, and the cuts this Conservative government have made to essential social services, will continue to strike terror in the hearts of many, even after this Conservative regime is long gone. For Indigenous communities, the blatant discrimination of this Conservative government has exacted upon them, will be a wound that Canadian society will have much difficulty in healing. For women, the assault Harper’s administration has launched indirectly against their fundamental rights, is a terrorizing reminder that the misogynist ghosts of Canada’s past are still alive and well.

So this is my little advice to this Conservative government. If you’re really hell-bent on stopping ”terror”, in upholding human-rights, then you have two options. Either vote yourselves out of office or declare a war on yourselves. How can a government that has created such an environment of terror, claim to fight terror effectively on the other side of the world? The war on terror starts by looking at the person in the mirror. It starts right here on home soil.

A luta continua.

 

Most of you probably don’t remember Michael Chong from his last flirtation with the national media in 2006. He courageously stood up, on a matter of conscience, to his own Prime Minister and the vast majority of his colleagues in the House of Commons and voted against Harper’s Quebec Motion.

Chong apparently learned a few things from that experience, which led to him being booted out of cabinet and on to the backbenches, where he has sat , far from the PM and any serious access to power, ever since. Firstly, he learned that the executive branch of our political system calls the shots and will bully any MP who goes against the grain into submission. Secondly, he learned that some measures must be put in place to ensure that the humble individual MP be protected from the wrath of the executive, lest our Prime Minister become unaccountable to parliament, instead of the opposite, which has been the general trend in Canada, at least since the 1970s.

His answer is called the Reform Act, a bill he introduced last Tuesday. It proposes to curb the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for whipping his caucus by allowing three simple changes:

1) Party caucuses would be able to remove the leader by a majority vote

2) Leaders would no longer have the power to kill candidates chosen at the riding level ( as they currently do under the Elections Act)

3) Party leaders could no longer unilaterally give MPs the boot from caucus simply for disobeying orders.

All of this is the norm in practically every other modern liberal democratic country that shares the British parliamentary model of government (and was true of Canada before 1970).

michael chong

As with any serious attempt at reform in this country, there are plenty of naysayers who are making all kinds of objections, serious and silly, to what they view as a “controversial” new idea.

Let’s begin by looking at one of the more serious issues raised by the bill first. The fact is, the proposed measures would undermine to some extent the influence of party rank and file in choosing who will lead their party in elections and government.

However, as Chong as explained, the deposing of a leader by his caucus is a power that caucuses already theoretically possess. This procedure would simply make it easier for them to orchestrate a putsch by automatically triggering a leadership review in the event that 15% of them decided to get rid of their leader. The bill makes it clear that a party caucus that successfully rebelled against its master would only be able to replace him or her on an interim basis, and that it would be up to the grass roots of the party to keep he or she in power or not.

Anyway, what’s so democratic about allowing private organizations, who are not accountable to the general public and represent roughly 1% of society, to make hugely important decisions that affects us all? Surely, elected MPs who must answer to all of their constituents, rather than just those who vote for them, are in a better position to make the call.

On the sillier side of the equation is the idea that this reform would allow the lunatic fringe to somehow take control of riding association’s nomination processes, and, in effect, allow the tail to wag the dog by imposing their extremist candidates on the political establishment in Canada. We can’t deny this might happen in some ridings by disallowing party bosses the deeply undemocratic exercise of the veto over potential election candidates that they disapprove of.

Yet, isn’t this the essence of democracy, no matter how ugly the results may be sometimes? The truth is, all the major federal political parties could probably benefit from an infusion of outsiders who have popular support among their communities instead of allowing the top brass to make this vital decision on behalf of its membership and the rest of us.

Last week’s RCMP bombshell dump revealed a few things about the private e-mails of PMO staff and their counterparts in the Senate. For the dozen or so Harper administration staffers, lawyers and spin doctors, the documents give the Canadian public a rare glimpse of the way that the ultra-secretive Harper government operates in a major political crisis.

Though they do not vindicate the Prime Minister or corroborate his wildly implausible story of being completely unaware of what his chief of staff, Nigel Wright, was doing in his attempts to contain the damage being done to the Prime Minister’s brand by Senator and former Harper bagman Mike Duffy’s various acts of fraud. They do not provide the smoking gun type of evidence that would expose the Prime Minister as the mastermind behind botched efforts to put the corruption scandal to bed.

This doesn’t mean Harper’s out of the woods yet. On the contrary, the now infamous Wright quote that his boss was “good to go,” with respect to negotiations he was having involving both the PM’s lawyer Benjamin Perrin & Duffy’s lawyer Allison Payne on the conditions that would be acceptable to all parties concerned, would suggest that there is definitely some fire to go with all the smoke coming out of the Prime Minister’s office at the moment.

While it may still be true (though this would not excuse Harper’s ignorance of the situation) that the Prime Minister had no clue that his right hand man at the time was cutting a $90 000 personal cheque to silence an embarrassing Senator and in the process committing a crime under federal law, it seems that Harper at least knew about the first proposed solution Wright made to pay, out of Conservative Party funds, Duff-man 32K in order to reimburse him for the amount that was being demanded by the Senate Rules committee for illegally claimed expenses related to his secondary residence in PEI. This idea was eventually nixed by President of the party and Senator appointed by Harper in 2009, Irving Gerstein, forcing Wright to find an alternative to, in his words, “close out” an increasingly irksome problem and Senator (Duffy).

Duff-man may be proclaiming his innocence from the bully pulpit, but the documents released by the RCMP make it clear that he was not simply the victim of bad accounting and a vindictive Prime Minister more than happy to throw him and his other former Senate cronies under the bus. In fact, it’s almost hard not to sympathize with Wright who appears to have become rather impatient with the Senator and his lawyer’s constant haggling with the PMO over the terms of his bail out.

More to the point, Duff-man appears to have hatched a cover story involving taking out a line of credit from the bank with the intention of duping the media and public into believing that the this, rather than the cheque from Wright, would be used to repay the Senate. Incidentally, I love Duffy’s cynical insistence on inserting “PEI-isms” into the media lines he was given to deliver.

It’s not all bad news for the government. It appears that at least one staffer, Chris Montgomery, working for then Government leader in the Senate and Cabinet Minister Senator Marjory Lebreton (remember her infamous lashing out at the media over reporting on the scandal as “Liberal elites and their media lickspittles”) tried in vain to prevent the Prime Minister and his minions from imposing their will on the damning Senate Committee report that would have denounced Duffy and his colleagues for their financial recklessness with the tax payer’s money. For this display of integrity, Montgomery earned the scorn of Harper lackey Patrick Rogers who is quoted in the e-mail as saying “This is epic. Montgomery is the problem.”

Indeed, defending the independence of the Senate and democratic institutions against the meddling of the executive is regarded by Harper and his staff as an unforgivable sin.

Political debates highlight disputed opinions between politicians. These opinions can range in topic from social issues, to economics, to foreign policy. Debates are routinely used by candidates to try and sway the undecided voters to cast their ballet for them. Undecided voters typically avoid paying attention to politics and are therefore uninformed and susceptible to the media’s influence. In close elections this makes the debates all that more important.

Debates haven’t changed much through the decades; the only difference I would say is the way we judge the winner—and it has little to do with policy. In the eyes of the corporate media, the winner isn’t the man who best articulates his views, just as the loser isn’t the guy who’s proven wrong (no one is ever proven wrong!).

During the first presidential debate a couple weeks ago, Mitt Romney brought his “A game” by doing what every good businessman does: he told everyone what they wanted to hear. Romney changed his views, even outright lied at times in order to appeal to a more broad audience, a tactic Obama didn’t call him out on till the day after.

If you watched mainstream media immediately after the debate, Romney didn’t win because he lied or changed positions more than actors in a porn movie, he won simply by coming out strong and aggressive whereas President Obama was laid back and calm. Through the eyes of the media, it didn’t seem to matter what came out of their mouths.

By instantly declaring Romney the winner and ignoring the untruths that he spewed, the news media made up the minds of the undecided voters instead of letting the people decide for themselves; the result was a huge boost in the polls for Romney. I’ll admit Obama didn’t help himself, but when your opponent changes face as much as he did, I may have sat there dumbfounded myself.

Fast forward a little to last week’s vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. The roles were reversed as Biden was the candidate who came out aggressive, confident and with a smile. Was Joe declared the winner just like Romney the week before? Depends who you ask, MSNBC said yes, Fox News said no and everyone in between couldn’t decide. With the opinion of the winner split down the middle, the poll numbers didn’t move.

I remember last year during the Canadian general election, the corporate Canadian media claimed before the debate began that all Prime Minister Stephen Harper had to do to win was stay on message (as if that’s hard to do). Sure enough he did and the press immediately declared him the victor.

However, the boost in the polls didn’t come Harper’s way; instead it went to Jack Layton especially in the province of Quebec thanks to his mixture of policies and humor. It forced the media to change its “ruling” days later. Whether this happened because the Canadian people saw through the bullshit of the press is debatable itself. After all, Quebecers were the ones who fell in love with Layton, possibly thanks to the French media who probably described the debate differently.

As I said, undecided voters aren’t informed. If they were, chances are they’d have chosen a side by now. Unfortunately with the partisan 24/7 news stations and the slightly more free mainstream media dictating to us what they think, it’s virtually impossible to come to a self-determining conclusion with the right information.

The age of information didn’t just bring us the internet, smartphones and 24-hour news, it also brought with it a new age of corporate propaganda and partisan reporting. The only advice I can give to the independent voter is to do your own research and determine for yourself who the best candidate is. This day and age we shouldn’t need farcical debates to define a winner.

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The Comment Tree is a weekly collection of posts and commentary from social and mainstream media sources – keeping up to date with the topics of  interest in the current news cycle, international and domestic.

Random Thoughts

We cannot allow valid concerns about environmental protection to be used as an
excuse to trap worthwhile projects in reviews-without-end. What matters is that the relevant facts are fully considered. That need not take yea 

                                                                                        -Stephen Harper

This morning I realized that we are all in trouble—“we” being those of us, just a shade shy of
a supermajority, who stand opposed to the Harper government, its misuse of power, its corruption, its
philistine vandalism, and every slimy value that drives it

-Dr.Dawg

There’s nothing like going down in history for being the first active PM charged with a
crime to get us rid of them. I keep praying this happens.

                 -Douglas Connors

It’s time to free ourselves of the chains and fear…and clear our way to our own new
paradigm of understanding and responses. Live WISE~

               -Gail Blackman

 While the Bush administration treated whistleblowers unmercifully, the Obama
administration has been far worse. It is actually prosecuting them, and doing so under the Espionage
Act — one of the most serious charges that can be leveled against an American. The Espionage Act is an
archaic World War I-era law meant to go after spies, not whistleblowers.

                       -Andrew Conte

 How many killings are acceptable to the U.S. govt.? 30 Colombian unionists & 49 human
rights defenders were murdered last year. Very few perpetrators have been punished.

                    – John Walsh

Canada’s Budget Reactions

When they cut settlement services in Ontario and Quebec, Kenney said they were
shifting resources to accommodate the Prairie provinces…I guess the Prairies begin and end in Calgary.
Figures.

-Geoff Krauter

The stark reality of CBC cuts unfolding now. Connect at NN and Dispatches at Radio –
two smart news shows with dedicated staff, cancelled.

-Peter Mansbridge

Remind us again how Canada has billions for new fighter jets when we’re not at war,
but that CBC and cultural cuts are “necessary.”

-Michael Rowe

After Canada experienced zero job growth during the last six months, we expected this budget to have one focus – jobs.

-Bob Rae

The government should be congratulated for introducing a number of good measures to
improve Canadian innovation and focus research and development resources.

-Joy Thomas

Liberal Party of Canada

It’s not that we were fighting among ourselves. That was utterly inconsequential. It’s that
we’re all trapped in a web of mutual understandings that no longer apply to the world we live in.

-Dr.Dawg

They could work on effective grass roots building of their core values and brand
themselves as the “only big tent” party. To me, the Liberal Party should stand for the great social values
of our nation [health care, education etc] but tempered with fiscal responsibility and the ability to
compromise for the greater good.

-Randy Pare

The Liberals are the only alternative to the conservatives. I highly doubt someone
who voted for Harper last election will pick up his vote and move over to the NDP. Rae will be wise to
keep the middle, and attract the right.

-Ehsan Monfared

 I have enormous respect for Bob Rae. He’s one of the best parliamentarians of his
generation, bar none. And to his enduring credit, he has given the LPC a lifeline like no other. He’s an
absolutely amazing guy and a cut above the rest.

-Dan Veniez

Thomas Mulcair’s leadership victory was — by far — the worst possible outcome for
the struggling Liberals…

-Chantal Hebert

Summit of the Americas

Saturday’s focus on Cuba and drug enforcement policy clashed with Harper’s agenda at the
summit, which was to sell Canada as an attractive destination to do business.

-CBC News

 We don’t have an embargo against Cuba and we don’t support the compete isolation of the people. We believe that engaging Cuba is one of the tools by which we can hope to move it towards democracy and towards greater human rights.

-Stephen Harper

 The declaration from the Minister’s office that Cuba “doesn’t comply with democratic conditions” is not only a slander against Cuba, but reeks of the discredited colonialist mentality and practice of foisting on independent countries imperial arrangements that they do notwant or accept.

-The Canadian Network on Cuba

The long-standing policy toward Cuba (has) become unacceptable. The isolation,
the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, has been ineffective. In today’s world, there is no
justification for this anachronism. It’s an anachronism that keeps us anchored in a Cold War era that was
overcome decades ago.

-Juan Manuel Santos

I’m not sure the next summit will even be possible.

-Carlos Gaviria

Up until now, it has been heresy for anyone to challenge blanket global drug
prohibition.

-Donald MacPherson

 The economic power and firepower of the criminal organizations operating in Mexico
and Latin America come from this endless demand for drugs in the United States.

-Felipe Calderon

 As long as they figure they can gull the public into believing that getting tough on
drugs is the right thing to do, they get elected on those things.

-Eugene Oscapella

Someone who’s charged with looking after the security of the most important president
in the world cannot commit the mistake of getting mixed up with a prostitute. This has damaged the
image of the Secret Service, not Colombia.

-Rodolfo Galvis

 

If you have a comment or suggestion for what will be top in the news cycle next week –
tjeero@hotmail.com

The Conservative government is about to take yet another step to the right of their American cousins.

Bill C-10, the ominous Omnibus bill now tumbling down the pipeline is a mish-mash of nine unrelated bills that form the centrepiece of the Conservative’s fear based “Law and Order” agenda.

The American style bill would increase incarceration rates by adding new and longer sentences for drug related crimes, increasing mandatory minimums, scrapping alternate sentencing (such as house arrest), and beefing up sentences for young offenders. That would mean building more jails, for which the unwilling provinces would have to pay. If you build it, they will come.

All this to make our communities safer. But would it? Canada is not the US. Our crime rate is at its lowest level since 1973, according to Statistics Canada. There is no crime wave sweeping this country. But even if there were,  Bill C-10 would be the worst possible response.

In hearings before the Justice Committee, and in a number of open letters and publicly released statements, one expert after another has explained that moving from a rehabilitation and reintegration approach to justice, to a punitive system based on lengthy prison terms will make us less safe, not more.

The Americans have been down that road and their experience is instructive. Even conservative Republicans have been forced to declare their punitive vision of criminal justice, on which C-10 is modeled, an abject failure.

Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the American Justice Policy Institute, sums up the unusually bipartisan American response to C-10:

Republican governors and state legislators in such states of Texas, South Carolina, and Ohio are repealing mandatory minimum sentences, increasing opportunities for effective community supervision, and funding drug treatment because they know it will improve public safety and reduce taxpayer costs. If passed, C-10 will take Canadian justice policies 180 degrees in the wrong direction, and Canadian citizens will bear the costs.

One Texas study found that every dollar spent on rehabilitation is worth $9.34 in avoided criminal justice costs, and a number of studies in Canada have found that, not surprisingly, locking more people up for longer creates a hardened criminal underclass with no hope of escape, leading to more violent crime.

Eric Gottardi, vice-chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s national criminal justice section put it bluntly when he explained that:

We believe the substance of this legislation both to be self-defeating and counterproductive, if the goal is to enhance public safety…It represents a profound shift in orientation from a system that emphasizes public safety … rehabilitation and reintegration to one that puts vengeance first.

But, as with the long gun registry,  Conservatives have put ideology ahead of experts and  facts, even when criticism comes from their Republican cousins. In committee, Conservatives have consistently challenged the credentials of leading experts in criminal justice, and cited phantom unreported crime statistics when trying to justify a repressive and costly reaction to a plummeting crime rate. They’ve even gone so far as to characterize opponents of the bill as “advocates for criminals” and are attempting to avoid further study of the bill by invoking closure.

Meanwhile our NDP official opposition has been doing everything they can to block or at least amend the bill, but it’s tough slogging when Conservatives hold the majority on all committees, including Justice, which has been considering C-10.

NDP MP Charmaine Borg Photo: Robert Marquis

NDP MP Charmaine Borg sits on the Justice committee and told Forget The Box:

There’s a huge amount of arrogance on the government side. If it’s not their idea, it’s not a good idea. We’ve proposed a number of amendments, including friendly attempts to clean up the language in places, but the Conservatives have refused to even discuss them. The unwillingness to compromise when everyone, even victims rights advocates, is asking for changes is really undemocratic.

On November 16th Borg and four of her opposition colleagues won a small battle after filibustering the Justice Committee for nine straight hours in response to Conservative plans to limit clause by clause study of the bill to a single day. In exchange for ending the filibuster, Conservative committee members agreed not to limit debate on mandatory minimum sentences and have three meetings of the committee which will require unanimous consent to adjourn, in order to ensure a proper discussion of the NDP’s proposed amendments.

But despite the NDP’s best efforts, the Conservatives have made clear that their ears are closed on the subject of C-10. No amount of evidence, no well presented summation of the facts will sway their determination to implement a flawed bill that will make our communities less safe, our prisons more dangerous, and our society less equal – all while sticking taxpayers with the exorbitant price tag.

The Opposition has done a valiant job of exposing the dangers of  this bill but, in a majority situation, all they can do is raise awareness. Beyond that, it’s up to us.

The only thing that will derail this dangerous piece of legislation is public pressure. Conservative MPs have to start feeling a backlash in their constituencies before they’ll gain the courage to challenge the party line. In a democracy, voting is only a small part of the equation. Each of us has a duty to be an engaged citizen, and let the government know when their policies are wrong. And this bill is no small amount of wrong.

This is not a  left-right issue. From any perspective, C-10 will be a costly and abject failure.

So tell someone how you feel. If you live in a Conservative riding pick up the phone, call your MP, or better yet ask for a meeting. If not then tell a friend, a cousin or a parent, ask them to call their MP. Share this issue on Facebook and Twitter, check out itcouldgetworse.com and leadnow.ca and send a message with their easy form.

Most importantly, do it now. C-10 could become law inside a month. If it does, it will make our country worse. Don’t let it.

 

This article also appears on Rabble.ca, 2bmag.com and itcouldgetworse.com

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Brian Topp will be in Montreal for an evening of politics, policy and pints this Wednesday, the 9th of November. Please come by and get to know one of the candidates in the race to replace Jack Layton as leader of the NDP.

Brian was born in Longueil and lived in Quebec until his late twenties. Although he has worked and lived across the country he has a special place in his heart for Quebec and a deep understanding of our realities.

Brian’s vision of a more equal society is exactly what the NDP needs as we challenge Stephen Harper and his Conservatives for government in three and a half years.

Brian has taken a courageous stand in favour of increasing taxes on the rich and corporations in order to reduce inequality and combat years of Conservative cuts.

He was the first candidate to come out publicly in support of Occupy Wall Street, and his proposed tax policy speaks directly to the concerns of this fledgling movement.

He also supports Palestinian statehood at the UN and will be revealing more planks of his platform in the coming weeks.

Brian has been endorsed by Quebec MPs Alexandre Boulerice, Francoise Boivin, Charmaine Borg and Alain Giguere, as well as party legends like Ed Broadbent, Roy Romanow and Deputy Leader Libby Davies among others.

This event will take place in the riding of Rosemont-Le-Petit-Patrie, and will be hosted by its MP, and NDP Treasury Board critic, Alexandre Boulerice.

Bring your friends, and your questions. Together we can build the party we need to take on the Conservatives and elect our first truly progressive national government. He will be at Pub Rosemont 2440, boul Rosemont Montréal from 6-9.

The Occupy Wall Street protests are now entering their fourth week. The movement which began in New York City on September 17th has garnered the support of most of the big unions, numerous celebrities, intellectuals, the hactivist group Anonymous, and even some key politicians.

Occupy Wall Street has been growing rapidly and picking up steam as protests pop-up in more and more cities across North America and even Europe (the Occupy Montreal protest begins on Sat Oct 15th). Major media outlets have even started covering this movement seriously (except for Fox News obviously) but this wasn’t the case when it first started.

There are a variety of issues that people are protesting but primarily they are calling for an end to crippling corporate greed and for the government to sever ties between itself and the US banking sector. Since the financial collapse in 2008 many Americans have lost their homes, lost their jobs and the country as a whole has been struggling through a recession.

The banks and corporations (some deemed “Too Big to Fail”) successfully secured bailouts and loans to ensure that they would remain profitable. The weakened economy was felt most by ordinary citizens who, many already struggling with crippling debt, were trying to feed their families, keep a roof over their heads, get access to health care and/or seek an education.

Many people have to make difficult choices as the aforementioned liberties are no longer guaranteed pillars of the American way of life and some people even have to make choices between basic necessities. From this has also sprung the call to arms “We are the 99 Percent“!

Here are some images and videos from the movement so far:

This is a message from Anonymous which details part of the problem and the issues people are facing.

Last Friday in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that prohibiting Insite, the safe injection clinic, to operate under an exemption from drug laws would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the ruling said “Insite saves lives. Its benefits have been proven. There has been no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its eight years of operation.” The SCOC ordered the federal minister of health  Leona Aglukkaq to grant an immediate exemption to allow Insite to operate.

The court said similarly that if Insite wasn’t allowed to operate, it would prevent injection drug users from accessing the health services offered at the facility, threatening their health and their lives. The bottom line: to deny access to Insite is to deny access to health care. The ruling paves the way for more safe injection clinics to open up across the country without the fear of clients and staff being arrested.

The ruling comes as a slap in the face to Prime Minister Harper and his anti-crime agenda. The Conservative government has been trying to shut the site down since it came to power five years ago. Aglukkaq said Friday that the government’s investments are targeted at prevention and treatment, but that fact runs contrary to the Conservatives’ crime bill that would introduce tough new laws for simple possession.

If Harper and his Conservative Government were actually committed to prevention and treatment they should have supported clinics like Insite from the get go. In Insite’s surrounding neighborhoods during its eight years of operation, addicts that have started seeking treatment have gone up 30%. It is far more altruistic and cost effective to treat those trying to quit than to lock them up and throw away the key.

Regardless of what people’s opinion might be on the treatment of drug addicts, the Supreme Court made it quite clear that the main issue was safety. In Canada, healthcare is considered by most to be a basic human right; therefore the government (provincial and federal) should be compelled not only to support safe injection clinics, but to help fund them as well.

Inside Insite

Over the past eight years, Insite nurses have overseen more than a million safe injections resulting in 1400 overdoses, but not one user has died as a result. What cost can you put on fourteen hundred lives? According to Health Canada, Insite costs about $3 million annually to operate or $14.00 per visit. 80% of visitors go for safe injections and 20% for counseling.

If you think $3 million dollars a year is excessive, consider this; according to the US National Library of Medicine, if Insite were closed, the annual number of incident HIV infections among Vancouver IDUs would be expected to increase from 179.3 to 262.8. These 83.5 preventable infections are associated with $17.6 million in life-time HIV-related medical care costs, greatly exceeding Insite’s operating costs.

To summarize; safe injection sites save lives, saves money, reduces the spread of disease, keeps the streets cleaner and helps those who are trying to quit. How could any God fearing conservative be opposed to such an economic and ethical cause as Insite? I’m at least pleased to see that the Supreme Court of Canada can still put logic in front of ideology, unlike some of our politicians.

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Reading coverage of the Ontario leaders debate, one would be forgiven for thinking that it came out a wash, with no leader really picking up support out of the televised platform. In a Globe article published this morning Adam Radwanski even opined that “despite their better efforts, they [the Leaders] most likely succeeded in hardening their own support rather than moving votes”.

Now, it’s easy to doubt your own instincts, or be confused about the victor in this debate, especially if you missed the show. After all, each party’s spin teams took to twitter and other social media platforms with a vengeance before the debate even ended, pronouncing it a decisive victory for their candidate.

But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and for that I turned to the only comprehensive and scientific post-debate poll. Ipsos-Reid were in the field before and after the debate, interviewing a representative sample of 1,687 Ontarians pre-debate, and 1,470 afterwards. The top line findings on their poll have been reported accurately enough, 33% thought McGuinty won the debate, while 29% thought Horwath did and only 25% thought the same of Hudak.

But, as is usually the case, reading below the top line provides a great deal more insight. For starters, let’s look at the impact that Horwath had on voters. While McGuinty and Hudak were perceived to be the winner of the debate by roughly the same number of people who expected them to win going in (in other words, their supporters), Horwath exceeded expectations by 15%, leading Ipsos to comment that she   “appears to have had the biggest impact on Ontarians through her performance”.

But that’s only the beginning of the story. The second most compelling stat in the report (I’m coming to the first, don’t worry), was the stunning number of Ontarians whose impression of Horwath improved. Let’s go to the report again:

It was Andrea Horwath who made the biggest impression on Ontarians as 67% say they have an improved impression of her as a result of the debate, while just 10% say their impressions worsened, representing a net score of +57, effectively making her the real winner of the debate. By comparison, Jack Layton’s net improvement score in the English-language federal debate was +41 points, and +42 in the French-language debate. Three in ten (29%) have an improved impression of Dalton McGuinty, compared to a similar proportion (31%) who have a worsened impression, representing a net score of -2. Four in ten (37%) say that their impressions of Tim Hudak improved, while one in three (34%) say they worsened, a net score of +3.[emphasis mine]

Now that is a pretty stunning number, but Liberal and Conservative spin doctors would no doubt argue that people’s impression of Horwath may have gone up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll vote for her. After all, someone who hated her before might have had their impression softened, but still prefer another candidate.

So let’s look at the most important piece of information in the poll, as far as I’m concerned. Back to the report we go:

With the NDP leader performing so well compared to expectations, it is interesting to note that one in ten (14%) viewers say they changed their mind about who they were going to vote for as a result of what they saw tonight, with the NDP appearing to be the biggest beneficiary among those who viewed the debates and reportedly switched their vote.

Horwath was also chosen as the leader with the best ideas and policies (35% +10), the most likeable leader (52% +8) and the most “visually attractive” (54% +12). On the issues, Horwath came out on top with viewers as the candidate they most trust on Healthcare (35%, +11) and came second on Taxes (24% +5) and Education (29%, +10).

So in summary, Horwath was the runaway winner of the debate, improving the opinion of 57% of viewers, and 14% of viewers will shift their vote as a result. So could one of the numerous pundits opining that no one won the debate, and that no one succeeded in moving voters, explain their position to me please?

Even taking into account margin of error and the fact that not all Ontarians watched the debate (although they’ll certainly hear about it around the proverbial water-cooler) we’re talking about a minimum of 5-8% shift from the other parties to the NDP. Transpose that onto the most recent poll results and you’re looking at the NDP above 30% and in a three way dead heat with the Libs and Cons.

In other words, ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a ball game. So I wonder if journalists didn’t bother to read the Ipsos report through, inexplicably failed to notice the huge shift to Horwath which the report writers underline on several occasions, or chose to run with the story that the debate was a wash because it fit better with their own narrative of the campaign?

In any case, barring the remote possibility that Ipsos produced a rogue poll, I expect to see a significant swing to the NDP in the polls over the next week. This will leave us with a thrilling three way race to the finish, in which Horwath has as much chance of snatching the Premier’s chair as either of her opponents.

The NDP are back in Ontario, and that, coincidentally, is very good news for their federal cousins. It’s going to be one hell of a finish. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

*******************************************

Although an article I wrote about Jack appeared on Rabble.ca before his funeral, this article marks the official inauguration of my blog on Rabble, where I will be re-posting articles I write for ForgetTheBox.net as well as some content exclusively for Rabble. I wanted to take the opportunity to welcome readers on Rabble and say how honoured I am to be appearing on the site, alongside so many giants of the left in this country.

I’ve been a fan of Rabble since Judy Rebick handed me a pin and told me about this great new site she was starting at a conference a decade ago. Over the years I have always returned for insightful commentary and cutting analysis which is, of course, completely absent from the main stream media. And Babble, oh Babble!

So a big thank you to Kim Elliott, Rabble’s Publisher, and Alexandra Samur, the Blogs Editor, for giving me the opportunity to join the team!

This column is a regular feature on ForgetTheBox.net, where I am the News and Politics Editor. Please stop by and check out our rather eclectic blend of news and politics with arts and culture, all infused with a uniquely Montrealaise ethos. And for my ForgetTheBox readers, please check out Rabble.ca if you aren’t already familiar with the site. It is one of the largest and most influential progressive websites in the country, and my home page.

Finally, you can follow me on Twitter @EthanCoxMtl and like me on Facebook for updates, new articles and snide comments about Conservatives during Question Period.

After five long years and two election victories with minority governments, Stephen Harper won his first majority last May in surprising fashion. Despite having numerous unpopular social policies, Harper managed to win an additional 23 seats guaranteeing full control in the House of Commons.

The election brought down Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who even lost his own seat, and formally resigned the next day. In Quebec, BQ leader Gilles Duceppe lost his seat as well and resigned as support for the Bloc Quebecois completely vanished. The only shining light for progressives was the equally surprising rise of the now deceased Jack Layton and his New Democratic Party, who became the official opposition for the first time in their history.

Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party now stand virtually unopposed in the House. The NDP, Liberals and BQ all have interim leaders and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May has very little time to speak as her party has but one seat. In addition to the House of Commons, Tories also control the Senate, thanks to Harper loading the upper house  of  Parliament with Conservatives over the last five years of Tory minority rule.

The soon to be Supreme Court of Harper

In the next three years, there are three liberal judges on the Supreme Court of  Canada who are scheduled to retire, all of whom were appointed on the advice of ex-Prime Minister Chretien. This means during Harper’s current term (likely sooner than later) his Conservatives will also control the Supreme Court.

With total control over both houses of parliament, and soon the Supreme Court, few people can remember a more powerful Prime Minister in Canadian history than Stephen Harper. Unfortunately for liberals and progressives, he’s just getting started.

And getting started he is, the Harper government is setting out to modify Canada’s justice system with Bill C-10, tabled in the Commons last Tuesday. It combines nine separate crime bills that failed to pass during the minority government years. It aims to toughen punishment for everyone from drug dealers and users to sexual predators to what Justice Minister Rob Nicholson calls “out-of-control young people.”

This Bill will rewrite laws on the production and possession of drugs, on young offenders and on parole and house arrest, to name a few. In various ways, the Tories are increasing sentences, or introducing mandatory minimums, for offences such as possession of pot, a drug that was on the brink of decriminalization only ten years ago under Prime Minister Chretien.

This vast crime bill is expected to cost billions of dollars and is being introduced at a time when the murder rate in Canada is at its lowest point in forty years. It furthermore comes at the same time the Conservative government is paying a consulting firm almost $90,000 a day for advice on how to save money. Anyone else see the senselessness at play here?

Canadian Murder Rate from 1961-2007

As I mentioned earlier, the Harper Government is just getting started. While no one knows for sure what the future will bring, you can bet that in the next four years we’ll be seeing the liquidation and privatization of profitable crown corporations, the defunding of Canadian institutions such as the CBC, the lowering of taxes for corporations and the wealthy, the gutting of many social programs and every Harper speech ending with the words “God bless Canada”.

With the opposition parties in parliament either being built or rebuilt, it falls on us, the Canadian people, to keep the Harper Government in check, to question everything that comes out of his mouth and to turn all of our collective differing arguments into not just words, but action. Otherwise it’s going to be an awfully long four years.

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