Harper - The Trawler.org
What is the significance of this fiscal cliff which seemed to dominate discourses during the final stages of the US election? And what does it mean for Canada?
These are exactly questions that MacLean’s assistant editor Erica Alini and the publication’s Econowatch department feel are imperative to answer if we are to better understand the current financial situation in the United States. Therefore, they have laid out the ABC’s of the fiscal cliff in a Canadian context for all of us.
A is for austerity.
This is essentially what the fiscal cliff and the debate around it are all about as this fiscal cliff is a package of tax hikes and broad-based spending cuts set to come into effect on January 1, 2013. According to Econowatch, this package is part of a compromise bill signed into law by President Obama in order to resolve a political stalemate over the rising debt ceiling which consists of a massive combo of tax increases and spending reductions that would give the US budget a much-needed shrinking, but also likely send the economy back into a recession.
In short, according to Alini, the fiscal cliff “would cause some considerable short-term pain in a country that is just now showing signs of a real recovery from the Great Recession. At the same time, it would achieve a very important long-term objective: drastically resizing the overall amount the government owes.”
B is for Bernanke.
The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, is the one responsible for coining the phrase, and therefore creating the confusion around what it means. Moreover “fiscal cliff” is quite a dramatic choice of wording bordering on scaremongering, as the impact of tax hikes and spending cuts would be felt rather gradually. And as Chad Stone notes, “Congress would also have the power to change the law retroactively, erasing any effects of the initial implementation of these measures.”
C is for Canada.
What does the fiscal cliff mean to us? A lot. According to Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, “if the US economy takes a dive, the Canadian economy would follow shortly thereafter.” Furthermore, TD Bank’s Dina Ignjatovic, the fiscal cliff would cause a drop in U.S. GDP of 3-4 percentage points, and in turn, this would wipe over one percentage point off Canada’s economic growth.
Right now, Ignjatovic adds, “we are particularly vulnerable to any negative shocks south of the border. Canada’s economic recovery was led by consumer spending—our exports haven’t yet gone back to pre-recessionary levels—but Canadians are now reining in their household debt and that domestic engine of growth is running out of gas.”
So how bad can it get for Canada? According to Alini and Econowatch, Canada has a number of automatic stabilizers and while the road ahead is bound to be bumpy, it’ll likely be a question of “potholes,” not “craters.”
Earlier this month, Globe and Mail European Bureau Chief Doug Saunders wrote a controversial article exploring the concept of “religious freedom” within a Canadian context that more or less slipped through the cracks and is worth revisiting. In the piece, Saunders argues, “It’s time to speak out against religious freedom… Or, to be precise, against its promotion and the way it’s used.”
Saunders clarifies that to Canadians who believe that freedoms should be uncompromising; his proposition might sound like an odd one. However, Canada’s recent decision to open a federal Office of Religious Freedom (within the Department of Foreign Affairs) is a move that Saunders refers to as “very likely to contribute to the very problems we hope it might help solve.”
The reason for this, according to Saunders, is that “when groups of people exercise their self-proclaimed religious freedoms, terrible things tend to happen.” Examples of “religious freedom” ‘justifying’ violence that he offers include, Hindu nationalists attacking Muslims in India, the Buddhist-majority government imprisoning Hindus in Sri Lanka, Jewish religions parties dehumanizing Israel’s Muslim citizens, and Islamists marginalizing Coptic Christians in Egypt.
“For the ardent religious believer and the organized, hierarchical religious organization, “religious freedom” often refers to the right to restrict the freedoms of others, or to impose one’s religion on the larger world. That’s why the most important religious freedom is freedom from religion.”
In Saunders’ eyes, the issue is that “religious freedom” is deliberately unclear. Does it refer to one’s freedom to hold beliefs of their choosing? To speak openly of said beliefs without penalty? Partake in religious rituals in private places of worship? Those are already fundamental rights according to the Constitution, and therefore, Saunders finds a separate clause for “freedom of religion” redundant, perhaps even a signal that religious freedom is the most important freedom of all.
Giving religion its own federal office (consisting of an advisory board made up of mostly hardline religious figures), is what Northwestern University professor Elizabeth Hurd refers to as a hegemony of religious freedom: “By making it a priority, we force people to be defined by their religions, not by their personal, political, national, ethnic or democratic interests.”
Building on Hurd’s hegemonic critiques, Saunders concludes that the new office is “simply be a reprise of Canada’s old policies of official multiculturalism – with all their flaws and none of their advantages,” because it prohibits the narrowing of cultural definitions which define people first and foremost by what they believe, all under the command of spiritual leaders who would prefer Canada it be that way.
While Saunders makes assertions which risk offending some religious Canadians, he is touching on a very problematic reunification of state and religion taking place under the Conservative party. After all, it is this initial separation of these two structures that made the Canadian project successful in the first place.
IVISON: “Harper’s civil service shuffle an attempt to make ‘Yes, Minister’ actually mean something” (The National Post: CA)246 days ago by Emily.Thompson
In his most recent post for The National Post, John Ivision discusses the most recent changes in the upper echelons of the federal public service. After Francis Maude, the Conservative Cabinet Office minister, condemned the behavior of several public service members for refusing to complete the orders of their ministers, the Prime Minister shuffled several deputy ministers, giving eight government departments new bosses. In his latest article, Ivison has tapped into an age-old tension between bureaucrats and their political bosses. While elected officials are technically in control, many would argue that it is actually the heads of departments who have the real power or oversight; a fact that does not suit many in the executive. Ivision asserts that this imbalance of power certainly did not please the Prime Minister and as a result, this shuffle is a clear reminder to civil servants that he is taking back government.
Ivision finds the most intriguing part of this shuffle to be where the deputy ministers were place and not simply the fact that it occurred. Most significantly, Ivision acknowledges Michelle d’Auray’s replacement by Yaprak Baltacioglu as Secretary of the Treasury Board, to be a clear indicator of what happens when senior officials do not obey the wishes of their “political masters”. D’Auray’s shuffle to the Department of Public Works comes after recent introductions of new rules within Treasury Board giving Ministers final approval over spending for all departmental events that cost more than $25,000; an initiative that was resisted by senior bureaucrats.
While this tension is nothing new, it is one that has plagued the Canadian (and as Ivision notes, the British) government for decades. What Ivision’s article most significantly demonstrates is Harper’s method of dealing with what he sees as a weakness in his chain of command. In what Ivision deems to be the Prime Minister’s “typically blunt style”, Harper wants to make it clear that it is he who really “runs” the country.
ENGLER: “‘Statesman of the Year’ Stephen Harper also Picks up first Richard Nixon Prize” (Rabble, CA)264 days ago by Adam.Kingsmith
Today in New York City, Prime Minster Stephen Harper accepted his award for “World Statesman of the Year” by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. In a rather flippantly ingenious response, infamous Montréal writer, political activist and Rabble.ca regular contributor, Yves Engler, has bestowed upon Harper his own personal, designation, “The Richard Nixon Prize.”
According to Enger, this hypothetical award is given to a leader for pursing “principled, forthright and steadfast international policies in the interests of the rich and powerful, regardless of the consequences” to everyone else. The reasons that Harper has earned this rather damning honour in Engler’s mind are plentiful, and exist on both domestic and international fronts.
Domestically, Harper’s “consistent backing of the interests of North America’s top 1 per cent of income earners, with a special emphasis on supporting those who make their billions from resource extraction, weaponry and banking,” made the list.
As well, his “tough decision to support more carbon in our atmosphere rather than simply accede to an overwhelming international consensus. His government repeatedly blocked climate negotiations and withdrew Canada from the Kyoto protocol, what he once correctly called a “‘socialist scheme’ to suck money out of rich countries,” was considered to be a key factor in his achievement.
Internationally, Harper was applauded for bombing Libya into “democracy,” taking note that it was best for corporate oil and gas interests. Moreover, he stood by Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak until his final hours of a 30-year reign, showing his uncompromising loyalty.
Engler, err the “award committee” added that “in Afghanistan the Prime Minister has stayed committed to war even though most Canadians want to bring the troops home.” Furthermore, Harper had the military play important roles in U.S.-led nighttime assassination raids regardless of repeated attempts by Parliament to cease Canadian involvement.
And the cherry on top, the reason Harper really emerged victorious? Harper’s unwillingness to bend to the will of the world and support Palestinians in their bid for internationally recognized statehood. For as Harper “rightfully” believes, “Canada’s job is to support the United States and the West,” in that order.
So thanks to his willingness to erode social programs, expand income disparity gaps, ignore climate change, bomb and/or invade sovereign states, and stand nearly alone fervently supporting Israeli over any Palestinian claims to their own homeland, in the eyes of Engler, Harper is the true embodiment of Richard Nixon.
MCPARLAND: “Free trade with China is one thing, corruption-free trade is another” (National Post, CA)279 days ago by Hermonie.Xie
In a recent opinion article for the National Post, Kelly McParland cautions against rushing into free trade with China. Recently, Ottawa has considered exploratory talks on a free trade agreement with China. Last Sunday, PM Harper signed the Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, which establishes a system for resolving disputes on laws and practices that impinge on foreign investment.
While he recognizes the importance and value of seeking free trade with China, McParland questions the ability of China’s opaque political structure to provide the legal and political reliability needed for a trade pact that is palatable to Canadian businesses. While “China has the trappings of a modern western business culture,” below the surface the country remains a place “where law is what the government says it is, on any particular day”.
McParland points to a few recent political scandals to show a China ridden with corruption. In August, Gu Kailai – wife of ousted Chinese leader Bo Xilai, was tried “for the murder of a British consultant she feared was about to reveal the extent of the family’s corruption.” McParland notes that the murder itself might have been covered up had it not been for “a bit of bad luck in which a local police official approached the US seeking protection from Bo”. While top-ranked Communist officials have modest salaries on paper, “unofficially they can buy their kids Ferraris.”
The icing on the cake is the recent mysterious disappearance of president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who has been missing for nine days and skipped scheduled meetings with foreign dignitaries such as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the PMs of Singapore and Denmark. Thus far, the international community has failed to get a clear answer from Beijing on his whereabouts and his health condition.
For McParland, all of this suggests that China will play by its own rules with no regard for the international community. For this reason, he does not believe China will make a good trading partner for Canada despite its wealth and economic sophistication.
Terence Corcoran argues a different perspective in his editorial for the Financial Post. In this article, Corcoran makes the argument that in a world filled with talk about retaliation and protectionism, Canada’s trade talks with China is a step in the right direction – so long as Canada can handle the challenges and risks in dealing with China’s state-owned-enterprises.
Senate reform is hardly an issue that keeps Canadians awake at night; however, as John Ibbitson notes, a strong majority of Canadians (72%) would like the opportunity to directly elect senators and 71% would support a referendum on the future of the senate. In particular, Senate reform has been supported by many strong Conservative supporters and as such the current government put Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act, into motion. Such a bill would ensure that senators would be elected to fixed terms. However, despite the majority standing of the current government, the bill has yet to make it to a second reading, despite being tabled over a year ago. In his most recent article in The Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson discusses the reasons why Senate reform has been stalled, despite Prime Minister Harper’s long standing support.
Ibbitson states that there are two reasons for the delay; one being the NDP and Liberals strong opposition to the bill leading to delays in the House of Commons. The two parties put forward speakers to speak until time runs off the clock for discussion of the Bill. However, as Ibbitson notes, such a de facto filibuster is possible to overcome and as such, the real problem actually lies with the Tory Senate Caucus.
It has become increasingly clear that reforming the Senate may actually come at a political cost to Prime Minister Harper. Evidently, a large number of senators, including some of those appointed by Harper himself, oppose the nine year term limit. Moreover, there are emerging conservatives voices in the West, a region where Harper has a stronghold, that are rethinking their support for Senate reform, causing Harper to rethink his decision to pursue changes to the Senate.
While Ibbitson raises interesting points about the Prime Minister’s Senate dilemma, the article does not really touch on anything new. Reform of the Senate has been a topic of discussion for decades and has always caused clashes between those who benefit from the current system and those who do not. However, this article does highlight an intriguing nuance about the current debate, that Harper’s Western base may not be as strong as we all thought.
In his newest article, Macleans.ca columnist John Geddes critically examines the effects of Harper’s National Anti-Drug Strategy since its initiation into policy in the autumn of 2007. The approach, which in the words of the PM “will be tough on crime and compassionate on victims”, came with a price tag of 500 million over 5 years thanks to an increase in spending by a dozen federal departments and agencies under Harper’s anti-drug umbrella.
Now the government is silently drafting up an action plan for the next five years of anti-drug programs, again costing taxpayers upwards of half a billion dollars. A plan which according to Geddes, calls for substantial cuts to Health Canada’s budget for drug treatment in exchange for hefty increases in funding for drug enforcement by police and prosecutors. By the numbers, these requisitions will mean a reduction in Heath Canada’s Drug Treatment Funding Program from 122 million down to 80 million, in order to free up the finances for an RCMP Drug Task Force budget increase from 85 million to 113 million, and an Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions increase from 43 million to 61 million.
So far the Harper Administration has done nothing to publicize the anti-drug policy’s second leg, much less drawn attention to the apparent shift in funding priorities. Furthermore, Geddes contextualizes that while Health Canada was given a lead role in drug policies under previous Liberal governments, we are currently witnessing a gradual shift of responsibility over to Justice Canada, “signaling clearly how the Conservatives view illegal drugs as, first and foremost, a law-and-order challenge, rather than mainly a health issue”.
While this realignment of authority more naturally amalgamates into the Tories’ tough-on-crime mantra– which has proven itself to be an important pillar of the winning election campaign rhetoric –the architects of the new report are being met with some resistance. Some community groups are voicing their omnipresent disapproval in the shift from the health department’s emphasis on treatment to the justice’s focus on enforcement. However, Geddes sees the general public as dangerously apathetic, most not knowing or even caring which department is in the driver’s seat as long as PSAs continue to keep ‘scaring kids straight’.
Many addiction experts such as Susan Shepherd, Manager of the Toronto Drug Strategy Secretariat, have recently cited studies showing that public education campaigns tend not to change the behavior of the “subset of young people who are most likely to develop serious drug problems”. Still, it is the changes in the broader anti-drug spending mix that stand out over misguided and mismanaged public relations campaigns. Over next half decade of Harperland drug policies Health Canada’s budget will drop 15%, while the RCMP’s will jump 22%. And if the Tories started out insisting that their approach was one of scrupulous balance, the strategy for the next five years shows a pronounced drift away from compassionate treatment and toward hard-nosed enforcement.
For a more Conservative look at Canada’s National Anti-Drug Strategy, the official government website can be found here. Globe and Mail reporter Andre Picard’s relatively recent and insightful take on the flaws of Canada’s National Anti-Drug Strategy can be found here.