Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Why are so many young Quebecers still sovereigntists? It's cooler

Andre Pratte of La Presse:
For the past 30 years, support for independence has been remarkably stable at 40 per cent, except for two brief periods (after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and in the last weeks of the 1995 referendum campaign). That stability has frustrated separatists, whose constant efforts to convince Quebecers to follow them has fallen on a majority of deaf ears. It also confuses Canadians outside the province, who wonder why on Earth so many Quebecers still believe that separation would be good for Quebec. Hasn't the province become one of the most prosperous regions on Earth (Statistics Canada announced yesterday that Quebec's unemployment rate had gone down to 7.3 per cent, significantly lower than Ontario's)? Aren't French-speaking Quebecers in control of their province's political and economic affairs? Doesn't Quebec receive billions in equalization payments, thanks to which Quebec taxpayers can afford very generous social programs?

For older separatists, these facts do not compensate for the historical wrongs – their list is endless – suffered by French Canadians since the 1763 conquest. Theirs is generally an emotional nationalism, although rationalized by political and economic arguments.

Younger separatists' reasons for supporting independence are different. They are full of confidence in themselves and therefore do not fear separation. They travel all over the world to study, work and visit but have never found a reason to go to Toronto or Vancouver, let alone St. John's or Regina. To them, the rest of Canada is a foreign country, with a different culture and different values. They see the election of a majority Harper government and Quebecers' massive vote for the NDP as the latest demonstration of the unbridgeable canyon between Quebec and English Canada. They believe the federal system is inefficient and that Quebec could better tackle the challenges it faces if it had all the tools of government in its possession.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Tories cite deficit in eliminating auditing jobs

Tories cite deficit in eliminating auditing jobs:
On the chopping block is Audit Services Canada, an auditing shop available for a fee to all other departments that bills itself as having “a 50-year track record of helping to improve public sector accountability and operations.”

Officials at Public Works concluded, however, that the audit work could be done more cheaply by the private sector, so the office will be shut down. The department insists this will not impact the government-wide internal audit role, which was recently praised by the Auditor-General.

In all, 92 auditor positions across Canada will be terminated.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Senior Conservative hints Harper could go nuclear on Senate reform

Senior Conservative hints Harper could go nuclear on Senate reform:
Jason Kenney is suggesting his boss Stephen Harper could do away with the Senate if his Conservative caucus in the Red Chamber doesn’t play ball and accept his reforms.

Choosing his words carefully, Mr. Kenney avoided saying the word “abolish.” Rather, he said the Prime Minister is prepared to “entertain more dramatic options” if Tory senators continue to balk at his proposal.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Harper speech on foreign policy

Harper speech fires up convention crowd:
Canada has a purpose now that the country has a Conservative majority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday night in a speech to 2,300 party delegates.

Harper painted a dark picture of the world around Canada near the end of his mostly upbeat speech, and said there are forces rising that Canada must resist.

"Power is shifting. New forces are coming to the fore," Harper said.

"Some we will be pleased to work with. Some we must resist. In such a world, strength is not an option; it is a vital necessity. Moral ambiguity, moral equivalence are not options, they are dangerous illusions."
I would argue that it's moral clarity that's the dangerous illusion. Hans Morgenthau discusses the importance of recognizing clearly that power (the "strength" Harper refers to) and morality are not one and the same.
Intellectually, the political realist maintains the autonomy of the political sphere, as the economist, the lawyer, the moralist maintain theirs. He thinks in terms of interest defined as power, as the economist thinks in terms of interest defined as wealth; the lawyer, of the conformity of action with legal rules; the moralist, of the conformity of action with moral principles. The economist asks: "How does this policy affect the wealth of society, or a segment of it?" The lawyer asks: "Is this policy in accord with the rules of law?" The moralist asks: "Is this policy in accord with moral principles?" And the political realist asks: "How does this policy affect the power of the nation?"

... In 1939 the Soviet Union attacked Finland. This action confronted France and Great Britain with two issues, one legal, the other political. Did that action violate the Covenant of the League of Nations and, if it did, what countermeasures should France and Great Britain take? The legal question could easily be answered in the affirmative, for obviously the Soviet Union had done what was prohibited by the Covenant. The answer to the political question depends, first, upon the manner in which the Russian action affected the interests of France and Great Britain; second, upon the existing distribution of power between France and Great Britain, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and other potentially hostile nations, especially Germany, on the other; and, third, upon the influence that the countermeasures were likely to have upon the interests of France and Great Britain and the future distribution of power. France and Great Britain, as the leading members of the League of Nations, saw to it that the Soviet Union was expelled from the League, and they were prevented from joining Finland in the war against the Soviet Union only by Sweden's refusal to allow their troops to pass through Swedish territory on their way to Finland. If this refusal by Sweden had not saved them, France and Great Britain would shortly have found themselves at war with the Soviet Union and Germany at the same time.

The policy of France and Great Britain was a classic example of legalism in that they allowed the answer to the legal question, legitimate within its sphere, to determine their political actions. Instead of asking both questions, that of law and that of power, they asked only the question of law; and the answer they received could have no bearing on the issue that their very existence might have depended upon.

The second example illustrates the "moralistic approach" to international politics. It concerns the international status of the Communist government of China. The rise of that government confronted the Western world with two issues, one moral, the other political. Were the nature and policies of that government in accord with the moral principles of the Western world? Should the Western world deal with such a government? The answer to the first question could not fail to be in the negative. Yet it did not follow with necessity that the answer to the second question should also be in the negative. The standard of thought applied to the first--the moral question—was simply to test the nature and the policies of the Communist government of China by the principles of Western morality. On the other hand, the second—the political question—had to be subjected to the complicated test of the interests involved and the power available on either side, and of the bearing of one or the other course of action upon these interests and power. The application of this test could well have led to the conclusion that it would be wiser not to deal with the Communist government of China. To arrive at this conclusion by neglecting this test altogether and answering the political question in terms of the moral issue was indeed a classic example of the "moralistic approach" to international politics.

Monday, 13 June 2011

G8 spending in Clement's riding left ‘no paper trail'

G8 spending in Clement's riding left ‘no paper trail'
Senior Conservative officials broke federal rules to shower $50-million on the riding of the minister now overseeing Ottawa’s austerity plan, according to the final audit of a G8 program that fuelled opposition charges of pork-barrel politics.

In her last report, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser said the funding for the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund was approved by Parliament under the guise of a border initiative. The money was then distributed to projects in the riding of Treasury Board President Tony Clement without any input from civil servants, in a clear breach of federal policies dealing with transparency and accountability.

“It is very unusual and troubling. There is no paper trail behind the selection of the 32 projects,” said John Wiersema, the interim Auditor-General who recently took over from a retired Ms. Fraser. “I, personally, in my career in auditing, have not encountered a situation like that.”

Mr. Clement showed up at a news conference to defend the spending in his riding, but Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird physically shielded him from questions at times. The two stood behind a podium and single microphone, and Mr. Baird, who was in charge of Ottawa’s infrastructure program when the spending was approved, often fielded questions the media directed at Mr. Clement.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Opposition blows gasket as PM jets to Canucks-Bruins game

Opposition blows gasket as PM jets to Canucks-Bruins game:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is being accused of wasting taxpayer dollars for his decision to use a government jet to attend the Stanley Cup finals in Boston on Wednesday.

As the Conservatives are scrambling to find billions in cuts in Ottawa, Mr. Harper will reimburse the cost of tickets to Game 4 of the Boston/Vancouver finals for himself and his daughter, as well as the equivalent cost of a commercial roundtrip for two.

However, the Prime Minister is forbidden from going on commercial flights for security reasons, which forces him to use a Canadian Forces jet for the trip. According to the government’s estimates, a flight on the Challenger costs more than $10,000 an hour, which the opposition deemed too expensive two days after the government announced a new wave of austerity in Ottawa.

“Using those types of tax dollars for his personal entertainment? No, that’s simply not on,” NDP MP Peter Stoffer said. “He should do what we all do, which is watching the game on TV and hoping the Canucks score a victory.”

... The PMO said Mr. Harper, his daughter and Mr. Moore will each be paying $500 for their tickets, and $530 each for the flight.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Forget what Tories say, Ottawa has structural deficit

Stephen Gordon: Forget what Tories say, Ottawa has structural deficit
Yesterday’s budget was an implicit admission of a problem whose existence the Conservatives had spent quite some time denying: the federal government is running a structural deficit that will not go away on its own when the economy fully recovers from the recession. If the deficit were purely cyclical -- that is, if the deficit could be completely explained by recession-induced increases in spending and reductions in revenue -- then the government wouldn’t be in a position where it would feel obliged to commit to large, unspecified spending cuts in order to balance the budget.

Many commentators have suggested that the structural deficit was created by increased spending, so spending cuts are the appropriate remedy. I don’t see how this hypothesis fits the data, and the fact that the necessary spending cuts have yet to be specified suggests to me that there’s no expensive new program that can be blamed for the structural component of the deficit.
Gordon's analysis is that the GST cut was responsible for the structural deficit.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Harper's Throne Speech delays dealing with hard decisions

Jeffrey Simpson: Harper's Throne Speech delays dealing with hard decisions
Financial crises are a real drag. They pull down economies very quickly, but recovery is prolonged, tough and uncertain.

That tough recovery provides the context for Friday’s Speech from the Throne and, more important, Monday’s budget. The economic picture has soured from the pre-election budget to today, especially the economic news from the United States. The souring will mean much harder decisions for Stephen Harper’s government than it appeared would be necessary a few months ago.

... This summer, a subcommittee under Treasury Board President Tony Clement will begin reviewing government spending, with cuts presumably to be contained in the budget of 2012. These cutting exercises have failed more often than not in Ottawa. The Conservatives now have a majority government that should steel their resolve, but they have also been a party that let spending rip before the recession.

Hard spending decisions have never been a hallmark of Mr. Harper’s governments, which have cut taxes, dramatically increased the number of civil servants, driven up spending, eliminated the surplus and produced big deficits, but will now be preaching restraint and cutbacks.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Harper loyalist Dimitri Soudas stepping down as PMO spokesman

Harper loyalist Dimitri Soudas stepping down as PMO spokesman
When Mr. Harper became Prime Minister in 2006, Mr. Soudas was closely linked to the PMO’s efforts to impose greater control on communications, including making up a pre-determined list of journalists who could ask questions of Mr. Harper.

He also ruffled feathers in the party, especially on issues in Quebec – where he was seen to have more sway than a number of senior ministers from the province. His departure has been rumoured in recent weeks, with a number of Conservative officials stating his retirement would have a positive impact on the party, especially in Quebec.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Trade Minister launches blistering attack on NDP

Trade Minister launches blistering attack on NDP:
In a downtown Ottawa speech Thursday morning, International Trade Minister Ed Fast launched a fresh partisan attack on the new Official Opposition, accusing New Democrats of being set on policies that would “stall growth, kill jobs and set Canadian families back.”

Listeners could be forgiven for wondering whether the 41st election campaign was still being contested. The broadside against the NDP suggests the perpetual campaign the Tories waged during their minority government years will not be wound down soon.