WTF? Canada votes against UN resolution condemning glorification of Nazism! Have we taken leave of our senses?

United Nations headquarters in New York City, apparently as good a place as any for Canada to make an international fool of itself. Below: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Russian President Vladimir Putin shirtfront a pair of arboreal herbivorous marsupials in Brisbane. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper does the same thing.

Can someone please explain why Canada was one of three countries to vote Friday against a United Nations resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism?

The resolution, which censures attempts to glorify Nazi ideology and denial of German crimes during the Second World War, was passed by the General Assembly committee that deals with human rights abuses by a vote of 115 to three, with 55 nations abstaining.

If you’re having a WTF moment, rest assured I’m not making this up. This is not fake news. It is the real McCoy, and it’s been widely reported – in Russia. You can read about it on RT or ITAR-TASS. Here is the UN’s own report of the meeting.

The Canadian media, however, apparently doesn’t think this is an important story, if they are even aware of it. Leastways, there seems to have been very little Canadian coverage of this story, which, if I may be so bold, is odd given the media’s normal fascination with anything to do with Nazis.

Actually, we can begin to puzzle out why Canada voted against this resolution when we know the identities of the other two countries that voted the same way: the United States and Ukraine. Probably not coincidentally, the U.S. media also seems completely uninterested in the story.

It is also helpful to know who put the resolution on the agenda. That would be Russia.

Knowing this much, we can begin to see the general outlines of what was really going on when Canada’s representatives cast their bizarre vote at the General Assembly’s Third Committee.

As is well understood, notwithstanding much rhetorical mumbo-jumbo by many interested parties to obfuscate what is really going on, there is a civil war in Eastern Ukraine. Casualties have been high, including many Westerners in a passenger aircraft that was shot down by someone, who or why not being 100 per cent certain despite the confident and contradictory claims of both sides.

Russia is backing one side. The United States and its NATO allies, including Canada, are backing the other. Both blame the other for the situation and the casualties. So it is simply impossible for most Canadians, even those with some knowledge and a lively interest in the situation, to be confident which version of events is true.

While much of this story is murky, we can say a few things with reasonable confidence:

  • The previous government of Ukraine tilted toward the Russians
  • The current government of Ukraine was put in place in a coup, which we are told was led by people who wanted to tilt toward the West
  • The coup and the current government are supported by some quite unsavoury groups, including neo-Nazi paramilitary organizations that use Nazi symbols on their uniforms and regalia
  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper is passionate in his support for the coup government

Indeed, Mr. Harper may be so passionate in his support for the current Ukrainian government and the fact its economic program meshes with his neoliberal idea of “economic freedom” that he is willing to overlook, intentionally or not, certain glaring failings on the part of some of its key players.

This is part of a pattern with Mr. Harper, of course, that is often visible in other policy areas as well.

As for the Russians, who despite myriad flaws of their own have an obvious strategic interest in the country next door with its significant population of Russian-speaking citizens, they seem to have been fairly successful in outmaneuvering the Ukrainian regime’s Western backers since their initial failure in allowing the coup to take place last February.

When Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a former boxer, blustered that he would “shirtfront” Russian President Vladimir Putin about this situation at the G20 meeting earlier this month in Brisbane, Mr. Putin, a black belt in judo, shirtfronted him.

(Shirtfronting is apparently an Australianism meaning something along the lines of “punch your lights out.” As an aside, just as you can generally bet on a boxer in a scrap with a karate black belt, it pays to bet on the judoka in a fight with a boxer – especially when he brings a flotilla of nuclear-armed warships with him.)

Mr. Harper was so furious about this in Brisbane that he apparently stomped his little foot and acted like a Parliamentary page with a “STOP Putin” sign, no doubt provoking general hilarity back at the Kremlin.

Knowing what we all know about Ukrainian neo-Nazi units’ role in Ukraine’s civil war, the Russian sponsored resolution was doubtless mischievous in intent – and apparently quite successfully so!

Canada should have followed the example of Israel, which supported the motion regardless of its source and quietly moved on. Our representatives would even have done better to imitated the moral cowards of the European Union and Australia and abstained from the vote.

But, oh no! Mr. Harper’s government, with its immature fondness for wedge politics at home and inflexible market fundamentalist ideology everywhere, didn’t have the subtlety for even that.

So, along with our Great Neighbours to the South, we blundered right into Russia’s snare and now look to all the world like perfect pair of prats – or much worse!

Alert readers will recall that the members of the UN didn’t want Canada occupying a non-permanent seat on the Security Council back in 2010, something that would have been a cinch before the Harper crowd came along. Well, I don’t think this latest development is going to help us recover from that embarrassment!

In the mean time, Canadians deserve to know: Is the government of Canada against the glorification of Nazism, or not? If we are, why did we vote against the resolution? Perhaps those might be useful questions for someone to ask in the House of Commons this afternoon.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Tory income-splitting tax policy: It’s about creating and preserving gender inequality and making rich guys richer

Whew! This income splitting is a killer. Actual perfect families as seen by the Harper Government may not appear exactly like Canadian reality. Below: Queen’s University tax law professor Kathleen Lahey.

A fundamental purpose of the Harper Government’s ideologically driven income-splitting tax scheme is to undermine women’s equality, Queen’s University tax law professor Kathleen Lahey told the Parkland Institute’s annual fall conference yesterday.

That’s a statement that may cause some readers to react with skepticism – but if you’re one of them, let me suggest it’s because you haven’t really been paying attention.

Dr. Lahey told a plenary session of the conference how, back in 1982 when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted, women were almost full citizens of Canada. Almost.

But powerful neoliberal and social conservative forces have been pushing back against gender equality ever since through such agents as the Reform Party, the Canadian Alliance and most recently the Conservative Party of Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Not to mention, of course, the scores of neoliberal “think tanks” and lobby groups financed by deep-pocketed corporations to repeat Harperite talking points.

“While women were working so hard to get equal rights” – and, in Canada, succeeding more than in most countries of the world – “there was a rearguard action taking place,” Dr. Lahey observed.

“From the moment those laws hit the books, social conservatives have been pushing back as hard as they can” – and the reality is they have succeeded, continue to succeed and the result is there is real deterioration of gender equality in Canada today.

A key tactic in the Tory gender-inequality project, in Mr. Harper’s characteristic incremental style, has been to use a large number of small tax measures to return wealth to where he and the social conservatives who back him believe it belongs – the pockets of already well-off men.

The scheme works in two directions: Outright tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals, of which we’ve seen plenty, deprive civil society of the financial oxygen it needs to survive.

And while civil society suffers the death of a thousand cuts, scores of ideologically inspired tax breaks direct that money to places where it will encourage the kind of society the acolytes of Harperism want to build. And that’s not a society, let it be understood clearly, that values equality between genders.

“Almost half of Canada’s remaining fiscal capacity (after tax cuts) was given away through these little tax termites,” Dr. Lahey said. “The whole system is designed to be available only to people at the top of the income curve, and those are mostly men.”

If the expensive income-splitting dodge diverts $2.7 billion from tax revenues in 2015, 88 per cent of that will end up in the pockets of men, 12 per cent in the pockets of women, and nothing in the pockets of single parents, who have no one with whom to split their income. Poor and moderate-income couples will get little or no advantage either if they’re in the same tax bracket.

Conservatives, of course, spin this another way. They call it “putting money back in the pockets of families” and allowing “the real childcare experts – Mom and Dad – to decide how best to raise their kids.” (Both quotes are from Conservative fund-raising letters sent to the party’s supporters, and they make a lot of superficial sense to many Canadians who haven’t bothered to count up all the beans.) And if there’s no dad, I guess they just don’t care.

The reality is, in Dr. Lahey’s words, “very little of this money actually goes to the people who need it. … Forty per cent of women have income so low, they can’t take advantage of a tax cut.”

The Harper Government knows perfectly well how this will play out: Canadian so-cons have had the example of income-splitting tax measures in the United States to observe since 1948, and the results, said Dr. Lahey, has stopped millions of American women from achieving their full potential in order to protect their family’s income-splitting benefits.

“It’s a totally toxic tax measure, and it is the plan for Canada,” she stated, and it is being adopted – the propaganda notwithstanding – for purely ideological reasons.

“It’s being done as a marriage-promotion project. … It’s being done to maintain a ‘Christian home.’”

None of this is exactly news. Dr. Lahey has outlined her arguments in an excellent op-ed story in the Globe and Mail, which is well worth reading, and the consequences are well known to tax experts. Still, in the absence of much critical coverage in the mainstream media, it’s always worth hearing the obvious stated clearly: The Harper Government is doing what it can to undermine gender equality in Canada and redistribute wealth upward.

If you’re concerned about gender equality – and as a father of daughters who may have to survive in the wretched neoliberal dystopia Mr. Harper longs to build, I sure as hell am – you really shouldn’t support Conservatives come voting day!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

The bloom is off the (Wild)rose – Opposition Leader Danielle Smith assailed by doubts, dissent and departures

Are the wheels falling off the Wildrose bus, which may or may not look exactly as illustrated any more? Below: Beleaguered Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, Taber-Warner-Cardston MLA Gary Bikman and Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson.

These may be happy days for the Progressive Conservatives under Premier Jim Prentice, but the bloom is definitely off Alberta’s Wildrose Opposition.

Just weeks ago seen as a sure bet to be the province’s next premier, Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith is today buffeted by an embarrassing scrap between her party’s social conservatives and socially progressive members over LGBTQ rights, troubled by questions about her own performance in four recent by-elections, and sees her supporters tempted by the welcoming glow of the rejuvenated Tory benches.

Commentators are starting to talk openly about the wheels falling off the Wildrose bus.

In other words, the turnaround in Tory fortunes engineered by Mr. Prentice in the short time since the PC Party’s darkest hours under the catastrophic Alison Redford seems to have had a calamitous effect on the morale and unity of the Wildrose Legislative caucus and the rank and file of the party, which for almost two years has looked as if it were about to canter into government without breaking into a sweat.

Mr. Prentice’s success should surprise no one. He is a capable and disciplined politician at the head of a party that was ready to pay attention to a strong leader after two and a half years of chaos and deepening doubts about Ms. Redford’s erratic and at times irrational leadership.

But the apparent unraveling of the Wildrose caucus and party so quickly in the face of the Tory regrouping is a surprise – at least this early in Mr. Prentice’s tenure.

But since the party’s loss of all four Alberta by-elections to the government on Oct. 27, Ms. Smith’s hold on the affections and loyalty of the other 15 members of the Opposition party’s caucus, not to mention its inevitably fractious general membership, has appeared increasingly tenuous.

Right after the by-elections, Ms. Smith said she would stand for a leadership review, then changed her mind, apparently at the urging of supporters in caucus who were none too confident she could win it.

Last weekend, while Ms. Smith was still smarting from the by-election losses and trying to figure what to do next, Wildrose members at the party’s general meeting in Red Deer ignored her call to support an amendment to the party’s human rights policy.

Instead, they voted down the change, which would have said the party would defend the rights of all Albertans “regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.” (Emphasis added.)

Their leader’s hope, of course, was that by passing the resolution the party could finally put behind it the reputation for intolerance stuck in the public’s mind with the so-called Lake of Fire Affair during the 2012 election campaign, in which a Wildrose candidate outlined his views on the eternal consequences of homosexual relationships in a blog published by an evangelical church at which he was also a pastor.

The revelation, which Ms. Smith later characterized as a “bozo eruption,” without question played a role in the Wildrose defeat at the hands of Ms. Redford’s PCs.

Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason this week portrayed the vote in Red Deer as a “bozo eruption” by the entire party – but I don’t think that’s quite right. Oh, they were bozos, alright, but this was no eruption. Alas, the party, with its roots in the social conservative fringes of Alberta politics, has suffered a steady leakage of this kind of thing since Day 1.

Ms. Smith gets it that her party needs to change if it’s going to succeed. The instinct of too many of her party’s members is the opposite.

Perhaps they were influenced at the AGM by the brochure left under the windshield wipers of their cars by the “Reform Party of Alberta,” an entity apparently created by Randy Thorsteinson, a familiar name to those who follow Alberta’s social conservative fringe. He founded the Alberta Alliance Party, a predecessor of the Wildrose Party, and was leader of the Alberta Social Credit Party for a spell, in his effort to push socially conservative nostrums at an uninterested public.

If nothing else, both Mr. Thorsteinson’s reemergence on the Wild Rose Country so-con scene and the Wildrose Party’s rebellious membership are symptoms confidence on Alberta’s right the party can form the government if they only behave themselves is beginning to waver.

The defeat of the human rights policy immediately led to plenty of bad press, plus the very public resignation of a Calgary party official who supported the change.

Ms. Smith will have a chance to try to get this issue right with her caucus next month, when Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s private member’s bill supporting gay-straight alliances in schools, which passed first reading in the Legislature yesterday, comes back for second reading.

Ms. Smith says she is likely to support the bill. Her caucus is squirming with indecision. Here’s betting they don’t have it in them to do the right thing.

Meanwhile, the decision by former caucus member Joe Anglin early this month to sit as an independent seems to have opened fissures too. The disputatious Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA and former Green Party leader may have been a bad fit for the Wildrose caucus, but his departure amid claims the caucus in the midst of a “civil war” has according to blogger Dave Cournoyer garnered the support of other Wildrosers.

To top it all off, speaking in the Legislature this week, two members of the caucus could be heard heaping praises on Mr. Prentice and his government.

“We want to help the Premier. We believe he’s serious and self-aware enough to realize help and good solutions are available from other sources, like the Wildrose Official Opposition,” Cardston-Warner-Taber MLA Gary Bikman said wistfully in the Legislature. “Welcome to Wild Rose Country, Mr. Premier. We’re all MLAs, and we really are here to help you.”

The same day, Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson, a former PC Party member, pitched in: “I’d like to stand and say a few words about the Speech from the Throne. I thought it was a very interesting document. I think there were a lot of good things in there, a lot of good words, good ideas. …” He went on: “Hopefully, we can work together.”

Is this a theme, or what? Is it just me, or do these guys sound like they’d like to re-join Mr. Prentice’s party as soon as possible?

Then there’s the unconfirmed buzz in the Legislature that at least one other Wildrose MLA – no one named in this post – is talking to the Tories about crossing the floor now that Ms. Redford’s political career is history.

If this keeps up, Ms. Smith’s political career may soon be history too.

Indeed, if it continues, it’s hard to believe she won’t be thinking seriously about pulling the plug on politics herself.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Hockey millionaires and pharmacare tell you everything you need to know about who the Canadian Taxpayers Federation really works for

The Montreal Canadiens in 1912-13. Now the highest-taxed hockey players on the continent, they’re still the best and likely to stay that way. Below: Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions President Linda Silas; U.S. anti-public-health-care fruitloop and Canadian Taxpayers Federation ally Grover Norquist.

For a while now it’s seemed as if the so-called Canadian Taxpayers Federation has been adopting the modus operandi of the Fraser Institute – cherry-picked data, conclusions contrary to the evidence presented and dubious claims stated as facts in a frenetic stream of press releases.

Well, you can hardly blame them. The media treats each of the purported “taxpayer watchdog’s” pronouncements with a solemnity once reserved for texts thought to have been chipped into stone tablets by the Almighty.

Lately, though, they actually seem to be moving toward self-parody.

Consider the CTF’s astonishing revelation on Monday that since the least-taxed hockey stars in the NHL play for the worst teams in the league, we should all therefore, uh, cut taxes.

On this particular project, the CTF was working with Americans for Tax Reform, a group founded by notorious American fruitloop Grover Norquist, the anarchist and anti-public-health-care zealot best known for saying the U.S. government should be drowned in a bathtub.

From its calculation of state and provincial taxes, the CTF concluded that “Montréal continues to be the least financially attractive location in the NHL for players when it comes to personal income taxes.”

Um, OK. But Montreal also seems to be the most attractive location in the NHL when it comes to, erm, playing hockey.

Leastways, as the Broadbent Institute’s Press Progress cruelly pointed out yesterday, “CTF’s report ranks Edmonton and Calgary at the top of their list as the two lowest tax jurisdictions in the NHL. So were the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames among the two best teams in the NHL last year? … Careful readers will note that Edmonton and Calgary finished in the basement of the NHL’s Western Conference in 2013-14. Overall, the Edmonton Oilers were the third worst team in the league, followed by the Calgary Flames, who were fourth worst.”

Press Progress went on: “Only the Montreal Canadiens (30th) – dead last in CTF’s tax rankings – made the playoffs last year. They advanced all the way to the Conference Finals where they lost to the New York Rangers (26th). The Rangers went on to lose the Stanley Cup to the Los Angeles Kings (29th), who were the second highest taxed team in the NHL behind Montreal.

“In other words, the lowest-taxed teams in the NHL last year were the worst teams and the highest taxed teams were the best teams.”

Well, never mind that, the CTF seemed to say. NHL free agents who switch teams go more often to low-tax jurisdictions, Tweeted a CTF functionary. So maybe lower taxed teams can get better.

Not yet, though. As of yesterday, the Oilers were still last in their conference and the Canadiens were still first in the league.

So, actually, based on the facts, Press Progress concluded, taxing hockey millionaires a little more could help their teams win the Stanley Cup.

None of this stopped the CTF from quoting Mr. Norquist himself, presumably on the assumption most Canadians have no idea who the guy is and what he stands for, as saying, “higher taxes drive talent to other teams in lower tax states and provinces.”

Well, maybe it’ll all work out for the CTF some day. That said, it’s mildly encouraging that the CTF has time for any group of unionized working people – even if that privilege extends only to a tiny minority of sports millionaires.

Meanwhile, as I digested the CTF’s latest “research” bombshell yesterday, I had the privilege of listening to the passionate and articulate Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, talking about the need for a national pharmacare program.

The CFNU recently commissioned a study on what the impact would be in Canada of a national pharmacare program, meaning a publicly funded and administered national drug plan that would provide universal access to needed pharmaceutical drugs to all Canadians.

A national pharmacare plan would save Canadians $11 billion dollars every year, Ms. Silas said, quoting the research by Marc-André Gagnon, professor of public policy and administration at Ottawa’s Carleton University.

Alberta would save about $1.1 billion each year by being part of a national pharmacare program, Ms. Silas noted.

No hockey pools for Dr. Gagnon, whose research showed the savings from a national pharmacare plan could provide 80 million more daily home care visits for 220,000 more seniors, plus build 725 health centres and 10,000 more long-term care beds a year, plus hire 28,000 more nurses!

So this got me wondering where the CTF stands on pharmacare – which, from their perspective, would seem like a great opportunity to cut taxes instead of make all those improvements to health care Ms. Silas was talking about.

Still, you’d think the dedicated “tax fighters” at the CTF would see the potential.

Well, guess again. Here’s what the CTF’s B.C. director had to say about this opportunity last year: “We believe very strongly that there should never be a national pharmacare program.” (Emphasis added.)

You see, he explained, “forgive us if we don’t join the rush to create a national Pharmacare plan. We’ve seen this movie too many times before to believe that bigger is better when it comes to government. We believe the best path forward for both Pharmacare and taxpayers is to remain in the hands of the provinces – with more participation by the private sector.” (Emphasis added again.)

This scare tactic, in turn, reminded me of something else I read this week, a column in the New York Times by Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist.

U.S. conservatives, Dr. Krugman wrote, “want you to believe that while the goals of public programs on health, energy and more may be laudable, experience shows that such programs are doomed to failure. Don’t believe them. Yes, sometimes government officials, being human, get things wrong. But we’re actually surrounded by examples of government success, which they don’t want you to notice.”

Apparently it’s no different in Canada. Indeed, the CTF is now importing the ideas of one of the looniest so-called conservatives in the United States to Canada.

So there you have the real story of who the CTF represents – and it’s not ordinary Canadian taxpayers.

A way to save $11 billion a year for taxpayers, and ensure all Canadians can have the pharmaceutical drugs they need if they are ill? A way to reinvest in health care and make a good system better? The CTF will do anything in its power to snuff it out.

Instead it proposes expensive and unequal private insurance run by big business, plus the lowest possible taxes for multi-millionaires.

Juxtapose these two stories and you’ve learned everything you need to know about who the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is really working for. It’s not you.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Boring conservatism trumps bold conservatism in Premier Jim Prentice’s dull but confident Throne Speech

Are you bored yet? Alberta’s PC’s aren’t going to be happy till you feel like this fellow. Below: Alberta Lieutenant-Governor Donald Ethell (Government of Alberta); Premier Jim Prentice (CBC).

Welcome to the new-old politics of Alberta, in which boring conservatism trumps bold conservatism.

Yesterday’s Alberta Throne Speech may have been one of the more boring documents you’ve encountered in a long time, possibly your life. The thing you’ve got to understand, though, is that from the perspective of Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice, that’s a good thing!

The purpose of a Throne Speech, which is always read in a Canadian province by the lieutenant-governor but written by the ruling party, is supposed to set the policy agenda of the government for the next session of the Legislature.

If that is the case, then it’s clear from yesterday afternoon’s Throne Speech in the Alberta Legislature that the policy agenda of the Prentice Government is to hand the Wildrose Opposition its lunch in the next general election.

Actually, we knew that already.

But yesterday’s Speech from the Throne, haltingly read by an obviously frail Lieutenant-Governor Donald Ethell, provides insight into how they intend to do it.

The plan, clearly, is to propose only policies that are driven by talking points – not the other way around as you might imagine. Those talking points, in turn, are drafted only to cancel out positions and strategies that have proved effective for the Opposition.

This is tried and true stuff for Alberta Tories, and it’s quite evident that Mr. Prentice – who took his recently won seat in the Legislature for the first time today, along with his new by-election caucus-mates Health Minister Stephen “Menthol” Mandel, Education Minister Gordon Dirks, and MLA Mike Ellis – is quite good at it.

Actual Tory legislative agendas, of course, are not normally discussed in Throne Speeches, but are a part of policy continuum formulated behind closed doors, far from the prying eyes and prickling ears of annoying members of the public.

So Alberta Conservative governments are always at their best – from their perspective, that is, and their most successful from the point of view of the rest of us – when they are able to meet two essential criteria:

  1. They are boring, that is to say, everything that matters is flying under the radar
  2. They are confident, that is, they don’t even acknowledge the Opposition exists, let alone that it might have any good ideas

This is where the governments of premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford went off the rails. Under Ms. Redford in particular, a day never passed that was not extremely interesting, and everything her government did indicated that not only was the Opposition a major player in the politics of the province, but it often had better ideas than the government.

No more! Order is restored. God is back in His heaven and all’s Right with the world, this oily little corner of it, anyway.

The main differences between Mr. Prentice’s government and past Tory governments are, first, that in the Wildrose Party it faces arguably the first opposition party significantly to the right of the PCs since the Social Credit party blew apart in 1975. (There are those who would argue the Liberal Party of Laurence Decore was too, but that view is open to honest debate.)

And, second, that Mr. Prentice is the first premier since the Wildrose Party arrived on the scene who realizes the same disdainful treatment successfully dished out to the Liberals and NDP by Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein, even if Don Getty didn’t quite manage the trick, would work just as well on the right side of the political spectrum.

Neither Mr. Stelmach nor Ms. Redford ever seemed to get that.

Actual policies in Mr. Prentice’s cautious Throne Speech? Ah, gee, we’re going to have to  do something about that oil-price-driven budget roller-coaster, aren’t we? (No actual solutions proposed just yet.) And lots of new schools. (No word on what happens inside them.) Plus we’ll have the most pipelines and be the most environmentally responsible jurisdiction on God’s Green Earth. (Again, no explanatory details.) Health care? It will get better. (Also no details.)

Oh yeah, no sales tax, careful hints of privatization and a “volunteerism agenda” – say hello, Alberta, to the Wild Rose Country version of The Big Society! (Details likewise to follow.)

All that we’ve seen in detail so far is Bill 1, Mr. Prentice’s terse (approximately 450-word) assault on the Wildrose Party’s most effective issue, the property rights of well-off farmers when they are in conflict with even richer corporations. (Don’t imagine any of this property rights stuff has much relevance to rank and file voters, especially the ones that live in cities, whatever some of them may think.)

Bill 1, introduced right after the Throne Speech, will become upon passage the grandly titled Respecting Property Rights Act and repeal the Stelmach Government’s Land Assembly Project Area Act, which was wildly unpopular with farmers, effortlessly pulling wind from the Wildrose Party’s sails.

Mr. Prentice called the bill “the beginning of the process,” which may or may not be enough to defuse Wildrose calls for changes to a couple of other Stelmach-era property expropriation laws, leaving the door open to doing only as much as is absolutely necessary.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith’s lame effort to keep the issue alive was to call for a motion by the Legislature to demand the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms be amended to enshrine U.S.-style property rights, which is to say corporate rights, in the Constitution. Well, good luck with that! Who knows, she may even be Opposition leader long enough to take it up with another Trudeau Government in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, Mr. Prentice’s dull and confident approach has worked for past Tory governments, so why not for for his?

If yesterday’s Throne Speech shows the need for anything, it’s for an Opposition that’s not made up of people who share identical ideology, policy goals and social attitudes to the people in power.

That way at least, the government’s responses might move the province ever so slightly in the right direction, which is to say, ever so slightly in the left direction.

Well, I don’t suppose we ought to hold our breaths waiting for that to happen, any more than Ms. Smith should expect to see her constitutional pipedream come true.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Maybe fake soldier didn’t understand only Tory politicians and TV stars are allowed to play military dressup in Canada

Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans were outraged when this man allegedly passed himself off as a Forces member at the scene of a flood in Calgary, Alberta. As you can see, he seemed to have a couple of civilians fooled. However, his weird haircut gave him away to keen observers familiar with military regulations. Below: Other Canadians not entitled to wear Canadian Forces uniforms dressed in military drag. (All photos dragged from the Internet.)

Didn’t the unfortunate Franck Gervais understand you have to be an elected Conservative politician or a TV star before you’re allowed to dress up in a uniform and pretend to be a soldier?

I speak, of course, of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and right-wing hockey commentator Don Cherry, all of whom are known to dress in military drag and prance around as if their power and status derived from something other than the inattention of voters and television viewers. There are many others, I have no doubt.

We’ll get back to those worthies in a moment.

Mr. Gervais, of course, is the sad specimen who put on a Canadian Forces uniform and went to a Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa last week.

His mistake appears to have been giving an interview to a TV reporter – something many of us have come to regret, regardless of the topic – plus wearing his beret in such a peculiar fashion that even an old civilian like myself didn’t think it looked right. (Actually, he was wearing it in the style of the armies of some of Mr. Harper’s best friends abroad, so perhaps it was an easy mistake for a poor poseur to make.)

If Mr. Gervais had been really using his head, he would have worn civvies. After all, as I recall someone observing in a mostly forgotten work of fiction, “a brigadier is only a brigadier. A man in mufti could be anyone!”

Regardless, Mr. Gervais, we are now reliably informed by the mainstream media, faces charges of personating a public officer, or, in the language most normal people without law degrees would use to describe the same thing, impersonating a non-commissioned officer.

Now, it seems to me that a certain amount of shaming and mockery are entirely appropriate when dealing with creatures like Mr. Gervais who feel the need to pretend to be something they’re not.

But to suggest his costume is worthy of criminal charges because it showed disrespect for the armed forces, which is how his actions are being portrayed by the many people who have worked themselves into a full-blown swivet over this Canadian Walter Mitty, is genuinely troubling.

This is not, if I may be so bold, what a generation Canadian soldiers fought in Europe through the early 1940s to achieve. On the contrary, in fact. They fought for the right of people to be highly critical, even disrespectful, of institutions and people that most of us hold in high regard. Freedom of expression protects unpopular opinions, not the ones we all agree on.

Not that Mr. Gervais appears to have been criticizing the armed forces. On the contrary, he seems to have been rather wistfully paying homage to them.

No evidence has been presented by the media that Mr. Gervais intended his impersonation of a soldier or use of the uniform or badges he wore to gain advantage for himself, obtain property, cause a disadvantage to anyone, obstruct justice or avoid arrest – which, one would have thought, are the reasons for criminal laws against impersonation.

If Mr. Gervais had dressed as a police officer, it would have been a different matter. Police have real and necessary powers in civilian society. The military does not – and woe betide us all if they begin to think they do.

That criminal charges are seen as an appropriate response by the authorities to such pathetic foolishness is troubling evidence of the march toward militarization of society that is being encouraged for nefarious reasons by the Harper Government.

Speaking of which, it’s also pretty clear that the high standards of respect for the military that are apparently being demanded of Mr. Gervais are not required of the likes of Mr. Harper, who showed up here in Alberta not so long ago wearing a Canadian Forces flight jacket complete with military insignia.

Mr. Harper is not, nor has he ever been, a member of the Armed Forces of Canada.

Indeed, as has been previously noted in this space, none of Messrs. Harper, Fantino or Cherry appears ever to have served in the military, yet all of them are frequently portrayed without comment or criticism in the media dressed up in all sorts of military costumery.

Of course, this may simply be more evidence of the widely held view among conservatives, especially conservative leaders, that the rules are for everyone else, never for them or their friends. In which case, Mr. Gervais’s greatest sin may turn out to have not been a member of his local Conservative riding association.

Not only has the prime minister never served in the armed forces, he has never held a real job of any kind. He merely graduated from young Liberalism to tiny Toryism to various ancillary and auxiliary political jobs before rising to elected office, higher and higher, where he has remained ever since.

Let it be noted, though, that this is not a knock at our prime minister for his appearance in a Kevlar helmet, camo fatigues and a flak vest on his infrequent visits to the Graveyard of Empires, as Afghanistan is deservedly known. This is simply a matter of sound occupational health and safety procedures.

The wings were the reason, I suppose, that the military jacket he wore to the floods in Southern Alberta in June 2013 provoked such a sharp reaction from some readers of this blog.

One wrote: “What combat unit did Don Cherry, Stephen Harper, Julian Fantino and the other chicken hawks ever serve in?”

Said another: “I am an ‘air force brat’, so I find it insulting that Mr. Harper wears a flight jacket sporting wings. In my younger days, my brother, sister and I (like other brats) would wear our father’s old military issue. ... However, we had to remove all insignia before we were allowed to use them. In fact, in the air force community it was considered a serious offence to wear any patches that had not been earned, even (and especially) on ‘hand-me-downs’. If Harper, Fantino and Cherry want to play ‘Mr. Dressup’ might I suggest clown costumes.”

Mr. Fantino did work as a mall security officer for a spell before joining the police force. So at least he has seen paramilitary service. But I am at a loss to explain the chest full of military-style medals he is shown wearing in his role as minister of veterans affairs on his official website.

Nobody from his office has ever written me to explain what the gongs he wears actually signify. Perhaps one of them is the Maple Leaf Gardens Post-Game Scuffles Service Medal. Regardless, I am not sure if, in law, pretending to be a hero is quite the same thing as pretending to be a soldier.

But I will tell you this: no one can accuse Mr. Fantino of treating the Canadian military with respect, as his conduct toward of our veterans, especially PTSD victims, clearly shows.

As for Mr. Cherry, the former professional hockey player and coach, and taxpayer-subsidized megaphone for uninformed political and social commentary, dropped out of high school and went directly into the sporting life.

That said, he can hardly be accused of impersonating an officer, or even an enlisted man, by wearing the tailored camouflage suit in which he turned up on a morale-building visit to Afghanistan.

I’m sure Mr. Cherry intended no disrespect for the troops by wearing this ludicrous garment, and none seems to have been taken. Nevertheless, if respect for the forces is the issue at the base of this brouhaha, Mr. Cherry may want to take more care in his future instructions to his tailor.

Getting back to Mr. Harper, just remember this the next time you see a Canadian prime minister in uniform: The last Canadian PM to see military action in wartime was Lester Bowles Pearson. The last one to be a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces was Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Two political general meetings in one weekend: Wildrosers conduct gloomy post-mortem while PCs flirt with characteristic hubris

Steady as she goes! Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, centre, works to keep party stalwarts, on either side, on the right course, which would be not too far to the right, of course. Alberta Premier Prentice, at the wheel above, tries to get the earnest Wildrosers to take a wrong turn. Actual Alberta conservative party leaders, supporters and their political vehicles may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Prentice and the real Ms. Smith.

Both of Alberta’s right-wing parties held general meetings this weekend – the ever-ruling Progressive Conservatives in Banff and the so-far never-ruling Wildrose Party in Red Deer.

The PCs led by Jim Prentice patted themselves on the back for their victories in the Oct. 27 by-elections and the Wildrose Opposition led by Danielle Smith beat themselves up for their inability to make any headway in the same four votes.

They both, arguably, missed the boat in their deliberations.

Readers of Alberta Diary are just going to have to put up with armchair strategizing  from afar, since getting to Banff is just too big an investment in time and money for a busy pre-Christmas weekend, and Red Deer, well, nobody in their right mind would go to Red Deer at this time of year!

Indeed, the fact the Wildrose Party’s leaders were inclined to pick that central Alberta city – a venue that seems to possess all the vices of a small Prairie town and none of the graces – may illustrate part of their problem.

That said, of the two, the Wildrose Party had the more interesting topic to ponder – how to deal with the existential crisis it faces if it can’t pull off a victory in the next general election, something that looks less likely every day Jim Prentice remains as premier.

On Friday Ms. Smith told the party faithful that she’ll step down as leader in 2016 if the Wildrosers don’t win the election widely expected that year. Of course, that’s not much of a promise as there’s unlikely to be much of a Wildrose Party left to lead if it can’t win an election after the Tories and the province suffered through a catastrophe like Alison Redford.

According to reports in the popular press, Wildrose rank and filers stood up at the meeting and complained their slogan in the Oct. 27 mini-election election sucked, the focus on Ms. Redford’s disastrous tenure in office was all wrong, and, as the Edmonton Journal put it, they had a problem with “disorganized internal data.”

This all has a ring of truth to it, but none of it really goes to the root of the Wildrose problem.

Yeah, “Time to Send the PCs a Message” was a pretty lame slogan, but I doubt any slogan would have made much difference in a vote in which, as Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson rightly pointed out, the deck was stacked by the governing party in favour of the governing party.

The Wildrose campaign’s negative focus on Ms. Redford was a mistake. Albertans seem in a forgiving mood when it comes to Mr. Prentice’s leadership, at least willing to give him a chance to prove the Redford Government was an aberration, not the reductio ad absurdum of 43 years of PC rule.

But that fact is closely related to the Wildrose Party’s genuine need to set itself apart from a PC party that espouses the identical ideology, advocates the same policies, is funded by the same corporations and people, and in many cases still has the same members, but also has the significant advantage of actually being in power.

The Wildrose plan, clearly, was to say, “we’re more honest than those other conservatives.” Or maybe, “we’re more competent,” which wasn’t a hard case to make with Ms. Redford at the helm. But the replacement of the Redford PCs with the Prentice PCs seems to most voters to have put paid to both arguments.

So how are the Wildrosers any different? Well … and this is the party’s real problem that no Wildroser wants to confront … they’re still scarier than the PCs to most uncommitted voters.  The devil you know, and all that.

Moreover, the deep-pocketed corporate oilpatch backers whose money got the Wildrose off the ground in reaction to Ed Stelmach’s feeble effort to charge a fair royalty are bound to be significantly less enthusiastic about a second conservative party now that there are no policy differences on questions affecting the energy industry.

The real problem the Wildrosers face now, as some of the news coverage of their meeting illustrated, is that they’ll be pushed away from the moderate positions Ms. Smith has worked hard to foster by the disaffected social conservative extremists who played a big role in establishing the party.

That would be exactly the wrong thing for them to do – as Ms. Smith clearly understands. The Wildrose Party will never win as the party of Tory outsiders. But the pressure on Ms. Smith to tack to the loony right will now be great.

Which brings us to that “disorganized internal data,” whatever that means. The Journal’s reporter didn’t explain.

I don’t think the problem was that the party’s data was disorganized, so much as it was misinterpreted. This may or may not be what the Wildrose insiders had in mind, but it sounds very much as if on Oct. 27 party strategists got the idea they could beat Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and pulled resources that should have been used to win in Calgary-West, where the Wildrose candidate ended up only 315 votes from the brass ring.

In reality, Calgary-Foothills voters, concerned about keeping the good times rolling, were never likely to reject Mr. Prentice and introduce major instability into the administration of the province.

But victory in just one seat was all it would have taken to turn a gloomy post-mortem this weekend into a huge celebration for Wildrosers. So that Oct. 27 miscalculation may turn out to have been a blunder of historic proportions.

As for the PCs, they seem to go from strength to strength under Mr. Prentice, but the problems of hubris and a weak bench that plagued them during the Redford Era remain, lurking in the wings.

Mr. Prentice boasted that money is again flowing into Tory coffers, just like the good old days before Ms. Redford ascended to the leadership. No surprise, really, since the PCs are now advocating the oilpatch policies the Wildrose Party was established to ensure.

Mr. Prentice cleverly left the impression an election may come sooner than later – a simple strategy that could stampede the Wildrose Party into once again trying to line up candidates too soon. It’s said here the Wildrosers would be smarter to wait for serious candidates to emerge from the woodwork.

It was this mistaken sense of urgency that led to the party’s acceptance as a candidate in 2012 of Pastor Allan Hunsperger, who holed the Wildrose boat just before election day when his religious views on homosexuality emerged in a blog post no one had thought to cleanse from the Internet.

And it could again result in the Opposition party picking, at best, weaker candidates than necessary.

But it would be a grave mistake for the Tories to conclude, as they seem to have done, that all the damage suffered by the PCs under Ms. Redford can be patched up in a few weeks by Mr. Prentice.

Their strongest players are gone, purged from important positions by Mr. Prentice for the crime of being too closely allied with Ms. Redford.

The weak players that remain may be just as prone to egregious blunders as the candidates the Wildrose Party is in too much of a hurry to nominate.

So while things look bleak for the Wildrose Party this weekend, it would be a mistake to count them out.

And while things look as rosy as an Alberta wild rose for the PCs, it would also be a mistake to assume their restoration to another four or five years of power is a foregone conclusion.

Mr. Prentice and his three new MLAs – Health Minister Stephen Mandel, Education Minister Gordon Dirks and Mike Ellis – will be sworn in Monday morning, then everyone will repair to the Legislative chamber in the afternoon for the start of the third session of the 28th Legislature with the delivery of the government’s pre-election Speech from the Throne by Lieutenant-Governor Donald Ethell.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Why libraries – and library users – need their librarians and other library workers to be union members

Maureen O’Reilly, president of the Toronto Public Library Workers Union, speaking in Toronto last weekend. Below: Renowned author Margaret Atwood on an Alberta union picket line, circa 2000, Doug Ford and his Brother Rob.

Doug Ford? Doug Ford? Who is Doug Ford again? 

I think he’s Rob Ford’s brother?

OK. Who is Rob Ford?

Didn’t I say back in the summer of 2011 that Margaret Atwood – and, by contrast, we all know who Ms. Atwood is – was the best thing that ever happened to Doug Ford?

Mr. Ford, in case you’ve forgotten already, was the former Toronto city councillor and sometime candidate for mayor of that city, elder brother of the frequently stupefied and nationally embarrassing mayor of the same last name.

Back in 2011, when the Ford Bros. were in the midst of their campaign to close public libraries, the renowned Canadian author Ms. Atwood gave Mr. Ford a good public spanking on Twitter – and about a quarter million people Tweeted in their support.

Mr. Ford should be grateful, I suggested in a blog post at the time. “When the bug spray has settled down after the next Toronto municipal election, history will likely not have much to say about you. Ms. Atwood, on the other hand, is someone whom history will remember. But a public slapdown by Ms. Atwood means that at least you might get a mention in a good book or something of the sort that would be kept in a library.”

Well, 18 days have passed since the Toronto civic election, and as predicted the elder Mr. Ford is pretty well forgotten – likely only to be remembered as a footnote in a book about Ms. Atwood.

But if Ms. Atwood turned out to have done a back-handed favour of sorts for him, his worst nightmare was Maureen O’Reilly, the president of the library staff union local at the Toronto Public Library, who played a central role in the brilliant campaign to save Toronto’s library system from the depredations of the crude neo-conservatism the Fords represented and gravely wounded the Fords in the process.

It’s probably too much to say Ms. O’Reilly and the library workers deserve credit for finishing off Ford Nation’s misrule at Toronto City Hall – no, the Fords pretty much accomplished that by themselves – but as President of the Toronto Public Library Workers Union, CUPE Local 4948, she certainly did as much harm to their chances as she did good for the future of libraries in Canada’s largest city.

The union’s clever campaign, which took an image of dowdy Marian-the-Librarian spectacles and turned them into an instantly recognizable symbol of defiance, community and literacy was not just a key factor in turning away the Ford attack on libraries, it was a defence that could only have been organized by unionized library workers.

Unionized, of course, because being part of a union gives working people the protection and resources they need to run a campaign that may be unpopular with library managers and library boards, and is certain to be unpopular with the right-wing municipal politicians who go after libraries because they don’t read much themselves, and therefore view the 70-plus per cent of the population that use library services as a “special interest.”

That’s why people like the Fords – and their dear friend and mentor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper – hate unions so much.

But unionized librarians and library workers are the best defenders of libraries, Ms. O’Reilly told me at a conference we both attended in Toronto last weekend, because other people who should be effective defenders tend not to be, for a variety of reasons.

Library managers, and library board members too, are not as good at advocating for library services “because they tend to be team players,” she told me – and the team they’re playing for is the city council team. Often, they have ambitions themselves to be on council.

Library managers, she argued, are more vulnerable to discipline by senior managers and politicians, whereas “union membership gives you a platform, and a budget, to fight for library services.”

You can make a strong argument that even by simply looking out for the wellbeing of their own members – job security, better wages and the rest – library unions are protecting library services for the public.

“This is because they are resisting the ‘dumbing down’ of library work,” Ms. O’Reilly explained. Protecting their own jobs and those of their colleagues – a charge often thrown at union members as if it were a bad thing – protects the workers’ ability to provide the specialized help with information that is the true heart of library services.

With only their official “friends” – volunteers, board members, senior managers and the like – to protect them, she said, library budgets just keep getting trimmed. “It’s just the easiest thing to cut, because no one resists.”

Unionized library workers in Toronto resisted. The library board hated it. Their managers hated it. Politicians hated it. The Fords hated it with a special passion. But it worked.

Today, thanks to the campaign organized by Ms. O’Reilly and her sisters and brothers at the Toronto Public Library, cutting the system is largely off the table and there’s even talk of reinvesting in it.

It’s still just talk, she warned me, but that’s progress just the same.

That’s why it’s important in a place like my town – St. Albert, Alberta – for library workers to join a union, even though almost everyone will try to talk them out of it. “It was the library workers who were making politicians account for their actions,” Ms. O’Reilly said.

Right now, I don’t think there’s more than one or two members of our city council who truly view our library as an important public service. And we may soon have a civic government here that’s as bad in its own way as the one run by the Ford Bros.

This isn’t just true in St. Albert, of course.

If that happens, library workers need to be part of a union to protect themselves. The rest of us need them to be part of a union to help us protect the most popular – and the most vulnerable – public service in our communities.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Revolving door still spinning at Alberta Health Services executive suite in wake of $3-billion ‘Sonic boom’

Former Alberta Health Services VP and interim co-CEO Rick Trimp, who left the massive health care agency on Halloween, in a screen grab. Below: AHS CEO Vickie Kaminski, blogger and political candidate Susan Wright, Health Minister Stephen Mandel and former health minister Fred Horne.

Rick Trimp, who most recently was Alberta Health Services’ vice-president of province-wide clinical supports, programs and services and before that was briefly the organization’s interim co-CEO, doesn’t work for the massive provincial health services agency any more.

That much we know. Everything else is murky.

Mr. Trimp became interim co-CEO responsible for population, health and province-wide services when the previous CEO, Duncan Campbell, was replaced a year ago after only a month on the job. Mr. Campbell had Tweeted that a halt was being called to plans for a privatized medical super-lab in the Edmonton area. Days later, then health minister Fred Horne countermanded that statement and told Albertans nothing had changed about the super-lab plan. Mr. Campbell was sent back to his previous job as chief financial officer.

As interim co-CEO responsible for population, health and province-wide services, Mr. Trimp was the public face of the process announced Dec. 11, 2013, to choose the public-private partnership to build the consolidated Edmonton lab testing centre, a process worth $3 billion to the winner.

So Mr. Trimp obviously played a central role in the controversial decision announced last month to name Sonic Healthcare Ltd., a $6.7-billion Australian company, to run the massive privatized Edmonton-region lab services program for AHS.

Mr. Trimp’s departure was announced about two weeks later in a terse Halloween memorandum emailed to AHS “senior leaders,” which is what the organization calls its top executives nowadays.

Sent on behalf of AHS’s latest CEO, Vickie Kaminski, appointed last May 26, the email said little more than “I wish to announce that Rick Trimp will be leaving Alberta Health Services from his roles as Vice-President, Province-Wide Clinical Supports, Programs and Services, effective October 31, 2014.” That is to say, the same day as the memo was emailed.

It went on: “On behalf of AHS, I would like to thank Rick for all his contributions to AHS and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.” It then provided a list of eight senior execs who would fulfill his various duties until a replacement is named and advised leaders with questions to call Ms. Kaminski.

As far as I can tell, Mr. Trimp’s sudden departure was reported only by CBC Edmonton radio and TV news, which chose not to leave a permanent story on the network’s website.

On the face of it, little of this saga makes much sense.

Commentator Susan Wright argued in her excellent Susan on the Soapbox blog Nov. 9 that the decision to choose a foreign company for the huge project borders on “lunacy.” It will benefit Australian not Canadian tax authorities, the foreign company will far higher interest carrying costs than the Alberta government would have, and Sonic pays its executives huge amounts that will require topping up by Alberta taxpayers, argued Ms. Wright, who was the Liberal candidate in the Oct. 27 Calgary-Elbow by-election.

Accordingly, Ms. Wright asked: “Why does Stephen Mandel, the newly minted Minister of Health, think it’s a good idea for Alberta taxpayers to support the lifestyles of wealthy Australian businessmen who earn more than $13 million a year, their executive teams who get ridiculous bonuses and stock options and the Australian economy as a whole with corporate tax contributions?”

Good question, for which no answers are likely to be forthcoming.

Also lunacy, it is said here, was the decision a year earlier to use a P3 to build the lab, which is bound to cost taxpayers more and do a worse job than if the public sector had been left to do the job properly. This may have been why Mr. Campbell Tweeted that the project would be reconsidered, until Mr. Horne set him straight on that.

DynaLife Dx of Edmonton, the company that now provides many privatized lab services in Edmonton for AHS and which presumably thought it was a deadbolt cinch for the new, bigger contract, announced on Nov. 6 it would appeal the choice of Sonic.

It wasn’t clear from DynaLife’s news release if it meant a legal appeal or some kind of administrative procedure. No one at DynaLife was answering calls from bloggers that day, and the distinction didn’t seem to matter to the media.

“There were significant flaws and failures in the conduct of the RFP process which drove to a biased conclusion,” DynaLife CEO Jason Pincock said in the news release published by the Canadian company.

Among those failures, the release said, was the fact “AHS did not include or evaluate the significant risks or costs of transition in its RFP process.” And AHS can’t assume DynaLife will just hand over its lab-testing infrastructure to Sonic, Mr. Pincock told local journalists.

The same day, AHS responded with a statement of its own: “We are confident the RFP process was conducted in a fair and transparent manner with all proponents being treated equally, and that the robust RFP evaluation and selection process has resulted in the selection of the best quality laboratory service solution for Albertans.”

Well, the process may or may not have been transparent to the companies involved, but like most everything where privatization and P3 schemes are involved, there’s absolutely nothing transparent about the process to the people who pay the bills and require the services – that is to say, us Albertans.

Similarly opaque is the reason for or meaning of the swift departure of a senior executive who played a key role in the selection process so soon after the choice was announced.

So pardon my French, but what l’enfer is going on? Mr. Mandel?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Alberta’s big problem is the same as Russia’s – so what’s Stephen Harper doing about it?

Keep those wells a-pumpin! Keep those oil prices low! Squeeze those Russkies! Uh … just a minute. … isn’t that bad for Alberta’s many varieties of Conservative? Below: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Mr. Harper’s hero, Margaret Thatcher.

The Globe and Mail, tireless cheerleader for the Harper Government, was gloating Monday about the impact falling oil prices, a declining Ruble and the bite of Western sanctions are having on Russia, which, the Report on Business rejoiced, is being pushed toward the brink of recession.

Woo-hoo! That’ll teach those Russkies to try to keep NATO missile forces off their strategic front porch!

As we all know, rattling Canada’s largely non-existent sabres at the Russians, exaggerating the threat posed to Canada by post-Soviet Russia and caricaturing Russian President Vladimir Putin as the Beast of the East is a key wedge issue in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2015 re-election armoury. It’s thought to play well in places like Winnipeg and Edmonton.

To make Russia behave in a properly neoliberal way, it’s widely believed, the United States and the invitees to its geopolitical party, including Mr. Harper’s (neo)Conservative government in Ottawa, have been doing everything they can to persuade the OPEC countries to keep their oil wells pumping at the highest possible rate, thereby keeping oil prices low.

If OPEC’s members were to cut back on production, energy prices would go rocketing back into the stratosphere, to Russia’s considerable benefit, not to mention the Islamic State’s.

But as long as OPEC keeps pumping, the undeniable squeeze on Russia will get more painful.

But has it occurred to anyone among the governing party’s unquestioningly loyal supporters out here in the Alberta Tarpatch that what’s bad for Russia is bad for Alberta too? Leastways, it’s bad for the Alberta energy industry, which from Mr. Harper’s point of view is Alberta.

And not just the oilpatch, but those federal Conservative politicians who come from out here in Wildrose Country – Prime Minister Harper among them – whose Thatcherite scheme for the neoliberalization of Canada depends on revenue flow from a booming energy sector and shipments of Athabasca bitumen via pipeline to all points of the compass.

That was the Margaret Thatcher formula, no? Use the revenue generated by North Sea oil to underwrite the massive tax cuts necessary to cripple the welfare state – or, as people like Mr. Harper prefer to think of it, the nanny state. Then, when it’s too late to put Humpty-Dumpty together again, Milton Friedman’s Shock Doctrine can take over and do the rest.

Mr. Harper – who on Lady Thatcher’s death hailed her as “a truly historic figure, remembered for centuries to come,” which no matter where you stand on her legacy is hard to argue with – plans along with the rest of the Alberta Establishment to use the Athabasca Bitumen Sands to do the same thing to Canada, if only they can figure out a way to get its squeezings to market.

Well, I’ve got news for them: keeping the price of oil low enough to put the screws to Russia isn’t going to do any good for the viability of high-cost oil extraction industries like those in the Athabasca Tarpatch and the shale gas fields south of the Medicine Line. We are not talking about sweet ’n’ easy-to-pump Saudi crude north of Fort McMurray, folks.

Likewise, engineering low oil prices to crush Russia for the benefit of the U.S. strategic program in Eastern Europe is not going to do anything to improve the economics of building pipelines to Texas, British Columbia and New Brunswick.

Gee, it could turn out that Mr. Harper’s made-in-Washington Ukraine strategy is the best thing that ever happened to the North American environmental movement and the worst thing that ever happened to our vast deposits of presumably ethical but undeniably expensive-to-process sandy oil.

In other words, the U.S. tactic that Mr. Harper is cheering on is effective against Russia, but it’s also effective against American ideological buddies in places like Ottawa and Edmonton where neoliberal planners are making the same mistake as their Russian counterparts did during the chaotic Boris Yeltsin era – hollowing out the country’s manufacturing base to rely solely on energy exports to parts of the world that still make stuff, viz., China.

The most important question may turn out the be who has the greatest capacity for pain – Russians or Americans. I suggest you take a look at the history books to answer that one. It’s said here that the Republican Congress’s impatient backers in the U.S. oilpatch will cry Uncle long before the Russians, with their proven capacity to endure suffering.

Remember, when you’re calculating time lines, Mr. Putin is now polling in excess of 80 per cent. Mr. Harper’s approval rating is around 30 per cent.

So Conservative allies in the Alberta oilpatch have their pips under pressure just like Mr. Putin. Here’s betting they squeak first.

Here in Alberta, low oil prices are extremely bad news for the Progressive Conservative government of former Harper minister Jim Prentice, which had been counting on going into an election campaign with a big surplus.

Well, at least they’re selling the stuff in U.S. dollars, since falling prices are having the same effect on the Canadian dollar as the Russian Ruble – which would have helped Canada’s manufacturing sector if the Harperites hadn’t managed to hollow it out already.

Yesterday, the ever-loyal Globe advanced a fanciful theory about how this “shelters” Canadian oil producers, but even Canada’s National Website admitted this can’t last for long.

It’s also not particularly good news for the Cordilleran Elite that runs Canada or whatever you want to call Mr. Harper’s crowd, which has been counting on high energy revenues to bankroll their pre-2015-election tax-cutting scheme while still being able to pull a “balanced budget” out of its top-hat.

It will give the Wildrose Party an opportunity to scream about Mr. Prentice’s mismanagement of the economy, I suppose, but it’s hard to see how that will be very persuasive if oil prices remain low all over. Albertans, after all, actually pay attention to that kind of thing, and enough of them know the reasons to be dangerous.

Presumably the great secretive minds of the Harper Government have connected these dots and know that Alberta’s big problem, which they’d desperately like to go away, is the same as Russia’s big problem, which they’re doing their best to encourage. It would be interesting to know what Mr. Harper plans to do about that.

Right now, it looks like his violently militaristic anti-Russian rhetoric is aimed directly at his own feet. Ain’t it a funny old world?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.