All posts in Canadian Politics

Six things we all need to think about when Canadians volunteer to fight for the Kurds

The Kurds: They should have had a country of their own, but since they don’t, and since Canada is allied by treaty to one of their principal enemies, letting Canadians join their fight isn’t a simple matter. We need clarity on just what Canada’s position is from the Canadian government. Below: Dillon Hillier is shown with a Kurdish fighter in this photo from the National Post – what’s the badge on his arm say? Canada? Lord Palmerston; a map of Turkey showing its majority Kurdish-speaking regions.

While a couple of officials of the Harper Government have now half-heartedly warned Canadians they’d be smart not to volunteer to fight for the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Canadian mainstream media continues to act as a recruiting agency for Kurdish militias, at least one of which has been identified as a terrorist group by our own government.

Think about the many connections between the National Post, which seems to be leading the recruiting drive, and the Harper Government. Is it a stretch to wonder if the involvement of a group of former Canadian soldiers in this fight is not being supported and encouraged by elements within the government?

The problem, regardless of the government’s actual level of support, is that the involvement of Canadians on the side of the Kurds – no matter how just their national aspirations – is a potential snake pit for our country and all its citizens.

Official Ottawa was suspiciously quiet when this story first broke, with Department of National Defence officials pointedly refusing to say anything pro or con about the Canadian volunteers.

Both the National Post and the CBC published enthusiastic stories, casting the volunteers as part of a heroic fight on behalf of the Kurds against the depredations of the Islamist extremists of the so-called Islamic State.

The National Post’s profile of one such volunteer, Dillon Hillier, a former Canadian soldier who was a veteran of both Afghanistan and the Alberta oilpatch, read like a recruiting manual for the Kurdish Foreign Legion.

The Post story came complete with a list of what to bring ($5,000 in cash), promises you won’t have to stay if you don’t like it, information on the trade-in value of your assault rifle if you decide to go home, and helpful directions to a recruiting page on Facebook run by the Peshmerga, a term used to describe several groups of Kurdish fighters.

The Post’s story was replete with stirring sentiments – “I look at what I’m doing as no different than when thousands of Canadians went to fight the Germans” – and assurances that joining an unofficial entity calling itself the “1st North American Expeditionary Force” is legal.

The CBC’s marginally more professional story the same day claimed “a number of Canadian military veterans say they’ll be enlisting with the growing ranks of foreign fighters who have joined the Kurdish battle against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.” It revealed the interesting factoid that Mr. Hillier is the son of Ontario Conservative MPP Randy Hillier.

The CBC also assured readers that volunteers are on the right side of Canadian laws, explaining that “it is not illegal in Canada to enlist in a foreign militant force, provided it is not a group the federal government designates as a terrorist entity and it is not engaged in hostilities against Canada or its allies.” (Emphasis added.)

The Hillier Family issued a statement, lauding their son’s patriotism and past military service. “As a proud Canadian, he has always cherished and defended the freedoms we are all afforded in this great country.”

This was all before Gill Rosenberg, the young Canadian woman and veteran of the Israeli armed forces, disappeared while on her personal mission to help the Kurdish fight, prompting a marginally more cautious tone in Ottawa, if not in the media.

Regardless, let’s consider some of the things all Canadians ought to keep in mind in this situation:

First, Canadians who went to fight the Germans in the First and Second world wars were for the most part members of the Canadian armed forces in the service of the Canadian state. Prematurely anti-fascist Canadians who fought in Spain as volunteers for the International Brigades were treated as criminals by the Canadian government.

Second, while the Kurds almost certainly should have been supported by the international community in their ambition to have a country of their own, they were not, and as a result have found themselves in conflict with the states where there are significant Kurdish populations – Iran, Iraq, Syria and our ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey. This is why the Peshmerga, although it is a network of armed forces, cannot be called the Armed Forces of Kurdistan.

This has serious implications for Canada as a member of NATO.

Our NATO allies the Turks have been in a state of war with the Kurds for generations. That, in turn, is why our Turkish NATO allies sat by literally idling in their tanks as IS pounded the Kurds a few yards across the Turkish frontier in the Syrian town of Kobani at the very moment Canadian warplanes were on their way from Alberta to strike IS in the same neighbourhood.

So what is the position of our Turkish NATO allies, whom we are bound by treaty to defend in the event of an attack on them, on Canadian volunteers being encouraged to serve as volunteers in the military of their sworn enemy?

Could Canadian soldiers end up fighting Canadian Pershmerga volunteers as well as Canadian IS volunteers?

Indeed, the group Ms. Rosenberg was reported to be fighting with has been identified by the Toronto Star as having been labeled a terrorist organization not just by Turkey, but also by Canada. So it would be fair to ask if she faces arrest upon her return home under Canada’s anti-terror laws. Because Peshmerga is a generic term for Kurdish fighters, and the Post story is not specific, it is not clear if the younger Mr. Hillier is in the same situation.

Third, how confident can we be that Canadian Peshmerga volunteers will restrict their activities to fighting IS in Iraq and Syria? Are we certain they will stay out of Turkey and Iran?

And what if the Peshmerga turn out not to be as noble as we’ve been assured by the news media? You know, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, who were the West’s allies and heroes as long as they were fighting the Soviet Union.

Fourth, what are the obligations of the Canadian Government to Canadian citizens serving as volunteer soldiers in the unofficial armed forces of an unrecognized state, albeit not Islamic State? Do the volunteers have any idea what Canada will or will not do for them if, say, they are captured by the Turks, let alone IS?

The answer to this seems to be not much – leastways, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the Post the government had “virtually no capacity” to assist Canadians in the region.

Fifth, is there a danger of Canadian volunteers to international Islamist groups (discouraged) and Canadian volunteers to international nationalist groups (encouraged) bringing their fight home to Canada?

Sixth, what is the potential impact in other theatres of diplomacy of Canada tacitly supporting what are bound to be seen as quasi-official volunteers in a fight that has many characteristics of a civil war?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets extremely exercised at Russian volunteers serving in so-called pro-Russian separatist groups in what is widely seen as a civil war in eastern Ukraine. He denies the Russian volunteers are volunteers at all, insisting they are Russian soldiers.

How is the arrival of Canadian ex-military volunteers in Iraq and Syria going to look any different in the eyes of the world, especially the Russians?

Sometimes, it’s true, you can’t satisfy everyone in a complicated world. Canada accepted volunteers in its armed forces from the then-neutral United States in two world wars, discouraged Canadians from volunteering in some fights (Spain) and encourages them in others (Israel).

It is essential that the Harper Government make its position on Canadians serving with the Kurds unequivocally clear so that we can all understand the impact on our national interests and debate the policy properly, and the implications for the volunteers if something goes awry – as has been known to happen in wartime.

Lord Palmerston famously observed that “nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

The risk of ignoring this dictum is that the people who do so will adopt or support policies ranging from dangerously naïve to openly treasonous.

What are Canada’s interests in this case? What are our government’s intentions?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ten Questions about the Harper Government’s embrace of war with ISIS-ISIL-IS

Ready, Aye, Ready! Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird whips up the War Party in the House of Commons. Below: Stephen Harper, the prime minister, and Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn.

Stephen Harper, John Baird, Laurie Hawn and the rest of the boys yesterday finally got the war in Iraq they’ve been pining for since 2003.

“We should have been there shoulder to shoulder with our allies,” Prime Minister Harper, who was still the leader of the opposition, complained back in April 2003. At the time, the United States had just invaded Iraq to punish it for having nothing to do with 9-1-1 and having no weapons of mass destruction, although we were told a slightly different version at the time.

Well, we’re playing with the big boys in Iraq War III now, just as Mr. Harper wanted.

Yesterday the Conservative majority in the House of Commons, good soldiers every one, saluted, cried Ready, Aye, Ready, and approved the PM’s plan to get Canadian soldiers and airmen officially involved in fighting the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIL and ISIS) in Iraq, plus maybe Syria, and possibly other places as well. Armageddon?

Not that any of them will be going anywhere near the place, or their kids either, but you can count of it Canada’s CF-18 fighter-bombers are already on their way, if they’re not in place already.

The War Party in the Commons and the media assured us yesterday they’re doing it to keep us safe here in the Homeland. You can count on it they’re also preparing for the war that really matters to them – holding onto the House of Commons – by concocting a yarn about how opposition MPs are all dangerous wusses, unwilling to deal with a clear threat against Canada and Canadians. You’re welcome to tell yourself this story after you’ve read Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to the kids tonight.

Well, let’s hope this war in Iraq turns out better than the last one, which we wisely largely avoided, or the ones in Afghanistan and Libya on which we spent about $20-billion and saw about 2,000 Canadians wounded or killed. Indeed, it can be argued persuasively that what the Americans did in Iraq last time created the problem we’re trying to deal with now.

Who knew, when Saddam Hussein promised the Mother of All Battles that we’d still be fighting it in 2014? The secular Iraqi dictator the United States successfully toppled may have gone to his reward, but part of the army he built apparently fights on under the guise of IS.

Given the dearth of information about why we’re getting into this fight – other than the perfectly defensible claim that IS is made up of hideous people who would like to roll back history to the Eighth Century – about the only thing that we can say with confidence is that we are not being told the whole story.

Indeed, as it has been explained to us, the whole IS narrative makes very little sense. How did these guys spring up out of nothing overnight? Who funds them? And to do what?

And if we have coherent war aims, they certainly have not been clearly explained.

So while we can be certain members of IS are very bad people, and somehow do need to be stopped, we’re entitled to be skeptical when we hear Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn, in his new role as caucus Top Gun by merit of his previous job as an air force pilot, telling us on the CBC that if we don’t stop the beheaders in the Middle East, we’re going to have to deal with beheaders here in Canada.

Foreign Minister John Baird obviously agreed, as he beat the war drums Monday in Parliament: “If we don’t deal with ISIL and its ilk, they will deal with us.”

This is great propaganda, provided to us courtesy of the macabre IS social media team. But it will probably be a while before IS will have chopped off as many human beings’ heads as our dear friends and allies in the fight for a freer Middle East, the Saudi Arabians, who removed about 80 heads from human shoulders last year alone, including those of many foreigners. It’s only the Saudis, by the way, who have threatened to cut off the head of a Canadian to date.

So this leads to the first of 10 questions I think the Harper Government still needs to answer about this new war we’re now in:

Question No. 1: When IS has been defeated, what are the Harper Conservatives prepared to do keep Saudi Arabia from beheading foreigners?

Among the reasons our allies the Saudis give for these grisly activities is that the victims (who the Saudis would insist are not victims, but criminals) are guilty of practicing the wrong religion, viz., “witchcraft.”

The Harper Government loudly claims to be big on protecting the rights of people everywhere to practice their own religion. In fact, this is one of their justifications for going to war with IS. So…

Question No. 2: What will the Harper Government do to protect the right of Saudi citizens to practice whatever religion they wish? Even witchcraft. Will they even speak to our Saudi allies about this?

This leads inevitably to a question of who is funding and encouraging IS, and why.

We have been told that they’re doing it all themselves through bank robberies, kidnapping ransoms, refinery hijackings and the sale of oil to the Syrian regime, which is secular, and with which IS is also supposedly at war. This strains credulity.

However, there is also credible information that our friends the Saudi Arabians, through the donations of wealthy individuals and the organs of Saudi state security, assisted in the creation of IS to destroy their most hated enemies in the region, members of the Shia branch of Islam. (See Questions 1 and 2 above.)

Question No. 3: What will the Harper Government do to keep Saudi Arabia from financing IS, which has directly and explicitly threatened Canada?

It is now also clear that our NATO ally, Turkey, has had a hand in supporting IS – at least by omission and quite possibly by commission as well. This is apparently because Turkey considers the regime of Bashir Assad in Syria to be its enemy. IS is pledged to fight the Assad Regime, although it apparently isn’t actually doing so because it’s making too much money selling it oil.

Question No. 4: What will the Harper Government do to get Turkey to do something about IS, which has directly and explicitly threatened Canada?

There is also evidence that as recently as last year some of the secret services of our closest allies may have supported the groups that have now patched-over as members of IS in order to get at the Assad regime.

Question No. 5: What will the Harper Government do to keep security agencies of our western allies from supporting IS, which has directly and explicitly threatened Canada? 

Alert readers will recall that just last year, the Harper Government was very enthusiastic about knocking off the Assad regime. Now it is very enthusiastic about attacking a group that is an enemy of the Assad regime. (Part of that fight, by the way, is about the fact the Assad family and its supporters and the people fighting it are members of different branches of the same religion.)

Question No. 6: Is the Harper Government proposing to use Canadian F-18s to support the murderous Assad regime in Syria, which is allied with Iran, which we have declared to be a state supporter of terrorism?

Well, it’s not at all clear what the Harper Government thinks our role in Syria ought to be, other than possibly bombing IS units and installations.

Question No. 7: Is the Harper Government also proposing to go to war with the Assad Regime?

If we do so, we will in effect be going to war with Iran as well, which sees itself as the protector of the Shia and therefore as the key enemy of IS. At this point, the narrative starts to read like George Orwell’s 1984: We have always been at war with Eastasia!

Meanwhile, IS seems to be doing everything it can to goad Canada, the United States and Western European nations to attack it. In this, it presumably has the same goal as Al-Qaeda – the Saudi-Arabian-financed group that attacked the United States in 2001, prompting the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attack, on the basis of a story that turned out to be fiction.

This is probably why IS is explicitly threatening Canada on social media even though it has no means to carry out such a threat and is tied down somewhere else.

Its leadership – whoever they are – seems to think that if they can get us bogged down in a war close to them, eventually they can unite the entire region against the West. It will help their goals spectacularly if we accidentally but indiscriminately kill civilians with our “precision” bombs, which bomber jocks like Mr. Hawn always promise will never happen, and which almost always does.

Question No. 8: What will the Harper Government do to ensure no Canadian bombs accidentally kill civilians in Syria and Iraq, thereby helping IS achieve its war aims?

This is not really a question for the Harper Government, but it’s also reasonable to wonder if we in the West ought to take the bait offered by IS. It is a fact that virtually nothing the West has done in the Islamic world since 2001 has worked out as promised, or very well at all.

Still, it’s fair to ask, even if we can be pretty confident we’re not going to get an answer …

Question 9: Does the Harper Government seriously expect things to work out any better in Iraq this time?

And finally, of course, since they are obsessed with balanced budgets …

Question 10: How much is all this going to cost?

All these concerns stated, it is in fact true that right now we face the most serious foreign threat to Canada in a generation. That is … the Ebola virus.

So I guess we could ask one more question: While we’re getting ready to get involved in a long, bloody and expensive war in Iraq and Syria that is almost certain to end badly for everyone, what is the Harper Government doing to protect Canada from Ebola?

Nothing?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Brian Gallant has a thin resume? Stephen Harper hasn’t held a real job since he quit the mailroom in ’79 or whenever!

New Brunswick Premier-designate Brian Gallant, grabbed from his campaign website. Below: Cranky old National Post opinion thingy Kelly McParland, age undetermined; Justin Trudeau, 42, getting off an airplane with some old guy, 62; Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, 59.

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’ …

— Bob Dylan (age 73)

If anyone has the right to be bitter about bright young Liberal leaders with good looks, great hair and supposedly thin resumes like those of New Brunswick premier-elect Brian Gallant and You-Know-Who, I guess it ought to be the not-quite-sixty-something Thomas Mulcair.

The highly accomplished Mr. Mulcair, after all – who is credited by no less an authority than former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (age 75) with being the best Opposition leader in Canada since John Diefenbaker, which is no mean praise for those of us old enough to remember The Chief – is seemingly being eclipsed by this trend as much as any politician.

But Mr. Mulcair, who will be 60 in exactly one month, just keeps beavering away in the hope and expectation that hard work, persistence and a razor-sharp inquisitorial style in Question Period will pay off in the end.

Maybe it’s because he used to be a Liberal and therefore knows something us non-former-Grits do not. More likely it’s just that you’ve got to be an optimist to be a New Democrat, as we Alberta Knee-Dippers have been proving all the way back to the Calgary Manifesto of 1932.

Instead, it seems that it is the Conservatives, still enjoying the perquisites of power, who are reacting with fury, hatred, panic and vitriol to the phenomenon of appealing young Liberal leaders doing well at the polls and the polling stations. The Liberal they’re most infuriated with, of course, despite yesterday’s foot stomping and breath holding about Mr. Gallant’s election victory, is federal Leader Justin Trudeau (who will be 43 on Christmas Day).

Consider the bitter screed in yesterday’s National Post, the publication founded by permanent Canadian resident Conrad Black (age 70), by columnist and commentary editor Kelly McParland. (I could find no age for Mr. McParland – perhaps that’s information he guards closely, as is his right – but judging from his on-line photographs he must be almost as old a wheeze as me. Either that, or he really should make some lifestyle changes.)

Regardless, Mr. McParland’s diatribe sounded for all the world like that of an angry old man infuriated that the same old obfuscatory Tory tricks are not working any more. He raged against New Brunswick and Ontario voters’ lack of seriousness – read willingness to vote Conservative. (“Canadians want to quit worrying and be happy.”)

He screeched at them for their coolness toward Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the old sourpuss (seemingly 65 although only 55) of 24 Sussex Drive. (“They don’t want to hear about restraint or challenges or the need to persevere. They want a vacation. They want to be young again.”)

And Mr. Gallant’s relatively young age, seemingly, almost moved him to a paroxysm of frustration. (“You don’t know whether to shake his hand or buy him a new scooter.”)

Sticking loyally to the Harper PMO’s main talking point, Mr. McParland assailed the resumes of both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Gallant: “At 32, Brian Gallant, the premier-elect, could be Justin Trudeau’s younger brother. To say his resume is ‘slim’ would be an understatement. He spent a short stint as a lawyer in Moncton, but otherwise has been running for office since he was 24.”

OK, let’s make just one point about that: Other than being on Reach for the Top and being a professional politician since the age of 26, unless you also count being a member of the Young Liberals’ Club in high school, Prime Minister Harper’s resume makes Mr. Gallant’s seem hefty.

He got a job in the mailroom at his dad’s company in 1978, for crying out loud. How long he stuck around seems to have been excised from his online resumes. After that, he got a couple of economics degrees from the University of Calgary’s Political Creation Science Department, best known as the market fundamentalist Canadian equivalent of Oral Roberts University. And when he wasn’t running for office, he worked as an agitator for extremist market fundamentalist Astro-Turf groups. That’s it!

This is not to say that Mr. Harper’s political accomplishments are either inconsequential or came easily. Of course not.

But for the life of me, I cannot see how they are any different from the political accomplishments of successful young politicians like Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Gallant – who will be the youngest premier in Canadian history, by a month, when he is sworn into office.

By contrast to the PM, Mr. Gallant managed to get through law school, which I would suggest is considerably more of an accomplishment than getting a “Calgary School” BA and MA from ideological friends and fellow travellers in the faculty.

By contrast to both, Mr. Trudeau, who has Bachelors degrees in literature and education from two different universities, has worked as a teacher, for heaven’s sake, which is as real a job as you can get. If the Conservative Party wishes to demean him as a “drama teacher,” he can be confident that most Canadians don’t seem to be buying it, and for good reason.

That’s the Conservative way, though, isn’t it? If you can’t get anywhere with the facts, make up new facts. And if that doesn’t work, start spewing hatred and abuse.

Speaking of which, at least Mr. McParland’s sour whinging sounds pretty level-headed compared to commentator, if that’s the word, Ezra Levant’s increasingly bizarre and obsessive rants on the so-called Sun News Network on the topic of Mr. Trudeau’s parents. It’s actually kind of sad to see someone come unstuck in public as Mr. Levant, circa 42, appears to be doing.

Meanwhile, if cranky old Canadians like Mr. McParland and some of the other columnists he supervises at the National Pest just can’t stand the idea of a politician who looks young and has nice hair, they should think about voting for Mr. Mulcair. He may be old and cranky too, but he’s also smart, accomplished and better spoken than any other federal party leader.

One way or another, eventually the Pest’s opinion providers are going to have to reconcile themselves to the fact that the times, they are a-changin’.

They certainly shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Mr. Harper’s resume is weighty enough not to float away on the first gentle puff of breeze.

It’s as thin as a single sheet of paper! The man hasn’t held a real job since he left the mailroom in 1979 or whenever the heck it was!

This post by David Climenhaga (age 62) is also found on Rabble.ca.

Rob Anders, Canada’s Worst MP, has been handed his great big hat a second time

Calgary West MP Rob Anders waves farewell from the back of a pickup truck, a type of vehicle that along with firearms was numbered among his most loved things. Below: Nomination victor Martin Shields; Mr. Anders in one of his favourite poses, with a great big pistol, and asleep in the House of Commons.

Leaving so soon, Mr. Anders? Here’s your hat.

Long before Canadians had the Ford Brothers to humiliate them around the globe, there was Rob Anders, the hardy perennial of the Canadian loony right – elected six times over 17 years by the inattentive voters of Calgary West.

But last night, Mr. Anders, renowned across the land and throughout the world as “Canada’s Worst MP” and the man who dismissed Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist,” was rejected by Conservative Party members in the rural Bow River riding, which covers a vast tract of land east and south of Calgary.

It was the second time in the last six months Mr. Anders, born on April Fools Day 1972,  has suffered that fate in a nomination vote the hands of local Tories, who are seemingly as fed up with his antics as the rest of us.

Mr. Anders’ double defeat is a huge loss to the Canadian blogosphere, which will miss his comedic value; both opposition parties, to whom he was a useful symbol of Conservative lunacy; and the country’s most extreme gun nuts and social conservatives, who were apparently his only remaining supporters.

Conservative Party members in the new Bow River electoral district elected Martin Shields, mayor of the Town of Brooks, site of the massive meat-packing plant at the centre of Canada’s largest meat products recall in 2013 and one of the larger communities in the huge and sparsely populated area.

Back in April, Mr. Anders was sent packing by the urban voters of another new riding created in the last redistribution of Alberta’s federal electoral districts, Calgary Signal Hill. They chose instead Ron Liepert, the former Alberta health minister, a politician almost as controversial as Mr. Anders himself.

Given that the new Calgary Signal Hill riding occupied much of the same territory as the old Calgary West district, it’s not at all certain Mr. Anders would not have been skidded by his own party even without redistribution. He was increasingly recognized as an embarrassment serious enough to pose a threat to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

That said, it is probably a mistake to over-analyze Mr. Anders’ defeat in a geographical area where the local Conservative Party candidate, no matter how bizarre, is normally a shoo-in in the next general election.

So perhaps it was not Mr. Anders’ bizarre behaviour – falling sleep on camera in the House of Commons, suggesting NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair caused the death of former leader Jack Layton, striking butchy poses with his latest firearms, voting against honorary citizenship for Mr. Mandela and, in his youth, working as a professional heckler in the United States – so much as his lack of local connections that caused his electoral demise this time.

Mr. Shields was a well-known mayor in one of the riding’s main rural communities. The two other candidates – one from a semi-suburban community east of Calgary and the other from a rural area – did not have his support base. As for Mr. Anders, despite his enthusiasm for guns and pickup trucks and his formidable talent as a campaigner, was seen as a carpet-bagger, and a weird one to boot.

Most of the interest in Mr. Anders second, desperate bid for a nomination came from outside the riding.

Now that he has been handed his great big hat a second time, one would expect Mr. Anders just to take his generous Parliamentary pension and go quietly away. Don’t count on it.

That, alas, is probably too much to hope. He will remain the MP for Calgary West until the next federal election, plenty of opportunity to embarrass the nation. And he will likely turn up shortly as a spokesperson for one or another far-right think tank, lobby, crowd-funding agency or “charitable” foundation. Manning Centre, c’mon on down!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Political business in great waters: When they that go down to the sea in ships are up to no good!

Prime Minister and First Lord of the Admiralty Stephen Harper. For all we know, actual Canadian prime ministers do appear in silk stockings and tri-corner hats exactly as illustrated. You know, in private. Below: The unlucky Sir John Franklin.

O Eternal Lord God, who alone rulest the raging of the sea; who has compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; be pleased to receive into Thy almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us Thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy— The Navy Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1662

VICTORIA, B.C.

And preserve us all from belligerent clowns who would exploit ships of all kinds and the brave mariners that sail them to score the basest of political points.

Canadian ships are in the news these days – put there, apparently, by the Harper Government as part of its intensifying campaign for reelection, its cynical stratagems advanced without thought for consequences, to Canada or the world.

As is so often the case with the buffoonery of the Harper Regime – which always seems to operate, with just enough justification to be disheartening, on the assumption we are all imbeciles possessing neither memory nor a sense of irony – these latest maritime developments are both troubling and unintentionally hilarious.

So, first, there is the matter of HMCS Toronto, the apparently* corroded and ill-maintained Canadian frigate allegedly “buzzed” by a couple of geriatric Soviet-era SU-24 military aircraft in the Black Sea, leading to much huffing and blowing by Conservative Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, who called the Russian flight “unnecessarily provocative” and said it risked “escalating tensions even further.”

Never mind that the 40-year-old Russian jets seem only to have flown by in the general vicinity of the Canadian warship – leastways, apparently no one was able to procure any video that suggests they were even visible from Toronto’s bridge, odd since surely every able seaperson aboard must have an unauthorized iPhone in his or her pocket!

This lack of evidence, unsurprisingly, hasn’t stopped the proliferation of the unlikely story the Russians were picking on the Canadian ship because the Harper government has been so strident in its recent condemnation of President Vladimir Putin’s so-far quite successful ripostes to Western machinations in Ukraine.

Never mind that Mr. Nicholson is the same Canadian defence minister who was blustering triumphantly just four months ago about how Canadian fighters similarly buzzed propeller-driven Russian bombers outside Canadian airspace. That considerably closer encounter was also accompanied by self-serving theorizing about the Russian strategy of approaching Canadian airspace with ancient Bear bombers, relics from an even earlier Soviet period than that of the aged Su-24s glimpsed momentarily from HMCS Toronto on the Black Sea horizon.

For the hilarious part, to take this posturing seriously it is necessary to forget that the Black Sea, strategically speaking, is a Russian lake, where hostile or threatening incursions are bound to be viewed in Moscow with profound concern. In other words, the appearance of Canadian, U.S. and French warships in those waters is about as “unnecessarily provocative” as you can get, even if your actual objective is to “risk escalating tensions even further.”

Mr. Nicholson, unsurprisingly, groused about how the Black Sea is international waters, which is true enough. But let me ask you this, what do you think our American neighbours would do if a Russian cruiser, a Chinese frigate and a couple of destroyers, all armed with God only knows what, cruised cheerfully via Cuba into the international waters of the Gulf of Mexico?

I’m guessing a couple of U.S. aircraft considerably newer than the SU-24s would quickly make their presence known in an unmistakable way to such an unnecessary provocation in that particular large American lake!

Then there is the matter of the wreck of HMS Erebus, or perhaps it is the evocatively named HMS Terror, underneath the Arctic Sea where, even now, a nefarious Russian submarine bent on challenging our sovereignty could be lurking – although it would have to be a small sub, because the long-missing sailing ship appears to be only 11 metres beneath the surface.

Why we’re spending money discovering and recovering a 168-year-old wreck from the floor of Queen Maud Gulf when we’re allegedly in need of another painfully pleasurable dose of austerity would be a puzzlement if the political strategy of the Harper Government were not so obvious.

Desperate to be seen to be doing something – and preferably something that won’t be as expensive as actually building and maintaining a harbour or other infrastructure – to preserve Canada’s Artic sovereignty, the Harper Government has hit upon the historical oddity of the reappearance of the doomed ship from Sir John Franklin’s effort to find an unfrozen Northwest Passage, which began in 1845.

Indeed, His Nibs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrambled to mount the podium himself to make the rather tendentious claim, given the relatively southern location of the wreck, that discovery of the ship strengthens Canada’s claims to the Arctic. Well, perhaps it also allowed him to bask enjoyably in the reflected glory of the imperialism of old as he advocates for the New Imperialism of unregulated capital. One is almost surprised, given all this, that Mr. Harper didn’t don the garb of a 19th Century sea captain for the occasion!

Which leads us to the unintended hilarity in this maritime news story. Mr. Harper was quick to pour loads of dough into his pet science project and to tout the “commitment, dedication and the perseverance of the many partners and explorers involved.”

It is ironic, of course, that the same government actively pursues a policy of science denial and science suppression, especially when the science in question runs counter to the quasi-religious ideological nostrums of the Harper Government.

Indeed, global warming – denied and disparaged by the Harperites – may have contributed to the discovery after all these years of the unlucky Royal Navy vessel.

Well, at least the Harperites can argue they’re helping solve the problem of too much ice in the Northwest Passage, which seems to have been the undoing of Commander Franklin’s ill-fated expedition.

This seems an appropriately nautical note on which to end my short sojourn adjacent to salt water, which was required by some urgent family business on Vancouver Island. I will not have a regular Internet connection for the next couple of days, and will return to commentary on the state of Alberta politics next week in Edmonton. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

* Or so it looks in several recent news pictures. Perhaps the Canadian Navy, royal or otherwise, has in the Harper Era forgotten the useful naval dictum: “If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t move, move it. If it won’t move, paint it.”