Rob Ford and Stephen Harper

In conservative media outlets in what is now many countries, Rob Ford has been receiving kid-glove treatment.

Sun News are not only going to continue airing the mayor and his brother’s hateful opinions to what they increasingly imagine is an adoring faithful, they’re going to pull out the big guns, like Ezra himself, to defend him. Fox News and CNN have sat him down in a chair and given him the cooing, Barbara Walters treatment. As I’ll note they have done for Hermain Cain, Bashar al Assad, Muammar Quadaffi, and other lunatics.

I’ve personally seen this spoken of on Facebook as far away as Israel. Total strangers in Britain, where I’ve lived on and off for years, people who have no earthly reason to know who Rob Ford is, have been asking me since last year about our national crack habits. Everyone’s following it. It’s the best thing going. Pure comedy.

There’s an extent to which this has gotten out of control. And I don’t think any of what has been going on is just about him. To be honest, now that he’s literally been sat in the corner with a dunce cap and told to get out of the way and let serious business resume, I’m tempted to forget about him completely and decide who we should have next.

But he’s not gone yet.

A little story has been doing the rounds in the Toronto media world. Apparently, years ago, during John Tory’s campaign against David Miller, Tory was convinced by his advisers that he simply had no choice but to talk to the Fords. Mother Diane, widow of the late Doug Ford Sr., founder of Deco Labels, and brothers Robbie and Doug. They were councillors at this point. Presumably positions in Mrs. Ford’s gift.

Tory wasn’t happy to be going to see them. I don’t entirely remember why. But his advisers apparently convinced him it was necessary. Presumably it’s very difficult to get anywhere in Etobicoke politically if you don’t have the Fords on side. They are, after all, one of the richest families in the area.

It went well. Tory turned on the charm, and won an endorsement. Apparently, the conversation ended with Diane exlaiming, ‘OK, you can have it this year, but next year it’s Robbie’s turn.’

Robbie’s turn has been ongoing since 2010. Really since he was first elected to city council. It hasn’t been going well, in case you’d noticed.

I wonder if I should be, but I’m massively insulted that they decided Toronto deserved this. That Rob Ford could possibly be worthy of this job.

Yet amid all the theatrics, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there are powerful interests in this country that do not want him gone. And we’re being asked to assent to the fiction that they’re legion by people like the good citizens of the Sun News Network. I wonder if they even release their ratings.

There are no more people slavering over Sun News egging him on against those snooty, downtown, latte sipping types. No one actually thinks like that in this country. We’re actually decent people, for the most part. And fiscal conservatives en masse are not to blame for him. None of them saw this coming. Personally I don’t think they were looking hard enough, but then again, neither was anyone else really. Municipal politics are dull. Important, but dull. So people’s ears only really perked up when they heard about the crack.

He’s let his supporters down massively. They deserved better. Someone fit for purpose, at any rate. A mature, responsible adult. Surely we can set the bar at least that high, as a society?

The only people left in the country pretending that Rob Ford is still fit to be Mayor of Toronto are the people who stand far too much to benefit from him keeping the chair.

He’s not. Still fit to lead. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The fact that he’s still in office is farcically stupid., and every paper in the city now agrees he has to go. That he hasn’t been physically dragged from the building and run out of town on a rail is a testament to the fact that none of us seem to care. It’s an amusing side show. No more.

I don’t really exempt anyone from the blame for this, including myself. Toronto has gotten, in some ways, the leader it deserved. Things only get this bad if we let them.

But I don’t think that means we should lose sight of what we’re dealing with when we talk about the people who have kept Robbie perched, wobbling, in his chair for three long years. By that I mean the Big Blue Machine. The Conservative Party of Canada.

Robbie is the stupid cousin of the clique of powerful Conservative interests that this country increasingly functions for the benefit of. He had to have something. Had to keep Mrs. Ford happy. So why not have him be mayor of Toronto, and watch all those downtown lefties choke on it. It’s hard not to imagine smug grins in a quiet, warm room somewhere in Ottawa, and certainly in Calgary, when Ford donned the chain of office. Especially as, I’ll note, they did just fine with their progressive, generous mayor. We dealt with this buffoon. A man who shouts at his people when he doesn’t immediately get his way. Like a spoilt child. A feral 16 year old boy.

NDP or liberal types at City Hall, I’ll note, won’t tell you who they work for there. They take the independence of municipal government seriously.

I won’t forget who took Rob Ford fishing, repeatedly, at Harrington Lake. And neither should you. THAT’s what he thinks of you.

Sellout: Stephen Harper and the Canada-China FIPA

The imperial Chinese government, as Dr. Henry Kissinger lovingly relates in his recent On China, was in the habit of giving Panda bears, among other things, as gifts to barbarian states and tribes, in the belief that barbarians were easily distracted and susceptible to flattery.

It seems the modern Communist Party have not abandoned that particular policy. And alas, it seems it still works.

Stephen Harper came back from a visit to China last fall, which received really quite sparse coverage in the Canadian media, with two panda bears. He presented them to the Toronto Zoo, where fawning crowds were waiting to watch them eat.

I can only guess as to his motives.

Because what he didn’t make anywhere near as clear, upon his arrival back in the country, was that he had signed a massive trade deal with China. It’s only really been prominent in the news for the past week, when it’s almost imminently going to pass. Here it is.

Did you click the link? Did you attempt to read it? Did you give up in despair before you’d even really scrolled through the first articles?

Don’t worry. So did I. That’s what you were supposed to do. You weren’t actually supposed to read it. You’re not supposed to be able to understand it.

The thing about this treaty is that it’s actually impossible to read without legal training, as a good friend of mine going into her second year of law school informed me when I showed it to her. It’s such an impenetrable thicket of legalese that the layperson is simply unable to read it. It’s likely that not that many MPs have read it. Not all of them are lawyers.

Why?

Because it’s quite literally selling the ground out from beneath you.

If you knew that, you’d probably kick up a fuss. Which would be inconvenient, to say the least. So Harper hid it in plain sight.

It’s got some truly horrifying implications for Canadian law, which neither I, nor my friend, claim to understand fully, not having spent several years studying international trade law.

But we’ve at least read the damn thing. And we’ve found some terrifying things buried in there. Buried at the back. Long after the point any sensible human being has given up reading.

But not a law student. Like my friend Kylie Thomas. Or Osgoode Law School constitutional scholar Gus van Harten, who thinks it’s unconstitutional, for what it’s worth. And even from our cursory, fumbling reading of the bill, the evil comes through pretty palpably.

Article 11, for example, which obliges both governments to recoup losses that companies suffer due to ‘war, a state of national emergency, insurrection, [a] riot, or [an]other similar event.’ This effectively gives the Canadian government justification to deem a protest a riot, and break it up citing its need to protect Chinese investments under this FIPA.

Or Article 17, in which both parties are ‘encouraged’ to ‘publish in advance any measure that it proposes to adopt’, and ‘provide interested persons and the other Contracting party [with] a reasonable opportunity to comment on the proposed measure.’

Encouraged. Not obliged in any way.

Or Article 18, in which it is deemed ‘inappropriate’ for either party to encourage investment by waiving, relaxing, or otherwise derogating from domestic health, safety or environmental measures.’

Inappropriate. To override almost all provincial law regarding our health care system, our police forces, and our environmental regulations.

But the real kicker is this one. Article 21. While observance of most Canadian laws are merely ‘encouraged’, and the overriding of almost all provincial legislation is merely ‘inappropriate’, both parties ‘shall,’ the strongest binding legal term used in this document, ‘first hold consultations in an attempt to settle a claim amicably’ when there is a treaty dispute.

Those claims will be settled by a three-person tribunal. One Canadian, one Chinese citizen, and one foreign national, whose identity will be mutually agreed. That’s in article 24.

So basically, the tie breaking vote on this tribunal will always be a citizen of a country who is infinitely more interested in currying China’s favor than in protecting Canadian citizens.

This tribunal ‘shall’ have its findings made publicly available, ‘subject to the redaction of confidential information.’ But only when it’s ‘in the public interest.’ Which is straight out of Yes, Minister.

But the contracting governments ‘may share with their officials of their respective federal and sub-national governments.’ May. They don’t have to.

And if a third party is affected by a dispute? Like a first nations band? Or a provincial government that is about to see its environmental protections gutted? They can submit to this tribunal.

But their submissions cannot be more than twenty pages long. Their application can only be five. Essentially meaning that the exercise of trying to protest this tribunal’s decisions would be ultimately pointless and unrewarding. That part’s buried in Annex C-29. Literally at the end of the document.

In the idiotic preamble on the Harper clique’s website explaining what FIPA’s actually are, it gets pointed out that Canada has signed FIPA’s in the past with countries including Hungary, Latvia, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Venezuela.

But of course, none of these countries remotely compare to China in size and power. We are the junior partner in this agreement. The one who can be safely ignored.

Much as we were with NAFTA. The last trade treaty Canada signed that had this kind of scope and significance. Of course, we fought a bloody election over it, and freely chose as a people to sign it when we voted for Brian Mulroney. We didn’t have it snuck through the legislative backdoor by a vicious and corrupt petty despot and his henchmen.

Because that’s what’s happening. Right now. In your country.

If you’re angry, you should be. And you should tell people so. That’s the only chance we have of stopping this from happening. I’ll be publishing Kylie Thomas’ more detailed dissection of the treaty later next week.

In the meantime, I would ask that you share this. People should really know.

The end of the government of Canada.

So it’s official. There is no longer a government of Canada. There is now the Harper Government. It’s appearing on the letterheads now.

Though Harper himself has proven unable, in the face of popular outcry, to push this through in its entirety, the fact remains that he has tried. And will try again.

I’m glad, in a way. It draws a useful distinction. It helps us remember that this isn’t our government. This isn’t the Canadian state. This is something else entirely.

For me, at least, It makes it easier to realize that this band of old creeps has nothing to do with me. Or my country. It helps me to look people from other countries in the eye and tell them the truth, which is that I increasingly no longer recognize my government. Not in some petty ideological sense, but in the most fundamental way. I want nothing to do with it.

I once dreamed of a career at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International trade. Of representing a country I was genuinely proud of. But that was a different time. I was young. Idealistic. I had faith that I would be doing something worthwhile.

Not shilling Alberta crude in Washington. Or working for John Baird. I’d honestly rather turn tricks. I’d feel less filthy at the end of the day.

Gradually it became obvious that government work in today’s Ottawa would be like wading knee-deep into congealing cement. Pointless, boring, and ultimately stupid.

I didn’t want to be so cowed by my obstreperous, rude, and in some cases clearly rather stupid political masters that I wouldn’t feel able to speak out against something like this idiotic name change  ‘for fear of retribution’ as the Globe and Mail rather drily noted that most civil servants are in today’s Ottawa. I value my  integrity and my pride.

I didn’t want to watch as my funding gradually receded under the unthinking axe of some idiot minister, enslaved by a paleolithic ideology, and animated ultimately by a contempt for everything I hold dear.

And above all, I didn’t want to help them do what they’re doing.

I didn’t want to help them build bigger and more expensive jails to hold the waves of new ‘criminals’ they’re incarcerating. I didn’t want to be party to the mass beating of the peacefully demonstrating citizens of Toronto in their own streets with the unthinking fists of thugs from out of town at the G20. I didn’t want to lie through my teeth to the rest of the world about the wonders of the ‘oil patch,’ or ‘ethical oil,’ or any of the other thousand and one euphemisms we’re now obliged to call the tar sands.

I’d rather work for the Government of Canada. I’d rather be an active citizen of a country I can still be proud of.

But I will never work for the Harper Government. Not so long as it bears this stupid name.

There’s so much we can be proud of as Canadians. We’re peaceful, we’re tolerant, we’re compassionate, and we’re friendly. We mean well. We really do. We just find it hard to care about politics right now, because they’re so dispiriting, petty, and low.

Which is, of course, something Harper doesn’t care about. Or at least doesn’t mind. The more apathetic and tuned out the Canadian public becomes, the more we are lulled and fattened by the gushing fountain of petro dollars keeping our economy afloat, the easier his job becomes.

The easier it becomes of him to rob us of our hard won social protections. Or to pointlessly glorify our military. Or to suck the damn oil out of Alberta as fast as he possibly can, no matter what gets destroyed along the way.

He thrives off the fact that we don’t pay attention.

So I will no longer ever refer to the Government of Canada in reference to the actions of the Harper clique. I will call it what he doesn’t have the courage to do. The Harper Government. Something distinct, alien, and terrible.

Not something that has anything to do with the country I love.

Joyce Murray Revisited: Electoral Cooperation and Defeating Stephen Harper

It occurs to me that it may have been rather rude of me not to mention the other candidates in my blog a few days ago. I chose not to on the principle that if I was just going to rubbish them with my reasons for not voting for them, it was better to say nothing at all.

The truth is, I have nothing but respect for all of them. They’re liberals who have put their lives on hold because they want to serve this country. And they should be honoured on that basis alone. Martha Hall Findlay put it best in the first debate. This is one hell of a shadow cabinet.

Having said that, I’m not going to get all valedictory and praise each candidate’s merits in turn. They know that they’re in this for real. They don’t need my praise. I certainly hope that George Takach is going to run as an MP, because we could really use him in parliament, and the same goes for Bertschi, MacCrimmon and Coyne.

Indeed, I’ll point out that most of my favorite candidates in this race have not been sitting MPS. That’s a testament to what’s been happening. It turns out the race really did revitalize the party. It turns out we really did have an honest, strong discussion about what our future is as a party. It turns out the old establishment have been overturned for good, and the party is back in the hands of ordinary Canadians. It turns out that large portions of the Canadian media are looking a little stupid today.

I’m not going to write sweet nothings to the sitting MPs in the race. They’re all far more substantial than I, and don’t need my praise anyway.
I am, however, going to outline why Joyce Murray was at the bottom of my list. And why she’s now third.

Joyce Murray I was afraid I just in good conscience couldn’t vote for. I thought, and still suspect, that the Cullen/Murray cooperation plan was cynical, divisive, and just bad politics. I thought it reeked of the kind of self-righteous entitlement that lost us the trust of Canadians in the first place. It smacks of the same flawed logic that made people honestly believe that a coalition with the NDP and Greens was somehow a good thing. That it wouldn’t have been annhilated in the election that probably would have happened within weeks.

You can rage all you want about the fripperies of first past the post, which I’ll admit are absurd, but if you truly loathe Stephen Harper and all he stands for, as I feel many Liberals rightly do, you have to beat him. You have to stand up, and you have to beat him. You can’t just fiddle with the rules to try and finagle yourself the power you feel you rightly deserve.

You have to earn it. And you have to earn it from the new Canadians, and the workers in Alberta who fear for their jobs, and the population of Quebec, and all those who have begun to feel either that perhaps Harper isn’t so bad after all, or that someone else is better equipped to beat him than we are.

Because, and this is the truth that the Murray campaign recognizes, we’re not the only ones who want him gone. We know what he is. We’ve been following his insidious demolition of everything we love about our own country. We know how it feels now, to hang our heads in shame on the world stage.

And though blowing smoke about his ‘hidden agenda’ has become tiresome, as he’s quiet, and bides his time, and certainly doesn’t appear to be dismantling the liberal state, but the fact remains that there is something deeply sinister happening in Ottawa today. A secretive, clubby, repressive, and authoritarian clique increasingly dominate the city, and Canada is being ruled as a series of fiefdoms by a federal government that is completely disengaged from the broader life of the nation.

and Joyce Murray, to her credit, cares about that.

Perhaps I could vote for Ms. Murray, if I truly understood the logic behind the cooperation plan. Perhaps I’m painting it in too negative a light. Perhaps the truth is that definitions like Liberal and Socialist and Conservative have ceased to have the meaning they once did. I should confess that calling myself a liberal these days has increasingly begun to feel like I’m calling myself a Chartist, or a Bonapartist, even. It feels somehow outdated. As though that fight is over, and a new one has begun.

Perhaps the nature of the game has changed, and we need to acknowledge that we’re facing a different, far more sinister opponent than just the Tories. Perhaps we’re facing the organized power of a particular segment of private enterprise, that is seeking to unfairly influence and dominate the rest of the country. And without being coy, I’m talking about the tar sands.

Yes, the tar sands. It’s what the rest of the world calls them. Because it’s what they are. You’ll just notice the media doesn’t call them that here.

Perhaps the trouble really is that the country is being run with one interest in mind; that of the oil barons of Calgary. Perhaps ‘screw the west, we’ll keep the rest’ has finally come back to haunt the ‘Laurentian Establishment,’ as John Ibbitson calls them, and it really is Alberta calling the shots now. Perhaps social conservatism, heavy-handed, authoritarian government, and a crueller society all around are our future. Perhaps, as Thomas Homer-Dixon recently pointed out in an article in the New York Times, we really are beginning to exhibit the warning signs of being a ‘petro state.’ Perhaps Harper is just our vicious right-wing version of Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A petty despot living on oil revenue and using it to impose his will on a country that for the most part hates him.

The thirty percent of voters who are consistently in lockstep for Harper’s Tories represent a tiny fragment of the population. One that you can be sure does, in large part, well out of them, or they wouldn’t be voting for him. To continue with the petro-state analogy, so does the Saudi Royal family and those close to them. So do the people who fell in line with Chavez’ United Socialist Party. So do those Russians who toe the line and vote for United Russia and praise Putin to the skies. So do the clique of clerics and their friends who currently run Iran.

It doesn’t matter what twisted ideology you import to justify your slow seizure of the country’s resources, as the above list demonstrates. Harper’s is a hodgepodge of the dumbest kind of US republicanism, the slightly nutty fixations of the old Socreds, the straight-up bigotry of the old Canadian Alliance, and the crumbling relic of what was once the Progressive Conservative party.

John Duffy once wrote, in a book I no longer own, which I thus can unfortunately not source, called Fights of our Lives, that historically, western Canadian fringe parties generally get gradually absorbed back into the eastern mother party.

But for the first time in our history, that hasn’t happened. The Canadian Alliance staged a coup in the conservative movement. They took it over. The eastern establishment PCS fell in line because they were promised the fruits of power. The Albertan nutbars like Stockwell Day we spent the 90s laughing at are at the controls. Because one of them, it turns out, is a calculating, devious, and ferociously brilliant sociopath. And he’s ruining everything.

He’s building thousands of new prisons to incarcerate a population he barely cares about. He has no trouble watching his own population be viciously beaten in the streets of Toronto by testosterone-crazed loonies from out of town. He doesn’t give a damn about how Israel treats the Palestinians because he knows he can lock up a series of Toronto ridings by slavishly supporting a right-wing kleptocracy that has taken the dream of Israel hostage, and used it to savagely oppress another people.

He’s shutting down government sponsored science. Mainly because it keeps coming to inconvenient conclusions about global warming. But also because he just doesn’t care. About science, or global warming. Neither fit in his monomaniacal vision.

He’s lulling Canadians to sleep. One day we’ll wake up to find the country we loved gone. And we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. Unless we beat him now.

Perhaps Joyce Murray and Nathan Cullen are the candidates who acknowledge that stopping Canada’s Republicanization is more important than any petty rivalry the NDP and the Liberals may have had in the past. Perhaps they acknowledge that what is now being undertaken by the Harper government is so fundamentally abhorrent to Canadian values that it needs to be stopped at any cost. Perhaps they are the new left. The bold left. The visionary left that will stem the tide of corporate influence in Ottawa, restore reason and sanity as the bases of pariamentary policy, and banish the reactionary ideology of the Canadian Alliance to it’s long deserved electoral grave.

Or perhaps it’s that cooperation is the shortest route to power. I don’t know. I’m curious to find out. So I’m going to put Joyce third on my ballot. Just to make it interesting.