Tag Archives: conservative

Harper ‘radicalizes’ his attack on civil liberties

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by Barry Weisleder
The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is using the October shootings in Ottawa, and the deadly assault that killed another soldier east of Montreal, to advance its authoritarian agenda.
With Bill C-44, the “Protection of Canada from Terrorism Act”, Harper seeks to increase the authority of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to spy on Canadians and foreigners abroad, and to share information with foreign agencies – although that might expose innocent people to imprisonment and torture, as happened in the infamous case of Maher Arar.
In addition, the government proposes to give blanket anonymity to CSIS informants whose testimony federal prosecutors want to use as evidence, even though it would make it harder for accused people to defend themselves in court.
This is just the tip of the ice berg. Conservative Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney told Radio-Canada that the government may make it easier to arrest and detain people without charging them.
Preventative arrest already exists in the Criminal Code. It was introduced by a Liberal government in 2002, allowed to lapse after five years, and then reinstated by the Conservatives, with Liberal support in 2013. Although never used, the Harper administration is toying with the idea of broadening the law to target not only innocent persons it believes will commit a terrorist act in the future, but also those the security services deem to be terrorists. That ‘deeming’ could include commission of ‘thought crimes’ like claiming online that terrorist acts are justified.
What’s next, making it illegal to support governments on a list of regimes labelled ‘state terrorist’ by Ottawa or Washington – like those in Gaza, Iran, Venezuela or Cuba?
Sadly, the assault on civil liberities is all too familiar to Canadians.
Ne-1970In October 1970 the Liberal government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. It suspended basic freedoms of speech, press and assembly after members of the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ) kidnapped a British diplomat and a provincial cabinet minister, who was later murdered. Trudeau claimed that Canada faced “an apprehended insurrection”. The claim was proven false. And it also emerged that the RCMP had infiltrated the FLQ and pushed for violent actions.
The repressive measures implemented by the state, including the military occupation of Quebec and the arrest and detention of over 500 labour, political and cultural personalities who were never charged with an offense, backfired big time. The ugly sweep contributed to the 1976 election of the first pro-independence government in Quebec.
Unlike Pierre Trudeau (whose son Justin now leads the federal Liberal Party), Harper didn’t wait for an excuse to bring down the hammer. His Bill C-24, the “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act”, enables the government to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens – like those who demonstrate support for a foreign power Ottawa doesn’t like.
And in a related move designed to undermine social solidarity, the Tory regime has restricted the ability of refugee claimants to access social assistance. That followed its earlier decision to limit refugee claimants’ resort to universal, public health care.
The fact that the latest exclusionary step was buried in a government omnibus budget bill, containing hundreds of pages of unrelated measures, says a great deal about Harper’s modus operandi, and about the growing trend of capitalist rule that must be confronted and defeated.

Harper’s Whipping boys

stephenharperhatesmeA perennial target of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hateful policies is the federal public service work force. Harper claims that fat-cat public employees collect much bigger pay packets than their counterparts in the private sector. Unfortunately for the Tory regime, a report by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office puts the lie to his claim, at least in part.

Almost all increases in federal public service pay over the last 11 years have merely kept up with inflation. New hires comprised about half of the extra $7.8 billion in pay for the workers between 2001-02 and 2011-12, the report shows.
Salaries accounted for about 47 per cent of the increase, the office says, but 96 per cent of that was just to keep pace with inflation over the 11 year period.
“The reality is, employees took a pay cut while the Conservatives went on a hiring binge” said NDP Treasury Board critic Mathieu Ravignat.
“They are using the public service as whipping boys and as a wedge between those who are having a hard time at the moment and public servants”, said NDP MP Paul Dewar, who asked the budget office to determine the cause of rising federal labour costs.
Dewar said the findings show Conservative Treasury Board President Tony Clement did not have the facts before launching an attack against the public service which he called bloated.
The PBO also seemed to dismiss the myth that costs have been driven by reclassification, that is, moving public employees into higher pay categories. Costs due to classification added less than 5 per cent of the total increase, the PBO found.
A point glossed over by NDP spokespersons is this: freezing or cutting the wages and jobs of public employees is not going to benefit workers in the private sector. Quite the opposite. It only whets the appetite of the ruling rich to hammer private sector workers, especially those who have no union representation. The clear answer is for workers to organize, unite and fight the attacks together.
B.W.

Senate Scandal upstages CETA and Omnibus Bill C-4

by Barry Weisleder
How ironic would it be if Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ultimate downfall occurs due to a scandal involving some rip-off artists he appointed to the Senate, rather than as a consequence of Harper’s bestial record on the economy, the environment, First Nations and Canada’s wars of occupation abroad? Very ironic, eh?
But as things go in Ottawa, where both an ominous trade deal with Europe, and a meandering but menacing Throne Speech were quickly eclipsed by the deepening Senate imbroglio, anything seems possible.
The Conservative P.M. dug in his heels, and fired back at blistering Opposition attacks on his credibility. Harper insists that he knew nothing about the scheme to bail-out Senator Mike Duffy. He coldly disowned Senators Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau when scrutiny of their mis-spending habits became too hot and too damaging to the Conservative Party.
Harper even prorogued Parliament in a vain effort to ride out the storm. Still the crisis persists, undiminished by the so-called free trade triumph, or the baubles offered to consumers in an otherwise toxic Throne Speech.
While the political crisis, now six months old and deepening, widens rifts in Tory ranks, it is important not to lose sight of the threat to the common good posed by the still-gestating deal known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union.
In the first place, like its predecessor ‘free’ trade deals, NAFTA and the FTA, CETA is not primarily about trade. Tariffs and duties between the two regions are, on average, less than four per cent. Nor will we see a major impact on sales of beef overseas, or cheese here. CETA is overwhelmingly a corporate bill of rights. It will jack up Canadian drug prices (by $2 billion a year) by extending patent protection for multinational pharmaceutical companies, mostly based in Europe. It will be harder for provinces and cities to favour local businesses when they buy goods or services. And it will enable corporations to sue governments if their owners think that environmental, labour or other regulations interfere with the maximization of profits. (Canada is facing $2.5 billion worth of corporate lawsuits under NAFTA.)
Secrecy marked the CETA negotiations, and still shrouds the contents. Progressive economists say Ottawa’s claim that the pact will create 80,000 new net jobs is entirely bogus. Europe’s 500 million consumers are enduring an economic recession, worsened by austerity measures that curb workers’ ability to buy much of anything beyond essentials. Unifor economist Jim Stanford predicts that CETA will, over time, vaporize up to 150,000 Canadian jobs.
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Since 28 EU countries have to endorse the deal, and Ottawa needs to get the provinces on side by guaranteeing compensation for higher drug prices and for any harm done to home industries, there is thus time to defeat the deal before CETA is entrenched.
Likewise, there is an opportunity to challenge the pernicious plans outlined in the October 16 Tory Throne Speech. Harper’s endeavour to change the channel on his Senate problems includes promises to cut cellphone roaming costs, to unbundle cable-TV channels to allow consumers to pick and choose, and to allow people to carry booze across provincial boundaries for personal consumption.
But Harper’s mailed fist is revealed in core measures, such as a federal budget freeze, and curbing costs in the public sector by shedding staff. Legislation to require balanced budgets aims to entrench austerity. New laws to ensure life sentences for those convicted of major crimes, and to bar the release of serious repeat offenders, would help the Conservatives to posture as ‘law and order’ enforcers, as does their plan to shut down centres that provide drugs to addicts to wean them off dope dependency.
Then there is Omnibus Budget Bill C-4, tabled in the House of Commons on October 22. Part of the 321-page compendium of assorted, but unrelated items is a piece that would give the federal government the power to decide which of the 187,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada are “essential” and who therefore will be denied the right to strike. Forty thousand of them presently lack this right; many of the rest are likely to be deprived as well. Not only that, the new law would exclude dispute arbitration, except when the government agrees to it, and arbitrators would be obliged to give a “preponderance” of weight to the government’s claims as to what it could afford. Say good bye to the right to strike and to any semblence of fair arbitration in the federal public service. And this is buried in a bill that includes changes to employment insurance, workplace safety, veterans affairs, conflict of interest, immigration policy and more.
But where there ought to be concern about corporate criminality in the shipment of hazardous substances, in ravaging the environment, in violating indigenous peoples’ land rights, in hiding billions of dollars in offshore banks to avoid tax obligations, ‘law and order’ seems to be missing in action.
That brings us back to the parliamentary crisis. It operates on many levels. One more dimension is evident in Harper’s bid to ram through his appointment of a judge to the Supreme Court. The latest high court vacancy had to be filled, as a constitutional requirement, by a judge from the Quebec bar. Harper’s choice (for ideological reasons we can only imagine), is Marc Nadon, who once practiced maritime and transportation law in Quebec. But Nadon spent the last 20 years at the Federal Court’s appelate and trial divisions in Ottawa. So Harper aims to jam a square peg into a round hole. How? By amending the Supreme Court of Canada Act.
Like suspending Parliament four times over the past seven years, like trying to bully out of the Senate his own mangy appointees, those who he shielded and defended until recently, Stephen Harper’s actions on labour and the economy are those of a man who doesn’t take no for an answer, regardless the spirit or the letter of the law.
The saddest aspect of this ugly chapter is that most of the media attention focusses on the misdeeds of certain powerful individuals. But those potent hacks can be replaced by the ruling class when push comes to shove. A superficial approach to corruption, rather than a serious examination of the system that drives its minions to do what they do to perpetuate human exploitation, social oppression and the devastation of nature, is what passes for politics in the mainstream.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the workers’ movement, including those who sit atop the unions and the labour-based New Democratic Party, are complicit in this artful misdirection. They demonize Harper. This in turn tends to foster a ‘get rid of him at all costs’, lesser-evil, unprincipled politics. The net effect is the mis-education of the many, helping to keep the criminal elite class in charge of the sinking ship, weighed down as it is by stupendous capitalist greed.
Urgently needed is mass job action to stop the Tory attack on the right to strike, to defeat CETA, to reverse the public service cuts, to uphold aboriginal land rights, and of course, to abolish the Senate and the monarchy.

Right Wing Meltdown is No Cure for Austerity

Right wing governments in Canada seem to be on the ropes.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s regime is mired in scandals, the latest centred on a $90,000 payoff by his former chief of staff to cover-up misappropriation of funds by Conservative Senator Mike Duffy. Three Tory Senators accused of padding their expense claims now sit outside the Tory caucus as ‘independents’ while the RCMP investigates.

Toronto’s ‘stop the gravy train’ Mayor Rob Ford claims he doesn’t use crack cocaine. But two Toronto Star reporters, and the owner of U.S. web site Gawker, swear they saw hizzonner in a video sucking the smokey contents of a crack pipe. Five staffers quit the Mayor’s office in the two weeks after the news broke. Ford insists there is no such video, but according to inside sources, he confided to his staff that he knew the location of the hidden video. And one of the people pictured partying with Ford was found by police dead of gun shot wounds.

Montreal’s mayor, Gérald Tremblay, resigned in early November in the midst of an eyebrow-raising inquiry that revealed widespread corruption among city officials, contractors and members of organized crime. Just a few days later, Gilles Vaillancourt, the head of Quebec’s third-largest city, Laval, quit in the same context.

The Ontario minority Liberal government was rocked by revelations that it spent nearly $1 Billion to cancel the construction of unpopular gas plants west of Toronto, just to save Liberal seats in the Fall 2011 provincial election.  After months of denial, and failure by former Premier Dalton McGuinty to release thousands of pages of incriminating evidence, new Premier Kathryn Wynne apologized for the wasteful fiasco.

Media pundits call it a right wing meltdown. It’s entertaining. It sells papers. In the case of Toronto, there was even a side benefit — it helped to kill a harmful downtown mega-casino project. But, looking at the big picture, scandal is no cure for austerity. Severe cutbacks and attacks on employment insurance, pensions, public services, environmental protection, scientific information-gathering and civil liberties continue apace. The fact is, such measures are integral to the corporate agenda in force, regardless the political stripe of the ruling party.

The situation in Toronto further illustrates the deeper problem. Liberals and social democrats, the main city council opposition to Ford’s wilting ultra-right wing, are chomping at the bit. They yearn to introduce new gas and sales taxes. They promote service fees, parking levies and road tolls to fund rapid transit projects urgently needed to relieve traffic gridlock.

Instead of proposing to tax big business, giant banks, wealthy developers, rich property owners and untaxed religious institutions, Ford’s opposition and the business media agitate for regressive taxes (the kind not based on ability to pay), which hit workers, seniors, students and the poor the hardest.

All of which goes to show what the real problem is. It’s the system. It matters little which eccentric leader, or authoritarian big wig, or capitalist party happens to be at the top.

Scandals are just a sign of divisions in the ruling class. They can be interesting, even mildly satisfying when they (however temporarily) humble the arrogant.

But scandal mongering is no substitute for mass action. Working class political action is what’s needed now to stop labour concessions, to reverse social cuts, to restore and extend democratic rights – in short, to win a Workers’ Agenda.

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