Monday, 29 December 2008

THE Christmas Present for Canada

The Christmas present that Canada needs this year -- and needs desperately -- is a Parliament that works. It would be a Parliament which deals with the real needs of real people in a difficult time.

That depends on Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He’s the guy from Toronto who is part egghead economist and part ideological pit bull. I admire and respect a person of strong convictions, who stands by his convictions. My admiration disappears when those convictions begin to hurt people. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister is so full of what’s (ideologically) right that sometimes he doesn’t understand what’s good, necessary, practical, and helpful.

After applying his ideology to disrupt our 39th Parliament, he went to the Governor General asking for a federal election, because Parliament had become “dysfunctional.” In October’s election, the non-progressive Conservatives got about 170,000 fewer votes than in January, 2006. They enjoy the support of only one voter out of five.

During that election, the Prime Minister kept arguing the fundamentals for Canada’s economy are strong. But by election time, the Toronto stock market had fallen from its high of 15,156 in June to 9,955. That’s a drop of 34 per cent. Now, he’s “very worried” about Canada’s economy. That's quite the switch.

After the election, Harper told a Tory policy convention that the party would have to be less ideological and more practical. Yet the financial update the new Parliament received was really not practical -- it didn’t do much to solve Canadian’s problems. And it was extremely ideological. Probably the most ideological item was the plan to cut off federal funding to political parties. It was an attempt to undercut the opposition. But more important, it was an attempt to limit public discussion of important national issues. The move created a huge political backlash, which could have ended Harper’s government, had the Governor General not bailed him out.

Now Harper and his helpers are consulting people. The Finance helper, Jim Flaherty, is asking for time to put something together, though most other world governments have already taken strong action. The time for consulting, Mr. Flaherty, was in September and October -- the time your boss was wasting on an election.

Mr. Flaherty needs to develop a wide-ranging proposal to help stabilize our economy. And the proposal must help to stabilize peoples’ lives, too. There must support for some major sectors -- manufacturing (including automobiles), forestry, fisheries, agriculture, mining, though the support will depend on the specific needs of the sector, and the companies in it. That aid must be dependent on keeping people employed. There must be help for small business owners, who also employ many people, and who are getting caught in a credit crunch. There must be lower taxes in the lowest tax bracket. And there must be help for individuals who lose their jobs -- in terms of longer and stronger unemployment benefits. These are necessary even if there has to be a budget deficit. This is the nature of a moral economy.

If Mr. Harper can get past his ideology and do the practical thing, we may have a workable solution which everyone in Parliament can support.

(These thoughts were originally published in The Western Producer, in a slightly different form.)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Fascism or Coalition?

Today I received an e-mail note from Canada's Conservative party, telling my why I should support Prime Minister Harper and fight the Liberal-NDP Coalition. The Tory letter began with the words, "Two months ago Canadians voted in a general election. They made a clear choice." The rest is my response.

Thank you for this note.

You are absolutely right!

"Two months ago Canadians voted in a general election. They made a clear choice."

In the end, 5.2 million Canadians (22.2% of Canada's 23.4 million eligible voters) cast ballots in favour of Conservative candidates. That's roughly one voter out of five. A support level for the Conservatives of 1:5 is hardly a ringing endorsement for anything. (In the same election, just over 40% eligible electors, 2 out of five, voted for "none of the above" by not voting at all.)

I don't belong to any party. In my voting life I've supported various parties. If there were to be another election soon -- another huge waste of time and money -- I don't know who I would support. I do know that Mr. Harper scares the living daylights out of me. He seems so hard-headed and self-righteous, and worse, so hard-hearted. His attitude reminds me of those attitudes held by leaders of Fascist governments in the past.

At the party's November policy conference Mr. Harper warned delegates to avoid an ideological approach to governing. "We will have to be tough and pragmatic, not unrealistic or ideological in dealing with complex economic challenges, he said. And he added, "We must work hard to keep Canadians trust and earn it again. We must listen to all voices, whether they support us or not." But by time the 40th Parliament convened, he had entirely forgotten those words.

Sadly, I do not think Mr. Harper is capable of listening to other people. Indeed, in Mr. Flaherty's economic statement, there was a plan to silence the voices of those who are not Conservatives.

So now we are at a crossroads. Should we allow a "centrist and socialist" coalition to rule the country (with the aid of the Bloc Quebecois), or a fascist party rule the country (with the aid of the Bloc Quebecois)? Because Mr. Harper cannot hold office without the support of the BQ, if he faces the opposition of the Liberals and New Democrats.

I know you're going to send me an insulting meaningless "thank you for your comments" letter in reply to what I have written. That says a lot about how much you listen to voices of those who are not die-hard Conservatives. But this letter comes with a warning. I am not at all thrilled by the idea of Canada being governed by a centre-left coalition. But I'm too afraid of Mr. Harper to give him my support. I think I speak for a lot of people in Canada's "silent majority."



Friday, 7 November 2008


Last month, Canadians came through our 40th General Election. A recent survey I heard about said that roughly three-quarters of Canadians were not happy with the experience. I understand that; I certainly was not happy at all.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, lusting after a majority government, finally thought he saw his chance in September. Conservative popularity reached about 40 per cent -- enough to win a majority. So Harper called the election -- even though he (apparently) broke the law on fixed election dates, which Conservatives had introduced, and which became law this spring. He said he needed the election because Parliament was dysfunctional, hoping people would forget that he was the one largely responsible for the dysfunction.

We had a $300+ million, five-week waste of time, money, and energy. The election brought no significant change in Parliament. The no-longer-progressive Conservatives still form a minority government. The Liberals are still the Official Opposition. The Bloc Quebecois is in third place. The NDP is fourth. The Greens still haven’t elected a member. Some parties gained/lost seats, but not enough to change anything.

And the legality of the election will be argued before the Federal Court of Canada.

The most significant thing about election is the loss of democratic activity. Two voters out of five did not, would not, or could not vote (in some cases because of new election rules). That's even worse than in the Presidential and related elections in the U.S., at the beginning of November. From the numbers, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives enjoy the support of only one voter out of five -- hardly a ringing endorsement, though Harper sees it as such.

What has happened to our political process? I’ve followed politics fairly closely for about 30 years. I’ve seen party policy conventions, election platforms, and politician’s actions. In so many cases, those actions bear little or no resemblance whatsoever to what “grass roots” people deliberated and decided at policy conventions. Is it any wonder that citizens become discouraged by what they see politics over principle or party over principle?

And what happens when the membership of a parliament or provincial assembly bears no resemblance to the number of votes a party gets in an election? Further discouragement. That's what happens in our "first past the post" electoral system, as opposed to a proportional representation system.

It seems that people are losing interest -- and losing confidence -- in our current electoral systems and parties. As decision-making move further and further away from ordinary citizens, those citizens notice the difference, the distancing. And they often conclude that ordinary citizens are irrelevant in the overall scheme of fulfill their roles as citizens?

I believe it’s up to the politicians to address that problem, along with Canada’s people. -- and to do that sooner than later.

Will that happen? Don’t bet the farm on it.

(These thoughts were originally published in The Western Producer, in a different form.)

CANADIAN FASCISM (Part 2 - Background)

If you want to check more on Fascism, here's a good link: Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism. I trust you will find this information interesting and useful, and at least a start in understanding what Fascism really entails.

There is also a web site dedicated to explaining how Fascism in, or may be, evolving in the United States of America. See: 14 Points of Fascism: The Warning Signs.
This link originates with the "Project for the Old American Century," whose main page concludes with a quotation from Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator of the 1940s: "Fascism should rather be called corporatism, as it is the merging of government and corporate power." (See About POAC) This does not mean that the American experience is the same as the Canadian experience, but a comparison may be instructive.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

CANADIAN FASCISM (Part 1 - Basic Orientation)

I believe that Canada is heading down the road to Fascism, and is making good “progress” in that regard.

For a brief period in Canada’s history, we were afraid of Fascist governments. Between 1939 and 1945, Canada was at war with Fascist governments -- particularly Germany and Italy.

But the rise of Communism, and its rapid expansion in the later 1940s, quickly pre-occupied western nations. Communism was the bogey-man. And people basically forgot about Fascism.

The problem is that, despite their ideologies, Communism and Fascism are almost the same thing, because they act the same ways.


In common political language, we use terms derived from the French National Assembly, at the time of the French Revolution. (The world has changed so much that it is hard to make legitimate comparisons from then to now.)

Today, politicians of the “right” believe in free-market capitalism and extreme individualism. Politicians of the “left” focus on collective development and co-operative society-building. And there are, of course, various mixtures of those policies. I don’t think either exists in a “pure” form.


The problem, of course, is that the principle defies reality. It assumes a kind of straight line. In fact, political philosophy is built in a circle -- like most other things in our world.

Think of a circle, with the north, south, east and west of a compass imposed on it. That’s how to sort our politics.

On the left side of the circle, you have your “left-wing” parties. On the right side of the circle, you have your “right-wing” groupings. That is pretty clear. What follows is, perhaps, less obvious.

On the top half of the circle, you have “democracies.” On the bottom half of the circle you have “dictatorships.”

So it is possible to have one of four basic models: a left-wing democracy, a right-wing democracy, a left wing dictatorship, and a right wing dictatorship. Left-wing dictatorships are called “Communist.” Right-wing dictatorships are called “Fascist.” Again, I don’t think any of them exists in a pure state.

While the ideology separating Communists and Fascists is radically different, in practical terms they are highly similar. That is why they meet at the bottom of the circle. That is because they are both tightly-controlled dictatorships, that use similar methods to achieve their goals.

I believe that Communism is basically unacceptable to the majority in Canada. I also believe that Fascism IS acceptable to many Canadians. And I believe that we are moving towards a more Fascist form of government, and away from the more balanced social democracy that Canada has been for so many years. The is a move which will fundamentally change our approach to life. Instead of having a kinder, gentler, more equal country, we will end up with one which is more vicious, harsh, and divided. I do not believe those characteristics — vicious, harsh, and divided — are of benefit to any nation.

Saturday, 8 March 2008


While there are a lot of global economic and political issues being played out in Afghanistan, it is the social issues -- the life of the people -- which most consistently gets lost in the "change" that is happening.

"Change," according to whom?

Whose life will be better for all this "change"?

Basically, we Euro-Americans are trying to drag the Afghan people into the 21st century (from our perspective), even if “we” have to drag “them” kicking and screaming (which they are).

“We” want to change thousands of years of culture, and do it virtually overnight. We're trying to change their whole society — everything they believe about who they are, and how their society "should" operate.

It is a kind of a cultural imperialism. But we are doing it because, you see, “we” think a liberal democracy “would be good” for “them.”

Change focus. We are in the early 1960s. The Americans are trying to get the Saudi Arabian royal family to effect a more “democratic” and “humanitarian” tone to their society. The response from the Saudis is instructive. “Do not send us your Coca Cola, Ford cars, or upstart son of a whisky merchant [i.e., President John F. Kennedy]. We have our own culture and have had it for thousands of years.”

Is real change possible in Afghanistan?

There are strong forces opposing change in Afghan society. Particularly the Taliban, but they are not alone. Traditional rulers, so-called "Warlords," really don't want much change, nor do many traditionalist clerics and ordinary citizens. No different from our society, where "conservatives" of all kinds oppose creative change.

A recent report for a knowledgeable Afghan woman, on International Woman's Day in Saskatoon, presented the situation in sharp contrast. (What she said is well known; she simply highlighted the problem.) "Redevelopment" money being spent three ways in Afghanistan. First, to arm and equip the new Afghan army. Second, to "pay off" the "Warlords." If there's any money left over after that, it might go into something else like a school or a hospital.

And that is the situation which the Canadian Government wants to support until 2011. Because the government thinks real change will happen if it supports this new "status quo."

If we are rdally committed to making change in "their" society, we'll have to leave troops -- army of occupation -- for several generations -- not years, or decades; generations. It will take that long for real change to take hold. Otherwise, the "conservatives" in that society will quickly reverse any changes that have been made.

And who will benefit from any of these kinds of "change?

Saturday, 1 March 2008


Listening to people talk about "politics" today, I feel very sad about the lack of basic understanding that most people have about "politics." I'm not talking about party positions or philosophical positions. I'm talking about the basics of politics.

To understand politics in our society, we need to reflect on "the cradle of democracy" -- ancient Greece. The Greeks had an wonderful word -- politeia. (That is the word from which we have our English words "politics" and "political.") That Greek word meant citizenship -- particularly "the rights and responsibilities of the citizen" — and citizens collectively.

But over the millennia we have developed "political institutions," of two kinds.

First, there are assemblies, which bring people together: city councils, legislatures, parliaments, congresses, etc. These are now filled with "elected representatives."

Second, there are parties: associations or groups of people who tend to think the same way about most things.

The flaw with these "political institutions" is that they have taken away — usurped — the rights and responsibilities of of citizens. Their actions deprive ordinary citizens of their politeia -- their "politics. "About the only thing left is the "right" and "responsibility" to put an "X" on a particular line of a particular piece of paper at particular times.

The loss of those rights is a historic study in itself.

There was a time when the leaders of the assemblies might have been "the brightest and best" — but more often they were simply the people who had the most power — either economic or military. With today's assemblies, there are lots of bright people on the outside — often brighter that the elected representatives. But because the elected hold the power — power which they are usually reluctant to share — we citizens have lost the core of our citizenship.

The time has come for us to reclaim our politeia -- our citizenship.