His former chief of staff, Tom Flanagan, writes in his new book: “There’s a dark, almost Nixonian, side to the man. He can be suspicious, secretive and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia.”
The list of officials who have felt the sting of Harper’s white-hot rage is long: Remy Beauregard, Marty Cheliak, Richard Colvin, Sheila Fraser, Linda Keen, Paul Kennedy, Marc Mayrand, Adrian Measner, Kevin Page, Munir Sheikh and Nigel Wright.
Then there are the political opponents. Harper has systematically bombarded Stephane Dion, Michael Ignatieff and Justin Trudeau with simple-minded attack ads.
Politics is a nasty business, since a key part of convincing people to vote for you is convincing them that your opponents are bad news. But Harper has brought it to a new level, bringing to Canada a style that appears to have been inspired by Lee Atwater’s brutal dismantling of Michael Dukakis for George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election.
Conservatives can take pride in many things Harper has done — steering the country through the recession, cutting taxes, cutting spending with less suffering than the Liberals did in the 1990s — but it was all accompanied by Machiavellian machinations and ugly denunciations of perceived foes.
The prime minister has built a fearsome team, promoting remorseless MPs like Dean Del Mastro, Pierre Poilievre and Paul Calandra, and overlooking gentler characters like Ted Menzies and James Rajotte.
Harper gains advantage from his authoritarian attacks, because everyone in Ottawa is afraid of crossing him, but it has all made our national discourse unnecessarily unpleasant.
You ought to be able to say that you don’t agree with Sheila Fraser’s criticism of the elections act without implying that she is making her comments for money, as Poilievre did.
It feels like all of this nastiness has started to catch up to the prime minister, and he is in trouble in Ontario, the key to the next election. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is attacking him daily on the campaign trail, which can only be because he is less popular than Tim Hudak. Eve Adams didn’t move from Mississauga to Oakville for the scenery.
The tiny town of Latta, S.C., found itself embroiled in scandal last week after Mayor Earl Bullard fired police chief Crystal Moore. Moore alleges that her firing was nothing more than a vindictive display of homophobia by Bullard, who became mayor in December 2013. After loyally serving Latta for more than two decades without incident, the openly gay employee suddenly found herself at odds with a new boss who opposes gay rights. Seven reprimands later—the only reprimands she had received during her time on the force, all issued on the same day—Moore was out of a job. This is what can happen when your new boss is anti-gay.
During a secretly recorded phone call, Bullard said that he would rather have a drunkard look after his children than an openly gay individual. (If you’re concerned with Bullard’s privacy, he claimed he would say this to anyone directly.) In perhaps the most damning part of the call, Bullard states, “I’m not going to let two women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it.” Other councilmembers have alleged that Bullard’s intention to fire Moore was formed even before he took office.
I hope those who view former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich as the victim of a vengeful mob are paying attention. In South Carolina, we have a police chief who was allegedly terminated for her sexual orientation. Where is the outrage over Moore’s firing?
If she doesn’t run, the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article. As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, they told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right.
Clinton isn’t insane, and she’s not stupid. “When you get beat up so often, you just get very cautious,” says Mike McCurry, her husband’s former press secretary, who joined the White House team to find a first lady traumatized by the coverage of her failed Hillarycare initiative. “She [has] had a very practical view of the media. … ‘I have to be careful, I’m playing with fire.’”
And while the white-hot anger she once felt toward the media has since hardened into a pessimistic resignation (with a dash of self-pity), she’s convinced another campaign would inevitably invite more bruising scrutiny, as her recent comments suggest. Public life “gives you a sense of being kind of dehumanized as part of the experience,” she lamented a few weeks ago to a Portland, Ore., audience.
“You really can’t ever feel like you’re just having a normal day.”
When asked why Clinton hasn’t done more to reach out to reporters over the years, one Clinton campaign veteran began to spin several theories. She was too busy, she was too prone to speaking her mind and the like—then abruptly cut to the chase:
“Look, she hates you. Period. That’s never going to change.”
Where does her hatred of the media comes from?
But consider this recent speech by one of the more improbable rising stars in Clintonworld: her tormentor-turned-defender David Brock, who exposed many of the ugliest Arkansas scandals of the Clinton years when he was a conservative investigative reporter in the 1990s. “Fox has accused Hillary Clinton of murder, compared her to a murderer and suggested she commit suicide,” Brock told a crowd at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in March, arguing that she’s the ultimate victim of “misogyny.”
In case you missed the amateur hour that was Saskatoon City Council, you missed the passionate debate over whether or not Mayor Donald Atchison should be able to name streets, parks, and bridges. Here is what Ward 6 Councillor Charlie Clark had to say about it in his email newsletter.
City Council will receive a report with a few minor amendments suggested to the Naming Process. Recent debates have raised the prospect of a more significant amendment to the process. I would like the process to be changed so that the actual designation of names to parks and streets is not done solely by the Mayor. Saskatoon is the only City in Canada that grants this power to the Mayor alone, and I believe it is time to change this.
For me the issue is not out of concern with any specific names that have been applied in the City. There are two main reasons.
First having a single elected official hold naming power opens the process up to political influence, rewarding friends or campaign donors. This is not about Mayor Atchison specifically, but a question of good governance and creating policies that mitigate this potential.
Secondly – there have been hundreds of names applied in recent years to streets and parks in the City, as we add on new neighbourhoods. These names form the identity of our neighbourhoods and the City as a whole. The responsibility for establishing this story for our community should not be the purview of one individual. Ideally this is the kind of work that would have the input of people with historical knowledge and understanding of our community from several perspectives – to help ensure that as we make our mark on these communities with names that they capture a breadth of the history and identity of the City.
There is a tremendous opportunity to develop a thoughtful process to ensure that these streets and parks capture the essence of who we are as a community and where we came from. Right now the process relies on the public or property developers to bring forward names, a Committee made up of politicians and City staff determines whether a name can go on the “Names Master List” and then the Mayor picks the ones he wants to use.
I think it makes sense to have a committee that has a mixture of elected people and the public on it to be part of the approval and application of names. I also think that it would be worthwhile to engage our City Archivist and other historians to look at our Names Master List and identify which communities are being missed and a way to ensure that these get represented.
Yes you read it right, Clark used the term, “tremendous opportunity” to describing a process that involved naming street names. I don’t know what to say either except that its probable that Clark gets excited over governance things that I do not.
Whether or not you agree or disagree with this is irrelevant. In my opinion it is a shame that we don’t have streets that honour Henry Dayday, Roy Romanow, Lorne Calvert, and even Grant Devine. Heck I am all for an entire neighbourhood that uses names of former premiers. (austere houses are on Romanow Avenue while over mortgaged houses are on Devine Lane)
What does surprise me is that if council wanted to move on this, they should have done one thing really well. They needed to have counted the votes for and against before the council meeting started and they never did that. If they did do that and someone changed their mind (which it sounds like happened), that is politics but somewhere along the way, you need to know that stuff or you look like idiots. So after some attacked and defended the mayor and in many ways made it personal, it was time to vote which was a five-five tie so the motion failed, the status quo continues and you look really small minded and petty. Oh right, you have also just attacked the mayor (or one of the few perks the mayor has) and now you are left with nothing to show for it. Well except with an even more divided city council.
Of all of the issues facing the city, fighting over who gets to name streets isn’t high on my list of things that need to be done.
The price and focus of community support officers is putting the whole program in jeopardy.
“$450,000 (a year) is a lot of money,” Ward 9 Councillor Tiffany Paulsen said at the administration and finance committee Monday. “I don’t see how council can measure if this program is working.”
At the end of July funding for the Community Support Officers (CSO) program expires. The city’s administration presented a report recommending city council expand the program for another three years into the end of 2017 for $1.35 million.
However, questions about what the CSOs patrol, how much its work overlaps with police officers, and the funding plan have put the future of the program on the bubble.
After reviewing the reports Ward 8 councillor Eric Olauson said he didn’t see the value of this program.
“I have a tough time supporting this because I think police here have to change their focus. This was a good idea at the time but I think its run its course,” Olauson said.
Councillor Zach Jeffries echoed his colleagues concern noting that five CSOs have written only 15 bylaw infraction tickets over 18 months. He said if they wrote more tickets, council could better measure the success of the CSOs.
“The number of tickets is very small … people say they want to see more tickets written,” Jeffries said, adding it would give council a measurement to determine the program’s success.
“I would personally appreciate seeing something more measureable and in my mind it’s something to focus on.”
Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill said he supports the CSOs, and although he sees how the police officers and the CSOs overlap, he sees the police acting more as a protection measure for the CSOs.
“We’re always concerned about their safety so on occasion we will send a patrol car just to make sure there isn’t going to be any violence,” Weighill said. “We’re supportive of the program we think there’s a space for them to do the work they do.”
For the program’s initial 18 months, the city resolved that funding for the CSOs would come from parking meter revenues because the patrolling areas (Downtown, Broadway, Riversdale) were metered. However, Riversdale Business Improvement District (BID) executive director Randy Pshebylo said he wants that money to go back into streetscaping.
“The BID board has been very clear that they’d support a pilot program and that would then extend to an alternative source of funding and that the existing funding revert back to the streetscape reserve,” he said.
Well let’s get the obvious one out there. Eric Olauson doesn’t see the value in any program that doesn’t involve his ward getting sound walls. That is his M.O.
Secondly a year ago the same councillors were praising the work of the CSOs and talking about how awesome they were. What happened?
The Partnership’s CEO, Terry Scaddon retired and he was one of the biggest champions for the program. Without him there, councillors are feeling far more free to criticize the program.
The program was designed from the start to pressure the province in giving money to help with social issues in Saskatoon. We had the Safer Streets Commission and the hope was that the province would help fund some of the solutions to social programs that we have in the cities. It wasn’t a real need, crime in downtown Saskatoon was quite low but there was a perception out there. Unfortunately we overlooked the fact that the Wall government is very comfortable with the status quo on social issues and that the Treasury Board doesn’t include a single member from Saskatoon. To make a long story short, we never got the funding and the program is going to die.
Finally, I can’t leave Coun. Jeffries comment alone. Could it be that the reason that there was not a lot of tickets written is that there was not a lot of need in the first place? Also, encouraging law enforcement to write tickets is a really bad political direction to be giving them. The intention of the CSOs was to be helping people access needed services, not writing tickets. Countless cities across North America have cracked down on panhandlers and the homeless and it doesn’t work. Criminalizing behaviour that is driven by extreme poverty is the worst form of public policy. Zach should know better than that, regardless of which ways the winds are blowing in his suburban ward.
At the time, my then colleague (and current business partner) Mark Fabiani and I were working at the White House as lawyers in the counsel’s office and began to receive calls from mainstream media outlets asking us to respond to various bizarre items related to the late Vince Foster, a fellow White House lawyer who had tragically taken his own life in the summer of 1993. At first, we ignored the calls, as there was nothing to the story beyond the terrible loss of one of the president and first lady’s friends. However, as the calls continued without letup, and the nature of the questions became even more bizarre—to the point where we were asked to comment on alleged eyewitness sightings of Foster—we knew we had to get to the heart of the matter and began asking the reporters the basis for their questions.
All roads led to a mysterious source—the newly exploding Internet.
One Saturday morning in the midst of an oppressively hot D.C. summer weekend, Mark and I found ourselves squirreled away in a stuffy room on the fourth floor of the Old Executive Office Building, where there was a bank of computers from which you could access the “World Wide Web.” Remember—this was the pre-Blackberry, pre-Google, dial-up world of 1995, when only around 10 percent of the public had Internet access and the White House had just barely launched its own web page.
Eight hours later, we emerged from our warren of cubicles having seemingly been transported to a parallel universe. Online we found early versions of chat rooms, postings and other information showing there was an entire cottage industry devoted to discussing conspiracy theories relating to Foster’s death, including numerous online reports of people claiming to have seen him. Those reports would be picked up by so-called news sources that most Americans at the time had never heard of—conservative outlets such as Eagle Publishing’s Human Events or Richard Mellon Scaife’s the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. From there, the story would migrate to right-leaning outlets we were familiar with, such as the New York Post, the Washington Times and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal—all before eventually ending up in the mainstream press.
What we learned in those eight hours became the basis for our 332-page report, written so that those of us in Clinton White House responsible for fielding questions about these bizarre rumors could apprise mainstream reporters of what we called the “media food chain”—basically, so that we could show them how such a wacky conspiracy theory like the supposed murder of Vince Foster had even become a news “story” at all. We would simply hand the memo to the reporter asking questions, tell him to review it and to come back to us with any remaining questions. Few did.
But we also realized that this was just the beginning. Like the scene in Bugsy where Warren Beatty, playing the mobster Bugsy Siegel, arrives in the Nevada desert and the sees the future of gambling (modern Las Vegas), those eight hours in the White House computer room were our eureka moment about the future of media and politics. We saw the transition from an electorate that passively consumed the information put before it (a joke at the time was that a political rally was a family watching a political commercial on television) to an electorate that could use technology to actively engage in the creation, distribution and self-selection of information.
(Of course, had we been just a little more business-savvy, we would have immediately relocated to Silicon Valley instead of writing that report.)
The Conservative government’s tough rhetoric over Russia’s actions in Ukraine may play well to some voters domestically, but analysts doubt it will have any impact on curtailing Moscow’s policies in the region.
“I think the only people Putin’s going to pay any attention to, if he pays any attention at all, are going to be the United States and the European Union, above all Germany,” said Randall Hansen, director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies.
“The United States, because it’s the global super power, and Germany because it’s a major importer of Russian gas, which on the one hand gives Putin leverage, and on the other hand, he’s also dependent on Germany.
“Canada doesn’t matter in this in the slightest. We can rant and yell and threaten. It will make no difference.”
He’s not alone
Piotr Dutkiewicz, a political science professor at Carleton and the former director of the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, said it’s relatively easy for the government to criticize because Canada doesn’t have extensive economic relations with Russia and there are no large Russian investments in Canada.
However, he notes that Canadian companies do have $3-billion worth of investment in Russia and the government should take that into consideration when speaking out.
“I think we should take a more balanced, I’m not saying uncritical, I’m saying more balanced position, taking into the equation Canadian interests in Russia,” Dutkiewicz said.
“If the Canadian government decides to be critical it should be critical, but at the same time we should watch what others are doing and how, by our criticisms, we’re really helping Ukraine.”
Dutkiewicz said that Canada is losing its reputation as a negotiator and instead is engaging in rhetoric stronger than that of the U.S., Germany or France.
“With their very heated rhetoric and no action we’re becoming a paper tiger in this process,” he said. “I really don’t like Canada to be seen as a paper tiger who is roaring without having any tools to implement its outrage.”
But the experts agreed that the government’s words have little to do with foreign policy.
“Harper and Baird, I think, are both principled democrats and have a principled commitment to liberal democracies such as Israel and a principled opposition to autocratic governments,” Hansen said. “But this is really about domestic politics. So they’re making a play to the Ukrainian community in Canada.
After nearly a decade as prime minister, Harper’s capacity to reward loyalty is no longer what it used to be; nor is his latitude to punish those who cross him.
The prime minister can technically still appoint senators but a lingering scandal makes that politically suicidal. And on the heels of a string of bad appointments his judgment has widely been called into question.
Meanwhile, the more ambitious Conservatives are looking beyond Harper’s reign. The more timorous are afraid he might take them down with him.
Harper’s approval rating has fallen below 30 per cent. So have party fortunes in voting intentions. This is not a passing slump. It has endured for more than a year. And that can only exacerbate pre-existing tensions within a jittery party.
The coming-together of the Reform/Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives was never more than a marriage of convenience. Now the Tory wing of Harper’s reconstituted party is reasserting itself.
Brian Mulroney — a predecessor that the prime minister declared persona non grata over his dealings with lobbyist Karlheinz Shreiber a few years ago — is back on the Conservative celebrity speaking circuit.
Last week droves of Conservative aides, MPs and ministers came out to hear Mulroney deliver a keynote speech on energy policy. They gave him two standing ovations. Ministers John Baird and Peter MacKay respectively introduced and thanked the former prime minister.
In Harper’s own Calgary backyard last weekend, Conservative members removed loyalist Rob Anders — a six-term backbencher — as their 2015 candidate for the riding of Signal Hill.
They selected former Alberta minister Ron Liepert in defiance of the recommendation of Jason Kenney, the jobs minister, who doubles as Harper’s most influential Alberta cabinet member.
Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe once compared leading his party to a devastating defeat in 2011 to being trapped on an elevator in free fall. It is time to put a safety warning on the door of Harper 2015 re-election ride.
Then the mother of all civil wars then the Blue Tories and the Red Tories will battle for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
The smart political strategist would do the following: put Péladeau on a stage and make him talk strictly about how he transformed Videotron from a Podunk cable company beset by labour troubles into the province’s leading cable and wireless concern. In the vacuum of a month-long election campaign, Péladeau the businessman could easily hide the red-ink-stained legacy of the PQ’s 18 months in power.
Instead, we got Péladeau the Quebec separatist. On a chilly Monday morning three days into the campaign, Péladeau took the stage with Pauline Marois and, after a 13-minute speech vaunting his economic record and the beauty of his riding of St-Jérôme, he uttered 30 words that would overshadow his campaign and that of his newly adopted party. “Finally, I end by telling you that my membership in the Parti Québécois is in line with my most profound and intimate values,” he said in French. “That is to say, make Quebec a country!”
An outsider to Quebec politics would probably shrug at Péladeau’s words; one would expect a declared separatist to declare his desire for separation, after all. Péladeau, who according to a Parti Québécois source, wrote the speech himself, certainly seemed to think as much.
Yet with his fist-bumping cri de coeur, Péladeau fell into the long-widening chasm between the Parti Québécois and its would-be electors. Support for sovereignty has been stagnant for ages, while the desire to exercise the means to get there—a referendum—has regressed. Some 64 per cent of Quebecers don’t want another referendum, according to a recent poll by the CROP polling firm. Even diehard Péquistes thought Péladeau went too far.
“I think he wanted to show his loyalty to the Parti Québécois and be liked by its members and he pushed a little more than he really had to,” said Gilles Gaudrault, a PQ supporter who was at the Marois love-in.
In the immediate aftermath of Péladeau’s declaration, Marois mused that citizens of a separate Quebec would have their own Quebec passport; people and goods would flow freely over the open and undefended borders with Canada. Quebec would use the Canadian dollar, and lobby for a seat with the Bank of Canada. Her strategists quietly put an end to Marois’s flights of fancy within 48 hours, but the damage was already done. And it was irreversible.
In Quebec City, Péladeau’s candidacy should have hearkened a return of the PQ in what has been a bastion for the right-of-centre Action Démocratique du Quebec party and its successor, the CAQ, led by former PQ minister François Legault. Yet Péladeau seemingly did himself in with those 30 words in this surprisingly conservative and federalist region and beyond. “I’m so disappointed in the guy it’s ridiculous,” says Mario Roy, an insurance broker and sometimes radio DJ, who in 2010 worked on a campaign with Péladeau to bring an NHL team to Quebec City. “You want to go into politics to fix public finances and put things in order? Fine. But to pump your fist and say you want a country? Tabarnak.”
It says something about the peculiar state of the sovereignty movement in Quebec that its star attraction couldn’t talk about it without the entire cause suffering politically, yet apparently the message was received. At the Théâtre Telus event, where you’d think a sovereignist leader would speak freely to a room full of the faithful, Marois and the PQ candidates stayed largely clear of the issue of sovereignty. Perhaps it was the lingering sting of Péladeau’s words, or the line of television cameras in front of her as she spoke. Péladeau didn’t even mention the word that night; a vote for the PQ, he said, was “a vote for the economy and jobs.” PQ candidate and former student leader Martine Desjardin was only slightly more direct. “We’ll be there when it comes time to build a country,” she said.
Instead of sovereignty, the Parti Québécois sought to ban religious symbols from the heads, necks and lapels of Quebec’s public sector employees. Introduced by way of a strategic media leak to the populist tabloid Journal de Montréal late last summer, the Quebec values charter sought guarantee for “the secular nature of our institutions,” as PQ minister and charter architect Bernard Drainville said. As a piece of legislation, it was almost certainly doomed to be challenged and defeated in the court, according to the province’s law society and its human rights commission, among others.
As an electoral gambit, though, the charter was seemingly a masterstroke. It allowed the PQ to pitch itself as the defender of Quebec’s francophone majority without having to talk about sovereignty itself. Successive polls suggested the majority of francophone voters liked the idea of a secularism charter, and the PQ saw a bump in its poll numbers in the wake of its introduction.
No surprise, then, that in the second week of the campaign, as Péladeau’s sovereignty sortie had effectively halted the PQ’s campaign, Drainville was tapped to rework his charter magic for the election. No surprise, too, that Drainville himself trotted out a warhorse of his own, a person who could add to the charter issue what Péladeau was meant to bring to the PQ’s economic platform: pioneering Quebec feminist Janette Bertrand.
Drainville introduced Bertrand at the Marois love-in, and the 89-year-old dame of Quebec culture hobbled out on a clear Plexiglas cane, cast aside her prepared speech and gave a fiery five-minute plea for a PQ majority. Anything short, she said, “and we risk pushing the plight of women backwards” in Quebec. Soon after, Drainville sent out a selfie of himself and Bertrand to his roughly 35,000 Twitter followers—one of the nearly 130 pro-charter tweets Drainville published in just over a month.
It took only marginally longer than Péladeau for Bertrand to flame out as a PQ saviour—15 hours, to be exact. The morning after her speech, Bertrand attended a “secular brunch” in the Montreal suburb of Laval with Drainville and local PQ candidate Léo Bureau-Blouin, 22, a former student leader.
Surrounded by reporters, Bertrand again went off the cuff, saying “foreigners, rich McGill students” (nameless Muslim men, apparently) had overtaken the pool in her building because they couldn’t bear the sight of Bertrand and her female friend doing their weekly aqua gym class. “That is what is going to happen if there is no charter,” she said. Bureau-Blouin, in the background, bowed his head and flicked dejectedly at his iPad, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here.
Hurtful and demonstrably false—the Montreal Gazette quoted the manager of Bertrand’s building calling her claims “completely fictional”—Bertrand’s comments underscored the level to which the debate around the charter had sunk by the campaign’s end.
It’s how a lot of outside of Quebec saw it too.
While we tend to celebrate private entrepreneurship, the state is crucially important in driving and shaping innovation. The question of which economies will thrive and which will lag behind on innovation has a lot to do with sound public policy.
With an economy historically reliant on natural resources and one with high rates of foreign ownership, the role government plays is even more important for Canada.
For 30 years Canadian economic policy has been focused on the supposed need to liberate private enterprise from the heavy hand of the state. The focus has been on slashing corporate tax rates, reducing public interest regulation and liberalizing trade and investment.
But has this “pro-business” agenda worked?
Since 2000, the Canadian economy has actually regressed in terms of producing highly innovative products and services for global markets, with major technological champions from Nortel to BlackBerry foundering. Over the last decade, labour productivity in Canada grew at a dismal pace and Canada is running record high trade deficits.
The key to Canada’s falling competitiveness is the fact that Canadian firms are not reinvesting their profits in areas that support long-run competitiveness — human capital and especially research and development. In 2011 the Canadian Conference Board gave Canada a “D” on R&D spending, ranking 15th out of 16 peer nations.
Canadian governments played vital roles in the development of innovative sectors in the past, for example in aerospace and information technology. Since then, however, the Canadian economic landscape has become increasingly dependent on natural resources, with privatization of the profits from its exploitation retarding rather than supporting industrial policy.
While profits may soar when taxes fall, investments don’t. Canadian businesses are hoarding cash at record levels — $626 billion according to Statistics Canada — and the investment that is taking place is in the resource extraction of the old economy rather than the innovative technologies of the new economy.
The combination of lagging private sector investment and public sector austerity puts Canada’s ability to be a world leader in new technologies in doubt.
I have always wondered why provincial governments don’t take the profit out of renewable resources and start incubating new technology or renewable resource industries like other countries have. I think our resource economies have made us complacent and there is literally hundreds of examples of technologies that we have let stagnate and pass us by that the rest of the world is jumping on and making a lot of money while doing it.
Suppose it was an NDP government that came to the Legislative Assembly with a $40-million, fouryear bill for an American efficiency expert applying principles used in the Japanese auto industry to health care and virtually every other aspect of provincial government. What would Brad Wall have said were it the NDP shelling out millions upon millions to Seattle’s John Black and Associates – $1 million of it just to secure Black’s services before he did any actual work?
Does anyone remember Wall and his Saskatchewan Party mocking the $37 million blown by the NDP on Spudco for useless storage sheds? Might Opposition leader Brad Wall have used terms like “snakeoil” or at least “a boondoggle”? Might the taxpayers’ and small business associations have screamed bloody murder about NDP waste?
How would then-Opposition Leader Brad Wall have reacted to the utter hubris we heard from current Premier Brad Wall in the legislature Thursday when he suggested that the NDP can’t criticize a made-in-Saskatchewan solution because it didn’t come up with the solution? Do you think that Opposition leader Brad Wall might have reminded Premier Brad Wall that this is the province that invented public health care? That Lean has not been proven to work on a provincewide scale? Or that many of the Lean “savings” the government talks about like hiring 900 nurses a) were done before Lean; b) are not part of the Lean initiative or even something Lean is exploring, and; (c) may not be savings at all?
Might Opposition leader Brad Wall have noted we pay health-care CEOs $400,000 a year and deputy ministers $300,000 a year with some expectation they should find these health saving efficiencies? Might that Brad Wall have noted there are cheaper consultants in this world?
Would Opposition leader Brad Wall have wondered why we have paid John Black $3.6 million in airfare in the last two years alone? Might that Brad Wall wonder about whether it was really necessary to fly in Japanese senseis at a cost of $3,500 a day each for their five-day lectures to health leaders (in addition to those $2,000 flights)?
Might he have further wondered if there is a better, more costefficient method of training 900 Saskatchewan health-care workers than flying them to Seattle to partake in what is now called the “world’s biggest health-quality experiment”?
And do you think the ever-flippant Brad Wall might have just had a little fun with what some describe as Lean’s required “cult-like” buy-in?
As part of their severance, those who serve 20 years or more are offered a last move, at government expense, after they retire. Soldiers are asked to live in many places; the policy recognizes that the house you occupy at the end of your career may not be where you want to remain.
Leslie served 35 years at home and abroad and moved 18 times. When he left the military in 2011, he wanted to simplify things. He moved from a bigger house to a small one, in the same neighbourhood. The move cost some $72,000, of which the real estate fees could have come to perhaps $60,000. The rest went to packing and moving.
All expenses were covered by government.
So, what’s wrong here? What’s the offence? A distinguished soldier does his duty, retires honourably and sells his house. The bills are settled by the government, because that’s the arrangement.
But that’s not really the story, is it? The story here has less to do with General Leslie than Citizen Leslie, or perhaps, in the future, Minister Leslie. It’s about politics.
While Rob Nicholson asks his officials to explain this long-standing government policy — one he could have changed but hasn’t — here are a few questions for him.
Why is Andrew Leslie the first veteran to come under this kind of public scrutiny? Is $72,000 egregious? If so, what is the average figure for moves involving such neighbourhoods?
And how is it that Leslie’s expenses found their way to CTV News, which first reported this on the weekend? Is there a breach of privacy in your department, Minister? Your office suggested the document was acquired under the Access to Information Act, but CTV did not.
We know what is going on here. Andy Leslie is a Liberal. His father was a Liberal. His service notwithstanding, that displeases the government. Tell us, Minister Nicholson, would you have ordered an inquiry if Leslie had been running as a Conservative? Would your question have been as sharp, your anger as hot?
Could it be that Leslie’s expenses would never have found their way into the media at all? And could it be that the Conservatives wanted Leslie to join them, when they learned that he was going to the Liberals? Let us see this for what it is: a drive-by smear.
Argue, if you want, that after years of dislocation and adjustment, that Leslie and his wife had no right to move to a smaller house. Make it another great moral failing of another public servant, as we like to do these days in a country filled with accountants of envy.
If you do, though, remember that soldiers spend their lives disrupting their families, often with little notice and at great cost. Ask yourself why soldiers are committing suicide. Ask yourself about divorce, domestic violence, addiction and other consequences of military life.
As we disparage a decorated general, seeing scandal that isn’t there, consider the greater affront of a government that tolerates a minister, Julian Fantino, who insults veterans as he cuts their services. Now there’s gratitude.
Then ask yourself why Andrew Leslie and other good people would even contemplate entering our soiled, sorry public life.
From the long-distance perspective of an American, Asia looks like one of the world’s most peaceful places. And it is — for the moment. But when Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Tokyo on Monday, he stepped into what has suddenly become a dangerous diplomatic crisis between China and Japan. On the surface, it’s a dull dispute over a string of uninhabited Pacific islands. Underneath, as I realized on a recent visit to China, it’s a story reaching back some 75 years that involves war, brutality, rape and historical reckoning. And now threatens to drag in the U.S.
The immediate cause of the crisis is Beijing’s recent declaration of an air-defense zone over the disputed islands, a string of rocks about 200 miles southeast of China’s coast, not far from Taiwan. No one will ever vacation on the islands, but there’s a good incentive to claim them, given that they sit in an area of the Pacific that may contain enough oil to fuel China for 45 years.
Far more than a story about energy, however, this is a story about national pride and historical grievance. The showdown over the islands — whose very name the two countries disagree about: China calls them the Diaoyu and Japan the Senkaku — touches one of the most sensitive nerves in Chinese culture: the Japanese occupation of China from 1937 to ’45.
“It may be hard for you to understand,” an expert at Beijing’s Academy of Military Science told me in October, echoing several others to whom I spoke. “The nationalist feeling, the emotion toward Japan, is very strong.”
Japan doesn’t seem to like China either
Japan’s recent militarization is driven, in part, because the feeling is mutual: polling shows that the animus in Japan toward China runs about as high as it does on the other side of the East China Sea. The “unfavorable feelings” of each side toward the other runs poisonously above 90%. It’s certainly hard to argue that China has done anything to Japan comparable to the 1937–45 occupation. But one scholar on Sino-Japanese relations argues the animus is about envy and anxiety toward the roaring Chinese dragon.
In early December, the government issue a list of economic highlights for 2013: population growth, up 100,000 in six years; economic growth of 3.6 per cent, second-highest in Canada; unemployment rate of 3.6 per cent, lowest in Canada; employment up 17,000, “an all-time record;” and record crop production of 34.2 million tonnes (later increased to 38.4 million tonnes).
But recent economic forecasts have been more subdued. suggesting that the province’s economy may be due for a slowdown next year. Earlier this month, RBC downgraded Saskatchewan’s forecasted economic growth from 2.7 per cent to 2.1 per cent in 2014, which put us squarely in the middle of the pack among the provinces.
Part of that downgrade is just a return to a normal crop from the record harvest in 2013. But part of it is plummeting potash prices, plunging production and reduced capital spending.
Similarly, two commodity price reports this week pointed to weakness, not just in potash, but uranium, oil and agricultural commodities, like wheat and canola.
Oil prices are falling, thanks to widening differentials between western Canadian heavy oil and benchmark West Texas Intermediate, which are now pushing $40 US a barrel. Even Canadian light crude prices are $20 US a barrel lower than comparable U.S. crudes due to growing supplies of light oil production from North Dakota’s Bakken play and a chronic shortage of pipeline capacity.
Potash prices have fallen below $300 US per tonne, thanks to the collapse of the BPC cartel, while uranium prices are at a “low ebb” at $34.50 US per pound due to the fallout from the Fukushima tsunami in 2012 and the subsequent idling of 50 Japanese nuclear reactors.
Even agricultural commodity prices have been under pressure lately due to the “monster-sized crops” in the U.S. and Canada and are sitting nearly 12 per cent below levels one year ago.
Analysts forecast commodity prices “bottoming’’ in 2014 before returning to the “bull’’ market in 2015 and beyond.
The point is, Wall is right to be cautious about the province’s economic fortunes in 2014, despite the record performances posted in 2013. But that’s not Wall’s only problem.
He knows that the province’s fiscal position is far more tenuous than the rosy picture painted by Finance Minister Ken Krawetz in his midterm financial statement, which shows the province sitting on a $22.8-million surplus in the general revenue fund. This is the same general revenue fund that the provincial auditor’s report said was nearly $600 million in the hole at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year, instead of the $58 million surplus reported by the finance ministry.
The same provincial auditor issued an “adverse’’ opinion on the province’s books, saying the financial statements do not provide a fair and accurate accounting of the province’s fiscal position.
So Wall finds himself between a rock and hard place, largely of his own making. Happy New Year will have a whole new meaning for the premier in 2014.
Don’t count the Premier down quite yet. He enjoys considerable trust from the people of Saskatchewan and as Alan Blakeney once said, “It’s easier to govern duing adversity than prosperity.” That being said, winning a third election is much tougher than winning the second.