Monday, 30 December 2013

Political thoughts while chipping away at the Ice Storm...

Politicians and the New Year. Depressing thoughts as I chip away five centimetres storm ice from my driveway.

by Tom Thorne

We are one day away from the New Year and the start of 2014. I would like to begin this new year on a positive note but despite my desire to remain positive I sadly drift into negativity. Each time I think of our politicians and their lack of leadership in this country I begin to despair for our future.

They feed us pap, and they utilize Facebook and Twitter snippets so they don’t have say very much. Their newsletters for their ridings are bland and one sided and there is a ruse that they want your opinions for matters that ordinary members of parliament have no control over without a Prime Minister’s Office nod. 

They live in a world of soundbites and try to ruin each other’s reputations with attack advertisements. They talk about action plans, balancing budgets, but only answer questions and concerns in vague and evasive ways. Harper government ministers are noted for their lack of response to media questions and public concerns.

They wrap the parliamentary legislation into omnibus bills that are so opaque that they defy analysis even by their own caucus and need hoards of overpaid bureaucrats to unravel whether new funding or some pile of unspent dollars is now finally being applied.  

The Harper government uses unelected staff to interfere with Parliament and the Senate. Members of Parliament are expected to vote on issues like trained seals although there is a flickering of hope on this front with some reforms in a private members’s bill.

In all of this there is little evidence of responsibility or accountability and leadership is no where to be seen unless it is implementing Star Chamber methods that smack of tyranny to get rid of or suspend without pay allegedly miscreant senators who fall foul of the Prime Minister. They deny of due process and political expediency is their modus operandi.

The upcoming year portends a bleak prospect of preparing us for the 2015 federal election. Every effort will be made to balance the budget by 2015 for the first time in years by cutting back everywhere. This debacle masquerades as sound fiscal management in the eyes of the Harper right wing ideologues who must now play to their “base” of right wing supporters to get re-elected.

My despair may of course may be brought on by our recent Eastern Canadian ice storm that has left us in a state of frozen greyness when there is no sun for many days. The prospect of a hard winter combined with the usual political ineptitude in Ottawa is enough to drag one into a state of despondency.

Usually at this time we think of our upcoming winter visit to Cuba but this year we are stuck here because of other commitments to the travel budgets later in the Spring. So I despair as I read the Globe and Mail each morning and then watch people trying to forget the greyness by attending the Boxing Day sales in an attempt to remove bleakness from their lives with an Xbox 4 purchase.

The last thing on the public’s mind at this time of year is further information and revelations about the Ottawa crowd. On TV news shows their political debacles are incessantly reviewed as the big stories of 2013. It’s depressing how what purports to be news has sunk so low. No wonder people retreat into games where armed avatars in Call of Duty can unleash violence and mayhem and destroy bad guys. 

Perhaps a new game could be devised and named Recall Ottawa. In this game if politicians fail to lead us or answer questions directly and honestly, the Kraken from Fall of the Titans is released to deal with them. If they bad mouth a political opponent they are subjected to a fiery hell where attack ads about their lies and ineptitudes are played to them for eternity.

Sadly such justice fleetingly passes through my mind as I chip away at five centimetres of ice on my sidewalk.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Harper Government sees social programs as cost items not investments. The Canada Pension Plan payouts and Old Age Security create economic activity.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty: The Harper Government's 
re-election hope and chief fiscal ideologue 

The economics of the federal Canada Pension Plan  (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) programs are in the news. Below is a modest proposal to rethink these programs not as costs but as creators of economic activity.

The economy is not as “fragile” as federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says it is. There is good evidence for a US recovery.  It’s the 2015 election prospects for the Harper Government and the political need balance their budget that holds Flaherty back.

One of the biggest Canadian (in fact North American) demographic groups are Baby Boomers turning into ageing geriatrics. They are now and into the near future actively drawing pensions that some of them have built up working for the private sector and governments. 

Many others, however, are relying on the federal public purse. They have no savings or pensions  except The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security.  Although they work often at two or more jobs they have not the resources to save for retirement. This demographic cadre is still growing as a percentage of the total Canadian population and many may have difficulty supporting themselves in old age unless changes are made.

All Canadians with an employment record have assets being paid out from the CPP and most Canadians draw the Old Age Security and those with lower incomes the draw the top up Income Supplement amount. Too many Canadians only have these federal programs in their old age and so hover on or live in poverty. The Provinces want to increase the premiums and the payouts of the CPP.

A week or so ago federal government Finance Minister Jim Flaherty met with provincial governments to discuss what should happen to the CPP in the near future. Many provinces in Canada want to build up this fund with escalating premiums shared equally by employers and employees increasing contributions over a reasonable time to ensure that those without work place pensions have enough or at least more money in their old age. Their ideas also include provisions so employers don’t see CPP increases as killers of business opportunities.

Ontario is particularly inclined to do this but Jim Flaherty said at the Meech Lake meeting that the economy is too fragile to take increases in premiums to build up a CPP with better payouts.  Since the CPP and Old Age Security are federal programs this means that the Stephen Harper Government has decided to do nothing. The provinces are unamused. The current Harper government may have lit the fuse of a social and political time bomb. 

I have a different view of the CPP and Old Age pensions provided by the federal government. I see these programs as net increasers of economic activity. Without them the economy would be greatly curtailed. Let’s look why that is.

The federal government can create money supply by printing what my laconic Estonian university economics professor called “Queen’s pictures”. During my brush with two economic courses back in the 1960’s the one dollar and twenty dollar bill had pictures of the Queen on them. Hence the name “Queen’s pictures”.

Currency printed on paper (or now that new dreadful plastic material) they only work because we accept them as a medium of exchange. They are worthless if the recipients say they are. In early Russian post Soviet currency markets Canadian Tire dollars were accepted as representing one Canadian dollar equally well as the real thing.

Today we accept the Canadian dollar, the Euro and the US dollar and the low pegged Chinese Yuan as useful and their relative values to one another make up an economy for the world. However the brutal truth of this situation is they are valued because they are accepted even when they are stressed by crisis like European countries recent near defaults and later the USA nearly defaulting on their national debt ceiling.

Now this is along way of saying that the government of Canada and other national governments create money by issuing pretty bank notes. Another way they create money is by issuing cheques that can be exchanged in a bank account for Queen’s or Prime Minister’s pictures. Whether you use your debit card or use pretty bank notes they create economic activity with nothing to back them except your belief that the system works for you and others.

It is my contention that CPP and Old Age cheques or electronic impulses sent to banks make a credit in your bank account that you can spend. These programs are wealth creators and they stimulate the economy when the money they create is used or distributed for goods and services. Most recipients of these programs tend to spend all of these value creators each month.

When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that the economy is too fragile I really don’t understand. Government currency printing and the issuance of cheques for the CPP and Old Age create economic activity. And the CPP is backed by employee and employer contributions.  Therefore it is possible to increase the contributions and the eventual payouts for these programs if it is carefully phased in over five years or so. In addition, when these federal government sit as a deposit in a Canadian chartered bank they can be lent out at a ratio of better than seven to one and that is really money creation.

Today business has pent up capital that sits in low interest investments waiting to be put to work. Jim Flaherty says the economy is fragile and it is because new business investment is tardy after the melt down in 2008. However in 2013 we are at the five year point and time and an economic breakout is in the air. The economy is as fragile as the Harper Government’s inability to risk anything on the cusp of the 2015 election. For them good fiscal health is their re-election prospects and so they are cutting back to look like responsible stewards of the economy after years of spending.

What is Jim Flaherty afraid of doing to the economy? First the CPP is solvent because it is a fund that constantly gets money paid into it. If that money is increased through higher employee and employer contributions the fund will grow. If self-employed people are also allowed to contribute that will also further build the fund for the future.

Young people saddled with educational debt and doing McJobs are a real drag on the economy and don’t build much equity in the CPP because minimum wage earners probably contribute at minimum levels. They are underemployed and often in jobs with no prospects or pension building opportunities. We need a radical look at how we fund post secondary education and put youth to work after graduation. 

Student loans are a poor idea. This money should not be loans.  These funds should be seen as an investment in human capital and the Canadian economy. The current funding of post secondary education or trades training is frankly set up as an economic negative with a low percentage going to grants.  

Vicious bureaucracies go after payment from new graduates within six months. Four years of post-secondary study can mount $30-40,000 of debt. The result is new grads take crappy jobs to keep money coming in. In expensive cities like Toronto GTA and Vancouver it is almost impossible to get out of the economic hole created by these student loans and it is just as bad elsewhere in the country. Let’s rethink this situation.

In my plan young people who are acceptable and perform well at a college or university get paid a grant each month. The university or college gets a portion electronically each month for its tuitions and operating costs.  The students get a living grant which is enough to live very carefully. If students want a larger lifestyle they fund it themselves or work part time. Parents who can contribute are encouraged to do so by generous tax incentives much better than the current tax credit percentage. This parental or grandparent tax advantage only lasts for four years per student.

Student needs are seen by stupid government bureaucracies and politicians as a debt. If the heat was taken off repayment and that repayment was seen as an increased CPP contribution, then we would be doing something in this country that recognizes that cheques cut by the federal government is the first stage of currency circulation creating economic activity. For the Harper ideologues this would be seen as rampant socialism. I argue that it is not socialism in the context of a knowledge-information society.

The funding of education as much as a CPP retirement and later the Old Age Security funds should be seen as generators of money circulation and economic health. They should not be debits for anyone if attitudes can be altered from the status quo and removed from the relocation prospects of short sighted politicians and bureaucrats. 

When we see BitCoin starting a web virtual currency I argue that governments have been doing this for a long time with CPP and OAS electronic impulses building credits at  Canadian Chartered Banks for their depositors and customers.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Friday, 13 December 2013

Political correctness now extends to any alleged objectionable tone of your voice. This stuff has a high Silliness Quotient.

Political correctness is narcissism when a tone of voice can be objectionable.

by Tom Thorne

The other day on the radio I heard an interview which caused me to reflect on political correctness and its place in our daily lives. A woman was on air talking about individual rights when she suddenly said to the radio host that she detected a tone in his voice that she found objectionable.

She forced the issue to the point where the radio host, mostly to retain any kind of decorum, apologized for his alleged negative tone of voice. The woman was quite strident and from her point of view she detected a pejorative tone.

My instinct was to confront her rudeness because her tone was certainly obnoxious and insulting to a very professional radio host. My first response to this woman’s rudeness was shock. Her confrontational tone was alright but the alleged tone of the radio host was not. It was one sided and in my view, did not deserve any apology.

And even when she got an apology she continued with her tone to hammer home her problem with the radio host never defining the problem she had with his tone. Eventually the on air host cut her interview short and called for a station break. She was right and he was wrong there was no ability to interact with ideas and certainly not discuss her views about tone of voice. Narcissism raised its self-centred head. Hopefully when off air he confronted her rudeness.

This kind of ardent political correctness seems to becoming more prevalent. It seems that some individuals must interface others and society only on their terms. There is no restraint or give and take. If a practitioner of this kind of lifestyle discovers something they consider to be objectionable they can unleash a torrent of rudeness which of course they consider to be alright because they are correcting a wrong from their perspective.

Well in my way of thinking this is rampant narcissism. Almost anything anyone can say can be deemed objectionable if tone is used as a measure. Where would such a social convention come from? Why does the individual trump normal social convention? Why are we allowing individuals to declare something objectionable and force apologies when they are not needed?

When the focus is only or primarily on me, then how I define the world is only in my terms. I am frankly loath to understand the social origins of such a notion. In my view it is a type of fascism. Everything is defined in the terms of the person or groups with a political correct ax to grind. It is my way is the only way.

Of course we all know life doesn’t work like this but these politically correct narcissists think that what they sense or understand is always right. This must be a simple self-focused way to live. Imagine saying that you are always right. My perceptions are always the right one. My views are the correct way to think. 

That kind of view of social interaction when it becomes political is in my view a branch of fascism. It defies logic, facts and basic social conventions. It’s the kind of idea that gets concentration camps and political re-education camps built. It can turn ugly and become persecution very fast.

This type of thinking does not engage in dialogue or interchange ideas. It is by its nature anti-democratic. It is also anti-intellectual because it shuts out other ideas by putting up road blocks that are defined as too objectionable to discuss including someone’s tone in their speech. 

Even in the case of the radio host he asked the woman to tell him what was objectionable in his tone asking her questions. She was unable to tell him what he had allegedly done wrong. However, she stayed on the attack saying that in her view his tone was by her personal standards deemed objectionable. 

The origins of this type of thinking are old. They are the same as people who deny evolution or even a discussion of the topic in schools. The viewpoint they present is fixed. It is a literal interpretation of the Bible that says the Earth is 6000 years old. It is the Nazi view that Jews are responsible for all of Germany’s post World War 1 ills. It is the mentality that can devise the Final Solution. It is personal censorship.

It is a world of guilty where innocence has no equity or value. It is prejudgement and it can only come from advanced self absorbed narcism. To use their own type of language, these people are listening to discussion and ideas challenged.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Justin Trudeau must begin soon to build Liberal credibility with a solid policy book. His charisma needs substance to unseat the Harper Government.

Justin Trudeau rises in Question Period. 
It will be hard to dislodge the Harper Government in 2015.

What Justin Trudeau has to do.

by Tom Thorne

Justin Trudeau has been basking somewhat in a positive image since he became Leader of the Liberal Party.  Not that he has had nothing to say about Senate scandals and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) debacle but really he has mostly remained sanitized and above the fray. Even his views on marijuana have given little ammunition to Conservatives or NDP opponents except a few sneers in attack advertisements.

As the PMO scandals develop and Prime Minister Stephen Harper begins his potential descent from power, it seems that tedium is setting in.  New Democrat (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair, mounted scathing attacks in Question Period holding the Prime Minister's feet to the fire, but his jibes and jabs have not increased NDP popularity nor fully damaged the Harper Government.  

Justin Trudeau on the other hand has increased Liberal votes and popularity in the recent by-elections. So when Thomas Mulcair tried his jabs and jibes on Justin Trudeau they also have had little effect. Justin Trudeau just keeps positively rolling along without really doing or saying too much. Both the Conservatives and the NDP can't really touch Trudeau's current political mojo. He seems to be surrounded by an invisible shield.

This is all very nice for Trudeau but now to really build on his positive image Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party have to come up with more substance about how they can present an alternative to the Conservatives while at the same time knocking the NDP off Official Opposition status in the House of Commons.

It is my contention that the NDP seats in Quebec are soft and that they will not go in 2015 to the NDP as easily as they did last time. In addition, the current Parti Quebecois polls indicate that the public has no appetite for nationalism or separatism.  

It's bread and butter economic issues that matter in Quebec as they do in the rest of the country. Conservatives even with a decent economic record show no promise in Quebec when the party remains in the hands of right wingers following the Stephen Harper brand.

Therefore it can be time for a Liberal resurgence in Quebec and with a good performance in Ontario and British Columbia the worst outcome is that Liberals form the Official Opposition in 2015 to a minority Conservative Government. 

If something happens to take Stephen Harper off the Canadian political stage (the Senate Scandal, PMO implosion with RCMP charges leading to the PM, a Conservative caucus rebellion, or a run in with party big wigs) then the gloves are off in 2015 because the Conservatives could be rudderless even if Stephen Harper went another round because there would no time to replace him in time. Of course I could be wrong on this one if the Conservative Party brass see a longer future for Stephen Harper as leader.

There will be an general election on 19 October 2015 no matter what happens. To utilize the time leading up to the election what should Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party be doing? First Justin Trudeau has to stop giving the Conservative propaganda machine fodder for its work. You know that in 2015 Trudeau will be in attack ads for his marijuana statements and his comments (out of context) about the Chinese government. 

And although Trudeau gave his seat on the VIP plane for Nelson Mandela’s funeral to Liberal MP Irwin Kotler, who worked as a lawyer to get Mandela freed, I can see  Conservative attack ads in the 2015 election using this as further Trudeau destruct fodder.

The Conservatives will try to show that Justin Trudeau is a lightweight unworthy to become Prime Minister or even the Leader of the Opposition. How do the Liberals counter this stuff? 

A sample of Harper attack ads to discredit Justin Trudeau. 
The Trudeau name and charisma will not be enough to counter this stuff.

One strategy is to ignore it and let it happen hoping that the vitriolic content of such attacks blows back on the Conservatives. Sadly however, these type of attack ads seem to work. With their current record in the PMO and the Senate, the Conservatives must go on the offensive attacking Justin Trudeau’s considerable threat. 

Trudeau now needs to break out with policies for the next election that create hope of for youth unemployment and education debts. He needs to court the vote of disenfranchised youth and marshal them for the Liberal cause.  

They need policy to stem the industrial decline of Ontario and Quebec and get a more entrepreneurial set of policies that will encourage private pent up capital to start working again to build business. That will require confidence in the business world that seems to be fence sitting for the moment concerning new investment. 

Harper has not been able to get business to increase investment in new plant and machinery or start hiring for real jobs. The Ontario loss of the Heinz plant in Lemington and today the Kellogg factory in London sadly demonstrate that Central Canada's economy is not robust even with a lower dollar and continuing low interest rates. We could well ask what Harper is doing to stem this decline in Ontario.

A Liberal government must also show how they would get Canada back on the International stage as an honest broker and country that can be relied on to look after the global environment. We should be showing leadership on all international forums on these issues. At the moment we have lost any initiative on climate, pollution or convincing the world that we can move tar sand oil safely to markets.

The Liberals have an opportunity at this time to really provide alternatives to Conservative Party right wing notions about prison reform, gun control, and law and order issues.Judges are beside themselves deciding how they can implement mandatory surcharges of $100 per sentence on miscreants who have been found guilty even a first offence for minor crime. This is the result of Harper's tough on crime views in legislation. Poor people pay.

The Liberals need to fully articulate how they intend to give a fiscal break to middle class people. They need to have a war on poverty in Canada and especially among native people. Seniors need to be addressed with how they can preserve retirement savings and make a decent return on their investments.

If Justin Trudeau's Liberals articulate a bright future for Canada then they have an excellent chance to form a government in 2015. The status quo we now have is a downer with secretive leadership. It is full of obscuring of facts, tight controls of the Harper PMO over parliament, cabinet ministers and their ministries. 

Trudeau and the Liberals can contrast a better more positive way for Canada but they need to announce this very soon knowing the fight will be tough countering Conservative promotions featuring distain, ridicule and contempt. The recent attack ads concerning Justin Trudeau as a lightweight even before the election begins, demonstrate the anxiety the Harper Government has about Justin Trudeau.

The Conservatives have the funds to do this negative campaign before the election. Liberal spending should not try to counter these ads. It should take a higher road and show Canadians that there is light at the end of the Harper tunnel. The Liberals have this advantage to counter the Harper view of Canada. 

The Liberals are far enough away from their own peccadilloes to break out. It will be a hard test of whether Justin Trudeau has the right stuff to weather negative attacks while putting forth a positive political that Canadians need to hear.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Friday, 29 November 2013

On to the 2015 Canadian General Election. Conservative strategists must see a downward movement for their party.

This chart shows the current Canadian political party trends since 2011.

Cracks in the Conservative Party

by Tom Thorne

The recent by elections have not changed the House of Commons standings but they have shown that traditional Conservative and Liberal ridings the status quo remains with some strong testing of traditional voting in Manitoba. Hard working New Democrats like Linda McQuaig couldn’t dent Toronto Centre enough to win despite a lot of hard work.

Toronto Centre remained Liberal with 49 percent going to winner Chrystia Freeland. Linda McQuaig got 36 percent for the NDP. Conservative Geoff Pollock polled eight percent. I watched these candidates go at each other on TVOntario’s Agenda program. 

Green Party candidate John Deverell presented well and yet polled low with only three percent. The Green Party seems to poll about three to four percent no matter how good their candidates are. This also shows in other national polling.

Geoff Pollock for the Conservatives was continually on the defensive given the Senate Scandal and the Prime Minister’s Office debacle. If Linda McQuaig runs again in 2015 she may be tougher to knock off. NDP leader Tom Mulcair made several appearances but Toronto Centre’s Liberal core returned what was expected.

In Manitoba, the Liberals bruised the Conservatives in Brandon-Souris with a tight fight of 44 percent for winning Conservative Larry Maguire versus 42 percent for the Liberal Rolf Dinsdale. The NDP got eight percent which probably spoiled a Liberal upset. The Green party received four percent which could have made the race even tighter if there was no Green candidate. Brandon-Souris actually voted against the Conservatives with 52 percent of their votes. 

In Bourassa (Montreal) Liberal Emmanuel Doubourg took the riding with 48 percent. Again a traditional Liberal seat but Stephanie Moraille for the NDP polled a respectable 31 percent. Block Quebecois candidate Daniel Duranleau came third with 13 percent and Conservative Rida Mahoud got four percent. The Greens got two percent.

Provencher in Manitoba is the only real clear win for the Conservatives where Ted Falk won with 58 percent. Liberal Terry Hayward got 29 percent while Natalie Beaudry of the NDP siphoned off eight percent and James Gibson for the Green Party a further three percent. The progressive party totals here amount to 40 percent.

So what does this all mean? First by-elections are never fully indicators of the country between elections and if you are a government you can expect to lose a few of these seats. So the best we can say is after the dust settled party standings did not change and normal Liberal and Conservative real estate stayed in traditional patterns.

However these by-election tests show clearly that while the centre and left votes are split the Conservatives retain seats. However in the case of these by-elections the Conservatives mean out in all four ridings with 28.5 percent of all the votes cast in the by-elections. The Liberals garnered 40.75 percent of the votes cast. Interestingly the NDP polled 20.5 percent of the votes cast in all four ridings. 

These numbers gel with current party standings. The latest Ipsos CTV poll shows 35 percent for the Liberals up four percent. The NDP is at 24 percent down two percent and the Conservatives under Harper are now 29 percent down one percent. Obviously the by-elections show similar trend as the popular vote and polls.

As I have said before if the NDP and Liberals combined they could get wins in many more ridings. In the last general election the national percentage to form the current Conservative majority government was 38 percent and the Liberals have bested that in the current by-election.

Conservative strategists must be concerned that the negativity generated by the Harper Government is now increasing in the country. Liberals may now be cautiously optimistic and the NDP given that the Bloc Quebecois got 27 percent in the recent Ipsos CTV poll may need to look at how they will keep seats in Quebec from Liberals in 2015 since the Conservatives are moribund in that province as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister and a Quebecker does not lead the Conservatives.

Anxious Conservatives will begin to question holding their majority in 2015. They will not forget the problems with Nigel Wright and how he was hung out to dry by Stephen Harper. In addition, Justin Trudeau who has hung back in all these frays and scandals can now positively lay out a 2015 election plan that will contrast with a sense of hope against the closed up tired machinations of the Harper Government.

As for the NDP. It has the problem of holding Quebec to ensure that it remains the Official Opposition. That will be a tougher chore than they know as their vote is split by any reasonable Bloc Quebecois resurgence which provides the Liberals with a potential renaissance in Quebec in 2015. 

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, 28 November 2013

When is Prime Minister Stephen Harper going to show some accountability for the Senate Scandal?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper answers an opposition question about the Senate scandal.

The public trust in the Age of Information means that screw-ups and mistakes expand into a crisis quicker than ever before. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has yet to learn that bad news travels at the speed of light and good news at the speed of sound. Accountability is important to stemming a crisis.

by Tom Thorne

There is a built in covenant between those who run for and assume public office and the electorate. People who become our politicians take on a duty that requires them to be not only responsible but ultimately accountable for their use of public resources in our name.

Our democracy is built on this covenant. When the politicians we elect become dysfunctional they need to be called to account for that is what accountable means when we trust them to build the public good.

When things go off the rails the test of any politician who is a leader is that they never obscure or play clever games with the truth. In the United States the recent wrangle over Obamacare is nothing short of denying the public good whether you agree with President Barack Obama or not.

President Barack Obama’s re-election partly on his health care initiative is denied by a hostile Republican Congress. To make their point about health care legislation Tea Party inspired Republicans deny the government the resources to maintain many government services. This clearly does not serve the public good. It is stretching the public trust to the breaking point.

As a result the electorate lose the trust in politicians and this only creates rounds of hatred ridicule and contempt. When they play congressional procedural games they deny the covenant they made with the electorate and their oaths of office to always promote the public good. 

There is no justification in filibustering by reading Dr. Seuss stories in order to take the US Government’s debt ceiling to the wall as a way to to stress the introduction of Obamacare. If these politicians oppose then they must oppose in a positive way by bringing forward useful proposals to improve legislation before it was passed. Otherwise the public trust is jeopardized.

Tangental to the act of almost closing down the US Government was the poor introduction of the web sites to register people for this new program. Although criticized by those opposing Obamacare, the President at least acknowledged the problems and took the accountability for the situation on himself. There is a lesson there for what has been happening in Ottawa.

Public trust and public good in an Information Society are brought to a conflict instantly. They are Tweeted or Face Booked and they are blogged and covered by media more than ever before. Peccadilloes such as the Senate Expenses debacle in Ottawa are evidence of the few forgetting their covenant with the Canadian electorate. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to be much more accountable for his action or inaction concerning the Senate Scandal. He is the boss and so he is accountable for what happened in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). He cannot pass his accountability to anyone else. He carries the can and would know that if he was a real leader.

In the world of media relations he would have been much better off today if he had taken the view that he alone was accountable even if he didn’t know what Nigel Wright was doing paying money for Senator Mike Duffy.

Had the Prime Minister simply stated that he screwed up when this all happened I believe that he would have ridden out this problem quicker. Had he been completely forthcoming about plan A for the Conservative Party to pay Duffy’s expenses back and his legal fees this story even with the Nigel Wright episode would be now on the back pages.  

The Prime Minister’s obscurity and vagueness combined with his vindictive view that the Senate should throw out the three senators with expense problems ensured that this sad situation escalated on two fronts the PMO and the Senate debates into a public and media debacle that make the Prime Minister look either incompetent or weak as a leader. 

A leader steps up and takes his lumps. If he has missed that he is accountable for he must regain his credibility by being accountable.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks bad because he blames underlings when things go wrong. 

What does it take to get politicians to be accountable? When Stephen Harper stands up to answer the opposition in Question Period carefully steps through the cow pads created by his own PMO about the Senate scandal. In this case the only reason for answering questions with obscurities, innuendo and blaming others is that you fear prosecution yourself.

I leave the question open whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew about the Nigel Wright payment. If he knew and he continues with his obscurities then if he did know he has lied to Parliament and if he didn’t know then he is a poor manager of his own PMO’s activity. Time to take your lumps.  

His own legal council knew and didn't tell him which has Benjamin Perrin before the Ontario and British Columbia bars. That is why the RCMP has a morbid interest in this situation. Of course if you are guilty then you need not say much or anything that could incriminate yourself.  No matter how you cut this situation those cow pads smell bad.
© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Friday, 22 November 2013

RCMP files the first round of evidence for the Senate Scandal. It just will not go away.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper must be considering his long term 
personal options as the Senate Scandal deepens.

The RCMP files a potential outline for criminal charges against former PMO Chief Nigel Wright and Senator Mike Duffy.

by Tom Thorne

The RCMP believes it has almost enough evidence to file charges at some point against fired/resigned Prime Minister’s Office Chief of Staff Nigel Wright and suspended Senator Mike Duffy. Both Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy would be charged under Section 487.012 of the Criminal Code with “Bribery, Frauds on the Government and Breach of Trust”. 

The potential case seems to hinge on Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy concocting a plan for Senator Duffy to receive private funds from Nigel Wright to settle his Senate expense claim problems. The intent was clearly to do this exchange of $90,172.24 under the table. That is the essence of the alleged criminality of Wright and Duffy.

The weak link in this plan was that many Prime Minister’s Office staff and officials of the Conservative Party knew of Nigel Wright’s payment and although there remains vague references to an approval from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on 14-15 October 2013, it remains to be shown that the Prime Minister actually knew all details of the Duffy-Wright deal.

In the 80 pages of potential evidence supplied by the RCMP it is clear that the Prime Minister’s Office was deeply involved in the Duffy expense exercise but also in the fate of the other Conservative Senators, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau who also have expense claim problems. Mike Duffy, however, is the only one of the Conservative senators to be offered a bail out by either the Conservative Party when they thought he owed about $32,000 or Nigel Wright’s personal largesse when the amount ballooned to $90,172.24. 

The 80 pages of evidence also show clearly the attempted influence of the Prime Minister’s Office on the then leader of the Senate Marjory LeBreton who they thought was an impediment to their plans. LeBreton was subsequently replaced as Government Senate Leader by Senator Claude Carignan as the Prime Minister and his office went for suspensions without pay and benefits of Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. The Senate voted to suspend their pay but allowed them to retain their benefits for two years. 

The Prime Minister’s Office has not only clearly breached the criminal code with the Duffy-Wright deal but its attempt to influence Senate proceedings and expense claim audits is also clear. In addition the following PMO staffers, senators and lawyers are implicated in the Duffy-Wright deal. 

PMO emails scrutinized by the RCMP show clearly that 25 March 2013 David Van Hemmen, Executive Assistant to Nigel Wright emailed Janice Payne, Senator Duffy’s lawyer to advise her that the “he had a bank draft to her on behalf of Nigel Wright”.
This is the bank draft that would be paid to Duffy’s lawyer for the $90,172.24 that she would subsequently disburse to the Duffy’s Royal Bank account so he could write a cheque to the Receiver General of Canada to return expense funds to the government.

This action clearly shows that David Van Hemmen knew about the Duffy-Wright arrangement. David Van Hemmen is now a Policy Advisor in the office of the Minister of State - Finance Canada.  A further $13,000 were also paid to Janice Payne’s law firm for her services for Mike Duffy. That money it appears came from Conservative Party resources controlled by Senator Irving Gerstein who at the Conservative Policy Convention microphone in Calgary denied the Duffy-Wright events. 

At least the following people knew about the Duffy-Wright deal. David Van Hemmen, then Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff, PMO, Benjamin Perrin, Special Advisor and Legal Counsel to the Prime Minister, Chris Woodcock, Director Issues Management, PMO and Senator Irving Gerstein. Others may have known but these are the key people named by the RCMP.

Whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew everything remains uncertain, but he did know about the original $32,000 amount the amount Duffy was initially to pay back. Whether he knew about the Duffy-Wright deal $90,172.24 is not fully clear at this time.

It is hard to fathom why Benjamin Perrin as the Special Advisor and Legal Council to the Prime Minister would feel constrained not to inform his client about these matters. To not inform his client would be tantamount to dereliction of duty. Surely someone with this background and duty would see the implications of what could happen when a private payment is made to a Member of the Senate to cover the return of expenses he was not entitled to claim. As a member of the British Columbia bar Benjamin Perrin is now subject to potential discipline according to reports on 21 November 2013.

The other issue that these 80 pages reveal is the considerable efforts made by Senator Duffy and his legal council to call off the Deloitte audit of him if he paid back the money. This exercise turned into communications debacle between the PMO and the Senate prompting Christopher Montgomery, Issues Management for the Senate, to advise the senators involved to back off trying to change the audit or allow the PMO to interfere with Senate due process. He was ignored. Christopher Montgomery may be the only person involved in this PMO operation to council restraint.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is ultimately accountable for the conduct of his office. Although he has ordered the PMO to fully cooperate with the RCMP investigation that does not get him off the management hook for the conduct of his people. To not know what his PMO team was doing with Senator Duffy is tantamount to dereliction of duty. The Prime Minister is known for his micromanagement of almost every part of his government. The question is why was he asleep at the switch when the Duffy-Wright deal took place?

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have crossed the Bay Street Rubicon when he "fired" Nigel Wright.

The latest Harper Government Cabinet. 
Who can or will dare to replace Prime Minister Stephen Harper?

Nigel Wright and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s future may be intertwined with several crises presently simmering in Canada.

by Tom Thorne

Nigel Wright gave up a lucrative position with Gerald Schwartz’s Onex Corporation to become the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office. He was prepared to give the Harper government at least two or three years until the next general election in 2015. His politics mirror Prime Minister Harper’s views and so Nigel Wright was seen as the bright guy with a business track record who could get the ball rolling for the Harper Government.

That all came to a halt when it was revealed that Nigel Wright wrote a personal cheque to Senator Mike Duffy for  $90,173 to help him pay back faulty Senate expense claims. In addition, it now clear that the Conservative Party paid Senator Duffy $13,000 to cover legal expenses over his expense claim troubles. Prime Minister Harper claims he knew nothing about the Nigel Wright payment or the $13,000 payment. Nigel Wright resigned and then later the Prime Minister revealed in House of Commons Question Period that he had fired Nigel Wright.

That’s the problem. Which is it? Did Nigel Wright resign or was he fired. If he chose to resign then that means the decision was completely his. If the Prime Minister fired Wright then that will create an entirely different outcome for the future for Stephen Harper. Given Nigel Wright’s track record in business, this tacky cheque writing seems out of character. There is a lot of doubt that the Prime Minister knew nothing about any of these payments. 

To put it simply Nigel Wright is a respected person in business and Conservative Party politics and for anyone to fire a heavy hitter like him even if he did a have a momentary lapse of moral fibre, is not the way for the Prime Minister to make friends and influence people in the Conservative Party power elite. The Prime Minister may have inadvertently set in motion stage one of his own political demise. Nigel Wright cannot return to Onyx and so is in a type of limbo until this situation is either dealt with by the RCMP or the Prime Minister tells his story in a more forthright manner.

By the time the next election comes around Stephen Harper will have had 10 years at the helm of this country. The Conservative Party may be looking to change horses. The PMO scandal with Nigel Wright will by that time passed through the hands of the RCMP and any charges that may be laid against Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau or Nigel Wright will be in the courts. If it reaches the courts the whole affair will illuminate the Prime Minister’s vagueness and perhaps implicate him directly.

If Prime Minister Stephen Harper is seen to have obscured any facts or gone after the three senators without any real cause and claimed to have fired Nigel Wright when he resigned himself then he certainly looks bad. There may also be wrongful suspension suits launched by the senators. Worst yet, his actions may prompt constitutional arguments of who appoints and suspends senators.  In short Stephen Harper will look like he is at the helm of a botched entangled mess.

At that time the Conservative Party will go into survival mode or engage in internecine warfare as the far right of the party and Red Tories come back to their basics and the truce that formed the current party unravels. That is a bad thing for the  Conservative coalition, for that is what it really is, to stay together. If it unravels then the 38 percent of the popular vote that gave them a majority government is in jeopardy.

That will mean they will return to a minority government situation. This impending scenario is an opportunity for the New Democratic party and the Liberal Party. The Conservative strategists will see this impending doom scenario and will begin the process of replacing the leader. Who could they get to keep the Conservative coalition together?  Stephen Harper may keep the job by default.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will stay after the next election for continuity sake but it may be clear by then that his days are numbered. He will have built up Canada’s National Debt and despite the attempts by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to balance the books or develop a convenient surplus for the 2015 election year it will all wear a bit thin. The Conservative Party will be looking for a new leader.

Much of this scenario depends on who is staying for the election and who is re-elected after the dust settles in 2015. Much of the ground that has been ploughed to this time will have rooted and begin to show a crop of reduced yield for the Conservative Party’s fortunes after 2015.

The Supreme Court will probably find that no sitting government can alter the Senate and its constitutional origins unilaterally. Therefore that issue will go into long negotiations with the provinces creating a long fight for Senate reform. If Premier Pauline Marois plays all her nationalist cards and gets a majority then there may be a crisis in Quebec.

If the NDP loses its hold on all those Quebec ridings we may see two things. A modest Liberal resurgence and the status quo for Conservatives from Quebec. The NDP may hang on to about half the seats it got last time by default. That leaves some kind of Quebec Nationalist option to modestly reappear or a Liberal resurgence to fill this void. Quebeckers will fragment the NDP grip in the the Federal House of Commons. That can only benefit Marois and her real agenda of Quebec separatism if she survives a 2014 general election.

The economy will remain tepid forcing low interest rates to continue and more personal debt to mount thus building towards a Great Credit Reckoning and low investment returns for seniors protecting their retirements. Middle class safety nets will be further eroded giving Liberals a chance for resurgence.  

Youth with good educations and large educational debt loads will become more and more cynical as their job and career prospects remain doubtful. Corporations with cash will continue to hold back on investment due to medium and long term uncertainty. Canada will remain an ecological laughing stock and the pendulum that has swung to the right on these issues will only then begin to return to the centre. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s experiment will begin to unravel in a climate of discontent with the right and his time in office. Pipelines to the USA will be thwarted by a dysfunctional US Congress. Opposition to moving tar sands crude to Montreal refineries through 40 year old pipelines will encounter public resistance. The European free trade pact will take a lot longer. The details of this deal will slow its implementation and create domestic political blowback for the Harper Government just before 2015.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has now crossed swords with several scions of Bay Street. The economy is not yet robust enough to really experience a real round of right wing economics and government spending cuts. In addition, his own leadership in the Senate crisis is suspect. His secretive style of management may well be his undoing and he has yet to reform the Senate of Canada which has turned into a millstone around his neck. 

The only thing that can really save him at this point is to show clearly that he is the best of the current party leaders. He is already unleashing election style propaganda attacks on Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair. He has to now look competent and the Conservative Party may let him alone because they have no real replacement for him because cabinet ministers are  kept in the shade and under the tight control of the Prime Minister’s Office.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Social defiance at school is a mounting threat. It has a name: Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD).

Mediated lifestyles are self centred.

Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Enough already. It is mostly lack of parental leadership with their children. It could also be an outcome of networked high technologies.

by Tom Thorne

Today my daughter who teaches school told me about a new discovery. Apparently there are children in our schools who have Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) and they regularly defy teachers and other people in authority. When I hear this kind of thing my natural inclination is to roll my eyes heavenward seeking divine intervention.

These children refuse to do what they are told or even what they are asked to do. They practice continual disobedience, exhibit hostility, anger and stubborn behaviours on an ongoing basis. They rarely cooperate with others and are always outside the greater good required by the teacher to run a class.

Teachers are now faced with this type of child who have been designated by psychiatric professionals as having ODD. As a result they must be tolerated while their “disorder” is treated. This of course creates havoc for the teacher. 

When a child changes schools, often as a way to cope after they wear out their welcome at the first school, documentation rarely follows the same day as the new school registration. The teacher is given what appears to be a normal child who in fact is a social monster.

This means teachers often encounter an ODD child out of the blue. When teachers ask the new student if he or she would like to join the class an ODD kid will defy you with “I won’t join the class.” This of course makes for extra work for the teacher. Open defiance on a continual bases can undermine the class discipline and wear down the best and most patient teachers.

So why is ODD tolerated? It seems that psychology and psychiatry professionals define these disorders which are subsequently swallowed whole by parents and school administrations as gospel. These children with alleged ODD somehow have escaped social conditioning that used to come with family life.

Personally I believe that all the bulk of these categories of children’s behaviours such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and now ODD mostly fall under a category I have invented with the all encompassing acronym called SBS or Spoiled Brat Syndrome. In the case of ADD it would be hard to say there are no real cases but in the case of ODD I have serious misgivings that this is a real disorder.

Disorder for me is a strong word. It implies something is mentally wrong with these children and if we only understand it we can treat it pharmaceutically with  drug techniques like Ritalin.  

I believe that alleged disorders like ODD are more a social syndrome that has emerged out of the wiles of an Information Age where everything is named and categorized and the child individual is self made as a centre of their tiny immature personal universe.

ODD is for me evidence of a spoiled child. It is a child with too high expectations for themselves brought about too much information and consumer goods input into developing minds where the focus is on “me”. and not social good. ODD, when it surfaces is evidence of too much ego centred lifestyle where the child is constantly pandered to by adults with undeveloped leadership skills who can’t say no and mean it.

Some of these children may be the result of divorce or alcoholic homes but the bulk of them are victims of having too much, too soon. They have developed early into sociopaths rather than useful caring social beings. Many have information devices and games that take them inwards into themselves. They live in a world of screens and earphones that cut them off from social interaction. They have quickly learned that if they focus on themselves their parents will respond to keep them happy and content. They develop what I call Spoiled Brat Syndrome (SBS).

As SBS develops it can be very much ego centred. Parents pander and treat their kids like miniature adults asking them what they like and what they don’t like and even seek their children’s approval for their parental choices and even their own parenting. These children often develop negative social skills that are fully focused on their perceived immature personal needs. They learn little about the greater good of society or their family. They are truly incarnations of the Me Generation.

Of course they don’t have the knowledge or life experience to do anything but be me focused and so we see the development and manifestation of ODD behaviours in these children. There has always been kids who were like this, but the school system was such in the past that they could be disciplined by teachers and principals who had authority to act when they encountered anti-social behaviours.

Now that political correctness is so rampant in the schools to a point where these social monsters are tolerated as people who have a mental disorder but have the right to attend school no matter how disruptive they are. The schools and especially Board of Education bureaucracies are like some contemporary families, they pander to these alleged disorders and even by their actions make them more important in the eyes of ODD victims.

The tolerance of pupils exhibiting these strange disorders is simply not working at home or at school. I am the father of five children. All of our children were taught their limits and when they tried ego trips that affected the greater good of the family or school they were disciplined with firm but fair kindness that always emphasized positive socialization.

The difference was that our family was not completely surrounded continually with communication toys, access to the World Wide Web and devices that took them out of the social context and into themselves. Contemporary parents allow withdrawal from the family and human interaction as normal. Kids sit bunched up on a couch playing games, accessing the web in a world of ear phone induced private space.

When parents ask a child to come out of this world is met with derision and pleading. They moan and whine when they are told to close down their iPads and iPods and come to eat their supper. It is as if they are jolted back to the world of human interaction. In their eyes they are removed from a world of personalized control back into the interactive human world of family life which means dealing with all the grittiness of human interaction. Their mediated world has only feedback to them alone. It is the true but negative meaning of the term “personal computing”.

When they transport this mediated version of life to school they are forced to experience a world where they lose control of their mediated existence. Naturally they find this disjointing and the interaction with anything like a classroom of other humans can be seen in their eyes as a disaster. They then rebel and lash out with bouts of ODD. 

There is always a price for widespread adoptions of techniques by a culture. Very often the outcomes are positive but networked  high technology communications devices in the hands of immature minds may very well, in some cases, produce self centred sociopaths where personal needs always trump social needs. 

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.