Friday, 21 November 2014

Get ready for a Harper Government propaganda binge as we move towards the 2015 General Election.

The road to the 2015 Federal General Election is paved with unanswered political questions for the Harper Government.

by Tom Thorne

These days I keep saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current media and the potential for positive voter responses are pretty good for a PM coming to the end of a mandate. His media relations are quite well managed at least on the international stage.

He’s had good press in China and at the G20 Summit held in Brisbane. He looks like a leader with moxy when he tells Vladimir Putin to get out of the Ukraine. Usually by this time a Prime Minister (PM) has worn out his welcome after almost five years in office. He also he won the by-elections last week in Oshawa and Yellowhead.

Fortunately for Stephen Harper the media and the public appear to have short memories about the PM’s recent experiences. It seems that the scandal pots are currently off boil but some big items now in limbo are coming up to the front of the stove.

The first one is the upcoming Spring 2015 trial of Mike Duffy. You remember him, the Senator who managed to get a $90,000 personal gift from Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright.  Mr. Wright just personally decided to give Mr. Duffy the money he needed to pay back his allegedly improperly booked Senate of Canada expenses. Of course it was 100 percent a Nigel Wright decision as we know.

Whether Nigel Wright resigned or was fired by the PM after this mis-step no one is quite sure. Mr. Wright’s actions seem out of character given his heavy weight credentials in the business world before taking over the PMO. He remains unscathed at this time by charges from the RCMP investigation into this sorry affair. However he will likely be called as a witness for the Mike Duffy trial.

Who knew about all of this in the PMO still remains an open point. The PMO was  porous enough with many staffers knowing about the Mike Duffy deal as they implemented it for Nigel Wright. However, despite a widespread knowledge of the deal, the PM himself managed to stay out of the fray with an almost angelic yet strangely obscure innocence. The Duffy affair orbited the PMO and the PM for several months so was he in the know about the deal’s final cut? He lied to Parliament if the answer is yes.

The PM’s evasive and obscure answers about Duffy and Wright during Question Period still resound as an enigma wrapped inside a conundrum. Mr. Harper was probed whenever he was in the House of Commons with uncommonly hard  precision by New Democratic Leader Tom Mulcair.  He weathered Mr. Mulcair’s inquisition, but not without doubts being raised about his knowledge of the Duffy-Wright events. Those doubts remain although softened by the wiles of time.

Mike Duffy’s trial may very well open up these old questions. Answers under oath could bring the PM’s obscurities into a clearer light. The PM and PMO staffers who know the details could  summoned to appear on Mr. Duffy’s witness lists and perhaps one of them could even be the PM himself. This is one of the reasons why the election will be in the early Spring before the Mike Duffy debacle begins in earnest.

The Americans are still mulling over the Canadian built pipeline that will bring Alberta crude to refineries on the US Gulf Coast. The Republican House of Representatives and the outgoing Senate voted for the pipeline and lost by one vote for the necessary 60 percent to carry it several days ago.  

President Barack Obama may have exercised his veto had their legislation passed.  It is not over. The new Republican held Congress will likely go at it again. This situation still contains a lot of concern in Ottawa and Alberta until those elected in the US midterm elections take their seats and they try the pipeline vote again. Of course the decision about what President Barack Obama will finally do is up in the air.

Alberta can only see more difficulties to ship their crude oil in the medium term. It will mean, of course, that more crude will be shipped by railway tanker across Canada through to Eastern Canada.  The idea of a pipeline to the Pacific coast can only resurface during the  2015 election with a lot of opposition from British Columbia, native bands and communities where the pipeline runs.

A US presidential veto on this file or any procedural Congressional hold up is a lose for the Harper Government here in Canada. Also the price of crude oil is low at the moment and so Alberta and Ottawa revenues are down with a need to show a surplus for the 2015 federal general election this adds stress.  And so it is with resource-based economies.

The Conservative strength in Alberta is losing opportunity if their oil cannot get to market. On the other side until other Canadian pipelines are constructed or upgraded moving Alberta crude will remain the task of using more risky railway cars. It will be hard to defend this situation with memories of  the Lac M├ęgantic fire and 47 dead in the election equation.

Handing out election year goodies like the recent income tax sharing scheme will be harder to fund unless other departments are cut back.  This is not a good situation during an election year when the Harper Government is determined to hand out goodies and balance the annual federal government budget while doing so. 

The late Jim Flaherty, Mr. Harper’s former finance minister before he died recently, opposed this income tax sharing plan. Obviously Mr. Harper thinks its a good idea. Cutting or lowering taxes always makes a right wing government look as if it hasn’t strayed too far off the less government in your life path.

The Harper Government has also been waffling on green house gases and climate change since 2008 and again in 2011. With the US and China recently signing an  agreement on this file it means that Canada now must to get into step. 

The Harper Government’s lack of action on this file has been linked to the argument that while the US does little or nothing to stem green house gases there is no way Canadians can make a difference. That is about to change and it is a vulnerable spot on the 2015 campaign trail for the Conservatives. 

Generally this government is the most secretive in recent memory. Ministers of the Crown are sparingly available to the media or the public to explain themselves because the PMO sees the media as an enemy to be diligently managed like bad children. 

The PMO considers it can only master political events by issuing as little information as possible and controlling the Conservative caucus and what they say and do. There is really only one voice for this government and that voice emanates from the Prime Minister and his office.

They usually use Friday afternoons to launch policies and then take no questions after the announcement so the whole idea can lull through a weekend. They continually deal with unpleasantries that could embarrass the government without any clarity or shame. They answer questions in the House of Commons with contempt for the institution. 

Earlier this year Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra went too far by answering a question from Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair with an response that had nothing to do with the original question. 

After an irritated exchange through the Speaker from Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, Mr. Calandra apologized the following week in tears to the House of Commons for his behaviour after thinking it all through during the weekend. It was one of the only acts of contrition by this government influenced Mr Calandra said by his father’s standards which he had forgot in the rough and tumble of adversarial Ottawa politics.

Paul Calandra is a master of obscurity and when he often represented the government and the PM on CBC’s Power and Politics program he would shamelessly skate around issues and obscure them continually. The Harper Government has not learned that by trying to control their message to the extent they do, it is ultimately counter-productive to their credibility. It is hard to think of this government as being forthright, open and candid. And  please notice they are never, ever wrong.

The Government’s Economic Action Plan media advertising keeps reminding us that the Harper Government is a great fiscal manager of public funds spending wisely to create jobs yet youth unemployment remains stubbornly high despite their promotions. 

The truth the Harper Government has been running a deficit and spending since their re-election in 2011. To balance the books and have a $1.5 billion surplus for the election means that funds are being reallocated or cutbacks made through the ministries to make the Harper Government appear to be great fiscal managers for the 2015 general election.

Watch now for an intense media advertising barrage by the Harper Government, all done at public expense rather than Conservative Party expense as we go into 2015. This government will use every means to get its propaganda out masquerading their political message as federal government services advertising. That is one of the prerogatives of the party in power but remember who pays for it all.  

Finally the record of this government with our veterans is appalling. Services and help are withheld in many cases or veterans are put through insensitive rounds of bureaucracy when they apply for benefits, or fight funding cuts and the lack of help. Veteran’s service offices are cut back and yet the stops are pulled out for Remembrance Day. There is a distaff between the reality and the action on this file that resonates very loud.

© 2014, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved  
© 2014, Tom Thorne, Harper Cartoon, All Rights Reserved

Monday, 17 November 2014

Harper Government may have tight race in the Oshawa-Whitby by-election today.

Federal by-elections in Ontario and Alberta today.

by Tom Thorne

Perhaps we will have a test of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s popularity today in the Oshawa-Whitby by-election. Two by-elections are being contested. One in Ontario and one in Alberta. The fist one is to replace Harper’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty who died suddenly. This riding is Oshawa-Whitby.

Pat Perkins is the Conservative candidate this time. Celina Caesar-Chavennes is carrying the Liberal banner and Trish McAuliffe is attempting her second run at the riding for the New Democratic Party (NDP). McAuliffe came second in 2011 running against Jim Flaherty so this time the outcome could be close for all three candidates especially because the Conservative candidate is new to the party.

Probably the vote will be split almost evenly for a tight night of counting in Oshawa-Whitby. There are three other candidates in this race who may siphon off piddling numbers of votes but really it looks very even and hence a tight race in Oshawa-Whitby.

Rob Merrifield resigned the Federal Parliament as the member from Yellowhead Alberta to take up an envoy job in Washington for the Alberta Government. Mr Merrifield is a Conservative, and in 2011 received 77 percent of the vote so this looks like a safe riding for the Harper Government.

In 2011 the NDP did better than the Liberals getting 13 percent. A Green Party candidate got 5.1 percent and the Liberals almost as scarce as hen’s teeth in this region, garnered  only 2.8 percent of the vote.

It’s electoral  history seems to indicate a Conservative win. Before the Conservative and Reform parties merged the riding was held by the conservative former Prime Minister Joe Clark from 1979-1993 with about 44 percent of the vote. In one election Joe Clark went head to head with Reform’s leader Preston Manning. 

Manning got 27 percent. When you combine those votes into a single Conservative Party which is the case today, Conservatives get 71 percent well on the way to Rob Merrifield's 77 percent win in 2011. Yellowhead will remain Conservative.

The Yellowhead candidates are Jim Eglinski who is a retired RCMP officer, former Mayor of Fort St. John. He is favoured to win against teacher Ryan Mahusn for the Liberals and Eric Rosendahl for the NDP.

In Alberta by-elections are never protest elections. So I don’t expect a change of party there. However, in Ontario the protest levels against the Harper Government could be reflected in the outcome of a tight race in Oshawa-Whitby.

On the media relations front, Prime Minster Stephen Harper has been doing quite well. In Brisbane at the G20 meeting after he publicly told President Vladimir Putin to get out of The Ukraine. That plays well at home.  He helped to get President Putin shunned at this important meeting. Putin left early.

A week earlier in China he brought up the case of Canadians under house arrest. And he flew home from China for Remembrance Day in Ottawa and then flew out for Australia and the Brisbane G20 Summit. He sure looks like a doer and a man in action which may help today in the by-elections. You can sense the impending 2015 General Election in Prime Minister's every move these days.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Liberal Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne have been actively campaigning in Oshawa-Whitby. These two popular Liberals may have made a difference. Polls close a 9 P.M. local time so by 11:30 PM we should know the results for both contested ridings.

© Copyright 2014, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Remembering well on Remembrance Day is getting harder as veterans of World War 1 are all gone and those of World War 2 become fewer.

War Memorial Ottawa 

Remembrance Day 2014 

We are now 100 years out from the start of World War 1 and 75 years out from the start of World War 2.  There are no Canadian veterans left from World War 1. There are fewer veterans left from World War 2.  Even more sobering is the fact that the ranks of Korean War veterans are also declining.

In the past we have always been able to make Remembrance Day a very tangible event. We would see veterans marching to the cenotaphs in every town and city in Canada wearing their campaign medals and regimental berets. They were our annual tangible connection to their service and commitment to ensure we live in a democratic and free society. 

As time moves on we now face making other kinds of connections to these passing veterans. Younger people can only have remote connections to the considerable sacrifices made by their grand parents and in some cases great grand parents. Schools work to make the connection but now without any human faces of the veterans of World War 1 and 2. 

I am fortunate at my age. I have my memory connections as an officer of The Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). Our regimental service in all Canadian operations since 1883 and even earlier through our regimental links with the Canadian Fusiliers and Oxford Rifles  is welded to my very person. 

In my time during the 1960’s we had members of the regiment who were still on active duty wearing campaign ribbons from World War 2 and Korea. Tangibility was not a pressing issue for us.

Each year we would see veteran RCR old comrades parading with us wearing World War 1 medals and some also wearing the ribbons of their second round of service during World War 2. Those kind of connections are fleeting for my grand children who are all Millennium born high school students. I do my best to keep them in the Remembrance Day loop but they live in another time and place.

One of my wife’s relatives in Belgium works very hard keeping the memory of our Canadian service to his country. He does uniformed reenactments of regiments that fought in Belgium during World War 1 and 2. He lives near Ypres so he is in constant touch with the horrendous experience of that city in both World War 1 and 2. Today, however, the ruined city of 1918 that was again damaged in 1944, has been restored to pristine condition.

Touring these sites with him is an education. We went to to the Menin Gate where the names of all the Commonwealth troops who died on the Ypres Salient in World War 1 are inscribed. I saw many Canadian names and regiments on that wall but the most tangible fact was something he pointed out to me. As we examined the World War 1 names there are World War 2 bullet holes in the Menin Gate from when it was fought over in 1944.  A poignant and very tangible experience since it was members of our First Canadian Corp who fought through here again in World War 2. 

One of my private moments of remembrance also took place Belgium some years back. I went alone to site of Passchendaele on the Ypres Salient to honour Canadians who died and those who held their positions in the first gas attacks in 1915. After examining our monument, I noticed that a path led through the evergreen hedges to a gate.

I opened the gate and stepped onto a farm field where cows were grazing. In the ground were zigzag depressions running off towards Sanctuary Wood. It was what is left of the front line trenches from World War 1. 
Zigzag trench lines in 1917

Half way across the field an angry man approached me. Obviously I was trespassing. He asked me in Flemish what I was doing on his land. I answered in English that I was tracing the first world war trench lines. He answered in English. “Are you an American?” No I said I am a Canadian and a member of The Royal Canadian Regiment. “Then you are welcome!” he answered extending his hand. He phoned his neighbours so I would have clear passage.

Vimy in France is our major monument to the Canadian soldiers who survived and died during World War 1. The Canadian Corp, and of course The Royal Canadian Regiment as part of that larger force, fought here in April 1917 to push the Germans permanently off this very high point of ground. Some claim that Canada became a country at this battle.

In 1992, my wife and I had the younger members of my family, Peter and Alexandra with us. They were both preteens and I wanted to let them know about our contribution to World War 1.  We were finishing a long  car trip from Belgium to Spain and back. We landed at Vimy late in the day and found that we could not get on a tour of the site and particularly the tunnels that still exist to move troops forward or to blow up the German lines with caches of high explosives.

There was one hope that we could get a tour. An Irish group was coming after attending a commemoration for the Battle of The Somme. If they would agree to us joining their tour then we could see the tunnel.

Suddenly a bus arrived and many people got off with security men. The guide went to confer with the Irish person in charge of the tour. This person turned out to be the Lord Mayor of Dublin. In addition, the  then Anglican Primate of Ireland, Cardinals of the Irish Catholic Church and many other protestant church officials plus politicians of all stripes from the Irish Parliament formed this group.

The Lord Mayor welcomed us and introduced two World War 1 veterans from their tour who turned out to be the reason they were at Vimy. One of the veterans had served with the British Army at Vimy as a runner between the British and Canadian lines. His task was to take messages from the tunnels if phone communications went down during the battle.

We then went down into the tunnels which are 30 meters underground and therefore impervious to heavy artillery fire. As we walked through the tunnel we noticed regimental crests carved into the chalk walls and messages from soldiers who waited down here for the main attack to start. There were command bunkers and medical aid rooms. It was living history with one veteran who had been down here for the Vimy Ridge battle in 1917.

Suddenly the veteran asked the guide which tunnel we were in. I recall her saying that it was Number 9 of the twelve that were dug. The Irish veteran said that if it was Number 9 tunnel he could show us where his friend was killed on the day of the battle. A hush fell over groups as this veteran led us further down the tunnel to a room near the end. It was a command room. 

In the corner was a stairs cut into the chalk that led up to ground level. The stairwell was filled with rubble held in place by chicken coop wire. The veteran was silent for a moment as it all sunk in. Then he recounted how his friend was standing near the stairs when a German shell blast came down the stairwell killing his friend instantly.

That is the most tangible experience I can relate about war having fortunately never experienced war myself. Each time I go to a Remembrance Day ceremony I think about the bullet holes in the Menin Gate, the zigzag trench line that still exists in a Flemish cow field and those who died there in a muddy carnage. Then I remember the look on the face of an old Irish veteran who came face to face with the horror of his friend’s death in a Vimy tunnel long, long ago in 1917.

Pro Patria

© Copyright 2014, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.