Friday, August 28, 2015

Canada's Military - Election 2015 - Part 3

The Conservatives like to portray themselves as big supporters of the military.  There are many pictures of Mr Harper posing with the troops, dressed up in military camouflage, shots of Peter MacKay sitting in an F-35 mock-up.  All designed to show that the government means business and when the going gets tough, we're ready to play with the Big Boys.

"Canada has been increasing the defense spending, as I mentioned in London and elsewhere. It's up some 27 per cent since we took office. And more importantly, a significant percentage of that expansion of expenditure is investments in equipment and capacities of the Canadian Armed Forces for the future." -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Unfortunately this is only part of the story.  The real story lies here.  Yes, the Harper government has spent more money, but not as much as they claim and there have been very real cuts in the past few years.

One of the real questions is whether whatever spending there has been has really accomplished anything.

There has been the on-going saga of the F-35 fighter jet program.  The government claimed that the program would cost $12B.  The Conservative-appointed Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, and others, came out a few years ago and revealed that the program would cost at least $45B, likely more.  Depending on the time frame and who you choose to believe (other than the Government), the true costs could be anywhere up to maybe $50B over the lifetime of the plane.  In any case, the whole program has been an utter disaster.  There was no competitive bidding and it appears the plane has problems.  So, here we are, 9+ years into the Conservative's administration and the issue sill hasn't been resolved.  The question still remains whether the Canadian military needs a fighter jet and if this jet is the right one.

Then there is the issue of replacing the tired, old Sea King helicopters.  This project has been in the works since 1983.  You would think that an administration so concerned with the military would find a way to sort this out, but as of 2013, the project is far over budget, far beyond the completion date and the government was then talking about canceling the whole project.

A year or so ago, one of the two military supply ships that Canada owns suffered a catastrophic fire.  It now sits at dock.  The second ship is due to be retired soon.  It's difficult to know what the government's plans are here, but recently Canada rented a supply ship from Chile.  I'm not sure if this marks a new low for the Canadian military, but it doesn't say much about a country that can't even figure out how to put a couple of supply ships in the water.  Another story about the Chilean supply ship is here as well.  

During the election campaign, Harper made at least one announcement about increasing the size of the military reserve.  This is a repeat of a promise made back in 2008, but if it's a good promise, I guess it needs to be repeated.  Some weren't impressed, however, including one retired senior officer: 
Andrew Leslie — who retired from a 35-year military career with the rank of lieutenant-general — expressed his dismay at the Tory announcement.
“Fact: reservists have had funding cut by 33% since 2011 by @pmharper. Conclusion: Mr. Harper announcement today is deceitful,” tweeted Leslie, who is running in the Ottawa-area riding of OrlĂ©ans.
The greatest amount of flack has come from the Harper government's treatment of veterans.  From closing veterans' support offices to trying to weasel out of support payments to injured veterans to spending taxpayers' money to fight veterans in court, the past few years have not shown the Conservatives in the best possible light.  Veterans have been busy forming groups to try and defeat Harper and his government.

For many of the Harper decade, his Minister of Defense was Peter (Playboy) MacKay.  There can be little doubt that his tenure was a complete disaster.  He was good at calling in military helicopters to shuttle him to and from fishing trips, but sorting out the problems in the military, especially when it comes to equipment, fell by the wayside.

In short, while the talk has been all puff and swagger and sounding of support, the reality has been much different.  Like much of what Harper and his cronies have had to say over the years, it's much talk and hot air but very little substance.

One more reason why Canadians should not support Mr Harper and his candidates in this election.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Electoral Fraud on Harper's Watch - Election 2015 - Part 2

When it comes to elections, it could be said with some truth that few political parties are completely above board when it comes to how they conduct themselves during elections.  With big things at stake, many will skate close to the edge, hoping that they will either get away with it or that any fines will be small and the matter soon forgotten.

The Conservatives have engaged in a series of illegal practices, illegal because people have been found guilty.  These are not simply allegations at this point.

The 2006 Election, there was the "In and Out Scandal".  This was a scheme to gain additional revenue and to avoid spending limits at the national level.  Among several points in this case is the fact that the Conservatives' scheme cost taxpayers $2.3 million., taking into account the costs of investigating and prosecuting the case.  The Conservatives, after denying they had done anything wrong, finally agreed to a plea bargain and paid a fine of $52,000 (the maximum) and reimbursed taxpayers of about $230,000.  The Conservatives now claim victory in that no individuals were found guilty.  Not exactly moral high ground here.  More on this story can be found here.

During the 2008 Election, there were several cases of overspending.  One Conservative, Dean del Maestro, was found guilty of exceeding campaign spending rules and of filing false accounting reports.  He began serving his time early in 2015.

The 2011 Election featured the "Robocalls" scandal, also known as the 2011 Canadian federal election voter suppression scandal.  Calls were made on election day directing voters to the wrong polling station.  Evidence shows that many of these calls were made using the Conservative Party's voter information database, specifically targeting voters who were known would not be supporting the Conservatives.  More information can be found here.

Cases of electoral fraud are difficult to investigate and prosecute.  With the passage of the "Fair Elections Act", future transgressions will be even more difficult to bring to light.

A summary can be found here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The "Unfair" Elections Act - Election 2015 - Part 1

In the spring of 2014, the Harper Conservative Government introduced Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act.  

What it does has been well-summarized here.  The Conservative Cabinet minister in charge of the Act is Pierre Poilievre, described here as "...a talking point in a tailored suit".  

There was no apparent reason for the legislation, despite assertions from various Conservative MPs, and the bill completely ignored the "robocalls" scandal, a real case of electoral fraud, for which one Conservative operative was convicted.  More on that in another post.

In fact, one Elections Canada expert, hired to investigate irregularities across Canada, found very few cases of voter fraud; any problems found were mostly attributed to "administrative errors".  The expert, Harry Neufeld, recommended that the government simplify the paperwork and use the voter ID cards sent out by Elections Canada more widely.

The government ignored that expert advice, a practice that seems to be common to this government, and has banned the use of voter registration cards as ID.

So, what's the real problem with this piece of legislation?

First, it's a poor attempt to fix a problem that doesn't exist.  

It does away with vouching, a practice where another elector can "vouch" for a person known to him or her, allowing that person to vote when they might not have ID that proves their place of residence.  In the 2011 election, about 400,000 people made use of this system.  Under the new rules, they might not be able to vote.  This is explained here.

The Act will restrict what the Chief Electoral Officer can do to encourage people to vote.  Why is a complete mystery, unless the government doesn't want people to vote.  There really can be no other reason.

The Commissioner of Canada Elections will have fewer powers to compel testimony when investigating cases of electoral fraud.

Originally, the Act would have permitted the governing party the right to appoint poll supervisors, something that has always been done by Elections Canada.  Opposition to this section persuaded the government to withdraw it.

Donation limits will be going up.  More money in politics.  It's questionable if this is a good idea.

Opposition to this bill has been widespread.  The Globe & Mail took an unprecedented step by writing a 5-part series on this bill and why it should be killed altogether.  The government has not listened and instead rushed the bill through Parliament.

Despite the assertions of Poilievre and some of his cronies, all this bill proposes to do is make voting more difficult for some people.  It does nothing to enhance fraud investigations.  Consequently, all one can say is that this bill attacks democracy in Canada.

As an article in the New York Times puts it: 
In advance of this election ... the Canadian Conservatives have passed the Fair Elections Act, a law with a classically Orwellian title, which not only needlessly tightens the requirements for voting but also has restricted the chief executive of Elections Canada from promoting the act of voting. Mr. Harper seems to think that his job is to prevent democracy.

Why I'm NOT Voting "Conservative" In This Election

So the writ has been dropped and we are well into the longest election campaign Canada has ever seen.  Voters have until October 19th to listen to the politicians make their promises, release attack ads on their opponents and try to sort fact from fiction before we get to vote.

I've become increasingly outraged by almost everything the Harper Conservatives have done in the past few years and since there is a clear record of what they've done, that's what is mostly influencing my decision about who to vote for in this election.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to post a series of articles outlining why I won't be voting Conservative in this election.  To be honest, I'm not sure when I ever voted Conservative, but this time I feel there is a real need to oust the current government and replace them with, really, any other party, just so we can start repairing the damage done to Canada.

So, here's the beginnings of the list, one which will be added to gradually over the coming weeks.  I also welcome suggestions, if any readers feel I've missed something particularly egregious.  Governments should be judged on their record, not their promises.  There is about 10 years of record to examine.

And if you want to read over someone else's list, The Tyee published 70 serious abuses of power in an article called: Harper, Serial Abuser of Power: The Evidence Compiled.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Igniting a Furor

Yesterday, author, journalist and NDP candidate Linda McQuaig made the comment that it was likely much of the Alberta tar sands oil would have to stay in the ground if Canada was to have a chance of meeting emissions targets.

Needless to say, a furor was ignited.

Let's step back for a minute.

First, Linda McQuaig is really only pointing out what many scientists have been saying for a few years now.  This is nothing new.  What IS new is that a politician actually had the guts to say it in public.

The elephant in the room is still human-caused climate change.  If you don't think that's a problem (doesn't exist, is a hoax....whatever your brand of rationalization), then nothing I can say here will matter one whit.  If you DO think it's a problem, then it should be obvious that we need to start having the conversation about what we should do, so bravo to McQuaig for bringing it up.

I do hope the NDP doesn't try to distance itself from this.  We need to have the talk about solutions to climate change; it's time to stop pussyfooting around this issue the way we've been for years now, just for fear of igniting just the kind of furor that McQuaig has ignited.

To those still pumping their fists in the air and yelling about jobs, try to relax.

Nothing McQuaig (or anyone else, for that matter) says about oil, tar sands, fossil fuels.... will make any difference tomorrow, next week, next year or likely even 10 or 20 years from now.  The jobs will still be there.  The oil will still be flowing.  Even if our intentions as a country (or as a world community) to get off oil were sincere (and I'm not kidding myself here - I know they aren't), it would take decades to achieve the change that we will need to make.

What we DO need right now, however, is the start of a discussion about what we can do that will start us on the path to a lower energy future, to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.  That's what we need, not a bunch of outrage just because a politician, for once, had the courage to bring up a controversial issue.

Stephen Harper's Assault on Your Right to Know

Kill the Messengers - Stephen Harper's Assault on Your Right to Know

by Mark Bourrie

"Ottawa has become a place where the nation's business is done in secret, and access to information - the lifeblood of any democracy - is under attack.  The public's right to know has been undermined by a government that effectively killed Statistics Canada, fired hundreds of scientists and statisticians. gutted Library and Archives Canada and turned freedom in information rules into a joke.  Facts, it would seem, are no longer important."

With this, the author goes on to highlight how the Harper government has systematically worked to make it almost impossible for Canadians, and the media that is supposed to inform them, to have access to the information they need to make decisions.  

As we wend our way slowly to Election 2015, this is one book that critical-thinking voters should read.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Preparing for an Election

Any who know me will also know how anti-Harper I have become over the past few years.  Just to be absolutely clear, let me say that I think Stephen Harper and his government has been a disaster for Canada and some of it's important institutions.  There is practically nothing that I can think of that this government has done that I agree with.

There is a very long list which will become topics of more posts, but for now, let's talk about books.  This will be a long election campaign, so there is lots of time for voters to inform themselves.  I can suggest two books:

There is no doubt that both of these authors dislike Harper and his government and as you read, you'll see why.