The Closing of the Canadian Mind – The New York Times

Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, is creating a legacy of secrecy and ignorance. Credit Mark Blinch/Reuters

THE prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has called an election for Oct. 19, but he doesn’t want anyone to talk about it.

He has chosen not to participate in the traditional series of debates on national television, confronting his opponents in quieter, less public venues, like the scholarly Munk Debates and CPAC, Canada’s equivalent of CSPAN. His own campaign events were subject to gag orders until a public outcry forced him to rescind the forced silence of his supporters.

Mr. Harper’s campaign for re-election has so far been utterly consistent with the personality trait that has defined his tenure as prime minister: his peculiar hatred for sharing information.

Americans have traditionally looked to Canada as a liberal haven, with gun control, universal health care and good public education.

But the nine and half years of Mr. Harper’s tenure have seen the slow-motion erosion of that reputation for open, responsible government. His stance has been a know-nothing conservatism, applied broadly and effectively. He has consistently limited the capacity of the public to understand what its government is doing, cloaking himself and his Conservative Party in an entitled secrecy, and the country in ignorance.

His relationship to the press is one of outright hostility. At his notoriously brief news conferences, his handlers vet every journalist, picking and choosing who can ask questions. In the usual give-and-take between press and politicians, the hurly-burly of any healthy democracy, he has simply removed the give.

Mr. Harper’s war against science has been even more damaging to the capacity of Canadians to know what their government is doing. The prime minister’s base of support is Alberta, a western province financially dependent on the oil industry, and he has been dedicated to protecting petrochemical companies from having their feelings hurt by any inconvenient research.

In 2012, he tried to defund government research centers in the High Arctic, and placed Canadian environmental scientists under gag orders. That year, National Research Council members were barred from discussing their work on snowfall with the media. Scientists for the governmental agency Environment Canada, under threat of losing their jobs, have been banned from discussing their research without political approval. Mentions of federal climate change research in the Canadian press have dropped 80 percent. The union that represents federal scientists and other professionals has, for the first time in its history, abandoned neutrality to campaign against Mr. Harper.

His active promotion of ignorance extends into the functions of government itself. Most shockingly, he ended the mandatory long-form census, a decision protested by nearly 500 organizations in Canada, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Catholic Council of Bishops. In the age of information, he has stripped Canada of its capacity to gather information about itself. The Harper years have seen a subtle darkening of Canadian life.

The darkness has resulted, organically, in one of the most scandal-plagued administrations in Canadian history. Mr. Harper’s tenure coincided with the scandal of Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto who admitted to smoking crack while in office and whose secret life came to light only when Gawker, an American website, broke the story. In a famous video at a Ford family barbecue, Mr. Harper praised the Fords as a “Conservative political dynasty.”

Mr. Harper’s appointments to the Senate — which in Canada is a mercifully impotent body employed strictly for political payoffs — have proved greedier than the norm. Mr. Harper’s chief of staff was forced out for paying off a senator who fudged his expenses. The Mounties have pressed criminal charges.

After the 2011 election, a Conservative staffer, Michael Sona, was convicted of using robocalls to send voters to the wrong polling places in Guelph, Ontario. In the words of the judge, he was guilty of “callous and blatant disregard for the right of people to vote.” In advance of this election, instead of such petty ploys, 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.

But the worst of the Harper years is that all this secrecy and informational control have been at the service of no larger vision for the country. The policies that he has undertaken have been negligible — more irritating distractions than substantial changes. He is “tough on crime,” and so he has built more prisons at great expense at the exact moment when even American conservatives have realized that over-incarceration causes more problems than it solves. Then there is a new law that allows the government to revoke citizenship for dual citizens convicted of terrorism or high treason — effectively creating levels of Canadians and problems where none existed.

For a man who insists on such intense control, the prime minister has not managed to control much that matters. The argument for all this secrecy was a technocratic impulse — he imagined Canada as a kind of Singapore, only more polite and rule abiding.

The major foreign policy goal of his tenure was the Keystone Pipeline, which Mr. Harper ultimately failed to deliver. The Canadian dollar has returned to the low levels that once earned it the title of the northern peso. Despite being left in a luxurious position of strength after the global recession, he coasted on what he knew: oil. In the run-up to the election, the Bank of Canada has announced that Canada just had two straight quarters of contraction — the technical definition of a recession. He has been a poor manager by any metric.

The early polls show Mr. Harper trailing, but he’s beaten bad polls before. He has been prime minister for nearly a decade for a reason: He promised a steady and quiet life, undisturbed by painful facts. The Harper years have not been terrible; they’ve just been bland and purposeless. Mr. Harper represents the politics of willful ignorance. It has its attractions.

Whether or not he loses, he will leave Canada more ignorant than he found it. The real question for the coming election is a simple but grand one: Do Canadians like their country like that?

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Participants at Conservative events must agree to gag order

Canadian Crime Minister Stephen Harper’s idea of transparency: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” -LW


Stephen Harper

Members of the public who attend Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign events are being required to agree to a gag order before they can walk through the door, iPolitics has learned.

While attendance is by invitation only, and attendees are vetted by the Conservative Party before receiving a ticket, those who want to attend a campaign event in person are also being asked to agree to a number of conditions including not to transmit any description of the event or any images from it.

“Holder (of the confirmation of registration) is prohibited from transmitting or aiding in transmitting any description, account, picture or reproduction of the Event,” according to information contained on the invitation website for an event Harper is planning in Brampton East on Monday.

A similar warning appears in connection with an event Harper appeared at in the Montreal riding of Mont Royal as he kicked off his campaign last Sunday.

Those attending the event also have to agree to be searched.

“Holder and his/her belongings may be searched upon entry, and Holder consents to such searches and waives any related claims that might arise against Conservative Fund Canada, the Electoral District Association concerned, and the facility. If the Holder elects not to consent to these searches, Holder will be denied entry to the facility.”

The party also makes it clear that breaking that rule – or any of the other rules it sets out – can result in attendees being expelled from the event.

“The confirmation of registration and entry to the event is a revocable licence: it may be withdrawn, admission refused or Holder expelled from the premises at any time for any reason without recourse by Holder.”

While those who attend Harper’s events can’t transmit accounts or images from the event, the party reserves the right to use pictures of them in its own broadcasts or advertising.

“Holder consents to the use by the producer of the Event, without compensation, of Holder’s image or likeness incidental to any transmission or reproduction of the Event.”

Harper’s election campaign is only in its first week but the high level of control the Conservative Party is exercising has already become an issue.

The party is being highly secretive about when and where Harper will campaign, often giving little or no notice to the public or media who have not signed up for his pricey campaign tour.

On Tuesday, veteran Queens Park reporter Susanna Kelley was refused entry to a Harper campaign event. While she arrived 20 minutes before the start of the event, she was told she could not enter because RCMP sniffer dogs were not available to check her out.

The RCMP refused to discuss the incident, saying it doesn’t talk about security arrangements around the prime minister. But while the RCMP required reporters to be vetted by sniffer dogs at the Conservative Party event, there was no such requirement for either the media or members of the public at Rideau Hall Sunday when Harper launched his campaign.

When Harper visited Belleville, Ontario on Friday, the local newspaper was given an advance heads up by a local Conservative organizer that he was coming but directed to only send a photographer and advised the prime minister would not take any questions from the media. Nor did the local Conservative candidate Jodie Jenkins agree to repeated requests from the Belleville Intelligencer for an interview.

While party leaders often appear at local campaign events to build support for their local candidates and count on participants to get the word out about the leader’s message, the Conservatives have also found themselves in the past on the defensive after videos taken by participants have been circulated to opponents or posted on YouTube. For example, in a private address to Conservatives in Sault Ste. Marie in 2009, Harper said he needed a get a majority government to do some of the things he wanted to do – something he had shied away from saying publicly.

Other parties often encourage participants to tweet comments or photos from party rallies, sometimes even asking them to use a particular hashtag in a bid to build social media buzz around an event.

An NDP official said the party’s campaign events with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair do not have any prohibition on transmitting comments or photos.

“People are invited to bring their friends and are encouraged to take photos and share their experiences however they choose.”

Olivier Duchesneau, spokesman for the Liberal Party, said his party’s events are open to everyone because Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wants to meet “as many Canadians as possible.”

“Canadians should be free to share their thoughts and experiences on social media during and after political events. It’s not a surprise that the Conservatives are exercising this type of control. They are operating their campaign the same way they have been governing this country for 10 years. Their approach is not open or transparent.”

The Conservative Party has not yet responded to a request from iPolitics for comment.

More later…..

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Toxic bloom “basically eating the West Coast alive” — “Unusual deaths up and down the Pacific coast” — “All populations of marine mammals are way down” in areas — Experts: “Largest ever recorded… This is really unprecedented territory… Never seen an event like this” (VIDEO)

This has gotten to the point where even The Weather Channel and PBS can no longer ignore the fact that our oceans are dying. -LW


Al Jazeera, Aug 1, 2015: The toxic algae blooms in the Pacific Ocean stretching from southern California to Alaska — already the largest ever recorded — appear to have reached as far as the Aleutian Islands, scientists say. “The anecdotal evidence suggests we’re having a major event,” said Bruce Wright, a scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Island Association… “All the populations (of marine mammals) are way down in the Aleutians.”… the blooms are responsible for unprecedented closures of fisheries and unusual deaths of marine life up and down the Pacific coast… The discovery of nearly a dozen dead whales in the Gulf of Alaska near Kodiak also raised suspicion… Other die-offs of species have been reported along the Aleutian chain, stretching nearly 1,500 miles across the north Pacific.

CBS/AP, Aug 5, 2015: Toxic algae bloom in Pacific even larger than thought… ocean researchers say this one is much larger and persisting much longer, with higher levels of neurotoxins bringing severe consequences for the… marine ecosystems…  [Vera Trainer, with Univ. of Washington and NOAA’s Harmful Algal Blooms Program] said this bloom is the worst she’s seen in 20 years of studying them… “It’s been incredibly thick, almost all the same organism. Looks like a layer of hay,” said Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz. Kudela told CBS… “It’s definitely the largest bloom of this particular algae seen on the West Coast, possibly anywhere, ever.”… “It’s really working its way into the food web and we’re definitely seeing the impacts of that,” Kudela said, noting that sea lions are getting sick and pelicans are being exposed… The most recent samples showed the highest-ever recorded concentrations of domoic acid in the internal organs of Dungeness crab, Ayres said. “This is really unprecedented territory for us,” said [Dan Ayres, Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife].

USA Today, Aug 7, 2015: A massive toxic algal bloom thriving in the warm water along the West Coast may be the largest ever recorded, according to [NOAA] scientists. The bloom stretches 40 miles wide and in some places is 650 feet deep. It runs from California to Alaska, and has shuttered lucrative fisheries in several coastal states. “It’sunprecedented,” [said Trainer].

Grist, Aug 7, 2015: A huge, toxic algae bloom is basically eating the West Coast alive… and more toxic than anyone suspected… scientists have never known one to be this bad before.

Capital Public Radio, Aug 7, 2015: In nearly 25 years of research, Trainer says she’s never seen an event like this

Reuters, Aug 6, 2015: Massive toxic algae bloom reaches from California to Alaska… [it] stretches thousands of miles from the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and has surprised researchers by its size and composition. “It’s just lurking there,” Vera Trainer, research oceanographer with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Washington state, told Reuters on Thursday. “It’s the longest lasting, highest toxicity and densest bloom that we’ve ever seen.”… Researchers are investigating whether the bloom is linked to several suspicious marine mammal deaths

Discover Magazine, Aug 6, 2015: Record Algae Bloom Laced With Toxins is Flourishing in “The Blob” — and Spreading in the North Pacific… arecord-breaking bloom of algae stretching from Southern California all the way north to Alaska… Toxins from the algae are suspected to have contributed to the deaths of at least nine Fin whales near Kodiak Island, Alaska, in June, although a definitive cause has not yet been determined, NOAA says. There have also been reports of dead and dying whales, gulls, and forage fish in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands

Regarding the suggestion made in three of the articles above that the 18 whale deaths in Alaska could be linked to harmful algae blooms,researchers from the Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks reported last month: “Biotoxins caused by warm water–induced harmful algal blooms are a possibility, although tissue from the sampled fin whale tested for domoic acid came back negative… Scientists have followed up on other possible causes… even radionuclides from the Fukushima reactor…. a muscle tissue sample from a dead fin whale [was submitted] for Cesium 137analysis, with results pending.”

Watch The Weather Channel’s video here | Capital Public Radio broadcast here

 

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REPLAY: Maclean’s National Leaders Debate

In case you missed last night’s debate… -LW

Canada’s 2015 federal election will be the most important and dramatic in a generation. Who wants your vote? And what will they do with it? Watch a full video replay from the Maclean’s National Leaders Debate, broadcast Thursday, August 6 from 8 pm to 10 pm ET.

Maclean’s political editor Paul Wells moderated as Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau and Elizabeth May went head to head in the first leaders debate before the federal election this October.

Meanwhile, in Canada…

If you want to get a good idea of how oil can ruin entire countries, consider the following: -LW


Canada Wheat Board

Saudi Arabia, which is destroying Canada’s economy by pumping excess oil to keep prices artificially low, now gets to decide on Canada’s grain trading protocols and market prices.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/ottawa-closes-sale-of-canadian-wheat-board-name-changes-to-g3-canada-ltd-1.3175983

Don’t be fooled by the $250 million “price tag”. They’re not even ‘selling’ it. They’re just handing it over free of charge on the promise that the new owners will invest $250 million in the future.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/investor-g3-global-grain-group-to-take-over-wheat-board-1.3033665

And Harper vowed today to stay the course.

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The hidden history of Bob Rae’s government in Ontario

Note: This article is from 2010. Bob Rae’s NDP government was elected in 1990 (25 years ago). Canadians need to know the facts, not just what the mainstream media tells them . . . -LW


GERALD CAPLAN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Oct. 08 2010, 11:06 AM EDT
Last updated Monday, Nov. 15 2010, 2:17 PM EST

 


When the NDP won government in Ontario exactly 20 years ago, it constituted the greatest advance for social democracy in North American history.

It’s true that British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had all elected NDP governments and that progressives had won small victories in various parts of the United States. But none of them (I hope this doesn’t hurt their feelings) mattered in the same way Ontario then did. It was the economic heartland of Canada, the home of much of Canada’s industry and finance. What happened in Ontario impacted all Canadians. Now it was under the control of Bob Rae and the New Democrats.

Reflecting this reality, within months Mr. Rae’s government faced an unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history.

The attacks came from all sides. It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day. Launched within the very first year of the new government, the attackers included every manner of business big and small, both Canadian and American-owned, almost all private media, the police (especially in Toronto), landlords and lobbying/government relations firms. Their goal was clear, and they had the money and power to achieve it.

They were determined to undermine the government every step of the way, to frustrate the implementation of its plans and to assure its ultimate defeat. In all three goals they were successful. The considerable achievements of the government – often forgotten or dismissed – were wrought in the face of a deep recession and ferocious obstruction.

The tactics were not necessarily subtle. Though the Soviet Union was ignominiously imploding, right-wing columnists such as Diane Francis and Barbara Amiel actually resorted to old-fashioned red baiting, smearing the government as “red” or “communist.” And after the new finance minister’s very first meeting with the banking community , a bank vice-president told him, in the presence of an aide: “Nice speech, Mr. Minister, but we’re going to kill you.” And they did.

Conrad Black was a leading executioner. Lord Black swore loudly that on principle he’d never invest in Ontario under an NDP government. Other corporate interests threatened a virtual strike of capital unless the government relented on its intentions to introduce higher business taxes and to strengthen union rights, environmental regulations and equity programs.

Mr. Rae and treasurer Floyd Laughren made themselves easily accessible to business representatives, many of whom ran Canadian branch plants of huge American multinationals, only to be threatened with capital blackmail. The premier was warned that their U.S. head offices weren’t about to invest further in Ontario unless the government abandoned most of the programs it had run on.

Bond traders declared that slashing government programs to reduce the deficit was a prerequisite to Ontario borrowing at competitive rates, even though Ontario’s deficit was equivalent to that of Conservative-run Alberta. Suddenly the entire media was fixated on the government’s threatened credit ratings, never mind that Ontario had the only Standard & Poor’s AAA rating in the country. The Social Credit government in British Columbia, the Conservatives in Alberta and Robert Bourassa’s Liberals in Quebec all had lower credit ratings. Yet only in Ontario was the government threatened.

NDP government decision-makers, while innocent about so much, at least understood that the corporate world was not given to bluffing. Time after time they responded to the endless corporate blackmail by compromising on policies and commitments. In this way, they alienated many of their own followers but without ever appeasing business interests. They never could.

Some business protests bordered on the disloyal. Hysterical landlords took out an ad in The Wall Street Journal warning Americans not to invest in “leftist Ontario.” Others demanded the complete repudiation by the government of its most cherished legislation, as when several coalitions of powerful business interests, managed by government relations firms such as Hill & Knowlton, demanded the NDP scrap its entire plan to amend the Labour Relations Act. This was the kind of class warfare Lenin might have admired, especially since the government had already withdrawn many of its intended changes in order to meet business criticism.

One front organization, the “All-Business Coalition,” won headlines for warning that amendments the government had already disavowed would cost 450,000 jobs and cost $20-billion in investment. All the while the same groups were deliberately frightening investment away from the province.

Hostility to these fictional amendments also led to unusual solidarity among Toronto’s rival newspapers. Of course hostile editorials were fully expected. Less predictable were the full-page statements in the press denouncing the labor amendments. Even more unprecedented was the delegation consisting of the publishers of all three dailies who appeared in the premier’s office to express their hostility in person. The media in general played a key role in mobilizing perpetual hostility to the government, with business columnists regularly stirring up their readers while the Toronto Sun especially wallowed in the sheer joy of unrestrained excess and fabrication.

Throughout the five years of the Rae government, the Sun was its most powerful and effective foe, doing everything in its considerable power to damage the government. It repeatedly set the agenda for the entire media, even though competing reporters knew much of it was sheer hooey. The Sun gleefully sensationalized embarrassing facts, mere rumors, vicious innuendos and obvious lies, with no attempt to discriminate among them.

Perhaps the most chilling and underestimated of the government’s enemies were the Toronto police, whose actions at times bordered dangerously on virtual insubordination against the civilian authorities. Here too certain newspapers and radio commentators repeatedly and deliberately inflamed angry officers against the government. Most successful was the Sun’s ongoing, systematic campaign to drive a wedge between the government and the Toronto police force, sometimes with the collusion of the police themselves.

The Sun and senior Toronto police officials maintained a troubling relationship. In one particularly outrageous episode, they colluded in smearing an NDP appointee to the police board on the very evening of her swearing-in. The Sun published intimate information on the appointee that could come, many thought, only from the office of the chief. Sun readers then began their 1991 Victoria Day weekend with a huge banner headline proclaiming “COP COMMISSIONER PART OF OPP PROBE”. The story claimed the new appointee had been discovered in a car in the middle of the night with a very shady operator connected to an even shadier operator.

It was a blatant frame-up. On Victoria Day itself, the Sun came clean . They publicly acknowledged the sheer impossibility of anyone confusing the police commission member with the real passenger the OPP had found in the car. A Sun reporter described an “undeclared but very real state of war that exists between the new, NDP-appointed members of the police board and the great majority of the Metro [Toronto]force.” But that was pure mischief. The only war was the one the Sun was methodically fomenting.

The government introduced regulations that substituted the Constitution for the Queen in the oath that cops had to swear. Many media swiftly exploited the occasion to further exacerbate tensions between the police and the NDP. Yet the change had actually been initiated by the previous Liberal government and had been recommended by a committee consisting mainly of police. Their work had been completed when the NDP took office; the Rae government was simply implementing their recommendations.

I documented these facts publicly after interviewing numerous police reps, every one of whom supported the new oath. Nor could they see what the big deal was about. I asked the Toronto Sun, CFRB radio and CFTO-TV, who had most flagrantly misled the public on the issue, to demonstrate good faith by apologizing. Not one admitted the slightest fault. Good faith was in short supply in those years.

There are a world of studies yet to be written about the Ontario NDP’s difficult and controversial years in office, none more important than the nature of the saboteurs who organized their very own Ontario coup. This includes much of the business community, government relations firms, the media and the police. There are lessons to learn here about the limits of left-wing politics in Canada. None of them are encouraging if you are a left-winger.

 

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WATCH: 13 Conservative MPs drone on like robots reading the exact same script

Critics of Stephen Harper’s government have called his Conservative MPs mindless robots for years.

After all, Conservative MP Peter Goldring was once likened to a cyborg after revealing that he frequently wears a video recording device. And former Conservative turned independent MP Brent Rathgeber once described his former colleagues as “trained seals” who are so tightly scripted by the Prime Minister’s Office, Rathgeber suggests they no longer “represent their constituents in Ottawa.”

But what if Harper’s critics are wrong? What if it is more than just a metaphor? What if Conservative MPs really, truly, seriously are… Robots?

After 13 Conservative MPs uploaded eerily similar videos to Youtube this week, wherein the MPs read word-for-word from the exact same script, what other explanation could there be?

Watch now and judge for yourself:

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