The election signs are being printed, the campaign buses are being redecorated and the pork is being handed out.
The Conservative government is preparing an infrastructure spending spree in the runup to the fall election, as federal and provincial sources confirm work is heating up to announce new projects under the New Building Canada Fund.
The $14-billion program was first announced more than two years ago, but a Globe and Mail analysis reveals that only about $1.2-billion has so far been rolled out. The breakdown shows that the vast majority of approved projects are in small communities in just two provinces, Manitoba and New Brunswick. The two sections of the fund dedicated to larger projects have barely been touched.
Infrastructure is any government's favourite type of pork. Hand out advertising contracts to the wrong people and you could wind up losing an election. Bribe public sector workers for a decade and you might just bankrupt the richest province in Canada. Bridges, sewers and other needful buildings are politically bullet proof by comparison. Not terribly expensive, at least not when compared to social programs, they have the added advantage of being physically tangible. You can even name them after your political heroes and allies.
This sort of electoral corruption has been going on since John A was in knee pants. Few people get worked up about it and those who do tend to be opposition politicians, the sort of people who are really complaining about the pork being lavished on someone else's riding. This cynical acceptance is bad for good governance. It places the needs of party ahead of country. In its modern variant, as mastered by the Harper Tories, it also weakens federalism.
Taking a casual glance at federal government media releases over only the last few days yields a bumper crop of voting buying exercises:
Not wanting to leave the good people of the Prairies thirsty, the Tories then spread their clean water largesse to the province of Saskatchewan. Last week it was announced that:
...residents of west-central Saskatchewan celebrated access to higher-quality drinking water with the grand opening of the Saskatchewan Landing Regional Water Supply project. The project includes a 42-kilometer long main water pipeline, water treatment plants, and 700 kilometers of connecting lateral rural water pipelines.
Just because every riding in rural Saskatchewan is held by the Tories doesn't mean the local voters can't be reminded of who brings home the bacon. Keeping with the water theme the Tories then darted back east to the mighty Miramichi:
The Honourable Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and Tilly O’Neill Gordon, Member of Parliament for Miramichi, on behalf of the Honourable Candice Bergen, Minister of State for Social Development, today announced over $92,000 in funding to improve accessibility at two buildings in Miramichi.
With funding of $47,000, The Point Church undertook renovations to four washrooms. Mount Saint Joseph Foundation Inc. received over $45,000 to build an accessible work station and dining tables at Mount Saint Joseph Nursing Home.
I'm not sure what definition of conservatism the Tories are using these days, but apparently it encompasses buying new dinning tables for a New Brunswick non-profit. I doubt this is what the Fathers of Confederation had in mind when they hammered out the British North America Act.
Staying within the province of New Brunswick we find the Tories once again flushing limited government down the drain. Last week they announced that $34,189 is to be spent on:
....installing a new storm drain lining along Pugsley Street to rejuvenate the deteriorating storm sewer system in this location. Where pipes are not too badly damaged, adding linings is an economical alternative to the major construction involved in completely replacing them. By taking these steps to renew the storm drainage system, Nackawic is helping ensure that residents benefit from efficient storm water management services that protect against flooding and potential property damage.
The damage done to the principles of Canadian federalism will be harder to fix. Now many of you are thinking that all this infrastructure talk is boring. You're quite right. And the Tories agree too! That's why they're spending your tax dollars and mine on something fun:
The Government of Canada is providing the Upper Canada Playhouse with $97,500 in funding, through the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, to support the construction of an extension to the main Upper Canada Playhouse theatre.
The Canada Cultural Spaces Fund supports the improvement, renovation and construction of arts and heritage facilities and the acquisition of specialized equipment. It is also designed to increase access for Canadians to performing, visual and media arts and to museum collections and heritage displays.
Under the Harper Tories conservatism is but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets its hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.
The above is but a small tip of the very big iceberg known as the Government of Canada. None of the projects I've noted above is terribly objectionable in and of themselves. Clean water, working sewers and quality nursing homes are things which obviously improve the lives of ordinary Canadians. What is objectionable is who is doing it. Even if you accept the idea that government at any level should be funding such projects, rather than leaving such matters to the more efficient and effective hands of private charities and businesses, it is not the proper role of the federal government.
Underpinning the success of any federal system is the idea of subsidiarity. Simply put this is the idea that problems should be dealt with at the level most consistent with their solution. Potholes and broken sewer mains are the bailiwick of the most local level of government. It's those closest to the problem who understand it best, not some distant bureaucrat or politician in a federal capital.
What does Peter MacKay, who spends much of his time in Ottawa, really know about the water quality in Central Nova? And even if he knows a lot, does he know more than those who live there full time?
The flip side of solving local problems locally is accountability. If that storm drain lining down Pugsley Street fails who are the local residents most capable of pressuring to fix it: A federal cabinet minister or the local mayor or councillor?
When the federal government muscles in on the turf of municipal governments they do more than buy votes, they weaken one of the key elements in the success of Canada: Federalism.
It's true enough, and easy enough to point out, that the Liberals and NDP would be far, far worse. Instead of sewer lines our tax dollars would be spent on unionized trans-gendered community centres. At least with the Tories you're getting pork that feeds the great majority of the people. Yet whoever is in power it seems that our constitutional order is getting taken for a ride.
The Honourable Denis Lebel, Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, today joined the Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, in announcing funding for the FrancoFolies de Montréal.
The support from Canada Economic Development, provided to FrancoFolies for its 2015 and 2016 editions, has been awarded in the form of a $600,000 non-repayable contribution through the Quebec Economic Development Program. This amount serves to finance the promotion and commercialization of the event on foreign markets.
Canadian Heritage, for its part, has granted $175,000 in funding for the programming of the 2015 FrancoFolies festival. This assistance, delivered through the Canada Arts Presentation Fund, is intended to support the dissemination and discovery of French-language music.
The New York Times gets ready for Hillary by using her dead mother as a prop:
Dorothy Howell was 8 years old when her parents sent her away. It was 1927. Her mother and father, who fought violently in the Chicago boardinghouse where the family lived, divorced. Neither was willing to take care of Dorothy or her little sister.
So they put the girls on a train to California to live with their grandparents. It did not go well. Her grandmother favored black Victorian dresses and punished the girls for inexplicable infractions, like playing in the yard. (Dorothy was not allowed to leave her room for a year, other than for school, after she went trick-or-treating one Halloween.)
Unable to bear it, Dorothy left her grandparents’ home at 14, and became a housekeeper for $3 a week, always hoping to return to Chicago and reconnect with her mother. But when she finally did, a few years later, her mother spurned her again.
Charles Dickens would have been stumped to come up with such a story. I'm not doubting it's veracity, just pondering it's timeliness. Politician's backstories are often part of the smoke and mirrors of modern political spin. Like Bill Clinton's "A Place Called Hope" or Barack Obama's paternal dreaming at one level it's suppose to humanize candidates for political office. At a less honourable level it's a cynical bait and switch: Feel sorry for me, now vote for me.
However terrible the early life of Dorothy Howell the life of her daughter has been very different. A multi-millionaire who has not driven a car in decades, Hillary Clinton is part of the quasi-permanent ruling class of modern America. These two women inhabited very different economic and social universes. The invoking of a dead relative's travails is mawkish at best, in the hands of a dedicated progressive it becomes outright creepy:
At the rally on Saturday on Roosevelt Island in New York City, the biggest public event so far of her 2016 campaign, Mrs. Clinton will explain how her mother’s experience shaped her life and inspired her to be an advocate for children and families at the Children’s Defense Fund, and as a first lady, senator and secretary of state.
Well, of course it did. Pause to consider the saccharine nonsense being pushed on the American voter. Why should an individual candidate's family history have anything to do with the wisdom or folly of a particular public policy? There is a leap of logic that we are asked to make. We need to accept that a painful anecdote is justification for vast government programs costing billions. Programs that, if history is any guide, will aid their unionized administrators far more than their nominal beneficiaries.
The mantra of the Left for decades, at least since the 1960s, has been that the personal is the political. It doesn't matter where the evidence or the math takes you, it's whether you feel in your heart that it's the right thing to do. The irony is that the personal stories being used to sell statism to the American people often suggest a better direction:
In her 2014 book, “Hard Choices,” Mrs. Clinton described how one teacher in elementary school, realizing that Dorothy was too poor to buy milk at lunchtime, would buy two cartons herself every day and then say, “Dorothy, I can’t drink this other carton of milk. Would you like it?’ ” The woman who hired her as a teenage housekeeper took an interest in her, urging her to finish high school and giving her clothes. Mrs. Clinton has said these seemingly small gestures showed her mother the presence of goodness in the world, and later made her a caring mother and grandmother.
In other words it was private individuals, not government officials, who helped the young Dorothy Howell the most. A nice touch was how the teacher would offer the second carton of milk, making it seem like an afterthought rather than charity. The story reflects a moment in history when accepting private charity was seen as humiliating, even among the most deserving. The teacher was trying not to hurt the young girl's pride. It's the sort of gesture one sees from kind people, not from from remote bureaucracies. That's the real lesson to be taken from the story of Dorothy Howell, not the cynical spin being placed on it by her daughter's handlers.
Mr. McMullen, the creator of the RealDoll, says he has sold over 5,000 customizable, life-size dolls since 1996, with prices from $5,000 to $10,000. Not only can his customers decide on body type and skin, hair and eye color, but on a recent day in the company’s factory in San Marcos, Calif., a craftsman was even furnishing one doll with custom-ordered toes.
Mr. McMullen’s new project, which he is calling Realbotix, is an attempt to animate the doll. He has assembled a small team that includes engineers who have worked for Hanson Robotics, a robotics lab that produces shockingly lifelike humanoid robots.
There is no other modern Canadian politician who has attracted so many nicknames. Ezra Levant has dubbed him the Shiny Pony. Others have seen fit to describe him as The Princeling or the Once and Future Prime Minister. Yet the name that has really stuck, that has been applied even by some of his erstwhile admirers, has an appropriately regal ring to it: The Dauphin.
Justin Trudeau is a strange and nearly unprecedented figure in Canadian political history: A dynast. Even his staunchest admirers confess that, lacking the Trudeau name, this gaffe prone man with the post-it note resume would likely still be teaching drama in suburban Vancouver. Given his work experience and education a responsible business executive or entrepreneur would not hire Trudeau to sell, manager, engineer, service, maintain or negotiate anything of any real importance. Yet as of the writing of this piece Justin Trudeau has a very strong chance of becoming Canada's next Prime Minister.
Paul Tuns, a veteran political journalist and long-time editor ofThe Interim, has taken up the task of exploring this paradox in his latest book: The Dauphin: The Truth About Justin Trudeau. Let's be clear about what this book is not: It is not a rant, screed or a litany of loosely connected gossip. There is no shortage of material on the Right-end of the Canadian blogsphere that takes cheap and vulgar shots at the Liberal Party's youthful looking leader. Instead this is a carefully researched, even handed and point by point review of the Justin Trudeau record. The picture that emerges is not appealing.
Most Right-leaning Canadians already have a strong and mostly negative impression of the Trudeau family, especially of the famous father and his eldest son. The book appropriately begins with a recap of Pierre Trudeau's mostly pernicious legacy: Fiscal incontinence, statist intervention in the economy and a policy of radical social liberalization. From the emasculation of the Canadian military through to FIRA and NEP, The Dauphin provides a quick refresher to those of a certain age and an introduction to those too young to remember the elder Trudeau's reign.
The argument the book lays forth doesn't, however, rest on guilt by association: You hated the father so hate the son. Instead it's the first step in explaining that in every way that matters Justin Trudeau is every inch his father's son. In voting for Justin we should expect, albeit in modern garb, the policies of his socialist father.
Tuns lays out his case over twenty-two relatively short chapters, ranging from Trudeau's views on sexual harassment, economics and pipelines to drugs and abortion. The book itself can be read comfortably in an afternoon. While drawing upon the whole of the younger Trudeau's public career, Tuns has focused his efforts on parsing the last two years that Trudeau has spent as Liberal leader.
The issues that the book covers touch upon almost anything of importance facing modern Canada. Yet despite the diversity of topics the impression of Justin Trudeau's record is consistent: Where he has not been vague or evasive he has shown himself to be a radical at heart.
In what is clearly the book's most important chapter, Tuns dissects Trudeau's largely inaccurate views on the state of Canada's middle class. The rhetoric emanating from the Liberal Party over the last two years has painted the picture of a middle class that has become poorer and more disenfranchise over Stephen Harper's time as Prime Minster. As The Dauphin lays out quite clearly this is mostly nonsense. The Canadian middle class, broadly defined, is the richest in the world.
Even the shopworn rhetorical flourish about "the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer" is given a careful once over in the book:
But what about middle income earners? By definition, the three middle quintiles are middle class (as, probably are many in the bottom and top quintiles, but for the sake of simplicity, only the three middle tiers will be used.) The second quintile, people making an average of $44,500, saw the second largest increases (170 percent) to almost catch up to the middle quintile. That middle quintile now earns an average of $47,500, up 58 percent in 2009 from 1990. Put in simple terms, there is now little difference between lower middle income and middle income earner. The fourth quintile saw its income increase 32 percent, to $60,100. The highest fifth of income earners now make more than $94,900.
(Chapter 9 from the book under review)
The picture that emerges of Justin from reading this one chapter is clear enough: A trust fund kid trying out for the role of class warrior.
Dion was a well meaning man who lacked the personality and skill to lead a national party. Ignatieff was a political opportunist with a terrible grasp of what makes for a good opportunity. Years later we see that Dion has essentially vanished from the political radar and that Lord Iggy is now re-ensconced at Harvard.
The Conservative attack ads for Justin Trudeau have the same logic behind them. The Tories are claiming that Justin isn't ready. But it's actually worse than that. The take-away from The Dauphin is that the younger Trudeau is too immature and too lacking in judgement ever to lead Canada. Should he ever take the political reins it's likely that shrewder and tougher men, like his top advisor Gerald Butts, would be calling most of the shots.
With four months to the next election The Dauphin provides Canadian conservatives and libertarians with the intellectual ammunition they'll need in the fight ahead.
Rules making it easier to file lawsuits in China have led to a new concern over frivolous claims, such as one in which a man says actress Zhao Wei stared at him too intensely through his TV set.
The regulations making it more difficult for courts to reject lawsuits took effect May 1, leading to an increase in cases nationwide last month of 29 percent compared with same period last year, to just over 1 million cases, according to the Supreme People's Court.
Much mockery has been made in recent days of a pledge by G7 leaders to "decarbonize" their economies by 2100. In particular Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come in for criticism, even from some Conservative Party supporters, for making a pledge that won't come due until long after he's dead. The G7 Leaders' Declaration, written in the usual bureaucratic bafflegaff common to global summits, laid out a very long term strategy to fight climate change.
Mindful of this goal and considering the latest IPCC results, we emphasize that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century. Accordingly, as a common vision for a global goal of greenhouse gas emissions reductions we support sharing with all parties to the UNFCCC the upper end of the latest IPCC recommendation of 40 to 70 % reductions by 2050 compared to 2010 recognizing that this challenge can only be met by a global response. We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to join us in this endeavor. To this end we also commit to develop long term national low-carbon strategies.
Reports from the summit indicate that Canada and Japan were largely responsible for watering down the declaration, ultimately overcoming pressure from more environmentalist leaders such as Angela Merkel. This fits into a wider pattern we've seen from the Harper government over the last nine years. While not directly attacking the global warming hysteria, the Tories have played a game of dodge and feint with environmental issues.
Back in 2002, while still in opposition, then Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper sent out a fundraising letter which described the Kyoto Accord as a "socialist scheme" to redistribute money from the developed world. Once in power the newly reunited Conservatives dropped the strident rhetoric, though not necessarily their opposition to Kyoto.
Upon taking power in 2006 the Tories frequently criticized the Kyoto Accord, promising to replace it with a "made in Canada" solution to climate change that never really materialized. In 2007 then Environment Minister John Baird announced "aggressive targets" to cut greenhouse gas emissions, though the targets were below those specified by Kyoto. While sounding like a staunch environmentalist in public, that same year Baird quietly exempted a new Irving refinery in New Brunswick from many of these proposed restrictions.
The Harper government's approach to the environment, and in particular to the issue of climate change, has been deeply cynical. Making the appropriate noises in public, as a way of protecting their political Left-flank from disastrous ideas like Stephane Dion's Green Shift, while privately working to emasculate any legislation, regulations or agreements that might hurt the Canadian economy. The Tories' enthusiasm for environmental issues has waxed and waned depending on the mood of the electorate.
While the Conservatives can be attacked for their hypocrisy, they cannot be criticized for their lack of political savvy. Environmentalism is a political luxury good, rising in the opinion polls when the economy is strong, then quickly dropping to the bottom of voters' minds as darker economic times approach. Stephen Harper, perhaps the most astute political operator since Mackenzie King, understands this only too well. Knowing he cannot attack environmentalism with same gusto he brings to international affairs, he instead bides his time until the public mood shifts to other matters.
Let's not knock his approach too much. If not for such cold political calculation much of Canada's energy sector might be a dead duck.