Making their priorities clear

A government, like any organization, has to manage a number of competing interests simultaneously. The economy must be watched and occasionally massaged, health care has to be funded, as does a military, as does scientific research, as does infrastructure like roads and bridges. It’s a massive undertaking, requiring a wide variety of non-overlapping competencies and skills simply to keep going, let alone to improve.

Unfortunately, I live in a country whose government is a quasi-Soviet cult of personality, convened somewhat ironically around a man who has none. Stephen Harper runs what some refer to as a ‘tight ship’, but what is actually a gaggle of completely incompetent buffoons who, if the need was urgent, might be able to muster enough collective brainpower to run an alarm clock (provided the clock was small and it was okay if it lost a little time now and then). As a result, they seem to take not only their marching orders, but indeed their nouns, verbs, and syntax wholesale from the Harper machine.

This works incredibly well for a political party:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads into 2013 with most Canadians opposing him but still backed by a “solid” coalition of voters that delivered him a majority victory in the last election, a new poll has found. The Ipsos Reid survey, conducted exclusively for Postmedia News and Global TV, reveals that Harper’s governing Conservatives, 20 months after winning re-election, are maintaining a steady core of support among voters.

Pollsters say that at this point in a government’s mandate, public opinion has often begun to turn against an incumbent prime minister. But that isn’t happening with Harper’s Tories, who were elected with 39.6 of the vote in the May 2011 election. On a range of questions — such as whether Harper is doing a good job, is representing the “values” of people, and should run again in the 2015 election, the prime minister has support levels among Canadians that exceed 40 per cent.

You read that correctly. Despite the myriad of unbelievable fuckups, bullying, contempt for Parliament, muzzling scientists, absurd attacks against his enemies, characterization of Canadians as enemies (and child pornographers to boot)… I mean really just take your pick, Stephen Harper enjoys pretty much the exact same level of support that he did when he won the last election. Which means that pretty much nothing he does, or at least nothing he has done so far, has mattered whatsoever to the claque that evidently thinks that $45 billion in mismanaged fighter jets funds are excusable, but $14 million in questionably-allocated ads is an unforgivable offense for an entire political party, apparently in perpetuity.

So yes, I live in a country where governing badly (and not bothering to hide it) is good for staying in power. Unfortunately, it’s not good for anything else:

Two government audits show Ottawa is earmarking about a billion dollars a year to build and repair First Nations infrastructure, but its myriad of officials are not keeping proper tabs on how the money is spent. Even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper accuses the Attawapiskat First Nations of mismanaging federal funds, the internal audits posted recently suggest the criticism could apply to the federal bureaucracy as well. The audits say there are “significant gaps” in how the on-reserve infrastructure funding is controlled, and that the financial reporting system is riddled with inconsistencies.

I attended question period when I was in Ottawa in December. I had the great misfortune of sitting above the Conservative bench, which allowed me to see the open binders the sitting MPs had in front of them. Within these binders was not, as you might expect, information. On the contrary – they were filled with talking points. Identical talking points, that each MP had to recite like a gramophone of inane horseshit whenever they were so prompted. Often, the responses had nothing at all to do with the questions (“did we rig an election? Well I think the Canadian people really want to know why union organizers are in Brazil at an anti-Israel conference!”). The Prime Minister’s Office cared enough to make sure that MPs were prepped to deliver non sequiturs in a sparsely-attended Parliament chamber, so that those answers would be recorded on a channel that hardly anyone watches.

It didn’t care enough to make sure First Nations across the country had housing and potable drinking water.

But that’s perhaps not the most appalling thing the government simply doesn’t care about:

A letter obtained by Greenpeace through access to information laws and passed on to the CBC reveals the oil and gas industry was granted its request that the federal government change a series of environmental laws to advance “both economic growth and environmental performance.” Within 10 months of the request, the industry had almost everything it wanted.

The letter, dated Dec. 12, 2011, was addressed to Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. It came from a group called the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), which is made up of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (now the Canadian Fuels Association) and the Canadian Gas Association.


On April 26, 2012, the government introduced the first of its omnibus budget implementation acts which completely re-wrote the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and made major changes to the Fisheries Act and the National Energy Board Act.

At this point, the government doesn’t even care enough to write its own bills. It just inclines its ear to the oil and gas companies, and transcribes their wishes straight into law without pausing long enough for a stray thought to impede the process. Because hey, it’s not the government’s job to protect the environment. That’s for companies like Enbridge – fine corporate citizens with sterling environmental reputations and a spotless safety record*. As everyone knows, corporations are motivated solely by their overwhelming desire to do the right thing, even if it costs them money. Furthermore, if a corporation were to damage sensitive environmental areas or do anything unethical, why, they’d never make another penny of profit in their lives!

So yes, it turns out that whatever Stephen Harper’s government’s other priorities have been thus far, they have been successful in achieving their top one: ensuring that they win re-election and stay in power, so they can enjoy 4 more years of not giving a shit.

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*In the time it took you to read that sarcastic sentence, three more Enbridge pipelines have leaked into environmentally sensitive areas.


  1. says

    I’m sorry that I start to sound like a broken record and I’ll stop if you ask me to but this stuff really matters:

    Yes, there are constraints on a fiat currency-issuing government like Canada’s but those constraints are in real resources, not in funding.

    The Canadian government could decide to double healthcare staff tomorrow, with the stroke of a pen (and fund it with a press of a computer key) but the constraining element is whether there are enough trained doctors, nurses, physiotherapists etc available, whether there is enough medical equipment available that can be bought and paid for in Canadian dollars, and whether there are enough healthcare facilities, or at least enough construction capacity to build them.
    The Canadian government could decide to increase science funding ten-fold tomorrow, simply decide to deficit-spend some more, and the constraints would be similar: researchers, equipment, offices and labs.
    The Canadian government could decide to triple the Canadian armed forces tomorrow, even though I think this would be a terrible idea.

    The Canadian government could try and attempt all of the above at the same time, which would increase any real constraints that might already exist (although an official unemployment rate of 7% implies that at least finding labor for training should not be a problem) but it could deficit-fund all of them together without the slightest problem.

    The Canadian government, as monopoly issuer of the Canadian dollar, is never constrained from buying anything that is available in Canadian dollars (including labor), which makes their refusal to do so in cases that would benefit the marginalized even worse.

    Please read Mitchell, Wray, Fullwiler, Mosler and stop arguing in neo-liberal categories.

  2. medivh says

    There’s some potentially good news up ahead for you, Crom. While 40% of voters support (or haven’t thought enough to form an opinion and defaulted to current government) Harper, the remaining parties are going to tear that one down in the next election. And since Canada is silly enough to have voluntary voting, liberals are going to see it as important to come out and vote Harper down. How successful this is, is why the news is only potentially good.

    But seriously, voluntary voting? WTF Canada?

  3. Slyder says

    Fighter Jets.

    Were the tax payers being intentionally mis-led or did the question change from how much do the jets cost to buy in 2013, to how much to they cost to develop, buy, maintain, fuel,. etc. for the next 42 years. These are two very different questions… and I think opposing parties jump on the general public lack of knowledge about life cycle costs and asset management principles. You have to compare apples to apple. The jets, still to this day, cost $9 billion to buy. A lot of the $45B-$9M = $34B is what would be spent to operate and maintain our existing CF-18’s if they could actually be operated and maintained for the next 42 years. It is convenient to leave this fact out though.

    When you go to a car dealership, and they tell you the car is going to cost your $10k, do you yell and scream and call them liars because they didn’t include the costs of fueling, maintainece and repairs for the next 10 year… and then, when they tell you this is the cost for the next 10 years, do you yell and scream more because you want them to tell you what it would cost for the next 15 years instead? Whether you agree Canada should buy fighter jets or not is one thing, and a great issue to discuss, but petty squibbling over semantics because you don’t understand the only reason costs went up is because the length of time looked at changed is silly.

    Inconsistencies on Accounts and Spending, setting service levels.

    Agreed… this defiantly needs to be cleaned up. But we have to be careful about talking out both sides of our mouth here. Do we want self-governance when the feds supply the money and the First Nations bands spend it as they like based on their perceived needs, or do we want the government to set the levels of spending based on defined goals and reduce the governance of First Nations, which they would then follow up on and audit… *coughs*. In any case, it is a problem on both sides of the fence… and it’s a lot easier to see if you’re sitting on said fence rather than on either side of it.

    Working with the existing system (which I agree is shitty, but it’s what we are working with now and all the intellectual masturbation in the world isn’t going to change anything without real, defined, measurable goals which you must know is going to be a complete clusterfuck with 600+ intrested parties) either accountability has to come from First Nations where they provide governments with levels of service, goals and budgets and the governments fund, or the government provides levels of services, goals and budgets, etc and gives out the money accordingly then monitors to ensure money is being spent well. Off reserve, doing budgeting and defining levels of service it typically done by the municipality with some provincial regulation for things like drinking water. They know best what their people need right? However in reserve situations, the onus seems to go back to the government, but then they are criticized for it because they don’t want to give out funding unless they are provide a budget… then yelled at more because they aren’t defining service levels… then are crit… well.. you get the point. Crazy right?

    Bill-C45 and Bill C-38… or the degradation of the Federal Environmental Protection

    I see this alot. Changes to the NWPA have nothing to do with environmental protection as described here (I’ve posted this link before… but keeping it all together). Generally they deal with ensuring a body of water that was navigable remains navigable, you know, say if you were bridging it with a pipeline or a structure. Applications for such projects still have to be reviewed by local/provincial/federal conservation authorities, environmental regulators and fisheries and oceans departments. There is no weakening of environmental protections:

    Fisheries Act changes in C-38 adjust the wording to indicate serious harm rather than harm to fish and remove mention of habitat as a general statement to put the onus on the actual fish. Rather than have protection fish habitat where no fish live… like man-made lakes for one, or a ditch, lets ensure we protect the fish (Crazy… amirite?!?!). I –guess- this weakens the legislation? Some reasons from the “evil” Conservatives why changes were made. Take them or leave them. I’m assuming you’ll leave them.

    Changes to Federal EA’s

    Yeah… they are reducing Federal involvement where provincial and municipal involvement already covers these roles. There is no deregulation. There is removal of duplication. Do you know how a project moves forward? Someone wants to build a bridge for example… or maybe a four lane road. What is happening is removing Federal oversight from project where there is already Provincial and/or Municipal oversight.
    Did you even read the letter from the Oil and Gas industry? They request a “streamlined” process which is what Bill C-38 and C-45 do. How is this a smoking gun? The letter amounts to…”Hey Harper… we love the environment buddy… but seriously… do we have to do an environmental assessment to the local municipality, the provincial government and the federal government? Think you could streamline that some?”

    They get rid of the double dipping. How many environmental policies to protect fish is enough? How many inspectors? How many regulations and unnecessary hoops to jump through? Have you even managed a project before? Are you even aware, in reality, of the redundancies that are in place for even the simplest of projects?

    Have you ever actually looked at what his 2009 budget included for the environment?

    “In the 2009 Federal Budget the government introduced billions of dollars in spending on the environment and green initiatives including, $1 billion over five years for clean energy research development and demonstration projects, including capture and storage; A new $1 billion Green Infrastructure Fund to support projects like public transit, sustainable energy and waste management; $1.3 billion over two years to support renovations and energy retrofits that will make Canada’s social housing stock more energy efficient, to be split on a 50/50 cost-shared basis with the provinces, $300 million over two years to go to the ecoENERGY Retrofit program to support an additional 200,000 energy-saving home retrofits; $250 million over two years to maintain federal laboratories; $85 million over two years for key Arctic research stations, and $2 million over two years for a feasibility study for a world-class Arctic research station; $80.5 million over the next two years to manage and assess federal contaminated sites, which will facilitate remediation work totalling an estimated $165 million over the next two years and contribute to an improved environment as well as employment opportunities; $75 million for national parks; and $10 million in 2009-2010 to improve the government’s annual reporting on key environmental indicators such as clean air, clean water and greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Wow… this is long as fuck. In any case, enjoyed playing the devil’s advocate and love the debate so thanks for this! I find what helps me when I really dislike something to write or read up on the opposite view point. It brings me back to reality a bit and helps me from making up false dichotomies. Don’t suppose you’d want to write up a post on what the Harper Government has done right, eh? You don’t have to like him, and your priorities may fall more in line with Liberal, or Green or NDP thinking and policies… but he can’t be all bad, can he?

    When I actually step back and look at politics, and review policies of different parties (usual before votes so I can get a little informed) I usually find things aren’t all that different. Blue people prioritieze economies and small governments, Green people put more emphasis on the envronmoent etc… but overall… they aren’t that far apart.

    However give a politician a camera and they act like the other party is destroying the world.

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