Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What Stephen Harper Should Have Done Right

Apparently, my last blogpost here was something of a bombshell. I think I've made it quite clear what I think Prime Minister Stephen Harper is doing wrong.

But I haven't yet made it clear how Harper should have handled the matter.

There's one thing Harper isn't wrong about: perception matters. Which is actually why, in making the decision to harangue Senator Mike Duffy -- a Senator he himself appointed to the upper chamber -- into repaying allegedly-ineligible expenses, he committed more than a simple error.

It's because perception matters that issues such as the one confronting Harper over Duffy and his colleagues Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau should have been handled in the open through due process, and should have been seen handled in the open via due process. The only role Harper should have had any point in this entire sad affair was calling a public inquiry to sort through the allegations against Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau and sort through the explanations each has -- none of which I find to be tacitly incredible, one way or the other.

That's exactly how the PMO should have handled the entire matter as well. And while Nigel Wright may or may not have acted without Harper's knowledge -- my opinion is that he likely did --  he was acting within Harper's stated wishes. It was Harper's desire that this go away quietly instead of the requisite questions being answered through due process that drove Wright to act as he did.

No one can argue that Harper isn't responsible for the actions of the PMO. Even if he didn't know what was going on -- the absolute least of which was Wright's cheque -- he should have. After issuing a directive that the Senate scandal be made to go away quietly, he should have checked up on exactly what was being done to make it happen. Of course, even this never should have happened, because Harper never should have even been so involved.

And now that Harper has been so involved he's attempting to roll on everyone else involved. He's changed his story on Wright so many times in so many ways that it's nearly impossible to keep track of it all.

He did it to himself, seemingly out of nothing more than a disdain for letting the matter be handled through due process out of the fear -- the mere fear -- of due process. And it may now be too late for him to turn back.

\Over this one comparatively inconsequential issue he's managed to lend fire to one of the left-wing Twitterverse's most impotent slogans; for the first time, Prime Minister Harper must resign.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Stephen's Chosen

Some may recall a blogpost entitled "Stephen's Choice." It was written very shortly after Brent Rathgeber left the Conservative Party caucus over the unacceptable gutting of his public service transparency bill.

In case you don't want to read the entire post again to get the gist of it, the message was fairly simple: that the Conservative Party of Canada, as Harper has built it, would either live or die based on the direction Harper took it in a party leader. If the party returned to its principles of open government by elected officials, the party, as Harper has built it, would live. If he allowed the trend of important decisions being made in back rooms by non-elected officials the party, as Harper has built it, would die.

Harper has made his choice. The party, as Harper has built it, has died.

A motion to suspend three former Conservative Senators without pay is an odd funeral. And yet here we are. And the same nonsense that has been going on ever since the allegations of impropriety against Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau arose seems to have flowed right out of the nonsense that surrounded Rathgeber's departure from caucus.

Today, Senator Patrick Brazeau reported that the government leader in the Senate, Claude Carignan, offered him what amounted to a backroom deal: if Brazeau agreed to apologize to Canadians for allegedly filing fraudulent expense claims, the punishment would be less severe.

"At approximately 10:20 am this morning, I was outside this chamber in the back and the leader of the Senate, the leader of the government in the Senate, took me aside. And I'll be very careful about my words here, but I was essentially offered a backroom deal," Brazeau explained. "And the backroom deal was that if I stood in this chamber, apologized to Canadians and took responsibility for my actions, that my punishment would be lesser than what is being proposed."

For his own part, Senator Carignan insists that he didn't intend to unduly threaten Brazeau, and that his words to Breazeau were meant as advice to a friend. Carignan insists Brazeau misinterpreted him. But given some of the interactions between Senator Duffy and the PMO, as well as some of his fellow Senators, I personally find that difficult to believe.

Whether phrased to Brazeau as an explicit offer/threat or not, Carignan was continuing a trend that allowed this affair to blow up as it has in the first place. Keep in mind that none of the allegations against Duffy, Wallun or Brazeau have ever been proven using anything even resembling due process -- something that Wallin noted when speaking in the Senate. There have been numerous audits that have supported, in turn, both the claims of impropriety and the defenses offered against them. This matter is far from settled in the mind of any fair-minded Canadian, one way or the other.

In the end, this is what the motion to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau is: an end-run around that due process; a desperate attempt to try to make this entire affair go away without the allegations ever being raised and sorted in a public forum of any sort. As Peter Goldring pointed out today, this is wrong and arguably a violation of the accused Senators' Charter Rights.

All of this when the best way to deal with all of this was, for better or worse, to deal with the entire mess out in the open, and to be seen dealing with the whole mess right out in the open. Where everyone can see what is happening, judge the evidence against Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau for themselves, and judge the government for its response to it.

Now the third of these three things is taking place, and because of the government's refusal to deal with it out in the open, that judgement has been overwhelmingly negative.

Inexplicably, Harper doubled down on this today. In an interview with John Tory, Harper insisted that the facts against the Senators were crystal clear. Given that some of the audits -- particularly those regarding Duffy's expenses -- actually support Duffy's claims, that Wallin and Brazeau each claim to have received approval from the Senate for the expenses they claimed, the only thing that is crystal clear is that nothing about this is crystal clear. At least not for those who haven't pre-judged the entire affair.

So in Harper's hands, the Conservative Party, as he promised all Canadians it would conduct itself in government, has died. There may now be no resuscitating it.

The form of this death should not be mistaken for the death that opponents of the party crave. The party exists, will continue to exist, and even though Harper's stubbornness and carelessness is currently dividing this party, there are still those within the party who can unite it again.

I'm by no means withdrawing my support for the Conservative Party. But I have withdrawn my confidence in the leadership of Stephen Harper. There's still time for the party to be revitalized and reunited under new leadership, provided that Harper can find it in himself to offer his resignation.

Keep in mind that the only viable alternatives to Stephen Harper as Prime Minister are within the Conservative Party. His principal opponents, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, are fools who have no business even imagining governing this country, let alone ever actually doing it.

Stephen Harper has made his choice. Now he has to live with it. But the very least he can do is allow the party to find new life with new leadership.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Asian Privilege: I'll Bet You Never Heard of THAT Before

White privilege exists. Or so critical race theorists and those in their thrall would have you believe.

To make you believe it, they're frequently keen to bombard you with half-cooked statistics combined with half-baked logic. Here's one that recently came to my attention: in schools operated by the Toronto and District School Board, black and aboriginal students are suspended most often.

That's bad.

But here's something from the Toronto Star's take on it that really stands out:

"Black students make up only about 12 per cent of high school students in the Toronto public board — about 32,000 — yet account for more than 31 per cent of all suspensions. White students account for some 29 per cent of suspensions, but make up nearly one-third of the entire student body."

So black students are statistically overrepresented in their share of suspensions. But at 31% of students, white students account for 29% of suspensions. There's a pretty good chance that two percent is within the study's margin of error. For all practical purposes, white students are neither overrepresented nor underrepresented in suspensions.

The only way this is possible is if some other racial/ethnic group is underrepresented among student suspensions. And as it turns out, one is: Asian students.

The comparison in suspensions between white and black students is the kind of thing that critical race theorists frequently point to in order to prop up their claims that white privilege exists. But if privilege accounts for the rates of suspension, it would seem that it isn't white students who are privileged at all, but rather Asian students.

Of course, you never hear about "Asian privilege". (At the risk of uttering a racial slur, would "yellow privilege" be a more appropriate term?) As a racial minority, critical race theorists hold that Asians cannot be privileged, their own standard of evidence to the contrary.

Of course, there's a better reason why you don't hear about "Asian privilege." Because like "white privilege," it doesn't exist.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Squishy Reasoning Behind Opposition to Mandatory Minmum Sentencing

The soft-on-crime crowd are applauding Justice John Menzies today for indulging himself in a little judicial activism today.

Menzies has suggested that mandatory minimum sentencing laws for gun crimes shouldn't apply to the case of a Manitoba man who fired six shots into the home of someone who he claimed had been bullying him. Two people were home at the time, although fortunately for everyone involved -- most of all for the perp -- no one was hurt.

But perhaps most appalling is the sponge-like logic that Menzies applied to the case. As highlighted by Aaron Wherry:

"Mandatory minimum sentences give an unfair advantage to the Crown by making it more likely for the accused to plead guilty to a lesser offence for fear of risking a long prison sentence, Menzies said. There is also more reluctance on the part of the court to convict an accused facing a lengthy sentence, he said."

Menzies' logic is clearly speculatory. So as long as we're speculating, let's walk this through:

1.) Menzies has argued that accused criminals may be more likely to plea bargain rather than risk facing a long sentence. And yet,

2.) Judges and juries may be less likely to convict based on the likelihood of a long sentence.

The logic simply doesn't hold. If judges and juries are less likely to issue convictions given the likelihood of long sentences, then there's actually less reason for accused criminals to seek plea bargains, and more reason for them to roll the dice in court, particularly if they are guilty.

No one -- especially not Wherry -- seems to have taken notice of this clear lapse in reasoning. Which is just another reminder of just what is wrong with the media discourse on crime in Canada.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Michael Bolen Lowers the Bar on Raising the Debt Ceiling

Apparently, Huffington Post Canada news editor Michael Bolen wants a piece of Anthony Furey. And he got it.

But in Bolen's appearance on Byline, Furey really was far too gentle with Bolen than his drivel warrants.

Essentially, Bolen's column shakes out as such: Canada should not have a debt ceiling because it would prevent Canada from taking on more debt. Government debt, Bolen maintains, is a good thing, and because governments can print and issue their own money, as well as inflate and deflate currency at will -- which is actually untrue -- it's OK.

Bolen writes:

"Governments are not like families or businesses. Families and businesses can't print currency and are not tasked with managing the money supply for the purpose of encouraging economic growth and curbing inflation. Deficit spending is an essential tool used by every reasonable government on Earth and growth is the best way to reduce debt. Not cuts."

This paragraph couldn't possibly be any more fiscally- or economically-illiterate.

First off, in Canada and the United States, governments do not print money or manage the money supply. Central banks do that, and they are arms-length institutions. Central banks print currency, set the interest rate, and while their governors may be appointed by the government, they operate as separate institutions.

Secondly, Bolen draws a link between economic growth and deficit spending that is spurious at best. It's true that properly-managed stimulus spending can help a government mitigate the effects of an economic downturn. The extent to which it can do that, and the extent to which it has, are very much subject to debate. But even upon accepting this to be true, in the case of the United States we aren't talking about periodic deficit spending during a recession; we're talking about continuous and uninterrupted deficit spending over the span of decades.

Unlike Prime Minister Stephen Harper, American Presidents -- Democrat and Republican alike -- have failed to balance their deficits against economic growth and shrink them as a percentage of GDP. When it comes to these failures, Obama has led the pack on a previously-unthinkable scale. Which is basically what this entire issue is about.

And perhaps Europe has been experiencing a rough ride under austerity. This is to be expected. But it wasn't austerity that was a disaster in places like Greece: it was unrestrained socialism.

Bolen is certainly right about one thing: the debt ceiling hasn't worked in the United States, for two reasons:

First, the American congress made a grievous error by setting the debt ceiling as a dollar figure, as opposed to a percentage of GDP. Should they have had the wisdom to set a limit on that -- say, limiting debt to 50% of GDP -- congress would have had to handle the deficit long before the debt reached 100% of GDP, as it did this past year.

Second, the current US congress has found itself working under the administration of a President who seems to have very little interest in governing and a great deal of interest in casting blame. It doesn't help that the Republican establishment seems very terrified of taking the blame for anything, even forcing the President to finally negotiate with his congress and actually passing a budget.

Other than that, Michael Bolen's column never manages to raise above the level of empty, economically-illiterate demagoguery.