Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Harper's Message Control Has Hurt the Canadian People

John Ibbitson's column this week had a rather odd headline: Is Jim Flaherty the first great Conservative finance minister? Ibbitson does point out that it was actually Liberal governments that put the safeguards in place that protected us during the latest "economic crisis". But he says of Flaherty:
There has not been a great Conservative finance minister in modern times. All the great finance ministers, from Walter Gordon to Paul Martin, have been Liberal. But Jim Flaherty, who has been in charge of the purse strings for five years, through good times and bad, can lay fair claim to at least being a successful Conservative finance minister.
I think it may be fitting that in the same week of Ibbitson's misguided column, another headline appeared: Study ranks Canada’s freedom-of-information laws dead last
A new study ranks Canada dead last in an international comparison of freedom-of-information laws — a hard fall after many years being judged a global model in openness. The study by a pair of British academics looked at the effectiveness of freedom-of-information laws in five parliamentary democracies: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Canada.New Zealand placed first and Canada last.

“Canada used to be in the vanguard on this issue,” said Alasdair Roberts, a professor at Boston’s Suffolk University Law School and an expert in freedom-of-information ... Other countries “don’t look to Canada for an example of how to do business anymore,” Roberts said in an interview.
Other countries don't look to Canada for much these days. It's sad that the only place we lead now is in secrecy. Daniel LeBlanc confirms that: Access-to-information woes grow ever more absurd

And there is a far reaching problem with that.

For five years Stephen Harper has been systematically tearing down our access to information. First controlling the media, by not allowing them to ask questions, unless presented well in advance, so that answers could be scripted. Then by taking his own photographs released to media, and even preparing his own videos, that are often presented as "news".

We're not told that the videos were created by a Harper staffer and paid for by taxpayers.

Communication in the "Harper government" is now a strategic function, shifting from information to promotion, and from substance to image, which continues to fuel our "democratic deficit."

When this unprecedented message control can fool a seasoned journalist like John Ibbitson, it shows how successful it has been for Stephen Harper, but how devastating it has been to the Canadian people.

The "Harper Government" Steered by George Bush

... his hard-right agenda strikes out in so many directions simultaneously that it's nearly impossible for the average citizen to keep up. In his first term as president, Bush has sought to explode precedents in almost every area of governance, whether the policy in question be foreign or domestic, popular or unpopular, old or new, effective or not. He has done so in contempt of the opinions of not only his opponents but also many of the corps of professional experts who are charged with nonpartisan evaluation of government programs purely from a standpoint of efficacy. (1)

Controlling the message to keep citizens forever in the dark, is not new. Nazi Germany is certainly the best example, but Stephen Harper didn't have to go back that far. He just had to tap into the "success" of George Bush.

"By the fall of his third year, the father Bush had held sixty-one press conferences; his son by the same time, nine." (1) How often does Stephen Harper hold a press conference? And remember a photo-op is not a press conference.

And what this message control does is obscure the facts. For example when Stephen Harper announced that his government was creating a sanctuary for Beluga whales, it was at the same time that he agreed to allow oil drilling in that same "sanctuary". The headlines were about the preservation of Belugas, not the potential disaster of offshore drilling. (Gulf oil spill anyone?)

When he announced in his Accountability Act that citizens would be given more access to information, at the same time we learn that an important website, making it easier to access information, was shut down.

When the Conservative bluster was about championing women's rights, his government cut funding to women's support groups and removed the word "equality" from the Status for Women.

You see how the game is played? Karl Rove 101.

So now for a little reality check, comparing headlines to what is really happening with our economy.

Ottawa triples bailout cash. But I thought our banks hadn't been bailed out?

The fact is that they were indeed bailed out to the tune of $125 billion in Canada, and another $111 billion courtesy of the American taxpayer. But Flaherty's office controlled the message creating the myth of our "good banks".

What this means for Canadian taxpayers is that we are now the largest lender of sub-prime mortgages in the world, since Jim Flaherty bought on our behalf, all of their toxic paper.

You could argue in reading the piece that this "false" good news encouraged stimulation in the economy. But what it really stimulated was household debt. We bought into the myth and Canadians now also have the highest income to debt ratio in the world.

Pension plan board must use its new power of derivatives cautiously. Stern words coming from our finance minister. He's on top of things.

But wait a minute. Derivatives? Isn't that what caused the "global economic crisis"? Too much gambling with something Warren Buffet calls "financial weapons of mass destruction"?

Why is Jim Flaherty allowing our CPP funds to be invested in something that could result in a financial weapon of mass destruction, in the first place? And why did he stack his office with Goldman Sachs' employees. The same Goldman Sachs that initiated the "Global economic crisis"?

Flaherty preaches prudence to banks. Really? Are you kidding me?

It was Flaherty who allowed the risky sub-prime mortgages to escalate in this country in the first place. Is that prudent? Which also brings us to this headline: Jim Flaherty tightens mortgage rules. Too little too late.

Flaherty has also signed on to new accounting rules that allow corporations to lie about their financial position to lure prospective investors. This would include investors like your company pension plan. And he and Stephen Harper have heavily deregulated our banking system, making the survival of another economic crisis less likely.

So pardon me Mr. Ibbitson, but if it's all the same to you, I'll hold off my applause for now. I'm far too busy waiting for the axe to fall.


1. The Book on Bush: How George W. (mis) Leads America, By Eric Alterman and Mark Green, Penguin Books, 2004, ISBN: 0-670-03273-5, Pg. 67

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