Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoughts on the Throne Speech: Part Two

After a bit of time, here's the second post covering the recent Throne Speech. I think we should be able to get everything into this second post, so let's get down to the brass tacks.

"Respond to emerging threats to our sovereignty and economy posed by terrorism and cyber-attacks, while ensuring Canadians’ fundamental privacy rights are protected;"

There's a few interesting things about this comment. Firstly, one has to wonder how hard it was for the government to include reference to 'cyber-attacks' as our country has been caught engaging in its own cyber actions against Brazil. While not necessarily adhering to the classical definition of a cyber-attack, in that there was no aim to take down servers or compromise accessibility, there is a case to be made that cyber-intrusions are basically cyber-attacks themselves.

Secondly, there's no mention of the latest investment into CSEC and the building of their new headquarters. One imagines that CSEC would be on the front line in defending the country from cyber-attacks; yet there is no mention of the $1.2 billion dollar headquarters being built for the little known agency. Likely, the mention has much to do with the first problem: Brazil. After all, mentioing CSEC now would just remind people that Canada, and the rest of the so called 'Five Eyes' countries, are being a little less than diplomatic when it comes to countries that are supposed to be our friends.

"Reduced red tape so veterans can access the benefits they need."

Yes, they've reduced red tape so much that veterans haven taken the government to court. (LINK) For the TL;DR version: The government changed disability pensions for injured soldiers from a pension based system to a lump sum system. The lump sum system pays out less benefits to injured veterans, and fall short of covering worker compensation claims as well.

Understandably, veterans are angry about the changes to the system and are feeling shortchanged by the government. Notably, this isn't the first time the Harper Government has gotten into trouble with Veterans advocates. When the government brought forward the new Veterans Charter, it also ruffled feathers and led to some court battles between the federal government and veterans; notably Sean Bruyea. (LINK)

Basically, the key argument here is that the Harper Government's track record with veterans and the military isn't great; and changes that have been made, especially with regards to veteran affairs, have met opposition and condemnation from a lot of former service members. It's rather disingenuous for the government to try and make the claim that they've done a great service by veterans.

"Our Government has established the Canadian High Arctic Research Station. This world-class science and technology research facility will open in time for the 150th anniversary of Confederation."

This is one of those tricky issues. A lot of people will remember the waves made when it was announced that PEARL was having its funding slashed, and that the research site currently in Canada's far north was likely to be shuttered. From finding alternative funding, PEARL was able to stay open. At the same time, the government made it clear that CHARS was going to be Canada's go-to research centre in the North.

Yet, some scientists have brought forward concerns about closing down spaced apart stations across the North and putting everything under one roof. (LINK) Furthermore, many have also commented that CHARS will not be able to replicating the kind of data PEARL did, due to the major gap in latitude difference. PEARL is situated in the 'true high arctic', where changes to the landscape due to global weather change patterns are more easily recordable. CHARS has the potential to minimize this kind of data, due to the difference in location.

"The story of the North is the story of Canada. In order to tell that story for Canada’s 150th year, our Government will continue efforts to solve one of the most enduring mysteries of our past. We will work with renewed determination and an expanded team of partners to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition."

As mentioned in the first post, we have a government preaching fiscal responsibility and then announcing a completely random expenditure. There isn't a price tag attached, but one can imagine what the cost will be.

After all, this plan was already announced back in August. (LINK) The expedition is being led by Parks Canada, and includes help from the "Royal Canadian Navy, the Arctic Research Foundation, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Space Agency and the Nunavut government." Keep in mind, Parks Canada was one of the departments put on notice to cut jobs in order to help turn around the government deficit. (LINK)

I'm sure there's solace for laid off Parks Canada employees to know that funds that once provided them a job are now being used to find out the fate of an explorer that isn't even taught about in schools now a days. And before you wash off that comment, I took several extensive classes in Canadian History throughout my University career; some of which covered directly explorers who explored the Canadian landscape, and at no time did John Franklin or his lost expedition ever come up.

So, the only enduring mystery here is why if it's so important to the fabric of Canadian identity, that we aren't teaching our children about it. Or the better mystery, is why we're going to be spending what will likely turn out to be a large amount of tax dollars to do so.

As one commentator on Twitter put it; money for finding Franklin, nothing for missing Aboriginal women.

"Building a Memorial to the Victims of Communism, to remember the millions who suffered under tyranny."

This one is semantics, but it is worth talking about. If you're familiar with the work done by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, then you would know the 20th Century use of the word "communism" is a bit of a misnomer. No country, let me emphasize that, NO COUNTRY that has ever claimed to adhere to communist ideology has ever actually followed through on that.

Lenin and Stalin's view of communism was markedly different from Marx's view. So much so, that their foundations are often referred to as Leninism and Stalinism rather than Communism. The ideals that they helped create (cults of personality around leadership, use of secret police, elimination of political rivals, etc.) were not and are not tenants of communism as laid down by Marx.

So, calling a monument a memorial to the Victims of Communism is quite misleading. More accurately, this monument would be better served by branding it as a memorial to the Victims of Authoritarianism. After all, it is controlling governments in general (not just the ideology they serve) that create victims out of their people.

Furthermore, Elizabeth May has taken flak for her tweet about a memorial to victims of Capitalism. I posted a similar tweet on the day of the Throne Speech, and would like to expand on that.

For people who say capitalism didn't endorse mass disappearances or murder against rivals, you need to look to our past and outside our borders. Early industrialization was not pleasant for the workers. You had no safety equipment, children were used as workers, wages were low, and you couldn't complain under threat of being immediately replaced.

Look to the hostility against unionized labour in our past, and in the USA. It was not uncommon for police to actively and forcibly use violence against workers attempting to organize. It was also not uncommon for workers to be let go, and in some extreme cases, killed for trying to bring forward some modicum of protection at work.

Furthermore, there are still cases today of victims of capitalism. When a company decides not to invest in better safety practices, or less training for employees in potential dangerous situations, things often go wrong. The latest epidemic of train derailments in this country speak to companies often putting their bottom line ahead of proper safety regulations.

It's bad enough when this lack of expenditure harms or kills workers, but we're seeing it starting to harm average citizens. If these people are not victims, I don't know what you would call them.

And if you want to see the same kind of 'tactics' under Stalinist Russia, look to countries outside our borders. Places like Mexico, India, and countries throughout Southeast Asia. Places where union leaders have been actively murdered, or just 'disappeared', by large companies attempting to maintain the status quo and a cheap operating budget.

Capitalism has blood on its hands; as does the so-called 'Communist' regimes that have existed in our world. But this is pandering of the worst kind; and it is insane that any reasonable Canadian would accept the logic presented by the government on this issue as sound. We do need to remember the wrongs of the past, especially in cases of genocide or mass murder. But we cannot white wash our own history in the guise of a different, therefore better, ideological system.

"The Government continues to believe the status quo in the Senate of Canada is unacceptable. The Senate must be reformed or, as with its provincial counterparts, vanish. The Government will proceed upon receiving the advice of the Supreme Court. And, the Government will propose changes to Canada’s elections laws to uphold the integrity of our voting system. Legislation will be introduced in time for implementation prior to the next federal election."

For most people, this was the major point we all wait for. In the end, it amounted to very little of the overall speech, and contributed no concrete ideas.

While it was refreshing to hear the Governor General say that the Senate must reform or be abolished, the odds of the Harper Government moving towards abolition are practically zero. After all, they've spent too much time talking about reforming it and holding true to the classical idea of the Triple E senate. Abolishing it would be a win for the opposition, primarily the NDP, and I just can't see Harper giving the NDP that kind of talking point going into an election.

And again, we have talk of electoral reform...but no reference as to what this could mean. I doubt this will result in a strengthening of Elections Canada; due to the Harper Government's seemingly distaste of the organization, so it leaves one wondering just what they might do.

My knee jerk reaction, and worry, is that it could be tightening on requirements for voting. The Harper Government made waves over their change requiring female Muslim voters to remove facial coverings prior to voting, so I'm wondering if perhaps they won't be hammering home a greater need for identification at the voting booth.

They've already made some headway on this front in previous sessions of Parliament; but given that allegations of unregistered voters being allowed to vote at polls, I could see a tougher crackdown on that coming. It's also one of the few issues that hasn't been directly tied to any of the past Conservative campaigns, so it would allow them to look like they're doing something, while also allowing them to avoid talking about 'in-and-out' financing, robocalls, and campaign overspending.

But, I suppose time will tell on that.

In the end, this was one of the more controversial Throne Speeches in recent memory; but more so for what happened behind the scenes than for the content of the speech.

The Media has been hammering the Conservatives for sending out a fundraising appeal following the speech claiming that media members snubbed a Conservative event prior to the speech in favour of the opposition parties. In truth, the event had banned the media from the event. Many media commentators are calling this a new low in the relations between the media and the Federal Government; and I think that's a fair term for it.

There's also been the cry from the NDP that the speech contains as many as 10 policy ideas carried by the NDP in previous elections; and that had been brought forward at one point in time, only to be defeated by the Conservatives.

Then of course, there's also been the deriding of the Throne Speech as a temporary distraction from growing Conservative scandals. From deeper allegations against the Three Exiled Senators; to Dean Del Mastro, and conflict of interest allegations, the Conservatives continue to find themselves mired in ethical lapses that have dominated conversation and public opinion. The underwhelming presence of the Throne Speech has only further cemented to most observers that the move was indeed less about setting a new agenda, and more about trying to put some distance between the scandals.

In the end, the Throne Speech in and of itself is immaterial. What matters is what the government brings forward from the speech for debate in the Commons, and how they attempt to implement the agenda set by it; or more importantly, whether or not they actually mean to carry through on the policies set out.

No comments: