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The Sixth Estate: Was Lac Megantic Disaster Caused By Too Much Government Regulation?

Probably not, but I made you look, no? I promised a commenter a more detailed post on an unrelated topic today, but I’m bogged down on that, and in the meantime, I can’t resist an “I told you so” moment on the past week’s coverage of the tragedy in Lac Megantic, Quebec.

Not very long ago, I pointed out in the wake of the disastrous floods in Calgary that conservative politicians and columnists had, with few exceptions, experienced an unbelievable overnight rebranding and emerged as big-government liberals. The government should have restricted home building in flood-prone areas, they told us. (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: The Seasons Test: Are People Too Stupid for Democracy to be Viable?

Last week, an interesting story flashed around the world’s media: in pretty much every country, men are much more knowledgeable about politics than women. Now, you might think that journalists would be disturbed at their failure in this regard. You might think there would be some public soul-searching on the part of both politicians and journalists about it. But of course there wasn’t. There didn’t need to be. After offering some glib, cheap remarks about why women tune out of politics more than men, we all moved on.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a copy of the paper (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Breathing the Air of Unreality in the Conservative Caucus

Whenever the vexed topic of Senate reform comes up, I’ve always tried to show the absurd air of unreality that surrounds the Harper government’s vapid proposals for making an elected Senate — what happens when the Senate and the House disagree? What happens if the Prime Minister refuses to appoint a Senate-electee, as the legislation allows him to do? And so on. At least as proposed by Harper, Senate reform is wholly unworkable, either a pointless dead letter at best or a state of permanent constitutional crisis at worst.

Some people have concluded that this means the Senate reform (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Union Bill Debacle Shows Why The Senate Should Not Be Elected

I’m intrigued by the battle lines drawn over the Senate’s recent decision to reject a terrible and churlish piece of legislation which would attempt to impose an improper and hypocritical set of financial disclosure regulations onto unions — only unions — that don’t apply to charities, corporations, political parties, or even the government itself. A great number of people commenced exulting over the decision of the Senate to stand up to Harper.

This is wrong, friends. Terribly wrong. An unelected body should only reject legislation which is clearly out of order, unconstitutional, or so far beyond the pale of normal (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Responsible Government? No, Thanks.

An extraordinary thing will happen in British Columbia today. The legislature will resume sitting for the first time since the spring election.

Now, normally, that wouldn’t be exceptional. But in B.C.’s case it is, because for the first time that I’m aware, the sworn-in premier will not be allowed to join her party in the legislature because she lost her seat in the last election and hasn’t yet won another seat.

It happens more and more often now that a newly anointed party leader doesn’t have a seat in the legislature. Christy Clark became premier in 2010 without (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Flood Aid and the Self-Serving Hypocrisy of the Free Market Right

I knew it was coming. I knew it was coming, as sure as you know that when a big disaster happens in our neighbour to the south, sooner or later some yappy preacher is going to announce that God sent the rains to punish gay people (or feminists, or illegal immigrants, or people wearing mixed polyester-cotton clothing, or whatever else strikes their bigoted fancy).

Right-wing governments in Edmonton and Ottawa are promising flood aid in huge amounts. The reason they are doing so, explains the state broadcaster, is because most of the homeowners who have had their homes devastated (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Steal an Election, Win a Cabinet Seat

While the media was playing up the make-believe non-ethical non-scandal of the fact that Justin Trudeau used to charge (gosh!) speaking fees for public lectures, those of us who are actually concerned with the real-life rule of law in this country were watching a trio of Conservative MPs petulantly refuse to file corrected campaign returns with Elections Canada on the grounds that if they did, said returns would show that they had exceeded their expense limits during the 2011 election and thus broken the law.

Refusing to file your forms can get you suspended from the House of Commons, (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Ethics, Shmethics: All Politicians are the Same (Not!)

You’ll have noticed how fixated the media is on the bright shiny object that is now-Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s speaking fees.

I can’t help but notice that during the time they’ve been fixated on that, one former Conservative candidate has been arrested on corruption charges and yet another sitting Conservative MP has been accused of stealing his election by exceeding his expense limit.

You’ll note that in one case, a backbench opposition MP did something legal, and in the other case, a backbench government MP did something that is (if true) clearly illegal.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me that (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: 12 Reasons the Harper Government Doesn’t Punish People Who Steal Elections

That’s 12 reasons apart from the fact that under Harper, the Conservative Party itself successfully attempted to steal the 2006 election by deliberately exceeding its spending limit and laundering the ill-spent funds through riding association accounts.

Harper won his long-coveted majority in 2011 by 12 votes. That number, of course, includes a considerable variety of people who are, shall we say, not averse to breaking the elections law when it suits their interests to do so.

The latest person to join the list of Con cons is Essex MP Jeff Watson, who exceeded his election spending limit and is attempting (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Are Canadians Tuning Out of Democracy? Only Sort Of.

A couple of weeks ago, I started a new series on popular apathy and the decline in popular interest in Canadian democracy by noting that, since 1867, the relative voting power of the average citizen has declined by around 90%. That is to say, each MP is answerable to more than ten times as many voters as they used to be. Under the circumstances, it’s perhaps not surprising that MPs feel less and less beholden to those who elect them.

The “real” problem which is complained about ad nauseam, however, is not the decline in voting power but the decline (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Mass Surveillance: Shamrock, Prism, and Supercomputers

As I kind of expected, when I suggested on Friday that we could now foresee an age where mass surveillance by governments was so cheap and easy that it would be effectively impossible to prevent, the main objection was that while it might be easy to collect essentially unlimited information, it would be impossible to process it, and hence the threat of some sort of grand Big Brother database is being overblown. I’d like to respond to that in detail.

One of the most chilling things about the leaked documents, at least to people who know a little of the (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: The Obama Snooping Scandal and the Inevitability of the Surveillance State

As you may have heard, the Obama administration has been outed as ambitiously Big Brother-ish, overseeing a National Security Agency surveillance program which essentially scoops user data from every major online source — Facebook, Google, Skype, even Apple — and puts it into the world’s largest personal information database. (This, surprisingly, means Facebook is probably only the second largest such database.)

There’s an inevitable furore in the press, as there should be, but I think — as I’ve warned before — that people are asking the wrong questions about the latest scandal. The reality is that the sort (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Guest Post: Despair, Hope, and Leadership in Canadian Politics

I wanted to respond to the posts Sixth Estate has written over the last week or two about Canadians’ apathy and despair. Sixth Estate has kindly given me the opportunity to reply in a guest post, and I’m taking up his offer.

To my mind, there are two explanations for why things have evolved the way they have. The first one is that too many Canadians, wearied from years of seeing politicians slander each other in the media, get caught ripping off the taxpayer, abusing the democratic process and demonizing people with dissenting views, have simply given up in despair. (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: The Great Anti-Ford Conspiracy of 2013

Ah, the sweet taste of vindication.

A week ago, I made a deeply depressing suggestion: that a critical mass of the electorate are simply prepared to accept just about any level of corruption and abuses of power on the part of a party they believe can best deliver economic benefits. Nope! There are limits, some of my readers retorted: the conservative right simply won’t put up with egregiously immoral behaviour.

And lo! a test case has arrived. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a month, you’ll know what I’m referring to: a string of thus-far-unproven allegations levelled (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Dodos, Efficient Governments, and the Unsolvable Problem of Climate Change, Part 3

This is the third part of a series on evolution and politics. You can also check out “Why Bacteria are Smarter than Drug Companies” and “Science Denialism and the Future of Humanity.”

One of the most common truisms you’ll run across in commentary on politics and the economy today is that the private sector is efficient and the government is not. For this reason, we should leave all policy problems to be solved by the private sector if at all possible: it can solve them cheapest. It’s only when the market fails that the government should (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Democratic Deficit Quantified: Canadians’ Representation in Parliament Declines by 97%

This post is the first of a new series on the history and future of Canadian multi-party democracy. The posts will be based on a spreadsheet of election results which I’ve assembled using Elections Canada data for recent elections, and Wikipedia tables for older ones. The spreadsheet is not yet finished but will be posted when it is. The first posts only make use of part of the data set, so I’m going ahead with them anyways.

One of the most important things that people should realize, and generally don’t, about the present state of Parliamentary democracy in Canada is (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Canadians Want Their Religion Cheap, Easy, and Inoffensive

What really irks me about religion coverage in this country is the remarkable credulity with which it is regularly treated. Of course that’s not limited to religion, but it’s an important thing to understand when thinking about the sorry state of contemporary journalism. It’s easy to assume that conservative parties get free reign simply because the majority of newspapers are conservative in political orientation. That part is factually true, and there’s certainly something to it, especially where editorial endorsements are concerned. But a broader question is the extent to which the media is capable of engaging in serious critical inquiry (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Conservatives Will Weather Duffygate

As my commenters were happy to point out, my last post on Senator Mike Duffy and Conservative political strategy was hilariously mistimed, since Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus mere hours later. I’ll cop to it: I was wrong, and superceded by events. There hasn’t been such a momentous blunder since Globe & Mail pundit John Ibbitson predicted that Bob Rae was “almost certain” to win the Liberal leadership campaign last year, only to have Rae confirm hours later that he wouldn’t be running in the campaign in the first place.

In my defence, I don’t get paid to be (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: What the Mike Duffy Scandal Says About Canadian Democracy — And What the Conservatives Think It Will Say

In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the last few months, the National Post’s Matt Gurney has a useful summary of Mike Duffy’s corrupt antics in the Senate, up to and including the decision by the Prime Minister’s Office to bail out Duffy with $90,000 in cash from Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, which Duffy then used to pay back his $90,000 in ill-gotten gains bilked from the taxpayer via fraudulent expense claims. At the time, the PMO praised Duffy for “voluntarily” paying back the money. It now turns out there was nothing less than a (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: The BC NDP’s Error: Nobody Cares

I’m not terribly interested in speculating, at least for the moment, about why the pollsters would be devastatingly incorrect — again — about a provincial election campaign. My guess is that in this case it has something to do with young people not voting, but again, the answer will become clear over the next couple of weeks. Mainly because that’s what the media will be focusing on.

Instead I have something else to get off my chest. I’m disappointed every time a far-right anti-government political party led by ignorant, unimaginative, corrupt, pro-global warming oligocrats wins an election. But to be (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: CBC Backtracks on Fact-Checking, Supports Government — But a Former BC Liberal Leader Disagrees!

Yesterday I published a fairly scathing review of CBC’s attempt at a fact-checking service .pxp0{position:absolute;clip:rect(432px,auto,auto,431px);} payday loans lenders online

, which appeared to conclude that the right-wing BC Liberal Party (a former Social Credit gang which is now a close ally of Stephen Harper) was spreading untruths about the record of the opposition NDP when they were in power during the 1990s. Which was fine with me, except that CBC then bizarrely suggested that the Liberals “want [voters] to remember” what happened in the 1990s. Of course the very nature of false propaganda is that you want people to remember (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Peter Penashue Plumbs New Depths in Conservative Corruption

Well, at least we have it confirmed for us. The reason that Vic Toews is a Cabinet minister despite being convicted of election fraud, the reason that Peter Penashue is allowed to stand as a Conservative candidate despite being responsible for similar violations of the law, the reason Peter Van Loan is still House Leader despite committing similar violations of the law, the reason Gary Goodyear is still science minister despite violating the elections law, and the reason that Tony Clement was promoted in Cabinet despite a Sponsorship Scandal-sized diversion of border security funds into park-building in his cottage country

. . . → Read More: The Sixth Estate: Peter Penashue Plumbs New Depths in Conservative Corruption

The Sixth Estate: The Cyprus Banking Crisis and How Banks Really Work

The Cyprus banking crisis is a useful teachable moment about banking and taxation — so I guess I’m not surprised that this opportunity is being entirely missed by the media, most of whom probably don’t know what’s actually going on, either. Both the left and the right are incensed at the Cypriot government’s proposed solution: a 6.7-9.9% tax on savings account balances will raise funds which will then be used to bail out the banks. That didn’t go over well. The result was that the government backed away and is now frantically considering other options. It needs to

. . . → Read More: The Sixth Estate: The Cyprus Banking Crisis and How Banks Really Work

The Sixth Estate: Conservatives Lose $8 Billion, Get Free Pass From Media

It’s possible to trace, year over year, the increasing negligence and partisanship of the Canadian media by how they react to government budgets. Take this year’s budget, for instance. If a Liberal or NDP government anywhere in the country, let alone federally, tabled a budget that blew past its previous deficit projections by billions of dollars, I cannot imagine that the most exciting part of the new budget would be the new cut to tariffs on children’s sports equipment. Hardly. The media would be screaming about the evils of big government deficits.

Which is why it’s worth poking a hole (Read more…)

The Sixth Estate: Conservative Lawlessness Reaches its Rubicon

If I had a shred of real optimism left, I’d say the wheels are starting to fall off of the Harper bus. But I have no such shred left. Instead all I have is a sinking suspicion that yet another wave of pro-government editorials will soon sweep the free press, everyone will comment mindlessly on the latest poll from Nanos, and then it will be back to normal again.

Which is why the recent surprise resignation of minister Peter Penashue should not be allowed to pass unmarked. To recap, Minister Penashue stands accused of vastly exceeding his election spending limit

. . . → Read More: The Sixth Estate: Conservative Lawlessness Reaches its Rubicon