Stephen Harper – the last Straussian?
From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Sep. 17, 2010 5:00AM EDT
I’m talking political philosophy here, not Viennese waltzes. People keep asking why Stephen Harper acts as he does, it looks so buttheaded. He seems to muck up his own prospects: firing decent people, lashing out, raising the partisan rhetoric, proroguing Parliament haughtily, binging on military toys, mauling the census – he’s a bright boy, it’s hard to figure.
I used to favour a theory of political Tourette’s, the kind portrayed by Robert Redford in 1972’s The Candidate. You suppress your political ideals for the sake of electability as long as you can; then the buildup leads to random outbursts. But there’s another explanation: Straussianism.
Leo Strauss was a German-Jewish thinker who escaped Hitler for the U.S. but despaired over the depravity that liberalism might lead to there as it had in Germany, after the liberal 1920s. He felt almost any means were valid to save Western civilization but, due to liberalism’s strength, the strategy had to be cautious, secretive, even duplicitous, with the truth confined to an elite. This rarefied vision became highly influential when it was spread by his students (and theirs) in government, think tanks and media during the Reagan and Bush years. It’s a prominent force at Mr. Harper’s intellectual home, the University of Calgary. What does it illuminate in his behaviour?
Secretiveness, an aura of manipulation and a sense of hidden agendas. From a Straussian view, these are good things as means to noble ends. When I studied in the U.S., Straussian students used to lurk, literally, around antiwar protests or demos. Some sneakiness is routine in politics but here it gets a high-minded intellectual justification. It’s almost romantic.
Religion. Leo Strauss felt most people will never do the right thing for rational reasons; they need to be motivated by the myths and emotionality of religion. So his neocon disciples, many of them Jewish, built strong links to the Christian right. Stephen Harper attends an evangelical church, yet he doesn’t seem much of a fit; he shows none of the passion there that he has for politics. Perhaps it just goes with the Straussian territory.
Nationalism. The PM may have shown his real feelings about Canada in 2000 when he called it “a second-tier socialistic country.” Still, for Straussians, nationalism ranks alongside religion as a way to motivate people to great things beyond the vapidity of liberalism. This may help explain the Harper Arctic sovereignty initiatives, or even his curious focus on hockey.
Populism and democracy. Leo Strauss (like his man, Plato) never liked democracy much but his disciples are ready to use it against the real villain, liberalism. To this end, they appeal to the “anti-liberal” impulses of ordinary folk against the “liberal elites,” via “wedge issues” like gun control, abortion or attacks on high art. (That one was especially self-destructive in Quebec.)
Contempt. There seem high levels of this, even for politics, among the Harperites (John Baird, Jason Kenney etc.). But Straussianism requires a strong sense of Us v. Them, to overcome the lassitude created through what it views as liberal notions such as tolerance and cultural relativism.
By way of comparison, take Preston Manning. His Christianity seems deeply felt, like his populism. They aren’t elements of strategy. He appears to believe he can actually persuade voters, not just fool and control them. He’s a conservative but he’s no Straussian (unless he’s a very devious one).
One can see the appeal of Canada to Straussians. The U.S. always had so much fevered religiosity, hypernationalism and paranoid individualism, you hardly needed to seed them there by stealth. Here, though, we still have liberals, Liberals, even social democrats. We may be Straussianism’s happy hunting ground.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Posted by Brent Fullard at 8:37 AM
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Concerning Nigel Wright’s new (temporary) job as Harper’s Chief of Staff, what conflicts of interest (if any) exist between the following:
(a) Mr. Wright is only on “temporary leave” from Onex Corporation and according to a company statement will return “in 18 to 24 months to resume leadership of Aerospace and Defence and Energy verticals” (National Post, September 25, 2010).
(b) Canada’s untendered contract to spend $16-billion to purchase and maintain 65 new stealth jets and the professed spin-offs to the Canadian aerospace industry?
Posted by Brent Fullard at 8:24 AM
Friday, September 24, 2010
Posted by Brent Fullard at 12:59 PM
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
MONTREAL, QUEBEC, Sep 15, 2010 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) -- Quebecor Media Inc. announces the departure of Mr. Kory Teneycke, Vice President, Development.
"We would like to thank Kory for the excellent work he has performed for our company, and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavours", declared Mr. Pierre Karl Peladeau, President and CEO of Quebecor Inc. and Quebecor Media Inc.
Continuing development efforts related to the Sun TV News file will now be the responsibility of Mr. Luc Lavoie.
Okay, so Fox North will now be run by Mulroney's spin doctor (Luc Lavoie) instead of Harper's spin doctor (Kory what's-his-name?). This is progress?
Posted by Brent Fullard at 10:29 AM
This is exactly the structure that Catalyst proposed to BCE as the means to maximize shareholder value rather than pursue the leveraged buyout from Teachers' and US private equity. BCE, intent on enriching management by going private, failed to disclose this Catalyst alternative to its shareholders, which is against security disclosure rules.
WTE to convert, issuing shares and a debt instrument, combined as unit
Westshore Terminals to convert to corporate structure from income fund
Tue Sep 14, 8:28 PM
The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER - Westshore Terminals Income Fund (TSX: WTE-UN.TO) said Tuesday that it plans to convert from an income fund to a corporate structure at the start of next year.
Under the plan, which requires unitholder approval, unitholders will receive a combination of shares and debt in exchange for their Units.
The shares will be issued by a newly formed public company, while the debt, in the amount of $5 per existing unit, will be issued in the form of notes that will mature in 2040.
The shares and debt will be separate, but will be listed and trade together as units.
Like many income trusts, Westshore is making the switch because of new tax rules taking full effect on Jan. 1, 2011, that eliminate tax advantages they previously enjoyed.
The fund also announced Tuesday that it would pay a distribution of 46 cents per unit to unitholders of record at Sept. 30.mes from Westshore's cash reserves.
For the third quarter, Westshore said it expects tonnage throughput will be approximately 6.3 million tonnes compared with 5.4 million tonnes for the same period in 2009.
Units in the fund closed up 15 cents at $20.12 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday.
Posted by Brent Fullard at 8:24 AM
Monday, September 13, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Build your own arena
Special to the National Post ·
Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010
The following first appeared yesterday on Conservative MP Maxime Bernier's blog.
For the past two days, I have received several demands to clarify my position on the project to build a new arena in Quebec City, which would get 100% of its funding from governments. I expressed my main reservations about it yesterday in an interview with a Beauce radio station (the daily paper Le Soleil published a summary of what I said in an article on Friday).
As many people have told me, I can't travel the country and make speeches about individuals and governments being responsible, about living within our means and reducing government intervention, while refusing to take a clear stand on an issue where these principles squarely come into play.
The hard reality is that we have just been through a global economic crisis -- which remains very preoccupying and is likely not over -- and governments in both Quebec City and Ottawa are heavily indebted. Our government has just posted a huge $56-billion deficit and the priority is to get back to a balanced budget through reductions in our own programs, and avoid by all means getting involved in risky financial ventures.
I was not at all impressed by the Ernst & Young study, which concluded that the project would be "profitable" -- but only on the assumption that governments provide full funding for the construction as well as the repairs and renovations that will be necessary over the next 40 years. That's a deceptive way of putting it. The conclusion should rather be that the project is simply not profitable and will constitute a financial burden for taxpayers for decades to come, even in the best scenario. That's why not a single private player has been found to invest in it.
Finally, one of the arguments we've heard most often in Quebec City in support of public funding is that "Montreal got such and such investment," "Toronto benefitted from this program," or "Vancouver got that amount of money." Since our governments have been throwing money in all directions for decades, there is obviously no way to refute such arguments.
But the fact that we are caught in this unending spiral of spending and debt accumulation is precisely what has brought us to today's intolerable situation. It is the same dynamic which pits Canadians against one another in the hope of getting a share of the big pile of money which constitutes the public treasury.
We can see the usual pattern already. If Quebec City gets the $175-million that it is asking from Ottawa to build its arena, other cities and regions of the country will want the same treatment, using fairness as an excuse. At the end of the day, we may be forced to spend several times that amount of money in order to treat everyone fairly.
As the great French economic Frederic Bastiat wrote, "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else." When such large amounts are in play, it is impossible to calculate exactly who has received how much. We would need to go beyond a single file and take into account all public spending items, going as far back as possible.
That's what Quebec separatists like to do. They keep telling us that Quebec has been on the losing side of the financial equation and that Ottawa has systematically been favouring Ontario for more than a century. Meanwhile, people in the rest of the country believe that Quebec is the spoiled child of the federation. Each region can point toward many examples to nurture its frustrations. It is a pointless debate which can only divide our country.
This dynamic has to stop one way or another. We cannot continue in this way to pass on to our children the bills for all the projects that we cannot afford to pay ourselves. We cannot continue to distribute ever larger amounts of money to please everyone and buy social peace, while refusing to face the consequences. We cannot ask governments to manage our money in a responsible manner while at the same time demanding that they devote some more money to an irresponsible venture that will benefit us.
I too share the dream of again seeing a professional hockey team come back to play in our region and I sincerely hope that a way will be found to make this dream come true. But dreaming does not make the hard financial reality go away. It's nice to have dreams, but when you use borrowed money to achieve them and act as if money grows on trees, you may have a brutal awakening. For all these reasons, I cannot in good conscience support this project.
Posted by Brent Fullard at 11:25 AM
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
When asked for his comment on the Marshall Savings Plan, all John McCallum could muster in response was: “It’s complicated”.
Meanwhile an Environics Poll concluded that 79.6% of Canadians supported implementation of the Marshall Savings Plan in Budget 2010.
Hopefully Scott Brison has a better grasp of the obvious than John McCallum. Nothing complicated about that.
Posted by Brent Fullard at 1:39 PM
Thursday, September 2, 2010
MOSCOW — Smoke and drink more, Russia’s finance minister Alexei Kudrin said to citizens on Wednesday, explaining that higher consumption would help lift tax revenues for spending on social services.
“If you smoke a pack of cigarettes, that means you are giving more to help solve social problems such as boosting demographics, developing other social services and upholding birth rates,” Kudrin said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.
“People should understand: Those who drink, those who smoke are doing more to help the state,” he said, offering unconventional advice as the Russian government announced plans to raise excise duty on alcohol and cigarettes.
This is the same perverse logic that Flaherty used when he attempted to justify his income trust tax with the totally false proposition (as contained in the Ways and Means motion) that taxing income trusts would:
"Strengthening Canada's social security system for pensioners and seniors"
I must have missed it, as Canada’s social security system wasn’t strengthened in the least by Flaherty’s income trust tax. Quite the opposite in fact as pensioners and seniors have witnessed their means of retirement income from income trusts being taken away from them and the government’s tax revenues dramatically decline from all these trusts taken over by foreigners who completely evade the taxes that Canadians were happily paying.
Just how exactly does that "Strengthen Canada's social security system for pensioners and seniors", Mr. Flaherty?
Posted by Brent Fullard at 11:25 PM
Check out the low brow garbage they are printing in the Sun these days. I guess their unintended goal is to drive down readership with drivel like this.
Here was my comment to the Sun’s Editorial of today entitled “Why we ignore Professor Ignatieff”
Brent Fullard’s comment Who wrote this editorial drivel? Kory what’s his name, former Communications Director for Stephen Harper and now in charge of the Sun newsroom?
BTW: Where's Greg Weston?
Why we ignore Professor Ignatieff
By QMI Agency
September 2, 2010
After a summer shaking hands with the underclass -- (did you take our advice and buy stock in Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Purell?) -- it would appear Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff believes he is still walking the halls of academia.
It seems he can't resist the urge to lecture Canadians of lesser intellect who, to his way of thinking, would consist of everyone in this nation who is not him.
Perhaps it is a genetic affliction.
His grandfather, after all, was Count Paul Ignatieff, the last education minister to serve under Russian Tsar Nicholas II.
Then 1917 came along.
But the elitist Ignatieff seal had been stamped.
So fast forward to earlier this week, dateline Masstown, N.S., and there is Michael Ignatieff -- BA, MA, PhD, BFD -- lecturing us on the most basic rule of our law, the innocent until proven guilty bit, and then urging us not to panic over the recent terror arrests in our nation's capital.
It is this snoot-nosed arrogance Ignatieff will never be able to shake and why, no matter how many hands he pumps, he will never achieve a meeting with the common mind.
He thinks we're all as dumb as posts.
Listen in, for here's Ignatieff's take on the recent terror arrests.
"It's important for Canadians to realize in the Toronto (18) case, the courts acquitted many people," he tell us. "These people (in Ottawa) are innocent until proven guilty and they have rights as Canadians, and those rights need to be respected."
Fair enough, professor. But, just out of curiosity, whose side are you on?
And then, to top it off, Ignatieff goes on to urge Canadians not to panic when, until he channels Chicken Little's ghost, it had never occurred to Canadians there was ever any need to panic.
Face it, the alleged conspirators were in custody, the plot never thickened and, as for the Toronto 18, the convicted ring leaders will be in prison until their wicks burn out.
Our intelligence and police services did their jobs.
As for those among the Toronto 18 who were acquitted, who cares?
Certainly not us.
The system worked, and that's all that matters.
So spare us the lecture.
Posted by Brent Fullard at 6:00 PM
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Foreign Takeovers of Canadian Corporations: should we care?
By: Elizabeth May
Published: September 1, 2010
The latest flashpoint in the long-standing conflict over the loss of Canadian corporations to foreign buyers is over potash. Potash is the stuff from which industrial fertilizers are made.
Given the clout of the Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, the largest mining company in the world, it is likely that the $38.6 billion (US) takeover of Potash Corp. will succeed. It will be reviewed to determine if Canada receives a “net benefit” under the Investment Canada Act. But as only one takeover since 2007 has been turned down -- Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, of its space division, to a U.S. firm -- it is likely this one will be rubber-stamped.
So another resource company will move out of Canadian control.
The list of iconic Canadian corporations that are Canadian no longer is fairly shocking. Since 2007, we have lost Hudson Bay, Inco, Falconbridge, Dofasco, Alcan, and Stelco to name the largest. 2007 was a year of all –time high foreign takeovers, but 2010 has a larger number of transactions already. Despite reviews to ensure a “net benefit,” the track record is not re-assuring, US Steel did not honour promises to Stelco workers, and Brazilian Vale did not keep its commitments to former Inco workers.
Such takeovers usually pit nationalists versus investors. Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, argued, “This (the Potash Corp takeover) is the wrong way to go. When you hand over all the power over these resources to international investors, be they backed by a large country or just private investors, you lose control, you lose the ability to take care of your local economy, your local environment.”
Meanwhile, business leaders claim it is good for Canada because we are short of capital. Although, some are not as sanguine. Dominic D'Alessandro, while he was still CEO of Manulife Financial, worried that we might “all wake up one day and find that as a nation, we have lost control of our affairs.”
When you look at a graph of the foreign takeovers of Canadian corporations, you would be entitled to wonder why it suddenly spiked in 2007. The reason for the sudden surge in Canadian companies being the target of hostile takeovers is not much discussed. Nor are the economic implications for our productivity as a country.
It turns out there are a lot of very interesting and complex interactions beyond the nationalist argument.
There is an argument that the reason Canadian companies started being gobbled up at an unprecedented rate by foreign giants was that Stephen Harper broke his promise not to tax income trusts. This may seem too obscure to be credible, but as long as corporations could convert profits to trusts, they had sufficient cash to withstand takeover bids. Once Stephen Harper broke the promise to never tax income trusts, not only did many Canadian seniors lose their savings, the bonanza of takeovers began.
Right after the taxing of income trusts, Penn West’s CEO predicted that foreign takeovers would increase in the energy sector. “Where you've seen a Canadianization of the energy industry, it will go the other way, there will be a lot of purchases,” said William Andrew, chief executive officer of Penn West, on November 2, 2006 (Bloomberg, “Canada's Trust Tax May Spark Oil Industry Takeovers.”) Sure enough, on August 24, 2010, it was announced that Penn West Energy Trust PWT.UN-T had signed an $850-million natural-gas joint venture in British Columbia with Japan's Mitsubishi Corp.
Another Harper government change encouraging more takeovers was smuggled into the 2009 Budget Implementation Act. The Investment Canada Act was amended so that only acquisitions of more than $1 billion, are reviewed. A one billion dollar purchase looks like peanuts as we watch the potash takeover, but any firm sold for less than one billion is no longer reviewed at all.
The effect of all the foreign purchases of previously Canadian companies was to drive up foreign direct investment (FDI). That indicator is generally seen as positive. The growth in the tar sands also increased FDI. But there are downsides to that kind of growth (making no comment on the environmental costs). With a higher FDI and higher oil exports, the loonie rose to heights not seen since the early 1970s. That led to a collapse in export-dependent sectors. Pulp and paper and manufacturing took big hits, with over 300,000 jobs lost in manufacturing alone. And these job losses were before the 2008 recession.
In its 2008 Report to Canada, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that our economy was being increasingly skewed to tar sands production, risking the other regions and other sectors. That phenomenon is called “Dutch Disease” after the negative impacts of early development by Netherlands in North sea oil. The OECD warned Canada to avoid Dutch Disease and go slow in the tar sands.
Sensible economic strategies think of all of Canada, all regions and the need for a diversified economy. The fire sale of Canadian industries is not only an issue of national sovereignty. It has an important impact on a wide range of economic indicators, including productivity. As more jobs are lost in resource and manufacturing sectors, the job market shifts to service jobs. Our declining productivity rate, now falling well behind the US, is also attached to losing our own corporations.
Hanging on to Canadian corporations, controlling our destiny is more than high-minded rhetoric. It has a lot to do with Canadian competitiveness, productivity, and a strong economy in all parts of the nation.
Elizabeth E. May is the nominated candidate for the Green Party of Canada in Saanich Gulf Islands. She lives in Sidney.
Posted by Brent Fullard at 9:11 AM