Friday, 1 November 2013

Northern Plains Drifter is now at Rabble.Ca !!

Hi there! In September 2013, the Blog known as The Northern Plains Drifter moved to Rabble.Ca. See: Thank you and best wishes! Paul (a.k.a., the Northern Plains Drifter)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

I've Got Those Deregulation Blues

Who do you think has the best interests of society in mind through the work they do: public servants like teachers OR those who make the big decisions for private industry?

This would make for an interesting poll.

We live in an era where much of the effort done by people who work on behalf of the public good is denigrated. A focus on accountability has arisen mainly because public servants are paid from public monies, and we are living during a long tax-cut craze. (Indeed, it is sadly ironic that the politicians who put down public servants are also paid from our taxes.)

The end result is that public sector employees are now held accountable for all that they do. The work of healthcare workers, social workers, government employees and especially teachers have all been put under public scrutiny.

If regulating the public sector is what the public truly wants, I accept it. (I can certainly agree with regulating the spending habits of Harper’s Senate appointees!)

I want to make the case, however, that regardless of the extent to which we regulate the public sector, we must reverse the trend of deregulating the private sector.

This trend began about 30 years ago with the onset of an economic paradigm that began to replace the social welfare policies of Keynesian economics. What used to be called the corporate agenda, academics and some journalists now refer to as neoliberalism. (Neoliberalism, by contrast, is very similar to the laissez faire economics prevalent during the Industrial Revolution.)

On the domestic front, neoliberalism has four main tenets: corporate tax cuts, union-busting, privatizing the commons, and deregulating industry. All four are the antithesis of what constitutes a civil society, but it is the last point I want to discuss.

Let’s look at a few examples of what deregulation of the private sector, or its spin-off, self-regulation, has brought us.

In the 1980s, British Prime Minister and neoliberal cheerleader Maggie Thatcher pushed for the British meat industry to regulate itself. Not long afterward, self-regulation of the meat industry led to Mad Cow Disease, several deaths, and a near collapse of the British meat industry.

Getting rid of public meat inspectors has also caused much suffering in Canada in recent years. In 2008, the Listeriosis Outbreak at Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto led to the deaths of 20 people. Four years later, a serious E. Coli Outbreak occurred at XL Foods in Alberta.

In 1996, the Ontario Progressive Conservative government privatized the regulation of water quality. A few years later, an E. Coli outbreak caused the Walkerton Catastrophe – seven people died and approximately 5000 people became seriously ill. The subsequent inquiry blamed the Ontario government for abdicating the regulation of water quality.

Who would disagree that food-and-water safety is important enough for government regulations?

In April 2010, deregulation led to the deaths of 11 workers on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The Gulf of Mexico has still not recovered from the more than 200 million gallons of crude oil that leaked into it for 87 straight days.

This past July, 42 deaths resulted from a Train Derailment in Lac Megantic, Quebec. Half of the downtown was completely destroyed. Deregulation allowed the rail company MMA to employ only one worker to oversee the maneuvering and parking of a 74-car freight train carrying fracked crude oil from North Dakota. Rather than pay to help the townspeople, the US-based MMA declared bankruptcy.

The most egregious example of corporate greed, however, resulted from the decision of Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan to deregulate the American financial industry. This led to the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis of 2007-08, which, lest we forget, brought the world’s economy perilously close to complete collapse.

These are only a few of the many many examples of the chaos caused by deregulation of the private sector.

It does not make any sense to regulate the public sector while the private sector is deregulated. For the sake of public health and safety, it is at least as important to regulate the private sector.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Questions For My Prime Minister

Update #1: On August 19th 2013, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that he will be proroguing Parliament for the third time since 2008. This time, he is using this extremely rare move (for all other PMs, not him) in the hope that the Senate Scandal he created will have lost its importance in the minds of Canadian voters. I feel it is up to the Canadian Media to take our Prime Minister to task for this affront to Canadian democracy. Mr. Harper needs to speak to Canadians about the Senate Scandal, about the Robocall debacle, about Deregulation of the Rail Industry and the Lac Megantic catastrophe.

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Mr. Harper, you have been my Prime Minister for seven and a half years now. Over that time I have wanted to ask you lots of questions. Because I never get the chance to ask you, I have wanted journalists to pose these questions. I have come to learn, however, that it is not a simple matter for journalists to ask you any questions of import.

You rarely hold news conferences, Mr. Harper, and when you do, you are adamant that the entire group of journalists will ask a maximum of five questions. This surprises me on two counts: first, I cannot recall any leader, Canadian or American, who has paid such little regard for taking questions from the media, and by extension, citizens; and second, it is we Canadian citizens who pay your wages.

I assume you are a busy fellow. Besides all of the demands required of a Prime Minister, you have repeatedly told us that you are writing a book on the history of hockey. (I am an avid hockey fan and played the game for almost 40 years, so as surprised as I am that you of all people have decided to write on such a topic, I am looking forward to reading what you have to say about it.)

So I am cutting you some slack on why it is so difficult to find the time to speak to Canadians about important matters. Some of these matters are related to scandals, but as we have seen with Mr. Obama and the IRS and NSA scandals, sometimes the best approach for a nation’s leader is simply to come right out and address these kinds of questions.

I have dozens of questions that I would like you to answer. But for the sake of time, I have chosen what you deem to be an adequate number: five. I apologize for the wordiness, but I feel that some background for each question may be helpful. Here they are.

Mr. Prime Minister:

1.     Given that the first state-owned oil and gas company of North America, SaskOil, was sold to private investors by Saskatchewan’s Progressive Conservative Government in 1986 (when it became Nexen), does it seem ironic to you that your government recently allowed the sale of Nexen to CNOOC, which is a state-owned company of China?

2.     Given that on March 25th 1994, when you were a rookie Reform MP, you made an eloquent speech in defense of democracy by speaking against the federal Liberal government’s 21-page omnibus bill, why did your government develop and pass the 425-page omnibus Budget Bill C-38 that, among many other non-budgetary items, gutted the regulations of most Canadian fresh waterways without any open public debate?

3.     Given the public uproar over the ubiquitous use of robocalls during the last federal election (in which you won a majority government), why did you subsequently and repeatedly send expensive lawyers to stop the courts from hearing the Robocall case brought forth by the Council of Canadians?

4.     Given the fact that every student in publicly-funded Canadian schools has been taught to value the knowledge gained from science and the scientific method, why has your government attempted so strenuously to muzzle its scientists?

5.     Given the incredible demands that the job we pay you to do has, do you really have the time to write a book about the history of hockey?

 Those are my five questions, Mr. Prime Minister. Although not all of them are easy ones for you to answer, you must be pleased that none of them have anything to do with your recent choices for the Canadian Senate, namely, Senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin, nor the mysterious $90,000 cheque.

I am certain that other Canadians have their own important questions for you to answer. It's too bad that you have to spend so much time writing that book about hockey!

(For more on Stephen Harper’s reluctance to answer the questions of Canadian journalists, and by corollary, Canadian citizens, please see

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Re-branding the Conservatives? Shortening the Name Should Do the Trick!

Update #1: This post was first published early on May 16th, 2013. Later that day Mike Duffy left the Conservative caucus of Senators. And early on May 19th, we learned that Harper's advisor Nigel Wright (the Bay Street fellow who "gave" Duffy 90 grand) also left the Conservative-fold. Both are mentioned in the post below as being part of the Conservative Clan, but apparently they are no longer. This is not to suggest, however, that the worst of the Conservatives have left the roost. In fact, I predict that as the years go by Canadians will learn just how morally bankrupt the majority of these Cons really are.

Update #2: On August 13th 2013, Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin was ordered to pay back another obscene amount she had taken from our tax dollars - over $120,000!! She still remains in the Senate, however, collecting her $135,000 a year job that we finance so that she can continue to fundraise for the Conservative Party.

Update #3: On August 19th 2013, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that he will be proroguing Parliament for the third time since 2008. This time, he is using this extremely rare move (for all other PMs, not him) in the hope that the Senate Scandal he created will have lost its importance in the minds of Canadian voters. I feel it is up to the Canadian Media to take our Prime Minister to task for this affront to Canadian democracy.

*  *  *  *  *

After two years of a Conservative majority government, it is clear that more and more Canadians are getting fed up with the brand known as “conservatism.” At the time of this writing, they stand at 29% in the polls, which is 10% less than they had in the last election in May, 2011.

Several journalists have recently opined that the Harper legacy thus far is mostly one of nastiness and bullying. Others have said that this federal government has very little to do with true conservatism, and much more to do with promoting a laissez faire corporate agenda. Some suggest they need a re-branding.

I want to make the case that this government needs to keep the name … well, at least part of the name!

It cannot have escaped too many Canadians lately that many people refer to our federal government as the Harper Cons, or simply The Cons for short.

I began to ponder why the term Cons is so common today any time our government is being discussed. After all, I do not remember the same ubiquitous usage of The Chretien Libs or The Libs.

So why do so many of us call our government The Cons?

After a brief reflection, I think I know why.

It has nothing to do with the fact that the Conservative Party of Canada has had to filter from its ranks con men like Patrick Brazeau, Bruce Carson and Rahim Jaffer. Indeed, the likes of Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright suggest that this party still includes plenty of cons.

No, I am not pointing to the word con, but I am thinking about the prefix con.

There appears to have been some ancient wisdom in choosing what words would begin with the prefix con. Read on.

Since 2006 I have been confused about the condescending attitude of the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers. After all, they are the only government in our history to be charged with contempt of Parliament. They even confine Parliament with tricks like prorogation.

Indeed, our entire democracy is constrained by many of Harper’s policies. Think about how he constricts the media to five questions for his rare press conferences!

This government takes a contrarian position on climate change, and then expects us to conform to their agenda or they call us eco-terrorists. They conceal their true plans for environmental assessment, choosing to allow contamination of our fresh water through contentious massive omnibus budget bills.

What is up with their desire to contradict what our scientists are trying to say anyway? I am like most Canadians – I want to know what the scientists find out.

The Robocall debacle suggests the Cons like to conspire. Harper has quietly been trying to block a Robocall inquiry – fortunately for us, the judges seem to be onto their contriving.

They have been successful in confiscating collective bargaining rights  - lest we forget the Air Canada employees?

They like to connive - where did all our money go during the G20 Billion Dollar spending spree?

They conjure up lie after lie – I for one recall the Cons wanted the governing Libs to de-regulate our banking system. They contort our history by denigrating our peacekeeper reputation and the UN.  (Celebrating the War of 1812? Now that’s simply contumelious.)

Peter Mackay’s confabulation around the true costs of the F-35 jets comes to mind.

Controverting the rights of Palestinians is nothing John Baird should be proud of.

It is all about the prefix con.

Yes, it is right there in the word conservative, staring right at us, and it is also in so many other words that somehow seem to be associated with each other, connected in some manner that point to some essence of the prefix con.

Contemporary conservatism, by extension, appears to share some of this essence.

It really can make a person wonder about the etymology of all those words beginning with the prefix con.

I suppose what I am saying is that rather than calling the Harper Government “conservative,” they should simply be called The Cons

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Harper's Cabinet: Ministers or Minions?

Readers of the Northern Plains Drifter will know that I do not have many good things to say about Canada’s Conservative Government. Indeed, I rarely even have a good thought about conservatives in general, except that sometimes they leave the room.

So it may come as a surprise to read that I am about to make a case in support of Stephen Harper’s talents as not just a shrewd political tactician, but as a Leader Extraordinaire!!

Before you gag, read on!

Why would I think that in only seven years the man who has single-handedly ruined Canada’s international reputation on so many major issues is an extremely talented Prime Minister? Why would I write about the abilities of the one person who has done more to implement the neoliberal agenda into Canada's body politic than anyone else? For one simple reason: his cabinet has got to be far and away the weakest group of ministers this country has ever had the misfortune to experience!

Okay, I am not going to highlight BEV ODA, she of the sordid 16-dollar glass of OJ saga. Oda was worse than useless but fortunately Canadians have seen the last of her. (Or at least I hope we have - we must NOT let Harper give Ms. Oda a plum Senate position!! It is bad enough with Harper’s latest batch of appointed senators: Brazeau, Wallin and that Duffy guy.) I will also not focus on that extremely incompetent Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, JOHN DUNCAN. He took himself out of cabinet as the Idle No More movement made his life uncomfortable earlier this year. And let's also forget about former Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, PETER PENASHUE, the guy who clearly cheated to win the Labrador riding in 2011. (Penashue accepted $48,000 in illegal corporate donations, overspending by $40,000 ... and managed to win by only a handful of votes. The fact he is already campaigning for a by-election not yet called speaks volumes about his character, and Harper's.)

Because of time and space constraints, let’s take a look at only a dozen of Harper’s fellow cabinet minions, er ... ministers. 

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Let’s begin with the Minister of National Defense, PETER MACKAY. This is the fellow who once suggested that the grand old blowhard himself, Don Cherry, run for the Conservatives. But worse, much worse in fact, this is the guy who told Canadians just before the last federal election in May 2011 that this set of stealth jets, the F-35s, were going to cost a cool $14 Billion when he had a figure of $25 Billion!! (Sure, the figure is now pegged at $45 Billion, forcing the Cons to finally scrap the deal, but why did MacKay think it was fine to lie to Canadians? Did he think the public would not find out? Or did he think we would not really care? (He could be right as many do not follow politics enough.) It is also noteworthy that MacKay's F-35 photo op cost taxpayers $47,000!

What about the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, MAXIM BERNIER? It wasn’t enough that this guy was bringing his girlfriend, an ex-Hell’s Angel "babe", to Ottawa social functions. Bernier was leaving secret classified government documents laying around her apartment and at airports. Top secret, indeed!

Now let’s move it over to BIG VIC TOEWS, the Minister of Public Safety. This is the same guy who once told Canadians that if they did not want people such as him reading our e-mails, then we must be supporters of child pornographers! After all, Big Vic wanted us to know that he was a devout and pious man, that we were in good hands with him reading our e-mail. Of course, we soon found out that the wife of our Minister of Public Works had left him because the Vicster had been having repeated sex with the teenaged baby-sitter of their three young children. (This occurred over a 3-year period, and Minister Toews was three times the babysitter’s age. No matter - she had reached the age of consent. Whew!) A friend predicts that this is going to increase the number of votes he gets next election, but I think that rural Manitobans cannot support this Toews guy much longer. I certainly hope so!

Toews and the Minister of Natural Resources, JOE OLIVER, and with the help of the Minister of the Environment, former TV anchorman PETE KENT, had the gall to work out a strategy that marginalizes environmental groups and concerned citizens. First, they were labeled “radicals”, then as “agents of foreign socialist billionaires”, and finally as “eco-terrorists.” (Take a look for yourself: Once the groups were sufficiently handcuffed, the Con government went ahead and pushed through massive 425-page pro-corporate budget bills that also gutted environmental assessment!  

Moving along, I think Canadians should be very concerned that Harper continues to utIlize a would-be comedian, GERRY RITZ, to sit in as Canada’s Agriculture Minister. Ritz is the guy who tried to make some lame jokes out of the 20 deaths caused by a listeriosis outbreak at a meat packing plant back in 2008. (For more on what this Ritz guy has done for Canadians, see

This past summer we again had to endure this Ritz guy in his role as Agriculture Minister when he worked overtime to protect the virulently anti-union XL Foods during an E.coli outbreak at their Alberta plant. Calling Ritz incompetent may rank as the understatement of the year. (See As I have mentioned before, Ritz has done more to promote the tofu industry than any west coast vegan lover could ever hope to do!

What about this guy? Do I need to remind you that in 2010 Canada’s Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, TONY CLEMENT, took $50 Million of our tax dollars to spruce up his riding with gazebos and sidewalk upgrades? Why? Apparently it was because the G8 was taking place an hour away! It is quite ironic that Clemens is also the President of our National Treasury Board. That’s $50 million of our tax dollars he took!! (Clemens' egregious behaviour was so outlandish that I want you to see for yourself:‘rules-were-broken’-over-g8g20-summit-spending-auditor-general/.)

CHRISTIAN PARADIS, the Minister of Industry, used to be the Minister of Public Works. While in that position, he had well-entrenched ties to Quebec’s corrupt construction industry officials, as well as the Montreal mafia. He was even the guest of honour at their banquets. (See and

(This blog post is getting long, so I will speed up describing the caliber of the rest of Harper’s Dirty Dozen, a select group of Cabinet Minions.)

DIANE FINLEY, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, demonized the unemployed by stating that some Employment Insurance recipients were cheating Canada out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course, neither Finley nor the CON government have focused on rooting out the Tens of Billions of dollars in unpaid taxes each year by Canadian mega-corporations. Yes, that is over $20 Billion a year that large corporations refuse to pay!

And ex-cop JULIAN FANTINO, Canada's Minister of International Cooperation, incurred the wrath of the U.S. State Department and the United Nations when he declared that Canada should freeze payments to Haiti. (Yep, blowhard Don Cherry blew hard in support of Fantino's move: "It's not rocket surgery," said Cherry.) Why did Fantino want to stop helping the Haitians? Apparently, he was incensed at the amount of garbage he saw strewn about Haitian streets, and claimed it was out of concern for the taxpayer. (If Fantino really was concerned about needless spending, he should have stopped his buddy Clemens from building the gazebo!) Now we see Fantino in hot water yet again because he is using the taxpayer funded CIDA website to attack the opposition. The guy is clearly incompetent to be our Minister of International Cooperation.

Then there is RONA AMBROSE, the Minister for the Status of Women, who recently voted for Motion 312, a bill designed to re-open the abortion debate in Canada.

What about the Minister of Labour, LISA RAITT? This virulently anti-union Labour Minister seems so over-the-top trigger happy to order striking workers back to work that she often announces her lust for this strategy before the union and management have had any time to negotiate.

Do these Con Ministers even look at the title of their portfolios??

Clearly, Minister Ratt is Anti-Labour in the same way that Minister Ambrose is Anti-Women. This is the same way that Minister Kent is Anti-Environment as he pushes harder and harder for unregulated Tar Sands expansion. It is also very similar to Human Resources Minister Diane Finley being Anti-Human Resources. And Fantino is clearly not into Cooperating on the international stage.

Oh, let’s make it a baker’s dozen of Con Cabinet Minions! Check out the scientific beliefs of our Minister of Science, GARY GOODYEAR! See

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Harper obviously has a problem judging character. I have already mentioned his senate appointees like Brazeau, Wallin and that Duffy guy. But Harper’s recent political advisor was none other than a fraudster named Bruce Carson, who has since been charged with influence-peddling on behalf of his 22-year old girlfriend. (Carson is pushing 70.) Moreover, Harper’s long-time advisor and political mentor is none other than Tom Flanagan, some guy from Chicago who called out to the world his desire to have someone assassinate (!) Julius Assange for Wikileaks, but to go easy on men who look at child pornography.  These are the kinds of people Harper chooses as his advisors.

Harper clearly does have trouble judging character. But I believe the reason he has so many incompetent cabinet ministers is because there really is not very much talent in the 165-member Conservative caucus.

To be fair to this Conservative juggernaut, Harper does seem to have three high rollers in his cabinet. Although I have extreme trouble accepting Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird as Canada's representative at the UN and on other international stages, he seems to be able to handle the big time. (That said, even Baird can be humiliated. See

And although I feel that all of us will one day pay dearly for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s economic policies, Harper can trust the guy to do his bidding without any embarrassment. The same goes for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. But Harper only has these three to help him out. I contend that the other 33 cabinet ministers are so weak that taken collectively, they comprise the weakest cabinet in Canadian history!

Stephen Harper has been the Prime Minister of Canada for over seven years now, with a guarantee of two more years. With a split in the progressive vote, he might even get another majority government which would keep him at 24 Sussex for at least 13 years!

Harper is pushing the corporate conservative agenda onto Canadian society and our democratic traditions. And he is doing this as the leader of a mostly inept group of suburban ex-cops, salesmen and saleswomen … with the odd country yahoo thrown in the mix! No mean feat that. This is why I think he is an extraordinarily brilliant leader.

In fact, Stephen Harper may even be the most skillful Prime Minister Canada has ever had! Sad, but very possibly true. But maybe I do not know enough about the Conservative Party of Canada. Perhaps Stephen Harper is nothing more than a political Svengali. One thing is for certain: most of his cabinet ministers behave as though they are his minions.