Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Double Post: Reflections on Conservative Rule & The Five Pillars of Making it Look Easy (+ bonus email to finance minister)

When you spend all your time listening to your gurus and executing their "strategy", you probably won't have a whole lot of time left to lead the nation or accomplish anything

A feeling of dread and glum overtook me this past week when all the papers in Canada simultaneously launched into retrospectives, where are we now assessments, and celebrations after five years of Conservative Party rule in Canada (I'd call them “tories” to type less words, but this habitual laziness on the part of journalists has over time conferred the government a name which they are not worthy to be called by) . Half a decade is a significant time to be in power in Canada; it will earn you a spot in the chair opposite Mansbridge's concerned forehead for 45 minutes and see even your unkindest critics grudgingly admit that yes, somewhere, you must have some support and/or staying power.

How do I feel about the fact that five years have passed since the January 2006 election? Well, rather than launch into a diatribe about this government's various blunders, attacks, and coverups, or its mismanagement, hypocrisy and lies, though I can't promise that won't happen, I want to explore the strategies and techniques they have used to maintain and consolidate their power and solidify their support. When it comes to tactics, misinforming and playing you for a fool, this government resembles the friend who is so reliable at disappointing you that you are a never actually disappointed, because you're always disappointed. Does that make sense? Do you know anybody like that? Lucky for you if you don't. Because I would say that disappointment is really only experienced in its true form when it is the exception. Something more like dislike or antipathy sets in once the state of disappointment with someone is constant. In this type of situation, you end up wondering why you still waste time on him, but at the same time are amazed at your ability to chronicle your frustration with his mishaps and selfishness to poor acquaintances or strangers who committed no wrong to deserve to listen to such unpleasantness other than happening to be in your vicinity after you've recently been in his.

It sucks to be on the receiving end of such complaining about the government, even if it is justified. For the main reason that it either preaches to the choir or provokes scorn from the party faithful who don't see an alternative. And they are right, in a way. There is none. We have three national parties all trying to make us feel good, all trying to tell us everything is going to be okay and that things will be better if only they get in power, or things would be (are) hell if the other guys are in power. Frankly, I've run out of patience with all of them because they all assume the same thing, which is that you are stupid. Stupid enough to believe that government can improve your life or is responsible for the good things in your life. The government should do some basic things like make sure our nation is solvent and protect its flora and fauna, neither of which it seems to have any intention or ability of doing, but you are responsible for your life. However, this is our country and our democracy and I'm tired of hearing it needs to be “saved” from the big bad blue or red or orange or green formation because, as satan incarnate, they're (trying to) making my life hell. The lot of them look like a rainbow toilet bowl maelstrom in their race to the bottom, and I've grown weary of watching.

None of these parties have plans or policies to take back our wealth from the parasitic banks and resource companies who have monopolized it, to invest the modest sums of money needed to assure basic dignity for people who live here, or to get our country out of the defunct and decaying fiat currency based- GDP Growth – inflation – bailout cycle we are in the process of watching fail all over the world. To put it in a bit more of a human perspective, it is also nauseating to hear them all attempt to champion the people who have chosen to live in a certain way as a sort of national dream that is under attack that we all have the right to aspire to. As though it was a profoundly human and gracious thing to live in a 3,000 foot house in a subdivision, commute 60 minutes on freeways each way to work, earn money from some failing manufacturer, greedy corporation or public service cartel, fork over this money to the telecom cartels to distract us every spare minute with cable TV and mobile devices, and spend the rest of it on the weekends at the big box eyesores that span the highways between our jobs and homes. Since this seems to be a universally accepted definition of “middle class” “wealth and prosperity” thatpoliticians of all stripes seem eager to portray themselves as fearless defenders of, you now know that you will be spared here from being told why you should vote for other parties who amount to the same thing.

Maybe we need a new national motto:

Canada – which party giving itself and the country a hand job do you choose from?

That aside, I will clarify that I did not mean to go on a “Don't vote, it's pointless” rant. Everybody must vote even if they are holding their nose so tight they are suffocating. But more on that closer to election day. The main difference with the conservatives - what I think is the most important thing to point out here today, is that they spend so much time on strategy and managing appearance that it crowds out how little they have substantively accomplished.

Here are the five strategic pillars of Conservative Party of Canada rule and the success they have enjoyed up until now. Don't let them fool you with this bullshit!

Pretension of knowledge

Like all politicians, the Conservative government has an interest in making you believe one thing, whether it's through insinuations, declarations, and assertions. That they know something that you don't. It is amazing that they get away with this in an era when you have the resources and facts available to learn and judge for yourself the salient points of any subject or issue they are dealing with. Are you picturing a bespectacled balding man with bad posture poring over stacks of dusty files in a badly lit office, or some firebrand picking up the phone with a pen and pad to demand answers, and saying that's not you?
Not to fear, my friend. I'm talking about some quick google searches. I'm talking about some mainstream media columnists. I'm talking about some blogs on the internet. And the best stuff is often on the government websites themselves! Beyond the government's staged partisan announcements, they actually have to provide relevant information on the sites of various departments. So, if more people were willing to take on this time to basically inform themselves, like for maybe 10 or 20 minutes twice a week, I bet the government wouldn't feel so confident about making assertions that are completely false on no other basis than knowing that people are going to trust them because they think they have knowledge. Think about it. Why do you trust a mechanic or a doctor or a consultant? Because they are supposed to have specific knowledge to help you, which implies that they are smart, except when they're not. And experience tells us that they are more likely to fudge an answer than admit they don't have one.

The government is no different. How else do you get away with saying violent crime is on the rise, enemies are lined up on our borders, illegitimate refugees are seeping in by the boatload, people are mad as hell and fed up with having to fill out a census form, fighting the taliban in Kandahar is a Canadian priority and moral obligation, etc? Because there is a These guys are smart, they know what they're talking about computation occurring in many brains. No, they don't! Fear-mongering and ideological pandering to people likely to be receptive to such claims does not amount to empirical facts, based on knowledge, which would merit the public trust. Research any of these subjects a bit more, and you will discover the government's claims are exaggerated, fabricated, or just plain bogus. But they will never admit they're wrong, just as the professionals listed above would be loathe to admit it if they were ever wrong. That would be renouncing their bread and butter. Pretension of knowledge is one of their keys to survival.

Accumulation of false accomplishments

The government hasn't actually done anything since they've gotten elected. Well, they've done a few things. They've created a parliamentary budget officer, an independent and objective civil servant who is supposed to keep watch on the actual state of the nation's finances. Since creating his position, they have decreased his budget every year and dismissed his reporting when questioned about it.

They started mildly clamping down on runaway real estate speculation in 2010-2011, after actively stoking it, fuelling it, and encouraging it from 2006-2009.

After years of delivering withering criticism of Ottawa waste and frivolous spending while in opposition, the government has eroded the tax base and increased government spending.

The government has not provided any vision or strategy whatsoever, let alone introduced legislation or elaborated policies, related to long term challenges Canada faces. How is a country whose average age is 60 going to operate? How are people supposed to get around in an era of dwindling petroleum reserves? What measures are in place to protect our forests, waterways, and arable lands, as external shortages will surely place great pressure on these? What kind of program is in place to ensure income redistribution in the not so near future when all government revenues are eaten up by interest payments on the national debt (which is mostly owed to the bank of Canada and the big banks)?

The point is that the government has at best tinkered and fiddled with a few things that could neither be considered abject failures nor accomplishments for the moment, and they have carefully avoided making one well thought-out, courageous or long-term decision.

Because who needs real accomplishments when you've got false ones? Like “making Canada stronger” and “managing the economy”. Hey, you guys just stick to what you're doing. You're doing a great job. Real tough. Thumbs up. Just get that economy going. And stand behind our troops. Don't listen to those whiny lefties.

If only any of those were actual accomplishments. But sadly in our country, mastery of Don Cherry style-vitriol by either the man himself or his parrots in the general population are sufficient to create an aura of false accomplishments around you and give you a consistent lead in the polls.

Aggressive belligerence

This one doesn't need much explaining other than ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK!

There was a time in this country, when civic engagement levels were higher and attention spans were longer, that one had to voice valid criticism to be taken seriously. Things like “According to...” “Based on...” “If we were to...” “My opponent is proposing that” “After review of” “Following the process and procedure...” Freedom of speech is paramount, but one would hope for $155,000 a year and lifelong defined benefit pension plans politicians would have a point when they speak. Maybe once. No more.

These days, insults, personal attacks, and defamation of character are fair game in any situation at any time. No statement can be made about the opposition without mockery, and it cannot be made without adding “socialist” “separatist” “coalition” “a few extremists” “no credibility” “not a real Canadian” “out of touch” “elitist” or any one of literally thousands more neither here nor there “hate jabs”.

If this government has been consistent at one thing, it has been being aggressive and belligerent with the Canadian public at all times, reassuring their supporters that they'll take it to whatever extreme they need to, and trying to intimidate their opponents and psychologically beat them into submission over time.

Patting themselves on the back (legend in own mind syndrome)

Listen to any speech the Prime Minister gives. What a bunch of smug, satisfied, self-congratulatory drivel. I don't want to say any more. Just look at this.

“A country where people don't have to worry if their car is still going to be there where they parked it.”

This is this man's vision. This is what he aspires to. Never mind insurance, which actually has to pay you in this situation, or no parking zones. In his magical land he imagines, all the bad people like me who never were going to steal your damn car in the first place are locked up forever and everyone else still locks their car doors but there is no more theft...I guess?!

It doesn't matter. Any man already on his way to creating such a utopia is clearly already a legend in his own mind

Total confusion by 1,000 deceitful gestures

For this one, I will just say if you look at the record, there is all kinds of stuff that gets thrown out there that means nothing. As a result no one is ever really sure what the government is doing or knows what to think of their latest photo-op/announcement, if they happen to catch it since they happen so fast and so frequently. I have taken the government to task on one of these. Here is an email I wrote to the finance minister to end. I will be sure to publish his response, if I get one. And those, my friends, are the five ways I have noticed the government is “Stayin' Alive” (maybe the PM should do that song at his next rock concert). I'm going to New York city with my very pregnant girlfriend for four days on Thursday; back next month.

To: jflaherty@fin.gc.ca

Dear Mr. Flaherty, Minister of Finance

I will never forget reading a ticker headline on a screen in First Canadian Place in May 2009 in which you were cited as saying that a "12 billion auto-financing plan" was "up and running".

I know that you make a lot of speeches and I know that, as a finance minister of an industrialized country, your statements are taken seriously and can even affect the behaviour of businesses and markets.

I took issue with this particular statement, however, because I took it to essentially mean that the government of Canada was getting in the business of the subsidizing/backstopping or god forbid, bailing out of car leases.

Here is the text I think the ticker headline was referencing:

"Now I want to talk today about the rollout of the Canadian Secured Credit Facility. This is important in the auto sector. As you know, we’ve been able to accomplish a way forward for Chrysler with the assistance of the Government of Ontario, the Government of the United States and Fiat, and now we’re working with General Motors. A serious shortfall in Canada has been the lack of financing of vehicles and equipment for consumers and businesses. And this has led to increased borrowing costs for some and limited credit availability for others. It’s a situation that can’t be allowed to continue if we want to restore confidence and get our economy growing again.

So today I’m pleased to announce the rollout of the Canadian Secured Credit Facility (CSCF). Through the facility, the Government will purchase up to $12 billion of asset-backed securities backed by loans and leases on vehicles and equipment." - Jim Flaherty, May 8, 2009.

My first question to you, Mr Minister, is what business does the Canadian state, as a supposed "free market"-supporting entity, have squandering our tax dollars on such an initiative?

My second question is why we haven't heard anything about this since and whether this money was ever spent and or paid back.

Finally, I'm going to go out on a limb and allege there was never any such program.  I'm going to assert that if there was, you did not give any explanation or provide enough details concerning a program prepared to commit such a significant sum of public money.  I know this line inserted into a speech two years ago did not register on most people's radar, but it registered on mine.  Can I ask your rationale for filling your speeches with allusions and pronouncements that amount to nothing, that are basically lies? Or, do you even write them?

I do not mean to accuse or insult.  I will say, however, that being prepared to engage that type of sum to the auto-financing marketplace would suggest that you count on revenues from future economic growth to pay that back with interest.  As a supposedly prudent and responsible manager, why would you take this foolhardy and dangerous risk that you know very well you cannot guarantee?
Thank you for your time
Respectfully yours,
Christopher Lackey
Citizen and taxpayer

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