In the Indigo bookstore at the Eaton Centre Mall in downtown Toronto, Canada, there is a spiral staircase to the 2nd floor surrounded by a red wall emblazoned with the names of notable Canadians in literature and other fields, around a bold, centred declaration: “The World Needs More Canada.”
As an admirer of a number of figures on this wall (Farley Mowat, Margaret Atwood, and Leonard Cohen come to mind off the top of my head,) and a supporter of Canadian literature, I would not dispute that Canada has significant works to offer in certain artistic fields. I also think it is to somewhat commendable, even though I find the statement embarrassing and brash, that Indigo CEO Heather Reisman parks her opinion and patriotism in such a prominent place within the halls of this crown jewel in her empire of locations.
In the last forty or fifty years, Canada's accomplishments and willingness to adhere to certain principles perhaps allowed one to get away with making such a rah-rah, we're the best type of declaration. When one has read, however, two well-researched, detailed, intricately constructed pieces explaining the damage and profound changes the conservative government of Stephen Harper has imposed on Canada during the past five years, one in the walrus by Erna Paris and one in this weekend's Globe by Gerald Caplan, as I have, I believe their only reaction to such a statement could be an immediate and uncomfortable recoil. If you have time, I strongly suggest you read these two stirring and brave articles, with the caveat that they may anger you as much they angered me. To me, these articles make it clear that if Canadians continue to engage in the sort of hubris Ms. Reisman has with her interior design choice , whether knowingly or not, they are exhibiting either their ignorance, wilful suspension of disbelief, intellectual laziness, or some combination thereof.
Why, though, do I have this axe to grind with the government, this persistent beef? Do I really believe that other parties are more principled and would not have acted in the way the conservatives have? Yes. Am I willing to go as far as plugging another Canadian politician's name in the title of this post as an alternative? Not yet, and judging by the way things are going, not anytime soon. So whose name is that in the title?
If you've made it to here, then you obviously could read the name. You may know who it is, or you may not. I will say as an introduction that there is no politician anywhere who is irreproachable and deserves 100% unquestioned support, because we are all individuals with varying opinions. Ron Paul is no exception. The member of the U.S. House of Representatives (Congressman) from the 14th U.S. Congressional District in Texas does have a number of strong positions which put him at odds with me and most people I know, such as being pro-abortion, anti-gun control, and quite possibly racist. He is unanimously recognized as holding the most conservative voting record of any U.S. Congressman since the 1930s. He is also 75 years old; that alone makes it almost certain we will see things differently.
If one is careful, however, and does not let those outstanding issues of personal and moral judgement derail him when he is attempting to objectively examine the parcours of Mr. Paul over the last ten, twenty, or thirty years, then he may arrive at the same conclusion I have. Mr. Paul is the only politician in North America who has been talking any sense, and by that I mean saying anything real, true, or of any substance whatsoever, in recent memory. Take away everything objectionable about the man, strip away all the Texas redneck stuff and southern baptist religious beliefs, forget his guilt by association with the tea party nutjobs like Beck and Palin (who, by the way, are mercifully declining in power and influence if you take a look at this), and look at the basic essence of these three core things that he has to say:
1)Federal bureaucracies in a country our size are by definition wasteful, expensive, and massive. This makes them not only inefficient and unaccountable, but almost always failures at carrying out their mandates.
2)A Central Bank (in his country's case, The Federal Reserve) creates an endless downward maelstrom of deficit and debt, by financing the nation's debt which must be repaid with compound interest and simultaneously creating inflation which reduces the value of the citizenry's money. This syphoned wealth is shovelled to a private banking cartel and captains of industry, and is the principal reason the elite's wealth is further consolidated with each passing year, while average citizens find themselves poorer
3)Military adventures, bases, and activities abroad are illegitimate and unconstitutional; they weigh heavily on the budget and financial reserves of the nation, they have no purpose or benefit that serves the nation and its citizens, and must be wound down immediately.
I have been in awe for some time. The sharpness and pertinence of these critiques, which cut through the bullshit and inconsequential hair-splitting the news media goes through on a daily basis with its take on the issues facing the nation, is a breath of fresh air. Of course, Mr. Paul is not taken seriously by either the right or left, because he considers the “untouchable” items which eat up 95% of America's now 1.5 trillion structural deficit, well, touchable. They are touchable in his view because they are putting the nation on the fast, make that imminent, track to bankruptcy. The professional American right, quick to keep any sensible voices at arm's length, does not associate with Mr. Paul too closely. Over at the New York Times, Paul Krugman (a PhD holding Nobel Laureate, you imagine?), self proclaimed liberal and intellectual leader of the “let's print our way out of this” movement, thinks the mere mentioning of Mr. Paul's name is a sufficient argument to quiet the growing number of people who've become, for reasons which I think are obvious by now, concerned. He's frustrated that the manipulations and machinations of the treasury and the fed are becoming more and more apparent to be the useless and impotent gestures they are, and the evidence is his resorting to lashing out at Paul with bleat-errific non-sequitors like “Imagine if you were in poor Ben Bernanke's shoes trying to save the U.S. Economy.” like he does here.
I mention Krugman's lack of argument because he seems to be suffering from the same intellectual laziness I mentioned earlier. Otherwise, I have unfortunately. strayed quite far away from where I want to be. Sorry about that. At issue for me is the absence of any independent, critical, and principled voice in the Canadian body politic. There is no person in any of the four parties who has the courage or the intelligence to admit that the three Paul principles I outlined above apply here in Canada and explain how and why they do. This does not mean our politicians don't have any good ideas or changes to put forward of their own, but they avoid these fundamental issues which affect our country as well and are, after all, making our it crawl toward insolvency at perhaps a slightly lesser rate.
On the first point, I wish to use some Canadian federal bureaucracies as examples of redundancy and failure. Corrections Canada (which falls under Public Safety and Security Minister Vic Toews jurisdiction) is set to become, if the Conservatives get their way, the single biggest direct non-military recipient of Canadian government largesse (pork) through upwards of $13 billion in prison building programs. Will it achieve its mandate of rehabilitating the wayward members of a 34 million member Canadian society for this exorbitant cost?
Health Canada and its minister, Leona Agulkaaq, are supposed to ensure as stipulated in the Canada Health Act, that every Canadian has access to required medical care and adequate services. Considering the amount of doctor shortages, eight hour ER waits, and months-long waiting lists for urgent surgical procedures, this ministry is failing.
The CRA is supposed to make sure Canadians are paying the requisite amount of tax and enforcing rules that prevent money laundering, tax sheltering, and income being gained from scams. Based on two recent stories, one uncovering the existence of over 1,800 offshore accounts held by the extremely wealth, and another exposing a lenient system for fraudsters, it is not enforcing anything of the sort.
As these bureaucracies here in our own backyard show us, billions of dollars and hundreds of departments do not necessarily equal excellent public service or success. The problem with most critiques of government (tea party, et al) is that they are too generalized against the system and the notion of the government serving its people. Government services are not a bad thing in and of themselves, but why should it be taboo to point out that phalanxes of highly paid employees and office building leases do not equate services for people or even good decisions?
On the second point, critiquing monetary policy, Canada has a fractional reserve banking system similar to America's presided over by Fed darling Goldman Sachs alumnus Mark Carney. The main difference between the two countries is the amount of players. Canada's 5 bank cartel is a private club, with only ten to fifteen other entities being allowed to operate. America's 9 bank cartel is also a private club, but thousands of other little entities that rise and fall out of thin air are permitted to operate alongside it. Canada's system just makes a cozier and less complicated arrangement for money shovelling and bailouts.
Stephen Harper loves saying no Canadian banks needed a bailout. Why, then, did the department of finance through CMHC feel the need to backstop (guarantee, in other words make itself liable for even if it did not pony up the amount at that moment) almost $200 billion dollars of dicey assets and positions held by the banks. Why did CMHC feel the need around the same time to step outside of its mandate and take on over $80 billion dollars of mortgage guarantees.
These are not policies or decisions made on behalf of the Canadian public, they are underhanded and illegitimate moves carried out in secrecy and then released quietly with zero option of recourse or appeal to the tax-paying Canadian citizens backing them. The best part of the revelations revealed in the two references (if they are a revelation to you) is in the Ralph Surette article: that in 2006, for the first time in our country's 140 year history, the Conservatives also managed to enact a law that allows the government to borrow without first acquiring the approval of Parliament. Sort of sounds like a door opener to that shadowy “Reserve” who borrows trillions with the approval of no one that Mr. Paul is so worked up about.
Finally on the Afghanistan (war and empire) front, we have exactly zero return on our investment for a decade spent in a barren and impoverished country. $32 billion dollars and counting, plus untold billions more on future military hardware if the Conservatives get their way. For what? To intervene where? To accomplish what goals? These questions are never asked, and the legitimacy of these policies is never questioned. It may be due to the opposition leader's previous tenure at Harvard as a member of the American Foreign Policy Committee. Yet too many people have swallowed the notion that we have “priorities” there that are “relevant”. We could stay there for a hundred more years and the Afghan people's destiny would not change one iota. Because we are not the Afghan people, the Afghan people are the Afghan people. I don't need to belabour this point; look at what is happening in Islamic countries all across North Africa and the middle east right now. Does this look like the work of North American debt or the decisions of North American commanders?
The government has a million lame excuses ready for each of these issues and thousands of apologists in the mainstream media and blogosphere to defend it on just about any front. The help we need in making these facts known to a greater number of people is clear. We can keep educating each other and ourselves about the folly of a government whose head now utters not a single sentence that doesn't include the words “economy” and “priority,” but what Canada really needs is more Ron Paul. Not the Ron Paul, who is only going to get busier with the fires he's been single-handedly trying to extinguish since the early eighties, but a Ron Paul. Someone with levels of frankness and integrity commensurate with his public sector salary. At this point, the Congressman from the 14th is the only one on the continent I'm aware of.