Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cheers, Fraser!

Is it just me, or has the Conservative Party of Canada finally been outed for not really being conservative?  Let me explain what I'm thinking, and then you can let me know if you think I've missed something.

Earlier this week, the Fraser Institute, a conservative but non-partisan research group based in Canada and the US, released a report saying that Ottawa's 47 billion dollar "Economic Action Plan" was responsible for 0.2 percent of the 1.1 percent economic growth that happened in the middle of 2009. They went so far as to say that the plan will do more harm than good in 2010 and leave us with a 53.8 billion dollar deficit this year.

Now, I've always gotten a kick out of the Fraser Institute claiming to be non-partisan. When they celebrated their 30th anniversary back in 2004, Mr Harper sent them a videotaped message and showed off his Fraser Institute tie. These are the guys who extol the theories of Friedrich Hayek, leader of the Austrian School of economics. Do you know his work? The Margaret Thatcher administration was a big fan, and so was the Ronald Reagan administration. Oh, and that's the Ronald Reagan who destroyed the US economy, not the fantasy one that gets so much conservative airtime now. 

Anyway, these Fraser chaps are, well... why not check out the "What We Think" page from their website? See? These are some public healthcare-bashing, public school-bashing, immigration-bashing folks, to say nothing of their anti-science, pro-corporate "research findings" regarding smoking and climate change.

Now, most researchers recognize that starting from a biased opinion is not the right way to work. You're supposed to gather facts, examine them, and let them shape your opinion. I don't think that means Fraser research is bad, it's just that you have to be careful in reading their conclusions because, well, because they've made it clear "from the get go" that their research is targeted at supporting their already-established theories.

And their theories are conservative. And their theories were supported by candidate Harper, and by first-term Harper. It seemed to be a real love-in until the National Post ran an article last fall claiming that economic recovery had already started and the the PM's vaunted "Economic Action Plan" would only make things worse.  The article was by Fraserites Niels Veldhuis and Milagros Palacios. Recognize the name of the lead author?

So now the battle is joined to see who is the right kind of conservative (if you'll pardon the pun). Now the name-calling and nose-thumbing can begin.

In the meanwhile, has anyone else out there noticed the changes to the webpage for "Canada's Economic Action Plan" this week? Last month, as I remember it, the website showed some photos and and gave visitors a great many links to "Watch The Television Commercials", but no real details at all on what was being done or on how to register or participate in any of the recovery plans. 

Since the argument started, it seems to me that a major overhaul has happened. There are some new, politically motivated headings, like "REAL ACTIONS" and "WHAT IS IN THE PLAN FOR ME?". There are dozens of new links (though some are duplicates), dozens of new photos (though some of those are duplicates, too), and a whole lot of very large print promises.  They've even thrown up all kinds of external links so that a visitor can, you know, go somewhere else to register or participate.

It seems to me that the website used to be a poor attempt to try and convince Canadians that the ruling party was doing something to help economic recovery.  Now it seems that the website has become a poor and desperate attempt to convince Canadians the ruling party hasn't just thrown away 47 billion dollars and crippled our economy.

That's my opinion, but I could be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time today.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Oh, Canada! Ta dee dum dee dum daaa...

Now, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that our Prime Minister did something really clever a few weeks ago, and I just don't understand why no one is talking about it. Let me tell you what I think might have happened, and you can decide if it's all my imagination.


Like a lot of other Canadians, I watched a few key events of the Vancouver Olympics with friends and strangers in my neighbourhood pub. We cheered and we laughed and we shouted "LU!!" and when the National Anthem was played, we stood and we sang along.


Some people belted it out, but most of us sang it in a normal speaking voice.  Where I was, most of the crowd was singing in English, but there were always a few of us singing in French, and we all seemed to agree that the two overlapped very nicely. Everything else pretty much stopped for the eighty or ninety seconds it took for us to belt out that song, and there was always at least a little cheering afterwards. And a funny thing happened...


There we were, facing whichever TV was nearest, and the camera panned past the athletes, and cut to the crowd and cut to flags waving and cut to the VIP area, and showed us the Prime Minister, and- and he wasn't singing.


Do you remember?  BC Premier Gordon Campbell was belting it out and waving his flag totally unheeding of the people around him, and there stood our PM, eyes down and mouth closed, looking uncomfortable and bored.


Once the singing and cheering was done, everyone at my local was talking about it.  Some were laughing and some were furious and no one put a partisan slant on it. We all saw it, and we all agreed it was wrong. We didn't all agree on how wrong it was, or what it might mean, but those differences of opinion made for a fair bit of the regular conversation for the next few days. A lonely voice suggested that he didn't like to sing in public, but some wag called out: "Unless he's got a piano and Yo Yo Ma!", and there just wasn't any arguing with that.


And for a while the internet was on fire with it.  It seemed to me that a lot of Canadians were pretty upset about it, and were saying so in person and in public and on-line. I commented to a friend that this might be a mistake that can't be defended. And a funny thing happened...


A few days later, the Governor General read out the speech from the throne and, at the end of a paragraph about recent and upcoming celebrations of Canadian history, she read:  "Our Government will also ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem."


Conservatives were up in arms, the press covered it obligingly, and after a few days of loud ranting on every news site in the country, the decision was made not to change the lyrics after all. Major news outlets expressed surprise at the PM' s strange announcement and at his sudden about face.  The Globe and Mail even ran an accompanying photo of the PM singing the anthem (with a hidden caption pointing out that the photo was from a different event) [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/reaction-from-tory-base-forces-quick-reversal-on-anthem-lyrics-idea/article1492081/].


It reminded me of one of the great lines from Macbeth: "...it is a tale, Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."  


There certainly was a lot of sound and fury, and it came and went quickly, and it changed nothing... or almost nothing.


Ever since then, if you Google a series of words like: "Harper, Not Singing, Lyrics, National Anthem, Olympics", instead of video clips and still shots of the PM not singing our anthem, or any of the on-line discussions that were all over the place for a few days, all you get is coverage of either the official news release about the intent to change the lyrics, or the follow up saying that no changes would be made.


So, I'm kind of thinking that maybe our Prime Minister, or someone on his staff, staged that little shouting match just to make that little faux pas go away.  What do you think? Am I on to something here, or not?


I think so but I could be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time today...