Tony Turner, who studies bird migrations in his day job, has been a fixture of the Ottawa folk community for years, writing and composing as a member of the songwriting collective Writer’s Bloc since 1994. But recently, he’s vaulted to national fame for “Harperman,” a ditty that really does speak for itself. Go watch, and sing along with the chorus.

He’s been suspended from his birdwatching activities (what is it with our overlords’ fascination with birdwatchers, anyway?) and he’s now under “investigation” by the commissars over at Environment Canada where he worked. The reason? He’s been accused of breaching the public service Values and Ethics Code.

It’s not likely that Harper or the PMO had a thing to do with this, although the song has probably attracted their attention by now. Rather, it’s senior departmental officials, immersed in the new Harperian political culture, who know how to take cues. This sort of thing becomes systemic over time. A fish rots from the head, and so the corruption spreads, without direction needing to be given. Our “impartial” public service has become anything but, as illegal/unethical acts of loyalty to the Harper regime accumulate. And sometimes, even when exposed, they go unpunished.

It’s different for dissenters. Pre-emptive action is taken to ensure their compliance with standards that have no basis in law. Public service workers are warned that they are, in effect, owned by the employer. And small fish are inevitably caught in the fine mesh of the government’s ideological net.

The Supreme Court of Canada declared in 1991 that rank and file federal public service employees have the same political rights as other Canadians. And even a cursory reading of that Values and Ethics Code reveals that Turner had done nothing wrong. He separated his outside activities from his public service ones, to the point that few of his folk following were even aware of what he did for a living. His workplace duties had nothing whatsoever to do with political policy-making. The migration of birds, in fact, has to be about as non-political as it gets—how can one track our avian friends in less than a fair and impartial manner?

But opposition to Harper is enough to invoke reprisals. And it was a sure thing that this creeping totalitarianism would attract support from that other alleged bastion of “neutrality,” the Canadian academy. Here’s Professor Donald Savoie, who hails from the University of Moncton: “In my view, regardless of what the Supreme Court might say, public servants should not become political actors, especially in the middle of campaigns. They are not political actors. We have political actors; they are politicians.”

“Regardless of what the Supreme Court may say,” forsooth. Who does this ivy-covered academic think he is?

In any case, the folks who decided to punish Turner had clearly never heard of the Streisand Effect. (Or had they? he asked mischievously.) Savoie moans, “The government risks giving this much more visibility than it warrants by launching an investigation. People will be on YouTube to look at this because they made it an issue.”

Indeed. The Orwellian absurdity of this latest move to squelch dissent has rightfully gone viral. Sometimes the foolish exercise of brute power can engender ridicule rather than fear, and catalyze a joyful resistance.

And so we are seeing. On September 17, from coast to coast to coast, a national performance of “Harperman” by ordinary citizens will take place, at 2:00 pm Eastern. Who’d a thunk it?

Rusty voice or no, I’m looking forward to that—and to a repeat performance on October 20.

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[I first published this piece on May 15, 2006. Given Scott Walker’s latest droolings, it seems remarkably prescient, if I do say so myself. Can we offer the man a hand? —DD]


President George W. Bush has secured his southern perimeter, stationing troops and Border Patrol agents about 200 or so metres apart, but critics claim this is far too little. Now there is talk of doing something similar to shore up his northern flank.

I have a suggestion. Why not build a wall?

Naturally, I’m not suggesting that this encompass huge swathes of Canadian and Mexican territory; the Israeli example leaves something to be desired. No, I’m suggesting that we think outside the box, and do our best to help our American friends feel secure.

The wall would of course extend the entire length of both Canadian and Mexican borders, but why stop there? There are the Eastern and Western seaboards to worry about as well. Make the entire continental USA a gated community, I say. Well, why not? Hawaii and Alaska can fend for themselves. They weren’t part of the original forty-eight, now, were they?

But we need to be comprehensive here. Air space is also a problem. The solution? A huge kevlar geodesic dome that would cover the entire continental area, of course. (Gentlemen, we have the technology—at least in embryo.) Back it up by all means with missiles and armed satellites. Pull back the flap to let the pollution out from time to time, while going on red alert.

The last concern is tunnelling. Possibly a thick “floor” of steel-reinforced concrete could be laid across the US. Basements would be a thing of the past, but perhaps just as well.

When this teraproject is completed, our armed forces can pitch in by continuing to patrol the northern border to forestall any attempted breaches. The Mexicans can do the same. Perhaps the UN could patrol the coastal regions. The borders must remain secure!

Then, only then, will Americans feel safe. Not to mention the rest of us.

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Women hold up half this guy

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Mulcair gesture.jpg

Actually, more like two-thirds. But that could change. I’m not impressed with this blast of squink from the NDP High Command. The facts are that Mulcair committed to a debate on women’s issues, and then he backed out. Period.

I happen to agree that Mulcair’s main task is to hold the PM accountable, not to get into side-arguments with bit players. But there are exceptions to that rule, and I think this is one of them. The absence of Harper from a national debate on women’s issues is, all by itself, a powerful message to voters. A debate without him would have scored more points against him than anything that might have happened during the debate itself.

But when Mulcair, another powerful man, played along with Harper, he sent entirely the wrong message. His absence, like Harper’s, signifies more than his presence. Worse, it cancels out, or at least obscures, the original significance of Harper’s refusal.

It was a bad mistake. Period.

If Up For Debate is still able to pull something off in spite of the collapse of the originally-planned debate, that would be a constructive element of the on-going campaign, and may allow the NDP to recover. “Plan B,” one-to-one interviews broadcast together, is presently being considered. I would certainly tune in to get policy perspectives from all of the leaders. So would a lot of other Canadians. My not-so-secret hope is that Harper says nuts to that as well. We can dream.

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Mulcair's maze

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orange maze.jpg

It’s impolitic and vaguely treasonous, it seems, for a progressive to be critical of the Leader just when the NDP seems poised to form the next government. I have been pulled aside and lectured by friends of mine on Facebook for my grumbling commentary. This isn’t the time. Take the Hill, then we’ll make the new regime accountable. For now, just “shut up,” as one anxious comrade put it. Another accused me of “attention-seeking.” Still another suggested that Liberals are behind the principled criticism that has been surfacing recently. I was even called dishonest.

I won’t embarrass anyone by linking. But that’s the flavour of it.

For some time I’ve been critical of the Left for its tendency to self-cannibalize, for its narcissistic purity-seeking when there is practical work to be done. And now I stand accused of that same sin. In fact, NDP MP Charlie Angus was quite explicit about that, kicking me out of his presence on Facebook after I explained that, yes, we must all make compromises, but if that included embracing Margaret Thatcher I would have to plead guilty as charged.

In fact, as an old union hand, I know very well what compromise is. You go along to get along. You become intensely pragmatic rather than programmatic. Real people, after all, are depending upon activists and leaders to help solve practical problems, not to blat on about the revolution. You win by increments, or try to.

I’m not opposed to this approach, if it’s delivering. It’s about tactics; it’s about strategy. But to have either, you need a core set of values and principles that define a direction. No decent trade unionist would side with the Pinkertons. And no decent social democrat would embrace Thatchernomics.

Or so I thought.

The past few days have been full of revelations. Mulcair’s purge of candidates and would-be candidates who are critical of Israel for human rights violations is already on record, and the list of desaparecidos is steadily growing. Even the Executive Director of Friends of Medicare, Sandra Azocar, was cast out for the apparent crime of expressing concern over the NDP’s silence on Gaza last year.

Unsettling video clips have emerged. Not only has the Leader expressed warm thoughts about Maggie Thatcher, and doubled down on them just a few days ago, but he’s not all that keen on unions, either, or at least he wasn’t back when he was a Quebec Liberal.

Now he has just bowed out of a debate specifically designed to address women’s issues. If Harper won’t show, he won’t either, he says, although he had earlier confirmed his attendance. Up For Debate, a spirited coalition of women’s organizations, was left in the lurch, all of its hard work and planning come to naught. Without the presence of these two powerful men, there was no point in continuing.

Women’s issues haven’t been addressed as such in a national electoral debate since 1984. And now that opportunity has been torpedoed—by the leader of the NDP. The optics. My God, the optics.

Harper was planning to be a no-show, a prudent course of action for a sitting Prime Minister whose record on women has been abysmal—a man who set the tone early on when he had the word “equality” struck from the goals of Status of Women Canada. There was simply no upside to putting in an appearance.

But Mulcair? Yes, the general rule about taking no part in national debates without Stephen Harper was a sound one. He wanted to hold the current government to account, not bicker with young Justin in front of a bored national audience. But there are exceptions, and this was one of them.

The debate did not have to be confined to clever sound-bites and one-upping. Here was a golden opportunity to put out substantial and coherent policy on the current status of women in Canada, and set out a specific course of action to implement that policy. Instead, whether intentional or not, the message was sent that women’s issues don’t matter.

A major tactical blunder, at the very least. And this after the whole notion of social-democratic principles has been put into question, and those of us who dare to talk about them are chided and mocked.

If there was ever a time for critique, now is that time. Those of us who want a clear alternative to Harper and everything he represents can’t afford to wait until the day after the election. If Mulcair wins power, the most likely scenario is a minority government. There will be more shushing of the activists, more rationalizations for inaction, more compromises, as the NDP treads water until the following election. Caucus discipline will be as tight as Harper’s. The corporate media will be unremittingly hostile, the other parties will offer no quarter, and the temptation will be to placate rather than to advance, to govern by poll rather than principle, to keep the cranky left wing of the party in check while Bay Street is courted.

Think progressives aren’t being heard now? After October 19, we’ll be swallowed up in an orange fog. Be quiet, comrades. Don’t you know the end of history when you see it?

Welcome to the Mulcair maze. The point is not to solve it but to accept it.

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Old Slowhand

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Tribute to George Harrison. Thought I’d share.

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clown car.jpg

Here’s the Canadaland expose of this unprofessional, clownish farce.

In brief, a noted Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, submitted a piece to the NP, a satirical piece about the role of hair in the current election campaign. A couple of minor changes were suggested, and agreed to.

The article appeared, after nine days. Then it was yanked. Then it reappeared, in redacted form. The author had not been consulted.*

Various Post people issued statements. “The column was taken down because the necessary fact checking had not been completed…Senior editorial leadership at Postmedia also had not concluded whether the column was aligned with the values of the National Post and its readers,” said Senior Vice-President Gerry Nott.

The National Post’s Editor in Chief, Anne Marie Owens, said: “The decision was made to pull the column to sort out various fact checking and fit issues. Once that was sorted, we reposted the column and published it in the paper. These kinds of internal debates occur in newsrooms all the time—they just don’t usually involve a world famous author.”

There are all kinds of wrong here, and I’m not referring to the statements, which appear to be covering up the truth—namely, that management intervened directly to force changes, over the heads of the editorial staff, including Andrew Coyne, who signed off on the original.

The Post hadn’t completed the fact-checking of a minor satirical piece in nine days? Seriously? And, when all was said and done, what, precisely, was non-factual about the redacted portions of the column?

Then this overripe plum: Atwood’s column wasn’t “aligned with the values of the National Post and its readers.”

Good grief.

A disclosure: I have had more than two dozen articles published by the National Post, never with a delay of anything like nine days. Suggestions for changes have always been made quickly, and in the spirit of negotiation: I would agree to some, disagree with others, and where there was disagreement, my original wording appeared. On occasion, my editor asked if he could do some minor tinkering: because he’s good at his job, I went along.

Put succinctly, my material is usually not aligned with the values of the National Post and (judging from the comment threads) its readers.

While I have had the occasional piece rejected, I have never had a column pulled.

Had the Post just run Atwood’s article as it was, it would have been read, chuckled over by some, excoriated in the comments section by others, and in a day or two no one would have remembered. Something about hair. Political leaders.

Instead, with all the aplomb of Larry, Curly and Moe, the powers that be over at the Post have made themselves the story. It’s a story even sillier, in its cack-handed ineptitude, than Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley’s re-writing of a pro-Wynne editorial to endorse Tim Hudak for premier of Ontario. Remember that?

I wonder if Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey had any hand in this farce: the person who had no problem with a grotesquely racist “yellow peril”-type cartoon appearing in the Toronto SUN last Fall, finding it perfectly acceptable.

If so, at least he’s being consistent. This vicious caricature—again judging from the majority of comments in that neck of the woods—was certainly consonant with the values of SUN readers.

I’m not particularly surprised that the Conservative/conservative party line can be enforced with TASS-like ruthlessness and efficiency by corporate media overlords. It’s what we on the Left have been saying for years, pointing, for example, to overwhelming editorial support for Harper during the last election.

It’s just the stunning incompetence in the instant case, the egregious carelessness of it all, as though the overlords in question don’t even have to pretend any more. Perhaps they don’t.

* Here’s the original, courtesy of reader Holly Stick. I had mistakenly thought that Jon Kay’s version at The Walrus reproduced the original, but some content had been redacted there as well. Here’s the current Post version.

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Matrix politics

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Matrix politics.jpg

Blue, red and orange blend and fade to a dull grey. Welcome to electoral “politics” in an advanced “democracy.”

Let us assume that Stephen Harper sets the current political benchmark, against which any proposed alternatives might be measured. He’s for small government—unless he wants to crush something or someone with the mailed fist of state power. He’s a law and order type who enjoys the notion of punishment; his personal brand of sado-politics has inevitably attracted a circus audience. At the same time he has created a safe zone beyond and above the law for his select coterie of perps and trained seals.

The exemplary public torture of long ago has given way to a far more devastating immiseration. The poor are criminalized, the working class is erased by semantic legerdemain, the next generation finds itself materially worse off than the previous one, and the environment continues to wither and crack under sustained assault. More prisons are built. Harsher criminal penalties are trumpeted. New crimes are invented, for which citizens will inevitably be found guilty.

Now let us look at the “alternatives,” and once again I must use shudder-quotes.

Justin Trudeau, of the Liberals, stands by a star Liberal candidate, one Bill Blair, who oversaw one of the most egregious attacks on civil liberties in Canadian history. “I won’t second-guess him,” says the Hair Apparent, of illegal mass arrests and forcible confinement of more than a thousand Canadian citizens, some of them bludgeoned, tortured, sexually assaulted, threatened with rape, and sadistically humiliated by runaway police thugs feeling their oats.

Tom Mulcair, for his part, promises a quarter of a billion dollars to hire even more police. You can never have too many state enforcers, it seems.

Pipelines? Trudeau wants one. Tom wants another. When NDP candidate Linda McQuaig recently talked truth and common sense about the Alberta tar sands, sparking a blaze of faux-outrage from the oil shills, her own party obligingly threw her under the bus: her remarks, we were told, were not official policy.

Then there’s “Israel.” Do not mistake this for Israel. Israel is a country. “Israel” is a sign. Support of “Israel” is the support of an abstract good, a moral representation. “Israel” is a commodity that circulates within the political economy of signs.

For all three party leaders, “Israel” is inviolable. To Harper, critics of “Israel” are anti-Semites, and those who advocate boycotts should be prosecuted under our hate crime laws. Justin Trudeau wants the BDS movement banned from university campuses. Mulcair supports “Israel” unconditionally, leaving a trail of electoral corpses to prove it: “…[J]e suis un ardent supporter de toutes les instances et de toutes les circonstances d’Israël.” All major party leaders are thereby pledged to a phantasm that exists apart from the daily suffering of Israel’s innumerable victims.

Perhaps the single best indicator of the falsity of “alternatives” in Canadian electoral politics is what turns out to be an explicit common denominator: Margaret Thatcher, who orchestrated the smoking destruction of working-class solidarity and (limited) collective power in Britain. She was a monstrous figure, who crushed unions, plunged the British poor into further poverty and ever-increasing hopelessness, presided over the nuking of social programs, and revelled vicariously in the company of Augusto Pinochet, the sadistic butcher of Chile who hosted a regime of kidnappings, torture and murder.

We cannot doubt Stephen Harper’s devotion to this patron saint of neo-liberalism. Justin Trudeau’s economic advisor, Chrystia Freeland, infamously said, “Liberals need their own Margaret Thatcher, and they haven’t found her yet.” The NDP pounced on this, as one might naively have expected of a nominally social-democratic party, but as it turns out, its leader had already gushed praise for the Iron Lady, and when called on that earlier this week, he doubled down.

I’m not seeing a lot of alternativeness here. Around us lies a simulacrum of democracy, in which all distinctions are revealed as merely tactical, reassuring the masses and their bosses as they toss fitfully in their sleep. #Librocondpers celebrate, enthuse, attack, go door-to-door, issue press releases, pass out swag, put up lawn signs, wear buttons and T-shirts, all of them fully engaged in the hyperreal theatre of difference that is electoral politics in the twenty-first century.

Take the red pill, you say? But what then? Less effort, and certainly less risk, to pass the popcorn and enjoy the show.

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Dipper, Tory...

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…same old story?

Will NDP National Director Anne McGrath, who has been pulling NDP candidacies like a mad dentist recently, leap into action once again? After all, support for Margaret Thatcher’s economics isn’t official NDP policy—for now, at least.

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Harper's base

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You do not attempt to reason with these creatures: it’s an utter waste of time. You back away, slowly.

Parental advisory: Strong language. Weak intellect.

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Blood orange.jpg

The latest victim of Tom Mulcair’s political purge of candidates and would-be candidates is Syed Hyder Ali, who had been hoping to run for the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Wetaskiwin. He has been refused the opportunity to do so.

Why? Apparently for daring to state in a Facebook post that Israel has committed “war crimes.” This was considered so heinous that his own riding association, including any rivals for the nomination, could not be trusted to bury him for it. The NDP powermeisters in Ottawa wielded the spades.

Ali thus joins desaparecidos Paul Manly, Morgan Wheeldon and Jerry Natanine in an on-going witch-hunt against pro-Palestinian human rights advocates in the NDP. Just as young Justin Trudeau ludicrously described NDP candidate Linda McQuaig’s reference to the Alberta tar sands as an “extreme position,” so too, it seems, concern for Palestinians is considered “extreme” in the eyes of the NDP High Command.

Trudeau, of course, was demonstrably wrong. McQuaig’s mild statement, that to meet emission targets “a lot of the oil may have to stay in the ground,” is factually correct. But facts can be impolitic.

In like manner Mulcair and his hatchetpersons are way off the deep end when it comes to Israel. It is a matter of record that “war crimes,” as defined in international law, have been, and are continuing to be, committed by the country in question. In fact it’s a yawningly trite observation by now, like the oil sands one.

Ali was echoing Amnesty International’s 2014-15 Annual Report, but there are many other sources available that underline the notion, well-enshrined in international law, that annexation of occupied territory, through colonization and forcible transfers of populations, are prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention and are considered war crimes under Article 8 of the Rome Statute.

But the settlements and the expulsions continue.

Add to that the 2009 slaughter in Gaza, where “grave breaches” of the Fourth Geneva Convention were found, and last year’s new slaughter in Gaza, which the Amnesty report addressed.

The apartheid-like features of Israel’s rule over the West Bank might also be mentioned: apartheid is not a war crime, but a graver “crime against humanity.” The application of the term to Israel is an old, vexed debate, and I have little to contribute to it here, but this article by the senior editor of is worthy of note. This one, too.

That this kind of discussion can take place in Israel, but not in Canada, is a pretty sad reflection on the debased state of political discourse in this country. That the allegedly social-democratic NDP has gone the extra mile to squelch any criticism of Israel in its own ranks, however well-founded, is nothing short of a bloody disgrace.

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