Sunday, April 10, 2005

Paranoia in the Great White North

"Nothing in politics EVER happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way." Franklin Roosevelt

Folks we have ourselves a SCAN--DAL!! A rip-roaring, kick-back, nepotistic, influence peddling (but not bodies thank g-d, we'll leave that to the PTB south of the 49th, see Jeff Gannon), money-passed-under-tables-in-manila-envelopes cause celebre. (Gotta use some French there because it's centred in Quebec.) Welcome to ADSCAM..

Ok, so what's the uproar all about? Bare-bones version: about ten years ago, Quebec up and decided to have another vote about whether they still wanted to be in Canada. It was barely defeated. The national identity thing was pretty shaky. So, the Liberal party starts quietly funnelling lots of money into Quebec for "advertising" to promote the idea of Canadian unity. Problem was, the contracts weren't openly tendered, but given to Liberal friendly organizations, and many of the politicians' family members got "jobs" with these companies. There was "encouragement" to donate fees received back to the Liberals, etc. The cozy little arrangement lasted for the last six or seven years. Check here, and some of the latest here if you want an outline of the gory details. Here is a good rundown on the principle players.

Things started to get really freaky when Justice Gomery, who is overseeing the inquiry into this mess, slapped a publication ban on testimony in Canada, but the US reporters in attendance were blogging their little hearts out producing daily summaries of the sessions, so anyone with an internet connection could find out what was going on anyway.
Bizarre . . . .

Anywho, the ban was lifted yesterday, so all the testimony of one Jean Brault is now on display. After months of admirably tenacious stonewalling by such worthies as Charles Guite ("I don't recall.")and Alphonso Gagliano ("It was so long ago"), Mr. Brault has been singing like the proverbial canary. Today my local rag had the whole front page in black and red, with mug shots and 72 point type screaming "Extorsion!" And the feeding frenzy is on.

But this smelly little sinkhole has been simmering for at least five years. Why, oh why, is it coming out now?

"Nothing in politics EVER happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."

I think there's a lot more going on here than just another (yawn) government embarrassment. For starters, see the previous entry "It's Like We're Gettin' Set Up, Eh?" regarding the quiet alignment of the US/Cnd militaries despite government protests to the contrary. Then consider this gem gathered from my favorite news site:

Time to tame corporate power

by Murray Dobbin
April 7, 2005

As I was scanning the latest documents describing WTO negotiations on its services agreement (the GATS - General Agreement on Trade in Services) I came across a quote that reinforced for me how much corporations have come to dominate our political life - in other words, how much power has been transferred from citizens and democracy to CEOs and corporate boards. The quote was from Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi, the Director General of the WTO. He was taking questions from a gathering of CEOs of global service companies and one asked him what it took it "get things going."

While he acknowledged that governments and politicians had to "manage" the process, it was corporations who had to design and drive it. According to Panitchpakdi: "I think we need consistent pressure coming from the private-sector side. We need governments who understand what kind of interests you have in the round [of negotiations] ... So I would say ... when you have active participation from the private sector, the political agenda will be always more balanced."

Needless to say the WTO head said this with a completely straight face because he absolutely believes it. But he revealed in his remarks that what he thought needed balancing was the apparently undue influence of government. In designing a world trading system - but particularly corporate access to and privatization of vital public services - it is the corporations that count. Governments, who are supposedly mandated to look after their citizens' interests, the public interest, are just there to manage the process.

Panitchpakdi's remarks in such private settings are rarely reported so the public is just as rarely made aware of how the world's health care, education and municipal services are in the process of being handed over to global corporations. The parallel at the national level is more transparent, as we saw recently with the signing of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America by the leaders of Mexico, Canada and the U.S. The title of the accord - which sets the tone and structure for virtual annexation - was lifted almost word for word from a report by the most powerful corporate organization in Canada.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, founded back in 1974, consists of the CEOs of the 150 richest companies in Canada. This extraordinarily influential organization is not a lobby group in the normal sense of the word. They have been dictating fiscal, trade and economic policy to governments since the early 1980s. Moving beyond the old-fashioned approach of lobbying government each time their interests seemed threatened, the CCCE (formerly the Business Council on National Issues) sought to anticipate governments' moves and strike before government could.

They were stunningly successful with the Mulroney government and in some cases - such as competition law - actually wrote the legislation they wanted and presented it to the federal government. In this example, Mulroney passed the legislation virtually unchanged.

In the spring of 1994 the then BCNI, furious that Paul Martin's first budget did not cut billions from social spending as recommended, delivered its policy prescription to the finance minister: "A Ten Point Growth and Employment Strategy for Canada." The plan was an aggressive corporate wish list that included huge cuts to social programs, a deliberate moderate economic growth policy, using any surpluses to pay down the debt (rather than reinvest in social programs), massive corporate tax cuts and decentralization. Within four years Martin had delivered on almost every item.

The fact that our nation has been effectively governed according to the priorities of 150 global corporations is now so "normal" that it is almost never remarked upon. Yet there is an enormous disconnect here that goes beyond the obvious question of just how anti-democratic this situation is. I am speaking here of the irrefutable fact that the corporate sector which now claims the right to define our nation has reached unprecedented levels of corruption and social irresponsibility. For the past several years we have witnessed the spectacle of almost unimaginable greed, fraud, lying and outright theft from the men who were the heroes of capitalism.

The perverse nature of corporate culture tells us that those like Bernie Ebbers, had they not been caught, would still be heroes. Indeed from Wall Street's and Bay Street's viewpoint, getting caught was their only real crime. The roots of this cultural pathology go to the relentless drive for deregulation and the resulting corporate contempt for the laws that remain.

Since the early 1980s ethical behaviour has even been equated by some business theorists with violating fiduciary responsibility. University of Chicago law professors Frank Easterbrook and Daniel Fischel have taught that when it comes to making profits, executives not only may violate the law but should do so if it enhances the bottom line. And the fines and penalties if they get caught? Simply the cost of doing business.

While this view may be extremist, it has it roots in traditional corporate law which says that those who run corporations have a legal duty to shareholders, and that duty is to make money. If they fail to do so directors and officers are open to being sued by shareholders. Corporate law not only says nothing about directors and officers serving the public interest, it actually implies that absorbing the necessary cost of doing so could be seen as violating their fiduciary duty.

When the CCCE/BCNI dictates to Paul Martin about the direction of the country, it is speaking on behalf of an ethically corrupted and perverse institution: the modern, global corporation. Governments - and by implication, citizens - crafted the laws that made them so. It's time we changed them.


Ok, got that background info settled in? Now consider this. One of the weirdnesses of Parliamentary political systems is that if the party in power starts to look shaky, the other party(ies) can, if they choose, procedurally "gang up" on it and force a new election AT ANY TIME. Doesn't matter if you won the election a month ago. Mess up, annoy enough people, and you can be forced to run a new campaign within six weeks. It's called a "snap election" See this CBC link.

So here's the possible scenario. The Conservatives and whoever will help, will force an election anywhere between now and say, Sept. I'm betting on June which will conveniently keep Canada distracted while the US is bombing/invading Iran. Steven Harper gets elected with a whacking great majority, since when Canadian slap their politicians they go all out, plus they will never seriously consider the NDP. Last time a scandal this big broke twenty years ago, the Conservative went from nearly two hundred parlimentary seats to TWO.

Steven, a northern fundie then rushes to mend fences with his evangelical counterpart George, joining forces to defeat the demons of them that "hates our way of life". Look for Canada signing back on with the missile defense plan, and Canadian forces to be posted to Iran and Iraq by the end of the year. But they will start buying our cattle again. Ain't democracy grand?

For all of you who are so happy that "Canadians are different", you read it here first.

Blue Ibis

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