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Same as it ever was

Goodness how time flies! Remember my post about the Harper Government’s creation of the ridiculous Office of Religious Freedom? That was three and a half years ago!

Since that time, I haven’t heard a peep about the Office on the news. Not one word. Granted I could have missed it, but if there were some really significant news, I strongly suspect I would have heard something. But it’s been only crickets.

So what is the Office of Religious Freedom up to today? As a separate department, nothing at all. The latest post on their Facebook page is from January. The reason for this is the Liberal Government closed the department in March1. I was thrilled with this news, but my joy is somewhat tempered. The newly created Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion is absorbing the role of the now defunct office.

There are two things I really don’t like about this new department.

The most obvious is that one of its major roles it to champion the rights of indigenous peoples, worldwide. My thinking is that Canada has far from a sparkling record of dealing with its own First Nations people, and perhaps that could be a focus before mucking about in other country’s business. Maybe, just maybe, once we have half a clue about how to deal with our own indigenous people with respect and equality, we could export that knowledge. Right now we’re hardly the people to tell others what to do.

The second is they’ve tripled the annual budget to $15 million.

I’d really like to know what these departments do. I’m sure there’s no end of talk about ‘important work’ and ‘building relationships’ but it all boils down to press releases posted at irregular intervals on a web page that no one can find. Surely they could help us understand where all that money is going if it really is important.

  1. Lee Berthiaume, “Liberals’ replacement for Office of Religious Freedom will promote broader range of rights,” National Post, 2016-05-17

Tennessee Bible veto

In April, Tennessee Governor Bill Hallam vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the official state book of Tennessee.

Even though he believes in the Bible, Hallam gave a number of reasons for his veto:

  • Official endorsement of the Bible would violate state and federal constitutions, according to the governor and Attorney General Herbert Slatery.
  • The governor worries that passage of the bill “trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text.“1
  • He also said, “If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn’t be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance.“2

That last item is particularly poignant as supporters of the bill have “tried to argue the move would highlight the economic and historical impact the Bible has had on Tennessee, saying printing the Bible is a ‘multimillion-dollar industry’ for the state.“3 Talk about trivializing the Holy!

In my opinion, the first issue invalidates consideration of the next two.

Of course, with a story of this nature, it was all over Facebook, both the facts from news outlets and opinion from individuals. Among those opinions is this gem:

What a mess. Who cares about civil liberties, indeed. Religious fundamentalism concerns me a great deal, and I make no distinction between Islamic and Christian fundamentalists, the latter of which certainly includes Ms. Snider.

Replace every instance of God with Allah, and Jesus Christ with Mohammad, and the message reads true, like some screed in which ISIL is taking credit for a bombing.

  1. Joshua Barajas, “Tennessee governor vetoes bill to make Bible the official state book,” The Rundown (PBS Newshour blog), 2016-04-15.
  2. Dave Boucher, Holly Meyer and Joel Ebert, “Gov. Bill Haslam vetoes Bible bill,” The Tennessean, 2016-04-14.
  3. ibid.

Ignoring the real problem

The new Liberal government has issued their first budget. Despite their promise to spend us back to growth by indulging in a modest $10 billion deficit, the budget includes a $30 billion deficit.1 The prime minister has stated that this is the time to spend because of the ridiculously low interest rates. Unfortunately, the budget is missing any reference or plan about when or how federal government spending will come back into balance.

What bothers me about this, beyond how the promised deficit has tripled between the election and the budget, is how there’s no reference anywhere to debt. If a low interest rate allows the government to spend more than it has, they have to pay the money back before the rate goes up to avoid fiscal damage. To stop spending more than they have isn’t enough!

Imagine they’re going to incur a $30 billion deficit this year and balance the budget next year and stay balanced until doomsday. In this situation, that $30 billion debt is never paid back and we pay interest in it every year. When the interest rate goes back up, the interest we pay every year also increases and our tax money buys less.

The problem is that our federal debt will not be $30 billion. It’s currently in the neighbourhood is $616 billion.2 I have no idea what interest rate the government pays on its debt, but the current prime rate is 2.70%. If this is the rate the government pays, they owe nearly $17 billion dollars just for servicing the debt. Before the government spends a penny, $17 billion comes off the top simply because they’re carrying more than half a trillion dollars of debt. While $17 billion is a tidy sum, most people will claim it’s not a huge amount, but like the warnings the government has been making to Canadian borrowers, what happens when interest rates finally go up?

Every government for decades has pretending that a balanced budget brings things back to equilibrium. The Liberals want you to think that when they get spending back into balance, everything is wonderful. Clearly, this is not the case. They want you to forget about the $616 billion. Even worse is that by the next election, the continuing deficit spending will add another $113 billion to the federal debt.3

I can’t ignore it so easily, and their failure to even once say the word makes me increasingly uncomfortable.

  1. CBC News, “Federal budget 2016: Highlights of Bill Morneau’s first budget,” CBC News, March 23 2016
  2. DebtClock,
  3. CBC News, “Federal budget 2016: Highlights of Bill Morneau’s first budget,” CBC News, March 23 2016

I’m shocked!

The other day, I have a dim recollection of hearing the President of the United States delivering a line from Casablanca, and then having a talking head explain it all. Of course it was a dream right?

Later the same evening, I came across the source of what seemed like a dream, but wasn’t. Obama was giving a speech to the Democratic National Committee in which he offered his thoughts on Donald Trump.

How can you be shocked? This is the guy, remember, who was sure that I was born in Kenya — who just wouldn’t let it go. And all this same Republican establishment, they weren’t saying nothing. As long as it was directed at me, they were fine with it. They thought it was a hoot, wanted to get his endorsement. And then now, suddenly, we’re shocked that there’s gambling going on in this establishment.1

It’s the last sentence. It echoes the scene from the film in which Captain Renault is closing Rick’s Cafe on the orders of German Major Strasser. Since he has no reason to do this, he makes one up.

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]

Croupier: Your winnings, sir.

Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.

Captain Renault: [aloud] Everybody out at once!2

That is one of my favourite lines from the film and I have used it in conversation. It was especially timely as I just watched Casablanca again recently with Julie, because she had never seen it before. We certainly had to fix that! Then a couple of weeks later, this!

I find it curious that the television news report felt the need to explain it while the Washington Post article did not.

  1. Nora Chokshi, “Obama’s brutal assessment of the rise of Donald Trump: He’s ‘selling stuff like it’s the Home Shopping Network’” from The Washington Post (as reprinted in The National Post), March 12, 2016.
  2. Casablanca,” The Internet Movie Database, retrieved March 15, 2016.

What? Rona Ambrose? Seriously?

Today, the Conservative Party members voted for Rona Ambrose to be their interim leader. To put it mildly, I was very surprised.

She’s held eight cabinet posts in the last nine years. I recall seeing video of her in full-on damage control mode, and very little else. When has she stood up and really made an impact in a positive way? When have we seen what she’s really all about? I thought surely one of the other seven people vying for the interim leadership would be a better fit.

Then it hit me. None of the other seven are any better. Harper was such a micromanager that the only time anyone in his cabinet said anything was when they said exactly what Harper wanted them to say. Beyond a very few trusted people close to him, everyone else may as well have been a Harper clone. Ambrose was certainly very visible, but I doubt we’ve heard any of her own words in those nine years.

This is the legacy Stephen Harper leaves behind. I was going to suggest that all the conservative MPs (except yours, if you have one) may as well be new people for all we know them…but it really is worse than that. If they were new, we wouldn’t expect to know them.

I wish Ambrose, and her successor, all the luck in the world. They’re going to need it to move past Harper’s very long shadow.

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