Underlooked Stephen Harper quotes P7: Stephen Harper likes Paul Martin and his onslaught and slashing of the public sector.

I’ve decided to add another part to my underlooked Harper series upon reflection with new information in mind. All of the Stephen Harper quotes, unless otherwise noted, are dug up from the leaked Harper database of controversial quotes. I’m covering them because these haven’t gotten the media or blogger attention I believe they deserve. You can (and should) read part one, two, three, four, five and six here.

“Whether I agree with what he’s doing or not, Paul Martin is obviously in the top of his area,” Harper says. “He has good support within his party, he’s very popular with within the cabinet and caucus and he’s just a very good performer as well.” “Those things all make him difficult to attack.”


Harper had quite an appreciation for Paul Martin, and he made it vocal – and not just once, this isn’t an isolated incidence – there are at least 5 other quotes of fondness towards Paul Martin in the leaked compilation. It wasn’t just Harper, either, it was many on the right who had an admiration of sorts for Paul Martin, then Finance Minister under Jean Chrétien.

“The dirty secret of contempory Canadian politics,” neo-conservative David Frum wrote in 1998, “is that from the point of view of right-of-centre Canadians, the Liberals are running quite a tolerable government.” (1)

The reason for this is most obvious: under Chrétien and Paul Martin, the Liberals persisted, promoted and implemented economic neoliberalism – an assault on the public sector. Privatization, government downsizing, and of course, tax cuts.

If you noticed, Harper, and even David Frum, gave credit to the Liberals and Paul Martin well before he became Prime Minister in 2003. This is because Paul Martin had de-factor control of the economic direction of the federal government under Jean Chrétien.

Ministers and their ministries…effectively went into defensive mode….

In Chrétien’s government, Martin didn’t just decide how much had to be cut from total spending in the critically important 1995 budget; he and his senior officials actually decided how much each department would have to give up…

By allowing Martin and his financial officials to make all decisions, Chretien, in effect, handed the reins of government to his finance minister.  (2)

And, boy, was Martin cruel. His budget cuts were incredibly steep. During the build-up to the 1995 budget, Martin and his staff handed sheets to each department minister with expected budget cuts as percent of spending over the next three years, and “the size of the required cuts left the ministers gasping: in many cases, they were all well above 50 per cent [reductions].” (3) For the Department of Industry, Martin expected a 60% reduction, and in conclusion, actually got around 50% budget cuts for two departments (Natural Resource and Transport).

In their 1995 budget the Grits introduced $25 billion in cuts and eliminated 45,000 jobs, approximately fourteen times the spending promises in their election manifesto, the Red Book. By 1997 Chretien’s [and Martin’s] government had downloaded roughly $6 billion to the provincial governments, an overall 30 percent reduction .(1)

Some cuts were even steeper than Harper’s current expectations (around 30% from most departments – for example, in 2012, CBC is getting slashed 10 percent), a staggering reality*. Overall, though, they match**. Contrast to the expected loss of over 15,000 federal employees in 2012 thanks to the Conservatives.

Paul Martin appeased those on the right because Paul Martin did what those on the right wanted. Economically, there was barely any difference between the Liberal party and the Reform-then-Alliance (predecessor to the current Conservative party). Harper noticed this, too:

Only on some ‘social’ values are the Liberals and the Alliance [successor of the Reform party, predecessor of the CPC] radically different.


Admitting there are only ‘social’ values that said parties disagreed on obviously means that economically, they’re quite similar, if not identical. Indeed, the economic direction of the Liberal party then is eerily similar to the economic policy of Harper’s government now – and it’s understandable. Martin did what Harper liked.

Harper even once referred to Paul Martin as the “messiah in waiting” for the Liberal party (07/10/2002).

Some claim it to be as much as a 40 percent reduction (5). Such cuts had dire consequences for the provinces,

Newfounland lost $73 million, the equivalent of more than half of all payment to physician; Nova Scotia lost $118, or twice the provincial spending on mental health services; Quebec saw a $1.1 billion cut, the equivalent of half of all payments for doctors’ services. Ontario took the biggest hit at $1.4 billion – twenty times the amount spent on community health centres – and Manitoba lost $139 million, the amount it takes to operate the provinces sixty-five smaller hospitals.(6)

 *Interesting note.

The departments that received the smallest cuts corresponded with what neo-liberals and economic rationalists traditionally saw as the core activities of the state: justice, immigration and foreign affairs and international trade… (4)

Again, very similar to the direction of our current Conservative government.

** Martin would later lighten up on his neoliberal fever for political reasons, similarly to Harper.

(1)Laird, Gordon. Slumming It at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada’s Right-wing Revolution. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1998. Page 123-124
(2) Dobbin, Murray. Paul Martin: CEO for Canada? Toronto: James Lorimer &, 2003. Print. Page 67-68
(3) Ibid Page 74
(4) Ibid Page 76
(5) Barlow, Maude, and Bruce Campbell. Straight through the Heart: How the Liberals Abandoned the Just Society and What Canadians Can Do about It. Toronto: HarperPerennial, 1996. Print. Page 150
(6) Dobbin, Murray. Page 78

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Canadian mythology: Bob Rae, NDP and socialists to blame for Ontario’s deficit.

One of Canada’s enduring mythologies is that during the NDP reign in Ontario from 1990 to 1995 a whole plethora of woe was inflicted as the result of Bob Rae and his mismanagement. Most people point to the fact that during that time the deficit of Ontario increased quite a bit – this is true.

A common article for the Toronto Sun outlines this:

Rae tripled Ontario’s deficit to $9.7 billion and raised taxes in his first budget in 1991, saying he was proud to fight the recession rather than the deficit.

 But, to be fair, Rae was facing a recession, just as Harper did in 2008 when the federal Conservatives blew the budget on economic stimulus (albeit at the insistence of the Liberals, NDP and Bloc in a minority Parliament).

To be fair, it was an international recession – keenly happening in America, which invariably and inevitably will affect us so long as NAFTA ties us – and to put the brunt of the blame on the NDP is absurd. A Premier of a province can’t control the international market, but even in this article it lobs the blame on Bob Rae quite thoughtlessly. 

It’s post hoc ergo propter hoc with a convenient ignorance of what governmental action actually exacerbated the recession in Canada. The early 90s recession, by the way, which caused the deficit in the first place. Hundred of thousands laid off, diminished tax base, money being paid for EI, money being paid for welfare – these things lead to governmental debt.

The government action that worsened the already terrible recession wasn’t from any socialist or left-leaning peoples, but actually a right-wing government with many business interests: the Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney.

The reason this recession hurt particularly in Canada can indeed be blamed on John Crow and the Brian Mulroney Progressive Conservatives. John Crow was the then-Governor of the Bank of Canada – Canada’s central bank which controls and regulates the financial market –  from 1987 to 1994. He was appointed by Brian Mulroney.

One thing the Bank of Canada does is regulate, and to a degree, control interest rates. When your borrow money from a bank, or store your money in a bank, our Bank of Canada decides the limits on what you can earn and what you can lose in terms interest payments.

John Crow’s grand idea was to end inflation, supported by then Progressive Conservative Finance Minister Michael Wilson,

Like [John] Crow, [Michael] Wilson had a staunch, almost obsessive commitment to fighting inflation, and the two men agreed in the spring of 1987 that the battle should be stepped up. (1)

How could this be done?

…perhaps the most potent method – a method which, if applied with sufficient force, could stop inflation dead in its tracks – was to raise interests rates. (2) 

Raising interest rates means it’s more expensive for most Canadians to pay for their personal loans – such as a mortgage or a line of credit. Raising interest rates, which Jim Crow did, caused significant damage to a substantial amount of Canadians,

Exerting such a strong influence over interest rates was like exercising a life-and-death power over the economy. In a sense, controlling interests rate was like controlling the country’s supply to fresh air. Money was the economy’s oxygen; it allowed the system to function, to breathe. If oxygen became scarce, the economy would start gasping for air. This is exactly what higher interest rates did; by driving up the cost of borrowing money, higher interest rates made it harder to get access to money. Thus, businesses couldn’t expand their operations and perhaps couldn’t even pay their employees, consumers couldn’t buy houses and cars and large appliances, and perhaps could no longer even afford even little expenses like having their clothes dry-cleaned or their hair cut. If their interest rate lever was cranked up high enough, and oxygen became sufficiently scarce, the economy would start choking in a desperate struggle to breathe.

…the significant result of all this was a recession. (3)

Another problem that raising interest rates caused was driving up the Canadian dollar, which made it more expensive for manufacturers to invest in Canada (4). The reason our dollar increased was that high interest rates attracted wealthy people looking to invest and make a return, as high interest rates disproportionally benefit the rich*. Reminds you of something?

The worst year of the John Crow rule was the same year the NDP was elected to government in Ontario: 1990,

He jacked up interest rates sharply in the spring and summer of 1990 – until they were five to six percentage points higher than the U.S. rates. This plunged the economy into a deep recession, which turned into the longest period of economic stagnation [in Canada] since the thirties. (5)

And academics agree that this recession was the main cause of Canadian debt:

These findings are in line with those of other well-known mainstream economists. As we’ve seen, Pierre Fortin concluded that roughly $30 billion  of the total deficit for all levels of government in 1992 could be attributed to the recession, which Fortin blames largely on an over-tight monetary policy. Ernie Stokes, head of WEFA Canada and a former Finance department economist in Ottawa, also concluded that Canada’s deficit would have been much smaller –  by about $25 billion in 1991, for instance – if it had followed the looser monetary policy of the U.S. during the Crow years. (6)

Thanks to the right-wing, business-dominated Canadian print media (and otherwise) Bob Rae and the NDP get the blame for the Ontario deficit, while the Progressive Conservatives (and the business community that backed them) seem to remain immune for accusation. Take action, dispel these myths and put the blame where it ought to be on: the wealthy and greedy business elite who back the policies which would benefit themselves at the cost of the majority of Canadians lives and well-being. Progressives, liberals and socialists are seldom the problem in Ontario, or Canada, or even anywhere else; rather, it’s the capitalists to blame. These sneaky bastards are so dastardly they’ve managed to subdue the population and shift the very blame onto those who would rather liberate us from their grip. We’ve been duped.

Fight the power.

Because the power is fighting you. And winning.


To end, the book (Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths) where I got the majority of this information, I would give two thumbs up and recommend it to you all.

* Just to flesh out an example, high interest rates overwhelmingly benefit the already wealthy:

In 1991, Canadians with income between $10,000 and $15,000 received interest income averaging $1,500 per person – an amount that largely reflected the interest collected by seniors and low-income groups. But rich Canadians, with incomes over $250,000, enjoyed interest income that year averaging #51,000 per person… thirty-four times the size of that received by the lower-income group. (7)

(1) McQuaig, Linda. “John Crow and the Politics of Obsession.” Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths. Toronto: Viking, 1995. pag 73. Print.
(2) Ibid. Page 76
(3) Ibid. Page 78
(4) Ibid. Page 103
(5) Ibid. Page 109
(6) Ibid. Page 115
(7) Ibid. Page 84

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The oxymoron of Access to Information in Canada, and the continuing trend of diminished transparency.

The current and continuing laws of Access to Information in Canada are insanely atrocious. Obtaining simple documents can be a bigger hassle than it has to be, and the government can delay, redact and use other tactics to withhold information. A 2006 Parliamentary report on News Media outlined this quite well:

Several witnesses argued that the way the Act is currently applied can be an impediment to journalists. In May 2005, the Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA) released a national audit of Canada’s freedom of information systems, which gave 75 per cent of federal departments a failing grade for compliance with freedom of information laws. This led to calls for amendments to the Access to Information Act.

There has also been considerable criticism of the costs attached to requests for information. A witness before the Special Senate Committee on the Anti-Terrorism Act told of receiving a bill for $25,000 for a request to the Department of Environment.In May 2005, the Ottawa Citizen reported that a woman in Toronto who sought information on city spending on playground repairs was sent a bill for $12,960. The CNA has argued that fees should not be set on a cost recovery basis, but that the government’s costs should be viewed as part of the price of ensuring effective democracy.

And more, from an excellent piece in The Walrus Magazine,

In Canada, the adequacy of the act has been in question from the outset, and it hasn’t improved much since the 1980s. “Compared with the US and Britain,” says University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran, who has worked on several recent high-profile cases involving transparency issues, “Canada’s system of disclosure is far inferior.” A 2008 study by the caj and the Canadian Newspaper Association actually ranked this country’s access law behind those of India, Mexico, and Pakistan. Among the most significant problems the report cited were the information commissioner’s inability to compel the government to release documents, and the exclusion from the act of about a hundred important government-affiliated bodies, including Canadian Blood Services and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization. The study further found fault with Section 21 of the act, which gives ministers broad rights to withhold records on the internal decision-making processes, deliberations, and advice of government.

A different report, issued that same year by the Public Policy Forum, traced the ways in which successive governments since Trudeau’s have allowed the ati act to decay. In practice, ati offices within federal bureaucracies have become “isolated, under-resourced, [and] under-professionalized,” succumbing far too often to a mindset that says, “when in doubt, cross out.” The ati law has spawned such fear and contempt in Ottawa that some civil servants now communicate orally or use sticky notes to avoid creating a trail. These approaches speak to the overarching need of Canadian bureaucracies to control their information at all costs, lest something damaging come out on the floor of Parliament or in the media. One tactic in particular — delay, delay, and delay — has created such a massive logjam of requests that it threatens to crash the entire access system.

Moving forward, things have only gotten worse, especially under the Conservatives – the ones who campaigned, and arguably won in 2006 as a result – on transparent and accountable government.

Since 1989, in Canada, CAIRS, an online database of all the compiled and completed Access to Information requests existed, until recently. Essentially, after somebody requested information, and the federal department compiled said information, it would be posted on this centralized database that anybody could access on the Internet (later introduced since 1989). It was a really convenient tool to see past requests.  Since 2008, it no longer exists. The Conservatives abolished this database. Official justification from Stephen Harper was that it “slow[ed] down the access to information”.

Now the process for obtaining previous requested documents varies from department to department, but it goes a little something like this. You visit the departments website, go to the “Proactive Disclosure” section and look for the document that says “Completed Access to Information Requests”. Then, you browse the specific year or months available, view the document, peruse it to find what you’re looking for/something of interest. Typically, only a few years are posted. Anything pre-2010, good luck.

The next step depends, as well. You can phone, mail or email the department with the code of the documents you want. Some departments have a PDF they can give you, while others will mail you the documents – some will even mail you a CD with the PDFs of the documents! A department might not even give you the documents, but so far I’ve had fair service.

See? Harper is improving access to information by making it far more laborious and arduous for the person seeking said information. And none of this gets into how to make a FORMAL request for information, and a subsequent complaint to the Information Commission if things go bad.

No wonder we rank at number 51th out of all the countries in the world for accountability according to a study done by the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy and Access Info.


Let me describe to you a personal experience I’ve had with this glorious system.

In my investigation (or call it whatever the hell you want) of GEO Group Inc. involvement with the Canadian government, I was lucky enough to find that other people had the exact same curiosity as me. In the particular departments involved, other (presumably good) people have previously requested the exact information I wanted. So, an informal request would do.

(For the record, and for your brain, this is how a formal request works: you mail them a Access to Information Request form that you can print out from the Justice Department, that you fill out detailing specifically – to the specific department – the information you desire. I stress specificity, as that’s very vital. Next, you enclose, with that form, $5 dollars in an envelope and you mail it to the person responsible with Access to Information Requests in that department. That’s right, you mail them and pay them money to access the information. You can’t phone in a request, you can’t email a request – you can only mail it or hand it in physically)

So, I did an informal request as I didn’t pay the five dollars, I merely asked the department (in an email) for the previously requested and compiled documents.  It didn’t take too long, less than two weeks if my memory serves me correctly.

Documents arrived, they decided to mail them to me free of charge (yay!). Uh oh, out of the 28ish pages they sent me, pages 1 to 25 were completely redacted, see here for image and further context. According to the law, I had to file a complaint within 30 days or any complaint I would make is null and void.

So, I went to complain to the Information Commission which deals with alleged unfair redactions or lack of reasonable disclosure. Considering I got absolutely no information other than things that were already available, I decided a complaint was in order. This also requires filling out a form and mailing it to the Information Commission – no phone or email. Though, thankfully, I don’t have to pay this time.

So, after a month or so and no reply, I phoned the Information Commission office wondering if my complaint even arrived. Considering the massive backlog of complaints they have, and the fact they’re getting funding cuts, it’s understandable that it will take a while for them to process complaints. After some recalling, the person on the other end obtained my complaint and pointed out something vital:

This was a informal request.  As the person on the other end told me “You don’t have a right to complain“. This was the grand conclusion!

But there was a such a simple solution. One, print out formal Request Information form, fill it out, put in envelope, include $5, mail to department, wait a month or 8, obtain redacted files, print out complaint form, mail to Information Commission with exact same complaints before, wait for a month to two years, potentially get the information I wanted. Until I do that, I “don’t have a right to complain.”

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My response to Declan Kelly, Communications Specialist for the Centre for International Governance Innovation; York Unversity – CIGI contract analyzed.

This post is in response to the comment from the Communications Specialist, from CIGI (Centre for International Governance Innovation) which you can see here. Besides the minor errors pointed out (and duly corrected) in the original post, I am going to respond to the most substantive claim, which is: (emphasis

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