Friday, October 31, 2008

A Black Cnut and an Ice Maiden

One of my favourite English ‘kings’ was the Anglo-Saxon Cnut. He ruled in the 1020’s and 30’s, before your time of course. The thing I like about Cnut is that having done a great job of conning his followers he found it necessary to disabuse them a little.

He had his followers carry him down to the beach on his throne where he ordered the tide not to come in and wet his tootsies. The tide failed to obey of course and the king was able to show the limits of his power. It looks now like Obama might have turned another tide:

“Some perceptions of race are changing, with a marked increase in the number of people who say they believe that white and black people have an equal chance of getting ahead in America today.” NYT

To much of the outside world US society is adolescent at least, bordering on nursery. I know that is not a universal condition, but seems to be at least majority. From food preferences through to the inclination to adult tantrums, the prevalence of pathological narcissism, right through to ingrained racism suggests a society in crisis.

But now it looks like the country might be dragged into a semblance of adulthood; good job Obama. Much of that outside world practiced racism, but it is generally directed at overt displays of preconceived behaviour. A black, Asian, Martian or even poor white can exist unseen so long as they behave on the correct side of the mean average.

Ice Maiden
Obama is no Cnut and Palin is no maiden, but let’s not split hairs.

Palin warned an audience of 7,000 not to vote based on economic concerns alone and talked about national security concerns. NYT

percent of people view the economy negatively, and 85 percent think the country is on the wrong track. NYT

You just don’t get it Sarah, the economy is security, the most personal kind in fact. The economy is central to the well being of every voter and a proper adult concern. We know it is all about perceptions, emotion rather than reality. But economic realities are hitting households heavily just now.

Reality might not filter as far north as Alaska, or into your average trailer park, but most people feel it even if they can’t articulate it. It could well be the shock of an economic collapse as much as the promise of a good leader could lead to a national maturing. Maybe the tide can turn.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Refining election prediction models

“Based on past elections and economic factors, two professors at the University
of Oregon predict that Senator Barack Obama will win the presidential election
by a 52 to 48 margin.” Newswise

This blog has bored readers rigid since at least mid 2006 on election prediction models. That was when we became excited about the predictor based on simple household economic indices - the unemployment rate, inflation and interest rates; basically the rise and fall of consumer/houshold confidence over an election cycle.

From my early excitement it soon became obvious that this was a very general, sledge hammer approach; and increasingly difficult to track as governments became increasingly cagey about releasing hard figures. In fact it also became evident there were numerous factors skewing the economic prediction argument. The US presidential election presented big problems for a non-economist, the variables across states under that electoral model are daunting.

Well now a pair of academics from Oregon think they’ve cracked that code. Their paper can be downloaded at: A Disaggregate Approach to Economic Models of Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections. I was interested in the way they broke Breaking the states into five groups of 10, ranging from the states with the lowest average income to those with the highest average income. From there they were able to factor in the additional voting behaviors.

I’m not convince that some being touted are consistently valid. The Bradley effect and the reverse Bradley effect are dependent on social attitudes which are changeable. The tendency for a late surge for the challenger, or decline of the front-runner are not in themselves predictable events.

Public opinion polls and election betting (prediction markets), depending on the country and system, can be good to outstanding, but often rely on too many historic weightings. This is the case in the US now where pollsters must speculate on a range of issues to come up with a formula to predict voter turnout and its likely mix.

Australian federal elections should be about the easiest to predict on the basic economic model, it rarely fail. Aussie states are more problematic, with many side issues, including which party controls the federal government, determining the result. Perhaps this is a reflection of the dominant federal economic control.

The same can be said for Canada, except that opposition conservatives tend to splinter and the dominant centre left is permanently splintered. According to the economic prediction model the non-conservatives in Canada should have won easily, and in fact did, but the largest single party (Conservative) forms a minority government.

I had suspected that emotional factors overrode economic factors in the US presidential election. In many ways, being sold on America’s booming economy it must cause a major guilt trip to be among the losers. In fact, according to the study above, it comes back purely to economic distribution through the country.

Another aspect I’ve noticed, no doubt a product of the economic prediction theory, is that economies tend to deteriorate under conservative governments. Often the progressive parties are left to clean up the mess. This tendency might in fact work backwards, as some researchers believe voters lean towards conservatives when consumer/household confidence is high, and swing to progressives when confidence wavers.

As a progressive I should perhaps be selling my preferred parties to ensure poor economic outcomes, or at least reduced consumer confidence, in key voter catchments. Fortunately our politicians aren’t that bright, or the knowledge could become the basis of entrenched governments.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Convoluted leadership selection

Electoral laws are increasingly under the spotlight in various efforts to reduce electoral fraud, or alternatively to entrench to political elites. Canada has some of the toughest laws, extending to Elections Canada overseeing party leadership contests. Given outcome, there is a question over how effective strong regulation is, particularly in leadership races.

The Canadian Liberals went into a recent federal election with a leader who was clearly unpopular publicly, but worse, lacked the support of his parliamentary party colleagues. In Canada the party leader is chosen by complex methods across party membership rather than by those they need to work closely with.

In Australia, even given public funding of elections, political parties are considered to be private organisations. For the most part elected members choose their own party members, with little more than normal media scrutiny. The idea of supervising or imposing outside rules is not generally regarded as appropriate.

Bloodletting spills public
With the Canadian Liberals now facing a new round of the leadership selection process perhaps the party should be developing a more pragmatic approach, within the rules laid down but ultimately more effective.

The Liberal partyroom needs to get down a flesh out which candidates will have the ultimate support of colleagues. Sure the bloodletting often spills public, there are tears and recriminations, but the final candidates to go before the wider party have been pre-qualified by their colleagues.

In 2004 the bitter leadership battle Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, the strongest choices undermined each other to the degree that the relatively weak Stéphane Dion was elected as a compromise. I certainly don’t put Dion down in any sense other than he never really became The Leader.

The process I’m suggesting is already underway, to an extent, according to reports. Rae and Ignatieff could probably both command the respect of their elected colleagues, but Rae is the more charismatic of the two. The backroom deal being suggested is a recognition of this, without the obvious tears.

I would hope, when leadership contenders go out to the party branches for support they have also secured support from their colleagues. It is moronic to think you can win a ‘popular vote’, complete with the branch stacking and still lead a team who don’t want you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If there were any doubts

“The NSW National Party leader, Andrew Stoner, says the federal Liberal MP Alby Schultz should be shot after he helped the independent Peter Besseling during the weekend Port Macquarie by-election campaign.
"If I had my way, I'd march him out at dawn, put a blindfold on him and shoot him,'' Mr Stoner said today.” SMH

If there were any doubts about the fascist tendencies of the NSW National Party, Stoner has now dispelled them. Forget the constitutional rights of the electorate to vote for their choice, and accept or reject outside intervention in that choice.

Stoner has gone too far in this intemperate outburst. Frankly I don’t care what Stoner or Turnbull think about the Port Macquarie vote, the involvement of Alby Schultz in the Besseling campaign was never a secret or deterrent to a majority of voters.

The disdainful and high-handed repudiation of voter rights is a mark Stoner’s lack of concern for democratic rights, his belief that the electorate is a Nationals ‘gift’; there is also an implied accusation of stupidity of the voters. He might believe that, but more fool him.

We knew most of that anyway, Stoner’s mentor Mark Vaile made that much clear; but even Vaile was not so crass as to suggest shooting those he disagreed with. We are becoming accustomed to the lack of maturity and poor leadership skills displayed by our political elite, but this outburst really takes the cake.

Stoner’s behaviour is ample proof of why Port Macquarie, and many former National’s members, again turned their backs on the party.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maple Leaf Rag

I’d call it post election blues, but it doesn’t have the swing. A week after the ‘Clayton’s’ government was returned in Canada – that is the government you have when you aren’t having a government – the devastated Liberal leader has resigned.

I don’t want to attack Stéphane Dion, I expect we’d almost get on well despite the language barrier, but he’s made yet another bad choice. Dion has decided to stay on until he is officially replaced next spring.

“[Dion] will work to rebuild the party's finances to ensure that his successor will be equipped to counter Conservative “propaganda”

The bloke is politically dead! He isn’t going to inspire much needed donations to the party coffers and he won’t have the grunt to hold a team together, particularly one including a “long list of potential candidates for the Liberal leadership”

A Conservative partial administration
So we are left with an unworkable opposition to a Conservative government which doesn’t really have the numbers to govern. I guess Canada doesn’t have an Obama, or a Rudd or even Britain’s Gordon Brown; and try as he might France’s Sarkozy can only manage to inflame Canuck sensibilities.

The real problem is that Harper’s true conservatism is aided and abetted by the dubiously informed Canadian banking fraternity… “The banks, moreover, don't want no stinking government funds in their equity mix -- a message delivered last Friday by TD Bank Financial Group CEO Ed Clark.” A global overreaction Terence Corcoran

Corcoran, a strangely shortsighted conservative commentator, goes on to say: Two sources say Mr. Clark noted that "the Canadian banking system is the only major system in the world where no nationalization has occurred in the current crisis."

An interesting observation from Clark and a lapse in research for both he and Corcoran. Mind you, terms like nationalization, socialism and communism are being bandied about by the Canadian conservative elite as though the were still card carrying members of the McCarthy witch hunts.

Australia has certainly put instruments in place to ensure confidence in our major banks, but in reality they won’t be called on and those banks would certainly lose their revered international status at the slightest whiff of nationalisation. I presumed, despite idolizing the former John Howard regime Harper’s buddies don’t see Australia as major in any sense.

Canada is really aiming for a stretch in isolation with the sort of views being expressed by the fragile conservative minority. Never mind opposition at home, world economies are now too closely intertwined to simply go off and play by your own rules. Harper is yesterday’s man, but I guess no one wants to tell him that right now.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Another election down

Even for a political junkie the constant election trail over the past year or so gets wearing. On Saturday there were four state by-elections, including my home electorate of Port Macquarie.

While the governing Labor Party were flogged in three contests the Port Mac contest was between the Nationals (conservative) candidate and a raft of independents, including a former Labor candidate.

The stand out independent and former Oakeshott assistant, Peter Besseling had what the local conservative paper called ‘a close win’. A 10% split doesn’t seem too close to me. Despite the headline the local report went on:

“Besseling declared victory in the state by-election less than two hours after polls closed on Saturday, surprising pundits who had tipped a closer tussle.”

A spiritual experience
Obviously there is something deeply compelling, for me, with election campaigns. To a great extent I try to focus methodologies of electoral systems and campaigns, but generally fail to remain dispassionate. What I notice is an almost spiritual emotion when voting time comes.

I was a little ambivalent this time out, and even considered an informal vote on the basis that none of the campaigns managed to inspire. What I discovered is that I am incapable of ignoring the call of a valid vote.

While I’m pleased Peter won there is still a feeling I can’t shake, that he is too strongly a parliamentary insider, to the detriment of a local constituency. I hope I’m wrong about that, and regardless, I know Pete and he is not a National Party conservative. Though he might well be a Liberal, but probably of the pragmatic variety.

So, there is just one more election to run in this current series, and it seems McCain has worked extra hard for an early result. Not in his favour of course, but Nov 4 is looking increasingly an anti climax. Now we just have a global crisis to deal with.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Economic survival and resource management

Canadian politicians are frequently inspired by Australia, in part because the two countries' economies are similar. But Australia's handling of the global financial crisis offers a cautionary tale for Canada's next government.

Over the weekend, Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced a $10.4-billion (Australian) stimulus package, joining many other major governments in using taxpayers' money to buoy its sagging economy.
Globe and Mail - Canada

If the two country’s economies are so similar then why does Australia have a winning surplus and Canada will find it impossible, to put together even a small rescue package? Where are the results of Canada’s oil and mineral exports? Especially when you consider Canada is the major source of US oil.

The answer it seems is in a the differences in the relative federal systems. Unlike Australia, Canada’s Constitution deems natural resources located onshore are almost all owned by its provinces (states). Resources in the three Northern territories are federally owned and a few Aboriginal First Nations also have significant natural resource wealth.

“As a result, the role played by natural resource revenues in generating inter-regional fiscal disparities occupies a much greater place in the public discourse in Canada than in most other countries” Rona Ambrose- President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

The mix in the Australian situation is more complex, with the states taking a share of royalties with the federal government; then fiscal adjustments are made to compensate states without the resource income. It should be noted that there is also provision for some Aboriginal claimed territories, though not to the level we see in

There are other significant difference in our federal models. The Australian constitution Section 92 provides that "trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States shall be absolutely free". In Canada the corresponding provinces held rigidly to the freedom of each jurisdiction to guard and protect their own interests.

As much as I would like to see particular constitutional change in Australia the current global crisis gives me pause. We are not perfect, but there are elements in the mix that are a real credit to the framers of our constitution. With all its faults it is still a model federalist constitution. National resources belong to the nation!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oh Why Canada?

In Canada, more than anywhere I’ve ever experienced, there is only one poll that counts and that is election day. My prediction that the Conservatives would fail to win government, purely on economic indicators, was part right.

Progressive parties have the numbers, but not government; just look at the bald numbers -
the broad progressives just over 60% - the winning conservatives just short of 40%. With just 59% of eligible voters turning out the progressives obviously failed to capitalize on their support base.

This was the election that shouldn't have been held, that attracted a dismal turnout, that didn't change anything. Without doubt the blame for this electoral farce lies chiefly with the Liberals and their poor choice of leader. Not to put Dion down personally, but he is hardly an inspiration.

Incremental Conservatism
So, given the sad result, what are the prospects? One commentator suggested incremental conservatism, given that Stephen Harper still lacks the numbers to institute a full conservative program. Just as well the brakes are on when the rest of the world is reacting to forced change.

“Each increment forward on a couple of conservative issues-- telecom deregulation, maybe, or military spending, a family tax issue -- has been matched by lurching fallbacks on scores of others. On the environment and consumer regulation, not to mention spending, the Tories have been as prone to heavy government intervention as any non-conservative.” Financial Post

Never mind that JK Galbraith, Canadian born and bred, adapted Keynesian economics to the modern Americas, indeed to post war Europe; sensible Canada has lost the plot. Again I blame the Liberals, who have also lost the plot. It’s not a left/right debate in the end, it is an economic/fiscal argument.

The Liberals have a record of adapting to the needs of the times; from today they need to be looking at where they are going and make some hard decisions. Before the greed set in they had an innate understanding of what the country wanted, and the ability to deliver. The focus must now be to rebuild that ability.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Whadda We Want – stability, predictability, inequality reduction

While we prepare for the various political and financial crisis to end we should be waving the demand banners – Whadda We Want? Some of us hope for a broad progressive approach to life on this planet, but a fascist outcome is not unknown from these sort of crisis points.

Whadda progressives want?
  • Social and economic stability for a start. Perhaps not the ‘Ward Cleaver’ American brand of stability; replete as it was with destructive racist and other divisive views. There must be a brand of stability which does not require a weaker target of attack, particularly when we have greedy bastards to attack.

  • The second wish is for some form of social/economic equality. I’m not thinking of some unrealistic (surrealistic) dream where we are all equal, more a NIMBY approach without the robber barons in charge. Ok, that sounds like a form of benign apartheid, which might be a factor in clawing back some ‘humanity’ in our cultures.

None of that fits pithily on a hand penned placard, and would probably lead to another round of moronic book burning given that two longish paras now seem to constitute a book. It would make a dreadfully complex chant at the next march, but I have not yet reduced them to slogans of less than three words.

Selling a different mindset seems to me an important factor in crafting our new future. Mutualisation sums up the needed thinking to a degree, we are all essentially shareholders in our particular national economies – we need to act like it. The problem, of course, is finding the acceptable level of personal responsibility, the point where most people can actually understand the dynamics involved.

Under neo-liberalism most citizens have become de facto players in the markets, which is not a particularly fair way prepare for old age. If the professional players can’t figure the markets then what chance for the rest of us? But we do have a stake in our economies and not understanding the basics proves costly.

Australia is well versed in the concept of Mutualisation through our network of credit unions and building societies, the pillars of the non-banking back sector if you like. My great great grandfather actually helped establish some of these organisations back when Tasmania was still known as Van Diemen's Land. The idea of a quasi bank owned by its customers has survived well here.

I recall, many years ago, approaching my credit union for a desperate loan. The manager called me in, looked over his glasses, and asked: “You wrote this application, are you going to tell me, as a member of this credit union, we should take this risk?” The answer was fairly obvious. We should be understanding and doing the same things with our country.

Sure, once I got over the rejection, negotiating with creditors wasn’t easy or comfortable. I had over extended and had to work my way out of it. That probably brings us to a third essential reform, a recognition of personal responsibility. But that personal responsibility must be evident throughout the whole of society, not just the grafters in to lower 90%.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Canada's conservative experiment

The legality of Canada’s October 14 election called by Prime Minister Stephen Harper was referred to the Federal Court but the court ruled it did not have time to intercede before the federal election. When Parliament passed Harper's fixed election date legislation last year, MPs were assured he would not break his own law.

Harper wanted to transform Canada into a loose confederation of autonomous provinces with the federal government limited to foreign affairs, defence and an arbitration role among the provinces. He even suggested there should be a firewall around Alberta, his preferred province.

Harper had the vision of majority government in his sights, the opportunity to advance his ideological dreams. In politics, as with many other pursuits, timing and anticipation are crucial and Harper might well have missed both this time. The world is increasingly weary of ideology, preferring tangible results instead.

As E-Day draws near Canadian voters might be recognizing another side of the Harper agenda. Harper's view has been that Canada's social programs are overblown and “humiliatingly socialist”. Even the strictures of minority government haven’t dampened the efforts though.

Having reduced the GST a couple of points and ramped up the Afghanistan commitment Harper is now reducing social programs on the basis of – “We can no longer afford it…” Harper might have learned the lesson from his guru buddy John Howard; there is only so much you can take from social expectations and Canada is not the US where expectations are low.

Howard tightened social fiscal policy, and in the end it cost him government. People in Australia and Canada have an expectation of key social support – things like education, health care and pensions. No amount of ideology is going to replace social demand, and this latest credit crisis is likely to bring that fact home stronger than ever.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Of taxes, regulations and other impediments

If logic did not inform us experience should; but despite experience there are still calls in the US and elsewhere for lower taxes and minimal, if any, regulation. A low tax regime and high level of self-regulation are surely at the heart of US woes.

Doubtless we would all like to avoid paying our share of taxes, and often the wealthy can afford to minimize their portion. The trouble is, the sort of social and industrial infrastructure we require comes at accost. US citizens fool themselves if they believe otherwise – what isn’t paid to the government must still be paid somewhere.

I hope we are almost past one odious form of backdoor payment, the PPP (public private partnership). This magic way of offsetting construction costs for everything from schools and hospitals to roads and ports still becomes a burden to the taxpayers it is serving. The money must come from somewhere, or services simply not provided at all.

The other thorny issue is regulation. Those subject to, even potentially subject to intervention and oversight usually run two conflicting arguments; one) we, our industry or whatever, are more capable of regulating our activities than outside regulators. Two) The time and cost of meeting regulatory requirements is a burden on the target industry.

Forget the cost, either way the consumer will pay that, that is how the world works. The problem is, without regulation or with poor regulation the consumer will often pay far more heavily, in cash and/or wellbeing. When governments have to bail an industry we pay in up front or hidden taxes. When products fail we pay in a direct assault on health and wellbeing.

The simple fact is, we pay either way, we are going to be taxed either directly or indirectly – by government or by commerce. The notion of good governance should be to protect wider society from the excess of the few. Under the now dying paradigm a relative few were being promoted over the wellbeing of the many, and we will all pay for the mistake.

Even as the follies of the past three decades or so become evident there is still a strong backlash by the apologists of the free market. I expect there are still a few bodies to bury, evidence of misdeeds to dispose of. Though, as usual, fixing the mess won’t allow much time for retribution, we need clear forward thinking now.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Echoes from the past

Histories should be part of our general thinking and pertinent historical facts can com from all sorts of places. As a voracious and eclectic reader it rarely surprises me to come across relevant gems; the latest being comments on the ’29 crash and the great depression.

It was a John O’Hara novel, first published in the 1950s – 10 North Frederick. The part which caught my attention, the rapid wealth acquisition during the second half of the ‘20s, then the rapid wealth loss in the great crash. Quick money quickly lost.

Then I find other parallels with that far off period; even the same corporate players in some cases. Citi, Morgan and Chase were in the forefront of hopeless efforts to buy the markets out of trouble in 1929. They had placed a bid to purchase a large block of shares in U.S. Steel at a price well above the current market. The expensive ploy obviously failed.

Another parallel can be found with the wild wealth generation preceding the market/credit crisis. The top 0.1 per cent now earn more money than the bottom 50 per cent of Americans, and the top 1 per cent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 per cent. The wealthiest 400 people in our country saw their wealth increase by $670 billion while Bush has been president.

According to IRS and other records, the last time a similar situation existed in the US was in the late 1920’s. For those able to invest wealth was created rapidly over a few years, and has history shows lost over a few days. The market collapse was dramatic, but affected a relative few. It was the underlying economic rot that did the long term damage.

Spreading the contagion

The fear now must be, does this current mess go beyond the market players; will it sweep us all up in its path as the 1920’s situation did? Australia has a fundamentally different economy from the US, and has always been resource based, as is Canada. In many ways that commodity base was the safety net, but how will it hold?

Both countries a depending on China’s continuing growth, but Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., China's biggest steelmaker, and Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd. led declines in commodity stocks on concern the deepening global credit crisis will slash demand for metals. In Canada commodities markets are heading for the biggest annual decline since 2001, while Australia is caught in the same trap.

If we are to avoid a replay of the 1930’s we certainly can’t depend on the ‘experts’ leading the way. They led us into the mess with their mantra of free, unregulated markets. Only now are we seeking comments like: “The freer a country’s financial system, the more severe an economic downturn will be during times of financial stress.”

Like the late ’20, there was an era of get rich quick, now to be followed by general suffering. Perhaps it is simply part of the broader set of economic cycles, but certainly seems to be based on innate greed and stupidity. Either way, it is a major correction and I will never see its like again.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Tasers don’t kill people…

Tasers won't kill anyone, says Scipione
"There has been no documented death from the use of tasers here in Australia, and they are in widespread use." The tasers would be a "less-than lethal option" in subduing violent offenders, he said. Herald Sun October 02, 2008

Taser guns have been rolled out to general duties police officers across New South Wales. ABC

I’m inclined to support the role of police in our communities, which doesn’t mean I believe they can be universally trusted with blank checks. Despite Commissioner Scipione’s protestations there is clear evidence, in countries like Canada, that people are dying after taser ‘treatment’.

I’ve seen reports of up to 20 deaths in Canada, with their 30 million or so population; but the apologists still argue alternative causes of death. Like:

“The naked subject then fell through a window…”
“The subject had consumed a cocktail of drugs…”
“The subject suffered a Cardiac Event…”

It doesn’t wash, not at a time when Canada’s Mounties are being forced into a major investigation on taser use we in NSW have decided to go all out. Twenty plus deaths from a ‘non-lethal’ remedy is not acceptable, and certainly not acceptable to talk away the obvious consequences of this weapon’s use.

I have known a good many fine police, most of whom do a great job without the need to be heavy handed. The taser perhaps represents a shortcut, but good policing requires more than that, even if the dealing with the job becomes frustrating at times. Those being killed by tasers aren’t the tooled up mobsters the Commission would like us to picture, they would have more sense than to confront such a situation.

At the same time there is another element among the police which does worry me. An example: Not so many years back a cop made a big show on the way to a call to remove an injured cow from a nearby country road. “Better bring the Glock’s and just hose it off the road,” he called to his partner. Fortunately that boofhead has moved on, to a non-armed job one hopes, but they are out there.

Just a few story links: Questions hang over taser death

“…man who died after being jolted with a Taser following a bank robbery in Langley, B.C.” CTV Oct. 2 2008

A third death in five weeks linked to the use of taser stun guns

NY policeman commits suicide after Taser death

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Missing the message on Harper and Howard

Canada should now take a closer look at Stephen Harper’s association with former Aussie PM John Winston Howard. We downunder have been more than happy that his only influence here is his slowly diminishing economic legacy. Canada should fear that that same legacy is living on in Harper.

The Canadian media are focusing on the largely irrelevant, revealed plagiarism by Harper of a John Howard pro-Iraq speech back in 2003. I recall the speech (I was in Canada at the time and opposed to the Iraq war) and noted the similarity in views expressed, if not the plagiarised text.

By the time I was involved in the 2004 Canadian election, as campaign manager for a Liberal candidate in BC, Iraq was off the Canadian agenda, so that part of the issue was dead. In fact it wasn’t until after the 2006 election my alarm bells started to chime, and not on war but the economy.

There had been a long time, smouldering antipathy between Australian and Canadian Liberal leaderships. They were vastly different animals, socially and economically. When Harper’s Conservatives formed a minority government Howard was quick to induct him into the Bush/Howard/Blair push.

That went way beyond Iraq/Afghanistan, which was little more than a diversion from the dying economic agenda of the neo-conservatives. The conflict diversion was method already well established by Reagan and Thatcher, but the real aim was for the primacy of neo-liberal economics – which led us to our current mess.

Ironically, just when the power of the Bush/Howard/Blair governments was failing Canada jumped on board through Harper, a demonstratively eager puppy in the pack. Harper proudly paraded John Howard around Ottawa, the man Chrétien saw as a cretin was to become Harper’s mentor.

I think the Liberal’s would be well advised to dig a little deeper on the Howard influence on Harper’s economic thinking. The now obviously redundant conflict agenda always hid a more dangerous agenda and through Stephen Harper Canada could well be the last player in a dying game.