Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The final countdown

Some quick observations today as we count down to the drop of the writ:

1. Three more Canadian soldiers who were near the end of their tour of duty in Afghanistan were killed when their armoured vehicle came under attack. That brings the total number of soldiers KIA up to 96, as well as one diplomat. At this pace, the morbid number of 100 could be hit as early as next week, right in week one of an almost certain election. Almost immediately, the Cons will attempt to portray themselves as the party of patriotism just like their Republican brothers in the States are yet again this week at their convention. It won't work. While we may all differ on whether the troops should be there, we support the troops nonetheless and we should be giving them all the best support possible -- not try to confuse the issue by announcing procurement contracts one week and cancelling them the next.

2. Stéphane Dion just gave a major pep talk to his Liberal caucus, announcing some tweaks in his environmental platform including a half billion to help truckers, farmers and fishermen switch to greener technologies. The amount will probably end up higher, I think. But where I think there should be a focus for these businesses is on biodiesel. As more people figure out that used cooking oil when filtered out has just about as good fuel economy as low sulphur diesel and at a much lower cost, it's going to become a commodity just like about everything else that has a price. Adapting equipment is one thing; helping people afford the cost of new fuels is another. The tax exemption on biodiesel and ethanol should be made permanent with a proviso that such exemption will only apply to types that don't strain the food supply further pissing off the Third World -- for example ethanol should be made from switchgrass instead of corn.

3. Finally, as if the Maple Leaf listeriosis scare isn't bad enough, a Québec company has recalled six types of cheese for salmonella, after at least one consumer died. And if you vegetarians are gloating right now, don't -- also being recalled are mushrooms from one plant. All these concerns about food safety coming the last couple of weeks, as well as the fact that the airline industry has implemented only five of the twenty-three recommendations that came out of the Swissair 111 disaster and a move to more self-inspection, points to an almost total lack of regard for necessary regulations to keep Canadians safe.

Years after high school and university, I'm still a big fan of John Stuart Mill and his treatise On Liberty, which spoke much about the "tyranny of the majority" as well as the principle that one should be free to do as he or she likes provided that it does not cause harm to others. The at first benign neglect has become a roller coaster of just plain idiocy and a willingness to tolerate a certain amount of harm before people get fed up. This kind of neglect led to the Walkerton tragedy -- which was at the provincial level. A promise to call an inquiry into the food poisoning scare isn't enough, someone needs to take responsibility at the governmental level and say "never again."

One doubts very much given the track record we've seen the last two and a half years that we can expect much better if Harper actually manages to get a majority. In fact it will be open season on our safety. Laissez-faire is practical from a competitive perspective but when it comes to our health and security (which includes the general environment and keeping us safe from terrorism) there should be no debate; we need rules and those who will break the rules will be dealt with.

N.B.: Mill was also way ahead of his time when he called for the equality of women way back in 1859 (The Subjection of Women), although he based his argument on the principles of utilitarianism; worth remembering in a year when women's rights are under attack more than ever in both Canada and the US.

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