Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The FIVE billion dollar boondoggle

No party in Canada, except for those who have never been elected, can get away with this one; and it's a disgrace.   Every building needs to be renovated sooner or later, even legislatures, but this one has gotten out of hand.

The Parliament of Canada, three Gothic Revival buildings on Wellington Street in Ottawa (actually it's four if you count the Confederation Building -- where most MPs have their offices -- next to the West Block ) have stood for many decades.   The West and East Blocks date prior to Confederation (when Parliament Hill was originally intended to be the capital for only what we now call Ontario and Québec), the Centre Block dates to the 1920s as a fire destroyed the original (except the Library) during World War I.

About twenty years ago a massive rebuild program was begun to restore the buildings and bring them up to current federal safety and environmental standards.   Original cost and time line:   $65 million and about ten years.    Present estimate:   Five billion dollars ... with twenty years gone and still counting.   Even more incredible, they still haven't gotten to the Senate and House of Commons, which will be in temporary quarters (the courtyards, covered of course, of the East and West Blocks respectively -- which will begin next year, we hope).

And this week we learned that the West Block renos have gone through three sets of stonemasons, and the job is still not done.

Jesus Christ, folks!   When Romania overthrew Nicolae Ceauşescu in 1989, one of the legacies he left behind was a colossal presidential palace, far larger than any executive building ever built anywhere on the planet -- even larger than Versailles.   The people took matters into their own hands and turned into their Parliament, the largest in floor yardage of its kind in the entire European Union if not the planet, and for way way less.   And while the job is still technically not completed yet, they have plenty of room to spare; in fact every MP and Senator there has the kind of office space reserved only for the four party leaders here in Canada.

This is truly unbelievable.   Even the Auditor General says she can't figure out how things got out of control with no checks or balances; neither could her predecessor in the office who warned this was coming a decade ago.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Local voting day in Ontario

I was delayed a few minutes yesterday on the way to church because, of all things, a police-escorted military parade.   Pipes, drums, everything.   Naturally, I saluted ... my guess these are mostly reserve troops but many of them have been for a fact been deployed to Afghanistan.

Maybe it was just a coincidence but it was just a day before today's local elections in Ontario.   It's easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of offices -- in some counties people vote for a mayor, a deputy mayor, a city councillor, a county superintendent / regional chair, a regional councillor, and a school board trustee.    And it's still first past the post rather than a preferential ballot like I think it should be.

But it's local government that affects us the most directly.    Public transit, public works, police, emergency services, parks and recreation.    It's also the one that gets the lowest turnout -- maybe because there are too many choices or because everyone runs as independents rather than as a party slate candidate as in the States or the UK.

But if you love your freedom, vote.    You can even register on election day.    Just call city hall to find out where to vote.    As long as you can prove you have a place where you're picking up a cheque for anything, you can vote.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pension for serial killer / rapist?

I really haven't had much to think about the last few days ... too busy at work, I guess.

But the revelations about the depraved  life of Col. Russell Williams, who has pleaded guilty to two counts of murder one, two of aggravated sexual assault and 84 other charges under the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act, are simply mind-boggling.   I thought Paul Bernardo was a sicko, but this guy who was on the public payroll takes the cake.    And the worst part -- he's still entitled to his military pension even if he is designated as a dangerous offender and gets life without parole (he's already facing a minimum of 25 to life).   $60k per year, indexed for life -- plus he gets CPP / RRQ and perhaps Old Age Security when he turns 65?

This is insane.   Put the guy in Supermax -- and no pension, period.    Anyone who brings that kind of disgrace upon the vast majority of men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country shouldn't be entitled to entitlements.    The only thing I give him credit for is he pleaded guilty and spared all of us an unnecessary trial that would have turned our stomachs inside out -- as the Bernardo trial did 15 years ago.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Eyes on the floor! Eyes down on God's fabulous parquet floor!"

It's hard not to laugh at this one, but this seems to be one of those times when the law of positive attraction really wasn't compatible with religion.    The Crystal Cathedral of the Reformed Church in America, better known to Sunday morning devotees as the "Hour of Power," has filed for Chapter 11.   Apparently the church owes about $43 million, including a $34 million plus mortgage.

While the current pastor, the Rev. Sheila Schuller Coleman, has vowed the congregation will overcome and fight back, it may finally offer an explanation as to why her brother Robert Schuller Jr. was fired so quickly after he was named their father's successor -- because he realized the church's finances were in such a mess he couldn't cope (not to mention Junior's approach to his sermons was actually much more Biblically based and sound than his father's -- which didn't sit well with the Health and Wealth crowd).

Touchy feely religion has never really appealed to me ... nor does the high flying lifestyle of many televangelists.   Remember a few years back Schuller Sr. got lucky to get off after an incident of air rage.   But the whole thing seems to prove that there really is no business like show business, especially in religion.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Canada drops ball on Security Council bid

It actually happened.    Canada lost its bid to be on the UN Security Council for the first time -- ever.   We've had six previous stints over the last six decades.   But not this coming one.

The United Nations conveniently divides the non-permanent seats on a geographic basis to ensure a global perspective to balance the original five nuclear powers which also happen to have vetoes.   For example, one seat always goes to an Arab League member to ensure the interests of the whole bloc and not just the individual country is represented.

The Western Europe and "Others" group (Others being the Caribbean, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) get two of the non-permanent seats for a two year term.   Traditionally, a non-European country is one of the two chosen to ensure the European Union doesn't have effective control of the UN's enforcement body.   A ⅔ vote of the General Assembly is required to grab one of the seats.   Yesterday, after being in last place after the first ballot but with no hope of catching up to Portugal (Germany was on the verge of winning the other seat anyway) Canada conceded -- and then PM Harper promptly blamed Michael Ignatieff for ensuring there wasn't a "united" front from Parliament.

Excuse me?

Just months after winning a minority government, Harper openly supported the carpet bombing of Lebanon.   He's ripped up virtually every environmental agreement we've signed.   He's cut foreign aid to Africa substantially while boosting it to Latin America (mostly to, again, corrupt government - à la the US).    And last year, on the opening day of the annual General Assembly, he skips the session to open up Manhattan's first Tim Hortons ™.    And he thinks bottles of maple syrup will make up for all of that?

Keep in mind that at the start of the Oslo Round of the Middle East peace talks, Canada (under Mulroney, a Progressive Conservative) offered to deal with the strand that is coping with the most contentious issue of all -- housing and the right of return for Palestinians to Israel proper.   This was continued under Campbell, Chrétien and Martin, but thanks to Harper we've had that taken away from us and with just cause.   We are no longer seen as a fair arbiter when it comes to that part of the world -- supporting Israel while insisting on justice for the dispossessed Palestinians (Muslims and Christians).

At present, no country I am aware of has their embassy to Israel in Jerusalem simply because the final status has not been determined.   In fact, if one was born in Jerusalem, a Canadian passport will only denote the city, not Israel.  But the religious groups that Harper panders to have repeatedly demanded that Canada move its embassy in Tel Aviv back to Jerusalem.   If not Harper, then perhaps someone with an even greater ideological bent than he will make that move.   Then whatever is left of Canada's supposed fair mindedness will be shattered forever.   Oh, and with that, any hopes of a free trade agreement with the EU also goes out the window.

As for dumping Africa off his foreign policy priorities -- well, imagine if Harper had been Prime Minister instead of Mulroney some twenty-five years ago.   I'm not saying that Lying Brian was the only person responsible for the freeing of Nelson Mandela, but his standing up to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the evil policy of "constructive engagement" was a major turning point -- many countries followed our example and imposed crushing sanctions on South Africa that forced it to reform.    Harper might have just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Why should we support a convicted terrorist?"   Apartheid might have lingered a lot longer -- perhaps forever.

And it was Mulroney that pushed Reagan towards a toughened Clean Water Act in the States that benefited cross-boundary waters.

And oh yes -- the current spat over landing rights for the airlines from Abu Dhabi and Dubai which has cost us our air force base in the United Arab Emirates.   Something which has managed to divide the Harper caucus over something, perhaps for the first time since he took power.

Oh for those days -- pragmatism over ideology.

Harper has only himself to blame that Canada is the world's laughing stock, instead of a beacon of hope and reason.   And all of this, under a minority Parliament.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October 1970 ... plus 40

It was forty years ago today that the October Crisis started when James Cross, a British diplomat, was kidnapped and held for 59 days.    (Cross was interviewed today on CBC Radio One about the experience.)  A few days later Pierre Laporte, a Québec cabinet minister, was also kidnapped and later assassinated.   The brazen acts led to the first time ever imposition during peacetime of martial law in Canada.

While we may continue to debate the virtues of whether it was the right thing for Trudeau to do (Tommy Douglas famously said Trudeau was "using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut"), or what the real motivations for the unprecedented action, there remains no question that the FLQ were terrorists plain and simple and the full force of the law needed to be dealt upon the criminals.    That the kidnappers were allowed to live in Cuba and were eventually welcomed back by some quarters as "heroes" is still rather bizarre.

But it's also a reminder that dangerous elements live among us, and where we least expect them.    Any ethnic group, any religion, can sometimes resort to desperate measures and even cross the line.   To borrow a common phrase, we need to practise constant vigilance.

P.S.  Spare the technicalities that Trudeau only "invoked the War Measures Act" and since Parliament was still in session and it was the civilian courts and not the military courts martial administering justice it wasn't martial law.   If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is a duck.   The troops were on the streets as a posse comitatus.    Therefore, it was martial law, period.

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