Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Harper spurns AIDS conference

The 2006 AIDS Conference is being held in Toronto next week ... and like another coward the last time the AIDS show was in Canada, Jean Chrétien, Stephen Harper will not be in attendance. He won't even give a "Howdy Y'All," instead delegating that job to his Health Minister, Tony Clement. Harper claims he has "prior commitments," although this meeting has been in the works for well over a year.

Bunk. He's sold his soul to the Health and Wealth Gospel crowd, which believes that any who gets AIDS, even through no fault of their own, is accursed from God. Chrétien was no better either (although most Roman Catholics probably have more compassion on the issue of AIDS than he does) but at least he had nothing to lose -- he was leading a majority government. Harper, on the other hand, is trying to govern as a majoritarian in a hung Parliament.

Didn't Joe Clark make that same mistake back in 1979 -- even before AIDS was classified as a new disease? He faced a deteriorating global situation, too, and responded with a massive tax hike. We know the rest of that story.

Harper's got one hell of a game going. First, under the guise of cutting taxes, he's actually raised them with a confusing and bizarre array of "credits" that benefit very few people and are only a fraction of the stated percentage. Then he signs a bone-headed deal with the US that even Canadian lumber companies now oppose, now that they realize what's really going on. Add to that, he reneges on a previous promise to cap the ad valorem GST when the price of gas hit 85 cents per litre -- knowing full well that as the price of oil goes up, so do the revenues; and they're going to make a killing for as long as the Middle East crisis and the oil shortage in Alaska continues.

Now, he refuses to even acknowledge -- at least personally -- just how bad the AIDS pandemic is. Will he next sell out to Big Pharma and insists third world countries pay the market price for badly needed anti-viral drugs? Of course he will, if it makes his religious backers happy.

We take the separation of church and state seriously, even more than our brothers and sisters in the States. But we also realize that we can't have a good secular life without a strong moral foundation and remembering the exhortation of Jesus to give aid to the sick. Harper should do the right thing, televangelists be damned, and show up at the AIDS Conference, even if just to say hello. Just a physical presence would send a strong signal we still care about those less fortunate -- both "over there" and here at home.

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