Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The canary in the mineshaft -- called global warming

Happy Hallowe'en.

There's an old trick miners use to find out if there's too much gas in a shaft. They lower a canary and see if it comes out dead. These days we're seeing the proverbial canary all around us in the form of global warming, especially in the mid to upper latitudes. And while some like George W Bush and Jerry Falwell continue to refuse to accept this basic fact, others including Tony Blair realize it all too well. In fact, it's this issue that actually puts Blair in the same company as his predecessor, John Major, who criticized the first George Bush and his total lack of inaction in the lead-up to the Earth Summit in 1992.

Yesterday, former World Bank economist Sir Nicholas Stern issued a report he had written for the British Government, saying the world faces a stark choice: Either we spend 1% of global GDP now to fight global warming, or we face the prospect of committing at least 10 to 15% of GDP by 2050. By that time, Stern asserts, the global economy could shrink by at least 20% of what growth would expect it to be by that time -- and there could be major consequences.

We're facing them right now here in Canada, especially in the High Arctic -- and it's become an urgent issue of national security. This past summer, two Coast Guard vessels -- the Louis St. Laurent and the Admunsen -- made their annual trek through the Northwest Passage. What should normally take at least a couple of months even during the summer was managed in about a week, as the icebreakers cut through the thinnng top sheet without much trouble. In fact, most of it had already melted and one could see the polar bears struggling to swim from one ice flow to another. This would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. Even more remarkable are the increasing frequency of thunderstorms in the Far North -- which was once considered so rare that the Inuit didn't even have a word for lightning in their vocabulary.

It's an issue of national security because most countries, including the United States, do not recognize Canada's sovereignty over the islands of the North and the waters within. They consider them to be international waters. And even if we could manage to get those countries to acknowledge what is rightfully ours, it's still a boon for terrorists who see a potential shortcut between Europe and Japan. Yet this is something a lot of people on the religious right fail to recognize ... for them, neither believing is seeing nor vice versa.

Set aside Canada for a minute. Can anyone doubt after last year's record hurricane season in the States that we're in huge trouble? The prophet Hosea was correct in predicting that we "have sown the wind" and "we shall reap the whirlwind." We keep lowering the canary in the mineshaft, and it comes up dead -- faster and faster and faster.

For once, I'd actually like to see one of those televangelists or skeptical politicians spend some time in the Arctic and see for themselves. But of course, they're too busy selling salvation and tax cuts, with a Rolex on their arms, to even be bothered. A target date of 2050 is too far down the road. We Canadians need to stick to Kyoto and meet our targets by 2013 as we promised. And we need to take a leading role for the next round of talks -- the Nairobi round -- next week.

I'm not holding my breath. Or maybe I should -- given all the gases we're breathing in right now. With guys like Harper and Dubya, it's going to get way worse before it even starts to get better.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Pakistan raids "Al-Qaeda school" -- locals say it was a madrassa

Years ago, Wayne and Shuster had a sketch called "Did you ever have one of those days, when everything goes wrong?" Today's happenings in Pakistan makes me wonder if something could fit in that category.

The army there claims they raided a school was being used as a training centre for Al-Qaeda operatives. Locals there insist it was a religous or cultural school. Regardless of who one believes, at least 80 people between the ages of 15 and 25 are now dead. Needless to say, there is widespread belief it's actually the United States who was behind the action. This puts Musharraf, of course, in an impossible situation. He's been long accused of doing nothing in the north of the country, where Osama Bin Laden is almost certainly hiding. He actually tries to do something to suck some air out of OBL's tires and people go nuts.

I'm not against religious schools -- or for that matter, charter schools -- as a matter of principle, although I do think their effectiveness should be evaluated on a regular basis if they're funded by public money. But if the sole purpose of such an institution is the promotion of hatred and exclusion, then action should be taken with force being an absolute last resort. Some madrassas do fall into this category, although extremism can be found at schools sponsored by virtually all religions and denominations within them.

Those who support the terrorists claim this is a holy war, and it's probably turned into that. My question to them is who started the fire?

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The good, the bad and the unbelievable

It's been a very long weekend at work for my colleagues and I at the call centre -- made all the more remarkable by the fact we scored record sales for the pizza chain we work at. Seems that one of our competitors was off line the whole time because of a water main break in Toronto that took out its phone lines -- along with about 7,000 other customers. They're back on line this day and we once again welcome the battle as we head into Hallowe'en tomorrow.

It was gratifying to see some locations get triple the business they'd normally get, even with Saturday hockey and Sunday football. And to all the customers out there who decided to try us for a change, we hope you liked our service and call again soon. To our regulars, thanks for your patience -- a lot of you had to wait as much as 10 minutes to get a pickup which is not normally our standard (it's supposed to be 20 seconds).

There is one thing, though, that's still bothering me -- the concept that the "customer is always right." That is simply not the case. Sadly, there are a lot of people out there who think they can get a free pizza out of us by playing hard and fast with the "rules." These include people who say they know all the "loopholes" -- that is, they used to work for us. For the record, we clarified and tightened some of the rules anymore so we won't get ripped off as often, but we still do. They should know this: We do keep a paper trail, as do the stores; and eventually they get blacklisted.

One customer last night phoned just after the stores closed asking where her order was. It was a fair sized one. Interestingly, the ordertaker -- probably a new one -- didn't notice the address was clearly marked "No Go after 9 PM," something that applies to all the addresses on that particular street. We've had security problems there before and it's no longer worth the risk to the driver. Clearly, this was our mistake, not that of the store. I was about to offer a credit to this customer for the pre-tax value of the order -- about $43.00 -- but just as I entered the data on the complaint client, she hung up. Five minutes later, she called another agent in customer service, claimed I was harrassing her; then cancelled the order and threatened to call the police.

I want you to consider that for a minute. It was our mistake, and we wanted to do right by her, essentially giving her the full value of her order that she could use next time. A store closing or a no go area are the only times we offer a full value credit, on anything else or during business hours it's item replacement or a credit for a missing item and that alone. She yells at me as if it was my fault; so I'm prepared to give her -- um, the full monty -- and she hangs up before hearing the offer; then says there will be legal repercussions.

Take it up with our corporate lawyer, lady. We record all calls, and filing a false police report is itself a criminal offence. Besides, you were clearly told it was a no go area, and you had the chutzpah to come up with a sob story about "we've always delivered after dark"?

It's people like her that are the reason we've had to change the rules. Her refusal to accept anything, denoted by her hanging up, has been duly noted and is on her file. Next time, she'll be offered squat -- exactly what she got out of it last night. And don't even think about calling back today, because we only resolve issues like that the day of the order. This is not being unsympathetic. It's about being fair to both the store as well as to my co-workers. All we can do at our end is let the agent know about his or her mistake and hope it is not repeated. Usually, a simple discussion makes sure it doesn't.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Kasechewan one year later

Kashechewan one year later
A year ago this week, I like a lot of people expressed outrage over the crisis about the contaminated water in the native town of Kashechewan, Ontario and total lack of due care shown by both the federal and provincial governments for Aboriginals in general when it comes to health.

In an op-ed today in the Toronto Star, the chief of Ontario's Indians, Angus Toulouse, said not much has changed in the twelve months since. Tell me something I don't know.

Even at Six Nations, the reserve south of where I live that has been in the news so much in the past year, water quality is a perennial problem and while some investments have been made in the core of Ohsweken, little or nothing has been done in the outlying areas of the tract -- much of which is still on septic tanks instead of sewers. For an area that's home to, what, over 10 thousand human beings (not to mention at least that many more who live off the reserve) it's so repugnant that the Iroquois can't get something as simple as clean water, that it's little wonder why there was the action taken at Douglas Creek -- the homes there actually have reliable facilities.

We consider water a human right, and have fought against it being privatized like it is in much of the European Union and at an increasing rate in the third world. Here in Hamilton, the P3 partnership that was set up was an unmitigated disaster so now it's back in the hands of the city.

But when it comes to natives, they become .. expendible. Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?

Kashechewan one year later
A year ago this week, I like a lot of people expressed outrage over the crisis about the contaminated water in the native town of Kashechewan, Ontario and total lack of due care shown by both the federal and provincial governments for Aboriginals in general when it comes to health.

In an op-ed today in the Toronto Star, the chief of Ontario's Indians, Angus Toulouse, said not much has changed in the twelve months since. Tell me something I don't know.

Even at Six Nations, the reserve south of where I live that has been in the news so much in the past year, water quality is a perennial problem and while some investments have been made in the core of Ohsweken, little or nothing has been done in the outlying areas of the tract -- much of which is still on septic tanks instead of sewers. For an area that's home to, what, over 10 thousand human beings (not to mention at least that many more who live off the reserve) it's so repugnant that the Iroquois can't get something as simple as clean water, that it's little wonder why there was the action taken at Douglas Creek -- the homes there actually have reliable facilities.

We consider water a human right, and have fought against it being privatized like it is in much of the European Union and at an increasing rate in the third world. Here in Hamilton, the P3 partnership that was set up was an unmitigated disaster so now it's back in the hands of the city.

But when it comes to natives, they become .. expendible. Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The slippery slope of "nation"

There's a very interesting editorial in today's Montréal Gazette (HT to fellow Liblogger (*) Braden Caley) that attempts to parse the recent resolution of the Québec provincial wing of the federal Liberal Party that calls upon the national convention later this month to recognize that the province is a "nation" within Canada. This is also one of the keystones of the leadership campaign of Michael Ignatieff -- who argues Québec is no less a subnational unit within a country than, say, Catalonia and Euskadi (the Basque region) are within Spain; or Scotland and Wales are within the United Kingdom. It's an interesting argument, because since King Juan Carlos of Spain restored democracy to Iberia in the 1970s, Spain has gradually evolved into a relatively strong federal state. In the UK,where it's called devolution, Edinburgh has the Scottish Parliament while Cardiff has the Welsh National Assembly.

Québec, after all, also calls its legislature the Assemblé Nationale, and no one in the province seems bothered by it -- it only raises hackles among some quarters outside the province, especially those in the so-called diaspora who left after the Parti Québécois came to power in 1976. Its civic holiday, June 24th, is now called National Day -- no longer is it just St. Jean de Baptiste.

The editorial points out that the idea is full of holes, and it raises a whole new realm of possibilities. What exactly is a "nation"? Is Québec exclusively a nation, or are French Canadians, including those outside the province as well as within, the French nation? What about our Aboriginal People, who we've come to call the First Nations? (This may be patterned after the States, where for 170 years the US Supreme Court has recognized natives there are "nations within a nation.") Newfoundland and Labrador was once its own country. It has a national anthem (the Ode to Newfoudland), and nearly half of the people there still are separatists. Is it a nation? And what of our broad ethnic makeup -- are each cultural group "nations"?

There is no question that the province of Québec holds an interesting place within Canada. Even within Montréal, for example, one sees both the clash and the coming together of the French and English "facts." There is a definitive French façade of course, but the presence of the English-speakig community and its continued influence can't be denied. They fought long and hard to get back some of the rights that were thought to have been taken away after the passage of the Charter of the French Language. But in common, they share pride in some things that sets the province apart -- a much greater social conscience, a civil code and what may be the continent's only law that compels Good Samaritanism, just to name three.

The big question that has to be asked is, if Québec is a nation, does it follow the Anglophile population in the province and natives are also nations?

Trudeau's "one nation" vision where all Canadians would be treated the same is frankly as dead as his idea of a Just Society. So is the "two nations" of Robert Stanfield. But a nation within a nation? It opens up a whole can of worms.

Compared to many other countries, where ethnic minority communities are suppressed with impunity (consider, for instance, the Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Tibetans in China), Canada has been comparatively very accomodating to Québec. At our founding in 1867, the civil code was preserved; and with its revision during the 1990s federal law was recently amended to make sure the civil law and common law (in the other provinces) were harmonized. Québec provides many of the services that the federal government provides for the other provinces -- a fact reflected in that federal income taxes are lower in the province than elsewhere in Canada.

Québec collects its own income taxes -- so efficiently in fact and working towards its purpose of providing services for all, that other provinces are thinking about withdrawing from the tax collection arrangement they have with the feds. Québec also has its own pension plan and its own maternity leave program -- which have been so successful other provinces want to follow suit, eventually. The province also, and significantly, collects the GST for the feds, unlike the unharmonized provinces where retailers must file two remittances to two separate authorities -- and it's the retail end where the paperwork burden is the greatest.

Would any of that change if Québec was recognized as a nation? Probably not. But it's the sliding slope that is truly worrisome. And it's Stephen Harper -- not Michael Ignatieff -- who got the ball rolling by saying the province should have its own seat at UNESCO just as Puerto Rico, a part of the States, has its own chair. PR is a territory without taxation by or voting representation at the US federal government. Québec is and does by the Canadian counterpart -- and that's a key difference. If Québec should have a seat, why not all the other provinces?

Personally, I have always thought Canada is a "community of communities" which Joe Clark once spoke of, that every province and every community within a province tries to assert itself -- but at the same time, there is a common purpose to provide all Canadians with the best standard of services and ultimately to create a common sense of nationhood, the Canadian nation.

An argument can be made, for instance, that each province should get somewhat more autonomy to create a positive business environment, as long as the federal government isn't completely neutered. But a "community of communities" also has a common market, and for that reason should also have a national securities commision like most other federal countries do -- banning someone in one province only to see him or her set up a shingle in another and commit insider trading all over again is something that should be repugnant to all Canadians and not stop at a provincial boundary.

A nation isn't created just because someone says so. It's created because of a common language, a common sense of ideals and a shared sense of values. A nation is also created most times because of a sense of persecution or alienation from a parent country. Canada's history is far from perfect, but one can hardly suggest the people of Québec were stamped upon the same way the Japanese were in Canada during World War II.

Québec certainly holds a particular, some even would say peculiar, spot in the Canadian fabric. Are Canadians ready to make the kind of leap Michael Ignatieff is calling for? I doubt it very much. There must be a way to recognize the Québec "fact" but not at the expense of understanding other provinces also deserve acknowledgment for what they do for their people -- and what their people do for Canada. I rarely agree with The Gazette, but on this one they're right. It's all French Canadians, both in and out of Québec, that are a nation -- not the province itself.

And on a personal level, I think any future reforms to the Senate (which must become elected, and by a real constitutional amendment and not the farce Harper is trying to shove on Canadians) as well as the House of Commons should recognize that there will be Francophone Senators and MPs from outside Québec; and their votes should count on issues of culture and language as much as those from the province. That's the proper way to recognize the French "fact," in my opinion.

* P.S. After numerous futile attempts (and after at least one blog roll implied that I might be delisted if I didn't put the "accepted" logo on my blog), I finally managed to figure out a way yesterday, albeit by the back door, to add graphical links to the rolls I'm on. To fit in with the format of this blog, I slightly altered the sizes of the links but I hope those will be acceptable to the respective administrators of those rolls.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

The war against women never ends -- still

That Australia's top Muslim was forced to apologize yesterday for some very indelicate remarks about women -- namely, they're asking to get raped if they dress a "certain way" -- is just the latest example of someone getting caught in uttering a lie going back to when Adam blamed Eve for eating the apple ... um, introducing him to the concept of sex.

Reports this morning that the vast majority of Aussies -- including a majority of Muslims -- are refusing to accept Sheik Taj el-Din al-Hilali's confession, shows in one respect how far we've come in trying to end the inequality between men and women. The fact the comments were made at all, though, also prove we have a very long way to go. It also reflects a problem that exists in a small but dominant part of the conservative side of the divide. To promote their anti-woman agenda, they nitpick about some rather uncomfortable truths and exploit them as being far worse than the good they did for all women -- indeed all people.

Indeed many of those in the anti-feminist movement have demonzied those who are considered the builders of the feminist movement from decades ago. Margaret Sanger, who fought an epic battle against Anthony Comstock to legalize the dissemination of information about birth control, also supported eugenics and active euthanasia. Canada's "Famous Five," who battled for the right for women to be recognized as legal persons so they could sit in the Canadian Senate (and have been honoured by, among other things, being featured on the current version of the $50 bill), not only endorsed eugenics but ranged from mildly to blatatly racist when it came to the country's then immigration policies and the directions they should take.

One can easily reverse the argument and suggest some world leaders of the past and present (nearly all of them men, not coincidentally), despite their appalling human rights records, manage to feed their people and keep most of them relatively satisfied. Does the fact they don't respect free speech, democracy, or both make them bad persons as a matter of course?

The double standard was alive and well during my high school days. It wasn't just my fellow students and me, it was also the teachers. If a male teacher got divorced, he was seen as a hero for "getting away from the bitch." But if it was a woman teacher, she was condemned, at least by her more conservative colleagues for "not being grateful for what she had."

Why do I file this under "religion"? Well, the fact is that most if not all religions have had a history of prejudice against women. It is often forgotten that it's the intervention of women at the most opportune times that have changed the course of history within religion. It was the faith of Abraham and Sarah that led to their becoming the patriarchs of the world's three great monothesitic religions. It was the faith of Ruth when she stuck with her mother-in-law Naomi that led to her becoming the great-grandmother of King David. (Note the one who abandoned Naomi was Orpah, the name sake of Oprah Winfrey, the unofficial New Age Pope -- which I do not think is a coincidence either, although I fully support Winfrey's right as a woman to have a religion or a total lack of it). And who was it who Jesus of Nazareth relied on for financial support during his ministry? Women, including some in the Roman civil service. Who did Jesus appeared to after his Resurrection? Mary Magdalene -- a woman. Not Peter, a man.

It's been often said that as graditude for the good women have done for religion, they've been treated as second class citizens. And that has flowed through to civil society as well. A lot of Canadians forget that the last province to give women the vote was Québec, both because of the Roman Catholic Church as well as misogynists like Maurice Duplessis -- females there didn't get the vote until 1940.

So let's set aside the battle against stem cell research or severely restricting access to contraception or birth control, or even rolling back the "no-fault" divorce laws; although all are inherently linked to the war against women. Here are some questions I'd like to ask conservatives.
  • Do you believe that a woman should be forced to have children against her own will?
  • Should a woman be forced to take her husband's name upon marriage, or should that be her own choice?
  • Must a woman be told that she must have her husband co-sign any loan she undertakes?
  • Should all teenage girls be forced to carry a dowry or a hope chest?
  • Does a woman forgo forever her right to say "no" when she gets married?
  • Can a woman be denied employment or promotion or equal pay because she's thinking about having kids?
  • Should inheritance rights flow through only to the male heirs, or to all members of the family?
  • Should rape cases be decided based on what a woman was wearing at the time of the alleged criminal act?

If they can make a conclusive case for all of them, then maybe I'm on the wrong side. If they can't convince me on just one of those points, then maybe feminism isn't such a bad thing after all.

UPDATE (12:55 PM EDT, 1655 GMT): The cleric in question has now been suspended for three months. Not good enough. He should be fired, period.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Commons to review GST rebate elimination

Last month, I noted that God's Annointed Servant (TM) wants to end the Visitor Rebate Program, which refunds the GST to non-residents visiting Canada. Among my beefs with this budget cut was the possible negative impact on the tourist trade which could be far greater than the supposed savings.

Score another one for the Opposition. The House Finance Committee has ordered an investigation into whether it actually makes sense to cut the VRP. The Liberals, NDP and Bloc, which make the majority of the panel, outvoted the Conservatives. Of particular note is the impact it will have on Summerside, Prince Edward Island -- the home of the GST processing centre and one of the income tax filing points. Some readers may recall the taxation centre, created around the time the GST was imtroduced, was part of a compromise worked out with the late Joe Ghiz -- when the province's only military base was shut down after the end of the Cold War.

Oddly enough, the GST proved to be a revenue generator far beyond anyone's wildest dreams -- even that of Brian Mulroney who stiffed us with it. PEI has been an unexpected beneficiary since it's the "home" of the excise tax, and since it does not harmonize the GST with its provincial sales tax unlike the other Atlantic provinces and Québec.

Guess it's no coincidence that the Cons want to cause an economic crisis on the western part of the Island because all four MPs from the province are currently Liberals. So are the three Senators currently representing the province (there is currently one vacancy). Patronage has always been a part of Canadian politics, especially Down East. But spite is not a reason to create efficiencies in government, especially when thousands of other jobs tied to tourism are at stake.

So now the Opposition has the upper hand on this as well as Kyoto and Kelowna.

Anyone want to hazard if Harper will call a snap election before the Liberal leadership convention next month?

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Those who know, know and win big

There's a report being broadcast tonight on the CBC that suggests that all is not well with our system of lotteries and games in Canada. It's not just the accusations that lottery retailers have stolen winning tickets from their customers; but also that the rate in which they've won and the amounts far exceed expectations. 200 times over 7 years, with an average payoff of $500,000? Doesn't that seem just a little out of whack?

I'm not expecting those who sell tickets to be automatically disqualified. That's totally unreasonable -- and with tobacco sales continuing to decline and restrictions being placed on where and when cigarettes can be sold becoming tougher, retailers do need other sources of revenue, and lotteries are a necessary evil. But the problem is that those on the inside can, under certain circumstances, rig the game.

The most famous example was about 25 years ago, in the Pennsylvania version of Pick 3. The guy in charge of the game knew the balls were hollow, so before the game one night, he injected all the balls -- except 4 and 6 -- with liquid, knowing that would weigh them down. The draw was held that night, and sure enough the number 6-6-6 came up. He got caught and spent a year in a half in jail for fraud, but still was able to collect his money -- a million and a half -- when it was all over. Seems he got the huge payoff because a) the Keystone State is very religious and no one else dared to play the number of the Antichrist; and b) there were technically no rules that said he couldn't do what he did.

Maybe it's me, but the security measures that are supposed to be in place just don't make sense. Anyone cashing in a winning ticket over a certain amound should be able to tell where and when they bought the ticket. That's usually enough to catch most of the cheaters -- unless the bar code tells exactly that and the retailer knows how to read it. Just like you can find out a lot about a person, just by checking the nine digits of his or her Social Insurance Number.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Diebold counting Ontario local elections

Yes, you read that correctly. When I went to the advance poll this morning (the "official" day is November 13th), I was shocked to discover that Diebold Election Systems, the same company that makes the vast majority of voting machines for US elections -- the ones that don't make a paper trail and which can easily been hacked into -- has the contract here in Ontario as well. The good news is that here there is a paper trail that is created. The vast majority of voters, myself included, use Scantron sheets where you fill in the circles of the candidates of your choice. For the visually impaired, there are touchscreens with headphones to ensure privacy -- and a printout to act as a backup.

For DES to continue to claim in the States there is no need for a paper trail is totally bogus. It's their polite way of saying, "We want the Republicans to stay in power -- forever." If they could do it for us Canadians, then they sure as heck can do it for their fellow Americans. And besides, I feel a lot safer with the scan sheet anyway -- I know who I voted for, and it can be verified.

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Hamilton buys Eramosa Karst

Finally, some genuinely good news about the environment and Hamilton -- two words one doesn't normally associate with one another. The Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) has purchased a gem called the Eramosa Karst. A karst, from what the Germans call the Kras region of Slovenia and Italy, is defined as a "is a three-dimensional landscape shaped by the disolution of a soluble layer or layers of bedrock, usually cabonate rock such as limestone or dolomite. These landscapes display distinctive surface features and underground drainages and in some examples there may be little or no surface drainage."

For the better part of my life -- 23 years -- I lived in the same neighbourhood where the karst is located -- Heritage Green - Albion Estates, or what was once known as "Satellite City." The geological formation had been leased for years as farmland and was actually slated for housing and commercial development, but about ten years ago during some exploratory work was "accidentally" discovered. Some parts of the karst, unfortunately, had been paved over before the extent of the undergroud system of caves and sinkholes was evident. To their good sene, however, all levels of government as well as commercial interests realized its cultural and possibly historical significance -- in an area that is the very definiton of suburbia with a fairly good mix of homes ranging from low-income housing to middle class layouts and huge backyards to executive mansions. Instead, the area will come under the jurisdiction of the HCA.

I actually used to take walks in the same open fields, not realizing what was underneath me and everyone else. There were some cave openings but no one though much of them, they just seemed to be oversized gopher holes. Now the HCA has it -- thought to be the only karst in Ontario -- it will be protected "forever." At a price of just two bucks for the section which was owned by the province (73 hectares), it's also a great bargain -- the market cost of the site is in the tens of millions but the sentimental value is priceless. The hope is to buy the rest of what's left in the next two years, when the area is re-opened to the public and to link it to several trail networks including the Bruce and Trans-Canada.

Inherent in this is a need to protect other open spaces across Canada of a unique nature and to preserve it for future generations, unlike the mostly anti-environment Conservatives who pick and choose a few sites worth saving for the photo opportunity and letting industry do what it will with the rest. A couple of years ago, the Nature Conservancy of Canada -- of which my grandmother is a member -- identified nearly 300 areas that were in desperate need of "greenbelting." The cost to do so: $250 million. When one considers that amount of money was spent in Sponsorgate, we could have instead had a legay for generations. Governments have a role, but commerce must also recognize the need to re-create. This is one area where P3s -- private-public partnerships -- could actually do some good. Co-operation by all three levels of government and Aboriginals is also essential.

If the private sector won't do its part, however, then the feds should use its "eminent domain" power under Article 92 (10) (c) of the 1867 Constitution and declare all of them "works" that are for the benefit of all Canadians. The last time this power was used was back in 1985, if I recall correctly, and it should be used again.

I do find it rather interesting the local paper mentions this on the first day of advance polling for local offices in Ontario -- one which I am about to go to, as I write these words. If they think this is going to sway a lot of people and support the status quo, they demean our intelligence.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

Monday, October 23, 2006

To save social programs, the debt must be repaid

There's an article in today's print edition of the Toronto National Post that says a record number of Canadians -- an overwhelming majority, in fact -- believe that debt retirement, not new social spending, should be where budget surpluses go. (Sorry, gang, I checked the site several times and it's not up on the website, not even behind the subscriber wall -- if I do find a link, I'll update this post.)

The argument made by social activists against paying down the debt is that as the economy grows, the size of the debt relative to the economy shrinks. Therefore, it's not really a problem; and we can just turn up the taps when it comes to social spending. With all due respect, I disagree that one automatically allows for the other. Yes, I do have a social conscience, but I am also a fiscal conservative; and it is from this perspective that I feel some points I've covered in the past need restating.

Canada has been on a tear for the last 13 years, no doubt about it. We'd had some extraordinary success as well as a bit of dumb luck. Exports of manufactured goods as well as non-renewable resouces is at a record high. Governments recognized the need to tackle the debt, and we took it on, even if it meant cutting back the public service and downloading costs to lower jurisdictions. It also helped that we had a relatively low currency in relation to the greenback.

However, the good times can't last forever, and all trends are pointing to a recession sometime in 2007 or 2008. The reason for this is the reckless spending of the US government. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the US debt-to-GDP ratio in 2005 -- the last year with data available -- was up to 64.7%. Before 9/11, it was only about 42%. By comparison, Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio was 38.3% in 2005 and dropped further to 35.1% in 2006.

It's with the corresponding drop in debt that we've had a big drop in interest payments. We used to pay 33 cents on the dollar for debt servicing -- in other words, the interest. Now it's about 18. It's those savings that have allowed money to be put back into social programs; and while more should be done there, I believe debt retirement should continue.

If there is a recession, however, there will have to be some tough choices made as revenues drop. It'll be made worse by the fact that south of the border, there's no mood to cut spending or to deal with the huge unfunded liabilities of both Medicare and Social Security. If we're continuing to show prudence in spending, it'll bode well for investment and that should lessen somewhat the sting. Furthermore, we should be able to get the debt-to-GDP ratio to a self-financing level of about 25%. In a best case scenario, that could be in as little as four years; in a worst case, about ten -- but we'll still be light years ahead of the Americans. Plus, the employment insurance account as well as the trust funds for the CPP and the RRQ all have healthy surpluses and have been managed very well, and likely will be even with the baby boom collecting on their pensions, starting in 2011.

The bottom line is, we've worked hard to get where we are, and are well positioned to handle the coming storm. We shouldn't blow it by recklessly spending our way to oblivion like we nearly did just a decade ago. To protect our social programs, the debt must continue to be paid down. And we still have another $481 billion to go, even if it is Canadian money. The interest savings should enhance those programs. Only when the debt finances itself should we consider tax cuts -- and even then, surpluses should continue to be applied to the accumulated deficit until it is paid off all together. Then perhaps we can call in the US bonds we hold, put them into insolvency, and annex America. It'd be nice to have Florida and California -- in Canada.

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Australia: Bully of the South Pacific?

The Land Down Under has generally been seen as one of the leading powers in the Asia-Pacific region, both for its long standing and stable democracy as well as the influence -- undue from some perspectives -- it holds over a number of South Pacific countries. Today, Canberra indicated that it wanted to continue to help other countries in the Southern Hemisphere but along with aid would have to come financial and political reforms.

Some countries, like the Solomon Islands and Papua-New Guinea, fear that this could mean that Australia could pull out peacekeeping forces and plunge both nations back into civil war. Others see it as just plain bullying. Frankly, I think there's nothing wrong with what the John Howard government is demanding.

This is often called "linkage," and until recent times it was also a hallmark of Canada's foreign policy -- until Jean Chrétien et sequens started to coddle the butchers in Beijing, Rangoon and Singapore. I've said it before and I'll say it again: We should not trade with any country who continues to treat its citizens with contempt. We need to make linkage national policy again here in Canada.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sudan orders Pronk out

Want more proof the Sudanese government wants to exterminate all Christians in their country?

Khartoum has ordered the UN envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, out of their country after he wrote on his personal blog that the Sudanese army was actually losing in the Darfur region and that morale among the troops was at an all time low. From the government's perspective, his comments amounted to psychological warfare. Having read the last few entries, I can hardly see what the fuss would be about -- unless Sudan actually has WMD and is preparing a "final solution" for the southern and western parts of the country -- much like when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds in 1988.

Here is the "offensive passage" from his blog on October 14th:

First, the SAF has lost two major battles, last month in Umm Sidir and this week in Karakaya. The losses seem to have been very high. Reports speak about hundreds of casualties in each of the two battles with many wounded and many taken as prisoner. The morale in the Government army in North Darfur has gone down. Some generals have been sacked; soldiers have refused to fight. The Government has responded by directing more troops and equipment from elsewhere to the region and by mobilizing Arab militia. This is a dangerous development. Security Council Resolutions which forbid armed mobilization are being violated. The use of militia with ties with the Janjaweed recalls the events in 2003 and 2004. During that period of the conflict systematic militia attacks, supported
or at least allowed by the SAF, led to atrocious crimes. Moreover, a confrontation with Chad is not impossible. It seems that SAF is receiving support from Chadian rebels on Sudanese soil, while the NRF/JEM/G19 coalition is supported by Chadian authorities.

Second, the fighting amongst rebel groups has decreased. It started soon after the signing of the DPA, in particular between SLA/Minnie Minnawi and SLA/Abdul Wahid, and also with the G19. Presently the SLA/Minnie Minnawi seems to restrict itself to a defensive posture. His forces even withdraw if there is a risk of being attacked. However, this may be only a temporary phenomenon.
Further splits within the movements are bound to result in internal fights. Commanders on the ground get disconnected from each other and from the leadership of their movement. During my recent visit to the Jebel Mara I was struck by the total distrust between commanders of SLA/Abdul Wahid and SLA/Minnie Minnawi, accusing each other to take sides with ‘enemies’, including
even the Government. To us, having regular and intensive contacts with all of them, this seems preposterous, but rumors are easily believed in Darfur.

Third, the Government has benefited from this rather chaotic pattern in various ways. It has been able to bar rebel groups that did not sign the DPA, including those who had given up fighting, from participating in the DPA institutions, in particular the Cease Fire Commission (CFC). In this way the
Sudanese Armed Forces, together with Arab militia, can continue to attack non-signatory parties, without risking that such a violation of the DPA will be raised in the CFC, let alone condemned and sanctioned. The Government has also made use of the general confusion by making secret overtures to some of these groups, irrespective of their stance. It is also trying to persuade prominent individual members of these groups, is it intellectuals or commanders, to associate themselves with the DPA through the Government. This provides these individuals with some status – and promises. However, the result is that these people get marginalized and are regarded as enemies by the movements to which they used to belong. All this adds to the chaotic pattern at the political

A series of initiatives to organize a conference in order to bring the various rebel movements together is the fourth phenomenon. The SLM/Abdul Shafei wing intends to organize such a conference in the Jebel Mara, in order to re-unite the SLM and to elect a new leadership. However, Abdul Wahid refuses to participate and Minnie Minnawi will not be invited. Some Western countries try to organize a similar conference, but only for non-signatories who have not taken up arms. Western countries were the first to label non-signatories as ‘outlaws’ that should be punished for their refusal to sign. They also insisted on the exclusion of these movements from the Cease Fire Commission. This attitude may turn out to be a handicap, but this can be overcome by diplomacy
and guarantees. A greater handicap, however, will be an exclusion of the still fighting parties. These parties are the core of a third effort, this time made by the Government of Eritrea. Eritrea is trying to unite all movements behind the NRF. It aims at a central role in the next stage of the peace process, like it presently is playing in the negotiations, in Asmara, about East Sudan. To many parties as well as to the Government, this initiative lacks credibility.

Of course Sudan thinks it's a provocation. The truth always is.

As a Christian, I am absolutely appalled by what's been going on in Darfur. However, the civil war in that country has affected both Christians and Muslims. 2 million had been displaced even before the Darfur crisis began, and I simply can't understand what could be accomplished by forcing refugees into Chad, Ethiopia and Somalia. Those countries have problems of their own and enough.

It may be true that the United Nations is only convenient for the United States when it is seen as cooperative, such as with the current situation in North Korea. Contempt for the world body, however, must not be tolerated. Either Sudan agrees to a peacekeeping and peacemaking force and allows all refugees to rebuild their lives, or the country will be expelled from the UN -- as Serbia was for a period during the early 1990s. Lest we forget, the country's government once harboured Osama Bin Laden; and has been named both an unindicted co-conspirator in the 9/11 atrocities, and co-defendant in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the known interests linked to Al Qaeda.

If the morale is as bad as Pronk suggests it is, the need for international intervention is absolutely critical and it must be done now. There are now three countries on my list where there should definitely be regime change -- where the government has acted with such impunity and total disregard that it deserves to be swiped away. Iraq was a problem child, and committed some truly inhumane acts under Saddam Hussein, but it never crossed the final frontier to where some countries in Europe were in the 1930s. The first country where regime change could be morally justified under St. Augustine's theory of just war is Burma, the second is Zimbabwe -- and the third is Sudan.

Dubya might actually be convinced on Sudan, if for no other reason than it has oil as well as a humanitarian crisis.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Decorum doesn't stop on the floor of the House

I know this is a bit late in coming, but Peter Mackay's comments calling Belinda Stronach a "dog" on the floor of the House of Commons on Thursday is completely unacceptable, just as much as John Crosbie calling Sheila Copps a "baby" was twenty years ago.

Say what one will about Stronach. It is completely irrevelant she has fickle tastes in men, she went from Liberal to Conservative and back to Liberal faster than lobbyists want things to get done in Ottawa (a snail's pace) or she was just handed her job as President of Magna without at least working in the factory or among the bean counters for at least a reasonable period of time. The fact remains, she was attacked for one reason and one reason only; she's a single mother who has influence and opinions.

Even as late as 1993, Parliament was a very polite place. There were the occasional outbursts, such as when some MPs called others "liars" and "hypocrites" (both resulted in the guilty party being kicked out of the House for the day), and another member touching the Mace. For the most part, however, they were very friendly in the cloakroooms and in committees; and they actually cared for each others' welfare as well as those who sat in the House before them. I'll never forget Brian Mulroney's meaningful tribute to Pauline Jewett (one of the titans of the NDP) or the fact he took out time of his very busy schedule, during the Charlottetown Round of constitutional talks in 1992, to visit her when she was on her deathbed. Can anyone imagine Stephen Harper going to the funeral of a non-Con if, God forbid, something was to happen to them? Or to send a "Get Well Soon" card if a female member from the opposition had to go under the knife for breast cancer?


The turning point for Canada was in 1996 (I think it was) when Liberal John Cannis Malakas called Darrel Stinson a "racist" and Reformer Stinson called Cannis a "son of a bitch" and lunged from his chair, aiming for a donnybrook. There was absolutely no call for that, but for some reason things got poisoned afterwards. I guess conflict sells better than cooperation on the evening news. But what ever happened to "Hi, howya doing?" It's too damn difficult for them to even say that I suppose.

It's especially bad for women on the Hill. First, they had to fight for separate "facilities." Then, they had to fight to get on the plum committees where the real work of the House is done. It wasn't until 1957 that Canada had its first female Cabinet Minister (Ellen Fairclough) and that was 24 years after the States had its first (Frances Perkins).

The issue isn't that the comment was made. The fact is that many if not most males on the Hill, from all parties, still wish it were the 1950s when a woman's place was thought to be in the home. And it's on that point that the decorum has really broken down. The seeds were sown long ago, but it's only in recent times that it's become poisoned.

No one questions a male politician sacrificing his family life for a political career and while they may get hot and bothered when they have an affair, as most inevitably do, they never call for their expulsion unless they tried to lie about it. But when a woman tries to succeed, oh that's different. Kim Campbell may have been dragged down to an extent by her association with Mulroney, but she had the guts to stand up to Bill "Fantastic" Vanderzalm before he was elected Premier of British Columbia -- in 1986. She was scorned for it by her fellow Socreds for saying something that's since become a standard phrase in both Canadian and US politics, that "Charisma without substance is a dangerous thing." That was five years before the party forced Fantastic to resign in disgrace over a major conflict of interest.

Even our First Ladies have gone through the wringer. Does anyone in Canada still remember when Margaret Sinclair split from Pierre Trudeau and just weeks later was asked on NBC's Today Show if she had "abadoned" her children? If she had gotten interim custody, would they have asked the same of Pierre? No. The fuckheads in the MSM were too busy covering his pirouettes and the latest shade of red on his trademark rose lapel.

It's because of women that we have family allowances, old age pensions and universal health care in Canada. It's also because of the courage of women that we have our mostly functional system of half-way houses, the death penalty has been abolished, and Guy Paul Morin and David Milgaard are free men today. All this was accomplished despite persecution, and despite our out-of-date system of electing people first past the post. Imagine what more can be done if we had proportional representation. Us men tend to take a look at the short term. Women look at the long term.

Decorum doesn't stop on the floor of the House. It should be applied to every aspect of one's relationships, both on the Hill and off of it. If members from opposing parties would just stop once in a while and actually sit down to talk things out, things could be a lot calmer. I agree women should be a little more empathetic when it comes to the guys, but if the opposite were also true it would go a long way.

Perhaps the case can be made that Stronach should apologize for her philandering ways. But she really doesn't have to until every man sitting in the House who has cheated on his wife stands on the floor and admits it.

As for Mackay, he really should apologize to Stronach. 17 months of grief after their breakup is long enough. I'm not saying they should necessarily become friends again, just that they bury the hatchet and move on.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Parc Avenue to become -- Robert Bourassa Avenue

In Harlem, 125th Street and Lenox Avenue meet. The streets are co-named in honour of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, respectively -- two diametrically opposed people if ever there were any. It's also symbolic, in a way, of the two camps in North Manhattan and their visions of Black America that keep colliding with each other.

Now, Montréal's City Council has decided to rename Parc Avenue in honour of Robert Bourassa. Parc just happens to intersect René Levesque Boulevard, formerly Dorchester. Two dudes with very different concepts of Québec nationalism. You can't deny the symbolism in that one either. But why Parc? Why not Pie-IX (Pius IX)? He was one of the most anti-Semitic Popes in history, and Montréal has a huge Jewish population -- the largest Holocaust survivor community outside of Jerusalem, in fact.

I filed this one under "Humour" because I just find it so funny it took this long to honour Bourassa, and it took just a few months to honour Levesque. Plus the fact that Maison du Radio-Canada, the city's passport office, and the Queen Elizabeth Hotel all just happen to be on the very street named after the founder of the modern independence movement in the province.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Stephen Harper says (2006-10-19)

So let's get this straight: Stephen Harper says we're in Afghanistan because the people there need our help in building their democracy. He condemns North Korea for pursuing a nuclear arms program, many of whose missiles could reach Canada -- and says there should be only one Korea.

Yet as far as he's concerned there is only one China. The democratically elected government in Taiwan has no right to exist, according to him, but for the favour of the butchers in the Mainland who if they had their way would destroy democracy everywhere, including in Canada and the United States. Pretty appropriate coming from a man who's against democracy and free thought in his own party.

Then, Stephen Harper says that the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol are impractical, that it would destroy Canada's economy and that we need a made in Canada solution.

So he announces that Canada will indeed cut greenhouse gases by fifty percent -- by the year 2050. Geez, Steve, I'm going to be 78 by that time, and I won't need to go to Florida for my winter sun -- because they will be twenty feet under water and it'll be twelve months of summer here. Guess he figures that since he bleeds oil it's better just to turn the taps way up. Except that supply will run out too and we'll be back to getting energy from -- oh, let's see, Saudi Arabia?

He alienates the vast immigrant community from Hong Kong who came here specifically because they had no intention of being ruled by Beijing (and we've seen what "one country, two systems" really has meant since 1997), as well as a growing number of Albertans who are getting worried about the huge influence the oil patch has on politics. So there goes Vancouver and downtown Toronto -- neither of which voted for Harper anyway and now have one less reason to in the next round. He could potentially lose a few districts in Edmonton and Calgary which also have ex-pat communities.

Where does he think he's going to get his majority from if he even loses a couple of seats where his base is? He's given up on Québec, after all.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

10 Years and what do we get? Broken promises and greater discontent

Last night's surprise vote to send the Kelowna Accord to committee for clause by clause review, which I briefly touched upon in my last post, comes almost coincidentally on a rather odd anniversary. It's been ten years since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples issued its final report. Of its nearly 500 recommendations on how to improve the lives of Canada's Inuit, Métis and North American Indians, only one of substance has been implemented; a compensation fund for those who suffered abuse at the hands of Canada's mainline Christian churches (including, shamefully, my own Catholic Church).

The report came about because of the summer of discontent that was 1990, and the standoffs at Oka and Kahnawake. One of the thrusts that came out of that, as well as the Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future (which was a Royal Commission that operated in reverse, in that it had people come to it rather than seeking out only the opinions of experts) created in the wake of Oka and the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, was that justice had finally had to be done for Canada's real founders, whose lands were stolen from those who believed they were entering terra nullis. While the report was broadbased, there were two major themes in the RCAP findings as well as from the earlier Spicer Commission which specifically address natives. First, the land claims issue had to be settled once and for all. Second, natives had to be fully integrated into Canadian society, entitled to the same standards of well-being and health the rest of us expect under our tax system: A strong education, healthy families, clean water. Things we consider to be rights, not privileges.

It took a long time, but the Kelowna Accord was designed to address precisely many of the issues the RCAP parsed. It was a hard won agreement with the provinces and territories who recognized that the discontent had to be addressed or it would explode into anger. While there was, justifiably, anger over Sponsorgate, an unwitting victim out of all of it was that Aboriginals were just ignored, again. There is, I believe, a direct link between the Conservatives' decision to discard Kelowna and the Battle of Douglas Creek happening in Caledonia, just a fifteen minute drive south of where I live. The fact that we still don't have an Aboriginal Affairs Minister who is actually Aboriginal, nor did Stephen Harper actively even attempt to recruit candidates for election who could have served in that position, shows he's appealing to a base who would rather see our native people either just go away, or have what little they have left taken away from them. Including their usually puny reserves which can't support much other than the traditional stereotypical businesses like tobacco and gaming.

I'm not accusing the Conservatives of being racist. I am saying they don't seem to get it. They think it's better to give parents a wide variety of confusing and useless tax credits rather than give them real tax relief. Given more and more natives now actually pay taxes because they work off-reserve, this is something that needs to be addressed. It's something that Garth Turner has been fighting for some time now, and it's something that I've been convinced of as well but wasn't able to articulate until recently. For example, refusing to eliminating the marriage penalty that rewards two working parents and penalizes stay at home moms and single parents (which several provinces and Nunavut have taken the lead on and done) is discriminatory to both non-natives and natives. It's really no coincidence that Turner's sacking and the Opposition's rebuke happened on the same day. It shows Canada's Annointed Servant (TM) has fallen off the rails.

Where natives are specifically concerned, the discontent already runs at a fever pitch which explains an unusually high rate of criminal activity and imprisonment. For the government this past week to just dismiss the concerns of the prison Ombudsman that racism really does exist in the correctional system shows the same kind of ignorance that Agnes Macphail forced an earlier government to confront during the Great Depression, when she uncovered the fact that we endorsed torture in our penitentiaries.

So to see Paul Martin win provisional approval of Bill C-292 isn't just sweet. It also forces the minority government to reevaluate its priorities. It bears repeating that a minority government is voted in that way because Canadians don't believe one man or woman should have absolute power for four years until he or she has proved that such discretion has been earned. To rule as if he already had a majority is making the same fatal flaw that Joe Clark made back in 1979. If Bob Rae defies kismet and wins the Liberal leadership, then gets a seat in Parliament, it will be making things come full circle, for he will be the one moving non-confidence in Harper just as he did against Clark all those years ago.

And then maybe -- just maybe -- we can finally turn the corner on the Aboriginal file. Kelowna isn't the end, but the beginning, and Harper should recognize that.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.


19/10/2006 5:54:25 PM

Hi, I came across your blog after perusing liblogs and I found your passion for First Nations issues refreshing. I've been away (back home on the reservation, ironically) and hadn't had time to catch the news so this is the first time I'd heard of Mr. Martin's bill passing.

As a FN person this current government's actions have been appalling, to say the least, in it's treatment of FN issues. It didn't take a rocket science to know that funding cuts were coming towards FN programs, I just didn't think they'd be so blatant.

For example, the Canadian government collects oodles of taxes on cigarettes to support their anti-tobacco strategy. The non-FN program had been running for years and the FN program had been running for only a couple of years and guess whose budget was slashed? The FN program. All other tobacco programs are not affected. What kind of message does that send to FN communities who are working to lower tobacco smoking rates?

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Martin and his passion for FN causes has always been great to see so it was with great disappointment that he was ousted for other government's wrong-doings. I've always said history will reflect kinder on his leadership while he was in office than the canadian voters did.

Anyway, I'm babbling now but I just wanted to say thank you for your insight and your passion. It's always nice to see that even when you think you're alone (as a FN) that there are others out there who see the light.


First Kyoto, now Kelowna

In a major shock, the Opposition parties in Ottawa have given approval in principle to the Kelowna Accord. It passed second reading 159-123, and was sponsored by no less than ... Paul Martin. It now goes to the Aboriginal Affairs Committee before returning to the floor for final passage ... and there's nothing the Harperites can do to stop it since the three parties on the left side of the aisle hold a collective majority. In other words, if the law ultimately clears the House and then the Senate, it becomes binding law.

I'll have more to say about this later this morning, but for now let me say that this is a huge win for Aboriginals. It's also the second time in a week the Harperites have faced a direct challenge to its authority. On top of bungling the whole thing with Garth Turner rather than trying to make peace with him, the Liberals may finally be getting their stride back.

It's also obvious Paul Martin has no intention of going gently into that good night. Which is a good thing .... Ottawa needs street fighters, something that was totally lacking during his two years in office as PM. But better late than never.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Stephen Harper jumps the shark, expels Garth Turner

Garth Turner has always been a rather odd character, but someone I have always held in very high regard as a person of convictions and not afraid to call it like it is. He was extremely critical of Harper poaching David Emerson from the Liberals, and pretty much let the cat out of the bag when he "predicted" with a great deal of accuracy the contents of Jim Flaherty's first budget (except for the income tax increase, Garth was predicting a cut). In spite of party opposition, he's kept a blog of his thoughts of the day and on current issues. Yesterday in his latest posting, he talked about what we can expect in the Harperites' so-called "Clean Air Act," which is really just either tinkering with existing regulations or proclaiming rules written during the Trudeau Administration 25 years ago but never enforced.

This was the last straw for Harper, and today the Conservative Caucus suspended (read: expelled) Turner, who will now sit as an independent.

With polls today suggesting "Steve" and the leaderless Liberals are running head to head, at 32 % each,this decision is either ill-timed or a huge temper tantrum on the part of the Prime Minister. The party that once championed free thought for MPs so they could represent their constituents and not their party policies except on money matters now considers it -- in the words of Dubya -- unacceptable to think. Now it's, they have the right to think so long as it agrees with what Harper thinks.

There could be hell to pay for this. Harper has made some rather unwise policy decisions as of late that have alienated French Canadians, but this is striking at the party's base. Like Fonzie jumping the shark, this could be the moment things start going downhill.

(Incidentally, guess where the four percentage point drop in support for the Cons went to? The Green Party, who are now up to 9 %.)

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.


18/10/2006 2:15:02 PM

Oct. 18th - I can't get into any of Garth's sites! Who is blocking access? Anyone know?

Meaningful Meanderings
18/10/2006 4:01:33 PM

Just traffic on the site Juner

If this is al-Qaeda's idea of a swap meet ...

While I had a bone to pick with Kathy Shaidle in my last post, I agree with her on this issue. The kidnappers of an Italian journalist reporting in Afghanistan, named Gabriele Torselo are saying they'll release her if and only if an Afghani ex-patriate, Abdul Rahman, is sent back to the land of the Taliban. Rahman faces a death sentence in his country for the crime of converting to Christianity, even though the Afghan Supreme Court ruled Rahman was probably not fit to stand trial because of "mental ilness."

Rahman made his choice to convert out of free will. We don't as a matter of routine question someone if they convert from Christianity to another religion voluntarily. Turns out Torselo did. That doesn't give the other side the right to bully us. It's people with narrow minded mentalities like that which we are fighting against, and must destroy. Freedom may not mean the same thing in South Asia as it does in the West, but there's a general consensus people should be free to be who they want to be, not what others want them to be.

So to the Taliban pieces of shit, we Christians have these three words. No fucking way! Rahman's ours, and we're keeping him. And if you don't release Torselo unharmed and without conditions, you'll get your seventy-two virgins all right in due time. They'll be Satan's sisters.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

The right wants to shut down the Court Challenges Program; two can play this game

One argument made in recent days in favour of eliminating the Court Challenges Program (CCP) is that it funded mostly left wing groups. There is a question about the issue of equity and whether those on the right should have gotten equal time. Many on that side of the aisle, however, refused to take public funding in the first place as a matter of principle; saying if someone wanted to sue in the courts, they should use their own money. Besides, their thinking goes, the courts have no business in the legislating business anyway.

The problem with that argument is that the Constitution gives the courts the authority to strike down not only legislation from Parliament and the provincial legislatures, but also administrative decisions. The courts are there to prevent excesses, and some groups need a little bit of help to get to the courts. Every province requires every lawyer to do some pro bono work during the year, but this rule has never been enforced -- if it was, there wouldn't be the need for the CCP.

One of the most commonly cited cases is that of the Little Sisters Bookstore in Vancouver, which caters to a female clientele and sells some rather, um, erotic material, much of which was routinely seized by what used to be Canada Customs for being "obscene". They felt they were being unfairly targeted, and to prove their point they asked the mainstream bookstore chains to order the same magazines and videos -- and they went through without even so much as being sequestered. Little Sisters went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, with the help of the CCP, and won on the grounds they were being discriminated against.

Another rallying call for the right is the fact prisoners in Canada now have the right to vote. Lest we forget, until about twenty years ago, judges also were stripped of the right to vote because it was alleged the judiciary had to be seen as neutral; and eventually the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it was unconstitutional and unreasonable to do so. It only stood to reason that if a judge had the right to vote, he or she didn't have the right to strip a prisoner of the right to vote. In an egalitarian society, doesn't a Bronfman or Irving have the same franchise as a homeless person on the street?

Oh, and let's not forget, the Montfort Hospital. Tony Clement and Jim Flaherty wanted it closed as being surplus, even though it serves the French language population for a large part of Ontario. Where was the opposition to closing it the greatest? Québec. What saved it? The CCP. Where do the Conservatives need to get votes in order to win the next election? Hello, it's Québec????

Does anyone remember Regulation 17? The attempt by an earlier Ontario government to commit cultural genocide against Franco-Ontarians? Sure, there was no Charter back then, but there are some pretty long memories; and this latest decision is rubbing salt in the wounds. If this is Harper's idea of national reconciliation, then Mikey Ignatieff's idea that Québec should be recognized as a nation as much as Scotland is a "nation" within the UK suddenly becomes a very palitable idea.

Some of my colleagues on the right, including Kathy Shaidle, are calling for people to write the PM and their MP to Deep Six the CCP for good.

We progressives can -- no, must -- make our voices heard as well. The three opposition parties together have a majority in Parliament. So use the same links.

Vote for this article at Progressive Bloggers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The $1.1 billion solution -- and that's just the phone companies

During the last election, there was a bit of a tussle when the Liberals decided to improve the tax treatment of dividends received by indivduals so they were taxed at roughly the same level as distributions from income trusts. (Full disclosure: The parent company of my current employer, a major pizza chain, reorganized itself from a privately held company to a royalty income trust last year). That's because some major trusts, such as the Canadian division of the Yellow Pages, had some unusually high trading in the hours before the announcement was made from the Department of Finance.

The income trust setup, originally designed for real estate groups, sounds like a sensible one on the surface. It changes the concept of how to deal with cash flow. Rather than a corporation paying taxes at a very high corporate rate, it flows though most of the income to its shareholders who pay taxes at a lower rate. In fact, there had been some speculation that Dofasco was going to convert to a trust for that very reason, before it was bought by Arcelor in a hostile takeover. Most of the holders of units are pension funds which already get pretty good treatment under the system; but many individuals were beginning to see how a trust unit could have a better payoff than a share paying a dividend even after taxes.

Companies of all sizes have made the switch, which probably precipitated the move by the Liberals last year, and which the Conservatives reluctantly are moving forward with. I don't think either party, however, anticipated the announcements by Telus (the major telephone company in Western Canada) and Bell Canada (Central Canada, as well as the Atlantic through its Aliant division) they would reorganize into income trusts. A study out today suggests the federal government and the provinces and territories stand to lose about $1.1 billion per year in taxes from just those two companies. (This number comes from the fact corporate income taxes will drop about $2.8 billion but personal taxes will increase $1.7 billion.) Complicating the matter is that Bell is a federally chartered company through an Act of Parliament so it will be MPs and Senators who will have to pass judgment on the issue.

Quite bluntly, this is a good idea gone rather awry. No one, I suppose, anticipated that what were once near monopolies would go this route; and it's only a matter of time before the oligopoly of oil companies get the hint. It also suggests that we need to revisit the issue of tax reform, twenty years after the last overhaul. I'm not against profits, I'm for them. Given shareholders have traditionally gotten shafted on dividend payouts, income trusts are actually not a bad concept.

But I also believe governments need sufficient revenues to provide services for the greater good. The only reasonable way to make the whole arrangement work as for any major cuts in corporate income taxes, as I argued back in July, is to eliminate corporate welfare; and I don't see a willingness from any of the parties in Parliament to do that.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

RIP Lister Sinclair (1921-2006)

What can one say at the passing of a true broadcasting legend? Ideas, on CBC Radio One, has been on for over forty years (it started out under the bizarre name "University of the Air") but it was during Lister's sixteen years at the helm, 1983-1999, that the nightly show about virtually every aspect of philosophy one can imagine really became an icon. In the extremely competitive broadcasting world where it has to compete against not only private radio but over 300 TV channels, Ideas still manages to get a few hundred thousand listeners every night. So much has the 9PM show become Radio One's flagship that a recurring gag on Air Farce is the following: "Good evening, I'm Abednigo Winkler, and this this Notions, the show about topics not good enough to be Ideas!"

About two years ago, officially in "retirement," he hosted a special edition of Go, the eccletic Saturday morning show, and did a quick history of disco music. With an entirely straight deadpan voice, Lister managed to put the masses in stitches as he turned the screws on ABBA, Donna Summer, and a very young Bryan Adams. That's the mark of a real broadcaster the likes of which are seen in only a handful still alive, including Paul Harvey Sr and Mike Wallace -- serious and funny and each when appropriate.

Fare thee well, sir.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Detroit sweeps Oakland in ALCS

Is it truly possible that we live in a world where the same team that lost a whopping 119 out of 162 games just three years ago is now in the World Series?

Someone had better get me to the church on Copperhead Road, because I overslept!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Why buy new when a lemon will do?

We may not always like the police, but the thin blue line between order and anarchy is what helps keep democracies safe. We do expect a certain amount of accountability. How, then, to explain the investigative story in the Hamilton Spectator today -- here, here, and here -- about some rather unwise purchasing and maintenance decisions for the Hamilton Police Service's fleet?

About 13% of property taxes in Ontario goes towards the funding of police activities. That's fair and good, and for the most part we get value for money. But most police agencies in North America retire their vehicles after 12 months or 112,000 km (70,000 miles) whichever comes first. After that point, in the extremely severe conditions cops work under, the cars' maintenance costs skyrocket. Hamilton generally tries to stretch it to 150,000 km, no limit on years, to save some costs. Still pretty reasonable, until one realizes a few years ago some hotshot at City Hall decided it would be better to rebuild the cars at that point so they could be stretched to the limit -- 300,000 km. In addtion, the same braintrust decided to get some "gently used" patrol cars second-hand from Brantford.

Hamilton's fleet consists primarily of two cars -- the Chevrolet Impala and the Ford Crown Victoria. Both assembled in Canada, both very tough and very reliable for endurance. (There are also a handful of Volkswagen Beetles; primarily they are for the kids' patrol and at public events, although they do surprise some speeders on occasion.) The investigation, however, shows some cars in the service were subjected to high maintenance -- extremely high. One car in particular, # 226 (a 2002 Impala) had nearly $20,000 in repairs for one 14 month period: January 2005 to February 2006. Over its life, Hamilton has sunk $34,000 +. This for a car with a sticker price at the time of about $25,000. Several other cars in the fleet don't fare much better either.

The worse part is, as of June when the investigative period ended, some cars in the fleet dated back to 1998 -- eight years old. The standard in North America is three years and out. No one at City Council has seemed to notice there's a problem.

I'm probably not in a position to criticize -- my mostly trusty Oldsmobile is 20 years old, but it still has extremely low kilometrage (about 235,000) and I try to maintain it the best I can. But when these beasts are the only thing protecting the cops from danger, the men and women in blue need the confidence their car won't suddenly malfunction. We, as the people who pay them, should also expect they won't be driving lemons.

Wisely, the local police force has said they no longer buy second hand cars or attempt rebuilds; as well as rotating cars around the city's detachments so they get a roughly balanced workout between the urban and rural districts. Still, Hamilton deserves better. So I say again to those runing for public office in the local elections next month: INCUMBENTS OUT!

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Four times bigger than Yellowstone

I have been fairly critical of the Harper Government from Day One, but I have given them credit on occasion for doing something that's actually good for Canada. This is another of those rare opportunities. The Washington Post reports today that Rona Ambrose, Environment Minister, and the Lutsel K'e band of the Dene First Nation, have agreed to negotations that will create a new public land, tentatively named Thaydene National Park, which would be four times the size of Yellowstone.

The area is to the east of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, the fifth largest freshwater lake in North America and the second largest entirely within Canadian sovereignty. The concern is that as the diamond and uranium mining industries continue to explode and give the NWT a much needed financial boost, and the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline goes on stream and delivers natural gas from the Beaufort Sea to the Lower 48 States, what's left of the unspoiled and primeval habitat will be lost forever. Like many natives tribes in the Near and Far North, the Dene live off the land and already some traditional caribou migration routes have been disrupted by mining developments already up and running. Not to mention that the ground water is being threatened too.

The sticking point may very well be hunting rights. Native Canadians clearly have an inherent right to hunt and fish, at least for sustenance, but they have had to fight for that in the South, and some court decisions have caused immense (and in my opinion needless) tensions between Aboriginals and white people. Clearly, terms of reference are going to have to be set on how to partition this land and ensure both that the natural habitat is respected and that natives can continue to live on the land.

It's possible that in the end, the arrangement might be to give the natives ownership but it is leased in perpetuity to all the people with free rights of access. There are examples of this, such as the privately managed but free Bruce Trail along the portion of the Niagara Escarpment that runs from Tobermory to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario; or the many National Seashores and Lakeshores in the United States (most such designated areas are under private ownership but there are clearly marked areas where public access is allowed). Or some areas may be off limits to everyone except the Dene.

Whatever the final arrangement, it is good to see that the Conservatives see the need to make the peace both with the land as well as natives, at least in part of Canada. Now if they would only do the same across the country. Especially in Alberta, where the tar sands projects are ripping up the land and not all of the oil companies make an effort to restore it; and the ground water is permanently being destroyed by tailings, beyond anything that could be remotely considered potable.

At the very least, the Harperites should abide by the Kelowna Accord, if they have no intention to accept the Kyoto Protocol.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

2006 Nobel Prize for Peace

When I was a lad in high school, one topic of discussion in social studies was the systemic poverty in the developing world and how the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, with their main focus being stabilization of faltering economies, didn't often care about the effects of budget cuts and interest payments on people in the countries to which they loaned money. Often times, it made things worse. The key is to promote self-sufficiency.

One of the ways to do that, of course, is education; or more accurately the kinds of programs that promote education relevant to local conditions. The other is growing small businesses. The problem is that many people, mostly women, would like to get that kind of start but are often turned away because the amount of money they need loaned to them -- often just a couple of thousand dollars or even less -- is just not worth the bank's time. In fact, merely being able to afford a vacuum cleaner or agricultural implements such as a plowshare would be enough, but a banker often doesn't see the worth. So these people have traditionally been forced to rely on loan sharks. We think they're bad in Canada and the United States. They're much worse on the other side of the world.

However, one idea that was discussed in high school, and which I thought had a lot of merit, was the idea of micro-credit -- actually givng out small loans to empower people, often as little as $50 to $100 US. The expectation is that the money will be paid back, of course, but often it's loaned out in conjuction with other small loans in clusters or groups. The loanees become responsible for each other, and there's peer pressure on each other to succeed and to make sure all the loans are paid back so as not to affect the reting of the group as a whole. Nowadays, these microloans are mostly given to women because they are actually a lower credit risk on average. The odd thing is, this initiative actually works, contrary to conventional wisdom. It may not completely lift people out of poverty all together, but the new small business people become more self-reliant. So much so that even some First World banks have finally caught on and are now trying the same thing in poor urban centres; although of course the loans are somewhat larger.

One of the people at the forefront of this microloan revolution was Muhammad Yunus, one of the pioneers of the concept and the founder of the Grameen Bank. Today, the Norweigan Nobel Committee awarded both the 2006 Nobel Prize for Peace.

It's certainly an unconventional choice but it does make more people aware of the benefits of microcredit and how it gives a continued shot in the arm to feminism, which is under increasing attack around the world. This one definitely gets a thumbs up from me ... and it must be driving the oddmakers in Las Vegas crazy, as Yunus was a longshot, at least 200-1 to win it. (Even better.)

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

2006 Nobel Prize for Literature

... goes to Orhan Pamuk of Turkey, who in the words of the Nobel committee, "in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."

Say what???

Hamilton brings back the flowers

A few months back, I noted with some disdain that the City of Hamilton had severely scaled back its flower bed traffic island program and filled in the medians with rocks. Well, it's taken some time, but with local elections coming the city finally came to its senses and is going to bring it back.

At least they know when to do something right, and I'll give them credit for that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is habeas corpus dead in the US? Keith Olbermann says "yes"

While Bill O'Reilly continues to believe GWB is God's gift to Planet Earth, Keith Olbermann continues to put on the heat. In a stinging editorial last night on his Countdown show, Olbermann lamented what may be the death of the time honoured tradition of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum -- in plain language, that a human being or a corporation has the right to demand why he or she or it was arrested for a crime, no thanks to the bill passed by Congress yet awaiting Dubya's signature that would give legal sanction to the detention of so-called "unlawful" combatants. A bill which would, among other things, would allow the President of the United States, and he or she alone, to determine what Common Article III of the Geneval Conventions really means.

What some people may forget is that under the US Constitution, a bill passed by Congress becomes law if the President hasn't signed it within 10 days; unless Congress is not in session. Since it went on recess for the election next month, he only has a couple days left before he unwittingly "pocket vetoes" it. But that's beside the point. As Olbermann correctly points out, habeas corpus is something that has existed in the common law since the Magna Carta of 1215 -- largely repealed but portions of which still form part of the UK Constitution, including Clause 39 which guarantees due process.

When the United States declared secession against Britain in 1776, it still retained the common law -- in fact one of the reasons for the American Revolution was the restoration of civil law in Québec two years earlier, for suits between individuals (something which remains to this day in the province in the province's almost exhaustive Civil Code, although it does use common law for criminal matters making it one of the few dual legal system jurisdictions in the world). Both the Articles of Confederation and the original Constitution made specific reference to habeas corpus as a guiding principle of American law. And while the Anglo- Saxon -- or more accurately the Anglo-American -- system of law as it has developed since then is by no means perfect, the right not to be arbitrarily arrested or detained without cause is what gives the system its inherent strength.

Why did the US choose to keep the common law? Common law is based on the presumption of innocence; the idea that the burden of proof is on the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They felt it was being abused by the British, and so they sought to in their view "restore" it.

Compare that to most of continental Europe, even long established democracies, and indeed most of the world which wasn't colonized or patroned by either the UK or the US -- the presumption of innocence doesn't exist and one can be detained for months on mere suspicion of a crime. In Mexico, for instance, a car accident is actually considered a criminal act.

The whole idea of "enemy combatants" has been a rather uncomfortable one to begin with. Who is an enemy? Who isn't? Is being the wrong place at the wrong time proof of guilt? Giving the President and / or his subordinates virtually unlimited power is the very antithesis of limited government, a mockery of the separation of powers. The problem isn't so much the executive, however, as it is the legislative branch. As is the case in Canada, legislators don't have the time to put all the pieces together. They just create skeletons of laws then delegate their authority to someone else to put the nuts and bolts in. In other words, we hear about it when a statute is passed; we rarely do, though, when a regulation is issued. While statutory instruments (really, executive orders) are published as a matter of public record, they have the full force of law because they have the backing of the Congress -- or in Canada's case, Parliament.

This may not have been a problem even three or four decades ago. But as we moved from a legislative democracy to a bureaucratic one, the regulations kept piling up. They not only became a burden on the people and corporations but even the government itself. I've read somewhere the US government alone now publishes 75,000 pages of regulations every year -- many times more than the US Code (the laws Congress itself passes). It's still not a problem, as long as those regulations are a matter of public record (except those items which may be sealed because of national security).

But now we've migrated from a bureaucratic democracy to an executive one. Since the legislature gave most of its authority away during the 1960s through 80s, it was only natural to take the final step and give it all away. In the name of "national security" (read: keeping the people afraid), GWB thinks he should have unlimited power, including the right to decide who gets habeas corpus and who doesn't. And whether it has realized it or not, Congress has done exactly that and given away the store. Once that kind of power is delegated to the President, it becomes next to impossible to take it back -- because the President can veto any such attempts to do so. In fact, why even bother to have a Congress at all?

When one starts to pick and choose which laws apply to him or her and which don't, the government itself forfeits its right to exist. And as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, the people have the right to rebel when government becomes an end to itself rather than the servant of the people.

Olbermann's piece is worth watching. Notice how towards the end he crosses out the entire Bill of Rights, save one -- Amendment III, which prevents the quartering of soldiers in civiian homes. Keith has a point there: Keeping the military at bay from the civilians who pay their salaries may be the only thing that's keeping America from becoming a true dictatorship.

Of course, the Mark Foley scandal may be the wake-up call Americans finally need, that one-party government is a truly bad thing and power sharing, or cohabitation if one prefers, ensures abuses such as tampering with due process can't happen or if it does will be stopped.

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11/10/2006 12:21:12 PM
Good work on your page man! Keep it up!

11/10/2006 12:54:29 PM
great post. Keep it up.