Saturday, March 31, 2007

Harper may want to think twice

With this week's stunning second place showing by the ADQ, PMS may be tempted to think that now's the time to go to the polls and shore up his conservative support in Québec while he can to get the majority he wants. He may want to think twice about that. While there may have been a shift rightwards, I think it's more correct to say that the move was from the left to the centre -- not the right. And he also may have a big problem with people out West who think he's abandoned his principles.

I think that many who voted ADQ came both from federalists who were sick and tired of the Liberals who just presumed their votes would be automatic so as to avoid another referendum; as well as péquistes who wanted the province to be governed rather than just being told the only way out was to get out. Mario Dumont's team, such that it is, perhaps represents a new reality in the province.

For as long as there have been only two viable choices for provincial parties in Québec, it's been really a choice between left (the Liberals) and the lefter (the PQ). The state was always seen as the solution, not part of the problem or even a problem at all. This may have been an appropriate model for such things as nationalizing electricity, as well as health and education. The province's power system is the envy of the world, with a capacity 50% larger than Ontario's with 3/4 of the population -- and it's still a single authority rather than the jigsaw puzzle that exists in the latter. Health care is always an issue (as it is in the other provinces) but the system of CLSCs or free clinics is unique in the country. As for universities, tuition is less than half what it is elsewhere in Canada.

However, the state went further than other provinces in trying to micromanage every detail of life in Québec. Perhaps not a nanny state like Norway; but certainly preeminent if not intrusive. And the decision to be all things to all people came at a cost -- a massive debt load. Clearly, some tough choices have to be made. Power rates may have to go up to pay off Hydro's bonds. Some rationalization of health care may have to be considered. And tuition fees -- regrettably -- will have to go up to some reasonable level. Dumont's ideas clearly appeal to those who want either the state to get out all together, a small section of the population; but they also appeal to those who want Québec to back off just a bit, enough to give families room to breathe. In other words, something similar to what exists in other provinces.

I think Harper is under the mistaken belief Québecois have decided they're ready for some form of the Klein and Harris "revolutions." Nonsense. They're less idealistic and more pragmatic than Harper's Western base. And it's true that 10 Conservatives were elected in Québec last year during the federal election but I perceive that's because people wanted to express their anger over Sponsorgate without going to the "fallback" separatist candidate -- as if the NDP didn't even exist. The vote this past week was more than just changing the debate, it was also about adding a new voice to the debate -- a breath of fresh air.

As far as the West goes -- Harper might want to make sure he does have his support shored up because some decisions he's made are going to come home to roost when he does drop the writ. Consider:

He spoke out so eloquently against floor crossing in opposition yet had no scruples in getting at least a couple of Liberals to join his team -- one of them the very day he was sworn it. He said he wouldn't tax income trusts, but he did; angering not only seniors who rely on the distributions for income but also the resource and real estate sectors who form a big part of his base. He made clear he wouldn't give any special deals to Québec and yet in last week's budget he gave the province the lion's share of equalization even if the payout is justified. Not to mention he once badmouthed Atlantic Canadians for their "cycle of dependency" and now wishes we'd forget he said that (we haven't), stonewalled on the issue of devolution for the NWT until -- surprise -- last week, and just the other day made it clear the Opposition is not welcome at next week's 90th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France while forgetting that the WWI Parliament was led by a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals who set aside their differences because there was a war going on, thus turning our men and women in uniform who serve regardless of who's in power into a political prop.

We Canadians are a very fickle bunch. Loyalties don't easily transfer from one election to another or from the provincial level to the federal. And the lack of consistency without a valid explanation makes one wonder what Harper'd do if he did get a majority. And so I think Harper's "promise" to Duceppe means nothing -- he'll call a snap election before the other parties, or the people, are ready.

Two words: Ontario, 1990.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Most ridiculous news of the week (2007-03-30)

My pick for the craziest news this week is a statutory rape case from Chattanooga, Tennessee. A 42 year old male suspect, while being held in custody for contact with a fifteen year old female was discovered to be ... a woman, while she took a shower. Oddly enough, the teenager had fallen for her much older -- ahem -- suitor and thought she was a man.

Kind of like M Butterfly in reverse. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Ottawa puts all 28 Six Nations claims on table

Finally, at long last, some movement in the long simmering dispute between Six Nations and the federal government. All 28 land claims that the elected band has filed -- many of them nearly 30 years ago but rooted in gripes going back to the 19th century -- will now be open for discussion. In addition, Ottawa is chipping in to help with the OPP's increase costs of policing Caledonia since the War of Douglas Creek began over a year ago.

I cannot stress enough my anger that it's taken this long for DIAND to sit down with the band's residents. True, it will be the Confederacy who will take the lead role; although one would think the elected band council who initiated the long dormant claims years back will be fully consulted. But the governance issues are beyond the point. The point is no one ever bothered to sit down with the people and ask them what they wanted -- something that happened under successive Liberal and Conservative regimes.

At least no blood was shed like at Oka. Not yet, anyway.

But someone dropped the ball here -- and just writing a check to deal with the dispute up to this point will not solve the problem. Relations between white people and natives have already been destroyed. Property values have plunged. And aboriginals are still treated as wards of the state and not the full citizens of Canada that they are. Six Nations is symptomatic of a wider problem -- thousands of claims still not settled across Canada.

In the long run, maybe the model adopted by most of the tribes in the Yukon and accepted by the feds and the territory may be the way to go nationwide -- viable tracts of land with title and real self-governing power along with a share of income tax revenue from both levels of government; in exchange for giving up tax-free status. For now, the fact that Ottawa has accepted the fact they have to talk about what's already on the table at Six Nations is a welcome step.

But it's too little too late for Caledonia. Diane Finley, the MP for the part of the area currently occupied by white people (Six Nations is in another district) might want to consider updating her c.v. I doubt she'll survive the coming election.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

They give clearance to the Oscars, why not the Junos?

For a while, it appeared that CTV was only going to show this Sunday's Junos -- the Canadian Grammys -- live in Alberta and tape delayed to the rest of the country so that the network could simulcast a two-hour episode of CBS' The Amazing Race. Under enormous pressure, the network has backed down slightly and will also show Canada's music night live to air in the Eastern, Atlantic and Newfoundland time zones. It will, however, still be tape delayed in the Central and Pacific time zones. In fact, people in BC and the Yukon will see the show fully three hours after it's shown in Alberta right next door. (Unless of course, people in Central and Pacific have the time-shifting option on cable or satellite and watch it on the out-of-town affiliates which I hope they do to deprive their local station of ad revenue and teach CTV a lesson.)

This is still complete madness. And it tells me that the executives at CTV are either unpatriotic or are willing to treat large sections of its viewers as second class citizens. We're talking about what may be the country's top cultural event each year -- sorry, the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards are a relatively new invention and only recognize lifetime achievement. The one night when artists from all genres from classical to country and reggae to rock are on common ground.

We have a lot to be proud of as far as our music business is concerned. Some of its business practices when it comes to prosecuting perceived breaches of "fair dealing" are really outmoded, not just with new technologies such as mp3 players; but also charging physician offices and shopping malls for playing music transmitted for free to the public on radio stations. But we have an incredible star system that now has music played around the world -- something unthinkable just a few decades ago.

So why won't CTV give clearance and show this show live coast to coast to coast? They do so for the Oscars. They do so for live sporting events and elections when the polls close. What makes music so different?

We're not Americans, we're Canadians. Our artists deserve the same consideration as Hollywood does. Put the show on live even if it does screw up the suppertime newscasts -- after all, it's just one night. To not do so is nothing short of treason.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More proof Tom Cruise wants to be bigger than Jesus

There's outrage in Sydney, Australia today over a stunt pulled by the Church of Scientology. What was supposed to be a human rights forum for young people at the New South Wales state legislature turned out to be a chat session proselytizing for the movement founded by L. Ron Hubbard. Students, in fact, were given application forms to join the church (for a membership fee, naturally) along with a human rights pledge.

It's bad enough the organizer of the event -- who just happens to belong to the controversial Roman Catholic sub sect Opus Dei -- didn't do due diligence on this one. But promoting human rights? Have Scientologists forgotten that Hubbard made a number of disparaging remarks about Asians and blacks? Or that he supported apartheid?

The Catholic Church is certainly no saint when it comes to human rights -- after all, it made anti-Semitism a tenet of its faith until the 1960s. But as far as I know, it's never made membership in the church a condition of saying that one is for human rights. Nor does it ask people to sign a statement saying they support rights and then try to force them into the Church.

Indoctrination is simply uncalled for in this case. The students should get an apology.

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Why won't Prentice say he's sorry?

I've never been able to figure out why it is that a white person is always the one heading the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development when someone from a visible minority -- even an Aboriginal person -- is available for duty from the governing party. I have suspected there is an undercurrent of ignorance or just plain stupidity among the powers that be. While corruption at the band council level in many communities is certainly to blame, direct rule from Ottawa doesn't help either.

That's not to say we shouldn't face the fact we face. So I for one can't figure out what could possibly possess Jim Prentice to say that the abuse of native Canadians is something that happened in the past and we should just move on. It's bad enough that Team PMS opposes the UN Treaty on Aboriginals. But to say no apology is forthcoming is beyond me. The compensation package of $2 billion is certainly welcome. What is so inherently wrong with saying "I'm sorry," the way that was done for the Chinese head tax and the reparations to the Japanese internment camp detainees?

Especially when many of the perpetrators are still alive and have evaded prosecution -- often with the help of the Church and the blind neglect of the state?

Abuse isn't a one time event. It's systemic and vindictive. It's a deliberate attempt to denigrate the dignity of the target, and the effects last for years and even decades. So why won't Prentice say he's sorry? Call me cynical on this one, but I suspect it may be because PMS has told his minister that he can't so as not to jeopardize the anti-Aboriginal vote which is overwhelmingly Conservative.

And to make sure that is a white person who always runs DIAND.

Am I saying things would be different if there was a non-white person running the place? No. But a little bit of sensitivity would be helpful here. After all, his home district may not contain any native reserves but some of the neighbouring ones do.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Northern Ontario is the new Clayoquot Sound

A decade ago, people were outraged when the then normally pro-environment and socialist government in British Columbia gave logging companies in the province carte blanche to clear cut Clayoquot Sound, one of the last remaining rain forests in North America. The blockades became something of a legend in the Canadian story as the Mounties forced protesters off the logging roads. Despite this and the public relations disaster successive NDP and Liberal governments in BC have held firm and the logging there goes on still. Now, one wonders if the same thing could be happening to Northern Ontario.

True, Ontario has no rain forests -- most of the vast tracts of trees suitable for logging are Boreal. However, the number of logging roads continues to multiply at a rapid pace, causing concerns for the province's ability to act as a carbon sink. True, new trees are replanted but they can't absorb as much carbon as older ones. Worse still, human activity is chasing caribou away to the point where their natural habitat may have reduced by as much as 2/3. That's quite a footprint to eliminate.

Make no question, a strong forestry industry is vital to my home province's success. It's just one of the natural resources that makes Ontario great. But there is a difference between stewardship or dominion, and exploitation or domination. It also makes no sense that we have a Greenbelt in the South -- part of which is just a short drive from where I live -- but there is no management plan for the North, where our future lies.

There was that old slogan from the 1960s about Ontario being a place to stand and a place to grow. The only way both apply is to recognize that we're inherently interconnected and once damage is done it's done and impossible to repair. Selective logging and reducing the footprint caused by roads and power lines is acceptable. Spreading out the way it's been happening must be put in check. Otherwise, the smog zones will spread farther and farther north -- and I wouldn't be surprised to see even Moose Factory getting the stuff we send up that way within a decade with no trees to absorb it.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Sacré merde!

Who would have seen this one coming? Jean Charest's Liberals wins a minority but he loses in his home district of Sherbrooke, while the ADQ of Mario Dumont becomes the official opposition. The results at this writing:

PLQ: 46
ADQ: 42
PQ: 37

Is this just a protest vote? No. I think there has been a very definite shift to the centre-right as people have gotten sick of "Québec Inc." and are very worried about the massive size of the province's debt. This, along with quite a few other broken promises (including not delivering on tax cuts and privatizing some provincial parks) is an indication that progressives must never take any votes for granted and that if people are pushed enough they will vote for anything just to express their frustration.

Expect another election in the province in less than a year, two tops. I think also significant is that the Green Party, with about 4% of the popular vote, actually did better than the ADQ in Montréal even though they didn't win a seat. This is also something to keep an eye on for the future. Any way one cuts it, we -- Canadians all -are in for one hell of a ride.

UPDATE (11:23 PM EDT, 0323 GMT Tuesday): The Chief Electoral Officer says the results in Sherbrooke are "under review." Meanwhile, Charest has, shockingly, taken the lead.

UPDATE #2 (11:37 PM EDT, 0337 GMT Tuesday): Charest wins in Sherbrooke. The numbers are now PLQ 48, ADQ 41, PQ 36.

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Another conservative newspaper opposes the death penalty

Yet another conservative newspaper in the United States has changed its mind about capital punishment. The Chicago Tribune, which has supported the death penalty since at least 1869, has now concluded what a growing number of people have; that it is completely arbitrary and capricious and inconsistent in its application.

The editors point to the fact that Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer, got life imprisonment for at least 48 women in Washington State (Ridgway may still be a person of interest in the disappearances of women in Vancouver and Edmonton as well), while another person was sentenced to death for killing one female in a botched robbery. Closer to the Windy City, death penalty prosecutions are ten times higher in the suburbs than in Cook County itself (where Chicago is seated).

It also points to multiple botched executions over the years, including one back in December in Florida that took 34 minutes and was so excruciating for the prisoner that Jeb Bush (brother of Dubya) imposed a moratorium on executions just before he left office. Moreover, given the choice between capital punishment and life without parole, a slight plurality of Americans -- 48 to 47 -- now favour the latter.

The Trib should be commended for its stand. It's not easy to admit when you're wrong but when you do and do so because of the principles involved, society is bettered as a result. Here's hoping others, including politicians, take heed of the rising voices against the death penalty and put the punishment out of the misery it causes once and for all.

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Peace at last in Northern Ireland?

I never thought I'd live to see the day that Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party and Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin would be sitting at the same table agreeing to a power-sharing arrangement for Ulster. But incredibly that day is upon us. No doubt this is a relief but one has to ask why it's taken fully nine years after the Good Friday Agreement to get to this point. Under the agreement, the Northern Ireland Cabinet will have 4 ministers from the DUP with Paisley as First Minister (or Premier). SF will get three with Martin McGuinness as Deputy; with the Ulster Unionists (the far less radical pro-British party) getting two and the SDLP (the moderate Catholic party) one.

The return of devolution is slated to happen no later than May 8. It probably should be sooner than that; but people in the North will be happy that decisions are being made locally and not directly from London. The long term issue of course is the question as to whether the North will eventually reunite with the South. While the Protestant population has dropped to about 53% of the North in recent years, I doubt reunification will happen for a long time for two reasons and they both have to deal with family life. Catholics in the North, no matter how devout they are, simply will not agree to give up their rights under the more liberal divorce and abortion laws that exist there.

Besides, under the current legislation (as I understand it), a referendum on the "Irish question" can only happen if London senses there is a majority support for it -- and were such a vote to be in the negative, another referendum could not take place for seven years. During such a period, one could only imagine the instability and unrest that might occur.

Frankly, I think people on both sides are just sick and tired of the violence and want to get on with bread and butter issues. It's heartening to see Paisley finally acknowledge that Catholics have a right to exist and Adams putting the hatchet firmly behind his back if not burying it all together. I sincerely hope and pray the promise of Good Friday can finally bear fruit -- there's more at stake than just the kids.

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A changing of the guard in Québec?

When the Québec election campaign started a month ago, most people including me suspected that the incumbent Jean Charest would just cruise to another victory albeit with a reduced majority. No real genius involved in that one: He seemed like the least worst choice even if he did break his promise from last time to reduce provincial income taxes to the national average. (Québec taxes are generally the highest in the country for lower and middle income people, second highest for the wealthy after Newfoundland-Labrador.)

Well, the late great Harold Wilson said it best -- "A week in politics is a lifetime," and the last four weeks have seen nothing short of a revolution, the most significant one since the period during the 1960s when Québec transformed itself from a church-dominated society to a secular one, the independence movement united and the one powerful Union Nationale sank into irrelevance (it lost power for the last time in 1970 and was disbanded in 1989).

If polls are reflective of the mood of Québecois at large, we will see a minority government in Québec at the end of the day -- the first in 129 years; with the balance of power held by no less than "Super" Mario Dumont and the Action démocratique du Québec, or ADQ. If anything, this tells me as a non-resident of the province that people are sick and tired of the traditional divide between federalists (led by Charest) and pro-independence forces of the PQ (led by André Boisclair) and that there has long been a desire for a third way.

To be honest I don't really care that much for the social conservatism of Dumont, not the least of which is his opposition to the Rand Formula which underpins union security in Canada and especially in Québec (I think compulsory union dues in a company with a certified local is only fair because both union and non-union members get the same benefits from collective bargaining agreements), but at least there is a viable third alternative for all people in the province. I consider the Green Party to be a choice as well, but it never seemed to get the kind of traction its federal-level partner has been getting the last year or so. Dumont clearly wants more power for the provinces and even a Constitution of Québec, which fits right in to Stephen Harper's vision of Canada which foresees the removal of federal influence from some areas and an aversion to the use of the spending power in new areas (although that didn't stop PMS from giving provinces large wads of cash last week).

This "third way," if one can call it that, and its surprising appeal will make for some pretty interesting three way races tonight. I watched the SRC program Tout le monde en parle with a bit of amusement last night as nearly every guest -- including the A-listers who don't give a damn about politics -- were asked to make sealed envelope predictions about what will happen tonight. (Guess they'll be unsealed either tonight or on next week's broadcast.) So I will be as bold as to call it openly right now. With a magic number of 64 for an outright majority, my best guess is:

PLQ: 53
PQ: 47
ADQ: 25

I doubt very much the PQ and ADQ will form an alliance to overthrow the Liberals. Dumont is far too conservative for the socialist-leaning péquistes. But I do think both Charest and Boisclair will be finished after tonight and we'll be hearing from Dumont for a long, long time to come.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Two anniversaries

Today marks two significant anniversaries in history, and I want to comment a bit on each.

First, it was 200 years ago today that the UK abolished the slave trade. Not slavery, mind you, just the trafficking of slaves on the high seas. There is no question that the kidnapping and forced movement of people against their will is a truly shameful part of world history. The fact is, it remains today in less obvious ways; such as dictators in countries like Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea who plunder their countries' resources and leave their people on the edge of starvation -- with the full cooperation of Fortune 500 companies. Women who are slaughtered in "honour killings" or because their husbands get four other men to lie under oath that they "witnessed" the woman committing adultery. Children who work in sweat shops for pennies a day, making Air Jordans that cost $150 and up.

There has been talk over the years that there should be a formal apology for slavery where it was eliminated and reparations paid out. Unfortunately there wouldn't be much point. After all, the people who engaged in the trade or were the direct victims are all dead. We can't really be held responsible for the actions of our forebears. This isn't like the head tax on the Chinese or the internment of the Japanese during World War II. In those cases and others, those who were responsible could still be held to account and it was within living memory so that governments could apologize and make payments -- token as they were -- to make up for it in some small way.

Moreover, if such reparations were to be paid out they could run into the trillions, crippling the economies of even the most developed states, perhaps permanently. The only real way to make up for the legacy is to fight to eliminate it where it still exists in the rest of the world and to treat people as people and not commodities.

The other anniversary today is the 50th year since the Treaty of Rome was signed, which created what we now call the European Union. There truly is nothing like it in the world -- countries willingly giving up large degrees of their sovereignty to promote the free movement of goods, services, capital and people; with common policies on agriculture, the environment, product safety standards, copyright and so forth. Not to mention that many EU states also have a common currency -- and / or no borders. In other words, sovereignty - association. With peace and co-operation has come relative prosperity. That's not to say there haven't been problems -- Brussels can often come off as a bully to the member states; and the annual "rebates" larger states are entitled to are always a bone of contention in much the same way the "fiscal imbalance" and equalization bedevils Canada. Moreover with open borders, illegal immigration is a problem -- once one gets into Spain or Italy there are no customs agents impeding the way to the states with the most generous welfare systems -- Norway, Sweden and Finland. Every country becomes a "safe third country," in other words; with the UK and Ireland the notable exceptions.

Some in the religious right have claimed repeatedly the EU is nothing but the 7th and final revival of the Roman Empire and that the head of the EU is the Antichrist. This is nonsense. However secular Western Europe may be on the surface it is still an inherently Christian Europe and by my count every EU President has been a Christian as well. One who associates himself with the Christ cannot by definition be the Antichrist, period.

Be that as it may, the EU seems to be acting as an inspiration for the current conservative regimes in North America who want to create a North American Union without any legislative debates. This is just plain wrong. Free and secure trade is something I support. Open borders -- I find that problematic. Furthermore, it simply wouldn't make sense unless the trade area was expanded to include all of the Americas -- including Cuba and the European possessions in the Caribbean and South America. The EU works because the largest states -- the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy -- are counterbalanced by the remaining states with substantially less population levels but similar levels of economic development.

What does the Americas have? The United States which is a Juggernaut, Canada which is an economic power but with substantially few people -- and "the rest." Only Argentina, Brazil and Chile have similar levels of economic development but the gap between the rich and the poor is way higher. Mexico has improved substantially since NAFTA but still acts as a corridor for illegal immigration -- and Americans on both sides of the aisle think that's a bigger threat than Latin America's fear of US hegemony. The Americas are not Europe. Closer ties would be welcome in exchange for solving the migration problem, but not a EU-style arrangement and certainly not dollarization.

So, there's something to celebrate on both counts for the promise that was offered. As for the results that were yielded -- squat on slavery, somewhat mixed on the EU.

UPDATE (4:33 PM EDT, 2033 GMT): Just to clarify, Norway is not an EU member state, but is a signatory to the Schengen Convention which provides for open borders on the Continent.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Swinging the lotto ax at the wrong target

The head of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, Duncan Brown, has been fired by the province's Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Caplan. This in spite of the fact Brown was starting to clean up the fraud mess within the OLG and was fully ready to implement all the recommendations of the Ombudsman.

Perhaps a new perspective is needed at the agency that operates Ontario's games, casinos and racetracks. However, I think Caplan has this all wrong. The problem isn't with the lottery or the people at the offices in Toronto and Sault Sainte Marie who in good faith operate the games. Even though the entire current series of Super Bingo had to be pulled last week when someone discovered one could pick winners from the scratch and lose tickets without even scratching.

No, the problem is with the group of people who best know how the game is played -- the retailers who sell the tickets. The "win" rate among those operators is way higher than the general population or what one would expect it to be. This is patently unfair to those who buy scrips in the hopes he or she will have as fair a chance as anyone else.

The only truly fair way to do this would be to prohibit retailers and their employees from purchasing tickets. This might wind up excluding a large number of people -- in Ontario it could be as many as a half million -- but it could be addressed if in return the store operators got larger commissions on sales and for big wins. This is the law in many US states, but it would never fly in Canada; that is retailers would never accept a ban outright. After all, most retailers do play by the rules and it's a relative few bad apples that are the spoilers.

So instead there should be a "one strike rule": If a retailer gets caught cheating, he or she is not only banned from selling lottery products (which in many cases would put him or her out of business anyway) but they have to pay back any and all ill gotten gains with an additional penalty, say 50 to 100%, to go to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. This is in addition to jail time. We don't have to put up with unscrupulous ticket sellers, period.

In the meantime, some of the measures that OLG has already put in -- for example, a machine not only plays a special chime if it validates a "win" of over $10,000 but also locks down the terminal until the win can be verified by voice through both the retailer and the customer -- are things that should have been done long ago but are still welcome steps. That being said, Brown should be let to finish the job of weeding out the fraud, before he is let go. Caplan overreacted.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Stopping drug grow ops

The news the last couple days about a marijuana grow operation running out of multiple units in three apartment buildings in Hamilton really makes me mad. Personally, I have never experimented with THC nor would I want to; and I think people who possess only a few joints should not carry criminal records.

It's bad enough these dregs of humanity bypass the power so they can grown their plants for free -- there's enough there to charge them with grand theft electricity. Ever wonder why we pay a 4.25% uplift charge on our power bills? It's to cover their thievery. But manufacturing the stuff within smell-shot of where kids can breathe in the stuff -- often within the same apartment building? I think that crosses the line even for most progressives. If the buildings have to be condemned or renovated to a major degree then it's the operators of the grow ops who should pick up the full tab. Not the insurance companies, not the landlord, not the city.

I also find the protestations of the owner, that he didn't know what was going on just a bit hard to believe. Even presuming he really didn't, some of the law-abiding apartment dwellers were noticing more power spikes than usual and people coming and leaving other units on a fairly frequent basis. This can't be explained by the usual excuses for "leakage of power" such as poorly insulated buildings or people bringing in their own dishwashers or washing machines.

In the last couple of years, we've seen people set up grow ops across from a Catholic high school and inside a former brewery. Heck, I learned from my old neighbours that even my former home was turned into a grow op too!

So what can be done to stop this plague? Well, unfortunately, there will always be a market for people who want to smoke pot. Maybe it's time to talk about legalizing it for people who truly need it for palliative care (based on a doctor's prescription) and have the government tax or regulate it like they do alcohol and tobacco and gambling. If there are strict controls then there's no need for "underground" operations which endanger public health and safety.

We also need to cut off the demand from those who really don't need it, though -- and the current kinds of education campaigns have proven totally inept. Since the gateway into the illicit drug trade are kids and teenagers, perhaps it's time to create ad campaigns from their perspective and not that of adults. If we can get to the why of the demand, then we can figure out the how to stop it. As a bridge, I support the funding of safe injection and use sites.

We must not however tolerate the importation of illegal drugs, nor the unsafe manufacture of it. It's for those that do engage in those activities that there should be harsher punishment.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cricket murder

I've never understood the game of cricket, or the passions involved where the sport is popular -- but for the most part it's been seen as a way of easing tensions between sometimes bitter rivals. To hear the breaking news on the BBC as I was driving tonight that Bob Woolmer, the coach of Team Pakistan, did not die of natural causes but was in fact murdered is nonetheless a huge shock, especially during the sport's World Cup. Even CNN -- the US service, not just its international arm -- has this on their front page tonight which tells you how big this is.

One can only hope that CSI Kingston doesn't turn into CSI Cancun and bungle the investigation.

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Critiquing Ontario Budget 2007: B+

I was going to highlight the points of the provincial budget like I did for the federal one earlier this week. Actually, there's not too much to complain about. I would have liked to have seen the health tax eliminated, but overall it is a very progressive document even if it is with the fall election in mind. For the record, I am not shilling for anyone -- I am calling this the way I see it personally.

I want to focus on two of the key areas that are closest to my personal struggle for a more just Canada -- dignity for children and for seniors. First, kids.

The really good news is that the clawback of the National Child Benefit is being abolished, although it is being phased out over four years -- conveniently, just in time for the 2011 election. For the average low income family, that means an extra $122 per month, per child. The new Ontario Child Benefit or OCB, which replaces the problematic Child Care Supplement for Working Families, is in my opinion very innovative. It will help more families because it will not be means tested but income tested and one will not have to put their kids in day care to qualify for it. When fully implemented, it will mean an extra $1100 per child per year for families with incomes under $20k, with a clawback rate of 8% above that.

I am concerned about how it is going to be paid out -- I think it should be topped up of the federal child benefits in the same way provincial supplements are added in most other provinces. The McGuinty government has chosen to integrate the OCB into the welfare system for most, and one can only presume cheques will be sent out for those who qualify but are not on social assistance. I wish they would follow the KISS formula and save on postage but mo' money's better than no money. In short, child benefits are being doubled and four times as many kids will benefit. Very good news indeed.

As well the new federal working income supplement will flow through without any clawbacks -- so in a sense, the principle of robbing Peter to pay Paul is finally out the window. Seeing someone get benefits from the feds only to have it stolen by the province defeated the purpose of income support which is to get people off welfare and onto work. The best social program always has been and always will be A JOB. After all, a working person pays taxes and it's those taxes that pay for health, education and welfare.

Now, about seniors.

One interesting thing the government is doing is they're easing up the rules about "locked in" retirement funds. Under the new rules, a retiree will be able to "unlock" a quarter of his or her slush fund and can start withdrawing the money as early as age 55. Many people are taking early retirement -- as my father did during the 1990s -- so it will certainly help them, but I do worry about people spending their life savings before they truly need it.

Other changes involve enhancements to the property tax credit and harmonizing "income splitting" for seniors with federal rules. The most significant change deals with property taxes. This issues goes way beyond seniors, of course, but for the 65+ crowd more than other groups, wildly fluctuating property values can often mean the difference between staying in one's own home or going into a long-term facility.

So the semi-private assessment board will now rate home values every four years instead of every year, and cities would be required to phase in increases based on assessment changes over the four year cycle. This will no doubt be a relief to a lot of homeowners, and it will help cities have more predictable budgets as they propose expenditures over the cycle and not just year to year.

What would I have done differently? Not too much -- other than implement the phase-out of the NCB clawback immediately, and figure out a way to better tax this province's vast natural resources, as the Western provinces have done with their royalty structures. Overall, not bad. Ontario's Finance Minister, Greg Sorbara, gets a B+.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Trouble at Ave Maria University

HT to Amy Welborn:

From the moment Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza and a very conservative Roman Catholic, announced he was building a whole new town east of Naples, Florida called Ave Maria -- complete with an oratory and its own university, Ave Maria University -- people were wondering what his real agenda was. (Monaghan, some may recall, wanted a town where sales of birth control and erotic materials would be banned but was forced to back down when the ACLU threatened to sue.) I'm still trying to figure it out and a number of Catholic bloggers who are more to the right than I am are wondering what's the real story. (There's also an unrelated side business called "Ave Maria Mutual Funds" -- I'll let you figure that one out.)

Especially with today's news that the Rev. Joseph Fessio, the provost of AMU was suddenly "asked" to resign today -- by whom was he fired, no one knows for sure. Fessio, it should be pointed out, was once a student of Joe Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI). AMU's curriculum is focused on the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and all students there are required to take courses in such subjects as Latin, political science, history, and theology -- in addition to their major. Nothing to complain about there, to be frank. According to one insider, however, Fessio may have had a beef with the executives about very modernistic Masses, including Masses that smacked of faith healing "services," the exact opposite of what was sold to investors as a traditional Catholic university.

The president of the university, one Nick Healy, is described as a "praise and worship" Catholic. Now I don't necessarily have an issue with that -- many Catholics have an evangelical bent, after all. The problem is that the Mass is supposed to be the most sacred and solemn time of the week. Using Gospel music is one thing -- if the music fits in with Scriptures and brings one closer to God that's fine. Showboating or deviating from carefully formulated prayers is something completely different. And faith healings? Come on. I'm not that gullible. I believe in miracles, but by their nature they're rare -- otherwise they wouldn't be miracles anymore.

The manner in which communion is given out is rather unorthodox to say the least. What I find the most repulsive, if the accusations of the students are correct, is how the healing services make a mockery of the Sacrament of the Sick (formerly known as the Last Rites). This anointing is no longer reserved for those who are literally at death's door but it is nonetheless limited to those who are dangerously ill. Under the purview of AMU, an invitation was given to everyone attending to receive it, including the perfectly healthy (as if it's supposed to protect someone from getting sick!) I take this personally, as my father received it not just once but twice while he was in intensive care. (He's now awake and has been for a couple of weeks, thank God, although long term his prognosis is still very iffy.)

To be clear, I would not want a return to a compulsory Latin Mass, although if any Catholic wishes to worship at one where it is available he or she should be able to without question. Nor do I want a regression to the "Last Rites." What is called for here is clarity. If a university has a conservative philosophy (or is supposed to) it should stick to that and if it is a liberal one (and there are liberal Catholic universities out there) it should pursue that. In that vein, Fessio is in the right here. I would never send my kids to AMU but parents who have forked out thousands or even tens of thousands to send their kids must be wondering what they bought themselves into. When one has a President that wants to go in one direction and a Provost in the other, one's bound to have a mess on their hands.

Which is exactly what Monaghan has now.

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Raising the minimum wage isn't enough

If the reports this morning are true, the McGuinty government in Ontario is set to raise the minimum wage to $10.25 per hour over the next three years from the current level of $8. It's not the immediate increase some social activists have been demanding, but it's certainly a positive step.

Eight bucks an hour isn't that much. Presuming a 40 hour work week, 50 weeks per year (with a two week vacation) that works out to $16,000. Hiking that to $10.25 will raise the annual income to $20,500 -- barely above the poverty line for a single person but certainly adequate. There is also direct link between higher incomes and improved mental and physical health so some of the strain on Medicare should be alleviated.

There are some other things Ontario could do in tomorrow's budget. Not the least of these are raising the exemption, eliminating the marriage penalty and fully integrating the provincial child care supplement into the federal benefits. It's also my hope that the increased federal transfers to Ontario -- about a billion per year over the next two years -- goes towards fixing health care and opening more day care spaces, not to irresponsible tax cuts.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The HPV Vaccine

If 500 Canadians were to die from bird flu, the scandal would be enormous. When 400 to 500 women die each year in Canada from cervical cancer and thousands more are left infertile, no one gives a shit. When the Asian tsunami killed 230,000 the outpouring of relief was unprecedented. Yet worldwide, nearly a quarter of a million women die from cervical cancer each year and no one cares.

I'm not one to root for the Conservative Party of Canada ... but there is one item in yesterday's budget that's a huge win for women. The government will spend $300 million to fund the vaccination of females against 4 types of the HPV or human pappilomavirus, the lead cause of cervical cancer.

It's been interesting to see the debate in the United States recently; as the FDA approved the vaccine but social conservative groups are trying to block their states from immunizing teenage females, claiming it promotes promiscuity without any real evidence to back it up. In fact, I heard a talk show on satellite radio a couple weeks back where one caller -- an "outraged mother," I presume -- said the vaccine should be banned and it was going against the will of God.

If we're trying to promote a "culture of life," why would someone be in favour of infertility? Because cervical cancer can cause precisely that, even death. Is that the will of God? And while I do have a big problem with promiscuity (as I hope most people do), what of women who are raped or otherwise abused by their partners who may pass on the virus to their victims? What of molestation within families? I don't think the opposition to the vaccine by groups such as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family has anything to do with promiscuity, quite frankly. It's about "parental rights," which is code for abusive parents and partners who are afraid of getting caught and want to do everything to make sure they won't be.

Don't young females have the right to be healthy? To grow up healthy? We think of nothing about protecting our most vulnerable from measles, polio, tetanus, diphtheria. I'm one of the last of the generation that had to be vaccinated against smallpox and no one had a problem with that, certainly not my parents. Why anyone would be against something that threatens the reproducing population is beyond me.

If we're to progress as a society, we need to reproduce and we need as many women as possible who can get pregnant. If the vaccine helps at least some women avoid the risk of infertility, then I'm all for it.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Flaherty gets a "C"

There is no question there is a lot to like in the 2007 budget, and some of the tax relief measures will certainly be welcome to families. I am annoyed Jim Flaherty still uses the expression "Canada's New Government," the newness has worn off after thirteen months. I'll go through what I like, then what I don't.


  1. The marriage penalty is being eliminated, finally. It simply made no sense that a sole breadwinner or a single parent should pay more in income tax than two parents making the same amount of money. For many families, it will be substantially more than the $209 the Finance Department is quoting.
  2. After nearly two decades, the child credit on income taxes is being restored. $2000 per child may sound like a lot but in reality this works out to $310. I suspect though, as with many other tax measures, that most parents will wait till tax time to get a bigger refund, rather than filling in a TD-1 (tax withholding form) so they can get the money in their paycheque. It might have been better just to add $30 a month to the monthly Child Tax Benefit -- the net result would have been the same.
  3. The capital gains exemption for farmers and fishermen goes up 50%, from $500k to $750k. This will help a lot of people who might otherwise go bankrupt even if they sold their family business. The $500k threshold has also been left unchanged for quite some time so this is merely playing catch-up.
  4. The transit pass credit will also apply to e-passes and weekly pass holders, not just monthly.
  5. Eliminating interest detectability on foreign affiliates. Wonder if this will also apply to the banks, who have substantial holdings in the Caribbean.
  6. Moving towards a single securities exchange and regulator. This is good if for no other reasons than it will ensure someone banned from the markets will be banned nationwide; and that securities fraud will be a criminal matter and not merely a civil one.
  7. Equalization goes to a ten-province average over three years with a 50% exclusion rate. This may tick off Alberta, but they're getting more in transfer payments anyway.


  1. The tax incentives for oil sands will end ... eventually, as in 2015. This gives the energy companies plenty of time to poison what's left of Alberta's ground water.
  2. The exemption for 48 hour trips out of Canada goes from $200 to $400. Yes, it's good it's going up. But it's nowhere near enough to address border lineups. I'd make it $1000 every 30 days, with the ability for families to pool (eg. a family of four could bring back $4000). The focus should be on intercepting terrorists and illegal immigrants -- not scofflaws who would rip off the feds for, say, 10 bucks.
  3. Some gas tax money for cities, but not the one cent solution (one cent out of every six from the GST).
  4. One interesting item, from page 323, says that nearly a quarter of the national debt is up for refinancing this year. Interest rates have been generally low and if some of the higher interest bonds can be redeemed for lower that isn't so bad -- it will help accelerate debt retirement even more. Who will hold our debt? Trustworthy countries like the US, Australia and the EU states? Or dictatorships like Mainland China, Singapore and Saudi Arabia? No guarantees are even proposed on this count.
  5. Nothing for a day care strategy. Just more tax incentives. Where did that get us the last year?
  6. People in the territories, Labrador and other remote areas, as well as in work camps continue to get shafted. The northern deduction is still a measly $15 a day. It's been at that level since -- well, I can't remember the last time it was increased. We're trying to protect Arctic sovereignty as we exploit our resources there. Shouldn't there be an incentive to move?

This is overall an election budget. The Bloc will support it so it will pass. While there are tax relief measures for most, the fact remains the trough goes to the fat cats. I'll give credit to Flaherty for at least trying this time instead of last year -- so he's gone from a D+ to a C. Not just satisfactory but adequate. There's still more that could be done, though.

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Low expectations

I'm not really expecting anything spectacular from today's federal budget in Canada. It's Jim Flaherty, after all (and yes, for my American readers he is the brother of actor Joe Flaherty). Child care and fixing the child tax credit (in particular to weed out fraud) would be at the top of my list. One can also argue about how to reform equalization (the extra transfer payments to poorer provinces). I think a 50% inclusion rate for natural resources and power would be fair, but there might be a better way to do it. As for the surplus, I would split it three ways.

One third would go towards tax reductions for the lower and middle classes (whether this is a working income supplement or an increase in the exemption, either would be fine). One third would go towards debt retirement (with further tax reductions from interest savings). The remaining third would go towards fixing health and education, conditional that transfers in future years would be pegged to measurable performance increases in those fields (i.e. shorter wait times for elective surgery and higher test scores).

I hope to review the documents when they come out (shortly after 4 PM EDT, 2000 GMT) and give a critique later tonight.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Bible and military families

I have felt since he first ran for US President that George W. Bush wears his faith on his sleeve and not in his heart. On this weekend, the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, I stumbled upon a verse in the Bible that makes me wonder if Mr. Bush has even bothered to read the Good Book lately.

This is something I wasn't expecting, when I randomly flipped through the Bible this morning. But here it is, from the 24th chapter of Deuteronomy, verse 5: "If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married." [NIV] Think about that one. For one year, an armed service person -- male or female -- would be given leave to take care of his or her spouse and presumably take that time to try to start a family. As well, they would not have to pay any taxes whatsoever.

What's happened in Iraq? Soldiers, sailors, Marines, air persons -- sent on their second, third or even fourth tours of duty. People getting into shotgun marriages just for the military benefits -- and even if the relationship is based on sincerity and not fraud families are being ripped apart. (Not to mention the IRS must still be respected. Consider, how families can possibly expect to stay together if one is redeployed over and over again.) It's becoming a problem with the Canadian military too, as some units are getting ready for or have completed a second round in Afghanistan.

There may be a so-called "War against terror" going on, and we do need our best and brightest fighting it, but the general rule should be that a deployment of a unit happens once every three to four years; and at most a tour of duty would last six months. Even if there is a shortage of available troops, there is simply no excuse to rip apart families like this. Not to mention post-traumatic distress disorder which also can lead to the break-up of marriages. Or home bound spouses who commit adultery because they just can't stand being lonely anymore.

This is yet another case of someone claiming to have family values without valuing families. Even the most conscious commander-in-chief should appreciate when his or her troops are overextended; having a depleted force invites attack. The tax policy in Canada of exempting military members and police officers from income tax during their tours of duty is a good first step; but a one year rule for new military couples would also be helpful. It's not just Biblical. It's just plain common sense.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Include Elizabeth May in debates

There may be a spring election, or there may not be. One has to suppose it will depend on what is in Monday's budget. Whenever it is, however, I believe that Elizabeth May should be included in the leaders' debates.

I'm not giving up my Liberal affiliation any time soon, even if I did vote for the Greens as a matter of principle last time. However, I believe in a diversity of voices. And if as expected the Green Party will run a full slate of candidates or very close to it, and May's poll numbers continue to hold above 10%, people will legitimately ask why May is being excluded by the networks. It's in the MSM's vested interests to keep alternate voices out -- after all, it makes life easier for them.

One only has to remember the 1991 British Columbia election which was supposed to be a two way race between the Social Credit and the NDP (the latter ended up winning). The BC Liberals (not affiliated with the federal party) had to fight in court to get its slot in the debate and wound up impressing British Columbians when the then leader called out the incompetence and sniping of his opponents. They became the opposition. Today, they're the government there. Had the networks had their way, BC would still be stuck with the Socreds (really the antecedent of the Reform Party).

Two years later, Preston Manning was allowed to be involved in the debates even though his party only had one seat in the Commons and Lucien Bouchard was also in the English debate even though he wasn't running outside Québec. Bouchard slam-dunked Kim Campbell with his famous question, "What is the real deficit, ma'am? What is the real deficit?"

Of course, the networks will say, "That's just the point. Bouchard had eight seats before the 1993 election. Reform had one. The Greens had none then nor do they have any now."

My answer to that is, "13% of Canadians say their first choice is the Green Party. Shouldn't they be allowed to see May question the other leaders herself so people can decide whether she's cut out to be a Prime Minister -- or at least a viable coalition partner?" The fact is, people may be tempted to vote their second choice to ensure another minority government. They need to know if May could very well be their first. It's the chicken and egg: It can't hatch unless it has the chance, but some don't even want the egg to be laid at all. That's just plain dumb. (No, I am not calling any politician a chicken here. I'm calling the networks chickens.)

While my hope is for a Liberal majority come the next election, I would not mind a Red-Green coalition or alliance. It would be a progressive government and it would serve to isolate the NDP which as of late has thrown its lot (peculiarly in my opinion) with PMS. This possibility will only happen, however, if people get to hear what May has to say. She should be included in the debates -- period.

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"Name a gift that's hard to return"

This was an actual question a few months ago on the Australian version of Family Feud. Guess what one contestant said ...

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Boisclair's "ethnic vote" moment

André Boisclair made some rather indelicate remarks on Wednesday night. Describing the influx of Asian students on campuses across North America, Boisclair used the expression les yeux bridés -- slant eyes -- a derogatory term for people of Asian origin. This has obviously made even PQ insiders upset. But Boisclair refuses to apologize.

I was under the impression that we had moved beyond this kind of insensitivity and the rank and file PQ members were a lot more careful in choosing who they wanted to lead them. Guess not. But the bigger issue is this: To eventually win independence for Québec, the PQ will have to persuade the ethnic community that it's in their best interest. During the last referendum, 97% of non-francophones voted "no." Guess that just went up to 99% with this foot in the mouth remark.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Preachers behaving badly -- again

Looks like another televangelist might be in trouble. This time, it's Morris Cerullo who's going on trial for tax evasion.

It's too bad these false teachers can't be tried for blasphemy in the U.S. of A. Instead, the district attorneys have to go after their finances to bring them down. Interestingly, the allegations of the IRS involve the Inspiration Network, the remnants of Jim and Tammy Bakker's PTL ministry which eventually wound up in Cerullo's hands. Namely, he is accused of not reporting about a half million dollars of income. If convicted, Cerullo faces nine years in the slammer.

In a somewhat related matter, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, the current chief exponents of "positive confession" (the heresy that Jesus died spiritually as well as physically on the cross) have been flying around in a corporate jet thanks to the generosity of their followers. Despite their promises the plane would never be used for personal purposes, the Copelands pulled a Benny Hinn recently and took a "layover" in Maui and Fiji on the way to Australia, then stopped in Honolulu on the way home. Funny no "crusades" happened where they were taking r and r -- or the other places where they just decided to visit a ranch or go skiing.

Look, even preachers are entitled to take a break every now and then. But not on their parishoner's dime and certainly not first class when all the government will allow a deduction for is business class at the lowest available rate (not the rack rate).

The ironic thing is that Jim Bakker eventually renounced the prosperity gospel. His current association with Rick Joyner and the concept of Dominionism is very troubling but at least Bakker was willing to admit he was wrong. Getting these others to admit the error of their ways would be like asking a brick wall to disappear. Given they have friends in high places (namely, Dubya and Karl Rove) expect a very quick pardon if even one conviction is registered.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Harper silent about Tsvangirai

Edmund Burke once said something to the effect that "all it takes for evil to take hold, is for good men to sit by and do nothing."

So will someone please explain why PMS has still not said a single word about the events of this past weekend in Zimbabwe -- the ZANU-PF government sponsored assassination attempt (and there is no other way to describe it) on Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the increasingly repressed opposition Movement for Democratic Change in what has become the basket case of Africa. Any claims by ZANU-PF that it was the opposition that started the violence is simply not credible -- it's crap.

The European Union and its leaders have spoken strongly about Robert Mugabe's latest attempts to crush his chief rival and anyone else who might be tempted to try an overthrow of him. So too has the United States, Australia and a number of other leading democracies. So why not Canada? Yes, Peter Mackay has said something, but that's not good enough -- we need a response from our Prime Minister. Could the silence be because there isn't as great a diaspora of people from the former Rhodesia as, say, South Africa? Or perhaps it's because Zimbabwe doesn't have that much oil?

All this on top of the fact that Mugabe's policies of consolidation have been a miserable failure, to the point the inflation rate now runs at 1,730% per year. Consider that Canada's CPI runs at only 1.2%. Many of us are young enough to remember inflation of 15% a year and punitive wage and price controls. Now imagine living in a country where one can't even afford a loaf of bread even on a week's wages.

It's important to remember that the comprehensive sanctions against Zimbabwe only apply to the country's top officials -- and even then there are loopholes; such as when Mugabe was able to go to the Vatican for Pope John Paul's funeral a couple of years ago despite an EU travel ban (because Italy is required to grant free passage to the Vatican even though the latter is not an EU member). So the crisis is entirely Mugabe's making.

Some say the solution will only come when ZANU-PF gets its senses and dumps its leader. Frankly, I think there's a much easier way. I support regime change in those limited circumstances where human rights abuses are so cumulative that no other option is available. This is the case with places like Burma and Libya. The same applies to Zimbabwe. If the rumour is true that every Prime Minister gets three secret assassinations, Harper should use one of them on Mugabe. Short of that, he should recall our Ambassador there, Roxanne Dubé, and say that she will not be back until Mugabe either throws in the towel or releases Tsvangirai unconditionally. There is no middle road here.

One cannot claim to push for human rights in China while saying nothing about them in Zimbabwe. To say nothing is to support the oppression.

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Good news, folks ... the folks at Canada Revenue Agency fixed their "bug" and the server that handles electronic and telephone income tax filing is back online. It took long enough. Very interesting they got it back online a day before those who pay by installments have to make their first payment -- which is tomorrow the 15th.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Montana may ban death penalty

Must be the winds blowing from the North, but a fairly conservative state -- Montana -- is now considering abolishing the death penalty. Since restoring the death penalty in 1974, Big Sky Country has had only three executions. One inmate has been granted clemency while two sit on Death Row. But in an interesting twist, the state Senate -- as well as the Attorney General -- has now concluded that promoting a "culture of life" while actively seeking some one's death is simply inconsistent. Says the AG, John Connor:

"It seems to me to be the ultimate incongruity to say we respect life so much that we're going to dedicate all our money, all our resources, our legal expertise and our entire system to try and take your life. ... Frankly, I just don't think I can do it anymore ... There will always be religious, moral and emotional reasons why the death penalty doesn't make sense, but I think the real practical consideration for the policymaker is, is this where we need to be committing our very limited, scant criminal justice resources?"

This has been one of the flaws of the neo-conservative movement for years. How one be both "pro-life" on issues such as pre-natal care and the terminally ill, but "hang 'em high" on criminal justice is not only contradictory; it's also hypocritical. Say what you will about Pat Robertson, but even he has rethought the issue and has called at least for a moratorium on the practice.

I for one am glad Canada does not have the death penalty. No question, the most serious offences should get heavier sentences and not a slap on the wrist. We still have issues about miscarriages of justice, however, and my worry is that in the path to getting tough on terrorists, the mafia and sexual predators we may engage in rushes to judgment. One only has to think about the injustice Guy Paul Morin endured (several years after Canada abolished capital punishment) to understand why when prosecutors seek a conviction it had better be based on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Something that's ironically often far more lacking in jurisdictions with the death penalty. There's far more reason to not disclose evidence when someone could face death than a life sentence. If someone has a reason to want someone to die, they'll do anything to ensure that happens. If the sentence is life, they're going to have to make sure they have it absolutely right on with no chance for error. It should be the other way around, but it's not.

The fact Montana is at least talking about it -- and at least 10 other states have a moratorium -- shows that the debate may be shifting in the States. If it finally joins the civilized world and gets rid of the practice I would certainly welcome that.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Halliburton turns back on Texas

Halliburton, the energy services company that received the lion's share of "reconstruction" contracts in Iraq without tender (and also happened to be run formerly by Vice President Dick Cheney) has now said it's moving its headquarters from Dallas, Texas to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

One can only surmise they're doing this so they will no longer be under the scrutiny of the SEC or other regulators but will be able to do their own thing -- under a regime that ranks just 31st on the perceptions of the least corrupt countries in the world (Canada is 14th while Finland, New Zealand and Iceland were tops). True, things are better in the UAE than in many other countries where bribes are a matter of course (and where they are actually tax deductible even in "clean" countries like France) but the fact is the US Treasury stands to lose billions in taxes from this post-boxing move.

Say what you will about Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry (D-MA), but their idea for a "Benedict Arnold" tax -- an exit tax for companies and persons who renounce their homeland -- sounds like a great idea. If it means Cheney loses the rest of his deferred compensation, I wouldn't mind.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Putting families first

Many Canadian families are finding themselves shocked to discover that the hundred bucks a month per child under six paid under the Universal Child Credit (designed to destroy the national child care strategy as well as the tax-free and very effective Canada Child Tax Benefit) they thought was tax free is in fact taxable income. And while the lower income parent many think the UCC is tax free because they're still below the basic exemption, the fact is their partner's spousal amount goes down -- meaning it winds up being taxed anyway. (Or in the case of a single parent, or even unmarried siblings living in the same household, the "equivalent to spouse" amount drops).

Meanwhile, while the federal government clears up the red tape for foreign adoptions, it refuses to do anything about the gulag called the Canadian foster care system. 23,000 kids remain wards of the state -- and of course, because they're "un-adoptable" the government doesn't have to pay a single penny of the "child care" dough. Little wonder why unmarried mothers as well as mothers with low incomes decide it's just better to have an abortion, rather than have their unborn child be a "burden" on the system.

In recent months, I've done a lot of soul-searching and have decided that on balance I lean more pro-life than pro-choice. I do not think, however, simply outlawing abortions is the answer (although I do feel they should be restricted after viability). I do believe, however, that if our country had the kinds of social policies that actually put families first we could substantially reduce the number of terminated pregnancies -- and it would be possible to do this without any legal restrictions.

I'm not talking about a nanny state. I am talking about adjusting tax and family policies that make children front and centre.

First, I'd take the hundred bucks a month and make it tax free -- in fact, I'd tack it on to the base amount of the CCTB. This would ensure no provincial clawbacks. It would also ensure over ninety percent keep all of the money, and even upper middle class families (between $110 and 170 thousand) would get a partial tax rebate.

Second, I'd reduce the clawback on the National Child Benefit (NCB) supplement -- from 22% to 4%, the same as the CCTB. More money for middle income parents.

Third, I'd restore the young child supplement. It may seem like a small amount, but $20 a month would be useful to parents.

Fourth, I'd bring back the tax exemption for children. For example, it could be $2000 per child under seven and $1000 for kids 7-18. Along with the enhanced CCTB and NCB, it would take several hundred thousand families off the tax rolls during a child's most critical years -- up to 7.

Fifth, a daycare plan. I personally do not favour a flat user fee like which exists in Québec, but child care should be geared to income and available to any parent who asks for it. The fact remains not one single new day care space has been created the last thirteen months. We were promised 25,000 in the first year. There should be a combination of public and private day care with regulations applying across the board, and real tax incentives to encourage corporations to build in-house facilities. To ensure equality, parents who decide to stay at home should receive an equitable tax break -- equal to the tax realized value of the child care deduction.

Sixth, provinces must abandon their "rob Peter to pay Paul" attitude, taxing back what the federal government gives. If this means higher transfer payments from Ottawa to cover the gap, so be it.

Seventh, as I noted above, the red tape that exists in foster care must be eliminated. No question, there should be background checks to ensure prospective parents are capable of taking on their task. It simply doesn't make sense, however, to give foreign kids more rights than those of all races in our system. There should be, at least, a national adoption registry and provinces should cooperate to ensure foster children may be placed anywhere in Canada. It's true child protection is a provincial responsibility, but if there is no suitable parent in say Prince Edward Island but there is one in Saskatchewan why should the PEI kid be stuck?

And eighth, we do need to have a serious discussion about stem cell research. This has mostly been limited to the medical community and while we do have a law in place it's something that should be revisited on a frequent basis and not merely set in stone. In my opinion, unused embryos should not be destroyed unless an implant candidate cannot be found and the parents do not want any more children.

These steps are certainly radical. I think, however, we need to say that we're both going to have family values as well as value families.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Not a happy B-Day for the rest of us

Osama Bin Laden turns 50 years old today. The man named public enemy number one by over a hundred countries around the world is still at large. More than ever, it's become obvious those countries who've declared their intent to stamp out terrorism picked the wrong fight. If all those hundreds of thousands of American troops were in Afghanistan and not Iraq, and Pervez Musharraf was more serious about stamping out Taliban sympathies in the northwest of Pakistan, there's a good chance OBL would have been behind bars by now. The message would have been sent that terrorists can run but they can't hide. Instead, they've been drawn like a magnet to Iraq and making the war there even worse.

Some think that because of OBL's "silence" since the 2004 US election, he must be dead. Highly unlikely. He's lying low, because he knows that even most Americans now realize the high price the Iraq War has exacted and he's waiting for the moment when opinion might even begin to rally the other way even slightly to strike again.

However the real issue, as former CIA agent Michael Scheuer keeps reminding us, is not that the terrorists strike us for who we are, but what our governments do. We keep hearing the myth that we're attacked because of our general tolerance for all religions and for giving at least nominal equality to women. Not true. We're attacked for supporting Israel; our indifference to the Palestinian issue and for backing the corrupt Arab sheiks that plunder oil royalties for themselves rather than diversifying their countries' economies; and our general reluctance to criticize their human rights records for fear the oil will be cut off.

Scheuer also developed the "extraordinary rendition" process during the Clinton Administration, something escalated big time under Dubya and rightly criticized, but from a general standpoint his analysis about what's really going on in the Middle East is absolutely bang on. The influence of the pro-Israel lobby in DC ensures these issues are never debated in the halls of Congress; and while Scheuer doesn't say we should stop supporting Israel, he does say we should at least talk about whether it's appropriate to continue giving foreign aid to a developed country -- the only developed country that in fact receives such assistance -- or ask questions where the money's going. I for one don't mind such money going to health care or low-income housing (on Israel proper, not the Occupied Territories), but if it's plunked into military hardware or the "security wall" that's wrong -- Israel should use its own revenues for that.

OBL's success lies in that he makes complicated issues simple ... and that the source of all of the Middle East's ills is NATO. I will never condone what he does, but it's way past time we heard the grievances of those who are suffering. Otherwise, we'll keep getting attacked.

So it's important to remember that while the struggle to end terrorism must never end, we must also alter our policies to link energy purchases to democratic reforms. It simply doesn't make sense only one country in the region, Israel, is a democracy while the rest are dictatorships.

That being said, we need to see measurable results in Afghanistan -- not just the capture of OBL, but sowing the seeds to help develop a self-sustaining economy and government that can both deal with terrorism within that country's borders. Otherwise, even I would be prepared to drop my support for the war effort there; and demand that when our current tour of duty ends in 2009 the Canadian troops come home -- and be redeployed to Vancouver, where a real threat of attack exists in the run-up to and during the Winter Olympics the following year.

Tanks in the streets there might put off some people, but at least one can be assured the Canadian Forces will not turn their guns in anger against law-abiding civilians -- unlike the Chinese Army who's just dying (pardon the expression) to massacre people in Tiananmen Square again during next year's Summer Olympics.

The fact remains, it's been over five and a half years since 9/11. On May 18th the War Against Terrorism will have lasted longer than World War II did in Europe. Isn't it time we finished the job so we can bring all the troops home early, so we can actually have something to celebrate?

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Friday, March 9, 2007

Bread and circuses

With Halifax deciding to pull out of the bidding for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and it being way too late for my hometown of Hamilton to even consider resubmitting its petition, I have a few thoughts.

It seems every time there's a big sporting event that draws international attention -- whether it's the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games or the World Cup of Soccer -- there seems to be a disconnect between what the granting body terms as "legacy" and what ordinary people see as such. Take the 1976 Olympics in Montréal; which were plagued by construction strikes and massive cost overruns -- which were only finally paid off last year. Or consider that Mexico only had four years to prepare for the 1986 World Cup when the original winner -- Colombia -- suddenly decided they couldn't afford to host it; then just months before the tournament an earthquake damaged quite a few of the soccer venues.

Legacy usually means how it will promote sports both domestically and internationally in the long run, well after the tournament ends. Being stiffed with over sized facilities that were designed to be used only a few times isn't exactly a nice idea of legacy, though. And the athletes villages which are supposed to go to low-income housing usually wind up being sold off as luxury condos.

So it's little wonder why people were complaining about Halifax's bid costs exploding through the roof -- from about $700 million to $1.7 billion. I'd like to meet the bean counter who came up with this one.

I'm not against large scale events of this nature. I am against dubious accounting. It should go through a due diligence process and estimate costs at the time of the actual games seven years down the road -- not current dollars. It should also account for worst case scenarios.

Otherwise, we're getting into a bread and circus scenario -- money being misspent at worst, shoddy organization at best, while those who should benefit the most do not ... and that's just plain wrong.

An aside: Why is it that the Commonwealth Games Society for Canada separate from the Canadian Olympic Committee? Most other Commonwealth nations get by just fine with their Olympic Committees.

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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Dumont, Boisclair, Charest: Elmyra, Pinky and the Brain (no particular order)

I sometimes watch the French-language newscasts to get a view on the "other" solitude. Tonight's newscast on Radio-Canada really made me wonder just how crazy provincial elections can get. First, "Super" Mario Dumont dumps the ADQ candidate for the Deux-Montagnes district (which includes the Kanesatake First Nation) after saying there's no longer a need for commemorations for the December 6th, 1989 massacre at the U of Montréal's engineering school. The comments came to light on -- Women's Day.

Second, the PQ is red-faced after it became known that the candidate in the St. Henri - Ste. Anne district of Montréal has long disputed the official version of events in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. In this moron's view, it wasn't genocide at all.

Third, the Liberals continue to be embattled over their decision to sell off part of Mount Orford Provincial Park in the Eastern Townships even though they now claim they'll use the money to buy adjacent land and double the size of the existing park.

Mario Dumont, André Boisclair, and Jean Charest. Or should I say: Elmyra, Pinky and the Brain. I'll let you decide who's who.

Under first-past-the-post, one of these idiots will almost certainly get a majority in the National Assembly ... much more certain now that we know Dumont didn't vet his candidates well enough. Isn't it time for proportional representation? I would have thought that the most socially progressive province in the country would want to take the lead on PR.

Almost makes one want to look at the alternatives (such as the Green Party).

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International Women's Day: The struggle never ends

It's International Women's Day, but as usual there's really nothing to celebrate. Yes, we've made a great deal of strides (at least in the Occidental World) towards recognizing at least the legal equality of the sexes and to ensure women have the same kinds of opportunities. We're not quite there yet but we're much further than we were, say, even two decades ago.

Yet we must never forget there there are still attitudinal problems in society. Ethnic groups that refuse to recognize the supremacy of law and subjugate their female members under the police radar; through forced arranged marriages, repeated marital rapes, female circumcision and so forth. Employers who ask prospective employees (both females and males) about their families (it's illegal to do so but it does happen). And yes, there's "the lineup." I mean architects who don't appreciate females don't "go" the same way as men and make the restrooms the same size when for practical reasons the women's facilities should have double and even triple the number of stalls.

And let's not forget, there are still many countries where femicide is rampant. I'm not just talking about baby girls being murdered in the fields in Mainland China. I'm also talking about people in India running ultrasound clinics for the sole purpose of helping parents decide whether or not to abort their fetuses on the sole basis of sex. (This unfortunately happens a lot in our part of the world too, and no matter where one may stand on reproductive issues there should be a consensus that abortions for this reason should be outlawed.) I'm talking about countries and break-away republics where women are forbidden to go to school or even fly a kite. I also speak of the genocide of Aboriginal women in Canada, both on and off reserve. Have we forgotten about Helen Betty Osborne?

And of course, we must not forget the plight of sex trade workers. It's too easy to view them as less than human -- in fact, countries like Venezuela only see them as 20% of a human being; in other words if you're convicted of a sex crime against a pimp or street walker you get an 80% discount on your sentence. All the women who have disappeared from Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Hamilton ... why won't the police do their jobs? Especially the female members of the police.

The struggle for women's rights must never end. While I oppose some of the excesses of radical feminism (the "men are pigs" camp), the freedom of males are tied to the freedom of females. We're partners in this world. We may not be able to live with each other, but we sure as heck can't live without each other either.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Want to NETFILE your tax return? Sorry, no can do!

So here I am, finally doing my and my father's taxes ... I knew I was getting a refund but I was shocked to see Dad was getting one to. And I'm just about to file over the Internet and discover -- the site is down. Matter of fact, the whole damn server is down so that not even the professional tax preparers can file. Nor can you use TELEFILE either if you have a relatively simple return. A lot of people who thought their returns are being processed are instead discovering they're in a huge queue.

The people at the CRA say that the glitch happened sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning when the system is down and it won't accept returns anyway. Okay, fine ... but with all the taxes we spend you'd think they could have an IT man or woman on call to work on the issue. After all, a lot of us need the money for the March "crunch" we seem to face each year. Oh yeah ... it's the government. They only work 8:30 to 4 Monday to Friday.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Libby goes down

I take no satisfaction over Scooter Libby being convicted on four of the five counts of obstructing justice in the Valerie Plame leak scandal. My worry is that the White House will simply say "Justice has been served" and then let anyone else in the executive who betrayed Plame get away with treason. Or give an outright pardon to Libby.

Leaking the name of a CIA agent -- especially one who was working on one of the very files of most concern to the world, namely Iran's WMD program -- is something that shouldn't be taken lightly. I can only wonder who else is going to be sacrificed next for a worthless war.

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