Monday, September 28, 2015

What does Harper want from our military?

Brian Stewart has a good op-ed piece on what Harper has said what he has done for Canada's military, and what has really been done. Three words: Stretched. Too. Thin.

When you appropriate $10 billion more for defence spending than what you actually intend to spend, that's not "prudence". That's telling our fine men and women in uniform they don't count for much.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Don't match donations during an election!

Maybe it's me, but it seemed like awful timing when the Cons announced last week they were going to match donations to this year's Terry Fox Run, up to a ceiling of $35 million. Today, they retracted the pledge - for now. Awful timing, of course, because we're smack in the middle of an election, indeed in the final legs.

This wasn't like the Boxing Day Tsunami, or the earthquake in Pakistan, or even the Katrina horror. In each of those cases, the feds promised to match donations on a dollar for dollar basis provided those contributions went to legitimate NGOs (such as the Red Cross) or faith based charities (like, say, the Salvation Army). We did that because it was the right thing to do, because the victims needed as much help as possible. In some cases, the match proved to be too much. If I recall one example, Oxfam which had an annual budget of around $15 million got bombarded with over $60 million just from the tsunami, and they didn't know what to do with the money.

Of course cancer research is important. I've lost a mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer, so I kind of take it personally that we need to find a cure. I can't help but think if Terry Fox actually survived and finished his run, if the amount of money raised in his name in the 35 years since would be even a third of what it's turned out to be. I would hope not, of course - that actually pulling it off would have made donations go through the stratosphere.

We have every right to demand the federal government and the sub-national governments contribute what they can to sponsoring medical research, particularly in finding cures for these terrible diseases. And encouraging prevention and early intervention to stop cancer before it can spread - and quite possibly even be cured in the early stages.

But it doesn't help that the pledge was made right now. Yes, I will concede the Terry Fox Foundation made the request for funding. It has every right to, and one would expect a positive response. But the Fox family also said that this should be a multi-partisan effort and one party should not score political points over it.

Exactly right.

This reminds me of a line in the 2004 movie Head of State, starring Chris Rock. In one scene, the Republican candidate for President runs an ad emphasizing his support for breast cancer research, then drops the line that his opponent "supports breast cancer." Of course, Rock turns this around and speaks the truth about his country's serious issues and ends up winning narrowly.

Rather than trying to score points by winning favour of one of the country's most celebrated families, the parties should talk about health care. Not just research, of course. But also talking about moving from physician based care to a system where the patient and the community are key. About making drugs more affordable - including cancer drugs, which despite our strict price controls here are still far more expensive than alternate treatments like Mary Jane. (If that means Pharmacare, absolutely.) Where the call for better health is a universal value, rather than a partisan talking point.

We built our system of Medicare mainly because we saw good health as a non-partisan right; and that better off people should take care of the health of the less fortunate, and vice versa. It has major structural issues that need to be addressed, and the system overall has to be modernized. But for heaven's sake, let's not say that because one family is in agreement (or not), that makes one's party's policy better.

Bottom line - either all the parties should have agreed, or the appropriation should have waited until the new term, and properly voted on by Parliament.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Old stock???

For so many years, we in Canada have been trying to get away from the whole "we versus they" mentality. That one group of Canadians are better than another - that we are all in it together. The other night, Stephen Harper made a comment about so-called "old stock" Canadians.

What does he mean by that? To me, it suggests that true Canadians can only be those who can claim on both sides of their family an ancestry going back to les Habitants, the United Empire Loyalists or  the Patriots of the 1837 rebellions. Think pur laine or de souche, in reference to "true Quebecers", both terms of which are still used by the federalist paper La Presse.

I don't know what Harper's driving at. But for a guy who has staked his reputation and his career trying to make inroads in the immigrant community, something that used to be almost the exclusive preserve of the Liberal Party, I am not impressed.

We have a real three way race here for the first time - well, ever. No party is near the magic number of 170, in fact they are all in the range of 109 to 114 seats. We don't need distractions like this. We need to talk about the issues, and to suggest that this isn't that is, well, bizarre at the minimum.

I can only hope that Harper misspoke. This may not be a "money and the ethnic vote" moment, but as a second generation Canadian I have to say I'm spooked. Certainly, he isn't getting my vote. He wasn't anyway, but he certainly wouldn't now regardless. If Harper has had a hidden agenda all this time, he may finally tipped his hand.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Don't let the refugees down

Yeah, it's been a while. But I had to take to my keyboard today because of the refugee crisis that is swamping Europe - since many of them may be headed Canada's way. And I never thought, a month into the election, that it would become a debating point, but here we are.

I have an interest in this because my father and his brother, my uncle, came to Canada as refugees - in fact, fifty years ago this year. Having defected from the former Yugoslavia, they were lucky to have the choice of several countries to go to. They rejected a couple of South American countries because of their lousy currencies. Australia offered an instant ticket out of Italy where the refugee camp was, but my Dad and uncle told me that despite the country's large ex-pat community, they were told they would have had to live in the Outback for a couple of years; they knew what that was and thought No Way. The US wanted to make them wait a year before they got their green cards. Canada - just three months. That was their choice, and I'm glad they made it their choice.

Unfortunately, a lot of migrants fleeing the wars in Iraq and Syria don't have the luxury of a choice, or time. Notwithstanding any "safe third country" agreement that the EU states have amongst themselves, the refugees want to head to the wealthiest and most generous member states - Germany, France, Sweden, and Finland.

We don't need any more tragedies like the one with the cargo truck that had several dozen dead bodies in them. But there is no question we need to step up to the plate.

As I've mentioned before, Canada is quite unique among federal states in that immigration is shared between the federal and sub-national governments. (There may be a couple of others, but that's the only one I'm aware of.) Not only can provinces nominate their own regular status migrants (those with turnkey job skills), they also have a major say in how to settle refugees. (Something many states in America would only be glad to have, if only to spread migrants across the country rather than in specific regions.)

I've heard all sorts of numbers being bandied about. Ten thousand, fifty, a hundred. I personally think we should go for the higher end of the band, maybe even higher than that. We're way past the point where we once said of some ethnic groups that "one is too many". We have the resources to settle them. Let's do so.

It was suggested this past week that we should screen all potential refugees. That's a given, but in a rush like we're experiencing right now it's hard to say who is who. But that doesn't mean that one bad apple should spoil the whole bunch. Besides, do you think the originating countries, or ISIS for that matter, will provide a background check to federal and provincial immigration authorities? Exactly, they won't.

But I do have the worry about creeping Nativism. This is a perennial problem. But given that nearly all of the incoming population are Muslims, I fear a huge backlash. ("They're taking our jobs; they're using our social programs; they don't have to learn English / French, etc.) Migrants don't get a free ride. They'll have to pay taxes, especially income taxes - and that will help with our often shaky finances. And they're anything but lazy. They want to work, and there are TONS of jobs just waiting to be filled here.

From a crisis can come an opportunity. This country gave my family, and so many other families, a chance. It's time to step up again. We're better together, having all sorts of people here makes us a better society, and that's all there is to it. I'll leave it up to the provinces to figure out the numbers they're each going to absorb. But it's time, and making it a political football is simply unacceptable. Surely the three leaders can come to common ground on this then leave the rest of the campaign to other issues that matter.

But maybe that's too much to ask for.