December 28, 2007

Hometown Pride: Walter Gretzky Receives Order of Canada

It's not very often I speak of my hometown of Brantford in a positive manner or actually refer to it by its actual name but seeing Walter Gretzky receive the Order of Canada is a worthy story to smile about. This is long overdue, in my opinion, and there are few that deserve this honour more than him.

Walter has served his community for many years whether it was through volunteerism, speaking engagements, charity work, etc. To Brantford, at least, he is more than just Wayne Gretzky's father but a wonderful citizen and role model who has touched the lives of many children and adults.

The number of stories I have heard from friends and acquaintances about his generousity and out reach to others are too numerous for me to count but always the impression he leaves on them is the same; it's positive and lasting.

Congratulations to Walter for being a recipient of the Order of Canada.

December 20, 2007

Halton Catholic School Board Teaching Students the Wrong Lesson

Almost a month ago I wrote about how a couple Ontario Catholic school boards were doing reviews on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy due to the atheist ideas contained within them. It's being reported today that the Halton Catholic school board has decided to ban the book from its schools' shelves.

If my past two posts on this subject are any indication, it should come at no surprise that I think the board is making a huge mistake. In fact, so does the book committee that was put together to review the trilogy. The committee's recommendation to the board was to reintroduce the books into school libraries but limit access to them to the intermediate grades.

One of the major themes in this series is about fighting institutional control over information, knowledge, truth, etc. It is very clear the aim is to make some noise with a very centralized institution or church such as Catholicism. However, this alone should not be any reason to effectively ban the books, especially in a publicly funded institution. Even the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has given his support to the author and this theme because he worries about dogma being reinforced within Christianity. This is a concern that all believers should have because dogma only harms the message and fundamentals of faith in the end and renders them irrelevant.

The Halton Catholic school board decision to overrule their review committee and ban the books has just given aid to that concern.

The board has argued that the series is not in line with "the Catholic values that we are trying to teach children." But I'm pretty sure that argument can made against the majority of books found in their school libraries. And the offence cannot be that great since both the York and Dufferin-Peel, the latter that also did their own review, have left the books in their own libraries. It would be interesting to see what it is about these particular books that have Halton so anxious.

To ban the books is to admit weakness and fear. Why else would a group restrict access to a critical message? I tend to think the best way to counter someone's argument is to attack it head on and be an example of why your message is the better. The board should lead by example and present their message as a better alternative, or at the very least face the questions some students - though none as reported so far - may have about the hierarchy and bureaucracy of their Church. Attack the problem of so-called dogma within their institutions instead of hiding from the suggestion that it's ripe with it.

One parent that was quoted in The Star said it best, "I'm pretty comfortable in our faith to know that a book won't force them to waver in it." And while most would think that is how these so-called leaders would also feel, it doesn't seem to be playing out that way. You have to wonder what lessons students are ultimately going to learn from the lack of leadership and confidence that has been shown by the school board?

Further Reading:
Catholic Church = Unintentional Good Idea Detector

Palestinian Aid: What are the Terms?

The headline from the BBC a few days ago was Palestinian Aid: Where Will it Go?. The article says that it will go to security forces, essential service costs (sewage treatment, schools, hospitals) and other development projects. These are all extremely important if Palestine is recover from their poor economic situation and move forward with building a better social relationship with Israel and a better quality of life for Palestinians. However, there is one question that wasn't answered, at least by this article or any other I could find, and needs to be examined with great care: What are the terms for Palestine to receive the international financial aid?

The question needs to be asked because there are at least two parties that are entrenched in the process that have a history of attaching strict terms that often have very consequential (and not in any positive sense) results on the recipient nation; These being the U.S. and the World Bank. There is also the issue that since it involves Palestine, it obviously involves Israel. And currently, Israel has issues of its own that concern some of its major companies making billions providing security technology and resources with many having their beginnings by doing this within the context of the Israel-Palestine impasse.

This isn't an anti-American, World Bank, or Israel post. While I have strong opinions against the past and present tales of American foreign policy and actions of the World Bank, they don't always operate so short-sited or in self-interest (but still too often). I also have a very 'middle-of-the-road' view on Israel and Palestine and believe that the root of the current problems lies with both nations, equally.

The way I see this situation is that it needs to be thoroughly examined before an opinion should cast. One can only hope that the same mistakes any of these parties have made in the past when it comes to helping a nation financially will not once again be made here and that Israel will be open-minded. That the interest in aiding Palestine is for the sake of Palestinians (and the Israelis) who deserve to be brought out of the poverty and wretched conditions they have been subject to for too long. I honestly believe that one of the best ways to counter a growing fanatical tide is to provide people with real hope and opportunities and way to heal as a society, together. That situation would be best and the where the aid is earmarked to be given is a positive start. The aid cannot be blindly given to multinationals as much as it cannot be blindly given to random, local organizations.

To avoid the problems of the past, this money has to be about more than opening a market for investors or channeling money to private corporations or personal agenda-driven groups. It has to go to the people with strict assurances that it goes to the projects it's intended to fund; a strict grassroots reconstruction that will assist with rebuilding and healing of both their nation and their neighbourhoods. That is why the terms for the money have to be known and understood because otherwise Palestine could end up in a worse position than they already find themselves in. For Israel and other parts of the Middle East that would mean greater issues for them as well. That is something that needs to be avoided. And it is the terms of the aid that will decide which direction this process will head.

December 10, 2007

Smoking in Car Ban Coming to Ontario?

McGuinty open to smoking in car ban - Toronto Star

As I have said many times in the past, I give my full support to banning smoking in cars when children are present. I hope McGuinty gives the go-ahead for this initiative. The health and protection of children overrides any claims to the right of self affliction. Full stop.

See Also:
Hooray For The Nanny State....!?!

Putting Children's Health First

Smoking for the Children

December 03, 2007

Failing to Sell the Lemons

Tories turn to ex-PQ premier for Bali talks

One of the biggest points of contention I have with this Conservative government is that they have spent more time and money trying to sell us a product while not actually having the product in hand. This is especially true when it comes to the environment. When the original Clean-Air Act was out there it was rejected for its lack of substance and action. Then another plan was released less than a year later and... It was severely lacking as well. However, there was one major difference, the presentation, language and optics surrounding it had changed.

What the government learned between the two events was not that climate change is a real threat or that we should make an attempt to act. No. What they had learned was that they needed to sell it differently,

The change was supposed to be the job of Baird who replaced a dismal Ambrose. However, he didn't fair much better than she did and so the job has been mainly left up to Harper, himself. He has gone on a 'tour' recently throwing his weight behind the APPCDC program rather than Kyoto, pushing a plan of intensity targets rather than real targets and trying to make a case for a 'wait and see' rather than acting now. The problem with all of these is that they all contain their own issues in regards to public perception. The APPCDC is seen as the deniers' Kyoto, the intensity target plan has been panned by reviewers and critics and waiting doesn't seem like an option to most people.

Now, with the Conservative government facing criticisms in Quebec over their lack of commitment to Kyoto and Kyoto-2, and with Harper's Commonwealth letdown, they are once again ramping up their giant environment commercial. To assist them they have hired former Quebec PQ Premier, Pierre-Marc Johnson. Johnson's job is to advise Harper on how to act publicly and sell his positions at to Quebec while in Bali for the Kyoto-2 discussions. Johnson will not be advising on how to create a better environmental program but rather on how to package the optics of inaction to a province that has been a target of the Conservatives since they've taken power.

There is a serious problem with this plan, however. The government has yet been able to get people to drink their environmental kool-aid, including those in Quebec. They have pulled out a lot of tricks and so far nothing has convinced the public that this Conservative government is truly concerned over what may come from climate change or that they even believe in the problem itself. Now Harper is in Bali to discuss Kyoto and beyond, though he refused to include any opposition in the delegation. That raised some eyebrows. To counter, he's bringing along a former politician with ties to the PQ. A purely cynical and obvious decision that is as transparent as the air we breathe.

The problem is this: The products that are often sold the best are the ones that have passion, belief and commitment backing them. The sell has to make the consumer feel confident in what they are buying. It's often why the used-car salesmen are the butt of jokes. They didn't build the car, used their creativity to design it or put ideas into it. They're only concern is that it gets sold and the perception is that they will say anything to make that sale, even if the car is a lemon. That is problem the Conservatives are facing when it comes to the environment. They don't believe in it nor do they want to act on it. But since the environment is a major public concern they are trying to sell us something. Unfortunately there is no passion, belief or commitment backing their product and subsequently, they are failing to deliver a plan and the sell.

November 30, 2007

And While We're On the Topic of Activist Judges...

H/T to POGGE

As POGGE mentions, it will be all too soon before some Conservatives begin making baseless claims of 'anti-Americanism' and 'activist judges'. However, anyone with a sense of reason and somewhat of a conscience can see that this was destined to happen and it should be the case.

Canada has already seen one of its own sent off to a third party country to be tortured. And wrongly, I might add. Another Canadian is being held in Guantanamo Hell without any type of just judicial process in place. There are also debates taking place amongst policy and decision makers in the U.S. as to whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture, aside of the debates about whether or not they should allow torture in the first place.

This is simple, if the Americans are willing to send people away to be tortured or are willing to torture people themselves while also arresting and holding thousands of people without a justification, then Canada should not in any way be involved. And if that means we can no longer send refugees back to the U.S. because it would violate our own laws to do so, then that is what we must do. We can squabble all we want about how to treat terrorist prisoners, the validity of torture as an interogation tool, or even whether or not the U.S. is right, etc. The point is that current Canadian and U.N. laws and conventions declare we will not be party to such actions and therefore the judge was correct in throwing out the Safe Third Country Agreement.

November 29, 2007

Speculating Beyond Stupidity and Bigotry: Bill C-6

By now it is plainly obvious that the Conservatives' bill to force Muslim women is a nonsensical legislation and a waste of parliament's time. As many have pointed out, it has little to do with electoral integrity because there are glaring discrepancies in the current legislation that are held over in Bill C-6. These discrepancies include absentee ex-pats mailing in votes and non-photo identification being acceptable. Thus making a veiled woman uncover before she votes has no basis in integrity because there's no way to know if she's the person presenting the non-photo identification. So what is the motivation to force veiled women uncover prior to voting?

Some people are accusing the Conservatives of using this Bill to shore up support with the side of Quebec that was responsible and supportive of the farce that was (is?) Hérouxville. Or - possibly additionally - they are shoring up support of many of their far-right voters that may identify with anti-immigration, xenophobic, and other like views who may feel that the CPC haven't been conservative enough in their policies thus far. If either of these cases are true then the Conservatives are playing a very dangerous game in the self-interest of power. While it isn't a secret that the Conservatives would rather find a way to get more power than actually govern, one can only hope they wouldn't stoop as low as to encourage bigotry to make its gains.

Let's play devil's advocate for a minute and assume that the Conservatives are neither stupid (don't see the discrepancies) or are dangerously posturing (to their ignorant supporters). What else could motivate the Conservatives to create such a Bill then? From where I sit, if Bill C-6 passes, there is the high probability of the Bill being challenged in the Supreme Court. Between the discrepancies and the singling out of Muslim women, in Canada how could the Bill not be challenged?

Maybe the motivation behind the Bill is to have it go to the SCC. Let's speculate a little...

It's well known that the Conservatives have a dislike for the Supreme Court. Harper has done the whole 'activist judge' routine on several occasions and had a big showing right before he began forcing judges to be questioned by a panel prior to being appointed to the SCC. And the Conservatives did away with the Court Challenge program that aided citizens with bringing constitutional challenges before the SCC. We all know that he doesn't like to be questioned - not by his own party members, not by the opposition, not by the media and especially not by the SCC. He would like to rule and bring whatever laws into action that he sees fit. Unfortunately for Harper and the Conservatives, the Supreme Court, though they can't make law themselves, is essentially a check on any laws that are made through parliament. The SCC is like a natural defender of the Charter and Canadians against politicians that may try to make laws that go against our rights and freedoms. However, the judges are unelected and that seems to really get under many Conservatives skin.

So what does any of this have to do with Bill C-6? The Conservatives are arguing that the Bill strengthens the integrity of our electoral process (though in reality it does nothing of the sort). However, if Bill C-6 is argued to be in violation of our Charter through the SCC and the challenge is successful, it could give ammunition to the Conservatives to once again go on another anti-SCC tirade. They will paint the SCC and the judges as going against the will of elected officials and interfering with the democratic institution and process. It may turn out that all of this is an exercise to justify changing the way judges are appointed or altering the powers of the SCC. Though to do that involves reopening the Charter, which is also something the Conservatives desire. And once you open the Charter for one issue, you might as well begin examining other parts (the structure and purpose of the Senate or federal/provincial powers, etc.) of it as well.

I understand some will look at this speculation as pure downward spiral, crazy lefty-speak. I can see that to some degree myself, hence it being just random speculation. However, there is some merit to the idea since much of what Harper does has other motivations attached to it beyond what is seemingly on the surface. And it isn't like there hasn't been any talk of opening the Charter since the Conservatives took power. Then again, maybe the Conservatives are just pandering to the lowest common denominator of Canadians and/or are stupid.

Cautious Optimism With Wireless Auction Plan

For all the issues I have with the federal government and the crap they spew on a consistent basis, I'll give them some credit for their plan to create more competition in the cell phone market. The plan right now is to auction off 105 megahertz of new wireless spectrum with 65 megahertz open to all competitors but the last 40 only open to companies with 10% or less of the current Canadian market. The hope is that this will lead to greater competition in Canada's cell phone market and effectively bring prices down. Canada currently ranks 29th out of the 30 member OECD in current cell phone adoption.

Essentially, if this is the only way I can get my cell phone bill costs down then I'm all for seeing greater competition. My so-called $30 plan has effectively never been cheaper than $50. There were two months when I did pay the rate I signed on for: the two months I didn't use it because I was using a Blackberry for a job.

There is some indication this may work as Bell has recently announced lowering prices and offering competitive packages in regards to wireless data to compete with Rogers and their exclusive use of the Apple iPhone. As well, when independent companies like Clearnet (acquired by Telus) and Fido (now owned by Rogers) were kicking around, prices for cell phones were much less than they are now. My wife got her original cell phone from Clearnet in 1999 and still has the plan they offered then, which cannot be purchased anymore. In fact, Telus calls often to ask her about 'upgrading' to one of the many current Telus offerings. The problem is that they Telus has no current plan that is as competitive as my wife's original Clearnet plan. In other words, over the last eight years cell phone plans have been getting worse for customers while at the same time the number of cell phone providers shrunk. Greater competition may just work in the favour of consumers.

There are no guarantees though. For all we know the bulk of the 40 megahertz set aside for the smaller cellphone companies may get bought up by a company that has greater resources than is indicated by its share of the Canadian wireless market would indicate. Virgin, as an example, is such a company (interesting note: they currently piggy-back on Bell's systems). Virgin, though, could turn around make a huge investment and just be another giant in the already crowded oligarchy and essentially overcharge consumers along with the other big three. Or even a company such as Google, who has already expressed interest in the wireless business, could swoop down and join the other three.

Even in the event that several smaller companies are able to increase their own share or join the market, what would stop the big three (Bell, Telus and Rogers) from eventually buying them out? The 40 megahertz set aside will guarantee that some smaller company (or companies) will get to increase their own market share. But what will stop one of the big three from doing what has already been done (Rogers and Telus acquiring Fido and Clearnet, respectively)? While the big three may not be able to bid on the set aside amount, what is to stop them from buying it indirectly by acquiring the company or companies that are the successful bidders? There is already precedent in that regard.

While I would welcome a change and a lowering of my cell phone costs, I wait with cautious optimism. In other words, I'm not holding my breath that anything will be change any time soon. It's a nice theory that greater competition always leads to better choices and prices for consumers but there is also nothing stopping Canadians being subjected to just another giant cell phone company or one of current the ones from getting even bigger.

Post Script:
Though not appropriate for this post but another post entirely, I can't help wonder what the real motivation is for the Conservatives to put this spectrum auction on. While they claim it's about increasing our competition in the wireless market, one can't help to wonder this is just an easy cash grab at the expense of some of our home grown corporations and possibly Canadian jobs. Also, what is to become of the money that is raised through the auction? More meaningless and wasteful tax cuts?

Articles of Note:

Ottawa's wireless auction could cut cellphone rates - CTV
Ottawa opens up wireless industry to more competition - CBC
Lower cellphone rates ahead? - Toronto Star
Bell to offer unlimited wireless data - Toronto Star
Google Goes Wireless - BusinessWeek

November 23, 2007

Harper All Alone Let's Canada and the Confederation Down on Climate Change

I wanted to go on a tirade and make another example of Harper and his Conservatives letting the ball drop even further by being the lone stand out on a new climate change agreement within the Confederation. (Sorry, I should point out that Australia is also holding out but that will change by this time tomorrow when they have a new, and more enlightened, government elected.) However, instead I'm going to just link to my colleagues who have covered the topic extensively and quite well. The blogs range from the left to the right of the political spectrum but the theme is pretty much the same on this issue: Harper is essentially no longer showing signs of leadership, just pure ideological nonsense.

It's better to do something now, no matter how small, than deal with the bigger consequences later and are no longer able to act. Everyone is out excuses at this point, though Harper seems willing to tread over old ones.

Impolitical - John Baird's Canada: we're all talk and now an environmental international pariah
Vijay Sappani - Harper thinks ?outstanding? means ?standing out? !
Scott Tribe - Canada?s back? More like Canada?s a pariah.
Apply-Liberally - Harper to the Commonwealth
DeSmogBlog - Global warming is a problem for rich countries to solve, China says
The Galloping Beaver - A song for Stephen
Quito Maggi - Harper, the small man of the Commonwealth?
The Red Tory - Harper?s Canada: Alone & Uncool
Accidental Deliberations - Off Target
Cathie from Canada - Kyoto Lite?

Update: Book Bans at Catholic Boards

This morning's Toronto Star is reporting that the Dufferin-Peel Catholic school board has also decided to do a review of the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy by Philip Pullman. This follows on the heels of the Halton Catholic board and which I commented about yesterday. Hopefully this will only be a temporary issue and will become moot sooner than later.

As I talked about in my last post, banning these books, due to their theme, will likely end up doing the opposite of the intentions. It will draw more attention to the books by your own students and will raise questions about the security of your beliefs. Maybe not enough to bring down the Church but the effects will still be there.

Furthermore, with the Catholic boards being publicly funded and mandated under the government, there is absolutely no reason censorship of a book should be allowed. To quote a quote from the Toronto Star article,

"My firm belief is this, that as a parent you have the right to say that your child cannot read a book. But as a parent, you don't have the right to say nobody else's child can read that book."
And as part of a public education system, they should not be making arbitrary decisions that are an affront to the relevant mandates that are set before them.

During the last provincial election the Catholic school board was oddly quiet. This had a lot to do with the public debate about whether we should continue to fund only Catholic education or all religions or none, through public means. The sense I gathered was that people generally fell on the 'none' side. That gives a perspective to the Catholic system being generally silent. They didn't want to draw unnecessary attention to themselves. If these boards decide to ban the book and set a precedent for other Catholic boards, they will draw that unnecessary attention to themselves and I doubt public opinion will be in their favour.

November 22, 2007

Banning Books from Schools a Bad Idea

School board pulls ‘anti-God’ book

I can only hope that Halton's Catholic school board will make the right decision and reinstate Philip Pullman's trilogy back to into their school libraries. Banning a book because it is written by an atheist and has an 'anti-God' theme are poor reasons to remove access by students. Even in the context that all of the claims against Pullman and his 'His Dark Materials' series are true, organized religion and its people should not be censoring because something may challenge held views.

Censorship hasn't always worked in the past and probably won't work here. Banning the books bring greater attention to them but with that will also come greater curiousity. Greater curiousity often leads to the opposite result of what the ban was supposed to do. And unfortunately for the board or supporters of the ban, children are naturally curious and are likely to search out things that are 'taboo'. One only has to look at the results of abstinence-only sexual education where often students are more likely to have sex or sexual relations.(1) If you tell the kids it's bad, they will try to find out why. The same likely could be said for drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc.

Banning the book also begs the question: 'What are they (the Church, religious followers or in this case, a Catholic school board) so afraid of?' It's a question that needs to be asked because if a religion, philosophy, theory, opinion or whatever, will not stand up to its critics and the criticism directed at it, then it runs the risk of becoming meaningless and void of value. Even the big religions must be willing to stand up for themselves and defend their existence to hold any weight or substance, otherwise they will be nothing more words on paper and purely dogmatic thinking. This, ultimately, should be a concern for those who promote and lead their faiths. If their religion or beliefs become only dogma and refuse to address the critics, they will not only turn away potential believers but also alienate many current ones by having nothing of substance to offer.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I hope Halton's Catholic board makes the right decision and reinstates the books into their libraries. The books made their mark by not being anti-God or anti-religion but because they are good stories with many good messages contained in them that are not necessarily anti-anything. If a student has a question about the theme, teachers should be prepared to address it - openly and honestly. Create a dialogue about it because no real harm will come about from any faithful dialogue but is likely to come from censorship.

See Also:

I'm going to suggest a further reading of this discussion between Philip Pullman and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. Great insight from both men on the religious theme found in Pullman's books as well as enlightening on the topic of religion in general.

And at the risk of seeming pretentious I'm including a passage from J.S. Mill's On Liberty. It's completely relevant to the problem of censorship and it's also a guiding light in my own thinking.

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.
Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any object is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.
Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.

November 18, 2007

Putting Children's Health First

It's about time that this ban was put in place.

With all the research pointing towards the health issues associated with second-hand smoke combined with parents' obligation to protect their children at all costs, this only makes sense. It's taken too long for any municipality to step up and do this, but late is better than never. Wolfville will hopefully become a starting point for bans across the country. Children shouldn't have to be subject to the addictions of their parents, especially when it has an adverse effect on their own health.

'Nuff said...

N.S. town could ban smoking in cars with minors - CTV
Wolfville mayor expects smoking bylaw to pass - CTV

November 17, 2007

Conservatives Poised to Lose Denial Allies

Harper set to lose major ally against Kyoto

It's no secret that Canada, under the Conservatives, have dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to climate change and environment legislation. Whether it's been proposing legislation for time table to create a time table or having the chair position for the Kyoto Agreement board while making arrangements to pull out of Kyoto or assigning two different ministers to run the environment portfolio and both turned out be useless. These are only the obvious items on the list of failures the Conservatives have created since taking the reigns.

Over the course of the next year things will only get more interesting for the Conservatives and their relationship with the environment. As the Globe and Mail article points out, both Australia and the U.S. are looking at regime changes and that means Canada and the Asia-Pacific Partnership are losing it's two most prominent allies with at least one going to over to Kyoto. This will leave Canada standing up for the environment, under the APPCDC banner, with the great bastion of green thinking, China.

If Australia does switch teams, which it is likely to do and the U.S. makes changes to their own policies, Canada will essentially be the lone developed country still trying to make anti-Kyoto noise and proposing legislation based around denials of climate change. It's bad enough that Harper was trying to brag about Canada's policies and signed on to the APPCDC because it was more in tune with the his position while at the same time a federal review rebuked the plan he was touting.

In just over a years time, Harper may be pushing this plan all by himself while the rest of the developed nations are trying to make a difference. The Conservatives will then be in real bind. How serious can these policies seem when all your credible allies jump ship? It's not like Canadians have been all that impressed with his attempts at looking green up until this point anyways. People seem to recognize the Conservatives have faired poorly on the environment and the changes in Australia and the U.S. will only go to confirm that even more. It's time real action is taken but somehow I doubt that will be likely and farce attempts at dealing with climate change will continue.

But hey, at least China will be on our side...

See Also:

November 06, 2007

Investigating Mulroney Ideal for Both Liberals and Conservatives

Allegedly, Brian Mulroney is a great con. Not only is being accused of scamming a crooked businessman but he is now being accused of getting away with scamming the government out of money. The Liberals have made this recent ‘turn of events’ their issue of the day and have asked the Conservatives to open (re-open?) an investigation into the entire matter. The Conservatives have replied by plugging their ears and pretending nothing has happened.

The ultimate question about the entire issue is this: Why would either side care?

In regards to the Conservatives, why would they care if Mulroney is investigated? Mulroney is a past Prime Minister of a party that was essentially put to pasture, there are no obvious connections to or influence over the current Conservative Party and Mulroney’s ‘legacy’ is pretty much lower than dirt. So why would Harper and his gang worry about the outcome of a review or investigation into Mulroney’s dealings?

If the Conservatives are truly serious about issues of justice and law and order – not only when the t.v. cameras are rolling – an investigation would be a strong way of showing their commitment. Otherwise, if the RCMP start one of their own or the opposition find a way to have one started and things go bad for Mulroney, you can believe that the Conservatives are going to be hammered on ‘protecting’ a criminal.

And that is exactly why the Liberals are pushing so hard for this to happen. When the Conservatives bucked at the idea of looking into the Mulroney issue, the Liberals saw an opening and decided to kick the door in and burst right in. The Mulroney issue provides several opportunities for the Liberals. One is that if Mulroney is found guilty after an investigation, the Conservatives will look like they were covering up for one of their own, though there is no hard connection at this point. And therefore the Conservatives will look like hypocrites on the law and order agenda.

Another opportunity is for Dion to change the channel in the news. It’s no secret that Dion has been blasted for his supposed poor and weak leadership, especially after him abstaining from the throne speech and economic update/mini-budget. Going after Mulroney and the subsequently the Conservatives will help take the pressure off of Dion by distracting people with the news.

Lastly, there is also the issue of the Conservatives having three of their own investigations against them. If any of these three come to fruition while the Conservatives are either denying the request for an investigation into Mulroney or around the time he’s found guilty, the Conservatives will be accused of having a historical and systemic problem of crime and being hypocrites.

It won’t matter that Mulroney did these things after being Prime Minister because it’s all about optics at that point. The skewed logic will go like this:
Mulroney is a criminal – Mulroney is a Conservative – the Conservatives broke the law = historic and systemic problems.
It may not be perfect logic but it will likely be enough for the media and the opposition to produce negative optics against the Conservatives.

At this point it seems strange that the Conservatives aren't willing to cave into the opposition's demands. I would think it would be better to rid yourself of the problem before it becomes your own or takes on a life of its own. However, since the Conservatives do not seem to be in the mood for entertaining opposition demands, the Liberals are doing the right thing by making this the issue of the day and keeping the interest alive.

November 02, 2007

Did Conservatives Shoot Messenger to Send a Message?

There is a lot of speculation as to why the Conservatives cut Mark Warner loose. Race, red Tory-ism, being replaced by a star candidate, etc. are just some of the reasons being thrown around. I doubt these played any real factor into the decision to boot Warner. Rather, it's probably because he went off message. Something that Garth Turner and Bill Casey both experienced before him. Something that isn't looked upon favourably, no matter how small the deviation may be.

While Turner and Casey went as far as actually criticizing their governments' decisions, Warner only tried to localize and adapt national policy to suit the concerns of his electorate. However, in Toronto, this means dealing with issues that do not coincide with the policies and ideology of the Conservative brass. Such an issue would likely lead to there being conflicts between the positions of the local candidate and central party and/or potentially having another Turner/Casey on their hands some point down the road. It may also create some confusion amongst their core support of social and (hard) fiscal conservatives.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs for the Conservative party. However, it is much more unfortunate for those members that believe in grass roots politics, individual contributions to the government and democracy. In other words, this has sent the message that if you're not acting like a 'yes man' there's no room for you in the Conservatives. We shouldn't be surprised with this latest turn of events though as this has been the prevailing rule for candidates since the 2006 election after so many spoke out during the 2004 election and played into the hands of their opponents.

Yet this definitely sends the wrong message. On one hand they are overly worried about their image, hence the reason they micromanage their members and attempt to control the message at every turn. While on the other, the optics of this situation (and other incidences) can create problems because it can and will be portrayed negatively as speculation begins to grow and causes rumblings among members. This is the conundrum the Conservatives find themselves in. The very message and image they are trying to preserve are being put at risk by ignoring the wishes of their members, punishing divergence and leaving speculation to the media and others.

I have an acquaintance who is a member of a Conservative association in Mississauga. During the recent Ontario election they were complaining about Tim Peterson essentially being acclaimed by John Tory. Their complaint was about the lack of regard for the members' preference of candidate (who wasn’t Peterson) and the inclusion of faith-based funding as a platform piece. They closed their musing with this shot at the feds: 'It's bad enough that we are already pissed about this type of control by Harper and his guys…' While this is only one more example tacked on to only a few other public cases (Casey, Warner, etc.), I wouldn't be surprised if this is becoming an issue for the Conservatives - that somewhere beneath the surface there is a growing chorus of disgruntled members. And this incident with Warner will only serve to stoke those members even further.

Possibly this is just about sending a message to those that are amongst the growing cracks. Not only will the Conservative brass punish disloyalty – ala Casey and Turner, they will squash any and all deviation. Maybe Warner’s case is an example of the bigwigs using an iron fist to put all detractors on notice and push back against any potential problems that are appearing. It’s a message of ‘either you’re with us or against us,’ with the thinking that many members will settle down and ultimately stay in line. In a recent discussion I had, ALW talked about how Harper is always looking ahead in terms of policy and governing, and also with the longevity of the Conservative Party. In regard to the latter, I’m not sure what the immediate effects will be but I am pretty sure this won’t help in the long term. A leader can only appease or push back against their detractors for so long. Eventually they’ll want answers and accountability. Ultimately, this action sends the wrong type of message to the members and the public and one that has the potential to disrupt the message that the central party actually desires.

November 01, 2007

In Search of Harmony

While skimming over the articles at G&M's website, I came across this article. It's a piece that argues in favour of Ontario harmonizing its provincial tax with the GST, similar to what the Maritime provinces already have in place.

The author, Derek DeCloet, bases his argument around the idea that harmonizing Ontario's sales tax with the GST while also providing a corporate tax cut will bring corporate rates down to approximately 16%-17%. This is in comparison to the 24% range that the corporate tax rate will be at if Ontario follows Flaherty's lead in providing a cut. DeCloet argues this will save a lot of money for many of Ontario's businesses that are struggling with the high dollar and many savings will be passed on to the consumers who are paying the 'high' tax rate through a hidden adjustment in the price of goods.

There is an issue with DeCloet's assumption though. You can never assume that the savings are going to be passed on to the consumer. One only has to look at the issue with the increase in the Canadian dollar. The savings were minimal at best and it took a lot of public and media pressure (Flaherty doesn't get any credit because most businesses were addressing public complaints prior to his 'look at me' moment) just to get there. That's not to say there aren't savings to be found but the impact isn't changing much since many Canadian shoppers, especially in Ontario, are still making trips across the border. To assume that a company is going to automatically pass savings on to customers is not an assumption based in reality. Look at the some of the big banks in Canada. Over the last decade the Royal Bank and CIBC were making record profits but still found ways to charge more for services, create new charges and slash jobs. Now they're making even more money. That brings up some serious questions.

Also, there is the issue of Ottawa playing nice with Ontario. It's no secret that Ontario, relative to other provinces, is getting the shaft when it comes to funding. The provincial government and even many Ontarians aren't getting equal treatment when it comes to things such as immigration funding, EI and health care funding. Ontario is contributing a disproportionately high amount of funding to Ottawa in respect to what it gets in return versus other provinces. Harmonizing our tax system with Ottawa again makes the assumption that everything will run smoothly and we'll get all our money back. I do understand that harmonization would work differently from other revenue sharing programs but the with provincial-federal relationship being as fragile as it is, it's probably in our interest to retain control over our own revenues for the time being.

And control has a lot to do with it as well. While Ontario's PST is generally set at 8%, the level actually varies depending on the item being purchased. Notably, there is no tax on children's clothing or books and on food purchases under $4. On the other hand the PST rate on alcohol is 10% and ticketed entertainment is set at 12%. Harmonizing our sales tax with the GST would take away a lot of that flexibility, especially in regards to those items that are exempt for the purpose of assisting people that rely on any savings they can get.

By no means would I consider myself an economist or even up to par on the latest theories. I do understand that the general idea for economists is about creating wealth and harmonizing the sales taxes would help in that regard. However, there is more that goes into a decision than just theory. Common sense and reality have to be taken into account as well and on those concepts, I'm not sold on the idea of harmonizing as of yet.

October 23, 2007

What's That? The Christian Right are Complaining?

*yawn. rolls over and goes back to sleep?*

How many times is the general public going to have to be victims to the Christian conservatives’ conspiracies of the gay community trying to convert our children or some other type of ignorant rant? At what point do they stop and think about their hypocrisy and other problems that are rampant within their denominations?

I thought it was bad enough that Christian right had already condemned the Harry Potter series. What is worse is that 97% of them hadn’t even read the series and were just listening to some ignorant bigot, who also hadn’t read the series, stand on a pulpit and also condemn the books. Now that Rowling has ‘outted’ her main sage, it is definitely a guarantee that these Christian conservatives will never read the book and just spout uneducated and ignorant opinions even more.

If I were American, I might have just sued Ms. Rowling for the entire emotional trauma that I have suffered by her inflaming of the Christian right. But alas, I live in Canada and I also don’t care about who Dumbledore is in love with. And really should anyone? I’ve read the series and consider myself a big fan of both the novels and films. I read the first three books in five days, for crying out loud. Not once did I have dreams or thoughts about other men because of the words of Dumbledore. And look at Harry Potter. In the end he married a woman and had children. There is no conspiracy just as is there is no hidden meaning behind any of the words attributed to Dumbledore. The meanings of all his wisdom do not change just because he is apparently gay. Good advice is still good advice no matter your sexual orientation. Therefore, that can’t be taken away from the books or the author.

What this whole thing does is once again paint all Christians, because of the few, in a bad light. Why? Because once again the Christian right is showing that they are intolerant, hypocritical and narrow minded. Rather than be non-judgmental, accepting, caring, compassionate, sympathetic, etc. – like we were instructed to be by Christ himself – they would rather condemn and marginalize those that are likely in need of those same traits. Rather than thinking in the terms of what Christ may have done in this situation they would rather make all Christians look like hypocrites.

Here’s a very relevant quote to this discussion from the Christian band DC Talk. “The greatest single cause of Atheism in the world today is Christians…” The Christian right are front and centre of that movement every time they or their leadership stand up on their soapboxes and hypocritically pass judgment while their own leaders get caught in scandals of their own. But maybe that’s the point.

Maybe the Christian conservatives intentionally go after others to deflect and distract from their own issues. That might explain why Rick Mercer jokingly, though probably correctly, points out that groups like Focus on the Family ‘think about gay sex more than gay people do’ and you could include people such as the late Jerry Falwell in that category as well. Or what about those like Benny Hinn who makes millions convincing others that he can heal people and sells Bibles that he autographs himself. Attacking other s is about creating controversy elsewhere and putting others into corners so the same isn’t being done to them when their own hypocrisy is brought to light. However, dealing with their issues is something that needs serious addressing but I have little faith in that happening soon because they’ll probably lose their own in the process. And therefore, the attacks from the Christian right will continue, no matter how ignorant or hypocritical it rightly makes them, but wrongly makes the rest of us, look.

However, maybe Christian conservatives are correct in objectifying the Harry Potter series as evil. After all, on the same day Rowling is in Toronto further defending her outing of Dumbledore, Jim Flaherty – our Conservative Minister of Finance – was on TV bragging how he just bought, not one, but two copies of the final book. If that wasn’t a sign of the Apocalypse, I’m not sure what is…

October 18, 2007

Obviously It's Harper that Wants the Election

Now that Harper has been unable to get the Liberals to force the election via the throne speech, he will make a second attempt through an upcoming crime bill. This new crime bill will include pieces of legislation that were previously amended or dropped through agreements made with the opposition. The Conservatives have also indicated that they will not accept any new amendments and the new bill will be a matter of confidence. Obviously Harper is looking for an election in hopes of getting a majority.

So why would Harper want an election when it is clearly not wanted by the public? Well there are all the obvious reasons such as his decent poll numbers, his supposed strength in Quebec, the lack of funds and organization of the Liberals and the declining numbers of the Bloc. Though don't believe for a second that it's only about taking advantage of the opposition.

Over the last few weeks there have been many reports forewarning about the slowing of the Canadian economy. Add this with the job losses that have already been occurring in the manufacturing sector – namely the auto sector – and any government in power will likely be facing a firing squad. Harper in particular wants to avoid this because his government has already had some of the auto sector job losses attributed to his government’s apparent inaction and therefore will likely take the brunt of the blame for a bigger downturn.

There is also the issue over the environment agenda. It is hardly a secret that Harper hasn’t won any hearts or minds over the environment. Right before he was to stand in front of an international consortium touting his environmental plan the results of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy review were released. The news wasn’t good for the Conservatives and reinforced what most people were saying all along – Harper is failing on the environment. Don’t expect that to change either. Aggressively addressing this issue would be an affront to both his base-support (Alberta) because of their reliance on oil reserves and to his ideology on so-called government interference in certain matters.

However, it is possible that Harper could survive criticism over the economy and make amends with the opposition over the environment. So what else could there be? Well, there’s the growing storm over three separate investigations involving the Conservatives. I can’t say to any certainty how far these investigations will get but each has the potential to damage the credibility of the Conservatives to some degree. One in particular that involves the breaking of election financing laws and seems to have some clout, is likely to hurt them the most especially since Harper once made a big deal about accountability and trust with the parties and government. While none of these are at the scale of the sponsorship scandal each will still have a negative effect if brought to fruition.

It would seem that the plan at this point is to have an election in hopes of achieving a majority. With a majority Harper could spend an uncontested four years weathering the storm of a declining economy with the hopes of it righting itself before the next election. He could also force the adoption of an extremely poor and ineffective environment policy without question. And he could guarantee his hold on power even in the event any of three brewing controversies cost him support or confidence. At this point, Harper has probably had enough with making compromises with the opposition and having to really deal with policies that he could care less about. Since being in a minority government is forcing him to at least make an attempt at governing, Harper can’t do what he wants to do most; force a failed ideology on the masses and then quit governing out of principle. However, I'm pretty sure that the tactics to force an election will be attributed to Harper. This latest move reeks ala Joe Clark and Harper is likely to get called on it. Crime is not as much an issue of importance as health care, the environment or poverty are and therefore is likely not to produce the intended effect. And one only has to look at the Ontario election to see how much the 'law and order' banter has any pull in the face of declining crime rates. My call is that the worst-case scenario has Harper with another minority with the same number of seats of fewer.

October 15, 2007

Looking Ahead at Ontario's Education System

Since the faith-based education situation arose in Ontario there has been a lot of talk about which way to go. Do we fund all faiths, some faiths, one faith, or none? These are all possibilities that have been explored in countless ways since John Tory let his monster loose on the electorate. While it seemed that the majority of Ontarians were in favour of the ‘no faiths’ option, they supported the status-quo of ‘one faith’.

I would argue that – for now – this is the best policy and in the best interest of our public education system. It’s no secret that our system isn’t perfect. After the lashing it took at the hands of the previous Conservative government, it is just back on the road to progress. It has finally recouped the funding that was lost and is once again working in the interest of students. Attempting to overhaul the education system or divert much needed funding, at this junction, would likely undo much of the progress that has been made. Yet, with the obvious divisions that were found when Tory announced his plan, I’m confident that the issue over faith in education will not simply disappear.

So what does that mean going forward? Do we just stick with status-quo in spite of the apparent public desire to change it? If we are honest with ourselves, funding one faith isn’t fair no matter how historical – or whatever – the program is and I think people recognize that.

Just over two years ago, in a post of random afterthoughts I had suggested collapsing the Catholic system into the public system. Note that I didn’t suggest eliminate. I have no issue with faith education in schools, even publicly funded schools. I just don’t believe that everyone needs to be apart of it. However, I support it being there for those that do wish it to be apart of their education. It should just be done in the form of a ‘stream’.

A special stream within the public education system is not a new idea. Especially in secondary schools, streams are found for many programs. French immersion, technical studies, performing and visual arts are some of the specialized streams that can be found. Why not develop a similar concept around faiths?

In this program all the generalized classes (math, language, etc.) would still be taken by everyone together. Those that are enrolled in the religious stream would just have to meet a further requirement to graduate. This being their prescribed religious credits the other students wouldn’t have to be concerned about. This type of system keeps our education system truly inclusive while also being fair. It also works in the interest of efficiency of funding and resources. Which is something that all governments ultimately need to be concerned about. This is an option that could work for everyone that is involved. For those people that want something different there would still be private schools available at their own expense.

When is the right time to do this or seriously explore other options? It isn’t now. As I had said above, Ontario’s education system needs to be much further ahead than it is to handle a major shakeup. That will take time. Maybe in 2010 when the expected funding review takes place, the education system will be ready to handle a massive change or maybe it won't. Whenever it is, I’m confident that the Liberals will eventually get it there and then we can explore our options at that time. After all, if there is one program that the Liberals have done well with and have a clear vision for, it’s education. Hopefully, when the time is right, their vision will include seriously addressing this issue.

October 11, 2007

Faith-Based Funding Was Only the Catalyst. The Real Story is a Boring One.

What a month! My first campaign as an official organizer (I was the #2 guy for a Liberal candidate) has come to an end and life as I knew it, prior to September 10, will be back in full force this coming Monday. However, none of this has anything to do with my post - I just wanted to shamelessly promote myself!!

From the beginning of the election to the end, the issue of faith-based funding was front and centre. As an organizer I heard it from concerned electorates at every turn. All sorts of opinions were being provided - they were overwhelmingly opposed - and there were millions of questions being asked. When the final count was given, I was most relieved that I wouldn't have to hear of it again. Today though, every columnist and pundit seems to be saying that faith-based funding was the reason the Liberals won or the Conservatives lost, depending on which side you stand.

That is a pure copout and laziness on the part of the writers. Don’t get me wrong, faith-based funding played a significant role in the outcome. I would argue that it was actually the catalyst for the end result but to say it was THE reason for the outcome is to overlook much of the story. What is lost is that this election was just as much about the shortcomings of John Tory and the Conservatives’ campaign as it was about Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals’ record and campaign. Faith-based funding was a catalyst in the sense it started to get people thinking about the Liberals’ outlook versus that of the Conservatives’.

It’s no secret that there were issues with the record of McGuinty and the Liberals from the past four years. Every opposition candidate reminded us of it on a consistent basis; these being the ‘broken promises’. However, while there is some truth and much spin to that facet there is also the other side of those problems. These range from the reasons as to why the broken promises occurred to what effect they may or may not have had on the province. Any real inspection of the broken promises, especially the ‘big’ ones, reveals these underlying reasons and serves to only dull the anger over them.

There were a number of people that I had spoken with, who had pledged their support for the Conservatives, that when I had asked them about their opinions on cutting funding to social programs they would often speak out against such an action. Put that into the perspective of the health premium/tax and their outlook often softened on how serious it was of an issue. Too bad it didn’t result in them changing their vote.

Essentially, that is what I believe to be a huge part of the Liberals’ victory. Once many voters actually reflected upon the state Ontario is currently in, things didn’t actually seem to be that bad. And they aren’t. The stats speak for themselves. There was an increase of doctors in the province for the first time in over a decade, education is light years ahead of where it was prior to 2003, health care is slowly making progress, etc. Does this mean everything is perfect? Not at all. And the Liberals didn’t once make a claim that differed from that. They only claimed that, overall, progress had been made and their aim was to continue in that direction. The record is simple and the outlook just as simple.

When looking at all of this from the perspective of the Conservatives, while they seemingly had it made early on by hammering away with the leadership message, they ultimately had a tough task ahead of them. Like any individual candidate taking on an incumbent, especially a decent one, beating out a government that has a record of progress is tough. While early on it seemed as though there was going to be a much tighter race, I believe that the Liberals would have pulled it off anyway, just maybe not by the margin they did. The record and outlook of Liberals would have won out in the end.

What didn’t help the Conservatives was their message and platform and to some degree, their past. Running on the message of leadership is a risky move for any person or party. One only has to look at Paul Martin’s ‘Team Martin’ campaign. To run on that message your leader has to essentially be a flawless human being. This type of campaign puts all the spotlight and pressure on the leader and a single mistake, no matter how miniscule, will be turned into a crisis by the opposition and/or the media. With Tory’s past of finding ways to lose, him never seemingly being able to say things the way he wanted to and at some point attacking everyone in the province, putting all the attention on him was definitely the wrong strategy.

In addition, the fact that the Conservatives’ message was very negative from the get go didn’t help their cause either. After Tory said he wouldn’t run a negative campaign but then struck out viciously, that didn’t help his case. Taking shots at your opponent is one thing, but if it’s all you’re doing you only get people interested in the topic and they begin to wonder what all the fuss is about. What they found was a different McGuinty than what we’ve seen in the past and a generally positive record. Tory pushed people to have a serious look at his opponent. Furthermore, Tory attacked teachers, crown attorneys and others (and in the last few days he also insulted voters). Along with aspects of the Conservative platform, it only served to bring up memories of the Harris days where pretty much every public servant was cannon fodder. Remembering the recent Conservative government wasn't going to aid Tory in anyway and unfortunately, for as much as Tory wanted to escape that past, he couldn’t.

The Conservatives were also not helped by their platform which also played to their past problems. Faith-based funding got people to look at what was being offered and what was found was poorly explained, vague and generally unappealing to the general population. It also didn’t help that it was released prior to the audited budget and then it got hammered about being financially unrealistic. It contained terms such as ‘efficiencies’ and ‘privatization’. Again, these terms and the outlook of the platform only served to remind us of the days of Harris and Eves, something that Tory wanted to get away from but couldn’t. It also didn’t help that Tory pretty much confirmed everything that the NDP and Liberals had always said about the previous Conservative government. Tory, by saying that McGuinty hadn’t done enough since 2003 to fix our social programs, was admitting that Harris and Eves screwed everything up.

So where do we find ourselves at? We have another significant Liberal majority. How did we get here? It was not because of the faith-based funding issue however much it got the ball rolling. It was because of the un-extraordinary basis of the ‘us versus them’ scenario, which is the general decider of most elections. It may also be a factor as to why the voter turnout was also very low – but that’s for another post.

July 19, 2007

Apparently When Fortunes Are Sagging It's Always Best To Get Controversial

The Globe and Mail has an article running today that argues Harper and the Conservatives are losing ground with women, francophones and $100,000+ earners. Due to the drop in support from these groups the Conservatives are once again tied with the Liberals in popular support at 31%, a drop in 6% from one year ago. According to Peter Donolo from Strategic Counsel (the same group that advised Harper to use more positive propaganda to curb the public's cynicism),

"drop in support among the more affluent may be due to the decision to tax income trusts and a spate of foreign takeovers of Canadian companies, while the decline among women and francophones is almost certainly due to the numbers of Canadian soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan. "

In addition to the Afghanistan issue being a big factor affecting women and francophones, the handling of the Afghan detainees was also a sore point in the recent session at Parliament. This is also on the heels of Quebec's Van Doos regiment being deployed to Afghanistan and a growing controversy over the MND refusing access to mission information. It's also noted in the article that terrorism fell in behind health care and the environment as a national priority. In other words, for two of the groups that are looking at the alternatives to the Conservatives the Afghan/terrorism file isn't doing much to instill confidence but is actually hurting them. So what is their response? The Conservatives have decided to restart the debate over renewing Canada's anti-terror measures.

While this may seem like a shot at my theory that Harper and the Conservatives are only looking for power, pushing a seemingly unpopular proposal, this move is about reinvigorating support among the West (where numbers are down 4%), men, people with only secondary education or less and core supporters. These groups tend to favour the perception of a tougher stance on military and security issues and the Conservatives understand that. Rather than immediately try to appeal to women, francophones and others by eschewing positive rhetoric on the fly - something that has shown to be a weak spot for the Conservatives - they will fall back on an issue they are well versed on in an attempt to shore up other groups.

And then there's something about suckling at an unnamed orifice of Bush Jr. and the Americans... ;)

July 13, 2007

Strategic Counsel to Harper, "Curb Cynicism Through Better Propaganda"

It's interesting to note that the Conservatives received a report from the Strategic Counsel that states,

the public views information from Ottawa “through a thick lens of cynicism. They feel that much of what government says is propaganda, intended simply to appeal to the voting public and to spin stories in a positive manner.”

The funny part is that in the same breath the article also attempts to make the case for changing the current comments on Afghanistan - 'fighting terrorism', 'cut and run' and making connections to 9/11 - to more positive language. Essentially, the report argues that Harper and other Conservatives should begin painting the Afghan mission with more positive propaganda with the intention of spinning related stories in favour of the Conservatives' message.

While there is a whole host of reasons as to why the SC is touting this and it only seems all too typical of this government the report has been made public in the midst of Harper already using the changes to the rhetoric in regards to Afghanistan. It also has come at a time when the PMO has reached out to party workers in hopes of finding new ideas.

Lacking new ideas, especially ideas that can be used to sell themselves to the public is the real issue here for Harper. Harper ran out of ideas to work from many moons ago and it has showed for at least six months. Like the latter article comments, "When Stephen Harper doesn't have a script, things get ugly." And they have. Though the real ugliness of the situation is much worse than the PMO having little clue how to govern. The real issue is that Harper and his staff only made plans for one year rather than have a plan for four years. With Harper now looking for new ideas and new rhetoric to use, in an attempt to sway the public, there should be little doubt left to the true agenda of Harper and the Conservatives. This isn't about governing after all. A party looking to govern makes four-year plans and has an entire pool of ideas. Only a party looking for power would create a short-sited agenda in hopes of using any popularity surge to their advantage.

See Also:

Cut and Run from Cut and Run

Enhancing poppy fields, eradicating the lives of women and children

Canadians See 'Unacceptably' High Casualties In Afghanistan: POLL

Memo to Harper: To change the perception, just change the words

July 09, 2007

John Tory Already Looking Past 2011

John Tory today has announced that if the Ontario PCs are elected this fall they will use all of the 14.7 cents/litre collected through the gas tax to fund transit-related expenses. In truth, this isn't a poor idea at all. Since we are dealing with concerns such as increased road repair costs, poor air quality, growing public transit costs, etc., which are all related to gas usage, then providing a guaranteed source of cash flow to these projects is a great idea. As it stands now, some of the collected gas tax is used for other projects and is not guaranteed to be used for transit-related expenses or projects.

There is a bit a hitch with Tory's plan - it wouldn't take effect for at least 5 years. Ontario governments only have 4 year mandates. In other words, this is only election-speak. Tory is putting out this decent idea only for the sake of sounding good. What I would rather know is what the PCs are going to do next year or two years from now. What you promise to do one year after the 2011 election doesn't mean anything. This is just par for the course from Tory.

He's already laid out an election platform based on imaginative numbers. He has yet to see the audit of government finances but he's already looking to fund private schools, expand religious education, cut taxes, cut the health care premium, etc. He's making more promises than McGuinty has and by all accounts, he'll have to break them as well. Tory has been on a tear lately with all the things he'll do if elected and now he's looking beyond the next election as well. Good luck to him. As soon as Tory gets a hold of the financial audit, there will be a very different tune to his election platform. If not, then we know for sure he's taking the Mike Harris route and blatantly lying to the public.

July 05, 2007

Stephen Harper Is Being Followed... Or Is He?

Well, he isn't really, unless you count CSIS or the RCMP officers that are doing their job to protect him. "From whom?" might you ask. From the evil judges, media personnel, senators and, more recently added to the list, civil servants, that are all out to to defy the Conservatives and tarnish their reputation.

For years it seemed like that it was only the lefties that were prone to conspiracy theories or had to be afraid of the establishment. I would argue that it was and still continues to be a stereotype that is attached to the left. With ideas that the government is spying on us all, infiltrating our organizations, persecuting those who might defy them, etc. the left has been known to come up with some crazy accusations. Hell, there has been many movies even made on these ideas and even one specifically called 'Conspiracy Theory' starring an actual supposed conspiracy theorist. Why? Because they make for great stories. Lately, though, the right, and more specifically conservative leaders, in both the US and Canada having been pushing their own.

A popular one has been the activist judge argument. Stephen Harper has used this to describe some of the judges that were appointed during the Liberal days. In general, it's been an argument directed at judges that have interpreted Charter directives such as:

Section 15: Equal treatment before and under the law, and equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination.
to mean that every Canadian should have the same rights. This is a problem because apparently the actual interpretation is supposed to mean only certain Canadians are equal and the rest are only entitled to compromises. How could the Canadian judiciary get that wrong? It must mean some sort of bias is being applied and that it's a Liberal ploy of some sort.

Another good conspiracy theory is about the media. For many people this may seem like a no-brainer. Of course the media is out to get Harper. The media are either spinning stories to suit their own biases or because they just want to create a story to 'sell papers'. And frankly, there might be some truth involved here. However, I have much more faith in people than Harper does. If anyone is really to blame for much of the negative press Harper has received, its Harper and his inner circle that deserve the lion's share. The media doesn't have to spin much with this government because most of what they have done or said has been nonsense, political rhetoric, ridiculous or hypocritical. Harper talked about accountability but then gave a cabinet job to an unelected official. They promised resolution on softwood but then sold out the industry. They promised action on the environment but then wasted paper with an extremely poor plan and whined to the international community. They released a 5-point action plan that included health care improvement, then changed the fifth point, which happened to be health care, then eventually dropped the fifth point all together. They broke promises on equalization funding. They even tried to control which media people and outlets could question them publicly after pledging greater transparency. Yet, apparently, its considered bias on the media's part for reporting these things.

Then when you factor in Canadian senators supposedly stalling on legislation because their all biased and Liberals and more recently claiming that foreign civil servants are undermining the government internationally, one has to wonder if something is going seriously wrong inside the head of Harper and his crew. With these two groups it probably has nothing to do with poorly written legislation (i.e. Baird's original Accountability Act that had to be rewritten by the Senate for it even to make sense) or that the Conservatives tries to politicize public servants ('Canada's New Government' letterhead, anyone?). It probably has nothing to do with any of those types of things or anything else. It's likely that people are just out to get the Conservatives, right?

There are really two points of view that can be expressed hear. On one hand, maybe Harper is makes these claims as preposition to justify policy changes or his opinions, etc. There does seem to be a lot to this view. Harper made his argument against the Supreme Court and then went on to adapt a panel review of potential Supreme Court judges. Harper gave his argument against the media shortly before he tried to justify forcing them on to roll-calls so he could choose who would be allowed to ask questions and then ultimately banishing them from parliament. However, the latter move against the media might also be considered evidence that points to the second view.

It could be argued that Harper really is paranoid to some degree. After all, he did ultimately remove members of the media from parliament and cancelled his scrums, has forced his MPs to read from 'scripts' and concentrated all the power of the party into the PMO. Oh, and there was the release of some 'report' that claimed Canada was destined to be a 3rd-world nation if it tried to implement a real environmental plan. And then there are the contextually deceiving attack ads against Dion. These sorts of actions do point to there being an element of fear being present in Harper's decisions. He's afraid of his own members, he's afraid of being questioned, he's afraid of the environment or is it that he's really afraid of the people?

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of the two. He probably is afraid of the people because he knows that at any minute his government can lose it all. The Conservatives weren't elected with any confidence and the election was more about punishing the Liberals for really screwing-up. And even without an established leadership, the Liberals are statistically ties with the Conservatives in opinion polls. That says a lot. There is also the problem that the Harper has consistently undermined and underestimated the public's want for greater accountability, especially where the environment is concerned. And in this regard Harper has been trying to run an extremely tight ship because he's also concerned with power. Harper spent way too long trying to get into the PMO that he fell into the same trap that Paul Martin did prior. Power is all Harper knows at this point. His main focus now is on keeping it and this explains why he has spent more time working on gimmicks and illusions for the public to see than actually governing. It explains why Harper has seemingly been flying by the seat of his pants for the better part of this year. It also explains why he has attempted to maintain total control over everything his party does. Harper has become his own worst enemy and a tired, ineffective leader for Canada.

June 21, 2007

Toronto Maple Leaf's Fans are the Worst Fans Ever!!

And yes, that is the official title of my blog and a plain fact!

So the next question is: Where's the proof? History continues to prove me right and so does the logic of Leaf fans.

One only has to look the Ballard years. Fans supported the team despite having Harold Ballard blatantly use the fans' loyalty of the team to line his own pocketbook. It was beyond obvious the only thing Ballard cared about was money and the team's on-ice performance was less than thrilling. But still, fans showed up to games to cheer on a team that was systemically built to lose as long as they made Ballard money. Fans with some common sense would have stopped showing up and essentially forced Ballard's hand to invest in the team. However, that didn't take place and the Leafs stunk and watched their Stanly Cup drought being intentionally extended.

Even after Ballard passed away and new owners - Steve Stavros as the majority owner - took control, the team still didn't truly have any reason to push themselves and didn't. With Cliff Fletcher behind the GM wheel the team performed much better but wasn't ever built to be a real competitor. While they had a couple good seasons ('93 and '94), the team was really only built to be conceived as a competitor. And this tradition continued under the helm of Pat Quinn and still continues under John Ferguson Jr.. The Leafs have consistently championed mediocre and past-prime players as their saviours in moves that are arguably more about PR than they are about building a real competitor. Especially in the several years leading up to the 2005 lockout was this often talked about and seemingly blatant to all except Maple Leaf fans. Since the lockout questionable moves are still abundant with over-priced signings of certain defencemen and forwards that make continues to make them older and slower in faster and younger NHL. Yet, while there has been more questioning by fans about some recent signings, the demand for tickets is still present.

Even looking at the recent NHL final which a Canadian team was playing, a large number of Leaf fans refused to cheer them on because they are considered 'rivals'. However, from personal experience, I get blasted by Leaf fans that I know because I have questioned whether or not I would support the Leafs (I am a Montreal Canadiens fan) if they were in the finals. In my eyes, this makes them hypocrites.

The most recent barrage I have been seeing a lot of has been the attack on the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, the current majority owners of the Maple Leafs. There has been a lot of criticism that the OTPP is only concerned with money and that they won't spend the cash to bring in top players. With the NHL now under a salary-cap system, the only way this argument would hold weight is if the OTPP wasn't spending at the upper limit of the cap and had a payroll somewhere near the minimum limit. Under the cap the system the owners can only spend so much before they would be forced to dump players to get them under the limit but at the same time each team has to guarantee they would spend a minimum amount. In the two seasons since the cap was instated the Leafs have always been near the top end which means they are spending as much as they can to field a team. The only other way for the OTPP to make more money other than spend under the limit is to field the most competitive team they could so they could make extra revenue from playoff games. Therefore, the argument that the OTPP is only interested in money and that is some sort of basis for the team doing poorly is baseless. This is the logic of Leaf fans. Not only do they refuse to acknowledge that they screwed themselves over in the Ballard era but they then try to wrongly accuse the current owners of doing what Ballard had done to them.

I will admit some blame does lie in the hands of the OTPP. They did hire John Ferguson Jr. and by many accounts he has done a poor job of managing the Leafs. If the OTPP were a bit brighter in this regard they would can Ferguson and find a much better GM with a greater hockey mind. A move similar to the one they made with Toronto Raptors when they hired Bryan Colangelo.

I'm sure much of this rant - that's what this is - will be chalked up to my devotion to the Montreal Canadiens. However, I'm pretty sure that I have a lot more basis for this rant than any Maple Leaf fan has for supporting an organization that abused their loyalty and their continued inane reasons of blame.

April 29, 2007

Baird the Useless

Just over five months ago I wrote about Rona Ambrose being useless as the Canadian Environment Minister. While there is a lot of support for the position that she was nothing more than a puppet for the PMO, she still proved to be useless in the sense that she couldn't really back up her office, policies or her party when it came to fighting back against critics and the opposition. Her general response to everyone, everywhere was to blame or throw back to the former Liberal government. Then the new year comes along and with it a new Environment Minister.

John Baird was supposed to be different as the new Minister. He was supposed to come as a sign of change, not necessarily drastic change in terms of policy but a change in approach, optics, control, etc. He was supposed to 'work' with the critics and silence the opposition. After all, that is what he is good at. Baird is a strong opponent who is also very good at dealing with the media and does well to rebut criticism. And with the NDP apparently in his corner, working together to develop a new Canadian green plan, Baird was going to change the perception that Conservatives don't seriously care about the environment portfolio.

Well, we are now practically into our fifth month of the new year and Baird has finally delivered and Canadians and the environment have been left wanting. The whole process to get to the announcement and the final product have not been much of a surprise to anyone that looked at the issue with any kind of skepticism. It began with the Conservatives big announcement of change. Eventually they began to throw out lots of other optical illusions in hopes of breaking the focus on the environment - which definitely doesn't do much for optimism. Then they tried to scare the public into thinking Canada was going to become a third-world nation if they aggressively dealt with the environment - which failed miserably for them. And then they released another really bad green plan - the second of their administration.

Once again, the Conservatives' green plan failed to deliver any real program to deal with ever-growing environmental concerns and problems. So it comes as no surprise that the significant people of the environmental movement (Suzuki, Gore et al.) have come out with all guns blazing, blasting the plan as insignificant, weak and ineffective. Though, this is exactly the type of battle the Conservatives were probably expecting to face and the single biggest reason Baird was given this portfolio. So how did Baird respond? He resorted to the same responses that Ambrose gave, "but the Liberals did it".

Maybe his lack of intelligent response is due to the fact he was severely intellectually out classed. Being publicly smacked by the likes of David Suzuki, one of Canada's most trusted, respected and admired citizens and scientists, and Al Gore, the shiny new champion on climate change who is also highly regarded by the public doesn't bode well for your image or your policies. This is addition to Dion looking greener everyday and countless other critics ripping Baird apart. It shouldn't come as any surprise that Baird doesn't have any real reply other than to deflect to the past and avoid the present.

It is because of his ineffective policies, his inability to respond and defend, and his pure lack of leadership he has now taken up the title that was once bestowed on his predecessor: Useless. Congratulations should be given to Baird because not only has he done Ambrose proud but he has also taken his role as Useless to even higher peaks since not only has he failed Canadians and the environment, but he has also failed his party by not being able to live up all the expectations and hype.

Though one thing he'll never have over Ambrose is that the title Baird the Useless doesn't flow as well as it did for his predecessor.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)

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