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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Catherine McKenna: stateswoman in training or just another glory hound

Today I wanted to say a few words about liberal politician Catherine McKenna. She’s the Ottawa Centre MP who, last November, was named minister of environment and climate change in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

Ms. McKenna was one of the Liberals’ star candidates in last fall’s federal election. She edged out the popular three-term NDP incumbent, MP Paul Dewar, in the Ottawa Centre riding. Prior to that she was a high-profile lawyer and taught at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. She reportedly also served as a board member at the Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice. After seeing her résumé, the average party (any party) organizer would drool in anticipation of landing her as a candidate for public office.

By all accounts, she was a local girl (I live in Burlington, she’s from neighbouring Hamilton) who went forth to conquer the world—and did a pretty good job of it. So you might well ask what my beef is with her.

For a start, a few weeks after her election I began wondering just how much substance there is to her as a politician. Soon after taking office last fall, Ms. McKenna and Prime Minister Trudeau led a team of more than 300 politicians, government staff and bureaucrats to the Paris climate change conference, COP21.

This was one of the largest delegations and included twenty-two Ontario ministry officials led by Premier Kathleen Wynne. It was more than double the U.S. team and about triple the U.K.’s team. And this from a country that contributes less than 2 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

According to CTV, the federal government budgeted about $650,000 for COP21, but that piece of international showboating cost Canada’s taxpayers more than $1-million and still counting. (I doubt we’ll ever know the full cost.) It is exactly that sort of casual disregard for budgets and tax money that I worried about when it seemed certain the Grits would regain power.

Yes, Canada is high on the list of per-capita GHG emitters. But we are a subarctic nation that produces a disproportionate amount of the world’s energy, forestry products, minerals and food. Most of these commodities are exported and consumed in other countries, but the GHG emissions resulting from their production are counted against us.

So why did Canada contribute $2.65-billion to the Green Climate Fund—up from $300 million under the former Conservative government? Interestingly, the much higher GHG emitter, the United States, has pledged $3 billion, while Japan, Germany, France and Britain have only pledged about $1-billion each, despite being some of the richest nations on earth.

Trudeau and McKenna grandstanding? You think! And they are doing it with our taxpayer bucks. At least, bucks they’ll borrow and we’ll have to repay someday—this year’s budget deficit is projected to be $29.4-billion. In other words, they’ve promised money we don’t even have.

But that’s pretty stale news.

Since then, we’ve heard a lot about “sunny ways,” but have heard little in the way of original thought concerning Canada participating in a balanced, responsible way in the international effort to reduce GHG emissions.

Controversial cap-and-trade schemes seem to be the holy grail, even though they know (but refuse to acknowledge) that, under carbon trading schemes, industries already addicted to carbon-based fuel will carry on as usual by buying cheap carbon credits.

Meanwhile, we let countries like China off the hook for their disproportionate contribution to the crisis, but sock it to Canadian consumers and taxpayers, then fritter away or send overseas whatever the government manages to gouge out of us.

Then there’s today’s media story about Ms. McKenna’s ministry spending $10,681 on photos of her and her staff during the Paris climate change talks.

According to CTV News, “She [McKenna] appears in almost every shot from the conference posted on her ministerial and departmental Twitter accounts, and in each of the 23 pictures currently on ECCC’s Flickr photo-sharing account.

It’s all about her, eh? And, instead of leadership, we get “Canada is back,” “sunny ways” and other adolescent sloganeering.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Have the media abdicated their role of holding the Trudeau Liberals to account?

Whatever happened to the concept of the fourth estate, the media and mainly the news media, having a central role of holding governments to account—holding the rascals’ feet to the fire, so to speak? There was a time in Canada when most journalists seemed to take this role seriously, almost as a sacred duty.

I sense things have changed, especially with the victory last fall of the Trudeau Liberals over the Harper Conservatives. In the prior decade, many—possibly most—in the media seemed to relish the idea of demonizing the Conservative government, leaping on every hint of excess or wrongdoing on the part of then Prime Minister Harper’s team.

Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office, however, our media seem to have a more understanding nature. But I suppose it is too much to expect them to be speaking truth to power in Ottawa, when there are so many more “clicks” and “eyeballs” to be attracted by publishing bare-chested photos and selfies of the prime minister and his adoring fans.

Yes, to be sure, newspapers like the National Post and the Toronto Sun are diligent when it comes to keeping the Liberals honest and have been fast to point out government failures and missteps. The Sun, and especially their now defunct television news network, however, were as guilty as anyone when it came to cheer-leading the Conservatives when they held power.

For the most part, though, media are far too inclined to understand, rationalize and explain how difficult a job the Grits have and how great it is that they are trying so very hard. And media are far too busy cheering Trudeau from the sidelines as he marches in one parade or another. Photos of the prime minister pop up everywhere as he jogs with some world leader, jokes with U.S. president Barack Obama, appears shirtless in strangers’ wedding pictures, or is featured in a  fluff-piece in Vogue magazine.

For years Canada has consistently earned a high ranking in “Best Countries” reports—our number two spot in the World Economic Forum’s report in January and the 2016 Social Progress Index are but two recent examples. Notwithstanding similar achievements during the Conservative era, Trudeau tosses about terms like “sunny ways” as though he were leading the country out of the dark ages. And, of course, the media at large lap it all up and repeat his nonsense as if it were based on anything real or substantial.

A litany of Grit missteps are reported on, but then excused and explained away lest they damage the Prime Minister or his government’s pristine image.

The Liberals promised they would bring 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of 2015. But when their promise proved impossible to keep, their reduced target of a mere 10,000 was met mainly with sympathy and only mild criticism.

The Liberals promised a deficit of $10-billion for three years, then a balanced budget. Their first budget projects a $30-billion deficit. Some miss, eh?

The Liberals have admitted their “middle class” tax cut will cost far more than promised, and will benefit those whose incomes range from $89,000 and $200,000, with little going to most actual middle-class taxpayers. They’ve also admitted their surtax on high-income taxpayers will raise about $1-billion less than they promised us.

The Liberals promised they would restore lost door-to-door mail delivery services. Now they won’t tell us if or when that will happen.

And what about that high-priority Canada-is-back promise to “immediately [emphasis mine] review Canada’s environmental assessment and introduce new, fair processes…,” etc., etc. So far? No real plan, of course, and almost a year later we pretty much operate under the same rules as we did under the Harper government.

Remember all that stuff about being open and transparent? More smoke and mirrors there, apparently. Earlier this year, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Parliamentary Budget Officer possesses missing data needed to analyze the Liberal government’s budget, but he says he dare not disclose those numbers because they are confidential. The numbers are from the federal finance department, but cannot be used in his report to Parliament. I kid you not.

Readers may also want to read this Toronto Sun tale about “muzzled scientists” under the present regime, it highlights the duplicity of the Trudeau government. And how about Justin Trudeau’s Health Minister Jane Philpott telling us she’ll stop using a limousine service owned by a Liberal supporter that charged her $1,700 for transportation in the Greater Toronto Area. She admits the price tag was “too high" and “inappropriate." And get this, she said, “I have already taken steps to prevent this from occurring in the future." I guess she’s admonished herself in the mirror and given herself a good ol’ finger wag.

I could go on, but it’s too depressing. A Google search will provide several more examples of broken promises. My point is this: any Conservative government with such a shoddy record of broken promises so early in its mandate would be castigated 24/7 by newspapers and broadcast media alike. Any real attempt at criticism of the Grits, however, is met with rebuttals designed to exculpate Trudeau and his team, followed by Liberal tales of how much worse it would have been under Prime Minister Harper. Remember Harper the bogeyman?

There are many Canadian journalists on all points of the political spectrum who will believe rightly that my criticism is unfair to them individually, and to them I apologize. But taken as an industry, most of the big-business Canadian media is guilty of bias towards the federal Liberal government. And it’s just not healthy for our democracy when we give undeserving governments too much of a free pass.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Canada is back and so is Russ-Campbell’s Blog

It has been well over half a year since I last gave my “point of view on political and social issues.” I do hope, however, that a few of my former readers are still around and have enough patience left to put up with a few more of my rants and raves.

Shortly before my hiatus, we were beginning to fear that Donald Trump might actually win the Republican nomination and that Americans would face the choice of electing him as president or choosing Hillary Clinton as their first ever female commander-in-chief. Some choice!

Too often Mr. Trump displays unnerving tendencies that suggest a temperament unsuited for the office he seeks. And, as for Ms. Clinton, has there ever been a candidate for the U.S. presidency so obviously bought and owned by powerful special interests? Well, actually, I think several were, but that is not a good thing. Michael Gerson, in an opinion piece in the The Washington Post, referred to this as, “A choice between the uninspiring and the unfit.” Wow, eh? And this for choosing the most powerful elected official on the planet. Enough said.

On our side of the border, we got a whole new government replete with dozens of high-minded (expensive, excessive) promises, for which we’ll be borrowing billions to finance, all wrapped in the pompous, what-the-hell-does-it-even-mean, banner: Canada is back.

Well, the Liberals are certainly back with their run-away budget deficits, Trudeau photo ops, kowtowing to the Russians and Chinese on the international stage, broken promises and an agenda apparently founded on the dual principles of:

  • if the Conservatives planned or implemented it, it’s bad and must be reversed; and,
  • if it sells well at the United Nations, Canadians will have to like it or lump it.

By the way, the Grits call this “evidence-based decision-making” or some such euphemism for decisions based on progressive ideology and petty vindictiveness.

But, so far at least, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his team seem to have carried it off beautifully—judging from the opinion surveys I see. Although, it has to be said that the veil does seem to be dropping from the eyes of some progressives. I’m seeing criticism—some quite pointed—sneaking into commentary at places that are well known as hang-outs for Trudeau-cheerleaders. But more on that later.

And how about the Green Party of Canada’s adoption of a resolution officially supporting sanctions against Israel through the so-called Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement or BDS.

I can think of, at least, a dozen undemocratic countries, which are guilty of generations of human rights abuses, and who have a history of treating their citizens atrociously—even, sometimes, invading their neighbours. Yet these countries, apparently, have gone unnoticed by the Green party’s members even though they are far more deserving of disapproval. Those countries are not predominantly Jewish, though, so I guess they get a pass.

To her credit, Green party leader Elizabeth May made it clear she does not support BDS. I can see Ms. May crossing the floor to the governing Grits before the next federal election.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne keeps trucking along implementing one economy-sapping program after another. Poor Ontario, we were once the proud economic engine of Canada.

Hard on the heels of spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a provincial pension that will never be implemented, our premier will now implement a cap-and-trade system to control greenhouse gases that will cost every household several extra bucks a month—this on top of already overly-onerous energy bills.

According to a recent public opinion poll by Forum Research, the majority (56%) of Ontario voters disapprove of the plan, while a bit more than a quarter approve (28%). Apparently, about 16 per cent did not express an opinion.

Kathleen Wynne knows what’s best for us, of course, so we had better just shut up and pay up. I wonder what’s next.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Radical Islam: Pernicious ideologies like noxious weeds must be rooted out—not just cut back or contained

President Barack Obama offered little in the way of new ideas to fight Islamic terrorism when he made his near-historic television address to the American people last night. It was not so much a speech of platitudes—though it was that to some extent—but it just seemed underwhelming and seemed to be received as such even from some of his admirers. 

What would I have liked the president to say, you may ask.

Well, for a start, I would have liked him to refer to attackers like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino as, at least, being inspired by Islamists, radical Islam, Islamic terrorism, terrorism in the name of Islam, or some similar term or phrase and not simply as “terrorists.”

I think most rational people understand that terrorism in all its forms is a horrible scourge on civilized societies. But surely we need to be more specific in our terminology if we want to eradicate this particularly virulent form of terrorism, which seems to be the sort most often used against Western democracies in recent years.

But most importantly, I would also have liked President Obama to have been more forthright in identifying the source of the poisonous ideology that masquerades as religious teaching and which seems to be at the root of much of the inspiration for these attacks. That source—the very root of it, that is—is not as the president implies, ISIS, aka ISIL and Daesh. They are merely the most recent exporters and inspirers of the crimes committed in the name of the ideology.

Daesh did not invent or even significantly advance the ideology in any way. Its roots go back into eighteenth-century Saudi Arabia. There it germinated and took root and grew into a branch of Sunni Islam. Wahhabism is an especially orthodox and puritanical movement, which has flourished in places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar as an extremist pseudo-Sunni movement, often referred to as Salafi. In more recent times, Wahhabism has spread to Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, including the multicultural Western democracies.

Pernicious ideologies are like noxious weeds, they must be rooted out—not just cut back or contained—or they will spring back, and grow even more virulent than before.

Do not be fooled into believing that only a tiny percentage of those professing to be Muslims practice some sort of Wahhabi-like fundamentalist Islam, which qualifies as Salafi. Tens of millions of Muslims are Islamic fundamentalist and the number seems to be increasing. They can be found in Arab states like the aforementioned Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and, increasingly, in Syria. They are also the tenacious Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are also in Russia, in North Africa and in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad.

Fortunately, only a few of these turn to terrorism to impose their religious views on the rest of us. But, until the ideology is discredited and made to be unacceptable in any form in the civilized world, if not entirely eradicated, we in the West will have to face an enemy like none who have threatened us before.

But let me be very clear: the threat is not from the overwhelming majority of the million or so Canadian Muslims who are our neighbours, friends and members of our families, for they are as peace-loving and fair-minded as any other Canadians. These “real” Muslims abhor the attacks by Islamist terrorists as much as I do, or as much as most readers do.

They are most often twice the victims of such terrorist acts: after being victimized directly—i.e., being killed—their fellow Muslims are further victimized by the backlash from an increasing number of non-Muslim Canadians. And there is no point telling them to go home, for Canada is their home and they are as stuck with their victimizers as the rest of us are.

We know who the enemy are and the real source of their twisted ideology. And so does President Obama—or so he should. So what I really wanted to hear from him is when he will lead the world against this threat in a fundamental way so as to stop it at the source.

A great start would be to sanction Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Daesh. Freeze their Western investments and bank accounts; stop buying their oil and selling them military hardware; restrict travel of their citizens to Western destinations; suspend landing rights for their airplanes; and list them officially as terrorist organizations along with any mosque, school or other organization that accepts financing from them. Then go in and clean out Daesh from Iraq and Syria. That would be a start.

They’d be some short-term pain no doubt. But we’d be better off and we’d have a safer world in the longer-term.

If only we had leaders with the will to do any of this, eh?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Nannygate: An important principle, which is far more important than the cost to taxpayers of two nannies

Many, mainly Liberal party supporters, claim the “nannygate” controversy is a lot of fuss about nothing. But is that a fair assessment? Didn’t this prime minister go on record several times as saying specifically he did not need financial help with the care of his children?

Didn’t he also specifically tell Canadians that Stephen Harper, as the then prime minister, also did not require government assistance? So what has changed? If, as he said the Harper family did not need government assistance when they occupied the official residence, why then does the Trudeau family?

Let’s be clear: this has nothing to do with the appropriateness of the incumbent prime minister employing a nanny at taxpayer’s expense. That is quite acceptable. We should not stoop to such stinginess for it is unbecoming of us as a nation. Other taxpayer-funded household help is also acceptable, or should be in my opinion.

But Prime Minister Trudeau sought to gain a political advantage by claiming he and the then prime minister did not need taxpayer-funded childcare and, therefore, should not not be receiving it now. He even boasted that he planned to contribute to charity any amount he did receive from a proposed government program. There is an important principle at stake here, which is far more important than the cost to taxpayers of two nannies.

PM Trudeau’s reversal of position on his family’s need for taxpayer-funded childcare sets a horrible example of the cynical nature of political promises and assertions. It suggests his is a party of entitlement in which cheap bravado masquerades as thoughtful political rhetoric.

It is time to do the right thing, Prime Minister.