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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Elizabeth May, Green Party’s single-issue zealot, calls PMO staff “ruthless, cutthroat psychopaths”

Speaking at a town hall in Nanaimo, B.C. on April 13, the Green Party leader called the PMO “a $10-million-a-year partisan operation filled with ruthless, cutthroat psychopaths.” Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, later claimed she made the comments “in jest,” according to a Metro article.

I can scarcely believe that this single-issue zealot would so malign the hardworking young people who staff the Prime Minister’s Office. Even Senator Mike Duffy, in his somewhat spiteful 2013 speech in the Senate, was much more restrained when he talked about the “unaccountable power of the PMO” and implied it’s staffed by “kids in short pants.” (A great line, by the way.)

Elizabeth May, as many of you readers know only too well, has a penchant for hyperbolic comments, which she later disavows or for which she makes excuses.

In the early days of Stephen Harper’s government, May made a nasty reference to history judging the prime minister “more culpable than Neville Chamberlain.” She later tried to justify her words by claiming she was quoting someone else.

Imagine, Stephen Harper more culpable than the man best known for his appeasement policy, and his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, conceding the German-populated Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany and pretty much assuring World War II would soon follow with the Holocaust and all that came with it.

Then there was the 2007 interview on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin during which Elizabeth May called Canadians “stupid.” Later she blamed her tendency to talk too fast and a faulty microphone for her words.

But when May responded on her blog to accusations that she had called Canadians stupid, she wrote: “I reviewed all this on TVO with Steve Paikan [sic] more recently and he confirmed that no one in the room thought I had said Canadians are stupid;” TVO’s director of corporate communications wrote a letter to the Green Party setting the record straight by saying “that at no point … did Steve Paikin express such a personal opinion,” and asking that May’s “blog posting be corrected.”

Aside from an, apparent, inability to control her tongue, Elizabeth May is a hypocrite. She has spoken out about breaches of decorum in the House of Commons, even small ones, yet she calls PMO staff “ruthless, cutthroat psychopaths.” I doubt she knows many members of the PMO personally, but she can describe them with these horribly insulting words.

Moreover, she’s a coward because, having made the intemperate remarks, she obfuscates, claiming her comments were “in jest.” I find no humour at all in her name-calling. It was inexcusable.

This outburst is not at all worthy of someone who has been named 2012 Parliamentarian of the Year. Let’s hope those responsible for the award take note.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

David Cameron says Britain is a Christian country—he is correct

Much is being written about the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent assertion that Britain is “a Christian country.”

While some religious groups like the Hindu Council UK and the Muslim Council of Britain seem comfortable with the characterization, another group warned—in an open letter published in the Daily Telegraph and signed by more than 50 public figures—that such a claim “fosters alienation and division in our [British] society.”

Britain is, of course, a Christian country and not just in “the narrow constitutional sense” claimed in the letter.

According to the 2011 census, 59.5 per cent of U.K. residents self-identify as Christian. The Anglican Church (Church of England), the official religion in the country, is led—though only ceremonially—by the U.K.’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.

But Christian roots go even deeper than the statistics suggest.

As an example, the Union Jack, the national flag of the United Kingdom, is a combination of symbols of three Christian saints: the Cross of Saint Andrew, the Cross of Saint Patrick and the Cross of Saint George.

Moreover, Christian values permeate the society from its laws to its marriages. The U.K.’s culture is steeped in Christian tradition. Christian holidays and saint days punctuate the calendar and God—the Christian God—is mentioned several times in the British national anthem. As noted in a BBC News Magazine piece in 2012, trying to take Christianity out of British culture “would be not so much like taking the raisins out of a fruitcake as like taking the chocolate out of a chocolate cake.”

Although many in Britain have embraced a policy of multiculturalism: encouraging immigrant communities to celebrate their individual cultures rather than assimilating, to others multiculturalism has failed to provide a moral equivalent to Christianity—even Prime Minister Cameron has said that “state multiculturalism” has failed in Britain.

Christianity remains—as it has for some 1,500 years—the basis of the average Brit's moral compass and the cultural backbone of one of the world’s leading democracies. Moral relativism which has become so popular in recent years—especially as regards to Muslim culture and religion—has not served Britain well and is certainly not providing a proper substitute for Christian values.

In conclusion, I heartily endorse Prime Minister Cameron’s

desire to infuse British politics with Christian ideals and values.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act seems now on solid ground

Now that a Senate committee  has recommended nine changes to Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act, the legislation seems pretty solid. And, since Pierre Poilievre has, apparently, indicated privately that he’s open to changes, an amended version of the bill will likely become law by this summer.

We would probably have gotten to this point earlier had not the minister responsible for the bill been MP Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton), Minister of State for Democratic Reform.

Opposition to Bill C-23—according to an April 14-15 poll by Angus Reid Global—is growing. Apparently, 59 per cent of Canadians who claimed to be very or fairly familiar with the bill were opposed to it. This represents a three-point increase since Angus Reid’s similar survey in February.

More disturbing are these findings: 65 per cent of those polled say they don’t trust the Conservative government to ensure the best possible elections oversight. Moreover, among those aware of the issue, 72 per cent claim “government’s changes are motivated by politics and a dislike of Elections Canada,” with a mere 28 per cent of all respondents saying “the Conservatives are making a genuine attempt to improve … Canada’s elections.”

Isolating the controversial issue of “vouching” at a polling station, nearly 75 per cent of all respondents support elimination of the option.

In my view, the trust issue is largely a reflection of the style Minister Poilievre has brought to this debate. The minister comes across as hyperpartisan, combative and rigid, and he’s the last member of parliament I’d expect to be charged with responsibility for something as sensitive as reforms to election legislation.

Recoil from Minister Poilievre’s style has been intensified by unseemly ad hominem attacks he’s led against Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer and Sheila Fraser, the popular and much respected former auditor general.

In fairness, I do have doubts about Mayrand’s impartiality. For example, the chief electoral officer does seem to have been rather generous to the Liberal party’s leadership contenders by grossly extending the time period for their campaign loan repayments, while being overly rigid when dealing with issues relating to members of the Conservative party.

Payback of this kind, though—if this is indeed what we’re seeing—seems petty and unbecoming of Canada’s preeminent political party.

But Sheila Fraser? How many times in the past have the Tories praised this woman and acknowledged her credibility? And, in her many years of public service, when was she ever found to be self-serving or partisan? It was Ms. Fraser’s report, after all, which revealed details of the multi-million-dollar Liberal sponsorship scandal, while the Liberals were still in office.

It must be said, however, that despite the way the bill has been mishandled in the House and broadly in the public sphere, the strategy—intended or not—of having Conservative Senators come to its rescue has been inspired.

In closing, let me say that the amended legislation deserves a better response than it has so far received from the opposition. Before the amendments, they may have had a legitimate case to make; post-amendments, their objections are mainly partisan and not substantive.

The way I see it, we’re set to go for 2015.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fiscal conservatism seems alive and well in Ottawa: 8,900 public service jobs to be cut

When Conservatives under Stephen Harper took office in 2006, I was disappointed at how much they resembled their predecessors when it came to their penchant for increasing the size of government.

In the first five years of Harper’s Conservatives, federal spending increased an appalling 22 per cent. Much of that was, of course, due to stimulus spending to counteract effects of the 2008-09 global financial crisis—$24.9-billion in 2009-10 and $20-billion in 2010-11. According to a government performance report tabled in the House of Commons in late November 2011, federal expenditures in 2010-11 totalled $270.5-billion, compared with $222.2-billion in 2006-07.

Far more worrying, though, was the fact that during those years the Conservatives grew the public service more than any government in the prior 20 years. They added about 45,000 jobs from 2006 to 2011.

Fortunately for overburdened taxpayers, the Harper team launched a program in 2012 to reverse the trend and reduce the public service. The plan—currently on track—includes eliminating 30,000 federal jobs by 2016-17, returning the public service to the size it was in 2006 when the Conservative party came to power. To meet that objective, the public service will be reduced by another 8,900 jobs.

There’s a lot more to be done, of course. Performance management is a huge issue. As Treasury Board President Tony Clement recently remarked, “…there are more public servants dying at their desks than being dismissed for underperforming.” He said the dismissal rate in the public service was only 0.06 per-cent compared to a five to 10 per cent rate in the private sector.

Moreover, government employees move up one step on a five-step pay grid every year and automatically receive an increase in pay until they hit the maximum rate, regardless of performance on the job. There’re also issues with sick pay.

Public sector wages and benefits outpace that of the private sector by a wide margin and are the government’s largest annual cost. Fiscal responsibility, therefore, demands close financial control in this area. Apparently, our federal government is trying to do just that.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Canada sending six CF-18s to assist NATO operations in Eastern Europe

The situation in eastern Ukraine is grave and deteriorating, causing concern in NATO capitals in Europe and North America. Not since the end of the Cold War has there been a comparable crisis in Europe.

In reaction to Russian aggression there, NATO has requested Canadian military assets be deployed in Europe, and today Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Canada is sending six CF-18s and military personnel in response.

CBC News reports that the PM said earlier today:

I believe this to be a long-term serious threat to global peace and security and we’re always prepared to work with our allies in NATO and elsewhere to try and bring whatever stability we can to the situation.”

Along with the fighter aircraft, there will be a small number of support staff to fly and maintain them.  Canada will also provide up to 20 officers to NATO headquarters in Brussels where they are expected to take part in that body’s security planning. The planes and ground crew will be based in Poland.

According to Canadian Press:

The fighter jets will join warplanes from the United States, Britain, Denmark, Poland, Portugal and Germany, which will be deploying in waves between now and the fall.

“Canada is also slated to take part in July in a long-planned, U.S.-led military exercise in Ukraine, known as Rapid Trident 2014, but the government has been not forthcoming about the size and scope of the country’s involvement.”

Meanwhile, several government buildings in eastern Ukraine have been attacked and seized by what have been described as armed pro-Russian protesters in much the same manner as that which preceded Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea.

As well, there is a report that three of the pro-Russian militants have been killed and 13 others injured when Ukrainian troops repelled an attack on their National Guard base in the Black Sea port of Mariupol. Reportedly, around 300 armed men attacked the base in the south-east part of the country with stun grenades and Molotov cocktails before being driven off.

Many of the pro-Russian “protesters” wear masks and are, apparently, disciplined, battle-ready militia who carry sophisticated firearms and many in Ukraine suspect they are, in fact, Russian special forces. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted, “It’s all nonsense, there are no Russian units, special forces or instructors in the east of Ukraine.”

Paradoxically, while still trying to maintain that fiction, Vladimir Putin has finally admitted that Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms had invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula before its annexation by Russia.

Moreover, the Russian leader continues to build his case, repeating—in a televised question-and-answer show—his rationale for claiming a national interest in eastern Ukraine. He said regions there have historically been part of the Russian empire and were what he called “Novorossiya” or “New Russia” before they were handed over to Ukraine by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. Putin said that Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Czarist times.

It is unclear whether Putin wants to annex this section of “New Russia” outright or to merely intimidate Ukraine officials into transforming their country into a loose federation that would remain weak and easily influenced by Russia. But there has to be a reason Russia still has 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine’s border.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has described the Russian government as “clearly aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic,” and “a significant threat to peace and stability in the world.” Strong words indeed.

On a more positive note, diplomats from Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and Russia met today and  have agreed on a series of steps aimed at de-escalating violence in Ukraine.

It will, however, take more than strong words and diplomatic meetings to deter Vladimir Putin from his goal of reclaiming regions of Eastern Europe that were historically part of the old Russian empire—his “New Russia.” We know what his end game is.

Wasn’t Alaska once part of Russia?