Site Search

Custom Search

Friday, September 23, 2016

Climate change fact or myth and does it even matter anymore?

Ontario PC leader  Patrick Brown surprised many members of his party when he announced last March he was in favour of putting a price on carbon. At that time he said, “Climate change is a fact. It is a threat. It is man-made.”

This apparent turnabout for the PC leader has not been met with much enthusiasm among conservatives who continue to have doubts about all sorts of things related to anthropogenic climate change, or “global warming” as we used to call it. Ontario PC membership—much like other conservatives across the country—span the full gamut of this issue.

In 2013, environmentalist Dana Nuccitelli, in an article he wrote for The Guardian newspaper in the U.K., used the term “climate contrarians” to describe sceptics who questioned the various aspects of climate change. He said the opinions of climate contrarians “spanned … 5 stages of global warming denial.” And from what I’ve read and heard over the past decade or so, I’d say most conservatives I know, or whose works I read or to whom I listen regularly are pretty much at one of those five stages.

In my opinion, only a minority of Ontario conservatives have made it through all five stages and is now fully accepting of the science, agrees it is caused by human activity and presents an impending threat, and is committed to mitigate the effects at virtually any cost, including carbon taxes or other greenhouse gas reduction mechanisms.

If Mr. Brown was being frank with us, his statements, “Climate change is a fact. It is a threat. It is man-made,” coupled with his support for “putting a price on carbon” places him firmly among this minority and at odds with the rest of us. But, while he may be among the minority of conservatives on this issue, he is among the majority of people in Canada, America and the European Union who have gone all-in on climate change.

The five stages, by the way, are as follows:

  1. Deny its existence
  2. Deny we’re the cause
  3. Deny it’s a problem
  4. Deny we can solve it
  5. It’s too Late

Sound familiar? I’d say it fits pretty well with the knowledge I’ve gained from following this subject closely over the past couple of decades.

I’d say I’m probably stuck somewhere in or between stages four and five. Yes, the issue seems real and does seem to be a problem, especially with the effect rising sea levels are having on many inhabited parts of the world. I’m still not convinced, however, that it’s all to do with human activity and would not have occurred anyway as a natural cycle of the planet’s cooling and warming. But I suppose human activity could be accelerating the process.

My main areas of contention though are: (a) can we really stop it or even slow it down or should we spend our limited recourses on mitigating its effects; and (b) this should not be used as a cash grab by governments to raise money for more social programs with which to bribe the electorate. In other words, any tax raised should be offset by tax reductions elsewhere.

At the end of the day, though, does any of our skepticism really matter? Regardless of what any conservative might think about the veracity of the science surrounding anthropogenic climate change, the science on this issue is, for all practical purposes, settled.

And while it may be considered heroic by some to continue to challenge the overwhelmingly large worldwide majority opinion, I believe it is a waste of our time.

Better we concentrate our efforts on making sure governments choose the least damaging and costly mitigation strategies, and also that every cent of carbon tax is returned to taxpayers in the form of lower taxes elsewhere and not as some social service or other offset that does not go back proportionately to those who paid the tax in the first place.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Is there no room for reasonable accommodation on Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum?

Yesterday I wrote about Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown losing the support of some of his party’s social conservatives over his position on a couple of defining issues. The examples I used were his flip-flop-double-cross on Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum and his decision to support putting a price on carbon.

These issues, at least in part, define who is and who is not a conservative. Not that all conservatives disagree with the new sex-ed curriculum or with some sort of price on carbon whether through a cap-and-trade mechanism or via direct taxation. After all, conservatives like progressives have a wide range of opinions on these subjects, some of which are quite nuanced. I believe it’s safe to say, however, that most conservatives have strong reservations about both issues.

Today, I’ll say a few words about Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum and tomorrow I’ll give my views on pricing carbon.

Regarding the sex-ed curriculum, most small “c” conservatives believe parents are the ones with primary responsibility for deciding the appropriateness of sex and gender identity-related material  taught to their children, and especially to young children. Their greatest concern seems to be centred around the age-appropriateness of the topics covered in the curriculum. And what’s so objectionable about that, especially when the curriculum itself seems to recognize this fact? The Health and Physical Education curriculum states:

Parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethnocultural, spiritual, and personal beliefs and traditions, and they are their children’s first role models.”

Given that statement, why is this controversial curriculum being forced on so many families who fundamentally object to their children being exposed to it? Why not provide the sex-ed portion of the Health and Physical Education curriculum on a volunteer basis to children of parents who feel they need help in communicating this information to their children?

I’ve read the 244-page curriculum—or, at least, scanned the Grade 1–8 document with some care—and neither find it so egregious as many of its opponents do, nor as innocent and appropriate as its proponents.

There are sections that I question, however. Like the insistence of formally introducing six-year-olds to the correct, clinical names for human genitalia. This from a society that routinely refers to one another online as “assholes,” and peppers social media communications with four-letter references to human feces and to the act of sexual intercourse?

Are we so intellectually arrogant and self-righteous we cannot see how this could be considered age-inappropriate by many of our fellow citizens? Six year old girls are still playing with dolls, for God’s sake. Dolls, by the way, that we—mainstream  society—can’t even bring ourselves to produce with intact genitalia.

What about the concept of gender identity being introduced to eight-year-olds. At that age this is as likely, isn’t it, to be gender confusion or gender dysphoria that should be handled by a medical professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist, and not an elementary school teacher.

If a parent were to inform his or her family doctor of an eight-year-old child who seemed to be confused about their gender, to whom is the doctor most likely to recommend the child be referred, a specialist like a psychologist or psychiatrist or the child’s elementary school teacher? I’ll put my money on the former.

I must say also that I can quite see why some of my neighbours would be concerned with the fact teachers are introducing, discussing—at times almost seeming to be encouraging—the concept of romantic dating with nine-year-old children, masturbation with eleven-year-olds, and anal and oral sex with twelve-year-olds. This, along with normalizing homosexual lifestyles, is extremely difficult for many people of faith who adhere to a religious tradition or doctrine that teaches that certain of these practices are immoral.

The curriculum was pushed out to schools on a like-it-or-lump-it basis with minimum consultation, even after being withdrawn in 2010 (?) because it was so controversial.

I find it very hard to reconcile this blatant insensitivity towards what so many consider to be Christian values, practices and beliefs with today’s mainstream society’s sensitivity towards the religious practices of those non-Christians among us.

Christians, it seems, are expected to change in step with the times. Non-Christians, though, are encouraged to cling to old religious traditions and cultural practices—even when they contradict directly the Charter Rights of, for example, equality for women because, apparently, we are so enriched by the diversity of multiculturalism.

Now, I am not religious—not even slightly or nominally so—but I am a conservative and I believe in slow-as-we-go social change and respect for the values and traditions that got Canada to where she is today: a first-rate nation and a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Surly we owe to those who hold fast to our traditional values and beliefs—even those some of us may find outdated—as much sensitivity and reasonable religious accommodation as we extend to newcomers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Patrick Brown given thumbs down by former supporters

Back on May 9, 2015, I wrote that Patrick Brown’s election as leader of the Ontario PCs reminded me of an old adage: Voters get the leader they deserve, which is my variation on Joseph de Maistre’s 1811 quote: “Every nation gets the government it deserves.

At that time I wrote that “I believe [Mr. Brown] is in well over his head…,” referring to Mr. Brown’s then recent emergence from relative obscurity as an Ottawa Tory backbencher who had accomplished little or nothing of substance after nearly a decade in Ottawa. Prior to that I wrote:

In contrast, I don’t see how Patrick Brown improves the Ontario PCs’ prospects beyond those we had under Tim Hudak. Neither do I find anything about him inspiring, nor do I see enough difference between the tone of his politics and that of the past two PC election platforms to give rise to my hope of another Ontario PC government in my lifetime.”

In May 2015, I also expressed my hope the Mr. Brown would “grow into his new job,” while, at the same time, predicting, “Unfortunately, though, I believe that is unlikely.”

Alas, I seem to have been accurate in my assessment, something that gives me little comfort as it will almost certainly lead to a ruinous extension of the term of office of the scandal-prone Liberals and more of their irresponsible fiscal management.

It seems clear that it was Patrick Brown’s successful pandering to the social conservative wing of the Ontario PCs that won the day for him. He promised, for example, to “repeal” the Liberals’ then proposed sex-ed curriculum. Former Whitby-Oshawa MPP Christine Elliott pretty much owned the progressive vote, such as it was.

It is somewhat ironic that increasing opposition to his leadership is coming mainly from that segment of his party. And his flip-flop-double-cross on the sex-ed curriculum is not his only challenge from that quarter. Brown’s decision to support putting a price on carbon has not resonated well with many of his former supporters.

Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun also reports:

Brown has other issues as well. The party has major debt that sources say is not shrinking, and riding association people tell me they want more decisiveness and consistency from Brown, who has been saying in radio interviews he is attempting to ‘build a modern PC party’.”

So, about 18 months in and already there is considerable dissatisfaction with Mr. Brown’s leadership, which is sad news since there seems little prospect of an alternative showing up, getting elected as PC leader and winning the next general election.

For example, Mr. Warmington tells us Doug Ford, Frank Klees and Lisa MacLeod are names being floated as potential replacements, and that’s sad news indeed for all Ontarians. Lisa MacLeod, perhaps, but as for the other two, let’s hope Mr. Warmington is testing our sense of humour.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Can Canada trust China or will bilateral talks end in asymmetrical agreements?

Canadian Kevin Garratt has been released from Chinese detention and allowed to return home in Vancouver. According to the CBC, Garratt was found guilty on two counts of espionage, and the judge ordered him deported.

Garratt and his wife, Julia, operated a café called Peter’s Coffee Shop in Dandong, China where they had lived since 1984. Apparently the couple also carried out Christian aid work in the area—the city of Dandong is near China’s border with North Korea.

The Canadians were detained in August 2014 and accused of stealing Chinese military secrets. We have heard two other explanations for their detention, however, that seem more believable to this writer.

Firstly, the timing of their arrests was interesting coming as it did so shortly after Canadian officials accused a “Chinese state-sponsored actor” of a “highly sophisticated” hacking attack on the computer systems at Canada’s National Research Council. Many believe the spying charges against the Garratts were a tit-for-tat response to the Canada’s allegations.

Secondly, it is said that North Korea demanded the Chinese government shut down the Garratts’ religious activities. North Korea’s anti-religion position is well known and while the couple apparently did not spread Bibles or actively proselytize in that country, North Koreans reportedly attended training secessions in Dandong and returned to North Korea to preach the gospel.

Unfortunately for the Garratts, when the national interests of those two communists regimes intersected, they paid the price with their freedom.

Julia Garratt returned to Canada in February 2015 after being released on bail. Then, in early 2016, Chinese authorities said they had found evidence that Garratt had accepted assignments from Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China, accusations denied by the couple and by the Canadian government. According to CBC News, CSIS Director Michel Coulombe even travelled to China and told officials there that Garratt did not work for his spy agency.

Both former prime minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister Trudeau have raised the Garratts’ case during visits to China in late 2014 and recently in 2016. And, of course, Julia Garratt’s release occurred during Harper’s term in office. The political advantage will, however, go overwhelmingly to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, under whose watch this case has been concluded with the best possible outcome: both Garratts at home in Canada safe and sound.

While we can only speculate that political calculation alone got Kevin Garratt tossed into a Chinese jail for two years, we can be very sure political calculation alone has set him free.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will be in Canada next week for an official visit, and is scheduled to meet with Trudeau in Ottawa, apparently, “to continue to deepen a strong, more stable relationship between Canada and China.”

The the two leaders are expected to discuss a wide range of common interests, including trade, investment rules surrounding state-owned enterprises and environmental, legal and cultural issues. Releasing Kevin Garratt just before Li’s visit was a nice gesture calculated to kick off the meetings on a positive note.

While I certainly join the widely held belief this is a good news story that could have had a far more sinister ending, I can’t help seeing this as further proof of how “flexible” the law is in China. Due process and the rule of law, it seems, means little to those who rule the country. The law, such as it is, seems to be there only to serve the interests of the Communist Party of China.

If for selfish political reasons an innocent man needs to be arrested and imprisoned, so be it. Should political calculation later dictate the man be freed, that too can be made to happen. Fortunately, this time it worked in our favour, but how about next time?

Can we put any trust in China?

Ask the people of Tibet that question. Ask any of the countries with which China shares the hotly disputed South China Sea.

China is one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Under the UN Charter, all member states are obligated to comply with Council decisions. Even from this important leadership position, China will not acknowledge one of the UN’s arbitral tribunals nor abide by its ruling. The tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea ruled against China’s maritime claims in its South China Sea dispute with the Philippines—China is ignoring the ruling.

China likes one-on-one negotiations since, because of its size and rapidly expanding military power and reach, such negotiations will almost always be asymmetrical, and it can bully its way to a win-win position. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tied with eight weeks to go



In a recent New York Times/CBS News public opinion survey, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are virtually tied with less than eight weeks to go. And both presidential candidates seem to be struggling to win the confidence of their bases.

Among likely voters, the Democratic party nominee Hillary Clinton has the support of 46 per cent of likely voters, compared to 44 per cent for Donald Trump, the Republican candidate. As such, neither shows signs of jumping into a commanding lead. Among the broader electorate of registered voters, however, Mrs. Clinton leads Mr. Trump by five points, 48 per cent to 43 per cent respectively.

According to the New York Times:

Discontent with the major party candidates is widespread. Among those who say they intend to vote for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton, slightly more than half express strong support. The rest say that they harbor reservations about their candidate, or that they are simply voting to thwart the other nominee.

Mr. Trump reorganized his campaign team last month, and since then has been more disciplined. For this, he has been rewarded with improving poll numbers. Mrs. Clinton, for her part, has been under attack recently for saying “half” of Mr. Trump’s supporters fit into a “basket of deplorables”—she did say later that she regretted using the word “half” to describe the Trump supporters to which she was referring.

Further controversy ensued after an incident on Sunday when Mrs. Clinton was leaving a 9/11 anniversary ceremony and video caught her nearly collapsing and being helped into a van as she left the event early. Initially, her campaign attempted to conceal what eventually was explained as pneumonia.

Since Sunday, there has been a lot of buzz about Mrs. Clinton’s health and her “basket of deplorables” slur, and that obviously is not helping her in the polls.

I wonder whether questions about Mrs. Clinton’s health has prompted many voters to take a more serious look at both candidates’ running mates, putting greater emphasis on them when deciding between the Democratic and the Republican tickets? It certainly had me re-doing my Google searches on both men. Donald Trump, of course, has chosen Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate, while Hillary Clinton’s running mate is Sen. Tim Kaine.

Gov. Mike Pence is a social conservative who is well known among Republicans and, seemingly, is appealing to followers of the Tea Party movement. He spent six terms in Congress and in 2008 rose to the No. 3 spot in the party, Republican Conference chairman, a job dedicated to shaping the GOP’s messaging. Among Republicans, at least, Gov. Pence would be considered a pretty save back-up to Donald Trump’s precedency—in fact, I dare say that some in the GOP would prefer him over Trump for the top job. If I had a vote, I would.

Tim Kaine is a senator from Virginia. He’s a lawyer by training and served as mayor of Richmond, Va., and as lieutenant governor and governor of Virginia before winning election to the Senate in 2012. Apparently he has good foreign policy chops—that’s his strength. He’s not well-known nationally, however. In a recent CNN/ORC poll, 19 per cent of those surveyed said they had never heard of him, and 21 per cent said they had not formed an opinion of him.

Sen. Kaine himself seems to be still in a pinch-me moment several weeks after being nominated to be Mrs. Clinton’s running mate. “I felt like I was Pinocchio turning into a real boy,” the senator told a Virginia audience. “I mean, like, ‘Wow, what? You want me? Are you kidding?’”

My advice to the senator: Turn into a real vice-presidential candidate fast or your GOP rival will eat you alive in the Oct. 4 vice-presidential debate.

If both these men were running directly for the top job, I’d choose the GOP’s Mike Pence.

If the electorate does not soon perceive Sen. Kaine as having the experience, skill, character and views sought after in a president-in-waiting, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign will be in real trouble. With The Donald already nipping at her heels, a slip or two more and her hopes of being America’s first female president could be toast.

[Photo credits: United States Department of State (Official Photo at Department of State page) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]