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Sunday, May 31, 2009

David Dodge: Federal deficit of $50 billion OK

When it comes to the appropriateness of the federal deficit, who are you going to believe: former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge, the talking heads over at CBC and CTV or Michael Ignatieff? I’ll put my money on Dodge—so too will most Canadians I believe.

As reported at Bloomberg.com, David Dodge, who was a former deputy minister with the Finance Department, said in remarks at an economics conference in Toronto:

“The Canadian federal deficit of 3 per cent of GDP, in a year where the output gap is as large as it’s going to be, is certainly not inappropriate.”

Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page—no friend of Harper’s government—offered nothing like Ignatieff’s doom and gloom in the interview Mr. Page had last week with Steve Paikin of TVO’s The Agenda.

Why then is opposition Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff calling for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s resignation? Crass partisan politics, that’s why.

Here in Canada—through no fault of our own—we are facing our first recession since 1992. Our economy is struggling. Shipments of cars and lumber to the United States have declined, and the overall economy has contracted at an annual pace of 3.4 per cent in the last quarter of 2008. The Bank of Canada estimates that growth in the first quarter may shrink at a 7.3 percent rate, the biggest drop on record.

To this the Grits say little of value, preferring to damn the government for a recession it does not own. I believe that during wars and economic crises we should pull together for the betterment of Canada and not try to scratch out each other’s eyes.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Susan Boyle receives standing ovation for I Dreamed A Dream

The singing sensation, Susan Boyle, sang I Dreamed A Dream from the musical Les Miserables on the final round of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent Saturday. She received a standing ovation from the audience and judges for the song she had chosen for her initial audition in April. Unfortunately, she placed second in the final, losing the crown to a dance troupe called Diversity.

The 48-year-old Susan Boyle had been the favourite of bookmakers and millions of fans around the world. But round-the-clock media scrutiny had begun to get on her nerves. Earlier last week, she got into a shouting match with two reporters who were harassing her.

Rumours soon followed that Ms. Boyle was on the verge of leaving the show before the finals and was on the verge of breaking down. However, she was moved to a “safe house” and made it to the final on schedule.

You can see her wonderful performance here.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ridiculous trumped-up charge of racism

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre has been subjected to a barrage of demands that he apologize for having used the term “tar baby” in the House of Commons. This man faces a ridiculous trumped-up charge of racism, not because of what he said, but because he is a Conservative MP.

When the opposition deliberately misconstrues an innocently used term like “tar baby” and cries racism, it cheapens the very nature of true racism—not at all a socially responsible thing to do and hardly fair to those who suffer true racism.

The term “tar baby” comes from the old Br’er Rabbit (Brother Rabbit) stories of the Southern United States by Joel Chandler Harris—a part of the Uncle Remus folklore collection. Similar stories were told to me in Jamaica by an African-Jamaican nanny. In Jamaica, the central character, Br’er Rabbit, is often “Anansi,” the legendary trickster of Jamaican folklore.

At no time is there even a hint that—in the Tar Baby story—the Tar Baby term refers to an African-American or black Jamaican. Here’s a version of the old folktale.

One of Br’er Rabbit’s main adversaries, Br’er Fox, makes up a lump of tar and puts clothing on it. When Br’er Rabbit comes along he addresses what he thinks is a “tar baby” amiably, but receives no response. Br’er Rabbit becomes offended by what he perceives as Tar Baby’s lack of manners, punches it, and becomes stuck.

Now that Br’er Rabbit is stuck, Fox ponders how to dispose of him.

The helpless, but cunning, Br’er Rabbit pleads, “Please don't throw me in the briar patch,” prompting Fox to do exactly that. As rabbits are at home in thickets, the resourceful Br’er Rabbit escapes.

In Jamaican versions, wherever “Br’er Rabbit” is mentioned, substitute “Anansi.”

A simple, beautiful fable with a moral, folks. That’s all.

Only with the most powerful of microscopes and with a mind full of wishful thinking and malevolency is anyone likely to find a racist theme in these Br’er Rabbit or Anansi stories.

This is more mean-spiritedness from opposition benches than this country deserves.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Why is the GST such a sacred cow

The opposition parties keep nattering on about how much of a mistake it was for the Stephen Harper government to cut the GST. They have blamed the current shortfall in federal revenues squarely on the 2 per cent reduction of the unpopular consumption tax. And recently on TV’s Power Play, former PM Paul Martin repeated the criticism to Tom Clark. Twenty years ago, however, the Grits sung a different tune—if their squawking back then could be characterized as a “tune”.

In 1989, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government proposed a national sales tax of 9 per cent to replace the 13.5 per cent Federal Sales Tax (FST) and an 11 per cent Federal Telecommunications Tax. The FST was generally believed to be detrimental to our international competitiveness. Back then, the Liberal Party lost no time fanning flames of controversy over the proposal, vociferously denouncing it at every opportunity.

So vehement was Grit opposition, the Liberal-dominated Senate refused to pass the tax into law, forcing PM Mulroney to increase the number of senators to give the Progressive Conservatives a majority in the upper chamber. Even then, the Liberals resisted the new tax, launching a filibuster to further delay the legislation.

During the next federal election campaign, chief Grit Jean Chrétien promised to repeal the GST, but in typical Liberal fashion, never did.

Inexplicably, in the twenty years since the GST was introduced the Liberals’ position on the tax has gone from totally opposing it to considering it at the foundation of our federal tax system. To Grit politicians, lowering the tax is akin to cutting healthcare funding.

In 2005, The Canadian Press claimed in an article that the Conservatives did a political back flip because their predecessors imposed the GST and then wanted to cut it. This is faulty reasoning. Increasing and decreasing the rates of tax is a common practice among governments of all stripes. Over past decades, there have been several changes to income tax rates, and in 2006, the government considered it was time to cut the GST—no back flip there at all.

To be fair, the GST is widely considered by economists to be an effective form of taxation, believing that the GST is a more efficient tax source than the income tax.

All true, I’m sure. But it didn’t just recently become true; it was true 20 years ago when Grits wanted to have nothing to do with it and even risked a constitutional crisis in the Senate over its adoption.

Over time, every type of tax should be re-examined. The federal consumption tax rate had been the same for almost 20 years, its time had come.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Magna to buy GM Europe

According to BBC News, Magna International has reached an agreement in principle to rescue GM Europe’s Opel and Vauxhall operations. The other potential bidder, Fiat, said it would not attend Friday’s talks with the German government. Magna, however, must still get German government clearance for the deal.

Assuming the government approves the deal gains, Magna will reportedly inject between €500 million and €700 million into Opel, and will cut 2,500 jobs in Germany, about 10 per cent of Opel’s workforce. Magna’s UK plans are not known.

General Motors is expected keep a 35 per cent share in the company, while 10 per cent would be employee owned.

Magna’s bid is backed by Russia’s state-run Sberbank and Oleg Deripaska's truck firm Gaz.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Susan Boyle not leaving Britain’s Got Talent

Recent press rumours that Scottish singing sensation, Susan Boyle, might leave the ITV Britain’s Got Talent show before its finale on Saturday have been put to rest. An ITV spokesperson said, “Susan Boyle is still very much part of the Britain’s Got Talent. She is looking forward to the Grand Final and she is rehearsing hard to prepare for the biggest night of her life.”

Good news.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Too quickly the French forget

Apparently, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has joined Hollywood and the many millions of Americans who believe that the beginning of the liberation of Europe on June 6, 1944 was an all-American affair. Among the heads of state not invited to the 65th anniversary of D-Day is Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and Canada, who is, incidentally, the last surviving leader who served in the Second World War.

A spokesman for the government of France said that this year’s anniversary of the Normandy landings was “first and foremost a Franco-American ceremony given the recent election of President [Barack] Obama.”

U.S. President Barack Obama will, of course, be at the ceremony to be held at the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, which overlooks Omaha beach on the Normandy coast.

Thousands of British and Canadian troops fought on Sword and Juno beaches on D-Day—something the French leader seems to have forgotten. Perhaps he prefers to ignore the fact that, but for their sacrifice, France’s national dish probably would now be Bratkartoffeln served with Mettbrötchen and Weissbier.

Since France was a pathetic no-show for most of the Second World War and had to be “liberated” by braver souls, one questions whether Sarkozy has any particular right to be included in the ceremony. He should have the decency to stand at a distance with his head down while the representatives of the nations who actually fought on the beaches of Normandy honour their fallen soldiers.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Ignatieff’s whining and bombast won’t fool us

For several years, the Liberal party’s war room, caucus and its leaders have tried anything and everything they could to discredit PM Stephen Harper. But now they squeal “foul” at the PM’s threat to release videotapes of opposition leader Michael Ignatieff in an attempt to discredit him.

Recent so-called attack ads by the Tories were met in Liberal quarters with much whining and bombast, and not a little fear that they were taking the shine off the Grits’ newly minted leader, Michael Ignatieff. An enjoyable spectacle for anyone who remembered the barrage of negative advertising that the Grits used to stave off imminent electoral collapse during the 2006 federal election campaign.

Fortunately, the Liberals’ negative television ads did not have the desired effect, although the baseless claim that PM Harper’s Tories were bankrolled by rightwing U.S. operatives and that he was a George W. Bush clone with a U.S. “hidden” agenda did stick with many of the less sophisticated.

I cannot fire the Leader of the Opposition and with all the tapes I have on him, I do not want to.

– PM Stephen Harper

Those ads were not as effective as planned simply because they were not based on fact; the current Tory ads are.

In Michael Ignatieff we see a man not unlike the hapless former prime minister, Paul Martin, whose qualifications as PM proved more hypothetical than real. Ignatieff prefers that we continue to give him the free ride he got to the leadership of his party.

“The public finances of our country are in freefall and he’s [Stephen Harper] wasting time with tapes of me? It’s a joke,” Ignatieff blustered yesterday, desperate to drum up something to save face for his lack of effective use of his position as leader of the official opposition. As with Paul Martin’s ad campaigns, his charge is not based on fact.

  • Retail sales are on the rise for a third straight month in March.
  • Signs of improvement can be seen in consumer confidence levels and in credit markets.
  • Equity and currency markets have rallied in recent weeks.
  • The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index is up by about 30 percent from its March lows.
  • The Canadian dollar has risen nearly 17 per cent against the greenback over the comparable period.
  • Most economists and pundits are telling us that there are positive signs in the economy and that it is set to improve later in this year and into 2010.

Just a week ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) endorsed the government’s economic action plan when it had this to say:

Canada’s strong policy framework and proactive response has put it in a better position to deal with the global financial crisis than most countries… .


Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page—no friend of Harper’s government—offered nothing like Ignatieff’s doom and gloom in the interview Mr. Page had earlier in the week with Steve Paikin of TVO’s The Agenda.

Only the Grits and their creatures are claiming that the “public finances of our country are in freefall.”

Ignatieff’s bleating is a lot of bluster, misinformation and empty threats. Each day leaves him sounding more like a less strident Stéphane Dion.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

US’s toothless policy towards North Korea jeopardizes world peace

The bellicose comments and threats coming out of North Korea these days need to be taken seriously. As a key member of what George W. Bush dubbed the “Axis of Evil,” North Korea represents an enormous threat to world peace. Not only is it an  immediate threat to its southern neighbour, but the potential is there for exporting of nuclear technology to other of the world’s trouble spots. In one hand North Korea holds a nuclear dagger to the throat of South Korea, while with its other hand it points a spear at American and Japanese interests.

International politics makes for strange bedfellows. Thus we should not be surprised to discover multi-billion dollar cooperation between North Korea, Iran and Syria—all of whom seem determined to acquire nuclear weapons.

Recently, the Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung reported that high-level Iranian defector Ali Reza Asghari claimed that Iran paid for a North Korean-built plutonium production facility at Kibar, Syria. An installation that was virtually identical to North Korea’s Yongbyon plutonium production centre. Teheran viewed the installation in Syria as an extension of its own nuclear program. And, according to Israeli estimates, Teheran spent over a billion dollars on the project.

Ali Reza Asghari—before defecting to the United States—served as a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and was a former deputy defense minister of that country, so the report is credible.

Over the past several years, Iranian nuclear officials have been on hand for all of North Korea’s major tests including its first nuclear test and its intercontinental ballistic missile test in 2006.

A week or so ago, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that his country had successfully test-fired a Sejil-2 ballistic missile with a range of approximately 2,000 to 2,500 kilometres. And U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the test appeared to have been successful.

North Korea’s behavior increases tensions and undermines stability in Northeast Asia.

- Barack Obama

Apparently, North Korea has been a key player in Iran’s missile program. Western pundits claim that the Sejil-2 ballistic missile is based on Chinese technology, which Iran acquired from Pakistan. Apparently, however, Iran owes much to North Korea. For example, the Shihab-3 missile, with which Iran threatens Israel and its Arab neighbors, is an Iranian version of North Korea’s Nodong missile.

Clearly, ties between North Korea, Iran and Syria show that their joint nuclear program, with warhead, missile and technological components, is no theoretical or distant threat. Such strong links between these countries, means that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of one are WMD in the hands of all—a horrifying prospect for countries within 2,500 kilometres of any of their boundaries.

With President Barak Obama’s administration heavily weighted with “doves,” neither North Korea nor Iran have much to fear from Washington. President Obama has made it clear that he will do nothing of substance to respond to North Korea’s nuclear test, so too will the president do nothing to impede Iran’s nuclear weapon and missile delivery program.

Just as North Korea and Iran have been coordinating their program to develop weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, so too might they coordinate their threats to others in their region. Consider, for instance, North Korea threatens Japan and South Korea, while Iran threatens Israel, all with nuclear strikes. Faced with certain nuclear war, will the United States offer more than hollow words and economic sanctions in return?

My bet is that the leaders of North Korea and Iran are convinced it will not, and therein lies the real danger.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A $50 billion deficit? Ouch!

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has raised his estimate of our deficit from the $33.7 billion shortfall he forecast in January’s budget to a whopping $50 billion. The deficit will be the country’s first after more than a decade of budget surpluses.

We are also seeing the substantial auto payments that are going to be required. As a result of all of that, we will run a substantial short-term deficit this year, which I would estimate at more than $50 billion.


- Jim Flaherty
Federal Finance Minister

Last November, the Conservative government projected budget surpluses, but January’s $40 billion stimulus package has changed all that. Now the finance minister is projecting lower federal revenues and higher EI payouts than previously expected.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday that the deficits would not be long-term. “Our deficits are affordable but they will remain short-term,” the PM told Parliament, adding that they were modest when compared with deficits being racked up by other nations.

This may be so, but it’s small consolation to fiscal conservatives who fear that runaway spending is actually the root cause of the forecasted deficits, and that a balanced budget will be far more illusive than Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty are prepared to admit.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Hats off to GG Michaëlle Jean

Today, I doff my hat to our governor general Michaëlle Jean who showed her support for the Inuit community in Nunavut by her ­symbolic defiance of an upcoming European Union ban  on our seal products. “It’s like sushi,” she said, after tasting raw seal meat at a meeting of hundreds of Inuit at a community festival in Rankin Inlet in Nunavut on Monday.

Earlier this month, the EU Parliament voted to endorse a ban on seal products in protest against commercial hunting practices. When she was asked if  she meant to send a message to the EU, Ms Jean replied: “Take from that what you will.”

Well said, GG!

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Did Don Newman jump or was he pushed?

So, what do you think: did Don Newman jump into early retirement or was he pushed? Apparently, senior CBC sources have confirmed the plan to cancel CBC Newsworld’s Politics television show. So, no show, no Don or was it no Don, no show?

I tend to watch Power Play at 5:00 p.m. over at CTV, but do tune in to Politics quite often (I record it for later viewing). I have been a fan of host Don Newman for several years, but there is no denying the left-Lib bias of the show. This constant bias is rather irritating and I find Power Play less so.

For years the situation was reversed: I regularly watched Newman’s show and recorded Mike Duffy for later viewing. But the irrelevant punditry, with pundits, politicians and others with vested interests virtually reading from their scripted talking points became too much for me. Politics too often went for the easy story even when the issues involved really didn’t matter a whole lot.

According to the CBC Web site, Don Newman has “opted for the voluntary retirement incentive.” I wonder if he opted out because he knew of the fate awaiting his show?

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Susan Boyle comes through with “Memory” from Cats

The YouTube sensation and Britain’s Got Talent finalist wowed both audience and judges who rose to give her a standing ovation for her performance in the talent show’s semi-finals. Judge for yourselves, but hers was perhaps the best performance of Lord Lloyd Webber’s Memory from his musical Cats.

Ms. Boyle faltered at the beginning, but clutched her stomach and went on the deliver a tour de force of a performance. The following is a slightly tinny version, which will give some appreciation of her brilliant talent. A version with better sound quality can be found here.

Enjoy.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tory ads seem to be taking a bite out of Liberal support

Mike McGuire at You Know I’m Right blog has the results of a new poll showing that the Conservatives have taken a two-point lead over the Liberals, 35 per cent to 33 per cent. I agree with Mike that, “Hopefully this is a harbinger of good things to come for the Tories.”

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

So much for cap and trade

Germany is preparing to help domestic industries overcome the economic crisis by cutting electricity bills of that country’s largest energy users. And the bulk of that relief is expected to be in the form of reimbursement to companies for the cost of carbon dioxide emissions trading certificates that utilities currently pay and pass on in their electricity prices, i.e., cap and trade.

Berlin successfully argued at an European Union summit in December that energy-intensive industries should be not be forced to buy emission cap and trade permits between 2013 and 2020. It now wants to go further by compensating energy-intensive companies in the intervening years.

This news comes at a time when so-called “cap and trade” is gaining traction in North American jurisdictions, and most notably with President Barak Obama’s administration, which is trying to pass cap and trade legislation.

Should Germany follow through with its plan, we are sure to see other European countries follow suit and move to exempt entire industries from the regulation lest they simply relocate their operations to more business-friendly nations.

Where will that leave Democrats in Washington who are devoting so much of their efforts to impose the very system on struggling U.S.-based industries that Europe seems to consider economic suicide? Until now the Democrats have pointed to Europe as a model for cap and trade.

It leaves them with a dog that won’t hunt, that’s where. But will they re-think this ill-advised job-killing legislation?

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Can’t teach old terrorists new tricks

Today we read that 74, or one out of every seven, terrorism suspects formerly held at the Guantanamo Bay detention site are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorism. According to the U.S. Pentagon, of more than 530 detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay, 27 are confirmed and 47 suspected of “reengaging in terrorist activity.”

The list included detainees accused or convicted of terrorist offenses in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia.

These figures are certain to intensify debate in Washington over the prison, which has been strongly criticized by many, including allies of the United States. Rights groups have voiced skepticism about previous Defense Department statements on former Guantanamo detainees taking part in terrorism. Some have suggested they are intended to stoke fear among Americans about its closing.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

How many flop-flops before Obama loses credibility

Last week President Barak Obama seems to have reversed himself on his decision to revive George W. Bush’s practice of trying terrorism suspects in military commissions. He  explained that he had always said that with reforms, such as limiting hearsay evidence and giving suspects greater latitude in picking their lawyers, he would support them. As he put it: “my administration is bringing our commissions in line with the rule of law.” Sounds like damage control to me though.

There have been several other cases when this president has seemed to change direction. For example, he promised that he would sign an abortion rights bill into law—now he says it isn’t his “highest legislative priority.” And recently, he authorized the release of previously classified memos describing the C.I.A.’s so-called “harsh interrogation techniques.” But then he reversed his (or his Justice Department’s) position and moved to block the release of photos showing abuse of detainees. In another example, he promised that he would work towards the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy practiced by his nation’s military, but this no longer seems to be on his administration’s agenda.

I cannot really say that I disagree with any of his new positions on these issues as they tend to align more with my own views that his earlier ones. These policy flop-flops do, however, bring into question his credibility on other issues that differentiated him from his predecessor.

I like this president. I see him as a major improvement over George W. Bush. I even like the fact that he’s capable of changing his mind as he thinks things through. A certain amount of recalibration could be considered thoughtful and a show the leadership that some will see as being required of a commander-in-chief.

There are bound to be limits, however, on the U.S. public’s tolerance of revisions of what they considered important premises of his past campaign. At that point his vaunted skills as an orator may not be sufficient to ease emerging doubts about his credibility.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ignatieff cavorts in the Land of Oz

Liberal land seems much like Frank Baum’s Land of Oz, the land of the Tin Man, the Timid Lion and the Straw Man. For the brainless and heartless Straw Man, we have the former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion who, if not exactly brainless, so totally lacked political judgment, he might as well have been so. Dion, as did Baum’s Tin Man, had neither heart nor brain, but seemed to care nothing for the loss of his brain and sought hard for a heart so that he could shower us with his touchy-feely, tax-and-spend socialist agenda.

The Timid Lion, of course, lacked a quite different kind of heart, the sort that gives one courage to act on one’s principles—not unlike current Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. The timid lion, Ignatieff, likes to roar and bluff and threaten, but when shove comes to push, he lacks the courage of his convictions and backs Conservative initiatives to avoid an election.

As to the Straw Man, that’s the make-believe Conservative leader Stephen Harper that Ignatieff and Dion conjured up from their underactive imaginations. Men like Ignatieff need straw men so they can huff and puff and appear courageous by creating the illusion of defeating a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

Let’s consider the recent Conservative “attack” ads, which point out that Michael Ignatieff spent 34 of his adult years outside Canada.

“We have one kind of citizen,” roars Ignatieff as he begins to build his straw man. “They’ve been attacking me recently for being out of the country,” he said. “It doesn’t matter about me, I can take anything they throw at me, anything at all,” he blusters.

Now here is the straw man fully grown: “I’m standing up not for myself, but everybody who understands one thing about this country—we have one kind of citizen, only one kind, and Stephen Harper doesn’t get to decide who’s a good citizen and who isn’t.”

Right on! The PM doesn’t get to decide that—who has said he should? Conservatives have said nothing about there being anything wrong with citizens living abroad. Neither have Conservatives suggested that citizens born or living abroad are “any less Canadian” because of it. But the timid lion, builds up his straw man by deliberately misconstruing the Conservative ads, only to savagely tear it apart.

Those who watch the ads thoughtfully, however, understand the point they are making: should Canadians choose as their next prime minister a man who has lived abroad for almost his entire adult life? How can such a man fully understand the needs, desires and aspirations of average Canadians? From where would he have learned them? From books and newspapers?

It is bad enough for Ignatieff to deliberately misconstrue the meaning of the ads—after all, that’s deception—but the chief Grit goes even further. He criticizes Stephen Harper for what he called the “politics of personal attack,” and the “politics of take no prisoners, leave ’em for dead on the side of the road. We don’t do that kind of politics in the Liberal party.” Now that is an outright lie.

Can any fair-minded person deny that the politics former Liberal PMs Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin practiced against each other, never mind against Mr. Harper, was anything other than the “politics of take no prisoners, leave ’em for dead on the side of the road? Or how about politics as practiced by Liberal Party war room hero, Warren Kinsella?

At least the Conservative ads tell the truth.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

A madman with his finger on the nuclear button?

Despite their best efforts, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia working together could not persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon development program. Earlier today, North Korea announced that it had successfully conducted its second nuclear test. The recalcitrant Communist state is also rumoured to have test-fired three short-range, surface-to-air missiles, launched toward the sea between North Korea and Japan.

In what appears to be another dramatic example of American foreign policy failure, the test defied international warnings and appeared to have caught South Korea and the United States off guard—so much for the much vaunted U.S. foreign intelligence capability. Authorities reported that the test triggered an earth tremor with a magnitude of between 4.5 and 5.3 and estimate that the test had a power of one kiloton of explosives—a fraction of the size of the American bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.

Agreements resulting from a 2007 summit meeting called for South Korea to spend billions of dollars to help rebuild the impoverished North Korea’s dilapidated infrastructure. And there was hope that this aid—along with economic concessions made by the United States—would lead to the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, which carried out its first successful nuclear test in Oct. 2006.

As with North Korea’s 2006 weapons test, this latest test is the product of decades of diplomatic failure, spread over several presidencies. American spy satellites saw the North building a nuclear reactor in the early 1980s, and by the early 1990s the C.I.A. estimated that the country could have one or two nuclear weapons.

This genie is definitely out of the bottle. North Korea has become the world’s eighth nuclear-armed power and marks the first time nuclear arms have been under the complete control of a madman.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Friday, May 22, 2009

It’s time to define Ignatieff

The Blue Like You blog has and interesting take on Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff—it’s well worth reading. And the site has a link to an equally interesting column in the Toronto Sun by Peter Worthington, in which he wonders about “…the Tories’ sudden obsession with Ignatieff.”

I don’t see the Tories “obsession with Ignatieff” to be at all “sudden.” For one thing, it is quite usual for one political party to be obsessed with its main political rival’s leader. For another, in the months following Michael Ignatieff’s appointment as Stéphane Dion’s replacement, the political climate in Canada was anything but conducive to so called “attack ads—what Worthington calls truth ads.”

Tory political power was threatened by an unholy alliance of the three opposition parties. And, although many believed Mr. Ignatieff would, in time, distance himself from the alliance, he had to be given space in which to do so with some grace. Besides, the Tories desperately needed his support for a crucial budget vote—hardly a time to launch a partisan attack.

Once political storm clouds had passed over and skies were again Tory-blue, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was able to give the go ahead to begin defining Mr. Ignatieff for the Canadian public. And he didn’t have far to look for material to show his opponent in a negative light. Good grief, just look at what he had available without any digging at all:

  • Ignatieff was out of the country for some 34 of his 42 or so adult years.
  • Ignatieff has spent more time in the United States than he has in Canadian politics.
  • Early on, Ignatieff supported the war in Iraq.
  • And then there were his statements in Britain that the only thing he misses about Canada is Algonquin Park.

And all this without sticking a spade in the ground.

Joanne at Blue Like You writes, “Nature hates a vacuum, and so far Michael Ignatieff has proven to be just that—a vacuous political windsock.”

I like her analogy about filling a vacuum. As with Stéphane Dion, if the Grits do not have their leader out there selling himself to Canadians with solid, effective policies and hard, specific alternatives to government plans and actions, they can count on the Tories to fill the vacuum and cast Mr. Ignatieff in the mold of their choosing. I’d be disappointed if they didn’t.

Mr. Ignatieff has a record, both good and bad. The good parts helped him obtain the leadership of his party; the bad parts will impede his efforts to become Canada’s first Prime Minister to have spent far more of his adult years in two other countries than he has in Canada. These 34 years abroad were not spent in the service of Canada, but as a full-time resident participating fully in those societies. Remember: the only thing he missed about Canada was Algonquin Park.

For goodness sake, the man has paid far more in taxes to foreign governments than he has to Canada.

Surely Canadians cannot be blamed for being troubled by several aspects of the Ignatieff record. And surely the Conservative Party of Canada can not be blamed for pointing them out.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

More allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Ruby Dhalla

The National Post carries a report this morning that is likely to cast even more doubt about the integrity of Liberal MP and former official opposition critic, Ruby Dhalla. According to the Post, Aurora Villanueva, 2007-2008 president of the Brampton Filipino Seniors Club:

… says she wrote a letter on May 13th to the Commons immigration committee retracting a May 7th letter that said Ms. Dhalla had been ‘unjustly smeared’ by allegations of mistreating caregivers, had a character of the highest integrity and had the support of the club.

In an interview on Thursday, the 81-year-old Filipina accused Ms. Dhalla of “taking advantage” of her to falsely claim the support of the Brampton Filipino Seniors Club. “They took my signature,” Ms. Villanueva said, “I need to clear my name. I don’t want to die with a black mark on my name.”

Ms. Dhalla allegedly “took advantage of my being an old lady and being friendly” to obtain Ms. Villanueva’s signature on a letter prepared apparently by Ms. Dhalla’s representative and taken to Ms. Villanueva’s home two weeks ago, at a time when she was ill and unaware of the nanny-gate allegations. Ms. Villanueva claims that she barely read the letter.

In Ms. Villanueva’s letter of May 13th, she tells the Commons committee that she wishes to retract the earlier letter she believes Ms. Dhalla submitted to the committee. Here is an excerpt:

The implication that I personally, or the club has taken Ms. Dhalla’s side is totally false. I hereby request that Ms. Dhalla stop claiming that she has the support of the Brampton Filipino Seniors Club and me. Both claims are false and should not be used in her defence in this inquiry.

Ms. Dhalla issued a brief statement on Thursday, as follows:

I appreciate Ms. Villanueva’s clarification; however she is not speaking on behalf of all the Brampton Filipino Seniors Club. Many members of the Filipino Seniors Club and community have expressed their support in letters, phone calls and e-mails. I appreciate the words of encouragement and support from constituents and Canadians.


Can this affair get any more sordid?

Ms. Villanueva says that Dhalla called and asked her to retract her May 13th retraction, but that she refused. If true, this places the MP squarely at the centre of this scandal. Not even a hint that her brother or mother is to blame for this one.

Tacky little people caught in a tawdry web of their own deception.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Choosing a PC leader: a value judgment

The  Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario has been traditionally a big-tent party attracting members and supporters from across the political spectrum. Without such broad appeal, it could never have ruled the province for 80 of the 141 years since Confederation, including its 42-year run from 1943 to 1985—which included the Big Blue Machine era. So having so called red-Tories in our midst is nothing new.

There was a marked swing to the right under former premier Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolution, but Ernie Eves and John Tory yanked us back to the left or, at least, much closer to the centre.

Comparisons of the four contenders’ relative “left-ness” and “right-ness” are inevitable as we the question what it might be like to have another red-Tory at the helm.

So I thought about what it is like for me to be a conservative in 2009, and here’s what I came up with.

MPP Frank Klees offered one of the best quotes of this leadership campaign:

Freedom of expression is a core value of democracy from which all other rights naturally flow. Without that, our democratic system of government itself is at risk.

To that I would add that individual rights and freedoms should be favoured over group rights. I agree with Ayn Rand who asserted that a group, as such, has no rights. By joining a group a person can neither acquire new rights nor lose the rights that she or he does possess.

I hold conservative values dear. That’s not to say that I do not welcome change, for I do when it is for the better. But in a society, change is best when it is evolutionary.

The “anything goes” sort of social liberalism is corrosive. On the one hand, we need rules. And once we make them, enforce them. On the other hand, the paternalistic, government-knows-best philosophy is smothering. Let’s just stick to essential basic laws.

Society’s rules are better when:

  • they are made by elected legislatures and not by judges;
  • they are adjudicated by an independent judiciary (i.e., courts of law) and not by quasi-judicial tribunals; and
  • they are mindful of individual rights.

I’m for smaller governments at all levels. Take care of the basics, let the private sector look after the rest.

I’m for a secular government that does not subsidize organized religions or their schools. And I do not believe that belonging to any organized religion should confer a special right or privilege. Religious practices should be tolerated, but not necessarily respected.

These are my core values. Proposed policies that protect and support these will get my vote.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

War on Drugs: are we losing?

The FBI in the United States estimated that, in 2007, U.S. law enforcement made more arrests for drug abuse violations—an estimated 1.8 million arrests, or 13.0 percent of the total number of arrests—than for any other offense in 2007. The overall rate of police-reported drug offences in Canada has generally been increasing since 1993. In 2007, the rate of drug offences in Canada  reached its highest point in 30 years (Table 1 and Table 2).

These statistics are troubling and suggest that we are not winning our “war on drugs.”

Moreover, there is a clear association between illegal drugs (possession, trafficking, production, importing and exporting) and crime in general. Research informs us that, not only are many crimes committed by those under the influence of drugs, but crime is often committed to obtain money to purchase drugs. Furthermore, drug offences are linked to organized crime, street gang activity and prostitution.

The costs to our society of illicit drug use is enormous. Treasury Board documents show that $368 million was spent on targeting illicit drugs in 2004-2005. When you include federal, provincial and municipal police, courts and correctional services, we spend about $2 billion annually. And when other social and health-related costs (e.g., medical expenses, loss of productivity and work absenteeism) are added, the cost is frightfully high and are a terrible drain on precious resources.

In Canada, the creation of the National Anti-Drug Strategy was launched in 2007 to address crimes related to illegal drugs. This strategy calls for a collaborative approach among government departments and community groups. It includes three action plans: prevention, treatment and law enforcement. As part of the enforcement plan, mandatory minimum sentencing legislation for certain serious drug offences were introduced. The program was re-introduced in February of this year and provides for mandatory minimum prison sentences for serious drug crimes by those who produce and sell illegal drugs. (See www.nationalantidrugstrategy.gc.ca for more information.)

Here’s an excerpt from the Feb. 27, 2009 announcement:

The proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) would impose mandatory jail time for producing and selling illegal drugs. This legislation calls for special penalties to be imposed when offences are carried out for organized crime purposes or if they target youth.

… The proposed legislation would allow a Drug Treatment Court to suspend a sentence while the addicted accused person takes an approved treatment program. Drug Treatment Courts encourage the accused person to deal with the addiction that motivates their criminal behaviour. If the person successfully completes the program, the court normally imposes a suspended or reduced sentence. These courts include a blend of judicial supervision, incentives for reduced drug use, social services support, and sanctions for non-compliance.


This seems to be our focus: get tough on those who provide the supply of drugs, but go easy on those who provide the demand. And it is about the same on the U.S. side of the border.

We are loosing the war on drugs, not because we aren’t sending enough pushers to jail or keeping them there long enough, but because we have been unable to reduce demand. With the huge profits available to those who are involved, there will always be those willing to risk the legal penalties regardless of their severity.

Given the enormous damage our society has sustained from all the various aspects of illegal drugs, any involvement with them must surely be among the most antisocial of behaviors, including murder. I include murder for many are committed as part of the illegal drug trade, and those who provide the demand for the drugs are all complicit in those murders whether they commit them themselves or are thousands of miles away at the time.

In Canada, we allow handouts of drug paraphernalia and “injection sites” where drug users are allowed to consume illicit drugs. In British Columbia, the Vancouver Island Health Authority gives away “safer crack kits” at its Insite facility, while in the cities of Ottawa and Toronto similar distribution programs are on their way. Health groups, which run programs that enable illicit drug use, say the programs aim to help drug users kick the habit, or at least not to become any “sicker.” That may very well be the case, but, apparently, these facilities contravene a 1961 treaty signed by Canada.

In a new report, the International Narcotics Control Board calls on Canada to ban community-backed programs that enable illicit drug use. The report states that distribution of drug kits contravenes an article in the 1988 United Nations’ anti-drug trafficking convention that Canada signed.

Those who use the banned substances are every bit as guilty as those who provide it to others. Users are at the very root of the problem, and until we can curb use, we will never prevail in our struggle to rid our society of this destructive menace to our well-being.

Anyway, that’s the way I see it.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Canada: time to grow up and start looking out for ourselves

The Russian invasion of its former satellite, Georgia, on Aug. 8, 2008, demonstrated that the days of military aggression in Europe are not gone. Georgia, of course, is not a NATO member—although the Bush administration had wanted it to become  one. So it stood alone and saw the wide range of weapons and equipment that, for years, the United States had so lavishly supplied fall into the hands of the Russian army after less than five days of combat operations.

When the Russians came at Georgia, the United States did not stand at Georgia’s side—and no one except the Georgians expected them to do so.

Russia has historically been rather nasty to its neighbours and erstwhile friends, just ask the people of Georgia, Poland, the Baltic States, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and Hungry. And the United States has demonstrated that it will not necessarily come to the aid of an ally who becomes a target of the nuclear-armed Russians.

There are lessons here to be learned by Canadian policy makers and military planners: (a) wars that could involve Canada against formidable military opponents are not inconceivable; and (b) Canada should not assume that the United States will automatically come to its aid in any such conflict.

Russia is a nuclear power, second only to the United States. And the United States will never risk a nuclear war to defend another country; a conventional one, yes, but not a nuclear war—that’s their line in the sand.

The only thing that really impresses Russian leaders is power, military, air and naval power. And Canada, without the United States, has too little of that. As to NATO, we should not look there for help—just consider the lack of tangible support from that quarter we have received in Afghanistan.

If we Canadians have any expectation of defending our Arctic region and its potential abundance of natural resources, we had better look to our own military, air force and navy to do so. We are, however, a nation of over 33 million people and our military is stretched to its limit to keep a paltry 2,800 fighters in the field in Afghanistan.

For too long Canada has been a large country but a small power. This, of course, has not always been so.

Over the course of the Second World War, 1.1 million Canadians served in our army, navy and air force: the army enlisted 730,000, the air force 260,000 and the navy 115,000. Our navy with over 400 ships became the third largest in the world. Later, we sent more than 26,000 Canadians to serve in the Korean War.

I keep hearing and reading that Canada “punches above its weight.” That’s all very well and good, but militarily we are light-weights. So let’s up our military weight so we can punch hard enough to properly defend ourselves when necessary.

Liberal governments and some past Progressive Conservative governments systematically starved our military of sufficient funds to properly discharge our international obligations and commitments. Recently, a Fox News program accurately observed that over the past several decades Canada has relied on our proximity to the United States to save on our military expenditures. We continue to rely on the assumption that our southern neighbour will always come to our defence if we were attacked.

Canada ranks 6th in defence expenditures among the 26 members of the NATO alliance. However, our ranking drops to 20th, when military outlays are calculated as a percentage of our country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This is shamefully inadequate for a country whose Arctic sovereignty will almost certainly be tested by the Russians in the next 25 to 50 years. We spend about 16 billion USD annually on our military, less than half that of Russia’s 39.6 billion USD—we had better start to catch up.

Spending on our military has dropped from almost six per cent of the GDP in 1956 to 1.1 per cent in 2005. By contrast, Turkey spends 5.3 per cent, Greece spends 4.3 per cent, the U.S. 4 per cent, Russia 3.9 per cent, France and Brazil 2.6 per cent, Australia and the U.K. 2.4 per cent and the Netherlands 1.6 per cent. According to the C.I.A. Web site, Canada is ranked 132 of 173 countries in the world in this regard—pathetic really when we consider ourselves worthy of being a member of the G8 group of nations.

Canada’s GDP is of similar size to Russia’s—they have a much larger population, but we are a much richer nation on a per capita basis. We can compete with Russia on the world stage if we so choose. We are not a nuclear-armed power, but we don’t have to be able to defeat them in an all out war. They just have to know that they would receive one heck of a bloody nose if they got too aggressive with us. To most nations in the world, and especially to ones like Russia, military power is what really counts when all is said and done.

The time is here when we must become a large country in every sense of the term—not a super-power in the mold of the United States, to be sure, but a world power approaching the class of the United Kingdom and France.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Frank Klees 1, Christine Elliott 0

Today, sadly, MPP Christine Elliott gave me a reason to reconsider my support for her quest for the leadership of the Ontario PC party. Unlike her three rivals, MPP Elliott says that a proposal to scrap the Human Rights Tribunal is controversial  and could hurt the party in the next provincial election.

Freedom of expression is a core value of democracy from which all other rights naturally flow. Without that, our democratic system of government itself is at risk.

– MPP Frank Klees

She is also quoted as saying, “… there is a need to make some changes, but most people can’t afford to take discrimination cases to court.”

Hogwash! Make the justice system accessible and affordable to all; don’t circumvent it with these judicial travesties. It’s a case of garbage in, garbage out. A garbage system will deliver garbage decisions. And a bit of tinkering here and there just won’t cut it.

I’m disappointed that Ms. Elliott chose to take such a wishy-washy stand on this issue. I much prefer Frank Klees’s more substantive and principled position, as stated, in part, below:

… the abuses must stop. Section 13 needs to be repealed. Giving the Commission the right to investigate the views and opinions of the citizens of Ontario threatens the freedom of expression and is counter to the importance of that right in Canadian society. Freedom of expression is a core value of democracy from which all other rights naturally flow. Without that, our democratic system of government itself is at risk.


I agree with MPP Randy Hillier and journalist Ezra Levant that the Human Rights Commission and associated Tribunal should be scrapped altogether. But as a consolation, I’ll take Frank Klees’s proposal and Tim Hudak’s proposal to scrap just the Tribunal. As to Ms. Elliott’s position on this issue, I’m underwhelmed.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Tim Hudak’s got it half right, but better that than nothing

The announcement a few days ago by Ontario PC party leadership hopeful, Tim Hudak, that he “vows to scrap [Ontario’s] human rights tribunal” was welcome indeed. We are finally beginning to see politicians take up this cause—MPP Randy Hillier, another leadership hopeful did so earlier—and add their weight to the struggle for free speech by citizens like Ezra Levant.

This from Mr. Hudak’s Web site:

Tim proposes that the Tribunal be scrapped in favour of a court-based system operating under the rules of evidence. Complaints would go to specially trained judges, similar to the existing Domestic Violence and Family Law Courts. These judges would have a mandate to hear real cases of discrimination or harassment – not politically-motivated cases of hurt feelings.


Ezra Levant writes in his blog that he’s pleased with the Hudak announcement, but states that it covers only “half the problem.” Mr. Levant writes:

But merely replacing the HRCs [human rights commissions] corrupt system with a fairer court system is not the whole solution. I would have been no happier had a real judge heard the censorship case against me. It's the censorship that matters, too—the counterfeit “right not to be offended”. I don't want a real judge applying that fake right. I don’t want anybody presiding over such a sham. So it’s not just the process that’s broken, it’s the substance, too.


I’ll be happy with only half a solution if we can get. We have got to start somewhere in this struggle against insane laws and basic injustice. And I share Mr. Levant’s hope that Christine Elliot and Frank Klees, the other two candidates for the Ontario Tory leadership, come out with HRC reform platforms themselves, making it unanimous.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Whoa, have pigs started to fly?

The past Republican candidate for vice president of the United States, Sarah Palin, reportedly was urged to use her Political Action Committee (PAC) to help Hillary Clinton retire her campaign debt. According to MSNBC, John Coale—a wealthy Clinton donor, one-time adviser to Governor Palin and husband of FOX Network’s Greta Van Susteren—was the one doing the urging.

In as clever an approach to political bridge building as I’ve seen in ages, Mr. Coale aimed to help the governor develop a relationship with the former first family and broaden her polarized political base to include Democrats and independents. Something that Ms. Palin will need to do if she ever plans to run successfully for high national office.

Apparently, Mr. Coale’s request was met with skepticism and his request denied.

Could never have happened, of course. But, gee wiz, wouldn’t that have been a hoot?

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Randy Hillier’s good idea doesn’t go far enough

The MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington and Ontario PC Leadership candidate, Randy Hillier, has announced that he would allow competition to what he describes as “the foreign owned Beer Store.” He is referring, of course, to the virtual monopoly on sales of beer in Ontario that The Beer Store has. That Labatt Brewing Company, Molson Canada and Sleeman Breweries own The Beer Store, and those breweries are all foreign owned.

The Beer Store is not a full monopoly only because the government-owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) also sells beer and themselves are a virtual monopoly when it comes to selling wine and spirits.

The Randy Hillier for Leader Web site quotes Mr. Hillier as follows:

Beer distribution in this province is currently controlled by foreign companies. In these tough times we need to give struggling small Canadian businesses like corner stores, restaurants and hotels more opportunities.

Dalton McGuinty is costing local Ontario businesses millions of dollars, to the benefit of foreign-owned breweries.


Mr. Hillier has the right idea when he proposes to allow corner stores to sell wine and beer. But why stop there? Why not also open up the sale of spirits to private enterprise and end finally our archaic paternalistic, big-brother system of government-knows-best? Why perpetuate the ridiculous myth that only the LCBO is responsible enough to be entrusted with liquor sales in Ontario?

For the year ended Mar. 31, 2007, the LCBO had revenues of nearly $4 billion. It is disgraceful that successive conservative governments in Ontario should have condoned this shameful cash-grab. The LCBO scoops $4 billion out of the economy of Ontario and Canada, and we conservatives apparently think this is a good, socially responsible thing? Good grief!

Virtually every other free society in the world has an open, private-sector market for beer, wine and spirits. But not Ontario. Sure, other jurisdictions have rules for selling and serving these potentially dangerous products, but they do not monopolize the trade.

Government interference in my life is smothering me and I cannot find a political party that will haul it off my back.

Successive governments in Ontario have been too busy operating liquor stores, lotteries and gambling palaces, banning Pit Bull dogs and, as recently announced, picking winners and losers among our industries and private enterprise companies. At the same time, they have ignored the upkeep on our bridges, schools, sewers and other infrastructure. They have proven themselves incapable of providing well-rounded, cost-efficient healthcare, or a basic student-first public school system where teachers are not the be-all end-all, not to mention their lack of enforcement of our laws in places like Caledonia.

I doubt we will ever see beer in corner stores. This is a promise we have heard time and again, but it has never been kept. I doubt this time will be any different.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Everything old is new again

The new look over at Joanne’s Blue Like You blog inspired me to update my Cycroft.com home page. So last week I updated some links and added a News & Views section. Over time, I want this site to develop into a comprehensive Web portal covering various interests of mine, including technology, politics, photography, birding, family research and creative writing—along with commentary on politics and social issues, which are covered here and my photography, which I cover in my photo blog, The Way I See It.

I’ve also compiled and published quite a number of my Web bookmarks as a “directory of Web resources,” providing links to some of the Internet’s most interesting and informative places and spaces. The directory will be, I believe, of interest to most Web surfers, but especially to bloggers, journalist and students who will find it an invaluable resource.

You can see my new home page and the directory by visiting Cycroft.com and following the link to “Web Resources (links).”

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The week that was, wasn’t, or wasn’t was

This past week had much to offer those of us who follow politicians, their triumphs and their shenanigans closely. We saw British Columbia’s single transferrable vote proposal defeated, another welcomed set-back for proportional representation. The Brian Mulroney-Karlheinz Schreiber affair, mercifully, seems one week closer to closure. The Conservative party got its mojo back, and went on the attack against some-time Canadian resident, Michael Ignatieff. And another Liberal MP, Ruby Dhalla, is twisting on the spit of public disdain over her family’s alleged mistreatment of  their domestic staff.

The Globe and Mail’s Christie Blatchford, one of the best things that paper has going for itself, compared Brian Mulroney’s self-confessed “mistake” saying:

… a surgeon who gravely admits removing the wrong limb, defends his work as technically flawless but for that one thing, and expects to be congratulated by the patient for his skill.

Ms. Blatchford does have a way with words—sort of says it all.

Why shouldn’t Michael Ignatieff be criticized for assuming he is qualified to be our prime minister after being out of the country for 34 years. For most of his adult years he contributed zero to Canada, now he feels he is uniquely qualified to lead us? He’s got some brass ones, that’s for sure.

So far, the Dhalla vs. nanny score is: nannies and their advocate, 4 —Ruby, her family and her lawyer, 0. Enough said … for now.

Happy Victoria Day everyone.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ruby Dhalla’s nanny-gate: the plot thickens

The nanny-gate scandal took a couple of interesting turns yesterday when an advocate for caregivers contradicted a part of Ruby Dhalla’s recent testimony before a parliamentary committee, and a lawyer claimed one of the nannies made similar allegations of mistreatment against his client. We were also treated to photographs of the swanky apartment the Dhalla family offered as servant quarters.

Agatha Mason, the executive director of Intercede, a non-profit group that helps immigrant women in Toronto, gave testimony to a parliamentary committee that directly contradicts Ruby Dhalla’s contention that she had only passing contact with the nannies and was not directly involved with them.

Then at a news conference yesterday, lawyer Shawn Philbert, who represents a Toronto-area man who originally sponsored one of the caregivers, said that Magdalene Gordo (former Dhalla family live-in caregiver) made similar allegations of mistreatment against his client to the nanny agency that brought her to Canada. His claim, however, remains unsubstantiated since he offered no evidence of the complaint to the agency or documents of employment, saying the short notice of the news conference did not give him time to gather the papers.

Hmm, if I were Mr. Philbert’s client I’d be looking for a lawyer who had his act together better that this. I wonder why Mr. Philbert has not offered documented evidence that the alleged claim of mistreatment by Ms. Gordo is false. If her complaint is in fact true, what’s his point? How is his unsubstantiated allegation helpful? The only interest it serves is to try to discredit one of the caregivers—or perhaps, unintentionally, to highlight how widespread mistreatment of live-in caregivers has become.

Shame on him and on Ruby Dhalla and her lawyer for apparently condoning his act.

Curious that we have three caregivers and an advocate for immigrant women making certain claims that, if you believe Ruby Dhalla and her lawyer, are false. Why would they lie? What motivation do they have to smear Ms. Dhalla and her family? I certainly do not buy the theory that it is a political conspiracy—in fact, I find such a notion laughable.

Finally, Howard Levitt, a lawyer who represents Ms. Dhalla, released photographs showing the living quarters used by a nanny employed by the Dhalla family. Since there have been no allegations regarding the suitability of nanny accommodations at the Dhalla residence, why the photos? The photos of the servant’s quarters are irrelevant and are a rather pathetic attempt to sway the public’s perception of the environment within the Dhalla’s household.

Each day, the situation worsens for Ms. Dhalla, and her lawyer seems totally out of his depth.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
Cycroft.com

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ignatieff’s lukewarm support of Ruby Dhalla

Listen carefully. The shuffling footsteps you hear are from Liberal party chief Michael Ignatieff distancing himself from his former shadow cabinet critic and her sordid nanny-gate scandal. After issuing a brief, non-supportive statement, Mr. Ignatieff actually spoke to the press on Tuesday and answered—well, sort of—questions from media representatives.

He answered a question, “…any views on what you’ve heard so far?”, about Ruby Dhalla and her former nannies’ testimonies before a parliamentary committee yesterday:

I think Ruby made a vigorous defence of her integrity, her honour and her treatment of these—the people in her employ.

Oops. “…the people in her employ.” Does Mr. Ignatieff know something we do not. From the start, Ms. Dhalla has denied employing the nannies, stating repeatedly that her mother and brother are the ones involved with the former household servants.

Later Mr. Ignatieff refused to explain whether he believed the nannies were lying. He answered that:

My view is that Ms. Dhalla made a very clear defence of her position and she has—and what she said today is consistent with what she has told me.”

But he refused to say if he believed the nannies were lying. Could it be Michael Ignatieff was covering his ass here? I’m not surprised. The only high-profile Liberals to publicly support Ms. Dhalla have been MPs Bob Rae and Judy Sgro.

The lack of support Ruby Dhalla has received from fellow caucus members is curious and adds another facet to this tale.

 

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
Cycroft.com

Ruby Dhalla’s spirited defence: was it believable?

To begin with, I don’t believe that everyone who entered Ruby Dhalla’s household was treated with love—she made that claim several times in the past week or so, but it is not at all believable. Surely, at least, a few people must have entered the house who were merely likable, but not quite lovable.

I doubt very much that the caregivers’ live-in accommodations were quite the lavish basement suite Ms. Dhalla reported them to be. Dhalla described a loving home in which caregivers are provided with a 1,500-square-foot basement suite with a 60-inch flat screen TV and private kitchen.

I do believe that Ms. Dhalla had more involvement with the caregivers than she lets on. She went to great pains to avoid saying that she even lived in the house, preferring to claim she “stayed” there sometimes. After being asked repeatedly whether she lived there, she finally acknowledged that she did so when not in Ottawa.

I do not believe that Ruby Dhalla’s mother has any real “need” for a caregiver. She reportedly travels without one. She was able to leave her house unassisted to meet one of the caregivers and deliver a cash payment. And, apparently, if one believes Ms. Dhalla, mother Dhalla often cooked meals for the caregiver. Hardly a picture of an infirm person needing a full-time caregiver.

The mere fact that there were three nannies in so short a period suggest that Dhalla’s household was not the warm, loving place she paints it.

Even Don Martin of the National Post—a Liberal party apologist of the first order—seems hard pressed to accept Ms. Dhalla’s account when he writes:

There’s tough taskmaster Ruby Dhalla, the Liberal MP who allegedly hired nanny caregivers for low wages, forced them to endure long days of slavish cleaning, demanded their passports and ultimately berated them when they quit.

Then there’s the compassionate, victim-advocate Ruby Dhalla who rarely encountered the nannies, welcoming them into a warm, loving household where they lived free in a lavish basement suite featuring a big flat-screen television, where they were often fed home-cooked meals.

There’s evidence the former version has elements of exaggeration, if not fabrication.

But the latter version sounds a tad too Pollyanna to embrace as gospel given the apparent trauma these short-term nannies articulated while videolinked to a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

   
While the nannies’ allegations may stretched the truth—some inconsistencies have already emerged—the rosy picture painted by Dhalla is no more believable. The truth is likely to be some combination of both sides of this story.

Yesterday’s testimony did nothing to dispel the feeling I have that Ruby Dhalla and her family probably took advantage of their domestic servants and probably mistreated them. And I will not be surprised if a future investigation determines that the Dhalla family scammed the federal Live-in Caregiver program for foreign workers—or at the very least, gamed the system for all its worth.

I seriously doubt history will deal kindly with Ruby Dhalla.

For more on this story, see Joanne’s post at the Blue Like You blog.

 

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
Cycroft.com

Monday, May 11, 2009

A pictorial of my walk through the Royal Botanical Gardens

This morning Denisé and I spent a couple of hours at the Rock Garden, a part of the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), which is located on the border between Burlington and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. This is a great place to visit at any time of year, and especially in May when the tulips and daffodils are in bloom.

Rock Garden_DSC1716The Rock Garden is a recovered gravel pit so it is in a sheltered bowl filled with pools, water falls, evergreens and a gorgeous array of plant life. Each spring, the Garden bursts into a display of over 100,000 bulbs that the RBG brings in from Holland and plants in September. After they bloom the bulbs are lifted and sold at an annual bulb sale. The RBG’s Web site is at RBG.ca.

I have published a slide show of some of the photographs I took of the garden. To follow me “pictorially” as I walk through the Rock Garden, go to my home page at Cycroft.com and follow the link there.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
Cycroft.com

Tamils escalate protests in Toronto

In what Toronto’s Police Chief Bill Blair described as an “unlawful and unsafe” protest, thousands of Tamil protesters surged onto a Toronto highway to call attention to the escalating civilian death  toll in Sri Lanka, on Sunday, May 10, 2009.

Toronto police had to move into position as Tamil supporters blocked the Gardiner Expressway in downtown Toronto, snarling traffic along Lakeshore and other major routes in the downtown core.

I’m very concerned about the safety of children, I think it’s an extremely dangerous situation to put children on the front line of a protest in that way, I think it puts them at tremendous risk.

Bill Blair
Toronto Police Chief

I too am concerned about safety for it seems to me that this latest protest is an escalation in the series of protests by Tamil supporters in Ottawa and Toronto, and earlier in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Vancouver.

An escalation of any sort concerning groups who support a terrorist organization—LTTE Tamil Tigers—is troubling indeed, especially since the LTTE have been associated with suicide bombing in public places since the 1980s.

Toronto’s police chief, Bill Blair, is not known for hyperbole, so when he refers to protest as “unlawful” as he is reported to have done on Sunday, alarm bells sound in my mind.

© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
Cycroft.com

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