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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Will health care reform pass in 2009

Will the United States Congress pass health care reform by December 31, and how will failure to do so affect President Barack Obama’s administration given his pledge to pass reform by the end of 2009?

The following video looks at a variety of news sources and discusses what it might mean for President Obama, his administration
and Democrats in general if they can not get a bill passed by the end of 2009.

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Contents, except video, © 2009 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

The disgrace that is the current Grand River (Caledonia) land dispute

This past week has provided yet another example of the fundamental ineptness of the McGuinty government and its I-govern-you-serve attitude towards the residents of Ontario, the very people it is supposed to be serving. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all citizens equal treatment under the law, but Premier Dalton McGuinty doesn’t seem to give a damn.

Those following the court case at Hamilton, Ontario—$7-million lawsuit filed by Caledonia residents, David Brown, Dana Chatwell and their son, Dax Chatwell—will no doubt have been sickened by the “flag incident” demonstrating the lack of equal treatment under the law that the non-native residents of the town of Caledonia have suffered since February 2006, when a band of Mohawk hooligans calling themselves “Warriors” took over the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision (private property) in that town as part of a land-claims dispute.

In an infuriatingly disgraceful display (video) of uneven and heavy-handed law enforcement, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) forcibly prevented the display of the Canadian flag by a non-native resident, but a few weeks later the OPP protected demonstrators (video) who flew native flags and the Canadian flag with the Maple Leaf cut out before being tossed in mud without consequence.

Here are a few examples from the National Post of lawlessness that the OPP have allowed without consequences:

“They [group of Mohawks] chased the OPP from the site [Douglas Creek Estates subdivision] in April 2006, burned a wooden trestle bridge to the ground, erected tire barricades across municipal streets and set the tires ablaze, pushed a minivan off an overpass and destroyed a power company transformer. They roughed up an elderly couple who inadvertently crossed their path, assaulted a television news camera crew they believed had taken footage of them being violent, and even stole a police vehicle and attempted to run down an OPP officer.”

This, by the way, did not happen somewhere faraway in the third world. It happened about an hour and a half ride from the Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park.

The rule of law has been suspended in Caledonia and does not apply to the hooligans and squatters who claim to be protesters, and that’s okay with the OPP and with Dalton McGuinty.

Mr. McGuinty: how many more years of your disregard of the rule of law can we expect?

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Do the Liberals really believe our generals are liars?

It’s a funny old world, isn’t it? The Liberals and the New Democrats bang on about our military turning over Afghan prisoners to Afghan authorities who, according to some sources, are then tortured. All the opposition parties seem concerned about is somehow proving that Canada is at fault and so to discredit the current government and, in so doing, destroy the credibility and reputation of our armed forces.

But do they offer ten cents worth of consideration for the victims of the alleged torture? No they do not. There are no demands that the Afghans stop the torture. There are no demands that NATO intervene and take control of captured Taliban. The opposition’s allegations are serious—tantamount to war crimes—so why don’t they call for the court martial of senior military officers?

Could it be that the Grits are less sure of their position after the generals testified before the parliamentary committee? Or perhaps Michael Ignatieff’s past support for torture under certain circumstances has muddied the waters and caused Liberal attack dogs to be muzzled?

Regardless of the reason, I find the more subdued approach by the Liberals as seen in Bob Rae’s appearance on Thursday’s Power Play on CTV News to be far more helpful to Canadians as they work their way through this file. Rae looked uncomfortable and restrained.

It is all about partisan advantage, of course. Outrage and witch-hunting are de rigeur. Don’t oppose government policy on principle, but slander and accuse (mainly with parliamentary privilege) the government at every opportunity. Waste time and money. Call for public inquiries. All these tactics are standard operating procedures.

And Canadians become more cynical and more and more stay home on election day.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Janine Krieber’s Facebook posting

I’ve been following the reaction to Janine Krieber’s—the wife of Stéphane Dion—recent Facebook post in which she castigates the Liberal Party of Canada and its leader Michael Ignatieff. Of course, the LPC’s spokespersons would have us believe this was the opinion of one person who is not particularly influential in the party. Some even hint at sour grapes from the wife of the former leader.

I don’t believe this for a second.

Ms. Krieber is not just some average member of the LPC—far from it. Nor is her Facebook posting an angry outburst in reaction to the ouster of Mr. Dion—too much time has passed.

I believe Ms. Krieber has thought long and hard about this and has echoed the opinions and frustrations of a significant number of Liberals who see their new leader test levels of party popularity that are even lower than in Stéphane Dion’s time.

The Toronto centric leader of the official opposition and his advisors can find no traction for their barrage of half-truths and disinformation that have characterized their strategy to date. Some left-leaning members of the LPC are frustrated, and those backing Bob Rae are apparently in open revolt against Mr. Ignatieff’s inept political leadership.

Michael Ignatieff has so much baggage from his prolific musings in print, it sometime hampers the LPC’s ability to create wedge issues that will separate them from the centre-hugging Conservatives, and, let’s face it, Michael Ignatieff has been a dismal failure as a political leader.  This combination has many questioning whether his party can survive as a national entity without some sort of unite-the-left merger with the New Democrats. And such an accommodation with the left-wing New Democrats will require someone like Bob Rae at the helm.

Political parties do implode—even ones which were very popular at some point. For evidence of that, consider the fate of the Union National in Quebec and the federal Progressive Conservatives. Could the LPC be next to face extinction?

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

U.S. health care debate: great politics or tragic theatre?

The United States Senate voted on Saturday to open debate on its health care legislation, thus clearing one more hurdle for President Barack Obama’s most important domestic initiative. Full debate will begin after the U.S. Thanksgiving and is expected to continue throughout December.

Even if eventually passed, however, there is one more hurdle to come: reconciling this bill with the one passed by the House earlier this month by 220 to 215, with just one Republican voting in favor; then, of course, the president’s approval.

I’ll not get into the details of the bill or the differences between it and the House’s counterpart—those are ably covered elsewhere. I am, however, filled with anticipation over whether Americans will eventually join all other Western industrial nations in providing some form of universal—or nearly so—health care available regardless of ability to pay.

Under the current political system in the United States, can any major legislation make it through both houses of Congress in anything close to optimal form? Or will the inevitable compromises provide a “sum of all interest groups,” as Thomas Friedman would say, without providing the best health care for the most number of Americans at the least cost.

I am not optimistic. Already millions have been spent to kill the bill and millions more will be employed to try to gut or destroy it by Christmas.

Already senators will have honed every rhetorical weapon and parliamentary tactic for use in the thrust and parry to come. Attempts will be made to kill the proposed government-run insurance plan. For some, the target will be adding tougher language on medical malpractice lawsuits. And others will want to see a tightening of restrictions on insurance coverage for abortions. Pet issues will be championed to maximum effect to bolster future election chances.

And, of course, it’ll be time to make good on promises made in exchange for the millions of dollars donated as reelection funds by the powerful private health care lobby.

It is a wonder anything of real value ever gets done in that place.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Who do you trust

The current controversy over who knew what when about prisoner abuse in Afghanistan seems to be boiling down to who you trust most to tell us the truth.

“We always had concerns with those handovers, but no smoking gun ever caught my attention.”

- Rick Hillier

On the one hand we have Canadian diplomat and intelligence officer Richard Colvin and a journalist or two who were in Afghanistan telling us that senior Canadian officials knew that Afghans captured by Canadian troops have been tortured by Afghan authorities.

On the other hand we have our Minister of Defense, Peter MacKay, and our former top soldier, retired general Rick Hillier, denying allegations they or other senior government or military officials were aware prisoners transferred by Canadians to Afghan authorities were tortured.

So who are we to believe? The unvarnished truth is probably somewhere in between both these extremes.

I have no doubt that Canadian officials and military leaders knew something about Afghanistan’s rough justice. They certainly did back in the 2006 timeframe when this file heated up for some weeks. And they probably had concerns even after they had responded back then by putting certain safeguards in place. But certainly having concerns and having proof are two very different things.

I do not believe for a minute that our military are guilty of war crimes as is being suggested by many in the mainstream media and by members of the opposition. Oh, they try to condemn the government while excusing the military from responsibility. But how could that be when it is the military who capture the prisoners in the first place and “following orders” is not a defense against charges of war crimes?

War, even just ones, are terribly brutal affairs. We all know that, yet some of us think there is a way to fight a clean war with zero innocent victims. We send our young women and men to horrible places like Afghanistan where horrible things occur every day, even in pacified regions. We ask them to kill as many enemy as they can so the can win the war. But we insist they do so in a “humane” fashion. What crap!

If Afghans have been torturing their prisoners, including ones we captured for them, then so be it. It is their problem, not ours. We can try to set up reasonable safeguards, which we have done, but the rest is up the the Afghan government. We do not operate the prisons, nor should we. And who knew what when about suspected practices is immaterial.

Throwing around charges of war crimes is not helpful. It undermines our support for our troops. The war and its consequences is not their problem. They are doing their best under trying circumstances and we need to be more understanding of how incredibly difficult it is to wage war in that part of the world.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

HST as seen through Alice’s looking glass

The debate over the introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in Ontario and British Columbia is getting curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say. In fact, the entire Canadian debate on value added tax has a decided Alice In Wonderland sense to it.

The two-part HST value added tax with its federal and provincial components became a part of the Canadian tax regime in the 1990s after the federal portion (GST) had been implemented by the Brian Mulroney Tories as a replacement for the export-killing 13.5 per cent Federal Sales Tax. In a stunning 180 degree turnabout, however, Jean Chrétien’s Grits embraced the GST after successfully campaigning against it.

The Liberals, who had opposed the value add tax concept, once elected, encouraged New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia to merge their provincial sales taxes with the more efficient, business investment friendly GST. So the Liberals were the first political party to do a complete about face on value added tax; they were not, however, the last.

The Tories also seem to have an ambiguous view of the unpopular value added tax. While at the federal level Tories seem to embrace the concept—after all, they introduced it—at the provincial level they are attacking it hammer and tongs. Against all logic, Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives are opposing Dalton McGuinty’s plan for harmonization in favour of retaining the expensive-to-administer, investment-killing Ontario Provincial Sales Tax.

Mr. Hudak’s party could campaign for a lower rate of tax to decrease the burden on Ontario consumers, but have chosen instead to oppose harmonization outright. A wrong headed decision, but a politically popular one, apparently.

The New Democrats have opposed value added taxes from the beginning—even reversing an early attempt at harmonization in Saskatchewan shortly after the GST was introduced in 1991—and seem to have won a recent by-election in BC by opposing harmonization there. However, that same party screamed bloody murder when Stephen Harper’s Tories lowered the federal portion from seven per cent to five percent.

Is it or is it not a good idea to use a value added tax as part of our tax regime in this country? From watching the antics of all three national political parties, one will assume the answer is, it depends. While parties are in power they like it, when in opposition they hate it. Except, of course, the Dippers—they like it when the Tories want to reduce it, but hate it if the provinces try to introduce it. Phew!

Is it any wonder that so many Canadians are fed up and can’t be bothered to turn up at the polls for elections?

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Friday, November 13, 2009

I’ll miss Lou Dobbs on CNN

I’ll miss Lou Dobs on CNN each evening, not because I share his opinion on most issues or even because I like his personality or style for, in fact, I neither share many of his opinions nor particularly like the man. I find Dobbs to be overbearing with an irritatingly inflated sense of his own self-importance.

“I truly believe that the major issues of our time include the growth of our middle class, the creation of more jobs, health care, immigration policy, the environment, climate change, and our military involvement, of course, in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

- Lou Dobbs

One thing I will miss though is his unrelenting attack on illegal immigration. Only with constant media pressure will the United States Congress act decisively to correct the current system in which laws are flaunted and legal residents and citizens carry an unfairly high proportion of the tax burden in that nation. Men like Lou Dobbs are invaluable assets in the struggle to get Congress to end the current sham of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” immigration policy and other such illegal immigration boondoggles.

And I’m afraid that until the United States substantially overhauls its illegal immigration policies, politicians in Canada will not fully overhaul ours.

Should a Democratic president with Barack Obama’s credibility towards minorities pass substantive, comprehensive immigration reform, the mainstream public on both sides of our border will accept the new measures on their face value instead of dismissing them as mean-spirited, right-wing and anti-immigrant.

And that would have the effect of smoothing the way in Canada for more effective legislation, which will almost certainly be unpopular in the immigrant community among left-wing individuals and groups who want an open-door, laissez-faire attitude towards immigration so that they can somehow profit from it.

Let’s hope Lou Dobbs pops up somewhere soon and continues his opposition to illegal immigration—we’ll all benefit in the end.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Warren Kinsella’s still in the Grit war room

The rumour yesterday that Warren Kinsella would be among the recent exodus from the Opposition Leader’s Office (OLO) have apparently been proved to be untrue. According to the Globe and Mail this morning, the former Jean Chrétien speechwriter will not be shown the door as head of the Michael Ignatieff Liberal war room.

Mr. Ignatieff has lost several of his senior staff: former chief of staff Ian Davey and former communications director Jill Fairbrother, two senior aides, Alexis Levine and Mark Sakamoto and most recently Dan Brock, principal secretary. But Kinsella apparently will remain on the job.

“I objected to what I perceived to be [Michael Ignatieff’s] breathtaking arrogance—calling Canada a ‘herbivorian boy scout’ one day, then jetting up here to run it the next.”

- Warren Kinsella
as reported by the
National Post

Exactly why Kinsella continues to serve Michael Ignatieff is unclear to me. Back in 2006 he hurled some pretty nasty criticism Mr. Ignatieff’s way. For those who might have missed it or forgotten, refresh your memory with this post by the Alberta Ardvark and this from the National Post.

Pretty strong stuff indeed—worthy of the most partisan Tory. How can someone say stuff like this one day and work for the man—in the war room of all places—the next. It must say something unflattering about the man’s character. Kinsella wasn’t just for some other leadership candidate, he was vehemently anti-Ignatieff.

Mr. Ignatieff seems to be taking Sun-Tzu’s advice: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

O Canada, MP Jason Kenney stands on guard for thee

The current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, is like a fresh breeze in Ottawa. The new 62-page guidebook, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, is but the latest in a series of welcome measures taken by Mr. Kenney to address weaknesses in the process of immigrating to Canada and becoming a citizen.

Newcomers aged 18 to 54 will use the new guidebook to prepare for their citizenship test. A great improvement over the minimal, virtually trivial, practice of the past. At last, we have begun to stress responsibilities of citizenship; not just benefits and rights. The booklet will also be made available to schools, which I believe is a terrific idea. I’ve downloaded a copy for myself.

When I became a citizen, the only requirement of me was to turn up, prove I’d been a landed immigrant for five years and take an oath of citizenship. My dog at that time, Spike, could just as easily have qualified, though he might have stumbled a bit on the oath—he never was a fan of the Queen.

I my world, I’d increase the minimum continuous residency requirement to five years (three years for a spouse of a Canadian citizen). Absences of three months or less from Canada per year would not break the continuous residency requirement; longer absences, however, would. Exemptions could be made for those serving Canada in its armed services or foreign service.

I’d also want some guard against the “citizenship of convenience” we saw recently during the last war in Lebanon. Enough of making a mockery of our citizenship and playing taxpaying Canadians for suckers.

And I’d make citizenship a requirement of long-term residency in Canada. Only citizens can vote in provincial and federal elections, so I believe all long-term residents should obtain citizenship so they can vote in every election. I’d give immigrants up to 10 years to obtain citizenship or they’d have to leave our country.

I’d make citizenship a requirement for most federal civil service jobs—and I’d classify employment at federal crown corporations on the same basis.

Finally, I’d revoke citizenship of any Canadian found guilty of a serious crime involving two or more years in a penitentiary. There would be, of course, some reasonable mechanism to allow former convicts to re-earn their citizenship.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Kenney.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Ignatieff can save the Liberal Party

Here’s my improbable forecast for the next 16 months: the Grits dump Michael Ignatieff, appoint/anoint Toronto MP Bob Rae as leader, merge with the NDP (at least the right-most elements of that hapless party) and force a general election.

Sound improbable? I agree. However, politics can be full of surprises, especially when one party, the New Democrats, has never won a federal election and has no real prospects of doing so in the foreseeable future. And the other party, the Liberal Party of Canada, is straining at the bit to regain the power it is used to wielding, but is frustrated by a leader that is about as effective as was last chief Grit, Stéphane Dion.

The Liberals can no longer be considered a “national” party. They are really a regional party (Eastern Canada) with a sprinkling of support elsewhere. Their historical base in Quebec is being decimated, first by the Bloc then increasingly by a resurgence of support in that province for the Stephen Harper conservatives—astonishingly the Grits are left with only 14 seats in La Belle Province. And, while in the past they could count on British Columbia (five seats) to give credibility to their claim of being represented coast to coast, the NDP and the Conservatives are increasingly shutting them out.

More than half their caucus is from Ontario—and recent polls show them slipping there—while elsewhere, the Grits are a second choice at best, and increasingly, they can only really hope for a third place finish. The Liberals have only about eight members west and north of Ontario—a record only slightly better that the Green Party which has none.

The very best Michael Ignatieff could do for his party is convince the backroom movers and shakers to replace him with Bob Rae, who has proven political leadership skills and is a virtual insider as far as NDP movers and shakers go.

Under Bob Rae and lieutenants like Ujjal Dosanjh, MP for Vancouver South, a significant portion of the NDP could likely be persuaded to split off and join a left-of-centre newly constituted Liberal party under the banner of, say, the Social Democrats of Canada.

In other words—Michael Ignatieff please take note—he also serves who quits politics and returns to teach at Harvard.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Ezra Levant takes on the Post’s Don Martin

Ezra Levant, in yesterday’s post on his blog, gave an example of the recent spate of Tory bashing ideas that almost certainly are dreamed up by Michael Ignatieff’s Liberal war room and disseminated to Grit-friendly journalists and broadcasters.

Mr. Levant points out the inaccuracies in Mr. Martin’s recent column about how the Olympic torch route is heavily biased towards Conservative ridings.

I’ve noticed a consistent bias against the Conservatives on the part of Mr. Martin in both his columns in the National Post and in his comments during frequent appearances on TV. He doesn’t seem to like PM Stephen Harper at all, and that comes through clearly whenever he speaks or writes on the subject. Not really fair, but that’s life in Canadian journalism. I just wish a bit of professionalism would keep these guys from replaying the Grit party line at every opportunity, or when they do, they’d get their facts right.

On CTV’s Power Play yesterday afternoon they prattled on about the cost of Tory-originated 10-percenters and how Tories and other MPs abused the process. Criticism was levied mostly at the Tories and not a single mention was heard of the most egregious 10-percenter in recent memory: that of Toronto MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett in which she makes several spurious claims without a single scrap of evidence to back up any of them while using the image of a distressed first-nation child to spread Bennett’s disgraceful bit of political spin.

Mr. Martin called the Levant’s post a “cheap shot,” but, as pointed out by Mr. Levant, Martin doesn’t explain “how it’s a cheap shot; either his facts were correct or they weren’t; either my [Levant’s] criticisms are correct or they aren’t.”

Watching Don Martin and the on-air staff of the five o’clock political news shows is like watching propaganda arms of the Liberal Party of Canada in action. The odd neutral, even mildly complimentary, comment about the Tories to pretend balance totally imbedded in an hour of relaying the most recent Grit war room nonsense and a whole lot of government-bashing. Even the rare compliments thrown the Tory’s way are usually tinged with irony or sarcasm.

But that’s Canadian journalism.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Remembrance Day

Today, I like most Canadians will pause in silence to remember those brave women and men who serve and have served in our armed services, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for our country. I am ever in awe of those who have the courage to strap on battle gear and go forward to face an armed enemy knowing full well that they may be fighting their last battle and may never again see their families.

Today I give special thanks to the several hundred members of the Queen’s  Own Rifles of Canada who were killed in action, died of wounds or of other causes in foreign wars. The Regiment landed on Bernieres-sur-Mer at 08:12 hrs on the 6th of June 1944 as part of the leading wave of the D-Day (Normandy) invasion. Some of the first Allied boots on Juno Beach belonged to the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. Ordinary men doing extraordinary things.

They died so that we can live in freedom.

In 2010 the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada will be Canada’s oldest continuously-serving infantry regiment.

“In Pace Paratus - In Peace Prepared

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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[Image of badge property of the Department of National Defence, Government of Canada]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Liberals take a drubbing in by-elections

In what was Canadians’ first opportunity to give their assessment of the Liberal Party’s choice of leader, last night’s by-elections were a clear repudiation of Michael Ignatieff. Liberals would like to suggest that they had no expectations of success. They did, however, run candidates in all four ridings,  Michael Ignatieff personally visited and campaigned in all of them and they finished a distant third in all four by-elections.

Yes, perhaps victories were not expected, but could they have anticipated such a drubbing of what they want us to believe is a “government-in-waiting?”

By-elections seldom provide good news for governments as they rarely win. Add to this the fact that these by-elections came during an economic downturn and after weeks of ferocious attacks by the Grits and their allies in the mainstream media on the government’s integrity and ability to manage the H1N1 crisis. Despite this, the Conservatives finished the night with collective smiles while the Liberals sported glum faces.

“The Harper government has provided a steady hand on the economy, we are continuing to implement our Economic Action Plan and it’s clear that Canadians approve of the job we’re doing.”

- Fred DeLorey, Conservative spokesman

Any opposition party that cannot do well in such times, has little to be thankful for and needs an overhaul of its strategies, tactics and perhaps its leadership.

By-election results:

  • The Bloc won the Quebec riding of Hochelaga by more than 5,500 votes over the NDP, with the Liberals and Conservatives trailing in third and fourth place, respectively.
  • Conservative candidate Bernard Genereux won in Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Riviere-du-Loup by more than 1,400 votes over Bloc candidate Nancy Gagnon, grabbing a riding that’s been held by the BQ since 1993.
  • The NDP beat the Conservatives in New Westminster-Coquitlam by more than 3,300 votes, with the Liberals again running a distant third.
  • The Conservatives re-claimed the Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley by 4,900 votes over the NDP, with the Liberals third.

Everything considered, a very good outcome for PM Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Public health care through the back door

Although it is perhaps too early to get excited over the new “public option” health care bill which has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and now moves to the Senate where it is expected to receive a hostile reception from the minority Republicans and right-leaning Democrats.

Over time, the public option will grow, setting private insurance on the road to extinction …

David Frum

The new bill seems like a hodge-podge of public and private control over who pays for exorbitantly expensive health care services in the United States. Should the bill survive in anything like its current form, however, it will make the United States the last to join every other industrial nation on earth in providing some form of universal health care for its people.

Though not a not a single-payer system, the likelihood is that the proposed program will quickly evolve as a single-administrator system as the federal government seems committed to controlling health care prices.

I agree with David Frum who writes:

“The bill powerfully incentivizes smaller employers to withdraw their own health coverage and push their employees into the government plan.

“Small employers can now escape the obligation to provide health care for their employees by paying an 8% payroll tax. Many small employers will seize that offer. … Many will opt for the seeming security of the government-run plan. Over time, the public option will grow, setting private insurance on the road to extinction—or at best to a tightly regulated new role as the health equivalent of public utilities. The big decisions will be made in Washington; the insurers will comply.”

Canada spends about 2.4 per cent of our total health care costs on administration compared to the 7 per cent spent by the U.S. government. Some studies place private sector health care administration costs in the United States at a whopping 14 to 22 per cent.

Furthermore, Medicare, the US government-administered health care program, has lower costs than private insurance. This is startling when one considers that Medicare covers the over-65 group, i.e., the highest cost portion of the population.

Free market forces seem not to be doing its job of moderating prices, so perhaps the government does have to step in.

As I’ve written before, I wouldn’t exchange our flawed system for the Americans’ current money-first-or-no-care-even-for-life-threatening-conditions system. Nor do I envy Americans their exorbitant insurance costs, private-sector bureaucratic control and poor outcomes in life expectancy and infant mortality.

We should know pretty soon whether President Barack Obama has enough political capital left to push this bill through the Senate without it being gutted by compromise. Like our own health care system, theirs will be flawed, but, at least, some tens of millions of Americans will have a new option for covering their basic health care costs.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Toronto wins consolation prize Pan Am Games

High fives all around, folks. The City of Toronto has won the 2015 Pan Am Games, beating out Bogota, Colombia, and Lima, Peru by a 33 of 52 vote on the first ballot. After losing out to world-class cities in its five attempts to attract two Olympic Games, two Commonwealth Games and one attempt to get a World’s Fair, Toronto relegated itself to the minor leagues and finally got the international recognition it has craved. Well sort of.

Like its major pro sports teams—Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Argonauts—Toronto cannot compete with the best. Major league cities go for the Olympics, Toronto settles for the Pan Am Games as a sort of consolation prize. Are the likes of Bogota and Lima Toronto’s new peers? Can’t that once-proud city any longer strive to compete with the big boys? Apparently not.

Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty, Toronto’s Mayor David Miller and former premier David Peterson, minor leaguers all, see this as a great achievement, but how much in the way of congratulations are really in order for the acquisition of a sporting event the average Ontarian doesn’t care two cents worth about?

The Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) is the organizer for the regional games involving only nations from the Americas. An organization which, by the way, has long had a bias against the United States and Canada whenever close decisions have been in the balance during their multi-sport event which is held every four years. But debt ridden Ontario plans to spend $1.4-billion to hold the games in the GTA and nearby region, including Hamilton.

As with any of these bids, we’re ask to believe that enormous benefits will accrue to the region in the way of jobs and tourism: the 2015 Pan Am Games are expected to create an estimated 15,000 construction jobs to build infrastructure, and is expected to boost tourism by some 250,000 visitors.

Not bad, I suppose, if we get that much. But judging from the interest shown in this part of the world whenever past games have been played, I doubt the 2015 version will be well attended.

Winnipeg, of course, held the games in 1967 and again in 1999 earning a tiny profit in 1999 of about $8-million. But, with a budget of about $140-million, the Winnipeg Games were a much more modest affair than Toronto’s $1.4-billion bid.

But, hey, its only taxpayers money, and Dalton McGuinty has loads of that.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Monday, November 2, 2009

H1N1 anxiety bordering on panic

After firing blanks at PM Stephen Harper and his Tories and spreading misinformation and half-truths for most of last summer and this fall, it seems the federal Liberals under Michael Ignatieff have finally found an issue that has gained traction with the public. And just in time, for the Grits seemed in danger of slipping into the teens in national support.

Criticism of the federal government’s efforts surrounding the H1N1 virus vaccine and its distribution and availability has provided fertile ground in which the federal Liberals can sow their seeds of doubt, confusion and anxiety. And Canadians in general seem to be buying into the hysteria.

With enthusiastic support from CBC and CTV news services, the federal government has been flogged relentlessly by the Grits over the long lineups at the H1N1 vaccine clinics and the fact that a private clinic is offering the shots to its patients without them lining up. Now the doomsayers are over the top because of the recent revelation that there has been a slowdown in the preparation of the vaccine.

It is estimated that 700 to 2500 deaths can be attributable to influenza each year. That’s a scary statistic, but has there been a single death from the seasonal flu that has been as highly publicized as the recent death of a 13 year old boy from H1N1?

Every life that can be saved, should be saved. But come on, SARS was a deadly killer; H1N1 has so far been relatively mild. There is, in most areas across the country, enough vaccine availably to treat all who are in the high-risk category where almost all the deaths will occur.

The average healthy Canadian—19 to 64 years old—is more likely to die in an automobile accident than from H1N1 in the next twelve months, but who’s raising a fuss about staying out of cars—certainly not the Grits. How come? No political payoff there.

There’s probably justification to the criticism leveled at our health authorities, but I remain impressed at the fact that they have still got the situation under control even with the media beating on them hourly and politicians like MP Bob Rae blaming them for the H1N1 deaths to date. Were his Liberals to blame for the hundreds of flu-related deaths during their years in office?

What galls me though is to hear CTV’s Tom Clark, Jane Taber and Craig Oliver bang on about how badly the feds are doing on this file, and blaming them for the number and location of vaccination clinics and the long lineups. Surely they understand that health care is a provincial responsibility, which is jealously guarded as such by the likes of Dalton McGuinty. Can anyone imagine McGuinty’s mandarins taking their marching orders from Ottawa? Not very likely. And the CBC’s criticism has been just as misguided.

No question that the slowdown in supply of vaccine is unfortunate, and perhaps there really is someone to blame. On the other hand, we’re not likely to find out if the delay was unavoidable—apparently, investigation is not in the job description of CTV’s news readers. But in areas like Toronto, with day-long lineups, does supply really matter when they can’t use up what they already have on hand?

As for the private clinic that got a supply of the vaccine—so what. Its patients matter too. And anyway, it did not get the vaccine from the feds as implied by CTV News. The distribution of the vaccine within the province is a provincial and municipal responsibility.

Here’s my message to CTV and CBC: Yes, criticize if you will—there’s justification enough for that—blame if you must, but for the sake of us ordinary Canadians who rely on news services, stop playing political games and get your facts right. If you insist on blaming someone, levy it on those in charge of each stage of the process—not just on the procurers and producers of the vaccine.

And pity poor Michael Ignatieff and his hapless Grits who must hope and pray that enough Canadians die from the flu this season to shake Canadians’ confidence in the government. They, after all, have nothing else going for them.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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