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Monday, March 29, 2010

Michael Ignatieff: an “alien” looking at Canada as an outsider

M

ichael Ignatieff claims his Liberal government will freeze corporate taxes when it takes power until the federal budgetary deficit has been eliminated. The Stephen Harper government has plans to bring corporate income tax rates down to 15 per cent by 2017. By freezing the rate at its current 18 per cent, the Liberal leader said, Ottawa would have $6-billion annually in additional tax revenues.

But first, the Liberals have to win an election, and there seems little likelihood of that for near term. By the time they do re-gain office, the conservatives will have done the heavy lifting and already lowered the corporate rate, making the Liberal leader’s promise a hollow one.

Mr. Ignatieff was speaking yesterday at the close of what was billed as “Canada at 150”, a supposedly non-partisan forum at Montreal to discuss challenges faced in the lead up to Canada’s 150th anniversary. About 70 local events organized by the Liberal Party were held in conjunction with the Montreal conference, which was attended by about 300 participants who paid a $700 to attend. Liberal MPs were, apparently, told to remain in their ridings.

Always looking for the empty, cost-us-nothing gestures, Mr. Ignatieff promises, “The last thing we want to do is burden our children with debt, and we will not do this as a government.” Yet, at the same time he says, “We have to give ourselves room to realize some dreams,” and promises to allow new spending—but only if sources of funding that would not increase the deficit can be found.

When a government is running a deficit, just how it can allow new spending without increasing the deficit is not clear. But I guess it sounds good, and that’s what really matters, I suppose. By “room for dreams,” does the chief of the Grits mean day dreams.

Mr. Ignatieff tells us that Canada needs to “think big” and adopt a stance that allows Canadians to “shape the world.”

Bold words indeed from the former Harvard Professor who not too long ago confessed that “The thing he missed most about Canada was Algonquin Park.” And has referred to himself in Blood and Belonging as an alien looking at Canada, an outsider.

Certainly seems like an alien, eh?

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Sarah Palin went to a Tea Party

I watched the conservative Tea Party’s anti-Senate-Majority-Leader-Harry-Reid rally at Searchlight, Nevada on the weekend. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin addressed a crowd of several thousand receptive fans. Palin’s definitely getting better at this, smoother and less halting in her delivery. But I have to say she still doesn’t resonate as a future president of the United States of America.

There is an immaturity to Palin that I cannot get past. Like when she tries to poke fun at President Barack Obama by mocking his use of a teleprompter to deliver his speeches. She claims she prefers “a poor man’s teleprompter” and shows notes written on the palm of her hand. I’d say Obama uses the modern teleprompter rather expertly, and I can’t find anything amusing about it. I’d have been more impressed had she had your lines committed to memory, not written on your hand like a school-girl might. This hokey stuff neither impresses nor amuses me.

Sarah Palin gets cheered by thousands as she plays to the rightmost elements of the American conservative/Republican movement; David Frum gets sacked or forced to resign from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a powerful Republican think-tank. And thus the fissure in the conservative movement widens between moderates and those who support Tea Party activism. Republicans are increasingly being forced to pass rigid purity tests on key issues—only pure laine conservatives need apply.

At the rally, Palin said Harry Reid is “gambling away our future,” and got some digs in about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “big-government, big-debt spending spree,” saying “You're fired!”

She praised the Tea Party movement and mocked and criticized the policies of the Obama administration. But was short on specifics of her own.

She referred to the new health care bill as “European-style health care,” and called it “Obamacare.” Of course, she ignored its similarity to Romneycare, the health care legislation passed in Massachusetts by the GOP’s current front runner in the 2012 presidential contest and former Republican governor of that state.

Palin also never criticized the fact that, for the eight years preceding the Obama administration, the Republicans ruled the United States and yet never repealed that other bit of “European-style health care” known as Medicare.

Glib, yes, but not particularly insightful and still avoiding inconvenient truths.

Some weeks ago, Sarah Palin asked of President Obama and his supporters, “How’s that hopey, changey thing working out for ya?”

Fresh off a stunning legislative victory in the form of an historic health care bill, and the signing of a hugely important, even if mainly symbolic, arms reduction treaty with the Russians, I’d say President Obama might quite rightly answer, “Just fine, thank ya fer askin’.”

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Brown-shirt bully tactics all too common on our university campuses

Thursday, a group—apparently from the University of Toronto—shut down the popular TVO program, Steve Paikin’s The Agenda for several minutes. The show was on location at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Here’s how the show’s host described the events on his blog:

“But just a few minutes into my interview with [Ontario’s Finance] Minister [Dwight] Duncan, all hell broke loose.

“At first, one member of the audience rushed the stage where we were located and began shouting questions at Duncan.

“At first, I thought this was simply the act of one rude person, so I tried to interrupt her, assure her that there would be time for questions later, but that this was not the way we were going to do business.

“Shortly thereafter, another half dozen protesters joined the first, continued to scream at the minister, and it became abundantly clear that this wasn’t a case of a few rude audience members, but rather an orchestrated protest.”

It is a serious matter when folks as unflappable as former Ontario Finance Minister Janet Ecker and Paikin fear for the safety of Minister Duncan who was tethered to his chair by a microphone and not able to defend himself.

“I do know that there was a moment when I wasn’t clear whether the minister’s safety was in jeopardy,” writes Paikin, “I wasn’t so sure, and I think I actually at one point stood between Duncan and the protesters. As did one of our guests, Janet Ecker, a former finance minister.”

And what about security? That, apparently, was to be provided by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), but they seemed to be operating under their Caledonia-style of protecting public safety, that is, doing nothing. Here’s Paikin’s take on that:

“There were two OPP officers in attendance, watching in the wings. But they made no move to intervene, one assumes, because they concluded this was a boisterous protest, but no danger to the minister's safety.”

“… the police, I’m told, were urged not to intervene, lest pictures of demonstrators being hauled off by the cops show up all over YouTube.”

That’s free and open debate, folks, Ontario university and OPP style. Who can fathom the critical thinking that led to this “peaceful” protest? In Paikin’s words:

“The sad part of this whole episode was, the screaming was so off the charts, the protest so objectionable, it was impossible for me to hear what the protest was all about. Had the protesters merely asked their question in a civilized fashion, the minister would actually have had to answer it and the viewer would have learned something.”

Brown-shirt bully tactics are becoming all too common on our university campuses. And if ever you are caught in the middle of one of those “peaceful” demonstrations, apparently you shouldn’t look to the police for protection.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Unappreciated sacrifice of our military heroes by progressives

During the Stephen Harper years we have seen a steady improvement in the financing and general support Canadians have given our armed forces. A welcome turnabout from the careless disregard shown by the former governments of  John Chrétien and Paul Martin.

Many readers will remember how under-equipped our soldiers were when first they were deployed by the Liberal government of the day to Afghanistan to fight a ferocious and determined enemy. The Canadian contingent lacked , transport aircraft, heavy-lift helicopters, armored transport trucks, battle tanks, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), artillery guns, and mine-resistant armoured personnel carriers—all of which were essential to a successful mission.

Notwithstanding these glaring gaps in their equipment and armour, a Liberal, so-called progressive, government sent Canadian soldiers off to a foreign land to be killed and maimed. To date, 141 have died and, as of the end of December 2009, 529 were listed as wounded in action. An unforgivably careless disregard for the lives and safety of our men and women.

Our soldiers, though, did not falter in any of their extensive combat missions and were successful in every major tactical battle against the Taliban enemy. So spectacularly successful have they been that many Liberals and even some New Democrats go out of their way to show they appreciate those who serve in Afghanistan and honour those who have lost their lives there.

There are many progressives, however, to whom military sacrifice is stain on our national reputation. Take the 16 University of Regina professors who drafted an open letter to university’s President Vianne Timmons stating their concerns that—as Jeffrey Webber, political science teacher and one of them said—a scholarship program offered to dependents of fallen Canadian soldiers “… is a glorification of Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan.”

The program to which these progressives object is called, Project Hero. It provides financial aid for children of Canadian Forces personnel who have lost their lives while serving in an active mission. Here is more of what Jeffrey Webber is reported to have said (WARNING: reading this will make you feel sick to your stomach):

"It’s about associating heroism with the military intervention of Afghanistan"

"We think it's aligning a public university—without any consultation with its students or staff, or the broader community—with support for this war."

“The name ‘Project Hero’ has dangerous cultural underpinnings, implying that Canada's military activity in Afghanistan is ‘heroic.’ We disagree with that. We think it's a military occupation of a sovereign country. It's not the position of the university administration to take a position in favour of this war."

There you have it. I’m sick at the mere thought that creatures such as these are free to teach our children such garbage. Anti-war propaganda gone mad.

Woolly thinking, muddleheaded, anti-military professors at the University of Regina, anti-free speech administrators at the University of Ottawa, anti-Israeli/Jewish allsorts at York and Ryerson universities:  this is a sample of what we get for our tax-subsidies to Canadian universities.

Not content with wanting to eradicate conservative values on campuses, some of our university teachers want to deny scholarships to the children of our fallen heroes. They even believe that there are “dangerous cultural underpinnings” to “implying that Canada's military activity in Afghanistan is ‘heroic’.” Shameful!

Think about how many members of our armed forces died in the Second World War so that these pitiful excuses for humans can now have the freedom to spew their anti-military propaganda on our campuses. Those fallen heroes must be turning in their graves.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bob Rae is showing he’s no better as leadership material than Ignatieff or Dion

Wasn’t too long ago that the Grits hailed Stéphane Dion as their party’s saviour; he wasn’t and they dumped him unceremoniously. In came repatriated Michael Ignatieff, without benefit of a leadership vote—contraception24n_549102gm-a that came months after the backroom boys had him firmly ensconced as leader. The new leader, though, struggled to get out in front of his caucus, and, on occasions when he did, he stumbled so badly he began to lose the confidence of some caucus members.

Even the complete overhaul of the office of the leader of the opposition does not seem to have solved the party’s leadership headache. One silver lining did exist, however: former Ontario socialist premier and senior Liberal MP, Bob Rae, was waiting in the wings—only too eager to take the reins should Ignatieff falter. If only the Grits could dump Ignatieff—Iffy, as he is called—they could appoint Bob Rae and all would be well. Or so many in the Grit’s caucus thought.

That was then. That was before the vote debacle on Tuesday over a Bob Rae bill that was intended to make abortion a wedge issue and set Conservatives against each other. Too cute by far was the wily Mr. Rae.

As is traditional, the leader has taken responsibility for the gaffe and Bob Rae will let Ignatieff do that. But surely Rae cannot totally avoid criticism. After all, it was his bill.

A motion by Bob Rae demanding that the Conservative government’s maternal and child health initiative for the world’s poorest regions include “the full range of reproductive health options” [read abortion] was defeated by a vote of 144-138 yesterday when three Liberal MPs voted against it.

Rae knows full well that Liberal Party polling has previously shown that abortion is a game-changer for many Canadians, especially women. And he wanted to capitalize on that.

That was his motivation, not some higher-sounding motive he tried to lay claim to when he said, “What we are trying to achieve is to get a broader understanding in Canada, and in Canadian society, that this government has a very clear foot in the neoconservative camp where, frankly, ideology trumps science.” In a word, bull, as only Bob Rae can shovel it. At least, when he’s on his game.

Definitely, he was not on his game when he tabled his important bill without following through to make sure it had the votes to pass. Yes, Rodger Cuzner, the Liberal Party Whip, has that responsibility, but the sponsor of the bill should share some of blame, though that’s not really Rae’s style.

Instead of the bill sailing through with full Liberal, NDP and Bloc support, Rae’s own caucus scuttled his motion. And, to go from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, according to a Globe and Mail report,  “The miscue apparently so rattled the Liberals that they went on to accidentally vote in favour of Conservative spending measures.”

Red Grit faces with a bit of egg on each, no doubt. And based on another Globe and Mail report, the news today won’t offer much cheer. Jane Taber reports that Ignatieff’s and Rae’s Liberals are sliding back into Stéphane Dion territory, according to a new EKOS Research poll. Taber writes:

“The EKOS poll shows the Conservatives with a clear lead (outside of the margin of error) – 33.3 per cent support of the electorate compared to 27.7 per cent for the Liberals. The NDP have 15.9 per cent; the Bloc is at 9.8 per cent and the Green Party has 10.4 per cent support.”

So much for the spike in the Liberal poll results of a few weeks ago, when the Liberals were tied with the Tories, and the EKOS seat-projection showed the Grits could win more seats than the Tories, if an election had been held at that time.

So who’s left in the Liberal stable? Well, they still have another former socialist premier, the Vancouver South MP, Ujjal Dosanjh. The Grits could appoint him as leader.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

You give the progressives an inch and every single time they’ll take a mile

The entire concept of free speech seems to have become so distorted that many Canadians now believe that it is reasonable and democratic to limit this fundamental human right to prevent hurt feelings. And, of course, one limit will inevitable lead to another, and then another until we have only the notion of free speech and none of the reality or fact.

Canadians were given the right to free speech through the British North America Act, 1867 (BNA Act) in the sense that since the United Kingdom had some freedom of expression in 1867, this right would flow through to Canadians via the BNA Act. The future federation of Canada, the preamble of the BNA Act states, will have “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.”

About one hundred years later, free speech became both enshrined in our made-in-Canada Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, at the same time, limited by Section 1 of the same Charter. As cautious as I am about accepting any limit on free speech, this does seem acceptable. It states:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Fair enough, eh? Well let’s see.

The  Criminal Code of Canada limits free speech by making it illegal to promote genocide or to publicly incite hatred against people based on their colour, race, religion, ethnic origin, and sexual orientation, except where the statements made are true or are made in good faith. And the prohibition against inciting hatred based on sexual orientation was added in 2004.

I’m uncomfortable with the “incite hatred” part, because it seems to extend rights to groups and not to individuals, but, given that truth and good faith are a defence, I can live with it.

Somewhere along the way, however, political correctness began to take hold in Canada, especially in Toronto, the most culturally influential centre and largest media hub in Canada. And it was not long before political correctness began to find its way into our legislation. To protect minorities from hateful telephone calls, human rights legislation was enacted to prevent:

“… any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

And with these words the infamous Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) was born. Sub-section 2 was later added to include communication on the Internet. And so we took our first steps down the slippery slope.

Someone can call me dreadful, hurtful things and my recourse is to punch them in the face [only kidding] or to seek redress under the criminal code. That’s because I do not qualify as a person who is “identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

Individual rights, you see, are now subordinate to group rights. This makes equality of individuals under our laws a sham. It gives more rights to those individuals who belong to certain groups the government identifies for special treatment under the law. I agree with the late Ayn Rand, who wrote, that a man [or woman] can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess.

That, in effect, makes me a second-class citizen, But that’s OK with liberals and, so called, progressives. But they’re not happy to stop there. They want much more.

Remember that our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms restricts its limit on free speech by stating “except where the statements made are true or are made in good faith.” In other words, truth is a defence. And that is a just and democratic. It’s about as fundamental as anything about democracy, isn’t it? It is what made the Charter’s limitation palatable.

Apparently, though, it isn’t good enough for the progressives and the human rights industry. The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) wants to remove truth as a defence. Yes, the CHRC has listed this on its Web site as one of the recommendations in its Special Report to Parliament, Freedom of Expression and Freedom from Hate in the Internet Age. It’s right there under Part V: The Way Forward, Recommendation 5.

The CHRC tries to justify removing truth as a defence by claiming “hatred against an entire group could never be true.” In other words, to protect certain groups considered worthy, it is prepared to destroy the fundamental human right of free speech as it applies to individuals. How progressive of them!

You give the progressives an inch and every single time they’ll take a mile. It’s like a natural law—like a law of physics.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is credited with saying, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. This is as true today as it was in the eighteenth century.

It is time for the Conservative government to do something about the drift towards subordination of individual rights in favour of group rights. For how much longer will they shy away from doing something about the Human Rights Commission and the egregious Section 13 of the CHRA.

My right to free speech has been abrogated. To whom do I look for redress? Mr. Harper, I look to you.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Tim Hudak’s 10 for 2010 program

Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader, Tim Hudak, is asking for ten “practical, affordable and achievable ideas that will create jobs and grow our economy.” A new PC Web site and video points out that Ontario was had “… the best jobs, hospitals, schools and roads in all of Canada.”, but now is a “have not province,” relying on hand-outs from other Canadians.

To kick off this worthy campaign, the PCs have offered their list of ten ideas that they believe will create jobs and grow our economy.

Here’s their list:

  1. Suspend the Tax on New Jobs
  2. Eliminate Job Killing Red Tape and Regulations
  3. Make Home Ownership More Affordable
  4. Restore Balance to the WSIB System
  5. Expand Job Opportunities for Young Workers
  6. Create Jobs in Northern Ontario
  7. Cut Wasteful Government
  8. Stop Corporate Welfare
  9. Cap Spending
  10. Bring Public Sector Agreements in Line with Reality

My first reaction to the ten points? Tepid, timid and tame. In other words, quite underwhelming. Nothing offensive, of course, but nothing bold or really new. To me this smacks of political-speak and will result in a lot of rhetoric and little action.

If I became premier in 2011, my first legislation would be to forbid Ontario from accepting equalization payments—the bail-out payments to “have not” provinces. I know Quebec accepts equalization. In fact, that province seems now to depend on this federal welfare. But surely we’re better than that: we got ourselves into this mess and shouldn’t be looking for a bailout. Other provinces have their own problems and challenges and we should not be adding to their tax burden.

My reaction to the Hudak list:

Point 1 calls for a one-year payroll tax holiday from the “burdensome” Health Tax and WSIB premiums on all new hires. If taxes are truly “burdensome” reduce or eliminate them permanently on all staff. Baby steps are fine, but we’re all adults here, aren’t we?

Points 2 and 7 are pure motherhood statements. Virtually every government seems to promise to reduce red tape and government waste. And spare us another in an endless line of commissions to cut government red tape, please. What’s needed is less government: cut government, and its red tape ceases to be a problem.

Point 3 calls for a one-year suspension of the land-transfer tax. Either this is a good tax or it is not. If its suspension creates jobs, then the reverse is probably true: the tax kills jobs. So why not reduce or eliminate it permanently? A one-year suspension is better than nothing, I suppose, but our economy will not be out of the woods in a year. That’s why I see this proposal as petty politics and can’t take it seriously.

Points 4 and 8 are good—let’s do them.

As to points 5 and 6: if we had all the jobs governments have promised to create in the past, we’d be living in paradise. It’s a myth that governments create jobs, except when they hire workers and we don't want that. Conservatives know (or should know) it is the private sector that creates jobs; government creates bureaucracy, a drag on the economy. Promises like these are almost always hollow.

Point 9 calls for spending to be capped at the 2010-11 estimate provided in the 2009 budget. Good idea. But what about adding an 18-month freeze on public-sector hiring and limiting hiring after that to 1.5% a year, while making sure government departments don’t cheat by hiring “consultants?”

Point 10 calls for a wage freeze on senior government administrators, non-unionized employees and MPPs. Definitely. I like this one. I’d add a legislated across-the-board freeze on public sector wages and benefits until private-sector workers catch up. Then legislate that future increases will be no more than 1.5 per cent a year. Make it a crime to offer/give more. Put a 10-year sunset clause on the bill and revisit it after that.

I would encourage Mr. Hudak to add the following to his list:

  1. Cut HST (Ontario portion) by 3 points for a 10 per cent HST total. I can not believe the PCs have had this noisy campaign against implementing HST, but are silent about what they will do after HST implementation this summer. I smell a rat here, or, at the very least, a whiff of hypocrisy.
  2. Sell off gaming and liquor boards/commissions plus every other government enterprise that competes with the private sector.

I know the PCs mean well, they always do. But the road to hell, I’m told, is paved with good intentions. We do not need more empty rhetoric and short-term political promises. We need something more. Perhaps a version of the Common Sense Revolution geared to the current social and economic environment. I don’t see that in Hudak’s “10 for 2010” proposals.

It’s going to take a lot more than party-politics-as-usual and politically motivated gimmicks to dig Ontario out of the hole it’s in. Some strong medicine, creative thinking and bold action is called for. Premier Dalton McGuinty, we all know, isn’t up to it—he’s proven that over the past six or so years.

I’m convinced Tim Hudak would be an improvement. But Mr. Hudak and his caucus will have to up their game—kick it up several notches in fact—if they expect to replicate Mike Harris’s turnaround after the Bob Rae New Democrats left the Ontario government with record debt and deficits.

Can they do it? I hope so.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ex-human rights commission worker sounds like a bigot to me

Today I read a chilling letter to the editor (page A15) of the National Post from Denise Cooke-Browne, Mount Pearl, N.L., which says, in part: “As a former journalist and human rights investigator (I worked for the Newfoundland Human Rights Commission from 1991 - 1994), I am all for free speech. What seems to be missing here is that while the Canadian Constitution allows for fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, Ann Coulter has crossed the line and infringed on our rights to be safe, secure and not discriminated against. She needs to go back to her own country.”

This person, who claims to have been a human rights investigator wrote, “Ann Coulter has crossed the line and infringed on our rights to be safe, secure and not discriminated against.”

I ask: when and where did Ann Coulter cross the line and infringe on our rights? Cooke-Browne reminds us that Coulter “has said that Canada is lucky that the United States let us exist on the same continent.” Whoa! How very mean of her.

And, in her letter, Cooke-Browne makes what sounds to me like a libelous charge when she writes “She [Coulter] needs to be charged with hate crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada; Sections 318, for advocating genocide, (for saying Muslim clerics should be killed) and 319, for publicly inciting hatred.”

Of course, she does not give Ms. Coulter quote in its entirety. Sounds like one of those drive-by slanders for which the left-wing of our country are so famous.

Three days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Ms. Coulter wrote in her column:

“We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war.”

I suppose this the egregious crossing of the line that prompted Cooke-Browne’s letter. Cooke-Browne provides no other quotes from Ms. Coulter. Just self-righteous condemnation.

This letter is another example of the cockeyed thinking we all too often get from the human rights industry in Canada

“Bigotry” is the irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion. A “bigot” is a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on religion, politics, or race. This letter and its writer qualify on both counts.

I pity the poor souls in Newfoundland and Labrador, who are served by a human rights commission that would have employed this bigot as an investigator. And shame on that human rights commission.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Ann Coulter gives University of Ottawa a pass

Well, I see Ann Coulter’s speaking event at Ottawa last night was a non-starter, and Canada and our international reputation is the worse because of it. Apparently, when we don’t agree with someone, we shut them out, shout them down—that’s the University of Ottawa’s way.

The University had made it clear, in writing, Ann Coulter really wasn’t welcome there when its vice-president and provost Francois Houle sent an e-mail to her on Friday, warning her that freedom of speech is defined differently in Canada than in the United States, and that she should take care not to step over the line.

Freedom of speech indeed. That’s what this is about: the freedom of one to express oneself without a threatening crowd of aggressively rude students turning out to shout one down.

These demonstrations are always said (by the demonstrators) to be peaceful. They seldom are, however. Screaming epithets at a guest on campus is not peaceful. This is more like mob rule, and it is deplorable behaviour. Regrettably, though, its all too common behaviour on the campuses of our universities and colleges.

According to my dictionary, “bigotry” is the irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion. And a “bigot” is a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on religion, politics, or race.

Let’s hope the students and faculty at the University of Calgary have more respect for our fundamental human right of freedom of expression and do not repeat the University of Ottawa’s deplorable display of naked bigotry.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obama secures his place in history

The President of the United States Barack Obama hailed the start of a “new season in America” and, earlier today, signed his $938-billion health care reform bill into law. Such legislation has eluded for decades successive American leaders both Democrat and Republican—most recently former President Bill Clinton in 1994.

By extending health care insurance to almost all Americans, President Obama was successful where Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt were not. Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson also failed. President Richard M. Nixon called for comprehensive health insurance, but couldn’t deliver it. President Jimmy Carter also failed in his efforts to provide a comprehensive health care system for the country.

The bill marks the biggest change in the U.S. health care system since the successful Medicare health program for the elderly was created in 1965. President Obama has spent his first year as president and much of his political capital pushing the legislation through Congress. It has been an immense struggle not unlike the push for civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

The residue of anger throughout the ranks of those opposed to the bill is almost unprecedented. But President Obama won—and against great odds. The law passed Congress without getting a single Republican vote, a fact that almost certainly will make health care the issue in next November’s elections.

Senator Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, prophesized that the coming fight “will make last August look like a love fest,” when referring to town hall meetings that drew protests last summer over the president’s health care plan.

We’ll have to wait and see how many of their threats the Republicans can make good on.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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U.S. health care is here to stay

Watching the health care debate in the United States—if, in fact, what has just transpired qualifies as “debate” in the usual sense—has been instructional. It has provided an opportunity to compare a republican democracy with our Westminster-tradition democracy. One element of the American republican system I really admire is the opportunity it provides for free votes, whereby votes in Congress do not follow rigidly along party lines and good legislation can sometimes escape the most egregious side effects of party politics.

KEY HEALTH CARE REFORMS

Cost: $940-billion over 10 years; would reduce deficit by $143-billion

Coverage: Expanded to 32 million currently uninsured Americans

Medicare: Prescription drug coverage gap closed; affected over-65s receive rebate and discount on brand name drugs

Medicaid: Expanded to include families under 65 with gross income of up to 133% of federal poverty level and childless adults

Insurance reforms: Insurers can no longer deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions

Insurance exchanges: Uninsured and self-employed able to purchase insurance through state-based exchanges

Subsidies: Low-income individuals and families wanting to purchase own health insurance eligible for subsidies

Individual Mandate: Those not covered by Medicaid or Medicare must be insured or face fine

High-cost insurance: Employers offering workers pricier plans subject to tax on excess premium

It really is too bad that the highly polarized political climate in the United States precluded a break from simply-minded partisanship. Given what has been at stake for the American people, I do not believe for an instant that every single Republican found the bill too repugnant to support it for the dozens of worthwhile elements it contained. Could not one Republican see the resemblance it had to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts legislation and support it as did many Republicans in New England when the state bill was signed into law by then governor and former Republican candidate for the presidency, Mitt Romney? Or could not Republicans see how—as David Frum puts it—”It builds on ideas developed at the conservative Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.”?

Instead Republicans chose the strategy of making a moderate bill look extreme and this relied on across-theboard Republican opposition so as to demonize the legislation. As one pundit writes, “Any move to exchange Republican votes for legislative concessions would have undercut the political case against the bill.”

That’s how politics work in America these days: demonize the opposition and whip up public sentiment with half-truths and disinformation. Sad really.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, the unsuccessful opponent of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, told ABC news that Republicans would use the health care issue against Democrats in the November congressional elections.

“The American people are very angry, and they do not like it and we are going to try to repeal this, and we are going to have a very spirited campaign coming up between now and November and there will be a very heavy price to pay for it.”

Senator McCain made a habit of choosing the wrong political strategy in 2008, and I fear he and other Republican Party leaders are about to make a similar mistake. My guess is that if they go down this road, they’ll not fare nearly as well in the November elections as they think.

Americans are not stupid. Most of them know that, throughout Western democracies, there are several health care programs in place that work very well for their citizens. I cannot name a single democracy which has repealed legislation that provides basic health care on a national basis, and I do not believe the United States will be the first to do so.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Ann Coulter: right-wing lightning rod

Ann Coulter comes across to me as someone very much in love with herself and with little else. Apparently she’s on a crusade to make money, and it seems she’ll write or say anything that she thinks will speed her on her way. Coulter isn’t for everyone: she’s certainly not as clever, funny, provocative and/or interesting as the adoration of her right-wing fans would lead us to believe. Even so, she’s right-wing and newsworthy so, therefore, an object of my interest.

“I’ve interviewed many people over the years. Ann Coulter is one of the most gracious, witty, interesting and original I’ve had the privilege to meet.”

– Michael Coren

She’s no fool and should not be as quickly dismissed as she is by the left. Coulter is far better educated than most bloggers and many mainstream journalists and columnists. She has a law degree from an excellent school, and you don’t get that by being a one-dimensional right-wing dummy. Here’s a clip about her from Wikipedia:

“As an undergraduate at Cornell University, Coulter helped found The Cornell Review, and was a member of the Delta Gamma national women's fraternity. She graduated cum laude from Cornell in 1984 with a B.A. in history, and received her J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, where she achieved membership in the Order of the Coif and was an editor of the Michigan Law Review. At Michigan, Coulter founded a local chapter of the Federalist Society and was trained at the National Journalism Center.”

But Coulter seems driven by controversy, and controversy is best achieved through outrage. And how best to generate outrage than to scream insults at liberals—an especially effective strategy if, occasionally, the insults are made with humour. Coulter’s hubris knows no bounds.

In the past Coulter has shown she’s no friend of Canada’s. Here’s a quote from her after the Canadian government refused to join the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq:

“They’d better hope the United States doesn’t roll over one night and crush them [Canada]. They are lucky we [Americans] allow them to exist on the same continent.”

She, of course, made no reference at that time to the very real contribution Canadians were making to the U.S-led war in Afghanistan. She—as did her like-minded president, George W. Bush—had little good to say about Canada in those days, but now seems quite happy to pocket steep speaking fees for doing the rounds above the 49th parallel.

Does she really believe half of what she says? Who knows.

As part of her Canadian speaking tour, Ann Coulter will appear tonight on the Michael Coren Show on CTS television. I’ll be watching and can only hope we’ll be spared her usual banal liberal-bashing and get the chance to hear an intelligent discussion of issues of interest to conservatives.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Slow news day in Canada: Ann Coulter and Tiger Woods on front page

It must have been a slow news day in Canada, at least, seeing the front page of the National Post leads me to that impression. Of the three front page stories, one is news and two are comment pieces, but all three are about Americans: Ann Coulter, Tiger Woods and the Republican Party. The tawdry Tiger Woods infidelity story you’d think had run its course, but apparently not by the standards of the Post. I’ll never fathom why the Canadian media find tacky bedroom dramas of American celebrities so fascinating.

As to David Frum’s opinion piece about the Republican Party, I liked the piece, but is this sort of thing worth two columns on the front page of our national conservative newspaper? With all their fine columnists and reporters, couldn’t anyone at the paper come up with a Canadian story instead of this American writing about American politics. Sad that they could not.

I left the best for last: Ann Coulter and her silly, if predictable, claim she’s the victim of a hate crime. The real news story, of course, was on the weekend when reports surfaced about how the vice-president academic and provost of the University of Ottawa, François Houle, made veiled threats of “criminal charges” should Ms. Coulter promote “hatred against any identifiable group” during her upcoming speech at the university. François Houle’s attempt at chilling her free speech was, according to Ms. Coulter, akin to a hate crime and worthy of formal complaint to a human rights commission.

Ann Coulter’s not likely to lay the complaint, but the mere mention of one is good enough for front page coverage. By the way, the central part of the story is much better covered in Mark Steyn’s opinion piece on page 12 where such things belong. As to the side story—the right-wing pundit’s speech at the University of Western Ontario last night—this is hardly the stuff of which front page news is made. But this just goes to show what persistent self-promotion and a reputation for over-heated rhetoric can get you.

Here’s some of the banal banter that occurred at London last night, as reported by the Toronto Sun:

Fatima Al-Dhaher, a political science student from London, rose and spoke about comments Coulter made after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The firebrand Republican had suggested Muslim countries be invaded, their leaders killed and all Muslims converted to Christianity. She later suggested Muslims denied air travel take “flying carpets” instead.

“As a 17-year-old student of this university, Muslim, should I be converted to Christianity? Second of all, since I don’t have a magic carpet, what other modes do you suggest,” Al-Dhaher said to loud and sustained applause.

“I thought it was just American public schools that produced ignorant people,” Coulter replied, prompting her own round of applause.

Coulter then noted many Japanese were converted to Christianity after the Second World War and “we haven’t heard a peep out of them.”

To shouts of “Answer the question,” Coulter finally replied “What mode of transportation? Take a camel.”

“Are you going to convert her now?” another student shouted out.

“No, there are some people I just as soon not convert,” Coulter retorted.

Ms. Coulter’s responses to the student were about as witless one would have expected at a grade six or seven debate. But perhaps we should not expect more given the content of her comment that prompted the student’s question.

If Ann Coulter is the best our side can produce, the conservative cause is already lost. Let’s hope Michael Coren can coax a bit more substance from Ms. Coulter tonight on his Michael Coren Show on CTS television. Perhaps she’ll rise above mere liberal bashing, but somehow I doubt she will.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Scary times to come

At what point will the level of its budget deficits and resulting national debt become the greatest threat to its national security that the United States has faced in decades? This past February, President Barack Obama signed a bill raising the federal debt limit to $14.3 trillion, thereby allowing the United States to continue paying its day-to-day expenses. Surely there must be some practical limit to how much national debt the Americans can carry. The much-respected and non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said that the budget shortfall in President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal will remain above four per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) for the foreseeable future, while the publicly held debt will reach $20.3 trillion, or 90 per cent of GDP, by 2020.

These numbers are truly frightening, or so they seem to me. Just think of how much of future national income will be devoted to debt service alone.  Economists consider deficits exceeding three per cent of GDP to be unsustainable because, above that level, government debt is growing faster than its ability to repay it. Current forecasts have the American deficit running at a far higher rates than that.

When last the United States got so much in debt—in 1945 at the end of the Second World War—the way out of debt was the ending of the war and its related spending. But in 2020, one assumes both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will have wound down and the budget savings are already reflected in the above forecasts. How then will the Americans pay the piper?

They could allow their currency to depreciate even more substantially than it has recently. This would, one expects, result in higher exports and lower imports. This could then be coupled with a government policy of higher taxes and cuts in services services and military spending. The country would earn more and consume less. However, lenders would have to be compensated for the money they’d lose from the decline in the dollar and would demand higher interest rates. And with higher rates suppressing domestic consumption even more, Americans will face some pretty tough times—a decade or more of tough times.

Given the political reality in Washington, I can’t see any government taking the necessary steps any time soon to face up to the hard choices ahead. And that’s really scary for all of us.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Helena Guergis: you can’t put the genie back into the bottle

Sometimes one has to accept that life’s not always fair and move on. And perhaps federal Status of Women Minister Helena Guergis is going to have to learn that lesson. Regardless of how the information about her melt-down at a PEI airport reached public notice, it was her ill-advised actions1 and her “hell hole” (perhaps worse1) comment that has made it headline news and has given the story such traction.

Ms. Guergis made a rather late apology for the incident and has not denied the unflattering reports of the events that took place. But, according to CTV’s Robert Fife, Ms. Guergis has been telling people that she has grounds to sue Air Canada after the report of her tantrum was leaked to the media. This isn’t likely to happen, of course, and has been denied, but such a suggestion reveals much about this person’s personality—perhaps too much. Now we have more troubling news emerging with hints the minister might have overstated her education. [UPDATE AT 3:45 P.M.: THIS SEEMS TO BE INCORRECT.]

Some Tory supporters claim we are piling on and judging the minister too harshly. Her apology should have ended the affair. Perhaps they are right. The minister has been under much pressure, what with her husband’s much publicized legal difficulties and the day-to-day pressures of being in cabinet.

One of the readers of an earlier entry on this blog said my “calls for her resignation are ludicrous.” Another wrote, “Certainly she should not resign. We don’t know what was actually said—all we have to go on is an ‘anonymous’ letter… .”

I believe we have quite enough to go on and calls for her resignation are justified. The fact she is a Tory minister should not cut her any slack. Tories used to hold politicians to a higher standard than the Liberals. I expect them to continue to do that.

The minister is no longer an asset to this government, in fact, she’s becoming a liability. And as I’ve asked before, under what standard of behaviour (or lack of same) could she be allowed to retain her cabinet job? I can’t think of one. I hope the minister does the right thing and resigns from cabinet.

________________________________________

1The Globe and Mail attributes this quotation to the minister: “I’m going to be stuck in this shithole because of you.” And these actions:

  • A staffer went to the gates to tell her to just hang on because she was literally banging and kicking on the glass at the security doors.
  • When they reached security, she ran through the metal detectors setting off the bells.
  • She took her boots off and she threw them at a security official.

Blue Like You blog is also commenting on this story.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Michael Ignatieff: do as he says, not as he does

During the recent prorogation of our federal parliament, we heard and read daily of the importance Michael Ignatieff and his Liberals  placed on MPs being in Ottawa doing the business of the House. Once Parliament was again sitting, however, the importance of actually attending sessions in the House seems to have given way to other priorities—at least, on the part of Mr. Ignatieff.

“An [Liberal Party] aide promised a fresh series of hot Liberal questions to compensate for the missing leader [Michael Ignatieff], but the lineup delivered oft-replayed themes raised by predictable personalities quoting from memorized talking points.”

– Don Martin
National Post

According to newspaper reports, just two dozen MPs were actually in the 308-seat House of Commons at 1:20 p.m. yesterday. More Liberal MPs were having a smoke outside than were at their desks, and the Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and more than a third of his caucus didn’t bother to show up at all. Mr Ignatieff was on a week-long national tour.

Do you remember his lofty pronouncement:

“As I hear them, Canadians are saying: Get back to work in Ottawa, make this Parliament work, and do the job we elected you to do. We are listening.”

By now Canadians must be quite used to politicians of all stripes telling them one thing, but doing another when it suits them. Mr. Ignatieff, though, seems to be in a class of his own in this regard. Yet I don’t think he means to be hypocritical. I believe the words are given to him to say by his handlers and he delivers the lines without actually believing in them. So it doesn’t have the same meaning when he does the opposite to what he tells Canadians.

During a week when the opposition was given the floor to debate its own issues, Mr. Ignatieff’s absence from the House cannot be excused.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Monday, March 15, 2010

Marianne Meed Ward blows whistle on Burlington waterfront pier

Burlington, Ontario resident, journalist and community organizer, Marianne Meed Ward, has dug into the story behind the mess that we have on our waterfront, which was supposed to be a $7.1-million pier. The original idea was that the pier would be an attractive addition to our waterfront, but what we have ended up with is a $9.4-million eyesore in the form of an unfinished mess. Sounds to me like our city council and high-priced city staff has made a real hash of this pier that we never needed in the first place.

The pier is just one of the recent multi-million dollar projects on which the city has decided to waste tax money. And I gather we, the hapless tax payers, aren’t being told the whole truth about this project that was supposed to be completed in 2008.

Fortunately for residents, municipal elections will be held in the fall and we can send the elected city officials a clear message—at least, I hope we will. Unfortunately, that won’t do much to rid us of incompetence among city staff—getting rid of city staff is even tougher than getting a city politician to tell the truth.

If you are a Burlington resident, you won’t enjoy watching Meed Ward’s video which follows, but you’ll be better informed.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Sunday, March 7, 2010

The political game’s over when your friends start to laugh at you

I have frequently suggested in this space that the greatest impediment to a majority Liberal Government in the short term is chief Grit, Michael Ignatieff. His obvious challenge to becoming the next prime minister is his lack of “Canadian-ness.” Canadian-ness is something that we acquire over time, and something that cannot be acquired long-distance.

Mr. Ignatieff is, no doubt, a Canadian in any legal sense, but not in the de facto sense. One cannot spend almost all of one’s adult life living and working abroad and re-acquire a true Canadian identity of any significant depth in five years—it just cannot be done, at least, not to the degree required to understand Canadians sufficiently to become their prime minister.

And Canadians seem to understand this viscerally, though Liberal insiders apparently do not. Either that or they arrogantly believe they can sell anything they choose to Canadian voters.

In the year or so after Mr. Ignatieff was appointed leader of the Grits, however, I have realized that there are clear indications that he just does not have the right stuff to be a political leader, never mind not having a sufficient understanding of Canadians. Yes, he has acquired some political maturity and poise—he showed that during interviews about the recent throne speech. But his internship has taken so long, he has allowed himself to become an object of derision.

Politics hates a vacuum. It is well known that an aspiring political leader must quickly and convincingly define himself in terms that voters will find attractive and worthy of their confidence. If one fails to do so, others will fill the vacuum and define one in negative terms. And once that image sticks, it’s awfully hard to dispel. Like Stéphane Dion before him, Mr. Ignatieff has allowed the conservatives and the media at large to define him in uncomplimentary terms that resulted in his nickname, Iffy.

All politicians take flack from supporters of the parties they oppose—that’s just part of the political game. But when a politician takes friendly fire, its probably time to quit the game.

And friendly fire is just what Mr. Ignatieff is taking these days. Reports persist that several members of his caucus have lost confidence in their leader. Even one of the Liberal Party of Canada’s most avid media supporters is taking pot-shots, and very mean ones they are at that. The latest example can be seen here.

Mr. Ignatieff need not ask for whom the bell tolls.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Saturday, March 6, 2010

New York Gov. David Paterson gets his pension no matter what

No Matter What Happens, Paterson Gets His Pension

by Ryan Knutson, ProPublica.org

Gov. David Paterson of New York insisted this week that he wouldn't heed calls for his resignation, despite his administration's being roiled by two scandals. But no matter what he does, he is still entitled to his full pension once he retires. In fact, there is nothing any New York state employee can do that would cause them to lose a pension; not even a corruption conviction, being fired for embezzlement or a prison sentence.

A provision in the New York State Constitution, written in 1938 and approved by voters, protects pensions for state employees from being "diminished or impaired." Here's the wording:

After July first, nineteen hundred forty, membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.

This means that politicians receive their pensions even after they become convicted felons, such as State Sens. Joseph Bruno ($8,007.11 monthly pension) and Guy Velella ($6,251 monthly pension). (Messages to the former senators have not been returned, but we'll update you if we hear from them.) Pensions are determined essentially by averaging the largest three consecutive years of an employee's salary.

The provision comes from public outcry following a 1935 case in which the court established that a pension was a "legislative gratuity," according to a 1996 article in the Temple Law Review. The provision was created to protect public employees from losing their pensions because of "political manipulation and possible collapse," according to the review article.

Harry Corbitt, the State Police superintendent who resigned this week following revelations that he knew that state troopers had visited a woman who was intending to file assault charges against one of Paterson's aides, will receive a $7,064 monthly pension from the state, according to the state comptroller's office. Even if he had been fired, it wouldn't have made a difference.

New York is not alone with its "non-forfeiture" law allowing criminals to keep state pensions, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. More than half of the states have this provision, said Keith Brainard, the organization's research director. "The pension benefit is part of a compensation package," he said. "It's a form of deferred compensation. It's promised amount to pay at a later date."

In other words, state pensions in most states are considered an employee's property. Typically, a pension is considered property after five years of service, said Ron Snell, director of the state services division of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Private companies, on the other hand, sometimes have looser pension protections, Snell noted.

But there is a slow creep toward tighter pension laws that would prevent corrupt officials from cashing in, Snell said. Lawmakers have proposed two bills in Louisiana in the past few weeks, and one passed in Connecticut in 2008. Such a law in Illinois recently prevented former Gov. George Ryan, who was convicted of felony corruption in 2006, from receiving his pension.

Efforts are under way in New York, too. State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat, sponsored a bill that would revoke pensions from elected officials following certain convictions. That bill, however, has yet to see a vote.

© Copyright 2010 Pro Publica Inc.

Russ Campbell’s Blog occasionally re-publishes articles believed to be of interest to readers. The above article was originally published at ProPublica.org and is licensed under Creative Commons, which provides the legal details.

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A so-so budget, but the best one we were likely to get

Now that the chatter over the federal budget has tapered off, I’ll add my two cents worth. As a conservative, I give the budget a failing grade. As a Conservative Party supporter, however, I’d say it’s about as good as we were likely to get. Simply put, no Tory minority government is ever going to be able to get a budget passed that is anything like what the party’s base will cheer about.

There are those who believe the Tories should put forward a conservative agenda and let the opposition deal with it. And they could be right. After all, the consensus seems to be that neither the Liberals nor the New Democrats relish a trip to the polls at this time and just might swallow a budget laced with bitter pills. I’d be concerned, though, that those bitter pills will be viewed as poison pills, and the opposition will balk at allowing such a budget to pass.

As we saw in the fall of 2008, there are limits beyond which the opposition parties will not be pushed. Give them a couple of meaty issues around which to spin their Paul Martin-like scare tactics and Tory-hidden-agenda nonsense, and they are likely to screw up their courage and face the nation with a renewal their oft repeated promise of some form of national, universal daycare. Though even such a seductive offer to voters may not be enough to overcome their tepid support for Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as prime minister.

I had hoped to see a stronger signal that we intend to shrink the reach and cost of government, but wasn’t really surprised that there wasn’t one. If something is not done to significantly and quickly reduce program spending, we risk returning to the pre-1992 era of seemingly unrestrained government spending that saw the size of government in Canada, measured in terms of total spending at all levels of government as a share of gross domestic product (GDP), peak at an astounding 53 per cent. [Source]

It would be a shame if that were to happen, and an even greater shame if it happened on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s watch.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Gordon Sinclair’s 1973 video, The Americans

Canadian journalist and broadcaster (CFRB and CBC’s Front Page Challenge), Gordon Sinclair (1900 – 1984) gives his view on Americans. This speech was published on June 5, 1973 following news that the American Red Cross had run out of money as a result of aid efforts for recent natural disasters. Sinclair’s recording would become his most famous radio editorial.

I thought this would be a nice compliment to my previous post about an American broadcaster’s view of Canada.

Some things are worth remembering.

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A gender neutral anthem?

There has been a surprising amount of ink and airtime given to the line in yesterday’s throne speech which stated, “Our Government will also ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral wording of the national anthem.” The reference apparently is to the phrase, “…in all thy sons command …” [emphasis mine].

Many conservatives and Conservatives are taken aback and don’t want to see the anthem changed. Others claim its much to-do about nothing and that it’s a trivial distraction from much more important issues. Still others make jokes about the need for change and what the change might be.

I recently had reason to recall the death in Afghanistan last year of Trooper Karine Blais, who died in a roadside bomb explosion near Kandahar City. And today I wonder—when she or her female comrades in arms stood proudly at attention while the anthem played—did just a very tiny part of any of them question why the anthem could not have explicitly included her with more gender-inclusive wording?

I remember how proud I felt when I stood in a Canadian uniform and saluted the flag or listened to the anthem. Never did I have the slightest shadow of doubt about who was being represented by those symbols. And it would break my heart to think that some young woman wearing our uniform felt that the words of the anthem symbolically excluded her, especially if she were about to lay down her life for Canada. Symbols such as flags and anthems have far more meaning when you face the possibility of dying for them.

For me, if a minor word change can for just a single Canadian eliminate even a shadow of doubt over who is symbolically represented in our anthem, then make the change.

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© 2010 Russell G. Campbell
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Tom Brokaw explains Canada to Americans

The following video is well worth watching even if you already saw it during the Olympic Games. In it, Tom Brokaw, former anchor of the NBC Nightly News, explains the relationship between Canada and The United States. It was part of NBC’s Olympics coverage, and aired before the Olympic opening ceremonies on February 12.

Brokaw’s reverent tone throughout the video and his spontaneous show of affection for Canada will remind some of 1973 when Canadian journalist Gordon Sinclair gave his own passionate tribute to the United States, with strains of the The Battle Hymn of the Republic in the background. He titled it The Americans, and it became so popular south of the border, the clip eventually rose all the way to number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100

Enjoy.

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Budget Day in Ottawa

Budget Day used to be a long day for me. We’d listen to the budget speech while a staff member wrote it down in short-hand. While this was going on, another staff member 0110flaherty614 would type up a rough draft, which I’d go through and assign particular points affecting our business to an analyst who would crunch the numbers.

By the time I left the office late that night, I’d have a preliminary assessment of the effect the budget measures on our firm. The next morning, we’d arrive bright and early to review the newspapers and our accounting firm’s analysis and finalize our analyses before distributing it to the executive committee.

What a difference retirement makes: now I watch the budget speech purely for fun and perhaps to get some material for this blog.

This afternoon, I believe we’ll get a fair indication of where the Tory government is heading in its plan to reduce the deficit in the short term—elimination of the deficit is unlikely for some three to five years.

The recent recession notwithstanding, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dug himself a deep hole with his loose-purse fiscal policy since taking office in 2006. Sure we needed to spend billions to keep the economy from sliding into a 1930s-like depression, but even prior to that, the Tories had expanded spending and government beyond what we could have been reasonably considered conservative and prudent. This is especially so when one considers that PM Harper’s belt-loosening came on the heels of Paul Martin’s Liberals shoveling money out the door as quickly as they could.

I understand there are certain political imperatives and constraints placed on a minority government. I also get the concern in the 2006-2008 term that the larder should be picked clean lest the Grits regain power in 2008 and consolidate it with a huge increase in spending on social programs, such as a national, universal childcare program.

Leave the cupboard bare and thus constrain fiscal policy options available to the Liberals. A good strategy, Chrétienesque in its cunning, but one that has been derailed by the recent financial crisis and resulting recession.

All that’s in the past now, and it’s time to make tough decisions to get the country back on its fiscal feet. Part of that is to take a run at the widening gap between public service and crown corporation remuneration and that available in the private sector.

Employee-related costs are such a significant portion of total government expenditures, it’s hard to see how we can continue to allow those who work for governments to receive higher salaries and benefits than those who work in the private sector. Public sector pensions should also be trimmed back to levels more in line with those in the private sector. And what about sick-day benefits? Lots of room to trim there.

The PM has set the table in yesterday’s throne speech when he froze salaries of MPs, etc. Today we might get a sense of whether he intends to go for the full monty and freeze (and/or roll back) public sector salaries and benefits.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jane Taber: mischief maker

I see that CTV host and Globe and Mail columnist, Jane Taber, is up to her usual Tory bashing. This time she’s accusing the not-yet-given Tory throne speech of being plagiarized from one by former Australian prime minister John Howard. Why? Because the speeches apparently have similar titles.

Not being able to attack today’s scheduled throne speech on the substance of its contents, Taber has turned to a Liberal war room “press release” like the ones we are accustomed to seeing aired on CTV News as the basis for her Globe and Mail column.

“In a lively press release headlined ‘G’day Canada,’ the Liberals note the Tories also used portions of Mr. Howard’s 2003 speech on Iraq. Mr. Harper, in fact, was asked about this in the midst of the last election campaign.”

Please, hasn’t this been hashed over before? We’re used to so-called press releases churned out by Liberal “strategists” forming much of the daily content of CTV News’ Power Play, but I thought a major newspaper like the Globe and Mail would be better than that. Apparently not.

She could have waited a couple of hours and had the real story, but not Ms. Taber. Better to run with a warmed over piece of trash spun out by the Liberal war room. This is so pathetic, and sad that this is how poorly Canadians are served by their mainstream media.

I guess we now know the feature story for today on Tom Clark’s Power Play.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Throne speech: Can we expect a signal that we’ll fix our refugee system?

Parliament resumes today following a two-month break and the Conservatives are expected to make a speech from the throne that focuses on the economy and plans to reduce the federal deficit. The throne speech will be delivered by Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, of course, but is expected lay out the Tory’s economic vision and its plans for job creation, restraining federal spending and innovation.

“I am concerned that some [refugees] appear to be coming to Canada, signing up for social benefits. I think that says to us that people are gaming our system and abusing our generosity, suggesting to us they are not really seeking Canada’s protection but something else.”

– Jason Kenney

The speech is expected to be around 6,000 words and last about 90 minutes—a sharp contract to last year’s throne speech which was only seven minutes long. After the prime minister said his prorogation of parliament was to allow the government time to recalibrate, I hope this speech isn’t just a long verbal back-pat without much substance.

One thing I’d like to see in the throne speech is a signal of some kind that the government plans to overhaul our refugee system. I think Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney hinted there might be when he was interviewed on CTV News yesterday.

Minister Kenney didn’t actually refer to the throne speech, but indicated we would hear soon about changes to the refugee system to deal with the frequent abuses and outright frauds that are encouraged by the overly generous rules under which the system currently operates. The minister was being questioned about reports that seven people from Hungary, Russia and Japan have claimed refugee status after coming to watch the Olympics.

While it isn’t unusual for people attending international sporting events in Canada to make refugee claims, we would not expect them to be from wealthy democracies such as Japan. Or, for that matter, from one of the European Union countries, which provides a choice of 27 mostly rich democracies that offer job opportunities and human rights similar to that available in Canada. Where is the evidence of human rights abuses or persecution of people in those countries? Moreover, Hungarians who feel persecuted in their homeland can easily move to another of the member states and retain full legal status to seek jobs, etc.

One might well ask why it is that Hungary has become such a problem for our refugee system. In 2009, the number of refugee claimants from Hungary were more than 1,350, up from the 285 in 2008 and 24 claimants in 2007. [source] This is similar to the experience with Czech refugee claimants before the government imposed visa restrictions on visitors from that EU member country.

Apparently, Canada has become a target for refugee claimants who are known as Roma or gypsies. And, for some reason, they believe asylum in Canada will provide something not available in any of the 27 EU democracies. However, they do not seem prepared to use our normal immigration procedures as tens of thousands of others do every year.

Curiously, in 2009, 267 claims from asylum seekers from Hungary were finalized . Of those, 259 claims, about 97 per cent, were abandoned or withdrawn. [source]

While in Canada waiting for their claims to be processed—which can take up to 18 months—claimants can receive welfare benefits and work permits. And, if a claim is denied, the Canadian government pays for the claimants’ return to their home country. But, apparently, many of the Hungarians who withdrew or abandoned their claims simply disappeared and were unavailable for deportation.

I have heard the explanation that claims were withdrawn or abandoned because the process takes too long. But that does not hold up to scrutiny because claimants from other countries do not withdraw or abandon their claims at anything like a 97 per cent rate.

No, readers, the system is simply being gamed, with undesirables remaining in our country illegally. And it’s time we put an end to this.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ipsos Reid poll confirms Tory lead

Last week an EKOS poll had prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives at 33.4 per cent, a three percentage point lead over the Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals, which stood at 30.3 per cent. Yesterday, the National Post reported that an Ipsos Reid poll confirms the Tory lead and shows it has grown to 37 per cent of voters (Liberals 29 per cent), putting the Tories firmly in minority-government territory and nudging up against majority territory.

“Canadians still trust that the Conservative leader [Stephen Harper] is the man best placed to lead the country through tough economic times — Mr. Harper was judged best qualified by 46% of respondents, Mr. Layton by 26% and Mr. Ignatieff by 24%”

– John Ivison
National Post

The Tory lead has now grown to 8 points, the widest margin the Conservatives have enjoyed in months. We’re not back to the heady days of last October-November when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were polling at about 40 per cent, very much in the area required for forming a majority government. Of course, that was before issues like the treatment of Afghan detainees, Canadians go-slow attitude at Copenhagen and prorogation tilted them into downward slide and eventually a statistical tie with Michael Ignatieff’s Grits.

However, it seems that Michael Ignatieff lacks the political instincts to consolidate the advantage he was gaining over the Christmas season and into January. This despite attempts by his new team to repackage the Harvard professor.

Michael Ignatieff has turned out to be a liability rather than an asset to the political hopes of the Liberal Party of Canada. Like Stéphane Dion before him, Ignatieff needs constant managing by his aides led by his chief of staff, Peter Donolo. Ignatieff’s recent insistence that Canadian aid to African countries be somehow tied to the promotion of abortion practices is but one recent example of how prone he is to political gaffes.

As I’ve said here before, even the unrelenting pro-Liberal, anti-Conservative hammering the Conservative Party of Canada and Stephen Harper has taken from the mainstream media, especially on CTV and CBC political news shows, in the past several months has not given the Liberal Party much to celebrate in poll results.

But no one likes to back a looser. So eventually the spell Liberal Party partisans like Warren Kinsella have cast over political talk show hosts like Tom Clark will be broken. Then spin and graphics to bolster trumped up controversies will have to give way to substantive debate on real issues.

But don’t hold your breath, eh.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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Monday, March 1, 2010

Canada wins!

The past 17 days seem to have passed so quickly. Now it’s back to a normal schedule without the Olympic games to add that extra bit of daily excitement. The games were remarkable thanks to the approximately 2,600 athletes from 82 nations which participated in 86 events in fifteen disciplines. Spectacular.

For the first time on home soil, we not only won gold, but we won gold a record number of times. With 14 gold medals, Canada broke the record for the most gold medals won at a single Winter Olympics, which was 13 won by the former Soviet Union in 1976 and Norway in 2002.

We won the most medals we have ever done, 26, two more than we won in 2006 at Torino and nine more than at Salt lake City. This placed us third overall in total medals, we have never finished higher.

There were individual disappointments along the way, but overall it was a grand affair. And how about those hockey teams—champions both. No winter games can be truly successful without a Team Canada gold medal, eh? Not altogether fair to the other athletes, but probably true nevertheless. Sidney Crosby will now stand as an icon of hockey on the level of Paul Henderson after his 1972 heroics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not officially recognize a winner of the Olympic Games and does not officially rank participating countries. It does, however, publish medal tables for “informational purposes.” The IOC table ranks countries by the number of gold medals they earn. In the event of a tie in the number of gold medals, the number of silver medals is taken into consideration, and then the number of bronze medals.

Canada is therefore the unofficial winner of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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