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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reflecting on Canada Day

commons

[A slightly different version of this essay—entitled What it means to be a citizen—was also published on Postmedia Network Inc.’s Canada.com website on June 30, 2011.]

Each Canada Day, I’m reminded of the day in August when I arrived in Toronto for the first time. My mother and I had chosen Canada to be our new home. We could have chosen the United States, Australia or New Zealand, but decided on Canada because of the bright future it offered.

Upon my arrival, I was struck by a sense of “Canadian identity” and sought to adopt it in all important respects. People I met were not transplanted Frenchmen, nor were they British or Americans. They were Canadians, and I wanted to be one of them.

In those pre-Trudeau days, little was spoken of “official multiculturalism,” and many like myself didn’t see why Canada—or any nation for that matter—should aspire to be an extension of others’ cultures. Yes, there were those who treasured the institutions and traditions inherited primarily from France, England and Scotland, but Canadians before me had built something unique on those foundations, adding cultural enrichment and diversity.

More than a half-century has now passed, and millions of others have joined me, but I believe no less now in my adopted Canadian identity. True, it has evolved, but it continues to embody the core values I have cherished: belief in democracy, the rule of law, free speech, equal rights, tolerance, pluralism and peaceful coexistence with our neighbours, to name but a few. And although our national identity may continue to evolve, these are points on our moral compass that will guide us.

State-sponsored multiculturalism, however, should not be a means by which we nurture our identity and evolve as a people, for it divides more than it unites. The process of “Canadianization” properly begins with a set of sensible immigration policies that encourage individuals from around the world to join us as we fulfill our dreams. Newcomers need not belong to any specific religion, or be of any particular colour, race, ethnic origin or gender. They must, though, be like-minded—they must share our dreams and values. And, to understand us and participate fully in our society, they must become fluent in one of our two official languages within a reasonable timeframe, say, three years.

In some parts of the world from which we attract immigrants, religion and state are inexorably bound. To Canadians, however, separation of religion and state matters profoundly, for Canadian law is secular law and is made by representatives elected democratically under principles of universal suffrage. When there is a conflict between “the law” and someone’s religious law, it is “the law” that must take precedence. Newcomers must acknowledge this reality and abide by it.

Moreover, rather than encourage multiculturalism and the inevitable forming of separate cultural or religious groups that don’t interact with the mainstream, newcomers should be encouraged to maintain foreign cultures and religious practices only so long as doing so does not interfere with their, immigrants’, integration into our society. Our goal should be to live side-by-side, and not in cultural silos.

This brings me to the contradictory concept of dual citizenship, which seems to have become commonplace. Some holding this status will inevitable side with their non-Canadian homeland if they see it in a confrontation with Canada. We understand this when we hear the rhetoric of those who demonstrate in our streets over things happening in foreign lands. This is not desirable.

Furthermore, we know that some immigrants return to live full-time in their original homeland, once they have secured the convenience of Canadian citizenship—a sort of insurance policy to be cashed-in should an emergency arise. How can such people ever fulfill their obligations as citizens? I would like to see the practice of multiple passports discontinued. Citizenship is not something that can be shared.

Canada Day provides us all with the opportunity to wave our flag and celebrate being Canadian. For immigrants like me, it is also an opportunity to affirm our commitment to our adopted homeland and to assess how well we are meeting our obligations as citizens.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Greece: Parliament Approves Austerity Plan

In the Greek Parliament earlier today, the Socialist Party of Prime Minster George Papandreou, backed by a simple majority, 155 to 138, won the vote in favor of a bitterly contested package of austerity measures. This should clear the way for the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to release $17 billion that Greece needs desperately to pay its expenses through the summer.

The measures approved today include tax increases, wage cuts and the privatization of 50 billion Euros in state assets. Another vote will be held on Thursday to enact the measures such as the timing of the privatizations, which includes the state-owned electricity utility, whose union has close ties to the Socialist Party. This will be interesting to watch from a safe distance.

Predictable, Greek’s unions began a 48-hour general strike on Tuesday—their longest walk-out since democracy was restored in 1974. The police called in reinforcements Wednesday and cordoned off streets near Parliament with 5,000 officers.

For a second day, protesters massed in Syntagma Square, shouting, “Traitors, traitors!” The police fired tear gas at the demonstrators repeatedly to maintain control—some demonstrators came prepared with surgical masks to protect against the gas. On hearing the result of the vote, some protesters waged running battles with police in the streets around the Parliament.

Those who favour and NDP majority in Ottawa could do well to review modern Greek history and, especially, to study the economic policies of both Papandreou and his predecessor, Antonis Samaras, the leader of the main opposition party, New Democracy, which once governed Greece and ran up the national debt to unsustainable levels.

The unions want to keep the old ways—cradle to grave security and cheat on their income taxes and have their European partners finance their privileged lifestyle.

Socialism has been a abject failure in Greece, as it has been in so many other countries. And yet 30 per cent of Canadians seem to want this discredited system for Canada. Go figure.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ontario’s NDP platform socks it to corporations, foreign investors and the economy

queenspark

The Ontario NDP’s leader Andrea Horwath released her party’s campaign platformChange that Puts People First—on Saturday. The platform focuses on health care, with promises to cut hospital wait times and increase spending to provide 2,750 new long-term care beds and one million hours per year of home care.

The Ms. Horwath also promises an additional 50 new family health-care clinics she says will reduce the number of people without a family doctor. But there’s bad news for corporations, free-traders, foreign investors and Ontario’s economy in general.

Some of the non-health care planks in platform:

  • Cap executive salaries in the public sector at twice the premier’s salary, and cut the number of consultants in half.
  • Start removing HST from gasoline (one per cent per year), and take it off electricity and home heating.
  • Strengthen the Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund and implement a new Ontario Retirement Plan for those who want one.
  • Work with municipalities to freeze transit fares at current levels for four years.
  • Cut to the small business tax rate to four per cent from the current rate of 4.5 per cent, but restore the regular corporate tax rate its 2009 level of 14 per cent, while implementing a refundable investment tax credit for corporations that create jobs.
  • A promise to balance the budget by 2017-18. [smile, chuckle]

This is probably the most anti-business, investment-killing political platform I’ve seen in years. And this certainly does hang the “Socialist” tag round the neck of Ontario Dippers. I’m not really surprised after Andrea Horwath’s recent comments regarding her love of socialism.

To begin with, the New Democrats will increase the corporate tax from 11.5 per cent (effective July 1, 2011) to 14 per cent. Premier Dalton McGuinty was finally persuaded to reduce corporate tax to 10 per cent and had a plan to do so in stages ending July 1, 2013. Horwath will scrap this, and chase away future investment and further slow job creation.

Horwath also plans to increase the minimum wage and index it to the cost of living. This is a proven job killer, especially for our youth.

Further, Horwath seems intent on declaring war on free trade with the United States and foreign investment in general.

Under an NDP government, “Buy Ontario” will become law. U.S.-based Municipal and State governments will quickly retaliate and implement their own “Buy America” policies and it’ll be hard times for Ontario-based industries.

Moreover, foreign investment in our resource industries will decline under a proposed NDP law to force mining companies to process their ore in Ontario. Other foreign investors will see a “Do not enter” sign hanging on Ontario if Horwath has her way with policies such as not approving foreign takeovers like that of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Finally, Horwath promises to work with municipalities to freeze transit fares at current levels for four years. She does not, however, promise to freeze wages of transit workers, so those organizations will operate at a loss and ordinary Ontarians will be stuck with the bill. Socialist crap!

The NDP never learns: when you attack those who risk their hard-earned capital to provide jobs, the average Ontario resident will suffer the consequences. And this platform does a lot of that.

My guess is that Andrea Horwath will attract more attention from Ontario voters than Howard Hampton did. And the recent success of the federal NDP might well help Horwath in next October’s election. But I believe most voters will see the folly of this platform and vote Liberal or PC—hopefully the latter.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Can you trust Canada Post?

Canada Post reports that its volume is down by 17 per cent in recent years. We assume some of that loss can be traced to increased use of technology such as FAX services and the Internet. A significant factor that is often left unsaid, though, is loss of basic trust in the post office.

Use of a service like Canada Post depends to a large extent on trust. But, unfortunately, theft is a major problem in that organization. To get a sense of just how much of a problem it is, Google “Canada post theft” for yourselves and browse through the millions of results it throws up.

As recently as this month, two Canada Post employees were charged after Peel Region police investigated a mail theft operation that they say could have netted up to $500,000. But this is only one of the scores of examples.

Of course, we know that there is always a rotten apple or two in any large barrel, but would you tolerate so high an incidence of dishonesty in your household or business? I would not.

It was not always thus.

Back in the 1950s when I was a teenager in rural Jamaica, a cousin of mine mailed me a wristwatch from New York. He wrapped the watch band round a rolled-up magazine and wrapped that in plain brown paper. He then sent the package to me by regular mail uninsured, writing on the outside in bold print, “HANDLE WITH CARE  – WATCH INCLOSED.” About three days later, I received the watch in a small town in Jamaica.

How many of you readers would do such a thing now? How many would trust Canada Post workers enough to identify on the outside of a package that it contained a wristwatch?

A few years ago, one of my brothers-in-law who worked at the post office told me it was a practice at a certain Toronto-area postal facility to drop-kick parcels marked, “HANDLE WITH CARE” around the facility. Employees on the job were seen wearing t-shirts with slogans containing four-letter words of the worse kind. It was an everything-goes sort of work environment. The attitude of many workers was: if something is against company rules, no matter how egregious, then do it—the union will protect you.

Nice image, eh? Most people I know have a Canada Post “horror story” to tell. Too bad, for the post office was once an organization of which Canadians were justifiably proud. There was a time when most national postal services had a high degree of trust. No longer, though. And I believe that has cost Canada Post dearly in lost business as potential customers choose more trustworthy private couriers. And, having lost our trust, I don’t believe Canada Post will ever get it back—at least, not if they retain the same labour unions.

To be fair, most postal workers are hard-working and honest men and women, and most would not commit an illegal or unethical act. But that barrel has just too many rotten apples for my liking.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Time to end the fiasco called Canada Post?

The days of Canada Post’s monopoly over letter mail are numbered. The Canada Post Act makes it an offence for anyone but Canada Post to engage in letter delivery for less than three times the post office’s rate—you can even go to jail if you’re caught doing it. But indications are that national postal services are losing their traditional monopolies, and Canada Post will probably lose its monopoly by the end of this decade.

MPs locked in the showdown debated through the night Thursday, all day Friday and were heading for more into the weekend, with the NDP offering speaker after speaker on a procedural motion ahead of actual debate on Bill C-6. The marathon session could now stretch into next week, unless negotiations start getting more serious.

– The Globe and Mail
Jun. 25, 2011

Postal service in Canada has been in steady decline since I came to this country more than 50 years ago—prices have soared and service levels have plummeted. Next-day delivery and two deliveries a day were standards then, but Canada Post can now take up to four business days to deliver mail and still consider it “on-time.” Additionally, stamp prices have gone through the roof—from 1981 when one cost 17 cents to an expected 65 cents per letter in 2014—and home delivery, which has already disappeared altogether for many, will soon be only a fond memory.

As an important national service, Canada Post has been an unmitigated failure. Causes of its failure are many, including poor management and militant, incorrigible labour unions. But also of significance is the fact that, although it costs less to deliver mail in cities than in rural areas, Canada Post is required to deliver letter-mail across the country for the same price per letter regardless of real cost, location, distance travelled, etc., ensuring a system by which urban residents subsidize rural residents. 

Traditionally, there have been widespread political support for this monopoly, just as there was in the United States and Europe. One argument has been that if letter-mail were opened up to competition, private companies would only compete in the urban centres where there is a greater opportunity for profit, while rural areas would continue to be served by the post office, which would have to increase its prices or seek government subsidies.

As a consequence of its unreliable and expensive service, former post office customers have found alternatives to “snail mail,” many of which were made possible and practical by new technologies. So, in the past five years, Canada Post has suffered a 17 per cent decline in volume. There are millions of customers, though, who depend on the post office for orders, invoices, cheques and correspondence. For many like those with small businesses, the elderly, rural residents and non-profits the post office remains their only choice. They too need an alternative to Canada Post and its intransigent union workers.

Fortunately for them, there are encouraging signs of change reaching us from abroad. In recent years, national postal services in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden have been privatized, and prices there are falling while service is improving. The United Kingdom’s government announced last October that it was taking steps to privatize its national postal service, and other European countries including Belgium and Denmark have either already privatized theirs or are in the process of doing so. As well, Japan’s postal service was completely privatized in 2007

So other democracies are proving there are attractive alternatives to our outdated monopoly.

I’m not sure how rural residents of these European countries fare under their competitive system, and, frankly, I really don’t much care. What is so bad for rural residents to pay more for postal service? Prices of many services are dependent on distance. Take, for example, phone calls, taxis, or train and airline tickets.

As Andrew Coyne said recently in a piece in Maclean’s:

“… by what principle of social justice are city residents, rich or poor, obliged to subsidize the correspondence of gentleman farmers? If governments want to redistribute income, let them do so directly, out of general revenues.”

It is time for Canada to catch up to a changing, modernizing world.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Friday, June 24, 2011

NDP performing for their labour union bosses

libbydavies
CTV image: Libby Davies, NDP deputy leader early Friday, June 24, 2011

Members the Official Opposition spent the night in the House of Commons in a filibuster of the Tory’s proposed back-to-work legislation, which is intended to put an end to the week-long labour dispute at Canada Post. MPs spelled each other in overnight shifts, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper showing up around midnight and other cabinet members making appearances at different times.

Formal debate began on Thursday morning, and will continue as long as MPs raise issues. The moment debate ends, a vote can be called.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the longer the New Democrats—champions of unionized workers—keep talking, the more wages the poor union guys and gals will lose at Canada Post. Interesting that socialists always seem to make their ideological points at the expense of others—often those less fortunate than themselves.

To show how duplicitous these people are, NDP members are offering amendments to the government’s legislation, even though they have not the least intention of voting for the legislation no matter how many amendments are made to it.

Of course, the NDP is not simply the party for labour, but is officially the party of labour, with labour organizations embedded in its very structure. And one might imagine labour union leaders wondering whether the resurgent NDP intends to broaden its appeal at the expense of its traditional ties to the labour movement.

In a bid to counter such concerns, Jack Layton credited the NDP/labour unions relationship for the historic gains made in the May 2 election and his party’s attainment of Official Opposition status. The all-nighter on Parliament Hill is another of Layton’s attempts to pass the unions’ loyalty test and show that his party is still worthy of their funding.

With the $2 per vote subsidy being phased out, it is more important than ever that the Dippers not lose their traditional trade union funding. And with the new emphasis of the party on its Quebec agenda, labour union leadership are probably questioning whether the party can really do justice to being the new “Quebec Bloc” and being the party of labour—being both may be too much for this group.

Aren’t Layton and his team in some sort of conflict of interest here? Aren’t they supposed to represent all Canadians and not just the few who belong to labour unions? Then again, one shouldn’t look to the socialists if one wants fair and balanced representation.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Ad: Dalton McGuinty, The Tax Man

Here’s a new ad form the Ontario PCs. The general message is, “Since getting elected eight years ago, Dalton McGuinty has become The Tax Man, taking more and more money out of Ontario family budgets. With his health tax, his HST tax grab, his sneaky eco-tax, adding HST to your hydro bills, and his tax hikes to come, The Taxman is so used to making you pay, he can't even see how hard it is on you.”

Enjoy.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Free speech gets another kick in the apricots

Thanks to Blazing Cat Fur, who pointed me to this episode of Ezra Levant’s Sun News television show, The Source, I learned of this stunning example of how free speech in Canada is eroding. Mr. Levant and Kathy Shaidle discuss a bewildering decision by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) concerning an episode of the program Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural broadcast on CTS – Crossroads Television Ontario which aired on September 14, 2010.

This CBSC ruling is truly chilling (Press release here). The CBSC’s decision seems to hinge on the fact the broadcasters did not make it clear that they were not referring to “all” Muslims when they made certain references. Apparently, had they included the phrase “not all Muslims” or some such, they would have been on-side with the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code, Item A-3 of which states: The tone and content of programming must not abuse, misrepresent or incite hatred against any individual or identifiable group.

The broadcasters were quoting from Muslim religious texts, for goodness sake.

Folks, we’re on the downside of a very slippery slope here.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Geert Wilders acquitted of hate speech in Holland

The populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders has been acquitted of inciting hatred of Muslims. The case was seen by many of us as a test of free speech in a country where opposition is increasing to immigration—especially immigration from Muslim countries.

Mr. Wilders is an outspoken critic of immigration in the Netherlands. His Freedom Party is now the third-largest in Holland’s parliament and is helping prop up its minority government. Many of his comments, however, have been controversial.

The judge found that while Wilders’s remarks were sometimes hurtful, shocking or offensive, they were made in the context of a public debate about Muslim integration and multiculturalism, and therefore were not a criminal act.

Wilders has already won concessions from the government on reducing immigration and introducing a ban on Muslim face-veils and burqas, and some believe this verdict has made him stronger politically.

As is happening elsewhere in Europe, from France to Scandinavia, Dutch citizens have started to question their country’s generous immigration policies, and have been worried by ethnic crime and signs that Muslim immigrants have not fully integrated into Dutch society.

The court agreed with a Supreme Court ruling that an offensive statement about someone’s religion was not a criminal offence. Even the prosecution had asked for an acquittal, on the basis that politicians have the right to comment on issues without trying to foment violence or division.

This is a verdict to be applauded by all believers in free speech/expression. Insults should never lead to criminal charges or sanctions by the human rights community. Free speech is one our most fundamental human rights, and is a cornerstone of Western democracy.

Sadly, free speech rights in Canada have been steadily eroded, to the point where some in authority believe truth should not be a valid defence. A verdict such as that in the Wilders case gives us hope that perhaps the tide is turning towards freer speech.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Beginning of the end of the Afghanistan War?

canada-afghanistan

The War in Afghanistan seems, after nearly a decade of fighting, to be winding down finally with several countries withdrawing troops between July of this year and the end of 2014. Last November, as readers may remember, NATO leaders endorsed a plan to start handing Afghan forces command of the war this year and ceding full control of security to Afghan forces by 2014.

The Canadian combat mission, of course, ends this month—and I’m thankful for that.

Last night, President Barack Obama told his nation of a plan to start withdrawing U.S. troops, in effect, giving his NATO allies a welcomed blueprint and timetable for a drawdown of their own forces. President Obama’s news was timely with U.S. allies facing dwindling support in their own countries for the war—in some cases, outright opposition to the conflict.

President Obama said he will bring home 33,000 troops by next summer—10,000 troops will go home by the end of this year, to be followed by as many as 23,000 by the end of next summer. That will leave about 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Under the president’s plan, a security handoff to the Afghan government will be complete and all American combat troops will return home by the end of 2014.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain had already planned to pull all of its 10,000 troops out by the end of 2014, assuming “conditions on the ground” do not allow an earlier withdrawal.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country will begin its drawdown by year’s end. Germany has about 4,900 troops in a part of northern Afghanistan that has been relatively calm, but has seen increasing fighting in recent years.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France, with some 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, will start “a progressive pullout” on a similar timetable to that proposed by President Obama.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today that 1,500 Australian personnel would remain in Afghanistan until 2014, as planned.

In Brussels, a NATO representative said a number of smaller member states are now “actively looking” at reducing their contingents over the next 12 months.

The time is near when Afghanistan will have to sink or swim as a nation. Many would like to make a case that too many lives and too much money has already been spent on that wretched land. That country’s corrupt, duplicitous leadership cannot expect foreign solders to continue indefinitely to die so they can prosper.

A pull out by the end of 2014 sounds reasonable to me.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Conrad Black’s fighting back

The Financial Post is reporting that ex-Canadian Conrad Black is on the “verge of finalizing a series of out-of-court settlements that will effectively end years of legal bickering in civil actions brought against him by his former Chicago-based publishing company and several defamation lawsuits launched by the former media baron against his accusers.”

The Post says that its sources, who are familiar with events, say Mr. Black is expected to receive a payment of about $8-million as part of the settlement. In return, he’s agreed to withdraw libel suits against Richard Breeden, a former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and a number of former Hollinger International officers and directors.

There are other substantial legal battles ahead for the former press baron, including a US$71-million lawsuit by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for alleged unpaid taxes, which Mr. Black is challenging.

Too bad Mr. Black didn’t take the time to pursue individual libel/slander suits against the, predominantly, leftist pundits who dealt so harshly and unfairly with him in various Canadian media—and this long before he was convicted of anything in a court of law. I’d have loved to have seen his critics shut up and pay up for their unfair personal attacks on the man.

I’m no fan of Mr. Black, but I do believe he was treated shabbily by the media in general and by the American justice system in particular.

After completing 29 months of his jail term, the U.S. Supreme Court cast doubt on Mr. Black’s fraud convictions and he was released on bail last July. He is scheduled to be resentenced on Friday.

Perhaps a sentence of “time-served” will see justice served in this case.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Is Afghan detainee issue over?

Pictures were taken Sept. 5, 2006, during Operation Medusa in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar Province,  Afghanistan. 
PHOTO BY Les Perreaux

One more of the scandals contrived by the opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, it seems, is without real substance. Or so early analyses of the 362 documents totaling some 4,000-plus pages of Afghan detainee-related documents released on Wednesday would suggest. If there is a smoking gun, the Liberals and the Dippers are being uncharacteristically quiet about showing it to us.

The release comes after the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc Québécois formed an ad hoc committee of MPs to review thousands of uncensored detainee-related documents in secret—a process set up after former speaker Peter Milliken ruled the government had breached the privileges of MPs by failing to release all un-redacted documents on this file. (The NDP had refused to participate, objecting to the lack of transparency.) A panel of three judges supervised the year-long process and decided which information should be kept from the public for various reasons, including national security concerns.

Sounds fair enough to me.

Much of the redaction was due, apparently, to the government’s need to keep secret the number of detainees taken by the Canadian military, the names of detainees and Afghan officials, and diplomatic dealings with the Afghan government or officials with the Red Cross and Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Only about 4,000 pages were released to the public, but some 25,000 pages of material were available to the multi-party committee. MPs had guided the judges as to the key documents on which to focus.

Apparently, we’ve now spent about $12-million on this file, including the document review process and the related work and legal expenses of the Military Police Complaints Commission. And what have we learned?

Back in 2007 a detainee alleged he’d been beaten with electrical cables and a rubber hose, which were later found in the interrogation room. Since then, there have been nine other allegations made by detainees who had once been in Canadian custody—three each in the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. All of these complaints involved slapping or verbal abuse. Finally, these 4,000 newly released documents reveal little in the way of specific new evidence.

So, did Canadian commanders knowingly pass on detainees to be tortured? Did they violate humanitarian law or laws of war? That’s the crux of the matter. They say the did not, and I believe them.

Should Ottawa have known there was a risk of mistreatment of detainees once the military had turned them over to Afghan authorities? Perhaps, but so what? We cannot be held responsible for how an independent government deals with its own citizens. That’s the reality of the world we live in. If Afghans had the same protections as we have under our Canadian justice system, we probably wouldn’t have to be in that country risking lives and treasure. So long as our soldiers treat detainees in a lawful manner, I’m satisfied.

From the start, members of the opposition parties have engaged in what amounts to puffery and hyperbole as they sought to sensationalize and politicize this issue. Thankfully, Liberal leader Bob Rae seems now to be taking a more thoughtful and responsible position.

Not so for Official Opposition Leader Jack Layton, who questions what the government is holding back, and why. “This is a secret government. It’s a government that doesn’t want to reveal any information, that’s well-known,” he said. And he’s calling for a public inquiry.

Layton will never be satisfied because he don’t really want the truth—he’s more interested in making partisan attacks and unsubstantiated accusations. The NDP did not bother to participate in the year-long screening process, and yet they complain the government is hiding something.

As Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said, “If they [NDP MPs] were that worried about Taliban prisoners… they would’ve shown up for work [on the screening committee].”

Listening to Jack Layton’s take on the detainee file, and hearing what our military leaders say, I must agree with National Post columnist, Christie Blatchford, who writes:

“Canadian soldiers are better, more reliable and infinitely more trustworthy bearers of what is good in this country, and of the public trust, than Canadian political leaders.”

One hopes this process is now over, and we can put this issue behind us.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Here we go again: MPs keeping citizens in the dark

commons

Our parliamentarians are incorrigible. For years, their secretive Board of Internal Economy refused attempts by former auditor general Sheila Fraser to audit House of Commons spending, relenting only last June under widespread public pressure and allowing a limited look at the House’s administrative costs and controls. Similar efforts by Ms. Fraser were also rebuked by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, until it too finally gave in last October.

We now get news that interim Auditor General John Wiersema will submit the soon-to-be-completed performance audits of the two Houses to their respective management boards, and that it will be up to the speakers of the House and Senate to table the audit reports in the House of Commons and Senate chamber. The reports, therefore, will be reviewed in secret before being tabled by the Speakers of each House, making it questionable whether their complete contents will ever be available to the public.

Ordinarily, the auditor general submits draft reports to government departments for review, fact-checking and response to findings, final versions, however, are tabled directly in the Commons. The auditor general is, after all, an officer of Parliament. It is to that full body that his office reports, and not to some management board of Parliament.

There has been quite enough obfuscation over details of MP spending. Reports should be made public as soon as they are completed. There is no reasonable excuse to do otherwise.

Parliament’s governing boards always meet behind closed doors and documentation of their actions and decisions cannot be requested under access to information laws. This level of secrecy is not in the best interest of Canadians. Especially when we have evidence the Board of Internal Economy has acted in a high-handed manner in the past and has, in effect, covered up possible crimes committed by MPs.

Why, for example, were police not called in to investigate three cases of Liberal MPs who filed false spending claims worth thousands of dollars? Ontario Superior Court Justice recently sentenced ex-Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne to six months in prison for misuse of taxpayer funding, saying, “No one is above the law.” So why have the police not been asked to investigate the false expense claims (details here) of Liberal MPs Judy Sgro, John Cannis and Wayne Easter?

I’ve read about the “mistakes” made by the three MPs when filing their incorrect expense claims. Frankly, none sound like reasonable justifications for their actions, and only police, who are trained in these matters, have the expertise to determine whether there are grounds for laying criminal charges. Surely it must be beyond the scope of the Board of Internal Economy to forgive what could very well be a criminal offence.

Are we governed by the rule of law or by parliamentary management boards?

Canadians are demanding more transparency in government, especially in how our money is spent. The auditor general’s report on administration in the House of Commons and the Senate should be made public as soon as it is finalized. Handing it over to the Board of Internal Economy first is akin to allowing the fox to make the rules for the chicken coop.

 

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Public sector unions: should we allow them?

Why should Canadian society finance the taking of an entry-level job at a young age, with full expectation of staying in that job for an entire working lifetime while receiving wages at a level that one can afford to raise a family, and retire in one’s mid-fifties on a pension most Canadians can only dream about?

For most of us, the answer is simple: we shouldn’t. But for an increasing number of Canadians, the answer is: it’s our right, so live with it.

That’s correct. Members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) who hold entry-level jobs believe they have a right to everything and anything they demand and the rest of us should shut up, suck it up and pay up.

CUPW calls this a fair living wage. The average starting wage for postal workers is $23 an hour—that’s a cool (52 weeks × 5 days × 8 hrs × $23) $47, 840 a year, including paid vacation. A long-service postal worker will have about ten weeks of that time off in paid vacation, personal leave or paid sick leave. Add employee benefits and job security most Canadians could only dream of, including one of the country’s most generous pension plans complete with early retirement benefits starting at age 55 and you have a really sweet deal. My guess is the total compensation package of an entry-level CUPW member is in the range of $60 – $70-thousand a year.

As an example, CUPW members receive so generous an allowance for sick days, some have been able to “bank” several months worth and one member accumulated 402 days of sick leave credit.

But that’s not my main point. Most of us know by now that government employees, and those who work at government agencies and Crown corporations, earn far more in wages and benefits than do workers in the private sector. And my point is that it’s about time Canadians demanded a stop to this growing subset of our population pushing the rest of us around.

There are a myriad of federal and provincial laws and regulations protecting Canadian workers and the safety of their workplaces, including Human Rights Commissions and Workers’ Compensation agencies across the country. The labour union movement now controls the second most powerful political party in our House of Commons. In other words, Canadian public-sector workers are adequately protected.

So why do we need unions in the public sector?

Public-sector unions, with their “right” to strike, limit ordinary citizens’ democratic control over levels of taxation and public spending to the unions’ advantage and at the expense of other citizens. The raison d'être of public-sector unions is protection of their members’ claims on government revenue and to limit the power of our elected representatives to set the terms on which union-members will receive transfers (in the form of wages and benefits) from taxpayers. Consequently, public-sector unions have become an instrument of political exploitation.

When non-unionized government employees have grievances, they have the same recourse as do the rest of us—and that is as it should be. As some might say, if we cannot trust our government institutions to treat government workers fairly, then we cannot trust those institutions or those who work in them, and we should reconsider their very existence.

A case can surely be made for private-sector unions as a safeguard against economic exploitation, and as a party to the bargaining in the marketplace over shares of the surplus derived from voluntary exchanges between workers, capitalists, and consumers.

I find no such justification for public sector unions.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Nanos Research: Conservative support strengthening

PMHarper June 10, 2011

The latest Nanos Research poll, conducted between June 16 and 19, shows the Stephen Harper’s federal Tories in a comfortable 14-point lead over the second place New Democrats, 41.8 per cent (up 2.1 per cent from the May survey) to 28.0 per cent (down 1.9). The Liberals are at 22.3 per cent, the Green Party is at 3.7 per cent and the Bloc has 3.4-per-cent support nationally.

The Tories lead in Atlantic Canada, are second in Quebec and hold double-digit leads in Ontario, Prairies and British Columbia. The NDP hold a substantial lead in Quebec and are second elsewhere, except in Ontario where they are a poor third trailing the first-place Conservatives and second-place Liberals. Full survey here.

According Nik Nanos, “this is among the highest levels of support that Nanos has tracked for the Conservatives and could be considered akin to a honeymoon effect.”

I would have thought the “honeymoon effect” would be more favorably to Jack Layton’s New Democrats, who have been cut yards of slack by the mainstream media, yet have slipped nearly two points in the Nanos poll. Sure, the media have poked a bit of fun at the Dippers’ newbie MPs, one of whom, when caught on camera, seemed on the verge of falling asleep during one session of Parliament. In a larger sense, though, the media, in general, is being very measured in its criticism—few, for example, are demanding explanations from the NDP for leader Jack Layton’s recent absences from key debates in the House.

--

[Nanos Research random telephone survey of 1,211 Canadians 18 years of age and older conducted June 16 to 19, 2011. Telephone survey of 1,211 Canadians is accurate + or - 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For 983 committed voters, it is accurate + or - 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.]

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Monday, June 20, 2011

NDP: “democratic socialists” or “social democrats”?

For the first time ever, the federal New Democrats can see the brass ring almost within their grasp, and they’re anxious to grab it and the reins of power in Ottawa that would be their prize. It’ll be fascinating to see how far the Dippers are prepared to go in re-making their party’s image to attract the centre and centre-left voters needed to put them in power—to reposition the party as a government-in-waiting.

At the NDP convention this past weekend, delegates rejected a resolution calling for a ban on any merger talks with the Liberal party. As one delegate reportedly said, “Please don’t lock the door on what could be potential for growth and development.”

A wise, pragmatic sentiment.

According to the Globe and Mail, the preamble to the NDP constitution states:

“The New Democratic Party believes that the social, economic and political progress of Canada can be assured only by the application of democratic socialist principles to government and the administration of public affairs.

“The production and distribution of goods and services shall be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people within a sustainable environment and economy and not to the making of profit.”

Some delegates had sought a revision that would have removed references to “socialism” and substituted paler—some would say “watered down”—and more centrist wording in which “making of profit” is not demonized.

It is also apparent that many in the NDP want to downplay the party’s involvement with and loyalty to the international socialist movement. To that end, they sought to delete wording from their constitution that states the party is “proud to be associated with the democratic socialist parties of the world… .” Proposed new wording would have the party stand “in solidarity with its allies around the world… .”

Delegates were sharply divided on the changes, however. Some saw them as a way of refining and modernizing language to describe NDP values. During debate on the issue, Pat Martin, MP for Winnipeg South, said that the existing language that frames the party’s purpose and objectives was an anchor that is dragging down the party’s electability. “Our anchor is holding us back,” he said. “All we have to do is a few simple things to change the language so we don’t scare people.”

Barry Weisleder, the party’s socialist caucus chair, felt otherwise, however. “Socialism is not an anchor, it’s a rocket,” he said. “You can take socialism out of the preamble but you can’t take socialism out of the NDP.”

At the end of the debate, delegates decided not to vote on the issue, asking the party executive to take another look at it and bring it back to the membership at another time.

So are are the NDP “democratic socialists” or “social democrats?” Or does it even matter?

Libby Davies, deputy leader, believes they are the former and that socialism lies at the core of her party’s principles. “Modernizing language is important but I don’t want to lose the sense of the roots of the party, and who we are,” she said in an interview Saturday in Vancouver. “We are not the Liberal Party, we are the NDP,” Ms. Davies said.

Ms. Davies’s contention that Dippers are not Grits is an admission the NDP is not a centrist party and ought not to pretend it is. Pragmatists among the NDP—and apparently there are many—would like to disguise their true nature and slip in among those of us who see socialism as a failed political and economic system, pretending they are benign “social democrats”—some sort of soft-liberals. I don’t buy this, not for a second.

Socialism, NDP-style, is a sure path to social and economic ruin. Other countries have found it such and we should learn from their folly.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
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The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vancouver riots: thousands stood by and cheered

There was a time not so far in the past when the primary objective of our police forces was the protection of persons and property—or so most of us believed. Judging from the riots at Toronto during the G20 meeting a year ago and this past week in Vancouver, police now seem to prefer tactics by which they let riots burn themselves out, and spend the days following trying to identify and arrest participants.

I admit this is an oversimplification, for the police reportedly arrested more than 100 people and nine officers were injured during the Vancouver riots. So police certainly were on the job. But not enough was done by them to stop property damage in the downtown core, as businesses were left to fend for themselves while police focused on dispersing the crowd, rather than rushing to hotspots as rioters bashed in windows and damaged and looted stores. And how dare they stand by as residents’ cars were overturned and burned?

The next morning, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu laid the blame on a small group of “anarchists and criminals.” And he, the mayor and the premier have all vowed to make sure the perpetrators are caught, prosecuted and publicly shamed. If, in fact, only a small group was responsible for the mayhem, why couldn’t the police handle them more effectively, preventing the property damage and looting? Rioters burned several cars, including two police cars, on public streets, and nearby police did little to stop them.

What happened in Vancouver was a disgrace—both the rioters and the police who failed to contain them should be ashamed of themselves for what, by many accounts, were the worst riots in the city’s history.

For months after similar riots in Vancouver in 1994 following the Canucks’ Stanley Cup loss to the New York Rangers, investigators probed the events looking for answers and preventive measures. Seventeen years later, we have a night of even more serious riots following a Stanley Cup loss. So, let the investigations, soul-searching and blame game begin all over again.

Chu said police gathered thousand of minutes of recordings and were getting more video evidence, photographs and personal accounts from witnesses who captured images on cell-phones and cameras. Already, several dozen arrests have been made and charges laid for breach of the peace, public intoxication and other Criminal Code offences including theft, mischief, assault with a weapon and breaking and entering.

But what about the complicit majority, the thousands of young people behaving like animals, who reveled in the violence and cheered as cars were burned? Or those vapid youngsters who struck poses for one another’s cameras? Even those who did not participate in the worst of it can be seen in photographs and videos showing them smiling and laughing as they watch the destruction. They pose as though oblivious to the fact they are participating, however passively, in immoral and illegal acts.

As Michael Den Tandt of Kingston’s Whig Standard put it:

“The onlookers laugh, as though they’re at a picnic or a ball game. What have we done wrong as a society, that so many young people in one place at one time could be so bent? This was not the work of a few. Hundreds participated while thousands stood by and smirked or cheered.”

What will the consequences be for them? Without question, they should shoulder a share of the blame as enablers for the minority who arrived on the scene equipped with goggles, gasoline and other tools to create damage. Most likely, however, they’ll emerge unscathed, and that’s perhaps the most troubling aspect of these events.

Their friends, of course, know who they are—and some family members too. But I doubt they’ll they be shunned or in any way held to account for their roll, sad though that may be.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Clarity at last, NATO seeks regime change in Libya

If I interpret correctly the remarks made by Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird during this week’s Parliamentary debate aimed at extending Canada’s contribution to the NATO mission in Libya by 3 1/2 months, our involvement in Libya is likely to continue well into the future.

And, if NATO/US’s track record of the past decade or so gives us anything to go by, months will soon enough stretch into years as we “build democracy” or some such thing in yet another Muslim country.

“Canada needs to continue its commitment to Libya until the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 are met and until NATO’s goals, as agreed upon by our allies and partners.”

– Peter MacKay

Minister MacKay told Parliament that Canada’s commitment to the NATO-led Libya Mission stands at six CF-18 fighter jets, a refueller, two Hercules tanker aircraft, a pair of Aurora Maritime parole aircraft and a warship equipped with two Sea King helicopters. And, I believe, that’s just for starters.

The minister’s comments such as, “We must ensure that all attacks and threats of attack against civilians have ended,” came as a prelude to his government’s announcement that it would officially recognize rebels fighting the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi—the National Transitional Council (NTC)—as the country’s legitimate representatives. That’s regime change, folks.

Minister John Baird has promised:

“We will maintain an ongoing dialogue with the NTC to identify Libya’s most pressing needs now and into the future. We will do all we can to link the NTC with Canadian expertise on governance and civil society issues.”

It is now obvious that—however reluctant our leaders like Mr. Baird are to say so—regime change is a central purpose of the mission. The UN resolution on Libya may be ambivalent on the subject, but, as Mr. Baird noted, G8 leaders and other global powers mostly agree that “Gadhafi must go.” And, in Mr. Baird own words, “As long as he [Gadhafi] holds political power in Libya, those seeking the rule of law, human rights and freedom and democracy are at risk.”

These comments coupled with Canada’s recognition of the NTC as Libya’s legitimate representatives make the reality of what’s happening on the ground in North Africa crystal clear. We are seeking regime change then the installation of democracy in a country totally unfamiliar, in any practical way, with the rule of law, human rights and democratic institutions.

And so the West once more embarks on regime change in the Arab world. Sound familiar?

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Palin’s e-mails go public

Alaska’s capital, Juneau, was the scene of frenzied activity on Friday as state officials prepared six boxes of printed messages for each news organization that paid for the documents. Reporters fought for elevators in a mad rush out of the building to begin sorting and readying the documents for publication.

The documents were copies of Sarah Palin’s e-mails spanning a timeframe from her start as Alaska governor in December 2006 to September 2008, after the first month of her run as the Republican vice-presidential candidate—some 24,000 pages of them. They were released in response to public-information requests from media organizations.

The e-mails are said to be, by one newspaper, “an extraordinary event in their own right, providing the sort of intimate look into a governor’s day-to-day interactions that is rarely available to the public.” That’s, perhaps, a bit over the top, but it’ll take time for the media organizations to sort through this “treasure trove.” I’m sure they’ll find a few tasty bits.

Here and her are links to news organizations covering this story. Enjoy.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Gingrich gives new meaning to phrase, crash and burn

The former United States House speaker, Newt Gingrich, saw his 29-day-old candidacy crash unceremoniously with Thursday’s mass resignation of virtually his entire campaign hierarchy. And, though the political world is writing him off as a Republican presidential candidate, Gingrich continues to insist that he will carry on and plans to jump-start his campaign on Sunday evening in a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Los Angeles.

“There is a fundamental strategic difference between the traditional consulting community and the kind of campaign I want to run. We’ll find out over the next year who’s right.”

– Newt Gingrich

Apparently, one of his campaign’s biggest challenges is money, something about which his team assumed they wouldn’t have to worry, for Gingrich had shown he could raise money for his various enterprises. Astonishingly, Gingrich has no finance team in place. Nor, reportedly, does he like to man the phones himself to ask for money.

Earlier, Gingrich had shocked the political world when he went on vacation shortly after declaring he was a presidential candidate, a vacation CNN’s Wolf Blitzer describes as, “an exclusive and expensive cruise in the Mediterranean to the Greek Isles and Turkey.”

This stunt couldn’t have given much joy to his campaign team.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
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The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

US Secretary Gates: Canada’s punching above its weight

Has NATO become an alliance of unwilling partners? Has this formidable coalition that once stared down the powerful Soviet empire degenerated into a “two-tiered” alliance of those willing to go all-in and those only interested in talking and peacekeeping, as the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, suggests?

“In the past, I’ve worried openly about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance, between members who specialize in ‘soft’ humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and talking tasks, and those conducting the ‘hard’ combat missions ... This is no longer a hypothetical worry. We are there today. And it is unacceptable.”

– Robert Gates

In a blistering attack this week in Brussels, Robert Gates accused the European members of NATO of complacency over international security. He warned that a new post-cold war generation of leaders in America—exasperated by Europe’s failures of political will and their defence funding shortfall—could abandon NATO and the 60 years of security guarantees it has provided to Europe.

Given that the US share of NATO’s military spending has soared to 75 per cent, the US Congress could rebel against spending, as Gates put it, “increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defence budgets.”

According the Gates:

“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country. Yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference.”

To our credit, the US defence secretary singled out Canada, Denmark and Belgium for making “major contributions” to the Libya mission. “These countries have, with their constrained resources, found ways to do the training, buy the equipment and field the platforms necessary to make a credible military contribution,” Gates said.

NATO currently has 28 members: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay was quick to give credence to Gates’ grim prognosis of the alliance. MacKay said Friday:

“I’ve sensed Secretary Gates’ frustration for some time about burden-sharing and the need to have 28 members of the alliance participating more actively and more fully.”

Canada has indeed punched above its weight in high-profile NATO-led military missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.  And, since NATO’s founding in 1949, Canada has been its sixth largest contributor to it’s military and civil budgets. Moreover, Canada is the third largest financial supporter and contributor of personnel to the NATO Airborne Early Warning System and Control (AWACS).

And, even though we are among the countries whose military spending falls well short of NATO’s target for its member states, we have, at lest, stepped up to the plate with manpower and equipment and have lost lives in the process. Canada, according to NATO figures, spent 1.6 per cent of GDP on defence during the 2006-2009 period. Only five of NATO’s 28 member nations—the U.S., Britain, France, Greece and Albania—are now meeting the agreed-upon target to spend more than two per cent of GDP on defence.

It’s nice to see Canada’s operational contribution recognized. Let’s hope this will translate into more political influence at NATO’s US- and Europe-dominated conference table.

This has not always been the case, just as it never was in the two world wars, where Canada gave so much in treasure and lives and received so little recognition and political influence in return. We couldn’t even beat out Portugal for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hudak promises public sector cut-backs

It is really nice to hear Progressive Conservative leader MPP Tim Hudak providing specifics of how he’ll deal with Ontario’s unsustainable deficit financing. He promised on Wednesday to cut spending in the public sector by two per cent until the province’s budget is balanced, assuming voters elect a PC government, of course.

In a speech to the Canadian Club of Ottawa, Mr. Hudak said:

“Beyond health and education, we will work to find two per cent in responsible savings throughout the government. That’s 2¢ on the dollar each year until we get this province’s budget balanced again.

“We will shrink the public sector and bring public-sector salaries in line with private sector realities.”

The PC leader admits, “It won’t be easy,”  and that he doesn’t “look forward to it,” but acknowledges, “it must be done,” and says, “it can be done smart.” With all of which I’m in full agreement, and I applaud the man for his courage to make bold statements and to offer bitter medicine for the better good of our province.

The public sectors at the federal and provincial levels need to be trimmed back to where they can be sustained, and to a point where hard-suffering tax payers can be given a break. It’s a disgrace that Tax Freedom Day this year came as late as June 6, two days later than Tax Freedom Day 2010, according to The Fraser Institute.

The Fraser Institute says the average Canadian family earned $93,831 income in 2011 and paid 42.6 per cent of that or $39,960 in taxes at all level of governments. I don’t believe Canadians should have to pay more than a third of their earnings to finance the public purse, especially since a great deal of their taxes go towards unreasonably high wages and overly-rich pensions for public sector workers compared to average workers in the private sector.

In the past, Mr. Hudak has argued that to win the next election the PC party needs to offer a real alternative to Dalton McGuinty. I’m pleased to see him following through on his prediction.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Auditor general’s report on summits not so bad

As the Tory caucus gathers for its policy convention, it would do well to contemplate the damage done to the Conservative brand as prudent financial managers. With some luck, voters will not remember too clearly former auditor general Sheila Fraser’s just-released and much-anticipated report on Expenditures for the 2010 G8 and G20 Summits and the inference by the mainstream media that the Harper government spent money irresponsibly and hid spending from Parliament.

The media will no doubt focus on the following:

Nearly $50-million was spent on projects in Minister Tony Clement’s Huntsville riding, and there is implied criticism that the government kept Parliament in the dark about the money. The audit found:

The funding request presented to Parliament for the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund was included within the Supplementary Estimates for Infrastructure Canada under the Border Infrastructure Fund relating to investments in infrastructure to reduce border congestion. This categorization did not clearly or transparently identify the nature of the approval being sought for G8 infrastructure project expenditures or explain that additional terms and conditions were created to accommodate the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund in lieu of those in place under the Border Infrastructure Fund.

The should be taken in context, that is, the money was spent in Canada, for the benefit of some Canadians and was a small portion of the total expenditure. We should be mindful of the fact the money did not disappear into someone’s private bank account. To dwell on this issue as many in the media seem to be doing is sort of letting the tail wag the dog.

One radio station states that:

“the report alleges Clement and fellow minister John Baird were allowed to spend the money on projects of their choice without any documentation or consultation with department officials.”

I suppose one can find fault with this, but both men were senior cabinet ministers, and they were not spending the money on themselves, and I cannot find where the audit report claims that they spent the money inappropriately.

The good news from the auditor general is that only $664 million—61 per cent of the $1.1 billion approved by parliament—was actually spent. This is a major relief, as far as I’m concerned.

Here are the report’s conclusions in full, make of them what you will:

1.48 Departments requested and received approval for $1.1 billion in funding for G8 and G20 summit activities over two fiscal years covering expenses for personnel, operations, capital equipment, and agreements with other public sector organizations. Total costs are projected to be $664 million, or only 61 percent of the funding approved.

1.49 Plans and budgets for the G8 and G20 summits were prepared within a limited time frame and with incomplete information on which to base cost estimates. Because departments needed to work quickly to submit requests for funding, and had to plan with incomplete or changing information, the requests for funds were significant and resulted in departments overestimating their needs.

1.50 With the exception of a lack of an overall assessment, we found that in the unique and challenging conditions under which departments worked, there was reasonable senior management challenge of departmental business plans in these circumstances.

1.51 Funding for summit activities was divided among 14 departments organized under two lead entities responsible for different components—security, and hosting and organizing. As no single organization was responsible for overseeing funding and spending for summit activities, there was no consolidated information provided to Parliament on how much funding was being allocated to departments.

1.52 The summit expenditures we sampled showed that the costs recorded were for the purposes for which funding was approved.

The G8/G20 summits were a bit of a mess, and we’d better get a lot better at holding such events, if we’re to hold up our end of the bargain as important members of the G8 and G20. Our civil authorities seem to have lost the knack to do anything quickly and efficiently, not to mention inexpensively. We used to be able to do such things, but that seems to be a thing of the past.

We are new at this and, one hopes, we’ll get better at estimating the cost of such events. Could we have done better? I believe so. Will we do better next time? I believe we will.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
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The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Elizabeth May shows us the old bait and switch scam is alive and well

According to the Toronto Star’s website, the Green Party’s British Columbia MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, Elizabeth May, “plans to focus her limited powers in the [House of] Commons on improving parliamentary democracy.” Isn’t this just the latest illustration of the old political bait and switch scam we are so used to getting from Liberal leaders like Jean Chrétien’s scrap-the-GST election boondoggle and Dalton McGuinty’s no-new-taxes election lie?

“It’s not that I’m choosing to avoid the issue [environment/climate change] that I think is the single largest threat to our survival of civilization on this planet, but I want to use the opportunities I have in question period not to make rhetorical points, but to get real answers.”

It’s an old ploy, tell the electorate you’re one thing, then be something else once you’re in the House of Commons.

Apparently, Ms. May considers herself as someone who has something useful to add to debate on democracy and economics—what a silly woman. According to the Star’s report, “May expects to rise for the first time in question period on Thursday to ask whether the Conservative government plans to wrap any non-fiscal matters into its upcoming budget implementation bill.” And from that same report we learn, “May has also started working on some written order paper questions … about suspected backroom deals that have nothing to do with the environment.”

I, for one, wish she’d stick to the only thing about which she’s likely to be of some use in the House.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
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The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

Tories begin their National Convention at Ottawa

The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) begins its National Policy Convention at Ottawa today. These are the sort gatherings in which one can find an intersection of three separate paths taken by conservatives: those who are small “c”, but do not always vote CPC or regularly update their CPC memberships; these who are CPC members and support the party right or wrong; and those who are members of the CPC’s elected caucus.

Clearly these groups have similar views of how Canada should be governed. But many small “c” conservatives believed the Liberal Party of Jean Chrétien/Paul Martin were fiscally conservative enough to satisfy them, and back then they voted Liberal in large numbers. Others see their best hopes for a conservative Canada being realized only through a government led by the CPC. And, of course, we have the CPC’s caucus.

Too often, outsiders assume the caucus represents the hopes and aspirations of the party from which it draws most of its financial support and volunteer help. Many—I used to belong to this group—believe a central purpose of national policy conventions is the development of policies, which would be used to inform the party’s election platform and the future agenda of the caucus, once in government. Not so.

To start with, official members of the party made up only a very small proportion of the nearly six million votes it took to win on May 2. Of necessity, an election platform is geared to both small “c” and small “l” voters alike. And few if any party resolutions are designed to appeal beyond the narrow confines of the party’s membership and its delegates attending the convention.

That’s a stark reality of politics: ideology gets you only so far, it’s pragmatism that wins elections. And even after a majority is won, a caucus that governs pragmatically, is one with a chance to win the next election.

The caucus, the CPC general membership and the conservative movement are all individual streams of conservative thought and objectives that converge at times, such as at national conversions, only to go their separate ways once the convention closes its doors.

The Ottawa meet-up should be more interesting than most. For one thing, it’ll provide an excellent chance for the party to celebrate its May 2 majority victory. Delegates have been waiting since November 21, 1988 for a majority win in an election, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has given them one. That sure calls for a large “C” celebration.

I’ll also be watching what happens to those CPC policies passed at its November 2008 convention, but which the caucus passed over since then. Will we see a renewed initiative to get rid of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act? Such a resolution passed overwhelmingly in 2008, but nary a word of legislation since. Will we ever have real and sustained progress towards arctic sovereignty, or just more lip service by caucus? And what about conservatives’ concern for fetal rights?

These are just a few of the thorny issues that separate the CPC from its caucus and from small “c” conservatives at large. It’ll be fun to watch.

 

© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
 
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.

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