Thursday, January 29, 2009

War on salt: it’s a good thing

Iread that New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has declared war on salt. The city’s plan is to get food manufacturers in the United States to agree to gradually start reducing salt contentsalt until it reaches a 50 per cent cut in 10 years. Apparently, this would take us back to the levels found during the 1970s.

Unlike many who feel that this sort of thing is turning NYC into a Nanny State, I see it as a good thing. What better way for a government to spend its time and our money than to protect our food safety? I hope someone on this side of the border is paying attention.

And who will be inconvenienced? Virtually every home and restaurant table has a salt shaker, so it can be added easily by those who want more. When food comes to the table already heavily salted, that’s it—you’re stuck and can’t get rid of it. Reducing salt at the source, so to speak, is a win-win: those who want to can avoid the health risk and others can add extra salt at the time of consumption

Over five million Canadians suffer from high blood pressure, known as hypertension. And high blood pressure kills.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is the leading risk for death in the world (WHO Report 2002)

Canadians get twice as much sodium (one of the two major components of salt) on average in a day as is recommended—on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, the recommended maximum sodium is 2,400 mg. When sodium is high in the diet, it increases blood pressure. And high blood pressure is, of course, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. However, one in three Canadians with high blood pressure would have normal blood pressure with a healthy amount of sodium in their diets.

So why not a war on salt? I’m all for it.smleaf

York strike is over

Like obedient little puppies, the the NDP caucus in the Ontario Legislature did the bidding of their union McGuintymasters and voted against the bill to end a three-month  strike at York University. Our society has treated York’s nearly 50,000 students appallingly by allowing this reckless strike to go on for so long.

Premier McGuinty seems finally to have come to his political senses and has moved to put a stop to CUPE’s madness with a bill that is scheduled to receive Royal Assent at 4 p.m. today when it is signed into law.

Just another example of the flagrant abuse of power by a public service union. When are our lawmakers going to rein in these greedy people?

Conservative government may smell a bit, but alternative stinks

There is a debate among conservative bloggers regarding the appropriateness of the recent Tory budget: whether or not it is too liberal and not conservative enough.Ottawa On the one hand, there are those like Stephen Taylor who’s defence of the government includes these comments:

quote-left-red-beige-bgA political party’s first and last job is to get elected. … A political party, in practice, is not much more than a marketing machine to sell ideas to an electorate looking to buy them. … If a Conservative party does form government—especially a minority government—the long term goal is the same: keep the upper hand, survive when strategically beneficial, and win elections.quote-right-red-beige-bg

On the other hand, the Canadian Republic blog writes:

quote-left-red-beige-bg… a political party's first and last job is to do what is right. What benefit is there in the Conservative Party forming government if their primary concern will always be retaining power at the expense of representing the values that they were elected to defend?quote-right-red-beige-bg

Very polarized positions, don’t you think? Isn’t there room for some middle ground?

A political party with no ideological grounding—an ideological compass, so to speak—must surely have difficulty plotting a path for its members to follow. Pure pragmatism seems so crass and grasping—so devoid of idealism. And yet, there is the hard fact that if one has none of the levers of power, then one’s ideas will likely be ignored. However, it’s one thing to place ideology ahead of pragmatism and quite another to ignore common sense in favour of political dogma.

I like the idea of a political party that is well grounded in ideology, but with a well-balanced moral compass and a firm sense of where to draw its line in the sand. Room to maneuver politically is imperative. After all, a government is supposed to represent all the people and not just those who vote for them.

I want a government that will govern conservatively within reasonable bounds, deviating from time to time but, for the most part, keeping on the “right” side of things.

If I could have, I certainly would have voted against George Bush in 2004 and with Barack Obama in 2008. Yet I have voted PC, Reform/Canadian Alliance or CPC in every election, federal or provincial, since the late 1960s. I voted for Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives in 1979, but left the federal PC party in CANADA-POLITICS/HARPER1998 (in favour of the Reform party) when Clark made his comeback as leader.

The current Stephen Harper government is perhaps on the very edge of the sort of government I’m comfortable supporting. But I cannot help wondering how much more of a mess we’d be in if someone like Jack Layton ever got his hands on any one of the levers of government [shudder]. And as to Michael Ignatieff: it’s no time for training wheels. Ignatieff and his group keep reminding us of the fiscal conservatism of Paul Martin, and I don’t disagree that Martin did a good job. But Martin is long gone and now we’d get Scott Brison, Ralph Goodale and John McCallum [triple shudder].

My reading of our Conservative leadership in Ottawa is that the backroom unelected politicos have too much influence on party policy, strategy and tactics. Oftentimes, they’re too cute by far, choosing television ad campaigns instead of honest political debate. We have too many advisors and not enough wisdom—too much spin and not enough truth. Too often we skirt the borders of what is appropriate behaviour for a government that gives a damn about our country and its citizens.

Rather than our elected representatives sticking to a pure conservative agenda—whatever that would look like—I’d settle for more consistency, more promises kept and more frankness with party members and the general public.

As for the budget, there is nothing there that we cannot afford or that is truly harmful in the long-term.

  • Our “AAA” government bond rating remains intact.
  • The projected deficit is $34 billion, about two per cent of Canada’s GDP, which sounds reasonable under the unusual circumstances we face—and will fulfill Canada’s commitments at the recent G20 leaders’ summit.
  • The growth in Debt-to-GDP Ratios still leaves Canada in an envious position compared to the other G7 nations.

Oh, there is plenty to nitpick in the budget document, but then there always is. It seems fairly conservative with several nods to our more liberal fellow citizens. So, notwithstanding my own biases, I believe this is as good a budget as we could expect at this time.

And, as to the alternatives: another election or a Bloc-supported Liberal-NDP coalition government? Far better the devils we know. I’ll keep rooting for the PM and his team.smleaf

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

We haven’t enough news to satisfy mass media’s capacity to report it

One of the best things about yesterday’s federal budget is that it has essentially put an end to the seemingly endless weeks of speculation by media flahertypundits about what we could expect it to contain. Only minutes before Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was set to deliver his budget speech, CTV NewsNet had a guest speculating about its contents.

How mindless was this when, in less than five minutes, we would have the real goods? Yet this seems today’s norm. Even speculation about a news event is reported and analyzed as if it were the actual event. If patience is a virtue, it’s one our mainstream media has precious little of. The MSM seem incapable of waiting for real events to occur before they begin analyzing them.

My theory is that our capacity to report and comment on the news far outstrips our society’s ability to generate real news. Twenty-four/seven cable television has such a veracious appetite for things newsworthy, it has to generate hours and days of pre-event speculation and spend at least as much time on post-event analysis and commentary. Frankly, I find that sort of thing futile and boring to boot.smleaf

Ignatieff huffs and puffs but won’t blow the Tory house down

Michael Ignatieff has castigated Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government over its Jan. 27 budget, but wimps out and supports the budget anyway, with some face-saving amendments that are ignatieffsupposed to make the government more accountable.

At a news conference earlier today, Ignatieff engaged in much the same sort of puffery we have become accustomed to with the former Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion. But when the rubber hit the road, Mr. Ignatieff broke with the now deceased Liberal-NDP-Bloc alliance and sided with the Tory government.

NDP leader Jack Layton seems furious—I’m watching him now on CTV NewsNet—as he chastises Ignatieff for what he sees as a betrayal of Dion’s promise to bring down the government and give Jack a seat at the Liberal cabinet table. Jack says that we now have a new coalition with the Liberals and the Conservatives. Poor Jack, no more cockiness, just bitterness.smleaf

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ignatieff posturing and playing the big shot

Liberal Party leader, Michael Ignatieff, was full of bluff and posturing yesterday as he addressed his first parliamentary caucus gathering.ignatieff  Mr. Ignatieff, filled with a sense of his own importance, laid out his “tests” for supporting the upcoming Conservative budget, saying:

quote-left-red-beige-bgThis budget has three simple tests that it must pass. Will it protect the most vulnerable? Will it save jobs? And most important of all will it create the jobs of tomorrow?quote-right-red-beige-bg

What Mr. Ignatieff was not saying—at least not publicly—was the obvious: the budget will have to stink for the Grits to vote it down. Mr Ignatieff is not the political babe in the woods his predecessor, Stéphane Dion, was and will not be manipulated, by the likes of Jack Layton, into defeating the government and hoping that the Governor-General would give the Liberal-NDP coalition a chance to form a Bloc-supported government. That strategy was Mr. Dion’s only chance of becoming prime minister.

Mr. Ignatieff is in for the long haul and—as polling shows—an alliance with the NDP and guaranteed by the Bloc Québécois would have disastrous results, ending eventually in another, stronger election win for the Tories.

NDP leader Jack Layton will have his party vote against the budget no matter what it contains, because he knows it is now or never for the coalition—and his best chance of ever having a seat at a federal cabinet table.

Toronto MP John McCallum, the party’s economic policy critic, told reporters Mr. Ignatieff has said a Liberal vote against the Jan. 27 budget “is still very much a possibility.” But that’s just the old master spin-doctor at work. I don’t believe a word this man says when it come to this sort of thing.

If the government falls over the Jan. 27 budget, it’ll be because Prime Minister Stephen Harper sees some political advantage to be gained, not because Mr. Ignatieff believes in the Liberal-NDP-Bloc alliance.smleaf

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Civilian casualties in Gaza

Just when did our expectation that war can be fought without civilian casualties begin? I missed the transition, which seemed to have taken place sometime in the late 1970s. gaza-bombed~s600x600

The Second World War was the last of the great wars that is generally considered a “just war.” And, during that conflict, the Allies routinely inflicted casualties on civilian populations without much in the way of negative reaction from their civilian populations.

In a single operation in 1945, between Feb. 13 and 15, the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force sent 1,300 heavy bombers to drop over 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices in four raids on Dresden, capital of the German state of Saxony. The raid destroyed 13 square miles of the city, and caused a firestorm that consumed the city centre. Estimates of civilian casualties vary greatly, but recent publications place the figure between 24,000 and 40,000.

An extreme example perhaps, but one that only attracted widespread criticism from the populations of the western democracies several years later.

Sometime after the Vietnam War, many Canadians and others seem to have gotten the idea that war, any war, can be fought with such precision that civilian targets can be avoided.

The latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza is a case in point. Civilian casualties, especially among women, children and the aged are roundly condemned throughout the Western world. Anti-Israeli demonstrators accuse Israel of war crimes without giving much thought to the fact that such casualties are all but inevitable in the densely populated Gaza Strip, where Hamas fighters are seldom if ever far away from civilian areas when they fire their rockets into Israel.

Critics of Israel seem not to take into account that even with the best of intentions and technology, it is extremely difficult for the Israeli military forces to shield the non-combatant population from the damage associated with air raids and ground offensives.

As tragic and unfortunate as civilian deaths are, they are nevertheless inevitable. They are the consequences of war. To avoid them we should avoid war, not agonize over them and pretend that “rules of war” can avoid them. Isn’t the very concept of “rules of war” an oxymoron?

If Palestinians—regardless of justification—fire thousands of rockets indiscriminately at the Israeli civilian population centres, they should expect that, eventually, there will be consequences and that many of them will die. Cruel and unfair? Maybe, but that’s life.

Surely Palestinians must know that to win a war with Israel, first the United States must abandon Israel and then the Arab world must unite to launch a full scale war to win back the land of Israel. This is simply not going to happen any time soon.

It is well past time for the Palestinians to wake up to the fact that regardless of the wrongs of the past—and they are not blameless there—they must now look to a future that does not include any sort of return to Israel proper. They have lost their war and must now move on, just as many others have had to do down through the ages.

Sue for peace and accept the best terms available, that’s how to save lives in Gaza. Who ever promised life would be fair?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Can Ignatieff live down the coalition?

The Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is no leftie—at least, not in my opinion. How then can he possible see a Liberal-NDP coalition as an option? If I am right, Mr. Ignatieff ignatieff would prefer to let the Jan. 27 budget pass and seek an election at a later, more advantageous date.

Initial support for the coalition was a tactic used by Mr. Ignatieff to promote solidarity within the Liberal Party at a time when he was contesting the leadership (he appeared cool to it when the coalition was formed last November, and was the last of his fellow Liberal MPs to sign the agreement). And I believe Mr. Ignatieff would much prefer to see the Liberal Party return to the political centre and perhaps slightly to the right of it. Such could never be the case if he had to share the stage, and cabinet, with Jack Layton and five of his socialist comrades.

The prospect last November of the Liberal-NDP coalition taking power propelled the Conservatives into majority territory in the polls. And, having got so close to a formal coalition with the socialists, how convincing will Mr. Ignatieff be in the next federal election, when he tries to convince Canadians that a vote for the Liberal Party is not a vote for NDP-style government? 

Only time and some very clever political maneuvering will allow Mr. Ignatieff to regain for the Liberal Party a reputation of being a centrist party, thus giving the Grits another shot at governing the country.smleaf

Duceppe still favours the coalition

The Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe seems to take exception to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s depiction of the Bloc as “… separatists and people trying to destroy  Canada.” The Duceppewords—as reported in the Globe and Mail—are Mr. Duceppe’s, but most would agree they sum up the PM’s view of the Bloc Québécois pretty well.

The PM’s view is likely shared by most Canadians outside Quebec, for only there and among some left-leaning and NDP-supporting Canadians is the Bloc seen otherwise. Apparently, many Quebecers and some Canadians like the author, Margaret Atwood, view the Bloc Québécois as simply a regional party, and believe voting for them places no additional obligation on the voter to support separatism. To me, this is a Twilight Zone-like view of the world—but then I don’t reside in Quebec, am not left-leaning and do not support the NDP.

It seems that Mr. Duceppe believes that Michael Ignatieff has a more tolerant opinion of the Bloc than does the PM does. And he has cause. After all, even though Mr. Ignatieff appeared cool to the Liberal-NDP coalition when it was formed last November, he did personally sign the agreement along with all Bloc and his fellow Liberal MPs.

quote-left-red-grey-bgIt [Jan. 27 budget] would take a major change of direction from Mr. Harper’s position in the very ideological economic update [for PM Harper to come up with a budget that answers coalition demands].quote-right-red-grey-bg

– Gilles Duceppe

Mr. Duceppe dismisses as “spin” the idea the Mr. Ignatieff would now prefer to let the January 27 budget pass and seek an election at a later, more advantageous date.

Mr. Duceppe seems to believe that the coalition is still a realistic possibility, and he says the it remains the best option to deal with Canada’s economic crisis, even if a coalition supported by the Bloc enjoys little support outside of Quebec.

I do believe that Mr. Duceppe is dreaming in Technicolor.smleaf

Friday, January 9, 2009

Scott stands aside for John Tory

As expected, Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott (Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock) is set to resign her seat jtoryin the Ontario Legislature so that party leader John  Tory can contest a by-election that could get him into the Legislature as early as March—some 18 months after Mr. Tory led the PCs to a disastrous defeat on Oct. 10, 2007, losing his own seat in the process.

Mr. Tory announced the move in a statement he made today at Lindsay, Ontario.

As to Ms. Scott’s continuing role in the PC party, Mr. Tory had this to say:

quote-left-red-beige-bgAnd I need Laurie [Scott] on our team. My ability, both locally and provincially to do these jobs will be directly tied to Laurie’s continuing presence as a key member of our team. Fortunately, Laurie has agreed to take on the enormous responsibility of Election Readiness Chair. I am delighted she has agreed to take on this crucial role and I am looking forward to expanding that mandate in the months ahead.quote-right-red-beige-bg

Assuming Mr. Tory wins the by-election, he will almost certainly then lead the party into the next provincial election in the fall of 2011—not a happy prospect for many PC party members for whom Mr. Tory’s inept 2007 election campaign is only too fresh a memory.

We can only hope that Mr. Tory will set aside his dictatorial leadership style and start listening more to advice from the party grassroots. During the last election campaign—under the guise of “strong leadership”—Mr. Tory seemed to unilaterally ram through policy issues like his controversial pledge to expand faith-based school funding, which led to an easy election win by Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals.

My guess is that the Grits will convince voters in 2011 that, if elected, the PCs will enact expanded faith-based school funding. And that should be enough to ensure them, the Grits, another four-year term. After that we can perhaps replace Mr. Tory with a more effective leader with the political smarts to unseat the Grits.

Not the best news for Ontario.smleaf

Thursday, January 8, 2009

John Tory to run in Haliburton?

The Web site reports that Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory will announce on Friday that he will run in the riding of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock. That riding is currently held by Laurie Scott, who is expected to resign her seat allowing Tory to contest it in a byelection.

By law, Premier Dalton McGuinty needs to call a byelection within six months of a vacancy. None too soon considering Mr. Tory has been without a seat in the provincial legislature for 15 months.

We’ll see what Mr. Tory has to say for himself tomorrow.smleaf

Sid Ryan apologizes for slur

When Sid Ryan compared the actions of the Israeli military to those of the Nazis in the Second World War, he slurred the entire nation of Israel in the most hurtful way imaginable. No more odious comparison could be made than to compare any Jew to a Nazi.

quote-left-red-grey-bgThe example I gave was inappropriate and left people with the impression I was trying to compare the people of Israel with the Nazis.quote-right-red-grey-bg

– Sid Ryan

Ever the hardhead, Mr. Ryan refused to withdraw or reword his repugnant analogy when he was interviewed later on Toronto’s CFRB radio. Today, however, the National Post published a public apology from Mr. Ryan.

Only Mr. Ryan knows for sure whether his apology was heartfelt. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on the basis of “better later than never.” One does have to wonder, however, why any veteran union leader, and past NDP candidate, would allow himself to become embroiled in such a shabby controversy. At a minimum, it points to appalling judgement on his part.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

What’s up with CUPE?

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and its Ontario leader, Sid Ryan, seem to have adopted the Palestinian cause. In 2006 the union voted to join an international boycott campaign against Israel. In 2007 the Canadian Arab Federation gave Mr. Ryan an award for advocacy and social justice.

Yesterday, the National Post reported that CUPE’s Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee is proposing a ban on Israeli academics teaching in Ontario’s universities. In this shameful example of social justice CUPE-style, the union attempts to expand its boycott of goods and services from the Jewish state to include that country’s academics, many of whom could very well oppose Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, but do not choose to criticize their our country in public.

What’s going on here? Why is CUPE and Mr. Ryan singling out of Israel in this way?

It strikes me as odd that, with human rights abuses common in past decades, wherein millions were murdered in places like China and the former Soviet Union and several hundred by the terrorist acts of the very Palestinians Mr. Ryan and his union defends, yet it is the small state of Israel that Mr. Ryan and his public service union targets for their show of outrage and sanction.

Is the singling out of Israel merely an indication of the union’s left-wing anti-Americanism or something much darker and more shameful?

The National Post suggests the latter, calling it bigotry. I’m not prepared to go that far, but my suspicions are aroused.smleaf

Monday, January 5, 2009

Elizabeth May: worst federal politician of 2008

Elizabeth May takes top honours as my pick as Canada’s worst federal politician in 2008may. Ms. May wins by a country mile, topping NDP Leader Jack Layton and Tory Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in all categories, including level of incompetence, leadership skill, puffery and unrealistic and unearned sense of self-importance. All three would have been in a dead heat were “hypocrisy” the only criterion.

As party leader, Ms. May had the opportunity to become a strategists and organizer and to build her Green Party into a strong political machine capable of delivering seats, but chose instead to continue merely to be a political activist and self-promoter. Moreover, her stubborn refusal to run in a more winnable riding spoke volumes about her lack of appreciation for the big picture. Her quixotic battle to defeat Peter MacKay in Central Nova, N.S. did nothing for the party as a whole, but drain precious financial resources.

At the end of voting day, her party was left without a single voice in parliament. David Cotter, president of the Kitchener-Conestoga Green riding association, said:

quote-left-red-beige-bg[Former Green leader] Jim Harris ran a $60,000 campaign in 2006 and got 4.5 per cent of the national vote; we ran a $4 million campaign and won 6.8 per cent. You have to have 12 seats to be an official party: we have none. You need one seat for the leader; she chose to run against someone who can’t be beaten.quote-right-red-beige-bg

Sort of sums it all up, doesn’t it?

It’s curious that the Green Party’s share of the popular vote, at 6.8 per cent, fell so far below the 11 per cent that polls had been predicting a week earlier. Ms. May owns much of the blame for this, with her muddled message supporting strategic voting. Because of her ill advised public statements, the “Vote Green” message was not clear. Green messaging also lacked focus. Ms. May spent too much of her time indulging her obvious personal dislike of Stephen Harper and not enough on getting Green candidates elected.

Partway through the 2008 campaign, it became obvious that it was more important to Ms. May that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives be defeated than for Green candidates to be elected. A flawed strategy and a costly and reprehensible one for the leader of any political party to employ.

Her muddled messaging cost the Greens several hundred thousand dollars: each vote earns a party $1.95; candidates who achieve more than 10 per cent recoup 60 per cent of their campaign expenses. There were 19 ridings in which Green candidates got between nine and 10 per cent. Clearer, more focused messaging would probably have pushed many of these 19 ridings over the 10 per cent minimum and yielded final national vote results closer to the 11 per cent predicted by the polls.

For all her supposed charisma and intellect, in 2008 Ms. May demonstrated that she clearly lacks the leadership ability to inspire and the political acumen to get the “green” message across to voters.smleaf