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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The not so private lives of our politicians

Over the years, I’ve heard many politicians complain that their private lives should be left private and not become the subject of public discussion. And, of course, for decades the news media has respected those wishes, leaving out of their reports MP’s and MPP’s various indiscretions.

Recently, along with NDP allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of two former Liberal MPs, we’ve heard reports from members of the Press Gallery in Ottawa that there is a widespread problem of inappropriate sexual activity on the Hill.

We are told that many MPs are away from home and they have above-average access to parties and other gatherings at which there is a free flow of alcoholic beverages. Loneliness and opportunity then combine to lead astray too many of our parliamentarians, it is said. Moreover, their resulting indiscretions are not always played out in private and, therefore, become the subject of gossip among politicians, their staffs and media representatives.

The general public, though, are not privy to such shenanigans—politicians’ private lives being off-limits to us, the very ones who sent them to Ottawa and the very ones who would benefit from the information so we can make a more informed decision when next we have the opportunity to express our will at the polls.

What a politician does in her or his private time, we are assured, has no bearing on their jobs and are, therefore, to be kept private from the general public. And, I suppose, we are expected to believe that politicians who abuse alcohol, cheat on their spouses or sexually harass their staff or peers are still fit to represent us and hold the highest offices in the land.

I believe it is high time that we voters disabuse ourselves of the distinction between our political representatives’ public and private lives.

Politicians have for decades included members of their families—especially spouses and children—in their political activities. Spouses often canvas voters, for instance. And certainly, pols giving victory speeches are more often than not accompanied by their spouses. Moreover, the current practice during Christmas season seems to be to distribute pictures of politicians and their families as greeting cards.

All of which tells me that politicians consider their spouses, at least, to be an integral part of their political team. (“Couldn’t have done it without her/him,” don’t you know.) Which, in my view, makes spouses a part—however small it may be—of my assessment when choosing my MP/MPP. And, to help me make an informed choice, I expect a reasonably open approach on the part of the news media to reporting on incidents of politicians’ misbehaviour—especially where alcohol/drug abuse and harassment or assault is concerned.

I’m outraged that a politician would cheat on his wife, yet use a family photograph that includes her to promote himself. It’s a shameful, dishonourable practice.

Let’s hope that the NDP allegations against MP Scott Andrews are never proven, because he engages in the practice of using his wife and family to promote his political career.

Regardless of how things turn out for Mr. Andrews, I’m pretty sure there are others at Ottawa and Queen’s Park who are guilty of this shabby practice. Let’s hope they see the writing on the wall and smarten up.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why is Industry Minister James Moore offering cheaper toys, but not cheaper food?

The federal government has announced plans to narrow the gap between prices in Canada and those charged in the United States, for the same items.

Federal Industry Minister James Moore, today at a Toronto toy store, proposed a new price transparency act he hopes will end the practice of what he called “geographic price discrimination” or “price gouging of Canadian consumers.” Moore said the bill takes aim at the practice called “country pricing,” which prices goods differently depending on the country in which they are sold.

The government acknowledged in the past that there are legitimate reasons for higher prices in Canada, including labour costs, duties and shipping/transportation fees. Moore also acknowledged another obvious contribution to the unfavourable price difference: the declining value of the Canadian dollar vis-à-vis the United States’ currency.

Canadian consumers will likely welcome the industry minister’s announcement, but I remain sceptical that it’ll have much impact. Undoubtedly, there a some goods that are priced higher when destined for Canadian markets. Having an even greater impact on higher prices here, though, are governments themselves.

Canada, for the most part, has higher minimum wages than American states do. The minimum wage in New York State is, for instance, $8.00 an hour and many other states are less.

And, despite PM Stephen Harper’s free trade emphasis, many goods sold in Canada still carry hefty import duties, some of which are protecting non-existing domestic industries, and are a little more than a government cash grab.

Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers Association of Canada cited, to, the example of woollen mills. “There have been no woolen mills in Canada for 20 years. All of those things have gone to Asian countries. But we still pay a tariff of 20 per cent to protect them,” Cran said. Curious, eh?

As well, Canadians pay higher prices for gasoline, in part, because of higher taxes. It seems to me that Canadians pay about 33 per cent in combined taxes at the pump while Americans pay about 11 per cent, ouch! Higher gasoline prices also make transportation of goods more costly—and we pay higher prices at retail stores as a result.

Bilingual labeling, packaging and displays also have a negative impact on retail prices in Canada. This represents a hidden tax on commercial activity forced on businesses by governments. And, of course, consumers get hit in the pocket book.

And don’t get me started on the shameful price gouging and excessive taxation governments in Canada engage in when it comes to alcoholic beverages.

But perhaps most egregious of all is Canada’s supply management system, which controls how dairy, eggs and chicken are priced and produced in Canada, including onerous tariffs charged on imports to protect domestic dairy producers.

When it comes to supply management, many MPs talk out of both sides of their mouths. They complain privately, but when on the record, the hypocrites voted unanimously to “respect its [the federal government’s] promise” to shield the dairy industry from any fallout from the pending free-trade deal with the EU.

The net result? Higher prices for Canadian consumers, including those with lower incomes. According to Michael Bloom, Vice-President, Industry and Business Strategy for The Conference Board of Canada, “Canadians … pay about $276 per family more for dairy products than consumers in other countries.”

Given that Industry Minister James Moore announced his new legislation at a toy shop, and given that he said nothing of the shamefully high prices of dairy, eggs and chicken, I feel compelled to conclude he sees cheaper toys as more important to Canadian families than cheaper food.

I see gasoline and food as far more important—essential perhaps—to Canadian families who can far easier do without cheaper toys, TVs and sneakers, so forgive me if I’m not cheering for this new legislation.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

PC Ontario: “Progressive” need not be a dirty word

Iattended the Annual General Meeting of the Progressive Conservative Riding Association of Burlington Ontario earlier today. It was in some ways a sombre occasion being as it was the first AGM in several decades without a sitting PC member of the legislature representing Burlington at Queen’s Park.

The Riding is now Liberal red, Eleanor McMahon having won in the Jun. 12 general election. Former incumbent Jane McKenna, who attended the luncheon and AGM, lost her seat to McMahon even though McKenna got 258 more votes in June than she got in her successful 2011 general election campaign. More voters turned out in 2014 and they all seemed to vote Liberal.

AGM attendees had the pleasure of hearing first hand from three of the PC leadership candidates: MPPs Christine Elliott (Whitby-Oshawa), MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) and federal MP Patrick Brown (Barrie). Each of the three gave a short address, which were all enthusiastically received. I also thought the candidates handled the questions from the floor adeptly and never once did any of them read from prepared notes.

My takeaways from the meeting were:

Confirmation that the apparent front runner Christine Elliott is my choice for leader. Elliott has impressed me over the years, though I didn’t support her 2009 bid for the leadership. Back then, I supported Tim Hudak because I thought he had more political seasoning. Elliott also did a fine job in the recent leaders’ debate in Northern Ontario, so her performance today was to be expected.

The Party has some serious challenges ahead if it intends to form a government in 2018. To start, it has a seriously challenging membership recruiting campaign ahead. To get back to membership levels it enjoyed in the Mike Harris era it must increase membership numbers by a factor of nine or ten. Not insurmountable, perhaps, but nearly so.

The Party has what might be described as an identity crisis. By that I mean it needs to decide where exactly on the political left-right continuum it wants to reside. In recent elections, the Ontario PCs have run on a right-wing platform, not even giving lip service to policies that would be consistent with the “progressive” part of its name. And this I believe will be the critical decision for the new leader to make.

There are far more small “c” conservative voters in Ontario than the past four general elections would imply. Many of these reside in the rural areas, but many more live in the 905 region and in ethnic areas of the GTA including Toronto proper—as demonstrated by the two Mike Harris majorities, the support the Ford brothers have received in municipal elections and the success the Harper Conservatives have had among ethnic communities in the GTA.

For the most part, however, the sweet-spot seems to be somewhere just right of centre—and just about where one might expect to find a progressive conservative party—think Bill Davis conservatives.

Progressive conservatism is more than a political party name—it’s a distinct ideology that first arose in the United Kingdom as then prime minister Benjamin Disraeli’s “One Nation” Toryism. It is one of the many recognized forms of conservatism. An article in Wikipedia describes it thus:

Progressive conservatism incorporates progressive policies alongside conservative policies. It stresses the importance of a social safety net to deal with poverty, support of limited redistribution of wealth along with government regulation to regulate markets in the interests of both consumers and producers.”

Many famous statesmen—dare I say conservative statesmen—have been proud to have their names associated with progressive conservatism, including Benjamin Disraeli, Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill, David Cameron, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower and many federal PC prime ministers who represented Canada’s conservative movement prior to Stephen Harper.

“Progressive” need not be a dirty word. Nor is—as is claimed by some hard-right conservatives—progressive conservatism an oxymoron. Progressivism may very well be corrosive when deployed by left-wing parties, but that need not be an automatic consequence.

To be a progressive conservative one needs not toady up to union leaders, but certainly a successful political party in Ontario needs to attract votes from union members and those sympathetic to the union movement. (Many union members and sympathisers in the private sector are as upset as PCs are about overly-generous wages and benefits of their public sector counterparts and want to see some common sense applied.) Nor need one succumb to the corrupt, spendthrift ways of the Kathleen Wynne/Dalton McGuinty left-wing Liberals.

Furthermore, this is an opportune time to claim the natural ideological position of a progressive conservative, for the Grits have vacated the middle—both left and right sides—in favour of the mid-left of the spectrum. In the June election, the Liberal campaign platform was noticeably to the left of the socialist NDP—I never thought I’d see that day.

This leaves the centre open to the PCs and I believe leadership candidate Christine Elliott is the most likely to reclaim that winning position. PCs have been there before and brought prosperity to Ontario. Our party under Elliott could do so again, or so I believe.

As I said before, “progressive” need not be a dirty word.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Julian Fantino: from hero to zero

Veterans Affairs was supposed to be a strong point for the pro-military Harper Conservatives. It has, instead, become somewhat of a weak link under Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.

Fantino was supposed to be a star candidate when first recruited by PM Stephen Harper, and he proved himself by getting elected to Parliament in November 2010 after a tight race. The Globe and Mail noted at the time that Fantino had “beat the Liberals [candidate Tony Genco] out of one of their safest seats in Ontario, one they had held for 22 years.”

In early January 2011, Fantino was appointed minister of state for seniors. At that time, I wrote, “It is too early to assess Fantino’s parliamentary abilities and a cabinet post of any kind seems premature.”

Back then, I was concerned that Fantino’s inept performance as Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner during the Caledonia land dispute in the mid-2000s, which I saw as a stain on his public record that should have precluded him from receiving any position higher than parliamentary secretary for, at least, a couple of years while he proved himself worthy of a full seat at the cabinet table.

In fairness to Fantino, though, he seemed to do a decent job in the seniors portfolio and later as Associate Minister of National Defence after the 2011 federal election and as Minister for International Cooperation in 2012.

It was in his current position that Fantino seemed to become especially politically tone deaf and gaffe prone. Fantino did little to endear himself to veterans when he showed up “very late” for a scheduled appointment with a group of them who had gone to Ottawa to discuss their concerns with the minister. And when he did show up, his attitude was one of take-it-or-leave-it.

The minister also botched and clumsily handled an attempt by a veteran’s spouse to speak with him following his appearance at the House committee on veterans’ affairs in May 2014. By early June 2014, Tim Harper of was moved to note that Fantino “appears to have had his empathy surgically removed.” And there were calls for his resignation from the opposition and some in the media.

The hapless minister has lost what credibility he may have once had. He has been unable to adequately explain why his department was unable to spend its appropriation within the budget year, which meant Veterans Affairs was required to return $1.1-billion dollars in unused funding to the treasury. There is a reasonable explanation, of course, but he seems incapable of getting his point across.

This seeming lack of critical communication skill comes at a time when critics blame inadequate funding for many of the challenges facing our veterans. And especially when auditor general Michael Ferguson has just released a damaging report of the hurdles many veterans face while trying to access mental health services.

The federal government’s other recently botched and confusing announcement of $200-million over six years—or is it 50 years—to support mental health needs of military members, veterans and their families has done little to ease the pressure on Fantino.

All this is like chumming shark infested waters as, smelling blood, opposition party members and political pundits now harass Fantino daily with demands for his resignation.

As reported in the National Post, “Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair called Fantino’s recent absence from the Commons an act of “cowardice,” and wondered aloud why he continues to have the confidence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.” (For the record, Fantino had been in Italy to help mark the 70th anniversary of the Second World War’s Italian campaign. He was not hiding from anyone. Had he missed this symbolic event, he’d have been equally criticised.)

I have zero confidence in this minister, however. As far as I’m concerned he has shown neither an once of respect to veterans—men more worthy than he, I suspect—nor compassion for those who served their country and proved they were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Apparently, there have been recent changes to Veteran Affairs, with its chief of staff leaving, and retired general Walter Natynczyk becoming the department’s top bureaucrat. Fantino’s parliamentary secretary, Parm Gill, has also been taking more of a role in question period.

Fantino, though, is clearly the wrong man for this particular job. Harper’s Conservatives talk the talk when it comes to veteran affairs, it’s high time they walk the walk. And, for this to be clear to all, this minister should be replaced.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kathleen Wynne: a progressive ideologue who lacks common sense

Time and again I read and hear accusations from progressives that conservatives, and especially members of the Conservative Party of Canada, ignore scientific evidence in favour of blindly following dogma or in an effort to please commercial interests.

And I cannot deny that there are times when I worry about motivations behind some policy pronouncements of politicians, of all stripes. Tribalism of the political kind is alive and well in our land and progressive politicians make progressive policies most of the time and Conservative politicians make conservative policies most of the time. I wouldn’t expect them to do otherwise.

There are issues, though, that transcend party politics—or, at least, they should. And I suggest Canada’s economic welfare is one of those issues. Traditional East-West rivalries notwithstanding, when our economic future is at stake, I expect all regions to stand together. When one region prospers, we all derive some benefit, even if its only through the federal government’s equalization payments.

What I find galling, though, is Ontario—a beneficiary of  equalization payments financed primarily by Alberta and Saskatchewan—sucking up to the environmentalists by raising gratuitous concerns over TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.’s proposed Energy East project.

Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s list of seven “principles” for the much needed pipeline to gain her support is a shameless political play aimed at gaining credit with those Canadians who believe that anything connected to fossil fuels—and especially those derived from Canada’s oil sands—is inherently evil.

As Margaret Wente recently noted in The Globe and Mail, “It’s not just global warming—it’s that they are thought to be inherently dangerous. They leak, spill, kill birds, devastate natural spaces and poison our earth, water and air.”

The federal National Energy Board as the appropriate body to review a pipeline project that crosses provincial boundaries. It is that agency which is charged with the responsibility to conduct environmental assessments during its review of applications for pipelines.

Dwight Newman, a professor of law at the University of Saskatchewan writes in The Globe and Mail today:

These premiers [Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Wynne] have no constitutional basis to be making conditions, demands or anything else on this pipeline, and they play a dangerous game in attempting to do so.”

I agree, and Premier Wynne is very aware of the NEB’s function. She was recently quoted by The Canadian Press as saying, “We are not going to preempt the National Energy Board’s process. We are going to feed into it.” But, of course, when it comes to the oil sands, one of the environmentalists’ hot-buttons, ideology trumps legal process, good science and, yes, even common sense.

How much common sense does it take to understand the incongruity of insisting that the “upstream” carbon emissions of the proposed pipeline be weighed when we have never heard Wynne express her concerns about “upstream” carbon emissions from the oil currently being imported, refined and consumed in Eastern Canada?

How much common sense does it take to understand the incongruity of insisting on extra “principles”, which are little more than added roadblocks, to be met before endorsing the pipeline when Canada currently imports oil from countries with much more serious human rights and environmental issues than have ever existed in Alberta or Saskatchewan? Oil that is targeted to be displaced by that which the pipeline will deliver seems to arrive in Canada free from any of Wynne’s environmental or ethical concerns.

How much common sense does it take to understand the incongruity of insisting on extra “principles” beyond the normal criteria the NEB will consider, when Lac-Mégantic should be reminder enough why we need more pipeline capacity? Everyone seems to agree: Oil is going to move one way or another, and pipelines are safest.

As to carbon emissions attributed to any oil or gas production or transportation in Canada, it seems sensible to me that we develop plans to limit emissions and protect the country’s international reputation, but as the Premier of Saskatchewan Brad Wall stated recently, the regulatory process for this pipeline isn’t the place to do that.

But Wynne doesn’t seem to care much about common sense or being consistent, she seems to care far more about appealing to the noisiest elements of her base. That is all too apparent.

When it comes to Canada’s oilsands, progressives seem to be at war with science and oblivious to Canada’s economic welfare. As is neatly summed up in a Nov. 26 editorial in The Globe and Mail, “The bottom line is that this country is an oil exporter, and it needs pipelines. It also needs a GHG [green house gas] reduction strategy. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sexual harassment allegations: media hypocrisy at play here?

Some four weeks have passed since two unnamed NDP MPs made sexual harassment allegations against then Liberal MPs, Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews and little progress has been made to resolve the issue.

Throughout that time, the leaders of both opposition parties have appeared to be at a loss to know how to handle the sexual misconduct allegations. Moreover, there’s scant evidence of a resolution in the near future leaving one to wonder how adept either Justin Trudeau or Thomas Mulcair would be at solving the problems of this great nation if either man were to become prime minister.

One of the unnamed NDP MPs who made the sexual harassment allegations granted interviews to several news media organizations on condition that her name be withheld. She reportedly said that she had sex with Mr. Pacetti, but never gave “explicit consent.” She also, apparently, told The Globe and Mail that she provided a condom to Mr. Pacetti, but did not say yes or no to his advances.

According to the Globe and Mail, the NDP MP said “she wants an apology from him, and for him to have counselling, but not prosecution.”

Meanwhile Messrs. Pacetti and Andrews, who Liberal leader Justin Trudeau suspended from caucus back on Nov. 5, are left to swing in the proverbial wind pending some sort of an investigation. Both MPs are also suspended as Liberal party candidates for the 2015 election. And it should be noted that both men have denied the allegations, none of which, of course, have been proven in court.

What a mess!

One troublesome detail is the part where the NDP MP provides a condom, yet suggests sexual harassment occurred. The act of providing a condom does seem to strongly imply consent. Though, even that is not conclusive.

If this MP felt she was being coerced into having sex, she might very well seek to mitigate her predicament by protecting herself with a contraceptive. So the act of producing the condom per se should not be considered consent.

We live in a modern world where men cannot take the absence of no to imply yes. This may seem unfair to some, but it is the reality with which we are faced—yes, and only yes, means yes in sexual encounters. And this is especially so in first-time encounters.

Only the unnamed NDP MP really knows whether or not she gave her consent to Mr. Pacetti, and she says she did not. That’s good enough for me.

The NDP MP’s sexual harassment allegations require an investigation and, if allegations are shown to be true, the guilty party needs to be censured by the House of Commons and, perhaps, be prosecuted. This should happen quickly and in a confidential manner.

In fact, this should have already happened and the leadership of the Grits and the Dippers should be held to account for the inordinate length of time they have taken with this mess.

Accountability in this affair, however, does not stop at the door of the political parties. What of the news media’s role? How is it that they published the story in the first place and freely named the former Liberal MPs and yet continue to protect the anonymity of the female NDP MPs?

The name of the MP that first approached Justin Trudeau is, apparently, widely known to journalists in Ottawa and by now to many others across the land, but yet they continue to avoid public identification while the names (no to mention reputations) of the former Liberal MPs are dragged through the mud.

Double standard? In my opinion, yes. Either four names should have been made public in the first place or none at all. By naming only the males we have made them victims of another kind.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Harassment on Parliament Hill: more questions than answers

From what I have read and heard in the media over the past few days, the two female New Democrat MPs who alleged improper conduct by two male Liberal MPs won’t be laying formal complaints.

But, without formal complaints, on what basis can an investigation be launched? And, without an investigation, can justice be served?

These are just the most obvious questions arising from the mess on Parliament Hill. Another might be: In what environment or on what occasion would two MPs from two different opposition parties be present so that the men had the opportunity to harass or assault the women in question? In other words, I hadn’t thought it likely that female NDP MPs would be socializing with male Liberal MPs. Just how compromising are the allegations? Would it embarrass or incriminate the two female MPs if the circumstances were known?

It’s never fair to blame victims, and sexual harassment or assault—if that is what has happened here—can be an especially egregious crime. But the accused have rights too, especially in this case when they have already been punished and publicly shamed.

And what are the rights of the public? Two MPs are suspended from their caucus and the details of their wrongdoing are kept secret? Is that justice as we are accustomed to seeing it?

In fact, it seems that all ordinary Canadians have are questions. The allegations themselves are non-specific—“serious personal misconduct,” we are told, and, yes, the accused have been named, but neither man seems to know the details of his alleged misconduct or the name of his accuser and, it should be noted, they both deny wrongdoing.

Political careers of the two accused have been damaged—some say likely ruined—as, perhaps, have their marriages. Yet there seems little likelihood they will face their accusers or enjoy any legal protection whatsoever. And this in a country that treasures the rule of law and the fairness of our justice system.

Furthermore, it is a disgrace that this unfolding injustice—perhaps unraveling is a better word—is playing out under the very noses of our nation’s lawmakers. The show of incompetence by both opposition leaders is stunning, as each looks elsewhere for a solution.

And, apparently, the accusations are extremely serious, for I read in the National Post that NDP Whip Nycole Turmel said the two NDP MPs needed time to “find a way to heal” from the alleged misconduct. If one considers that the events are supposed to have occurred months ago, they must certainly have been egregious in nature if the victims still are looking for ways to heal.

Again I remind you that these are our principal lawmakers. And, every year, they seem to encroach ever more into every aspect of our lives. But, apparently, even though MPs and staff members have for decades endured harassment, abuse, humiliation and sexual misconduct by other MPs and staff members, there remains no formal process for handling such things.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau suspended his two MPs and called for misconduct procedures back on Nov. 5, and it’s taken until today for the all-party Board of Internal Economy committee to address the issue—behind closed doors, of course. Even then, any new harassment policy will likely deal only with future complaints and not the recent allegations that led to the suspensions.

Which, of course, begs another question: If the current case and its details are not being dealt with, why the need for a closed-door meeting? Why shouldn’t ordinary Canadians be privy to the discussions and hear the arguments for and against the various options discussed at the meeting? I thought transparency was a good thing?

I guess we’ll just have to wait to hear what our MPs decide we should be allowed to hear.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Dragon and the Bear: a new Eurasian hegemony?

The Russians are playing a serious—and dangerous—game with the quiet acquiescence and financial support of the Chinese.
Under the pressure of Western sponsored economic sanctions and the price of oil dropping to three-year lows, Russia’s economy is deteriorating rapidly—the country will manage only 0.2 percent growth this year. Despite this, Russia continues to send armoured vehicles, artillery, air-defense systems, and combat troops into Ukraine, according to NATO’s supreme commander, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, on Wednesday.
Add to that the statement by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that long-range Russian bombers are to patrol from the Arctic to the Caribbean, including the Gulf of Mexico. And let us not forget that in late August the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, mused publicly about the use of nuclear weapons to grab control of Ukraine. (For more evidence of Russia’s “more assertive military posture” see The Globe and Mail’s Nov. 10, 2014 article, Report warns of increased Russian aggression and The Sydney Morning Herald’s Nov. 14, 2014 list of major incidents.)
One supposes that Putin sees a window of opportunity during which time he can flex Russia’s considerable military muscles with an aim to restore Russia to past levels of greatness and international respect. And one can speculate that the window opened when U.S. president Barack Obama showed an unfortunate tendency to back away from the former role of the US in the world, choosing instead a doctrine of “leading from behind.”
Obama has chosen what Charles Krauthammer calls is “a foreign policy of hesitation, delay and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) ‘international community’ to do what only America can.”
And events in the Middle East and Europe have shown this doctrine to be a wretched failure, encouraging an unhealthy boldness from both Russia in Eastern Europe and towards NATO elsewhere, and China in the South China Sea where territorial disputes have escalated tensions between China and countries like Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Simple put, Putin does not fear America so long as Obama is its president, and the world is thusly made a far more dangerous place. Consequently, though economic sanctions will take a toll, Russia has countered their effect, in part, by turning to China for much needed cash. Russia has an abundance of gas and oil and China will, apparently, take all they can get of it.
Last October, Russia’s state-owned Rosneft sold China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) an equity position in an oil field in eastern Siberia. This May, Russia’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom and CNPC signed a 30-year, US$400-billion gas deal. And this week, CNPC agreed to buy 10 per cent of Vankorneft, which operates the lucrative Vankor Field, an oil and gas field in Russia.
These are but some of the major deals made recently as part of what AFP called a Russia-China “energy alliance.” China has the cash—mountains of it, apparently—and a rapidly expanding war machine; Russia has abundant energy reserves and arguable the second most powerful war machine in existence.
In March, Russia annexed most of the Crimean Peninsula, internationally recognized as part of Ukraine. Since April, Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine have been fighting Kiev’s rule, declaring the Donetsk and Luhansk “People's Republics.” According to the UN, more than 4,000 people have died in the conflict. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine on Jul. 17, 2014 and all 298 people aboard were killed. Almost certainly, the airliner was downed by Russian-backed and -armed rebels in eastern Ukraine, using a Russian surface-to-air missile.
Since the crash, Russia has pretty much thumbed its nose while the rest of the World mourned the victims. For countries like Russia and China, might is right. Superior military power and the will to use it is the only restraint they will recognize. This has been their way for centuries and they show little inclination to change with the times.
This partnership between Moscow and Beijing provides a foreign-policy challenge the likes of which Washington and its allies have not faced since the end of World War II. At that time, the West had Churchill and Roosevelt. This time around, we have Barack Obama and his empty rhetoric.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remember Them: Capt. Henry Doyle O’Donnell

Today I remember my Uncle Capt. Henry Doyle O’Donnell who served in World War One, the Great War of 1914-1918. He was the son of my paternal grand mother Ambrosine Albertha nee Ramsay and her first husband Henry William O’Donnell of Jamaica, West Indies.
Henry Doyle O’Donnell was born on October 16, 1894 at Montego Bay in the parish of St. James, Jamaica. His father died in about 1900 and his widowed mother married my grandfather Donald Harcourt Campbell in about 1902.
On January 7, 1916, Henry sailed from Kingston, Jamaica with the Second War Contingent for training in England. He was a 2nd Lt in the 3rd Battalion of the British West Indies Regiment and was attached to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), a forerunner of the Royal Air Force.
On June 8, 1917,   Henry received his pilot’s license (No. 4901), at Military School, Ruislip, having taken his certificate on a Maurice Farman Biplane.
Later, Henry met Elizabeth (Dorlie ?) Gardiner who he married on June 24, 1917 at Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, Scotland.
Henry survived the war, but died in 1924, at which time he held the rank of Captain. He is buried in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, England at the Richmond & East Sheen Cemeteries.
May Capt. Henry Doyle O’Donnell rest in peace.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Is the mess in Ottawa further proof neither Mulcair or Trudeau is ready to be PM?

If one listened only to opposition leaders, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau, one would get the impression Canada and our economy were headed to hell in a handbasket.
Fortunately, most of us rely on multiple sources before forming an opinion on Canada’s economic performance in both absolute terms and relative to other Western nations. Today I read the following report from Reuters:
Canada unexpectedly added 43,100 new jobs in October, and the unemployment rate dropped to a nearly six-year low of 6.5 percent, prompting market optimism that the sluggish job market might finally be improving.
“Analysts had expected a loss of 5,000 jobs after September's gain of 74,100 positions.
“The jobless rate, down from 6.8 percent in September, was the lowest since the 6.4 percent recorded in November 2008, Statistics Canada said on Friday.”
Pretty good news, all things considered, and news that is consistent with the good economic performance Canada has enjoyed generally under the Stephen Harper Conservative government, especially when we compare Canada to other Western democracies.
When I see a report like this, I can’t help asking myself what sort of economic performance we could have expected had either Mulcair and his Dippers or Justin Trudeau and his Grits been at the tiller. And I usually give a big, Thank You, that neither leader had the chance to lead our country, especially through some of the trying times during the 2008-2009 recession.
In the past few days we’ve also received further confirmation that neither Thomas Mulcair nor Justin Trudeau have the chops to run this very complex country. To wit: misconduct allegations were levelled by two New Democratic MPs against two now-former Liberal Members of Parliament. And how do these prime ministers-in-waiting respond? Poorly, that’s how.
After their ham-fisted handling of this sensitive affair, we have a mess with charges and counter-charges being exchanged by the two opposition parties.
On the one hand we have two MPs being suspended from the liberal party caucus—a de facto presumption of guilt—and on the other we have Mulcair pretty much suggesting Trudeau re-victimised  the alleged victims by going public with the information against their wishes.
Trudeau seems to be trying to deflect criticism by pointing out Parliament has no set procedure for handling such cases. But I ask, So what? Surely, as one who claims he is ready and able to run our complicated and sophisticated nation, he has the judgement and leadership skills to handle allegations of misbehaving MPs in a confidential and sensitive manner.
As for Mulcair, one wonders why his MP felt she had to seek out Trudeau to make her complaint instead of taking the issue to Mulcair himself. And, once he was informed of the allegations, why wasn’t he more on top of what was transpiring before Trudeau made the affair the subject of public speculation and gossip?
Couldn’t these leaders have gotten together and worked out a process by which the allegations could be addressed confidentially and the Liberal MPs, if found guilty, be censured in an appropriate manner? In my opinion they could had they been made of finer stuff—you know, the stuff of which prime ministers are made.
In closing, I’m bothered by the fact two MPs have been named and shamed and probably had their political careers ruined and their private lives and those of their families seriously impacted in a most negative manner and no formal charges have been laid and no evidence against them has been disclosed. Nor have either man had the opportunity to face his accuser. This seems very unfair to me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Jian Ghomeshi: who knew and when did they know?

Allegations of violent sexual conduct of the former host of the CBC Radio show Q,  Jian Ghomeshi, have raised questions about the standard of morality in place at the national broadcaster.
Mr. Ghomeshi has hosted Q since 2007 and is among the CBC’s most popular on-air personalities.  Q is also syndicated in the United States on 180 Public Radio International stations, making its host a valuable asset to the CBC.
Perhaps this might account for why his alleged predilection for violent sex has so long been the subject of gossip, yet only recently have the allegations risen to the level that they cost him his job. Are the CBC movers and shakers guilty of wilful ignorance? Did consideration of the health of its bottom line dissuade the broadcaster from digging deeper when they heard nasty rumours or following up on the complaint of, at least, one former employee of the show?
Consider for a moment what the CBC’s brass would have done if there were rumours of a popular radio host making racial slurs—using the N-word, for instance—at a social gathering. My guess is they’d never have let such an incident pass without some follow up, some consequences. I may be wrong, of course, but what we say seems to carry heavier consequences than what we do—especially if we are famous and influential.
As to excuses that such actions were consensual. Can a women—or any human being—really give informed consent to be physically abused, especially when being slapped and punched in the side of the head and being choked or when the abuse amounts to rape by another name?
Doesn’t your skin crawl when you hear the allegations of abuse by an increasing number of women and then read in the Globe and Mail that Mr. Ghomeshi admits “he participates in ‘adventurous’ sexual practices but denied he had ever done so without consent”?
Granted, none of the allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi from the women who have spoken with the media have been proven in court. Regardless, management at the CBC must have known something wrong was going on.
According to the Toronto Star:
Journalism students at the University of Western Ontario were cautioned against pursuing internships at Jian Ghomeshi’s popular CBC radio show Q due to concerns about ‘inappropriate’ behaviour toward young women by the now-fired host, according to a former student at the school and a journalism professor.”
So, wilful ignorance on the part of the CBC or a massive case of tone deafness to rumours that had spread as far afield as London, Ontario? I believe it’s the former, but you decide for yourselves.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Toronto Star says rectifying a taxation injustice is “the most indefensible and insidious campaign gimmick ever”

Equality under the law is one of the corner stones on which our democracy has been built—except, of course, any law pertaining to taxes. In other words, when it comes to tax law, the principle of equality is pretty much irrelevant.
Take the case of the controversial income-splitting proposal announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week, and pretty much universally panned by media and political party critics across the land. Opposition to income-splitting is based mainly on the contention that it is not fair because only a relatively few well-healed taxpayers would benefit.
But how about the status quo?
Under the present system, families whose incomes are earned primarily by one spouse are taxed a significantly higher amount than those families with two spouses each earning about the same amount. Recently in the Financial Post, economist Jack Mintz calculated single-earner families with $80,000 total income will each pay $4,170 more tax than families whose spouses each earn $40,000.
So, two families living next door to each other—both earning the same total income—pay very different amounts of tax. How fair is that? And what does that say about our cherished principle of equality before and under the law.
Way back in 1966, the Royal Commission on Taxation under Kenneth Carter argued in favour of family taxation. Governments across Canada recognize this principle when dealing with several tax elements. That is, governments use family income when calculating eligibility for several tax credits such as the child tax benefit and GST credit. And none in opposition seem to see income-splitting of pensions by seniors as other than a good thing. So the general principle of using family income for calculating income tax would seem to be a sound one.
The status quo is, as  national columnist—and no shill for the Harper Conservatives—Andrew Coyne calls it, “manifestly unfair.”
When the Conservative government tries to partially address this longstanding injustice, however, its proposal is met with hyperbole rising almost to the level of hysteria. Take this recent gem from Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star:
Not to split hairs, but income-splitting is perhaps the most indefensible and insidious campaign gimmick ever conjured up by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.” [Emphasis mine]
Doesn’t this seem rather extravagant language even for the Toronto Star? I think, though, most readers have learned not to expect fairness and balance in the Star’s commentary.
And how about this from the NDP’s website:
New Democrats will use their last Opposition Day motion of the Spring session to force a vote on the Conservatives’ unfair and expensive income splitting scheme—one that will have no benefit to 86% of Canadians.”
“[U]nfair and expensive income splitting scheme”? Really. Well, the NDP’s $15-a-day daycare plan will cost $5-billion over eight years, and millions of taxpayers will never see a penny’s worth of benefit because they have no eligible children or can’t get one of the 370,000 new licensed spots. This sounds pretty unfair and expensive to me.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was also not impressed with the Prime Minister's attempts to partially level the playing field for single income families, saying they were “not good enough.” And, as is typical of the Liberal leader, he did not offer a counter-proposal.
So why do the Dippers and the Grits and their media cheerleaders so roundly condemn income-splitting?
Politics, dear readers, crass politics.
Even though neither I nor my children will ever see a penny from it, I’m with the Conservatives on this one. I just think it’s the right thing to do. Working to remedy injustice is always the right thing to do—and not a bad way to spend some of our federal surplus.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How genuine are Turkey’s and Saudi Arabia’s motives regarding ISIL?

While I am a supporter of the prime minister’s plan for Canada to join the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State—commonly known as ISIL or ISIS—the irony of the mission is not lost on me.

I don’t know whether or not PM Stephen Harper’s plan to take us to war is simply a matter of crass politics and, at this point, I really do not care. I do, however, question the purity of motives of other members of the coalition because two nations in particular—Turkey and Saudi Arabia—have dubious agendas, or so it seems to me.

Turkey has joined the campaign against ISIL, without specifying what it will do. This should be good news for those Canadians who see ISIL as an evil scourge for Turkey is a NATO ally that shares the longest borders with Iraq and Syria and has the second largest army of all NATO members.

Common sense, however, dictates we question and assess Turkey’s motives. While Turkish officials have said they will assist in the fight, given Turkey’s past history of allowing the crossing of Islamist extremists into Syria, Kurds—our primary allies on the ground in Iraq and Syria—are understandably suspicious of its true intentions. Some say Turkey views the semi-autonomous Kurdish region on the Syrian side of its border as a greater threat than ISIL, and suspect that Turkey’s hidden agenda includes stemming the growing importance of Kurdish involvement in the coalition.

Turkey is, of course, loath to see Kurdish independence hopes—at home in Turkey, in Iraq or in Syria—encouraged in any way. This seems to be of overriding concern and will inform Turkey’s role in the anti-ISIL coalition, even to the point of impairing the coalition’s effectiveness in containing the ISIL threat.

This brings me to another coalition member with a similarly dubious agenda, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative brand of Islam, Wahhabi Islam, shares much with the purist Salafi ideology of ISIL. ISIL also shares the extreme anti-Shia sentiment so prevalent in Saudi Arabia.

Wahhabi Salafism is the state religion of Saudi Arabia and, under the guise of religious education, this oil-rich state has spent millions of dollars in public and private money to spread Wahhabi Salafism widely in the Middle East and across Western nations.

How ironic is it that the nation that is one of the main proponents of ultraconservative, purist Islam is a member of a military coalition that is intent on destroying the most zealous adherents of its religious ideology?

Let’s be thankful that Saudi Arabia is playing only a small part in the air campaign because, frankly, I’m not sure what side these Arabs are really on.

Politics—and war—do indeed make strange bedfellows.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals on wrong side of ISIL combat mission

Tuesday evening we will have a vote in our House of Commons on the Conservative government’s plan to join the U.S.-led international coalition in Iraq to contain or defeat—at the very least to degrade—the radical Islamic group known as ISIL, ISIS or simply IS.

Given that Conservatives hold a majority of the seats in the House and the government’s decision to make the vote a matter of confidence, the outcome is a forgone conclusion. It is, therefore, almost certain that Canada will join the United States, Britain, France, Australia and dozens of other nations, including five Arab allies—Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar—in airstrikes intended to stop ISIL from engaging in large-scale military movements or operating bases in the open.

The official opposition NDP is, of course, against any combat mission and especially one supported by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Dippers couch their opposition in noble sounding predictions of Canada being dragged into a lengthy quagmire and propose—along with the Liberals—a bigger humanitarian role for Canada to help refugees caught in the fighting.

“If the Americans couldn’t get the job done in a decade, we’re not going to get it done in six months,” Tom Mulcair reportedly told CTV. “We have to learn the lessons of the past.”

The danger of ignoring military expansionism by a resolute, fanatic foes is also a lesson of the past Canadians might well heed, but that bit of historical lesson-learning seems to have eluded Mr. Mulcair.

Earlier today, I heard the Liberal party critic John McCallum tell us on TV that Stephen Harper was so gung-ho on joining the U.S. in its second Iraq War, he cannot be trusted with this new military mission.

Left unsaid by Mr McCallum, of course, was Liberal party’s support—while in government—of several other overseas conflicts, including the Gulf War and the Afghan War. Yet, apparently, Canadians are still expected trust in the Grits’ current stand on how Canada should confront ISIL.

Furthermore, Canadians who believe Canada played no part whatsoever in the discredited Iraq War should read this Wikipedia article and learn more about Liberal party duplicity on the issue.

Moreover, nothing precludes Canada from providing humanitarian aid to the victims of ISIL while playing a direct military role within the large international coalition assembled by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, however, have made a political calculation that we should stay out of any combat role and leave the fighting to others—this despite the acknowledgement of the grave threat posed by ISIL.

Justin Trudeau’s position is not the majority one on this issue though. The latest polls suggest most Canadians consider ISIL to be a direct, serious threat to Canada. And, while Trudeau insists we stay out of the fight against ISIL and stick to our already-underway humanitarian efforts, those polls indicate majority support for joining the U.S.-led coalition in a combat mission against the Islamic militants.

I’m with the Conservatives on this one.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Scots say “No” to independence, so what now say the English?

In their Sep. 18 referendum, the Scots voted 55 per cent to 45 per cent against independence from the United Kingdom. This David Cameron, the British prime minister, said represented the “settled will” of the Scottish people that puts an end to the independence debate “for a generation.”

Well, perhaps this does officially end the independence debate in Scotland, but it will heat up the devolution debate in both Scotland and in England.

As part of the “No” campaign in Scotland, the three main Westminster parties made promises to devolve more powers to Holyrood (Scottish Parliament), and after Thursday’s “No” vote, Cameron was quick to say they would be “honoured in full,” with draft legislation ready in January.

Since the late 1990s, legislative powers have been transferred from the UK parliament in Westminster to a Scottish Parliament, a Northern Ireland Assembly and a Welsh Assembly creating devolved legislative bodies for those members of the Kingdom. This has, of course, begged the question: What of England?

Without a separate legislative body of its own, members of UK parliament from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can vote on matters that affect only England. Is that really fair to the English?

It’s an old question. The underlying constitutional issue was raised by William Gladstone when, during a speech on the first Irish Home Rule bill in 1886, he said: “If Ireland is to have domestic legislation for Irish affairs they cannot come here for English or Scottish affairs.” [Wikipedia] There is even now a name for it: The West Lothian question.

David Cameron is reportedly under pressure from his own MPs who have warned that it is “inconceivable” that Scottish MPs would be able to continue voting on English affairs once tax-raising and other powers are passed to the Scottish Parliament.

A former cabinet minister, John Redwood, put it well when he said:

What we first of all need to ensure is that all these matters are settled in England by English MPs without the help and advice of their Scottish colleagues.

“We as the English Parliament must settle the English income tax rate. It would be quite inconceivable that Scottish MPs would vote on the income tax rate for England—that may be higher than the Scottish one—that they weren’t going to be paying.” [Source]

When I visited family in England in 2005, this was a question I heard discussed at the dinner table with a definite undertone suggesting the status quo could not stand indefinitely.

Now seems the right time for the English to have their fair share of devolution.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rob Ford’s illness only makes Toronto city council elections more bizarre

The campaign to elect the City of Toronto’s next mayor got even more bizarre as Rob Ford withdraws from the race because of ill-health.

Ford isn’t the most popular politician these days, but those who have wished he’d drop out of the race and leave the centre-right vote undivided are now wishing him a short hospital stay and speedy recovery. And I don’t believe either John Tory or Olivia Chow would have wanted to see Ford’s illness benefit their campaigns.

That having been said, the general wish by about 65 per cent of Toronto voters to be rid of Rob Ford and his antics once and for all will only be realized partially. After removing his name from the mayoral ballot, Ford promptly registered to run for city council in Ward 2, and the mayor’s brother, Doug Ford, has taken the mayor’s place in the mayoral contest.

Yes, folks, the same Doug Ford who had decided to give up municipal politics and had not registered to run in the Oct. 27 election.

According to media reports, Doug Ford had the third-worst council attendance this past term,  and he has missed over half the votes taken in 2014. This gives, I believe, a pretty good indication of his lack of commitment to local politics and supports his past comments that he is more interested in provincial office.

So does the circus that is Toronto city council threaten to dominate GTA politics for another four years? Well, polls suggest Rob Ford can win the Ward 2 seat and Doug Ford is shown to have 34 per cent support as mayor—good enough for second place ahead of Olivia Chow—according to a poll taken by Forum Research on Friday. So don’t bet on seeing the last of the Fords anytime soon.

Perish the thought.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Will Conservatives treat the ISIL symptom while letting the Islamic extremism disease fester and spread?

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told a joint House of Commons committee that, combatting Islamic extremism represents the “greatest struggle of our generation.”

While I have a great deal of respect for John Baird, I have to say that these sorts of statements leave me cold. If he really believes in what he said, and if this is the official position of his government, why then is Canada not fully engaged in battling Islamic extremism from its source and root causes in Saudi Arabia through to the end results such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab of Somalia, the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan and, of course, our old enemy, al-Qaida.

Logically, when the US declared war on illegal drugs it attacked the issue at its source—perhaps not as successfully as most would have wished. But, at least, the US approach of attacking growers and their drug factories in Columbia made good sense.

So, given that radical Islam has its home in Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi religious (Sunni Islam) movement, why do we treat that country as a friend and ally? And why do we officially ignore—and by doing so, condone—Saudi Arabia’s funding and its Wahhabi influence on Muslim mosques here in Canada?

A 2001 article in The Economist states that “the Saudi royal family has long exploited religion to bolster its standing,” which “has helped breed the very sort of religious extremism that inspired the terrorist attacks on America and is now threatening the kingdom's own stability.”

And have we forgotten that fifteen of the nineteen Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis?

You can talk about Islamic extremism representing the “greatest struggle of our generation” all you want for words are cheap—though mostly ineffectual.

What matters more, obviously, are actions. But our federal government is all about words and gestures with little substantive action to support its words.

I’ve little doubt the Conservatives will support, and even contribute to, direct action against ISIL. But I also believe its a safe bet that they’ll not try to root out Islamic extremism at its source. Rather, we’ll do what we always do: we’ll treat the symptoms and leave the disease to fester and spread.