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.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ray Rice’s domestic violence begs questions

The Ray Rice domestic violence controversy begs questions and says something not so pleasant regarding hypocrisy in our society.

Seven months ago, the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens football star Rice assaulted his girlfriend Janay Palmer (now his wife) in an elevator of a casino in Atlantic City. The NFL subsequently announced an incredibly light two-game suspension for the three-time Pro Bowl running back on July 24.

It has taken videos of the event to cause his Baltimore Ravens team and the National Football League to apparently take this act of brutality seriously. A two-game suspension? Really? Rice knocks a woman cold with a brutal punch and his team and the NFL responds with a two-game suspension.

Better late than never, the Ravens did cut their running back a few hours after the video appeared on the web and the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.

The video seems to have changed everything. Players are expressing outrage and appear ashamed and angry at the league’s inaction until its hand was forced. Sports media and the general public are, of course, full of righteous condemnation. In fact, the video element of this story has dominated sports radio since it broke.

Every right-minded person agrees, men—especially 206 lb running backs—should never punch a woman, or a man, for that matter. Let’s take that as a given, beyond defense or rationalization.

But why the apparent surprise that this has taken place? And how about the fact Janay Rice, the victim, has broken her silence and seems to be defending her husband in a message on her official Instagram account?

American football is a bone crushing game in which violence and anger is not only commonly displayed, but is expected and cheered. One need only think back to the 1985 match between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants when Lawrence Taylor tackled former Canadian league quarterback Joe Theisman with such force Theisman's leg snapped in two. One of the most brutal things I’ve seen on or off the gridiron.

And Football, NFL style, is no less brutal in 2014.

Yet, the NFL is among the most watched and most heavily covered by the sports media. Millions enjoy it’s games on Sundays and cheer the violence along with the finer elements, of which there are many.

One wonders, however, why anyone would expect these hundreds of football players to return home on Mondays and lead normal, violence-free family lives?

Medical experts, apparently, believe repeated blows to the head will sometimes lead to some form of mental illness and even suicide. (Shortly before committing suicide, a former player for the Chicago Bears Dave Duerson reportedly asked his family to donate his brain  to researchers of football injuries.)

It is no stretch at all for me to understand that some of these young men will not be able to turn off their aggression and violent behaviour just because a game has ended. And, when they can’t, domestic violence will sometimes be the result.

We pay for it, we promote it, we consume it, we reward it, on the field, but when inevitably violence occurs off the field we act surprised. And when a women is at the receiving end we are outraged. Don’t we believe in root causes?

Perhaps the saddest element of this whole sordid affair is the reaction of poor Janay Rice, the victim. This unfortunate woman seems stuck in one of the early stages of Battered Woman Syndrome: Denial or Guilt, and needs professional help to move through to Enlightenment and Responsibility as described on this Webpage. I can think of no other explanation for why she would marry a man that punched her unconscious and treated her the way we saw in the videos.

Perhaps the NFL and/or the Baltimore Ravens will help Mrs. Rice get the professional help she needs, leading to one positive result from this mess.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Liberal candidate puts boot in mouth

Retired general Andrew Leslie recently told Conservative political staffer, Alexandra Constantinidis, that Israeli defence forces fired “indiscriminately” on Palestinian women and children in the recent conflict in Gaza, according to media reports.

Andrew Leslie, who plans to run as a Liberal candidate in Ottawa-Orleans, is co-chair of a group of  advisers to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau on international affairs. As such, one might expect him to have a better grasp of the Hamas-Israel conflict and especially Hamas’ strategy of using human shields for their military emplacements and compounds.

The retired Lieutenant-General may have had good reason to believe he was talking to a political friend and felt free to express himself. The gotcha aspect of this story, though, is beside the point. Leslie openly suggested the Israelis had little regard for women and children, and that flies in the face of prevailing evidence.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau seems to share Leslie’s concern over civilian deaths in Gaza, but he has not suggested that the Israel government was acting indiscriminately—nor has Prime Minister Stephen Harper or NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.

It is maddening to hear people like Andrew Leslie hold Israel to account for every civilian death in Gaza while making little or no allowance for the underlying reasons Palestinian civilians are put in harms way during conflicts with Hamas.

A captured Hamas urban warfare manualIntroduction to the City War—tells of the benefits of civilian deaths and openly admits that Israel tries to avoid them.

“The destruction of civilian homes: This increases the hatred of the citizens toward the attackers and increases their gathering around the city defenders,” according to the manual.

The manual also explained how populated urban areas make Israeli operations difficult because Israeli soldiers try not to harm civilians.

Another report tells us that after visiting Israel, retired British colonel Richard Kemp said, “I believe that on the basis of everything that I’ve seen, that everything the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] does to protect civilians and to stop the death of innocent civilians is a great deal more than any other army, and it’s more than the British and the American armies.”

Many Canadians share the opinion that Justin Trudeau is not ready to be our prime minister. Well, in my view, neither is Andrew Leslie ready to be a member of our parliament and I hope for all our sakes that Trudeau is getting second opinions when it comes to advice on international affairs from Leslie.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

John Tory’s mayoral prospects improving

Toronto’s mayoral contest now seems to be John Tory’s to lose. According to a public opinion poll by Nanos Research released on Tuesday, Tory has a 14-point lead with 42% supporting the former leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party.

The poll has Rob Ford in second place at 28%, a statistical tie  with Olivia Chow at 26%. A Forum Research poll done last week had Tory at 34 per cent, only three points ahead of Ford and 11 points ahead of Chow. A fourth candidate, David Soknacki, trailed the three high-profile front-runners in the Nanos poll with only 3% support.

Ford’s 28% support is amazingly high when considering his four-year tenure as mayor has been dogged by scandals, capped off by his admission that he had smoked crack cocaine in one of his self described “drunken stupors.”

Furthermore, there were other more recent public indiscretions such as an expletive-laden video in which he ranted on about Toronto’s police chief Bill Blair and there was a recording of Ford’s lewd comments concerning Karen Stintz, a former mayoral candidate.

Moreover, the mayor has been derided by local and international television hosts, ensuring his ignominy would become common knowledge among voters. Yet, here he is ahead of Olivia Chow in two of the most recent polls.

Chow’s performance must be a bitter pill for those so-called progressive voters who longed to see a return to the free-spending ways of David Miller and Barbara Hall.

Since she entered the race in March, Chow led comfortably in almost every poll through to July 2 when she was up nine points over John Tory in a Forum poll. But then her support began to slip without her committing an obvious gaffe that would explain her drop in the polls.

She was, of course, a false-flag candidate when she entered the contest last spring. That is to say, Chow seemed to downplay her NDP roots in favour of a fiscal conservative image. So perhaps voters saw through the pretense. Her campaign’s seeming lack of nitty–gritty details to back-up policy announcements may also concern many of the more savvy voters.

Recently, perhaps to shore up support on the left, Chow has returned somewhat to her socialist roots with her tax-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor promise to pay for city-run student nutrition programs and bus services by raising land-transfer tax for homes over $2-million.

Perhaps, though, Chow’s dramatic slide in the polls is, at least in part, a reflection of the anybody-but-Ford sentiment held by 37% of Nanos respondents who said they would vote for any candidate who can beat Ford. Tory’s momentum in the polls since July may have convinced some strategic voters that he’s the candidate most likely to beat the mayor on Oct. 27.

Whatever the reasons, I like this trend.

(The Nanos survey was commissioned for CTV and The Globe and Mail and was conducted between Aug. 27 and 31. It polled 1,000 Toronto residents and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)