Friday, February 27, 2015

Tory Rick Nicholls: “I don’t believe in evolution”

Just what the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario did not need, a member of the legislature who says he doesn’t believe in evolution. Nevertheless, it seems to have found one, namely, Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls. I hope no one asks MPP Nicholls about his belief in gravity.

Some days I feel like I’ve stepped through a time portal and been transported hundreds of years back in time. In this pre-modern time, women are stoned for adultery, men have several wives, women cannot vote and are, in general, second class or third class citizens, and conventional wisdom holds that the world was created by a supernatural being in six days and human beings and all other animals were created on the sixth day.

Then, of course, I realize I’m still in the twenty-first century, but I’ve been spending too much time with religious fundamentalists.

Most of us have become used to reading about Medieval laws and beliefs in places like Saudi Arabia and other majority Muslim countries, and we are no longer shocked by them. I, though, am dumbfounded when I hear otherwise intelligent Canadians expressing beliefs in myths that fly in the face of scientific discovery and common logic.

If Mr. Nicholls does not believe in evolution, how then does he explain the presence of modern humans? Considering he is a member of our provincial parliament and, as such, might someday serve as a minister of the crown responsible for some critical element of our lives, one can only hope he does not believe, literally, in the biblical myth of creation and that the world is only about 6,000 years old.

Admittedly, Christians, however fundamental their beliefs are, do not behead unbelievers or blow up innocent civilians on a regular basis. I do, though, find some of their bible stories hard to swallow and doubt anyone is really expected to take them literally.

Most Old Testament stories are, I believe, based on some elements of truth and often carry a useful moral lesson. Beyond that, it seems to me, literal belief in such stories is anti-intellectual and is the antithesis of the sort of thing we would want from our political leaders and lawmakers.

I, like most Canadians, have been taught to tolerate religious beliefs and to believe in religious freedom. I do not, however, have to respect the more outlandish of those beliefs.

Furthermore, I believe when holders of public office express a belief in a supernatural myth, it is incumbent on me to call them out and show that I see such nonsense as socially unacceptable.

I would feel much the same about a member of parliament who professed to be a “truther” who believes individuals within the United States government were responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I see the one being as silly as the other. And it’s high time these people—with their anti-intellectual beliefs and conspiracy theories—were not taken seriously and elected to high office.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Justin Trudeau: is his Teflon wearing thin?

Ever since he was elected leader of the Liberal party, there have been questions and doubts regarding Justin Trudeau’s competence to be prime minister.

He has been a member of parliament since 2008, and so has had the time to dispel most of the misgivings Canadians have about his capacity to lead the nation. By now, we should be seeing more political adroitness from the 43-year-old son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau. More cleverness in his political attacks and, perhaps, a few well-thought-through and substantive policies and positions by which Canadians could judge whether he and his party are worthy of their trust, and to decide how dependable is the man’s moral compass.

Not that Trudeau the younger is a dud as a political leader. To the contrary, he speaks well and seems to have grasped the importance of a financially healthy middle class and how important certain progressive values are to a wide cross-section of Canadians. 

Furthermore, Trudeau seems to have repaired much of the damage done to the Liberal brand by a series of inept leaders, namely, Paul Martin, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. And thanks in good part to Trudeau, the Grits have increased their party’s membership significantly and restored its financial viability through modern, aggressive fund raising.

Moreover, under Trudeau, the Grits have surged in national polls and have led the Tories consistently for most of his tenure as leader. The Tories have tightened the race in recent months (more on this later), but few will argue that Trudeau has not played the pivotal roll in the resurgence of the Liberal party’s fortunes.

Working against him, though, is Justin Trudeau’s apparent penchant for the political misplay. Let’s recall some of the most notable.

Only a few months after his successful leadership campaign, we learned that, while he was an MP, Trudeau had earned tens of thousands of dollars from non-profit organizations in speaking fees. Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall put it well, saying at the time:

He’s now an aspirant to be the prime minister of the country. I think it’s wrong for MPs or MLAs, for those elected to office, to take money for speeches that we ought to be giving because we’re already paid our wage and so, because these are charities in the main, I think an offer of reimbursement is the right thing to do.”

Trudeau did not even seem to realize his ethics here were questionable; though, he did eventually offer to give the money back to any group that asked.

Later, he talked about admiring China because “their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime.” Here again, Trudeau seemed to miss the obvious—China’s government operates one of the most brutal, oppressive dictatorships in history and has little or nothing to be admired, other than their individual citizens, of course.

On another occasion, Trudeau told us Russia’s incursion into Ukraine had something to do with Russia’s loss in Olympic hockey. People were dying in Ukraine and Trudeau could see humour in that?

Besides, it wasn’t long before Trudeau was at it again making light of serious issues when lives were at risk. This time he made a joke about Prime Minister Stephen Harper trying to “whip out our CF-18s” just to show how big they are.

This latter gaffe marked—perhaps precipitated—the beginning of the end of his commanding lead in public opinion polls, combined as it was with his political miscalculation of not supporting Canada’s military actions against ISIS in Iraq. Trudeau misread the mood of the people on this one and his party has been scrambling to backtrack and recover lost ground ever since. In October, Trudeau said:

As the months unfold I am certain that Canadians will realize that the Prime Minister did not think about Canada’s long-term interest or even what Canada has best to offer in the fight against ISIL ….”

Well, months have unfolded and Canadians have realized nothing of the sort and the Liberals are down in the polls.

On strictly political grounds, the Liberal leader’s record is also marred by miscalculations and inconsistencies.

Think about the shabby way he treated the former Liberal senators who had been staunch party supporters and organizers and who were Grits to the core. Trudeau cast them out of his caucus like one might throw out old shoes, but with less apparent gratitude for past service.

Then there was his announced policy of allowing “open nominations for all Liberal candidates in every single riding in the next election.” A policy that—in Shakespeare’s words—seems to be “a custom more honor’d in the breach than the observance.”

Consider the example of former long-shot leadership contender David Bertschi being blocked from seeking the Liberal nomination in Ottawa-Orleans so that Trudeau’s foreign policy adviser (retired) general Andrew Leslie could have the nomination to run in the Oct. 2015 general election. And who can forget the earlier blocking of a bid by Christine Innes to seek the nomination in Trinity-Spadina.

Following Trudeau’s career, one can see why Jonathan Swift would write, “Promises and pie crusts are made to be broken.”

I also found Trudeau on shaky moral grounds when he denied his MPs their right to vote their consciences on the moral issue of abortion, forcing them to vote pro-choice regardless of their personal or religious convictions.

The foregoing notwithstanding, I’m puzzled that, despite Trudeau’s mature age and length of time as a politician, he continues to exhibit uneven political judgement.

Moreover, sometimes Trudeau shows no political judgement at all, as seems to be the case with former Tory MP Eve Adams’ opportunistic floor-crossing.

As Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail put it recently, Trudeau chose to “embrace a trouble-making reject that the Tories are obviously glad to get rid of.”

I believe Trudeau really harmed his image among both fellow hard-core Grits and non-partisan voters when he sat beside his new protégé at the press conference to announce her road-to-Damascus-like conversion to his cause. Adams’ mean-spirited parting shots at Prime Minister Stephen Harper and her former colleagues did little to enhance either her appeal to Liberal insiders or Trudeau’s street cred as an astute political leader.

To many watching the show, Trudeau seemed less like a principled statesman who saw himself as a prime minister in waiting and more like a cynical opportunist.

To use Trudeau’s own words, “when you start to compromise your principles, you’re through.”

He does have a way with words.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The niqab/burqa: culture clash and a test of multiculturalism

It seems inevitable to me that, in our diverse world, there will be practices common to some cultures that will be offensive to some Canadians. And it is entirely expected that some of those practices have reached our shores through our broad-based immigration policies of the past fifty years or so.

In some parts of the world, polygyny is practiced, as is some form of female circumcision (FGM). The eating of dog meat is traditional in many parts of the world, including, though rarely, among some cultures in Europe and North America. In Saudi Arabia, one should always use one’s right hand for drinking and eating. One’s left hand is regarded as unclean, because it is assumed it is used to clean oneself after using the toilet. Pretty tough on left-handed people, eh?

Among the more dreadful of cultural practices are honour killings, the aforementioned FGM, forced marriage and other gender-based violence. And among the least offensive are forms of dress like turbans worn by Sikhs, the thawb worn in the Middle East, various forms of kurta worn in Pakistan and elsewhere by people of Pakistani descent and the hijab worn by some Muslim women beyond the age of puberty—the hijab being the less controversial, in the West at least, head-covering used by Muslim women to satisfy the decency and modesty requirements of Islam. More controversial are the niqab and the burqa that cover a women’s entire head except for an open space for her eyes.

Some of these “foreign” practices are contrary to the Canadian Criminal Code while others, though legal, offend many Canadians. It is the latter group we will discuss here.

The majority of Canadians, especially since the 1950s, feel obligated to respect the religious beliefs and cultural practices of others. Tolerance has become one of the stamps of authenticity of the Canadian identity. Moreover, since 1971 when the federal government implemented policies to protect and promote diversity—what we now refer to as “multiculturalism”—most Canadians have come to embrace the principles of equality and mutual respect among our ethnic and cultural groups.

During that same time frame, however, many Canadians began to de-emphasize religiosity, and the U.S. concept of separation of church and state became very much in vogue in our country.

Religious symbols were often removed from public places and prayers in publicly-funded (non-Roman Catholic) schools and city council meetings were often discontinued. Sundays became like any other shopping or entertainment day.  Nuns began to adopt simple business suits rather than wear traditional habits and clerical clothing can now differ little from other street clothes.

Over time, many Canadians became only nominally religious or what one might think of as cultural Christians, cultural Jews, cultural Muslims, etc., who identified themselves with Christian, etc., culture without going to church, synagogue or mosque.

For many Canadians, religious practice means going to church for baptism/Christening, confirmation, weddings and funerals—with, perhaps, a few Christmas and/or Easter services thrown in. For many others, though, not even that minimal level is observed.

After the removal of European immigration preferences in the late 1960s early 1970s, however, the trend towards Canadian secularism took a turn as Muslims began to arrive in significant numbers. Prior to that time, Bosniaks (ethnic Bosnians) and Albanians made up most of the Muslim communities in Canada and one hardly ever heard the words Muslim or Islam mentioned in the same sentence as the words Canada or Canadians.

Arabs had arrived here much earlier, of course, most of whom were Lebanese immigrants who originated from what was then Syria. But they were 90 per cent or more Christians who integrated quickly.

Later many Muslim immigrants, seeking to escape unfavourable social, economic and political conditions in their homelands, brought their religion and culture to multicultural Canada, and have insisted on transplanting their customs without modification or with any regard to the host culture or its religious traditions.

Some of those transplanted customs, I might add, date back to the Medieval period. In contrast, forebears of Judeo-Christian Canadians had mainly adopted modern Western dress generations before. Furthermore, they did not practice polygamy, forced marriage or other gender-based violence—or, at least, it was not socially acceptable when some did so. In other words Canadians were the product of an evolved social system loosely based on the archaic Judeo-Christian model.

Unlike earlier immigrants, some Muslims who have arrived  relatively recently seek accommodation for their religious and cultural practices that is absolute. Some even seek to usurp Canada civil law with their archaic legal system, Sharia. Google, as I did, “Legal system of Saudi Arabia” and experience chills running down your spine as you get a sense of what this Medieval legal code would mean in Canada.

Even the idea of paying respect to the Canadian tradition of not covering one’s face in public seems to be anathema to some Muslims. For them, accommodation is a one-way street without reciprocity.

They seem to be saying that earlier Canadians must accommodate so that newer ones can be doctrinaire and uncompromising. Is that what is meant by being multicultural? I think not.

Multiculturalism is supposed to promote mutual respect.

When a newcomer insists on covering her face at the very moment she is accepted as a citizen, does that show respect? As C. Bowman of Toronto wrote, in part, to today’s National Post:

… in Canada, the accepted practice is for all of us to see each other, to smile at one another and to exchange messages, with or without words. She [niqab wearing Muslim lady] seems to want to become a Canadian—on her terms; perhaps she has made, for her, an inappropriate choice of country in which to reside.”

A harsh judgement perhaps, but maybe for the very few who are so dogmatic about religious/cultural beliefs that have not evolved in centuries, Canada—a country ruled by secular law—is not right for them.

I do not buy the argument that since the Quran is considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of Allah, its practices cannot change or evolve. From my reading, Islam did seem to evolve from the time of the Muhammad (abt. 570 - 632 CE) through the thirteenth century. Surely its Canadian followers can do, as millions of other Muslims around the world have done before, give up the wearing of the full face covering.

To those Muslims who insist on hiding their faces in public, I say, accommodate those of us who feel you are insulting us, as we’ve accommodated you and welcomed you and your religion and most of your culture to our country.

Friday, February 13, 2015

It’s never a good day when a conservative voice goes quiet

This morning at 5 a.m., Canada lost an important source of conservative commentary on TV, and 200 folks lost their jobs. I’m referring, of course, to the demise of Sun News Network.

The end took me by surprise, though, I did wonder at the time when I heard the TV network was not part of the purchase of the Sun newspapers by rival Post Media. Sun News seemed to benefit from its corporate relationship with Sun newspapers, and I wondered if the TV operation could carry on as an independent entity without them.

Apparently, they could not.

The failure of the right-of-centre network is, I believe, another example of the fallacy of the notion: if it works in the United States, it will work in Canada. Target learned this recently as Canadian Tire did in the 1980s and Loblaws did decades earlier.

Fox News has been a resounding success south of the border, so the idea seemed to be to replicate its format in Canada and, Presto!, success would be assured. Critics even called the fledgling news operation “Fox News north.”

Personally, while I eagerly anticipated Sun News Network when it was first announced, I was disappointed with the on-air product from the day it was launched.

David Akin’s Battleground in the early evening was watchable, especially during election campaigns, and I often tuned in to Michael Coren’s The Arena at 8:00 p.m., though, somewhat less so recently. The other evening shows were watchable only on a semi-regular basis and generally were marred by too much preaching at the audience, not enough variety of views expressed  and a lack of respect for any contrary view.

Yes, Warren Kinsella was a regular on the network and he seemed pretty much to be given free rein to argue the other view. And there were others beside Kinsella, of course, but it always seemed clear the “other view” was there to be thumped and kicked to the ground. Remember that appalling interview between host Krista Erickson and Quebec-based dancer Margie Gillis back in 2011?

Moreover, show formats were too similar, there was far too much replaying of shows in place of new programming, and there was too much duplication of subject matter among the evening shows.

Recently, the network began showing documentaries, but I found the production values of some to be little better than that of cable community channels—though, the subject matter was often interesting.

So, as far as I’m concerned, the attempt at providing a conservative voice in Canada was, at best, a limited success. But I do give the organization full marks for trying. Canadians need more opportunity to hear conservative views and ideas and it’s a pity Sun’s voices—on air at least—have been silenced.

For those progressives out there who tried your best to demonize the network because it did not champion your views, I ask that you temper your celebration at its demise, and give a thought for those unfortunate 200 staff members who worked very hard for four years and now are without jobs.

Let’s hope some other organization will have the courage—and the financial resources—to take on the challenge of fighting the good fight for conservative principles and values on TV.

Later today, I’ll raise a glass to all Sun News Network’s staff members and wish them all a soft landing and prosperous new careers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

To get Soudas Grits must take Adams?

The above title is meant only partly in jest for I can’t see an upside to Justin Trudeau’s decision to welcome so warmly former Conservative MP Eve Adams into the Liberal caucus.

And, judging from opinions expressed in both conservative- and progressive-leaning media, there seems to be a general reaction that borders on incredulity or, at least, surprise at Trudeau’s enthusiastic welcome of a tainted former political archenemy.

I suppose it’s true that the ruling Conservatives’ loss of a seat and parliamentary secretary is a victory of sorts for the third-place Grits, but that victory seems destined to be short-lived.

Given Adams’ tarnished political credentials, will the Liberal leader really spend political capital to ensure she receives a nomination to run in the Oct. 19 general election?

Apparently, Adams has her eye on the Eglinton-Lawrence Toronto riding. However, Liberal MPP Mike Colle, who has represented Eglinton-Lawrence at Queen’s Park for nearly 20 years, is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying that Adams will run in Eglinton-Lawrence “over my dead body.”

Moreover, given there are other potential candidates—Lawyer Marco Mendicino, a former Crown attorney, for one—who have better knowledge of local issues and who have a head start in signing up new members and volunteers in the riding, I just don’t see Trudeau giving Adams his usual “star candidate” treatment by forcing her nomination on the Eglinton-Lawrence riding association.

So where does that leave Adams vis-à-vis the October election? Her political experience has all centred in the western part of the GTA. She currently represents Mississauga-Brampton South and had previously served as a councillor for the City of Mississauga and Region of Peel. And, while still a Tory, Adams was involved in a nomination battle for the federal riding of Oakville North—Burlington.

That contest became so messy—and, in the words of The Toronto Star’s columnist Chantal Hébert, “rife with alleged dirty tricks”—that the Tories suspended the nomination and fired Adams’ fiancé, Dimitri Soudas, who was the Conservative party’s executive director,  for meddling in the nomination fight on Adams’ behalf.

The Grits used a press conference to announce Adams’ floor-crossing (some call this ratting) and to take some partisan shots at the Tories. Adams said:

I cannot support mean-spirited measures that benefit only the richest few. I can no longer support mean-spirited leadership that divides people instead of bringing them together. We need a kind, generous and strong leadership that champions a shared vision for how to make Canada work for everyone. I want to work with someone who inspires, not with fear mongerers and bullies.”

It must be noted that, although this supports the narrative Trudeau has been trying to sell Canadians, it comes from a person who had recently been informed in writing that she would not be permitted to run for her former party in the next election due to misconduct from the Oakville North-Burlington nomination race.

Note also that as Hébert points out:

For her end-of-year statement in the House of Commons last December, then-Conservative MP Eve Adams chose to brag about her government’s upcoming round of tax breaks.

“‘Thanks to our work, Canadian families can be assured that their hard-earned money is making its way back into their bank accounts,’ Adams told the Commons on the week that it rose for the holidays.”

As they say, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

So, having successfully poached Eve Adams, the Liberals seemingly get yards of print and TV pundit attention—most of which is negative—and not much more. Except, of course, for Dimitri Soudas, who says he plans to work for Adams’ Liberal campaign next fall so has presumably turned rat along with his fiancé.

Soudas was one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s fiercest loyalists and is said to have been an architect of the Tories’ 2015 election strategy. He also formerly served as the prime minister’s communications director.

Only time will tell how damaging Soudas’ defection to the Grits re-election prospects will be, if at all. But it seems apparent to me that he is the real, and perhaps only, “prize” the Liberals can claim.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Obama’s false comparisons rankles many

The president of the United States seems to have hit a raw nerve when he reached far into history to find Christian misbehaviour that rises to the level of recent Islamists terror attacks and gruesome executions.

Barack Obama, speaking at a recent National Prayer Breakfast, admonished attendees to not “get on a high horse” over atrocities committed in the name of Islam. There were “terrible deeds” committed in the name of Christ, he said, and reminded those present of the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and Jim Crow.

For goodness sake—and for the sake of accuracy and perhaps sanity—the Crusades occurred in the Middle Ages starting in 1095. And the Inquisition, which was another Medieval institution, is no more relevant.

Has the president not noticed the world has changed somewhat in the past thousand years? We now have motor cars, airplanes and a man has landed on the moon, not to mention electricity and motion pictures. Along with these technological marvels we have “discovered” evolution and split the atom. Moreover, few in the Western democracies still believe the universe was created in six days or that the world is flat.

In short, Western democracies have evolved into modern civilized societies with little or no resemblance to the societies of our Medieval forefathers. Moreover, many millions of us do not any longer define ourselves by any religion, and, for an increasing number of us—those who are only nominally Christians—we do little or nothing “in the name of Christ.”

The institutions and practices of a thousand years ago—or even a hundred years ago—are mainly irrelevant in virtually any comparison to modern times and especially with regards to large numbers of us doing things in the name of religion.

Even if Medieval Christians did awful things, so what? What does that have to do with our present-day practices?

Since the middle 1960s, Islamist terrorists have been screaming Allāhu Akbar—God is great—before committing some atrocity. And following their vile actions, mobs have crowded the streets of Muslim capitals around the world to cheer them and praise those who committed suicide as martyrs.

In that time, how many terrorist acts have been committed in the name of Christ?

Many who have tried to make Obama’s point—i.e., that Christians are no better than Muslims—point to Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 Oklahoma City bombing attack on a U.S. federal building and Anders Behring Breivik’s 2011 attacks in Norway.

I can find no credible evidence to support a claim that these acts of terror were done in the name of the Christian religion or even a fundamentalist fringe sect claiming to be Christian.

McVeigh might have been nominally a Christian, but his was strictly a political act. He hated the government and decided to take militant action against it. Did he, at any point, raise the issue of religion when justifying his actions?  As far as I can tell he did not. His terrorist act was clearly nonreligious.

Breivik published enough on the internet to make it clear that his ideology had little or nothing to do with Christianity. Rather, he loathed Muslims and those he considered Marxists. He apparently believes that Islam threatens Europe through “demographic Jihad”—apparently, a combination of uncontrolled immigration and uncontrolled breeding.

That Breivik was anti-Muslim seems clear. His bigotry did not seem motivated by him being Christian, however. According to the U.K.’s BBC, Breivik answered as follows when he was questioned about his religious beliefs by a lawyer for his victims:

Well, I am a militant Christian; to prevent the de-Christianisation of Europe is very important. But this does not mean we want to introduce a Christian theocracy. We are not Christian fundamentalists. I believe in God and I believe in a life after death.”

It seems clear to me that Breivik wanted to maintain Christian culture in Norway, but not necessarily the religion per se. His was a culture war, not a religious one.

On the other hand, modern-day extremists who seek to terrorize the western world in the name of Islam, make it quite clear they intend—assuming they ever get the chance—to impose Sharia law, Islamic law, on us all as the legal framework within which all public and most private aspects of life would be regulated based on the holy books of Islam. Theirs is a religious war first and a cultural war second, though, it’s hard to separate the two when considering life under Islam.

Clearly President Obama owes all Christians an apology for his slanderous comparison.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Christine Elliott as PC leader, I hope so

Lisa MacLeod has dropped out of the Progressive Conservative leadership race today and endorsed Christine Elliott. The MPP for Nepean-Carleton, MacLeod also confirmed that she expects to contest the Ottawa-area federal riding that will become available because of the retirement from politics of former foreign affairs minister John Baird.

MacLeod’s decision comes only two days after MPP for Nipissing Vic Fedeli also suspended his leadership bid and endorsed Elliott.

This leaves Elliott in a three-way race for the PC leadership with MPP Monte McNaughton (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex) and MP Patrick Brown (Barrie). The PC leadership will be decided by a one-member-one-vote preferential-ballot election at a Toronto convention on May 9.

Until now, my personal preferences for leader had been:  Christine Elliott as my first choice followed, in order, by Vic Fedeli and Lisa MacLeod. I have no interest at all in seeing either Monte McNaughton or Patrick Brown lead the Ontario PC party.

I was doubtful about McNaughton as a prospective party leader when he declared his candidacy in September. Nothing that I have seen or heard since has changed my mind for the better. If anything, McNaughton’s performance in the London leaders’ debate—the only one in which he participated since he passed on the Sudbury debate—reinforced my misgivings about him.

I have read McNaughton has been a leader in the PCs’ anti-union campaign, and has pledged to break long-term contracts with wind-farm operators should he be elected premier. This seems too much like the hard-edged campaign policies that have gone over like lead balloons in the past three provincial elections. The PC’s need a broader base, and must guard against becoming seen as a northern Tea Party-like movement.

Patrick Brown is similarly one-dimensional and calls (I believe unnecessarily) for the provincial party to totally rebuild, top to bottom. Moreover, I was totally turned off by Brown’s aggressive—and unfair—attack on Christine Elliott during his closing statements at the London leaders’ debate.

The real enemies are Kathleen Wynne’s Grits and, to a lesser extent, the NDP, and not the PC caucus. This Brown had best learn soon if he plans to lead the party. The other candidates seem to understand this; but Brown has chosen to single out front-runner Elliott for his ad hominem attacks.

Patrick Brown has been a Conservative member of the House of Commons since 2006. During that time he seems to have accomplished little that might have distinguished him. This is an excerpt from his website:

In the 41st Parliament, Patrick is playing an active role in serving as a member of the Standing Committee on Health, as a member of the Neurological Disorders Subcommittee, the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, the Juvenile Diabetes All Party Caucus and he is the Co-Chair of the Malaria Caucus. In 2011, Patrick was appointed by his party as the Chair for the Central Ontario Caucus.”

It’s okay, I suppose, but for someone who apparently believes he is ready to run the provincial PC party I’d expect to see, at least, a parliamentary secretary appointment or even a chairmanship of a high-profile committee. I see only “Member - Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations” under “Roles” at the official Parliament website. And that’s after almost 10 years in the House.

Patrick Brown, though, is a hard-edged social conservative—therefore, he will appeal to a significant portion of the party’s base—and he does seem to have organized his campaign well. His chances should not be underestimated, especially now that he seems to be the only alternative to Christine Elliott.

Some believe Brown could win the party’s leadership by signing up more new members. With a paltry 10,000 members going into the leadership race, adding more new members than your opponent could prove to be the winning strategy. The Ontario PC party membership has historically been in the 100,000 range so there are a lot of potential members out there.

There may be a silver lining of sorts to the reduced number of candidates in the race: perhaps we’ll get less of the irritating night-time telephone calls from the candidates, or is that just wishful thinking?

Regardless, I’m sticking with Christine Elliott as my one and only choice on May 9.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

John Baird: sorry to see him go

Yesterday, foreign affairs minister John Baird announced his retirement from politics. To many—and not only among conservatives—this was sad news for apparently Baird was genuinely liked by his colleagues in all parties and by many ordinary Canadians who appreciated his 20 years of public service.

I first began paying attention to 45-year-old John Russell Baird (called “Rusty” by those who knew him well) after attending Question Period at Queen’s Park when he was serving as an MPP in the Progressive Conservative opposition. His performance that day was political theatre at its best.

Regardless of one’s political point of view, I think most would have appreciated the on-point banter between Baird and the late NDP MPP Peter Kormos. Both men were top-notch parliamentarians and played off one another to great effect.

When commenting on the death of Kormos, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative leader of the time Tim Hudak said:

Peter was one of those rare parliamentarians who simply dropped the partisanship at the door on the way out of Queen’s Park at the end of the day. He was friendly, funny, compassionate and thoughtful.”

Substitute John’s name for Peter’s and “Ottawa” for “Queen’s Park” in that quote, and one would also have a pretty accurate reflection of John Baird.

Sure Baird was hyper-partisan at times—particularly in his early days at Queen’s Park—but managed to mellow with experience as he himself explained during his farewell address in the House on Tuesday:

I was perhaps just a little naive, driven by ideology, defined by partisanship, at the age of 25. I quickly learned, though, to make a difference, to really make a difference, you can’t be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. You need instead to be defined by your values.”

Likability, though, was only one of Baird’s qualities. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s go-to guy—some like to say the PM’s attack dog—Baird effectively handled some of the toughest files the Conservatives have dealt with. We saw that with his management of the Federal Accountability Act, and during his tenures as Treasury Board president and environment minister; and when, as transport minister, he managed the spending of billions of dollars of stimulus money in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, with little or no hint of scandal.

Baird, though, will probably be remembered best for his role as foreign minister. I was especially pleased that he took such an unambiguous stand on many international issues, especially those related to Canada’s relationship to Israel and Ukraine.

When Baird was heckled and had eggs and shoes thrown at him by Palestinian protesters during a visit to the West Bank, some Canadian progressives blamed him for being too one-sided towards Israel.

They complained Canada had formerly—under Liberal governments, I suppose—been more balanced, a sort of honest broker on Middle East affairs. Apparently, they forget that John Manley, while serving as foreign minister in a Jean Chrétien government, “was burned in effigy near the West Bank city of Nablus on Wednesday [17 Jan 2001] in protest of his offer to accept Palestinian refugees as part of a Middle East peace plan,” according to a 19 Jan. 2001 report in the Ottawa Citizen.

A lot of the criticism Baird receives comes from those—inside the foreign ministry and elsewhere—who define diplomacy as sitting safely on the fence and never giving offence even to foreign tyrants or to those who seek to terrorize us. And among his critics are those who seem to believe it’s okay for the UN to elect countries like China, Cuba, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to its Human Rights Council even though those countries have deplorable human rights records, and for the UN to wage a propaganda war against Israel.

Despite the backbiting from his foreign affairs staff—a group that seems mainly interested in palatial foreign digs, perks of their jobs and milquetoast diplomacy—Baird has apparently earned the respect of many of his peers abroad.

At one point I had hoped he might have come back to Ontario politics to run for the leadership of the PC party, but that now seems out of the question. He deserves a try at the private sector, much as the late Jim Flaherty had hoped to do. And most expect him to do well there.

I applaud John Baird for his 20 years of public service and wish him the very best in his future endeavours.