Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Spirit Permeates Afghanistan Rallies

"Canada out of Afghanistan" rallies touted as "huge success"

Ah, yes. Halloween. That time of year when adults and children alike disguise themselves as someone or something else for fun.

It should come as no surprise, then, that in the days leading up to Halloween, the “venerable” Toronto Star has been hard at work describing October 28’s “Canada out of Aghanistan Now!” rallies as something they weren’t – a success.

500 protestors marched through the streets of Ottawa (population 859,704). 200 protestors showed up in Halifax (population 359,111). 500 congregated in Montreal (population 3,326,510), and 600 in Vancouver (population 600,000). In Edmonton (population 937, 845), fewer than 100 turned up.

Success? Hardly. Not in one of these cases did so much as 1% of the city’s population turn out to agitate against Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.

“I get the feeling we’re making history here today,” said NDP leader Jack Layton. “Millions of Canadians are deeply concerned about this combat role.”

Layton, whose comments about Canadian involvement in Afghanistan have alienated Canadian military service men and women from his party, may have wanted to check his rhetoric before spewing this absurdity. If “millions of Canadians are deeply concerned about this combat role,” millions of Canadians might have actually shown up to these rallies.

Thousands (but barely thousands) of Canadians in 37 cities – far from what Toronto organizer Sid Lacombe implied when he said, “there are 37 different actions happening in Canada today, all the big cities, and even small towns.”
37 rallies in a country with a population of 32,000,000 hardly represents a huge success. In fact, a mere 37 rallies is a dismal failure.

Even more amusing is the common failure in logic. It seems that many protestors have confused the war in Afghanistan with the war in Iraq. “It’s an illegal war,” 60 year-old Ellen Schifren asserted.

The same charge leveled against the American war in Iraq. Of course, one might expect an obvious international law expert like Schifren to know that the war in Afghanistan is actually being conducted under a UN mandate.


This was hardly atypical. Many of the protestors carried placards portraying Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a war monger, despite the fact that it was actually the Liberal Party of Canada that committed Canadian troops to Afghanistan, and did so without a parliamentary vote, or even a debate.


While one certainly can appreciate the value of dissent on an issue as key and important as the war in Iraq, these rallies essentially turned out to be nothing more than a Halloween masquerade – protesters masquerading failure as success, Stephen Harper as George Bush, and the dumber as merely dumb.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Believe it or Not, Duceppe Makes Good

Um... Wow...

Personally, I never thought I would say this.


Good for Gilles Duceppe.

Holy shit. I can’t believe I just said that. Let’s take another look at that.

Good for Gilles Duceppe.

Holy shit! I really did just say that! Now, let’s take a closer look at why.
As most people have probably already heard, Gilles Duceppe has threatened to help topple the sitting Conservative minority government. With polling numbers suggesting the Liberal party could be in a position to potentially mount a spring 2007 election, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois has added a little fuel to the fire under Stephen Harper’s feet.

“Stephen Harper must now deliver the goods for Quebec, especially concerning the fiscal imbalance,” Duceppe announced. “If Stephen Harper breaks this promise, we will make his government fall.”

According to Duceppe, the government’s survival is contingent on an extra $3,9 billion for Quebec in the next federal budget.

To make matters worse, the Conservative party’s polling numbers in Quebec seem to have tanked. A recent poll has the Conservative party holding 17 points, trailing the Liberal party at 20, and the Bloc Quebecois at 47. The NDP and Green Party trail with eight points apiece.

Now to some, Duceppe might seem to simply be playing predatory politics at its worst.
But frankly, this is exactly what Duceppe’s constituents – as well as the members of his party – elected him to do. Stephen Harper, as most may recall, made a promise during the 2006 election to rectify the fiscal imbalance – the very fiscal imbalance the Liberal party refused to recognize.

Seven months and one federal budget later, Harper’s Conservatives have yet to make good.

Of course, Harper would likely be better off resolving the matter with Quebec Premier Jean Charest, rather than kowtowing to the separatist BQ.

But at the same time, Duceppe may want to be careful what he wishes for – keeping this key promise to Quebecers may be just the solution Stephen Harper’s support in Quebec desperately needs.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bush and Harper Running for Liberal Leadership?

Listening to the rhetoric being traded by the candidates for the leadership of the federal Liberal party, one would suspect that Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper and U.S. President George W. Bush were candidates for the job.

Each candidate has taken seemingly every opportunity to draw as close a relationship between Harper and Bush as humanly possible. Waxing rhetorically about the “similarities between Harper and Bush”, the leadership candidates have made a point of forcing the issue.

Even when mocking this tendency, Stephan Dion asserts, “yes, Harper is terrible,” while shrugging.

It’s safe to say that if any of the leading candidates – frontrunner Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae, Stephan Dion and Gerard Kennedy – were running against Harper or Bush for the Liberal leadership, they would win in a landslide. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t. So is focusing on Harper and Bush a wise decision?

Regardless of the wisdom (or potential lack thereof) of treating Harper and Bush as de facto candidates new. Before the campaign even began, the youth wing of the Liberal party distributed approximately 100 stickers to their university chapters . The stickers were a photoshopped mock-up of the Brokeback Mountain movie posters, with Harper and Bush’s faces substituted for those of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. It is branded “Brokeback Conservativism”, and described as “a story about two friends who share ideas, ideologies, and long walks on the beach…”

The obvious homophobia aside (from members of the ever-so-tolerant Liberal party, too…), the stickers are merely one symptom of the Liberal party’s use of George Bush as a political tactic.

This was also prophetic of the candidate’s use of Harper/Bush comparisons during the campaign. John Diamond, the president of Young Liberals of Canada, in an interview with Concordia’s The Link, suggested this would be brought up during the leadership campaign – which it has.

There are some within the Liberal party who are concerned about this tendency. “I think [the campaign] is a little over the top. I don’t think that they have that much in common,” said Nick Blesser, the 2005/06 vice-president of the Concordia University Liberal Party Association. “I think it’s demonizing both individuals, which is not always a good idea. It creates more skepticism, and there is already too much of that among young people today.”

Blesser also clued into the homophobic statement made by the stickers. “Are you implying something sexual? No, I don’t,” he said.

It seems that the Liberal party’s attempts to equate Stephen Harper with George W. Bush have been bearing fruit. As the U.S. inches ever closer to its midterm elections, Canadian pollsters have found that the Conservative and Liberal parties are currently tied for support amongst Canadians. In a Strategic Council poll of 1,000 voters, the two parties were found to be tied at 32% apiece, with support in Quebec dipping to 16%.

According to the Strategic Council’s Allan Gregg, same-sex marriage, the Kyoto protocol and the war in Afghanistan are the key issues separating the Liberals and Conservatives in Quebec.

Diamond focused on Harper’s promised vote on potentially re-opening the same-sex marriage debate, saying, “To me, [same-sex marriage] is an issue of equality. [Harper] wants to open reopen this discussion, these are things that smack of George W. Bush republicanism.”

It isn’t limited to the leadership campaign, either.

Scott Reid, a Liberal party spokesperson, has delighted in pointing out what he wants Canadians to believe are Harper’s “three B’s: Bullying, BS and Bush”. He takes any opportunity he can to needle the Conservative party about allegedly “wearing Bush’s belt buckle” or “Bush’s pyjamas”.

The focus on equating Stephen Harper with George W. Bush may be paying dividends for now, but one can’t help but wonder if they will continue to be successful once the American midterm elections have passed, and the imaginations of Canadians are drawn to more important matters.

Worse yet, the Liberal party may want to consider what it will do should the current minority government endure past 2008, when Bush leaves office. Suddenly, what may well be their most successful PR tactic will have disappeared into history’s long night, leaving the Liberals to find a new tactic.

Perhaps what would be wise is if the Liberal party were to focus on establish a record as the Opposition to campaign on, instead of resorting to distraction tactics while quietly playing partisan politics with key issues such as the environment.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Opposition Parties and "Environmental" Lobby Breathes Hot Air Over Clean Air Act

Warm front sweeps over Parliament as hit parade begins

Yesterday, Stephen Harper’s government tabled its long-promised Clean Air Act.

Predictably, Canada’s opposition parties and so-called environmental lobbies have taken up the cause – of preventing effective long-term environmental legislation.
“They're not going to do anything: This is a (law) for inaction," said the Sierra Club’s John Bennet, complaining that the Clean Air Act calls for consultations with industry over the next three years.

"Instead of using existing legislation and acting immediately, the Conservatives have delivered vague promises to regulate polluters sometime in the coming decades," Hugh Wilkins, a lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

Of course, one would expect that Bennet and Wilkins, two obvious experts in environmental law to understand that all the current agreements with industry, struck by the Liberal party, only call for voluntary compliance. This law will be in effect until 2010.

In other words, for the next three years, the Conservative government has no option but to consult with industry about what the standards (which will be mandatory) should be. Previous Liberal governments made certain of that, arrogantly legislating in such a way that not only handcuffed their own government, but also future non-Liberal governments.

After 2010, the government will set fixed caps on air pollutants, as well as stricter emissions standards for vehicles, modeled after California’s much-applauded standards.

By 2050, the Conservative plan is to cut total emissions by 45 to 65%. These are well in excess of Canada’s current Kyoto target of 6% below 1990 levels, between 2008 and 2012.

The number one complaint about the Clean Air Act seems to be that it does not explicitly mention Kyoto. Like complaints about George W. Bush after 9/11 – sulking, “he didn’t mention Canada!” – the so-called environmental lobby complains that the Act doesn’t mention Kyoto.

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada, complained, “[This] means that we have killed Kyoto as far as Canada is concerned. We've violated our international responsibilities. I don't take that lightly and I hope that no one else does."

Kyoto “expert” Olivastri may or may not be aware that the 65% by 2050 figure is very similar to a target provided under the Kyoto protocol – Britain’s targets. Britain, under the Kyoto protocol, has accepted a goal of 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 65% below 1990 levels by 2050.

The Conservative government has just pledged to meet these much more ambitious targets.

Given this little factoid, one has to wonder exactly what it is that the so-called environmental lobby wants.

It’s difficult to ascertain if the environmental groups in question are Liberal party members, voicing their criticisms via their Liberal party talking points, or if the environmental groups in question have been completely enveloped by the anti-conservative movement.

Either way, the point becomes abundantly clear: this was never about the environment. It was about politics all along.

The Clean Air Act – The Wrong-Colored Lollypop?

It can be likened to an unruly child in a grocery store, demanding a red lollypop.

“I want the red lollypop!” the child demands. The red lollypop, for whatever reason, is unattainable.

“I’m sorry honey,” the beleaguered mother says soothingly, “we can’t have the red lollypop. How about a green lollypop with a chocolate center instead?”

“NO!” the petulant child screams, jumping up and down frantically. “I want the red one!”

Such is the condition of Canada’s “environmental” lobby. The Conservative party, handcuffed until 2010 by Liberal party-initiated voluntary industrial emissions standards, has instead opted to act beyond 2010, and act to a greater extent – within a time frame that is, in fact, still within the Kyoto protocol’s time frame – and the “environmental” lobby is responding with a temper tantrum because the plan isn’t Kyoto.

Is it better than Kyoto? You’re damn skippy.

Is it Kyoto? No. And that’s what the problem is.

The Conservative government has come forth with a firm plan for action. A plan that won’t allow Canada off the hook, doing noting while paying billions of dollars in order to buy emissions credits from countries that aren’t required to do anything to meet their Kyoto requirements. Unlike the Clean Air Act (merely one part of the Conservative party Green Plan), under the Kyoto protocol, Canada’s ability to do nothing is reinforced by further inaction. With money! Kyoto is not a plan for action.

For its part, the Sierra Club has already been caught playing politics with the environment. On June 16 of this year, the Sierra Club issued its annual “environmental report cards”. The Harper government, in power for all of six months, was given a failing grade. Fs across the board.

"We are recommending that the Harper government attend summer school in order to see improvement next time," said the ever-so-clever Stephen Hazell, the then-acting executive director the Sierra Club.

The Harper government had, at that point, no opportunity to formulate its environmental policy.

The government of Prince Edward Island, however, was given a B average. In particular, it was given a B for biodiversity – even after a serious incident in which over 100 tons of raw sewage were simply pumped to Charlottetown harbor instead of being cleaned up.


Interestingly, the Sierra Club also opposes the Conservative government’s biofuel initiative, which would require that all gasoline in Canada be composed of 5% ethanol by 2010, which would reduce Canada’s emissions of greenhouse gas by that same 5%.

Once again, whoops.

One really has to wonder what side the Sierra Club is buttering their bread on. One might expect that an environmental lobby group would put some effort in to ascertaining the achievements of each government honestly, in stead of trying to act as a defacto opposition party.

Playing Politics With the Future
Canada’s opposition parties have pledged to vote against the Clean Air Act.

It’s interesting to note that, given that the item allegedly occupies a central point on the current agenda, that Canada’s opposition parties are promising to play partisan politics with the Clean Air Act – and have been promising to do so before it was even tabled.

“The whole Clean Air Act, for me, is a cynical exercise by the Conservatives," opined Nathan Cullen, the NDP’s environment critic. "Even if the committee rushed, and even if we pushed this thing as fast as we could, there's little to no chance at all of this thing coming into effect prior to the next election. That's unfortunate."

Unfortunate, indeed. The opposition parties instead favor private member’s bill C-288, which would require the federal government to somehow magically implement the Kyoto protocol, despite the constraints placed upon this by current legislation. Somehow, a party that has always favored increasing environmental legislation has come to deride the government’s impulse to introduce new legislation. “Our argument has always been that they have the legislation already," Cullen continued. "Why are they recreating it? If that's not a delay tactic, I don't know what is."

The “environmental” lobby and opposition parties desperately need to get their talking points straight on this one. Either the legislation in place is sufficient, as they claim – in which case criticizing the government for not proposing new policy (as was being done) should be considered an untenable position – or the new legislation, which plans over the long term should be accepted as a valuable tool for protecting the environment for the next 44 years.

At the very least, the lobby groups and opposition parties could do something really crazy, like – oh, I don’t know – cooperating with the government via the committee process, suggesting perhaps some – gee, what would… -- amendments to the act in question.

Otherwise, the message these parties are sending to Canadians may be that the opposition parties favor short-term inaction, as opposed to long-term planning and action. This certainly isn’t the message most people would want to send if they were part of an environmental lobby group or allegedly progressive political party, but this might be entirely immaterial.

Who cares about protecting the environment when there are political points to be scored?

Obviously, not the Liberals, NDP or Bloq Quebecois. The “environmental lobby”?

Obviously, not any less.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Michael Ignatieff & Stephen Harper: Their Feet & Their Mouths

Open mouth. Insert foot. Repeat as necessary.

Michael Ignatieff is not a happy man. This may have something to do with the fact that he’s had a very rough week.

On monday, Ignatieff was criticized for not attending a leadership debate. On Tuesday, Ignatieff accused Israel of war crimes. On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper used Ignatieff’s comments to (perhaps unwisely) label the candidates in the Liberal leadership campaign as “Anti-Israel”. On Friday, Ignatieff responded to Harper, but also lashed out at the media.

“Yesterday, Stephen Harper used my statement that war crimes were committed in this (Mideast) conflict to launch a personal attack on me and on my colleagues running for the Liberal leadership of Canada,” Ignatieff complained. “Mr. Harper's comments were a disgrace, a disgrace for a man who holds an office that is supposed to represent all Canadians.”

“There is no basis whatever for Mr. Harper to suggest that the Liberal party is biased against Israel.,” Ignatieff insisted. “The prime minister showed a profound lack of respect to the Official Opposition and a profound lack of respect to the Canadian people who elected them."

"Being a friend means speaking honestly and this week I did that, I spoke honestly about this summer's terrible conflict," he said. "It was a conflict provoked by Hezbollah and its backers to lure Israel into a wide war, it was a conflict in which Israel exercised its right to respond and to send a terrorist militia a clear message that its actions cannot and would not be tolerated."

However, on October 10, in a Radio-Canada interview, Ignatieff said, "I was a professor of human rights, and I am also a professor of the laws of war, and what happened in Qana was a war crime."

So, to recap, on Tuesday, Israel is a war criminal. On Friday, Hezbollah are war criminals.

In any conventional sense of the term, this would be a huge flip-flop.

On Thursday, Stephen Harper described Ignatieff’s previous accusations as “consistent with the anti-Israeli position that has been taken by virtually of the candidates for the Liberal leadership.” However, on Friday he noted that Joe Volpe and Scott Brison were exceptions to his assertions.

Now, what Harper said was inflammatory, but was it accurate?

Ignatieff’s aforementioned comments on Israel, and subsequent flip-flop on the issue, demonstrate that he is merely doing what he can to exploit the Israeli issue for political gain.

Gerard Kennedy issued the standard promises to recognize Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, but his supporters have been more vocal, accusing Israel of conducting ‘state terrorism’.

"We don't want to see any more terrorism, whether the terrorism of suicide bombers or launching rockets or state terrorism. This is state terrorism," said Kennedy supporter Boris Wrzesnewskyj.

Even more interesting are the comments of Kennedy supporter Thomas Hubert, who advocated eliminating all “Zionists” from the Liberal party. "The Liberal Party is stronger without these violent Zionists in our party. I am glad for them to cease influencing our foreign policy so we are free to promote Canadian values of peace. It amazes me that this community is so absurdly selfish. The only issue that matters to them is the defence of a "state" that survives on the blood of innocent people. Shameful.”

Harper has already admitted that Stephan Dion is not anti-Israel.

But as it relates to Bob Rae, Harper may be a little bit off. In a 2002 opinion article entitled “Parting Company with the NDP”, Rae (who is of Jewish descent) criticized what he believed to be a strong anti-Israel bias in the NDP.

On his website, www.Bobrae.ca, Rae even issued the following statement, “The issue is not simply Israel's right to defend itself - it is how to police a border, how to reduce tension, how to create the preconditions for dialogue. Israel has a right to live in peace within secure, internationally recognized borders. At the moment this clearly requires the presence of peace monitors. Lebanon cannot and will not do it and has called for a UN presence on its soil to assist in this. The UN must respond."

"Canada's further efforts need to focus on the refusal of both Hezbollah and Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. These radical groups, clearly fuelled by money and other assistance from Iran and Syria, point to the biggest obstacle to peace: an inability to accept Israel as a legitimate country in the region. Ideologies that cannot accept the presence of other people, with different religions, languages, and loyalties, are a profound threat to the peace of the world."

That is not, by any means, an anti-Israel statement.

For Harper, the leader of the federal Conservative party, commenting on the statements of the leading candidate for the Liberal leadership is perfectly legitimate. However, Harper needs to keep one important fact in mind.

In Canada, conservatives do not win on rhetoric. They have to win on facts.

Labelling all the candidates for the Liberal leadership as “anti-Israel” takes an issue that should be discussed in terms of fact, and transforms it into a rhetorical issue.

He should, at the very least, avoid making comments he can’t defend. As it pertains to two of the four frontrunners for the Liberal leadership, Harper can’t defend these comments.

However, in the cases of Ignatieff and Kennedy, defending their own comments (and those of their supporters) is a matter they should be good deal more concerned with. As the frontrunner, Ignatieff needs to be doubly concerned.

Conservatives Turf Turner

Bad fucking idea

Instructions for a political fiasco:

1. Get gun
2. Point at feet
3. Pull trigger

The Conservative party followed these instructions perfectly today, squeezing the trigger on the suspension of Garth Turner from the Conservative caucus.

Ever controversial, Turner was noted as being a politician that does not fit in with the stereotype of a Conservative. A small-c conservative with socially progressive views. Sure, he favors smaller government and lower taxes. He’s also a small-l liberal where it counts, favoring more rights for all Canadians.

The Conservative party claimed that Turner was violating the secrecy of caucus. There may be some truth for this. For example, in a recent weblog post, Turner speculated on the contents of the next federal budget, writing, “So, I'd wager the coming budget will look pretty much like this: another point off the GST, a drop in the income tax rate for the lowest bracket, the promised rollover in capital gains taxes for reinvested profits (look for a complicated new investment account to be created - Bay Street will love it), provisions for social benefits not be clawed back for lower-income workers, a lower growth forecast for the economy, an agricultural action plan, bringing in new income-support for farmers, [and] more middle-class tax credits aimed at family expenses.”

Now, if one considers that a budget discussion should take place under conditions of secrecy (I, personally, do not), this certainly does violate that secrecy.

The Conservative party has insisted that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had nothing to do with Turner’s suspension, and even sustained from the national caucus vote that decided the issue.

Interestingly, many media outlets took this story as an opportunity to play a game of “get Harper”, asking questions insinuating that Harper was behind the decision. Neither Turner, nor any of his former colleagues confirmed any allegations.
Turner, for his part, has resolved to follow the wishes of his constituents. He has promised to hold town hall meetings in the next week before he decides what he will do. He has promised he will sit at a “caucus of one”, and will not join any of the other parties.

The Conservative party, however, has some very serious questions to answer. For a party that is garnering a reputation for secrecy, to suspend Turner in such a manner is simply a bone-headed move. Suddenly, the one answer to all the criticisms ideologues levy against the Conservative party has been banished to sit as an Independent.

Bigotry? Garth Turner.

Same sex marriage? Garth Turner.

Right-wing extremism? Garth Turner.

Garth Turner may have been the most prominent leftover from the Progressive Conservative party left in the Conservative party. No more. Mere hours after the suspension of Turner from the Conservative caucus, a new seating plan was released, with Turner sat on the other side of the house – far away from his former colleagues.
On Mike Duffy live, a fellow Conservative MP even suggested that Canadians may see Turner sit as a Liberal or NDP member in the next session of parliament – but not as a Conservative.

The Conservative Party has just distanced itself from the most valuable member of their caucus: their voice of conscientious dissent. This is something that is of incredible value to any party: it demonstrates variety within the opinions of that party.

With recent polls suggesting that the Conservatives and Liberals are tied in national polling, this is a move that could not have possibly came at a worse time. Turner is an MP the Conservative Party should have clutched near and dear to its heart.

If there is any sense left in the minds of the Conservative party, it is hopefully not too late to turn back the clock, and take Turner back.

Otherwise, Canadians may not like the answers the Conservatives have for the questions they will need to answer.