Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Antonia Zerbisias: Gun Nutty

Zerbisias has her facts -- and logic -- twisted in regards to gun registry

There's something special about guns in the hearts of Ontarian left-wingers.

Former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant famously made waves with his "No Gun, No Funeral" campaign -- which, if one were to argue the matter under the guise of specious hilarity, may have implied that people don't die of natural causes -- in support of a ban on handguns.

When the federal Conservative party declined to jump on board with Bryant's campaign, noting that legal ownership of handguns was already restricted to target shooters, collectors and those who need them for the purpose of their employment, Bryant lashed out rather predictably.

"The Conservatives have long been in the holster of the gun lobby," Bryant fumed. "I say `no gun, no funeral.'"

And he did -- very often.

Despite the fact that the No Gun, No Funeral campaign was operated out of Bryant's campaign office (something his staff had the temerity to deny when contacted), Bryant mustered likewise temerity in insisting that the campaign wasn't part of his reelection bid.

Moreoever than this, however, the No Gun No Funeral campaign was based largely on a very dubious version of the facts regarding handguns, handgun use, and guns in general.

In today's Toronto Star, Antonia Zerbisias took her own turn at offering up specious argumentation in favour of the Liberal party model of gun control.

"The one thing I will never understand about the Conservatives is how they say they can be so down on crime – and yet so up with guns. Some guns, anyway," Zerbisias writes in her op-ed column. "Guns such as that used to murder those four Mounties in Mayerthorpe, Alberta in 2005."

Zerbisias goes on to complain that the Conservative party has moved once again to scrap the federal long gun registry, which would exempt rifles and shotguns from the registry.

Full stop.

God knows that one will never stop Zerbisias from trying to portray the Conservative party as hicks and rednecks, riding in from the cowboy west to force their nefarious gun culture on the rest of the country. But one would think she could at least be a little more honest about the details.

Zerbisias tells Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner to tell the murdered mounties' families that "the long-gun registry unfairly targets our hard-working farmers, hunters and sport shooters, but not criminals."

The problem for Zerbisias is that the Mounties murdered outside of Mayerthorpe by James Roszko weren't murdered using a hunting rifle or a shotgun.

Roszko killed Constables Brock Myrol, Peter Schiemann, Leo Johnston and Anthony Gordon with an HK .308 semi-automatic assault rifle -- the kind of weapon that is already restricted under federal firearms legislation, and will remain restricted even after the long gun registry is repealed.

But if one thought that Zerbisias was being rather liberal about the facts, one just has to wait to see what she does with her logic, when she writes that "fact is, according to Canada's Coalition for Gun Control, one out of three women killed by their husbands is shot, 88 per cent of them by legally owned rifles and shotguns."

Zerbisias declines to note that registering those weapons in no way prevented the murder, lending skepticism to her next claim:

"Fact is, according to Statistics Canada, firearm spousal homicide is down drastically since the gun registry was enforced," seeing as how we've already seen that registration of firearms doesn't prevent them from being used to murder, there is absolutely no justification for parading this particular correlation as proof positive that the gun registry itself has reduced such crimes. The reduction is much more likely due to other forms of gun control introduced since the introduction of the registry, including enforcement tactics.

Antonia Zerbisias may be surprised to find out that many small-c and capital-c conservatives alike support gun control. But, unlike Ontario's power elite and would-be power elite, conservatives prefer methods of gun control that actually protect Canadians, as opposed to metely being a nuisance to law-abiding gun owners.

But don't ask Zerbisias about that. She's still too busy pretending that the Mayerthorpe Four were murdered with a hunting rifle.

Greens Mean Business in Quebec

Green party shows first semblance of a feasible plan

If many Canadians didn't know better, they'd swear that Green Party leader Elizabeth May had a workable plan at making her party electable.

Recently, May elaborated on a plan to build her party up over two elections, and look to elect a rump of Green MPs in future elections -- particularly in La Belle Province.

"We will have green MPs in Quebec," May insisted. "Maybe not in the next elections, but the ones afterward."

"It's not just about winning seats," she added. "It's about supporting our grassroots who are working so hard, and making sure that the word gets out that the Green Party is on the move."

From within the party organization, at least, prospects seem far from bleak.

"They have three potential candidates there (within two elections)," explained Concordia University professor Peter Graham, who ran for the Greens in the last election. Graham notes that they have no political experience, and so will stand in their stead while they learn. "I'll do the debate, I'll talk to the media, I'll do the door to door, go through the meet and greets."

This strategy of building over a number of elections is a huge improvement on the previous strategy of "get Elizabeth May elected, nothing else matters" -- provided that May can balance the two.

Her recent nomination in Saanich-Gulf Islands doesn't really seem to have stemmed her previous habit of playing chicken with a political train (as she did in Central Nova). All May has really done is shifted away from trying to defeat National Defense Minister Peter MacKay to trying to beat Minister of State for Sport Gary Lunn. This will naturally be difficult to do by splitting the left-of-centre vote even further.

Her nomination in that riding also featured a transfer of funds from the party's national committee that looked an awful lot like mass bribery, and has resulted in a complaint to Elections Canada.

This being said, if Elizabeth May is beginning to take the job of getting Green MPs other than simply herself elected, this should be welcome news for the Green Party.

If not, then it's still time to seek new leadership.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Newer (Better) Blairism?

Tory leader emulating Labour PM

If David Cameron is the Tony Blair of the Conservative party, he certainly seems to relish the role.

"He was the future once," he once famously told Blair. "I want to talk about the future."

David Cameron has so effectively claimed Blair's mantle as the "future of Britain" that many consider his victory in the 2010 general election to be all but assured -- just as Blair's victory over John Major was considered assured.

According to Lord Andrew Adonis, the Labour party's Transport Secretary, there is more than a passing resemblence between Cameron's and Blair's style. That resemblence may be more than coincidental -- it may be by design.

"Cameron is trying to offer a better Blairism when he’s trying to be sunny," Lord Adonis remarked, although noting that Cameron's rhetoric can also have a dark side. "Then when he’s not, it’s the age of austerity and broken Britain."

If Cameron has mixed his upbeat rhetoric with some gloominess, he certainly isn't alone.

Many Labour party supporters and boosters -- as well as Prime Minister Gordon Brown himself -- continue to insist that their party is still very much in the running to win the 2010 election. Yet the prognosis offered by polls and various experts is far less than promising for them.

Compass, a left-wing British think tank, has predicted the end of the Labour party altogether if Cameron wins the next election.

They predict that, aside from whatever defeat Labour may absorb in 2010, a Conservative government increases the chance of Scotland opting to secede from the United Kingdom, taking a bastion of Labour strength with them.

Compass insists that a referendum on abandoning Britain's "first past the post" electoral system could gain the party desperately-needed ground against the Tories.

Gordon Brown has yet to fully embrace this issue as a "game changer", but has reportedly taken it under consideration.

Meanwhile, Lord Adonis doesn't believe that all is yet lost to Cameron and the Tories.

"We shouldn’t take the view that we’re in a situation like 1979 or 1997 and should be fatalistic and Cameron has found the new middle ground," Adonis insisted. "I don’t think that’s the case."

For Gordon Brown, defeating Tony Blair (they are well known to have been rivals) is a prospect that has long faded from view. But if anything substantial is to be taken away from Lord Adonis' commentary, it's that defeating David Cameron may be just as good.

That, of course, is provided that Brown can save his (and Labour's) skin in 2010.

Au Revoir, Denis. See You on the (Leadership) Campaign Trail

Coderre quits -- as Quebec lieutenant

The Liberal party's quest to reclaim Outremont has apparently cost it a Quebec lieutenant.

Denis Coderre has resigned from the post after Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff second guessed his advice regarding Martin Cauchon's bid to reclaim Pierre Trudeau's former riding from the NDP's Thomas Mulcair.

"It is a tough decision, a very emotional one that I have to make today," Coderre announced. "But I took four days on my own ...and I thought that I don't have any more the moral authority to remain as the Quebec lieutenant."

Coderre vaguely suggested that, in rejecting his advice regarding Cauchon, that Ignatieff was largely deferring to ignorance.

"Fundamental questions are raised by these events: Who should the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada listen to on decisions that strictly affect Quebec?" Coderre mused. "Should he follow his Quebec lieutenant while working closely with a credible team? Or to his Toronto advisers who know nothing about the social and political realities of Quebec?"

"The lesson drawn from these events is the following: If you want to carry the day on a Quebec issue, all you have to do is perform an end-run around the Quebec authorities of the party, and go to the inner circle from Toronto," Coderre continued. He even seemed to suggest that Ignatieff hadn't merely rebuffed him, but rebuffed the entirety of his Quebec team.

“Contrary to what some may have said, the reconstruction work of the Liberal party in Quebec was not the affair of a single man. The recommendations I made to the leader were always the fruit of concerted decisions approved by our Quebec team.”

For his own part, Michael Ignatieff considers Coderre's charges to be laughable.

“It makes me laugh,” Ignatieff scoffed. “I am leading a pan-Canadian party. I’m proud of my team in Quebec. They have the leadership and responsibility with me, and I repeat with me, to renew the party.”

Rebuilding the Liberal party certainly won't be accomplished by fighting out old grudges in the form of a candidacy campaign, as Coderre was accused of doing. But Coderre himself says this simply wasn't the case.

“This isn’t a settling of accounts against anybody,” he insisted. “I’m not here to settle scores.”

Of course, Coderre also objected to suggestions that he's planning a wildcat leadership campaign. But strategically quitting has long been a standard Liberals planning to take a run at the leadership. Jean Chretien briefly quit politics altogether in 1986 after losing the Liberal leadership to John Turner.

Dissatisfaction with Turner crystalized around Chretien's absence.

Coderre hasn't quit politics altogether. But his resignation as Ignatieff's Quebec lieutenant has been every bit as dramatic as Chretien's brief departure. Chretien managed to transform discontent with the second-worst leader in Liberal party history into his own leadership victory -- and three successive majority governments.

Somewhere, in the back of Denis Coderre's mind, one has to imagine the possibility of this kind of success must be lingering -- particularly for a politician as ambitious as Coderre.

Michael Ignatieff will see much more of Denis Coderre very soon -- very possibly in the midst of a leadership review.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Rob Harvie - "So, Liberal Denis Coderre appears to have had enough Ignatieff...

Jeff Jedras - "Coderre quits. Don't let the door, etc"

My Can of Contemplation - "More Evidence of Coderre's Treachery"

Monday, September 28, 2009

Alberta's New Opposition?

Tory defections to Wildrose Alliance rumoured

In matters pertaining to Albertan politics, Paul McLoughlin tends to have the inside track.

McLoughlin recently made a prediction that has hit Albertan politics like an earthquake: if Danielle Smith wins the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance on October 17, 10 Progressive Conservative MLAs will cross the floor to join them.

This would instantly make Danielle Smith the new leader of the official opposition, as the party would have as many as 12 MLAs. With Paul Hinman's recent victory in Calgary and Guy Boutilier, should he do as he has suggested he may and join the Alliance, the party would leapfrog the Liberal party (who currently have 9 MLAs) to become the province's new official opposition.

This would almost certainly be the end of Mark Dyrholm's leadership ambitions, as the party would literally have too much to lose by choosing him over Smith.

Of course, the Calgary Herald's Don Braid isn't buying the hype, even despite McLoughlin's strong track record -- his predictions tend to be correct.

Braid notes that even under the nadir of the party, under Don Getty, there was no mass exodus from the Progressive Conservative party.

Then again, there was no increasingly-relevant conservative competition in Alberta at that time. As the Wildrose Allaince continues to attract high-profile supporters, its newfound relevance is making it increasingly dangerous.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The West Wants In

Pandering to Quebec shouldn't be done at expense of rest of Canada

In the wake of population growth in Alberta, BC and Ontario, Democratic Reform Minister of State Steven Fletcher has reportedly prepared legislation that would add up to 32 electoral ridings between those three provinces.

Most Canadians will likely view this as Canada's electoral map simply being re-drawn to reflect population growth -- something necessary in a country using representation by population.

Unfortunately, not all of Canada's political leaders seem entirely enthusiastic about these necessary changes.

"It's clear that when the population increases in a province, there must be a change in the distribution of seats, but we must also maintain a good balance with Quebec," said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said. "We cannot play partisan games with this, because it [concerns] national unity of the country."

And indeed it does.

But it's infortunate that Ignatieff, a Liberal leader whose national unity strategy has laudably included Western Canada, doesn't seem to understand that this matter concerns Western Canada's place within confederation as it does Quebec's place.

Some individuals, such as the Bloc Quebecois' Pierre Paquette, predictably either don't understand this, or (more likely) simply doesn't care.

"I'm convinced there will be a public outcry in Quebec over the Conservative proposal," said Paquette. "For us this is a major issue, and I think it shows once again that the Conservatives have crossed out [appealing to voters in] Quebec."

Things are actually rather different. If anything, it shows that the Conservative party isn't willing to pander to voters in Quebec at the expense of other parts of the country.

The felt urgency to do this may be felt significantly less in the future.

As Brian Lee Crowley in recent analysis appearing in the Globe and Mail, Quebec may not necessarily be able to justify disproportional representation in the House of Commons based on its population.

As Crowley notes, Statistics Canada's population projections offers up six different scenarios. But in all of them two thirds of Canada's population will live in Alberta, BC and Ontario by 2031.

Even without decreases in seats in any provinces that experience a decrease in population, the political consequences are obvious.

"It is politically explosive to try to reduce the parliamentary representation of provinces that are losing population relative to the others, and especially so in the case of Quebec. So the Commons in 2031 will count 375 seats; virtually all the increase will go to this new three-province power coalition that will increasingly dominate Canadian politics. A party that could win three quarters of the seats in BC, Alberta and Ontario would have a parliamentary majority without a single seat from any other province."

Considering that the Liberal party tends to maintain strength in Ontario, the Conservative party dominates Alberta and the parties effectively split BC with the NDP, it's unlikely that many majority governments would be born in such a way -- barring, of course, any significant political changes on a province-by-province basis.

These changes may spell bad news indeed for the Bloc Quebecois, as well as posing a new challenge for the province itself.

"Quebec, the province that has driven much of this country's political agenda for the past half century, will go from belle of the political ball to wistful debutante," Crowley notes. "Its ability to win benefits for itself by consistently sending sovereigntists to Ottawa and denying any party a parliamentary majority will be severely reduced. And even if Quebeckers start voting for federalist parties in larger numbers, they will be unable reliably to deliver parliamentary majorities as they did for nearly a century."

Crowley goes on to argue that Quebec's population dilemma stems from woeful fertility, unavourable domestic migration and low international immigration. Furthermore, Crowley insists that this is an unforeseen legacy of Jean Lesage's Quiet Revolution -- the various special deals that Quebec has levied for itself have not only done nothing to maintain the fortunate position Quebec enjoyed prior to the 1950s, but it's done nothing to prevent the reversals of Quebec's fortunes.

Indeed, Crowley seems to imply, the various demands for special treatment within confederation may be responsible for these reversals.

Pandering to a province that is declining in population at the expense of provinces that are growing in population -- particularly in Western Canada -- would be seen as nothing short of a slap in the face of Western Canadians.

Disproportionately apportioning electoral ridings isn't a feasible answer to Quebec's concerns regarding its place in Canada. In the long run, it will only strain national unity. Further jilting the West will not solve such problems.

If anything, the fact that Steven Fletcher deems it necessary to add 32 additional ridings suggests that either the Conservative party plan is disproportionate to the population growth in those provinces, or new ridings aren't being created nearly often enough.

This Day in Canadian History

September 17, 1974 - Puck drops for Summit Series II

When Canada defeated the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series, some notable Canadian players were missing from the lineup.

Team Canada 1972 was iced without Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. Both were playing in the fledgling World Hockey Association. WHA players had been refused the opportunity to participate in the series.

Following the success of the '72 Series, WHA founder "Wild" Bill Hunter went to work on organizing a WHA version of the series. According to his autobiography, the '72 Series was originally his idea, but he was unable to organize the event until 1974.

In the meantime Alan Eagleson took the idea -- stole it, by Hunter's account -- and organized the '72 Series. Hunter would view Eagleson's refusal -- to the extent of denying Bobby Hull the opportunity to participate despite having been named to the team by Harry Sinden -- as a slap in the face not only to himself, but to his league.

By 1974, '72 series veterans Frank Mahovolich, Paul Henderson, and Pat Stapleton had also joined WHA teams -- Henderson and Mahovolich played with the Toronto Toros, and Stapleton represented Chicago Cougars.

The '72 edition of Team Canada was also the only version to unite Gordie Howe with his sons, Marty and Mark.

The series began inauspiciously for Canada, as they split their home games with the Soviets. They won a single game, lost one, and tied two.

The Soviets had proven to be less gracious guests than they were in 1972, as they raised a litany of complaints about their treatment at the hands of the Canadians -- including insisting their bus had "square wheels".

Upon returning to the Soviet Union the Soviets further ratcheted the psychological tactics against their Canadian opponents. Late-night phone calls were answered only to hear the sound of silence on the other end.

A game in Moscow nearly led to an international incident, as Bobby Hull signed autographs for Russian children. When a Soviet guard struck one of the children with the stock of his rifle, Hull lifted the guard off the ground by the neck. Only the soothing of Bill Hunter was able to stop Hull from harming the guard.

The Canadians also fell victim to extremely partisan officiating by the Soviet officials, as the Soviet Union won three of the games in Russia, winning the series decisively 4-1-3.

As far as a propaganda tool went, the Russians must have been disappointed with their win over a team scraped together from a few NHL stars, a group of seasoned WHA pros, and a collection of players who otherwise would be plying their trade in minor leagues.

In 1972, the Soviets had lost to a team that was not even Canada's best. In 1974, they defeated a team that was even further short of Canada's best.

The series, however, had greater implications than merely its potential to be used as propaganda. After their defeat at the hands of the Soviet Union, the WHA decided to embrace the European brand of hockey.

European players who would play in the WHA included Peter Stastny, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. A European-styled player by the name of Wayne Gretzky would suit up for the Indianapolis Pacers and Edmonton Oilers of the WHA.

When the Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and Quebec Nordiques of the WHA were absorbed into the NHL they revolutionized the stubborn, linear NHL style of play.

In the pages of hockey history, the 1974 Series may not stand as the touchstone the '72 triumph has become, but it was certainly more influential over the development of Canada's game, even if it would be fortunate play second fiddle in the hearts of Canadians.

Quantifying Cold Souls Is a Bad Idea

The absurdity of Cold Souls is absolutely palpable, and intentionally so.

In the film, Paul Giamatti plays himsself: an actor so troubled by the production of Uncle Vanya that he's currently starring in that the only solution he can seem to reach is to hastily unburden himself of his soul.

So Giamatti seeks out the aid of a company called Soul Storage. Run by Dr Finstein (David Stratham), Soul Storage is a company that has developed technology that can remove the soul from the human body, store it, and even replace it with other souls.

Giamatti decides to remove his soul and rent the soul of a Russian poet for the duration of his play. However, this turns out to be a very bad decision when a Russian soul mule named Nina (Dina Korzun) steals his soul so an aspiring Russian actress (Katheryn Winnick) can improve her acting by replacing her soul with that of a famous actor.

Giamatti's dilemma is obvious: recover his soul from the self-centred wife of a ruthless and powerful Russian criminal while trying to decide what to do with the soul of a Russian poet who has since committed suicide.

Cold Souls also presents a dilemma to individuals such as Richard Dawkins -- one that they honestly may not care to answer.

Many people, such as Dawkins, look down upon religion because its central tenets -- the existence of a God or gods, the soul, etc -- cannot be quantified and supported with evidence.

Yet, as Cold Souls seems to suggest, Dawkins et al wouldn't want to live in a world in which the soul could be quantified.

For evidence is why, one need only consider recent arguments raised by Kirk Cameron.

Cameron, admittedly, is a nitwit. In a recently-produced video Cameron insists that there's an "undeniable connection" between Adolph Hitler and the theories of Charles Darwin. Cameron, like many of Darwin's detractors, credit Darwinism with providing Hitler for the justification to commit the Holocaust, as well as Nazi Germany's infamous Eugenics program.

Cameron is actually right to note that there is a historical link between Darwin's theories and Hitler's slaughter. But to attribute responsibility to Darwin's theories, considering the limitedness of Hitler's reading of the theories and subsequent abuse of them, is an irresponsible argument.

Just as Darwin's theories were able to be abused for the purposes of eugenics once people attempted to attach value to human life, so could a spiritualist elaboration on Darwin's theories be applied to the human soul. Spiritual eugenics -- if it were at all possible -- would be every bit as dangerous.

There is already a surplus of religious intolerance in the world. It is directed by people of faith against people of other faiths, by people of no faith against people of faith, and by people of faith against people of no faith. If it were possible to actually quantify the content and value of the soul, it would be nothing short of one of the greatest human disasters in history.

Just as cultural anthropology briefly gave credence to the theories of racial and genetic superiority that provided justification (no matter how illegitimate) for eugenics, the quantifying of the soul would give justification (no matter how illegitimate) for religious intolerance.

Dawkins et al would insist that they want to live in a world devoid of religious intolerance (even as they themselves indulge in it).

A world without religious intolerance is a great and noble goal. But as humanity (hopefully) begins to work together to establish such a world, the least we can collectively do is be thankful that religious interolance can't be materially justified.

The Interventionalism of Convenience?

Responsibility to Protect, Will to Intervene based on luxury of power

Dr Mutuma Ruteere has a bone to pick with Paul Collier.

Collier, a professor of economics and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, has recently written a book entitled Wars, Guns & Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places.

In the book, Collier argues that the "bottom billion" of the world -- Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia -- are structurally insecure and unaccountable (no surprise to those who have paid attention to the sad state of that portion of the world). Collier argues that these countries are too large and diverse to be nation states and too small to provide security.

Collier continues by insisting that democracy has failed in the world's "bottom billion", and that the international responsibility must intervene in these countries and provide security in place of those governments. In extreme cases, Collier even argues that coup d'etats should be engineered against undemocratic governments.

Collier's ideas represent the ideas contained in the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine -- a UN foreign policy doctrine developed under the leadership of Lloyd Axworthy and Romeo Dallaire.

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine assigns the responsibility to each of the world's states to protect their citizens from natural and human disasters. This responsibility encompasses the aftermath of natural disasters, as well as (even particularly) attacks on the citizenry of that state, be that by the forces of a foreign state, militant forces wtihin the state, or even the state itself.

According to the doctrine, the international community is responsible for preventing that protection in cases where states fail or refuse to provide it.

The relationship between R2P and Collier's ideas are evident.

The goal of R2P was to put a stop to crimes against humanity that are already in progress. Collier's ideas entail acting preemptively in order to supplant the institutional instabilities that eventually lead to these crimes.

No less a conservative magnate of conservative economic and foreign policy than William Easterly has denounced Collier's ideas as sheer colonialism -- and he may well be right.

The problem is that Collier's brand of colonialism may not be necessary.

Dr Ruteere notes that African states have often proven more willing to risk their own troops intervening in African matters than the developed world has. He notes that Nigeria intervened in Sierra Leone and Liberia, South Africa intervened in Lethoso, Tanzania intervened against Idi Amin in Uganda, and Dallaire's admission that Ghanaians and Tunisians were among his best and most reliable troops in Rwanda.

By contrast, Ruteere notes that the United States used its own institutional means to settle its last serious political conflict -- the turmoil surrounding George W Bush's reelection.

If the United States had proven unwilling to settle the matter without political violence -- institutionalized or otherwise -- it seems entirely fair to wonder if the international community would intervene.

It would seem entirely fair, but it really isn't. The developed world has a woeful record intervening against developed countries. During the 1930s Nazi Germany was allowed to overrun half of Europe before Britain, France, the United States and the ANZAC (Australia, New Zealand and Canada) states saw fit to stand up. The other great butcher of the developed world, Joseph Stalin, was actually an ally during the war. Earlier in the 1930s, Stalin's Soviet Union engineered a genocide via famine in the Ukraine.

The Responsibility to Protect clearly plays to privileges of power the developed world enjoys over the developed world. But even amidst the privilege of this power, many African countries -- who can't boast the sheere brute force of the military of nearly any NATO country, for example -- have demonstrated that they possess something that the developed world has proven that it all too often does not possess:

The Will to Intervene, even against neighbour states that are comparable to them in terms of military and economic power.

A foreign policy doctrine by this very name has recently been proposed in Canada -- once again with Romeo Dallaire at the lead. At the very core of this proposed doctrine are truths that forward-thinking African countries have seemingly understood for quite a while: that the disasters that unfold in African countries will eventually impact them, just as the developers of the W2I doctrine have recognized that they will eventually impact Canada.

If political collapse followed by civil war were to break out in a country like the United States, it's evident that the effects of that conflict, and of any crimes against humanity being perpetrated there under such conditions, would impact the developed world much more quickly than such a conflict in Africa.

Dr Mutuma Reveere seems to imply a very important question for the citizens of the developed world: can we find the will to intervene against our powerful neighbours if ever the need should arise.

The need has arisen before, and the will has proven lacking. If the need arises again, we cannot afford to have the wrong answer to such a question.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Political Doctrines Make Strange Bedfellows

Part two of Michael Cockerell's Tony Blair: The Inside Story deals with Tony Blair's foreign policy.

Like the many distinctions Blair shares with Barack Obama, Tony Blair shares an important distinction with former Prime Minister Jean Chretien -- being one of the few world leaders to have led their country from the period shortly following the disintegration of the Soviet Union (in Chretien's case, he was elected Prime Minister in the period immediately following this event) right up to the post-9/11 period and the end of the so-called Pax Americana.

As the film shows, Blair approached foreign policy matters with an activist and nearly evangelical fervour. The "Blair doctrine" was a moralist foreign policy doctrine, that demanded nearly open-ended commitment to foreign interventions so long as he was convinced it was the right thing to do.

From the fight against Slobodan Milosevic to the battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Blair was able to use his considerable diplomatic skills to help build interventionist coalitions.

The religious influences on Blair's foreign policy decisions -- which were obvious from the language he used to support his policies -- were obvious. Although Blair was often unwilling to discuss his religious beliefs with the media or in public, he was willing to allow his religious values to influence his political decisions.

While overzealous secularists may condemn such influences, there is little wrong with allowing one's values to influence their decisions -- so long as those values can be shown to be largely positive.

Although Blair had once spoken about the prospect of his generation never knowing war -- apparently the Faulklands Islands don't count -- during his time in office, Blair deployed British troops to Kosovo, Sierra Leonne, Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, just as Tony Blair needed President George W Bush to help implement the Blair doctrine, Bush wound up needing Blair to help implement the Bush doctrine of preemptive engagement.

After 9/11, Blair stepped quickly to Bush's side, pledging support to the United States. Just as Bush must have known he would need Blair's diplomatic skills to build a broad anti-terror coalition, Blair must have known he would need Bush and the power of the American military in order to implement his moralistic vision of the fight against terrorism.

Yet Bush would, in turn, use Blair to carry out the war in Iraq. Blair shared a moralistic view on the war in Iraq based on the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction. Just as questions would rise over the extent of Bush's complicity in the clear manipulation of intelligence leading to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein had acquired weapons of mass destruction, questions would eventually rise over the extent of Blair's knowledge of this, and his complicity in it.

Eventually, the British public failed to share Blair's moralistic view of the planned war in Iraq. Cynicism about the intelligence being used to justify the war became more widespread. Even as Blair made it evident that he at least seemed to firmly believe in the evidence being presented.

In the face of UN opposition, Blair's diplomatic skills faltered. With it disappeared any hope of garnering global support for the Bush doctrine.

Yet Blair was eventually able to essentially shame his party and the House of Parliament to back him on exercising the Blair doctrine in Iraq. Yet, if the War in Iraq truly was a defining moment of the 21st century, it was certainly a defining moment for Tony Blair.

Like George W Bush, the war in Iraq will define Tony Blair as a leader who was not immune to poor judgement. In sticking so doggedly to their foreign policy doctrines in regard to a conflict that didn't necessarily need to be fought at the time it was, both men will likely be remembered for putting more obstacles in the path of those fighting terrorism than any that they may have ever conquered.

Coming Clean(er) on Antonia Zerbisias

Fair is fair.

Recently, in a post here at the Nexus about Antonia Zerbisias challenging Liberal MP Irwin Cotler's loyalty to Canada, Zerbisias was unfairly credited for making the following comment on her Facebook page: "It doesn't seem possible for Jewish people to have a RATIONAL discussion about Israel!"

As it turns out, Zerbisias did not make the comment in question.

Although the comment was made by another individual (who is, and will remain, unidentified) she did express agreement with it, writing: "I agree. It's almost existential for some of them."

Evidently, this is what Jonathon Kay actually meant when he suggested Zerbisias "endorses" those views. As Zerbisias' Facebook profile is set to private (it can be viewed by her Facebook friends only), it's actually an easy mistake to make, as her comments were made very difficult to verify.

To some, it would seem entirely natural to attribute anti-Semitism to the comments of both individuals. Attributing irrationality to an entire ethnic group of people could certainly be viewed as a racially inflammatory comment. In the case in question, it could be viewed as anti-Semitic.

But rushing to that conclusion admittedly overlooks the rash hastiness of such comments. In the heat of a blogosphere controversy such comments can be uttered in undue haste -- and interpreted equally hastily.

In hindsight -- as due restraint often restores itself once the heat of the moment has passed -- one would like to be able to attribute Zerbisias' comments to that kind of hastiness. But Zerbisias has made it rather difficult to do so.

Even though she has been asked to elaborate on the sentiments behind her actual comments -- once again, expressing agreement with the original comments -- she has declined to share them.

Which is unfortunate. Zerbisias could very well have not meant to attribute irrationality to Jewish people as a whole, but rather to a particular group of pro-Israeli Jews. Truth be told, she would be right about that. There's little question that some Jews -- as well as some non-Jews -- cast aside the burdensome chore of critical thinking in all matters related to Israel. It's a sad truth.

Likewise, Zerbisias could very well have meant to attribute that to Jewish people as a whole. Her comments, even if uttered in haste, seem to suggest that (they also seem to suggest that for many Jews this irrationality is "existential").

If she refuses to elaborate on her comments, it would be impossible to know for certain.

It's on this note that Zerbisias may entreat herself to an apology for the misquote. Fair, after all, is fair.

But it's hard to leash suspicions of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism if Zerbisias herself won't explain some comments that seem like they allude to it. If Zerbisias doesn't like it, there are actually very simple remedies as her immediate command:

Don't say things that may make people suspect you're an anti-Semite. For most people, that seems simple enough.

Friday, September 25, 2009

History Repeated, History Repeating?

Gary Kasparov defeats Karpov -- can he defeat Putin?

For reasons that often seen entirely obvious, the world of professional Chess doesn't attract the same devotion that other sports do.

There are no raucus chants like in soccer, no big hits or long-bomb passes like in football, and no swift transition game like in hockey.

The failure of the United States to develop a competitive chess program was a concern for many Americans during the Cold War. With the world's two nuclear superpowers glaring standoffishly across the North Pole at one another a great deal of rhetorical primacy rested on the World Chess Championship.

Whichever country possessed the championship within its grasp held a key propaganda point. After all, when the world is continually sitting on the brink of nuclear annhiliation the idea that either country possessed the world's best strategic and tactical minds could help give the population of either country the notion -- however hollow -- that they could win a nuclear exchange with their rivals.

The Soviet Union held the advantage in this particular category hands-down. The only American to win the World Chess Championship was Bobby Fischer, who defeated Boris Spassky for the championship in 1972.

He would disappoint his country by refusing to defend his championship, and eventually emerged as a very public conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite.

But the Soviet Union would have a disappointing World Chess Champion of its own: Gary Kasparov.

Anatoly Karpov had won the tournament that decided the challenger to the championship, but won the title by forfeit after Fischer and the International Chess Federation couldn't agree on the rules for the match. Karpov (who didn't actually expect to defeat Fischer in 1975) would hold onto the title until 1985, when Kasparov defeated him.

The first Kasparov-Karpov encounter ran an astounding 48 games, and was called over without result with Karpov leading 5-3 in a match in which the first player to win six games would be victorious.

A rematch was scheduled for 1985. It would be a best of 24. There would be no draws this time (there were an incredible 50 draws in their 1984 encounter), as Kasparov claimed the championship with a 13-11 win.

The two faced each other in a contractually-stipulated rematch in 1986 (Kasparov won narrlowly, 12.5 to 11.5) and again in 1986 (this time they drew, 12-12).

The most ingriguing encounter between Kasparov and Karpov was the fifth confrontation, in 1990. History marks this as a time of great change within the USSR, and nowhere did the conflicts raging within the Soviet Union seem as apparent as in the World Championship match.

Karpov was widely known as a favourite of the Communist party elite. Like many Soviet competitors who were elevated to top-level competition, Karpov showed all the appropriate loyalties to the Communist regime.

Kasparov was an entirely different matter. While he had once been a member of the Communist party, he left it in 1990 and was involved in organizing the Democratic Party of Russia, even as he defended the World Championship against Karpov. It was widely known that Kasparov distrusted and opposed Mikhail Gorbachev.

For a World Chess Champion representing (on paper at least) the Soviet Union -- Kasparov had, in 1990, requested to represent Russia under its pre-Soviet flag -- to so resoundingly oppose the Communist regime was dispiriting to many Communist party members. It earned Kasparov many enemies in the Soviet Union.

Then again, Kasparov was accustomed to having enemies. His contemporaries in professional Chess were known to widely fear and dislike Kasparov. Often, they would cheer when he lost, even in minor tournaments.

Although Boris Yeltsin would eventually disappoint Kasparov, the World Chess Champion's opposition to Gorbachev was seen as a factor in his political downfall.

More recently, Kasparov has been involved in organizing broader opposition to Russian Prime Minister (some say shadow President, despite recent dissent by Dmitri Medvedev). Most recently Kasparov has been a key figure in the organizing of Solidarnost, the opposition's alternative to Putin's United Russia party.

In 1990, Gary Kasparov became a key figure in the eventual downfall of Mikhail Gorbachev, the end of Communism in the Soviet Union, and the eventual dissolution of the regime.

Nearly 20 years later, Gary Kasparov has played a high-profile chess match against Anatoly Karpov once again. As in 1990, he's also organizing against an entrenched political regime.

In Kasparov's defeat of Karpov, history has repeated. As the world looks ahead to what lies in the future for Russia, many can only wonder: can Gary Kasparov finally help engineer the defeat of Vladimir Putin and bring a second round of democratic reform to Russia?

Only time will tell.

From the archives:

May 23, 2009 - "Fighting the Cold War Over a Chess Board"

Michael Ignatieff's Quebec Problem

Denis Coderre firing up to take a shot at Liberal leadership?

For the past 20 years, the Liberal party's Quebec problem has tended to be external -- notably, the Bloc Quebecois.

But now it seems that the Liberal party may be sharing a general malaise with the Conservative party in Quebec -- internal organization problems.

The big story in Quebec right now is the brewing battle over which Liberal will run against NDP MP Thomas Mulcair in Outremont (Pierre Trudeau's old riding). A fierce conflict has emerged between Martin Cauchon, a Chretien-era Cabinet Minister and Denis Coderre, Ignatieff's appointed Quebec lieutenant.

Michael Ignatieff had previously announced that he would appoint the party's candidate for that riding, and that he would appoint a woman.

"Martin Cauchon was an excellent minister, an excellent MP, and a good Liberal. I spoke to him last night, and yes, I have made my decision," Ignateiff announced this week. "I told him that we have been soliciting female candidates and we not only intend to have women candidates, we want them where they can win."

Ignatieff has now apparently relented, allowing Cauchon to seek the party's Outremont nomination.

Despite his pledge to appoint a female candidate in Outremont, Ignatieff has caved to pressure applied, in part, by Bob Rae.

“Martin Cauchon was an outstanding minister of justice and has been a fighter for liberal values all his political life,” Rae publicly insisted. "If he wants to return to active political life, room must be found for him and his important beliefs and values."

Many -- including the National Post's Kelly McParland -- have suggested that the Cauchon decision was never really made by Ignatieff, but rather by Denis Coderre, who is looking ahead to the next Liberal leadership campaign and looking to flex some muscles now so he can improve his chances to be the next Grit leader.

Le Devoir reported that the original Cauchon decision came as everal Quebec MPs were pressured to leave politics.

Among them were Bernard Patry, Raymonde Folco, Lise Zarac and former Liberal leader Stephane Dion.

Dion, for his own part, has already announced his intention to run again in the next election.

For Coderre, nothing would say "I dominate this party" more than forcing a former party leader out of a party stronghold.

Perhaps the prospects of Coderre quietly organizing a leadership campaign behind his back is what really pushed Ignatieff to chance the Cauchon decision. (Some may recall that, in turn, Ignatieff himself was accused of planning a leadership campaign behind Dion's back.)

As McParland notes, Coderre may be looking toward the party's notion of "alternation", and thinking that it's simply his turn, as a Quebec Liberal, to take over the party should Ignatieff's leadership fail.

That could be a real problem for Ignatieff -- particularly if Coderre thinks whatever opportunity he may have to be Liberal leader is worth helping to engineer an electoral defeat.

The notion itself seems absuard -- as it should -- but far stranger things have been done by self-interested politicians.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Matt Guerin - "Iggy Should Let Democracy Do Its Thing in Outremont!"

Tattered Sleeve - "Outremont est Ouverte: Iggy, Coderre concede to Cauchon"

Peter L Whittle - "The Democratic Deficit in the Liberal Party"

Eeeeeeek! It's Christians! And They're Praying!

Antonia Zerbisias offers an odd definition of "intimidation"

Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias has long been a not-so-subetly-kept secret of Canada's loony left (a category of left wingers who should be considered a subcategory of the hateful left, themselves a category of left wingers).

Parading her political thought under the guise of mainstream respectability, Zerbisias has, on occasion, let her true nature slip through the facade -- such as when she suggested Dick Cheney should shoot Michelle Malkin in the face and more recently, when she questioned Irwin Cotler's loyalty to Canada on account of his children volunteering for the Israeli Defense Forces.

But, as is so often the case with individuals such as Zerbisias, it seems that whatever lunacy or silliness (however the case may be) has transpired to date may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Zerbisias recently suggested that Christians embarking on an ambitious new protest campaign against abortion are actually out to intimidate women seeking abortions.

"The birds of `pray' who will be targeting women's clinics in Canadian cities for the next 40 days really don't care about saving lives," Zerbisias wrote. "If they did, they wouldn't be so much about intimidating the desperate women and girls who are seeking abortions."

Intimidation? That sounds truly horrible. Certainly, any rational person would want to know precisely what it is that these "birds of pray" are doing that is so intimidating.

As it turns out, Zerbisias' comments refer to the 40 Days for Life campaign being staged by various anti-abortion groups. For 40 days they'll be praying and fasting outside of abortion clinics, as well as conducting a door-to-door petition.


Of course, any rational individual would wait for actual violence to occur as part of the 40 Days for Life campaign -- or at least some kind of threat -- before accusing them of indimidation.

Perhaps something like one of the participants in the 40 Days for Life campaign were to pull a gun on a woman seeking an abortion. It isn't as if Zerbisias' cohorts in the extreme pro-abortion movement haven't made any excuses for such incidents.

Hell, some of them have even participated in acts of intimidation.

Zerbisias seems to conclude that the praying protesters only want to take women's rights away.

"No matter how much they will attempt to cloak their vigils outside two Toronto clinics with solemn vows to 'never stop defending life,' their true agenda is unveiled by their lack of support for babies once they're born, their often impoverished mothers and the kind of sex education and contraception accessibility that would avoid abortion in the first place," Zerbisias insists. "Nowhere on is there any discussion of any of these matters."

"That's why it's easy to assume that what the anti-choice movement is really about is exactly that: no choice for women," Zerbisias continues. "No choice when it comes to their reproductive rights, no choice when it comes to being free to pursue independent lives, no choice to have careers, no choice at all."

In the wake of the revelation that the 40 Days for Life website doesn't address post-birth support for single mothers, contraception or sex eduation, one may be willing to say "fair enough" (at least to that fact, if not to her rhetoric).

But then one would wonder what Zerbisias would have to say about anti-abortion organizations -- such as Feminists for Life that do have something to say about the matter.

Among the various resources available via the FFL website include calls to change cultural attitudes toward single parents to create an environment more conducive to single parenthood, notes on how to raise children inexpensively, and advice on how to cope with an unplanned pregnancy.

When writing about Feminists for Life, Zerbisias has failed to mention these things.

For her own part, this isn't particularly damning. But some of Zerbisias' compatriots in the pro-abortion movement have more deliberately overlooked such things. In a column appearing on the Talking Points Memo website, Ruth Rosen accused FfL of being "cleverly disingenuous".

As anyone who paid attention to the various controversies that swirled around former US Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin knows that FfL's slogan is "women deserves better choices".

That at the very least, is something Feminists for Life and the pro-abortion movement should be able to agree on, even if they fundamentally disagree on abortion.

But despite the fact that FfL's website does address some of the issues that Zerbisias criticizes 40 Days for Life for not mentioning, Ruth Rosen makes a rather unsurprising conclusion.

"In the end, I decided that Feminists for Life is neither about feminism nor about choice," Rosen writes. "It is a cunning attempt to convince young women that choice means giving up the right to 'choose.'"

So, it would seem that no matter who is writing, and no matter what the conditions, the pro-abortion movement insists that the anti-abortion movement simply opposes choice -- that they oppose freedom.

Against this general rhetorical backdrop it's hard to treat Zerbisias' commentary as anything other than disingenuous.

In this particular column, that disingenuity begins when she accuses Christians publicly praying of "intimidating" women, and takes deeper root when she follows the typical pro-abortion rhetorical tactic of accusing them of simply hating freedom.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Myopic!

Sometimes the lack of self-awareness of Canada's extreme left is nothing short of astounding.

That lack of self awareness is particularly evident when one examines the pro-abortion movement. And when one is talking about pro-abortionists who lack self-awarness, one of the first to come to mind is none other than JJ, the proprietor of Unrepentant Old Hippie

In a recent post at that particular percolating cesspool, JJ makes it evident that her ire has been drawn by Lila Rose, whom JJ describes as an "anti-choice fascist" (which is an ironic accusation coming from someone who applauds violence against her anti-abortion opponents).

Rose recently suggested that all abortions be "conducted in the public square".

"I don’t see misogyny behind every tree, but for a few seconds there I saw a hatred of women so raw it was like a slap in the face," JJ writes. "It really makes me wonder about the origins of Ms Rose’s crusade against Planned Parenthood; what she experienced that filled her with such loathing for her own sex."

Ironically, JJ refers readrs to a post at Reproductive Health Reality Check in which Mandy Van Deven sheds some light on JJ's particular affliction.

Of course Van Deven likely doesn't realize how perfectly she's describing the Unrepentant one -- and herself. She's actually writing about Lila Rose when she says:
"Twenty-year-old Lila Rose suffers from a condition that afflicts many new activists, a condition known as myopia. Those who suffer from myopia experience an inability to see nuance in the world and seek comfort in absolutes. While thought to be more pronounced among the young, myopia can infect people of all ages with varying results, and the results of Rose's particular strain of this cerebral infection have only just begun to make themselves known."
The real hilarity ensues once one notices that Van Deven has labelled her post "anti-choice activists".

Like many pro-abortion activists -- and, like JJ -- Van Deven insists on pretending that there can only be one thing that anti-abortion activists really oppose: choice. The argument is that the anti-abortion movement simply opposes freedom.

In the minds of such people there certainly couldn't be anything morally or ethically repugnant about abortion that they oppose. No. To individuals such as JJ and Mandy Van Deven, people like Lila Rose are merely authoritarians seeking to enforce their beliefs on other people.

Likewise, in JJ's mind, Rose couldn't possibly have a moral or ethical objection to abortion -- she simply hates women.

It isn't, after all, as if there are human lives embroiled in the abortion debate -- and more than simply the lives of the mothers carrying these children. In particular, JJ and her ilk have yet to admit that unborn children are human life forms, not merely "clumps of cells".

Lila Rose's rhetorical recommendation that abortions be conducted in the public square -- and it is simply that, a rhetorical tool -- will never be implemented, and with good reason.

But there is one thing to say about the idea, and how it pertains to the wider debate over abortion: it would give people a wider understanding of precisely what abortion entails. This would apply to both early- and late-term abortion. It would very likely have the effect of galvanizing public opposition to late-term abortion, and also increasing permissiveness toward early-term abortion.

There's a reason why the pro-abortion movement is so insistent on preventing the general public from understanding the various nuances of abortion. It's because this kind of understanding threatens the monopoly on the debate they believe they're entitled to.

The truth is that the pro-abortion lobby isn't merely myopic in its very nature, it also wants to spread that myopia to as many people as possible. They've thrived off of it.

This is Nothing a Sheeny Curse Wouldn't Fix

Antonia Zerbisias tips her anti-Semitic hand

This post should probably start off with an apology to any Jewish readers -- or just Jews in general -- if they're offended by the title. Please forgive.

Recently, Toronto Star columnist and blogger Antonia Zerbisias sparked another blogosphere controversy when she twittered the following:
"MP Irwin Cotler's children join IDF. Which country are you loyal to, sir?"
Irwin Cotler, as Kay notes, is known around the world for his work fighting anti-Semitism. He has also been instrumental in highlighting Canada's past failure to detect and deport Nazi war criminals.

As many Canadians would also know, Zerbisias has been far from quiet on the topic of Israel. Recent screeds against Israel include a column applauding a Toronto LGBT group protesting "Israeli Apartheid" (despite the fact that Israel has a far superior record in regard to its treatment of homosexuals than any other Middle Eastern country) and applause of the insipid boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival over its "city to city" program with Tel Aviv.

So it's clear that Zerbisias is a critic of Israel. There's actually nothing wrong with that -- there's plenty of room for constructive criticism of any state, especially Israel.

But to target Irwin Cotler and challenge his patriotism because his children -- who are dual Canadian-Israeli citizens, by virtue of Cotler's marriage to an Israeli woman -- is far, far beyond the pale.

To impugn Cotler's citizenship based on the actions of his children is nothing short of irresponsible.

It could even be interpreted as a form of neo-McCarthyism, as Dr John Baglow accuses Kay of in noting that Zerbisias' comments at least reinforce the impressions of Zerbisias' well-known anti-Zionism.

The problem for Zerbisias and her thinly-veiled threat to sue another blogger (who has actually taken quite a trip over the matter) is that her rhetoric seems to suggest that her anti-Zionism has bled into anti-Semitism.

As Kay notes, Zerbisias recently noted, on her Facebook page, that "it doesn't seem possible for Jewish people to have a RATIONAL discussion about Israel!"

So it would seem that Zerbisias insists that Israel is the problem. But more than that, she infers, the real problem is the Jews.

As the aforementioned Backseat Blogger notes, accusations of mixed loyalties have often been levied against Jews.

At a certain point, a spade just has to be called a spade. Zerbisias' criticisms of Israel themselves are far short of malignant. But when mixed with the kind of rhetoric she's indulged herself in, it becomes clear that there are darker motivations underlying her criticism.

Which brings one back to the Sheeny Curse.

Who knows? Perhaps Antonia Zerbisias would be surprissed to learn that the Sheeny Curse doesn't actually exist. Stranger things have been published in the pages of the Star -- often by Zerbisias herself.

The New Game That's All the Rage in Ontario

Dalton McGuinty plays "dodge the accountability"

Poor Dalton McGuinty must be an awfully exhausted fella lately.

He's been busy doing all kinds of things. Like misleading Provincial Parliament. And impeding Access to Information requests. And not investigating the eHealth scandal.

After today, one can add "shrugging off a contract tendering scandal" to the list.

McGuinty has announced that his government will not get involved in a case where the Vice President of a London hospital awarded $3 million in untendered contracts to a former colleague.

“That is the responsibility of the board of directors there to ensure they are enforcing the rules they have on the books and I would encourage them to do that as quickly as they can,” McGuinty insisted. “The hospital has a board of directors, who have a lot of authority and accountability.”

Of course, anyone familiar with the story would know differently. The Vice President in question didn't actually have the authority to award the contract, and nothing was ever done about it.

It's actually a matter of hospital administrators exceeding their authority and Boards of Directors failing to hold them accountable.

Anyone who's paid attention to the growing list of scandals besetting the McGuinty government would know that the avoidance of responsibility has become thematic of his government. When $3 million in taxpayer dollars are handed exhorbitantly over to a hospital administrator, the government has a responsibility to get involved.

The scandal in London hospitals would be much less troubling if it hadn't become so bloody thematic in McGuinty's government. But unfortunately the McGuinty government has produced so many scandals -- with Health Minister David Caplan squarely at the centre of many of them -- that some people may be beginning to lose count.

Even if McGuinty himself won't answer for the matter, David Caplan must -- even if both of them share responsibility for this matter.

"[Caplan]'s showing a lack accountability at the top. I don't think he has control of his ministry. And, if he's not able to demonstrate that, then yes, he should go," said Christine Elliott, the Progressive Conservative Health Critic. "It starts at the top with the arrogance of the Premier and the Minister of Health in leading the way with $16 million in untendered contracts to eHealth. It sort of shows people that it doesn't really matter, that proper rules don't need to be followed, and it encourages similar sorts of practices."

To date, the closest that either the Liberal government or the hospital in question have come to taking accountability for the error is cancelling the contract.

But considering the rampant corruption running through Ontario's health care department, an independent investigation and a full systemic audit must occur.

To date, McGuinty has refused to do either, and has instead passed the buck to the hospital board in question which will, unless there is a serious change in the state of affairs, also refuse to do so.

It's almost like "dodge the accountability" is a game -- and Dalton McGuinty is in it to win it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The HST: The Great Divider

Political tensions over HST have intriguing implications

One benefit Canada's recently-averted election holds for Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is the freedom to flip-flop on his own rhetoric without any serious consequences.

Take, for example, a recent Ignatieff flip-flop on the issue of the Harmonized Sales Tax.

For those not in the know, a Harmonized Sales Tax is a fusion of Provincial Sales Taxes (PST) the federal government's Goods and Services Tax (GST). The argument being raised in favour of these taxes is that they're good for business, making it easier and less costly for business to remit these taxes to the government.

The argument against these taxes -- and a very persuasive argument at that -- is that these taxes are bad for consumers, and would apply sales taxes to transactions to which they hadn't previously applied, such as grocery and housing bills.

Needless to say, the matter has been very controversial in provinces that are planning to implement the HST -- chiefly British Columbia and Ontario. There's been an intriguing federal-provincial political dynamic at play in the affair, in which both major provincial and federal parties seem to be at odds with one another over the issue.

The Stephen Harper government in Ottawa has been instrumental in decisions to implement the HST, offering billions of dollars in short-term help to provinces that decide to implement the tax.

Ignatieff has publicly derided the HST, referring to it as the "Harper Sales Tax".

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty admits that the HST would be bad for Canadians in the short term, but it insists it would be good for the country in the long run.

"It's good longterm economic policy for the people of Canada," Flaherty insisted, noting that this is a provincial matter. "The decision to harmonize is always up to the individual province whether they choose to do it or not."

When pressed on whether or not he was "picking a fight" with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (or BC Premier Gordon Campbell for that matter, also a Liberal), Ignatieff seemed to shift his position away from using it to score cheap political points and closer to the position being taken by the government.

"Our position from the beginning has been that this is a matter between the Harper government and the provincial governments concerned. Period," Ignatieff insisted. "I'm the leader of the Opposition. I've got no position to clarify. It's between those two governments. And when I become Prime Minister I'll have other decisions to take."

Ignatieff has apparently moved to reassure McGuinty that his party's federal cousins wouldn't kill the HST deal just to maintain their own rhetoric.

"I assured him that the Liberal Party of Canada is a party of government," Ignatieff said. "We don't rip up agreements that have been duly negotiated by previous administrations, and I made that clear to him and I think we're on the same page on this issue."

That's an obvious shot across Harper's bow in regards to various issues such as the Kelowna Accord and the national daycare program. (Unfortuantely for Ignatieff, the Canadian public at least seems to be largely comfortable with these particular decisions.)

However, Ignatieff and McGuinty aren't the only ones to be at odds over the HST.

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has been vocal in his opposition to the HST, paying little mind to the governing federal party's effective sponsorship of the tax. Although Hudak has a different name for it than Ignatieff's -- he calls it the Dalton Sales Tax.

"[Toronto Dominion] Economics shows the 'Dalton Sales Tax' is just that - a permanent tax grab that will result in higher prices on the things we buy with no immediate benefit to consumers despite the premier's promises," Hudak publicly fumed. "[Premier] Dalton McGuinty has taken the idea of reducing red tape for business and turned it into a massive tax grab on Ontario's families in the midst of a recession."

Any direct tensions between Hudak and Stephen Harper on the matter must certainly be minimal -- Harper has had very little to say about the HST, and simply allowed his Finance Minister to carry that particular football.

But Hudak's deputy leader, Christine Elliott, is married to Jim Flaherty. Whatever political tensions subsist between the two over the matter are likely being contested -- perhaps silently -- over the dinner table.

"As Christine said to me on the weekend ... we'll remain married of course, and the children are very happy with that, but we're non-harmonized," Flaherty recently joked.

So if the Flaherty-Elliott marriage isn't at risk over the issue, the Liberal party faces a much more serious dilemma.

One way or another the HST is an issue that may harm the Liberal party significantly. Liberal MPs are worried that they'll be the ones to suffer the political consequences for the HST should they have to face a federal election before the Campbell Liberals face a provincial vote.

That particular dilemma for the Liberals could be as immediate as Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe decide it should be.

However this federal-provincial political dynamic plays out -- with the actions of provincial parties harming the prospects of federal parties, and vice versa -- the HST could be a largely-peripheral issue that could interest Canadian political scholars for years.

David Cameron and the End of Thatcherism

British Tory leader charts "more consensual" way forward

However British history books remember the current Conservative party leader, it won't be as "Iron" David Cameron.

Cameron continued his efforts to distance himself from the political legacy of Margaret Thatcher recently, as he spoke very candidly of the woman still known to Britons as the Iron Lady.

If -- some say when -- his party wins the next British general election (slated for sometime in 2010), Cameron has insisted that he will not address Britain's current fiscal status the way that Thatcher did during the 1980s.

Thatcher is remembered by many as one of the neo-conservative "big three" of the 80s, along with US President Ronald Reagan and (oddly enough) Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

In the parlance of British conservatism, Thatcher was an avowed "dry". She favoured the reduction of government spending, tax cuts, controlling the growth of the money supply (thus impeding inflation) and reducing government regulation. Tories who opposed Thatcher's direction were lumped together with the label of "wet". (The phrase seems to have fallen out of vogue in the British Conservative party since the 1980s.)

Looking back on the 1980s, Cameron doesn't see Thatcher's program as an overwhelming success, and he says he wouldn't emulate it now.

"We never in the 1980s actually managed to cut public spending," Cameron noted. "The rhetoric was out there about the weight and the burden and all the rest of it, but ... this is a far more serious problem than we faced in the 1980s."

"This is something we need to do with the public sector, not to the public sector," Cameron continued. "This is very important: this is not some 1980s-style approach about cutting public spending."

The stage for Thatcher's conflicts with the civil service was set earlier. She was deeply angered by a prevailing view within the public service of the day that the role of civil servants was to manage Britain's decline from its Imperial status.

Cameron is apparently determined not to repeat that experience.

Cameron is avoiding outright criticizing Thatcher, however, as he realizes that this could alienate the right wing of his party.

Daniel Hannan, the Conservative Member of European Parliament who has been somewhat troublesome for Cameron on the health care file, recently outlined what he believes Cameron could learn from Thatcher.

According to Hannan (and Charles Moore, a Thatcher biographer), Thatcher's greatest political strength was her ability to give just as much information as she needed, and not tip the rest of her hand too early.

"Margaret Thatcher did extraordinary things, rescuing a country that Labour had demeaned and indebted. But these things were only vaguely hinted at in the 1979 manifesto. Although the broad outlines were clear – we would live within our means, the trade unions would be put in their place, Britain would stand up to the USSR – the policies were inchoate," Hannan wrote.

"Those who clamour for more detail from David Cameron would do well to look at what Thatcher was saying at this stage in the cycle – that is, in late 1978," he continues. "Although the direction she intended to take was evident, she was careful not to box herself in with detailed commitments. She knew her Milton Friedman well enough to understand the concept of dispersed costs and concentrated gains. If you promise to disband a particular bureaucracy, you will alienate its employees without winning commensurate thanks from the taxpayers whose burden you would ease"

"The way to tackle the structural cause of high spending and high borrowing is to ensure that budgets are set by elected representatives (who must answer to taxpayers) rather than unelected officials (who benefit from higher expenditure)," Hannan concluded. "At the same time, spending money as closely as possible to the ground is more efficient than setting budgets in Whitehall. In other words, the solution to our debt crisis is localism – which, as a happy consequence, would also solve our democratic crisis."

A new focus on localism would require the effective dismantling of some bureacratic organs that were set up by Tony Blair's Labour government to manage various quality of life indexes.

Public servants would almost certainly oppose the dismantling of such bureaucracies -- public servants tend to oppose anything that threatens their own job security -- which could be taken as contrary to Cameron's promised consensual approach.

But one shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that Cameron doesn't intend to take on the public service unions at all. he noted that the unions, who recently advocated increased government spending, were "not [being] particularly realistic about the scale of the problem".

Cameron has also noted that he may address public service pensions as an issue. "Is it sacrosanct? No. Is there need for reform? Yes. Do we need to look at its affordability? Yes. Do we need to look at its costs for people who are on relatively high salaries? Yes we do."

Even in Cameron's promised shift away from Thatcherism as an ideology, it seems there may be some nuggets of Thatcherist methodology in Cameron's approach.

Whether or not David Cameron can overcome objections wtihin his party to a shift away from "dry" Thatcherism toward a "wetter" progressive conservatism is another matter entirely.

Olympic Ceasefire a Nice, But Unfeasible, Idea

Taliban would stand to gain from spoiling Canada's Olympic party

As much as they are said to be a symbol of peace, the Olympics have actually had an uneasy relationship with war for much of the past century.

In 1936, the Summer Olympics were held in Berlin. At the time it was widely known that Nazi Germany was preparing for war. In 1980, the Soviet Union hosted the Summer Games while attempting to stamp out an Islamic uprising in Afghanistan. In 2002, Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics while the United States was already fighting in Afghanistan, and preparing to invade Iraq.

In 1972, terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Summer Olympics in Munich. In 1996, the Atlanta games were marred by a bomb explosion that killed two people in Centennial Olympic Park.

Yet despite this uncomfortable relationship with various forms of armed conflict, the Olympic Ceasefire has become something of an Olympic tradition.

The organizers of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics seem to have embraced this particular notion, as an Olympic ceasfire resolution is set to be presented before the United Nations.

Certainly, nobody expects Canadian soldiers to lay down their arms so Taliban insurgents can have their way with them. But this is one time when Canada actually may be better off following the example of former US President George W Bush, who refused to seriously entertain the notion of an Olympic ceasefire in 2002.

In fact, Canadians can expect the Taliban to redouble their efforts to harm NATO soldiers (and Canadians in particular) during the 2010 Olympics, just as they did during the recent Afghan elections.

To cast a dark cloud over the Olympics would be nothing short of a propaganda triumph for the Taliban.

Some may recall the story of Mehboba Ahdyar, the Afghan sprinter who was scheduled to participate in the Beijing games. Despite the numerous social obstacles she had to overcome in order to compete in the Olympics -- obstacles not limited to the Taliban alone -- Ahdyar promised to be a powerful symbol of the progress being made in Afghanistan on issues such as women's rights.

Even though the Afghan Parliament frequently kowtows to the regressive attitudes of many Afghans -- various outrageous pieces of legislation have threatened to legalize rape within marriage, among other atrocities -- Ahdyar was already a symbol of how far Afghan women had come since the removal of the Taliban from power, as she had participated in and won several competitions in Afghanistan. Such competitions were entirely unheard of under the Taliban, who forbade women from participating in athletic competition.

Ahdyar's story, however, took a disappointing turn when she fled to Norway to seek asylum.

Ahdyar's story failed to turn out to be the feel-good tale about the advancement of women's rights in Afghanistan that it could have been. However, it continues to teach lessons about precisely how regressive the Taliban truly is, and why it cannot be allowed to re-assume power in Afghanistan.

Having already marred one Olympic story with death threats and intimidation, the Taliban will certainly be eager to seize the opportunity to further marr an event that stands for everything they stand against.

But as powerful as the symbolism of killing a mass of Canadian soldiers during the Vancouver Olympics could be for the Taliban, continuing to fight the Taliban in the name of democratic freedom and human rights would be a much, much stronger symbol for Canadians.

That alone makes the idea of an Olympic ceasefire a little absurd. As nice as the idea is, one simply doesn't extent courtesies to an enemy that they know the enemy will not return.

"Basically, I think it's ridiculous - if there were any sense of self-respect or realism, [Defence Minister Peter MacKay] would say, 'Don't be absurd,'" says University of Calgary Political Scientist Barry Cooper. "It's the sort of thing that only a bureaucrat would think was meaningful."

It's a nice enough idea in practice. But Canada stands to gain too much by continuing to fight the Taliban during the Olympics, and stands to lose too much by relenting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Serving Canada's Interest in Human Rights

W2I a realistic upgrade on R2P

When the Responsibility to Protect (also known as R2P) was released, it promised to revolutionize the foreign policy debate on human rights and the manner in which failed states would be handled by the international community.

The doctrine simply stated that countries have the responsibility to protect their citizenry and respect their human rights. If any state failed to live up to this responsibility, the stable and wealthy nations of the world had a responsibility to step in and protect their citizens, whether that protection was from the forces of another state, militant groups within the country or from the state itself.

In some cases the western world exercised its responsibility in these matters -- in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

In other cases -- such as Rwanda and the Sudan -- this responsibility was not exercised.

The Will to Intervene, a foreign policy strategy developed by retired diplomat Robert Fowler, former International Association of Genocide Scholars President Dr Frank Chalk, Senators Romeo Dallaire and Hugh Segal, and former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, will hopefully fill in the missing blanks of R2P.

The report addresses numerous issues that tend to emerge around genocide and other crimes against humanity, including refugee camps (which they rightly note can help to spread various diseases, including potential pandemics).

"One of the most surprising discoveries we made ... is how vulnerable we are here in Canada to the indirect consequences of events like the Rwanda genocide," Dr Chalk noted. "These things will come back and invade the soft, quiet, safe, comfortable lives that we live in these parts of the world."

The report argues that "The chaos resulting from these atrocities poses credible danger to Canadian and American national interests at home and abroad."

"We need to redefine our national interest more broadly, not only to help failing states, but also to help and protect ourselves," the report adds. It notes that Canada should be prepared to use military force when necessary (and possible) in places where violence threatens the lives of civilians.

"If you're a leading middle power in the world and you have in the entrails of your ethos the belief of human rights and the belief in humanity and the moral strength to back up all those conventions you've signed, then you've also got to be prepared to not just throw cash at it afterwards, which usually ends up costing a lot more than preventing, but also sweat, tears and sometimes the blood of some of our youth," Dallaire insists.

"If we in fact move into a realm where we proactively intervene with the soft power elements of increasing our diplomatic capabilities, our international development capabilities, of going in and assisting to diffusing the frictions, that is peanuts compared to the billions (of dollars) ... of trying to pick up and sustain millions of people who are suffering."

Ed Broadbent elaborated on the depth of the human suffering that can be prevented if Canada acts sooner, as opposed to later.

"If the government of Canada had done the right thing when they had that information, perhaps the atrocious situation that confronted General Dallaire and the world community a year later could have been headed off," he noted.

The report recommends the establishment of a government ministry responsible for the global prevention of genocide -- clearly sharing responsibilities with the Ministers of National Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation -- to plan and coordinate early responses wherever crimes against humanity are taking place, as well as a Commons standing committee on preventing genocide.

The report also calls for Canada to act with its allies in preventing these atrocities.

"We should not be doing it alone," Dr Chalk announced. "But before we can co-operate with allies and a coalition of the willing, we have to improve our own domestic capacity to co-operate. That means we need more infantry, that means we need new doctrines for the Canadian military so that they're being trained to protect civilians and can interface with other armies doing the same if necessary."

Dr Chalk boldly notes that Canada may even have to circumvent the UN Security Council and plan missions without the Security Council's authorization.

Hugh Segal noted that part of Canada's strategy toward genocide requires taking decision-making power out of the hands of bureaucrats. Segal noted that they must be denied the "flexibility to avoid" the responsibility to act.

Fowler recounted the story of a foreign affairs bureaucrat writing "not in Canada's interest" on a memo his office had issued about the genocide in Rwanda.

"That is, as far as I'm concerned, a simply unacceptable reaction," Fowler fumed. “What we are talking about here is the moral imperative of engaging when truly appalling, unspeakable and unacceptable things are occurring.”

"It's about what I would call coalitions of the relevant ... acting when there is no other choice," added Segal.

As valuable a document as Responsibility to Protect was, it suffered from one fatal flaw: that many governments, including Canada's often fail to find the Will to Intervene.

W2I sends a powerful message to the world: Canada will intervene whereever possible, whenever possible, and by whatever means possible. If Canada's allies don't want to be embarrassed by inaction, they'd better prepared to muster the same will.

Five very wise men -- Robert Fowler, Dr Robert Chalk, Romeo Dallaire, Hugh Segal and Ed Broadbent -- have spoken. Now it's the responsibility of the government to do the right thing with the recommendations in this report: implement them.