Wednesday, June 30, 2004

So the next battle begins

Two days after Canada elects a new government, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein opens his flap on Medicare.

So...he wants to experiment with "Private" medicare delivery. "It's just a trial" they say - I don't believe that for a moment.

The mantra is that the Health Care system as it exists is "unsustainable". Where's the numbers to back this allegation up? What makes it "unsustainable"??? I keep hearing the government bleating about the money they have to spend on Health, meanwhile, they pull in nearly $5 Billion in surplus revenues this year. Something doesn't make sense here.

I agree that the private enterprise company _can_ be more efficient in certain circumstances. However, where Health Care is concerned, there is an inherent conflict between the obligation to provide care and the profit motive. How is it that my health should take precedence just because I have money? I don't mind my tax dollars paying for health care - as long as it goes for _good_ things like health care.

What I want to see are answers to the following questions:

1. Why is the Health Care System "Unsustainable"?

To date, all that people do is throw around the raw dollar figures and complain that it's "too much money", but nobody puts it into context and perspective. If it's 4.5 Billion/year to operate a health care system in Alberta, let's put the number on the table. Then show me how it cannot be "sustained" on the current revenues of the Alberta Government!

2. Where are the protections to ensure that all citizens of our province receive care when needed?

3. Deductibles, user pay?

Let's see - I see my doctor how often? Oh yes - about once a year unless he's treating a specific condition that requires follow-up. Am I abusing the system? I don't think so.

4. Increased Premiums?

Last I checked, premiums are another word for tax. Let's call them that and be honest. If you want to increase the tax burden I bear to pay for this service, that's fine; however, once again, I want to know where the protections are being put in place to ensure that those on the economic margins are looked after.

5. Private Delivery of Services?

Okay - you want to make service delivery more "efficient" by allowing it to be managed by private enterprises. Where are the checks and balances going to exist to _guarantee_ that these companies don't profit excessively from people's health care needs? Where are the checks and balances to guarantee that needed care is delivered, regardless of economic circumstances of the patient?

No system is perfect, I realize that. However, if you are going to propose these kinds of changes, Mr. Premier, I demand that you demonstrate both the necessity of those changes, and that measures are being designed into place to ensure that not only the wealthiest of our society are cared for properly, but that all members of our society are cared for.

My personal guess is that Ralph Klein knows that his political days are numbered, and he is desperate to pay back some political debts that have been accumulating since his first run at the Premier's chair.

Monday, June 28, 2004

We've just elected a What?!?

A good question - what did we just elect? As of this moment, it looks like a Liberal minority, probably with a significant NDP "balance of power". I know that the Bloc could also work in the powerbroker role, but from what I've seen, I don't think Martin and Duceppe would work together all that well. (Of course, it remains to be seen how Martin and Layton will work together too...)

My initial thoughts? This is actually the result that I had hoped for - I didn't want the Liberals to hold a majority government again. Regardless of the change of leadership, the power brokers in the party needed a good solid spanking, and I think the electorate delivered that tonight.

I'm relieved to see that Ontario didn't blindly give a bunch of seats up to the Conservatives, giving Harper even a minority government. Harper's not ready to govern yet (if he ever will be), and neither is his party. Sadly, it looks like almost half of the seats the conservatives hold come out of the prairies - and much of that from Alberta. This does not bode well for the future fortunes of the Conservative party, as it dooms them to remaining a regional protest party.

I would have like to see a few Green Party candidates elected - if for no other reason than I think they can fill the void left by the absence of the 'Red Tory' of days past. Oh well, c'est la vie.

The jockeying over the next few days (or weeks) will be interesting, both within the parties and between them. The Liberals will knuckle down to the job of organizing a government; the Bloc and NDP will be anxiously awaiting the overtures sure to come from the Liberals; and the Conservatives, well...something will happen I'm sure.

Perhaps, as Dalton Camp once observed, the Conservatives will circle the wagons around the leader, and start shooting - inwards. It's happened before, and there's nothing saying it won't happen again. (Not that I'd personally miss Harper - but then again, the alternatives might just make him look good)

All in all, it's been one of the most interesting elections of my adult life. The campaign has been interesting, and so has the voting results. Hopefully, this election was 'up in the air' enough to get a few more people out - both thinking about the issues and voting. Democracy only works when its citizens take an active interest in what's going on.

Now that this election is over, I expect this space will turn its attention towards world events - the US has a pending election; the Middle East is a pot unwatched (and therefore likely boiling over) - of course - that depends on what fodder appears in the news.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

As the Election Winds Down to Voting Day...

After 35 days of frenetic campaigning, and innumerable billions of dollars won and lost in the high stakes gamble of political promises, it all boils down to where Canada's voters will put their 'X' tomorrow.

On the news, we see the leaders winding up their campaigns - Stephen Harper is quietly idling his way from Edmonton to Calgary on a bus; Paul Martin is flying across the country, stopping in a few critical ridings, and Jack Layton is doing a similar last-ditch blitz.

In the last few weeks, I have gone from disgust with the Liberal government's track record in Ottawa to developing a deep suspicion towards Stephen Harper's Conservatives. The more I read and learn about Harper and his crew, the more disturbed I become about letting these people anywhere near the corridors of power. Why do they worry me so? Not for what they say, but what they don't say, or where they evade issues.

Harper starts ducking out the "back door" when protesters show up to challenge his unstated, but clear belief in a radical form of social conservatism. The fact that the party is trying to "distance" itself from these statements doesn't mean much - trust me - I live in "Ralph's World" (Alberta), and the social conservative out here is alive and well - and as two-faced and vicious as Harper's minions keep hinting they are.

Then, John Ibbitson did the following write-up on Harper's "mentors", which, when I combine it with the following article by Stephen Harper, published in "Report Magazine", makes all the hair on my neck stand on end.

Further, in today's Globe and Mail, I found this article by Linda Silver Dranoff which reviews the social changes and accomplishments of various parties. The "old" Progressive Conservative party didn't exactly rank very high on this list - and they claimed to be "progressive"! What's currently calling itself "Conservative" is a much uglier form of the animal, one that appears to desire a return to a social structure that died in the early decades of the 20th Century.

The Conservatives have long complained about "Judicial Activism". I find it mildly amusing that this only comes up when they dislike the findings of the judiciary. "They should interpret law, not make it" is the frequent declaration. I hate to point out the obvious, but the courts are interpreting law - starting at that foundational document called the Constitution. If the laws were written intelligently, and justly, those rulings wouldn't happen in the first place. The Conservatives have hinted that they would take steps to redefine what's in the Charter of Rights. To me, this speaks to how little they actually understand about the Constitution. The amending formula for the Constitution makes it virtually impossible for the kinds of changes the Conservatives want to institute to be embedded in the constitution. The only way they could do it would be by legislation backed by the "Not Withstanding Clause". The blind desire to invoke that clause to repress legitimate rights of people scares the heck out of me - when do I become one of their targets? There's a social nastiness about these people that speaks to a combination of ignorance and maliciousness.

While the Liberals don't make me "happy" as a voter, I actually think that Martin is basically honest - what he says is what he means. Odd, but for a politician to give me the impression of basic honesty is not only rare, it's disturbingly so. Martin's Liberals do have in their favour a rack record of balanced budgets, and at least "holding the line" on social issues. They could do better than they have, but at least I don't think that Martin's people will legislate us backwards in time 50+ years.

I'm hoping to see both the Green Party and NDP gain seats in the House of Commons. Both parties have a great deal that they can contribute to this country, and I look forward to their continued growth as contributors in Canada. The NDP has always been the "social conscience" of our governments, and with Jack Layton as their leader, I see them taking that banner back to Parliament. The Green Party surprises me - given time, I think that they could replace what used to be the "Progressive Conservative" space in our political spectrum. They seem to occupy that middle ground quite nicely, and with a bit of evolution as a party, I really think there is a great deal of potential.

On a more local level, I see a lot of "Candidate-Induced-Angst". The local Conservative candidates in several local ridings I am aware of are less than desirable. The players are either oblivious to their constituents concerns, like Jason Kenney who ignores his constituents when they express opinions that disagree with his view of things; Stephen Harper who couldn't even be bothered to campaign in his riding during a by-election, and so far seems to hold the press and those who oppose him with contempt. Rob Anders, who has repeatedly demonstrated that he is both a complete nitwit in the House of Commons, and refuses to discuss issues that his electorate want to discuss (e.g. Education...). Sadly, with only a few exceptions, the alternatives aren't exactly inspiring. The Liberal Candidate in Anders' riding seems to be quite a decent individual, but he's a rare bright light in an otherwise disappointing group of contenders.

The Conservative Party slogan has been "Demand Better". As a voter, I do demand better. I demand that my MP have the brains and courtesy to acknowledge communications. I demand that my government govern wisely, and protect the rights of all of this country's peoples, not just the so-called majority. I demand a government that looks forward for inspiration, not backwards into the past. I demand a government that has a vision of what Canada will be in 10, 20 years. Right now, I don't see that coming forward in any meaningful way - from either of the front-runner parties. I want something better than the narrow-minded, blind representation that I have suffered under since Jason Kenney was first elected.

Whatever the outcome of tomorrow's vote, I fully expect Canadians to be back at the polls within a year or two, depending on who forms the next government. If the Liberals form the next government, they stand a chance of holding it together for a couple of years. I can't imagine the Conservatives being able to work with any of the other parties in a minority situation. Harper has already said as much, in refusing to ally with either the NDP or the Bloc, and I can't imagine those parties standing for a lot of what various members of the Conservative party have said they'd like to legislate.

Friday, June 25, 2004

More From the Harper Campaign

As I write this, I find myself listening to the news on CBC tonight - only to learn that another one of Harper's genius candidates has put forth their ideas for using the "Notwithstanding clause" for all kinds of legislative garbage that they know damn good and well is otherwise patently illegal and unsustainable.

What's next, we recriminalize homosexuals? Make divorce illegal (or a lot harder to achieve)? Ban contraceptives? It's hard to say just where these nutballs will stop. I've argued that the notwithstanding clause is only useful as a means to abrogate legitimate rights that are otherwise protected under our Constitution. The Conservatives keep making noises that make me shudder - if I read these comments aright, and this article by Stephen Harper, I can only surmise that the Conservatives want to institute a Christian-inspired Theocracy that would throw us back to a social order that existed at the turn of the 19th century. I cannot, and will not sanction a return to a society that criminalizes people for being different - be it for appearances, behaviour or beliefs.

I know there are those that believe that bill C-250 unreasonably restricts their freedom of speech. I'm sorry, there are specific protections in place that bill C-250 introduces; also nothing in Bill C-250 abrogates fundamental freedomes already guaranteed in the constitution. Bill C-250 commands people not to incite violence and hatred towards an identifiable group of the population. Saying that you disagree with the lifestyle of homosexuals is fine - urging a crowd to beat the tar out of someone because they are homosexual is not. Read section 318 and subsequent sections of the Criminal Code of Canada I fail to see where that is an unreasonable curb on "freedom of speech" - any more than it is unreasonable to constrain someone from inciting the abuse of someone because they are Jewish, Chinese, male or female.

I received the following e-mail from another friend of mine this morning. Apparently, they just received a campaign pamphlet from Conservative Candidate Jason Kenney.

Give Me A VOWL Jason!

It would seem that Mr. Kenney views himself as a real "Canadien". I received a glossy brochure in the mail (purportedly written in English) today that not only tells me that Mr. Kenney is "One of 21 Canadiens to watch in the 21st century by the Financial Post Magazine), but goes on to prove that literacy is one of Mr. Kenneys challenges as he claims within his (sole) professional experience "President and Chief Executive Office of the Canadian Taxpayers federation". Shouldn't Federation be capitalized since it IS a proper name... well, after all the education cutbacks, who's going to really notice? At least here he believes that he was in Canada (rather than Canade?). I suppose it IS correct en Quebec to claim to be a Canadien, however, Miriam Webster doesn't acknowledge it, and I won't either - especially since nothing else in the communique is in French.

But wait, it get's better... We can HELP Mr. Kenney. (Oh boy, CAN I?)

We can vote for him, we can volunteer, or we can "Make a tax-receiptable contribution to Stephen's campaign in Calgary Southeast". Stephen's? Perhaps we mean Jason's? And what EXACTLY is a tax-receiptable contribution? Is that the same as a tax-deductable one?

I have also learned something very important about Paul Wells, correspondent for the National Post - he is delusional. In a statement attributed to him, ahem, "Mr. Kenney remains one of his caucas' sharpest minds and tongues.". Oh dear god, SAVE us!

It is also rather noteworthy that we are told on the front cover of the brochure "Demand Better Conservative!" Yes please - I'd like to demand BETTER Conservative as well as BETTER THAN Conservative. Oh, wait, in the small print before the big ol' nasty "C" word, there is the word "vote".

And I TRULY must be tired, because I could have sworn that there was one piece of truth in the brochure, on the fold over panel which proudly proclaimed in 64pt font "Wanking for you in Calgary Southeast". Then, I realized that I had misread the actual word "Working". Who in their right mind uses "Working" in the same sentence as "Kenney" without a negative?


As for the rest of the brochure - typical conservative drivel... Highlights...


...Big words... "Boondoggle". Must be worth at least 50 points in scrabble if I could only keep from eating the tiles... but they look so much like potato chips...

...More truth. "Demand better". I do - that's why I'm not voting for the red, white and blue. OOps - silly me, but the colours are just so... Ra! Ra! USA!

...Our Policies (Abridged Version). Wow! Another big word! And for such a small mind!

..."We will work for lower and fairer taxes for hardworking Canadians and their families". What does this MEAN? Does it mean that you will not work for lower taxes for people you do not DEEM to be hardworking? Or that you will only work for lower taxes for those deadbeats who have a hardworking Canadian in their family?

..."We will ensure our armed forces are properly funded and equipped to do the difficult and dangerous work we ask of them". So, what is the REAL position here - it's GOOD to talk about the Military? People will vote for us if we talk about the military... (come on! Take your foot out of your ass and stand on it for once! What do you REALLY plan for the military? You support it only as much as you plan to ask difficult and dangerous work from it? What are your military objectives? Do you want to play tin soldiers with the neighbourhood kids (Bush et al), what are your thoughts on a peacekeeping force? And how about 'downsizing'?

..."We will increase support for Canadians on fixed incomes"... Wait, earlier you said "Lower taxes" Oh! I get it! You will donate your salary and pension benefits out of the kindness of your own heart to those on fixed incomes.

..."Definition of Marriage. We will ensure that issues like marriage are decided by Parliament, not the courts". Oh! I get it! To get a divorce, you need to go through the courts at this time. NOW, to nullify a marraige, we get to go through Parliament! How FUN!

..."Definition of Marriage..." What do you MEAN the definition of Marriage? Are you planning to try to outlaw same sex couples, or say that they can not be in a partnership with characteristics similar to that of a marriage? What IS your stance on this? All you have said is that you want to have a DIRECT say in the matter, but you are too chicken to state your actual opinion. (actually, this one is rather bothersome).

...We will stand with our allies and international bodies against terrorism and for the basic values of freedom and democracy". Really? HOW exactly - moral support, monetary support, military support?



So many holes to pick, and so little sleep...

On Health Care and the Alberta "Proposition"

Once in a while, the people that I talk to regularly turn their hand to a bit of writing - the following entry comes to me from that source - and I thought it was worth a read. (warning - it's long...)

Our benevolent Alberta Government has come out with a little announcement regarding their Health Care initiatives plan.

A little history first.

Klein and Co. have very deliberately, over the past term in office, underfunded and or cut services and blown up hospitals in a bid to weaken the current system and make it appear as if there is actually a crisis that cannot be fixed without a complete revamp of the Health Care System.

One of the Alberta Governments most interesting moves about two years ago came about through a couple of actions, the first action was the implementation of a plan to give Alberta corporations a 142 million dollar break on taxes. (This means the government will now loose 142 million dollars in revenue)
About a week after that announcement Klein announces that Health Care costs have risen uncontrollably and that they are now 70 million dollars short and that they are going to have to raise the Health Care premiums to compensate. Basically put, the Alberta tax payer has just funded at least 50 percent of the corporate tax break.

The removal of some of the members of the CRHC district boards that had publicly expressed a concern about the funding of Health Care.

Klein has made several public comments over the past couple of years that indicate that he has a plan of action that has, as its ultimate goal, the privatization of the Health Care system. Indeed he has recently made comments that state that they "may violate the Canada Health Act". These comments along with the announcement that they will reveal all two days after the election makes me think that the Alberta Government is about to make a move towards privatization fairly quickly and are probably going to rely on an expected federal government run by Harper to support any moves in that direction.

And now......

The latest announcement out of Gary Mar, (the Minister in charge of Health Care) in an attempt to ward off any potentially damaging press, indicates that there will not be any violation of the Canada Health Act. Then he slips in this little comment " that after consultations with the citizens of this province I cannot guarantee that any revisions to our plan would not violate the Canadian Health Act ". As well it should be mentioned that the information released today contains absolutely no specifics and that there is no mention that medicare will be respected.

Also mentioned in the release was the following:
The Alberta government said the plan will include "innovative models of new health care complexes within the publicly funded system," significant new spending on health operating costs and health capital projects and more full-service primary care centres. (Courtesy of the Globe and Mail)

So now, lets decipher this statement. The comment regarding publicly funded system makes no mention about not providing the service through a private for profit mechanism.
The next statement about significant spending on health operating costs and health capital projects has two possible motives, the first is to prepare the public for another round of increases to the premiums in order to finance the initiatives and the second motive is inclusion of P3's as a method to implement the capital projects, which the government would love to do as it removes the initial major cost to their books that would normally occur if they built themselves. (This goes back to the concept that says that it is wrong to run a deficit of any kind).

The Health Care mechanism in Alberta is in serious trouble. If the Alberta Tories are given free rein they are going to privatize the entire system and in the process create a Health Care model that is both two tiered and profit driven. We need a central government that is strong and will stand up to the provinces on issues like this and say NO.


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Oddities from the Fringe

I was looking at the website for the Canadian Action Party last night - not because I think they have a hope of winning even a single seat in the election, but because sometimes the so-called "fringe" parties have interesting ideas.

Lurking on their website is a "comic book" that purports to explain how money is being created in the economies of various countries like our own.

I had to read it a couple of times to wrap my head around the ideas that they are trying to put forth. It boils down to this - according to these guys, the banking industry is creating an awful lot of "virtual money" by simply "creating it" on their books as part of a virtual transaction. The idea is that there is far more money "on the books" than there is in physical circulation.

The scenario is something like this:

You walk into the bank, and take out a mortgage on a house for $150,000.

The bank creates an account with a balance of -$150,000
Over the next 20 years, you pay into this account, with the bank skimming off 5% or so per annum.

At the end of the term, the bank has a bucket of 150,000 that didn't exist before.


Basically what they seem to be advocating is a return to a hard-currency backed system. Superficially, what they are seeing almost seems plausible - after all, I haven't actually _SEEN_ the cash for my paycheck since I was a teenager mowing lawns. Everybody since has either paid me with a cheque, or more recently, via direct deposit. In truth, I have no idea if that money "actually" exists or not.

As I said earlier, superficially they seem like they are making a reasonable point. After all, the government theoretically owns the currency of the land, and should have (more or less) the right to regulate what's happening with the availability of the cash.

The assertion that falls apart is that of the 'banks creating money'. Banks do not create money - they never have and never will. If a bank was to print an issue of currency notes in this country it would be a crime called forgery.

In its simplest form (ignoring the complexities of compound interest, service fees etc.), a bank "holds" my money for me, and is obligated to make it available to me on demand. In essence, I am making a loan to the bank from my holdings. In the meantime, the bank can - and does - use that money in a variety of vehicles to make money itself - loans, investments, whatever. They have a very delicate balance to manage where they have to keep enough available money around to pay out what they think I am going to ask for next week.

So, returning to my mortgage example earlier, to get that $150,000, the bank "borrows" $10 from 15,000 other customers - knowing that most of those customers won't demand that $10 next week. It all turns into a horribly complex shell game after that, but it boils down to there has to be a starting pool of money - period. It doesn't emerge out of the ether because someone "wishes" it to be so.

Over my lifetime, I have seen society begin the transition from hard currency for most transactions to "virtual cash" (debit cards, credit cards) for most day to day transactions. Just as the world moved slowly towards a cash economy from a barter economy thousands of years ago, we are slowly moving into a "cashless" economy. One where the tokens of cash are becoming less and less relevant. The other day, I was in Starbucks, and paid for a coffee with my debit card - why? because I had _NO_CASH_ in my wallet.

I don't buy the simplistic notion that banks are conjuring money out of the ether. I know far too many people in the financial sector that are simply too smart to need to engage in such basic fraud.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if you tried to balance the "world's chequebook", you would find that things just do not balance out. There's no doubt money that has simply "gone missing" - whether it's lurking in "old wierd Harold's mattress", or some incredibly wealthy, powerful person has managed to squirrel it away somewhere is hard to say.

Sadly, beyond this particular notion, I found little on the website that actually read like policy statements. As near as I can tell, the CAP is still a collection of incidentally compatible views - and not terribly coherent about what they represent. If their logic on the banking system is any indication, they have a lot of growing to do before they will represent even a credible margin voice in our country's political landscape.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Into the Home Stretch

We are in the final week of the Federal Election campaign. If the incessant polls are to be believed, it's a dead heat between the Liberals and the Conservatives, with the Bloc and NDP vying to hold the balance of power in a minority government.

Perhaps I've lived too long in "Ralph's World" to be overly impressed with Stephen Harper and his rebranded Conservatives. I've never been one of Ralph's fans, and in the last couple of years, he has become increasingly objectionable and dogmatic as our premier. Rather than working with Ottawa, he constantly tries to pick fights; he seems blindly set on privatizing everything in sight, whether it's in the public interest or not; and for all the credit he takes for "balancing the provinces books", let's face it, the last 10 years have seen record breaking revenues in Alberta - a chimpanzee would have been hard pressed to have a deficit.

It's not what Harper says that bothers me - it's the evasiveness on social issues that really bugs me. I've been through the Conservative's campaign platform and what I see is a program of blind Americanization of our economic policy; foreign policy modelled on George Bush (*shudder*), and social policy that would fling this country back into the early 20th century. When asked direct questions about issues like gay rights, abortion, or the hate crimes legislation, Harper and his team try to deflect the question rather than answering it.

I'm not saying that Ralph is Stephen or vice versa. But the similarities in behaviour, especially when confronted with something they know to be unpopular with the public is worrisome. Klein has all but said he wants to privatize our medical system, regardless of the Canada Health Act. Harper continues to prevaricate - evading the questions. By implication, he likely wants to see Klein go forward - so he'll have an example of "innovation" to point to when he screws up the national program.

The Conservatives talk about "Trustworthy Government". How can we, as voters, trust a party that won't even speak clearly to what its election platform is.

Even if I take the cynical view that 75% of the Liberal promises are fictional accounts of a future government's actions, they have at least been clear and unequivocal about what they want to do. The shadow of Chretien's legacy looms over the party today like a thundercloud on the prairies. The past record of the Chretien Liberals doesn't make me overly optimistic that they are telling the truth about everything, but I think it's more likely that a certain percentage of the promises won't be fulfilled. As opposed to having noxious legislation sprung upon us by a party that won't even tell us how it intends to conduct itself.

The themes in this election have been around honesty and integrity. Where the Liberals have their past record to deal with, the Conservatives can assert that they are "more honest" than the Liberals - but are they really? Given that the Reform/Alliance party's roots are in Alberta, I will look to the Provincial PC party and I think that lot in Edmonton is as crooked as they come. Worse, they have consistently attempted to evade anything like real accountability. Klein's government is no paragon of transparency - by far the majority of governance is taking place under the guise of 'Order-in-Council' actions, rather than in the open forum of the Legislature. I have seen nothing from the Conservatives to convince me that they will be any different.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Randomness of Thought

I went on a tirade yesterday about the abuses that can be perpetrated by invoking the notwithstanding clause. There is _ONE_ exception that I can think of where the invocation of the NotWithStanding clause might be valid - and that is in the course of a direct military threat and legislation equivalent to what used to be the 'War Measures Act'. Under those circumstances, I can see suspension of certain rights - for brief periods of time.

Having said that, I think a lot of Quebecers would argue quite strongly against even that suspension after their experiences in the FLQ crisis.

However, issues like gay marriage, minority rights, abortion and other largely morally polarizing issues are hardly the kind of thing that constitutes a clear danger to the country. I would hope that any government would have the collective wisdom to see beyond that and reserve the 'notwithstanding' clause for only most dire of circumstances.

On a more humorous note, I received a leaflet in the mail from my Liberal Candidate, Jim Tanner. Now, I realize that in Cowtown, someone flying the Liberal flag has slightly less chance of being elected than you do of finding a snowball in hell. However, it would be nice if the candidates actually tried to give the impression they were serious, and actually understood a few things about how government works.

In his 'Makin it work' page, he demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about the boundaries and responsibilities of each level of government:

"The industry should not be penalized for adapting to environmental initiatives but neither should the citizens of Calgary SE be threatened by sour gas emergencies"

This is a civic and provincial issue, not a federal responsibility, as MP he might be able to be heard by the provincial boards in question, but he has little or no actual authority.

"Makin’ it work means changing how appointments are made to Boards, Courts, and the Senate"

Wow - nice sentiment. Let's face it, a backbench MP from Alberta isn't going to get very far advocating this. While I agree that government appointments always have a slightly fishy odor about them, there are processes in place (except, perhaps, the ad-hoc way that senate appointments are made). Talking about change of this magnitude has to come from the top, and also may require a clear understanding of existing legislation and constitutional issues.

If the Liberals want to ever make headway in redneck Alberta, they need to start putting forward candidates that actually have a clue what the job in Ottawa is about. Putting up second stringers and leaving them to twist in the breeze is not going to convince anybody out here to change their votes.

Anne McLellan has been a very effective MP in Ottawa these past 10 years. In spite of Ralph Klein's opinion that she "hasn't stood up for Western Issues", I think she's done a very good job at making a voice for Albertans at the Cabinet table. She's done so quietly, and effectively. She's been responsive to her constituents, and those who write to her from outside of her riding.

We need more people like Anne in Ottawa. The Liberals in Alberta need to look for more first rate candidates. I'm sad to say that Tanner did not impress me - nor has he impressed others I've talked to in my riding.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Legalized Abuse of Rights

One of the things I hear routinely from the Conservative Right-Wing is that they believe that the so-called "Not Withstanding" clause should be invoked where they want to legislate on something in a way that is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Section 33, the NotWithstanding clause specifically speaks about legislation that would otherwise abrogate individual rights held under sections 2, 7 - 15 of the Charter. In the past, members of various Right-Wing parties - whether it be Ralph Klein in Alberta, or Stephen Harper's minions in the Conservative party have demanded legislation be invoked using this clause. Usually, the subject of such legislation are topics that the Religious Reich seem to think "there oughta be a law" about - gay marriage, abortion, equality rights, etc.

After reading the NotWithstanding clause, there is both good news and bad news.

The bad news is the clause seems to be sufficiently sweeping in its wording that it could be used to enact some pretty onerous legislation. In theory, they could legislate - as Mary, Queen of Scots once did, that we must attend a Roman Catholic Mass every Sunday. Under section 2(a) of the Charter, this would be a clear violation of the rights of all Canadians - non-Catholic and Catholic alike. This could be made to "stand" for by invoking the "not withstanding" clause, and our courts would be obliged to live by it.

That's the bad news. The good news is that there is a 'time fuse' clause that reads " (3) A declaration made under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or on such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration. ". The 5 year declaration has two effects - first, the voters will have an election which could - and should - remove the government that introduced the offending legislation.

You might look and say "but legislating against XXXXX is a "GOOD THING"(tm)" (Apologies to Martha Stewart). I will argue that there is a problem with that inference - whether your activities are covered under XXXXX or not, the legislation in question is abrogating YOUR PERSONAL RIGHTS too. You might tell yourself that you are not affected, so why should you worry? Many groups of people in Nazi-occupied Europe said similar things, until their neighbors were dragged off to concentration camps as part of Hitler's insane search for a "perfect race". In retrospect, that was a horrifying time in history.

Clause 7 of the charter reads " Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. ". A government willing to invoke the Notwithstanding clause could easily abrogate this fundamental right. Don't say "it'll never happen" - history says that it has, and therefore, it has a distinct probability of occurring again. It may be cloaked in a veneer of respectability, but lurking just under that cloak is a slavering horror, waiting to escape.

A government that is willing to abrogate the rights of any group in society is likely to abrogate other rights as well. How long will it be before you are affected. The zeal with which some people speak of invoking the NotWithstanding Clause should be held by all Canadians as frightening, for your rights freedoms are being threatened.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Leaders Debacle - er - Debate Awards

I hadn't planned on writing this as the debate was going on, but I just cannot help but find myself thinking that this debate is proving most fascinating. Each of the leaders is putting forth their opinions most forcefully, and I find myself drawing not so much conclusions as impressions of each of the leaders.

The Debate Awards

Gilles Duceppe - The Honest Schoolboy Award

I hate to say it, but Duceppe actually impressed me. Although his positions and policy questions revolved almost exclusively around Quebec, he raised a lot of very salient points, and actually managed to bring both Harper or Martin to task on some important points. For a man whose primary purpose in life is to remove Quebec from Confederation, I think Duceppe is playing a remarkably valuable role in the discourse over the future governance of Canada.

Jack Layton - The Pierre Trudeau Visionary Award

Of all of the leaders speaking, Jack Layton was the only leader that expressed a vision of Canada that went beyond the here and now issues. Jack Layton actually has a vision for this Country. It is a vision couched in the 'greening' of Canada, and revolves around solving some of Canada's social problems with environmentally conscious solutions. I am both impressed and somewhat surprised by how well Layton managed to present himself. I think he has some work ahead of him to grow into the statesman that this country has been crying out for ever since John Turner took the reigns of power. I wish him luck.

Stephen Harper - The 'Deek Of The Week' Award

Listening to Stephen Harper is like watching a hockey player skating around the opposition. At no time did Harper actually answer anything directly. On social issues, he continues to dodge around the questions - attempting to evade by not answering. On issues of fiscal policy, Harper's modified Reaganomics strike me as a recipe for huge debt and deficit in the future. He did an amazing job of attempting to avoid that conversation, but he left me scratching my head - his evasive answers really didn't leave me feeling any more comfortable with his position. His ideas on foreign affairs and military spending would turn us into an impoverished 51st state at the beck and call of Washington. A thought that truly makes me cringe.

Paul Martin - The Royal Lifesaving Award

Martin shocked me. For someone who spent the last three weeks drowning while looking for a focus in the campaign, he came out swinging. He might actually have found his "sea legs" in the debate. Whether or not he can turn around sagging Liberal fortunes in the next two weeks is perhaps another conversation. While I don't _believe_ everything he says, (I don't typically take any politician a face value) I have to give Mr. Martin credit for doing a good job of rebutting the swings that each of the other leaders took at him.

The outcome of this debate? Well, this voter is still undecided - I may remain that way until I step into the voting booth. Right now, the Liberal past record worries me - it doesn't bode well for how faithfully they will carry out their promises. I've always been cool towards Mr. Harper, and he has yet to do anything to convince me that he's being honest when he speaks - there always seems to be an unsaid evasiveness. I can't vote for Duceppe - there's no such thing as a Bloc candidate outside of Quebec. Jack Layton has at least got a vision that goes beyond the immediate 'here and now'. If the NDP can refine itself over the next few years, they may be able to present a real alternative under Jack Layton.

A Consideration In the Upcoming Vote

I just read this article by Naomi Klein in the Globe and Mail. I think she has captured in many ways my own personal objections to getting Canada involved in GWB's "War on Terrorism". Canada is not the 51st state, nor should we allow the US to assume that is the case based largely on geography. If the "hawks" in Washington want to consider Canada a "freeloader", that's up to them. They aren't going to respect our view of the world anyways.

Out of the contenders for the Prime Minister's job, Harper has been repeated and persistent in his desire to align our foreign policy with the United States. In other times, that might work out well, but not with the current lot that seem to hold sway in Washington. They are steadily making themselves less and less credible on the world stage. Right now, I would suggest that Canada's interests are by far better served by standing somewhat apart from the US. Martin is somewhat enigmatic on the subject, but I think he is more likely to act prudently in this regard than Harper. As for Layton, well, he has made it quite clear that for the NDP, Canada comes first.

Tonight is the English Debate, where we get to hear these various players sparring with each other, and perhaps the debate will give some more to think on. Given that we are talking about politicians, what is _not_ said, is going to be as important as what is said.

Monday, June 14, 2004

'Twas the Night Before The Debate ...

... and all through the land, nary politician to be heard. Martin, Harper, Layton and Duceppe have all vanished into the woodwork for a few days. Presumably they are preparing their cue cards for the upcoming debate. Heck, even the various Conservative candidates have managed to avoid creating new potholes for Harper to drive into!

I won't comment on Duceppe - not living in Quebec, I hear very little out of the man, and the reality is that he won't form the next government. The very existence of the Bloc as a party speaks to the "Two Solitudes" that are Canada. I can't say I've ever felt very happy about a party in the House whose expressed purpose is to break up confederation.

The other three leaders all have huge hurdles in front of them for the upcoming debates:

Martin has perhaps the most difficult hurdles to overcome. First, he has to remind the voters (in Quebec especially) that it was under his watch that action was taken over the Sponsorship issues. Second, he has quite a job ahead to convince the voters that the latest incarnation of the Liberal "Red Book" is more credible than past versions. I do believe that Martin _can_ be trusted to continue to oversee balanced budgets with modest surpluses. Of all other things, that has been a consistent part of his behaviour throughout the last decade or so.

Mr. Harper has his own challenges, no less prickly than Martin's. First, Harper has to have some presence on stage. The man's been like visual teflon - every time I see him, I get the impression he doesn't want to be seen. More seriously, he has to demonstrate that the "New and Improved" Conservative Party is in fact moving beyond its old Reform/Alliance roots. Right now, the social conservatism seems to be a cover for a lot of old, hoary beliefs that have been long ago debunked. As much as Harper claims to be an economist, I just can't quite buy into his campaign promises - too much big ticket spending, too many tax cuts - something doesn't balance out here.

As for Mr. Layton, he has a job to do - and it's not an easy one, either. The NDP seems to be continually the "Unhappy Bridesmaid" in our democracy. Layton has a couple of big challenges in the upcoming debates. First, he needs to show people that he is capable of debating with the other leaders without going to extremes. Second, he has to start showing that his party has ideas that are realistic. Sadly, in this part of the world, it is far too easy to see the NDP, and immediately recall the echoes of McCarthy-era propaganda. The NDP has an uphill road to travel, even to make it as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Excluded from the upcoming debates is the Green Party. I don't think I'd ignore these people. They've made huge efforts to make their platform more mainstream, and it's worth a read. Parts of it still need refining, but they feel like they are aiming for what the Progressive Conservative party used to stand for - back in the days of Peter Lougheed. Socially conscious, and fiscally prudent - with an environmental awareness in the mix. Even though they aren't in the debates this year, I'd keep my eye on where they are going. They may pose a bigger threat to Jack Layton's NDP than to the Liberals or Conservatives, but that's today.

This election, more so than any other I can recall, is about the leadership of the parties. Is Martin in fact able to lead the Liberals forward from what they became under Chretien? Is Layton going to be the man that gets the NDP's ideas into the spotlight? Is Harper going to be able to shed the ugliness of the past incarnations of the Conservative Party? Come to think of it - is Harper in fact a more moderate version of his past self?

For all of the leaders, there is a huge amount on the table in the next couple of nights. Each has much to gain, and as much to lose.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Hidden Agendas? We Have No Hidden Agendas!

For a long time there have been suspicions that the Conservative Party, and in particular, its leader have a "hidden agenda". Of course, they have denied this in the strongest of terms.

In fact, I think they are being quite honest. Their agenda isn't hidden - it's quite out in public - if you do a bit of digging on the Web. This article was written by Stephen Harper about a year ago.

While it doesn't speak to policy per se, it speaks to the underlying philosophy that Harper seems to believe in. In the past, Harper has claimed to be "a Canadian Republican" of sorts - after reading this, I think he's a lot more than just a mirror of the American Republican party.

Perhaps the most telling paragraph in the document is this:

The real challenge is therefore not economic, but the social agenda of the modern Left. Its system of moral relativism, moral neutrality and moral equivalency is beginning to dominate its intellectual debate and public-policy objectives.

In several dimensions it clarifies the long-outstanding non-sequitur of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative party's platforms. On one hand, they keep talking about less government, lower taxes, etc. while on the other hand they turn around and want to spend billions of dollars on legislated morality, beefing up the military (because they think it's cool to be tough), and the classic "get tough on crime" routine.

Basically, they are still trying to bring together the notions of Economic Conservatism and Social Conservatism. They haven't figured out that the two notions are fundamentally at odds with each other. Legislated morality is very expensive, and generally ineffective - not unlike the idea that a legislated marketplace is expensive, and doesn't work very well. So, if you want to legislate morality, as the Social Conservatives want to, you need a big government; similarly if you want "controlled markets", you need a fair bit of government infrastructure to enforce it. The Economic Conservative wants less government, and unregulated markets. The Social Conservative wants laws in place to enforce their particular brand of a "moral society" - am I blind, or are these two agendas orthogonal to each other?

In fact, the term Conservative no longer applies to these people. Conservative, according to the dictionary means something along these lines "Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change. ". These people are past conserving anything, they want to tear things down. The Conservative Party should be named the 'Demolitions Party' or the 'Deconstructionist Party'.

If you haven't read Harper's article above, I urge you to do so - very carefully, and before you vote on June 28. Know what it is this party and its leadership represent, and consider carefully where you want your support to go.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Reasons I am not likely to vote Conservative

As this election campaign progresses in Canada, I find myself more and more irritated by the Conservative party and its candidates.

A 'counter-campaign' has emerged in Calgary Northwest to remove candidate Rob Anders from his seat. They have a plethora of complaints, but they boil down to a couple of very basic things:

1. Making a complete ass of himself in the House of Commons by voting - very loudly - against granting Nelson Mandela an honorary citizenship. His reasons at the time were, and continue to be, childish and immature.

2. Claiming that he has had no complaints about his actions, when CBC has interviewed people who went to voice their concerns _IN_PERSON_ to his constituency office. He hasn't heard any concerns because he doesn't want to. Oddly, this is precisely what I know happens with my own MP, Jason Kenney, when you contest his assertions (as I have done numerous times).

Then, Rob Merrifield pops up with a daft statement about abortion. It wasn't the statement itself that set me off - I thought it was stupid and irrelevant at best. It was what Harper _DIDN'T_ say that got me irritated. Harper didn't take Merrifield to task. Instead, we get some mealy-mouthed comment about "allowing a free vote, should a private member's bill be presented". This reeks of the rotting corpse of the old Reform/Alliance party trying to resurrect its moral conservative roots. (This is rather like raising the dead from the grave - you get something that's smelly and rotten, not what you remember burying)

This week, the Conservatives put out this little gem about the changes made to the hate crimes legislation. Oh yes, the reasons? Well, the law might impinge on religious groups right to preach against homosexuality. Last I checked, the amendment made specific provisions for religious discussion of the subject. What it doesn't do is allow a church - or anyone else - to incite hatred - the kind of hatred that routinely gets GLBT people around the world seriously hurt or killed. (It has happened in Canada, don't fool yourself) It wasn't so very long ago that being black could get someone hung, mostly on a white person's word that they had done _something_. It took legislation to make that a crime before society began to turn that corner and actually treat blacks as equals (some would argue that we aren't there yet - but that's another conversation). Protecting LGBT people from hate crimes is in the same vein.

One of Harper's candidates also worried that the law might "protect pedophiles". My understanding of the psychiatric definition of pedophilia holds the condition as secondary to sexual orientation. That is to say that there are homosexual and heterosexual pedophiles. It would seem to me then, that pedophilia could not be held to be a sexual orientation per se - thus rendering the discussion moot vis a vis the hate crimes law.

Harper comes along and says that he'd like to "adjust" the legislation - but he can't tell us how he would "adjust" it. Yet again, the Conservative leader demonstrates that he is either monumentally clueless about what he might want to legislate and the form that legislation might take, or there is a deliberate attempt to hide the real direction that the party would go, should they be elected.

Then we just get into the whole non-sequitur of the Conservative platform. Reduced taxes, but increased spending on the military. Oh yes, with a side order of privatized health care and education. Wow! Sounds great - but so does a McDonald's hamburger - until you read the ingredients and realize that it will cause weight gain and coronary disease, especially if you make a regular diet of them. (Take a look at this movie if you want a more graphic idea of what I'm saying...)

At the beginning of the Election Campaign, Paul Martin asked the question "What kind of Canada do you want?" I'm beginning to suspect that the Conservatives view of Canada is a particularly nasty image. One which idolizes an era half a century or more in the past. An era which the world has grown beyond. One in which physical power (the military) is the first priority; one where the rule of law is replaced by the tyranny of the majority; one where the government ignores the Supreme Court's interpretation of our laws when it is inconvenient to their policies.

I don't want to live in a country where Women's rights are abrogated at the whim of some moralistic twit in Ottawa; I don't want a Canada where bigotry is condoned in any form, whether its roots are religious, racial or otherwise. I want a Canada that respects all of its citizens for who and what they are. I want a Canada that cares for its people, one where education is valued and sickness won't bankrupt a family. I want a Canada that the world looks to and says "That's the country I want to emulate!"


Monday, June 07, 2004

Tirades and Revisionism

I made the mistake of reading Paul Jackson's tribute to Ronald Reagan in the Sun yesterday. Ordinarily, I ignore his columns because about all they do is get my blood pressure up, but I thought that he might have something useful to say about Ronald Reagan.

Silly me - I should know better. Among the myriad things that completely irritated me about Jackson's column was the following statement: "Reagan -- who has been so misrepresented by the Lib-Left". First of all, it irritates me when someone uses a memorial occasion to play their little political games; second, as with all stories, there are two sides to it.

So, let me see if I can point out the second side of some of Jackson's commentary:

1. Jackson Writes: "Paradoxically, had his movie career not gone into decline, he would never have got into politics, and the Soviet Union might today rule the world."

By implication, Reagan defeated the Soviet Union? I don't think so - not even mildly close to the reality. First of all, Reagan wasn't even a sitting President at the time the Soviet Union collapsed. Further to claim that US foreign policy (whether Reagan designed or not) was a primary mover in the collapse of the Soviet Union is at best hubris.

2. Jackson Writes: "As governor, he also forbid public schools from banning openly gay teachers from the classrooms."

I admire Reagan for this move. However, when it is praised by the likes of Jackson, it reeks of hypocrisy. Jackson, along with his fellow extreme right-wing commentators have been on the front lines of fostering anti-gay prejudice in this country. If he so admires Ronald Reagan, why not emulate his more positive aspects?

3. Jackson Writes: "Carter had undermined America's position in the world by surrendering the valiant pro-western Shah of Iran to Islamic radicals, and today we now know just what the horrifying result of that has been, and America was being mocked and its people held hostage to world terrorism. "

Hmmm...let's see, this is a particularly rich vein of misrepresentation. First of all, the US helped put the Shah into power. Second, Jimmy Carter couldn't have made any overt moves in the region short of outright invasion, which would have triggered a world war. The Shah was seen by many Arabs as something of a despot, and clearly was not exactly well-loved by Iranians. (Let us not forget that the Iranian PEOPLE were the ones in the streets when the Shah was finally overthrown.

If you take Jackson's view of things, Reagan's presidency was something of a heydey for the United States. Let's review some of the other side of that equation:

a) The "Star Wars" Program: Possibly one of the most laughably ambitious defense projects ever undertaken. The available technology at the time guaranteed that the program would fail, but only after spending billions of dollars trying to make it happen. The only people that benefitted from this gaffe were the defense contractors.

b) Economics. Ah yes, the era of the now infamous "Reaganomics" program. A time when deficits soared out of control, social programs were gutted ( the effects of which are appearing in the form of a public education system on the verge of collapse; a medical system only accessible by the very wealthy ), and generally speaking, social darwinism took hold. The growing gap between rich and poor in the United States continues to amplify itself, with students "graduating" from an education system that leaves them barely literate in English.

c) Foreign Policy. In case anyone has forgotten, it was under Reagan's watch that the United States intervened disastrously in numerous countries in Central and South America. Propping up dictators whose only redeeming quality was an apparent sympathy towards the United States, and deposing legal governments that the US felt were "problematic" for reasons of dogma. Whether Reagan personally drove such decisions, or he just let things 'run their course', it was on his watch, and therefore, on his head - so to speak.

Reagan's "victory" in Iran was a matter of timing. The Iranians couldn't hold the hostages forever, and simply chose to wait for a 'change of regime' before they released them. Reagan had little or nothing to do with it all.

On Jimmy Carter: Of course, Jackson also conveniently ignores the Camp David accords that started a decade or more of relative peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Ah yes, Carter's presidency was disastrous - he helped dig the US out of the economic hell that broke lose after the Oil Embargo; dealt with the aftermath of the US pullout in Vietnam, among other accomplishments.

I am neither a fan nor opponent of Reagan's - I disagreed with him on a number of fronts, but Jackson would do well to look at Reagan objectively, and not try to build Reagan up at the expense of his predecessors.

As usual, I find myself seeing Jackson's "facts" as distorted and skewed - mostly to fit his delusional view that anything "right wing" is inherently "good". A historical review of Right-Wing governance in Canada and the US is hardly reassuring:

Reagan - spent the US into all-time high deficits, cut government programs to help the poor, and generally left the economy of the US in a shakey place.

Bush Sr. - Continued to lead the US through deficit after deficit.

Bush Jr. - Has led the US into a war that was as costly as it was unnecessary. He has racked up the biggest deficits in US history, and polarized much of the world against "The Western Countries".

By comparison, Bill Clinton - a Democrat, presided over the most prosperous 8 years the United States had seen in decades.

In Canada, we have the following:

Brian Mulroney: A man more memorable for his voice and chin than his policies. He spent this country into debt like a drunken sailor. Money was frittered away on all sorts of things - none of which seem to remain in place today.

Mike Harris: Supposedly balanced the books in Ontario, but at great cost to education, health care and public infrastructure. When the Harris government was replaced by the McGuinty Liberals, an audit of the books found a government about to run a huge deficit. Makes one wonder.

Gordon Campbell: Is busy modelling himself after Ralph Klein and Mike Harris. He's engaging in the kind of nasty, bull-headed economics that his predecessors have, with more or less the same pointless, damaging results.

Ralph Klein: I save the best for last. A monkey could have balance the provincial books over the last decade. Oil revenues have been at all time highs for years. Blind economic ideology has led this Premier to privatize everything in sight, with nary a glance to whether the changes are in fact beneficial to the people or not. He has engaged in horrifyingly devestating cutbacks to government programs in this province, without any regard for the impact of such changes. Ralph looks like an economic success, the reality is he is a disaster looking for a place to happen.

Yes, right wing governments are _SOOO_ good for us. They remind us of all the reasons that a balanced government is so important.

Friday, June 04, 2004

The Unfolding Federal Election Campaign

If I wasn't disgusted enough with the misfiring commentary of the various parties, I heard Stephen Harper this morning say that he would allow "a free vote" on a "Private Member's" bill on abortion. Perhaps I'm the village idiot here, but that sounds like "we are going to legislate on this subject" - but instead of doing it up front as policy, he's trying to weasel around it and make it a "back bench" thing so he can avoid responsibility for it.

Digging around the news sites, I found this gem on CBC. Harper's trying on one hand to sound like he's a more socially moderate version of his past self, and then he turns around and makes statements that clearly show that he's _NOT_ more moderate, he's merely put on a veneer of respectability. Underneath it is the slavering horror of religiously driven social conservatism. Don't get me wrong - I have all the respect in the world for people's religious beliefs - but in a country as diverse as Canada has become, it is foolish to presume that there is any commonality of belief. We are a country filled with numerous sects of Christianity; Islam; Hindu; Bhuddism, and goodness knows what else. There are few things where any two sects see eye to eye, much less any two religions. Creating legislation that attempts to drive morality is guaranteed to fail, sooner or later.

In my lifetime alone, consider the following - the "Great Pornography Debate" of the 1970's. Eventually, legislators gave up trying to define "indecent" or "obscene" in a way that the courts could work with. It eventually came down to a discussion about consenting adults - the line in the sand being the age of majority.

Then, in the late 1980's (1988 to be exact), the Supreme Court in this country struck down the laws governing abortion. Once again, these laws were seated in a particular Judeo-Christian morality. The law failed the test against the then relatively new Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Canadian Constitution .

Like it or not, the Constitution forever changed the landscape of Canadian law and politics. Freedom of thought, belief and expression is as fundamental as freedom of religion. (In fact, they both appear in the same paragraph of the Charter). This means that the beliefs and opinions of all Canadians are protected - equally. A subsequent section of the Charter speaks explicitly to issues of discrimination. A law that would hold women to counselling or outright prohibits abortion would clearly be discriminatory to any woman. (Hmmm...let's see - the woman is the one who must carry the child - often at considerable risk to her own health...)

What scares me about Harper is the prevarication he is engaging in. Not only is he trying to present what I believe to be more and more of a facade, other factions in his party keep popping up and making statements that suggest that the Conservatives haven't moved beyond their past roots. While I don't necessarily believe Martin's platform overly much either, I'm far less worried about the Liberals writing a bunch of legislation that has to be challenged before the Supreme Court - legislation that would not only be fatally flawed, but would only stand upright if supported by the "notwithstanding clause". For those that would argue that using the notwithstanding clause is justified for issue x, I would remind you that the clause has been used exactly once - in Quebec. One could argue that the use of that clause in Quebec abrogates the legitimate and legal rights of non-francophone Quebecers. Chew that over for a minute or two, and then try to self-justify what you want to use the notwithstanding clause for.