Sunday, August 28, 2005

Note To Alberta Conservatives

In the last week or so there has been an amazing amount of near paranoid rantings about "Ontario raiding Alberta's riches". Granted, coming from King Ralph, it's hard to put much credibility behind these words. Ralph has been increasingly obnoxious and arrogant these past few years, and I doubt that many would put much stock in his pronouncements outside of the Alberta legislature these days.

However, I do believe there is some wisdom in the words of former Premier Peter Lougheed.

Alberta is part of Canada, and playing like the spoilt child trying to hoard all of the toys is not going to work. While times are good (and right now, they are exceedingly good), it is time to "make hay". Certainly, we should be building up the Heritage Savings Trust Fund further, rebuilding and enhancing infrastructure and other tasks desperately needed in Alberta. At the same time, we need to find ways to help the other provinces that are in, or heading into, tougher times.

In Lougheed's day, the compromise was to provide loans to other provinces at reduced interest rates. What is an appropriate approach today? I don't know - but it isn't Ralph's "Hands Off Or Else" approach.

Alberta is poised to move into a leadership role in Canada. It is financially well off, debt free, and moving forward comfortably. Its role in the political dialogue of our nation is changing. Alberta cannot gain by playing these childish games of political confrontation. We must move beyond that conflict-ridden approach and become the broker of positive solutions.

The fortunes of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative parties on the federal political scene speak loudly to how well petulant politics plays outside of Alberta.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cogito, Ergo, Rant

I think, therefore I rant - or more to the point, ask for an opinion and ye shall receive.

Such is what the Gomery Inquiry has recently done:

I went to the Gomery Commission's website and found the "survey" page:

http://www.gomery.ca/en/invitationforpublicinput/consultationpaper.asp

Here are my comments:

1. Should government advertising and sponsorship programs be insulated from
political influence?

The practical realities of this are that government is political in the first place. To assert any program is "free of political influence" is inherently false.

However, in terms similar to the "terms of engagement" for a commission of inquiry, it seems to me that a mandate that is clear in its scope and is publicly available in its entirety is a reasonable thing to expect.

2. What protections should be afforded to public servants who believe they have
witnessed impropriety in the management of government programs
("whistleblowers")?

Protecting "whistleblowers" is a dodgy game. One must balance the need for public accountability with the realities of office politics and opportunism.

The bureaucracy needs an internal equivalent of the Ethics Commissioner to perform initial investigations of these allegations to ensure that they are legitimate, and escalate the real whistleblower cases to the appropriate ministers.

3. Ministerial responsibility requires that a minister be accountable to the House
of Commons for the exercise of power. Should there be exceptions to the
concept of full ministerial responsibility for all the actions of a department?

Ministers are ultimately responsible for their departments to the public. The "I didn't know" excuse is not acceptable. If a minister "did not know", then the senior bureaucrats who should have been apprising the minister of their department's activities should be fired immediately.
The minister should not only be accountable, but should have the authority to take corrective action when necessary.

4. Accountability is the requirement to explain and accept responsibility for
carrying out an assigned mandate in light of agreed upon expectations. What
would you do to promote greater accountability for the management and use of
public funds?

1. Criminal penalties for fraud can, and should be applied as vigorously in the public sector as they are in the private sector.
2. Construct compensation schemes so that those responsible for public monies are paid well enough that "lifting" a few million won't seem as tempting.

(Carrot, and Stick)


5. Should the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service be linked to specific
responsibility and accountability processes to safeguard against
wrongdoing?

I suspect that appropriate mechanisms already exist in our securities laws that could be adapted to this type of problem.

6. Is there anything else you would suggest to Justice Gomery in pursuing his
mandate?

It seems logical (to me at least) that the rules of engagement in the senior levels of the bureaucracy should be such that nobody is able to occupy a single senior post for more than five years. A regular reorganization of the bureaucracy is likely to be a good component of ensuring that the bureaucracy and its political masters are unable to become "too cozy" on any regular basis. An overly "comfortable" bureaucracy is likely part of the reason for the events that resulted in the Gomery Inquiry in the first place.

I must admit to being impressed with Justice Gomery in how he has conducted himself over the course of this most public of inquiries. To have the temerity to ask for public thoughts in a relatively open manner is both impressive and encouraging. Perhaps, just maybe, Gomery's report will contain some useful and insightful content. Whether the politicians and bureaucrats do anything constructive with it remains to be seen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Someone Convince Me That Iraq's Not About Oil...

After reading this little crunchy bit of news, in which GWB attempts to once again self-justify the quagmire that is the Iraq War and Occupation; and this other little gem of inspired wisdom from Televangelist and former presidential candidate Pat Robertson on the topic of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Apparently, it's acceptable foreign policy (in Mr. Robertson's bent little universe) for the US to go around assassinating world leaders it doesn't like. Chavez has long been critical of American foreign policy (especially since 9/11) - no big surprise there when you think about it - Central and South America bore the brunt of Reagan-era aggression and interventions during the 1980s. Although those countries have mostly recovered, many are still picking up the pieces. (I'll quietly ignore the monumental errors made in Argentina and Chile prior to Reagan)

Sayeth Mr. Robertson:

stop his country [Venezuela] from becoming “a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.”


“You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it,” Mr. Robertson said. “It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop.”


So, fundamentally, we have a leader in a foreign country that is being openly critical of the United States. Further, that leader just happens to be sitting on top of a big chunk of Oil that the US purchases. Apparently, it's inconvenient for the US to have a leader of a resource supplying nation be critical of them - especially publicly. Sounds a lot like Iraq to me. (Yes, I know Saddam Hussein was a right royal bastard towards his people - but let's be honest, Saddam Hussein's abuse of his people wasn't the reason for US intervention)

Of course, coming from Pat Robertson, we do have to put his statements in context:

Mr. Robertson has made controversial statements in the past. In October, 2003, he suggested that the U.S. State Department be blown up with a nuclear device.

He has also said that feminism encourages women to “kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”



[Aug 23, 2005 Update]

Apparently, Mr. Robertson claims that he was quoted out of context. I heard his words quite clearly on the morning news. There was no doubt in my mind what Mr. Robertson was referring to. A man with his public profile and experience knows damn good and well how his words were going to be interpreted.

If he didn't "mean" that, then he should have found other words to use - or better yet, shut his trap. A man who once ran for the US Presidency has long ago learned the hard lessons of public speaking. Mr. Robertson's plea about context is an insult to the intelligence of any reasonable, rational human being.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Well Duh!

Poking around the web this evening, I spotted this revelation from the Alberta Government.

My goodness - Ralph's boyz are finally figuring out that they actually have to spend money occasionally. Things like roads, public building (say - schools) actually need upkeep - for King Ralph and his merry court to recognize this is nearly as big a revelation as Sir Isaac Newton's Physics.

I was in University when Don Getty started blindly cutting things like University funding, while spending huge dollars to pave every back road in the province he could find. When Ralph's bunch of bandits took over, the cuts simply started coming fast and furious from all over the place. Spending is evil became the mantra. We had to slay the deficit. A few years later, the deficit slain, Ralph turned his gaze on the provincial debt. Not only was spending evil, debt was truly evil. The gutting on the province's infrastructure continued, with Ralph blindly chopping away at the debt.

Today, with a provincial government pulling down billions in budget surpluses, Ralph's Boyz look around and blink at the fact that the provincial infrastructure is crumbling. Brilliant thinking! You spend nearly 15 years playing hack-and-slash with the deficit, avoid spending so much as a plug nickel of public money if you can avoid it. If I don't do basic maintenance on my house - like paint it occasionally, or replace worn shingles on the roof, it's pretty much guaranteed to collapse around my ears sooner or later. I plan those expenditures - I replaced the furnace and water heater shortly after moving in; a year or so later, I put a new roof on the place, and next year, the trim will need painting. No big deal any of it - as long as you do a bit of simple planning. If you don't - it tends to pile up on you, all at once.

Oh - the "free market will provide for us" - I forgot about that little piece of mythology. Just like the "open market" will save health care. Tell me another fairy tale, pal. The cheque has just arrived at Alberta's table for the last dozen years of fiscal "prudence" which really meant "don't spend anything". Infrastructure, like health, is an investment in the province. The "Alberta Advantage" won't mean squat if the potholes make our roads impassable, or the cost of a toothache is enough to drive a family into bankruptcy.

It's all about balance. Deficit financing of a governments "day to day" operations is bad news - debt taken on to support long term infrastructure investments is not. (So far, Real Estate remains one of the safest investment vehicles out there!) Ralph's chimpanzees are all missing half their brains - causing them to constantly tilt to right, and they are blind in the left eye. If there was ever an argument to elect a sizable opposition next election, this surprised revelation on the part of the Klein Conservatives is it.

MIA: The CBC

With the CBC in the midst of a labour dispute, I've found it necessary to rely on other sources for news.

While my collection of on-line sources that I routinely read are adequate (The Globe and Mail, BBC, CNN) for world events, the Calgary newspapers (Calgary Sun, The Calgary Herald) are frankly pathetic, and less than revealing of anything.

However, I _like_ listening to CBC for news - when I'm driving, or when I'm at home. Lately, I've been scanning the other radio stations, looking to see if any of them are moving to fill in the gap. The closest I've found is QR77 - but comparing their idea of "talk radio" to CBC is like comparing The Western Standard to The Atlantic Monthly.

There's always been a certain amount of grumbling about the CBC - especially in Alberta (as always). While complaining that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars, it's amazing how many people tune into the morning show (The Eye Opener is consistently at or near the top of the local ratings for morning shows). Many people criticize it as a "mouthpiece for government propaganda". I'm afraid that I couldn't disagree more. (I won't speak to their television programming - I haven't paid attention to that in some years)

In Canada, CBC fills a void that commercial radio interests simply ignore - intelligent programming. We get a lot of amazingly good work out of the CBC, both in terms of journalism and analysis, but also in their other programming. Wether it's "As It Happens" going deep on the stories of the day, "Ideas" - a show that routinely challenges ones assumptions, "Writers and Company" discussing literature (I've been introduced to a couple of writers that I'd otherwise have left on the shelf through that program), or "Quirks and Quarks" making the rounds of science, the programming on CBC Radio has been consistently a cut above the tripe that passes for programming elsewhere.

Right now, I'm hoping that the CBC will get its labour dispute resolved - ASAP. Flipping through other radio stations doesn't cut it, and listening to lots of folk/country/whatever (CBC AM) or "The World's Longest, Most Noxious Symphony" (CBC FM) just isn't a substitute for CBC's normal programs. If QR77 is a civilized version of what passes for "talk radio" in the US, I shudder at the prospect of no CBC around.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

One Last Bit on The GG Designate

The Globe and Mail has published what might be the only reasonably objective review of the Governer General Designate Michaelle Jean and her husband.

The article is a bit lengthy, but manages to touch on what is known about Mme. Jean, and the controversy swirling around her. For a change, there is relatively little editorializing in the article. (Let's hear it for a newspaper actually doing journalism instead of engaging in partisan politics!)

More or less, I come away from reading this article feeling that there is precious little reason to believe that there is any real substance to the objections raised against Mme. Jean. Most of the objections seem to center around whether she is sympathetic to Quebec Separatism, and whether she associates with former FLQ members.

Journalists across this country need to step back from what they've written in the last few weeks, and ask themselves if they are allowing partisan influences to make rumour news. I would note that in the media, the loudest outcry has come from the western Canadian Sun newspapers, and the Asper-controlled CanWest-Global group.

The media can legitimately question what is going on in our nation, but a degree of moderation is needed. Ask intelligent questions, but let's not continue to slime people for rumour. Dig, find facts, and reveal them - in proper context. (For example, a 15 year old video of someone only speaks to that person 15 years ago - in order for that piece to be truly relevant, you should be looking for corroboration that is more recent. Otherwise, you have merely dug up a historical artifact devoid of meaning in the current context.

Friday, August 19, 2005

What is the Role of Canada's Governer General

Since there is so much interest in the media of late over the designated successor to Governer General Adrienne Clarkson, it seems to me a good excuse to go review the authority of the Governer General in Canada.

On paper (e.g. in the Constitution), it would appear that the Governer General has quite a bit of power. As the Queen's representative in Canada, she is the head of our armed forces, has the power to dissolve parliament, and even - in theory - appoint ministers and the Prime Minister.
This page from Wikipedia.org does a very nice job of outlining the practical reality of those powers. By a combination of convention and history, they are rather dramatically curtailed. In fact, the wording of the Constitution Act very clearly bounds the powers of our government's "executive" branch in terms of various Acts of Parliament.

What it boils down to is that although the Governer General is the Queen's Representative in Canada, the blunt reality is that the Governer General really only acts on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Only the most extreme situations, such as a parliament that has "gone rogue", could the Governer General even consider intervening in the politics and policy of governance. The constitutional crisis that would ensue following such an intervention would make Pierre Elliot Trudeau's invocation of the War Measures Act in 1970 look trivial in its consequences.

So - let us presume that Michaelle Jean is a diehard separatist - what could she do? Not much, really. She might be able to refuse to sign a few pieces of legislation into law before the Prime Minister petitioned the Queen to remove her from office. Or, she might be able to funnel a few dollars from the Governer General's office to conspirators in Quebec for a while. (Until the Governer General's accounts were opened to the Parliamentary Accounts Committees that year).

One thing that is abundantly clear is that the Governer General's role is primarily symbolic in nature. Canada would have to suffer a crisis that would essentially be the breakdown of law and order in the nation before she could do anything significant. Although there is a great deal of innuendo about Mme. Jean's leanings lately, her expressed allegiance is to Canada. Since the bulk of the "evidence" being cited to associate her with Quebec Separatists ranges between 10 and 20 years old, I'm quite prepared to accept her at her word. People's political views and leanings change over time, and even if Mme Jean enjoys a glass of wine with sovereigntists from time to time, I don't believe that will stand in the way of her carrying out her role as the Governer General of Canada.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Our Media are an Embarrassment

What is it with our media in this country (and especially in Alberta) lately? Ever since some wingnut paper in Quebec insinuated that Governer-General designate Michaelle Jean or her husband _MIGHT_ have had "pro-separatist" leanings in the 1990s, they've been howling that she might not be a patriotic Canadian.

I have a news flash for these idiots: Having an opinion in this country - even a separatist opinion - is not a crime. Mme. Jean has committed NO CRIME AGAINST CANADA to my knowledge, even if she did lean towards support for the Quebec separatist movement. (In fact, I have yet to see anything that even suggests that Mme Jean

My politics have changed over the last decade - mostly as I've become more aware of what is going on around me, and how policy affects my life. I find it hard to believe that Mme Jean - or any other reasonably self-aware person - holds the same views of the situation today that they held 10 years or more in the past.

How she voted in the 1995 referendum is irrelevant - Canada is a nation that respects the notion of "secret ballot", and asking someone how they voted on any issue is the height of disrespect - both for the voter and the concept of secret ballot.

The rednecks in Alberta have glommed onto this topic to put a thin veneer over the complaints that Mme. Jean is not a born-in Canada Canadian, and even more offensive to some out here - she's - dear God! - a woman, not white, and Quebecois. About the only thing that could make her more offensive to various parties I've heard out here is if she was a lesbian. (None of which is materially relevant to anything in the role of the GG)

Get over it, people. Go find something relevant to worry over - like say what colour your neighbor has painted their deck!

[Update: Aug 19, 2005]

I found this piece of ludicrous idiocy today. What irritates me more than anything is the blatant stupidity of the associations made:

1. Mme. Jean associates with former FLQers. - So what? Among other things, that was 15 years ago, in the context of a documentary discussion.

2. She used the dreaded "nigger" word. News Flash! The term 'White Nigger' became a part of the Quebec political dialogue in the early days of the separatist movement's rise in the 1960s. I've heard the term show up many times in the past. I don't like it, but it carries a political theatre meaning, not a racist meaning in this context.

3. As I pointed out before, being a separatist in Canada is not a crime, it is a political stance, one that any citizen may carry freely. To the best of my knowledge, the FLQ per se has done exactly nothing after the LaPorte affair - making them more or less defunct in my view. (If someone can show me evidence that they are an active threat organization, fine, but until then, I will assert the FLQ is a non-entity beyond some pseudo-intellectual groups in Quebec)

4. The press is engaging in pillorying Mme. Jean for the acts of the FLQ and others. The most they have done is establish that some of her social circle intersects with the Separatist movements in Quebec. I believe the legal concept being abused is called "guilt by association". Holding her responsible for the acts of the FLQ or other hard-line separatists because she has had dealings with them is like claiming that someone is guilty of a crime because they shared a drink with a Hell's Angel member. It's silly, stupid and ridiculous.

It's time we took our right-wingnut media out back and shot them with a ball of their own excrement. I'm getting sick of insinuation, innuendo and smearing of someone because of their political stripes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Heading for Economic Collapse?

After reading this article, and looking at what Oil prices are doing lately, I have to wonder if the US (and likely Canada's too) economy is about to run into a brick wall.

Consider - 11,000 people applying for 400 jobs at a Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is a symbol of a few things these days - under-paying jobs, and pure consumerism. Most of what they sell is cheap, short lived and imported from far away countries. (Made in USA or Made in Canada are probably the most rarely seen words in Wal-Mart stores)

Considering that Oakland was once part of the so-called "Silicon Valley", it's a sad statement when 11,000 people are applying for what amounts to a McJob.

It's not encouraging to see, and with the cost of a gallon of gas approaching $3.00-$4.00 US, I expect to see an increase in petty crime (e.g. B&E and other forms of theft) as it becomes difficult for people to have enough money to feed their cars in order to get to work.

Somehow, I don't think the US economy can handle the level of consumer debt that is growing down there, and high fuel costs for any extended period of time. When the number of jobs oriented towards consumption is increasing, and the number of production jobs is steadily declining (and has been for 20 years or so), that's a sign of an economic model not only in decline, but possibly on the verge of collapse.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I forgot something?

JN left a comment on my last post:

You forget, that for a true conservative, individual rights and freedoms are only for them personally and not others, who might use those freedoms to oppose conservatives.

We are, in the eyes of conservatives, free to conform in any way we wish.


He's correct, as usual.

What's really depressing about it is the fact that the party that should be providing a credible alternative to the governing Liberals are continually missing opportunities left and right to tell Canadians how they would be different or better than the Liberals.

Instead, we have Harper running around the "party BBQ circuit", gladhanding the faithful and leaving most Canadians baffled. Little bits continue to dribble out about the Grewal Tapes - an affair so bungled that not only must we assume that Harper's Conservatives are crooked, but inept as well.

As a voter, I can only suppose that the Conservatives are in fact the inept, narrow-minded, petty bigots that the Reform/Alliance party represented - so far they have done little to convince me otherwise - in spite of a plethora of opportunities to do so.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Where's the Right Wing?

I'm fascinated right now by the silence of Canada's "Conservatives" on a couple of issues recently.

Supposedly, Conservatives (or at least their current incarnation) are preservers of individual freedoms - whether it is the right own property, firearms or religious freedoms. On matters of economics, they are shrill in their support of privatization of everything in sight, and god forbid that any of us would dare question the idea of NAFTA!

Yet, their silence is deafening when it comes to the US's recent decision to ignore (again) another ruling against them in the dispute over softwood lumber trade.

Stephen Harper is conspicuous by his absence in this matter. Once again, the United States is thumbing its nose at the very treaties it has made itself signatory to. The Liberal party response to this slap in the face has been disappointing and insipid - one would think that any party that is planning to become "the next government" would be standing up and telling Canadians just how they would handle this insult.

Then, in a matter of a few days of each other, we find the arm of US law enforcement reaching into Canada to arrest Marc Emery, and a motion put before a US court in the Maher Arar case that suggests that a traveller passing through the US is in a legal black hole, not even eligible for food, much less humane treatment.

Both of these have serious implications for Canadians. It is deeply troubling that the US DEA has offices set up in Canada, and appears to be demanding that the Canadian law enforcement officials enforce US laws - when it is far from clear that a crime has been committed on US soil.

In the Arar case, we should be deeply worried - for it suggests that nobody - from any nation - can safely travel through the United States.

In both cases, the very rights and liberties of Canadians are under attack by a foreign threat. Where is the Conservative Party? Their silence is deafening, and should be seen as deeply worrisome by all Canadians.

Yes, it would mean that the Conservatives would actually have to be critical of the United States - but for a party that philosphically is supposed to be a bastion of individual freedoms and rights, it is blindingly stupid not to be taking a clear stand on these issues.

How would a Conservative government deal with a hostile, overreaching government in a supposedly allied power? What would they do to guarantee the rights of Canadian citizens in travelling or doing business in that country? How would the Conservatives protect Canada's national interests in trade?

In their silence, the right wing in this country suggests to me that they would simply sell Canada to the hawks in Washington and be done with it. I'm less than thrilled with Paul Martin's response to these issues so far, but at least he has made a response. As opposed to the utter silence of the Conservatives.

The conservatives seem to be more worried about the voting history of Governer-General designate Michaelle Jean - in a nation where we have secret ballot for a good reason or two.

Of course, the explanation could be as simple as the Conservatives have never thought of the US as anything other than their best friend, and are incapable of recognizing that the US acts only in its immediate interests - regardless of its allies and neighbors...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Rule of Law Has Been HiJacked

Apparently, if you are "transiting through" the United States as a traveller, the Law no longer applies to you at all.

In a filing to dismiss Maher Arar's lawsuit against the US government, government lawyers have argued:

"The reply by Mary Mason, a senior trial lawyer for the government, was that it would not. Legally, she said, anyone who presents a foreign passport at an American airport, even to make a connecting flight to another country, is seeking admission to the United States. If the government decides that the passenger is an "inadmissible alien," he remains legally outside the United States - and outside the reach of the Constitution - even if he is being held in a Brooklyn jail.

Even if they are wrongly or illegally designated inadmissible, the government's papers say, such aliens have at most a right against "gross physical abuse." "


Now, granted, I'm no authority on the inner workings of US Immigration laws, but to put any foreign national sitting in a departure lounge between flights into what amounts to the same legal limbo as the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay is a very troubling, and should be for both Americans and non-Americans alike.

Basically, what the US Government is saying is that if they deem someone "inadmissible", they are deemed to "never have been in the US", and therefore are not subject to US law in any way. So, even if they hold the person in a prison cell on US soil, the prisoner is theoretically not in the United States. At best, this is a rather rude legal fiction, at worst, it is a sign of a government that has lost its rudder with respect to the rights of people within its borders.

I find it even more troubling to consider this legal limbo when I go take a look at the US DEA's website, and I found this list of "International Offices". So, not only is the United States reaching far beyond its legal borders to enforce its laws, it appears to be willing to ignore not only its own laws, but the very principles upon which they are based - more or less arbitrarily.

National Security has become an excuse not just to mistreat people and invade foreign lands, but it is now the excuse upon which the United States Government (or at least the current executive) wishes to curtail the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike. If Maher Arar had been a mere drug trafficker, he would have been hauled up in front of a US court, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. In the absence of any indictable criminal offense, Arar was deported to Syria for "interrogation". Regardless of how one sees the veracity of Arar's claims of innocence, there is something very wrong with deporting a person to a country using the 'cloak-and-dagger' approach that Arar claims was used.

If the US courts allow the reasoning placed before them yesterday to stand in regards to the Arar case, they will be doing a serious disservice to the rule of law in the United States.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Has Canadian Conservatism Come To Imply Bigotry?

In my travels through the Blogosphere lately, I've run into a number of "Conservative Blog" lists. Theoretically, many of these people would vote for the Conservative Party, and certainly have reflected some of the more extreme views expressed by vocal factions in the Reform / Alliance incarnations of the current Conservative party.

I've seen a few things being called for that I find profoundly unsettling:

1. Calls for restrictions on immigration.

These are often based in a quasi-Bush/Blair xeno-paranoia. The notion is that we will "know" what a terrorist looks like. Today's "terrorist du jour" is theoretically of arab descent, but back in the 1970s, would that terrorist have been someone of Irish descent? What about Basque separatists, or Tamils from Sri Lanka? Or, our own FLQ - remember them?

The concept of terrorist is far too vague, far too fuzzy. It implies a guilt-by-association that is neither reasonable nor comprehensible. For example, there are people whose involvement with Palestinian resistance organizations is strictly as part of their social services side. These people aren't terrorists any more than I am. On the other hand, if they were recruiting suicide bombers, they certainly would qualify as a potential problem.

I'm not saying that we open the gates wide, merely that obviously - and blindly - racially centered immigration policies are foolish, and do not reflect a Canada that I believe in.

2. Religious Intolerance

The "Christian Right" (and I use both terms loosely, for the "CR" is neither Christian in any sense I understand the word, nor is it correct) has asserted a great deal of vocal opinion lately. Whether it is on the topics of other religions, or recent debates over marriage.

The complaint is made time and again that granting rights to other groups is trampling all over their rights as "Christians". As near as I can tell this is a code phrase for "we can't openly discriminate against X any more". Whether X is a sexual minority, a member of a different faith, or for that matter the practice of teaching science in our schools.

3. Economic Superiority

For reasons I have never understood, the current crop of Conservatives cleave to a nearly Dickensian notion of poverty. Essentially, the open market will solve all the world's ills, and anyone who happens to be of limited means is a victim of their own weakness.

While some of those who live in poverty do so as a result of a combination of decisions made in their lives and misfortune afterwards, the evidence is clear enough that poverty is seldom a result of any intentional sloth or desire on the part of the impoverished.

The assumption that society should not collectively take steps to look after those who have not been successful in the economic ladder is an evil combination of Darwinism blended with Machievelli - a combination I find worrisome indeed.

4. Separatism

For reasons that I find quite inexplicable, many Western "Conservative" commentators have mutated and become Western Separatists. You can't have it both ways boys. You are either backing a federalist party, or you're not. You either believe there's more to this great nation than petty regionalist disputes, or you are going to "pack up your toys and play elsewhere". So far, I have yet to see anything of a coherent argument from a separatist as to why Alberta - or Western Canada - should separate. The noxious "what does Alberta get from remaining part of Canada?" response is insulting to any intelligent logic. It basically turns the challenge around, and puts anyone questioning the separatist on the defensive. Separatism is a cop-out, and a pathetic one at that.

Half of all separatists I have heard whine incessantly about the NEP or transfer payments; the other half are unhappy because they don't like the Charter of Rights and the legal implications.

Returning to my original thesis, I am becoming more and more convinced that the notion of Conservatism in Canada has been usurped by malcontents, bigotry and a cold heartedness rooted in a horrendous distortion of Burkean thinking. It is unfortunate, for the Conservative in the days of Sir John A. MacDonald had much to reccomend them - todays lot seem to be small, petty and self centered.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Eroding Human Rights

Between the recenhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gift renewal of the US "Patriot Act" and Tony Blair's proposals to limit the rights of "Islamic Extremists" in the UK, it seems to be increasingly dark times for those who value the notions of human rights and equality in the world.

With the Conservative Party in this nation aping recent American paranoia over the topic of national security, Canadians need to take a long, hard look at these policies, and whether or not they reflect a rational, measured approach to human rights.

Blair's heavy-handed, obviously xenophobic reaction in the wake of July's subway bombings, does no service to the open rights of legal citizens of his nation. Essentially, in his paranoid response, Blair is following Bush and suspending the legitimate rights of citizens and immigrants. The justification 'we are in a time of war' is fundamentally false. To claim that treating followers of Islam differently from other faiths flies in the face of logic. During some 30 years of IRA activity throughout the United Kingdom, there was no attempt made on the to limit IRA practices through their religious affiliations.

In Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, we have laws in place for dealing with what so-called "Islamic extremists" are doing.

An Imam calling for "holy war" against "western society" is engaging in the propogation of hatred just as surely as the White Supremacist who calls for the expungement of Jewish peoples from the face of the earth. We have laws for dealing with that.

An organization that is planning - and carrying out - bombings, shootings or other acts of violence is a criminal organization. The rights to "freedom of association" are reasonably bounded by the laws that make conspiracy to commit a crime criminal itself.

The person who sets a bomb to harm others is a criminal just as surely as the bank robber or petty fence is. All of the Western nations have laws that reasonably handle these situations.

Critics of our current environment need to be reminded that our laws work upon the presupposition of innocence. We presume that someone is innocent until we have evidence or proof of a crime being committed. The government asserting the right to prosecute people for non-criminal behaviour is a serious violation of our lives and rights as citizens and peaceful immigrants. Mr. Blair's attempt to curtail "Islamic Extremism" is laughable in its naivte, and insulting in its heavy-handedness.

We need to encourage our governments to properly fund and staff the agencies charged with hunting down extremists, criminal organizations and criminals appropriately. The legal tools already exist in legislation. What we need to do is to enforce those laws effectively.

Ham-handed approaches like Blair's, or the equally ill-considered "Patriot Act" in the United States will never accomplish the real goals in dealing with extremists and terrorism.

To combat shadows, one must become a shadow.

What must we do? We must demand of our politicians that not only must they pursue these criminals with every tool available to them, but they are bound to do so within the bounds of our laws. Canada does not need additional laws to pursue the criminal elements that planned 9/11, or 7/7. The laws exist, it is a matter of applying those laws. If our investigative and enforcement organizations need to be better funded in order to ferret out these organizations, then let us fund them more appropriately.

Above all else, it is critical that the citizens of our nation become active participants in our governance. Democracy only works when citizens participate - both through the voting process, but also through the policy making processes in the parties.

Canada is ideally positioned to learn from the mistakes of others. Following Bush and Blair would be a critical mistake. We do not need to sacrifice our rights as citizens on the altar of "national security", nor should we. We must view with suspicion those who would do so.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Myopia - a common affliction of politicians everywhere

It seems that Tony Blair would like to bring the "terrorists" in the UK to heel.

Blair's proposals include:

Banning muslim organizations
Powers to close mosques
Deportation for those who visit "certain bookshops and websites"
Refusal of asylum for someone who "has been involved in terrorism"

I'm not sure just how well the UK body of common law can be brought to bear on this. Having spent the better part of a thousand years evolving since the signing of the Magna Carta, UK Common Law is a complex, baroque system. I suspect that in the long run, Blair's proposals will ultimately collapse under legal challenge. For the most part, the United Kingdom law provides for freedoms of association and religion by sheer force of tradition.

Blair's proposals are deeply troubling. The demonstrate both a xenophobia as well as a serious disrespect for the vast majority of law-abiding citizens of the United Kingdom. Among other things, shutting down a church (or mosque) is a fairly serious breach of freedom of religion. The prospective deportation of someone because they went into "the wrong bookshop" is also very worrisome. Again, it flies in the face of much of what we in 'western' societies have come to understand as "the rule of law".

In Canada, there have been repeated calls to do similar things in law. For the most part, the constitution and the Charter of Rights stands against implementing what Blair is proposing, or even the US "Patriot Act". Without invoking section 33 of the Charter, it would be virtually impossible for a government to make laws which would provide the government with arbitrary powers of arrest, detention and deportation based on what church someone belongs to, or the bookstores they frequent.

Does a country have the right to protect itself? Yes. However, to do so at the expense of basic, and legitimate rights ascribed to people is morally wrong, and to do so in the manner that Blair is suggesting which clearly attacks specific ethnic and religious groups is demonstrative of an unreasoned xenophobia.

Until you have evidence that a crime is either being planned or committed, the rule of law dictates that you must presume that people are law abiding citizens. To arbitrarily engage in "guilt-by-association' is short sighted, and fundamentally stupid.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Oh God - Here We Go Again...

Back in the late 1970s, around about the time the negotiations over what became this nation's Constitution got going, Alberta spawned a new political movement - Western Separatism. People like Doug Christie (Western Canada Concept) and Elmer Knudsen started waving a flag saying that Western Canada - and Alberta in particular - should separate.

It was a time when Alberta's economy was truly booming, and to all appearances, Alberta seemed like an unstoppable economic locomotive. Then Pierre Trudeau's government brought down the NEP in 1980.

More recently, Alberta's fortunes have once again turned for the better - oil prices are at all time highs (making the Oil Sands even more attractive to investment), the Alberta Government just wrote off its debt, and continues to roll in massive surpluses.

I've noticed around the blogosphere a fair number of rather vocal proponents of either Ted Morton's "firewall" concept, or outright secession from Canada. And then yesterday, I found a link to this article in Ezra Levant's "Western Standard".

The article talks about a poll that Levant commissioned some University of Lethbridge professor to conduct. The root question of the poll was:

Western Independence How much do you agree with the following statement: “Western Canadians should begin to explore the idea of forming their own country”?


The first thought that goes through my mind when I read this is "what a mealy-mouthed load of garbage". Yeah - I might "consider" the notion of a sovereign Alberta or West - does this mean I support it? No.

The other questions (you can read the article - if you like...) were so loaded with presupposition that this poll doesn't even qualify as meaningful. Basically, half the questions might as well have read "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" and the other half were simply irrelevant measures of anything. (What the hell does "alienation" mean anyhow? I get annoyed with Ottawa, angry even - alienated? I don't think so)

The practical realities of western isolationism/separatism:

1. A firewall is a rehash of the notion of Sovereignty Association that Rene Levesque threw up in the 1970s. It was a crock then, it's a crock now.

2. A sovereign Alberta would be a landlocked nation, with no ready access to ports for shipping agricultural products, and limited effective markets for its hydrocarbon products. (Lessee - the ROC and the USA - I'll get to that in a minute)

3. If you could convince multiple provinces to come along (say BC, or Saskatchewan and Manitoba), you could solve the port access problem, but you still have a basic problem with geographic isolation.

4. Separatists/Isolationists also seem to think that the US would welcome us with open arms. Wrong. We'd be greeted with arms alright - loaded and pointed at us while they cleared the new country of the natural resources we hold. Don't be deluded - look around the world at how the US treats "Protectorates" like Puerto Rico. I doubt very much that the US would view Alberta as anything other than "easy pickings".

5. I suspect that most, if not all, of the few billion a year we contribute to Ottawa's coffers would soon get consumed by the new nation's entry onto the world stage. Diplomatic and trade missions would have to be established, and we would find it necessary to fund a military of some size (probably much larger than what Canada currently does). Of course, we shouldn't ignore the fact that a chunk of Canada's per-capita debt comes along with us for the ride.

6. You would have to assume that once a decision to secede had been made, a big chunk of the population of Alberta is likely to move elsewhere - say Ontario or the Maritimes.

However, those are all practical realities of the economic and national picture for a prospective "sovereign" West (esp. Alberta).

The other key thing that the Isolationist/Separatist mind conveniently ignores is the subtle attachment that people have to their citizenship. I was raised in CANADA - yes, I grew up in Alberta, but I was raised as a Canadian. God help the dumb bastard that tries to take that away from me.

To me, there is far more to Canada than mere tax dollars, or the petty regional disputes. It's worth working to make it a better nation, and it would take a lot to convince me - and a lot of other Canadians - that it's time to give up on this nation.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The King is Dead - Long Live The King

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia died last night. There have been signs of trouble in Saudi Arabia for quite some time. King Fahd has not been well since a major stroke in 1995, and his successor, Crown Prince Abdullah, has been the de facto ruler since.

There have been hints of problems in Saudi Arabia for years. I have wondered a few times if recent US military actions in the region haven't been aimed at establishing another "friendly port" once King Fahd died. Saudi Arabia's government has always been an odd tension between the powers of the Monarchy and the will of Wahhabi clerics. It's not at all clear just how much of the Saud family's power is "at the pleasure" of the Wahhabist clerics.

In the last decade or so, there have been a number of bombings of US military and civilian compounds in Saudi Arabia, as well as assorted random bombings of Saudi installations. These provide clues that under the surface, there are groups in Saudi Arabia who want some kind of change.

It seems quite likely that these groups have been biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to arise to become more active. Even though King Abdullah has been the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia for quite some time, conflicts within the Royal Family no doubt create opportunities which some will use as an opportunity to attempt to forward their cause - either through political maneuvering or outright violence.

Will Saudi Arabia descend into civil war? I'm not sure. I do expect that the cozy relationship between Washington and Riyadh will change considerably in the coming months and years.

Oddly, with the current mess in Iraq, a "less malleable" Saudi Arabia might be a good thing for the Arab world. Short of military force, it seems unlikely that a pro-American government will last very long in Iraq. While I'm sure that the Arab countries will be quite happy to sell their oil to America and other western interests, we may see a veil drawn around those countries for a period of time as they define themselves as entities on the world stage. We saw that with Iran after the revolution that overthrew the Shah, with Iran emerging as a major player on the world stage in the wake of the the Iran-Iraq war.