Sunday, December 31, 2006

More on Kingsley's Resignation (Elections Canada)

A few days ago, I commented on The Resignation of the head of Elections Canada, commenting that it was awfully suspicious coming so close on the heels to yet another spat between Harper's Conservatives and Elections Canada over some basic accounting practices.

Well, it seems that Mr. Harper is playing out yet another "grudge match" with Ottawa. Harper's Comments about Elections Canada (and by proxy, Kingsley) over the years show us a few more aspects of the man who is currently playing at Prime Minister:

Comments made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the years about Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada's top elections watchdog who is now resigning:

-"Canada is recognized around the world for its commitment to democracy and its highly-evolved electoral processes. Mr. Kingsley served as ambassador for Canadian democracy."

-Harper on Dec. 28, announcing Kingsley's resignation departure.

-"During his long career in public administration, Mr. Kingsley has always served Canadians to the very best of his ability. The Government of Canada appreciates his contributions."

-Harper on Dec. 28.

-"The jackasses at Elections Canada are out of control," - Harper in a 2001 letter to solicit funds for a B.C. man charged with violating the election act by posting election results on the Internet before all polls had closed.

-"Not only will a successful court challenge restore a precious right to Canadians, it will also drive home to Kingsley that such iron-fisted bully tactics have no place in a free and democratic society."

-Harper in the same 2001 letter.

-"Jean-Pierre Kingsley is reacting more like a state policeman than a public servant."

-Harper in a 2000 news release issued by the National Citizens' Coalition. He was reacting to Kingsley's public musings about making voting a legal requirement.

-"What's next? Would Kingsley's police use the election register to go house to house to force people to the polls or arrest them? It's simply bizarre. Parliament should think carefully about whether this guy has the approach to elections administration that a 21st century democracy requires."

-Harper in same 2000 press release.

Yes, one can be "gracious" in victory (having pushed Kingsley out the door two years early), but it still reeks of revenge and the kind of grudge that small people insist on carrying about for years.

Two workers were charged with placing a newspaper ad that claimed a local lead in an Ontario riding, without disclosing that their own party had conducted the poll. The elections act forbids publishing poll results without providing basic methodological details about how the survey was conducted - or by whom.

"This is the kind of garbage we're getting into - and more shockingly the kind of garbage that Jean-Pierre Kingsley and people at Elections Canada increasingly think is their business," Harper said in 2002.

So ... you broke the rules, got slapped for it, and somehow now you want to take it out on the people charged with enforcing the rules. Typical of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative party - rules and standards apply to everybody but them.

What's So Great About Canada?

Recently, I've encountered a few people on the political right-wing who seem to define their negative image of Canada in terms of everything American. This goes a long ways to explain Stephen Harper's fawning sycophancy towards Washington, and really irritates the heck out of me.

The argument goes a little like this: Canada is a small nation, and has never made any "major" contributions to the world. Supposedly there are no major Canadian inventions that dominate world life the way that the Automobile has {whether that's an American invention is open to some debate}. Canada hasn't started and won any major wars, etc, and is therefore an eminently forgettable nation.

With all due respect to my American readers, I simply do not accept that Canada is obliged to define itself relative to a nation 10 times its size that it borders on.

My self respect as a Canadian is not defined by "great landmark" moments forged in fire. That isn't Canada's past.

My Canada is a nation that tries to look after its own. We brought this nation into being in a spirit of collaboration, not conflict, and that colours our politics and presence in the world to this day - I hope that it continues to do so.

Canada is a nation filled with people who have a quiet resolve. We have populated and built this country out of lands that many had seen as uninhabitable. We didn't accomplish this by the "great acts" of a few individuals, but more through the collective effort of all Canadians. The CPR which spans this nation was built by Canadians because we knew that we needed the transportation link for this nation to prosper.

We are a nation who chose in the 1960s to make medical care available to all Canadians, regardless of income or circumstances. We are a nation whose politicians wrote a Charter of Rights into our Constitution - a model that has been emulated by many emerging democracies since.

Our soldiers acquitted themselves heroically in WWI and WWII; since then Canada's Military has taken on a role as peacemaker, builder rather than aggressor. Although often low key efforts, talk to the people who have lived with Canadian peacekeepers on the ground (e.g. Cyprus or Egypt in the 1970s), you seldom find anything but admiration and respect.

Canada has its share of major inventions (remember the Canadarm anybody? - or the Avro Arrow which conservative short-sightedness killed?) Among computer scientists, few would ignore the contributions of James Gosling to the field of computing. {and there are many others}

Our culture is diverse and broad reaching - each major region of Canada is notably different, and produces its own unique flavor of writers, artists and the like. The writers of the prairies are quite different from Margaret Atwood, or any of a dozen other writers from Canada. Musically, we have our collection of greats, like Maureen Forrester and Glenn Gould. Pop acts like The Tragically Hip, Shania Twain, or Anne Murray have taken contemporary Canadian music well beyond Canada's borders. Canada has never been a cultural wasteland, but is perhaps only just beginning to find its own voice.

Canada is like that kid in school that everybody pretty much ignored, but at the same time was smart enough to be able to explain what the other students missed in class. Not always noticed, or even heard, but there and quietly successful in our own way.

So, as 2006 comes to a close, Canada remains a proud nation with much to be proud of. Those who would denigrate Canada's accomplishments and contributions do so at the peril of falling into Abraham Lincoln's trap:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Politicizing Regulatory Panels ... Silently

I've carped many times before about how the Harper government is implementing a social conservative agenda by the back door - and often as secretly as possible.

In the Globe and Mail today, I learned that the government's board overseeing Assisted Human Reproduction Canada has no field experts in it.

Coming from a government with known, close ties to the TheoCon set, it appears that Harper has already descended into the land of selecting people for their political affiliations, not their expertise.

There's a couple of things of interest here - the agency website doesn't list who the appointees are (yet), as well as this announcement comes out when Parliament is not sitting. Once again, Harper has torn a page from the Ralph Klein Book of Tactics(tm), and tried to operate under the radar when it cannot readily be held to account for its actions.

According to the Globe and Mail article:

The new body will be co-chaired by John Hamm, a family doctor and the former Conservative premier of Nova Scotia, and Elinor Wilson, a former CEO of the Canadian Public Health Association.

The government also appointed, among others, a professor of Jewish studies who has written of his opposition to abortion unless the life of the mother is being threatened, a social anthropologist who is the director of research for the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, and a Montreal oncologist who has spoken against euthanasia at an anti-abortion conference.

John Hamm - Lessee, former politico, although he is an MD. {Whether he has the background for some of the more subtle issues involved in reproductive issues, is open to discussion}
Elinor Wilson - Reads like her bio is that of a long term bureaucrat.

As for the other characters, I don't have names to go hunting for some of their past, but I am somewhat amazed that a Professor of Jewish Studies, or a Social Anthropologist, would have adequate knowledge of medicine and medical ethics to be considered 'qualified' to dictate regulatory policy around reproductive technology.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Looking Beyond Hussein's Execution

With CNN acting all excited about Saddam Hussein's execution in the early morning hours in Baghdad, I thought it would be interesting to speculate on just how this could go horrendously wrong for Iraq's occupiers:

1) Hussein becomes a Martyr, and subsequently a legend develops around him. Ghosts are damnably hard to kill. Although I have no idea how the Arab world is going to respond to this execution, I can't imagine it will be framed as anything other than a Kangaroo Court decision driven by American politics.

2) The former Ba'ath party in Iraq will ally itself with Iran and Bin Laden's organization.

3) Iran is very difficult for the US to attack, especially if their troops are tied up in Iraq trying to control a combination of resistance fighters and civil war. Also, Iran's close economic ties with China mean that if you screw with Iran, China gets involved. Given how much US foreign debt is held by China, that would not be a smart move.

4) Iran becomes the tacit money laundering agent for both al Qaeda and the Iraq Ba'ath party, providing a safe route for access to resources for both organizations.

That would give Bin Laden access to resources the like of which he can only dream of today, and the Ba'ath party in Iraq moves into place as the powerbroker keeping the country tied up in violence just enough that the US can't move its troops too easily.

Iran stays just below the radar (beyond the usual heckling coming from their president), making them very hard to justify attacking on the world stage. (and the world isn't likely to be impressed by yet another round of "but they've got WMD's!" - whether or not that's the case)

- Purely speculative, and downright scarey to consider. It creates a near perfect storm for what will amount to a war of economic attrition.

Conservatives Playing Political Games

While a Canadian citizen sits in a US jail cell, we find the Conservative government playing politics with her case.

According to Canada's Justice Department officials, they have sixty days to submit an application to extradite Myriam Bédard from the United States, and they are going to take their sweet time:

...Bédard was arrested until the week of Feb. 19 — to file a formal extradition request. That is not likely to happen until February, Justice Department spokesman Chris Girouard told CBC News.

"We have 60 days to provide our submission and we will most likely take those 60 days to make our submission," he said.

You were fast enough to issue the arrest warrant that she was picked up on, now there's no hurry? Right. Why do I get the feeling that the Conservative government is playing a little "punishment before guilt" game here?

Bédard is charged with child abduction for taking her child to the United States - apparently without permission from her ex-husband. Remember, those are, at this time, charges - not convictions. So in the meantime, Ministers Toews (Justice) and Mackay (Foreign Affairs) are content to let a citizen sit in a foreign prison while they twiddle their thumbs.

Again, we see just how much the Conservatives care about Canadian citizens abroad. Just like Mr. Celil earlier this year, we see a case where a Canadian citizen is being held in foreign prisons, and our government does nothing.

Whatever is going on between Bedard and her ex-husband is likely filled with an amazing amount of innuendo and "he said/she said" allegations being thrown about. Leaving one of them sitting in a jail cell for 2 months or so is ridiculous. (Especially given the seriousness of the charges involved)

On Hanging Saddam Hussein

By this time tomorrow, the odds are pretty good that Saddam Hussein will be dead.

Personally, I think that hanging the man is stupid. Not because I am opposed to the death penalty (I am), but because no matter what is said it will be seen by many to have been an act of the United States.

A dead Hussein is a martyr - one rotting in a jail cell somewhere will sooner or later be forgotten.

In the Middle East, martyrs are remembered. People will rally around their memory - and memory often becomes legend. It's damnably hard to kill legends...

Shorter Michael Coren: This Earth Is Flat!

It seems that Michael Coren has a few problems with the world today - like the fact it's not flat.

Apparently the last century's progress is all for naught, and must be discarded in favor of 'absolute biblical truths':

It's not about socialism, recycling, sexual licence, climate change, group hugs, self-esteem or never offending anyone. It's about truth, unchanging Scriptural absolutes, church teaching, the undeniable facts of the virgin birth and bodily resurrection, speaking God's message even when it hurts the speaker as well as the hearer and unending love and forgiveness.

Yes, Michael, let's discard the last couple of hundred years' worth of rational thought and knowledge - we don't need none of that fancy thinking stuff if we have you to interpret scripture for us.

You know, it is the inability of people like Coren to look beyond their assumptions and actually appreciate the fact that we understand ourselves and the world very differently than the original authors of scripture did. Science, psychology and medicine have all changed how we perceive the world - you might just think that just maybe an absolutist view of scripture doesn't work so well any more.

Of course, Michael just has to play the "poor, persecuted Christian" card:

Now this is important. Never think that the attack upon Christianity is a sign of the decline of the victim. On the contrary. These attacks are evidence of the decline of the perpetrator. So insecure in their ideology are the atheist hordes that they try to destroy anything and everyone that reflects and exposes their weakness.

That's right Michael, facts and reality don't matter if you've got FAITH. Those of us that don't share your particular brand of faith must be deluded and weak. Sure.

For those few readers that haven't noticed, fundamentalist christians like Mr. Coren believe that their faith is under attack. I don't think their faith is under attack at all. They are merely running smack-dab into the cold, stony wall of reality that not everybody sees the world "their way". Suddenly, there's rational fact that disproves their assumptions; there are significant faith traditions that are quite different from theirs - in essence, they think they are losing control.

As if to reassure himself, Mr. Coren states:

Every little victory for the secular culture is a major triumph for the Messiah whose birthday we are about to commemorate. Just as the Church was persecuted most harshly by a Rome in massive decline. The darkness before the new dawn.

Yes, history repeats itself - true enough. I can only hope that whatever religiousity emerges from the ashes of modern day religions is more intelligent, compassionate and a whole lot less judgemental.

As of The 2001 Census, religions are somewhat in decline in Canada, with 28% of Canadians professing no religion at all.

Much of the shift in the nation’s religious make-up during the past several decades is the result of the changing sources of immigrants, which has contributed to a more diverse religious profile. As well, many major Protestant denominations that were dominant in the country 70 years ago, such as Anglican and United Church, are declining in numbers, in part because their members are aging and fewer young people are identifying with these denominations.

In 2001, Roman Catholics were still the largest religious group, drawing the faith of just under 12.8 million people, or 43% of the population, down from 45% in 1991. The proportion of Protestants, the second largest group, declined from 35% of the population to 29%, or about 8.7 million people.

Yes Michael, overall, your faith and its relatives - noisy as you are - have been in gradual decline for quite some time. (I'll be curious to see if the 2006 census shows similar results)

Head of Elections Canada Resigns ...

The timing of Kingsley's resignation is awfully fishy.

Here's a man who has overseen elections for over a decade, and just as The Conservatives are losing their argument about undeclared donations, suddenly resigns. Even more fishy, is the hush-hush around his departure. Unlike Adrian Measner's termination, the government has seen fit to not say anything.

However, like most micromanagers, PMSH is known to retaliate against those who dare to question his infinite wisdom. The CPC is no doubt feeling more than a little sensitive in the wake of their own creative accounting scandal, and has lashed out at the public officials who refused to let them "have their way".

The toll so far - two senior government officials have been fired, and several government agencies dismantled as the CPC government attempts to impose the unpublished party agenda.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Paul Jackson on Ed Stelmach.... * WAH ! *

There must be quite bitter bunch of cubicles in the editorial section of the Calgary Sun building in NE Calgary. Paul Jackson is busy whining about the outcome of the Alberta PC leadership race.

It seems he's just generally all upset with the outcome and Stelmach's cabinet as well. According to Paul, the losers, like Dinning and Morton, should pack up their bags and migrate over to the Alberta Alliance party.

I also speculated Ted Morton, who on the second leadership ballot had 41,000 votes -- twice as many as contenders Lyle Oberg and Dave Hancock combined -- had been slapped in the face by Stelmach, receiving only the somewhat irrelevant portfolio of sustainable resource development.

What Morton should do is take his 41,000 members over to the Alberta Alliance and help the right-wing party do an end-run around Kevin Taft's Liberals, whose mouths are salivating at the thought of coming up the middle, grasping Alberta's treasury, and putting us in a straitjacket of Lib-Left policies.

But then a political insider suggested former provincial treasurer Jim Dinning, who came second to Stelmach with 35.5% of the votes compared to just 35.9% for Stelmach for the first choice ballot (Morton's peak was 28.6%) should also move to the Alliance.

If both moved, taking with them theoretically a combined 62.5% of their backers, Stelmach's 1950s-style rural-based PC party would be devastated.

Basically, as is standard among the right-wingnut crowd, we are seeing another exhibition of poor loser. Jackson's man, Mr. Morton, didn't win under the rules the party set up for itself, so somehow or another the party "failed them".

Where Stelmach is concerned, my own opinion is somewhat reserved - I'll see what I think after seeing some policy and legislative activity out of Edmonton before I decidde if Stelmach is worth my time or not.

Still More Accountable Conservatism

Remember last election how the Harper Conservatives were telling us how they were going to lead the way in creating "Open, Honest and Accountable" government? At various times, I heard them say that they were going to lead by example.

Well, in yet another example of Conservative accountability, we find out that the CPoC is adding a new level to the term "creative accounting":

In the revised report, the Conservatives have "reclassified revenue related to the 2005 convention," disclosing an additional $539,915 in previously unreported donations, an extra $913,710 in "other revenue," and an additional $1.45 million in "other expenses."

The report does not explain what constitutes other revenue or other expenses.

So, they invented an amount of expenses that just happens to equal the amount of "reclassified" revenue? Really - did this bunch hire their accountants from the ashes of Enron?

Moreover, the party reports almost $700,000 in previously undisclosed transfers from riding associations, presumably accounting for ridings that helped subsidize the cost of attending the Montreal policy convention for their delegates.

Undisclosed? What the hell? If I was a CPC member, I'd be right royally pissed off about now. This basically means that a significant amount of party revenues have been "hidden" - meaning that they probably didn't show up on the financial statements either.

Of course, this is coming from the same people who think that handing nearly half a billion dollars to the White House occupants is a "necessary price" for illegal tariffs on Canadian lumber exports.

And just to clarify something - PMSH has his hands dirtied here too:

Having been forced to count convention fees as donations, the report indicates the Conservative party then discovered three delegates - including Prime Minister Stephen Harper - had exceeded their $5,400 annual limit for political contributions. As a result, the party refunded $456 each to Harper and the other two delegates.

Okay, it's not a large overrun, but PMSH should know the rules just as well as the rest of us do.

Let the spin begin:

The party's letter notes that Harper's minority government last month attempted to amend the Canada Elections Act to ensure that convention fees in future would not count as donations. But the proposed amendment was shot down by the three opposition parties.

Harper spokesman Dimitris Soudas said that while the Conservative party continues to believe convention fees shouldn't be subsidized by taxpayers, it "has indicated from the beginning that it will comply with any requirements" imposed by Elections Canada, and it has filed the revised financial report "to reflect this decision."

Yes, and the people that headed up Enron and WorldCom just happened to be at the helm of corporate scams of untold proportions. This statement is pure political spin - and badly done at that.

But while the Tories infer that counting delegate fees as donations is a recent development, Elections Canada has said that's been the case for decades.

The Canadian Alliance, Reform and Progressive Conservative parties - the precursors to the Conservative party - all considered convention fees donations.

Ah - here's the rub - the CPC knew damn good and well that it was breaking the rules - from the start. Then they tried to cover it up by amending the legislation to reflect their own crooked practices. Brilliant boys. Next time check your accountant's qualifications - experience with Enron or WorldCom audits is probably not a encouraging sign.

Just to recap, the CPC has tried to conceal over $2 million in donations, and they knew damn good and well from the start that this was illegal.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Conservative Justice Bills

Let the whining begin. It seems that PMSH is all upset because a bunch of the Conservative government's "justice bills" are hung up on objections from the opposition benches.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in the midst of the fall parliamentary session, finally resorted to the time-honoured tactic of branding his opponents as obstructionist - and threatening to make them pay at the polls.

"We'll keep trying to bring forward some tough-on-crime legislation," Harper declared. "But at some point, if the opposition won't pass it, they'll have to answer to the Canadian people."

Typical of the micromanager, when he can't get his way, Harper resorts to bully tactics.

But, let's consider Harper's "amendments" to the criminal code and their impact a little:

Toews admitted, as the session drew to a close, that he was frustrated with the track record, but like Harper laid the blame on the opposition.

"I can only say that we're pushing forward with our agenda," said the minister. "I'm disappointed that the other parties haven't kept their election promises."

Nine criminal justice bills remain before the House, some of them relatively innocuous measures to fine-tune existing laws.

More significant are bills to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 from the current 14, and to crack down on drug-impaired drivers.

But Toews says his top priority in the new year will be a bill imposing tougher mandatory minimum sentences for gun-related crimes, up to 10 years in the most serious cases.

He also wants action on legislation making it easier to classify people as dangerous offenders after three serious convictions. That could lead to locking them up indefinitely.

Opponents say those bills illustrate what's wrong with the Tory approach - the assumption that stiffer sentences, in themselves, will prevent crime.

I think that two of Toews' bills are illustrative of a much more dangerous problem with Conservative justice policy. Both the "3 Strikes Law" and their proposed amendments to bail rules turn the concept of of "Innocent until proven guilty" upside down by presupposing guilt and insisting that the accused demonstrate that they are "not a risk".

In a free and democratic society, the supposition of innocence in criminal proceedings is vital to keeping the state from using its powers to unreasonably constrain individual liberties. The suspicious thing here is that the Conservatives could easily achieve the desired effect in legislation without playing the 'reverse onus' card.

I suspect that for all of the Conservative government's attempts at obfuscation, the use of "reverse onus" tactics is in violation of Section 11 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially clauses d and e which read:

(d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal;
(e) not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause;

They may also be somewhat in violation of clause (c):

(c) not to be compelled to be a witness in proceedings against that person in respect of the offence;

At least as far as the inverted obligation of proof would likely require the accused to testify on their own behalf in many cases.

So besides the amazingly expensive process of putting more people behind bars, the Conservatives have demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the relationship between criminal law and the Constitution. They seem to think that accusation is equivalent to a finding of guilt, and worse that once someone is thought to have committed a crime, that the rights of that person are suspended.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Dear Ezra: STFU

Someone take away Ezra Levant's access to published media.

In his latest screed, we find Ezra spouting off on how the Liberals are all wrong about human rights - especially, it would seem, where China's concerned.

Let me put it in perspective for you Ezra: Canada is to China as a mosquito is to you - ignored mostly, and going to come out far worse for it if you decide to swat it.

PMSH is the one who doesn't get it where China is concerned. The Chinese are not impressed by some moron who comes strutting around with their chest puffed up and acting "holier than thou". They never have been. Chretien "got it" where China's concerned - he played to what the Chinese wanted, and quietly exerted background pressure to open markets and society - far more effectively than PMSH's recent APEC performance will affect anything.

Compared to where China was at 50 years ago, they've come a huge distance - in small steps. It was the blinding disparity between continental China and Hong Kong that opened their eyes to the differences in the 1980s.

If someone needs to "change" their approach, it's Stephen Harper. The man's borrowing his foreign policy from Washington, and in case someone hasn't noticed, it's been a miserable failure overall. Coming from a nation the size of Canada, that particular approach borders on bad comedy.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Common Sense on Debt

I don't often wander through the business pages of the newspaper - mergers, buyouts and corporate crises just don't engage me.

However, this is one of the most common sense views of debt that I've read in a long time, and I'd like to reflect on it with respect to today's governments.

Especially here in Alberta, the terms "debt" and "deficit" have been badly mangled in their meanings, and most voters misconstrue them as simply being the "evil of bad government".

The article distinguishes between "good debt" and "bad debt" - basically low cost debt that is used to purchase something of value, and high cost (e.g. credit card) debt that is used to pay for "pleasure".

Looking at the concepts of good versus bad debt in the context of our government, we need to be a bit judicious. Governments, in general, do not exist to "make money". This doesn't mean that governments cannot have profitable investments, just that making money is not their primary goal.

Governments can, and do, take on good debt. These are generally debts incurred to finance large scale public projects. Building of roads, hospitals and schools come to mind as obvious examples. Financing a piece of infrastructure that is going to be around for multiple generations over 20 years or so isn't a big deal. Let's face it, most of us don't have a spare half-million to buy a house, and governments seldom have a spare "couple of billion" to build that new hospital.

A government incurring a debt for such a purpose has not by any means committed a real fiscal 'sin', instead they have taken a prudent step to ensure that public needs are met, and financed in a reasonable manner over time.

I worry when a government is incurring debt as a result of an "operating deficit" - taking on debt in order to pay for its operations. To me, this is similar to taking on credit card debt to finance a vacation - and paying it off over time. Operating deficits, especially when incurred over a long period of time (such as happened in Alberta during Don Getty's tenure), can be a very bad thing. That may mean that the government needs to re-evaluate its priorities - possibly postponing certain infrastructure projects for a while, or reducing non-critical programs.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Broken Pope...Record...Whatever

I see once again that Pope Ratz is taking the seasonal opportunity to bitch, moan and bash people he chooses not to understand.

Pope Benedict spoke out on Friday against legal recognition for unmarried couples and "dismal theories" on the rights of gays to marry which he said stripped men and women of their innate sexual identity.

Holy crap! What an amazing screed of illogic. Sexual identity has so little to do with marriages or legal recognition of "common-law" couples it's not even funny. Perhaps the Pope would like to return to the days when marriage was a property transaction? Does he not recognize that the legal recognition of common-law relationships benefits the children of those relationships?

The Pope said granting legal recognition to unwed couples was a threat to traditional marriage, which required a higher level of commitment.

But he saved his strongest words for those who suggest gay couples should be put on the same level as a husband and wife.

"This tacitly accredits those dismal theories that strip all relevance from the masculinity and femininity of the human being as though it were a purely biological issue," the Pope said.

Theories "according to which man should be able to decide autonomously what he is and what he isn't," end up with mankind destroying its own identity, he said.

Recognizing the reality of common-law couples is called being practical. They happen, and children are born into these relationships. The change comes out of a recognition that when those relationships fail (and like all human relationships, they do from time to time), the spouse and offspring have a right to a reasonable division of the property. This protects children ... period.

As for the Pope's pronouncement on "
theories that strip all relevance from the masculinity and femininity of the human being
", he's so far off in left field it's not even funny. He's making pronouncements that disregard, or even attempt to discredit, the changes in understanding of the diversity of human behaviour made in the last 100 years.

The Pope's declarations only serve to illustrate why the Church has become more and more irrelevant among the educated parts of the world.

Merry #!%@#$'ing Christmas, Pope!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Just What Is Layton Thinking?

I've been wondering for a while just what the NDP is thinking in this parliament.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Layton has been giving the Conservatives an "easy run" of things in the house. (It's not that they haven't been saying things - there's plenty on the party news releases, but they just haven't been terribly visible in attacking some of the 'behind the curtains' activities of the Harper government.

Apparently, Harper and Layton have been getting cozy so that Harper can hang on to power.

I cannot imagine what Layton thinks he is going to gain by lending his support to the Harper government. Ideologically, the Conservatives are about as far removed from the NDP as you can get, and so much of the current government's activities are at odds with the NDP's stated policies and beliefs.

How does Layton square supporting Harper with what Harper's doing to the Wheat Board? (for example) or with the destruction of numerous human rights related programs? or the undermining of the presumption of innocence in Toews' amendments to the criminal code?

I'm afraid that Layton is going to lose support if he gets cozy with HarperCreep. He picked up a lot of support when Paul Martin took over the Liberals - those are not supporters that are going to stick around if they perceive that he's being cozy with Harper.

Just To Confirm My Point:

In case you were thinking that Measner's firing from the Wheat Board was for a reason other than Measner's refusal to get in line with Harper and Strahl's policy of destruction, it turns out that his replacement has been given explicit orders on the subject:

Greg Arason, who was appointed as interim board president on Tuesday, said Wednesday one of the conditions of his appointment is that he must refrain from taking a public position on any proposal for changes in the powers of the wheat board.

Stephane Dion has it right:

"If it's not the case, they would not vote for directors that are supporting the single desk. We have a democratic process, and the government is jeopardizing this democratic process," Dion told reporters.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Just How Effective Is Abstinence Only Policy?

Not very, it would seem. 95% of Americans have engaged in premarital sex.

The study, examining how sexual behavior before marriage has changed over time, was based on interviews conducted with more than 38,000 people -- about 33,000 of them women -- in 1982, 1988, 1995 and 2002 for the federal National Survey of Family Growth. According to Finer's analysis, 99 percent of the respondents had had sex by age 44, and 95 percent had done so before marriage.

Even among a subgroup of those who abstained from sex until at least age 20, four-fifths had had premarital sex by age 44, the study found.

Finer said the likelihood of Americans having sex before marriage has remained stable since the 1950s, though people now wait longer to get married and thus are sexually active as singles for extensive periods.

Which more or less blows an infinitely huge hole in the Forced-Birth movement's arguments that sex education that talks about the use of contraceptives and other topics has promoted all sorts of social evils.

The basic statement is that the puritan notion of abstinence has a very limited amount of mileage - no big surprise to most, really.

PMSH: There's An Election Pending

Harper's already playing the "pity me" card over the likelihood that his government will fall in the coming months.

““The party will be ready for an election, let me assure you, when an election comes, and if it comes, it will be because the opposition forced it.”

He also said he doesn't want a vote until October, 2009, the date which is being proposed under new legislation, and that his party has had success in pushing through its agenda.

Still, he made a case for a majority, saying current parliamentary instability is a distraction from bigger issues.

[But] I think it's hard to focus in a [minority] on what we want to achieve two or three years down the road. We can never lose sight of the fact the opposition could defeat us next month, and we can't at any point ever take the focus off short-term action.”

"Whether, over time, that will detract from longer-time action, I hope not,” he said.

Oh, I see, Stephen - voters should hand you a majority next election based on the fact that you "deserve" power. My goodness, and you talk about the Liberals having "entitlement issues"! So far your government's "short term" has been pretty godawful to watch. You've started dismantling numerous government programs and agencies - all of which on the basis of political ideology. Your "spending cuts" are nothing more than unlegislated imposition of the agenda you kept hidden last election. Just yesterday, your government fired the head of the Wheat Board, without even consulting with him.

“We're starting to focus on longer-term objectives; some of the democratic reform, Senate reform measures, our environmental initiatives — particularly the Clean Air Act — Advantage Canada and the economic plan,” he said.

“These are longer-term things that are only in their infancy. It's hard in a [minority] to focus the way I would like to.”

So far, much of the government's agenda has focused on relatively short-term pledges that flow from Mr. Harper's successful election campaign of one year ago.

Longer term objectives? Like your "clean air act"?, which defers doing anything meaningful until this generation is deceased. Lovely. I don't think I want this bunch of weasels in power until 2050!

He has, for example, successfully pushed through pledges like a one-percentage-point cut to the GST, begun sending out family allowance cheques for families with pre-school children and passed the Accountability Act. Other changes to criminal justice are moving slowly while a promise to shorten wait times for medical services appears bogged down with the provinces.

There might be a reason that his vaunted "reforms" to criminal justice are getting hung up - namely that they all break various aspects of our constitutional and criminal systems - in ways that are detrimental to things like the supposition of innocence.

Harper's high-handed approach to government will only get worse if he gets a majority. In my view, his legislative agenda and policy implementation shows a disregard for Canadians that I find reprehensible.

We need this guy out of 24 Sussex before he does any more damage to our nation.

Not Quite Getting It, Are We?

George W. Bush is blaming the "lack of progress" in Iraq on the insurgents.

While stunningly obvious to most of us, George doesn't quite seem to understand things:

Summing up a year of setbacks, President George W. Bush conceded Wednesday that insurgents in Iraq thwarted U.S. efforts at “establishing security and stability throughout the country.”

Looking to change course, Mr. Bush said he has not decided whether to order a short-term surge in U.S. troops in Iraq in hopes of gaining control of the violent and chaotic situation there.

At this point in time, you could double the number of troops in Iraq, and accomplish no real stability. The country is embroiled in a civil war - the American troops merely make a convenient target from time to time.

My guess is that if the United States backed off Iraq, the civil war would burn itself out in a matter of months. Whether the government that emerged would be an improvement on Saddam Hussein may be a different issue altogether.

Iraq is current day proof of the utter foolishness of trying to impose democracy at gunpoint.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Conservatives to Bureaucrats: Get In Line or Else!

Like we couldn't see this coming.

Essentially, Chuck Strahl has just fired Adrian Measner. Why? Largely because Mr. Measner continued to run the Wheat Board based on the directives from the Farmer-Elected Board of Directors. The message to other senior government bureaucrats and agency officials is clear enough - get in line, or prepare to walk the plank.

"The minister never talked to me — and still hasn't talked to me — [but] his staff were fairly open in the press that I would be terminated if I didn't support marketing choice and I'd still continue to follow the direction given to me by the farmer-elected board of directors, which isn't marketing choice," he said.

Of interest here are two key aspects:

1) The Conservative government's disrespect for the desires and opinions of the duly elected board of directors. The Wheat Board's directors are duly elected by the farmers who are directly affected by this board. Last I checked, there were a number of members of the board who want to pursue "market choice", but not enough claim a majority position on the board. This is a clear sign of utter disrespect for a specialized form of democracy on the part of Chuck Strahl and his leader.

2) The fact that Minister Strahl has not talked to Measner face to face (or, even over the phone) further underscores that this is a part of some political ideology, not a real management issue. In other words, the Conservatives are all too happy to roll over top of anyone who stands in the way of their particular (and peculiar) ideology.

The Wheat Board has been in place over 70 years, and has been an important and effective part of this nation's presence on world markets for wheat and other grains. Now we have a government bound and determined to dismantle it - whether or not the farmers want it, and regardless of its track record.

If the Conservatives are truly a party of "grass roots" democracy, then I challenge them to stow their ego-inflating rhetoric, and hold a referendum with all of the grain farmers. The question is simple - "Do you want the Wheat Board to continue to act on your behalf for grain sales?". Let the farmers decide, not ideology bound politicians.

Religion and Denial

The first draft of this started as a bit of a rant about how the fervently religious nutcases like to run about and claim that they have a monopoly on knowing what's right and wrong - usually by means of some kind of argument by assertion (I (or scripture) say it's true, therefore it must be).

Then I ran across this piece of utter drivel by Joseph Farah, and I thought it was such a lovely exposition of argument by assertion that I had to highlight it.

Mr. Farah's busy ranting on about how evil "moral relativism" is, especially when applied to foreign affairs. (Of course, we don't need to look too far afield to figure out how wonderfully absolutism works in foreign affairs - say Iraq?)

It's an example of what can only be described as a mental illness spreading through the world – international moral relativism.

Oh my, we are going to start off by categorizing relativism as a "mental illness". Wow - let me see if the DSM-IV actually lists it...ummm...nope, not there. Welcome to your first assertion - anyone who might consider an adversary's position for even a moment must be mentally ill.

As I have pointed out more than once, Israel has proven it would only use nuclear weapons in a last-resort defense of its population. Yet, Israel's enemies, personified by the suicide bombers who attack it relentlessly, would likely not even hesitate to use nuclear weapons if they ever had the chance. That's quite a collection of assertions:

1. Israel can do no wrong. (As this past summer's invasion of Lebanon demonstrates, that's very much a matter of opinion)

2. Israel's enemies keep doing suicide bombs, therefore, they wouldn't hesitate to use nuclear weapons. (That's quite a leap - from improvised bombs to the use of nukes - wow!)

I don't expect a single moral relativist reading this column to agree with me about this. It's almost a litmus test. If you can't tell the difference between Israel and Iran, you are a moral relativist. If you can't see that Israel, with all its faults, represents a basic sort of decency and civility in the world, while Iran represents the opposite, then congratulations, you're a moral relativist. Or, maybe you're just plain evil – like the leaders of Iran.

Ah, so not only is it essential that one must see that Israel is "ever perfect" and will do no wrong, but that Iran's leadership is evil.

He then asserts that if you do not, you are either a "relativist" (and therefore mentally ill), or evil.

The problems with this kind of argument are obvious enough. The real problem is that these arguments make the supposition that there are two kinds of reasoning - that of the person making the argument, and all the wrong ones. It discards the possibility that there might be multiple viewpoints with varying degrees of validity. Like the university professor who insists that students simply regurgitate whatever ideas they spew in lecture, there is no room to present alternative positions and argue them.

The denial of reality is obvious enough, but it colours every debate in our political landscape where religious groups attempt to inject themselves. They stick themselves into the debate, and then complain loudly that their "viewpoint" isn't being respected. The reality is that their viewpoint often is based on assertions, not facts.

Federal Accountability Act

Now that the Conservative's vaunted "Federal Accountability Act" has made it into law, I thought I'd take a closer look at it.

There have been many rumblings over the last year that this act was seriously watered down. In the course of my investigations, I found that Democracy Watch has an excellent analysis of the final law.

In addition to these four broken promises, nine other promised measures were not included in the FAA, resulting in a total of 14 broken promises.

The 14 broken promises are as follows:

1. the promise to "Enshrine the Conflict of Interest Code into law" (In fact, the Federal Accountability Act (FAA) deletes five of the rules in the current Code);
2. the promise to "Make part-time or non-remunerated ministerial advisers subject to the Ethics Code" (In fact, the FAA increases the number of part-timers and unpaid advisers not covered by most of the requirements in the Code);
3. the promise to "Extend to five years the period during which former ministers, ministerial staffers, and senior public servants cannot lobby government" (In fact, unless Cabinet ministers put ministerial staff on a list, the staff person will be allowed, as they were already, to become a lobbyist one year after they leave their staff position);
4. the promise to "Close the loopholes that allow ministers to vote on matters connected with their business interests" (In fact, the FAA does not close these loopholes);
5. the promise to "Allow members of the public - not just politicians - to make complaints to the Ethics Commissioner" (In fact, the FAA only allows politicians to file complaints);
6. the promise to “Give the Ethics Commissioner the power to fine violators” (In fact, the FAA does not empower the Ethics Commissioner to fine violators of many ethics rules);
7. the promise to "Require ministers and senior government officials to record their contacts with lobbyists" (In fact, the FAA does not include this requirement);
8. the promise to "Create an independent Parliamentary Budget Office" (In fact, the FAA allows Cabinet to dismiss the Officer at any time for any reason, which means the Officer will not have a key safeguard needed to act independently);
9. the promise to publish "all government public opinion research . . . within six months of the completion of the project" (In fact, the FAA only requires some government institutions to publish some research);
10. the promise to "Ensure that all Canadians who report government wrongdoing are protected, not just public servants" (In fact, the FAA does not even protect all public servant whistleblowers);
11. the promise to "Require the prompt public disclosure of information revealed by whistleblowers . . ." (In fact, the FAA prohibits the disclosure of much of the information revealed by whistleblowers);
12. the promise to “Establish monetary rewards for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing or save taxpayer dollars” (In fact, the FAA did contain a $2,000 maximum reward, but this measure was cut from the bill during the parliamentary review process with support from the Conservatives);
13. the promise to "Establish a Public Appointments Commission to set merit-based requirements for appointments to government boards, commissions and agencies, to ensure that competitions for posts are widely publicized and fairly conducted" (In fact, the FAA does not require Cabinet to create the Commission (it only allows Cabinet to do so) and since a parliamentary committee rejected the Prime Minister Harper’s nominee for Commission chair, the Prime Minister has derailed the Commission), and;
14. the promise to "Appoint a Procurement Auditor . . ." (In fact, the FAA does not require Cabinet to appoint the Auditor (it only allows Cabinet to do so) and it does not give the Auditor promised powers needed to ensure fair and transparent procurement practices).

“Canadians deserve better thananother dishonest Prime Minister, especially when Prime Minister Harper has broken promises that guaranteed a clean-up of the federal government and effective measures to ensure that public officials act honestly, ethically, openly and prevent waste," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

So, when you hear CPC supporters claiming that Harper has "cleaned up government", there's more to the picture than suggested.

Monday, December 18, 2006

You'd Think An Election Campaign Was Underway

With Harper roaming about Quebec, and Dion similarly roaming the province looking for support.

Harper is, as one would expect, making election style giveaways, and trying to snipe at the Liberals at the same time.

But more interesting was some of the other bits that came bubbling out today:

The Fraser Institute is arguing that we desperately need commercial competition in our medical system. This is a classic conservative talking point, and one that I believe is based on very flawed reasoning.

Right-wingnut Michael Coren is calling Canadians "hypocrits" on foreign affairs. (Not that Coren is exactly representative of anybody but himself, but the sniping is amusing)

And, of course, we can't ignore Dion's appointment of Ignatieff as Deputy Leader.

Ezra's Disappointed

It seems that Ezra's unhappy that Ted Morton 'only' got a junior cabinet post.

Admittedly, had Morton gotten anything less than Finance, or perhaps the newly imagined Ministry of Public Morals, Ezra and other rabid wingnuts in Alberta would be unhappy about it.

The idea Levant is pushing is that Morton's position in cabinet should be proportionate to the size of his ... well you know ... voter base.

Dual Citizenship and Emerging Memes

According to this piece of drivel in Macleans, we should outlaw dual citizenship in Canada.

Their rationale? Because people with dual citizenship might have divided loyalties. (Gee ... have I heard this meme before? Why yes, yes I have.

So, it would seem that Maclean's now believes that we should create two tier citizenship for Canadians. Why? Because these dual citizens might choose to participate in the governance of both countries. The fact that American/Canadian dual citizens have the right to participate in US elections, or that under Italian law, an Italian living abroad can be a sitting member of Italy's legislative body.

As an example of "single citizenship", they point to the spat between Jean Chretien and Conrad Black. Of course, they gloss over the fact that this was a very personal dispute between two very public figures. Black wasn't ordered to give up his Canadian citizenship because there was a real reason, he was ordered to do so because he had succeeded in completely pissing of Jean Chretien. There was no legitimate, legal reason for it.

The conservative meme about "divided loyalties", and faux outrage over evacuating citizens from Lebanon this year is nothing more than a really bad attempt at ethnic nationalism. Defining a "Canadian" as born, bred and resident here is so limited, and fundamentally brain damaged I can't even begin to express it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Truly Christian(tm)

I'd heard about this game a while back.

Part of me hoped that the game studio formed behind the game would run out of money before it was let out.

While I can tolerate "cartoon violence", I am deeply troubled by any game that works on the basic premise of "convert or be killed". The message that this game is puttig forward.

In essence, it is saying to its players that it is okay to kill someone who doesn't "pray the right way".

This creeps me out the same way that these games do - because this symbolizes a complete disrespect for other beliefs the same way that those other games embody an unacceptable disregard for women.

Newsmaker of the Year

Apparently, Time has named Harper Canada's newsmaker of the year.

Well, certainly Harper has made his share of headlines since winning a January election by the narrowest of margins.

Contributing editor Stephen Handelman writes that the prime minister who was "once dismissed as a doctrinaire backroom tactician with no experience in government has emerged as a warrior in power."

Handelman says Harper defied conventional wisdom about how to lead a minority government — "very, very cautiously" — instead pushing through "bold" changes, including:

* Slashing more than $1 billion in federal programs.
* Reshuffling the federal bureaucracy.
* Reopening the wounds of the national unity debate by supporting Quebec's right to declare itself a "nation."

At the same time, Handelman says, Harper introduced legislation that set a new standard of accountability for federal politicians, extended Canada's military mission in Afghanistan and negotiated an end to a long-simmering trade wrangle with the U.S. over softwood exports.

Let's see, almost all of Harper's "accomplishments" are notable for the fact that they didn't involve legislation.

Harper's done everything he can "under the covers" - by the fiat of executive policy, not by actual legislation for the most part. Only a handful of Conservative sponsored bills have made it through parliament to date.

Most of Harper's works have been divisive in nature, designed to foster squabbling and reignite old enmities - to divide the country along ethnic, religious and regional grounds - all in an effort to advance his anti-nationalist view of Canada.

His program cuts have reignited the gender wars of past decades; they implicitly affect women and minorities the most. His most recent meddling with the Senate can only be described as "Meech lite", revisiting the era of Mulroney induced separatism in Quebec. His comments on the environment, and general stance has reopened the "Alberta versus Ontario" rift.

Looking at his legislation and foreign affairs, the Softwood Lumber scam keeps getting smellier by the day; we learned more about his attendance at APEC this fall from foreign governments than our own - indicating a leader who is both secretive and authoritarian. Harper's approach to both his own caucus (expelling dissidents), and dismissiveness of Canadian's needing to know what their government is doing is appalling.

"If Harper wins the majority he craves, in the election expected sometime next year, he may yet turn out to be the most transformational leader since Trudeau," the magazine says.

Harper doesn't crave a majority - he lusts after power, for the wrong reasons.

As for being transformative, Time's prognostication might be correct - but it doesn't represent a Canada that I want to see.

Garth Turner: Harper is a Threat to Conservatism

Those of us who have watched the Reform, Alliance and now Conservative parties since their inception in the 1980s have known that this is not the party that reflects "classic Canadian conservatism".

Garth Turner is a bit more blunt about it: Harper is a threat:

In short, I believe Mr. Harper is quite possibly the worst threat to the Conservative movement. He does not embody any of the socially progressive elements of Conservativism which voters in our region desire. In fact, my months of door-knocking in the last election convinced me I was elected in spite of Stephen Harper, not because of him. Worse, he has turned his back on those things that Reform should be lauded for – a deep respect for the voters witnessed by empowerment of MPs, referenda and other direct democracy initiatives.

Unfortunately I sense Mr. Harper’s narrow brand of Conservativism has little or no growth potential among Canadians, as it does not represent the mainstream. Like the Reform Party movement it was born of, this will be no meaningful brake on the resurgence of Liberalism. This should not encourage you.

In short, Harper makes Mulroney look almost good. (I say almost, because I never especially thought Mulroney was a good leader for this nation.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Going to College Can Make You Crazy

Or, at least it can if you are a woman, and you make the mistake of going to one of those awful, icky secular institutions...or so Lifesite would have you believe.

The article I've just linked to is an amazing piece, both for it's obvious slant, but also what it's underlying assumptions are.

It hinges on whatever's written in this book - whose author has chosen to remain anonymous. That's the first thing that makes me deeply suspicious. Outside of certain, very rare, circumstances (such as those surrounding Watergate), I get very suspicious of someone writing anonymously. First of all, it means that not one of their allegations can be reasonably challenged, second, it calls into question their own professional sincerity. It also renders the book utterly unusable for further study.

The thesis is basically that "secular psychology" is being very damaging to young women:

Young women in college in the US and Canada suffer from an epidemic of depression, eating disorders and even self-mutilation and suicidal thoughts and behavior. Campus health professionals, steeped in the politically correct doctrines of sexual “freedom” and feminist theory, fail even to acknowledge the existence of the real cause.

Dr. Anonymous, who chose to keep her identity secret out of fear of professional reprisal, identifies the damage done to women by the feminist ideology that proposes women are psychologically identical to men and encourages sexual promiscuity – as long as it is made “safe” with a condom.

Oh lovely, here we go again. The message to women here is "sex is bad", "only have sex when you're married", and "you'll be punished if you do have sex before you marry". Of course, there's no mention of young, college aged men and their role, is there? No, instead, they focus on the women and try to, for all intents and purposes, blame them for being sexual beings. Worse, the argument seems to focus on the notion that college aged women are seeking counselling purely because they have sex lives.

Just to round things out, the author heaps an addition scoop of blame on those evil feminists. The talking point about feminism encouraging promiscuity is almost, but not quite laughable. It would appear that the article (and the book's) authors have never read any feminist literature before, and are arguing by supposition.

She told Dr. Warren Throckmorton in an interview that she “feels very much at risk.”

Dr. who? Oh, this guy - whose work pops up quite regularly quoted by the likes of NARTH, and other anti-gay groups. When his website's tagline reads "Celebrating Truth, Faith and Life", you might suspect that he has a vested interest perhaps?

Dr. Anonymous writes that the psychological field is still dominated by an irrational prejudice against religious faith that she calls “Theophobia,” that thwarts efforts to relieve women’s suffering.

Ah, now the truth comes out. It's all about shaming women using centuries old scriptural prohibitions. Of course, this comes from the same hypocrites who would call a bride who delivered a baby in less than the usual 9 months "enthusiastic" (nudge, nudge ... wink, wink), rather than pregnant at the time she got married.

Whether or not we want to like it, by the time most people are in college, they are young adults. Thinking that shaming them about sexuality is productive is embarrassingly neanderthal, and pathetically naive. I'd much rather that young men and women know their own bodies and sexuality honestly. (and yes, that does mean making birth control available to them, as well as non-judgmental counselling)

I suspect that "Dr. Anonymous" has more interest in "discrediting" organizations like the APA because they don't follow her particular brand of religious beliefs, and by remaining anonymous is able to continue to foster the spectre of "repercussions".


I know that sex sells, even in computer software (or perhaps especially in), but somehow, A "rape simulator" in SecondLife seems about as ugly as you can get.

I like to think I'm fairly open minded, and while I don't care much for the excessive violence in various FPS shooter games, this particular twist on things is going a little beyond what I'm willing to consider as acceptable. Rape is vile - period. Videogame simulations of it are, in my view, just as repulsive.

What bent little minds came up with these games is beyond my meagre ability to understand. Frankly, I think the lot of them should be rounded up and introduced face to face with the horrors that they are basing their virtual fantasies on.

If nothing else, this is a good reason for Canada NOT to dismantle agencies like Status of Women, which if nothing else attempt to measure and track how society is dealing with equality. (and no, there is no equality in rape - it's purely a male power thing, and repulsive as hell - even when fictionalized)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Alberta's New Cabinet Announced

Ed Stelmach's cabinet has been unveiled.

What's interesting is that many "senior" members of Ralph's cabinet are gone. Not demoted - gone. People like Gary Mar have been sent back to the benches. I see this as a promising start - Stelmach is clearly trying to differentiate himself from Klein - which if nothing else takes a "staleness" out of the cabinet players.

I notice he's given Morton a relatively junior post in the cabinet. Again, a fairly wise move on his part. Stelmach was to some extent obliged to make Morton a minister as a goodwill gesture, but at the same time, he needed to reward more stalwart backers of his campaign ahead of an outright rival.

I'll be curious to see just how the wingnut-o-sphere in Alberta politics responds to this.

[Update 21:25]
I just had a rather interesting conversation with a close friend about the new cabinet, and they put a very cynical spin on it. Basically, they looked at who was appointed to what posts and came up with the conclusion that Stelmach has used this cabinet to "pay political debts". The objection, quite legitimately, is that we do not necessarily have the 'best person for the job' in any given post, rather the posts have been handed out based on the "size of the political debt" to be repaid.

For someone looking for a "reinvention" of the governing party, this is a recycle of the same old, same old politics that have come to pervade the PC party's governance since the 1970s. (Granted, anyone who looked at Don Getty's leadership had to admit that many of his ministerial postings were purely political in nature, and did not put the best people available into the roles)

Innovation - Conservative Style

With a government focused on a testosterone-laden program of military engagement, we can expect to see less of headlines like this:

Canadian scientists reverse diabetes in mice

and more headlines like this:

Ottawa won't back Canadian-built Mars rover

Mind, when your government is going after important issues when past leaders start saying they are important, you know that the government simply has no concept:

Mulroney's correct on enviroment, says Harper

So, let me get this straight. Scientists have been putting forth an ever growing body of evidence that says that climate change is a serious problem. Harper ignores this until Unca Brian opens his yap and tells Harper he's missing the boat?

In my view, this is yet another example of how utterly clueless the Harper government really is. They do not understand that a lot of real "research and innovation" simply cannot "succeed" in the "open market", and requires fostering at all levels. Canada has been a leader in robotics since the 1970s, and has built that expertise up over thirty years - this ESA contract is merely a reflection of Canada's successes in other areas - such as the "Canadarm" on the Space Shuttles.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Amending The Senate - Bill C-43

The text of Bill C-43 is available on the Parliamentary website.

I have only given it a superficial reading at this time, but there are several things of note.

First, there is nothing that appears to make the outcome of the "consultation" binding upon either the Prime Minister (who traditionally recommends people to the Governor General for the Senate), or the Governor General.

Second, unless the referenced sections of the Canada Elections Act stipulate what is to be done with the results of a "consultation", it is not clear just to whom the results are reported. (For all we know, they could wind up in the trash bin the next morning)

One point that is very interesting is that the "eligibility to be a candidate" criteria are a limited subset of the criteria in the Constitution (paragraph 23), which in many respects could render a number of "successful candidates" invalid at appointment time. Of course, this gives a sitting Prime Minister an excuse to ignore the results by simply declaring someone "unsuitable" to sit in the Senate.

This is either an oversight, or an attempt on the part of Stephen Harper to undermine the Constitution of this country through legislation.

The majority of the bill is focused on the mechanics of conducting a "consultation", and appears to attempt to define it as a variation on proportional representation vote.

Fundamentally, this to "reform" of the Senate as putting new draperies up in a house is "renovating".

The Emerging Ugliness

This is post is a "two parter".

The first topic is some interesting bits about the government's cuts to Status of Women Canada. Via Marginal Notes, I came across this blog whose authors had come into possession of a slide show that was presented to SWC staff after Minister Oda announced massive and sweeping cuts to the offices of SWC.

Read it, and the accompanying blog - it's very enlightening as to just how small-minded our current CPoC government is.

Perhaps most amusing is the use of the term "world standard best practices" to measure gender parity. First of all, it suggests that there is a "world standard", and that such a standard needs no further contributions to improve it. I suspect that Canada's work (guided by SWC) defines what "world standard" does exist!

Primary among the cuts to SWC is the dismembering of the research side of the organization. Apparently, the CPoC thinks that we already "know everything", and therefore no longer need to study gender parity. Of course, this is consistent with the Conservative belief that if it won't survive in the "open market" it's not worth doing.

Moving along, just for fun, we find out how the Conservative government is implementing their own lovely level of bigotry - even if they can't legislate it.

Via the NDP, we learn that Immigration Canada's "interim policy" refuses to acknowledge legal same gender based marriages from other countries.

We aren't talking about countries that have radically different legal notions of marriage from Canada here. We are talking about Spain, The Netherlands and Belgium for example.

I am disgusted that a marriage solemnized - and legal - elsewhere in the world - receives a special form of discrimination applied to it.

This is the kind of mean-spiritedness that has come to characterize the CPoC, and their approach to governance. Next thing you know, we'll find the Canadian Military will be obliged to enact a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy - where gay members of the forces can find themselves fired - once someone finds out they are gay. (Ironically, the US military has a shortage of linguists that speak Arabic - they've fired most of them under DADT!)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Americanization Begins ...

So, Stephen Harper is announcing a bill to amend Canada's Senate.

Unsurprisingly, it is based on the usual canard about "electing senators" - a symbolic farce that has been perpetrated repeatedly in Alberta.

"Imagine that after a century and a half, democracy will finally come to the Senate of Canada."

Senators are currently appointed by the government, but Harper said the new law would let voters choose a preferred candidate to represent their provinces and territories.

Of course, what he's really whining about is the fact that the Senate can, and often does, send bills back to the House of Commons with significant amendments. The Senate has very limited legislative rights in our system of government. (In particular, the Senate cannot originate legislation that involves the expenditure of public funds (See Section 53 of the Constitution. This is a major limitation, as it prevents the the Senate from initiating major government programs (most public programs ultimately involve some kind of funding).

Because Harper could not actually amend the Senate without opening the Constitution, he has chosen to do this by legislation that "provides the Prime Minister with a "gauge" of public opinion". Reviewing the Constitution itself, the appointment of Senators lies firmly in the hands of the Queen's Representative, The Governor General. Traditionally, the GG has 'accepted' the nominations made by the sitting Prime Minister, but is not obliged to do so.

At one time, I had thought of amending the Senate so that it served as a "regionally balanced" house in counter weight to the population balanced character of the House of Commons. However, that was long before I came to understand that the appointed Senate actually serves a useful purpose - because its members are not "looking over their shoulder" at the upcoming election, the Senators are free to evaluate the legislation from the House of Commons for its implications, and to recommend amendments to the House of Commons. (This has been a sore point with the CPoC because much of their legislation keeps coming back with amendments that they don't like - of course, much of their legislative agenda breaks fundamentals of our laws)

As far as I can tell, this is basically a "window dressing" act - the Conservatives are attempting to create some "positive spin" for an election likely to be triggered in early spring.

(BTW - I'm not necessarily opposed to changing the nature and character of our legislative bodies, but it has to be done very carefully - simply putting a faux-election around our Senate appointments is nothing more than aping the American governmental system in my view)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More Conservative Government in Secret

The Conservatives continue to implement their agenda below the radar. Taking a page from Ralph Klein's tenure in Alberta, Stephen Harper has become the most secretive, non-communicative Prime Minister in recent Canadian history.

If the Liberal party's research is accurate, we can expect to see the Military agenda of the CPoC funded on the backs of Canada's energy efficiency and advanced education programs.

Back when this Government announced some $15 billion in military spending, I questioned just how they thought they were going to afford this sudden injection of capital into Canada's military. Unsurprisingly, they seem to think it is appropriate to do this at the expense of our education system, and other programs that are beneficial to Canada as a nation moving forward.

How enlightened.

Oh yes, PMSH denies the cuts are being planned, but then tries to blame the Liberals for climate change issues. Unsurprising - the CPoC is like an inept manager - nothing's ever _their_ fault, is it?

SGM Motion Fallout

On schedule, in the wake of the failure of Stephen Harper's motion to "reopen" the marriage legislation in this country, we find the bleating has begun, and more or less on exactly the track I had expected.

In the Dec 11 Hamilton Spectator, we find REAL Women Canada's Gwendolyn Landolt bleating away on a list of talking points that are, well, mostly bad fiction.

She dives into her tirade almost immediately:

Others are opposed to homosexuality for practical, medical, moral and/or religious reasons.

Wow, what a list of implied issues.

Practical - oh yes...the "it's all about the children" line. My does that render the marriage of anyone who doesn't have children suddenly invalid?

Medical - I'm sure any gay readers out there are rolling their eyes at this one. Once again, it's the old canard about gay male sex and the "medical consequences". (Shall we really open the whole can of worms about how women used to die in childbirth all the time - and in some parts of the world, still do?)

Moral and/or Religious reasons - Yes Ms. Landolt, be honest - it's religious reasons. I haven't met a person yet who objects to SGM that isn't quite passionate in their religion. Most non-religious people kind of shrug their shoulders and carry on.

On to the next collection of horsepuckey:

Even within the parliamentary process, the decision on same-sex marriage has been made by a very few individuals. ...

In debate last week, the NDP and Bloc Quebecois parties again excluded the public from the same-sex marriage debate by requiring its MPs vote along party lines.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion was not much better. He begrudgingly allowed a free vote, although making the claim that same-sex marriage is a "fundamental" right under the Charter of Rights.

Oh, I see, because the two votes that Parliament has had were not "fully free votes", it's somehow "undemocratic". I have a little newsflash for Ms. Landolt - that's how our democracy WORKS! We elect our representatives (who, just happen to be members of various political parties) to do the tough job of running the country and authoring laws.

The second point, and I've raised it before, is that civil rights are not a subject of "popular vote". Our constitution talks about non-discrimination and equality before the law in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those are rights.

He was wrong. The Supreme Court of Canada has never ruled on whether the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional. The Ontario Court of Appeal decision on same-sex marriage, which assumed the leadership role among the provincial courts on this issue, is now under a cloud, due to a complaint laid against Chief Justice Roy McMurtry before the Canadian Judicial Council for serious judicial impropriety and the apprehension of bias for his part in that case.

Ummm, really? Well, the Supreme Court did not specifically rule on that topic, but rather issued an opinion that the law as amended by bill C-38 was constitutional. That much is correct.

Of course, Landolt is referring to her own organizations filing against McMurtry on the subject, because he allegedly has a lesbian daughter. Whether that creates a circumstance under which he should have recused himself from the ruling is perhaps an interesting matter of debate. I don't know if it should have or not.

However, Ms. Landolt is ignoring the fact that rulings in other provinces (B.C., Quebec and others) came up on the same "legal page" as the Ontario ruling.

By complaining about one of the Justices sitting on the case REAL Women clearly cannot find fault with the legality of the ruling itself, so they are attacking the persons who made the ruling. Apparently, however, REAL Women failed to read the ruling itself which doesn't even name McMurtry as one of the presiding justices.

This new definition of marriage has a profound impact on the welfare of children. A large body of social scientific research indicates that children thrive best with a mother and father who teach them gender identity and sex role expectations. This was the conclusion of a committee of the French National Assembly, which recommended, in January 2006, that France not accept same-sex marriage due to its detrimental effect on children.

The French committee criticized studies on same-sex parenting that claimed it had no ill effects on children, on the basis that these studies lacked scientific rigour, included inadequate sampling, and showed a lack of objectivity.

"A large body" ... which mysteriously, outside of a committee from the Government of France, she never cites.

I will agree that one can criticize the studies about gay parenting on the basis of sample size. Gays and Lesbians make up a small percentage of the population to begin with, finding an "adequate" sample that is willing to participate in such studies is difficult. I think most mental health professionals would agree with that.

However, while the criticism of sample sizes and perhaps a reliance on "anecdotal" evidence as a result has a degree of validity, The criticism does not show the alleged "harm" that Ms. Landolt is inferring. The evidence available to date says otherwise - and I for one will put far more weight in the opinions of the The APA than I would in a political lobby group like "REAL Women".

The duration of same-sex marriages is shorter than that of opposite-sex relationships: on average, the former last only two to three years. These factors are detrimental to children who require stability in their lives.

Again, this is argument by assertion. Ms. Landolt does not cite a source for this claim, but merely makes the claim as if it were "common knowledge".

A trend resulting from same-sex marriage is evident in the Netherlands, which has allowed homosexual couples to register their partnerships since 1997 and which legalized same-sex marriages in 2000. Statistics show that the out-of-wedlock birthrate there has increased by an average of 2 per cent a year -- more than in any other country in western Europe. This indicates a marked decrease in a desire for legal marriage and an increase in cohabitation.

What? Hang on a second here - speaking of problems with logic. Temporal correlation does not equate to causality. Ms. Landolt is once again falling into the logical fallacy of assuming that because two population trends are coincident with each other that somehow they are related. Even more brain damaging is the logical leap that says that gay marriages have anything at all to do with the behaviour of the heterosexual population.

The legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada has put law and religion on a collision course. The Catholic organization, the Knights of Columbus, in Port Coquitlam, B.C., was required to pay a fine for causing "hurt feelings" when it denied the use of the organization's hall to a lesbian couple to celebrate their wedding.

Religion-based social services, such as counselling and adoption services, are now required to conform to the same-sex marriage law.

Now we find Landolt's arguments devolving into the usual bunch of garbage nonsense talking points. What is it with these people that make them believe that their religion gives them the right to treat others as second class citizens?

Counselling and adoption are generally services "to the public", and at best are "affiliated" with a church. (I'd have more than a few choice words for any counsellor that decided to start foisting their religion upon me if the agency wasn't clearly and obviously connected to a church!)

A teacher and school counsellor in British Columbia, Chris Kempling, submitted a letter to his local newspaper objecting to homosexuality. This resulted in his suspension for one month without pay by the B.C. College of Teachers, which alleged that Kempling's letters "poisoned the school environment."

Subsequently, Kempling was a candidate for the Christian Heritage Party and, in that capacity, had a letter to the editor published in his local newspaper opposing same-sex marriage. He received a further suspension of three months without pay.

I've debunked these talking points already elsewhere, and I'm getting sick of hearing them. They are distortions and lies with only the tiniest grain of reality in them.

Kempling wasn't oppressed. He violated the terms of his employment, repeatedly, and created an atmosphere of intimidation for GLBT students in his school. Kempling was a staff member of a SECULAR (non-religious) school board which caters to ALL citizens of the country. Ms. Landolt needs a not-so-gentle reminder that GLBT people are citizens too.

School boards in Quebec and Ontario, especially in Toronto, Hamilton and London, now require homosexual "education" in their school systems. Such programs do not provide balanced instruction on the issue, and the medical, psychological and legal impact of homosexuality are not mentioned.

As these examples show, these are monumental consequences to same-sex marriage. Are these the changes that Canadians want? Who knows? We've never been given the opportunity to express our views. A referendum on the issue is clearly required.

Ah yes, we return to the ominous, and unstated "consequences" argument, with a clear cry that a crisis is brewing in our fair land because we are according rights to those evil queers - goodness knows that treating contributing members of society as equals has to be dangerous if they are gay.

As I speculated here, the religious reich wing of our nation will now turn to fomenting a crisis in the land in an effort to "force" Stephen Harper to crack down on gay rights.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Why TheoCons Irritate Me

In the wake of last week's failed motion to reopen the SGM debate, I found myself wandering around the right-wing of the blogosphere, and it dawned on me what I really despise about the so-called "SoCons" - more realistically called "TheoCons", or even Regressives (IMO).

I don't give a damn about their religion - that's their business, I don't particularly have any interest in what fuzzy cloud being they choose follow, or what that being is purported to have said. As long as they don't insist that I follow their particular brand of worship, I'm fine with that. If it helps them find a grounding in the world, that's great.

Rattling around out there is a lot of "quiet discussion" around how they (the TheoCons) are going to proceed forward in their fight against the evils of "The Gay Agenda(tm)". Mostly, it's the usual claptrap about organization, fundraising, and "getting the message out" there. Even that doesn't bother me - although I certainly found Ted Morton's favourite tactic during the Provincial PC leadership race distasteful (He would campaign to church congregations and try to sign up as many of the congregation as he could). I'm personally a strong advocate of keeping church and state well separated - and that goes as far as being absolutely clear that a Church should never be used as a campaigning spot by politicians.

No, none of that is what bugs me. It is the insistence that these groups have in declaring someone else's life invalid somehow. I've had more than a few hostile commenters on this blog claim that as long as one homosexual "changes" their orientation, that all homosexuals should change. Worse, they argue in essence that sexuality is purely a matter of "moral choice", and disregard a plethora of evidence that suggests that such a simplistic view is inappropriate.

My problem with this is twofold. First of all, on most fronts, human behaviour is highly variable. For example, I may love to eat Asparagus, others may tolerate it to varying degrees, and my brother utterly loathes the stuff. Take just about any other example, and you will find that it follows a similar pattern. What on earth would make me believe that human sexuality would be any different?

The second point is one of validity. We all experience the world around us in sensory isolation to our companions. You cannot "look inside" my head and understand how I am responding to what is around me. I may provide external behavioural cues (facial expression, words, whatever) that give you a clue, but you have no real idea precisely how I experience a given sensation. (Try, for example, relating to how someone who is colour blind sees the world) Therefore, whatever I express of my experiences is valid - at least to the degree that I am able to articulate it.

It is this second point that draws the line in the sand. I do not accept that because one person has reported that they can "change" that all similar people should change - we are not all "the same", and what applies to one person does not apply to everybody equally. I certainly do not solve problems anything like the way most of my co-workers do - for example! The learning and solving techniques that work for me don't work for everybody else.

Worse, the TheoCon movement has taken it upon themselves to claim that that they are justified in judgmental bigotry. In fact, they want to go so far as to enshrine that right in legislation.

Perhaps even more objectionable is the fact that from these same people, we find an ethnic nationalism that would make this guy proud.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Semantics and Weasel Words...

So, it seems that Stephen Harper has declared the SGM debate dead.

Let's take a look at what Stephen really said, shall we?

"I don't see reopening this question in the future," he told reporters who asked whether same-sex marriage would return to the table if the Conservatives won a majority government.

Uh huh. "I don't see" is a far cry from "I will not". It subtly leaves the door open for Stephen to weasel this topic back onto the agenda when he gets that majority he's been lusting after.

Nor does he intend to introduce a "defence of religions" act to allow public officials, such as justices of the peace, to refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

"If there ever were a time in the future where fundamental freedoms were threatened, of course the government would respond to protect them," said the Prime Minister, who voted for the motion. "The government has no plans at this time."

Now, I happen to agree with one point - SGM does not threaten religious freedoms. It never has.

It's the phrase about "having no plans at this time" that worries me. Harper has basically signalled two things here - one that he's going underground on an issue that he knows will torpedo any chance for re-election, and second that the topic can - and likely will be - tabled in the future.

What Harper has done with his comment about "If there ever were a time in the future where fundamental freedoms were threatened" is leave open a door for the anti-gay organizations of the country to write their case about how SGM creates a lethal threat to "religious freedoms".

In the short term, if we do see a "DORA" act tabled, you can expect it to come in as a "private member's bill" - something that has a much lower profile than if a government minister happens to table it. However, it's no secret that Harper micromanages every aspect of this government. I'd put pretty good odds that a private member's bill has at least got the tacit approval of the cabinet. It may come in as a piece of legislation from one of the Liberal members of the so-called "Social Conservative Caucus" lurking in the background on Parliament Hill.

Letting Your Biases Get In Front Of You

Yesterday, I ran across this essay on X(itter), and it annoyed me because the author makes all kinds of errors of both fact and reason.  Si...