This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ho, Ho, Ho!

There they are, the Jolly Green Liberals, side by side in blessed harmony. Stephane Dion is getting set, getting ready, getting go! Not yet, though. Just practising. Just kind of setting up, setting the stage, as it were. He's got his team on board now, and they're chomping at the bit, friendly to beat the band. Teamwork, that's what it will take, and teamwork they promise.

From Michael Ignatieff, first at the gate, to Bob Rae, Scott Brison, Gerard Kennedy and Martha Hall Findlay, they're pals, all. What? Right. Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy and Martha Hall Findlay are part of the eager-beaver team, but they're not Members of Parliament. Never have they yet run for office at the federal level as Liberals. Details, details. They're still hot to go.

Under the leadership, needless to say, of Stephane Dion, that come-from-behind whizz. He said it, said he needs a 'dream team' and there you go, he dreamed just such a team into reality. No, no hard feelings, none at all. Nothing personal, just all pulling together for the Old Party. Mr. Dion plans to pull it out of its sadly decrepit state.

This is the guy vaunted for his sense of honour, decency and values, his high intellect. I'm having problems squaring all those superlatives of character with what I've seen just of late. Like all the dire charges leveled against the (ugh) New Government of Canada (ugh the ridiculous nomenclature), when that selfsame government is proving itself very adept, very worthy, most admirable.

In fact, this nonsense about the Conservative-led government of Stephen Harper having made "ideological cuts" resulting in a loss of student aid to higher education kind of puts things into perspective. Reflecting rather questionably on the honourable intentions of said new leader of the Liberals' own pathetic record on the environment, while casting aspersions of horror at the attitude of the Harper government.

Aha! it would appear that budget documents demonstrate the Conservative government is spending more this year on non-repayable student-aid packages than the previous government. The Canada Graduation Scholarships and Canada Access Grants created for low-income students to ensure fewer crippling loans post-graduation hasn't deteriorated under the Conservatives at all, it would seem, despite statements to the contrary from Stephane Dion.

Here's how it worked: immediately pre-election, the then-Liberal government promised an election-worthy programme of enriched improvements to Canada's student financial assistance program through to 2011. Promised, get it? On the eve of an election, get it? Although the Liberals had passed a budget a few months earlier with five-year spending projections, the government did not include these initiatives at the time.

Only later, as election enticements. How's that for creativity, to accuse the Conservative government of not honouring an election-eve pledge by the Liberals? Wot a team...go for it!

It's Our Way Or No Way

Women hoping to have a tubal ligation have had to travel far beyond their rural hospital to procure the procedure. That's what happens when a public service, paid for by public taxes is operated under the auspices of a religious body. It simply defies intelligence that a public hospital, in this instance a Catholic facility operating in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, insists that their institution operates under the umbrella of Catholic health ethics.

What that effectively means is that a simple, but vital procedure for many women remained out of their reach locally. These women who determine that they wish to procure a tubal ligation procedure because they feel their families are now complete and they don't wish to bring any more children into the world, were refused service.

This procedure, which blocks a woman's fallopian tubes is a responsible alternative for conception-avoidance, and a permanent one. Not a decision easily reached. Immeasurably more effective and certainly a more comfortable decision, more morally and ethically acceptable than reliance on abortions.

Not, it would seem, in the eyes of those who administer the affairs of St. Elizabeth hospital in Humboldt. That esteemed institution reflects the dogma of the Catholic church by opposing assisted reproduction, sterlization and any kind of contraceptive use, on religious grounds. The hospital objected to the use of tubal ligations for contraceptive purposes.

Its policy was that tubal ligations should be conducted solely for recognized medical reasons. Those reasons might include cases where women could suffer serious health problems resulting from pregnancy. Their recalcitrant policies have caused three staff physicians to surrender their posts with the hospital, objecting to the hospital's adherence to religious strictures.

Not a very useful situation in a small town where across the country there are ongoing struggles related to insufficient medical help, a paucity of doctors willing to locate in rural communities, and residents bemoaning their inability to find adequate health service through the practises of area doctors. In the wake of the resignation of three staff members, the hospital agreed to review its policies.

The new policy, while indicating that the hospital still aligns itself with the teachings of the Catholic church which opposes the use of tubal ligation for contraception, sterilization will be permitted "when the primary purpose is to benefit the total health of the person". In other words, the procedure can be performed for the medical, psychological or emotional well-being of a patient, with the doctor and patient determining justification.

The new policy no longer permits the hospital to conduct audits of tubal ligations performed in its operating rooms. It would appear that the hospital was recently held to account for violation of privacy legislation by permitting two members of its board - a priest and an administrator, to check patient charts for the purpose of determining the reason why sterilization had been performed.

The mind boggles.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

CHRISTMAS - There, I Said It!

What the hell!? Christmas is fast approaching. In the Western world the single most celebrated, best known and beloved holiday of the year. Just as cruel winter sets in up steps Christmas to keep people busy decorating, baking, planning, celebrating, gifting, and generally merrying themselves out of their skulls. You see anything wrong with that?

I'm Jewish. When I was a little kid I felt mightily resentful about all that hoopla, the colour, the festivities and joyfulness. I felt excluded. This was not, after all, my holiday. My own tradition in fact had no festive occasions, no holidays to be celebrated that came anything near to approximating the joy and light-heartedness of this single Christian occasion.

But well do I recall the kindly generosity of Italian neighbours in the struggling community in which my family lived who would invite me into their parlour to gape in awe at their Christmas tree ablaze with lights and adorned with the most adorable of ornaments. I felt no jealousy then, only admiration for the beauty of the thing.

At school, when I was a child it was obligatory at Christmas that all gathered at school assemblies in the assembly hall sing Christmas carols. (You could mouth them, pretending to sing, but the technique stifled pleasure.) I felt squeamish about some of the carols, those that were so overtly religious in tone and tenor, but absolutely adored the beauty, the stillness, the expression of humanity in so many more of them. To this day I know many of the words to these songs.

To be honest, as I became older, and then an adult there were moments when I felt put upon at all the feverishness of the occasion, the bonhomie, the heartfelt expressions that people hurled at one another of "Merry Christmas!"; the enquires about whether you'd yet prepared all the gifts to present to family and friends, if all the baking had yet been done - how well prepared I was to face Christmas.

Don't they know? I'd silently ask myself. Aren't they aware? Why are they so full of themselves that they have no thought to anyone else's beliefs and customs? Why must Christmas be shoved in my face?

Well, tough. Like everyone else the colour, sounds and joyfulness of the season affected me, and I enjoyed being a part of it, outsider though I was. Each year I could cast my mind back to the fond memories and the excitement I felt when my mother would take me to Eaton's or Simpson's department stores in downtown Toronto to Christmas Wonderland.

At those times I was just another child. I was included, simply because I was there, ogling at the elves' and the fairies' costumes, the castles and the reindeers, and the gifts displayed everywhere, the trees adorned with ribbons and bells and glass balls and lights, lights galore. And the window displays with their cunningly beautiful automatons were wonders to behold.

Present-day political correctness lest-we-offend in our pluralist society is an absurdity. To banish the sight of Christmas trees lest they offend the gaze of those whose tradition is foreign to the challenge of seasonal happiness is ridiculous. The purposeful delicacy of re-naming the season, the holiday, the appurtenances of celebration is painfully ridiculous.

Hey, everyone, it's Christmas. Enjoy it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Which Is It To Be, Mr. Dion?

You've been harrumphing about bringing our Canadian troops home at the earliest opportunity, Stephane Dion, and from what you've intimated you're not above orchestrating an early opportunity. No one is in favour of war, that's true; any war, any time, anywhere. But under the auspices of the United Nations, and as a member of NATO the former Liberal government committed Canada to this fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Remember that?

We know the reasons why, all the nasty details whereby fanatical Islamists preyed on the people of Afghanistan, forbid education for girls, established Madrassas for the boys, outlawed music and dancing and singing, forced men to wear long beards, women to cover themselves and never to venture into the public eye without the presence of a male relative - let alone have the opportunity to work. We pitied the starvation facing widows with no income, girls with no education, men with no hope for the future.

All of that and more brought us to Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, in lock-step with the U.S. need to roust al-Quada, along with their Taliban protectors. Yes, we may have felt conflicted at some level at being engaged in a far-off war. But we entered that theatre to give aid and support to the people of Afghanistan and, we thought, to help make our world safer from the deathly predation of Islamist jihadists. So we're there on a moral mission as well as doing our part as a NATO member in good standing.

You're musing publicly again about the feasability of negotiating a withdrawal of Canadian troops. That mean you stand ready and willing to bring the Bloc Quebecois on board? Consider it done. You're prepared to twist the arm of the NDP? Consider it done. You plan to lobby your Liberal MPs? Well, hold on a minute. It was your former leader, Paul Martin, who agreed to keep our troops in Afghanistan, and when the current prime minister put 2009 to a vote in the Commons, Liberals supported that commitment.

As did Paul Martin. As did, let's see, how about the acting leader of the Liberal party, and former Minister of Defence Bill Graham? Those two key Liberal stalwarts, along with most of the Liberal caucus, would you characterize them too as "completely irresponsible" as you did of Stephen Harper the current prime minister, for prolonging Canada's commitment to 2009?

That wasn't even Stephen Harper's baby to begin with. Is your memory that impaired that you have conveniently forgotten that it was a Liberal government that initiated the groundwork for Canadian troops' presence in Kandahar with NATO until at least 2009, conceivably beyond that time frame. That it was the Liberal government that gave the go-ahead to finalizing extensive and costly plans to build offices, barracks designed to last for years to come?

Our armed forces believe in this mission. Why don't you? Most Canadians are proud of the performance of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, and more particularly in the Kandahar region, facing an elusive and determined enemy in a climate and geography inimical to their well being at the best of times, deadly to their individual survival at the worst of times. They know all this, yet they forge on, determined to demonstrate to the world, to their country what they can achieve.

Rout the enemy first, and disarm him, take away his ability to recharge and resurge, accomplish an agreement for peace, then set about seriously on the reconstruction process. This takes time, patience, courage and determination. The Canadian armed services have amply demonstrated all these qualities. It is only some of the political elite in this country who have demonstrated otherwise, while claiming they support the troops.

I understand you've seen the political utility of appointing Michael Ignatieff as your second in command. Interesting. Seems like a good choice. You'll be able to engage in some excellent cerebral exchanges, some sparring also, it might seem. Have you forgotten too that Mr. Ignatieff supports the Afghanistan mission? Did it slip your mind that Mr. Ignatieff is also on the books as having supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq? Conflicted?

Mr. Dion, what chapter of that Liberal handbook are you on at the moment?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Uh Oh, Looks Like Civil War, Sounds Like Civil War

But of course we know that even though it looks like civil war and it sounds as though it must surely be civil war, it cannot possibly be that. Not at all. We have it on the best authority that the enmity, strife and bloodlust existing between Fatah on the one hand and Hamas on the other cannot result in civil war. It may look like it, it may appear as though it is - but after all, one movement harbouring a deep and abiding hatred for the other and then plotting to kill as many of the offending "others" as possible, is a mere misunderstanding.

Silly us. You can't tell a book by its cover because inside that cover is a covenant of love for one's neighbour. The Palestinians are divided between secular Fatah and religious-based Hamas, one barely abiding the presence of the other, yet sharing geography and now parliament in the Palestinian Authority. They're brethren to be sure, yet implacable enemies; well, don't be so sure. For "civil war" is not in the lexicon of the Palestinians.

We know this because PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has said so. With a tolerant smile for the sad ignorance of the outside world. We have taken his admonishment under advisement and we now understand that there is no threat of civil war breaking out among the Palestinians.

The people really quite enjoy the challenge of making ends meet, having inadequate medical care, insufficient food, being unable to properly care for their children, their crops, their farmlands because Ismail Haniyeh remains adamant that he will not accept the former PA's rapprochement with Israel.

Mr. Haniyeh, that busy-busy man is even now mocking those who suggested he was frightened when accosted by gun-wielding Fatah militias intent on assassination. "We tell all those who believe in the logic of assassination that this does not scare even little children in Hamas," Mr. Haniyeh informed his ardent followers. "We joined this movement to become martyrs, not ministers."

Oops, he wants to be a martyr. Oops, he almost achieved his goal. Oops, he doesn't really want to be prime minister. Oops, he might resign, after all. Oops, there's no civil war. Oops, hard to exlain why Fatah might want to assassinate this good man. Oops, even little children in Hamas are not scared, but little Fatah children, three of them were, and they were murdered for all that.

In Gaza City the streets are clear of people who cower in their homes, fearing ongoing clashes. Clashes, mind you, not civil war.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Completely Irrelevant

That, unfortunately, is how I've come to view the New Democratic Party in Canada; completely irrelevant. It's taken some time for them to get there, and they began that sad downhill journey a few leaders back, but Jack Layton, whose election gave hope to all those who wanted to see a relevant, rescusitated party, has dealt its death knell. We wanted to think there was real substance behind the showmanship, and were willing to give the man the opportunity to demonstrate just that.

Instead, he's gone out of his way time and again to ensure that anyone with an ounce of brains could detect his utter inability to breathe new life into a now-moribund party, and that's truly a shame. Jack Layton as leader of the New Democratic Party has brought it to new lows, and for my money I thought they'd hit the skids when good old Svend Robinson was the life of the party.

Now here's good old Jack, instead. Now what is it that Jack wants? He insists the prime minister go out of his way to nag the government of the United States to alter their apprehensions about Canadian citizens whom they have identified as potential threats to the safety and security of the United States. Well, for one thing, the United States happens to be a sovereign country more than capable of making up their minds about items as significant to them as safety and security.

For another, the United States doesn't take kindly to other countries pointing fingers at them. Nor do they much care for other countries attempting to interfere in internal U.S. affairs and decision-making. Maher Arar and his wife Monia Mazig have been identified, among I would venture to say, a goodly number of other hyphenated-Canadians, as possible risks to the security of the United States.

As a sovereign nation they have the right and the duty to their population to make up any kinds of lists they wish to, to exclude anyone they view with suspicion from legally landing on their shores. And if they've been fidgety and kind of nervous about admitting unknowns to their country of late, who can blame them?

Yes, they make mistakes, but these are their mistakes and they can live with them. If someone of the calibre and standing of senior Senator Edward Kennedy can be wrongly identified and experience difficulty in having his name removed from a "no fly" list, that's their business too.

The government of Canada assuredly has better things to do than lecture their neighbour on matters of their own perceived security, and sanctions they may place upon specific individuals.

Go away, Jack, find some legitimate matters to protest about.

Try, for example, getting a parliamentary quorum to represent the elected MPs in the House to draft a well-publicized condemnation of Iran for its Holocaust-denying conference, for its threat to extinguish the State of Israel from the Mideast geography. That would represent a refreshing change. It might also encourage people to feel there is some depth to your much-vaunted social values.

But truth is, I fear, you're much too comfortable in your irrelevance.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

We've Got a Right to be MAD!

How much more scandalous can it get. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was a good idea, it fulfilled an important function, it had a good start, it was responsible in alerting the public to the great danger lurking on the roadways of the nation with drunk drivers behind the wheels of lethal weapons. MADD was instrumental in assisting governments to recognize their responsibility to enact tougher legislation in support of the fight against DWI.

How sad that they got lost somewhere along the way. The movement became a trusted vehicle for change. And then it changed into an industry. We don't need this kind of industry. One that exists for its own purpose, which is to perpetuate itself irrespective of what it represents. It has become, first and foremost, a fund-raising industry. That it also pays lip service to the original fire and function of MADD is a footnote.

When MADD was new and pulling itself into public view, raising funds through the efforts of committed volunteers I and a legion of other Canadians felt it necessary to support their good work. For they were performing work that benefited all of us, the entire country, the vulnerable, those whose lives were forever altered by the thoughtless misuse of vehicles while under the influence of alcohol.

Somehow over the years as MADD's influence became magnified along with its success in getting its message across, its fund-raising techniques changed. From a grass roots movement supported by honest and trustworthy individuals whose commitment to the simple concept of personal responsibility was paramount they became a money-grubbing industry.

The constant and ongoing telemarketing, the telephone hard-sell convinced me years ago that something was wrong, and I began to doubt the worthwhileness of supporting the group. They lost my financial support. I was happy to divert the funds normally allocated to them through the year to other fund-raising charities whose functionality I had no reason to doubt.

Now the public is learning just how corrupt this group has become. While the area chapters of MADD go about their earnest business of teaching the public at large, of urging municipal authorities to greater efforts, and giving moral and emotional support to victims of drunk driving, the head office continued to busy itself with a preoccupation toward fund raising.

A top-heavy and well-remunerated administration always needs more money, the better to assure their positions are safe, the better to perpetuate their little enterprise of representation and misrepresentation. So they could state that 85% of all charitable donations went directly to programmes, not administrative costs. So they could engage the services of professional telemarketers who regularly skim a whopping 75% of funds received, allocating a paltry 25% back to the charity.

Your charitable dollars generously funding the bottom line of telemarketers whose employees are paid a bare minimum salary. How effectively charitable.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Reform the Senate? Abolish It!

For an institution that has been in existence for a century and a half, the Senate of Canada does not appear to have garnered many plaudits in its time. Its function and focus as the "chamber of second sober thought" is terrific in the abstract, but has been found somewhat wanting in the practicality of its existence and its record of achievement. It's past time to give it a nice fare-well party.

The Senate is a sow's teat too long in use, as a gilded reward for party faithful. Appointments from a long succession of governments to political friends and supporters has produced a body of non-elected officials of grave standing but little substance on the record. The sow's teat has produced a silken chamber that lacks fundamental practicality to the people of Canada.

The sole function of the Senate of Canada appears now to be refined as a reward-giving gilt-framed pasture for our political elite. The Senate, while perhaps at one time envisaged as a great assist to our elected leaders and members of Parliament, has fizzled rather badly. While there may be some proportion of its members who take their positions seriously and do their utmost to represent themselves honourably, too many simply don't bother.

To this group the Senate and their place in it has become a comfortable sinecure, an undemanding cradle of undiminishing rewards. Too many senators, busily engaged otherwise on matters of personal affairs, or business pursuits, find it rather tiresome to be expected to take their seats in the chamber on anything approximating a regular basis, but do find the personal financial awards acceptable to their needs.

Too many of these highly-respected office holders are appointed to various corporations' boards of directors simply because they can list, after their names, Senate of Canada, thus finding further remuneration. Too many of the members of the Senate of Canada accept lush commissions as lobbyists for big business and take this pursuit very seriously indeed, pushing relentlessly for government acceptance of goods and services whose use reflects lavishly upon their personal bottom line.

The Senate of Canada has become a forum of potential Cabinet assistance in a very direct manner, bringing a question of ethics into the mix when a unelected Senator can be brought into government in a portfolio that should rightfully go to a publicly-elected Member of Parliament. The Senate should not be a convenient supermarket to augment minority governments or those who wish to secure the services of an unelected partisan.

The Senate of Canada has within its membership some individuals whose moral compass has been sadly askew for many reasons, none more so than one who has been identified by policing agents as a "John", publicly, actively soliciting the services of a prostitute. That action simply bears too close a resemblance to the activities cited in the paragraph above.

Time to close up this particular shop.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Support, What Support?

Wild, isn't it, that Muslim countries and Arab countries in particular simply are not given to philanthropy. Nor even humanitarian support of their own allied countries. Incredible that it has been Europe and North American that has seen fit to financially support the displaced Palestinian population in their "refugee camps". It's hard to even identify these places as refugee camps since for all intents and purposes they are now well established towns, villages and cities of modest size. Where life goes on as it likely always did when the Palestinians were living in their tribal villages.

Odd, that the dispersed Palestinians whose dispersal was encouraged in large part by their neighbours assembling to assault and shatter the new State of Israel, have not themselves been supported by these same neighbouring countries. Jordan felt them to be a direct and immediate threat to Jordan's own well being and sovereignty, and fought a war of dispersal with the Palestinians on its soil.

Lebanon was not all that happy about receiving and incorporating the Palestinians who surged into its territory and they lived there also in refugee camps in great poverty. Yet the PFLP settled in and developed its raider-niche there, spilling over the border into Israel from time to time, ensuring the ongoing corrosion of relations all-around.

Egypt might have embraced and brought these people into its large bosom but appears not to have been willing to do so. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Oil States with their vast wealth could have encouraged the Palestinians to remain on their "side" of the divide and invested in them the wherewithal to live comfortably, to prosper and become a thriving entity awaiting statehood. But they didn't.

Nor, it would seem, did Iran at that time see itself clear to supporting the refugees financially; nor Syria (itself somewhat impoverished, but not welcoming either) nor Iraq whose leader certainly did not welcome additional prospective trouble-makers. Through the auspices of the United Nations the west has continued to fund Palestinian refugees (as they like to term themselves)
at the willing expense of the west.

Although the world is full of refugees from various countries in conflict and upheaval, none of these unfortunates have received the incredible financial boosts on an ongoing and unstinted manner that the Palestinians have. One wonders, is it because of a concerted intention to make certain that Europe and North America must pay unendingly for a situation they have unwittingly created in the State of Israel?

Now that Islamist Hamas, the jihadist entity controlling the Palestinian Authority adamantly clings to its mandate of advancing Islam's intent to destroy Israel, and as a result the cash cows have refused to hand over their cash installments, all cry foul. Funds will be restored and the resumption of peace talks initiated should Hamas agree to living side by side with its neighbour. But no.

Why should they, they crow, when the funds they require will be forthcoming from their Arab Muslim brothers? And what's happened there? Where are the promised funds from all those oil-rich countries? Only Saudi Arabia has forwarded the promised assistance in full, and it was hardly generous to begin with. The current $120 million promised by Iran and augmented latterly is but a trickle compared to the yearly aid given by the west.

In fact, the PA's annual budget is eight times what Iran has promised. And while western aid has not been entirely cut off, since it's being funnelled through UN humanitarian agencies, by-passing the Hamas-led government, the situation in the cash-trapped PA is desperate. Yet they remain intransigent and continue to boast of Arab aid. Aid which, though promised, has barely trickled through in reality.

So tell us again about all that brotherly support.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Ontario Hydro? Wotamess!

Sigh. Not again. The more things appear to change the more they stay the same. Isn't that a sad old song? We learn from our mistakes. Or not. Question is, why not? Are we just so bloody incompetent, so unconcerned, so blatently stupid about it all that we're destined to keep repeating the same tired old errors one time after another?

Not that long ago, must have been no more than two years, two Americans were brought in to operate Ontario Hydro, to bring it out of its financial doldrums and energy insecurities, to solve all those problems vexing the corporation, the industry, the taxpayers, the consuming public. Oops, they weren't up to the job, how odd, how very familiar. Out they went, and with them a whole lot of taxpayer funding.

Before them it was Eleanor Clitheroe, that terrific gal who really knew the ropes. She took us all for a ride pleasing her husband, certain that taxpayers would be thrilled that Ontario Hydro owned its very own sailing vessel, a rather pricy venture, but not too good for her husband's sailing aspirations. She went through money, our money, like a heated knife through butter.

Although the position carried numerous perks she had to use limousine services, scorning her own Hydro-owned limo to the sum of three-quarters of a million over three years, because her children and their nanny needed the service, among other things. She's currently suing Hydro one to "honour" the severance terms of her package.

Living high off the hog on our dime, our time. We're the hog. We're also pretty stupid, one supposes. And she's right and righteous, how else could it be that she now has a new career, that of a respected minister of the Anglican Church of Canada. How could we ever suspect such an esteemed personage of wrong-doing in using the overburdened taxpayer as a vehicle for her luxury lifestyle?

Hey, before her, Canada's very own, world-renowned Maurice Strong, that hail-fellow-well-met stalwart on the United Nations scene, and entrepreneur extraordinaire, who modestly agreed to take the position under the then-NDP government of now-Liberal-leader-hopeful Bob Rae. Modestly, as he grandly agreed to a lower salary while proceeding to implement programmes that turned out to be discredited.

Now the auditor general of Ontario, hot on the job, has raised concerns once again at Ontario Hydro. Seems the president has resigned, walking away with a $3M severance package. Resigned? Oh well, the runaway extravagence of his executives claiming personal travel and pricey goodies on expense accounts, using their credit cards with gay abandon appears to have been a little problem.

Former Hydro One president Tom Parkinson, it would appear, himself used his secretary's corporate credit card to bill $45,000 in travel and other expenses. Oops, forget oversight; he approved them himself. It would additionally appear that throughout 2005, Hydro One employees charged more than $127 million to corporate credit cards without adequate expense reports and receipts. Oh dear, details are such a nuisance.

What's this? The crown corporation's board of directors aren't in agreement on the untrustworthiness of Mr. Parkinson? They laud his performance? Fire the whole lot of them.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Whose Agenda?

I recall, so many years ago, upon hearing that a born-again Christian was elected president of the United States how aghast I felt, how unbelieving I was that the great population of the United States of America could somehow see a leader in anyone who billed themselves as a "born again". Of course I felt great distaste for the appellation, and actually knew very little about what that signified (nor am I more enlightened now) other than someone who might perforce be confusedly Christ-ridden, looking for personal salvation, whatever that meant.

And how could someone who was so confused about their Christianity that they would have to undergo a process of re-imagining themselves and their place in the firmament of god and his emissaries, conceivably be the chief administrative officer of a country of some 240 million strong? And what did this possibly say about the group intelligence of all those people, let alone their expectations. Stranger things have happened, I likely thought to myself at the time. Great wisdom is allotted sparingly.

Well, it didn't take all that long for me to re-adjust my opinion. I became, in a sense, born-again in opinion. I realized that this appeared to be a good man, with a great social vision, sense of duty and purpose and above all, his honesty rang true and who could possibly find fault with all of that? His later years out of office just seemed to clarify that born-again vision of him with his association with the wonderfully practical yet idealistic Habitat for Humanity. I thought highly of what I identified as his humbleness, his humility, his humanitarian idealism.

When I was in Atlanta I visited the Ebeneezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King preached on occasion. I also visited the Martin Luther King memorial building, viewed a film of the great man orating his passionate belief in equality and felt my chest throb in response. I walked through the exhibits and stopped before one group of photographs of Mr. King logging his mission in life. Somehow, I began to relate the Reverend Mr. King with Mr. Carter in their purity of mission in life.

In another museum, don't recall which one, but dedicated as I recall, to various presidents of the United States, I came across a display related to then-President Carter's initiative striving to attain a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. This was the legendary, Nobel-Peace-prize-winning initiative to have former implacable enemies, Israeli Prime Minister Menacham Begin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat agree to begin implementing a peace accord.

Former President Carter went on, after his disastrous failure as a president, in view of his inability to move forward post-Iranian revolution when the Ayatollah Homenei and his Islamic storm troopers invaded the American Embassy in Tehran, holding hostage U.S. embassy personnel to assert American outrage over the intolerable Islamic flaunting of universally-recognized safety and security normally accorded to international diplomatic missions abroad.

He lost the already tentative trust of the American public and lost the presidency in the next election. He continued finding his own place in the world of politics and human rights at home and abroad, by founding the Carter Centre for Conflict Resolution, and lending the aura of a former president of the United States, along with his avowed commitment to the advancement of human rights wherever he could to this enterprise. By so doing, the man finally earned great respect at home and abroad.

The recent much-publicized publication of his latest book, a tract on the failure of the State of Israel to solve its ongoing dilemma with the needs of the state and its population versus that of the Palestinian people living alongside the Jewish state, gives one pause for second, third and fourth thought. In an interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Carter asserted his feeling that a handful of powerful Israeli interest were responsible, through land-greed, of prolonging the war of words and deeds inimical to both sides of the issue.

His opinion appears fairly cut-and-dried, he delivers his statements of condemnation against the State of Israel with great confidence, displaying the manner of one who professes to offer the truth, the sole truth. He has become smugly sanctimonious, the righteous Christian in his insistence that his direct observations of the intolerable plight of the Palestinian population is the direct result of Israeli intolerance, a refusal to recognize the Palestinians as equals.

In a television interview in Canada, where he is flogging his book, Mr. Carter responded to a question put to him by indicating that the Canadian government - by imposing sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, withholding the funds normally allocated by it to the PA - is behaving in a criminally offensive manner. Mr. Carter appears to believe that Hamas, identified as a terrorist organization by most western countries because of its implacable Islamist jihadist attitude toward Israel, should be accorded the respect due any democratically elected government.

Mr. Carter addresses himself to the fact of Israel facing ongoing assaults by her neighbours by agreeing that Israel has a right to protect itself and its citizens. However, he adds, Israel goes much beyond what is acceptable in her response to assaults, and this is his considered opinion, an immovable opinion, based on his experience in conflict situations and his direct observations on the constricted life of Palestinians.

Nowhere does he appear to address the issue of a state that has been assaulted militarily by neighbouring states time and time again. Nor does he appear to give much consideration to the ongoing fact that Israel finds itself without a reasonably-minded, fair representative of the PA, imbued with authority and committed to the peace process, willing to meet Israel half-way, to accept concessions from Israel and offer some in response for the purpose of ultimately reaching a workable accord.

Mr. Carter's just-released book, "Palestine - Peace Not Apartheid" has received shocked attention and poor reviews for its inflamatory title equating the State of Israel with that of Apartheid South Africa. Let alone its content which directs blame one-sidedly at Israel, decrying the condition of the Palestinians, without seeming to look at historical, territorial, cultural and religious antecedents and motivations all of which complicate a truly troubling and seemingly-insolvable problem.

The co-author with former President Carter of a previous book about the Middle East, Professor Kenneth Stein, has resigned from Mr. Carter's Atlanta-based Carter Centre, effectively ending a 23-year association with the institute. Professor Stein, apart from his 10-year stint as director of the institute, teaches MidEast history at Emory University, and is diretor of Emory University's Middle East Research Program and its Institute for the Study of Modern Israel. Clearly, well endowed with professional integrity and knowledge about the region and its ongoing divisive problems.

As a reason for his resignation Professor Stein cites many instances of Mr. Carter having "simply invented segments" in the publication, that the book "is replete with factual errors", and that the book's content and conclusions are completely inflammatory in nature, not at all helpful, it would appear, to the resolution of any conflict in opinion, outreach and conclusion. Furthermore, Mr. Carter is also accused of plagiarism, Professor Stein charging that the book is "replete with...copied materials not cited".

It is profoundly sad and disappointing that Mr. Carter would choose to end a long and meritorious career in championing human rights in this manner. We would have expected better of a man of his perceived integrity and honesty; two ingredients which now appear to be missing from this unbalanced, biased publication.

So Much for Our Health, Welfare and Safety, Eh?

Isn't it wonderful that Canadians can breathe easy, knowing that our health and welfare remain topmost in the dutiful minds of our agencies set up to ensure public safety. Concerns of public health remain paramount over all other issues. Great Britain may have had its grisly issues with Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease, a result of their laxity in food safety issues, permitting animal by-products to be fed to cattle, resulting in bovine spongiform encephalitus, but we're on easy street, our health officials are right up there front and centre, on our behalf.

Since those frightening days when Canadians visiting Great Britain were disallowed from donating blood to the Red Cross because they might very well be carriers, having partaken of the British fondness for their bangers and what-have-you, our own country has had a partial ban on adding animal byproducts to feed. A partial ban, mind you, not a total ban. We can be safe, but not too safe, lest we take things too much for granted. Eh?

Bloody damn! Here's a newspaper report that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed that a hundred thousand (100,000!) cattle in Eastern Ontario and West Quebec were mistakenly (oh dear, so sorry) given feed containing animal byproducts. But, they hasten to assure, the risk of exposing humans to mad cow disease is negligible. Rest assured, eh? Why? Because they say so.

Fully one hundred and thirteen farms right in the Ottawa area had contaminated feed. Seems a rail car used to ship meat and bone meal for hog and poultry feed (what! Why the bloody hell are hog and poultry being fed meat and bone meal - same stupid, illogical, risky practise!) was later used to transport blood meal that was added to cattle feed. Oh dear, is that all there is to it? Wipe that sweat from your brow. Eh?

But everything's all right, see? The beef will be sold to Canadians, but the food inspection agency has decided to track the cattle movements so they cannot be exported. This contaminated beef is no big worry, it's all right to go ahead with butchering the cattle, processing it, sending it on to our neighbourhood supermarkets. For you and me to consume. Yum, yummy-yum. Aren't we so fond of getting more than we pay for? Don't we love a bargain?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is confident there will be no threat to human health through the consumption of beef which has been contaminated. The process has been clearly identified in the past; feed cattle lovely little animal by-product tid-bits and you've got a formula for disaster. So we're the experiment-at-large. Canada hasn't yet had a problem with BSE causing CJD. Stay tuned.

We've got to protect the country's bottom line. Wouldn't want any consumers outside the country, any of our trade partners, facing any problems like that, would we? Had enough of Canadian beef being constrained from crossing borders. Got to protect our markets.

Seems as though Health Canada, Agriculture Canada and the Health Protection Agency are very, very susceptible to successful lobbying. Don't want to cause unwonted hardship to too many ranchers, processing facilities after all.

Canada's got a population verging on 33 million. Some of us may be expendible. Eh?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How About a Purpose for the Passion?

Here were all those delegates at the Liberal leadership convention last week-end, fired up with enthusiasm about party renewal and their mission to elect a brand, spanking-new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. New is good, renewal is even better, given that the Liberal party has fallen just about as low in public esteem as it conceivably could.

Certainly not without cause, given the failures of two successive Liberal governments, nor the arrogance with which they held power, let alone the public anger unleashed by the revelation of taxpayer-funded giveaways to friends of the Liberal party in the guise of public good.

The major issue put forward by the delegates, if not by the leadership hopefuls, was the state of the environment, Canada's commitment to the climate change crisis, exemplified by the Liberal government's signing on to the Kyoto dialogue on implementation of meaningful and workable legislation leading to improvement in emissions controls.

Just as a incidental aside, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development released findings from an audit on the Liberal record which pointed out that:
  • This audit group experienced great disappointment in the government's long-standing failure to address green-house gas emissions;
  • Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada agreed to reduce its emission levels, but in actual fact the government's own data revealed that emission levels rose substantially and continued to rise, not decline;
  • That even if measures in the government's plan had been fully implemented project reductions might not have reached targets; in certain sectors the measures were inadequate to meeting Kyoto obligations;
  • The government's weak handling of transitions from plan to plan over the history of the file has hampered progress;
  • Investments in science and research in changes in climactic systems by government demonstrate significant information gaps; government has failed to effectively mobilize and organize its scientific and research activities to ensure decision-makers receive vital data.
  • A government-wide system of accountability for climate change has been hampered by the phase-out of mechanisms and committees that have not been replaced; signs of problems in government's management of the climate change initiative;
  • Despite earmarking over $6B in initiative funding on climate change, there is no effective government-wide system in place to track performance and expenditures; the necessary tools for effective management are absent;
  • In summary, the (Liberal) government's response to climate change is a sad story revealing inadequate leadership, planning and performance; lack of foresight and direction prevailing - creating confusion and uncertainty - all these of the government's own making.
Yet this is the very same Liberal party that was intent on celebrating its renewal and its renewed commitment to its environmental obligations. More than that, these delegates and the leadership contenders were universally in contempt of the current (Conservative) government's initiative, still young, in response to climate change, trumpeting the success of their own signing on to Kyoto - while producing nothing worthwhile.

And these happy and enthused, self-congratulatory delegates singled out their final candidate as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the once-minister of the environment in the last sitting of the Liberal party in Parliament, a decent and honourable Stephane Dion. Who, for all his decency and sense of honour delivered nothing at all in his portfolio, yet maintained his initiatives had been cut short by the election which brought the Liberals to their knees.

If we take Mr. Dion at his word, and there is no reason for us not to, what exactly did he think he might have accomplished, given several more years, in light of the audit which revealed the Liberal plan to have been such an utter failure? Does Mr. Dion not understand the reality of failure, perhaps believing that passion is enough and will pass for purpose and success?

In David Ljunggren's column of today, "Stop Trash-Talking, Start Acting" he points out how utterly astounded he was as an onlooker/reporter at the convention to discover, post-convention, a veritable mountain of trash left behind by the conventioneers, that earnest bunch of environmentalists. Mr. Ljunggren lists the constituent elements of the garbage; everything from newspapers, documents, empty soft-drink tins, batteries, food wrappers, paper bags, chip packets, confectinary wrappers, convention programmes, political leaflets - and on and on - strewn about liberally.

All casually disposed of, on floors, chairs, tables, seldom in trash disposal containers. And nowhere at all was there to be seen containers for recycling all of this garbage. Just the garbage itself, lots of it, littered about everywhere in the wake of the convention. Styrofoam cups, plastic spoons and forks, bottle caps, flattened bottles and sodden paper. The detritus of people having a good time with no consideration for the wherewithal of the garbage they generated.

These delegates, the conscience of the Liberal party, went against the grain of the party elite, to select their own choice for leader of the official opposition, certain in the knowledge that he would soon ascend to the prime ministership of this country. After all, the need to combat the universal problem of environmental degredation is great, who could possibly not wish to vote for a regenerated Liberal party with a new, honest and believable leader?

I guess I can think of a whole lot of people who might still remember what the Liberal party as the governing body left us with; a whole lot of bad memories that won't go away anytime soon. And the realization that the signal issue of the day facing both this country and the world at large, the health of the world environment so forcefully supported by Stephane Dion, merited seeingly insufficient attention from him when something concrete might have been accomplished with a little more determination and a lot more effort.

Like the oversight about what to do with that mountain of trash left behind by the Liberal convention. Tch, tch.

The 100% Solution

Canada has an alternative, someone who might possibly lift the Liberal Party of Canada out of its current doldrums. A condition which this party has worked hard to earn - representing the scorn of the Canadian public, and its distrust for a party so long accustomed to its ongoing predominance in the political ruling culture of the country that it let down its guard sufficiently to become irrelevant, uninspiring, incapable and dishonest.

Now, after a most intriguing leadership convention here is Stephane Dion, the new leader of the still-in-the-backwoods party, still tainted with corruption, still riven with the bitter spite of irreconcibly competing factions, yet stridently hopeful of swiftly regaining its place at the helm of government. There's a few problems there. They've a long way to go to encourage the voting public to believe that they've re-ordered their priorities, because they understand how they've failed.

Cheap talk, no action, general behaviour unbecoming trustworthy keepers of the public weal, an unspeakably arrogant administration have not endeared them to Canadians of late. And the wounds are still fresh. And look here, currently ensconced as the voter-selected governing party is the Conservatives. And their once-frightening leader, Stephen Harper. A man of great integrity, he is proving to be.

Canadians have discovered that there is a sense of humour behind that dour exterior. Better by far, they have also discovered that in this man resides a dedication to the well being of the country. This is a leader whose character has been revealed to be one of courage and determination, but better yet, this is a man of resolute honesty. The current prime minister has met problems head on, has made decisions which have resulted in the electorate taking a second look and, for heavens sake, liking what they see.

So yes, Stephane Dion has had ministerial experience in the former Liberal governing body. But like the Liberals in general his earnestness and credibility have been doubted. The very portfolio that he so ardently defends as leader of the opposition in Parliament was once his - and he did nothing at all with it. In the grand Liberal tradition of boast and blast hot air, then sit back and matters will simply resolve; the electorate has a short memory.

They don't, and they won't. Deliberate, intelligent, pragmatic action is required. Lacking under the Liberals, active under the current government. But this current government is still a government in waiting, and the voting public is still wary, patiently awaiting action on a number of vital problems. For the Liberals to continue pointing their accusatory fingers at the "right-wing", "pro-U.S." agenda of the governing party indicates a party still in disarray, still without a true solution or workable program.

How's this for a mind-bender: the new leader of the Liberal party, that staunch federalist whose stout stand in Quebec against the separatist-determination of the Parti Quebecois is so widely recognized, who boasts of a personal 100% dedication and loyalty to Canada, holds dual citizenship. Stephane is an unapologetic citizen of both Canada and France. That's very nice, very cosmopolitan, very urbane.

Not, however, very encouraging with respect to 100% loyalty to Canada. For if Stephane Dion has dual French/Canada citizenship, what does that say about his inner honesty? Does he feel it's quite all right to avail himself of the benefits of French citizenship without some modicum of loyalty to France? Canada has had disputes with France in the past and will no doubt encounter future disputes with that country. Where, exactly, does Mr. Dion stand?

One can understand that Mr. Dion has a sense of loyalty to his mother's emotional attachment to her country of birth. As well as his own, by extension, even if only for sentimental purposes. Does that mean he accepts all the rights and benefits of citizenship without the obligations inherent in same? Is it not morally incumbent on a politician who sees himself as a potential leader of this country to behave ethically in this matter?

After all, this county just underwent a casual but heated national debate over that very thing; dual citizenship. In the wake of the recriminations abounding during the emergency evacuation of thousands of Lebanese with dual citizenship in both countries, which cost Canadian taxpayers dearly, it is not very astute of Mr. Dion not to realize that his situation bears a startling resemblance to the outcry that resulted from that crisis.

Is it to be one code of behaviour sanctioned for our political and social elite, and another for the great unwashed? Surely, this is a matter requiring moral clarity.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Peace in Kashmir?

Wouldn't it be truly wonderful if India and Pakistan could agree their way to peace between the two countries over their long-standing feud over Kashmir. Considering the fact that each of these countries is a nuclear power, considering the fact that each of these countries has faced one another time and again in wars, considering the fact that the disputed territory has already been the cause of a hundred thousand lost lives, it is time that reason triumphed over adversity.

Pakistan must first of all stop supporting Islamic militants which have been fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir, and which groups have provoked backlashes against the two-thirds Indian population in the region as Muslims attack their Hindu neighbours, where once they lived in mutual recognition and peace. The Islamists have wrought death and destruction in India proper as in the recent attack in Mumbai.

Pakistan has admitted to providing the Islamic militants with moral, political and diplomatic support in their violent separatist campaign in the Indian-ruled section of Kashmir, intent on disturbing the democratic sector and imposing Islamic rule. India would like Pakistan to cease and desist from giving support of any kind to the Islamists and to institute democratic rule in the Pakistani-ruled one-third of Kashmir.

That General Pervez Musharraf has offered to now abandon Pakistan's 60-year-long claim to the region and instead to co-jointly supervise it with India comes as a light at the end of a long, brutal and bitter war. Under General Musharraf's plan troops from both India and Pakistan would withdraw; the region would be self-governing and autonomous under joint supervision.

If both countries come to a mutual agreement this solution may restore relations between the two sectors of Kashmir and the people there finally would find peace in living co-operatively together. And just incidentally, the world would be comforted that a once-intractable situation might have been solved.

Because that just might give hope that other areas of the world facing similar seemingly intractable situations might also find workable solutions resulting in peace and harmony.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Canada, Where Art Thou?

Why, my beloved country sits comfortably in the bosom of the United Nations, and perhaps more spectacularly within the heartfelt human-rights bastion of the Human Rights Council. That newly reconstructed, name-altered body whose reason for being is to monitor the state of human rights throughout the world, and to bring to account those countries whose abuse of same is paramount.

Thus the successor to the sadly discredited Human Rights Commission goes on its merry way, overloaded with representation from Arab and Muslim states with an ongoing ax to grind, and grind it they do. What is Canada doing in their midst? Our mild-mannered, avuncular, beaming-faced, human-rights dedicated Canada in amongst the group constituting some of the world's worst human-rights abusers sitting in comfortable denunciation of their enemy?

One country and one country only has consistently been singled out for bitter remonstrance on the basis of their indeterminate but obviously horrendous human rights abuses. So hideously unspeakable are this country's ongoing abuses of human rights that truly unspeakable abusers such as North Korea, Sudan and Burma look downright heavenly in comparison. The Human Rights Council continues to target Israel.

Forget, oh do, the millions of refugees, the hundreds of thousands murdered, the thousands upon thousands of women raped and tortured in Sudan for example; that's child's play compared to how the State of Israel makes its Palestinian neighbours suffer; road blocks, refusal to pay taxes owing until the Palestinian parliament (largely represented now by a terrorist group whose raison d'etre is the elimination of the State of Israel) disavows its intent of state-icide.

What is the world coming to? Canada, why are you there, part of that vicious circle? Your presence there renders reassurance that reasonable, stout-hearted Canada must in some way agree with this general assessment of blame and censure. Even if you do protest and abstain and refuse to censure. Get the hell out of there, please do!

Why, even the redoubtable Kofi Annan is questioning the work of his own institute's council. "Obviously not everyone is entirely happy with the way they have started" Mr. Annan has stated. Quite as obviously he's handily overlooking the general glee of the Arab and Muslim states whose presence predominates in the council and whose sole agenda sees success after lamentable success.

Good heavens, even Louise Arbour, the UN's Human Rights Commissioner, no friend of Israel to be sure, in addressing the council recently suggested "There are surely other situations, besides the ones in the Middle East, which would merit scrutiny by a special session". There, it's said! By no less an authority on human rights than Madam Arbour, recommending Darfur as a "glaring case in point".

Cordial and respectful relations are the order of the day among United Nations delegates and representative nations. Oops, there's always Israel, the perpetually scorned, the outsider.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Food Banks? Third World Countries

Wealthy countries like Canada send food staples, equipment, medical advisers and funds abroad to assist developing countries. This is, after all, an obligation, a moral necessity. Canada is by any and all criteria a country of great resources, in itsvast geography, its people, its booming economy, its common culture of social responsibility.

We owe some generosity of spirit it to all those other countries struggling to fulfil their national mandates to provide for their populations. So we, like most developed countries, provide foreign aid where and when required on an ongoing basis.

How to explain, how to fathom that a country as well endowed in natural resources such as ours has our own dirty little secrets? Not only are there large populations of Canadians living in want of potable water, adequate food and medical care, decent housing within our aboriginal communities - a long-standing open sore that has never been solved - but we also have our share of homeless people?

It's breath-taking and hard to come to terms with. Most Canadians work hard to ensure their families are cared for. We have successive governments which acknowledge that there continues to be much that needs to be done to make certain that the population at large is well schooled, decently housed, medically cared for and yet there remains among us those whose lives run counter to what is considered the norm.

People whose luck has run out; their employment has ended, with no new opportunities in sight; those who suffer from mental illness; young people whose decision to leave abusive home situations leave them vulnerable and uncared for. These are our street populations of homeless and destitute people. In a country that tut-tuts about the poor governance and impoverished situations common in many developing economies elsewhere.

Then there are the working poor whose salaries are quite simply insufficient to allow them to adequately look after their family commitments. And immigrants, new to the country, helped by government agencies, but still struggling to find their niche in a new country of elusive opportunities. Those on welfare, those people who live on disability pensions, all of whom find their stipends insufficient to allow them to live comfortably, let alone adequately.

Well, we've got an entirely different kind of solution for these growing social problems in this wealthy country of ours. A new kind of business has slowly emerged; tentatively at first, but now decades in the perfecting of its place in this privileged society. This is a kind of business that relies on volunteers and donations and acts of charity. Every municipality has many such depots which collect foodstuffs to be doled out to people in need.

Canada's food banks. Area institutions whose reason for existence is to collect imperishable foods for the purpose of allowing people in need to stretch their inadequate incomes just a little further. People in Canada living with the spectre of hunger. A shameful proportion of Canada's children living in poverty and in the shadow of insufficient nutrition.

This is a national tragedy, a national shame.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I Didn't Vote For Him

Well, I didn't. The thing is, it's hard to find anyone who will admit to having voted for an unpopular politician, one who has been given the opportunity to demonstrate his/her administrative capabilities, his or her dedication to the well-being of the citizens to whom he/she owes the favour of being placed in such a position of leadership. And subsequently failed. Dismally. But so soon?

The City of Ottawa has a new mayor. The retiring mayor who has admittedly performed well, but not sufficiently soas to encourage sufficient votes to return him to office, has turned over his staff to the in-coming mayor. The incoming mayor has had no previous experience whatever in the political arena, but has been a very successful entrepreneur, a businessman of local repute.

Who just incidentally bought his campaign so successfully that he was brought in handily, over the aspirations of others more well-suited to the position thanks to their previous political and hands-on experience in operating a large city budget. Ottawa now has Mayor Larry O'Brien, a proud man, a man who has informed the taxpayers and voters of this city that they will receive their money's worth through his governance of city affairs.

First day in office, this businessman-cum-mayor who has promised on scout's honour not to raise taxes, grandly accepts an as-yet-unauthorized yearly raise representing an increase of a whopping 35% over last year's mayor's salary. The salaries for councillors also shoot sky-high, and Mr. O'Brien encourages all councillors to accept this wind-fall. Oh, what a surprise! the electorate is not pleased.

And Mr. O'Brien steps back, claims to have made a "rookie mistake". This from a sharp-eyed businessman, a multi-millionaire who really doesn't need a high salary, a man who has pledged to keep costs to a minimum, to evade the need for additional taxes. We all know how much a politician-in-waiting's pledges are worth, but this kind of active fiscal self-enhancement goes beyond belief.

And the best is yet to come. To demonstrate just how sincere Mr. O'Brien is about respecting the municipal tax dollars he is managing, he has brought aboard as his personal assistant the former head of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, Walter Robinson. Has Mr. Robinson already, at this early stage, forgotten what a watchdog of the public purse he so ably represented?

Better yet, is this the kind of lack of attention to um, detail, we have to look forward to in the coming years under Mayor O'Brien?

Aids to Children in Need

They're the most valuable assets any society has. Yet, paradoxically, they're the most at risk, the most vulnerable in any society. Which is why, thank heavens, most societies are collectively sufficiently responsible to ensure that the needs of children whom circumstance and misfortune have left bereft of the social and emotional and practical assistance they require will be taken care of. With great sensitivity to the needs of these children.

We have the many faces of various types of societies, associations, groups, all under the respected auspices of the provincial governments tasked to care for these children. They're social orphans created by the incidence of uncaring or incapable parents, of a society which has abandoned the needs of minorities and the working poor which often results in the victimization of children. The same society which has, somehow, failed the parents often fails their offspring as well.

So what have we here? In Ontario the Children's Aid Society whose dedicated work it is to ensure the safety and support of children at risk has come under closer scrutiny as the result of findings of the provincial auditor. And what she has high-lighted for public and government review is a litany of irresponsibly criminal behaviour on the part of those very bureaucrats charged with the care of the most vulnerable among us.

Gross mis-spending on personal trainers, luxury SUVs valued in excess of $50K each, vacations at Caribbean resorts by society officials. Trips to international conferences in Beijing and Buenos Aires. A week-long $4,000 visit to St.Lucia by a caseworker. Personal trips charged to the Children's Aid Society. Gym memberships paid for. A fleet of 50 vehicles, half of which logged fewer than 10,000 kilometres a year, being leased or purchased by one agency while at the same time an employee collected a $600 bonus for use of his own car.

Everyone hastens to separate themselves from the wrong-doers. The Ontario minister of children and youth services is tight-lipped, saying she is unable, at the moment, to respond to the charges. She must be aware of a three-week lag in caseworker response time for children in at-risk situations. The facts appear to point at uncaring bureaucrats in the commission of their duties lavishing funds on themselves rather than on assistance to children in need.

A three-week lag time in caseworker response can be critical in the instance of children at high risk for abuse. There have been instances of children in care having been killed while supposedly in protection. A society that values its children, that sets up special organizations to ensure that skilled workers can respond in a timely manner to safeguard children has been proven to be so lax that the system has failed utterly.

Hard to believe that such criminal behaviour could go undetected; hard to believe that highly educated adult professionals could fall so low.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Best Laid Plans of Liberal Leader Aspirants

Who would've thought? Lots, I suppose. Political pundits. Convention groupies. Those in the know. Although, truth be told, none of them really thunk it. Lots of guessing this and that scenario, but generally speaking (ha!) it's a crapshoot. Who, after all, can guess the mind-manoeuverings of all those delegates who don't really understand everything related to what it is they're doing there.

Were there any speeches of real significance, other than breast-beating boasts of what the leadership contenders were capable of (according to their very best opinions of self), given the opportunity to lead the party, confront the beast-in-office and begin the solemn task of leading this country into its best-yet performance? Were there any truly meaningful discussions around significant issues?

All of the leadership speeches were rife with indignation and anger over the nerve of those bloody Conservatives - to think they had a right to undo everything the hard-working, reliable, brilliant Liberals had undertaken in the past to lead the country into greater opportunities at home and abroad. Thing is, if the Liberals had done more than blow hot air they wouldn't have been tossed out to begin with.

And it was under the Liberal banner that Jean Chretien and Paul Martin between them began their evisceration of Canada's beloved universal medicare system, beggaring the provinces which in their turn took it out on welfare recipients and bogged down on assisted housing. It was also under the Liberal banner that government began the process of moving outside the public service through its brilliant contracting-out schemes.

It was that kind of brilliant short-term strategy whereby government saved money it would formerly pay out for costly benefits like unemployment insurance (oops..."employment insurance" - which, by the way, the Liberal government also altered in a manner inimical to the unemployed, making benefits leaner and qualifications tougher) and pension plans. After all those public service positions were declared redundant, brushed off the books, the work contracted out - what happened? Why the public service began to regrow itself!

Government's action helped business and corporations see their way clear to becoming leaner and meaner. To strengthen the bottom line and ensure that stakeholders remained happy with more immediate profits, a lot of people lost jobs, but hey, the government was doing it so why not private industry? Of course things began to suffer; people primarily, having to kind of produce more for the same salary. High stress leading to less productivity. Hey, a really vicious cycle.

The Liberal government talked big about their concerns for Canada's international role as a moral interlocutor, and under Jean Chretien gave aid and moral support to those bastiens of humanistic democracy, the Arab and Muslim states whose yearly jollies at the United Nations were celebrated through odiously-worded censures against the State of Israel. Despite declarations of tepid-worded support, mostly stating that "Israel has a right to exist". Thank you very much.

And our obligations to the world at large and ourselves in particular when it came to the environment were certainly not overlooked. Jean Chretien and his team talked a good line, promising to clean up faulty environmental practises, and then did nothing at all, brought no working solution or workable schedule forward nor did they begin to implement anything remotely leading to change in favour of cleansing and protection the environment.

Yet here were all the candidates blasting the newly-minted Conservative minority government. Because, after all, they're conservatives and that scary Stephen Harper is up there doing all those dreadful things. Wasn't it in the Mulroney government that Joe Clark as our foreign minister unleashed a campaign of human-rights championship, railing against the apartheid government of South Africa? That was pretty effective.

Wasn't it a Conservative government under the much-despised Brian Mulroney that lobbied the United States incessantly to help clean up our collective acts on the environment to try to solve the problem of acid rain? Yes, the Liberals have it all; they're morally untouchable, unlike the irresponsible, hard-hearted conservatives who would never have dared do the damage to Canada's social programmes that we suffered under Jean Chretien.

So here was Bob Rae, a failed New Democratic Party provincial leader whose inept governance of the province of Ontario led even the stalwarts of union leadership to abandon and excoriate the NDP because of unprecedented labour-bashing and a total failure of government to act responsibly at a time of great need. Here he is, the messiah of the Liberal party, ready to lead it out of its self-generated wilderness.

He's the anointed of the Chretien Liberals. Shudder. He was out, too bad, so sad, on the third ballot. What about Michael Ignatieff, who just couldn't stop sticking his blueblood tongue up his nose? Well, when he's in "academic mode" this brilliant thinker weaves one way, but when he's in "leadership mode" he sways the other. Mind, he doesn't just assemble his thoughts and reach conclusions in his skull, but he has a propensity to blurt them out. And then he's puzzled because the great unwashed doesn't appear to understand the workings of a great mind, denies; implausibly, but with grand sweeping style.

Is it a messiah-complex or just plain old arrogance that a former journalist - respected academic, recent politician who has lived most of his privileged life outside the country he now seeks to represent on the world stage - has placed himself front and centre as an aspirant for the Liberal party leadership? No experience as a politician. How deep can his commitment to the country be, after all? How well does he accord with the larger needs of the country and its population, given his long absence?

Ah, Stephane Dion. Who couldn't admire and like this unaffected, intelligent, honest and sincere man? One believes he tries. One cannot mistrust his motives. His instincts are all the right ones. He is an honourable man, no doubt about it. And, obviously, much misunderstood, quite understated. A real come-from-behind original. Surprise, surprise; everyone's second choice!

Um, the thing of it is, he's a Chretien liberal, sad to say. And if the party is to be truly re-born the two opposing camps have to become integrated into one for any real future as a governing party once again. Mr. Dion would have to divest himself of most of the filaments surrounding him as a one-time Chretien cabinet minister, even though he was a loyal Chretienite.

And where will Mr. Dion's votes come from if and when he must face Stephen Harper in an election? Ontario? Quebec, where he is held in medium-to-low esteem, thanks to his unswerving devotion to federalism and his hand in writing a piece of legislation that Quebecois scorn? Western Canada perhaps? The Maritimes? Looks pretty bleak.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Paul Martin Says What?

Oh. He exhorts the troops; the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. Martin said in addressing the Montreal leadership conference, must undo Tory damage. Well, that makes sense, in a very partisan way, one supposes. The report read: "The Liberals' next leader will not only have to unite the party, but undo the damage caused by the Conservatives on the environment, aboriginal relations and other key issues" according to former prime minister Paul Martin.

Interesting. Are we then to take it that Mr. Martin is acknowledging that he left his party in disarray? That his incorrigible predecessor, Jean Chretien left the Liberals in dandy shape and that he, Mr. Martin, single-handedly and with great skill re-arranged the Liberals to such an extent? Or could he be referring to the divisions in party ranks caused by the two former leaders' irreconcilable differences, not the least of which was one's reluctance to part the scene, the other's passion to pick up the slack, instanter?

In other words, these two recent has-beens, leaders of the Liberal party, and also incidentally, prime ministers of this country couldn't stop their bickering and divisions of opinion long enough to remember they had a country to guide. Well, odd isn't it, that to any interested onlooker it appears that the divisions are still there along with the enmity that was engendered throughout the process of division.

Classic case of do as I say, right? Hey, don't emulate what I've actually done! As for the critical issues of the environment, aboriginal relations and other matters, we're still kind of scratching our collective heads about them. What, just exactly what were the wonderful initiatives that the Liberals saw through to a successful conclusion? It seems, if we can recall, that the Liberal government promised much, delivered nothing on the environment; fact is we kind of fell backward on that one.

As for aboriginal affairs, or as Mr. Martin put it, aboriginal relations, they're still in the dumpster. A lot of hot air, a lot of money has been spent and nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed. Our first nations still live a degrading existence, certainly not representative of their value to the country, historically and for the future. What exactly Mr. Martin, did the Liberal government accomplish that the Conservatives had, aw shucks, spoiled?

Actually from the perspective of a whole lot of onlookers and interested parties as taxpayers and voters, many among the public appear to think that this Conservative government has accomplished a few things that the Liberals failed to do.

On other key issues the Conservative government has a long way to go to proving that it is capable of grappling with issues and reaching constructive conclusions, but we're waiting. They haven't been in power for very long, and Canadians appear now to be willing to let them have a chance to hang themselves or to continue bringing Canada along into a more comfortable sphere.

Like it or not, it was the Conservative government that brought an end to the lumber dispute with that trade bully we live next door to. It was the Conservative government that finally apologized to Chinese immigrants, to our Canadian East Indian community. It was the Conservative government that officially recognized the Dalai Lama, that found agreement on Turkey's genocidal role with its Armenian citizens.

It was the Conservative government that has placed China on notice that the full extension of good relations between countries is dependent upon the observance and practise of human rights, that has continued to pursue Iran on its horrendous human rights record, that has given Israel a life-line of moral support against the terrorists ranged against that state.

It is the Conservative government that took a first constructive step to try (once again, wearily) to ameliorate the ongoing hurt feelings of being overlooked by Quebecois, granting the obvious, that their common culture, language, history, tradition marks them as a nation - within the country of Canada. Thus aiding and assisting the would-be Liberal leaders out of a tight hole they dropped themselves into.

Oops! Paul Martin and Jack Layton saw fit to attend Tamil Tiger community events. Stephen Harper saw fit to place them on Canada's list of terrorist groups. Jean Chretien lobbied his counterpart on a visit to Pakistan to release a man whom they were holding responsible for a bombing incident; that man was later released, close personal friend to Osama bin Laden and funds-gatherer for al Qaeda, the elder Khadr paterfamilias.

My memory begins to fade...I'm getting older and more crotchety by the day.

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