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, April 30, 2008

The International Food Crisis

The causes are many and they are varied. From protectionism, biofuel production, disastrous growing conditions; droughts and floods, to increased demands for a shrinking base product. But United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been forced to establish an international task force to ensure the world's hungry can be fed. The food crisis threatens to become global, and it has already created riots on what is considered an unprecedented scale.

Wealthy countries of the world are being encouraged to hand over more ready cash to ensure that the World Food Program can meet immediate needs. Canada, already the world's second-largest donor to the program after the United States, has today increased its pledge from $150-million to $200-million. As the largest distributor of emergency food aid, the WFP fears that 100-million people now face dire food shortages.

Rioting in Haiti has riveted world attention on that poorest of poor countries, forever in political and social ferment. A dozen people have died as a result of rioting in Yemen. Indonesia has increased subsidies to assuage public anger over high food prices. Farmers in poor countries who cannot afford fertilizer costs at the best of times now see the price rising beyond their reach.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Bank are becoming involved in offering millions to farmers in badly-affected countries in hopes of increasing food production, and to assist in the purchase of seeds. Lending by the World Bank to Africa for agriculture is to be doubled. The World Bank president says export bans by producing countries are serving to increase shortages.

Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, China, Cambodia and India, all major grain-exporting countries have imposed export restrictions. These are panic reactions to rising food costs and growing scarcity. Controls which have been imposed in countries like Russia, Ukraine and Argentina are singled out as encouraging hoarding, driving up prices and ultimately harming the poorest in the world.

In the Philippines, government troops armed with M-16 rifles supervise the sale of subsidized rice. Police enforce a presidential decree outlawing food hoarding. Pakistan has ordered troops to guard flour mills. Protests have been occurring in Mexico, Jordan, Egypt, Mozambique and other countries facing shortages.

Because of the biofuels initiative by the European Union, the United States and Canada, farmers have turned to growing crops for ethanol production, diverting their lands from food-crop production. Ironically, while previously grain farmers were receiving just enough pay-back from their efforts to get by, they're now becoming wealthy on biofuel crops.

In parts of Latin America, peasants and indigenous peoples are being turned off their land for agribusiness to take over, growing crops so that "people in rich countries can feed their cars" according to Javiera Rulli, a biologist turned human rights defender in Paraguay. "Farmers in our countries pay with their blood. The grain used to fill one SUV tank with ethanol could feed a person for a year."

Yet, according to EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, "There is no question for now of suspending the target fixed for [use of] biofuels." Brazil is the world's largest exporter of ethanol made from sugar cane, and its president, Lula de Silva claims: "Biofuels aren't the villain that threatens food security. The real crimes against humanity are discarding biofuels ..."

Malawi plans to restrict corn exports, Kazakhstan has banned wheat exports - it is the world's largest wheat exporter. India has stopped the export of non-basmati rice, peas and beans. To our great discredit, the United States and Canada remain committed to their programs promoting biofuel production and subsidizing biofuels in their effort to fight carbon emissions.

Yet a worldwide survey of a thousand scientists discovered a low level of trust in biofuels as a response to our environmental problems. Solar power remains the most-favoured low-carbon technology.

It's amazing how government bureaucrats and elected officials can seek feverishly for answers to vexing problems, and come up with solutions that are not well-balanced, whose repercussions are never fully realized, yet they cling to them, despite obvious symptoms of failure.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Getting Our Doctor-Act Together

The federal government's determination to alter current immigration standards continues to be criticized by opposition parties in parliament. But the current unworkability of the system underscores the need to progress to the next step. The federal government has its eye on countries like Australia and New Zealand, where applications for landed immigrant status can be processed in six months - as opposed to Canada's, where the same process can take six to ten years.

To expedite the process, the government has identified the viability of "occupational filters" as a primary tool in selecting prospective immigrants who will benefit the country through a combination of education, age, workplace experience and commitment to personal advancement. There's nothing particularly new in the utilization of such filters; Canada has always used them to produce high acceptability points. It's merely that a greater emphasis will be placed on the process.

Which would mean that other immigration sectors such as "family class", relating to family re-unification where successful landed immigrants are permitted to sponsor other family members may receive a numerical set-back. But as the Immigration Minister, Diane Finley, explained to a House of Commons committee, "We're facing real and serious international competition for the talents and skills that we need to fill the jobs that are waiting to be filled here in Canada."

Right. We've many job opportunities for skilled and educated immigrants. And the government has indicated that it intends to favour applications from the ranks of professionals, such as engineers, scientists, doctors - without yet releasing a list of priority occupations. But as it happens, Canada is experiencing a dire need for additional doctors and nurses to serve its population.

Yet the reality is that, while it's estimated five million Canadians are without a family physician, and 26,000 additional doctors are required, something is wrong in the State of Denial. The fact is, Canada has accepted a plethora, a veritable landslide of various types of professionals, from chemists, to pharmacists to physicians to lawyers, and very few of them are deemed to be professionally accredited to practise in Canada.

Canada does not make it easy for foreign-accredited professionals to practise their trade in this country. Professional accreditation agencies in Canada aren't falling all over themselves in enthusiasm to assist foreign-trained and -accredited professionals to achieve Canadian accreditation standards. The result being that confused and bemused immigrant-professionals find themselves locked out of their professions, and working at subsistence jobs.

Of the 1,486 foreign-trained Canadian and permanent resident doctors only 20% succeeded in being matched with residency positions at Canada's teaching hospitals. University hospitals claim they haven't the space, and instead of making space so that doctors can be trained and accredited and go out into the towns and cities across Canada that desperately need their services, they accept trainees from foreign countries.

Whose countries pay handsomely for their nationals on foreign visas, to study and train at Canadian university hospitals. And when their period of training has been completed, and they've achieved the required experience they will then depart back to their countries of origin. How does this benefit Canada? The universities bring in cash, train foreign doctors, but refuse space to Canadian professionals.

Seems the government bureaucracy should get together with university bureaucrats and have a thoroughly good discussion about vital priorities and values. We're just running around endlessly like hamsters on a mindless activity wheel, otherwise.

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All-Expenses-Paid Time-Out

Canada's government has much to answer for in its long-standing and inadequate response to the needs of aboriginal Canadians. But attempting by all means at their disposal to assuage the intolerable living conditions of aboriginals stagnating on Indian Reserves in this country is not one of them. Throwing useless and huge amounts of cash at the reserve system, and supporting the First Nations industry of helpless, hapless dependence on handouts has been a colossal failure.

But this is the first time that an aboriginal chief has complained to the federal government, demanding that it do battle with nature on behalf of aboriginals. If there is something that human connivance and contrivance cannot overcome, it is nature and her implacable temperament. Weather conditions and their sometimes catastrophic outcomes are beyond the capabilities of any human agency.

Yet Chief Jonathan Solomon of the James Bay First Nation community of Kashechewan demands that the federal government devise a solution - a permanent solution - to overcome the perennial problem of flooding in native communities in northern Ontario. Funny thing, that; non-native communities in Ontario and New Brunswick and Quebec are also facing dire flooding situations. They strive to fend for themselves.

"This is ridiculous", wails Chief Solomon. "Why do we have to do this (evacuate) and continue to do this as long as we are here? The government has to come to the table and find a resolution here." Well, as the aboriginal community of Kashechewan overwhelmingly voted to remain in their tenuously-flood-prone area astride the Albany River, this would appear to have been an unwise choice.

For the fourth year in a row, a massive airlift of Kashechewan's 1,500 residents has been mounted. Military aircraft have been assigned the task of flying the residents out of their community for the near future, and taking them 1,000 kilometres away. And to observe the anything-but-unsettled countenances of the evacuating residents from published photographs, they are not devastated by this yearly event.

Their cheerfully beaming faces are those of people anticipating a holiday, a treat, a break from routine, an opportunity to see new places, other faces, and do some shopping and sightseeing. Much as was done last year, when many aboriginals were airlifted out to communities like Ottawa. These photographs are of happy tourists embarking on adventure.

After last year's evacuation - with nowhere near as severe flooding conditions given this year's unusual weather - a government-commissioned report recommended that the community be moved about 450 kilometres south to Timmins, a more socially reasonable and geographically and weather-conditions-related advantageous location.

Initially it seemed a workable option, one that might be accepted, but the Cree band then conducted a survey of its own, finding residents would prefer to remain within "traditional boundaries", moving a mere 35 kilometres up the Albany River. So that's why they're still there, and that, precisely, is why they're still subject to flooding conditions. And able to enjoy yearly vacations off site, handsomely paid for.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the three provinces, rivers and streams have overflowed their banks, flooding hundreds of roadways, affecting Montreal, Laval, Quebec City, Fredericton, Maugerville and Sheffield, as well as communities close by Ottawa. Residents of those affected communities are advised to evacuate their homes in expectation of heavy rains exacerbating current flood conditions.

The Canadian Red Cross has been at work setting up reception centres. And in various flood-prone communities volunteers and civic employees go door to door informing everyone of the flood risks, recommending they leave home for as long as needed. They're self-reliant and independent and will do what they can to help themselves.

Municipal and provincial agencies will step in to assist where they can, as needed. It's a yearly event. Such choices are made when building human habitation in flood-prone areas. Unfortunate, and temporary inconveniences. People are resigned, and so incredibly accepting of their vulnerabilities.

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Great Thundering Bombast...!

There he is, Barack Obama's worst nightmare, catapulting himself front and centre again in the news. His gesticulating emphasis, gloating, challenging, malleable-faced assertions have captivated the media and the public. This man was born to the black pulpit - and obviously finds a comfortable place to exhibit himself and his scornful dismissal of the white society he lives within, but not part of - on any available stage.

Senator Obama, in attempting to excuse the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's excesses, baleful and fanciful, hateful and accusing, describes him as being of the "old school" of black preachers, and he's right. It's certainly not quite in line with the kind of humanistic, deserving and peaceful remonstrances for justice that the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. expounded, to the credit of the black community.

That community that reverences the Reverend King, as opposed to that same community that succumbs to the thundering bombast of a self-reverencing preacher like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. A colleague and spiritual brother-in-arms of such as Nation of Islam's Minister Louis Farrakhan. He can find no fault with Minister Farrakhan's description of Judaism, for example, as a "gutter religion".

Yet denounces the white public at large and the press for not understanding the Black Church, for not endlessly commiserating with the past plight of blacks in America. Rather than focusing on what can bring blacks and whites together, he exercises his considered judgement in shoving them further apart by unrestrained condemnation of history and his steadfast refusal to live in the present.

Reverend Wright condemns accusations of an-American conduct leveled at him by resorting to the last refuge of a scoundrel, as a self-referential righteous minister of the black church. "It is an attack on the black church by people who know nothing about the African-American experience." Which hasn't stopped him and those of his ilk from attacking white Americans or Jews, for blacks haven't lived their experience either.

Instead of embracing the opportunity exposed by the goodwill of white American youth and hopeful Americans of every political stripe to hand the U.S. presidency for the first time to a person of colour, Reverend Wright is splenetically venting spite and intolerance, throwing a bruising shadow of suspicion over the very candidate whose run for the highest office of the land could reflect a healing of a national wound.

His self-aggrandizement in revelling in his home-bred notoriety bespeaks his lack of commitment to a national society of consensus and equality of the colours in the United States. His venomous identification of U.S. and Israeli "terrorism", his unequivocal statements that the disaster of 9-11 is explicable in light of American foreign policy, and his claims that the epidemic of AIDS represents a deliberate plot to eradicate blacks condemn him.

His random attacks on those to whom he ascribes evil intent toward blacks, his scurrilous characterizations of whites and of Jews, his pride in his outspoken opinions offered for public consumption may gain him adherents in some parts of the black community, but it's fair to say that among a goodly portion of that same community his theatrics recognized as demeaning to black aspirations, and are anything but popular.

They have no useful purpose. They serve only to drive a wedge further between the communities. He is wilfully sowing a new round of suspicion and isolation, re-polarizing the entities that had seen fit to come together in a common purpose; a union of solidarity for the public good. The man is offensively ignorant, and ignorantly effusive in his self-delusionary rants.

Little wonder that the Democratic front-runner has been forced to declare himself "outraged and appalled", for the Reverend Wright's version of America. The Reverend Wright's vision of the ongoing separation of black and white, does not reflect Senator Obama's promise to himself and to America. Barack Obama has been forced to stand by in agony, witnessing a collapse of his own singular purpose.

Overtaken by the passionate rhetoric of another type of racist, with his clanging theories about a deathly disease-conspiracy against American blacks, and America the terror-state. But the Reverend Wright does have some compelling support, for none other than Seyyed Mohsen Yahyavi, Secretary-General of Iran's Inter-Parliamentary Group, singles out the United States as the biggest threat to world peace.

And, oddly enough, represents a country whose stated purpose is the defeat of America, once it has succeeded in eradicating the Jewish state.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Dogged By An Ass

Sometimes, the law - or the way it's interpreted - has been observed to be contrary to the public interest. That old observation: "The Law's an Ass" proves on occasion to be quite so.

And when enough people within any population feel that way it's time something be done about it. When the law issues responses contrary to the public weal, something is obviously wrong. And with the recent Supreme Court ruling on the use of police sniffer dogs in certain arenas representing as inimical to the Charter of Rights, the law does appear stubbornly donkey-like.

Braying their superior position in interpreting the Charter of Rights under section 8, a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court have disallowed the legality of sniffer dogs being used in schools and other public areas to assist police in obtaining evidence of illegal activity. Good grief, society has an unendurable problem with drug addiction. We've homeless people, hopelessly addicted to drugs. To feed their habit they resort to prostitution, to stealing into peoples' homes, to violence.

Human dignity is far beyond their experience at this degraded time in their lives. Which also leaves them vulnerable to disease and life-threatening illness. Let alone violence on the streets. Yet there are young people in high schools bringing illicit drugs into that public venue to entice other youngsters to try out drugs, and to entrap them finally as habitual drug users.

Doesn't society have a responsibility to protect our young from this kind of harmful exposure to drug use and availability?

Yet a young man attending a Sarnia, Ontario high school whose principal had invited the local police with their canines into the school for the very purpose of identifying drug dealers felt sufficiently entitled to protest the charge levied against him, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The school exercised a well-publicized "zero tolerance" atmosphere. The school represents a public arena. The school is seen as a safe learning environment for young people.

Yet a majority of the justices considered that case, as well as that of a man who was caught by police in a Vancouver bus terminal, on appeal. The Vancouver drug carrier, Gurmakh Kang-Brown, had caught the eye of police because of his nervous demeanor. Which caused police to deter him, and to have their sniffer dog deployed in identifying the contents of his backpack. He was subsequently arrested for possession of and/or trafficking in drugs.

The student, underage, and not identified other than by initials, was charged with possession of marijuana and magic mushrooms for the purpose of trafficking. Only one judge, Justice Bastarache - unfortunately standing down from the High Bench at an early age, thus making the wisdom of his interpretation unavailable in short order - found the final judge had erred in excluding the evidence.

As far as he could see, the trafficking charges were serious and valid; more so in a school settings, so he would have allowed the evidence to stand.

In both cases the Supreme court of Canada delivered a 6-3 split in both decisions. They chose to uphold the right to privacy of the individual guaranteed by the Charter. Yet in both these instances where drugs were being conveyed for the purpose of trafficking, they were detained in a public space. And the charges were extremely serious.

The point is, of course, that Canadians are guaranteed freedom from intrusion into their privacy. And that's just fine. But when people are prosecuting activities meant to harm some members of the public, and they are going about that business in the public sphere, who should be protected? The purveyor of dangerously illicit materials, or his victims?

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Aboriginal Self-Responsibility

Evacuations are taking place again of aboriginals living on reserves in areas of the country vulnerable to spring flooding. It's become a yearly event. To prepare yet again for the mass evacuation of people, to take them temporarily to other areas of the country where nature doesn't threaten to unsettle the lives of people living in rural or urban communities.

Not that there are not rural and urban areas that aren't touched by seasonal flooding. These non-aboriginals manage to cope; the federal government doesn't declare potential disaster nor mount a mass evacuation. The surrounding community becomes involved and offers help as needed.

It's different in native communities, in tribal areas, on Canada's many reserves. Those reserves - and they are many - that remain impoverished, both in spirit and materially. Where social dysfunction is the order of the day. Where children are raised in households barely resembling functional familial groups. Where children learn at an early age to fend for themselves. Where education is not recognized as a priority and boredom sneaks illicit activities into daily life.

A report just issued by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, written by Metis researcher Joseph Quesnel, asserts that Canada is long overdue for a change in aboriginal policy. And that adopting some very key and successful initiatives pioneered from the Maori experience in New Zealand may just be the way to begin. But, to begin with, the overdue settling of native land claims must be settled.

Only then will it be possible for aboriginals to learn to become self-reliant. With finalized legal entitlement to ancestral lands, they could begin to use that land to develop their own resourceful responses, to emerge with their own economy, for their own use. They will require education to enable them to fulfil this kind of vision for their future. And there are other, successful reserves which could serve as a template.

In New Zealand the government decided it could no longer support failed policies toward its aboriginal commitment. So in 1984, it acceded to the Maori determination for independence. Handing over powers for the Maori to identify their singular development needs, and to begin to deliver their own services to their own people. A one-time cash payment along with assets cemented treaty settlements.

This was so successful that by 2003 the Maori were contributing tax in amounts greater than their original transfers of cash and kind from the New Zealand government. There are now 22 Maori Members of Parliament, accounting for 20% of government representation. According to Mr. Quesnel's study, "There was an understanding that any movement toward indigenous cultural and political self-determination had to be accompanied by economic self-reliance.

"They could not call themselves self-governing while receiving handouts and massive government transfers." Yet in Canada, where the federal and provincial treasuries commit $18-billion in transfers to Canada's aboriginals, there is precious little to show in the way of success. It's government funding that simply sinks into a black hole of diminishing returns. Which doesn't stop Phil Fontaine and the Assembly of First Nations from demanding ever greater contributions to aboriginal well-being.

It's more than adequately obvious that government funding, however well-intentioned, adds nothing whatever to aboriginal well-being. Where there is no vested interest in the lands and the homes and the civil institutions within reserves, there is apathy and disinterest and an inability or an unwillingness to be involved, to demonstrate pride, to attempt to help themselves.

Aboriginals succumb to a malaise of the soul. Encouraged to live in that environment by self-serving chiefs, they bide time, and present as maladjusted indigents.

The Maori, in contrast have never embraced a reserve system. Their people have integrated into the larger community. They receive no transfer payments from government coffers. Until Canada's aboriginals are willing to understand and to accept that time goes forward, not backward, and the past cannot be re-visited, they are destined to the status quo.

This is no way to celebrate their heritage. They live on reserves, on "traditional lands", but they don't live traditionally.

The 2006 Census indicated that 54% of aboriginals live off reserve, and reserves will continue to shrink as ever more aboriginals begin to migrate to urban centres. Oddly enough, despite all the misery that Canada's native communities have endured, their life expectancy, at 72.9 in 2000 was the highest among the four populations studied (Canada, the U.S., New Zealand and Australia).

Canada must begin to focus more strenuously on the advancement of its aboriginal populations. That means taking serious steps to educate the young, to offer aboriginal youth the same opportunities as other young people in Canada. Their needs are no different, their opportunities should reflect those of any other youth within the country.

The opportunity for self-improvement, self-reliance and self-respect for their families must be advanced. Encouraging independence and conveying the real impression that there are expectations they can succeed can imbue people with the realization that they indeed can succeed in achieving independence. Material and practical assistance should be proffered when required, when sought.

But aboriginals, no differently than any other segment of the Canadian population, should be prepared to make a place for themselves and their children in this country. The dignity of self-reliance, of taking responsibility, should no longer be denied them. Living on government hand-outs, not facing the challenges inherent in taking on normal responsibilities denies them a future.

The unrelenting, horrendous problems on native reserves of teen suicide, alcohol and drug abuse; unemployment and high-school dropout rates belong in the dustheap of history.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Et Tu, Iggy?

No, no; not "you too" but "particularly you". As in what took so long? We know, we know, the undercurrent was always there, ready to raise itself above the stream of patient assent. The stalwart and committed supporter. Guess the time was ripe. After all, those by-elections that brought a major rival directly onto the scene was the propellant. Beat him to it, didn't you? As everyone knows, though, Bob Rae cannot be too far behind.

Guess he and his legion of impassioned supporters are already in the throes of planning a major social event to bring out the corporate heads, the moneyed set, wooing them for their support. His subversive campaign will receive ample support, just as yours has. The question here is which, between you two, can amass the greater support? Two years, after all, is enough time. Point made. It was an unfortunate fluke.

You've been adept in furnishing the veneer of staunch support to someone who has proven, as you both knew he would, to be inadequate to the task at hand. An unfortunately already-submerged-in-misery Liberal party, sunk even deeper into the morass of disadvantage. Professorial intellect just doesn't cut it, in and of itself. Without that indelible spark of charisma, that ability to alert the public to possibilities and potentials.

The Royal York hotel as good a venue as any for your coming-out ball, Michael Ignatieff. The pretence is slowly evaporating, but not soon enough, right? What a glittering event with all the political cognoscenti, the movers and shakers, the committed and the yet-to-be-committed. Mind if I ask an admittedly naive question? Just wondering, after all.

When the invitations went out, was one handed, on a silver salver, to your ever-so-earnest leader?
And the friend and colleague of your youth, did one go out to him as well? At the risk of seeming repetitive; just asking.

Here comes the clash of the cerebral titans. First number of introductory scenes between yourself and your rival. With poor Stephane Dion lingering on the edges, wondering what went wrong. He has all the answers, after all. The solutions to all the problems, right at his fingertips. He is morally unassailable, but politically disadvantaged. And when the dust finally settles and the choice has been made (yawn), then comes the fun.

Not necessarily the verbal and intellectual sparring between you and Bob, but later, between either you or Bob, and Stephen. That's when the sparks will fly. That's when the public will really sit up and take notice.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Canada's Inner Conflict

We've got more than sufficient sociopaths in Canadian society born and raised in the country who, although they've been exposed to all the benefits of living in a free and democratic country, place their allegiance elsewhere, and cast the bitter aspersions of their disregard for the country and all it represents upon the wide sea of discontent fomenting toward violent expression throughout the world community. Every country manages to somehow breed malcontents.

And then there are those special types who seek to emigrate from their countries of birth because of an atmosphere of political and social repression. They seek out the gentler shoals of countries for which freedom of expression, ideas, worship, ideologies and association are guaranteed to their citizens. Countries whose tradition has been to respect differentiation between peoples from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds; countries built upon immigration.

Canada carefully vets aspirants to settlement in the country, those would-be emigrants who make application to become landed immigrants, and eventually citizens of the country. But as much caution as can be exercised at any given time by overworked and stressed civil servants tasked to ensure that individuals holding criminal records or known to be involved in society-averse behaviours - including those with a track record of belonging to jihadist groups - slip-ups occur, the end result being the proverbial vipers in our midst.

One such - as so many of these bitterly, violently disaffected people turn out to be in venues other than Canada, and who seek violent means to overturn legitimate governments, and in the process visit bloody carnage on their people and institutions - is a young man originally from Pakistan. He has placed himself in a very public position as championing Osama bin Laden along with others of his ilk.

For to him, a staunch and committed fundamentalist Muslim, the Western world has outrageously offended Islam and the Muslim world by its assault against Muslim sensibilities; by assaults of a physical nature against sovereign Muslim countries. Somehow disregarding the initial bloody series of provocations against Western citizens, institutions, their militaries, and their vested commercial interests.

This young man, while living in Toronto, posts on the Internet praising Osama bin Laden as a "hero" and "champion of Islam". He is a fundamentalist, self-motivated, radicalized from within, inspired by Pakistani cleric and jihad-advocate, Israr Ahmad. Whose agency helped commit him to the ideals of Islamic jihad. Mr. Khan urges readers to "support our troops"; "the mujaheddin fighting for freedom and rights against illegal occupation in many, many places over the world like Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine and Somalia".

He advocates the severest of Sharia punishment - death - for "apostates" to Islam, like Irshad Manji, Tarek Fatah and other moderate Muslims who strive to educate their Muslim brethren in moderation and acceptance of others: non-Muslims, non-traditional gender relationships, those who practise no religion; urging the recognition of equality owed all, not merely Muslims. However, according to Naeem Muhammad Khan, their meek and peaceful attitude offends Koranic prescription and blasphemes Islam.

"Behead her!!! And make a nice video and post it on YouTube", he writes of one "Islam basher". And "Jews who support Zionism and Israel ... since they are killing Palestinians ... killing them is not bad, they deserve to die". He believes that those who have a distorted opinion of Islam, the religion of peace and tolerance, deserve to die by the swords of Muslims. What is such a vindictive and sinister worldview doing, as a fairly recent immigrant to Canada, living comfortably within a society that embraces equality?

Why, it's opportunism not to be denied. "In recent times, hundreds of Islamic radicals have settled in Canada", according to Tahir Gora, an activist-writer originally from Pakistan, who has been absorbed with this very issue, airing his opinions through his
Hamilton Spectator columns. "They are spreading hatred and extremism in the guise of freedom of expression. On the other hand, they put death penalties to those dissidents who challenge the traditional medieval way of Islam."

He should know, leading a monitoring agency, Canada Safety Think Tank, tracking the growing Islamic radicalization within Canada. It's a serious issue, one that the government is very well aware of, and is itself tracking. There are terrorism-related cases before the courts in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, all relating to violent plots unveiled by security agencies, motivated by Islamist extremists.

But the very freedoms granted Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms serve also to encourage the fanatics within the country, secure in the knowledge that they too have the "right" and the freedom to vent their violent frustration against what they perceive as insults against and assaults toward Islam. They are in the business of encouraging jihad, and speak to the values of murdering innocent people in the guise of doing the holy work of the Islamic struggle against the unbeliever.

This singular individual, Naeem Muhammad Khan, obviously enjoys attention, about as much as he enjoys the freedom to vent his splenetic bile. He is able to do this because he resides in opinion-tolerant Canada, knowing full well such opportunities would be strenuously to the point of incarceration, denied him in most Muslim countries.

None of these Muslim countries meet his stringent yardstick of representing true Islam, with the institution of full Sharia law. Should there ever be such a country in the future - and his native Pakistan may very well attain to that status, or perhaps Indonesia, or any number of other Muslim countries struggling to counteract the determination of the Islamists within their borders - he will be overjoyed to return.

Meanwhile, supporters of rigorously righteous Islamist ideals cleverly use Canada's own hate laws and its various Human Rights Commissions to post complaints against Canadian magazines and writers who, through their publication of ideas and opinions based on fact and observation offend their sensibilities. While those within the country who spout truly hateful, racist and murderous ideals feel free to operate without fear of apprehension.

Professor Wesley Wark, an visiting scholar and intelligence expert at University of Ottawa, feels that Mr. Khan's "odious" views should be allowed to be aired "where ridicule can scrub them away". Perhaps, but the clarity of this jihadist-championing vision expressed as support for murderous jihad, indeed raises the question of whether Canada should be looking at implementing new guidelines and laws to outlaw the incitement to terror.

Long past time of its need.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Biofuels: Part of the Solution

That's what the newspaper caption read: Biofuels aren't causing the food crisis - they're part of the solution. Well, if they're derived from non-food sources like dead trees, waste cooking oils, and other types of non-food waste products, ethanol certainly can be an assist, albeit a modest one, to help in alleviating our century's dire need of fossil fuels by our energy-wasteful ways of life.

Most certainly the oil-using world would like to remove itself from its self-destroying dependence on the oil-producing world. When that is pronounced it's clear that the finger of blame is pointing squarely at the OPEC cartel. But then, there are other oil-producing countries, not part of OPEC, and while some of them, like Canada, for example, produce plenty of oil and gas it's never enough to assuage the needs of the international community.

Let alone their own internal needs. Hydro production is great, but the world has a dearth of sufficient water-sourced energy. Nuclear energy has its own problems, not the least of which is the disposal of nuclear waste, a true nightmare scenario guaranteed to haunt us with its disaster potential foraeons. Wind-generated power is inadequate, a hopeful sop. Solar-generated power reliant on sunny climes, but useful.

So really, must we return to dirty old coal and continue carbonizing and particulating our atmosphere beyond breathable redemption, and end up like China, with its severely troubled atmosphere? Oil, the bane of ourtransportative existence. So, are biofuels the alternative to fossil fuels? Hardly; we could never harvest sufficient growing crops to produce enough ethanol to replace fossil fuels.

And until we discover an inedible crop willing to lend itself to ethanol production on a large scale, biofuels will remain a miserable alternative. Environmental enthusiasts who once championed the concept of biofuel production as a replacement response to fossil fuels, echoing a lesser impact on the atmosphere through less carbon emissions are now swallowing their tongues.

Cereal grains cannot be seen as a solution through bypassing the slight inconvenience of world hunger and steadily rising food prices. True, farmers whose produce was never sufficiently appreciated in the past, and who scarcely made a living through their agricultural commitment as a functioning, fundamental livelihood, are now seeing their incomes rise.

Arable land once given over to producing food crops for peoples' consumption are now being dedicated to biofuels-producing grains. Forests are being cleared to make way for larger tracts of farmland. To benefit biofuel production. Subsistence farmers in Africa, Latin America and impoverished Asia can turn to growing crops for fuel production, and see their meagre incomes rise.

As they starve alongside those of their countrymen. Still, the president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association speaks glowingly of the potentials inbiofuels production. Biofuels, he assures the reading public "are the most environmentally viable alternative to gasoline today".

We have it on the best authority.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

What Price Harm?

The presence of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, at the invitation of the Afghan government as part of NATO's presence for the purpose of pushing back and defeating the resurgent Taliban has had its share of unintended consequences. Unintended and tragic, but commonplace in situations where a foreign military speaking a foreign language intermingles of necessity on occasion with indigent civilian populations. The lethal machinery of war does not mix well with civil institutions and civilians.

There have been unfortunate deaths occurring as a result of those minglings. Deaths of Afghan soldiers or police or civilians as a result of "friendly" fire. And other mishaps, including accidents with vehicle collisions leaving people injured or maimed. And then there are mere "incidental" misfortunes of property lost. The Canadian military has its presence in the country, along with those of other NATO countries; the Afghan people are advised to co-operate with these invited occupiers who are there to protect them and to train their own military and police.

Resentment is inevitable, when accidents, deadly and not-so-deadly occur. These are foreign soldiers on Afghan soil. Soldiers who are not completely aware of social customs, cultural traditions, and unable to speak the common language. Strangers in their midst; armed and dangerous intruders. So when civil life slams hard up against military might, it is innocent civilians who pay the price. Needless to say, these disasters are regrettable, the impact on the minds of the Canadian soldiers also represents a tragedy.

But then, when accidents do occur and Afghan citizens who are unafraid of speaking up and demanding their rights bring their grievances to the attention of the Canadian military, why then, compensation is offered. In the last year there were five instances of Afghan civilians injured or killed by Canadian troops, and three friendly-fire deaths of Afghan soldiers or police. There is a need to show compassion, despite that Canada signed an agreement with the Afghan government waiving liability for damage.

Tell that to the victims of misfortune. Inadvertent death is still death, and irreversible. In the space of a year some 33 singular instances of misadventure were identified and compensation meted out to the appropriate individuals. Which by no means covers all such incidents, for some are overlooked, and some occur to people who have no means of asking for recompense, having no knowledge of how to proceed, and being too fearful of pursuing avenues for attention.

Imagine, then, thirty-three cases, ranging from damage to homes or vehicles, loss of personal possessions, death, injury, damage to private infrastructures, destruction of home or compound, confiscated properties not returned, and all of these compensated for a total of $89,769. Families of Afghans accidentally killed received on average $8,000 in compensation. Destruction of homes compensated by approximately $5,000. The average Afghan wage is $300 annually. These are considered "ex-gratia" payments, extended for "benevolent" reasons.

Contrast that with the cost of war. Canada spends, through its NATO-Afghanistan mission $1-billion a year.

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Mexico, Canada, Held Hostage

Two North American countries held hostage by the imperious histrionics of a woman portraying herself as an innocent bystander in a corrupt scheme that bilked tens of millions of dollars from unsuspecting victims. She may or may not have been involved in the scam that has seen her one-time employer, Alyn Waage, convicted, tried and found guilty of an Internet fraud scheme operated from his Puerto Vallarta, Mexico headquarters, but despite portraying herself as a hapless, helpless victim, Brenda Martin is anything but that.

She knowingly broke the law of a country she entered illegally, by choosing to remain and to be employed there. When she was employed by Mr. Waage as the cook in his villa, she locked horns with his elderly mother, causing bad feelings which resulted in her dismissal after less than a year of employment. This is such an exceedingly agreeable woman that she could not find it in character to extend respect and a politely acquiescing manner to an older woman. She is obviously accustomed to having her way, brooking no interference.

Or perhaps not; the entire story has never quite been revealed, just tantalizing little snippets that do not paint a picture of innocence. Her extremely generous $25,000 severance, representing a year's salary as a parting gift on dismissal saw her investing ten thousand of that in her former employer's Ponzi scheme that left 15,000 investors around the world $60-million poorer. When Mexican authorities arrested Brenda Martin she was charged with participating in the criminal conspiracy of her past employer; knowingly accepting illicit funds.

Post-arrest and incarceration Brenda Martin was held for two years without trial. A not-unknown occurrence even in countries like Canada, but one which she herself was partly the engineer thereof as a result of her own legal machinations. She interfered with legal proceedings, claimed not to have been seen by Foreign Affairs consular representatives during her imprisonment, and excoriated the government of Mexico and its unjust and unfair legal system. She skillfully exploited the concern and compassion of fellow Canadians with her manipulative histrionics.

Her case quickly became a notorious one, demonstrating yet again how badly Canadians fare as unwitting tourists in Mexico, trusting and open-minded, only to be assailed time and again by the reality that recounted fairly dreadful instances where Canadian tourists met untimely ends through a series of criminal misadventures. None of which has given Canadians pause to reconsider their holiday trips to Mexico. Tourists seeking sun and sand and exotic landscapes flock to the country, while at the same time, decrying Mexican corruption.

Brenda Martin waves goodbye to W-FIVE cameras after an exclusive interview from the Guadalajara prison in Mexico.Brenda Martin has, despite the anguished persona placed before the cameras turned her way, been having a whale of a time. She adores all the media attention. She relishes the public concern in Canada being evinced by fellow Canadians extending their compassionate concern for her misfortune. She is a self-centred, egotistical woman whose stock in trade is innocence. Her thespian ability to portray herself as a poor defenceless woman victimized by a cruel justice system in a nasty country has played well to her audience.

She has adeptly manipulated the political card, for the public outcry of outrage at the dreadful situation in a Mexican jail of a purportedly innocent Canadian woman who just happened to stumble innocently into a den of criminal activity, has alerted the Government of Canada that they have a bit of a public relations crisis. In aid of handling this crisis, top-echelon public servants and elected Members of Parliament have been scrambling to pay due obeisance to this woman's hysterics.

Brenda Martin's mother, Marjorie Bletcher's tears match those of her daughter's, and truly it's a pitiable situation that only the hardest of hearts would not respond to. Mexico's reputation is being besmirched, their independent judiciary, their criminal justice system, their customs and traditions, their hospitality and generosity as hosts blackened, as Brenda Martin screams in dismay at her sentencing, and predictably faints. Her sentence and her fine have "devastated" this poor woman.

Her friend and supporter, Deb Tieleman shouts "This is incredible. There is no justice in this country. There was never any evidence against Brenda Martin." Fear not, Canada's prime minister will again earnestly confer with his Mexican counterpart. This well-seasoned woman who loves dressing up, competing for attention, performing before the camera, giving exclusive interviews from her Guadalajara prison declaiming her innocence, threatening suicide, working herself into a state of agitated self-delusion, will be saved.

She will return to Canada where some means will be legally found to shorten her prison stay here, and returned to the bosom of her family. Where she will remain for a very short time before setting out again to make her mark in the world, but not before placing before the eager media once again her well-practised version of a malignant vendetta against her by a vicious foreign government.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Americans Say, Canadians Say

Same item, appearing in two different newspapers, each with different captions. One reads "Safer for world if McCain wins, Americans say"; while the other reads "Canadians don't feel secure with McCain". Oops, whose election is this, anyway? Well, of course there's that, but there's also the undeniable reality that whoever is at the helm of governance in the United States makes decisions that very often impact deleteriously on the world at large.

Canada being the very close next-door neighbour of the United States, it's understandable that we're more than a little interested in the outcome of the presidential elections. We've a lot in common as neighbours in North America. We share a good many values, although there are certainly nuanced differences. Our priorities are occasionally similar. Our social attitudes share some great similarities, but shaded by "liberal" and "conservative" apprehensions.

Americans are more conservative than Canadians. Americans are most certainly more religiously inspired, more dedicated to religion, more church-going, more bible-abiding, than their Canadian counterparts. Canadians are less socially rigid than Americans. Americans are far more conspicuously patriotic than are Canadians. Canadians tend to be quietly patriotic, not given to the overt displays so characteristic of Americans.

Canadians have infinitely more knowledge of all things American, from their history to their culture, their politics to their social mores. Americans remain dismally but confidently ignorant of useful general knowledge of other countries of the world, including their neighbour, Canada. Canadians are genuinely interested in other countries. Americans seem to feel no need to be.

So here's that news item again, where the two populations view a particular item from opposite positions. Americans, by a slender margin appear to believe the world would be safer if Republican John McCain ascended to the presidency. There's an overt assumption that it is the United States' primary duty to police the world, ensure that it reflects American values and conditions of political life, it would appear.

A mere 24% of Canadians feel that Senator McCain would ensure a more peaceful world, as president of the U.S. In contrast, Senator McCain retains a slight majority of approval from Americans as leader, rather than Senators Clinton or Obama. America's traditional weight-throwing in the world makes Canadians slightly nervous. They relate far better to the foreign policy expressed by the Democrats.

Revealed through an Ipsos Reid survey conducted for Munk Debates, an international affairs debate series which plans to focus on the impact of the U.S. presidential campaign on international affairs.

As reported by Sheldon Alberts for Canwest News Service


The Upper (Energy) Hand

Be careful what you wish for. It might just come to fruition. And the results, unfortunately, may not quite reflect what was anticipated.

In the case of the two Democratic U.S. presidential aspirants, their promises to the American unemployed to scrap elements of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the agreement in total, as a disingenuous and perhaps lamentably uninformed ploy - for aspirants to high political office - a wake-up call.

All three North American partners in the NAFTA are destined to suffer from the potential of a cancellation of the treaty.

And then, singly, they can face the reality of competitive international markets, where the EU has combined to create singular clout, where the Indian-China duet is beginning to dominate the markets of the future, and think back to what once was. Act in haste, repent at leisure.

Clearly, the Democratic candidates' understanding of the working results of the NAFTA treaty are somewhat imperfect in their comprehension of the details involved therein.

But the United States, being what it is, an exuberant, self-absorbed, narcissistic society, sublimely certain of their prime place in the world of commerce and leadership, is accustomed to calling the tunes - all the tunes - and offering crumbs to competitors, and ostensible colleagues.

There they were, the continent's three political leaders, Mexico's Felipe Calderon, Canada's Stephen Harper, and the United States' George W. Bush, in a NATO conclave, conferring on the success of the treaty up to the present. Presenting the view of both Canada and Mexico, alongside that of the current U.S. administration that there is no need to open the treaty for any further amendments.

All three countries have benefited, yet it seems to the critics of the treaty in all three countries that only their country has suffered, while the other two have advanced. Face is, trade has been inordinately enhanced, businesses have thrived, the economy has benefited - and manufacturing job losses have occurred, but have migrated away from the three countries, not from one to the other two.

But if the new American administration turns out to be Democratic and insists on re-negotiating or scrapping NAFTA, Mexico and Canada can live with it. Mexico has great oil reserves, and can turn elsewhere to an energy-hungry world to peddle its wares there. Canada presents in actual fact, as the U.S.'s central provider of energy sources.

As said Prime Minister Harper: "Canada is the United States' No.1 supplier of energy. We are a secure and stable supplier that is of critical importance to the future of the United States. If we have to look at this kind of an option [a renegotiation], I say quite frankly ... we would be in an even stronger position now than we were 20 years ago. And we will be in a stronger position in the future."

Canada gave up a bit of too much to the United States in signing the NAFTA agreement. And we've been shafted by the U.S. Congress pulling weight and crying foul over subsidies ever since. So bring it on, please do.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Russia, Droning On

Vladimir Putin loves playing hardball. His competitive spirit fuels a resurgent Russia, as of old. Adamant that he will no longer relinquish the playing field to aspirants wishing to control their own destiny, he's still high on his success in (temporarily) denying Georgia entrance to NATO. And busy making mischief, doing to that country what he will not permit to be done to his own; the encouragement of break-away portions, destroying the unity of the country.

Actively encouraging the separation of two restive areas of Georgia, Abkhazia - internationally recognized as part of Georgia, but activated by separatists supported by Moscow - and South Ossetia. Craftily establishing ties with the separatists in both these would-be breakaway regions. Pay-back for Georgia's insistence that as a sovereign country it has the right to do as it will, including becoming part of the 26-nation alliance of NATO.

Were another country to intervene in the encouragement of Uzbekistan, with whom Russia fights a continual bitter battle, as it does with Ukraine, and as it does still with Latvia, the full wrath of Vladimir Putin is released as he unhinges from his role as steady, steely leader of Russia and morphs into Vlad the Totalitarian.

When Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili conveyed his ire to President Putin over a Russian MiG-29 fighter entering Georgian airspace to shoot down an unmanned surveillance drone over Abkhazia, denial was the order of the day. Yet video footage clearly displayed the incident, identifying the strike.

"Nonsense" was the response from Russia's air force. And Vladimir Putin, never one to be put in his place, or to be placed on the defensive, shot off a little verbal ballistic missile of his own through the Kremlin press service, coyly relating his conversation with Mr. Saskashvili, that he purported to be "bewildered" that Georgia sent drones over Abkhazia.

Leaving no doubt that he held Abkhazia to be unrelated to Georgia, no longer part of its sovereign territory - under the protection of Russia - and that Georgia had no business sending anything over airspace not her own. The region has especial value to Russia as a transit route for oil from the Caspian Sea. Everything - world-wide - reduces to energy, oil.

Russia has issued its own passports to residents of Abkhazia, a breathtaking display of sheer arrogance. Tbilisi has, with understatement, given the circumstances, accused Moscow of annexation of the region. Everything depends upon whose ox is being gored, doesn't it? Russia's stout defence of Serbia with the declaration of independence of Kosovo comes to mind.

Yet Russia, which bitterly denounced the EU and the U.S. for recognizing the legitimacy of Kosovar independence as a nation in its own right, despite Serbia's (legal) assertion of sovereignty, is now set to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. It's fairly obvious that NATO's placatory gesture to Russia with respect to delaying Georgia's and Ukraine's membership has emboldened President Putin.

But there is Abkhazia's administrators, in defence of Russia's innocence, claiming that its own forces had shot down the drone, since it was violating Abkhaz air space.

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Outdated Solution to Economic Equality

A good idea at one time, to ensure that the wealthy provinces did not completely outstrip the less well endowed provinces within Canada, that those who could afford to share their economic well-being with those who lagged, were part of the solution, Canada's equalization program has outgrown its one-time necessity.

That the identified "have" provinces of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia were willing to contribute to a national program that levied an additional taxation from them for distribution to the "have-not" provinces spoke to the social cohesion of the country. And Canadians took pride in their selfless desire to assist one another.

The equalization program was flexible enough to preclude British Columbia from sharing its wealth during an economic downturn, temporarily turning it into a receiving province. But it seems to be stuck in economic confusion through an obvious inability to recognize that once-poor provinces are no longer in need of additional help from their more economically privileged sister provinces.

Provinces like Newfoundland-and-Labrador and Saskatchewan, now established as having one of the fastest growing economies in the country have become "have" provinces, yet their premiers will not relinquish demands for ongoing equalization payments. Offshore oil revenues have made Newfoundland-and-Labrador independently wealthy. Rich oil deposits, potash, uranium and other natural resource minerals have enriched Saskatchewan.

The original design leading to equalization payments to ensure that all Canadians, wherever they lived in the country, had access to similar services, has outlived its purpose. Nowhere is that more evident than the condition of Ontario, once termed the "engine of prosperity" for the country as a whole, through its large manufacturing base, hosting headquarters for large Canadian corporations.

The economic slippage through a downturn in logging operations, mineral extraction, and manufacturing jobs heading offshore have turned the province of Ontario into a hanging-in-there province. Public social services have suffered, as a result. The "have-not" provinces of the past, still enjoying the emoluments equalization guarantees them, on top of their happy new exploitation of their natural resources, can offer their citizens services Ontario no longer can.

Per capita, Ontario now has fewer public services, fewer hospital beds, nurses, judges and larger class sizes in their schools than anywhere else in Canada. Of those provinces still considered to be wealthy by the old standards, only Ontario and British Columbia impose a health tax through a health premium. Alberta, undeniably now one of Canada's wealthiest provinces, is set to abolish theirs.

Those provinces who receive equalization payments from the wealthy three impose no such health tax premium on their population. Quebec, another notable recipient of equalization payments, provides free dental services, inexpensive day care and other goodies that Ontario cannot afford for her population.

Federal fiscal transfers, at one time a practical response to inequality between the provinces, now hobbles the economy of struggling Ontario, while providing unrealistic support to some provinces who no longer require it. Provincial economic wealth has now levelled out across all provinces with rare exception.

Yet Ontario, struggling with its economic downturn contributes 3% of its annual provincial product to provide public services to other provinces which it cannot itself afford. The millions of dollars that Ontario finds itself short of, at a time of global competitiveness places the province at another distinct disadvantage.

It's past time for the federal government, in tandem with the provinces, to recognize the inequity in the system, and restructure equalization to better reflect the reality of necessity. Or do away with it, put it in a pending file for future use, if and as required.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Super-Sized Mamas

The epidemic of obesity seen around the world - and particularly noted in North America and Europe - may yet do more to threaten human survival, if the phenomenon persists - than the plague of deadly new diseases, the threat of nuclear weapons unleashed on an unready world, and the looming environmental crisis with its fall-out of vital food shortages.

We may end up eating ourselves to an early grave. Our morbidly overweight bodies succumbing to a collapse of our internal organs, incapable of bearing our unwieldy weight.

Why are we doing this to ourselves? We don't particularly enjoy the flabby sight of our corpulent bodies. We don't appreciate the growing lack of mobility, the freedom to move at will, to exercise our limbs, our lungs and our heart. We cannot possibly anticipate with glowing pleasure the onslaught of life-impeding, lifestyle diseases like cancers, diabetes - with all of its potentials of blindness, neurological damage, increasing risk of heart and stroke.

So why do we succumb to the allure of consuming too many and nutritionally inadequate calories? Helpless to exercise free will and a modicum of intelligence?

And why do we teach our children to do the same? Does it give us great pleasure to contemplate the damage we are assisting our children to incur through this undisciplined and vicious cycle of over-consumption? Do we take much pleasure in realizing that normal clothing no longer fits us or our offspring. That something as simple as a long walk, climbing stairs, playing physically-demanding games are beyond our functional capabilities due to our impaired physical status?

And here's yet another emerging problem. Expectant mothers who are so obese - with BMIs ranging between 30 to 50 - that normal hospital delivery beds and surgical devices are inadequate to serve these new mothers-to-be inordinate girth. Statistics Canada has revealed that fully 23% of women of childbearing age are obese, with obesity rates rising fastest in the 25- to 34-year-old group.

The medical community labels anyone with a body mass index of 30 or over obese. And obstetricians are now saying it's no longer uncommon to see women with a pre-pregnancy BMI of 60, or even greater than that. And then the birth weight is totted in over that. With such high BMIs there is a greater C-section mode of delivery required.

The attending physician, during pregnancy check-ups can not feel the uterus, can't hear the baby's heart beat; there is no normal clinical assessment possible with the morbidly obese.

Labour and delivery are compromised. It's more difficult for the baby's delivery, and where, during normal births one attending surgeon is sufficient, in these instances, two and three surgeons are required for the necessary caesarean procedures. All that fat has to be held back out of the way of delivery.

A BMI greater than 30 translates to a higher stillbirth risk, gestational diabetes, and life-threatening pre-eclampsia. Moreover, babies born grossly weighted to begin with, are at an increased risk of overweight during adolescence. How agile and adept at looking after their babies are grossly overweight women?

It takes a lot of energy and stamina, patience and skill to attend to a newborn, to an infant, to a growing child. A woman housed within acres of redundant flesh is incapacitated to begin with. Where will that needed strength, energy, and will to provide for the young come from?

It's not as though there's any great mystery that gross overweight will impact deleteriously on one's present mode of life and lifestyle, but that in the long run life itself is truncated. It's a situation that truly defies intelligent design.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blackmail Most Foul

There it is, the single province in Canada that recognizes only one official language, plaguing the rest of the country with its tedious, tiresome, troubling demands for singular recognition as being culturally, traditionally different; a nation unto its own right. Quebec is still a province within confederation. Yet, bafflingly, infuriatingly, it insists on labelling all of its provincial institutions as "national" in character.

Its parks are not provincial parks, but national parks. Its legislative body is not a provincial authority but a national one. It offends the rest of Canada for not wishing to fly the flag of Canada, but insisting that the Quebec flag has overall precedence. Alone among the provinces it enjoys special privileges not given to the others. Yet none of this is sufficient to allay the sense of perpetual grievance that emanates from that province like a sneaky ordure of social malaise.

Provinces throughout the country are tasked with providing bilingual documentation, signage, civil servants, commercial services to satisfy the demands of a minority population, as a result of Canada's official bilingualism status. Yet the province of Quebec seems to feel no reciprocal obligation toward the many Anglophones and Allophones living within the province.

Quebecers see it as their right to be served and serviced in the language of their choice - whether or not they are personally proficient in English - yet there seems to be no obligation to serve English-speakers in Quebec with translated documents. In the most obscure corners of the country with few French-speaking residents, an effort is made to live up to the accepted obligation to serve French-speakers.

In contrast, a grudging Quebec government cannot see its way clear to serving the entire population of its citizenry. In hospital settings that can be inimical to peoples' health. In legal systems it can be seriously injurious to their status and their finances. Signage not sufficiently obedient to the strictures upheld in Quebec's language Bill 101 brings down the wrath of the official language police.

Official bilingualism comes at a horrendous cost to the country. Not only in terms of the financial burden associated with translation and double printings of every manner of documentation, but through employment inequities, societal grief and grievances. Yet the goodwill evidenced by most Canadians in their willing acceptance of bilingualism as the cost to maintain a comprehensive country speaks to the value seen to the country in keeping Quebec.

Yet the never-satisfied sovereigntist movement in Quebec sharpens its resentment of the rest of Canada, determined to ultimately become successful in persuading Quebecers that they are not appreciated by others within the country, that the English-speaking majority has a secret plan to eventually wipe the French language out of contention. They insist they are entitled as no other segment of the population is.

They recognize nothing of the primary importance relating to the contributions within Quebec of the non-francophone population, in founding schools, universities, hospitals and museums, enriching the province as equal contributors to the province's well-being. They tendentiously nourish a vision of English-French "apartheid", with the English being the oppressors.

The sovereintists have been so singularly successful in demonizing the English that when a group of ango-Quebecers recently agitated for equal treatment in language availability for official documents, a fringe group naming themselves "ligue de defence nationale" threatened to "put lead in the heads" of West Quebec Anglos insisting on English translations of Gatineau by-laws.

The French demographic within Canada could do with a realistic treatment for their insurmountable insecurity.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

It's A Simple Matter of Whom You Trust

Nothing like being taken for granted as a good neighbour when it suits, but on other occasions looking askance at collaboration between neighbours to benefit both. But that's par for the course for Canada, living next door to their great big brother to the south. Big certainly has its advantages. Advantages such as diplomatic little pushes to ensure the smaller, less populous, less wealthy, less universally influential of the pair attends to the admonitions of the other.

Everything bad comes from Canada, it would seem, to unsettle the complacent normalcy of the United States. Miserable cold weather slips across the border from the northern state to incommode the residents of the southern-located state. Kind of resembling the threat constantly alerting the United States of criminal activity sliding through too-porous borders to threaten Americans. And, of late, would-be terrorists finding easy access to too-accommodating Canada to later make entry to the United States.

Therefore, the borders, once open and friendly between Canada and the United States, pre 9-11, must be shut tight and guarded assiduously. Where at one time Canadians and Americans could travel freely across the border from one to the other country for tourism, visiting family members on the 'other side', or for commercial reasons; working in one country, residing in the other, the door has slammed shut.

The burgeoning trade between the two countries has become hampered by new and rigorous regulations, all improvised post 9-11 by Homeland Security in the United States, and imposed against a northern neighbour who has never posed a threat of any kind. Free exchanges of goods and services have become dreadfully hampered. Suspicion by American authorities against their Canadian counterparts in taking the threat of terror seriously enough, abounds.

To the point where even a former U.S. Ambassador to Canada has taken note: "The hostility to Canada is the Department of Homeland Security taking a border and now requiring passports for people that have to go back and forth between Detroit and Windsor, making it harder for the movement of goods and services and people and treating Canada like it's leaking like a sieve for terrorists, which is not true", according to James Blanchard, formerly governor of Michigan.

Now, however, despite seriously hampering Canada and Canadians, the U.S. Department of Transportation has come to a realization that it could use some Canadian co-operation. And with the government of Canada's approval has announced initiatives to alleviate congestion and delays in transit in the busy New York transportation corridor. Plans include new alternate routes, neatly named "escape routes". Through Canadian airspace, as an assist to U.S. carriers.

Last year inclement weather conditions saw chaos in the Eastern seaboard throughout the summer months when U.S. carriers were plagued with inordinately difficult weather systems. What an inspired move; cajole Canada to open its skies for U.S. transit to avoid these miserable weather conditions and enable its carriers to carry on unobstructed and on time. While, at the same time, trade and travel between the two countries continues to be impeded.

And while this new move to avoid delays and cancellations in travel from New York's FJK and La Guardia airports by using Canadian airspace to avoid problems proceeds, the United States is in the throes of other demands upon Canada. Insisting on greater restrictions over its own airspace. The Department of Homeland Security Transport Security Administration is framing a program to force Canadian airlines to hand over passenger manifests to the U.S.

Impinging on Canadian sovereignty for one thing - even if the flight has no intention of landing on American soil. Privacy advocates are not thrilled with this turn of events, and Canadian airlines are rather rattled by this demand. Canada and its airlines have already submitted to earlier American demands by constructing a no-fly list in close collaboration with American authorities.

It's nice when there's reasonable give and take between neighbours. It's what makes for good neighbours. They go along to get along. And then there are other situations and other neighbours, where one insists on the goodwill of the other, spurning the need to exhibit the same toward its neighbour.


Exciting Olympics for First Nations

Why not, after all? What's good enough for Tibetan activists enraged by China's brutal crackdown on Tibet nationalism, love of their spiritual leader and yearning for their Buddhist traditions to be free, should be good enough for Canada's First Nations peoples - to use that same theatre as a wake-up call to Canada. First things first, after all. No nation should ever consider the luxury of hosting horrendously costly Olympics Games before attending to primary social and human rights needs among its peoples.

So if it works for Tibet, demonstrating to the world that as highly respected as the International Olympics Games are for showcasing the ultimate athletic prowess and capabilities among countries' athletes, their outrageous cost to mount, taking away from a country's resources to attend to national priorities are not a reasonable option. When the City of Montreal won the Olympics away back in 1976, then Mayor Drapeau prided himself on his catch, while downgrading the necessity for the city to fund needed infrastructure, including a wastewater system.

That's clearly an instance, much repeated elsewhere in the world, where priority is given to the cachet of turning world attention on a certain geography, with the hopes of spurring pride in country, and tourism giving big pay-back on the original investment. When the municipal, provincial and federal support of mounting such a prestigious venue for an international event of great renown takes precedence over looking after the practical needs of the city and its people, it's unfortunate. And rarely ever does anticipated pay-back adequately recompense for the original cost in mounting the Olympics extravaganza.

But when a country with a reputation for human rights abuses like China is awarded the Olympic Games, there's another, entirely different issue at the forefront. The venue for the Olympic Games should never be seen by the rewarded country as an opportunity to show the world that she has arrived - despite egregious human rights violations. Once awarded, however, the die is cast, and the event should move forward - in the hopes that the country, in this case China, will feel it expedient in the future to relax its life-destroying constrictions on minority rights.

And then there's Canada. Self-effacing, good old Canada, a world middle-power, yet getting up there with the big boys. Doesn't every country have its dark little corners seldom visited, requiring urgent attention to clear away the cobwebs of inequity? For Canada it's her aboriginal populations, and the dire straits most aboriginal tribes living in traditional tribal areas, "Indian reservations" live in. Canada's indigenous peoples have suffered far too long. From government neglect, and from the fall-out of the inattention of their own national chiefs.

The Assembly of First Nations in Canada has called for a "peaceful day of rallies and marches" on May 29 to highlight the outstanding needs of Canada's native populations. Far too many aboriginal Canadians live in dire poverty, whether it's on one of Canada's many underfunded reserves, or within urban centres. The problem is they've had a poor head-start. Their education systems within the native communities are inadequate, and mark an outrageous discrepancy between the early head-start opportunities for native children as opposed to all other Canadian children.

With the exception of the Province of British Columbia, where funding from all levels of government for native school funding should match that in the public sector elsewhere, aboriginal children's educational structures are significantly underfunded throughout Canada. There's an outstanding discrepancy of at least two thousand dollars per child in funding for education between what is spent per student for aboriginal youth as opposed to other Canadian children.

Good teachers with appropriate accreditation will not be recompensed as well teaching on reserves as they will be elsewhere, in other communities. The school facilities themselves are comparably inadequate. Teaching materials are inferior and less plentiful within reserves with limited funding. Children living in poverty have enough difficulties to begin with, they're harder to motivate and enthuse, they have less pride in educational achievement, and don't value the scant opportunities available to them.

These failures translate in early school drop outs, not to mention poor test scoring by students opting to stay within the education system. Disaffected youth, not valuing an unequal education turn more readily to drugs, alcohol and gang activities leading to anti-social and criminal behaviours. This, at a time when the country desperately needs a growing workforce and counts on immigration to expand the potential for future workers. While completely ignoring the potential of a large and growing youth population in the aboriginal community - outpacing other Canadians through their higher birthrate.

There are solutions, but they'll ultimately call for aboriginals to realize that celebration of a way of life long past is no way to live meaningful lives. The culture of the reservation with its own inbred inequities, favouritism, funding wastage, has done nothing to benefit them in the past, and isn't likely to improve in the future. Aboriginals must see the necessity to integrate into the larger Canadian community - without the need to surrender the celebration of traditional culture. But it must be a background celebration. Life on reserves does nothing fundamentally useful in teaching the young traditional ways of life.

The society that once was is no more. It must move into the 21st Century along with other Canadians. Opportunities to advance themselves will not be offered without some move on the part of aboriginals to advance themselves - out of poverty and into a future of accomplishments. This prospect doesn't appear to appeal particularly to the Assembly of First Nations; they remain steadfastly committed to the status quo, where the national chiefs gravely propose what the government should dispose and dispense.

Under the current structures of top-down administration through national chiefs looking after their fiefdoms, offering economic opportunities to family members and friends, extending their influence where it will most benefit themselves, and ignoring the plight of most of their constituents, they do no honour to themselves, and simply do not answer to the needs of their people. So go ahead, have those peaceful rallies and marches, but be prepared also to re-examine their own agendas honestly and forthrightly.

It's not just increased funding from the coffers of provincial and federal governments that will advance opportunities for Canada's indigenous populations. The status quo can not and should not continue - it's a festering wound in the side of the country, crippling the country's pride in self, and degrading a proud people who surely deserve better than to continue being stuck away in reserves, unable to reach independence and a firm future for themselves and their offspring.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

The Plot Unravels

How could British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have conceivably been so incautious as to let that very particular cat claw its way out of the bag he held behind his back? To stand, barefaced before the UN Security council and denounce Robert Mugabe for "stealing" Zimbabwe's elections. Unheard of. Where lies a sense of balance, of probity, of the kind of forbearance that South Africa's Thabo Mbeki has continually called for?

Should the assembly of world nations, after all, believe the unconsidered statement of the head of the former imperialist colonial power that had so long impoverished the spirit of India and Africa? What an insult to the high-minded authority of the ruling elite in Zimbabwe and their hallowed freedom fighter. There's a price to pay for such gratuitous insults. And the approximately 200 white commercial farmers left in the country are now paying it.

Of course the onslaught of the white land-owners by Robert Mugabe's thuggish loyalists more or less pre-dated Britain's disdainful dismissal of President Mugabe's popularly-acclaimed electoral win. But still, it will stand as a lesson to him and to all others of his colonial-minded ilk; they have the responsibility of having injured the future prospects of Zimbabwe's remaining whites; those now evicted from their properties and their homes. Along with the beatings and worse meted out to those black farm workers loyal to their benighted white masters.

Agricultural fields torn up, cattle and sheep slaughtered. That'll teach him, won't it, to meddle where his opinion is neither invited nor required. It's the West, matter of fact, that is wholesale responsible for encouraging that upstart Morgan Tsvangirai to commit treason against his country; conspiring together to engineer the downfall of the rightfully elected Prime Minister of the country. No coincidence that treason remains a capital offence in Zimbabwe. So, off with his head.

Critical, one would say of the situation. And, finally, the South African Cabinet, back to the wall of international opinion has finally described the situation as "dire". Additional delays in the release of the vote tally are considered unacceptable, in the view of the European Commission. "Clearly the publication of the results is needed and is needed now." In response to which Zimbabwe's government newspaper has revealed "Tsvangirai's bid for U.K. military intervention exposed".

Claiming that opposition leader and clear front-runner in the disputed vote, Morgan Tsvangirai plans to do violence to his country in his determination to succeed to the prime ministership. The newspaper story lays claim to knowledge that Mr. Tsvangirai's now-arrested helicopter pilot has been linked to MI6, and was engaged in flying weapons into the country. How many weapons can be loaded onto a helicopter, one wonders. And how likely is it that the man who insists on a peaceful democratic turn-over in government would ship weapons to arm his alliance?

On the other hand, there is the reality for all to see, of a Chinese ship docking outside Durban, on its way to transiting its cargo, 77 tonnes of weaponry bought and paid for by the Government of Zimbabwe, 3 days post-election. Whose people are starving, hugely unemployed, battling the scourges of dread diseases, desperately looking for surcease from their hellish existence. A spokesman for the South African government announced that, with administrative documents in order, South African will not intervene to prevent the transport of those weapons through its territory to Zimbabwe.

The three million rounds of ammunitions for small arms and AK-47s, 3,500 mortars and launchers, the 1,500 rockets for rocket-propelled grenades are good to go. Ordered hastily, from good friend and regime supporter China, who would sell any goods for any purpose to any disturbed psychopath, established government figure or rogue military structure. Funny thing though, it seems that the ordinary people of South African don't quite agree with their government in this critical issue.

The port stevedores have been refusing to unload the cargo. They will not lend themselves to the further victimization of their fellow Africans, even if their leaders don't mind doing just that. For the South African Conventional Arms Control Committee has granted approval of the weapons transit. As far as they're concerned, it's a legitimate business transaction having nothing to do with South Africa: "If the buyer is the Zimbabwean sovereign government and the seller is the Chinese sovereign government, South Africa has nothing to do with that."

Thus said South African government official Sydney Mufamadi, just incidentally the official heading the mediating team relating to the crisis in Zimbabwe. Crisis? What crisis?

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Tedious and Disappointing Sideshow

Little wonder my American friends confide that they're sick and tired of the burlesque of the Democratic Party presidential primaries. This is a far cry from how they felt a mere several months back. When the candidates appeared fresh and original and promising.

Now the excess of outdoing one another for poll advantage has settled over the electorate like an unpleasant-smelling big black bird, leaving excrement over their hopes for the future.

People felt so elevated, so electrified by the possibilities; at long last it seemed possible that a woman or a black man would be acceptable to the great American public to lead the country. Their credentials appeared impeccable, their determination to succeed obvious, their abilities to enthuse the electorate palpable.

But when no clear front-runner emerged convincingly enough to guarantee an end to the terse bickering that gradually evolved, second thoughts began to blight the procedure. Not that the candidates themselves didn't keep stepping in cow-pies they should have been professional enough, intelligent enough, scrupulous enough to avoid.

But it seems that when things get down to the wire and the contestants, once amenable colleagues, embrace antagonism as a tool to surmount their difficulties, they simultaneously leave their cerebrums high up on a shelf somewhere to be retrieved at a later date.

They turn, mind-numbingly, to their advisers, their highly partisan, self-serving political tacticians who know all the little tricks of the trade. And who advise their candidates, knowingly, to leave the person they are in a nice safe resting place.

And to haul out instead, the changeable persona of the candidate for all seasons and all reasons, suitable to whatever constituents they happen to be facing at any particular time.
So speech after speech in smoke-stack-destroyed states with depressed unemployed are promised that things will be different when they're in a position to make the big decisions.

To begin with, the North American Free Trade deal would be scrapped or re-positioned. Unions love that and the unemployed feel vindicated. No mention made that so much of the world's manufacturing has chosen to re-locate. Bring the jobs back from China where they've been outsourced.

But that's not quite as immediate as the NAFTA solution. Meanwhile, if energy costs and steeply rising costs of raw materials impacting in production costs keep spiralling, it may well be that some of those manufacturing jobs will see no great benefit in remaining in China.

Hillary Clinton is so hard pushed by Barak Obama's popular appeal that she has taken to outdoing herself as a teller of tall tales to reflect on her past experiences at the highest levels of governance - at a remove. Having, ultimately to admit that what she related "didn't jibe with ... what I knew to be the truth."

Embellishing experiences doesn't bode well for sober-minded decision-making at critical times.
Still, that's hardly comparable to Mr. Obama's foreign policy adviser Samantha Power's description of Mrs. Clinton as a "monster".

Nor does his ongoing relationship and cleaving to the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ cast a warm glow on his own decision making. Nor the company he chose to keep among former members of the Weather Underground, among other unsavoury characters.

No matter who ultimately wins the very tired nomination for the Democrats, they've each given their Republican adversary John McCain, ample ammunition with which to question their likely ability to lead a nation.

Pity, that.

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Entirely Predictable

It's been suggested that the International Olympic Committee might have been experimenting with mind-altering chemicals when it handed the 2008 Summer Olympic Games to Beijing. It was hardly a mystery that China's human rights record came second to almost-none in the world.

Yes, it's a heavy burden to carry, the pacification of sundry and adverse ethnic groups all clamouring for their particularities to be recognized, when the country's dictators are determined to hammer square pegs into round holes. And governing a population the size of China's, the largest of any country in the world, is no easy task.

Particularly when one recalls that this has been largely a peasant, countrified, subsistence farming society where traditionally a large proportion of the population has teetered on the very edge of existence, in perpetual want. And then there's the irritation of a Communist government having to cope with the persistent clamouring of religious adherents to be permitted freedom of worship.

That last is a real bugbear for China's hard-line government who consider the glorious state to in the realm of the sacred, not some improbably theoretical spirit high on ether.

Persecution of minorities, runaway capital punishment, slavery, incarceration of protesters, and of any religious figures incautious enough to challenge government diktat is simply a way of life in China. One that has long been deplored by governments in the West, although that has never stopped them from doing business with her.

China, though, has made great strides in reaching out of her shell of distance and reliance on incommunicado politics. As much as she has also succeeded very well in hauling the greater portion of her population out of dire poverty and distinct starvation.

Her other, control-resistant problems of atmospheric pollution, quality control in trade production, suppression of Christian and Muslim and Buddhist and Falun Gong practitioners sees her remaining intransigent in the cold assertion that these all represent internal matters.

After all, she has succeeded in sweeping the world economy with her cheaply made products, luring international buyers to embrace her wares, and in the process managing handily to destroy entire industries so many other countries have long been reliant on, for their own bottom line.

All of this was well know, well documented, well remarked upon, so why now, at this last-minute stage of Olympics production has the world suddenly discovered that it is in Beijing, China, that the 2008 summer Olympics are scheduled for? It's a conundrum, most certainly. How to convincingly communicate to a giant that its conduct is worthy of outraged reproach?

Impossible to ignore her abuses. She has much to answer for, not the least of which is her brutal treatment of her own citizens. Let alone her conscienceless affiliations with other human-rights-abusing states like Darfur, North Korea and Burma, to name a few. It's moot whether quiet diplomacy could eventually bring China around.

Yet who could blame her for believing that because the IOC chose Beijing over other competitor sites for the 2008 Summer Games, she was finally reaching acceptance. For that matter, the world beating its way to her doors to invest in her manufacturing infrastructures, and signing trade deals would previously have caused her to believe she was deserving of respect.

China, anxious and puffed with pride over her not-inconsiderable advances in some areas, despite her miserable failures in others, felt she would now have the opportunity to show the world how well she has succeeded in hauling herself into the world of today, from the dim world of yesterday and the Communist Revolution with all of its horrendously obscene human rights excesses.

The Games would be her opportunity to demonstrate the pride of the Chinese people, their achievement, their attainment toward (for China) moderation and modernity. Now, a veritable tsunami of blame has swelled world wide and is threatening to submerge China in a sea of condemnation, isolation and an inevitably bitter backlash.

The brilliant promise of world acceptance, admiration evinced toward China's accomplishments, enabling the Chinese to bask in the warm and mellow glow of congratulatory adulation has suddenly vanished from possibility. The Games will likely proceed, but the Chinese people will always nurse a sharp resentment toward the international community for besmirching China's intentions.

The memory of the Olympic torch's tortuous advance across the globe, with raucous, condemnatory protesters interfering with the dignity of the torch-bearing ceremony will always be fresh in the memory of the Chinese people. Who feel pride in their country and its many accomplishments, and who most distinctly feel that the current situation is a result of jealousy and racism.

In that, they may not be too far off the mark.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Clean, Open (oops!) Government

Doesn't look good. Optics isn't everything, of course, but it does represent one whole hell of a lot of reality that something, somewhere, isn't quite right.

It isn't every day, after all, that the RCMP appear as the legally appointed policing authority to ensure that Canada's Commissioner of Elections, can unobstructedly enter Conservative Party Headquarters to remove potentially incriminating documents for perusal by, and at the behest of, Elections Canada.

Tempest in a teapot, say the Conservatives. A misunderstanding. An incorrect charge of malfeasance. All will be revealed, in the course of legal action: "We remain extremely confident in our legal position", Prime Minister Harper announced in the House of Commons.

Don't panic, don't draw unwarranted conclusions, sit tight and wait for the exculpatory explanation. But, will there be one? Sounds kind of um, unkosher from this end...?

And there are the Liberal operatives, beside themselves with the joy of newfound opportunity, video cameras in hand, filming the indignity of the Conservative headquarters being raided by the Mounties. Heaven-sent.

Mind, this wasn't being billed as a Mountie probe; they were simply acting as legal enablers, lest those party faithful at headquarters had sought to imperiously deny entry of Commissioner William Corbett to the premises. He's only doing his duty, after all.

Tasked to do so by Elections Canada. Who identified something strictly adverse in the series of peculiar financial transactions whereby funds were wire-transferred to local electoral candidates who in turn returned cash to the party through advertising purchases.

Thus handily seeking to overturn the official elections campaign expenses guidelines. Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand saw this procedure as legally questionable and refused Conservative advertising claims as representing legitimate expenses.

Not entitled to reimbursement as advertising expenses. and bringing the federal Conservatives over the spending limit for campaign spending by an inconvenient one million dollars. Wait!

The Conservatives aren't taking this passively, they've launched a lawsuit in Federal Court. Entirely legal, they say, and anyway, they're not the only ones doing it. As though. Tch, tch, how utterly embarrassing for the government. Didn't even see it coming.

Pulling swift and questionable tactics to obtain an advantage in the helter-skelter heat of election campaigning doesn't exactly qualify as "clean" and "open". Inconsequential, to be sure, but a piquant observation anyway.

Local isn't national, and the sleight-of-hand of making it appear legal by appending a discreet tagline referencing local candidates doesn't quite cover for the fact that it was the federal end of the campaign this scheme was cooked up to benefit.

Well, we'll all have to wait and see what portends to result from claims and disclaimers, won't we?

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