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, February 28, 2007

Slash, Thrust - and Parry

Boys will be boys. Men will also often revert to being boys, so one supposes it should not be entirely surprising that parliamentarians often resort to boyhood tactics, believing they're engaged in a game of conquest, divide and conquer, seeing government as simply another sport. Viewing themselves as competitors in a sport they aim to win, and that's the goal, simply put. Service to country? Just not as much fun, nor does it challenge the sporting instinct.

Why are we surprised when the House of Commons erupts into ungovernable chaos? When the boys choose their sides, theirs is the winning team and they're devoted to the cause of the team. Passions run high, emotions run amok, and intelligence gets sidelined somewhere between the dropping of the writ and the subsequent vote. Vilification is the order of the day, catcalls and finger-pointing enthusiastically ensue.

So, for now the deed is done. The Liberals supported the NDP and the Bloc in voting down an extension of the two sunsetted provisions, both of which measures were put in place to ensure that Canada had adequate balance between security of the country and assurance of the freedom of its citizens. Legal minds had examined the provisions thoroughly, initially amended to satisfy the demands of civil-rights groups.

Intelligent debate was laid by the wayside as Conservatives and Liberals debated not the merits and the need to have these two provisions extended for safety and security reasons in a world unmistakably different than that which prevailed before the provisions were enacted into law - but the combative need that one party prevail over the other. The topic at hand was more or less incidental.

For this antagonistic, combative approach to good governance as an alternative to anticipated good-will and a balance between collaboration and co-operation we must give credit where it's due: Stephane Dion's bulldog determination to vote down the government of the day. Add to that the value of satisfying the gentle reminders of special-interest groups that their votes could be had.

As for civil-rights and human-rights groups' laments that with the extension of the contested measures, rights and freedoms are diminished, it just doesn't wash. Former Liberal cabinet minister Irwin Cotler - internationally recognized human-rights defender, a reputation gained during his career as professor of law, director of McGill University's Human Rights Program for 30 years; counsel to such figures as Nelson Mandela, Natan Sharansky, Jacobo Timmerman (and, er Maher Arar) - used his powers of persuasion as an expert to sway Mr. Dion, to no avail.

The government will doubtless get busy re-writing the two national-security-required provisions in a format and context which will be acceptable to a majority of parliamentarians in a subsequent vote and the business of government will carry on. It will remain to be seen how Stephane Dion will be seen both by the electorate who might perceive the slight matter of national safety to have been trifled with, and by his caucus, many of whom with experience and more flexible brain-power would have had him do otherwise.

Mr. Dion may just have traded in a brief triumph over the government for a brief period as leader of the Liberal party. We can but hope.


Will No One Save Us From That Dreaded Name?

Damnation! Just when I breathed a sigh of relief, certain in my naivette that my eyes and ears would never again be assailed by the mewlings of Maher Arar, he's back in the news again. Gone and done with, I thought, the matter settled. This poor unfortunate man with his blighted experience has been dealt with, we've expressed remorse, handed over a delectable pile of cash and he's off!

But then of course, post-settlement-and-apology came that event in Ottawa sponsored by The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Canada at the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Muslim Association of Canada to honour the good Mr. Maher and his goodlier wife, Monia Mazigh. I heard about all the mad scrambling of the human-rights-sympathetic agencies to attend, Amnesty International and the Canadian Labour Congress - to lift a toast to a brave brace of sufferers.

Quite the self-congratulatory event it must have been on February 14, with Canada's best sanctimony-blatherers offering their sympathetic presence at this huge sweetheart valentine of an event for Maher Arar, replete with Muslim elites like Imam Aly Hindi, the NDP's Jack Layton and Alexa McDonough happily mingling with the mosque-Canadian establishment. Not to be outdone, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff were also present to massage their immigrant- and religious-minorities credentials.

Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a blessedly moderate Muslim group in Canada, putting the intelligence quotient back into the debate, has brought all these delicate little details into focus. He maintains that the plight of another Arab-Canadian, one of Egyptian descent was known by all those in attendance at this soiree, but no one there, not the politicians, nor the engagingly-Canadian Muslim groups, nor even the toastees made mention of their concerns for the well-being of this man.

Myself, I'd only learned about his apprehension and arrest a week ago, and wondered, when news of Mohammed el-Attar's trial opening in Egypt was being broadcast why no consular presence was there on his behalf, since the man does hold Canadian citizenship and a Canadian passport. This is a man accused and in the process of being convicted of being a spy for Israel, ostensibly commissioned by his political masters to spy on the activities of Egyptian-Canadians.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. el-Attar now declares himself innocent of all charges, despite his confessions of guilt under initial duress. Duress meaning not threats and pleadings, but this being the Middle East, torture. Reports from Cairo, it would appear, quote experts on the Egyptian justice system, supporting claims that Mr. el-Attar's confession should be treated with extreme skepticism.

"If you want me to be frank, 95% of the confessions extracted by Egyptian police are false. The defendants are forced into signing them, and there's only one way of getting them to sign. You hang the suspects up, and you beat the hell out of them," said Maymoud Qatari, a retired police brigadier-general. Well, that's getting the goods from the horse's mouth, isn't it?

So, Mr. Fatah asks, why are not the Canadian Islamic Congress, the Canadian Arab Federation, CAIR-Canada and professor Tyseer Abol Nasser who chairs the Canadian Muslim Network, and to all of whom Mr. Fatah wrote on the matter, concerned? Why haven't they bothered to come to this man's defence, why haven't they raised the issue of his detention and forced confession under torture?

Tarek Fatah has his own answers, two possibilities of which anyone can take their pick from and come to think of it the two answers can likely be rolled into one: Because Mr. el-Attar had 'confessed' to being an Israeli spy? Or because he's an Arab gay? Still, as Mr. Fatah points out it's the lack of interest evinced by Maher Arar, victim extraordinaire and wife Monia Mazigh, human-rights activist unparalleled that disappoints the most.

Why am I not surprised?


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pluralism Works, Multiculturalism Divides

Canada prides itself on its dedication to cultural diversity, freedom of expression, clarity of vision, equality under the law as a thriving economic engine built on an egalitarian principle of equal opportunities available to all its citizens. Canada particularly wants its immigrant population to enjoy the opportunities living in Canada affords each of them, to celebrate their uniqueness in culture, tradition, ethnic origin and religion.

We place, unfortunately, very little emphasis on the broader culture, prefering to emphasize our culture of inclusiveness-with-diversity. There was a time, not all that long ago, when people emigrated to Canada from their diverse origins elsewhere around the globe to find a better life for themselves and their families with the intention to integrate. Seeing it as an obligation, pay-back for welcome. We pride ourselves on being a nation of immigrants.

But whereas once those immigrants expressed their appreciation for their new country by adapting to its cultural values, by adopting its broad-based social mores, by adhering to its laws and respecting the ethnic backgrounds, traditions, cultures, and religions of others and finally integrating into society, this no longer happens in quite the same way. Where once immigrants held dear vestiges of their culture and traditions of their own fond volition, official sanction now bids them to do so.

Paid for courtesy of the Government of Canada, thanks to tax dollars extracted from each and every Canadian: official multiculturalism. No longer do immigrants seem to feel the same need to adapt and become acculturated into their new environment; they feel free to gather in demographic clutches more or less ignoring the larger culture and social environment. In fact, often while doing so, finding fault with the host country's values.

And realizing that they have the potential for a collective voice in this very accepting and tolerant society raising it high to object to the more colourful values and mores which they identify more with vices and lack of morality. The tail handily wags the dog in Canada. This is a place where people, once victimized in their home countries, having sought refuge elsewhere, plan to retain ingrained values, but are outraged at what they perceive as lack of values here.

May Canadians in response indignantly declare their choices and lifestyles as being of equal value, or criticize the criticizers by recommending that conservative social values are not reflective of the country? Or suggest that it was conservative social values that caused the immigrants to flee their old countries to begin with. And now that they have the freedom to complain, now that they're no longer victims of a repressive social or religious regime, how is it that they find fault with this one?

Not likely; for their indignant response will warrant them charges of racism, and those being confronted will haughtily fling the mantle of victimhood over their proud shoulders, throwing the entire matter into the ugly theatre of discrimination against minorities. A charge not readily embraced in Canadian society; a charge that ensures most Canadians will shun the speaker.

As Neil Bissoondath writes in his "
Selling Illusions": "One must be governed by a sense of historical and ethnic injustice...one must be in love with one's own victimhood" to lay these charges of discrimination. "Unfortunately, such silliness - the obsessive desire to seek offence and the obsessive desire to avoid giving it - are rampant, sprouting vigorously in the upturned soil of the multicultural land.
"To be a victim of the past is to be burdened by the sense that history - colonialism, imperialism, racism, sexism - has victimized you, and this sense of historical injustice has become a full and active element of your personality. You are informed by more than just the memory of it; it impels you to view the world in a certain way, to act in a certain way; it hardens you, makes you combative; you claim the moral high ground and live to see your victimhood acknowledged and compensated. But to chain yourself to the injustices and humiliations of the past is to march forward into the future with your gaze fixed firmly behind you."
There is an appeal in victimhood; it means you don't really have to struggle too strenously with yourself to become mature and accepting of the vanished past and the future that beckons. You can wallow in self-pity, flaunt your status as a victim, draw public attention and compassion - instead of getting on with life, and meeting it head on. This works well for little girls given to thespian endeavours - and the attention it engenders.

Which brings to mind young Muslim women who insist on their right as Canadians, in respect of their Islamic zeal to wear the hijab, even the niqab. Even though Islam does not demand this of women; only that they dress modestly. However, in a country like Canada where full Islamic coverings are still an exotic novelty it's a fairly certain way to bring attention to oneself. And then the attention is pushed right back in the onlookers' faces, as unwanted discrimination.

The 11-year-old soccer-playing Asmahan Mansour who was ordered to remove her hijab in a game between her Nepean soccer team and another in Laval received attention she may or may not have sought, and the compassion she required when her entire team and others from the Ottawa area walked out of the tournament in protest. The little girl claimed that this was an insult to her religion; one only wonders why it is that her mother does not herself wear the hijab.

Momin Khawaja of Orleans languishes in jail, awaiting his trial on terrorism charges. Evidence being brought before a court in London, England, unequivocally links him as a key player in a gang of would-be home-grown terrorists planning to explode deadly devices at popular London-area entertainment sites for maximum carnage. His father, Mahboob Khawaja's website revealed the odious racist values of the family; the son fell close to his father's ideals.

A young conservative Muslim born and brought up in Toronto and conflicted about his identify versus his place in Canadian society, trained as a young adult both with the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, and later with an ultra-religious group travelling as Islamic missionaries to India and Pakistan. He later sojourned to Syria for two years of study, and returned to Canada, appreciating anew its laws and freedoms. He offered to act as an intermediary, to infiltrate suspected home-grown jihadists and his efforts paid off in a spectacular group apprehension and arrest. For his troubles, he is ostracized by the Muslim community, receives death threats, but regrets nothing.

A Member of Parliament sits in the House of Commons as an elected representative; a man whose father-in-law was a spokesperson for a now-outlawed Sikh terrorist group set to be interviewed by an RCMP panel of enquiry into the Air India bombing, and there are legitimate reasons to suspect that some members of the Sikh community have offered to deliver block votes in an election to trade off for cancelling key legislation enabling the enquiry.

The president of the Canadian Arab Federation is able to circulate an email to Muslim delegates at a federal political party conference to elect a new leader, informing them that a particular candidate should not be elected because his wife may be a member of a Jewish advocacy group promoting the well-being of "apartheid" Israel, while an elected MP of Arab-Canadian background stands by mutely.

Multiculturalism has produced a fractious, ethnically self-interested, self-serving, sometimes intolerant demographic in this country of tolerance and freedoms. Canada deserves better. Will we remain forever delusional?


Explicatory Revelations

Ah, so! I was a trifle hasty to come to judgement. Pardon, please do. And continue on as you were, Mr. Prime Minister; you're doing just fine. And about time; no, not about time that you led the nation responsibly and with the ardour for justice that it deserves - about time that one of our leaders did just that. Taking my cue from the acute observations of Don Martin, I rushed to judgement.

But look here, there's additional information coming to light, thanks to Jonathan Kay who may just have delved a little deeper into the matter than Mr. Martin. Why do I allow myself to be led/misled so readily? Here's hoping that other Canadians keep a sharp eye and ready ear, an open mind and the ability to read between the lines, since much depends on it.

Just as much depends on the vote taking place this very day on the issue of the extension of the two provisions in question in the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act; one of them the very provision which will permit officials to compel witnesses to appear for questioning before the Air India investigation. The Air India tragedy stands out as the most deadly act of terrorism committed against Canadians.

Yet here we have the militantly combative Stephane Dion warning his dissident Liberal caucaus that they stand to lose the support of the Liberal party when they inevitably seek re-election should they dare to oppose his edict that the party vote as a block against renewal of the key sunset provisions.

Yes, it was a stretch of the imagination, far-fetched in the extreme to even begin to think that the Liberal party sought to kill the extensions in an effort to circumvent incriminating evidence which would be brought into the open were the Air India investigation to proceed. Evidence which might taint the reputation of a sitting Member of Parliament whose father-in-law was a spokesman for a now-outlawed Sikh terror group.

How low might politicians stoop, after all? To surrender justice to the greater good of their chances to once again take up the leadership of the country? Might that be even remotely possible? Why did the House erupt into a tsunami of violent objection during question period when Stephen Harper introduced a story just published in the
Vancouver Sun?

Well, Jonathan Kay paints a truly tawdry picture of opportunistic politics, one which any reader of the news with any memory of past Liberal activities will recognize and recall, all fitting neatly into the Liberal party's penchant for wooing ethnic votes, for representing themselves as the parliamentary champions of immigrants, the purportedly self-perceived underdogs in Canadian society.

Tarek Fatah of the Muslim CanadianCongress, himself a critic of ethno-politics, reported that the president of the Canadian Arab Federation circulated an email to Muslim delegates warning them that Bob Rae's wife is a member of a Jewish advocacy group and is therefore undeserving of being elected as "a leader who supports apartheid". MP Omar Alghabra, a former CAF president, stood by mutely.

And ethnic groups have certainly learned much in the process; that they can pressure and lobby and present their single-issue ethnic concerns in exchange for block voting. What does that say about the democratic principle we all love to distraction? What does it say for the prospect of national security when an ethnic group implicated in terrorist activity seeks to silence an enquiry in exchange for votes?

What does it say for a party celebrating its principled stand on any and every issue of importance to Canadians but which yet sees fit to encourage and embrace the ethnic vote, no matter the cost to integrity, honesty, fairness and the rule of law? After all, Caesar's wife must be seen to be above suspicion. Why is it that the Liberals are so bloody-mindedly determined to oppose national security legislation?

At the Liberal leadership convention which anointed Stephane Dion as leader, Tamil delegates shunned Bob Rae after he informed their Tamil Tiger apologist leader that he had no intention of reversing Stephen Harper's listing of the Tamil Tigers on Canada's banned terrorist groups. And because Bob Rae's official recommendation in favour of an Air India investigation angered Sikhs, they were informed that a vote for him at the convention would be "bad for Sikhs".

Bob Rae, along with Anne McLellan, John Manley, Irwin Cotler, Keith Martin and other principled Liberals oppose Stephane Dion's determination to kill the anti-terror extensions. Are they conceivably lone principled Liberals?


Monday, February 26, 2007

Black America to Save Islam?

Now there's a thought. Surely the long struggle for equality and recognition of Black Americans has endowed them with an especial understanding of victims and victimhood at the hands of racists. Many of whom were Muslims originally in their places of birth when they were handed over to slavers and taken to the west to live out their lives. Many of whom were handed over to slavers by fellow Muslims, all in the name of doing business.

Blacks have always been low on the hierarchical scale of importance as human beings. Their long struggle against their centuries of slavery, against the horror of their existence enslaved to white masters was an epic one. The following struggles against societal discrimination that saw them treated as racial inferiors while yet 'free' from slavery saw them as passionate Christians long weaned away from Islam.

In defiance against a society of god-fearing Christians who saw great utility in living lives of leisure off the sweating backs of black slaves, there was initiated a slow return to Islam. That growth has accelerated of late, it would seem, as the black community has begun its conversion back to its religious roots.

Converts, it would appear, relate to the disciplines of prayer, the emphasis within Islam on submission to God, and the religion's affinity with the oppressed. And weren't they oppressed, good god, were they not oppressed? Islam is now said to be the fastest growing religion in the United States.

Black American Muslims attend their own mosques, not those of Muslims from other countries. Islam - clerics preach - re-connects them with their roots in Africa. They share a special relationship with god, with other, diverse peoples around the world. And in some such mosques there is no distinction between Sunni and Shiite.

Oh, even better - sermons urge Muslims to seek employment, eschew connections to drugs and crime, and to value stable family living.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Never Again - Until Next Time

Amazing, isn't it, that an avidly-capable and learning animal like man seems functionally incapable of learning from prior experiences. We seem indeed destined to live and re-live experiences. It's as though history is mere theory, seen through the lens of someone else's tainted vision. It's as though credulity has been given a truly bad name. It's as though there's an inbred instinct never to learn, to listen to anything cautionary. We are destined, time and again, to live our errors.

Perhaps it starts when we're young and our parents, caring souls that they were, warned against certain activities that were certain to end in personal disaster. And our listening ears were affronted at this abrupt dismissal of our choices, our needs, our direction, the path we'd chosen, however pedestrian, however life-affirming, we'd think. So we'd surreptitiously seek to do whatever it was we wanted, then kept a stiff lip and a silent tongue about it afterward.

But did we learn from those early childhood experiences? Rarely. Transpose early experience of an individual to the collective experience of a group. Same thing portends. There are those among us who are professionals in reviewing the great events of the day, and who transpose their impressions of those events, and commit them to posterity, from the ancient writings of Herodotus and Josephus to modern historians.

We read these accounts avidly, and take unto ourselves the information they purvey about human nature, and the tragedy of human relations. We recoil in horror reading of the atrocities mankind is capable of delivering to its own. We wonder what in heaven's name would compel thinking, ostensibly intelligent human beings to lend themselves to the ungovernable, unforgivable theatres of war.

The human tradition is one of incremental technology, easing the way for those yet unborn to realize the fruits of their forbears' inventive capacity. The human tradition is one of reliable hostility one against the other, and the consequent prosecution of war, to tear down all those civil institutions that we have built to celebrate and enhance our lives. And each time one of these impulses to destroy and to kill has been brought to a conclusion, we hang our collective heads in the shame of remorse.

We'll never forget, we say. This will never happen again. This will surely be the very last of all wars; no one would want to live through a repetition. And we are, after all, civilized, mature civilizations, countries imbued with wealth and presence and conducting reasonably good relations with one another. Why succumb to hostilities? Yet we do. Sanity dissipates, into a fog of suspicion and anger.

After the Second World War when the world looked at the evidence of man's incalculable cruelty out of the ashes of the Holocaust, who didn't declare the end of war? We were finally cured. We'd never forget, and would never again do these unspeakable things to one another. And then there were the Pol Pot Cambodia massacres.

Followed by Rwanda, while the world looked on in disbelieving horror. And did, actually, nothing to stop it. Then there was Bosnia, and we tried. And then came Sudan. We care, we really do. But what to do? We wring our hands, demand action, prod the United Nations which then goes on to wring its hands and demand action from the government responsible.

Are we imprinted forever for genocidal slaughter?


Friday, February 23, 2007

Now You're Talking!

Well, this is refreshing, this is a change, this is responsible governance. Phil Fontaine taking on a new tack. And it makes good sense. The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations addressing a business audience making an offer they should seriously think about. To consider the feasibility, the practicality of setting up business partnerships with some of Canada's 630 native communities.

Canada is facing a shortage of critical workers. In all areas. We're increasingly dependent on immigration to swell our workforce potential. Our replacement birth rate is hovering on depletion. Yet here are our First Nations people living in dire poverty on welfare hand-outs and tax money. It's what Mr. Fontaine terms "the ugly reality and desperation of First Nations poverty".

He's right; it is a visionary plan, and about time, too. Government hasn't been able to solve the intractible problems facing native communities, and the communities themselves have been close to useless in making the effort to solve their own problems. They're stuck on both sides, not because it's impossible to make the changes needed, but because the will to do so is absent, on both sides.

On the part of the First Nations there's a culture of languid despair, an ingrained belief that they cannot succeed, and there's nothing they can do about it, sinking deeper into the depths of apathy and neglect, endemic poverty and child abuse. As for the government, they've proved to be utterly inept, devoid of the kind of creative thinking it would take to turn the situation around.

But if business and large corporations can see the utility in aligning their futures with that of First Nations there's hope. First of all, there's the potential of a large pool of employable people, then there's the potential to develop geological natural resources that Indian reserves hold.

If, through Chief Fontaine's vision corporations like Siemens Canada, Bell Canada, Adobe and SixTech, Enbridge and Royal Bank of Canada have signed up to his corporate challenge, there may very well be an example ready to demonstrate to the country at large, to add to that of already-successful joint enterprises.

Living conditions can slowly be brought up to the standard deserved by all Canadians, and pride of responsibility-and-result will bring Native Canadians the future they surely deserve.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Unbecoming a Prime Minister

Well, he could very well be unbecoming as a prime minister, who knows what the near future may bring? But his behaviour certainly was unbecoming that of one who stands before Parliament as the prime minister of the day. Arrogance becomes no one, but sometimes it does have a habit of steering the ship and then, watch out.

Why stoop to that low level in any event, particularly at this very time when Stephen Harper had all his ducks in a row and a growing public appreciation to boot? Obviously, because he felt he could and therefore he would. Temptation to thumb-nose being what it is to most people. And Stephane Dion makes such a well-deserved target.

Here was poor old Stephane Dion forced to whip his recalcitrant caucus in line on the anti-terrorist issue of the two sunset items, one of which is actually required to prosecute the cause of the Air India investigation to a reasonable conclusion of guilt and responsibility. Yes, Mr. Dion could claim caucus solidarity, but only at the expense of ordering compliance. Even yet, one of his members may abstain.

The thing of it is, Stephane Dion has stubbornly wedded himself to the fallible idee fixe that the role of the Opposition is to oppose anything and everything that the ruling Conservatives under the detestable Stephen Harper (how it must pain Mr. Dion to share given names with his adversary...!) proposes. Obviously the good of the country comes dead last.

Yet by his very actions, ham-handed and stumble-bum in prosecution, Mr. Dion has won no converts to his cause. He actually helped the prime minister immeasurably, who had taken the mantle of responsible leadership, rectitude and an unerring instinct to follow the right path upon himself, looking very good indeed in contrast to the bumbling anxiety of Mr. Dion.

So, Mr. Harper would have done well to sit by impassively as is his usual wont, and let Mr. Dion drone on secure in the knowledge that the extension was indeed slated for approval.
Something deep within him far better left down there in its dimly-dark excesses was instead allowed to surface and to belittle the source, not its target.

It's like this: when someone of the moral and ethical calibre of former Liberal leader Bill Graham is shocked to the point of outrage by this kind of un-prime-minister-like excess it's a fair signal that we should all be.

Stephen Harper has made of the very serious business of terrorism and Canada's defences against it, a trifling little matter of tit-for-tat. And it wasn't, obviously, a spur-of-the-moment and thus somewhat forgivable lapse, it was clearly planned beforehand. How else explain that his minions were at the ready with explicatory news releases?

The prime minister and his staff took a Vancouver Sun story whose thesis is so tenuous in its assertion of "the real reason" behind the Liberals' determination to doom the Air India invstigative hearings, it's obvious its use was simply a linch-pin for the prime minister to launch into a jejune accusation.

Mr. Prime Minister!

Oh dear, he was performing so well, impressing so many. All dissolved in an instant of behaviourial self-gratification.

On the other hand, we sincerely hope not. We'll give you another chance. Don't blow it.


Highway of Tears

Life is often likened to a Vale of Sorrows, from ancient writings to the present, acknowledging the many difficulties facing humans as they find their place in life within their communities and the struggle to make a place for themselves. We deal with life, injury, disease, death and loss. The conundrums of existence, the ongoing efforts to 'fit' into a social structure, the confusions of rejection and the difficulties that life often throws in the faces of those whose existence is less than ideal confound us all.

But none more so than indigenous communities in any country who historically faced the fall-out of an intruder community's ideas of social, moral and ethical superiority over the indigenous culture. Not only is the original habitant at a disadvantage because the newcomers bring along with them attitudes of conquest and entitlement, but that they also have to live as disentitled supplicants in their home land.

Nowhere is this more true than in Canada, where we celebrate our intermingling of cultures and traditions through the mosaic of immigration-settlement representing all the countries of the world. While the original inhabitants of the land remain marginalized, ill-regarded and their children's lives echo and re-echo the dire straits the entire group lives in; endemic poverty, disease, social disequalibrium, neglect.

It's true that as a group Canadians are fairly unified in feeling we have an obligation to our aboriginal populations, and we're agreeable to seeing a hefty proportion of public funds handed over to tribal leaders for the administration of reserves. The government, in our collective name, has enacted additional benefits through lifting of taxation levied against reserves and recognizing through the laws of the land the special place of our first-settlers.

Somehow, though, old habits of society still die hard. On both sides. Assimilation isn't an agreeable option for aboriginal groups, insistent on maintaining as much of their culture and 'traditional way of life' as possible. Unfortunately, it isn't possible to maintain culture and tradition and still thrive economically in this type of society that is Canada's.

And because the structural/social/cultural divide remains, and aboriginals fall prey to all the detrimental effects of not taking their own futures into their own capable hands, they remain marginalized, depressed, incapacitated, facing futile futures. Living lives of quiet despair within the larger community they remain a critically unsolved problem.

But the problem is also that of the wider Canadian community. And nowhere can our guilt in this untenable nightmare of existence be more readily seen than in the plight of the young: adrift, valueless, desperate and suicidal. There's also the casual indifference with which disappearances of young aboriginal women are treated.

The 724-kilometre stretch of highway from Prince Rupert to Prince George in British Columbia is a case in point. Young women often hitch-hike along that stretch of highway, looking for a casual lift and finding instead deadly assault. Local police respond differently to accounts of young women from reserves who are missing than those of other communities.

Now community activists have succeeded in persuading Prince George city council to erect a series of billboards to be placed along the highway warning young women of dire dangers awaiting them. As a stark reminder of what has occurred to other young women reported missing, and others discovered murdered, the billboards titled "ain't worth the risk sister" are compelling in and of themselves.

The billboards are based on a painting by artist Tom McHarg, showing a young woman waiting by the side of the road, a car oncoming, with two wraiths of young women pleading with her to avoid the disasters that befell them in their innocent trust of strangers. Activists say that public transit and highway telephones are also needed.

Police in the area will admit to 'only' 9 women missing, that no serial killer is involved, but human rights activist Gladys Radek says her personal research has documented at least 19 women missing, while another woman, family member of one of the vanished women, is sending on the results of her research to the RCMP that places the number of missing or murdered women at 28.

Is this our Canada? Don't we care?


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tooches Tsekaert (Arse Backward)

Gawd, those poor hard-done-by automobile manufacturers, it's just heart-wrenching to see their plight. First of all, the North-American-based automobile manufacturers have continued, year after year, to bring out new profiles, newer models, refining the aesthetic appearance of cars and trucks, taking great care to design cup-holders handy to the driver, while overlooking the gas consumption of those monstrosities that too many people have become wedded to, those hybrids, the SUVs, the ubiquitous vans that clog highways and gleefully burn fuel, fouling our atmosphere.

Yes, when the oil-supply crisis erupted decades ago, consumers were hit hard and began to look for feasible alternatives to those big-bodied, large-engined road hogs that ate up all their disposable income just to keep them in operation - and at a time when oil shortages seemed a fixture in the economy. Out came the new designs and everyone loved the scaled-down compacts and sub-compacts. Once supply settled down nicely and seemed secure, though, the automobile manufacturers went right back to the design board, Xing out all those nice little alternative vehicles and introducing those monster road hogs again.

And didn't the buying public love them? Drive anywhere in the U.S. and all you see is SUVs lumbering around, with the odd humble little passenger vehicle trying to keep out of the way of the big boys. In Canada, there's plenty of SUVs around, but the humble van is the choice of most families; zuftig and gas-guzzling to a fault. But hey, they're inexpensive, 'good value' for the money. Cheaply constructed, almost throw-aways, see what they're worth in the used-car market.

So who is really responsible for the energy-shambles we find ourselves in today world-wide, with the spectre of global warming and climate change looming large and hard, very hard to ignore? Well, plenty of causes, and many scientists claim on the evidence at hand that we're to blame, and maybe just incidentally the normal course of nature as well. Still, we don't know exactly what's around the corner into the future; we do know that things are not what they were, nor what they should be.

In the Alberta oilsands, a senior Canadian petroleum executive pronounced that the Government of Canada shouldn't 'punish' his industry with excessive regulations to reduce the pollution that causes global warming. Suncor vice-president for sustainable development Gordon Lambert (don't laugh!) claims his company has already made investments in greening its operations, improving efficiency without any devastating consequences. Nice to hear. No job losses predicted. Sounds suspiciously like business as usual.

Yet, look here: car manufacturers claim they can go only so far in improving the fuel efficiency of new vehicles rolling off the assembly line - until Canada kicks its singular 'addiction to gasoline'. No kidding! They like the idea of alternative fuels; biofuels, for example; not me. They're talking food now, comestibles, what people eat - forget it, biofuels are not meant to nourish metal beasts roaming our highways. Is that practical?

The manufacturers like to claim they've been doing their part to improve fuel efficiency, but that alone, they say, won't achieve the kind of deep cuts government is looking for. Back to the drawing board, fellas. "Right now we are suffering from a lack of diversity of solutions for people in the marketplace because we are beholden to gasoline as the dominant source of mobility" (huh?) claims David Paterson, vice president of corporate and environmental affairs for General Motors. Like that title? It's so...pious.

So it's not the industry's fault that vehicles run on gasoline. It's...government's fault, it's...the fault of the consumer who blithely purchases the vehicles designed by, who else? car manufacturers. Who are innocent in all of this; they're just providing what the public is clamouring for. More and bigger. And, said John Mann, director of engineering and regulatory affairs (there we go again with the doublespeak titles) for DaimlerChrysler, the problem manufacturers face is that carmakers don't want to 'waste time and huge sums of money creating new models that rely on a fuel that may never be readily avaiable'.

Oh. How naive; here I always thought that manufacturers of widgets and everything else plow part of their profit regularly back into research and development. Ah - all the R & D car manufacturers indulge in is classy new chassis; engineering and alternative energy source potentials be damned, evidently. The manufacturers want a reliable new energy source on which to design their goods that the public will flock to purchase. But they want some other agency: government, university, industry, private laboratories, to invest and to single out viably reliable energy sources.

Then they'll jump into action. Design appropriate vehicles which will run on these new energy sources; reliable, clean-burning, efficient, plentiful.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Paucity of Female Canadian Politicians

It's true, from among many countries of the world, parliamentary democracies like ours and some unlike ours, elected female representation far outshines ours here in Canada. It's a tough row to hoe, being a female politician, no doubt about it. Women are held to different standards and even if they live up to the same standards expected of their male counterparts somehow it never seems to be good enough.

Women try harder; men don't have to. It takes a truly dauntless personality, someone who shrugs off the negativity around the image of a woman politician, someone with a steely disposition to achieve, the determination of her convictions. Actually, if you're a true workaholic it helps, since many female politicians are also housewife-managers and mothers as well. That's a full agenda; most women can barely muster the energy to manage two of those pivotal jobs.

And then there's always the sterling example of Margaret Thatcher. Indomitable, hell bent for achievement, she out-manned the men among her in Parliament to the Nth degree. Well, Canada did have a female prime minister in the not-so-distant past. Kim Campbell, never elected, but she did inhereit the throne for a headily brief period.

She didn't stand a chance at re-election given the superb hatchet job the Conservative leader who preceded her as prime minister did on his own party's standing in the estimation of fed-up and outraged Canadians. But that's the same old story for any political party given the opportunity to try the electorate's patience for long enough.

So where were we anyway? Yep, not enough women representing the 51% makeup of the Canadian population running for election as Members of Parliament. So, what to do? There are several options. Candidates have to feel free and willing to place themselves on the ballot for election, male and female. Infinitely less complicated for most aspiring male politicians than their gender counterparts, given our differing roles within nature and society.

Still, two women did place themselves forward just recently for the leadership of the Liberal party. Hedy Fry, an already-sitting MP and former Cabinet Minister, and lawyer Martha Hall-Findlay bringing a determined approach to the opportunity and plenty of courage of her conviction. Trouble was, one had too much political history behind her (cross-burnings even as we speak!) and the other too little.

Yet the Liberal party under Stephane Dion is determined to re-balance the deficit. And to that end it has taken some interesting steps. One is to feel out possible nicely-profiled female candidates by attempted poaching from the NDP. Another is to 'manage' candidates to favour prospective women candidates with or without experience over experienced and oh-so-willing male candidates.

Stephane Dion's "extraordinary measures" to extend the kindly invitation of inclusiveness to female candidates to address an unfortunate imbalance reeks of the politics of visibility and does a disservice to the women who really do want to score on their own merits. At the same time smacking down the aspirations of qualified men directed to not even think about it.


My Country 'Tis of Thee I Sing

This is some special country, this place called Canada. My home and native-birth country. It wasn't always so, there were times in recent memory (if you're as grizzled as I am) when this country did not see itself as a welcome haven to those whose traditions and culture did not reflect that of the Mother Country, Great Britain. But look here, the British Empire has changed altogether, and we with it.

Now Canada is a proud country of immigrants reflecting the characteristics, both cultural and physiognomic of the great wide world. We are inclusively free of bias (some of are still working on that one, but not many) with respect to others' religions, ethnic backgrounds and cultural traditions, asking only that they return the favour and extend the same rights to all as are offered to them. Proudly egalitarian.

The law, in fact, and our great and good Charter of Rights and Freedoms make us proud and free. Our immigrants, while retaining aspects of their original culture, embrace Canada's core values (which is to say, they should do so) and we all live together in harmony, in a generous spirit of coming-together. Our children attend the same schools, and equal favour and protection is extended under our universal laws.

At a time when Muslims live in a state of unease in many countries of the world which they have adopted as their new homes, in Canada 73% of Muslim-Canadians report feeling "very proud" of this country, of its acceptance of them. When the question was put to Canadians how they'd feel about living next to a Muslim a mere 6.5% of Canadians (admittedly too many, but we're working on that, too) responded negatively.

Islam's faith expression within Canada is generally one of tolerance and good fellowship (there are exceptions, needless to say; we're working on it). Our Muslim population has responded affirmatively to the Canadian invitation to live among us as equals, taking full advantage of equal opportunities, equal regard.

Compare that, for example, to France (and Germany and Holland) which admitted immigrants as expendible labourers, ghettoized, considered socially/culturally inferior. They are now reaping the harvest of the seeds they sowed with "troubled" neighbourhoods (stick England in here too for prime convenience) where the immigrant society is poor, marginalized and underemployed.

Where thousands of cars are burned every year in France, as a protest by the unemployed and disaffected youth. And where French police, firefighters and ambulance drivers are routinely injured venturing into the badlands of the immigrant ghettoes. But it's all right folks, everything's cool. They say.

In Canada, our immigrant populations are valued, trusted members of this society. This is, above all, a community of communities, a country of immigrants, our Canada. We serve and protect all of our people. Which is why civil libertarians were up in arms over key provisions brought into law to combat the threat of terrorism; federal security certificates among them.

Why, our politicians value our immigrant populations so much that even when some are implicated in questionable anti-Canadian values that some term terrorist in nature, they are not averse to supporting them. Which is why leaders of the Liberal and New Democratic Party saw fit to attend Tamil Tiger gatherings.

Which explains why former Prime Minister Paul Martin solicited the support of the terrorist International Sikh Youth Federation in his then-failed bid for the federal Liberal leadership in 1990, (5 years post-Air India bombing; but not on Canadian soil) despite the bothersome fact that then-Conservative External Affairs Minister Joe Clark warned Canadian politicians to steer clear of the federation.

Mind, the ISYF had already been identified as a terrorist group by CSIS; 4 members of the group had been convicted in British Columbia of the attempted assassination of a visiting Indian politician; others had associated with a would-be assassin who shot newspaper publisher Tara Singh Hayer in 1998. He survived that attempt, only to succumb to another more successful assassination effort years later.

Mr. Clark's warning included staying well clear of the Babbar Khalsa and the World Sikh Organization, all three of which groups (inclusive of the ISYF) were linked to terrorism. But Canadians are open-minded; as long as the terrorist attacks don't take place on Canadian soil, some obviously think co-operation with terrorists can't be all bad.

In fact, in his speech before the International Sikh Youth Federation, in 1990 (the good Paul Martin pledged to raise the issue of human rights abuses in Punjab. Two other Liberal party members and Members of Parliament were with him at the time, both still sitting Liberal MPs: Albina Guarnieri and Maurizio Bevilacqua.

Aren't Canadians something else?


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Getting a Lock-Grip on Hypocrisy

"The assailants had awakened him with a rifle in his stomach and a commander in rags, his face smeared with charcoal, had shone a light on him and asked him if he was Liberal or Conservative." Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Politics as a blood sport. Integrity, ethics, trust and honesty? What's that other than promises politicians wrap themselves in along with the flag of their country. And ordinary citizens, themselves unwilling to challenge the poltroons and thugs, try to distinguish which among them represents a half-hearted effort to meet the needs of the population, and vote accordingly.

Politicians seem to feel that their purpose, the reason they are given a vote of confidence is that the electorate believe everything they assert, that their heart is with their country and the well-being of its people. But the voters know by the very actions of those they place in power that it is the party, for ill or for good that matters to their leaders, not the country.

After which, the leader makes his decisions, proves himself to be worthy of respect and does try to lead as long as it doesn't cost him and his party that hard-won position. Sometimes a leader of a party is actually a man of integrity and trust and then the sullied portrait of politicians gets a temporary reprieve from damnation.

Canada currently has an opposition leader who posed as a man of honour, of intelligence and audacity who pledged to renew his party and earn the trust of the voter. But here's the same old Liberal party re-born, remodelled in its original image, the very same one that caused the electorate to heave it into oblivion.

Stephane Dion makes one uninformed and incredible decision after another to position his party in deliberate opposition to the governing Conservatives, irrespective of logic and reality. This man in whom so many people placed their hopes for a resurgent party held high in peoples' esteem has, in a few short months, led it inexorably back to its depths.

He has made it his business and that of his party to reject any usefulness in pivotal issues to the governing party. Despite the fact that the current government is ordering its business on items of importance to the country initiated by the Liberals, Mr. Dion now sees fit to denounce and renounce rather than assist and coordinate intelligently.

The Liberals took Canada's military into Afghanistan. We're stuck there now for ethical reasons not the least of which is our international responsibility, yet Stephane Dion challenges the government to bring the troops home, NATO and Afghanistan be damned. This is clearly not the behaviour of a man of intrinsic honour.

The Liberals signed on to Kyoto, made promises, set up committees, and produced nothing of any significance, yet now deride a year-old government for not producing results they weren't able to in 8 years of misgovernance, where our emissions rose exponentially. This reflects the heights of hypocrisy.

After the events of 9/11 the Liberals brought forward an Anti-Terrorism Act, in the interests of good government and terrorist prevention, two provisions of which are now lapsing because of a sunset clause and which the Conservative government is prepared to renew for another three years' usefulness, yet Stephane Dion is prepared to defy one-half of his own caucus to undercut the government.

Stephane Dion is determined to bring more women into Liberal party politics to run for election in a bid to achieve a more balanced gender representation in Parliament. And to do so he has issued orders that no males will be permitted to challenge women candidates running for office as Liberal representatives for Parliament in specific ridings.

What's that peculiar sound I hear? sincere Liberals tearing out their hair in frustration?


Friday, February 16, 2007

Some Power Play

How's that for a weighty club? The triumvirate of three world giants whose combined demographic amounts to 40% of the world population. These three can throw their weight around. In the sense, needless to say, of their status on the world market economy, their huge populations, the geographic places they occupy in the world, their steadily-emerging trade potential and advancing political presence in world affairs.

Think about it, Russia, India, China combining their strategic interests in the global economy, in the balance of power world-wide. That's a lot of influence. They've a whole lot of other nations dependent on them for their own well-being. Everyone sits up and listens carefully to discern how their newly-collective policies and concerns will affect them. All countries have their own very particular agendas, and these three have discovered common ground.

They've all, one time or another, run afoul of the world's remaining super-power, the United States. They can all look forward to greater clout in their combined interests in challenging U.S. interests abroad. Because that's where one finds U.S. interests generally; abroad. Doing what it does best, interfering for good or for ill. Not to belittle the U.S. presence too strongly in world affairs; she has proven often enough that the world has much to be grateful for on those occasions when good is done.

Russia under the soon-to-depart president Vladimir Putin has long chafed under its never-quite satisfactory relationship with the U.S., post Cold War era. Only one political/economic giant emerged from that era, and the U.S. has never let Russia forget that. Effectively locking Russia out of possible membership in NATO, revelling in offering said membership to the USSR's erstwhile satellites. Rubbing their nose in their failures.

Russia has belatedly discovered wealth and respect in its relatively-new oil revenues, and is herself swaggering, pushing her one-time member-countries around, eager to demonstrate their dependence now upon oil-and-gas-rich Mother Russia. She has extended the same courtesies to Europe, reminding them that she carries a big stick once again.

And Mr. Putin took the world off guard just this week in accusing the United States of "uncontained hyper-use of force, overstepping its national borders, behaving as though it were the ruler of the universe. Sigh, doesn't that position logically belong to Russia anyway? The world is such an unfair place. Doubtless, Mr. Putin would have much preferred to remain on good terms with the U.S., seen as an equal, not shoved into a corner of insignificance where the U.S. has placed it.

But Russia is once more ascendant, and has surrounded herself with two other giants soon to be in the ascendancy themselves, and then won't the fur fly as each agitates to surmount the other, in a bid for ultimate supremacy. But the three are talking world affairs and that can only be good in the short term. Their agenda is sweeping and covers issues ranging from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Korea. Along with energy security, nuclear non-proliferation and trade.

Odd, that, all matters in which the United States, singly and also with her allies is engaged and active as the party of first-intervention. And, like the United States and at least several of her allies, China, India and Russia are nuclear powers. They're quick to point out that they don't see themselves as an alliance against the United States, but they do form an interesting counterbalance, given Russia's and China's positions with respect to Iran and North Korea.

Russian nuclear scientists, in fact, are busy giving tips and materiel to Iran. And Russia's bad behaviour with respect to its interior critics, be they newspeople or disaffected former scientists, or oligarchs critical of the current government doesn't earn her many plaudits in the United States or the EU, let alone Europe in general.

At the present time it's true that due to clumsy misadventure in the Middle East, the United States is the unruly elephant in the room, since the fall-out of her ill-considered interferences is making for a most unsettling world situation. The United States is feeling pinched, its economy in unhappy straits from prosecuting a war against terrorism that sees no end in sight, costing dearly in lives on all sides.

Yet you can only wonder about the three giants and what they foresee for their future, hoping for the structure of international relations to turn inexorably toward them, given their combined political/economic muscle. And.then.what?


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Partisan Appointments? Surely Not!

Oh those politicians, they're at it again. Chafing, agitating, cat-calling, blaming, and baiting. All in the name of participatory democracy. Aren't we the fortunate beneficiaries? Liberal Michael Ignatieff, recent contender to the leadership of the federal Liberal party is a quick study, he's feeling completely at home with the Liberal party. Here he is, huffing and puffing, a most exemplary hypocrite, accusing the Conservative government of manipulating the court system to reflect the Conservative agenda.

No, why would they want to do that, after all? Could this possibly be an attempt to change the manner in which governments have traditionally made such appointments, in a completely subjective, neutral and honest manner? Shame on those Conservatives. But then, what could you expect otherwise; they're Conservatives. Throw the bastards out, eh?

In Mr. Ignatieff's high-falutin' words: "That, in the opinion of this house, the government is failing to act in accordance with the democratic and open values expected of its office by imposing a narrow minded, socially conservative ideology as reflected in its approach to the judicial appointment process to dramatically increase the influence of right-wing ideology in the judiciary."

The scoundrels. The unadultered, miserable, dastardly scoundrels. Is this the stonehenge-era group we just voted into a minority government? Well then, we'd better vote them back out. Right, Mr. Ignatieff? And then whom do we invite in to take their place at the helm of governance of this benighted country? Oh, you'd opt for the Liberals? Right.

Let's see now, the Liberals; bear with me, I'm trying to jog my faulty grey-headed memory. Oh, here's Lorne Sossin, law professor at the University of Toronto to help me remember: "The Liberals could have difficulty getting on their high horse when it comes to partisanship." Whatever could he mean by that?

Roderick Macdonald, law professor at McGill University in Montreal says it's business as usual in democratic politics: "The fact that someone has previous ties to a political party...should not be a disqualification. The real questions are; Are the people who have been selected competent? And will they do the job asked of them with integrity?" Hmmm.

Gee, my awful memory. I forgot the Liberals and particularly their new leader Stephane Dion had integrity in their personal lock-grip. Oh, and here's Peter Bowal, University of Calgary law professor, saying the judicial selection committees were set up two decades ago in response to rampant Liberal patronage. See? other people don't have my problems with poor memory.

Gotta be able to rely on someone for balance, right?


More Liberal Party Hypocrisy

For someone whose personal moral and ethical values were trumpeted as illustrative of just how great a leader of the Liberal party he would be (and, presumably future prime minister of the country), Stephane Dion is demonstrating he's not averse to dropping said values when he deems the cause justified. Isn't that called political expediency? Don't we view that as hypocrisy? Isn't that the primary reason that we love to loathe our politicians?

Consider the matter of Canada's 2001 anti-terror law brought in by the former Liberal government headed by Jean Chretien in the immediate response to the 9/11 attacks. Two provisions seen as 'troubling' were 'sunseted' with a five-year clause and as a result the current Conservative-led government tabled a motion to extend the provisions for an additional three years. A move which the Liberals agreed with originally, but which they precipitately now disagree with.

Their new disagreement is based on the claim that the provisions give extraordinary powers to Canadian authorities, yet they have never been used, despite the alarums raised by civil liberties groups, along with the NDP and the Bloc. Former minister of justice Irwin Cotler who himself had reservations initially admits this and is now among those Liberals who continue to support their renewal.

He's not the only one; rumours have it that fully one-half of the Liberal caucus is divided over the issue. Former deputy prime minister John Manley also weighed in on the issue to echo dissent from within the Liberal party: "I believe that cabinet and Parliament got the balance right in 2001-02. And I do not believe that anything has changed to make that balance inappropriate today," he declared.

Here's the new leader of the Liberal party not listening to his own caucus, intent on mischief, accusing the Conservative government of attempting to erode civil rights in Canada, when it was a former Liberal government that brought in the Anti-terrorism Act for a good reason, fully supported by all members of the House (with the addition of the sunset clause). Anything goes in his determination to erode support for the government.

Ironically enough it would appear that if those very provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act are allowed to expire, so will a key investigative tool advancing the 1985 Air India bombing probe. The RCMP's Air India task force would be looking at scrapping their special investigative hearings allowed under the act if the provisions expire. Every Canadian identifies the Air India bombing as the worst act of terrorism to have occurred in this country.

Three hundred and thirty-one innocent Canadians died as a result of that dreadful event. Former Ontario premier Bob Rae, a rival for the federal Liberal leadership against Mr. Dion, who headed an enquiry to review the Air India case feels many MPs don't understand the standing of the act in furthering the Air India probe. The investigation, in the works since 2003, could culminate in a successful prosecution of those responsible for the tragedy.

But such insignificant details aren't stopping Stephane Dion.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Really? What Fun!

Not content with upsetting the opposition through recently released campaign advertisements unkindly setting Stephane Dion's hair on end in English Canada, those dastardly Conservatives have unleashed another set for the delectation of French Canada. Oh dear, how very inconvenient for the newly-engaged leader of the Liberals. Reminders of past misdeeds and even un-deeds are always such a bloody nuisance.

Especially when you're running yourself ragged claiming to have triumphed in those very areas where you've failed. And even when these little truths are less than helpfully pointed out, you cling to the self-induced myth that you tried but the opposition ham-strung all your good intentions while you held the balance of power. Such trifling bits and pieces of nuisance data, after all.

So here is the Conservative plan, to engage Canadians in a frank-but-funny look at the successes of the enterprising Liberals, past and promised. Kind of reminds one of the Conservative record when they've been sitting on their haunches too long in power, which does occur occasionally, more by accident than design. Politicians are, after all, politicians.

That lovably sly old French adage of being hoisted on one's own petard has the potential like little else does to have us rolling in the aisles with laughter. And if you're laughing at someone, or something, or say a political party then how on earth can you possibly take it seriously? You cannot, that's why this ploy is so preciously engaging for the Conservatives, so irksomely inconvenient for the Liberals.

"The damage to the Liberal brand is still there, and that's what the Conservative ads are focusing on" commented Antonia Maioni, political science professor at McGill, sagely. "What these ads are trying to do is portray the [Liberal] party as a joke." Well, joke's on them, Canadians never quite were able to chuckle over the endless scandals, governing inadequacies, never-fulfilled promises, scraping away of social policies and hauteur of the Liberal party.

"We're in Canada, I remind you. this kind of stuff is not good for the political system. We'll be positive. There are no plans to my knowledge for us to reply to this kind of garbage," Michael Ignatieff sniffed sanctimoniously. As though. We won't have to wait very long, in fact we've already been exposed to more than enough tarnished-without-humour allegations from that side targeting the other.

"We're focusing on things that Stephane Dion focused [on] in Quebec. He focused on the environment and he told Quebecers that he had a good record on that. And we're telling the truth, that the record is not there" claims industry minister Maxime Bernier. Almost right, Mr. Bernier, the record is there, that when the Liberals had the opportunity they hadn't the inclination to follow through and that's what people will remember.

They'll remember the arrogant complacence of the 'little man' from Shawinigan; they'll remember the fiscal mean-spiritedness of Paul Martin and his subsequent incapacity to make decisions, his fall-back position of blaming the U.S. whenever convenient. They'll continue to see Stephane Dion as a hypocritical intellectual elitist incapable of performing. They'll increasingly view Stephen Harper as a firmly principled leader.

Until, that is, he proves otherwise. Then the Liberals will be laughing all the way to the polls.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Uh Oh, Now Who's Behaving Like a Cultural Imperialist?

All this fuss about a little town's immigrant guidelines, tsk, tsk. How very inappropriate, that in a free and democratic society one instigator in one little town of Herouxville in the huge province of Quebec would seek to point out to would-be immigrants settling there that there is a public code of standards, rights-recognition, social mores that they wish everyone to adhere to. Seems kind of interesting, but redundant.

On the other hand, perhaps not. People are naturally suspicious of one another and most particularly so when they are confronted with people so obviously different, visibly wedded to a culture and tradition which deliberately marks their differences. Whereas it would seem to make eminent good sense when departing a country of origin to take up the most visible emblems of normal behaviours, customs and clothing reflected by the host country, those who seek to do otherwise, do so.

This is acceptable in a country like Canada because it is an open and free society, welcoming of other traditions and cultural artefacts, extending to what may appear to most Canadians to be exotic forms of apparel. Yet, those who disdain what is accepted in this free and open society also in a certain manner are refusing integration. They make a deliberate decision to continue to set themselves apart.

How, one might ask, is that accepting of the new country? Yes, it means that certain elements of the new country's laws and prescriptive norms in behaviour are outwardly accepted, but others, certainly not obligatory under Canada's system of multiculturalism are most definitely not. Which means while there is an agreeableness to accepting those very freedoms which permit one license to set oneself apart, the obligation to integrate into the society at large in full acceptance of its values is denied.

Women who, in their home countries chafed under certain obligations and lack of significant freedoms but who yet were not forced by custom there to wear head-and-body-covering garments, come to their adopted country where they are free to live as they wish, and at that time begin wearing a hijab, proud now that they are different in this new country and eager to demonstrate their difference in the clothing they assume.

This does nothing very good for pluralism, for good-natured acceptance, for openness. Presenting themselves as visibly 'different' and in so doing causing themselves to be noticed and wondered at, they then justified to the claim of feeling put-upon by the onerous nature of a society that will not accept their choice to be 'different'. But in fact the chador, the hajib, the niqab are symbols. Symbols of differentness if they are worn willingly and by choice.

But symbols of female oppression in countries which are by their very nature male-dominated societies. In these instances the obligation to wear these items of clothing can be left behind upon entry to a new land. Such garments worn as statements of male dominance which is the case for a good many Muslim women is what is felt to be unacceptable by many Westerners. The genders, after all, in liberal democracies are considered to be equal, not one subservient to the other.

Feeling that the town's proclamation of tolerance/intolerance was aimed directly at Muslim immigrants, offence was taken and protests launched. Best of all, a group of Montreal Muslims, men and women visited the town of Herouxville, to demonstrate by their presence that they are just as human as the residents of the town, but that their adherence to Islam sets them apart.

A good move, apart from the fact that Islamic doctrinal values don't really appear to insist that women be clad from head to foot in unrevealing garments, only that they practise modesty. That they made such an overture to the town, helped to defuse tensions and to ingratiate them to the townspeople as earnest and friendly; to elevate the opinion of the townspeople toward these sincere young Muslims.

Except, except, the true nature of human nature intrudes. That old "pot" calling the kettle "black". And one of the young people, a man of Lebanese descent, who has lived in Canada since he was 8 years old wrote, it was revealed, a rather incendiary poem. In initial and perhaps hasty response to the original town manifesto.

The poem, one whose concluding verse is replete with condemnatory cultural/religious chauvinism, revealing that its writer equates Quebec-born women of old immigrant stock as drunken sluts will certainly not now, since its revelation, endear him in particular, and perhaps his accompanying female friends as well to the townspeople and to the population at large.

Oh dear, dear me. What good will creates, incautious revenge undoes.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Monolith of Faithful Violence

It has often been pointed out that the West doesn't understand that Islam includes people from various walks of life having little in common with one another but their shared religion. Islam is worshipped in many countries of the world, both democratic in governance and on the other hand many that represent Muslim-led theocracies. People from various ethnic groups having little in common but their faith in Islam. For that reason, it is pointed out, Islam is not monolithic and should not be viewed as such. Fair enough, and readily understood.

But there is something that places Islam and its faithful apart from many other groups of faith and that is its blind passion. In the sense that believers appear to be willing to be led astray, to believe where they should question, to allow themselves to be wilfully manipulated - as a group. How else to explain the universal outrage within the Muslim world that erupted in a carefully constructed choreography by religious leaders to demonstrate to the world at large that Muslims will not sit idly by while their religion suffers the indignity of comic censure?

The instances of the publication of the Danish cartoons come to mind, most of which were harmless enough in their depictions and intent, a few of which were cynical in nature but true to the reality of political cartooning and most especially in the more modern relaxed atmosphere of pricking just about anyone's pretentions. As I saw it at the time and still do, while Muslims were protesting that Islam is a religion of peace, their co-religionists were busy blowing up innocent civilians.

Muslims were busier trying to defend themselves against charges of silent assent than decrying the atrocities perpetrated in the name of their religion. The kind of mass protest that was launched in protest at the publication of the offending cartoons could have been launched against the murderous assaults by Islamists against Western targets, but it just didn't happen. We saw protests launched again when the Pope's address wherein he quoted the condemnatory opinion of Islam as a religion of Peace by a medieval writer came to light and was used in the same way by opportunistic Muslim leaders.

And now, the latest, an innocent-enough public works project launched in Jerusalem around the holy site of the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The project was undertaken as a result of a pre-existing access ramp having been damaged by an earthquake in 2004. Its purpose is to reconstruct the ramp safely for the "benefit and safety of visitors". Any governing authority, particularly one tasked with the unkeep of important monuments of one kind or another commonly visited by local citizens as well as tourists has that civic obligation of responsibility.

Yet this handily presents itself as yet another opportunity for Islamic teachers, imams, ayatollahs to besmirch the intent and responsibility of the authority of Israel. To enlist public support from among their followers they insist that this is an Israeli plot to "Judaize Jerusalem", as they urge Muslims throughout the world to "protect" East Jerusalem and the mosque compound. The Israeli work amounts to "hostile measures" they claim, describing the issue as one resulting in a "day of Palestinian anger".

Oh dear. Despite protestations of innocence of such diaboligical designs by Israeli authorities, the issue has been brought to the Security Council of the United Nations on the insistence of the Arab nations. Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni has attempted time and again to assure protesters that the preparatory excavation work would do no damage, explaining that extremists are attempting to exploit already-existing tensions around the site.

"There are irresponsible elements, who know full well that no harm is being caused here to any holy site, who are exploiting Israeli democracy to fan religious feelings for political gain", said Ms. Livni. And who in their right mind can deny that? The thing of it is, religious fervor invoked draws people completely out of their right minds and into the sphere of religious fantasy inspiring a fantical display of holy fervour for their undying cause.

Tourists had their bus bombarded with bricks, stones and bottles by a mob of Palestinian youth protesting the construction project. Which, in actual fact, is closer to the Wailing Wall, the foremost holy symbol of religious worship for Jews, than it is to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most-important venue for Muslims. The excavations are about 50 metres from the mosque.

Palestinians don't seem to need much of an excuse to riot in exercise of their rights of assembly and protest under the protection of Israeli laws. And it's a mixed blessing for them to take world attention and censure away from the unseemly fratricidal blood-letting by the fanatical militias of Hamas and Fatah over the past several weeks, and to focus it instead on the ongoing plight of the Palestinians, imagined or real.

Their response to the manipulations of their issue-seeking imams is certainly monolithic in nature, or so it seems to this onlooker. And yet, I recall seeing the photograph of an area Palestinian shopkeeper loath to shut up his business during the day of protest, being strong-armed by masked members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Still, for the most part this is a unified and illogical response to any and all perceived irritations.

The busy minds of the religious leaders finding fault and due cause to foment mass outrage in the name of Islam, triumphant in their exhibited power to unnerve and bully others into meek acquiescence. Just to make them go away, for heaven's sake, for they are unrelenting. Israel, for her part, has invited foreign journalists to the dig site to examine for themselves that the work poses no danger to the mosque.

It is also thinking of placing video cameras on site to provide a record for posterity, to counter what Israel's security minister, Avi Dichter, calls Arab propaganda of the mosque endangerment. Good luck.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

How Much is Enough?

Give people enough rope and they'll hang themselves. Or, if they're really intent on the matter at hand, they can hang you. Not you per se, not the material you, but what you represent and hold dear if they take issue with your values. If you're tolerantly generous-minded and don't mind too much bending over backward now and again with the intent of giving a little to achieve the larger purpose of peace between dissenters, you may pay for it.

Let's look at immigration for example. As good an example as any, since that's the purpose of this discussion. People will emigrate from their country of origin for distinct reasons; they're unhappy with the opportunities for economic success in a depressed or non-existent economy, they've been persecuted as minorities, they reject outright the social or political system of their birth countries and determine to leave.

On qualifying for entry as immigrants to a new country they have an obligation as new residents and eventually citizens, to accept the overall societal values expressed by their adopted country, just as they accept the very social values that gain them the freedoms that their rejected country denied them. On moving to a new country in another geography with other values the immigrant should feel motivated to become integrated if for little other reason than gratitude to the receiving country.

All the more so if the receiving country was originally identified as a place of refuge, a country which offered freedom from persecution, freedom to practise their religion, freedom of association, of ideology. That guarantee of freedoms also obligates the newcomer to respect the freedoms equally guaranteed to others. The universal laws and protections guaranteed to all are not a matter of choice.

The obligations that rest with citizenship are no less to be recognized and acted upon as the obligations that the state has toward its citizens. Once accepted into a new country should immigrants agitate against social mores and practises that offend their views shaped in another culture and another tradition? Should religious observance of one group be given ascendancy over secular laws enacted for the well-being of the whole?

In a tolerant country like Canada much of the population extends a real effort to ensure that all of its parts feel equally at home and protected under the law. Efforts are made at the municipal, provincial and federal level to ease certain restrictions so that offence will not be taken by vocal minorities who, having found their voice and having discovered that they have clout, sometimes begin to demand too much of their host country.

It's the other way around; all the citizens of the country, regardless of origin have a responsibility and a duty to practise their personal beliefs within the umbrella of protections that the country provides. All are viewed as equal among equals, in an egalitarian society. Customs that were deemed normal and acceptable in the country of origin, however, that run counter to those deemed normal and acceptable in the new country should be left behind where they belong.

Customs and mannerisms demeaning or degrading to gender, sexual orientation, other religions or popular culture should be either dropped or confined to the privacy of one's home. Unless they involve physically damaging children like the practise of infibulation, or inculcating in one's children hatred for other minorities. Canadian citizenship should not be taken lightly, it confers an obligation upon the holder to be respectful of the laws of the land and the rights of others.

When citizenship is treated as a lifestyle-enhancing add-on for individuals who decide that Canada may offer benefits additional to those which they found in their original countries yet another dimension is added. To hold Canadian citizenship cannot be seen as a lifestyle convenience like purchasing a second, summer residence like a lakeside cottage for fuller enjoyment of life.

Transient citizenship which still entitles the passport-holder to paid-for medical and hospital care, and a refuge when things begin to look dicey in their other country of residence identifies people as quasi-citizens without a real obligation to the country. Dual citizenship-holders who celebrate the practical utility of being able to make the choice, when the stars are aligned, of one or the other as it suits them, insult Canada and Canadian citizenship.
"Citizenship, whether through birth or naturalization, implies belonging. It implies a basic commitment of intellectual and emotional loyalty. It is a thing of value. And yet, in recent years the diminishing value of Canadian citizenship - the creation of the hyphenated Canadian with divided loyalties, the perception that immigration policy now permits the rich to buy their way into the country, the idea that citizenship is a matter of rights and not of obligations - means that the opposite has also come to be true.

"Few passports are safer than a Canadian one; it opens borders and doors...it carries no legacy of political or colonial resentment. For many people, as a result, Canadian citizenship merely means access to a passport that allows return to the (dis)comforts of the former or ancestral homeland with the assurance of safe haven should plans go awry, or should political instability necessitate flight." Neil Bissoondath


Friday, February 09, 2007

Do It. Start It Now

The matter has really come to the fore, it has snowballed, it has taken attention everywhere, front and centre, focused public attention to the point where it could no longer be handily ignored as an irrelevant nuisance in the larger order of the scale of important items the Government of Canada need narrow its grim attention upon. The new government, that is. Which is the Government of Canada by any other reckoning. For the time being, at least.

But, unfortunately, the time being is slipping away rather ominously for our new government. I find it personally sad. I'd very much like to give them the opportunity to continue showing us exactly what they can accomplish, having already seen much that falls into the category of 'well done'. The partisan deviltry of the opposition is opposed, though, to allowing the Conservatives the luxury of demonstrating to the electorate that they're the ones that'll get things done. Despite that they have, to a certain extent, thus far.

It's like this, if you really want to bring people on board, convince them that the issue of climate change and our worrying environmental degradation is being taken seriously, then you do serious things, unpalatable though they will be. And they will be unpleasant, and costly, and nervous-making, and in the short term give us scant-realized value for future gain, but sometimes that firmness of decision-making must be accomplished.

No one is interested in visiting economic disaster on themselves, and that's readily understandable. We like our comfortable lifestyles even while we're decrying our proclivity as wastrels of energy and all manner of unnecessary consumer goods that add to energy wastage. We are committed to keeping ourselves warm and cool in response to our environment. We enjoy living in a society and an economy that allows us to consume far beyond our actual needs.

In our free market system manufacturers, large corporations, energy producers have had free reign to show just how far they can go with the considerable assistance of advertising and public relations doing their part to remind us that we aren't quite there yet - there's plenty more 'stuff' to come. But really we're also becoming just a little nervous and guilty about our greed and how the fall-out of our way of living is impacting pretty directly on our most basic of needs; clean air, potable water, a geography secure from flooding and/or desertification.

This is long-term stuff, not instant-satisfaction stuff. Stabilization and reversal of climate change isn't just an urgent message, it's a scientifically-acknowledged necessity. So, environment minister John Baird, and Stephen Harper, our short-term prime minister, please reconsider your careful position, your unwillingness to really grit your teeth and insist that polluters have a very short window under laws you plan to enact.

Forget this carbon trading stuff for large polluters, it is too reminiscent of schoolyard kids playing with sport cards for advantage and a bigger pile. The guys that pollute have to be brought up short; if there aren't sufficient scientific advances currently available to cut back pollution, both they and we must invest in research and development on a very energetic short-term basis to ensure they're brought to reality.

The year 2010 is three years' distance. We've seen a whole lot of world-inimical events linked to global warming to persuade us that we've already wasted far too much time in hesitation, empty promises, prevarication. We've been through all that already. If recent storm-events and evidence of irreversible declines in arctic freeze-ups, along with the international scientific community's assurance that this is for real hasn't sufficiently persuaded you, then move over.

But we like you, we really do. We anticipate, on the basis of how your government has already performed in the space of a short year, that you can answer to this very real need, on behalf of your country. For obvious reasons many of us no longer harbour any trust in the previous governments.

Step it up, fellas.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

How Antedeluvian - Shame, Israel!

Amazing what a vocally aggressive minority of 'orthodox' believers can do to rock the foundations of a society that likes to think of itself as egalitarian, socially progressive, responsible, responsive to its peoples' needs, forward-thinking, a model of democratic action. Here is a state founded on secular principles, representing the interests and well-being of its heterogenous population.

It's a Jewish state, established for Jews to find respite from discrimination, a refuge from hatred, anti-Semitism, a living reminder of the Holocaust. Yet its population have a thin sliver of heritage to mark them as homogenous; for the most part they're anything but. The population represents Ashkenazi, Sephardic derivations leavened by exposure to life in countries as diverse as India, Yemen, America, South America, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Iran, Syria - and more.

Like haimeshe cooking, recipes are taken from around the world, slightly altered (or not), embraced, and claimed as one's own, as much a diaspora gift to Jewry as all the little cultural/societal 'differences' among the population in general. And then, of course, there is the sharing of land and citizenship with Arabs and Druze. Yet there are all-encompassing civil laws that pertain to all, incumbent upon all to observe, promising equality of opportunity and protection to all.

This is a society in which women are seen to be equal to men, thanks to the broad vision of Israel's founders and its original Labour-tinted legal infrastructure. The fervently orthodox were always there, in the background, kvetching and demanding, and learned how to use the ballot box and legal political representation to press their issues, impinging in many ways on the vision of an open, inclusive and free society.

Women are conscripted into the Israel Defence Forces, just as the young men are. And they have proved themselves in the fields of combat just as they have done in academia, science, medicine, literature, law, business, and other professions. Yet here are Israeli women living in Jerusalem who face daily insults and even assaults at the hands of the ultra-Orthodox who demand segregation. Not in synagogues, but in the public realm.

The segregation of discrimination; women are not to mingle publicly where men assemble. Women are to move themselves to the back of buses lest they offend men whose religious beliefs hold that women have no place in the outside world. Women face degrading tongue-lashings from offended men if they appear in public wearing garments deemed to be insufficiently modest.

What does this remind one of, if not Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Wahhabist views in Saudi Arabia? In Israel? Is this an ethics-conflicted country? Seems so.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Over To You, Mr. Harper

"The fundamental challenge of our time is to make real progress on environmental protection while preserving jobs and standards of living. Finding that balance will require sound science, rational debate and political will over a long period of time."

But not too long a period of time, Mr. Prime Minister, truth is, we don't appear to have the luxury of too much more time to begin to arrest what appears now to be the inevitable degradation of our living space.

Your government now sees global warming as a "serious threat" and you're promising a realistic plan to deal with it. You're the boss. Yes, we recognize that there are differences between the Liberals with their lavish and insincere promises which resulted in no progress, and yours which is restrained but sincere and which we anticipate will result in progress. Would you consider reinstating the Northern Climate Exchange in the Yukon?

There's a modest start. How do you plan to respond to blandishments from the auto industry to phase out clunkers and encourage purchase of new autos - and Alberta's environment minister anxious that extraction in the Alberta oil sands not be too terribly inconvenienced by tough new government legislation? Of course Ontario's Liberal premier is in there too, anxious about potential economic disruptions. Quebec appears not to be too keen to anticipate problems with interference in their hydro projects.

You've painted quite the picture of Canada; how poorly we're performing in per capita emissions of noxious pollutants. You've convinced us. Actually, we were already convinced, but we do like to hear it from you too. You really, honestly planning to impose emission limits on production, manufacturing and automotive sectors? Ditto energy extraction? Ditto overall energy consumption and emissions? Yay.

How about depositing some of those surpluses in new technologies in energy extraction, in geothermal, waste-derived, biodiesel or other useful innovations...? How do you plan to deal with getting all the provinces and municipalities on board, so we can all pull together as a concerned and responsible collective? I understand the shift to a low-carbon economy has got to be a shared effort - how persuasive can you be?

Can you enact legislation making this federal government responsible for energy output and emissions? Can you sweet-talk the provinces to lapse their jurisdiction in energy policy? You've got the authority, it seems but the responsibility to act is elusively elsewhere, how unfortunate.

Are you willing, do you think you're capable of pulling authority over energy into the federal sphere? You're right, this is a really difficult row to hoe. And much depends on it.


Integrate North America - Or Not

First of all, do we get to choose? Will it be put to some kind of referendum? Will we be fully advised beforehand? Enabling us to make a truly educated selection, yes or no? Or will it indeed be accomplished by stealth? Of course we have the great and good example of the European Union. It works for them. So successfully that Eastern Europe fell all over itself for inclusion. And Turkey is still desperately awaiting word.

Integration/union benefits the weaker at the agreed-upon expense of the stronger with the aim of making for a more robust whole, better able to adjust to world events and economic slow-downs as an integral group rather than a struggling single country. The price of unity and strength equals the power of the collective. Nothing's perfect; member EU states are forever griping and complaining.

But think of the clout: political, foreign, economic, social, justice, defence - hitherto matters of single countries' independent direction related to their social values, and now an integrated whole. A larger, much larger voice, more authoritative and designed to make a undeniable point: together we stand. On the agenda is harmonization of environmental 'crimes', quotas, including admissions to medical schools.

Their laws, administrative-civil and criminal are harmonized, so is food safety, so is cross-border freedom of movement and trade, to name but a few advantages to EU member-states. Integration, after decades of existence remains a hotly debated issue to be resolved and placed within a firm constitution to replace the existing draft charter.

So what's in it for Canada to form an indissoluble link with the United States and Mexico? We already have free trade and it's questionable how much any of these continent-linked countries have gained, despite the hurrahs of corporations. Yet here we have secret meetings where top military brass, corporate executives and diplomats of both countries discuss the options of harmonizing food and drug standards, immigration policies and the pooling of energy resources.

Why do I smell a conspiracy here? At one of the so-called accord's meetings Canadian officials agreed to a proposed five-fold hike in oilsands production in a relatively 'short time-span'. Those very same oil-sands whose extraction exacts a high environmental price-tag in greenhouse gas emissions, while consuming vast amounts of Alberta's groundwaters.

There is something appealing about pooling food- and drug-safety benchmarks, and counter-terrorism measures. But would that mean opening up Canada's dairy herds to the use of hormones we currently don't allow? Would that mean we agree to become an integral part of the already-existing and most unfortunate weaponization of space?

Protecting North America as a single bloc from security threats like terrorism and flu pandemics, along with economic threats from new global market giants is all very well in the abstract. It's when we come down to the nitty-gritty, the devil's details, that the cogs begin to obstruct momentum. Yes, by all means, improve water quality, reduce sulphur in fuels, co-ordinate efforts to fight pandemics.

But while enhanced data-sharing on high-risk travelers, revamping safety and environmental regulations, centralizing the assessment of new chemicals and re-working food safety standards all sound good, I've still got a few niggling reservations. We're the little guys here, haven't all that much potential shove. Somewhat like Mexico, the struggling little brother on the continent.

It's the big boy that worries, the inexaustible hunger for primary resources, for natural resources, for energy, clean water. The impulsive me-first element in the equation. Yes, such a pact relaxing barriers to trade and travel at the border would be nice, but we already have that and it isn't working as well as it should because big brother keeps throwing spanners into the works.

I hesitate to declare outright that I simply do not trust the good will and uprightness of our American brothers...but...I don't. Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians often strikes me as an alarmist but she most certainly has a point. Why are all these meetings taking place in an atmosphere of stealth? If we've so much to gain as a collective of three equals, why isn't this taking place in the open in the clear light of day?

Citizens and independent experts in "social policy, human rights or the environment have had no say in this deal," she says. What's that odour?!


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