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.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

He Will Keep His Counsel

Which is to say it has been decided that ex tempore deliveries of the exalted opinion of a man utterly certain of his place in this world, will not after all be placed on the witness stand. To be interrogated by the prosecuting team for the U.S. government, and delicately prodded by his own defence team. He has, after all, pre-empted himself with his brilliantly casual, caustic and wry dismissal of the credulity of the prosecution's star witness, his former friend and colleague who has admitted culpability in the hopes of leniency afforded him by implicating Lord Black.

All of the former prosecution witnesses acquitted themselves rather poorly in the sense that their halting admissions of lack of adequate oversight in the prosecution of their positions on the board of Hollinger, reflected poorly on their business acumen, their accountability, their assent of dodgy practices, by default. None of them actually appear to have been able to pierce the armour of Lord Black's overconfident veneer and that of his team of lawyers.

It was, in the end, left to Conrad Black himself to give the news media, the public, and the jury itself pause for reflection. His unrepentant boastfulness, his too-obvious lack of restraint in trumpeting his version of his own 'innocence' of the criminal charges brought against him
has had the impact of self-servicing - in the sense that he has placed himself on a serving board with an apple in his mouth.

It was also the revelations of his disdain for underlings, the dismissive and haughty language he used to dust complaints of shareholders off his shoulders like irritating dandruff that has done him no good at all in the minds of those jurors whose final determination will reveal his future. In fact, it is his own words read back to the jury through emails and notes and recorded conversations - many of which were secured through boxes of trial-related materials he was himself seen on tape unlawfully spiriting away - that have tripped him up.

His carefree acquisition of shareholders' profits to enhance his luxurious style of living, his penchant for carrying off non-compete payments which should rightfully have enhanced the shareholders' bottom line have all come back to haunt him through the mouths of witnesses for the prosecution, from carefully retained receipts, from repeated missives Lord Black sent to his colleagues.

Like the one he sent to his trial co-defendant Peter Atkinson, on January 17, 2003, referring to public companies as "vehicles for extracting money, as in the non-competes". His unalloyed sense of entitlement, his grand illusions of self-worth are what will, in the final analysis, trap him. Most certainly, guilty as charged.

And, perhaps, then some.


Political Tantrums

Here he is in living colour, none other than that filmic-indestructible colossus incarnated as Governor of California. This is a man with a purposeful vision, newly brought into the atmospheric heights of dedicated environmentalism. Furthermore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as governor of a huge state located in the country next door to Canada - but with a population that surpasses that of this country, and an incredible gross state product that in 2005 represented an economy already 50% larger than that of Canada's - is a man who carries a big stick.

Here is a Republican politician whose social agenda looks nothing like that of the Bush administration's, supportive of a woman's right to choose, of stem-cell research, of gay rights, and now fighting the good fight to combat greenhouse gas production in his vast state. Here is a Republican politician whose values place him somewhere between Stephen Harper's and Stephane Dione's. Governor Schwarzenegger's open support of women's and gay rights, and research isn't joyfully shared by Stephen Harper.

But the impact of his commitment to environmental issues, to ensuring that his state be in the vanguard of change, hauling the rest of the U.S. in its wake, makes him a powerful figure indeed in this current world-wide political atmosphere of Global Change concerns. Our doubting, recalcitrant prime minister has in a very short period of time changed his mind about previous conceptions surrounding the environment. So much so that he has actually enacted provisions for change far beyond initiatives the previous Liberal government ever considered.

Still, he's not getting much credit for these constructive changes, and is catching a whole lot of flak. Most particularly from the official opposition, and certainly most of all from the leader of the federal Liberal party. And look here, the Liberal party platform certainly shares a lot of ethical values and orientation with those being espoused by this particular Republican. So much so that the governor has signed exchange deals with two provincial Liberal governments, in Ontario and British Columbia.

So why on earth is Stephane Dion throwing a sullen tantrum? It isn't exactly a diplomatic stroke of genius for the officious leader of the official opposition to disdain an invitation from the U.S. ambassador planning a reception for the visiting Governor of California. Mr. Dion seems incapable of missing an opportunity of doing injustice to his elected post. This is a visitor to Canada whose environmental agenda far surpasses that of the ever-goading Mr. Dion, someone with whom he can make common cause, but Stephane Dion decides not to associate with one such as he.

Go on, figure that one out. Good work, leader of the federal Liberal party. Little wonder it's difficult to know exactly what you stand for and where you stand on the issues of the day.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Saving Face While Safeguarding Trade and Profit

Well, there goes the first willing and eager sacrifice for the greater good of greater China. Even the Chinese realize something has gone dreadfully wrong when they begin to claim that 'profit is supplanting safety'. Not a very good situation for home consumers, although the country itself is booming. But Chinese citizens are now truly angered over lax regulation and shoddy products that have impaired their trust in their government agencies taxed with protecting consumers.

"People are increasing outraged that profit is supplanting safety [in consumer products]," according to an analyst of Chinese politics based in Beijing. And so, the former head of China's food and drug safety agency was yesterday sacrificed on the alter of Saving Face. Zheng Xiaoyu, director of China's Food and Drug Administration for 7 years has now been sentenced.

Since his arrest authorities in China claimed they were in the process of reviewing no fewer than 170,000 pharmaceutical licensing approvals issued by his agency. Mr. Zheng was convicted of taking cash and gifts in the range of $832,000 in exchange of approvals for substandard medicines. During his tenure faulty medicines and fake infant formula led to the deaths of infants and adults.

These incidents and those involving international exports abroad where tainted and adulterated goods and foodstuffs, pet food implicated in the deaths of thousands of North American pets, toothpaste containing industrial chemicals and contaminated anti-biotics have given question to the reliability of products emanating from China.

Yet the move to the death penalty for Mr. Zheng is seen as China's responding to its own citizens' outrage at this breach in their protection against deleterious products. China is sensitive to the perception that she might be more worried about international reaction to her lapses in quality control and seeming unconcern for the harm done by adulterated products in the interests of achieving greater market control at all and any costs.

Growing international insistence on more reliable testing and screening mechanisms for goods imported from China in response to the latest scandals don't make Chinese authorities clap for joy. China has finally indicated it is prepared to mount new regulations and crack down on illegally exported products which bypass inspections.

Nothing like a little bad press, a little pressure, a little panic about the bottom line.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Who You Calling A Dictator!

What's this? The frost is off the pumpkin? No sooner has Hugo Chavez been (illegally) re-elected for the third time to lead Venezuela into his vision of the future, than the formerly adoring public has second thoughts. This modern father of his nation, this staunch socialist of high integrity and even higher rhetoric, a dictator? Nah.

Guess a little bit of his friend and mentor's tactics in silencing his detractors is rubbing off on him. Let's face it, no one likes to hear personal criticism, and if we could, wouldn't we all make an effort to - reform ourselves accordingly? Let's try that again, wouldn't we all decide to shut down the news media that so impudently call for our resignation, if not reformation?

The respected
and popular Radio Caracas Television network had the misfortune of annoying Mr. Chavez, president-extraordinaire, so for their pains their broadcasting license was refused renewal. Dictators do that sort of thing. Anyone surprised? Everything is replaceable, after all, and a more conciliatory, supportive station, a "socialist" credentialed station has taken its place.

So what's to object to? But wow, they are, isn't that neat?
El Nacional, Venezuela's leading daily has denounced the closing as the "end of pluralism in Venezuela,". Whoops, they're next. Police in Caracas fired rubber bullets and tear gas at university students in their protest at the shut-down. Off with their heads - at the very least, imprisonment. The archbishop of Merida, Baltasar Porras Cardoso has compared Mr. Chavez to Hitler, Mussolini and Fidel Castro.

And those illuminating comparisons will be the archbishop's salvation.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Solutions Abound For The Creationist Mindset

Ah, the Creation Museum! A must-see. The bible brought to you in living technicolour. American evangelicals have raised the $27,0000 needed to build their very own museum. If Disney could do it on a vision, why not evangelical Christians? They've been around far longer, have a clarified vision of their own, and realize the world is in dire need of direction, instruction, revelation.

Disney directed his creationist output toward the world of children. Evangelicals are directing their vision of creation toward the world of the unquestioning believer.

They've a lot in common. What child wouldn't ooh and aah and sigh in wonder at the sight of various dinosaurs plodding the plank onto Noah's Ark. That'd be one heavy-duty ark, to be sure. Not only do the lions lie down with the lambs, two by two, but brontosaurus and tyrannosaurus Rex lie down amicably together, too. Or two, as the case may be. With the odd human being sprinkled in there as well, all of Noah's blameless kin.

Myths and legends are so consuming, so enduring, so compelling. And where there is myth there is often a whiff of history. And people do so much want to believe, to own unswerving faith. So it is written. So it must be. Writ by whom? Well, brought down to Mankind by the All-Powerful. Saith who? Ah, the prophets, of course, the Good Book, those of good faith. The word of God is not to be questioned.

Fundamentalists take literally biblical writing. There is no explicating interpretation necessary, thank you very much. As legends, let's face it, they represent wonderful story-telling, quite beyond compare. You think dinosaur, the bible says dragons. Dragons, dinosaurs, is there any real difference? And because there is not, it naturally follows that St.George slew a dinosaur. You say dragon.

One hopes the museum was designed intelligently.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ethical Interference

Canadian mining and oil exploration/extraction enterprises operating abroad, particularly in under-developed areas of the world, have earned a nasty reputation as unscrupulous operators whose business practises run directly counter to the interests of indigenous populations. These corporations, short on ethics, have often allied themselves with repressive governments to the further detriment both of their already-sullied reputations and to the well-being of local people.

Not all such enterprises are involved in questionable business and human-rights practises. Some have learned, through the sting of public approbation and strident protest that it is in their best interests while methodically and mechanically stripping countrysides of their mineral and energy resources to respect the locals and to even go one further, by investing some of their profits back into the local economy by helping to build badly-needed civic infrastructures.

But there are some, like Talisman Energy Inc. who have been hauled to account in a court of law as a result of their rapacious practises and troubling alliances. The Government of Canada, fully aware of these occurrences, should long ago have called on Talisman and others of their ilk to reform its dealings abroad. The very fact of their existence and their frightful reputation should have been sufficient to incur the disapproval of their government and to spur it to persuade the company to re-think its practises.

Now, because a lawsuit has been launched against Talisman Energy, filed in 2001 in the U.S., by the Presbyterian Church of Sudan, alleging that the company assisted government troops to conduct an ethnic-cleansing campaign to drive villagers off the oilfields of southern Sudan between 1998 and 2003, the government of Canada has involved itself. In a brief to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Canada argues that such a case would "create friction in Canada-U.S. relations".

Isn't that morally appealing? "This is outrageous," says Justin Laku of Canadian Friends of Sudan. "It amounts to saying, "We don't want you to put Talisman on trial because we have to protect our interests, and shareholders' interests. What about the interests of the people in Sudan whose lives were lost? Canada stands up on the international stage and talks about human rights and good governance in Africa, while at the same time obstructing the course of justice when a Canadian company is involved."

What an indictment against Canada itself. Surely we can do much, much better. If not for the sake of our own fragile dignity, in failing our obligations toward others, then for pity's sake, for the people whose lives have been so dreadfully interrupted and countless others whose futures have been fraught with difficulty as a partial result of Talisman's activities.

The irony is that while our government disgraces itself in this manner, a coalition of mining and oil-industry leaders and human-rights groups have publicly called for meaningful oversight of the sector. This, in direct response to a growing awareness and concern over activities of some Canadian mining and oil firms operating overseas.

For its part, Talisman has denied it was aware government troops were utilizing its facilities for bombing missions. Once it discovered that to be the case, it claims to have insisted on a halt to the bombing sourced on its grounds. In the U.S. alone there are over ten thousand refugees from southern Sudan who fled the country during the civil war in the period in question. Many lost family members.

The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, a Canadian government body, had urged the government in 2005 to adopt legal norms to govern the activities of Canadian mining and oil companies overseas. The government of the day rejected that advice.

It's time the current government had another, pointed look at it.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Nicht Schuldik, Again?

Not quite, not quite in that way. Not guilty because one follows orders to their conclusion, resulting in a condition whereby the order-follower becomes the instrument of chaos, destruction, mass deaths rather than follow the higher order of moral compulsion is not quite the same as casual neglect causing personal harm. It's on an order of scale. Some might argue that pilfering a paperclip from a place of work is only different in scale from robbing a bank, since the process is the same: taking what is not yours to take.

It's a silly argument, really. On the other hand, when a paperclip gives way to a stapler, then a computer absents itself from the workplace, and finally funds are embezzled, what then? Take one casual, slight short-cut, or one little item not lawfully yours because it doesn't 'matter', then the temptation is always there to go on and continue this fallacious reasoning. You do what you know you should not, because there has been no ill result. So you do it again. And again, going on to bigger and better things. Taking chances.

If a parent fails to take the most elemental precautions to ensure the safety of a child, most often nothing will go awry; the law of averages will kick in and the child will still be safe, despite the parent's temporary lack of oversight. There are always so many pressures as a parent to ensure a child's well-being is not compromised. There are always so many pressures as a parent to have a little time-out, a little time to oneself. So much time is given over to the needs of children.

But - if disaster occurs, as does happen from time to time, when a fire breaks out in an apartment housing two sleeping infants while the parent has stepped out momentarily to run to the corner store, there is no re-thinking the faulty decision-making. Turn your eye for a moment and an impulsive child will run onto a busy road. It doesn't, in fact, take much. We have a way of rationalizing, that our slight absence of attention will have no consequences.

Sometimes, though, it does. And so the parents of the missing child Madeleine McCann held a recent press conference speaking of their feelings of guilt for not having been present to guard their three infants when one of them was abducted, while they dined at an establishment a mere stone's throw from where their sleeping children were housed. What, after all, might be the chances something untoward could happen?

In fact, any chance, however minimal, still means that there is a chance that something might go wrong. The first thing that went wrong is that the parents decided not to take advantage of a child-sitting service available at the location they were in. They were in a foreign country, with no real knowledge of what might conceivably go wrong, in any event. So, submitting to the appeal to absent themselves temporarily from the presence of their sleeping children resulted in any parent's absolute nightmare.

Tragedy strikes whether or not responsible parents are always on the alert. But if tragedy can be averted because those parents are always on the alert, then that is reason enough to engage responsibly at all times. You lessen the opportunity for mishaps - and abductions can and do happen anywhere and everywhere; there are seldom warning signs that this is about to occur. Anyone planning such an odious act does so carefully, stalking his victim, moving with stealth, choosing to act when he observes himself to be free to do so.

The parents of Madeleine McCann allowed that they will forever live with the guilt they feel as a result of not being present at that particular moment in their anguished history. Had they been aware and present their child would never have been taken from them. Their guard was down, they felt relaxed and for whatever reason, assured that no ill would befall their children. This is, after all, a normal, common, human situation, one which many succumb to, without ill result.

But to also say, as they have done that "I don't feel we were irresponsible. I feel we are very responsible parents", is something else again. They may not feel irresponsible, and likely they are not. But the fact of the matter is they were not as responsible as they should have been, when they should have been. They admit to feeling guilt, but they don't feel they are guilty. In this life you can't have it both ways.

The verdict, lamentably, is: Guilty. You have children? above all, have a care.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Well, Which Is It To Be?

Really life exposes us to such difficult decisions. To war or not to war? To make peace or not to make peace? Peace can be so utterly boring, after all. War, on the other hand, is rife with excitement and extemporaneous decision-making. Some societies, is almost seems, can become addicted to war, to the excitement it brings into their lives, to the powerful feelings one can indulge in, having the opportunity to remove living souls from this mortal coil.

All the more so, when one can persuade oneself, or have others persuade one, that this becomes a sacred act of piety toward one's God, who expects no less of his worshippers. And when one can combine the taking of innocent, but guilty-by-religious-decree others, with the personal act of determined martyrdom, guaranteeing oneself a coveted and honoured placement in Paradise, well, why hesitate?

If, in the process of clearing one's mind of any residual humanity, any charitable or forgiving thoughts toward other human beings, one can become truly successful through the embrace of viciousness, then the ultimate goal cannot be far from achievement. Take, for example, the violent enmity that exists between militant Fatah and Islamist Hamas, forever succumbing to their implacable desire to expunge one another from existence.

The past week of internecine battling between the adversaries has resulted in many deaths. Including the inadvertent and lamentably unfortunate deaths of civilians. Now the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and the PA's Hamas-backed prime minister have re-launched talks aimed at halting their co-suicidal activities. How vicious can the hatred between the two groups be envisioned as being?

"May God burn all of them" spat a young Fatah security service agent. Hamas gunmen dragged him from a vehicle, whipped him with the butt of a Kalashnikov, kept him an overnight prisoner, broke his arms with a hammer, and fired multiple shots at his legs from close range. Is that more forgiving that a clean and deadly shot to the head? He is now being treated in Ashkelon's Barzalai Hospital, Israel. Isn't that a bit of irony?

One of his arms is in a heavy plaster cast while the other is swathed in bandages. His legs are bandaged from hip to toe and blood oozes from under the gauze. The man cries in pain. Dead, he would be in peace. Another Gazan Palestinian waits down the hall outside an operating theatre for news of his son who was working for Mr. Abbas's security chief when the house was attacked by Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades, and five guards were killed.

"All of them will make a deal, God willing - Hamas and Fatah, and also Israel", said the father, whose wife and ten other children wait in Gaza as he sits by his son's bed during the day and is escorted by Israeli security to a hotel at night. "If they all continue to act the same way, there will never be peace. I am worried to return to Gaza, but I must. There is nowhere else to go, so we will stay there. No nation will rescue us."

How not to have compassion? The Palestinians, in their angry, bemused, confused and bitter collective state of mind made an error in democratically electing a militant-political group whose loudly espoused first purpose is the extermination of the State of Israel. The result is an ongoing barrage of rockets launched perpetually over the border from Gaza to Israel. Compelling Israel, in self-defence, to respond in kind.

Mahmoud Abbas has his work cut out for him, trying to persuade Ismail Haniyeh to pull back his militants and stop their rocket attacks on Israel. After all, during the time when Hamas did honour a year-long 'truce', it was the Fatah-connected militants who were firing the less-frequent rockets over into Israel. And while the two politicians struggle with a way to resume delicate peace negotiations, their inability to maintain order between their own militant factions, determined to wreak havoc upon one another remains a reality.

And meanwhile, Hamas's armed wing proudly declares it has no intention of halting its attacks on Israel.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The jury in the criminal trial in Chicago for the former chairman of Hollinger International, Conrad Black, and his collegial fellow executives, will be hard put not to find the defendants guilty as charged. Their excessive self-entitlements in tailoring not-quite-licit pay-backs to their personal accounts, along with the life-style pay-back of personal self-aggrandizement is guaranteed not to endear them to the jury comprised of ordinary Americans.

Certainly not a jury representing Lord Black's peers, for his lifestyle and values would have nothing at all in common with that which the jurors experience in their daily lives. One could argue, as a principle, that no one can be found guilty of criminal wrong-doing merely on the evidence of overweening pride, total lack of personal accountability - simply because that ego insists it is accountable to no one.

All the evidence brought against Conrad Black which he and his lawyers attempted so spectacularly unsuccessfully to suppress - going back to his attempts to spirit cartons full of incriminating evidence away from his office, and being forced later to return them - are presenting a damning picture of a particular type of hubris. No entitlement was ever seen by Lord Black to be too extreme.

It was as though he was incapable of envisioning any company that he was involved with having to answer to any authority beside his own. His personal identification with the fortunes of his business enterprises, his much-vaunted past business dealings, his financial successes and his lush remunerations all conspired to encourage his behaviour of egregious self-entitlement.

And he is his own worst enemy. He simply can not and will not understand that he has flaunted his position of trust and in so doing flouted the law, short-changing company share-holders in his greed for personal possessions and his desire to be catered to as the most powerful, most socially elevated and intellectually stirring personage of his era.

The contempt in which he holds underlings, the casual dismissal of the great unwashed, the flippant irritation he feels at interference in his place in the grand scheme of things cannot help but diminish his chances for acquittal even as the jury members are exposed to one incident after another of legally unsupported glad-handing of shareholders' rightful profits.

He is so utterly egotistical that no gentle persuasion on the part of his lawyers, his worried co-conspirators can persuade the man to err on the side of caution and say nothing. He incriminates himself as an arrogant and irrepressible self-promoter with every word that issues from his hapless mouth. He derides the witnesses who have given testimony against him, he jabs at the prosecutors' case, and he posits the confident view that no jury will convict him on the evidence so far given.

Amazing, truly amazing.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

All Right, First in Line...

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committee are falling all over themselves to claim the honour of having been responsible for the murder of a 35-year-old Israeli woman, struck down by one of the 18 rockets launched during that day upon Sderot. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have introduced a new wave of rocket attacks. Holding off in a questionable 'truce' that had them lobbing only a lazy few dozen Qassams every few weeks just took too much out of these sturdy warriors for justice.

They're back to doing what they do best. Wreaking havoc and terror in the minds of the recipients of these unwelcome attacks. The rockets may be inaccurate, they may be destructive on a relative scale, they may be intermittently successful in causing irrelevant damage now and again, but the incertitude and fear of living in an area where their constant threat presents a real danger from time to time takes its inexorable toll on the minds of those targeted.

To instill fear in helpless civilian populations is a most honourable method of demonstrating Islamic love for one's fellow human beings. Like the neighbourhood teen-age gangs whose socially destructive rampages cost the society hugely in worry, public property damage, and police protection. Every society has its problems with high-testosterone, hormone-confused, anti-establishment, anti-social youth. In the Middle East the problem is compounded by the demonstrated fact that many of these youth never mature into thinking adults.

The relatively tame game in the West of youth taunting authority and bemusing parents has been transformed in the Middle East to ever-growing cadres of young men sans social consciences, inbred sociopaths, celebrating the tribal culture's fascination with death. Honour being equated with murdering innocent civilians, as a tried-and-true pathway to ascending to Paradise. So is it written. So it must be.

And does this malaise extend only to the youth? We've seen evidence pointing otherwise. Young women ready and willing to become suicide martyrs, taking with them as many innocent others as they can manage. And now, mature women, mothers, grandmothers, donning the face masks of the courageously avenging Islamists declaring themselves ready to assume martyrdom. Don't they know, foolish women, that Paradise replete with countless virgins is not for them?

Does this describe the arc of a developing society, a proud heritage, a culture of a humane and enlightened religion?

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Monday, May 21, 2007

We Better Watch Out

We better watch out, we better not shout, we better be careful, I'm telling you why: Bush is on the prowl. The United States of America is, in case it has slipped anyone's notice, power hungry. No, not that kind of power, although truth to tell, that kind of power above all. Energy, we're talking energy sources here. Yes, they've plenty of energy as well, they're great entrepreneurs, and businesspeople, and capitalists par excellence. Not that, though.

Energy resources, gas, oil. See now what I mean? They've got their own national resources, true, (think of all those oil wells in Texas) but they're insufficient to their needs. And their needs don't appear to be abating, no not at all. They get a lot of oil and gas from Venezuela, from Canada, from the Middle East. But guess what? It's not enough; it's never enough. Not that the U.S. administration isn't aware of the situation, that they're using too much of the world's non-renewable resources. But hey, this is the U.S. Canada any better? Not on your life.

Still, we're not the ones making the moves on the U.S. Never have been, historically. We've always had to watch out; watch our fronts, watch our backs. Never more so than now. We're busting our energy guts extracting energy resources, wasting other resources to do so, to maintain our good-neighbour relationship, and now this. (In any trade disputes with the U.S., for example, and there have been many, Canada gets burned. Even when fairness and truth and international legal courts bolsters Canada's position; no matter.)

This? Well, yes. The Bush administration appears to be urging the U.S. Senate to approve their joining the international treaty on the Law of the Sea. Nice enough on the face of it; we've been members since 2003, and it's been ratified by no fewer than 152 countries of the world. Why now the U.S., always averse to joining groups it suspects will involve it in activities it isn't fond of participating in, in the very real fears they will stultify its purpose?

Well, in this instance, to give to the U.S. the legal tools it seeks internationally to press forward with its claims to an energy-rich portion of the Beaufort Sea. Well, understandable. Except that this is territory that Canada has always claimed ownership of. "That tells me we're probably going to be winding up in a dispute," according to Rob Huebert of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

Can't say Canadians haven't seen it coming. The area in contention is rich in oil and gas potential.

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They're Fed Up!

Yes, and angry too. And betrayed. Life is so unfair. Political life, above all. One has, after all, certain expectations when one throws in one's lot with a group of people with a shared ideology. Is nothing sacred, after all? Here are dissatisfied, bitter groups of individuals who have embraced the Conservative mantle in Canada, feeling completely and utterly let down by their party. They demand nothing less than the dismantling of the Conservative party as it stands, to be restored to its original vision, its purpose.

Representing, needless to say, Conservative values. So, what's got them so riled up? Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan? Nope. They're all right with that. Worried about the current government's less than sterling commitment to battling Global Warming? You kidding, what a red herring! Well, might it be the acceptance by the Conservative government of the status quo on abortion rights? Hell, we forgot about that one, but it's a good one.

Seems there are two issues up front and centre that make these guys see red instead of their normal blue. A federal ban on incandescent lightbulbs. Really. A somewhat transparently clumsy attempt to join the environmentally-worried, holding up incandescent bulbs as a causative in our energy wastefulness, so henceforth it's compact fluorescents all the way. So what? Oh yes, there's the matter of the Shane Doan affair, where Team Canada's hockey captain's credentials as a committed bilingualist and purported racist slurs were called into question. The pain of it.

Hockey Canada officials having to humble themselves before a Commons committee made up of affronted French-Canadians. "That was the most disgusting display of politics I have ever seen in my life," averred Anthony Silvestro, spokesman for these disappointed, furious, Reform-Conservatives, shining white-hot against the Bloc Quebecois: "I just refuse to buy into this - 'Oh, we're going to have to conform, we've got to move to the left, we've got to pander to Quebec'," he fulminated in an interview.

"I'm sick and tired of Quebec, if you want to know the truth." Well, yes. The truth and nothing but the truth, so help you Canada.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Another Ceasefire

The fifth of this latest series of ceasefires, no less. Serious, this time, since blockades are lifted, barricades dismantled and abductees exchanged. Gunmen have come down from their aeries on rooftops. Anxious Egyptian mediators are encouraged by this apparent heeding of their calls to reason. Hamas and Fatah, at least for the moment, are no longer killing one another's armed factions. They are conjoined as a political entity, but snarlingly, and intermittently. Their militias are given to deadly sniping at intermittent intervals in reflection of their political heads.

This is the culture, the history, the lifestyle of the Palestinians. That indomitable people whom their geographic Arab counterparts could never quite govern. That indomitable people which has always agitated for their total autonomy, suffering under one hostile occupation after another; previously by other Arab countries designing to integrate that territory into their own. And latterly by Israel, seeking to protect itself and its citizens from the territorial hatred of the Middle East as expressed and encouraged by the larger population. The Palestinian 'resistance', encouraged and funded by its neighbours is a difficult juggernaut to dismantle.

In their diaspora they are viewed by their neighbouring Arab countries as a malaise, an irritating presence, an imminent conflagration, to be used and abused. Originally encouraged to represent an ongoing guerrilla threat to the State of Israel, rather than accept the UN-sponsored partition of that relatively insignificant land mass for the entirety. Which had been denied them by their helpful neighbours before 1948, they became a festering failure and a significant hazard in their physical presence to others: Jordan which waged a war against their restively pathetic presence in camps inside its borders; Lebanon which marginalized and detested them in their squalid helplessness.

Time expunges nothing; certainly not the lividly living angst of determined revenge which grows and feeds upon itself to the extent that human rationality completely evaporates in the headier fumes of deadly hatred. But then, hatred and the triumph of delivering warm lives into the arms of the Angel of Death has long been a signature of the Middle East in their cult of tribal antagonisms, revenge and hate. While, at long last, it would appear that most of the Arab counties of the region are resigned to the presence of Israel in their midst, it is difficult to undo that which has been long encouraged, defended and demanded; its extermination.

Fatah and Hamas as deadly opponents while construing their mission as the ultimate defence of the geography from the imperialist invader, and the defense of the Palestinian population, indulging in an orgy of murdering one another. Hamas perhaps more cunning, attempting to deflect Fatah's attention from its intent to expunge Hamas and reminding Fatah that they are both neglecting their sworn duty to destroy Israel. Hamas launching taunts against Israel's vulnerable population to entice Israel to engage, hoping for a similar outcome to last summer's Hezbollah taunts.

And here is Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit calling on Israel "not to attack the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip: because that 'creates tensions between the Palestinians and speeds the resumption of clashes". Oh. Israel defending its people from Qassam rockets isn't helpful to the resumption of brotherly engagement between Hamas and Fatah. The end result being that they then instill terror in their own people, not Israel's. Alternately, he called upon Palestinian militants to halt rocket fire against the Jewish state, reminding them of "Israel's military supremacy".

Oh. Not reminding them that their higher purpose is in reaching an accord for peace, to achieve the potential and final reality of a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel. On the other hand, perhaps he well knew of what he spoke; to fashion his argument in those terms would certainly prove to be unproductive.

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Friday, May 18, 2007


It's his way. He just cannot help himself. In the sense that any time he opens his mouth he does himself irreparable harm. Never more so than now, when he stands accused of some very serious charges in an American court of law. But the man is so besotted with himself, so very personally secure in his sense of himself, that whatever he engages in is right, that because he is who he is he can do no wrong, that whatever he does is memorable and honourable, despite evidence to the contrary by the yardstick of civil society, that his megalomania hangs him.

"I don't think any jury in the world would convict anybody on the basis of what he said," claimed Lord Black post-David Radler testimony in the criminal case brought against Black. "As a star witness, I repeat my longstanding view that this was never a criminal case, except possibly against him." His overweening self-respect guaranteed to earn him the back-slap he deserves, but not quite as he envisions it. Yes, his lawyers cautioned him against speaking, but what do they know?

He simply is incapable of restraining himself. His self-congratulatory triumphalism even in the face of the impending jury decision that will certainly curtail his life style immeasurably - beyond anything his imagination could construe - is truly an amazing exercise in denial and self-adulation. Humility on any scale has eluded this man. His overbearing confidence is slated to deliver him into a huge slideback, for who is foolish enough to think that any jury will not convict him?

This man unblushingly, and with full cognizance of the fact that he was engaging in an illegal, underhanded act, took into his personal holdings funds of a nature meant to enrich the coffers of the corporation he was a part of. It is the shareholders of that group he represents who were entitled to the additional extraction of funds through 'non-compete' payments, not his Lordship and company.

Conrad Black is accused by the U.S. government, along with his co-accused, of misappropriating the slight sum of $60 million in bonuses, disguised as non-compete payments from Hollinger International through the sale of newspaper assets in Canada and the United States. Anyone else, any lesser being would be humiliated, disgraced, repentant, fearful of the authority of the law. Not he.

He, instead, asserts that his long-time confidant and business partner, turned states evidence - David Radler - did not have "any credibility". But he, Lord Black has. He's also being charged with tax evasion. Oh dear. How dreadfully unfair.

This is a hugely intelligent man. A talented man. A man with flair and vision, great business acumen. A man purported by those who know and like him, to be an affable, nice person, in person. A social climber, yes indeed, but that doesn't necessarily disqualify him or anyone else from the 'nice' category. Pitiful, perhaps.

Too bad he has an under-developed conscience, a lapsed ethical consciousness, the added impediment of being a total snob. But we can relate to that.

Pity that his hubris blinds him to his vulnerability.

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Fighting the Good Fight

What could be a more acceptable use of time, energy and political will than the timely and utterly required necessity to untaint the United Nations? Starting with the obvious. Too late for the present with Zimbabwe, but there are other human-rights-abusing nations to forestall from taking their place on various committees. It's really good to know that Canada is finally standing up and taking her place alongside the U.S., France and Britain to ensure that the most egregious abusers are shut out of positions of prominence on actual human rights commissions.

Fierce lobbying to persuade member countries at the United Nations to place their votes elsewhere than to allow a former Soviet republic, Belarus, to take its unhallowed place on the already-disgraced UN Human Rights Commission was a timely success. Time and past time that Canada roused itself to stop just sitting around and being everyone's friend; instead taking full responsibility by 'taking sides' for the purpose of attaining to moral leadership.

Canada has in the past criticized Belarus and pressured Egypt latterly in the espionage trial of an Egyptian-Canadian national who claims his "confession" of being a spy for Israel was extracted through the use of torture. Just as Canada has and continues to criticize Iran for its human-rights abuses, and more specifically, the murder of a Canadian-Iranian woman imprisoned in Iran.

Still, here is Canada, not just mewling about unfair state activities and the need to observe and practise humane state behaviours, but getting out there and doing its fair share of pushing and shoving. Making herself heard, making her point. Helping to save the day. Or at the very least, the already tarnished reputation of a United Nations held captive to its unaligned and emerging-states majority.

Angola, Egypt, Qatar and Belarus placed themselves forward as candidates, along with a dozen others seeking to join Canada on the 47-member UN council. It wasn't for lack of trying that the first three did make the grade, with their bare-majority support. "In light of the deeply entrenched repression in these four countries, they are not qualified for council membership", according to the executive director of UN Watch based in Geneva.

"Does it take seriously its own standards and decisions? If so, it has no alternative but to reject the candidacies of Belarus and Egypt," said Peggy Hicks of Human Rights Watch, in response to the UN pledge that the Human Rights Council which succeeded the flawed Human Rights Commission would restore integrity to one of the central pillars of its human rights monitoring infrastructure.

And here was our own Peter MacKay, Canada's foreign minister, telling it like it is, in joining other critics, labelling Belarus's presidential election undemocratically "flawed" and denouncing its "continued imprisonment of democratic supporters". But then, truth to tell, Belarus has quite a lot of like-minded, like-actioned company in the United Nations membership.

Canada was tasked by its Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights to use its council membership to "make a difference [by] ensuring that the procedures support the furtherance of human rights". Initial mission accomplished, at least in part.

More, much more to go.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Grave Issue, Accountability

When citizens become alarmed about a situation that they feel has the potential to imperil them it's somehow heartening to learn that they take up the initiative to state their apprehensions, to take steps to turn the situation around, or at the very least ensure that those whose activities are causing them distress are made fully aware of it, and the reasons for that concern. Call it democratic action, social activism, worldly awareness, self responsibility, but it's an integral part of our society to take steps to resolve such issues.

This is precisely what has occurred when some very aware members of the public formed a delegation and brought their case before the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. For the purpose of airing their concerns, for the larger purpose of attempting to persuade the Commission that the McMaster University low-power nuclear facility in Hamilton poses a potential threat to the health and safety of residents, not to speak of the wider Canadian community should vital materials and information fall into the wrong hands.

One of the delegation, Michael Devolin from Tweed, Ontario ventured that, in the face of public fear and objections and the very real possibility that something could conceivably go awry, political correctness should be pushed aside for the urgent purpose of weighing the possibility that some members of the university staff might represent a hidden danger to the community and to the country.

"I have the right in this country to feel fear for my life," Mr. Devolin stated: "I strongly object - precisely because of the fact that many of its staff are not only Muslims, but also, and more importantly, because [they] originate from countries where the generally desired efficacy of Islam as a religion is hatred and acts of violence".

This is the kind of observation that makes most Canadians wince, a stab at Canadian openness and acceptance of others not reflective of traditional Canadian culture, society and religion. But given recent activities throughout the world by Islamic fundamentalists, turned toward terrorism as a fearsome type of persuasion, perhaps understandable.

All the more so when he is joined by another member of the delegation, a Syrian man living in Ottawa whose stand on the issue is unequivocal and damning: "This country is the most naive country in the world," according to Georges Jarpour, questioning McMaster's commitment and ability in preventing a terrorist event through the use of the nuclear facility.

"I could be a jihadist, who would know? I could have a bomb in my bag... If I had a bomb strapped to my chest, would anyone know? Welcome to the world of the Middle East" he warned with the admonition that security officials are complacently lax and "need to think like a terrorist, not like a Canadian".

Most of us would like to think, actually do think, that these peoples' fears are more imagined than real, and the potential of harm emanating from this source is not at all likely. But do we really know? "Is there even the slightest possibility of the knowledge they (the Muslim staff) garner from McMaster university's nuclear research programme one day becoming complicit in catastrophic acts of terrorism?" asked Mr. Devolin.

McMaster's president, Peter George, clearly aghast at the very suggestion of such an unlikely scenario, calling into question the reliability of the university's security apparatus, and even more so, labelling staff at the university as potential terrorists, termed the presentation "deeply racist and offensive" replete with "scandalous allegations".

Indeed, McMaster has launched a lawsuit against author Paul Williams whose book claims that al-Qaeda agents have infiltrated the reactor, and absconded with a significant amount of nuclear or radioactive materials. This, to serve the purpose of a planned detonation by terrorists in manufacturing their own nuclear devices to make a significant jihadist impact in North America. And wouldn't it just?

Dr. George had his work cut out for him in the face of that strenuous opposition, in assuring the Nuclear Safety Commission panel that the university's board of governors take safety and security on campus as a high priority. "No material has been lost or stolen" he asserted. The university arranged for extensive upgrades to their security infrastructure prior to their request for renewal. The final decision on the operating license will be released in 30 days.

Yet isn't it a sobering thought that this low-grade reactor could feasibly be infiltrated, and materials slip away? After all, Canada has somewhat of a history of enabling questionable administrations in their pursuit of nuclear energy. Kindly, innocent Canada, incapable of believing that scientists from abroad could possibly seek to deceive, and turn Canada's assistance in achieving civil-use nuclear generation to bomb-making.

In fact, Canada sold to India and assisted in the operational set-up of a plutonium-producing unit in the mid 1950s. Canada, in its great naivete, dismissed the military potential it was enabling, because India assured this country it had no intention whatever to step beyond peaceful pursuits. The rest is history. India managed, quite handily to explode its first nuclear bomb in 1974.

But there's a lot more history, too. India's neighbour Pakistan, nervous about that very potential, and stating their concern to Canada ten years previously, then set about ensuring that it had adequate deterrent capability against the threat of an Indian nuclear device. Their nuclear scientist of note procured his training through work at a Dutch-British-West German nuclear facility in the Netherlands.

And it was their nuclear scientific champion, Dr. Abdul Quadeer Khan who so generously sold out nuclear weapons science and technology to other solid world citizen countries like Iran, Libya and North Korea. Not the most stable countries in the world, ruled by the most highly intelligent and principled leaders by a long shot.

That's about how reliable Canada's safety and security intelligence- and scientific-sharing community is. We're so wedded to our image as a peaceful and helpful nation, that we cannot conceive of other countries conducting scientific espionage on our soil, or wheedling restricted data or obtaining materials from our storehouse of resources.

We're the quintessential babes in the woods.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

There Is Hope

Good news may come in small doses, but when it happens, there's cause to celebrate. Well, perhaps celebration is a little precipitate in instances such as this. But it gives pause to hope for the future. Amidst all the chaos, the bitter recriminations, the outrages, the military assaults, the religious machinations, there is cause for hope, when two Middle East Arab regimes like Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab countries to have established peace agreements with their neighbour, Israel, dedicate themselves to forging a wider peace agreement for the region.

That other Arab countries like Saudi Arabia have given their tentative assent to the process, even while placing what appear to be additional burdens toward acceptance of a peace plan, also gives hope for the future. As long as everything or at the very least, some things, remain negotiable. But the very fact that once-intractable enemies, outraged at the very presence in the region of a perceived outsider, a vestige of Western politics and society, a country representing an entirely different religion than that which prevails in the Middle East, now have relaxed their enmity to the extent of potential acceptance, there is hope.

There is no denying that the geography has been in a position of imminent, incendiary crisis for far too long. There is no denying that one portion of the geography has focused the attention of its neighbours for far too long, as an unwelcome interloper. The upheaval in so many parts of the MidEast doesn't auger well for overall peace in the near future. If one small corner of the region can finally accomplish an agreement to lead to peace and full sovereignty for Palestinians it can only help to advance the humanitarian agenda of the entire region.

King Abdullah of Jordan, like his honoured father before him, appears dedicated to helping to bring about a peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Long may he reign. While his father, in the political atmosphere that prevailed generations earlier, had to meet in stealth with his Israeli contacts in the interests of establishing relations, the son now meets openly with his political counterpart in the interests of establishing regional peace.

That Jordan has hosted a conference of Nobel Prize laureates in Petra in additional attempts to advance the peace agenda is another act of nobility. That the unfortunately devalued current Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert could state: "If we will be strong enough to force ourselves to compromise and think of the suffering of those on the other side, there's a genuine chance that we will make a step forward", gives good cause for hope.

Mr. Olmert contends that the Arab League peace plan represents a beginning for negotiations. Everything must have a beginning. Unfortunately the provision in the plan for the integration into Israel of the return of Palestinian refugees would spell an end to Israel. However, Mr. Olmert is politician enough, activist enough, sufficiently imbued with Jewish intelligence, compassion and wit to offer an olive branch of commitment to the process:

"I invite these 22 leaders of the Arab nations that are ready to make that kind of peace with Israel to come, whenever they want, to sit down with us and start to talk and present their ideas."

There is hope.

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What's In Decline?

Globalization, it would appear, is facing greater disfavour from a worldwide general public. And, one supposes, this is hardly surprising, given all the deleterious publicity surrounding the topic, replete with heated public rhetoric at rallies mounted in denial of globalization, given the suspicion most ordinary people feel when faced with the realization that government and industry appear to be heading in a direction that causes real angst of uncertainty and potential instability to the lives of those they govern.

Protesters in wealthy countries detest the very thought of globalization which in the final analysis won't harm the GDP of wealthy countries, but can do real harm to undeveloped countries. It's the usual refrain of the rich getting richer and the poor standing stock-still, then gradually sliding in a backward manoeuvre not of their own desiring. And, not surprisingly, populations of activists in what used to be called third-world countries are uncertain, yet fearful that globalization will have a deleterious effect on their further development.

It certainly gets a bad rap. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org released an 18-country poll last month demonstrating that majorities around the world feel economic globalization and international trade has an ultimately harmful effect on the environment and threatens job security as well. Right in line with earlier studies on the same subject.

In some countries protectionist sensibilities have prevailed to the extent that there is an environment of outright dissent, driven mostly by the fact that the public believes that globalization represents a real threat to employment. Support for the ongoing use of protective tariffs and assorted trade barriers for the protection of national companies and jobs has accelerated significantly in almost 50% of the tracking countries in the last 4 years.

Average 13-nation support for protectionism now stands at a whopping 76% from a previous 68%. Surprisingly enough G7 countries such as Germany, Italy and Canada have seen the greatest surges in public sentiment for protectionism. A recent GlobeScan poll has revealed a sharp drop among urban Chinese and Brazilians in support of globalization with the steadily emerging view that it is not in their best interests.

India and Russia also appear to harbour misgivings, albeit to a lesser degree. While there remains a theoretical support for globalization, there is a strongly concomitant support for measures in support of job protection and for protection of national companies. A large number of people universally express a majority support for trade agreements to include minimum labour and environmental standards. Good to know that people are actively aware.

Retraining programmes, established as a national antidote for displaced workers is seen as helpful in encouraging support for free trade in North America. What is kind of surprising is that a country like India which has traditionally seen the benefit of jobs migrating there from higher-paying North American and European sources has the largest percentage of protectionists in the countries polled.

All of which is not that dreadfully mystifying. Generally the theory of more open borders, more transparent trade agreements, but with self-protection provisions makes good sense. The thrust should be toward fairness, the achievement of fair trade, over free trade. Surprisingly, gratifyingly, a majority of people residing in wealthy counties don't feel their governments negotiate in a sufficiently fair manner with less developed countries.

They express real concerns about the impact on the global environment through unrestricted globalization and resulting free trade. They want to be assured that workers in less wealthy countries won't be sacrificed to the greed of more powerful countries and their global industries' outreach. They want to be assured, particularly in this more recent atmosphere of worries about global warming, that the environment won't suffer set-backs as a result of increasing globalization.

Governments have been placed on notice. They're being expected to build a more comprehensively correct system for national protection and to extend protections as well toward less privileged societies and for the overall protection of the global environment. Here's hoping responsible governments will heed the anxieties expressed by their electorates.

There's an awful lot at stake. Not the least of which is a voter-revolt at the earliest opportunity should they not heed the cautions expressed by the public. Wishful thinking? Hope not.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Canada's Spreading Income Inequality

The gap, it appears, is not closing as it ideally should, in incomes between the poor and the wealthy. There is no much-vaunted trickle-down effect. As Canada's economy continues to gain strength, and the future still looks rosy, the rich are getting richer and the poor are still poor. Is this fair, I ask you? Mind, the government keeps taking an ever-greater sum of total earnings so that even when low wages increase incrementally, they still don't keep pace with the rise of taxation at every level.

That's sustainable if you've got a comfortable income, but not so much so when your income is a tad on the light side. Even for those well-off, we tend to live up to our incomes, whatever they may be, while those living in poverty tend to live up to and beyond their incomes, needing all the help they can get. The rise of food banks, the popularity of thrift shops (the latter being popular even among some segments of the middle class) a growing awareness of thrift count for some of this help. But there's something else about being poor, besides the social stigma.

It's a personal affront to one's expectations of life. There's also an inner defiance. It has been demonstrated time and again that the poor and the uneducated (not all those living on low incomes are without academic credentials) will opt name brand, while those with a comfortable disposable income see nothing amiss in selecting off-brand items, realizing that for the most part the constituents are the same, likely manufactured by the name-brand companies under contract to the no-name distributors.

Those without adequate financial means are resentful that they cannot have all the wonderful things so readily available to those with means. Everyone who isn't wealthy and who from time to time succumbs to the desire to acquire items that we feel will somehow enhance our lives knows what it feels like to realize that the cost of such items are often beyond our means. So you dream of an inheritance, or of winning a lottery, of being swept up in someone's wealthy embrace.

There's a certain strata of social and economic entitlement, in that those of modest incomes are constrained at a certain level of want, while those further up the chain with more disposable income can attain to a higher level of acquisition, still looking longingly at consumer items beyond their grasp, and on it goes, the income limiting the extent of potential acquisition, and everything becomes relative, and quite simply irrelevant.

You'd think, in a resource-wealthy, entrepreneurial country like Canada that wealth would gradually assume a more liberal spread, that greater numbers of Canadians would join the middle and upper-middle class. But then there is the ongoing closing of publicly-funded institutions to house the challenged in our society who it has always been assumed, were incapable of living unassisted. Suddenly, in the last decades, it has been decided they can, and will.

And many of them clog the downtown streets of our cities now as defiantly confused street people. There is the aboriginal and low-income progeny representing early school departures leaving them unprepared to take their place in a workforce of steady paying jobs, denying them the classic societal success story. Immigration with all the hurdles placed before newcomers to a strange society adds to the underclass of low income families.

The rise of the single-parent family, usually headed by a female traditionally earning less in a workforce still dominated by higher-paid males, struggling to provide for their families. There are regional industrial collapses, where factory jobs slip away to traditionally lower paying and un-unionized countries. Older workers suddenly face to face with their perceived unemployability.

Yet Andrew Heisz of Statistics Canada speaks about his new study on income inequality. One reason it is rising, according to Mr. Heisz, is that 'successful' people tend to couple with other successful people. The ensuing combination of two high-end incomes makes for a wealthy family. And this is a cause for rising inequality. Kind of superficial, isn't it?

Has it not always been that society levels out in that way, that like meets like, through friendly intervention or deliberate planning, or even inadvertent encounters in like social circles? After all, the traditionally wealthy move in circles that tend by their very nature to exclude those from the lower social (and economic classes) and it was ever thus.

People moving in literary, artistic, social, academic, professional, industrial- and inherited-wealth circles tend to cross socially with members of the opposite gender who also move in those same circles. Or have invitations to social events where these people will be met. Or have family members arrange introductions to others of their ilk. In the past, wealthy and/or titled families tended to arrange marriages that would result in an increase of familial wealth.

It's all of a piece. When you put the marriage of two professionals in the context of high-income double earnings for a family, a circumstance that quite simply did not obtain until late in the 20th century you have an altered demographic through the alteration of social mores.

Poverty in and of itself is measured on quite a different scale of observable and practical need and the attainability of the basic requirements to sustain life - and beyond, toward creature comfort. What is viewed as poverty in a country like Canada bears no resemblance whatever to the kind of life-destroying poverty that exists in developing countries.

Which does nothing at all to excuse the fact that so many Canadian children live in a state that can even be remotely deserving of that nomenclature. It is, quite simply, a national disgrace.

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Worker Dearth in a Season of Plenty

Incredible. Prince Edward Island, with a population of 138,000, Canada's sweetest and wee-est province has an unemployment rate of 10.1%, well above the national average of 6.1%, according to Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey. Well, what can you do when there are too few jobs, when such a lovely land mass of an island is so dependent on tourism and potatoes? We does the best with what we got, right? Mebbe.

Fact is, the peak Atlantic lobster season is upon us - or them. And a seafood processing plant on the eastern tip of Prince Edward Island is so desperate for workers that they've given up trying to entice the locals to join their efforts for industry-and-recompense. Jack MacAndrew, spokesman for Ocean Choice International claims the company faces self-defeating hurdles attempting to recruit locally for jobs that pay $9.45 an hour.

Ocean Choice took the desperate option of bringing over thirty workers from Russia last year under a programme that entitled the workers to remain for a maximum ten-month working period. They play to reprise that scheme once again this year. And for that matter, as long as it appears necessary that they do so in the requirement to keep the plant a going concern. This year they're anticipating the arrival of 65 eager Russian workers on temporary work visas.

"Spring is the big season. If you're short staffed, it means you work the people you have 10, 12, 14 hours a day," said Mr. MacAndrew. "There was one person who worked 100 hours last week. We cannot keep working people like that." Well, guess not. But Ocean Choice is 80 workers short of their need and as a result running at 20% under capacity.

The 400 locally engaged employees who work ten months out of a year, work marathon shifts at a pace that cannot be sustained without worker burn-out and ultimately damage to the production capacity of the plant. Which won't, in the end, auger well for its remaining situated in a locality that cannot supply its required labour force.

What a conundrum...high unemployment rate...low worker turn-out. Ocean Choice is planning to set up a bus service from Charlottetown, an hour-and-a half drive away, in hopes of drawing local workers who won't foot the gas bill. Overwork and exhaustion in the regular workforce continues to drive productivity on a downward spiral.

And it's not just PEI, facing this problem of worker shortage in geographic areas of high unemployment. It would appear that New Brunswick trucking firms are resorting, out of desperation, to bringing in drivers from Mexico and Eastern Europe. And there are also retail jobs anxious for workers, along with the seasonal tourism industry also casting about for workers.

In Ontario and British Columbia the local populations aren't dreadfully interested in back-breaking agricultural jobs, and there too workers are being brought in to take up the huge slack, coming from international sources and travelling improbable distances to work at jobs Canadians consider too menial, too arduous, too ill-paid. The difference in those provinces being that the work force is otherwise legitimately engaged for the most part.

In the Atlantic provinces this little conundrum has a ready explanation. According to Charles Cirtwill, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based think tank, "We've got a structure between EI (employment insurance; more generous down east where seasonal employment is the norm - than elsewhere in Canada) and welfare that makes it very difficult for people to move to accept these kinds of jobs, because of course it doesn't pay to do so.

"They actually lose money if they take employment. You're seeing all these factors pile up and that's why you see this plant in PEI have such a problem getting people to work the shop floor." This problem is slated to become exacerbated in the future with a low birth rate, an exodus of young people to higher-paying job opportunities out west, and the continuation of low incentives as long as EI is there to pick up the slack.

And here you thought that basic human dignity required that people labour for the wherewithal of a decent existence. Canada has constructed a genuine charitable outlook on providing for those unfortunates in her population whose circumstances lead them to feel unwanted, unloved, unemployed and unused.

The salve of receiving regular lucre in honour of sitting in place obviously eases the pain of life's unfair little rejections.

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Free Trade, From East to West

Oh sure, free trade, the world needs more of it, yes? So here we have free trade, from east to west; oops, within Canada, that is. Canada has long ago signed on to free trade agreements with the United States, another representing all of North America, with Mexico included. And more international free trade agreements in the offering, come the future, in all likelihood.

But within the confines of its federal borders, between provinces, there is no free trade. Is this absurd or just madness? Trade irritants, conflicting provincial product legislation, consumer protection laws, bitter union divisions have all contrived to ensure that the provinces within Canada have more restrictions placed upon cross-provincial-border trade than international trade.

It appears to have occurred to the economic and trade sensibilities of provincial authorities that "it makes a lot of sense to sign some sort of bi-lateral agreement". High time. Take the situation between Ontario and Quebec, where labour unions in Quebec are so bitterly opposed to enabling trade workers from Ontario to enter the province to work they successfully force the province to impose legal restrictions against out-of-province workers.

While on the other hand, trade workers in Quebec are also constrained; if they're unsuccessful in attempts to join specific unions they cannot work in their own province. While, conversely, less strictured Ontario permits them to pursue their qualified-but-union-uncertified labour in Ontario. Clearly an unsatisfactory and uneven state of affairs, but one that has been going on for an awfully long time.

Take the fact that, for example, in theory there is supposed to be an even situation in Canada with respect to the provision of and quality of health care. When individuals who reside in Ontario for some reason have medical treatment in Quebec, the Ontario health insurance scheme will pay for all services. Conversely, when Quebec residents seek treatment or hospitalization in Ontario, the Quebec health insurance scheme balks at paying the full professional rate accepted by the Ontario scheme, and health professionals and their institutions are then out of pocket.

"Ontario is always open to strengthening the economic union by decreasing barriers to trade and labour mobility," according to Ontario's Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Marie Bountrogianni, and that certainly appears to be true. Ontario has tried for years to reach an agreeable accord with Quebec on fairness in trade and worker mobility, and each such attempt came to an abrupt halt until last year when an agreement enabling inter-provincial mobility for construction workers and contractors appears to have finally seen some light.

Meanwhile, Quebec and Ontario are each other's largest domestic trading partners. Quebec sold almost $31 billion in goods and services to Ontario in 2003, representing 62% of its exports within Canada, and Ontario sold $38 billion to Quebec, representing 41% of its domestic imports. The problems they face represent differences in regulations, to duplicate licensing fees, to permits to get across the border. Wouldn't harmonization in all these areas make eminently good sense? How is it possible that good intentions haven't been able to breach these impediments successfully in the past?

And here is Alberta and British Columbia bringing in their Trade, Investment and Mobility Agreement; they too are facing impediments to the implementation of their free grade agreements, the very same arguments, both for and against, heatedly, at times, are being brought to bear as those that existed during the time of the initial U.S.-Canada free trade talks.

The latter I can understand; the former remain a mystery. Protection of provincial and local rules and regulations. Yet the deal between these western provinces assures there is room for protection of regulations on matters such as water, health and social services, agriculture and Crown corporations. Why weren't these protections adequately covered under the Canada-U.S. free trade deal?

Provincial protectionism, seen through the imposition of regulatory duplication, impeding trade simplification, the understandable parochialism of local purchasing when feasible, and multiple licensing regimes haven't proved to be particularly cost-effective in some areas. Studies appear to indicate that business is hampered by cross-border irritations; previous internal trade agreements had no built-in dispute settlement capabilities.

As with the experience seen by Ontario dealing with Quebec, the Alberta-B.C. trade deal is bitterly contested by labour groups who insist the ability of municipal and provincial governments to tailor policy to local needs will be impaired. No denying that could be a legitimate concern.

The thing is, if businesses cannot conduct fair and equal trade meant to enhance the provision of goods and services across provincial borders, why are we so anxious to do the same, to completely open up our markets to foreign sources? Wouldn't it make far more sense to enable the open and free transport of goods and services inter-provincially first and foremost?

Wouldn't that be instrumental in advancing the economic and workplace agenda of Canada as a whole? Isn't that more likely to advance the national interest, and level the playing field within the provinces, encouraging competition, innovation and satisfaction?

On the other hand, it makes me awfully suspicious, and not a little nervous to read that former Canadian free-trade negotiator Michael Hart is arguing for an open economic border with the U.S., dismissing sovereignty concerns, blasting Canadians for anti-American and anti-Bush sentiments. Give me a break.

Agreement or no agreement, conciliatory and adversarial initiatives apart, Canada always has to step back in agreement with anything the U.S. insists is its right. Whether within the auspices of its own conflict resolution committee giving Canada the green light in disputes, or taken further to the World Trade (WTO) group agreeing that Canada has been ill done by through a dispute with the U.S., the Americans are resolutely adamant that it's their way or no way.

Guess there will never be full agreement on the compatibility of free trade with full protection of home markets. Wherever there's an opportunity to pull weight and leave a competitor behind in the dust the stronger partner will take that initiative, right or wrong. Government support (subsidies) of vital industries and agriculture are verbotten if it's another country, quite all right when we're talking about U.S. hand-outs.

In many ways free trade agreements do work well, in others they don't. Smoke-stack industries have gone the way of the Dodo in higher-wage economies, leaving a whole lot of blue-collar workers and their families without economic defences against the future. It doesn't make me melt with pleasure to realize that our critical natural resources may be vulnerable to foreign predation under NAFTA.

As government relations minister for Saskatchewan, Harry Van Mulligan, also looking on to joining the TILMA agreement out west says: "For some people this is the greatest thing since sliced bread and for others it's the end of the civilized world as we know it. Somewhere between there, there's a truth."

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Security and Prosperity? Can It!

Is it at all reasonable for a country whose health and safety oversight in defence of its population's health and security in the foodstuffs we grow and eat, and those products which we import, have its standards lowered to bring them more in line with a trading partner whose government appears to be less inclined toward protection of the consumer, more married to the support of the producer? If trade without compromising safety is of such moment, would it not make more sense, in the interests of streamlining trade, to adjust the deficient regulatory system to reflect the more stringent foodstuff requirements of the other?

Canada is currently in the throes of forging plans with the United States to simplify the process by which goods are inspected, accepted and transported across international boundaries in free trade. Canada's limits for pesticide content in agricultural products are stricter than those set by the United States in roughly 40% of the cases it regulates. News was released earlier that Canada is prepared to raise its allowable limits on pesticide residues for fruits and vegetables representing hundreds of products.

It's useful to know that, in 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office raised an alarm about corporate influence over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose purpose it is, among other things, to regulate pesticides use. It's also illuminating to have pointed out that in 2004 no fewer than 60 leading scientists, including Nobel laureats and university presidents formally protested against the "misuse of science" under the Bush administration.

Now we learn that a partnership of pesticide reviews have been flagged as a 'key milestone' of the hitherto-secretive 2005 Security and Prosperity Partnership deal, signed on by Canada, Mexico and the U.S.; a broad-ranging plan hatched for the purpose of promoting trade by the streamlining of regulatory protocols across North America.

"Canada and the U.S. would split the workload" of reviewing pesticides, creating a simplified process for manufacturers to get their products approved in both countries, according to Richard Aucoin, chief registrar of the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency in Canada. To my politically-untutored ear that sounds suspiciously like the consuming public is being thrown to the lions, while manufacturers are being given free rein to tamper with our food.

Yet Mr. Aucoin hastens to assure the Canadian consuming public that safety remains paramount for Canadian regulators. Sounds like it, doesn't it? Actually, sounds like political expediency, trying to please Big Brother and tossing the Canadian public into the lion's den of consuming potentially harmful, accumulative chemicals which we already have more than sufficient exposure to in our daily lives.

Even U.S. observers appear baffled by Canada's decision to rely more heavily on American reviews at a time when corporate influence over regulation in the U.S. has sparked a scientific protest. "Why would the Canadian people align themselves with a failed regulatory system?" is the response of Jay Feldman of the American environmental group Beyond Pesticides.

Well, yes. Why would the Canadian people agree to lowering our health standards in such an obviously vital area of human health and food consumption? Better yet, why would our government stoop so low as to curry favour with a neighbouring government with the certain knowledge that they will, as a result, be placing Canadian health and safety in a very vulnerable position.

Answers, please. Tony Clement? Stephen Harper? CAN YOU HEAR ME?

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Yes! He Will - No! He Will Not...

On again, off again, a reflection of sorts of the hot-and-cold reception those legendarily committed/uncommitted; certain/uncertain Quebecers give to the prospect of the final separation, of striking out on their own, of becoming, finally, completely autonomous, masters in their own house. They feel aggrieved, unappreciated, they're ready to wave their farewells and leave confederation. They think about it a little further and step back from the precipice, for who, after all, will then guarantee them transfer payments and extraordinary entitlements to shore up their vaunted way of life as part of this great country?

No sooner does the Parti Quebecois spit out its much-acclaimed, spirited new leader of eighteen months in a paroxysm of dismay over their dismal showing at the polls in March, then out come the eager aspirants for the provincial leadership. Two days ago - cripes, one day ago - there were two contenders for the job. The unfortunate Andre Boisclair, who cried foul at his perception of interference from the Bloc Quebecois, and more specifically Gilles Duceppe, left to lick his wounds, leaving the field open for that same Mr. Duceppe. Who defied the skeptics claiming he wouldn't vie for the job if Pauline Marois, three-time leadership contender threw in her flowery hat.

But he did, and then she did. Defying the absurd impression voiced so confidently by some onlookers that she would politely stand back and allow Mr. Duceppe to be anointed. To the post she is so obviously desirous of obtaining for herself. And she was the recipient of much encouragement, with more than aplenty signals of support from the PQ caucus. That same caucus that considered Gilles Duceppe's style of authoritarian dogmatism not to their politically anarchic taste. "What the Parti Quebecois needs the most is a leader who will impose discipline, who will give certain people a kick in the derriere," the Bloc's Louis Plamondon helpfully declared.

But in the final analysis it would appear that the confident Gilles Duceppe lost a bit of his self-confidence in the face of observable support for his rival from the party he sought to take over and make over in his own image. Abandoning the security and comfort of his federal party's leadership began to look like an awkwardly poor decision, calling for additional feedback and discussion. It would be dreadfully embarrassing, after all, to leave the Bloc and then still not end up as leader of the PQ. So, despite that he "shares the PQ dream of achieving sovereignty", he did an abrupt face-about.

Better to be safe, after all, than merely sorry. All of a sudden, it occurred to Mr. Duceppe that "It's my duty to avoid a clash that would divide and therefore weaken the sovereignty movement..." he declared nobly. In a statement issued late Saturday afternoon, Mr. Duceppe announced he is supporting the candidacy of Pauline Marois, rather than risk his own defeat - oops, sorry, that's not what he said - rather than risk dividing the party's loyalties between two such high-profile and deserving leadership aspirants.

His decision to withdraw was arrived at the same day La Presse published a CROP poll indicating Ms. Marois held a 45% to 21% lead in popular opinion. Compelling.

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The Impulsively Indecisive Intellectual

Conflicted and confused, too. Who? Why none other than Stephane Dion, Leader of the Official Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons, leader of the federal Liberal party, and charmingly pugnacious contender for the office of Prime Minister of Canada. Is this a man who knows what he wants? Most assuredly; he would very much like, thank you very much, to lead this great country of Canada.

His credentials? Well, he has had a smattering of experience at the federal political scene, he did once have the opportunity to make a real difference about a hot topic now plaguing the world community, but didn't bother then, now avowing that, given the opportunity, he will turn this country's future commitment on battling environmental degradation on its uncertain axis, and deliver world approval back to good old Canada.

This is one determined man, who really knows his way around politics. Why it's no different than teaching recalcitrant students in a university setting, cramming statistics and acquired knowledge into their reluctantly vapid heads. Mr. Dion knows all about what it's like to be one of those university students, less eager to acquire generalized and specific knowledge than to be involved and engaged in interesting student activities, attending lectures by guest speakers on subjects as .. arcane .. as Quebec separatism, and taking their cue from the speeches of the passionate 'nationalists'.

Who? Stephane Dion? Non! A committed federalist, he. But not always. In his not-so-dim, but younger incarnation he joined the separatist cause while a junior college student in the early 1970s. That information thanks to a recently-published biography by Toronto journalist Linda Diebel. Mr. Dion, it would appear, was utterly enthralled by speeches given on campus by a colleague of the inimitable Rene Levesque, one Claude Charron, an incendiary Parti Quebecois firecracker of a separatist and later minister in the ensuing PQ government.

"He was very impressive and I never missed a speech. I was taking notes and I would try his arguments with my father," Mr. Dion was quoted as having explained. But then Mr. Dion had another epiphany, this one while he was out campaigning door-to-door for the Parti Quebecois during the 1976 provincial campaign. Evidently, at one household he was invited in for a discussion and drink by an individual who didn't share the PQ's enthusiasm for 'nationalism' and, blind drunk, it later occurred to Mr. Dion that perhaps he didn't, quite, either. Speaks volumes about youthful indiscretions, enthusiasms, and depths of commitment.

Mr. Dion determined through an intensive bout of navel gazing that he was infinitely more suited to the world of academia than that of politics, and abandoned further involvement in the political sphere. Going on to teach political theory, but in a universal, non-specific manner - finally coming around to the federalist viewpoint that it would be best for the province to remain within the federation. If not an abruptly spontaneous turn-about, then certainly a sea-change in apprehension, attitude and commitment, swerving wildly from one point of view to another. Constancy be damned.

Travelling in Europe he was exposed to various countries' accommodations to the minorities living in their midst, and appeared to realize that "(unity) was not an issue only for Canadians but an issue for the world... We have a duty to show that it's possible to build strong states, strong countries, with people of different languages." Oh. A personal discovery of great moment. One which was possible not by observing the community in which he resided, by learning about the population of the very country of which his province was a part, but by looking at the 'problem' viewed from afar.

That people are capable of learning through exposure and by experience, and changing their minds accordingly is a good thing. But does this excuse initial shallowness of acceptance? Yes it most certainly does; if you're wrong about something and then are given the opportunity to realize that, and take the opportunity to correct your position, then more power to you. That having been said, Canada has suffered through more than enough politicians, particularly those from la Belle Province, who have vacillated and fluctuated between strident nationalism and committed federalism. They seem to slip too readily between one and the other.

Forget it.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

The Irrelevance of Natural Resources

A country's wealth is counted by its natural resources, be it the geographical topography it boasts, its forests, lakes and rivers, mineral resources, agricultural lands, and energy-extraction resources. And then, of course, there is that great other resource, its population of energetic, enthusiastic, trusting voters who bring in government after government swearing to uphold the laws that protect us all, along with the autonomy to protect our resources for future generations.

And then there are international cross-border trade agreements. Necessary for the economic health of a country, the expansion of trade and opening of new markets as industry expands and people labour to produce goods and services, as the extraction of resources lead to increased trade, and so on. Geographically-contiguous countries sharing huge land masses also share greater trade opportunities, and so it is with North America and our NAFTA agreement.

But there are certain elements of a country's natural resources which should, logically, be reserved in large part for the needs of the originating country. To offer to a trading partner critical resources which, in so doing, lead to a potential shortage internally, makes no sense whatever. Water is one of those obvious resources. Logging and farming others, both of which have resulted in disagreements with our southern neighbour.

Another is our energy supply. And at the present time, Canadians should be concerned about the Security and Prosperity Partnership accord, initiated in 2005 in a fairly stealthy manner, and still being discussed by Mexico, Canada and the United States, as a method of streamlining and integrating economic and security rules across the continent. Guess who this benefits the most, the shy kid on the block or the confident adolescent?

If, as seems likely, the deal results in what is being termed a North American "energy security" provision, Canada could very well be faced with agreement to ensure that the United States has a reliable energy supply through Canadian-sourced energy extraction, while Canada itself has not organized a national internal plan, nor do we have reserves to protect our own supplies.

There is the current situation where Quebec and Atlantic Canada import 90 percent of their energy supply, from politically unstable sources such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Algeria, while Canada exports 63% of our oil and 56% of our gas production, mostly to the United States. Nice of us to offer a stable, reliable supply to a neighbour while sacrificing our own security of supply.

In contrast to Canada's lax attitude toward the security of energy supplies internally, most industrialized nations have implemented a national plan. Past time Canada did the same, to secure and protect our own energy supplies.

Nice to be a good neighbour; better to respect our own needs first.

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Tolerating the Decidedly Lethal Intolerant

What a wonderful country is Canada. We congratulate ourselves continually, hug ourselves with rare appreciation of our ability to just well, kind of get along. We're a community of multitudes, of varying cultures, traditions, ethnic origins, religions, and we embrace each other's presence. We are proudly multicultural. Our laws give protection to one and all. We are egalitarian in outlook and in practise alike. We are a tolerant, respectful society. We care, deeply.

We are so tolerant that we hesitate to ever offer perceptions that might be construed as questioning of others' values. What, after all, could be worse than being termed as 'intolerant' or 'discriminatory' in this uber-welcoming-of-others society of ours? Our own traditions and values? Well, needless to say we value them, they have great meaning for us. Our current social mores and values are what conspire to make life so satisfying for us, so welcoming to immigrants.

Do we feel that our own values are paramount, that those who gravitate to this country through immigration should adopt our values? The Canadian way of life? Ah, we hesitate; we don't wish to take it upon ourselves to be too pushy, to insist that if people migrate they should be prepared to accept that which the welcoming country holds dear. After all, we are respectful of other cultures and traditions and social values; we don't want to insist on ours. We are polite.

We are cognizant of peoples' sensibilities and feelings. Canadians don't wish to impose hardships on others. Our vaunted way of life will somehow wheedle its way into acceptance, we feel, without our having insisted on its adoption as needful for societal integration. So we overlook that which we should not. That groups coming to Canada often bring with them grievances and unsettling political situations which should be left behind.

We're so bloody polite that even when we're confronted with the reality of another country's terrorist element operating with perfect impunity to threaten and harass, fund-raise, visit physical harm on their detractors, we stand back in puzzlement, uncertain how to proceed. We don't wish to interfere, to insist that Canadian civility be practised by all, that soul destroying political agendas of violent intent be left in the country of origin.

This unfortunate tendency was quickly identified by militant immigrant groups with their axes to grind. They learned swiftly the implications of offering block votes to political parties in exchange for 'tolerance' of their activities. Canadians have learned the painful lesson of what this can lead to, in the mid-air explosion of Air India's flight that took the lives of hundreds of innocent Canadians.

But what lesson did we in fact learn? In Canada's large expatriate Tamil community the Tamil Tigers go about their business of threatening Tamils and extorting funds from them. Leaders of some of our federal political parties have not been averse to attending gatherings in support of the Tamil Tigers - until the current government listed them as terrorists. Which hasn't stopped their terrorizing of the Tamil community.

Members of the Muslim community in various parts of Canada who practise a fundamentalist Islam inveigh against non-Muslims and Jews in particular, spreading their particularly vile brand of anti-Semitism. Islamists from among some of these communities have been implicated in attempting jihadist attacks on Canadian soil. Groups and individuals representing Muslim 'antiwar' interests travel to the Middle East to meet up with high-placed officials of organizations deemed to be terrorist groups by the Canadian government.

Moderate Muslims who speak out in protest at the militarization of Islam in the community face death threats, are beaten into silent withdrawal, perceiving no support from the community at large, including their new government. Moderate Muslims understand the power of the bloc vote, the tentative hesitation of the Canadian government at all levels to appear discriminatory against immigrants. They fight a silent battle.

But there are courageous souls among us like Ujjal Donsanjh who insists the RCMP be ordered to investigate a Sikh parade held in Surrey, B.C. last month at which government representatives at all levels made their appearance. This was not just any Sikh parade, but one whose purpose was to celebrate the legally outlawed Khalistan movement for independence from India, whose Babbar Khalsa adherents conspired to murder Canadians.

The Air India conspirators responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Canadians, whom a jury acquitted where proudly present as well. Celebrating not the diversity of this country, but the success of their terrorist activities carried out in India through assassinations, and in Canada by murder and bombings. Canada has identified terrorist groups but like the Khalistan group, does nothing to stifle their operations in this country and hold their leaders to account.

Members of terrorist groups banned in this country should be made to understand by legal action leading to arrest and incarceration that they are not free to behave as they will, to destroy the peace and good governance of this country.

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