Friday, February 23, 2007

The notion that the lack of an elected senate in anyway constitutes a democratic deficit is patently absurd. As is implied by the notion of a triple E senate, for example, the senate in its current form is an ineffective body devoid of any real powers. The senate adds nothing to the genuine democratic process of the House of Commons and so can not take away anything either.

Still, that begs the question: would Canada be better off with two “effective” houses? The answer is no. As Benjamin Franklin put it, having two equally matched houses makes as much sense as tying two equally matched horses to either end of a buggy and having them both pull. However, for most of the supporters of such an idea that was precisely the point. As the name of Britain’s two houses, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, indicate the purpose of having a second House was to check the will of common people. The purpose of the Canadian senate was to do the same.

Unfortunately for the US, political necessity gave US supporters of the Second House, modeled on the British parliamentary system, the upper hand over true democrats, such as Franklin. Agreement was not possible unless the smaller states were given the power to override, or at the very least temper the will of the majority of Americans. The slave owning south, for one, wanted to insure that the institution of slavery was maintained. The lack of any sort of party discipline together with a bicameral house is a potent brew indeed. Regional interests make out like bandits, the lobbyist’s play divide and conquer and the need to water down legislation that has the support of the majority of Americans would have warmed the heart of anti democratic plutocrats, such as Adams. Alaska, for example, has a 1000 times the political clout of, say, PEI, even though Alaska makes up a smaller portion of the US population than PEI Canada’s. To top things off, a lack of any sort effective caps on corporate campaign contributions means that only the richest of the rich have the economic wherewithal to run for the Senate. Indeed, one could make a pretty good case that the original Senate, with its land ownership requirements, was open to greater percentage of the population than the current one is.

Naturally the Conservatives are committed emulating the American system and as bad as that is, things have the potential of getting a whole lot worse. (Harper was once committed to abolishing caps on corporate donations, but has since reversed course.) Being unable to “reform” the Senate in one fell swoop, Harper has proposed electing effective Senators piece meal. It is hard to image a dumber idea. In the long term, the effect of such a process would be to transform an unelected political body with no power into a largely unelected political body with real political power. In the short term, it would commit Canadians to the farcical and expensive act of electing people to office who hold no real power. If that was bad enough it would give provinces, such as Novo Scotia, power way out of proportion to their actual population.

(3) comments

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It is time for the Liberal Party to wake up. Polls and focus groups will not provide them with a winning template. The party lacks the resources, the media presence, a strong grass roots base, and quite frankly the people to effectively appeal the “average” Canadian.” The news is not all bad though. Such an approach produces just as many duds as successes. Paul Martin was one such dud. To win, the Liberals are first going to have to admit just how limited their power to sell Canadians on their ideas are. Their only hope of winning is to kick off a number of highly charged public debates that will envelope all parties. Controversy for controversy’s sake is, of course, no strategy at all. The Liberals must take debates that have been more or less settled among the educated and force feed the public the results. The point is not to be on the side of the Canadian public per say, but to be the side that respects most respects the process and is humble enough to defer to learned opinion. In such debates, process matters much more than being on the numerically winning side. As I have said time and time again, SSM was a great case in point. At the polls, SSM was a looser. Canadians were spilt on the issue, but the older one is the more likely one is to be opposed and to vote. It was a winning issue because it left the Conservatives defending an intellectually, morally and legally bankrupt position and they were, rightly, pillared by the media and the learned every step of the way. I mentioned some possible issues in a piece entitled “Reality has to have a well known-Liberal bias.” It can be read here. http://themaplethree.blogspot.com/2007/01/reality-has-to-have-well-known-liberal.html

(1) comments

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Politics is about who is able to define whom. The Liberals need to define the Conservatives. The Liberals understand this of course.

What they do not seem to understand is that a winning issue is not always a vote getter. SSM was great example. At the polls it was looser. Canadians were spilt on the issue, but the older one is the more likely one is to be opposed and to vote. The Liberals never understood why SSM was a winning issue. They figured it must have something to do with the popularity of the Charter and as their cherry pick line polled extremely well they went with that. They made themselves out to be the Charter’s champion and this led them to propose sealing off the notwithstanding clause. There are echoes of such thinking in some of the party’s public pronouncements still. However, SSM was not a winning issue because the Liberals were able to convince Canadians that they were the Charter’s honor guard. It had everything to do with the Conservatives. By proposing to seal away the notwithstanding clause, Martin and company simply diverted attention away from the one issue, and I do mean one, that worked for them last election. The focus switched from can anything positive be said about the Conservative SSM position to do really want to seal away the notwithstanding clause for good?

The Conservatives had it backwards from the start. The courts were not part of an advance guard for social change. In common law, the judiary is almost out of necessity a conservative institution; consensus is their justification. This was certainly true of SSM; the courts only moved on the issue after a learned consensus had emerged. The Conservatives should have played closer attention. With regard to highly publicized hot button issues, such as SSM, parties who try to whitewash over learned consensus will in time be pillared by voters regardless of whether the voters agree with the party’s position or not. Indeed, at best, defending the undefendable erodes support for such a position; at worst, the public concludes that the party in question is acting in bad faith, that it is does not respect reasoned debate and that it is being deliberately deceptive.

With SSM finally off the table, the Liberals need to find a new issue. They again need to push the Conservatives into defending the undefendable. The Liberals need to exploit the Conservatives base for their own advantage. Reality has to have a well known Liberal bias. There are several possibilities.

Global warming is the first that comes to mind. It would certainly be a god sent if the Conservatives were to deny global warming, which in the public’s mind extends partly to dishing Kyoto. However, based on the slew of repackaged Liberal policies being reintroduced by the Conservatives, Harper is not likely to play ball. Furthermore, Harper’s past musings about “so called greenhouse gases” and how Kyoto is based on “contradictory scientific evidence about climate trends” only goes so far. The Conservatives have cried uncle when it comes to the issue of global warming and human’s responsibility for it. The Liberals can be rest assured, come next election Harper will throw Conservative MPs, who are unwilling to toe the new party line, into some broom closet, where they will be kept bound and gagged for the duration of the campaign. If that is not bad enough, signs are pointing to a NDP and Conservative Clean Air Act Part Two. Layton needs “results” and Harper is happy to oblige; he has no choice but to “commit” to the mandatory measures designed to cut green house gas emissions. Both are having some success chipping away at the Liberal’s hope of being the focus of the environmental vote. It is grossly unfair to saddle Dion with Chrétien’s dismal environmental record and it deeply unfair, but just the same some of the mud is bound to stick. In other words, Dion’s ace in the hole is slowly but surely being neutralized.

Another possibility is Afghanistan. However, to date, the Liberal’s performance on this issue has been at best mixed. As with SSM the Liberals have not understood why the issue gave the Tories so much trouble during the summer and why it has the potential to do so again. The Liberal plan of attack has been to accuse the Conservatives of perverting the original mission and in the process somehow betraying Canada’s historical commitment to peace keeping. One problem with such an approach is this. In order for Canadian public to buy into the notion that the Conservative government’s Afghan policy is a perversion of the previous Liberal government’s Afghan policy, the Canadian public has to have some knowledge of just what the Liberal policy was. And they do not have a clue. The Conservatives own the issue. It is, actually, for this reason, that the peace keeping line of attack has some superficial appeal. Canadians have a nostalgic attachment to Pearsonian peacekeeping that is rivaled only by their fascination with the Avro Arrow. Canadians also understand that the Kandahar mission is not a peace keeping one and that it never can be one. There is, however, no disconnect. While Canadians like to think of themselves as being first and foremost as being a nation of peace keepers, the vast majority reject the notion that Canada should limit itself only to peacekeeping. For the minority who think otherwise, the Liberal has an answer; it was Paul Martin that first sent troops into Kandahar.

The true source of the discontent was this. As casualties mounted, Canadians began to ask questions. The majority concluded that not only did the government’s pronouncements not reflect the reality on the ground but that the Conservatives were being deliberately deceptive. The picture in Afghanistan is not rosy and Canadians could not stomach being told that it is. Canadians were particularly bothered by the Conservatives use of Republican Iraq war talking points. To site but one example, after 4 Canadians were killed in May, Peter Mackay trotted out a Conservative version of the Republican "last throes" talking point.: "my understanding is sometimes the increase in the insurgency is the recognition that the Taliban may be on the run and we are now moving perhaps into territories where they are feeling more threatened." http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=c6594164-b1d4-49e1-8876-941e4472238d&k=40999 Canadians were not impressed. They did not believe that the death of four Canadians was proof that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Had the Liberals not waxed nostalgic about Pearsonian peacekeeping and had instead given the Canadian public what it most wanted, i.e., forthright talk, they might have been able to make more headway.

The problem with Afghanistan going forward is that the Conservatives are learning that Canadians’ sense of smell is more refined than what they had first thought and that they have to temper their enthusiasm for borrowing Republican catch phrases that have morphed into punch lines. Furthermore, although Stephen Harper might believe that high casualties are a sign that Canada is “back”, not many Canadians agree and Harper and company are beginning to sense this. Harper, though, is stubborn and reluctant to concede too quickly. “Steve” Harper: September 18 “We are taking casualties because we are moving (the Taliban) from their very last bastions of strength and support,''.

A subject emerging out of the horrors of the Pickton trail is what to do with prostitution. Sadly, Canadians are not ready for legalized prostitution, but the subject is not one the federal leaders will be able to ignore, particularly when campaigning in Vancouver. Dion should propose a commission to look into the issue. The more he can draw the Conservatives into a discussion the better. With any luck, Harper will again appoint Art Hanger as his point man on the subject. Many Conservative MPs will be dying to air their moral outrage at the mere hint of legalized prostitution and quite frankly Canadians need to hear what they have to say. The thought of coverage of the Pickton trail being followed by coverage of Conservatives defending the status quo with regard to prostitution is almost too good a juxtaposition to be true.

Canada’s drug laws will also be a subject of debate whenever the leaders visit Vancouver. Of particular concern will be Vancouver’s safe injection site, Insite. Virtually everyone backs the program --- everyone that is except the Conservatives. That said, Stephen Harper’s stubborn refusal to concede the obvious, viz., the program’s success, has been in some ways a god sent for the site’s backers. Had Harper simply given the site the three year extension it was looking for, word of site’s many successes would not have spread as fast and as far as it did. After all, however advant guard the issue, the site’s many successes are not nearly as exciting a news story as the government denying scholarly evidence staring them in the face. Stephane Dion is doing exactly what is good for the country and for the Liberals; he is talking about expanding the program. Vancouver Sun: “A federal Liberal government would provide funding for supervised injection sites in more Canadian cities, party leader Stephane Dion said Thursday. "It's a pilot project which seems to be quite a success," Dion told reporters in Coquitlam, referring to the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He said the Liberals would support projects similar to the Vancouver site only if they were proposed by local government. "I would give the funds to continue the experience and work with mayors if they want to replicate this experience that has been successful also abroad." One can only hope that that this encourages more Conservatives to speak out on the subject.

Talk of decriminalizing marijuana still gathers media attention and, by and large, the coverage is positive for the Liberals. However that it is positive for the Liberals has more to do with the Conservatives strong prohibitionist leanings and their willingness to serve as an stand in for the American drug warriors than with the Liberal’s “commitment” to decriminalization. The Liberals have talked about decriminalizing marijuana on and off for 34 years and have done nothing. Worse, the Liberals approach to marijuana is superficial and muddled. The party can not decide just where it stands on the issue. The Liberals strangely favor both decriminalization and tougher sentences for trafficking. Needless to say, in trying to justify one the Liberals undercut the rational for the other. The following comments from Jean Chrétien, for example, just does not jive with tough talk about protecting Canadian kids from the supposed dangerous of marijuana: "What has happened is so illogical [prosecuting Canadians for marijuana possession] that they are not prosecuted anymore. So let's make the law adjust to the realities. It is still illegal, but they will pay a fine. It is in synch with the times.” If the Liberals are going to capitalize on Harper’s intellectually bankrupt prohibitionist stance, they are going have first straighten out their own house. They have ridden the decriminalization issue as far as it will take them. If they are to perk the media’s interest and to draw the Conservatives out into the open, they are going to have to mention the L word, i.e., legalization.

(0) comments

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I have long bemoaned vote splitting on the left. However, it would be shame if the NDP were to disappear. The NDP has a place in Canadian politics.

At its worst, the NDP is what is today under Jack Layton. Layton seems to believe that there is but one measure of political success in Canada and that is the number of seats one wins. Hence, the 2006 election was deemed an improvement on the 2004 election. It matters not that the NDP had more influence in the latter than it does in the former or that his give the Conservatives a free ride campaign helped elect someone so ideologically opposed to everything the NDP has stood for in the past he referred to them as the “devil”. 2006 was a 10 seat improvement and was thus an improvement. When confronted with the political consequences of such a campaign, Layton et al like to claim that Liberals and Conservatives are in reality too peas in pod and as such the switch in government did not matter. This only serves to undermine their credibility with voters – knowledgeable ones anyway. Leaving aside a history of cooperation between Liberal minority governments and the NDP and cooperation between Layton and Martin on the 2005 “NDP budget”, on a policy by policy basis Martin’s Liberal’s were closer to the NDP than they where the Conservatives and, as alluded to above, there is virtually no overlap between NDP and Conservative policy. The NDP fall back line that they are different from the Liberals in so far as they mean what they say and the Liberals talk a good game but walk right while in power is disingenuous to say the least. The NDP have never been a position to walk the walk and what successes they have come under Liberal governments. Indeed, while Layton would have Canadians believe that 134 Liberals helped pass an NDP budget, it is more accurate to say that 19 NDP MPs helped pass a Liberal budget. Paul Martin is the elephant in the living room whenever Layton implies that NDP and the NDP alone got “results” for average Canadians. If he had run an honest campaign, Layton should have claimed that the NDP will be in a position to fight for Canadians if and only if Canadians elect another Liberal minority government. Instead he helped toss the Liberals from power and in the process rendered his party impotent.

While NDP has at times tired to paint the Liberals and Conservatives as being the two peas in a pod, Layton is desperately trying to turn his party into a Liberal surrogate. The Liberals drone on about Kyoto, Kelowna and childcare and like a little brother trying to emulate his older brother so too do the NDP. As the “Natural governing party of Canada” the Liberals grab the headlines and like a little brother parroting his older brother the NDP get nothing more than the odd amused chuckle. After showing signs original thinking on Afghanistan, Layton’s inner child lost confidence in his own views and has subsequently backtracked; the NDP’s Afghan policy is becoming more muddled by the day and in the process more and more Liberal. Layton’s Liberal drag routine has met with some tactical success, but strategically it is doomed. Voters prefer an original to a knockoff and besides if forced to choose between two parties championing identical issues voters are likely to go with the party that actually has a chance of winning.

One of the problems with US politics is that two parties so dominant the political landscape that any other suitor is a complete afterthought. One consequence of this is that the political debate in the States is hopelessly narrow; it is focused almost exclusively on what is politically possible and what will have a positive impact at the ballot box. American politics is the calculus of pleasing corporate America enough that they are so kind enough to fund you, well all the while finding a message that will on the one hand appeal to one’s base and while at the same time be sufficiently appealing to fair-weather “independents”. Not surprisingly, pundits in the States spend more time assessing the political ramifications of such and such action and surprisingly little time assessing the merits of such and such an action or policy. The relevant frequency of US elections, a lack of party discipline, a bicameral political system, term limits and fixed election dates simply compound matters. They keep what the odds maker’s say newsworthy and a handicapping system from becoming too amorphous. The same would be so, albeit to a lesser degree, in Canada if the NDP never existed.

At its best, the NDP has provided an invaluable service to all Canadians; it widened the Canadian political debate and did so by historically being the most ideological of the major political parities. Parties concerned with the “art of the possible” are not infusing the political debate with new ideas with little chance of furthering their party at the polls. They are reactive. However, the catch 22 of such pragmatism is that such parties concede some of the field to those who are not so cautious. To use an evolutionary metaphor, the politically brave and ideologically pure help determine the policy areas to be discussed; the powerful and pragmatic determine what policies get accepted. Historically, the NDP were able to get “results” for Canadians in two ways. One, they played King Maker in several Liberal minority governments. Two, they were able to achieve successes at a distance by continually infusing the political arena with new policy ideas. Either way the Liberal party benefited. By infusing the political arena with ideas from a leftist perspective, the NDP shifted the political debate in Canada leftward, leaving Liberals and not the Progressive Conservatives as the “natural governing party of Canada”.

Things changed in the 1990s. The emergence of the ideological puritanical Reform party, Conrad Black and Canwest Global and series of electoral disasters for the NDP helped move the political debate in English Canada inexorably rightward. The news, in more ways than one, is no better today. The NDP’s chameleon act threatens to concede the war of ideas to the right on a permanent basis. If it were not for the Supreme Court, and George Bush's arrogance, stupidity, bullheadedness, the right would have controlled the political agenda in its entirety. That is one reason why some consider Harper a moderate. By mid 80 standards however, he makes Mulroney look like a raving pinko; Harper certainly thought the PCs a bunch a pinkos back then and that is why he left them to help found the Reform party. The left has no other champion except maybe the Toronto Star. The Liberals are certainly of no help. They are still adrift in a policy vacuum. They are still busy trying to fine tune a platform they ran on and lost in 2006. Meanwhile, there are legions of Conservative missionaries in the media. Pace Harper, virtually ever major newspaper backed the Conservatives 2006, as detailed in the McGill media studies, the Liberals received the lion’s share of the negative press in both 2004 and 2006 and then there is Sun media, the Conservative party’s PR wing. They have also not lost their ideological edge and by and large dominant not only the headlines but also set the agenda. However they Conservatives are much more pragmatic than they have were before. They will again release a well focused easy to understand platform.

Harper apologist, admirer, and all but outed closet Conservative Warren Kinsella claimed that the Liberals needed to spend some time in the penalty box last election. Let me propose a variation on this theme. The NDP need to spend some time in the penalty box. No longer we will progressives tolerate, Layton’s lack of vision, his lack of courage and his unwillingness to go after Stephen Harper with every ounce of energy. It is time the NDP, take a page from their provincial brethren and propose progressive, easy to understand policy proposals, such as increase an in the minimum wage. Such proposals have been the bread and butter of socially democratic parties since their inception. It is time the NDP put forth an agenda that that is in that tradition. Canada needs them to and quite frankly so do the Liberals.

(0) comments

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I interviewed Liberal leadership candidate Stephane Dion on Sunday. I must thank Jason Cherniak http://jasoncherniak.blogspot.com/ for helping set things up and say special thanks to Dion for agreeing to do the interview. Of all the candidates, Dion has been the most accessible to the blogging community. http://jasoncherniak.blogspot.com/

I had emailed the candidates a survey back in September and used the questions from that survey in interviewing Dion. Martha Hall Findlay is the only one to respond to the survey by the way. http://themaplethree.blogspot.com/2006/09/liberal-martha-hall-findlay-favors.html

Given his support for "Empire Lite", does Ignatieff have the potential to be as divisive a figure within the party as Tony Blair has become within his party?”

He did not take the bait. He neither implied, nor explicitly said that Tony Blair is a controversial figure within his own party. The only thing he had to say about Blair was that he has been a very successful politician. He added that he won three majorities. I waited for him to drop Chrétien’s name, but he never did draw the parallel. It is a good thing too. Outside of three majorities a piece and maybe rivalries with uppity finance ministers, the similarities stop there.

On the one hand, it is understandable that he would not take the bait. However in other ways it is not. It is understandable in so far as it is not considered good form to be brutally honest about foreign heads of states --- friendly ones anyway. However, it is widely accepted that Blair is a divisive figure and saying so would hardly raise eyebrows. Tactically drawing such a comparison would make sense. It would help place Dion’s call for a review of Ignatieff’s interventionist writings into a favorable political context. After all, one of the dominant themes of the Liberal leadership race is reconciliation and party peace. Liberals have grown tired of infighting between rival power blocks Having just emerged from a civil war, they have no stomach for another. Dion should be warning the Liberal party that what happened with Tony Blair could happen with Ignatieff. Indeed, he should be warning the Liberals that it could be worse. The British Labour party is in better shape finically, politically and in terms of their base of support than Liberal Party of Canada. In its weakened state the Liberal party can not afford another war, especially an ideological one. Moreover, given all the talk about the party brass reconnecting with the party’s base, the Liberal party can not elect a leader who is fundamentally out of step with views of the party’s rank and file, a la Blair and Labour party.

All that being said, Dion went right after Ignatieff. Dion mentioned a 2002 paper in which Ignatieff that some kind of two state solution should be militarily imposed on the Palestinian Authority. This is really quite something and I am amazed that this paper had not come to light before. A lot of the accusations thrown at Ignatieff, including some of the ones Rae leveled on Saturday, are pretty thin gruel. This is not one of them. It is hard to imagine anything that would be a bigger requirement tool for Al Qaeda than the US sending troops into Gaza and the West bank to impose a two state “solution”. There is no question in my mind now that Ignatieff does not have any kind of appreciation for the unintended consequences of war and I do not want him controlling Canadian foreign policy. When it comes to Ignatieff’s foreign policy views, Rae has landed the two biggest rhetorical punches, but Dion has landed by far the more substantive policy blows and this was certainly one of them. Dion was, rightly, indigent about being drowned out by Ignatieff supporters when he tired to raise the subject to this paper at Saturday’s debate in Montreal.

The Senate committee on marijuana concluded that the "Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol"? Do you agree with this conclusion?

He said no. I know Dion is a bit of a contrarian, but this is ridiculous. I will give him points for consistency though. He has been consistency wrong in what he says about marijuana. Previously http://koby.tblog.com/post/1969912969#comment_anchor he told me that “potent pot” is one reason for keeping marijuana illegal. This was bad enough. It strikes me as akin to saying alcohol should be banned because gin has higher alcohol content than beer. Indeed, if anything potent pot should be welcomed. After all, the most prominent health effect related to marijuana is that it is usually smoked. The more potent the pot, the less people have to smoke to achieve the same high. The point is mute though; potent pot is a myth. http://www.slate.com/?id=2074151

Anyway, world wide, since the 1970s there have been literally millions of deaths from Alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis of the liver. I challenge Dion to find one case in the medical literature of someone dying from a marijuana overdose or chronic intake of THC. Some chronic users of marijuana get headaches if they go off the drug. 10% of chronic alcoholics suffer seizures if they do not have a drink and 5% suffer delirium tremens.

Dion’s position is the medical equal of denying global warming. Maybe some things that nutter Paul Steckle says has worn off on him.

Dion feels that marijuana possession should be decriminalized; he wants fines imposed in place of criminal penalties. He noted that Canada’s possession laws are applied unequally throughout the country and that a system of fines would be. This is debatable. However even if granted, a system fines would not yield the results he hopes for. For example, there is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest it would reduce consumption.

Such a policy might also yield results he might not have expected. Take Vancouver, it is explicit policy of Vancouver police department, for example, not to charge people for mere possession. Surrounding police forces are equally lenient, but not as upfront. In other words, decriminalization already exists in the Lowermainland on a de facto basis. One reason is that it is simply not practical to do so; charging the huge number people caught in possession of marijuana would cripple the justice system. Another reason is that marijuana possession is not viewed as a serious crime by either the courts or by large numbers of police. If a system of fines was imposed, Vancouverites will not take kindly to such a crack down for a whole host of reasons. Most importantly they would be uppity because they would view the law is illegitimate. Many would see it as akin to fining someone for drinking a beer in a permissible location. They will see it as an illegitimate money grab and the seeds of revolt would be sown. It would be better for Dion and other closeted drug warriors to let sleeping dogs lay.

Decriminalization would also do something else. Although it is explicit policy of the VPD not to charge people for mere possession, the VPD still charge a large number of people with possession and the same is true of other Lowermainland police forces. There is a simple reason for this. Possession is the fall back position whenever the police can not make trafficking charges stick. Put differently the large number of people charged with possession in BC is not a reflection of strict enforcement, but is rather a reflection of the shear size of the marijuana industry here. Marijuana is called weed for a reason; it is grows like one. Couple this with the fact that people here no longer believe in the drug laws and one would have more success trying to drain the great lakes with a spoon than stomping it out. Decriminalize marijuana while at the same time increasing the penalties for trafficking the drug and prohibition in BC will be on the verge of collapse. As it stands, BC prosecutors are prosecuting fewer and fewer people for marijuana trafficking and stiffer sentences will only make this trend more pronounced. There would also be no lesser charge of possession to charge dealers with.

While I welcomed decriminalization for these reasons, there is a less painful solution: legalization. Besides, I too want to see a uniform marijuana policy and the thought of watching heads of social conservative’s heads throughout the land explode gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. The latter will only happen if marijuana is officially legalized.

Can NATO succeed in both stabilizing Afghanistan and destroying the country's number one industry, the opium crop?

Dion said yes, but it was hardly a firm one. He said that what needs to happen is a “redesign of the mission”. He said that what is needed is a “Marshall Plan for Afghanistan”. In other words, despite the fact that several of Dion’s people have referred Gerard Kennedy as policy light weight, Dion’s position along with the rest of the candidates has become Kennedy’s remake the mission position. The reference to the Marshall Plan though is Dion’s and Dion’s alone. It is also not one that works.

The Marshall plan helped rebuild war torn Europe. The operative world being “rebuild”. There is nothing to “rebuild” in the European sense in Afghanistan. Indeed, even in high point of the modernizing zeal in the 1970s, Afghanistan’s child morality was worse than Bangladesh’s! To see how wrong the analogy is consider for a second what Germany, for example, was prior to WW2. The German’s had the by far and away the world’s most advanced chemical industry. The country had produced nearly half the Nobel Price winners. It had the largest coal reserves in Europe. (It was not until the 1950s the gas replaced coal.) It had the most educated population in the world. And it was also not until 1945 that industrial production fell below 1942 and that was not because of any decline in capacity, but was rather due mainly to transportation bottlenecks related to allied bombing. Throw in the fact the influx of millions of upon millions of ethnic Germans from Soviet sector, Poland, and the Sudetenland and elsewhere and you have the makings of a Wirtschaftswunder, i.e., an economic miracle.

Afghanistan, by comparison, is country made up mostly of illiterate peasants without running water or electricity. There is no developed infrastructure, no university system and the opium production is the country’s only viable industry. Most Afghans, it is a young country, know nothing but war. To make matters worse, the vast majority of educated Afghans left long ago and will never return to live.

Decades of development theory have shown there is no magic formula when it comes to development. Western countries have a hard enough time developing their own hinterlands let alone the world’s most impoverished and underdeveloped regions.

Dion also mentioned several of the Asian Tigers, viz. South Korea and Taiwan. Referencing them made more sense than referencing the Marshall plan. However it falls down in several respects. Furthermore, the Tigers where not exactly models of democracy in action.

As with the other candidates, Dion is open to the idea of Western governments buying opium to replenish medical supplies from Afghan farmers.

Suppose next spring there was no let up in the number of Taliban attacks and in the number of Canadians dying, would you call for an end to the mission?

Dion was non committal. However, he said that it would have to be considered.

Given that Al Qaeda has singled Canada out because of our presence in Afghanistan and given that the alleged motivation of the Ontario 17 was our presence in Afghanistan , does our presence in Afghanistan make it more likely that Canada will be attacked by terrorists, home grown or otherwise?

Dion ducked the question. At least, I hope he did. He said that the likelihood of a terrorist attack depended on how effective our police forces and intelligence agencies are. The more effective our police forces the lesser the likelihood of attack. He might as well have uttered the following absurdity; seeing as how Canada has a more effective police force than Brazil, the likelihood that Canada would be attacked by Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda sympathizers is less than Brazil. Yes, an effective police force will lessen the probability of a terrorist attack, but when calculating the probability of an attack a bigger factor bigger is how many people are motivated to carry out such an attack. Motives matter. Only a politician trying to duck a touchy subject would dare pretend otherwise. Now, pace, they are hate our freedoms and multi ethnic make up, Harper, what motives home grown Jihadis is Canadian foreign policy. Just ask Crown prosecutors developing the case against the Ontario 17. As for Al Qaeda, right wing commentators take a perverse delight in noting that Al Qaeda has singled Canada out for attack. They see it as proof that Canadians are hopelessly naïve not to whole heartedly support the war on terror. What they fail to note, however, and this is testament to their complete lack of intellectual honesty, is why Al Qaeda singled Canada out for attack. Canada was singled out because of our presence in Afghanistan.

“What do your governments want from their alliance with America in attacking us in Afghanistan? I mention in particular Britain, France , Italy , Canada, Germany and Australia.

We warned Australia before not to join in the war in Afghanistan, and against its despicable effort to separate East Timor. It ignored the warning until it woke up to the sounds of explosions in Bali."

I asked Dion the following 5 questions.

1) Canada lags behind far behind virtually every other Western nation in terms of the number vacation days its citizens are guaranteed. Is it time that Canada bridge the vacation gap?

EU minimum is 4 weeks
Switzerland 4 weeks
New Zealand 4 weeks (starting in 2007)
Norway 5 weeks

2) Should Canada pass an euthanasia law, a la Holland ?

3) Other Western countries (e.g., Germany, Finland and Britain)have public dental care. Should Canada?

4) Do you support a proposed heroin maintenance program for Vancouver?

5) In order to attract more international grad students and just as importantly keep a higher percentage of international grad students in country after they graduate, Canada should offer citizenship to those foreign graduate students who complete a graduate degree from, and this important, a public Canadian university. Does this idea have any merit?

He was no made no commitment to any, but he did not rule out any either. He only made two comments of note. With regard to the proposed heroin maintenance program, he said it was an interesting idea. http://www.gatago.com/talk/politics/drugs/14815943.html He also commented on the last question. He worried about what kind effect such a policy would have on “developing” countries, i.e., the reverse brain drain. This surprised me. It was the kind of mushy liberalism at its worst answer I have come to expect from Ignatieff and not someone as hard edged as Dion.

Finally I asked Dion a few light hearted, get to know you questions.

What was the first car you owned?

Renault 12 was his response.

Name the last 2 movies you have seen.

Dion seemed dumbfounded that I should ask this question. He racked his brain for an answer and apologized. He said the leadership race did not give him much time for leisure. The last movie he saw was Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/inconvenient_truth/ He also mentioned seeing Fahrenheit 911. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/fahrenheit_911/ However, after consulting with someone in French, he decided that in between seeing 911 he had seen Eight Below. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/eight_below/ He asked me if I was familiar with the movie. I said no, but after he gave a quick run down of the story I recognized the title. I sought his confirmation. “The kids movie?” He seemed annoyed by this and responded with “no the Disney movie”. I had to smile.

(1) comments

Monday, October 16, 2006

MHF agrees with Ignatieff. Harper lacks a strategy for Afghanistan. However she believes that this was evident all along and “Harpers lack of strategy is why I would have voted no”. This sets her and Ignatieff apart; both agree with the mission in principle, but she was more skeptical of Harper’s ability to pull it off.

Politically, this is a very clever approach and one Ignatieff and Kennedy should be very concerned about.

Ignatieff is found of saying that the Americans have made “every single mistake in Iraq and then some.” Other so called liberal hawks have said the same and over time a distinct line of criticism of the Iraq war has arisen. Namely, regardless of whether one believed in the Iraq mission in principle, Bush was never one to realize the hopes the pro war faction had for the war. Ignatieff has not yet gone as far as many other prominent liberal hawks in lamenting his support of the mission, but this line of criticism especially, in light of the most recent Lancet study estimating that upwards of 600,000 Iraqis have been killed in post war violence, leaves him with very little left to hold onto.

Where this bleeds into Ignatieff’s support of Afghanistan mission is that given Harper ideological closeness to the Neo Cons, his strong support of the Iraq war and yes his lack of clear strategy, Ignatieff, of all people, should have been suspicious of Stephen Harper’s ability to carry out the mission. Instead, despite a mere 6 hours of debate, he blindly threw his support behind Harper’s extension. Ignatieff should have been once bitten twice shy. Instead he backed both and laments how both missions have been prorogated; add to this his foot and mouth disease and it is little wonder why there are concerns about judgment – or lack there of.

MHF line is certainly an improvement on Dion’s line, for example. Under the guise that there was minimal debate in the house, Dion has still not offered an opinion on the mission. Dion is right; the reason he gave for voting no was a good reason. In a democracy, process matters. It is no reason, however, for not forming an opinion since.

As I said before, Kennedy should also be concerned about MHF line of questioning. Kennedy has raised questions about the mission and in many ways this has become the de facto Liberal position and the one MHF was taking aim at. That said, Kennedy has held out hope that the mission can still be transformed, but is his implicit belief that Harper, among others, can still right the ship, justified? MHF agreed with Ignatieff that Harper is not the right person for the job and I agree with them both. The problem for Ignatieff is that she is free to adopt this line and he, Mr. Johnny come lately, not.

(0) comments

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Strangely, the candidates seem content run on the same platform that got the Liberals tossed from office back in January. Stranger still is the fact that the favorites have been the ones taking the chances (e.g. carbon tax) and the candidates with virtually nothing to loose are the ones playing it most safe.

Hedy Fry is the best example of a candidate who should be making noise, but is not. Indeed, despite the fact that Hedy Fry represents one of the most socially liberal ridings in Canada and the fact that she is at the end of her political career, she has been unwilling to roll the dice and make any controversial statements or bold policy proposals. What has playing it safe got her thus far? A paltry $15 grad in donations and the ghost of Prince George still has not been vanquished. Hedy Fry says the party needs more than just a fresh coat of paint. I could not agree more. However, if that is her position, it is time she put her money were her mouth is. Personally, I would love it if one of the candidates would line up behind one or more of the following.

4 weeks vacation for all Canadians

Legalization of marijuana

A promise to pull the troops out of Afghanistan


Legalization of prostitution

Mandatory voting

Abolition of the senate

Abolition of the monarchy

Making Dental care part of health care

Willingness to tackle media concentration

It should be noted that during his first year in office, Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality, and lightened the restrictions on gambling, abortion and divorce. It is my hope that should the Liberals win the next election that they be as bold as Trudeau. As with claims about wanting to change the party, it means very little to invoke the ghost of Trudeau, as Fry and others have done, unless they are willing to act as boldly.

It should be noted that the above are certainly not new ideas and many are realities in Europe.

(0) comments

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?