Tuesday, February 14, 2006 

Westcoast medicare innovation on the way?

Right, so first of all, apologies for not having written anything in a while - something like this is easy to lose in the shuffle when you have so much else going on. Essay writing, discussions to organize, people to talk to, etc. At any rate, it's time to get back cracking at this blog thing.

Apparently there was a Speech from the Throne here in B.C. today. And I thought I was pretty well informed. I guess not. Anyway, I read a bit about it and I like the tone. Especially the bits on health care - the Campbell government is prepared to contradict the Canada Health Act, it seems, in an effort to make medicare more sustainable. "Why are we so quick to condemn any consideration of other systems as a slippery slope to an American-style system that none of us wants?" the speech asks. "Does it really matter to patients where or how they obtain their surgical treatment if it is paid for with public funds?" These are good questions to be asking, and good on Gordon Campbell and his team for being willing to put them forward. The speech proposes a province-wide conversation on health care, and a desire to investigate other, more sustainable models. It also reaffirms the need for public health care, but opens doors to different ways of providing it - this is exactly what's needed. The Canada Health Act has turned into a political tool in Canada, and by whipping it out and promising to defend it tooth and nail, you can paint yourself as the savior of the social programmes that make this country (to a degree) what it is. Paul Martin and Jack Layton, ahem. But it's time to get rid of the dogma surrounding 'defending health care' - yes, it should be accessible to all Canadians, but the B.C. government has hit the nail on the head when they say that it should also be sustainable. We need to be flexible with health care, because I think it's obvious that our current philosophy isn't workable in the long-term. I'll be interested to see what happens in B.C., and kudos again to the B.C. Liberals for taking a risk and posing some good, needed questions. Hopefully we can have a great debate about how best to build a sustainable, accessible health care system.

The One World Scholarship programme, designed to help post-secondary students study in other Pacific Rim nations, is also a great idea - investments in education are wonderful, and I think that facilitating B.C.'s role in the region is also a good idea. Other interesting ideas include community and aboriginal courts to take pressure off of the court system and a more flexible housing strategy for dealing with homelessness. Not sure what those will entail, but they sound like good ideas. Sounds like there's the potential for some neat new ideas in British Columbia - we'll see if Premier Campbell can deliver.

QUEBEC-DATE: Quebec Premier Jean Charest has come out today with a statement along the same lines as the B.C. Throne Speech on Tuesday, promising to look at new ways of guaranteeing accessible, quality health care. Good to hear another province starting to ask some good questions. As we start finding innovations for our public health care system, though, we've got to be careful that we strike a balance and ensure that all Canadians can get the same quality of care. That will be the challenge, to avoid any disparity between public and private elements.

Sunday, February 05, 2006 

A step back is what is needed

Things have not progressed well in the cartoon debacle concerning sketches of Mohammed, the Muslim prophet. If anything, that's an understatement. After European newspapers republished a series of caricatures of Mohammed last week, anger has erupted across the Muslim world, culminating most recently in mass protests and torchings of European embassies in the Middle East. According to Islamic law, it's forbidden to make any kind of representation of the prophet, as it's considered idolatry. I guess that things have escalated this week because the European countries involved failed to apologize for the publication of the sketches.

It's pretty sad that things have progressed to where they are now, with burning embassies and calls for the destruction of the European nations. To be clear, the drawings are absolutely offensive - aside from contravening Islamic law, they directly impugn and demean the highest religious figure of the faith. I think that we need to make that clear. That being said, I'm not at all convinced that demanding apologies from European governments and burning their embassies is the best reponse. If anything, it just contributes to whatever stereotypes may already exist. 'Those folks in the Middle East,' some may incorrectly conclude from this event. 'You just can't reason with them. Their response to everything is to take to the streets and call for the death of the West.' And that's very unfortunate.

Like it or not, there is freedom of expression and freedom of the press in most Western countries. But it's to a point. It does depend on the country as to what verges on hate crimes, what is appropriate and what is not. I think that all countries that have those freedoms also have various restrictions on them. I don't know what the case is in Denmark, France and Germany. But I think that an apology from the newspapers would be most appropriate - you've got the right to speak freely, but directly insulting and demeaning the faith of another is just not acceptable. And printing more of the cartoons (as happened in France and Germany) just to prove a point about press freedoms? Childish.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has got it absolutely right: "We all agree that words and deeds that insult or ridicule other religions or cultures do not contribute to mutual understanding. Both freedom of the press ... and freedom of religion are great liberties — those who use them must use them with care." There have been inappropriate actions on both sides - the thoughtless publication of the cartoons in Europe and the burning of embassies and threats of violence in the Middle East - I hope that we can remove the blinders of anger, look at things more rationally and use this as a vehicle to greater understanding of where the line lies between press freedoms and restrictions.

CABINET-DATE: Former Liberal MP and Industry Minister David Emerson has apparently shown up at Rideau Hall this morning to be sworn into the new Cabinet, having defected to the Conservatives! I'm sorry, but having just run as a Liberal, if this isn't a power-grab, I'm not sure what is. Very disappointing, and lowers my impression of Mr Emerson greatly.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 

Canadians have chosen wisely

I couldn't really be much more content with the results of yesterday's elections, to be honest. Yes, we have another minority Parliament, perhaps as divided (if not moreso) than its predecessor - but the makeup of the 308 individuals headed to Ottawa to form Canada's 39th Parliament could not be much better for Canada. Let's take a look.

So Paul Martin's Liberals were humbled, and rightfully so, though not crushed, which is important. They will make up a very strong Official Opposition with 103 seats. After spending 13 years in power, many of them without a rudder or exciting policy direction, the LPC now gets a chance to return to Opposition and begin the process of re-energizing. We've been scraping the bottom of the barrel recently, and let's be quite honest - it's time for a break. We now have an exciting leadership campaign shaping up, and Liberals need to ensure that it doesn't turn into a repeat of Martin's coronation in 2003 - that is, that someone like Frank McKenna doesn't end up winning 95% of the vote against one remaining, out-of-the-question candidate. We need a discussion about new ideas, about vision and about leadership. This is a perfect chance to reaffirm what Canadian Liberalism stands for.

Stephen Harper has finally won his election, albeit with a minority mandate. This is a great chance for him to bring some new ideas and perspective to how Canada is governed, and I look forward to some energy and excitement in Ottawa again. He's known for his ability to build consensus, and I hope that he can apply those skills both with regard to Canadian federalism and the business of the House of Commons. As I've said before, I will likely disagree with him on many issues, but I begin his mandate with a positive attitude. I wish him luck and success as he prepares to govern the country. Just keep in mind, Mr Harper, that you are leading a minority, and that this may well be a vote against the Liberals rather than an enthusiastic endorsement of your policies.

The Bloc Quebecois and its leader, Gilles Duceppe, were also humbled last night. Despite the talk of breaching the 50% threshold and wiping out the federalist seat count in the province, they lost three seats and a good 6 or 7 percent of the vote. I would just as soon see the BQ wiped off the Quebec electoral map myself, but this is a step. Another benefit of their drop in the polls is the fact that the CPC won some Quebec seats - a critical factor for the formation of a government. It would be a dangerous situation had the Tories been shut out from the province.

And finally, the Jack Layton's NDP is up by 10 seats or so, making them a more powerful voice in the House of Commons. This is also a good thing - they bring different priorities to the table, and though I would never want them governing, it's important to have their voice heard loud and clear. I was hoping for a second that Layton might be unseated by Liberal candidate Deborah Coyne, but you can't win 'em all. Layton should really lose the whole 'working families' thing - it drives me nuts.

So, all in all, a brilliant election result that I'm very happy with. For a variety of reasons, it appears that it will lead to a more vibrant Canada, and it is a demonstration of the health of Canadian democracy. Canadian voters have, as always, chosen wisely.

LIBDATE: A good piece here by Andrew Coyne on the possibilities these results hold for the Liberals. His thoughts line up pretty much with my own.

Friday, January 20, 2006 

The possibilities of a minority government

No, I'm not talking about Canada. The first results from Iraq's parliamentary elections were published today, giving the combined forces of the Shiites and the Kurds just under the 2/3 majority needed to form a government. They won a combined total of 181 of the legislature's 275 seats. This means that in order for a government to function, these two groups (both of which were oppressed under Saddam Hussein's regime) will have to collaborate with other elected groups, including the Sunnis, who were favoured under Hussein's regime.

Now, whether or not one agrees with the invasion of Iraq (I personally tend to think that the notion of dealing with Mr Hussein was dealt with very poorly), one must concede the value in the country's latest elections. Iraq's nascent democracy certainly isn't perfect, and it cannot be seen as an easy cure for the country's struggles, but I think it's valuable that the democratic experiment is well underway. It's good for people to be voting, it's good for all groups (Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds) to be represented together in the parliament. Hopefully, the new Iraqi coalition government includes the Sunnis and works as a national unity government - it seems to me that that may help and quiet the insurgency a little. Everyone should be involved in the nature's future, and a coalition government may be the best way to accomplish that. Different interests will be taken into account, and parties may moderate their positions slightly in order to make progress. A friend of mine who hails from Iraq doesn't have much faith in his country's new democracy - I hope that a successful minority government can prove him wrong, and that it doesn't descend into bickering, chaos and new elections. Cross your fingers.

GIVE-ME-A-BREAK-DATE: This is really not a front page story, if a story at all. Now this is a bit of media bias, methinks - shame on the Globe for printing it. Harper's been at it for 6 weeks - so what if he wants the last weekend to be a little quieter?

Thursday, January 19, 2006 

Dripping with irony

It's ironic, really. And quite hypocritical. Here we have Paul Martin accusing Stephen Harper of instantiating the Republican Party of Canada through his party's press releases, campaign rhetoric and TV ads - fine, fair enough. Not really a great line of argument, but fine. Now, (and this is the ironic part), he lowers the level of debate in this country by suggesting (without any evidence, mind you) that a Conservative government would stack the Supreme Court of Canada with right-wing ideologues. Doesn't that sound familiar? To the talking points of America's Democratic Party? Absolutely. Martin's argument that since there is a vacancy to be filled, Stephen Harper would use it to slant the court drastically to the right smacks of desperation to me. No evidence, and it's not like the Liberals haven't had their chance to fill a vacancy or two.

These kind of unsubstantiated arguments are pretty disgraceful, and only drag Paul Martin's legacy further through the gutter. And, I think, insult the intelligence of many Canadians. Paul - where are the new ideas and solutions for health care, the military, foreign policy, Canada's cities and crime? That's what Canadians want to hear from you, not this kind of rubbish. It boggles the mind as to why Martin's advisors can't see this.

DISAPPOINTED UPDATE: No, no, no - Stephen Harper has returned to his old Gomery rhetoric in the face of a dip in polling numbers. The positivity was working so well, and he should have spent the last few days of the campaign talking about ideas for the future, not Gomery. Unfortunate.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 

Canada's incoherent role in the world

It hasn't really been a big campaign issue, that's for sure, but one of the biggest policy and leadership disappointments in Ottawa (for me at least) over the past few years has been Canadian foreign policy. Or the lack thereof, I suppose. Paul Martin's Liberals have for several years trumpeted their creation of a role of 'pride and influence in the world' for Canada, but haven't delivered. As a matter of fact, it goes back to Jean Chrétien, who spent way more time worrying about domestic issues than international ones. Despite what his supporters may say, refusing to do something (ie. the Iraq war) does not a foreign policy make. A foreign policy can't just be what we don't do. The question is, though, if any of the current leaders can offer anything better.

I should first note that for me, an ideal Canadian foreign policy would be one in which we do not hestitate to stand forward and be vocal about injustice when and where it happens. And further to that, we should be willing to put our money where our mouth is, and volunteer resources, soldiers, logistics or other support to ensure that we can follow through. Canada must act in a way that recognizes both our national interests and the world's human interests - two notions that are not always incompatible. Canada should lead a moral foreign policy - God knows the world needs it.

So has Paul Martin's foreign policy been a success? I would say, quite spectacularly, no. What was Mr Martin's guiding principle in terms of how Canada interacted with the world? Well, he ricocheted from not having any to having too many. His L-20 suggestion, a fundamentally-good idea, was mostly ignored. Despite Ottawa telling us how involved Canada is in Darfur, the violence in that country continues. Ottawa had trouble even standing up to Iran when one of our citizens, Zahra Kazemi was murdered. Canada refused to commit to a timeline for implementing the 0.7% target for foreign aid - a target originally set by Canadians! Some supporters will point to Canada's refusal to stay out of the U.S. missile defence programme and Mr Martin's supposed willingness to stand up to the United States. Again, a foreign policy is not solely what we do not do, and to judge it solely based on that is inappropriate. But also, Mr Martin has needlessly antagonized the United States - that's not standing up, that's just being stupid and trying to gain cheap political points. I fail to be impressed by Martin's foreign policy - though I'd love to be convinced otherwise.

Let's look at what the other parties are offering. Are any of them willing to commit to the moral foreign policy that (I think) Canada and the world both need and deserve? Well, the Liberal platform consists of a lot of repetition of what the Martin government has supposedly done, which isn't really much of a platform. And some of those observations aren't really anything to do with Mr Martin (the fact that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is a Canadian, for example). New ideas include a ban on all space weapons and Pearson Scholarships for international and Canadian students to study multilateralism and international relations - both decent ideas, but not really smacking of much vision. And lacking the moral component, as well.

The Conservative plan is pretty darn vague - the Tories will "articulate Canada's core values [...] on the international stage." OK, great. They'll also advance our interests through foreign aid and let Parliament ratify treaties. Doesn't it already do that? At any rate, not much vision and even fewer concrete ideas for how Canada should act internationally. The New Democrat version is equally uninspiring, on the whole. Pledging to only commit Canadian troops to missions under international organizations seems to me to be rather closed-minded and inflexible, and cleaning up DND dumpsites isn't really foreign policy. Like the other two parties, some interesting ideas, but no coherent vision and no mention of the ethics needed in foreign policy.

It's fairly obvious to me that none of the current parties offer a coherent, viable or moral vision of Canadian foreign policy, which is unfortunate. I want to make it clear, though, that Canada has done good things internationally in the past few years - but we're not doing as much as we could, as well as we could. As a nation, we must formulate something along the lines mentioned above or risk having our influence in the world slip further and further away. Canada can play an important role, a moral and ethical role, but we're not on track to do so at any time in the near future with the leaders that we have. For more great reading on the subject, take a look at Jennifer Welsh's book, At Home in the World.

HAT-TIP: Kudos to The Blog Report over at the CBC for the attention yesterday.

GIMMICK ALERT: WestJet is giving away free flights anywhere in Canada on the day after the election to anyone with the same last name as one of the 5 federal leaders. Anyone willing to look at a quick name change for the sake of a free flight? Congrats to those lucky enough to get it without the bureaucratic rigmarole.

Saturday, January 14, 2006 

The Toronto situation

The situation in Toronto just seems to be getting worse and worse - I'm not speaking about Liberal fortunes, mind you, I'm talking about the spate of gun violence that has gripped the city for the past year or so. Once pretty much contained in certain corners of the city, namely up near Jane and Finch, it recently exploded into what is more or less downtown Toronto. I'm talking, of course, about the Boxing Day shooting near the Eaton Centre on Yonge Street. So much for keeping it contained. Since then, there's been more talk from municipal, provincial and federal officials about what to do about the mess, and it's obviously become an election issue, with (current) PM Paul Martin proposing a ban on handguns, among other proposals.

One thing to notice about most of the suggestions, however, is that they deal primarily with wanting to deal with the causes of crime, namely poverty, unemployment, social exclusion, etc. There's also this hesitation in Canadian circles to describe the Toronto violence in any kind of racial terms - it's blatantly discriminatory, some say, to say that this is perpetrated by mostly black gangs. And let's be honest, they continue, it's not their fault - it's ours for not offering them enough opportunities. This position is one that's really hard to argue against for fear of seeming insensitive or outright racist. But I think it's necessary that we consider the problem more completely and avoid simply falling into the chasm of political correctness on default - sometimes, it's more productive to call a spade a spade.

Check out this interview for starters. It's a Maclean's interview with William Bratton, the former police chief of New York City, now heading up L.A.'s police force. "By the time Bratton left the NYPD, murders in New York had fallen to 984 a year, from a high of 2,262 in 1990," the article writes. "During his first two years in Los Angeles, overall crime has dropped 13 per cent, homicides 20 per cent." Impressive, for sure. But how does he achieve these miracles? Not by adopting the same careful, political rhetoric surrounding the issue of crime that exists in Canada. Read some of what he has to say:

You need to talk about [the racial makeup of the gangs]. It's all part of the issue. If it's Jamaican gangs that are committing the crimes, well then, go after the Jamaican gangs. And don't be afraid to go after them because they're black. That's the last thing you need to be concerned with.

Blunt stuff - I bet you that if he said that in Canada, he'd be fired. Oh, wait - Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino was fired. Not sure why, but he did get on the wrong side of the Police Services Board over some similar comments on racial profiling. Here's some more from Bratton - how about this rather insightful point?

When you put too much emphasis on the idea of poverty being the cause of crime, you're as much as saying that just because you are poor or disadvantaged, you are going to resort to crime to get by. And that's a phenomenally racist and insensitive attitude. The vast majority of people who are poor do not resort to crime. A small percentage do. But he is correct that one of the influences on crime is poverty. If you make a city safer, you will create more jobs. In our case in Los Angeles, and in your case in Toronto, you'll create more tourists coming in, who will spend more money, create more jobs and create more tax revenue. But if the place is deemed to be unsafe, you are not going to have that economic benefit.

At any rate, I think we absolutely need to think twice about simply ascribing the crime problem in Toronto to lack of opportunity, as the NDP might. As Bratton points out, that's equally racist. That being said, a balance is needed between some community outreach work and some simple arrests. And if the gangs involved are predominantly black, then target those gangs. It shouldn't matter what colour they are - they're the ones committing the crimes. Finally, again paraphrasing Mr Bratton, it should all come down to individual responsibility - it's no one else's fault but the people who pull the triggers. It seems to me that that's how we should deal with things in Toronto and across the country, but more importantly, we need to feel comfortable talking about it and rethinking our current approach. Otherwise, we're just missing the real problem and things will likely get worse. When people's lives are at risk, perhaps we can put aside the political correctness for once?

IRRELEVANT UPDATE: I see today that Stephen Harper is on the cover of Maclean's - a close up of his eyes looking very shifty, and the headline? The Harper Agenda, which can be found here. Will this torpedo his campaign, as some speculate it did in 2004? Doubt it.

LIBDATE: You know a campaign is finished when you see an article like this.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 

Why I didn't vote Liberal

I've discovered that I don't think I would be a very good partisan. Someday I'd like to run for public office, likely under the Liberal banner, but I don't think I'm very good at sticking to party dogma at all costs. This might end up to be problematic. I consider myself a Liberal deep down, but I have no problem with criticizing Liberal policies or statements, or applauding them, for that matter. The same goes for anything coming from the Tories or the NDP. Sometimes I go even further than simply criticism of the Liberals - this election, I've temporarily shifted allegiances in what I see to be the best interests of the country and the party. I hope that none of those who know me disown me because of this, but I cast my ballot last week, and I voted for Stephen Harper's Conservatives. This isn't a fundamental shift in how I see the country - Liberal principles of equality, justice, strong social programmes with responsible fiscal management and a strong central government continue to resound strongly with me. But I'm convinced that a Liberal vote from me isn't the best way to achieve that.

Now, I know what the first response to this will be - trying to convince me that Harper would create a Canada that none of us would recognize (to paraphrase Paul Martin). He would allow rampant two-tier health care - in fact, he would privatize all of our public services. He would essentially turn Canada into the international lapdog of the United States. He would roll back same-sex marriage. He refuses to defend a woman's right to choose. He would eat our children and cute animals like rabbits and puppies. He doesn't love Canada, for goodness' sakes! Now, some of this is true and valid, and some of it is not - I leave you to decide for yourself which is which. The criticisms that are made of Harper along similar lines as above often border on the ad hominem and really do nothing to raise the level of debate. I admit readily that I disagree with some of Harper's policy planks (such as trying some 14-year olds as adults! Gah!), and if he becomes our Prime Minister, I'll likely disagree with lots of what he does. But this brings me to my next point.

Why, some of you are asking, in God's name are you voting for the man if you disagree with him on these policy issues? Well, in all honesty, there's plenty I disagree with policy-wise from each of the leaders, so it's difficult to plant myself firmly in one camp in that regard. For me, it came down to more long-term questions.

Are current Liberal policies towards Quebec viable in the long-term? The question would be easier to answer if there were some coherent ones. Despite Paul Martin's attempts to portray him as Captain Canada as it were, the only man capable of beating back separatism and achieving national unity, his actions haven't much impressed me. And the notion of a 'OUI' referendum win terrifies me to death. I'm not at all a fan of assymetrical federalism - I don't think it's a good idea at all to be signing side deals with each province all the time instead of looking at things from a national perspective. Are there different needs in different provinces? Yes, and everyone should be treated equally in that they get what they need - but I think there should be much more of a focus on national agreements and partnerships than special deals with each province. It just rubs me the wrong way. And it's starting to grate to hear Paul Martin floundering around in Quebec as the Bloc continues to surge. I don't know how best to deal with Quebec, I admit - but surely we can do better than the current Liberal tack in the province. Yes, you point out, but Stephen Harper will be worse. Maybe. But I think we've got to give it a shot and let someone new try. If he can't cut it? Well, that brings me to my next point.

Do we really want more than 13 years of government by one party? The Liberals have been in power since 1993, and they've done a decent job. The slaying of the deficit was impressive and important, and we can now concentrate on new spending priorities. (Note: to those of you who blame Martin for putting the bulk of the weight on the provinces, I'd like to hear your alternative way of getting rid of the massive deficit. It ain't easy.) But 13 years is a long time in office. You start to get tired, you scrape the bottom of the barrel, and yes, let's be honest, some of your members start to feel that sense of entitlement that Harper goes on about. You run out of steam and ideas - that's not good for the country. That's where we are right now, I think. The Martin government has been rather rudderless - but the end of Chretien's last mandate was pretty rudderless, too. It's time for the party to have a bit of a time-out, to examine things from the Opposition benches and to eat some humble pie. The LPC needs to find a new leader with bold new ideas for the country and preferably a vision that the party and the country can really get excited about. We're not going to get that if the Liberals stay in government for any longer.

You know, I'm probably going to disagree with some of what Stephen Harper does. I hope he doesn't screw up the Constitution or Quebec too much, because that would just be disappointing. But you know, it's a chance I'm willing to take. Because the final question is this:

Can my Liberal philosophy be best achieved by another Liberal win? And the answer is no. My Canada is one that includes a strong Quebec and in which all provinces feel respected. It's one with strong social programmes. It's one that leads a principled role on the international stage. And I'm just not convinced that another Liberal win is the best way to achieve that Canada. We need a break to get some new ideas and energy that will resound with other Liberals and with all Canadians. If we need a Conservative government, however temporarily to give us the chance to re-energize so that I can get the Canada I want, I'm willing to take that risk.

VINDICATED UPDATE: Canada's national newspaper tends to agree with me, for the record.

Monday, January 09, 2006 

Odds and ends

Well, I'm back to some slightly less sporadic blogging after a reasonably restful Christmas break back in Ontario. The weather didn't co-operate with me and there wasn't really any snow while I was home, but that's OK - if I can take months at a time of grey and rain out here in BC, I can take it back in the Centre of the Universe, too. See on the side, there? That's the snow that I didn't get this Christmas. Looks like plenty of interesting things have happened politically since I retreated from the blogosphere, too. I won't bother commenting too heavily on it all because it's likely been commented on to death, but suffice it to say that I'm not terribly surprised or disappointed in the latest Tory surge. But I'll get more into that later. Did my civic duty, too, and cast my first ballot. Huzzah - not a terribly enthusing election in which to do it, but what can you do?

I read a fantastic book over the holidays called The Trouble with Islam Today, by Irshad Manji - absolutely should be a required read for anyone interested in understanding our world. I don't think it was as relevant to me as it might have been if I was, say, a Muslim, but it was still interesting. Written as an open letter to Manji's fellow Muslims, the book challenges what she sees as mainstream, modern day Islam's rejection of independent thought. It asks good questions about the role of women in Islamic society, the power of the Arabic influence within Islam and the apparent lack of approval for independent interpretation of the Quran. She particularly takes up the cause for ijtihad, the tradition of independent thinking within Islam that ended at the end of that civilization's Golden Age, and begins looking at ways to revive it. It's engaging to read, and it's undoubtedly bold - Manji has received countless death threats due to her writings. My one concern is that she paints Christianity and Judaism as much more open to independent thought - I can't speak for Judaism, but my experience with Christianity suggests to me that that's not always the case. There are certain quarters of Christianity that are still pretty resistant to anything but a literal interpretation of the Bible. At any rate, our world is shaped in many ways by the power of religion, and this book asks some fundamental questions about one of the largest faiths in the world. Her website has lots of interesting reading on it, as well.

Well, I'm off to watch the exciting leader's debate - expectations are pretty low for me for all of the leaders. Is it really that difficult to have a debate instead of either a shouting match or a series of prepared statements read to the camera? Here's to more of the rather boring, banal pablum we've come to expect from our leaders.

UPDATE: Excellent news - Israel has decided to let Palestinians in East Jerusalem vote in the upcoming elections. Hopefully we'll see more of this kind of direction from Kadima, despite having lost Ariel Sharon.

Sunday, December 11, 2005 

Wanted: a federalist strategy for Québec

The new Liberal ads in Quebec certainly don't seem to be going over very well. Apparently, the ads show two hockey teams - one Liberal, and one Bloc - and are designed to paint the BQ as a one-issue party, concerned only with sovereignty. And it also pokes fun at Gilles Duceppe's idea for a Québec hockey team. I haven't actually seen the ads, but the stills found on CTV certainly aren't very flattering - they look cheaply-made and juvenile. And the premise of the spot seems equally stupid to me - I can really imagine too many wavering Québec voters being bowled over by the ads and jumping to the Liberal ship. At any rate, the response to these ads is not going well for the Grits. And it doesn't seem to be getting any better. Over on Cyberpresse, there's an article that notes some anger at the ads coming from one Yvon Leduc, the director-general of the Ligue nationale d'improvisation (National Improvisation League), who argues that the Liberals have stolen the idea for the spots from him and some of his colleagues. I'm not sure if the story has made it into the English press yet but it certainly won't help matters. If anything, it'll give the BQ campaign more traction.

I admit that I'm not really finding the Liberal strategy in Québec to be terribly convincing. Calling it a de facto referendum doesn't seem to me at all to be a good idea, because it's very likely that the BQ will get more than 50% of the vote regardless of the fearmongering. Paul Wells writes well on the subject over here. This, coupled with Paul Martin's unappetizing theories on assymetrical federalism rub me completely the wrong way and leave me believing that the current Liberal team has no idea how to fight Québec separatism and is terrified, preferring instead to fire randomly in all directions until something works. How comforting. That being said, I don't really see anyone nationally (except perhaps Bernard Lord) who has the moral authority or intellectual capacity to make and lead a strong case for the future of Québec within Canada. One of my greatest fears is that Québec will separate from this country - I've told my Québecois friends here at school that countless times. It's so frustrating to see Canada's federalists floundering about with misguided tactics and stupid television ads that will likely lose more votes than they gain.

Oh well. C'est la vie, I suppose. If anyone finds a good federalist strategy for Québec, let me know.

Friday, December 09, 2005 

Layton's foreign policy: withdrawal

Apparently, NDP Leader Jack Layton essentially called today for a halt to the deployment of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, implying that Canada should perhaps withdraw from the mission altogether. Layton suggested that it was an initiative pressed forward by American President George W Bush, and that Canada shouldn't drift into a larger war. I'm not entirely sure what implications this will have for the campaign, but it seems that Layton is trying to make a bit of an Iraq parallel to Afghanistan in his remarks, and is perhaps reading off the same page as some American Democrats. I don't really see how this policy of his will help him make any gains for the NDP, though. It seems to me that Canadians are rather supportive of our presence in Afghanistan, and will continue to be unless casualties get exorbitantly high.

Beyond simply the campaign effects, though, I want to note how much I totally disagree with much of what Layton has said. He suggests that this is a war led by George Bush that Paul Martin is blindly and secretly leading Canadians into. The fact of the matter is that the Afghanistan mission has always been a multilateral one. At first, when the goal was to aid the Northern Alliance and topple the Taliban, the invasion had full UN backing and was endorsed by much of the world as a valid response to 9/11 - and rightly so. After the Taliban fell, the role of foreign troops turned to one of nationbuilding and security, ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a failed state and can make a smooth transition to democracy and a new government. That's why Canadian troops are there, and it's a valid mission that Jack Layton is foolish to undermine. Will there be casualties? Yes, likely - Defence Minister Bill Graham has argued as much for months. But neither that fact nor the fact that the role of Canada is expanding beyond Kandahar to perhaps the more important yet dangerous long-term role of provincial security is reason to get out and call for withdrawal. Canada is playing an important role in the stabilization of a state whose collapse would be catastrophic. Calling for our withdrawal from a multilateral effort by trying to link it to George Bush or claiming that it has been done secretly (also false) is ridiculous - as far as I'm concerned this is one reason why I don't want Jack Layton's hand on the foreign policy rudder. I hope that most Canadians think the same way.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005 

The Sachs plan for ending poverty

Just finished reading an excellent book by economist Jeffrey Sachs called The End of Poverty - I'd recommend that just about anyone with an interest in political, economic or social justice issues should read it. I'll be honest and say point-blank that a big highlight for me was that it made a persuasive case for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) without resorting to too much economic jargon that I wouldn't understand. Essentially, Sachs argues that the MDGs are all within reach by 2015, and that furthermore, we have the opportunity to completely eliminate extreme poverty by 2025. That's a pretty ambitious and exciting goal, I think.

There've been many authors and activists and disappointingly-few politicians throughout the last few decades who have pressed for the need to increase foreign aid levels to developing countries (former Canadian PM Lester Pearson was the one who suggested the 0.7% target), but I think that Sachs' book is the most persuasive case so far. His background certainly helps - he's a classically-trained economist, with impeccable credentials at Harvard and Columbia, and he's had much experience advising nations around the world to the end of rebuilding economies. Several years ago, he was appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to design a plan for the implementation of the MDGs. So I think that it's fair to say that in Jeffrey Sachs we have a man who should be taken very seriously.

Systematically, Sachs looks at his past experiences in economic advisory roles, and then turns his focus to the MDGs. He looks at the viability of implementing them, and concludes that not only can rich countries afford to increase their levels of foreign aid, not only will the money be used effectively (rather than be skimmed off by widespread corruption), but it is indeed in the best interests of the rich countries from a national security perspective. Not all aspects of his argument are entirely new, but he eloquently, carefully and clearly presents the material. His work is something that can be understood by many, even those without a background in economics or international finance or development, and that is perhaps its greatest value. In The End of Poverty, we read a persuasive case for ending global poverty from a world-renowned economic luminary. The MDGs are indeed within our grasp - and anyone who doubts that, as well as those who don't, should read Jeffrey Sachs' work.

UPDATE: For those of you who are interested, I'm now on to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. And on another note, my blogging activity level will likely decrease exponentially from about 16 December to 9 January. During that time, I'll be at home eating good food, enjoying the snow and showing only a cursory interest in the campaign.

UNRELATED UPDATE: This isn't really worth a new post, but I was rather entertained by a phrase in a CTV story regarding the potential income trust leak investigation. According to someone who heard of the income trust decision in advance, "the specifics were vague." Hooray for vague specifics - could that quotation make any less sense?

Monday, December 05, 2005 

Layton's smile of the day

In a move that's sure to have Jack Layton grinning widely today, the Muslim Canadian Congress endorsed the New Democrats in the upcoming election. While the MCC isn't the only organization representing Canada's Muslim communities, I think it's pretty telling to note that it has never before endorsed a political party. The Liberals have long been the party of choice for Canada's immigrants and minority populations, and while I don't think they've lost that support for good, they're perhaps not working as hard to earn it as some of the other parties. I'm not sure how much this'll hurt the Grits in the election - I don't know how prominent the MCC is in the Muslim community, but it's certainly a blow in terms of votes. It could, I suppose, be a watershed moment from which the LPC ceases to be the party of Canada's immigrants - or it could not. Nonetheless, I think it's an interesting development.

As far as I'm concerned, though - and I know it's probably bad politics - political parties shouldn't aim to win over the Muslim, Indo-Canadian, Jewish, female, elderly, Chinese or whatever populations with specific policies and ideas. Enough already with the special interest groups and catering to every single minority and specific request/situation - let's look at the things that are common to all Canadians, and put together a national vision that includes everyone. It's possible, though certainly more challenging than putting together a myriad of different plans for a myriad of different ethnic or demographic groups. And it's better in the long-run.

Friday, December 02, 2005 

Spending in the currency of ideas

Is it just me, or have the Conservatives been completely outperforming the Liberals so far this campaign when it comes to new ideas? So far from the Tories, we've heard of several key campaign planks that represent new thinking. As an opening salvo of the campaign, Stephen Harper suggested an independent Director of Public Prosecutions, to be responsible for all federal prosecutions, instead of the Attorney-General. Granted, the Tories then ran into a few problems with questions of encroachment on provincial jurisdiction and some communications issues between Harper and Peter MacKay - but the fact is that it's an idea that's pretty substantially different from recent thinking on the sponsorship mess. As MacKay pointed out, without drastically shifting federal reponsibilty on criminal matters, it wouldn't be able to touch folks involved in the sponsorship scandal, but it's probably not a bad idea, regardless.

After that, it was the pledge to reduce the GST to 5% from its current 7% rate. Arguably good politics but bad economics, this is a policy issue that can be debated at length by the leaders throughout the campaign. Against this new call, the Liberals are stuck to argue for the status quo (that is, more personal income-tax cuts) and to defend the tax that they so vehemently opposed in 1993. It provides some nice contradictory Paul Martin soundbites for the Tories to play with, as well.

Now, the Tories have begun to tackle health care, proposing a Patient Wait Times Guarantee, to ensure that patients can get access to health care in a medically-appropriate period of time. I'm not entirely sure of the feasability of this, but it's a policy idea designed to respond to the Supreme Court Chaoulli decision and, supposedly, to protect public health care yet innovate within it.

I'm not convinced that all of these ideas are necessarily the right way to go for the country, but (and this shows how low we've sunken) at least they're ideas. At least they're not a reaffirmation of the status quo. Even the NDP has suggested plans for helping the auto industry, though I'm spectacularly unconvinced of their efficacity. The Bloc proposed that Quebec hockey teams play on the international level. On the other hand, the Liberals have been reduced to explaining what they've done for the last 12 years, telling people how much money they've thrown at all of the problems and issuing "Fact Check" press releases slamming their opponents. I'm just disappointed in the Liberals, really - there's wonderful liberal ideas that exist, and great liberal thinkers to suggest them. But the current Liberal team seems to be bereft of both. The way this campaign has opened to date (and granted, there's still a good month-and-a-half left) only underscores my conviction that the LPC needs some time on the sidelines to sit back, reflect and come up with some new ideas. You can only govern for so long - sometimes you just need a break.

Regarding the impact this will have on the campaign - I suggested before that the party that ran the most positive campaign would likely see dividends at the polls. Apparently, though, Harper is running into problems in that his positive message is being drowned out by his negative image. It's too early yet to say how it will turn out, but it seems that a positive campaign isn't everything - though it should be. At any rate, it's good to see the Tories moving away from simply repeating Gomery rhetoric and starting to tell Canadians what they'd do with a mandate.

Thursday, December 01, 2005 

CNN highlights famine in Malawi

Incredibly enough, today's top headline on CNN.com has nothing to do with American domestic politics. It has nothing to do with the conflict in Iraq. Instead, it's a report on Malawi, a nation in Africa facing heavy famines and continuing to struggle with tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. It's about time that the mainstream news networks saw fit to put some of these critical stories about human existence and the extreme poverty in Africa and other developing nations on their front pages. This is certainly a step in the right direction, though I'm a bit cynical in that I doubt we'll see this kind of thing much more often. At any rate, here's the story, published front and centre on CNN - and rightfully so.

Koinange: Hospital scene like 'hell on earth'
African nation of Malawi battered by AIDS, drought
By Jeff Koinange

BLANTYRE, Malawi (CNN) -- Walking into the highly restricted tuberculosis ward of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Malawi's second city of Blantyre is a lesson in humility.

To enter, you need to fill out a lot of paperwork letting the hospital know that if anything happens to you, it is not liable. This takes a couple of hours.

Once you're cleared, you get a surgeon's mask and a guide and off you go.

Our team did this recently and entered a scene that's the closest thing we've seen to hell on earth.

In bed after bed, the dead and the dying lie side-by-side. Patients stricken by advanced tuberculosis brought on by AIDS cough uncontrollably while relatives try to comfort them.

The faces of the sick are thin, their eyes set deeply in their sockets. Their bones protrude to make them appear deformed. Many are too ill to talk. We are at a loss for words.

This is present-day Malawi, a landlocked central African nation nestled between Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. The toll taken by TB is just one part of Malawi's multi-dimensional crisis.

This is one of the world's 10 poorest countries; life expectancy is a mere 37 years; two-thirds of the population live on less than a dollar a day; one in six adults is HIV positive, and nearly half the population of 12 million faces starvation in coming months if help doesn't arrive soon.

That's 5 million people, which is half the population of London or New York City.

Malawi is in deep trouble after a fourth straight season of failed rains, which made farmlands and fields bone dry. November was supposed to usher in the rainy season -- but the skies were a clear blue and no clouds are in sight.

The majority of Malawians are subsistence farmers - and they are crying out for help. In the south, once the agricultural heartland, people line up for hours under a scorching sun at food distribution centers run by international nongovernmental organizations. But here, too, rations are fast running out.

Supplies meant to last for four weeks now last half that time because of the growing number of people who need food. Aid workers show us empty warehouses, the result of what they say are empty promises by a donor community fatigued by cries for help from Africa.

They tell us this has been a particularly tough year -- the tsunami, earthquakes, drought, hunger, famine -- one pestilence after another, almost biblical, it seems. At the children's ward of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, the beds are filled with the severely malnourished, half of whom are also HIV-positive.

Doctors tell us the hospital is usually the last resort for many desperate mothers. In a country steeped in myth and superstition, mothers would rather take their children to "local" doctors, a way of saying "witch doctors." When this fails, it's a desperate rush to the Queen Elizabeth, but in most cases that's much too late.

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