A Canadian's perspective on domestic and international issues. Independent coverage of Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections and anything of interest in Canada.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Canadian troops to Afghanistan, a mistake of Olympian proportions

I think its disgraceful the new conservative government would use Canada's top soldier as a propaganda agent.
No one in Canada is going to directly challenge General Hillier, or his lieutenants, nor should they, about Canada's role in Afghanistan. Hillier's job is to follow orders, not set public policy. Therefore, it should not be Hillier who is appealing to the Canadian people to support our nation's involvement in the American-led, so-called, "war on terror." That's a job for our prime minister and the defense minister, not their underlings.
For Stephen Harper and Gordon O'Connor, to parade General Hillier in front of the Canadian people, hoping to drum up support for the mission to Afghanistan, is nothing short of extreme cowardice on behalf of our government.
Clearly there is much concern and many questions among Canadians about our new role in international politics and world affairs. There is even larger worry about our specific role in Afghanistan, and about our troops being deployed for any reason other than peacekeeping. Because of this, there needs to be a national debate in Canada about whether or not we want our armed forces changing their mandate from one of peacekeeping, to one of an assault force, which is what we are being used for in Kandahar province. And this is where the cowardice comes in. Harper and his government are afraid to put this issue to the people because they know there's a good chance the majority of Canadians will vote against it.
Make no mistake, Canada's new role in Afghanistan is not about protecting the Afghan people, as both O'Connor and Hillier have stated. It is about relieving spent US and British forces, and about propping up the failing US war strategy. Our new prime minister and his government are apparently so eager to please our American neighbours, that they are willing to put our armed personnel in harms way.
To be fair to our current political leadership, this is not entirely their doing. It was the Liberal majority, under Jean Chretien, who realized blanket support of the US led "war on terror" would be political suicide. So, instead of joining the Bush administration in Iraq, our former prime minister agreed to send troops to Afghanistan instead.
The Afghan invasion came about as a direct result of 911. Clearly, the Taliban had supported Bin Laden by harbouring him and his Al Queda forces. In the wake of September 11, 2001, it was clear the Taliban had to be removed, and Bin Laden's army usurped. Canadians supported that, just as we'd support our police going after a murderer. Al Queda attacked and killed innocent people. Canadians wanted him caught. But Canadians did not accept the pretense that the subsequent invasion of Iraq was part of that measure. Chretien knew, if he outrightly joined the US action in Iraq, the Canadian people would be up in arms. So he made a side deal. Basically, his government told the US; Look, we can't join you in Iraq because it would be politically disastrous, so we'll send our troops to relieve your forces in Afghanistan, and you can send those forces to Iraq. That way we'll appear to be fighting Bin Laden, and your soldiers will be freed up to help you out in Iraq.
Then, to cover his political backside, Chretien went down to Chicago and gave a speech that blasted the US for its foreign policy. You remember the speech, the one where Chretien told the Americans, "you are not trusted in the world." It was a very clever bit of spin, designed to help the Americans while appearing to keep Canada's role as an international peacekeeper in tact, at least in the eyes of the Canadian public.
Now our new government wants to take it a step further, by stripping away the pretense and openly supporting the US action.
This is clear from statements made by Defense Minister O'Connor, who this past week came right out and said his government intends to build stronger military association with the US.
By parading General Hillier out in front of the Canadian people the Conservatives are counting on the Canadian people not saying "No" to our service men and women. No Canadian is going to deny our brave soldiers the tools they need to do any job they've been ordered to do. So, by making Hillier the front man to the operation, the current government is avoiding having to address the backlash that would occur if the politicians were to go it alone.
If Harper were to stand up in front of the Canadian people and say, we're changing Canada's role in the world, we're no longer going to be just a peacekeeper, we're now going to become part of the American's world wide military doctrine of "bombing for democracy," he knows the backlash would swamp his government. So, instead, he parades out a widely respected General to ask that Canadians support his soldiers, knowing full well that Canadians are not going to deny that support.
Anyone who has graduated from high school in this country knows that places like Afghanistan and Iraq have been war zones since the dawn of time. Many of us remember the previous Gulf War and the Cold War, when the USSR tried for nearly ten years to take control of Afghanistan. We also remember how those actions ended in defeat. What's more, anyone who has studied the politics of that part of the world knows full well that armed occupations resolve nothing. In the end, its the people who live there who must decide for themselves how to resolve their own problems and armed occupations only exasperate the situation.
What Canadians really deserve, and what our government should be providing to us, is an open debate about our role in world affairs, and the role of our military in those affairs. Instead, we are being given no such debate, and are being manipulated into supporting US foreign policy under the guise of being supportive of our soldiers. To put it bluntly, our dog is being wagged but good!
What's at stake if we follow Mr. Harper's plan?
First, our international reputation as a peacekeeping nation will be severely damaged. We will be seen, potentially, as henchmen for the US. Yet Mr. Harper and his crew are serving it up as us being better neighbours.
Secondly, we will be inviting the terrorists onto our soil. Until now we have managed to avoid acts of terror here at home because we have appeared to not be involved. That will change to moment we start shooting up Afghan insurgents. Nothing builds a resentment like a kid watching his father get killed by someone with a Canadian flag on his shoulder.
Third, our ability to take a higher moral stand at the UN will be severely handicapped if we have innocent Afghani blood on our hands. How can we go to the people of the world and say "stop this nonsense" when we ourselves are participating in it?
Fourth, our national identity will be severely damaged. One thing we all have in common, here at home and abroad, is the perception that we are not American. People all over the world respect that about us. We're seen as the sober sister who tempers the happy trigger finger of our American cousins. If we relinquish that role, and go marching off in step with the US, that identity will be lost, and our bright red maple leaf crests will be seen as nothing more than the symbol of another American battalion.
Fifth, by allowing ourselves to become complicit with US foreign policy, we will lose our sovereignty. For all intent and purpose we may as well pack up, relinquish our national union, and join the US as states, because the moment we participate in the US incursions around the world is the moment we are going to need the US fighting force to protect us from the attacks that are certain to follow.
Sixth, our democracy itself is in peril. By not allowing and facilitating public debate on the role of our armed forces in world affairs, and on our role as peacekeepers, we are quashing public dissent, and when dissent is subverted, democracy is dead. If we are not allowed to publicly debate the role of our armed forces in world affairs then we no longer have a free society.
To be fair, Harper and his government, have not openly said there will be no debate on this issue. No, they've done something far more sinister. By parading General Hillier out to ask for support, they have attempted to stop the debate from ever starting. Its despicable, undemocratic, under handed and dishonest, and its downright Un-Canadian.
At a time when the national debate should be about whether we should even have a military, as opposed to a peacekeeping and disaster relief force, we are being dragged into a winless war that could potentially endanger each and everyone of us. At a time when Canadians should be discussing how we go about disarming the world, our soldiers are being marched off to kill or be killed. At a time when we should be leading the way towards the abolishment of war, we're being hoodwinked and spun into one. At a time when we should be questioning the intelligence and humanity of the American war machine, we're joining up with it.
Perhaps it is time for each and everyone of us to demonstrate what has made us great in the eyes of the world. Back in World War II Canadians demonstrated to the world that we are a brave nation. When former Prime Minister Lester Pearson took the idea of international peacekeeping to the UN, we demonstrated we were prepared to lead the world into a era where war would finally be abolished. Maybe its time we as people stood up to our politicians and made it clear that there will be no more Dieppes, and that peacekeeping is not some fanciful notion, but something we are willing to pursue regardless of how it affects our business relationships with corporate America.
How do we do it?
We get on the phone, we write letters, we talk to each other, to our leaders, and to people all around the world. We begin the debate that our current government seems so intent on preventing. We do it now, or we accept that Canada, instead of being the great nation we always believed ourselves to be, is nothing more than a "MIGHT HAVE BEEN", like the men's hockey team we sent to Turin.
We must act now, or we may as well fold up the Maple Leaf and add another star to the American flag.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Harper's transparent healthcare ploy

There’s a suspicion out there among lefties and centrists that the current Canadian federal government is doing all it can to make itself appear moderate. It’s spin! The idea is to convince the Canadian people the Harper Conservatives are not the big blue facists their critics have made them out to be.
I think its true.
The idea is to appear compassionate, and to eventually go back to the polls and win a majority, having convinced the Canadian people the Conservatives are not going to venture too far from the middle of the road.
Its less than honest, and there are some signs of it.
Has anyone else out there noticed that everyone coming away from meeting with our new prime minister is talking about private health care?
Both the BC and Quebec governments have done just that after meeting with Harper!
Our health care system was doing just fine, until successive Conservative and Liberal governments under Mulroney, Chretien and Martin, took their fiscal axes to it! Now, instead of restoring funding, the present government is slowly and methodically introducing a two-tiered solution to the dilemna their predecessors created.
Is this what the Canadian people really want?
I think not.
If our federal government is serious about preserving our national health care system then it seems the logical place to begin would be in restoring full funding to health care. Once that’s done, they could, potentially, start identifying areas where more funding or other improvements are needed. Instead, the current government seems intent on altering the entire formula by which health care is delivered in Canada.
Is this what Canadians really want?
Remember back in the election campaign, how Harper’s opponents chastized him about where his campaign donations came from? At the time Harper declared he’d made full disclosure on that subject.
Have you ever seen the list of his campaign contributors? Has anyone?
I for one want to know, because if he received money from anyone at a private medical service provider, or insurer, then our Prime Minister has a serious conflict of interest on his hands. And its just the sort of conflict Harper railed against while he was in opposition!
Its clear big business supports Mr. Harper. He is well ensconsed in Bay Street and wildly popular with industry. One of the biggest industries in the world is the insurance business, a sector that stands to benefit, big time, if Canada moves towards privatization of healthcare services. Before he goes any further down the road towards private healthcare, Mr. Harper should, if he has any ethics at all, disclose any and all donations he received from persons or businesses with stock in the insurance industry.
Will he? I bloody doubt it.
While in oppositon Mr. Harper made an awful lot of noise about government corruption, integrity, and transparency. Now that he’s in power, I believe it is incumbent on him to demonstrate the ethics, integrity and transparency he once championed. Moreover, it is vital, if he is to preserve his own integrity, that he reveal just what his ties to the big insurance and healthcare providers are.
Will he? I bloody doubt it!
Instead, Mr. Harper is going to forge ahead. He’ll limit funding to healthcare and allow secondary service providers to be developed. Soon, people will start using these secondary providers, because they’re there, and, down the road, Harper will say its working, people are using it. Which takes me back to my opening paragraph.
Until such times as Harper is able to win a majority, he will continue to partially fun public healthcare and allow the private providers to fill in the gaps. In time people will become dependant on these secondary providers. In the short term it will work, people who do not want to wait for services will go to the privateers, and things like wait times will appear to shrink, thus allowing Harper to declare he’s fixed the system.
In turn, Harper will go to the Canadian people as the champion of health care and potentially win big.
If he does win big, and take a majority, then watch what happens. I guarantee the privateers will get even more room to grow, while the public system is choked off.
If he doesn’t win big, then he will have at least opened the door for the private providers. And you know what they say, once you get a foot in the door, you can jam it open!
Short of a vast majority of Canadians writing to the Prime Minister, demanding both full disclosure of his connections to private health care and insurance providers, and full restoration of funding to the public system, I don’t see how we’re going to avoid the total decimation of our public health care system.
Sadly, it may already be too late. And even more sadly, if Canadians fall for Mr. Harper’s ploy, of appearing to be a moderate, then we will get just what we deserve, an American-style, every citizen for his or herself, approach to the social safety net.
If you’re reasonably wealthy and can afford to purchase insurance from an organzation like Blue Cross, for example, then none of this matters. But if you’re from one of the majority of Canadian families who have both parents working more hours for less pay, then you’d better start pinching those pennies even tighter, because you’re certainly going to need them.
Will Harper’s ploy work?
Well, that’s entirely up to you and me!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Harper's a weak one

Prior to his election as Prime Minister last month Stephen Harper had a lot to say about the democratic deficit and the arrogance of the ruling Liberal Party. He also campaigned on Senate Reform, promising to make the upper house elected.
Now, one week into his term, Harper has apparently turned a blind eye to those concerns.
First, he appoints a Conservative Party organizer to the Senate and makes that person a cabinet minister. Then he solicits an elected member of the Liberal Party to change allegience and join the Conservative cabinet. Finally, he stands by, not saying a word, while the Liberal-come-Conservative boldly announces he doesn’t care what the people of his riding have to say, he won’t quit, and he won’t call a byelection.
Imagine if the tables were turned, and the Liberals had won government, then approached one of the Conservative members to perform a similar flip. Harper would have been screaming blue murder. That’s for sure!
Across the board, on both the opposition and government benches, and from the constituents in the former Liberal member’s riding, there have been cries of “foul.” Harper, the champion of political ethics when he was in opposition, seems to be taking the tact, ‘ignore it until it goes away’. A ploy he was quick to denounce when he was in opposition.
Had Harper approached Emerson and asked him to join cabinet without relinquishing his Liberal Party membership, or if he’d asked Emerson to sit as an independent, before giving him a cabinet post, there would be no problem. Instead, he chose to offer the former Liberal a big raise in salary, and a high profile position, but only if he became a Conservative. Its nothing short of total hypocracy!
Harper’s appointment of a Conservative Party hack to the Senate is exactly the sort of cronyism the Conservatives have whined and complained about since Harper became their leader. Is this how Harper and his gang plan to change government, by conducting business in exactly the same fashion his predecesors did?
While Harper has been busy offering big perks to former Liberal insiders, and promoting unelected party hacks to well paid positions within his goverment, he has shut out some of his long term supporters, including people like Diane Yablonski. Therein may be the good news for Canadian voters.
The cracks in Harper’s ethics and integrity are clearly showing after one week in office. The internal cracks, which are bound to appear if Harper continues to overlook elected Conservative Party insiders in favour of unelected cronies and Liberals, will take a little longer to manifest. But the pressure is already building and sooner or later, if history is any indicator, that dam too will break.
Other cracks are soon to appear. It will begin when Harper begins to push some of his proposed legislation through a parliament where his governing party is outnumbered. The next big issue will be childcare. Harper wants to abandon the childcare deals currently in place between the feds and their provincial counterparts. He has even boldly stated he will have it through the house and into law by July. Its a bold gesture from a man who does not have enough seats to pass any kind of legislation, and his tact of telling the Canadian people its a done deal is certain to rile the opposition. At very least the other parties are going to delay the Conservative legislation, if for no other reason than to teach Harper that he does not have control of the house.
To make things even more difficult for Harper, the NDP have now formally requested the Ethics Commissioner look into the Harper-Emerson deal. How is Harper going to respond if the commissioner comes out against the deal? He’ll be in a catch -22. Will he ignore the commissioner and thus undermine that office, or will he have to eat crow and allow a byelection. Either way he comes off looking like a hypocrite.
If, on the other hand, the Ethics Commissioner sides with Harper, what damage will that do to the commssioners credibilty before a Canadian public that increasingly views all government agencies as corrupt?
In one week Stephen Harper has demonstrated to most Canadians that he is no better than his opposition. In seven days he’s managed to participate in outright cronyism, backroom deals, and arrogant disregard for the voters. His opponents, I’m sure, are looking forward with glee to seeing what he does with his second week.
It all makes for terrific fun for political observers, who can already see the next election on the horizon. Harper thinks he has at least two years before his government will be called to account. Based on his first week in office, the wait time will be much shorter.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Gay Marriage Debate Resolution

I have the cure for the gay marriage debate.

It was former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who said the government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. Fact is, it has no place in our personal relationships either!
I’m not advocating abolishing the institution of marriage, but I do believe it should be divorced from the political and legal spheres.

People get married for all sorts of reasons, most of them wrong. They marry for taxes, for money, for security, for acceptance among their married friends. People are wed for family ties, for chances to live in democratic countries, for fame, for a lot of reasons other than love.

Marriage originated with the religions of the world. Until the last few centuries it remained in the sphere of the church. Somehow, even though church and state are supposed to be separate, marriage spilled over into the public realm, where it has become so entrenched as to become a civil contract.

The reason marriage became a civil contract is because people started circumventing the church in order to get out of marriages they no longer wanted to be in. It became more deeply entangled in civil law when people began to fight for compensation for time spent in marriages.

Today marriage takes up a good chunk of our courts, our law enforcement and our politics, a strange turn of events considering it was originally a religious right.

Removing it from the civil sphere would free up courts, police and put a lot of divorce lawyers out of work. It would allow those resources to be spent on larger issues, like the preservation of our environment, civil liberties, health and a myriad of other concerns that seem to be on the back burner while we go round and round, as a society, trying to determine what the proper definition of what was initially a religious contract should and should not be.

Personally, I don’t care if my neighbour has one wife or five. Nor do I care if the two guys next door have been declared married by some church minister. As long as my neighbours aren’t hurting the other people in our community, I don’t really care what goes on in their house, and the goverment should care even less.

Under civil law there are plenty of provisions to protect people who enter into written and verbal contracts with one another. Common laws can sue one another. You can sue me, and I can sue you, we can do that whether we’re married to one another or complete strangers. Having marriage as some sort of special state over and above the law, but bound to it, is not just unnecessary, its silly, and its discriminatory.

Married people get special consideration under the law, consideration that bachelors and spinsters don’t get, and all because a piece of paper somewhere says they’re married.

I think its time to put marriage back where it belongs, in the church. And for those who are not church going, marriage should be put back where it belongs, within the confines of the homes of the nation.

When two people are married, they’re married to one another. They’re not married to me, or you, or the other people in their neighbourhood. They’re married to one another and that’s where it belongs, between them. It does not belong in civil law because its nobody’s business but their own.

Again, I’m not out to denedgrade marriage. Simply put, I believe it is something very special, and being special, it does not belong in the public sphere, it belongs in the warm hold of those people who are in committed marriages.

Some will say I am trying to lessen marriage, to put it down, but not so. What hurts marriage is the partner who’s down at the bar with his paycheck while the family waits at home, its the man out in the redlight district paying a hooker while his wife is putting the kids to bed. What hurts marriage is the people who get married for all the wrong reasons.

It is not the two individuals who are totally committed to one another and want in some way to honour what they have found and built. To that end I think marriage should be celebrated, hell the whole damn town should turn out and whoop it up when folks decide to marry. But the moment the folks who got married cross the threshold, its between them. Its not a matter for the public to decide, and does not belong in parliament or the courts.