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, November 26, 2006

Canada is many nations, not just two!

I have to hand it to our prime minister. He’s certainly managed to bury our government’s recent disgrace at the environment conference in Kenya. First he took on the Chinese over human rights, then he comes out and declares Quebec a nation.
There’s nothing like making a big stew over the obvious and apparent to take the voters minds off the changeable.
There’s not a lot we can do about human rights abuses in China, and the fact Quebec is a nation is something we’ve known since the inception of our country, when one of our earliest Governors General went back to Europe and announced he’d found two nations wrestling in the breast of a single state.
There is something we can do about our stand on the environment, but as long as we’re talking about China and Quebec, I guess that’s irrelevant.
So lets talk about China and Quebec.
First, China. We could sanction them, refuse trade, put our economy in a hole in the process, and still not achieve any sort of pro-active resolution to China’s human rights stance. Further, if we go too far down that path, we will be forced to look at our own human rights record which, when it comes to First Nations peoples and the poor, is not so good. China could also press us to apply some of our “holier than thou” rhetoric and criticism towards some of our other trading partners, such as the USA, who have an absolutely horrible human rights record at home and abroad.
China could quite rightly tell us, okay, if you want our trade then we want you to take the same stand with America as you do with us. Talk to them about the fact they have more of their citizens imprisoned, per capita, then we do, talk to them about Quantanamo and Abu Greb.
This must have come out in the conversation somewhere because our PM quickly shut up about it and turned his eyes on the Quebec issue.
So he stated the obvious, Quebec is a nation. Anyone who has ever been there recognizes that. Why such a statement should ruffle Canuck feathers is a mystery. He’s simply stating the obvious again, making a statement no one with any intellect could take issue with.
Nation - community of people of mainly common descent, history, language, religion etc, forming a state or inhabiting a territory.
Faced with the drubbing our current government was taking on the international stage over its snubbing of the Kyoto Accord and its amateurish attempt to use Canadian domestic issues as a springboard or excuse, then agravated by the hypocracy of the China statement, which could well be described as an “International Incident” our PM had to do something. There’s nothing like a statement of the obvious to distract the voting public. Why not shift gears by coming out with a statement that no educated person could possibly argue against?
It worked too! We’ve barely heard another word about the environment or China since the PM made this announcement. Nearly everyone agrees. Quebec is a nation, but is this really anything new or surprising.
Yes, Quebec is a nation. It is made up a common language group who descended from a few hundred families who originated in France and emigrated to North America. They share a common religion, Catholicism, a common history, conquest, and reside in a common territory, along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. All this was recognized by our founding fathers, who gave Quebec special rights within the Canadian state. Fact is, there is nothing new or provactive about this. Our leader is just reiterating what we’ve known all along.
However, there is a problem with it.
Back when Sir John A MacDonald and his fraternity were forging our country they were primarily concerned with, yes, wait for it, here it comes, White People!
Now if our PM really wanted to stir a pot of bees wax up, if he really wanted to challenge Canadians to think about our country in a different light, if he really wanted to kick off a constitutional debate that would force the Canadian people to re-evaluate what Canada is all about, he would have said something else. He would have said, “Canada is many nations in one state,” or more appropriately, “Canada was founded on racist principles!”
Whether you look it up in a dictionary, or in a political science text book, a nation, as I have previously noted, is ‘a community of people of mainly common descent, history, language, religion etc, forming a state or inhabiting a territory.’
Based on that definition, one must accord nationhood to such people as the James Bay Cree, the Six Nations people of the Grand River, the Inuit of the north, the Blood and Blackfoot, the Coast Salish, the Haida, and many other groups that have resided for millenia in common geographical areas, shared common language, religion, history and descent, long before the Europeans invaded North America.
Now, imagine what sort of firestorm the PM would have set off if he’d come out and said, “Quebec is a nation, but so are the James Bay Cree, the Haida, the Salish, the Blood and Blackfoot and many others.”
Now, one might get the impression our PM was trying to give the people of Quebec a fair shake and was trying to recognize and uphold the rights of an idependent people, but that is not what he was up to.
Our current Prime Minister was not out to protect the people of Quebec or give them any sort of special status within Canada. And he most certainly was not acting out of any special concern for the rights of individual peoples within the Canadian state. Our current PM was simply wagging the dog, hoping to take our minds off his government’s recent abysmal international boondoggles.
Its despicable, its an afront to our intelligence, and its racist! To recognize Quebec’s nationalism while ignoring the national rights of Canada’s Indigenous peoples is nothing different than what the Chinese have done in Tibet or the Dutch were doing in South Africa during the apartheid era.
Quite simply, our PM is playing politics with this Quebec statement.
Yes, Quebec is a nation, but it is not the only nation within Canada. There is also a white anglo saxon protestant nation, and many, many, native nations. If our PM is really intent on upholding the rights of independent peoples, then it is beholden on him to open the door to a debate on the basic tenents of the Canadian state.
Contrary to the argument put forth by our earliest citizens, that Canada is two nations wrestling in the chest of a single state, we need to acknowledge that Canada is, in fact, many nations wrestling in the breast of a single state.
How we deal with that fact, whether we redesign the Canadian political landscape to reflect the multi-national interests within the Canadian state, and how we go about accomodating those interests within the our political framework, is the real debate Canada’s parliament should be focussed on. Instead, we’re spending Canadian taxpayer dollars arguing the obvious and reiterating the apparent.
And what’s worse, while we’re so busy hagling over matters none of us has any real issue with, our environment is going to hell in a hand cart and nothing is being done, our Native peoples are living in poverty and without recognition of their national rights, we’re losing respect in the world community, and we have a government more concerned with spin and political capital than good governance.
Once again, while the current Conservative minority government likes to call itself “Canada’s New Government” they are making it quite clear there is absolutely nothing ‘new’ about it.
If Canada is to survive in the world then its high time we got around to giving ourselves a good look in the mirror and finally defining who we really are, a multinational, multicultural, multilingual, multicoloured collection of individuals and groups who reside on common ground. Its not us and Quebec, it all of us together.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Harper goes humanitarian

Curious don't you think, just when Canada's interim government is about to take a serious public relations hit on its environmental platform, our Prime Minister steals away the headlines by asserting his right to talk "human rights" with governments in South East Asia.
Remember the movie a few years back?
Wagging the dog.
I get the odour of it all right, and expect you do too!
One wonders how far Mr. Harper will be willing to go with this.
Will he challenge those states in America that still apply the death penalty?
Perhaps he'll challenge George Bush on the fact the United States have more of their own citizens incarcerated, per capita, than any other country in the world, more than the Chinese!
What about those not so secret CIA prisons?
And what about human rights right here at home?
What about poverty, literacy, and the institutionalized racism towards our First Nations People?
For a moment, I thought Mr. Harper had been moved by all the tributes to the late Martin Luther King, even FOX carried those. I wondered for a sec if the late Mike Pearson hadn't somehow moved into Stephen's body. Was I seeing a shade of Dief the Chief, who actually cared about human consequences.
Alas, to live in such naivete!
How many times have you heard Stephen Harper and his band of Hair Doos argue the best cure for human rights abuses is trade?
If he believes that, then why would he risk trade relations by handing the leaders of China, North Korea and Vietnam what are basically cultural insults?
Why would he not simply do whatever he could to expand trade?
There's only one answer to that question!
Stephen Harper's recent humanitarianism isn't about human rights! Its about spin. Its about making the bunch of us bozos out here think about something else.
Its also about finding a hook issue, something to bind us, something we can all agree on.
Who's going to take the Prime Minister on over demanding repressive societies to clean up their abuse?
I certainly wouldn't, but because this isn't about human rights, its about other things. I for one feel at liberty to condemn Mr. Harper's recent actions.
This is a government that came to office on a promise of transparency and openness, on less spin and more action. It is a government that promised improved trade relations with our partners, not international incidents.
What we're getting instead is a lesson in spin, of blaming the opposition, of no accountibility, of flag waving and fear mongering, and now, most cynical of all, changing the subject on the backs of some of the world's most repressed peoples, using human rights like a dog to be wagged.
Everywhere I go these days I'm hearing the slogan "Canada's New Government". Perhaps its really is true. Maybe we really do have a "new" government.
Question is: Is this really the type of government we want?

Harper urges human rights

I'm happy to hear Stephen Harper is urging on human rights with our trading partners. I hope he will soon bring his message to other parts of the globe, such as the United States, where wrongfully convicted persons are still being put to death, where the death penalty is still practiced in many states, and where the US government has more of its own citizens imprisoned, per capita, than any other country in the world.
Even more so, when our prime minister is done with his human rights campaign in other parts of the globe, I look forward to him coming home to Canada and dealing with the many outstanding human rights issues we have defaulted on here at home. Homelessness, poverty, illiteracy, and institutionalized racism towards Canada's First Nations, to name few.
Its good our present leader wants so many other countries to clean up their mess, but I really think he ought to get to work cleaning up this house first.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

US Midterm and a Rummy on the Run

There’s a feeling of relief here in North America as the American people have finally shown some repulsion towards the war-like ways of their Republican Party. Many of us have been wondering when the residents of that so-called “civilized” state would stand up to the tyranny of their leaders. The feeling is somewhat bouyed by this morning’s news that the hawkish Donald Rumsfeld has decided to leave office, and we can only hope it is the first of a long line of Bush-men who will flee their boss.
However, the joy and relief is short lived. From our perspective here in Canada it is clear all the US citizenry have really done is replace one bunch of millionaire lawyers for another bunch, albeit a bunch that appears, on the surface anyway, to be less inclined towards international thuggery and bloodletting.
It is, at best, a step in the right direction. But unless the next step is to get rid of both the Republicans and Democrats, and elect a full slate of independents two years down the road, the move will come out more as a dance, in the safe confines of US imperialism, than a march in any new direction.
Until Americans stop rewarding the economic elite by furnishing them with offices on Capital Hill, nothing is really going to change. For so long as the send representatives of the rich and powerful to Washington, then the plight of ordinary citizens struggling to make ends meet will continue.
Really, this new mob is no better than the old mob, and their politics are not all that different. All of them depend on money from large corporations and affluent business interests to bankroll their candidacies. And when they reach the hill, it is the interests of their financiers that will be formost on their agendas. Americans are not about to see a national health care system, education and opportunities for their poorest citizens, an end to worldwide strong-arming, or any sort of strong environmental legislation, especially one that forces major corporations to change the way they do business.
What is more likely to come of all this is a softening in Republican rhetoric, a slight increase in education funding, and a slow retreat from Iraq. They may also see less and less of their president, who will now focus on trying to make himself look more presidential, more benevolent, and less agressive, which for George W. Bush will not be easy.
While the Democrats are likely to curtail some spending on the military, they are not about to do anything that could seriously affect US military mite. They won’t be stopping the US war machine from building bombs and selling them straight to the highest bidder. And while they are likely to put forward a few bills to strengthen environmental policy, we’re not going to see them take any drastic steps towards curtailing their consumption of fossil fuels, or forcing serious polluters to do anything more than mildly decrease emmissions. They may challenge some of Bush’s foreign policy, but in the end they won’t want to be seen as doing anything to diminish the US role as “saviour of the free world.”
And should the Democrats somehow manage to parlay the ‘06 midterm win into a presidential win in 2008, don’t be expecting the new president to do much more than appoint a few moderates to the supreme court and be a little more diplomatic in their approach to foreign policy. They will not change their policy on Iran, Isreal, Palestine or even North Korea, although they may change their rhetorical approach. Remember, since November 1963 the military industrial complex in the US has been running the show, and that’s not about to change so long as either major party holds the reigns of power.
The only thing that will really change America is if power is somehow wrestled from the grasp of big oil and big money, and that’s not likely to occur in a state where you pretty much have to have millions of dollars just to get elected to a national position. Money rules in America, and like Woody Guthrie lamented, you ain’t nothing if you don’t have the “dough ray me.”
Until then, and that may be for a long long time to come, the shift in power we witnessed in the US on November 7, 2006 will be little more than a song and dance routine, like the Virgina Reel, where the caller first has the boys step up, then the girls. In the end its just a dance and everyone is moving to the same tune.
In the end its not the dancers who call the tune, its the band. And as long as the tune is being played by wealthy industrialists and big corporations, Americans, and the rest of us, are just going to go round in circles.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Changing the RCMP, apologizing to Maher Arar

Years ago, when I was a reporter for a daily newspaper in the
interior of BC, I was sent to investigate concerns of RCMP inaction
in a small village.
A group of Sikh treeplanters camped in the town had been subjected to repeated harrassment by a band of young people who were burning rubber and shouting racialslurs at the group.
After several complaints to RCMP went unheeded, one of the crew bosses pulled out a rifle and fired shots in the air to warn off the offenders. This finally brought the police out, who charged the crew boss with unlawful discharge of a firearm.
As a result of this charge, several local people expressed concern with
the way the police handled the situation. They believed police mismanaged the original complaints about the people causing the problem, and were concerned how the police responded to their complaints, by ticketing complaintants for parking on the wrong side of the street, a common practise in the village. Citizens also expressed concern about the frequent turn-over of police officers in the village, because of an RCMP policy that cycled officers out of the detachment every few years, and the appearance of special treatment towards persons who were related to the police and village big-wigs.
I took thier concerns to the local RCMP for comment, who responded with a rather smug, "no comment."
Shortly after the story was published I received a call from the district commander of the RCMP. He was upset with the nature of my article, the criticisms it contained, and wanted an opportuity to explain the RCMP's position.
We arranged a feature length article and interview with the officer, on RCMP practices and procedures, and their position on the particular case.
However, before we could do the interview, I received a phone call from the district commander's direct superior. He was coarse and unrelenting, even threatening, telling me I would never be allowed to interview any member of the RCMP at any time! He went so far as to speak to my editor in an attempt to have me dismissed.
I tell this story because nothing has changed. There is a culture of self-preservation and protection at the RCMP. Sometimes it is more important for them to protect one another than it is to protect the people they are charged to protect.
This is not unusual. Police forces everywhere culture an atmosphere wherein they are more like a brotherhood, or secret society, than a public service agancy.
To their credit, members of the RCMP take good care of one another, however, this same code of ethics becomes exclusionary for people not directly associated with the police or in high community postitions.
Resignations and firings at the top of the RCMP will not change this
situation. The discharged will only be replaced by other officers who have been trained to abide by the same ethics that led to the smearing of Maher Arar.
We need a complete overhaul of how the RCMP does business, and how they are governed. If ever there was a strong argument for the implementation of a civilian watchdog, with real teeth, to oversee the RCMP, than the Arar case is it. Clearly the RCMP made a mistake, which is forgiveable. What is unforgiveable is how they tried to cover it up by lying and violating Arar's rights.
The Arar case is not unusual. Many people have had serious issues with RCMP practises. One fellow I know, who has never had a charge against him, complained to the RCMP about activities of certain officers involved in a drug investigation.
Sometime later this same fellow applied for his RCMP file under the freedom of information act. He received over 100 pages, most of them blacked out. The file showed the RCMP had actually sent in undercover officers to investigate the man. It always struck me as strange the RCMP would have such a large file on a man whose only apparent indiscretion was to complain about police behaviour.
Heads should roll, from the commissioner in a straight line to whoever was responsible for slandering Arar, but the bigger job should be to totally revamp the RCMP, particularly where it concerns their response to criticism and complaints against the force or its members.
Finally, the current goverment's action, of blaming the previous government, and deflecting responsibility for Arar's incarceration and torture to the United States, is appalling. Mr. Harper, and others in his party, were quick to condemn Arar based on the circumstantial evidence. As opposition and as government, they contributed to the assault on Arar's liberty, and it is incumbent on them to set the matter right by making a full apology and compensation to Arar and his family, without further delay.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Liberal compassion in British Columbia

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell is concerned about the plight of the province's poor, and is promising to up the shelter allowance for people on social assistance.
I have to wonder where his compassion was when he brought in such draconian measures as subjecting the province's disabled to an intense requalification process in 2002, or placed limits on how long people in need could actually receive assistance, and made it nearly impossible for the poorest of the poor to get any assistance at all.
Where was his compassion, and the media's attention, when he removed crisis grants for persons on long term disability, or, most recently, introduced a system wherein people on disability no longer have individual case workers. If Campbell is so concerned about the province's disabled, why has he removed the last vestige of human contact disabled people have with their economic caregivers?
Just before the last election we heard over and over again how the Campbell government raised the monthly disability stipend by $70. In fact, the announcement was made, and reported on, no less than three times, which led some residents of the province to believe he'd raised the rate three times. We did not hear, from the government or the media, how this raise was actually one legislated by the previous government, but rolled back when Campbell first was elected!
We're also not hearing, from Campbell or the media, how they compensated for the $70 increase by cutting things like crisis grants and case workers.
Here's a reality check on the the Campbell government's concern for the province's most vulnerable citizens: If a person on wefare or disability is robbed or somehow loses their monthly monies, they're out of luck. If a person on welfare or disability has a family member die, and they want to attend the funeral, they get no assistance from the ministry. If a person on disability is invited on a family vacation, or to attend an ailing family member in another province, and leaves the province for more than 28 days, despite maintaining their residence, they lose their benefits (which of itself is probably a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). If a person on disability cannot afford to pay their rent and eat, they get no help from the ministry. If a person on welfare has a problem and needs to speak with a worker, they are no longer able to contact one directly (they must now go through the front-end clerks, most of whom are not adequately trained to deal with issues such as mental illness, and operate, with good reason, in something of a seige mentality towards ministry clients).
Mr. Campbell's apparent, and rather uncharacteristic, compassion has its roots, not in human kindness, but in political expediency. Obviously his spin doctors have finally been able to make the link between the poverty problem and Campbell's popularity.
With the current surpluses, the Campbell government could easily raise welfare rates, drop some of the more draconian rules, hire more workers, and invest a lot of money into affordable housing without so much as a press release about it until the deed is done. Instead he chooses to make big promises and a show about what a socially responsible government he leads, sort of like the Pharisee who demonstrates his godliness by praying in public, while carrying on the same dirty deeds when no one is looking, and the media just laps it up.
There is another word for Campbell's recent show of concern. Let me look it up in my Oxford: hypocricy - false claim to virtue, insincerity.