29 August 2015

14 August 2015

Ceci forced to slap Harper's wrist

In the midst of this tiresomely long election campaign, Stephen Harper appears to find attacking his NDP and Liberal opponents isn't enough to occupy his time. He has decided to pick fights with a couple of provinces as well, recently assailing the Alberta government for raising taxes and not coming down with a budget.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley had previously responded to Harper's barbs with patience and tact, but Finance Minister Joe Ceci was not so kind this time. He pointed out that Harper's Conservatives had "not balanced a budget since 2008 ... have the worst job creation record of any federal administration since World War II and ... have added $150 billion to the national debt." " These kinds of results," he added, "seem to be in their DNA." Ouch!

Nice rejoinder from Ceci, and appropriate, but it doesn't answer the question: why does Harper do it? As prime minister, he ought to be trying to unite the country, not divide it. And after all, if he wins in October he will have to deal with the current Alberta government for the next four years whether he likes it or not. What does he gain by inflicting gratuitous insults? What does Canada gain by the federal government alienating provincial governments?

One gets the impression he is obsessed by the defeat of the Conservatives in Ontario and Alberta—particularly Alberta—in the last elections. He can't get it out of his head. He is a man who views the world in terms of black and white—you are for him or against him, and if you are against him you must be chastised. He takes the defeat of the Conservatives in these two provinces as a personal affront, and he will take his revenge, political civility and national unity be damned.

We see the same thing in his foreign policy. We once had governments that established Canada as an honest broker capable of negotiating differences and making peace. Under Harper, we are a country incapable of seeing two sides of an argument. Indeed, to the Prime Minister, attempting to understand both sides of an argument is a weakness. It's all about choosing sides, good guys vs. bad guys, us vs. them.

In a world facing global challenges, including climate change, resource depletion and inequality, we need leaders who can bring people together to find solutions. So, for that matter, does Canada, a highly regionalized country, need such a leader. Stephen Harper is congenitally incapable of fulfilling such a role. He isn't ready and can never be.

11 August 2015

The NDP stumbles over Palestinian political correctness

Morgan Wheeldon, NDP candidate for Kings-Hants, Nova Scotia, has been pressured into resigning over comments he made on Facebook. The comments, now deleted, included "One could argue that Israel’s intention was always to ethnically cleanse the region—there are direct quotations proving this to be the case. Guess we just sweep that under the rug. A minority of Palestinians are bombing buses in response to what appears to be a calculated effort to commit a war crime."

In defence of Mr. Wheeldon, one can in fact sensibly argue that "Israel’s intention was always to ethnically cleanse the region." The millions of Palestinians exiled to refugee camps and the continued expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land might be called something else, but ethnic cleansing would seem appropriate. A recent article in Haaretz, Israel's oldest daily newspaper, stated that "Previous peace initiatives ... failed because the overriding strategic goal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and of most previous Israeli heads of state, has been and continues to be Israel’s permanent control of all of Palestine."

As for war crimes, accusations against Israel are not new. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry on last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip found that both Israel and Palestinian militants were responsible for violations of international law that could amount to war crimes. Mr. Wheeldon, it seems, is being punished for stating an opinion that right or wrong is clearly within the realm of fair comment.

What makes his persecution even worse is that the NDP purports to be the party of the downtrodden—the oppressed, the exploited, the less fortunate. Considering that the Palestinians have been ethnically cleansed, collectively punished, terrorized, occupied and have more of their land stolen every day, they easily meet the criteria for downtrodden.

Criticizing Israel is perhaps the most serious offence against political correctness in the minds of our political and media elite. While Mr. Wheeldon stands with the dispossessed, The NDP stand with the elite.

10 August 2015

Too long to live in fear

Seventy years ago, on August 6, 1945, the United States unleashed the most massive terror attack in history when it dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. At least 75,000 people died within hours. By December, 1945, around 140,000 were dead; 200,000 by the end of 1950. Today, the world contains an estimated 17,000 nuclear warheads, each with a destructive power dwarfing the Hiroshima bomb. Ninety per cent lie in wait in Russian and U.S. stockpiles.

Some nuclear powers have reduced their arsenals in recent years, but others are expanding theirs and all are upgrading their weapons. The five who signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 agreed to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” They are clearly reneging.

Furthermore, five non-nuclear NATO nations have volunteered to equip their militaries with the capacity to deliver U.S. nukes in time of war even though they are all parties to the NPT and therefore obliged “not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly.”

The historic deal with Iran is good news but it pales relative to the upgrading and expansion of arsenals possessed by the current nuclear powers.

In 2010, the House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution encouraging the Government of Canada to join “negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention” and to “deploy a major world-wide Canadian diplomatic initiative in support of preventing nuclear proliferation and increasing the rate of nuclear disarmament.” This election season is a good time to remind all the parties that they voted for this resolution.

Linda McQuaig does us all a big favour

Last week the NDP candidate for Toronto Centre, Linda McQuaig, stirred the tar sands pot, telling a CBC panel discussion that for Canada to meet its climate change targets, "a lot of the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground." As an Albertan, I suppose I am expected to be offended at this slighting of our precious sands. Or perhaps as a Dipper I should be concerned that she has undermined my party's campaign.

Not a bit of it. I'm delighted that she's broached the issue. Why? Because she spoke the truth. And it's a truth that desperately needs to be spoken. We can no longer afford to pretend, as our federal government has done, that we can expand bitumen production indefinitely. At least not if we want to meet any sensible greenhouse gas emissions targets. According to the best science, at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change. That doesn't leave much room for expanding tar sands production.

Frequently in politics, a truth is out there but no politician wants to speak it because of a potentially adverse political reaction. As a result, important issues fail to get the attention they deserve. At least until some politician, perhaps one with a little more courage or with less to lose (a politician from Toronto in this instance), speaks the politically incorrect words. Then the issue enters the political domain and receives the discussion and debate it is due.

In this case, Linda McQuaig has done us that favour. (Certainly our new NDP government couldn't, even though I suspect the great majority of party supporters know the issue must be recognized and dealt with.) We will, in the short term, hear all the clich├ęs: the effete Toronto elite dissing salt of the earth Albertans, lefties making war on the oil industry, etc., etc. Such is the deplorable state of discussion about the tar sands in this country, the Conservatives having successfully smothered the issue in political correctness.

The foolishness of creating an economy heavily reliant on a resource that must be phased out should be obvious, yet Ms. McQuaig is being roundly criticized for stating that simple truth. Nonetheless, she has broken the ice, now it's up to the rest of the political class to get serious about the reality of global warming.