Saturday, May 31, 2008

 

CAN'T GET COMPLACENT ABOUT THE ECONOMY

The numbers for the first 3 months of 2008 are in, and they've sent a chill through the economic sector. Generally economists had expected a minuscule first quarter growth of just under one/half of one percent.

What Statistics Canada reports instead is negative growth of about one/tenth of one percent. It is the first time Canada's economy has contracted in five years. If weak or weaker readings occur in the 2nd quarter which ends on June 30, ours will be an economy officially in Recession! No wonder then that today's "Ottawa Sun" web-poll suggests 70% of readers think Canada is headed in that very direction despite the best assurances of the Federal Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty.

Mr. Flaherty says the economic fundamentals are strong and in his view the country's troubled automotive and forest sectors which are blamed for the first-quarter losses will improve. New car sales in Canada are setting a record pace, but in the USA where the numbers really matter, auto sales are expected to dip by 2-million units this year from 2007. Ontario's massive manufacturing sector, Canada's growth engine, is fuelled by the American automakers.

In the latest "Mood Of The Nation" survey carried out by Harris-Decima in the third week of May about 57% of Canadians felt the Government of Prime-Minister Stephen Harper could be doing a better job on economic growth..and that was before this week's StatsCan negative numbers.

A Recession and perhaps its resulting dip back into deficit financing for the government is the ruling Conservatives' biggest threat going into the next several months. It could also be the opposition's best chance at forcing an election...that is if the Federal Liberal's moribund leadership can rise to the challenge.

The public's overall satisfaction with the government's integrity, accountability and the aforementioned economic stewardship of the country shows a drop of about 13% for Mr. Harper's forces in the last 4 months. Those numbers were surveyed before the firing of the blunder prone Foreign Affairs Minister, Maxime Bernier, on Monday, May 26.

Most Liberal leadership hopefuls in waiting have now sheathed their daggers. We may be witnessing the development of the Party's "perfect storm" against the government. Despite a strong cadre of front benchers, Bob Ray, Michael Ignatieff, Ralph Goodale to buttress the attack: I sense that many Canadians remain sceptical about Stephane Dion's leadership abilities.

Despite the current rocky status of our ship-of-state, now back from Europe and surely at the helm, I'll bet the Prime Minister will be mounting a number of vigorous initiatives, including a mid-summer course correcting Cabinet shuffle, to even the odds. The Conservative minority government's survival is in jeopardy until the economy, here and down south of our border, begins to show signs of improving. The Americans are paying attention, but until they settle their bitter Presidential election in late fall, Canada may be left on its own to fight-off the evils of a recession. This has the potential to lead to a long sweltering summer of home grown discontent.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

 

BAM! HAMMER DOWN.

Over last weekend at an Edmonton conference of the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Prime-Minister's Office earned the dubious distinction of being named the "Most Secretive Department" in Canadian Government.

The President of the journalists association, Mary Agnes Welsh, says the choice was easy because of Prime Minister Harper's "white-knuckled death grip on public information." The obvious PMO mantra to avoid transparency and scrutiny, I suspect, is a lesson learned from the insecurity of the opposition benches far too long; and a resulting lack of experience in governing. If with due respect I may quote the American humourist, Mark Twain. He described fear and control of this nature with these words: "To a man who has a hammer; every problem looks like a nail."


The Prime Minister may be right. Although public accountability is its victim. There is ongoing, perhaps mounting evidence that when the glow of the media and opposition spotlight is shown on some: their reflection is substantially more translucent than transparent. How else to explain the cast-offs of Cabinet's high profile jobs: Rona Ambrose, Gordon O'Connor and now Maxime Bernier. Neither the flame-outs of Ms Ambrose at Environment nor Mr. O'Connor's at National Defence are as spectacular as Maxime's "high-jump" yesterday. Still they call into evidence the failure of this policy of "white-knuckled death grip on public information".

Mount the barricades, make light of the revelations, tell people private activities are none of their business, hammer the opposition and the media at will...and, in the end "eat crow" when the accused "walks the plank" anyway! I don't know if, as some have suggested, this calls into question Mr. Harper's "judgement". I do know that the Conservatives' high-handed, unpleasant, nasty public defence of Mr. Bernier's activities over the last few weeks in the House of Commons and elsewhere is now a bitter embarrassment to the party and to Mr. Harper's Government.

After all, in public life perhaps it is better to practice Pete Seeger's words of Peace and Love in the 60's ditty: "If I Had A Hammer", rather than Mark Twain's astute observation about a man who has a hammer.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

 

LOSS OF APPETITE FOR AN ELECTION

I think the Federal Conservative Government has started to believe its own propaganda that even in minority, it was elected to govern until fall 2009.

Clearly the sense of, and momentum for an election as early as this fall appear to be waining. The House of Commons resumes sitting this week following a one week break to mark the Victoria Day Holiday, but there are every indications that politicians are now focused on an altogether distant future timing.

There will the usual attacks, gnashing of teeth, bluster about this and that. In reality though, this spring, despite landing a flurry of jabs that shook the Conservatives the Liberals still seem unable to convince Canadians they can go the distance. This month polls show the Liberals at 34%, the Conservatives at 33%. Last month (April) they were even at 36% apiece. In other words, statistical dead-heats that would lead to more minority government were an election to be held soon.

Instead the Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, is stepping-out of the Commons on a series of international initiatives; some no doubt will suggest to counter the ill-effects of his hapless Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Bernier. Mr. Harper this week is on a tour of Britain, France, Germany and Italy. His plan is to promote trade with the European Union and seek support for the government's environmental initiatives. To that end he'll be joined by the Environment Minister, John Baird.

The diminished fear of the Government's imminent defeat on a House motion, and perhaps facing the possibility they'll be in office until 2009, the Conservatives are seeking initiatives and issues to sustain their momentum. Mr. Harper will follow-up his European tour this week with a visit to the Middle-East next month, and a round of talks with G-8 Leaders at a summit in Japan in July. To wit: the extent of Conservative confidence against a snap-election while the PM is out of town.

In fact all three national leaders are planning extensive cross-Canada consultations and travels to just about every region over the summer months. All of the Party leaders may finally have caught-on that Canadians are getting tired with the negative politics of the past several months. By the fall party strategists on all sides hope to position the focus of supporters on a longer term vision. Some of this may be wishful thinking, but the generally unchanged public opinion poll results since the election of January 2006 seem to suggest that electors have quite simply turned-away from the constant bickering amongst politicians. And, it appears they would be grateful if someone...anyone, had a vision, short or long term, to offer Canadians.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

 

CALLING THE GHOST OF SAMSULA

After just about eight years in various planning stages, infrastructure work is underway just west of Ottawa on Tailwind Estates.

If you've heard of Jumbolair or of the World War II era, Samsula Airfield near Daytona Beach, Florida, then you know this story. Much like Samsula, the Carp Airport in Ottawa's west end is a decommissioned military airfield used as part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan which prepared pilots in Canada for the European War theatre.

The City of Ottawa acquired the airport when it amalgamated about a dozen area communities in 1999. A private developer, West Capital Developments, has launched an ambitious project to build a "fly-in" community, Tailwind estates, on the airport.

Which brings me back to Samsula, now commonly known as the "Spruce Creek Community".
Spruce Creek is generally considered the original fly-in community. It was developed in the 1970's. In the United States: Florida, Texas, Arizona and elsewhere there are more than 500 "fly-in" communities where many commuters go to work in their airplanes rather than drive. For instance at the fly-in community near Boca Raton, Florida many commute 20 minutes by air into Miami daily, rather than the two-plus-hours challenge of Interstate 95.

Lest I digress: Likely the best known of these communities is "Jumbolair Aviation Estates" in Ocala in central Florida. Famous because of its residents, including actor John Travolta, who flies his private Boeing 707 out of his own backyard.

Back to Carp: The airfield is being developed into three components. The residential estates backing unto the runway. A business park and, it will continue to operate as a general aviation airport. That component already includes two long time tenants, Bradley-First Air aviation and eastern Ontario's air ambulance service.

The challenge for Tailwind Estates is eastern Ontario's miserable winter weather and its effect on private aviation. The developers who claim to have pre-sold at least 30% of the estate lots are optimistic. Tailwind will be the largest such community in Canada and likely, with the exception of communities near New York City and Chicago, one of a handful that operate in our winter climate.

Carp is within spitting distance of Scotia Bank Place and the high-flyers of many types in the Silicon Valley North enclaves of Kanata. If it's going to succeed it can't be better positioned.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

 

THE BLUE SPIN MACHINE

If the economy continues to sour over the summer months and the Liberals see an opportunity to force a fall election, the Prime Minister may exercise his option to prorogue the House of Commons rather than face defeat.

That option was making the rounds of the Parliament Hill rumour mill last week before the House adjourned for its week-long Victoria Day break. As the story is spun; Mr. Harper would seek prorogation from the Governor-General to avoid a vote of non-confidence in the House of Commons. A renewed Conservative mission statement would be elaborated in a late fall Speech From the Throne. As well, an economic statement would follow by winter...too late for an election to be held in 2008.

Doubtless the Liberals are salivating at Canada's worsening economic problems. The summer driving season hasn't yet begun, and gasoline prices top $1.30 a litre. Ontario is teetering on the cusp of a recession, an effect which will not only be felt nationwide, but exacerbates the threat of the Tories slipping the country back into a Federal deficit.

The much touted and frequently criticized multi-million dollar "spin facility" in Ottawa's East-end, the Conservative War Room, is churning them out at breakneck speed. Both the Parliamentary Secretary to Treasury Board, the young Pierre Polievre, and Government House Leader, Peter VanLoan, are the principle mouthpieces for much of the Party spin, and they've done a mighty fine job. As witnessed an impressive short list of their accomplishments keeping a tight lid on a plethora of otherwise unsavoury issues. To wit: The "Cadman" Affair, the "In and Out" election spending scheme, Maxime Bernier and the "biker" chick, untendered contract to friends of the Finance Minister, Newfoundland Premier Williams' frequent rants, Premier McGuinty and the "have-not" Ontarians, the medical "isotopes" fiasco at Chalk River....the list is near endless, and each of almost catastrophic implications for a minority government. Bravo!

The scorn has been heaped aplenty on the Media, the critics, and of course the opposition Liberals. Doubtless the unrelenting attacks on the Liberal Party Leader, Stephane Dion, have hit their target and damaged both his reputation and standing amongst Canadians. Just what the cost is may only be determined when Canadians are finally called to vote. For sure though, despite two and half years of Tory Government the Public Opinion polls haven't moved sufficiently to put neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals within the margin of a majority government.

It isn't that the "Blue Spin Machine" is not trying. It's jut that its success reinforces the view of many Canadians that the Conservatives are relentless political hit-men. This strategy works well from the opposite side of the House where the Conservatives sat far too long. In Government it's not the Canadian way, and its unpleasant to non-partisan observers.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

 

MAY LESTER REST IN PEACE

One of Canada's great Prime Ministers, Lester B. Pearson, would be aghast at the drama playing-out in Ottawa these days over abandoning our bid for a seat on the Security Council of the United-Nations.

Back in 2001 Canada served notice it would be seeking a two-year term on the Security Council when elections are held in 2010. Though word hasn't yet leaked-out from Mr. Harper's cabinet discussions, there are indications the current Conservative government is considering bowing-out of the bid commissioned by the Chretien Liberals seven years ago.

Some say this change of heart comes amidst growing concern in diplomatic and foreign circles that we might suffer an embarrassing loss to Portugal. The United Nations will vote on two replacement seats on the Security Council in a couple of years. Three countries are currently vying for the honour: Canada, Germany and Portugal.

Canada has always played a significant role at the United Nations including Lester Pearson's "Nobel Prize" winning effort at Middle East Peace in the late 1950's. Our reward has been to be elected to the powerful Security Council roughly every ten years since the U.N. was created from the ashes of World War II. But, perhaps unlikely this time.

Consider a partial list of the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministers who have impacted the United Nations. I've mentioned Pearson, add Jean Chretien from the Trudeau years. There were Flora MacDonald and Barbara McDougall from the Mulroney cabinet, and Lloyd Axeworthy who is credited with the world Land-Mines Treaty. From the perspective of those representatives, I am hardly motivated to add Peter MacKay and Maxime Bernier!

No wonder then that the Globe and Mail quotes an unidentified Asian diplomat saying "Canada is simply less visible at the U.N. that it was in the 1990's." The Liberal Leader, Stephane Dion, ratchet's-up the criticism suggesting that in two and a half years the Conservatives have "damaged our international reputation" and that as a result Canada's chances of winning the coveted seat this time "have shrunk."

There is an understandable and mounting state of demoralization these days at Ottawa's Foreign Affairs Headquarters aptly named the Lester B. Pearson Building. And it isn't just because their Minister, Mr. Bernier, can't seem to shake rumours and stories of his relationship with Julie Couillard. Some believe that our commitment to a multilateral foreign policy has eroded in favour of a closer relationship with the policies of the United States. For instance the move towards a pro-Israel position at the United Nations is being noted by the 50 or so Muslim nations at the U.N. who are among the 192 countries with a vote to select the Security Council. U.N. watchers claim Canada's bid would run head-first into what is described as the cumulative effect of the changes in our Foreign Policy in recent years.

Although the maintenance on the Chelsea, Quebec, grave site of former Prime Minister Pearson, like that of many other former P.M.'s, is a national disgrace; at least there perhaps he Rests In Peace unaware of Canada's decline in the international stature he dedicated his life to creating.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

 

THE HIDDEN COST OF THE AFGHAN MISSION

I greet with a healthy dose of skepticism Prime Minister Harper's "Long-Term" vision statement for the military made in Halifax.

Announcements of the nature of the "Canada First Defence Policy" haven't yet made me a believer. In fact not even since I was old enough to start observing politics and politicians. That is as far back as the Louis St.Laurent post war administration of the 1950's.

Surely Mr. Harper has good intentions. He means well proposing to spend about $30 billion to give Canada's military the "troop numbers and equipment to do its job." Come-on! Thirty billion dollars over 20 years ($1.5 B per year) accounts just about for the cost of inflation during the period.

The announcement sours further by news accounts elsewhere that the replacement program for the ageing Buffalo Search and Rescue aircraft is now shelved until 2017 or 2020. The Buffalo aircraft and some Hercules planes also used for Search and Rescue operations were bought in 1967. When it was estimated at $1.3 billion in September 2003, the then Chief Of Defence Staff, General Ray Henault, declared their replacement the military's "top priority". The new planes were to be delivered in 2006.

Last fall when the replacement cost mushroomed to $3 billion the need to fast-track the program was such that the government proposed to award the deal to an Italian firm for their C-27J aircraft described as the "only viable bidder." In January the opposition Liberals were outraged the Conservatives would skip the bid process. Well now it's back on the shelf. It seems that with our military "funding "boogie" there is a new partner and new dance everyday. But it's the same old tune that keeps playing.

Which brings me to my point: The mission to Afghanistan to which we are now committed until February 2011 is draining our resources and pocketbooks. The estimated cost is several million dollars per day above normal military operations. The hidden costs are also enormous and those will keep taxpayers footing the bill for decades.

Blame advanced medical techniques. Because in addition to the mournful mounting number of Canada's Afghan war dead which inches ever closer to one hundred; troops are coming home with devastating injuries that might have killed them in earlier wars. Damaged bodies, damaged minds. An ever larger pool of disabled veterans despite the decline in the number of Vets as soldiers from World War II and Korea die.

In the United States research published by the Associated Press claims their cost of caring for veterans will grow from $29 billion this year to more than $59 billion by 2030. The research shows for instance that in the relatively quiet 6 year period before the United States invaded Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq the number of disabled vets had flatlined. Since 9/11 it has grown over 25% to just over 3-million permanently disabled requiring an ever increasing level of care.

Canada's government is far less open about providing accurate numbers of soldiers too injured; physically, mentally or emotionally by Afghanistan ever to resume a normal life here back home. We owe those young men and women a debt of gratitude, and we will pay for their care until the end. That's the hidden cost of our increasingly questionable commitment to clean-up the mess of Afghanistan.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

 

YOU CAN PICK YOUR NOSE, YOU CAN PICK YOUR FRIENDS, BUT YOU CAN'T.....

The accusations of consorting with a "biker chick" levelled against Canada's Minister of Foreign affairs, Maxime Bernier, have for those of my generation a certain sense of "deja-vue", all over again!

Of course we Canadians can't hold a candle to the British House of Commons when it comes to salacious political scandals. Who will ever forget the celebrated "Profumo/Christine Keeler Affair" of the 1960's. Lest I digress too much though. I hasten to note for the record: There is hardly a hint of scandal in the brief tryst between the ex-biker chick, Julie Couillard and Mr. Harper's swinging Cabinet Minister.

But on this side of the Atlantic also, one really doesn't have to look too far to find Ministers of her Majesty's Cabinet forced-out of office amidst hints of inappropriate behaviour. Back in 1907, Canada's Minister of Railway and Canals, the Honourable Henry Robert Emmerson was tossed after being accused of being in a Montreal Hotel with a person of "ill repute".

Although it came a few years after the fact, a Royal Inquiry set-up by former Prime-Minister, Lester Peasron, blasted his predecessor, John Diefenbaker, for not firing Associate Defence Minister, Pierre Sevigny, who between 1958 and 1961 had been friends with an East-German Playgirl, the notorious Gerda Munsinger, who was believed to have been a KGB Spy.

With Germany still on my mind: Defence Minister, Robert Coates, was forced to resign by Prime-Minister, Brian Mulroney, in 1985 after he admitted to visiting a "Strip-Club" while on official government business in West-Germany.

Until last fall's allegations by Karl-Heinz Schreiber who implicated Mr. Mulroney in a scheme involving a meeting at Prime Minister Harper's summer residence in 2006; Mr. Mulroney had been essentially Harper's political mentor. Their relationship has frozen pending a Commission of Inquiry into Mr. Mulroney's relationship with Schreiber. That is unfortunate because I think the old mentor would have good advice for Prime Minister Harper regarding these Maxime Bernier revelations.

I think the defensive "none of your business" response to questions about this relationship is wrong, and Mr.Mulroney would understand that. As some security experts suggest, including former RCMP and CSIS personnel, there are legitimate questions to be asked about whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bernier, or Canada's security may have been vulnerable.

Although she is not a criminal: The girlfriend, Julie Couillard, is apparently known to the RCMP and the "Surete du Quebec" for her past association within the world of the notorious Hells Angels and the Rock Machine biker gangs...Many of whom are not, Nay! None of whom are Choirboys!

The "none of your business" defence smacks again of the mean spirited streak of a Party leadership with limited ability to consider the "High Road" for having sat on the opposition benches much too long. The Prime Minister, Mr. Harper is himself preparing for a whirlwind tour of the world in June doubtless to bolster his own diplomatic bona-fides. He'll visit a number of Middle-Eastern cities and several European Capitals.

Meantime here back home,the man charged with the business of Foreign-Affairs, his Minister, and the Bernier/Couillard story will have faded-out of the newspapers. Long-term, The problem is that it may remain another "marker" against the Tories when the time arrives for a Federal Election.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

 

DUMB IS FOREVER

Despite my Canadian pride, there are occasions that I am hesitant to admit being a resident of the nation's capital because of the stupidity we must endure at times.

The City of Ottawa, Canada's 4th largest, is the target of ridicule by other communities such is the ineptitude of our city leaders. For instance: In addition to the Mayor facing criminal charges of influence peddling over his 2006 election; a bull-headed competition of ego triggered cancellation of a billion dollar mass transit system for which we are now being sued for about $300 Million. A replacement system, now decades away, will cost $4-billion. I could go on...

It now seems that it is either contagious, or stupidity is no longer the exclusive domain of our elected municipal officials. Ottawa's Tulips are a source of city pride. They number in the millions, the initial batch donated by the grateful Dutch for protecting their Royal Family who had taken refuge in Ottawa during the second World War.

Since the war, the May blooms have become a major draw of spring visitors to Ottawa. Rather than leave the flowers to their own show, over the years a "Tulip Festival" was spawned. It has had many incarnations...some good, most bad. Let's face it: The tourists come for the flowers not to see some half-baked, class 'B' performers.

Last weekend's kick-off of the festival is the textbook example of a public relations disaster of monumental proportions. Anxious to repair its own bad public image, the Government of China is one of this year's festival sponsors. Who better to kick-off the event than to have a Chinese Marching Band play the National Anthem...Well Duh!

Apparently the festival brainthrust can't tell one Chinese from another and hired a "Falun Gong" marching band. For the uninitiated the spiritual "Falun Gong" movement is banned and persecuted in China. Given that the Chinese Ambassador and a cadre of Embassy officials were attending, and fearing a diplomatic row of major proportion, the marching band was, as it were, marched-off the site by the RCMP and Ottawa Police as they were about to begin no doubt a rousing rendition of "Oh Canada!". Lawyers for the human rights left have already weighed-in on this one.

Wait, there's more: Score another point for legal aid lawyers and human rights. Lawyers for the "Ottawa Panhandlers Union" (yes, you read it right!) have filed a Million Dollar lawsuit against the City. After the murder of a street kid about a year ago, the city fenced-off part of a notorious downtown sidewalk underpass. The underpass near the famed Chateau Laurier has been the refuge for a generation
of panhandlers. Now they claim their Constitutional Rights have been violated. The "Union's" lawyer says the fenced-off area has "an intrinsic value, like a town square".

In this court case we know that our inept city officials will be matched by equal opponents.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Folks the fix is in. There will be no election this spring. You may reset your agendas to the fall.

Little wonder why this morning, Canada's News Agregator, "National Newswatch" reset the Election Fever Meter down from 35% just a few days ago to a mere 5%. A combination of developments just this past week have converged to ensure the Liberals don't go trigger happy and defeat the Harper Conservatives.

There's first an enormous money crunch down at the "ol' Grit corral" here in downtown Ottawa. Though it wasn't necessarily needed the rumour has been confirmed. The Liberals, still paying-off debts from the 2007 Leadership race, were out- collected on an average of six to one by the Conservatives in January, February and March.

The jury may still be out on whether it was that massive shortfall that caused the Party's National President, Senator Marie Poulin, to have a stroke and quit two weeks back, or the other way around. But the reality is that even with all the election talk this winter, the Liberals raised less than $850-thousand dollars, even out-paced by the NDP's $1.1 Million, and the Tories whopping $5-million.

Just as telling, perhaps even more so, is the number of party faithful who cracked-open their chequebooks for the donations. The Conservatives at 44,000 donors. The Liberals 10,000 contributors.

Liberal Party wags confirm to today's issue of the "Hill Times", the Parliamentary newspaper, that Stephane Dion plans a nation-wide tour over the summer with a three pronged approach to bolster his image and raise donations; deal with the struggling Party support in Quebec; and launch a strong offensive against the Harper Conservatives.

The Liberals blame a series of attack advertising against Mr. Dion paid for by the obviously cash rich Conservative Party HQ in Ottawa for his on-going public persona struggles. In Quebec the "Bloq" is in a dead-heat with the Conservatives leading public opinion polls, and the Liberals trail at about 20%. The Party has really never recovered from the revelations of the 2005 enquiry into the advertising scandal. To that end,word on the street is that Dion will visit each of Quebec's 75 Federal ridings over the summer. Virtually since Confederation,the Liberals have needed Quebec's support to win Federal elections.

On the nation-wide leg of the tour over the summer, Mr. Dion's "ace-in-the-hole" platform attacking the Conservatives will highlight two crucial planks. The Liberals believe the Conservatives will be seriously compromised over the country's razor-thin budget provisions as the economy continues to weaken...and may be forced to cut programs and spending to avoid a deficit. Secondly, over at Liberal Headquarters there is an expectation, more like a belief, that criminal charges will be laid by the RCMP and Elections Canada over the "in and out" election fracas implicating Conservative Party Headquarters back in the 2006 Federal Election. Besides the television images of the police raid on the Tory HQ three weeks back, the story hasn't had much traction with Canadians. The Liberals believe though that if criminal charges are laid, that'll shake things up!

If events conspire as they expect, to create this "perfect storm"; the Liberals will force an election after Parliament's summer hiatus and we'll be marching off to the polls before our American brethren down south. Expect the evolution of the Liberal strategy to unfold no later than this week's question period(s) in the House of Commons.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

 

THE BUCHAREST SHUFFLE

It was but a few short weeks ago that the House of Commons apparently laid to rest any additional debate over Canada's commitments to the military mission in Afghanistan.

it's been generally believed since then that at least for the country's two major political parties, the ruling Conservatives and the "wannabee" Liberals, the issue was off the front pages, well at least on the back burner, until February 2011.

Of course the Commons' vote extending the mission was based on the commitments and promises of additional assistance from NATO out of the alliance's meeting in Bucharest, Romania. Truth be known...thanks to this weekend's "New York Times", the current shortfall out in Afghanistan is for 10-thousand troops. The NATO Summit in Bucharest pledged a total of about 2-thousand additional troops, but in reality so far France's commitment of 700 additional soldiers is the only one actively being firmed-up.

This weekend, our Minister of Defence, Peter MacKay, not so much denied but just about rebuked Canadian Military officials in Afghanistan who'd been quoted by the "Globe and Mail" as saying that they were reaching-out to moderate Taliban in order to establish peace in the war-torn country. Minister MacKay says that our military officials in the field don't speak for the Government of Canada.

The Minister told the Canadian Press: "We are not talking to the Taliban. We are not having direct discussions with terrorists. We won't, will not, that will not change." In light of this increasingly failing mission, just about everyone else thinks engaging in peace talks with the combatants in Afghanistan is at least worth a try.

The British and the Dutch, with substantial troop deployments in the same southern region where our 2500 Canadians soldiers are based, have both made attempts to either engage in dialogue or establish ceasefires. In fact of the NATO Allies in southern Afghanistan only Canada and the United States refuse to speak with the militants.

Hence there's hardly any surprise to the "New York Times" story this weekend that the Americans will have to draw-down from deployments in Iraq next year to increase to 40-thousand the number of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan. In Iraq, and now apparently in Afghanistan, there are many indications that in efforts to salvage two wars "gone-wrong", the Bush administration is taking actions and making commitments that will severely constrict his successor in the Presidency come January 2009.

Despite our allegiance to NATO, Canada's Afghan commitment appears increasingly tied into Mr. Bush's apron-strings. In reality claims by Canada as well as the United States at the Bucharest summit and elsewhere that NATO is stepping-up to provide more help in Afghanistan can't be substantiated.

Quite simply, as the "New York Times" reports, the increasing proportion of United States troops, from about half to two-thirds of foreign troops in Afghanistan, means the re-Americanization of the war. Chances are that by this time next year there will be more American Forces there than when they started the war, six years ago.

Here back home of course it may be the politicians who committed the Canadian military to stay the course until 2011 on false pretenses who end-up paying the price. On that score there's plenty of blame to go around. The Liberals sent our troops there in the first place. The Conservatives then managed to extend the mission not once to 2009...but twice to 2011.

As increased military spending aggravates the tailspin in our economy; the Government has hard choices ahead in selecting a new Chief-Of-Defence Staff to replace Rick Hillier, a champion of the Afghan mission. Despite the best of intentions, NATO's reluctance to assist and America's hard-line approach could very well lead to another acrimonious debate over Canada's efforts in a country so far away.

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