Sunday, August 31, 2008

 

ELECTION PREPS!

Dear me, it does seem that the election no one wants may just happen anyway. Beware to the politicos who contradict their electors!

Nevertheless, in order to face the federal election challenge fully prepared my computer system is currently undergoing both regular maintenance and upgrades.

I am taking this break from the blog posts to re-acquaint myself with the issues raised on these pages as they will no doubt form the core of the electoral rhetoric we Canadians are about to face from our national leaders.

You may wish to do the same. Guaranteed that a rejuvenated "Politics Canada" will return in plenty of time to comment on the folly of an early election.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

 

DRAGGED KICKING AND SCREAMING INTO AN ELECTION.

Unlike the "Great Kreskin" no mentalist am I...but short of a few politicians, our Prime Minister included, I can't think of any Canadian who wants an early Federal election this fall.

Lest it be eclipsed by the great shadow of the Presidential election fest down south of the Canadian border. Despite some of Prime Minister Harper's best efforts to picture an heretofore "dysfunctional" Parliament since the election of his minority government in January 2006. There is neither need nor desire on the part of the Canadian electorate to trudge to the polling stations before the legally mandated fall 2009 election.

Politicians in both major national parties, Conservatives and Liberals, should therefore beware of measures, activities, conspiracies to force an early election on a now suspecting Canadian public. The rhetoric and acrimony of the last recent sessions of Parliament have at times been painful to watch. But, regardless of the efforts to paint a dysfunctional government, there remains evidence to the contrary. To wit: taxes, including the GST, are down. Spending is up, important legislation has been passed, although in trouble, Canada's economy is still better than most, and there's still hope for a government surplus at the end of the fiscal year...razor thin as it may be.

Lest I digress: Speaking of the "Great Kreskin", now in his golden years, he performed at the Central Canada Exhibition, Ottawa's SuperEx, earlier in the week. Kreskin is no stranger to Ottawa. His late 1960's early 1970's network television weekly series was produced in the nation's capital by Carleton Productions, Canada's then pre-eminent TV production house. Alas, Carleton Productions and its parent, CJOH-TV are now, much like the station's News anchor, Max Keeping OC, mere vestiges of what once they were.

Therein of course is the lesson for our national political leader as they contemplate drawing the nation into an unwanted and unwarranted fall Federal election. The Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, risks condemnation to another round of minority government thereby challenging Lester Pearson's record as the country's only two term Minority Government Prime-Minister.

The stakes are higher even for the Liberal Leader, Stephane Dion. Whilst he has notched considerable progress, nay, recognition, over the summer's break from Parliament, the Dion inspired Liberal "Green Shift" hasn't really caught the imagination of the majority of Canadians trying to make ends meet in an inflationary spiral fueled mainly, (forgive the pun) by the spiking prices of oil and gasoline at the hands of speculators.

Liberals are not by nature forgiving of their leaders twice at the altar and both times as a bridesmaid. Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff are already waiting in the wings. Both have some baggage and may not be blessed with the mythical "Royal Jelly." Others though may be. This being cottage season for Ontario's twelve million plus residents, it doesn't quite seem by accident this week that cottage country's leading newspaper.."The Lindsay Post" claims Premier Dalton McGuinty is the only "real option" to succeed Stephane Dion: "...if Stephen Harper can only pull a minority government out of the hat when we go to the polls, the fastest and surest way for the Liberals to bring down that minority would be with McGuinty at the helm."

It appears then that a "draft McGuinty" cabal is getting underway, or is about to. As the "The Lindsay Post" suggests: Why not? McGuinty is at the peak of popularity in Canada's largest province. A native of Ottawa...tailor made for the job of Prime Minister. Bilingual, personable with a beautiful family and lovely wife.

In full earnest then: Let the games begin!

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

 

MAYBE "EREBUS" AND "TERROR" CAN DO IT!

I read somewhere just recently that scientists say this month the fabled "North West Passage" from Europe to Asia will be free of ice for just only the second time in world history.

Lest we forget, this passage is what Christopher Columbus was looking for in 1492 when he set sail from Spain. The North West Passage has been discussed, sought after, and romanticized since man acknowledged that the Earth wasn't flat.

From history class of course we Canadians have learned ad nauseum that...well of course it belongs to us. Doesn't Santa Claus live near Resolute Bay, Nunavut? He even has a Canadian postal code: H0H-0H0. I guess as long as most everything around there was frozen over no one really cared much either for or against Canada's claim.

Not so fast now it seems. Canada may claim the famed North West Passage as our inland waterway, there aren't too many other countries, in fact none I know of, willing to back-up our claim. Since climate change is making it ice free at least for the summer months, and there may be oil...black gold...under the ice caps, not to mention of course all the fresh water from the melting ice; there is now a line forming on claims to the passage from Europe to Asia. Many of the claimants, including Russia ans the United States have the resources, the hardware, the resolve and the motivation to make stick, maybe impose, rather forceful claims.

Both those countries, and many others without a direct geographic connection to the North Pole claim at the very least that like any other ocean...the Arctic is an international waterway. Canada is pushing back. If they weren't so important and serious our efforts might be better destined for a "Mad Magazine" satire or a skit on "Saturday Night Live."

It's mid-August. Up north, ice, water, travelling conditions are at the year's best. The Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, and his travelling companion our newly minted Chief of the Defence Staff, General Walter Natynczyk, embark this week on a tour of the north. They'll visit our minuscule military, weather and police outposts no doubt, and at the very least deliver fresh Maple Leaf flags to the lonely locals.

Meantime, the Coast Guard and several scientists from Environment Canada are setting off to begin an official search for the remains of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition believed lost near King Williams Island in 1845. As far fetched as it is, Canada's government believes if the remains of Captain Franklin's ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, are recovered some ground may be gained in the Court of World Opinion (Probably nowhere else) as to a British North American claim against the passage.

In 1845, Franklin, his two ships, and a crew of about 160 were on their 4th mission to lay claim to the passage for the British Monarchy when HMS Erebus and HMS Terror became stuck in ice. Ultimately the Captain, the crew and both ships vanished from the face of the earth.

Canada neither has a warship nor an icebreaker capable of navigating the waters of the North West Passage on a year round basis. Pitted against a Russian and an American nuclear powered fleet, including submarines which no doubt surreptitiously sail the passage regularly without our knowledge, the Court of World Opinion may indeed be our one hope.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

 

CAUSES TO CELEBRATE

There is a striking contrast this week amongst noteworthy achievements in two different parts of the country.

Off in Oil Springs, a long ago forgotten village in the swampy backwaters of southwestern Ontario they are celebrating our addiction to oil. One-hundred and fifty years ago this week, James Miller Williams of Hamilton, Ontario and his crew struck "black gold" at the Williams No.1 Well in Oil Springs, giving birth to the modern petroleum industry. Other wells followed in nearby Petrolia, Ontario and in and around Sarnia...a year later in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Among notable facts: There are still 320 producing wells in that area averaging about 70,000 barrels per year. It was a crew from Petrolia, Ontario that drilled the first well in Arabia, on May 26, 1908. In this century, oil is produced in 87 countries.

Back then, the $1.00 wooden barrel cost more than 5 times the 20-cents worth of oil it contained. Although we'd hardly think so given today's price at the pumps, up 60% in one year, Canada remains among the few net exporters of oil...as many as 8 to 10 million barrels per day flow to our American neighbours alone!

Down east in my native New Brunswick, they are toasting the energy of the future. So convinced are private sector North American investors of our continent's insatiable thirst for energy that they are putting up $50-million just to seek a site licence and environmental approvals to build the proposed $6-billion Lepreau II nuclear generator near Saint John.

The Government of New Brunswick has a billion plus dollars project underway currently to refurbish the original 30 year old Point Lepreau Nuclear plant. It's been joined in new endeavours by the Irving family conglomerate. There is an unprecedented energy boom in the southern part of the picture province including the Irving's new massive Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) seaport, its pipeline to the New England States, and presently under construction a Potash/fertilizer shipping terminal to compete with British Columbia for the shipments from the world's largest producer, the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan.

The Irving family which also operates North America's largest oil refinery in Saint John...is developing plans for a second refinery which is expected to be the first new refining capacity built in North America in at least twenty years. New Brunswick's provincial government is banking on the developments to transform the province from its have-not status.

The Energy Minister, Jack Keir, describes each recent development as a step closer to "an impressive pot of riches".

In southwestern Ontario this week their claim to fame: The discovery of the first commercial oil well, was described as "the spark that ignited the world." One hundred and fifty years later we know that more than half of the planet's supply is gone...and the rest is rapidly declining. Our "ignited" world is down to a flicker.

As New Brunswick contemplates its "pot" of energy riches it has an opportunity, a duty perhaps, to learn from the lessons of our past.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

 

WRONG WAY ON TERRORISM

Down in Arlington, Virginia, the independent "Think-Tank", the Rand Corporation in its recent report: "Time For Re-Evaluation" says a mix of approaches to counter terrorism is the best strategy, while a strict military approach is only "one tool."

That suggestion speaks well for Canada's initial intentions in our Afghanistan efforts which included utilizing a combination of resources: Military intervention, police training, and assistance projects both from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and private non-governmental organizations (NGO's).

In preparing the report the Rand Corporation researchers analyzed efforts to combat 648 terrorist groups worldwide between 1968 and 2006. In only 19% of those cases was military force the primary factor in defeating a terrorist group. And, in most of those cases it happened through the military effort of the country directly affected. The report concludes that..."military force was rarely the primary reason a terrorist group ended during the nearly 40-year time frame studied..."

It appears though that rather than pursue the mixed approach first envisioned for Canada's Afghan involvement back in February of 2004, our mission now turns on the much more definitive military aspects. Contrasting with the Rand Corporation conclusions.

No surprise then in the announcements by the Minister of Defence, Peter MacKay that the military is about to spend billions to equip our forces in Afghanistan with helicopter lift capabilities. From the perspective of Canada's NATO Afghan partners, I am sure they'll be delighted no longer to have to carry our "hitch-hiking" troops on their aircraft. It seems to me though that it may move us that much further away from the ultimate goal of pacifying the region and leaving.

Meanwhile the injection of aid money which the government tries to cast in glowing terms in the funding of hundreds of reconstruction and training projects suffers from the most basic managerial oversight and accountability. To wit: In order to win hearts and minds; for a couple of million dollars we launched a newspaper in Kabul to educate women about politics and other issues. It failed because more than 80% of Afghan women can't read.

From about as far away as one can get from Afghanistan...Kingston, Ontario for heaven's sake!...Canada is operating RANA-FM, a Kandahar rock music radio station. The transmitting tower is inside the Kandahar military compound so it doesn't get blown-up. The brainiac hired to set-up the place: David F. Bailey, the British pirate broadcaster (Radio Jackie) from the 1960's. Mr. Bailey moved-out of his Kingston apartment last month apparently on his way to Bosnia...Go figure!

And just opened this week: ZHARI-911. A call centre for locals in the Zhari District of Kandahar to call to warn troops about suspected improvised explosive devises. An interpreter relays the information to Canadian troops who dispatch forces to investigate. Lest I digress: On site interpreters are called "Terps". They're paid $1,200 a month by Canada, 30 times the average monthly Afghan wage. In the villages some call them by many other names...most of those names are not flattering. I haven't been to Afghanistan...seems to me though from what I've seen on TV there don't appear to be too many telephone equipped huts and shacks there. Oh well!

The Rand Corporation report offers compelling arguments for re-evaluating a strategy that from all appearances is failing to sustain any progress against terrorism. It says that because of the group's objectives a negotiated settlement with Al-Qaida is remote. But the report also insists that ultimately there is no battlefield solution to terrorism.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

 

AGED WHINE?

When there is much controversy about secrecy leading into the start of the Summer Olympic Games on Friday, I am reminded that it isn't just "closed" societies that endure controls over the free flow of information.

Just this weekend we have witnessed a certain level of manipulation over the Canadian Government's release of two somewhat unflattering reports. How else to explain the Foreign Affairs Department's much anticipated investigation into Maxime Bernier's secret NATO documents. The report which says Mr. Bernier's action were..."injurious to the national interest", was released late afternoon on Friday as the August Civic Holiday long weekend kicked-off.

The release of the Foreign Affairs Department report is not an isolated case. Late on Thursday, without previous notice, Health Canada released a 500 page report about the effects of climate change on Canadians. "Human Health In A Changing Climate" was scheduled for public distribution last spring when the House of Commons was still in session. Thursday's release by the Minister of Health, Tony Clement, came following several unflattering leaks to the media over the contents of the delayed report.

A year or so ago, the Government was criticized for an after hours Friday internet posting without notice of a similar report on climate change from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

But...Stop me if you've heard this one: You'll recall that just over two years ago the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay, became chummy with the American Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice. In September 2006, a few weeks after an official visit to Ottawa by Ms. Rice, Mr. MacKay entertained the Secretary at his Pictou, Nova Scotia farm....briefly rumours swirled in both Ottawa and Washington over a budding relationship between the two singles. Alas!

Lest I digress. No wonder that Minister MacKay has been five times voted "most eligible bachelor" on Parliament Hill by the "Hill Times" newspaper.

A small French language Montreal suburban weekly: "Journal de Rosemont" published this week a jaw-dropping story over the trip to Ottawa by Condoleeza Rice which involves the Government's dogged tenacity to keep a tiny element of the visit an absolute secret.

As the story goes: The good host, Minister MacKay, anxious to make a first impression on the most powerful woman in the Bush Administration gave Ms Rice a bottle of "Canadian Ice Wine" as her official gift on arrival in our nation's capital. Obviously a gift paid for by the taxpayers of Canada, and one which despite a multitude of Access to Information requests, has been stonewalled by the Harper Government.

The facts as published imply that the Prime Minister's office itself has nixed requests for both the brand and the cost of the bottle of Ice Wine. The newspaper stretches-on describing Mr. Harper as the most secretive and least transparent PM in Canadian history. While I don't know about that; I do know that the price of Canadian Ice Wine varies from the $30 cheapo at airport gift shops to collector series bottles at as much as $5000. Maybe that's the government's problem: It was a cheap bottle picked-up on the way to airport's arrival lounge???

Wait there's more! Unfortunately there is no apparent end in sight to the story of the "secret" bottle of wine. A tenacious researcher for Montreal's influential daily: "La Presse", named William Leclerc, has filed an official complaint with Canada's Commissioner of Information, Robert Marleau, who has launched an investigation amidst on-going stonewalling by officials from Access to Information.

According to the "Journal de Rosemont", the Montreal daily, (La Presse) is prepared to take the matter to Federal Court if Mr. Marleau can't dislodge the information about the wine from the grip of the PMO or Foreign Affairs Ministry.

No wonder that Condoleeza Rice is keeping her good distances from both Ottawa and Peter MacKay. And the rest of us have become cynical about government.

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