Saturday, November 29, 2008

 

BAFFLEGAB AND THE MAN IN THE BLUE SWEATER

As is his prerogative, the Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, has delayed the two crucial votes which could see his Government go down to defeat in the House of Commons two weeks after the new Parliament opened.

Somewhat like the ticking doomsday clock, the Prime Minister's gesture has moved back the hands of time to December 8th. That is the new time frame within which the Government's intentions, expressed in the financial update, will be put to a vote. As well as, to whatever degree it may be required, Stephane Dion's motion of non-confidence in the Harper administration.

The "mess" of what's happened this past week is of the Prime Minister's own making. It speaks volumes about his hard-right ideology. From his early days in politics more than 20 years ago, as the then chief policy adviser to Preston Manning's Reform Party, Mr. Harper has focused on changing politics in Canada. Although he has been a national party leader for several years, Prime Minister since January 2006, he remains of the opinion, as recently described by author Paul Palango that: "Ottawa (is) littered with land-mines and secret agents who (have) the tenure, experience and ability to thwart anyone bent upon changing the status quo."

Little wonder then that with the spectre of former Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, and former New Democrat leader, Ed Broadbent, literally rising "from the dead" to counsel the opposition parties on their next moves, Mr. Harper has quickly abandoned the contrived softer, gentler, persona of the "man in the blue sweater" who as late as a week ago was promoting a more inclusive less confrontational Parliamentary session.

It seems to me Mr. Harper missed an opportunity at week's end in his late Friday afternoon address to rise to the challenges of real leadership and be magnanimous, inclusive and non-confrontational in the glow of our pending Constitutional crisis. Instead he's picked the "lower road" accusing those who oppose Finance Minister Flaherty's plan of trying to steal away the Government's power without the holding of an election.

Following-up on Mr. Harper's Friday address to the nation, several sources report this weekend that Conservative Party faithful, Members of Parliament and rank and file alike, are fanning-out across the country, speaking notes in hand, in support of the hysterics that the Liberals and the NDP want to steal power while the Government is single-handily focused on dealing with the economic crisis afflicting Canadians. Elizabeth Thompson of the "Montreal Gazette" says the east end Ottawa Conservative Party war room has been cranking-out lists of sympathetic radio hot-line hosts to call, comments to make, and issues to discuss come Monday.

I suppose the Prime Minister's one week delay in the crucial vote(s) of confidence gives both sides an opportunity to win over the "hearts and minds" of Canada's unsuspecting electorate who thought they had laid the entire matter to rest with the results of the October 14 Federal Election. Although Constitutional experts, lawyers and wannabees are already "on the clock" over this pending crisis, the Harper delay also allows the Governor-General, now promoting Canadian arts and culture in eastern Europe, to complete her four country visit before heading back to Ottawa on Friday of next week, December 5th.

Facing this imbroglio, the Governor-General, Michaelle Jean, may be the first since June 25, 1926 to confront a Constitutional crisis of the magnitude ushered by the potential defeat of this Government. In 1926, the then Governor-General, Lord Byng of Vimy, refused a request from Prime Minister MacKenzie-King to dissolve Parliament; and he called on the Leader of the Opposition, Conservative Arthur Meighen, to form a Government. In Canada's 141 year history that is the only precedent, and surely the one Constitutional experts now have a week to pore over.

I may sound repetitious: The Prime-Minister though should also be conscious that just more than 40 years ago the Liberal party dumped then Prime Minister Lester B.Pearson in favour of another after the best he could muster, in two elections, were two minority governments.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

 

THE WHAT IF? FACTOR

I don't know whether I am angry, or just shaking in disbelief. It has been less than four hours...In politics they say a day can be an eternity. The fiscal update tabled by the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, is either a sham; or just about the most cynically politically expedient manoeuvre of the century. I could just spit!

I am not a wealthy Canadian, but just about like everyone else my somewhat limited investments for the future, in my case mostly in Registered Retirement Savings deposits, have been savaged by the economic meltdown. I agree with Mr. Flaherty that none of the current economic mess is of Canada's making. Blame the Americans.

I did however expect that my Government...my elected political leaders would offer-up some kind of early financial stimulus to help sort-out the confusion which afflicts the country's finances. Maybe I am getting this all wrong. My sense though is that what Mr. Flaherty delivered was a political taunt to the opposition parties to "put-up...or shut-up!"

The Conservatives may very well have put the country on track for a Constitutional crisis which we Canadians, particularly given the economic conditions, cannot afford to contemplate. I am reminded of Nero's fiddling while Rome was burning. Shame on every one of the 308 Members of Parliament...Shame on each and every one of us for being duped into electing them just six weeks ago.

Time is critically crucial and short. It is expected that the legislative requirements of the fiscal update delivered by Mr. Flaherty this afternoon will be tabled in the House of Commons on Monday. At this point each of the three opposition parties say they cannot support the legislation which the government will be tabling. Mr. Harper's government says it is an issue of Confidence. If the government were to end-up being defeated on this legislation, the opposition Liberals are counting on the Governor-General to ask them to form a coalition government with the New Democrats to run the country. Frankly this is a scenario that not one of us should wish to contemplate.

The Liberals, saddled with a lame-duck leader, have neither a plan nor the political support amongst the opposition NDP and the Bloc Quebecois to pull-off the bail-out package the country so desperately needs. Sadly, unfortunately, cynically that appears to be just what Mr. Harper's Government is counting on.

The economic and social meltdown in the United-States is the root cause of the financial difficulties which are buffeting our country. Everyone knows that. If the Government is unable to come-up with a plan to sort-out our problems until the new Barack Obama administration down south is in place with its own plan, why don't Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty say so. I think most Canadians would understand.

The danger with the cynical political games which appear to be about to get underway is that they will plunge our country into a Constitutional crisis, further divide the efforts to solve the problems, and generally make matters worse. I think really that we should expect better from reasonably intelligent politicians.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

 

HOISTED WITH OUR OWN PETARD

Observed recently: "The notion that public office is a public trust has long been lost as all Canada's institutions...have fallen susceptible to politicization." The quote is from Paul Palango author of "Dispersing the Fog".

In my memory, political expediency versus public trust goes as far back as the "night of the knives" ouster of Progressive Conservative party chief, John Diefenbaker almost 50 years ago. The Liberals were just as cruel, perhaps more so to Lester B. Pearson, arguably Canada's best Prime Minister, following his second minority government election against Robert Stanfield.

Some have even argued that Robert Stanfield was the best Prime Minister Canada "never" had....but I digress. Despite his victory, Pearson's backroom ouster in favour of the rising star, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was soon to be hatched. Where; you say, am I going with this?

Quote Prime Minister Stephen Harper in last month's Federal Election campaign: "We're not running a deficit. We have planned a realistic scenario. We've got conservative budget estimates. We've got a modest Platform that doesn't even fill the existing fiscal room that we have and we have plenty of flexibility in how we phase it. So that's our policy. We're not going into deficit....this country will not go into recession next year and will lead the G-7 countries." (Release of the Conservative Platform, October 10/08)

Mr. Harper is a trained professional economist. He knew better. Seduced by the all too easy politically expedient, he engineered the October Federal election early precisely because he anticipated his government would be blamed for the unprecedented meltdown of the Canadian economy. The Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, the Member of Parliament from Oshawa (Home of General Motors for Pete's sake!) followed in lock-step with the charade.

On Thursday, after the stock markets close, on a national holiday in the United-States our NAFTA partner, Jim Flaherty will rise and deliver the shameful reality check that the dishonesty of the election campaign trail tried to hide from every Canadian. The crushing reality of the Minister's message will be that of a country in Recession, a ballooning deficit, which some have estimated may top $25-billion; and unemployment rising to a national average near 8 percent.

Just like Lester Pearson 42 years ago, Canadians handed Stephen Harper his own second minority government last month. It really isn't as if any of the other leaders, Stephane Dion or Jack Layton, with their own glib, gilded, unachievable election Platform promises in September and October, would be doing any better at the helm of our troubled ship of state. It is quite simply that the entire election, a referendum on Mr. Harper's leadership abilities, was premised on a shameful, unreal, fabricated, economic house of cards.

The Government knew that an already buffeted economy was being made worse by last year's politically expedient decision to trim a second percentage point from the despised GST. The 7% to 5% cut since the 2006 election has hardly caused a ripple on Canadian wallets...But, Revenue Agency insiders know, confirmed in part by last week's report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, that the dramatic drop in GST revenues (as much as $10-billion) has erased any hope of foreseeable budget surpluses.

Unlike Lester Pearson: Stephen Harper's single-handed, iron-fisted hold on the Conservative Party of Canada assures that there are no rising star successors to challenge the Prime Minister's leadership. We shall all share the pain and pay the price. Wither any brilliant economic rescue Mr. Flaherty may wish to hoist over the country come Thursday.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

 

IN AWE OF THE FUNDY VORTEX

Public consultations are about to get underway in southern New Brunswick over a proposal to refurbish, improve and market what native New Brunswickers' know as the "Reversing Falls."

Harvey Sawler, a Fredericton based tourism consultant, was hired by the City of Saint John to help spruce-up the port city's tourism image. Although it is New Brunswick's largest city, home to the multi-faceted Irving Family businesses, Saint John, not located on the Trans-Canada Highway, unlike Fredericton and Moncton for instance, has had some problems attracting a steady stream of tourism dollars.

In recent years the Port has been quite successful in attracting American based cruise ships to the city in part by offering "quickie" same-sex marriages to America's gay couples. A number of cruise overnight stops in fact have been organized by American performer, Rosie O'Donnell...but, although indeed helpful to local business, gay marriages do not a tourism industry make.

Mr. Sawler's vision proposed to the city fathers is to focus its tourism promotion, somewhat like the iconic Niagara Falls does, on a new rejuvenated "Reversing Falls" which would be re-named...Ta Dah: "The Fundy Vortex". For the uninitiated, the "Vortex" being the effect (twice a day) of the Bay of Fundy's high tides (highest in the world) forcing the St. John River to flow "in reverse" through a narrow gorge in downtown Saint John.

Harvey Sawler is no stranger to the complexities of "selling New Brunswick". Although it is within one-day's drive of just about 50-million North Americans, the province, as was my experience working with Tourism New Brunswick as a student 40-plus years ago...remains a place that travelers never think of going to...except to get somewhere else; namely Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia!

Mr. Sawler has had some success in recent years engineering a provincial tourism campaign that has been getting visitors to "over-night" in the picture province by promoting "The Rocks" at Hopewell Cape, the "King's Landing" historic village, and the provincial "Botanical Gardens" in Edmundston.

As to the future of the "Fundy Vortex"...well, good luck with that!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

 

MINT FLAVOUR

The Royal Canadian Mint, the historic limestone structure located at 320 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, is celebrating its 100th birthday. Although most of Canada's coins, including the "Loonie" and the "Twonie" are now struck at a production plant in Winnipeg, the mint's majestic building near the Rideau Falls, a couple of blocks from the Prime Minister's residence at 24 Sussex, remains an Ottawa icon of some repute.

At the start of the 20th century, Canada's currency including gold coins, were struck on the premises. Gold was then valued at about $32 an ounce, production procedures were lax, and the tailing's were sloshed down the one hundred foot embankment right into the Ottawa River. As the price of gold has risen to nearly $900 an ounce in recent years, mystery ships, dredges and divers of all sorts have appeared below the mint's embankments claiming to be looking for a virtual fortune in gold dust said to be lying at the bottom of the river as a result of those past processes. No one has ever confessed to finding the mythical "El Dorado"...I don't suppose they would if they did.

In the 1960's, the firebrand "spinster" mayor, Charlotte Whitton, plunked Ottawa's new city hall on Green Island, just above Rideau Falls where the World Heritage River flows into the Ottawa River. When I moved to Ottawa about 30 year ago all of the city owned vehicles were painted an "electric" orange colour...a specially mixed paint known as Ottawa Orange. The story is that Ms Whitton's lunch hour pastime from her penthouse office suite overlooking the river, binoculars in hand, was to count the number of city owned vehicles parked in Quebec's Hull sector at seedy bars and strip joints. The bright orange colour made it easier for her to spot them....Oops, major digression!

Another of the Royal Canadian Mint's stories is the still unresolved theft of the original one dollar coin engravings shipped to the Winnipeg production plant on November 3, 1986. Bureaucrats at the Mint figured they'd save $43.50 by shipping the master engravings by courier rather than by secure armoured vehicles. The two plates: the Queen on one side, and the majestic Emanuel Hahn Voyageur Canoe that had graced Canada's first silver dollar, left Ottawa in an overnight courier bag never to be seen again.

Once the theft had been discovered, the RCMP called in, and in order to avoid counterfeits the Mint came-up with the "iconic" loon design from a proposal they had rejected for a silver coin in 1978. The original engravings have never been located...their theft never solved. The legacy of the 1986 incident is that Canadians were given our venerated iconic "loonie" instead. At last count there are just short of one billion loonie dollar coins in circulation in Canada.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

 

WATCHING FOR THE SIGNS

The Governor-General will walk-up the steps of Parliament on Wednesday afternoon to deliver the "Speech From The Throne" setting into motion the agenda for Canada's third minority government in a row.

A briefer for the Prime Minister's office on Monday described the Speech as a..."tone setting document that will clearly establish the economy as the singular immediate focus of the government". In fact by now, it is generally believed that Mr. Harper's Conservative Government is developing plans and putting into place measures to float Canada's first national budget deficit since 1997.

It is unlikely that when the Governor General speaks the government's plan will be yet that clearly defined. That will be left to the Finance Minister's annual fall "State of the Economy" update expected in a couple of weeks, and later the late winter early spring 2009/10 Federal budget. Though as things go in Ottawa, bureaucrats are already well into piecing together the framework of next year's spending plans.

Still many will be looking for signs in the "Speech From The Throne" as to how Canada will fare heading into what may be another, as currently expected, disastrous and difficult economic period next year. Among those keen observers will surely be the Premiers of the country's most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec.

In Quebec, the Liberal Premier, Jean Charest, is knee-deep into an apparent winning strategy that may carry his minority government into majority territory in the province's December 8 general election. In anticipation of worsening economic conditions, Charest called Quebecers to the polls early into his second governing mandate. He and his poll-leading Liberals will surely be hoping for clear signals from the Feds' that Mr. Harper's agenda isn't likely to upset Quebec's apple-cart. The Federal Conservatives failed in their anticipated breakthrough in Quebec during the October Federal election despite spending billions there in the past year over, among other things, Quebec City's 400Th anniversary celebrations.

Any signals emanating from Ottawa about government largess, indeed if there is still enough money left in the coffers, is likely to be heading this time into Canada's newest "have-not" province: Ontario. Though the tone of debate has mellowed somewhat in the past few weeks, the Federal Conservatives have made no-bones about blaming the policies of the Liberal Government of Premier Dalton McGuinty for some of Ontario's economic woes. Indeed, instead of Quebec, it was in Ontario that the Federal Conservatives made significant gains in the October national election. Now if Ontario's automobile manufacturing based economy is to be saved, the Federal Government will have to move...and "subito presto!"

Our measures to rescue the "big three" automakers' Canadian operations best be in- place before America's Congress approves their rumoured $50 billion bailout of the Detroit automakers. You can bet the farm that if the Government of the United-States bails-out General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, it will not be so that those car makers use the money to protect manufacturing jobs in Canada. Premier McGuinty will surely be looking for comforting words in the "Speech From The Throne"...while Premier Charest hopes that Ottawa's money taps flowing into Quebec don't dry-up altogether.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

 

TALKING STICK?

On Wednesday, the Governor-General, Michaelle Jean, travels from Rideau Hall to Parliament Hill to deliver the "Speech From The Throne." Take note Mr. Obama: Canada's Head of State is a woman of colour, born in Haiti, married to a dual French/Canadian citizen...I digress.

Parliament's House of Commons actually reconvenes on Tuesday November 18, for the purpose of electing the Speaker of the House. The coveted Speaker's Office has been occupied by the Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding of Kingston and the Islands, Peter Milliken, since 2001. The Speaker more or less rules the House, including the day to day staff activities of those responsible for running Ottawa's historic and iconic "Hill".

Until 1986 when the Constitution was modified, The Speaker of the House was appointed by the Prime-Minister. It is now an elected position which requires a majority of the 308 Members of Parliament, or 155 votes. By the way, my old Philosophy 200 Professor at St. Thomas University, Conservative Senator Dr. Noel Kinsella, is the Speaker of Canada's Upper House, The Senate...but I digress yet again.

Surely in addition to enjoying the trappings of the job: Including a home in the Gatineau Hills, car and chauffeur, a suite of offices, and a salary of more than $200,000/year...In my opinion Mr. Milliken, a lawyer by trade, has done an admirable job maintaining order in a frequently tumultuous House, particularly since the January 2006 first election of the current minority government.

There's a cabal in the works to dump the Speaker on Tuesday. For 20 years, Mr. Milliken has occupied the historic seat held by the country's first Prime-Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald. It has changed name and boundaries many times since 1867. In 1988, Peter Milliken defeated the iconic Flora MacDonald to grab the seat for the Liberals. It seems the Conservatives may now be planning their sweet revenge. It is widely believed that Mr. Milliken will not stand for re-election to the House in the next election if he is not elected Speaker...a job he covets and truly enjoys.

Although the Conservatives failed in their bid for a breakthrough in Quebec in the October 14Th Federal election; they did make significant gains in Ontario. They firmly believe Kingston and the Islands is theirs for the taking next time if Milliken walks the plank.

Count'em: Four siting Conservatives are running against Milliken on Tuesday for the Speaker's Chair: Ontario M.P.'s : Royal Gallipeau and Barry Devolin, Andrew Scheer from Saskatchewan and Merv Tweed from Manitoba. Just for added good measure: Windsor N.D.P., Joe Cromartin is also running, as is Ottawa Liberal, Mauril Belanger. Oh my! The race for the Chair is pretty much starting to look like the Liberal Party's last leadership convention. Front runners beware.

If the cabal succeeds, Mr. Milliken will be trading the fabled "talking stick" for the Speaker's shaft.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

 

CLEARING-OUT THE SILLY REGULATIONS

The American President, George W. Bush, hosts the highest ever level of G-20 Leaders in Washington this weekend in ongoing efforts to resolve the economic crisis facing the world. The Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, will be representing Canada, fresh out of an early exit from the currently underway Conservative Party policy convention being held in Winnipeg.

They are not on the agenda of neither the G-20 Summit, nor even the Tory love-in in Manitoba's capital city. Still though the Canadian Border Services Agency is grappling with some thorny issues involving Canada's "duty-free shops" which eventually may appear on the Government's legislative or regulatory agenda.

I am not a terribly frequent user of duty-free shops. I recall perhaps one, two or three occasions when I have actually been inside one as a purchaser rather than a browser waiting for a delayed flight. The shops first appeared at Canadian airports around 1965. Shops adjacent to land-border crossings began in 1982....therein lies a large part of the problem: In the ensuing 20 years, regulations and rules affecting one sector became totally different from the other.

Forty years after airport shops first opened, the Canadian Border Services Agency is planning to strip-away many of the silly regulations, and inject more competition into the business. Duty-free shops are a $300-million a year business in Canada. The Border Agency now wants to allow "arrivals" duty-free shops; abolishing Canadian content regulations; allow large corporations to own the shops; there could be more than one competing shop at a site; and stores could operate at ferry terminals and railway stations.

There are 180 designated "international" airports in Canada. The biggest proposal, allowing "arrivals" duty-free shops, would mean estimated additional revenues of about $50-million for those locations. There are 28 existing land-border shops. They are neither keen on the issue of large scale take-overs from corporate entities...even less tickled by the proposal to allow competing shops on the existing sites.

Already in the works may be some legal challenges to the proposals which are being developed by the Border Agency. For sure, none of the proposed changes will be in place for this year's up-coming Canadian holiday and winter travel period south into the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. The radical reforms are still being worked on, and as our economic conditions shake down it may be both some time before the Government deals with the issue...or for that matter Canadian travellers have enough confidence to travel much beyond our borders.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

 

REVISIONIST HISTORY

As economic conditions worsen, there is an apparent and growing sense of the need to seek from history positive attributes and achievements that may soften the pending doom and gloom.

The election of the Democrat Barack Obama to the Presidency in the United States brings with it a sense of renewal and much hope for better days. Though, for the time being, the reality is that current issues: The economy, seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the great loss of the American dream, create a need to seek solace in milestones, real or fabricated, from the past.

I was reminded of this over the weekend listening to Johnny Horton's iconic hit from 1959, "The Battle of New Orleans". While it is true that the Americans won the January 8, 1815 Louisiana battle, ultimately they lost that war. That war is of course the "War of 1812" fought against British North America...now Canada. We won!We Canadians too have important moments and iconic personages from that conflict to celebrate. General Issac Brock at Queenston Heights, Laura Secord's brave march to warn of a pending attack, the Battle of Crysler Farm near Ottawa, the August 24th 1814 assault on Washington and the burning of the White House.

From our side of the border, the war's conclusion in the spring of 1815 led ultimately to the construction of the World Heritage "Rideau Canal" and Queen Victoria's selection of Ottawa as our nation's capital.

The Canadian and American disconnect over what happened during the War of 1812 is becoming increasingly apparent as both countries hatch plans to commemorate the 200th anniversary of that 3 year war in 2012. Recently quoted in the "National Post", Connie Barrone, the site manager of the Sackets Harbor Historical Park near the Thousand Islands, declared the American troops victorious. When her error was subsequently pointed-out her reply was that..."historical or aesthetic interpretation must be made by the viewer." - In other words, it's in the eyes of the beholder. NOT!

So it is that earlier this month, a provocative new monument unveiled in Toronto gently reminds onlookers who won the War of 1812. It shows a giant British toy soldier of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment towering over a toppled American member of the 16th U.S. Infantry Regiment.

The monument was created by artist Douglas Coupland of Vancouver as a public art contribution for a new multi-storey high rise building in Toronto's downtown. At the unveiling ceremony, Coupland was quoted as saying..."I grew up thinking the Americans lost the War of 1812, and it turns out there's this creeping revisionism happening. Americans are saying maybe we didn't lose. Maybe we won it...I wanted to come up with an elegant and simple way of saying no, the British won."

The National Post subsequently reported that a spokesman for the American consulate in Toronto had no comment on the monument nor Coupland's remarks, but was quoted as saying the United States Government is committed to freedom of speech. Reports say the monument cost about $500,000. It seems in these days a small price to pay to make sure that our history is not revised unduly.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

 

ODE TO AN OTTAWA WINTER

I will borrow liberally from a favourite contemporary jazz lyricist and performer, Michael Franks, and his song: "Under The Sun"...

"Snow in my shoes, mid-winter blues have got me down...from sole to crown where the hell is the snowplow?
Down 95, I'll come alive and by the time I get somewhere near Savannah, give winter the slip. It's well worth the trip to be under the sun. Under the sun stress is undone..."

I stumbled upon this Michael Franks' song in 2006 when I equipped my car with satellite radio and became an instant fan of "The Jazz Cafe", a contemporary (smooth) jazz channel on Sirius Canada. The song has become almost of a year round anthem, but at no time more so than mid-November when I fortunately am able to leave behind the blues of the upcoming eastern Ontario winters.

In the 36 years I have been travelling to Florida, first on winter vacations, and now as a "snowbird" resident; technology has advanced to the state where home, in this case Ottawa, is never really left behind. Of course the Internet gives access to daily newspapers, blogs, media aggregators from Canada. The 'fore mentioned satellite radio providers to CBC Radio, Radio-Canada, Canadian Press Radio and music channels from home. An additional bonus in Florida is broadcaster Pryor Smith's "Canada Calling" daily broadcasts which began their 55Th year last week.

The advantage for these "Politics Canada" posts is that frequently stale eyes get a refreshing new perspective from another country on the things which should matter most to us Canadians. The role we play on the North American continent as well as for that matter, the role we should be playing in the rest of the world.

I'll look forward to the drive south down I-95 this weekend...passing Savannah on Sunday I'll know I am just a few hours away from my place "under the sun". That's where I'll post next on "Politics Canada". See you then.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

 

SOME KICK IN THE "ASH"!

Back in the late 60's and early 70's, an annual ritual down east in my native New Brunswick, was the aerial spraying of the forests in a mostly losing battle against the Eastern Spruce Budworm.

Such was the effort in the province that New Brunswick operated what became, next to the Royal Canadian Air Force, the second largest air force in Canada. I recall that the aircraft, mostly decommissioned World War II bombers, would sweep low over unpopulated, also frequently populated, sectors of the province. More than once my home on the outskirts of Fredericton, near the UNB forest was sprayed with the purplish coloured pesticide "Malathion". These operations along the eastern seaboard were so extensive that even Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn in the 1957 movie "Desk Set" alluded to the matter. The Budworm debacle was soon overshadowed by the outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease which decimated the stately elms of the city of Fredericton.

Out west for the past several years, the governments of British Columbia and Alberta have been waging an expensive and unfortunately mostly unsuccessful battle in attempts to curb the advance of the Forest Mountain Pine Beetle. It so far has infested and destroyed as much as 50% of the British Columbia forests.

It seems that science doesn't give us much hope when it comes to stopping insects. Just short of being evil, these bugs are for the most part unstoppable. Here in eastern Ontario, specifically in Ottawa, the Emerald Ash Borer, was first detected this past summer. Government officials now are bracing for the massive destruction of forests in both Ontario and Quebec. An estimated 40% of all the trees in the two provinces are Ash. In the nation's capital, 25% of all trees are Ash and all are expected to be killed by the insect within 10 or so years.

The Emerald Ash Borer which is native to the Asian continent was first detected in North America in 2002 in Michigan. Every attempt to contain or eliminate the bug has failed. Experts predict a booming business for tree removal companies. In Ottawa on city owned property alone there are 225,000 Ash trees. Millions more in private yards, federal properties, Gatineau Park, provincial parks and outdoor recreational facilities.

As winter sets-in and the tax man delivers new property valuations, homeowners are still pretty much unaware of this new looming problem...surely though not for long. The city government has already started removing dead trees from its lands. On private property contractors charge as much a $1500. for one tree. Prepare for an angry and emotional outcry.

An old elephant joke may briefly lighten the mood: Catching an elephant is easy. Dig a large hole, cover it with branches and set the branches on fire. The ashes will fall in the hole. The elephant, curious by nature, will wander over to see what's going on. When he does...kick it in the ash!

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

 

SPEAK SOFTLY...CARRY A BIG STICK

Paul Palango and I are contemporaries. He may not remember me. I remember him a reporter at the Hamilton "Spectator". We covered City Hall in the mid-seventies when I operated the CBC's one-man bilingual News Bureau in the city.

Following a distinguished journalistic career, including national editor of The Globe and Mail, Canada's newspaper of record, Mr. Palango, now based in Nova Scotia, is on his third book exposing and debunking the country's love affair with the myth of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the RCMP.

Proud though we all are of our national police force created in 1874, Mr.Palango has argued for several years that our elite guardian of the peace, the RCMP, have for years been mired in an unending litany of organizational, legal and political controversies that would have pretty much ruined any other organization.

I envy his courage in an unrelenting effort to shine light on the poor health and integrity of what appears to be a dysfunctional organization that administers a system where some have argued, sometimes with success, that not every citizen is treated equally.

This weekend, Paul Palango has published: "Dispersing The Fog" - "Inside the Secret World of Ottawa and the RCMP". It chronicles the RCMP involvement in the case of Maher Arar, wrongly arrested and tortured at the request of American Homeland Security. The Income Trust scandal in the midst of the 2006 Federal Election that some argue handed victory to Stephen Harper; and the ongoing fifteen year old Brian Mulroney-Karl Heiz-Schreiber Airbus affair.

Maybe it's a generational thing for me, but Mr. Palango's personal life must surely be "squeaky clean". Otherwise, I sure would not want to piss-off the RCMP, not even "tweak" their ego. In this case Paul Palango is on his third tome, a "hat-trick". "Dispersing The Fog", follows two other books about the national police force: "Above The Law", and "The Last Guardians". In each he's championed what he describes as the very real and articulate concerns of Canadians who have questioned for some time the ability or willingness of the RCMP to carry-out its duties.

"Dispersing The Fog" comes to the sad conclusion that in Canada we presently have a two-tiered system of justice. If one believes in the principles of our democracy, the book is a "must read".

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