Sunday, November 29, 2009

 

END OF NOVEMBER...

Well the 2009 CFL Season is now passed into the record books signalling once again that November is ending.

The dark dismal days of the fall season; the shortened hours of sunlight; the cold frequently miserable approach of the long winter in Canada: Little wonder that in the Roman Catholic Church tradition dictates that November is dedicated to remembering souls in purgatory.

In a newspaper column I read recently, author and humour writer Anne Hines, mused about what, other than the Grey Cup Game, might motivate Canadians to make it through the month. She managed to advance five reasonable reasons to explain why we're still around by the end of November - I am sure Ms Hines will not mind if I share her conclusions:
1. It's a well known fact (she claims) that calories consumed during November don't count.
2. Besides the Catholic "Holy Souls Day"; November has other fascinating trivia attached to it: November and March both begin on the same day of the week.
3. Unlike with our American brethren - There are no holidays in November that require cards, gifts or chocolates.
4. It's finally possible to get that really great restaurant table on the outdoor patio.
5. It's not February!

Now that we have survived November, we can all move-on to the madness of the holiday festivities rushing towards us at alarming speed...

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

 

LIKE BEGGING FOR SCRAPS

The Department of National Defence is attempting to deflect criticism by putting the best possible spin on news from the the U.S. Pentagon that the Americans will not share the sophisticated codes that program the new F-35 jet interceptor.

The Canadian government has invested half-a-billion dollars in the development of the F-35, "Lightning II", so-called Joint Strike Fighter, which made two maiden flights shrouded in secrecy at the Patuxet River (Maryland), Naval Air Station 10 days ago.

Canada is one of eight NATO members that have put-up a partner's share of the development costs of the jet fighter which is being built by Lockheed-Martin at the company's fabled California "Skunkworks". The partners have now been told by the Pentagon, in no uncertain terms, that "no country" will be given access to the software codes that program the aircraft's sophisticated electronic systems. Critics claim that without the codes, any participating or purchasing partner will require American involvement in maintaining and/or upgrading the future needs of the F-35. So incensed are the British that the U.K.'s air force has threatened to cancel its order for 138 of the jet fighters.

Canada has been looking at spending more than $10-billion to buy the fighter beginning in 2017 to replace our ageing fleet of the American (McDonald-Douglas) built CF-18 "Hornet". It appears that in order to deflect any criticism back home, National Defence has trotted-out a charm offensive over our significant joint involvement and sharing of resources with the Americans in NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command. It just so happens that NORAD is currently undergoing a review of its resources which, since the end of the Cold-War, are more appropriately aimed at protecting major cities from attacks by terrorists. A Canadian, Major-General Pierre Forgues, is in charge of this review as Director of Operations for NORAD. He's now apparently been tasked with making the media rounds to tout our involvement in the protection of the continent.

The scenario playing-out over the development of the F-35 "Joint Strike Fighter" all sounds too familiar. Half a century ago the U.S. Government of President Dwight Eisenhower torpedoed the Canadian developed CF-105 Avro "Arrow" because it was superior to any aircraft the Americans then had in their fleet or in development, and they did not want that to occur. We were subsequently sold 75 used CF-101 "Voodoos" by the U.S. Air Force. The half-dozen "Arrows" build were cut-up for scrap and Canada lost the best and brightest brains of the world's aerospace sector. They emigrated to the United-States where they became the backbone of the Apollo "moonwalk" program a dozen years later.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

 

FOLKS - THIS IS WAR.

Finally, Canadian sensibilities have apparently been offended by the revelations to a Committee of the House of Commons that Taliban prisoners captured by Canadian troops and turned over to Afghan police were tortured.

Though Canada "came of age" in the War To End All Wars between 1914 and 1918; and subsequently grew into one of the world's foremost economic and military powers in the Second World War from 1939 to 1945; we are neither a warring nation nor a combative people.

What is more shocking to me, and has been since we became involved in the Afghanistan fiasco as Jean Chretien's panacea to the folly of the American Iraq invasion; is how in this process we have obliterated our honoured international image and reputation as the planet's foremost peacekeeper.

In this endeavour, there is enough blame to share all around: The successive Liberal governments of Mr. Chretien and Paul Martin committed us to this error of our way. Just as appalling (more so perhaps) it seems the current government then concocted and orchestrated a ruse to cover-up allegations of prisoner abuses, and perhaps other of war's nasty fall-out, once the rumours began to circulate almost three years ago.

The charges from a senior diplomat, Richard Colvin, who then represented Canada in the Afghanistan capital and is now based at our Embassy in Washington are not shocking. The shock is in the aggressive campaign to discredit his testimony. Successive government spokespeople this week including Cabinet Ministers John Baird and Peter MacKay, as well as the former Chief-Of-Defence Staff, Rick Hillier, feigned ignorance of the allegations while (in some cases at least) openly calling into question Colvin's credibility. Except for the tragedy of the circumstances it was as if the Caribbean trio "The Baha Men" had reunited to carol - "(Who) Let The Dogs Out" - Give me a friggin' break!

The reality is that one Cabinet Minister, the hapless former Minister of Defence, Gordon O'Connor, already paid for this one by being unceremoniously demoted to Minister of Revenue (bean counter to the nation), from whence he's been uncharacteristically silent ever since...most noticeably in the aftermath of this week's Colvin confessions.

It will take decades (if ever) for Canada to regain the trust of the world, particularly in the conflict riddled emerging countries of the middle and near east, and reacquire our honourable reputation for fairness and a balanced approach to securing and maintaining peace in far off lands. Fessing-up to our mistakes instead of pillorying the messenger, and breaking free of Afghanistan before the conflict turns even uglier would be a good start.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

 

ADJUVANT THIS!

In the wake of media stories over the weekend that hundreds of doses of the H1N1 vaccine have been dumped for being passed their "best before" date, Federal health officials are sheepishly admitting...Ho-Hum, it isn't much of a pandemic after all. Qu'elle surprise!

The country's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, says the rate of infection across Canada is about 8% in this second wave; mild even when compared to the annual "seasonal flu" outbreaks. Not anywhere near the pandemic "to end all pandemics" predicted, anticipated, perhaps even wished for by some authorities anxious to test their skills and preparedness. Sheesh! At the cost of terrifying; Nay! Scaring to death an entire country, and then having the gall to tell everyone to wait in line...No! Don't bother - We've run-out: Go home!

Interesting that fully a month into this manufactured crisis the Canadian media has begun to wake-up and do precisely the investigative leg work it should have been doing all along, instead of buying into the panic created by a rookie, inexperienced, clearly out-of-her-depths Federal Minister of Health and her Ottawa and Winnipeg based officials. If this was meant to be Minister Leona Aglukkaq's shinning hour, she has clearly missed this boat looking more often like a frightened deer caught in twin headlamps, than an accomplished federal official. What is it with those eye glasses anyway? - Hire her an image consultant please. (I digress!) Little wonder that recently it's been mostly other Ministers of the Crown rising in the House of Commons to deal with the difficult questions over this alleged pandemic.

Is it any wonder that Canadians and the public-at-large grow increasingly cynical of those they elect, the bureaucracy they hire, and the media pledged to uncovering the truth? In this case there is plenty of blame to go around. Starting with the World Health Organization anxious to press the panic button in the flame-out of the bogus Avian Flu predictions a couple of year's back. - Federal and provincial politicians and institutions eager to demonstrate preparedness after being caught with their proverbial "pants-down" over the SARS outbreak in 2003. - And, the media who failed miserably in their crucial role in a democracy to debunk the fabricated "crap" of politicians without any vision beyond their next run for re-election.

If the Auditor-General Sheila Fraser is right? (As she frequently is) Then God help us the day a real crisis erupts. Although countless millions have no doubt been spent, our Federal bureaucracy still has not managed to get a grip on the National Emergency Preparedness Plan it vowed to create in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 tragedies more than eight years ago. Amen!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

 

NOT WRITING OFF THE "BLOC"

Commentators and pundits across Ottawa have been quick to signal the demise of the Bloc Quebecois in light of Monday's lower St.Lawrence River federal by-election; handily won by the Conservatives.

The respected Toronto Star and Le Devoir columnist, Chantal Hebert, has suggested the stigma of Quebec's ambivalence over the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has once and for all been eliminated with the election of Bernard Genereux, the popular Mayor of La Pocatiere, to the Federal House of Commons.

Mr. Genereux's election as a Conservative in this traditional Bloc stronghold though may have just as much to do with his immense local popularity, and his strong connections to the provincial Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest. In regional politics, particularly in ridings outside of the country's urban centres, the local politicians all know that it's best to hedge your bets and stay on good terms with "them that can help" regardless of Party affiliation. There are rumours along the lower half of the St. Lawrence River that the newly minted Tory M.P. sought and received support from at least three Liberal Members of Mr. Charest's government in organising his successful election. Nothing wrong there - Good for him!

The dirty little secret down around the riding's main community, Riviere-du-Loup, has been for years that political squabbles between the Federal and Provincial governments has delayed and postponed construction of the four lane highway #85 from the St. Lawrence River to the New Brunswick border near Edmundston to replace the monstrous two lane relic from the 1950's (Highway #185); known locally as the killer highway, for the scores of people killed accidentally along its 80 kilometres stretch.

In recent years the Federal Government has bankrolled construction of the 110 Km/hour four and six lane divided Highway #2 that slices through New Brunswick and into the heart of the Maritimes. But; it has never been able to come to reasonable accommodations with "independantiste" elements in Quebec to complete the missing 80 kilometre link. Perhaps with his connections Mr. Genereux may be able to help "grease the wheels". Thousands in the Maritime Provinces would surely be grateful.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

 

FROM THE OTHER SIDE

It may be argued these days that from an economic perspective Canada is better off than its much larger partner the United-States. Recent statistics indicate that Canada's unemployment rate is below 9%; the Americans are at about 10%. Governments in both countries are tallying-up enormous deficits...but on a per capita basis, Canada's remains well below America's monstrous debt.

Still though it is good to get the occasional perspective from the "other side". That's what I aim to do as I head south through nine of the Atlantic Seaboard States into central Florida...abandoning the miserable winter of eastern Ontario for the warmth and the perspective of a winter spent amongst our American brethren.

The drive through the next week is steeped in American history, from the majestic "Thousand Islands", through the coal mining communities of Pennsylvania; the historic Civil War battlegrounds of the Washington belt-way...Gettysburg, the Mason/Dixon Line, the Shenandoah Valley, the Dixie Capital of Richmond, and on to Petersburg, Savannah and well beyond.

Because of Canada's "minority government" status the threat of a Federal Election is forever present. But, the worse seems to have passed for now and the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is planning trips to China and to India. Both countries are emerging economic forces in the post crash months since the collapse of world markets about a year ago.

Getting, and subsequently reporting on these pages, America's perspective on and opinion of Canada will be all the more significant over the months ahead. On the domestic front, the first half of 2010 at least will be enormously significant for Canada's international status and reputation. The final determination of our contribution to the world's quarrel with Afghanistan may be a year away...in the meantime though Canada will host the world at the Winter Olympic Games of 2010 in February in British Columbia. It is widely expected that in early spring our delegation to the United Nations will be elected to an always important seat on the "Security Council": A matter which could be of significant interest to the United States as the world grapples with crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and the always existing tensions of the Middle East.

By early summer Huntsville, Ontario will receive both the world's G-8 Summit Leaders and the G-20 Economic Summit. It is widely anticipated that the Queen will travel to Canada to open one or perhaps both of these "World Stage" events. The G-20 is widely credited with pulling back the planet from the brink of economic collapse during the past 18 months. World powers owe a debt of gratitude to Canada: Specifically to the former Prime-Minister, Paul Martin, who as our Finance Minister in 1997, created the "Group of 20" and hosted its two first meetings in Montreal and in Ottawa.

With eyes opened-wide and my ears perked for the latest insight, even gossip sometimes; I am anxious to focus on the topics of interest to matters of politics in Canada from the widened perspective and insight of the all significant most powerful country on earth, The United States of America. Sometimes it helps to see ourselves as others see us. As always I shall value your comments, interest and input. Let this journey begin!

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

 

WAR'S LASTING LEGACY

The clamor over assessing blame for the chaos of the H1N1 Flu immunization efforts has dimmed media's attention to the war effort in Afghanistan. Though sadly the recent deaths of two more Canadian military personnel has not erased the Afghan issue from coverage in the national dailies and the network newscasts.

Canada's grim total of war dead inches ever so closely to 140, and the number of injured Canadians exceeds over 500. Astounding numbers considering our rotational commitment of troops on the ground in Afghanistan has never exceeded 2,500 soldiers. On a per capita basis, Canadian casualties in the war are the worse of any of the NATO partners.

Amidst frequent American media reminders that he was elected on promises to bring home the troops from America's two war fronts (Iraq / Afghanistan) President Obama hesitates, mulls and dithers about complying with requests from his military commanders to send in as many as 40,000 additional troops. Any substantial growth in America's commitment to Afghanistan will intensify pressure on Canadian authorities to soften our firm resolve to "get out of there" by the end of February 2011. Politicians, including Prime-Minister Harper and the Minister of Defence, Peter MacKay, have already hinted that somehow we'll remain committed to the Afghan war though not in a combat role. Despite dwindling public support for the mission, They appear to argue somewhat differently than the firm position in the Parliamentary debates which led to extending the deployment to 2011 in the first place.

At whatever point and on whatever terms Canada finally calls it quits on Afghanistan its legacy will extend far beyond the generation of young men and women who have served the effort. Entering the annual solemn week of remembrance which will culminate with the tributes that mark the November 11th end of the "War to End All Wars", Canadians can ponder Great Britain's grim legacy of recent military commitments in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq, and (like us) Afghanistan: - A report prepared by the National Association of Probation Officers of the United-Kingdom confirms that 10% of Britain's prison population (8,500 prisoners) are veterans of the country's recent war deployments. The alarming report notes further that in total, about 20,000 veterans most of whom suffer from chronic alcohol or drug related problems; and many with post-traumatic stress disorder are in prison, on parole or on probation.

The stress, fatigue and mental anguish of those involved directly in war's theatre are real, long lasting and frequently debilitating. Fifteen active-duty members of the Canadian military took their own lives in 2008 versus 11 confirmed suicides in 2007. The real numbers are higher because our country does not track suicides among Canadian military reservists though they too serve 6 month rotations in southern Afghanistan.

It's seems ironic that Canada's Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, advocates increased penalties and longer jail terms for chronic criminals when there is compelling evidence that down the road, perhaps too soon, a substantial number of Canada's prison population could be made-up of the men and women the nation first sent to serve a failing overseas war effort.

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