Monday, December 28, 2009

 

FORGIVE / FORGET

Two things to be said about Canadian electors: We are forgiving, and forgetful. Perhaps for many of our national politicians that may be why they are still there. That doesn't necessarily say much about the level of competence, commitment, trust and integrity of "them" whom we vote-in to represent us.

As was previously noted in a recent post: Our Prime Minister and the Finance Minister pledged there would be no recession in Canada and absolutely no subsequent Federal Government deficit when the Conservatives sought re-election in the fall of 2008. That record now speaks for itself.

The nation's high expectations from a year ago for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have evaporated. He may have brilliantly snatched the mantle of power from Stephane Dion, but the former academic was clearly unprepared for the job. And: He's been unsuccessfully playing catch-up to Stephen Harper for the last 12 months.

Most recently the Liberal Leader has mercifully publicly backed-away from his own tough-talk about forcing a national election: Forget - "Mr. Harper, your time is up!"
Blurted-out carelessly last September in Sudbury to what end? I guess we'll never know. Something else to forgive.

It's a traditional dictum that electors get the representation they deserve. I am not quite sure just how we've sinned collectively but this feels like purgatory at taxpayers' expense.

For the good of the nation, Mr. Ignatieff is right: Canadians do not want another election. On the eve of the second decade of the 21st century, what we want is an effective, efficient, productive Parliament with politicians and parliamentarians who are respectful of one another, and most importantly of the citizens who sent them there. It is the least we deserve. Otherwise, there is always a next time when we may not "forgive and forget" so easily.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

 

NOT AN OH/NINE RETROSPECTIVE

The Canadian Press has found it in its heart to name the Prime Minister its "Newsmaker Of The Year" - Not that it was a resounding vote mind you, Mr. Harper getting the nod from just 24% of the journalists who cast ballots in the annual year end poll.

The low support is indicative perhaps that less than 18 months ago in the September 2008 election campaign the P.M. pledged that there would be "no recession" in Canada...and much less absolutely no Federal Budget "deficit" - Lest we forget! Now it seems the Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is promising to take an axe and cut deep to balance the massive $60-billion deficit we've inherited from that broken commitment.

There has been much speculation about whether Mr. Harper will prorogue the House of Commons. Introduce a new "Speech From The Throne". Deal with Mr. Flaherty's anticipated budget expected in March; and perhaps even a spring Federal Election. This once: I leave the "speculatin'" to other pundits.

What seems clear to me is that on the eve of the second decade of this 21st Century our Canada stands poised to capture the world's attention with a cornucopia of blessed opportunities we have likely (in fact) never witnessed before. What we Canadians, primarily the politicians we've elected to represent us, make of these unprecedented opportunistic blessings will herald a significant direction for our nation, setting the tone perhaps for the remainder of the still young century.

TO WIT:

First: The world will focus on Canada early in 2010, when we host the winter Olympic Games in Vancouver/Whistler. Around the same time, the United-Nations` General Assembly in New York is likely to select Canada to fill one of the vacant seats on the "Security Council". A Security Council seat is an honour bestowed on Canada in each decade since Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize ending the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956.

Then; the world`s most powerful nations, the G-8, will gather in Huntsville, Ontario in June. And the G-20, the heads of the planet`s twenty strongest economies, will gather in Toronto a few days later. The Queen comes to Canada in late June. Her Majesty will be present to honour celebration of the country`s 143rd birthday in Ottawa on July the first. And, before September`s end, Mr. Harper will select and recommend to the Queen her new personal representative at Rideau Hall for the next several years.

The dawn of the second decade of the new millennium: This 2010 AD is, it seems, Canada`s unprecedented opportunity to shine, contribute and leave a worthwhile legacy of note from our generation to the world. An unprecedented opportunity for the leaders elected by us to set aside petty political partisanship, rise above the lowest common denominator, and validate our proud citizenship. We should demand and expect nothing less in return for the trust and support we bestow on the politicians we elect.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

 

LESSON FROM MR. CHRETIEN

December's arctic cold has slipped into the Ottawa Valley; with Parliament in full Christmas recess, the Government has seemingly succeeded in freezing-out any efforts of substance to cleanse the air on Afghan torture.

The Gomery Inquiry into the Liberal sponsorship scandals that followed the near defeat of the anti-separatist forces in the 1995 Quebec Referendum plagued successive Liberal Governments in its wake, ultimately costing Paul Martin the election of January 2006. Prime Minister Stephen Harper learned the lesson well, and he isn't about to allow an inquiry commission to pick through the entrails of whichever errors of judgement and mistakes were made by his then Minister of Defence, Gordon O'Connor, or for that matter the current Minister, Peter MacKay.

As I have noted before: Reality is that any unresolved issues about the treatment of Taliban detainees quite simply count amongst the costs associated with waging war. While it may be scandalizing for Canadians more accustomed to "waging peace"...and it may have driven the media into a frenzied orgy of whistleblower headlines fed by the revelations of diplomat Richard Colvin; that dye was cast the day Canada entered into the War in Afghanistan - That too being, as it turns out, a decision made by Mr. Chretien. Lest we forget!

Arguably Mr. Harper's government has been duped twice before by ill conceived decisions of its own making without the subsequent clamour for Royal Commissions and/or special inquiries. In the spring of 2006 the "new" Conservative Government was sent into a panic and then Foreign Affairs Minister, Peter MacKay, committed millions of tax payer dollars in a frenzy to evacuate thousands of Lebanese/Canadians (most of whom had never lived in Canada) from the shores of a skirmish in Beirut, only to have them return to the middle east weeks later. Much more recently the panic invaded our shores as the wild-eyed neophyte Health Minister, Leona Aglukkag and her ministerial officials, over-managed and overspent a mild outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus into a crisis of such proportions that the media and the nation were spun into a frenzy of long miserable, endless line-ups; vaccine shortages and countless other costly abuses.

If the country hasn't yet clamoured for inquiries into both those affairs: Then why should Mr. Harper be compelled to agree to a commission on detainees...an affair not of his own making which comes (Chretien's lesson teaches), at the potential cost of the next election? Let's not be silly.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

 

WAR AND THE RCMP

Here in the American deep south a popular slogan of the pro-life movement claims that..."A Nation That Kills Its Own Children Is A Nation Without Hope". I see it displayed frequently on automobile bumper stickers and wonder how its proponents explain away the deaths of thousands of young American men and women on the War fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan?

Canadians too should perhaps ask the same question of our commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Lest I digress further; I was struck by reports a few weeks back about the most recent recruiting drive for our iconic national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

I reflected once more on the police force's recruiting efforts during the past few days as the news reported that the Commissioner of the RCMP, William Elliott, had been publicly feuding with the Commission For Public Complaints Against the RCMP. It seems that senior officials of the police force are miffed at the chair of the Complaints Commission, Paul Kennedy, for his frank opinions about the use of Tasers on a 15 year-old Inuvik teenager, as well as in relation to the infamous death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver's airport in October 2007. It's worth noting for the record that Mr. Kennedy's term as complaints commissioner ends this week. The Harper "Tories" have not renewed his term, nor named a successor.

Back to my story: After years of falling short of its target the RCMP fielded almost 1800 new cadets in 2008-09, which according to the police force is the biggest annual increase in its ranks in 136 years of policing. Commissioner Elliott and his officials have claimed that the surge in recruitment is one of the notable successes of the RCMP reform process launched in 2007 when Elliott's predecessor, Giuliano Zaccardelli, was dumped unceremoniously for lying to a Parliamentary Committee.

Back in 2007 the mismanagement and scandal plagued police force had become a Canadian embarrassment which was described at the time by a government task force on the reform of the RCMP as having a leadership structure that was..."horribly broken." Amen!

While it is certainly good news that our national police force is able to count on powerful new recruiting numbers to swell its internal ranks; me thinks that some of the credit may lie elsewhere than in the RCMP's reform measures, including their $12,000 signing bonus for joining-up...

There are a myriad of reasons; economic, disciplinary and otherwise, while each year a substantial number of young Canadians enroll in our honoured military and para-military institutions. RCMP Commissioner Elliott and his officials may want to take credit for their effective campaign which has so far resulted in a recruitment surge at the RCMP. It may also signal and reflect a shift of attitude in young Canadians who prefer to serve their country on Canadian soil, rather than fear being blown to bits in the military while serving in Afghanistan.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

 

TIGER WOODS FOR GOVERNOR-GENERAL

Relax; lest you later claim to have been duped, this piece is about the Governor- General, but not about Tiger Woods.

In her 2006 memoir - "Heart Matters" - the former Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson, writes of the "unspoken rivalry" between the Office of the Prime Minister and Rideau Hall.

It's been a year since the Governor-General, Michaelle Jean was forced to wade into the Parliamentary drama over whether the Conservative Government of the Prime-Minister would receive permission to prorogue the session, and prevent a Liberal-NDP-Bloc (Quebecois) coalition from snatching power away from Stephen Harper.

Ms Clarkson was frequently criticised for her imperial notions and expensive habits. On the surface at least Mme Jean has evoked a more frugal lifestyle. She's due back this weekend from a week long good will 3 country visit to Mexico and to Central America. Parliament has already begun the Christmas recess, so she'll be far removed from the tumult, nail biting disagreements of a year ago that cost the Liberal Leader, Stephane Dion, his job and which some constitutional experts suggest permanently damaged Canada's parliamentary democracy.

Michaelle Jean's five year term as Governor-General is scheduled to conclude on September 27, 2010. And, expectations in Ottawa are that she is unlikely to have her appointment extended, as was the case with her predecessor Adrienne Clarkson. As Clarkson suggests in her book disputes and tensions between the Head of Government and the Queen's representative in Canada, though they may be polite, occur frequently.

Few observers doubt that the unprecedented public disagreement between the Prime Minister and the Governor-General this past October when Mme Jean described herself in a Paris speech as "Canada's Head of State" was rooted in the Constitutional crisis provoked by Harper a year ago in response to the "Dion Coalition". In doing so, the Governor-General sealed her own fate over an extended Vice-Regal term come September 2010.

The Queen surely would not "have been amused" if she'd been called-in to settle last December's Parliamentary impasse as some have suggested was threatened by one side or the other. What is clear is that Michaelle Jean backed-down from the "Head of State" fracas when the Prime Minister's Office rebuked her comment with an extraordinary public reminder that: "Queen Elizabeth II is queen of Canada and head of state." Buckingham Palace also did not get involved in that debate; but at the time a spokesman for the palace didn't back away from Harper's interpretation either.

Game, Set, Match - The Queen is in Canada for a couple of weeks next June and July. She has accepted the Government's invitation to headline the "Canada Day" July first celebrations in Ottawa as "Head of State". Thus pretty much relegating the Governor-General to the lesser role of "lady in waiting" as Mme Jean begins her last summer in Rideau Hall...And, the Prime Minister grooms his own choice for the highly ceremonial role come September. (If not Tiger Woods, maybe Mike Duffy, Oye!)

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Friday, December 4, 2009

 

A CHARM OFFENSIVE?

Now that the U.S. President has determined and announced the American strategy in Afghanistan: Pressure is quite likely to increase for Canada to remain involved in this war effort beyond our own exit plans of February 2011.

Despite a certain level of waning popularity in his own country; Canadians generally remain enthralled by, and enthusiastic for the President of the United-States. I would not be the least surprised if Mr. Obama's charm turns towards his northern neighbour to secure either additional troop commitments or some other Canadian initiatives in support of the American troop surge against the Taliban insurgents.

Despite the sordid tales of prisoner abuse which have dominated our national headlines for the past three weeks; Some observers are theorizing that a multi-national charm initiative may already be underway at America's behest. Just a few days ago the British Chief of Defence Staff, the U.K.'s top military commander, Air Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, was ebullient in praise for Canada's military efforts in Kandahar province. NATO itself, of which Canada is a significant partner, is touting additional international troop commitments of more than 7000 soldiers in the wake of Mr. Obama's announcement on Tuesday evening. Next week, the President's hand-picked Field Marshall in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, heads to Washington where he's been called to update the Armed Services Committee of the American Congress. General McChrystal has one more stop scheduled before returning to the war...to Ottawa. He`ll meet with Defence Minister, Peter Mackay, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Walter Natynczyk, and other high ranking Canadian military officials. They are not likely to be discussing plans for the skating season on the Rideau Canal!

President Obama's trillion dollar American economic stimulus plan has been widely criticized by Canadian business, and a major cross-border irritant for the ``Buy American`` provisions it contains. Just as Prime-Minister Harper is returning from his own charm initiative with the Chinese government; word has leaked-out from Washington that a deal that fixes this infrastructure irritant is just about ready to be inked by Obama and Harper. And, the President will take it to Congress for approval after the Christmas break. In return for lifting the American protectionist measures; U.S. suppliers w├Čll be treated equally as Canadian companies on bids for contracts awarded by the ten provincial governments...Coincidence? Some conspiracy theorists might think not.

It may very well be, as some have predicted all along, that Canadians are headed into yet another debate about extending some form of commitment to the Afghanistan war effort beyond our firm departure date of February 2011. This time the President of the United States himself may proffer his considerable charm in support of the affirmative.

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