Friday, July 30, 2010

 

MORE THAN A CHARM OFFENSIVE

President Obama's appearance as a guest on the morning talk-show "The View" is a desperate move by an embattled U.S. administration to reconnect as that nation's fall mid-term elections approach.

Many of the critical issues facing the American government: the wars (Iraq / Afghanistan); the environment; plus the debt and the economy have reached a point where they transcend political parties. But, partisan political games continue to be played at a fever pitch, though we're clearly well beyond the time when governments in North America can any longer afford to play them.

In high level financial circles expectations are that Mr. Obama's government will back away from shutting-off the stimulus taps in the face of lagging job growth and an alarming retreat in consumer confidence. In the past 60 days, the U.S. Consumer Confidence Index has dropped just short of 15% to 50.4%. Economists watch those numbers closely because they determine consumer spending which is now edging towards the start of the back-to-school shopping season. A reading above 90% would indicate a solid economy. Then, who better for President Obama to bring his "charm offensive" to than the mothers of school aged children who watch "The View?"

Across North America economic threats are still lurking. Though Canada's healthy banking industry has been credited with our relatively soft landing from the recession of the last couple of years; we still haven't stepped completely away from the material danger of a so-called double-dip recession. The Canadian government will be forced by the next Federal budget to shut-off our own $60-Billion economic stimulus program and account to Canadian voters for putting our spending back into serious deficit territory in a series of ill-conceived tax cuts followed by the subsequent downturn. Though it was ignored for political expediency by all parties; that downturn was looming at the time of the last Canadian Federal election in October 2008. Reigning-in the deficit through a series of unpopular cuts with the electorate is fueling speculation of another Canadian national election early this fall before the "shoe-drops" on these expected tough Government measures. Which brings us back to playing political partisan games.

South of the border just last week, the American Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chalked-up another Half-Billion dollar hit when it was forced (once again) to seize the assets of seven failing banks. What's even more notable is that so far in the first seven months of 2010, a total of 103 U.S. Banks have failed because they have not been able to recover from their portfolios of bad loans mostly tied to real-estate mortgages. In Florida for example, 81% of all mortgages exceed the current value of the home they secure. (In fact running at an average 138% of value). Wait! There's more: Last year's rate of bank failures down in the United-States was slower than in 2010. Not a proud accomplishment: But, it took until October of 2009 (not July) before the number of bankrupt banks surpassed 100. The FDIC estimates that the cost of bank failures looking ahead from 2010 to 2014 will be more than $60 Billion.

With mid-term Congressional elections in the U.S. looming, and the very real potential of a second Canadian Federal Election in two years; knocking-down the economic turmoil and the subsequent elephant-sized debts and deficits hiding behind the closet doors will require Herculean political will and control. What both countries will need are people and leaders running for office for the purpose that they can "serve" far more than to merely get elected. I sure hope the politicians and we voters are up to the task.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

 

PURGATORY ON A WAYWARD BUS

The Liberal Party dominated politics in Canada by holding power for 69 years during the 20th Century; more than any other elected Party in the developed world. Now that from all appearances Liberals are in Purgatory, there is no shortage of passions and emotions from every side of our political spectrum.

I was 9 years old in the summer of 1957 when for 25 cents at the "Capitol Theatre" I saw Jayne Mansfield starring in John Steinbeck's "The Wayward Bus." - I'm not quite sure if it was Mansfield's stunning performance (some say her best), or Steinbeck's riveting dark plot of strangers on a chartered bus nicknamed "Sweatheart", or a bit of both...but I've never forgotten the movie. Lest I digress - Steinbeck so despised the film version of his 1947 best seller that he refused to sign a re-release agreement, which explains why it's never been released on video or DVD.

I've thought a fair bit about "The Wayward Bus" as Michael Ignatieff's "Liberal Express" winds its way across the ten provinces and a couple of territories on its six week mission of purification for the Liberal Leader. Steinbeck's passengers aboard "Sweetheart" undergo a variety of life changing experiences: One surely may hope!

Since he became the Party Leader after the failed "coalition mission" to overthrow Stephen Harper at Christmas 2008, the knocks against Micheal Ignatieff are that he's out of touch; a self-serving academic; an elitist and an aloof loner. Strangely from my perspective (at least) the very same characteristics, values and qualities that gave Pierre Trudeau 42 years ago the charm and charisma with which he swept the country. Apparently times have changed.

Successive stories about the Government's decision to scrap that "blasted" long-from Census; and the Tory Industry Minister responsible - Tony Clement, having now morphed into "hero by night" saving damsels in drowning distress; have not helped the Liberal Chief secure very many productive headlines for his tour. But: - Micheal Ignatieff is not a Main Street kind o' guy, meant to, nor good at, shaking hands and kissing babies...and he shouldn't be playing one in THIS MOVIE either - Dressed-up in jeans and a red baseball cap. Had Trudeau's handlers, forty some years ago, suggested the same Get-Up; they'd been told in no uncertain words to "fuddle-duddle" and / or "mangez de la merde!" - I digress...

As a travelling salesman, Mr. Ignatieff's "Ernest Horton" isn't nearly as good as Dan Dailey's to Jayne Mansfield in "The Wayward Bus" - (PS- Fret not: The film is old and the bus drives through a tunnel for a few seconds)





When the Liberal Express rolled-through Justin Trudeau's turf last week in Montreal's Papineau Riding, what wasn't quite clear to the media is which of the two men: Liberal Leader, Ignatieff or Trudeau was more popular with the assembled Grit supporters. (Same phenomenon it seems a few days earlier with Chretien in Shawinnigan.) In Papineau, almost as an afterthought, Ignatieff reminded the crowd that his father, George, worked for Trudeau as Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations. Some say Ignatieff Senior was "unimpressed" by Trudeau and left shortly thereafter for a gig at the University of Trinity College.

To whatever degree anyone may have wished...the "Liberal Express" tour isn't the springboard into "Iggy-Mania" for a somewhat anticipated fall Federal Election. Just as Lester B. Pearson was shunned by Party insiders after the limelight switched-over to Pierre Trudeau; Ignatieff's years in Purgatory may be just a cleansing in-waiting for Justin Trudeau's ascension to Leadership...perceived and / or real - "Sweatheart" bus indeed!

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

 

A DONE DEAL...



I was surprised by friends' assumptions that since the CRTC has turned thumbs down on Sun-TV's application for an all-news "tier one" cable licence, the project is "dead in the water," so to speak.

The exodus of casualties from Quebecor's "Sun Media" hard right-turn in the last few days is otherwise proof positive of the launch; as planned in January; of what critics and pundits have described as a Fox News North clone. Respected and middle-of-the road columnists and journalists are being turfed overboard faster than Stephen Harper's popularity expectations.

Notable long-term Sun Media scribes Eric Margolis, Greg Weston, Elizabeth Thompson, Christina Spence and Peter Zimonjic; all gone in the blink of an eye-lid. Kathleen Harris has been kicked-out of the chain's Ottawa Parliamentary Bureau and now is barely hanging-on as one of the media Web's National Reporters. Lest I digress: Greg Weston it seems, is paying a pretty price for creating "all the fuss" by breaking the news over the "Fake Lake" G-20 Summit bloat just a month ago.

"Fair and Balanced.ca" is but a notch around the next corner. Toronto based "Sun-TV", which will anchor Canada's assertive new conservatism come next January first is already distributed nation-wide to Bell satellite receivers, and on cable across Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Ontario as well as parts of Alberta. Any additional carriage the CRTC through wisdom, generosity and / or nebulous Cabinet directive allows, is gravy as in the concept of: "If you build it...they will come."

Many already believe that the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is operating from the American Republican Party's "playbook": To wit - Using any single frightening event or memorable case where justice is seen not to be done as more emotionally riveting and politically useful than reasoned debate. Pretty much anyone who has worked with the Prime Minister knows already that his top priority is message control based on the tenet - Control the message, and you control the outcome. Kory Teneycke, Vice-President of Development at Quebecor, is behind the new Sun-TV venture. He was Mr. Harper's Director of communications. - An entire channel run by people who think that political dialogue panders to extremes and pivots on name calling.

It was just a few days back in the United States that a cleverly edited video of an Agriculture Department Official Shirley Sherrod, which aired on Fox News, caused a furor and eventually forced President Obama to apologize for throwing Ms. Sherrod out of her job in the ensuing uproar. An all too familiar scenario that maybe former Cabinet Minister, Helena Guergis, could share some sympathy with: Two women thrown under a bus as examples of things deemed wrong with politics by an overly partisan too fast paced simplistic accelerated modern news media cycle.

Yes indeed: Canada's political media landscape is shifting rapidly. Doubtless, it is true that the public is better served by having a broad range of perspectives rather than just one or two. But, as President Obama and his Agriculture Secretary just learned; there is inherent danger lurking when fringe elements are given access to a forum for rants based on perceived biases. Canadian politicians in high places should perhaps take a lesson from the example.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

 

LET THE RECORD SPEAK

Baron Black of Crossharbour has been the focus of much of the Canadian media's riveted attention this week, following his release from the Coleman medium security federal facility near Ocala, Florida.

One thing is "for sure" about Conrad Moffat Black: Few Canadians (if any) do not have an opinion of one type or another about the former media mogul. Where Conrad Black is concerned - There is quite simply no middle ground of opinion or views about him: It's either love / hate; feast / famine; or white / black - No pun intended.

Perhaps in New Brunswick; people's attention may have been drawn elsewhere over a much more locally notable family's tribulations. A family, not unlike Conrad Black's, not only at the control of a media empire, but of so many more elements for - about - and in - such a small province, that they wield a multi-billion dollar empire and belong near the top of the list of richest people on the continent.

The death of John E. Irving at age 78 in Saint John has raised numerous questions about succession plans for the Irving Family business which is intricately woven into just about every facet of life in New Brunswick; from broadcasting and newspapers; vast forestry resources; and an international energy company which includes one of North America's largest oil refineries. The Irvings are Canada's second wealthiest family.

Jack Irving was responsible for the family's construction, engineering and steel fabricating companies; and the media empire which includes all of New Brunswick's English daily newspapers and several radio stations. He and his older brothers Kenneth and Arthur, affectionately known as Gassy, Greasy and Oily when I was growing-up in New Brunswick; inherited the Irving empire from their father, K.C. Irving. He brilliantly divided-up the business into three equal but extremely integrated parts amongst his sons before his death.

John Irving's death on Wednesday overshadowed information made public 48 hours earlier but; given the family's tight grip on media in New Brunswick, which received little attention in the press: A week ago, Jack Irving's nephew stepped away indefinitely "for personal reasons" as CEO of "Fort Reliance Inc." the parent company of Irving Oil. The energy companies (oil, gas etc) were "willed" to Kenneth's dad Arthur when the family patriarch (K.C.) died in Bermuda in 1992. Though company officials declined comment about the departure...the Saint-John based conglomerate has had a series of set-backs in the last 12 months.

These have included a high profile decision by Irving Oil and B.P. Oil (Yes, the very same B.P.) to cancel plans to build an $8-Billion second refinery in Saint John; aborted plans to build a $30-Million "Irving" world headquarters near the Port of Saint John; termination of an Irving sponsored tidal power research project in the Bay of Fundy; and a recent decision to withdraw requests for environmental approvals to build a bio diesel refinery in New Brunswick. What's it all mean?

What is clear is that before his death in 1992, K.C. Irving was both adamant and brilliant in ensuring the survival and growth of the companies which had made him one of the leading industrialists of the 20th Century. In this brave new world of the 21st Century growing numbers of third and fourth generation family members may not share the Irving passion in the same fashion.

Ironically it's all probably "deja vu" all over again for another iconic New Brunswick family: Three years after K.C. Irving's death; in 1995 the McCain family empire was rocked ultimately by an un-resolvable dispute over succession. Harrison and Wallace McCain; were both working for Irving in 1957, when they acquired their father's potato growing and exporting business. Wallace split in 1995 to acquire Maple Leaf Foods after he and Harrison quarrelled over who's son would take-over McCain's.

Doubtless all of New Brunswick will want to comfort the Irving family and will be respectful of this very private family's moment of grief. But, in a small province where essentially two large family run companies have been the pillars of the economy everyone will be anxiously hoping that transition to the next generation(s) will remain without major effect on the tens of thousands of jobs they provide.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

 

FROM THE FILES OF THE "WASHINGTON POST".

In a surprisingly candid and refreshingly forthright admission to a Calgary conference on Monday, U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson, recognized that the reality of the Canada / USA border has been "radically altered" since 9/11.

A native of Illinois, Ambassador Jacobson's conciliatory approach contrasts somewhat with some of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's occasional pronouncements over border security issues. Ms Napolitano is a former Governor of Arizona, which may explain their divergent views.

Ambassador Jacobson admits that there have been "myriad headaches" at the border, including delays and hassles for passengers and commercial traffic in an effort to improve security south of the border.

Canadians are all too familiar with the "thickening" of the world's longest undefended border since the attacks of September 11, 2011 struck at the very fabric of the American psyche. In the ensuing 9 years, it's been an undeniable tribute to our enduring friendship with the United States that Canadians continue to make almost 26,000,000 visits to the U.S. each year injecting more than $12-Billion into the American economy...to say nothing of the $400-Billion annual trade between our two nations. It is a recognized fact that more trade is conducted each year across just one of the dozens of our border crossings (Detroit's Ambassador Bridge), than between the United States and all of Japan.

Whilst everyone surely agrees with the concept and goals of America's secure border initiatives; some in the United States have begun to question the emergence of what's been described as a "national security enterprise" with a widely classified mission, blurred lines of responsibility, and it's being suggested; a poor record of accountability.

Ambassador Jacobson's speech to the Pacific Northwest Economic Region Conference was delivered on the same day the "Washington Post" unveiled its comprehensive and much anticipated report on: "Top Secret America". In mind numbing details, it reveals the billions of dollars in private, for-profit intelligence operations that have emerged since September 11, 2001. The "Post" says that in all, at least 263 organizations have been created or re-organized as a response to 9/11. The pervasive sense of fear, described by some pundits as verging on paranoia; in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks became a springboard for the Administration and Congress to give agencies..."more money than they were capable of responsibly spending".

Top Secret America, the "Washington Post" claims, includes hundreds of Federal Departments and agencies operating out of 1,271 facilities around the United States. They contract with another 1,951 private companies to work on programs related to counter terrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across America. The editor's of the "Washington Post" claim that: "When it comes to national security, all too often no expense is spared and few questions are asked - with the result an enterprise so massive that nobody in government has a full understanding if it."

Others may wish to argue that Iraq and Afghanistan; a $14-Trillion national debt, and a Congress too frequently paralyzed by divisive partisan issues are tangible evidence of America's wayward efforts to confront security threats at home, and before they reach North American soil.

What seems abundantly clear is that the revelations and concerns raised are matters for our American neighbours and partners to debate and resolve before time and money run out.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

 

MISINFORMED "ON-LINE"

The advent, and the subsequent rapid development, of Internet generated journalism, opinions and posts in blogs; forums and group message boards has the Court system, government agencies, and perhaps also our own societal norms scrambling to catch-up.

In recent years, bloggers, unconventional sources and questionable stories have placed enormous stress on "legitimate" journalistic organizations. In North America; radio has essentially abandoned its traditional news gathering role in favour of talk and opinion formats frequently of some questionable validity. Once dominant newspapers and their ownership chains have been decimated by the trend to on-line journalism. Television news operators, particularly the "all-news" channels, have been forced to dump staff and reduce costs, all-the-while stuffing their news cycles with FaceBook, My Space, Skype and Twitter chatter from their own viewers to make-up the shortfall.

Lest I digress; even a recently published commentary on Leader Michael Ignatieff's, "Liberal Express" national tour questions why he is on a face-to-face tour to meet with voters, and eschewed the modern "web" way of reaching the same audience by staying at home in the relative privacy of a computer keyboard, webcam and screen.

The Federal Government is assessing a pilot project it launched last spring to refute Internet information deemed incorrect or questionable. There is some danger there: Not everyone is likely to agree with Ottawa's definition of "on-line" misinformation. What seems to be clear though is that the next time someone posts an opinion in an Internet forum such as FaceBook, they may very well receive a rebuttal from an employee of the Federal government.

Of course there is some legitimacy to worries about government employees being paid to monitor on-line chatter and post comments. But, in early April the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) paid a Toronto company $75,000 to monitor social activity and identify areas where information was being presented about the always controversial east coast Seal-Hunt. Once alerted about questionable on-line comments, employees at Foreign Affairs and/or Fisheries and Oceans posted comments, including views the Government considered more consistent with Canada's position.

That may be just the tip of the iceberg. A spokesperson for DFAIT described the Seal-Hunt initiative as just part of an effort ..."to establish foundations and recommendations for future programs and campaigns to use social media as another way to listen to, inform and engage with Canadians."

On the other front: Twice now, Courts in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have issued orders which restrict the limits of anonymity and privacy on the Internet. Most recently, the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench ordered the publishers of the Moncton "Times and Transcript" to reveal the identity of an anonymous commenter after the target of the post launched a defamation suit. The Judge ruled the plaintiff's rights would be violated unless he knew the identity of his accuser. In Nova Scotia in April, a Halifax weekly, "The Coast", was ordered to release all the information it had to identify seven anonymous commenters who had posted on-line allegations of racism, cronyism and incompetence at the Halifax Fire Department.

Last fall in Ottawa, SLAW.CA which deals with legal matters, launched an effort to reveal the identity of the blogger behind "Zero Means Zero", an insider's look at the administration of controversial Mayor Larry O'Brien. The blogger has since stopped his postings and the blog appears to have been removed.

As clearly it should have, privacy on the Internet has its limits. Recent anecdotal evidence suggest that there is a diminishing appetite on the part of websites, Internet providers and social media sites to protect people who are posting anonymously. In his own recent post; former CBC colleague and Visiting Professor of Journalism at Ryerson, Jeffrey Dvorkin, questions the media's rush to publish the photos of some G-20 rioters provided by the police. He argues that while some photos clearly show acts of vandalism, others of head and shoulder shots don't reveal any evidence of law-breaking beyond the say-so of authorities. The sources of some photos (From cellphone cameras for instance) may be questionable; and Professor Dvorkin raises the danger of citizen journalism of almost any nature verging on vigilantism.

Though the debate about access to new technology and the phenomenon of social media's impact on society is far from over; people should think twice before posting anything on the Internet because they can almost always be identified. Those recent east coast legal decisions mean people posting comments or nebulous photos on the web can't expect to have, nor do they have, a lot of privacy.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

 

G-20 REDUX

I was introduced recently to Denis Cochrane, an academic who is the President of St. Thomas University. I've been subsequently reminded that Mr. Cochrane has a substantial political background. He has been a Member of Parliament, and was Leader of the Progressive-Conservative Party of New Brunswick in the aftermath of Richard Hatfield's 17 year reign as Premier. At that time, the knock against Cochrane was that he was "too nice."

In a series of conversations with prominent New Brunswickers which is being published by the Saint John daily, the "Telegraph Journal", Denis Cochrane muses about politics. He believes modern politicians are losing their ability to govern because they depend almost exclusively on opinion poll results, before making the critical (sometimes unpopular) decisions required of public policy makers.

While Canadians are mired in the controversy over police security tactics during last month's G-20 Economic Summit of world leaders in Toronto. The real issue: The Summit's consensus on pulling back "stimulus funding" has been all but forgotten. In fact after a poll this week in the United States that only 42% of Americans approve of President Obama's "handling of the economy" - The taps on the potpourri of federal stimulus money will likely continue flowing even as the country's nearly Trillion Dollar package adopted by Congress last year ends. At stake for President Obama and the Democratic Party are the mid-term Congressional and Gubernatorial elections this November: That's the point!

Making decisions may be part of leadership; but running the risk of losing the next election for making sometimes unpopular (though right) choices seems no longer a valid reason for seeking office. As Dennis Cochrane sees it, politicians surely have..."an obligation to consult with their constituents. They have an obligation to have a dialogue and get all the information they can...but ultimately they have to make the decision."

Essentially in the case of last month's G-20 the dialogue and the consultations have taken place and the combined wisdom of the leaders of the world's great economic powers resulted in a consensus that the recovery would best be served by growing fiscal consolidation and boosting national savings. That's what the Summit Declaration says. Though for most countries, boosting national savings is unlikely to see the light of day. In the United-States stimulus relief raised the national debt to $14-Trillion, and the bad news is the administration isn't sure what to expect next year when the stimulus funds run out. Amongst the European Union partners, there is real fear that some more partners, like Greece earlier, will default later this year on Bond issues. At the very least the economies of Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Iceland remain on life-support. To say nothing of the United Kingdom in the event that its largest corporation, British Petroleum (B.P.) were forced into liquidation over the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. Billions of British Pounds, primarily retirement and pension funds, are invested in B.P.

Here in Canada politicians have taken credit for our relatively soft landing from the financial turmoil of the past three years. But, it's the prospect of a further soured economy which is fueling speculation of an early fall Federal Election before "the other shoe drops." Statistics Canada has just reported that the month before the Toronto Summit (May), Canadians bought more than we sold abroad: Our imports outpaced exports by $503 Million. At the very least, the Federal Government faces the prospect of wrestling down the $60-Billion fiscal hole that was dug keeping the economy from tanking further.

Just when it seems they may be most needed; elected officials have abandoned honesty, trust and integrity as principles of leadership in favour of opinion polling and political expediency. In return, little wonder that fewer people engage and vote, and that the apathy and the cynicism grow.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

 

DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT!

Strange but true: Rumours of an early fall Federal Election have surfaced in large measure because the Tories will be forced by the next budget to sabre government expenditures to reduce our homemade $60-Billion (plus) deficit.

It's by no means a small expenditure, and the Harper Government wasn't first to commit Canada to the failing NATO effort in Afghanistan; but by the time Canada leaves in less than a year, our estimated costs will have topped $20-Billion.

Lest I digress further, let me get to the point: In any nation, there is always room for research and innovation. Quite frequently the demand is first dictated by needs related to defence and security. War is ugly; but it's great for business and technological advances. Perhaps there is no greater modern example than the colossal defence industrial complex which has dominated the economy of the United States since Dwight Eisenhower returned from the Front.

Except perhaps for Karl Heinz Schreiber's lame effort, apparently supported by Brian Mulroney, to build assault vehicles in Nova Scotia back in the early 1990's; Canada abandoned its leading role in the defence business, when President Eisenhower torpedoed the CF-105 Avro "Arrow" because (At least some believe) it was superior to any aircraft the U.S. had in their fleet or in development. We've been purchasing hand-me-downs ever since.

Just this week, the Canadian Press touted the 500th Canadian mission flown in Afghanistan by the CV-170 "Herons"; our pilot less "eye in the sky" drones. Our drones are in fact leased from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), based in Richmond B.C., but a major defence contractor south of the border. By the way...our drones don't shoot: For that our Military in Kandahar call-in the U.S. Air Force.

Mostly until now; the Canadian Government has at least called tenders for the major defence contracting endeavours it's entered into with our other NATO partners. Not the one about to be unveiled before month's end. - It's estimated to be worth about $16-Billion; and it's going sole sourced to Lockheed-Martin. In the process, expect at least two other potential bidders to be crying "foul" all the way into the next Federal election.

The contract involves the purchase of about 70 "F-35 Joint Strike", jet fighters
as replacements for our ageing CF-18 "Hornets". Ignored in the bidding war; because there isn't any, are Boeing's new "Super Hornet"; and the European made Eurofighter "Typhoon".

Reliable sources in Montreal say the Harper Cabinet has already approved the deal despite serious concerns expressed by several NATO partners last fall when they were told by the Pentagon, in no uncertain terms, that "no country" would be given access to the software codes that program the F-35's sophisticated electronic systems. At the time knowledgeable critics claimed that without the "codes" any purchasing partner would require direct U.S. involvement in maintaining and/or upgrading the future needs of the jet fighter. Apparently that's "okay" with Mr. Harper: Canada's deal with the American Government includes about $8-Billion for the U.S. to maintain our fleet.

To be sure, some Canadian companies will benefit from this "Work Order." In fact Lockheed-Martin claims so far to have spent about $325-Million in Canada on the planes' development. So sure is the California based maker of it's done deal with the Canadian Government that it's website "Canada's Next Generation Fighter" - http://f-35.ca/ - is already up and runnin'!

This, and other previous governments, have had a habit of waiting until the "dog days of summer" to make major potentially controversial defence purchase announcements. The Harper government is taking every precaution in the timing of this sole source contract to Lockheed-Martin.

Lost in the G-8 and G-20 shuffle just three weeks ago, the Canadian Space Agency used the same tactic to announce a much smaller ($10-Million) contract with SpaceX apparently to hitchhike our next astronauts into the Cosmos after the U.S. Shuttle Program ends this fall. Say What? Yep, you probably missed it. Word from the Space Agency's honcho, Astronaut Steve MacLean, is that we got a bargain by being among the first of the SpaceX clients. The privately held American space exploration company SpaceX is owned by Elon Musk, founder of E-Bay and its companion site Pay-Pal. If its SpaceX, It's gotta be Amex. Don't leave the planet without it!

Bet you thought Guy Laliberte's $50-million "clown ride" into space a year ago was a hoot?

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

 

SUMMER OF DISCONTENT(?)

Well, it's called the "Liberal Express" and somewhere, somehow, it will be hitting a town, barbecue, pig roast, Rotary meeting near you any day now, and (apparently) until the end of August.

You may call it what you will; but the underlying message is: Forget Ignatieff: Vote Liberal! Though it's being billed as Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's attempt to connect with Canadians, the real message may be: Look! He may be a weak leader, but we've got all these other great guys...and frankly folks, wouldn't you rather vote Liberal than give Stephen Harper the majority he doesn't deserve.

This is Mr. Ignatieff's third summer at defining himself to Canadians. He flamed-out as Pierre Trudeau incarnate in summer tour #1 three years ago. Who can forget (oops! Looks like we already have) Mr. Tough Guy of the Summer 2009 tour - "Mr. Harper, your time is up?". Summer 2010: Flavour? To be determined.

Meantime in the other camp: Let's see - "Fall Election Threats Follow Budget Bill Debate" screams the latest Canadian Press headline as the Tories threaten yet another fall election after Liberal Senators stripped provisions from the 2010 budget implementation bill. Somehow, shouldn't we be weary and bored of all this by now?

According to the latest EKOS poll, the Liberals have sunk in popularity to their lowest level in over a year. Respondents claim they'd vote 34% in favour of the Conservatives, compared with 24% for the Liberals if a Federal election were held this week. The Conservatives, specifically the Prime Minister, has / have been in the spotlight over the G-8 & G-20 Summits and the successful visit of The Queen on Canadian soil through the Canada Day celebrations. The even more recent confirmation of David Johnston as the next Governor General seems to be playing particularly well with the conservative masses - "Well, he's not from the CBC" - is apparently the general consensus. But; 34% popular vote is considerably short of the 40-plus percentile generally considered majority government territory.

Mr. Harper thus intends to spend his summer at the Gatineau Hills, Harrington Lake estate, official country residence of the nation's Prime-Minister. Senator Douglas Finley who is threatening a fall election over the Senate's debate of the Federal budget bill, is the Federal Conservative Party Campaign Director. Mr. Harper may be on "staycation" up at Harrington Lake, but never too far for a huddle (or two) with the Tory campaign managers who've already acknowledged..."The buses, the planes, the trains, the money, the boardroom - every thing's ready to rock and roll."

Can the Conservatives pull-off a "majority" win election this fall? It's already a given that Micheal Ignatieff is out unless the Liberals can extricate a quite unlikely winning rabbit out of their hat come the next general election. But, Harper's future may be no more assured, and hang squarely on a "majority" win. A fourth unsuccessful attempt could be mortally wounding to the Prime Minister's leadership and insider pressure to step aside difficult to ignore.

Within days of "mounting the throne" (as it were) come September, Governor-General David Johnston may just be asked, as was his predecessor in 2008, to dissolve Parliament and call Canadians to another unwanted General Election. As the Conservatives face the prospect of implementing massive Federal program cuts to rein-in their own unprecedented $60-Billion budget shortfall; it is the future of both major national party leaders which may be at stake.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

 

PRAISING OUR DIVERSITY / MAITRE CHEZ NOUS

Somewhat like a broken record; regulars will know that I kvetch and rant fall and spring about the severely inexperienced drivers who feel compelled to drive (or haul) enormously over sized RVs along the route I travel to and from my southern winter residence in Florida: More about that in a minute...

Over the weekend, we Canadians marked our nation's 143rd birthday (July 1); our friends and neighbours in the United States celebrated their country's 234th Independence Day.

We're blessed to share a continent of bounty, enormous potential and wealth. The economic partnership and the business relationship between our two nations, 350 million strong, is not only the envy of the world...but, at more than $2-Billion per day; it is the most successful trading partnership the planet has ever known. Of the more striking examples; more trade is conducted across the Ambassador Bridge (Detroit/Windsor) in any single day than between most nation's of the world in one entire year.

We're nations of immigrants: In at least two of Canada's three largest cities, citizens of visible minorities constitute the largest segment of the population. In the United-States, "Latinos" (primarily) will dominate the populations of Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston in just a few years...as they do already in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

The images of clearly "new" Canadian families flickered across television screens during Her Majesty's Royal Visit on Parliament Hill this July first. Each family member holding a bright red Maple Leaf flag - Starking contrast to the all White, English speaking descendants of the United-Empire Loyalists who would have greeted Elizabeth II in Ottawa just a short couple of decades ago when I moved here in 1983.

But over the last half-century of Canadian history; it's another segment of the population that has all-the-more identified us culturally; defined us politically; diversified and challenged our nation's soul. From the start of the "Quiet Revolution" around 1960; its Quebec and the Quebecois whose influence has both challenged and defined Canada's culture. In doing so, Quebec ensures that our diversity, multi-ethnicity, and languages remain grounded on Canadian soil as a foil to the encroachments of our vastly stronger, powerful, and dominant southern neighbour.

Now! Back to my rant and to my story: Why do Quebecois insist on driving over-sized RVs, frequently towing boats, motors, and cars, so badly on the entire Continent's highway system...north and south of the border?

After a "nightmarish" 11+ hour drive from a University Homecoming in New Brunswick back home to Ottawa through the heart of Quebec's two largest urban centres (Quebec City & Montreal). I've concluded that travellers from "la belle province" feel obviously compelled to take along with them (clearly on board and/or attached to an RV) every single evidence of their identity, culture and economic viability. Holy Crap! They are the same on home territory as they are when they travel lock, stock and barrel, caravan style, (to my considerable annoyance) to the beach communities of Broward or Brevard Counties, Florida. Sacre bleu - Indeed!

NOTE FROM BILL: Thank-You for your patience while I took a short break from the usual "Blog Post" routine to attend my Alma Mater homecoming events. I promise to be more diligent over the summer. Thanks to all who've remained in touch wondering when the next "Blog" would appear.

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