Friday, June 24, 2011

 

HARK! ISN'T THAT THE PERIMETER SECURITY DEAL SPUTTERING INTO OBLIVION?

It's all out war along the Great Lakes, the testiest battle in decades. And it's about building a bridge to Canada. A conflict of monumental proportions which pits a multi-billionaire, Matty Moroun, against the Governor of the bankrupt State of Michigan, Rick Snyder.

The bridge proposal between Windsor and Detroit is a cornerstone of the Harper Government's plan to develop a joint Canada-U.S. border agreement on "perimeter security." Both the long suffering bridge plan and the security deal which was announced six months ago when Prime Minister Harper and President Obama met, appear stalled and well on a rapid track to the "back burner" of American politics. The Obama Administration is being otherwise distracted with plans for the 2012 Presidential election. And, facilitating or sharing American business with (or as opponents argue transferring jobs to) another country is not on their agenda.

Just a month ago in Washington at hearings of the Congressional "Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security," the Chief of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, Alan Bersin, told Senators on the panel that the Canadian border is a "more significant threat" to American security than the Mexican border. This was no doubt music to opponents of the Detroit bridge deal. Mr. Bersin explained that: "It's commonly accepted that (the northern border is) the more significant threat, because of the people who can enter Canada and come across our bridges into the United-States."

Back to the war of words in Michigan: The wealthy Manuel (Matty) Moroun owns outright the Ambassador Bridge, a toll span which is the busiest land border crossing in the world. He hasn't taken lightly to Michigan's plan for this second bridge financed with loans from the Government of Canada to compete directly with the estimated $60 to $100 Million/year profits generated by the tolls collected by CenTra Inc., Matty's holding company. As most Canadians who watch American television know, Mr. Moroun's company has been running scathing TV commercials against the project for months. The "Detroit Free Press" daily fingered company goons recently for delivering "fake" eviction notices to the owners whose homes could be in the path of a new bridge. With no money to fight back against the campaign, Michigan Governor Snyder is left muttering pious words: "there's a lot of misinformation out there...This is a great thing for our state...It's about international trade and job creation."....Blah, Blah, Blah!

It's clear that the recession of the last two-and-a-half years down south of the 49th parallel has raised a significant climate of American protectionism which, when coupled with the now decade long paranoia over border security matters, do not bode well for any Canadian initiatives. Whether its a new bridge and/or a perimeter security framework with the ultimate aim of integrating and harmonizing law enforcement measures along the border. - Perhaps critics argue with some significant concessions on Canadian sovereignty: I digress!

Last month at the G-8 Summit in Deauville, France; Prime Minister Harper indicated that the Government's "action plan" (an over used Tory moniker) on border security would be ready this summer. Perhaps: But I'm quite unsure that the Obama Democrats, facing an uphill challenge towards the 2012 Presidential election and its appended tea-party hysteria, will be welcoming another "foreign" trade initiative with reciprocal enthusiasm.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

 

R-E-F-O-R-M

It is with both measures of respect and a certain reluctance that I weigh-in on Parliament's current debate over Senate reform appearing as it does in the waning days of the session.

Early on in my career I was taught by, employed and worked with three men who subsequently served in Canada's Upper Chamber. At least three former colleagues with whom I was associated at my latter career with the CBC are serving Senators.

To some degree I know thus of what I speak. Nonetheless, in the case of the first three, I defer to their age, competence and wisdom. My university professor, a knowledgeable academic, currently serves as "Speaker in the Senate" and the other two (since deceased) had been well respected and experienced politicians in the maritime provinces before ascending the Red Chamber.

But with my equals and work colleagues from the CBC who currently sit on either sides of the Chamber, though doubtless they've acquired a certain level of wisdom and experience from their time in the "house of sober second thought" (So described by the Fathers of our Confederation in 1867) at least some have suggested, they may be less "Senate-worthy." I respect the office and position of their uncompetitive appointment. Since I worked shoulder to shoulder with them and at least shared in their competence and knowledge, I feel secure...Ahem! Well at least confident, that my own ascension to membership to the Senate's sinecure is just a few months away; a year or two tops! Which thus explains my reluctance, Nay - my near resistance; to weighing into this reform debate.

A throwback to the British class system of the pre-Victorian era, the Fathers of Confederation in their own obliged wisdom enshrined the Upper House into the British North America Act of 1867. The Senate is antiquated and out of touch. It's doubtful that the purpose for which it serves the denizens of the 21st Century is worth the annual cost to taxpayers of about $150-million. But so is another product of the same era: The railroads, of which elements are also enshrined in the articles of Confederation. I digress.

Substantive change or reform to the Senate of Canada requires amending the country's Constitution. The backdoor method now tabled by Mr. Harper's government seems on "sober second thought" (pardon the pun) just frittering along the edges of the issue. In fact so concerned is the Federal Government of a revolt from both sides of the Senate aisle that the combined legislation on term limits and the election of senators has instead been introduced for a quick push-through in the(lower)House of Commons. Lest I digress once more: Which seems to speak volumes about the Prime Minister's confidence in the more than 30 senators he has personally appointed since 2008; let alone the other Tories appointed to the upper chamber by Brian Mulroney.

In fact Mr. Mulroney's own well intentioned package of reforms for the Senate were enshrined in the Constitutional amendments which would have resulted from the Meech Lake and subsequent Charlottetown Accords. Both of which failed following unprecedented wrangling from the provincial partners of Confederation and damned near split the country apart in the Quebec referendum of 1995. No politician since has dared crack open discussions to another Constitutional conference. It is a lesson Mr. Harper has learned well. In fact though, he may nonetheless have unwittingly swung open wide the doors to Constitutional discord just as half-a-dozen provinces are gearing-up for fall elections and the five original signatories of the British North America Act are threatening to sue over this Harper plan.

It could indeed be a hot summer. Regardless of the outcome, as was noted this week by Ottawa Citizen columnist Kelly Egan: "After singing O Canada, our honourable senators should begin every session by falling on their knees and thanking their lucky stars. The base salary is $132,000, they get nice offices, a staff, breaks galore on the Hill, opportunities to travel."

Prime Minister, I've been good. Call me!

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

 

H3!

Little by little, step by step, slowly the country is turned. Safely ensconced in a "majority" third mandate in the Canadian Parliament, The Conservatives of Mr. Harper some critics foretell, will lead the country along a corrosive path of divisive political polarization.

In Canada, just as with our neighbours south, what passes for national discourse and debate is a new emerging culture of gladiator politics where nothing less than the annihilation of the opposition by any means is an acceptable outcome. Techniques skillfully used by the minority H1 and H2 Governments to destroy two national party leaders (Dion & Ignatieff) and decimate the Liberal Party of Canada. Lest I digress pundits argue the very same methods honed and tested by Mr. Harper's western based Reform/Alliance supporters in eliminating the Progressive-Conservatives a decade ago.

With a comfortable 166 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, the Conservatives' long simmering right of centre agenda which includes abolishing the long-gun registry; sweeping reforms to crime and punishment; harsher prosecutions and longer jail terms; and a muscular foreign policy supported by increased militarization will unfold by Parliament's return in the fall.

For the most part those measures formed the base of the Conservative Party platform leading into the May 2nd Federal Election, and they were reiterated by the Governor General in the "Speech From The Throne" a couple or three weeks back. But in a recent and subsequent national convention held here in Ottawa the Party also reaffirmed its position that marriage is "the union of one man and one woman," as well as its opposition to euthanasia. Fringe elements within the party's core of supporters have never been shy about also adding the return of Capital Punishment and ending abortions to that list.

Very recent developments including intervention into, and the threat of forcing striking employees of Canada Post and at Air Canada to go back to work, have set clear precedents for this Federal Government. Particularly alarming for the future of the country's labour relations is Mr. Harper's swift reaction to the walkout of 3,800 service staff employees at Air Canada, a private corporation in a competitive environment. At first glance the government action seems to send an unequivocal message about the nation's collective bargaining process, one which in fact could void, well at least emasculate, elements of the Canada Labour Code.

Alas; conspiracy theorists could be forgiven if they believe the threat of bringing the labour movement to its knees is just one element of a coordinated plan of post election strategies rolling-out as the Parliamentary Session breaks for the summer. The centre-moderate Liberal Party of Canada having now been obliterated, the way is sufficiently cleared to set sight on another bastion of a Parliamentary democracy: The pesky journalists of the Ottawa based national press gallery. Veterans of the country's press corps have been both targeted and alarmed by recent attacks akin to Richard Nixon's rants about the "nattering nabobs of negativism" circa 1972.

Just before the Conservative National Convention in Ottawa held starting on June 10, the Party President John Walsh sent-out a letter to the faithful soliciting funds to fight against what he called..."the hailstorm of negative attacks from the media elite." His letter was subsequently followed-up with an outburst from the podium at the said convention by former Reform/Alliance Leader and past Treasury Board Chair Stockwell Day who blasted the country's media for engaging in personal attacks. Even more recently the Conservative Leader in the Senate, Senator Marjorie LeBreton, blasted the national media for spending too much time criticizing Stephen Harper during the election campaign. Her opinions were published in a national daily newspaper.

Along with the obligatory respect for, and the trust in, those we elect to represent us; our confidence in the elements and institutions of a vibrant healthy democracy are eroding at a steady, methodical and alarming pace. Canada's political culture has been stressed and its discourse is increasingly ignorant,cheap and coarse. That's our fault. And, unless Canadians demand change, "real" political leadership will continue to elude us. Pity!

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

 

...BE RIGHT BACK

Do not despair. Recent travel and other commitments have disrupted the flow of my "regular" blog postings. I'll be right back, with upcoming posts on "Perimeter Security" and "Mr. Harper's new obsession(s)."

Meantime, take a moment or two to review, browse and re-read earlier favourite posts - Your comments are always encouraged and welcomed - You will find all the tools needed to check back into "blog" history along the left hand column of this page. (Psst! while you are there you may also want to check-out the advertising: That's how I get paid.)

Enjoy; and I will be right back at you!

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

 

MONDO CANE (A dog's world)

CLEAR-UP THE MESSAGE - Back in the fall of 2008 when Barack Obama won the American Presidential election, the kids got a dog - Named 'Bo' (www.obama-dog.com). Back here, last month after a third try, when Stephen Harper won a clear majority in Parliament; the kids got a cat - Named 'Stanley'. I may need help sorting-out what this says about us.

THE POO-POO THAT YOU DOO-DOO - Spring's arrival in Canada's heavy populated southern regions is generally signaled by the return of obnoxious fumes and odors emitted by the thawing remains of five to seven months of dog droppings. They've been left to freeze to the snow and ice either through carelessness and/or (most likely) by semi-comatose frost bitten pet owners somewhat too anxious to return to the artificial warmth of their own indoors. As the globe's warming melts back the perma-frost of the Arctic tundra perhaps we should fear the stench awaiting from the eons of archaeological droppings which await there.

SNIFF YOUR OWN DAMN BUTT - In the USA, Bloomberg News reports that a dog trained to sniff-out colorectal cancer was almost as accurate as a colonoscopy. The un-named specially trained Labrador-Retriever (no doubt to protect it's identity) was 95% accurate as a colonoscopy when smelling breath samples; and 98% correct with stool samples. Okay! Enough about 'poo' - Still there may be something positive to be said about avoiding an invasive, humiliating and miserable exam where the "sun don't shine".

SCENTS ABILITY - Honest, I'm not making this up. There is a company called "Scents Ability" in Ottawa that hires-out a pooch, this one named "Buck" (doubtless one mean sucker) to sniff-out marijuana; heroin; methamphetamine; and cocaine. At $125 a pop; it's for the parent who has everything except trust in their teen aged kid and what they may hide in their jeans or bedroom. Has the world gone mad? Recent court decisions in Ontario have banned no-warrant searches by police dogs on school premises. Now the publicly funded school board can just call-in this nose for hire instead. Honestly, I'd rather my tax dollars be spent on education. Let's see if any of this stands-up in Court.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

 

ALAS! FAME IS FLEETING

Re-action has been mixed and divided over the actions of the Senate of Canada Page, Brigette DePape, who held-up a "Stop Harper" sign while the Governor-General, the Queen's representative in Canada, delivered the Speech From the Throne in the Senate on Friday.

What seems clear however is that the young woman's protest trumped the news value of the Throne Speech, and likely will be remembered long after the contents of the "speech" (whatever they were) have long been forgotten. To that degree at least; Ms DePape aged 21, sealed her 15 minutes of fame.

About 25 years ago I attended a writing seminar in Ottawa. The workshop designed to assist writers focus their vocabulary and message for better communications was conducted by Eric McLuhan, the son of Marshall McLuhan. He made no secret about the identity of his famous father, in a government town like Ottawa it was good business. Frankly I would not have hidden his identity either. He died in 1980, but Canadian educator Marshall McLuhan is regarded as the father of, and his book "The Medium Is The Massage (sic)" (1967) the Genesis of the modern electronic age. Lest I digress; 44 years ago a typographer working on the book's cover accidentally substituted "Massage" for "Message" - McLuhan chuckled and left it uncorrected.

Pundits commenting on Ms. DePape's unique protest have quoted Voltaire: "I don't agree with one word you are saying - but, I will fight to the death for your right to say it." Just as appropriate and to the point is Andy Warhol's 1968 observation that "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." - The American "Prince of Pop Art" was a contemporary of Marshall McLuhan and clearly understood the "massage"!

Increasingly, (We should be alarmed) it seems the world is being distracted by a media circus, and the news neutered by the public appetite for round-the-clock gossip masquerading as essential information. It is not a new phenomenon. Since the invention of the print medium, whether Paul Revere, Evangeline and/or Laura Secord, the media have fawned over the unique exploits of otherwise unworthy commoners. Though at least in those cases theirs' had purpose. If "News" is a first draft of history: It is, as foretold by McLuhan and Warhol, that the media's new obsessions are tantamount to a modern "Great Train Robbery" of the draft - to paraphrase historian Clinton Rossiter.

I am a fan of the popular personality "Judge Judy", and the television news satire of the "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and the "Colbert Report" - Guilty as charged! I am nonetheless appalled by the number of people, victims of Warhol's prophesy, who are willing to be humiliated (or humiliate themselves) on these and the many other "reality" television programs of our times that substitute for journalism. These poor sods, their problems, and their issues ARE NOT, as Journalist Bill Moyers would suggest: "The actual experiences of regular people...the missing link in a nation wired for everything but the truth."

No wonder that the real news makers; politicians, business leaders, personalities of consequence can obfuscate and say anything but the clear unequivocal truth with impudence and little fear of challenge....and when they can't: There's a course they can take for that too!

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