Sunday, December 18, 2011

 

PEACEKEEPING? NOT ANYMORE

Regardless of ones political affiliations, the conclusion is:  Ours is the country it is today because of the Liberal Party's dominance over both the political landscape and Canada's agenda for nearly 70 years of the last century.

The policies, the legislation, the vision advanced and practiced by the 'natural governing party' of the 20th Century defined Canadians as peace loving, tolerant, multicultural, bilingual, charitable, socially responsible people within a prosperous nation.

So why is the current government of Prime Minister Harper turning us away from our present and our future in what appears to be a truly transformative shift in character and value - A root-and-branch supplanting of one kind of country for another - as someone recently described the apparent transformation?

In a comment this weekend in 'The Globe And Mail,' political activist Gerald Caplan warns to be afraid of the "new" Canada being invented by Mr. Harper and his associates. Perhaps it's worth noting that Mr. Caplan in 1985 was appointed by another Conservative Prime-Minister, Brian Mulroney, to co-chair (with Florian Sauvageau) a Federal Task Force on Canadian Broadcasting Policy which ultimately led to the Broadcasting Act of 1988. (I digress!) - Of the current Conservative leader, Caplan concludes: "It's in the nature of true believers and ideologues to believe that any means to their sacred ends are justified...It's also typical of such people that they're often motivated by unfathomable resentment and anger, a compulsion not just to better but to destroy their adversaries."

From the session of Parliament just ended there's at least anecdotal evidence on several fronts of the government's efforts to create a Conservative mythology as opposed to a Liberal mythology - Instead of peacekeepers, we're now warriors; the "royal" prefix has been restored to the military; Canada's embassies must now feature portraits of The Queen; the list is long and growing but it seems to suggest a very deliberate and calculated attempt to re-shape Canadian symbolism, nationalism and values back to those cherished by the mid-war generation of which John Diefenbaker was a prominent member. And, more importantly to ignore Canada's evolution as an independent country with an identity of its own.

Some critics see the government's crime and justice initiatives, the changes at the Wheat Board and to the Long-Gun registry, our planned massive military spending and other recent legislated initiatives as borrowed elements of the "Tea Party" revolution from the United-States, and the hard right Republican "destroy the enemy politics" now so prevalent as the American Presidential campaign gets under way.

In the 2010 best seller "Harperland," author Lawrence Martin portrays a leader firmly in control of his political agenda, and a man..."who goes to extraordinary lengths to see it implemented." - In a new book due out next spring -"Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in a Fearful Age" co-authors Ian McKay and Jamie Swift of Queen's University take the notion several steps further arguing that: "The Harper government is operating very much like a regime mounting and ideological crusade to rebrand the country."  A crusade that Mr. Swift has told the 'National Post' involves the "dismantling" of institutions which interfere with values such as the Puritan work ethic and respect for authority.

Maybe Gerald Caplan is right: "Be very afraid: Stephen Harper is inventing a new Canada" - I don't like it!



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Monday, December 12, 2011

 

....AND THE ROCKET'S RED GLARE

At this juncture it is still difficult to predict how our American friends and neighbours will ultimately react to plans by the Government of Canada to mark, note and celebrate every aspect of the bicentennial of the "War of 1812" which will be getting underway in earnest shortly after the clock strikes twelve on New Year's Day.

Despite the cutbacks and austerity measures which will kick-in in the immediate aftermath of the Federal Government's early spring budget, Mr. Harper's Government has earmarked millions of tax dollars for celebrations and commemoration of the war between the American States and British North American troops, French Canadian compatriots and First Nations' Aboriginals (who sided with the Empire) and fought-off and won against U.S. aggression between 1812 and 1814.

From the iconic Johnny Horton top 40 tune "The Battle of New Orleans" of the early 1960's all the way back to America's cherished national anthem "The Star Spangled Banner," written by poet Francis Scott Key as he witnessed the British/Canadian assault on Fort McHenry in 1814;  the defeat of the Americans in the War of 1812 strikes at the very "being" of the United States.

Perhaps fortunately for us north of the border, the commemorations about to get underway may be overshadowed by the lead-up to, the debates, the conventions, the campaigns and the confrontations of the crucial November 2012 next election of the President of the United States.

Not exactly as illustrated, but you get the idea!
Regardless, unlike tensions rising elsewhere on the planet,  the United-States has little to fear from the Harper Government's somewhat misguided efforts (American style) to encourage Canadian patriotism over the next 5 years leading to Canada's Sesquicentennial of 2017. On the other side of the world matters of far greater and immediate concern, including Vladimir Putin's campaign for the Russian Presidency; tensions with the rogue states of Iran and North Korea; ongoing irritants with Paskistan over the prosecution of the Afghan War; and the country's accumulating massive debt to China (a significant contributor to America's spiralling economic crisis) - and surely many other things in between, will end-up by default on the next President's agenda.

As with the case of the legendary Laura Secord, the Canadian milk maid of the aforementioned War of 1812, through Mata Hari, the Dutch exotic dancer of the Great War, and the U-2 spy-plane flown by Col. Francis Gary Powers which crashed 'intact' in Russia in 1960 - In matters of human conflict;  access to unprocessed, wholesome and relevant strategic information about your enemy is as important as prosecuting an offensive.  Thus, though publicly low-key, in official Washington there has been some consternation over the loss of the on-board secret technology of the pilot less drone spy-plane which crashed (apparently also intact) in Iran on December 4. - In the relentless campaign to unseat President Barack Obama from the White House next year, some Republican candidates are even advocating early military strikes against the Iranians...I digress!

A prototype of the X-37B after an initial test flight in 2010.
But whether it is in flights over its own borders with Canada and Mexico, or in spy-like missions flying over rogue states like Iran and North Korea; like its U-2 predecessor, America's reliance on the low-flying technology of pilot less drone aircraft is probably close to ending anyway. Behold the X-37B space drone...An ultra-secretive shuttle-like vehicle currently orbiting the planet at 17,000 miles per hour. The United-States Air Force confirmed just a few days ago that its initial 9-months "mission" is being extended. Of course the Air Force will not confirm the objective of the X-37B, but most skeptics think that the vehicle's mission is somehow defence and/or spy-related. In fact, amateur astronomers accidentally detected the orbital pattern of a prototype in May 2010. According to their data the X-37B's orbits included flyovers of, you guessed it: North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The manufacturer of the current variant of the X-37B, the Boeing Corporation, confirms that the space plane was launched from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida last March. Coincidentally just last month, NASA turned-over its "Orbiting Processing Facility No.3" to the Boeing Corporation. It's being described in the local press as a..."first-of-a-kind agreement allowing a private company to take over the government property." - Orbiting Processing Facility No.3 was previously used to ready the Space Shuttle for flight. A government austerity program ended the Space Shuttle program this past summer after more than 20 years.

In the spy business, staying just ahead of the competition is a daunting task. As pretty much everyone expected, but hoped against in the aftermath of the launch of "Sputnik" in October 1957, Space (the final frontier) has incrementally changed from an experimental planetary test laboratory to a giant "eye in our sky". We are no longer alone, indeed!













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Thursday, December 8, 2011

 

RUMOURS OF ITS DEMISE GREATLY EXAGERATED?

America's Presidential re-election campaign is getting underway. So in politics this is just about ancient history: But four years ago, it was the young voters of the United-States who engaged the movement of hope and aspiration that swept Barack Obama into office.

Conversely, last May back home in Canada's national election more than half of the population under the age of 45 did not bother to vote, in very large measure because they felt ignored and treated as a nuisance by the mainstream parties. The median Canadian age was 26 years old when the message of optimism and his charisma swept Pierre Trudeau to power in 1968. Today's typical Canadian voter is in his early 60's.

Facing as it seems currently a 'live-or-die' moment in history,  pundits have been quick to flesh-out obituaries of the Liberal Party of Canada, for 69 years the country's natural governing party during the last century. The latest by way of author Peter C. Newman's who's Christmas bookstore offering is aptly titled: "When the Gods Changed. The Death of Liberal Canada."

There is a perfectly valid reason why young Canadian voters lost interest and disengaged from the last Federal election and the several previous others of the first decade of the 21st Century - Young voters have found little to interest them in the Harper Government's Conservative agenda of military boosterism, bigger prisons and border security,  while it scales down social policy and trims government's engagement into the lives of Canadians. And at least as author Newman sees it, the Liberals: mired in internal leadership dissension, a lack of fresh ideas, arrogance and scandal could not (or would not) capitalize on welcoming and engaging "young" Canada into the national conversation.

The net result; for the first time since Confederation the Liberals are the third party in the House of Commons and right now they can't even be sure if they'll ever return. I am reminded of course that the Progressive-Conservatives in the Federal Election of 1993 were virtually wiped-out, electing just 2 members to the Commons, Elsie Wayne in southern New Brunswick and Jean Charest in eastern Quebec, and ending-up fifth in House standings. The P-C's subsequent overhaul led to the eventual morphing of the right-of-centre Harper "Conservatives" steeped in the doctrine (perhaps dogma) of Reverend Ernest Manning (Preston's father) the Evangelical Radio Pastor who ruled as Alberta's Premier from 1943 to 1968.

Alas! Lest I digress: Manning advocated the polarization of political viewpoints in Canada. He argued that the country would be better off with two political parties, One on the Left - One on the Right. Sound familiar? Well beware, because that is precisely the scenario Canadians have witnessed with growing angst and anxiety playing-out in the bitter, divisive, angry bi-partisan struggles which have paralyzed both the Congress of the United-States and the Obama Administration. And, which predictably will only worsen as the next Presidential election is further engaged.

Over the course of the 20th Century the Liberal Party made Canada the country that it is today. In about a month, for 3 days in Ottawa, Liberals will gather for a convention of the faithful which may very well be its most important since the Party was founded on July 1, 1867.  Partisans will consider and adopt a "Road Map to Renewal" - They must get it right, the stakes are that high, and the country's future may depend on it. A key responsibility which must be exercised is to engage young Canadians into our national conversation. There now exists technology that was unimaginable just 10 years ago to do it, and an enormously savvy generation of its users just waiting to be asked.

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

 

CLASH OF TITANS

Prime Minister Harper travels to Washington on Wednesday this week for a "Tete a Tete" with President Obama. It's expected the two will (finally) announce a conclusion to Canada's heralded and much anticipated "perimeter security initiative." Thrown-in for good measure, Obama will call on the IRS to "heal" its operatives who have been dogging Canadian / American (dual) citizens over paying-up penalties on alleged taxes they don't owe.

Harper will save face over the embarrassment of "Perimeter Security" which has now dragged-on for just short of a year, while Obama gets breathing room to launch his Presidential re-election campaign freed of the pesky, whinny Canadians from across his northern border.

Rather than resolving substantive bi-lateral matters, the "Perimeter Security" accord will be front-loaded with "Pilot" projects of every form and nature. For an additional good neighbourly gesture, the IRS will confirm that it's decided to cast its "net" beyond Canada over the recent strict enforcement of long ago forgotten but decades-old "Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts" tax provisions which have threatened to force most holders of dual citizenship living in Canada (and their dependants) into long legal battles and/or personal bankruptcy over penalties and debts they've likely never owed.

Our cross border irritants and tensions seemingly eased once more, despite the winter's holiday line-ups at checkpoints, Canadians will carry-on with our national spending and travel obsession south of the border. And fueled by our relatively strong currency, it seems we may be poised to set new records for travel to the United-States. 2011 third-quarter (July-August-September) numbers just released by Statistics Canada indicate that we took 12.3 Million trips to the United-States during the period. If the trend is maintained, the result could be as many as 50-Million Canadian visits to the USA in 2011, versus about 20-million by USA visitors to Canada.

The State of Florida is a major beneficiary as the main destination for longer-term visits by Canadians. As the "Sunshine State" struggles through a fourth consecutive year of moribund economic prospects, one of the few bright lights on its horizon has been the increase (up 14% in 2010) of visitors from Canada attracted primarily to the ever growing family themed parks and entertainment facilities clustered within 50 (or so) miles of Orlando.  This Monday, Walt Disney would have turned 110 years old. In the mid-1960's through a series of dummy corporations Disney acquired and accumulated almost 28,000 acres of central Florida land. Though he died before its completion, the Disney Corporation is not only (by far) Florida's largest land-holder, but Disney World is the world's most popular vacation destination. The state Titans appear to be on a collision course.

A Tea-Party favourite, the state's Republican Governor Rick Scott has been courting the international casino-resort investment community to take a look at developing major Las Vegas type venues primarily in the Miami Beach and Tampa/St.Petersburg areas. A matter which isn't sitting very well with Disney's traditional squeaky-clean family-friendly vacation-postcard well lubricated and financed image of Florida. Proposed gambling destination resorts are on the drawing board by the Sands Corporation and by the Wynn Corporation of Las Vegas. But it's the acquisition of 30 acres of Biscayne Bay property in Miami for $240-Million by the Genting Corporation of Malaysia which has most upset the folks at Disney, as well as the Florida Chamber of Commerce whose Chairman is (guess who?) an Executive of Walt Disney World.

Come January, Florida faces a budget shortfall of more than $2.5 Billion and an ongoing unemployment rate which is close to 11%. The allure of casino gambling destination resorts, the thousands of low-level jobs they would create and the revenues generated have vast appeal for the government.  The battle of Titans is engaged and the daunting opponent is Disney; (by far) Florida's most powerful corporation. It may be interesting to hear just how loud a Mouse can roar.





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